Part 22: Be it ever so humble

The Maiden’s Virtue was a bigger ship than Aviana’s Wingbeat. It had cabins for passengers. A crew of two dozen sailors. None of them were Night-elves. None of them were any fun. Selena and Hieronimo stayed in their cabin for most of the trip, not talking much. Selena was lying in her bunk. In her hands was a letter that Smitty had left lying on the table at Saelienne’s. It was written by one of High Priestess Whisperwind’s servants, and said, basically, ‘Thanks for saving one of our boats.’ With all the proper trimmings, words like ‘Service’ and ‘Valour in the face of the Enemy’, and Tyrande Whisperwind’s signature at the bottom in green ink. Why he hadn’t taken better care of it, was beyond her. She put the letter back in her pack, stuck her feet over the side and jumped down. Hieronimo sat up in her bed, her notebook on her knees, drawing. Most of the drawings were portraits. Selena recognised Lirael, Kuryon, a very detailed one of Dorian Graycloud, Filyen.

“Hey short stuff. I’m going to get some tea. Want some? They have milk here.”

“I’m alright,” said Hieronimo. As soon as Selena had left the cabin, she turned to a new page with an evil grin, and within three minutes drew a picture of Selena and Smitty. Selena was pressing her face to Smitty’s chest with a happy smile on her face. Smitty had his eyes up to the heavens, as if he were asking ‘Why me?’ She carefully tore out the page and dropped it into Selena’s bunk. Selena came back with a steaming cup of hot tea. It had a lid on so she wouldn’t spill any in high seas. She carefully climbed into her bunk with her tea, and found the drawing. She rolled back onto the bed, laughing, till the laughing turned into sobs. Hieronimo put down her notebook, stuck her head over the edge of Selena’s bed.

“Oi. Are ye right?”

“Damn him.”

“Lt. Smith? Ye got the hots for him don’t ye? Yer a bloody hunter. Yer old enough. Go get him.”

“What do you think I’ve been doing all this time? He thinks I’m too high-up for him.”

“He does? Ye gods, I’ve seen ye throw up on me.”

Selena stared ahead of her.

“I am Lady Selena of Caer Bannog. If I survive both my brothers, I will become Dame Selena. Nothing I can do about it. Just because my father was Sir Bannog.”

Hieronimo grinned. “All these barons and dukes and whatnot. They always had mistresses. Ye can make him yer mister.”

Selena laughed, shook her head. “Bannog’s got an Elf for a girlfriend. She doesn’t think he’s above her, and she used to polish floors in Darkshore. They’re different races, and they’re doing fine. Why can’t I have my Human?”

“You Humans are really good at beatin’ yerselves up. If the eltee won’t bite, find one that will. Azeroth is crawling with Humans. I bet some of ’em are easier on the eyes than him anyway.”

Selena smiled. “This is my Human. There are many like him, but this one is mine. And I’m not giving up that easily.”


A small Gnome woman was sitting on the wall overlooking Stormwind Harbour. She’d watched the ship come in all the way from the West, make fast to the docks. The gangplank was laid down, and people ran off, summoned mounts and ran off to goodness knows where. Even the arrival of Doom made flesh, didn’t change that. There was still money to be made, tasks to be completed, cargo to move. War was not about swords. The country that could keep up producing steel, food, soldiers, was the country that won. She craned her neck to see better. Ah. Bird Chick came walking down the plank, followed by some Dwarf girl. The Lieutenant followed. A few soldiers, followed by… Interalia grinned. Oh good. Nails had managed not to get herself killed. She got down from the wall, and ran down the ramps to the waterside.

“Nails! Didn’t find any dragons to leap down the throat of, then?”

Nægling kneeled down, and held Interalia’s shoulders. “He flew off before I could volunteer. I see he has been here. It is good to see that you stayed away.”

“Are you kidding? I was in the park when he went off. I had to carry Nix to safety on my back, after the dragon blew off one of my legs.”

Nægling looked down, then back up into Interalia’s face.

“Well, I got better,” said Interalia.

“What were you doing in the park? Shouldn’t you be sneaking around Blackrock Tower?”

“Hell, no,” said Interalia, with feeling. “Nix got himself caught, and they messed him up pretty bad. I’m here to nurse him back to health and have his child.”

Nægling laughed, nodded. Then, she caught… something, in Interalia’s eyes. Her mouth fell open.

“Yeah, you heard right,” said Interalia, hand on her stomach. “Got a bit carried away with the warmth and comfort. I’m not kidding. I’m stealing for two, now.”

“That is a remarkable amount of dedication,” said Nægling. “Please tell me, at least, he is your boyfriend now.”

