Part 9: Reputation? We’ve heard of it

Selena walked up to the counter in the inn in Menethil, and waved at the bartender.

“Hi! I’d like two rooms please, for four people.”

“Sure,” said the bartender. “Names, please?”

“Berrin Rockwalker, Thorfin Stoneshield in one room, Other room, Hieronimo Wildheart and Selena of Caer Bannog.”

The bartender gave Selena a knowing grin. “Heh. Off with the boyfriend?”

Selena raised her eyebrows. “No. Hieronimo is a girl.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t mind. I won’t tell anyone. Anyway, I didn’t know that they were doing titles for Caer Bannog now.”

“Huh?”

“Bannog Mage-killer. He’s from Caer Bannog in Redridge.”

“I know. So am I. Bannog’s my brother.”

“Oh come on. Do you realise how many people I get here claiming they’re related to him?”

Selena blinked. What in the name of…

“Well, I am.”

“Sure you are. First we get all the people here who claim they’re related to Leeroy Jenkins, and now this. I don’t mind the Jenkins lot, but Bannog Mage-killer is a bit of a local hero, so have a bit of respect.”

“When I was twelve, he dumped me in the moat just because I told him that he looked stupid with a helm that was too large for him. He’s getting all the respect from me he deserves.”

“Yeah sure. Here’s the keys. Just don’t overplay the Caer Bannog bit here. It gets up people’s noses.”

Selena shrugged. “Whatever.”

Hieronimo walked up behind Selena, and looked at her face as she turned round.

“What’s up?”

“The innkeep thinks you’re my boyfriend and that I’m gushing over my brother to an unholy degree.”

“Huh. He’s a Human. Humans are mad. Got the keys?”

“Yeah. Let’s drop stuff in the room and see what’s up here.”

X

Menethil Harbour turned out to be the most interesting place in town. Hieronimo and Selena picked a nice place on the docks, sat down with their pets nearby and watched the interesting people get on and off the ships.

“My brother stayed here a while,” said Selena. “I didn’t know he’d become a local hero. Have to ask him just what he did.”

“Meh. You never get remembered for the right things. Hey! What… is that?”

Selena looked where Hieronimo was pointing.

“Oh, that’s a Draenei woman. I know two Draenei. Mareva and Stetson. They were at the Caer during the Orc siege.” Selena looked at her feet. “I almost got Mareva killed. She held back the Orc archers while I ran back to the castle. Not my finest hour. I’m so glad she survived.”

“They’ve got strange legs. Look at them!”

“They are brave. And frightfully clever.”

“And they’re blue!”

“Yeah, so?”

“And what are those things hanging from her face?”

“Um… They’re called barbels. Mareva says that they were once used to search for food under water.”

“So, they’re underwater goatfish?”

“Mareva has a waterbreathing spell. We went swimming once, and she scared the Lights out of me, staying under for ten minutes. Ariciel was no help at all. She was doing three-minute laps of the lake as a sea-lion. Horrible women.”

“You’ve got some strange friends.”

Selena grinned at Hieronimo. “Heh. Some of them are Dwarves even!”

“Naah. Can’t be! No Dwarf would be seen dead with a Human.”

There was a loud laugh behind them, and as they looked round, they saw first Evert the Swine, then Berrin.

“Damn right,” said Berrin. “Ye can’t joke about their long legs when ye’re dead! Are ye coming? We’re setting off again. Mr. Stoneshield promised us a bit of fishing.”

X

Thorfin Stoneshield raised a fist, and knelt down. Then, he pointed across the stream at a few creatures. Selena craned her neck to see better. They were vaguely frog-like, blue in colour, though some were white. They walked about with great bounds, occasionally diving into the water and coming out again, as often as not clutching a fish between their teeth.

“There. Anyone of you ever heard of Murlocs?”

Selena wrinkled her nose. “We’ve got them in Lake Everstill. Fishermen hate them. They eat all their fish.”

Hieronimo tried to imitate the noise: “Mrglglgl!”

Berrin chuckled. “Ye need to gargle with sea-water for that authentic sound.”

“Right. So how about a bit of pest control? These ones will take away small children if ye let them.”

