The day was bright and the sky a happy blue when Alisbeth mounted her faithful charger, Bloodmane. She rode north out of Southshore, away from Tirion and his concerns over her health.
“Wear this,” he’d said, holding up a small charm on a short leather cord. “In case.”
“In case, what?” she demanded.
He didn’t want to say it, she could see it in his eyes. But he cleared his throat anyway. “A woman holds more risks in battle than a man, and not the savory sort. Should you be captured—gods forbid—you need a talisman for…”
He couldn’t look at her. “Children created from an evil act have the hardest lives of all…”
Alisbeth had cringed and run from the room in terror of the mere idea of being raped. Having such a talisman meant she expected it, though she knew her skills would protect her from being captured.
I’d just kill myself, rather than allow myself to be captured. He can keep his damned talisman.
She glanced at the tall spires of Dalaran in the distance, but instead turned the other way and galloped on. She’d gone a considerable distance when Bloodmane collapsed beneath her and they slid along the road. The horse shoved to its feet, lifting a leg as she stared down at her mistress.
Alisbeth shoved her dress down, her eyes glancing around for anyone who might have seen her in the indecent, embarrassing state. With a groan, she inspected Bloodmane’s hoof. The shoe had come loose and clung to the hoof by only a few nails. The paladin growled in frustration. Southshore was too far to ride on a slipped shoe, and even too far to walk without risking injury to the horse.
Just then a cart creaked up the road, a handsome young Quel’dorei in the seat holding reins to a workhorse with massive hooves beneath curtains of hair. Alisbeth moved to the side for the cart and the man smiled in thanks, then did a double take, his smile widening. He pulled his horse to a stop and leaned a forearm on his thigh as he looked her over.
“Nice day for a ride,” he said. He flicked his short, blond ponytail over his shoulder as it drifted forward.
“It is. Unfortunately, I think my ride is finished.”
“Mmm, why’s that?”
“My horse slipped a shoe.”
The man wrapped the reins on a pin and leapt from the cart. He lifted Bloodmane’s leg to inspect the damage. “She needs a new shoe, this one is ruined.”
“I could’ve told you that. The problem is getting back home without injuring her.” Alisbeth bit at a fingernail in thought.
He smiled and she could see the youth in his eyes, not even two-hundred, she guessed. He straightened and rubbed a hand along Bloodmane’s flank, admiring the white coat of the charger.
“I can shoe her for you.”
Alisbeth switched to chewing at her bottom lip, her eyes shifting to his cart. “I tell you what, since I’ve no gold with me, if you shoe Bloodmane, then I will help unload your cart.”
He laughed and eyed the heavy sacks and crates. “I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “You don’t think I can do it.”
His eyes scanned her from head to toe and back again. “No. I don’t think you could.”
“Then I’ll unload the full cart.”
The man took a breath and thought, his brow furrowed in confusion. “This isn’t how you negotiate to do less work.”
Alisbeth gave a wry smile and turned her charger to go the direction of his cart. “No, this is how you negotiate to prove someone wrong.”
He barked a laugh as he hopped back into his cart, taking a moment to re-secure his hair in the leather thong at the nape of his neck. “I’d pay to see you unload all of this yourself.”
She grinned. “Shoe my horse and you can keep your gold.”
They moved together, their progress slow as he kept pace with the mare, glancing at the clanking shoe every so often.
“I’m Grimory Silversong, by the way.”
“Diori Nightheart,” she said, giving him her mother’s maiden name.
“A pleasure, Diori.”
They spent much of the short walk in silence, his cart and the clanking of the horse’s shoe making it too loud for any real conversation. Grimory motioned at a dirt road, indicating he was turning there; she stopped to let him go first. At the end of the road was a quaint farm with a modest house and a huge, brown barn with a matching silo. Rows of crops peppered the land around it, and closer to the buildings were fences keeping in chickens and pigs. Alisbeth smiled, wondering what that sort of life that would be. Quiet, she assumed. No drills or being shouted at, no punishments for small infractions. No human boys looking at her, waiting for her to fail because how could a Quel’dorei girl even compare to their tall, sturdy strength?
