Turning points - from 2009
It is early morning, if I paid attention to such I could hear the sound of snoring men, sleeping off lasts night’s drunken reverie, or I could perhaps hear the sound of elks trying to mate one last time before autumn.
I don’t pay attention to such, it’s not my way, not out here. The earth of the land is thick, moist and when I hold a fist full of it up, its scent is fresh.
It is a good land, it would be a good future for Eileena, one I am sure she wants.
It would be right by her, taking her out of Stormwind, out of all that blood, betrayals and women that whisper my name. Some of those even learned it from their mothers’ journals, seeking me for reasons I don’t want to imagine.
It won’t be long now before my hand starts to shake or my knee finally gives out, one night on a roof top. Not much of a hero’s death heh, killed by my own failing body.
If I am to give her this, a future I know she desires but won’t ask for and one I can...probably learn to love, it has to be built now, and by another man than Nomine.
I leave the sunrise behind, walking inside the inn to once more take on a noble’s clothes and name. I was there when he died in the great war, saw no reason leave his signet ring behind, it has served me and Stormwind better than his going to war ever did.
The whip cracks and a man grunts in pain. Capt. Lerry drives his soldiers to have no mercy for the condemed men I have “hired”. Watching them sweat while removing stone and wood from my land. Clearing it for a settlement that will come soon. Next to the river, a natural harbour for small boats, close enough to the roads to make a welcome stop for travelers.
It’s good land, a good future. I am sure it is.
I have hired a mix of soldiers and prisoners to work for me, playing the role as a nobleman bent on finding gold, strutting round cursing my luck, muttering about not being able to pick up fist sized gold nuggets from the ground. “I am sure they are here, I am sure we will all strike it rich”.
The officers know better than to think there is any other gold here than that in my purse. The soldiers listen to the officers and the condemned men just care about one thing. That they won’t hang as long as the noble idiot keeps up his chase for gold.
When night time comes my small shanty town is filled by the sound of whores, drinking and music. The condemned men eating well so they can work well, drinking well and enjoying women of negotiable virtue, because I know that even an outdoor prison needs its windows.
While the officers and their selected entourage eat and drink at the inn. Enjoying their little tricks to make me pay for round after round. Playing the noble fool is easier when you can make people think they get the better off you.
At night I take to my room, with a barmaid in tow. Same one each night, so they can laugh about me having a craving for this dark haired and small chested barmaid. “Just like a boy” they call out, thinking I can’t hear.
She served in SI:7 like me, just one difference. She’s got her ring, snake biting its tail on the inner side. Outside it looks just like any wedding band. Every member of SI:7 gets one when they’re discharged. A small reminder that you can take the man out of SI:7, but the lessons and experiences stay with you.
In the dark of my room she is hard, steel in her back and neck. Staring at me while she gives me the days report.
I listen to her telling me that Stormwind starves, about tax gone wrong, she keeps talking into the night. Like she has every other night. Her voice without passion or care. Fact after fact.
And I listen in the same pose every night, like a merchant hearing about the price of spice in Darnassus.
It’s nearly believable.
Over my body shadows bleed, it is’t night, it is’t yet day. I have opened the windows, looking out over the valley. She stares up at my back from the bed. “Thirty diamonds in the pouch next to you, I want you to look for something for me”. I tell her.
“Another thirty diamonds for when you find me Lashela’s black book”.
A sliver of a smile, sharp white teeth, “30 diamonds won’t get you what you want, it won’t last long looking into such matters.” She pauses, holding the pouch, feeling its heft. “Knowing you, and the games you play, I am better off trying to pick Arthias’s pockets.”
She picks up the pouch, taking out one of them, holding it up so it catches a stray ray of sunshine.
“I take my payment and in the pouch there are 29 diamonds for you to return to your home.”
“Nomine, you won’t survive out here, you won’t survive trying to ignore what is happening. I see your face when you hear the reports, who is hurt, who is bleeding, that you worry for yours, for the one called Heartfang, for Ibelin, Chit and all those damned names.”
She leaves a few minutes later, trying to act like a giggling barmaid, holding her clothes in her arms.
