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Increments of Longing

Chapter Text

 

 

“So this is how the sea starts: increments of longing,

Mostly in half darkness

Then a white light as waves rush through.”

     — Meena Alexander, from “Nocturne”

 



 

Jaina had read once that heatstroke could provoke a feeling of nausea not unlike seasickness. At the time, she had counted it as something that only ever happened to other people. She was the last daughter of a long line of sailors, and magic came to her as reliably as the tides came in to Kul Tiras. She had never known her stomach to roll on the deck of a ship, or when riding a horse for long hours, or when enduring the summer heat, and had expected that she never would. Until today.

Today, the flank of Jaina's horse was lathered with sweat, and she rode beneath the spires of elven Quel’Thalas, her insides churning all the way. The uniform of the admiralty was heavier than she was accustomed to, her usual robes left behind in Dalaran in favour of something more befitting the situation. It cinched too tight around her waist and forced her shoulders back, the greatcoat pinned and buttoned in more ways than she could count, and she cursed every bit of thread holding the outfit together in the near-tropical heat of the elven city. As discreetly as she could, she reached up with the cuff of her formal greatcoat to wipe the sweat that darkened the hair of her temples to a honeyed gold. 

She could taste the magic in the air here, magic that she was familiar with in the way it radiated off the Kirin Tor high elves she studied under, like the warmth of the sun on a summer’s day. In Dalaran it was like resting by a brazier; here it was like standing next to a bonfire, and the magic only added to the cloying heat her uniform and nausea travelling provoked.

It was just nausea, she was certain.

She glanced back. The streets behind her were filled with a forest of tall, fair-headed elves staring after her and the line of Proudmoore guardsmen that trailed in Jaina's wake. The elves parted before her Kul Tiran charger like the waves beneath a ship's prow, so that Jaina rode, alone, at the very centre of an entire foreign city's attention. More than ever she wished her mother were by her side, but the Lord Admiral Katherine Proudmoore was hundreds of miles away on her flagship. It would take at least a week for a packet boat to reach her by sea. 

When Jaina reached the gates to the Court of the Sun, she dismounted. Elven guards were upon them immediately, royal Spellbreakers with formal uniforms and flared shields, ready to escort them, to escort her to Prince Kael’thas without delay.

“Lady Proudmoore, thank you for coming so directly,” the leading guard said in a lilting accent, bowing deeply. Another guard was already leading her horse away, presumably to be looked after in nearby stables. 

Jaina had to fight the urge to wring her hands. Instead, she returned the bow and greeted the guard in practiced Thalassian. “ Anar-alah belore. The pleasure is mine.”

He straightened, and replied in Common. “Prince Kael’thas sends his most sincere apologies he could not be here to greet you himself. Unfortunately, his duties have detained him elsewhere for a time. I am to escort you to a courtyard to wait for the prince and your betrothed, the Ranger-General. If you would follow me, my Lady.”

Was her broken Thalassian so bad he felt the need to speak in Common? Or was he just being polite? Jaina never could tell. The high elves in Dalaran had never looked at her twice -- until recently, for reasons she paled to think of -- and when they did, it was always with a distinct air of disdain. As though she had muddied the hems of their elegant silk robes just by walking near them.

Or perhaps that was simply what all elves were like. This guard, while polite to the letter, certainly gave a haughty impression without even trying. His casual mention of why she was here at all made her stomach swoop down past her knees.

An engagement between the sole heir of Kul Tiras and the leader of the high elven armies. A military alliance in all its finery. Today was the day Jaina would be meeting the Ranger-General, and she felt sick just at the thought. She swallowed past the panic that bubbled up her throat.

The elven guard turned to stride away, and Jaina followed. Her own Kul Tiran guards trailed behind her, two-abreast. Far from appearing official, Jaina felt they looked drab in contrast to the sparkling minarets, lush scarlet banners, and golden-branched trees -- herself included.

Especially herself. She smoothed her hands down the front of her ceremonial greatcoat, feeling sillier than ever. She would melt before the day was over.

Quickening her step, Jaina caught up to the elven guard who had addressed her before. “Your city is very beautiful,” she said in Thalassian, determined to not let her few practiced phrases go to waste.

One of his long ears twitched. Surprise? Aversion? Maybe her accent was particularly grating. Regardless, he replied once again in Common. “Thank you, Lady Proudmoore.”

Jaina may not have been particularly adept at social situations, but she knew a rebuff when she saw one. Flushing, she fell back a step and let herself be led in silence.

They passed by an opulent water fountain in the centre of a square. Jaina paused to admire it before hurrying along with the elven guards, who had stopped the moment they noticed she had done so. She did not stop again, much as she wished to take a diversion down a street that led to a glimpse of a marketplace bustling with life. She craned her neck as they passed, but kept her feet moving. With a grimace she shrugged against another uncomfortable prickle of heat, feeling a drop of sweat sliding down her spine.

The guards led her beneath an intricately carved archway and through a series of open colonnades. At last, they came upon a private courtyard, empty save for a few guardsmen flanking the entryway.

The lead elven guard bowed to her again. “If you require anything, do not hesitate to let one of us know.”

He turned to leave, but stopped when Jaina said, “Um?”

“Yes?” he asked.

She hesitated, before asking, “I’m sorry to impose, but could I please have some water brought out? It’s awfully warm.”

“Of course.”

He murmured something in his native tongue to one of the other guardsmen, and the group of them left without another word, so that Jaina was alone with her own Kul Tiran guards, who had already begun to fan out along the perimeter of the surrounding colonnade. At a loss for what to do, Jaina lingered at the edge of the courtyard. If she could even call it that. It seemed more accurate to call it a private garden. A large tree shaded a stone bench with its golden leaves, and a small stream winded its way through the centre of the space, feeding a bank of artful wildflowers that bloomed with vibrant reds and oranges. She crossed over to the tree in the hopes that its shade would provide a cooler atmosphere than the sun-warmed stones of the colonnade pathway.

No sooner had she sat down on the bench, than two of the elven guards returned. Jaina immediately jumped to her feet once more, anxiously looking over their shoulders to see if anyone else was accompanying them. As it turned out, they were only delivering the water she had asked for.

She thanked them as they placed the fluted crystal pitcher and goblet set on the ground beside the bench, and received only a bow in return. They then returned to their posts, leaving her alone in the centre of the courtyard. Gratefully, Jaina sat and poured herself a glass, but wrinkled her nose when she took a sip.

Tides help her. Even the water in Quel’Thalas was served warm.

With a sigh, she took another begrudging sip before placing the goblet aside. She leaned her head back and looked up at the sky. A breeze sloughed through the canopy. A pair of birds winged overhead in a flit and dip of vivid yellow. The clouds were streaked with vibrant colours -- blues and warm peach tones that would eventually fade to a dusky purple come the evening.

Soon driven to boredom, Jaina was making a tendril of water from the nearby stream weave patterns in the air with one finger, when the elven guards suddenly snapped to attention. Their shields slammed smartly against the ground, and Jaina jerked in surprise. The water she had been manipulating with magic dropped to the earth and scattered along the wildflowers. Someone new entered the courtyard.

Again, Jaina shot to her feet. She kept her arms stiffly at her side to resist the temptation to fiddle with her own fingers. The newcomer -- an elven woman with silver-gold hair, wearing opulent armour -- stopped at the edge of the garden. She exchanged a few sharp words with the guards that Jaina could not hear from this distance. Whatever reply they gave seemed to satisfy her, for she tucked her hands behind her back in an officious pose and strode directly towards Jaina, her footsteps lithe as a cat’s.

Or, perhaps not a cat. Something more deadly than a mere housecat. A panther or sabre. The closer she drew, the more Jaina realised just how tall she was. High elves naturally stood a bit taller than average humans, but Jaina’s family was known for their height, and she was used to standing taller than most. As the woman stopped and stood before her however, Jaina could already tell she was no longer the tallest one here.

“Lady Proudmoore?” the woman asked.

Jaina nodded. “Yes?”

The woman’s eyes, glowing a soft blue like many of her kin, swept appraisingly over her. Jaina squirmed somewhat beneath that intense scrutiny, before realising what she was doing and lifting her chin to meet the woman’s gaze head on. At that, the woman cocked her head, and introduced herself, “Sylvanas Windrunner. You must forgive the tardiness. I’m afraid everyone in Silvermoon is bogged down with work these days.”

“I hear war will do that,” Jaina quipped, trying and failing to make light of the situation.

Still, it earned her a smile. A fleeting, tight-lipped smile, but a smile nonetheless. It was more than Jaina had managed in Quel’Thalas so far. Beneath her gilded pauldrons, Sylvanas’ shoulders were rigid, her posture impeccably militant.

Clearing her throat, Jaina pointed to Sylvanas’ armour. “So, you’re a Ranger, then? You must know the Ranger-General.”

For some reason, that simple observation caused Sylvanas’ eyebrows to rise, her long ears canting up in surprise. Jaina was still wondering what sort of offense she must have accidentally caused, when Sylvanas answered slowly, “I am. And I do.”

When Sylvanas offered no more information than that, Jaina said, “Well, I appreciate him sending you along to keep me company. Though I understand it must be an imposition on your time, what with -- you know -” she waved her hands towards the walls around them, “- the Trolls combining forces and threatening to take over both our lands, and all that.”

“It is no trouble,” Sylvanas replied coolly. After an awkward pause, she added, “This is, after all, meant to be a union to solve that particular problem. Or so I’m told.”

The dryness of her tone made the corner of Jaina’s mouth curl up in spite of herself. “Yes, I remember getting that talk as well. What was it my mother said? ‘A military trade by less than military means’?”

Sylvanas hummed a quiet laugh, and fine lines appeared at the corners of her eyes when she smiled. She did not look old, but Jaina never could tell with elves. As far as she knew, Sylvanas could have been a thousand years old, and she would be none the wiser.

“Your mother is an excellent leader,” Sylvanas said, and for the first time she seemed to relax, more in her element as the conversation continued. “I have admired her strategies for some time. I hope our people can learn much from one another.”

“That’s very liberal of you,” Jaina replied before her head could catch up with her mouth. Her eyes widened when she heard what she had said. “I mean -! I just -!”

“- Know that my people are notoriously xenophobic?” Sylvanas finished for her, amused at Jaina’s stammering. “Yes, I am well aware.”

“Well, I -” Jaina couldn’t help but wring her hands now. “I wouldn’t say that.”

“And what would you say?”

Jaina fumbled for the right turn of phrase. “‘Parsimonious with your cultural heritage?’”

At that, Sylvanas laughed and the sound was infectious enough that Jaina could not help but smile in turn. Mostly, she was relieved that Sylvanas found it funny rather insulting, and that she had avoided some sort of potentially disastrous diplomatic incident.

Sylvanas’ gaze gleamed when she stopped laughing. “You have a way with words, Lady Proudmoore.”

A flush that had very little to do with the heat crept across Jaina’s face. “I can’t say that’s the impression most people have of me, but I’ll take it.”

“Yes, I’d heard something about you being the bookish sort.”

“News travels fast even in Quel’Thalas, it seems.”

“Don’t you know?” Sylvanas tsked when Jaina gave her a quizzical look. “I was sure you would have read about it in those dusty old history books. Elves invented gossip, you know.”

“Bullshit,” Jaina said before she could censor herself. She clapped a hand over her mouth, but Sylvanas was grinning at her again.

Now, Sylvanas appeared positively impish, and she teased, “A wordsmith in more ways than one, I see.”

“Don’t tell anyone,” Jaina warned. “I'm supposed to be on my best behaviour.”

Sylvanas mimed locking her lips with an invisible key. “I wouldn’t dare.”

If any of the guardsmen -- elven or human -- were eavesdropping on their conversation, they didn’t show it. Jaina tried to look past the elven guards to see if anyone was coming. The elven guards exchanged glances, a flicker of their eyes beneath their winged helms. Sylvanas followed Jaina’s gaze, turning towards the elven guards as well. Whatever they saw on her face had them standing up straighter, as if they’d stepped on a lightning ward.

Sylvanas turned back to her and said, “The Prince shouldn’t be much longer.”

“The Ranger-General -” Jaina began. She cleared her throat and tugged at the high collar of her cravat. “- what’s he like?”

A long silence followed her question. Sylvanas was watching her very carefully. “Do you want my honest opinion?”

“Would you give me anything else?”

Sylvanas gave a huff of laughter. “In that case,” she paused before continuing, “The Ranger-General has a bit of a temper, is incredibly vain and meddlesome, and -- quite frankly -- needs a long holiday.”

Blinking in shock, Jaina replied, “That’s - Well, that’s quite honest of you.”

That officious tone came back when Sylvanas answered, “Candour is strongly encouraged among the ranks of the Rangers. It fosters camaraderie.”

“Yes, but -” Jaina shook her head. “He can’t really be that bad.”

Sylvanas shrugged, the plates of her pauldrons sliding together with the motion. “I suppose it depends on who you ask.”

“Well, shit,” Jaina sighed. This time she didn’t even bother trying to stop herself from swearing. She merely tugged at her cravat again, reaching up to wipe at a bead of sweat that darkened the hair at her temples.

Tilting her head to one side, Sylvanas said, “If you’re too warm, you should just take that coat off.”

“I would, but I need to -” Jaina motioned towards herself and her attire. “- look the part. Something about all ceremony and etiquette before the prince.”

“The prince won’t care,” Sylvanas said. Then added, “Well, he will -- I’ve never met a man more concerned about appearances in my life -- but that doesn’t mean you should die of heat stroke before he arrives.”

Jaina rolled her eyes. “Well, thanks. Now I feel a lot better.”

“No, but you will once you take off that gaudy thing.”

Eyebrows rising, Jaina gave Sylvanas’ own attire a pointed look. “Where I’m from, we have a saying: that’s the pot calling the kettle black.”

Sylvanas flashed her a grin, and for the first time Jaina noticed that she had fangs that were surprisingly long and sharp. “But, Lady Proudmoore, how would you be able to recognise I was a high elf, if I didn’t look unbearably snobbish?”

The wayward stroke of humour was far more self-deprecating than Jaina had been expecting from a person who looked so serious. In spite of herself, Jaina let loose a snort of graceless laughter. Sylvanas continued to smile at her, warm if still a bit stiff. As if on her guard. As if someone important could walk into the courtyard at any moment.  

“Thank you,” Jaina said.

Sylvanas frowned. “For what?”

“Making me laugh.” Jaina started tugging at the many buttons and buckles of her greatcoat, loosening it one latch at a time. “Tides, but I needed a good laugh.”

With an inscrutable expression, Sylvanas remained silent while Jaina shrugged off her greatcoat. Flinging it onto a nearby bench, Jaina tugged at her white shirt, pulling it away from where it stuck to her sweaty skin, and scrunching up her nose in distaste at the ruffles spilling from the cravat tightly bound at her neck.

“Ugh,” she muttered, sinking down onto the bench as well. “I miss my robes.”

Sylvanas did not join her on the bench, standing a decorous distance from her. “I’d heard you were training to become a member of the Kirin Tor?”

“I’m surprised a Ranger would know that.”

Sylvanas shrugged. “I like to be kept well-informed.”

Jaina sighed, fiddling with the end of a ruffle. "I honestly wish this whole marriage of convenience thing wasn't so...inconvenient."

Sylvanas raised a brow at that. "Oh?"

"I was looking forward to continuing my studies at Dalaran," Jaina admitted. "It took me so long to get Antonidas to even think about training me, and now it's -"

She cut herself off with a shrug.

Sylvanas looked at her for a moment, the tip of an ear flicking as she pointed out slowly, "There are many fine mages in Silvermoon. If they're not up to your high standards, I'm sure we can arrange for wards to portal you back to Dalaran whenever you require. I know it is costly and dangerous, but we have a long standing relationship with the Kirin Tor. They would anchor a portal for us, if we asked it of them."

“Why would they go out of their way like that for me?”

Sylvanas gave her an odd look, bordering on incredulous. “Do you not realise the privileged position to which you are being elevated here in Quel’Thalas?”

“Trust me, I know privilege. This?” Jaina pointed to the lush courtyard sprawling around them. “Feels like a cage.”

At that, Sylvanas went rigid, her posture more martial than even when she first entered the courtyard. “If you don’t wish to go through with the engagement, you needn’t do so. Nobody will force you into this, least of all -”

Before she could finish, she cut herself off with a clench of teeth, her mouth twisting to one side.

“You’re very kind,” Jaina said. “But really, it’s fine.”

Sylvanas took a step forward. Her eyes, which had previously glowed a soft blue, were suddenly very intense. The change was startling enough that Jaina leaned back in her seat. “If you have reservations, you must confide them.”

“In who?” Jaina asked.

“Somebody.” Sylvanas insisted. “Anybody.”

“I -” Jaina started to speak, but paused. Pressure pushed down on her shoulder, on her sternum and throat, until she felt like she was going to cave in upon herself. She swallowed thickly, staring down at her hands. “It’s not that simple.”

“Yes, it is. I assure you: it is.”

When Jaina neither replied nor looked up, Sylvanas sighed. For a brief moment, Jaina thought Sylvanas was going to be angry with her, that she was going to storm off and do something brash. Instead, she shocked Jaina even more by walking over and gently moving the greatcoat in order to sit beside her on the stone bench. Sylvanas leaned her elbows on her knees, and when Jaina snuck a hesitant peek, it was to find her staring down at her clasped hands in much the same fashion.

Sylvanas’ voice was soft when she spoke, “If you want, I can make this whole situation go away. You need only say the word, and I promise I will do everything in my power to make it so.”

Jaina stared at her. Sylvanas looked up and met her eye, and Jaina had no doubt that she could make good on such a promise.

Finally, Jaina shook her head. “No.”

“You’re certain?” Sylvanas pressed.

“Yes.” Jaina took a deep breath. “It’s not my first choice -- by any stretch of the imagination -- but it is my choice.”

For a moment, Sylvanas said nothing in reply. Then, she surprised Jaina yet again with faint laughter. “And now it is my turn to thank you.”

Jaina blinked in confusion. “Why?”

“For setting my mind at ease,” she said, and this time her smile was gentle enough to make Jaina’s breath catch.

Footsteps approached, rapid and quickly approaching. Jaina could hear the faint strains of male voices talking, and Sylvanas’ ears twitched. Abruptly, Sylvanas stood and motioned for Jaina to do the same. Jaina followed suit. She reached for her greatcoat, but stopped when Sylvanas shook her head.

Before Jaina could do anything more, Prince Kael’thas entered the courtyard, accompanied by the lead elven guard that had led Jaina from the Court gates. All of the guards -- human and elven alike -- stood at attention, but Kael’thas took no notice of them, as if they were mere fixtures along the walls.

He shooed the lead elven guard away with an irritable wave of his hand. “Yes, you were right, Ithedis. No need to be so smug about it.”

Far from appearing smug, Ithedis bowed low at the waist as Kael’thas continued to cross the garden courtyard alone. A friendly smile bloomed across Kael’thas’ face as he strode towards them, and Jaina felt more than saw Sylvanas stiffen beside her.

“Ah, Sylvanas! I was searching for you in the Walk of Elders, but here you are, keeping our esteemed guest company. Been getting to know one another?”

Sylvanas made a smart gesture, placing her palm flat over her chest in what appeared to be a salute. “We have.”

“Excellent.” He turned his attention upon Jaina. When he opened his arms, Jaina was half afraid he was going to offer her a hug -- she hadn’t known high elves to be liberal with physical displays of affection -- but he only indicated their surroundings. “Lady Proudmoore, it is very good to see you again. You are most welcome in Silvermoon.”

Jaina bowed. “You are generous to receive me, Prince Kael’thas. It is my sincere hope this is the start of a long and robust alliance between our two nations.”

When she straightened, he was positively beaming with satisfaction. “Then our visions are aligned. Come!” He turned heel and started to walk back the way he came, not pausing to see if they followed. “Grab your coat and let us repair to someplace more suited to these kinds of formal discussions. Now that we’re all here, we can -”

“Uhm -?” Jaina interrupted. “Excuse me?”

Stopping in his tracks, Kael’thas blinked and turned, momentarily flummoxed at being interrupted. “Yes, Lady Proudmoore?”

Pointing between the three of them, Jaina said, “Aren’t we missing someone?”

Kael’thas glanced between Jaina and Sylvanas in puzzlement. Then, he smiled at Sylvanas as if she had intentionally left him out on some sort of inside joke. He turned back to Jaina apologetically, “I’m afraid I do not follow.”

“The Ranger-General?” Jaina prompted, a little testily.

Slowly, incredulously, Kael’thas aimed his full attention back upon Sylvanas. “You didn’t tell her?”

“Tell me what?” Jaina looked at Sylvanas, but Sylvanas was studiously avoiding her eye. Something stirred at the back of Jaina’s mind, suspicion floundering at the edge of outright understanding.

Sylvanas’ voice was strained. “It never quite came up.”

Oh. Oh, no.

