Part 6: Travel well

It was the appointed hour, and the appointed place, just North of Galardell Valley. Gerrig looked round. They were in the middle of a field, waiting for the Orcs to arrive. He was about to find out how honourable Orcs really were, as only six soldiers accompanied him. Albert had assured him that the chance of any foul play was minimal. Orcs lived their lives by strict codes of honour, and once they had given their word, that was their bond. Theoretically. If any foul play did occur, their resident Gnome Rogue was under orders to report back to the castle. Gerrig did not know where she was, which was good.

There was a noise, and a guard of at least two dozen Orcs appeared in the clearing. None of them had drawn weapons. None of them even looked at the Humans. At the head of the Orcs was Jheren Gath’ilzogg.

“Sir, I didn’t start it. Honestly I didn’t! Don’t give me to them!”

Gerrig looked at Eiric, and smiled.

“Not to worry, my lad. We’re just here to talk. Nobody’s going to get killed.”

Eiric looked at the Orcs, shaking. It was going to take a little more convincing than that.

Jheren Gath’ilzogg walked towards Gerrig, and held out his hands.

“I have come. See, I hold no weapons. If my Orc prove untruthful, you may kill me.”

Gerrig took a step forward. “I see, Jheren Gath’ilzogg. We are at parlay. None of my men will draw steel or strike out.”

“Good. Let us address the matter at hand. Three nights ago, there was strife between one of my Orc and one of your Men, in violation of the Accord. I seek to redress this violation.”

“I know of the event of which you speak. As you can see, no lasting harm was done to my man, nor, I believe, to your Orc. The wounds were healed. I believe your Warrior sustained none.”

“It is true that the wounds were not grievous, but the violation of the Accord is. We have questioned the Orc concerned at length, and have learned from him that it was he who opened the hostilities. That the accord may continue, I hereby offer you his life. Let your warrior witness his death.”

Gath’ilzogg raised his hand, and two Orcs walked up, carrying between them the limp form of another. Gerrig took a breath. The Orc was hardly able to stand on his legs, arms tied behind him, blindfold, shaking. One of his tusks was missing and congealed blood was on his chin. Three more Orc Warriors walked up, two carrying between them the trunk of a tree, the third carrying a large war-axe. Gath’ilzogg adressed Gerrig.

“Let your man come forward, and answer this question: Is this the Orc who attacked him?”

Gerrig looked round at Eiric, who was near to fainting.

“Answer the question, boy. The answer is ‘Yes’, if you need the help.”

Pale as a sheet, Eiric stepped forward, nodded his head.

“Aye, Sir. It is.”

Gath’ilzogg crossed his arms.

“Then let him pay for his transgression. Bring forth the axe!”

The Orc carrying the axe walked to Gerrig in carefully measured steps as the others set the tree-trunk before him. The luckless Orc was kicked down, his head put on the tree-trunk. The axe was presented to Gerrig.

Gerrig looked at Gath’ilzogg. The Orc Warlord looked back, his face betraying no emotion at all. Gerrig took the axe. He stepped forward, looking at Gath’ilzogg.

“Did you bind his eyes for his benefit, or for mine?”

Gath’ilzogg shrugged. “He has none. They were removed as part of the interrogation.”

Gerrig shuddered. Oh, you poor bastard. Gerrig had no problem killing Orcs on the battlefield. They had the opportunity to fight back, or run away. Never in all his life had he had to punish any of his men, other than assigning them extra heavy duties for a few weeks. He looked at the small heap of misery that had walked Azeroth with pride and confidence so short a while ago, noticing the signs of torture. Fingers bent out of shape, burns on his bare arms, blood trickling from under the bandages over his empty eye-sockets.

“Let’s send you home,” he whispered. “Light forgive me.”

