Part 11: On the trail

Gerrig tried to concentrate on his work. He was calculating the incomings and outgoings of the castle. It was one of those things that came with being the Lord and Master of Caer Bannog. Before the death of his father, he’d been content with a muttered “We’re doing alright”. These days, it fell to him to add up the sums to the nearest copper. Usually, it took him only an hour or two to do the month’s sums, but today, two columns of numbers that should add up to a nice round zero, steadfastly refused to do so. He was finding it harder than usual to concentrate because the constant stream of noise coming from Old Bannog’s bedroom, soon to be the New Shower Room. He sighed. Lady Ariciel had been right, of course. Nothing in the world could have persuaded him to move into that room, or even to allow guests there. This was a good solution. No associations with the past and a little luxury for the womanfolk. His eyes fell on the trunk in the corner. It contained his father’s belongings from his bedroom. It probably said something about Father that all his personal belongings could fit in that trunk. That nice Elven priestess, Lirael, had carefully packed them in bits of cloth and had some of his soldiers carry it up to his workroom. Gerrig sighed and was three numbers into the first column when the drilling started again and shattered his concentration. He cast his eyes up at the ceiling and closed the ledger, then walked down the stairs to see how long this was going to take. A dustcloud greeted him as he entered the room. A muffled voice shouted at him.

“Close it! Or it’ll get all over the place!”

“It’s my door, and I’ll open and close it as I want!”

Gerrig coughed, and from the billowing dustclouds, the small figure of a Gnome emerged, wearing a facemask and goggles. He pushed them up and revealed himself as Nix Steambender, the younger of the two. His face was completely grey, except for two clean circles round his eyes.

“Oh. Pardon me, Sir Gerrig. People have been coming in all morning asking when we’ll be done.”

“Yes? And?”

“So I have to interrupt my work and explain to them that it’s going to take longer and longer the more they disturb me. The diamond drill needs to be at the right operating temperature to work properly, and all this starting and stopping is buggering up the couple regulators, pardon my Gnomish.”

“Right. So how long will it take? I am trying to work upstairs.”

“Somewhere between an hour and three, depending on environmental parameters.”

“Such as?”

“Hardness of the granite, unexpected obstacles, and of course there’s always some fluctuations in workflow due to non-linear communications aspects.”

“Ah. I see,” said Gerrig. “Well, keep it up.”

He walked out of the room, closed the door and went outside for some air. He shook his head, laughing quietly to himself. Bloody Gnomes. Non-linear communications aspects. In other words, shut up and let us get on with it. All right, then. Let’s find someone else to keep from his work.

X

“Good morning, Albert. How goes the translation?”

“Good morning, Sir. Satisfactorily, I think. I have managed to translate most of the documents.”

“Any idea what our green neighbors are up to?”

Albert scratched behind his ear, casting his gaze once more over the documents brought to him by Interalia.

“As far as I can see, nothing out of the ordinary. Recruits come in. Training is applied to them, with rewards or punishment, depending on performance. Once they clear some basic tests, they go to Blackrock Mountain. They seem to be concentrating on making their warriors resistant to shadow magic, which would probably be a good thing if we did as well. But nothing more.”

Gerrig shook his head. “There’s got to be something. Are you sure there isn’t some sort of code, or a secret message?”

“Well, if there were, it would be beyond me to find it. But I don’t think so. Surely, you do not put hidden messages in your accounts ledgers?”

“Hah. That may be why the figures don’t seem to want to match. Possibly some powerful deity is trying to send me messages.”

Albert gave a vague smile. “That is always a possibility, of course.”

“Still… Shadow magic. We don’t use shadow magic. Why would they be defending against it?”

“Perhaps, Sir Gerrig, they are not worried about us, but rather about the Scourge. They practically invented shadow magic.”

“Hmm. I’m still not convinced. I’ll send out Interalia for more documents.”

“Please do so. I am already the envy of all my peers. They don’t have as many Orcish documents to study. I may well produce a paper on the subject.”

Gerrig stared. “You are talking about this with your academic friends?”

“Why, of course. Some of them had quite helpful advice on Orcish command structure.”

