Part 5: Retreat to your corners, and come out fighting.

Bannog stood in the library of Caer Bannog, staring at nothing in particular, still reeling. The weight of the siege had just been dropped on his shoulders, and his shoulders alone. To be honest, he had always wanted to have some position of authority, but surely, it was to soon? What did he know of the strategies of war? He became dimly aware of another in the room, and looked round to see who it was.

“You’ve done it now, brother. You’re head of the castle as long as these Orcs are still besieging us.”

Bannog turned round. “Do you think I spoke out of turn?”

Gerrig sighed. “No, Bannog. I think you are right. I don’t grudge you your position, nor do I envy you. Someone has to do something about this siege, and those who were in charge didn’t believe they could. You have the advantage there.”

“Hah. What if I can’t either?”

“Then Caer Bannog is doomed to fall. But at least, we will go down fighting rather than waiting. Now then. All people and things in the castle are at your command. What shall we do?”

Bannog raised himself, and rubbed his beard, thinking.

“Peterselie has to take a look at the regiment. See what they are capable of and give them a prod up the backside if they need it. We can’t strike out from within the castle, so we need to establish a base of operations outside. We may as well involve the rest of the regiment. They are defending Sir Roland’s farm, but if the Caer falls, then they are next. Sir Arthur has already felt the bite of the enemy, but in all honesty, we can’t help them unless our cavalry can ride out unhindered. Let’s leave ten soldiers at Sir Roland’s, and bring the rest here. I’ll set up camp outside the wall and let Peterselie organise those inside.”

Gerrig smiled. “No you won’t, Brother. You are the master at arms. You belong in here. I will fetch our forces and set up camp. You organise things here.”

Bannog said nothing. Then, he nodded. “You’re right. Don’t leave yet, though. We need to make plans first.” Bannog stared at the wonderfully detailed map on the table, then looked up at Gerrig.

“How is Father taking this?”

“You know what he’s like. Actually, I think he expected you to refuse. You may have impressed him more than you realise.”

“I just want the castle free again. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone.”

“Good. Shall I call a meeting?”

“Yes. You, Peterselie, Ariciel, Mareva, Stetson and Father if he wants to attend.”

“As you wish.” He turned round, then looked over his shoulder. “Your first command as Master at Arms of Caer Bannog. The first of many.”

Bannog grinned. “I suppose I’ll have to get used to it.”


Mareva placed three small blocks of wood on the map, and one larger one.

“These are the four camps. Camp North, South, East and West. We know that Camp North has the leaders in. This is logical, since they guard our gates.” She reached in her pocket, and pulled out a copper coin, which she placed on the map to the south of the castle.

“This is the secret exit. If we set up camp near it, then we can easily move people in and out of the camp. However, Camp South is nearby. If we draw too much attention, then we will risk discovery of the secret corridor, which would be disastrous.”

Old Bannog smiled grimly. “They won’t get in through there, we’ve made sure of that. The lid on the entrance is heavy, and if we want, we can pour burning oil from above and fry anyone in the room without setting fire to the castle. Also, if the worst happens, we can flood the entire tunnel from the moat. If we do that, though, we’re stuck inside.”

“Still, it would be an inconvenience if the exit were discovered,” said Mareva. “I suggest the first task of our outside force is to destroy camp South.”

“If they can,” said Old Bannog.

Peterselie was standing on a chair to be at eye level with the big lugs. This allowed her to glare at Old Bannog.

“Like I’ve said to yer eldest, Sir Bannog, I’ll not have anyone talk like that. Ye have the best fighting force here for miles around. That’s not empty talk, it’s the Light’s own truth. This afternoon, I’ll show you all. We’re going out to play. Out the tunnel, round to the East, then see who we can catch near camp East. I’ve already picked the men I want for the job. They had family buried in the cemetery the Orcs dug up. Time for a little revenge. I’ve got eight pikemen, and two archers, and little me. Ideally, I’d want another shooter.” She grinned. “Now I wouldn’t feel right asking any Elf to volunteer for this, so I won’t.”

“Oo! Can I come, your Holiness?”

“There ye go! Hardly had to hint at all. Welcome on board, Miss!”

Bannog looked doubtful. he wasn’t at all eager to send Ariciel out, into harm’s way. Ariciel caught his look.

“Don’t worry, Bannog. I can take care of myself. Besides, I don’t want to stay in while others are risking their necks for me.”

