Part 2: Stormwind.

“Now that was unusual,” said Joran.

The others agreed. The scenery before them had altered substantially when the Elven mages had unleashed hell and damnation upon the unfortunate Dark Iron Dwarves, who were now regretting for Eternity their decision to aid the Horde. Bannog and his companions were on what was affectionately known as “Meat Shield duty”. For all their firepower, or perhaps because of it, mages had never bothered to invest much in armour. Which is of course where Bannog and company came in. As a band of warriors, they invested in little else but armour, making them perfectly suitable to stand between the Hordies and the Squishies. The understanding was that the Meat Shields would deal with unfriendly swords, while the mages would try to hit the advancing mobs before they could reach said Meat Shields. The arrangement usually worked well, and helped forge bands of good rapport and mutual respect between the various members of the Alliance.

“There! Now was that so hard?” asked one of the Elven mages.

Ramoc pulled out a rag and cleaned the blood off one of his daggers. “Couldn’t have done it without you guys,” he said. “Now for the next time when we aren’t there, Horde troops can come in from behind as well as from the front, on account of them being nasty sneaky buggers alright?” He smiled disarmingly at one of the rather pretty Elven spellcaster women. “I’ve been told that metal interferes with spellcasting, especially if it’s three inches up your kidney.”

Nobody can do ice-cold disdain like a tall, ivory-skinned Elf woman, and she was giving Ramoc the full benefit of her abilities. She deigned to notice the body of an iron-clad dwarf behind her.

“Thank you,” she conceded.

Ramoc grinned. “Don’t mention it.”

He knew that the Elves would be coming back with them to Menethil, and he planned a long happy afternoon of trying to seduce this young lady. He knew perfectly well that he hadn’t a chance, of course, but it would be almost as entertaining to watch her squirm at his advances.

The group spent a disgusting two hours sorting through the rubble, dealing with any survivors of debatable luck. Then, they rejoined their Elven allies and set off back to Menethil. Bannog was eager to reach the inn and wash the filth off him. Having had to look into the eyes of a Dwarf burnt beyond any hope of survival, then watch the expression, almost of relief, on the misshapen face as Bannog finished him off, had put him in the foulest of moods. Rather than making him feel elated in their victory, it had reminded him of the fact that tomorrow, this could be him. A small distance away, Bannog could hear Ramoc cheerfully chatting to the Elven mage, who kept a stony silence. It grated on Bannog’s nerves, but despite this, he did not begrudge him his game. He knew all too well that people had different ways of dealing with the harsh realities. Another time, he might have done much the same thing, tossing the severed heads of enemies to his comrades so they could be counted, then burned. Today, however, he was in no mood for jest. He stared ahead, unsmiling, silent, as he trudged along the road back to Menethil.

It was later, and Bannog was sitting quietly in a corner of the inn. He must have eaten, because his plate was empty. The fare at the inn was excellent, but Bannog hadn’t noticed. Without warning, Joran sat himself in front of Bannog, and plonked a jug of ale in front of him. He held up his own, and toasted.

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

Bannog smiled, grabbed the jug, and answered. “Ever be it so!”

Both men drank.

“Time to snap out of it, Bannog!” said Joran, “Lots more work tomorrow.”

Bannog nodded, and stirred himself out of his gloomy thoughts. They were joined by Ramoc. He put down his mug of cider on the table and chuckled to himself.

“Any luck with your new lady, Ramoc?”

Ramoc spread his hands in a gesture of resign. He cast his eyes dramatically at the ceiling.

“My love has repaired upstairs to her bath. I offered to wash her back for her, but she declined, saying the inn provides brushes on a stick, curse them! Those things are a menace and an obstacle to love!” He sat down next to Bannog. “Speaking of Elven women, you haven’t told us how you fared after that fight with those Defiases. As I recall, you were lying on the ground dying. What happened?”

Bannog smiled as he thought of Ariciel, who at this moment was most likely working on her Druidic studies in Teldrassil. Bannog stared at his mug, drained it in one gulp, and offered to get another round. When all needs were provided for, Bannog continued his tale.


