Part 7: Setting sail

Old Bannog stood by the door of his workroom, and waved at Quartermaster Declan as he passed in the corridor. “Quartermaster! A moment of your time if you please.”

Quartermaster walked up. “Sir?”

“I’ve been to town this morning. Been ordering a new sword at the blacksmith’s.”

Quartermaster raised an eyebrow. “I could have done that for you, Sir.”

Old Bannog grinned. “But you know that I only give you the dull jobs! I think I’ll need a new weapon and I want it to be heirloom quality.”

“Still, Sir, I could have advised you!”

“What? Not to go for the bronze shortsword? I happen to know a thing or two about weapons myself! But be that as it may, as I was in town anyway I picked up the mail. That’ll save the postman the effort of dragging his paunch all the way here. Also, it’ll save me some of the Redridge claret that you insist on pouring into the man.”

“Only in immoderate amounts, Sir,” said Declan with a smile.

Old Bannog grinned. “I’m sure you know exactly how much to feed them. But anyway, I got this letter from Ironforge. Remember Peterselie?”

Quartermaster thought for a moment. “Ah. The Dwarven lady who helped us training our soldiers a few years back. Has she written?”

“She has. She met Young Bannog on his way to Dun Algaz, and thought she’d write to me about it. What do you think?” he passed the letter over to Quartermaster:
 

From Paladin Peterselie at Ironforge, to Bannog the Elder at
Caer Bannog.

 
Sir Bannog,

 
I was in Ironforge four days ago, when I met Young Bannog on
his way to Menethil Harbour, in the company of a Night-elf
named Ariciel, who he was escorting there. Since my duties took
me to Dun Algaz, I travelled with them for a few days and
learned some information that I know will interest you. The
young lady (and she is young, thirty years at most judging from
her clan markings) was born somewhere in the North of
Darkshore. She is a novice Druid. During a minor scuffle with
some gnolls, she healed me with Druidic magic, but she can’t
have had much training.

 
I remember an earlier episode involving Young Bannog and some
woman who turned out to be untrustworthy, though I was not
there when you were blessed by the Light with that particular
chance to excel. If I am any judge of character, this Elf is
what she says she is. Bannog trusts her, but I can see that the
memory of betrayal is still on him. He will not walk blindly
into a trap. Having said that, the lad is obviously head over
heels in love with this girl. If no evil befalls, you may want
to prepare yourself for having an Elf in the family. On a
related note, young Glint Stoneface has reached marriageable
age, and if you wish, I can introduce him to Selena. That way,
you have all the Humanoid races complete. Think of the
diplomatic opportunities!

 
May the Light protect you and yours,
Peterselie, Paladin of the Light.

Quartermaster chuckled as he read this. “Will you be marrying Selena off to a Dwarf then? I hear they are fabulously rich!”

“I will suggest it to her, and that will be the end of that,” said Old Bannog. Quartermaster imagined Old Bannog breaking the news gently to Selena. A wicked smile appeared on his weathered face. Old Bannog laughed with him.

“But what about this Elf woman? Does this information ring true with your own?” Quartermaster thought a moment.

“I think it does.” Quartermaster gazed at Old Bannog, smiling one of his invisible smiles. “It’s a good thing Gerrig has sons.”

Old Bannog let out a short bark of a laugh.

“I wrote to him that I would appreciate it if none of my grandsons were to have pointy ears. Other fathers have obedient sons!”

“Still, if Paladin Peterselie is correct, she’ll still be an improvement over the last one, pointy ears or no. Just to make sure, I’ll prod Young Bannog for some more information.”

Old Bannog nodded slowly. “You do that. Hah! If Caer Bannog is going to be the home of Elves, then we must make sure they’re the right sort. As you were, Quartermaster.”

Quartermaster left Old Bannog’s room and made for the kitchen. He sat down at the large table, grabbed his pen and paper and wrote a note to Bannog. He was just about to seal it when Bannog’s younger sister Selena came in.

“Quart? You said Bannog wanted one of my staffs? Here’s one, but what does he want it for? He’s always making fun of me when I use one!”

“It’s a gift for someone he met in Goldshire. He helped her fight off some bandits, and then took it upon himself to take her all the way to Menethil. He said she was fighting with some bits of driftwood and needed a better staff.”

Selena took a half second to register this. Then her jaw dropped, and her blue eyes gleamed.

“Bannog has a girlfriend? That’s great news!” She sat down at the table opposite Quart. “Tell me all about her!”

Quartermaster smiled. “Hold it, young lady. I don’t know if this girl is a proper Girlfriend yet. Also, we’re still trying to find out just how good this news is. If this one turns out to be another rotter, then we’re even further from home. But I don’t think she is, from what I’ve heard.”

Selena put her elbows on the table and leaned her chin on her hands.

