Part 6: No more Mr. Nice Guy

Ogre-mage Far’Rokh stood a few hundred yards away from the castle. He was unhappy with the recent turn of events. This was supposed to be an easy job. A way to get those little Orcs used to military life before sending them out to real battles. Also, it kept this hovel from getting ideas. He could have tolerated the lossage as a result of those groups of Humans that occasionally sneaked out of the castle somehow, but they were not supposed to die by the dozen. Time to teach those Humans a lesson in humility. He had requested, and obtained, a siege engine from Stonewatch tower, and was using it to hurl a few boulders at the walls. It didn’t do much damage, but that didn’t matter. It rattled the Humans inside a bit. Hopefully, some of them would come swarming out and his charges could have a good time slaughtering them all. Then, they could go back to relaxing and keeping the castle from flying away.

One of Far’Rokh’s heads kept watching the gates, while the other looked Westwards. This job was beneath him. Far beneath him. He was a full-grown Mage, destined to fight in large battles, not baby-sit these children. Still, no use grumbling against orders. He scanned the parapets. No sign of the Humans, but he knew they were there, staring at them, probably wetting themselves. What had possessed these humans suddenly to come out of their shells and start attacking his soldiers, was beyond him. Maybe someone had taken over command. Maybe their food was running out. No matter. One of the engineers set fire to the load in the arm of the siege engine, and barked the order to fire. The arm shot forward, a fireball flew across the distance to the castle, and hit the drawbridge. Good. They were getting their eye in. Far’Rokh grinned. If that didn’t convince those maggots to come out and play, he had other things to throw at them that would. He looked over his shoulder. Oh yes.

Mareva carefully peered over the parapet, in time to see another firebolt hurtling towards the castle. She ducked away as it hit the wall, and looked at Bannog.

“It is a mangonel. It uses the tension in thick strands of rope to raise the arm and fling projectiles at us. From the elevation I would say that it is probably at maximum range for projectiles of this weight.”

Bannog rubbed his bald head. “Hmm. That means that they can’t move it further away and still hit us.” He grinned. “And that means that they will feel the sting of some of our toys. Gerrig will be sick as a pig. He’s out there. Come with me, Stetson. You’ll like this!”

Bannog ran to the North tower, and up the stairs, followed by Stetson on his big hooves.

“Morning Private,” said Bannog. The guard on top of the tower saluted briefly, then went back to staring at the proceedings down below. Stetson looked down.

“Why are they bothering with these rocks? They should know that these walls are too thick for them to do much damage.”

Bannog opened a large chest and started pulling out all kinds of wood and metal.

“Ranging shots. If they switch to lighter shot, they can probably get it over the wall. Then, they’ll switch to incendiaries. Well, they’re welcome to. Nothing inside will burn.”

Stetson pulled an arrow out of his quiver, and put it on his crossbow.

“This is about one and a half maximum range,” he said. “Let us see how lucky our enemies are.”

Stetson closed his eyes for a moment, concentrating. Then, he fixed his gaze on a target down below. He took a deep breath, and slowly let it escape, lowering his crossbow. He pulled the trigger and the arrow flew towards the mangonel operators. Bannog looked over the parapet. Far below, the arrow struck one of the Orcs who were guarding the siege engine.

“Oh, good shot! That’s incredible!”

Stetson grunted. “I was aiming for the ogre.”

“Perhaps you’ll have more luck with this thing,” said Bannog. “Give us a hand mounting it?”

Stetson looked. His eyes gleamed, and he started to grin. “That looks quite adequate to the job,” he said. Bannog was lifting, with some difficulty, a crossbow as large as he was. Each holding one end, they mounted it on a stand. Then, Bannog strung it using a device to pull back the ends of the bow.

“Gerrig and I spent ages making arrows for this. We have four of them. One on each tower, and two on the keep. Father had this rule that you’re not allowed to use a weapon that you cannot make if you need to.”

Stetson nodded. “It is the best way to appreciate a weapon. Did you build this crossbow?”

“Gerrig and I. I did the metal, he did the wood.” Bannog fitted a mechanism to the bowstring and pulled a lever. The string clicked into place, held by a retractable peg. Diving into a chest, Bannog pulled out a bundle of bolts, as large as broomsticks, but heavier. He fit one to the string. Then, he looked over the parapet and pointed.

“See that hedgerow over there? Gerrig and I planted that specially. It’s maximum range. If you tilt the bow up as far as it will go, that’s where…”

Suddenly Bannog stopped. He stared down, horrified, his face pale. Suddenly his fists hit the wall.

“Oh no. No, no, NO!”

Stetson looked down, and took a breath. Down below, the Orcs were reloading their catapult. Only this time, they were not launching rocks or balls of fire. In the arm of the mangonel was the carefully trussed-up figure of a Human being.

“Out of the way!” Bannog sighted carefully, aiming for the engineer who was operating the trigger mechanism. There was a loud noise as the large bolt left the crossbow, travelled through the air and struck the Orc just as he released the trigger. The arm flew up, and launched the Human figure high, high into the air, over the wall. It landed in the courtyard with a sickening sound.

