((This story is a rewrite of one I posted to the old sanctum, and lost in the crash. It was by far my favorite I ever wrote, so I decided to try it again. It takes place during the last months of the Siege of Orgrimmar patch in MoP for reference.
A cold breeze ran across the Gilnean man’s cloak and animated his scarf, sending both billowing in the wind behind him. His horse’s hooves clopped along on the wet dirt path trailing lazily up the hill before him. The rhythm of its steps had put Mayes in something of a trance along his journey. Since he had passed the wall bisecting the lands of Hillsbrad and Arathi hours ago, his guard had dropped significantly, and he allowed himself to enjoy his journey, a gift he had been kept from for years. He could have been a commoner off to visit a family friend in the hills, or a soldier patrolling the roads of a proud nation. But Mayes’ mind was too sharp to be fooled by even his own illusions. He straightened his travelling hat as he cast his gaze through a gap in the trees out across the countryside. Ruined towers and villages dotted the rolling hills that gave the area its name. Mayes saw the outskirts of Southshore a long way off. His memory stirred, reminding him of his last visit to the town.
Endless ships had dotted the southern horizon, so many the young noble could hardly believe his eyes. Gilneas had never boasted the proudest of navies, but Mayes didn’t think so many vessels could exist in one place before. And they were all barreling down on the walls at his feet. A stiff pat on his shoulder jarred him from his stunned silence. He looked at the man beside him, a tall, proud knight who grinned, showing a jagged scar along his jawline. He spoke down to Mayes in a gruff landslide of a voice, “Let’s give ‘em hell, Blackmane.”
It all seemed so long ago. It was like peering into another man’s life to Mayes now, and yet there the ruins stood, easily within his reach. He shook off his thoughts and focused once more on the rhythm of the horse’s trot.
Parigan stalked into the back room of the structure which towered over the War Quarter of the Undercity. He had been summoned by a man whose name meant nothing to him to accomplish a task of great importance to the Forsaken. Or so he was told. In truth, any task would do for him. Anything to get the thoughts of her out of his addled mind. The man with the rotting face sat at a desk, sorting through papers as if he were a common human man with an office job. Parigan nearly cackled audibly at the ridiculousness of it. The man looked up at him, flashing a grin of satisfaction. “Ah, Blackmane,” he said in a voice hushed by decay, “Right on time. We have a little problem you would be perfect to solve.”
Parigan pulled a seat from the corner, intentionally dragging it along the stone cobbles on the floor. It screeched painfully until he placed it in front of the now frowning man’s desk and sat in it without so much as a word of courtesy. He drank in the annoyance on the man’s face. This was the sort of thing Parigan used to keep himself going these days. “Please,” he said mockingly, “By all means, continue.”
The man groaned and did as told, “A Gilnean rebel by the name of Julius Bradford ran off with a trinket of considerable value our miners discovered in the ruins of your homeland. You seem to have a knack for making the living wish they were dead, so the Executor in the area asked for you personally to track Bradford down and kill him. Make sure to bring back the amulet, as well.”
Parigan leaned back in his chair, scraping dead skin off his upper lip with his metal lower jaw. He rocked back and forth as if mulling it over before saying, “Sounds easy. Where was Bradford going last this Executor had wind of him?”
The man checked his notes before replying, “Across the bay and into Hillsbrad. We have reason to believe he has ties with the Ravenholdt Assassins, so you should look there first. Don’t expect them to show you the man willingly. In fact, expect them to try and slit your throat and you’ll turn out just fine.”
Parigan gave the man a disgusting toothy grin and said, “Right away, sir. I’ll bring you this amulet, and Bradford’s head, free of charge. Anything for the Banshee Queen.”
