Part 11: It takes but a sigh to break the silence

“This one is going to be tricky,” said Ariciel. She was sitting in a chair, in Mathrengyl’s private quarters. On the table was a map of Felwood. Felwood was a large forested area to the East of Darkshore. Times had not been kind to Felwood, and many of the animals that lived there now were diseased and corrupted shadows of their former selves. Ariciel picked up her teacup from where it had been keeping the map from rolling up, replacing it with her finger. She took a sip, then replaced the cup.

“I’d feel a lot better if a Warrior was going with me.”

Mathrengyl smiled. “Anyone specific in mind?”

“Always. But I can’t have him. He’s being entertained by the Alliance Army at Menethil. They are usually loath to lend out their warriors to passing Druids.”

Bearwalker’s eyes softened with old memories. “You know, there is a disadvantage to taking up with Humans.”

Ariciel looked across the map to her trainer, saying nothing.

“Given no evil befalls, you can expect to live for a thousand years. He’ll have about eighty if he’s lucky. You’ll have to bury him.”

“Are you advising me against it?”

Bearwalker shook his head. “No. But whatever you were going to do with him, don’t put it off.” He sat back in his chair. “I once had a Human lover. She was more beautiful than anyone I’ve known since. We were together for only fifty years. I watched her turn from a young girl into an old woman.” Mathrengyl smiled, staring far, far away. “And still, she was beautiful. I came to her house one morning, and she was gone. Died in her sleep. She’s spoiled my taste for young girls. These days, I don’t even look at women under four hundred.”

Ariciel leaned on the table, a smile on her face. “So no seducing you for free spells, then?”

“That would be ill-advised, yes. You’ll just have to work for them like everybody else.” Ariciel dropped her gaze, as though she were thinking about something.

“There’s something I’ve always been meaning to ask, but frankly, you scared the life out of me at the time so I never did.”

“Hmm?”

“Making love to Humans, Elf-fashion. You asked me if I’d ever done it, and I still haven’t, for lack of Human. Have you ever?”

A slow grin appeared on Bearwalker’s tired face. “I’d say that’s none of your business, but I suppose I owe you that answer after what I put you through. So yes, I have. It’s actually the only exception to the ‘Don’t draw mana’ rule, technically speaking. Though in truth you’re not stealing energy from them, you’re cycling your own energy through both your bodies.”

“This is relevant to my interests. Pray continue.”

“I bet it is. What you do, is to start pushing your energy into them, just as with an Elf. Normally, your friend will then start pushing back, and balance is maintained and nobody explodes.” Mathrengyl waved his finger in circles, illustrating.

“But Humans and Dwarves and Gnomes don’t know how to pour their energy into you, so you have to do it for them. The mental image is of becoming one body with them, and transferring energy from your hand to whichever part of theirs is most in need of care. Then through, you pretend, your body but actually theirs, back through any point where you happen to be touching, and so on, till you’re both happy.”

Ariciel stared, trying to take this in, then looked back at Mathrengyl, still unsure.

“Give me your arm.”

“Huh?”

“Your arm. You are my student. I am not going to demonstrate on your breasts.”

Ariciel rolled up her sleeve and presented a bare arm. Bearwalker put one hand on her wrist, the other on her elbow. His left hand glowed, and a familiar warmth spread through Ariciel’s arm, up to Mathrengyl’s other hand, where it disappeared. She didn’t have to do a thing to return the magic to him. Hmm. He was only using a shimmer of his power. Any four-hundred-year-old Elf would be a very lucky Elf. He let go, and the feeling faded. Bearwalker presented his own arm.

“Try.”

Ariciel held his arm in both her hands, in her mind turning it into her own arm, then let some magic flow through it, round and round. She smiled, let go. Bearwalker rolled his sleeve back down.

“And that’s how you do that. Do it right, and they’ll love you forever. They don’t have anything like this.”

Ariciel nodded, making careful mental notes of what Bearwalker had done. Now to find a Human and try it out on him. She looked at the map in front of them. Well, after this job, that is.


“I have caught the traitor! He was skulking around, stealing our food, when I caught him. Let justice be done upon this miserable wretch!” Chad kicked the prone form of Ramoc where he lay. Bannog winced. This could be bad. Captain Swann emerged from his tent, fully armoured.

