Friday, March 6, 2020

One Final Lesson -- Part 3/6

Previous Installments:
One Final Lesson -- Part 1
One Final Lesson -- Part 2

Mistress Evelyn and Balthan wove through the crowded streets with such dexterity that I struggled to keep up, let alone follow their conversation. The dwarf's presence invigorated Mistress Evelyn, and she seemed younger than when she first arrived at our farm some hours ago.

"I don't know what happened to him," Mistress Evelyn was saying as we reached the bridge to the Mage District. "He used to always be out there in the field, working tirelessly to protect the weakest and most vulnerable."

"Give a man a little power and ye'll see what he's made of," Balthan replied. "Judging by his vestments he's not that high up in the Church hierarchy."

 "I just thought that he'd avoided the disease that afflicts the rest of the Stormwind nobility."

"There aren't that many that do, Evelyn. If those nobles aren't careful, someone's gonna chop 'em down to size. Look at Ironforge; there be just enough Dark Iron sympathizers out there to cause real trouble for the Bronzebeards, in spite o' all Thaurissan did. The Stormwind nobility is givin' some bad apples an excuse out there to rob the tavern, so to speak, and nobody has their watchful eye on the cask."

"Ah, Balthan, I've missed your way with words." Evelyn paused on the bridge to hug the dwarf, who looked embarrassed.

"I've missed ye, too, Evelyn. Where've ye been? I was hoping to see ye when I was last in Theramore."

"Retired. I was caught up in the Third War when I was visiting home and he came there, but aside from that I've taught quite a few of the children in eastern Elwynn and Lakeshire over the years. I wanted no more part in fighting caused by pride and stupidity."

The dwarf nodded. "Can't as say as I blame ye on that."

"So, I've been teaching all I can to try to rectify the 'stupidity' part. And also keep in touch with Daryn and Mona."

I felt there was an insult in there somewhere, but I wasn't exactly sure.

"How've they been?" Balthan asked.

"Really good, particularly given how things played out at the end. Daryn is still a bit bitter, but Mona has always been a hard read. This business might cause real problems for her."

"Speakin' o' stupidity," Balthan said, snapping his fingers, "I've been daft. I know someone who can help us out. She manages to get herself in all sorts o' trouble bein' in places she ain't supposed to, but she said she was gonna be here for another few weeks."

"Balthan, I've seen your so-called 'friends' before. How do I know she's reliable?"

"Reliable enough for me to trust her with running a message up to a friend in Southshore from Booty Bay. When I got here, I went to the Pig 'n Whistle, and sure enough the reply was waiting for me." Balthan turned back in the direction of the central part of Stormwind. "Lemme leave her a note and she'll catch up with us."

As the dwarf disappeared out of sight, Mistress Evelyn shook her head. "Some of Balthan's friends tend to be drunkards and boasters, so I'm not counting on any extra help. But thank the Light that he showed up at the right time."

"I thought he said he went to the Cathedral right after arriving," I replied.

Evelyn snorted. "To Balthan, visiting a tavern first doesn't count."

I felt it prudent to change the subject. "What was that about a disease, Mistress Evelyn?" I asked. "We don't get much news from Stormwind at the farm."

Evelyn looked at me with a carefully neutral expression on her face. "What Balthan and I were talking about was arrogance, Cardwyn. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and it afflicts the powerful and the weak. And I've seen firsthand the damage it can do."

I nodded. I've heard Dad rail against the Stormwind nobles long enough.

"Any apprentice of mine had better learn to beware of arrogance, because it can get its tendrils into you before you realize what's happened."

"I understand."

"No, you don't." Evelyn's mouth creased in a frown. "You've led a fairly sheltered life, girl. And mastering the arcane is something that very few people have the aptitude for. That can go to your head and make you feel better than everybody else. That 'you know what you're doing'. And I'll tell you that somewhere along the line you're going to think you really are better than all those 'other people', and you're going to make some decisions you'll regret later. The difference is that mastery of the arcane comes with the ability to affect a lot more people than just thinking you alone know best how to raise pigs."

"And the nobility has the same problem," I replied. "Because they rule Stormwind, their arrogance can affect an entire nation."

"Yes, but don't deflect, Cardwyn. There's a difference between being confident in your abilities and being arrogant. Only time can be the best teacher there, and you've not had enough of it yet." She placed a hand on my shoulder. "I don't want you to fall prey to the arrogance that doomed so much of the North," she whispered. "There were people central to the destruction of the northern kingdoms that were very arrogant. They were blind to the danger, and it led to the doom of so many innocent people. Arrogance leads to such blindness, and even the best of people aren't aware of their own blindness."

