There was a growl from behind Korina and she felt something with stiff fur surge over her shoulder. A gray blur barreled into the scaly creature. The two tumbled away in a whirl of fangs and claws and blood. Elice and Tam stopped short. Korina blinked and managed to get to her feet. There was a sudden horrible shriek, then a puff of purple smoke and the creature was gone. In its place was a shaggy gray wolf which licked dark blood off its muzzle and turned its yellow eyes on the orc.
The orc growled some menacing-sounding words and began to conjure another ball of fire in his hands, but he was caught up short when an arrow came sailing out of the gloom under the trees across the river and struck him in the arm. A figure moved out of the shadows onto the river bank, nocking another arrow to a short curved bow.
It was unmistakably an orc woman, but very different from the orc on this side of the river. Her skin was a dark leafy green and her clothes were stitched together from pieces of leather and hide. Her dark hair was pulled back in a thick braid, threaded through with feathers and tied with a leather thong. She held her sinewy body tense and trained the arrow on the male orc, spitting a few angry words at him in their language.
The male orc growled back at her defiantly and thrust his hand out, sending a jet of flame from his fingertips. She dodged away from the fire, her arrow shooting wide into the woods. The wolf snarled and pounced, grabbing the male orc’s arm in its jaws. The two struggled, pulling back and forth. Tam spotted his chance and leapt out of the underbrush. He swiped his knife along the backs of the orc’s knees, making him collapse back onto the ground.
As the orc flailed on the ground, Korina found her legs and caught up her sword. She ran over to where he was being held down by Tam and the wolf and struck him in the neck with the pommel of her blade. The words of magic he had been struggling to pronounce became a strained gurgle. She turned the sword around again and aimed the point at his face, standing over him.
“Where’s my mother?” she demanded. His only answer was a burning glare.
The orc woman had crossed the river and was approaching, a long knife in her hand. She snapped a few words and the wolf released its grip on the male orc’s arm and loped back to follow at her side. Tam and Elice gathered close behind Korina, her sword still pointed at the male orc’s head, but her eyes now intense on the orc woman. Both sides watched each other warily over the male orc’s body.
The female orc pointed her knife blade at the male and spoke a few words in their language, looking at the humans’ faces.
Tam tugged at Korina’s sleeve.
“I know a little orc,” he said. “Not much, I mean, and mostly things you don’t say among nice folk. What she just said– I don’t know all of it, but it weren’t nice.”
“Why would an orc ever say anything nice?” Korina hissed.
“What do you think she wants?” Elice asked.
“I don’t care!” Korina said. “She’s an orc!”
“She saved us,” said Tam.
“She’s an orc!” Korina shouted back at him.
The orc woman stepped closer, carefully watching the humans, but keeping her knife pointed at the orc on the ground. The wolf followed behind her, hunched low and alert.
“It’s a trick,” Korina said. “They’re up to something. They’re orcs.”
The female orc knelt next to the male and rested the point of her knife against his chest. She looked up and held Korina’s gaze. Korina looked back down at her and was startled. The look on her face seemed so familiar: eyes wide, lips drawn tight, nostrils flaring as she drew in deep rapid breaths. It was a look Korina had seen often enough in the little mirror her mother kept by her bed. There was anger in those eyes, but hiding behind it was fear and loneliness. In all her years of pretend fights and imagined battles, the thought of an orc having an expression– having feelings— was something she had never prepared herself for.
She started to say something, but suddenly the male orc on the ground convulsed and roared out incoherent words. His eyes sparked red and a swirl of black fog began to rise from his mouth. Korina thrust her sword down into the orc’s mouth with all her might, letting out a scream of fury. At the same moment the orc woman pounded the blade of her knife deep into the orc’s chest and matched Korina’s scream with one of her own. Their thrusts brought their two heads almost face to face and their eyes met, each one staring into the other’s expression of anger and shock. The male orc let out a last strangled cry and fell limp, the black fog dissipating in whirling shreds.
