Rodrigo finished his speech explaining a 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'll be rewarded for any information you provide." With that, he headed into the tavern with the others.
I watched the crowd below condense back into its tightly knit segregated clusters of people. They chattered about their plans for exploration and the living conditions here 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 stood in the square searching for something. He seemed to be having trouble finding it. He was short, to begin with, causing him to walk around each of the remaining crowds of taller folk in order to see past them. The Gnome had been looking for several minutes when he 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 looked directly at me on my 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 perched 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. Ugh. I raised myself up and then began the climb down the back side 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 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 seemed to not be very 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 said the words with a touch of excitement.
I pulled my head back, one eyebrow raised as I thought. 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 said it. "I just 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, I think 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. That's just how it is.
"No," I said.
"I mean no harm. I need a job, and I have no other skills. The two of us together—"
"No. I'm not interested." I cut him off and 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 walked further from the town square to the hill that overlooked the tents. There was less commotion at the moment with a large portion of the colonists in the tavern.
Chipry hopped off my shoulder and began poking at the grass and plants for bugs.
"It's better this way. There's only pain when races mix." I said for no one but Chipry to hear. I sat with my knees up, watching, as I rested my head on my folded arms.
I said it was better this way, but I wasn't fully convinced. If the wilderness here really 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 reached his tent, on the edge of Humans and the Elves. 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 poured 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 multiple people. But this one Elf sat alone. Looks familiar.
Having my thoughts in order, I stood and walked toward the tavern. Chipry lingered for a bit and then landed on my shoulder before I entered the building.
The tavern was big, containing nearly twenty tables, most occupied by the new colonists. Each table hosted a single race, and when new tables filled up, it was always next to another table of their own people.
The building itself smelled of cut wood and cooked meat. Rough-hewn timbers made large pillars and lined the 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 containing a glowing orb that produced enough light for the whole tavern. It must have been a Gnomish creation.
Voices hushed around me as I stepped deeper into the rowdy hall. Conversations stopped and heads turned to look at "the Treek". At least the music at the far corner continued.
Near the front of the tavern was a grouping of races around an oversized table. They all looked down at something, inspecting and discussing it. 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 hidden for so many years, and I planned to hide it here as well, but now everyone knew.
I made my place at an open edge of the table. A group of Saurians that were studying the map noticed me and one gave a repressed snarl. The group of Elves at the table walked back to their own table, with chins raised.
On the table was a map, easily as wide as I was tall. In the upper corner read the word DAEGAL.
The map was hand drawn in black ink on a large canvas with no details filled in. There were a few small landmarks, like forests and rivers, close to the camp, but the rest remained a blank outline of the land mass. Near the drawing of the colony, a grouping of pawns from a board game stood on the map, painted in several different colors.
The Saurian group held a blue one in their hands, placed it on the board near the others and sat back down at their table.
The colors probably represented the races then. Red for Humans, yellow for Elves, and purple for Gnomes.
A pile of pawns laid on the side of the table as well, mostly made of the same colors already in use. I dug through it and pulled out the only green one; the color of the Treeks.
I placed the green pawn down on the map, close to the colony, like the others, but far enough away from any other pawn that we wouldn't be sharing territory.
I heard footsteps approaching and looked up. Rodrigo stopped beside me at the table with a curious look. "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." He said the last part much slower than the first.
Our eyes met, and I quickly nodded.
"Yes, sir," I said. Human's like that sort of thing.
"Search parties will be rewarded for their findings. In addition, any excess game or forigables that you acquire may be sold to the butcher in the town square." Rodrigo spoke with no emotion. I nodded and Rodrigo headed back to his place at the bar.
I watched him as he sat back down. He kept the other representatives at a distance. They were all spread out along the bar. Some carried on conversations with their own race, but none of them talked to each other. It seemed that even among his group, Rodrigo expected little in terms of cooperation.
Having decided on a direction for the next morning, 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 was tucked behind some of the buildings and tall enough to give me a good view while keeping me mostly out of sight. I walked to it making sure no one was following me, climbed up it, and strung my hammock between two of its branches that stretched in a similar direction to each other.
My hammock was stained green and grayish-brown, making it blend in with the tree's foliage. Chipry jumped to a nearby branch and I climbed into my lofted bed, straddling the hammock and pushing my feet against one branch to slide out into it. It was a little precarious, but I was well-practiced. Unless they were looking for me, a passer-by 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 the four flowers grew teaberries. Chipry hopped over and began snacking on the berries. I had a few bites of bread for myself, then stuffed the remainder of the loaf in my backpack, and hung it from a smaller branch nearby.
"Goodnight, Chip," I said.
Chipry gave a small trill and I drifted off to sleep.
Tomorrow, I'll see this land for myself.