Epilogue: The Courtesan
The dock's bells, chiming high and clear over the din of Ratchet's noisy piers, was the loudest sound that could be heard on the southeastern edge of the port city. On its outskirts, a small distance away from the raucous bustle of trade and travel, the din was muffled and the crowds were absent from the less developed land. There were platforms built over the rocky portions of the shoreline to give ease to casting a line into the waters that were not framed by smooth, gradually sloping beach. Broad leaved, tall palms bowed at their trunks cast cool shadows over the piers, making them coveted and prime fishing spots for those that sought not only a bountiful catch, but a quiet, cool reprieve.
Cast over the rail of one of the piers, a fishing line tugged and jerked in the water. Despite the insistent pull at the rod wedged securely between its fisherman's muscular thighs and held at the neck by his large feet, the troll took no notice. Slumped back in an angled chair, his long, lanky blue-green arms hung still and lethargically over its sides. His chin was tucked against his chest, face hidden beneath the wide brim of a woven hat. Only the curve of his tusks and thick mane of curly fuchsia hair hinted at the presence of a head beneath the broad lip.
As motionless and limp as he appeared, his soft snoring was the only thing that revealed he was not a fisherman that had met a quiet death doing what he loved most. Not even the echoing ring of the distant bells broke his sleep. Nasally purrs rumbled from beneath the brim of his hat in tempo with the slow rise and fall of his chest.
His long ears flicked faintly when the thump of soft feet padding up the stairs of and down the pier vibrated the wood planking. Still, the troll did not stir, even when the feet walked right up to his side. The person they belonged to stood quietly, waiting for a reaction from the deeply dozing fisherman. It wasn't until the brim of his hat was lifted that he stirred at all. Light spilled across his face, which twitched and scrunched as he snorted awake. The troll cracked an eye open, the dilated black pupil surrounded by a sunrise orange iris, and looked blearily at the face blurred by his sight and darkened by shadow from the sun gleaming behind it.
"So, this is what you do in your spare time when you're not rescuing elves in distress, eh?" teasingly asked the light, feminine voice. "It's a little less…gallant than what I imagined."
The troll's sleepy countenance quickly shifted to one of bewilderment at the sound of the familiar tone. As his eyes further focused and adjusted to the light, the colorless shapes of the face looming above him sharpened into soft, pretty features. The elf smiled and the troll's gaze widened. "…Leyla?"
Leaning back so that he could sit up straight, the Kaldorei chuckled softly. "Hello, Rinji. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
Gawking up at the woman in disbelief, Rinji's thick lips split in a wide grin. "Well, ain' dis a surprise, bein' snuck up on while m'enjoyin' mahself on a pier," he chuckled. " 'Course, dere ain' a mon getting' too handsy wit me fo' ya tah save me from, but, it almos' be da same."
Leyla giggled and watched Rinji as he stood from his chair to put his large hands on her slender shoulders. "S'good tah see ya, Leyla," he said with a softer smile. "It has been a good while. I didn' t'ink I'd be seein' ya again anytime soon."
Her lips twisting and brow quirking in a dubious expression, Leyla canted her head. "Now that's hard to believe, being that there are red and gold Red Thorns banners all over Ratchet right now."
Laughing mirthfully, the troll shook his head. "Well, I knew dat dey was comin' back intah town but, eh…" He shrugged a little, rubbing the back of his neck beneath the thick, wild drape of fuchsia hair. "I wasn' sure if ya'd be wit dem. No offense to ya."
"None taken," she assured him, shaking her head with a gentle smile. "But I am, and I don't think I'll be going anywhere just yet."
Pleased by this, Rinji's grin did not subside and he bobbed his head. "So s'been, Loa…six…seven months since Booty Bay?" He gestured to his chair, offering Leyla a seat and taking up the pier's rail instead, leaning against it.
"Just about seven," she replied, lowering into the reclined chair, but sitting up straight. She smoothed the long folds of her simple skirt beneath her legs and gently put the small satchel she wore across her chest in her lap. "It's hard to believe time has passed so quickly. Though I suppose with so many events and so much travel keeping me busy, I barely notice when one day ends and another starts. It was like that in the beginning too."
"So business has been good den? M'kinda surprised, on account o' da war an' all dat. Figga'd dere wouldn' be too many mons tah be entertainin' wit everyone goin' tah Northrend."
Lips pursing ruefully, Leyla swept back the loose strands of her partially bound hair, now grown just below her shoulders. "It has changed things, yes. It's more noticeable in the capitals than the ports. So many have left. When we were in Stormwind, only the new port was busy. The other districts were nearly empty. It was...unsettling."
