Chapter 1: Glory to the Sin'dorei
Black and gold banners lined the streets of Silvermoon - dancing in the flickering mage light that illuminated their prosperous, victorious city. Revelry and joy had been a common theme for days, now - all culminating in this night. The night of the Grand Banquet, where all were welcome.
Such things were no longer held in cloistered, Royal halls, no. They were open and warm and without hoops to jump through or names to know. Only one truly mattered, now. Only one had brought them here, to the city square among friends and family in the wake of the defeat of Arthas Menethil at their border.
“Regent-Lord Lireesa Windrunner!”
The pride on the aging face of the former General beamed from her, unmasked - for all to see - as she entered the square, resplendent in her black and gold regalia. Every eye was on her. Her children stood from the banquet table and turned to face her as excited shouts and cheers rang throughout the square.
“Thank you!” She shouted with an amused laugh that no one heard, but everyone could see. Despite the lines beside her eyes and the silver of her hair, her smile had remained unchanged through the years. It was warm and infectious and genuine. “Thank you all, but I’m merely old, not deaf!”
Cheering dissolved into appreciative laughter as she approached the head of the table and the revelers on the outskirts near the buildings came closer to the impossibly large table - one of only many set up meticulously so that every attendee would have a place.
“Besides, your gratitude is misplaced, surely!” Her hands came to rest on the back of her chair as quiet finally fell over them all. “It is, after all, us that should be praising your efforts. Your sacrifices. Your bravery in the face of yet another threat against our lands and our people. So, please, if you must cheer - cheer for yourselves. Cheer for each other. Cheer for the Sin’dorei!”
And they did. So loudly and so enthusiastically that it gave Lireesa a moment to take a sip of wine from a goblet being offered to her. Her eyes, alight with mischief and unabashedly pleased, fell on Liadrin. “A fine vintage. Thank you, Matriarch.”
Liadrin nodded softly as she stepped back again just in time for Lireesa to begin speaking once more.
“No small amount of my own gratitude, however, should go to my family.”
There was no argument, there, of course.
“Grand Magister Lirath - I thank you for your efforts with our Magi Corps and your tireless devotion to coordinating with our Rangers and our Farstriders. I know that, at times, the logistics can be quite trying.” She smiled at her son and they shared a knowing nod. Yes. It could be quite difficult working with ones sisters on a constant basis.
“Alleria, Ranger-Lord of the Farstriders, without whom our farthest borders would wait, unaware and unassuming of any threat facing our lands. Without whom, we might never have achieved this victory!” More cheering. More shouting. Some of it rather rowdy. Yes, Alleria had many friends, here. Friends that were likely already looking forward to the after-party her daughter would no doubt be playing a huge part in.
“Yes, yes.” Lireesa laughed as the response went on a little too long. “She’ll be here all week.”
Alleria smiled and lifted a hand to wave away the extra attention.
“Vereesa.” Liadrin’s attention shifted to her youngest daughter. “Who is responsible for the reformation of the Spell Breakers after the Banishment in time for them to return to the front lines when we needed them most.”
There were none among them who didn’t applaud Vereesa’s bravery in the face of their traitorous former Prince. Especially in consideration of her youth. Lireesa allowed her a moment to bask in the praise she had earned a hundred times over. Despite the flush in her cheeks, Vereesa was still smiling from ear-to-ear.
Finally, though, she moved on. She reached out and rested a hand against Sylvanas’s back as she spoke. “Your Ranger-General! Valor of the Forest! The woman who won us this war.”
Sylvanas, resplendent in her dress uniform of black velvet and gold trimmings and standing, square-shouldered and firm, at her mother's side, lifted her own glass in the direction of the gathered crowd. “Glory to the Sin’dorei!” Her voice rang out in the square - full of power and conviction and strength. The undercurrent of relief and pride broke, then, into a torrential, deafening cry of the same in response.
“Now, this is meant to be a party, yes?” Lireesa asked as she placed her glass on the table. “I believe I owe my wife the first dance of the evening.”
As a melody woven of magic began to fill the square, Liadrin offered her arm to the Regent-Lord, and Lireesa took it - walking towards the center of the square. They were unbothered by all the appreciative gazes levelled on them. This was a dance they had danced before. A show of power...and of normalcy.
The dance was flawless. There were certain steps, now, that Lireesa had begun to find difficult. It was then that she relied on Liadrin’s strength instead of her own. One of the reasons they now took the first dance instead of the last.
It was beautiful, nonetheless. The knowing smiles they shared. The movements honed into delicate perfection through countless years of fighting. Because it was all a dance, really, if one were to get philosophical about it.
The way they both seemed to lead, however, was unique to them. Their forms were nearly identical. Their hand placement changed from one moment to the next. Yet, these exchanges seemed so natural. So much like they belonged.
“You look lovely this evening.” Lireesa murmured after a perfectly executed turn that drew gasps from the crowd.
“If I’m lovely, you are absolutely radiant,” Liadrin replied, her voice just as soft.
At the end of their dance, Liadrin bowed alongside Lireesa, then took a single step back and bowed again, much to the Regent Lord’s amusement.
“So formal.” Lireesa chided gently as others began to filter into the square to join each other in dance to the music that had shifted into something more lively. “Your young lover appreciated that dance. I’m sure you noticed her watching.”
Liadrin laughed under her breath once they were finally away from the crowd and could have a moment to themselves. “I might have noticed, and I’m certain that she did.”
“As did I.” Lireesa lifted a hand, then, to adjust one of the lapels on Liadrin’s dress jacket. “You’ve always been such a wonderful dancer.”
“Is that why you married me?” Liadrin asked, moving to sit next to her wife when she paused at a nearby bench to rest.
“So that you could make it look like I can still move the way I once did? Absolutely.”
But the older woman was chuckling, obviously more amused than anything else. Her attention waned, for a moment - settling, instead, on Sylvanas, who was entertaining a group of people with her back to them in the distance.
“A beautiful family.” Liadrin observed as she reached out to rest her hand over the heavily adorned gauntlet covering Lireesa’s. “So many reasons to be proud.”
“Oh?” Lireesa asked as the corner of her mouth curved slightly into an almost-smile. “I was just wondering to myself how many of them she’s trying to take home.”
“She isn’t that bad.” Liadrin offered, smiling softly as Lireesa turned an admonishing glance in her direction.
“She’s young.” Liadrin countered, though she was as amused by that observation as Lireesa was. “She’ll calm down.”
“Oh, I know. But if Alleria is anything to go by, she may never decide to find someone.”
“I don’t think so.” Liadrin thought that over for a moment before finally continuing. “There aren’t many similarities between them, really. Aside from the fact that they’re both beautiful like their mother.”
“You’re too much tonight.” Lireesa said as she stood, finding Liadrin moving right along with her with a hand on her lower back.
“Perhaps I’m trying to get you into bed.” Liadrin suggested with a sly, sideways glance.
“Oh, I’ll be in bed quite soon. You’re staying here, however. You’re going to enjoy yourself this evening.”
“I would enjoy myself just as much with you.” Liadrin countered as Lireesa paused with her at the edge of the square and turned to look at her.
“Go have fun, Liadrin.” Lireesa responded - an edge of firmness in the gentle tone she was using with her. “She’s welcome in our rooms if she wishes to accompany you to them this evening. As always.”
The kiss they shared before Lireesa they parted ways was shallow, but lingering. Full of all the love and acceptance they felt for one another. Perhaps just a touch of Liadrin’s concern, which Lireesa chased away with an easy smile before she left her for the night.
Sylvanas let out a rather heavy sigh as she felt Alleria drape an arm around her shoulders a little too heavily. “Alleria…I’m otherwise engaged.”
Alleria pouted and looked at the two young women Sylvanas had been chatting with for the past little while. “Do they not like parties?” She asked with an impish little grin.
“We love them, actually.” One of the women responded - sounding so excited at the prospect that Sylvanas knew all was lost.
“Excellent.” Alleria passed them a little folded piece of parchment to share between them. “Be there in an hour.”
Sylvanas tilted her head as they both smiled at Alleria before retreating, no doubt to change into something less meant for a banquet and more meant for whatever Alleria had planned.
“I’ve been in the field for three months,” Sylvanas said wistfully as she peeled Alleria’s arm from around her shoulders. “I was planning on enjoying a nice, quiet evening.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t withered to dust. Since when does a threesome constitute a nice, quiet evening, by the way?”
“I’ll never know, now, will I?” Sylvanas quipped dryly, casting a long-suffering gaze in Alleria’s direction.
“Don’t be so obtuse, Sylvanas. It’s unbecoming of a...gentlelady of your status.”
“Alright, enough. I suppose I’m attending this party of yours. Let’s get it over with.” Sylvanas did her best to sound agitated, but truth be told - she had missed her family. She had missed her sister and all the wildness that came with her.
Besides, Alleria had always known how to throw a party, and Sylvanas found herself enjoying it in spite of herself. Though, halfway through when she misplaced her jacket - she found herself wishing she’d had the foresight to change.
“Can I help you find what you’re looking for?”
Sylvanas turned towards the less than familiar voice and smiled faintly when she was greeted with the sight of one of the women she’d been with at the banquet, earlier. “Your name, perhaps?”
The woman lifted one of her brows and Sylvanas was entirely certain the coyness of her smile and the quiet little laugh was mostly for show. But it worked. It almost always did. Sylvanas was more than a little well-known for her silver tongue, among other things, yet no one really minded.
At least with Sylvanas, you knew what you were getting. An evening or two, perhaps a third if you were lucky - but it was all just a good time.
Sylvanas was nothing if not devoted...if only to her duty to her kingdom. One couldn’t fault her for that.
“Would you like a drink, Caledra? A dance, perhaps?”
The jacket was all but forgotten, now.
And they did dance. More than once, even, before the night was over. Before that, though, Lirath showed up, all but dragging Vereesa behind him.
It was a wonderful evening. Lirath, songbird that he was, entertained them all once or twice during their dancing with a lively vocal accompaniment.
Eventually, though, even this more raucous gathering began to settle down. It was at times like these Lirath really commanded a room. After much urging from a young man that had taken quite a liking to him over the past days, he picked up a lute-like instrument that had been offered to him more than once and took his seat in a chair near the fire that was still blazing away, though it emitted no heat.
He glanced towards it, and then towards his audience, admittedly smaller now than it had been earlier in the evening.
It seemed everyone who would pair off for the night had - most of them huddled up together on various cushions that had been strewn about. Even Vereesa seemed content with her place in an armchair nearby, smiling at him sleepily. This was a rare treat. For all of them. For some of them - it was the first time.
“Your family is dangerously beautiful.” Caledra murmured as she leaned into Sylvanas’s arms.
“He is a pretty boy, yes. But...watch.” Sylvanas reached to turn the other woman’s head so that her attention would shift where nearly everyone else’s had.
None of them missed the moment Lirath’s song became more than just a song. When words sung of star-crossed lovers became images - flickering through the room like ghosts. As beautiful and ethereal as his voice was gentle and true.
The forests of their home and its golden leaves were woven into the notes Lirath sang - pulsing with color and fading away along with the verses. The spell it wove over them was more powerful than the illusion itself.
There were no few in attendance who weren’t looking around in dazed wonderment when both the illusions and the notes finally faded into silence. Sylvanas only smiled at her brother - catching his eye from her corner of the room and nodding her thanks in his direction.
He had the nerve to wink at her in return.
“Oh.” Caledra exclaimed quietly after a long stretch of silence.
“More than just a pretty face, you see…” Sylvanas said idly as the other woman finally looked up at her.
“And are you?” She asked in reply.
“Mm, that’s something you’ll have to find out for yourself, I suppose.”
They were inclined to wait on that front, however, when Lirath began another song. They all were. Even Alleria and her chosen guest for the evening were content to listen quietly where they were tangled together on a well-loved sofa nearby.
This evening was well deserved. A reprieve from who they were. They had the luxury of not being treated as though they were royalty, because they weren’t. On nights like these - it felt even more like a luxury than usual.
“Come in, Pained.” Jaina replied - fatigue more than a little evident in her voice. She’d been pouring over various reports all day, to no avail. She simply didn’t have the resources to gather all the information she’d been after. Not yet, anyway - though Theramore seemed to grow more stable by the day, now. Every day wasn’t a battle any longer. There was food. Clothing. They had done little more than survive for so long that certain things felt almost foreign, now. Now that they were finally settled. Safe.
Things such as their little Inn that had only recently begun to thrive. They even had a clothier. A clothier who did wonders with the fabrics that came in through their still-limited trade arrangements.
“I have news from that agent you managed to secure near Lordaeron.” Pained offered, though Jaina was too busy looking at the plate of food she was now placing on the desk before her to have heard her clearly. Had she missed dinner? Again?
“You haven’t eaten since last night.” Pained said quietly as she reached for the parchment in Jaina’s hand and removed it gently.
Yes. She’d definitely missed dinner.
“Wait, did...did you say you have news from Lordaeron?”
“Yes, I did.”
Jaina felt her rising hope fall in response to the pensiveness of Pained’s tone. She waited as patiently as she could for the woman to continue - though her patience had been in terribly short supply of late. “Pained? Please?”
“Right. Right. My apologies. It’s just news that I wasn’t expecting.”
Jaina nodded her understanding.
“It’s Arthas. He...barely made it past the Quel’Thalas border before they overwhelmed him. He took one, maybe two villages. He’s retreated, it seems. To Northrend.”
“They turned him back?” Jaina asked with furrowed brows and disbelief dripping from her voice. “So quickly?”
“Yes. Yes, they did.”
“But he lives?”
Pained nodded. This had been the part that gave her pause. She knew more than most what Arthas’s betrayal had done to Jaina. She had watched it affect nearly every aspect of the young mage’s life.
“Do they plan to pursue him? Do you know?” The dinner was, by now, entirely forgotten where it sat.
“That, I couldn’t tell you. They aren’t exactly the most forthcoming of people. Nor are they inclined to become involved with something that doesn’t already involve them.”
“But it does involve them. You’ve already said it - he took two of their villages before his retreat.” Jaina sounded so earnest. Almost desperate.
Yet Pained had no answers for her.
“I’ll just have to find out for myself, then.” Jaina finally said - and Pained could tell by the expression she wore that there was little to no chance of talking her out of it. At least not tonight. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to try.
“Surely you don’t expect to just waltz into Quel’Thalas and ask them about the maneuverings of their military. That would be suicide.”
“No, Pained. Don’t be ridiculous.” Jaina responded as she lifted the hunk of bread from her plate to examine it. “Their silk is the stuff of legends. As is their gold. I’m sure they wouldn’t kill me over a written request to consider trade negotiations.”
“You can’t be serious, Jaina...”
It hadn’t been a question, so Jaina didn’t answer.
Jaina lifted a brow in her direction and took a bite from the bread she was holding.
“Will you sleep on it, at least?”
“Of course.” Jaina responded simply.
“I’ll never find a reliable courier at this hour, anyway.”
Chapter 2: A Potential Friend
Lireesa sighed quietly as she was greeted by yet another passive expression from her daughter. They’d been at this for nearly an hour, and Sylvanas hadn’t budged.
“You’re not canceling your trip because of some...human.” Sylvanas said as she reached for the parchment on her mother’s side of the desk and glanced down at it. “And trade arrangements that we’re more than likely going to decline anyway.” She finished before placing the parchment back down.
“You’ve never negotiated anything that didn’t have to do with war, Sylvanas. This is different. This could be advantageous for us.” Lireesa countered, her voice both calm and tired all at once.
“That’s rather dark, mother. And we’re no longer at war, technically. What good am I if I can’t handle this, as well?”
Lireesa sighed yet again and lifted her fingertips to her temples.
“Not to intrude, but she does make a strong point.”
Lireesa turned a withering gaze in Liadrin’s direction as she watched her place a pair of neatly folded pants into a bag on the bed they shared.
“Thank you, Liadrin.” Sylvanas said smugly - ignoring the pursed lips and furrowed brow that earned her from the paladin.
“Fine.” Lireesa finally said. “You win. Both of you. We’ll go on the trip, and Sylvanas will stay here and start a war with a fledgling nation. Perfect. An excellent plan.”
“It’s a little late now, Pained. You’ve made your concerns quite clear, however, so don’t worry about that. It’s just a negotiation. We aren’t in any danger. It’s likely a safe bet that Quel’Thalas is one of the safest places on Azeroth right now, I would think that would calm your nerves at least somewhat.”
“Perhaps the reasons why it’s the safest place on Azeroth are what have them frayed to begin with.” Pained replied beneath her breath, causing Jaina to glance in her direction in confusion.
“And what might those be?”
“You know my feelings on the matter.” Pained responded.
“Ah. On magic, you mean. Yes, I’m quite well aware of how you feel about magic. However, as I’m sure you are aware, we don’t share the same opinion in that area. If you’re telling me that magic is what has kept that place safe for so long, then I’m quite keen to know more - not run full-tilt in the opposite direction.”
“You know so much, as it is, Jaina. Especially for your age. I wouldn’t go nosing around into the way they do things.”
“I feel like you forget, sometimes, that not everyone ages the same way.” Jaina observed idly with a slight smirk and a cut of her eyes that caused Pained to snort quietly.
“No, I’m quite well aware of human fragility. Perhaps that’s why I’m concerned.”
Just when Jaina was about to respond, she felt the tell-tale beginnings of a portal manifesting. It was a similar feeling to what she was familiar with. Yet, she could sense the power behind the spell. The portal was, after all, being opened somewhere the mage working the spell couldn’t possibly be attuned to.
As the hairs on her arms began to stand up, it crackled into view - and Jaina’s breath caught in her throat. Even through the distortion, she could see part of the city square that awaited them. It was a far cry from the tents and muddy streets she was used to.
Pained drew in a slow, steadying breath and nodded. “All right. Let’s go, then.”
The first sight that greeted them as they stepped through was a small delegation - not so large as to be overwhelming, not so small as to make them feel unimportant. It had been well thought out.
Jaina’s eyes finally settled on the mage that was lowering the portal, and the young man smiled at her warmly. “Lady Proudmoore.” He said as he bowed his head slightly in greeting.
Jaina looked for any sign of rank. Any sign of status. His clothing was beautiful, to say the least. But the others that had been awaiting their arrival weren’t exactly underdressed. Jaina had seen plenty of elves. She wasn’t taken aback by his looks or the picture-perfect, winning smile. It was the green of his eyes that gave her pause.
She recovered quickly enough, however, and returned his smile. He was an apprentice, perhaps. An advanced one, granted - but Jaina couldn’t imagine they’d have had someone of any significant importance portal in two guests who, incidentally, weren’t of any great political concern.
“Hello. Thank you for your portal-work. That was quite an advanced spell. Very impressive. I’m...afraid I don’t know what to call you, however.”
“Lirath will be just fine.” His Common was good. Very good.
He turned his attention to Pained, then, and Jaina was surprised that he kept the smile on his face with very little effort despite how stoic she looked. “This is your escort?” He asked curiously.
“Pained.” Jaina offered. “This is Pained.”
“Ishnu-alah, Kaldorei. The friend of a potential friend is a potential friend, herself. I hope you find your stay here pleasant. You are welcome, here. I’m afraid Darnassian isn’t my strongest language.”
“Fortunate that I am fluent in Common, then.” Pained responded with a dryness that made Jaina cut her eyes at her.
“Ah, I’m certain the accommodations will be just fine. I appreciate your hospitality, Mage.”
He seemed unbothered by her lack of tact. Instead of addressing it, or taking offense, he looked back to Jaina. “You will be shown to your rooms, now. You’ll be staying in Sunfury Spire, of course. In the Court.” Jaina watched as their bags were lifted not by those that were to accompany them, but by magic.
“Oh, we can get those!” She offered quickly, though Lirath just lifted a hand in dismissal.
“No need.” He responded. “Once you’re settled and rested, someone will come for you. The Ranger-General will want to meet with you today, I’m sure. It was a pleasure to meet you both. I’m sure we’ll see each other again.”
Jaina offered him one last smile before they were being led away. As Pained kept her attention forward and her ears carefully attuned to sounds that should be and sounds that should not - Jaina stared around herself in wonderment. She had seen drawings of this place, of course. In various rare texts that she’d come across over the course of her studies.
The drawings had done nothing to prepare her. The architecture was unlike anything she’d ever encountered. The warmth was...perfect. Not too hot. Not like the oppressive, suffocating heat of summer. But it was enough to make one forget the biting cold that should have already been encroaching upon this region at this time of year.
The sounds, too, were gentle and wonderful much like the sloping lines of the spires that surrounded them. The gentle babbling from the fountain in the center of the courtyard they were being led through mingled with the noise of enchanted brooms sweeping of their own accord across stone-lined streets.
It took the edge off all the eyes that were on them as they walked. Lirath had been more than pleasant. More than welcoming. Jaina wasn’t much bothered by the looks, however. She hadn’t exactly expected much better. Pained had prepared her for that, and that piece of advice, at least, Jaina had taken to heart.
That didn’t change the fact that she was glad when they were finally in the adjoining rooms they were meant to be in for the duration of their stay.
“Magic to carry bags...I’m perfectly capable of…”
Jaina sighed quietly in response to Pained’s muttering. “You’re going to have to try a little harder to not cause an incident, Pained. Please. For my sake.”
Pained sighed quietly. “I’ll try. I don’t mean to make things difficult for you. You are my concern. Not them.”
“I’ve always trusted you.” Jaina continued, her tone softening considerably. “You know that.” Jaina reached out and rested a hand along the other woman’s arm before she could turn with her bag. “But this is something that I need to do.”
“I’m with you.” Pained replied. “I’m right here, aren’t I?”
“None of this would have happened if it weren’t for him. He has to pay. I won’t rest until he does.” Jaina continued, slowly lowering her hand as she pushed the faint tinge of bitterness from her voice. A bitterness that always lurked just beneath the surface, now.
“I may not agree with...a lot of aspects of this place and its people, Jaina, but if you manage to pull this off - I have no doubt in my mind that you will see it done. They are formidable, to say the least. They just also happen to be insufferable.”
“The boy from earlier seemed nice.” Jaina offered optimistically. She even attempted a bit of a smile.
Pain actually laughed. A quiet laugh that faded quickly, but a laugh nonetheless. “I’ll give you that.”
It wasn’t long after Pained had put her bags in her room and walked back through the door that led to Jaina’s that there was a soft knock. Jaina had scarcely had time to check her robes in the floor-length mirror - another luxury she wasn’t used to - before the door was opening.
“The Ranger-General would see the two of you, now.”
This voice wasn’t as friendly as Lirath’s had been. This voice belonged to some sort of royal guard, Jaina was sure. The armor was too polished. Too striking - to belong to any lesser member of their military. It certainly didn’t belong to a servant. No, the black and gold caught the light of the corridor just so. The woman held herself with too much pomp and circumstance.
No more formalities now, then, Jaina guessed. It was down to business. As much as she’d seen over the past few years, she couldn’t seem to quell the nervousness that was now sending tingles towards the base of her skull.
Pained, at least, was in top form. Her gaze was even and passive and her shoulders were squared in a way that made her look only mildly intimidating. Jaina was only glad they didn’t ask her to hand her weapons over when they were finally escorted into a rather grand room that was only inhabited, currently, by one person.
Yet the room didn’t seem particularly empty. Not when that one person turned around to look at them. Jaina wasn’t used to seeing Generals in uniforms like this. She was much more accustomed to seeing them in armor than in tailored jackets and polished boots. She also wasn’t used to Generals being this...well, disarming.
“Lady Proudmoore, I presume.” Green eyes flashed to the guard that was still behind them, who cleared her throat and nodded.
“And her escort, Pained.” The guard responded before stepping to the side so a tray of wine and water could be carried through the door and placed in the center of the table.
“Ranger-General Sylvanas Windrunner.” The guard addressed them, then, and gestured towards the chairs across the table from where Sylvanas was standing. “Have a seat. Please.”
“Yes, of course.” Jaina replied with a gracious smile that was largely ignored before she took the seat that had been offered her.
Sylvanas followed suit gracefully on the other side of the table - reaching for an empty glass to be filled by the young woman tending to their refreshments. “How do you like it so far, Lady Proudmoore? Are your rooms to your liking?”
“Oh, yes.” Jaina replied as she opted for water instead of wine. While it might have calmed her nerves somewhat, she guessed it likely wasn’t regular wine, and mana wine always went straight to her head. “Everything I’ve seen thus far has been impressive to say the least.”
Sylvanas smiled, but that smile held none of the warmth that Lirath’s had earlier. “Wonderful. This is just a preliminary meeting, of sorts. Hence the absence of any council. I hope you understand if I seem as though I’m being a touch too straight forward. It’s best we ascertain whether we’re wasting each other's time as early as possible, wouldn’t you agree?”
Pained felt her jaw tightened as she glanced in Jaina’s direction and then levelled her gaze back on Sylvanas.