Grimory pulled the cart up to the barn and smiled down at her. “Ready to work?”
Alisbeth tied Bloodmane to the cart and went around to the back. “Lead the way, farm boy.”
“Get these sacks and follow me.” He patted two huge sacks that had more underneath—six in all.
With a shrug, Alisbeth took a sack on each shoulder and followed the man into the barn. He pointed into an empty horse corral and looked at her, his eyes widening at the sight.
“Just right inside? All of them?”
The Quel’dorei watched her carry all six bags into the barn, two at a time, without breaking a sweat. His eyes gleamed in astonishment and something else that Alisbeth couldn’t decipher. After the items for the barn were loaded—Alisbeth tired, but not winded—he led the workhorse with the cart around the back of the barn to a workshop with blacksmithing supplies. There he had her unload crates filled with metal scraps and other heavy items, and she did so without complaint or sign of losing her strength.
The Quel’dorei smirked as she approached him when done, he was chewing on his bottom lip and staring at her, stopped as though frozen in time as he unhitched the cart from his horse.
“Who are you?”
She shrugged at him, brushing her hair behind an ear. “I told you, I’m Diori Nightheart.”
He chuckled and shook his head.
Once the workhorse and cart were put away, Grimory met her at the workshop and gifted Bloodmane an apple and stroked her muzzle, then set to work removing the damaged shoe.
“You’ll need a new shoe entirely, but I’m no blacksmith. I can repair it enough for you to return to…where are you from?”
Alisbeth shrugged, stopping in her slow investigative walk around the workshop. “I’m just passing through. On my way from Stormwind to Lordaeron.”
Grimory nodded in thought. “Stop in Tarren Mill and have a new one made. I wouldn’t go so far as Dalaran or even Lordaeron on a repaired shoe.”
“Hop to it, then. I did my part. Let’s see what you’ve got, farm boy.”
“You say that like it’s an insult,” he said on a gentle laugh.
The man removed his shirt and set to work, building a fire in the forge and setting the shoe inside. He worked his hammer over the metal to right it, and stoked the fire and did everything with such focus that he didn’t see Alisbeth biting her lower lip as she admired the glistening sheen of sweat on his back. He didn’t see the way her fingers twitched at her collar, wanting to brushback the hair sticking to his face. Alisbeth couldn’t help the way he made her feel so alive, watching him work, sweat beading across his smooth chest and running down to his waistband. By the time he finished, she was gripping a table and breathing nearly as hard as he.
The shoe nailed to the horse, Grimory smiled and went to Alisbeth. He cocked his head at how she looked at him, but said nothing of it.
“You’re, um, free to let her out into our pasture to get used to the fix. I’d hate for her to throw you.”
Alisbeth nodded, unable to say anything else. Maybe there was something to farm boys.
Grimory returned after removing Bloodmane’s saddle and releasing her into the same field as the workhorse. Alisbeth hadn’t moved. He turned his back to douse the forge’s fire and the paladin found herself right behind him, her hands running up the skin of his back. He chuckled and turned, allowing her hands to wander to his abdomen, where his rippling muscles still shone under the salty sweat of his work. It didn’t take him long to think on it before he turned her face up by the chin and kissed her, tentatively. Testing to see if she would pull away. When she didn’t, he opened his lips to bring her lower lip just inside his.
“I’m not that kind of girl,” she whispered.
“Then let go of my belt,” he said just as quiet.
She glanced down and sure enough her fingers were tangling around his belt, worrying across the buckle as though they wanted to unclasp it but couldn’t be sure if they should. She bit her lower lip and moved her hands, but didn’t let him back away. She pulled him back into a kiss. His tongue slicked along her lips and she invited it in with a smile. In one swift movement he lifted her by the buttocks and set her on the table she’d been gripping. His hand worked along her thigh to pull up her skirt. She gasped and stopped him.
