Part 12: Trustworthy souls

“What the hell was that?” Interalia sat up in her bed.

Nægling jumped off the top shelf, grunting as she landed.

“This feels too heavy for a siege weapon,” she said. “It must be an earthquake.”

The women hastily put on their armour, and ran out. They weren’t the only ones. The courtyard was filled with people in various states of undress, most of them holding weapons of some kind. Gerrig’s voice boomed out.

“Towers! Report!”

“North! Nothing to see, Sir.”

“East! Clear!”

“West! Nothing to report.”

“Nothing from the Keep, Sir!”

X

Interalia gave Nægling a look. “Tell Boss Man I’m on patrol.”

“You tell him. I’m coming with you.”

Interalia only snorted. She’d been trying to ditch Nails so often now that she knew every trick. It wasn’t that Nails was bad company in a fight. Not at all. She was deadly, and didn’t know what fear was. It was just that fights were much more likely to happen when she was along. They crossed the courtyard, and went out the small door. Once outside, Nægling raised a hand, and magic flowed. A few moments later, she was mounted on a Paladin’s charger. She reached down. Interalia sighed, grabbed her wrist and was pulled up. Nægling spurred on her horse, and they galloped off for a long circuit of the castle.

“Do you have many earthquakes here?”

“Search me,” said Interalia. “Only lived here for a few months. Hah. That’s a new record, actually. Usually I leave after only one month or so. With the tar-and-feather gang after me.”

“Well, you have managed to restrain your kleptomanic tendencies. I suppose that helps.”

“Hm. How do you know? I may just be too good for them.”

“You are not a fool, and you like this place,” said Nægling.

“Naah.” Interalia shook her head. “I’m a free spirit. I need to roam free. Home is where you lay down your head.”

“Oh. My mistake.” Nægling had a way of smiling only with her voice, while keeping her face completely straight. “Caer Bannog is a rather comfortable place to lay down one’s head, though. It would make no sense to spoil a good thing.”

“Yeah. Also, I’m the only competent Rogue in the place. If things would go missing, who’d I blame it on? You?”

“Nix, perhaps?”

“Nix is a do-gooder,” said Interalia. “People look at his face and blame me, even if he’s got the loot in his hands.”

“A useful trait for a thief.”

“Nix isn’t a thief. Hasn’t got it in him. Mind you, he makes enough money just engineering.”

“Well, you make money as an intelligence officer. And it’s your own money.”

“Intelligence officer. That sounds so much better than spy.”

“What we know about the Blackrock Orcs, we know through you. We know that they are not moving against us. That’s useful knowledge.”

“Still don’t trust them. The better it looks, the worse it usually turns out to be.”

Nægling sighed. “You may be right. We are not blameless ourselves.” She fell silent for a few moments. “I am not blameless. I was lucky that none of the Orcs escaped.”

“Shut up, Nails. You got away with that. Forget it. Bringing it up can only lead to trouble.”

They rode on, looking for anything out of the ordinary. There was nothing. Nægling looked at the small woman sitting in front of her.

“Have you ever done something you truly regretted?”

“I got caught once or twice.”

“That’s not what I mean. Did you ever get away with something you knew you shouldn’t have?”

“No.”

“Never?”

“Look, I nick people’s stuff. Never so much that they don’t survive the loss, and never things that they’d really miss.”

“How do you know?”

“Money. Wonderful stuff. One coin is just like any other. Lose some, and you can earn it back and never know the difference.”

“You keep a silver coin in your bra. You wouldn’t want to lose that.”

“Ah. But that’s my lucky coin. The first silver piece I ever stole. From some git who never knew it’d gone.”

“So you steal only unlucky coins.”

“Have to be unlucky, or I wouldn’t get my fingers on them. Stands to reason.”

“I see.”

Interalia looked over her shoulder at Nægling’s scarred face. She could see nothing there to accuse her. Not a hint of disapproval.

“Oh come on. There’s people out there who’ll kill people for some gold. I won’t say I’m harmless, but as predators go, I’m a cat who runs off with your fish, not a tiger who runs off with your arm.”

Nægling laughed. That was a thing that she’d started to do only recently. Before she got here, and settled in a bit, she’d been quiet and sad, with clear undertones of menace. Hadn’t had much to laugh about before that, either. Still, of nights, Interalia could hear Nægling twisting in her bed above her, making small noises in her sleep.

