Part 3: Ironforge.

Bannog’s company was sitting at breakfast in Menethil Inn, preparing to mount up and make for Dun Modr. The news that they were leaving was still new, and several townspeople had hurried to the inn to say goodbye. As he ate, Bannog felt a hand on his shoulder, and he turned round to see a man standing behind him.

“Are you Bannog of Caer Bannog?”

Bannog nodded. The man held out his hand to him.

“Anna Grimsdottir was my wife. You killed the Murloc who took her, or so I heard. It will not bring her back, but thank you.” Bannog silently shook the man’s hand, embarrassed by his gratitude.

“Safe journey,” said the widower. He turned round and left without another word. Bannog returned to his breakfast. He had never known Anna Grimsdottir, and her husband had been no more than one of the familiar faces of the town. All the warriors had been slaying Murlocs in large numbers. There was no telling if Anna had been killed by one of Bannog’s or not. Still, in the man’s mind, Bannog had avenged his wife. Bannog hoped it would give him some peace. At any rate, the local militia had been trained and knew now how to deal with the threat. Normality re-adjusted itself and life continued.

The group of Elven mages made their appearance in the dining hall. For reasons beyond conjecture, they had become known as ‘The Seventies’, even though there were only ten of them. Ramoc spotted Lady Marisa, waved and grinned happily at her. Her face froze. The Elf-maiden standing next to her looked in Ramoc’s direction, then spoke a few words in Darnassian to Lady Marisa. Bannog knew well the amount of control Night-elves had over their facial expressions when they wanted to keep their thoughts to themselves. For example, when they wanted to hide from you the fact that under the cup, four of the five dice showed the same face. In order to keep what little he had of his money, he’d had to study Ariciel’s face in great detail, which was no punishment. Now, he studied Lady Marisa’s face. She was smiling. Bannog was sure of it. Suddenly straightening her shoulders, she strode regally across the room to Ramoc’s chair. Bending over him, she brought her face close to Ramoc’s, until the tip of her nose touched his. Her long, long blonde hair fell in shimmering cascades over Ramoc’s surprised face, and her gleaming eyes looked deep into Ramoc’s.

“You were marvellous,” she sighed, in a low whisper.

Then she slowly raised herself to her full height, smiled, turned round and followed her companions out of the room to a roaring applause from the warriors. Ramoc found his mouth was still open, and closed it. His voice was quiet, impressed.

“So close, and she didn’t kiss me! What self control!” He frowned. “What a tease!”

Bannog raised a finger.

“Ah,” he said, as though addressing the subject in a school class. “In a way, she did. Elves, unless taught otherwise, do not kiss. Instead, they touch noses, and look into each other’s eyes.”

Ramoc’s eyes narrowed. “No joke?” He grinned. “But then…”

Bannog nodded. “You’ve just scored a Seventy!”

Looking very pleased with himself, Ramoc sat back in his chair. “And… I have a token of her love!” he raised his hand, holding a silk handkerchief between index and middle finger.

Captain Swann choked on his tea. He glared at Ramoc.

“Tell me that you did not just pick Lady Marisa’s pocket.”

Ramoc obliged. “I did not just pick Lady Marisa’s pocket.”

Captain Swann stared long and hard at Ramoc’s well-practiced open, honest face, considering alternatives and liking none.

“Good,” said the Captain, and grabbed the tea jug to refill his cup.

They left Menethil a few hours later. Many townsfolk had turned up to see them off. Certain members of the company disappeared for a few minutes with some of the townsfolk for a proper goodbye and promises to be careful. Then, Captain Swann brought their troop to order and they marched off, down the familiar road. Bannog could not resist looking back at the harbour, half hoping to see a familiar slender figure there, but of course, there wasn’t. With their steady marching pace, Menethil was soon out of sight. Bannog didn’t feel too bad about leaving. The work had been dreary, dirty and bloody. By luck and skill, they had managed not to lose any of their men, but Bannog had already felt in the company a sense of complacency. A sense that these Murlocs were not worthy enemies. Easy pickings. But they weren’t. One Murloc might be small, but even just four of them would be snacking on your kidneys before you’d noticed they were gone. In a way, the fight with the Dark Iron Dwarves had been good for them. They really couldn’t have done it without the heavy artillery. It had been a reminder of their own mortality. Not all of his memories of the place were bad, of course, but those memories had not included this band of soldiers. He trudged on.


Quartermaster was busy. The delivery people had just left the week’s supplies, and together with the cook, he was moving barrels, sides of beef, and sides of mutton into the larders of Caer Bannog. As the last barrel was rolled into the cellar, there was a bang on the door, and the postman, named Porigg, came in. Strictly speaking, Porigg didn’t have to do this. His duties were only to drop the mail off in the center of town for folk to come and pick up. But Quartermaster knew the merits of having a large barrel of half-way decent wine for any delivery person that went beyond the cause of duty. Today though, Porigg simply handed Quartermaster a stack of letters and made his excuses, as he was already late. Quartermaster sorted through the letters: Reports from the farmsteads surrounding Caer Bannog, bills, one request for armed assistance from someone Quartermaster had never even heard of. With a smile, he noted a letter from Young Bannog. After the untimely demise of the company he was supposed to join, they had cold-stored him in Goldshire, and no doubt the lad would be getting fretful. The cook had just finished preparing Old Bannog’s breakfast of eggs, bacon and porridge. Quartermaster put the letters on the tray, then took the tray into Old Bannog’s study. Old Bannog stood by the window, his mind wandering about his estate.

“Letter from Young Bannog, Sir,” said Quartermaster.

