Part 4: Poor little lambs who have lost their way

So far, so good, thought Selena. She was running through the pretty snow that covered the lands of Dun Morogh. Thorfin ran a few steps ahead, They had come out of the gates of Ironforge, and had run down the long slope that wound its way down into the frozen lands. Selena looked round her, thinking that this was the same road her big brother would have taken, together with Peterselie and his new-found Elf girlfriend. At a crossroad, they took a left and ran in the direction of Kharanos.

“If I’d have known,” said Hieronimo, “I could’ve waited for ye here. My house is just up the road from here.”

“Thinking of going home already?” Thorfin Stoneshield looked over his shoulder as he ran. “Yer going ta have some fun tonight! Tonight, we sleep under the stars, like a good hunter ought. This place’ll test yer survival skills to the limit.”

Berrin raised his thick eyebrows. “Whatever are ye talking about? I can spot three good meals and two places to sleep from here.”

“Aye, and so can I. But these lads here? They’ll be lucky to see the next morning with all their toes still on their feet. City living makes ye soft. Well, we’ll help ye get over that, me boys!”

“I live in a castle in Redridge,” said Selena.

“Kharanos isn’t a city,” said Hieronimo. “It’s a small village, really.”

“And I think I speak for the both of us when I say we’re not your boys. For the reason of us being girls.”

“Yer wasting body heat, opening yer mouths like that,” said Thorfin.

X

After a few hours steady running, they came to the town of Kharanos. Hieronimo pointed at a small hill, where a Dwarf stood, talking to one of his customers, who wanted to know when he’d be able to get a raptor pet. Hieronimo pointed and waved.

“That’s me Fa! Hi Dad!”

Grif Wildheart looked up, nodded at Thorfin, waved at Hieronimo and went back to explaining. They plunged down into the valley called the Grizzled Den. Thorfin made for a group of trees, raised his fist and the whole train came to a halt.

“We camp here,” said Thorfin. “And seeing how you are all such experts at outdoor survival, I’ll leave it up to you to make yer own arrangements.”

Thorfin spotted two trees at a convenient distance from each other and pulled a hammock from his pack, which he tied up to the trees. A rope went a bit higher, and with a tarpaulin, he’d made a servicable tent, hanging between the trees, within three minutes. Berrin ran off into the trees, to come back some ten minutes later with two large branches from a pine tree. He started ripping off the branches, leaving a bit of firewood for the common good. The green twigs, he laid out carefully on the ground. Hieronimo and Selena looked at each other. Selena started picking up Uncle Berrin’s firewood for a fire, but Thorfin stopped her.

“Tonight, everybody makes their own camp. That goes for you too, Wildheart. Tomorrow, I’ll tell ye what ye did wrong, if ye can’t figure it out.”

Selena and Hieronimo gave each other a look, then walked off into the woods, looking for firewood. It was hard going, because Uncle Berrin had his axe with him, and could chop off a branch. Selena had her staff and a longbow, Hieronimo a gun and a long dagger. No good with tree branches. Hieronimo pointed up.

“That looks like enough firewood for the night. Can ye reach it? You’re taller than me.”

Selena reached up. Too high even for her.

“Give us a leg up.”

Hieronimo planted her feet firmly on the ground, held out her hands to Selena, who put her boot on them. Hieronimo pushed up, and Selena was left hanging from the branch, which bent down, her toes just reaching the ground. She tried to pull down, but only succeeded in pulling herself up, though the branch creaked dangerously. Hieronimo sighed, took a grip on Selena’s belt and pulled her down. Selena set her teeth. pulled down hard. The branch cracked, and slumped down. But try as they might, they couldn’t separate it from the tree. Hieronimo sucked her teeth, and pulled out her dagger, which had a saw-tooth edge at the back.

“If I stand on yer shoulders, I think I can just about reach it and saw it through.”

Selena looked at the short, sturdy girl in front of her, and at her muddy boots, then up at the place where the branch was still attached to the tree. Oh well. Nothing for it. She leaned her back to the tree, and held out her hands to Hieronimo, who clambered up.

“Higher!”