“Well, then. Allow me to be the one to properly introduce you two.” Kael’thas gestured first to Jaina then to Sylvanas, like an officiant presiding over a ceremony, his blood-red robes sweeping with every motion. “Lady Jaina Proudmoore, Heir to the Kul Tiran Admiralty, Scion of the Fleet. And Lady Sylvanas Windrunner, Ranger-General of Silvermoon, of Quel’Thalas, and of the Farstriders.”

Jaina’s stomach sank, like an anchor plummeting to a rocky seabed. The sun burned in the sky, but ice squeezed Jaina’s chest in a vice-like grip. Sylvanas stood tall, straight-backed, and stony-faced. She glanced sidelong in her direction, and this time when their eyes met, Jaina felt like she’d been plunged into an icy lake.

Sylvanas bowed to Jaina, her every movement rigid, and murmured, “A pleasure to formally make your acquaintance, Lady Proudmoore.”

 


 

The negotiations took weeks and weeks. Partly because Kael’thas insisted that Jaina be seen around Silvermoon City for what he called ‘a sufficient duration of time’ in order for her and the citizens of Quel’Thalas to acclimate to the idea that she would be marrying their Ranger-General. Mostly though, it was because it took so long to get everyone in the same room together. Meetings were pushed back or cancelled. Katherine Proudmoore couldn’t make it one week due to Zandalari activity to the southern seas. Kael’thas couldn’t make it the next week due to a meeting with the Council of Elders. Even Sylvanas had to extend her apologies, when a skirmish with the Amani trolls called her away to the borders.

Meanwhile, Jaina remained in Silvermoon, restlessness and boredom building under her skin like the sweltering heat of Quel'Thalas.

Rather than staying cooped up in the quarters given to her in the Court of the Sun, she had taken to walking around the city, accompanied by her omnipresent mix of personal Kul Tiran guards and elven Spellbreakers. In the first week, this had sparked a flurry of Thalassian whispers and stares when she had walked through the marketplace. Ithedis, who had been permanently assigned to Jaina’s protection detail by Kael’thas, had informed her that most foreign dignitaries were strongly encouraged to remain in the boundaries of the Court of the Sun during their brief visits.

Jaina wasn’t sure about being a ‘dignitary.’ She certainly didn’t feel particularly dignified with so many people gawking at her. She also wasn’t sure that rule applied to her.

“Didn’t the prince say that the whole point of my stay here was for me to be seen?” Jaina pointed out to Ithedis, when she continued to roam the city in the second week.

“He did, Lady Proudmoore,” Ithedis conceded in his usual stiff monotone. His expression was difficult to read behind the ornate flanges of his helm.

She ignored the way people gave her a wide berth on the streets, preferring to instead admire the fluted architecture of Farstrider Square. “Then, are you -” she stopped to peer into an open-plan building. “- ‘strongly encouraging’ me to remain in my quarters? Does this shop sell anything?”

Ithedis blinked at her in confusion, glancing between her and the building. “Weapons, Lady Proudmoore. And I would not presume to tell you anything that was against your best interests.”

Patting him on the shoulder, Jaina said, “And I thank you for that, Ithedis. Would you like to accompany me into the shop while the others remain outside?”

If anything, he seemed even more puzzled than before. His head flinched back, as if she had struck him.

Jaina quickly withdrew her hand, eyes wide. “Oh! I’m - I’m very sorry! If I overstepped -!”

“It is fine, my Lady,” he insisted, even as he glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone had noticed. “I would be happy to accompany you inside, if you so wish.”

Right. No touching. Was it an elf thing, Jaina wondered, or a station thing? She didn’t have the courage to ask him. Or, more appropriately, she didn’t want to put him on the spot even more than she already had done.

Jaina told her Kul Tiran guards to remain outside the shop, while Ithedis murmured the same in Thalassian to his own men. As the two of them stepping through the arched entryway, Ithedis removed his helm and tucked it under one arm. He was of a height with her, which seemed off-putting to him, for one of his ears gave a near imperceptible flick when he glanced at the top of her head.

The owner was speaking to an elven customer, and their voices dropped the moment Jaina walked inside. Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Jaina instead tried offering what she hoped was a welcoming smile, which they did not return. Ithedis remained completely silent and stony, dutifully trailing after Jaina while she ambled round the perimeter of the shop, admiring the wares on display.

Jaina circled a stand of armour. The red lacquered plates had been polished to a shine, so that she could see her own shadow drifting in reflection across the surface. Not looking at Ithedis, she asked, “How well do you know Sylvanas?”

As usual, Ithedis expression gave away nothing. “The Ranger-General is an excellent military leader, just like her mother before her. Cunning. Shrewd. A staunch defender of our people.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Jaina sighed.

He did not ask for clarification, and Jaina took that to mean he did not want to know what she had meant. Either that, or he knew what she meant and had no answer that could help her. Eventually he managed to say, “Lady Windrunner -” he smoothed his thumb across the edge of his helm. “- is an accomplished huntress.”

Well, that was something at least. Drawing in a deep breath, Jaina pointed to a lavishly chased war axe hung upon the wall, its heavy blade stylised in the shape of an eagle’s beak. “Do you think she’d like that?”

Ithedis stared at her as if Jaina had just asked him to jump into a fountain. “You wish to buy the Ranger-General a war glaive?” he asked slowly.

“I wish to buy my betrothed a gift,” she corrected. “Is that inappropriate? Where I’m from, that would be considered quite a common thing to do, so please tell me if I’ve blundered.”

He seemed to relax, if only a fraction. “Ah. I understand. That is acceptable.”

“But not the axe?”

He did not answer.

Sighing, Jaina moved on and pointed to a sword. “This?”

Again, Ithedis did not answer, but his jaw tightened slightly, as if he were clenching his teeth.

“I’m going to take that as another ‘no.’”

Jaina continued walking, taking note of the many exquisite pieces of craftsmanship. She passed by a tower shield not unlike Ithedis’ own -- somehow Sylvanas did not strike her as the type to use a shield. A spear caught her attention, but Jaina paused at the bow beside it.

“You mentioned she was a huntress?”

“Yes, my Lady.”

Reaching up to trace the bow’s curved limb with her fingers, Jaina turned away. A wall adjacent her was layered with shelves that bore all manner of smaller items. Knives and quivers. Arrows and tinderboxes. Leather travel pouches, belts, and spare links of chain mail for repairing armour in the field.

She approached, immediately turning over an assortment of different sized and shaped arrowheads, as well as a wickedly sharp skinning knife that gleamed with oil when she revealed a finger-breadth of damascus steel from its sheath. When her eye fell upon a narrow little box however, Jaina placed the knife aside in favour of the box. It had been expertly carved from pale ivory and inlaid with golden ceremonial Thalassian script all around the edge.

Jaina held it up to Ithedis. “What does this say?”

He leaned forward. “It is an idiom, my Lady. ‘Prey hung is prey skinned.’ It means -” Pausing for a moment to think, he explained, “It means that there are often alternative solutions to a single problem.”

Humming a contemplative note under her breath, Jaina carefully opened the box. It was lined in red velvet, and nestled within was a dark slab of rock. A whetstone.

Jaina closed the box once more, and waggled it at Ithedis. “Yes?” she asked.

Again, Ithedis did not answer, but this time he gave a tiny nod that Jaina would have missed had she not been looking for it.

She bought the box, enjoying the shop owner’s open surprise that she was purchasing anything at all, and that she had picked what seemed to be the most practical and least gaudy item in the room. It was small enough to fit into her pocket when she walked back out onto the street with Ithedis shadowing her every footstep.

He placed his helm back over his head and remained as formal as ever, but for the remainder of the day he would answer her in Thalassian when she boldly tried to practice a few phrases on him. And as the sun began to slip towards the horizon, and they strolled back in the direction of the Court of the Sun, the little box was a welcome weight in Jaina’s pocket.

 


 

By the fifth week of her stay, people no longer stared and muttered as she passed, and Jaina had long since taken to wearing more simple Kul Tiran clothing. By the sixth week of her stay, Jaina had explored every street of Silvermoon City. At least, all the ones Ithedis would allow her to walk down. Some, he advised, were ‘ill-suited to the Lady’s disposition’ which Jaina took to mean ‘unsafe.’ By the seventh week, Jaina was just about ready to drag her mother, Kael’thas, and Sylvanas into the same room by the scruff of their necks. Luckily -- for all of their sakes -- they managed to finally arrange a day to settle the negotiations.

Most of the paperwork, Jaina knew, had already been drawn up; she had paled at the sight of stacks and stacks of documents in an official looking room of Sunfury Spire. Her wrist was already aching at the thought of signing those pages.

At least then it would be done. Better to get this over with than have it hang over her like a sword dangling by a silk thread.

Another otherwise uneventful morning found Jaina finishing up a light breakfast, attended as she always was by Ithedis and her Kul Tiran guards. She was seated upon a secluded bench in the corner of the bazaar and people-watching, when Kael’thas found her. She looked up in bemusement when she heard a murmur extend through the marketplace, half convinced that it was due to something she had unwittingly done. Seeing royal guards, she wrapped her half eaten meal in the cloth she had bought it in, and set it aside. She was standing and brushing crumbs from her breeches just as Kael’thas approached.

“You’re a difficult woman to find, Lady Proudmoore,” Kael’thas greeted her with a smile. He nodded to both sets of guards, who all walked a ways off to give the two of them space to speak in private. All except Ithedis, who continued to stand at Jaina’s elbow.

“My apologies,” Jaina said. “I thought I had until the afternoon before the meeting began?”

“Oh, you do. You do. I simply wanted to have a quick chat before the final negotiations. Check in on you, so to speak.”

“Thank you,” she said slowly. “I’m doing very well.”

Kael’thas smiled. “I have no doubt,” he replied. Without turning, he waved a dismissive hand at Ithedis and said, “A moment, please.”

Ithedis did not move.

For a moment, Kael’thas stared at Ithedis in confusion, then growing anger, his brow darkening as Ithedis remained staunchly by Jaina’s side. Kael’thas’ mouth opened, but before he could speak, Jaina murmured to Ithedis, “Thank you.”

Immediately, Ithedis bowed and strode exactly five paces away, watching. Kael’thas scowled after him, then glanced at Jaina thoughtfully as if adding numbers together.

Jaina cleared her throat. “You wanted to speak to me about something?”

“Yes,” Kael’thas muttered. In an instant, his veneer of false cheeriness returned, and his words were buoyant. “Yes, I did. You seem to be acclimating admirably. You’ve been the talk of the town ever since you arrived.”

“Oh - well, that’s -” she fidgeted with the ends of her sleeves before realising what she was doing and putting her hands firmly at her sides. “Good?”

His voice lowered and he assured her. “It’s excellent. I only bring it up because I also hear you and the Ranger-General have not taken the time to -- how shall I put it? -- grow better acquainted.”

Jaina opened her mouth, but no sound came out. It was true; she and Sylvanas had barely exchanged more than a few passing pleasantries since their first encounter in the garden courtyard. The one evening Sylvanas had found the time to join Jaina for dinner in a public venue, a breathless Ranger had raced up to their table and whispered something in Sylvanas’ ear that had her standing and apologising for the need to cut their meal so short.

Jaina had stayed to finish eating alone, and discovered upon leaving that Sylvanas had already taken care of any payment.

Kael’thas was still talking. “I understand -- believe me, I understand -- that our beloved Lady Windrunner can be a polarising personality. If she is not to your liking, then it is best we have that discussion before any official proceedings.”

“I don’t - I mean - she’s not -” Jaina floundered for exactly what to say, but Kael’thas continued as if she hadn’t spoken at all.

“If I’m to be perfectly honest, the Ranger-General was not my first choice for this union. Your mother was adamant however, that the alliance be military in nature. Both literally and symbolically. What with the Ranger-General answering solely to the Council of Elders, that military angle was of utmost importance. And while there are many fine Captains who could have taken my place -”

“Your place -?” Jaina’s eyes widened when she realised exactly what he was implying.

“- It did not seem befitting a lady of your station to marry at a level so beneath you. That and the fact the Ranger-General is known to be a -”

“Prince Kael’thas,” she interrupted, voice firm enough that she could get a word in edgewise. “While I appreciate your concern, I think any drastic changes this late in the negotiations would be unwise.”

At that, he appeared confused. As if she had snubbed an offering that he had spent a long time choosing just for her. His answering smile felt more forced than usual. “Quite right, Lady Proudmoore. Quite right.” Kael’thas offered her his arm. “Shall we head for the Spire? I know it’s early yet, but best to get everyone together before another disaster strikes.”

She hesitated for but a moment before placing her hand on his arm and allowing herself to be led from the bazaar. Ithedis fell in close behind them, followed by their combined unit of guards, until Jaina felt like she was leading a small cohort of armed soldiers that clanked with every step. Kael’thas talked the entire way to Sunfury Spire. All Jaina had to do was make noises of interest, and he seemed more than satisfied with the conversation.

Jaina used crossing the threshold of the Spire as an excuse to remove her hand. Kael’thas made no comment, though he did pause before continuing to lead her to the meeting room. More guards flanked the doors. They snapped to attention upon their monarch’s approach. As she passed by, Jaina gave them a weak smile that neither returned.

Someone cleared their throat behind her, and she turned in the entryway. Ithedis stood just outside, giving Jaina a meaningful look, as if waiting to be either invited inside or dismissed.

“Oh! Uhm -” Jaina winced sympathetically, “It’s probably best you wait outside for this.”

Without a word or the faintest flicker in his expression, Ithedis bowed and joined the rest of the guards outside the room.

When Jaina turned back around, it was to find that Kael’thas had been accosted by a steward. They spoke in rapid Thalassian. She had trouble following, only picking out words here and there among the fluid syllables.

Then, Kael’thas offered Jaina a respectful nod. “Excuse me. I must attend to something momentarily.”

“Another disaster?” Jaina quipped.

He grimaced. “Of the paperwork variety.”

“My condolences, Your Majesty.”

He chuckled, waggling a finger at her as though she were a small child caught with her hand in the biscuit tin. “You’re funny! They didn’t tell me you were funny!”

And with that he swept past her, followed by the steward. Jaina watched him go in slight bewilderment. Shaking her head, she stepped further into the room. A large oval table was perched in the very centre, spread with a ruby-coloured cloth and stacked with papers. Her mother stood near the head of the table, deep in conversation with her second-in-command. Based on the furrow in Katherine's brow, Jaina could tell the conversation was not going well. Best to steer clear.

On the far side of the room, open windows streamed with late morning light. Sylvanas was silhouetted against the glass, and beside her stood another elven woman Jaina had never seen before. They spoke quietly yet sharply, and they fell silent when they noticed Jaina rounding the table to join them. As they turned towards her, Jaina was struck by the resemblance of the two women, although the other elven woman was shorter by far and with hair so pale it appeared a shade shy of silver.

“Lady Proudmoore,” Sylvanas greeted with a respectful nod. She gestured towards the other woman and said, “Allow me to introduce my little sister, Vereesa.”

Without thinking, Jaina stuck out her hand. “It's lovely to meet you.”

Rather than bow, Vereesa grasped her hand without hesitation. “Likewise. I'm only sorry I couldn't do so earlier. Sylvanas has kept me busy in the field. I barely managed to escape the front lines. She'd have me working through her own wedding, if she could.”

Sylvanas’ gaze flicked up towards the ceiling, as if praying for patience. “Who else am I supposed to trust the Rangers with in my absence?”

“Heaven forbid you actually delegate for once in your life,” Vereesa shot back.

“Oh, I see. You'd prefer me to promote Falean?” Sylvanas countered in a tone that was far too sweet.

Vereesa aimed an ugly look at her sister. “Only if you want all your hair to be mysteriously shorn off in the night.”

Sylvanas tsked, and sounded bored when she said, “How rude, sister.”

“Well, I'm glad you did manage to get away,” Jaina said, clasping her hands before her.

“That makes one of us,” Sylvanas drawled.

Elbowing her sister in the flank for that comment, Vereesa smiled at Jaina. “Thank you.”

Sylvanas rubbed at her ribs, but a faint smile played across her face. “I must apologise again for having to abandon our dinner,” she said to Jaina. “I’ll have to make it up to you.”

“I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time for you to think of something,” Jaina replied, then brightened. “Oh! That reminds me!”

As Jaina began digging around in her pockets, Sylvanas and Vereesa exchanged puzzled glances. Vereesa shrugged.

Pulling the ivory box free, Jaina held it out to Sylvanas. “I bought this for you. I know we’re not official or anything, but I figure we’re signing everything today, so -- here.”

Both Sylvanas and Vereesa had gone stock-still. Vereesa was watching her sister’s reaction, and Sylvanas was staring at the box as if Jaina had offered her a live serpent. Slowly, she reached out and took the box from Jaina, moving carefully so that their fingers did not touch. She did not open it.

“I -” Jaina hesitated, confidence wavering. “I thought this was alright? I mean -- I asked Ithedis, and he said it was alright for me to give you something?”

Sylvanas’ brow furrowed. “Ithedis? You mean that stuffy old Spellbreaker?”

Jaina bristled. “Hey! He’s nice to me!”

At that, Sylvanas’ eyebrows rose in surprise. “And he told you that you should give me a gift?”

“Well, no,” Jaina admitted. “I said I wanted to buy you a gift, and he sort of steered me towards something appropriate.”

Pointing at the box now in Sylvanas’ hand, Vereesa asked, “As opposed to -?” she trailed off, waiting for Jaina to tell them.

“A war glaive,” Jaina mumbled.

Sylvanas made a faint choking noise that she covered with a poorly disguised cough. Vereesa looked like she was biting the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing aloud.

In the meantime, Jaina could feel heat creeping up her cheeks. She clenched her hands at her side, and her words held more of a snap than she would have liked. “Alright, what? What is it? Is a gift considered bad luck or something?”

Clearing her throat, Sylvanas smoothed her features as best she could, though her eyes still gleamed with amusement. “Forgive me. In my culture people do exchange gifts when they are to be married. However, the gift is supposed to be a sort of representation of the marriage itself. As a general rule, you would avoid any sharp objects. They represent severed ties.”

Slowly, realisation dawned on Jaina. “So, giving a big axe would be like -”

“- announcing to the world that you think the marriage will end in bloodshed,” Vereesa finished for her, unable to keep the grin from her face.

Jaina spluttered wordlessly. When she found her voice, she asked, “What - uhm - what would be a good gift, then?”

Idly tapping the fingertips of one hand against the box, Sylvanas answered, “That depends. Clothing is traditional. A fine steed perhaps? Or -- if you’re feeling adventurous -- a dragonhawk. Though I wouldn’t advise that.”

“Worst wedding reception I’ve ever attended. Dragonhawk got loose,” Veressa added aside.

“Then you’ll be pleased to know this is not a dragonhawk,” Jaina said.

“And thank the stars for that,” Sylvanas chuckled. She looked down at the box. She stroked the ivory grain and traced the elaborate script that scrolled along its edge. With utmost care, Sylvanas opened the box. Some unreadable expression flickered across her face.

“This is -” she started to say, but stopped.

“Perfect,” Vereesa finished, shooting Jaina a covert wink.

Jaina breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank the Tides.”

Sylvanas admired the whetstone for a moment, before placing the lid back on and tucking the box into one of the leather pouches that lined one side of her belt. “Thank you. I shall treasure it.”

Something fluttered in Jaina’s chest at the small, warm smile Sylvanas gave her. Before she could say anything foolish, she was saved by the return of Kael’thas and the steward.

“If we could all be seated?” Kael’thas sighed even as he sank down into his seat at one of the heads of the table. The steward followed after him, arms laden with documents and scrolls which he placed on the table before his liege lord. Kael’thas watched with an air of distaste before waving the steward away with an irritable glower.

Sylvanas and Vereesa sat on Kael’thas’ side of the table, though nearer the middle, leaving Jaina to hesitantly make her way over towards her mother. Katherine had dismissed her second-in-command, and was pulling back a chair to sit. “Problem?” she asked.

“Nothing that we can’t handle,” Kael’thas assured her. “A numbering issue on a few minor clauses referenced later in the agreement. Now that it’s fixed, we can -”

When Jaina tugged at the high-backed chair directly opposite Sylvanas, the legs squealed against the marble floor, loud enough that it cut off what the prince had been saying. With a wince and a muttered apology, Jaina sat down.

Clearing his throat, Kael’thas continued, “As I was saying, now that the issue has been fixed, we can settle the last few details, and our happy couple -” he gestured to Sylvanas and Jaina “- can sign everything in front of witnesses.”

“Finally,” Vereesa muttered under her breath in Thalassian. Sylvanas shot her a warning look out of the corner of her eye, and Jaina had to bite her lower lip to keep from grinning.

“You have the pages with the new numbering?” Katherine asked, holding out her hand towards the steward, who stood at attention by the closed door.

