Part 3: The value of education

“So. This is it, then.”

“Yes. The Deeprun Tram. Triumph of Gnomish engineering and Dwarvish mining technology. Thank goodness that no Goblins were involved, or it would have been even noisier.” Mareva smiled. “Hold on to someone solid when you travel on it.”

“Oh, you girls with boyfriends. Bloody annoying. Well, I’d better get going then.”

Selena hugged first Mareva, then Ariciel.

“Don’t go with any strange men you don’t know,” said Ariciel.

“Huh. The ones worthy of me are few and far between,” said Selena. “Stuff them.”

“That’s the spirit! See you in a few months, then.”

Selena waved, turned round and disappeared into the tunnel.

“Aww,” said Ariciel. “They grow up so quickly.”

“It is to be hoped she will,” said Mareva. “Where are we going?”

“Ferry. Take a right here, then head North to the harbour.”

“We want the one without the steam engines,” said Mareva. “Or we will end up in Northrend too soon.”

“Right.”


“Right,” said the little man who’d introduced himself as Gezza. “Robbing people on the streets is for amateurs. Need to knock them on the ‘ead, maybe they’re stronger than you are, someone sees you, and ye’re in a world of hurt.”

Cullan nodded. They were in an alley between an inn and a shop, looking at one of the houses. They were planning to break into it, and relieve it of any valuables that might be inside. It was a new addition to his duties, which up to now had included making deliveries for various thug-lords, guard duties for private gambling parties, looking tall and menacing during negotiations between Rose and suppliers of certain hard-to-acquire goods, and on one occasion escorting a lady of the night to a customer, and picking her up after her business and his pleasure had concluded. It seemed that Cullan was about to add house-robbing to his repertoire. Another line crossed. So far, nobody had actually been hurt by any of his actions. Even in his Human form, having grown a suitable beard, he looked scary enough to discourage acts of violence against him. If actual fighting was going to happen, they would get the fright of their lives. He could refuse, of course, but refusing orders was frowned upon. Usually followed by rather painful and fatal methods of encouraging others to take the chain of command more seriously. Gezza had assured him that the house would be empty, its occupants out on a trip to the other side of Gilneas to attend a funeral. Get in, get the shinies, get out. Cullan looked at Gezza. What could possibly go wrong?

“Now what you want to do, right, is walk up to the front door like you live there, so no sneakin’ or hidin’ behind what have you, or the first pig that comes along is going to say, blimmin’ ‘eck, there’s a pair o’ tea leaves about to half-inch some poor rich bastard’s ill-gotten gains.” Gezza looked round, fumbling in his pocket for his lockpicks. “Without cuttin’ me in. So you don’t want to hang about while yer pickin’ the lock, either. Which means that you need skills in dealing with locks, which fortunately…” Gezza pushed the door open. “I have in embarrassing abundance. Pray enter, my good man.”

Cullan followed the little thief, his fellow thief, into the house, and closed the door behind him. Gezza walked up the hall, looking round with greed lighting up his eyes.

“Blimey, whoever told us about this deserves a tip. That’s some old Gilnean Masters up there. No use, though. Too hot even for sweet Loren to shift. Ought to be some good gold and silverware, though.”

Cullan said nothing, and followed Gezza into the drawing room. Gezza pointed.

“Candlesticks. Ornaments. Any cutlery you can find, Try to wrap up those vases, we won’t get any for ancient old shards, we’re not dealing with archaeologists. Gather it all up in the hallway. I’ll go look for jewellery. That’s usually in the bedroom.” He disappeared into the house.

Cullan took a deep breath. Just get on with it. He pulled out the bags they brought for the purpose, and started to put valuables into them, padding the more fragile items with table cloths and napkins.

“Just what the flamin’ ‘ell do you think you’re doing?”

Cullan slowly turned round. Facing him was a tall, thin man wearing a servant’s uniform. Cullan tensed up, took half a step back, the melody of the ritual ringing in his head. He slowly raised his hands. The house servant was holding a club, smacking it into the palm of his other hand.

Cullan took a deep breath. “I’m sure we can arrange something…”

“Bloody right we can. I’ll beat the stuffing out of you, and hand what’s left to the guards. They’ll drop you down the hole with a rope to your neck for safety. Sounds like a good arrangement to me.”

The servant struck out with his club, and Cullan dodged, knocking over a chair. He felt the Change come upon him, but managed to push it down.

