Wohoo! We can see the end of this thing now! Although there’s still an appendix where Sarah gets to speak for herself in a very rare moment. Whee!
And this bit unspoils the spoiler for Thomas’ fate in that Thrall/Jaina thingy, too.
The sail from Booty Bay to Ratchet may have been boring, but Thomas felt grateful for the lack of adventure on the high seas. When “uneventful” pretty much meant that he didn’t have to fend off naga or murlocs climbing onto the deck in the middle of the night, he wasn’t one to complain. No one in their right mind would.
It did also give him good time to plan what he would do once he got to Theramore. From helping out on the ship with various little things that needed done – a lot of heavy lifting, as it were – he earned himself a place on the payroll. That money was to be paid out once they reached Ratchet. However, Thomas spoke with the captain about that, knowing that the ship’s cargo included clothes manufactured in Booty Bay. Back in the day, the goblins in Stranglethorn quickly picked up on the native trolls’ use of the abundant wool flowers – a peculiar bloom much like cotton, which grew high up in the trees and could easily be spun to thread. The clothes made from it were tough and cheap – Thomas’ own, one, remaining set of shirt and pants had definitely seen better days. The new clothes he managed to haggle with the captain cost a whole lot more than they should have, but it was money that he never saw, anyway. He was merely taken off the payroll again. On the ship a truce existed between Horde and Alliance, being a neutral zone for anyone paying for the trip. Knowing what it meant to break that peace, the passengers kept to themselves and at most threw annoyed glances at anyone whose existence they found offensive. By the end of the long sail, however, people had gotten so used to each other that even the blood elf in the dark robe could walk past the night elf swordswoman without either of them trying to murder the other with their glare. Thomas took note of these things, but he and everyone else knew that it would be back to the old ways the moment they stepped ashore. Not so much with the crew. At one point Thomas watched with great fascination as the first mate Mesker put both feet onto a tauren’s hands and was hoisted upwards – with one of the goblins standing on the human’s shoulders. All of this to reach a throwing dart stuck out of reach in the mast. Judging by their discussion leading up to this, they felt the circus act preferable to tossing a coin over who got to play monkey and climb. There were more members of the Horde on the ship apart from that blood elf – the crew could not be called true to either faction, working for the goblins as they were. Yet, Thomas did not attempt to strike up conversation with any of the orcs or trolls at any time. A sense of paranoia stole over him the first day and refused to let him go. Just what if news of his “treason” reached Ratchet or Theramore before he did? Though he deeply loathed himself for his weakness, he let this fear control him and make him cautious. For the entire trip he kept a low profile, pretending not to understand when the orcs stood within earshot and spoke with each other in Orcish. They ignored him too, as he left the most noticeable pieces of his armor in his room and appeared not as a paladin but just a traveler among others. Still, he couldn’t help wondering if there were people on the ship who knew Vo’don or any of the others. Once they reached Ratchet, the passengers all split in all directions – most of them surely eager to forget sharing a vessel with their enemies. Thomas stayed and helped unload the cargo, however. For the pay he got from that he got a room at an inn that was cheap, but not cheap enough to leave him in worry that he would be robbed. The money was enough to get him a new – cheap – sword, and still left him a few coins to get food for a few days. In an unruly area such as this, with constant attacks from the beasts of the land, that made a decent start. True that Thomas had earned himself a “Sir” title, but that was through the blessings of the Light. He too started out as a recruit once upon a time, and he was not too bothered by the following, rough days. They could have been much, much more unforgiving, considering. Through odd jobs and some monster hunting in the sweltering landscape he managed to build up a small amount of money again. A mix of hope and cynicism – enough money to bring him to Theramore, but also enough to bring him away from there again, if things did not work out. It was with a great sense of anxiety that he finally put on his carefully cleaned and polished armor, and went to the harbor to assure himself a fare on the ship he knew would shortly sail to the city state on the edge of Dustwallow Marsh. Travelling from Ratchet to Theramore by ship only took a few hours. Odd, then, that those hours seemed so much longer than the weeks spent on The Maiden’s Fancy. A thick, brownish mist blew in over the mountain tops towering between the sea and swamp as the ship sailed on, enshrouding the vessel. The sun reached down through it only with great effort, creating an odd, thick light to match the murky smell in the air. Thomas stood on the deck, gazing into the fog and as alert as anybody else onboard. Anything could hide out there under these conditions. Conversations ceased, everyone listening for any suspicious sound. But