Wednesday, March 4, 2020

One Final Lesson -- Part 1/6

(This is a rarity for PC: an actual work of short fiction. A month or two before I thought about writing this post, I pondered character motivation and backstory for my toons. Az would be a really tough nut to crack, given all sorts of contradicting issues regarding The Rogue Life with Darnassian society, but I thought there was something I could write about for Cardwyn. When the time came to actually start writing, I thought it would be a short piece in the same vein as my sole other work of fiction on the blog, but Card had her own thoughts on the matter. A month and a half and waaaay too many words later, this is the result.

Okay, part of the result. Rather than do a dump of the entire story, I decided to break it up into six parts so that any reader wouldn't be confronted with a wall of text. I also decided I was going to finish the entire story before posting, because I wanted to make sure I was going to see this through to the end. I inserted breaks because, well, it'd likely overwhelm the blog otherwise.

Some final notes: This is a work of fiction; any resemblance to any people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Any characters created by Blizzard for WoW Classic remain their property. Kitwynn appears courtesy of Tome of the Ancient. This work of fiction uses WoW Classic as the reference point, no other version of WoW. This was written by Redbeard of Parallel Context, 2020.)




One Final Lesson

Mom looked out the window into the fields, her jaw set. Her hands kept up their steady pace kneading the dough, with only a slight tremor betraying their emotion.

Fold, turn. Fold, turn. Grab a scant handful of flour and dust the dough before folding once more.

I always wondered how she could keep up this work for what seemed like hours on end, as baking day wore me out by noon.

"We could use the gold, Mom," I began.

Her eyes flicked back to me for a moment, silencing me, before returning to the wheat growing beyond the fence.

I turned back to the oven, inserted the long wooden paddle, and nudged a rapidly browning loaf away from the coals. Tired or not, Mom would make me turn over the manure in the yard this afternoon if I burned one. "It's not like I was joining the army."

"Ah yes, the army," she spat. "Go and see the world, meet people, and get turned into a ghoul. Or worse."

My knuckles turned white as I clenched the handle. She didn't need to bring up Uncle Aeron this early in the argument.

"Where is the army, anyway?" she continued. "You'd think that they'd be back home now, especially since the Plague is now some someone else's problem."

I noted that her "someone else's problem" conveniently left out just whose problem the Plague was.

"But Mom," I said, "I'm talking about our home. With the army not here, we need all the help we can get. Did you see those people the other day? Even Dad was shaken last night. And Kira says—"

"I know what your sister says. I'm talking about our home too." She tore her gaze away from the window to set the finished loaf to one side, covering it with a damp cloth, before grabbing another wad of dough from the large bowl.

She dusted the dough with flour and began kneading. "Did Evelyn put you up to this?" she continued.

"No, Mom. I came up with it on my own." Well, that was only partially true, and we both knew it. Mistress Evelyn talked about Lordaeron and the gleaming towers of Dalaran whenever she would visit, and that the beauty of Dalaran put the Mage Tower in Stormwind to shame. Her faded Tirisfal accent made her stories more believable as well has her lessons more bearable: a touch of the exotic in a world of crops, food, family, and neighbors. The occasional trip to Goldshire was a poor substitute.

Mom grunted as she continued to knead.

"You can ask her, Mom. She'll be here this evening."

If anything, Mistress Evelyn would prefer I do something else entirely. "Very few outsiders ever joined the Kirin Tor, you know," Evelyn frequently said when I was younger, "but if you applied yourself to your studies, Cardwyn, I would sponsor you." I was skeptical as to how arithmetic and grammar would help me join the most powerful Mages in all of Azeroth, but I kept those misgivings to myself.

"Hmmpf." Mom attacked the dough with a vigor that said we'll see about that.

Despite her outward resistance, I felt that Mom was at least considering the idea. She and Dad, among many others in Elwynn, were veterans of the Second War, when we nearly lost everything to the Horde. The Third War was, to a large extent, someone else's war, despite us all being part of the Alliance of Lordaeron. Dad would be a tougher nut to crack, as he'd had his fill of fighting after the Second War and had a long and healthy distaste of what "those Light damned nobles" were cooking up in Stormwind. But if I could get Mom on my side...