“So, Ramoc. Finally you see fit to rejoin your comrades? Involuntarily, I understand, but a reunion nonetheless. Very good. Bannog! Joran! Take this person to the stockade. Well done for catching him, Chad!” Swann looked round. “Is there anything to see here? I thought not. Dismissed!”

Bannog took Ramoc’s left arm, Joran his right, and they hauled him to his feet. Ramoc’s head hung limply between his shoulders, swinging back and forth as they dragged him down to the stockade. At one point, there was a slight pause in the rhythm of swinging, and a small smile appeared on Joran’s face. They dumped him into one of the cages without any ceremony, and quite realistically. Ramoc shot them a dirty look, as he got up and sat in a corner. Presently, they were joined by Captain Swann.

“Morning Captain,” said Ramoc. “I’m back. If you want me to scream piteously, just say so. I’ll just think of Bannog’s cooking.”

Bannog looked at the captain with big blue eyes. “I can beat him up for you, Captain. For that extra touch of realism.”

“Yeah, yeah. Cut the fun. What’s up?”

Ramoc got up, and walked to the bars of the cage. “I caught the little scrote that was taking Kent’s notes. I poisoned him with Arcane Deathwish Poison and asked him if he wanted the antidote.”

Swann looked grim. “I didn’t know there was an antidote for that.”

“Sure there is. You take a metal dagger, put it in one of their ears and push till it comes out the other. Then they won’t die of the poison. Anyway, he told me that there was going to be a special delivery tomorrow night. Apparently Mr. Kent is going to try and cull our happy company a bit. He’ll get from the Venture Company a package with three poison ingredients, each of which he’ll put in a different kind of foodstuff. You only die if you have all three of the ingredients. Nice and random. Then when people start dying, the survivors will be at each other’s throats before you can say ‘It was him wot did it.'”

Swann scowled. “This has gone on for long enough now. I’m going to take a leap of faith and assume that there’s no other snitches in the new lot. I’ll let Joran and Bannog and Chad take you away to Stromgarde for a court-martial and subsequent hanging. In actuality, you’ll intercept our master chef and his catering people, kill the delivery people and bring back Kent in irons if you can. If you can’t, don’t worry too much about it. I want to have a complete company again. Fast. I’m getting tired of all this mistrust.” He grinned at Ramoc. “Meanwhile, enjoy the hospitality of our stockade. Hopefully it will make you repent of your sinful thieving ways.” he pointed at Bannog and Joran. You two, guard him. Just in case someone is afraid of what young Ramoc might say. He turned back to Ramoc. “And may I please have my dagger back? Hilt first, if you don’t mind.”

“Aww. It fell out of your pocket,” said Ramoc, handing it over. “I was just keeping it to give back to you.”

“I believe you, Ramoc,” said Swann, turning round to leave. “Thousands wouldn’t.”

Joran looked earnestly at his friend. “One of these days, Ramoc, that’ll land you in the stockade.”

Ramoc shrugged. “I only steal from my friends and superior officers if they ask for it. You must admit. He was asking for it. So. Anyone up for a game of cards?”

Bannog laughed. “Against you, that would merely be a very complicated way of asking for it.”

Ramoc actually didn’t cheat. Not because he couldn’t if he wanted to, and certainly not out of any respect for the sanctity of the game, but because he found it much more rewarding to steal from his friends by legitimate means.

Nevertheless, they let him deal the first round.


“See? I always get the shit jobs. Swann has it in for me, I tell you. Slogging all the way to Stromgarde and back. At least on the way back I won’t have that bloody deserter with me. Though I probably won’t get to see him hang. ‘Get back as soon as you can.’ Yeah right.”

“Well, you won’t be going alone, anyway. The other warrior and that weird one are coming, too!”

“That supposed to make me feel better?”

Kent grinned. “All part of the joys of army life, my friend. Go places, meet people, get shot at, see the world!”

“Yeah right.” Bannog fastened the last strap on his armour, a rather fetching new number in dull black plate. It didn’t clink, and it didn’t shine. Perfect for slinking through the forest like a graceful rhinoceros. He’d reinforced it with a genuine Elf-made armour kit, fresh from Darnassus. Ready to take on the world.

Bannog grabbed his sword and wandered off. Wonder if I’ll see you again today, my friend.


