Enid Ruther couldn't decide if she was more tired or invigorated. The council meeting had run late, again, until even Bertold the guild leader had been nodding in his cup. And yet not a single member would say they'd left the gathering anything less than upbeat. Perhaps it was true what her husband used to say and people truly did see the best of each other in the darkest of times. Unlike Derrion, she'd never been forced to confront those dark moments battling in the Dungeon, instead she got to see the best her people could offer now, after their homes and families had been destroyed in such a brutal manner.
To juxtapose such suffering with the incredible community that had sprung up in the middle of nowhere was at times completely jarring, yet unless she was thinking of it consciously it all just felt so natural. Of course the Gorion family would lend their meagre spare supplies to the Tirin's who'd just arrived with nothing but the clothes on their back, why would anyone ever think that they wouldn't?! Or that the builders would happily shove away their dinner and start levelling ground and cutting beams the second Enid knocked on their door and said new houses where needed. She didn't say they were needed immediately and hastened to tell them so but they just shrugged, grinned and got to work.
She'd never seen such an unselfish work ethic in all her life and every day she woke up expecting to find it gone and replaced with more normal greed, but it clung to the community like a stubborn virus. By now even the neighbours were starting to notice the unflinching generosity and dedication of the people, Enid herself had been questioned on it more than once.
[No,] she'd been forced to say, [it isn't normal for people to work like this.]
[Curious,] the ant had stared up at her with its unblinking eyes as it pondered her words, [you wouldn't describe humans as lazy would you?]
The insects were normally almost totally void of emotion, but somehow she could sense just how repellent the concept of laziness was to the creature. Which made sense, she supposed, ants were not exactly known for being relaxed and slack creatures.
[Humans can be lazy,] she admitted, [just like any other creature]
The ant stared at her for a long moment.
[ almost any other creature, I meant to say. Obviously the Colony is excepted from such weak fleshy concerns.]
She swore the ant's antennae wiggled a little at her acknowledgement. Thinking back to that conversation caused a slight chuckle to break through the old woman's gruff exterior as she walked through the cool night. In some ways the insects of Anthony's colony were highly intelligent and curious creatures, full of questions and full of an insatiable thirst to learn. In other ways they were like children, incapable of deception and completely certain of their own point of view. Would the monsters become old and jaded, as so many mortal species did? Or would they continue forward forever sure in themselves?
Needless to say, Enid wouldn't live long enough to find out. It was a miracle she was still going, all things considered. At nearly seventy years of age, she was easily the oldest survivor of the disaster. Which was surprising since she'd not gained a whole lot of toughness across her lifetime. Perhaps it was Will keeping her old bones moving?
She rapped at the door of the bowyer and pushed her way in without waiting for a response. A rush of warm air blew past as she stepped blinking into the newly made workspace. Wood chips and shavings covered every surface and the air felt thick with it, causing her to cough as she waved a hand in front of her. What she didn't see was her damn craftsman.
"Aarran Yewman! Where the hell are you? I told you I'd be here after the meeting!"
From another room came the scraping of a chair across the floor and the overweight, balding bowmaker stumbled into the room.
"Keep it down Enid, you old crow!" He growled in his low, rumbling, voice. "I just sat down to eat my dinner, I've been waiting around out here for more than an hour."
"Hardly my fault if the meeting runs long, is it?" Enid re-joined. "Have you taken a look at it yet or have you been slacking?"
Mumbling to himself about the apology Aarran knew he was never going to get, he limped across the room to his work bench and reached up to pull down a long stave of wood from an overhead rack.
"Slacking? Unlike some people who sit around all day and call it work, I've been busy. Take a look at this."
So saying he tossed the stave toward Enid, forcing her to catch it out of the air with a squawk. The moment she had it in her hands though, her eyes sharpened and her merchant's instincts took over. The wood was smooth, the grain fine. The flex was perfect as well. She brought it closer to her eyes and noted with excitement the slight gleam that ran through the wood.
"This is good stuff."
"Aye. That it is," Aarran agreed. "Those ants have some good stuff in their mandibles there, I'd have worked with wood of that quality probably three or four times in my entire life, and I've been cutting bows since I was five."
A recent addition to Renewal Village, Aarran was a master Bowyer from a kingdom neighbouring Liria, Holt. It seems that before she came south the hated Garralosh wasn't too concerned if she crossed borders and her monsters had rampaged through many of the border kingdoms. The outriders had ranged far and fast to bring word of this refuge to everyone who could make it and even now more people were flooding in, seemingly by the day. Enid had finally started delegating as much as she needed to and for now things were holding together.
"What sort of enchantment do you think the wood will hold?" She asked.
She had her own opinion but Aarran would know better than her. This was his particular area of expertise, after all.
"Just about any basic enchantment of Earth, Water or Wood affinity I would think. Ice arrows would be a good one, but there's a heap of options. Problem is, I can't do the enchanting myself. Have you lined up anyone to do it for you?"
His tone said that he was doubtful she'd managed that. Several craftsmen were working hard to develop their enchanting skills but none were far enough along that she'd be willing to let them work on such precious material as this.
"Well, that's the thing. I think I have found someone to perform the enchanting, but they need to practice first. I've been asked to provide some practice staves for them to work on. Do you think you could supply them?"
"Well, sure." Aarran folded his arms. "How many do they want?"
"A THOUSAND? Where the hell do you think I'm going to find the time to make that many?! And who could possibly have a thousand cores to spare making practice bows?!" The irate bowyer stared at her as if she were daft, which was fair.
Enid sighed. She knew this would happen.
"I know you've only been here a few days, Aarran, and I appreciate everything you've been able to for us"
" did you happen to talk to Priest Beyn yesterday?"
"And what did you think? About what he had to say."
The big man hesitated for a moment.
"It's hard to take."
"I know. By all that is holy, I know. But it's all true. You've seen them around, you know the Colony means us no harm. More than that, they have acted out to help us in a huge number of ways. This is one of them. They've offered to perform the enchanting for us."
The craftsman's eyes widened to an almost dangerous degree.
"The ants?! Enchanting? In return for what?"
"That's the thing. They just want the experience and Skill levels. Apparently they've been enchanting like crazy down there. Unlike us, they have the resources to burn testing and experimenting and they are actually getting somewhere!"
"There has to be a price, Enid." Aarran rebuffed her, not willing to trust monsters. "What could they possibly want."
"Knowledge. Before he left, Anth- Their leader told me that the ants would help us in return for access to our knowledge. If they ask a question, make sure you answer it, that's all."
The old man nodded slowly.
"And what happens when we have no more knowledge to give?" He asked. "Do they abandon us? Or worse? I spoke to Beyn and I've been in that church he built. It ain't natural, Enid. Quite a few newcomers are nervous about it. People are worried that we trust these monsters too much."
Enid sighed. This was a recurring issue that cropped up with every new group of refugees who settled here. After some time, they would acclimate, or more likely, Beyn would talk them around to his way of thinking. But then another group would come and the whisperings would start all over again. It just felt like each time it happened it took longer from the rumblings to settle down. Some people just flat refused to believe that an ant brought down Garralosh and saved them from the horde. Enid didn't even blame them, it seemed crazy. Perhaps if Anthony was here then it would be easier to convince them. Things just seemed to happen when that creature was around.
"Just think about it," Enid told him. "I have assurances that they can do what we want. I'd rather not have to order you Aarran, but we need to make the most of this. These weapons will not only make us safe, they'll secure us financially. For years. If you agree, then deliver whatever you can to Beyn in the morning and start working on the rest."
Not bothering to stay and argue, Enid turned and left. It was late and she was cold. Her own blankets awaited.