Stormwind was different.
Salandria knew it would be different, knew it because her mother had told her as much and because of the pretty pictures in the guidebooks they had been looking at together on Saturday evenings, with Salandria curled up between Liadrin and Yrel.
"See, that is the Great Cathedral of Light," Yrel had said, in her accented voice, pointing at colorful photos of great plate glass windows in a myriad of colors. "That is where my foster father would take me to feel the Light, and give me comfort."
They had been met at the airport by Yrel's foster father, a great big Draenei, in a colorful shirt with a long, white beard.
"Please, call me Velen, child," he had told Salandria with a warm smile when she'd started calling him "Mister" in her early confusion and jet lag.
That first afternoon had been one big mess of "different" poking at Salandria's senses, so many humans and dwarves and more night elves, which had impressed her the most of all.
In a quiet corner, near that big church Yrel had spoken so much about, there had been a shop, run by a night elf woman who had winked and smiled at Salandria when she'd admired some feathered charm bracelets laid out on a felt cushion.
When Salandria had told her about her biology teacher and how he'd once taken them on a field trip into Eversong to make their own charm bracelets something in her glowing eyes had changed and she'd plucked out a very different bracelet, with a small claw dangling from it on a leather strap.
"I think this one will suit you well, child," the woman had said before attending to another tourist customer.
As they had left, Salandria carefully counting out her coins from the exchange with the night elf shopkeeper, she had stopped to gape at the figure that had just emerged from the crystal shop next door. She was big alright, but what really drew Salandria's attention was the greenish color of her skin and the jut of tusks from her mouth.
"Mommy, mommy!" she's whispered, tugging at Liadrin's sleeve. "Is that an orc?"
"Half-orc, I think," Yrel had said, studying the large woman out of the corner of her eye as she arranged a display outside the shop.
"What have I told you about staring?" her mother had said.
It had been hard not to though, as they turned to leave. But when the half-orc woman caught her eye she actually smiled around the tusks and Salandria waved at her as they turned the corner.
Where Silvermoon was built tall and elegant, there had been something short and squat and sprawling about Stormwind, so there had been plenty of tram rides to get around the city, with stout dwarven drivers calling out station names as they rattled along and energetic gnomes controlling their tickets.
There had been the old mage quarters, now an elegant park, where Salandria saw more night elves, walking around, speaking their own language which was so similar, but still different enough that the words got muddled in her mind. She resolved that she would practice harder and also perfect her Common if she ever came back here.
The Dwarven District was fun, because here Salandria actually felt tall for a change. They had had a lunch here, in a warm, cozy tavern where the waiter joked about serving Salandria some ale, which was not fully appreciated by her mother.
For all the strange and fun things Salandria saw, sometimes it was a relief to come back to Velen's large, quiet house, where she could curl up on the little pull out bed and nap, trying to digest all she'd seen as dust motes danced in the light coming in from the window, the sound of Stormwind filtering into the room from outside.
One day they took a day trip to Ironforge, so hot and noisy, but there had been the awesome museum with all the bones and things. Salandria had finally begged her mother to get her a replica claw from the big dragon they had there on display.
"That will have to be your next birthday present, honey," Liadrin had joked as they left, Salandria clutching her prize in its brown paper bag.
Then, on one of the final days of their trip they had booked a ticket for the great big grand tour of Stormwind Keep, the Stormwind royal palace
"They are a bit like our royal family," her mother had said. "And they don't live here anymore."
Salandria had wilted a little when she'd heard that.
"So, why do they still call it a royal palace, if they don't have any royals anymore?" she'd asked.
"They still use it for official functions," Yrel had said. "When there is a holiday celebration, like the Great Day of Peace, or a royal has his or her birthday, then they open up parts of the palace for the public and if you are lucky, you can get close enough to shake one of their hands."
"It's too bad it's not one of those days then..." Salandria had said, chewing her lip. "I want to see if they look any like ours."
Yrel had laughed at that.
"My sweet, royals are people too, in the grace of the Light, we are all the same."
Well, what the Stormwind Keep had been once upon a time, it was kinda boring now.
