Part 2: Out of the nest

Selena woke up, unfamiliar fur blankets touching her, Unfamiliar smells. There was the rushing sound of a kettle about to come to the boil, and she shook herself awake. Right. Hunter’s hide. An hour’s riding away from home. Where was Ariciel?

On the table, there was bread, cheese and a teapot, tea leaves all ready for the boiling water. She rubbed her face. The door was open, and outside, she could see her Elf friend, staff-fighting nobody. Her tattooed face was still and emotionless as she put herself through a sequence of thrusts, sweeps, blocks, faster and faster. With a final cry, and a swift stab of her staff, she stood completely still, snow-white hair gently swinging in the breeze. Her expression relaxed, and she started to spin her staff in one hand, passing it from one hand to the other, over her head, behind her back, with the graceful ease of familiarity. Winding down.

“Water’s boiling! Want any tea?”

“In a minute,” said Ariciel. She planted her staff on the ground in front of her feet, closed her eyes for a moment. Then, she walked into the cabin. Selena was pouring hot water onto the tea-leaves. Ariciel leaned her staff against one of the bunk-beds and sat down to eat as Selena got dressed. Breathing in the tea, she watched her. How could the silly girl think she wasn’t pretty enough to catch anyone? Selena noticed Ariciel watching her, and gave her a strange little smile. Ariciel smiled back. Why yes, I am enjoying the view. Do carry on. Selena sat down at the table, opposite Ariciel, and started demolishing breakfast. Good. She might be heartbroken, but at least now she was heartbroken and fed.

Together, they cleared away the breakfast things for the next occupants and stepped outside. Selena slung her longbow on her back and prepared to mount up. She looked down, then at Ariciel. Ariciel turned her head away, humming a tune. My, was that a sparrow or a finch in that tree? So difficult to see at this distance. Selena giggled. Ariciel summoned her magical cat mount, and together they rode on to the castle.

X

She found Mareva at the kitchen table, mug of tea in her hands, wearing a rather gruff expression. Ariciel sat down opposite her, almost afraid to ask.

“How goes it?”

Mareva scowled, and Ariciel noticed, as if for the first time, that Draenei had long canines, like fangs.

“Distinctly suboptimal,” said Mareva. “Sir Gerrig did not take on board the fact that his sister is a young girl, not one of his sergeants. I have tried to educate him in this regard, but he was not receptive.”

“He ignored you,” said Ariciel.

“Yes.”

“Oh dear. Does he still have his eyebrows?”

“I managed to contain myself.”

“You’ve gone soft!”

“Maybe. How is Selena?”

“Disappointed, coping. She thought she had a face hideously deformed with freckles.”

Mareva’s eyes wrinkled. “Freckles? The spots on her face? I think they are quite attractive.”

“So do I. She took a bit of convincing, though.” Ariciel grinned. “So I fed her wine and told her she was gorgeous. Amazing what you can do with a kind word and a depraved mind.”

Mareva laughed. “That is what sustained me through my journey on Exodar.”

Ariciel raised an eyebrow. “Do I want to know?”

“Knowing you,” said Mareva, grinning broadly, “I think you probably do.”


“What in the name of all things did you think you were doing? Do you have any sense of responsibility at all? Can you give me one good reason to leave the walls that your ancestors built to keep you safe?”

Selena was sitting in a chair, hands in her lap, looking up at her brother, who was walking round the room fuming. Well, brother, I was thinking that I should follow the man I love, and be near him. But don’t worry. No chance of that. He doesn’t want me. Precisely because of this pile of stone that I seem to belong to. Ironic, isn’t it?

Selena said nothing.

Gerrig stood in front of her, fists on his hips, glaring down.

“And what did you plan to do with Lieutenant Smith, then?”

The corner of Selena’s mouth dropped ever so slightly. What do you think, Brother? If you must know, I was planning to offer my virginity to him. Is that the answer you are looking for?

“At least,” said Gerrig, “And I am eternally grateful for this, Lieutenant Smith knows his place, even if you don’t.” Gerrig pointed a finger at her. “I hardly need to remind you that you wear the clothes you do, eat the food you do, and are waited on by the people who do, because of whose child you are. These things, and this devotion, do not come without a price. You cannot simply walk away. As our servants, peasants and soldiers serve us, so we must serve them. We need them to provide food, warmth, safety. They look to us for guidance. They are not free to ignore our orders. We are not free to ignore their needs.”

Selena glared at her brother, her cheeks turning red.

“I never asked for that. I was born into this family by chance alone. Do you expect me to honour a pact that I entered into before I could do so much as control my bowels?”

“Yes, I do. The Light does not grant us the choice of what family we are born into. Do you think you are the only one dissatisfied with their lot? I can walk out of this door and point at a dozen people who would gladly trade places with me, or the King, or even you.”

“Not if they knew,” said Selena.

“Precisely.”

Gerrig turned round, and looked out of the window. After yesterday’s rains, the sky was now clear, with a few clouds to break up the blue of the sky. He took a deep breath, and turned round, facing Selena.