She smiled, looking briefly out over the railing of the pier and to the gently lapping waters beyond. "I'm glad to be in a port again. Places like Booty Bay and Ratchet are always filled with people. Most of them and the ships are going to Northrend, of course, but in a way, it's easier to forget what's going on when you're in a port more so than when you're in a capital." Her eyes met Rinji's again and she grinned wider. "Besides, when war comes, there is a greater need for escape and happiness, right? It's a part of our creed, after all."
Rinji's lips curled back from his sharp teeth and large tusks in a broad grin. "Spokin' like a true Red T'orn," he chuckled, thumbing up the brim of his hat. "If any place could use a leetl of yo' brand of escape, den it be Ratchet. Not many Horde soljahs goin' tah Northrend outta da port since da zeppelins be fastah, but dere's quite a few of da Alliance passin' t'rough. Alla da merchants sendin' ships north, since dere be plenteh of need fo' everythin' where da soljahs be goin'. S'busy 'round here, an' everyone on edge 'cause of what's goin' on."
The troll's lips pursed and his brows lowered in an expression of worry. "Tensions been hot 'tween da Horde and da Alliance. I know Miss Bella an' her boys look aftah ya well, but…be careful while ya here."
The earnest concern in his voice was endearing and Leyla's faintly flushed. She canted her head coquettishly, looking up into Rinji's eyes beneath the lip of his hat. "You'll look after me though, won't you, Rinji? You are my troll in shining armor, after all."
"Well, o'course I would!" he replied, puffing out his chest and folding his arms across it. "I jus' figga'd by now ya had a whole heap of mons fallin' fo' ya dat'cha didn' need ol' Rinji to keep his eye out on ya." His broad shoulders lifted in a nonchalant shrug. "T'ought mebbe ya'd even have one in particular dat's honey-sweet on ya."
The courtesan giggled, and her silvery eyes narrowed impishly. "Maybe I do. Or don't. Is that your way of asking if I'm involved with someone?"
Despite the layer of soft fur that covered his body, Leyla could still see the shift in color on the troll's cheeks. "Tch, nah, nah, I was jus', ah, sayin' I wouldn' be surprised," he replied with a snort, waving a hand dismissively. "Rinji already knows how dangerous it is tah fall fo' one of you pretteh fen'dir."
The troll hooded his orange eyes and chuckled lowly. "If anythin', I'd say it was you dat was feelin' honey-sweet on me, Leyla. 'Cause I don' t'ink ya was jus' strollin' down dis way an' happened tah see me."
Lifting one long violet brow, Leyla continued to regard Rinji with her faint, mischievous smile for a moment before slowly and gracefully standing from the chair. "Well, I was looking for you specifically, Rinji," she replied matter-of-factly.
"Heh, I knew ya were." Rinji shrugged and gave a heavy sigh of suffering, closing his eyes haughtily. "S'da curse of bein' so easy on da eyes. Da fen'dir jus' can stay away from me."
"Mmmm. I can see that."
Leyla's voice was low and velvety, and the quality of her tone made Rinji's eyes snap open in surprise. His gaze widened when he found the elf standing right in front of him, close enough that she was peering up at him beneath the rim of his broad hat. The silver glow of her eyes illuminated the shadows that fell across his face. "Heh, 'course, um, m'jus' kiddin' 'bout dat. You bein' honey sweet on me, I mean," he added with a playful—but nervous—snicker, taking a small step closer to the rail, though there wasn't much room left for him to move.
"I did miss you, Rinji," the night elf cooed in a soft murmur. Her lowered gaze was just as coyly flirtatious, as was the slide of her fingertips over the buttons of his vest. "I've been thinking about you lately. About your…invitation."
The knot in Rinji's throat bobbed as he swallowed hard. "Eh? Invitation?" he repeated in a croak.
"Yes." Leyla's fingers grazed over the V-shaped neckline of the troll's vest and lightly rubbed the sea foam-green fur there. She pushed herself up on her toes a little to bring her face closer to his between the wide set tusks that framed his mouth. "What you said you wanted to do with me?"
The elf leaned flush against the troll and, if it weren't for the rail at his back, Rinji would have tilted right off the pier. Leyla's petite nose was just a hair from the tip of his own and his eyes fixated on her beguiling glowing stare. "Uum, well," he muttered in a voice that was husky before he cleared his throat. The edge of the rail was digging into his palm and he forced his fingers to loosen their tight grip. "Dere be…a lot of t'ings I'd like tah do wit'cha, Leyla, but I doubt I evah tol' ya about any of dem, even aftah a few drinks."