Bannog wanted to say something, but found he couldn’t. People were depending on him. He could not just go out to make sure his beloved Elf had the protection she needed. Nothing for it.

“So be it, then.”

Mareva looked through her supply of little blocks of wood, and selected one, marking it with a pencil. “Paladin Peterselie leads this group, no?”

“I suppose I do,” said Peterselie.

“Good.” Mareva placed the block on the map, east of the orc camp. “This block shows your position on the map. Think of a large clock, with the twelve in the North. The keep, where we are standing now, is in the middle. You will start your raid from the four o’clock. position, no?”

Peterselie scratched her head, staring at the map. “Aye, I suppose I will. Though I’ll be moving about a lot.”

“We will observe you from the keep as best we can.” She pointed at the map. “Each group we send out will have a block on the map. Observers will report the position of our groups and those of the enemy. Enemies will also be shown as a block on the map. This will show us the battle situation. Knowledge is power.”

Old Bannog laughed. “Playing with blocks will help us win the fight? Well, I never!”

“If you prefer, Sir Bannog, we can simply look in each other’s heads to see what each of us is thinking. I have read every war story in Exodar’s library. I assure you, more battles have been lost because the loser did not think well enough, than because they could not hit hard enough.” She pointed at the map, and the blocks of wood on it. “This will help us think better. It is not idle play.”

“Well, I’m not in charge, so my opinion hardly matters. What does our Master at Arms think?”

Bannog’s eyes shone. “I want a blue block.”


“Don’t keep staring at them, Son. Walk to the south and look there for a bit.”

“I don’t want to lose them from sight.”

“I understand, but the enemy is watching the keep, or will be before long. If you keep staring East, they’ll want to find out what you’re looking at.”

Bannog looked at his father, recognised the wisdom in his words and walked to the south. He stared at the Orc camp lying in the distance.

“I wouldn’t have thought of that. Should have. Stupid of me.”

Old Bannog smiled at his son. He was sitting comfortably on a small chair, on the roof of the keep.

“You’re doing fine. Don’t doubt yourself too much. Light knows I did, and look where it’s got me.” He felt in his pocket for his pipe and tobacco and started filling it. “Conceited little git you may be, but I’m glad to have you home.”

One of the lookouts turned round, and stepped down the stairs.

“Patrol at position eleven moving South, Three, walking speed!”

Old Bannog lit his pipe, realising that at this moment, a coin, block or some other marker would be put on his Grandfather’s map. He had stood a way back, watching that blue woman at it. It still seemed a bit silly to him, but he had to admit that he could see at a glance where everything was supposed to be moving. Young Bannog was staring intensely at some point in the south where he knew for a fact that his girlfriend was not.

Blowing out a cloud of smoke, Bannog Senior thought about the girl. Feisty. Sense of humour. Pretty. Not the kind he’d send out into battle, but then again, in his days, there were no women warriors. Hard to say which was better. He’d never met a woman warrior in battle himself, and he was glad. Women were there to be protected, not killed. His pipe was not burning to his satisfaction, and he peered at the head. Taking out his knife, he poked at it. It didn’t improve. Things hardly ever improve by just poking at them. He looked up at his son, who was now walking to the West. All he’d wanted to do was shut him up. Well, that had not worked. The boy had to take everything so literally. Who knows? It might all work out. Junior had been right about one thing. He, Senior, had been too passive. Hopefully, he would not get every soldier in the place killed. Oh alright boy. You can look East again now. Just don’t give the Horde a great big clue where the danger is coming from, will you?


“Right friends. I think we have our target. Pikemen first, shooters after. Pikemen make lots of noise and try to be as scary as possible, shooters try to be invisible, bloody clothies keep their sodding heads down. Understood?”

“Oi! This is leather armour!”

“Until you wear at least mail, you’re an honorary clothie. Now everybody ready?”

There was a nervous round of “Aye”.

“Right. Get ’em, boys!”

With great shouts, the pikemen ran at the group of a dozen or so of orcs. Peterselie raised a finger, urging the shooters to wait. The row of pikemen crashed into the enemy soldiers. Wait… Peterselie’s finger pointed forward.

“Shoot!”