Gerrig closed his eyes. Oh crap. He took a deep breath, and fixed Albert with a stare.

“Please inform your learned friends that your source has dried up and that no more information will be forthcoming.”

“But…”

“No. No ‘but’. Do it. What do you think will happen if word gets out I am spying on the Orcs when I expressly promised not to?”

“Uh… Historical evidence shows that… hostilities will ensue.”

“Exactly. So pray that none of your friends mentions anything about this. Am I making myself clear?”

“Perfectly, Sir. I will see to it at once.”

“Good.”

Gerrig turned round, fuming, and walked out of the door. Bloody academics. As if he hadn’t enough to worry about already.

X

In the function hall, men were busy constructing practice dummies out of wood and straw, for this afternoon’s practice. He was pleased to see that Nægling had joined the men in hammering together the old planks. The woman must be feeling better. She still walked with a limp, but she carried herself with slightly more confidence than she used to. Father Eolas had warned him to keep her away from the men, but she had joined them on her own initiative and he could hardly lock her up. One of the men held up one of the heads.

“Hey! The wood on this one’s cracked. Do we have any brown straw for the hair?”

Gerrig winced, as Nægling slowly looked round at the soldier.

“I hope you’ll enjoy it. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to beating me.”

The soldiers laughed. Nægling had, once, joined sword practice when there was an odd number of soldiers. The lucky soldier had grinned and told her he’d go easy on her. “Thank you,” Nægling had lisped, and proceeded to show him all the corners of the courtyard. Nægling might not be much to look at, but she knew what to do with a sword. Among soldiers likely to go out in battle, that was the equivalent of a perfect figure and finely crafted features. It meant exactly nothing to a bunch of Paladin novices competing for position in the pecking order. As Gerrig reluctantly walked back up the stairs, to attack the ledgers again, he thought that Nægling might actually fit in. Stranger things had happened.


Selena dropped her hood back. It had stopped raining, but the sky was still grey, promising more rain. She knew that all over Azeroth, wise men looked up at the sky and noted down precisely what the weather was like, in the hopes of predicting what the weather would be like tomorrow. They sold little books that would tell you with almost unfailing accuracy what the weather wasn’t going to be like today. Sellers of the Almanack here must be raking in the gold.

“Grand soft weather, we’re having,” said Hieronimo.

“Aye,” said Berrin. “I’m sure that the poor wee Goblins in Tanaris would give lots of gold for a nice bit o’ precipitation like this.”

“Isn’t giving gold away against their religion?” said Selena. “I believe the Goblin word for gold is Bish’tak, which means ‘That Which Exists For Others To Give Us’.”

“Are ye done chatterin’?” Thorfin Stoneshield gave them a look. “It ain’t a bloody henhouse here.”

“Henhouses are dry,” said Selena.

“Would ye like me to tell you about the things up North that can kill ye, or would you like to find out for yerself? I’ll have none of yer lip, so put a sock in it.”

Selena looked at her feet, and said nothing.

“Right, lads. That gap in the mountain range to the North leads to Dun Modr, and the bridge of Thandol Span, or what’s left of it. North of that are the Arathi Highlands. Our new playground. We’ll be hunting there. There’s raptors, more bears, wolves, cats, they get everywhere. They’re just bigger and nastier than the ones in Dun Morogh.”

Thorfin looked at each of his students. “Now if ye were wondering what the point was in making ye build yer own camp back in Dun Morogh, this is it. A good hunter can survive anywhere, as long as he needs to, on his own. You’re each going to go your separate ways. You, Rockwalker, are going North. Wildheart, East. Caerbannog, west. Then after two days, you make your way back to Refuge Pointe. I’ll be wanting some sort of proof that you haven’t been sitting on your tails just out of earshot of Refuge Pointe, so hunt up something, don’t care what. Be told. This is your first test. I get to decide here whether to keep ye or to ditch ye as a bad job.”

Selena took a slow breath. Thorfin looked at her face, and grinned.

“Scared already? Well good. There’s plenty of things out there that’ll have ye for lunch. Before I forget. Not all the dangerous things in Arathi go on four legs. There’s… Humans about. Stay well away from them. Don’t let them see you, because they’re a deranged bunch of murderers.”