As Chad had correctly observed, Bannog did not die that night. Instead, he came to himself in the full light of day, hidden in dense undergrowth. He was lying on a bed of dry leaves, and covered with a fur blanket. Ariciel sat nearby, with her back to a tree. She looked terrible. Her eyes were open, but Bannog did not believe she was truly awake. She hadn’t even wiped the blood off her face. Bannog stared at her, until she stirred. She gave him an uncertain smile.

“How do you feel?”

Her voice sounded unsteady, tired. She had one hand on her staff, which lay over her knees. Her other hand lay in her lap, and Bannog could see it was shaking. He took a slow breath. The girl must have spent every last drop of her power on him. He tried to move, and found to his relief that he could. All that remained of his wounds was a strange stiffness. He threw the blanket off him, and tried to get up. Ariciel looked round nervously as he did. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, taking a deep breath.

“Our foes lie dead, while we draw breath,” he whispered.

It was a traditional phrase of celebration among Warriors, deliberately understated, acknowledging the fact that tomorrow might well be different. He had heard it spoken by other warriors, but never before had he felt the sheer joy for the present, mixed with the fear for the future. A fear to be controlled carefully, or your courage might fail. He sighed, looked at Ariciel and smiled.

“Ever be it so.”

He knelt in front of Ariciel, who stared at her feet. Gently, carefully, Bannog put his fingers under her chin, and she turned her face up to him.

“You saved my life last night. Thank you.”

Ariciel blinked.

“But if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have been in danger in the first place,” she said.

Bannog shook his head.

“If I had left you to your fate last night, I would have been in danger some other time or place. I am a Warrior. You have fought with me, and not deserted me.”

Ariciel swallowed.

“But I got too far ahead! It was my fault that we were separated!”

Bannog put his hands on her shoulders. “Don’t blame yourself. Perhaps, if we had been together, they would have surprised both of us, and killed us before there was time to respond. It is no good dwelling on what might have been.” Bannog smiled. “Repeat after me. Our foes lie dead.”

“Our foes lie dead,” repeated Ariciel.

Bannog nodded. “While we draw breath.”

Ariciel smiled weakly. “Ever be it so,” she said.

Bannog stood up, and held his hand out to her. She took it, and he drew her up to her feet.

“By your skills, I appear to be fine. Can you walk?”

Ariciel nodded. Bannog looked round, found his pack, and produced some food. Some cheese and bread that had not quite gone stale. These, he gave to Ariciel. There was also a bottle of water. Ariciel made short work of the food, and some of the colour returned to her face. They broke camp, stuffing their belongings in their packs. Bannog pulled his chain vest over his bare chest, wincing as the rings snagged at short hairs. Light only knew how the girl had managed to get it off him. His already much abused shirt was demoted to sword cleaning duty.

They set off for Stormwind at a steady pace. Bannog noticed that Ariciel was still nervous, and kept looking back at him whenever she got a few steps ahead. That wouldn’t do. That wouldn’t do at all. Even Bannog, whose fighting experience until yesterday mostly consisted of fights with his brother and the occasional scuffle with poachers, could see that. He wasn’t concerned that she would miss signs of Enemy activity. Quite the reverse in fact. If she didn’t calm down a bit, she might get startled at something and roast an innocent bystander. He sped up slightly, till he was running next to Ariciel.

“So this Orc walks into a bar, right? With a parrot on his shoulder.”

Ariciel looked at him as though he were mad.

Undeterred, Bannog continued. “So the barman asks, where’d you get one of those?”

Ariciel said nothing.

Bannog grinned happily at her, “So the parrot says, Durotar! They’ve got them all over the place there!”

Ariciel stared in the distance. About a dozen steps or so further, the Elf turned to Bannog.

“That,” she said, “was the worst joke I’ve ever heard in my entire life.”

Bannog laughed. “Oh, then you are in for a treat! I know enough jokes to keep you entertained for hours, without even starting on the dirty ones!”

Ariciel cast an imploring eye at the sky. “Elune save me!” But then, she grinned at Bannog, who grinned back. They ran on.

