A stirring among the spirits heralded the sorceress's arrival. The great element's focus turned sharply towards Thrall's chambers, thickening the air with power. The chalk circle drawn on the hardwood floor ignited blue, space twisted, and the sorceress appeared.
Thrall had seen few humans since he had left the sorceress Jaina Proudmoore's fortress on Theramore Isle, almost two years before. Few human incursions on Durotar's soil were severe enough to require his personal attention. Of late, he had spent much time in parley with Sylvanas Windrunner and her loose-jointed, shambling Forsaken, at the behest of allies at Thunder Bluff. The difference between the firm-skinned young woman standing before him now and that newborn, ex-human species struck him almost simultaneously with the comfortable pleasure of being in Jaina's company again. It was unfortunate they never met under favorable circumstances.
Jaina Proudmoore's vision resolved on the Warchief with a heavier heart. She alone knew the gravity of the matter she had come so far to discuss. The way some incalculable weight seemed to lift from Thrall's features with her appearance forbade her from letting on to the severity of her charge so soon. Although she had spoken to Thrall in the odd letter since their last meeting, she knew he must carry more burdens now than when they had first met.
In abstraction, even as she cast the spell that would bring her to the mark she bade Thrall draw to guide her, her charge had seemed a simple task. She must have forgotten how gentle and genuinely optimistic Thrall's nature really was, she thought, if she was feeling guilt now. Clad in a simple shirt, stitched pants and hide boots, Thrall was still a formidable size -- cut from thick, green skin and hard muscle -- but he struck a less imposing figure than when suited in Orgrim Doomhammer's black and brass armor. Jaina could count on one hand the number of times she had seen him so reposed.
Thrall set the small, bound volume he'd been reading on the floor beside him and rose from the bearskin rug on which he sat, stepping forward to meet her. At his full height he was close to nine feet tall; considered large even among his compatriots. "Sorceress, it's a pleasure to see you," he greeted with a nod of acknowledgement.
"Warchief. Throm'ka," she returned with a nod of her own.
"Please," Thrall offered, his wide lips parting over predator's teeth in a genial smile. "Have a seat." He gestured politely to the bearskin rug and the sorceress accepted his offer, laying her staff down beside her.
Thrall's quarters were well-appointed. Jaina was a little ashamed to recognize her prejudice when she registered surprise at the shelves of books and works of artistic craftsmanship lining its walls. It should have been obvious that the well-spoken orc -- with his clean, precise handwriting -- was an intellectual. Although she'd seen him pour over maps and notes, Jaina had never imagined the pursuits Thrall might be inclined to in leisure. A low lying table surrounded by smaller rugs suggested the orcs' sensibilities yet reflected their formerly nomadic lifestyle. Thrall's signature armor was situated on a frame next to a long window. The legendary Doomhammer, however, stood on its broad head near the rug, a close accessory for an orc whose position invited unexpected assassination attempts.
"Would you like anything?" Thrall was going on to offer. "No one, of course, knows that you're here, so I'm afraid we don't have much food on hand other than meat. It would be unusual to request those cooked -- but our tea isn't so different." Thrall found it amusing to play the host. It was not a position he had much experience at. His upbringing had afforded him nothing to play host to. After Doomhammer's death he had had a great number of intermediaries to fill the role for him.
"No. I'm all right, right now," Jaina demurred. "But, thank you."
The warchief nodded once more and strode back to the rug to join her, sitting. "Most of the books are gifts, or . . . confiscations. The past year has begun to see a few orcish writers, but we're traditionally an oral culture," he explained in response to her long look at his bookshelves, the pride in his voice unmistakable as he spoke of his people. He took no offense at Jaina's surprise, although it was hard not to feel a passing disappointment. Even the most open-minded humans had the tendency to underwrite the orcs. He could count only three who, having known him long in his youth, had truly not thought twice to recognize his intelligence.