“Don’t make me angry,” said Cullan. “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

“I already don’t like you, you thieving bastard. You’re nicked!”

There was a snap, and the house servant’s eyes became vacant. He collapsed onto the floor. Behind him was Gezza, tossing a small heavy object into the air and catching it.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, mate, but you’re a right tosser. Trying to talk your way out? A guy your size? If I were ‘s big as you, I’d know the colour of his kidneys by now.”

Cullan kneeled by the servant, put a finger to his throat. He closed his eyes when he felt a pulse.

“He’s alive.”

“Soon fix that.”

“No.” Cullan looked up. “Today, I’ve already become a thief. I won’t become a murderer as well.”

Gezza’s eyes narrowed. “Ain’t gonna go far in this busines if you’re afraid to get your brasses dirty, mate.”

“I’m not killing anyone today, and neither are you.”

“Suit yourself, mate. He didn’t see me. Get him out of the way, then. And get a move on.”


Sir Roland’s farm lay about an hour’s ride to the North of the castle. Apart from growing crops, and breeding pigs and sheep, it served mainly as a training ground for recruits to the armies of Stormwind and Westbrook. Sir Roland had made it to Captain, before losing two fingers and an eye in a ferocious attack. After the healers had fixed him with a glass eye, he had been honourably discharged and sent back home. Old Bannog had noticed the old soldier in the tavern in Lakeshire, bought him a pint of ale, as his actions had almost certainly saved him from being overrun, and by the end of the evening invited him to run one of his farmsteads. Sir Roland had accepted, and under his guidance, the “Soldier Farm” had thrived. Nobody made trouble on Sir Roland’s farm. Or at least, until now. One of the recruits had come limping home with several bleeding wounds on him, and collapsed by the gate.

Sir Roland pushed through the mass of soldiers, and stared down at his charge. A lad, born in Corrin’s crossing, though he had moved away from that place before it became an abode of Undead. He was bleeding from a head wound and, judging by the way he held himself, had cracked several ribs. Sir Roland took a deep breath.

“Medic!”

One of the priests from Northshire Abbey hurried up, took a quick look at the lad and started casting healing spells. Sir Roland knelt beside him.

“What’s your name, my lad?”

“Eiric, Sir,” said the soldier.

“Right. Are you comfortable, Eiric?”

“Aye Sir. Thank you, Father.”

The priest waved his hand in a blessing.

“Good. Now, Eiric, who did this to you?”

“Orcs, Sir. Blackrock Orcs.”

Sir Roland frowned. That was not characteristic of Orcs. Admittedly, they wanted nothing more than to wipe all Humans off the face of Azeroth, but once they had given their word, they stuck to it as a rule.

“Any idea why?”

“Yes, Sir. I’d found a shield in the forest, returning from Sir Wilfrid’s farm, Sir. So I picked it up, meaning to take it home to take a better look at it. Then I ran into this Orc. He accused me of stealing it, Sir. So I got mad and shoved him, and he shoved me back, and then he drew steel, Sir.”

Sir Roland looked worried. “Did you fight him?”

“Only for a bit, Sir. Parried his blows. But then his friends came up, and grabbed him, and me. They talked, but I couldn’t understand them. Then they took the one who’d hit me, and left.”

Sir Roland rubbed his chin. Damn. Something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. He trusted his men, but when it came to subjects like ‘Who Started It’, their reports might… differ somewhat from the truth. Still, nobody got hurt much. They could ignore it. Though he’d better write to Sir Gerrig now, to report the incident. He got up, wiping the dirt from his knees.

“As you were, Soldier. Don’t let it happen again.”


The Deeprun Tram stopped with a shudder and a screaming of brakes. Selena hurried to get off, before it would get going again. All round her, more people than she ever realised existed, were walking on the tram, off the tram. She looked round for a familiar face. Nobody noticed one small Human girl and her bird. She followed some people who had just come off the tram and were now, hopefully, heading for the exit. She felt someone’s hand on her arm, and she spun round.

“Easy, lass! It’s a bit busy isn’t it?”

Selena grinned.

“Uncle Berrin! Oh, I’m so glad to see you! Do you know the way out?”

Uncle Berrin looked at Selena.

“My, how you’ve grown! Last time I saw you, I could look ye in the eye without needin’ a chair!”

“Well, you should have eaten your vegetables, then. Can we get out of here? The noise is driving me mad.”

Berrin laughed. “Tinker town is going to be even worse. Brace yerself and follow me. We need to get to the military ward.”