Old Bannog grinned. “He must be getting tired of Goldshire by now. If only those blasted clerks would hurry up with his new assignment. Not good for him to be sitting still for too long.”

Quartermaster nodded, turned and left. He had not made it halfway down the hall, when behind him, a voice boomed out.

“Declan!”

For the briefest of moments, Quartermaster wondered what Old Bannog meant, then remembered it was his own name. O dear. Declan had been Quartermaster ever since he took up his duties in Caer Bannog, and the title had slowly taken the place of his name. For Old Bannog to be using it, something had to be very wrong indeed. Quickly but quietly, he returned to Old Bannog’s room.

“Sir?”

Old Bannog stood with both of his fists on his writing table, and he glared at Quartermaster with a look that would have scared off dragons.

“Have I not ordered that son of mine to go to Goldshire, so he could join the Fifth?” Quartermaster nodded. Old Bannog continued. “And on hearing of the fall of that fine company, may their souls find peace, did I not distinctly express my wish that he stay there till I could find another job for him?” Again, Quartermaster could not but agree. “So, though I was rather busy at the time, I remember well asking you to drop him a line to that effect. Were you remiss in your duties?”

Quartermaster gave Old Bannog a look.

“Indeed not, Sir! Did it that very morning. Fifth Company not going to be reformed. Stay put there’s a good lad. Those were my exact words.”

Old Bannog scowled.

“Then why,” he brandished Bannog’s letter in front of Quartermaster’s face, “Do I have to read a letter here, signed by him, from bloody Stormwind?” Sir Bannog took a deep breath, and continued. “Apparently, my second son has taken it into his head to take some chit of a girl there. Apparently, he disturbed some of the locals at a bit of play. And apparently,” Old Bannog paused to breathe out some flames, “He intends to go on all the way to Menethil!”

Quartermaster pointed at the letter.

“May I, Sir?”

He quickly studied Young Bannog’s account of his doings. Despite the situation, he couldn’t help feeling proud. Multiple foes of the Defias Brotherhood, no less! Some of his lessons must have passed through that thick skull of Bannog’s.

Old Bannog continued. “There’s even a note from this wench added. Probably got some barmaid to write that for him!”

Quartermaster had just reached that part of the letter, and sucked his teeth.

“I don’t think so Sir, unless the bars in Stormwind employ people who learnt their writing in Darkshore.”

Old Bannog frowned. “What?”

Quartermaster put the letter down on the table. “Well, remember that Darnassian Green that goes so well with roasted boar?”

Old Bannog nodded. He knew better than to interrupt his old Sergeant when he explained something.

“Well, I used to get it from a merchant in Darkshore, until the supplies dried up, so to speak. She used to write in exactly the same hand.”

Old Bannog’s eyes narrowed. “Are you sure? Would you bet that barrel of Thunderbrew Special Reserve on it?”

Quartermaster snorted. “Sir, that barrel, I would not bet on the Sun coming up tomorrow. But I can tell you that no Stormwind barmaid wrote this.”

Quartermaster could provide more information from Young Bannog’s letter. He had heard of the Defias Brotherhood, who were growing into a pest in Elwynn Forest. No doubt elsewhere as well. Quartermaster hoped Bannog had finished off his foes in a way that prevented them from carrying tales, or there would be trouble. Bannog had probably been right to make himself scarce in Goldshire. Ariciel’s note interested him, though. He remembered the correspondence with his wine merchant. Usually, Elves signed with their full name: Terciel of House Almadan, for instance. That Ariciel had not done so, could mean several things. First, she could have wanted to remain anonymous. Ariciel was not an uncommon name in those parts. Second, she could literally have no family left; an orphan. At least the girl could write. Her handwriting was simple, but regular, betraying practical rather than ornamental or ritual use. The Elven nobility often taught the skill to their servants, if they thought they might need it.

Old Bannog had calmed down a bit, after his relieving shouts. He ran a hand through his grey beard, pondering.

“Hah! So my son has chosen to run off with the dogsbody of some Elven high-up. This is what the House of Bannog has come to!”

Quartermaster grinned. “Sir, what would you have done?”

“Much the same I would imagine. But don’t we try to teach our children to be our betters? With that in mind, I think I will not order him to fall on his sword just yet. But this time, I’ll write the response myself.” Old Bannog grabbed pen and paper. “As you were, Quartermaster.”

Quartermaster walked back to his domain with a worried look on his face. Bannog, for the most, had done well. Why he hadn’t simply taken the girl to the militia, he couldn’t imagine. Or rather, he could. She must be quite something. Still, Bannog Junior could probably use some sage advice from his old teacher. He found his own writing tools, poured himself a good strong cup of tea and started writing.


Ariciel woke up. Finding an unfamiliar ceiling had long stopped surprising her in the morning. In the bed on the other side of the room, Bannog was still snoring gently. Quietly, she got up and dressed. Usually, she wore nothing in bed, but she had thought it better to keep something on, so as not to stir up things better left alone. She put on her new blouse under her old leather armour. Then, she grabbed her quarterstaff and slung it onto her back with a small strap. Ready to face the world. Leaving her pack on her bed, so as not to give her large friend the idea she’d run off without him, she left the room and went to investigate. Ariciel’s sense of direction was excellent, and she found the Deeprun Tram easily. It was still out of order. Gnomes and Dwarves, or so she was told, were still toiling ceaselessly for her comfort and convenience. Right. Next course of action would seem to be breakfast. Enjoying the bright sun on her face, she trotted back to the inn and started inquiring. Breakfast was served in the dining room. Good. Ariciel went back up to the room to find Bannog still asleep. Ariciel sniffed. She could have danced round the room in her underwear this morning with Bannog none the wiser. Perhaps she should. Instead, she went over to the bed and poked Bannog in the haunches.