The archers loosed their arrows at a steady pace, making sure that each of them hit a mark. Ariciel shot green fire at the enemy. Peterselie watched the pikemen with a critical eye. Seeing that one of them had suffered a shot to the leg, she cast Flash of Light, a healing spell. She could easily shoot dozens of these without running out of juice. Also, it didn’t draw as much attention to herself as some of her more powerful healing spells. The pikeman looked back over his shoulder, noticing his leg had just magically healed. That’s right lad. Now look ahead will you? Peterselie frowned. Oh damn. One of the buggers had noticed them, and broke free from the fight to come and bother the shooters. Well, not today. Peterselie drew her sword. Damn it was a big one! She rushed out and hewed his legs from under him, then stabbed him in the chest. Making sure that no others had followed, she retreated to where Ariciel and the archers were and resumed her healing duties. She had to admire these archers’ accuracy. Their arrows flew exactly where they wanted them to, hitting orcs in the chest, throat or eye. Bloody showoff.

“Oi tin girl! I’m running low on mana. Going bear-shaped!”

Ariciel’s magic flowed once more, and she turned to her bear form. With the deceptive slowness of the very heavy creature, she cantered at the enemies and attacked, tooth and claw. There weren’t many left, anyway. The last one tried to run and was hit by an arrow. The pikemen gaped at Bear-Ariciel, pikes at the ready. Peterselie grinned. She would never have guessed that she could recognise an expression of “Oh Crap” on a bear’s face. Green magic flowed, and where there had been a fearsome wild creature, there was now a pretty, harmless looking Night-elf girl.

“Honestly guys! Look at the shoulders. Those marks are there for a reason alright?”

She looked round her, at the carnage they had wrought.

“Our foes lie dead, while we draw breath! Ever be it so!”

“Ever be it so,” echoed the men.

Peterselie raised her hand. “Anyone need heals?”

“When I press here, it hurts there,” said one of the pikemen.

“Don’t do that then. Right! For our next trick, let’s get a group with mages! This was way too easy!”

Ariciel grabbed a bottle of mana potion. “Mana break first!”


“Sir Bannog?” Mira smiled politely.

“That’s my dad. I’m Bannog the younger. Just ‘Bannog’ to you. I know. We were going to send you on, but things got a bit hectic. When the party is back, I’ll organise something.”

“Well actually, I would like to offer my help. You did save my life, after all, and I can always get the flight point at the Swamp of Sorrows later.”

Bannog stared at Mira. “Uh, there is no flight point at the Swamp, unless you want to turn Horde. Bloody hordies can have it and sink into it for all we care.”

Mira blinked. “Oh. Alright then. Still, would you like me to go with one of your hunter-killer parties? I’m a resto Druid. I can help.”

Ariciel had told Bannog about this. Restoration Druids specialised in healing. Just as Ariciel had special body shapes for fighting, Restoration Druids had forms for healing. He considered.

“I wouldn’t know who to send you out with. I think it’s better if you set up shop in the dining hall, and we’ll bring the wounded to you. Ask Quartermaster for what you need.”

Mira inclined her head slightly. “Whatever you say, Sir, uh, Bannog.”


“It is getting dark. The hunting party will soon return. I wish I could have gone with them. I am not here to sit still staring at you, enjoyable though that may be.”

Mareva nodded at one of the lookouts, and with a slender finger pushed one of her blocks a bit Southward. She glanced at Stetson.

“I think our turn will come. We must keep up the pressure or the Orcs will reinforce their positions. I admit that my model will not work by night, sad to say.”

“We have two Night-elves and two Draenei. All we would need to do is not sleep for a week. These Humans have no night vision to speak of.”

“I can think of nicer things to stare at at night than Orcs.”

Stetson radiated innocence. “Night-elf?”

“Hah,” said Mareva, in Draenei. “Look at her is all I can do these days. Bannog gets upset if I touch her. So I’ll have to settle for looking at you instead.”

“Humans take these things too seriously. I hear Night-elves use magic in bed.”

“They do. It’s quite an experience, though I think it’d get a bit, well,” Mareva fluttered a hand, “artificial after a while. There’s something strangely pleasing about having sore muscles after a particularly good round.”

Stetson grinned, and opened his mouth to say something, when Quartermaster stuck his head through the door.

“They’re back! No fatalities, one wounded.” He laughed. “Would you believe it? Ran the whole round without even needing a single heal, then managed to fall down the secret entrance and break a leg. No, it’s not funny. Not funny at all!”

Mareva looked at Stetson, determined to finish this conversation, some time. She walked up the stairs to the lookouts and told them the model was abandoned for the night. Then, she stomped down the stairs, followed by Stetson.