No sense in waiting. Gerrig focused for a clean blow. The axe rose. The axe fell. The Orc’s head rolled, among spurts of dark blood. Behind him, he could hear the faint noises of Eiric trying not to be sick. Gerrig didn’t blame him. He felt like throwing up himself. With a steady hand, he gave the axe back to the Orc who had given it to him. Then, he turned to Gath’ilzogg.

Gath’ilzogg looked from the headless corpse to Gerrig.

“Does this compensate for the breach of the accord?”

“It does,” said Gerrig. “The Accord stands, and may this never be repeated.”

“So be it,” said Gath’ilzogg. The Orc’s corpse was taken away, head and all, and the Humans found themselves alone in the clearing.

“They didn’t have to do that, Sir. They didn’t have to. It was only a bit of a scrap. Not worth getting yer head lobbed off.”

“They felt they had to, Eiric. And they will expect the same of us if one of us is stupid enough to take steel to them.”


“What about her?”

One of the soldiers pointed at Nægling, who was kneeling in front of the shrine in the function hall, deep in meditation, or prayer.

“Oi! You! Gathering of all the men. That includes you.”

No response. Another soldier waved a hand in front of Nægling’s hooded face. She didn’t stir.

“And afterwards, we’ll roll dice to see who can have you first,” said another.

Nægling didn’t as much as move a muscle. The men shrugged. None of them felt like poking her. That little rogue shrimp had expressed opinions on anyone messing with Paladin Nægling, and they knew quite well by now that Interalia was not in the habit of wasting breath on idle threats. If that wasn’t enough, there was also the air of barely controlled waves of violence about the disfigured woman. Somehow, the rumour had got round that she’d almost killed one of her class-mates for looking at her in a funny way.

“Leave her. It’s starting.”

X

Gerrig climbed on top of the High Table. He looked round the dining hall at the assembled men. Sir Roland, Lieutenant Smith and Sir Wilfrid were also present. They would repeat his words to their own men later.

“Soldiers of Caer Bannog, Dwellers in the Castle of Caer Bannog, Honoured Guests.” Gerrig looked round the assembly. “This morning I had a meeting with Warlord Gath’ilzogg of the Blackrock Clan. He had been told that one of his Orcs had violated the Accord of non-agression that exists between us. Rather than allow this blemish on his honour to exist, he rendered the Orc up to me, for execution. This morning, I struck the head off one of the Light-forsaken wretches, and it was a mercy on the creature. Let this be a warning to everyone. The Blackrock Orcs take the Accord, and their honour, extremely seriously. They expect us to do the same. And we will.”

Gerrig paused a moment, to let this sink in.

“The Accord exists between us for the excellent reason that we have a common enemy in the Scourge. Before the end, we may come to fight side by side with the Horde against this threat. Those of you who have been to the Eastern Plaguelands can attest to this. We must not waste any lives quarreling between ourselves and the Horde.”

“From the time this castle was built, up to this morning, the most severe punishment that existed between its walls was banishment. Today, this changes, in the hope and the expectation that things will not be allowed to progress that far. From this moment onward, any man or woman of Caer Bannog found to be in violation of the Accord, that is, anyone who attacks, harasses, provokes or otherwise engages the Blackrock Orcs, will be handed over to them, to be executed in a manner of their choosing, be it hanging, beheading or burning at the stake. Thus, we may be spared a renewal of hostilities that will cost us far more than all the previous conflicts put together, and leaves us unable to prepare for the coming of the Scourge. This is the Rule of Caer Bannog.”


Selena opened her eyes, and the first thing she saw was long, blonde, wiry hair not three inches away from her face. What the… She blinked a few times, and memory floated back in. Right. Kharanos. Hieronimo raised her head, and went through a similar process of why, who and what before she looked round. They opened the sleeping bag and emerged shivering into the soft light of dawn. Making sure bare feet did not meet snow, they got dressed very quickly. To their surprise, the fire was burning, and a pot of coffee was spreading its alluring smell. Berrin was sitting by the fire, mug in hand, while Thorfin Stoneshield was rolling up his hammock. He looked round at the girls, disappointed that he wouldn’t get the opportunity to wake them up by shouting.