“There. Now we won’t be missed till, oh, the day after tomorrow. Now could someone please take off these ropes?”

“No,” said Joran.

“Oh go on!” He looked at Bannog.

“No.”

“I’ll give you your money back!”

Joran grinned. “Ah. Now you’re talking!”

“I don’t know. Do we make him pay us more?”

“No use. He’ll just win it off us again afterwards.”

“Sod you, then,” said Ramoc. He wriggled his shoulders, moved his arms and the ropes fell off him. “Are we far enough away now? I don’t know when this delivery is going to happen, remember.”

“Swann’ll keep him busy all day, so that means we need to be able to grab him when he leaves camp tonight.”

Chad, who had been staring vacantly into space, suddenly stirred, and put his hand on Ramoc’s shoulder. “I am sorry for hurting you, even though you told me to. It pained me to speak ill of you, my friend. Nasty little sneak-thief you may be, but traitor no.”

Chad gave Ramoc a hug to make his bones creak. Ramoc’s fingers hovered over Chad’s pocket. Then he smiled. “That’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me. Thanks, Chad.”

“Shall we?” asked Joran. Without waiting for an answer, he set off to the North, parallel to the wall This was not an entirely risk-free route. Various wild creatures roamed the Arathi Highlands, the most interesting of which were Earth Elementals. Humanoid only in the vaguest of senses, these ambulant rocks attacked anything soft and fleshy they set their invisible eyes on. They saw several of these in the long distance, but none close up, for which they were truly grateful.

Bannog took a deep breath. The Arathi Highlands were cool. Nothing large, like trees or even shrubs grew there, but there was grass. Large, green plains of grass stretching out as far as the eye could see. As he ran, they startled a rabbit, which ran like the wind, changing directions, the way they do. The first few rabbits to appear on these plains must have thought themselves rich beyond the dream of avarice. Bannog thought of his longbow and that evening’s dinner, but left it. Time enough later.

Finally, they reached the point where Thoradin’s wall turned into the natural wall of the Arathi Mountains. There, they waited for nightfall.

Bannog had clambered onto the wall, and sat there admiring a glorious sunset, when he heard footsteps to his left. Looking round, he saw the massive form of Sergeant Benn, and the altogether smaller and more attractive one of Sergeant Bennett. Benn turned towards his colleague.

“Now there is a man at ease with himself, Sergeant! His pose betrays satisfaction over a job well done. Which is strange, as he should be half way to Stromgarde by now, to deliver that sneak that I see there by the campfire, stuffing his gut with…” the Sergeant sniffed the air, “Roasted rabbit, unless my nose deceives me.”

Ramoc pointed at the fire. “If you’ll spare my life, Sarge, you can have some.”

“Gladly, my lad! I trust you’re well? No bones were broken?”

“None to speak of, Sarge,” said Ramoc, handing Benn a part of rabbit. You, ma’am?”

“No thanks. So what’s all this nonsense I hear about Kent? He’s been with my company for six months now. Not that long, but I thought I could trust him.”

Bannog looked into Bennett’s eyes. “I caught him at it, Sarge. There’s no mistake. Ramoc here caught his contact.”

Ramoc nodded. “A Goblin. Nasty green little bugger. Unfortunately with a good memory, ’cause he didn’t take any notes, which would have clinched it. But I’m sure that Kent’s been not sleeping with the enemy.”

Sergeant Benn finished his rabbit leg, inspected it to see if he’d missed anything, then threw the bone in the fire. “And thanks to you, I had the unsavoury job of carrying a decomposing goblin to camp for investigation. Sad to say, whoever sent him, knew what they were doing. Nothing identifiable on the corpse at all.”

Sergeant Bennett pulled a face. “Well, we could hardly expect a note saying ‘If found, please return to The Horde, Orgrimmar. Include sufficient postage. Inform Infantryman Kent that service will be resumed as soon as possible.’ It’s just that I haven’t noticed him doing anything suspicious these months. Not that I’ve been looking, mind, so I’m not ruling it out, but still…”

Benn nodded. “Well, let’s see what he does tonight, and take it from there. Now to facilitate this, we have some nice equipment for you. Don’t break it. It’s not paid off yet.” He produced from his bag a number of items.

“These are signalling lamps. Invited by the gnomes. You line up the crosshair like this… and then you pull the trigger, like so.”