With a mighty heave, Selena pushed Hieronimo higher.

“By the Light, you’re heavy.”

“Did I give you a hard time over those stilts you walk on? Push harder! I’m nearly there.”

Selena managed to push Hieronimo up a bit further, and Hieronimo put her boots on Selena’s shoulders.

“Got it! Now don’t move.”

“Damn! Dropped my staff. Hang on.”

“Very funny.”

With a few minutes of frantic sawing, finally the tree-branch came loose.

“Ow!”

Hieronimo looked down. “What?”

“Got our campfire in the face. You done up there?”

Hieronimo put away her dagger and jumped down.

“Ye gods,” she said, “All that work, and all we have is one tree branch.”

“Oh well. Think that’s enough?”

“Don’t know. Do ye think that git is going to make us build two camp fires?”

“Stuff him,” said Selena, with conviction. “What’s his problem with girls anyway?”

“Probably got bitten by a girl when he was a young boy,” said Hieronimo. She picked up the branch, and together they pulled it back to camp, where they found Berrin and Thorfin sitting by a fire. Berrin took one look at their quest item, and grinned.

“Ach! Ye got a green branch! How are ye going to get that to burn? And what are ye going to use for bedding?”

“Well, we’ll need to chop it down a bit. Can we borrow your axe?”

Thorfin waved a hand.

“You lads have to learn to keep going with the stuff you bring yerselves. No borrowing from others. I’ll let you use the wood for the both of you.”

Hieronimo and Selena looked at each other, both of them clearly suggesting a rich source of protein nearby. Together, they started ripping the small sticks off their branch, while Berrin and Thorfin watched with interest. Hieronimo drew her dagger and started cutting one of the sticks, so that strips of wood curled off it. Then, she pulled out a notebook, and with an unhappy expression on her face tore out one of the pages to use as kindling. Meanwhile, Selena had cleared the snow off a patch of ground. Hieronimo stacked up the kindling in the middle, and together, they stacked a few small twigs on. Selena dug in her pack and produced her flint and steel.

“Here goes. Ready with the fuel?”

“Aye.”

Selena struck sparks, and with some careful blowing, the paper ignited, then the wood strips. Hieronimo broke some sticks into smaller pieces and fed them onto the fire. They hissed, and slowly dried. By the time the kindling was spent, one side of the branch was mildly scorched.

“Damn,” was Hieronimo’s opinion.

“What went wrong?” Selena looked at Hieronimo.

“Wet wood, ye numpties,” said Thorfin. “Ye can’t expect wood to burn just off the tree! Not unless you’ve got dry wood to go with it.”

“Then where did you find dry wood?”

Berrin grinned. “The wet bit of a tree is just underneath the bark. I chopped the wood in fours, so you get to the inside first. No rain inside the tree!” He gave Hieronimo a nod. “You had the right idea, by the way, cutting strips off a branch. Makes for good kindling if ye cut it thin enough. Also, resinous wood burns more easily, and it has nice pine needles to sleep on.”

Berrin pointed at his sleeping place for the night: A small tent made out of a long tree-branch covered with more branches. Underneath lay a thick layer of pine needles removed from his firewood.

“Where are we sleeping?” asked Selena.

“Well, don’t get too far,” said Master Thorfin. “I don’t get paid if ye get eaten by bears. Other than that, it’s a free forest.”

“Great, thanks,” said Hieronimo.

Berrin pointed at a coffee pot that was standing in the fire.

“Did you bring yer mugs?”

Thorfin scowled. “Am I speaking Orcish, or something? No sharing! You should know to bring yer own food.”

“I take it you’ll be wanting to give me that coffee back then?”

Thorfin made some grumbling noises.

“Oh alright then.”

The girls dug out their mugs and Berrin poured steaming coffee for both of them.

“Thanks, Uncle,” said Selena. “Got any milk?”

“Just look in the cold-box,” said Berrin.

They all sat down by the fire. Berrin got up.

“I think it’s time to look for more firewood,” he said. “And my, see what I just found! You do get lucky occasionally, don’t you?” He started to chop up the girls’ branch into smaller pieces and put them on the fire. Because it was well and truly going by now, it was hot enough to dry and ignite the fresh wood. Thorfin grumbled.