Korina jumped away and yanked her sword back. The orc woman turned her gaze away from her and focused on the dead body. She gasped a few breaths, then let out a rending yell, pounced on the body and began to hack at it with her knife. She slashed open the chest and ripped the heart out, hacked off both hands, and ripped into the throat again and again until the head finally tore loose. All the while she kept hollering out strange wordless cries of anger. Korina stepped back with a wary eye on the orc woman. Elice and Tam slunk away to crouch behind a bush and hiss at Korina to come join them. Even the wolf edged away from its mistress looking perturbed. The orc heeded none of this as she focused all her energy on mutilating the dead body.
“That ain’t natural,” Tam muttered. “That’s some kind of orc magic, I’m dead sure.”
“What is she doing?” Elice whispered behind her hand.
Korina cast a look back at them.
“I know exactly what she’s doing,” she said. “Stay here and keep quiet.”
There was no argument. Elice and Tam stayed hidden while Korina wiped her sword clean and sheathed it, then stood at the edge of the clearing and waited until the orc calmed down.
At last, the orc woman’s cries became softer and hoarser while the energy of her assault on the corpse abated. After a last forceful rip across the dead orc’s shredded torso, she finally sank back and sat panting on the sand.
Korina slowly approached. The orc woman looked up at her with suspicious eyes, but Korina slipped the sword from her belt and laid it down on the ground. With empty hands she stepped closer until she could sit down a few feet away and look directly into the orc’s eyes.
“You hated him,” Korina said. The orc peered back at her without a word or gesture. “I know how it feels to hate like that. But how can you hate him? You’re both orcs.”
Upon hearing the word spoken in the Common tongue, the orc straightened up.
“Orc,” she repeated, shaping the word awkwardly with her lips.
“Orc,” Korina agreed. She pointed at the woman. “Orc.” She pointed at the flayed mass that had been the male orc’s body. “Orc.”
The woman snarled, baring two stout fangs in her lower teeth, and shook a finger at Korina.
“Orc,” she declared, pointing at herself. She pointed then at the dead body and struggled for a moment. After spitting out some angry-sounding words in her own language she paused and was clearly searching her memory for a suitable word in the Common. “Bad,” she finally said.
The two sat in silence looking at each other. The wolf went and sniffed around the dead body for a while, then sat down next to its mistress.
“You don’t want to kill me?” Korina asked. She tried to get to her point across by pointing at the orc, her knife, and then herself. The orc looked down at the knife still in her hand then gently set it down behind her.
The orc pointed to herself and said: “Maza.”
Korina shook her head.
“Maza,” the orc repeated, tapping her chest.
“Maza?” Korina said hesitantly.
The orc smiled and nodded her head. “Maza,” she said again. Then she pointed to the wolf and said: “Kobu.”
The wolf pricked up its ears and looked expectantly at the orc. Korina guessed that those must be their names.
“Korina,” she said pointing to herself.
“Grina?” said Maza, pointing at her.
Korina shook her head and repeated more clearly: “Korina.”
“Kor-i-na,” Maza said slowly, bending her lips around the sounds.
Korina looked back and waved Elice and Tam up to join her.
“Her name is Maza,” Korina explained. “I don’t think she’s one of the orcs who took Mama. I think she wants to stop them. I don’t know why.”
Elice and Tam came near cautiously. They introduced themselves. For a while they sat together, three humans and one orc, just repeating each other’s names. Before long, the absurdity of it made Tam burst out in a giggle. Everyone else looked at him for a moment, then burst out laughing themselves.
“Well, welly!” said Tam. “Ain’t this pleasant? Like a picnic in the park, ay? But what do we do now? We can’t well sit around all night sayin’ our names.”
“She must know something,” said Elice. “Can’t you talk to her?”
Tam shook his head and waved his hands warningly.
“Oh, no no no, that’s bad fish. You don’t want me talking to her. I told you, the orc I know ain’t as what you would call polite.” He puffed up his cheeks and tapped his chin. “But I know someone what talks good orc. He could ask her sure as good morning, ay? But he’s up in the city like and they’ll be shutting the gates soon if they haven’t now. No crook I could get him down here before morning, and sure as cats you don’t want to be bringing lady orc here up to Stormwind.”