"Oh, but you did. I assure you." Her finger moved to his tusk to trace the bone's curve while she sidled up closer to him to murmur against his lips. "And I accept your invitation, Rinji."
Her warm breath ghosted against his mouth and Rinji fought the urge to lean closer instead of away. "Ya…ya do?"
"Yes," Leyla whispered sultrily. "I will gladly…drink with you."
Rinji's reddened face quickly twisted in confusion, and Leyla giggled, pushing back from the troll to put a little space between them. "You don't remember, do you?" she asked teasingly, her tone much lighter. "You offered to buy me a drink if we had a rematch."
Still flabbergasted, it took Rinji a moment to blink himself out of his flustered stupor, and he smacked his palm lightly against his cheek. "Oh. OH! Heh, 'course I rememba! Ya jus', er, well, wrongly led me tah believe ya was talkin' 'bout somethin' else…" Clucking his tongue against the roof of his mouth, he waggled his finger at her. "Ya got me dat time, Leyla, fair play to ya. Ya getting' a leetl too good at dat. Ya make doz kinda eyes at a mon and he'll lose his head."
Cheeks still flushed under his blue-green fur, Rinji smirked with his goofy sort of handsomeness at her before reaching down to pick up his fishing pole. "We can go right now, if ya wan'. I got plenteh of fish already, and didn' have intentions of doin' much else today 'cept sleep an' fish."
Filled with a warm fondness for the troll and a giddy sense of pride that she was able to fluster him, she smiled apologetically. "I'd love to, but I need to take care of some things here in Ratchet before I get as drunk as a dwarf during Brewfest. A friend is expecting me for lunch." The night elf batted her eyes. "But I'd be grateful if you walked me into town."
Turning his head to look over his shoulder, Rinji grinned and winked at her between strands of his messy hair. "I'd be glad tah escort ya, mah lady," he replied. The troll gathered his bait and other fishing supplies back into his wooden tackle box before the pair walked together down the pier.
"So m'guessin' it was mah sistah dat tol' ya where to find me, eh?" Rinji asked when there was grass and sand crunching under their feet, the skyline of Ratchet ahead of them in the not so far distance. "How's she doin'? How're all of da oddah fen'dir?"
"She's doing well," Leyla replied, enjoying the gentle, cool brush of wind and the heat of the sun at her back. "She and Shri were away in Silvermoon to see Shri's family, I believe. A few other girls left for a little while as well. Some are even gone for good. I think the war has a lot of them scared. What happened with the Burning Legion was so far away, but now…well, comparatively, Northrend is so close."
Ears twitching lower, the night elf's face sobered. "Raezel retired. She joined the Argent Crusade."
"What? Ya kiddin'!" Rinji balked in surprise. His lips twisted in a frown before grunting. "If dere was one person dat I nevah expected tah leave…" He smiled ruefully. "M'sorreh tah hear dat, Leyla. Ya two seemed like ya was getting' close."
Glancing briefly up at him, Leyla smiled faintly. "We were. I was sad to see her go, but at the same time, I knew it was coming. After…after getting to know her, I just felt like she'd be leaving soon. Like it was something she would need to do." Her lips lifted again, as did her expression. "I don't fault her for that. She is as much a paladin as she is a courtesan, if not more."
"S'da way of life. Da Path o' Fate goes in all directions, and we're not always needed in da same place as our loved ones. And m'sure ya will see her again soon."
Leyla nodded and exhaled, as if to breathe out her wistful longing for the woman that had become her good friend. "You aren't going to leave either, are you?" she asked with a gentle elbow nudged in his side. "Many of the girls that are mages have been talking about going to Dalaran to help the Kirin Tor. Even Pallu mentioned it."
Scowling dryly, Rinji grunted and shook his head. "Da onleh way I'd evah let her go anywhere near Northrend is if I go wit her, and I sure as hell ain' doin' dat any time soon 'til da Scourge swimmin' up da shores of Durotar. I hate ta sound unsympathetic, but da both of us have fought enough wars tah last a lifetime. Ain' no reason yet tah be jumpin' into anoddah."
If she had any personal opinion on Rinji's apathy, Leyla kept it to herself. She reached out to squeeze his furry arm instead, and smiled prettily up at him. "I'm glad you're not going."