“Not all of Bannog’s girlfriends were rotters. Janice was nice, but when her parents died, she needed more help than Bannog could give her. Hope she’s doing alright in the monastery. And that blonde girl. Friendly but frankly a bit dim. Bannog likes clever girls.” She grinned. “Doesn’t hurt if they’re pretty too, but you can’t see how clever someone is at first sight.”

“Well, you need to be clever to be a druid, at any rate,” said Quartermaster. “You can’t have a stupid Druid any more than you can have a stupid mage.”

“Druid?” Selena raised her eyebrows. “I thought only Elves had druids.”

“I don’t rightly know,” said Quartermaster, “there may be some Human or Dwarven druids somewhere in Azeroth, but this one is an Elf.”

Selena stared at Quartermaster, silent for at least three seconds. Then, a big, big grin slowly appeared on her freckled face.

“My big brother has caught an Elf! Nobody I know has an Elf in the family!” Her smile faded. “I hope she turns out to be the right kind. It’s taken him a long time to recover from last time.” She stared at nothing in particular for a few moments. Then she got up, grabbed the staff she had brought, disappeared and reappeared a few minutes later with another staff.

“This is the one he needs. And he’d better make me a nice new one, because this one is my best. Let me write him a note.” She borrowed Quartermaster’s pen and a sheet of paper, and wrote.

That afternoon, Porigg dropped by for a chat, to pick up the mail and perhaps a cup or two of Redridge Claret. Quartermaster gathered up all the mail to give to Porigg. Porigg saw the long staff, and pointed at it.

“That’s extra, Quartermaster! Because if people see me walking round with that, they’ll think I’m a girl!”

Quartermaster grinned and refilled Porigg’s cup. “If anyone mistakes you for a girl, Porigg, then they’ve been at sea too long.”

Porigg patted his stomach, mortally insulted, but not enough to put him off his wine.

“How’s Young Bannog doing in foreign parts?”

“Making friends and influencing people.” Quartermaster pointed. “That staff is for one of his new friends. An Elf if you’ll believe it!”

Porigg put down his cup. “Elf? One of those nasty buggers that tries to pull the life out of you?”

Quartermaster shook his head. “The other kind. They used to keep themselves to themselves until the war, the Night-Elves. The ones you want to watch out for call themselves Blood-elves. I trust Young Bannog to spot those and do unto them before they do it unto him.”

Porigg looked uneasy. “How do you spot ’em, then?”

Quartermaster looked at Porigg over the rim of his cup.

“Well, them wearing Horde emblems would be first, but you can also tell by looking at their eyes. Night-elves’ eyes glow white. Blood-elves glow green.”

Porigg sipped more wine. “I like green eyes. Mrs. Porigg has green eyes, though they’re not glowing. Damn those Bloody Elves for nicking them. Well Quartermaster, I must away. The mail will not wait even for this wine. Until next time!”

He picked up letters and staff, and disappeared with a wave. Quartermaster sat back in his chair, deep in thought. He knew Bannog was a fair judge of character. He was also fairly certain that if this Ariciel girl were to turn nasty, Bannog’s self preservation instincts were strong enough to overcome any, um… other considerations. But then again, Young Bannog was also easily swayed by a pretty face. Quartermaster sighed. Oh well. At some point, you have to start trusting your charges’ judgement. The boy had been hurt before, after all. That had turned his unwavering trust into a wary one. Who’d have thought that Bannog’s experience with that little bitch would someday turn into an advantage? Blessings in disguise? More like wisdom dearly bought with heartache and pain. Quartermaster drained his cup, put the contents of the jug back in the barrel and went about his duties.


Bannog stopped running and waited for Ariciel to catch up. When she did, he pointed to the horizon. She looked in the direction he was pointing, but didn’t see anything. She leaned on Bannog and stared along his arm.

“A tower,” said Bannog. “I think that’s Menethil! Just a bit further.”

Ariciel said nothing, only nodded. Her feelings were mixed. On the one hand, she was bruised and battered from the fights along the road. She wanted to lie down in a safe place, just for a while. On the other hand, reaching Menethil was the end of their journey. Just for good measure, it began to rain again. She looked at Bannog’s tired face and smiled. He smiled back. They went on.

It had been a hard road. They had fought two more crocolisks, and managed to dodge one of the giant two-legged reptiles, only to be caught by another. These creatures always seemed to go for Ariciel first, until Bannog taught them not to. The raptor had been the worst: both teeth and claws. Bannog had held its attention by hacking at it with his sword, while Ariciel shot green bolts of energy at it. These exhausted her reserves less than her bright white moon-beams, but took longer to prepare. Once, she’d had to interrupt her barrage to heal her strong friend, who had hurt his sword arm. As the great beast finally fell to the ground, he had leaned on his sword, breathing hard, then sat down. That had really scared her. She’d thought that he had been injured in some way that she’d missed, but it was only weariness. After a rest and a bite to eat, he’d got up, taken the skin off the raptor and they had continued on their way. She marvelled at his reserves. Nothing living should be able to take such a battering and still go on, but he did. She herself had not escaped without a few blows, but she could heal herself more easily. They ran on. Soon, Ariciel could see the tower Bannog had been pointing at, soldiers walking along the ramparts. Safety. Rest. The goodbye.

