Part 1: The meeting

In the Eastern Kingdoms, North of Ironforge, by the Great Sea, lay the small port town of Menethil. It was a relatively peaceful place, an oasis of calm in the turmoil of a world at war. Soldiers came here from the battles to recuperate and rest, before being sent out again to Dun Modr, and the Arathi Highlands to the East, across the large sodden marshes of the Wetlands. Nowhere else in Azeroth was there a name more appropriate. Biting crocolisks slid in and out of the water. In the mountains to the North, huge two-legged carnivores roamed, hunting for anything that moved slower than they could. Spells of rain were relieved by spells of very heavy rain. But the people of Menethil were used to it, the weather, the wildlife, the roads that sometimes turned out to be streams, the small weed-covered lakes that pretended to be solid land. They stayed away from the streams where the crocolisks lurked, stayed away from the mountains, fished in the Great Sea, and lived off what the sea offered them.

One day, one of the fishermans’ wives had not returned from gathering mussels on the beach, and men were sent out to find her and her young daughter who usually accompanied her. One of these men barged into Menethil Keep, where the mayor and the army commander worked.

“We found her! Merciful Light, we found her… What’s left of her… They attacked us! Teeth! Hundreds of them! And the sound! The sound!”

Captain Stoutfist, the Dwarf commander of the Wetlands armed force, grabbed the man’s shoulder, and shook him.

“Steady, man. What are you talking about?”

“Creatures… the teeth!”

“You mean crocolisks?” A worried look was on Stoutfist’s face. People had been caught by crocolisks before, and it was never a pleasant sight.

“No! Big frog things, with teeth! And the sound!” The man swallowed, and made a horrible gurgling noise in his throat. “Hundreds! They attacked us!”

Captain Joachim Swann chose that moment to walk into the room, with a report in his hand.

“Ah! Swann,” said Stoutfist. “Take some men and see what this chap is blathering about, will ye?”

Bannog dropped his pack on a grassy field near the town hall. He pulled at the straps of his helm, to reveal a bald head with a neatly trimmed blond beard. The sun was shining, and some of the locals stood round pointing skyward, talking excitedly. Bannog nodded at one of his fellow soldiers, and together, they lifted a few logs into the field to sit on. With a sigh, Bannog lowered himself onto the log. It wasn’t that these Murlocs were difficult to deal with. They fought like sissies. It took them maybe an hour to clear out that rotting Murloc village. But how many times had they done this now? Seven? Eight? And still the bloody fishheads wouldn’t catch on and stay away.

Something stirred in the corner of Bannog’s eye, and as he turned his head round, he saw a band of Night-elves ride up over the bridge, mounted on the large cats they used. One of his fellow soldiers, known as Rigger, cast a glance at the slender Elves.

“I wonder what one of those lassies would be like between the furs. I hear they use magic in the sack.”

“Pah,” said another. “That’s a priestess. The only Elf priestess I ever slept with, kept yelling out the name of her Goddess from the time I got her robes off till she fell asleep. Bloody off-putting.”

Bannog laughed quietly to himself. Chad’rav al Amach in bed with an Elf priestess? Even in his most grubby dreams, she would probably fry him for the mere idea.

Ramoc, a small dark-haired man, smiled, fingering one of the many sharp things that seemed to stick to him as if they were glued on. “What about the priests, Chad? Inquiring minds want to know.”

Chad gave Ramoc a dark look. “Try it yourself if you want to. I don’t fancy Elf priests.”

Bannog stretched. “Take my advice,” he said, before he could help himself. “Leave the priestesses be, and find a druid. Every bit as lovely to look at, and much friendlier.”

A fair-haired man was sitting at his ease, back to a log, a half empty wine-skin in his hand. He grinned at the company.

“Ah, I forgot. We have an expert here on the mating habits of the common or garden Night-elf.”

Bannog laughed. “I wouldn’t call myself an expert, nor would I call my Night-elf friend common.”

“Oh come on,” said Chad. “Everyone knows that Night-elves can have dozens of lovers. At the same time, too!”

“That’s how they keep such nice slender figures,” said Ramoc. “All that healthy exercise.”

“I think you’re bragging, Bannog,” said Rigger. “I’ve been here as long as you have, and I’ve never seen you with any woman, Human or Elf.”

Bannog stared at his feet, then in the direction of the pier.

“Put her on the boat just before you arrived. She’s gone sailing, sailing into the West. I only knew her for a week or so. We still write. Think I’ll look her up when my tour is up.”

“Show us the letters,” said Rigger. “Then I’ll believe you.”

Bannog snorted. “What makes you think I need you to believe me?”