I never really thought of that before. "If you don't know you're blind, how can you see?"

"By listening to people. Don't surround yourself with friends who only agree with you, but rather with those who are honest with you."

"Like Balthan."

"Yes, like Balthan."

I thought for a few long moments. "Mistress Evelyn," I asked, "How do you and Balthan know my parents? I always thought you were just my teacher."

"I am your teacher," Evelyn said quietly. "But yes, we fought in the Second War together."

There was a long silence between us. This opened up so many more questions, but I felt I should save them for my parents instead. "Mom and Dad never talk about the War."

"A lot of people don't. It was a very brutal war and it left many physical and mental scars, especially on people who seemed like they were fine when it ended. And I don't need to tell you to remain quiet about that." She looked over my shoulder and made a face.

I turned and the largest cat I'd ever seen came prancing over the bridge. The cat's fur was dark, the color of ripe grapes, and paws larger than my hands. I'd seen a mountain lion once when it wandered far away from Redridge and thought our cows were easy pickings, but this cat was half again as large. A small part of my mind was saying Just how is this animal running free in Stormwind? but the rest of my mind said Screw that, we need to hide! I took a step back and bumped into Evelyn as the cat paused and stared at me quizzically.

"Um...." I began. "Nice kitty?"

The cat's purr sounded more like a low-level growl, but it rubbed up against Mistress Evelyn and me, nearly knocking the two of us over. I got a face full of the cat's tail as it bounded across the bridge and through an archway.

Evelyn muttered something under her breath as she watched it disappear from view.

I coughed and tried brushing cat hair from my face. "What was that?"

"Stormwind being Stormwind," Evelyn replied. She cast one more glance back where the cat vanished and turned to face me. "Since we've a few more minutes before Balthan gets done composing a letter --with a beer on the side, no doubt-- it's time for a lesson. Watch me very carefully."

Mistress Evelyn turned and faced a street sign on the far edge of the bridge. She held out her hands, one on each side of her body, as her face slipped into practiced concentration. Her hands began to glow, a whitish blue this time. After a moment she swung a hand up as if she were playing bocce and a white orb flew from her hands, a tail of blue frost trailing behind, and struck the sign with enough force that I could hear the crack of the wood.

"You threw a magic snowball?" I asked.

"No." She gave me a disgusted look. "That is a Frostbolt. Much colder, much faster, and hits with much more deadly force than a mere snowball. Now watch again but slip into the same state of mind you use when you cast a Fire Ward. You'll actually start to see the currents of arcane magic that I harnessed so you too can cast it."


My face must have betrayed my doubt, because Mistress Evelyn's eyes softened. "This may save your life, Cardwyn," she said more quietly. "Now focus on me."


The next few hours passed in a blur.

Nobody ever told me that casting a spell was hard. It was like trying to plow a field with a team of dogs while looking to one side and juggling with one hand. I could begin the see the flows of the arcane beneath my fingertips, but it was so wispy thin that I couldn't grasp it at first. After several tries, however, I discovered that if I treated the arcane like smoke it helped me to finally cast a pathetic little snowball that landed in the canal.

Mistress Evelyn had me practice casting Frostbolts until I could summon a reasonably snowball-like blast and reach the street sign. While her blast was akin to throwing an iceball, mine was more like a dandelion puffball. Still, she was satisfied at my results as I leaned on the bridge railing, drenched in sweat and exhausted from the effort.

By this time Balthan had returned, his beard smelling like ale, and he'd given me a full body hug at my success. We may have gotten one or two odd looks from passersby, but for the most part the overall weirdness of the Mage Quarter in Stormwind kept people from staring.

With Mistress Evelyn in the lead, we marched right back up the ramp and into the Mage Tower, where she and Elsharin held a whispered conversation. Balthan looked at me and shrugged, saying, "It's a Mage thing, Lass. Probably trying to figure out how to get us to yer parents' house without scattering our body parts all over Azeroth."

The discussion ended rather quickly, and Elsharin put her head down, eyes closed in concentration. "I can feel it," she said after a few long moments, "but you're right, Evelyn. It is very faint. There is enough there, however, that I believe I can make a successful portal."

"Good," Mistress Evelyn said. "Do it. I'll restore it later."

The Queldorei Mage held her hands out like Evelyn did in what felt like a lifetime ago, but this time I could actually see some of the tendrils of arcane swirl around a point between the two mages, and after several long moments a portal appeared.