“Yes, of course.” Jaina responded. “Whatever questions you have, I would be happy to answer.”
“Excellent. I have a few. The one that’s been in the forefront of my thoughts over the past few days is this. What - if anything - do you have to offer us? If the information I’ve been presented with is accurate, you’ve only just recently becoming a functioning city-state.”
“If I’m being entirely honest, Ranger-General, we don’t have too terribly much to offer. Yet. However, as the only truly neutral city in Kalimdor - I can offer you a gateway. A gateway that could prove invaluable in years to come.”
“I respect your conviction. Truly. But you’ll have to excuse me for not having much faith in offers of Human alliances.”
Jaina met and held Sylvanas’s challenging gaze despite how much those words stung. Especially after everything she’d been through to get to where she was. To built what she had built. “Trade routes.” Jaina corrected. “Not an alliance. Theramore is a peaceful nation that is largely unaligned and its citizens want little more than to move forward.”
“Trade routes.” Sylvanas repeated as she glanced down at the map that had already been laid out along the table before her. “We aren’t a sailing people, I’m afraid. We would have little use of a port city.”
“Others would.” Jaina countered. “Others already do. We would work through portals, without the risk and uncertainty of ship routes.”
Jaina could have sworn she saw a slight glint in Sylvanas’s eye. Perhaps the faintest flash of amusement. Or was she impressed? She couldn’t tell.
“You’re quick.” Sylvanas finally complimented as she leaned back in her chair and took a sip from her glass.
Jaina was flustered. But she hid it well. She refused to take the bait of that comment. Not when she couldn’t gauge whether or not it had been condescending.
Sylvanas cleared her throat after a moment and placed her glass aside as she leaned forward again. “Very well. You have my interest. Take the evening to get settled and look over your proposals. Dinner will be brought to your rooms, of course. I assume you’re in need of rest. We can begin tomorrow.”
Jaina was left wondering how she’d managed this even as the same guard from before entered to fetch them and Sylvanas stood to walk around the table in her direction. Jaina only thought to stand up when the woman was a few steps away. There were details she hadn’t noticed - now that she was closer. Like the sharp angle of her jaw and the relative youthfulness of her face along with her surprisingly small stature. Jaina supposed it might be difficult to not be full of oneself with looks like that - looks as impressive as the mantle she carried.
Then, there was a smile. Strangely similar to the one the mage from earlier had graced her with. A real smile. One that managed to calm the agitation and frustration their conversation had left Jaina struggling against.
“I’m defensive of my home. Of my people. I have my reasons. You understand, I’m sure.”
Jaina glanced down in time to see a hand being offered to her. Her forearm. Grip her forearm. Pained had taught her that much, and Jaina was glad for it - as she reached out and did so and caught the surprise on the General’s face before it was gone just as quickly as it had come.
“Of course.” Jaina replied as she released her grip. “It’s your job, after all, Ranger-General. But I mean you and your people no harm.”
There was something about the softness and sincerity of Jaina’s voice that caused Sylvanas to regard her for a moment longer than might have been appropriate. “I don’t doubt that at all. We’ll revisit this tomorrow. In the meantime, if you need anything at all, all the guards assigned to the wing you’re staying in speak Common - as do all the staff.”
“I have a loose understanding of Thalassian.” Jaina responded. “And I have Pained, of course. The languages are similar enough for us to get by, there’s no need to go out of your way to accomodate me.”
“Of course. Tomorrow, then?” Sylvanas offered another smile - this time, at both of them. It was a touch more forced than the last had been, but it wasn’t anything Jaina couldn’t handle. It just put her slightly more on edge. Slightly further out of her comfort zone than she already was.
Jaina simply nodded before she turned to allow the guard to walk them back to their rooms. She barely managed to contain herself long enough to listen for the footsteps to retreat from the door she’d shut to her room, where Pained was awaiting the outburst she was certain would be coming.
“What a pompous ass!” Jaina ground out through gritted teeth as she paced the room in front of where Pained had moved to sit on the edge of the bed. “Do I look stupid? Do I? Do I look like some lost little girl?”
“I must - to be treated like a child that way. Here I thought I looked, at the very least, like someone who might actually know something.”
“You do, Jaina.”
“Insufferable. And she’s so disgustingly pretty! She’s probably used to getting away with it. Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. And don’t you dare say you told me so. I’m in no mood to hear it right now.”
Jaina paused and exhaled sharply through her nose as Pained lifted a brow at her before continuing.
“She likely doesn’t know anything about you. Elves, even young ones like her - are quite guilty of dismissing younger races. I doubt it has anything to do with you, personally. However, if you would like for me to defend your honor, I would be happy to challenge her to a duel. I’m just not certain how that would end up working out for us.”
Jaina deflated immediately and plopped down into the armchair near the bed, resting her chin in her hand as she glanced towards the fine marble hearth across the room. “No duels, Pained. You’re right, of course. I had just thought we would be dealing with the Regent Lord.”
“I would have assumed the same. Perhaps if you had approached with your intended goal instead of trade offers, that might have been the case. But then - they might not have entertained us at all.”
Pained was right. Again. Jaina didn’t need to speak to tell her that much. The admonishing glare cast in her direction was more than enough to tell her how Jaina felt right then.
“At least she’s agreed to continue negotiations.” Pained offered after a pause that stretched an uncomfortable length of time.
“I have never been more excited in all my life.” Jaina responded dryly before she sighed and headed for the bags on the other side of the rooms that contained the documents she would no doubt spend the duration of the evening poring over.
If Jaina hadn’t looked so exhausted right then, Pained might have laughed. As it was, she just joined her and did her best to keep discarded parchments and scrolls in order.
It was going to be a long week.
Chapter 3: An Invitation
“A traitor?” Lireesa’s voice was cool and smooth and low as she stood slowly from the seat she’d been in. “How rich coming from you, Prince. You sold our souls to the demons themselves on behalf of us. And now you’ve come to finish the job? There is only one traitor in this room, Kael’thas, and I’m looking at him. And how dare he show his face, here. You bled poison into our very veins. Into the hearts of our children.”
Lireesa spat out that last word bitterly and let her fangs glint in the mage light of the chamber as a portal crackled into existence nearby. Lirath. Lirath, who let his fel-green eyes settle on Kael’thas’ own as he stepped through his own creation to stand - not between them - but at his mother’s side. He looked unbothered, if not protective. Kael’thas wasn’t the most powerful mage in this room, after all. Not anymore.
“I felt you before you even arrived, you know.” Lirath’s voice was light and airy. It held no hint of the power he commanded. Perhaps just a tinge of anger. “You’ve grown sloppy. I’d have thought you’d have at least attempted to mask your presence here.”
Kael’thas snarled in response as fel energy began roiling around his fingertips. “Cocky, impudent whelp. I promised you power beyond imagining. A place at my side. Instead, you returned to wither into anonymity. Allow me to end your suffering. Allow me to rid this kingdom of those that wouldn’t see it prosper. But first, you will all bow to your king.”
Lirath lifted one of his hands and, before Kael’thas could even think to react, the fel flame he had begun to summon leaped from him and to Lirath, where it was dampened and expunged with an infuriatingly casual motion.
“Hold him still, child. And keep him quiet.” Lireesa said quietly. “We need no more of his kind of magic, here.”
Lirath’s own power coupled with the defenses woven throughout the room made this an easier task than Kael’thas had accounted for.
“Kael’thas Sunstrider, you should never have returned. You have disgraced your name. Your Kingdom. In the absence of its monarchy, Quel’Thalas is ruled by its regency. As Lord Regent, it falls to me to protect the people you’ve nearly destroyed with your greed. The terms of your expulsion were made clear to you. Death was your alternative.”
Kael’thas was visibly straining against the bonds holding him in place - suppressing his magic. Suffocating him. “I...am...your…King.”
Lireesa’s eyes fell for just a moment as she reached for her sword belt and unsheathed the blade that hung at her hip.
The blade that was still buried between his ribs when next she spoke.
“There will be no more Kings of Silvermoon.”
She approached Lireesa slowly in the flickering light that illuminated the room and danced over the silver of her hair until she was kneeling behind her - trailing a hand along her back until she finally seemed present, again.
“Your bath is still hot.” Liadrin murmured as Lireesa’s eyes slipped shut for a moment. She didn’t make a move to get up, however. She merely leaned back into Liadrin’s arms - arms that had always - would always accept her.
“Will you join me in it?”
Liadrin followed that question with a soft kiss against Lireesa’s neck just beneath her ear and let her lips linger there as she spoke. “Of course. Whenever you’re ready.”
“Just a while longer.”
Liadrin shifted to get more comfortable - allowing her legs to splay out along the floor on either side of Lireesa’s. “What’s on your mind, Lireesa?”
“Many things.” The older woman murmured as she tilted her head to the side in response to Liadrin’s continued attention to her neck in the form of gentle brushes of her lips.
“Lighten your burden,” Liadrin whispered as she found Lireesa’s hand in her lap and traced the lines of the tops of her fingers with the tips of her own. “I’m more than able to carry it.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” Lireesa finally said as she slowly turned to sit sideways in Liadrin’s lap.
Liadrin lifted a leg behind her back as she found Lireesa’s eyes with her own and reached out to stroke through her hair. It wasn’t often that it was down like this. Sometimes Liadrin found herself wondering how many people had actually seen Lireesa this way. “Things rarely turn out how we want them to. I was a priestess when we met if you’ll recall.”
“It feels like such a long time ago, doesn’t it?” Lireesa asked with a faint smile. “And now you’ve far surpassed me with a blade.”
“I’ve done no such thing,” Liadrin argued half-heartedly - her admonishing expression drawing a quiet, tired laugh from the other woman.
“You promised me a bath. I think it’s time we start enjoying our vacation.”
It hadn’t been that long, really. Yet it very much felt that way, as Liadrin helped Lireesa up from the floor and watched carefully for the almost imperceptible wince that came along with the action. A wince that Liadrin chased away with the lingering softness of a kiss before they made their way towards the waiting, still blessedly hot bath.
Liadrin left her own robe on for a moment as she reached for the sash on Lireesa’s. A moment later, she was folding it and placing it on a bench next to the large, steaming tub illuminated mostly by candlelight. A soft, warm break from the mage lights of Silvermoon.
“You’re spoiling me.” Lireesa murmured as she took in the sight of Liadrin’s body as it was bared to her when the other woman slid out of her own robe and turned to face her. “I could get used to this.”
“You deserve it.” Liadrin walked back over to her, then, and returned the gaze that had only just lifted from her own body to her face. Lireesa still looked every bit the General, even now. Battle-hardened and scarred as any member of the Blood Knights was and more. She had always been slender to the point of being almost wiry. All muscle and sinew. Liadrin reached out to run her fingertips over one of the last wounds she’d earned herself in combat. A dark, angry channel of scar tissue that ran across her shoulder towards her chest. A wound that hadn’t healed quite like it might have once. “And you’ll never get used to it. I’m lucky you’re allowing me to do this much for you.”
Lireesa had been about to protest when warmth spread from Liadrin’s fingertips down through her skin and into aching joints and muscle. Another hand joined the first - this one resting against the small of her back as she began to relax. Truly relax. It felt to Lireesa, more often than not, like she was fighting through quicksand. Fighting against enemies...and inevitabilities.
Like time. Even if things hadn’t changed, she would likely still have been dragged from the heat of battle by it. Foundered and weakened by its passing. Liadrin stood there, now - a bulwark against its erosion. Breathing life into her and easing the aches that had come alongside hard-earned victories.
The warmth of the Light Liadrin commanded was still meandering through her veins as she cradled the Matriarch’s face in her hands and enjoyed feeling, for all intents and purposes, young again.
“How’s that?” Liadrin asked as she covered Lireesa’s hands with her own and ran her thumbs along her wrists.
“Wonderful,” Lireesa whispered in response before she brushed a kiss to the corner of the younger woman’s mouth. “You should teach that girl of yours that trick so she can do the same for you when I’m gone.”
Liadrin chuckled quietly and, in a swift, unexpected movement lifted Lireesa against herself and guided her legs around her. “You’re going to live forever, remember?” She corrected gently as she stepped over the edge of the tub and lowered them into the water - enjoying the initial sting of its heat.
“Gods, I hope not. I can scarcely keep up with you as it is.” She found it easier now, though, to settle herself over Liadrin’s lap and loop her arms lazily around the back of her neck.
“Mm, you needn’t try. Let me do all the work.”
If Lireesa had been about to protest, it fell silent on her lips as she felt Liadrin’s fingertips against her inner thighs.
To say Lireesa had had her fair share of lovers would be, perhaps, underselling it a bit. But there was something so different about Liadrin. About the way she held her when she first pressed long, deft fingers into her. About the way she murmured her appreciation into Lireesa’s hair and leaned back to look up at her with nothing short of reverence.
“Why do you look at me that way?” Lireesa asked breathlessly as she gripped the edge of the tub and tangled her free hand in Liadrin’s hair, gripping it tightly for a moment in a way that drew a faint smirk from her.
“How could I not look at you?” Liadrin asked, though she slowed the pace of her hand between Lireesa’s thighs into something more sensual. Something both of them could savor. “How could anyone not look at you, hm?”
“Flattery won’t make me come faster.” Lireesa teased through quickened, shallow breaths.
“That’s the last thing I want.” Liadrin husked as she reached for the back of Lireesa’s neck and pulled her close enough to kiss. “I want you to take your time. We have all week.”
Lireesa might have had a witty comeback for that, had Liadrin not shifted her just so. Just enough that the heel of her palm was providing just the right pressure - just where she needed it, as her fingers continued their slow, rhythmic motions inside her.
For a moment, they were quiet. The only sounds were the muffled breaths Liadrin was taking against Lireesa’s mouth every chance she got and the water splashing softly against their skin and the edges of the tub.
Eventually, though, a series of throaty, raspy moans fell from Lireesa’s lips and she was going still in Liadrin’s lap with her thighs tensed against her sides - keeping her where she was.
By the time they finally made it into the crisp, clean sheets of the bed that had no doubt been washed just before their arrival, they were more than ready for sleep. Sleep didn’t come right away, though - and that was fine. Liadrin didn’t mind running her fingers through the drying silk that was Lireesa’s hair. Nor did she mind the little lines beside her eyes that showed themselves more readily as she smiled at her. Eyes that had once been as silver as her hair was, now.
Even now, the green in them wasn’t quite so prevalent as it was in many sets of once-blue, elven eyes. Lireesa had never relied much on magic. She trusted in things that were more tangible.
“I think I might go hunting in the morning.” Lireesa’s vocie was muddled with almost-sleep and Liadrin moved closer to her, settling into the familiar comfort of Lireesa draping one of her legs over her back.
“I noticed you brought your bow.”
“I haven’t hunted in years. It would be nice to know that I haven’t rusted over, entirely.”
Liadrin snorted dismissively. “You might wake up a little stiff most mornings, but even I wouldn’t cross you with a bow in your hands and all the Light in the world at my command.”
“Some nights I’m not sure if I married you for your hands or your tongue.”
“That statement can be taken in so many ways. Besides, I thought it was my intelligence and natural charm.” Liadrin offered with a glint of mischief in her eyes.
“Ah, yes. How could I forget?” Lireesa pulled the blankets closer to them and finally allowed her eyes to shut. “How do you think my daughter is faring?”
“Oh, if I had to guess - I’d say she’s either bedded the girl or we’re going to go home to another war. Perhaps both.”
“O ye, of little faith…”
She wondered if the Rangers knew how their subtle manipulations of the energy around them felt. She wondered if they used it out in the forests. In battle, even - without even knowing.
She also wondered if whoever was watching her was just curious, or if they had ulterior motives. Curiosity - she could forgive. She was in their home, after all - and some of them had had so little contact with her kind that this was still a novelty for them.
Oh. Now that was a voice she had not expected. Nor had she expected to see Sylvanas - a bit too suddenly to be natural - walking on the other side of a row of hedges.
“Ranger-General.” Jaina greeted, congratulating herself internally for keeping any sign that she was impressed out of her voice. “You weren’t there just a moment ago.”
“You must not have seen me.” Sylvanas offered with a faint smile as they passed another gap in the greenery and she cast a side-long glance in the mage’s direction. A few more steps and she had joined Jaina on the path.
“A useful trick. You should show sometime.” Despite there not-exactly-friendly banter, Jaina found her eyes drawn to the way the General was dressed. To the perfect cut of her boots and her breeches and the way the silk material of her shirt flowed in the gentle, warm breeze against her toned, broad shoulders.
“I’m sure you have a great many tricks up your own sleeve, Lady Proudmoore. None of which you would know without my people. I only want that to be clear before we continue on with our negotiations. It’s you that needs us. Not the other way around. But why?”
They both came to a stop at that precise moment, and Jaina turned to face Sylvanas - who only turned her head, at first, before following suit.
Jaina allowed her eyes to trail over the golden embroidery along the split collar of Sylvanas’s shirt. “I’ve mentioned your textiles.” Jaina continued when she finally lifted her eyes to meet the other woman’s. “And here you are parading them around in front of me. You can’t blame a girl for wanting a little silk in her life, can you?”
If Jaina didn’t find Sylvanas so consistently infuriating, she might have laughed at the unfamiliar perk of her ears. As it was, she just tilted her head as she waited for her answer.
“I suppose not. Especially not one who is...unused to not having soft things.”
Jaina’s mouth pursed into a flat line but somehow stopped eyes from rolling. “You underestimate me. That’s dangerous in this line of work, you know.”
“That sounded like a threat.” Sylvanas replied easily, though they had already started walking again - falling easily into step next to one another. Sylvanas may have been shorter, but her strides were long and effortless in a way that Jaina’s weren’t. It kind of just...worked. And that irritated the hell out of Jaina, too.
“It wasn’t one. You haven’t exactly given me any sign that you take me seriously, so...I was merely working on that assumption.”
“I take you very seriously, actually. I have no choice. That’s why I came looking for you. My mother is returning tomorrow and I wanted to extend a dinner invitation before your departure. I’m certain she’d like to meet you before you leave.”
“A dinner invitation?” Jaina asked curiously as she looked over at Sylvanas who, surprisingly, was looking right back at her.
“With my family, of course. That would have normally happened already, but...well, my mother wasn’t here. Now, she will be. It would be improper to send you off without having shown you the extent of our hospitality.”
“You sound like you’re reading from a script.”
“You sound like you’re trying very hard, is what I mean.” Jaina continued as she slowed, once again, to a stop. “Of course I’ll join your family for dinner.”
Jaina could tell Sylvanas hadn’t been expecting that pseudo-compliment. And the half-cocked way her ears had moved was...no. No, absolutely not.
“Tomorrow night, then?” Sylvanas asked, disregarding their previous exchange, entirely.
“Tomorrow night. I’ll be looking forward to it.”
“Mm.” Sylvanas hadn’t meant for a grunt to be her only response...but it was rather too late for that, now. Just like it was too late to stop herself from returning Jaina’s last parting smile.
Chapter 4: Meeting The Family
Jaina had been given free rein of most of the more public areas of the wing she was staying in. One of those areas just happened to be a library. A library she’d been itching to explore since her arrival, although she’d lacked the time to actually do so.
Now, though, in the hours before a dinner that she was desperately trying to push to the back of her mind - there was time. Precious little...but enough. Silvermoon was nothing if not impressive - run by magic that cast a glow of power and beauty over everything. Yet it wasn’t for show. It wasn’t some grand display. This was just how they lived. They had no outsiders to impress. This was just...every day for them.
Perhaps Jaina hadn’t fully understood just what that meant until she walked past the sheer curtains that hung across the outer archway that led into the royal library. However, when her eyes fell upon more rows of grand, gold-emblazoned shelves than she could ever have hoped to count, she understood. She understood with a parting of her lips that allowed a shocked gasp to pass between them. She even had to scold herself mentally when she realized she’d lifted one of her hands to her chest.
It had been...so, so long. So long since she’d smelled this smell - slightly different, of course. But underneath the scent of rich tapestries and unfamiliar incense, there was the smell of books. Of ancient bindings and pages and the enchantments that held them together like they had just been bound yesterday.
It was utterly overwhelming, and she found herself not picking up a single volume as she chose a row to walk down. She continued this pattern for far too long before she nearly bumped into someone rounding a corner.
Quick, fumbled apologies tumbled from her until she recognized the handsome, friendly face of the young Mage that had first welcomed her upon her arrival.
“Lady Proudmoore!” He greeted with a broad, friendly grin that was so full of warmth Jaina knew it was genuine.
“Lirath, it’s...it’s wonderful to see you.” Jaina felt herself relaxing into his easy presence immediately as he shelved a book he’d been holding.
“And you. I’m glad you’ve finally made it to the library. I had a feeling you would find it agreeable. As agreeable as the rest of your stay, I hope?”
Jaina’s smile was as forced as her nod. And Lirath knew it. She could tell by the faint downward curve of his lips as his own expression fell and his ears wilted slightly. “In need of a friendly ear?” He asked - doing little to hide the concern in his voice.
“I’d rather not start a political incident.” Jaina deflected with a quiet, nervous laugh.
“Oh, no need to worry about that. I’m just a friend. If you’re in need of one, that is.”
Jaina’s brow furrowed as she looked at him - measuring both him and the situation before she finally sighed quietly and shook her head. “It’s...complicated.”
“She can be.”
Jaina’s face paled as her eyes snapped up to meet his. “Pardon?”
She could have sworn Lirath was stopping himself from laughing at her sudden discomfort. “Sylvanas, I mean. I just assumed…”
Relief flooded her immediately. So he’d had his fair share of run-ins with her, too, perhaps. Thank god. Maybe he could help...or at least point her in the right direction.
“She’s just so...so…” Her jaw clenched and she shook her head as her eyes rolled up to the ceiling. “Infuriating.”
Lirath did laugh, then. A quiet, pleasant sound that - once again - took the edge off the agitation Jaina was feeling. “Oh, absolutely. And I’m sure you aren’t giving her an inch. Which is absolutely confounding for her...but also the best way to handle the situation, for what my opinion is worth.”
“Do you think so?” Jaina asked with a faint quirk of one of her brows.
“I know so. Don’t change a thing. She has a habit of walking all over you if you do.”
“I can see that. She’s tried it more than once.”
Lirath hummed thoughtfully to himself as he turned his attention back to the shelf he’d just been looking at. “She’s a brilliant tactician. Our military is in excellent hands. The rest, I’m afraid, she still needs training wheels for.”
“And I’m her first ride without them.” Jaina observed quietly as she felt disappointment flood her.
“Very astute.” Lirath complimented as he pulled another book free from its home. “But don’t despair. If my people didn’t take your offer seriously, you wouldn’t be here at all.”
“You sure know a lot for an apprentice.” Jaina remarked with a soft, appreciative smile.
A smile Lirath returned without hesitation. “A compliment coming from you, Jaina, certainly. What brings you to the library, today?”
“Actually, I...I was hoping to find some sort of book of customs. There isn’t much literature out there in the rest of the world, and I’m expected at a family dinner this evening.”
“Oh, of course. Come with me?”
Jaina nodded happily and followed Lirath, who seemed to know these shelves like the back of his hand. Soon enough, she was holding two rather thick books in her arms. Books that were, fortunately, illustrated. “How is your Thalassian, by the way?”
Jaina grimaced. “Not as good as I would like. I’m afraid anything I’ve gotten my hands on has been rather scholastic and dated in style, and your actual spoken language is much more...well, beautiful. For lack of a better term.”
Lirath looked so pleased that Jaina found herself glad she’d let that slip. “You’ll find those books decipherable then, at least. Though some of our more modern texts might take some additional study. And as for your dinner - it won’t be formal. Just try not to stare at how much my sister can eat in one sitting.”
Time slowed for a moment. Her blood ran absolutely cold. No. Gods, no. No, no, no. No. “Your...your sister?”
The smile that curved into Lirath’s playful expression was...terrifying in that moment. But there was no sign that he was offended. Quite the opposite, really.
“You’re the Grand Magister.” Jaina continued. “And...Sylvanas is your sister.”
“You look unwell.” Lirath remarked as he reached out and placed a hand on Jaina’s shoulder. “I should have said something sooner. I hope this doesn’t change your opinion of me. It’s only that I’m not used to someone not knowing who I am and it was...reaffirming to know that you didn’t mind my company. All your secrets are safe with me, regardless of my title. And most certainly regardless of my imp of a sister.”
Jaina let out a slow, shaky sigh of relief and couldn’t help but laugh at herself. “You just look so young. I’m...gods, I’m…”
“I am.” Lirath offered with an almost apologetic smile. “Quite young. Most certainly young for an elf. I think perhaps the two of us might have more in common than we realize.”
“Are you?” Jaina asked in disbelief and a slight tilt of her head.
“My mother’s youngest child. Some might even have you believe ‘child’ should be taken quite literally in our culture at my age. Those people likely didn’t grow up in my family. We tend to do things quite early in life while others might still be focused on more frivolous pursuits, as is common.”