“Well, I’d rather get to know the barmaid in the inn than sit here pining for my imaginary Elf.”

Bannog smiled. He hadn’t seen her for at least three months. He didn’t have anything to remind him of her, either, except a few letters. No lock of white hair, no rings, not even half of a copper coin broken in two. Just a half dozen letters in her nice regular handwriting. That, and memories.

It had been the day that the Great Rage first came upon Bannog, and it was over a girl. The others agreed that was nothing unusual. Women were wonderful creatures to fight over. Just a few days before, he had left his home of Caer Bannog, a small castle in the foothills of the Redridge Mountains. His father, Old Bannog, had sent him to join a company in Goldshire, to represent the proud name. But in a war, things never go according to plan. Before Bannog could reach Goldshire, the company was called away, to an unexpected battle with the Horde. All of the company, except one, had been killed. With no company to join, Bannog found himself at loose ends in the town of Goldshire. He wrote a note to his father, posted it and found a place to sleep in the Lion’s Pride Inn. He ate well, boar ribs with leeks and potatoes, with a light mead to go with it. Then, as the sun set, he felt the Call of Nature. He got up from his chair, and walked round the back of the inn. Suddenly, he stopped. In the dark, he could hear voices.

“Come, dear. Put down that stick. I promise we won’t hurt you. You may even like what we’re about to do.”

“Speak for yourself,” said a woman’s voice. “There’s a bounty on Night-elves. But they want the ears as proof. Taken while it is still alive. They can tell if it isn’t.”

Bannog had been trained to fight by Caer Bannog’s Quartermaster. Quartermaster, and if he had a name, he would be hard pressed to remember it, had been good at his job. Apart from telling the end of a sword that goes into your hand from the end that goes into the enemy, he had taught young Bannog to assess fights quickly, by counting bodies, weapons. They would practice this constantly, in taverns, war meetings, and until Old Bannog asked them to stop it, at the dinner table. Bannog had always enjoyed the game, and could do it so fast that he hardly realised he did it anymore.

This was not a game. There were two men, one woman. One man had a dagger. the other had a shortsword. The woman had a long, thin knife. The Elf had only a quarterstaff, but a glow in her left hand revealed that she was a magic user. Bannog had his shortsword. He ran the numbers in his head, and they told him to walk away. He looked at the Elf’s face, half hidden under her hood. She looked afraid, desperate, determined. Bother numbers. Bannog loosened his sword in its sheath, and stepped forward. The muscles in his stomach tightened. His breath sped up. Play time.

The Elf girl was the first to spot him. Her glowing eyes widened, making the swordsman look round. He raised his sword.

“Get lost! We’re busy.”

Bannog crossed his arms, and raised himself to his full, impressive height. His pale blue eyes stared grimly at the swordsman. He growled.

“I can see you’re busy. You intend to rape, and then kill this Elf-woman. Bannog of Caer Bannog disapproves of such plans. Begone, and you may live out your wretched lives by the mercy of Caer Bannog.”

Had Quartermaster been there, he would now be holding his old head in wrinkled hands. One night, when the mead was flowing, Quartermaster had told Bannog how he once stared down four bullies, each of which could have wiped the floor with him. He had warned Bannog severely, that not everyone could pull off such a bluff, and only to try it when all else had failed.

The swordsman laughed in Bannog’s face.

“The Defias Brotherhood does not need the approval of your hovel, Bannog of Caer Bannog. Get lost, and you may live to see another day, unless we decide to teach you a lesson in pain.”

The other Defias, shorter and fatter than the swordsman, looked round, with a laugh on his podgy face.

“Hey Jarl, we got ourselves a joker here. Let’s-“

The Elf seized the moment. Quick as lightning, she stabbed out with her quarterstaff and hit the knife-fighter on the temple. While this didn’t knock him out, it did send him reeling back for a few seconds.

Jarl the sword fighter turned round, sword raised, until he heard Bannog whip out his own sword. Turning round again, he was only just able to parry Bannog’s sweep, aimed for his midsection. He counter-thrust, and Bannog parried easily. Jarl stabbed out again, and again Bannog swept the sword aside.

Bannog grinned, thanking Quartermaster for his lessons. This was easy! He attacked again, nearly scoring a hit on Jarl’s arm. He swept down, and the tip of his sword hit Jarl’s thigh.

“Not as easy as a defenceless woman, am I?”

Something moved to his left, and he looked round to see the woman lunge at him, knife out. All he could do was bat the knife away with his arm. The woman drew back her knife in a cruel slash, drawing blood from Bannog’s arm. Jarl sprang forward. Bannog tried to parry, but Jarl’s sword connected with his sword-arm, drawing more blood. Bannog gasped in sudden pain and fear.

