Iyo was getting nowhere. The furbolgs records were all over the place. He'd gone from reading several accounts of the War of the Ancients to reading what seemed to be an incomplete cookbook. The druids had just collected as many scrolls as they could in Ursine and filed them at random. Iyo was surprised that none of them had taken the time to learn the language.
"Simmer the rabbit in the briarthorn infusion for 3 days before application." Sounded more like a medicinal cookbook. The chair across from his scraped across the marble floor and echoed in the cavernous library. Iyo looked up from his scroll to find Nara smiling at him from across the table. He loved Nara-time; he spent all morning looking forward to it and all afternoon replaying it in his mind.
"And what does this furbolg think is important enough to record?" She reached for the scroll and Iyo lifted his elbow so she could slide it across the table. He knew she couldn't read it, but she traced the swirls and squiggles with the tip of her finger.
"I haven't decided if it's a cookbook or a collection of homeopathic medicines," Iyo shrugged, "It could be both."
She studied the scroll, smiling at the careful diagrams and sketches further down. He studied her - the curve of her nose, the arch of her brow, the curiosity in her amber eyes - committing it all to memory. Today she wore a deep sapphire gown with a neckline low enough to expose her shoulders and collarbone.
"We were expecting her to come as well."
His eyes flew up to hers and Iyo could feel the blood rushing to his cheeks. Who were they expecting?
"Your sister. Whenever I asked anyone about you, she was always mentioned in the next breath. We thought we'd be getting two for the price of one."
Iyo chuckled. "And what would Leda do in a library? She'd die of boredom - literally. I'm not exaggerating."
Nara laughed - By Elune, her laugh was beautiful! - and it echoed across the domed ceiling. Iyo smiled, resolving to make her laugh again. She caught him watching her and there was an awkwardness, a still anxious moment that Iyo was frantic to break, lest she leave early.
"Well, I'm sure we could find something for her to keep her busy. I just received Commander Shadowsong's memoirs - the ones I've been pestering him about for ages. I'm sure she'd find the tactics useful and they're in Common."
"I have no doubt she'd be fascinated, but Leda can't read." Iyo panicked, "I - I shouldn't have told you that. You won't tell anyone, will you?"
"Of course not. But you - I mean, she won't learn?"
"She's stubborn and proud. If any of her troops saw her struggling to read even the most basic Orcish bedtime story…"
"Her secret is safe with me," Nara smiled, miming the locking of her lips and passing him the imaginary key. He took it with reverence, pocketing it over his heart. "I should like to meet her someday though. Or at least, I'd like to meet her whilst she is not in the process of dying on my doorstep. I know how important she is to you. It seems the whole of the Cenarion Circle knows how important she is to you." Nara smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. Her beautiful amber eyes left his and she turned her head to look toward the stacks, suddenly interested in the dusty shelves. Teal green locks hid her face from his. When she looked back at him, the elf sat up a little bit straighter and her smile was a little bit fake-r. She passed the scroll back to him. Nara-time was over until tomorrow. They both had important research to do.
"Legionnaire Amakkar, along with his troops from Zoram'gar, have agreed to stay on for the offensive at Astraanar. He's assured me that no reinforcements will get to the city via the coast and all efforts will be made to divert any hippogriffs from Darnassus," Leda moved the brown and blue pawn from Zoram'gar back to Hellscream's Watch.
"The more, the merrier! Or at least, that's how I expect it goes during an offensive…" Aethalia picked up a purple and gold rook only to set it down again when Zeb shook his head. The piece was back on the table before Leda noticed and the planning resumed calmly.
"If we attack from here..." Leda slid nearly all the pieces from Hellscream's Watch (leaving only the pure red rook – their defence guard).
"Den all dere forces be defending in dat one spot," Zeb finished, shuffling a few of the pure purple pawns to meet the Horde forces. Leda said nothing, tapping her lips with a finger while she pondered the options.
"We could split our forces, like -" the tauren shuffled them around until there were two groups of brightly coloured chess pieces, "- this. With two equal groups, we will split their defences thinner than they already are."
"Didn't we do something similar at Maestra's?" Aethalia piped up, "If any survivors made it back to Astranaar they will be expecting two fronts and possibly have prepared for it. I'm sure some did so we should plan for it." Leda nodded. She was becoming predictable – the ultimate insult to any military tactician.