Bannog moved fast like a trap springing shut. With one hand, he grabbed her wrist, the other swung round and was on her throat. Then, Bannog woke up, saw what he had done and let go with an embarrassed look on his face.

“Sorry. Battle reflexes. Did I hurt you?”

Ariciel closed her mouth and shook her head.

“Um. Breakfast. Downstairs. See you there.”

With her back turned, she rubbed her wrist, realising that trained Warriors are dangerous people, and mentally kicking herself for not realising that before.

She sat down to a bowlful of oats, nuts and raisins with milk, and a few moments later Bannog appeared and sat down opposite her.

“Next time, if you want to wake me up, the signal is to hiss.”

Ariciel nodded. She observed Bannog’s hands as he poured himself tea. He could have killed her. Only the fact that he had been trained to look before he used lethal force, had saved her. Granted, if they were ever to square off for a fight, and she had her magic ready, she just might be able to defeat him. But he’d moved so fast! She would never have expected that of a Human his size.

She put her spoon into her empty bowl, and poured herself more tea. She smelled the steam from her cup. It wasn’t very good tea. It was dark, made from dried leaves she didn’t recognise, and these stupid Humans put milk in it, may they be forgiven. She looked at Bannog as he sat, stabbing bits of bacon and egg with his fork, staring at the table. His bald head gleamed in the morning light. It made him look grim, serious, and somehow stronger than any of the people she’d known, with full heads of long blue or green hair. He had broad shoulders, big, muscled arms. He looked angry. Was he angry at her, for prodding him awake? At himself, for nearly strangling her?

Ariciel asked him a question. He looked up.

“What?”

She repeated her question. “How long have you been a Warrior?”

Bannog thought back. “I completed the first stages of the training a year or so ago, but I haven’t been tried in a real battle yet. So I’ve been practicing since then on poachers, apple thieves, bar room hoodlums and of late, the Defias Brotherhood.” Bannog cut off another slice of bread, and cleaned his plate with it. “I should be able to hold my own in a battle by now, but only time will tell.”

“I suppose grabbing people silly enough to poke you without warning, was part of that training?”

Bannog gave her a wry smile. “I’m sorry I scared you. That trick is supposed to be used on pickpockets and spies who try to steal secrets or your weapons. Took me ages to learn right. You can only practice it at night, of course. The number of times Quartermaster woke me up in the middle of the night…” Bannog shook his head. “I suppose I should have told you about it before sleeping in the same room as you.”

Ariciel laughed. “Don’t touch me, or I might kill you. You Warriors must have very understanding girlfriends.”

Bannog sat back in his chair. “There are redeeming features,” he said.

Ariciel raised her eyebrows as only a Night-elf can. “Really?”

Bannog’s eyes gleamed. “We are trained specially for strength and stamina. Need I say more?”

Ariciel shook her head. “Perfect for odd jobs round the house. Heavy lifting. Chopping firewood.”

“Among other things,” agreed Bannog. They fell silent.

“The tram is still out,” said Ariciel, changing the subject. Unless we can steal a griffin, we’re stuck.

“Griffins are not stealable,” said Bannog. “I’m in enough trouble with my father as it is. I suppose the only thing we can do is sit in front of the tunnel till it opens.”

“Boring,” said Ariciel. “Have you ever been in this place before?”

“Once,” said Bannog. “Picking up my uncle for a hunting trip in Westfall. I was only ten years old, then.”

“So let’s explore,” said Ariciel.

They walked along the canals of Stormwind. Stormwind was truly a city of merchants. Every other house seemed to be a shop. Weapons, armour, food, writing implements, special cheese shops. They walked up to Cathedral Square, and into the cathedral, their steps echoing on the stone floor. Ariciel lit a candle, staring at it for a few moments, thinking of her family, wherever they might be. Then, she put it into one of the stands. She dropped a coin in the box. Mother, Berciel. I haven’t forgotten you. Ariciel closed her eyes briefly, then took a deep breath. She gave Bannog a look, and they walked out of the cathedral. They continued on to the Dwarven District, to find the deeprun tram still out of order. A group of people were standing around, looking annoyed.

“Bloody Gnomes,” said one. “I bet they want more money.”

“You’d think they’d learnt how to keep this damn thing going by now,” said another.

“You’re welcome to walk, you know?” said a small, clear voice.

The Human turned round to the Gnome.

“I need to be in Ironforge by mid-day. Now if you shrimps knew the meaning of the word ‘service’, this thing would be going by now.”

“Well, maintain hundreds of miles of track yourself, if you think you can do a better job.”

“I could sure show you a better job!”

Bannog stepped between the agitated Human and the Gnome.

“Isn’t it a wonderful day?” He took a deep breath. “I do like sunny, quiet days.” His eyes caught those of the Human in front of him. “Don’t you like the quiet?”

The man looked at Bannog’s friendly open face, and large bulging muscles. He muttered something and went back to staring at the tunnel.

Ariciel gave Bannog a look.

“What did you do that for?”

“Peace and quiet,” said Bannog. “I like it.”

They sat down on the opposite side of the road from the tunnel entrance. Ariciel stared at the floor between her feet.

“So,” said Bannog. “What are you going to do in Teldrassil?”

Ariciel sighed. “Darnassus. I’m going to complete my training. I can’t keep looking for my family with the place being so dangerous.”

“Family?”

“My mother, and my sister. I lost them. I have to find them back. Can’t do that unless I learn how to defend myself. The Eastern Kingdoms aren’t safe anymore.”