Interalia laughed. “The silly git. He went and proposed to me. He knows I’m not the marrying kind, and still he did.”

“Ah. Did you let him off gently?”

“Nope,” said Interalia. “I said yes.”

“I must say. I find it a little difficult to tell whether you are joking or not.”

“No joke, Nails. Honest. I’m gonna be missus Steambender till he pulls his finger out and gets his paper.”

“Really? In that case, congratulations. I must confess, though, I’d never have expected all this of you.”

“You asked me a while back. Did I ever do something I really regret, and I really didn’t.” Interalia sighed. “But then again, I never did anything I felt really good about either.” Interalia put her hand on her stomach. “This, I feel good about.”

Interalia’s smile faded. It wasn’t a lie, really. Nix had looked really happy when she’d said ‘Yeah, go on then, might as well.’ But she’d lived a life of crime, and escaped torture and the hangman’s rope by the skin of her teeth. She’d tried a proper job, as what Nægling liked to call an ‘intelligence officer’, or ‘sneak’. She’d had a narrow escape there, and Nix hadn’t. May as well find out how married life would kill you. If it didn’t work out, well, she still had a working pair of legs.

There was a polite cough behind Nægling.

“Oh. Interalia, meet Mr. Cullan. He’s here to find a job.”

Cullan bowed his head at Interalia. “Ma’am.”

“Hi! Where’d Nails dig you up?”

“He followed me home,” said Nægling. “I’d quite like to keep him.”


Selena walked up the long corridor in Stormwind Keep, a determined look on her face. If Second Lieutenant Joseph Smith thought she wasn’t good enough for him, perhaps she could drag him down to her level. It took her a while to find one of the servants who wasn’t running round like a headless chicken, and actually had the ear of the King. She was wearing her new blue dress, reasoning that showing a little skin to a bored civil servant might help.

“Sir, I have come to commend one of my lieutenants to you. I do not have the authority to knight him myself, but I am confident that His Majesty will see his way clear, if we put the matter to him.”

“Miss, I fear that the King is busy. In case you missed it, we have an infestation of Dragon.”

“In that case, strengthening the Alliance becomes of the utmost importance, does it not? Lieutenant Smith led the defence of the vessel carrying one of High Priestess Tyrande Whisperwind’s personal friends. Surely, that is an act worthy of one of the Knights of Stormwind?”

The servant, an older man with a bald crown, which he carefully kept hidden by that time-honoured method of combing the rest of his hair over it, scratched behind his ear. One of the strands came down and he absent-mindedly arranged it over his head.

“Ordinarily, I would not hesitate, but His Majesty’s mood is…” A painful look was on his face. “Less than completely tranquil.”

“Please, Sir. I know that His Majesty has much on his mind, but is it not the law of this land that anyone may request to speak to the King?”

“It is, Lady, but asking, I warn you, is no guarantee.”

“I can wait.”

Selena stood in the throne room, watching her King. He was surrounded by counsellors, messengers and other functionaries, and was doing a lot of shouting. He had a long mane of jet-black hair, and a scar that ran over the bridge of his nose. He looked thoroughly out of place, as if he were longing for a band of Orcs to come in and storm his throne. Selena took a deep breath, and her heart sank. It was probably a stupid idea in the first place.

She noticed another pair of eyes on her. Next to Varian stood a young boy. His son, she realised. What was his name again? Ah. Anduin. For a while, this young man had been the official King of Stormwind. He’d grown older, fast. Prince Anduin noticed her looking at him, and smiled shyly. She gave him a sparkling smile in return, on the grounds that it couldn’t hurt. Much to her surprise, the Prince’s face turned red, and he looked away. As the audience with the King went on, his eyes returned to her now and then. Selena met his gaze once or twice, briefly. Strange. Surely, a prince of the realm would be used to meeting any number of women, each twice as attractive as she was? Selena sneered. None of them with bloody freckles, to be sure. She looked over her shoulder. There was a long line of people. Grim, desperate faces, all staring at the King, who would cure all their ills, soothe all their worries, remove all their troubles. All Selena wanted was a title for Joseph. He had earned it, and even if he hadn’t, he would.

Selena turned her face back, and was startled to find Prince Anduin standing next to her. Selena quickly bowed her head and bent her knee.

“Your Highness,” said Selena.

“Good day, Lady,” said Prince Anduin. “What is your name?”

“Selena, your Highness. Selena of Caer Bannog.”

“Forgive me for staring at you, Lady. I did not mean to make you uncomfortable.”

Selena smiled politely, not believing for a minute that Prince Anduin was truly sorry. Still, he was royalty. There was probably a specific law defining the ogling of subjects as a Royal prerogative.

“You flatter me, Your Highness.”