Berrin dug out a small frying pan, and strips of bacon. Selena provided bread, Hieronimo had brought apples from home. Thorfin Stoneshield decided to relax his rule against sharing, and handed out strips of dried meat that they could eat on the march, for later. Hieronimo shivered in the cold morning air, and Berrin refilled Hieronimo’s mug, studying the lass with a kind eye. She could hardly be more than, oh, twenty-five. His grand-daughter was that age.

“Had a good night, then?”

Hieronimo sighed. “Yeah, once I got in the bag with her. She’s got a much better sleeping bag than mine.”

“Oh? Show me yours.”

Hieronimo pulled out her own sleeping bag. It was made from thick wool, patent-knitted. Almost sleeping armour. Berrin turned it round in his big calloused hands.

“Nothing wrong with that.” He pointed at his own sleeping space. “But ye didn’t put down enough of an under-layer like I did. So when you lie down, you press down the wool, and yer lying on the cold stones. Gettin’ it wet with snow is also not a good idea. Get lots of pine branches like I did next time, and ye’ll be alright. They also smell nice. Our Selena there’s got one of those posh yeti fur things. Ye can lie on those and the hairs underneath will still trap air.”

“Ariciel made it for me,” said Selena, “When she heard I was going to sleep out. Got one of her friends in Darnassus to send her the stuff. I have to write to her.”

Thorfin stirred. “Well, ye can do that tonight. Time to do some real hunting. We’ll be hunting boar, bears and wolves. Five of each per head. Proceeds to be taken to Brewnall village, off to the North. Let’s have the pets out. Oh. They’ll be pissed off when you summon them, so keep some food handy to feed ’em. You first, Mr. Rockwalker.”

Berrin gave a nod, and whistled loudly. From out of nowhere, a boar appeared in front of him. Its coat was light brown, and it had a murderously annoyed look in its small eyes. Berrin quickly fed the boar some of the dried meat he always kept in his pack. For the occasion, he also fed the boar a few dried apples.

“Very good,” said Thorfin, “Not my choice of pet, mind, but there you have it. Miss Caer Bannog. You’re up.”

Selena swallowed, wet her lips and whistled in the way Thorfin Stoneshield had taught her only yesterday. What if Hugin wouldn’t come? Her heart leaped as she heard Hugin’s familiar screech. Following Trainer Stoneshield’s advice, she quickly fed her some of her favourites. Hugin flapped off into a tree, and sat there, watching them, almost sulking. Thorfin peered up at her, and sneered.

“That’s a young windroc! How on Azeroth did a beginner like you get hold of one of those?”

“My father gave her to me, when she was just a chick. I tamed her, and reared her by hand. That was about five years ago.”

Berrin laughed. “And by ancient law, only the King or a prince is allowed to fly one. That’s just like yer dad, sticking it to them like that.”

“Yeah,” said Selena. “By ancient law, I’m just about allowed to throw a stick. Doesn’t war bring out everybody’s practical sense?”

“Bah,” said Thorfin. “Those birds don’t live here. Someone went all the way to sodding Nagrand to get it for you. These are not children’s toys! What were they thinking?”

Selena gave Thorfin a cold stare. “They were thinking, this girl is going to be the leader of all the Caer Bannog hunters. Better give her something good to work with.”

“What? You? Leader of a group of hunters? Don’t be daft. Who’s going to listen to you, when you don’t even know yer arse from yer elbow?”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Mr. Stoneshield, but isn’t it your job to point out that important difference to me? Shall we get on with it?”

“Pah. When I were a lad, there weren’t any women hunters. Women stayed home and cooked what we hunted up. Were bloody good at it, too. These days, ye can count yerself lucky if they don’t drop the meat in the fire. And they have the gall to call it progress.”

Hieronimo smiled at Thorfin. “Why, Mr. Stoneshield. You’d almost think you thought men and women weren’t equals.”