Jaina smiled at the honesty of the revelation. She had received more than one humbled human entourage at the doorstep of her fortress. Often overly zealous crusaders, they had been lucky of the Horde's mercy, being allowed to leave their encampments with rations for travel and their lives. It was unlikely they imagined orcs, trolls, or taurens making use of their worldly possessions.
She sobered as she brought their conversation towards its point, knowing what she had to say despite how easy it would be to talk of other things. "Do you know why I requested to meet you here?"
Thrall's expression closed off. He was still smiling and not yet less relaxed, but the sentiment behind his blue eyes became more difficult for Jaina to read. "I've had my suspicions since your last letter. I preferred not to make assumptions."
Jaina studied the orc quietly before speaking. They were almost the same age, only a few years past twenty, but Jaina knew -- from both rumors and observation -- that Thrall had been through more than she in that relatively short time. He had been a leader longer, also. When they had campaigned together they had rarely talked politics, once the initial tension between them had worn off. She wasn't completely comfortable pitting herself against him as a dignitary. She had only a little experience and her memories of her father to act from, while Thrall, she suspected, had not only more experience, but had probably studied human politicking in books. Even disadvantaged, it was no time to let her self-confidence falter. When she spoke, her voice was sure. "Alliance informants have reported the Horde has been meeting frequently with Sylvanas Windrunner and her Forsaken. They report that you and Sylvanas have met personally in both Orgrimmar and Undercity."
Thrall lapsed into his own silence, but he didn't fail to meet her eyes. His pleasant expression faded to a grimmer one, but he looked somber, only, with no hostility. He had been afraid that Jaina had come for this reason, but he knew avoiding truths that would soon be known to the world at whole would strain his credibility with the sorceress, the only member-in-good-standing of the Alliance he could hope to negotiate with. "I have never misplaced my faith in trusting you, Jaina," he said, at last. "I rely on your discretion, now."
Feeling the gravity of his implicit request, Jaina still nodded her acknowledgement. She felt a momentary relief imagining she might receive some explanation for the disturbing but well-supported rumor.
"The Horde has entered into a coalition with the Forsaken. In a month's time, we will make that known to the Alliance. We will be sharing resources and intelligence. We hope to establish an intercontinental transportation system."
Jaina's relief was short-lived. Thrall's matter of fact admission chilled her. She wondered with sudden paranoia if she had misjudged him over the four years since she'd first met him. Now she was at the heart of the orc stronghold, alone. Although she was a prodigiously talented sorceress, she had seen Thrall's powerful command of orcish shamanism and was uncertain which would prove outmatched.
"I understand why the Alliance will be fearful. Alone and divided, the Horde and the Forsaken might be routed by Alliance forces. Together, we rival you in strength of arms." Thrall spoke carefully and evenly.
"Sylvanas Windrunner's second in command is a Dreadlord, Thrall." Jaina's voice was quieter than she'd expected. Her stomach churned with sickness.
Thrall was studying the sorceress behind a front of impassivity. Although Jaina was doing all she could to mask it, her body language radiated her apprehension.
"That is true," Thrall agreed, his deep voice less sympathetic than it could have been. "But Varimathras is weak, and a coward. He has sworn fealty to Sylvanas out of fear. He would simper after me or you if he thought we would show him favor, and the Burning Legion has abandoned him."
Jaina winced, torn between her trust for the warchief and their incongruous stance on Sylvanas Windrunner's Forsaken. The memory of Arthas' sudden turn to the side of those same aberrations was still fresh in her memory although years had passed, and still painful. She found it hard to believe the walking dead could be trusted, however they fragmented among themselves.
She wanted to be anywhere but Orgrimmar doing anything but having the conversation she found herself in the middle of. But she had turned away from Arthas, expecting him to come to his senses. She couldn't turn away now and risk the same result. It was difficult to pick up her courage. She felt frustration sinking in. "You can't really mean to take in those--"
Anger coursed through Thrall's black blood and he pushed himself to his feet. The sorceress fell silent, but was confused short of fear. The warchief had turned from her and taken two strides away. He hovered for a tense moment on the precipice of pacing, wrestling with the offense he felt -- much deserved, but some irrational.