“My mother, Queen Tiffin, may her soul be part of the Light Everlasting, often wore her hair long, as you do. My only memory of her is a beautiful woman dressed in blue. You remind me of her.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” said Selena. Oh wonderful. The Heir to the Throne of Stormwind had just told her that she reminded him of his mother.

“Except, of course, my mother had a clear skin.”

Selena reminded herself that if she was asking the King for favours, slapping the Royal Family in the face was not a good start.

“I’m sure any woman would be envious of Her Majesty’s complexion, Your Highness. Sadly, I am cursed with these freckles.”

Prince Anduin smiled shyly, looked away.

“I… quite like freckles,” he said.

“Anduin!”

King Varian, ignoring all the people around him, came walking over to his son, who was talking to some peasant girl. Not that the King disapproved, of course. It reassured his subjects, bless them, that they mattered, and that the King had their best interest at heart, but you could exaggerate. Also, many girls before had had the idea to bring to bear their charms on a boy who had been King while Varian was away, and who now was a Prince of the Realm, but who was also, very much, a boy in his early to mid teens. His most loyal servant had broken Anduin’s heart once or twice with a bag of gold and the friendly, but urgent suggestion to the girl to find True Love somewhere else. So far, there were no shepherd boys wandering round Azeroth who would, one day, show up with an interesting birth-mark to claim the throne, and as long as King Varian had anything to say about it, that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. Certainly not with this girl.

Selena took a sharp breath, bowed her head, and curtsied. “Your Majesty.”

“What is your business, girl? Why are you speaking to my son?”

“Father…”

“Quiet, boy. Well?”

Selena swallowed. Varian Wrynn, all over the realm, had a bit of a reputation for mostly thinking with his fists, and being a bit, with all due respect, thick. That, though, was King Varian upon his throne in faraway Stormwind. This was King Varian Wrynn, standing close enough for her to touch him. Not that she would, of course, as prison life didn’t agree with her. She took a breath.

“Sire, I am here to commend Lieutenant Joseph Smith of the Caer Bannog militia. Through his actions, a Night-elf vessel well known to Tyrande Whisperwind, was saved from the Bloodsail Buccaneers.”

The functionary Selena had spoken to earlier, walked up to the King, whispered in his ear. Varian nodded curtly.

“Where do you come from, girl?”

“I am Selena of Caer Bannog, Sire, in the Redridge mountains. Our castle serves your Majesty as a training facility for Alliance soldiers, and provides victuals and horses to the Stormwind Guards.”

“Have you any proof of this Lieutenant’s deeds?”

“Yes, your Majesty.” Selena pulled out the letter, and held it out. The functionary took it from her, and read. He held the signature close to his eye, then gave the King a quick nod.

“Tyrande Whisperwind,” said Varian. “I haven’t seen her for a long time. When she has her feet on the ground, she is a formidable ally. Very well, then. We’re not running low on knighthoods, are we, Gisbourne?”

“Indeed not, Sire,” said Gisbourne.

“Good. Bring your Lieutenant here, and I’ll give him the tap on the shoulder. Gisbourne here will arrange the paperwork.”

X

Selena ran through the streets of Stormwind, her dress sweeping behind her, over the bridge, under the archway, to the tavern in the Dwarven District that they had chosen for their lunch and dinner because it was nice and close to the harbour. Selena banged the door as she ran in, spotted Smitty and pointed at him.

“Oi! Lieutenant! Your King has summoned you to the Keep. Stop what you’re doing and follow me.”

Smitty stared at Selena, not quite knowing what to think of this.

“Come on. You’re keeping a monarch waiting. You don’t keep monarchs waiting, they don’t like it. Move it, Soldier.”

Smitty followed Selena through the streets of Stormwind, heading for the castle by the fastest possible way. Smitty looked at Selena, cheeks glowing, eyes shining with enthusiasm. What in the name of the Light was going on? They arrived at the entrance to the keep, walked past the guards and up to the Throne room. King Varian was still deep in conversation with his group of dignitaries and servants, and looked about ready to knock the heads off a few of them to put more sense into the others. Prince Anduin noticed Selena and nudged his father, who nodded, and walked towards them, visibly glad of the break. Gisbourne approached Smitty from behind, and whispered in his ear.

“Kneel before the King. He will ask you five questions. When he’s asked them all, not before, the reply is ‘So I swear, by the Holy Light, and upon my honour’. Rise when he tells you, bow, take three steps backwards. Congratulations.”

King Varian stood up straight, and in front of his feet, there was a pillow. Its purpose was clear. Smitty gave Selena a long look, then walked forward, kneeled on the pillow.