After she leaves the room feels empty and quiet. I find myself glancing over at the bedsheets. With a sigh I rumple and toss them about. Keeping up appearances is the key when you want people to remember the character and not the man playing him.
Same appearances force me back to Stormwind, leaving the shanty town, clearing of land, and four bottles of expensive brandy in the hands of Capt. Lerry. Promising to reward him well if he finds the source of gold in my absence. He nods, licks his lips, and I haven’t even left his tent before he reaches over for one of the bottles.
I walk away with a smile, knowing that the willowbark mixed with the brandy will give him terrible cramps and bloody runs.
Without his hard hand over the soldiers, things and people will get some room to breath.
On the way to Westguard Keep, I pass another small group of women, mothers, lovers, perhaps even a daughter. They walk with determination. So I halt, making one of the two guards grunt in fustration. Poor fella mutters low about a barmaid he misses.
I dismount with just a small grunt of my own, as the largest of the women grips her walking stick, all two meters of thick wood and turns to me. She reaches to my chest, hard face, broken nose and an expression telling me that she is more ready for a fight than either myself or the guards.
It is hard not to notice how the other women reach down, picking up stones, a bit of steel glints in one of their hands.
I flash my smile, looking at them.
“Dear ladies, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“We ain’t whores ya gi... Sire.” She stares at me. Two handed grip on the staff, some of the markings on it looks like sword bites.
As she takes one step forward, determined to make her point, I widen my smile. “Such women like yourself and your company would demand royal payment far beyond my means.” A chuckle from the skinny one of my “guards”.
“I merely meant to inquire were your company are headed.”
She takes another look at me, an unarmed man in a noble’s travel clothes and well used boots.
“Headin for Folly Creek”, she says. “Folly Creek?”. “Ay,” she goes, telling me it’s a day’s walk up north, some thin haired sire clears the land for gold there. Ending by saying “My man’s there working,” adding “Honest work” as an after thought.
Expected this to happen, any army gets its tail of whores, washerwomen, daughters, family and more. Why should ten score of prisoners and two score of soldiers be any different.
Just did’t expect it to happen quite so soon. I point to the skinny one of my guards. “He will take you there, guard you and so forth. When you arrive tell the guard captain that you’re all washerwomen.”
I say the last to the guard, making my point.
“Washerwomen hah!” I turn, to the lady snorting it out. “Washing a man’s willow rod more like it”. I shrug, that is her choice.
Last thing to do is to lean over to the skinny guard as he is about to leave with them. Sour faced over losing his chance to get some time off in a major town.
“Make sure they get to stay, or I will get you reassigned to Ice Crown...”
He rides off with a new purpose in life.
Westguard Keep is growing quickly, new people, new soldiers and some heading for the tournament. A perfect place to leave my last remaining guard to ponder life, ale and a barmaid’s bosom.
Back in Stormwind, ground is dry, Stormwind dust is gritty against my fingertips. My leather armour is cold and some parts of me enjoys its embrace.
Too many attacks on Starlight lately, all by the same fool. Reckon that having yer brother killed can give any man a sour face and some indigestion, but my patience with his “attacks” are running dry.
Twice now I have tried to speak to Caliyen, make sure things are sorted and that they get the knowledge they need to handle the coalition. Last time half their men were more focused on a mustard frying machine, and Caliyen herself had rings under her eyes, trying to keep order among her men.
Got no choice when it comes to seeking out the guards this night. With the last brutal attack on Nightsun, Karina and Ibelin, I need the right to act freely. Secondly Naruil wanted me to speak on her kin brother’s behalf. He is with the Coalition, and having him in our debt can prove useful. If not, putting burning steel to his skin for information and telling Naruil that he was killed by the guards will serve the same purpose. It’s a bastard’s work an when blood of Starlighters flow freely, for this I am needed.
Can’t say I like it, so it is with a bitter taste that I slip like smoke and a bad dream through the Command Centre doorway. Down to the prison cells, two guards outside the cells. Sounds of fighting can be heard from inside.