That was when the Rage took him.

He had heard warriors at the Caer talk about the Red Mist, going berserk. He had always assumed that it would be a blind fury, a kind of raging sleep, that he would only wake up from on the Other Side, or when all his foes were dead. It was nothing like that. He could hear himself shouting, but his vision of the world changed, slowed down. All things not to do with the fight, he dismissed from his view, leaving only the Elf, his opponents, and their weapons as bright, shining objects. The pain from his wounds became something he could view with detachment, like points scored against him in a game of dice. He observed the situation.

Jarl was retreating, gathering himself up for another strike. The woman to his left was circling round behind his back. The fat thug fighting the Elf could be ignored for now. The woman could distract him, or put in a killing blow if she got behind him. Jarl could do the most damage.

Bannog grabbed his right wrist with his left hand, aimed the point of his shortsword at the woman, and whirled round, making her jump back to avoid him. He kept turning, and lunged forward when his sword pointed at Jarl. It pierced Jarl’s leather jacket and went in deep, with all of Bannog’s weight behind it. Jarl’s eyes glazed over, and he collapsed. Bannog ripped his sword free. He jumped backwards, and faced the knife-woman. Bannog looked into her eyes, to see what she was going to do. She looked back, scared, and feinted forward. Bannog’s shortsword swept round and glanced her left arm. The woman cried out, turned round and ran for her life.

Bannog turned towards the fat knife-fighter, only to see the Elf score a vicious hit on the man’s throat. He dropped his knife, clutched at his throat, coughed up blood, and fell to his knees, then flat on his face. The Elf’s staff swung round fast, and hit the man’s head with a crunching sound.

Bannog pointed at the running woman. “Let’s get out of here, before she gets her friends!”

The Elf made no reply. She dropped her staff, stepped back onto one leg as if she were pitching a ball, then thrust her hands forward. A ball of green fire buzzed through the air. It hit the running woman square in the back. The woman cried out in pain and surprise, stumbled, fell and lay still. For a long moment, Bannog stared at the woman’s body, then turned back to the Elf. She had picked up her staff and was looking at Bannog. Her hood had fallen back, revealing long white hair, long pointed ears and a ferocious expression on her face.

“And what do you want, Human?” Her voice was low, menacing.

Bannog sighed. He pulled out a bit of cloth, and wiped and sheathed his sword. He gave the Elf a look.

“Call me Bannog, Elf. I think I’ve earned at least that.”

Slowly, the Elf lowered her staff to the ground, and leaned on it. Her shoulders rose and fell in deep breaths. She blinked, briefly hiding the pale grey glow in her eyes. Bannog could not hear her whisper.


The Elf looked at his face. “Bannog, my name is Ariciel.”

Bannog looked again at the corpse of the woman, some thirty yards away. “That was a good shot, Ariciel.”

“That woman was going to do the killing once her friends were done,” said Ariciel. “She was going to take her time.”

Bannog nodded. A little smile appeared on Ariciel’s face.

“Ariciel, of no particular house, also disapproves of such plans.”

Bannog rubbed his bald head, looking slightly embarrassed. Then, suddenly, he laughed. He was alive! His foes lay dead on the ground! He wanted to shake his fists and bellow at the sky, but that would be pushing his luck.

“Let’s get out of here. They will be missed before long.”

Bannog ran the short distance to the dead woman, grabbed her legs and pulled her into some shrubs. The fat knife-fighter joined her there, along with Jarl. Bannog took a fancy to Jarl’s sword, and cut the sheath from Jarl’s belt. He sheathed the sword, and only now noticed his torn and bloodstained shirtsleaves.

Ariciel’s hand was on his shoulder. “Let me see,” she said. She tore away the sleeves, to reveal the cuts on Bannog’s arms. She briefly closed her eyes, concentrating, and green magic flowed from her. Bannog’s jaw dropped as he saw the cut seal itself up, and felt the pain leave him. He looked at Ariciel’s face. She was smiling.

“You’re welcome,” she said.

Bannog produced a knife, and cut off his shirt-sleeves. He opened and closed his fist, and found that he could without any pain. He repeated it with his other hand, making his muscles ripple perhaps slightly more than strictly necessary.

“Thanks,” he said.

At a sudden rush of urgency, they ran back round the inn, and entered by the front door. Ariciel found a table in a dark corner, and sat down. As she hadn’t eaten yet, Bannog ordered her some of the Inn’s food. He sat down opposite her, as she delved in.