They finally reached the bridge. To their right, Bannog saw a neat cemetary. Some of the graves were fresh. Some had flowers on them. Nobody stopped them as they walked into town. Ariciel asked the way to the nearest tavern, and they made their way along the street. Finally, Bannog opened the door to the inn and stepped inside. There were some empty seats and they sat down on them gratefully. Before they could think to find the innkeeper, a lady walked up with a tray, on which there were two large steaming bowls of soup and a hunk of bread, which she put on the table in front of them. If Ariciel hadn’t been so tired, she’d have jumped up and embraced her. Instead, she gave the barmaid such a grateful look that she smiled.

“Grand soft weather we’re having, aren’t we? Eat up, dears. There’s more coming. You look like you need it.”

Bannog and Ariciel emptied their bowls, at high speed. The bowls were replaced with plates of sausages stewed in honey, with boiled potatoes. Finally, they were served generous slices of seed-cake and tea. They took their teacups to comfortable chairs near the fire and simply enjoyed the feeling of not running. Bannog looked round. So this was Menethil, then. He could think of many worse places to await his father’s orders.

Ariciel sat staring into the fire over her half-empty teacup. From here, it would be just a matter of taking the boat to Auberdine, and then on to Teldrassil. She’d lived near Auberdine all her life, working for the High-borne when she was old enough. She still did not know exactly why they’d had to leave so suddenly. She could only guess as Mother hadn’t told her. First, she had been too frightened. Then, there had been other things to worry about. She swallowed. Then, there had been the attack on the caravan. Going back home did not sound like a good idea. Not before she could hold her own against worse foes than she’d met on the road through the Wetlands. Somewhere deep in her pack was a letter from Brother Eolas to a Druid called Mathrengyl Bearwalker, recommending her as a student. Hopefully, she’d be able to live up to Eolas’ recommendations. Ariciel closed her eyes. Her feet were warm. Her stomach was full. She sipped more tea. It was good tea, too. Strong. She tried guessing what kind of leaf it was. Definitely mint, but there were also other flavours. She opened her eyes, drained her cup and put it on a small table. She reached out and gently touched Bannog’s arm. He turned round to her.

“I’m just going to find the harbour and ask about the ferry. Back in a minute.”

Bannog nodded.

Ariciel got up, dropped her pack next to Bannog’s, smiled at him and left the tavern. The harbour was not difficult to find. She walked easily along the street. Amazing what a couple of hours’ rest and some good food could do for you. At the dock, she could see one of the ferries. She walked over to it and attracted the attention of a sailor.

“Excuse me? When does the ferry sail?”

The sailor paused in his work. “We sail in an hour milady. If you wish, you can board now.”

Ariciel took a short breath. No, no, no! That wouldn’t do at all! She’d have to run back to the tavern, grab her belongings and head back out. Which would mean that she’d have to say a hasty goodbye to Bannog. The least Bannog deserved was a proper goodbye… she stopped herself. No use pretending it was all for his benefit. The night in Ironforge had been wonderful. In Dun Algaz, there hadn’t been the opportunity for a reprise. A few dozen Dwarves shouting encouragement and helpful advice would have put off even Bannog of Caer Bannog. Then, there had been Their Cave in the Wetlands, but a raptor or crocolisk snacking on your leg while you’re trying to enjoy the warm afterglow, would have spoiled the experience. So they’d had to settle for a bit of a cuddle en touchant les nez, which had been enjoyable, but distinctly lacking in the ability to fulfill certain appetites. Now, they were alone and safe, and could… could. But, stars and stones, that would take longer than an hour, minus the time it took to find Bannog and drag him someplace private.

“Um,” she said. “I can’t make that I’m afraid. I’ve got things and people to see and do. When is the next ferry?” The sailor looked slightly disappointed.

“The next ferry doesn’t leave till tomorrow at nine in the morning.”

Ariciel beamed. Perfect! With a well-meant “Thank You” and a wave, she set off back to the tavern.