“I am Varian Wrynn, by the Light’s Grace, King of Stormwind, Ruler of Lordaeron. Do you, Joseph Smith, swear, by the Holy Light, and upon your honour, to be loyal to your King? Do you swear to speak only Truth? Do you swear to always defend a Lady? Do you swear to be brave, and never to avoid the path of danger out of fear? Do you swear always to defend and be charitable to the poor and the helpless? Pray answer, Knight-apparent.”

Smitty swallowed.

“S- So I do swear, by the Holy Light, and upon my honour.”

“Thus, I hear, and it will not be forgotten. By the grace of the Holy Light that flows through us, nourishes us, and guides us. By the power of the King of Stormwind…” Varian’s huge sword touched Smitty’s left shoulder, then his right. “I name you Sir Joseph, Knight of Stormwind. Rise, Sir Joseph.”

Smitty rose, bowed, took three steps backwards with his eyes on the ground. When he looked up, King Varian had already walked off to the group of functionaries. He shook. The servant, Gisbourne, walked up to him, and pressed a piece of paper in his hand.

“Your Knight’s Proof, Sir Joseph,” he said. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” said Smitty, completely dazed.

“Come on,” said Selena. “Let’s tell the others.”

They walked out of the door, down the stairs, to where a huge statue of King Varian was staring over their heads. Smitty turned round to Selena.

“You did this, didn’t you?”

Selena grinned at Smitty. “Sure did. Went in there, told the King what you did for Stormwind, and there you go! Congratulations, Sir Joseph. You now have the same rank as Sir Gerrig, and Sir Wilfrid, and Sir Roland. Only fitting, don’t you think?”

“Why?”

Only now did Selena see the look on Smitty’s face, notice the tone in his voice. A cold hand reached into her chest and squeezed.

“For all the things you did. Protect me, keep the ship safe, the pirates… everything!”

“Do you think I did that so I could get a pretty piece of paper, and to have people call me Sir? Lady Selena, I fought my hardest, I did my best, for you. I know I can never have you as my… my wife, and I can’t even answer to myself whether I want to. But I can keep you alive, and unhurt, and give you every chance to be happy, and that is why I fought. Why did you have to have me knighted?”

“Because… Because you deserve it. Isn’t this what you wanted?”

“It is,” said Smitty. “This is what I always wanted. The prize, at the end of the road. It is what I hoped to get, after a long hard career. After great deeds. After the King had looked on me, and recognised me as an ally to be counted on, a force to be reckoned with. A true Knight of Stormwind. And you? You have just given me the prize on a silver platter! You have saved me the trouble of running the race, and bought me the silver cup at the merchant! I swear to you, if you walk back into that throne room, and ask the King my name, he will not even remember! Do you think that is what I wanted?”

Selena looked up at Joseph, Sir Joseph, only… not. She closed her eyes, bowed her head.

“I’m… I’m sorry. I should have…” She swallowed. “I’m so sorry.”

“We are going home,” said Smitty.

X

Hieronimo stood in front of the entrance to the Deeprun Tram. Selena, still in her pretty dress, stood next to her. Hieronimo looked up to her.

“Ye look like yer dinner just came up for another go. What’s up?”

“I blew it,” said Selena.

“Ye gods, still sweet on that lieutenant of yours?”

“Doesn’t matter how sweet I am on him. I sodding had him knighted and he blew up in my face.”

“Bloody ingrate. Meet me in Ironforge and we’ll find ye a nice Human. There’s guys there that ain’t never seen a proper woman. None of them‘ll tell ye to get stuffed, I can tell ye.”

“Damn them all. I’m going to find a convent and crawl under a rock till I’m fifty.”

“Och be the thunderin’ Titans, woman. There’s plenty of fish in the sea, lots of pebbles underground. Stuff him. Find someone who isn’t such a daftie.”

Selena’s jaw set. “I think I’m going to spend some time not finding any men. At all. No women, either, just in case you’re worried.”

“What you Humans or Night-elves do in yer own homes, ain’t none of my business. Well, got a train to catch.”

Selena bent down, and hugged Hieronimo.

“When I feel in need of a piss-up, I’ll come visit you.”

“Have one now. Hangovers do ye good.” She looked into Selena’s eyes. “Well, it’s been fun. Be seein’ ye.”

With a wave, Hieronimo ran into the tunnel. Selena sighed, and turned round.


Smitty walked towards the stables. He had delivered Lady Selena as required, he’d had a meal, he was fed up. People had told him that his farm was now secure, and habitable once more, though several buildings would have to be torn down and rebuilt. Good. He was looking forward to some nice simple hard work. There was a hand on both his shoulders, and he looked round to see Sir Roland, who ran the “Dude Ranch” to the East, and Sir Wilfrid, who had been running the horse farm and orchards.