"--monsters?" he finished for her. His deep voice was so sadness-softened it was almost inaudible, but it hid neither his choler nor his disappointment. His enormous shoulders sank with a sigh of exhaustion. He turned towards his window, and then crossed the floor, preoccupied, to look out over his city. It was a minute before he could collect his words. "Should I condemn them for being sacrificed to bondage for their leaders' gain? For having their better natures encouraged to violence?" It was an early hour and the streets had little traffic. There was only a lone troll leading a package-laden kodo, on his way into The Drag to make a delivery. "They are vicious creatures." Thrall's heavy brow furrowed deeply. "Perhaps it's better not to give them the chance to bite my hand." He turned his gaze back to the sorceress, who looked very small on the dark, wide bearskin. "You're right. Sylvanas intends nothing good for the Eastern Kingdoms. She doesn't love the living." He saw the sickness stricken in Jaina's gentle blue eyes. He had forgiven her already. In the course of his life, forgiveness rarely seemed enough to change the inflow of onrushing tides. "Ask me to exterminate the Forsaken, Jaina. Show me reason."
"Thrall," she said, instead, her eyes hot, but dry. "I'm sorry." She forced herself to hold his gaze, although she quelled with shame. "You never gave me reason to doubt you. There's just so much pressure, now -- I should have stopped and thought."
Thrall's blood was quick with irritation, but his words were steady. "You can't expect to understand," he corrected fairly.
Jaina swallowed back the bile rising in her throat. She shook her head, the pain of ignominy clenching her chest. "But I want to."
Thrall couldn't sustain his anger in the face of her deflation. It was enough knowing he had the right to. "It would give me no comfort to see the humans yoked as my people were." He smiled sad and weary over his tusks. "What it would take for you to really understand I would gladly give my life to protect you from, if it was mine to give."
Jaina's attention swam with unexpected distraction. For an interval of deja vu, it felt like arguing with Arthas, and Kael'thas. Funny, she thought, torn between sentiment and self depreciation. This is the part where I would kiss you. She found a smile of her own meeting his in return. It was no better heartened. "I wish it could be just us. But I wouldn't want you to die for me." Funny.
"It's true the land cries out where they step," Thrall said, glancing out his window once more. "But this land once cried out beneath the boots of orcs; its spirits screamed when we passed. Now, this land shelters us, and the spirits offer us their strength." He could feel the stirrings of hope in himself, that feeling still five years new. "Have faith in me," he asked. It was a request between equals, a hope, but not a plea.
"Thrall," Jaina murmured. He turned to look at her. She could feel her heart breaking already. It had learned what to expect. "I killed my father for you," she said.
Thrall wanted to say it was he and Rexxar who killed her father. Not Jaina. Not herself. Instead, he didn't speak.
"It's just the way you left me-- the way everyone leaves me," Jaina went on, chidingly. She was amazed that the fact that had brought her to tears in the past was no more than a fact, now. That was the way of the world they lived in. "It's not all blood, and duty, and honor -- but that's how it ends. It took Kael'thas, and Arthas, and my father." She felt as if she was someone other than herself. She wondered when the woman she was had buried the girl she had been. "It's taking you, too. I can see it. I can't stop it." She softened at the pain she saw in him, subtle beneath the surface. "We're too young to be this tired."
Thrall wondered why he never moved every time he had the chance to reach out to her.
"Write more often, Thrall," Jaina encouraged, her smile strengthening with her certainty. She hadn't felt young in years. "You know who to send it through."
Thrall remembered another human woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. He remembered a hundred shared letters. Her duty, his honor, and Aedelas Blackmoore's blood. Tari, he thought futilely. If you could help your little brother, now.
The sorceress Jaina Proudmoore had already grasped her staff, and she had risen. Building magic had glowed a silent blue, and she was gone.