[Story] Thorns – The Patient II

Sister Temperance didn’t mean to eavesdrop, at least not really, but sounds echoed down the empty stone halls in the lower levels of the Cathedral. She kept the door of her own room open to better hear anyone who might be descending the stairs, and if her patient called out in pain or needed anything. It had been so many years since she’d had a patient, and she missed it more than she liked to admit. It wasn’t just the break in monotony, though that was a large part of it too. Since coming to the Cathedral, her days varied very little; each day was like the one before, and inside the seasons never changed. The windows were of colored glass, worked in geometric patterns or important historical figures, they were meant to look beautiful, rather than show what lay outside. It’s true she could have left at any time, but where would she go? What would she do? The village would never welcome her back, and she know only a handful of people in Stormwind.

Tending to the injured elf gave Temperance something to do, a focus outside of herself, and she was diligent in her care. His bandages were checked and changed regularly, as were his sheets and the straw in his bed, she ensured he always had food and medicine. Since waking up, he’d liked the little number and word puzzles, and she’d brought some books that she thought weren’t too boring to read. When they’d spoken before, the elf said he didn’t have anywhere else to go, and she suggested that he could stay here. It might not be what he was used to, but it would be safe. And she’d have someone to talk to — or at least, to listen. The elf didn’t do a lot of talking, but that was fine. Just his presence, another living soul nearby brightened her spirits, gave her a purpose and direction she’d lacked. In her old chapel, she’d known everyone who stepped over the doorway, treated them like her own kin. Things weren’t like that here, but she could at least treat this elf, who seemed to have no one either.

But then his friend had come again, the tall and lanky kaldorei who had delivered him that first rainy night. Temperance still didn’t trust him, he seemed shifty and as if he was hiding something. And though she hadn’t really meant to, she overheard them talking — Nash wanted to leave the city, go somewhere far away, and the kaldorei told him not to. She could at least agree with that — traveling anywhere with his leg in that condition would be reckless. If it didn’t set properly, he could be unable to walk comfortably for the rest of his life. Though she couldn’t hear all the words, the tone of the conversation was clear — there was more to their relationship than just working together. When she went in later to check on Nash, they were sitting very close together, the smaller elf having fallen asleep against the kaldorei. She hurriedly took the dishes and excused herself, but she was angry. Who was he to just show up and ruin everything, especially after he hadn’t bothered the first day? Nash had probably asked a hundred times when he was going to visit. He needed time to heal, and he would be safer here — running off would be foolish for more than one reason. But his leg was responding well to the treatment, it likely felt much better, and Nash would try to walk on it soon. Even if she warned him not to, she was certain he would try. And then he’d want to leave, healed or not. She couldn’t really be upset at Nash — she would have left too, if she could. But she couldn’t, and soon he would be gone, and everything would go back to how it had been before.


[Story] Thorns – The Patient

Sister Temperance peered through the doorway into the small room, her footfalls silent on the cold stone floor. The elf was still asleep. Glancing down the hallway to ensure that it was empty, she entered and pulled the door closed behind her. The plate on the little table beside the bed held only crumbs, which was also good. She’d need to bring more bread and cheese from the kitchen, and make up another pot of broth. That he was hungry enough to eat was an encouraging sign, and the food would help him heal.

Marjolaine had knocked at the door of her chambers very late the night before, her cloak pulled tightly around her in the freezing rain. She asked if Temperance would be willing to take in someone, as a favor. Even if she had not owed the woman her life, Temperance would have accepted. Marjolaine was sparse with the details, saying only that he’d escaped from the Stockades and it was important that he not be discovered by the guards. And he was an elf, Temperance learned a short time later, when the kaldorei delivered the patient to her doorstep, wrapped in a blanket. The sort of elf that wasn’t supposed to be in Stormwind. But Temperance wasn’t afraid of him, how could she be? He was so thin and so pale, she could feel the heat of infection burning in his broken leg.

She made up a bed in one of the downstairs chambers, where no one except the rats usually ventured. While he still slept fitfully, she washed and re-bandaged his leg, applying an ointment of crushed herbs that would hopefully reduce the pain and swelling. It would need to be set properly soon, but she wanted to wait for the infection to subside before she tried. She was uncertain whether it would or not, it had been left untreated for quite a while, and it could turn worse just as quickly. She would just have to wait and pray for the best; she had some training in healing but had rarely dealt with such a serious injury.

