“I’m so sorry Pa”, whispered Hulan, her voice cracking as she struggled to hold back her tears. Thorden Stonefist looked into his daughter’s brimming eyes and felt a lump rise in his throat.
“Aw lassie”, he said reaching across the table to pat her hand “Ye cannae force yesel’ tae be somethin’ yer not. I know ye really wanted to be a Paladin but was it really fer the right reason?”
Hulan sighed, “Nay, I suppose not. I jes’ wanted ter make you and Ma proud of me an’ I wanted to serve the light like you both have.”
Thorden’s face clouded as he reflected on what serving the light had done to his beloved wife, Nulyn. Thorden and Nulyn were from the tiny village of Kharanos and had known each other as children. Both had been drawn to the light at an early age and had embarked on their Paladin training together. Initially their closeness had been like that of a brother and sister but gradually their relationship had changed. It had been a matter of some amusement to their friends and respective families that the last people to realise that Thorden and Nulyn were in love were, in fact, Thorden and Nulyn themselves. They were granted a few weeks marital bliss that were rudely interrupted by the outbreak of the Second War.
When Thorden looked back, he found it almost laughable to remember how naive and idealistic they had both been. They had believed that the light and their love for each other made them almost invincible. It was inconceivable to either of them that anything could destroy the future they had planned together. How quickly that illusion had been shattered. In the heat of a skirmish Nulyn had become separated from Thorden and he had lost sight of her. At first he wasn’t too worried, Nulyn was a very capable paladin and well able to take care of herself. As the attackers were driven off and their company gathered together again, Thorden became more anxious; there was still no sign of Nulyn. As the shadows lengthened he began to face the awful possibility that Nulyn lay among the dead.
Finally he found her, lying unconscious, among a group of Alliance corpses. Her life hung by a thread and, given the condition of her companions, it seemed a miracle that she lived at all. Reading the signs it looked as if Nulyn and the others had become separated from the main company and run into a large party of Orcs, including many warlocks. The contorted faces of the dead told their own story of the horror the warlocks had visited upon them. Many of them didn’t have serious physical injuries, the damage to their minds and souls being the cause of their deaths. Thorden realised that Nulyn needed more than his skill in healing and scooped her up and ran back to the camp shouting for the healers at the top of his voice.
Thorden remembered the priest coming out of the tent shaking her head. For one heart-stopping moment Thorden though the priest was going to tell him his wife was dead. He felt like he was looking at the priest through a tunnel and he heard the roar of his own blood in his ears. Gradually the words the priest was saying started to sink into his consciousness.
“I’ve done all I can. She’s not awake and I can’t promise you she ever will be. That she lives at all is beyond my understanding. I think it’s only the fact that she’s with child that enables her to survive; the child gives her spirit something to fight for – it’s not giving up yet.”
Thorden’s jaw dropped. “Sh..she..she’s what?” he stammered “With child? How did that happen?!”
The priest looked at him, raising one eyebrow “I would imagine in the usual fashion,” she replied dryly with a small smile.
Thorden’s shoulders slumped. “I dinnae know whether ter laugh or ter cry,” he said. “I thought the announcement of our first child would be such a joyous occasion. I never expected this.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” the priest warned him. “With all your wife has been through she may not survive. Even if she does, the baby might not. Right now it’s a waiting game.”
For the next 2 weeks Thorden didn’t move from his wife’s side for more than a few minutes. He held her hand and stroked her hair as she lay white and still on the army cot. He talked to her constanly, painting pictures with words about their home, their friends and families, about their dreams for the future. He talked about the baby she carried and speculated about whether it was a boy or a girl. He slept with his head resting on the cot, reluctant to move more than a foot away from her side. The priest had told him not to get his hopes up but how could he not? The alternative was to give up on the most precious thing in his life and he wasn’t about to do that. One morning Thorden was woken from his sleep by the most awful scream he had ever heard in his life. It was so full of fear and horror it almost turned his blood to ice. He realised that the noise was coming from Nulyn, who was sat bolt upright on the cot screaming fit to wake the dead. Thorden was frozen to the spot, completely at a loss as to what to do. The priest rushed into the tent bearing a potion of some sort which she poured down Nulyn’s throat. The young dwarf coughed and spluttered on the draught and the screaming gradually quietened. As the noise ceased Nulyn remained upright. Despite Thorden’s and the priest’s best effort she remained unresponsive, although she appeared conscious.
