Written while listening to Sunset by Kate Bush.
. . . . . With a jaw-cracking yawn, Kresmira stretched out in the bunk provided for her at Mardenholde Keep in Hearthglen. Or tried to. If she laid on her back, her hooves hung off the bottom of the bunk all the way to her knees, rather feeling a lot like she'd sat on the end of the bunk and fallen backwards. It was tremendously uncomfortable. A soft growl came from the bunk above her, and she started - realizing seconds later that it was only a dwarven snoring noise. The tiny woman who'd climbed up there not fifteen minutes ago could wake a clefthoof with that sound. Kresmira tried to roll onto her side, the way she usually slept, but discovered quickly that the position put an awkward strain on her knees, since her hooves still hung out. Even if she curled her knees up - which made them stick off the side of the bunk instead - she couldn't get comfortable. As with many things she was learning about on Azeroth, Hearthglen just wasn't built to her scale.
. . . . . She didn't want to wake the tiny woman above her, so pulling the mattress off the bunk was out. Instead, she took just the pillow and blanket, trying to be as quiet as possible on adamantite-shod hooves, and snuck out of the Keep. Outside, it was still early spring and her thin linen shorts and sleeveless linen shirt were not adequate for the damp chill of somewhere past midnight in the northern part of Eastern Kingdoms. That was what the blanket was for, however, and she draped it around her shoulders - to fall somewhere just past her knees - and carried the pillow as she walked around to the back of the Keep and sought out a suitable tree.
. . . . . There. Some several yards from the back left corner of the Keep was a tall tree with a thick trunk. It would do. She set her pillow down in the grass - which had just begun to gather a coating of dew - and stretched out parallel to the tree, pressing her shoulders against the trunk as she curled up on her side under the blanket. The grass tickled her arm and she wished she still had a small herd for warmth, but the ground was tolerable enough until she could cobble together larger arrangements inside. Surprisingly exhausted after a whirlwind day of introductions and meetings and explanations, she dropped off to sleep almost immediately.
. . . . . She dreamed of talbuks. Not a particularly uncommon occurrence, really, given that she'd grown up around the stately creatures. In the fuzzy, gently-blurred fashion of dreams, she discovered she was holding her crook in her left hand, hurrying the herd along towards home. Today was a big announcement, her father had said. "Come home before the sun sets, Kresmira," Teraam had ordered her, a quirk upward at the corner of his mouth giving away excitement. "And you too, Liviia," he told her sister. Both girls had nodded, exchanging glances of speculation before leaving the house to split the talbuk herd between them and take them out to graze in the rolling plains west of Halaa.
. . . . . "Hurry up, you prickly beasts!" she cried, prodding a particularly lazy cobalt talbuk who had decided to stop for a snack and inspired two others to follow his example. Judicious application of her crook to the hindquarters of all three had them moving again, and her herd of nine was back in Teraam's field. One of the tan talbuks tried to bite at her as she guided the herd into the pen, and that earned him an open-palmed slap on the nose. He bellowed displeasure, but went into the pen anyway.
. . . . . Once the herd was penned, she used handfuls of cherries to draw them one by one over to the hitching post where she could hobble them, slip reins on them and tie them off to the post, and brush the burrs and mud clods out of their shaggy fur. She had just begun brushing the last of her nine when Liviia returned with her eight, an apologetic shrug her response to Kresmira's broad grin. "I will help you groom them just this once," Kresmira offered.
. . . . . Together, the girls made short work of grooming the other half of the talbuk herd, then hurried up to the modest house on the outskirts of the village of Halaa where they lived. Teraam claimed the swaying rope bridges gave him stomach ulcers, so they did not live inside the village proper, but Kresmira rather thought that the long drop off the cliff had frightened her father ever since her mother had died in a tragic accident there just after Liviia had been born. They used the back entrance so they could wash the scent of herd beasts off and change into clean clothes. While she was wrapping a pair of loose pants around her hips and tying the sides of them shut down at her hocks, Kresmira could hear two male voices in the front room. One was Teraam, but the other was an unrecognizable, deep voice which laughed often.
. . . . . Cleaned, dressed, and presentable, the two girls entered the front room together. A broad-shouldered, jovial-looking male with short, dark hair, two hearty chin tendrils, and the wide arms of someone who knew how to use the heavy mace resting in the corner sat opposite her father at the table. His electric blue gaze swept over her little sister Liviia first, demure and pretty in her lilac dress, and the male smiled - all white teeth and cheer; he even had a dimple on his left cheek. Then he looked at Kresmira - who suddenly wished she'd opted for a dress herself instead of wrapped pants and a blouse - and she could swear his eyes flashed golden for a moment and she heard a chiming like a happier, brighter version of the eerie sounds which sometimes came from the mouth of the diamond mountain which had once been the vessel.