Kael’thas nodded. Immediately, the steward moved forward to give Katherine a copy of the pages. She squinted down at the fine print, held it further from her, then gave up and pulled her half-moon spectacles from a pocket of her greatcoat. After settling them on the bridge of her nose, she began to read.

“Your scribes write too small,” Katherine remarked.

“To not waste good parchment,” Kael’thas pointed out. “They have to make duplicates in Thalassian as well, remember?”

Waving him away, Katherine placed her finger on one page. “Yes, yes. This bit here -- trade restrictions. I thought we’d agreed upon a more laissez-faire system.”

“Some consumer protections are a necessity, Lord Admiral. I’m sure you understand. We can’t have bad blood over something as banal as a bad shipment of fruit.”

With a begrudging grunt, Katherine conceded. “And the tariffs? I suppose they’re simply to protect elven agricultural production? I’d hate to think you were attempting to gouge your new allies, Your Majesty.”

“Perish the thought.” If Kael’thas was insulted by his guests’ bluntness, he did not show it. He maintained a presence of calmly smiling poise, while Katherine’s brow darkened.

Tossing down the page, Katherine flipped to another. She glared at him over the top of the parchment and growled, “No tariffs. The consumer protections can stay.”

That sparked a forty minute long debate between the two of them, in which Kael’thas wheedled and pretended to ring his hands, and Katherine grumbled and blustered. Meanwhile, Sylvanas and Vereesa bowed their heads together and spoke in soft tones, leaving Jaina to fiddle with the edge of the tablecloth. Sylvanas did speak, but rarely, and only when the conversation turned to military matters, weighing in on the like of border patrol and merchant protection.

Jaina was trying to catch the steward’s eye in order to ask for a glass of water, when her mother and the prince turned to a fresh page of the documents.

“There is one topic we have avoided during our initial consultations,” Kael’thas said, steepling his fingers beneath his chin. “I mean, of course, the subject of heirs.”

“The Trolls are today’s problem,” Katherine sniffed with a dismissive little flutter of her gloved fingers. “Future heirs are tomorrow’s problem.”

“But we cannot leave the issue undocumented,” Kael’thas pressed.

Katherine’s sharp, pale gaze fixed upon Vereesa across the table. “I have been informed you have children, Lady Windrunner?”

Straightening, Vereesa nodded. “I do. Twin boys.”

“Good.” Katherine turned the page over in her hands and set it atop the growing stack to one side. “Then that side of the bloodline is settled, and Jaina can adopt any one of her host of cousins for an heir.”

Hearing that, Jaina scrunched up her nose.

“What is it?” Katherine sighed.

“Nothing,” Jaina mumbled.

“Don’t mumble, dear.”

Jaina ducked her head. “Sorry.”

“Well, spit it out,” her mother said, watching Jaina with dry amusement. “You have us all rapt.”

Lips pursing, Jaina admitted, “They don’t like me very much. My cousins, I mean.”

Katherine rolled her eyes. “It’s not about ‘like.’ They don’t have to ‘like’ you to be honoured for the opportunity to inherit your titles and carry on our family name.” Her voice gentled when Jaina grimaced at her bluntness. “What about your second cousin?”

“Which one?” Jaina couldn’t keep the sarcasm from her tone, and flushed when her mother shot her a warning look.

“You know which one. The one who was just recently appointed lieutenant aboard the ‘Restoration.’ What was his name?” Katherine frowned and tapped at at her lower lip. “Fitzwilliams?”

“Fitz hates sailing,” Jaina pointed out, and her mother appeared taken aback that any Kul Tiran could hate such a thing as sailing. “He only got the position because of his older brother, who served under dad.”

“Well,” Katherine conceded with a disdainful sniff for Fitz’s character. “Your father’s side of the family has no dearth of nieces and nephews. I’m sure you’ll find someone suitable when the time comes.”

And that seemed to settle that. Kael’thas and Katherine made notes in their separate copies and moved on, leaving Jaina flummoxed. When they moved on to discussions of Jaina’s movements to and from Quel’Thalas, Jaina tried speaking up. Every time she did so however, her mother or Kael’thas would talk over her as if she hadn’t started to form a sentence.

“She needs to be seen to tour around Quel’Thalas with her wife,” Kael’thas insisted.

“And they shouldn’t have to do the same in Kul Tiras?” Katherine countered.

“But what about -?” Jaina began.

“I’m not implying that they’ll never visit Kul Tiras,” Kael’thas continued. “Simply that the first year or two should be spent in Quel’Thalas.”

That earned a derisive sniff from Katherine. “She’s a mage . Frankly, I don’t see why she couldn’t teleport the two of them to and from each nation every month.”

Kael’thas bristled, “Because unanchored portals are incredibly dangerous. Because even teleporting to a place out of sight could tear the most experienced mage in two. And because we need to show some stability. Appearances are everything.”

Rolling her eyes, Katherine leaned back in her seat. “Oh, here we go again.”

Before the two of them could launch into another fully fledged debate, Sylvanas raised her voice, smoothly cutting them off, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear the Lady Proudmoore’s opinion on the matter.”

Silence fell across the table, and every eye turned upon Jaina.

Her first instinct was to slip down further in her seat, but she forced herself to sit upright. Taking a deep breath, Jaina lifted her chin. “The first year or two in Quel’Thalas, but I want to spend at least one day a week continuing my education with the Kirin Tor.”

Both Katherine and Kael’thas mused over that idea. “Your magical education could be well supported here in Silvermoon,” Kael’thas pointed out.

“I’d prefer that to be supplementary to my studies under the Archmage,” Jaina refused to back down. “Studying under Antonidas is not an opportunity I want to pass up.”

“Nor should you have to,” Katherine added.

Fingers drumming against the tabletop, the noise muted by cloth, Kael’thas considered the proposal. Then, he nodded. “Agreed. Shall we put it with the appendices?”

“I think that would be easiest.”

Already they were moving on, and Jaina sighed in relief. She glanced across the table to find Sylvanas watching her, utterly impassive.

‘Thank you,’ Jaina mouthed silently.

In answer, Sylvanas inclined her head.

Through the windows, the sun was beginning its slow descent towards the horizon when Kael’thas and Katherine finally seemed satisfied. Katherine flipped to another page. She adjusted her spectacles with one hand while reading aloud, “We confirm that Lady Jaina Proudmoore, Heir to Kul Tiras, Scion of the Fleet, etc. etc. is of marriageable age. Yes.”

From the other side of the table, Vereesa asked, “Out of curiosity, how old are you exactly?”

“Nineteen,” Jaina answered.

Both Sylvanas and Vereesa went stiff, their ears tilting up in shock. Sylvanas’ eyes were wide, and she was staring at Jaina with a look of horror. A chill of unease walked down Jaina’s spine, settling in her gut and remaining there.

“Oh, good,” Vereesa hissed to her sister. “She’s nineteen.”

“I heard, thank you,” Sylvanas ground out between grit teeth. One of her hands was gripping the tablecloth tight, and she let go, refusing to meet Jaina’s eye across the table now.

“My kids are eight, Sylvanas. Eight.

Sylvanas’ jaw clenched as she replied to Vereesa, “I am aware.”

Bristling at the way they were talking as if she weren’t right there and could hear them, Jaina asked, “Well, how old are you then?”

Sylvanas still would not look at her. “Older than nineteen.”

“It does seem rather young,” Kael’thas said to Katherine.

Her mother paid them no attention as she continued skimming the page. “It’s a perfectly legal marrying age for humans. This all seems to be in order.” She tossed the page atop the others and gestured to the steward, “We can begin the signing now.”

The steward brought forth two identical quills and inkwells. Jaina scraped back her chair, as did the others, and they rounded the table.

Sylvanas took the place directly to Jaina’s left, the two of them standing side by side before each inkwell. She stood in such a way that she would not accidentally brush against Jaina, even going so far as to pull aside her cloak. She did not look over at Jaina as the steward placed the first page before them. Instead, Sylvanas picked up her quill, tapped a swell of black ink from its nib against the well, and bent down to sign.

Her signature was a spidery scrawl against the pale parchment. When she had finished, Jaina reached over to take the page, but the steward coughed and made an abortive motion forward, as if he were about to swat her hand aside.

Jaina snatched her hand back. “Oh! Sorry!”

The steward pointed to the bottom right corner of the page. “If the Lady Windrunner could please initial here? And here, where amendments have been made.”

Sylvanas sighed, “I see we’re going to be here a while yet.”

Only then did the steward pass the page along to Jaina for her to do the same.

Then the next page.

And the next.

And the next.

With the first few pages, Jaina’s hand had trembled from nervousness. Halfway through however, her wrist and lower back had begun to ache. By the time they’d finished, both their signatures had grown sloppy, but still legible enough to satisfy the steward’s exacting eye. At every other page, Vereesa had to step between Sylvanas and Jaina to sign as the official witness, which only made everything take even longer.

The moment Jaina and Sylvanas finished, setting their quills back into their inkwells, the steward stepped between them and the documents, all but herding them aside so they could get out of the way and let him work. Jaina blinked, startled, and stepped back. Sylvanas was already turning to walk away, her stride stiff. Vereesa fell in beside her, and the two were speaking in rapid hushed Thalassian once more, heading towards the exit, while Jaina stared after them.

“My blessings to the happy couple,” Kael’thas smiled warmly at Jaina. He brushed a hand across his robes and said, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I must attend another meeting. Until I see you all at the ceremony.”

He nodded to Jaina and Katherine before sweeping from the room.

Jaina started when her mother grasped her gently by the shoulder. “Well done, my dear. You were very poised during the negotiations. I’m afraid duty calls for me as well. The Fleet experienced another casualty yesterday, and a sloop is waiting to ferry me back to the flagship.”

Jaina opened her mouth to protest that she hadn’t done anything during the negotiations, but fell silent when her mother pressed a kiss to her cheek and murmured, “Be well. And get some rest. You deserve it.”

And then she, too, was leaving, until Jaina was alone with only the steward for company. Her words caught in her throat as she blinked at the open door through which everyone else had disappeared. The steward began to unceremoniously shuffle all the pages together and prepare to take them away. He eyed Jaina askance, then offered a bow before leaving as well.

Jaina was still standing there, dazed, when Ithedis entered the room looking for her. Removing his helm, he crossed over to her just as she pulled out a chair and dropped into it feeling winded, as if she had just sprinted a nautical mile.

Ithedis hesitated. “Are you well, my Lady?”

“Yes,” Jaina breathed, rubbing tiredly at the lightheadedness building in her temples. “Just married, I guess.”

He stood beside her chair, gripping his shield. For a moment he said nothing, and then he murmured, “Congratulations, Lady Proudmoore.”

Jaina nodded faintly. “Yes. Thank you.”

 


 

The wedding ceremony itself was intentionally set in the Court of the Sun, with invitations dispersed to every inhabitant of the city. Jaina should not have felt so nervous about acting out a symbolic ritual of something that was already set in stone. They were fully legally married. She knew for a fact that the militaries of both nations had already begun to redeploy according to the union, and that the borders had been tentatively opened.

Moreover, when he wasn’t shadowing her every footstep, Ithedis had taken to overseeing the transference of Jaina’s personal items from her diplomatic quarters in Sunfury Spire to an estate southwest of Silvermoon City, which would be her new home. It was not, she had been told, the old Windrunner family estate, which lay further to the southern border of Quel’Thalas. Rather, Sylvanas had dusted off an estate purchased by her family generations ago and left uninhabited but for the rainy season, when they would venture further north to be nearer the city and -- more importantly -- the Sunwell.

Jaina had visited the estate just once after the papers were all signed, and even then it had only been for Sylvanas to walk her briefly around the spire manor and its grounds. They would not reside there together until after the ceremony.

Which, as it turned out, Jaina was dreading for reasons unknown.

The roiling of her stomach from when she first arrived in Quel’Thalas had returned in full force. It had happened very suddenly. One day she was exploring the library of Silvermoon, perfectly content to sit and read for hours while Ithedis stood at her side or carried books for her. The next day, she was getting fitted for a wedding dress and trying not to be ill.

Like a wave rushing back to shore it would periodically wash over her, the feeling. When Vereesa was mischievously sneaking Jaina down those side alleys Ithedis had refused to let her wander for an ill-advised midnight jaunt. When Jaina was at lunch with Sylvanas in a public garden, watching the languid gestures of Sylvanas’ fingers, the expressive movements of her long ears. When she lay awake at night atop the sheets, unable to sleep in the sweltering heat. Whenever she checked the time and realised the ceremony was quickly, steadily approaching.

And then without fail she was being bustled into a room by a group of elven attendants so they could prepare her for the day ahead. It took far too long. She had to fight the urge to fidget and bite her fingernails ragged. They squeezed her into a white dress fit for a traditional Kul Tiran wedding but for its more elegant elven cut and understated silver brocade. They applied kohl around Jaina’s eyes. They gossiped about the upcoming ceremony, who would be attending, where they would be sitting, how odd the clash of cultural touches appeared in the grand courtyard of their homeland.  

Jaina was standing, her feet already beginning to ache, when the two hairdressers -- Jaina still did not know why she required two hairdressers -- got into a very polite argument in Thalassian about whether Jaina’s hair should be worn up or down. Jaina listened with half an ear. She could not understand every word, but the gist of the argument was apparent.

After the passive-aggressive bickering went on for a good five minutes, Jaina said in Thalassian, “Hair down?”

The hairdressers and all of the other attendants as well froze. They went stiff and still with shock at the idea that she had understood their conversation, and that they had not been curbing their tongues in her presence for the entirety of that morning.

“I agree,” said a voice from the doorway. “Down.”

All of the attendants straightened at the sight of Sylvanas standing at the entrance. Sylvanas crossed the room and stopped in front of Jaina, who felt her mouth drop before she could close it. She had only ever seen Sylvanas in various sets of armour, but today she moved just as gracefully in a dress. Whereas Jaina was clad all in white, Sylvanas was resplendent in red. Her arms and shoulders were bare, her skin golden against the crimson of her dress. The train of her sleek gown trailed in her wake like a streak of blood across the marble floor.

“May I speak with you in private?” Sylvanas asked.

Jaina tried to speak, but could only nod.

With a sidelong glance, Sylvanas sent the attendants scurrying from the room. The door shut behind them, and they were alone. Sylvanas stood as she always did, straight-backed, tall, hands clasped officiously behind her.

When Jaina finally found her voice, it was to blurt out, “It’s bad luck to see each other before the wedding.”

Sylvanas frowned. “That seems like a silly superstition. Do you want me to leave?”

Shaking her head, Jaina stammered, “No. It’s - It’s fine. You’re fine. In fact, you’re -” she bit back whatever foolish thing she had been about to say, cleared her throat, and asked, “What did you want to talk to me about?”

Sylvanas tilted her head, and a lock of her pale gold hair curled against the dip of her collarbone. “Last we spoke, you seemed out of sorts.”

“I’m -” Jaina breathed in deeply. “I’m fine. Really. It’s nothing.”

Sylvanas was watching her very keenly. “In every legal sense, we are already married. If you do not want this -- being paraded around before a gawking crowd -- I will personally escort every last snooping busybody from the premises.”

With a huff of wry laughter, Jaina said, “Yes, because I imagine that will go down so well.”

A lofty shrug lifted one shoulder, and Sylvanas replied, “No, but when has that ever stopped me? At this point, it’s almost expected I’ll do something brash.”

“And here I thought I had dibs on ruining the ceremony.”

Jaina tried to sound lighthearted, but something must have shown on her face, because Sylvanas’ impeccable posture gentled somewhat. “You’re going to be fine. You look beautiful, Lady Proudmoore.”

A laugh verging on the hysterical bubbled up in Jaina’s throat. The idea that she could have looked anything but drab next to Sylvanas, who burned like a torch in the noonday sun, was enough to make her stomach lurch again. Placing a settling hand over her abdomen, Jaina said, “Please, just call me ‘Jaina.’ We might as well start with first names now.”

“As you like,” Sylvanas murmured. She moved her hands, and Jaina noticed that she had been holding something the whole time. “I have a gift for you as well, if you’ll have it.”

A necklace slithered between her hands, a small pale stone with a blue sheen like a shard of ice strung from a simple golden chain. As it turned in the light, dangling from where she held it forth, Sylvanas explained, “It is said to have once belonged to the great sorceress, Aegwynn. Whatever power it once held has long since dwindled, but it is a piece of history all the same.”

Sylvanas held up the pendant, strung between her fingers. “May I?”

Jaina blinked, as if broken from a trance. “Oh! Yes, of course.”

As Jaina turned around, she gathered her hair over one shoulder. Sylvanas stepped up behind her, reaching around to settle the stone at Jaina’s throat and fix the clasp. Jaina touched the stone where it rested atop her sternum, savouring the chill radiating from it. She could not mask a shiver when Sylvanas’ fingers brushed the nape of her neck, a fleeting graze of warm skin before the clasp was shut and Sylvanas stepped away once more.

Turning to face her, Jaina said, “Thank you. It’s -” She peered down at the pendant. “I’ve always admired Aegwynn. How on earth did you find a relic like this?”

“I have my ways,” Sylvanas drawled with a cryptic smile. She crossed the room, pausing with her hand on the door. Glancing over her shoulder, she said, “Until later, Jaina.”

Now, the sickening feel returned tenfold. Her stomach boiled. Despite the pervasive heat of Quel’Thalas, Jaina desperately wanted to soothe her nerves with a cup of tea. When she had tried the tea of Silvermoon City a few weeks ago however, the bitter herbal concoction steeped in sunlight had put Jaina right off the idea of elven tea entirely.

Soon, two of the attendants were lifting the train of her dress so she could walk through the door. Soon, another was pressing a bouquet of blood red flowers bound with a white silk ribbon between her fingers. Soon, Jaina was being led towards the Court of the Sun as the sun itself glared directly overhead, painting the land in light.

She could hear the buzz of the crowd the moment she stepped outside. Jaina fidgeted with the ribbon tied around the bouquet, worrying the silk between her fingers. She wished she had a veil to cover her, something to hide her when she walked down the aisle, but veils were only worn to elven funerals and had therefore been deemed unsuitable for the occasion.

Her mother met Jaina at the entrance to the Court of the Sun, stately in her Admiral’s finery. She smiled at Jaina, taking one of her hands and leaning close to kiss her cheek.

“You look radiant, my dear,” Katherine whispered in her ear, before pulling back and offering Jaina her arm. Jaina took it, gripping her mother’s sleeve tight.

“Ready?” Katherine asked.

Jaina could only nod. And then they were striding in time towards Sunfury Spire. Their footsteps were muffled by a long length of rich red cloth stretching all the way to the opposite end of the Court, where a bower had been erected atop the steps leading to the Spire. The walkway had been festooned with alternating Kul Tiran and elven banners. Waves of guests rose to their feet as Jaina passed. Mages had woven an enchantment into the air so that small white blossoms drifted from the sky like snow.

Jaina hardly noticed any of it. She was focused instead on her breathing. How stifling it felt, the heat, the dress, the moment. She walked and did her best not to trip.

Sylvanas already stood beneath the bower, which had been strung with cloth and vines that grew all along its frame. She waited until Jaina and Katherine approached, then stretched out her hand. Katherine passed Jaina over to Sylvanas, who took Jaina’s hand. She leaned down and pressed a chaste kiss to the back of it before drawing Jaina up the steps to stand beside her.

Jaina’s palms were sweaty and her fingers trembled. Sylvanas caught her eye and gave her hand a gentle squeeze, then released her. And in that brief moment, the roiling of Jaina’s gut hitched, like a skipped heartbeat. It did not completely quiet her nerves, but for the remainder of the ceremony Jaina felt she could at last breathe.

Katherine moved to stand beside Kael’thas at the front of the ceremony, where he was acting as the officiant, the two leaders of their respective nations symbolically heading the union. A brazier burned before them. Jaina could feel the heat from tongues of flame that shimmered the air.

When Kael’thas began to speak, lifting his voice with a magnifying spell to address the crowd, Jaina hardly heard the words. For all that the time leading up to this moment had seemed to drag on for an eternity, now that it was actually here time seemed to spin out of control. It was all she could do to focus on saying the right words at the right time, and not on the way her hems brushed against Sylvanas’ gown in a silent whisper of silk.

Then Katherine was sprinkling three handfuls of dried grain into the brazier, and Jaina and Sylvanas held their hands over the flames while they burned. Kael’thas waited for the grain to reduce to ash, then with a flourish extinguished the brazier. Two attendants -- one elven, and one human -- moved forward from the wings. They gathered the ash in golden cups and carefully sprinkled the ash in a tight circle around where Sylvanas and Jaina stood together.

A breeze stirred the banners. The entire congregation seemed to hold its collective breath as the attendants joined the circle of ash on the ground, until Jaina and Sylvanas were enclosed in a dark ring that still drifted with tendrils of smoke.