I make my place in a dark corner, waiting until Caiden walks out. She gives up and gives me the time I want. Another guard, I think his name is Gabbleton, moves in to listen when Caiden and I take a seat at their large table. Not long after I tell her what it is about, just enough information. Giving her the option to cut the talk before it comes to be a legal matter.
She looks around, her body takes on a weary posture. She mutters something to her fellow guards about needing air. I take up pace half a step behind her. Letting her make up her mind.
Something she does right outside the passageway to Cut Throat alley. Think it was here I stopped somebody from beating her up a year ago. Same place as I saved Sisera from the same fate. Sometimes Stormwind feels no bigger than Goldshire.
I look at Caiden while she unbuttons her shirt. Showing me a falcon like mark, half a scar, half feeling like magic. She needs to have what he put inside her cut out. We have seen tricks like this before. I know the people that can make it happen. But she is’t giving me what I want. Simply put, if she wants my help in having it removed, I want hers and the other guards’ promise that they will fail to investigate our revenge. Until I get that, I will not allow myself to care that Shanra can cause her intense pain at any moment.
Got to get myself one of those black boxes he uses for it. Can come in handy one day…
I know she is smart enough to realize that retaliation will cause collateral damage. I don’t care what Kalliedas would demand of them, it is’t my problem.
My daughter is far more kind, she probably give help and hope that someday the favour would be returned. Well I saved Caiden from a beating that would have left her broken. She ain’t offering to return that favour now; so I am not extending her line of credit.
My eyes are hard, “Send Caliyen a message for me. Make sure you get it all”. She nods in return.
"Patience feels like cold steel on my neck. Soon I will happily trade it for gunpowder, smoke and treason."
She swallows, I walk away.
Eileena is not in our home and the hearth is cold. Too much blood and fighting in Stormwind drives her out. Somebody has to be the strong one while I am prancing about in noble’s clothes.
Heartfang is still too broken, too hurt. Her answer is claws and doom for any in our way.
Chit needs some warmth in her bed, before she can offer it to others.
Eileena needs to run away, too much blood ruins her “song”.
And I am the bastard that joined so I could gain their trust and rob them blind, a nice cold scam.
I use that coldness to rip into Borgyn over the guildstone. Making it perfectly clear what fighting in the streets will lead to. Nearly telling him that he is a weak paladin, unfit and not brave enough to walk away from a fight.
I will speak to Caliyen, then I will leave for Northrend again.
I will build this future for...
During the next days dinner, while I fondle a bottle of wine and Capt. Lerry fondles a barmaid, he tells me that there is one prisoner missing, but I need not worry. Nothing is stolen or missing.
I nod and resign myself to get the barmaid’s help in pulling out the cork. Capt. Lerry eyes the bottle, while I pay attention to the barmaid’s bosom. After a while all bottles start to look the same.
What the Capt. Lerry obviously did`t notice what that the surveyor has started writing in a new book and I know that most surveyors will use one book for each claim. Easier for archiving, among other things.
I wait for Drage to enter for his own dinner, before I bring my wine bottle over to the surveyor’s table, leaving the Captain looking rather glum.
«So, what are you writing down and how much will they tax me for it?» I flash a quick smile to the startled man. «My Lordship... I am..» he coughs and looks over to were Drage is sitting. «No no, I know the king requires his, just making sure he won’t require it all» I wink and lean over conspitoraly. This close and I notice the mans bruises, almost hidden under his tunic. «You know I can be very grateful, very grateful indeed».
«His lordship must know» I let out a sigh, straightening my back. «His lordship must know nothing more, he bloody well knows all he needs to know and THERE IS GOLD» I reply to him, before pretending to straighten my back and compose myself. «All I, his lordship, need to know is that you drink this bottle of wine and think it through». I leave the bottle on the table and get out into the fresh air.
This place is good damned beautiful. Got to envy Heartfang a life of wandering in such, while people like Chit, and me we end up with bricks in our veins were once blood ran.
Starlight needs both those kind of people. Its what springs to life when those two worlds meets that makes Starlight strong.