They met no more unfriendly characters that day, and finally, the gates of Stormwind came into view. They ran towards the gate, then through it. The guards barely seemed to notice them, but Bannog knew better: when asked, they would be able to give a full description of what they looked like and when they had passed.

Ariciel had never been to Stormwind, and Bannog only once, when he was much younger. They were greeted by the sight of massive statues of ancient heroes at the entrance, and finally they broke step and slowed down to a walk. Stormwind was a busy place. At a glance, they could see Humans, Dwarves, Night-elves, Gnomes, warriors, priests, mages and many other folk. A few children ran daringly between the legs of the larger people, chasing each other.

They walked into the city, looking round at the sights. Bannog felt a tap on his shoulder, and looked round, to see Ariciel point.

“What is that?”

Bannog looked at the creature. It had the head and wings of an eagle, but the body of a lion. It was lying at ease on a bed of straw. A saddle hung nearby on a stand.

“A Griffin,” said Bannog. “You can ride them, and they can take you places.”

“Do you think they could go to Menethil?”

They went and asked the griffin master, who asked for their hearthstones. Hearthstones were small magical pebbles used to show to officials who you were, and where your home was. They also recorded where you had been. The griffin master politely informed them that he was unable to transport them anywhere, as they only had the mark of Stormwind.

“How about Menethil?” asked Bannog.

The griffin master shook his head. “I’m afraid I cannot do that, Sir. Regulations.”

Bannog protested, but the griffin master could not be swayed. “There’s a war on, Sir, in case you hadn’t noticed. Have to think of security.”

Bannog simply glared at the man.

“Next thing, you’ll tell us that we cannot bring any drinking water, or our weapons!”

The flight master chuckled.

“Of course you can, Sir. Barring people from taking their personal effects would just be silly!”

Bannog opened his mouth to ask the griffin master if he was taking the piss, but Ariciel stepped in front of him, grabbed his arm and towed him away, smiling sweetly at the griffin master.

“Let’s try the deeprun tram instead,” she said. “Like we planned. Maybe they are more sensible in Ironforge.”

The Deeprun Tram, as it turned out, was in a part of town mostly populated with Dwarves and Gnomes. They stared at a large metal arm that was attached to one of the buildings, and Ariciel almost lost her young life under the hooves of some wizard’s hell-spawned horse.

“Idiot!”, shouted Bannog, but the wizard didn’t even notice and disappeared at a gallop.

Finally, they found the entrance to the Deeprun Tram tunnel. Where most of the city was brightly lit even in the late afternoon, this tunnel was discouragingly dark. Two guards stood in front of the entrance, clearly preferring to be elsewhere.

“No tram today, mate,” said one of the guards. “Trouble somewhere deep in the tunnel. The gnome said there were tree leaves on the track. Specially gummy ones. Any other kind, they could have dealt with easily, but these really get in the mechanism. Parts flying all over the place if you’re not careful.”

Bannog stared. He had just run all the miles between Goldshire and this horrible place, and now one mode of transport after the other failed him. He turned to Ariciel.

“Let’s just run. You like running. I like running. It’d take a while, but at least we can rely on our legs.”

Ariciel laughed. “Come on. It seems we’re not going anywhere today. Let’s find an inn and see how things are tomorrow.”

They left the Dwarven District, and walked into a large garden. Ariciel pointed at several trees she recognised from home. Someone must have taken a lot of trouble to bring them here. In the middle of the area stood a high tower, with a walkway spiralling up around it. From the windows on the top floor, flashing lights could be seen: The mages were at work. The guards had warned them against a tavern called the Slaughtered Lamb. It was rumored to be a hideout for Warlocks and other unpleasant characters. Instead, they opened the door to the Blue Recluse Tavern.

The Blue Recluse, it seemed, was no longer alone. Barmaids ran to and fro carrying trays. Three female Human mages sat round a table. One of the mages held a crystal on a thin silver chain above a scroll, and observed its irregular motions. An annoyed expression was on her face. Her fellow mage, a skinny, pale-skinned redhead, scowled suspiciously at Bannog, as if he was a daemon or something.

