Disclaimer: All characters, settings, etc. of the Warcraft verse belong to Blizzard, not me.
Spirits White As Lightning
It was afternoon on their second day in the forest, and the light rain that had been falling all day had finally lifted. Jaina had just finished going through a complaint about their orc allies, the second that day. She was surprised, honestly--usually there were at least six or seven by noon. Must be something in the rain, she decided, setting the parchment aside.
Sighing, she pushed the parchment far, far away and got up from her desk, stretching. Now that the rain had stopped, she supposed it was as good a time as any to make good on her promise to help Duke Lionheart inspect the western defenses. She was just collecting her cloak and staff when a footman shuffled into her tent, somehow looking distinctly uneasy.
Er, Miss Proudmoore...
She raised an eyebrow.
he stammered, glancing over his shoulder hurriedly, the orc chieftain's here to see you. He looked back over his shoulder again, as if somehow afraid that he could hear him--though she couldn't see any indication that he was waiting anywhere nearby. Jaina only arched her other eyebrow, surprised.
He is? Why?
I...er, I'm not really sure. I didn't think to ask.
She sighed. All right, tell him I'll be there in a minute.
The footman hurried out the door, obviously trying to compose himself so that he wouldn't look quite so skittish in front of the warchief. Jaina only pulled her cloak on and fiddled with a rip in the hem for a few seconds before heading outside.
A few drops of rain still clinging to the tent flap dripped on her as she passed under it, and she scowled.
Is something the matter, Miss Proudmoore?
Despite herself, she jumped. Then, scolding herself for being caught by surprise, she turned to the orc standing next to her and offered him a faintly tight-lipped smile. No, no, nothing's wrong...
The stern expression on his face didn't change.
They stood there in uncomfortable silence for a few moments after that, neither quite looking at the other. For all they'd been forced to work together in the past few weeks, Jaina had to admit that Thrall still had a tendency to make her feel nervous and jumpy. Then again, she thought, he is almost seven feet tall...
Finally, she managed to break the silence, gently clearing her throat. You...my footman said you'd come to see me?
She almost started to fidget, then caught herself. What is it? If it's one of my troops, I'm sorry, but--
He raised a hand to stop her. No, your troops aren't the issue.
Oh, gods. --she didn't even want to know. They'd already had their fair share of in trying to get their respective races to even think about working together. And it had been going fairly well so far, she thought--nobody'd gotten at each other's throats with knives yet, after all. If some sort of major problem had come up now...
Then...what is it?
I've been thinking, he said, in a tone of voice that even she recognized as slightly hesitant. We've just shored up the eastern defenses. I was wondering if you'd like to take a look at them.
She blinked at him for a second. Why? I'm sure they're fine. And the eastern side of camp is the orcs' side, was the unspoken conclusion to that thought. They both knew it, and she was surprised he'd even brought it up--much less come to see her personally.
He shrugged. If we're going to be allies, I only thought...
We are allies, Thrall.
He stared down at her. Suddenly, she felt very small indeed. Miss Proudmoore, if there are still demons lurking in the forest, our defenses should be at their best--on all sides of the camp.
And it might be a good idea to have uniform defenses, too, she finished, surprising even herself. Thrall smiled--well, at least she thought it was a smile. It had something of a menacing edge to it, whatever it was, though she didn't think he'd intended it that way. Or she hoped so.
Well, she supposed that she couldn't argue with that. It made sense. All right, she said, offering him another weak smile. Lead the way.
He turned and walked off without another word, leaving her to follow after him and try to match his long, loping stride. For an orc his size, he had a certain grace in his step--like a wolf stalking its prey. She shuddered at the thought and drew her cloak up tighter around her.
For the most part, no one paid them any heed as they made their way across the camp. Everyone was too busy trying to get things in something akin to working order to notice much of what was going on around them. Those that did see them only shook their heads at the sight--a human sorceress walking alongside an orc warchief--and went back to whatever it was they'd been doing.
The closer they got to the east side of camp, the fewer humans Jaina saw, and the more often she felt eyes on her back. Thrall somehow managed to ignore them all.
he said, startling her.
The look he gave her was at best patronizing. She flinched. he repeated, motioning to a long line of newly constructed watch towers. After reports from the Warsong remnants of strange, flying beasts, we thought it might be a good idea to construct additional towers.
