Part 3: Small girl in the big city

Selena’s horse neighed, as they rode up the road to the small town of Goldshire, in Elwynn forest. Her great bird, Hugin, sat on a fencepost a way off, watching her. She had thrown back her hood, and her blonde hair shone like gold in the morning sun. She turned her face here and there, looking at the people passing by. Guards, a bread merchant. A small noise distracted her, and she looked to her right. She frowned. Two people were standing behind some shrubs, wearing, she noted, not very much at all. They were whispering into each other’s ears, though not actually touching. Selena opened her mouth to ask something, when Mareva’s blue hand was on her cheek, gently pushing her face forward.

“You are too young to be told.”

“Oi! How old do you think I am? I was just wondering what in Azeroth they were doing. Didn’t look like they were getting anywhere.”

“They are sad characters with very little experience in…” Mareva looked for a polite word to describe it.

“Sex? Stars and stones, Mareva, I’m supposed to produce somebody’s heirs at some point. They did give me a few pointers on how to go about it. Hah! The hardest thing is not to produce anything before you’re supposed to.” She jerked her head at Ariciel, who was sitting behind Bannog, arms round him, talking to him with a happy expression on her face. “Those Elves don’t realise how lucky they are!”

Mareva looked at her friend. “Hm. She does realise. I am glad for her. Fate has not been kind to her.”

As they rode along, a man who had been standing by the roadside suddenly stepped out into the middle. He planted a flag in front of them and shouted at Selena.

“I, Grimlord, challenge you to a duel! For the honour of the Little Death Guild!”

Selena’s jaw dropped. She stared at her challenger, not knowing quite what to say. As she watched, he started walking round, flapping his elbows, making clucking noises.

Bannog stared at Selena’s challenger. He had half a mind to challenge him on his own account, but then, he would have pounded some lackwit into the ground. Not exactly a way to heap honour upon the proud name of Caer Bannog.

Gerrig frowned. It had been a while since he had last been in these parts, and he had almost forgotten the bunch of raving madmen that frequented the place. He turned round to his brother. His expression said it all: Let’s not waste any more time on this miserable clod.

Mareva whispered in Selena’s ear: “Ignore the zlotnik. He is also a very sad character, with no experience in…”

“Sex?”

“Life.”

They rode on. Behind them, Grimlord of the Little Death kept shouting challenges at Selena, Mareva, and Ariciel.

Bannog pointed forward. “Tavern! Anyone feel like freshening up before we hit Stormwind?”

Ariciel whispered in Bannog’s ear. “Don’t forget to check round the back if there’s any Night-elves there who need a boost to Menethil.”

“Almost tempted to go and look. Remember those stupid Defias thugs? You could take them on your own now, I reckon. We’ve grown, my lady.”

“Older but not much wiser.”

“Speak for yourself.” They grinned.

Gerrig dismounted, and tied his horse to a fencepost. Mareva slid off Selena’s horse and grimaced as she tried to make her legs straighten again.

“I must go and find an elekk at some point. They are much more comfortable to ride.”

“What’s an elekk?” asked Selena. “Don’t tell me it’s a male Draenei!”

Mareva chuckled. “You have a depraved mind. My work here is done. No, Elekks are large beasts with great tusks. We ride them as you do horses. Draenei males would look silly on a horse.”

“Big sods, are they?”

“Yes,” said Mareva happily.

They went into the tavern. Gerrig saw an empty table and made for it, waving at a barmaid. They sat down and put in orders for ale, cider, mead and one strong tea.

“Hey! I’d like a cup of wine.”

Gerrig turned round to Selena, putting a friendly hand on her arm. “Father ordered me to protect your virtue at all times, my sister. Be warned, should you look on the wine that is red, be prepared for a fate worse than death.”

Selena glowered. “I’ve had wine before. I’m not about to rip off my clothes and dance on the table after one cup!”

Gerrig laughed. “True. You fell asleep. Not the thing to do if you have to ride for another few hours.”

Selena pointed at Ariciel and Mareva. “She’s having mead, and she’s having cider. They have to ride!”

“I just hang on to Bannog. Do warn him if I fall off.”

“And I have had much practice in handling strong drink. Do not go into engineering. It will cost you a fortune in liquid recovery.”

“You’re just doing this for your own fun.”

“Damn,” said Bannog. “She’s on to us.”

“Always knew she was a clever one,” said Gerrig.

“I hate you and I’ll get you for this.”

The noon hour approached as Bannog finally pointed ahead to the gates of Stormwind, with its massive statues. Nobody had bothered them on the way. Hadn’t even seen anyone. Nevertheless, with Selena there, they had stuck to the road, Selena in the middle with her brothers on either side. Hugin flew over their heads, flying ahead, then looping back in great arcs. They were not taking any chances with Little Sister there. Selena was riding along happily, her frustration about the tea stowed away for later.

“I can’t believe Father let me go, actually. I was all set to talk at him for hours, but he immediately said he thought it was a great idea and I should go.”

Gerrig grunted. Father had had a word with him as well. If for some reason he couldn’t secure relief for Caer Bannog, he was to leave Selena with family in Stormwind. She was not going to like that at all, but it was better to have a live but unhappy daughter than a dead one somewhere in the rubble of Caer Bannog.

They rode into town, into the trade district. Here, they dismounted and huddled round in a circle.

“Right,” said Gerrig. “The first place we need to go is the Stormwind Keep. That’s where we can find the people who can help us.”

“I know where that is,” said Bannog. “We must have passed that a few times exploring this place, wandering from the Cathedral to the trade district and back.”

“Why?”

“We were bored,” said Ariciel. “And we didn’t know each other well enough to do some of the other things you do when you’re bored.”

Gerrig gave her a vague smile. “Thank you for that wealth of information. Only a churl would ask for more.”

“I aim to please.”

“No, really.”

Bannog grinned. “Gerrig, why don’t we both make our way there and leave the ladies to arrange sleeping arrangements?”

“Sounds good. Where do we meet up afterwards?”

Bannog pointed a finger at Ariciel. “Remember where we had dinner here?”

“The Deeprun Tram? Fried rat on a stick? No thanks!”

“No, the place with the real food.”

“Ah. The Blue Recluse, I think. In the Mage District.”

“That’s the place. Meet up for dinner? I think it’ll take even my brother with his diplomatic skills more than a few hours to get them to cooperate.”

Gerrig grinned. “The trick, brother, is not to punch them in the face if they don’t say ‘Yes’ immediately.”

“Oh. So that’s what I’ve been doing wrong, then.”

Mareva studied the roof of one of the high buildings. “I could say something about treating women, but I think I will not.”

“Thank you,” said Gerrig.


Gerrig watched the girls disappear in the direction of the Mage Quarter, his sister walking between Ariciel and Mareva. They turned round and walked along the street to Stormwind Keep.

“She seems to be recovering well from her ordeal, your friend.”

“It does seem that way,” said Bannog, “But she’s not out of the woods yet. She doesn’t dwell on it all the time, but at times, something will remind her and she’ll go all to pieces.”

“Being ill-treated can do that. I met a man once, who’d been caught by the enemy and tortured for information for two days before they pulled him out of there. He was healed of his wounds, but even years later, he’d suddenly snap and attack someone he thought that he recognised.”