there was only the waves and the creaking of the ship. As they got closer to Theramore Isle, the wind bit by bit chased the mist away and they emerged unscathed into a more welcoming air. Yet the sky here was heavy with clouds, very unlike the unforgiving blue in the Barrens. After the hot days in Ratchet Thomas should have welcomed the cooler weather, but the smell of rain and grey heavens didn’t manage to lift his spirits. Theramore looked downcast and sodden as he stepped off the ship and walked across the harbor to reach the city. It was no better within the walls. People walked carefully not to slip on the mud of the smaller roads and the slippery stones of the paved streets. It didn’t rain now, but it obviously had during the night and more was coming. Unease gripped Thomas’ heart even harder, and he hurried towards the citadel. He wanted this over with. It took several introductions to bring him where he wanted, first to a guard, then the clerk the guard sent him to, then another clerk who showed him the way deeper inside. It went in a blur, but finally Thomas found himself left in a comfortable waiting room with three other petitioners. All three of them looked a whole lot formal than he did, wearing formal robes and sitting with rolled up documents in their laps. Thomas didn’t speak beyond the initial greeting. Past that he sat in one of the sofas, lost in thought while the other men occasionally exchanged a few phrases. Fruit and drink stood on a table in the center of the room, but Thomas had no appetite at all despite the hours that had passed since his breakfast. One by one, the petitioners were called in. Two new ones had time to arrive before yet another clerk opened the door and announced that Lady Proudmoore would see Thomas. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed by then, and it didn’t matter. Taking in a deep breath he stood up and followed the clerk back into the corridor and through the looming doors leading to the throne room. Guards stood on both sides of the door, glancing at him only briefly as he entered. The throne room was built in the same pale stone as the rest of the city, and tall windows let in the soapy, rain heavy light from outside. Although there was a throne, however, the leader of Theramore did not sit in it. She stood in front of it, hands easily folded against her back and a friendly smile on her lips. Her white dress looked rather stark against the green and gold flags adorning the walls, but that was not the first thing that struck a spectator. Willpower alone kept Thomas from raising his eyebrows when he saw Lady Jaina in person for the first time. He had heard that she was a tall woman, but he had not quite believed those who claimed that she might be able to look a night elf man straight in the eye.
“Welcome to Theramore,” she said as he stopped on the carpet.
Military training supported him as he automatically moved into a strict, straight pose as he saluted. It actually made him feel a little better, more familiar with the situation – although he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he should carry a helmet in his free hand.
“Thomas Southstone of the Silver Hand, my Lady.” He bowed his head slightly, still saluting. “I’m deeply honored by you taking the time to see me.”
Though honestly, he had no idea if he was still a member of the Silver Hand. Certainly not if Edward had made it back home by now, with witnesses. But since he wasn’t sure, he clung to it as a precious way to distinguish himself.
“At ease, Sir Southstone,” Lady Jaina said, in a warm voice. “Any member of the Alliance is always welcome here. What is it that you wish to tell me, paladin?”
Lowering his hand, Thomas took in a brief, steadying breath. He would only have this chance – if they would not have him here, he knew not where to go.
“I hail from Stormwind and has served the Silver Hand from there,” he said. “However, I stand here today to ask you to accept my pledge of fealty to you and Theramore, my Lady.”
A strange little smile grazed the Lady’s lips. He took note of it even though she quickly hid her mouth behind her hand in a thoughtful gesture. Later, he would understand it, strange as it was. Right then, her words gave him no rest to be curious.
“Tell me, why do you wish to serve Theramore?” she said.
Thomas bowed his head briefly again.
“It pains me to say it, but I have come to question the sense of righteousness prevailing in the Eastern Kingdoms,” he said. “It is quite a story, however, and I don’t intend to intrude too much on your precious time.”
She watched him with the same calm expression through this short speech, despite the fact that his words could be considered those of a turncoat.
“I have decided to take the time to hear your request,” Lady Jaina said as he finished. “Speak freely and do not feel pressured.”
“I thank you graciously.”
The many long, calm hours on the ship had given Thomas ample time to plan how to put his story, and the intense few days in Ratchet had not dulled it. He left out nothing crucial, but spoke economically not to take up too much time and bore Lady Proudmoore. Odd, really, how the events in Un’goro that changed his life could be summed up in so few sentences. Stranglethorn felt so much more palpable, but that too seemed strangely brief when he spoke of it now.
“I understand if this is all hard to believe, my Lady,” he finished. “I swear that it is all true, however.”