"Three fronts then? And we do it backwards this time," Leda bit her lip and snatched up the brown and orange rock that served as the marker for the Braves. "I attack here with the first front, making the elves believe its our main attack. Zeb, you will lead the second front over here. In both cases we'll build bridges of our own, drawing attention toward our fronts. Meanwhile, the Braves will circle around to what is now the lightly guarded south bridge to attack their defence force from behind."
"Dat could work, Ledabuhr," Zeb grinned, "Da only ting I be worried 'bout be da defense forces ov'rwhelmin' da Braves."
"There aren't really any other units trained in guerrilla warfare – siege units would take too long to circle around, spell casters need better protection than a handful of tauren with vendettas..." Leda sighed, there didn't seem to be a solution.
"Oh! Wait!" the priestess was bubbling with excitement. "Its so perfect!," she squealed.
"Are you going to explain any time soon, Aethalia?"
"Oh! Yes! Well! Every unit, or at least most of them, has got one or two members that are especially adept at ... procuring things. They're sneaky, quiet and unfortunately fantastic at eavesdropping," the elf blushed, but didn't elaborate. "We could temporarily re-assign them to the Braves and the elves wouldn't even see it coming – literally!" Aeth giggled.
"Dat could work."
"I like it," Leda mumbled, busying herself with selecting a plain white pawn and trying to choose a paint to represent the temporary all-rogue unit. Her fingers hovered over robin's egg blue before landing on canary yellow. She dunked the pawn in head-first. "So its settled. Call the commanders in for briefing tomorrow at sunrise."
Isfrael cursed as a long shadow fell over the ward crystal he was re-calibrating. He'd have to start again. With a heavy sigh, the elf looked up to find the strange new orc standing in the last few rays of the setting sun.
"Wut dat?" he asked, pointing a stubby finger at the crystal.
"This?" the mage held up an apple-sized rough cut crystal softly emanating a blue arcane glow, "It's a crystal which controls a series of wards that make it impossible for members of the enemy races to infiltrate our camp. And yes, you did just interrupt me."
The death knight laughed. "Stoopid albai. Roks nub keep dem owt!" But the elf only smirked and waved his palm over the crystal. Gohrr was quiet a moment, but when nothing happened the orc chuckled one more time "Roks! Har!" And then he tried to get into the camp again.
He walked and walked. And walked. To Isfrael, inside the wards, Gohrr appeared to be perpetually taking the same step. The elf stood, crossed his arms and smirked. "Stupid orc. Don't underestimate things you don't understand." The sun had set and only a few pink streaks remained in the purple blanket of dusk. He'd be back later to add orc death knights back onto the guest list.
"Dinner smells great!"
"Ah Isfrael, we be jus' wonderin' where ya be off ta."
"The orc patrols knocked over another ward crystal. I'm beginning to think they're doing it on purpose. Maybe it's a game. Or they're taking bets on how long it takes for me to crack." The mage settled into a patch of ground near the fire, leaning up against the fallen log Aethalia was sitting on. Shepard's pie was passed along and the 43rd ate in satiated silence.
"Has anyone seen Gohrr yet today? He might not eat, but he usually drinks his weight in that awful orcish ale while we do."
Everyone shrugged and Leda went back to her meal. The whereabouts of her babysitter were not her top priority.
Leda turned in early and Aethalia wasn't far behind her. The sun was just barely setting above the leafy forest canopy, but both of them had an impossibly early start tomorrow. The elf was asleep after a couple minutes, but the tauren lay awake for far too long.
Outside, the troops were celebrating. Leda could hear the bawdy drinking songs all mixing and carrying over one another from the camps below. Most were orcish – songs about honour and death and blood. But beneath the cackling and clinking mugs were the low, melodic, haunting snippets of a traditional tauren song. It sounded familiar, yet not. Leda and Iyo had spent the majority of their lives outside the tauren community. Even now, while Iyo might be able to identify and participate in tauren rituals and ceremonies, it was as an outsider. He did so out of respect, not because it was a part of him. Iyo identified more with druidic culture and the Cenarion Circle than tauren or even Horde culture even if he did want to identify with his tauren traditions. There was a time whe-
Thoughts of her brother's identity cleared away like smoke on the wind. She knew the song that the tauren sang. It was traditionally sung at funerals.