Wlvn made Bricklebrains ride behind Kined, though Bricklebrains called it an honor he did not deserve. Still, it gave them a chance to get to know each other a bit, and after a while, they dropped back to include Fritt in their conversation. Kined felt concerned. He feared Fritt might not speak to him alone, but Fritt adjusted better than Kined supposed, and even said something surprising.
“I’m glad if Flern did not pick me, she picked you. I could not have stood it if she picked Trell or Tird, but you and Flern have been best friends forever, so I don’t mind so much.”
“Good,” Wlvn said when Riah with her good elf ears told him what they said.
“But I don’t like spying,” Riah complained.
“Yeah, well Flern hasn’t picked anyone yet, and I am certainly not going to marry Kined.” Riah opened her eyes and mouth wide before she shut her mouth with a clack.
They crossed the river Sware just after lunch and reached the town well before sundown. This was the first town Wlvn ever saw that had an inn of sorts. Of course, he never saw much in the way of towns. There were nearly five hundred people in and around the town and it had become a real center for civilization in the area. Apparently, there were a half-dozen towns on the river along with any number of villages, and they all traded with each other. Back in Wlvn’s day, a hundred was a massively sized village, and when he added it up, there were probably more people in those towns along the river than in all the villages in the land of the Titan, combined.
“There weren’t as many people back in my day,” he confessed to the others. “This feels very crowded.” Still, he knew what to do at an inn, thanks to the Princess and others guiding his hand and words. The economy had no money, of course, but trade worked well enough, even the prospect of future trade.
They were found by the important people in the town right away. Wlvn demonstrated his bronze sword and knife and said how they were going to find the secret of making this miraculous metal. The people said, “We heard,” and an elder named Oren took the lead.
“We also heard how you fought off the Jaccar. It is all the talk up and down the river. We have turned from being a people in fear to a people with hope. And we will fight with you, whether you succeed in finding your bronze or not.”
Vilder and the others got excited by that word, but Wlvn, and now Pinn, waited for the other shoe to drop. It came from a woman on the council named Leelar. “But where is the red headed girl?” she asked. Wlvn turned to Bricklebrains, and he nodded and pointed at the woman. Wlvn returned the nod and put poor Pinn and Riah on the spot.
“These two will explain how Flern is negotiating with the dwarfs but will be along in a couple of days.” He took Oren by the arm, and Bricklebrains followed them outside where they could talk without being overheard.
“Never mind Leelar,” Oren said. “She is firmly against all sorts of fighting. But I tell her she cannot hide beneath a basket and expect to be safe. Most of the council is solid in support of you, and I feel what reluctance there might have been vanished when you rode into town with an elf and a dwarf who both answer to you. I never saw an elf before, but I understand they are a proud and independent people, as wise as they are mysterious. And I never heard of a dwarf answering to anyone.”
“I appreciate your sentiment, but Bricklebrains, tell him.”
Bricklebrains frowned but Oren bent down a little to better hear what the dwarf had to say. He even smiled against Bricklebrains’ frown in anticipation.
“When me and the chief found Lord Wolven, we were enchanted by the Wicca.”
“Eh?” Oren did not know who that was.
“The leader of the Jaccar,” Wlvn said. “A most powerful witch.” The look on Oren’s face showed that he knew what a witch was. “Powerful enough to enchant dwarfs.” That was serious power. Bricklebrains tugged on Oren’s sleeve. He had not finished.
“Well, our Lord set us free of the enchantment, but he made it so I could smell if someone else was enchanted, you see? I got the nose for it.” He proudly lifted up his nose so Oren could get a good look at it.
“Well?” Oren asked the dwarf.
“Well, it’s like this. Your Miss Leelar is enchanted by the Wicca, just like we were. I don’t imagine she can speak her own mind. No idea what her mind might speak. But she can speak what the Wicca wants, that’s for sure.”
“What?” Oren turned that question on Wlvn.
“I have no power to break the Wicca’s spell over humans,” Wlvn said. “All I can say is don’t listen to her. The words will be full of lies and manipulation, and she will lead the village into slavery to the Wicca and the Jaccar.”
“What!” Oren shouted and looked back and forth between the man and the dwarf. “Are you sure?”
Both Wlvn and Bricklebrains nodded, and Wlvn had a suggestion. “Let Bricklebrains sniff around, quietly, and see who else, if any, might be under the witch’s spell.”
“I can’t believe it.” Oren said as he found a place to sit down. That did not mean he did not believe it. “I have known Leelar for forty years. She does not seem changed to me.”
“That is probably why the Wicca was able to get to her,” Wlvn suggested as Oren took another look. “Leelar probably leaned in a direction convenient for the witch to use.”
“But why should I believe you? What reason do I have to trust your word for this? These dwarfs are known to be great tricksters and not to be completely trusted.”
“Hey!” Bricklebrains took offense, but Wlvn calmed him with a simple wave of his hand.
“Let me put it this way. If you wish to support us with men and hunters against the Jaccar, fine. If you decide not to support us, fine. I am not here to control your decision. I am only asking that you make your own decision and not let the Wicca make it for you.”
Oren thought for a minute. “Your offer is fair enough, and I think I would like to test it if your dwarf is willing.”
An hour later, they stood in the council chamber and Bricklebrains sniffed at the seven men and two women. He quickly identified two of the men along with Leelar. Oren nodded, knowingly.
“These two and Leelar have been most vocal against joining you in your fight. You would have no way of knowing that unless what you say is true. Mylara,” he pointed at the other woman. “She has also voiced some opposition, but I felt she just agreed with these others and did not feel committed. She has said as much.”
Mylara looked up and nodded her head. “I believe it will be terrible to lose our young men and then have no one to defend us when the Jaccar come here.”
Wlvn got the woman’s attention. “An expression to remember. United we stand, divided we fall.” The woman said no more because Leelar spoke up.
“So, what is this? To see if the dwarf could point out the ones against fighting and dying for some unknown village and unknown people?”
“No, actually, it was to see if the dwarf could pick out those under the spell of the Wicca, the powerful witch that also controls the Jaccar.”
“What?” The council imitated Oren to a person, and some backed away from the three singled out.
“The fact that you three have also spoken so strongly against joining the fight just confirms it,” Wlvn said. “I will tell you what I told Oren. If you fight with us, great. If you decide not to fight with us, that is fine. We will not hold it against you, only let it be your own decision. Do not let the Wicca decide for you.”
Wlvn returned to the inn and made everyone follow him to just outside the town where they camped in the wilderness at the foot of the pass. All he heard was how they were all looking forward to spending a night in a real bed, despite the fact that the so-called inn only had three beds. But Wlvn would not hear it, and they understood despite the complaints. Town simply became unsafe. Someone under the power of the Wicca might easily be there to kill them in their sleep.
For the first time, Wlvn organized a watch in the night. They knew about the watch set out against the Jaccar, of course, but this time they were not expecting any Jaccar so there was reluctance until Wlvn thoroughly explained it. “Just a precaution,” Wlvn said.
“Genius,” Vilder called it in the end. “We each take two hours to watch and guard the camp so people can sleep in peace, and everyone gets real rest, and everyone stays protected.”
“Provided you watch during your watch,” Wlvn underlined the word.
The morning came without incident, and they left that town behind as they began to climb for the pass. Thrud, Vinnu, Tiren and Fritt were anxious to find out what the town decided in the night, but Wlvn would not let them. He said the best way to show they meant it when they said they wanted the town to make their own decision would be to leave, not to go back and put pressure on them. “Besides,” he said. “What if they decided against us after all?” That quieted them.