Bannog had already re-armed the crossbow and fitted another bolt. He took aim for the second mangonel operator. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, he saw another crossbow bolt hit home. Bannog glanced up at the East tower, and smiled grimly.

“Oh excellent, Smitty my lad. Good shot!”

Bannog aimed for the leader of the Orcs, the two-headed Ogre. He pulled the trigger and the bolt flew. Unfortunately, one of the heads was looking up at him and saw the bolt coming. The ogre jumped aside, then retreated quickly.

“Damn!” Bannog turned to Stetson, and handed him a crossbow bolt, then pointed him at the sight. “First line, hundred yards. Second two hundred, third three hundred. Max range is five hundred. We have hundreds of these. Enjoy yourself. I’m going down.”

Stetson gave a curt nod, and easily pulled the lever back to arm the crossbow. The great bow twanged. Bannog looked down, and saw the bolt spear another Orc.

“Beginner’s luck,” said Stetson, re-arming.

“Get the bastards, ” said Bannog, and ran down the stairs.

Bannog arrived at the bottom of the tower, to find that people had already picked up the Human projectile and carried him? her? to the infirmary. Bannog hadn’t much hope. Nobody survives a fall like that. He ran to the mess hall. The body lay on the table, face covered with a sheet. Mira shook her head sadly.

“The fall didn’t kill him. Stab wound to the chest. Probably a sword. He was already dead before they…” She searched for the right word.

“Threw him over the wall,” said Bannog. Mira nodded.

Bannog walked over to the table, and lifted the sheet. He closed his eyes, and bent his head.

Sir Arthur.

Bannog walked out of the keep, seemingly calm. Inside, his anger knew no bounds. He stepped out of the door to see Smitty come out of the tower. Smitty ran towards the keep, stumbled and fell on his face. Something was obviously wrong. He got up to his feet again, and approached Bannog.

“Pardon me, Sir. I know we are not supposed to touch the heavy crossbows, but…”

“But you have a working brain and judged that saving lives was more important than Gerrig’s and my desire to keep our toys to ourselves. Well done. Good shot. How goes it?”

“We’re keeping them away from the catapult, Sir, but the mages have returned. They’re shooting at the towers and there’s too many of them to keep them back.”

Bannog nodded. He put his hands to his mouth. “Archers! To the gate! Shoot down those bloody clothies! Avenge Sir Arthur!”

Anyone who could pick up a bow or a crossbow ran to the gate. A row of Orc mages stood on the far end of the drawbridge. This was dangerously close to the castle, but their shadow bolts would not travel up to the towers otherwise. The shooter in the East tower picked one off as Bannog watched, but the mage was soon replaced with another. Bannog looked up. The mages were somewhat successful in suppressing fire from the towers, but their magical projectiles were stretched to the limit, and would at times dissolve even before reaching the top. Stetson in the North tower was undeterred, firing bolt after bolt at anyone who dared approach the siege engines. About a dozen archers lined the top of the wall, above the gates. Bows were bent. Bannog looked down.

“Fire at will!”

A hail of arrows flew down at the mages. Several fell dead, but many remained. They now redirected their fire to the wall. One young archer looked round the merlon, and was hit by a shadow bolt. Without even a cry, he fell backwards from the wall and lay still. As Bannog watched, he saw Gerrig’s wife Marcia, Selena and one of the chamber maids run up, pick up the lad and carry him into the infirmary.

Bannog carefully looked down at the mages. There were only a handful left, and at least a dozen lay on the ground dead or dying. Bannog grinned. That’s what happens if you give panic orders, my Ogre friend. The mages could no longer sustain enough fire to cover all the merlons. Besides, with the unrelenting barrage they had been giving, they must be running out of mana by now. Hah! There you have it! One of the mages stopped firing, turned tail and ran away from a group of very angry users of projectile weapons. Results were predictable. He fell dead with four arrows in his back. Five left. Two suddenly stopped firing and were shot down. The three others ran for their lives. Only one made it out of arrow range. The great bow of East tower twanged, and a large crossbow bolt passed through and through the Orc-mage’s body. So much for cloth armour.

Bannog laughed. After wondering for days how to get rid of all these mages, they had been handed to him more or less for free! He peered at the place where the catapult still stood, unmanned. Looking further, he saw a cage where some of Sir Arthur’s men were still held, rattling fruitlessly at the door. Time for a little management. Bannog ran down from the wall, and back into the keep, up the stairs. He crashed into the library to find Mareva, pointing her glowing hands at him. She sighed, and the glow disappeared. Old Bannog appeared from behind the door and put away his sword.

“Son, next time, kindly give us a clue that it’s you. I don’t want to kill my own family for no good reason.”

“Sorry,” said Bannog. “Where’s Peterselie’s lot?”

Mareva rattled off. “Peterselie, Gerrig, ten pikes, two bows. Position three at five hundred yards. They’ve just hit camp East and killed everyone inside.”

“Good. Send them North. Rescue mission. There’s a few prisoners still trapped there. While the’re at it, they can also do a little demolition on a siege engine.”

“We have no flag signals for all that!”

“Just send ’em North. They’re clever people. They’ll figure it out.”

“Right.”

“Where’s Ariciel?”