Or maybe it had just been the tour guide, who'd droned on about about some tapestry or piece of furniture which had not interested Salandria one bit. It didn't help that there had been an old lady there who'd kept going on about some old men she didn't know who they were, Lothar this or Bolvar that. There were so many old paintings of bearded men on the walls that Salandria has started to zone out after the first two rooms.
When they had finally come upon something truly neat, this cool looking sword that hung above an impressive, yet very unlit fireplace, the tour guide had just barely mentioned it.
"And this here is the famous blade Shalamayne, which last saw use in the War of the Scourge some 15 years ago."
Salandria was drawn to the weapon, almost like two swords in one, and she could have sworn that a light had flickered in the center of it, just for a bit. So caught up in it had she been, that when she looked up, the tour group had left.
Feeling a chill in the pit of her stomach, she took off in the direction she assumed they were going and that feeling had quickly turned into icy claws in her chest when she failed to locate any other living being.
All she saw were endless hallways with dusty carpets and foreboding men and women staring at her from their picture frames. It all smelled dusty and old, the unlit wax tapers on the walls enhancing the sensation of a place left alone to grow musty and old for years.
She tried to retrace her steps, perhaps find her way back to the entrance with the gift shop and the information desk with the perky Draenei lady, but somehow every turn led her to more dusty hallways and more dusty rooms, filed with increasingly terrifying old statues and paintings.
The final straw came, when she decided to dig out her phone to call her mother and discovered that she had dropped it.
"Mommy!" she'd screamed, letting it echo through the empty hallways, even though she knew it was useless. "Yrel!"
She crumpled to the floor, hugging her knees as tears formed in her eyes.
"Mommy! Daddy! Yrel! Velen! Rommath!" she cried, between heaving sobs that shook her body.
Deep in her fear and misery she wondered if this was punishment for losing her phone, even after her father had told her to be careful not to. For not staying close to them, as her mother had said, even though the tour had been a bit boring.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she began to mumble with a tear choked voice. “Mommy please, I’m sorry! I’ll never run off again!”
The creak of an opening door scared her into silence.
“What’s all this then?” in the doorway stood a tall, stout looking human, his greying hair her only hint that he was probably pretty old for a human.
“Who is it, Wyll? Salandria heard a different voice say, younger definitely.
“It’s just a little elven girl, your Majesty,” the older man said, turning around to address the other speaker. “She appears to be lost.”
“Wyll, I told you there’s no need to call me your Maje--oh.”
The door had opened wider to admit a young man with blond hair and kind blue eyes, which he had trained on her where she sat on the floor.
“Hello,” he said, smiling at her. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Salandria shook her head violently, stalling until she could get her voice under control.
“H-how can you tell?” she asked, willing her chest to stop heaving, as she wiped at her face.
The young man, perhaps not much older than the boys that went to the high school down the street from her school, crouched down next to her, even though now he’d surely get his nice looking pants all dusty.
“Well, I know for a fact, that the eyes of northern elves have a slightly different shine to them, like yours do,” he said, still smiling, “and I have a half-elf friend to compare it to.”
“I-I have a half-elf friend too,” Salandria volunteered. “She goes to my s-school.”
“Is that right?” the young man said.
“I was going to get her a present from the gift sh-shop,” Salandria said. “But now I’m lost and I dropped my phone and I want my Mommy and Yrel!”
Salandria felt ashamed when the tears came back, pouring down her face as her chest heaved in misery.
“Hey, hey,” the young man said. “It’s okay. I am pretty sure I can help you find them for you.”
Salandria stopped, peering up into his clear blue eyes.
The smile he offered her made his eyes sparkle in the light of the hallway.
“Well, I kind of know my way around here,” he said with a grin. “And I happen to know the exact route of the tour group.”
He looked up to the older man, still in the doorway.
“What time is it now, Wyll?” he asked.
After consulting an old fashioned looking watch in his pocket, the older man looked back at the young man.
“It appears to be four o'clock sharp, your Majesty.”
The young man shook his head, but when he turned to look at Salandria again he was smiling.
“That means they should be back at the gift shop about now,” he told her. “How about I show you the short cut back there?”