“I have,” said Nægling, quiet again.

“Oh be quiet, Nails. You didn’t know about the Accord, and you weren’t doing anything the bastards wouldn’t love to do to us.”

“I asked for the mission in Morgan’s Vigil,” said Nægling. “I convinced the commander I could do it.”

Interalia frowned. “That was stupid, not evil. The sod should have kicked your butt and sent you back to training.”

Nægling shook her head. “I was stupid, and vain, and proud. Eager to prove myself better than anyone else. I would have been the youngest Paladin to walk through a castle wall.”

“And you got beaten to within an inch of your life. I still think it’s a miracle you lived. And then those bastards wouldn’t heal you. Left you… well, like this.”

Nægling said nothing for a few moments.

“I wouldn’t let them.”

Interalia stuck a finger in her ear and shook her head.

“Heh! I thought you said you wouldn’t let them. What?”

“You heard correctly. I didn’t want them to heal me. My penance is to heal the slow way, without the magic I denied to others.”

It took Interalia at least ten seconds to find words.

“Nails… how can a smart woman like you be so bloody stupid? What in the name of all that’s…”

“I told the priest to heal me to the point where I could continue my work. I deserved no more. When my body has restored itself, then I will be forgiven.”

“Forgiven? Who has to forgive you?”

Nægling stared ahead into the night.

“I have to.”

For once in her life, Interalia didn’t know what to say. They rode on in silence, not finding any of the enemy. Not that they’d expected to. They entered the castle, reported to Gerrig, and went back to their room. Interalia watched Nægling clamber onto the shelf above her, not showing the pain on her face. Interalia quietly got into bed. Someone ought to find Nails’ conscience, and give it a good kicking.


Selena woke up in her warm sleeping furs. When she opened her eyes, a shadow loomed over her. The shadow somehow grew an arm, and a hand. In the hand was a mug of tea.

“Drink this, Lady,” said Cullan. “Careful. It’s hot.”

Selena took the mug, drank in small sips. Mr Cullan was squatted next to her.

“What happened?”

“They call it a sleeper hold, Lady. It is meant to close the arteries in the neck, blocking the flow of blood to the brain. It is a way of rendering someone unconscious without harming them.”

Selena sat up straight, noticing that she was wearing only her shirt and her underwear. She looked at Cullan.

“Those men! Who were they? What did they want with you? And… where are they now?”

Cullan turned round, reaching for a piece of bread.

“They… went away, Lady.”

“They just went away? Why?”

Cullan looked back over his shoulder, then at the fire.

“They found they were pursuing the wrong man, Lady. Would you like some bread?”

Selena shook her head. “Not hungry.”

She looked round for her clothes, and found them folded in a neat stack next to her sleeping furs. She quickly pulled them on, grabbed her weapons.

“Ready?”

Cullan dropped some sand on the fire, then nodded. Selena bent over to pick up her pack. She blinked. On one of the boulders, there was a dark brown spot. She kneeled, fiddling with her boot, then touched the spot with her finger. She rubbed her thumb and forefinger together, swallowed, and wiped her hand on her trousers. She called to Hugin, putting her on the defensive. Slung her pack on her back. A few hours would see her to Refuge Pointe. Selena closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then gave Cullan a friendly look. They set off at a run.

X

They pulled into Refuge Pointe as the Sun tipped the horizon. Refuge Pointe was one of those temporary camps that had been here for years, until it sprouted a forge, little shops, a flight master. The military were still very much in charge here, and soldiers paced to and fro: Dwarves, Humans, and… Selena blinked. A little man stood by a stack of trunks. His bald head was green. His ears were large, and his sharp yellow eyes flitted here and there. An unbreakable friendly grin was on his face. Selena looked at Cullan, who was also staring at the Goblin. Someone shouted her name. She saw Hieronimo waving at her. Selena grinned, and walked towards her.

“Hiya Longshanks! What kept ye?”

“I met some of the two-legged hazards here.”

Hieronimo looked at Cullan. “Did ye tame one of them?”

Selena grinned and pointed a hand at Cullan, who was standing a step behind her. “Hieronimo, meet Mr. Cullan. Cullan? Hieronimo.”