Jaina was almost taken aback for a moment. Maybe he was right. Maybe they really did have a lot in common. Maybe...maybe she had a friend here. Or at least some common ground? “By choice, or by expectation?”
“Believe it or not, by choice. I believe Sylvanas and I account for at least most of my mother’s grey hair between my sister’s insistence upon serving as a Ranger while she was scarcely out of infant-hood and climbing ranks so fast and my constant magical escapades.”
“But you’re the Grand Magister.” Jaina mused. “That hardly makes what you’ve done seem like mere escapades.”
“Perhaps. But what about you?” His eyes remained focused on her own, but she got the distinct sense that he was looking at her in other ways. “You’re dampening, even now. Even surrounded by more magic than you likely ever have been. And you are a human, no less. The power you have the ability to command is so great that you would hide it without thought. And you hide it well, if I might be so bold as to add.”
Jaina was blushing, now, from her neck to her ears - and, finally, she dropped her gaze from Lirath’s for a moment to collect herself. She’d worked so hard. All her life. And to be told…
“Grand Magister! Romath has sent for you. I apologize for the interruption, but it seems his request is urgent.”
Lirath thanked the messenger in quiet, subdued Thalassian and dismissed his apologies before turning back to Jaina. “I apologize, Lady Jaina. But I look forward to seeing you at dinner tonight. Perhaps another time we can continue?”
“Jaina. My friends call me Jaina.” She had to stop herself from wincing at how that sounded. But the surprised expression on his face that shifted immediately into another warm, almost disarmingly charming smile eased the slight tinge of embarrassment she felt at her own eagerness.
“Jaina, then. And I hope to remain just ‘Lirath’.”
Jaina smiled - a real, genuine smile that almost made her cheeks ache it was so unfamiliar, now, for lack of practice. “Of course. I’ll see you tonight.”
This wasn’t that. Not at all. She knew it from the moment her escort walked her into the dining hall. Well...not so much a hall, as a room. Just a regular dining room. As average as anything in Silvermoon could really be, anyway. Her eyes darted around the room as she stood near the doorway. To Lirath in one corner talking to another young woman who must have been another sister while an older woman listened with a soft, easy smile. They were both beautiful, of course, though Jaina took a moment to note the tattoos that adorned the unfamiliar woman’s face and arm. She also noted the fact that there were only just enough chairs for the family and perhaps one or two guests. This was their private dining room, then?
She decided to screw up the courage to turn to her escort to ask where the Ranger-General was only to freeze when she realized the escort was gone, and the next sight that met her was Sylvanas rounding the corner - deep in conversation with a woman who could only have been her mother. Not a step or two behind them, another - equally impressive woman.
Jaina found herself overwhelmed for a moment. Especially when the Regent Lord’s attention shifted quickly to her presence in the middle of the room. Jaina didn’t let on, of course, but for a moment she felt like a rabbit in crosshairs. She’d have been more than reluctant to meet this woman in unfriendly circumstances.
Yet, when she smiled her greeting to her, Jaina was surprised at just how welcoming she could look - all things considered.
“Lady Proudmoore.” The greeting was deep and warm, and whatever conversation she’d been buried in with her daughter was immediately abandoned as she approached and reached out to clasp Jaina’s arm in her hand in greeting. “Forgive my children's manners. They haven’t all been in the same place in far too long.”
Jaina glanced towards the other side of the room to see Lirath casting an apologetic, embarrassed grimace in her direction.
“Oh, no, Lord Regent. There is absolutely nothing to forgive. I’m afraid I might be a touch early, actually. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance and an honor to dine with you.” Jaina glanced, then, at Sylvanas and then at the other woman that was joining them.
“My wife, Liadrin. Matriarch of the Blood Knight Order.” Lireesa stood to the side so Liadrin could move closer. There was welcome and warmth in Liadrin’s expression, too. Not as much as she’d encountered with Lirath - but enough to make her own smile much more genuine.
“It’s nice to meet you.” Jaina took Liadrin’s hand in her own when it was offered - noting how rough her palm was, though she was careful not to look down. “Thank you for having me.”
“And you.” Liadrin countered easily before releasing Jaina’s hand and reaching, instead, for the small of Lireesa’s back as she gestured towards the other side of the room. “Across the room huddled like school children, you’ll find Lirath, Vereesa, and Alleria. The rest of the gaggle that I’m surprised Lireesa survived the raising of.”
Sylvanas looked appalled. Betrayed. Alleria was...cackling from across the room, having no doubt heard Liadrin’s introduction. Finally, both Lireesa and Liadrin made their way to the table, leaving Jaina standing in front of Sylvanas. Sylvanas, who was doing her best to maintain the high ground.
“We’ve met,” Sylvanas informed Jaina - though there was an almost bemused smile on her face that allowed Jaina not to take it as an insult.
“We have.” Jaina replied simply, deciding now was an excellent time to display a little grace. She’d have expected Sylvanas’s appearance to be somehow less striking in a room full of other people that were almost painful to look at in their perfection. She’d have been wrong. And it was infuriating.
“Thank you for coming.” Sylvanas continued. “I hope you enjoy what we have to offer.”
“Um...thank you.” It was clear Jaina didn’t know what to do with this, but surprisingly - Sylvanas didn’t seem to want to gloat about that fact.
Jaina was altogether flustered by the time she made it to the table to find a spread unlike any she’d seen in a very long time. Some of it was familiar...most of it wasn’t, and as Sylvanas reached for the first plate, Jaina nearly snorted when Lireesa batted at her hand and cut her eyes in her daughter’s direction.
“Manners, Sylvanas. Please. We have a guest.”
Jaina swallowed and pursed her lips as the corners of them threatened to betray her amusement. Her attention was focused solely on Sylvanas as the Ranger-General cleared her throat and offered Jaina an almost pained smile. She was embarrassed. She was actually embarrassed.
Jaina could have sworn she nearly fainted at that realization.
“Lady Proudmoore, forgive me.”
“Don’t forgive her. She’s a heathen.”
Sylvanas’s eyes darted to the other end of the table and threatened to burn holes through Alleria’s skull.
“Ignore Alleria. She’s getting feeble in her old age.” Sylvanas muttered under her breath as she reached for Jaina’s currently empty plate. “She doesn’t know what is and isn’t appropriate around a dinner table.”
Alleria made a move to stand up, and Lireesa lifted a hand in her direction. “Behave. Please. Both of you. Sylvanas, please continue.”
Sylvanas cleared her throat again in a way that was entirely too haughty for the occasion, and Jaina finally lost it - turning her head to the side quickly and lifting a hand to her mouth as she gathered herself as best she could.
Sylvanas ignored her completely and reached for the first dish. “Squab. I’m sure you’re familiar. Roasted with juniper berries and table grapes, wrapped in…”
“Bacon?” Jaina offered quietly, though there was no hint of amusement in her voice. She was quite well aware of the types of words one was likely to know in another’s language and ones that weren’t quite so necessary.
“From boars? From the belly.” Sylvanas explained, and Jaina nodded. Sylvanas seemed oddly pleased at this newfound knowledge. She continued to the next dish. “Layered roasted root vegetables...and this is ah...asparagus. With butter and cream and cheeses and citrus zest and crumbled bread baked on top.”
“Gratin,” Jaina said with an appreciative smile. “I haven’t had it in years. It looks wonderful.”
Jaina knew the others had already served themselves and settled into various conversations as Sylvanas continued filling her plate for her, but she didn’t care. For the most part, they were speaking in Thalassian while Sylvanas told her what she was going to eat and Jaina filled in the Common words she didn’t know.
She ended up with a plate that was full of easily twice the amount of food she might normally eat. Sylvanas looked at it worriedly for a moment as she placed it down before speaking.
“You can have as much as you want, of course. As many helpings, I mean.”
Jaina nodded through her shock. Helpings?
Over the course of the meal, Jaina came to a lot of realizations. Almost all their food was sweet, somehow. Through berries or fruits or, in the case of a rather sinfully delicious type of roll called honey bread - well...honey.
Even the wine was sweet. And it wasn’t mana wine, as Jaina had come to expect. No, it was different from anything she’d ever had before. Both crisp and richly sweet all at once. Different enough for her to finally ask Sylvanas what it was.
“Do you like it?”
It seemed even as self-important as the General was, she was also very easy to please. Any time Jaina had complimented the food - Sylvanas seemed to positively beam.
“Yes, very much. I’ve never had anything like it.”
“It’s ice wine,” Sylvanas explained as she picked up her own glass and looked at it before taking a shallow sip and placing it back down. “The vineyard is frozen before the harvest - through magic, of course - and then the grapes are pressed while they’re still frozen.”
“Thank you,” Jaina said as Sylvanas returned to her meal. “For telling me, I mean. You must be getting bored of explaining everything to me.”
“Not at all,” Sylvanas replied without hesitation. “We’ve been teaching each other a lot over the course of the evening. I’ve enjoyed it.”
For a moment, Sylvanas looked at her. Really, really looked at her. She’d started finding it almost impossible to be annoyed by her presence. She’d started finding it almost impossible to find Jaina so far removed from herself and her people.
“So have I.” Jaina was returning that almost measuring look, undaunted by the one Sylvanas had leveled on her. They both averted their eyes at the same time.
It really hadn’t been formal. The conversation had slipped in and out of Common in a way that felt natural - in a way that left Jaina feeling at home rather than excluded. There was no small amount of teasing and laughter. Another thing Jaina learned that night was that elves could eat. Sylvanas had polished off three squabs by now, and her mother was still pestering her to eat more, even going so far as to put one on her plate when she didn’t move to do it quickly enough, herself.
Where the hell did they put it all?
Jaina had given up for a solid hour by the time the meal finally came to an end with Lireesa begging everyone’s pardon as she stood with Liadrin not far behind.
Sylvanas removed the silk napkin from her lap and placed it on the table as she got up, too - though she held out an arm in Jaina’s direction. “I’ll show you to your rooms.”
“Oh, that won’t be...I...of course.”
Jaina rushed to take the arm that had been offered to her, and she lifted a hand at Lirath as he beamed at her over the glass of wine he had no intention of abandoning.
At first, when they got into the relative silence of the corridors, they walked quietly - though Sylvanas made no move to lower her arm, and Jaina made no move to let it go.
“Did you enjoy yourself?” Sylvanas asked just as Jaina was wondering why she could only hear her own footsteps and not two sets. Did she really walk so lightly?
“I did.” Jaina replied - and it was true. She had. “It’s so nice. It was so nice, I...I haven’t had that in a long time.”
“Mm. I suppose it is nice, now and then.”
Jaina nodded. It seemed like the appropriate response - before more silence fell over them as she ran everything she’d said and done for the course of the evening through her mind as she was apt to do. “I apologize if I said or did anything offensive. The Common thing...I didn’t mean to insinuate yours is inadequate or…”
“Not at all. Just because I like to be right doesn’t mean I don’t like to learn new things. Imagine all the future dignitaries I’ll impress by knowing the word ‘bacon’.”
She’d said that so dryly, Jaina expected to look over her and find a look of agitation. But she didn’t. There was a smile curling Sylvanas’s lips and softening her features in a way that made her look almost like an entirely different person.
“Being here is almost surreal in some ways.” Jaina slowed her pace when she noticed Sylvanas had done the same.
“It’s...it’s as if he didn’t even touch you, here. Like the rest of the world is still burning and you’re thriving.”
Jaina winced as Sylvanas guided her hand off of her arm and moved away slightly. Shit.
“You believe that?” Sylvanas asked - and her voice had a quiet, almost hurt edge, as opposed to anything mean-spirited or angry.
Jaina shook her head in frustration and turned to face her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like...I didn’t even think before I said it.”
A hundred things flashed through Sylvanas’s mind, then. None too few of them, the scars that road mapped her body beneath the finely tailored clothing she was wearing.
“Is your schedule clear in the morning?”
Jaina looked both hopeful and full of regret when she nodded.
“Your people are horse people, yes? I’m sure you ride. I’ll have one of my best waiting in the stables for you at sunrise. I’d like to show you something. I’d like for you to better understand me. To better understand this place and my people. If that’s something you would find agreeable.”
“Yes, of course. And please - I didn’t mean that how it came across.”
“I’m sure you didn’t,” Sylvanas replied, though the slightly red tinge to her ears betrayed that she might not be feeling that way, entirely. “I hope that you didn’t. Sleep well.”
With that, she was gone - back the way she’d come. This time, Jaina could hear the heels of Sylvanas’s boots on the floor as she walked.
Chapter 5: Assumptions
Jaina had already had a rough morning. Between trying to find something adequate to wear for a long ride, taming her hair into a braid tight enough that it wouldn’t come out, and defending Sylvanas against Pained for reasons she couldn’t comprehend - she’d lived a full life by the time she made it to the stables.
The last thing she expected to find when she got there, was Sylvanas saddling her own horse next to one that was already fitted out. Everything about her seemed different. Maybe it had something to do with the ruddy green and brown leathers she was wearing or the fact that her hair was tucked into the hood of her cloak.
It was also strange to see horses standing so still. Especially the one currently being worked with. He seemed perfectly content with being cinched and buckled and tightened without so much as a single huff of a complaint.
“Good morning, Lady Proudmoore.”
Jaina tried to jump in surprise as subtly as she could. She hadn’t realized Sylvanas had even seen her standing there in the open doorway.
“They’re so calm,” Jaina remarked in response. “I didn’t want to walk in and ruin that. I’m quite good at putting my foot in things...I didn’t want to do it again, and so soon.”
“Come closer,” Sylvanas responded as she looked at Jaina over the saddle she was tugging at to check for any looseness. “You won’t bother them.”
Sylvanas turned her head, then, when she felt a slight nudge at her shoulder that caused her to smile. “Will she, old friend?” She placed a gloved hand on the beast’s muzzle and pushed it away gently as she walked around him towards Jaina.
Jaina had been around horses for a great majority of her life. Great, brave beasts of high breeding meant to carry their bearers to war. These were...decidedly different. Aside from the vicious horns that grew from between their ears, they seemed so agile. She carefully reached out to touch the slender neck of the one that was obviously saddled for her. He had more tack. An actual bit, where Sylvanas’s had none. It seemed like he was a fairly good sport about it, at least.
“What kind of horses are they? And what about the hawkstriders?” Jaina tilted her head slightly in curiosity and cut her eyes in Sylvanas’s direction to see her checking one of their supply packs.
“Elven horses,” Sylvanas explained evenly. “Rangers don’t ride the birds. They aren’t steady enough for the things we do.”
“They look like-”
“Unicorns?” Sylvanas asked with a quiet, pleasant little laugh that had been surprisingly free of derision. “I suppose they are, really. I suppose they look like something out of one of your fables. It would be difficult for an outsider who has seen them to describe them in any other way. But they are just horses, in the end. Without the unwieldiness. They can navigate a forest at a full gallop and they require very little in the way of guidance.”
“How?” Jaina asked with a furrow of her brow. “Do you...communicate with them?”
“No.” Sylvanas snorted as she began walking towards the doors of the stables - not bothering to lead her horse. He seemed perfectly capable of meandering along beside her, followed closely by the one that had been assigned to Jaina. “Damn. I should have told you that we do.” She didn’t mount up until they were outside, but when she did - it was with fluid, practiced ease. It was a movement she hadn’t exactly expected Jaina to mirror. But she did.
Sure, it wasn’t as smooth. Jaina just didn’t have the grace of an elf. But it had been very easy. Very natural. And her seat was decent, too. In her moment of distraction, she hadn’t really caught the look of confusion on Jaina’s face until she spoke.
“I can’t tell if you’re making fun of me or not, so I’m not sure if I should be insulted or amused.”
Sylvanas dropped back enough that they were riding next to one another through the still-quiet city streets to make it easier for them to speak to each other before she finally answered. Mostly, it had been an excuse to gather her thoughts. “If I was making fun of you, it wasn’t on purpose.”
“That was very honest of you,” Jaina said quietly, adjusting herself in her saddle and glancing over at the other woman. “Thank you. Would you tell me where we’re going now?”
It struck Sylvanas, suddenly, that Jaina was incredibly patient. She ran over in her head all the times she could have been insulted or left or called an end to all of this. Patient, or determined. She was something, alright. Sylvanas could respect that.
“I’m going to show you the Scar and its people.”
Jaina swallowed thickly at the way Sylvanas had said that. “What do you mean, its people?”
“Those that...survived. If you would call it that. Those that enjoy the safety of our borders and the security of knowing they will never be hunted here like they were out there. It might be something that you could better understand if you see it for yourself. Tell me if you need to stop? I’m not sure how much riding you’ve done of late, but I don’t want you to sacrifice your comfort for my stamina.”
Jaina might have tried to come up with some witty retort had that not sounded so genuine. But...it had. So, if Sylvanas was in a more hospitable mood, perhaps she could try another avenue.
“How long have you been in the military?”
Sylvanas’s ears shifted in response to that question. Upwards. Just slightly. Just enough for Jaina to notice.
“Since I was old enough to start my training with the Rangers in my adolescence. I swore myself perhaps ten, fifteen years after that. I believe two or three years ago would have marked my eightieth year.”
“So long?” Jaina asked, feeling a bit easier now that they were out of the city proper. She noticed Sylvanas seemed more comfortable now, too. There was something significantly less formal, now, about the way she rode and carried herself.
“It takes a long time to become a Ranger. It takes a long time to become anything, here. Unless you’re my brother, of course. But he’s quite a special case. Far more talent than he has years, and enough wisdom for a dozen people his age.”
“You seem older than you are in some ways,” Jaina remarked as her attention was stolen, for a moment, by the almost shocking beauty of the golden leaves of the trees that lined the sides of the road they’d found themselves on.
“And in others not, I’m guessing?” Sylvanas asked - her voice oddly quiet. Enough so that Jaina looked over at her questioningly.
“I’m not very old. Though the last war probably reduced our median age significantly.”
“War has a tendency to do that.” Jaina agreed, sounding as subdued as Sylvanas suddenly felt.
For a while, they allowed the silence to both consume and comfort them. It was nice to just listen to the birdsong and the occasional babbling of a brook beyond the trail, and Jaina was fairly certain she’d never seen anything as beautiful as this. She thought to ask Sylvanas if she preferred it here to the city, but when she looked at her and saw how utterly content she looked, she decided she didn’t need to.
“Perhaps we should have had our negotiations out here.” Jaina knew that had been risky. But they were alone. There was no one around to hear it. No one for Sylvanas to save face for.
And the sheepish way Sylvanas smiled at her told her that the comment hadn’t missed its mark. Nor had it been ill-received.
“Are you finding my company more enjoyable when it comes with less talking?” Sylvanas asked almost mischievously.
“I think it’s more about the posturing if I’m being entirely honest.”
“What’s wrong with my posturing?” Sylvanas asked, feigning a great deal of indignance as she did so.
“Oh, nothing. It’s exquisite. You make quite the stunning peacock.”
Sylvanas squared her shoulders almost imperceptibly. Almost. “Stunning, you say?”
Jaina rolled her eyes and shook her head. “This is terrible. You are terrible.”
“You said I was stunning only a moment ago.”
“I also said you were a peacock. And I’m no peahen. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t been nearly as affected by your strutting as you might have expected me to be.”
“I wasn’t trying to...if I were...you would…”
Both Jaina’s brows were raised as she looked over at the General. “Would I, now?” Jaina made a little noise that sounded like the very beginning of a laugh before she cut it off quickly. “Perhaps you’re right. I’m unused to such eloquent articulation coming from a military commander. Do be careful with my heart, after having stolen it away so handily.”
“Okay, okay. You win. I get it. I’ve been insufferable. Are you going to tell my mother?”
Now, they were both laughing. Laughter that went a long way in easing some of the tension that had existed between them since they’d first met. Laughter that faded out into another bout of quiet riding.
Quiet, after a while, for a very different reason.
It had felt almost physical - the shifting of energy around them. Especially to Jaina, who had only just become accustomed to the constant magical undercurrent of this place. Where Silvermoon felt...almost warm under the blanket of the Sunwell, this was different. It felt sick. It felt cold. It felt that way before anything had even begun to look different.
And when they got to the place where the leaves were no longer golden - where the ground itself looked ill and diseased - Jaina felt her heart sink.
To have gone from such beauty and light to this was...well, utterly overwhelming. It took her breath away. And it affected Sylvanas, too. Her ears pressed back and began shifting in response to sounds. She’d even rested a hand over the bow that was strapped to her saddle.
“Is there Scourge here?” Jaina asked quietly as she lifted one of her hands so she would be at the ready.
“Not likely.” Sylvanas responded just as softly. “We’ll be at the village soon. The villagers take care of any diseased that remain.”
“Villagers?” Jaina asked in a whisper. For some reason, she found the thought of these people having to live in such a place terrible. She couldn’t begin to imagine an elf thriving here in the darkness and sickness that had taken such a hold on this land.
As they crested a hill, Jaina got her answer before Sylvanas even had to begin to explain.
“Ranger-General!” The voice was a croak. A terrible, awful sound that was somehow also full of...surprise, perhaps, at seeing Sylvanas. This was...how? How?
“Greetings, Commander Belmont,” Sylvanas responded with a lift of her hand.
He might have smiled in response. Jaina couldn’t be sure, between the shock and the fact that his jaw was having at least marginal trouble staying connected to his skull.
“And…” He eyed Jaina carefully as they came closer. A flash of recognition might have crossed his face - if only for a moment.
“Lady Jaina Proudmoore of Theramore. She’s come on behalf of her nation. A political visit.”
He looked uneasy to say the very least. Mistrustful, at best. But he nodded up at Sylvanas. “Yes, General. Of course. Will you be taking her to the village?”
Sylvanas smiled at him in an attempt to ease his nerves. “Yes, Belmont. Is the way clear?”
“It is. My patrol has been quiet for going on two weeks, now.”
“Be on your way, then. Don’t let me keep you from it.”
He nodded and continued on. Sylvanas kept her horse where it was as what looked like a small unit of others like him came over the hill behind him. They all looked - first at Sylvanas, then at Jaina. Some of them even nodded their heads faintly.
The next time Sylvanas looked over at Jaina, she looked pale. As though the blood had all drained from her face. Yet, it was Jaina who urged her horse forward, first. It was Jaina who steeled herself against what she now understood to be an inevitability.
One that was unavoidable, as both familiar and eerily foreign chatter reached her ears. It was a village, alright. Of Elven buildings, full of...risen humans. People. Jaina’s people.
“Lordaeron.” Jaina whispered as she dismounted just behind Sylvanas. “I know these colors. I…”
She trailed off as they walked towards what looked almost like a small market. There wasn’t food or anything familiar like that. There were potions and other materials that Jaina would associate with alchemy and things of that nature.
“I know these people.”
Sylvanas’s ears fell slightly. There was hurt in Jaina’s voice. Hurt that she hadn’t intended to put there. And just as she was about to suggest they’d seen enough, something even more unexpected happened.
“Lady Jaina?” Another one of those crackly, gravelly voices. Though this time it was decidedly feminine.
Jaina turned quickly on her heel, and Sylvanas nearly reached out for her. She feared Jaina’s reaction. She expected one of terror, or disgust as the risen woman approached her cautiously.
“Jaina! I haven’t seen you in...oh, look at you!”
She certainly hadn’t expected to watch Jaina lean down and pull this woman into a hug so tight she feared Vallia might lose a limb or two. Thank the Sunwell that didn’t happen.
Vallia held Jaina at arms length for a moment and looked her over carefully, not even sparing Sylvanas a glance as she did so. “Such a beautiful young woman. Oh, you’ve grown. And you’ve come an awfully long way, haven’t you? What is it this time? A knee scrape? A cold? You likely could have gotten one of my poultices elsewhere, you know.”
For all intents and purposes, it just...seemed like two old friends catching up. Jaina seemed so unbothered by the smell that always hung around the village. By the fact that she was talking to someone who had, only months ago, been a member of the Scourge army that had threatened to overrun their world and everything in it.
And this wasn’t the only person Jaina recognized. This wasn’t the only person she spoke to. Before long, she was being led around the village by a small gathering of its little citizenry. Sometimes, in their excitement, one of them would even take her hand and pull her along.
Sylvanas trailed along - checking in with members of the guard now and then. For the most part, though, she stayed very much in the sidelines. It was a lot to process. The sudden, violent shift in her opinion of Jaina Proudmoore was a lot to process.
Their visit lasted a long time. A lot longer than Sylvanas had intended it to, but she still approached Jaina almost cautiously and touched her arm gently when there was a lull in the conversations she’d been bombarded with.
“We should go. It still isn’t safe to ride here at night.”
Jaina nodded faintly, and Sylvanas looked down to see her grasping her hand tightly. “Let’s go, then.”
Sylvanas didn’t really know what to do with herself as they rode out. She wasn’t used to being wrong. Especially not about people.