“And where do you think you’re going, Sir Joseph?” Sir Roland pointed at the keep. “Council meeting. Knights of Stormwind only.”

“Indeed,” said Sir Wilfrid. “We have many things to discuss of a spiritual nature. I would not have you leave unless I know your opinion on the latest batch of apple scumble.”

“Sirs,” said Smitty. “I would like to return to my farm. I haven’t seen it since it was on fire.”

“That’s strange, Sir Roland,” said Sir Wilfrid. “Did I hear Sir Gerrig say anything like ‘unless he doesn’t want to’? Am I going senile, perhaps?”

“By no means, Sir,” said Sir Roland. “Get that young Knight to join us, were his words. Nothing optional about it.”

Sir Roland and Sir Wilfrid more or less carried Smitty into the keep, and up into the library. Gerrig was in front of the small fireplace, adding a few logs. He put the metal spark screen back in front, and turned round. Four small glasses were on the table, as well as an earthenware bottle.

“Will you do the honours, Sir Wilfrid?”

Sir Wilfrid took the bottle, pulled out the cork and threw it into the fireplace. He filled the glasses and pushed one to each of the knights. He raised his glass.

“To our new fellow Knight, and may he serve his King in honour and valour.”

Smitty drank politely, then looked at his glass in surprise. He’d had apple scumble before, but this was Sir Wilfrid’s special reserve. Liquid golden fire.

Gerrig stood up. “Gentlemen, we have deaths to mourn. Swordsman Stanley Gerald fell in battle. He gave his life so that others might live, and we praise him.”

“We praise him,” chorused the others.

“Berrin Rockwalker, regular guest and friend of this family for years beyond memory. He gave his life so that others might live, and we praise him.”

“We praise him.”

“By the Light that guides us! By the Light that nourishes us! By the Light that flows through us! May their spirits find peace and may they rejoice in their rebirth! So be it!”

“So be it.”

“Good,” said Gerrig. “Now Sir Joseph, please tell us the tale of how you obtained your colours.”

“There isn’t much to tell,” said Smitty.

Wilfrid laughed. “Nonsense! The King does not knight people for nothing. Besides, you swore to give a full account of all your deeds.”

“I don’t remember that,” said Smitty.

“It’s on your paper,” said Sir Roland. “Varian only picks the ones he likes best. Let me guess. Be loyal to the King. Speak only truth. He does those because of Arthas. Always defend a lady. Queen Tiffin, part of Light, and bless her memory. Be brave. Be charitable. King Varian can be a nasty ornery sod sometimes, but by the Light, he has his reasons.”

Smitty sighed, and told them his adventures, with the three other knights nodding and making appreciative comments. He wanted to be somewhere else. He wanted to be away from this castle, and on his own for a while. He finished his tale at the knighting ceremony. Sir Wilfrid refilled the glasses.

“Well done lad,” said Wilfrid. “The poor little girl is back in the loving arms of her family and Caer Bannog has another knight.”

Smitty looked down at the table.

“What’s the matter?” said Sir Roland. “Most of us here were happy to receive our knighthood.”

“I haven’t done enough to earn it,” said Smitty. “The battle at Caer Bannog was much more difficult than that scuffle with the pirates. I am a knight because… Her Holiness happened by at the right time and she knew the cook on Aviana’s Wingbeat.”

“Hah,” said Sir Wilfrid. “Gentlemen, let’s tell our friend what we did to be knighted.”

“I buried my father,” said Gerrig.

Sir Roland shook his head. “Last company standing in a Gods-awful battle. We arrived late and most of the warriors there were dead on their feet already.” He held up his hand, two fingers missing. “This should never have happened. Got caught between three Orcs who almost fell on me.”

“And I,” said Sir Wilfrid, “Told all the people of my house to run to the West where there were no Orcs, after Sir Arthur fell. Ogre-mage Far’rokh had me in a cage and was going to stick me in one of those catapults of his and fling me over the wall. I was pissing my pants till Sister Peterselie got me out of there.”

“Be brave, and never avoid the path of danger out of fear,” said Smitty.

Wilfrid laughed. “Fear, no. Bloody common sense, yes. Bravery isn’t about not being scared. It’s about being scared out of your wits and still doing your duty.”

Sir Roland slapped a hand on Smitty’s shoulder. “You’re a good man, Sir Joseph. Glad to have you with us. Life’s about to get interesting.”


“Please sit down, Sir.” Cullan held the chair at the High Table back for Quartermaster. Quartermaster stared at the white table cloth, the plates and the rows of spoons and forks and knives.

