Rodrigo finished his speech by explaining a large communal map in the tavern behind him. "Please mark the location you'll be searching each day to avoid overlap, and report any findings you may have. You'll be rewarded for any information you provide." With that, he headed into the tavern with the group he came with.
I watched the crowd below separate back into its tightly knit clusters of people, segregated by race. They chattered about their plans for exploration and the living conditions in the colony. Many of the groups headed off into the tavern to pick a destination for the following day.
As the town square emptied, the outliers began to present themselves. The old Gnome still standing in the square was searching for something. He seemed to be having trouble finding 'it', whatever he was looking for. He was short, causing him to poke his head around the remaining crowds of taller folk to see past them. The Gnome let out a deep sigh and rolled his head back, facing the sky. As he did, he found what he was looking for—me.
He watched me in my vantage point on the rooftop perch, and his frustration was replaced by a smile. I shrunk down like a cornered cat. He hurried over to the alley next to the house I was on, stopped, and looked straight up at me.
"Hello!" he said. His voice was frail, yet it had a playfulness about it. "My name is Zef."
I tried to ignore him, hanging my lower body over the opposite side of the roof to make my profile smaller. Maybe he wasn't talking to me.
"You're the Treek girl. That was some great magic. Heh heh. It's been a while since I've seen someone use nature magic."
Definitely talking to me, I thought. Ugh. I raised myself up and then began the climb down the backside of the building. "Thanks," I said. He seemed harmless enough.
As I climbed Zef continued. "So, uh, what are you doing on the island?"
"I'd rather not say," I said. I dropped to the ground and dusted the dirt off of my Human-style clothes. He was a small man, with a long white pointed beard that curled a bit at the end. His clothes were colorful with purples and yellows, though less colorful than the rest of the Gnomish troops that I'd seen in the colony. His old wrinkled face left laugh lines at the corners of his eyes even when he wasn't smiling, which didn't seem to be often.
"Oh, uh right. Well, I don't quite have a search party to work with, and I had a hunch that you might not either. What do you say? Want to join forces?" He spoke with a touch of excitement.
I pulled my head back, one eyebrow raised as I thought to myself. It had to be a joke. The Gnomes love pranks, don't they? If they can't attack me physically at least they can poke me until I snap. "Ha ha. Good one." I said, with a healthy serving of sarcasm. I turned to walk away.
"No. Miss. You misunderstand me. No tricks. The other Gnomes don't want me on their team. I'm too old." He lifted the tip of his beard with two fingers as he spoke. "I want to help, and I think you probably do too."
"Why would you work with a Treek?" I said over my shoulder. I spat the words with more intensity than I intended.
Zef gulped and took a moment before responding. "Treek or no, we all lost people to this land. Let's get them back," he said.
I eyed him cautiously. He looked sincere, and I didn't see any other Gnomes nearby to laugh at what could be a prank. In fact, all of his kind had already cleared the town square. And he was right; I didn't expect anyone to be willing to work with me.
But I had seen this too many times before—gain my trust and then crush it when I've finally let my guard down. We only have our own race, I thought. That's just how it is.
"No," I said.
"I mean no harm," he pleaded. "I need a job, and I have no other skills. The two of us together—"
"No," I repeated, cutting him off. "I'm not interested." I walked away. Even if I did work with him, I'd never be able to trust him. It was a stupid idea in the first place.
I went further from the town square to the hill that overlooked the tents. There was less commotion as a large portion of the colonists were in the tavern instead.
I sat down with my knees up. Chipry hopped off my shoulder and began poking at the grass and plants for bugs."It's better this way," I said to him. "There's only pain when races mix." I watched my only friend graze for seeds as I rested my head on folded arms.
I said it was better this way, but I wasn't fully convinced. If the wilderness here was as dangerous as Rodrigo said, then I might be in trouble. On the other hand, they haven't searched this land with a Treek. The wilderness is where I'm at my strongest. No stone-paved roads or brick buildings to hinder me. I'd figure it out. It's what I had always done.
I looked up and saw the Elf from earlier, with the hood. He was carrying a pot with him as he approached his tent, on the edge of the Human and Elven encampments. He didn't talk to anyone, not even other Elves, as he made a small fire and hung a pot of water over it. He put some ingredients in and sat in silence, with his back to the palisade and his hood still up.
I had never seen Elves before coming to Daegal, but the others seemed to stay in groups. The other Elven tents nearby even circled up, using one campfire for their friends and family. But this one Elf sat alone. Reminds me of someone I know, I thought.