“Weren’t you pointing out the difference yerself not a day ago? How many men do ye know who’ve given birth? Equals? We had it pretty well worked out a while back, and then some daft bint thought she’d try to do a man’s work and nobody did the women’s work anymore.”

Selena scowled. “You mean the men couldn’t wrap their minds round such difficult tasks as, oh, sticking a pot in the oven?”

“As well as sticking out our necks huntin’ for boar?” Thorfin looked round at Berrin, who was smiling into his beard. He was definitely not going to get involved in this. You pull it, mate, and you tank it. Thorfin shot Berrin a nasty look.

“Anyway, we were trying to get this party on the road. Your turn, Wildheart.”

Hieronimo sniffed, then let out a whistle. A large white bear growled at her, annoyed at keeping him cooped up wherever it was that pets went when you dismissed them. She remembered, and rooted round in her pack for something to give to the beast. The bear nearly had her fingers as well as the treat, and lay down.

“Well everybody, meet Bjorn. I believe ‘Bjorn’ means ‘Big ornery sod’ in some strange language.”

Berrin grinned. “It’s Nordic. It means ‘Bear’. Ye named yer bear Bear.”

“Yeah, like I said. Big ornery sod.”

“Um,” said Selena, “He doesn’t look like he likes you.”

“He doesn’t, but I only tamed him a week ago. I’m not letting it worry me. He doesn’t like anyone.”

Thorfin took a good look at the bear, and nodded. “Now that’s more like it. Feed him lots of meat and fish, and he’ll be yer best friend in no time.”

“What meat is best?”

“The kind that comes from other animals. Bears ain’t fussy. We’ll be hunting all over the place today, so never worry. Right. Let’s go.”

Selena raised a finger. “Aren’t you going to summon a pet?”

“What? With three experts here? I’ll cook whatever you ladies catch. Probably be done in five minutes. Move out!”

X

They were running through the snowy valleys of the Grizzled Den, on their way to the small trade post of Brewnall Village. They met many interesting creatures. Boars, bears, large cats, wolves.

“There’s one! Get him!”

Selena fit an arrow to her bow, and let fly. With the arrow in the air, she cried out to Hugin, who shot out towards the wolf. The wolf growled, an arrow sticking out of its side, and charged Selena, who turned pale and quickly grabbed another arrow. Hugin had to fly round to get at the wolf. Selena let loose her arrow too soon, and it flew off at an angle. She grabbed her staff and used it to keep the wolf away from her till Hugin swooped down on it, beak and talon. The wolf yelped, and fell down, mortally wounded. Selena thrust her staff into the wolf’s skull, and it lay still.

“Any pull ye walk away from,” said Thorfin. “Anyone care to explain what went wrong here?”

“Shot it before the bird could get to it,” said Hieronimo.

“Exactly!” Thorfin turned back to Selena. “Letting yer bird attack with the arrow in the air is showing off, and if ye have prey that ye can’t one-shot, yer toast. So now, Miss Wildheart, show us how it’s done. I see a bear a hundred yards to the North. Let’s have it.”

Hieronimo nodded, and ran forward, calling to Bjorn. Bjorn gave her one sullen look, then sat down on his haunches and refused to move.

“Get moving ye sod!”

Bjorn gave her a look, and lay down on the ground, head on his paws. Never had ‘sod you’ been said so clearly in body language. Hieronimo looked round at Thorfin, who shook his head.

“No use getting angry at it. Got more meat?”

“This is going to cost a fortune,” said Hieronimo.

“Not with us here as well, lass,” said Berrin. He gave Hieronimo a few lumps of wolf flank from earlier catches. Hieronimo waved it in front of Bjorn, who conceded to get to his feet and take it from her.

“Right, Bjorn. There’s more meat for ye if you give me a hand with that bear over there.”

Bjorn looked and charged in, growling. Thorfin raised his hand.