"Thank you, Dear," Evelyn said to the elf, and ushered us through the portal.

And into our barn.

Back in familiar surroundings, I led the way out of the barn and up to the house as my legs began to feel like rubber. Somehow, I managed to make it to the front door and throw it open just before Balthan pushed me aside and bounded in.

Mom, Dad, Jas, and Linna were seated at the long table. Mom's face darkened and her mouth opened to scold me, but when Balthan burst through the door her mouth fell completely open.

At that point Balthan ran over and hugged Mom, everybody started talking at once, and I excused myself to find my bed and landed on it with a flop. The room swirled around me the same way when you spin in circles real fast and then try to walk afterwards. Sleep sounds good, I thought. Or maybe just closing my eyes would be great.

I heard quick steps on the stairs and then Linna opened the door. The sound of boisterous conversation burst into the room and jolted me completely awake for a moment. "Cardwyn," she asked as she quickly shut the door behind her, "Who is that dwarf?"

"His name's Balthan. He used to fight with Mom and Dad in the war."

She pulled down the blankets on her bed and began to change into a nightgown. "Where on Azeroth did you find him?"

"The Cathedral of Light." I really really wanted to close my eyes.

"The what? In Stormwind?"

"Yes. That one." Since she wasn't going to let me sleep, I rolled over to one side to face my sister. "I discovered tonight that Mistress Evelyn's a Mage. From Dalaran. Did you know that?"

In the soft glow of the moonlight through the shutters, I could see Linna's face: she was staring at me like I'd grown a third eye. So that was definitely a "No".

"She cast a spell that transported us straight to the Mage Tower in Stormwind," I explained, "and we went to the Cathedral. We ran into Balthan while we were there, and he volunteered to come and help."

Linna shook her head. "There's no way it was that quick; you were gone for several hours."

"It wasn't." I spent the next minute or so rambling out a barely coherent summary of the night's events, minus the entire apprentice thing. That I might be a Mage's apprentice felt so surreal that I decided I was going to not think about it for now. Besides, Linna wouldn't let me sleep at all if she found out.

I closed my eyes and finally asked the question that had been on my mind ever since Balthan's revelation. "Linna, just how much do I look like Mom? Either Balthan's eyes are bad or I look a lot like Mom, enough for him to guess who Mom and Dad were."

"You look a bit like Mom, but I don't think she ever sat for a painting when she was much younger, so I don't know for sure." Linna crawled under the covers. "And that's it? Nothing else?"

"I did meet a Queldorei and a Kaldorei."

"What were they like?"

"Tall. Very, very tall." I yawned. "Can I please go to sleep now? I'm exhausted and I want to make sure I don't oversleep tomorrow."

"Okay, Cardwyn, but you should know that Mom was worrying. Something about Evelyn spiriting you away."

I couldn't quite hear that last part as blissful sleep overtook me.

A hand over my mouth jolted me awake.

Sunlight streamed through the cracks in the shutters, outlining a figure clad all in black above me, even a hood covered all but her eyes. Terror froze me in place, but then I smelled Mom's scent.

"They came early," Mom whispered. "Get the weapons under your bed and come with me. Quietly."

She released me and I rolled off the bed, feeling for the daggers I'd hidden down there years ago. Back then, I thought I was merely being clever by hiding them from Mom and Dad, but after the events of yesterday I wasn't surprised that Mom knew.

I stood up, and realizing I'd slept in my clothing I began to change my pants, but Mom stopped me. "No time," she whispered. "use the bedpan and let's go."

I glanced over at Linna's bed. She wasn't there.

Mom led me down the stairs to the main room where everybody else was assembled. The room was dark, all the windows shuttered, with the smell of too many bodies placed in a single room. Mistress Evelyn passed me a small bottle. "Drink it," she said in a tone that wouldn't take no for an answer.
Linna stood by one window, ear cocked, and Jas at another. Mom drifted over by the front door.

I opened the stopper and with a moment's hesitation, chugged the bottle. The taste was like cool water, but with the flavor of the outdoors and the sun ripening the vegetables in the garden. It felt like I was drinking a warm summer's day. Almost instantly my head cleared, and I felt a burst of energy surge through my body. I shook myself the same way a dog shakes off water from a dip in the pond.

Mistress Evelyn took the empty bottle from me and handed me another full one. "In case you need it later," she said.

James walked through the kitchen entryway, shook his head, and went back into the kitchen.

"Okay," Dad whispered. He was wearing his old armor with his sword strapped to his waist. "We're all here. Evelyn?"