Once more, Sylvanas took Jaina by the hand, turning to face one another. This time, it was Jaina who squeezed Sylvanas’ hand, and Sylvanas traced the ridge of Jaina’s knuckles with her thumb. Jaina’s breath caught in her chest when Sylvanas reached up with her free hand to tilt Jaina’s chin up. Sylvanas leaned down. Instead of kissing Jaina as she was supposed to, she hesitated, as if some small uncertainty were holding her back.

Something unfathomable flickered in Sylvanas’ eyes. They were close enough that Jaina could see the trace of an old scar that sliced across one cheek, so faint that she would have missed it had they been any further apart. Standing up on her toes, Jaina closed that distance and pressed their mouths together.

The kiss was brief and warm and soft. Long enough for Jaina to angle her head and grasp Sylvanas by her bare shoulder. Short enough that when they pulled apart, Jaina was left chasing after the feeling.

For a moment, Sylvanas remained motionless but for the steady rise and fall of her chest. She leaned back. She grasped Jaina’s hand more tightly. Then, Sylvanas pulled up the long hem of her dress just enough that she could kick open a break in the circle of ash that surrounded them on the ground. The ashes scattered in a dark narrow streak, and together they walked back down the aisle to the roar of thunderous applause.

Chapter Text

The estate, Jaina discovered a few days after the wedding ceremony, was called Goldenbough Manor. She could faintly recall being told that before, but the last few weeks had been reduced to a blur in her mind. Now, she was standing before the manor, gazing up at its many ruby-studded spires and minarets in the lilac glow of the setting sun, which cast the earth in warm honeyed tones. All high elven architecture, as far as she could tell, involved spires and minarets, though Jaina could not understand the fascination personally.

It was a far cry from the staunch bulk of Proudmoore Keep. In comparison to impassive grey stone and walls fit for an invasion, Goldenbough Manor appeared lofty and delicate. It sat upon a hilltop overlooking its estate grounds and inland village, branching up towards the sky, each tower connected by a magically-sustained bridge around the fluted main belfry. The heat here was no less unbearable than it had been in Silvermoon City, but when Jaina closed her eyes she could hear the sea beyond battering the white cliffs facing west, salting the air with a familiar tang.

It was just enough for an aching tug of homesickness to wrench at her gut. Close enough to home, and yet far far away.

“Enjoying the cool evening air?” a voice said behind her.

Opening her eyes, Jaina turned. Sylvanas stood not far behind her, dressed in casual leathers and a half-cloak that hung rakishly off one shoulder. Further beyond, a group of liveried servants in Windrunner colours were being directed by Ithedis as they unloaded a carriage filled with Jaina’s personal belongings.

“This is supposed to be ‘cool’?” Jaina asked.

Sylvanas hummed and stepped closer. “We’ve had a temperate spring this year. I can feel the rains coming. Won’t be a few months now.”

She nodded towards the horizon far across the sea. Glancing over her shoulder, Jaina saw what she was referring to; storm clouds gathered, tall billowing pillars of black that were lanced through with lightning. They drifted distantly enough that Jaina had disregarded them, thinking they would pass by the mainland, just another set of offcasts from the Maelstrom.

Jaina shuddered. “If this was temperate, I don’t want to know what hot feels like.”

“Quite lovely, actually.”

“Says the elf.”

Sylvanas flashed her a grin that lacked any real warmth. “You’ll get used to it.”

“Hmm,” was Jaina’s reply.

Jaina did not say that she very much doubted that fact. Already she had spent nearly three whole months in Quel’Thalas, and still she had trouble sleeping at night and woke up every morning groggy and ill-rested. The days seemed to sap her of energy, until it was all she could do to drag her sorry carcass out of her quarters in Sunfury Spire, and sit in the bazaar clutching a warm drink -- because Tides forbid she actually enjoy a cold beverage. The one time she had tried chilling a glass of water, the frost had shot from the palm of her hand so viciously, it had shattered the crystal goblet. She had been left apologising to the shop owner, using Ithedis as a translator to convey her deepest regrets.

A few of the servants bustled past, bearing trunks full of Jaina’s things. Ithedis barked at them in Thalassian when one of them dropped a case, and Jaina winced in sympathy.

“I believe dinner has been prepared for us,” Sylvanas said as she drew up beside Jaina, and then stepped by her, striding towards the manor. “Shall we?”

Jaina followed. She trotted to catch up and walk at Sylvanas’ side. “It’s a bit later than I usually have dinner,” she mentioned as they passed together through the elaborately carved front gates and into the sweeping ground floor.

Sylvanas’ stride paused ever so slightly, before she continued walking. “And what time do you usually eat dinner?”

“About two or three hours earlier.”

Making a face, Sylvanas hummed a contemplative note under her breath. “Can I propose a compromise? Dinner an hour earlier?”

Jaina stuck out her hand. “It’s a deal.”

With a low chuckle, Sylvanas clasped her hand and shook it. Her fingers were warm and calloused, and she dropped Jaina’s hand quickly in order to usher her into a dining area off the main hall.

The dining area itself was large enough to host generous events, but the servants had assembled a smaller section of the room for everyday use. Two couches had been pushed parallel to one another, and between them a low table was piled with platters of what appeared to be a variety of hors d’oeuvres. Jaina had long since learned that this would be the entirety of the meal. She still wasn’t very good at handling her food without utensils however, and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw a small stack of cloth serviettes that had been folded along one corner of the table.

Sylvanas leaned her knee atop one of the low-slung couches, before gracefully lowering herself onto her side, propped up on one elbow. Jaina hesitated to do the same on the other couch. She didn’t think she would ever get used to eating while half lying down.

Sylvanas watched her, studious and expressionless. “Would you prefer a chair?”

“Oh, I would,” Jaina breathed. “I really would.”

Sylvanas said something in Thalassian, a series of words that Jaina only partially understood. A few moments later, and a servant appeared from behind a door, carrying a high-backed chair. He placed it down, pushed the couch to one side, and situated the chair in its place.

“Thank you,” Jaina said, and received a bow in return. When she sat however, the chair was far too high for such a low table.

“We can order in a Kul Tiran dining set,” Sylvanas assured her.

With a sigh, Jaina draped one of the cloth napkins across her lap. “No, it’s fine. I should really get used to this anyway.”

Sylvanas reached for a dish and began to eat without preamble. “If it’s any consolation,” she said around a small bite of food, “I will be just as lost in Kul Tiras as you are here.”

“That’s not what I want either.”

“But you would tell me what you want?” Sylvanas asked in a voice that was far too controlled to be truly nonchalant.

Jaina had been trying to balance a bit of meat and sauce upon a flat piece of bread, when she fumbled and dropped the meat on the ground, where it fell with a splat. She grimaced at Sylvanas and conceded, “Cutlery? And plates? At this point, I would kill a man for an honest plate.”

“No need to go that far,” Sylvanas drawled. “Though I’m sure Ithedis would jump at the honour.”

She said it right as Ithedis was entering the dining hall, and though there could be no doubt that he had heard, his expression never faltered. Sylvanas must have known he was coming, for she aimed a sidelong smile over her shoulder at him. “I never would have thought it true if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, but I believe he’s taken a liking to you, Lady Proudmoore.”

Ithedis said nothing as he took his post at the entrance. Jaina smiled at him, and could have sworn she saw his eyes flicker towards her in a silent greeting.

“Ithedis is safe from my wrath,” Jaina said, leaning down to clean up her mess with the napkin before a servant could come scurrying out to do it for her.

Sylvanas continued eating as she watched, lounging upon her couch, while Jaina struggled to bring a morsel to her mouth without dumping it either on the floor or herself. “You should familiarise yourself with the manor after dinner. Explore a bit.”

“I remember you showing me around last time.” With a small sense of triumph, Jaina managed a bite, even if her fingers did get a little smeared with richly spiced sauce.

“I’ve made a few changes since then. You may have noticed.”

That, Jaina could not deny. Even her brief walk through the foyer and main hall had revealed that much. The last time they’d been here, the manor was still dusty with disuse, its shades drawn, its stables empty, and all of its furnishings shrouded in white cloth. Now, the halls were lit with yellowish magelight, and the patterned marble floors all but sparkled.  

Jaina tore apart another section of flatbread that she and Sylvanas were sharing. “Anything in particular you think I should see?”

Breezily, Sylvanas said, “For starters, there’s a halfway decent private library in my brother’s old quarters, now.”

Jaina’s eyes widened, and she nearly choked. Chewing her food quickly, she swallowed. “You got me a library?”

“Oh?” Sylvanas said, all sweetness and innocence. “Should I not have? I thought you liked libraries? I heard you frequented Silvermoon’s finest these last few weeks.”

“I did! I mean -- I do! I just -” Jaina wiped her hands clean on another serviette. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Like I don’t have to buy a Kul Tiran dining set?”

“But I haven’t done anything for you,” Jaina said, wringing the serviette between her hands.

Sylvanas waved her concern aside. “You gave me a lovely gift already.”

“Yes, but - wait.” Jaina blinked. “You have a brother?”

Sylvanas hesitated, a momentary pause as she reached for another piece of bread. “Had,” she murmured. “I had a brother. I had many siblings, in fact. Now, there’s just Vereesa.”

Jaina could have kicked herself. Instead she settled for squirming in her seat at her complete lack of tact, and saying lamely, “I’m sorry.”

Another one of those inscrutable elven shrugs, though this time Sylvanas’ usual air of calm detachment was sullied by the way she would not meet Jaina’s eye. “It’s in the past.”

A long silence stretched between them. A servant emerged through a door to offer wine and -- Jaina blinked in surprise -- Kul Tiran tripel. Warm, she noticed, scrunching up her nose and shaking her head. Sylvanas declined as well, requesting water instead, which was brought out in a steaming glass teapot. Jaina’s heart sank at the sight of it, but she sighed and nodded when Sylvanas asked with a gesture if she wanted a drink.

Jaina set the drink aside and waited for it to cool somewhat. Sylvanas was sipping at her own glass. While Jaina watched her, she had to stop her leg from bouncing. She straightened her back, and said, “I had brothers as well. Two of them.”

Sylvanas’ eyebrows rose, but she said nothing.

“To be honest,” Jaina continued, smoothing the serviette out across her lap and fiddling with its edges. “I was never the first choice for Heir to the Admiralty. After my father and brothers all died though, there really wasn’t any choice. If even one of my brothers had lived, you probably would’ve married him instead of me.”

To her surprise, Sylvanas let out a huff of laughter and said in a dry tone, “I very much doubt that.”

Brow furrowing, Jaina asked, “Why’s that? If the threat of trolls was still prevalent, then surely Kul Tiras and Quel’Thalas would have been pushed towards an alliance.”

Sylvanas sipped delicately at her water, steam drifting from the little glass between her fingers. “Because everyone knows that my preferences run solely towards women. Well,” she tipped her glass towards Jaina, “Most everyone, that is.”

Jaina could feel a flush rising to her cheeks. She could recall the conversation between herself and Kael’thas in the bazaar, cutting him off just as he’d been about to tell her something along those lines -- though, she hadn’t realised it at the time. Now, she snatched up her own glass of water and drank, coughing at the stinging heat. Meanwhile, Sylvanas hid her amusement by continuing to graze at the table.

Clearing her throat, Jaina admitted, “It hadn’t occurred to me that might be the case. I just thought that -- you know -- this was the product of a lack of any alternatives. Not that you - uhm -”

A bemused frown creased the space between Sylvanas’ brows. “And what about you?”

“Me?” Jaina all but squeaked.

“Yes. Didn’t anyone take into account your preferences?”

“Oh, I don’t know about -- that is to say --” Jaina cut herself off before she could ramble, and said weakly, “I haven’t given it much thought.”

For a moment, Sylvanas stared at her. Then she snorted with laughter. “You married me without question, and you didn’t pause to think if you were even attracted to women?”

“I didn’t think attraction was a key requirement of this marriage,” Jaina countered. Straightening in her seat, she reached for another piece of food, studiously avoiding the way Sylvanas was grinning at her, and her own burning face.

A wry chuckle was her reply. “I suppose that’s true. I would have noticed a clause like that in the paperwork. And here I thought you were lamenting the missed opportunity of marrying Kael’thas himself.”

Jaina rolled her eyes. “Oh, please.”

Sylvanas continued, "He did seem quite upset when I agreed to replace him. I'm surprised he hadn't walked up to you and formally apologised for marrying you off to someone lesser than he."

Rather than answer and confirm her suspicion, Jaina stuffed another bite into her mouth. As it turned out, that was answer enough. Sylvanas seemed utterly delighted.

"Of course he did. And yet you turned him down?” Sylvanas’ grin widened. “What a shame. I wish I could have been there to see his face.”

Reaching for another bite, Jaina shook her head. “No, you really don’t.”

Sylvanas had leaned forward, propping her chin upon her hand and smirking at Jaina like a leopard lounging atop a high branch. “I must admit I’m surprised. I hear he’s quite the catch. For some people.”

“Desperate people, maybe,” Jaina grumbled around a bulging mouthful of food.

At that, Sylvanas laughed. She pressed her forehead to the couch and laughed into one of the cushions, the noise stifled by the crook her arm. By the time she stopped, she had to wipe carefully at the kohl lining of one eye. “At least there’s no chance the next few months will be dull with you around.”

Frowning, Jaina asked, “Why? What’s happening in the next few months?”

Sylvanas rolled her eyes. “My prince, in all his infinite wisdom, ‘suggested’ that I take a leave of absence from the field. Vereesa will be in charge of the Rangers in my stead, and I am to be seen with you around Quel'Thalas doing -” she waved her hand in a vague gesture. “- whatever it is married couples of our station are expected to do. Go riding through the countryside. Attend banquets. Argue about things of little consequence.”

Jaina gave a mock shudder. “I'll pass on the last two, thanks.”

Sylvanas pretended to look taken aback. “You don't want to start a fight with me at an insufferable nobleman's classy banquet? But think of the fun we could have.”

Tearing off a piece of bread, Jaina threw it at her. “You're going to be a bad influence on me, I can tell.”

Sylvanas caught the bread in a fluid motion, and popped it into her mouth. “Only if I do my job right.”

Jaina had not spent much time dreaming about what married life would be like. In fact, she had hardly given it a passing thought until a year ago, when the negotiations had first been opened and the proposal extended. This though -- the easy banter, the warmth of the moment, the glint of Sylvanas’ sharp-edged grin -- she could get used to this.

Draining the last of her water, Sylvanas set her glass on the low table and rose smoothly to her feet. Puzzled at the sudden turn of events, Jaina folded her napkin and started to stand, but Sylvanas waved her away.

“Stay. Finish.” She plucked at her half-cape so that it fell properly across one shoulder after she’d been sitting. “I have to be up early tomorrow to initiate some new recruits at Farstrider Square, so I’m going to bed. Don’t feel obligated to come with, if you’re not tired.”

Jaina slowly sat back down in her chair. “Oh. Of course. Um -?”

Sylvanas cocked her head. “Yes?”

Lacing her fingers in her lap, Jaina said, “In the marriage contract, they said I could supplement my training in Silvermoon, but I don’t know where I should go for that.”

“That’s because Falthrien Academy is technically on Sunstrider Isle and not in Silvermoon City itself. Ithedis can escort you there whenever you like.” She pointed to Ithedis when she mentioned his name, and he bowed slightly in confirmation.

Jaina relaxed somewhat. “Thank you. Do I need some sort of introduction?”

Walking towards the door, Sylvanas flashed Jaina a signature impish smile over her shoulder. “Lady Proudmoore, you are now well known enough that you require no introduction anywhere in Quel’Thalas.”

She didn’t know if she should take that as a compliment, or a warning. Instead, all she said was a very pointed, “Jaina.”

In the doorway, Sylvanas offered her a mock bow. “My deepest apologies, Jaina.”

And with that, she was gone. The moment she left, Jaina could have sworn she heard Ithedis give a faint sniff.

Picking at the food, Jaina said to him, “You don’t approve of her?”

“It is not my place to approve or disapprove, Lady Proudmoore,” was his stock reply.

“But you think she’s too waggish.”

He blinked, turning his head to look at her. “ ‘Waggish’ , my Lady?”

“Mischievous,” Jaina explained. “Irreverent. A bit of an ass.”

“Ah, I see.” After a pause, he admitted, “Yes.”

With a small smile, Jaina took another bite and hummed around it. “So do I.” She smiled. “I think I like that.”

 


 

 

After dinner, Jaina did indeed wander the halls of Goldenbough Manor. She peered into parlours and private studies. She walked the bridges between spires, kneeling down to poke her head over the edges and read the magical runes that scrolled along the bottom of the walkways. She found the library, a broad open space with its own balcony that faced the sea, and immediately began tilting her head to read titles upon the shelves that stretched to the ceiling. She could not resist the urge to pull a few tomes down and flip through them.

Books on transmutation. Books on glyphs. Rare elven histories that never crossed the borders. Jaina made a stack upon one of the tables to read later, already vibrating at the thought of pouring over this collection for many an hour.

And of course Ithedis followed wherever she went. He stood, silent and stalwart, as she muttered under her breath and frowned down at dusty tomes. When she stood up on her toes to try to reach for a particularly high shelf, he pushed a wheeled ladder in her direction.

Night had long since fallen, washing the earth in dark jeweled tones, by the time Jaina rubbed at her eyes. She marked her page, and rose from a comfortable armchair near the balcony doors. She closed the glass doors and murmured goodnight to Ithedis as she left the library. He nodded respectfully as she passed by, and did not follow as she made her way towards the stairs that led to her private quarters.

Well. Their private quarters, more appropriately. Jaina had lit the way with a bluish ball of magelight over her palm, but she extinguished it with a whisper when she stood before the doors leading to their private quarters. She stood out in the hallway for a few long seconds, staring at the scrolled handles, before finally plucking up the courage to open the doors and slip inside.

It was dark. She faintly remembered touring this section of the main tower before, but with so many new changes, she waited a moment to let her eyes adjust before moving around. The furniture loomed, black shapes against grey stone. Twin armoires. A door leading to the ablutions. Paintings hung along the walls. A length of carpet like a streak of darkness along the ground. Two trunks at the foot of the four poster bed. And a figure curled up among the sheets on one side.

All but holding her breath, Jaina cross to the other side of the room. As quietly as she could, she creaked open the armoire’s various compartments, and felt around for a suitable nightgown. With relief, she found something. Stripping out of her Admiralty garb, which she left in a pile on the floor, she stepped into the nightgown, pulling the arms into place over her shoulders.

Turning, she tip-toed towards the bed, lifted a sheet, and slipped underneath. The sheets were blissfully cool against her warm skin, almost silky, though they had the feel of fine cotton beneath her hand. Sighing, Jaina burrowed deeper into the bed, dragging one of the many pillows into just the right angle.

A shuffling at the other side of the bed. Jaina held her breath. Sylvanas stirred, but did not wake. The mattress was large enough that Jaina could stretch out her arms and still not touch the curve of Sylvanas’ turned back. That pale golden hair was a spill of silvery ink against the pillows. One long ear flicked, before settling into drooping inaction once more.

All the while, Jaina’s heart beat rapidly in her chest. Until tonight, she had never shared a bed before with anyone but her brothers. Proudmoore Keep had always been vast enough that they had each been assigned their own rooms, but that didn’t stop Jaina, the youngest, from pestering her older siblings into letting her into their beds when she’d suffered a nightmare. She tried to tell herself that this was no different, but her heart refused to agree.

It took her an age to fall asleep. Jaina closed her eyes, but sleep seemed to evade her despite the slant of moonlight through a distant window, sliding towards the edge of their bed as the night went on.

At one point during the night, she awoke to find that she had discarded the sheets entirely, and instead curled up to the curve of Sylvanas’ back, her forehead lingering at the nape of Sylvanas’ neck. Blinking one bleary eye, sleepy Jaina merely tucked her knees up and fell back into a dreamless slumber.

When Jaina awoke to late morning sunlight streaming through the window on the far wall, she was still on Sylvanas’ side of the bed, and Sylvanas had long since departed.  

 


 

 

Craning her neck, Jaina shielded her eyes with the flat of her hand. Falthrien Academy’s multiple platforms hovered over a brackish lake, which sparkled in the light. The bronze-capped main building glanced in the sun, bright enough that Jaina winced and had to look away.

“It’s certainly -” Jaina blinked past purple spots in her vision, “- impressive.”

Ithedis grunted in reply. Hordes of Novices and Apprentices trailed by the two of them in packs, and it was a toss up which of them received more attention. A Spellbreaker was hardly a common sight in a mage academy, and a human was hardly a common sight in Quel’Thalas at all. Especially when Jaina still walked around in her casual Kul Tiran clothing, which set her apart from the crowd like a sore thumb.

“I suppose we just go inside?” Jaina asked, pointing to the main building. They would have to climb multiple platforms to get there, and already Jaina was dreading that much exposure to the heat. Perhaps she should invest in a parasol.

Ithedis nodded. “You should be able to find a Magister without issue, my Lady.”