Salandria finally swallowed down the last of the tears, wiping her face on her sleeve as she crawled to her feet, then nodded eagerly at the young man.
“Thank you, mister,” she said.
It was almost like magic, how the doors he picked seemed to lead to new places, until they became familiar. This time she did not linger by the amazing sword and stayed close to the young man, daring even, to grab at the hem of his shirt to make sure she did not lose him.
Then finally they were back in the noisy entrance and in the busiest center she saw her mother.
“Salandria!” she cried, running to meet her, scooping her into her arms. “Where did you run off to? You had us worried sick!”
New tears threatened to spill from Salandria’s eyes, when she saw that her mother had been crying too and her mother almost never cried.
“I’m sorry!” she croaked. “I didn’t mean to and then I dropped my phone!”
“I found it on the way back,” came Yrel’s brittle voice as she walked up to them, worry in her cool eyes.
And then she froze, seeing the young man that was still half a step behind her.
“He helped me get back,” Salandria offered, looking over her shoulder at him.
“I’m sorry that I never introduced myself.” he told her. “That seems impolite of me.”
“I’m Salandria,” she told him, tucking a strand of hair behind one ear, because yes, that did seem like the polite thing to do to your rescuer and hero.
“And my name is Anduin Wrynn,” he told her, holding out his hand for her to shake.
“Pleased to meet you,” Salandria said, her smaller hand in his, and managed an actual smile at him.
Yrel meanwhile, was just making a strange sound at the back of her throat and her mother had suddenly grown a bit more pale, exposing the freckles on her cheeks.
“Honey,” her mother said in a hushed voice. “Do you know who that is?”
And it was then that her brain reminded her what the old man had called the blond man, had called Anduin.
“Are you the King?” she asked him, her voice hushed as well.
“I hope I don’t look that old to you!” he said with a grin. “But then, my mother has always said I act like I am far older than my years.”
“He’s Prince Anduin Wrynn,” Yrel managed to say and she was halfway to performing a courtesy when Anduin stopped her.
“Please,” he said. “I came here to escape attention, not have it drawn to me.”
“My apologies,” Yrel said. “But you have helped us greatly today.”
“It was my pleasure,” Anduin told them. “It’s not often I get to talk to anyone my age, or younger.”
When he locked eyes with Salandria, she thought he looked sad.
“Want me to show you my favorite things in the gift shop?” he asked her. “You did want to buy a gift for your half-elf friend, right?”
Salandria nodded and with Liadrin’s nod of approval she followed the future King of Stormwind to do some shopping.
He lingered by a colorful display of books, before he turned to her.
“What do you think your friend would like then?” Anduin asked her.
“Not a book, “ Salandria said as she drifted over to a display of replica jewelry. There was an amazing pendant, shaped like that fancy sword. Looking at the pricetag she sighed, but decided it had to be this or something lame.
After she had handed over her money from her dwindling stash of pocket money she saw that Anduin was still standing by the piles of books, looking through them. She wondered if the shopkeeper knew who he was cause she was glaring daggers at his back.
When she walked up to him he showed her the book he’d been flipping through.
“Stories From Old Azeroth“, he read out loud. “This was my favorite growing up. War of the Ancients, Demons and Dragons… “
“It’s my favorite too! Especially the bits with the dragons!” Salandria said, looking at the glossy cover with the red dragon on the cover. “But then I dropped it in the bath and it got ruined. Daddy said it was a life lesson.”
Anduin looked thoughtful for a moment. “Do you think he would mind if I got you a new copy then?”
“Really?!” it was all Salandria could say, as Anduin walked up to the cash register lady and paid for the book.
“You were being so kind to your friend back home, I thought you should have something too, “ he said as he handed her the book.
“What do we say, Salandria?” her mother said, who had regained her composure now.
“Thank you so much!” Salandria cried, skipping up and down like a happy zandalari pig.
“Now we truly owe you,“ Yrel said with a warm smile for the young man. “And I must insist now.”
Anduin pulled at an unruly strand of hair that had escaped from his ponytail.
“Are you three free tomorrow afternoon?” he asked. “Because I happen to know the location of the best ice cream in all of Stormwind. In all of the Eastern Kingdoms perhaps, but I think present company might object.”