The priest explained to Thorden that this was Nulyn’s way of protecting herself from the horror she had experienced. She advised that Thorden take her home to Dun Morogh and consult the healers at Ironforge, there was nothing more that the priest could do. Over the next few months little changed. Nulyn was conscious but completely passive. She said nothing and responded to no-one. Her eyes were open but they were dead. Every day Thorden washed and dressed her, he took her for walks, he fed her and then at night he put her to bed. He regularly took her to Ironforge and consulted the best healers he could find but none could help. Nulyn remained unchanged. Very occasionally Thorden would glimpse something in her eyes, the look of a trapped animal appeared in her eyes, a mute appeal cast his way for the briefest moment; a look that flickered and died in a second.
The only visible change in Nulyn was her growing belly. As it grew bigger Thorden would watch in fascination as it rippled and bumped. Occasionally he fancied he could see a foot or an elbow bumping against the taut surface of Nulyn’s abdomen. His wife seemed completely unaware of the child growing within her and the changes taking place in her body. Not once did Thorden ever see her stroke or pat her belly the way he’d seen other pregnant dwarves do. Sometimes, as the sun set and their little cottage darkened, he would pull his chair opposite Nulyn’s and talk to “the bump”, as he privately called it; when he lay in bed next to his wife at night he would stroke and pat her belly, smiling to himself in the dark as he felt the child move in response to his touch. It worried him that his growing child might be feeling unloved.
One night Thorden woke with a start from a deep sleep. He lay there trying to work out what had woken him. His ears strained in the dark but he heard nothing. He was drifting back off to sleep when he heard it. His motionless wife let out a soft grunt “oooof”, as if the wind was being forced out of her. He put his hand on her belly, it was completely hard. After half a minute he felt it soften under his hand. He waited. Sure enough, after a few minutes his wife grunted softly again and he felt her belly harden. There was no doubt, the baby was on its way. Thorden leaped out of bed and threw on some clothes. He ran to a neighbour’s house and banged on the door. A sleepy, bewildered dwarf appeared “Thorden! What’s goin’ on?”
“It’s Nulyn’s time. Run to Ironforge and fetch the healer!”
Thorden’s neighbour nodded his head and disappeared back inside, behind his door.
The next few hours were uneventful. The priest appeared and inspected Nulyn. Thorden’s mother, Jylen, a noted midwife arrived and conferred with the healer. Nulyn herself seemed completely unmoved by her labour, her only reaction being the soft grunt with every contraction; the first noise she had made since she stopped screaming months before. As the sun rose in the sky the contractions started to come closer together. The only difference visible in Nulyn was a sheen of sweat that appeared on her brow. Jylen disappeared into the kitchen and started boiling, what seemed to Thorden, excessive amounts of water. She shooed Thorden out of the bedroom. “It won’t be long now son,” she told him.
“Shouldn’t Nulyn be doing something?” he asked his mother. “It seems so strange, as if it’s almost happening without her.”
“I know what ye mean son. It’s the strangest labour I’ve ever seen. Havin’ said that, the body’s a marvellous thing and it knows fine well what it needs to do – with or without Nulyn!” she told him
Thorden anxiously paced the kitchen of his small home, pausing occasionally to cast a glance at the closed bedroom door. No sound emerged from within; he had no idea if things were going well or not. After what seemed like an eternity the door opened and his mother emerged holding a small bundle. She beamed at him.
“Son, I’d like ye to meet my grand-daughter.” Jylen held the bundle out to him. Thorden took the baby from her and gazed down at his daughter and fell head over heels in love. The baby gazed up at him with alert, slate-grey eyes.
“Aw lassie, yer beautiful,” he whispered hoarsely.
The priest appeared at the door, her face clouded with concern.
“Ye’d better come in,” she said “She’s fadin’ fast an’ there’s nothin’ I can do. It’s like she’s given up.”