Steeling herself, Jaina took a moment to roll up the sleeves of her white button down shirt, preparing herself for the climb. “Alright, let’s -”

A group of Apprentices stopped nearby. They whispered behind their hands, giggling and pointing. Jaina should have been used to such reactions after she had spent so many weeks in Silvermoon being gawked at, but it still made her hesitate and flounder for what to do. She cleared her throat, ducked her head, and made a start towards the nearest walkway.

As she passed by the group however, one of their members -- a willowy elven girl with auburn hair -- stepped forward. “Excuse me, Lady Proudmoore?” Her voice was lilting, heavily accented, but her Common was perfectly understandable.

Startled at being approached at all, Jaina faltered. “Y-Yes?”

The Apprentice smiled, and Jaina did not like her smile. “We were just wondering, the others and I -- you’re wearing such a high collar today, but don’t your people prefer the cold? You shouldn’t feel afraid to unbutton your shirt a little.”

At her side, Ithedis went stiff.

“Um - I - I guess -?” Jaina reached up to pull the top button of her shirt free. It slipped loose, just revealing her collarbone, and every Apprentice in the group seemed to lean forward with bated breath, their eyes fixing on her neck.

Suddenly, Ithedis was standing before her, shielding her from the others. He loomed, imposing in his scarlet armour and tower shield. His free hand had drawn the double-bladed polearm that normally hid in the underside of his shield, and he gripped its handle so tightly his gauntlets creaked. In a voice dark and threatening, he snapped in Thalassian a short phrase that Jaina could only catch a few words of, before the girl and the group of Apprentices scampered away, cowed.

Utterly bewildered, Jaina watched them go. “Ithedis?”

“Yes, my Lady?”

“What the fuck was that about?”

Beneath his helm, his jaw tightened, but he did not answer.

Glowering, Jaina said, “If I ordered you to tell me, would you do it?”

Without hesitation, he answered, “Anything you ordered, I would do, my Lady.”

She pursed her lips, watching the way he shifted his grip upon the polearm. If it had been anyone else, Jaina would have been tempted to say he was fidgeting.

Finally, Jaina sighed and shook her head. “Thank you, anyway. Can we just go, now?”

“Of course, Lady Proudmoore.”

Nobody else dared approach as Jaina walked up the winding walkways, arching from platform to platform. The sun rose overhead, growing stronger as the day grew long. By the time they finally reached the grand entrance of the main building, Jaina was wiping sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, and wiping it dry on her breeches with a grimace.

Inside, the temperature dropped almost instantly. Jaina could feel a cool wave of air wash over her like a kiss. She stopped to close her eyes and sigh with pleasure. No matter how much high elves preferred the heat of their beloved Sunwell, they could not stifle the natural cold that radiated from intensely clustered arcane energies. When she opened her eyes again, she smiled and breathed in deeply.

“It must be the crystals holding this place up,” Jaina mused.

She looked down at the floor and began to pace the patterns carved into the ground like leylines. A few people stared at her as she walked with her head down, scowling at the floor, but she took no notice of them. When she’d made it a quarter of the way around the ground floor, she stopped, and her face lit up in a smile.

She pointed down at the ground, and looked at Ithedis in triumph. “I knew it! It’s a rune! See? Is it in High Thalassian? I don’t know this figure here.”

He tilted his head, and his long pale hair brushed along his pauldrons; he had removed his helm upon entering the premises. “My apologies, Lady Proudmoore, but I could not say. I am only able to sense the presence of magic and counter it, when the need arises.”

Jaina opened her mouth, but before she could speak she was interrupted by a mild, cultured voice to one side. “Noral’arkhana falor. It is, indeed, a rune that uses the lake beneath us as a source to keep us afloat, so to speak.”

An elf in black robes with fine gold needlework had approached them while Jaina was excitedly studying the floor. He held a tall spindly staff with a wicked scarlet tip, and he watched Jaina with cold eyes that glinted the colour of burnished steel. He seemed to take pleasure in startling her, for his mouth curled up on one side when she jumped and turned to face him.

Still, he bowed. “Magister Duskwither. At your service. How may I help you, Lady Proudmoore?”

Quickly, Jaina returned the bow and straightened. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. You have a fine school here.”

His answering smile looked more like a sneer than anything else. “Why, thank you. You’re too kind.”

Flustered, Jaina nevertheless forged on. “I was hoping to continue my studies during my stay in Quel’Thalas, and Sylv -- I mean -- my wife -” she stumbled over the phrase; it would take some getting used to “- told me that this was the best place to do so.”

“Of course, Lady Proudmoore. We would be honoured to enroll you here,” Magister Duskwither said. “We simply require a few simple tests to ensure you’re placed at the correct level for training.”

With a frown of confusion, Jaina said slowly, “But -- I have already been apprenticed by Archmage Antonidas? Shouldn’t that give some indication of my skill?”

“The Archmage, while brilliant, is a human. And we have very exacting standards here at Falthrien Academy. I’m sure you understand.” That was definitely a sneer this time. No doubt about it.

Beside her, Ithedis took an abortive step forward, but Jaina held out her hand. She smiled at the Magister and said brightly, “That won’t be a problem. When do we begin?”

“Now, if you wish.” He traced a rune in the air, and a portal winked into life. With a mock little deferential nod, Magister Duskwither said, “After you, my Lady.”

Jaina hesitated only a moment before stepping through the portal. She emerged on the other side, followed quickly by Ithedis, into a circular room lined with identical doors. The domed ceiling arched overhead, engraved with a map of the stars set out in constellations she had never heard of before, though she recognised some of the patterns.

The sound of a staff clicking against the dark marble floor announced the Magister’s presence. The portal shut behind him. He stretched out his hand towards one of the many doors and said, “Open it.”

“This is the test?” Jaina asked in utter bewilderment.

Magister Duskwither nodded serenely. “Yes.”

“To open that door?” She pointed to the one he had referred to.

The tip of one of his ears twitched like an irritated cat’s that had been grasped by a child. “Do I really need to repeat myself? Yes, that door.”

“It just seems a bit silly for a test, is all.”

His teeth clenched, yet he gave her a forced smile. “That’s because you haven’t opened it yet.”

“No. Because it’s an illusion. See?”

Jaina flung her hand out, and a bolt of ice careened from her open palm. It struck the door, dead centre, and the door swirled into mist, leaving behind a frost-scorched crater in the wall behind it.

Wincing, Jaina said, “Oh. Whoops. Sorry.”

Magister Duskwither glared at the crater, then at Jaina. “Very good. Now, the next door, if you please.”

Jaina pointed to the door just to the right of the one she had just evaporated, “This one -?”

“Yes, that one,” he snapped.

Holding up her hands as if in surrender, she approached the door. Her footsteps echoed faintly around the circular room. Ithedis remained standing near the Magister; he had put his helm back on and glowered at Duskwither from beneath the flanged plates.

Hands behind her back now, Jaina stopped in front of the door. She rocked back on her heels and hummed, thoughtful. She leaned to one side. Then to the other.

Turning back towards Magister Duskwither, she smiled triumphantly and pointed to the handle, careful to not actually touch it. “This one has an electricity glyph etched on the interior of the metal. It’s very small. Just enough to give someone a fright and a bit of a shock when they tried to open it.”

To make her point, Jaina grasped the handle. The glyph inside flared to life, but from the wrist down her skin was sheathed in a glimmer of arcane energy. A small current of electricity fizzled out of existence, and Jaina opened the door to reveal the wall behind it.

Duskwither looked like he had bitten into a lemon. “Next door.”

The next door was enchanted to turn into a lynx that tried to bite her hand, only to find that both its upper and lower jaws had been replaced by pillows. Jaina let it gnaw on her wrist for a moment, before dispelling the enchantment and turning the creature back into a door.

The next began to branch in every direction, growing along the walls and sprouting leaves. Jaina murmured to it, urging it back to a seed that she then picked up and tossed over her shoulder before moving on.

The next released a flood of water that spilled out onto the ground. Or at least, it would have had Jaina not held it in place with a shield that shimmered with purple sparks. She turned the water into a flash of steam with a wave of her hand, then closed the door.

The next bristled with a fear spell that she overcame with a countercharm.

The next actually had a room behind it, that tried to transport her back downstairs, but which she altered to instead transport her to a door directly across from it.

One by one, she worked her way around the room, thwarting puzzles of increasing complexity. Near the end, Jaina had to take her time, stopping to inspect each door carefully and mull over its hidden secrets before she could crack the puzzle. The second to last door, an Infernal minion that towered above her breathing gouts of green flame, had her panting and gasping for breath after banishing it back to its own demonic realm. It shrieked as it fell into a great gaping chasm on the floor that burned with black and sickly fire, the noise grating enough to make Jaina’s bones itch.

She stopped before the last door to catch her breath. Behind her, she could hear Ithedis arguing with the Magister.

“Dangerous -!” was one of the words she caught in Thalassian, along with a few choice curses that Jaina had been taught by Vereesa when they’d been exchanging tips on how to swear in their own languages.

She ignored them and leaned on her knees. Then, pushing herself upright, Jaina approached the final door. She squinted. By all appearances, it looked exactly like the other identical doors, but for the fact that Jaina could sense nothing odd about it whatsoever. She checked its hinges, its handle, the painted woodgrain and handsomely arched frame. She even got down on her hands and knees and peered beneath the gap along the floor, seeing only darkness within.

With a grunt, she clambered to her feet once more. Tentatively, suspiciously, Jaina reached out and opened the door.

An inky nothingness existed inside. Jaina frowned. She shot a bolt of ice inside, but it disappeared, swallowed by shadow. She skimmed her palms along it, and all she felt was air. No shimmer. No sound. No light.

Glancing over her shoulder at Ithedis and the Magister, who were still arguing, Jaina took a deep breath and stepped inside.

The darkness extended in all directions, blank and all-consuming. She could hear no whisper of the Void, nor feel the chill of Death. Just a barren black. She did not even know the door had shut behind her until she turned around, only to find that it was gone.

“Shit.”

She could feel herself vocalise the word, but no sound came out. Reaching blindly in the direction of the door, Jaina walked a few paces -

-and kept walking.

She should have touched the door by now. She should have heard something, sensed something. She tried to speak again, but only silence answered. She inhaled and exhaled, and though she could feel no air filling her lungs she did not strain for breath. When she looked down at herself, it was to find that she still wore the exact same clothes, but that everything appeared dim and wan, as if viewed through a curved lens or a slant of water.

“Huh,” she did not say, and sat down on the non-existent floor.

Crossing her legs, Jaina leaned her elbows on her knees and rested her chin on her knuckles. She thought. And thought. She tried to summon up a spell, a tiny flame in the palm of her hand, but even the barest spark would not ignite. She clapped her hands together once, but no sound issued forth. She tried to blow against her fingers, but could feel no passage of air.

Finally, she reached around her neck and took off the pendant Sylvanas had given her as a wedding gift. The stone glinted like pale blue glass between Jaina’s fingers. Holding it up before her, Jaina dropped it, and the necklace remained suspended in midair, its gold chain drifting as if floating in water. Gently, she prodded it with one finger, watching in fascination as it hovered further from her before stopping in mid-air.

Jaina’s face lit up with realisation. “Oh! I get it! Clever!”

She snapped her fingers, and time moved again.

The pendant dropped to the floor, clattering there, solid and noisy. Triumphant, Jaina snatched it up off the ground and pushed herself upright. When she turned around, it was to see that the door had reappeared behind her. Clasping the necklace back into place, Jaina walked forward. She opened the door and stepped outside.

Back in the circular room, she froze and stared. Ithedis had one of the bladed ends of his polearm pressed against the Magister’s throat. A line of blood trickled from the edge, and the Magister’s nose was broken. Magister Duskwither tried to slam one of his hands into the side of Ithedis’ helm, his fist pulsing with arcane energy, but Ithedis grabbed his wrist with a free hand. Eyes flaring with the magic he absorbed, Ithedis tightened his grip until the Magister cried out in pain.

“Where is she?” Ithedis snarled.

The door shut behind Jaina with a click, and both of them looked around to see Jaina standing there, unscathed.

Smiling awkwardly, Jaina raised her hand in a little wave. “Hello!”

Immediately, Ithedis released the Magister and moved to stand before her. His eyes had returned to their usual soft glow, and he took inventory of her appearance. “Are you hurt, my Lady?”

She waved his concern aside. “I’m fine, thank you. How long was I gone?”

His face hardened. “Three quarters of an hour.”

“Oh, that’s not too bad!” Jaina mused. “I was sure I’d been in there longer.”

Behind Ithedis, Magister Duskwither was rubbing at the cut on his neck. He reached up to touch his nose, and hissed in pain. The sound drew Ithedis’ attention back to him, and the Magister flinched back a step. Fury burned in his eyes, and he bared his fangs.

Jaina shot Ithedis a reproachful look at the damage he had done, but Ithedis appeared entirely unapologetic. Shaking her head, Jaina clasped her hands together and stepped forward. “Magister Duskwither, unless I’m very much mistaken, I have passed your tests.”

Wiping his bloodied hand on the front of his robes, Magister Duskwither snapped, “So, it would seem.”

“Great! When do I start my lessons?”

He gave her an extremely ugly smile, his teeth slicked with blood. “Three times a week in the afternoons. Classes take place on the second floor with the other third year Novices. I’m sure you’ll find yourself right at home.”

“Third year Novices -!” Ithedis started to growl, but Jaina shook her head at him. He stood down, fuming silently at her side.

Returning the Magister’s smile, Jaina said, “Thank you for your time. I look forward to starting right away.”

She strode over to one of the walls and dispelled the illusion that hid the only real door in the whole room. Before she could step through it, Duskwither sneered, “Don’t forget to take your hound with you.”

If Ithedis’ glare could be any more murderous, the Magister would have died on the spot. Jaina touched a hand lightly to Ithedis’ armoured shoulder. Stiffly, Ithedis turned away from Magister Duskwither and followed her through the door.

Downstairs once more, Ithedis clipped his polearm to a shorter length with a flourish of his wrist, and tucked it back into a slot of his shield. Jaina waited until he had done so before starting towards the stairs that winded upwards. “I’m sorry about him,” she said.

Ithedis’ jaw tightened. “You have nothing to apologise for, Lady Proudmoore.”

“Yeah, but I feel like I should anyway.” Jaina shrugged, at a loss for what to say. “Well, we might as well scope out where these classes are being held.”

Sighing, she climbed the steps. Everywhere she went, she and Ithedis seemed to walk in an invisible bubble through which nobody else passed. The Academy was no exception. Novices and Apprentices would rather squeeze along the walls, single-file, rather than venture too close. Soon enough, they reached the second floor, and Jaina wandered down one of the hallways that circled around the perimeter of the main building.

She poked her head into the first room they came across, and blinked in surprise. A class full of what seemed to be children were chattering away inside. They sat at their desks, or atop them, eyes bright, long ears crooked yet alert. If Jaina had to guess, she would have said they were aged twelve, though she had no idea how fast or slow elves aged when they were young.

The moment they noticed they had a newcomer in their midst, all excited jabbering stopped. All of the kids turned to stare at her, not in alarm but with mild curiosity, as though she were a stray and exotic bird that had somehow managed to wander into their midst through an open window.

“Um - Hello -?” Jaina said.

“Are you the Apprentice standing in for the Magister?” One of the children asked.

“Why are your ears funny?” Another piped up from the back, followed by a chorus of resounding nods and accompanying questions about her appearance.

“Uh -” Jaina repeated eloquently. Then, finding her voice, she managed to say, “Is this the class for third year Novices?”

That earned her a few nods as well as a number of rolled eyes, as though she had asked something very silly.

“And how old does that make you?” Jaina asked.

“Sixteen!” a few voices from the back answered, while others answered “Seventeen!” and one raised his hand with a desultory, “Eighteen.”

Jaina’s mouth went dry. She stared at their youthful faces in creeping horror.

“I - uh - excuse me.”

Turning and pushing past Ithedis in the doorway, Jaina fled.

 


 

 

When Jaina and Ithedis arrived back at Goldenbough Manor two and a half hours later, Sylvanas’ horse was in the stables. Dread had settled in the pit of Jaina’s stomach during the ride back from Falthrien Academy, and it only seemed to drill a hole deeper into her gut as she dismounted from her own horse.

She started to lead her mount into the stables, but beside her Ithedis held out his hand and said, “Allow me, my Lady.”

Reluctant, Jaina nevertheless passed the reins to him. She went into the manor alone and tense, expecting Sylvanas to be around every corner. The fact that Sylvanas was nowhere in sight only seemed to make it worse.

At first, Jaina snuck up to the library, hoping to find solace in a good book, but she soon found herself turning pages without reading them. That, or she felt herself feeling sick when she came across a spell that reminded her of the trials she performed today, which of course, were varied and all-encompassing enough that no magical subject seemed safe. After a daring attempt at boring herself with ancient elven history -- the elves sure did love cataloguing long lists of noble family trees -- Jaina gave up. She dropped the book onto the stack beside the armchair that she had claimed the night before, and leaned her head back, closing her eyes.

Afternoon sunlight streamed through the glass balcony doors. Heat pricked at her skin. After the long ride to and from the Academy, Jaina could feel a fine layer of sweat and grime sticking to her skin. With a groan, she pushed herself to her feet and left the library.

A trudging walk down three flights of stairs to a floor beneath the main belfry found Jaina in the Manor’s bathing complex. The first time she had been brought down here, the three different temperature pools had been empty and filled with cobwebs and more than one rat. Even elven household wards grew old and struggled to keep the vermin out, it seemed.

Now however, the atrium was fully renovated. There were no doors, but the doorways were draped with long lengths of cloth, and the space warmly lit with magelight. Stone cubby holes cut into the walls had been filled with an assortment of towels, robes, slippers, oils, soaps, scrubbers, and a host of other instruments that Jaina did not recognise. Peeling her clothes off, she tossed them into a woven basket by the entrance without looking until all she wore was the pendant. She did not bother with slippers, and instead simply wrapped herself in a towel before entering the first set of baths.

Had Jaina been in the right mindset to be paying attention, she would have noticed that the basket had already contained a set of Ranger leathers, and that one of the cubby holes was missing a few items. As it was, she was rubbing at a growing ache behind her eyes, when she pushed aside the cloth barrier between the atrium and the hot pool. She had even taken a few steps inside before she heard a gentle splash.

Brows knitting in bewilderment, Jaina looked up only to go stock-still. In the long pool, sunk deeply into the floor and trailing with tendrils of steam, Sylvanas sat. Various ledges were tiered along the pool’s walls, and she occupied one at a level so that the water reached her waist. On the floor behind her was an assortment of towels and vials and what seemed to be a flat wooden stick. Her hair was wet and slicked back from her face, and her skin was faintly pink from the heat. It was the first time Jaina had seen her without the carefully applied kohl around her eyes, and it made her appear bare-faced, younger. Without it, her gaze was less severe, but no less keen-edged.

Sylvanas tilted her head. “You’re back earlier than I expected. How was the Academy?”

“Fine,” Jaina croaked, looking quickly away. She clutched the towel more tightly to herself. Clearing her throat, she asked, “How - uh - how was your -” she struggled to think of the word and ended up just saying, “- thing?”

A soft chuckle, and Sylvanas replied, “My ‘ thing’ was fine. I swear the new recruits look greener and greener with every passing year, but what else are we supposed to do in times of war?”

“Mmm,” Jaina hummed behind clenched teeth.

Another soft rippling of water, and Sylvanas asked, “Well? Aren’t you going to get in so we can have a proper chat?”

“Just -” Jaina’s voice squeaked, and she had to swallow thickly before she could continue, “Just a chat?”

The pause that followed was long. When Sylvanas spoke, her voice had gentled, “Of course. Forgive me, I forgot that humans tend to be a bit prudish about these things. If you want me to leave, I can -”

Jaina shook her head, “No, no. It’s alright. I’ll just -”

Approaching the exact opposite side of the pool to Sylvanas, she waited until she was by the water’s edge before letting the towel slide to her feet. Then, Jaina slipped into the water as quickly as she could, hissing at the scalding temperature. On any other occasion she would have worked her way from ledge to ledge, slowly lowering herself into the heated pool until she could barely stand it and had to make a dash for the tepid bath in the room beyond. This time however, Jaina sank down as far as she could manage, wrapping her arms around herself.

With a curious tilt of her head, Sylvanas watched the way Jaina ducked down until her chin almost touched the water. She made no comment, though. Instead she asked, “So, tell me.”

“About what?” Jaina asked slowly. The pendant Sylvanas had given her pressed against her skin, remaining preternaturally cool despite the heat of the water.

“Your visit to the Academy,” Sylvanas said, and though Jaina kept her eyes firmly on the rippling effects of light at the bottom of the pool, she could see movement from the corner of her vision as Sylvanas lifted herself up to a slightly higher ledge. “Did you find a Magister to take you under their wing?”

“Not exactly,” Jaina grumbled. Her words made the surface of the water waver. The tips of her fingers and toes still felt like they were on fire, but the sting of heat was slowly fading. Finally she admitted, “I saw a group of young Novices. They were all sixteen or so.”