“Jaina, I didn’t know.” Sylvanas finally said, measuring the words carefully before she spoke them. “That wasn’t my intention.”
“It’s fine,” Jaina responded stiffly. In fact, she was doing everything stiffly. Even the way she rode was almost robotic. “Of course, you didn’t know. You didn’t bother to ask. Your intention wasn’t to cause me any emotional discomfort. It was to reassure yourself that I am the shallow young girl that you believe me to be. Perhaps it isn’t me that’s shallow.” When her voice broke, Jaina pulled her horse to a stop and dismounted.
Sylvanas followed her quickly.
“I’m sorry.” Jaina’s voice was rushed and almost frantic as she held out a hand to keep Sylvanas at bay. “Please, forgive that remark. Give me a moment.”
“Jaina you needn’t apologize, please, just let me-”
“I said I need a moment.” Jaina’s jaw was clenched as she turned on Sylvanas beseechingly. “Before I say anything else I’m going to regret, can you please give me a moment to process the fact that I just spoke with people I thought were dead who I have known since I was a child. Can you give me a moment to process the fact that they’re still dead?”
Sylvanas saw the weakness in Jaina’s knees before she stumbled. And instead of coming into contact with the ground, Jaina found the palms of her hands catching the General’s shoulders. The next thing she knew, she was somewhere she could never have guessed she would be.
In the dirt and leaves of the forest floor wrapped firmly in Sylvanas’s arms. And Sylvanas was shifting so that she would be more comfortable. Shifting so that more of herself and less of Jaina was on the ground.
In that moment - the softness of it all was too much, and in the moments that followed - Jaina learned a lot more about Sylvanas than she’d known previously. She learned that she wasn’t above wiping away tears or making countless frantic, whispered apologies.
Jaina composed herself as quickly as she could, but she allowed Sylvanas to help her brush the leaves off her clothing and get her back on her horse. It was clear that she was mortified - from the redness in her face, to her refusal to meet Sylvanas’s eyes for any significant length of time.
Sylvanas had never been so relieved as she was when Jaina finally spoke. “Can we please forget that this happened?”
“Of course. There isn’t anything wrong with what just happened. But of course.” Sylvanas hadn’t even hesitated, and that fact gave Jaina at least some measure of comfort.
There wasn’t any more talking, though. Despite how close Sylvanas kept her horse to Jaina’s. There was nothing, really, until they made it back to the stables just after nightfall.
“Can I walk you to your rooms?”
The question had been so subdued. It had been a genuine question. One that Sylvanas seemed uncharacteristically concerned about the answer to.
“Yes. I’d like the company, I think.”
“The stablehands will take care of the horses.”
For that, at least, Jaina was thankful. She was exhausted in almost every imaginable way. Exhausted enough that she found Sylvanas’s presence at her side comforting in the unfamiliar streets and hallways. Exhausted enough that she lingered at the door as Sylvanas held it open for her.
Lingered long enough for Sylvanas to slide her hand from the handle to cover Jaina’s where it had reached to grip the edge of the door. “Accept my apology. Please.”
Jaina’s lips parted as Sylvanas’s gloved thumb brushed across her knuckles before it went still. “What are you apologizing for, exactly? That might help.”
“For being wrong, and for acting upon the assumptions that that wrongness led me to making.”
Jaina was quiet for a moment. This was almost as much to process as a town full of talking dead people that kept commenting on how much she’d grown.
“Jaina, I’m sorry for being awful to you. You didn’t deserve it. That’s what I’m apologizing for.”
Jaina lifted her eyes and finally met the soft glowing ones that had been staring holes into her the entire time they’d been standing there.
“I accept your apology, of course,” Jaina said as her brow furrowed. “It isn’t as though you’re without your reasons, and-”
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
Sylvanas’s ears pressed back as she recognized Pained’s voice and her accent all at once, and she drew her hand away from Jaina’s quickly.
“Just a private conversation. Nothing much.” Sylvanas responded dryly as she turned to see the Night Elf walking towards her down the hall.
“Good. I was hoping to borrow you for a short while. Jaina, do you need anything before you go to bed this evening?”
Jaina offered Pained a weak smile and shook her head, and Pained certainly didn’t miss the way she glanced quickly at Sylvanas before retreating into her bedroom and shutting the door.
Sylvanas could feel her own jaw clench as she fell into step beside Pained, who seemed intent upon making it out of earshot of Jaina’s room before she spoke.
“She told me you were taking her for a ride this morning. I didn’t think you would also be trying to take her for a ride this evening.”
“Bold accusations, Night Elf, to be making against me in my own home.”
“She is a grown woman. I care little about who she beds, as long as it isn’t someone like you.”
“Someone like me?” Sylvanas asked the question as she was already turning. Pained wasn’t walking anymore, either. They were both just facing each other - ears back - shoulders tense.
“Someone who thinks she’s some helpless, ignorant little girl. Someone who has the audacity to think themselves better than her because they’ve done a little suffering.”
If that stung, Sylvanas didn’t show it. Not to Pained. Not right now, certainly. “I’ve already apologized to her for-”
“Is that what you were doing at her bedroom door? Is that what that was? You don’t even know what you were apologizing for. You don’t even know her, little General.”
“And you don’t know me.” Sylvanas almost spat the last word. She hadn’t meant to bare her fangs. She hadn’t meant to show her youth and her temper and her pride so easily.
“At least you kept those. Don’t know why you did away with the height, though.” Pained remarked - her tone infuriatingly bored.
The furious expression on Sylvanas’s face faded in response to what she could have sworn was a near-smile on Pained’s face.
“That’s it. Calm down before your guards have to pry you off of me like a kitten from a tree trunk. I didn’t come here to fight with you. That’s the last thing either of us needs. I came to provide you a little insight because I can’t stand to see her treated the way she’s been treated for another moment.”
She didn’t continue until Sylvanas took a step back from where she’d effectively been bowed up. Or, rather, ineffectively. That was, perhaps, a touch more accurate.
“I can forgive youth. I can forgive ignorance from someone who has been cloistered the way that you have. But you won’t have that excuse anymore, after tonight. After tonight, when you look at her, you’ll look at the woman who founded a city of people who survived the scourge on a hair and a whim. You’ll look at the woman who faced Archimonde and lived to tell the tale.”
Sylvanas looked appropriately stunned. Pained was only just getting started.
“Another thing you didn’t know, in your infinite wisdom, is that she led your people, there. In Hyjal. The Quel’dorei fought for her as fiercely as ever they have fought for you. We all did. Know that, at least.”
Sylvanas leaned back against the wall she was nearest to and she tried to push the burning sensation in her scalp back down and out of the forefront of her thoughts.
“I didn’t come here to humiliate you.” Pained continued after a while. “I only want to ask that you stop trying to humiliate her, because she’s not like you. She wouldn’t risk anyone else’s feelings to make herself seem something that she’s not. Or something that she is. She would rather allow you to believe what you would.”
Sylvanas nodded faintly. Just once.
“Be kind to her.” Pained continued. “If there is something...else. Be kind to her.”
Pained was gone before Sylvanas could think of an appropriate response to that. And maybe that was for the best. She couldn’t remember ever having felt more ill-prepared for a comeback in her life.
Chapter 6: Al Diel Shala
Pained winced as she looked up at Jaina from her bed and cursed the fact that they’d been given adjoining rooms. Ah, well. This conversation would have happened either way. Better now than later. She just wished she’d gotten up early enough to have breakfast, first...
She sighed and sat up slowly only to find Jaina moving to take the chair near her bed with an accusatory expression on her face.
“Things that she needed to know. Things you weren’t going to tell her on your own. Did you even get any sleep last night?”
“You didn’t have any right to do that. I don’t need you to protect me from her.”
Pained drew in a breath to steady herself and propped a few pillows behind herself.
“I know that you don’t. I know that if she were a real threat to you, you would deal with it.” Pained paused. “A physical threat.”
Jaina’s eyes shut for a moment. “That wasn’t much of an explanation.”
“She’s been treating you like some second rate citizen since you got here. Their kind has always been-”
“Can we not use that language to have this conversation, please?” Jaina’s tone was sharp, but her eyes weren’t when they opened again. They were almost pleading. “Guilt isn’t generational. Neither are perceived crimes.”
“I’m sorry.” Pained’s voice was quiet. Genuinely apologetic. She knew how much Jaina hated for her or anyone else to talk like that. She was just...barely awake, right now. And more than a little protective.
Jaina, on the other hand, was still looking at her expectantly.
“I told her about Hyjal. I told her about Theramore and that you would never be the type of person to put someone else’s feelings above your own for the sake of your accomplishments.”
Jaina sat there stunned for a moment as Pained picked out a place on the silk comforter covering her lap to stare at. “And I called her short. Twice, I think.”
Jaina licked her lips as she stared incredulously at the woman who was currently refusing to look at her. “Are you d-”
“And I asked that if there is something between the two of you - she treat you kindly.”
Jaina nearly choked at the implication. “Pained! How could you… I can’t believe you would… how could you possibly think?”
Pained finally looked at her, then. Mostly in disbelief. “She looked half ready to crawl into your bed when I walked down the hall last night, what do you mean how could I possibly?” Pained faltered, then, at the look of disbelief on Jaina’s face. At the fact that this likely hadn’t even occurred to her before now. Damn it. Damn it. “Jaina, I didn’t mean to insinuate anything, of course.”
“Insinuate? That was hardly an insinuation. ‘Crawl into my bed’ is hardly an insinuation. This is coming out of nowhere. You don’t even know what happened while we were alone together. For all you know, she carried on as she has been, made even more of an ass of herself, and only solidified the awful opinion I already had of her.”
“Did she?” Pained didn’t bother to hide the hopeful lilt to her voice. “I only assumed she did. I asked around enough to find out where she’d taken you. That was largely why I had the conversation that I had with her last night.”
“No, absolutely not. But you would know that if you cared to ask me how it went. As a matter of fact, she was more than pleasant. And she was falling over herself to apologize to me when she saw how upset I was. And even before that. She was...she was funny. Accommodating. She was a real. Person. And I made a complete ass of myself and cried like an old maid and she sat in the dirt with me until I managed to calm myself and...and you called her short for it! Twice!”
“You heard yourself just now, right?” Pained asked carefully when Jaina was finally done.
“Don’t patronize me.”
“I only asked you a question.” Pained spoke even more softly now that Jaina was blushing so furiously.
“I did.” Jaina snapped as she leaned back in the chair she’d taken up residence in and tucked her legs beneath herself. “There isn’t anything there. I’m here for a reason, and it has nothing to do with some egotistical General.”
“That’s good.” Pained sound relieved, and Jaina didn’t know why it bothered her so much. “I know her type. And, no, I don’t mean the type of elf she is. I mean the type of person she is. Too pretty for her own good, and is way too well aware of the fact. I don’t want to see your heart broken. Not again. You don’t deserve it, and I won’t be held responsible for what becomes of her if she’s to blame for it.”
“I’m more than capable of handling this side of my life on my own, Pained. And she’s uninvolved with this side of my life, anyway. If she were, it would be my choice. Really. It’s as though you’re trying to protect some sort of non-existent honor, of which I have very little - if we’re talking about-”
“Please. Jaina.” Pained agreed as she rested her head against the headboard in a way that made her ears spread out almost comically. “We’ve covered the fact that I’m talking about your emotional state, not your physical one.”
“As long as we’re clear.”
“We’re clear.” Pained looked miserable. Jaina figured it was time to show her at least a little pity, so when she stood, she walked over to her and reached out for something she hadn’t asked for in the longest time, but something that Pained was glad to give. A hug. A warm, tight one that Pained held her in securely until she was ready to pull back.
“Are you going back to sleep?” Pained asked as Jaina glanced at her splayed-out ears and smiled softly.
“Yeah. I’m exhausted, and we leave tomorrow. I need to rest up for the council meetings.”
“I’ll make sure no one bothers you.” Pained offered as Jaina retreated towards the door.
Jaina faltered just before she got to it, and glanced over her shoulder at the woman who was now staring at her from the bed.
“Unless you want them to bother you?”
Pained could have sworn her eyes nearly rolled out of her head once the door shut.
Sylvanas looked strangely relieved to be invited, and shut the door quietly behind herself once she slipped inside.
Lireesa placed the quill she’d been writing with down and turned in her chair to face her daughter when she noticed the almost pensive look on her face, but she made no move to urge her to speak. If there was anything she knew about Sylvanas - it was that it was best to let her do things at her own pace. Things like this, at least.
“Mother, I...I made a series of miscalculations and I’m uncertain as to what I should do.”
“A series of miscalculations?” Lireesa asked with a lift of one of her brows. “Come sit. Tell me.”
Sylvanas moved towards Lireesa, and Lireesa nearly laughed when Sylvanas sat on the floor near her desk chair with her legs folded. This must have been serious, then.
“You’re behaving like a wet puppy. This must be about a girl.”
Sylvanas’s ears wilted significantly and Lireesa chuckled quietly as she relaxed in her chair. Poor child.
“It’s...technically, yes. More of a woman, I think, but yes.”
“Oh, a woman? Sounds serious.”
Sylvanas shot her mother a look, and Lireesa managed not to laugh as she waited for her daughter to continue.
“It isn’t like that. It’s...I was...I hate this.”
“I know you do. You hate anything intangible.”
Lireesa lifted a hand in defense and remained silent, even as difficult as it sometimes was to not give her daughter a hard time.
Sylvanas drew in a deep breath and looked down at where she’d folded her hands in her lap to have something to focus on as she spoke.
“I had a preconceived notion of the humans. I treated Lady Proudmoore in a manner that would have been in line with those notions. The problem is - they were wrong. At least in regards to her. In fact, she’s nothing like that at all. I apologized, of course - and she seemed accepting enough, I suppose.”
“Well...you haven’t brought things to a place where they’re irreparable, at least. She expressed formal interest in continuing negotiations beyond her first visit. I received the correspondence this morning. That doesn’t explain why you’re so concerned, though. It isn’t as though anything really hinges upon this.”
“Because it was unfair of me. And because she didn’t deserve it. And because I don’t know how to make it right.” Sylvanas answered quickly. Like she’d already worked this out in her head before she’d ever even come to Lireesa.
“Don’t you think that this is, perhaps, a conversation you should be having with her before she leaves? Instead of letting it weigh on you like this...wouldn’t it be best to get it out into the open?”
Lireesa was right, of course. She was always right. With a quick hug and a pat on her head from her mother, Sylvanas retreated to continue procrastinating.
As difficult as it was to focus on that fact, she was forcing herself to. Arthas had to be lower on her list of priorities than her own people. He simply had to be. Even if she’d just been faced with the harsh reality of the fate of Lordaeron and its people. Even if she believed her suffering and her need for closure paled in comparison to their own.
For the most part, Pained let her be. Aside from a tray of various breakfast-type foods that would be easy for her to eat while she worked, Jaina remained undisturbed.
Until she’d worked most of the day away, and Pained knocked on her door again - only from the hallway this time, which Jaina found strange. The knock had been strange, too...what…
Jaina tied her robe a touch more tightly around herself as she stood and made her way towards the door quickly. “Who is it?”
“Uh...I...It’s Sylvanas. I could use a little help. I think I overdid it.”
Jaina’s brow furrowed and she opened the door quickly. Just in time to see Sylvanas precariously balancing two separate platters of food and a flagon of wine in her hands and arms.
Jaina caught the wine just as it began to fall, and Sylvanas laughed nervously. “Thanks. I made it to the kitchen and realized that, well...I don’t know anything about you, really. I don’t even know what you like to eat. So I had them work up a little of everything in hopes that you’d like some of it. There are even a couple of meat pies. One of the cooks assured me that humans like meat pies. We do, too. I don’t know if you knew.”
There was an almost nervous energy surrounding the General as she made her way inside to place the platters down only to find Jaina’s desk totally full of scrolls and parchments. Undeterred - she moved, instead, to the bed to sit everything down. “The wine is what we had at when you were with us for dinner. It seemed like you enjoyed that, so...there are also more of those buns? Do you recall? The honeyed ones?” Sylvanas wasn’t even looking at Jaina as she took a verbal inventory of all the food she’d brought with her.
Jaina simply watched her for a while - listened to her babble on about various food items - looked over her simple, yet elegant clothing. More black and gold. More finely tailored breeches and boots and a shirt that laced at the chest. Not too casual. Not too formal.
Jaina also noticed her ears. They seemed strangely low, compared to all the other times Jaina had seen them - usually high and proud like some sort of physical challenge.
“Ranger-General?” Jaina finally hazarded a greeting and Sylvanas paused, swallowing thickly as she slowly turned her attention to Jaina.
“Apologies. Good evening, Lady Proudmoore. I’ll just leave this here if you like?”
“You brought enough for an entire family. You may as well join me, yes?”
“If you’ll have me,” Sylvanas responded with the faintest hint of a smile. “I was hoping that you would.”
“Of course. Would you do me a favor, though?”
Sylvanas nodded faintly as she sat on the very edge of the foot of the bed.
“Would you call me Jaina tonight? I understand that that wouldn’t be proper elsewhere. But it’s just the two of us here.”
Sylvanas nodded again. “I can do that if it would make you more comfortable.”
Jaina sighed her relief and moved to join Sylvanas on the bed so that the food was between them. “I’m perfectly comfortable. You, on the other hand, seem to not be. Is there anything I can do for you?”
For the first time that evening, Jaina realized she was absolutely starving. She found herself choosing her third item before Sylvanas had even finished her first.
“I’m perfectly fine.” Sylvanas was lying, and she was terrible at it. Jaina began to wonder if she was actually terrible at anything she wasn’t absolutely confident in. That thought gave her a little comfort. “It’s only that you’re leaving tomorrow, and we were in the middle of a conversation last night when…” Sylvanas trailed off, and Jaina finally took pity on her.
“When Pained dragged you away.” Jaina offered, and Sylvanas stopped chewing for a moment before finishing the bite of food she’d been worrying at for far too long. “I take it this is an unofficial visit, then, and it would be safe for me to speak with you freely?”
Sylvanas gave up on eating for the time being, and one of her ears lifted slightly in a gesture that almost felt hopeful to Jaina. “Of course you can speak freely.”
“Why do you act the way that you do if you’re only going to regret it later?”
For a moment, Sylvanas considered amending her previous offer. Not that freely. But she didn’t.
“I didn’t know that I was going to regret it,” Sylvanas admitted, glancing over as Jaina moved to retrieve a set of glasses from a table nearby. She poured each of them half full and handed one over, and Sylvanas thanked her quietly.
“I hope Pained wasn’t as bad as all that,” Jaina responded - clearly amused.
“She was awful, actually, thank you for asking. But I regretted it before that. I just...regret it even more now. I’m unused to whatever this is. I can admit that.”
“Being challenged,” Jaina suggested gently. “You’re unused to being challenged. And that isn’t exactly unexpected. Between your position and your social standing, I’m sure most people that you deal with feel absolutely graced by your presence. But if you would like to know, this is the first time I’ve felt graced by it in any sense of the word. This is a situation you didn’t see the outcome of, and so you aren’t sure how to act or what to say. There is no script or speech you can formulate. Nothing you can reference. And I very much like this ‘you’. I very much like knowing that the great, undefeated General of Quel’thalas would rather spend ten minutes describing food than look at me.”
Sylvanas slumped visibly and toyed with a loose thread in the seam of her breeches for a moment as her brow furrowed. “You don’t understand.” It was a weak defense, but it had been an attempt. And Jaina softened in response to it.
“Is it the pressure that you think I don’t understand?” Jaina asked softly after taking another sip of her wine. As if on cue, Sylvanas took a sip of her own instead of responding. “I understand a lot of things that you might not suspect. But I also understand that there is a good, real person in there - behind the fanfare and the perfect clothing. I know that because if there weren’t, you wouldn’t be here right now. It can be lonely at the top, can’t it?”
The way Sylvanas looked at her then pulled at Jaina’s heart in a way that was almost painful. Gods, she knew this feeling.
“It’s easier,” Sylvanas explained as she leaned back on one of her hands and shrugged faintly. “It’s less complicated. Don’t you find that that’s the case?”
Jaina smiled sadly at that. “I find I have very little time to consider any options that don’t involve loneliness. I also find that I have even less trust than I have time.”
Jaina found the almost downtrodden expression on Sylvanas’s face strange until she finally spoke.
“Listen, Jaina...last night I wasn’t trying to...I know what Pained thought she saw. I wasn’t.”
Jaina shook her head and reached out to Sylvanas before she even knew what she was doing, though her hand fell short and just went for the collar of her shirt. “I know that.” She said firmly as Sylvanas looked down at her hand. At the way her thumb traced the laces of her shirt - before looking back up to meet Jaina’s eyes with her own.
Seemingly out of nowhere, or perhaps because Sylvanas was simply unused to being the one to be kissed, Jaina did just that. She pressed their lips together quickly, but stayed close as she gasped quietly. She hadn’t expected that. The flash of sensation when their lips had met. It felt like...it felt like the magic that permeated this place, only softer. Warmer.
Neither had Sylvanas expected something similar from Jaina. Each sensation was equally unfamiliar to the other woman. Jaina had never kissed someone so permeated with the Sunwell’s light, and Sylvanas had never kissed a powerful human mage.
“I…” Jaina leaned forward breathlessly as she tried to blink her vision back into usefulness. “Was going to say something along the lines of ‘you’re here because I want you to be’.”
Jaina didn’t even notice her hand had moved. She hadn’t noticed that she was touching one of Sylvanas’s ears until it flicked gently beneath her thumb. She only knew they were strangely...pointy? Especially considering how low they’d been hanging throughout their conversation.
“What does this mean?” She asked unabashedly as Sylvanas lifted a hand to her own and pulled it back down gently.
“I suppose it means I quite enjoyed being kissed by you.” Sylvanas’s voice was a low, easy murmur.
“I see we’re back to something you’re more comfortable with,” Jaina observed as her face only flushed more deeply.
“Perhaps.” Sylvanas glanced down between them and moved the trays of food further back on the bed when she noticed Jaina struggling for a place to put her free hand. “But let’s not pretend you probably hate being told what to do, and your escort is going to hate that you kissed me.”
“That was hardly a real kiss, I was just...” Jaina moved to pull her hand away as embarrassment got the better of her, and she found herself shocked at the roughness of Sylvanas’s calloused fingertips as they caught her face.
It was almost as shocking as the softness of her lips as they captured her own in what was, unequivocally, an absolutely real kiss. One that she inclined her head for. One which, after a moment, she parted her lips into. Just enough for Sylvanas to tease that she might deepen it. At least, Jaina could have sworn that she’d felt the tip of the other woman’s tongue for a split second before Sylvanas pulled back so that she was only just out of reach.
“Tell her about that one instead, then.” Sylvanas traced the line of Jaina’s jaw, then, before she leaned away and glanced down at the wine she wasn’t sure which one of them had spilled between them.
“That was probably me,” Jaina admitted sheepishly as she winced. “Wine stains terribly, I’m so sorry.”
“No, it’s...it’s just a blanket, Jaina we have plenty of them.”
“They’re wonderful bedcovers.”
“That’s why you’re here, right?” Sylvanas asked with a faint smile.
“...What?” Jaina looked almost appalled for a moment before she winced again and hung her head. “The trade negotiations. The cloth. Right.”
Sylvanas laughed quietly as she blotted at the wine stain fruitlessly with one of the cloths that had been folded beneath their forgotten dinner. “Right. The negotiations.”
With that, Sylvanas stood and placed her glass on the bedside table before heading towards the door.
“Sylvanas, I...did you feel that? When we...”
Sylvanas paused near the door and nodded faintly. “I did. If I don’t see you tomorrow before your departure, I look forward to seeing you again. And I truly am sorry. I hope this is a good opportunity to start over. On the right foot this time.”
“Yes. Yes, let’s start over. Please.”
Sylvanas smiled, and it was a smile that Jaina was quite certain she hadn’t seen before. “Before or after the kiss?”
“I don’t think I’m ready to make that decision right now.”
“Fair enough,” Sylvanas said as she reached for the handle of Jaina’s door and paused yet again. “Can I write you? In Theramore? Would you mind that?”
“I think continued correspondence would be very helpful in our trade endeavors.”
“Only that, then?” Sylvanas asked carefully - hiding any possible hopefulness or disappointment from her expression.
“I think I would like to hear from the you that we talked about before. The one that doesn’t have a plan because she isn’t certain of what’s coming. Do you think she’ll be available to write to me?”
“It seems she doesn’t have a choice. Good night, Jaina. Al diel shala.”
“Safe travels to you as well, Sylvanas.”
Sylvanas left the room after having been caught off guard once again. But she found she didn’t quite mind it coming from Jaina.
If she could see herself - she’d have also found that she was smiling.
“I’m so glad to be going home, and I don’t even know why,” Jaina remarked cheerfully as she buckled the last straps of the bag she’d been working on most recently.