“May as well,” said Hieronimo. “They don’t look so tough.”

“Famous last words,” said Berrin.

“Right, lads,” said Thorfin. “For this one, we put pets on passive. That means that if ye shoot something, it’ll come running towards ye. Then, make yer pet attack it and take over from you. Mind to shoot just once, so it won’t get so mad at you that it’ll ignore yer pet. Got that?”

There was a round of ayes.

“Right. Let’s get across. Mind the stones, they’re slippery.”

With due care and attention, they crossed the river and knelt down in the wet grass. Thorfin Stoneshield raised a finger, pointed at Hieronimo, then ahead at one of the Murlocs. Hieronimo looked, nodded. She aimed her gun, then pulled the trigger. The bang of her rifle was muffled by the damp weather. Bjorn growled and ran forward, towards the Murlocs. Thorfin’s jaw dropped.

“Call him back! I said passive, ye stupid bugger!”

Hieronimo looked round at Thorfin with a face pale with shock, then called to Bjorn. Too late! With the characteristic calls of the Murloc, the whole group pounced on Bjorn. Thorfin leapt to his feet and shouted.

“Everybody, attack!”

Evert squealed and rushed out at Bjorn, who was buried under at least half a dozen murlocs, while two more were standing by shooting him with fireballs. Bjorn roared in fear and desperation. Hugin dived down from above, beak and talon tearing into the Murlocs.

“Shooters first,” shouted Thorfin.

Selena aimed. As fast as she could, she shot arrows from her longbow at one of the magic users, while Berrin emptied his gun at the other. Thorfin scowled.

“Oh for the everlasting…”

He took a deep breath and whistled. There was a roar that made the ground shake, and a two-legged creature appeared, at least twice Thorfin’s height. It had large, muscular hind legs, and an enormous maw of large teeth at the front. It roared again, and charged into the Murlocs, grabbing them between massive jaws and throwing them about. Within seconds, there wasn’t a Murloc left alive. Hieronimo rushed forward, calling out to Bjorn, who had collapsed. She fell to her knees by his side, tears on her face.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Well, don’t sit there blubbing. Mend him!”

Hieronimo looked up. “Mend him? I can’t! I don’t have the spell!”

“Oh for the love of the Light!” Thorfin grabbed Hieronimo’s shoulder, and concentrated. “Right. Now mend him and quick!”

Hieronimo laid both hands on Bjorn’s heaving flank, and closed her eyes. Magic flowed, and wounds started to disappear from Bjorn’s massive body. Limbs straightened. Hieronimo looked over her shoulder.

“It’s not working anymore!”

Berrin handed Hieronimo a small bottle of red potion.

“Give him this. Yer welcome to it, I make them myself.”

Hieronimo gave Berrin a grateful look, opened the bottle and slowly tipped the contents into Bjorn’s mouth. While the potion did its work, she concentrated, taking deep breaths, focusing her magic. She continued mending Bjorn, until he shook his great head. He looked up at Hieronimo, then laid his head in her lap, and gave a contented snort. Hieronimo scratched his head gently, tears streaming down her face.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “If you’d have died, I don’t know what I’d have done.”

Thorfin tossed a few lumps of meat at his pet, then looked back at Hieronimo.

“Revived him, that’s what. You silly git. The plan was to hit just one Murloc. Then have it run half way here and have Bjorn tank it there. Not pull the whole sodding lot, and the shooters too! What possessed you to do that?”

Hieronimo swallowed. “Forgot to set him to passive. He was on defensive. I nearly killed him.”

“Well, if it makes ye feel any better, ye already have.”

Hieronimo stared at Thorfin.

“What do you mean?”

“Taming a beast. How do you think it works? Do ye think ye can do with a normal beast some of the things we do with our pets? Call them back from the dead? Heal them with magic? Make them disappear and re-appear when you want?”

Hieronimo shook her head, not understanding. Berrin looked at the ground. Selena looked at Thorfin, biting her lip.