On their walk into the seaside city, the pair happily caught up with what had happened in the several months they were apart. Rinji hadn't been traveling since the Scourge attack on the capitals, and did little more than fish and sell his catches at the Crossroads or in Orgrimmar. Leyla shared some of her most recent experiences as a Red Thorn. None, thankfully, had been as dramatic as getting kidnapped, though there was a rather humorously odd instance some weeks ago in Gadgetzan involving a very drunk and very naked gnome on a stolen elekk. She spent most of the leisure, short walk talking about the other girls.
"I've gotten used to being the mistress of ceremony, but I still get so nervous when I'm up on the stage," Leyla continued as they crossed into Ratchet proper. At high noon, when the sun was at its hottest and many of the dock workers and sailors were taking a reprieve from the heat and their work with a cold glass of ale and a hearty lunch indoors, the port city was a little quieter. The crowds were not as dense and the din of activity buzzed at a much more tolerable level that was not deafening or disruptive to the pair's conversation.
"I'm nowhere as good as Cara, though," she chuckled, sweeping her violet hair behind her long ear, looking toward the distant piers of the dock. The Red Rose, one of the largest berthed vessels, bobbed faintly up and down on the calm waters, its red, black, and gold banners above egg-white sails fluttering gracefully in the wind. "I cannot deny that I won't be relieved when she can return. As long as her father is away with the Argent Crusade, she'll be in Goldshire taking care of his business. She's just so charismatic and witty on the stage, and the crowd loves her. Though I suppose I do alright, for an interim hostess."
"M'sure ya mo' dan jus' 'alrigh' ', Leyla," Rinji snickered, waggling his brow at her. "A pretteh fen'dir like ya'self be jus' da sort of t'ing tah keep a crowd's attention and warm dem up. An' I've seen firs' hand da sort of sass ya got in ya. I can't wait tah see ya on da stage again."
Chuckling with a demure grin, Leyla looked up at the tall, lanky troll. "Fen'dir. That means 'woman' or 'girl', doesn't it? I've been picking up a little bit of Zandali from Pallu, but I learned that word a while ago, from the friend that I'm going to go visit."
"Ah, so ya do have a t'ing fo' trolls, eh? Dis be a mon friend?" he asked with a mischievous purr.
She smacked her lips in reply, tittering in amusement. "My friend is neither a troll nor a mon, Rinji, and I'm having lunch with her and her son. So there is no need for you to be so passively jealous."
"Eh? Me? Jealous?" The troll snorted with an indignant toss of his large tusks. "Rinji don' get jealous."
"Mm. Just like Rinji doesn't stalk the girls, right?"
"I don't and nevah did stalk da girls."
Leyla considered calling the troll out on what was, technically, a lie per what Pallu had revealed to her many months ago in Thunder Bluff. By the way he grinned and his eyes gleamed rakishly when he looked down at her, it was obvious he was aware the night elf knew so. "So, if ya havin' lunch wit'cha not-a-troll-or-mon friend, whatcha doin' fo' dinnah? I was plannin' on fryin' dis fish an' I got mo' dan enough fo' two."
Stopping at the fork in the paved pathway that diverted to upper Ratchet and the far northern edge of the city, Leyla turned to face Rinji, looked at him beneath the shadows of his wide brimmed hat. The raffish air he had put on was absent from his face, which now exuded a coy hopefulness. She almost giggled at how boyish it made him appear, but instead she smiled. "I'd be delighted to join you for dinner, Rinji." Her lips quirked higher in a smirk and she reached into the small cloth bag hanging at her hip, rifling around in it. "On one condition."
The troll's heavy brow lifted and he bit his lower lip coquettishly. "Now, now, Leyla, I be an honorable mon. I won' have ya takin' advantage of me an' mah kindness."
Leyla rolled her eyes and huffed impatiently. She reached up and tugged at the brim of his hat. "Just lean down."
Rinji complied with a chuckle, stooping lower to allow the elf to stand on tip toe and reach up to his head. She fussed with slipping something into the band of his hat before leaning back and looking up at his head to admire whatever she had put there. The troll straightened his back and reached up to pat the top of his head. When his fingers grazed against the soft bundle of silk like folds, he blinked bewilderedly at Leyla as his cheeks flushed darkly.
His perplexed gaze made her laugh and she winked cheekily. "See you around, Rinji," Leyla cooed and turned away to saunter up the path toward the outskirts of Ratchet.
