I am there, I help, I came stretch’d atop of the load,
I felt its soft jolts, one leg reclined on the other,
I jump from the cross-beams and seize the clover and timothy,
And roll head over heels and tangle my hair full of wisps.
– Walt Whitman, “Song to myself”
Sometimes a few words is all it takes. As morning broke she turned to Maraad and said:
He nodded through the smoke.
“I know you are,” he said, picking through the smoldering charcoal with a twig. The smoke from the cooking fire shifted its direction, enveloping him in a faint mist. “I am too.” Then he smiled, dropped the twig and grabbed a pewter plate. “Ah! The fish is done!”
“You sure about that?”
“You dare question my cooking skills!?” He laughed, taking the edge off his well-played anger in an instant.
“I dunno,” Shuanna said, smiling. She grabbed a plate, served herself half the fish and some bread. “You never quite struck me as someone who knows his fish is all.”
“Oh please,” Maraad chuckled. “You should try my spinefish. Delicious!”
“Uh-huh. So how about that Zul’Drak maggot stew you tried forcing me to eat couple o’ years ago?”
“That was an experiment! But I agree, those troll pictogram recipies … they were quite hard to decipher.”
She couldn’t help but laughing. The feeling of dread, pressing on like an unseen darkness all around her, dissipated. Perhaps it was morning feelings; she was always grumpy before breakfast. Even though she felt rested after deep sleep, so deep it almost reminded her of unconsciousness, she still felt tired. It was a tiredness of her soul, not her body. Her muscles felt strong and agile. Her blood flowed warm. Her breathing was calm. But her soul … her soul was screaming. She felt her heartbeats in her temples, like never ending drums.
The halibut was quite delicious. They sat on a small knoll not far from Menethil Bay, looking out across the water as they ate. The smells around them felt homely, comforting. The cooked fish and coffee mixed with the campfire smoke weaving strands of wiffs from the shoreline; seaweed, an old rotting log. She noticed a movement behind that log – just a quick flash of sunshine on slick, shiny skin.
“Is that reason for concern?” Maraad said. He didn’t seem to have noticed anything but his eyes didn’t leave the log. Peering at it over his breakfast plate. Quickly narrowing his eyes to penetrate the faint vapors from a steaming tin cup of coffee. “I left my mace up by the cabin.”
“That’s Merle,” Shuanna said. She chuckled. “It’s hard to pronounce. G’mmrlll. I call him Merle.”
“Is it dangerous?”
“He’s a friend.” she put the plate away and stood up, saying: “He’s probably the one that left the fish.” She cupped her hands around her mouth and called out, a long flowing guttural sound.
“Amazing … ” Maraad slowly put his plate away, looking at her with astonished eyes. “I’ve never heard anyone able to speak with them.”
“Just loosen your tongue and pretend you’re a fish.”
A pale murloc with faint blue tatooed streaks across his forehead very carefully stepped out from behind the driftwood log. He held a crude javelin made from wood and crustacean barbs in one hand. As he took a few steps forward his webbed feet made sploshing sounds on the damp ground close to the water. He waved, cautiosly. Then his thick lips broke up in something that was, probably, a big smile. He had some trouble speaking but even though his voice was thick and bubbly he managed a few words:
“Shiny! Horn Creature! Fish! Gmmmrlll many babies! New babies! Horny creature! Fun! Yes?”
Shuanna nodded. She gave “Merle” a thumbs up, bent down, grabbed the plate and straightened up. She showed the murloc with sign language that the fish indeed was tasty. “Merle” made a backwards flip of joy, smacking down on the ground on steady feet and called in a thick voice: “Shiny!”
Shuanna laughed. She nodded, raised a fist in the air and mumbled a short prayer. With a dancing, jingling sound as of crystal bells a shining shield sprang out of thin air around her. It stayed for just a few moments but “Merle” appeared more than pleased. He made a gurgling sound, turned around and dived into the water, disappearing.
“I hope you don’t mind fish for lunch as well?” she said and sat down by the fire. “Or dinner. And supper. I think Merle is a bit sweet on me. Trouble is – he knows no other fish than halibut.”
“This is the first decent, homecooked meal I’ve had in weeks,” Maraad said, smiling. “One should never scorn the simple gifts of simple folks. Even if they’re murlocs.”
“Is that your sentiment or Almonens?”
“To tell the truth – I’m not sure.” Maraad chuckled. “He appeared to … thank you?”
“I helped deliver his spawn not long ago,” Shuanna said. “A shark, ten or twelve feet long, had taken up reisdence close to the place the murlocs lay their eggs. They couldn’t fight such a monster. The shark must have ate half their tribe before I ended it’s existence.”
“They are in you debt,” Maraad said.
“They think I’m their godess.”
“It’s not hard to see why.”
She laughed, lit a clay pipe and smoked in silence for quite some time. Eventually she said:
“I’m not sure where to start.” She peered at Maraad out of the corner of her eye. “You know most of it anyway.”
“How did you end up in the Crusade?,” he said, looking at her.
“Oh boy, you sure want me to start from the beginning, don’tcha?”
“Well, starting at the beginning – isn’t that what all stories do?”
“Sometimes you have to start at the end and work your way back.” She puffed her pipe, nodding. “How else would you excorcise your inner demon?”