As Ariciel left, Bannog stirred himself, got up and went in search of a mailbox. He touched his hearthstone to the appropriate slot and received some letters and a staff. He recognised it immediately. He’d made it himself. He also remembered the occasion. It was after one of the first times Selena had been genuinely nice to him. On many previous occasions he’d wanted to drown his little sister in the moat and she was only alive today because at that time the moat was only waist deep. But this was a strange thing. At some point when you least expect, and often without you noticing at the time, these little horrors that your parents thrust upon you turn from the bane of your life into genuine Human beings. He glanced at Selena’s note. She was very precise in her instructions. He’d have the time after Ariciel had left.

There was also a note from Quartermaster Declan and one from his father. These he put in his pocket for reading later. He looked at the staff. Selena had used it, obviously. Mostly in practice. Only once had she had cause to use it in anger. The young man in question had not believed in unrequited love and reasoned that Selena would appreciate him better if he forced himself on her. She had managed to convince him otherwise. Later, Bannog and his older brother Gerrig had managed to convince the lad even further. Nobody lays a finger on Little Sister. That was their job. But despite having been used, the staff was in good shape. It should be. He’d made a special effort. If Little Sister wanted to fight with a toothpick, it had better be a good one. All he’d have to do, if he had the time, was move the strips of leather from their present position to the one where Ariciel normally held her hands.

Bannog and his siblings had been taught to hold a staff in the middle with one hand, one-quarter with the other. Ariciel held her staff at one third and two-thirds. Shouldn’t take him more than a few minutes to fix. But first things first. He found the innkeeper and booked a room. That gave him a place to drop their luggage.

He found a local leatherworker and borrowed some glue. With his knife, he cut off the strips of leather, then replaced them with ones from their trip across the wetlands. Using the leather he’d taken off that big raptor gave him a curious sense of satisfaction. The beast that had wanted to make lunch of his friend would now help keep her safe. He held the staff up and checked his handiwork. He rested the staff on two outstretched fingers, and slowly moved them together, to find the point where the staff balanced. With a satisfied nod, he noted that his fingers met exactly in the middle. After a bit of drying, Ariciel would have a usable weapon. He said goodbye to the leatherworker and took the staff into the room, where he dropped it under the bed. Then he wandered downstairs to read his letters. First, the one from his sister:
 

From Selena of Caer Bannog, to Young Bannog greeting.

 
My Brother,

 
I thought I was the rebel at Caer, but you’ve taken over the
lead! Running away to foreign parts with strange Elves! I’m
not sure how I’ll improve on that. I’m sending you my best
staff, so if she melts into your arms after receiving it,
remember to be properly grateful to your loving sister. As for
the replacement: I’ve grown about two inches since you made
this one, so keep that in mind. I’ve also seen a spear with
silver inlay, and that looked very stylish. If you could do
something animal in silver, that would be great. Perhaps a bird
of some kind. I’m learning to hunt with falcons. I’m also
getting bored with the copper, so if you can do something in
bronze or iron, that would be great. I’m sure you will still
manage to make it work like a weapon, but please keep in mind
that I plan to keep this staff with me on hunting trips, and I
want to show it off. Finally, my brother, do keep your eyes
open. With all this distance between us, I can’t kick her butt
if she hurts you. Though I’m sure she won’t. Quart says she
sounds like a nice girl.

 
Yours with love, Selena.

Bannog smiled as he read this. Three inches longer, silver inlay and iron instead of copper. Not a word about the wood, or the weight, or the actual weight of the shodding. Good thing you didn’t want to make it difficult. He thought a bit on her final few sentences. Bannog trusted Ariciel completely. She’d healed him, fought alongside him, made love to him. The thought of her betraying him in some way had not entered his mind. Frankly, he couldn’t see how she could have. They had needed each other to get this far. He would not have survived on his own any more than she would have. If you were determined to think ill of Ariciel, you could say that she had used him to get here, but he’d come along on this trip willingly. It was true, Bannog had suffered in the past from bad judgement regarding pretty women, or rather one pretty woman, so they were probably right to be wary. But they hadn’t seen the look on the Elf’s face as he awoke in Elwynn Forest. They hadn’t looked deep into those strange pale eyes and seen what he’d seen. Still, it was nice to know that she worried about him. He put her letter to one side, and opened the one from Quart, as Selena called him:
 

From the Quartermaster of Caer Bannog, to Young Bannog greeting!

 
Three days, and only in Dun Algaz? Is this Elf-maiden weighing you
down or are we over-estimating ourselves? Get a move on, Young
Bannog! And what about this “About as tall as Selena?” What kind
of a description is that? What if she were to present herself at
Caer Bannog, and I sent her away, saying “Begone imposter! Bannog
has a much better taste in women than that!” I wouldn’t be able to
live with myself! Meanwhile, I’ve been talking to people and
writing letters like never before. I hope you’re appreciating
this. First, the Defias Brotherhood. They are growing fast, and if
we don’t do something, we will find them on our doorstep one fair
morning. They are right bastards, but as of yet, they don’t seem
to be Horde, which is good. Your father is organising a few
countermeasures with some of his army friends. Second, your Elf
friend. From her writing and other clues, I place her in
Darkshore, where she seems to be heading next. Tell her not to
return home. She’s not likely to find anything good there. The
High-borne that used to rule the roost have had some nasty magic
blow up in their face. There were no survivors, the manor is a
pile of rubble and their ghosts haunt the area. No place for a
young lady of discerning taste. Teldrassil sounds like a far
better destination. Third, I think your father has found you a
proper job in Menethil, so hang tight and don’t run off again,
there’s a good lad.