“Happy to be away from the little General, perhaps?” Pained asked hopefully with a lift of her brow. “Because at least we’re done with that. It’s been...trying.”
“Away from her? No, I don’t think that’s it. And besides, we’ll be back in a month’s time.”
Pained stared ahead of herself at nothing in particular and Jaina pretended she didn’t notice how utterly dejected she looked.
“And I suppose it’s her that was here with you last night?”
“It was. She was like an animal. Unhinged. I’ll never be able to get my robes fixed. And those fangs! Gods, if only I’d known, I might have-”
“Jaina, that isn’t funny.” Pained sounded like she was in actual physical distress, and she looked it too - when Jaina turned around so she could see her.
“I thought it was hilarious.”
“We’ve discovered over the course of the last few years that our senses of humor differ greatly.”
“She was a perfect gentlewoman last night,” Jaina responded in as close to an apology as Pained was likely to get. “It was lovely.”
“I...I absolutely hate that, actually.”
Jaina pouted slightly, and Pained sighed in response. “I just can’t believe that after we spoke, you would…” A look of distaste crossed the woman’s features, and Jaina shouldered her bag.
“Nothing happened, Pained. We had dinner. We talked. I kissed her. That’s all.”
“You heard me. How is that worse than my suggesting that she ravaged me, exactly?”
“It just is, now let’s go. I prefer the mud and the rain to watching a miniature elf sweep you off your feet.”
“I’m still firmly planted, thank you. But yes, let’s go. As much fun as watching you suffer is, I have about a dozen meetings to prepare for.”
Pained gathered the rest of their belongings, but just before she began making her way towards the door, Jaina stopped her by grabbing one of the many straps slung across her shoulder.
“I know I give you a hard time, and I’m sorry. You’re one of my closest friends. You do know that, yes?”
Pained looked Jaina over as she nodded without hesitation. “That’s why I’m so worried. I hate that there are things I can’t protect you from.”
“I don’t think this is one of them. Do believe me?”
“I believe that you believe that.” Pained said in response. “I believe and trust you. But sometimes our judgment is…”
Jaina smiled as Pained faltered on that last bit. “And it’s just as likely that yours is off than mine.”
Jaina knew that that was about as much as she was ever likely to get from Pained on this subject. For now, anyway.
Either way, it was time to push all of this to the back of her mind.
It was time to go back to Theramore.
Chapter 7: Starting Over
If you would be so gracious as to forgive any stumbling I may make in my attempts at writing you. I haven't often had cause to write letters of a more personal nature. Even less, of late - and never in Common. I do hope this one finds you well enough. As I hope it is at least passably literate.
As much as I would like for this to be interpreted as a gift to you, I have to admit there is no small amount of selfishness in my having included a modern Thalassian primer in this parcel. I'm certain you will find that it is of much more relevance than much of what you might find beyond our borders.
Lirath has requested that I send his regards. It would seem he is rather fond of you. I can't say that his is a
predicament that I don't find myself in as well.
If you have any questions regarding language, please do ask them. I think you would find Thalassian to be perfectly suited to things of this nature. I am finding Common to be even more unwieldy in writing than it is when spoken. There are things which just cannot be properly conveyed.
I find myself rambling. It might be best, then, to cut this letter short and simply say that I hope to hear from you soon.
Jaina hadn't realized she'd been smiling over the parchment in her hands until the unfamiliar ache in her cheeks made itself known.
As lovely as the letter was, though, she couldn't help but reach for the primer. It was such a beautifully bound little volume. Jaina recognized the quality in it from the moment she had it in her hands. The leather was lovely. The crystal that was set into the cover...flawless, though it seemed to be ornamental at best. The gliding along all three edges of its pages was cool to the touch, also. Real gold. And as she began to open it, she saw a slight change in that coloration and her eyes narrowed slightly. Curious.
She repeated the motion, only slower - until a painting came into view when she angled the edges of the pages just right. Silvermoon. In perfect relief right there in the gilded edges.
Very few things in Jaina’s life had left her breathless. Oddly enough, this wasn't the first book that had done it, either. But, as she opened the first page and flipped past another illustration - this one of the shrike crest House Windrunner was known for - it also made her heart pound in her chest. And that was a first.
For the Lady Jaina Proudmoore
Silvermoon Royal Press
1 of 1
That's what your friends call you, right? Sylvanas would kill me if she knew I snuck this in here. The crystal on the front of this volume - take a closer look.
You should find it an interesting challenge. Just don't tell my sister that I told you I helped her with this. She very rarely asks, and I enjoy having something to lord over her.
Your Friend (you're stuck with me now.)
Jaina genuinely wasn't sure how much more she could take. She wasn't used to feeling so warm for so many different reasons.
She was glad for the distraction of the crystal when she lifted the book from her desk again. Upon closer inspection, it wasn't inert at all. It was just...interestingly tuned. It took a very specific type of energy to wake. The subtlest mixture of every discipline she knew, fed to it in such a minuscule amount it took nearly all of her control.
He had to have been very good at reading people indeed if he knew Jaina would be capable of this. As little magic as it took, it was terribly advanced. It impressed Jaina to no end and then, suddenly, it was glowing. A gentle golden glow that seemed to spread its warmth throughout the book and between the gilded pages and the black leather, it reminded her almost fiercely of the grand Elven city she'd so recently visited.
But...what did the crystal do?
Her brow furrowed as she slowly opened the book, and she gasped sharply when the shrike that was printed into the crest seemed to move. To regard her calmly and even incline its head before it went still. Every feather had, for a moment, been animated.
Jaina held her breath as she continued to turn the pages.
For the Lady Jaina Proudmoore
Silvermoon Royal Press
1 of 1
...that we may grow to better understand each other, for I find myself wanting that more and more each day.
From moving examples of Elven penmanship to illustrations explaining the history of their language that came to life before her very eyes, this was one of the most stunning things she had ever seen.
It contained such creative uses of magic - magics that had, no doubt, been worked with until they could be used to teach and Jaina found herself utterly overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.
She didn't shut the book for hours. And when she finally did, she found it easy to draw the energy from the crystal that the book had needed to borrow from her in order to work the way it was intended. It had been such a small amount…she was in awe.
And she had only just now noticed how dark her room had gotten. And how chilly. She wasn't looking forward to another winter in Theramore without a good system of warming enchantments in place. But so many other things were so important… It never ended, really.
But this had been a wonderful distraction, even if she did feel somewhat guilty about spending an entire afternoon on it.
Please forgive my delayed reply. We had a storm come through here and I'm afraid it took a great deal of my time and more energy than I had to deal with it. Your gift has been a comfort and a relief to me nearly every evening since, and it warranted a response that I found myself unable to devote an appropriate amount of thought to until now.
Perhaps after a few more letters you will find me attempting to communicate with you in the language I am desperately attempting to learn. I hope I do not butcher it too terribly. I would hate to cause offense.
It really is a wondrous thing. I can't say that I've ever seen anything like it, and I have seen no small number of books. I know you couldn't have known, but I find them so beautiful. Even old, ragged volumes that have had their ink nearly worn off and that moths and mites have made a fine meal of. This book, however, is the finest I've seen. I will cherish it always.
As for your message on the pressing page, I do look forward to us reaching a better level of understanding. It's something I find myself wanting, as well.
Actually, if you'll forgive my being terribly forward, I find my thoughts wander to the night before my departure often.
I'm afraid I have no grand gifts I could send to you by way of mail. None that could compare to your book, by any stretch of the imagination. I can only hope that my writing is enough. And the knowledge that I look forward to your response very much. More than I might ever have expected.
“I haven’t seen you smile like that in a long time.”
That smile faded slightly as Sylvanas looked up at her mother. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re usually smiling like you just got away with something terrible.” Lireesa replied with a chuckle.
“Oh…” Sylvanas folded the letter she’d read at least three times, now, and placed it back on her desk before she finally glanced over the parchment her mother had come to her room with.
“This can wait.” Lireesa said as she watched her daughter frown. “I...have a feeling you’re anxious to see the Lady of Theramore again.”
“Perhaps. But it can’t wait.” Sylvanas responded, sounding distant as she glanced down at the map she’d already pulled out to look at. “If we let them any closer to the border, New Lordaeron will have more on their hands than they deserve. They signed on for Scourge, not trolls.”
“True enough.” Lireesa remarked as she watched Sylvanas pull out another piece of paper and lay it over the map. With a few quick, decisive pencil strokes - Sylvanas had effectively plotted a course of action almost as quickly as Lireesa could comprehend what she was doing. “We’ll have to ride in two days.” Sylvanas muttered. “But we shouldn’t be gone longer than two weeks.”
Lireesa nodded and reached out to follow the lines her daughter had made on the paper overlay with a fingertip. “I think you’re right. Well, give the orders in the morning, then. Is there any message you would like for me to give to Lady Proudmoore on your behalf if you miss her visit?”
“Oh, I...no, no. I’ll write her. And I should be back before she leaves.”
Lireesa watched as Sylvanas’s hand seemed to gravitate toward the letter she knew had come from Jaina, and she tilted her head slightly. “Is it serious? You and the girl?”
Sylvanas drew her hand away from the letter and shifted her focus back to the map. “I enjoy her letters. And I miss her company. That’s all.”
“Have dinner with me before you go.” Lireesa responded, leaning in for a quick hug before she left Sylvanas to write the letter she had a strong feeling she was quite anxious to write.
Almost as soon as she was alone, Sylvanas took out a fresh sheet of parchment.
I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed the book. There isn’t any rush on the language-learning. It’s a beautiful language but, admittedly, a difficult one.
I am terribly sorry, however, to hear about your storm. I hope this letter finds you on a brighter day.
Regretfully, I won’t be in Silvermoon upon your arrival. I assure you that if there were an option to the contrary, I would be the first to greet you. I should return before your departure. My mother will be handling negotiations in my stead. I’ve handed over all my notes, and she’s well aware of where we left off.
Enough of that, though.
I’ll have you know I only just found out about the need for my presence in the field moments after I received your last letter. You have wonderful timing, Jaina. I mean that. I’m smiling, even now.
In regards to the last night you were here, if you will forgive my own brashness - I find my own thoughts drift frequently to the feeling of your lips upon mine. And I wonder what it would be like to run my hands freely through your hair.
It reminds me of the sun.
Stay well, Jaina. I hope to see you soon.
As luck, or a lack thereof, would have it - Jaina didn’t receive Sylvanas’s letter until the morning she was due in Silvermoon. She couldn’t really recall the last time she felt so disappointed. Hiding it from Pained was no use, as she stored the letter in her desk and began to pack a few final items.
“You’ve never kept anything from me before.” Pained said quietly. “So it must have to do with the one thing you feel you should keep from me.”
Jaina frowned faintly and shook her head. “I don’t feel the need to keep it from you. I just don’t feel I’m in any mood to hear your unnecessary warnings this morning. It’s too early.”
“She’s been writing you.”
“I’ve been writing back.” Jaina snapped without meaning to, and winced visibly. “I’m sorry. I just have so much on my mind.”
“I didn’t mean for that to sound accusatory, if it did. And Jaina, I’m sorry, too. I would never try to give you any more guilt or burden to carry. You have enough. I’m here if you need to talk about it. I truly am.”
“I was…” Jaina sighed and shook her head in irritation. “This is so juvenile.”
“I don’t think it is.” Pained offered quietly as she reached out to give Jaina’s shoulder a gentle squeeze.
“I was hoping to see her.” Jaina finally admitted. “I was just hoping to see her, that’s all.”
Pained drew in a measured breath and nodded faintly. “The letter this morning?”
“She got called away.” Jaina explained quietly.
“You know our type, Jaina. You’ve been around us long enough. You know when the word comes, we have to go.”
Jaina smiled faintly and nodded. “I know.”
“But it’s new.” Pained continued. “So if there’s something developing between you, you’re worried it will stop or even slip through your fingers if it has the chance to.”
When Jaina sighed this time, it came out with a faint shudder. She felt like a weight had lifted off her shoulders.
“I understand more than you think sometimes. If this is real - this that’s between you - it will be there despite her absence or yours.”
Jaina swallowed thickly, and glanced up at Pained as she reached to cover her hand with her own. “Thank you for that. I know it wasn’t easy for you to say.”
Pained snorted quietly and chuckled under her breath. “Besides, you’ll see more of her mother this way. Now that’s a woman…”
Jaina hadn’t known how much she needed that laugh until she was shoving Pained away from herself and snorting between labored breaths.
And gods, did she see a lot of the Lord Regent over the course of the next two weeks. It was entirely different than dealing with Sylvanas. There was no air of superiority. Lireesa didn’t need to have one. She just...kind of was superior. Even the way she moved was intimidating. Somewhere between stiff and graceful in a way that spoke of years beyond imagining of fighting.
Yet she spoke Common as though it were her first language. As Jaina would come to find out, it was only one of the five languages the woman spoke. Now this bit of information was impressive beyond imagining to Jaina. For a race of people to be so closed off, and for Lireesa to still know so much…
It took Jaina a long time to finally ask the question that had been burning in the back of her mind through each one of their meetings. In fact, she only just managed it when they were making final concessions and requests of each other.
“Good, then.” Lireesa said as she looked over yet another of endless note pages and ledgers. “This is good. For both of us, I think. Don’t you agree, Lady Proudmoore?”
Jaina nodded faintly and tapped the end of her quill against the table they were seated at.
“You can speak your mind, you know.” Lireesa said with a faint smile. One that drew out the lines beside her eyes and made her look infinitely more kind. That was the last little push Jaina needed.
“It’s hardly an appropriate question.” Jaina tried to explain dismissively.
“A question between soon to be friends is simply the beginning of a conversation, is it not? The hard parts are out of the way, Jaina, and I think we agree upon nearly everything by now. How terrible could this question of yours possibly be?”
“It’s only that I leave tomorrow, and I was hoping to see the Ranger-General before then. I...I was wondering if you had heard from her.” Jaina regretted asking the moment she finished speaking, but Lireesa’s smile never wavered.
“I think she would be terribly glad to know that you’ve asked after her. She would have been back yesterday, but the unit she was accompanying had to stop at a village. My daughter doesn’t always have the best of luck, and they needed to find her a healer before her return to Silvermoon. They didn’t have one with them, unfortunately.”
Lireesa didn’t acknowledge the sudden, utter lack of color in Jaina’s face. “I...oh, no. Oh, thats...I’m sorry to hear that, of course.”
“She’s fine.” Lireesa’s voice was warm and suddenly, unexpectedly gentle. “She’s just fine. Tough as an old shoe. That’s a saying among your people, yes?”
Jaina only had to force her responding smile a little bit. “It is. Sort of. I mean...it’s usually ‘boot’.”
“I know.” Lireesa replied as she pushed herself slowly from her chair. They’d been at it for countless hours, today. She was more than ready for a reprieve. “But I wanted to ease your worries.”
“Oh. Oh, of course.” Jaina laughed almost nervously and Lireesa nodded her head in Pained’s direction before she turned to leave.
They sat together in silence for a long while before Pained finally spoke. “Do you think she likes me?”
“Pained, she’s...please, I…”
“I’m joking.” Pained said, sounding more than a little apologetic. “If their General were seriously wounded, the Lord Regent wouldn’t have come today, and she certainly wouldn’t have joked about it. Right?”
Jaina slumped slightly in her chair and nodded. “Right. And as for her liking you…”
“I really was joking.” Pained responded with a genuinely amused laugh. “I guess we should probably get some sleep, right?”
“Yeah. We probably should.”
“Well...I’ll sleep, at least. And if you need anything, you know where I’ll be.”
Oh, no. Was it morning already? “I’m sorry Pained, give me a moment…”
Jaina was already making her way as quickly as she could manage to their adjoining door when she heard a quiet voice from the door the first knock had actually come from.
“Jaina...I’m not Pained.”
She was fairly certain her heart skipped a beat when she recognized Sylvanas’s voice from the hallway. She likely couldn’t have backtracked and reached for the correct door handle any quicker if she tried, and as soon as it was open, she paused for a beat.
Standing there in the hallway was a very tired looking Ranger-General - arm in a sling - in travelling leathers. Even the hood of her cloak was on, covering hair that wasn’t quite perfect right now. In fact, none of her was quite perfect right now. And it was...it was a lot. It made her chest ache in a hundred new ways.
“Your arm.” That was the first thing Jaina said - and the worried murmur was accompanied by her reaching out to touch along the edge of the sling carefully.
“It’s okay. A dislocation. Just needs to rest a while.” Sylvanas reassured with a weak smile. “Is...is it okay if I come in? I know it’s late. It was just so important that I see you before you go in the morning.”
“Is something wrong?”
“No.” Sylvanas leaned against the doorway and paused for a moment before reaching up to trace her fingertips along a few strands of hair that were hanging in front of Jaina’s eyes. “No, not anymore.”
Jaina reached up quickly to run a hand through her hair when she realized she hadn’t even bothered to do that before she’d answered the door, and stepped aside to let Sylvanas in. “Come in. Come in, please. I’ve got you standing the hallway like...I don’t know. Look at you.”
Jaina shut the door and the furrow between her brows deepened as she reached out to pick a few leaves from Sylvanas’s cloak. “Your mother said you were injured and I was just so worried. I couldn’t sleep. I...I’m just glad you’re here. Can I just. Can I hug you? I promise I’ll be careful and I’m sorry if that’s terribly inappropriate of me. I really am. But I’ve never wanted to hug someone so badly in my life.”
Sylvanas stood in front of Jaina listening intently. Mostly, though, she just recommited the sound of her voice to memory. The voice she’d been reading her letters in. The one she just couldn’t stop thinking of. And then she leaned in and pulled her close before Jaina could even finish trying to explain the request.
Jaina was probably a little too careful. She probably spent a little too long figuring out just how to get an arm around Sylvanas - a little too long making sure that arm was over her cloak and not underneath it. But maybe she just wanted to breathe in for another second or two. “I’ve never smelled anything like the way you do right now. Is that okay to say?”
“I hope that’s not a bad thing.” Sylvanas said in response. Her voice was slightly raspy. And so incredibly soft, as her one good arm wrapped around Jaina’s shoulders.
“No, gods. You smell like trees and leather and horses and...I didn’t even know the sun had a smell.” She let out a breathy little noise as she finally pulled back. But she stayed close. She wasn’t ready to let that go yet.
Neither was Sylvanas. What Jaina was more than ready for, however, was the warmth of the hand that came to rest along the side of her face. What she was ready for was the press of Sylvanas’s lips against her own. As both expected and unexpected as the kiss was, the only part Jaina wasn’t prepared for was the quiet noise that came from Sylvanas when their tongues first brushed together.
That had almost been a whimper, hadn't it?
Jaina broke the kiss and looked Sylvanas over quickly. “I’m sorry. Your shoulder? Did I hurt you?” Jaina wasn't even sure how she managed to ask. Her mind was still reeling because no one had ever kissed her like this. No one had ever been so slow and gentle and made a moment stretch on forever and come to a too-quick halt all at once.
“I missed you.” Sylvanas said quickly. The words were so terrifying. So foreign, as they came out of her mouth. “I don’t know why. I haven’t ever...but your letters, and that night, and your laugh and your smile and can’t help it. Knowing you were here while I was out there every single night...it’s never been like that. Ever.”
Jaina was beyond stunned as she listened. She would never have guessed in a million years that she would have had this kind of effect on someone like her. Or, more specifically, just her.
“I thought I was losing my mind. I'd even begun to miss your cockiness.” Jaina glanced up Sylvanas’s ears as they drooped slightly, and continued quickly. “I don't miss it right now. I'm so incredibly glad to have you here, however you are. I can't explain why, I just am.”
“It's good to hear you say that.” Sylvanas looked down at Jaina’s hand then, where it hung at her side, and reached to graze her fingertips along the side of it until Jaina hooked their fingers together gradually.
“You look exhausted.” Jaina remarked in a quiet, careful tone as she hoped Sylvanas wouldn't take that as a slight.
“I rode all evening to get here. As soon as the village healer saw to my shoulder.”
Jaina nodded her understanding and, rather nervously, turned to lead Sylvanas towards the bed. Sylvanas pulled herself up onto it carefully and, as she reached with one hand to remove her boots for fear of getting it dirty - Jaina stopped her. “Can I help you?”
Sylvanas hesitated for just a moment before she relaxed slightly and nodded. It was so strangely intimate to watch Jaina slide her boots from her legs and place them aside. She would never have imagined such a sight just a few short weeks ago. Nor would she imagine this confident, outspoken woman nervously moving to sit on the bed next to her - slowly turning her attention to her and reaching for the hood of her cloak.
She stayed absolutely still for Jaina as she carefully pulled it back - paying special attention to the slits in the hood sliding along her ears until they were free.
“What happened to your arm?” She asked as curiosity finally got the better of her.
“I was scaling a rock face for a better vantage point and my handhold gave way. I caught myself wrong and I was slipping too fast.”
“Does it hurt?”
Any other time, Sylvanas might have lied. Her usual swagger might have carried her voice into some confident statement about pain and being used to it, but as Jaina lay there looking so strangely vulnerable, she just nodded faintly. “A little. Sore, that's all.”
“I've seen people die on battlefields, and still - the thought of you getting hurt is strangely unbearable to me.” Jaina turned away and pulled her hand back just as she'd been about to stroke through Sylvanas’s hair. It didn't have its usual sheen. And it only made the way Jaina felt become that much more intensely confusing.
“I don't get hurt often anymore, if that's any consolation. You're...nervous. For me to be here? Would you like for me to go?”
“Please don't. That's absolutely not what I want, it's just...I don't know what we're doing here.”
“I don't like that feeling, either. The not knowing. I work in absolutes and definites and surety.”
Jaina glanced up to find Sylvanas looking at her in a way she wasn't entirely certain she'd ever been looked at before.
“Would you lay with me? Just lay with me for a while?”
“You rode all night with your arm in a sling to lay with me?” Jaina asked quietly as Sylvanas drew one of her legs up onto the bed so she could look at her more easily.
“I was hoping, yes.” Sylvanas admitted. Perhaps more to herself than to Jaina.
Jaina knew Sylvanas had likely had none too few...partners. Just by looking at her, you could surmise that. From the way she carried herself to the ease with which she slipped into less formal conversation. She wasn't hurting for attention. She couldn't be.
Yet, here she was. Asking for Jaina to lay down with her. Only touching her when she needed to steady herself with her one still-functional arm until she was on her back and Jaina was on her side looking at her.
“Something is on your mind.” Sylvanas observed as she adjusted herself when Jaina tucked her arms between them. She found herself strangely concerned that Jaina have whatever space she needed, even if, in reality, the last thing Jaina wanted was space.
“You said my hair reminded you of the sun.”
“I let my emotions carry my pen across my parchment and the result was cloying and awful and you should never have been subjected to that.”
“I think it was one of the most wonderful things I've ever read.”
Sylvanas swallowed in a way that made her slender throat shift and Jaina laughed quietly when she turned her head and her ear got trapped for a moment between the pillow and her face in a way that had to have been uncomfortable. “What's funny?”
“Your ears sometimes. The things they do. I think they're fascinating. I think they're lovely. Perhaps the same way you think of my hair.”
“You would think I would be used to blonde hair, wouldn't you?” Sylvanas asked - her voice a murmur as she reached out and traced along a Jaina's hairline with just the backs of her fingertips. “But it's different, isn't it? Like clover honey. Like nothing I've ever seen...and yet, something you might miss if you weren't paying very close attention. And what a shame it would be to miss you.” Her fingertips shifted. Curled as she drew that touch down along Jaina’s cheek. And it became clear she was no longer talking about hair.
“You haven't. Missed me, I mean.” Jaina tried to keep her voice steady when she said that. It was one thing to hold her own in a council chamber. It was another thing entirely to do...this. Whatever ‘this’ was.
Sylvanas internally cursed her inability to turn on her side as she finally threaded her fingers into Jaina’s hair and found it had very much been worth her constant pondering. “I came quite close. I was just lucky you were gracious enough to give me another chance.”
Jaina’s eyelids fluttered at the feeling of Sylvanas’s fingertips grazing gently along her scalp, and she sighed out her appreciation. It had been so long. It had been too long. If she'd ever even been touched so gently...and she was almost certain she hadn't. “Before.”
“I've decided I'd like to start over from the moment just before we kissed that night. I think that's where I would like to start over from.”
Sylvanas has forgotten she'd even asked Jaina that. But she was overjoyed, suddenly. So much so that she was smiling broadly as Jaina leaned in to kiss her more quickly than she could recover.
So she made up for it. She guided Jaina’s hair from her face to hold it softly against the nape of her neck as she pulled Jaina back enough to look in her eyes. “From there, then.” She finally agreed aloud as she stroked slowly behind Jaina's ear in a way that had Jaina only just managing to suppress a shiver. “Try again.”