Cullan bowed his head at the Dwarf girl.

“Ma’am.”

“Pleased to meet ye, Mr. Cullan.”

Selena looked round.

“Hey, where’s Mr. Grumpy? Don’t tell me he hasn’t arrived yet.”

“Buggered off to look for some meat for his pet. Told me to wait here.”

“Right. Seen Uncle Berrin anywhere?”

“Nope.” Hieronimo grinned. “Perhaps he went to visit some relatives in the Hinterlands.”

Selena waved a finger at Hieronimo. “Even I know you don’t joke about that. It’s like asking someone what kind of sheep he likes best.”

Hieronimo only grinned. She looked past Selena, then pointed.

“Here comes trouble.”

Thorfin Stoneshield came walking up, carrying a large burlap sack, oozing blood. His raptor walked next to him, spring in its step, bright-eyed and bloody-jawed.

“Ah. Caerbannog. You’re here. Finally. Has Rockwalker arrived yet?”

“No,” said Selena. “Hope he’s alright.”

“Course he’s alright. He’s a real hunter. So what took you so long?”

Cullan coughed. “Good day, good Sir Dwarf. I’m afraid that was my fault. Lady Selena was kind enough to provide me with food. Since I have no wilderness skills to speak of, she very kindly took me here.”

Thorfin looked up into Cullan’s face. “And who are you?”

Cullan bowed. “My name is Cullan, Sir. I have come from Gilneas. I am making for Stormwind to seek my fortune.”

Gilneas?” Thorfin looked at Selena. “By the rampaging Titans, Caerbannog. There was no need to go that far West!”

Cullan smiled. “I met her some twenty miles East of Thoradin’s Wall Sir, and I was very fortunate that I did, as I was quite at the end of my resources, and about to succumb to hunger.”

Thorfin Stoneshield looked blankly at Cullan. “Hunger? In this place? Ye gods, man. This is the most fertile place in the whole of Azeroth! Fish practic’ly fight for yer bait! I can see two good meals from where I’m standing, and I’m not talkin’ about the little green bugger over there.”

“Alas, Sir Dwarf, I have no equipment for fishing or hunting, nor your vast outdoors skills.”

“Then stay bloody indoors, Mr. Cullan.”

“I will endeavour to do so, Sir.”


Quartermaster Declan opened the door, and looked into the face of Postman Porigg. Quartermaster grinned, glad to see his friend, and held out his hand.

“Good to see you, man! Do my old eyes deceive me, or has your forehead grown an inch or two?”

Porigg grinned back. “Grass don’t grow on a busy street, Quartermaster.”

“An empty shed needs no roof,” said Quartermaster. “Want some wine?”

“My friend, you may want to crack open an actual bottle for this one. I have News!”

“What, are you about to become a grandfather?”

“No. I keep telling Emily, lots of unicorn root and red clover tea for her, and lots of ginger for Yorrick. But will she listen?”

“Never,” said Quartermaster. “So what is it then?”

“The Lich King is dead! Young Arthas Menethil has kicked the bucket! With some assistance from Lord Tirion Fordring and his merry band of Paladins. They did it!”

Quartermaster took a deep breath. “Oh Light be praised. That is great news!”

“Not without losses, though. Bolvar Fordragon died with him.”

“Bolvar…” Quartermaster’s eyes stared at the wall. “I served under his father, though I never spoke a word to the man, only saluted him on watch duty.”

Quartermaster walked to one of the cupboards in the kitchen, and pulled out two small glasses and a bottle of fortified wine. He poured out the wine, and pushed one of the glasses over to Porigg.

“It’s not all good news, Porigg. With the Lich King gone, the Scourge has no leader. They’re going to run wild.”

“That’s what they thought, but they seem to have fixed that somehow. Something’s keeping them from using all their power. Probably a bunch of mages spending the rest of their lives casting the same bloody spell on an empty set of armour over and over again.”

“Still. If you ask me, there’s bad weather coming. Always gets worse before it gets better.” Quartermaster drained his glass in one gulp. “And not a damned reason why it couldn’t simply get worse and worse.”