“Ye gods, Mr. Cullan. If the High-ups are going to use all those knives and forks, they’ll burst before the end of the meal.”

“The portions are much smaller, Sir. You do not have fish knives here, so this is merely for illustration. This is a plate setting for a standard seven-course meal.” He counted on his fingers. “First, the appetiser. Let us say paté with a slice of toasted bread. Then, soup. A light one. Third course, salad. Do you have a vegetable garden?”

“Leona has a bunch of flower pots with herbs. Does that count?”

“I’m afraid not, Sir. We’ll have to improvise. The fourth course is usually chopped ice with perhaps some mint syrup, to cleanse the palate.”

“Cleanse the palate?”

“If you would not, Sir, the flavours of the salad course and the first meat course would be mixed up, confused. We don’t want that.”

“Light forbid,” said Quartermaster.

“Quite. The fifth course will be white meat, poultry, pork. Anything that goes with white wine, or that Darnassian Green I spotted in the wine cellar.”

Now you’re talking. We can do big lumps of meat.”

“On a bed of watercress, with a cranberry sauce.”

“If you want.”

Cullan pointed at the next set of cutlery in. “Sixth course, red meat. Or fish. Dark red wines, with a full body.”

Quartermaster grinned. “Whatever you do, Mr. Cullan, do not put it that way to our cook. She’ll smack you.”

“I will keep that in mind, Sir. And that brings us, finally, to the dessert. Fruit, perhaps, or stewed apples. With a sweet white wine.”

Quartermaster sat back in his chair, and looked up at their new Gilnean butler.

“Mr. Cullan, this castle’s kitchen will feed a company of two hundred, within the hour. This…” He pointed at the impeccable plate setting in front of him. “Goes against everything we believe in.”

“I have seen them at work, Sir. They are remarkably efficient. Bringing in the porridge on large planks to be slid across the table is a stroke of genius.” He looked away for a second. “Try to see this as a different kind of sport, Sir. Cart horses and dressage, if you will.”

“Mr. Cullan, I say this with no ill feeling against you, but I hate this.” He laughed quietly. “Sir Gerrig will go for it like a shark.”


Smitty took a deep breath. Amazingly, the smell of fire still lingered. There were buildings, hastily put up, made of wood. Temporary structures, uncomfortable, and about as home-like as a barren rock on a mountain top. That was going to change. He had the plans in his bag, and there were going to be archery towers, a stone wall, barracks. Granaries built out of stone. Sir Gerrig was not taking half measures, and this place would be a hard target, no matter if the attackers were Horde or Scourge. People all round him had stopped calling him “Smitty”, or “Eltee”, and instead were addressing him as “Sir Joseph.” It made him feel melancholy. He no longer had friends here, he had underlings. The soldiers who had been with him to fetch Selena, had stayed at the castle.

Selena.

Lady Selena.

He had said goodbye to her, at the castle. They had been polite to each other. Sir Joseph. Lady Selena. She had changed. When she first came to this farm, she had looked like a bronze statue of a hunter girl, polished to a perfect shine. Now, small scratches had appeared in the bronze, through use. It made her look more real, somehow. Much more like the kind of girl he really liked.

Smitty looked over his shoulder to the North, where the castle lay. He shook his head. Ships had sailed. Horses had bolted. It would seem that Lady Selena had finally given up. Good. It was never going to work. Ironically, he was now the perfectly polished bronze statue. A Knight in name, but compared to the likes of Sir Gerrig, Sir Roland, Sir Wilfrid, especially Old Sir Bannog, part of Light, he was nothing. Still a simple workman in Knight’s colours. You may have the clothes, but it takes more than expensive kit to be a Knight.

He sneered. Better stick to what you know. He walked into the main barracks to find the foreman, and make his eyes light up with beautiful drawings.


In the forests near Thelsamar in the Dwarf lands of Loch Modan, stood a small cabin. Hieronimo walked up the path, by the vegetable garden, the fence with a single cow. From within came the sound of singing. She hesitated a moment, then banged her fist on the door, and the singing stopped. The door opened and a friendly, rosy-cheeked woman in a floral dress looked at her.

“Good morning. Can I help you?”

“Aye. Are you miss Sally Flintgrinder?”

The woman smiled. “She’s inside. I’m Lisa. Come on in. You look like you can use some coffee. Quick, before Sally gets to it.”

Hieronimo sat down on a nice solid bench by a table. She looked round. Paintings were on the wall, mostly sun-splashed landscapes. The lake. Well, the lake had changed. The Stonewrought Dam had burst, and the lake was shallow now, much to the dismay of the local Murlocs. Lisa gave her a steaming mug of coffee, then called into the house.

“Sally! Visitor!”