The clink of glass on stone, as Sylvanas picked up a vial. “Ah, yes. You can imagine my initial surprise during the signing, then.”

Scowling at the way her legs dangled in the water, Jaina said, “You don’t still think I’m that young, do you?”

“No. It just took me some time to adjust, is all. And Vereesa is hardly one to point fingers, especially after I found out her husband is only thirty-five.”

“And what’s that in elf years? A teenager?”

“I think comparing the two is like comparing dates to pomegranates. Ultimately fruitless.”

Jaina rolled her eyes. “Was that a pun?”

“Only if it made you relax enough to be annoyed with me, instead of trying to drown yourself in the bath.”

Jaina huffed with laughter, then realised she had indeed glanced up. Sylvanas was smiling at her, and the small creases at the corners of her eyes were more apparent like this. The next thing Jaina noticed was that Sylvanas was running a hand down her own arm, and that her skin glistened in its wake.

Oil. She was oiling herself.

Jaina just about sank right to the bottom of the pool.

“Are you alright?” Sylvanas’ voice sounded hesitantly concerned. “You probably shouldn’t have jumped straight in like you did.”

Jaina started to say ‘I’m fine,’ but stopped when the words wouldn’t form. Her throat worked, and finally she admitted, “I lied. Earlier, I mean. I lied about the Academy. It wasn’t fine. It was terrible. I think I may have done something incredibly foolish.”

“I have a hard time believing that,” Sylvanas said, her tone soft. “Do you want to tell me about it?”

Inhaling deeply, Jaina did just that. She detailed everything that Magister Duskwither had done and said, and how she had reacted in turn. How she had proven herself, but only done so by rubbing her talent in his face, and not stopping to think of the consequences. Sylvanas listened, letting Jaina ramble and detail all of the spells she had managed to pull off, and how tired she was now that it was over.

When Jaina told her about the last door, Sylvanas sniffed, dismissive. “If anyone did anything foolish, it was this Magister. What happened next?”

Splashing a bit at the water with one hand, Jaina said, “I escaped the room, and found Ithedis trying to rough up Duskwither. I put a stop to it, naturally -”

“Did you?” Sylvanas hummed. “What a shame.”

“Sylvanas!”

Rather than be chagrined, Sylvanas reached behind herself and picked up the long wooden stick from the ground, using it to scrape the oil and grime from her skin. “Perhaps the old nag isn’t so bad, after all.”

“Be nice to him!”

Sylvanas’ eyes sparkled. “Oh? Should I be jealous?”

Jaina rolled her eyes. “Please, don’t even go there.”

“It’s none of my business what you do, you know. This can be as amenable a marriage as you wish.”

Jaina could feel her face flame, and this time it had nothing to do with the bath. “That’s -!” she stammered, “That’s not what I -! I don’t -! That is to say that I would never -!”

With amusement, Sylvanas scraped herself clean and watched Jaina twist in the breeze. “No?”

“Definitely not.” Jaina was adamant.

Though that grin lingered on Sylvanas’ face, her eyes remained steady, unblinking, and piercing. “As you like, Lady Proudmoore.”

Jaina shot her a mock glare. “No titles. And what about you?”

“What about me?” Sylvanas asked with faux innocence.

“You know -! Are you going to -?” Jaina waved her hand at Sylvanas, casting a series of drips from her arms and fingers into the pool. “-with anyone else? If that’s what you want?”

The façade of amusement faded from Sylvanas’ face, and she studied Jaina with a serious expression. “No, I will not. It would not be fair to you.”

“Please don’t make yourself unhappy because of some fucked up sense of gallantry.”

Sylvanas brandished the stick at her, admonishing. “What language!”

“There’s nobody else here! And you already know I don’t exactly have the cleanest vocabulary.”

Sylvanas hummed a laugh. “You needn’t worry yourself. I have no interest in pursuing anyone else while married to you.”

“Oh. Well. That’s -” Jaina’s eyes widened. “Wait - you don't expect us to -” She gestured between the two of them, “- do you?”

At that, Sylvanas’ ears shot straight up, and she tensed. “No! No, that’s not what I was implying. At all. I would never intentionally do anything that might make you uncomfortable.”

“You haven’t,” Jaina assured her, and Sylvanas seemed to relax somewhat, though the line of her shoulders remained stiff. “I only bring it up because -”

She cut herself off then, and Sylvanas’ eyes narrowed. “Because -- what?”

“Nothing. It’s not important.”

“Has Vereesa been telling tales again?” Sylvanas asked, her brow darkening. She dragged the stick over her oiled skin with a particularly vicious flick.

“No!” Jaina insisted. “Nothing like that! I just heard -- I mean -- I heard a few whispers at the Academy.”

Gaze flashing, Sylvanas lowered the wooden tool and asked in a level tone, “What whispers?”

With a sigh, Jaina pinched the bridge of her nose before answering. A drop of water slid down her nose, and she wiped it away. “Some of the younger Apprentices were -- uhm -- making some comments to me. Not all of which I understood, granted. I didn’t want you to get angry, but whatever it was they were asking seemed to really set Ithedis off, so I figured it wasn’t anything good -”

“Jaina,” Sylvanas said in a warning tone. “Tell me.”

Wincing, Jaina confessed in a rush, “I was wearing a high collar, and they wanted to see my neck.”

Sylvanas’ nostrils flared as she drew in a deep breath, and her voice was a deadly hiss, “They what?”

“It’s not -- It’s not a problem. I can handle it. I can handle all of this! The Magister, the students, the kids’ classes. Just please -” Jaina closed her eyes and leaned her head back so that she stared up at the steam-fogged ceiling. “- please let me do this on my own.”

Silence, followed by a dull clatter as Sylvanas tossed the wooden stick onto the floor behind her. “Don’t you want to know what they were asking?”

With a snort, Jaina said, “I may not understand all the cultural undertones, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that what they meant was sexual in nature.”

Sylvanas smiled an unpleasant smile, it had a dangerous quality as her fangs glinted in the low light. “Are you sure you don’t want my help? I can have words with this Magister, at least?”

“Just words, though, right?” Jaina asked. When Sylvanas lifted one bare shoulder in a distinctly elven shrug, Jaina said, exasperated, “Sylvanas, please. Don’t do something rash on my account.”

“I’ve done far more rash things for far less. And what kind of spouse would I be if I did not stand up for my wife?”

“I can stand up for myself,” Jaina grumbled.

“I think you’ve already proven that.” Sylvanas grinned at her, teasing and a touch affectionate -- though that may have been Jaina’s imagination.

That smile was as infectious as ever. Jaina laughed softly and shook her head. “How was I so lucky?”

At that, Sylvanas tilted her head to one side. A drop of oil rolled to the dip of her collarbone, and Jaina had to study the ceiling again. “What do you mean?”

“Well, think of it from my perspective. I was expecting to marry some stuffy old elven general, and instead I got -” without looking, she gestured weakly to Sylvanas, who sat, partially submerged in water from the legs down, slick with oil, and golden in the amber magelight.

“Appearances can be deceiving.” Sylvanas’ grin widened. “You just haven’t uncovered my humourless arrogant side yet. Give it time.”

“I’ll be old and grey by then,” Jaina drawled.

Chuckling, Sylvanas stood. Jaina kept her gaze fixed firmly upwards, listening to the sounds of Sylvanas wrapping herself in a towel and gathering her things. She began to walk towards the exit, but paused as she lifted the draped cloth.

“A time anomaly?” Sylvanas asked over her shoulder. “Really?”

“And an Infernal minion,” Jaina confirmed.

“Huh.”

Sylvanas left, and Jaina couldn’t help but think that she almost sounded impressed.

 


 

 

After Sylvanas left, Jaina languished in the cold pool long enough that her fingers became wrinkled as prunes. And still, she soaked, enjoying a rare moment where she did not feel at all overly warm. Even after she had stepped out of the pool and wrapped herself in one of the robes provided, Jaina’s skin remained pleasantly cool. In a surprisingly relaxed daze, considering how the rest of her day had went, she climbed the stairs to the main floor.

There, Ithedis greeted her with a stiff bow, and an added murmur that the Lady Windrunner was waiting for Jaina to join her for dinner in the banquet hall, whensoever she was ready. Sparing a glance at her robes, Jaina relented. She walked into the banquet hall and sat across from Sylvanas at the same table as last night.

While Sylvanas had taken the time to dress in casual wear, Jaina had to keep rearranging the hems of her bathrobes to keep her bare knees from poking through the fabric. Sylvanas made no comment, and their meal passed in much the same way as it had the day before. Easily. With plenty of conversation and banter. If the long soak hadn’t made Jaina relax, then good food and good company certainly did the trick.

Whereas yesterday, Jaina had been filled with a nervous energy, today she felt drained down to her bones. She yawned at the dinner table, and Sylvanas made an off-handed comment about the two of them both heading to bed early that night. Jaina did not protest.

Soon, they were climbing the steps together, still chatting aimlessly about their days and any other topic that happened to crop up during the conversation. The moment they reached the doors to their personal chambers however, Jaina’s mouth glued shut.

After sharing a communal bath together, changing in front of her spouse should not have seemed so daunting. And yet -

She faced her side of her room and slipped the robe down her shoulders, listening to the sound of cloth and stone not far behind her. The chill that had been trapped by her skin from the bath had long since faded, and Jaina pulled her thin cotton nightgown on with relief. The pendant remained a cool presence against her chest, the gold chain glinting as the moon began to peek through the windows.

By the time Jaina turned around, Sylvanas was already pulling back the sheets and sliding into her side of the bed. Jaina did the same, careful that they did not touch while she rearranged her pillows just so. To her surprise, Sylvanas rolled over to face her.

Reaching out, Sylvanas touched the short sleeve of Jaina’s nightgown. “Remind me to buy you something silk.”

Face burning, Jaina said, “I can buy myself silk, you know.”

Sylvanas offered a crooked grin. “Then remind me to take you shopping for silk.”

And with that, she rolled back over, showing Jaina her back. Jaina waited a few heartbeats, then reached out to tap her shoulder.

“Sylvanas?”

“Hmm?”

“Remember to take me shopping.”

A snort of laughter, and Sylvanas swatted Jaina’s hand away. For the first time in weeks, Jaina went to bed feeling oddly content.

 


 

 

Over the next few weeks, Jaina fell into a rhythm at her new home in Quel’Thalas. Most mornings she would ride with Ithedis to the Academy. There, she would skip the Novice classes that had been assigned to her by Magister Duskwither, and instead sneak into the Academy library for a few hours of self-tutelage. Usually, she could find a minor Magister to explain a particular incantation, or failing that she could get Ithedis to translate a few phrases for her from the books she would pull down from the shelves. Her Thalassian was slowly improving, but never quickly enough for her tastes.

Then one blessed day a week, Jaina would take an anchored portal directly from Sunfury Spire to Dalaran. Archmage Antonidas and Modera were always eager to continue her training. Every time she left, they would laden her arms -- and usually Ithedis’ as well -- with books and scrolls and instructions on what she was to practice for her next visit. Brimming with energy from those brief visits, Jaina would cart the new material back to the manor, where she would ensconce herself in the private library Sylvanas had procured for her, a library that was slowly yet steadily growing in size with every trip she took.

And of course, most evenings she and Sylvanas would share dinner together. Not every evening, but often enough. Some days Sylvanas would travel east for a day, only to promptly return with some trinket or tale of her latest visit to the troops on the home front. For someone on forced leave, she certainly worked a lot.

Though, Jaina was hardly one to talk. After dinner, she would hurry back to the library and bury herself in her studies until she blinked wearily at the height of the moon in the sky. Only then would she drag herself to bed and clamber in beside Sylvanas, who was already fast asleep. A Thalassian half-phrase would sigh from Sylvanas’ lips, and some nights Jaina would hold her breath for fear of waking her fully.

It only happened once. A particularly riveting dissertation on interdimensional portals had seen Jaina burning the midnight oil, and she was less than graceful when falling into bed that night. Sylvanas had started awake, and she had squinted blearily, her eyes cutting slits of bluish light through the darkness.

“Shh,” Jaina had clumsily patted her shoulder, half asleep herself.

With reflexes faster than Jaina could follow, Sylvanas had snatched her wrist. Her lips pulled back and she bared her sharp teeth, before she blinked and furrowed her brow at Jaina. Her grip had slackened and she mumbled, “Oh. It’s just you. Sorry.”

She had not rolled back over, though. Nor did she let go of Jaina’s wrist. Instead, Sylvanas’ hand remained a warm weight over her own, and Jaina did not dare rouse her again. Counting the steady thrum of Sylvanas’ heartbeat through her fingers, Jaina waited to move for so long that when she blinked, it was morning, and Sylvanas was gone.

 


 

 

Months passed. Her routine shifted abruptly, when she went to the Academy one morning only to find that she was barred entry to the library. Jaina didn’t know how Magister Duskwither had found out she was sneaking around when she had been so carefully keeping out of his way. She had even compiled a timesheet of his schedule at the Academy so as to avoid him. For all he knew, she was attending kid’s classes on the second floor. One of the Apprentices must have ratted her out.

Jaina had to start employing the kids of her class -- the class she was supposed to be attending, but which she usually skipped, unless one of the children saw her and dragged her over by the hand -- to steal books from the library for her. She would give them a list of titles that they would fetch for her, in exchange for help with their homework. After a patient hour or two teaching them whatever it is they were struggling with -- one day it was a minor polymorph spell that soon saw them transforming their quills into tiny red-breasted sparrows that hopped across the table, the next it was an enchantment that made their notes flutter through the air on an invisible breeze -- Jaina would wait in a corner outside the library and they would bring her stacks of scrolls and books. The kids would complain at the weight and tease her for her taste in reading, but they would always look for her on the ground floor in the mornings.

One such afternoon, Jaina was waiting in the hallway outside the library, trying to draw as little attention to herself as possible and avoid any nosy Apprentices. She fiddled with the pendant around her neck, savouring the coolness of the stone’s smooth surface. Turning it over in the light, Jaina furrowed her brow.

There, in the stone. Some sort of flaw. Or -- not a flaw. An odd clouding, like a chimney that had been blackened with soot and gone uncleaned for years.

Jaina wiped her thumb over it, but the clouding remained. It refracted the magelight that shone along the walls, creating a distortion that seemed to gather beneath the surface of the stone, pressing up against its facets, blooming outwards like a trapped storm.

Glancing around the hallway to ensure she was alone, save for Ithedis, Jaina turned her attention back to the stone around her neck. With her free hand, she sketched a simple glyph in the air, and touched the tip of her finger to the pendant. A burst of arcane energy rippled through the stone, and for a brief moment the cloudiness seemed to dim. It shrank, then slowly reformed.

“Hmm,” she hummed, puzzled.

“Miss Jaina!”

She tucked the stone back beneath the collar of her button down shirt, and straightened. Three young elven boys had emerged from the library and were approaching her with arms laden with books. One of them scrunched up his nose and said, “Why do you want to read the ‘Codex Dracono- Dracanomono -’ ” He stumbled with the title.

Codex Draconomicus Rubicus’ ,” Jaina said helpfully, bending down to take the books from him, while the other two gave their haul to Ithedis. “And because I’m boring, that’s why.”

All three of the kids nodded sagely at her self-awareness.

“Will you be here tomorrow? Are you going to Dalaran again?” one of them asked.

Another swatted his friend on the shoulder. “No, that’s in three days, kahlba.”

Ithedis scowled. “No swearing.”

“Sorry, guys,” Jaina answered, “I can’t make it tomorrow. I’ll be with my wife all afternoon.”

That earned her three bewildered looks. “You’re married?”

“To who?”

Jaina was so used to everyone knowing, that she hadn’t thought there was a single person left in Silvermoon who didn’t. “Sylvanas Windrunner.”

All three of them stared at her. Their ears had shot straight up in surprise.  

“No way,” one of them breathed.

“The Ranger-General?”

“Have you seen her shoot her bow?” another one asked, his eyes shining.

“Is she as tall as they say she is?”

“Is it true she killed a thousand trolls in a single day when she pushed them back to Zul’Aman?”

“Like this! Pew! Pew pew pew!”

Blinking in bewilderment, Jaina stammered, “Uhm -? I mean, she is rather tall.”

“I knew it.”

Jaina cleared her throat, nodding towards the other end of the hall where the stairs descended back down to the second floor. “Don’t you three have a class you should be getting to?”

They rolled their eyes.

“Belore, you are boring.”

One of them elbowed the kid who had said that.

“Ow! What was that for?”

“Don’t say that!”

“Why not? She said it!”

“Yeah, but we need her help for the exams.”

Jaina could feel her hands start to slip on the pile of books in her arms. She readjusted her grip. “Exams, huh? That sounds like its worth at least three loads of books.”

“Three?!”

Chuckling, Jaina turned to leave. “We’ll negotiate later. Now, shoo!”

They scampered off down the hall. Before rounding the corner, one of them waved over his shoulder and shouted, “Bye, Miss Jaina!”

Shaking her head with a wry smile, Jaina went in search of a secluded corner of the Academy to do her latest round of reading and note-taking.

 


 

 

“Apparently you’re some kind of war hero.”

“So I’ve been told,” Sylvanas said dryly.

The seamstress’ shop was cleverly subdivided by curtains. Sylvanas sat in a chair, watching while Jaina was fitted for a number of new outfits. When they had entered the shop in Silvermoon, it had been near empty, but through the drape of heavy cloth Jaina could hear the murmur of new clients coming in for a fitting or to browse the wares. Ithedis stood just outside, barring entry to any who tried to sneak a peek at the Ranger-General and her human wife.

Bolts of cloth lined the walls in every shade of the sunset. Even now Jaina was continually intrigued by the breadth of colour high elves wore -- void blacks and dusky lavenders, all the way to pale yellows and creamy ivories. And always the presence of delicate brocade and fine embroidery. Jaina admired how different they were to her own usual clothing even as one of the seamstresses pinned a length of silk around Jaina’s waist

“The kids at the Academy were very excited to hear I was married to you. They wanted to know if you’d killed a thousand trolls on the march to Zul’Aman,” Jaina said.

“Did they, now?” Sylvanas’ eyes gleamed with mischief. “Tell them it was two thousand.”

Jaina shot her an incredulous look. “You did not kill two thousand trolls.”

Raising her eyebrows, Sylvanas said, “Oh? That’s news to me.”

“Your quiver doesn’t even hold a hundred arrows!”

“I have an excellent supply chain division,” Sylvanas countered. “World class, really.”

Jaina snorted with laughter. “Oh, shut up.”

The corner of Sylvanas’ mouth quirked in a lopsided smile. Meanwhile, the seamstress pretended to not be eavesdropping on their conversation, though Jaina noticed the way her hands fumbled when Jaina told the Ranger-General of Silvermoon and all its armies to kindly shut her mouth. She did an admirable job of hiding it however.

Sylvanas lounged in her seat, leaning her elbow upon the armrest, and resting her cheek against her fist. “You’re still saddled with the Novice classes, then? I thought you said you wanted to take care of the problem yourself?”

“I am taking care of it,” Jaina grumbled. When the seamstress pressed lightly at her hip, silently urging her to turn around, Jaina did as instructed. “It’s just taking me a while, is all.”

“It’s taking you more than a few months, apparently.”

“Well, I - I don’t like to rush things,” Jaina insisted lamely.

“Mm hmm.”

“I’m being diplomatic.”

“Is that what we’re calling it?”

Glaring over her shoulder, exasperated, Jaina said, “And you’re being an ass.”

Sylvanas seemed utterly thrilled by the combination of Jaina’s crassness and the seamstress’ wide-eyed shock at their banter.

After the fitting, Jaina put in an order for a handful of new mage robes, a more traditional elven outfit should she ever need to attend a formal occasion, and of course a new silk nightgown.  While Jaina put her own clothes back on, Ithedis poked his head through the curtains.

“Lady Windrunner, Lady Proudmoore,” he said, keeping his gaze firmly fixed on the floor, “I am sorry to disturb you, but there are a few more people here than when you first arrived.”

“Thank you, Ithedis.” Jaina nodded to him, and he retreated back behind the curtain.

Rising to her feet, Sylvanas tugged at her half cloak so that it hung rakishly from one shoulder, revealing her tight-fitting leathers beneath. Jaina found herself admiring the understated elegance of Sylvanas’ more casual attire, before she realised that she was staring, and glanced away with a cough.

When Jaina had tucked her shirt into her high-waisted Kul Tiran breeches, Sylvanas pushed back the curtain and held it open for her. “Shall we?”

Jaina gave Sylvanas an appreciative smile and ducked through the curtain. On the other side, she blinked in surprise. Word must have spread through the surrounding streets like wildfire. The seamstress’ shop was now bustling with people all pretending to browse. The moment she stepped out, Sylvanas hot on her heels, every set of eyes flicked in their direction, even as the other ‘customers’ continued to peruse bolts of cloth and walk around wooden mannequins.