“Wait for it. Ye want that bear to be lookin’ only at Bjorn. Wait… Now!”

Hieronimo got down on one knee, aimed and fired. The shots echoed through the valley. After the third shot, the bear fell over. Bjorn came bounding back to her, feeling like the mightiest bear in the woods. He’d hardly had to hit that bear at all! More meat? Hieronimo grinned, and scratched Bjorn on the back of his head, away from the teeth. She gave him another lump of meat. They walked over to the dead bear. Berrin took the skin off the bear and together, they cut up the meat.

“Well, it looks like I’m going to have a job tonight after all.”

Selena looked disapprovingly at Thorfin. “This is already more meat that we and our pets can eat in a week. You shouldn’t take more than you need.”

Thorfin looked up at Selena. “Ah. Yer right, but don’t worry. None of this’ll go to waste. We’ll sell it to the merchants at Brewnall Village. They’ll find someone hungry in Ironforge or Kharanos.”

“Sell it?”

“Aye,” said Thorfin, with a grin. “I’ll even let ye keep the money. Welcome to the world of gainful employment.”

“Cool!” said Selena.

X

They made a great circuit of the Grizzled Den, slaughtering all in their path. Their sacks heavy with meat of all kinds, they finally made it to Brewnall Village. Selena looked at the coins in her hand. They were definitely, completely, hers. It was a new experience for her. Everything else she had, she’d been given. This was money she’d earned through her own skill. Why hadn’t she ever thought of doing this before? She looked round. Berrin, Thorfin and Hieronimo were talking together, working out the best way to get back to Kharanos. She grinned, and walked over to the nearest merchant.

X

“Right. Over the lake it is, then. Where’s our skyscraper?”

Selena walked up, and sniffed. “I’m assuming that’s me?”

“Who else? Good! Let’s go!”

They crossed the frozen lake of Iceflow at a brisk pace, and ran over the river, till they came to a bridge. Here, they turned right and after an hour’s steady running, they found themselves back in Kharanos. Rooms had been booked for them in the tavern attached to the Thunderbrew Distillery. Thorfin Stoneshield rubbed his hands as he walked up to the bar.

“Now before ye lads turn in, I want you to write us an essay of about five hundred words about what ye did today.”

Hieronimo frowned. “Five hundred?”

“About a page of parchment,” said Selena. “Or two if you write in big letters. No sweat. We can do it.”

“You can. Dammit, I’m a hunter, not a scribe. Hate writing.”

“Get on with it then,” said Thorfin. “Dinner’s at six.”

“But that’s an hour from now,” said Hieronimo.

“Well, ye can continue after dinner. I’ll need it tonight so I can send it off to Stormwind, to my so-called boss.”

Selena put her hand on Hieronimo’s shoulder.

“Come on. Sooner we start, sooner we’ll be finished.”

X

Hieronimo chewed her pencil, staring down on her work.

“Do ye spell ‘aggro’ with an E on the end?”

“Nope. A-G-G-R-O. Like potato.”

“Damn.” Hieronimo rubbed something out. “Sod this. I’ll put in a picture. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. No essay for me tomorrow.”

Selena laughed. “Don’t know if Mr. Stoneshield will see it that way.”

“Won’t know till I try,” said Hieronimo. She took a small wooden box out of her pack and took from it a few pieces of charcoal. Concentrating hard on her work, she started drawing, now drawing a line, now filling in areas, occasionally rubbing her finger over the drawing. She held up the piece of parchment. Selena looked. It was a picture of Bjorn as he charged in to attack this morning’s bear. Hieronimo had also put in herself, Selena and Berrin.

“Oh, that’s beautiful!”

“Meh. It’ll do. Done better.”

“Really?”

“Aye.” Hieronimo dug out her notebook, and opened it. “Here’s one I did of Bjorn when I’d just tamed him. Vivid memories and all.”

Selena looked. Hieronimo had drawn Bjorn’s face, teeth bare, eyes glaring. She could almost hear him roar.