“Any idea where they are?”

Ariciel shook her head. “None whatsoever. But I don’t know that they’re dead. So I’m assuming they’re still alive.”

“How’d you lose them?”

Ariciel’s eyes glowed at him. With one hand, she pushed her hair over her shoulder.

“You know how it is. You’re sure you’ve put them in a perfectly logical place, and then you can’t remember for the life of you.”

Ariciel stared ahead, her face sad, still.

“I used to live in Darkshore, near a place called Ameth’aran. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of it.”

Bannog shook his head.

“My mother, my sister and I were servants to the High-borne. Mother was a cook. Berciel and I were house-servants. We served at the table, kept the place clean. Ran errands. As long as we did exactly as we were asked, we didn’t have a care in the world. The work was easy, and there was just enough of it to fill a day. I could have done it for the rest of my life, and not have regretted a single day. And then one day, Mother came to find me, Berciel in tow, nearly carrying her in fact. And we ran. I still don’t know why. We made for Auberdine, boarded the first ship, and off we went. To Menethil.”

“Ah,” said Bannog. “So you know the place.”

“Not really,” said Ariciel. “We arrived by night, and boarded a caravan going to Stormwind. There wasn’t any Deeprun Tram, then. I don’t know where Mother wanted to stop, and she never told me. It was boring. The carts moved slowly, and we didn’t have anything to do, except help cooking now and then.” Ariciel’s head turned to Bannog. “Take this from me. Boring is almost always a good thing. We were attacked by bandits about half-way to Stormwind. We all ran and hid, and I got knocked on the head. I woke up lying in a ditch, a little way away from the caravan.” She blinked, pushing back the tears. “Everybody was dead. Some of the dead were bandits, but they were mostly the people on the caravan. Everything was taken. Nothing but dead bodies.”

Bannog took a deep breath. “Your mother and sister?”

“Couldn’t find them,” said Ariciel. “Elune be praised. If I had, I’d have had to bury them there, in the desert. I might have made the grave a bit larger too, for myself. Didn’t have any food or water.”

“How’d you survive then?”

“There was this monk, Eolas. He was returning from some sort of pilgrimage to Ironforge. He helped me bury the dead people from the caravan. Didn’t have any coffins or even linen to wrap them in.” She looked at Bannog. “The worst moment was putting the dirt on their faces. They can’t breathe like that. Silly huh?”

Bannog shook his head gently.

“Anyway, Father Eolas gave me some food and drink, and took me to Northshire Abbey. I stayed there a while, doing odd jobs round the place. It earned me a little money, and I could afford to travel. So I went looking for news. All over the place. Couldn’t get into the Searing Gorge anymore, though. No caravans going there either. Ours was probably one of the last. Searing Gorge is a scary place. I couldn’t get in. Probably for the best. Wouldn’t have made it through. So I got back to the abbey. Someone told me that the caravan I was on was commissioned from Darkshire, so I went there. They couldn’t tell me anything either. I was planning to go to Stormwind. That’s where the military is. Some Human feared for my life.” Ariciel’s eyes gleamed, and a little sneer was on her face. “He said he’d take me to a safe place.”

“Safe for you, or for him?”

“Well yeah. So I smiled at him and told him that would be wonderful. He tried to grab me and I put my knee where he’d rather I hadn’t.”

Bannog winced. “Ow. So you lost him?”

“Nearly. He and his friends caught up with me in Goldshire. Behind the inn.” She looked at Bannog. “Humans. Can’t trust ’em.”

“Just so. I hardly trust ’em, and I am one. Say. Want to go to the Military now?” Bannog pointed to his right. “Stormwind Keep is just over there.”

Ariciel thought about it. Then, she shook her head.

“Even if they knew something, and even if they wanted to talk to me, what would I do? I need to get a lot stronger before I can do anything useful. That means I need a trainer. I have a letter from Father Eolas. Once I can take on anything that runs in Searing Gorge, then I’ll go there and look for myself.” She sighed. “I wish these Gnomes would hurry up.”

“Not likely,” said Bannog. “Want to stretch your legs?”

“May as well.”

Just as they got up, there was a grinding noise from the tunnel. The lights came on, and a Dwarf came out of the tunnel.

“We’re open again. Let’s be havin’ ye!”

Bannog looked at Ariciel, his jaw dropping.

“Quick! Before it goes again!”

They sprinted into the tunnel, chuckling, and stopped dead. The tunnel walls were moving, rotating. Segments rotating counterclockwise alternated with segments rotating clockwise. A magnificent feat of engineering, with no practical purpose that either of them could see. They walked on into a great underground hall. Bannog studied a magical sign. Small red dots on its surface appeared and disappeared, forming letters. “IR.NFuRG 3MI”, it proclaimed.

Ariciel looked over Bannog’s shoulder.

“I think it means Ironforge, three minutes,” she said. “Or three miles.”

Bannog nodded. “I can’t imagine why they don’t just spell it out. Must be another security measure to keep the Horde from reading it.”

As they stared at the sign, it changed from three to two and finally to one. There was a loud noise and a number of carriages slid into the station, suspended from an overhead beam. Ironforge denizens streamed out of the carriages and into the tunnel. Ariciel and Bannog followed the other passengers to the carriages. Ariciel studied the beams from which the carriages were hanging. Would those slender iron bars be enough to carry all these passengers? Through looking up and not where she was going, she nearly fell between platform and carriage. She recovered, turned back to Bannog.

“Mind the gap,” she said.