Selena sniffed. “Not all Humans are murderers.”

“Yer right. Some of ’em are wet hens. Now get ready. We cross the bridge, then split up on the other side. Move!”


Cullan looked ahead, careful to stay out of sight. He was hungry. He’d been hungry for days now. Sheer adrenalin had sustained him all the way from Greymane’s wall, all along the mountains to the East, and into this place of the world, Hillsbrad. He should probably have visited the small town just outside the wall for supplies, but that would play into the hands of his pursuers. He hadn’t seen them, didn’t know them, nor how many there were. They’d almost certainly have Gilnean hunting hounds with them. Massive creatures, used for hunting game… or people. He knew the hounds could pick up the slightest hint of a scent, even if it was a week old.

He had only the vaguest idea of what to do, where to go. His father had once told him of the great city of Stormwind, far to the south, where his father had gone once or twice, to trade. He went by way of a town called Southshore. Presumably, he’d have to find a ship there, where nobody knew who he was, or what. That meant he had all of the Hillsbrad Foothills to cross, and then the Arathi Highlands. But that was of academic interest. He first had to get past these watchtowers. If he couldn’t do that, then he might as well give up. A fond look crept onto Cullan’s tired face, as he imagined a sarcastic voice.

“Why Mr. Cuchullainn. Have I taught you nothing?”

“Pardon me, Miss Loren. I will try my best not to embarrass you.”

He wrapped the shadows round himself, and crept forward.


“These mutts give me the creeps,” said William.

“Well, we fed it this morning, so you should be alright,” said Maceál. “Isn’t it amazing how the beast can smell that bastard even with you guys here?”

“I hear they see colour with their noses,” said David. “And their eyes only see black and grey and white.”

Dieb laughed. “So what colour would you be? Pretty pink, I’d guess.”

“Sod you,” said David. “At least I take baths now and then. The ladies like it.”

“Hah!” William grinned. “Women like strong men. It’s in their blood. Can’t resist us.”

“Yeah, that’s muscle, not smell,” said Maceál.

“Oh yeah? One of the girls promised to give me a tuppenny upright if we catch the bastard. For free!”

Dieb grinned broadly. “You lucky sod. Which one?”

“The blonde one with the long legs. Lynn, I think.”

Nice,” said Maceál.

David frowned. They rode on for a bit, following the dog as it ran ahead of them, nose to the ground, unfailing. Every morning, all they had to do was wave Cuchullainn’s shirt in front of it, and off it went. Amazing. The men rode on, silently, until finally David couldn’t bear it anymore.

“Um,” he said. “Not that I’d want you to think I haven’t seen it all, and I’m not a man of the world… Cause I have, and I am.” He looked at William. “But… What the blazes is a tuppenny upright?”

“Don’t know,” said William. He looked round. Maceál shook his head. Dieb shrugged.

“Has to be good, though.”

X

It was starting to get dark when the men came to the Southpoint Tower, that guarded the way from Gilneas into Hillsbrad. They decided against staying there, because none of them trusted the men of Hillsbrad who worked there. Anyway, the dog, who William had named “Snuffles”, ran straight past it, not even looking up at the tower.

“Looks like Mr. Chuckles didn’t like the people in the tower either,” said Maceál.

“Gonna be dark soon,” said David. “Perhaps we should find a nice soft bit of rock and bed down for the night.”

Dieb looked round. “Great. Any of you got any firewood?”

“Where’d I keep it?” said William. “Under my kilt?”

Dieb started to grin, and opened his mouth. Maceál reached out and prevented a fight by muffling whatever Dieb was going to say.

“You want fire, you need wood. Get chopping.”


Cuchullainn looked up. Only a half moon, but enough to see by. He could only run fast in his True Form, but whenever he changed, the Beast reminded him that he hadn’t eaten enough. He sniffed the air for prey. If there was wildlife in these parts, then it was smart enough not to show itself to him. Back in Gilneas, he would never have thought that hunger could hurt. He’d found some blackberries, and spent at least half an hour finding every last one on the bush, until fear once more took him, and he ran, looking over his shoulder. He’d found some mushrooms growing on the side of a tree, but even sniffing them in his True Form hadn’t told him whether they were poisonous or not. He found a stream, and dived head-first into it. The water tasted clear, and he could see fish swimming. He leapt at one, though he knew full well that it would be gone long before he could get his claws on it.