He awoke disoriented and frightened, but she explained where he was — that he was safe — and a friend of Marjolaine’s. He wanted to know how he’d got there, and whether the elf had come by looking for him. In fact, he asked several times. No, he hadn’t said much when he left the blood elf here, yes he was allowed to visit, no he hadn’t mentioned the blood elf’s pets. Temperance found him rather frightening, he was tall and had a predatory air to him, but she promised that she’d wake her patient if he came by to see him. She tried, a little, to understand how a blood elf had found himself in Stormwind, but she couldn’t make much sense of his answer. He’d come looking for work, but why here, so far from home, in a land that was dangerous to him? And why would he stay here?

Because it felt like home, he’d said, and he had people here. It was a sentiment that she could understand, even if she couldn’t really relate. She missed her home, but like the elf, she could never return there. Stormwind still felt a bit strange, even after all this time, but she felt safe within the Cathedral. And it would be safe for him too — she very much doubted that the guards would be searching the Cathedral. If they did, there were countless little rooms and places that the elf could hide, and who would suspect a priestess? He would be safe here until his infection subsided — he’d have clean blankets and bandages, food and medicine and she’d bring some books down from the library for him to read. If he wanted, she’d talk to him too — which she looked forward to probably more than he did. It had been a very long time since she’d talked to anyone at length, prayers didn’t really count.

[Story] Thorns – Temperance

Marjolaine paused as she entered the cathedral, stepping into the dim candle-light, scented faintly with incense. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been here, and she had the distinct feeling of being watched, that everyone would somehow know she didn’t belong. The morning light illuminated the stained glass windows, throwing colorful shadows across the floor. They reminded her, suddenly and jarringly, of the cathedral in Gilneas.

“How may I help you this morning?” a soft voice asked behind her. It was a priestess, one of the older ones. Marjolaine supposed she didn’t have any studies to do this morning.

“I’m looking for Sister Temperance,” said Marjolaine quietly. Her voice seemed impossibly loud in the stillness of the cathedral.

The priestess seemed surprised by the request, but smiled politely, gesturing to an alcove off to the left. “She’ll just be down those stairs.”

Marjolaine nodded and thanked the priestess before descending the narrow stone staircase. There she found Sister Temperance, as promised, in a candle-lit alcove. She looked up from her book as Marjolaine approached. She wore similar robes to the older priestess upstairs, bright white with crisp lines, and a white ribbon around her neck. Marjolaine knew that covered the scars on her throat from the attack that had cursed her.

“Marjolaine, this is a surprise,” said Temperance. “Please, sit.”

She took the small stone bench across from the table. It was as if they meant to make everything as uncomfortable as possible. Marjolaine already felt more nervous than she had when stepping inside. While it may have been Harrison’s jaws who delivered the cursed bite, it was her hands who had set him free. She could have killed him, but she hadn’t. And her leniency had led to Temperance’s situation. Did she blame Marjolaine for that? Surely Kor would have told her. Her expression was impossible to read.

“I know,” Marjolaine said, twisting her gloves in her hands. “I’ve been busy with the shop.” It wasn’t really a lie; the shop always had high demand for the winter holidays, but it had been years since she’d come to the cathedral. The excuse felt weak, and she was certain that Temperance knew it. “How have you been?”

Temperance gestured to the walls around her. “I am safe here. I’ve been able to continue my studies. They have prayers every morning and evening.”

Though serene, her eyes held a hint of sadness. Regret, perhaps.

“But?” Marjolaine asked.

Temperance sighed. “I do miss my old chapel. The town. I miss–” she hesitated. “I miss how things were before. It was so much simpler.”

Though she was much happier here — she had her own life, and the shop, and Josie, Marjolaine knew what Temperance meant. Even she missed the grey rainy days sometimes, the sense of contentment and innocence. Would she go back, if she could? Probably not, but she could certainly understand the desire. And being cursed was a lonely business, a terrible and dangerous secret. Even if one was able to control it — most of the time — there was always the chance that it could harm someone else.

“You should come to dinner sometime,” Marjolaine suggested. “You could meet everyone. Maybe for one of the holidays, we’ll have too much to eat otherwise.”

Temperance smiled, a small and wry smile. “That is too kind of you. I will consider it.”