“When ye tame a beast, what happens is that ye strip away its real body, and replace it with a magical construct, starting on the inside. When the effect reaches the tips of its hairs, they’ll stop attacking ye. The beast’s spirit joins yer own, and ye can use it like you’ve just been doing.” Thorfin’s eyes darkened. “Badly. In a way, ye’ve already killed the beast by taming it, but on the other hand, a bear pet can live to be a hundred, when a real bear won’t reach even twenty.”

“But…” Hieronimo looked at Bjorn. “He looks real.”

Thorfin Stoneshield smiled grimly. “Aye. Are we good, or what?”

Berrin nodded. “Bjorn is as real as he looks, lass. He feels pain. He feels happy. He’s as much alive as you could think. He’s just no longer a normal bear. Can’t let him out in the wild anymore. He’d just disappear. He’s now a part of you, and he will be as long as you live.”

Selena looked at the ground, her face pale and drawn.

“So that’s why they can take so many animals at the stables.”

Thorfin grinned. “Exactly! Ye’ve got it. Now when yer pet dies, and you manage to survive, there’s a spell ye can use to bring it back. I’ll teach it to you this evening.”

Selena looked at her bird. Green blood was on her claws. She was preening her feathers. She looked exactly the same as before Selena had first tamed her. Only, she wasn’t. Selena took a bit of liver out of her bag, which she used as a special treat. She held it in front of Hugin’s beak, and she snapped at her fingers just like she always did. Birds of prey don’t love you the way a cat or a dog does. They may do what you teach them, but they stay wild.

“I’m sorry,” said Selena, quietly.


For some reason, it seemed unfitting to Cullan to visit Loren the Fence by day. Dark business, dealing in stolen goods, learning to kill, should be conducted by night, when decent folk were fast asleep in bed. The last haul came to a fairly decent sum. Lord Grayson had a good taste in art, and the money to indulge it, not to mention other pleasures of the very rich. Loren held up one of the plates, which showed a small bird with grey and red feathers, greeting the sunrise. Loren’s brown eyes gleamed at Cullan.

“Honestly. Where do you find this tat? I happen to know that it’s really old, but still. It’s got Grayson’s family emblem on. Who am I going to sell it to?”

“It looked expensive,” said Cullan. “Precious. My lord had crockery just like it, albeit with a different device, of course. It had been in the family for ages. Priceless.”

“You’re still not thinking like a proper tea leaf, are you? You’re still thinking like a… what were you, anyway?”

Cullan raised himself, brushed some dust off his leather jacket.

“I was a butler, Miss Loren. It was my duty, and my pleasure, to look after the house, and guide the maid servants in their duties.”

Loren leant back in her chair, looked at Cullan, said nothing.

“I would serve tables, see to it that the furnishings were kept in repair, plan the meals, keep the wine cellar stocked. Lay out clothes for m’lord and milady to wear. I would take the children to school. In general, I would take care of the mundane and the menial, either by my own hands or those of the servants entrusted to me.”

Loren put her feet on the table, careful not to knock over a candlestick, and grinned at Cullan.

“Sounds like your boss was rich.”

“Moderately wealthy, Miss Loren.”

“May have to pay him a visit, then. Leave the specially-made porcelain, though.”

Cullan sighed. “I’m afraid that will not be possible.”

“Didn’t think so,” said Loren, with a smile. “You’re the kind of man who stays loyal.”

Cullan looked out of the window. “Thank you for the compliment, Miss Loren, but that is not the reason.” Cullan turned back to look into her eyes. “I murdered them. All of them. Their estate, without an heir, fell to the Crown. There is nothing left.”

Loren’s feet dropped to the floor. She opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. Cullan closed his eyes.

“In my defence, I can only say that I was not in possession of my faculties that day, but that hardly matters. Their blood is on my hands, and in all my days, I will never cease to feel the shame of it.”

“And even before I taught you the proper way to break someone’s neck,” said Loren. Cullan saw that her poise had changed, and that she was thinking of the dagger at her belt. He smiled, to put her at ease.

“I was able to apply that lesson a few nights ago. An Elf spy. The technique proved quick, and mostly painless.” Cullan’s face carefully hid any emotion. “Unlike what my comrades had in mind. Thank you for teaching it to me.”

“Oh. Dark Ranger?”

“Yes.”

“You were nicer to her than she’d have been to you. Trust me, whatever they get, they deserve.”