She nodded. That's a good idea...I'll have to pass it on to Duke Lionheart.
he said, frowning. It took her a minute to realize why--then she quickly buried her head deeper into her cloak to hide a blush. He'd passed on the information about the flying creatures to her yesterday.
After an awkward pause, she cleared her throat and motioned to the ridge the watch towers were built on. What sort of sentries are you thinking of placing?
We've limited it to only a few warriors for now. But as soon as our scouts return with a map of the area, we should know how to place the rest. He led her over to a large copse of trees, resting on the hillside that led up to the ridge. We were going to place a few riders on the ridge, but they hardly had room to move, so they'll be kept on patrol on the area underneath the towers.
Jaina blinked--that might well have been the most he'd ever spoken to her since they'd met. I see, she said, deftly stepping over a tree root. What about these trees?
He stopped and turned to look back at her. What about them?
She leaned against a tree trunk, feeling the rough bark dig into her back. It had to be one of the few trees she'd seen that didn't have some sort of lichen growing on it. If I were the enemy, I'd use it as a way to sneak up on you. It might be better just to chop them down--and we could use the extra lumber.
He looked at her for a long time before replying. he answered, his voice low and almost--almost--angry, we managed to save some of the stockpile the Warsong clan harvested. We have more than enough lumber.
As for the trees...the trees can stay. There's something about them. Spirits, perhaps. He offered her another of his half-smiles. Besides, I've made sure that there'll be extra patrols through the area.
she sighed again. All right then.
Once again, a silence fell between them. Jaina stood there and contemplated the mossy undergrowth under her feet and the soft pat of water dropping from leaf to leaf. Finally, she pushed herself away from the tree she'd been leaning against and began wandering. Every so often, she could catch a glimpse of their base through the leaves. From a distance, it didn't look quite as chaotic as it did up close.
Thrall, do you really think the demons are still out there?
He had to stop and consider her question--she could see the thoughts flickering across his faded blue eyes. Then, I think so.
The infernals we fought on the Barrens couldn't have been summoned by Grom. He does--he didn't have that kind of power.
She offered him a small, genuinely sympathetic smile at the mention of Grom's name--she knew what it was like to lose a dear friend; too well. But if Mannoroth was destroyed...
He took a step closer to her, frowning. That doesn't mean he's the only one, Miss Proudmoore.
she said, her face pinching into a frown that almost matched his in intensity. I suppose not. I don't think Mannoroth--never mind. Forget I mentioned it.
The large hand that dropped onto her shoulder was unexpected, but not necessarily unwelcome. Still, she jumped, and had to work hard to keep from instinctively flinching away from him. Cairne mentioned the rumors that have been circulating among your footmen. His voice was quiet, subdued. And you're right. Mannoroth couldn't have orchestrated the destruction of Lordaeron alone, and he couldn't corrupt your friend so easily.
I didn't think so. She leaned against the nearest tree, watching the activity at the base through the leaves. He didn't make any motion to move his hand. And the prophet wouldn't badger us into an alliance over just one demon.
Thrall chuckled, a deep rumbling that she could feel all the way down to her toes. Are you trying to say that you didn't agree to our alliance, Miss Proudmoore?
She thought on her reply for a while. As I remember, you weren't very happy with it, either.
he said, I wasn't. But I was even less happy about Grom.
She could tell from the tone in his voice that that was still very much a raw wound. For the most part, she'd avoided mentioning anything about that entire disaster by not talking to him, and that had seemed to suit him just fine. But sometimes there seemed to be no avoiding things.
Thrall, listen... She turned around to face him, forcing him to pull his hand away from her shoulder. To her surprise, she found that she immediately missed that small measure of comfort. I don't blame Grom for what he did to my people. The demons had control of him; I understand. He wasn't...he wasn't in control of his actions.
I was. The guilt in his eyes was unmistakable. She flinched again.
And so was I. I attacked your...your, er, men because you looked like the easiest target. You retaliated. She started to reach out to rest a hand reassuringly on his shoulder--well, maybe his elbow--but stopped herself at the last second. It's over and done with. We have demons to deal with now, don't we?
He nodded, his resolve seeming to strengthen. The guilt was gone from his eyes as if it had never been there. He glanced over his shoulder at the ridge just beyond, and the watch towers. If you'd like to see the rest of the defenses, Miss Proudmoore...
She smiled--a true, genuine smile. Of course. And please...call me Jaina.