“Oh wow. They really don’t like it when you try to tame them, do they?”

“Nope. And ye can’t look away either. Just stand there and take it, trying not to lose it. Was that bird any better?”

“Gods, no. Came flailing at me like mad. And then, they stop. Weird.”

X

At six, they came down to find Berrin and Thorfin at the table already. They slid onto the bench and started to demolish their dinner. Hieronimo had bear stew, Selena wolf flank with potatoes.

“How’re yer essays getting on?”

“Almost done,” said Selena.

“Two hundred more words,” said Hieronimo, “Not counting the picture.”

“Done,” said Berrin, looking unbearably smug.

“Very funny, Rockwalker. Well, early day tomorrow. We’ll be making for the Wetlands for some more challenging beasts. I think I’ll take a wee walk.”

The girls sighed, and wandered upstairs, back to their writing. Selena read her essay back.

“Right. This’ll do. How far are you?”

“Need a hundred more words, and I don’t know what to say.”

“Did you talk about how you used your gun?”

“Aye. ‘I shot at the bear.’ Ninety five still to go.”

“Oh… Tell them what kind of gun it is, and where you bought it, and what kind of bullets you’re using, and why, and how you like it. Should do you at least another hundred words.”

“Hm. Good idea.”

Hieronimo wrote this down, recounted and came to four hundred and ninety. She sneered.

“And then we went back to Kharanos and had the meat we caught for dinner,” said Selena. “That’s five hundred and five.”

Hieronimo added this, and put her essay on the table, on top of Selena’s.

“I still think I should get some kind of credit for the drawing.” She looked outside, where the sun had set. “Now what?”

Selena grinned, and dug in her pack. She put on the table a bottle of red wine.

“I’ve just blown my first honest wages on drink,” she said. “Want some?”

“Heh. I’m more of an ale girl, but I won’t say no.”

They dug out their mugs, filled up.

“To the hunt!”

They drank. Selena looked at her empty mug.

“You know, they only had the red, and I like white better. But I don’t care. It’s my bottle and mine alone. I earned it. Want some more?”

Hieronimo held up her mug. Selena poured out more wine.

“To… to… Um, to what?”

“The Alliance?”

“Works for me. To the Alliance!”

There was only a little left in the bottle. Selena poured it out into their mugs, saw that hers was a bit fuller than Hieronimo’s and poured a bit from her mug into the other.

“To Ironforge!”

Selena picked up the empty bottle, and looked at the label.

“Must remember this wine. And not buy it again.”

“Bah. What do ye want to buy wine for anyway? Stick to ale. Puts hair on yer chest.”

Selena looked at Hieronimo,

“I don’t want hair on my chest.”

“Oh. Ah well, then it’ll put something else on yer chest. C’mon. I’ll get us some ale. Much better.”

X

They walked down into the bar, and looked round at the clientele.

“Right. Now this is how ye get ale. I’ll be the pretty one, and go for the main, and you can be the ugly one and grab his mate.”

“Oi! I resign that.” Selena looked puzzled. “I re… I don’t like that.”

“Sorry bout that, but yer a Human. We get to a Human place, you be the pretty one. Now watch me.”

Hieronimo walked over to a likely dwarf.

“Hi! I’m pretty and I’m thirsty. Buy me a drink?”

The Dwarf at the bar looked Hieronimo up and down, and grinned. “As long as ye keep yer hands to yerself, lass.”

“With such a large beard? Oh alright then, I’ll try to keep civil. Oh could you get one for my friend as well? She’s Human, poor lass.”

The dwarf laughed, and waved over the barman. He looked appreciatively at Hieronimo’s blonde hair, friendly if somewhat unsteady smile and generous curves. The drinks arrived. Selena tasted. Bitter, but with sweet undertones. Would take a bit of getting used to. She kept practicing and observed Hieronimo as she wound her bloke round her finger.

“‘Scuse me, Miss.”