Marjolaine hoped that she would accept. And she hoped that she wouldn’t invite the smith along with her.


[Story] Story a Week 35 – Grey

The Gilnean countryside in winter was a study in grey, as if the driving rain and ceaseless winds had washed all trace of color away. But it seemed even more dreary than usual, as Marjolaine stood barefoot and shivering in the mud. How had she come to be here, in the middle of the bleak woods, her shoes gone and her hems torn? She couldn’t quite remember. Looking down, she saw her nails were dirty, traces of mud and blood beneath them. Had she fought with someone? Her body ached all over, with every step she could feel the complaining of her muscles. There were some bruises, she thought, but for the most part it was the ache of exertion rather than injury. Had they gone for a ride? She could not see any of the horses in the fields, though they could have gone to seek shelter from the freezing rain. She wanted to herself, but she could see no buildings closeby. If they were here, they had no lamps burning to light the way through the grey.

She had ridden the trails in the forest hundreds of times, so it should have been familiar to her, but there was a strangeness to the way everything looked. More than that, she could smell everything — not only the ordinary things like mud and the smell of rain on the plants, but the distant smell of smoke, and the smell of a deer. How did she know it was a deer? She wasn’t sure, but somehow she did. There was another smell too, something feral and musky — and there were several of them. It reminded her a bit of the stable after the horses had returned, but somehow more menacing. She didn’t smell any horses.

What had happened? She tried very hard to remember. Her head ached vaguely, but she didn’t think she had struck it. There had been a storm, she remembered that. She had gone around and secured all of the shutters of the house, and the stables as well. She remembered the icy wind tearing and rattling, howling around the corners and hollows. But there had to be something else. Where was everyone? All of the servants, the stablekeepers and cooks? All of the  other people in town? It was as if the dreary grey had yawned and swallowed all of them up.

Marjolaine followed the banks of the stream, knowing that it would lead to something eventually. Dirty snow, half-melted by the movement of the water, was piled along either side. The mid-morning sun shone weakly through the clouds, doing little to warm her. She thought she was near the mill, but she wasn’t certain. Would anyone be there? It was unlikely, but she had to hope. At the very least, she could get dry and perhaps find something to eat. Her stomach felt like a twisting void inside her, as if she hadn’t eaten for weeks. She knew she had, they’d eaten roasted quails right before the storm blew into town. Or had they? Was it possible that she’d been sleeping for days, like that story she used to listen to as a girl? She supposed it was.

A branch snapped, impossibly loud in the still forest. She turned to see a shaggy grey figure emerging from behind the trees, followed by others. Two, or three — so four of them in all. That wild, musky smell surrounded them and their eyes burned like embers in their long faces. But she wasn’t afraid. They had come to find her. She knew, all at once, that she was one of them.

[Story] Story a Week 30 – Graveyard

Curiosity brought Stormpelt further away from the town. She had seen very little of her leader and his family, though she sometimes saw them from afar. There was a little hill she liked to sit upon and watch the town; they were mostly awake at night, like she had been once. She still feared the people with the sharp spears, though they usually did not approach unless she got too close to the town. The pup was big now, old enough to come out of their den and run on his own. Stormpelt saw him sometimes, with his mother. She could not be certain, of course, but they looked happy to her. They didn’t need her to protect them any longer — they had the town and the people with sharp spears. In fact, they probably never thought of her at all, and the realization left her feeling restless. Was it sadness? Perhaps it was, or something like it. Her first master had betrayed her, leading her to this place in between alive and dead. Now it seemed the second had forgotten her. That was not as bad, but it still hurt. Stormpelt did not wish to give up on him just yet, however. He had saved her, and she had sworn to follow him and keep him and his family safe. There could be danger lurking here that she had missed, she could not afford to be complacent. 

Dawn rose over the dense forest, illuminating the dew that clung to the grass and low brush. Stormpelt knew it would not be long before the leaves began to turn color and fall to the ground. Then the rain and the wind would come, and she would have to seek shelter. While she could not really feel the cold, being wet was still unpleasant, and Grub Grub preferred to be warm and dry. The trails of deer — and perhaps their predators — were visible through the grass where the dew had been brushed away by their passing. Stormpelt faintly remembered the smell of them, the excitement of finding a path and calling to the rest of her pack, noses all to the ground as they hunted. Those days seemed impossibly long ago, just a fading memory. One day she would be dead longer than she had been alive, and she worried that she might forget everything good from those days. She did her best to hold onto them, but scents were the most difficult. No matter how she tried, she could not smell them as she did then, they were dull and faded.