 
Yours as always,
Quartermaster.

 
PS: Try the clam chowder there. It’s the best you’ll ever taste!

Bannog laughed. If he wanted to, Quartermaster could ask for information in ways so subtle that you never realised you’d told him. On this occasion, however, he chose not to. He’d have to get it through to Redridge that once bitten was twice shy, that he was years older now and that Ariciel was Good People, damn it! As he picked up his father’s letter, Ariciel walked in the door. She sat down opposite him.

“Boat leaves tomorrow morning at nine,” she said. They looked at each other for a moment. “Don’t think of it till then,” she added. She pointed at the letters.

“Good tidings?”

“News from home. A note from my sister even!”

“You never told me you had a sister!”

Bannog raised his hands. “Didn’t come up. But yes.”

“So? What’s her name?”

“Selena,” said Bannog. “Before you ask, I also have an older brother named Gerrig. Named after the founder of Caer Bannog.” Ariciel frowned.

“So why isn’t the place called Caer Gerrig then?” Bannog had explained this many times. After he had received permission from the King, Gerrig had founded his castle, and named it Caer Bannog after his first son. It was the tradition of the castle from then on that the first son would be named after some notable figure from family history, and the second son be named Bannog. The first son would inherit the castle, and hopefully produce a few heirs as the second would go out into the World and win renown for the castle. So far, it had worked. Gerrig’s first son, Bannog the Ancient, had had two sons, Ivar and, yes, Old Bannog. Old Bannog had had three sons and a daughter. His wife had died giving birth to Selena’s younger brother, named Daelan for the few hours he had lived. Old Bannog had not re-married.

Ariciel nodded, watching Bannog’s face intently. She couldn’t see the pain of loss there, so time had presumably healed that particular wound. Privately she thought that all these Bannogs just showed lack of imagination.

Bannog the Next To Most Recent was just about to show Ariciel the letters he’d opened, when he realised that they both mentioned the quarterstaff he’d got her. He bent over the table.

“I got us a room. I’ve got something upstairs that I want to give you.”

Ariciel grinned and was just about to ask him to come up with a more original pick-up line, when she realised the words were slightly different from the ones she’d used to, well, seduce Bannog in Ironforge. Though in fairness, he hadn’t needed much seducing.

“You have something upstairs for me? Something that’s not downstairs?”

Bannog laughed, remembering. “I could even give it to you here, and nobody would object.”

Ariciel’s foot touched his under the table.

“No, nothing like that,” said Bannog, and Ariciel gave him a sad, disappointed look.

“Come on up and I’ll show you.” He got up.

Ariciel followed him up the stairs, into their room. She noticed something.

“Just one bed?”

Bannog looked innocent. “Would you believe all the rooms with two beds were taken?”

“No.”

“Oh right. Would you believe that I hoped to sleep in the same bed as you tonight? Eventually?”

“Yes.”

They grinned at each other. Bannog ducked under the bed and picked up the staff. He presented it to her.

“I thought I’d give you this. I hope you like it.” Ariciel stared at the copper-shod staff.

“Well? Take it. It’s yours!” She took the staff in one hand and studied it. The workmanship was better than any staff she’d ever had. The shodding was flush with the rest of the staff, and attached with dozens of small nails. The wood was dark with oil, and well cared for. The leather hand-holds… she thought she recognised.

“Raptor leather?”

“Yes. Our large-fanged friend from this morning. The glue could probably use a day or so of drying, but apart from that, you’re ready for action.” Ariciel studied her new staff again.

“This must have cost you! Where’d you get this?”

“Not really. I made this staff myself, for Selena. She’s got more staffs. I also promised to make her a new one as soon as I’d have the time.”

Ariciel held the staff in both her hands. It felt heavier than her old one. She took a step back and, careful not to hit anything, took an experimental swing. It was heavier, but the balance was good. She almost wanted to try it out on something unsuspecting.

“It’s beautiful. Thank you!” She propped the staff up against the wall and gave Bannog a hug.

“I’m glad you like it,” said Bannog. “Think of me when you use it.” He reconsidered. “Or rather, knock out the thing you’re fighting, then think of me.”