Anduin smiled down at Salandria.
“It had better be really awesome ice cream,” she said with a grin.
Liadrin laughed and thanked Anduin again.
“We will meet you there then,” she told him.
“If the ice cream isn't the best you’ve had,” Anduin told Salandria in parting. “You can braid my hair. “
Salandria had to admit it was really good ice cream and the shop was nice and cozy, run by this gnome with bubblegum pink hair, who made sure that Salandria’s scoops were extra big.
“I call it my ‘small stature discount’,” the gnome said with a wink.
Velen had come along too, constantly brushing nut brittle crumbs out of his beard and bright shirt while Yrel rolled her eyes at him when she thought no one saw. And Anduin had brought along his half-elf friend, who introduced himself as Arator.
“Don’t you agree this is the best ice cream you have had, Salandria?” Anduin asked, licking caramel ice cream off his spoon.
“It is pretty good,” Salandria agreed. “But Hathorel’s is better, don’t you think so, Mommy?”
“Hathorel’s does have something truly special… But this is very good too,” Liadrin said, in her most diplomatic tone she used when Salandria tired to get out of doing her chores.
“I must choose this one,” Yrel said.”It is such a familiar flavor… “
“So that's two votes each,” Anduin said, turning to Velen with a warm smile.
“Ah, I cannot be made to choose, young Anduin,” he said, shaking his great bearded head.
“Arator?” Anduin asked next and the equally blond half-elf pinked up.
“I’m sorry, Anduin,” he said. “Aunt Vereesa took me on a trip to Silvermoon City for last Winter’s Veil and Hathorel’s ice cream… It was pretty magical…”
“Even you, my Arator…” Anduin said dramatically and shook his head in mock dismay with a hand pressed to his heart.
He then moved his chair closer to Salandria’s and pulled the tie from his hair.
“I have conceded to your victory and thus I offer you your prize.”
“Here, I have a nice ribbon for you to use,” Arator said with a grin and then gave Salandria a pretty purple one.
“Twice a traitor then,” Anduin said but he was smiling at Arator like how her Daddy smiled at Rommath.
Arator helped Salandria make the braid extra neat and pretty, without a hair out of place. She was about to put the ribbon in when her mother picked up her phone and her smile just vanished.
Salandria fussed with the ribbon when she saw Liadrin show the phone to first Yrel and then Velen. After Salandria had almost dropped the ribbon twice Liadrin finally spoke to her.
“Honey, your father just got home from his trip and… something happened, while they were out hiking.”
Salandria felt her body go numb and the purple ribbon fluttered from her limp fingers.
“Is Daddy okay?” she croaked out, hugging herself to stop herself from shaking.
“He says he’s fine, “ her mother said, a worry crease between her eyebrows. “But your Uncle Rommath… He’s pretty sick. “
“More sick than before?” Salandria asked, her voice dropping to a whisper.
Liadrin turned to both Yrel and Velen before answering.
“Yes, a lot worse than that.”
And that's when Salandria started crying for the second time in as many days. Because this was Rommath who was never sick and she knew her Daddy liked him too and how was she supposed to show Rommath these new steps she had been practicing on now?
She was only vaguely aware of Anduin speaking to her mother and Yrel in hushed tones, while poor Arator feebly patted her on the back. Only some words reached her as her brain forced the idea of a world with a person missing in it on her.
“I could try...”
“...but how could we...”
“I think I know a way...”
“Because I have been told the Light came to me for a reason,” Salandria heard Anduin say, “and I feel it in my bones that this is one very good such reason. “
Salandria crawled up in Liadrin’s lap, like she had always done when she was little.
“Mommy, I want to go home.”
Liadrin rocked her gently, humming a soothing melody.
“We are going home, honey cake,” she said. “Your new friend is offering us his family’s private plane tonight. And he is coming with us so he can help your Uncle Rommath. “
“Really? “ she gaped at her.
“Really,” Anduin said, his eyes still kind, but also serious.
Salandria had no more words left in her, and what she could have managed were drowned in more sobs.