Stormpelt moved past some crumbling stones, in a place she did not recognize. She knew the stones had been put there by people; they were carved and arranged into buildings and pillars. Or they had been, once. Now they were a jumble, overgrown with vines and thorns. Why had the people left? Stormpelt didn’t know, and the stones gave her no answers. The grass grew soft and green between the stones, and she thought she might rest there among them, not that she had to, but because it was so lovely with the morning sun. Something caught her eye though, further back beyond the ruins of one of the buildings. More stones, but these were not fallen, but stood on end in the earth. Words were carved into them, and though Stormpelt could not read them, she knew at once what they were. She had seen such stones back in Silverpine. They were graves, marking the places where bones lay beneath the earth. A place for the dead to rest at peace, not to wander as she did. Stormpelt went among them carefully, her nose to the ground. She took care not to knock any stones over or stand where she thought someone might be. What would they think, if they could see her? But she knew they could not. They were somewhere else, wherever people went when they were really dead. She liked to think they were warm and happy and peaceful, wherever they were. They could not feel cold or wet or abandoned any longer. Even so, she felt a strange sort of kinship with them. They needed someone to keep watch over their resting place. She could guard the stones, pull the vines from them and put them upright if they fell over. She could ensure that no people came to walk over the bones or dig them up. She would be their guardian and their keeper, for as long as she was able.

[Story] Story a Week 10

[[ Prompt: Obsession ]]

Uldred removed his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. They ached, and the pages in front of him were swimming. Perhaps it was time to turn in for the night. Only a little oil was left in the lamp, and by its struggling light he could see that the hour was well past three. Sighing, he gathered the papers up into a stack on the desk and placed a book on top so they wouldn’t blow away if he opened the window later in the morning. He’d just have to continue then, once he’d slept and had something to eat. The most frustrating thing was that he knew he was close — he had to be — it was only a matter of untangling the complicated web of spells before him. If a spell could be cast, its reverse could also be cast. It was a fundamental principle of magic.

That boy is obsessed, he recalled his father saying, when he first got his hands on magical theory books. Uldred used to read them by a lamp very similar to this one, sitting before the grey window-panes streaked with rain, a warm blanket all around him. He remembered the awe and wonder those books brought to him, the eagerness to learn and experiment for himself. Maybe he had been, Uldred conceded, because he couldn’t go to proper lessons. The books were all he had then, and proved a valuable resource now. Though of course he’d graduated to much more advanced subjects than magical theory.

The Stormwind streets were empty and quiet at this hour, but Uldred knew things still moved there, out of sight. Rats and stray dogs, thieves and cut-purses stalked the shadows, hunting. In Shattrath, Uldred hadn’t had to worry about such things, at least as long as he stayed on the upper tiers, but Stormwind was a much different place. It had taken some time to get accustomed to a city again. His room was on an upper floor, so he could leave the window open for air most of the time, though a truly dedicated thief could get in — if he’d had anything worth stealing. Rumors of elves infused with demonic magic had brought him back here, but thus far he’d been able to learn very little about them. He’d not seen one himself, nor found any books on the subject. Even if he did find one in the flesh, Uldred rather doubted he’d be allowed to conduct the sort of experiments necessary to learn what he needed to know. As they were elves, he might have more luck in one of their cities, but it was more likely they were driven into hiding, as he and his fellow summoners had been. Walking about the city stinking of fel energy was not a wise plan. But he had to find one. All of his years of study had moved him forward, but not far enough. There was a piece of the puzzle still missing, only Uldred wasn’t exactly sure what shape it was, or what it looked like. At this point, he wasn’t entirely sure what the end result was even supposed to look like.

He changed into his sleeping robes, and blew out the lamp. Even if he was able to finish his work, what was it going to accomplish? Would he not be the same person he was now? Would he be hailed as a great scholar and recognized for his achievements? Likely not. Would it bring his homeland and his mother back? Certainly it wouldn’t. But he persisted because he had to, because he had seen it this far and had worked too long to stop now. And partly out of habit. Without his work, what else did he have? On another night, this question might have kept him awake. But Uldred was asleep nearly as soon as he pulled the blankets up over himself.

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