Hey, wait– this isn’t an AFR comic! Nope, it’s the start of something new, but don’t worry, your regularly scheduled silly comics will continue every Saturday. Get the scoop here.
Korina and Elice Whitfeld lived with their mother, Esma Whitfeld, in the last cottage on the Stormwind road out of Goldshire village, a bare half mile from the Stromwind gates. They had few visitors, although the girls were well known in the village and their mother went up to the city twice a week to sell their cheese in the market. The family was an ordinary one, and if, at the ages of seventeen and fifteen, Korina and Elice were not quite ready to grow up yet, that was ordinary too. After the night of their mother’s disappearance, however, the sisters would have a lot of growing up to do and very little time to do it.
One of the few people who did visit the Whitfeld cottage was Brother Padwell, the village priest, and on that day he paid a visit to Esma for an all too familiar reason. Esma opened the door to a knock and found Brother Padwell looking stern and leading both of her daughters. Korina looked sullen and struggled at the firm grasp Padwell had on the shoulder of her jerkin. The younger, Elice, wore her usual look of disapproval and made sure to keep the edges of her white acolyte’s robe away from Korina’s scruffy clothes.
“Good day, Mistress Whitfeld,” Padwell said with a strained voice. “I have brought your daughters home.”
Esma looked at their three faces for a moment, then sighed and ushered the priest in. Padwell dragged Korina in with him and sat her down on a chest by the window. Elice followed in her own time. The cottage was small, only one room with a loft above. The fire was burning in the fireplace and smell of porridge came bubbling from the old iron pot on its hook.
“Please have a seat, Brother,” Esma said, ushering him to the only chair that wasn’t missing a rung. “May I offer you something to drink?”
“A cup of water, if I might,” he answered.
“I shall get it, Mother,” said Elice before Esma could reach for one of the clay cups on the shelf. Elice dipped a cup of water from the bucket and presented it to the priest with a curtsey, then retreated to a corner and opened her devotion book.
“Now, Brother,” said Esma, “what is it this time?”
Korina rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, but a sharp look from her mother stopped her from saying anything.
“Korina disrupted our lessons in the shrine,” Padwell explained. “Again.”
“I was working!” Korina protested. “Smith Argus said he’d give me five coppers to chop wood for the forge!”
“I don’t fault you for that, child,” Padwell said, looking her direction. “You meant well. But never have I seen a woodcutter work as you did– hacking and lunging at the logs as if they could fight back, shouting such vile things at them! I could not teach my students to meditate upon the Light when there was such a racket and a spectacle across the square.”
Esma sighed and rubbed her forehead.
“I am so sorry, Brother,” she said. “I’ll see to it that it doesn’t happen again.”
“You said I should find paying work!” Korina snapped. “Argus didn’t care what I sounded like while I was chopping.”
“There are other people in the world besides yourself and those you choose to like,” said Padwell. “You would do well to learn that.”
“It’s no good trying to teach Korina,” said Elice from behind her book. “She’s an idiot.”
Korina snatched an apple from the basket beside her and hurled it at Elice. It hit Elice square on the head and she jumped in shock, knocking a couple of cups from the shelf behind her onto the floor where one of them shattered.
“Girls!” Esma hollered. “Bed!”
“It isn’t even dark yet!” Korina protested.
“I didn’t do anything!” Elice complained, rubbing her head.
“I don’t care!” their mother snapped back. “Go, and no fighting or neither of you gets any supper!”
The girls fell silent and climbed up the ladder to the loft where they had their beds. Esma stood for a moment with her face in her hands. Brother Padwell put an arm around her shoulders and led her outside.
“I’m so sorry, Brother,” she gasped, once they were outside. “I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“I don’t think ill of them,” Padwell said. “Neither of them. They just need a little time. I was a right terror when I was that age. They’ll learn what they need to.”
“It’s just been so hard, all these years, alone. I haven’t the time to both teach them proper ways and keep them fed. What am I to do?”
“Patience,” said Padwell. “Love. Have faith that the Light will guide them both to where they need to be. I know you wish there were a better answer, but it’s all we have in this world, and it does most of us well enough.”
“I do love them,” she whispered. “I just wish they didn’t both make it so hard sometimes.”
“If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t mean so much,” he answered.
Padwell turned to face the house, lifted his arms before him and raised his voice.
“May the Light bless this house and all within. May they learn to live in peace and quiet.”
Korina flung herself down on her bed, making the packed straw in the mattress squeak. Elice slipped off her robe and shoes, put them away in her chest, put on her house dress and settled on her bed with her knees drawn up to her chest.
“That hurt,” Elice said.
“Sorry,” Korina mumbled.
Korina squeezed the mattress in her hands, pushing the straw back and forth under the linen cover. Elice reached up to the shelf above her bed and took down one of her dolls. She sat for some time smoothing the doll’s apron and hair.
“You should wash,” Elice said after a while. “You smell bad.”
“I was working,” Korina answered.
“I was working. You were playing.”
“You were humming,” Korina snapped. “That’s not work.”
“We’re learning meditation. Meditation is essential to becoming one with the Light.”