A flash of red light briefly illuminated Bannog’s face.

“Visible over a distance of at least four miles, if you aim right. at that distance, totally invisible twenty yards to the left or right. So even a lousy shot like Joran can get us to take notice.”

Sergeant Benn handed out lamps to Joran and Ramoc. Now two of you will take up positions to the West of the wall, two to the east. The ones to the West will watch the camp, the ones to the East will watch the gate, to see if our master chef sees fit to go that way. Meanwhile, my lovely colleague and I will take up stations on top of the wall, where we will engage in deep Sergeant-like discussions beyond the understanding of you grunts.”

Joran looked innocent. “How to water the beer-barrel after an inspection, Sarge?”

Sergeant Bennett shot Joran a look. “You’re out of line Soldier! Beer is for illiterate louts. I drink wine. Redridge Claret if ever you need a favour from me.”

Benn nodded sagely, and explained a simple set of signals: “We are still alive”, “He’s coming our way”, and “He’s coming your way”. Easy. They put out their fire, and buried all evidence of their presence. Then Bannog and Joran set off along the East side of the wall, Ramoc and Chad along the West, and the Sergeants over the top.

Joran and Bannog arrived at the camp, and gave it a wide berth. They found a good vantage point, and watched the camp go about its nightly business. Joran peered through the sight of the signalling lamp, and spotted Sergeant Benn’s shaggy head above the parapet. He pulled the trigger, signalling Benn where they were. Benn flashed in return. The camp went to sleep. Watchmen patrolled the perimeter of the camp. The fires burnt low, then dwindled to smouldering ashes.

Joran yawned. “Come out, you bastard. Time for your evening walk.” Kent for some reason failed to obey. Time passed. Every fifteen minutes or so, there was a red flash from the wall, which they answered.

Bannog was finding it hard to keep awake. Once or twice, he almost nodded off, only to catch himself. Now that the initial excitement was over, the watch was boring. He thought of sneaking to his tent to see if Kent was asleep. Perhaps they’d missed him? Joran shook his head.

“We’ve been watching that tent all evening. We did see him go in it didn’t we?”

Bannog noticed another red flash from the wall. He picked up the light and answered the signal. “Aye, we did. Bastard is probably fast asleep.”

As they watched, the night patrols were relieved. Joran grinned in the dark. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes,” he mumbled.

“Huh?”

“It’s a foreign language. It means ‘Who watches the watchers?'”

“Yeah? And?”

“Never mind.”

As the watchmen were going through their business, Bannog suddenly noticed movement near his tent. There! Kent was trying to slip away unnoticed as the guards wished each other good-night and good watch. He knocked on Joran’s shoulder and pointed. Joran nodded, and raised the signalling lamp. Which way was Kent going? Damn! He was coming straight at them. Joran paused. If he used the signal now, Kent would have to be blind not to see it. He put his finger on his lips, and watched, waiting for Kent to pass them so he could signal Benn.

As quiet as he could, Bannog got up and made ready to follow Kent. Kent seemed not to notice. He passed not ten yards in front of them. When he’d taken a few steps, Joran raised the lantern and flashed the appointed signal. ‘This way!’ There was a single answering flash from the top of the wall. Now he was out of sight of the camp, Kent sped up and trotted through the trees in an Easterly direction. Joran and Bannog followed him as best they could. Bannog winced whenever he kicked through some leaves or stepped on a twig, but Kent seemed oblivious.

Suddenly, without any warning, Kent stopped and turned round, listening and looking back in the direction he had come. Joran veered off to the right, behind some rocks. Bannog dropped flat onto his stomach. Ahead of them, Kent had dropped into a crouch, and was trying to spot any pursuers. Damn. Had he heard them? Not impossible. Or was he just taking a precaution against any that might follow? Either way, there was a good chance he’d noticed something. Bannog pretended to be a rock. Kent kept staring in his direction, then turned round and walked on. Bannog waited. Kent suddenly turned round and looked behind him again. Bannog smiled. Expecting trouble, are we? Apparently satisfied, Kent broke into a run. Bannog waited a bit longer, then got up and ran in a crouch towards the shadow of the rocks. Keeping close to cover, he continued running after Kent. He wondered where Joran was, but keeping track of Kent was more important. If Kent got help somewhere, Bannog could always let them go and catch Kent on his way back.