Jaina smiled sheepishly for a moment before leaning back in - more carefully this time. This kiss was just a little different than the others had been. It felt almost like Sylvanas was trying to show her something. In the way she traced Jaina's teeth lightly with her tongue and, just before she pulled away, caught her lower lip between her teeth.
That was the biggest difference. The way Sylvanas’s fangs grazed her lip just so. Just enough that she felt them. The differences between them. Subtle, but there. So, so there. And in that kiss, she felt just how controlled Sylvanas was. How careful she could - and would be with her.
“Lay closer to me this time.” Sylvanas whispered so close to her Jaina could feel her breath on her lips.
It wasn't an offer Jaina had any intention of refusing. As soon as she lifted herself to move, Sylvanas was shifting to meet her so that her head was on the Elven woman's arm - an arm positioned just so. So that Sylvanas could stroke idly through her hair.
They slept. Some. But Sylvanas didn't mind the few times Jaina woke up just to touch her. Usually just a hand coming to rest against her side - feeling the soft leather there and the hard body beneath it.
At some point, she must have drifted more deeply, because when she woke - Sylvanas was gone. In her place, a note.
Your escort will wake soon. Know that I enjoyed our evening together, and that I will keep it close to my heart always. But I would not give away knowledge that isn't mine to give away, and I would not compromise you to anyone. No matter how irritating they might be or how pleasant the look on their face might have been had they seen you in my arms.
You will continue to be the first thing I think of when I wake each day until such time as I might know what it is like to wake next to you. Until I see the ocean’s blue chasing the sleep away from your eyes, and the Sun shining its envy of you upon the gold of your hair.
Chapter 8: Expected Visitors
Lireesa glanced over at Liadrin, who was already looking back at her from her side of the bed with a soft, understanding smile. The younger woman leaned over to press a gentle kiss to the side of Lireesa's mouth. “Soon. Go see what she’s done, now.” She whispered.
Lireesa returned that smile with all the warmth in the world and touched her forehead to Liadrin’s before she was gone - moving across the room to quickly retrieve her robe.
“Give us a moment, dear,” Lireesa called back as Liadrin tied her own robe before handing Lireesa hers.
“I’ll go make certain Valeera doesn’t turn this into a different conversation entirely when she’s out of the bath,” Liadrin said as she helped her wife on with her robe and was pulled into another quick, easy kiss.
“I'll join the two of you soon.”
“I look forward to it,” Liadrin said as she made her way over towards the bathroom and Lireesa left to join her daughter in the sitting room.
“Mother.” Sylvanas greeted with a faint nod and an even fainted smile.
“Sylvanas,” Lireesa responded, walking towards her to pull her close with a hand on her shoulder. “Your injury?”
“Just fine. The healers checked me out this morning.” Sylvanas let herself be pulled into the tight hug her mother offered, and then followed her to the corner of a room where a wine decanter was waiting on a small table with only enough seating for two.
“Tell me, what brings you here this evening? Not that I'm not happy to see you, of course. I always am.”
“I'm sorry to have interrupted your night. I hadn't realized Liadrin was back, also.”
“Never mind that,” Lireesa said dismissively, passing Sylvanas a glass-half-full of wine and getting comfortable in the chair she had chosen. The one closest to the fireplace.
“I wanted to speak with you about Lady Proudmoore. And about Theramore.”
“I thought you might eventually. Did you know that she asked about you during our last talk? I've never seen the color drain from someone's face as quickly as hers when I told her you were returning with an injury…”
Sylvanas’s ears perked and then drooped all at once as her face flushed deeply and she looked down into the glass she was holding.
“I'm your mother, Sylvanas. Not only that, but I have eyes and can see. This isn't one of your flings is it?”
“Mother, we haven't...I haven't…”
“Oh, dear.” Lireesa leaned back in her chair. “And here I feared having to discuss the humans’ customs and sensibilities with you. I had no idea you had developed your own.”
“She's very different. That's all. I don't need to know about their customs to see that. And it doesn't feel like something that ought to be rushed…but do you know much? About their customs, I mean?”
Lireesa laughed. A quiet, warm laugh that Sylvanas didn't mind at all.
“Would you first tell me of the nature of our trade arrangements need to be shifted into arrangements of another nature? This is no Silvermoon mage or priestess or whoever you usually fancy. She is a Lady of a rather prominent human House, though I do believe they are currently at odds. More importantly, she is the leader of a free state. And if what my sources tell me is true, Theramore will be something to be reckoned with in years to come.”
“I'm not certain I understand what you're getting at, Mother.”
“Do you not?” Lireesa asked with a lift of one of her brows. “What I am getting at, Sylvanas is that if you mean to court her - you will not only be courting her. You will be courting a name, a title, and a nation. You would be courting a bloodline. As would she. There is gravity to this situation, and it ought not be taken lightly.”
“It isn't that serious,” Sylvanas said quickly, though she wasn't entirely sure who she was trying to convince.
“Isn't it? Then what about Theramore did you come here to ask?”
Sylvanas was studying her wine glass again, now. Her hesitation was louder, even than her response. “I came to request a state visit to Theramore be arranged in advance of the closing of our trade negotiations, and that I head the visit.”
Lireesa was quiet for a moment as Sylvanas’s words sank in. For both of them. She chose her next ones carefully.
“I would be happy to send you to Theramore, but I do ask that you show the discretion I know you are more than capable of showing. It would be...ill-advised for it to be found out that the two of you are involved on a personal level without a formal announcement of intent.”
Sylvanas nodded weakly, and Lireesa reached out to cover her hand with her own. “You do know that I wish nothing but happiness and contentment for you. But when happiness is at risk of political implications, we must tread carefully. Now, as far as their customs, they are not quite as...open as we are. I have no doubt this is due to their lifespan. They simply don't have time for the things that we have time for.”
“You're referring to their romantic involvements.” Sylvanas hazarded the guess, and Lireesa nodded.
“For instance, I don't believe the arrangements we tend to have with our partners would work in the same way, if at all. Have you considered that?”
“No,” Sylvanas admitted quietly. “Perhaps because I've only thought of her, and I've never experienced that before.”
Lireesa hadn't been expecting that, really, and she took a sip from her glass to rearrange her thoughts. “I support you, Sylvanas. And I love you with the entirety of my heart. Make your visit. Consider every possible outcome. Know her more deeply. I should think three weeks or so might be appropriate, taking all things into consideration.”
Sylvanas finished off her wine and placed her empty glass aside, already moving to stand when Lireesa continued.
“Alleria will accompany you. Choose the rest of your envoy and send the list when you have. We need to make sure they are properly outfitted if they aren't already.”
Sylvanas could tell by her mother’s tone that there would be no getting out of having her sister along for the trip. That didn’t make her any less appreciative as she gave Lireesa a quick hug and dismissed herself. Nor did it stop her from pausing at the door and looking back at her.
“Get back to your activities. Tell Liadrin I’m sorry for the interruption.”
“Imp,” Lireesa responded with a smirk. “Out with you. I think I will get back to my ‘activities’. Would you like me to give Valeera your regards as well?”
Sylvanas looked back again, and Lireesa chuckled at the way her brow lifted. “Of course. But tell her if she breaks my mother’s hip, she’ll have me to answer to.”
“Liadrin will take care of my hips if need be,” Lireesa responded in an entirely too unaffected tone as she stood and retreated towards her bedroom.
Lireesa didn’t miss the heavy sigh her daughter gave her as she shut the door, only to pause as she looked to their bed to find Valeera in Liadrin’s lap.
Valeera looked over towards the woman when she heard the door shut, but Liadrin held her close as she seemed to be about to move away.
“Don’t stop on my account,” Lireesa said with a faint smile. “That was a rather pleasant sight to walk in to.”
“I told you.” Liadrin murmured reassuringly as Valeera settled back against her. “Don’t worry so much.”
“I’m not worried,” Valeera replied as Lireesa made her way towards the bed. She left her robe on and moved to settle herself comfortably on the side that was currently unoccupied. “I just don’t want to overstep.”
“Overstep?” Lireesa asked before Liadrin could even think of a reply. “I’ve heard so much about you. I’m only glad to finally have you here.”
Liadrin’s gaze was almost smoldering as she looked up at Valeera while her wife spoke next to them.
“The two of you are devastating.” Lireesa continued. “It will be such a pleasure to see what you do for each other.”
“And you?” Valeera asked as Liadrin dragged her hips closer in a way that made her gasp.
Lireesa chuckled warmly. “More than content to watch for now.”
Liadrin leaned up just enough to brush her lips against the underside of Valeera’s jaw. “Give her a show.” She murmured before nipping gently at Valeera’s skin. “I bet she’d like to see you come. I know I would.”
Valeera shuddered and nodded as she touched along the back of Liadrin’s neck.
“Lay down for her, darling.” Lireesa’s voice was low and slightly raspy as she reached out to touch over Liadrin’s shoulder. “She’d be so pretty riding your face.”
Liadrin let out a breathy sound that Valeera couldn’t remember ever having heard before. All she knew was she liked it. A lot. And her attention shifted for a moment to Lireesa as Liadrin moved to slide herself down the bed.
She found herself caught in the grey-green glow of Lireesa’s eyes. Valeera had always found herself attracted to the power Liadrin had. Not politically. She had little concern for that. Just...everything else. Physical and emotional power. Intangible power.
And Lireesa exuded that. Even laying there reclined against the headboard in her robe, she was the image of absolute control. From the steel grey of her hair to her scarred ears set proudly and easily - arching upwards slightly in the only hint that she was actually deeply interested in what they were doing. That, and the slow, easy smile that spread across her face when Liadrin was settled where she needed to be.
Liadrin had no qualms with stroking her hands along the backs of Valeera’s thighs and gripping her ass to pull her closer, yet Lireesa cut her off rather quickly.
“I’ll tell her what I want to see.”
The sharp way Liadrin’s chest rose told both Lireesa and Valeera that this prospect was rather intriguing to her, to say the least.
“Put your hand in her hair, Valeera. Take it down and put your hand in it. You’d be surprised how long she can hold her breath...lower yourself. Slowly.”
Valeera’s stomach and thighs were tense as she did just that, and her fingertips trembled slightly as she threaded her hand into Liadrin’s hair to draw her face up at the same time. Liadrin had always been good at this...but it was different this time. Perhaps because Liadrin wanted to taste her so badly, yet it was Lireesa who had control of that. Perhaps because she didn’t have to look over to feel the Regent Lord’s eyes on them.
The moment she finally sank down against the velvet heat of Liadrin’s waiting mouth, she nearly came. Perhaps sensing this, Liadrin went slow at first. It all started with a trembling exhale through her nose before soft skin pressed into that, too and cut off her breath. Liadrin’s eyes fell shut then and she moaned softly when her tongue first found Valeera’s clit. A moan that felt as though it reverberated through Valeera’s entire body.
It was a pretty sight, to say the least. The way Valeera’s hips rolled and Liadrin’s shifted every so often, despite the lack of any physical stimulation.
Lireesa moved closer. Just enough to reach out and stroke along one of Liadrin’s thighs. She let out a pleased murmur as it shifted closer to her - spreading to ask for the attention her mouth was too busy to request.
“Fuck her mouth, Valeera,” Lireesa whispered as she trailed her fingertips between Liadrin’s legs. “You want her to don’t you, Liadrin? You want to be a fucking mess when she’s done.”
Liadrin’s responding moan caused Valeera’s hips to jerk.
“Mhm. She has such a lovely mouth, doesn’t she?”
Valeera cast a glance in Lireesa’s direction and her eyes were lidded heavily as she licked her lips to wet them.
“Use it. She doesn’t mind.”
It was then that Lireesa sank two of her fingers into Liadrin as deep as they would go. The curling of her fingers was firm and her positioning was exquisite - allowing her fingertips to stay right where they needed to be, and her thumb to draw quick, easy circles against Liadrin’s clit.
Between the unhinged moans, Liadrin had no hope of withholding and the way she sucked and licked at her so desperately, Valeera found herself spilling over the edge in a way that was almost violent. She was pulling away from Liadrin’s mouth and collapsing over her and Liadrin didn’t mind. It allowed her to tug Valeera close and dig her nails into her slender back as Lireesa drove her towards her own orgasm almost effortlessly.
In their shared haze, Valeera didn’t really notice Lireesa moving towards them until she lifted her head and watched Lireesa’s slick fingertips tracing Liadrin’s lips - mixing the evidence of Liadrin’s orgasm with the still-glistening wetness already on her mouth until Liadrin parted her lips and bit down gently on the tip of one of her fingers.
“Oh, it’s like that?” Lireesa asked in a whisper that Liadrin responded to with a small, sated smile.
Valeera’s eyes nearly rolled back in response to the exchange. Instead, she shook her head and cursed quietly as she buried her face against Liadrin’s chest.
“Shall I leave the two of you alone?” Lireesa asked - sounding utterly unbothered by the prospect.
“Fuck, no,” Valeera replied with no hesitation - her response muffled against the warmth of Liadrin’s flushed skin. “Absolutely not.”
“Did you like that?” Liadrin asked in a whisper against Valeera’s ear.
“I’m gonna make her come.” She continued, and she could have sworn Valeera whimpered softly in response. “You wanna see me make her come?”
Valeera nodded again.
Lireesa looked more than a little pleased at the prospect.
Alleria stared up at Sylvanas from the couch she was situated on and pursed her lips. “Of course it wasn’t your idea to have your big sister along on your sexcapade, and yet here we are.”
Sylvanas had both expected and not expected to find Alleria waiting for her when she got back to her rooms. She'd been waiting for it, really. She still wasn't necessarily prepared. You couldn't really prepare yourself for Alleria Windrunner.
“First and foremost, that is absolutely not what this is.” Sylvanas narrowed her eyes, yet she still plopped down on the opposite end of the couch Alleria had been sitting on when she’d shown up to her rooms to find her here, no doubt summoned by their mother from the field.
“Isn’t it?” Alleria asked as she lowered the tip of the pipe she’d been nursing and offered it to Sylvanas, who shook her head faintly in response. “Boring.”
“I need a clear head, Alleria. I’m organizing a state visit. Please. And no, it’s not. You have to be having sex for something to count as a sexcapade.”
“Holy shit, you aren’t fucking her?”
The utter shock on Sylvanas’s face and the way her ears pressed back against her skull were almost enough to make Alleria double over. Somehow, though, she held it together.
“Who are you and what, exactly, have you done with my sister? I could have followed the trail of broken hearts to find you not six months ago.”
“I don’t break hearts. Don’t start that.” Sylvanas grated out through her teeth as she pulled her legs up onto the couch beneath herself.
“No more than I do, anyway. So what’s changed since I was here last? The last time I saw you, you wanted nothing to do with her - now, suddenly, you’re scheduling visits. You’ve been outside of Quel’Thalas what, three times in your entire life? And now you want to go to another continent in the middle of winter. For a woman, no less. And don’t tell me it’s not for a woman. You know damn well we don’t need to go there to finalize whatever arrangements we’ve made.”
Sylvanas was quiet for a while as she thought that over. As brash as her sister could be, she was rarely wrong when she actually had something to say. “I guess it’s just never been this way for me before. There’s something about her that I can’t get out of my head. I haven’t even been with anyone since I met her.”
“You’re going to wither away…”
“Alleria, please. This is serious.”
“Obviously. I was also being serious. The two of you aren’t even involved in any official capacity, and you aren’t up to your usual extracurriculars? Talk to me. Seriously. I’ve been around a while, Syl. Maybe I have some insight.”
“I just…” Sylvanas trailed off and looked more than a little helpless for a minute before her head fell back against the sofa and she was staring at the ceiling. “I’m fucked. It’s like I don’t even want to look at anyone else. Wake up, think about her. Go to bed, wish she was there.”
“You’ve experienced that with her, then? Sounds more like a memory than a wish.”
“I...once. When I left the unit to come back to Silvermoon. She was leaving the next morning.”
Alleria leaned forward to place her pipe on Sylvanas’s table when she realized it had gone out anyway, and scooted closer to her sister to work an arm around her shoulder. Something Sylvanas stiffened for a moment in response to before she finally relaxed.
“There you go, kid. Listen, I need you to know that it’s taking every ounce of willpower I have not to give you hell for riding all that way for someone you aren’t even sleeping with. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s tackle the real issue. What you’re experiencing is feelings. You have feelings for someone. I’ve never seen you have that before, but I’m glad as hell for you. And I’m glad I’m going to Theramore with you so that we can freeze to death together.”
“It’s not gonna be that bad, Alleria.”
“Uhhuh. You haven’t spent as much time outside our borders as I have, but you’ll see. Ah, well. Maybe you can get that mage to keep you warm.”
“That would be nice.”
Alleria cut her eyes in Sylvanas’s direction and lifted a brow as she choked a little noise back in her throat. “I’m still not entirely sure you’re my sister.”
“Get off me.”
And she did, but not by choice. It took her a minute to catch herself in response to the strong shove Sylvanas delivered to her side.
“Maybe you are.” Alleria had never sounded quite so haughty.
And Sylvanas had really needed that laugh.
Chapter 9: Secrets Kept
I know that you’ll be here in just a few short days. I also know you might find this letter to be a bit unnecessary as a result. I hope that you don’t, of course.
I have no real reason to write you. I have no discussions of policy or politics to hide behind.
I merely find myself sorely missing your company. More specifically, I miss the stolen moments we’ve shared. My mind wanders, now, more often than not - to the sound of your even breathing and the warmth of you next to me.
To your shoulder, as well. I do hope you’ve recovered. Not for selfish reasons, I assure you. And I hope that your ride to see me before I left didn’t cause any lasting damage. That said, I’m terribly glad that you made that journey.
There are certain things that I am, admittedly, unaccustomed to. Your gentleness is something I’ve never experienced. The softness beneath everything that you’re expected to put on display for everyone around you.
Those are the things that I miss most. And it would be remiss of me to not mention your eyes and the way you looked at me that night. Like I was worth every mile of that ride you took. A ride that you expected nothing in return for, in the end.
I long to see you again. I long for more of those moments - stolen, or otherwise.
Perhaps I just long for you.
Al diel shala.
As hard as you may find this to believe, conventional words occasionally fail me. I hope you don't find what I've included in this letter in any way off putting. That is, I can assure you, the opposite of what I intend for it to be.
I've not had cause to pen any such writings in this tongue. Perhaps by the time I have a few moments to myself again, you will have consumed my language the way you have consumed my thoughts and I will try again.
Until next we meet,
My lady, thief of moments rare
Giver of smiles rarer still
To whom my intent I now lay bare
lest I lose my trembling will
Oft I dream of seas
in eyes of warmest blue
And of touches soft that fall like leaves
of gold upon my skin
Secrets told with tips of fingers
cautious, quiet, and true
In what you cannot say
and in what you do
In your leaving I am lost
and find my compass yearns anew
More seas than I my heart has crossed
for I fear it left with you
“It can’t be that bad,” Sylvanas responded, hiding enough nervousness from her voice that their envoy wouldn’t pick up on it. But Alleria did, and she smirked faintly.
Sylvanas sighed. “Yes. I packed heavy clothing. And we’re well outfitted already.”
That was true enough. They were all wearing what constituted nothing short of heavy regalia. There wasn’t an article of clothing on them not gilded or embroidered, and each of them were much more covered than they were necessarily used to.
Sylvanas wasn’t concerned about the weather, though. Not yet, anyway. She was much more concerned with just...seeing Jaina again.
It was Lirath that opened their portal. One woven with unnecessary opulence. Large enough for them to pass through in formation. Large enough that the grand courtyard of Silvermoon could be seen beyond.
The gathering of Theramore’s welcome party on the other side was treated to the sight of the edges of it fading away into shapes of fluttering leaves instead of crackling energies, so controlled and practiced Lorath’s magic was.
Jaina, at the head of the gathering on her own side, had her breath stolen at the sight of it all. From the confounding portal work to the squadron of elves all adorned in black and gold with dark, heavy hoods lined with shimmering filigree and exposed ears adorned with the finest jewelry.
They stepped forward in time, but it wasn't a march. Their steps were silent upon the earth and the only sound that came in unison was the shifting of their armor.
Sylvanas was a step ahead of the rest, with Alleria behind and to her right and the others grouped further back.
The portal closed in little sparks of shimmering gold, and Sylvanas was the first to bow as Jaina stepped forward and extended her hand. As tempted as she was to bring it to her lips, the Ranger-General merely clasped it and then let go as she righted herself.
“Ranger-General.” Jaina greeted with considerably steadier strength in her voice than she had in her fluttering stomach. She was dressed in her finest, and it was certainly nothing to scoff at. From the high-collared cape that was clasped at her throat by the crest of Theramore to the resplendent robes beneath that looked almost out of place in the overcast dampness of the courtyard, she was every bit the Lady of Theramore. The hood of her cape, however, was pushed back to allow the golden waves of her hair to hang free.
“Lady Jaina.” Sylvanas returned in kind after chasing her own stolen breath for a moment and glancing around at the crowd that had gathered to witness their arrival.
“I wanted to be the one to personally welcome your entourage to Theramore. And to make it clear that you are all honored guests of our nation. Of our home. That we extend its every comfort to you for the entirety of your stay.”
Sylvanas smiled warmly and turned to the side for the woman approaching from the back of their ranks carrying leather packs that looked to be almost too full.
“Silk,” Sylvanas explained simply. “Silk enough to keep Theramore’s tailors busy for quite some time. A gift from my kingdom to yours. It is my hope that they will find the golden thread that's been included pleasing.”
Perhaps for the first time, Jaina realized that all the detailing in the clothing she'd seen on her visit hadn't been dyed. Of course, they'd learned how to spin thread from gold. Of course, they had.
“A generous gift that we are more than happy to accept.” Even as Jaina spoke, a few of her men moved forward to relieve the elven women of their burden.
The chill was biting. For all of them. Yet, even as their ears began to ache faintly, they all stood firm until Jaina finally began to turn towards the main Keep. “Come, please. In out of the cold. Pained will be happy to escort your officers. I've had a more private room prepared for yourself and Lady Alleria. Forgive the sharing of rooms. We are a work in progress, after all.”
“It's no trouble at all. We're more than grateful for any and all accommodations you will provide.”
Sylvanas walked at Jaina’s side with Alleria when their groups split. It was everything she could do to stop herself shivering. The cold was already maddeningly distracting on top of the sudden, utter loss of the Sunwell the moment the portal closed.
Yet she listened intently as Jaina gave them a small tour of the main keep. She smiled and nodded and did her best to keep things as formal as was proper while she wondered, in the back of her mind, if Jaina had gotten her last letter. If it had been too much, too quickly.
Theramore was no Silvermoon. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But Sylvanas found herself both surprised and impressed at what these survivors had managed to build. It was a city. It was absolutely that. With infrastructure and planning and every person they passed seem to have a warm smile waiting for Jaina.
Perhaps that was what impressed Sylvanas the most. These people’s clear respect and appreciation for their leader. How it won out over their curiosity for the over-adorned elves accompanying her.
And how Jaina occasionally stopped to give one of them her undivided attention whenever it was needed.
At least it was warmer in these halls. No doubt from the few fires that burned in various hearths beyond closed, and sometimes opened doors.
They got to the room assigned to the two sisters more quickly than Sylvanas had prepared to, and as Alleria showed herself in and complimented the tray of food that had been left here for them, Sylvanas faltered and glanced between Jaina and her sister.
“Thank you for your hospitality, Lady Jaina,” Sylvanas said with a faint smile, and just a bit of hope and question in her eyes.
“It is nothing compared to what your people showed to me. Please, you owe me no thanks.” It was Jaina’s turn to pause, then, as Alleria busied herself with something that likely didn't require her attention, at all.
“Would...would you be available for a short while before dinner in the main hall? Or would you prefer to get settled in and properly warmed?”
Jains didn't notice the way one of Alleria’s ears had shifted in their direction.
“Sylvanas, I can unpack our things and get the fire going. I'm not in the mood to share these snacks with you, anyway. I'm starving.”
When Sylvanas turned to look at her sister, she narrowed her eyes slightly only to find Alleria already unpacking her bag.
“What's this?” Alleria asked with furrowed brows as she held up a cloth-wrapped bundle, only for Sylvanas to dash over and take it from her.
“I'll be back before dinner.”
Jaina couldn't help but be amused at the sisters’ back-and-forth, but she wasn't in any way disappointed when she finally found herself alone in the hall with Sylvanas.
And silence that was oddly loud. This is all either of them had thought about for so long. This aloneness. But the various voices that carried through the corridors let them know they hadn't gotten there just yet.
“More gifts?” Jaina asked with a little half smile as she gestured for Sylvanas to walk with her and began leading them towards the wing of the keep her rooms were in.
“This one is for you,” Sylvanas explained quietly. “To be opened away from prying eyes and listening ears.”