“Nobody deserves to be tortured to death.”

A hard look was in Loren’s eyes as she got up and looked at Cullan.

“There’s people who do, Mr. Cuchullainn, I can tell you.”

Cullan simply nodded, in acknowledgement of her statement, if not its meaning.

“Oh, before I forget. Remember those vases you brought in the other day? I may have a buyer. That ought to get you some spending money.”

“They are quite valuable, I understand.”

“Embarrassingly so, Mr. Cuchullainn. At a proper auction, they’d probably fetch four thousand gold or so. But proper auctioneers want things like paperwork and proof of ownership, and all that.”

“People can be so unreasonable and suspicious,” said Cullan.

“Ain’t that the truth. So I’ll start at a thousand gold, he’ll laugh in my face, and I drop to five hundred. Ought to net you forty.”

“That will be quite welcome. One of my fellow rogues and ne’er-do-wells has a set of daggers that I quite like the look of.”

“Well, my buyer will be here round midnight. See me an hour afterwards, and maybe…” Loren grinned at Cullan with a sparkle in her eyes, “Just maybe, you’ll get lucky.”


Maressa knocked on the door, and entered. Madam was sitting behind her desk. She was in her late forties, and had taken over from the previous Madam, long before Maressa’s time. Her hair had once been completely black, but was now showing gray here and there, a condition that she allowed rather than try to cover it. Her hair and make-up were, as always, impeccable, with dark lipstick and dark red nail-polish. Her long nails tapped on the wooden surface of her desk, making a clicking noise.

“Sit down, Maressa.”

Maressa did. There was a noise behind her, and only now she noticed that Clyde, the major-domo, was there as well, standing beside the door. Maressa looked at Madam, slightly uneasy.

“Maressa. What do I have to hear about you?”

“Madam?”

“You have broken one of the rules, Maressa. Perhaps the most important one of all.”

“Madam, what do you mean? I haven’t broken any rules, I swear!”

Not a muscle moved on Madam’s face. Her eyes looked, nearly unblinking, at the young girl in front of her.

“What is the most important rule, Maressa?”

Maressa didn’t dare breathe. What had she done? What did Madam think she had done? She looked up at her, lips trembling. Madam tilted her head slightly to one side.

“Answer the question, girl. The most important rule of all.”

“I… I…”

Madam’s voice was hard as steel, clear as glass. “What goes on between a girl and her Client… stays between a girl and her Client.”

“Madam? I haven’t… I would never…”

“Quiet. This house has been in operation for over eighty years, and there is no other like it. We have performed for kings, nobles, the wealthiest of merchants. Our reputation is unblemished. We always satisfy the Client. We always perform to expectation, or beyond. And our Clients know that they can trust us. Trust us to be clean, capable, accomodating, but above all, discreet. They trust us never to breathe a word of what goes on between them and our girls.”

Maressa was shaking now. “Madam, please. I have never talked about any Client!”

“Then would you please be so kind as to explain to me, how the hired thug has managed to learn…” Madam leant closer to Maressa. Her voice cut like a knife. “That Lord Grayson would like to shag his very own daughter?”

Maressa shrunk back, gripped the edge of her chair. She tried to speak, but no words came out.

“Do you even realise the damage to His Lordship’s reputation, to his business, if that were to become common knowledge? Do you realise what would happen to this house, were it to become known that our girls have loose lips? Our reputation is our greatest asset. If we lose it, then this house is finished. Whenever we send one of you girls out to a Client, you have that reputation in your hands, and with it, the livelihood of everyone here.”

“Madam… I swear by the Light and my soul’s salvation… I never spoke about Lord Grayson. The… the stupid idiot probably made it up…”

Madam sighed. “Maressa. I had such high hopes for you. We have invested in you, not only gold, but the effort of our best teachers, tailors. How am I going to trust you now, after this?”

Maressa reached out, grasped Madam’s hand between her own, looked up into her eyes.

“Please, please! It’ll never happen again.”

Madam pulled her hand back.

“That is correct. It won’t.” She looked up. “Clyde, discipline has slipped of late. I think a demonstration has become necessary. Take her downstairs. I will call in the girls.”