“I don’t think that’s it. It’s having to kill her own sister, and hearing about her mother. Even though,” Bannog looked at his feet, “I did the actual killing.” Bannog sighed. “If the lass hadn’t attacked us, we’d have left without her, and be done. But she did attack, and that was the end of it. She could easily have killed me if I’d been up against her on my own, she was that strong. She was just toying with me, to hurt Ariciel. Ariciel shot her, and distracted her. That gave me the chance to hit her. It was not pretty.”

They walked up to one of the many bridges over the canals. Bannog checked. No swimmers today. He’d had no reason to be especially attached to Berciel. She was attacking him. He had responded in the way that any Warrior would: with lethal force. For Ariciel, it had been different. She’d had to abandon all hope of redemption for her sister, even though it was clear that the thing in front of them had no longer been the sister she had loved.

“Oh well,” said Gerrig. “At least she’s on the mend. It’s only a matter of time. Take good care of her.”

Bannog smiled. “Take good care of her. Now that hadn’t occurred to me. Thank you, Brother.”

“Oh you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do. We’re getting our own room tonight!”

“Do you remember what I told Ariciel about this ‘wealth of information,’ my brother?”

“Oh come on. You’re a married man. Your cheeks don’t turn red at the first sight of a bare ankle, do they?”

“Would you like me to describe all the details of what I saw the night I walked in on Father and Mother after a bad dream? Significantly before Selena was born?”

Bannog grinned. “You have a point. Ah. The keep. let’s see if we can find someone in charge.”


“Alright. Now can I have a cup of wine?”

Mareva looked at Ariciel, who shrugged. Mareva smiled.

“Of course you can. Ariciel? Will you have your usual?”

“Unless they have Qrovna.”

“I severely doubt that, but I will ask.” The blue-skinned woman stomped off to the bar and opened negotiations.

Ariciel looked round. They were in the Blue Recluse, the same place where she and Bannog had eaten, all that time ago. She’d met Lirael here, and Arador. They had taught Bannog to sing. It had been their first night together in safety. Before Ironforge. Before she’d had all her Druid training. Before she’d met Mira, or Bearwalker. Before she’d found Berciel. She stared at her hands lying on the table.

“Hey! What’s up?”

Ariciel looked up. A worried look was on Selena’s freckled face. Ariciel made herself smile.

“Nothing. Memories.”

Mareva walked up with their drinks. She plonked a flagon of mead on the table in front of Ariciel, and put a cup of red wine in front of Berciel. Selena. Ariciel blinked as Selena reached out to the cup. Mareva’s hand was still on it. Selena looked up. Mareva’s magical, luminous eyes looked back at Selena, a smile on her blue, perfectly symmetrical face.

“Your brothers are trusting us to keep you safe, Selena. By the same token, we are trusting you to keep yourself safe. If you get very drunk, run off with an unsuitable gentleman, and your brothers and we have to rescue you from a brothel, then this point is when we say that you gave us the slip. Then, if your brother wants to send you home tied up in a sack, I will gladly advise him on the proper knots to use. Do you understand this?”

Selena said nothing for a moment. Then, she nodded her head.

“Fair enough.”

“Skol!” Mareva raised her tankard of cider, and they drank.

“So,” said Ariciel. “Do we sleep here, or somewhere else? I’d say stay here, but then, this is the first place where Bannog and I had a proper meal, so I’m prejudiced.”

“I saw a tavern in the trade district,” said Selena.

“That’s where we slept together,” said Ariciel. Selena’s jaw dropped, and Ariciel raised an eyebrow. “In separate beds! Come on! I may be the most attractive creature alive, but I’m not that fast!”

Mareva stared at the ceiling, and smiled, and said nothing.

Selena twirled her wine in her cup, and took a small sip. It was good wine, she told herself. She’d like it in time.

“Someone told me that Elves can have more than one boyfriend at the same time. Is that really true?”

“It is. When I was living in Darkshore, before I met Bannog, I had two… lovers,” said Ariciel, not mentioning that one of them had been a girl. Best to dish out the weirdness in bite-size chunks.

“So Elves can just sleep with anyone?”

“Oh good grief, no!” Ariciel frowned. “That’s just wishful thinking by the guys who talk about it. You wouldn’t, would you?”

“Well, no, but…”

“You really have to like the guy before you sleep with him, right?”

“Well, yeah. Sort of. You’re supposed to be married to him, actually. But some girls do, well, a trial run.”

“Right, that’s no different for us. It’s just that you don’t have to chop the first one’s head off if you happen to find another one you like. Also, you can do different things with different people.”

“Uh…”

Mareva grinned broadly. “You have all that to discover. We could tell you, but it is more enjoyable to find out for yourself.”

“Dammit. Do I have ‘Virgin’ written on my forehead or something?”

“Yes. Ask your first boyfriend to wipe it off.”

“Meh,” said Ariciel. “First time I did it, I was a bunch of nerves. He was worse. It’s definitely better after you find out that neither of you is going to explode or something.”

“They say it hurts.”

“True. Not much, though. Being distracted helps.”

Selena grinned. “Oo! A squirrel! Hey! Ow!”

“That’s right. You can get the squirrels from the squirrel merchant.” Ariciel finished her drink. “Anyone for a walk? There’s more taverns to check.”


“Good afternoon, Gentlemen,” said Gerrig. “Could you tell us where the captain of the guard is?”

The guard looked at the two armour-clad individuals in front of him, then at his mate, who shrugged.

“Who wants to know?”

“We do. We have a message from Caer Bannog.”

The other guard laughed. “Oh, I know of that place. We get supplies from them. Every other son in that place is called Bannog. Makes you wonder about their family arrangements.”

Bannog’s trained mind sized up the guards. Oh yeah, they could take them no problem. Thing was, they might have friends.

“Gerrig, I think someone here is in need of a Lakeshire kiss.”

“Do you remember what I told you about diplomacy…” he turned his face back to the guard, a friendly smile on his face.

“Bannog?”

As if by magic, the grin vanished from the guard’s face. He stared hard at Gerrig.

“What do you want?”

“We would like to have a little chat with your captain, about some problems we’re having getting the supplies to you. Problems of a Hordish nature.”

“Captain’s not in. Get lost.”

“Gladly. If your captain is not here, where can we find him?”

“You can’t.”

Bannog watched his brother with admiration. If it had been him, he’d have punched the stupid git’s lights out, friends or no friends. He rolled up the sleeve of his chainmail and opened and closed his fist, observing the effect this had on the muscles in his forearm. Gerrig’s face was a picture of politeness.

“Hmm. I think you may not be the people we need. We’re looking for people who can…” he looked away for a second. “Bannog, help me here, what’s the phrase again? People who can…”

Bannog looked up. “Find their arses in the mirror?”

Gerrig smiled. “Find their arses in the mirror. That’s right. Good afternoon, gentlemen.” He turned round to leave.

“Hey! You better mind your words, before I decide on something to charge you with.” The guard’s eyes narrowed. “If I can be bothered to.”

“Brother, could you please shake with fear? This gentleman seems to expect it.”

