“Name?” Commander Sharp whispered from the corner of his mouth.
“He refuses to say, sir.” Sharp sighed; he hated having to improvise protocol. In fact, he just plain hated protocol. The order to drown an accused felon caught him completely off guard. As it was Winter Veil Eve, his men would be receiving bonuses and he was disappointed to see even this drumhead hadn’t dampened their festive mood.
“Darkspear, you have been charged and found guilty of espionage against the people of Stormwind. Your actions are punishable by death. Do you have any last words?”
For the past thirty minutes, Shoo’s thoughts had been racing. Down in the stockade, following his arrest and so-called trial, he learned he was to be transported to the harbor. Seeing as none of the ships were bound for any known neutral territories, he figured there was only one place he was going… down.
Calmly, he recalled where the race, or puzzle if you will, began… Stonard. The miniscule village had been his sister’s second home. It was small, unassuming, but was also embedded in a carnival of life. The flowers had beckoned her and the roaming beasts gave an edge to her simple hobby. He came there, one year after she died, to celebrate her life. He hunted, courteously leaving inferior skins for the occasional passerby, but spent much of his time admiring the flora. Tears flowed, unexpectedly, one afternoon as he knelt before a patch of sorrowmoss. Shessuna would have been pleased to discover this flower, with its sad bloom, thriving in the Swamp.
Dozing off in Stonard the night before the Eve of the Veil, he looked forward to the flight to Stranglethorn a few hours from now. He would spend the holiday where he lost Shessuna. He was assured others would be there as well to share his loss. With Yupes, his aging but vigilant worg guarding their corner of the inn, Shoo slept dreamless. In the middle of the night he started at the sound of cries ringing out. His wolf was gone, but he could hear her: She was chasing something. Squinting, he stepped across the warm stone floor and saw guards running this way and that.
“Who ya skirmishin’, Malosh?” he asked the livid warrior.
“Apparently a rogue slipped past our vermin sentries. As no blood was spilt, I assume it was some Marshtide scum here to rob the facility. Now I’ll be up until morning helping Dar do inventory, damn everyone’s hide!”
Yupes trotted in, evidently robbed of her pursuit and the pair headed back for sleep. He stopped and stared at his hammock. Driven into his pillow was a long, evil-looking dagger skewering a yellowed parchment. He pulled it free and read the message meant for him.
Bring the doll to Stormwind or else the priest dies.
Bethlamae… someone had apparently exposed her roll in the Frostwolf Clan incident and, for either profit or some kind of twisted justice, wanted to make this ugly. If they weren’t, they would be assured he was going to.
As dawn was shaking free its frosty coat, he and Yupes were dodging widows through the narrow stretches of Deadwind. Come high noon of Winter Veil Eve, they cautiously maneuvered the Darkened Bank.
Soldiers, guards and officials blanketed Elwynn Forest, no doubt an offshoot of the catastrophic events months ago. Since that near-fatal affair in Alterac, he found an appreciation for tactical survival and it served him well late into that day. Studying the gates of Stormwind in the dazzling setting sun, he lashed his weapons to his companion and took her by the muzzle; she licked his face apprehensively.
“Circle, eh? Circle and be watchin’… shh.” The animal turned and trotted along the wall in the direction he pointed. The hunter waited unhappily until she vanished from sight then stepped into plain view. He was seized before taking his first step into the festively-lit city. Night began to fall on the capital and with it, a respectful hush.
Two hours later, he found himself standing on one of the harbor docks, chained to an old rusted anchor. They could barely get the flaking undersized manacles around his thick limbs. It didn’t matter; they’d hold for the few minutes they were needed. Sharp was uneasy with this decree. Being Winter Veil, the Grand Admiral Jes-Tereth suggested carrying out the sentence with as little attention as possible and knew how. The commander saw no way around it.
When he asked if the troll had any final say all he received was a icy glance. Those black unrevealing eyes gnawed on Sharp, who looked away with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He gave a nod to one of guards who callously shoved both the criminal and anchor over.
“Take his belongings to the cathedral---” was the last thing Shoo heard as he struck the water.
The troll took one massive breath and conjured the drums his mother played for him as a child. Not of battle, but the lucid dreaming beats that slowed his heart and brought calm. He plunged to the bottom, counting all the while. It took five seconds to touch down and then he began to work. The chains were weak but he couldn’t break the one secured to the anchor. The simple locks would be a cinch to pick; he just needed a fragment of rock or sliver of metal.