“On the roof. Lookout.”

Bannog nodded, grabbed the flags himself, and climbed the stairs. He found her looking East, at Peterselie’s group. Bannog raised the flags for “Go North”, and rang the bell. Far to the East, Peterselie saw the flags, nudged Gerrig and took her group North.

Ariciel’s luminous eyes turned to Bannog.

“I saw that poor man come flying over the wall. Who was it?”

Bannog sighed. “Sir Arthur.”

Ariciel took a sharp breath. She closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they shone with a fierce light.

“I want a word with the person who did that.”

“So do I. Time to wipe out the bastards. Oh, the archers got nearly all the mages.”

“Good,” said Ariciel.

“I’m going to open the gates and attack. With no bloody shooters, we have a better chance.”

Ariciel picked up the jewelled quarterstaff that Bannog and Mareva together had made for her.

“Hold on, I’m coming with.”

Bannog knew better than to protest. Together, they ran down the stairs. Bannog took a deep breath and shouted.

“All soldiers to the courtyard. Archers, stay on the walls!”

Some twenty pikemen gathered in the courtyards. Bannog stood in front of them, his face grim.

“Soldiers of Caer Bannog, today the battle ends! Most of the mages have been destroyed by the skill of our archers and, frankly, the stupidity of their leader, who put them in front of our walls. There may be a few left, so pay attention. If you see any, take them out first. Today, we hunt Orcs!! We will not rest until the last one is dead or has fled. There is one special enemy, who must not be allowed to see another day: The Ogre-mage. I will count this day wasted if he still draws breath at the end of it. I do not want him alive. I do not need to be the one who slays him. It was he who ordered his minions to slay Sir Arthur Halloran and hurl his dead body over our walls. He must die!”

There was a great shout of approval from the soldiers. Sir Arthur had been a well-loved leader for many of them. Most if not all of the men had done stints in the orchards, or had tended the horses at his ranch. He would be missed. He would be avenged. Bannog looked over his soldiers. All were clad in chainmail, holding spears and shields. They were angry. They were ready. Bannog ran up the stairs, for a last look at the situation. The orcs were waiting outside of the range of the heavy crossbows in the towers. He guessed there were about a hundred left. Peterselie and her group should be here by now. Ariciel stood off to the side a little, fingering the mana potions on her belt. He looked up at the keep. Mareva and his father stood by the window, looking down on them. Bannog came down from the wall, hefted his shield, drew his sword.

“Lower the drawbridge!”

Off to the side, Quartermaster Declan worked the mechanism. With a rattle of chains, the drawbridge came down.

“Shields up!”

The soldiers formed lines of ten abreast, and raised their shields, making a wall. Ariciel cast spells of protection on herself and on Bannog.

“Raise the portcullis!”

Slowly, the gate of Caer Bannog opened. This had not happened in well over a month, and people swallowed. Bannog stood in the opening, staring hard in the direction of the enemy. The moment had come.

“Forward… march!”

Twenty soldiers, and one Night-elf Druid, moved forward as one.

Ogre-mage Far’Rokh laughed, with both his heads. Finally! Finally those Human maggots were coming out of their hole for his enjoyment. It had cost him nearly all of his mages, but who cares? There were always more. Ahead of him was his army of Orcs. Eighty swords were gathered before him. The sword fighters in the other camps had not answered his summons. Those miserable creatures would be punished later. They would not share in the plunder, for one thing. Far’Rokh looked again at the enemy. Hardly two dozen! Was that all? He could destroy them all by himself if he needed to! Look at them hiding behind those pathetic little shields, wielding no more than toothpicks! To be sure, this was nothing like the glorious battles he had expected to fight, but nevertheless, this was his battle. He would win it, and with victory came promotion to a station more fitting for one of his calibre. Far’Rokh took a deep breath. Then, with both his heads, he shouted the order he was born to give.

“Attack!”

“Hello lads. What can we do for ye?”

“Very funny. Get us out of here!”

Peterselie looked into their faces. They had been through too much for joking. She nodded. From her belt, she took the mace that she used as a backup for her sword.

“Stand back.”

She swung, and hit the lock. It shattered at the first blow. The door opened and five haggard, scared and tired-looking men came out. Peterselie sighed. No weapons, no fight left in ’em. No use to anybody. She looked round, to see the drawbridge come down, the gate open, and the men come out. She pointed at the mangonel.

“Hey lads. I think that catapult there is something Old Sir Bannog has always wanted for getting rid of unwanted guests. Why don’t you push it into the castle? Can you manage that? I’m sure Quartermaster will have some weapons for you once you get inside.””

Sir Arthur’s sergeant looked at the thing that had recently hurled away his beloved master.

“We will. Hop to it, lads!”

They picked up the ropes that the Orcs had used to haul the mangonel into place, and heaved. With much creaking of wood, the contraption started to move in the direction of the Caer. Peterselie watched them go, a smile on her face. Half way there, they met the men of Caer Bannog, who shouted encouragement at them. A noise behind her made her look round. A lot of orcs came running at them, followed by an Ogre mage. Playtime! With a shout, Peterselie drew her sword and ran to join Bannog and his men.