“This is starting to look like a fun trip. Well anyway. My…” His face darkened. “Supervisor, she told me that before turning in on the first night, I should do a round where everybody says who they are, and why they are here. Why, beats me, but here we go. So Mr. Berrin Rockwalker, who are ye, and what are ye doin’ here?”

Berrin frowned. “I’m Berrin Rockwalker, and I’m here so I can learn to kill those Lightless bastards who messed up my cabin a few months ago. Not that I used it much, but that don’t mean sodding Dark Irons can trample all over it.”

Selena looked at Berrin. “Is that when they killed your bear?”

“Aye, Lass. Couldn’t outfight them. Useless to try.”

Thorfin rumbled. “So why didn’t ye revive the bear, then?”

“Because he’s where the weather is good, and the hunting is fine, and I’m not goin’ ta take him from there.”

“Hm. Right.” He nodded at Hieronimo. “You’re next.”

Hieronimo shrugged. “I’m Hieronimo Wildheart, and I’m here because Fa told me.”

“Sounds right and proper,” said Thorfin. “Your turn, Longshanks.”

Selena raised a blonde eyebrow slightly. “I am Selena of Caer Bannog, and I’ve just had an unhappy love affair. I want to lose myself in work. If I am not to feel his strong arms and broad chest against me, then I may as well throw myself to the wolves. It’s better than applying to the nearest convent.”

Thorfin stared.

“Well, you asked,” said Selena.

“Sorry I did. Well, that’s that over and done with.”

“Hold on,” said Selena, “You haven’t told us why you are here.”

Thorfin Stoneshield gave her a look.

“Buggered if I know.”

X

They rolled out their sleeping bags and got ready to turn in. Thorfin disappeared inside his hammock, Berrin in his shelter. The girls looked at each other and rolled out their own furs, toes to the fire. Selena lay back, thanking Ariciel for her nice sleeping furs. Beside her, she could hear Hieronimo’s breath. She raised her head. The girl was shivering!

“Hey. You alright?”

“F-fine.”

“You don’t sound fine.”

“Just cold. I’m a Dwarf. I can take the cold.”

Selena turned over. “C’mon. Get in with me. We can keep each other warm.”

“Get lost. I don’t want to give that git an excuse to fail me.”

“Look. It’s an important survival technique. When someone is dying of cold, you get into a sleeping bag with them, and save their lives. We’ll impress him when he sees we know it. So maybe we ought to skip the bit where you almost freeze to death?”

There was a moment of silence from the other side. Then a muttered ‘well alright then’. Selena opened her furs. Ariciel had told her she always made them large enough for two at a pinch, so one-and-a-half were no problem at all. Hieronimo ran her fingers over the lining of the sleeping furs.

“Ye gods! Is that yeti fur? This thing must have cost a fortune!”

“It was a present from a friend,” said Selena.

Hieronimo was quiet for a moment.

“And that bird I saw you with?”

“My Father gave that to me when I was twelve years old.”

“Hm,” said Hieronimo. “You get given things.”

“Yes,” said Selena. She felt almost ashamed.

“Lucky cow.”

Selena looked up at the stars.

“I suppose I am. I’ve never been hungry in my life. Always been safe, even when Orcs attacked my home. Not a care in the world.”

“So what are you doing here, in the freezing cold?”

Selena said nothing for a moment.

“Paying for all the things I’ve been given,” she said, finally.

“How’s that?”

“People have been giving me things, taking care of me all my life. I have to do my bit, to keep the Caer afloat. I can hunt, so I’ll hunt for my home.”

“Tough, that. I’ll hunt for my home. And let me tell you, before me Fa got this job training up the noobs, I have been hungry and cold. That’s when he was working for this bastard of a landlord who grabbed everything Fa could hunt up. How many wolf skins are twenty silvers a month anyway? I’m sure he got stiffed, but what could he have done?”

“So what happened?”

“Someone came in from Ironforge asking for hunter trainers, and Fa jumped at the chance.”