“You do it,” said Bannog. “I shook with fear last time.”

“So you did. Observe. I am shaking in my boots.”

“If I call my mates, I can make you say sorry.”

“And I’m sure that will be a great story to tell the priestess while she’s wondering whether to heal you further, or whether your face always looked like that.” He waited a few moments, so the guard could get it. Then, he turned on his heels and left. The guard’s hand moved to his club, until he saw that Bannog was looking at him. His hand dropped to his side.

“Good boy,” said Bannog, and followed his brother.

“Are they following?”

“Naah. They’re still keeping the Keep safe from little girls.”

“So that’s a ‘No’ then. Well, next is SI:7.”

“Who are they?”

“Secret police. A mate of mine works there. Always two ways round the barn.”


“Darnassus. Hey Ariciel! Weren’t you in Darnassus a while back?”

“Yeah. Druid training. Why?”

“It says here on the poster. Darnassus Temple Choir. Performing in the Cathedral tonight.”

“Really?” Ariciel walked up and read. Who’d have thought? They had been performing here for a week. Today was the last before they’d return to Darnassus. Ariciel felt a pang of guilt. She hadn’t written to Lirael in ages. Not that she could have, in all honesty, but still.

“Hey! Lirael may be here.”

Mareva was reading over Ariciel’s shoulder. “Who is she?”

“She’s lovely! I stayed at her place for months while I was training in Darnassus. We have to go and listen to her sing. She’s good!”

Selena smiled. “We must bring the boys too. Beat some culture into them. The Light knows they need it.”

Mareva read down the poster. “Will we need tickets? It does not say.”

“Best go find out. Cathedral square is North of here. Shortcut through the park.”


“You said ‘Mate’, Gerrig. You didn’t say she was a gorgeous redhead! Does Marcia know of this?”

“She introduced us. Ilsa, meet my boor of a brother. Bannog, meet Ilsa Corbin. Be careful what you say. She’s taken, and her boyfriend is standing behind you.”

Ilsa Corbin’s eyes gleamed. “I don’t mind being called a gorgeous redhead. Can’t remember the last time Shen did.”

The dark-skinned Warrior trainer crossed his arms. “If I call you a gorgeous redhead now, am I done for the day?”

“Not by any stretch of the imagination. What can I do for you, Gerrig?”

“We’re having an attack of orcs at Caer Bannog. Too many for us to handle at once. I’m here to get some help.”

“Hmm. How many?”

“Two hundred sword fighters and about twenty mages.”

“Uh huh. How big?”

Bannog spoke up. “I can hit three at the same time without too much trouble.”

“Is your training up to date?”

“Army training in Arathi. Should be.”

“Hmm. Sounds like you’d need a raid group of ten or so. They’ll cut through those guys like a knife through butter. Problem is, we haven’t got any to spare. Bigger trouble to think of.”

“Damn. We really need the help. Our guys aren’t heavy enough to take on Blackrock Orcs.”

“Well, get them up to spec. Better yet, send them here and we’ll train them up for you. And charge you an outrageous sum.”

“Hah. If only. You’re not interested in a quick trip to Redridge, are you?”

Ilsa grinned. “If I put it reasonably to the colonel, he’ll still have a fit. Sorry.”

Wu Shen tapped Bannog’s shoulder. “Mind if I take a look at your talents? Professional interest.”

“Go on.”

Wu Shen closed his eyes, concentrating. “Oh my. You’ve been training the hard way! I can teach you a few extra tricks if you want.”

“What, now?”

“Sure. Would you like to do lots of damage to a bunch of Orcs?”

“Does a bear shit in the woods?”

Wu Shen grinned. He concentrated again, and Bannog felt like a months’ worth of information flowed into his brain in a few heartbeats. He saluted. It seemed the thing to do.

“There. That’s Thunder Clap for you. Hurts the bastards and slows them down for a bit. Please consider us in your future training acquisitions.”

“Oh, I will. Come on Gerrig! I want some orcs to try this out on.”

Ilsa and Wu Shen shook hands with them both.

“Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”

“So am I, but can’t be helped. Thanks anyway.”

Ilsa Corbin watched them go. Then, she turned to her friend.

“Why the hell doesn’t he pull his finger out? Really. I was fighting Blackrock orcs when I was just a kid!”

“My thoughts exactly, my gorgeous redhead.”

“Keep it up.”

Gerrig walked along the streets, nowhere in partcular. Things were not going well. He’d expected a bit of help from Ilsa at least. Meanwhile, his brother was still moving his arms about in strange gestures. He sighed.

“I’m fast running out of contacts, Bannog. We may have to leave Selena with Aunt Flo after all.”

“Oh hell. She’ll disinherit you for that!”

“She’ll get to. That’s the point.” He sighed again. “There’s only one thing left that I can try, but it’s a long shot. And it needs a trip to Ironforge.”

“Ironforge? What did you have in mind?”

“Remember that Dwarf lady who came to train our men a few years back?”

“Peterselie? Sure. Met her quite recently, in Dun Algaz. Plays a mean game of poker.”

“Do you think she could help?”

“Hmm. She’s in the Dun Morogh regiment now. Armies don’t generally appreciate their Paladins wandering off.”

“Paladin? I didn’t know that. Gone all religious, has she?”

“Heavily into retribution. I’m not sure if she’s in Ironforge though. She travels to Dun Algaz a lot.”

“Well, we won’t know if we don’t go and find out.”

“Not today though. Dinner’s coming up. I want to see my Elf. This way.”


“And there’s the Recluse again. Time for dinner. Are the boys in yet?”

“No. Do we order?” Mareva eyed the menu hungrily. “I could do with a little food to prepare the way.”

“You should be twice your size with what you’re eating,” said Ariciel.

“Much healthy exercise in the woods,” said Mareva. She wandered over to the bar and ordered more drinks and a plate of cheese.

Selena accepted her glass of white. So far, the red had been so-so. The Darnassian Green had been lovely, but a bit pricy. She tasted. Hm. Sweet. This could work.

“Well, we don’t need tickets for the singsong tonight. That’s good.”

Ariciel pointed a finger at her. “If Lirael was here, she’d spank you for that! Hopefully, tonight you’ll hear why.”

“Lirael. She’s one of the singers, right?”

“Yeah. I heard her practice lots of times. With additional lyrics if she ran out of breath.”

“Ran out of breath? You’re not under water are you? You can breathe in!”

“Ah. Breath control is the most important thing when you’re singing. You can’t just breathe in whenever you want. Some of the phrases are quite long. Do you sing, Mareva?”

Mareva wasn’t listening. Her eyes were fixed on the bar. A faint smile was on her lips.

“Mareva?”

Selena followed Mareva’s line of sight, and her jaw dropped.

“Oh! He’s gorgeous!”

“Hmm. I agree,” said Mareva.

“He’s got blue stripes!”

Mareva frowned, and gave Selena a look.

“What?”

“The cat! White with blue stripes!”

Mareva gave Selena a slow smile.

“You can have the cat. I will settle for its keeper.”