"Hey!" Mom's shout shook me out of my reverie. "Get that bread out before it burns!"

I shoved in the paddle and pulled loaves out to the edge of the oven. My eyes narrowed as I focused on the bread and the oven's heat, whispering a sing-song that Evelyn had taught me. I then grabbed the loaves, which despite the shimmering heatwaves felt nice and cool, and tossed them into a basket. The scent of freshly baked bread filled my nostrils as I lugged my catch over to another table and set each loaf out. Steam curled off of the loaves as I flipped each over, inspecting them for blackened sections. Not too bad for someone who wasn't paying attention, I thought, nodding with satisfaction.

"We'll talk about this later," Mom said, dismissing me with a glance. "And go check the manure pit."


***

The sun was settling in over the trees to the west when Mistress Evelyn arrived at our farm. The steady tamp of her staff and clop of hooves caught my ears, and I looked up from spreading lime over the manure. Mistress Evelyn led Hal, her horse, down the lane as if she'd just won a hard-fought argument over where they were going, and Hal was still resentful about it. I grinned, set aside the lime bucket, and wiped my hands on the front of my skirts.

Evelyn glanced my way as I approached. Her hair had long since faded from a pale blonde to a silvery gray, and she wore it tied up in a single braid down her back. Nobody ever confused Evelyn with being a fashion maven, as her worn tunic and pants made her out to be every inch a peddler on the road. She walked with a slight limp, and her back bent a little farther than the last time she visited. Her eyes, however, remained razor sharp as they watched me. "Girl, you stink," she said with a smile. "I thought today was your baking day."

"It is, Mistress Evelyn," I replied, "but Mom sent me to work on the manure."

"In trouble again, eh?"

"Yes." I fell in alongside Mistress Evelyn on the path. She seemed shorter somehow.

"What was it this time? Telling your mother that she wasn't kneading the dough correctly?"

I shook my head. "Oh, I'd never do that. I know better. And besides, Kira says that Mom doesn't do that badly, compared to some of the apprentices in Goldshire."

"That reminds me, I saw your sister the other week. I'd stopped into Stormwind for some supplies and met her on the road to Goldshire. She says hello, and you should visit."

"I'd love to, but I think it might be a while before I can."

"Hmmm. Does this have anything to do with why you're in trouble?"

"A bit, yes." I frowned. "But there's other reasons."

"Kira mentioned some things as well." Evelyn's grin faded. "I should speak to your parents about that."

I kept silent, wondering whether I'd get in even more trouble if I mentioned my plan to Evelyn. 

"Did you finish reading those books on logic and rhetoric?" Evelyn asked.

"Yes, I did. You're going to ask me to make a public speech as proof, aren't you?"

"Of course. That's how your sister landed her position as a journeyman baker when all she had were her samples and her power of persuasion." Evelyn nodded, satisfied. "She knew what she wanted, and she was able to talk them into letting her not only join the Goldshire baking guild but also bypassing apprenticeship entirely."

I hadn't really considered that. I always thought that Kira had settled for becoming a baker --she was bright, pretty in a way I'll never be, and a natural leader-- but perhaps being a baker was all she wanted to be. And maybe Jas and Linna just wanted to be farmers as well.

"Copper for your thoughts."

I looked up and saw both Evelyn and Hal watching me. I was pretty sure Evelyn asked, but the way Hal looked at me, you never knew. "I... I don't know, Mistress Evelyn. I guess I thought that my brother and sisters were going to do bigger things in life rather than what they are. I mean, how often is a farmer going to use rhetoric?"

She snorted. "More often than you think. Your parents are no country bumpkins, girl. They saw way too much death in their youth, and they chose to farm so they could create something, rather than see more destruction. But farming takes dedication and patience, and a willingness to listen to nature and the weather that urban people don't have. I've seen your siblings grow up, and they chose what they were best at. I'm quite proud of them, as if they were my own children."

I looked behind us, back towards the path that led toward the Old Elwynn Road. "Did... Did you see anybody back there when you came to the farm?"

Evelyn stopped, and Hal snorted and paused. "No, I didn't. And believe me, if there was anyone I'd have noticed."