Robert paced in front of the water-damaged tavern at Menethil Harbor. It wasn’t like him to worry over things, but given the circumstances, he has plenty of things to worry about. Lord Arthur Hunter sat on a chair sipping coffee from a mug, watching Robert pace with mild disinterest. The two lords of Gilneas had come north from their new homes in Duskwood to answer a summons by Lord Mayes Blackmane, their superior. The three families had maintained an allegiance after the fall of the kingdom, but their armies and supporters had grown distant and unresponsive. Mayes decided to change that by sending an order that shocked them all. Robert had worried briefly the man had gone mad with grief for his murdered heir.
Invading Forsaken lands had always been the plan, but with the Siege of Orgrimmar nearly completed, many whispers were passed around that the Alliance leaders were considering peace talks with the Horde rebels. Robert couldn’t imagine old Greymane agreeing to anything without a promise of their lands returned to them. The Bitch Queen of the Forsaken would never give up her power now, not with so much land to be lost by peace. Mayes had evidently chosen now to strike, with the Horde preoccupied with civil war. And yet, when they arrived here at Menethil, the old wolf of a man was off in Hillsbrad, leaving his eighteen-year-old daughter in charge of his eight-hundred strong fighting force. Combined with Robert’s six hundred and Arthur’s four, they had nearly two thousand military men ready to unleash fury on the Forsaken, barely bound together by Lady Esmerra’s presence in lieu of Mayes’.
“You know,” Lord Hunter began, “If you ruin your boots before we even get going, the undead will outrun you no problem.” Robert stopped pacing and looked the man up and down. A slender huntsman, Arthur had long boasted the best trackers in Gilneas, and the best war hounds. Useful things to have for scouting, but Robert’s men were off the highlands. They prided themselves on strength and wits, not dogs and guns. And Lord Hunter always seemed to have some scheme hidden in his words that put Robert on edge.
“If I ever have a problem outrunning the undead,” Robert replied, “I’ll just turn around and cut their bloody heads off.” He returned to his pacing, only to be interrupted when he saw Esmerra walk out from behind a corner of the keep at Menethil’s center. He stood straight up and cleared his throat as the lovely young lass walked forward purposefully. Arthur got the hint and dragged himself to his feet. “Lady Blackmane, an honor to address you,” said Robert.
Esmerra smiled at him courteously. “The honor is mine, gentlemen. It has been too long since we were able to meet. You both are just as I remember you.” Esmerra was a lovely sight in any situation. Her long velvety black hair rolled across her shoulders like a shadow, contrasting with her pale skin and fair complexion. Her dark brown eyes popped, and watched everything with hawklike focus and fascination. Her full, vibrant lips and subtle curves marked her for a woman, now. Robert had known her throughout her childhood, and he felt some pride in knowing such an astonishingly beautiful youth.
Arthur spoke up next, “Pardon my rashness, dear lady, but this area is not conducive to such a large gathering. Our men are forced to scavenge for sustenance day and night, and we are likely to see many deserters before this campaign is complete. If we are to act, we should do so quickly.”
Esmerra nodded politely to Lord Hunter, saying, “My father knew this well, which is why he sends word that his side-trip to Hillsbrad is of the utmost importance. He will be attending a meeting in Stromgarde on the way back to try and win more supporters. He also says there will be a Forsaken emissary visiting to discuss terms.”
Robert’s eyebrow rose on its own then. “Forsaken emissary? Might as well not have bothered with the meeting, then. Nothing can be gained by discussing terms until the fighting starts.” Robert paused, realizing his rudeness. “Apologies, my lady. I forgot my courtesy.”
Esmerra waved a hand dismissively. “It is no worry, my lord. I value honest words greatly. But surely you have more faith in my father than that? He must have a plan if he is delaying for this meeting.”
Robert thought back to a peace talk he had attended between Gilneans and Forsaken before. He remembered how well that had gone. Bodies littered the floor before it was over. Treachery and mistrust were buried deep in every Gilnean and undead. Put the two together and bad things were sure to happen. He worried his old friend might be heading into a trap. “I hope you are right, my lady. Mayes has never steered me wrong before, but strange times make for strange happenstances.”