Jaina swallowed and nodded her understanding, and Sylvanas continued putting every ounce of effort she had into not simply reaching for Jaina's hand and for the reassurance she needed, not knowing just how badly Jaina needed it, too.
Until, finally, they were shut behind a door in a sitting room lined with half-filled bookshelves and...well, whatever else was here - Sylvanas didn't know. She was too busy catching Jaina in her arms when the mage threw her own around her armored shoulders to hook around the back of her neck.
It took a moment for them to remember just how this went. It took a moment for Sylvanas to breathe in the scent of Jaina’s hair as the mage’s warm breaths found the side of her neck.
“I thought I might die if I never had this again,” Jaina admitted as a furrow formed between Sylvanas’s elegant brows. But she merely held Jaina closer - cradling the back of her head in her gloved hand and nodding faintly in understanding. “That's ridiculous. I know. Gods, I know, but…”
“It isn't. It...perhaps it is, yes. But I've felt the same way since the moment I left you in that room.” Sylvanas’s voice was quiet and reassuring. Almost as reassuring as the fact that she seemed about as inclined to pull away from their embrace as Jaina did.
Until she moved her head slowly and caught Jaina’s chin gently with her hand. The leather of Sylvanas’s glove was so soft against her skin as her head was lifted and her eyes met the vivid green of the General’s.
“I can't say that I've ever missed someone before who wasn't my family,” Sylvanas admitted quietly as her fingertips shifted slowly until her hand was splayed along Jaina’s jaw and the side of her neck. “I missed you so terribly.”
Jaina found herself wishing Sylvanas’s armor wasn't quite so involved and heavy, that there could be even less space between them. She didn't even know why. She didn't even realize how badly she'd wanted to be kissed until Sylvanas was kissing her in that way that only she ever had. A way that was so soft and slow it almost hurt.
Jaina exhaled quietly and slid her hands down gilded pauldrons to circle around Sylvanas’s back beneath her cloak. There was precious little skin exposed to touch - but Jaina found it all the same. The barest hint of the nape of Sylvanas's neck above her undershirt.
Despite the sudden, sharp exhale this drew from Sylvanas, she didn't deepen the kiss. She merely leaned back against the door and pulled Jaina with her without really trying. It was then that a simple kiss became slightly more, and Jaina found Sylvanas almost toying with her, though not cruelly.
No, there was nothing cruel about the way Sylvanas dragged her lower lip along the Cupid's bow of Jaina’s upper one so slowly that a quiet sound that Jaina had never even heard herself make slipped out between them and caused Sylvanas’s ears to shift forward - perhaps to better hear or, or perhaps just because she'd liked it.
But it was both, really. And as Sylvanas’s eyes opened just enough to see the flush in Jaina’s cheeks, Jaina bravely lifted her hands towards her hood to pull it away from her face.
Sylvanas appreciated the care Jaina showed in that moment, and smiled softly when she paused at her ears and touched one of them with the side of her thumb. A curious little graze, and nothing more. Sylvanas lowered her ears, then, and Jaina guided the slits sewn into the hood along the lengths of them until they were free.
“You look like something from a book,” Jaina observed as she threaded her fingers through the General’s platinum hair to watch the way the firelight in the room caught it and made it shimmer. “Too perfect to be true.”
“I'm not perfect,” Sylvanas whispered as she ran the pad of her thumb across Jaina’s lower lip and then cradled her cheek. She could feel how warm it was even through her glove. “But that's a secret. Will you keep it for me?”
Jaina laughed weakly. More of a breathy exhale, but the way her lips curved told Sylvanas what it was meant to be. “Yes. I'll keep your secret when there is one to be kept.”
Silence fell over them as Jaina stood there in her arms, and Sylvanas knew she should go. She knew there was a banquet to prepare for. And still, she tilted her head until her lips touched Jaina’s with every word she spoke. “I could stand here and drink you in for the rest of my days, Lady Proudmoore. You are more dangerous than you know.”
“Am I?” Jaina asked, unable to do much about the slight tremor in her voice when Sylvanas shifted just enough that one of her thighs could have easily parted her legs, but didn't.
“You've cast a spell on me, I'm sure of it.” Sylvanas’s soft, maddening smile returned, then. But Jaina couldn't see it. She could only feel it press into her cheek. “We have a banquet to ready ourselves for.”
Jaina didn't want to give this up. Whatever this was. Whatever it almost was. And Sylvanas knew it.
Only, Jaina hadn't realized how much longing would be staring back at her in those glowing eyes when she managed to step back. She hadn't realized how the slight fall of the General’s proud, delicate ears would hit her like a stone wall.
“Yes. Yes, of course.” Jaina said after clearing her throat in an attempt to regain some semblance of composure.
Sylvanas held out the bundle she’d carried with her, then, and Jaina realized she'd forgotten about it, entirely. She took it gingerly and glanced at Sylvanas who nodded her encouragement, and opened it to reveal a folded garment of the finest black silk she'd ever seen.
“You mentioned your appreciation of our textiles more than once if I can recall,” Sylvanas explained as Jaina slowly held it up until it unfurled time reveal embellishments along the edges in thread Jaina now understood to be gold. “It feels even better than it looks. I hope you enjoy it.”
Jaina took a moment to hold the gift close and to gather herself once again. “It's lovely, Sylvanas. I...I have something for you as well. I'm certain it won't compare, but…” Jaina trailed off as Sylvanas tilted her head curiously, and hurried from the room.
When she returned, she held a small leather box in her hands instead of the robe. A box she opened and produced a very small, linen-wrapped item from which she passed to Sylvanas.
Sylvanas, who could only stare down at the fine compass she'd revealed when she pushed the linen to the side.
She opened it carefully, and then shut it. And then opened it again. All the while, she remained quiet as she ran her fingertips along its fine curves and edges.
Jaina was desperate to understand why Sylvanas’s ears were suddenly pressed back so tightly. To know why the other woman seemed to have nothing to say.
“In your poem…” Jaina said as she worried at the box she was still holding in her hand.
Sylvanas nodded softly. There was a gentle hum of magic within the metal and wood. Faint, but there - and it felt like Jaina. Because Sylvanas could feel Jaina. In Silvermoon, in the presence of the Sunwell, it had been faint. In Theramore, Jaina was like a beacon. Distinct. Powerful. “It's enchanted.” Sylvanas lifted her eyes to Jaina when she finally managed to speak.
“Against storms. Against magic. And nearly indestructible.” Jaina offered.
Sylvanas opened it again and shut it more slowly this time before tucking it with great care into the pouch at her belt. “Thank you, Jaina.” Sylvanas fiddled for a moment with the linen it had been wrapped in and then continued - only quieter, this time. “I am usually one to...what I mean to say is…”
Jaina bridged what little distance she'd put between them if only to hear her better. Perhaps to encourage her to continue, as well - and she reached out to touch Sylvanas’s wrist with her fingertips until the General was taking her hand into her own. “A woman has never given me a gift before.” She finally managed. “Forgive my fumbling. This is an entirely new experience for me.”
Jaina glanced down at their twined hands, then leaned in to press a soft kiss and all of the understanding in the world to Sylvanas’s cheek. “I understand that feeling all too well. I nearly cried when I read your poem.”
Sylvanas sighed softly and lifted Jaina’s hand to her lips for a parting kiss before she moved towards the door and began fixing her hood, only looking back at Jaina when she'd grasped the handle of it. “If I don't leave now I never will.” She explained with a crooked little smile that made Jaina’s chest ache before she was gone.
The banquet was...a banquet. It was loud in the hall, and the ale flowed freely, though Jaina didn't partake. She noticed even from the other end of the long table that Sylvanas didn't seem inclined to, either. Alleria had a pint or two, but that was about it among their group. Yet, even as wary as they must have been, they were the focus of many animated conversations which they joined in to varying degrees of success and delight. All of them spoke Common. Perhaps not as well as Sylvanas and her family, but well enough that they were never left out. And Jaina was proud of her people for seemingly going out of their way to avoid doing so.
But what had Jaina picking around her plate were the glances she and Sylvanas kept sharing. She hadn't realized how obvious she was being until Pained finally spoke up to the left of her.
“You are hopeless.” The older woman said with enough subtlety that no one would hear. Though, no one was paying them any genuine attention right now. Not with a gaggle of the elusive Sin’dorei people to catch their eye, instead.
Jaina’s gaze fell to the table and Pained felt a faint tinge of guilt.
“Has...had she been better to you? Than she was?” Very well, then. She would try. For Jaina.
“Yes.” Jaina’s response was guarded, but Pained was still looking at her. Long enough that Jaina looked back to see the Night Elf looking more apologetic than she'd ever seen her. “She's...no one has ever treated me the way that she does. Ever. She isn't what she seems to be.”
Pained looked down the length of the table at the General who was currently basking in various levels of attention. Whose laugh was irritatingly pleasant even from this far away, and who had enraptured nearly everyone on that side of the banquet hall with her charm and her wit.
But she looked just long enough to catch the quick glance Sylvanas cast in Jaina’s direction. One that told Pained, unequivocally, that Sylvanas's focus was a million miles away from the conversations at hand. Or perhaps a shorter distance. Perhaps a dining hall away.
“She is a beautiful woman.” Pained remarked idly as she buttered a piece of bread from her plate. “As are you. Please remember that.”
“She tells me,” Jaina replied quietly. “Every chance she gets.”
Pained couldn't really help the small smile that played at her lips, and Jaina felt relieved by it. “She should.”
Pained tried to sound unaffected. But truth be told - she wasn't. In fact, if she was being entirely honest with herself, she was overjoyed. Worried, certainly. She had seen Jaina utterly broken, and she didn't want to see it again. But Jaina also deserved so much. And someone of Sylvanas’s status had much to give.
As hard as it was for Sylvanas to retire from the banquet with the rest of her people, she knew it wouldn't be appropriate to wait around for Jaina. Not to the people of Theramore, anyway. And there had been a troll here that she was in no mood to stick around to get to know.
No, she would retreat to her rooms with Alleria where her older sister would help her with the more difficult pieces of her ceremonial armor. Armor that was too heavy and uncomfortable to truly serve any real function. It had even left sore places here and there, that Sylvanas winced about and then sighed in relief once the pressure against them was gone.
When it was her turn to help Alleria, the older woman finally spoke after biding her time for much longer than she was used to. “Are you going to see her tonight?”
“I'm not certain that I should,” Sylvanas admitted as she placed another piece of armor to the side so Alleria could step away and finish changing on the opposite side of the room where she had unpacked her things earlier.
“I don't know how much longer you think you can keep this up,” Alleria said, though she was far too exhausted for it to come across as teasing.
“Their customs and sensibilities are...much different than our own.” Sylvanas reasoned as she pulled a dark shirt over her head and exchanged black leather breeches for soft doeskin ones of the same color. She laced them both after loosely tucking the shirt into the low-slung waist of her pants and then as soon as she was done, reached for her discarded belt to pull the compass from its pouch. Alleria’s eyes were far too sharp to miss Sylvanas carrying to unfamiliar item to the small bed she'd laid claim to earlier.
“That may be true. But there must be a middle ground. I haven't ever seen you like this. Perhaps you could find another woman to occupy yourself with until the mage is-”
“Don't say that.” Sylvanas cut her off with her brows furrowed as she leaned back and rested the compass on her stomach. “I don't want that. At all.”
“Are you saying that after a couple of centuries of debauchery you are suddenly devoting yourself to one woman?”
Sylvanas remained silent as she opened and shut the compass almost nervously. But it gave her a great deal of comfort. The faint hum of Jaina’s magic so close to her was sorely needed right now.
“I'm saying that I am considering entering into a courtship with her,” Sylvanas admitted. “Because for the first time the thought of devoting myself to something other than my kingdom is more appealing than terrifying.”
“Mother mentioned that that may be an inevitability,” Alleria said as she found her way to her own bed and half covered herself with the thick blankets provided to them. She turned on her side, though, to find Sylvanas gazing down at the little object she was cradling in her hands.
“A gift from your Lady?” Alleria asked with a little smirk, but even more curiosity.
“I'm sure being wooed is quite new and exciting for you.” Alleria drawled, and Sylvanas looked over at her with a faint frown.
“I'm only teasing you. I've never known you to find yourself in a situation like this, is all I meant to say. And I would be lying if I said I felt my sister doesn't deserve a gift now and again.”
Sylvanas offered Alleria a weak smile. She was still waiting for the hammer to fall. Yet, as Alleria turned over and got comfortable, it still hadn't.
Just when Sylvanas breathed a sigh of relief, it came out of nowhere.
“Don't wake me sneaking out later.”
Sylvanas didn't respond. She was, however, absolutely silent when she did just that an hour or so later while Alleria slept just a few feet away.
She didn't even both to find a cloak to guard against the chill that had permeated the hallways in the night, and by the time she reached Jaina’s doors she was fairly certain she was frozen. Still, she managed a soft, polite knock - unsure if Jaina was sleeping, and not wanting to wake her if she was. To her surprise, there were soft footsteps across the floor only a moment or two later, and Jaina opened the door for her with an almost nervous smile in greeting.
She was wearing the robe. A robe that had been made specifically for her. To fit perfectly. And by the sun, did it fit perfectly.
And Jaina was wearing nothing underneath it.
“Come in. I know you're cold.” Jaina reached for her, then, guiding her in through the doorway into a room that was almost too warm for her, but exactly what Sylvanas needed.
Upon closer inspection, Sylvanas discovered a large fire crackling away in the hearth, in front of which had been placed a thick, luxurious fur. Possibly bear - from the looks of it. It was such a cozy, inviting sight that Sylvanas found herself drawn to it almost as much as she was drawn to Jaina.
Jaina only walked over with her and knelt beside her as she got settled with one shoulder against the stone and her legs stretched out in front of her. Even the stone of the hearth was warm, and it was wonderful.
Still silent, Sylvanas reached for Jaina's hand and carefully guided her into her lap so that the mage’s back was against her chest. And Jaina was warm, too. Warm and soft and covered in silk as she should be.
“I wanted to be with you,” Sylvanas explained quietly as she tentatively wrapped her arms around Jaina, who seemed entirely content with their current arrangement.
“I was waiting for you,” Jaina admitted with only the slightest hint of hesitation.
“That's good to know.” Sylvanas said as she rested her chin lightly on Jaina's shoulder to find she was pulling a small piece of parchment from the sash of her robe.
“Will you read this to me?” She asked as Sylvanas took it from her and looked down to examine it. Her poem. “In Thalassian? I want to know what it would have sounded like. I couldn't stop thinking about it.”
Sylvanas smiled. A smile that she pressed into the side of Jaina’s neck that caused a shiver Jaina didn't bother trying to hide.
Sylvanas read the poem in her own tongue just as she'd been asked. And of course it was more beautiful. With every gentle lilt and brush of lips against Jaina’s skin and that low murmur of Sylvanas’s voice in the velvet that was her language.
Jaina could have wept when it was over too quickly, until the sting of its ending was gentled by Sylvanas plying it aside and tracing her fingertips along the lengths of her fingers until she was twining their hands together.
”In your finding, I am found - and in your lips there is salvation
In your skin, the soft haven of acceptance
Yet still, I yearn
I long to know the feel of it against my tongue
I long to learn the taste of your pleasure
To know what it is to feel you trembling with it against me
I wish to know you in ways deeper still
I wish to delve into you like an ocean
Like a book whose pages are too rarely turned
Oh, to swallow your gasps and to hear the moan of my name upon your lips
Oh, to be that which brings you pleasure unending
I would find with you, together, something more than what we are apart
Wrapped in you and owned by you while I lay my claim in turn
I would give you my heart
I would paint the beating of it into your skin until its rhythm became measures of song
A song that would be the envy of every kingdom’s finest bards
Would you but allow yourself to be mine
Would you but accept that I am already yours
And that I am helpless to stop the rising of the tide that is you
Into which I would blissfully sink,
weighted willingly by the comfort of being known
And of knowing you”
Jaina’s mouth had never been so dry. She didn't even realize just how tightly she was holding Sylvanas’s hand until the other woman stroked slowly along the side of it and pressed the softest of kisses just behind her reddened ear.
“I...I've been studying, and…” Jaina trailed off as Sylvanad exhaled deeply against her neck. The breath had the faintest catch in it. But it was enough that Jaina noticed.
“I know.” Sylvanas murmured in reply.
“That was a beautiful work. I've never read anything like it.” Jaina whispered when she found her full voice failing her at the worst possible time.
“It wasn't a poem,” Sylvanas said, only confirming Jaina’s suspicions. “Just every thought that's run rampant through my mind since we've been apart.”
Jaina slowly let go of Sylvanas's hand, and the older woman withdrew it carefully, but Jaina shook her head softly and reached for it again to stop her pulling away. “I know how you’ve been feeling. I’m just not certain what I’m supposed to do about it. I’m also not quite as good with words as you. Not this kind, at least.”
Sylvanas wrapped her arm back around Jaina, then, and touched along the edge of her robe where it rode down her chest, though she drew her fingertips back up and along her collarbone before too long. “Has it been long, then?” Sylvanas asked - her tone almost painfully gentle.
“I...Sylvanas, I’ve only ever been with one person.” Jaina thought it was going to be difficult to admit that...but the words had come freely, and hadn’t added much additional color to her already reddened cheeks. “I don’t know how to give you what we both want. But gods, I want to.”
“I know,” Sylvanas whispered, clearly unbothered by that admission. “I can hear your heart racing.”
Her own wasn’t exactly still in her chest. But she kept that fact to herself as Jaina’s hand stroked along her arm for a moment before shifting to the sash that held her robe and pulling it free. As the garment parted freely, Sylvanas began guiding it down her shoulders. “Does this mean you would like for me to touch you?”
“Please.” Jaina whispered, turning her head to the side so that Sylvanas could feel just how hot her face was even through her shirt.
Sylvanas’s eyes fell shut for a moment as she allowed the robe to drop to the crooks of Jaina’s arms and trailed soft touches back up them. She took the opportunity of Jaina’s head being turned as an advantage for the moment and trailed the bridge of her nose along the length of the side of her neck before kissing just beneath her ear.
“Don’t hide from me.” Her voice was a whisper. But it called to Jaina powerfully, and she could do little else but turn her head enough to see Sylvanas from the corner of her eye. “You are utterly breathtaking. I have never, ever seen something so stunning as you.”
As Sylvanas spoke, one of her hands moved gradually to graze the curve of Jaina’s breast until she was cradling it in her palm. That statement had been absolutely true. Sylvanas had often caught herself admiring the soft curves of Jaina’s body...but being able to touch them was something else entirely. Being able to see the little dusting of freckles across her chest. Hearing Jaina’s sharp, soft gasp when she first grazed her nipple with the side of her thumb.
“Do I get to see you?” Jaina asked - already completely breathless as her chest arched without her even willing it to.
“Soon.” Sylvanas cooed against her shoulder. “But I’m going to make you feel good first. Relax. Lean into me.”
Sylvanas exhaled softly when she felt more weight against her chest, and parted her lips against Jaina’s skin to deliver the gentlest bite she could manage - leaving the faintest indents behind. But, gods, did it drive chills along Jaina’s spine. “Yes.” Sylvanas encouraged quietly. The moment one hand abandoned Jaina’s breast to trail down her stomach, the other found the previously neglected one.
She hadn’t even touched Jaina’s thighs by the time the mage’s hands had found her knees and dragged the material of her breeches into wads in her fists, but she did soon enough. Both hands moved to rest along the insides of Jaina’s knees, further parting her own thighs to allow Jaina to widen hers at the behest of her hands’ slow downward path.
It was then that Jaina realized that beneath her own heavy breathing, she was hearing quiet pants from Sylvanas. That the woman’s chest was shifting against her back more quickly than it had been. That realization was so thrilling, she didn’t have time to prepare herself for the feeling of one of Sylvanas’s hands finally moving between her legs. She was anything but relaxed for a moment, and gave the knees of Sylvanas’s breeches a slight tug as she felt long, deft fingers part her.
“Beautiful,” Sylvanas reassured against the corner of Jaina’s jaw. “You feel like velvet. I could never have imagined…”
Jaina’s hands relaxed before the rest of her, but as soon as her body followed suit, Sylvanas trailed a line of wetness from Jaina’s as yet untouched entrance towards her clit, slicking it carefully before she began rubbing slow, light circles around it.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to me. Tell me what you like. Tell me what you don’t like. I want nothing more than to know.”
“I like this.” Jaina gasped as her hands trembled where they still were on Sylvanas’s legs. “I don’t want...you to stop.”
“I wouldn’t stop for anything unless you told me to.” Sylvanas panted, though she hoped desperately that Jaina wouldn’t ask her to.
Her fears were quickly alleviated as Jaina began to tremble against her. As her thighs began to tense and her gasps turned into throat whimpers and groans.
“Come for me.” Sylvanas whispered. “I’ve dreamt of this. I’ve dreamt of how you sound right now. Come for me, Jaina.” Her words slipped in and out of Thalassian as she murmured them - barely intelligible- against Jaina’s neck. “That’s it. Yes, Jaina…”
Sylvanas trailed off when Jaina’s hand darted to clasp around her wrist in a vice-like grip to keep her there as she spilled over an edge she hadn’t even recognized. Her entire body was shaking against the bulwark that was Sylvanas against her back.
Jaina hadn’t been at all prepared. Not for the way her vision blurred or the heat all-consuming pleasure that spread throughout her body.
And instead of worrying about her own needs - her own pressing, aching wants - Sylvanas just held her in her arms and dusted her shoulder and her neck and everything she could reach with kisses and murmurs that were too soft for Jaina to hear. But they were just want she needed to come down gently.
“What about you?” Jaina asked as her head rolled slightly so that her nose brushed the underside of Sylvanas’s jaw. “I want to do that for you. I just...didn’t really consider how I would go about it.”
Sylvanas laughed quietly. A breathy, slightly raspy sound that spoke to just how aroused she was. “First, I made you a promise.” She moved back carefully to make sure Jaina would catch herself, but stayed close as she unlaced her shirt and pulled it over her head.
Jaina’s eyes were already on her when she tossed her shirt to the side of the rug. On the hard lines of muscle in her broad shoulders and her toned stomach. And on more scars than Jaina ever would have guessed.
“You’re…” Jaina’s lips were still parted as she shook her head and looked up to meet Sylvanas’s eyes. She was still drunk on golden skin and perfect lines as just one of Sylvanas’s ears lifted while the other stayed put.
“Not perfect.” Sylvanas finished for her playfully. “But that’s our secret.”
“No. No, no, gods...you are...I don’t have the words...” Jaina replied immediately as she moved closer and reached to splay her fingers against the General’s stomach, and higher, though she became more tentative when she reached the subtle curve of the underside of one of the older woman’s breasts.
“It’s okay,” Sylvanas said as she slowly laid down on her side and guided Jaina down with her. Once they were both still, Sylvanas slowly lifted one of her legs to rest her bent knee atop Jaina’s hip, and almost by intuition alone, Jaina extended an arm for Sylvanas to rest her head on.
Jaina’s attention was quickly stolen from half-shut eyes to movement between them as Sylvanas unlaced her own breeches. Oh. Oh, fuck…
“Just watch.” Sylvanas offered before sinking her hand into the space she’d made for herself in the formerly tight pants she had on.
Jaina nodded faintly, and Sylvanas scooted herself slightly closer, and she was surprised to find that Jaina was reaching down to touch lightly over her breeches where her hand was.
“I want to learn,” Jaina explained quietly as Sylvanas paused before nodding. “Can I?”
“Of course.” Sylvanas was used to so much more than this. Technically. But the light weight of Jaina’s hand and the occasionally brush of a thumb against her wrist as she began stroking her own clit was...well. She couldn’t even manage to keep her eyes open.
And Jaina did learn. She learned that Sylvanas alternated from quick, firm movements to slower ones. She learned that her hips flexed beautifully and that a shudder usually followed. She also learned that Sylvanas made the most exquisite sounds she’d ever heard. Soft, subtle ones. Catches of her breath. Short little groans that only just left the back of her throat.
Jaina wanted her closer. She wanted more of all of it. And as those noises came more frequently, Sylvanas moved so that she was half over her, but her head fell slightly. Angled just so - so that when her teeth clenched together Jaina even heard the quiet ‘click’ of them. Even the sharpness of the breaths that followed were, Jaina was fairly certain, forever ingrained in her memory.
Unsure of what to do, Jaina simply pressed her hand against Sylvanas’s with a bit more firmness. Just in time to feel her fingertips go still and a few raspy, breathy moans fall from lips that were near enough to her ear that Jaina felt the head of Sylvanas’s breath against her skin.
In a moment of boldness, as Sylvanas leaned into her, Jaina moved her hand again. This time - beneath the material confining Sylvanas’s to stroke over her fingers and discover the wetness on the tips of them.
While Sylvanas was still recovering, she somehow managed to lift one of her fingers along Jaina’s, spreading the slickness she’d only just discovered along the length of it as she lay back down and looked at her.