“Ah thanks,” said Bannog. They stood in the carriage looking round to see what would happen, when a Dwarf standing next to turned round to them.

“First time here?”

Ariciel nodded.

“Brace yerselves!” the Dwarf added, grabbing a post. A bell rang, and with a jerk, the carriages set themselves in motion. Bannog had just managed to grab something solid, and had to catch Ariciel. She recovered and smiled her thanks. Hmm. Nice big strong arms.

The tunnel went up and down. Lights flashed by. Somewhere in the middle, some mad Engineer had cut out the ceiling so one could see sea creatures swimming by. There was surprisingly little noise, just the rolling of the wheels on the overhead beams. The trip lasted about an hour. After a few ups and down, the carriage started to climb steadily, and they could see the end of the tunnel in the distance.

“Hold on!” their Dwarf companion shouted, and with a jerk, the carriages stopped. The Dwarf pressed his helm down on his head, nodded at them and wandered off. Bannog followed Ariciel, as she looked round for the exit. She found it, and they walked into the mechanical nightmare that was Tinker Town.

The place looked like someone had built it to see how much equipment would fit in a rather large cave. If so, the answer was: A lot. Axles and cogwheels rotated, lights went on and off and doorways opened and closed, all by themselves. If possible, the place was even more crowded with people than Stormwind. And the noise! They had to yell into each other’s ears to make themselves heard. Finally, Bannog waved at Ariciel, signalling her to follow him, and set off in a random direction, away from the noise.

They found a relatively quiet place. Inside a large cavern, a shallow pool of water lapped at its edges. Someone was selling strange, scaly, fish-like creatures as pets. Ariciel sat down on the ground, closed her eyes, tilted her head back and sighed. The machinery of Tinker Town could be heard, muffled, in the distance. She could smell the water of the pool, and hear the tiny waves, stopping just short of her feet. What a horrible place. Noisy, not a green leaf in sight, and filled to the brim with Dwarves, Gnomes, Humans. She couldn’t imagine any of her kind staying here for long. She looked up at Bannog. Not that all Humans were bad, of course, but so many of them were. She was really lucky to have met Father Eolas. And this big clumsy one.

Ariciel pushed herself up and stood on her feet in one fluid motion.

“What do we do? Find the griffins or find an inn?”

“Let’s find an inn. I don’t really fancy having a wrangle with a flight master just yet. I’m hungry. What’s the time?”

Ariciel automatically looked up, but of course, the stars were hidden. Now that Bannog had mentioned it, her stomach was rumbling as well.

“Feels like dinner time.”

Ariciel asked directions from a fearsome looking Dwarven guard in plate armour, who pointed her to the Stonefire Tavern, just to the left of the entrance, coming in, “And to the right, if ye’re going oot.”

Bannog and Ariciel walked down a corridor, to find the Great Forge in front of them. The Great Forge was the heart of Ironforge, and one of the wonders of Dwarven contruction. Through means beyond the ken of Human or Elf, they had succeeded in redirecting the flow of magma from a nearby volcano into the middle of their city. Protected by strong magic spells to keep the incredible heat from setting light to the city, it powered all of their engines. The magma flowed in a great basin, over which a large bridge had been constructed. On the bridge, several Dwarves were busily hammering on anvils. This was where the very finest weapons, tools and Dwarven armour were created.

Walking round the edge of the Great Forge, they reached the Inn. They walked up to the counter. A Dwarf greeted them with a polite smile.

“Good evening Sir, Madam,” said the Dwarf. “How may I help you?”

Bannog explained their needs. Sleeping space for two.

“Very well Sir. Would Sir be requiring double or twin beds?”

“What are those?” asked Bannog.

“A double bed is one large bed, Sir. Twin beds are two smaller ones, for travelling companions for whom it would be inappropriate to sleep in the same bed.”

“Ah,” said Bannog.

Ariciel caught the look in his eye. Yes. Interesting choice. She very carefully kept her face perfectly still, not giving him any clues as to what her preference might be. He turned his gaze back to the Dwarf.

“Twin beds it is, then.”

Aww.

The Dwarf nodded, licked his finger and leafed through the book in front of him.

“Ah. I see that we have several twin bedrooms free, Sir. Would Sir and Madam require en-suite bathing facilities?”

Ariciel could have hugged the Dwarf for the very idea. Warm water to soak away the grime of a week’s travel. Soap. Soft towels. Perhaps even a tub long enough to lie down in… Wash her hair! Bliss! A dream-like expression appeared on her face.

“Oh yes! Yes!”

Bannog looked aside at her.

“Are you sure?”

Ariciel just frowned at him, till he replied in the positive.

“Very well, Sir. If Sir and Madam would care to sign the guest register?” They signed their names in the book while the Dwarf selected one of the keyrings hanging on pegs behind him. He walked round the counter which, Ariciel realised, had some small steps behind them, enabling Dwarves to be at face level with any Elf-size guests who might have wandered in by mistake.

The reception Dwarf picked up both Bannog’s and Ariciel’s packs. “If Sir and Madam would like to follow me please.” He took them down a long corridor. “I hope Sir and Madam have enjoyed their travels here?”

“There were some delays on the Deeprun Tram, but otherwise fine, thank you,” said Ariciel.

A pained look flitted over the Dwarf’s face.

“Ah yes. I have been informed that certain Gnomish engineers wished to discuss the manner and amount of their remuneration with their employers, before conceding to re-enable the machinery. I understand they did rather well as a result.”

Ariciel sneered. Greedy little sods. If it wasn’t for them, she might have been on the boat already. She glanced at Bannog’s face. And he wouldn’t have been. Hmm. Perhaps not all Gnomes were bad, either. She watched a pair of Gnomes leave one room, while a tall Human just closed the door to her room behind her.