A fearsome creature came in, dressed in a purple robe, barefoot. Her long dark hair hung in front of her eyes.

“Mwgrmh,” said Sally. “Grrrhcoffee,” she added.

“Miss…” Lisa raised her eyebrows.

“Wildheart. Hieronimo.”

“Hieronimo. Meet Sally. She’s cursed, poor dear. Every night at the stroke of Midnight, she turns into this poor creature, but then, when she’s had her coffee, and the light of the Sun touches her, she turns into a beautiful princess.”

“Shutup,” said Sally, and lurched towards the coffee jug.

“Give it a moment, dear,” said Lisa. “She’s not a morning person.”

Hieronimo watched. Lisa’s eyes followed Sally round the room as she poured herself a mug of strong coffee, found her slippers and stuck her feet into them, and finally made her ponderous way to the table and sat down. She started to empty the sugar bowl into her mug.

“So. If not for our breakfast, why are you here?”

Hieronimo sighed, pulled out her notebook. She turned it to the drawing she’d made of Berrin and put it on the table.

“Do ye know this Dwarf?”

Sally looked. “Uncle Berrin! Oh, that’s a lovely picture of him.”

“He’s your uncle as well?”

Lisa laughed. “Berrin Rockwalker has uncled a lot of people in these parts. He’s everybody‘s uncle.”

“I’ve bad news about him. He is dead. I was there when he died, fighting with me on the sea.”

Sally and Lisa looked at each other. Sally blinked, staring at Hieronimo’s face to see if this was some sick joke. It wasn’t. Lisa’s head hung down, and she looked at the picture. When she looked up, her eyes shone with tears.

“He was a good Dwarf,” said Lisa. “We didn’t see him often, but he’d always come and see us if he was in the area.”

Sally stared at the wall, a little smile on her face. “Always brought me a big jar of boiled sweets. Got a bit of a sweet tooth.”

Lisa swallowed her tears. “You said it was on the sea? What happened?”

“We were sailing for Stormwind, but the ship had to go to Darnassus instead. On our way there, we were attacked. Without Uncle Berrin and his grizzly, we’d have lost. I wouldn’t be here but for him.”

“Darnassus?” Lisa breathed in slowly. “You’ve been in Darnassus? On Teldrassil?”

“Aye,” said Hieronimo. “The Night-elves buried him there.”

“Night elves.” Sally’s voice was a whisper. “You’ve seen the Night-elves?”

Lisa had turned over Hieronimo’s notebook, and looked at her drawings.

“Oh, those are beautiful. Look at that old man! He must be at least a thousand years old!” Lisa sighed. “I would love to go to Darnassus. What are they like?”

Hieronimo looked from Lisa to Sally, both their eyes on her.

“They told me that wrong was right, and they tried to feed me snails.”

“Oh they wouldn’t, would they?”

“They did. Oh, properly prepared and all. Special forks to get into the houses. Not my cup of tea.” Hieronimo sighed. “Some of ’em are alright when ye get to know ’em.”

X

Sally and Lisa watched Hieronimo walk down the path, wave, and sprint off.

“What a nice girl,” said Lisa. “Come to bring us the news all the way from Kharanos.”

“Poor Uncle Berrin,” said Sally. “Still. Buried in Darnassus. Elves who know the proper Staves of Burial. Who would have thought it?”

“Do you think we’ll ever go there? See the Night-elves?”

Sally wrapped her arms round Lisa from behind. and rested her chin on Lisa’s shoulder. Lisa pressed her cheek into Sally’s.

“Next year in Darnassus?”


Aviana’s Wingbeat was sailing North again, heading for the gulf stream that would take them across the seas quicker. They were making for Theramore, to pick up a group of Human military strategists who were needed in Darnassus. The going was slow. Winds were bad. Morale was low. They had been ashore, and looked with horror at the place where Filyen’s boyfriend, Ydarin, had had his house. It was right in the middle of the fireblast. There was no way he could have escaped. They had to keep Filyen from digging through the ashes. They’d held her between them, and slowly made their way back to the longboat. Auberdine’s pier was gone. Half of Auberdine itself was gone, and the buildings left standing were haunted with ghosts. Elves moved between the building bearing stretchers. If they were moving fast, the Elf might still be alive. When slow, he or she was dead. They knew the names of many of them, had bought food and drink from them. Sang with them in the tavern. When they returned to Aviana’s Wingbeat, they found they had a new passenger. A wisp, one of the spirits, made of nothing but Light, flitting here and there like a sentient dandelion seed. It had settled on the bow of the ship when they set sail. Filyen, once the sail was up, sat down next to it on the foredeck, staring out over the sea, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Next to Filyen, the wisp suddenly stirred, dashed back and forth. All the way to the end of the bowsprit, back, out again. Filyen frowned, looked out over the sea. She almost missed it. Something floating in the water.