. . . . . She was still pondering the strangeness of this when Teraam clapped his hands together and grinned at his guest. "Exarch, meet my daughters Liviia and Kresmira. Kresmira here-" she bobbed a half-hearted curtsey at her introduction- "is the one you came for." Her head tilted left and a furrow formed between her brows. A marriage arrangement? Already? She was only about three hundred and twenty years old or so - long since grown to a full body, but only barely of social maturity in the last few decades.
. . . . . "Kresmira," the exarch said, the easy smile still on his face. He rolled his R's in a way she found interesting; he clearly wasn't from Nagrand. "Have a seat. You too, miss Liviia. I am certain your father has taught you well of the blessed Light and the naaru's greatness!"
. . . . . "Actually, he mostly skipp-" Kresmira leaned over and put her hand over Liviia's mouth before she could say more.
. . . . . "We know enough for herders among the naaru's chosen," Kresmira said, relieved to see the sudden paleness fading from her father's blue face. "We exiles are blessed beyond measure to live in peace and prosperity now." She took her hand from her sister's mouth and pulled her along to a bench set along the wall opposite the door, where they could both sit down.
. . . . . "Wonderful! I will get right to the elekk's trunk then: Kresmira, you will be traveling with me to the Temple of Karabor to begin training as a vindicator. Once you have completed training, you will join me in Shattrath to round out your squireship. Afterwards, you may serve the blessed exiles in whatever capacity you show the most talent for."
. . . . . Kresmira blinked dumbly a few times. "Leave the talbuks?"
. . . . . "Yes!" her father interjected. "It is a wonderful opportunity! I have long worried that you and Liviia would be consigned to this life forever, but when I met the exarch at market, I just knew something better could be arranged for you!"
. . . . . "And Liviia?" Kresmira exchanged an uneasy glance with her sister.
. . . . . "I have put in a request with the anchorites," the exarch said. "I had hoped their representative would be here as quickly as I was, but they seem to have been delayed."
. . . . . Kresmira bent her head to confer in whispers with her little sister. "Do you want this, Liv?"
. . . . . "I think it is exciting! A vindicator, Kres! You would get shiny armor and when a talbuk - or an exile - was injured, you could fix it with a prayer!" Liviia fluttered bird-like hands up to Kresmira's shoulders. "You should go. Father will probably make a fortune selling off half the herd."
. . . . . "But I do not know more than basic prayers, Liv! I am not cut out to be a vindicator."
. . . . . "They will train you! Did you not hear the exarch? Besides, do you think I am any better suited to be an anchorite?" Liviia grinned and bumped the scaleplates of her forehead against Kresmira's own, a silly little gesture of affection they'd done since they were very small children. "Do it. Go with him. He is kind of attractive too, with that foreign accent and the dimple!" Liviia giggled as Kresmira pulled her head back, her cheeks violet with blush.
. . . . . The two males waited patiently for the young females to consult one another, both of them grinning when Kresmira reared back blushing and Liviia giggled. "I will go," Kresmira said, lifting her chin. The exarch clapped his hands together, then stood so quickly his chair toppled over - stepping forward and scooping Kresmira up off the bench for an almost rib-crushing hug. That was when she realized she was dreaming. In her memory, she had continued conversing with the males and then gone into the back of the house to pack. Only in her dreams did the exarch show any interest in her.
. . . . . It was the chittering which woke her that morning. Close to thirty seconds passed in a bleary muddle before she identified the sound as an angry squirrel in the tree above her, chiding something in that way squirrels have of making one think that - if they could be understood - they must be the most foul-mouthed creatures on two planets. Half-remembered slips of dream floated out of her head as she climbed towards wakefulness. Had it really been just shy of a hundred years? Barely a blink, really. She tried once - on Quel'Danas - to explain to the human arcanist in her unit that a few decades was hardly a long enough span to learn anything worthwhile, but these short-lived races clearly had very different brains than the exiled ones, because they reached adequate competency in many fields before they expired. Some of them were almost as good as a fully trained arcanist in his prime. Perhaps the shortness of life made for greatly accelerated learning...
. . . . . She stretched under the blanket she'd been curled up beneath, her hooves extending far out into the wet grass. She was - she quickly realized - wet all over. Her linen sleep clothes were clinging to her in ways which made her realize she would be wrapped in that soaked blanket all the way back to the barracks to get dry clothes, lest she show an immodest amount of her form. Her pillow squished. Sleeping outdoors was nothing new to her, but after several years of sleeping comfortably after Quel'Danas, she found she had a liking for not waking up cold and wet and stiff of elbow.
. . . . . Today, she resolved, she would get permission to take the mattress off her bunk and set up something in a corner of the barracks or elsewhere. Something large enough to accommodate her frame. Something under a roof, preferably. Something with a second pillow she could put over her head to drown out snoring dwarves or foul-mouthed squirrels.