Maza was watching them keenly. Korina looked back at her.
“She knows something,” Korina said. “But what?”
She leaned in towards Maza and spoke in a loud clear voice with exaggerated hand gestures: “There was a woman. Our mother. The bad orcs took her. What happened?”
Maza and Kobu both looked at her blankly.
Tam tried to help. He and Korina kept speaking loudly, pointing and gesturing. As Maza still did not seem to understand, they got up and started acting out what they guessed must have happened. Elice watched them with an embarrassed look, but eventually Maza seemed to catch on. She began to answer in Orcish, pointing and nodding. With Maza’s few words in Common and Tam’s few words of Orcish, some energetic pointing, and a bit of playacting that left Kobu very confused, they were eventually able to get Maza’s message clear:
I was hunting the bad orcs. There were six. They took a human woman and brought her here. She was bound, but she got herself free. She got a knife and stabbed one orc in the leg. She tried to run but they caught her again. Five went down the river. They took the human woman. The injured one stayed here.
They struggled to get any more information, but as much as they all tried, they couldn’t understand anything else Maza was trying to tell them and she couldn’t understand their questions.
“Let me get my friend,” Tam finally said. “I’ll run up the city now. Good luck and they haven’t shut the gates yet. I’ll bring him down first thing tomorrow morning and he can talk to her like a couple old chums, ay?”
“We can’t wait until tomorrow,” Korina insisted. “Who knows what they’re doing to Mama right now? We have to go after them now!”
“And what will we do when we find them?” said Elice. “Three of us couldn’t handle one of them, and a wounded one, too.”
“She’s a good hand,” Tam said, nodding towards Maza. “And I’ve been in enough rough spots to know that surprise can count for as much as numbers. With her help we might catch them off guard and get your mother out safe, but not if we can’t tell her what we’re about.”
“No!” Elice insisted. “This is nonsense! We’re not fighters. We need to get the guards. Now we have proof there are orcs here, they’ll find Mama.”
“If we call the guards they’ll kill Maza and we’ll never find out what she knows,” Korina groaned.
“Listen,” said Tam. “They didn’t kill your ma when she knifed one so bad they had to leave him to die. That means they want her for something special and they want her alive, ay? And if all they wanted was a stump-over this is as good a place as any. I tell you, let me get my friend down and see what Maza here knows. When we know what’s what the five of us can go looking after your ma and I like five on five plus wolf-pup there better than three blind blundering on.”
The three of them looked at each other. Maza was watching them keenly.
“What are we doing?” Elice sighed. “We shouldn’t be doing this.”
“No, we shouldn’t,” Korina agreed. “But who will save Mama if we don’t?”
Elice leaned into her sister’s shoulder and shut her eyes. Korina awkwardly reached for Elice’s hand. Elice squeezed tightly and nodded.
“Go,” Korina said to Tam. “Find us at the house as early as you can.”
Tam nodded and picked himself up off the ground. He made to leave, then turned hesitantly back to Korina.
“I thought you should know,” he said, “you’re holding your sword wrong.”
Korina glared at him.
“What?” she said flatly.
“That’s a shieldman’s sword, ay? You should be using it with one hand, not two like a woodaxe.”
“What would you know about swords?” Korina snorted. “My father was a soldier.”
“Ay, that may be, but I get two coppers a day to pull the bellows for the dwarf smiths up the city and I know what swords look like.”
He turned and ran as Korina chucked a rock after him. Kobu perked up and looked after the flung rock while Maza looked confused. Korina tried to make clear to her:
Stay here. Tomorrow we will come back with someone who can talk to you.
Maza seemed to understand. As Korina and Elice gathered themselves to go, Maza began building a small campfire and taking some dried meat out of her bag.
It was dark under the trees and even though the path up towards the farm was familiar, Korina and Elice kept slipping and stumbling over roots. Nothing seemed quite right any more.
“Do you think,” Elice asked, her voice barely a whisper, as they shut the door and pulled in the latchstring, “do you think we’ll find Mama?”
“I know we will,” said Korina.
Elice went to stir up the embers in the fireplace and set out a little food while Korina pushed a chair up against the door.