Peterselie sat at one of the tables in the dining room, now doubling as the infirmary. A few camp beds had been placed in rows along the walls, and the High Table had been commandeered and now served as the operating table. She was nursing a pint of something vile, yet alcoholic, determined to send a few barrels of the good stuff down Redridge way when all this was over.

“They’ve all done splendidly, even Mr. Gravity there, who entertained us all with a round of acrobatics.”

Mira grinned. “It wasn’t even a complex fracture. Come on people. You can do better!”

Mr. Gravity looked sheepish. “I slipped, alright? I wouldn’t have if you hadn’t been in such a hurry!”

Bannog walked in, a big grin on his face.

“Alright people, the suspense is killing me. What’s the score?”

“Drumroll please… thank you!” One of the archers hit the table, then stopped with a flourish.

“Thirty-two, Master at Arms! Now can we get the weekend off?”

“No such thing as a weekend off. We have a reputation to protect as slave drivers! Well done people! Tomorrow, we’ll have two parties. See how the bastards like that!”

Ariciel sneaked up on Bannog and hugged him from behind.

“Hiya! I’m an honorary clothie,” she said.

“We’ll see about that,” said Bannog softly.


“No!”

“But I can help! I’m a hunter after all!”

“Look at Stetson. He’s a hunter. He’s got big swords and a crossbow. I’ve seen Morgan take down two orcs at the same time. You have a stick and a bird. Do you spot the difference?”

“Hugin has killed Orcs before!”

“Yeah, but that was an accident and he almost got shot by the mages.”

“She. All birds are ‘She’. It’s a falconer’s thing.”

“Very interesting. You’re still not going out.”

“You people have all the fun!”

“If by ‘Fun’ you mean getting in the way of big bastards who could cut you in two with a single stroke, aren’t you glad we have it all?”

“I feel useless in here. Hugin needs a trip out.”

“You’re helping Mira in the infirmary. That’s useful. More useful than having Mira stitch your two halves back together.”

“Oh come on. I’d be careful!”

“We’re not in the business of being careful. We’re being reckless and daring and deliberately putting ourselves in harm’s way. You are not going out!”

“I only want to help!”

Bannog stared at his young sister, eyes narrowing. “If one of the soldiers would give me as much lip as you are doing, he’d be hitting the deck by now if he was lucky. You. Are. Not. Going. Out.”

Selena scowled, turned round and stomped to her room in a huff. Bannog looked at her back, shuddering at the thought of her facing big Orcs. He turned back to the map. Things were going very well up to now. They had three parties out: One with Peterselie and Ariciel, one with Mareva and Stetson, and one with Gerrig. Gerrig had brought in reinforcements from Roland Mason’s farm. Mira was working miracles in the infirmary. One of the men had been brought in. Through a stroke of bad luck, he had been caught between three Orcs, and looked like he had run into a meat slicer. Mira had pulled him through, though he had lost two fingers and an eye. He was now working in the kitchen. Bannog felt a pang of guilt whenever he looked at the man’s scarred face. Perhaps he should send Selena to have a word with him. Hold on… Wouldn’t work. Selena had assisted Mira as she worked on him. Younger sisters, always trouble. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand how she felt. He hadn’t left the castle since he’d been promoted, living his life between his bedroom, the library and the dining hall. Since everybody was under orders to wake him up whenever anything looked odd, Ariciel stayed in her own room with Mareva. With great power comes great frustration.

But they had the Orcs on the run! Even Bannog, who had turned into a dedicated pessimist, had to admit it. Their patrols were no longer smaller than a dozen Orcs and two mages. They had been reinforced twice, and the death toll for the Orcs was now over one hundred. They had not lost a single man or woman, the Light be praised. Bannog looked at the door, where Selena had just disappeared. They were not about to start losing young sisters. He walked down the stairs, and banged on his father’s door. Father was in bed. It was night, after all.

“Selena wants to go out with the raiding parties,” said Bannog. Old Bannog’s eyes opened wide.

“Out of the question! What the hell is she thinking?”

“My words exactly. I very carefully and completely forbade her to leave the castle.”

Old Bannog gave his son a blank stare. “Oh damn. Hand me my robes, will you? I’ll have a word with her, or she’ll be tying her bedsheets together before you know it.”

“Thank you,” said Bannog, handing his father his robes.