“So he could just change jobs,” said Selena.

“Yeah.”

“I can’t.”

“Rubbish. Get yer boots on and go.”

“Not my boots, unless I steal them.”

“So get yer own boots.”

“What with? I don’t actually get paid anything. I got travel money, but it’s the castle’s money.” Selena looked in the distance. “And anyway, if I did, I’d have gotten all the best for years. For nothing. I’m not about to let that happen. I owe them.”

Hieronimo laid her head down.

“Pride,” she said.

“Only fair,” said Selena. “Anyway. How about you? If your dad is a hunter trainer, why are you training with this lovely person?”

“Fa’s too busy,” said Hieronimo. “Also, he can’t do the advanced spells, so I’m learning those from Mr. Stoneshield. He may be a git, but he’s good at what he does, and there’s this agreement among hunter trainers that you teach each other’s sons for free.”

“Heh. Bit of a shock then when he found out you weren’t a son. Hey, how did you end up with a name like Hieronimo anyway?”

Hieronimo sighed. She’d had to explain this many, many times.

“Well, it’s me mum’s fault really. Fa did really want a son, but he’s not so daft that he’d give me a boy’s name and hope nobody’d notice. They say I took a bit of giving birth to, and Mum’s lying there basking in the warm glow of the healing spells. So she decides to do a little ‘good news, bad news’ joke on me Fa.”

Hieronimo shook her head.

“So Fa comes walking in, and she says: ‘Well Grif, the good news is that your son is all present and correct…’ and then she passes out. So Fa goes: ‘Brilliant!’ and rushes off to the registry office bellowing that he’s got a son all the way.”

Selena started to smile, then to laugh.

“But surely, they could have changed it afterwards?”

“Oh gods, have ye ever tried? The Ironforge registry office is a fortress. Simply for them to give you the time of day means getting twenty signatures from witnesses in three different colours of ink. In the end, he just gave up. So here I am.”

“Hmm. Well, I could call you Roni. That’s a girlish kind of name.”

“Aye, ye could. Ye could also use my real name and I don’t kick yer butt. I’ve had enough grief over it, so I’m not changing it.”

Selena smiled in the dark.

“Ah. Pride.”

“You bet.”

Selena chuckled. “There’s this Gnome I’d like you to meet. She’s been in the castle for weeks, and all that time, I haven’t heard her use anyone’s real name. Ariciel is Rici, Bannog is Big Lug, Gerrig is Boss Man, Mareva is Blue Girl and so on.”

“Oh? And you?”

“Bird Chick.”

“Heh.”

“Yeah. I’ve only heard her use one real name, and he’s not even living in the castle. He’s doing some plumbing. I think she has the hots for him, but she won’t admit it. Anyway, Nix is pretty short already.”

There was a shout from the other side of the campfire.

“Are ye ever goin’ ta stop chattering? How’s a Dwarf going to get some sleep here?”

“I’m sure there’s a stout bit of wood lyin’ about here somewhere,” muttered Hieronimo.


Cullan pulled his cloak about him, and stalked through the dark streets of Gilneas, keeping to the shadows, out of sight. There was hardly anyone out, and those who were didn’t look round. A few carriages clattered on the cobbles, no doubt containing passengers too precious to be left to the night. Gilneas by day was a bright and cheery place, but by night, it belonged to the under-world of thieves, robbers, bandits. Like the infamous Cuchullainn. He came to the address he had been given, double-checked the number, and knocked on the door three times. A tiny hatch opened, letting out a little light, and a woman’s voice spoke in hardly more than a whisper.

“Password.”

“Remora.”

“Wait.”

There was the sound of bolts being pulled back, and the door opened. Cullan stepped inside.

“You’re the last,” said the woman. “Follow me.”

Cullan blinked.

“Miss Loren?”

“Yes?”

“I’m here for the combat trainer. Are you taking me to him?”

Loren looked over her shoulder, eyes gleaming.

“You’re looking at him.”

You are the combat trainer?”

“Among many, many other things, yes.”

