It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw its patches down upon me also,
— Walt Whitman, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
“A darkness pressing down on her, as the dark of Icecrown itself”
The night outside grew quiet as the rain abated. The thrum-thrum-thrum of droplets on clay and stone stopped in a strange staccato of mismatched rythm. A far away final boom of thunder rolled sluggishly across the plains. It brought with it the sound of an avalanche, hig up in the mountains. A muted, vibrant crashing sound. Hundreds of tons of snow and ice careening down the sides of some nameless mountain. Eventually the trees that broke would wash up on the shores of the wetlands marsh. Life would sprout from the dead.
Inside the cabin something completely different happened. Maraad had just finished his closing sentence – “Oh it’s nothing, really. I got gouged by a thorny wine summoned by a dark shaman, who later was eaten alive by virmen“. Then Shuanna made a mess. She couldn’t help herself. Hearing his matter-of-fact eplanation how a thorny wine had almost skewered him shocked her with disbelief. A pity her mouth was full of tea and bread.
Breadcrumbs and droplets of tea sprayed the table. Maraad stared in suprise at her for a moment – then he burst out laughing. He stood up, careful to not collide with the lavish chandelier, and got a piece of cloth from a small kitchen counter. He sat down and as he wiped the table clean he said, smiling:
“So, what have you been up to since our last talk? I gather the Aldor didn’t convince you to hang your mace on the wall for good?”
“Well … Kind of.”
Shuanna sighed. She took her time answering, ate her food, lit a claypipe, puffed it. With smoke trailing out her nose and mouth she finally said:
“The Aldor they … They knew I wasn’t a priest. Not in my heart. There’s too much dread inside me. I can’t ever quite reach the light, you know. Too much … Well.”
“Dread. Yeah.” She sighed. “Oh boy.” She blinked. “Sorry, I … uh … ” She sobbed, just once. Silent tears started to roll down her face.
Maraad grabbed her hand in his. He squeezed, not hard, but comforting. With a worried look on his face he leaned closer, almost staring at her. Then he frowned, ever so little.
“You’re having that dream again, don’t you?”
Shuanna nodded. She leaned back, a little uncomfortable with his bright, penetrating eyes upon her. She tried to laugh bu instead she made a slightly choked sound. Then she leaned forward, grabbed him around his neck with one hand and moaned:
“I’m so scared, Maraad! Oh light, please help me! I’m trying to keep it under control but the hate, it’s … I’m breaking. I thought I could survive but I’m dying inside!”
“The dream never happened, Shuanna,” he hugged her. “You know this.”
“It WILL happen! I know it! Ooh I was so fucking stupid …”
“What did you do?” He chuckled. “Stupidity is nothing we should fear. Trust me. I’ve done my fair share of stupid things. Like, well, jumping off the Skybreaker and forgetting a parachute.”
“Bubble up?” she laughed, wich felt weird given the circumstances. She couldn’t help it. She leaned back, sighing, calming down.”
“Bubble up,” he said. “The damned thing almost lasted till I hit the ground too!”
Tears turned to laughter, again. For a while she listened to his more comic stories of past mistakes, feeling a sense of calm spreading inside her. A tiny speck of joy slowly spread from somehwere inside her heart … at least it felt that way. That’s when she stared at him with a short, suprised gasp.
“Almonen, he … He says ‘It manifests itself as a feeling, small at first and easily ignored, that confirms truths and subtly prods one to do good.’. Isn’t that so?”
“Well, I believe it is.” Maraad smiled, a faint, friendly smile. “You’re not lost, friend. You have grievances with the light, but so do we all. But you are not lost.”
“Then what am I?”
“You … you’re angry. You’re afraid. You dream of things that never were, not in your life at least. It is understandable why you dream. Few people came out of that dread pit alive …”
Shuanna shuddered. She hugged herself, as if reliving the piercing cold not even hard labor could disperse. She said, looking down on the table, for an instant lost in old, terrible memories:
“I spent two days in there. At the end of the day they rounded us up, all of us. Orcs, trolls, humans. I was the only draenei. At least then. They … they knew I was a vindicator, a paladin. I had been … chosen.” She looked up at him. “We resisted. We fought, tooth and nail! They all died, all of them! They saved me for the last and then …”
“I remember the gnome pilot having troubles with the updraft,” Maraad said. “That’s why I had to jump out early. That’s why the ghouls on lookout didn’t see me.”