“Hello Peterselie,” said Bannog. “See those Orcs there?”

“What Orcs? Oh, those Orcs! What about them?”

“Let’s kill them,” said Bannog. “And be sure to get that two-headed bastard. He’s the boss.”

“Oh right.”

Bannog grinned, then turned to his men. “Right lads and lasses! It looks like the buggers want to play after all! Let’s pull back to the castle so the bowmen can have a go as well!”

They ran back to well within range of the archers. Then, they reassembled their shield wall. Peterselie, Gerrig and the pikemen had no shields, so they stayed behind. The two archers ran back into the castle and joined their comrades on the wall. Peterselie closed her eyes in prayer, and the glow of the Light streamed from her, strengthening and protecting the soldiers. They braced themselves. The Orcish sword fighters came running at them, bellowing, brandishing their weapons. Suddenly, there was a hiss of many arrows, and the first row of them fell down. Another volley followed. More Orcs fell. Bannog shouted.

“Brace yourselves. For Sir Arthur! For the Alliance!”

The mass of large bodies crashed into the shield wall, the first of them impaling themselves on the spears of the defenders, hacking with their swords. The wall of shields held. Gerrig’s men ran round, and attacked from the sides, stabbing with their long spears. The orcs shouted, beating on the defender’s shields with their swords. Still, the shield wall held, though they were pushed backwards by the sheer weight of the attacker’s bodies. Some of the Orcs ran to the sides, trying to get past the shield wall. They ran into arrows shot from the wall, and the towers.

Stetson stood calmly at the top of the tower, shooting bolt after bolt from the large crossbow. He was now completely familiar with the bow’s characteristics and did not waste a single shot. At this distance, he was deadly. The enemy was exactly where he wanted them.

Still, the Orcs pressed on, eyes burning with the lust of battle. Then, the inevitable happened. The shield wall failed. In the middle, two of the men were hewed down and fell over. The shield wall broke. The fight now turned into a free-for-all melee, where enemies could come at you from any direction. This was where a battle turned dirty. Orcs and Humans fought with no thought given to chivalry. Honour got you killed. An Orc or Human fighting another was a preferred target. You learned to watch over your shoulder as much as in front of you, and if any enemy fell, you made sure he didn’t get up again.

Bannog and his brother were fighting back to back, slashing and stabbing with their swords. Ariciel had given up trying to shoot, and turned to her bear shape. Swords bounced off her protective magic, and her claws and teeth left none standing in front of her. To her left, she noticed an Orc locked in a fight with Peterselie. Bear-Ariciel leapt at the Orc, throwing him off his feet. Peterselie stabbed out with her sword, gave Ariciel a quick look, and went on to the next.

The fight went on for perhaps half an hour. After that, there were only ten Orcs left. Ten of the Humans had fallen to the Orc’s weapons, leaving twenty. It was at that moment that a great bolt of dark fire surged through the fighters. Ogre-mage Far’Roukh was casting spells of destruction. His first shadow bolt killed three Human spear-fighters and an Orc. Gerrig caught a glancing blow, reeled and fell to the ground. With lightning reactions, Ariciel turned, stood over him and roared at the Orc who had wanted to take advantage of the situation. Ariciel jumped at his throat, her powerful jaws breaking the Orc’s neck. Then, she grabbed Gerrig’s collar between her teeth, and dragged him off to the side. Bannog turned round toward the Ogre.

“Prepare to die, Human! I am Far’Rokh! Mage of the Blackrock!”

Bannog raised his shield, and pointed his sword at the Ogre. Far’Rokh laughed.

“Don’t stop me now, Human! I am enjoying myself!”

Bannog sensed Far’Rokh was about to cast a spell, and ducked behind his shield. The air in front of him shimmered, as if heated by the sun on a Summer’s day. Suddenly, it felt like a cold hand clasped his chest. All round him, there were sudden cries of fear, and men who had not flinched throughout the whole fight suddenly lost control of themselves and ran in random directions. Even Ariciel was affected. She had turned back to her Elf form so she could cast healing spells on Gerrig. Now, she lay on the ground, arms and legs pulled in, whimpering. Bannog’s eyes turned back to the mage in front of him. It was a trick. A fear spell, to confuse, and make his men unable to fight. Bannog scowled at the mage. The fear spell had not affected him, being unable to reach through the immense reserves of anger. Next to him stood Peterselie, sword and shield in hand, equally firm. Bannog raised his sword.

“I want you dead,” he said.

Far’Rokh laughed. “Human maggot! I will hit you so hard that your body will be crushed against the wall of your castle before your scream can be heard there! And when you are dead, we will raze this pile of rocks to the ground and feast upon the living flesh of your women! Especially that tasty little Night-elf I see there.”

“I think not,” said Bannog.

Far’Rokh’s four eyes stared at Bannog. “You think not? Then order your men to kill me, if they have not lost control of their bowels!”

Bannog smiled. He knew exactly what Far’Rokh was trying to do. He was trying to make him angry. He was making the same error that Infantryman Kent had made, a lifetime ago. Bannog did not believe in blind rage. Enemies were there to be disposed of. Quickly. Efficiently. Inevitably. He heard the hiss of a crossbow bolt behind him, and fixed Far’Rokh with a stare. The bolt struck Far’Rokh’s right shoulder, piercing his body until it stuck out the other end.