What she found when she did, was that Jaina’s brow was furrowed and she looked to be in awe despite the fact that Sylvanas’s pants hid what she was doing. Eventually, Sylvanas slid her own from beneath Jaina’s and pushed her pants down past her own hips to reveal the cuts of muscle that ran down towards prominent bones and perfectly smooth skin between her legs.
Jaina looked up at her, then. Asking silently for approval with just a look.
Sylvanas gave her a faint nod. “You can touch me. Don’t be afraid of anything with me.”
“Can...can you take those the rest of the way off?”
Sylvanas obliged easily - discarding them where her shirt was still laying all but forgotten, and laying back down as close to Jaina as she’d been before.
It occurred to Jaina that she’d never seen someone so fit, just before it occurred to her that the Ranger-General of Quel’thalas was laying in her rooms utterly naked, more than happy to let her look all she wanted to.
But she wanted to touch. And Sylvanas encouraged every soft, hesitant graze along her body until Jaina couldn’t take it anymore and finally moved to her inner thigh.
When she found Sylvanas still wet, she nearly lost her already tenuous grasp on reality.
“You can keep going.” Sylvanas offered gently, reaching out to stroke through Jaina’s hair.
Jaina found the source of that wetness and nearly pressed the tip of her finger in before she hesitated, and Sylvanas leaned in to kiss her slowly. Just as their tongues touched, she pulled back and, instead, brushed her lips to Jaina’s cheek before murmuring against it. “I want you inside me if you want to be, Jaina.”
Jaina hadn’t realized just how much she wanted to be until she was - until she was pressing a single finger into the exquisitely tight heat that tightened even more in response to her presence.
“More.” Sylvanas encouraged as she moved onto her back and lifted one of her legs - bending it at the knee so her foot was flat against the rug and Jaina had all the space she could want. She tried her best to use it. She relished the quiet murmur that came from Sylvanas as she arched slightly in response to the stretch of the second finger Jaina dared to add next to the first.
Sylvanas was endlessly patient with her. Even on the cusp of her orgasm, she guided Jaina without the faintest hint of frustration.
They were both still in a daze as they lay half-covered beneath Jaina’s robe in front of the now much smaller fire. Sylvanas was utterly sated. Jaina was somewhere between that room and...just...gone.
But she could feel Sylvanas’s fingertips trailing along her back.
“I never thought it could be like this,” Jaina admitted, turning her head lazily towards Sylvanas as the other woman lifted herself enough to prop her chin in her hand.
“It will only get better,” Sylvanas replied. She smiled, and it was both tired and content. “The more time we have together, the better you will know me, and the better I will know you. I hope to never stop learning.”
“I hope that, too.” Jaina was as earnest as she could be, because she had never wanted anything more. Or, at least, she hadn’t allowed herself to truly want for herself in...ever.
“Shall I make my way back to my own room?” Sylvanas asked as she threaded both her hands through Jaina’s hair and leaned in for a kiss that was gladly returned. “Or is there time before the people of Theramore Keep start stirring?”
“Time enough for us to lay here for a while longer.”
“I would say I couldn’t ask for more if that were true,” Sylvanas said with a chuckle, though she was all too happy when they settled in together more tightly. “But I think the day I can safely wake to the morning sun with you in my arms will likely be my favorite day.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Jaina whispered in the short span of time between Sylvanas’s statement and the next kiss that was pressed to her lips.
Sylvanas showed Jaina that she agreed rather than telling her with a series of deep, lingering kisses that Jaina could’ve happily spent the rest of the night receiving.
Chapter 10: The Thrill of the Hunt
“I wasn’t sneaking,” Sylvanas responded, narrowing her eyes as she plopped down onto her own bed but didn’t bother laying down.
“No,” Sylvanas replied adamantly as she slid her shirt off over her head and reached for the bowl of washwater on the table near her bed. Once she had a damp cloth in hand, she began giving herself a cursory scrub. She was glad they hadn’t brought any mages with them. Knowing the ones that hung around the court, there would have been running water in every room by the first night. But this was positively luxurious compared to what both her and Alleria were used to having in the field, so neither complained - despite the lack of warmth in the water.
“No, what?” Alleria asked innocently as Sylvanas’s actions spurned her into washing herself, as well.
“I have no intention of discussing this with you, that’s all. I wanted to go ahead and get that out of the way.” Sylvanas stood to get to her legs with the cloth, and Alleria scoffed from her bed.
“I didn’t even say anything. It’s just, you know, I’m so proud of my baby sister. You had practically turned yourself into a monk for the girl.”
Sylvanas’s ears pressed back as she tossed the used cloth aside and reached for her bag to find a set of nice leathers for the day. They didn’t have anything particularly pressing on the agenda. Perhaps to give them all a short break from mingling and attempting to fit in where they absolutely did not.
“She’s not ‘the girl’, Alleria. I don’t know if you’re aware, but this city isn’t anything to scoff at. And neither is she.”
“So, when’s the wedding?” Alleria asked far too casually as she got changed, herself. She’d gotten very good, over the years, at ignoring the scathing looks her sister sent her way more often than not. This was definitely one of those times she put that skill to use.
“I would really appreciate it if you could respect my privacy in this matter,” Sylvanas stated evenly as she sat on the edge of her bed to slide her boots on over her calves.
“Of course, Ranger-General. I would never even consider not respecting your privacy.” Alleria stood now that she was dressed, and walked over to take a better look at her clearly agitated sister.
“Your hair.” She stated simply, though her lips had curled ever so slightly in amusement. “While you see to that mess, I’m going to go see about breakfast.”
“I can’t imagine you being concerned with anything that isn’t food, honestly. It’s touching that you were so worried about my comings and goings this morning.”
“Mm.” Alleria tossed a brush from her own pack in Sylvanas’s direction and then made her way towards the door. The moment she opened it, she was met with...a chest? She raised her gaze and her vision focused on a Night Elf that was much taller close up than she had seemed the previous day.
“Good morning.” Pained greeted, her eyes flashing behind Alleria to Sylvanas and back again.
“Good morning to you, as well,” Alleria responded as she leaned against the door frame. “What can we do for you?”
“Well, I was gathering a hunting party for the morning. We still supplement our food supplies with large game. And as graciously as my charge and her people have hosted me, I thought an Elven hunting party might be an interesting change of pace. I also thought it might be something the two of you might consider enjoyable.”
“You don’t say.” Sylvanas jabbed as she clasped her heaviest cloak on around her shoulders on the other side of the room.
“Forgive my sister. She didn’t get much rest last night.” Alleria’s ear flicked slightly as Sylvanas hissed. It was just like her to use a sound on her that they regularly used int the field as a warning. And it was hilarious, given the circumstances.
“Nothing to forgive.” Pained responded dryly. “We leave in an hour.”
“In an hour, then.” Alleria agreed.
“Jaina has expressed interest in joining us. Do either of you object to that?” Pained couldn’t help but be at least somewhat amused by the mix of reactions. Alleria’s ears twitched backward in the direction of her sister, whose own ears had perked visibly.
Alleria absolutely had objections. She just wasn’t inclined to voice them. Still, Pained didn’t want to be the cause of an argument. Things were tenuous enough and new enough, already. And she was doing this for Jaina.
“I assure you she’s not entirely inept in the forest. I was quite surprised myself the first time I took her out.”
“Of course,” Alleria responded as she offered a faint smile. Pained nodded at her and returned the smile, and Alleria shut the door behind her when she left.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Sylvanas said as she carefully threaded her ears through the slits made for them in her hood.
“I would, actually.” Alleria corrected her without hesitation. “It’s been ages.”
“We just got here, Alleria, and there is no shortage of women fawning over you every time you show up in Silvermoon.” Sylvanas countered.
“Well, we aren’t in Silvermoon, are we? Besides, did you see how tall she was?”
Sylvanas sighed heavily and sat on the edge of her bed with her bow to check over the string and see how the wood was adjusting to the new climate. “I’ve seen her plenty, thank you.”
“You’re in a terrible mood, all things considered,”
Just when Sylvanas had been about to go back on the defensive, Alleria handed her a little linen-wrapped bundle from the pouch she just finished fastening to her belt, and she fell silent as she unwrapped it only to discover a few pieces of honeyed flatbread. Something that just happened to be one of Sylvanas’s favorite things.
“You should eat.” Alleria continued without addressing the fact that she’d clearly packed these for her sister, as she wasn’t overly fond of them, herself. “You aren’t as used to being away from the Sunwell as I am. Try to keep that in mind. We’ll have a nice glass of mana wine when we get back from the hunt.”
“Why are you being so nice?” Sylvanas asked as she propped herself up against the headboard of the bed with her bow resting across her lap.
“Because you’re my sister,” Alleria explained with a faint shrug. “And because I know when you’re in a bad mood, there’s always a reason for it - even if you don’t tell me what it is.”
Sylvanas polished off the first piece of bread and hazarded a glance in Alleria’s direction, watching as she found her own bed and lay down on her side to look over at her. “Maybe I’m a little out of my comfort zone.” She finally admitted.
“I could’ve told you that.” Alleria laughed quietly, but it wasn’t something that Sylvanas took offense to. “But I think we both always knew you’d be the one to settle down, right? So even if this isn’t it for you, you’ll learn from it.”
Sylvanas hadn’t meant to broach that subject. In fact, she’d thought Alleria had taken the bait - what, with mentioning the Sunwell and all. But, no. She’d gone right for the kill. It left Sylvanas silent for a while as she had another piece of her bread before speaking again. “I’ve never really considered any of this before. Not really. Not the logistics of it, anyway. And now Mother wants me to make a decision in three weeks as to whether or not I want to pursue an official courtship.”
“It’s as you said, Lady Moon. She’s not just a girl. Not some courtesan from Silvermoon to fall over your every poetic word and coddle you after a hard battle. But you were never easy, were you? You’ve never chosen a path for yourself that would be effortless by any stretch.”
“She likes my poetry,” Sylvanas responded quietly with her brows furrowed while she fiddled with the last piece of bread.
“Does she?” Alleria asked with a soft, but still amused smile. “Well, you should go ahead and have your ring made. Our family’s writing genes skipped you entirely.”
“Ass.” Sylvanas quipped, only sounding mildly dejected before popping the last of the bread into her mouth and sitting up to face Alleria. “I’m a better poet than you.”
“Debateable. You’re just lucky you got Mother’s eyes.” Alleria faltered a bit, then, and they both looked away from each other. It was such a recent thing - the green that had come to replace Sylvanas’s grey and Alleria’s blue. The little jab had just slipped out so easily, because it’s what they were both used to.
“I wonder how the others are faring,” Alleria said idly in an effort to shift the conversation into something more comfortable.
“None of us are opposed to being fawned over. There was quite a bit of talk of accents last night at dinner, and no small amount of them showing off, though it must seem subtle to the humans. I think they’ll enjoy their time here.”
“Mm, none of them as much as you. If you plan to keep slipping off to stay gone all night, that is.” Alleria dodged the now-empty cloth being tossed her way as she stood in response to the sound of footsteps approaching in the hallway.
“Might that be your lady-love, now?”
“Stop it.” Sylvanas hissed with her eyes narrowed and her ears back just before a knock sounded at the door.
Despite the teasing, Sylvanas opened the door quickly with a smile - only to have it fall when she saw Pained standing between her and Jaina, who was fiddling with a belt around her waist that she was no doubt unused to wearing.
Pained did her best not to snort in response. “We’re early. Lady Proudmoore was too excited to wait any longer. Isn’t that right, Jaina?”
Jaina blushed a bit as she glanced into their room past Pained’s shoulder and offered Sylvanas and her sister a slightly muted smile. “I don’t get out much.” She explained sheepishly, and before Sylvanas could respond, Alleria was pushing past her and out the door as she slung her quiver easily over her shoulder.
“Well, you’re getting out today! And we’re wasting the dawn. Isn’t that right, erm...Pained?”
Pained chuckled quietly, obviously finding Alleria’s rather brash treatment of her sister rather entertaining. “It is always best to hunt when the light is still grey, yes.”
Sylvanas regained her footing by the time Pained and Alleria cleared out of the doorway, and the embarrassment read plainly on her face. But instead of laughing or teasing, Jaina only glanced down the hallway at the retreating figures of their party and then leaned in to kiss her quickly.
A laugh did come, then, as Sylvanas’s wilted ears perked immediately.
“Good morning.” Sylvanas murmured as the corners of her lips curled and she seemed to be back in her element once again. That greeting had been somehow both gentle and sultry all at once, and Jaina was glad she was too tired to be easily flustered.
“Good morning,” Jaina responded, reaching to shut the door for Sylvanas so they could start catching up to the long, easy strides Alleria and Pained were taking down the hall. “Did you get much sleep last night?”
Sylvanas cut her eyes in Jaina’s direction just in time to catch her cheeks reddening and her smile widening all at once. “No. I didn’t sleep a wink, in fact.”
“And was it worth it?” Jaina asked, sobering herself quickly and sounding suddenly all-too-innocent.
“Unimaginably so.” Sylvanas could act with the best of them, and even as those much-needed, affirming words met Jaina’s ears, the General’s face was a placid mask of stoicism. “I was rather surprised by this invitation, if I’m being entirely honest.”
“It wasn’t entirely innocent on either of our parts.” Jaina admitted. “Our hunters, even now, have a difficult time keeping up with the demand. Especially in colder times. Without ground cover and against the snow, they always have to stay out twice as long to bring back half as much game.”
“I’ll go out with them, then. Before our time here is through. There is likely much I could show them in the way of tracking and camouflage.” Sylvanas offered this as though it were the most natural and expected thing in the world, but Jaina found herself struggling not to gape at her.
“You’re going to take a bunch of clumsy humans out and teach them how to hunt properly?” Jaina asked, doing little to hide the level of disbelief she was experiencing.
“Of course,” Sylvanas said as she finished buckling her quiver across her chest and hooked her bow against it. “No one should go hungry for lack of learning when there is someone to teach them. Besides, the few Elves you have here are far too few to carry the burden on themselves, and I would wager anything that I’m the best hunter on this continent right now.”
“Oh, really?” Jaina found this level of cockiness that had suddenly returned both refreshing and curious. Because Sylvanas sounded like she absolutely believed that and, hell, maybe it was true. “Then what do you suppose they’re doing wrong?”
“Guns,” Sylvanas replied simply, only glancing at Jaina for a moment as they rounded the next corner. “They hunt with guns, don’t they?”
“Well, yes. They don’t know anything else. They’re used to their stag hunts and fox hunts in Lordaeron. Not feeding an entire city. Is...is there something wrong with guns?”
Sylvanas frowned and one of her ears flicked subtly. “There is everything wrong with guns. They’re far too loud, most importantly. Far less accurate - if you train yourself to be a decent shot with a bow, that is. And they are wasteful. You can repair arrows as many times as you need to as long as the shaft isn’t compromised. That could be invaluable to a place and a people that are only just starting to grow enough to thrive. Your blacksmiths would be free to shoe your horses. To craft items that are necessary for further development. Tools and things of that nature.”
“I suppose that’s extremely logical.” Jaina murmured, still taking in everything Sylvanas had just said. She hadn’t really been expecting this side of her. But it was so nice. It was so nice to know that Sylvanas had this side at all. “And of course I both appreciate and accept your offer.”
It was Sylvanas’s turn to blush. Not out of embarrassment, but because she was so strangely pleased that Jaina would accept her help. And equally pleased she could offer it.
Soon enough, though, they had caught up to Alleria and Pained - who were chatting back and forth easily.
“You two are certainly getting along splendidly,” Jaina remarked from behind them, and Pained turned her attention towards her.
“Why wouldn’t we?”
Jaina just quirked an eyebrow and shook her head and let them get back to whatever they were talking about. Currently, it seemed that Pained was discussing a herd of deer that she’d had a little luck tracking recently.
Sylvanas both appreciated and despised how easily Pained and her sister had fallen into this with each other. Appreciated - because at least Pained was off her back, and despised, well...for obvious reasons.
The moment they stepped outside of the building, Sylvanas nearly rescinded her offer as well as her agreement to hunting when the cold bit into her mercilessly.
She even physically faltered for a moment as her breath puffed visibly from her nostrils. She hadn’t even realized her ears had pressed against her hood so hard they were almost curled to the shape of her head until Jaina turned a worried gaze in her direction.
Alleria was even struggling, despite her time out on the borders of Quel’Thalas. This was...awful. Yet, she merely pulled her cloak more tightly about herself in response to the realization that Pained seemed utterly unbothered by it.
Jaina, on the other hand, reached out to graze Sylvanas’s gloved hand with her fingertips questioningly. That was enough coaxing. At least for now, anyway. Sylvanas trudged on, then. Even through the crusts of ice that had formed in some of the muddier bits of land just outside the city. Her boots were well-waxed, at least, so her feet would stay dry and fairly warm.
Her ears, though, were another story entirely. But she tried her best to push that to the back of her mind. Focusing, instead, on learning her surroundings.
She became so focused on that, in fact, that she didn’t notice Alleria was talking to her until she said her name a second time.
“What? I’m sorry.”
“Maybe your ears are frozen.” Alleria quipped as both her and Pained came to a stop. As it turned out, Jaina had been a little too busy looking at Sylvanas to notice the conversation had shifted, so she was standing in much the same boat as her. “Because I know you’d have had something to say if you’d just heard Pained suggest she could out-climb us.”
“She what?” Sylvanas asked with a slight lift of her brow.
“It wasn’t meant as an insult.” Pained drawled as she crossed her arms in front of her chest. “It’s just that it’s very obvious to me that the two of you aren’t quite as suited to it. You’re light and quick, sure. Anyone with eyes could see that. But I don’t think you’re meant for tree-climbing.”
Sylvanas’s gaze shifted from Pained to Alleria, who was smirking playfully in her direction.
“Well, what are you standing there for?” She asked her sister with a slight tilt of her head. “We need to find three trees that are comparable for it to be fair. In fact, give her more footholds if you want. She’ll need them.”
Jaina didn’t mind following them around through the woods while they debated on suitable trees as seriously as if this were some sort of political negotiation. In fact, she found them all rather adorable for it. Even when it became apparent she was going to be the gear-holder for the duration of their climbs.
No, she still didn’t mind. Especially when she realized just how serious Pained was - even going so far as to go through a series of stretches before she finally signaled that she was ready.
“Sure you don’t want to have a long soak, first?” Sylvanas asked with a sly smile, and Pained rolled her eyes.
“Forgive me not wanting to injure myself. Some people aren’t as young as you lot.”
“I’m not young.” Alleria countered with a little chuckle. “But I’m still going to beat you.”
“We’ll see.” Pained eyed her carefully for a moment before looking ahead of her towards the tree that was her goal.
“Ready?” Jaina asked, and Sylvanas unclasped her cloak at nearly the exact same time as her sister.
“Go.” Jaina’s eyes widened as they all took off.
She knew how fast Pained was. She knew how fast elves were in general. In theory. Then again, she’d never seen one flat-out run with no object other than to be the fastest.
It was something else, alright. For everyone one of Pained’s strides, both Sylvanas and her sister had to take two. Yet, they were still faster. Their feet almost didn’t look like they touched the ground.
The real show, however, started when they got to the trees. Jaina had certainly never seen anything like this.
She lost sight of Alleria almost immediately in the pine needles that still clung to their boughs, and Sylvanas was gone nearly as fast. They lept from branch to branch without thought or effort, all while Pained used her strength to pull herself higher.
Sylvanas was only panting lightly when she got near the top, only to come face to face with Alleria reaching down to help her up onto the highest branch they could safely perch upon.
“Ass.” Sylvanas hissed as Alleria laughed and straddled the branch, leaning over to see Pained looking over at them from about halfway up her tree.
“Need some help over there?” Alleria called out, and Pained groaned and let herself drop to the ground, followed by the two sisters.
There wasn’t a lot of ribbing for Pained to endure. Only a little. Because thankfully, they happened upon a track that Sylvanas lifted a hand to call for silence over. It was a signal so universal that even Jaina understood.
By the time they located the herd, both Sylvanas and Alleria had enough birds hanging from their belts to feed a large family each. Pained had again been bested, though she hadn’t ever held out any hope that she was a better shot than either of them.
When all was said and done, they wound up with two deer to lug back to the city, as well. Another opportunity for Jaina to watch Sylvanas and Alleria while she helped Pained rig a sled out of a large, waxed piece of cloth she’d brought for just this purpose so she could drag her catch back behind herself.
She’d hunted with Pained before, so it was something she was familiar with. What she wasn’t familiar with, however, was how Sylvanas and Alleria could make work - and dirty work at that - look so much like it wasn’t work. By the time Pained was ready, so were they - one strap over each of their shoulders on opposite sides and the deer slung easily between them.
True to Pained’s word, Jaina had been nothing but easy to work with in the field. Whether by magic or her own volition, she had been nearly as quiet as any of them. She’d even spotted a bird for Sylvanas.
Sylvanas wanted to tell her that. She wanted to tell her she’d loved being out here with her - that it had even been worth the cold and the stiffness in her ears. But that was a little bit difficult considering their current setup.
Maybe Alleria picked up on that. Maybe she also saw this as a good opportunity to see what Jaina was willing to put up with beyond traipsing around in the woods with them. “You wanna get this end?” She asked as she nudged her shoulder and Sylvanas looked over at her questioningly. “So I can help Pained get that poor animal off the ground? That’s a beautiful hide. It would be a waste to ruin it.”
Jaina smiled graciously, and Alleria and Sylvanas both stopped as Alleria handed the strap over in surprise. Jaina didn’t exactly manage the burden with as much grace or ease as Alleria had, but Sylvanas couldn’t help the little tinge of pride she felt when they fell into step next to each other - Alleria and Pained already decently ahead of them.
“You did really well this morning.” Sylvanas felt so much relief in finally being able to say that, that she couldn’t help the smile that spread across her features. “Color me impressed.”
“I did well?” Jaina replied. “And how was I on the hunt?”
Sylvanas’s eyes widened, and she looked over at Jaina, who was aiming a teasing smile in her direction.
“I…” Sylvanas glanced ahead of them as her ears twitched nervously. “You were wonderful on the hunt.”
“I apologize.” Jaina sounded like she meant it, and Sylvanas felt a twinge of guilt for her reaction. “If...you would rather not talk about it…?”
“No, no. It isn’t that.” Sylvanas reassured her quickly, finding herself desperately wishing there wasn’t a deer hanging between them. “I don’t want you to think that.”
“Then it wasn’t a one-off thing? I mean, if it was - I’ll understand, of course.” Jaina hoped that sounded as light and unbothered as she’d meant for it to. Even if she had been thinking of nothing else since Sylvanas had come to her the night before.
“I didn’t intend for it to be,” Sylvanas spoke quietly, even if she needn’t have. Alleria and Pained were much faster than them now that Jaina was burdened so, and they were rather engrossed in each other, anyway that it didn’t really matter. “But I feel the same, of course. I want nothing more than whatever it is that you want.”
“I suppose this was a good start,” Jaina replied as she adjusted the strap on her shoulder into a slightly more comfortable position. “I certainly didn’t want to be some sort of conquest.”
Sylvanas might have been offended if she wasn’t aware that her own actions might have made this seem like exactly that type of situation. She also couldn’t help but wonder if Pained hadn’t had anything to do with these concerns of Jaina’s, but there was little she could do about it now. “No, I...I don’t typically try so hard for ‘conquests’. I certainly don’t go halfway across the world for them. That isn’t at all what you are.”
Jaina nodded faintly as relief she hadn’t been expecting to find flooded her. “Do you suppose we could speak tonight, then? After dinner? I know you’re freezing, though you’re getting better at hiding it.”
“If I don’t perish before I get back in front of a fire, I would love to speak with you more this evening.”
“That’s terribly dramatic of you.” Jaina teased gently. “But you can’t perish, unfortunately. I don’t need a war with Quel’Thalas on my hands.”
Suddenly, Sylvanas slipped seamlessly into the flowing language of her people that Jaina had been studying so diligently. That Sylvanas knew she’d been studying.
“No. No, you should save your hands for this evening, I think. I can name a number of uses for them that are much more pleasant than war.”
Even if Pained had heard her, it was unlikely she’d have understood the nuances of her words. If Alleria had heard her, well, so be it.
“Noted.” Jaina cast a glance in Sylvanas’s direction, and Sylvanas smiled. A small, genuine smile that held none of the teasing Jaina might have expected it to.
She returned it weakly. This wasn’t going to be a nice talk. Not for someone like Sylvanas, and certainly not for Jaina.
But Jaina had never counted on this. No, Sylvanas was quite the wildcard. In all her arrogance...in all her infuriating self-assuredness, she had still somehow managed to convince something in Jaina that there might be something beyond Arthas and all that she’d lost.
Even if she was currently a walking elfcicle who was putting every ounce of effort she had into looking comfortable.