“Are all rooms the same size?”

“Yes, Madam.” The receptionist nodded his head.

“And the beds?”

“Indeed, Madam. We find it gives us the greatest flexibility if the beds are long enough for an Elf or Human to sleep in, and wide enough to accomodate a Dwarf of normal proportions. On one occasion, we were able to accomodate a party of fourteen Gnomes in a single room, during a very busy interval, by the simple expedient of rearranging the bedclothes. The Gnomish gentlemen were celebrating the upcoming marriage of one of their number. Regrettably, they did leave the room in a frightful state. Ah. Room one-hundred and twenty five. After you, Madam… Sir.”

Ariciel walked into the room, followed by Bannog and the receptionist with their luggage, which he carefully deposited on a side table.

Ariciel turned round to the Dwarf, who seemed momentarily distracted. She followed his gaze, to see what he might be looking at… Ah. Oh. The Dwarf noticed Ariciel looking at him, and gave her a polite smile.

Bannog looked round the room, completely oblivious. He seemed to be missing something.

“I thought there would be a bath?”

“This way, Sir.” The Dwarf pointed Bannog at a smaller side room that contained copper basins, some very small kind of water pump, a mirror, but no bath. Bannog gave the Dwarf a questioning look.

“The bath is operated by turning the tap there in a counter-clockwise direction, Sir.” He pointed at one of the small spigots. Bannog did, and a sudden rain fell down on him from the ceiling. Startled, Bannog turned the tap back and the water stopped. The Dwarf’s expression showed only polite concern as Bannog stared at him, water dripping from him. Ariciel bit her lip, and managed to wipe the grin off her face just before Bannog looked round at her.

“Oh I do apologise Sir,” said the Dwarf, handing Bannog a towel. “The blue tap brings down water from the mountains to the North, while the red tap brings in water that has been passed through the Great forge. Do be careful of the red tap, Sir and Madam, as the water is very hot. Start, if you will, by opening the blue tap, then use the red tap to heat the water as required.” The dwarf headed for the door. “If I can be of assistance in any way, Madam, Sir, please do not hesitate to call for me. My name is Stephen.”

Ariciel, who had heard of the convention, gave Stephen a few coins, which were accepted with a graceful nod. The door closed and they were alone.

Ariciel leaned in the doorway, a little smile on her face, as Bannog studied this marvellous contraption that brought down the waters, hot and cold. Bannog raised his eyebrows.

“What? We don’t have this at Caer Bannog!”

Ariciel tried to find a way to put this delicately, and found she couldn’t. Then she tried to find a reason to put it delicately, and found she couldn’t, either.

“He was looking at your butt,” she said.

Bannog stared.

“Eh?”

Ariciel laughed. “Stephen, our Dwarvish gentleman, was examining your posterior.”

Bannog’s eyes widened with understanding. “Well, how can he not, if his inclinations lie that way?” Bannog walked into the bedroom, looking for his pack. “But if he is harbouring any hopes in that direction, I’m afraid I will have to disappoint him. He’ll have to seek satisfaction from someone else, as my inclinations lie elsewhere.”

Ariciel giggled. “Then where, if one may be so bold as to inquire, do Sir’s inclinations lie?” She stopped herself. Stephen’s manner of speaking was infectious.

“Chicks in armour,” said Bannog immediately, as though this was a question answered long ago to everybody’s satisfaction.

Ariciel’s jaw dropped. “Chickens? Really? But… aren’t they a bit small? And why would you go through the trouble of making them armour? Or are they special battle chickens?”

Bannog slowly looked round at her, a grin on his rugged face.

“Pardon my loose wording, Madam. ‘Chick’ is a Human idiom for ‘An attractive young woman’. I tend to stick to my own species for bedfellows.”

Ariciel’s face dropped. “Oh. I see.”

“Though I should say that Elves in the Redridge Mountains are very rare, and those that there are, already seem to have mates.” Bannog gave Ariciel a wide-eyed open look. “So, the other humanoid species were sadly out of my reach.”

Ariciel grinned. “Maybe we can find you a nice Dwarf-girl.”

Bannog laughed. “Start small and work my way up, you mean?” He looked in the middle distance, remembering. “Though I do know a Dwarf woman who was born in Ironforge, but if I were fool enough to ask her, I would end up bruised and broken in a corner of the room, and still no wiser as to what Dwarves look like underneath their armour. She’s probably not even in the Eastern Kingdoms.”

Ariciel laughed. “Well, if you have finished playing with this rain-bath, I’d like to try it. Make yourself scarce, Human!”

This was wonderful! Ariciel stood in the small room, eyes closed, steaming hot water flowing over her. She loved the Dwarves for this simple invention: Take water, heat up, pour over Elf, don’t stop. The only thing that had been better was standing underneath one of the waterfalls in Darkshore, and then only (she blushed with the happy memory), because of who she’d been with. One of her ears became waterlogged, and she shook her head.

Company.

Present company.

Bannog.

Ariciel almost regretted her little flirt just now. Tomorrow, or early the day after at the latest, she would have to board ship without him, and that would be the end of it. She’d never met a warrior like him. Back in Darkshore, there had been warriors, but they’d seemed a bit, well, thick. As one would have to be to obey an order like “Run over there and let those nasty people hack away at you with their swords.” Either she had never rightly understood those warriors, or Bannog was a different kind. The kind that friends loved, and enemies feared the most. He’d shown her nothing but kindness, but she felt that he could be completely remorseless if the need was there.