“I should have told you about this before, though I doubt it would have made a difference. Still, it is time for me to tell you of our father’s plans for you.”

Selena looked up at Gerrig, eyes widening. Was he going to promise her hand in wedding to some stranger?

“I, Bannog, you, Daelan. We are the descendants of Gerrig the Ancient, whose name I bear. With Father’s death, responsibility for the well-being of this castle has passed to us. It was always my lot, eventually, to take over the rule of the castle from Father. Bannog’s task was to go out into the world, and win renown for our castle. That is why he is named after it. His deeds, good or ill, will reflect on our reputation. Daelan was taken from us before his calling would have become clear. That leaves you. It was our father’s wish, from the moment he saw your calling as a hunter, that one day, you would lead those men and women who provide meat for our tables, and for the market. Do you think you have Hugin for your own enjoyment? Father searched far and wide for that bird, and paid a lot of gold for it, just so you could have a hunter’s tool to inspire confidence.”

Selena’s mouth fell open.

“Me? Lead the hunters? But… Quartermaster!”

“Quartermaster Declan, may his life be long and blessed, enjoys the best of health. Still, he is not granted the life eternal. One day, he will die, and on that day, you must be ready to take up your task.”

“That’s silly! Who’d follow me?”

Gerrig’s eyes settled on his young sister.

“At the moment, nobody. Nobody in their right mind would pay attention to your orders, beyond ‘pass the salt’. That will change. You will change it. Power to lead comes from three sources. First, from the authority given to you by the ruler of the castle. Second, from the depth of your knowledge and wisdom. Third, and most importantly, from our underlings’ will to follow you. At the moment, you lack all three. Today, you start to shape the three pillars upon which you stand. First, you will extend your knowledge of hunting, so that what you know today will seem trivial to you later. Then, you must gain the goodwill and respect of the hunters, so that they will follow you. Then, when I think you merit it, I will grant you the authority.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

Gerrig bent over, looking deep into Selena’s eyes.

“Then you will do it without wanting it. I am not asking you if you will. I am telling you what you will do, whether you want it or not. It is your duty to all the people who call this castle home. These people have fed you, clothed you, kept you warm and clean from the day you were born to this very day. It is time for you to return the favour. Do you think you can do that?”

Selena looked up at Gerrig. From pure contrariness, she wanted to say no, and stick your job. But incredibly, unexpectedly, her mind was changing. Visions appeared to her. Riding through the valleys of the Redridge mountains, carts of meat, bones, skins. Prey. Not just rabbits, but boars, and larger creatures. Groups of hunters, waiting for her command. Up till this day, she had had no real duties, and she loved the people who cared for her. Gerrig, though he was utterly wrong, of course, was right about one thing. She could not turn away from the castle people. What, then, could she do for them? She was a hunter. What else was there to do than try to be the best hunter that ever was? Selena took a deep breath, nodded.

“Good. I have already written to Uncle Berrin. He will meet you in Ironforge. I have arranged for you to take lessons from Thorfin Stoneshield, a Hunter trainer. Expect the worst, because he is not a gentle master. But he is one of the best we can afford. You leave the day after tomorrow.”

Selena swallowed. So soon? Gerrig put his large hands on Selena’s slender shoulders, and for the first time since Selena had come back, smiled at her.

“It’s not a bad life, Selena. You will learn to love it, I’m sure of it.”


Ariciel knocked, and entered Stetson and Mareva’s room. Mareva was stuffing things into her pack, with a frown on her face. Ariciel put a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey. What are you doing?”

“Packing,” said Mareva.

“What, are you leaving? Why?”

“Don’t like the bed.”

“Eh? You used to like it. We sleep right next door. We could tell.”

Mareva looked up from her packing, a little smile on her lips.

“Precisely. It is sadly lacking in male Draenei.”

“Where are you going?”

Mareva stood up, and brushed back her long, beautiful black hair.

“Exodar, I suppose. I have not seen Farseer Nobundo for many moons. I am ashamed, because I promised.”

I’ll miss you, Ariciel wanted to say. She looked round at the stone walls of her new home, and like Mareva, found them lacking. No big Human.

“Can I come with?”

Mareva’s head tilted slightly to one side.

“Why? You are not a Shaman. Nobundo has no magic to teach you.”

“True, but I imagine Bearwalker has. Face it, Mareva. Until we are strong enough to follow our loved ones wherever they go, there will be lonely nights in store for us. I don’t like lonely nights.”

“Do you mean that we should train together?”

“Trainers can only teach you so much. How to do spells. How to cast totems.”

“Call,” said Mareva.

“Yeah. But most of the things I learnt, I learnt through running bloody errands. Questing if you prefer. We can do that together. I met you in Auberdine. Exodar isn’t too far from there, is it?”

“A simple boat ride.”

“Well then. We can help each other.”

“We can. Very well. When do we leave?”

Ariciel thought about this.

“Selena leaves tomorrow, for Ironforge. Why don’t we put her on the Deeprun tram and then take the ferry to Auberdine?”

“I met you there. I still remember the taste of that Kimchi pie. Do you think the woman still has them?” Mareva closed her pack and picked it up, trying for weight.