Cuchullainn ran on, cursing his own stupidity. He’d taken the time for a shave and a haircut. Why hadn’t he taken the time to fit himself out for a trip in the wild? Why had he simply assumed that he could live off the land, like a creature of the wild? He growled. The Beast in him was strong, feral, confident, blood-thirsty. And really really bloody stupid. Also, he had to admit with red cheeks, completely unable to actually catch any food. Food. As the word echoed in his head, his stomach reminded him, without needing to, how little it had inside. Cuchullainn breathed in slowly, trying to find on the wind the scent of anything, anything edible. Nothing.

He ran on.


Selena closed her eyes, concentrating on the little specks of Light in her mind. People. Beasts. She found she could do one or the other, but not both at the same time. She’d told Hugin to grab anyone or anything that attacked her, but strong though Hugin was, the creatures in this place were too big for a bird to take on alone. Selena stood still, concentrating on one of the little sparks in her head. She looked, and her eyes opened wide. Far in the distance, she could see a creature, made of… She looked again, shielding her eyes from the bright mid-day sun. Her mouth fell open. Walking rocks? Selena dropped down on her stomach, calling Hugin to her. She closed her eyes, straining her mind for a place where there were no people, and set off at a run. Thorfin Stoneshield would probably have laughed at her, before wrestling the thing to the ground. Piss on him. Using her Aspect of the Cheetah, she ran, to put as much distance between her and the monsters.

X

She’d calmed down a bit. She was sitting with her back to a large boulder, chewing on some of the dried meat she’d bought all the way back in Menethil. It was salty, and gave her a thirst, but she didn’t care. She’d given Hugin some as well. Did Hugin actually need to eat? She was a thing of magic now, no longer a living creature. Or was she? She’d fed Hugin every day back at the Caer, and cleaned up after her, because Father was a firm believer in the concept of Cause and Effect and personal responsibility. Selena threw another lump of meat at Hugin, and she snatched it out of the air just like she always did, tilting her head back to swallow it whole. She looked happy with the gift. Which was all that mattered, really. Selena got up.

“Time to get going again, girl,” she said. She stood up straight, and planted her staff on the ground in front of her in a dramatic pose. The wind made her cloak flap around her in a very satisfying way. She threw her head back.

“Let’s see what adventures await!”

X

From her hiding spot on a small hill, Selena looked down on a large grassy plain. Her eyes were wide open, and a silly grin was on her face. She brushed her hair out of her eyes and raised her head a little. A few hundred yards away, there was a pack of raptors. They were only small ones, but even “small” raptors could still easily fit Selena’s head in their mouths. They were possibly the ugliest creatures Selena had seen, but still, their raw strength, their sheer ferocity hit Selena in the stomach in a primal way. She wanted one. She wanted to hunt it, kill it, and eat its flesh while deciding what to make out of its leather. She licked her finger and held it up to feel the wind. The raptor at the front was the largest. The boss, the alpha male. Out of the question. Hit that one and you have the whole pack on you, and rather than catch it, you become lunch. Her eyes were drawn to the back of the pack. One of the raptors was walking with a limp, unable to keep up. Poor thing.

Selena told Hugin to stay with her no matter what, and moved downwind of the pack. Her longbow was in her hand, an arrow in the other. Her eyes were fixed on her prey, and her tracking spells would warn her of any surprises. Slowly, she caught up with the pack, until she was in arrow range. Wind was in her face. She looked at her target’s good leg, concentrating. The bowstring touched her lips as she drew back the arrow, took a deep breath, and slowly let it escape as the tip of the arrow lowered. The string slipped from her fingers. Even before it hit the leg joint of the limping raptor, Selena smiled. The creature bellowed, not even knowing where this sudden pain came from. Then, it collapsed onto its side. The pack gave it one sad look, then walked on. With a quiet word, Selena ordered Hugin to attack. She flew off in a large arc, approaching from behind, then fell down on the wounded raptor. It tried to twist its head round to bite Hugin, exposing its throat. Hugin’s beak tore into it, and blood sprayed. The raptor bellowed in pain and fear. Selena ran up, iron-shod staff out, and raised it high. She looked into the raptor’s eye, and then stabbed down with all her strength and a fierce cry, pushing down with all her weight behind it. She felt the staff move in her hands as the raptor twitched, and then… stopped moving. Selena pulled back her staff, covered in blood and gore. She breathed in deep, once, twice, three times. Then, she raised her arms into the air and shouted out at the top of her voice. No words, simply raw emotion. With her heart beating wildly, she grinned at Hugin.