“A strange tale, indeed,” the Lady said, and he could have sworn that there was a hint of amusement in her voice. “Not many people would readily admit to a story like that,” she continued, the corner of her lips rising slightly. “Except when they talked about somebody else being a traitor.”
Thomas’ heart sank. Had there already been reports from those men and elves, in his disfavor? He had given them his name, and even if Thomas had not done so himself, Edward – with Martin in tow – would surely provide any information about the traitorous paladin. But he squared his jaw.
“I stand by it, my Lady,” he said, looking Jaina in the face. “Those trolls saved my life and the orc healed me. To just let them be killed would have violated everything I know about ethics and compassion. Although I shudder to think of it, I owe gratitude even to the Forsaken woman.”
“I am glad to hear that. Although, perhaps I should rather offer pity when it comes to your debt to the Forsaken.”
“Thank you, my Lady,” Thomas said with a straight face.
“If you would serve Theramore, I gratefully accept your fealty,” Lady Jaina said. “But I would ask you not to serve as a guardian of the city, Sir Southstone.”
Something that almost looked like a sense of amused mischief flew past on Lady Jaina’s features. It was the look of somebody who knew something more than the person she spoke with did.
“I have heard that you can speak a little Orcish,” she said. “Is this true?”
“Yes, my Lady, a little…”
Surprised as he was at this turn of the conversation, he did not at once remember that he had not mentioned his language skills to anybody ever since leaving Booty Bay. When he did recall this crucial detail a second later, he straightened up sharply.
“Pardon me, my Lady, who told you that?” he asked.
Her eyes twinkled.
“A reliable source,” she said. “How well would you say that you can speak Orcish?”
Even though surprised, and unsure where this was heading, Thomas still managed to pull himself together.
“I understand far more than I can speak,” he said. “What I can speak is pretty basic, but I got by with the mixed company in Stranglethorn. I would learn more if given the chance.”
“That is far more than many would care to do, even here in Theramore,” Lady Jaina said.
She paused for a moment, looking him over.
“I will be frank with you, Sir Southstone,” she said. “I had already heard the tale you told me from two different sources. I fear that the Silver Hand wishes to question you about accusations brought forwards by a Sir Edward Twain and a handful of witnesses…”
Thomas pinched his eyes shut, feeling the muscles in his neck tense in knots.
“… however, I am satisfied with the blanks you have filled in, and I believe what you did was right. If you truly wish to serve Theramore, I will sort things out with the Hand for you.” Her smile was not very pleasant, but it was not aimed at him.
The knotted nerves relaxed in an instant as he looked up, watching her with surprise and gratitude.
“That is far more than I could have hoped for, my Lady,” he said, touching a fist to his chest. “I am more grateful than I can say, that you believe me.”
“Think nothing of it,” Lady Jaina said. She glanced at the high windows, shaking her head. “I thought that it sounded odd when I was given the report. They accuse you of aiding a group of trolls, orcs and Forsaken who attacked them in Stranglethorn and poisoned two of their number, both which survived but suffered terribly.”
Thomas had to take in a deep breath to stay calm, but he felt sure that Lady Jaina must hear his teeth gritting. Her voice changed from thoughtful and regained that odd, amused edge as she continued.
“That would be their version of the story. Since I have heard another version from you and someone else, I feel inclined to believe those instead.”
As she spoke of this second, unnamed source of information again, an image took shape in Thomas’ mind. When it did, his clenched jaw relaxed in pure disbelief. Perhaps Jaina read the wonder on his face, because her eyes twinkled again.
“You have nothing to fear in Theramore, Sir Southstone,” she said. “The Alliance are not the only ones who can provide witnesses, and Warchief Thrall is not amused at his people nearly getting murdered in an ambush.” She showed off that unpleasant smile at empty space again, then turned back to him. “As I understood, neither does Vol’jin of the Darkspear tribe. I have yet to hear anything of what Lady Sylvanas has to say on the matter, but I believe we can disregard that.”
[i]“I’ll follow Vo’don and the kids back to Grom’gol and then take the zeppelin to Orgrimmar.”
Realizing how far up Vo’don and Dor’ash had gone with their reports made Thomas feel faint. They had known he was going to Theramore, hell… Dor’ash had even suggested it. Had they actually…?
Jaina’s voice shook him out of his thoughts and he almost jumped. Pressing his fingertips against his forehead to compose himself, he faced her properly again.
“I beg pardon, my Lady,” he said. “This is just a little bit overwhelming.”
And he understood now, why she had that look of near-mischief hidden just beneath her calm expression – astounding though it was.