Ariciel looked. A large Draenei male stood at the bar, ordering a drink. He had put his cloak on a bar stool, and his arms were bare. His skin was blue like Mareva’s, though he had no horns. Something in his bearing spoke of raw power. Two swords were at his belt and a heavy crossbow was on his back. Like Mareva, he stood on hooves, his legs the size of tree-trunks. His tail was much larger than Mareva’s. For Ariciel’s tastes, he was a bit outlandish, but she could definitely see what might attract her friend to this specimen. She glanced at Mareva.

“Wipe your mouth, dear.”

Selena observed the Draenei hunter.

“He looks a bit like you, Mareva, but different.”

Mareva’s eyes moved away long enough to give Selena a look.

“That is because he is a boy. There is an important difference.”

Selena’s blue, innocent eyes opened wide.

“Ooooh. Boys are different? I didn’t know that! So that’s why Ariciel looked strange at me when I wanted to kiss her!”

Ariciel made a strange choking noise and was grateful that her flagon had been empty. She pointed at Selena’s glass. Selena grinned and nodded.

“Want anything from the bar, Mareva?”

“Yes.”

Ariciel walked over, ordered more drinks, then turned round. Her elbow hit the Draenei and made him spill his drink. Ariciel shrunk, and started to talk very quickly, ordering him a fresh one. Then, she pointed back at the table.

Mareva beamed. “Oh, you clumsy Elf. I love you!”

Selena turned round. “What’s she done?”

“She has earned herself a month worth of hugs in one minute.”

The Draenei hunter was gently nudged to their table by Ariciel, who grinned at Mareva behind his back. He gave Selena a polite nod, then let his eyes settle on the Draenei woman sitting at the table. As far as Ariciel could see, he had quite forgiven her for spilling his drink.

“Good evening. My name is S’dezo’Houn. My Human friends pronounce it Stetson. Long life, good health.”

“Good evening, Hunter S’dezo’Houn. My name is Mareva. Engineer Mareva of Exodar.”

“Exodar? You were one of the Helmsmen of the Apocalypse?”

Mareva scowled as charmingly as she could. “I merely tended the engines. I had no influence on the direction the ship was taking. The power was there for the helmsmen to do as they pleased. It pleased them to try to land some hundred yards below Azeroth’s crust. Results were disappointing.”

“I can imagine that. My apologies for doubting your abilities.”

Selena had not heard any of this. She was completely taken with the large cat. She almost held out a hand, but stopped. Hunter Stetson saw, and smiled.

“Morgan will allow you to touch him. At the moment, he will not attack unless I tell him to. If you scratch him between the ears, like so… Then he will only bite your hand off if it looks like you are stopping.”

Selena smiled, and started scratching Morgan between the ears. The big cat made a happy noise and gently head-butted Selena.

Mareva gave Stetson the full benefit of her attention.

“What brings a Draenei hunter to these parts, If I may ask?”

“A Quest, what else? I have been digging round the temples in the Hinterlands for,” he cleared his throat, “Atal’ai tablets. In the Atal’Hakkar Temple. Holy to the Troll god Hakkar, the Soulflayer. Trolls must enjoy pain, to worship someone like that.”

“Perhaps, they expect him to flay other people’s souls.”

“Good for them if he did, because they fell over like pins. I could have sent Morgan out on his own, but these tablets were not made of meat.”

Stetson pulled one from his bag, and showed them. They looked remarkably like clay squares with scratches on them.

“Now all I need to do, is to bring these to someone named Brohann Caskbelly, collect my reward and I am free to let my tail chase me again.”

Ariciel stared at the strange markings on the tablet. The characters were like nothing she’d seen before, but then again, what did she know?

“Are the Hinterlands far away?”

“Thankfully, yes. The inhabitants that are not trolls are Dwarfs, and a self-righteous bunch of pompous zlotniks they are. They almost expected me to pay them for the privilege of running some stupid errands for them.” His eyes stared in the far distance. “There is only one thing that made the whole journey worth the effort.” He turned to Mareva. “Wild griffins. Beautiful creatures. I was almost tempted to try to tame one, but I would have had to give up Morgan, or put him in kennels with those Dwarfs. So I had to settle just for seeing them.”

Ariciel looked smugly from Stetson to Mareva and back as they spoke. Mareva had eyes only for Stetson, Selena only for Morgan. The door opened and Gerrig stepped in, followed by Bannog. Her face lit up. Oh good. Gerrig could be the odd one out now. She waved at Bannog and he and Gerrig came to the table. Bannog sat down next to Ariciel, and saw Stetson. My, he was a big sucker! Bannog gave him a friendly look.

“Good evening! Let me introduce myself. I am Bannog of Caer Bannog, and the man who is about to buy us all more drinks is my elder brother Gerrig.”

Stetson bowed his head, and shook Bannog’s hand. “Dyonis A’ka. My name is Stetson. May your days be long, and your hardships few.”

“And yours. Have my friends and family abducted you?”

Ariciel smiled guiltily. “I jogged his arm at the bar and spilt his drink all over him. The least I could do was get him a new one.”

Stetson raised his large hands in a gesture of dismissal. “Say no more of it. I have had much worse liquids spilled over me than mere ale. The company is well worth the effort of washing my clothes. The year draws to an end anyway.”

Bannog laughed, turned to Ariciel. “So. Where are we staying?”

“Here,” said Ariciel. “We were lucky. We got the last two rooms. Second one only because someone else didn’t show up. All the places are booked solid, because of the concert.”

“Concert? What concert?”

“Benefit concert for the Children of the War. Entrance is free, but you’re expected to donate something to the cause.” Enthusiasm radiated off Ariciel’s face. “The Darnassus Temple Choir is here! I stayed with one of the singers in Darnassus when I did my studies. Remember her, Bannog?” Ariciel grinned wickedly. “We met her here. You felt her up!”

“Lirael? I protest! I had my hand on her stomach only so I could feel her breathe! Yes, she’s pretty, but I was concentrating on her breath!”

“I bet you were. You weren’t wearing a shirt, either!”

“Yes I was! I had my chain on!”

“Hmm. Yes! Very fetching.” Ariciel grinned at Bannog in that specific way that meant either fun or trouble, and most likely both. He grinned back.

“Well, I hope she enjoyed the sight, if only as a reward for explaining to me what your midriff is there for.”

“I know I did!”

“Good. Can I have dinner here with the last shreds of my reputation intact?”

Gerrig slapped Bannog’s back. “It was probably a lousy reputation in the first place. I heartily concur with the idea of dinner. Let’s have some. Will you join us, Mr. Stetson?”

“Gladly.”

“No luck getting help then?”

Ariciel was walking next to Bannog, on their way to Cathedral Square, where the concert was. They were early, to get a good place. Probably a futile hope.

“None. We tried the guards, but they are at their best right here and away from the Caer. Then Gerrig went to see one of his secret police Warrior trainer friends, but she couldn’t do anything either. Oh. Except, I can now do Thunder Claps. The trainer took pity on us and gave me a free sample.”

“That sounds vaguely grubby. What’s the Thunder Clap?”

“You have a sick and depraved mind, fuelled by drink.”

“That’s why you love me.”

Bannog grinned. “Yeah. But a Thunder Clap is a way for me to channel my rage to strike out at four enemies at the same time. It’s strange. I didn’t know I could, but now, it’s like I’ve known it all my life.”