Having my thoughts in order, I stood and walked toward the tavern. Chipry lingered for a bit and then flew back to my shoulder before I entered the building.
The tavern was big, equipped with a multitude of chairs and tables for the new thirsty colonists. Each table hosted a single race, and when new tables filled up it was always next to another table of their own people. I wasn't surprised to see every race self-segregate. It was strange to see them all in the same tavern though.
The building itself smelled of cut wood and salted meat. Rough-hewn timbers formed large pillars to support the roof and walls. Above me, as I entered was a balcony, hosting more segregated seating. In the middle of the room, a rustic chandelier hung from the ceiling, which contained a bright glowing orb. It shined brightly, producing enough light for the whole tavern. It must have been a Gnomish creation.
Voices hushed as I stepped deeper into the rowdy hall. Heads turned to look at "the Treek". At least the band playing at the far corner continued.
At the opposite end of the tavern was a grouping of races around an oversized table. They all looked down at the large map spread out on the surface, inspecting the drawn terrain. Rodrigo was there as well, leaning against the bar. His group of representatives stood and sat nearby talking to others of their respective races.
I mustered the little self-confidence I still had in being a Treek and walked up to the large table. It was weird, being a Treek in public. I had stayed hidden for so many years, and I planned to hide here as well, but now everyone knew.
I took my place at an open edge of the table. A few Saurians that were studying the map noticed me, and one gave a repressed snarl. A couple of Elves walked back to their own table, with chins raised.
I turned to inspect the map for myself, which was as wide as I was tall. In the upper corner read the word DAEGAL. The map was hand-drawn in black ink, with almost no details filled in. There were a few small landmarks, like forests and rivers close to the camp. The rest of the landmass remained a blank outline. Near the drawing of the colony, a grouping of pawns stood on the map, painted in several different colors.
One of the Saurians in the group held a blue pawn in their hand. They placed it on the map and sat back down at their table.
The colors represented the races then. Red for Humans, yellow for Elves, and purple for Gnomes. There was a pile of pawns left over on the side of the table, made of the same colors already in use. I dug through and found a sole green one; the color of the Treeks.
I thought to myself, studying the map. I placed the green pawn on the map, close to the colony but far enough away that I wouldn't be sharing territory.
I felt the floorboards shift beneath me and I looked up. Rodrigo had stepped beside me. The scar running through his right eyebrow and onto his cheek left him with a look of perpetual anger. "Do you plan on going out alone?" he asked.
"No. I have a search party," I lied.
He narrowed his eyes. "Well, don't forget what I said. People who look for trouble will be left to their own devices in the wilderness, and you don't want to be alone out there."
Our eyes met, and I nodded to avoid his gaze.
"Yes, sir," I said. Humans liked that sort of thing.
He showed no emotion as he spoke. "And remember, search parties will be rewarded for their findings." I nodded. Rodrigo paused, then walked back to his place at the bar.
I watched him as he sat back down. He kept the other representatives at a distance, most of them spread out across the bar. Some carried on conversations with their own race, but none of them talked to each other. It seemed that even among his own group, Rodrigo expected little in terms of cooperation.
With my direction decided, I left the tavern, allowing it to return to its previous jovial atmosphere of segregated tables.
I had seen a tree still standing near the square earlier. I was surprised it hadn't been harvested for lumber when building the houses and walls. It stood behind some of the buildings, tall enough to give me a good view of the tents while keeping me out of sight. I made sure no one was following me, climbed up it, and strung my hammock from my pack between two of its branches.
My hammock was stained green and grayish-brown, making it blend in with the tree's foliage. Chipry jumped to a nearby branch as I climbed into my lofted bed, straddling the hammock and pushing my feet against a branch to slide into it. It was a little precarious, but I was well-practiced. Unless they were looking for me, a passerby probably wouldn't notice me resting in the foliage.
From my hammock, I raised my hand growing a wintergreen plant out of a clump of moss on one of the tree's branches. The dark green leaves unfurled, and from four flowers grew teaberries. Chipry hopped over and began snacking on the berries. I ripped off a few bites of bread for myself, leftover from my rations, then stuffed the rest of the loaf in my backpack. I hung the pack from a smaller branch nearby, making sure it wouldn't fall before returning to my dinner.
"Goodnight, Chip," I said.
Chipry gave a small trill. I ate as the sun drifted off below the horizon, and soon I fell asleep.
Tomorrow, I thought, I'll see this land for myself.