Young Dallahath Halosword walked carefully down the stairway to the cabins of the old ship, swaying from side to side as he tried to keep his balance, a bowl of watery chowder gripped tightly in each hand. He and his guardian, Sir Caderis, had spent the last two days squatting in the cramped hold of a hastily converted cargo ship with nearly a hundred other refugees. It was dark and cold, and the thick, musty air stank terribly. Wordlessly, Dallahath handed Caderis his bowl, then sat on the edge of a rickety crate and began to eat.
The war was over, and Stormwind lay in ruins. Every town and village had been burned to the ground, and more than half the population slaughtered outright. Northshire Abbey was no more, and with it had gone the only home that Dallahath had ever known. Even the mighty walls of Stormwind Keep, the greatest fortress ever constructed by humans, had failed to stop the ruthless Orcs. Within the shattered remains of the Keep lay not only the corpses of the bulk of the Stormwind Army, and the refugees who had sheltered there, but of King Llane Wrynn himself. The few civilians and soldiers who had managed to evade the Horde troops had fled to the farmlands of Westfall, on the other side of the Forest of Elwynn, where they huddled on the coast near the ruins of Moonbrook, waiting for their pursuers to arrive.
They would have all been exterminated within a matter of days, had it not been for the arrival of the last great living lord of the land. Lord Anduin Lothar had returned, all but too late, from the eastern tower of Karazhan, bringing his troops with him. Seeing that all was lost, the Royal Armsman took charge immediately, ordering patrols to range all up and down the coast and seize every ship they could find. Other soldiers supervised the gathering of food and water by the frightened civilians...and the rest marched out to hold off the Horde. A ring of sharpened stakes had quickly sprung up on the western bank of the river, and groups of knights and archers had ranged out into the forest, making lightning raids against the scattered Orcish camps and killing any greenskins that came too close to Westfall. The broken survivors of Stormwind held out for six days while the ships and supplies were prepared...then they burned everything in sight, leaving a massive cloud of smoke to cover their escape. The Orcs, lacking ships of any kind with which to pursue them, were left to watch from shore as their victims escaped from their grasp.
As Dallahath swallowed the last of his meager fish stew, two men came down the hatchway into the shadowy hold. Both were tall and haggard-looking, with graying beards that were long and ragged from days spent without benefit of shaving. One was wearing the dirty remains of what was once a set of long linen and satin robes, and he carried a worn wooden and metal staff. The other was clad in a mail coat and high leather boots, covered with a ragged fur cloak and an equally ragged and battle-scarred lion's head surcoat, with a plain sword belted at his side. These were Archbishop Alonsus Faol and Lord Anduin Lothar, the saviors of Stormwind, and Dallahath and Caderis both stood at attention as they approached them.
"At ease, men." Lothar raised one hand as they stood, and Dallahath relaxed - slightly. "We're all friends here. Alonsus and I just wanted to check on you, and to thank you both for taking such good care of your fellow passengers."
Caderis started to reply, but was interrupted by the sounds of the sick and injured. Coughing, moaning, and crying had been among the only sounds that Dallahath and Caderis had heard over the past few days. Each ship in the convoy had its own share of casualties aboard, and it was up to the few priests and healers on each ship to tend to them as best they could. The ship carrying Archbishop Faol and Lord Lothar was also carrying the most important and prominent refugees, and both leaders had specifically assigned 'the two Northshire scholars', as they called them, to their own vessel. Dallahath was honored to serve under them, given the unpleasant circumstances - but he would be relieved when the rigors of the voyage were finally over.
Archbishop Faol limped past them into the darkness of the hold, and Dallahath and Caderis followed him, pulling out both prayer books and bandages as they set about trying to save yet more innocents.
The ships had been at sea for four days when the lookout on Lord Lothar's vessel first spotted land. Dallahath had been on deck, airing out some very ripe clothing, when the word was raised. He walked over to the railing, where several dozen sailors and refugees were already gathered, and spied the dim, mist-shrouded gray shadow far in the distance. A painful surge welled up in him as he remembered watching the smoke-ridden shores of Stormwind falling out of view less than a week before, thinking that he might never see them again.
Dallahath deliberately turned away from the railing, heading back towards the hatchway. The sight of a safe haven should have filled him with relief and joy, but instead it only reminded him of everything that they had lost. He went into the hold quietly, walking to where Sir Caderis was busy changing bandages on a wounded footman. Dallahath began helping the knight with his task, then cleared his throat. "We're within sight of land," he said quietly.
Caderis only nodded, but Dallahath could see a measure of relief, and perhaps even hope, flood into his gray eyes. "That's good to know."
"What do you think, Teacher? Should we tell the men?"
Sir Caderis straightened uncertainly, taking a long, sweeping look across the dark recesses of the hold. "What did Lord Lothar say?"
"He told the signalmen to spread the word to the other ships, and everyone on deck either knows, or will know in no time...so I don't see any harm in telling them." Dallahath looked down at the tarred deck planks, his expression mixing hope and doubt at the same time. "It should raise morale...and it might even help some of the worse cases hang on just a while longer. Maybe even long enough to live."