“Charmed, I’m sure,” said Bannog. He pressed on, with Ariciel in his wake.

Ariciel spotted an empty table, nudged Bannog and made for it. They sat down and looked round. A group of Elves had moved several tables together and were making music on flutes and a stringed instrument that Bannog hadn’t seen before. With some difficulty, Bannog attracted the attention of a barmaid. He put in an order for rare steak with potatoes and cabbage. The barmaid nodded, and turned to Ariciel.

“Ishnu-alah” she said, in Darnassian. Visibly surprised, Ariciel answered in the same melodious language, ordering one of the Recluse’s specials and a cup of wine. The barmaid smiled and hurried off. Ariciel leaned on the table, observing the other guests with interest. Bannog leaned back in his chair, and was half way through a good large mug of ale when the barmaid returned with their food. Bannog cut a small piece off his large steak and looked inside. Satisfied, he saw that he and the cook agreed on what ‘rare’ meant: Go to the cow and talk to it about fire. Ariciel tasted her Darkshore stew.

“I like this place,” she said after a few mouthsfull. Bannog agreed.

No more words were wasted until finally, Bannog pushed away his plate.

“That was a good steak,” he said, but Ariciel wasn’t listening to him. She was looking over his shoulder, her lips moving. Bannog turned round to see what it was. One of the Elves was singing, in a beautiful alto voice, a song in the Common Tongue. Ariciel seemed to know the song well. It told of the coming of the Horde, and the sorrow they had brought, but ended on a defiant note:

No force in Azeroth can trap the wind that shakes the barley.
Or the sun on the yellow corn. 

As the song finished, Ariciel pushed her chair back and got up. “I need to talk to that Elf,” she announced, and went over to their table.

Bannog turned round in his seat, watching her make her way to the Elves’ tables, dodging the occasional guest or waitress.

“Thanks for that song. How about something a bit more cheerful?”

The Elven singer raised her long eyebrows. “Anything in particular?”

Ariciel grinned, took a breath and started:

“I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Teldrassil way.
I get all me pleasure the high treetop way.
I may be a house slave on Monday
But I am a free girl on Sunday” 

This was met with cheers from the rest of the Elves. Several of them joined in and the song wound on, telling a story about a silly Human trying to keep Elves from trespassing in what he regarded as “his” forest. Bannog listened for a bit, laughing as he remembered the times when he’d had to evict tresspassers from the orchards of Caer Bannog. Which reminded him. He hadn’t reported his doings to his father yet. Grabbing his pack, he produced writing implements and a few sheets of paper. He closed his eyes for a moment, thinking how best to put it to Old Bannog that he’d run off into the Blue with a strange woman. Asking for permission was a bit late now, and Bannog had the feeling that he really should have, and before leaving Goldshire, not after. Simply present his father with the naked facts then? Try to explain his actions? Damn. Bannog realised that he was in trouble now, no matter what he did. He heaved a great sigh. Here we go. He put pen to paper and wrote:

Dear Father,

I am writing to you from the Blue Recluse Inn, in Stormwind. I
have had to change our plans due to circumstances beyond my
control. In Goldshire, I have met a young woman named Ariciel,
who was being threatened by certain members of a band known
as the Defias Brotherhood. By the Grace of the Light, we were
able to defeat her attackers, but many more are at large in the
area. Lady Ariciel then informed me that she intended to travel
to Menethil on her own. With the roads being as dangerous as
they are now, I feared for her life, and by her leave decided
to take her to Menethil, from where she will travel on by ship
to her destination: Teldrassil. If Fate grant it, we will arrive
in Menethil in three days. With Lady Ariciel safely on her way,
I will travel back to Goldshire.

I am deeply sorry for any disturbance my actions may have caused
to your plans.

Yours, Bannog the Younger.