Kent remained suspicious. He’d suddenly change direction, stop and listen or double back a bit. It was all Bannog could do to stay out of sight. Joran was nowhere to be seen, but Bannog didn’t doubt he’d be around somewhere. No use bunching up anyway. Luckily, it was a clear night, with just enough moonlight to see by. It was cool, but not too cold. Bannog smiled. Ariciel would love this place, with its large green plains of grass, full of life. He looked ahead.

Kent had slowed down again. As Bannog watched, Kent stopped under a small tree, one of the very few in the place. He looked round, then sat down under the tree, his back against it, waiting. Ahh. Kent felt round in his pocket, pulled out a pipe and filled it with tobacco. With his eyes all used to the dark, it looked like an enormous flash of light when Kent struck a match and lit it. Bannog sat down and watched, as Kent’s face periodicaly lit up in the red glow of his pipe. Bannog could smell the smoke as it drifted towards him. He listened for any sound of disturbance. Would Joran be in the area? Enemies? How many people would it take to deliver a package anyway?

Bannog became aware of footsteps, behind him and to his right. He listened carefully. Whoever it was, he wasn’t making any attempts at stealth. Bannog didn’t move, as the unknown person walked first to his right, then ahead of him. The messenger walked straight at the tree up to Kent.

Bannog got to his feet, and drew his sword, quietly. Slowly and carefully, he advanced. The messenger had to be a goblin. Bannog had never seen one, but they featured in many a story. Taller than a Gnome, but shorter than a Dwarf. Large pointed ears and a pointed chin, giving the appearance of a goatee. Eternal grins on their faces, inviting you to trust them and be their friends. Ugly little sods. Bannog watched and considered. Could he take on the both of them? He took a deep breath. Yeah, no problem. Keeping Kent alive was going to be more difficult, but doable. Meanwhile, Kent was talking to the messenger.

“I haven’t been told about any payment. Just give me the package and I’ll see that you get paid later.”

“Hah! You think I’m stupid, no? Once you get the goods, You’ll be off and I can go and whistle to my money. Cash. On. Delivery. Or you can bloody well brew your own poison.”

“Well, I don’t have any gold on me, and Grim never said I should have. Are you trying to make a little on the side, my little green friend? I may have to report you for that.”

“Report away! If Grim forgot to tell you to bring gold, then it’s his fault.”

“Good evening, Kent! Hello little green person! Are we doing a little business here?” Joran steped out from behind the tree, sword drawn. Kent jumped up. His hand flew to his belt and he tried to draw a dagger. With a beautiful balletic movement, Joran took one step forward, leapt into the air and kicked Kent in the side of the head. Kent fell over like a wet rag. The goblin screeched, and Bannog suddenly heard running footsteps behind him. Damn! The little bastard had reinforcements! Bannog jumped to his feet to come to Joran’s aid. The messenger goblin was already attacking Joran with a shortsword. Joran easily parried the thrusts, and counter-attacked, drawing blood. As the hidden goblins charged, Bannog rushed forward, following them. The last one only knew Bannog was there when his sword swung round and hewed the legs from under him. The Goblin fell down, screaming. The other two kept going for Joran, who now had to parry three attacking Goblins. This was a bit of a challenge even for Joran, and one of the goblins managed to hit Joran’s leg.

With a great shout, Bannog charged. Two of the goblins turned round to him, and started to circle round. Bannog was having none of it. He leapt backwards, then swung his sword at both goblins in sweeping strikes, hitting one of them in the arm, the other in the stomach. That slowed them down a little, though they weren’t about to give up yet. These goblins had obviously worked together before. One of them kept Bannog occupied with a series of stabs and swings, while the other one tried to outflank him. Bannog countered by moving round, keeping the goblin that was attacking him between himself and the other. Bannog marvelled at the goblin’s strength. For such a small creature, he packed one hell of a punch. It took a fair deal of Bannog’s strength to push him back when parrying. Time for a bit of cunning. Bannog leapt back, threw his sword from his right hand into his left, then lunged. The Goblin had not expected that, and took a hit on his shoulder. He changed stance to deal with attacks coming from the other side. Bannog switched his sword back from left to right, and scored another hit. meanwhile, his friend kept trying to get behind Bannog, perfectly happy to let his mate take the punishment. Bannog now went on the offensive, with hard sweeps driving the wounded goblin back. Suddenly, the little green man decided he’d had enough, and bolted, counting on his small size and quick accelleration to get out of trouble. To Bannog, this meant that he had a nice easy target just a quick run away. By sheer brute force, he rushed out to the fleeing goblin and scored a headshot. The goblin just stood there, dazed. Bannog took the chance offered to him and with a vicious sweep broke the goblin’s neck. Something tripped him up, and he fell. As quick as he could, he turned onto his back. The defeated goblin’s brother was on him, feet buried below Bannog’s body for leverage, trying to stab Bannog in the throat with a dagger. Bannog held the creature’s wrists, but amazingly, the dagger started to descend regardless. By the Light! Nothing that small should be allowed to be that strong! Bannog took a deep breath, and pushed back with all his might. The dagger retreated a little bit, then started to descend again. The creature’s eyes glittered with malicious rage.