“Is it quiet there?”

“No. But that’s where Thorfin Stoneshield is. And some lad named Hieronimo. He’ll be taking lessons with us.”

Side by side, they walked to the exit of the Deeprun Tram.

“So, Uncle, why do you need hunting lessons? You’ve been hunting as long as you were walking.”

“Aye, but I never went to school for it. I can catch animals well enough, nobody ever goes hungry when I’m around, but these days, you need to be able to catch nastier things than polecats. So I thought I’d get a wee refresher course, so to speak. Learn a few of those new-fangled attack spells. Oh. And how to use one of these.”

Berrin pulled out his shotgun, and showed it to Selena.

“They are damn noisy things, but they seem to get the job done even better than a crossbow. Can’t say I like it much so far. When I’m out in the woods, I can make all the arrows I need. They grow on trees, so to speak. This thing, if ye run out of slugs, ye can just about bludgeon things to death wi’it.”

“Hm. I’m using my longbow, Sticking to what I know. Say, where’s your bear?”

Berrin sighed. “Dead, lass. Died saving my sorry arse from a bunch of Dark Irons. They beat him to a bloody pulp. Couldn’t find it within me to revive him. Poor beast has earned his rest. So now I have a swine.”

“Cool. What’s his name?”

“Evert. But I had to dismiss him, as per orders. He’s going to be right pissed off when I summon him back. Ye’d better dismiss that bird of yours as well.”

“Huh? I don’t know how to do that! I put her in kennels!”

“Oh well. Ask Master Thorfin. He’ll give ye the right spell if you don’t know it.”

They walked on through the halls of Ironforge. The last time Selena was here, Mother was carrying her on her arm. She only remembered being puzzled at why she couldn’t see the clouds when they were clearly in a street. That, and the noise of hammers on anvils. They walked past the Great Forge. Selena walked close to the rails, and looked down into the yellow glowing cauldron. That’s fire, she thought. It’s hotter than fire. It’s hotter than the Sun! Fall in there, and you’d burn up like a moth in a candleflame. You probably wouldn’t even have the time to feel pain. Here one moment, gone the next.

“Get away from that,” said Berrin, gently pulling on Selena’s elbow. “Ye’re makin’ me nervous, lookin’ down in there. We need to take a left here anyway.”

“Right.”

“No, left. Definitely not right.”

Selena chuckled. “Shouldn’t tell jokes with a beard longer than you have, Uncle.”

“Hah! I can remember when I first heard that one. I were but a wee lad, couldn’t hunt anything but snails. Mightily upset me mum when I ate them. Ye gods, I’m old.”

“Night-elves eat snails, or so I’ve heard. If you fry them in enough garlic butter, they taste like bits of rubber with garlic. You use a special pair of tongs and a little fork to get them out of their houses. That’s what Ariciel told me anyway. Maybe she was having me on.”

“Doesn’t surprise me in the least. That’s why they’re so thin.”

“Meh. We tried feeding her up on bacon and eggs. Didn’t work. She could probably eat a whole boar and stay thin. Lucky cow.”

“Bah. I like women with a bit of meat on their bones. Cuddle one of those stick insects, and ye snap ’em in half!”

Selena walked on, eyes clearly not on where she was going, grinning to herself. Berrin looked up at her.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Just imagined Bannog coming out of his room, going oh damn. I broke my Elf!”

“What? Young Bannog has caught an Elf for a girlfriend? I didn’t know that!”

“Oh yeah. That’s Ariciel. She’s nice. Completely bonkers, but nice.”

“He didn’t use to go for delicate frail things.”

“Hah! She’s a Druid. I’ve seen her turn into a bear. Nothing delicate or frail about that!”

“Aye, but she doesn’t do that in the bedroom, does she?” Berrin frowned, his bushy eyebrows knotting up. “On second thought, don’t answer that.”

“She turned into a panther in my bedroom once. Scared the living daylights out of Leona. Mareva couldn’t hold her, and away she ran. Never knew people her age could run that fast!”

“If I asked who Mareva was, would I be sorry?”

“Oh, she’s Draenei. She and Ariciel were bunking up with me till the servants could get a room ready for them. She’s clever! And she’s got a hunter boyfriend. He’s got a gorgeous cat!”

Berrin looked at Selena with a strange, lop-sided grin. “Ye know what I used to like most about Caer Bannog?”

“Me?”