Cullan followed Loren to a large room, lit with candles. There was a wooden floor, with a canvas square in the middle. Cupboards. Weapons racks holding pikes, halberds, swords. Cullan looked at Loren, still only half believing that she hadn’t been joking. He overlooked her by a full head. Touching a lady without permission or in anything but dire need was, of course, unthinkable, but still, he could probably lift her off her feet with one arm. How could she teach any man the ugly business of hand-to-hand combat? In the room were five men, sitting on the floor to one end of the room, looking at him as Loren motioned him to sit down. Loren raised herself to her full height, and walked to the middle of the room. She crossed her arms and let her gaze slide over the men.

“Fighting is really easy. Make a fist, put it in someone’s face, and you are fighting. There is no art to fighting at all. But Lady Rose doesn’t just want you to fight for her. She wants you to fight and win. Every time. There is an art to that, and that’s what you’re here to learn.” Loren walked back and forth, raised her arms. “Look at me. Any of you think they can beat me in a fair fight?”

The men looked at each other, to see if anyone would take the bait. Cullan looked at Loren, then at the parcel of rogues he found himself in. Several of them were grinning. Miss Loren was quite attractive enough to draw attention to herself. He looked back at her, and she caught his eye.

“Mr. Cuchullainn. Get up here please.”

Cullan sighed, and got to his feet. Perhaps it was better that it should be him. His fellow rogues didn’t look like they would respect a woman.

“Ma’am?”

“Good. Gentlemen, look up. Mr. Cuchullainn is going to attack me from behind and kill me by breaking my neck.” She closed her eyes, and rolled her shoulders, then looked back at the men. “If he makes it, he’ll be your teacher.” She turned her back to Cullan, waited. “Sometime tonight, please.”

“By your leave, Miss Loren,” said Cullan.

Cullan stepped forward, behind Loren. He clapped his hand over her mouth, and swung his other arm round, round her neck. He never got that far. Loren gave a scream that pierced his ears, then bit down on his hand. The next thing he felt was her boot connecting with his shinbone, with surprising force. Then, her elbow hit, just underneath his breastbone. The world spun round, and the next moment, he was lying on the ground, unable to breathe, unable to move, a sharp pain in his wrist, Loren’s thumb against his throat.

“Well, Mr. Cuchullainn, that’s a washout. Would any of you gents like to explain why I’m still breathing?”

One of the rogues laughed. “Cuz he’s a bloody noob. Clapping yer brass to ‘er gang and mob, she’s just goin’ ta bite ye.”

“Spot on,” said Loren. “Anything else?”

“Felt sorry for ye,” said another. “Thought he’d go easy on ye. Maybe he fancies ye.”

Loren laughed, and let go of Cullan. “Well, don’t everybody? On your feet, Mr. Cuchullainn. He’s right. First thing to do when you’re going to kill is to want to kill ’em. If you don’t, go home.”

Cullan stood up, glanced at his hand. Loren’s teeth marks were on it, and he looked at her. Loren looked back at him, without a trace of remorse.

“We’re not playing here, Mr. Cuchullainn. What I’m about to teach you will end up costing people their lives. There will come a time when you will have to go easy on me to avoid killing me, but not today. Now turn round, and I’ll show you how to do it right.”


The guard blinked, looked again to see if his eyes weren’t deceiving him, then called down.

“Orc approaching the gates! Just one! No visible weapons!”

Quartermaster frowned, then walked up the steps to see if this young one had lost his marbles. Well, what do you know? He hadn’t. The green-skinned warrior was calmly marching up the path. By the drawbridge, he stopped, and shouted.

“Message for Chief of castle! Come in peace!”

The soldier scowled.

“That’s not what you said last time, ye bastard.”

“Easy, lad,” said Quartermaster. He stepped down the stairs, and opened the small door in the gate. He stepped out onto the drawbridge and walked to within a few feet of the Orc.

“Do you have weapons?”

“No. Come in peace. Are you Chief of castle?”

Quartermaster grinned. “Of all below the stairs, friend. But I suppose your message is for Sir Gerrig.”

“Chief of castle,” said the Orc. “Must give to him.”