“Captain!”

“What’s up?”

Filyen pointed. “Someone in the water.”

Aviana’s Wingbeat turned round, dropped her sail. The slender figure of a woman clung on to a piece of wood. She didn’t respond to their calls. Captain Andral grabbed a line, jumped overboard and swam towards the woman. He looked at her face. Her blonde hair stuck to her forehead. Her lips moved. Alive! He hauled in the line, and they pulled the woman onto the deck. Dorian Graycloud came down from the bridge, and looked at the woman’s slender form, and her ears.

“Pah. It’s a Blood-elf. Horde is out of season. Throw her back.”

Freja, who was kneeling by her head, looked up at Dorian.

“Shame on you, Mr. Graycloud. Once for not recognising a High Elf when you see her, and twice for even thinking of throwing anyone back in the sea.”

Dorian Graycloud grunted, and walked back to the helm. He pushed the beam, and the ship started to move. Kuryon picked up the woman and carried her to the galley. Freja started to boil water for tea. Tea was never a bad thing.

“Well,” said Filyen, “Let’s get her out of those wet clothes. I’ll get her one of my shirts and trousers.”

“She’s pretty,” said Kuryon.

“And just for that, get lost,” said Freja. “Everyone without breasts, get out of my galley!”

Together, Freja and Filyen took the woman’s clothes off, dried her off and put her in Filyen’s clothes. For all the response it got them, they might have been playing with an Elf-size doll. She was breathing, though. Filyen held up the woman’s clothes, a rather nice ensemble in green scales. She put it on the foredeck to dry.

“Filyen!” Freja called out from the galley. “She’s waking up.”

“Good!”

Filyen went back into the kitchen to find Freja with her arm round the High Elf’s shoulders, gently pouring tea into her mouth from a cup.

“Easy now. You’re safe.”

The Elf coughed, and Freja took the cup away. “What’s your name?”

“My… name?”

“Yes.”

“I’m…” The woman stared in the distance. “I’m…” Her breath became fast, shallow.

“Ssh. Easy girl. It’ll come to you. You’ve had a nasty knock. It’ll be fine in a minute.”

The Captain came walking into the galley.

“How is she?”

“Not quite there yet, but she’ll live.”

“Good. We have to get going to Theramore.”

“Theramore?” the Elf woman looked at Captain Andral. “I think I was in Theramore once.”

“Perhaps they’ll know her there,” said Filyen. “If she doesn’t know herself.”

Captain Andral bowed his head. “Welcome on board, Miss.”


Smitty, ‘Sir Joseph’ to anyone but his closest friends, stared at the young, blonde woman standing in front of him. All round them, there was the sound of hammering, saws, people shouting. The wall was going up fast. The towers were already finished. The place started to look like a miniature castle. Smitty looked at Selena.

“Hi” said Selena. “Didn’t expect to see me here, did you?”

“I didn’t. The place hasn’t gotten any safer since last time you were here. Why are you here?”

“I wanted to see how you were doing here. Don’t worry, I won’t stay long.”

“You own this place, or at least your family does. You can stay as long as you want.”

“But you don’t want me to. I’ll be gone in a minute.”

“There are Orcs out there. I can send some men along if you want.”

“Pf. Any Orcs try it on with me, Hugin will be snacking on their liver before they know it’s gone.”

“That’s good to know.”

“How are you, Joseph?”

“Busy,” said Smitty. “This place is not going to get jumped like the last time. We’ve already caught a Blackrock patrol. I don’t think the Accord exists anymore.”

“Shame,” said Selena. “For them.”

She stepped forward, and put her hands on Smitty’s chest.

“I’m very sorry that I didn’t ask you before going to the King. You are right to be angry with me.”

Smitty sighed. “I was angry. But I’ve been talking to the others. People are knighted for the most stupid reasons sometimes.”

“Well, whatever the reason, you’re one of us now. I’m not sorry about that. Not even a little bit. No more excuses, Sir Joseph.”

Smitty said nothing, looking into her eyes.

“I’ve been doing it all wrong. A bad hunter chases. A good hunter waits. I’ve been chasing after you, all this time. But not anymore. I’m here if you want me. I’m not looking for anyone else but you. Mind you, I may find someone without looking, so don’t get comfortable.”

Selena moved her face closer to Sir Joseph’s. Her lips almost touched his. Almost.

“When you feel you’ve earned that title, my love, come see me.”

She moved away. She gave him a slow smile, leapt on her horse, called to her bird, and rode out of the gate.

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