Some time passed. He still had her in his arms. He stroked her back, and she buried her face in his shoulder. That must not be very comfortable, what with the chainmail. You know you’ve been at war for too long if you eat and relax, while still wearing full armour. Perhaps he should remove it, but that would mean letting go. She looked up at him. They kissed. Ariciel’s fingers grabbed the lowest links of his chain and rattled them. Ah. This must be one of those “hint” things. Let nobody think that Bannog of Caer Bannog does not recognise them when they jump up and slap him in the face. Bannog undid clasps, pulled the vest over his head and wanted to put it over a chair. Ariciel took it away from him and threw it into a corner of the room with a metallic sound. Then, she grabbed his shirt and pulled it up. Bannog looked into her eyes.

“Do you need to meditate first?” he asked innocently.

“Of course. It’ll just take about ten minutes. Oh, better make that twenty, I’m a bit agitated.” She have him a Look. “Want to wait that long?”

“No,” said Bannog. He ran his finger along her jawline. The mischievous grins slowly disappeared from both their faces. They fell silent, simply looking at each other. Finally, Bannog took a deep breath. “This is…” he began.

“The last chance,” said Ariciel. A sudden sense of urgency took them. They paused only to lock the door properly, as being disturbed didn’t bear thinking about. Then they gently nudged each other towards the bed.

“You’re wearing too much,” said Bannog. He demonstrated something. “This would be much better without rigid leather in the way.” Ariciel agreed, and remedied the situation. Bannog repeated the experiment. It did, indeed, improve the experience.

Ariciel pulled again at Bannog’s shirt. “Do you think it gets better if we remove even more clothes?”

“You know, it may not,” said Bannog earnestly. “But we owe it to future generations to find out.” He pulled the shirt off himself. He gazed round for a chair, saw the look on Ariciel’s face then tossed it into the corner to join his chainmail. He was pushed onto the bed with Ariciel on top of him. Her face was inches from his.

“Future generations can go and find out for themselves,” she whispered.


It was late in the morning in Menethil. The docks were busy with people going about their business. The first fishing trawlers had just come in from their night shift, and were being unloaded. The place smelt of the sea. It was bright and sunny. It shouldn’t be bright and sunny. It should be raining. There should be thunderstorms. A large man in chainmail was sitting on the docks, with his back to one of the mooring posts, looking out to sea. Leaning up against him was a Night-elf. He had his arm around her shoulders, and her eyes were closed. She yawned. The man smiled.

“Bad night’s sleep?”

“Terrible. Some stupid Human kept waking me up. The things I’ve had to do to get him to go back to sleep!”

The man laughed quietly. “You should have told me! I’d have thrown him out.”

“What? And spoil all the fun?” The Elf turned her face up to him, and smiled.

He ran his fingers through her hair. They had been staring at the ferry for about half an hour now, as it approached the harbour. Soon, it would moor at the dock, then it would leave again, with only the Elf on board. Out at sea, the ferry tacked. Sails were moved from one side to the other, and the ship leaned over the other way. Take your time, sailors. The man frowned, seemed to reach some sort of decision.

“Um, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he began. The Elf looked up at him. “With what we’ve been doing… Is there any chance I’ve left you…”

The Elf-maiden looked at the big man. “What do you mean?”

The man laid his hand on the Elf’s stomach.

“I mean… could you be with…” he took a deep breath, “child?”

The Elf’s mouth fell open.

“Oh Bannog! That was to be a surprise for when we meet again! What would you like to call him? If it’s a boy?” She watched his face turn completely white. She held her breath. She bit her lip. Then her head fell back and she burst out laughing. The man frowned deeply at her, then punched her in the side.

“That. Was not. Funny.”

The Elf laid her white hand on his face, and shook her head. “I’m sorry. The answer is no. Elves don’t get pregnant unless they want to. Sometimes not even then.” She sighed. “I’m not even sure Elves and Humans can have children together. But in any case, I didn’t do the Rite of Invitation. So no child.”

The man nodded, interested despite himself. “What’s that, then?”

The Elf wriggled a bit, making herself comfortable. “It’s about three hours’ meditation. It makes the woman fertile. It helps if the male is there too.” She grinned. “During the meditation. And obviously afterwards.”

“Aha. That would be useful to several couples I know. Sometimes people marry because unexpected children are on the way. There’s even women who trick a man into marriage this way.” He shook his head. “Usually a recipe for disaster.”

The Elf stared in the distance, considering this. “Not a chance. You cannot hide it if you’ve done the Rite. Spot it a mile off.”

“Oh. How?”

The Elf actually blushed.

“Well…” She looked at the man. “Would you say that I showed a healthy interest in you last night?” The man couldn’t help but agree. After a few moments’ silence, the Elf continued, still blushing. “Multiply that by a hundred. If you’d done that little ‘Don’t you have to meditate’ thing after I’d done the Rite, I’d have ripped your trousers to bits there and then.”