Caderis nodded firmly, his whole bearing taking on the determined certainty that Dallahath was so familiar with. It was one of the many things that he so admired about his mentor - once he decided that something was the right thing to do, he did it, no matter what. "Alright then - help me light the torches. That should wake everyone up."
The two soldiers moved throughout the hold, leaving bright sources of light spreading in their wake. The sound of talk began to fill the quickly brightening hold as the wounded soldiers were awakened, and the still mobile ones began helping their more seriously injured comrades move up to the area near the hatchway. Word of good news seemed to enervate even the sickest guard, and within five minutes the hundred refugees had gathered to hear what Dallahath and Caderis had to say.
"Men, my squire Dallahath has just come from above decks. It appears that our exodus is nearly over."
There was an excited rumble of voices from the crowd, and Caderis raised his hand to quiet them. "We're within sight of land, my friends! If all goes well, we should make harbor before nightfall. We'll all sleep on dry land tonight!"
The hold reverberated with cheering, and as the suddenly hopeful refugees began to jostle and hug each other, Dallahath finally started to think that the survivors of Stormwind might actually make it through things after all.
The ships made landfall just before sunset that night, and despite the lateness of the hour, Lord Lothar was determined to establish a camp on the shore for the care of the sick and wounded. Everyone worked with renewed energy in the fading daylight, hastily erecting tents, moving food and water barrels off the ships, laying down bedding, and digging latrines. Dallahath and Caderis were left to move their one-hundred patients off the ship down to the shore themselves, carrying each man's stretcher one at a time.
Lord Lothar organized a number of scouting parties to survey the nearby landscape, in order to pinpoint exactly where they had landed. He was certain that the villages of Southshore and Tarren Mill lay somewhere nearby, and making contact with the local populace was the first step in ensuring their survival.
Personally, Dallahath was unsure about how their arrival would be viewed. Though tired, sick, and hungry, the Stormwind refugees were far from helpless. Nearly a third of them were soldiers, and almost all of them, even the civilians, were armed as a result of their ordeal. Dallahath doubted that the nearby inhabitants would be particularly happy about the arrival of several thousand armed vagrants in their own backyard, and it would probably take only a single incident to turn the local populace against them. Lord Lothar and his few remaining officers and subordinates were already doing their best to keep order amongst their citizens, but it would only be a matter of time before emotions would run high and someone would do something wrong. The last thing the survivors of Stormwind needed was to have the armed might of Lordaeron come smashing down on them.
As darkness finally enveloped the small camp, Dallahath and Caderis spent a long and sleepless night watching over their patients. Still, Dallahath was glad to be out in the fresh air and on dry land again, after having spent the better part of five days cooped up in a cramped ship's hold. When morning finally dawned, the two men were exhausted, but much work still needed to be done. The first unpleasant task they were set to was burying the bodies of four men who had died during the night. They then made ready to start organizing and expanding the hospital camp, but Lord Lothar then arrived at their tent, gave them a reprieve from their hard work, and ordered them to rest until midday.
Dallahath and Caderis slept for several hours, ate their noon meal, and emerged from their tent to find the camp transformed. Their soldiers had expanded the settlement, organizing three separate areas for themselves, the civilians, and the hospital. All of the casualties had been moved into four large tents, and a meager supply dump had been set up near the shore. As Dallahath looked towards a crest of small hills to the west, he saw several crowds of peasants standing in the distance, looking curiously at the large campsite that had sprung up in the shallow plain.
Lord Lothar approached them, flanked by two footmen, and Dallahath instinctively saluted. The great knight smiled and returned the salute. "We'll make a soldier of you yet, young Dallahath. Sir Caderis, I want you and your squire with me. I know that we'll need your help in the hospital for the foreseeable future, but right now I need as many people in my retinue as I can muster. We'll be meeting with countless local officials in the next few days, and we must make the right impression. The more knights and clerics I have with me, the more questions we can answer for these people."
Caderis nodded. "As you wish, my Lord. Will the Archbishop be accompanying us as well?"
"Yes, he will. He specifically asked for you to come with us, since the two of you are the longest-dwelling military inhabitants of the Abbey, and we both believe you may have some - interesting perspectives on certain things. Please make yourselves ready to travel. We will be leaving for Southshore no later than tomorrow."
Lothar saluted, turned and walked away, and Dallahath turned to his mentor. "What do you suppose he meant by that, Teacher?"
Caderis shrugged. "I'm not sure, Dallahath. He is right, though - most of the people who lived at the Abbey were scholars and clerics, not soldiers. You and I are the only people from there who are a little bit of all three. Given the threats we now face, maybe that's the kind of people that we'll need now in order to survive."
Dallahath and Caderis sat eating their breakfast in front of their tent, nestled in the midst of the makeshift Stormwind camp. It was their second day encamped on the shores of Lordaeron, and Dallahath had managed to gather up a little information from the perimeter guards in that time. The small town to the west of their camp was Southshore, and the even smaller farmstead directly on the north edge of the camp belonged to a farmer named Nethander. No doubt he was no less bewildered and alarmed than the townsmen about the arrival of so many people on his doorstep unannounced, but he seemed to be taking it in stride. He and his family had come down to the center of the camp at Lord Lothar's request, and were even now meeting in the largest of the tents.