“Hmm. Trainers do that. It’s how I learnt most of my spells from Bearwalker. Didn’t know that also worked for Warriors.”

They walked on, following the shapes of Gerrig and Selena in front of them. Ariciel drew closer to Bannog and head-butted his shoulder.

“Hey. I spotted it, you know.”

“Huh?”

“You just said you love me.”

Bannog stared ahead of him, saying nothing. Then he laughed quietly.

“You were joking, and I only said: Yeah. Not exactly worth writing poems or songs for.” His eyes turned round to her, and he put his arm round her shoulders. “But yes, I do.”

Ariciel’s arm didn’t fit all the way round Bannog’s middle, so she just hooked her thumb in his belt.

“So do I.”

They said nothing for a few steps. Then Ariciel looked up at Bannog’s face.

“You know, we’ve never told each other before now. Mareva said not to worry, we’d know anyway.”

“Mareva is an exceptionally wise woman.”

Ariciel turned her head round to see the light in Mareva’s eyes as she walked behind her, talking to Stetson in Draenei.

“I’m happy for her. If what she said is true, this Stetson guy is the first she’s had eyes for since they killed her lover. Only girls since then, to avoid painful memories. She’s on the mend.”

“Including one Night-elf.”

Ariciel glanced up at Bannog’s face. Bannog pulled her a bit closer.

“Don’t worry. I don’t mind Mareva.”

“I was stupid. I shouldn’t have just dropped that on you.”

“I won’t lie, I didn’t like it at the time. Thought I’d lost you. Or rather, never had you in the first place. But our blue friend explained it to me. Loudly.”

Ariciel laughed. “Mareva is very good at explaining things.”

“Packs a hell of a punch too.”

“She hit you?” Ariciel almost stumbled, laughing.

“Aye. All in the cause of explaining.”

“I love her, I really do.” She closed her eyes a moment. “Not like you, you understand. But still.”

“Friend with extras?”

Ariciel touched Bannog’s bearded cheek.

“I wouldn’t. It hurts you.”

“I don’t know how I’d feel if I’d walk in on you and her. Wouldn’t leave you over it, but still I’d feel strange. Anyway, the point seems moot.”

“Want to bet on how long it takes her to get his clothes off?”

“Hmm. Difficult. I’m only starting to learn about Elves. Draenei, I have no idea how they work.”

“I say we don’t see her in the Recluse tonight.”

“You’re on. Loser has to sleep with the winner.”

“Oo. Good bet!”

They arrived at the cathedral. Darnassus banners were waving in the evening breeze, for the occasion. A blue carpet covered the stairs up to the majestic entrance. Gerrig looked up at the large building. Whoever had designed it, had liked spires. There were three main towers, with numerous smaller ones besides. Bright lights within shone through the stained glass windows. He fretted. He shouldn’t be going to bloody concerts with the future of the castle hanging in the balance, but Bannog had said, reasonably, that they couldn’t bother Peterselie in the middle of the night. So since they couldn’t visit Ironforge anyway, they might as well take the opportunity. Anyway, the Elf had insisted they all go, and Selena could probably do with a bit of culture. All they had for music at Caer Bannog was the soldiers singing, which was not fit for a young girl at all, at all. If only he could have brought Marcia along. There was already a queue in front of the cathedral, and they joined. Though Gerrig would never willingly lead any woman into danger, he liked to have a few women in the place rather than just soldiers. Actually, there were a few female soldiers, but they weren’t very feminine. They were soldiers who happened to be women, and treated the same as any soldier. Ladies like those Bannog had brought home with him added a bit of style to the place, even if one was an Elf, and the other almost demonic in appearance. He cast a quick glance at the creature, as she stood talking to the other… Dren… Draenei. She was smiling a lot at the big hunter. Gerrig grinned. Strange they might be, but some things are the same for all creatures.

They slowly moved up the stairs. Gerrig looked round at the other people in the queue. Most of them were Human, but he could see quite a few Elves as well. Two old gnomes stood arm in arm behind a tall Elf, pointing at various people and talking animatedly. A rather pretty dark-haired Elf girl happened to look in his direction as he saw her. She smiled at him. He smiled back politely. Then, she frowned, and moved her head slightly. He could see her take a breath and walk towards him. What by the…? The Elf girl grinned, and poked his brother’s friend in the back.

“Of all the silly blondes that could be here, it just had to be you didn’t it?”

Ariciel jumped, then whirled round. She threw her arms in the air.

“Mira! What are you doing here? There’s no strong drink here!”

“Oh you drank it all?”

“Not the stuff you like.”

The girls kept this up surprisingly long, and just when it looked like fireballs at dawn, they grinned at each other, hugged and finally admitted they were glad to see each other.

“So, really. What are you doing here?” asked Ariciel.

“I got volunteered to do some of the speeches for the Children of the War, on behalf of the Cenarion Circle. Did my last one yesterday, so I figured that I might as well enjoy the concert once without nerves soaring through me. And you?”

“I’m with Big Guy here,” said Ariciel, indicating Bannog.

“Ah. So this is your Human?”

Bannog grinned. “Every Elf should have one. We’re very useful.”

“Pardon me. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“No offence taken. I sometimes call her ‘My Elf’ when I’m not paying attention.”

“We’re also very useful,” said Ariciel.

They moved slowly up the stairs, and into the cathedral. There were many rows of pews set up, and for the occasion, extra chairs in long rows. The place in front of the altar was brightly lit with candles, the rest of the hall was dark. Half the chairs were already taken. Ariciel immediately pushed towards the front, trailing Bannog, Gerrig, Mira and Selena. Stetson put his hand on Mareva’s shoulder. She looked round and smiled at him.

“If I sit at the front, then I’ll block the view of many people behind me, and spend the rest of the evening being told to duck by zlotniks.”

Mareva’s eyes quickly scanned the room. Then, she steered Stetson to the back, where there were two seats left, beating a rather indignant Human to the spot. He saw how big the one was, and how magical the other, and walked on, grumbling about foreigners.

“There. Now we won’t disturb anyone unless we want to. How many people here do you think speak Draenei?”

“Not many, I’d guess,” said Stetson, shifting round on the pew. “These benches are not made for our kind. Nowhere to put my tail.”

“Fishing for compliments, are we?”

Stetson laughed. “Would I need to?”

“Not with me. I did notice your tail. Only I didn’t comment on it because I’d have to explain what they say about men with long tails.”

“You mean they don’t sit comfortably on Human benches?”

“Precisely.”

“Mind you, that’s nothing that five minutes with a saw won’t fix. Also, putting a small shelf for your drink on the back of the next bench is very well thought out.”

Mareva laughed. “I like these Humans’ attitude towards religion.”

“Exactly. Toast the priest after a good sermon.”

Selena looked behind her.

“We seem to have lost some people.”

“Not so much lost as left behind,” said Ariciel, shuffling into her seat. “This way, Stetson won’t block anyone’s view like your brothers here, and they can have a nice talk in Draenei, about Draenei things.”

Mira giggled. “And if they want to sneak out, then they can without too much fuss.”