Coolly counting down the two minutes his immense lungs could hold their cargo, the hunter sifted the terrain. A flash of movement caught his eye in the black water and he looked up in time to see an impossibly huge mouth positioning to cut him in two. He rocketed off the seafloor as a Bluetip Thresher slammed into where he was just kneeling. The bracelets bit into Shoo’s limbs.
Instinctively, he mounted the shark’s back, locking his heels into its gills and looped his anchor chain into its enormous maw. Set off by the stench of rust and prey, it struggled wildly to free itself. Shoo had less than a minute of air left. He dug his legs into the beast’s sides, its gill rakers lacerating his calves. The shark frantically fought the restraint and as blood tainted the water the monster went berserk, whipping madly and thrashing its jaws.
Shoo’s vision turned sparkly white as he ticked off the final seconds. He raked the chain back and forth and the predator bit voraciously, teeth swirling down like big, wet snowflakes. The tether finally snapped…
Shoo gave the thresher a tremendous kick between the eyes, stunning it and he broke for the surface. The fish vanished, not one for disadvantages. As the hunter’s vision went from stars in his head to those high above, the first thing he saw was an apprehensive Commander Sharp looking him straight in the eye.
“Better give him a couple more minutes, son; he looked a hardy one.”
“Aye aye, sir.” Shoo gave the officer a breathless nod and Sharp turned his back apathetically.
Gripping the small pier, he took huge silent gasps of air. Was this Sharp the one who sent the message? It made no sense. He spit from his mouth a jagged shark tooth and jimmied the cuffs from his raw wrists and ankles and they sunk below.
The harbor was softly lit with holiday lights and undermanned. The elderly troll found it amazingly easy to make his way to the Old Barracks district. He had to scramble though; the alarm could sound at any moment. Crossing Cathedral Square he didn’t know what to do next… the church was filled with tranquil song. The square itself was completely still except for its murmuring fountain. He stopped before the plaque bolted to its foundation. Among its inscription, several words stood out like an omen:
You will never be forgotten…
“Ya, you can count on dat, little elf.”
Shoo relaxed his shoulders and walked resolutely toward the soaring spiked towers.
“Halt! In the name of the Stormwind Guard!” From nowhere, three sentries encircled the hunter, swords drawn. Shoo held his hands high, weaponless. They were poised to slay him whatever his intention.
“It’s him! It’s Shoo!” cried voices from behind. The watchmen stopped and stared in amazement as the troll was swarmed by boys and girls from the orphanage. They tensed as Shoo slowly lowered his arms and embraced the children as best he could.
“Whoa, easy! Hey, you be Hanna, ya?” A red-haired girl laughed joyously, nodding. “And this giant, you just a flamefly last time I see ya Pheebes!”
As the troll greeted many of the children by name, the guards lowered their weapons. Whatever was going on, they had no jurisdiction here. Better to find someone with the authority to handle this.
“You best be makin’ for bed, little ones,” he whispered, “you-know-who be makin’ his rounds.” The children, many of whom fought for their lives a year ago in Alterac, excitedly made their way back into their haven. The orphan matron Nightingale stood silently from her doorway, but then approached the hunter fearlessly.
“I believe this belongs to you,” she said reverently, handing him his backpack, “I’ve been recently informed about a certain helper of the Greatfather. I’d forgotten what Winter Veil truly meant before those tireless miracles came to me with bedtime stories of their own.”
“You da one des babies be rememberin’ when dey find a place in dis harsh world.”
Shoo bowed respectfully and climbed the stairs of the sanctuary. The small congregation was now silent in its prayer on this sacred night. Backs turned, they didn’t see the hunter, but he was approached by a priest whose face was shrouded in a grim smile.
“You be the sender of dis note,” Shoo said rigidly, pulling it from his pack. Brother Benjamin shook his head and pointed to the front of the parishioners. Both walked solemnly past them and as Shoo closed the distance between him and the platform he saw several of the cloth administering rites to a figure lying prone before them. The grave look on their faces was all it took for Shoo to break into a run. Whatever the reason, his friend was dead or dying and he should have been here already.
It wasn’t Beth. It was his sister.
Shessuna was wasted away to almost nothing. He fell to his knees by her side and took her fragile head in his hands. He kissed her and spoke softly that her brother was here. There was no response. He looked to those around him.