"When do you think we'll get to leave, Teacher?" Dallahath had been anxious to get out of the camp and see this new land for himself, and Lord Lothar's stated intention to include the two of them in his personal retinue had only elevated his excitement.
"Not until Lord Lothar sends for us, Dallahath." Caderis continued to eat, sitting calmly where he had been sitting for the last two mornings. The old warrior didn't seem to share his pupil's excitement about being in Lordaeron, and Dallahath suspected that his master was having a much harder time dealing with the destruction of Stormwind than he was. It was actually more frightening thinking about how his teacher was feeling than it was remembering the horror of the war. Caderis was the only father Dallahath had ever had, and the young man depended on him for everything. The thought that something was disturbing him so profoundly that he was losing his way was almost too terrible for Dallahath to contemplate. What was worse was the fact that Dallahath had no idea what he could do to help his teacher - assuming there was anything that could be done at all.
Perhaps all that Dallahath could really do was be patient, do his duty as well as he could, and stay focused on the situation at hand. Sir Caderis may have lost his home, but he still had a purpose. Eventually he would realize that - Dallahath was sure that he probably just needed some time to do it in. The pain was still too recent for him to simply shrug it off...but with time, he'd come around again.
The large flap of Lord Lothar's tent swung open, and the great knight emerged, as did the family of farmers. Dallahath watched as the powerful nobleman stood respectfully, holding aside the tent canvas for commoners who would normally never find themselves in the presence of a man of such high-born rank. Even in a land not his own, he still protects those who cannot protect themselves. He gives them the respect that others do not.
Lothar and the Nethander family crossed through the midst of the camp towards the hospital. The farmers cast astonished glances all around them, their eyes widening each time they saw a Stormwind soldier. It was obvious that they had never before seen such a massive gathering of people in one place, much less in their own backyard.
What seemed to affect them even more was what they no doubt saw in the soldiers' own eyes. All of the blue-clad Stormwind warriors were dirty and weary-looking, their armor dented and tarnished, their uniforms torn, stained, and tattered. Most of them had at least one slight wound. Others had bandaged heads or legs, arms in slings, or legs in splints. Everyone's blue tunics were stained with streaks and splotches of dark red. Yet as Lothar passed them, they all rose to their feet and saluted. For a single instant, all signs of pain and despair faded from their faces, to be replaced with admiration and respect. As soldiers, Lord Anduin Lothar was the last leader they had - as men, he was their savior. He had saved both their honor and their lives, and for that they would follow him into hell.
Dallahath watched the men, all of them older than he was, as they silently greeted their leader, and he watched the Nethanders, following in stunned silence, watching Lothar with dawning comprehension. It was then that Dallahath realized that the Stormwind refugees might actually be able to fit well into this new land. Their loyalty to Lord Lothar would make him the perfect ambassador, because their loyalty would quell all doubt that the leadership of Lordaeron might feel as soon as they saw what the Nethanders were now seeing. What was true of a simple family of ordinary farmers would be just as true with kings and nobles. Loyalty was strong currency in the marketplace of diplomacy, and the unwavering loyalty of those who followed him would back up every word that Lothar spoke.
Dallahath and Caderis followed suit with their comrades as Lothar and the Nethanders walked up to their tent. Though only thirteen, Dallahath felt every inch a soldier as he rose and saluted. He desperately wished that he could be counted as such by the battle-hardened men that surrounded him...but he knew he wouldn't be. An unascended boy didn't usually rate very high in the minds of veteran soldiers, no matter what his skills.
"Sir Caderis...Dallahath. I had hoped that the two of you would be good enough to accompany myself and the Nethanders here -" Lothar gestured to the six commoners following him - "to our meeting with the local officials of Southshore and Tarren Mill."
Dallahath broke into a broad grin, but quickly erased it as Sir Caderis threw him a stern glance. Lothar cracked a slight smile as he saw the young man's composure break, then continued. "Archbishop Faol will be coming with us as well. We're bringing you two because the two of us agreed not to bring any regular soldiers...as a show of benevolence to the locals. Technically you two will be our bodyguards...but I'd rather have you help us handle any rough patches we might run into with the mayors."
Dallahath's elation returned quickly as Caderis replied. "Of course, my Lord. We are both happy to serve. You're sure that you want Dallahath to come?"
Lothar gave Caderis a steady look. "He IS your apprentice, Sir Caderis. I think he should go where you go, if only for the benefit of his education. He may be young, but his Age of Ascension comes in less than a year, and we need every good man we can put our hands on. Better to have him be well-trained sooner rather than later."
Caderis simply nodded, wordlessly conceding Lothar's point. "Very well. We're ready to go when you are, my Lord."
Lothar nodded briskly in approval. "Very good, then. Let's go for a walk."