I get a few strange looks from the washerwomen when I bend down, picking up some dirt, rubbing between my fingers. I can just make out their words «Ain´t that a strange one, look he’s on his knees in dirt» «Noble for ya, no thought for us that got to wash it out of his clothes»
I claim to want some more interesting diversions, so before the Captain can scramble up some guards for me, I have ridden off. Heading for the nearest town, or so I claim. The nearest town is about a full days ride away. They won’t expect me back for at least three days.
I only ride for two hours time, leaving my horse in a cave and spending the first hour checking for pursuit. When I am sure nobody is on my tail, I start my preparations.
Cork is best if ya want to make something to blacken yer face. Far better than tar, as it don’t reflect as much light. About same bloody mess to remove after. You got to rub your skin raw to get rid off it, but everything has its price.
This is the Nomine the Cenarion guardians won’t see in the howl we arrange in just a few days. Travelling light, two sets of throwing daggers, some flashpowder, four fighting daggers an a garrotte. Well-worn leather armour hugging my body.
I move quickly through the forest, only delay is when I face a bear, I don’t invite a fight, and it decides that I don’t look tasty enough to warrant one. There is peace to this trip back, feels good to just move, not having to worry about anyone, reading their faces, covering up a thousand different pains.
Just then and there, I can almost understand Eileena, its good to be alone.
At least until I am forced to stop, my bum knee hurting too much to go on. Ain´t made for long hikes anymore. Just about smart enough to know that when the pain goes from a dull ache to a stabbing pain. Ya stop and take a breath. Worst bit is how the armour is tight around the knee. Could be swelling up.
I find a tree to lean against, afraid to sit down, just in case I can’t get up again. It takes a lot of effort to remove the armour from my right knee, seeing how it is has swollen, red and blue. Can’t remain out here, and I know how to fix it. So, I pull out one of my daggers, thin point, and short blade. Made for stabbing into armour weak points and being left there.
Will do just as good for my purposes now.
Can’t risk a fire, so I just clean the blade and my knee in strong moonshine. A few more moments to examine the swelling. Finding the right place and with great care drive the tip of my dagger into the knee. Shooting pain up my leg and back. I drop the dagger and just bite down on my hand. Can’t shout out here, somebody could hear.
I taste copper and try to still my breath. Got to focus now. Starting to massage my knee. Forcing some of that excessive fluid out of my knee, looking like watered down blood. Sweat is stinging my eyes.
Last step is to bind the wound, with some widow’s bark and a tight bandage. The widow’s bark will work quickly, and in a few moments time the knee will stop hurting.
I clean my dagger, at least that is painless.
« A mans got to do what a man has to do» Probably worst rubbish ever said.
But damned if it is`t proving to the reason I keep falling back to. Might not be the best sign, and I got a wife who needs more of me.
Got a Stormwind that needs more of somebody sane
Got a Starlight that needs me
Got a daughter that needs a proper spanking an some time with her da
But just now I got a camp that have built a brothel and not the small harbour that was planned. It ain´t like the salons of Stormwind, with velvet covered walls, nubile women draped over soft coaches, muted conversations and plots. Its a ramshackle hut with three tents behind it and a home made still on the left side. Placed just on the edge of the prisoner’s area, facing the larger inn.
If I were running it, I would have dug a ditch with running water from the river, set up a good bathhouse, whores and baths. Could have made a fortune.
But nobles don’t recognize a soldiers brothel from a distance, so I ride into «Folly Creek» with a big smile on my lips and sour guards on each of my sides.
Capt. Lerry comes out of the inn to greet me, his skin is pale, not looking to good. Makes me wonder for a second if I mixed the poison to strongly in his brandy. Behind him I notice a small boy darting from the inn towards the soldiers brothel.
Its a pleasure to see you again my good Captain, a good pleasure to be back here. It is not Stormwind of course, but this is where we will strike it rich in gold.
He narrows his eyes and wets his lips. Yes, gold he says. We have. He makes a pause, looking at me. I would not want to press his lordship, but we need more men, there have been some difficulties.
My good man I reply. Lets go inside and we will surely be able to solve all those problems over a good steak and some brandy.