Bannog looked at Ariciel, who was on model duty. It was her job to shift the little blocks and things across the map as the reports from the lookouts told her. He remembered how he had watched her face all that time ago in Ironforge, the strange face tattoos, the long ears, magically shining eyes, and found her beautiful despite the strangeness. He hardly even noticed it these days, and was surprised when someone else commented on it. She looked up.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Orcs are keeping their heads down. Wonder if it’s time to hit one of their camps.”

“Might be pushing our luck.”

“We’ll have to at some point. One of these days, one of them is going to find out where we’re coming from and then we’ll be stuffed.”

Bannog stared at Camp North on the map. He pointed.

“If we crack that one, we can open the drawbridge and ride out instead of sneaking out.”

Ariciel accepted another report from a lookout, shifted one of the blocks North, and looked at the map again.

“Tricky. I appreciate our soldiers are much better than we thought, but there’s a hell of a lot of shooters there. Probably a bit of a tall order.”

“We’d all have to get together to hit it,” said Bannog. “There would be casualties.”

“If we can just get the leaders. I have a special dislike for that ogre.”

“I can imagine. I think we should let our archers deal with them, but they need a clean shot. No idea how we’d get them lined up, though.” Bannog sighed. “I’ll think about that later. For now, let’s just thin them out a bit more.”

The door opened and Mira walked in.

“Morning! How’s life today?”

Bannog smiled at her. “Life is good, and can only be improved by removing those damned Orcs. How goes the hospital?”

“It’s going out of business. I healed one stomach wound and spent the rest of the morning making bandages. I’m all out of Netherweave, so I thought I’d come up here and watch Blondie play with blocks.”

“Orcs drop lots of linen. You can have some of that if you want.”

“Not as good, but don’t worry. I have two hundred Netherweave bandages. Enough to turn the whole corps into mummies. Who knows? Perhaps I will.”

One of the lookouts stuck his head down the stairs and called out. “Patrol. Twelve and two. Area four, three-hundred yards. Moving North.”

“Thanks,” said Ariciel and moved one of the blocks. “Hey! That’s where Peterselie is. Alert her?”

“Yeah,” said Bannog, grabbing a bundle of flags and selecting a few. He took them up the stairs, and a few moments later, the sound of a bell was heard. Mira watched the tables.

“You’ve got it pretty well organised here. By the way, does any of those blocks represent my lovely assistant? I haven’t seen her this morning.”

Ariciel raised her eyebrows. “That’s weird. Normally she’s out there before she even finishes her breakfast.”

Mira pulled a face. “Well, there isn’t much to do for her at the moment, so maybe she’s just wandered off.”

“Hi Mareva. Hello boys! Need some help?”

Mareva slowly turned round, and looked into the enthusiastic, freckled face of Caer Bannog’s youngest Hunter. She took three breaths to calm herself, found it didn’t work and spat out a string of words in Draenei, safe in the knowledge that nobody would be able to understand her.

“You stupid girl! What are you doing here? You should be safe inside the castle, helping Mira with her bandages!”

“Mira has all the bandages she needs, and nothing much is happening, so I thought I’d join you. Sergeant Smitty was kind enough to let me out.”

“He will be kind enough to let you in, and then I will pound him into the ground for letting you out in the first place.”

Mareva bit her knuckle, then looked at her detail. “Do you think you can do without me for a while? We have to get that patrol before they reach the South camp.”

One of the soldiers nodded gravely. “We can take them, as long as no mages show up. Even if they do, we’ll manage. Go. Bring her back. We’ll be alright.”

“Right. My apologies. Normal service will be restored as soon as possible. Selena, follow me.”

“Hold on! I can’t just go back! I haven’t done anything for you yet!”

Mareva faced Selena, grabbed her robes, pulled and gave her the full benefit of her stare. “You are coming back with me, either on your own two feet or unconscious on my back. Do you think we are playing here? We are going out to hunt, to kill! They will know this and try to kill us! Already you put us in grave danger. Now move!”

Selena turned pale, she had never seen Mareva as angry as this. Cowed, she turned round, pulled her green hood over her hair and followed Mareva. As fast as they could, they ran through the forest. Mareva’s senses working as hard as they could. Finally, they crouched in some shrubs. There was only about five hundred yards to go, but there was no cover to speak of. Mareva’s luminous eyes scanned the surroundings. It seemed safe. Mareva nudged Selena, counted to three, and they set off. Almost immediately, there was a shout behind them. A pack of orcs broke cover and came running towards them. It was not a full patrol. Only six archers, no swordsmen or mages. Each day is a blessing.