“So lady, before your plans were so rudely interrupted, where were you heading?”

Ariciel swallowed a bite, put some salt on her potatoes.

“Teldrassil,” she said. “Darnassus.”

Bannog had heard the names. Teldrassil was the name of a mythical, huge tree that was said to grow off the coast of the continent of Kalimdor. Darnassus was the new capital of the Night-elves.

“So, you’re making for Stormwind first, then?”

Ariciel shook her head. “I need to make for Menethil Harbour, to the North. Stormwind’s to the West isn’t it?”

“North-west, actually. I assumed you would take the Deeprun Tram to Ironforge. That would cut at least a day off your travels to Menethil.”

Ariciel pushed away her empty plate.

“Well, Stormwind it is, then.” She looked round. “How much do I owe the innkeeper?”

“My treat,” said Bannog. “I got a new sword out of the deal, after all.”

Ariciel put her hand on Bannog’s arm and looked into his eyes. As with all Elves, her eyes had no pupils that Bannog could see, and shone from within with a pale grey light. A serious look was on her face.

“Bannog,” she said, “You saved my life tonight. If not for you, then I would be dead now. Or worse, not dead yet. I will never be able to thank you enough for this.”

Bannog knew all too well what he could suggest, if he wanted to, but he didn’t. To end this evening with a roll in the hay, so to speak, would cheapen the whole experience. Tonight was the first night he had truly felt himself to be a Warrior, coming to the aid of one who could not defend herself against superior forces. He looked at her, and realised his job was not yet done. She would never make it through the dangerous lands that lay between them and Menethil harbour. He doubted if even he himself could, on his own. To leave Ariciel to her fate now, would be to do only half a job.

Ariciel started to get up. He put a hand on her arm, and she paused.

“Lady,” said Bannog, “My house may be small, but we do finish our jobs once we start them. I would be lacking if I simply left you now. Let me accompany you to Menethil, so I can see you safely off to Teldrassil.”

Ariciel gave him a thoughtful look, head slightly tilted to one side.

“I don’t have much money,” she said. “How would I repay you?”

Bannog smiled, guessing what she was thinking of. “Nothing dishonourable, I assure you. I am at loose ends here. I have been for many days, and frankly, I am bored. My father sent me out to gain renown for Caer Bannog. Taking a fair maiden to safety is better for that than sitting here doing nothing.”

Ariciel grinned. She had a wonderful grin, and Bannog found himself grinning back before he could stop himself.

“Very well, then,” said Ariciel. “Just let me slip into something more appropriate for travelling.”

Ariciel swung her leg over the bench, talked to the innkeeper, then disappeared upstairs. Bannog slowly drew his new blade, as it didn’t do to draw it quickly among nervous people, and examined it. It was of very good quality for what it was: a shortsword slightly longer and thinner than usual, with no markings or ornamentation. A typical soldier’s weapon, made quickly, for long hard battles rather than the parade ground. But it had not been kept well. Its edge was blunt and here and there specks of rust could be seen. He rummaged in his pack and pulled out a sharpening stone and some oily rags. With these, he set about cleaning and sharpening the blade. While he worked, he looked up at the stairs, laying a bet with himself on the Elf-girl having disappeared through a back door and run off into the night. If so, should he try to find her? Probably not. The whole job depended on her trusting him. If she didn’t, there was no point in forcing his company on her. Either way, swords work better when they are sharp and he kept on tending to the blade till the rust was gone and he was satisfied with the edge.

He was just staring down the length of it, when Ariciel reappeared. The robes she had been wearing had been replaced with a tough leather tunic and leather trousers. On her feet were sturdy boots, and she held her cloak over her arm. Bannog approved of the change. She looked much more ready to face the road. He put away his cleaning kit and sheathed his new sword.

Without a word, they left the tavern, taking the road to the South, then taking a right. Bannog watched Ariciel run in front of him, gracefully, effortlessly, white hair blowing in the wind of her speed. Elves were forest-dwellers, he knew. She would probably be able to keep up this pace all the way to Stormwind. Bannog grinned to himself. He’d hated the endless runs Quartermaster had sent him out on, even if it did become easier with practice. Now, he finally admitted to himself that there was a use for them. So far, he had no trouble keeping up, which was good. She looked back at him over her shoulder, presumably to check if he was still there. Not to worry, my lady. Bannog ran on, trying not to stare at her legs for too long at a stretch.

They took turns running in front, to avoid losing concentration. It was Bannog’s turn when he spotted a small group of people sitting beside the road. He raised a fist, and stopped in his tracks. Ariciel had to put a hand on his back to avoid running into him.