“My trousers are reinforced leather.”

“I know.”

“Wow.”

The Elf grinned. “We don’t have children often, but when we do, we mean business!”

She laid her head back down. Sighed. “I did mean the bit about ‘when we meet again’ though.”

The man stroked the Elf’s white hair.

“When we can.”

They watched the ship pull into the dock. Sailors jumped ashore with mooring cables and made fast. They waited till the very last moment, then got up. First, they touched noses, looking deep into each other’s eyes, Elf fashion. Then, they kissed, Human fashion. She stepped on board. He didn’t. Orders were shouted. The lines were pulled on board. The sails were trained and the ship pulled away. She waved. He waved back. As the ship picked up speed, he turned round and made his way to the Inn. He didn’t look back, so he did not see the shaft of white moon-fire the Elf sent up as a final greeting.


Bannog was standing in a smithy, working. He had managed to buy some iron, and was turning it into a sheet for the staff’s shodding. There was something deeply satisfying about simply hitting something very hard with a hammer. The metal went cold, and he put it back in the fire, worked the bellows. He thought of the letters he’d read this morning. First, obviously, Selena’s. He hoped this new project would be to her liking. The silver inlay would be the trickiest part. He didn’t have any silver bars, but he could sacrifice a few of his coins for the cause. Since Little Sister was using falcons, he’d settled on a picture of a falcon as it swooped down on its prey. The design lay on the workbench, waiting to be transferred to the staff. The wood had been easy, as soon as it occurred to him to ask the harbour master. Ships have more wood than just the masts and he’d managed to find a long, straight piece of spruce that would do splendidly. That bit of wood now stood against the wall, carved so that the ends were slightly tapered and waiting for the shodding to be slotted in. Depending on how much artistry he wanted to put into the inlay, it would take him the rest of the afternoon to complete it.

Then, he thought of his father’s letter. Father had told him to report to Captain Joachim Swann in the morning, to be assigned to the twenty-fifth light infantry. A new company that had yet to earn a name for itself. Finally. A proper Warrior’s assignment. He was not surprised to find that his enthusiasm had faded a little, but nothing to be done about that. He’d settle in well enough.

Finally, the most interesting one from Quartermaster. Selena’s staff and one phrase in that letter had reminded him. “Taste in women”. Bannog remembered well. Bethany. She had been the first true love in Bannog’s life. She was beautiful. Long fiery red hair, legs that went all the way up and the personality to match. To Bannog, she had been all that a woman should be, and he was quite happy to settle down with her indefinitely. For several weeks, he’d lived in a haze. Then, finally, she’d slipped him a note asking him to meet her in a secluded spot that night, and she’d make sure he’d never forget it.

Bannog pulled the iron out of the fire and hit it hard. Sparks flew as he flattened the iron bar. Some sparks hit his bare arms, but he took no notice.

Well, he wouldn’t forget that night. Not if he lived a hundred years. He’d sneaked out of his room, to the spot under a large oak tree, where Bethany had been waiting. He’d run to her. Then, there had been a sudden blow to his head and the next thing he knew was that he was lying in the dark, unable to move. His head was hurting, but what hurt him most were the voices of his beloved Bethany and some nameless thugs, discussing the money they could get from Old Bannog for his return. From their words, he also learnt that they had no intention whatsoever of returning him, even if they got the money. He’d be able to point an accusing finger at Bethany and they’d all be caught eventually.

Bannog stopped his hammering and held the metal up to his eye, fearing he might have made the sheet too thin. He hadn’t. He put the metal back in the fire, heated it again and paid closer attention.

He never knew how news of his whereabouts had reached Caer Bannog, but at some time in the night, there had been noises of fighting. Bethany had come running in, cut loose his legs and pulled him to his feet. “Come along quietly, and you may live,” she had hissed. Bannog had come along quietly, until they had been caught. He had felt the sharp point of a knife in his back, as Bethany stood behind him. He could hear her breath, fast, shallow.

“Please, Bethany,” he’d said. “Give it up. I won’t let them hurt you.” Probably an empty promise. He realised now what would have happened if word got out that you could kidnap Caer Bannog’s children and live.

“Shut up!”

Old Bannog had been there. So had Quartermaster Declan. So had a number of soldiers. Bethany had looked from one to the other, then reasoned that if she stabbed Bannog and pushed him forward, she could escape in the confusion. Bannog could still remember the pain as she did. But before Bethany could run and hide, bows twanged. Arrows hissed. She fell dead with seven arrows in her.

Before Bannog passed out, the last thing he heard was Quartermaster’s voice. “I don’t think much of your taste in women, Young Bannog!”