Selena coughed. “Am I the only one here who’s planning to wait till I’m sure I want to marry the boy?”

“It would seem so,” said Ariciel. “I still don’t understand why.”

“What if I get pregnant and the guy can just take off? Then my child will grow up without a father!”

“Hold on,” said Mira, You would invite someone’s spirit, and not have an idea of whether the father’s going to stay around?”

“Doesn’t work like that,” said Ariciel. “From what Bannog tells me, Humans have sort of an open invitation. They can get pregnant even from just playing.”

“Hmm. ‘Playing’ makes it sound cheap, somehow,” said Selena. “It’s what you do to make children. It’s the Light’s way to make sure that Humans don’t die out. That’s why it feels good to do it.”

Ariciel thought about this. She’d seduced Bannog because, well, she’d felt like it, really. Because she had wanted to give him something she didn’t give just anyone. Producing children was quite a different matter for a Night-elf. Granted, you did get naked with the prospective father, but that was about the only thing that was the same. She looked at Selena.

“Making children isn’t cheap for us. Your body may be doing more or less the same thing, but the mind… it’s like a forest fire compared to a candle. You don’t do it lightly. Not often either. Maybe once or twice in a hundred years.”

Gerrig stared ahead at the stage, clearly intent on gently changing the subject. “When are they going to start?”

“Eight,” said Mira. “First, we have the Stormwind Male choir, then the speeches and collections, and then the Darnassus lot. Then another few speakers, and finally both choirs at the same time.”

“Does anyone have a programme?”

Mira smiled sweetly at Gerrig and raised a finger. “Been here all week. What would you like to know?”

“What are they going to sing?”

“I think the Stormwind lot are starting tonight with a few arias from ‘The Fishers of Hillsbrad’. They really are very good… for Humans. Then, after the speeches, the Darnassus Temple choir with a few Songs of Sanctuary. Though they’ll start with a piece by a Human named Brooke, that’s usually played by an orchestra. Um… Some air or other. Beautiful. Then more speeches, basically begging for gold, and finally, both choirs together do a piece called ‘O Fate’ by a Dwarf named Ornn. Very impressive.”

Bannog stared at the stage area, an innocent look on his face. “No chance of them singing anything I know, then?”

Gerrig shook his head. “Remember. It’s for the benefit of the children. They’re hardly going to sing those filthy soldier’s songs you like.”

“Oh,” said Selena. “The one about the bishop and the washerwoman?”

“Do you know that one?”

“Mostly. Though I don’t know what an inclination is and why a washerwoman should have a cuckoo’s nest.”

Gerrig took a deep breath. “You’re…”

“Too young to be told,” said Selena, “I know.”

The murmur of the crowd suddenly increased, then settled down. The members of the Stormwind Male Choir filed in, and took their places in front of the altar. A string quartet moved into place behind them. Ariciel had expected some introductions, but the conductor raised his hands, and the music began. A tenor and a baritone sang a duet, called, according to Mira, “Below the sacred temple.”

“Old story,” said Mira. “Boy meets girl, girl meets other boy, boys lose girl, girl comes back, boy sets fire to the village and hilarity ensues.”

“Shut up dear,” said Ariciel.

Between them, Selena sat on the edge of her chair, watching the men sing, eyes shining. The piece finished, and the men took their well-deserved applause. Next was a piece for the whole twenty-man-strong choir, creating the image of long lines of slaves, escaping from exile. They finished with a Dwarvish chorus from an opera called “The Troubadour”. Two Dwarves appeared specially, and performed the percussion on honest-to-goodness anvils.

The singers took their bows, to roaring applause, and cleared the area, to sit in a row of pews specially reserved for them. The string quarted played an intermezzo while the Darnassus Temple choir entered the hall from behind the altar. Ariciel almost didn’t recognise Lirael, but there she was, dressed like the others in a simple but elegant white dress, long black hair tied up in a demure ponytail. Though Ariciel knew that once she was on stage, nothing could distract Lirael, she didn’t wave. A tall dark-haired Elf stepped forward. Ariciel recognised him immediately: Arador! She nudged Bannog and pointed. Bannog nodded, though he seemed to be more interested in the altos and sopranos. Arador inclined his head towards the audience, and started to speak.

“Good evening Ladies, Gentlemen. I hope that you have enjoyed, as we have, the efforts of the Stormwind Male Choir. Before we attempt to entertain you with our modest talents, please allow me to spend a few words on the cause that we support: The Foundation of the Children of the War. As war rages on in Azeroth, Kalimdor, and the ravaged lands of Draenor, it is the children of our valiant heroes who suffer most. This is no different whether these children be Elvish, Human, Dwarf, Gnome, Draenei…”

Arador paused, casting an eye over the audience.

“Orcish, Tauren, or Sin’dorei. That battle rages between our peoples is no fault of theirs, but still, the children are the victim of war. It has been said that the first casualty of war is innocence, and yet, if the orphans of Tauren or Orcs are placed beside those of Humans or Elves, they will play together as though there were no war.”

The audience started to murmur. Had Human children been placed next to Orcs? Arador continued.

“There will be a day, when the last battles are fought, and silence and tranquility return to the lands of Azeroth. Unless all Alliance, or all Horde races, or both, have been erased from the world, we will have to learn how to live together with those who we have hated. We, the warriors, priests, druids and other fighters will have served our purpose, and the children of today will become the diplomats and builders of tomorrow. That is, if they survive, and are not polluted with the hatred that plagues us. It is for this purpose that we implore your generosity. Please donate what you can to the Foundation for the Children of the War. Until then, please enjoy our performance. Thank you.”

Arador joined the rest of the choir, and Lirael stepped to the front. For a moment, the entire cathedral was silent. Then, Lirael’s voice filled the hall, with only a minimum of accompaniment from the string quartet behind her. Ariciel watched her friend in awe. She’d heard her practice many times at her home, of course, as the first stumbling attempts at a new piece turned into perfection. Somehow, Ariciel had never got round to going to the Temple of the Moon, and watching her as she was now, in her element. Confidence radiated off her like an aura. Her voice rang out, clear as a bell, without words. It was a beautiful piece, deceptively simple, without ornamentation. Ariciel looked at Mira, sitting back in her seat, smiling. Selena stared at the stage, elbows resting on the pew in front of them, lips slightly apart, with moist, shining eyes. The piece ended, and there were a few moments of silence. Then, the entire audience stood up and gave Lirael a roaring applause. She smiled, inclined her head, and took her place among her fellow choir members.

Arador and another Elf-woman Ariciel didn’t know, stepped forward. This piece was quite different from Lirael’s solo. Arador and the other Elf sang in unison, with the rest of the choir providing support on the chorus. The bass player was not using his bow, but plucked the strings. There was a specific term for that, but Ariciel couldn’t remember.

For their third piece, one of the smaller of the cathedral’s bells was struck, followed by the strings, slowly building up to a crescendo, then falling away to almost nothing. Lirael and another Elf named Adea sang in a language that Ariciel had never heard before, short syllables, until two of the dwarves who had played the anvil earlier started playing a relaxed, steady rhythm on drums. The whole choir joined, with harmonies so flawless that it was impossible to distinguish one voice from the other.