“You’re going to die, Human. Give it up, and I’ll kill you quickly. Soon, it’ll be all over.”

Slowly, the dagger descended.

“Give up, you stupid lug! I’m stronger than you are! If you keep struggling, I’ll make it hurt more!”

Sweat pearled on Bannog’s forehead. Despite his best efforts, he could not break the grip of the goblin’s legs round his torso He tried swinging his legs up, and around the Goblin’s head, but the goblin just bowed his head and kept pushing, closer and closer.

“Stop annoying me, lug! Soon, I’ll know the colour of your blood!”

“Do goblins bleed green?”

The goblin looked up to see Joran behind him, sword held aloft. The creature gave a loud shriek, and Joran’s sword came down. At once, the incredible pressure on Bannog’s arms ceased, and he could throw off his attacker. For a few seconds, Bannog just lay there, trembling. Joran held his hand out to him. Bannog took it, and was pulled to his feet. He picked up his sword.

“Thanks. Those little buggers are tough!”

“They are. Quick too. I lucked out on killing mine.”

“By the way, nice technique, that boot to the head of Mr. Kent. Where’d you learn how to do that?”

Joran grinned. “That’s a martial art called Tae Kwon Leep. Works wonders for less-than-lethal attacks. Let’s see what he has to say.”

They returned to the tree where Kent had been waiting. To their dismay, Kent was gone. Joran looked at Bannog. If Kent had grabbed the poison, he could do lots of damage with it. Joran jumped at the messenger goblin, and searched the body. With a smile, he pulled out a package and showed it to Bannog.

“Well, we didn’t get Kent, but we killed the catering staff and we got the poison. I say that’s two points for the Mage Killers.”

“The night’s still young. Want to go search for him?” Joran scratched his chin.

“Could be anywhere by now. If I were him, I’d go to ground somewhere nobody would find me and regroup. Let’s get back to camp. We still need to reinstate Ramoc as a non-traitor. And who knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky on our way back.” Joran put the deadly package in his pocket.

They ran back to camp. Long before they got there, they met soldiers from Thoradin’s wall, who had been alerted to evil being afoot. They went straight to Captain Swann, and gave him the package.

“Kent got away, then?”

Joran nodded ruefully. “I’m afraid so. Sneaked off while we were busy with the catering staff. But at least we got the food supplements.”

Swann sighed. “Well, can’t be helped. We’ll have to increase the patrols round the camp just in case he tries something funny. But that’s enough work for tonight. Dismissed!”

Bannog and Joran returned to the camp. It would have been nice to say that harmony had now returned to the twenty-fifth, and that all was well. But it hadn’t, and it wasn’t. Small groups of Old and New twenty-fifth clumped together. It’s never a good thing if one of your number turns traitor. It’s even worse if that traitor then turns out to be straight, or so we’re told, and another one turns out to be the traitor. Swann sat a bit to one side, and watched his men and his one woman and his one Elf, worrying about how to turn them into a fighting unit again. The first priority would be to catch the real traitor. Or he could just decamp to another place, such as Refuge pointe. Or… Swann sighed. There was always the Common Enemy Approach. Let them fight against someone that both Old and New could properly hate. He shook his head. Sleep on it. Tomorrow’s another day.