It was early in the morning when the row of soldiers came in, a few women and old men shielded between them. The column of men moved slowly. Several of them were wounded, their arms, legs, heads bandaged with field dressings. There were distressingly few of them. Gerrig stood on the roof of the keep, and watched a few dozen of his men ride out towards the soldiers coming from Lieutenant Smith’s farm. His farm. News had come to him in the middle of the night. Farm and barracks razed, burning. Attack by Blackrock Orcs. Many men slain, the rest had fled over the empty fields, making for the castle. Lieutenant Joseph Smith was taking up the rear, sword in hand, surrounded by the last pikemen who weren’t hurt. A cart pulled by two horses rattled over the drawbridge, going out to fetch the wounded. Gerrig drew a breath, bowed his head, and went down to his workroom. Here we go again.

Second Lieutenant Joseph Smith sat on a chair in Gerrig’s workroom, tired, angry. He had only sheathed his sword after he came into the room. A cup of red wine was in front of him on the table, but he hadn’t touched it yet.

“Ten men dead, Sir. Five swords, four pikes, one healer. I think we killed maybe two dozen, but there’s no way to be sure. There were maybe fifty.”

“Are you sure they were Blackrock? Gath’ilzogg’s Orcs?”

Smitty reached into his bag, and pulled out a piece of cloth, which he spread out on the table.

“This, we managed to take from a slain Orc. It is the Blackrock device, but they are many. They may not be Gath’ilzogg’s men.”

Gerrig looked at the tabard, then back at Lieutenant Smith.

“We will find out. Meanwhile, where are the rest of your men?”

“Sent them to Sir Wilfrid’s farm, Sir. They aren’t as well defended as…” Lieutenant Smith closed his eyes, and took a breath before he could continue. “Sir Roland.”

Gerrig nodded. “Well done, Lieutenant. That’ll be all. You have had a hard day. Go take some rest, and we will discuss it further this afternoon.”

“Sir.” Smitty got to his feet, saluted, and took a step towards the door.

“Lieutenant?”

Smitty looked at Gerrig.

“You have brought your people here, and fought well. Well done.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Lieutenant Smith walked out the door, leaving Gerrig standing at the window. He scowled, banged his fist on the thick walls of the keep. Let’s find out what’s what. He walked down the stairs, and banged on the door of their resident Guard Gnome.

“Sergeant Interalia? I have a job for you.”


Night fell over Arathi. Selena stood on top of the hill that hid the tents of Refuge Pointe, looking North. Her freckled face was still and serious, and a worried look was in her blue eyes. There was a noise next to her. Hieronimo. Selena could recognise her friend’s spirit without seeing. Her hand was on Selena’s arm.

“Yer not goin’ ta make him fly over here just by starin’ holes in the night. It’s time for our little talk with Mr. Stoneshield.”

“Bother Stoneshield,” said Selena.

“Well, he sent me up here to fetch ye. If ye don’t come down, he’ll fail ye, and if I don’t bring ye down, then the scunner is going ta fail me. So are ye walkin’ down, or am I dragging ye?”

Selena looked at Hieronimo, laughed, then followed her down. Thorfin Stoneshield was sitting by a small campfire. He had dismissed his raptor, and was holding a piece of meat over the fire on a stick. Selena took a short breath. Cullan was still nearby, busying himself with she couldn’t see what. Thorfin Stoneshield waved at the girls. They sat down by the fire.

“Right lads. Can’t wait for Rockwalker any longer, we’ll have to go on without him.”

“What?” Selena gaped at him. “Just leave him?”

“Get on with the test, you stupid girl. If he isn’t back tomorrow, we hunt. What have I been tellin’ ye about interruptin’ me? I said don’t. So shut yer gob.” Stoneshield looked at Hieronimo. “Right Wildheart. yer up. tell us what ye’ve been doin’. Where did ye go?”

Hieronimo swallowed. “East, Sir. Thought I’d try to find Drywhisker Gorge. Commander here needed someone to go to a farm to the East, and it was on the way, so I went there first.”

Stoneshield gave a deep sigh. “If there’s a fence round the animals, it isn’t called ‘hunting’, Wildheart. It’s called ‘farming’. Did ye do any hunting at all?”

Hieronimo looked at Stoneshield with a glint in her eye.

“Aye sir, that I did.”

“What then?”