Ariciel studied Mareva’s face. “You don’t like Gerrig, do you?”

Mareva put her pack back on the bed, stared at nothing in particular for a few moments.

“He has good reasons for doing what he does,” she said. “He wishes to do what is best for this castle. I can respect that. But he must learn that there is no shame in revising an earlier decision if fresh information presents itself, or fresh insights.” She frowned. “Even if they come from an Outlandish blue female.”

Ariciel said nothing for a moment. “He would not listen to you because you are a stranger, or a woman. That’s silly.”

“Correct. I can talk to Bannog. Even Old Sir Bannog, may his spirit be part of the Light Everlasting, would see reason. Gerrig… less so. He suffers from pride. I only hope that others will not suffer with him.”

“So, you leave.”

“Yes. If he will not accept my counsel, staying here will serve no purpose. He has many people for shooting at enemies. He does not need me for that.”

“He does need your advice. But you can lead a horse to water…”

Mareva gave Ariciel a look. What?

“But you cannot make it drink.”

“I am not the fountain of all wisdom, but essentially, yes. I did not know that saying.”

Ariciel put her hand on Mareva’s arm. “Give me a bit. I’ll go pack.”


It was dark when Cullan and his fellow Worgen reached the sleeping city of Gilneas. Their guide, a shifty little man who had not told them his name, led them to a door, knocked, and spoke a few words. The door opened, and a warm light streamed out. There were five of them. Four men including Cullan, one woman. Cullan was pointed at the table, and he sat down. A dark-haired woman sat at the head of the table, silent. Cullan studied her face as she looked straight ahead of her. Her skin was pale. Her eyes were large and dark. Even though this woman was quite beautiful, a cold expression was on her face that made one think twice about even talking to her. Cullan couldn’t imagine what that face would look like if she would smile. And yet, she wore a red rose in her hair. She looked up, and Cullan bowed his head.

“Lady, Gentlemen,” said the woman. “Welcome back to Gilneas. Those of you thinking of picking up your lives where you left off, will be disappointed. We know who you were. We know what you are now. We do not care who you were before, and neither should you. That life is past. You are all murderers, thieves, robbers. Without the help of the Night-elves, you would be little more than animals, with the occasional hint of a memory that things were once otherwise.”

The woman looked round the table at all the faces. Human faces, as their guide had told them to turn to their Human forms before entering the city, and not to change back to their True Forms unless given permission.

“My name is not important to know. You may call me Rose, if you need to refer to me. I am one of the leaders of the Gilnean Liberation Front. You, my friends, have just volunteered to join it.”

X

Cullan had taken himself a bit apart, to a dark end of the room. Some more ‘volunteers’ had come in, and had been informed of their generosity by Rose. Cullan looked at her, as she sat at the table talking in a low voice to one of her lieutenants. Nobody showed her any disrespect, and Cullan thought it would not go well with people who did. If she had any warmth in her, today was not the occasion to show it.

A dark-haired girl in her early twenties walked up to Cullan. Cullan noticed her, got up and nodded at her. The girl’s eyes gleamed at him.

“Ma’am,” said Cullan.

“Well aren’t you a chipper lookin’ one,” said the girl. “Eyeing up the talent are ye?”

“By no means, Madam,” said Cullan, pulling up a chair for the girl. The girl looked at the chair, back at Cullan, gave a little laugh and sat down.

“Well, you’re a charmer allright.”

“I can only try my best, Madam,” said Cullan, sitting down. “I believe we haven’t had the pleasure. My name is-”

The girl raised a hand, shaking her head. “No real names here, love. Better for all, if you get caught.”

Cullan took a breath. Caught. This did not sound good.

“Just make up a name.” the girl leaned forward. “Names have power. They shape who you are. Come on. What shall I call you?”

Cullan thought. It looked like he had fallen in with what in his house servant days he would have called ‘The Wrong Crowd’. The young lady was right. He would not want to sully his former self’s reputation with the deeds he was likely to be doing. What to name himself? Cullan’s grandmother had often told him tales of faraway lands, ancient warriors, kings and princes. One figure had always frightened him, yet fascinated him. A hero of his time, who would turn to a hideous creature in battle. He looked up at the girl.

“Call me Cuchullainn,” said Cullan.

The girl nodded. “They call me ‘The Fence’. If you ever have some bit of property that you need to shift, with no questions asked, I’m your girl. Pay you a fair price. No questions answered, neither.”

“Pleased to meet you… Miss Fence?”

“Loren,” said the girl. “And no, my dear old mother dint call me that, may she rest in peace.”

“I am sorry for your loss,” said Cullan.

“Ancient history, love. Ancient history.” Her eyes, light brown and deep, pierced him. “And nobody here likes history.”

“Understood,” said Cullan. The girl got up.

“Well, like I said, need to get anything off your hands, see me. I’m around. I’m sure you’ll be pretty busy before long.”

“A pleasure meeting you, Loren.”

Loren smiled, turned round and went to chat up another potential business associate. Cullan watched her go. He looked down, and shook his head, wondering what he had got himself into.

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