Sylvanas tapped Jaina’s shoulder. “This way.”

The seamstress led them to a counter near the front. Everyone gave them a wide berth, most likely because of the sheer force of Ithedis’ glare. There, the seamstress pulled out a broad ledger and painstakingly wrote down their order. Meanwhile, Jaina tried not to fidget, resisting the urge to peer back at their sudden audience. If the attention bothered Sylvanas, she did not show it; she stood as straight-backed and unruffled as ever.

It took an age, but the seamstress passed over a copy of the order to Sylvanas, who immediately passed it to Jaina. That seemed to boggle the seamstress even more, though she merely bowed her head and thanked them for their generous patronage. When Jaina reached for the coinpurse at her belt however, Sylvanas shook her head and gently steered Jaina towards the exit.

Confused, Jaina looked back at the seamstress, then at Sylvanas. “Don’t I have to pay?” Jaina hissed.

“You will,” Sylvanas murmured, leaning in close to lower her voice so that Jaina could feel the brush of words against her ear. She tapped the paper in Jaina’s hand. “Give this to the bank, and they’ll oversee the transfer.”

“That seems like a very cumbersome way of paying for a few outfits.”

“Didn’t you know? Handling your own money is so dreadfully plebeian. That’s why you pay other people to do it for you.”

“Oh, I see. Elven snobbery at its finest, I assume?”

Taking Jaina’s hand and leading her from the shop, Sylvanas winked slyly. “Now, you’re getting the hang of it.”

 


 

The next few weeks drew a grim silence over Falthrien Academy as exam time came around. On the one hand, it meant that Jaina was pestered more than usual by her desperate young classmates, who were driven near to tears and sleeplessness with anxiety. Jaina, who had no exams to speak of, sighed and led a few impromptu study sessions in a spare room, which ended up attracting a large enough group that she feared being discovered by Magister Duskwither.

On the other hand, it also meant that everyone was so distracted by exams that Jaina could sneak into the library without notice. She found a shaded alcove and wove an illusion spell so that it looked like a group of students had fallen asleep while studying at the table, their faces pressed against the open pages of their books. Nobody spared her little alcove a second glance, and she could work in peace.

Jaina had taken off her pendant and set it upon the table beside stacks of books she had pulled from the stacks. On a blank scroll, she sketched out various spells and incantations. She took notes from a number of different open tomes, muttering to herself as she flipped through their pages and pausing to add an annotation here and there.

Leaning back in her seat, she read over her work. Then, she placed the pendant in the centre of the scroll. Her whispered incantation echoed. Tendrils of glowing arcane energy lifted the pendant above the page, rotating it in midair, imbuing the stone with light until it blazed like a star.

In a flash, the pendant clattered back to the table. Jaina flinched from the flare of magic, and rubbed at her eyes. She picked up the pendant, turning it over in her hands, only to find that the small smudge still darkened one facet of the stone.

With a grumble, Jaina crossed out a section of the scroll and crammed a few more notes into the margins. She searched through her stacks of books for a particular title. Sighing, she dropped her quill and fastened the pendant around her neck once more.

“I forgot one, Ithedis,” she said as she pushed her chair back.

Nobody answered.

Puzzled, Jaina looked around. She peered down a few nearby shelves, but he was nowhere to be found.

“Ithedis?” she hissed, reluctant to raise her voice and draw too much attention to herself.

When he did not reply, Jaina felt the stirrings of worry fester in her gut. She murmured a quick illusion spell, draping it over herself so that she appeared to be a young elven Apprentice in plain robes. While in the past she would have preferred using this to sneak into the library, illusions spells never worked on Ithedis, and everybody would know who she was if she was constantly shadowed by a stony-faced Spellbreaker.

She slipped out of the library and began searching for him floor by floor. By the time Jaina reached the higher floors, she was well and truly starting to grow worried. She ran over possible scenarios in her head. Perhaps he had returned to the manor? Perhaps he had stepped out for something to eat? Perhaps he had been cornered by a group of angry Magisters, and was fighting for his life? Or perhaps he had simply gotten something to eat, Jaina told herself again, pushing the last thought firmly from her mind.

The highest floors of the Academy were empty and eerily quiet. Even her footsteps were muffled by arcane energies. Pressing her ear to a closed door, Jaina could hear a dull buzzing sound, like a hornet’s nest. She continued on, wandering the circular hallways in her search.

As she rounded one pillar, she stopped. There, faint voices but voices all the same. Jaina ducked from pillar to pillar until she was close enough to hear, and close enough to peek around the column to see who it was that spoke.

First, Jaina breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Ithedis’ unmistakable silhouette. Then, her blood ran cold. Ithedis stood with his back to her hiding place. His shield was strapped to one of his forearms, and his free hand was lifting Magister Duskwither a foot off the ground by the front of the Magister’s robes. He had slammed the Magister’s back against the wall, holding him there while Duskwither’s feet kicked and dangled.

It was not Ithedis who was speaking however. It was the woman standing beside him.

Sylvanas’s stood with her back turned to Jaina and her face obscured by the drawn hood of her cloak, but there could be no mistaking that authoritative stance or that distinctive voice.

"It’s strange. I've been hearing the most interesting whispers lately," Sylvanas hummed. "I don't suppose someone of your status as Headmaster and Magister of this most illustrious Academy would know anything about such lies being spread about the Ranger-General's wife?"

"N-no, Lady Windrunner -"

"Because I'd hate to have to take someone's tongue for it," Sylvanas continued as casually as though she were remarking on the weather. "Tedious, really. Gets everything all bloody."

"You wouldn't dare!” Duskwither snarled. He struggled against Ithedis’ iron-clad grip, but Ithedis remained unyielding. His crimson lacquered gauntlets creaked as he lifted Magister Duskwither up the wall fractionally higher.

"Oh, no. Not me. Can you imagine?" Sylvanas drawled. "But my friend here is far less domesticated than I." She gestured towards Ithedis’ thunderous expression beneath the winged helm. "Terribly skilled with a knife, this one. I've seen him gut deer in the Eversong Forest myself. He’s very thorough."

Jaina distinctly heard Ithedis' voice join the conversation. "An attack on the Lady is an attack on me."

"Now -" the Magister wheezed, "Now, see here -"

"Quiet now. Here's how it's going to play out," Sylvanas crooned. "You're going to assign her to another Magister, one worthy of her time, and you're going to give her full access to the Academy's archives. Are we clear?”

Choking, Magister Duskwither just nodded.

“Good.”

Sylvanas gestured to Ithedis, who dropped Magister Duskwither to the ground. There, Duskwither gasped and clutched at his chest. When Sylvanas crouched down in front of him, he jerked back as if she had struck him with an open blow.

This time when Sylvanas spoke it was almost too low for Jaina to hear, “And if I get word that you've so much as looked at her the wrong way, you'll be seeing us again."

She stood and jerked her head. “Go.”

The Magister didn’t need to be told twice. Scrambling to his feet, he fled.

Jaina held her breath as he passed by her hiding place, pulling her head back so as not to be spotted. She dared to peek around again, and spied Sylvanas and Ithedis walking back the way she had come. They strode side-by-side, Sylvanas with her hands behind her back and Ithedis with his shield.

"I see now why my wife has taken a liking to you. For a while I thought you were simply following decorum once you switched into military service by being her personal guard."

“It is an honour to serve, Lady Windrunner.”

“Somehow I knew you’d say that,” Sylvanas drawled, not unkindly.

A pause as he bowed his head. “I should return to the library. The Lady may have noticed my absence.”

“Did she have a book with her?”

“Several.”

Sylvanas laughed, a startlingly gentle sound after such a brutal display that faded the further they walked from Jaina’s hiding place. “Then you have nothing to worry about.”

 


 

 

Storm clouds gathered, sweeping in from the sea, and Jaina did not speak to Ithedis the entire ride back to Goldenbough Manor. She had sprinted back down to the library before he could beat her there, and curtly announced upon his arrival that she wanted to leave the Academy. Ithedis had seemed startled by her tone of voice, but made no comment. Once or twice on the ride home, he had tried to initiate conversation, only for Jaina to answer in blunt monosyllables or wordless noises. Eventually, he went silent. His eyes would dart to her, but she staunchly ignored him.

Flecks of rain started to fall from the sky by the time they arrived at the manor. Jaina dismounted, and Ithedis came forward to take the reins from her. She dropped them into his hand without a word, turning and walking towards the manor entrance.

“Lady Proudmoore -”

“Not now, Ithedis.”

“But -”

She whirled around, glaring, fists clenched at her side. “I noticed you were gone this afternoon. I was worried, so I went looking for you, thinking something bad had happened to you. Instead, I found you and my wife threatening to cut out a man’s tongue on my behalf!” When he opened his mouth to speak, Jaina snapped, “I don’t want to hear your excuses! I don’t want to hear anything you have say right now! In fact, you are relieved from duty for the day!”

It was the first time Jaina had raised her voice since arriving in Quel’Thalas. It didn’t make her feel any better, but it did stop Ithedis from following her when she stormed into the manor. She hadn’t gotten very far into the main hall, when she was approached by a servant, who bowed.

“My Lady -” he started in a heavily lilting accent.

“What?” Jaina sighed, rubbing at the prick of pain behind her eyes.

The servant hesitated before continuing. “Forgive me for intruding, but you have received a package from the Lord Admiral.”

Blinking in surprise, Jaina looked up. The servant was holding out a small package, wrapped in brown waxed paper and tied with twine. She took the package, and the servant left with another bow before she could speak again.

Jaina didn’t bother waiting to take it somewhere private. She walked over to the nearest table lining a wall. Her fingers were already trembling when she pulled at the strings and tore open the brown paper wrapping. Beneath she revealed a plain wooden box stamped with a familiar sigil scorched into the surface. Jaina traced the motif. It was the company logo for her favourite brand of Kul Tiran tea.

The first thing she felt was a rush of homesickness so biting, it boiled her stomach with acidity. It was followed swiftly by disbelief and a growing impotent anger, anger that she could be so pleased, so relieved at something as small as a box of tea that was no longer than her forearm.

When Jaina opened the box, she found a letter inside, written in her mother’s loopy scrawl. Her eyes skimmed over the three lines wishing her a happy birthday and all the best. A birthday gift that had arrived a week early.

Outside it had begun to rain in earnest. A swell of thunder rolled in the distance. Mutely, Jaina put down the gift in favour of gazing out the tall narrow windows that arched towards the ceiling. Leaving the box behind, she walked across the main hall, passing beneath the winding staircase and striding past the many side-rooms, heading straight for the back patio.

When Jaina pushed open the doors, she had been expecting a surge of cold air. What she got instead was more heat. Heat poured upon heat. And beyond that, a rain so stifling, she could no longer see the sea. The horizon was hidden by thick sheets of rain that poured from the sky.

Slowly, she stepped from the manor, walking out from beneath the shade of the balcony above her. The first touch of rain hit her skin like an electric shock. The water warmed against her skin, saturating her clothes in an instant. Jaina took a few more staggering steps until her feet squelched, and she came to a halt.

She stood there, her breathing growing quick and shallow, when she heard a voice behind her.

“What are you doing?”

Jaina did not turn around. The rain drummed into her skin; it plastered her hair to her cheeks and neck. She wrapped her arms around herself and wished she were cold enough to shiver, but the rain did nothing to combat the humidity that pressed down around her. The very air in Quel’Thalas seemed to work its way into her throat, down to her lungs until she choked in the heat, until she drowned in it.

“This rain is all wrong,” Jaina mumbled.

Behind her, Sylvanas lingered beneath the shelter of the balcony. “What? What are you talking about?”

Jaina stared down at her feet, at the mud pooling up around her ankles, the earth pounded to life by the pouring rain. “I hate it here.”

The announcement came like a horrible realisation. It fell from her lips in a gasp, and she had to swallow back the raw feeling that welled up in her mouth when she said it.

“I fucking hate it here,” she repeated, louder this time, speaking to nobody. “Ever since I arrived, I hated it. I hate the way everyone stares at me. I hate that I don’t know anybody. I hate that I can’t understand the language. I hate that I’m here instead of in Dalaran. I hate the Academy. I hate the hot water everyone serves me. I hate the tea. I hate how useless I feel, and that I need my centuries old wife and centuries older guardsman to fight my battles for me. I hate that the only people who are nice to me are people who feel like they have to be nice to me. I hate the weather. I hate this rain. I hate -”

This must have been what seasickness felt like. The earth pitching beneath her feet. The disorientation. Never knowing which way was up, which direction was which. Jaina closed her eyes. She grit her teeth. Her fingers dug into her sides and her shoulders hunched. Maybe, if she were lucky, the rain would sink into her skin and she would dissolve into nothing. Better that than staying here.

She didn’t hear Sylvanas walking to her until she felt a gentle touch at her shoulder. Recoiling, Jaina whirled around and stumbled back a step. Sylvanas raised both her hands, as if showing Jaina that she was unarmed. She watched Jaina carefully, and Jaina couldn’t stand the pity in her eyes. She could only have been in the rain for a moment, but already Sylvanas appeared soaked through.

“What can I do?” Sylvanas asked, taking a small step forward, looking like she wanted to reach out, but stopping herself from doing so.

“There’s nothing to be done.”

Sylvanas shook her head, as if not believing the words she was hearing. “There has to be something. Whatever it is, I can help; you just need to tell me what you want.”

“Nothing!” Jaina shouted. “I don’t want anything from you!”

Her words rang out, and the silence that followed was broken only by the uneven bruit of rainfall and the distant rumble of thunder over the sea. Sylvanas looked stricken, like she’d been slapped, and an echo of that all too familiar helplessness crossed her face.

“How -” Sylvanas started to say, but she had to stop before she could continue. “How am I supposed to make this better, then? When you won’t tell me? When you refuse to let me do anything?”

Something dark and ugly roiled in Jaina’s chest, and she countered, “I suppose you’ll just do it anyway. Like you did with the Magister.”

Sylvanas’ mouth snapped shut. For the first time since Jaina had known her, she had been caught off guard and had to fumble for an excuse. “Because I had to. Because you weren’t doing anything about it.”

“I specifically asked you to let me handle it!”

“But you weren’t!”

“It wasn’t your choice to make!”

“You were unhappy! Sneaking into libraries and bribing children to bring you books! They had no right to treat you with such disrespect!”

“This isn’t about whether what you did to the Magister was right or wrong, Sylvanas! This is about -!” Jaina couldn’t keep from shouting now. “This was the one thing -- the only thing -- that was under my control, that I could do my way! And you took it!”

“I’m sorry! Is that what you want to hear?”

“Yes!”

Sylvanas stared at her. The kohl had begun to streak down her cheeks. The rain had drenched her through, her hair darkened to a honey gold, but her eyes were bright and incredulous. “That’s it? ‘I’m sorry’?”

“No! That’s -!” With a growl of frustration, Jaina snapped, “I want you to mean it! I want you to respect my decisions! I want you to treat me like an adult!”

“Then you need to tell me things! I am trying to understand, to do the best I can, but I can’t read your mind! I have to pry information from you and believe it or not, you are very difficult to read!”

“This isn’t my fault! Stop trying to make it my fault!”

“I’m not -!” Sylvanas stepped closer, and her eyes blazed. “You need to talk to me. Stop hiding. Stop trying to fend for yourself. You are not alone. I am here for you.”

Jaina shook her head, but refused to back down. She had been clenching her teeth so hard her jaw ached. “You have to say that. You have to act like you -- We’re married, so you have to say things like that.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do! You don’t -- You don’t care. This isn’t real. This a contract. We signed a contract.”

The anger and confusion on Sylvanas’ face had softened. Not to pity -- Jaina would have died on the spot if it were pity -- but to something bordering on tenderness.

“I care.”

When Sylvanas slowly reached up to brush a strand of hair that had stuck to Jaina’s cheek, Jaina flinched but did not pull back. Looking down at the space between their feet, Jaina bit her lower lip; it had begun to tremble. She hated the burning that stung her eyes.

Sylvanas cupped her cheek and said gently, “You can leave if you want. You can go home.”

Somehow that made it worse. Jaina shook her head against the first sob that rose in her throat. She ducked her head and tried to hide her face behind one of her hands, but Sylvanas took her wrist and tugged her that final step forward. Jaina instead hid her face in Sylvanas’ shoulder, her own shoulders starting to shake. Squeezing her eyes shut, she cried. She barely registered Sylvanas slowly putting her arms around her.

Jaina did not know for how long they stood like that in the rain, only that at some point she had reached around Sylvanas’ back and clutched handfuls of her cloak. Sylvanas murmured soothing noises in her ear, or otherwise remained silent. Eventually, the tremors faded, Jaina’s breathing evened out, and the tears slowed to a stop, until Jaina was simply standing there, eyes closed, forehead pressed against Sylvanas’ chest, enjoying the feeling of being held.

Thunder rumbled across the sea behind them. Closer this time.

“Come on. Let’s go inside. You’ll catch your death out here,” Sylvanas said.

Keeping an arm around Jaina’s shoulders, Sylvanas urged her back towards the manor. Jaina went without protest. She wiped at her eyes. Her entire face felt puffy, and her whole body felt drained. Both her and Sylvanas’ feet slipped in the mud as they trudged back to the manor.

Two servants were already waiting for them at the back entrance with fresh warm towels and robes. They had even spread out a canvas material on the ground of the rear foyer so that Sylvanas and Jaina did not muddy the floor. Numbly, Jaina stripped down to her underthings and toweled herself dry, her movements sluggish. She could hear Sylvanas beside her doing the same, though far more quickly and efficiently.

While Jaina was belting the robe shut around her waist, Sylvanas said, “I saw that your mother sent you an early birthday gift.”

Nodding without looking up, Jaina brushed her damp hair back from her face. “She sent me some tea from Kul Tiras.”

“Would you like some?”

“Yes, please.” Jaina sounded hollow to her own ears.

Sylvanas relayed a few short orders to the servants who had begun to pick up their sopping wet clothes from the canvas. As she did so, Jaina started off towards the stairs. Exhaustion had truly settled into her now, a bone-deep ache. She hadn’t eaten dinner yet, but the thought of food made her feel mildly ill. Food could wait until the morning.

Sylvanas followed a step behind all the way up to their private quarters, silent. She closed the doors behind them when Jaina entered the room. Without bothering to change into a nightgown, Jaina wandered over to the bed and flopped down onto her side, face-first. She felt a dip in the mattress; Sylvanas sat beside her rather than across from her.

“Do you want me to bring you anything?”

Jaina shook her head.

“Do you want me to leave?”

“No.” Jaina’s voice was muffled by the sheets.

“Alright.”

Sylvanas leaned back, but stiffened with a quiet knock came at the door. Jaina lifted her head, but Sylvanas said, “I’ll get it.”

Standing, she crossed the room and opened the door. Through the gap, Jaina could just see the armoured figure of Ithedis bearing a tray.

“Is she -?”

“She’s fine.” Sylvanas reached out to take the tray. Her voice lowered when she said, “I received the latest field reports this morning. There were minimal casualties during a border skirmish. Your eldest’s name was not on the list.”

Ithedis bowed. “Thank you, Lady Windrunner.”

She nodded and closed the door with her hip. As she approached the bed, Jaina sat up. “I didn’t know he had kids.”

Sylvanas set the tray down on the end of the bed. “He has five. All daughters. I initiated his youngest into the Rangers not too long ago.”

For a moment, Jaina chewed at her lower lip, saying nothing. Then, swallowed thickly, she scooted forward to sit cross-legged in front of the tray. It held a steaming pot of water, a strainer, a box of the tea her mother had sent, a small pitcher of milk, slices of lemon, and a pot of honey. There were also two cups and two spoons.

Jaina tucked her rain-frizzy hair behind her ears, but it almost immediately fell into her face again. Ignoring it, she scooped black tea leaves directly into the pot. “Do you want a cup?”

Sylvanas moved to sit beside her on the bed. “I would. I’ve never had Kul Tiran tea before.”

Placing the glass lid back over the pot, Jaina waited for it to steep. Sylvanas peered at the tea, her long ears held at a curious angle that Jaina recognised far too well from the young Novices at the Academy.

“It’s red,” she remarked. “Is it supposed to be so dark?”

Jaina began to slowly turn the teapot clockwise, stirring the leaves. “They bake it. It gives the tea a smokey flavour.”

“Hmm,” Sylvanas sounded dubious.

After a few minutes, Jaina poured them each a cup. She put a splash of milk in her own, but Sylvanas shook her head and took her tea black. Cupping the ceramic mug between her hands, Jaina took a sip and sighed in pleasure. A rush of homesickness washed over her, but she cradled the cup to her chest and closed her eyes.

Beside her, Sylvanas took a sip, then made a noise in the back of her throat. “It’s -” she wrinkled her nose. “- earthy.”

“Do you not like it?” Jaina asked.