“What was his name? The other paladin? The one with you? He held me in his arms while you led us out of there. The Pit of Saron.”
“Eadric,” Maraad said. He chuckled. “A lot of people didn’t think he amount to much, what with his shining armor and all. But I have yet to find a more solemn, purehearted soul anywhere on this world. If he wasn’t human one could suspect him for being, well – draenei.”
“They were going to kill me, you know that, no?”
“They were going to … raise you.”
“Oh, this family has enough death knights!”
“There’s only one reason they would have spared your life. You know why.”
She nodded. Some things were best left unspoken. She didn’t want to be reminded of the horrors of the pit but once the gates had opened it was hard to shut them. The first thing she remembered was the cold. The memory of it was so intense that she started to shiver even though the room was warm and cosy. The rest of the memories was the stuff of nightmares. A darkness pressing down on her, as the dark of Icecrown itself.
“Then they shaved our heads, all of us.”
“I was stripped naked,” she said in a low voice. “All the prisoners were stripped naked. Man, woman – all of us. They sorted out textiles in one pile, metal in another. Then they shaved our heads, all of us, crewcut they called it. Barely enough hair left to keep our head warm. We were issued left-over tunics, Alliance ones. Bloodstained, dirty. We got a pickaxe and …. Just so we wouldn’t get any ideas, they showed us what would happen. Should we try to use the pick as a weapon. There was a night elf, he … ”
“You don’t have to speak of it, friend. If it pains you.” Maraad sighed. “I thought I had seen horrors before but Northrend, well.”
“I think I need to speak of it,” Shuanna said. Then she hugged herself, hard. She tried to keep her teeth from clicking but the memory of that cold, cold place … She forced herself to speak: “But maybe I should speak of it in sunlight, no? Speak of darkness in the dark and you will break.”
“I never believed in that saying.” Maraad hid an involuntary yawn behind his hand. “I’m sorry, you don’t bore me, far from it. I just had quite a journey here.” He chuckled. “I am sometimes he biggest fool alive, as you know. Always eager to try new, unusual things. Well now, if you ever encounter a gnome in Ironforge, Millicent Millhouse? Don’t agree to try her ‘new, improved faster travel arrangement’.”
Shuanna smiled. Yet again the simple joy of listening to something stupid – in the sense of stupidly funny – lit up inside her. Almonen was right, she knew that now. Time and time again Maraad lured her away from the terror inside her with just a few, simple words.
“Tell me then, vindicator of stupidity,” she said.
“Sledding!” Maraad said and laughed. “I was just about to mount a gryphon when this gnome approached me. I agree, I’m a sucker for unsual deals. Ask anyone in Shattrath. I have probably made Griftah rich by now. Because, you know … All the wonders of the world, how can we be sure a rabbits foot isn’t just as magical as the sword of A’Dal? Anyone of their right senses should play it safe – especially with unknown magics. Now, engineering on the other hand … ” He chuckled.
“Yes, she had a sledge, a rocket propelled sledge. I sat down on it just outside the city gates and she lit the fuse. Now I know it takes exactly twentysix seconds to reach Menethil Harbor from the top of Bronzebeards Cliff. Most of the travel is airborne. You will land in the sea. I dare say miss Millhouse need to improve her aim.”
It was impossible not to laugh. She did laugh, loud and clear. She laughed so hard she had to lean forward, holding her arms against her chest. She cramped up, gasping for air, tears streaming down her face – but she kept laughing. Meanwhile Maraad just sat there, a faint smile on his face, a mischievous look in his eyes. She stood up, bent over like a mad beggar. She almost slid to the floor when Maraad stood up, walked a few steps around the table and reached out with a gentle embrace. He held her close for a long time. Her laughter turned to crying and then went full circle, ending with a long, drawn-out scream. A wail. Then, as fatigue crept into her muscles, she almost slumped in his arms. Her tears had dried on his scarred shoulders.
“I need sleep,” she said in a whisper and yawned.
“There’s just one bed,” he said.
“The floor is clean, dude.”
“Ah,” he chuckled. “I wasn’t implying … I mean, I … ”
“Right, you might get a good night kiss, but nothing more.”
“I wouldn’t mind, honestly.”
She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and went to bed. She fell asleep almost instantly, exhausted. She didn’t see Maraad sit down on the floor, lean against the wall, and watch over her with half closed eyes for the rest of the night.
Morning broke with chirping birds and a halibut left on the doorstep.