“Tonight, girl… we eat!”


Thoradin’s wall. It separated the Hillsbrad Foothills from the Arathi Highlands. Cullan looked. There was a small troop of soldiers at the wall, wearing strange tabards. Cullan distrusted them. They were probably soldiers of the Alliance, and King Genn Greymane must have had good reasons to separate his country from them. The troop looked orderly enough, but there was no way of telling how they would react to a runaway Gilnean. They’d probably hang him just to be sure. Cullan hid himself in the shadows, and crept forward. With practice, his confidence had grown and he knew that he could stay out of sight of the soldiers. The only thing that might give him away was the loud rumbling of his stomach. It wasn’t lunch time for the soldiers, or Cullan might have tried to snatch some. Hunger had done away with any remaining shame he might have felt in stealing. But one cannot pluck feathers from a frog, so he simply sneaked past the watchmen. The grassy plains of the Arathi Highlands lay before him.

Once out of sight of the Wall, Cullan dropped to all fours again, changed, and ran off. It was maddening! This was a lush, fertile land. All round him, he could see… rabbits. Tasty, fluffy rabbits. Cullan knew how to skin rabbits, it being one of his Lord’s favourites with a black pepper sauce. The problem was, that these ones didn’t volunteer to become lunch. In a straight line, he could easily outrun them, but the little creatures didn’t run in a straight line. Just as he was sure that he had one, it’d turn at a right angle. He’d fallen over trying to follow it, landing on his back. Cullan had stared at the rabbit sitting not ten yards away, nose twitching, laughing at him. With a deep sigh, he’d swallowed his shame, and ran off. No doubt the rabbits were jeering at his back.

X

Cuchullainn looked out over the endless grasslands of Arathi. Miles upon miles of endless plains stretched out before him. The truth that he had been avoiding all these days, would no longer be denied.

He wasn’t going to make it.

He would die in this place.

Even in his True Form, he had slowed down to a crawl. He hadn’t been quick enough to catch food two days ago, when he still had energy. He was much weaker now, and even if he found something less agile than rabbits, he wouldn’t be able to overcome it. The pain in his empty stomach had passed, to be replaced with a dangerous, subtle weakness. Try as he might, he could not run any further. It would be so nice to lie down, just for a little while, and sleep. You always think better after a little sleep, and something would come to him that would mean breakfast. Just lie down here for a bit. The grass is soft and cool.

Cuchullainn shook himself. If he lay down now, he would not get up again. He smelled water, made his way to a small stream, and drank. Drinking was good. It made his stomach feel full for a little while. As he looked up, muzzle dripping with water, he froze. He took a quick breath. Raised his large wolf’s head. He breathed out, then in, mouth hanging open to smell the better. His tongue stuck out, and he panted, flanks rising and falling. There was no mistake. He’d smelled it. As clear as the day.

Somewhere upwind, there was a fire.

Someone had made a fire.

On the fire was… Cuchullainn’s jaws dripped with saliva. Someone was making… He ran.

Food.


Maceál rose in his stirrups, looking ahead for any sign of their target. Snuffles was still running ahead. What possessed a large dog to run for days on a scent, they didn’t know, but run he did.

“How long is this going to take?” asked William. “I want to get this job done.”

“Homesick already?” said David. “A man on foot, he shouldn’t be this fast. Are you sure Snuffles isn’t hunting for wild goose?”

“If he is, we’re having dog for dinner tonight,” said Dieb. “But the Boss said to follow the dog.”

“What do we do when we catch Chuckles anyway?” said David.