After this piece ended, Arador stepped forward once more to introduce one of the next speakers, who turned out to be a young Human who, after his parents were killed in the war, had been taken care of by one of the orphanages supported by the Foundation. His story was simple, straightforward, and utterly heart-wrenching. Orphanages were barely capable of sustaining their charges. Nobody starved, but there was no such thing as a fat orphan. The main problem was people to run them. There were several orphanages where there was only one person in charge of the whole operation. Older children helped, of course, but some jobs required adults. The Foundation tried to help by employing wardens, but resources were stretched. He left the speaking stand to polite applause.

To end the evening, both choirs took the stage together, with the string quartet and the percussionist Dwarves, who were rolling out the big drums. The string players straighened their shoulders, as if for hard work. The Stormwind Male conductor looked over all the faces, then raised his hand, and the music burst loose. Ariciel could not understand the words, though she recognised them as Ancient Speech. She borrowed the programme from a Human lady sitting two places further on and studied the lyrics, which some helpful person had translated into Common Speech. “Hateful life, now oppresses, then soothes, as fancy takes it.” Hm. Cheerful stuff. The combined choir were singing short, sharp syllables. Ariciel had the feeling of water, slowly gathering behind a dam, building, building. She held her breath. She saw the conductor raise his hand, make a fist, then punch down. All singers burst forth together, as if they wanted to blow the roof off the cathedral. The Dwarves stopped dampening their drums, and thundered. The strings made a valiant effort, but were drowned in the sea of sound. This last piece was quite short, in spite of its sheer power. All rose, and the musicians bowed to their audience. The applause went on for minutes, until the conductor turned round, thanked the audience for their attention, reminded them of the collection dishes at the exit and bade them fare well.

Selena sat down, catching her breath, working through the experience. This was her first concert of this kind, and it was rather overwhelming. She saw Ariciel catch the eye of the first singer and wave. There was no response she could see.

“Do you think she saw you?”

“Oh yes, she saw me, but they don’t wave at their friends in the audience. That’s very amateurish. If we stand guard by the exit, then she’ll find us.”

“How long?”

“Hopefully before I die of thirst,” said Mira.

They slowly made their way to the exit, to find Stetson sitting rather uncomfortably on the pew farthest to the back. His large arm lay on the back of the pew, definitely not touching Mareva, who was slumped against him, eyes closed, a faint smile on her lips. Ariciel’s eyes softened, and she gave Stetson a look.

“Poor girl. She’s been working hard all week, and last night, she rode through the night to get here. No wonder even that last piece didn’t wake her up.”

Stetson looked down on Mareva’s quiet face, lying against his broad chest, then back up at Ariciel and Bannog.

“In that case, I will wait here till she wakes up by herself. Will you be returning to the Blue Recluse Tavern?”

Bannog nodded. “Yeah. We’re sleeping there, so if it takes too long, just carry her there. We’re in room… which room?”

Ariciel smiled. “Girls in ten, boys in twelve.” She smiled ruefully at Bannog. “Sorry. No more room at the inn.”

“All shed a tear with me,” said Bannog. “Room ten, then. Do you have a place to stay?”

“I do. It is near the bank.”

“Ah. I know the place. They do a good fried breakfast.”

“Were the Naaru to require physical food, that is what they would eat,” said Stetson.

Stetson waited a while. Then, he looked down again on the dark-haired beauty leaning against him. Each day is a blessing.

“Your friends have left, and I don’t think you fooled any of them.”

“I like my friends.” Mareva opened her eyes, and looked up at Stetson.

“My tail is going to sleep,” said Stetson.

“Oh we can’t have that!” Mareva sat up straight, got up on her hooves and stretched. “What would you like to do?”

“I can’t answer that honestly without you slapping me, and deservedly so,” said Stetson. “But I’ll settle for a walk.”

“I know a tavern here. It’s called the Slaughtered Lamb. It’s very disreputable, but they have plum brandy. Also, the seats have open backs.”

Stetson grinned. “Ah. The Warlock place. If you’ll protect me from the evil Succubi, I’ll buy the first round.”


Selena stamped her feet and rubbed her hands. They were standing behind the cathedral, waiting for the artists to come out. So far, all they had seen was the string quartet, who were making a beeline for the nearest tavern with the Dwarves. Finally, actual singers started to make their appearance. Three Humans came out, with three of the Elf singers. They grinned sheepishly, and disappeared into the night. The door opened again, and out stepped Arador, who walked straight at Ariciel, arms open. They embraced. Arador looked carefully at Ariciel’s face.

“It’s good to see you. Lirael will be along in a moment. How are you?”

“Trying to get used to castle living. Castles here come with Orcs all round them.”

“Ornamental Orcs? That’s… novel.”

Bannog made a growling noise. “I’m tired of them. Time to redecorate. Have any Warriors handy?”

“Sadly, no. We are but simple entertainers. Granted, entertainers who can do Holy Fire, but entertainers nonetheless.”

Gerrig frowned. “We could do with some Holy Fire at Caer Bannog, but let’s not spoil the evening.”

At that moment, Lirael appeared behind Ariciel as if from nowhere and hugged her.

“Hi roommate! You still have a stack of leather at my place. What should I do with it?”

“I’d say keep it. That’ll serve the little bitch. She never writes!”

“Hah. She doesn’t, but she does show up at concerts. How are you?”

“Coping.” Ariciel turned round. Lirael saw her face, and stopped asking questions.

“Right. Party’s all here. Blue Recluse?”


“Why does she do that? It must hurt!” Stetson picked up his plum brandy and tossed it down in one gulp.

“Perhaps she enjoys pain,” said Mareva.

“Then she’s sick in the head. I can endure pain, but I don’t like it. It hurts.”

“A sign of sanity. Nice outfit, though.”

“Bah. Shows off her assets, but doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Give me a nice blouse with the top few buttons open any time.”

“Ah, thank you for noticing,” said Mareva. She winced as the Succubus cracked her whip against her own milky-white thigh, then gave a happy sigh. The red welt healed up almost instantly. “Hmm. I have it. The reason she does it, is because it feels so good when she stops doing it.”

“That could be it.” Stetson reached over, picked up the bottle, refilled first Mareva’s cup, then his own. “I still think she’s sick in the head though.”

“Me too.” She drank her brandy in one gulp, and stared at the empty cup. She realised she was in a dangerous mood. One that could lead to her seducing Night-elves, or if no Night-elf was available, perhaps a big Draenei hunter. “I’m bored with this place. Let’s go somewhere else.”

Stetson looked at her face, and smiled. “I know just the place. Walkies, Morgan!”


“So how’s your singing coming along then, Bannog?” Lirael smiled at him over her glass of very expensive Darnassian wine.

“I’m afraid I still don’t sing much. I do a lot of shouting, though.”

Lirael frowned, then turned to Ariciel. “Girl, I’m counting on you. Withhold your favours until he can do ‘The song of the Flea’ by Humble.”

A frustrated look passed over Ariciel’s face. “I’d have to extend my favours first. His father, nice man, has us sleeping in different rooms.”

“Oh, that’s cruel and unusual! Lots of shadowmeld then?”