Watching him lie on the ground bleeding in Elwynn Forest had been almost more than she could bear. She had gulped down her two last mana potions, stripped his armour off, and started pouring in the healing energy, in the only way she knew: Speed up the body’s normal healing processes so they would repair muscles, blood vessels and bones, before the rest of the body could notice that it was time to die. She knew this was unsubtle, and that she had much to learn. But the learned ones had not been there. The relief when he had stirred and got up!

And then, instead of shouting at her for getting them into trouble, he’d thanked her for fighting with him! Ariciel watched the water run down to the hole in the ground. If only she’d kept her stupid innuendo to herself. It would already be a wrench to see him on the dock while she sailed off.

Ariciel gently nudged the hot water tap, making the water just a bit hotter. She stared at her image in the mirror, through the clouds of steam.

It would have been easier if Bannog had been a Night-elf.


Bannog left the room, in search of food and a mailbox. There was one just outside the tavern. No mail had arrived from Caer Bannog, but that was hardly to be expected. Bribing postmen with drink only gets you so far. He wrote a small note to indicate he was now in Ironforge, posted it and went to hunt dinner. He found it, and studied the menu. If possible, there were even more outlandish dishes than there had been in Stormwind. Some parts of the menu were even written in unfamiliar characters. He assumed those would be Gnomish, or Elvish.

His goals accomplished, he thought of going back to the room. The room that at this very moment most possibly contained a fully naked Night-elf. His mind slowly came round to the fact. She had been flirting with him! The thought gave him some pause. Not that he minded pretty women flirting with him, quite the contrary. But Ariciel was not just any pretty woman. They had shared moments of fear and joy. She was his first charge as a Warrior, and he needed to bring her safely to Menethil, and there say goodbye to her, possibly never to see her again.

He read the menu again. What in Azeroth was Finnan Haddie? A four course meal? A single piece of fruit with a mint leaf? Dinner was going to be interesting.

Already the thought of leaving made him sad. Ariciel was wonderful company, and he wouldn’t have minded sharing it a while longer. Bannog stared at the menu, without reading the words. He knew he had been right to order a room with two beds. It wouldn’t do to impose himself on her, even if Ariciel were the sort of Elf to let anyone. But what if, despite this, one of the beds would remain unslept-in?

Bannog slowly turned round and walked back to the mailbox. Still no mail. He wandered out of the door and sat down on a small staircase leading up to some weapons shops.

Already he was quite fond of this Elf, her cheerful personality, the enviable ease with which she made friends, her wicked sense of humour, her compassion. Bannog grinned to himself. Oh alright. There was, of course, also the fact that Lady Ariciel was very, very nice to look at. What if even more were added to the scale? Would he fall so deeply in love with her that he couldn’t bear to leave her? Bannog frowned. That was weakness speaking. He would have to leave her, and bear it. Nothing could change that. She was bound by her desire to find her family, and to that end she must complete her magical training, so that she would be strong enough to continue the search. Bannog was bound by his word to his Father, as his Father was bound by his word to others. To disobey him more than he already had, was unthinkable.

Bannog looked round at the mailbox. There hadn’t been any note from his father in there five minutes ago, so there wouldn’t be one now.

With a grim smile Bannog realised that if he were to taste the agony of parting, then he might as well enjoy the joys that caused them. Still, the decision was not entirely his. Bannog’s stomach reminded him of the next course of action. He smiled, got up and calmly walked back to the room.

Bannog unlocked the door and entered the room, to be greeted by a cloud of steam coming from the bathroom.

“What’s for dinner?”, he shouted, “Boiled Night-elf?”

Ariciel’s voice came from within, sounding hollow. “I’m never coming out! I like it here!”

“Oh yes you are! I’m getting hungry and I want to take a turn before dinner!” The sound of rushing water stopped. Ariciel’s head poked round the door.

“Hand me my robes, will you? In my pack.” Bannog picked up Ariciel’s pack and produced the robes she had been wearing when first they met. The day before yesterday. It seemed longer. He stuck his arm round the door and after a few moments, Ariciel came out drying her hair.

“Alright then, your turn. Be careful, it gets really hot.” She sat down on one of the beds and rubbed her head with a towel. Bannog quickly stripped and went in. A few moments later, Bannog discovered the excellent acoustics of a bathroom. His deep voice rang out:
 

Sing Hey! For the bath at the close of day
That washes the weary mud away
A loon is he that will not sing
O Water Hot is a noble thing!

Bannog was rather quicker about his business than Ariciel, and came out holding a strategic towel. Ariciel stared at his torso for a moment, as it would have been rude not to, then looked away while Bannog dressed. Bannog tapped her on the shoulder.

“Follow me. There will be food where we are going.”

“Lead on!” said Ariciel, “Or rather, lay on!”

They made their way to the dining hall. Ariciel dared to order a spicy vegetable curry, while Bannog chose steamed fish with fried potatoes. Bannog started de-boning the fish.

“So how long did it take you to become a magician?”

Ariciel gave him a stern look, and pointed her spoon at him. “Magicians perform conjuring tricks at children’s parties. Mages, before you ask, meddle with the fabric of the Universe in deeply disturbing ways. I am a Druid. That means that I employ the forces of nature.” She took a large bite of her vegetables, and drank from her water glass. She grimaced. “But I’m not really advanced yet. All I can do at the moment is hurry along some things, such as healing. And burn things and blow stuff up.”

Bannog pushed his mug of ale over to Ariciel. “Drink this. Better to quench flames. So what can the really advanced Druids do, then?”