“You were humming.”
Elice narrowed her eyes at her sister.
“We hum when we meditate.”
They fell silent again. Korina flopped over and picked up a squishy leather ball from the corner by her bed. She began to toss the ball in the air over her head and catch it.
“Did you meditate on anything fun?” she asked.
“Actually, I meditated on you,” Elice answered.
Korina shot her a sharp look and made to throw the ball at her, but then looked away and tossed it up in the air again.
“That’s not funny,” she grumbled.
“It’s not supposed to be funny,” said Elice. “I was clearing my mind like Brother Padwell taught us and I heard you yelling at the logs, so I meditated about you.”
“I wasn’t yelling!” Korina snapped. “I was grunting.”
“You were yelling.”
“Fine, I was yelling! What do you care?”
Elice put her doll away and cocked her head at her sister.
“I thought about something Brother Padwell said. ‘The world is the shadow of our intentions cast by the Light.’”
“Brother Padwell never makes any sense,” said Korina.
“You never pay any attention,” Elice answered
“All right, Smelly, what does that mean?”
“It means you weren’t really chopping wood. That’s what your body was doing, but it’s not what you were doing.”
“Of course I was chopping wood!” Korina protested. “That’s stupid! What do you think I was doing?”
“I think you were killing orcs.”
Korina sat up and glared at her sister, her eyes burning.
“Shut up!” she shouted.
“You can’t help Papa,” Elice said calmly. “It’s too late for that.”
“Shut up!” Korina repeated. “Don’t talk about Papa! You don’t even remember him!”
“Girls!” Esma exclaimed, climbing up into the loft. “Can’t you stop fighting for one day? For just one day?”
“Elly started it!” Korina objected.
“Korina disrupted our lessons!” Elice shot back.
“Enough!” Esma growled. “Korina Whitfeld, you should know better! Why do you have to go making a fool of yourself with your fancies? Isn’t it enough that your father died? Why do you always have to bring it back with your silly games?” Before Korina could reply or Elice could do more than crack a smug smile, Esma turned on her other daughter. “And you, Miss Perfect Priestling, why do I pay Brother Padwell to teach you when all you can do is look down your nose at the rest of us? The Light may love you, but some days I want to stop that mouth of yours with all the shit I have to muck out of the shed so you can have your pretty dresses and your books!” She stopped short with a gasp and pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes, quivering. The girls sat mute and waited. After a moment, Esma breathed deeply and spoke in a more measured voice. “You’re my daughters and I love you. Don’t forget that. I just don’t want this to happen again.”
“Sorry,” Korina mumbled, not looking at anyone.
“You were trying to help. That means a lot. Where’s the money Argus gave you?”
Korina scrunched up her face and flung her ball into the corner.
“He didn’t. I didn’t finish the job.”
“Five coppers,” she said. “That would have fed us for a few days. I’ll go talk to him. Maybe he’ll be willing to pay one or two for the work you got done.”
“No!” said Korina sitting up urgently. “I… He’s not a in a good mood now. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Fine. I’d as gladly not. I have to go up to Stormwind this afternoon and there’s a ewe near lambing whose babe hasn’t turned right, and that will probably keep me up all the night. There’s porridge in the pot. Make yourselves useful, and don’t make me have to speak to you again.”
She climbed down from the loft and busied herself with a basket and cloth. Korina and Elice both got on with their chores.
The girls spent the rest of the day hard at work. Neither wanted to see their mother so cross again. Elice swept out the cottage, cleaned the windows, and took a basket full of linens to the stream in the woods behind the sheep shed to wash and spread out in the sun. Korina mended the stone wall around the sheepfold and replaced the broken handle on a pitchfork. Their mother loaded her basket with the latest batch of cheese and trudged off up the Stormwind road with it. As the sun was sinking behind the forest edge in the west, Korina went out to drive the sheep into the fold for the night and Elice set out plates of porridge, pickled carrots from last year’s garden, and some cheese.
Esma returned a little before sunset with a sack of flour and some other sundries from town in her basket. Korina and Elice had both finished their dinner and washed up by then. Elice was at the window reading her devotion book by the last of the evening light while Korina was mending a tear in her work trousers with big clumsy stitches.
“Light bless Master Tiras and his kin,” Esma sighed, slumping into her seat at the table, “they always buy what I can’t sell in the market, even when they haven’t sold all the last batch.” Elice served up food for her mother while Korina took the leather pouch that Esma handed her. Korina shifted the washing tub from its place in the corner and lifted the old odd-shaped, leather-wrapped board it stood on out of the way to expose a little hole in the floorboards. Inside that hole was a wooden box into which she poured the contents of the pouch. The handful of silver and copper pieces clattered into a small heap. Korina nudged the coins around in the box and counted them before putting everything back in its place. It wasn’t very much. It was never very much.
“There was some fuss in the square,” Esma sighed as she ate. “The city guards collared some urchin for pickpocketing. I don’t doubt it, neither– a dirty, mean-looking thing he was. The city’s full of them, all the orphans from the war, all running wild and causing trouble. When I think that the two of you could have ended up…” Her voice trailed off and her gaze drifted into the distance.