The afternoon was slowly drawing to an end when Cullan returned to the lodgings he shared with some of his fellow Worgen. The accomodation was simple, but comfortable. Bunk beds, straw mattresses, rough woollen blankets. Some of his comrades had taken to sleeping in their True Form, curled up on one end of the bed. Cullan did not see the appeal. He clung on to his Humanity with both hands. The growling noises of Worgen asleep in the night didn’t help. No sleep for him tonight anyway. It was the day to bring lady Maressa to her perverted customer. After picking her up, he had Loren to visit to see if she had managed to convert his stolen goods into gold. Lady Rose had sent word that some kind of trouble might be out on the street, so Cullan armed himself for all eventualities: Strong leather armour, his short sword and two daggers. He hid his weaponry under a long dark cloak. One of his fellow Worgen glared at him from the dark recesses of a bunk bed. It was the warrior, and he still had not forgiven Cullan for stealing that tasty Elf morsel away from under his nose. The brute saw it as a blemish on his honour. Cullan didn’t care. He turned round and walked out of the door.

He arrived at the brothel exactly on time, and was let in.

“Lord Grayson,” he said.

The footman nodded. “Wait. I will fetch the girl.”

Cullan looked round. He was in a large vestibule, decorated in dark oak. A chandelier hung from the ceiling. Three candles gave off a dim light, glinting on expensive furnishings in gold. A full length mirror was on one wall. Cullan stood in front of it, half expecting it to reflect his True Form. He sighed. When he first returned to Gilneas, he had feared that people might recognise him, leading to awkward questions. There was little chance of that now. His hair was longer, and he had always been clean shaven in his house servant days. His eyes now looked back at him from a shaggy, black-bearded face that he would have called “unsavoury” himself in earlier days.

The door opened, and a girl came in. She wore a white shirt under a cornflower blue dress. Her long, blonde hair was tied up in two ponytails that hung half-way down her back. She gave Cullan a quick, subdued look, then walked to the mirror. Cullan stepped aside for her as she turned her head this way and that, checking hair, minimal make-up, clothes. Cullan looked at her. She looked heart-wrenchingly beautiful and innocent. Cullan’s stomach knotted up, thinking about what she would have to do. Satisfied, the girl put on a cloak, pulled the hood up, then looked at Cullan.

Cullan stepped out of the door, looked round to see if it was safe, then waved the girl forward. They walked into the street, Cullan always staying between her and the open space, carefully looking at doors they passed, until they came to a broad street. All closed shops. Cullan looked at the girl.

“I was expecting someone else, Ma’am. Do you take turns?”

The girl said nothing. Cullan could hear her breath, shivering, afraid. He took a breath. She must be aware of what awaited her, and still, she went.

“I would have expected Miss Maressa, actually. She normally calls at Lord Grayson’s address. I hope she is not ill?”

The girl gave Cullan a look. Cullan looked away as if he had been slapped.

“Shut. Up.”

They didn’t speak a word until they came to Lord Grayson’s door. He knocked. The girl was let inside. Cullan stared at the door for a few moments, then walked away, wondering.

X

“Look where you’re going.”

Cullan looked up. He’d walked into the room, deep in thought, and bumped into his warrior brother, named Cobson.

“Apologies,” said Cullan, and made to walk to his bunk. He hadn’t taken more than two steps when he was shoved into the wall. He looked round, to see the warrior glaring at him, in True Form.

“I didn’t hear you,” said Cobson.

“Well then, allow me to apologise again,” said Cullan. He really did not have the time or patience for this ridiculous posturing. The other Worgen reached out with one hand, grabbed Cullan by the throat and pushed him into the wall. His teeth were close to Cullan’s face.

“Like you mean it.”

Cullan’s eyes narrowed. Noiselessly, he drew one of his daggers and inserted it precisely where there was a gap in the warrior’s armour, just above the belt. He gave it a little push.

“I’m very, very sorry,” said Cullan. Without moving the blade, he allowed his Human form to melt away. He looked deep into the warrior’s eyes.

“Tell me. Does the wound tingle at all? I can’t remember whether I poisoned this blade.”