“You are welcome to serve Theramore, Sir Southstone,” Lady Jaina continued. “However, there are already many soldiers in this city. What we do not have is an official diplomat for relations with Orgrimmar. Considering your history, I feel that this position would be very suitable for you.”
Thomas’ had not removed his fingers from his forehead, and now he pressed them down again before forcing himself to lower the hand and at least appear to be composed. It probably didn’t work, but there was no judgment in the Lady’s eyes as she watched him.
“You hardly know anything about me, my Lady…” he managed.
“When I received the message from the Silver Hand,” she said, and she half smiled, half grinned, “it included a lament about how you possibly could have fallen so far after such a long, faithful service. Also, you do have impressive references.”
For a brief moment Thomas thought that he would laugh hysterically at how bizarre all of this was. Luckily, the only thing that escaped him was a breathless chuckle – probably thanks to the words of the Hand being so bitter, even in the way that Lady Jaina played them against themselves. She seemed to read something of the chaotic emotions in his face, because her smile softened and she returned to a business-like tone.
“I would give you a chance to speak for Theramore with the orcs, if you accept this task,” she said. “From what I have heard so far, I have faith in that you could do it.”
Taking in a deep breath, Thomas took a firm mental grasp of his mind and forced it to stop spinning. He clenched his fist and pressed it against his chest, bowing.
“I humbly and gratefully accept your offer, my Lady. I swear to do my outmost not to fail you.”
Lady Jaina smiled, regally nodding her head.
“Then, you are hereby a citizen of Theramore and our official diplomat, Sir Southstone,” she said. “The Warchief informed me that he would welcome a first meeting with his representative as soon as possible. I will suggest to him that it take place in Ratchet in a week, to give you time to prepare.”
Straightening up, Thomas saluted again, although he had to hide the puzzlement at this talk of her meeting with the Warchief so often. True that it was said that they were friends still, but… He shook it off. It was not his business, not even in his new position. He would deal with the official matters, not the unofficial ones. Although he dearly needed a while to sort all this out inside his mind, there was only one thing to say.
“As you wish, my Lady.”
Thomas gazed out one of the window in the room he had been given, hardly seeing the sprawling streets below, the soldiers and people illuminated by the reddening evening glow. He was busy still feeling quite amazed at how things had developed. The sudden shift in his life still seemed dizzying, although he had now gotten several hours to sort out his thoughts – but he felt no fear of the responsibilities thrown into his lap. Only a hint of nervousness when he wondered how the first meetings with the orcish representative would go. As soon as that went well, everyone should know where they stood – including him.
It should not be too difficult to get a hold of Vo’don and the others and thank them properly for all they had done. Far more than he had known when saying goodbye in Booty Bay, and more than he ever could have asked. He had to get a hold of Collins somehow, too. The rogue would have a ball with the story of what happened in Stranglethorn, and he too had spoken about what happened way back in Un’goro last time he met with Thomas. The thought made the paladin turned emissary chuckle to himself. A knock on the door broke Thomas’ line of thought, and he turned around.
The door opened, and a soldier wearing the typical silver and gold Theramore uniform entered. At first Thomas could not quite tell the age of the man, but finally realized that the soldier could not be much older than he himself was – perhaps even a couple of years younger. Yet, something about the look in this man’s eyes made him seem beyond his days, and there were hints of grey in the hair growing just above his ears. In his hand was a heap of papers, and he saluted with his other hand.
“Simon Nebula, reporting for duty, Sir,” he introduced himself. “I will be accompanying you to Ratchet for the first meeting with the orc representative next week.”
“At ease.” Thomas smiled in greeting, but could hardly keep from frowning. Something pecked at his mind.
Simon took the papers in both hands and politely offered them.
“As per your request, Sir, here are reports of the current peaceful activities between Theramore and the Horde. I thought I would bring them to you myself since we will be working together.”
“Thank you. I assume that there are a whole lot more on the negative aspects,” Thomas said with a sigh and took the bundle of reports. Still, that was quite an amount to read. More than he would have thought.
Simon’s lips twitched.
“Very true, Sir, and an awful lot of that in there too.” He pointed at the papers.
“I see I have quite some homework then.” The joke was distracted, however. Thomas put his thumb at the edge of the heap and bent the papers so that they flipped past, kept somewhat apart by his finger. A few words flew by under his gaze several times, such as fish, crops, Ratchet and Brackenwall. The texts appeared to mainly be about what little trade was still kept up.