The bleat of a sheep in pain came from the fold out back and broke the silence.
“I reckon that lamb still ain’t turned right way out,” said Esma. “I’d better get out there. Could be a long night.”
“I’ll bring your dinner out,” Elice offered. Korina filled an old iron pot with coals from the fire for heat and light and the two of them got their mother settled in the shelter of the sheep shed with the burdened ewe.
“You get to bed,” said Esma, kissing them both on the cheek. “The sun’ll be up again soon enough.”
The girls went back into the cottage and climbed up into the loft. Elice changed into her nightgown and recited evening prayers before getting under the covers. Korina flopped onto her bed with her clothes still on. She picked up her ball from the corner and began tossing it from hand to hand in the dull glow from the banked-up fireplace.
“Stop it,” Elice mumbled. “I can’t sleep.”
“Why don’t you meditate, Miss Perfect Priestling,” Korina hissed back.
“Don’t call me that,” Elice said.
“Mama called you that,” Korina retorted.
“Mama was angry.”
“Maybe I’m angry.”
Elice leaned herself up on her elbow and looked at her sister seriously.
“Maybe you are,” she agreed, “but do you even know what you’re angry about?”
Korina threw her ball back into the corner and sat up.
“Maybe I’m angry,” she whispered, “because my know-it-all sister won’t leave me alone.”
“You know what I’m talking about,” Elice insisted. “It’s about Papa. Why won’t you talk about it?”
“You don’t get to talk to me about Papa!” Korina hissed. “You don’t remember him! Go to sleep!”
She started creeping down the ladder from the loft.
“Where are you going?” Elice asked, sitting up from bed.
“None of your business, Smelly,” Korina snapped. She opened the cottage door and stepped outside. She stood by the door for a moment listening in case Elice was coming after her, but all she heard was the rustle of the straw mattress as Elice settled down again, along with what might have been a sigh. Korina breathed deeply and closed her eyes. Her hands started to shake as the flush of anger that had made her snap at Elice faded away. The last red glow of sunset was filtering through the trees from the west. Ahead of her in the east the first stars were twinkling. A cold breeze stirred the leaves and carried to her the sound her mother singing in the shed.
Korina tiptoed towards the road, keeping the cottage between herself and the sheep shed. She knew her mother would be busy with the lambing ewe, but still she didn’t want to be seen. She stopped just short of the road and looked up and down it. Away to the north she could see the flickering of the watchfires at the gates of Stormwind. To the south she caught the gleam of the torches outside the Golden Goblet down in the village. As far as she could see, there was nothing moving on the road, but still she kept to the edge of the woods as she followed the track down towards the village.
The smithy was quiet, its fires banked for the night. Across the village square there was a raucous crowd in the tavern, full of laughter and snatches of old song. Some of the veterans from Northshire must have come down for their evening ale. It pained her to recognize some of the songs her father used to sing, but she pushed the memories away and turned to the pile of half-split wood behind the smithy. The tavern’s torches gave her just enough light to see by and she admitted to herself that the work was not well done. She would never own to it, but Elice had been right: she had been playing at orc-killing more than concentrating on her work. Argus had been no more than just to refuse to pay for work so badly done, but she was determined to set it right. She well knew how much even a few coppers would mean to her mother, and if Argus found the chopping done in the morning, he might be persuaded to pay. She lit a lantern from the forge fire to give herself light to work by, took up the axe, and set to the job with determination.
The work went smoothly now that she was giving it proper attention. As the nearly full moon glided up into the sky, the pile of split wood slowly grew. Before long she was damp with sweat despite the chill of the night and her body was starting to quake with exhaustion, but she forced herself to keep going. The singing and laughter in the Golden Goblet went on and a few cheerful bands came down the Northshire road to join in. Once she thought she saw movement far off up towards Stormwind, but otherwise the night was still.
She had the axe raised over her head to split a big log when she heard a shrill sound from somewhere in the distance, like a scream suddenly cut short. She looked up in the direction of the sound and saw, away through the trees, the pinpoint light of her mother’s brazier in the sheep shed. The light winked and flickered as dark shapes seemed to rush past.
Korina froze in place, staring through the woods. In her heart she knew what she had seen: orcs. Those dark things moving through the woods between here and home had to be orcs. That cry she had heard must have been her mother in the sheep shed. Orcs had come down from Blackrock Mountain and attacked her mother. There could be no other explanation. Orcs had hurt her mother, maybe her sister, too, and no one knew it but her.
She gripped the axe and took off at a run through the woods. Fear and fury were at war in her heart and both gave speed to her legs. She ran through underbrush that tangled her feet and saplings that snapped in her face. She hurtled over the sheepfold wall and into the shed with her axe poised to strike.
A dozen sheep bleated and scampered away from her as she burst into the shed. The old iron pot was upset and the embers it had held were dying the mud. The stool on which her mother liked to sit when she had to tend to the sheep was likewise overturned, but Esma herself was gone.
Continued in Chapter 2: Lost