“I already did,” Bannog said.

With a great shout, Bannog charged and slashed at the ogre with his sword. But Far’Rokh had the strength of his kind, and their ability to ignore pain. Though his concentration was shattered for a moment, his great fist struck out and crashed against Bannog’s shield. Bannog was thrown backward. Peterselie lunged, stabbed with her sword, but Far’Rokh swung his arm and batted her to one side. Even now, bleeding from several wounds, Far’Rokh did not go down. He gathered up his breath, and cast a shadow bolt at Bannog, which he only managed to block partly with his shield. He felt the dark energy tear into him, burning his flesh, his mind. A sudden memory of pain returned to him, and he cried out and fell to one knee. His eye fell on the tower, and he realised that Peterselie was between it and the Ogre. He drew back. Far’Rokh pursued him, an insane look in his eyes. All semblance of intelligence had left the Ogre. He lived only to crush, to tear, and to burn this Human. Another shadow bolt hit Bannog, and his shield shattered. Peterselie shook her head, and slashed at the Ogre. A great gash appeared on his chest. Far’Rokh did not even seem to notice. He swung his arm, and hit Bannog before he could move or parry. A sharp pain shot through Bannog’s right leg. He was sure he’d heard something snap. His leg gave out and he fell to the floor. His thigh felt like it was on fire, and he almost passed out. He held his sword in front of him and waited for the inevitable. Far’Rokh laughed a laugh that had nothing to do with joy. he bent over Bannog to kill. Peterselie attacked again, and this time the Ogre turned round to her. His great fists grabbed Peterselie’s shoulders. With hideous strength, he pulled her towards him and head-butted her with one of his heads. Then, he dropped her, unconscious, to the ground. With a bestial roar, he turned back to Bannog for the final blow.

Bannog knew he was done for. He could not move, could not force his leg to support him. He held out his sword to Far’Rokh. A green glow seemed to grow from his flesh. He took a deep breath, suddenly filled with an unending wave of happiness. The pain in his leg lessened, then disappeared. He rolled over twice, then found he could get to his feet again. He raised his sword.

“Thank you, my love,” he whispered. Then he lunged.

His sword entered Far’Rokh’s chest, pushed forward by weight, muscle, rage. There was the hiss of another crossbow bolt. and a thud as its tip appeared from the Ogre’s stomach. A ball of white light appeared above Far’rokh’s head and struck down in a beam of Moonfire. Arrows flew from the battlements and the ogre was struck once, twice, three times. Far’Rokh stood still like a statue, for an impossibly long moment. Then, his knees gave, and he fell on his face.

Bannog stood still, breathing hard, and looked first at Ariciel, who stood a few yards off, hands raised in a spell casting stance. Then, at the North Tower and the battlements where the archers were. Then at the battlefield. No Orcs were left standing. He counted. Twelve blood-spattered, bone-weary pikemen still stood. The sounds of the wounded were in his ears. He took deep breaths, then raised himself to his full height and bellowed at the sky. The other soldiers took up the cry, without words, raw emotion echoing against the old walls of Caer Bannog. Then, there was silence.

“Get the wounded out of here. Kill all the Orcs that haven’t stopped breathing yet. This battle is over!”


“Fourteen dead, ten wounded. That dark-haired Elf is a marvel!” Old Bannog was sitting in his workroom. Across the table were his sons. Gerrig’s sword arm was bandaged up from wrist to shoulder. The shadow bolt had burnt his skin. Selena had bandaged him up, saving Mira’s magic for the critical cases.

“Not counting any casualties at Sir Roland’s. If the Orcs hit Sir Arthur, they must have known about Roland’s farm as well.”

Old Bannog shook his head. “They did have a bit of action there, but they could handle it, according to Sergeant Smitty.”

Bannog smiled. “Smitty deserves a promotion. He shot the second Orc on that mangonel and was generally helpful.”

Gerrig shook his head. “I haven’t forgiven him yet for letting Selena out.”

“Mareva has,” said Bannog, “But then, she’s somewhat distracted.”

Old Bannog laughed. “Sickeningly so, bless her! Her and her blocks of wood.”

Gerrig smiled. “Any reports of enemy activity?”

“No,” said Old Bannog. “Any that are left, don’t seem to feel like fighting. We may still get new ones, of course, but that is another matter. It’s time to heal the wounded, repair the damage and mourn the dead.” He raised his wine glass. “Our foes lie dead, while we draw breath.”

“Ever be it so,” said the brothers in unison.

Ariciel leaned back against the wall. They were sitting on a bench in the dining hall, while Mira walked around, seeing to people’s injuries. Ariciel and Mareva had helped where they could, but had been shooed away. Mareva watched the dark-haired Night-elf in amazement. Wherever she went, wounds closed, bones fused together, and men and women looked up to her in gratitude as their pain was taken away. She was tireless, occasionally filling up her magical reserves with, Ariciel noted, super mana potions or strange foods that Ariciel had never seen before. Ariciel had only sustained minor wounds, and had been able to heal herself.