“But we don’t know,” Elice said after a moment. “We can’t know.”
“Shut up, Sme–!” Korina snapped. She caught herself and clamped a hand over her mouth, but enough of the familiar insult had come out for Elice to shrink back and look down at the table. Hating herself, but not knowing what to say, Korina came and sat down. Elice slid a plate of bread and cheese in front of her without a word. Korina shoved a piece of cheese in her mouth and chewed it slowly.
“I know you don’t want to think about it,” Elice said, not looking up, “but we have to. What will we do if Mama doesn’t come back?”
Korina took a deep breath, fought the pain in her stomach, and made herself think about the question.
“I’ll ask Smith Argus to take me on,” she said after some thought, “or go up to the city and look for work. Maybe Master Tiras can help. I can fetch and carry, chop wood, haul water. We can sell the sheep for a little money. It won’t be much, but it will be enough for you to keep studying with Brother Padwell.”
Elice looked up, startled.
“My studies? Do you think that’s all I care about? How can you be thinking about my studies at a time like this? Of course I won’t let you do that! I’ll find work, too. I can cook and clean and I’m good with letters and figures. There are great houses up in Stormwind where I could find work as a housemaid or a scullion, maybe even a scrivener.”
“No, you won’t!” Korina said, a little more forcefully than she meant to. “You have a gift. I won’t let you throw that away. You’ll be a high priestess of the Light someday. I won’t let you run away from that.”
“And what about you?” demanded Elice. “You’re going to be a knight, like Papa! You can’t do that chopping wood for Argus.”
“I’m no knight!” said Korina, throwing down the crust of her bread. “I never will be. I’m just a scared child playing with my father’s sword. I’ll never be good for anything. I’m just an idiot. You’ve told me that often enough.”
Elice scowled and chewed on her bread.
“Let’s not fight tonight,” she said.
“Fine,” Korina agreed. They finished their dinner in silence.
After dinner, Korina went out to tend to the sheep. When she came back inside she found that Elice had tidied the table and was starting to cut some of their mother’s newly-woven wool cloth on it.
“What are you doing?” Korina asked.
“I’m making us cloaks,” Elice said. “Who knows how long we’re going to have to be out in the woods looking for Mama? The nights are still cold. We’re going to need something warm.”
“You need to sleep,” Korina said. Elice didn’t answer but continued to work the shears through the fabric. “Come on, Elly,” Korina repeated, “leave it and go to bed.” Korina made to snatch the fabric off the table, but Elice grabbed her wrist and pushed her away.
“I’ve already started,” Elice growled. “I can’t sleep until it’s done.”
Korina backed off with a sigh and a shrug.
“All right,” she said, “but I need my sleep. Don’t keep me up.”
She shifted the chair back in front of the door and settled down on it. The wooden rungs hit her in spots that were still sore from the previous night and she squirmed and sighed as she tried to get comfortable. As awkward as it was, she was exhausted and soon felt herself drifting off while Elice continued to work by the light from the hearth.
Korina woke when she slid off the chair into a heap on the floor. For a moment her head swam with panic and she flailed her arms and legs, trying to get them to work together. As her eyes focused and she got her limbs in order the sense of panic passed. Elice was still hunched over the table, the fire was still burning low in the hearth, and apart from her own flopping about there was hardly a sound to be heard. She dragged the water bucket near, scooped a handful into her dry mouth, and managed to sit up.
“What’s the hour?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Elice. “I heard the nightbell when I was stitching the ties on your cloak. I’m finishing the hem on mine now, so it can’t be more than a few hours to dawn.”
Korina came and sat at the table. One finished cloak was laid at the end of the table and Elice was hemming another with fine stitches. Korina shook out the finished cloak and looked at it in the firelight. The fabric was sturdy homespun and Elice had added a collar of fresh fleece. The stitching was neat and precise, but looked rugged enough to stand up to being dragged through the woods.
“This is amazing,” Korina said. “But you haven’t slept at all? Elly, why do you do this to yourself? Why can’t you ever stop with good enough?”
“Because I can’t,” Elice said. “You don’t understand. You never did.”