The warrior looked down, for only a moment. Cuchullainn pushed the blade, making the warrior back off.

“It’s mostly of academic interest. How long it will take you to die when I push this in all the way.”

“Drawing steel on your own,” said Cobson. “I ought to smash your flea-bitten face in.”

“Perhaps you ought,” said Cuchullainn. “Don’t let me stop you from trying.”

The warrior snarled, retreated. He returned to his Human form. Cullan did likewise, and made his dagger disappear.

“Don’t you have someplace where you’d rather be?”

The warrior said nothing, opened the door and left.

“I appear to be somewhat impopular this evening,” said Cullan, to nobody in particular.

X

The clock chimed once. Cullan looked, saw it was half past eleven, and put down his book. Time to pick up the young girl from Lord Grayson’s mansion. He would be early, but if Miss Maressa didn’t like to be kept waiting there, neither would this girl. It didn’t surprise Cullan one bit. He arrived at a quarter to midnight, and knocked on the door. It was opened by the footman. Cullan looked the man over once. If it had been his household, that footman would not have been long for this world. His clothes were a mess, and he looked at Cullan with open disdain. At Cullan’s place of employ, he had made it a point to treat even beggars with respect.

“Wait here. He’s not finished yet.”

“Certainly.”

The footman stayed by the door, presumably to keep Cullan from making off with any of the house’s valuables. Cullan smiled to himself. That, at least, made perfect sense, even though the remaining precious objects were either too heavy, impossible to sell, or attached to the wall. After a few moments, the door opened, and the girl came out. Cullan gave her a quick look. Her hair was now loose. Her dress was not as impeccably uncreased as before. Otherwise, she seemed alright. The footman handed her her cloak, and grinned at her. Cullan shook his head. One helps a lady into her cloak, you stupid oaf. He opened the door, looked out, then back at the girl.

“Ma’am? Allow me.”

Cullan walked out, followed by the girl. As before, he positioned himself between her and possible harm as much as he could. He could hear her breath. She was not paying attention at all to where she was going. It almost seemed like she was crying, or near to it.

“Let’s get you home, Miss,” said Cullan.

The girl made no answer, just walked on. Cullan wanted to put his arm round her, tell her that everything would be alright, but what would that help? There was really nothing he could do for this poor woman. Nothing except keep her safe from harm. Something still bothered him, though.

“Ma’am? If the question is not impertinent, why is Miss Maressa not here? I understand Lord Grayson is one of her regular… customers. Is she well?”

The girl’s head snapped round. Her eyes burnt with anger.

“Maressa? She’s dead.”

Cullan looked at her with slack-jawed incomprehension.

“She is dead? But… how? Has one of her customers…”

“The stupid bitch couldn’t keep her mouth shut. So they took her, hung her up in the hall, and then two of you big bastards beat her to death with clubs. Made us all watch. Took her an hour to die.” The girl’s eyes filled with tears. “Smelling salt whenever she’d faint. Stupid bitch. When the smelling salts didn’t work anymore, they bashed her head in.” The girl closed her eyes, bowed her head. “Stupid… bitch.”

Cullan shook. He screwed his eyes shut. Forced himself to listen to the calming melody of the ritual in his head. Maressa had told him. As far as he knew, only him. and he, stupid as he was, had passed it on to… who? Only one person. One person he trusted, apart from Loren. He looked up, put a hand on the girl’s shoulder, looked into her eyes.

“I… I am so sorry. So sorry, Miss.”

The girl looked at him, tears streaming down her face.

“You.”

Cullan closed his eyes.

You are the Lightless shit who betrayed her. It’s all your fault!”

“Miss, I am so sorry.”

“Oh, I’ll sort you out, you bastard.”

The girl took a step back. Looking into Cullan’s eyes, she ripped the sleeve off her shirt. Then she tore down one of the straps of her dress and ripped open her shirt, baring one breast. Her arm whipped round, and hit Cullan’s face. Her nails raked his cheek. She took a deep breath, turned round, and ran the fifty yards to the door of the brothel. She banged on the door, screaming.

“Open up! He’s going to kill me!”

The door opened, and the girl was let in.

Cullan stared for one long, horrified moment.

He turned, and ran.

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