Bannog sat by the fire, nursing a pint of something meant for illiterate louts. He swung his mug round, watching the bubbles form. His mind felt pleasantly numb. No rushing after poisoners or traitors for a while. And tonight, due to Kent’s absence, he’d be able to get some proper sleep. He thought of Ariciel, as he found he often did just before turning in. Would she still be in Darnassus, or would she be out in the world again, looking for her family? She wouldn’t just rush off without writing him, of course, but letters to and from the Military often took a while to arrive, for a number of reasons. Slowly, he became aware of someone singing a song he knew from long ago.
 

By the rising of the moon, by the rising of the moon,
For the pikes must be together at the rising of the moon

Bannog looked up to see who was singing, and found it was Sharp Shooter Connor. Imagine that. Bannog sat up. So did some of the others. Connor’s clear voice rang out above the murmurs of mistrust, above the mists of suspicion. “The Rising Of The Moon” was a simple tune, but a rousing one.
 

One more word for signal token, whistle up a marchin’ tune,
With your pike upon your shoulder, by the rising of the moon.

Several men joined in the chorus, both old and new. Bannog knew the verses well. The song had been a popular one by the fireplace in Caer Bannog. He remembered singing it with his Father, and Selena and Gerrig. If he tried hard, he could even remember his mother sitting there, listening to this song, slightly disapproving as she was of all things warlike, but still enjoying the feeling. Bannog quietly sang along with the verses. At the next chorus, most of the men, and Sergeant Bennett, were singing along. Bannog sucked his gut full of air, and sang along with the rest.
 

At the rising of the moon, at the rising of the moon.
And a thousand pikes were flashing at the rising of the moon.

In his mind, Bannog recommended Connor for a medal. Such a simple thing to do, and suddenly, all the Twenty-Fifth was joining in, both Old and New.
 

By the Light, e’en still are beating hearts in manhood burning noon,
Who would follow in their footsteps, at the risin’ of the moon.

Thoradin’s wall echoed the sound of their last chorus as all of the twenty-fifth sang. The song ended, and men smiled at each other, before they remembered that they didn’t like each other. Not the cure to all things that were wrong, of course, but a small push in the right direction. Bannog drained his mug to Connor’s health, made his way to his tent, and slept the Watchful Sleep till the morning.


Mathrengyl Bearwalker swam in the direction of Auberdine in his sea lion shape. He could have taken the ferry, of course, but he’d felt like a bit of exercise and a swim that would kill many other Elves was just the thing. Sticking a bullet-shaped, fanged head above the surface, he noticed the lanterns in Auberdine’s inn. He grinned an aquatic grin, took a deep breath, and shot towards the shore like an Elf torpedo. Staying a hand’s breadth away from the bottom, kicking up great clouds of sand as he went, he watched the surface get nearer and nearer. Finally, he burst it, leapt high into the air and transformed in mid-air, landing in a crouched position on the sandy beach, with a big smile on his face. Simple pleasures. Forget how to enjoy them, and life gets so boring.

Bearwalker clambered onto the boardwalk, and gazed along its length, till he spotted the Elf he was after: Fiora Longears. “Longears” was a nickname given to her by the Humans that she’d lived with, back when Elves and Humans didn’t mix much. Her ears, though irrefutably graceful and shapely, were of ordinary size. Still, her nickname suited her well. As with so many things, it’s what you do with them that counts. Fiora was fabulously rich, and still lived in a small house along the beach, where she made necklaces out of sea-shells, or small sticky treats for children, which she sold at the pier of Auberdine Harbour, when she felt like it. It gave her the opportunity to watch the comings and goings in the Darkshore area. To keep her ears to the ground, so to speak. Bearwalker walked up to her, as she was chatting with a customer, showing her a few necklaces and a brooch that went with it. He stood behind her, and whispered in her ear.

“Good evening, Fiora.” Even from behind, he could see her smile.

“Fandral Staghelm! Oh you beast! You have returned!”

“I’ll let you guess again, and if you get it right, there may be a small prize. There would have been a big prize if you’d guessed right the first time.”

Fiora turned her head and smiled at Bearwalker. “Just a moment.” Turning back to her customer, she pressed both necklaces into her hands.

“Tonight is your lucky night. Here. Have them both. Wear the pink one tonight, though, it suits your dress much better than the red.”

The pretty Night-elf couldn’t believe her luck, thanked Fiora and walked back to her friends.

“You’ll blow your cover that way, you know?”