He winces at my words and I almost manage to cover my grin. He shuffles inside while I start to wipe of my shoes with a expensive silk handkerchief, watching the brothel from the corner of my eyes. The man coming outside to speak to the boy is tall, dirty blond hair, he sends the boy off with a cuff to the head.
He turns to wash his face a bucket of water, and I see the whipping scars crossing his back. Looks to be from different times. A man who can’t learn and keeps fighting no matter how many times he get beaten.
When he turn back our eyes meet, it is`t pleasant for either of us.
I stop pretending to wipe off my shoes and enter the inn.
One of the tables are covered with pieces of ore, a scale, some notes and an old man next to it. I notice a new face or two among the bar maids, and the captain has arranged for a plush chair to sit inn. I join him with a half smile on my lips.
«I see things have changed while I was done, for the better» I grin and pinch a barmaid’s bottom.
The Captain is busy mopping is brow and looking uncomfortable.
«It is good to see his lordship again, there constructions have gone well, but the mining have.. well...» He mops his brow like a man in deep debt.
I glance over to the man weighing the ore. I know there is`t any gold her, so I guess they have found the small amounts of Khorium, should`t be enough to warrant military interest.
We continue to haggle over gold for payments and development. Me with mild interest, he with greed. I can`t allow him for a second to realize that I run figures through my head, counting every silver. For unlike the noble I pretend to be, my gold is`t unlimited. But as they say, easy come, easy go. The next hoard of gold, is just a long con away.
For the next couple of days I walk around the camp, checking on progress, complaining over lack of gold, alternating that with salting digging sites with gold. Not enough to properly fool the surveyor, just enough to make him wonder and start checking again.
The crown pays him, and it suits me best to keep him honest.
At the same time I keep seeing that new man, a sergeant called «Drage», he trains the men, speaks to the prisoners, giving the right ones favours. My guess. He has built up three groups during my absence, one with the prisoners, one among the guards and most importantly with the women and their brothel.
During the third day back. I am enjoying a bit of attention from a barmaid, hard workingwoman, heck she could carry a ale barrel between those thighs. Makes for pleasant company while I try to forget that Capt. Lerry is enjoying his privileges of eating at my table. If that man had anything less interesting to say, he would be a priest.
This equilibrium of bland food, boring company, and thighs is suddenly disrupted by angry shouts outside. The Capt. reacts quickly enough through forcing a big piece of steak into his mouth and getting up at the same time. I need to struggle a bit to move myself out under this barmaid. Why do all of them think it is some kind of funny game, when a man needs to stand?
We manage to get out of the door in time to see a crowd gathering around a half naked woman, bleeding from her mouth and an naked angry prisoner advancing on her, he is also bleeding, though from a less pleasant place. He is screaming out curses, promising to kill her, she is cursing back. I see Drage press his way through the crowd, towards the couple and coming from inside the prison camp itself.
I grip my rapiers handle, just as the prisoner drives a fist into the woman’s gut. Some scream out, others advance on them, Drage is gripping for the prisoners hair.
The guards finally wake up, running towards what can end up as a big brawl.
Some gut instinct makes me glance over the whole prison camp, towards the tree line. Were I can see a man running quickly away, bastard is carrying two bags, one of them a miners canvas bag.
My knuckle goes white around my rapiers hilt. It’s all one big diversion, so that guy can run away. I could run after, grab a horse, and hunt him down myself. But today I am a noble.
So I turn towards Capt. Lerry. «Entertaining show, but is that man supposed to do that?» I point towards the escaping prisoner. In the amount time it takes for the Capt. to understand what is going on, I could have persuaded a dragon to invest in a Murloc pearl farm.
When he finally understands, he yells for the guards to stop the man, but by then almost all is busy trying to help Drage to stop the fight and the rest is trying hard not to look guilty.
I release my rapier, feeling the tension in my fist. I don’t know what Drage is on, heck I don’t know if he is behind it even. But for now he is the focus point and I am running out of time deal subtly with all such.
I have been in every black hole, I love the black stuff, enough so that Lashela saw a kinship in me, but my body is starting to beg me to get back, back into the arms of a loved one, out of these plots, schemes and black holes.