“Hah! Apart from you, it was such a normal place. Just Humans going about their daily business, never doing anything out of the ordinary, so to speak. Occasional Dwarf dropping by. None of these Night-elves, Goat-people or anything.”

“Oh I don’t know. The weird ones add a bit of flavour to the place. It’s so boring without them.”

“Could ye explain to me, lass, what exactly is wrong with boring?”

X

They arrived in the military ward, and looked round for someone showing signs of hunting. Left and right, plate-wearing individuals clanked to and fro. Selena looked round, wondering who of all these people was Thorfin Stoneshield. Hunters didn’t wear plate, so anyone wearing that was out. That cleared up things a bit. Thorfin was, she thought, a boy’s name, so it couldn’t be the blonde Dwarf girl sitting on a bench watching the crowd. There was a louder noise than usual to Selena’s left. Three dwarves were talking to each other, and laughing.

“Hey! I recognise that one,” said Berrin, pointing at one of the three. “He taught me Fa to shoot with a longbow. Maybe he knows where to find Mr. Stoneshield.”

At that, one of the Dwarves turned round, and looked at Berrin, then at Selena and her bird. His massive arms were bare, apart from a few straps of leather round his biceps. He was wearing a tough leather jerkin dyed red over grey trousers. From his pocket, he produced a scrap of paper, gazed at it, looked straight past Selena, and adressed Berrin.

“Berrin Rockwalker?”

“Aye.”

“Good. And this is your lad, Selena of Caer Bannog?”

Berrin grinned. “Well, she’s not mine, so to speak, and she’s definitely not a lad, but she is Selena of Caer Bannog.” He bent forward a bit. “The Humans have even taught her to talk.”

“Bloody mistake, as far as I’m concerned,” said Thorfin Stoneshield.

Selena stood there, arms crossed, mouth open, unable to speak for sheer outrage. After a few calming breaths, she glared down at the trainer.

“Listen, mister…”

“No. You listen. I do the talking. Why haven’t you dismissed that bird yet? I do believe my letter said to.”

“Don’t know how to. I’ve never dismissed her in all my life, and I don’t want to, either. I may never get her back!”

Thorfin Stoneshield simply stared at her. “Ye don’t know how to? Ye gods, and you call yerself a hunter? Give us yer hand. Come on, lad, I haven’t got all day!”

Selena glanced at Berrin, but he just stood there smiling under his big plaited beard. No use at all. With an inward sigh, she held out her hand. Thorfin took it, concentrated, and Selena felt strange memories drift into her consciousness. As Thorfin let go of her hand, she felt like she’d known all her life.

“There. Dismissal and summoning. Now get on with it.”

Selena blinked, looked at Hugin. “Sorry,” she whispered. Then, she cast her spell. With a startled squawk, Hugin’s form faded, and disappeared. Selena’s head felt as if it was heavier, but that was probably just guilt. She looked back at Thorfin Stoneshield.

“Good. Now all we need is some lad named Hieronimo Wildheart. He with you?”

“No,” said Selena.

“I wasn’t asking you. Speak when you’re spoken to.”

Selena took a deep breath to give Mr. Stoneshield a piece of her mind, but he simply glared at her, and she closed her mouth. Berrin stepped forward.

“Never seen him before in me life,” said Berrin. “I don’t get into town much.”

“Good Dwarf. Wish I could get out more. Now where is this student?”

“Excuse me?”

Thorfin Stoneshield looked round. The Dwarf girl Selena had seen before was standing behind him.

“We’re busy, lass. Run along now.”

The girl gave Thorfin a steady, even little smile that looked like it could disappear at a moment’s notice.

“Were you looking for Hieronimo Wildheart?”

“Aye. Is he related to you?”

“No.”

“Well, do you know him?”

“I’d like to think so.”

“Stop wasting our time, lass. If ye know where he is, then speak up.”

“She is standing in front of you, Hunter Trainer Thorfin Stoneshield.” She paused as he looked at her as if she’d sprouted horns. “I am Hieronimo Wildheart.”

“But…” Thorfin gaped. “You’re a girl!”

“Oh, well spotted.”

“I was expecting a lad!”

“Yeah. I get that a lot, strangely.” She sighed. “There was a bit of a mixup when I was born. Long story. Anyway, reporting for lessons.”

“This is what they drag me out of Stormwind for? Nobody bloody told me about girls,” muttered Thorfin.

Selena arched an eyebrow. “Well if you hadn’t said, I’d never have known.”