Mareva stopped, and put her hand on Selena’s shoulder.

“You are a Hunter. Do you have the Aspect of the Cheetah?”

Selena nodded. “Yeah.”

“Engage it. Run to the entrance. Do not stop for anything.”

“Mareva! I can’t leave you here!”

“Yes, you can. You must. Move. Now!”

With tears in her eyes, Selena cast her spell, then ran, faster than any Human should be able to, fast as the wind. Mareva watched her go, then turned round to face the Orcs. Her fingers found the shapes of her totems hanging from her belt. She engaged Strength of Earth, Mana Stream, and Healing Stream totems, then planted her staff on the ground next to her. The wind made her cloak billow.

“Tell me, little Orcs. What good are bows and arrows against the lightning?”

She called forth her fire totem, and started shooting.

Bannog peered through Mareva’s long-view. She’d left it on top of the keep for use by the lookouts.

“Oh crap! I’ve found her.”

“Why crap?”

“So have a half dozen of Orc archers.”

“On my way,” said Ariciel. She briefly considered running down the stairs. Not fast enough.

“How deep is the moat?”

“Three times my height.”

“Should be enough.” Ariciel took a great run-up and leapt off the roof of the keep, changing to her aquatic form in mid-air. She hit the water with a great splash, dived and set off to the West.

Stetson entered. “What is going on?”

“Mareva is fighting six archers on her own. Location eight, three hundred yards out. Get out there and feed them to Morgan.”

Stetson gave a short bark, turned round and ran down the stairs. He met Selena coming up, shouted at the man to leave the door open and dived into the tunnel.

They had her, and they knew it. Mareva lay on her back on the sandy floor. Three arrows were sticking out of her stomach. She had killed three of them with her lightning bolts and fireballs, but there had been too many, too many. She was dying, she knew it. How long it would take, was another question, but not an important one. She would not see another day. One of the Orcs walked up, grinning.

“Bows and arrows. They may not be much good against the lightning…”

He grabbed the end of one of the arrows and tore it out of her. Mareva cried out, her face pale, the light in her eyes almost gone out. Beside her, the last of her totems faded and disappeared, The Orc laughed. He put the arrow-head to his mouth and licked off Mareva’s blue-green blood.

“But against soft blue flesh, they work just fine.” He kneeled beside Mareva. “I wonder how long it is going to take for you to die. Probably a long time. I can tell. There’s places where arrows won’t kill at once, like here.”

With a swift motion, he stabbed Mareva with the arrow. Almost, she fainted from the pain, but he slapped her face.

“No, no, little one. Don’t pass out. Savour your last moments in this world.” The Orc watched her intently. “It’s a beautiful thing, watching an enemy die, especially if it’s a woman, and she dies slowly, like you. First, there is the disbelief, but you are past that. Then, there is defiance, but the pain soon makes that go away. Then comes the fear. And finally, there is the relief. You have to be very quick to see it, it passes so quickly. And then we cut you to pieces, for your friends to see.”

Mareva gasped.

“You… will die.”

“Everybody dies. I am not the one with the arrow wounds.”

Mareva said nothing. Her breath came in short gasps, and her senses were failing. She wondered if the pain would go before her sight. She could smell the Orc. Sweat. Filth. She could hear a hissing sound, and a thud, then the growl of a great cat in the distance.

She passed out.

Stetson kneeled. His keen Hunter’s sight focused on the Orc’s throat. He pulled the trigger on his crossbow and felt the familiar recoil as a Blackflight arrow left him. These were some of the nastiest arrows you could get in Azeroth or Outland, and to him, they were not nasty enough. They were killing his friend. He would have torn them limb from limb with his bare hands, slashed them with his swords, but he knew that his heavy crossbow was his most powerful weapon. Except one.

“Morgan-dosh, thrand dukor!”

His great cat sped forward, growling as he went, and attacked the rest of the archers. They were returning his fire, but they were amateurs, and about to die. Morgan reached them, and shredded them. Stetson’s next arrow hit the last of the Orcs. He ran forward, and kneeled by Mareva. He put his large hand on her face, and she opened her eyes. She smiled, unable to speak.

Stetson told Morgan to kill anything that approached. Then, he looked at Mareva. Four arrow wounds. One by stabbing. With one hand, he held the arrows, then broke off the ends of the shafts. He loosened Mareva’s leather chest piece and removed it. Her beautiful green blouse followed. Stetson winced. She was bleeding. He dropped his pack on the ground and got out bandages, applying one to the open wound, He didn’t know what to do about the ones with arrows still in them. There was a sound behind him and he twisted round, crossbow at the ready. Ariciel walked up, covered in blood. Stetson lowered his crossbow.