Watching the pretty night elf until she disappeared into the crowds milling around the port, Rinji smiled softly and sighed through his long nose. The troll chuckled and shook his head, tapping the rod of his fishing pole against his shoulder, and then turned the opposite direction toward upper Ratchet. He hummed softly under his breath as he strolled along the path, the sunlight bright against the red hues of his thick, long hair and the crimson rose perched in the band of his hat.
The print on the large posters plastered to Ratchet's lamp posts and outside its bank, taverns, inn, and other buildings of interest was bright red and deep black, legible to anyone whose eye was caught by the stark colors against the parchment paper. Beneath the ebony outlined stamp of a blooming rose, block letters in both Common and Orcish advertised:
Looking to forget the woes and wickedness of the world? In desperate need of some rest, relaxation, and escape? If the sun sets and the red tent is glowing, come join us for an evening of indulgence! Have a night of decadent pleasure at the Crimson Garden and forget all your problems!
There was indeed a red tent erected on the elevated portion of the city overlooking the port, trimmed with gold designs and banners bearing the emblems of the black and crimson rose fluttering in the wind. When the sun set and night blanketed Ratchet in its cool, dark blue embrace, the electric bulbs draped around the tent's pointed roof became illuminated with bright, coaxing golden light that shone hotter than the stars in the sky. Energetic, sultry music lofted from its interior and as denizens of Ratchet—sailors, travelers, soldiers, traders, and all manner of characters that frequented the port—begin to mill toward and into the tent, the din inside grew only louder and more jovial.
Like an enormous, nocturnal red flower, the Crimson Garden bloomed into a den of decadence and excitement, open and inviting to all that were curious and could afford it pleasures into its folds.
Yet the cacophony of conversation, music, and laughter ebbed into silence when a night elf walked slowly out onto the stage erected in the center of the tent. Dressed in sultry hues of red, the enticingly revealed portions of her pale blue skin appeared even cooler against the warm colors of her flowing gown. Her silvery eyes were hooded and her cheeks tinted pink as soft whistles and murmured words of admiration lofted from the mostly silent crowd.
"We are fantasies amongst the horrific realities of a war-torn world," she began in a clear, smooth voice that caressed the ears of her audience, drawing them further into her beautiful presence. "We are an oasis of peace and indulgence in the midst of blood stained lands. We bring joy to the down-trodden, hope to the bleak, and brightness to those that walk in the dark daily."
Stretching her arms out toward the gathered patrons, the courtesan bowed her head, painted lips curling into a sweet smile while her eyes gazed enchantingly into the faces of the mesmerized and the intrigued men and women. "We are the Red Thorns, protectors of all that is beautiful and exotic, bringers of dreams, and weavers of bliss. And we welcome you."
And so ends a nearly three year old journey. I am both saddened and excited to finally bring this story to a close. It's been a long time since I've worked on a project this long, and this is the first long-term one I've actually finished. I never expected Sirens of Azeroth to be a part of my life for nearly three years, but I thank all of you who read this story and enjoyed it with me for your continued support and patience during them. Seriously, you folks are the best readers a girl could have.
Please, for anyone who has followed this story from beginning to end, whether recently or since I first posted chapter 1, leave me a review and let me know what you think. It doesn't have to be long or detailed, but SoA has gotten so much love that I'd like to hear from as many readers as possible. Thanks to anyone who takes a few minutes to share their final thoughts on what was an epic endeavor for me.
And now, for some good news: While I am moving on to other projects, this is not the end of the characters of the SoA universe. At least not some of them. One of my two new stories, called "Penumbra", will feature two characters from SoA. Which two? Well, of course I won't spoil that, but I'll give you a hint and say that it isn't two of the most obvious ones. I'm very, very excited about this story, as it is co-written with a great friend and even greater writer, GentlemanCrow. I will be posting the story under my Fan Fiction account, but it will be written by her as much as it will me. It's a going to be a great collab that many of you will hopefully enjoy. As far as "Every Rose Has It's Thorn", it will continue to be updated, though sparingly, as I am more focused on getting "Penumbra" and my other story, a sequel to my troll lore tale "The Fire Dancer", up and running. Check my author's profile for a synopsis and updates as they come.
Also, as a shameless plug for those of my readers that may enjoy forum-based role play in the WoW universe, I belong to a new, but growing RP community called Stories of Azeroth. It's open to characters of all races and we invite anyone that would enjoy RPing in the Warcraft/WoW universe to come join us! It is 18+, but besides good grammar, an open mind, and respect for the lore, we don't ask for much else. So come check us out!
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Well, that's all I've got to see about that, I suppose. Thank you again for going on this journey with me.
Always yours, dear reader,