“Kill the son of a bitch,” said Maceál. “That’s our orders. Kill him and make it hurt.”

“Yeah,” said David. “About that… What do we have to do? Like stab him where it takes him a long time to die?”

“Could do,” said William. “Or tie him down and leave him for the wild animals.”

“They’ll want proof,” said Maceál. “Bit hard to get that from a bear’s stomach.”

“I say we just stab him, and be done with it,” said David. “I’m sure Dieb can come up with a good story. Who’ll say we didn’t? Takes less time, easier for all.”

“Like how we cut bits off his legs, and fried ’em and fed ’em to him?” Dieb picked up his dagger by the tip, flipped it into the air and caught it.

“What sort of proof?” asked William. “I’m not going to ride for days with someone’s head in my bags.”

“Something that doesn’t go off,” said Maceál.

“I don’t want to take hours killing the sod,” said David. “One of my uncles was caught stealing, and they took three days getting from him where he’d hidden the loot. We went to a place just outside the prison to hear him scream. Puts you right off your drink, that does.”

“So why did you go there, then?” asked Dieb. “It’s not like you had to.”

“Well, he’d have done the same for us. He was that kind of man. And then they hanged him.”

“Stupid bugger,” said William. “Should have told ’em what they wanted to know. Would’ve been much easier.”

“He did,” said David. “But then they wanted to know where he’d hidden the rest of the loot, and there was no rest of the loot. They didn’t believe him. Filthy bastards. So I say we just slit his throat, and be done with it.”

“Suits me,” said Maceál.

X

They had stopped for a quick bite to eat and a rest. Snuffles was lying by the fire, making sure that nobody made off with the sausages. Whenever Dieb tried to turn one of them, he’d growl. So far, they had lost three sausages in bribes.

“I wonder if he stops for food,” said Maceál. “David’s right. We should’ve caught up with him already.”

“Maybe he’s looping round, and following us,” said Dieb. “Those thugs, they teach them stuff. How to hide.”

“And how to run faster than a horse?” William laughed. “You can’t go believing all the stories you hear about Rogues, Dieb. And you should know, you are one.”

A hurt look was on Dieb’s face. “I’m not a Rogue! I’m a swashbuckler. I don’t go near ladies’ make up, even for a cunning disguise.”

David looked uneasily at the small shrubs and trees.

“I don’t know, see? Most of those Rogues are just your basic common spotted sneak thief, but some of them use magic. They can make themselves invisible, or even… turn themselves into animals.” He loosened his sword in its scabbard. “He could be watching us now.”

William snorted, and stood up. He raised his kilt and presented the world with an unobstructed view of his bare backside.

“Get a look at this, Chuckles!”

Dieb rolled over backwards laughing. Maceál gave William a weary look.

“Put that away, you stupid ass. That’s only for emergencies.”

“Well, not as stupid as talk about magic Rogues and shape-changers. Are those sausages done yet? I want to know what a bloody tuppenny upright is.”

“Most likely, a bun with raisins in,” said Dieb.

“If it is, the little tart can feed it to me,” said William. “In ‘er birthday suit.”


Selena tried roasted raptor, with a few chunks of bread, and declared it a success. It had taken her a while to get the skin off the raptor, but she had been careful not to damage it. It was neatly folded up in her pack now. When she got home, she’d ask Ariciel what to do with it. It should be enough for a pair of leather pants. Hugin preferred her raptor raw, and luckily, also the bits that Selena didn’t want herself. Selena had found this place by accident, on top of a hill, a small sandy place hidden between three big boulders. She closed her eyes, concentrated. There were no beasts nearby. This place looked like the perfect place to stay the night. Then, in the morning, she’d head back East, to Refuge Pointe. She vaguely remembered the place. Bannog had mentioned that he’d been there. Could that be the place where he’d done the mighty deeds that were all the talk of Menethil? He’d told her about the mages he had killed, together with four of his army mates, but her Big Brother had, once or twice, been known to add a tiny embellishment or two to an otherwise dull story. Just to keep people interested.

She looked up at a noise, frowned. Her hand went to her staff. Someone was walking up the side of the hill. Selena got to her feet, holding her staff in front of her. She quickly turned her mind to detecting people, and sure enough, a wavering spot of Light was slowly making its way towards her.