“Are you wounded?”

Ariciel shook her head. “Not my blood.”

She knelt down by Mareva and cast her Regrowth spell. It wasn’t ideal. Normally you would first remove the arrows, but it would have to do. The wounds closed around the arrows and the bleeding stopped. Mareva sighed.

“Let’s get her into the castle.”

Stetson gave a nod, and picked Mareva up as though she were a child. She whimpered with pain, and almost passed out again. He engaged his Aspect of the Cheetah, and ran straight towards the entrance, not caring who saw them. Ariciel ran ahead in Cheetah-form. Together, they lowered Mareva into the tunnel, and lifted her out again in the castle. They ran directly to the mess hall, where Mira was already waiting.

“This way!”

Selena stood to one side, her face pale as a sheet. Tears streaked her cheeks. “Mareva! I’m so sorry!”

Mareva looked up at her, smiled. “You are safe. Good.”

Mira held her hand over Mareva’s face, and snapped her fingers.

“Hey! Blue girl. Pay attention. In a moment, you are going to see something. You will see a woman dressed all in white, with large white wings. Do not talk to her. Stay where you are, till you hear me call. Understand? No talking, no moving. Stay where you are.”

Mareva looked up at Mira. “Tell Stetson…”

“No. You tell Stetson. No talking to the woman, no moving. That’s important. Nothing else is.” She laid her hand on Mareva’s forehead. “See you on the flipside.”

Mira’s magic flowed. Mareva gave a short gasp, and the faint light in her eyes suddenly went out. With sublime disregard for the damage she was doing, Mira ripped the arrows out of Mareva’s stomach. There was hardly any blood coming out. Stetson cried out, and grabbed Mira’s arm. Mira glared.

“Get him off me!”

Ariciel leapt forward. She took Stetson’s hand between hers, and pushed. The big hunter cried out, and was thrown backwards. Ariciel followed him across the room, pushing him, until he was against the wall. Ariciel’s face was inches from his.

“Let her work. She is the best you will ever see. I am a candle. Peterselie is a bonfire. Mira is the Sun. You will speak with Mareva again, I promise.”

She looked over her shoulder. Behind her, Mira had removed all the arrows. She reached for a small seed that she kept in a slot on her belt, and crushed it between her fingers. There was a jolt of energy. Suddenly Mareva’s body jerked, and she gasped for breath. Mira stood up, raised her arms in the air and green and white lights started to float round her. Her skin changed colour, hardened. Her face changed shape. There was a flash of bright green light, and suddenly, where Mira had stood, there was a creature half tree, half Humanoid. The whole hall was bathed in a green glow as Tree-Mira cast her healing spells. The smell of green leaves filled the hall. Mareva’s body looked as though it floated inches above the table as the energy coursed through her. Mareva gave a startled cry, opened her eyes and sat up with a jerk.

The mouth of the tree-creature opened, and a deep voice rang out.

“Now. That. Was. A. Proper. Challenge.”


Ariciel opened the door to Bannog’s bedroom, and walked in. She dropped her pack on the floor next to the bed and started dropping her clothes. Bannog looked round, pleasantly surprised, but puzzled. Ariciel saw him looking at her.

“Stetson’s taken Mareva to bed. It’s not big enough for three. Move over, Big Lug!”

Bannog did, and Ariciel climbed into bed with him, moving close. She looked over her shoulder.

“I know what you want to say. I like your father, and respect him, but I’m not staying in a bed whithout you in it, even with my beautiful Draenei friend. Life’s too short. I may not get a chance later.”

“How is she?”

“Healed. Confused. Glad to be alive. Exhausted.” Ariciel smiled. “In bed with her big friend. Finally.”

“You will wipe that grin off your face,” said Ariciel, imitating Mareva’s accent. “Or everyone will know what you have been doing.”

Mareva beamed. She hadn’t realised quite how pretty her Elf friend was before. She’d woken up, feeling the touch of clean linen on her skin, smelling the scents of Redridge, first light of dawn peeping through the curtains. Stetson had already gone, but he’d be back before long. Each day is a blessing. It was such a common phrase among Draenei, something you said almost without thinking. So stupid of her not to realise more often how true it was. Yesterday, her life had been over. Today it had started again. She took a deep breath. Mira, that lovely creature, had healed her well. She was in no pain, and the strange stiffness in her muscles only served to remind her how lucky she was. She laughed.