“What?” Her voice sounded slightly annoyed.

Bannog pointed forward. Ariciel looked.

“Humans,” she said. “Wearing red bandanas, like the Defias.”

“Too many for us. Let’s go round,” said Bannog.

They stepped into the woods, and gave the group a wide berth. Ariciel took the lead. In the dense growth, she quickly gained a lead on Bannog, who couldn’t keep up and keep quiet at the same time. Bannog followed as best he could, swearing under his breath.

“Wait!” He said, in a curious combination of a shout and a whisper. Ariciel didn’t seem to hear, and was lost from sight.

Suddenly, there was a noise to Bannog’s left, and he turned round, A man wearing a dark face mask was running towards him, sword out. Bannog didn’t wait. He drew his own sword, and charged out to the man, crashing his shoulder into his attacker’s chest. His new sword flashed in the moonlight, and struck the man several times. Leg shot, chest, arm. The masked man realised how much he’d underestimated his prey, and tried to run off, limping, into the wood. Bannog wasn’t having it. He swept the man’s legs from under him, stepped on his sword-arm and with a hard stroke, split his head open. Then, he looked round. Where in Azeroth was that Elf?

He didn’t have to look long. A few hundred yards ahead, he could see bright flashes of light, and hear the sounds of battle. He threw all caution to the wind, and ran forward, crashing through the trees. Ariciel had not been as lucky as Bannog. There were three enemies. Ariciel was fighting one with her staff while casting bright beams of white fire at two others. Bannog lowered his head, and charged. His sword hissed in the air, and sliced off the sword-arm of the enemy nearest to Ariciel. Blood sprayed, and the man stared in horror at the place where his forearm used to be. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed.

The other two took a few seconds to come to their senses, giving Bannog a chance to look at Ariciel. She was in a bad way. He could see several bleeding wounds on her, and her face was streaked with blood.

“Get behind me!”

Ariciel limped, putting Bannog between herself and the other two enemies. Bannog threw his sword from one hand into the other and attacked. Two to one is never easy, and Bannog found he was spending most of his time parrying and deflecting attacks, Only now and then could he strike out. This was bad. It was only a matter of time before one of his enemies got lucky. Bannog cried out, and tried to move faster.

There was a noise behind him, like a rush of air, and a green ball of fire flew past him, hitting the smaller of the two enemies. Bannog’s heart leapt inside him. With the Elf shooting at the enemies, all he had to do was keep them in place for her to shoot at. The smaller of the two swordsmen seemed to understand this as well, dodged under Bannog’s sword and rushed at Ariciel.

“Oh no you don’t.” growled Bannog. He stabbed out, and his sword struck deep into the chest of the enemy running towards the Elf. The man fell to the ground, taking Bannog’s sword with him. The other enemy saw an opportunity, and lunged at Bannog.

Bannog felt the sword enter, underneath his chainmail vest, and being ripped out again. He fell onto his back. He tried to get up again, but couldn’t. A strange sense of peace descended on him. He had killed two of the enemy. Ariciel could deal with the last. She would make it to Stormwind. He looked up at his enemy, who came forward, sword raised for the blow that would kill him. Bannog had done his work.

A bright spot of light appeared above the swordsman’s head, then a bright shaft of light descended on him, burning him, killing him.

Suddenly, Ariciel was kneeling next to Bannog, face streaked with blood and tears.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

Bannog smiled at her. Time for a sleep.

Why Bannog tried to tell his comrades about all this, he couldn’t say. It really wasn’t any of their business. Perhaps speaking about her made her more a living person than a memory. Bannog wasn’t a great storyteller. He rather emphasised his sword-fighting, as one does, and he left out the most important bits. The look in Ariciel’s eyes as she faced him, not certain whether he was friend or foe. The way the moonlight reflected on her hair as she ran. The trembling touch of her hand as he lost consciousness.

“Come on, Bannog! Don’t keep us waiting! Did you survive?”

Chad snorted. “Don’t be stupid Ramoc, of course he survived! He’s sitting right here in front of you!”

Ramoc smiled. “Ah, of course. Thank you for pointing that out to me, Chad.”

Chad grinned. “I’d be much more interested to know how she rewarded you!”

Bannog cast his eyes at the sky. He could, of course, kill him, but then he’d never learn and he, Bannog, would probably be executed as a traitor due to the complete inability of court-martials to listen to reason. Bannog held his wine-skin up in the air, then turned it upside down to demonstrate its emptiness.

“I’m out of wine, thanks, Joran. Also, it’s getting cold and dark. Shall we move to the inn?”

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


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