Hieronimo reached into her pack, and dropped a crude dagger in front of Stoneshield, decorated with strange symbols.

“Orcs.”

Thorfin Stoneshield stared at the weapon. “Ye’ve been hunting… Orcs?”

“Suckered into it, really. Bloody woman needed backup for a spy mission. Then before ye know it, she turns into a bear and starts beating up everybody. So Bjorn takes half, I manage to shoot a few, the rest stays away. We drop in on this undead woman, drop her as well and then we run ‘s fast as me little legs can carry me back to her…” Hieronimo sneered. “Girlfriend. Glad to be out of there, but it counts as hunting don’t it?”

“I suppose. Though I’d have preferred ye to find something useful. Orcs, can’t skin ’em, can’t eat ’em.”

“Me too,” said Hieronimo. “Stupid woman almost got me killed.”

“Live and learn. Right.” Thorfin looked at Selena. “What have you to report?”

“Well… I went East into the plains, and I caught a raptor.” Selena opened her pack, and produced the raptor skin.

Thorfin nodded. “Well, not as showy as Wildheart here, but I have ta admit, ye actually brought home something useful. Oh, and that wee bunch o’ jobbies that followed ye home.”

Selena looked at the ground. “He scares me. Glad I’m here.”

“What, him?” Thorfin laughed. “He’s a bottle merchant caught in a place that’s too scary for ’em.”

“There were three swordsmen come looking for him,” said Selena. “He says he convinced them they had the wrong man.”

Selena looked round. A little way off, she could see Cullan talking to the Goblin food merchant. She looked back at Thorfin Stoneshield.

“I think he killed them.”

Thorfin snorted. “Yer off yer rocker. Mr. Housekeeper here, kill three swordsmen, with those wee steakies he’s got on his belt?”

Selena took a deep breath. “Four, actually. One of them grabbed me and knocked me out.”

Hieronimo grinned. “Oh come on. Look at him. Does he look like the type that suddenly goes berserk and kills hundreds?”

Selena looked again. She had to admit, Mr. Cullan didn’t exactly look dangerous. It wasn’t even that he looked like a weakling, it was his… his bearing. He looked thoroughly out of place anywhere there might be fighting to be done. The image of someone taking out four armed men simply didn’t fit the man standing there, politely haggling with the Goblin over the purchase of some supplies. But then, where did the smear of blood come from? Had he simply cut himself on something while putting her in her sleeping bag? Selena frowned. Without her clothes on, no less. She looked up again. Had she imagined that brief, fierce light in his eyes? She shook her head.

“I suppose he doesn’t.”

X

It was early in the morning when someone shook Selena awake. She opened her eyes to look into the bearded face of Uncle Berrin. He had a large bandage over one eye, and one on his hand. Evert was nowhere to be seen. Selena sat up and wrapped her arms round him.

“Uncle. You’re back!”

“Aye, lass. I am. It’s good to see ye.”

Selena looked at Berrin. “What happened to you? Oh… your eye!”

“Don’t fash yerself, lass. Nothing wrong with the eye, looks worse than it is, so to speak.” Berrin looked over his shoulder. “Your new friend’s going ta take off the bandage and do it proper.”

“Oh,” said Selena. “He’s still here, is he?”

“Aye,” said Berrin. “Looks like a nice bloke, even if he’s a bit of a tumshie. Shouldn’t complain though.”

Berrin patted Selena’s shoulder, got up and walked over to the fire, where Cullan was waiting with a bowl of warm water. As Selena watched, Cullan removed the field dressing, washed out the wound with warm water and a cloth, then turned to Berrin.

“I think the cut isn’t deep enough to warrant stitches, Sir. I’ll use a few butterfly stitches to keep the wound closed, then use a normal Mageweave bandage to protect it.”

“Right,” said Berrin. “Much obliged.”

Cullan worked fast, without hesitation. Within a minute, Berrin’s head was neatly wrapped in Mageweave, leaving both his eyes free.

“Thank ye, Mr. Cullan,” said Berrin.

Thorfin Stoneshield came walking up, took one look at Berrin and sneered.

“Well look what the cat dragged in! What have you been doing, Rockwalker?”