“Girls are the ones with the round bits at the front,” added Hieronimo. Selena chuckled.

Thorfin Stoneshield’s eyes darkened. “That’s enough from the both of you. You. Do you have a pet?”

“Aye.”

“Did ye dismiss it as I asked?”

“Aye, Sir.”

“Good. Someone here pays attention. Now listen lads, I’m not in the habit of repeating myself, so when I start talking, listen up and remember what I say. We start with basic survival training. You should already know most of what I’m about to teach you, so I’ll go fast.” Thorfin paused a second. “You may have thought that these lessons would be in nice comfy classrooms. You would be wrong. In a few minutes we go into the frozen forests of Dun Morogh. It’s a harsh and unforgiving land, and unless you apply what you know, you’re likely to die. This is where we separate the men from the boys.”

Selena felt like raising a finger and pointing out the obvious, but a look at Thorfin’s face told her that would be a bad idea.

“Any questions? No? Good. Move out!”


Loren cast a quick, professional glance over the items laid out on the table. She picked up one of the vases, and looked at the bottom for any markings. Then, she put them to one side.

“Cor. Don’t see them often. They’re original Quel’dorei High-borne porcelain. Bit tricky to get rid of, not much of that going round. But I’ll hang on to them and see you if I find a buyer. The candlesticks are solid gold. Can always melt the things, so no problem there. Silver brace purse has an inscription saying who it belongs to. Maybe I’ll try and sell it back to the owner. Some pretty common silver knives, forks and spoons. Painting of a weeping Elf girl, my goodness. I’ll wrap the silver in that. A few rings… let me see. Gah. Low-level spell power rings. Soulbound. No use to anyone but the owner, and little enough even to them. Maybe I’ll chuck them on the auction house and see if any trainee enchanter wants them. Collection of moss agates, fine. Oo, an uncut regal diamond, nice. Jewelcrafters love them.”

Loren went over Cullan’s collection of ill-gotten goods, made some mental calculations and looked at him.

“Eighteen gold, for the lot of this, not counting the vases. About half the real value. First, last and only offer, take or leave.”

Cullan took a deep breath. “Take.”

“All right, then. I take it that the GLF is going to get nine-tenth from this? I can give them their part if you want. I do a lot of business with them. Give you a chitty for it.”

“That is very… organised,” said Cullan.

“Benefit of dealing with people with connections, love. Anything else?”

“No, said Cullan. Or… perhaps.”

“What?”

“If you find the original owners…”

“I’ll tell them nothing, don’t you worry.” Loren looked at Cullan’s face. “First job, love?”

Cullan simply nodded. Loren counted out two gold in silver coins.

“Um, Miss Loren, that’s too much.”

“No it isn’t. Use the rest to get plastered. Get a great big hangover. Once that goes away, you’ll feel a lot better. The folks you took this from won’t miss it.” She tapped one of the vases with a ring on her finger, and it rang in a clear tone. “Nobody who’s rich enough to buy one of these things gets to where he is without stepping on a few hard-working honest people. See it as payback.”

“Thank you, Miss Loren.”

“Pleasure doing business with ye.”

X

“So. How did he do?”

“He’s soft. And he’s still wet behind the lugholes. Spent ages lettin’ one of the flunkies get a good look at ‘im. And then he just ties him up and leaves him.”

Rose laughed quietly. “He may have a personal reason for not wanting to get into fights. Still, did he do what was needed of him?”

“I suppose. Evvy liftin’ is not really my thing. Least he’s got a good pair of arms on ‘im.”

“Did he ask any questions?”

“No, m’lady. Just wandered off with his soul under his arm.”

“Hm. A pity. It would be good to know what he would ask.”

“M’lady?”

“Why the house servant was there at all, for example.”

“That was a bit surprising, I must admit. Is his Lordship losing his touch?”

Rose gave Gezza an icy look. The little weasel knew better, but disrespect was not to be encouraged.

“Hardly. We wanted to know how our new recruit would react. I assume you cleaned up afterwards?”

“Old fridge won’t tell no tales, m’lady. Feedin’ the fishes as we speak.”

“Good. That’ll be all.”

Gezza left. Rose walked to the window. Cuchullainn. She knew the name from mythology, and it was another one of those heroes with two sides to their personality. She looked out over the city, the streets, full of people even at this time in the evening. Prey, with the odd predator among them, and she had just acquired a new predator. If properly harnessed, he would serve her well.

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