Mistress Evelyn closed her eyes for a few moments. "The inner wards haven't broken yet," she finally whispered back. "They're still in the surrounding woods."

"How many?"

"I can't tell. I didn't have the time to put that kind of wards up last night. But all the outer wards did break."

A cold sweat came over me. We were surrounded.

Balthan grunted. "The more the merrier," he said in a somewhat quieter voice than his usual volume.

"This friend of yours," Dad asked, "will she get here?"

"Aye. She's never been late before. Dinna how she does it."

I thought of the distance from here to Stormwind --close to a couple days' walk-- and wondered if Balthan's friend had wings.

"Will she be able to tell friend from foe?" Mistress Evelyn asked.

"I described what these Defias idiots wear, so we ought to be okay."

"She'll have to fight her way through."

"That's not her style," Balthan said. "She likes to make people disappear."

Dad and Evelyn turned and looked at Mom, who shrugged.

Dad glanced around the room once more. "Okay," he said, "Cardwyn and Karyn will take Carys upstairs in our room and wait there. Keep your ears open for movement, as they may try to take hostages. Everybody else, you know your stations. Balthan, Evelyn, and I will meet them outside when they make a move. They'll likely have at least one archer out there, but they'll be focused on us."

Upstairs? Mistress Evelyn caught my eye before I could say anything and shook her head slightly. I frowned and nodded at Dad.

"Let's go."

I followed Karyn upstairs while Carys toddled up the steps between us, dragging her dolly. She was at that age that if you didn't let her do it herself, she was going to raise a fuss, and excess noise was not what we needed right now. We reached Mom and Dad's room and I shut the door behind us, sliding the lock into place. The now-shuttered windows overlooked both the main entryway to the farm as well as the barn but were useless like this. I considered trying to open them a crack to get a peek outside but decided against it.

Karyn sat down on the floor, and Carys plopped down in her lap. She squirmed a bit and held her dolly out to me. "Yes," I said quietly, trying to put on a smile, "Blanchy is a nice dolly."

"Uh-huh." Carys let out a self-satisfied grin of her own and gave her dolly another hug. "Car-wyn, why are you so quiet?" she asked.

I did smile this time, as Carys always seemed to miss the 'd' in my name. "Because Granmama and Granpapa asked me to, Sprout," I replied.

"Otay." Carys was silent for a few moments. "Mama?" she asked.

"Yes, Dear One?" Karyn's voice, like mine, was low and quiet.

"Why are we up here?"

"We're playing hide and seek."

"Ooo, I like that game!"

"Shh, Dear One, we're not supposed to let them hear us."

I heard the front door open and shut. I sidled over to the window in hopes of looking through one of the slats, but unlike mine and Linna's room, the shutters were much more airtight. If I tilted my head just right, I got a little bit of a view from the path up the lane from the gate. There were two men and a woman there, complete with red Defias bandanas, waiting. Their focus was on something out of my view.

"Oh, otay." I heard Carys squirm a bit more. "Who are we hiding from?"

"Some people who are wearing red masks," Karyn replied. I was amazed how calm she seemed to be, because my stomach was doing knots.

I moved to the other window, but I couldn't get a peek at all. Karyn looked up at me and I shook my head. She nodded.

"Oh!" Carys launched herself up excitedly. "You mean like the man in the closet?"

Karyn and I froze. "What closet, Dear One?" Karyn's voice wavered a bit.

I immediately pulled out a dagger and yanked open my parents' closet doors and, finding it empty, bent over to make sure nothing was under the bed.

"In our room! I saw him there this morning!" Carys ran over to the door and reached for the latch.

Karyn jumped up and caught her before she could unlock the door. I dashed to the door as Karyn pulled Carys away. "Wait here," I ordered.

I threw back the latch and stuck my head out. "Jas! Linna!" I called out. "They're insi--"

I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head, and then darkness.

Next Installment: One Final Lesson -- Part 4/6


  1. Redbeard! These are great. It really brings the everyday life of Elwynn forest and the encroaching threat of the Defias to life. Using the Classic version of the world is perfect, as it already has such a rich story. I love the characters and look forward to reading more of the story.
    I'm guessing Tome was the "cat" in Stormwind.

    1. Yes, you guessed correctly. I did run this whole story by Ancient before posting, and she approved of Kit's use in the story.

      And thanks for the compliment! I've got three more parts to post, and it'll all be done posting on Monday.

  2. Really enjoying this. I liked the physical descriptions of spell casting and how taxing it is, also how you described the taste of the potion. That’s so evocative.