Ariciel drank from Bannog’s mug, then set it down next to her plate. Bannog paused a second, then ordered another one for himself. Ariciel pushed a dried hot pepper to the side of her plate, and continued.

“Well, it used to be a deeply spiritual way of life, rather than a job. Understanding the ways in which all creatures grow, live and die. The very best Druids still are the Mystics. But then the war came and all the Elves, including the Druids, were called to battle. They needed a way to get people fit for battle, quick. So now there’s three areas of expertise. Balance, that’s the bright-lights fighting stuff, Restoration, the healing, and finally feral combat. That’s where you take on the aspect of an animal for the more, um, hands-on fighting. I can do a bit of Balance, and some Healing. Feral combat is advanced stuff.”

Bannog nodded. “You were healing me just fine, thank you.”

“Yes, but in the more advanced stages, I’ll be able to heal more people at once, and heal more serious wounds. I’ve been told I can even recall someone from near death if I’m good enough.”

Bannog speared some potatoes. “Useful, that is. Better than me. All I can learn is to kill things more efficiently.”

Ariciel leaned on the table, and looked straight at Bannog’s face. “You keep the good people from getting hurt. That’s a good thing.”

Bannog raised his mug at her. “My pleasure.”

They emptied their plates, decided against desserts, and were drinking tea. Bannog sat back in his chair, enjoying what little time of peace they had left. Tomorrow, they would need to set out for Menethil, either by Griffin or, if the griffin masters here were as uncooperative as in Stormwind, on foot. Bannog did not like to think about that. Miles and miles of mostly empty wasteland, and those bits that weren’t empty contained wild animals and maybe even Horde troops. He looked again at Ariciel, sitting across from him in her simple white and blue robe. She didn’t seem troubled at all, perhaps from confidence in both their abilities, which was concerning, or from refusing to let the future trouble her until it came, which was a skill Bannog wished he had.

Suddenly Ariciel grinned. “Cheer up you big Human! One would think you weren’t enjoying yourself!”

Bannog sighed. “I’m thinking about tomorrow. Long road ahead.”

Ariciel shook her head. “Well that won’t do at all. Either we get the flight master to cooperate, in which case we’ll have a nice long trip through the sky, or we don’t, in which case it’ll just be an invigorating three-day march through the pretty snow.” Ariciel placed a long, slender finger on the table. “Either way, if you dwell on it now, then it’ll also spoil tonight. And tonight, being the last evening of undisturbed peace for both of us, is important. We need to be awake, happy and well fed to face the road.”

Bannog sighed. “You’re right, of course. But it’s difficult to keep from worrying.”

Ariciel tilted her head slightly to one side, then reached out across the table and put her hand on Bannog’s arm. “I want to give you something,” she said. “Up in the room.”

Bannog looked down at Ariciel’s hand, then up at her face. “You have something up in the room you want to give me?”

Ariciel shook her head once. “Not yet. It’s here.”

Bannog looked puzzled. “So why can’t you give it to me here?”

Ariciel’s eyes gleamed. “People would object.”

Bannog stared at her, motionless for a very long moment. Then, a slow smile appeared on his face.

The door closed behind them, and suddenly, Bannog had his arms full of Night-elf. Her face was very, very close to his. So close that Bannog could see that her eyes did have round pupils after all. He still couldn’t tell whether the illumination within was like the light of fireflies, or whether it was a projection into his mind.

Ariciel whispered. “You are my first Human. Do Humans keep their clothes on when making love?”

“Only if time is very short,” he said.

They quickly removed most of their clothes, and Ariciel suddenly put her hand on Bannog’s chest.

“Give me a moment, I have to meditate.”

Bannog looked at her. “Meditate?”

The Elf nodded. “Won’t take long.”

Bannog’s eyes roved over Ariciel’s body, settling on her hips, calculating.

“If I might make a suggestion…” Bannog grabbed Ariciel’s hips, lifted her bodily off the ground and tossed her onto the bed. Ariciel gave a startled squawk, opened her mouth to say something, but suddenly found herself buried under quite a lot of Human. She looked up at him, her eyes silently asking: “Well?”

Bannog kissed her. Later, Ariciel marked that moment as the one that she’d become permanently stuck with this Human. At that moment, though, it felt strange and foreign. And slightly prickly, what with the beard. She smiled up at Bannog.

“What are you doing?”

Bannog looked down on her, unbelieving.

“Elves kiss, don’t they?”

“This one hasn’t before now, if that’s what you were doing.”

“Then what is it that you do?” asked Bannog.

Ariciel took Bannog’s face in both her hands, and pulled him closer till the tips of their noses met.

“This,” she whispered.

To Bannog, the rest of the world disappeared from view. All he could see were these beautiful pale grey pools of light. His vision extended beyond the visible, and he saw joy, coy promises, laughter, hunger, desire. He dared not breathe, for fear the vision might end. Then it faded, and he was staring again at Ariciel’s face. With one finger, he pushed away a lock of white hair from her forehead.

“I’ve never done that before,” he said. Then, with a grin, “We have much to learn from each other.”

Ariciel just smiled.


Bannog surfaced from his reverie. Orders were being shouted and the company came to an orderly stop. Time to make camp. Quickly and efficiently, tents were put up, several small fires were made and dinner was prepared. Nobody remembered to ask Bannog to continue his tale, which was just as well. None of their bloody business what happened that night in Ironforge. Eating the normal trail provisions (dried meat, flat bread and beans, with water), made him feel like a Warrior again. Inns, towns and all their luxury were fine, but he liked the assurance that he could do without them if needed. He rolled himself into his blankets, removed an inconvenient rock from his bedspace, and slept.


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

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