Stetson pulled Mareva a bit closer. His hand lay gently on her stomach. Mareva leaned against him, a happy smile on her face.

“She’s wondering why I haven’t taken you to bed yet,” said Mareva, in Draenei.

Stetson’s eyes wrinkled. “Well, there’s a reason for that,” he said. “I’m not about to educate the whole castle on Draenei mating habits.” He allowed his hand to stray for the shortest of moments.

Mareva sighed. “I can be quiet if I want to.”

“Perhaps,” said Stetson, “but where is the fun in that?”

“The thrill brought on by the risk of discovery?”

“Hmm, yes. I can see that. Especially since nobody would guess what we’re up to if we disappeared for, oh, an hour or so.”

“Only an hour? Wimp.”

Ariciel poked Mareva in the side.

“Oi you two! What are you whispering about?”

Mareva opened her eyes, and gave Ariciel a hungry look. She licked her lips.

“You.”

Ariciel giggled. “Boiled Night-elf again? My goodness.”

Peterselie entered, her head encased in Netherweave. “Hi kids! How’s tricks?”

“They’re plotting against me in foreign lingo,” said Ariciel.

“Dat heb je met die buitenlanders,” said Peterselie. She reached in her pocket and showed them five white dice in her hand. “Do you think you can beat me in my weakened state?”

“Ah. Silver, we said, didn’t we?”

“Aye, but only if no blue newbies play.”

Mareva sat up. “I earned top marks in statistics and gaming theory.”

Peterselie grinned like a shark. “Ah. Silver then?”


Peterselie sat on her magic horse, looking down on the others, who were saying their good-byes to Selena, Gerrig and Old Bannog. Mareva had Selena in her arms, and Bannog and Ariciel stood a bit to one side with Mira. She leaned on the pommel of her saddle. Long goodbyes. What’s the point? Only prolongs the agony. Finally, they seemed to be done. Stetson and Mareva were leaving for the Hinterlands. Stetson wanted to show Mareva the wild griffins. Bannog and Ariciel were going to Sir Arthur’s ranch, to take stock. Peterselie would be going back to Ironforge, though she had offered to give Mira a boost to Morgan’s Vigil, in the Burning Steppes. Just to keep her out of trouble.

“And then, I’ll treat meself to a nice long griffin trip all the way to Ironforge. I can afford it, on account of just having won thirty silver at dice.”

Mareva lifted up her head from Stetson’s shoulder. “I still do not understand why you lifted that cup. The chances of there being a full house or better were almost five to one.”

Peterselie smiled. “You need to work on your bluffing skills. I could almost see in your eyes what was really under that cup.”

“Using telepathy is not fair.”

“Who needs telepathy if you can’t keep your face straight?”

“I will get you next time.”

“Come see me. I’ll be in Ironforge.” Peterselie smiled wryly. “Probably on latrine duty for skiving off for a week.”

“Oh come on,” said Bannog. “Father wrote you a glowing recommendation. You’re a heroine!”

“Hah. Like that ever convinced anyone. Oh well. It was worth it.”

They came to a crossroads. Peterselie lifted Mira behind her, and Ariciel took Mira’s horse.

“Goodbye all,” said Mira. “Keep Blondie here out of trouble. I can’t always be there with the plasters.”

“Just remember, lots of Gnolls are bad, right?”

Mira grinned, and waved as Peterselie spurred on her horse and rode off into the distance. Ariciel sighed.

“Let’s go.”

They came to the ranch. It was a sad sight. Door broken down, windows not even repaired from last time. People had already been here to remove the bodies of the slain and bury them in Caer Bannog’s cemetery. The place looked empty of life. They fell silent, walking through the place looking for they knew not what. Ariciel looked at Sir Arthur’s bed, where she had healed him of the arrow wound. She blinked, and turned to Bannog.

“I don’t want to stay the night here. Ghosts.”

Bannog put his arm round her. “Let’s go to the side building. Servants’ quarters should be alright.”

They lit a fire in the fireplace. There was a grill on the side, and Stetson and Bannog immediately took charge. Morgan curled up in front of the fire. From the larder, they produced a leg of lamb, which Stetson expertly cut into smaller pieces. Ariciel sat by the fire, arms round her knees, staring into the flames. Mareva watched her friend for a few moments, then got up, stomped over to her and grabbed her by one ear.

“Hey! That’s rude, you know?”

“It is? I apologise. Grilling bits of meat is traditionally the work of men. Let us go and see that the rooms are in order and perhaps do other female things.”

Ariciel looked at Mareva, half smiling.

“Do not worry. They do not need supervision. They are honour-bound to give us the bits that they did not drop in the fire.”

Ariciel laughed, and got to her feet. She followed Mareva out the door. Stetson and Bannog watched them go.

“Mr. Stetson, I do believe that your girlfriend was impugning our abilities. We must prove her wrong. Our honour is at stake.”

Stetson smiled. “My girlfriend. Hah. I do not presume to apply possessives to her.”

“That passes. Calling Ariciel ‘My Elf’ hardly gives me a twinge anymore. You are planning on keeping her, aren’t you? Mareva, I mean.”