“No, I don’t understand. You should be sleeping, but here you are, making cloaks because you always have to be perfect! Just for once, I’d like to see you just do something and get it done!”
“Like you,” Elice snapped, “playing orc-killing and calling it work?”
“There you go again,” Korina shot back. “I’m the idiot who can’t do anything right and you’re Miss Perfect Priestling who’s always there to point it out!”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Elice whispered.
“Yes you did!” Korina said. “You always have! You’re the one who always has the right answer. You’re the one Mama is proud of. Why do you always have to be so perfect?”
“Stop it!” Elice yelled. She jumped up from the table, tears running from her eyes. “Stop it! You were everything to me! I worshiped you and you kicked me in the dirt! All I wanted was for you to love me like Papa loved me!”
“Don’t talk about Papa!” Korina yelled. “You don’t even remember him!”
“YES, I DO!” Elice shrieked. She stamped her feet on the floor and whirled away. Sobs overcame her and she sank into a corner.
Korina sat stunned and open-mouthed. She couldn’t move. For a moment she could hardly breathe. At last she shook herself and went to kneel on the floor behind her crying sister.
“You do?” Korina asked in a tiny voice.
Elice steadied her sobbing and turned around to look at her.
“Yes,” she said. “I do. You always say I don’t, but I do.”
Korina fought the tears in her own eyes and said:
“Tell me what you remember about him. Please, tell me.”
“Little things,” said Elice. “I remember how his beard scratched on my cheek when he kissed me good-night. I remember how he put me on his shoulders so I could touch the blossoms on the old apple tree. I remember how he smelled when he came in from a day in the meadow and you and I ran to hug his knees.”
Korina shook her head.
“I had no idea,” she said. “I thought you didn’t remember.”
“You always say I don’t. For a long time I believed you. I thought I must be wrong somehow.”
“Why would you think that?” Korina asked. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I was little and you were my big sister. I thought you knew everything.” She sank back into the corner and pulled her knees up to her chin. “Do you know what else I remember? Better than anything? I remember the day the messenger came to tell us that Papa was gone. I didn’t understand what it meant, but you were older. You understood, so I asked you. You told me Papa went away…” Her voice cracked. She sniffled and shook her head.
Korina felt her chest and stomach tighten up. She shrank away and clutched her belly, dreading what was coming next.
Elice recovered her voice and went on:
“You said Papa went away because I wasn’t good enough. I believed you, Kori. I always believed you. For so long, I thought that if I was good enough, maybe Papa would come back. I did my work and my lessons. I did them until they were perfect. I learned Brother Padwell’s homilies by heart. I never did anything unless I could do it perfectly. I kept hoping I would be good enough and Papa would come home. Of course, in time, I understood that the world doesn’t work that way, but by then it was all I knew how to do. So that’s what I became. Miss Perfect Priestling.”
“Oh, Elly…” Korina gasped.
“All the while I watched you,” Elice went on, the words pouring out easily now. “You, running around playing your games and ripping your dresses and getting into trouble. It seemed so easy for you. I was trying as hard as I could to be good enough for Papa, and you weren’t trying at all. I thought that meant you must be good enough already. And I hated you for that. I hated you just as much as I loved you.”
Korina reached out tentatively towards her sister.
“Elly,” she whispered. “I was young, and stupid, and scared. I was so scared. Getting angry made the fear go away. You were always there in my shadow and it was so easy to hurt you. And I knew it was wrong and stupid, all of it– teasing you, picking fights, running off from lessons. I knew it was wrong, it just made the fear go away for a little while.” She sputtered and fought the tears that were coming. “I’m sorry, Elly. I’m so sorry.”
Elice opened her arms. Korina slid herself across the floor and curled up, crying, in her sister’s embrace.
“I forgive you,” Elice whispered, stroking Korina’s hair. “I forgave you a long time ago, I just didn’t know how to say it.”
They sat together for a long time. Korina cried until her throat was raw. Elice held her, gently rocking. As Korina’s sobbing settled and her breathing became more even, Elice began to sing, softly, little bits of love-songs and half-remembered ballads. Korina listened. They were the songs that Papa used to sing to them.