Quartermaster looked into the Orc’s eyes. He looked nervous, as he should be, but not scared. He nodded, turned round and called up.

“It’s a messenger! He’s coming in! Lower your weapons.”

Quartermaster stepped aside, and pointed with his hand to the small door.

“Enter, as the guest of Caer Bannog. You have my word that we will not harm you.”

The Orc looked Quartermaster in the eye, then nodded and walked to the door, with more confidence than he probably felt. Quartermaster followed him in, and closed the door behind them. Then, he stood in front of the Orc, and spread his arms. The Orc frowned, understood, held his arms out. Quartermaster patted him down for weapons. A formality, probably, but he was not taking any chances with Sir Gerrig. As expected, the Orc carried only a roll of parchment, which Quartermaster avoided touching. He nodded.

“Wait here. I will see if the Chief will see you.”

The Orc crossed his arms and waited.

X

“A messenger? What message could an Orc have for us?”

“One way to find out, Sir. He’s clean. No weapons.”

“Well, let’s see what he has to say.”

They walked down, to where the Orc stood, still as a statue, arms crossed. Gerrig walked up to him.

“I am Gerrig of Caer Bannog, ruler of this castle. You have a message for me?”

“Yes. Message from Chief Gath’ilzogg. I give to you.”

Making no sudden movements, the Orc produced the roll of parchment, and handed it to Gerrig. Gerrig looked at the seal. It bore a device he didn’t know, presumably Gath’ilzogg’s. He broke the seal and unrolled the parchment. The words were in Common, in a simple and steady script. Gerrig read.

X

These are the words of Gath’ilzogg, Warlord of the Blackrock Clan,
to Sir Gerrig, ruler of Caer Bannog.

X

Jheren Gath’ilzogg requests a meeting in a neutral place, at
Galardell Valley, of himself, Sir Gerrig, and a guard of no
more than six soldiers, to settle a grievous event regarding
the Accord between us. Let the soldier who fought with one of
our warriors be present.

X

Jheren Gath’ilzogg swears upon his honour that you will not be
attacked or threatened by any of the Orc under his command from
the moment this message leaves his hand, until you are once
more between the walls of your castle, unless we are attacked
by you first.

X

Jheren Gath’ilzogg will accept replies by way of the messenger
who carries this message, or by any messenger of Caer Bannog.
Such messengers will be offered safe conduct to Stonewatch
Tower and back.

X

These are the words of Jheren Gath’ilzogg.

X

The message was signed in a different hand, in Orcish script. Gerrig looked at the Orc, then back at the parchment.

“Please wait. I will prepare a reply.”

“Swo’bu.”

X

Gerrig walked into the part of the barracks where Albert, the scribe, did his work. He handed him the letter.

“Is this genuine?”

Albert studied the parchment.

“As far as I can tell, yes. Gath’ilzog presumably cannot write, and scribes are traditionally not allowed to write as though they were their master. Hence, the third person. The signature simply says ‘Gath’ilzogg’ in Orcish. It was probably signed by him. The only thing he can write.” Albert pointed. “The signature may look a bit rough, but I’ll wager that Gath’ilzogg could sign his name a hundred times, and the last would look exactly like the first. Writing is a skill not commonly taught to soldiers, even Warlords, being mostly…”

“That’s a ‘Yes’ then?”

Albert looked again at the parchment.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good. Thanks. Have any parchment and a pen?”

Albert smiled a little smile.

“I may be able to find some, Sir. A moment.”

X

Gerrig leaned his elbows on the wall, and watched the Orc disappear down the path. He was worried. Sir Roland had written him about the incident. Was there to be a trial? Reparations? Cessation of the Accord? Honestly, it had only been a mild scuffle between excitable souls. Why did that Orc have to make something of it? Gerrig sighed, and watched the setting sun. Never a dull moment.

Just as he was about to turn back into the keep, he noticed two horses coming down the path. He frowned. More Orcs? He stared in the distance, shielding his eyes with his hand. No. Humans this time. Oh well. Quartermaster Declan could deal with them. He walked back into the keep, and up the stairs to his office.

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