“Hey,” Anduin told her later as they were obeying the words of the captain and strapping themselves in for the flight back to Quel'Thalas. “After I have seen to your friends, maybe you can show me this amazing ice cream parlor you have up there? “
Salandria nodded, hugging her new book to her chest.
Rommath was looking loads better when Salandria walked into his hospital room that morning. He was sitting up in his bed and his eyes shone with recognition when she entered.
Her father smiled at her from his seat by the bed and he brought her in for a one armed hug.
"Hey, how's your mother?" he asked her.
"Anduin's daddy keeps calling and asking if she's kidnapped him," Salandria told him. "She keeps telling Yrel to take it when she sees the number."
She could see her father's eyebrows twitch and from the bed she heard Rommath let out a strangled sound, it almost sounded like a laugh.
"Anduin says not to worry," she added. "He says his daddy is a little weird."
"Oh, please, I want to hear that the King of Stormwind flew Economy to bring home his wayward son," Rommath said. That was definitely amusement in his voice.
Relief and joy competed for power inside her and she hopped over to Rommath's bedside.
"Are you feeling better then, Uncle Rommath?" she said, beaming a smile at him.
He nodded at her.
"No small thanks to your new friend," he said, then glanced up, looking at her father, who got up from the chair.
"I'll go get us all something to drink from the cafeteria," her father said, stopping to squeeze Rommath's hand on the way out.
Salandria claimed the chair her father had vacated and pulled out the book she had brought with her, the one Anduin had bought for her at the castle gift shop.
"I was really scared when I heard you were sick," she admitted to Rommath. "And.. And then..."
She chewed her lip thoughtfully, her hands clutching the book.
"I want you to have this," Salandria finally said, holding out the book to Rommath, who raised his eyebrows.
"This thing?" he asked, giving her a quizzical look. "Isn't it yours?"
Salandria chewed her lip again, wondered if you could chew through your own lip before she spoke again.
"It was a present from Anduin," she said. "But then he made you better and that's an even better present... And I never had time to get you a gift in Stormwind..."
"You didn't have to get me anything," he said, leaving his mouth open as if he had something else to say, but then he closed it again.
Salandria began to flip through the book, past colorful illustrations of night elves and antlered tauren fighting demons, past dragons soaring through the sky, past the art that portrayed The Betrayer as he made a deal with the great lord of the demons.
"Salandria?" Rommath's voice made her look up again.
He was looking at her, with his dark thoughtful eyes, like when they were showing off a new routine they'd practiced on in dance class. And just like then, when his eyes would soften into praise, so his eyes softened now.
"Your father has asked me to move in with you," he said. "So, how about you hold onto that book for me until then?"
"Really?" she asked.
Rommath nodded and he shifted his position on the bed, leaving a space next to him. A space Salandria quickly got off the chair to claim.
With the book now in front of him, Rommath began to flip through it too, making little noises here and there.
"Do you have a favorite story?" he asked her.
At that moment her father returned, carrying a tray with three paper cups in one hand and a paper bag in the other.
"We're reading my book, Daddy," she told him and Lor'themar smiled back at her, leaving two cups and the paper bag on the small table next to the bed, then he took his own cup and somehow managed to slide in next to Rommath's other side.
"The bed's too small," she heard Rommath complain.
"It's not," her father responded, sipping on his drink.
"You'll spill," Rommath said.
"I won't," her father said. "But if I do, you can punish me however you see fit."
"My favorite story is the one where Ysera and Alex helped defeat the evil Galakrond," Salandria announced and flipped to the corresponding pages, where a red and green dragon flew just out of reach of a scary monstrous looking dragon.
They read the full story together, taking turns, her Daddy making a really great Galakrond voice, as Rommath shared the content of the paper bag with them. Then they read the other stories, from beginning to end, with only one short pause when they got to the story about The Betrayer.
And that's when it dawned on Salandria, that this was something she might be able to do again, if Rommath really was coming to stay with them.
She hoped she would get to thank Anduin again, properly, for making sure this could happen. And maybe sometime she could come back to Stormwind with her Daddy and Rommath and then she could find a proper gift for Rommath.
But for now, this was more than enough.