“You really do remember him,” she said, pushing herself back up and wiping her eyes with her sleeve. Elice nodded.
“I wish he were here,” Elice said. “He’d know what to do. I feel so lost.”
“I wish he were here, too,” said Korina. “We just have to do the best we can without him. Mama needs us.”
“But what if–” Elice started.
“We’ll find her,” Korina cut her off. “We’re going to find Mama and she’s going to be fine.” She took a breath, shut her eyes, and forced herself to go on. “But if we don’t. Or if she’s… We’ll manage. You’re going to be a priest and I’m going to be a knight. And we’ll do it together. Somehow. Whatever it takes.”
Elice nodded and wiped her eyes.
“I think I’m remembering something else, too,” she said. “It was what Tam said, that Papa’s sword is a shieldman’s sword. I’ve been thinking about it while I’ve been sewing.”
“Tam’s an idiot,” Korina scoffed. “The grip is plenty big enough for both my hands.”
“You have small hands.”
Korina shot Elice a look. Elice shrugged.
“You do,” Elice insisted. “But I think I remember when the messenger came, he brought Mama a package. Papa’s sword was in the package. I think there was a shield, too. I didn’t remember it until what Tam said made me think about it.”
Korina tried to remember the day. The memory was one of the most vivid she possessed, but it was a child’s memory, disjointed and odd. She remembered the sound of the messenger’s boots on the doorstep because they were so unlike Papa’s. She remembered that it was a sunny but cold day in early spring and Mama was wearing her red winter shawl. She remembered how Mama screamed and beat on the messenger’s shoulders with her fists. But the memories were all separate pieces, they didn’t make a whole, like the shards of a broken pitcher. Holding them far away and looking at them only sidelong, it seemed like they made up a whole thing, but up close each one was distinct and disconnected. She shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t remember a shield.”
“Mama must have put it away somewhere, somewhere where we don’t see it. I always remembered the sword because it was right there over the door. Every day it was there and I remembered. She put the shield somewhere away and we forgot it.”
Korina pulled herself up to her feet and looked around. There weren’t a lot of places in the cottage to keep a shield. She still did not remember a shield, but she was not going to doubt her sister again. If Elice said there was a shield then there was a shield.
“It must be here somewhere,” she said. “Mama wouldn’t have gotten rid of it, and she wouldn’t leave it in the sheep shed. Let’s look.”
Korina pulled Elice up off the floor and Elice lit a few tapers from the hearth to give them light for the search. It felt hopeless; the two of them knew every inch of that house intimately, but they looked anyway. Korina looked under the benches and under Mama’s mattress and went tapping all around the plastered walls. Elice emptied the cupboards and pried at the floorboards. Empty-handed and exhausted they looked at each other.
“Maybe I’m wrong,” said Elice. “Maybe I really don’t remember.”
“We’ll find it,” Korina insisted. “We can look in the morning when it’s light. I believe you.”
She spread her arms open. Elice came timidly up to her and Korina wrapped her in a tight hug.
“I’m never going to be mean to you again,” Korina promised. “And I won’t let anyone else hurt you, either.”
Elice buried her head in her sister’s shoulder. Korina laid her cheek on top of Elice’s golden hair and held her close. As they stood there together, Korina’s eye fell on the old washtub in the corner. For as long as she could remember, her mother had used that oddly-shaped board wrapped in old leather under the washtub to cover the hole in the cottage floor, but she had no idea why. As a child she had never bothered to wonder, but looking at it now as with fresh eyes it made no sense. Why did her mother have such a thing, and why was she so careful about it, always telling the girls to lift and set down the washtub gently, not to heave or slide it? She had never seen her mother do anything with the board or even unwrap it from its leather covering, but she had always insisted on taking care of it.
Korina untangled herself from Elice and went over the corner. Elice followed, curious. Korina lifted the washtub and set it aside, then took up the board from the floor. The stiff old hide protested and shed some crumbly flakes as she unwrapped it. Beneath the leather there were layers of gray linen. As she unwound them, she began to catch the glint of metal from underneath. Her breath quickening, she cast off the last layers and held aloft the treasure inside. Korina and Elice both gasped as the firelight gleamed off of what they had found.