Berrin took a deep breath. “Not enough, Mr. Stoneshield. I thought I’d go North to the tunnel that leads to the Hinterlands, maybe hunt up something there.”

“What, griffins? Bloody showoff.”

“Ach, never mind that. Never got as far. I came by one of the farmsteads in the North, the Dalbyries live there. They’re wont to sell travellers supplies, good vittles, so to speak.” Berrin looked at his feet, shook his bearded head. “Well, they won’t anymore. They’re all dead. Heads taken. Gone.”

“Light Everlasting,” said Thorfin. “Who’d do that?”

“Well, I found that out. Bunch of walkin’ corpses spotted me as I tried to bury the poor bastards. Had to run for me life, dint quite make it.” Berrin smiled grimly. “The scunners got Evert, me swine, but I got them. Three of them, at least. And then I ran out of bloody slugs. Axe work for the rest of them. One of ’em caught me a right ding on the head before I clocked him out, so to speak. None of them‘s goin’ back to the heap of filth they crawled out of.”

“Good,” said Thorfin. “Murdering bastards. Well, get yerself some rest, it’s back to Menethil tomorrow. From there, we take the boat to Stormwind. Then, it’s a relaxin’ ride south to Stranglethorn Vale, and then to Booty Bay.”

Cullan looked up at the mention of Stormwind. “Pardon me, Sir. If you are heading for Stormwind, is there any chance I could travel with you? Stormwind is my current destination.”

Selena slowly looked round to Mr. Cullan. She wanted to say no, but in all honesty, she had no reason to. Just dark, vague suspicions. Nothing she could bring up. She closed her eyes.

“Why not,” she said.


Gath’ilzogg opened his eyes, and looked up into a small pink-skinned face. A Gnome was sitting on his blankets. A small, sharp feeling under his chin warned him against making sudden moves. He glared.

“You are a very lucky Orc,” said Interalia.

“What do you want?”

“Most people would just have slit your throat by now. Make ’em pay for burning down our nice farm. But me, I’m not so hot-headed. I like to know first if I’m sticking knives into the right guy.”

“What pushdug of a farm are you talking about?”

Interalia sighed. “That’s gratitude for you. Here I am, giving the nice Orc every chance in the world to tell me what by the rampaging Titans is going on, and what do I get? He plays stupid.” She bent forward a little. “I only look nice, Big Green. I’m really a nasty little bitch. Start talking or stop worrying about tomorrow.”

“I know of the attack. They were not my Orc.”

“Yeah right. Why should I believe that?”

Gath’ilzogg bared his teeth at the small Gnome woman. “Why would I care whether you believe me or not, little shrimp?”

“We-ell, I can take you out just by twitching. Most people want to avoid that.”

“I am already dead, little one. I died when I joined the legions of the Horde.”

“Oh, very brave. Very manly.” Interalia’s eyes narrowed. “But we both know, that’s just so the family at home can start their mourning nice and early. Soldiers don’t live long on the front line. Better not get your mother’s hope up that you’ll be coming back. But you’re not a frontline grunt are you? Look at you. Lord of all you survey.” Interalia moved the knife a fraction of an inch. “Something tells me you’re not willing to give it all up when you can still talk me out of killing you.”

“You miserable little krypdyr. I have given my word not to attack your men. Do you think I would taint my honour by sneaking up to that hovel of yours and ripping your damned heads off? None of my Orc have gone anywhere near you. Thus I have spoken, thus it is.”

“If not you, then who?”

Gath’ilzogg grinned. “Troops from Blackrock mountain. Feel free to go there and whine.”

“And what’s gotten into their heads suddenly?”

“Heh. The Lich King is dead, and the Scourge is running round like chickens with their heads cut off. Which gives my friends at Blackrock Mountain the time to deal with less important business. Like you.”

Interalia sneered. “There’s no need for that, Big Green.”

“A pity I cannot join the party. But it doesn’t matter who oaths are given to, it matters who they are given by. Are you done?”

Interalia got up and put away her dagger. “I suppose so, for now.”

Gath’ilzogg’s arm swung round, making a grab for the little Gnome woman. Interalia dodged easily, blew Gath’ilzogg a kiss from across the room and vanished into the shadows.