“I have slept with Hunter Stetson,” she said.

Ariciel gave her a filthy grin. “So I understand.”

Mareva raised a finger and shook her head. “You do not understand. I have slept with him. Really slept. He kept me warm, and each time I woke up, he was awake, stroking my hair and telling me all was right.”

“Oh, that is impressive! You want to hang on to this one, Mareva.”

“Trust me. I will. Now, I have important business downstairs.”

Ariciel walked upstairs, into the library. Bannog was up already, staring at the map. Selena was at the table. Model duty. She shot Ariciel a guilty look, and looked back at the table, moving one of the pieces slightly. Ariciel frowned. It was a big piece, and it was moving south of the castle. Bannog pointed at it.

“They’ve caught on that it’s us, killing their troops. So now they’re looking for the exit. People out stay out for now, and people inside stay in. Especially my young sister.”

Selena shrunk a bit further, and stared at her work. Then, she swallowed. “Is Mareva alright?”

Ariciel took pity on the young girl. “High as a kite, and eating Sir Bannog out of house and home as we speak.”

Mira entered just in time to hear that. “Yep. That was a hard one. Major blood loss, and internal damage to intestines and three different organs, one of which I’d never even seen before!” She punched the air. “And now, she’s eating! I rule! Hey, where is Big Blue?”

“Out,” said Bannog. “I will allow him to come in, of course.” He looked at Selena. “He knows what he’s doing.”

Ariciel walked over, close to Bannog, and whispered in his ear.

“How long will you keep rubbing it in?”

“Years.”

“You’re being a big brother.”

“Little sisters, always trouble.”

“Tell me about it,” said Ariciel.

Bannog closed his eyes.

“Sorry.”

“It’s alright.”

They went back to looking at the map. Stetson was out, with Peterselie and a dozen pikemen. As Bannog had observed, they could tear through any group of orcs up to twice their size. It only became difficult if the Orc swordsmen were supported by more than five mages or archers. That’s where Peterselie came into her own. Her Paladin magic protected her from dark firebolts and arrows as she smashed the clothies, while the pikemen took care of the melee warriors.

“She’s marvellous against those mages,” said Bannog. “But she’ll be leaving before long, and we need to find our own way of dealing with them.”

“Rush them,” said Ariciel.

“Yeah. I’ve ordered the blacksmith to make some plate armour for our bigger Warriors. They’ll have to get used to it first, though.”

“Hey. You did. So can they.”

“Yeah, but I’m very big and strong.”

“Hmm… yes.”

There was a choking noise from the other end of the room, and Mira pretended to throw up into an imaginary bucket.

“Don’t you have some wounds to bind?” asked Bannog.

Mira smiled sweetly.

“No.”

Ariciel leaned against Bannog in a way that would turn ants diabetic, and turned to Mira.

“Want some?”

The door to the library opened, and Mareva entered. Selena pushed back her chair, carefully so as not to disturb the map, then launched herself at the Draenei woman. Mareva held her in her arms, eyes closed, gently patting her back.

“There, little one. I am back. Are you well?”

Selena looked up at Mareva, then nodded without words. She blinked away tears. “I’m so sorry.”

Mareva pushed a few hairs out of Selena’s face, looking down into her eyes. “We are in danger as soon as we leave the castle. I am glad you were able to escape unharmed. Please be safe.”

There was a call from above. “Incoming Daren eye. Secret entrance.”

“Draenei!” called Mareva. “You are not coming down until you can pronounce it properly!”

She pointed at Selena. “Make sure of it. I have to get down.”

Mareva came down the stairs at the same moment Stetson came up. She opened her mouth for a smart remark, but she found she hadn’t got one. Stetson wanted to tell her how beautiful she looked, but decided that would sound too much like a love-sick puppie. Not that puppies could talk, but… anyway. They ended up just standing there, grinning at each other. For a long time. Mareva decided that this was getting silly. She stepped forward and put her arms round Stetson, leaning her head against his chest. Much better.

“Welcome back,” she muttered.

“I was going to say that.”

The ground shook underneath them. Mareva looked up.

“What in the name of…”

There was another crash. Stetson looked round, annoyed.

“I am really beginning to dislike these enemies. They keep interrupting us.”

They ran outside.


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

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