Selena giggled. “I’m so glad I sleep very soundly. Father doesn’t, though. Just saying.”

Bannog sighed. “At what age do parents start believing you do know what’s good for you?”

Gerrig laughed, and held up his left hand, gold ring gleaming in the firelight. “Like I said. Get two of these, get your own farmstead, and he’s out of your hair.”

“Very funny.”

Selena turned to Lirael. “I really loved your song, even without words. What was it about?”

“It’s not really a song. It’s originally meant for violin, but someone scored it for alto.”

“Hold on,” said Ariciel, “I thought you were soprano.”

“Can do both. Hah! That Dwarf who composed ‘O Fate’, Ornn. The Scarlet Thread actually has extra high notes in. The singer is supposed to sound as if she’s suffering like the character from the story. Won’t work, you little bastard. I have half an octave above those notes.”

Selena beamed at Lirael. “Oh, that last song was awesome! Such a lot of power!”

“Hmm. I love singing that one, especially with the Stormwind Males. Filled to the brim with delicious baritones. We have the sunlight and the ice. They have the thunder!”

“Hey!” said Arador. “I’m a delicious baritone too!”

Lirael ran a slender finger down his cheek. “Yes you are!” Turning to the others, she said, “That’s why he can name his price whenever someone needs a baritone. All other Keldorei men are tenors!”

Selena nodded. “And that other song you were singing? Kamaya or something?”

“Oh, that one. That’s not a language at all. Crallgen just made up words that he liked the sound of. Works pretty well, actually. Except he once made a special using only the letters in ‘Darnassus’. Surada nasasu da rana… I never sing that one if I can help it. ‘Cause it’s exremely silly.”

“How long did it take you to get that good?”

“Glad you like it.” Lirael looked at the ceiling, thinking. “If I count it from the first time I sang for money, at fifteen, then about fifty years. Though to be honest, I didn’t get serious about it till I was sixty, so that would make it five years or so.”

Selena’s mouth fell open. “So you’re sixty-five years old!”

“Yeah.”

“My father is younger than you are!”

“Most Humans are. If we don’t run into trouble, we can live for a thousand years.”

“That’s incredible! How do you do it?”

“Just keep on breathing.” Ariciel frowned. “Though the war is a great equaliser. My sister only got to…” she swallowed, faltered. Bannog put his arm round her, pulled her to him, stroked her hair. Selena took her hand, and looked up into her eyes.

“Sorry.”

Ariciel took a deep breath. “No, I’m sorry. Never mind me. Anyone want another drink? I could use one.”

Bannog stared at Ariciel’s flagon. It was half full. He smiled. “Yes please! Thunderbrew special for me.”

Ariciel walked off to the bar. Lirael’s eyes turned from her back to Bannog’s eyes with an audible click.

“She didn’t find her sister alive then?”

“Alive, but… changed. We killed the body. The soul had already gone.”

Lirael sighed, and looked back at Ariciel.

“Poor girl. Take good care of her, Bannog.”

“You are the second one today who thinks I need telling.”

“Sorry. Need any help, see me or send her to me. I’m in Darnassus. Any time of day or night.”

“Thanks.”

Soon after that, they started to think with longing of their beds. Lirael and Arador had sleeping space in the orphanage, with the rest of the choir. Mira was staying with a friend. They reluctantly parted company, and went up to their beds. Mareva hadn’t returned. Ariciel looked smugly over her shoulder at Bannog, and stepped into the room with Selena. Bannog went into the other room with Gerrig.

“Well, that was a good evening,” said Bannog.

Gerrig grunted. “It was, but I feel I have failed in my task.” He looked at Bannog “Nobody seems to want to come to our aid, brother.”

“Doesn’t surprise me, to be honest. Everybody has problems. Nobody can spare anything.”

Gerrig’s chainmail vest fell on the floor with a metallic clang.

“Do you think it’s worth going to Ironforge? Even if Lady Peterselie wants to come, she may not be allowed. And even if she is, she is only one. What can she do?”

“Who can say? At the very least, she’ll give us some good advice. Also, she’ll want to see Ariciel. Ariciel beat her at poker last time. She’ll want revenge!”

Gerrig stepped into bed, and gazed at Bannog. “I see what you mean, by the way, with ‘not out of the woods yet.’ She’s pushing back the memories for all she’s worth, and when they come floating up, you’re in trouble.”

“Aye. But she’s strong. She’ll keep chipping away at her ghosts till they are gone. Actually,” he grabbed his shirt and pulled it back on. “I want to see if she’s alright. Won’t be more than, oh, a few hours or so.”

Before he turned over, Gerrig shot Bannog a knowing glance. “Throwing out your sister would be very, very, bad form.”

“She can stay. Educational for her.”

“And that’s worse!”

“Night, Gerrig.”

Bannog stepped out of the door, and looked at the door opposite. Hmm. He grinned. For every problem, there is a solution. He walked into the room, and made some preparations. Then, he knocked on door number ten, opened it and went in. Ariciel was sitting up in bed. She saw him, smiled and put her finger on her lips. She pointed. Selena lay on the bed with her, head in her lap, eyes closed. Ariciel’s hand lay gently on her shoulder. She stroked her hair.

“Sorry, can’t move,” she whispered.

“Mareva not back, then?”

“Nope. My chances are good!”

“Oh dear. What have you girls been doing to my poor sister?”

“She’s exhausted. Lots of things happened today.”

“You haven’t been feeding her strong drink, have you?”

Selena stirred. “I’m not drunk!”

“There. How can you argue with that?” Ariciel sighed. “Seems like we’re thwarted again.”

Bannog sat down on the bed next to her, and ran a finger from underneath her ear, right to the tip. He bent over to her.

“They have a bathroom here,” he whispered. “It has a very sturdy copper bath in it. It is half full of cool, clear water. There’s also a fire there, and two big kettles that should be coming to the boil about now.”

Ariciel turned her head to him. On her face was that specific smile that made Bannog grin like a maniac and his stomach knot up. He moved very close, and whispered in her ear.

“I could do your back for you.”

“Up you get, Selena!”


Ariciel woke up in the middle of the night. The door opened, and there was the sound of Mareva’s hooves on the wooden floor.

“Oh look who’s back! Enjoy yourself?”

“Most enjoyable, yes. I am beginning to appreciate Hunter S’dezo’Houn.”

“Selena’s asleep. Out with the sordid details, woman!”

Mareva sat down on the edge of the bed, and started taking off her clothes.

“There are no sordid details, I am afraid. He was a perfect gentleman. We went hunting in Elwynn Forest. That cat of his, Morgan, gives him an entirely unfair advantage. We caught about a dozen bears and as many wolves. Then, we skinned them, and took the meat. The orphans of Stormwind will dine well for a long time!”

“Oh. At least tell me it’s after midnight. I want to win my bet with Bannog.”

The lights of Mareva’s eyes shone at Ariciel. “You are making bets with Bannog about my love life?”

“Uh huh. So who wins?”

“You have no shame. As I said, he was the perfect gentleman. He dropped me off here even without my having seen his bare chest.”

Mareva got under the covers.

“I will have to have a word with him about that. Good night, Ariciel.”

“Night, Mareva.”


Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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