Second Lieutenant Joseph Smith was sitting in Sir Gerrig’s office. He’d had a good meal, a few hours’ sleep and one glass of red wine. Rested though he was, it hadn’t improved his mood. He sat opposite Sir Gerrig with his face plied in a polite blank expression.

“Lieutenant, I have a job for you, if you are rested.”

“Sir,” said Joseph.

“With the Lich King dead, the balance of power is shifting all over the place. Enemies have suddenly vanished, which means hands better kept busy… aren’t. I have information that indicates that this is why your farm was attacked.”

Joseph merely nodded, said nothing.

“Before we can even think of starting to rebuild, we need the surrounding area to become stable once more. We need to know more before we can determine our strategy. That will take time.”

Joseph cleared his throat. “Yes, Sir.”

“I’m assuming that this sort of upheaval is not local to Redridge, but has spread throughout Azeroth.”

Joseph waited politely for Gerrig to continue. This was going to be good.

“For that reason, I wish to cut short Lady Selena’s training, and bring her back home. I would like you to take, let’s say five men, and bring her home.”

Joseph didn’t move a muscle on his face. Oh wonderful. Tracking across miles and miles of possibly dangerous lands trailing a sulking young woman. He looked at Sir Gerrig’s face, to see if he was being punished for something, but if so, it didn’t show. He sighed inwardly.

“Very well, Sir. Where is Lady Selena at the moment?”

“My reports say that she has just completed a test in the Arathi highlands. She should be on her way back to Menethil, and from there she will travel to the South, into Stranglethorn Vale. Or rather, she would. I have already sent word to her in Menethil, to wait for you. You leave tomorrow. Please take only volunteers. It might get dangerous.”

X

Joseph stood in the middle of the function room, looking round for volunteers for a trip to Menethil and back. So far, he had three. Two men with swords, one pike-wielding woman who had family in Menethil.

“Come on, people! Nobody else? I hear the tavern in Menethil is especially famous for its clam chowder.”

“And for its sunny weather,” said one of the soldiers. “Is there anything in it for us?”

“The satisfaction of serving Caer Bannog,” said Joseph. “And the undying gratitude of Sir Gerrig.”

One of the soldiers started to laugh. “Say, Ronald, didn’t you have some of that?”

“Not any more, mate,” said Ronald. “I spent it all on fine wine and cigars.”

Joseph shook his head. “Look, Gentlemen. This is a cushy job. You get to go horse-riding through the nice lands of Elwynn Forest, and Dun Morogh, famous for its ales, with very little chance of people actually trying to bash your head in. What’s not to like?”

One of the soldiers raised a hand. “Oh, alright then. Sign me up. Though there better be a decent break in Menethil.”

“Thank you, said Joseph. One more?”

There was a small cough behind Joseph. Nægling had finished her meditation and had walked up to see what the excitement was all about.

“Lieutenant? What is going on?”

Joseph managed to look into Nægling’s eyes, rather than at the scar on her face. Well, perhaps…

“I am looking for volunteers to bring Lady Selena home from Menethil. If you wish to come with us, I am sure Sir Gerrig wouldn’t mind.”

“It would be an honour, Lieutenant,” said Nægling.

“Silly woman,” muttered Ronald.

X

“Oo-err, Missus!”

Interalia looked up at Nægling, who was standing in the middle of their bedroom, clad in Caer Bannog plate armour. A large two-handed sword was on her back, and her helm was under her arm. The armourers did not go in for shining armour. All their plate was a dull black, with very thin lines showing the device of the castle.

“Is that real plate armour? Somebody up there likes you.”

“Sir Gerrig was kind enough to lend me a suit.”

“He should. Bird Chick is his little sister.”

“I will do my very best to keep her safe,” said Nægling.

Interalia pointed between Nægling’s eyes, frowning.

“And no sacrificing yourself damn you. You want to get yourself killed, you’re going to need permission from me.”

“I’ll kill some other bugger instead,” said Nægling, smiling.

“That’s the spirit,” said Interalia.

X

It was early in the morning. Lieutenant Joseph and his five volunteers sat mounted on their horses. The drawbridge came down. The doors opened, and the small group rode out. At the top of the gates, a small Gnome woman stood, and watched them until they disappeared in the distance.

“Come back safe, Nails,” she said. “Or I’ll kick your butt.”

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