Thorden pushed passed her into the bedroom. Nulyn lay propped up in the bed, pale against her pillows, eyes closed. Her breathing was barely perceptible. Thorden’s voice was a raw sob, “Nulyn, don’t leave us. We need you.” He laid the baby on her chest “Look,” he begged her “Look at our beautiful wee girl. A girl needs her ma, don’t leave her. Ye’ve fought fer so long for her, dinnae give up now.” As if to add her plea to her father’s the baby squirmed and started to bawl. As the bawling grew more persistent, Nulyn stirred. The pallour in her face decreased and her breathing grew stronger. Thorden sat on the bed, holding his breath. The baby bawled furiously, her little face growing puce. All at once Nulyn sighed and opened her eyes. Thorden looked into them, fearing to see the blankness that had greeted him for so many months now. Nulyn looked down at the baby and the ghost of a smile crossed her face. Her voice, cracking after so many months of disuse, could barely be heard above the furious wailing of her baby. “I think she’s trying to tell me something. I think I’d better feed her.” She reached for the baby and started to unbutton the nightgown she wore. Thorden nodded at her and rose, heading for the door. As he reached the threshold a strangled sob escaped his lips and he fell to his knees in the snow, tears streaming down his face. He gazed up at the dading moon, still visible in the early morning sky, “By the light of Elune, thank you Goddess.”
From that day, with the love and encouragement of her husband and her daughter, Nulyn gradually returned to the world. She was never quite the same Thorden reflected sadly. There was something in her that was irreparably damaged, always something subdued in her. For all that she obviously loved her husband and her daughter there were times when she retreated into herself, although not quite to the same extent that she had during her pregnancy. Over the years a pattern emerged of night terrors followed by withdrawal, a time when she needed to be treated with particular care and sheltered from worldly concerns. Thorden learned not to fear these episodes, viewing them as a time when his wife needed to retreat into herself and gather her reserves to live with the horrors she had endured at the hands of the warlocks all those years ago.
Thorden and Nulyn named their daughter Hulan. She was a bright, perceptive child; sensitive to her mother’s needs and moods from an early age and mature for her years. She seemed to have been born wanting to help others, indeed the act of her very birth had saved her mother’s life. Thorden looked into the eyes that had turned from slate-grey to a warm brown and smiled at his daughter.
“Aw lass, I’ve been proud of ye since the moment ye were born,” he told her. “The light is a wonderful things to serve but sometimes service requires sacrifice. In serving the light I almost lost yer mother and yersel’. On the other hand I believe that the light gave ye both back to me.”
“But if I cannae be a Paladin what can I do?” Hulan asked, her face burning with humiliation as she remembered reporting to Bromos Grummer, the paladin trainer in Coldridge valley.
He’d taken one look at her and burst out laughing. “I dinnae want ter be unkind lass,” he told her “but yer not even big enough tae stand up straight in th’ armour! Come back when you’re a wee bit sturdier.”
“I’m 24,” Hulan told him indignantly “I dinnae think I’m goin’ to get much bigger! Please, let me try.”
Bromos could see the desperation in her eyes.
“Alright,” he said “I’ve some spare armour here that’s just been repaired. You put it on and if yer can run outta the door in it I’ll give ye a chance.”
He helped Hulan into the armour. She earned his admiration as she did actually manage to stand up straight in it but she almost fell over trying to walk in it.
“I’m sorry lass. I can see yer determined but yer just no big enough. Wi’ time yer might grow strong enough to wear mail but yer never goin’ to be able to carry plate,” he told her.
Too choked to speak, Hulan merely nodded at him and allowed him to help her out of the heavy mail.
Hulan’s father looked at the yearning in her face and sighed. “There are other ways to serve the light, yer dinnae have tae be a paladin. Yer could be a priest. Then again, ye’ve never showed any talent or desire for healin’ so mebbe not. What about a hunter?” he asked. “Yer slight but nippy on yer feet. Hunters wear leather armour fer the most part, ye’d carry that with no problem.”
Hulan looked disappointed. “A hunter, I’d never though of it before. I don’t see how bein’ a hunter serves the light though.”
“Ye’d be surprised lass. You ask any priest or mage who watches over them in a fight.”
Hulan didn’t look convinced.
“Tell yer what, why don’t yer give it a try and if it does nae suit, yer can always come back home.”
Hulan thought about it for a moment then nodded at her father, “I’ll give it a go. Who knows, I might find I enjoy it,” she grinned at Thorden. “Who do I go and see?”
“Take yersel’ along to Thorgas Grimson in Coldridge Valley, he’ll see ye get started.”
Thorden stood up and walked around the table and hugged his daughter hard. “Jes’ you remember, me and yer ma are proud of ye, whatever happens.”