I breathed a sigh of relief. "Good."

Evelyn tilted her head, her lips pursed. "Out with it, Cardwyn. I didn't teach you all these years just so you could play games with me. What is going on?"

I couldn't not tell Evelyn, I decided. She traveled all over Elwynn and as far away as Lakeshire, and a lone traveler on the road could be in danger if I kept silent. "There were some people here the other day," I whispered. "They spent a while talking to Dad while he was out in the field, and they were all armed."

"Not the Guard?"

"Definitely not. The Guard stick to the Old Road. These people, they wore dark clothing and had red bandanas around their necks. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but they sure didn't seem happy when they left. And Dad was really upset afterward. He and Mom talked for a good long while after."

Evelyn's face hardened. "Red bandanas you say? That matches with a few other things I've heard. I've not seen these people on the road from Lakeshire, but they've got different problems out there..."

I'd known Mistress Evelyn for a long time, and I've seen her mad before. Light, I've been the cause of her anger many times. But this was different; there was something hard and ruthless behind those eyes. I really wanted to take a step backward, but I held my ground.

Evelyn began walking at a brisk pace, tugging on Hal's reins. "Come on, girl. I need to talk with your parents, and it can't wait." She crinkled her nose. "And go get changed and washed up. You smell like you were bathing in an outhouse."

***

By the time I'd changed from my working skirts into a more comfortable tunic and pants, the entire farmhouse had gathered in the dining room. Mistress Evelyn was deep in conversation with Mom and Dad, and nobody looked happy.

"Your plow, you say?" Evelyn asked as I took a seat at the rear of the long table, behind two of the farmhands, James and Robyn.

I opened my mouth to say something and Robyn cut me off with a curt gesture.

"Yes," Dad replied, looking grim. "They wanted all of our tools, but especially our plow."

"Demanded, you mean," Mom added.

Evelyn shook her head. "What in the Light would they be needing the plow for?"

"I'll tell you why," Mom said, her voice bitter. "They want us gone, and the quickest way to do it is to take away our ability to work the land."

"It's more than just your farm, Mona," Evelyn replied. "Kira told me that they've been seen near the road between Goldshire and Stormwind. They haven't tried to rob anyone yet, but they're there. Watching."

"Damn, they're bold," my brother Jas said. He sat next to his wife, Karyn, who held my niece Carys in her arms. "What did their leader say, Dad? That they own Elwynn now?"

"Yes, like they own Westfall."

Evelyn exhaled. "And this all started in earnest when King Varian went away. Something is up."

"Went away?" Mom asked. "When was that?"

"Not too long ago. When I was in Stormwind, the market was all full of speculation." She held up her hand and ticked off each story. "I've heard he went to visit Darnassus, Ironforge, Theramore, the front --and nobody could explain where exactly-- and even Orgrimmar and Blackrock Mountain. That last one earned that merchant a punch in the mouth from a passing dwarf," she added.

"And he took the army with him," Dad grunted.

"No, he didn't, Daryn. That's the thing; Stormwind looks like it's full of guards."

"Then it's playtime for one of the nobles at our expense."

"Maybe, Dad," Jas added, "but this sounds different than some scheming by the nobility. You remember Deputy Willem, don't you? He was recruiting for patrols in this part of Elwynn and he sure sounded desperate for people."

Mom shot me a look that somehow nobody noticed. Like I'd say anything now and get in more trouble.

Evelyn pursed her lips. "When did these people say they'd be back?"

"Tomorrow night," Dad replied.

"That's not a lot of time." Evelyn's eyes scrutinized everyone around the table. "It will likely come to a fight."

"I'll fight, Mistress Evelyn," my sister Linna said. "This is our farm, and we're not going to be run off of it."

Mom's eyes hardened even more than before, if that were possible. "Linna--"

"Mom, I know how to fight. Dad taught us all how, and ever since those people--"

"Defias," Evelyn interjected.

"--those Defias showed up, I've been practicing in the barn with Jas and Robyn. I'm not afraid."

The others around the table also grumbled agreement. "Mom," Jas said, "I know you don't want us out there fighting, but when they come to us and it's our home they're threatening, we won't give this place up. We'll make them wish they stayed in Westfall."