Even as he did this, there was still something else on Thomas’ mind. Something bothered him, and he couldn’t quite-
“Lady Proudmoore also asked me to inform you this,” Simon helpfully added, looking at Thomas with some curiosity, “we just received word that the orc representative for the first meeting would be a shaman named Dor’ash Coldbane, Sir. If you don’t mind me asking, the Lady gave me the idea that he would attend the meeting because you had met him before?”
Thomas could not help chuckling a little, furthering Simon’s curious look. Although the paladin’s first thought was one of wonder at how this news could have made it so quickly, he next thought of Lady Proudmoore’s easy talk of speaking with the Warchief. What a strange city state this was, when it got down to it. Or rather, it’s leader was something else.
“I see,” Thomas said, more to himself than to Simon. He looked up at the soldier. “Yes, we have met, although I did not have time to learn to know him very well.”
Turning towards the desk, he was about to add “Neither him nor his bony friend, luckily”, but the puzzle piece slammed in place into his brain and his eyes widened.
Light, no. Couldn’t be…
He clenched his teeth to keep from looking up sharply at Simon. Instead, he dropped the papers on the desk in the corner of the room and turned around, forcing a relaxed look.
“It’s quite a story,” he said. “Perhaps I can tell you on the trip to Ratchet.”
“I’ll look forwards to it, Sir,” he said. “Anything else I can help you with?”
“Nothing else for now, I believe,” Thomas said.
He hesitated, pressing his thumb and pointing finger to his chin in a thoughtful look to win another moment to think. No, it was too cruel to be so. Too much of a coincidence. But he had to know for sure.
“Although, excuse me…” he said, slowly, dreading the answer he sought. “You have a rather unusual last name, I must say.”
“An ancestor of mine was an astronomer. We were only farmers, though.” Simon frowned a little. “Pardon me, Sir, it is a strange question…?”
Thomas quickly shook his head and thought very fast.
“Yes, of course. It only struck me because I once knew a woman named Samantha Nebula.”
“I see.” Simon’s lips scrunched up in a bitter smile. “Not a relative, as far as I know. Though I did have an older sister named Sarah.” He suddenly looked very old, eyes haggard.
A cold hand grasped Thomas’ heart and squeezed.
“I see…” he heard himself say.
“Yes.” Simon looked away, rubbing his chin intensively. “The Plague took her and everyone else, though.” There was a certain look in his eye however, one Thomas had seen many times before – when soldiers heard of dead comrades and dully murmured I hope it was quick. But Simon’s eyes rather said At least I hope it was the Plague and not the Scourge. One reached that point, when the guilt of being left alive could only be quelled by the hope that they died a less gruesome death. Either way, he had to live with the knowledge that they may very well have been dragged out of their graves – if they even ever got a funeral – as abominations under the Lich King.
“I’m… very sorry to hear that.” Thomas swallowed hard. “I apologize for bringing up such painful memories.”
Simon tried to smile a little.
“You could not know that, Sir. Thank you for your concern.” The smile failed, but his tone made it clear that he honestly appreciated the condolences.
They exchanged some distracted goodbyes, and then Simon left.
Once alone Thomas leaned against his desk, pressing a hand to his forehead. That the world could be so cruel, it seemed too much. Had Simon been spared the Plague because he joined the military before it hit, then fled with Lady Proudmoore to Kalimdor? Most probably, for such was the general story. Then he must have survived the battle on mount Hyjal, fighting for his own, his friends and all the people of the world’s lives against the undead abominations led by the demon Archimonde. And lived with the knowledge that the Scourge may have slaughtered his family, if they did not die in the Plague. Either way, his own family could have been among those monsters on Hyjal, for all he knew.
Learning to smile again must have taken years, the pain in his eyes upon speaking of the dead relatives- Try as he might, Thomas could not tell if there were any similarities in Simon and Sarah’s appearances – her face was too sunken and gone, and he had tried not to look too closely at her. It still seemed too much of a coincidence… but the family name could not be so common. Whether true or not, he had no intention to tell Simon that his sister might be a servant of Lady Sylvanas. No matter how at ease Sarah seemed about herself. A second realization hit, and he almost fell onto the chair by the desk, fumbling for a pencil and paper. It seemed reasonable that Dor’ash would not take the risk of muddling a friendly conference by bringing an undead along, but this was not something Thomas could leave to chance. His occupation as a diplomat certainly took on a grim start. The future might hold brighter things, among all the hard work he already expected, but right then he could not think of anything positive.
Poor sod. He can never catch a break.