“Hugin? Slay all who attack me.”

Hugin flapped to the top of one of the boulders, and held ready. As Selena watched, the shape of a man, silhouetted in the light of the setting sun, appeared between the boulders. He stepped forward, and stood still. He was a little taller than she was. His hair was dark and short, and the beginning of a dark beard was on hollow cheeks. His eyes, grey or blue, she couldn’t tell, looked at her from a thin face. Just for a moment, Selena’s mind flew back, over all the miles between her and Redridge, to the man she’d quite definitely given up forever. The stranger coughed.

“Good… good evening, Lady.”

Selena nodded. “Greetings. What brings you here?”

The man took a slow breath, pointed. “I smelled your fire, Lady. I smelled your…” He closed his eyes. “I’m afraid to ask, but… could I please…”

Selena lowered her staff to the ground, and leaned on it. On the rock above her, Hugin stirred, preened her feathers, and looked down on the man with eyes that had looked at the Sun without blinking. Selena pointed her hand at the fire.

“You look hungry. Would you like something to eat?”

X

Selena sat on a rock, watching the man eat, a little smile on her face. To be honest, she was glad. She’d taken much more meat than she needed from the raptor, and without smoking, drying or freezing it, it would go off the day after tomorrow. It was nice that she had found a good home for it. Finally, the man sat back, closed his eyes, and tilted his head back. Then, he looked at her. Selena almost imagined a brief blue glare in his eyes.

“Thank you. Thank you, Lady. You have saved my life.”

“Oh, surely you’re joking? There’s lots to eat here.”

“I am no hunter, Lady.”

“Not a hunter? What are you then?”

He looked down. “I am a simple house servant, Lady.”

“So what are you doing here? Not many houses here.”

The man stood up, bowed his head. “Pardon my manners, Lady. I have failed to introduce myself. My name is Cullan, and I am at your service. If it weren’t for your kindness, I would have died in this place.”

“Selena of Caer Bannog,” said Selena. “Pleased to meet you.”

“The pleasure is all mine, lady Selena.”

“Where are you going?”

Cullan sighed. He heard Loren’s voice in his head. Where you’re going to isn’t as important as what you’re running away from. He knew only one city beyond Gilneas.

“Stormwind, Lady. I am hoping to find employ there.”

“Well, you’ve got a long way to go, then. Make for Ironforge, then take the tram.”

“Thank you, Lady.”

“Not tonight, though. I was about to bed down for the night.”

Cullan nodded. “In that case, do not let me keep you. If you will allow it, I will take the first watch.”

X

Cullan sat by the fire, watching the young woman asleep on the other side of the fire. She had leaned her bow against a rock. An arrow was stuck in the ground nearby. Her staff was close by her hand, and she had not closed her sleeping furs, ready for action at a moment’s notice. She wasn’t sleeping easy, stirring, her hand gripping her staff. What was such a young lady doing, all alone in the wild? He shook his head. She was doing better than he was. Ashamed as he was, he had to admit it. He needed her. He could not survive in this place without her hunting skills. He hadn’t even brought a bow or a gun. All he had were his daggers, and being poisoned, they were no good for hunting anything but Humans. Cullan looked out into the night. He wouldn’t be any good defending her, even. There was no way the Beast Within would lie quiet if he had to defend his life against the men following him. Lady Selena was already suspicious of him. If he were to show her his True Form, she might well attack him instead of… his pursuers. His. He was endangering her by his very presence. He should leave. But if he did, and they found her?

Cullan sighed, got up. He looked over the fields to the West. He couldn’t leave now, with Lady Selena still asleep. In the morning, he’d ask her the way to Stormwind, and then take his leave.


Selena woke up. The sun was about to come up, and the sky was painted in red and purple. The smell of tea was in the air. She was hungry. Better get going.

“Good morning, Lady. Have you slept well?”

Selena jumped. She’d almost forgotten her new companion. He came over to her, and handed her a mug of tea and some cold meat on a slice of flatbread.

“I took the liberty of finding your kettle and making tea,” said Cullan. “Though I’m afraid we are out of firewood.”