“Definitely. Let us ply these women with food and drink, and see where the evening ends.”

“The Hinterlands, you said?”

Stetson smiled. “Anywhere she will go. We may take our time going there.”

Bannog sighed, and put another log on the fire. “Wish I could run off with Ariciel like that. Don’t think I can.”

“Surely, you do not doubt whether she would come with you?”

“No, but I think I am needed here. I need to set up a proper fighting force here. You didn’t hear that ogre, did you?”

Stetson shook his head. “I only shot at him. I prefer my enemies well outside talking range.”

“I don’t blame you. This ogre, though. He was trying to impress me. Two heads and still stupid enough to hand us his mages on a silver platter.” Bannog pulled an angry face. “We will rape your houses, and burn your women.” He sighed. “What a tosser. And this guy held us in his grasp for months!”

Stetson picked up the tongs and turned over the meat, then looked back at Bannog. “I understand what you mean. You think your family is not up to the task of defending your castle. It would seem that you have work to do here.”

“Yeah. Not tonight, though. If I come back tomorrow to find another batch of siege-layers, I will be most annoyed.”

“Tell them to sod off and come back another day. Caer Bannog is closed for sieges.”

“Hah! If only I’d thought of that before. That mutton is starting to smell nice.”

As it turned out, the bedrooms needed only a few candles. Blankets and sheets were in cupboards. Mareva ran the linen through her fingers before putting it on the bed.

“There is something very pleasing about the feel of linen sheets. It was the first thing I felt when I woke up after I was healed.”

“Especially in good company,” said Ariciel.

“Trust a Night-elf to drag down the level of the conversation in five seconds,” said Mareva, smiling.

“Hey, I didn’t belch. Count yourself lucky.”

“I do.”

Ariciel threw a woollen blanket over the bed and together, they staightened it.

“So. Is this the boys’ room, or the girls’ room?”

Mareva’s blue eyes shone at her. “Surely, you are joking. This is the room for the blue people. Pale faces go next door.”

“Hmm. Tonight’s the night, then?”

“I fully intend it to be. Unresolved sexual tension is only pleasing up to a point.” Mareva grinned at Ariciel. “If you hear anything, remember that we are not fighting.”

Ariciel laughed. “Well, if that’s the case, we’d better make ourselves presentable. Can’t properly seduce anyone in armour.”

“You know, I think you can. I have seen leather armour that would do quite nicely. Mind you, it would not protect against arrows or swords.”

“Ah. The hit-them-while-they’re-drooling school of armour. Chainmail with cleavage, sort of thing.”

“Exactly. Though tonight, I don’t think I will go for the succubus look. Stetson seems unimpressed by it.”

Ariciel picked up her pack and started pulling clothes from it. “Hmm. I have my robes. Never had any problems with Bannog of Caer Bannog, wearing those.”

Mareva unbuckled her new leather chest piece and dropped it on the floor, then pulled her shirt over her head.

“I have a green skirt. Hides the tail, but nothing to go with it.”

Ariciel looked at her friend. There were fresh scars on her stomach. She remembered looking at her before, smooth and flawless. She reached over and ran her finger down the damaged skin.

“Hey, I could probably do something about that, if you want.”

“Do not bother.” Mareva smiled, putting her hand on Ariciel’s. “It is a sign of how lucky I am. Stetson saved me. You stopped me from dying. Mira healed me. Selena was unhurt. I am blessed.”

Mareva picked up a shirt. “Hey. Do you mind if I borrow this?”

“Sure. But isn’t that going to be a bit small for you?”

Mareva dropped her bra in her pack. Her white teeth gleamed at Ariciel.

“Yes.”

Ariciel looked at the result. “Oh my. Don’t breathe in, dear. I’m awful with buttons.”

“Do you think Hunter S’dezo’Houn will be pleased?”

Ariciel grinned. “I will if he isn’t.”

Mareva laughed, pulled the pins from her hair and shook her head. Her dark hair fell over her shoulders.

“If he is not, you should worry about Bannog, not about me.”

Bannog opened the door and shouted into the corridor.

“Food!”

“Hmm. Smells good,” said Ariciel, walking in. Mareva entered, and walked over to Stetson, who was taking bits of meat off the grill and putting them onto a plate. She laid her hands on his shoulders and put her lips close to his ear.

“Is it done? I am hungry!”

“It is,” said Stetson. He looked round, and burnt himself on the grill. Mareva took his hand and kissed it better. Bannog nudged Ariciel.

“Do you think she wants something from him?”

“Yes. Food. You will give us the best bits, because we are pretty!”

“Whatever you say, my love.”

Ariciel was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the bedroom, without a thread of clothing on her body. Not that she needed to outdo Mareva or anything, oh no. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, breathing out slowly, letting her mind drain itself of all things, leaving a state of perfect tranquility. There was a crash in the other room, and someone cried out. She smiled. Well, she had been warned. She blocked it from her mind. Closed her eyes again. Concentrated.

“This isn’t that Rite of invitation is it?” Bannog was in bed, quite enjoying the sight of her perfectly straight back, white hair running down it in cascades. Ariciel looked round, and smiled at him.