Bannog read his letter. The tone was firm and businesslike. His father would have to agree that he could not have done other than he had. Or could he? Bannog could simply have found another traveller or two going to Stormwind, and sent Ariciel on her merry way. He glanced behind him, to where Ariciel was sitting with the other Elves, in deep conversation with the singer. He saw that their face tattoos, while not exactly the same, were similar: Curved dark blue shapes running from their foreheads over their eyes, over their cheekbones, down to the corners of their mouths. Bannog didn’t like face tattoos much, He thought of how she must have had someone apply very sharp needles to her eyelids, and shuddered. Trust was important here, he supposed. And holding very, very still. And not minding it was going to hurt.

Bannog had no tattoos, because the thought of permanently putting words or pictures on his skin put him off. Those pictures would remain with him until the day he died, and what if he grew tired of them, or came to different insights? Bannog looked at Ariciel, and thought on what, if anything, he could be persuaded to have tattooed on him. A sword, in reference to his Warrior calling? A skull and crossbones? The crest of his house? Some wise saying?

He studied Ariciel’s face. She must have received her markings when she was younger, maybe as a part of some coming-of-age ritual. Would her face be more or less attractive without them? Difficult to say. To other Night-elves, they must indicate who she was related to, where she was born, who she was. To his eyes, they just looked exotic. Ariciel looked in his direction and smiled at him. Bannog grinned back. There was the answer to the riddle. Without that smile, her face would be pretty, though marked with outlandish symbols, unfamiliar long ears and eyebrows and an eerie glow in her pale eyes. With it, all those things were mere details. He got up and wandered over to the Elves’ tables.

In a gruff voice, he growled: “Get out of my garden! Get your own garden if you want one!”

Ariciel laughed, but her new friend took a sharp breath and pointed at Bannog.

“Ooh! Basso voice! Do you sing at all?”

Bannog hesitated. Well, he did know a few songs, but nothing that he would brag about. Several Elves started encouraging him to sing, until he searched his mind and dug up one of the songs from his childhood: a sea shanty about bearded buccaneers. The Elven singer, named Lirael, stared at Bannog’s chest, reminding him he was wearing nothing under his chainmail. When he finished his song, Lirael nodded.

“You’re breathing wrong,” she said.

This surprised Bannog, having had many years experience in breathing.

“I mean,” continued Lirael, “when you’re singing, you need to breathe from your stomach, not your chest. It gives you much better control. Watch me.” She took a deep breath, while Bannog stared somewhere near her midsection. Lirael sang a scale, gradually increasing her volume until the glasses rang. Bannog smiled politely. Lirael frowned.

“You’re not seeing it. Come here.” She grabbed Bannog’s hand and placed it on her stomach, just below her breasts. She breathed in again, and sang her scales, while Bannog held his breath and kept his hand perfectly still. Lirael let go of Bannog’s hand. Bannog pulled it back as quickly as he could without offending Lirael. He glanced at Ariciel who was biting her lip, trying not to laugh.

Without any warning, Bannog had become the project for the evening. Several of the elves offered helpful advice until Bannog could sing a few notes with proper breathing technique. In spite of himself, he was pleased.

“It’s a shame that there isn’t much call for singing warriors.”

One of the male Elves, named Arador, raised an eyebrow.

“Do you mean that there is no use in battle for a loud voice? Keep practicing, and you’ll be able to make yourself heard over the din. Useful if ever you gain command of a group.”

Lirael yawned. “I’m off to bed. Early day tomorrow. Arador is right, though, Bannog. Keep it up. Then come visit us in Darnassus. The place is crawling with tenors there, but bass singers are practically unknown.”

She got up, gave Bannog and Ariciel a big hug and disappeared upstairs. The rest of the group also made their excuses and disappeared, until Bannog and Ariciel found themselves alone.

They went back to their own table where Bannog’s letter still lay. He picked it up and read it again. Old Bannog would definitely have something to say about it. Loudly and with many a choice expression from his paternal vocabulary. Ariciel was putting her cloak in her pack, and looked at Bannog.

“What’s the matter?”

Bannog gave her a wry smile. “My father. He will not like it.” He gave the letter to Ariciel to read.

Ariciel scanned the lines. She grinned.

“Young woman? How old do you think I am?”

Bannog’s mind recoiled. He suddenly remembered that Elves could live for hundreds of years.

“Well… if I could guess, I’d put you somewhere at…” He braced himself, “twenty-two years or so.”