Another dwarf pushed Selena aside, put his hand on the shoulder of Hieronimo’s conquest, and whispered something in his ear, in Dwarvish. Selena could not catch it all, but she recognised the name of Grif Wildheart, and the word ‘raptor’ was the same in Common. The other dwarf turned pale, looked at Hieronimo again. Without any warning, he announced that he’d left something on the fire at home, and left, leaving Hieronimo with a puzzled look on her face. Selena moved up one stool, and elbowed her.

“Couldn’t quite catch what that other Dwarf was saying. What’s ‘minderjarig’?”

“Underage. Dammit. I was doing alright.”

Selena held up her mug.

“Never mind. Only lead to tears. What’s this?”

Hieronimo looked. “Thunderbrew stout.”

Selena drained her mug. “I don’t like it. Let’s have ‘nother one. Different one. My round. I made loads of money.”

“They do a pale ale here. Maybe you like that better.”

X

Selena leaned on Hieronimo’s sturdy form as they walked the streets of Kharanos, giggling at lampposts, the doors of the houses and snow rabbits.

“Haven’t had ‘s much fun as this since…” Hieronimo thought back into the mists of the past, through the mists of the present. “Forever! Never thought there’d be ‘nother girl hunter. Or a Human hunter, even.”

“Bah! D’ye think we Humans grow bacon on trees?”

Hieronimo bent over laughing, and nearly dropped Selena into a ditch.

“Never had any girl friends. Hunter groups is is one big forest o’ beards.”

“Oh, shut up about beer,” said Selena. “Whatever it’s it’s putting on my chest, ‘s not working yet.”

“Beards! Not beers!”

“I told you, shuddup.” Selena stared at nothing. “I feel strange.”

X

“Feel better? Better out than in.”

“Yes. Thankyou for carrying me. You’re my best friend.”

“Us girls. Got to stick together.”

“I’m all sticky. Oh. Right.”

Hieronimo was quiet, staring ahead as she sat on a small rock while Selena sorted herself out with snow and a handkerchief. A slow smile grew on her red cheeks. She punched Selena in the side.

“What?”

“I’ve got an idea!”

“Yay for ideas! Is it a good one?”

“It’s a great one!”

“What is it?”

“I…” Hieronimo blinked, shook her head. “I know this dwarf here.”

“Really? Place is crawling with Dwarves here. You’re a dwarf.”

“Shutup. Let me finish. This dwarf. He does tattoos! Let’s both get a tattoo!”

“Two tattoos.” Selena giggled.

“Yeah! They do things specially for hunters! Be great!”

“Oo! They do animals?”

“Bound to!”

X

Thorfin Stoneshield banged on the door to the girls’ room, waited a few moments, for them to stop doing strange female things he didn’t want to know about, and opened the door.

“Right! Let’s have those essays. I have to send ’em to Stormwind.”

He found he was talking to nobody. The essays were on the table, but no girls.

“Oh damn. Now where have you got to?”

He walked over to the room he shared with Berrin and poked him awake.

“What?”

“The young ones. Do ye know where they are?”

Berrin sat up, and scratched his head.

“From yer question, I’m assumin’ that they’re not in their rooms?”

“Right in one. Dammit. I hate these camping trips. Ye always lose a few students.”

Berrin got up, pulled his trousers from the chair and hopped into them.

“Let’s see what’s in their room.”

“They’re not there.”

“Maybe they are. Been to powder their noses, so to speak. They always go in packs, women.”

“Why?”

“Search me.”

They wandered over to the girls’ room. Berrin looked round, and saw the essays lying on the table. He picked up Hieronimo’s one.

“Hey. That’s good!”

“How would you know? Ye can’t read!”

“True, but the lass did a drawing. Nice.”

“Well, they’re not here. Where could they have gone?”

Berrin picked up the bottle and held it upside down.

“With this inside them? Not very far.”

“Right. Time for a little hunting.”