“Pff! Cover? What cover? Besides, the look on that girl’s face made it worth it. Your hair is wet! Have you been swimming?”

“Missed the ferry by, oh, half an hour or so. So I thought I’d try to catch it. But then I got bored swimming in Elf form, so I changed.”

“Hmm. Maybe you should come to my place and dry up. I think I may have a bottle of green left somewhere. Play your cards right and I may help you out of your wet clothes.”

Bearwalker sat in a comfortable chair, his clothes hanging on chairs by the fire, a glass of Darnassian Green in his hand. He twirled the syrupy liquid, watching it stick to the glass, and reflected that not many Elves would recognise just how expensive the crystal was. Still, here it was, in a small house with a door lock that worked only some of the time. He looked at Fiora, and raised his glass to her.

“To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists.”

She replied: “And may each and every one of us always give the devil his due.”

They gazed at each other, two of the dwindling number of ancients, and smiled. Bearwalker drank, fully conscious of the fact that the wine he was drinking might have been made in his youth. Guessing the age of wine was an old game of theirs, but this one, he couldn’t determine at all. He guessed wildly.

“Hundred and fifty two.”

Fiora raised her eyebrows. “That, I wouldn’t keep here. It’s in my bank in Darnassus. Just cheap booze, this one, I’m afraid.” She leant over to Bearwalker. “Why are you here?”

Bearwalker sighed, and stared into the fire. “Another one. Came to me, hoping to learn how to keep more mana in his pool than any sane person should have. Couldn’t gather enough to fill it up in a year, of course.” His face was completely still, and his voice completely even. Fiora knew that for a sign of how angry he was. “But we know a solution to that problem, don’t we? Stupid, stupid misguided fool.”

Bearwalker took another sip of wine, and didn’t speak for a long time. Fiora didn’t say anything.

“He caught on too soon.” he looked into Fiora’s eyes, the pain now apparent on his face. “I had to fight.” Fiora stood up, sat on Bearwalker’s lap and pressed his head to her shoulder. There weren’t any comforting words she could say. So she didn’t. She simply sat there, sharing his pain, for a very long time. Finally, Bearwalker looked up, and smiled at her.

“Thank you.”

Fiora smiled back. “What are old friends for?” She ran a long, slender finger along Bearwalker’s cheek. “Anything else I can do with you?”

“I need to know some of your information.”

“You know that’s not what I meant. But perhaps you’re not in the mood, if you can’t tell my best wine from this plonk. Nice plonk, but plonk nonetheless. What do you need to know?”

“Anything you know about our late, lamented High-borne.”

“Hmm. Can’t tell you much about them, I’m afraid. One of the cooks was my girl inside, and she’s left. Good thing she did, too, considering. If he wasn’t as tight as a clam, you might ask Fandral. He used to be a pretty regular guest there.

“Arch-druid Staghelm? What on Azeroth could he want with them?”

“I don’t know. Some common interest, perhaps.”

“I shudder to think what that interest might be. One of my students used to be a chamber-maid there. Lady Iressa taught her stuff she really shouldn’t know. Luckily, I could get rid of it before it damaged her soul, or there would have been another grave.”

“Chamber maid… Hmm. Blonde or black?”

“Platinum blonde. Her name is Ariciel. Nice kid. More clever than she realises.”

“Oh. I know her. Well, I know of her. Daughter of my cook friend. She’s back then, is she? Where’s her mother and sister?”

“She doesn’t know. That’s why she came back. Time’s too rough for an Elf with no firepower, so she came to me to learn how to fight and continue looking for them.” Bearwalker sighed. “And now, she’s got plenty of firepower. I suppose she’ll be leaving before too long. I’ll miss her. Without her, I’m back to miseducating newbies. There’s more to life than bloody target practice. But try telling that to a Council that’s hungry for more fighters.”

Fiora smiled, and picked up the not very cheap bottle. “More wine?”

“Better not. I have to swim back.”

“After all that time drying your clothes? Take the ferry. You know this wine turns sour in a day. I’d have to drink it all myself, on my own. You wouldn’t want me to turn into a lush, would you?”

“Elune save us. One more, then. You aren’t trying to feed me drunk so you can have your way with me, are you?”

“I wouldn’t dare.” She ran her fingers through his hair, and made herself more comfortable on his lap. “Since when would I need wine for that?”


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

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