This is a story about the character Alanthis Shadowmoon.
The mercenary, or at least that’s what Alanthis assumed he was judging from his dirty, unkempt and heavily armed appearance, leered at her over the rim of his ale mug from the table opposite. She tried not to meet his gaze, pulled the hood of her cloak further over her face, and looked down at the Blackrock medallion she was holding in her tiny hand, thumbing at the intricately carved orcish design as she waited for the serving wench to return with her dinner. It occurred to her that she could have picked a better place to stop for a meal and a night’s rest; then again, she had visited the Scarlet Raven many times in the past, and these were not the tavern’s usual patrons.
Alanthis looked up to see yet another group of trail-weathered and well-armed men entering the tavern, shaking the dust from their travelling cloaks as they looked about, hoping to find a seat near the fireplace after riding through the chill of the cold Duskwood night. They muttered unhappily as they were forced to take a table in the far corner, a few of them casting dark glances in her direction, sitting alone as she was at a table within a few feet of the blazing hearth. A young girl blocked her view as she arrived at the table burdened with a wooden platter generously laden with a selection of roast meats and bread, a dusty clay jug of wine, and a pewter goblet, all of which she placed before Alanthis as carefully as she could. She could feel the stares as her food arrived – most of the tavern’s visitors tonight were dining on the “house stew”, which, by the looks of it, was no doubt served from a large cauldron into which whatever was left over at the end of each day was thrown and left to simmer on the kitchen fire. The jug before her contained what passed for a fine wine in Duskwood, which was not particularly fine at all, but still a far cry from the cheap watered-down ale people were drinking at the tables around her. Alanthis began to regret not taking her meal in her room. She gave the girl a smile, and reaching for her hand, pressed a silver piece in her palm as thanks. Her room and meal were already paid for, more than she had deemed it was worth, but judging by the bustle in the inn this night she surmised that the innkeeper was taking full advantage of the sudden increase in traffic through Darkshire.
It was the because of the Portal, this she knew. Word had begun to spread, and no doubt the King was seeking to fortify his lands in whatever way he could. She knew he could spare few soldiers from the defence of Stormwind, so no doubt he had dipped into the royal coffers and was sending as many sell-swords as he could find or afford to swell the ranks of Nethergarde Keep. She wondered absently how much faith the King had in the forces of the Argent Dawn, for he no doubt knew that they had begun to mass their forces near the Portal. She looked around at the men and women in the Raven, the coin in their pockets and the drink in their bellies no doubt helping to quell their fears at the destination they were bound for. Alanthis felt momentarily sad for them, for they had not the faintest inkling of what awaited them in the Blasted Lands. Two days ago she had stood before the Portal, shoulder-to-shoulder with the warriors of the Argent Dawn – she knew all too well what they were to face at the end of their journey; and she knew they would not likely return. Pouring herself some of the wine, she silently toasted their wasted lives as she raised the heavy goblet to her lips.
Two large calloused hands landed heavily on her table and the smell of sweat and cheap mead filled her nose. Alanthis did not look up, but broke off a small piece of bread, dipped it in the gravy on her plate, and placed it gently in her mouth. Her unwelcome guest leaned further over table until she could feel his breath stirring the hood of her cloak as she chewed.
“’Allo miss. We was wonderin’ if we might join you at yer table. Seems you’ve go’ a nice spot over ‘ere by the fire, and you could fit a few more in I’d wager.”
Alanthis looked up at the speaker from beneath the shadows of her hood. He was large and unshaven, armoured in with a motley assortment of leather and mail pieces which were covered loosely with a sleeveless quilted hauberk. At his side hung a beaten-looking broadsword, clearly the wrong size for his frame, and his hair hung in greasy black strips, plastered to the sides of his head with dirt and sweat. He was grinning, his teeth remarkably white, but his eyes held no mirth. She imagined him picking his equipment from the corpses on a battlefield.
“Perhaps you could wait a few moments,” she answered politely, her voice light and pleasant. “I will be finished shortly, and then you may have the table all to yourselves. I have no desire of company tonight.”
The expression on the soldier’s face changed, his eyes grew dark and malevolent and his brow furrowed. He stood up to his full height, the mismatched armour creaking under the strain of his generous girth.
“I don’ think you really understand, miss. See my friends and me” – he gestured to three equally large and filthy men standing a few feet behind him, warming their hands at the fire – “are joinin’ you at yer table, see. We’re cold an’ ‘ungry, and the company of a pretty lass like you wouldn’ go amiss neither.”
Alanthis looked down and sighed to herself; she had been hoping something like this wouldn’t happen as she’d watched the tavern fill up with people. Again she cursed herself for not eating in her room. She drew her hood back from her long blonde hair, matched the man’s gaze and smiled guardedly, standing as she spoke.
“Well sir, you are in luck – my appetite is quite gone, I believe I shall retire to my room now. You may enjoy the table and whatever is left of the food and the jug of wine, with my compliments.”
A broad hand landed heavily on her shoulder. By now people at the tables around them had begun to watch the exchange with amused interest.
“Oh no dearie, like I said - the boys an’ me was looking forward to the company of a lady. You sit down now, ‘ave some more wine.”
Alanthis reached up and gently took the hand from her shoulder, and as she did so the huge oaf dropped suddenly to his knees with a resounding thud on the wooden floorboards. Not a sound issued from his lips; his eyes stared straight ahead, face twisted into a mask of pain. The tables around hers fell silent as people stopped what they were doing to stare. His companions stepped forward, then halted, entranced and confused by the improbable scene of the man kneeling before the robed young woman. Even on his knees the mercenary was almost as tall as Alanthis, and, still holding his hand, she leaned in close to his ear and spoke softly.
“Do you see this medallion?” she asked, holding the orcish trinket up in front of his stricken face, but not waiting for an answer before continuing, her voice no more than a whisper. “I took this from a Blackrock orc, a champion of his tribe, who dared to cross me only yesterday. I do not speak orcish, so I can only imagine that his pathetic mewling was his kind’s way of begging for his worthless life as I tore his soul from him and cast it into the Nether. Now – do you think perhaps you and your friends can find somewhere else to sit so that I may enjoy my dinner?”
The mercenary nodded wordlessly, his teeth clenched and his gaze still fixed on the medallion, sweat streaming down his forehead and dripping off his chin. Alanthis straightened and released his hand, and he fell forward onto the floor, catching himself before his face hit the rough-hewn wooden slats. Calmly she returned to her seat and pulled her hood over her face once again as the man’s companions came gingerly forward to help him to his feet. Around them the tavern’s patrons quietly returned to their own dinners and hushed conversations, most doing their best to avoid looking in Alanthis’ direction.
Painfully aware of people’s forced nonchalance, Alanthis took another sip of her wine and tried not to think of Lake Everstill, of crowds of jeering people spitting her name like a curse. Chiding herself for the thought, she took some solace in the fact that almost everyone in the Raven that night would be lying dead before the Portal not a week hence.