It was a shield, broad and sturdy, backed with leather and wood and faced in metal. On its front the golden lion of Stormwind roared against a field of blue. Its surface was dented and scuffed and a deep notch had been smashed into the top edge as by the blade of an axe.
Korina held the shield and Elice touched it with her fingertips.
“I didn’t know Mama had this,” Korina said. “I didn’t remember at all.”
“Why did she hide it all this time?” Elice wondered. “Why keep it but never look at it?”
“It was too painful to throw it away,” Korina said, feeling sure in her own heart. “But it was too painful to see it, too.” She traced the ragged notch with her fingers. “This must be from when he was killed.”
Elice pulled back her hand and looked at her sister.
“Try it,” she said. “Papa would want you to.”
Korina stood up and turned the shield around. She wasn’t sure about trying it on her own arm. It felt different than wielding her father’s sword, which her mother had kept above the door with pride. Taking up the sword felt like remembering him when he was alive. But taking up her father’s shield felt different. She couldn’t look at the notch in the top without imagining an orc axe smashing down on him and taking away the father she had loved with such fierce, simple, childish love.
And yet she knew that Elice was right. It was what her father would have wanted. Of that she had no doubt at all.
She hefted the shield and tried the leather armstraps. They were stiff and creaky but with work she loosened them enough to slide the shield onto her forearm. It was big and awkward at first, an unwieldy weight on her arm, but as she practiced holding and moving it, it began to feel right. She figured out how to square her feet and straighten her spine to take the weight. She tried a few lunges that ended badly before getting a feel for how to center the force of her body so as to bash the shield into an imaginary opponent’s face or batter aside a strike.
Elice brought the sword and held it out for her sister. Korina wrapped her hand around the hilt and slowly pulled the blade from the sheath. She had never considered using the sword with one hand before and it irked her to have to admit that Tam was right, but as she tried wielding the sword and shield together she could not deny that it felt good. The weight and balance of the two together was perfect. Turning around in the center of the cottage practicing cuts and thrusts and blocks felt almost like dancing.
“Lady Korina of Stormwind,” Elice said with a smile, “my knight in shining armor!”
Korina lowered her arms and gave her sister a sheepish look.
“I’m just trying what I’ve seen the guards do at drill,” she said. “I’m sure a real soldier could still knock me down with one hand. I can’t do what you do.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what you did when we were fighting that orc. You made some kind of magic shell around you. If I could do that, then maybe I could stand a chance in a real fight.”
“I don’t know how I did that,” Elice said, sinking onto the window chest. “It’s something Brother Padwell teaches the older acolytes who are going up to Northshire to train for combat. I listened to his lesson from behind a door one day, but I don’t know how to do it, not really.”
“Sure you do,” said Korina. “You did it just this afternoon!”
“But I don’t know how. I was just scared and something happened.”
Korina nodded and looked away for a moment. Suddenly she sprang at her sister, sword raised and yelling at the top of her lungs.
Elice shrieked and threw up her arms in defense, but no magic shell sparkled in the air around her.
Korina dropped the sword and shield and fell to her knees in front of Elice.
“I’m sorry, Elly,” she gasped. “I’m sorry! I just thought– it was stupid. I shouldn’t have done that. It was just me being stupid. I never would, not for real. You know that, Elly. I never would.”
Elice shakily pulled her sister close.
“I know,” she said. “It’s all right. It just doesn’t work like that for me. I’m not like you. I can’t just do things the way you do.”
Korina held her sister and stroked her hair gently until her body calmed down from the shock.
At last, Korina set the sword and shield safely on a shelf and yawned.
“I’m going back to sleep,” she said, settling into the chair. “You should finish your work and get some sleep, too.”
Elice looked at the unfinished cloak on the table.
“It’s good enough,” she said with an effort. “I’m going to sleep.” She started up the ladder to the loft, then looked down at her sister. “Come up here. I’ll sleep better if you’re near.”
Continued in Chapter 5: The hunt