“Don’t worry my love. That takes three hours without interruptions. And a lot more preparation. This is the ten-minute one prior to turning your lover into a happy molten puddle.”

She composed her thoughts, closed her eyes again, breathed in through her nose, out through her mouth, concentrating on using her diaphragm rather than her chest.

“You look beautiful.”

She didn’t look round, well… it was sweet of him to say.

“Thank you. Now…”

There was a shout from the other room. She was sure it was Mareva. Ariciel frowned, considered trying one more time. Then, she decided that tonight was probably not the night for it. Now with an Elf, if you couldn’t get your concentration up, then that was more or less resigning yourself to just hugs and cuddles. With a Human on the other hand, there were… possibilities. Wasn’t she lucky she happened to have a Human?

She got to her feet, turned round and looked at her love in bed. He looked back up at her. She stood silhouetted in the light of a candle, weight on her left leg, fist on her hip. Her other arm hung down, hand on her thigh. Her head was tilted slightly to one side, eyes burning brightly. Her piercings gleamed in the candle light. She still hadn’t told him if he’d found them all. Bannog looked up into her face. She was grinning. Bannog knew he could draw. He’d done the bird on Selena’s staff. Technical drawings with a bit of flair. He could probably get Ariciel’s body right. That smile, on the other hand, never. He grinned back. Ariciel moved her weight to her other leg.

“Tomorrow, we’ll be sleeping at the Caer again. Lots of other people around. Do you have any suggestions?”

“You look cold. Let me warm you.”

Bannog raised the blanket. Ariciel stepped in, pressing her cool skin against his warm body. It made him shiver. More noises came from the other side of the wall.

Bannog laughed quietly. “They don’t do things at half strength, do they?”

“Come on. I’m sure we can do better. More practice and all.”

He pulled her a bit closer. Warm up already. He gritted his teeth as her toes touched his warm legs. She sighed.

“I’ll miss her. There’s always writing, of course, but it’s not the same. You never keep it up.”

Bannog found that his beautiful Elf friend was warming up nicely. Because he didn’t want his love to be cold, he started looking for bits of skin that hadn’t warmed up yet. He thought of Mareva, thought of her lying where he was now, doing more or less what he was doing now. He searched his feelings, like prodding at the place where a sore tooth used to be, and found that he had no ill will towards her. He moved his hand. Ariciel pushed it back to where it was before.

“I liked that.”

“Better keep doing it then. Say…”

“What?”

“Imagine we were all Elves here. You, me, Mareva, Stetson.”

“Oh my. You’d look silly with long ears. Not to mention Stetson. Mareva’d be quite cute, though.”

“Hmm. Since they’re leaving tomorrow, would you be in bed with her?”

Ariciel turned round to study his face. What was he getting at? He smiled.

“Humour me. Just say.”

Ariciel turned onto her back, so she could look at his face, feeling as if she was walking on a rickety, rickety bridge. Put one foot wrong…

“I might be. She might be in bed with the both of us, actually.”

“Leaving poor Stetson on his own?”

“Hmmm. This is getting a bit fairy-tale. I’m pretty sure you don’t fancy Stetson. You already know I quite fancy Mareva…” She grinned. “I know you quite fancy me, or you wouldn’t be doing that thing with your left hand now.” She raised an eyebrow. “Did I say stop? I don’t think I did.”

Bannog obediently resumed what he had been doing. Ariciel absent-mindedly ran a finger over his arm, staring at the ceiling.

“Four people in a bed’s a bit much, actually. Tried it only once. Didn’t like it much. Three’s about right for a bit of extra spice.”

“I like Mareva,” said Bannog. “Though Draenei don’t really do it for me. Bit too unusual for my taste.”

“Oh come on. You saw her tonight! She’s gorgeous!”

“I was completely unaffected. All her power was directed at Stetson. Poor guy didn’t stand a chance.” Bannog laughed. “I can see she’s beautiful. I just don’t have the urge to get her clothes off.”

“Well, I did. Never since we came to the castle, though.”

“Did you want to?”

“She’s sex on legs! Of course I did.” Ariciel touched his bearded cheek. “But more than anything, I don’t want to hurt you.”

Bannog raised himself on one elbow and looked into Ariciel’s face, for a long time, searching for words.

“I want to stay with you. For a very long time. If you’re not happy, you’ll want to leave. So purely for selfish reasons, I want you to be happy. You won’t be happy if you have to push away some part of yourself.” Bannog ran a finger down Ariciel’s cheek, down her neck. “As someone pointed out to me, If I wanted a girl all to myself, then I should have found a Human girl.”

Ariciel lay back, staring up at him, simply breathing, her face serious and beautiful. “You know, I only ever had one boyfriend and one girlfriend at the same time. Mareva was just a playmate, until I got to know her better. I’m much closer to her now. I can do without playmates. I can’t do without you.”

They didn’t move for a long time, simply looking into each other’s eyes. Then, there was a crash and a yelp from the other room. Stetson wasn’t having it all his own way, apparently. Ariciel turned her face back up to Bannog, grinning.

“They’re having all the fun! What are you going to do about it, big boy?”

Bannog grabbed her wrists, pushed them over her head, and moved. Ariciel gave a yell.


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

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