“‘s Alright,” said Selena. “Need to put it out anyway.”

She drank the tea, ate the bread. With cold meat she’d caught herself, she noted with a smug grin. Stuff you, Stoneshield.

It was time to head back east, to Refuge Pointe, and from there… wherever Thorfin Stoneshield would send her next.

They set off, running easily towards the East. Selena tried outpacing him, but now that his strength had returned, he could keep up with her, no problem. In fact, he was almost spurring them on. She caught him looking over his shoulder more than once.

“The raptors are ahead of us, Cullan.”

“Yes, Lady.” They ran on for a few paces. “How far is it to Refuge Pointe, if I may ask?”

“At this pace? Should be there by nightfall. Why?”

“No particular reason, Lady.”

Selena looked round at Cullan. “Why do you keep calling me that? It’s not like you’re in my service.”

“Oh, but I am. As long as we travel together, It would be my honour to serve you, in whatever limited way I am able.”

“For a few lumps of raptor meat?”

“For your kindness in giving them to me, Lady. If you had not, I would not be here today.”

“Huh. Just don’t overdo it, Mr. Cullan. This trip is supposed to prove that I can survive on my own in the wild. Mr. Stoneshield would take it entirely the wong way if I found a servant.”

“Since you are providing food for the both of us, I am ashamed to say I am merely adding to your troubles.”

Selena laughed. “Just try to look a bit useless, will you? Just to be sure.”

“I will do my very best, Lady.”

X

It was early in the afternoon when Selena and Cullan sat down in the first likely spot. Cullan built a fire, while Selena had Hugin grab them a few rabbits. Before Selena could get her knife out, Cullan had already taken them. A few moments later, the rabbits were roasting on the spit.

One moment, they were alone. The next moment, they were there. Three large men, wearing kilts. Swords were in their hands, and grim looks were on their hairy faces. One of them stepped forward.

“Mr. Cuchullainn. We meet at last.”

Selena jumped to her feet, bow in her hand, an arrow on the string. She looked at Maceál through eyes turned to slits.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Don’t worry about that, lass,” said David. “We have no quarrel with you. It’s Chuckles here we want.”

Cullan gave Selena a quick, desperate look. “Please, Lady. Don’t let them take me. They’ll kill me.”

“Shut up, Chuckles,” said William. He looked at Selena. “Just step back. He’s no company for a young girl. He likes to lure them to dark places, catch my drift?”

Maceál raised a hand. “Quiet, William. Miss, this man is wanted by the Gilnean Guard, for crimes many and heinous, including murder, rape, and thieving. Just leave him to us, and we’ll see that justice is done upon him.”

“Lady! I am innocent! Please!

Selena looked into Cullan’s eyes, wordlessly asking.

“I swear, Lady. I am innocent. But if they take me, I will not survive a day. They will kill me.”

Selena turned steel blue eyes to Maceál, raising her bow enough to draw attention to it.

“You are not taking him, or anyone else today. Now go away.”

Maceál shook his head. “Can’t do that, Miss. We have orders. Stand back.”

Selena never heard or saw him. In the blink of an eye, he was there, arm round her neck, tightening.

“Don’t you worry about a thing, little Miss. Just take a little sleep now, and in the morning, none of this will have happened.”

Cullan watched in horror as Selena screamed, struggled in Dieb’s grip, unable to break free. She slowed down, went limp. The whites of her eyes showed as Dieb gently lowered her to the ground.

“Right then, Chuckles,” said William. “Do ye want to go on a little walk, or do you want her to wake up mid-way through and see you die?”

Cullan wasn’t listening. He looked at Dieb, shaking with anger.

“You oughtn’t have done that, Sir,” he said.

“She’s alive. What sort of a Lightless amateur do you think I am? Killing the extras?” He took a step back. “Check if you want. She’s breathing.”

Cullan kneeled by Selena’s still body, and gently laid his finger in her neck. He could feel a heartbeat, thank the Light. He sighed, looked up at Dieb.

“You really oughtn’t have done that, Sir.” Cuchullainn’s eyes glowed with a deadly blue light. “Because without Lady looking on, all the rules change.”

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