She should have made me a dare, one for life now, not the future.
But for now, I can only settle with going back into the inn.
There is a trick to sneaking inside any compound or building. You just got to remember that the guards are your dearest friends. Anything you can learn about them just makes that friendship a lot stronger. And like all good friendships, the less you break, the longer it can go on.
Since I know this camp there is`t any reason to break anything on the way inn. I know the guards patrols and I know were Drage sleeps. Just one small problem with that part, he sleeps in a room in the barracks. Remember from my own army days, put the sergeant there, and he will stop others from sneaking out.
It’s dead in the night, my guess another 3 hours before sunrise. Plenty time to take care of this one death.
A quick sprint brings me up next to the barracks door, unlocked and I can hear talking from inside. It’s low and slurred. Something few soldiers do after hours, if their sergeant is close.
I risk a glance into one of the windows, seeing that the door into Drages room is open.
Bloody gods, tossing the dice and forcing con men like me to make up the results.
I turn, facing the prison camp. A damned more safe place to sleep truth be told. Prisoners respect a mans turf and they sleep a lot lighter than guards. My guess is that he is in the brothel. Were I would be, if I were him.
Sneaking closer to the brothel, paying close attentions to sounds and my knee. It won’t take my weight properly. Something I perhaps should worry about.
The brothel is a shack and three tent buildings, if it’s like all other soldiers brothels I have been inn, the shack is were they serve moonshine, and ladies pick up their marks. The tents are were they sleeping while off duty, and handle affairs. Reckon that’s where he is.
There are some sounds of snoring from inside the shack, but more coming from the tents.
I really hate tents. Ya always read about em in books, how a smart thief simply cut through the side and then run inn, rescuing the princess. Try that on a proper tent and it will fall down half the time, or even worse, try to fight in it and end up in a big mess of canvas, ropes and arms.
Best ya can do is simply to cut the ropes holding it up, confusing those inside and have three of yer mates shoot crossbow bolts at it. Only work on tents without princesses of course.
So I go to do this the hard way, down on my knees, and a small cut in the tent wall. Stealing a glance inside. First tent has two sleeping women, one of them curled up into a ball.
Next one, I cut low and close to the opening. Feeling the cold mud stick to my legs. I widen the opening with two of my fingers, peering inside. Seeing Drage there, snoring with a woman next to him. She is sleeping with her back turned to him. I notice his arm being close to the hole I just cut. Gives me a perfect chance too sort matters without a fight.
I reach down for my belt, pulling out one of my daggers, named it «laughing girl», its already prepared with poison. A nice deadly mix of widow’s bark and maidens virtue.
Keeping my breath as I widen the opening just a little more, enough so that I can get to his hand and its rings. Gold rings. Plain gold rings, like those worn by former agents of SI:7.
He wears two of them, and from this angle I can’t see if they are crafted for his fingers or made to fit. Can`t imagine why anyone would receive two in a fair way or boast about killing former agents either.
Biting my tongue is almost enough to keep the curse from being said. He stirs in sleep and I need to decide.
If he is SI:7, even former, killing him like this, it is a death sentence. If he still works for them... f**k.
I sheet «Laughing girl» before I do something stupid or impulsive. Not like agents doesn’t die all the time. Why they recruit so many of us in prisons after all. But too die from assassination. That is like shouting «I am plotting against the king, come and get me», only Stormwind criminals does that.
I try to get up, almost losing balance. Looking around at the sleeping camp. I need to take him out, but how. Got to be honest, got to look like an accident.
Speaking of honesty, if I head off now, I might make far enough to find a place to sleep before the camp wakes to life.
I curse myself for not bringing my heartstone with me. But I would`t drag Starlight into a killing like this. Ain´t right to leave the horse too die in a cave either.
I chant to myself, preparing for the sprint out into the forest. Got to time it just right, as the guards turn. Putting my weight on the right knee, will hurt as hell, but need my good leg to land on for the first steep.
I am the best
I am Tirion, I am Garrona Halforcen, I am Edwin VanCleef, all inn one, and I won´t go down.
I take a deep breath, starting my sprint towards the forest.