“I told you I’m not that kind of girl.”
“I’m not expecting you to be. Just tell me when to stop and I will.” His eyes captured hers as his hand found the soft flesh of her thigh. “You want me to stop now?”
Alisbeth’s head shook of its own accord. “No.”
He kissed her again, their tongues tangling as his hand worked its way up her thigh. She pulled away again.
“Now?” he asked.
“No.” And she kissed him again.
She set a palm to her forehead as Grimory panted over her. He rolled to lay on his back in the hay beside her, both too out of breath to move or speak. After a long while he rolled onto his side and set a hand at her cheek, pulling her forward into a sweet kiss.
“You’re right. You’re not that type of girl.” He kissed her again and smiled.
When they’d recovered enough, after a long time laying in the hay kissing each other, he put his trousers on and helped her back into her dress. He saddled Bloodmane after checking if the shoe would hold, then stopped, one hand on the charger’s saddle and one holding Alisbeth by the elbow.
“Can I visit you? In Lordaeron, I mean.”
Alisbeth blushed. “You could, but, I’ll be rather busy with training.”
He helped her into the saddle and frowned at the news. “Training? For what?”
She smiled and ran her fingers through his hair. “Lieutenant.”
His eyes widened as he was struck dumb.
“Be well, Grimory Silversong. May the Light guide you to your true happiness.” She leaned down to kiss him one last time.
“Goodbye, Diori Nightheart. I look forward to seeing you again.”
Alisbeth kicked Bloodmane into a trot, biting her lip to contain her smile. She resisted the urge to turn and tell him her real name, unsure how far the Redblade name was known. She was happy—for just one afternoon she hadn’t been herself. She turned back at the road, the Quel’dorei was still watching her leave. She wanted to see him again. She never wanted to stop seeing him. But the desire for duty and honor rang louder in her head than the desire for Grimory’s touch—the only man’s touch she’d known in her life so far.
When she reached the stables of Southshore, she informed the stablemaster that her horse needed a shoe, then rushed up to her room over the tavern. Tirion had left the talisman on her night table. She growled and threw it, then gasped and ran across the room to retrieve it. She clasped it around her ankle and took deep breaths to calm herself.
Tirion stared across the table at Alisbeth, his face flickering between shock, disapproval, and concern. The silence grew uncomfortable and Alisbeth shifted in her seat, trying not to lose what little food she’d been able to keep down so far that day. She licked her lips to speak, then hesitated. A slow breath rose in her chest.
“You said the talisman—”
“Can only prevent. Not undo what has already been done.” Tirion’s eyes bored into her and she broke down crying—which angered her because it was not something she would normally cry about.
“I’m so sorry, I—”
“Don’t be sorry to me, Alisbeth. You’re the one that made bad choices.”
She nodded, but said nothing, trying to reign in her erratic emotions.
“Arrangements can be made. You can keep to your training, whether you end it now or—”
“End it?” Alisbeth shrieked. “No!”
“Just an option. There are potions for—”
Tirion smiled at her tenacity. “Okay, so then, what? What about your training? Becoming a soldier of the Light? All your adventures you’ve planned?”
“I can stay here until I’m fit to go to Lordaeron, right?”
“Aye, that you can.”
Alisbeth thought. “I have an uncle. He lives in Stormwind.”
Tirion leaned back to study his apprentice. “Are you sure? What of the father?”
“Just a farm boy,” she replied.
The human nodded and withdrew a scrap of paper. “Your uncle’s name?”
He wrote the name down and set the paper in the desk. “I’ll deliver the child to him when you have it. Are you sure this is what you want? Why not settle down and—”
Alisbeth bit her lower lip and shook her head. “No. How could I? He’s…just a farm boy.”