“She was cast upon the shores of Westfall, don’t ask me how,” whispered High Priestess Laurena, “but she was literally dead when found. Our priest there recognized her instantly and nearly died himself reviving her. I’m sorry for the brutal message but had it been intercepted you would have been immediately condemned and, in the event of your capture, an assumed Horde assault would have turned the city upside-down.”
Shoo gazed at her once beautiful face, now cavernous in its final moments. Seemingly aware she was finally with family her breathing became quick and shallow.
“Don’t ya dare leave me after all dis, Suna!” he shouted, the stone walls throwing his demand back uncaringly. Her face went blurry before his eyes and he swiped at them angrily.
Bring the doll to Stormwind or else the priest dies.
He threw the flap from his pack and removed the gift Islen gave her long ago, laying it on her chest… nothing. Sobbing, he brought her thin arms up and around the doll, pressing its warm cloth face to hers… still nothing. He then embraced her completely, the little doll between them and spoke in a voice so quiet it could have been a passing thought.
“It just be you, Suna. Not me, not a doll… no one but you,” he said, supporting her head with trembling fingers, “You be the one playin’ tha drums tonight. Da rest of us just want to listen in...”
Sadly, there was nothing. Then Shessuna’s fingers, embracing her most cherished toy for the first time in fifty years, twitched. Initially weak, they went off on an age-old pattern and didn’t slow. She took a deep rattling breath. Shoo stroked her hair and cheeks, encouraging her.
“Please,” Laurena murmured to the hunter and he backed away. She knelt close and began casting gentle waves that not only enveloped the stricken woman but also everyone in the Cathedral of Light. There was a collective gasp.
The entire city had fallen perfectly quiet at that moment, a breathless moment. Then the bells tolled the new day… Winter Veil.
Shessuna was beating whatever was bent on spiriting her away. In the peace of the church she regained consciousness and, after a couple hours, was actually able to drink the water held to her lips. It was nearly dawn when the great troll priestess finally sat up. Against all wishes, she spoke briefly to several that had been there all night, making thanks as best she could. Exhausted, she then turned to her brother.
“Shoo, we must be off,” she whispered huskily, “Da city patrol is probably outside waitin’. Dey be doing their duty takin’ us prisoners. And des people can’t be caught up in it.”
“No way out ‘cept that front door, sis. If it ends now, we be leavin’ together.” As he lifted her into his arms, he felt she weighed no more than the smiling doll she still tightly held.
“What did one fish in the net say to da other?” asked a clear, cool voice. Everyone turned in unison. “We gonna be late for school!”
The hunter watched as a sinewy figure moved toward them with a surreal ease. It was Bwemba, an emissary of the Darkspear trolls, followed closely by a concerned Commander Sharp and escort.
“I thought she be hangin’ in Orgrimmar,” Shoo whispered to his sister, who managed only a shrug.
“Come wit me, kin. We go to da docks unmolested, eh?” The party of three, along with Bwemba’s warriors, Sharp and his harbor guards, walked slowly from the place of worship as she promised. Dawn poked through the city, its warm streaks of light eating up the dark shadows. Shessuna nudged her brother.
“Ya see dos worshippers back in dat big ole church?” Shoo, recalling the sense of home when he entered the church, still had to shake his head no.
“Some of ‘em be in Booty when you and me went to work,” she sighed, “many be da folks dat love ‘em.” Her brother had no reply. The air was stingingly fresh as they worked their way down to the ambassador’s boats. Yupes was there, whimpering unbearably as he approached.
“Bwemba, you be da one who put dat dagger in my pillow?” As they boarded, she just looked at him like he was crazy.
“Maybe I can answer that question,” Commander Sharp cut in. Shoo laughed, heartily, relieved to have finally found his answer. The officer got in close so that his people couldn’t hear.
“Admire the view,” he said, smiling, and stepped back from the departing boats.
Shessuna was asleep even before her brother had wrapped themselves in a warm heavy blanket. The hunter watched the docks fall away and caught sight, for the first time, of a lighthouse to his distant left. There, standing at its door, stood Bethlamae, arms crossed against the chill. She immediately began to leap, waving both arms. Behind her stood two much older elves who also gestured.
“Her kin,” he breathed. He waved back joyously until he could no longer see them. He then peered down on his beloved sister’s peaceful face. What he saw was a happy, tired twelve year old.
“Our kin too, sis.”
In her arms, and his, was the joy of Winter Veil.