Thorfin concentrated, and magic flowed. As he closed his eyes, his altered sight picked up the specks of the Light where the minds were of Humans, Dwarves and Gnomes that walked round in Kharanos.

“Anything?”

Thorfin screwed his eyes shut.

“Too bloody many. Dammit. I should know better than to do this in built-up areas. Always gives me a headache. Oh well. Old-fashion way then.”

“Lead on, oh Teacher,” said Berrin. “I suggest an inn.”

“So would I, but let’s find the young ones first.”

X

Kharanos was not a very large place, so after an hour or so, there weren’t many places left to look. Even Berrin, natural optimist as he was, was looking worried.

“So,” said Thorfin, “We’ve been in every bar in this place, and into one place that I really hope those gals didn’t get into. Every shop. Every nook and cranny. If I were a girl, where would I hide?”

There was a small cough behind them. As they turned round, they looked into the frightening face of a Dwarf. His arms, chest and face were covered with red and blue pictures, geometrical shapes and alien runes.

“Do ye happen to be lookin’ for two girls? One tall, one medium?”

Thorfin took a deep breath.

“Yes! Have ye seen ’em?”

The tattooed dwarf grinned. “They’re on my couch, sleeping off the effects of the Light only knows what sorts of booze. Want to come and pick them up?”

“Oh, let’s,” said Berrin.

They followed the tattoo artist down to his studio, where they found the girls on his couch, snoring in a most unladylike manner. On both their faces were tattoos, consisting of concentric triangles in black, red and blue. The tattoo Dwarf grinned.

“Don’t worry. It’s only temporary. Didn’t use needles. I suggest you let them sweat a bit before telling them it’ll wash off.”

Berrin bent over Hieronimo, and gently turned her face up to the light. A haze of alcohol wafted over.

“Nice work, though. Isn’t that a design from the North-east?”

“Hinterlands. I worked there for a year or so.”

“Oh, ye’ve been having fun with the degenerates, have ye?”

“Aye. Ye soon learn not to botch any of their tattoos. They get intense about it. Anyway. Two girls, yours for the taking if ye don’t mind.”

X

Berrin kicked open the door to the girls’ room, and gently let Selena down on the bed. Hieronimo was deposited on the other. They were making soft noises. Berrin pulled Selena up into a sitting position and raised one of her arms. With a shake of the sleeve, it came down. The other arm followed, and he pulled the shirt over her head. Thorfin looked at Berrin in horror.

“What the blazes are ye doing?”

“Getting her out of her clothes, what else?”

“But… they’re naked under their clothes!”

“Ye gods, Stoneshield. I have grand-children. Nothing I haven’t seen before. They’ll be much more comfortable without them. Anyway, they can keep their under-things on. Young Selena’s parted with some of her drink over her shirt. Ye don’t want that in bed with you.”

Berrin pulled off Selena’s boots, unfastened her belt and pulled the trouser legs, making her bottom bounce up and down, to slight murmurs of protest. The trousers came off and Selena’s legs flopped back down onto the bed. Berrin looked over his shoulder. Thorfin Stoneshield was resolutely looking the other way.

“Care to run down for me and get a big jug of water for ’em? Four pints for each of them at least.”

Thorfin was gone almost before Berrin finished his sentence. Berrin shook his head, and put a blanket over Selena. Soon, both girls were lying under woollen blankets, fast asleep. Berrin looked down on the girls, smiling, arms crossed over his chest. First time out from under the watchful eye of the family. Ye gods, that took him back. At least a hundred years ago. First time out with the hunter group. Best few weeks of his life. Like these girls, he had severely underestimated the power of drink. Slept it off in a ditch somewhere. The door opened and Thorfin Stoneshield came in carrying large jugs of water. They put them on a table and left quietly.

“Right,” said Berrin. “Don’t know about you, but I could do with a pint.”

“I’ll buy,” said Thorfin Stoneshield.

“Mine’s a stout,” said Berrin.

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