Mom glared at Jas, nodded, and then looked at me. "Don't say it," she ordered.

"But--"

"Don't, you hear me!"

Evelyn placed a hand on Mom's arm. "Don't worry, Mona," she said, "I'll keep an eye on her."

Mom turned back to Mistress Evelyn and gave her a long look. "Okay, Evelyn. That'll do."

"Good." Mistress Evelyn looked at me for a moment, her gaze softening, then back to Mom and Dad. "I think we're going to need someone else. And I know who that is."

***

Mistress Evelyn had let the rest of the farm practice swordplay in the barn before she ventured out, with me in tow, to claim her space. I'd seen Dad wearing a sword before, but when Mom came outside with a pair of daggers strapped to her waist my eyes nearly bugged out of my head. "I seem to have added a few pounds," she told Evelyn by way of greeting.

"I'm sure it will come back to you, Mona," Mistress Evelyn replied. "Just remember to not lose your head over this."

Mom nodded. "Oh, it did come back, but I feel... sluggish."

"I've got something for that, Dear."

Mom mopped her brow and grinned, a mirthless smile. "I'm sure you do." She then looked me over, her lips pursed. "Stay out of trouble, Cardwyn, and do what Evelyn asks you to do. Your life depends on it."

I nodded and followed Mistress Evelyn into the now silent barn.

"Who were you talking about getting help from, Mistress Evelyn?" I asked. "And why are we in the barn?"

Evelyn stood in the middle of the barn with her head bowed. The moonlight filtered in through gaps in the wood, bathing her in an eerie glow. "I'm remembering," she replied. "Stand behind me."

I moved by her right elbow.

"You don't really forget, you know," she said. "I just so rarely use it these days that I need to spend some time and reacquaint myself with an old friend."

I looked around, wondering who she was talking about. "Hal, you mean?" I finally asked.

Evelyn turned and stared at me for a long second, and I was certain I was in trouble once more. 

She burst out laughing, great belly rolls of laughter that had her bent double.

"Ah, Cardwyn," Mistress Evelyn cried as she gasped for air, "Don't ever change." She wiped her eyes as the chuckles subsided. "I needed that."

I couldn't help but think she was laughing at me. "But I don't understand," I finally blurted out.

Evelyn put her hand on my shoulder. "You haven't guessed by now?" she whispered.

I shook my head.

"Well," she said, "That burst of laughter did do one thing. Your mother is no longer listening to us."

I felt the blood drain from my face.

"Oh, she knows you're safe with me. Still, old habits do die hard." Mistress Evelyn reached into a pocket and pulled out a worn stone. A rune was carved in the center, and as she touched it the rune lit up with a brilliant blue glow. "We're going to visit someone."

My mind suddenly blanked out. "You...."

Mistress Evelyn's mouth quirked up in a grin as she waited.

"You really are from Dalaran," I squeaked. "I thought you were just from Tirisfal."

"Oh yes, Cardwyn," she replied. "I really am. I prefer that my students not know, because they'll think I'm going to teach them how to turn people into frogs or something, but I do like to keep them guessing."

"But..."

"No 'buts' right now, girl. We'll talk more another time. And we do have someone to visit. Someone who owes me a favor."

Mistress Evelyn turned back toward the center of the barn. "Stand back," she warned, and held her hands out.

A soft, white glow emanated from her hands, and the air around the center of the barn began to shimmer. Purple lights began to swirl around Evelyn as she clutched the rune in her fist, focusing on the pulsing air, whispering something that I couldn't quite hear.

Light suddenly burst forth in the middle of the barn, and in the center I could see clearly a single tower with a pathway wrapping around the outside.

"Come on, Cardwyn," Mistress Evelyn said, grabbing my hand and tugging me forward. "The portal won't stay open for that long."


Next Installment: One Final Lesson -- Part 2/6

(EtA: "any resemblance", not "no resemblance". Oops.)

2 comments:

  1. Even better the second time! Kitwynn of course can't wait for her appearance, such a show off.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I can imagine that Kit is ready for her close up.

      Thanks for the kind words, Ancient!

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