Ariciel nodded. “Well, as it happens, you would be about right. I’m actually twenty-five, though Elune willing, I won’t change much till I’m about eighty years.”

Bannog felt he had escaped with his life. Ariciel saw Bannog’s pen lying on the table, and pointed at it. Wordlessly, Bannog handed it to her. Ariciel sat down, and put down the paper.

“How would I address your father?”

“Bannog the Elder,” said Bannog the Younger. Ariciel nodded, then added to Bannog’s note:

To Bannog the Elder, at Caer Bannog greeting,

I wish it to be known that your son came to my aid when I was
set upon by local ruffians of the Defias Brotherhood. Their
intentions were clear, and had your son not prevented them from
carrying out their plans, I would not be alive today to write
about it. I wish to express my gratitude for his courageous
deeds. On two occasions his bravery and strength saved me from
death. Though I do not know how I might be of service to you, I
gladly offer my services to the House of Caer Bannog in
return.

Yours in gratitude, Ariciel.

“There,” said Ariciel.

She gave Bannog back his pen. Bannog read what Ariciel had written, and felt near to blushing.

“He’ll never believe that!”

Ariciel snorted. “More fool him, then! Point out a single untruth in that message, I dare you!”

Bannog had to admit that he could not. He sighed.

“When in doubt, tell the truth,” he said.

This had been one of Quartermaster’s lessons. The good people would recognise the truth, while the bad ones would assume you were lying.

“Let’s find some place to sleep. This place is full.”

Ariciel pointed at Bannog’s chest. “Need anything for that?”

Bannog looked doubtful. Would there be a tailor open at this time of night? Then he considered the kind of place he was in. He did not believe the mere absence of daylight would keep these merchants away from their earnings. Bannog folded and sealed his letter, while Ariciel paid for their meals.

They left the inn. Bannog saw a mailbox just outside the door and dropped the letter in before he could change his mind, and they found a tailor’s shop nearby. Seeing how hard the road had been on his clothes, Bannog bought three shirts. Ariciel rather fancied a beaded blouse. As she held it up to herself, an old Gnome shuffled up with a mirror twice her own height. Ariciel turned to Bannog, wordlessly asking the question. Bannog nodded, and Ariciel handed the blouse to the Gnome, searching for her money. Bannog stopped her.

“You paid for the meals. This is on me.”

Ariciel protested politely, then allowed Bannog to pay.

They made their way to an inn. Ariciel looked up at the sky.

“There aren’t as many stars here as there are in the forest.”

Bannog half opened his mouth to explain that the city lights drowned them out, but realised that wasn’t her point. She missed home. Bannog knew exactly what to say. Nothing.

Ariciel sighed. “There’s nothing quite like sleeping in the moonlight,” she said. “Alone, or with friends.”

They reached the inn, and were shown to a clean room with two large beds. Ariciel’s face turned into one tired, happy smile as she saw the woollen blankets and the pillows. Bannog closed the door and locked it.

“There. Now we won’t be murdered in our beds tonight.”

Ariciel yawned.

“I don’t care, as long as they don’t wake me up to do it.” She started dropping her clothes and Bannog discreetly turned his back. When he looked back, Ariciel was in one of the beds, asleep. Bannog lay down in the other, and slept.


Joran picked up his mug, and saw that it was empty. He briefly considered having another one, but thought better of it. The Inn’s front door opened, and Captain Swann walked in.

“Listen up, ladies and gentlemen! The Powers that Be have decided that our job here is done. Tomorrow we leave for Dun Modr!”

Ramoc finished his drink, and got up from his chair.

Bannog grinned. “Lady Marisa, I hear, is in room twelve!”

“Alas,” said Ramoc, “Tomorrow we leave, and there is no time for a proper farewell. So tonight, I sleep alone.” He waved to the company and went his way.

“As will I,” said Joran. Bannog thought of Ariciel, and what she might be doing this moment. Probably wrapping her mind round the incomprehensible details of her Druidic doctrines. He drained his own mug silently to her health, and went upstairs to bed.


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

 

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