The next thing he remembered was lying on his stomach, in bed, in his room at Caer Bannog. He hadn’t seen Bethany die. He hadn’t looked on her corpse as it was taken away and buried. He had been unconscious, and was grateful for that. Apart from the pain where Bethany had stabbed him, he felt a great emptiness. The wound was not dangerous, and within a few days he’d recovered enough to sit up and move about. Not that he’d wanted to. He wasn’t stupid. He knew that Bethany had pretended to be in love with him, simply to lure him out of the safety of Caer Bannog. He’d fallen for it. He could never trust any woman again.

Bannog took out the large chisel and started to cut the sheet of metal into the shapes he needed for the shodding of Selena’s new staff.

After a few days, there had been a knock on his door. Selena had come in to find out how her big brother was doing. He hadn’t wanted to talk to her. So she’d just sat there, waiting “Until he did feel like talking. No hurry, Big Brother. Dinner’s hours away and I could probably even get the cook to bring some here.” Bannog, of course, had told her to get lost. She’d stayed, simply sitting quietly next to him. After a while, he’d caved in and said it.

“I loved her.”

Selena had smiled.

“You still do, don’t you?”

That had surprised Bannog. He’d thought on it and found she was right. She’d betrayed him. He knew she was dead. And still, yes, he did. He would have given her all that he had. The whole castle and everything in it that was his to give. If only she were alive and with him now. He’d broken down and cried. Huge, undignified, unmanly sobs of loss, mixed with words, that were at times hardly even coherent. Selena had just put her arms round him, and said nothing. Never told anyone. It had not been the miracle cure, of course. Months, even years had passed before Bannog had regained his usual cheerful disposition. But it had been the turning point between sinking deeper and deeper into despair and starting to recover. To show his gratitude, he’d made the staff that Ariciel now bore. A weapon. Not much of a gift, but one of the things he knew he could do well. He wondered. Had Selena sent him this staff as a warning to be careful? Or to remind him that there were people out there that you could trust? He’d have to ask her.

Bannog finished rubbing the oil into the smooth wood of Selena’s new staff. He held it up to his eye and stared down the length of it. Perfect. He looked at the thin silvery strands, in the shape of a bird. Well, not too bad. One final test to make. He looked round and saw the place where horses were shoeed. Two parallel beams were at about head height. He walked into the space usually reserved for the horse, put Selena’s staff crosswise over the beams and pulled himself up, till his chin touched the leather of the central hand-hold. Never trust anything that you can’t hang from if necessary. The staff held, and he dropped back down. He said goodbye to the blacksmith and took the staff into the inn. He wrote three notes: One to his sister, one to his father and one to Quartermaster:
 

Selena,

 
Please find enclosed your new staff. It’s iron shod, and I hope
you like the inlay as that’s what took me most of the time.
Thank you for sending me yours. I remember well the time I made
it. Though I hope she won’t need it, I’m sure Ariciel will put
it to good use when she does. She’s on the boat to Teldrassil
now. I miss her, but I’m sure I’ll see her again. Whatever you
do, don’t run off with strange men until I am back to fetch you
if need be. Remember: I do these things so you don’t have to!

 
Yours,
Bannog the Younger.

There. That should be enough. The note to his father was simple enough. Just a quick note that he would do as told and report to Captain Swann in the morning. Then Quartermaster. He owed the old man a bit of attention.
 

Quartermaster,

 
Well. We can’t have you turn back my Elven friend from the
gates. Our reputation with Darnassus would instantly be shot
to pieces if you did. So, purely to avoid that: Lady Ariciel
stands about five foot ten inches. Her hair is long, white as
snow, and falls straight down to her waist. Her gaze is keen,
her smile is dazzling and her body is strong, like that of a
runner. Her eyes shine with a pale grey light. She has the long
ears and eyebrows that all Night-elves have. She wears light
leather armour and makes it look like it was designed for her.
I dare you to look at her and say that my taste in women has
not improved since last you remarked on it. She was a house
servant with the High-borne until her mother took fright at
something and spirited her and her sister away, as far as
Ironforge. The caravan she was on was attacked by bandits and
she was left for dead. A monk named Eolas took care of her and
brought her to Northshire Abbey. She’s been looking for her
family for years now. She means to continue the search as soon
as she’s learnt how to fight in the ways of the Druid. I’ve
told her about Darkshore, and it didn’t seem to surprise her.
She’s on her way to Teldrassil, to a Druid teacher named
Mathrengyl Bearwalker.

 
We tried the clam chowder. It is everything you say. If you want,
I’ll ask for the recipe.

 
Yours,
Young Bannog

Bannog read this again, nodded, then sealed both letters. Together with Selena’s new staff, he dropped it into the mail to Caer Bannog. Then, he returned to their room. His room. He sighed, thought of Ariciel, and slept. Tomorrow would be a busy day.


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

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