In answer Sylvanas took another sip. “I am undecided.”

They drank in silence. Rain lashed the windows, and the storm clouds darkened the sky until it felt like dusk already. At one point, Sylvanas added lemon to her tea. She took a sip, and added a dollop of honey as well.

When she reached for the milk after another drink, Jaina said, “I’ve never seen anyone add all three.”

“I’m experimenting.” Sylvanas stirred the milk in, and took another sip. She nodded gravely, as if coming to a conclusion, and placed her cup back on the tray. “Just as I thought. It’s terrible.”

An unexpected snort of laughter escaped Jaina at that. She shook her head, unable to keep a crooked half smile from her lips. Draining the last of her tea, Jaina refilled her cup. She held the spout of the teapot over Sylvanas’ cup in quiet question, but Sylvanas waved her away.

As Jaina added milk to her own tea and sighed blissfully into another cup, Sylvanas pointed to Jaina’s damp hair. “May I?”

Hesitant, Jaina nodded.

Even then, Sylvanas did not immediately touch her. “You don’t have to say ‘yes’ just because I ask something.”

“No, it’s - it’s fine.” Jaina inhaled a shaky breath and said, “I want you to.”

Jaina tensed as Sylvanas moved to sit directly behind her, but at the first gentle scrape of fingernails against her scalp she sighed. In long languid strokes, Sylvanas combed her fingers through Jaina’s hair, and Jaina could feel the tension slowly drain from her shoulders. Soon, she was holding the cup in her lap, tea forgotten, her eyes half-closed and heavy-lidded.

Working from the top of her head, Sylvanas began to part Jaina’s hair and weave it together. The braid curved down one shoulder, and Jaina’s tea had gone lukewarm by the time Sylvanas finished. Of all the things they'd done together -- sleeping in the same bed, sharing communal baths -- somehow this seemed the most intimate.

Sylvanas’ hand lingered at the nape of Jaina’s neck after finishing, before she swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood. “I’m going to find something to eat. Do you want me to bring anything back?”

Jaina shook her head. Without another word, Sylvanas strode from the room. In her absence, Jaina poured herself a fresh cup of tea and pushed herself back against the cushions. The tea itself did nothing to help with the heat or the homesickness or anything else that had been troubling her these last few months, but she could pretend it did.

Finishing her last cup, Jaina placed it and the tray atop one of the trunks at the foot of the bed. She didn’t bother getting changed. She simply curled up atop the sheets and closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

She was still awake when the room had dimmed in the evening light, when the door creaked open, then shut again, and Sylvanas padded around the room with silent footfalls. Jaina feigned sleep, wishing she had the courage to roll over and ask Sylvanas to put her arms around her again. Instead, she tucked her knees up higher, kept her eyes closed, and waited for sleep to claim her.

 


 

 

It continued to rain, and did not stop. The roads of Quel’Thalas ran like rivers across the land, a deluge of mud that carved off chunks of earth. One afternoon, Jaina heard a great crack and crash, thinking it was lightning only to be told by Ithedis that it was a piece of the cliffside sliding into the ocean. At least the rainy season explained why the manor wasn’t built closer to the sea.

Four days later, Jaina received a letter from Falthrien Academy. She left it on a table in the main hall, unable to open it without feeling sick to her stomach. It wasn’t until the next morning that Jaina plucked up the courage to crack the wax seal on the back and read what it said. Her brow furrowed in confusion, and she read it again.

It was, quite simply, a request for a visit to the Goldenbough Manor from a Magistrix Elosai.

“What do I do with this?” Jaina waved the letter at Sylvanas.

Raising her eyebrows, Sylvanas read the letter over Jaina’s shoulder. “Either invite her over, or decline her request.”

“And what does she want?”

Sylvanas shrugged. “I guess you’ll have to just find out.”

“But who is she?”

“I have no idea. I’m not a mage. I don’t go to the Academy that often. And by that I mean, I’ve been there all of three times.”

“Including the last one?” Jaina said dryly.

Looking suitably chagrined, Sylvanas murmured, “I stand corrected. Four times.”

Jaina folded the letter back up. “Duskwither is only sending her because of you. You know that, right?”

Sylvanas met her eye. “Then you should decline.” When Jaina pursed her lips, Sylvanas cocked her head. “Or not?”

Jaina chewed at the inside of her cheek before saying, “I still want a teacher here. I just don’t like the way I’ve gotten one.”

“There’s nothing I can do about that now, apart from apologise again. If that’s what you want -?”

Sighing, Jaina shook her head. “No. It’s fine. Well -” She glared at Sylvanas. “It’s not fine, but it’s fine.”

Sylvanas gave a huff of laughter. She tapped Jaina lightly on the shoulder. “You see? Difficult to read.”

Jaina sent a letter back, and the next morning a slender elven woman in mage robes the colour of deep turquoise arrived at Goldenbough Manor. She had not a speck of mud on her, despite the deluge outside.

She bowed to Jaina upon being shown into a sitting room off the main hall. “Thank you for receiving me, Lady Proudmoore.”

Warily, Jaina nodded in return. “Magistrix Elosai, I presume?”

“That’s correct.” The Magistrix waved away a silent offer to sit on one of the couches. “Oh, no. Thank you. I couldn’t possibly impose.”

She remained standing, and Jaina, feeling awkward, cleared her throat as she sat down herself. Magistrix Elosai was by no stretch of the imagination a tall woman, but she held herself with such calm assurance she made Jaina feel gangly in comparison.

“I would like to start out by apologising on behalf of the Academy, Lady Proudmoore,” Magistrix Elosai began. “My superior severely overstepped. His disregard for your skill and his disrespect towards you were unacceptable.”

Another bow. Jaina was starting to feel weird about all the bowing. “Thank you, Magistrix. And I apologise for anything my wife did on my behalf.”

At that, Elosai seemed taken aback. Her ears pinned back, as though Jaina had said something offensive. Perhaps she should not have mentioned it at all? Elosai tried to smile, a somewhat nervous smile.

“Secondly, I have requested an audience to offer you two proposals,” Elosai continued as though Jaina had not mentioned Duskwither at all. “The first: I would be honoured if you would agree to let me teach you personally. The second: I’d like to ask if you want to make your tutoring of the Novices a more official position at the Academy.”

“In what capacity?” Jaina asked slowly.

“Seminars. They won’t be much different from what you currently do, apart from the fact that with official sanctions comes Academy support. You’ll be given more materials, a room to hold the seminars, and an office of your own.”

Jaina flushed. She could feel her ears burning in embarrassment. “That’s - That’s far too generous. I can’t accept that.”

“It is the least I can do, Lady Proudmoore.” Elosai bowed again. Jaina really wished she would stop bowing.

“But I’m -! I’m still an Apprentice! I shouldn’t have office space! Or students!” Jaina insisted. Of all the luxuries she had been given upon her arrival in Quel’Thalas, private office space in Falthrien Academy seemed like extravagance. She didn’t even know what she would do with an office, apart from sit in it and feel like an imposter who had lied and cheated her way through the system.

“Yet you have been tutoring the Novices regardless, and doing an admirable job of it too from what I understand.” Magistrix Elosai clasped her hands and said calmly, “If your station bothers you, we can expedite your status at the Academy when your Apprenticeship finishes in Dalaran. It shouldn’t be long. I checked with Modera myself -- she and I are old friends -- and she reckons you’re well on your way to becoming a fully fledged member of the Kirin Tor.”

Well, that was news to Jaina. She gaped like a fish, then snapped her mouth shut. Rising abruptly to her feet, Jaina said, “Can I think about it?”

Another bow. “Of course, Lady Proudmoore. Take all the time you need. You know where to find me.”

Jaina escorted Elosai from the Manor. On the front steps Elosai teleported directly back to the Academy, leaving Jaina holding one of the front doors open dumbly. Closing the door, Jaina wandered back into the sitting room in a daze. She collapsed onto one of the couches, her legs dangling over an armrest, and stared up at the ceiling. She only heard Sylvanas’ footsteps entering the room because Sylvanas wanted her presence to be known.

“It went poorly, did it?” Sylvanas asked, standing over the couch and peering down at Jaina so that her long hair fell down around her face.

“You mean you and Ithedis weren’t eavesdropping?” Jaina quipped.

“No. We were not. And you realise Ithedis never tells me anything unless he knows you told me about it first?”

Sighing, Jaina rubbed at her eyes. “I know. I’m sorry.” She raised her voice and said again for Ithedis who stood at his post outside the room, “I’m sorry.”

Sylvanas cocked her head. “So?”

“So -- what?”

Sylvanas rolled her eyes. “How did your meeting go?”

“Oh! Right.” Jaina grimaced, letting her arms fall back onto the couch cushions. “Apparently I’m both a student and teacher now. They’re giving me an office.”

Sylvanas’ eyebrows rose and she straightened. “Are they now? Huh.”

Jaina narrowed her eyes. “Don’t look so smug.”

“Me? I’m not smug.”

Jaina pointed at Sylvanas’ face. “You are! Look at that stupid smirk. I hate it.”

Even though Sylvanas schooled her features, her eyes gleamed. “It’s because you’re lying down and seeing my face from an odd angle. Hardly my fault.”

Jaina stuck her tongue out at Sylvanas, who laughed.

“What was it you said about being an adult?” Sylvanas grinned.

“Oh, shut up.”

 


 

 

The rains let up the evening before Jaina’s birthday. When she awoke the morning of, the sky remained a foreboding iron grey, but that didn’t stop Sylvanas from pulling her away from breakfast and dragging her to the stables for a ride through the countryside. Jaina only had enough time to dress in riding leathers and forego the more comfortable mage robes she was going to wear that day.

The mugginess doused her as soon as she stepped outside. Tugging at her collar, Jaina gave up and flicked open the first few buttons. It didn’t help much, but it made her feel a little better. She coated her palm in ice and placed it on the back of her neck, groaning. Still morning -- albeit late in the morning -- and already she was dying in the heat.

Sylvanas on the other hand, still wore a half cloak this time of a heavier material than she had a few months ago.

“How on earth can you stand to wear that?” Jaina asked.

With a shrug, Sylvanas led her towards the stables. “It’s the rainy season. It’s cold. Plus we’re heading south for the day.”

Jaina stared at her, aghast. “This is not cold! This is - wait. We’re going where?”

“I thought I might show you my family home. It will just be a quick day trip.”

“But -” Jaina trotted to catch up and walk beside her. “Isn’t Windrunner Village a three days ride from here?”

Sylvanas turned her head just enough to shoot a mischievous grin over her shoulder. “Not the way we’re travelling.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Sylvanas. Sylvanas!

Jaina got her answer when they rounded the corner and happened upon a massive sunset-coloured dragonhawk. Upon seeing them, it balked at the rope that tethered it to one of the reinforced sides of the stables. A crack appeared in the wall around the bolt that held the rope in place, and Jaina took a wary step back.

Before she could get very far, Sylvanas grabbed her hand. “Come on,” she murmured, giving Jaina’s hand a gentle squeeze. “It’s going to be fine. I promise.”

Taking a deep breath, Jaina allowed herself to be led forward. The dragonhawk’s serpentine head swung round, and it glared at her with one molten eye. Slowly, Sylvanas drew her up to the beast, moving around its wings so that she could bring Jaina to its narrow flank. There, a long saddle had been attached. Leather straps looped around the dragonhawk’s sinuous body, buckled into place.

“I’ll give you a leg up,” Sylvanas said.

“You can’t be serious,” Jaina replied breathlessly. The dragonhawk was glaring at her over its wing, its body tense as if ready to strike at the first wrong move. “Shouldn’t you go first? Or maybe we should just portal down there. I can summon a perfectly good portal, you know!”

Chuckling, Sylvanas went down on one knee and laced her fingers together. “No portals. We’re doing it the fun way.”

“I’ll have you know portals are very fun. There's only a thirty-two percent chance your molecular structure will be ripped into a thousand thousand pieces. This thing on the other hand looks to be eighty percent angry and twenty percent hungry,” Jaina said, even as she stepped carefully onto Sylvanas’ hands and was boosted up into the saddle. Despite the boost, she still struggled to get her leg over the dragonhawk’s back, afraid that she might slip down the other side and fall on its wing.

“Says the mage.”

With her usual dash of grace, Sylvanas leapt up behind her. There was only one set of stirrups, which Sylvanas slipped her booted feet into, gently guiding Jaina’s legs forward with a nudge of her toe at Jaina’s calves. Jaina tried not to seem too stiff at the sudden substantial amount of contact, but it was difficult when her back was pressed against Sylvanas’ front. It was even more difficult when Sylvanas murmured an apology and reached both arms around Jaina to grab the reins.

When she had the reins firmly in her grasp, Sylvanas said, “Alright, I’m going to need you to do something for me.”

“What?” Jaina told herself that she definitely did not squeak.

She could feel the warm huff of Sylvanas’ laughter against the back of her neck. Suddenly, Jaina wished she hadn’t taken to tying her hair in a braid after that night.

“Nothing dangerous, don’t worry. You see that leather strap there?” Sylvanas pointed without dropping the reins. When Jaina nodded, she said, “Unhook it, and then hold on tight.”

“Ok.” Jaina breathed in and out a few times. “Ok. I can do that.”

Reaching down, Jaina tugged at the buckle on the strap. It wouldn’t give, and then, finally, she managed to pull it free. The moment she had done so, Jaina grabbed hold of the saddle horn between her legs and held on for dear life.

Nothing happened.

With a light cluck of her tongue, Sylvanas nudged the dragonhawk with her heels and pulled its head to the right. The dragonhawk shook its head against the reins, but turned its body away from the manor. Jaina held her breath and closed her eyes when it stretched out its wings, which glimmered like the dawn. She could feel Sylvanas squeeze her knees together and heard the snap of reins.

The world lurched. Then a rush of air like a torrent. It whipped at them, a furious upwards wind that faded into a downdraft as they swooped so severely Jaina could have sworn her stomach was left behind on the ground. The dragonhawk struggled to gain height in the air, flapping its wings before it had risen high enough that it could fly without bobbing up and down like a buoy.

After a few minutes of Jaina hunched over the saddlehorn, she felt a nudge at her side.

“You can open your eyes now,” Sylvanas teased over the whistle of the wind.

Jain did so. They were gliding just beneath the thick cover of cloud. Quel’Thalas drifted below them, far enough that Jaina felt dizzy when she looked down, and she immediately jerked her head up again. Already she could see that they were going to soon pass over a port lined with elven ships.

“You have a navy?” she asked, not daring to remove one of her hands from the saddlehorn to point.

Sylvanas snorted. “Yes. A shit one.” When Jaina craned her neck to keep studying the port as they flew over, Sylvanas said, “I can take you there another day, if you’d like.”

Jaina nodded. “Yes, please.”

She couldn’t see Sylvanas’ face from this angle, but she could feel Sylvanas shake her head. The wind was too loud to hear much, but she could have sworn she heard Sylvanas mutter affectionately, “Kul Tirans.”

By horse, it would have taken them ages to travel what was in essence the length of Quel’Thalas. By dragonhawk however, it took mere hours. Three quarters of the way through the flight, Jaina finally found the confidence to relax. Plus, her hands ached from gripping the saddlehorn so tightly. When she leaned back a bit however, she tensed again, realising that the motion made her rest fully against Sylvanas.

If Sylvanas noticed, she did not say anything. In fact at one point, Sylvanas said, “Take these for a second,” and pushed the reins into Jaina’s hands.

“Wait -! What?”

But Sylvanas was already leaning back and casually rummaging through one of the saddlebags strapped behind her. “You’re doing great. Just keep him steady. And don’t let him go swooping after anything deer-shaped.”

“That’s not funny!”

A low chuckle, and the clink of whatever Sylvanas was rummaging through. “Oh, I know. I wasn’t being funny that time.”

Which meant Jaina was studiously staring at the back of the dragonhawk’s crested head in the event that it might see something and decide to spin them into a dive so that it could snatch up a meal. When Sylvanas took the reins back, Jaina breathed a sigh of relief.

By the time they landed at Windrunner Spire, it was just past midday. Jaina slid from the dragonhawk’s back and onto blessed solid earth once more. Sylvanas hopped down beside her with one of the saddlebags slung over her shoulder. The dragonhawk gamely accepted a pat on its long neck, and even nudged its beak at the saddlebag over Sylvanas’ shoulder.

“That’s not for you.” Sylvanas pushed its head away. The dragonhawk butted against her arm, and she grunted, staggering back a step from the strength of the impact.

They had landed near the stables, and two attendants had come rushing out upon their arrival. With a wave in their direction, Sylvanas turned back to Jaina and jerked her head towards the Spire, “This way.”

The dragonhawk had begun to snap at the attendants, who were making shooing motions with their hands and trying to get a hold of the long lead that trailed from its neck. Jaina hurried after Sylvanas, glancing over her shoulder towards the attendants as she went.

“Are they going to be alright?” she asked.

Sylvanas made a dismissive gesture without looking around. “They’ll be fine. Welcome to my ancestral home, by the way.” She did not pause, continuing her long-legged strides, as she pointed to various things in their path. “That way is the village. Those over there are actually anchors for the leylines that act like ramparts, or so I’m told. We’ve never had to use them. Not since I’ve been alive, anyway. Those are the three spires. I used to have my rooms in that one over there, but I was always sneaking over into Alleria’s room in that tower because bothering her was my favourite hobby.”

“That sounds familiar,” Jaina quipped.

Sylvanas grinned over at her as they walked. “Youngest sister, yes? Even more annoying.”

Jaina nudged Sylvanas’ shoulder with her own. “I’m telling Vereesa you said that.”

“Good!”

Jaina tried to take in everything as they went, but Sylvanas’ clipped pace meant she didn’t have the time to pause and admire everything Sylvanas pointed out. A circular raised platform was connected to all three spires by a a bridge. Sylvanas strode up onto the platform and promptly sat down at the edge, one leg dangling over the long fall beneath her with the ease of someone who had done this a thousand times in the past and who would do it a thousand times in the future.

Jaina hesitated to sit too near that edge herself. The open-aired platform made her feel a bit uneasy even when standing in the centre. She felt like one stiff breeze could knock her right off.

Sylvanas was pulling items from the saddlebag and arranging them on the floor next to her. A meal packaged in waxed paper, and a bottle of wine accompanied by two glasses carefully wrapped in cloth. Jaina sat, cross-legged, beside her so that lunch was spread between them. Carefully, she leaned forward somewhat to peer down over the edge.

“As much as I admire the beauty of elven architecture, I’ll never get over how spindly it looks,” Jaina remarked, sitting immediately back.

With a huff of laughter, Sylvanas uncorked the bottle of wine, its label so aged Jaina couldn’t read it. “And I’ll always think human architecture looks like a giant sat on it.”

Jaina opened her mouth to protest, but paused and thought about it. “Well, yes. That’s fair.”

In a wordless question, Sylvanas held the bottle over Jaina’s glass. Jaina nodded. “Thank you.”

While Sylvanas poured them each a glass, Jaina pulled open the paper that held their food. She blinked in surprise upon seeing a series of glyphs drawn onto the wax paper, tilting her head to one side in order to read them. They were preservation runes mixed with a very minor flame spell, cleverly designed to maintain the heat and freshness of whatever it had been used to package. She froze when she saw what was wrapped inside.

“Sylvanas?”

“Hmm?” Sylvanas set down the bottle.

Jaina pointed. “Are we having fancy elven wine with fish n’ chips for lunch?”

Reaching out, Sylvanas snagged a strip of fried potato and popped it into her mouth. “We are.”

With an incredulous laugh, Jaina pushed the paper down more so that they could both reach it better. Three golden fillets of crumbed fish left grease stains on the paper. Jaina tore off a wide section of the paper and used it to handle a fillet so as to not dirty her hands too much. Before she took a bite however, she glanced around.

“I don’t suppose we have any -?”

Immediately, Sylvanas pulled out a vial of malted vinegar from the saddlebag and tossed it to her. Jaina caught it, startled, then blinked in surprise. “How did you -?”

“I know it may shock you, but I am capable of reading a book,” Sylvanas said with one of her tell-tale grins. “I am also capable of taking full advantage of the newly established trade routes between Quel’Thalas and Kul Tiras.”

Jaina uncorked the vial and splashed a bit of vinegar onto her fillet. When she took that first bite, she closed her eyes and groaned in pleasure. Looking up at Sylvanas, she sighed around a mouthful, “You’re wonderful.”

At that, Sylvanas’ smile faltered. She hid it well, picking up another chip and proceeding to eat in earnest, but Jaina could recognise the slip all the same.

Wait. When had that happened? Jaina’s chewing slowed. She stared down at the pile of fish n’ chips. When had she grown so adept at reading Sylvanas’ micro expressions? Had she always been able to notice them? When had Sylvanas’ cool solemnity become a veneer that could Jaina could peek past, like pulling aside a curtain to see the stage props behind an actor?

Sylvanas recovered quickly, making light of Jaina’s off-handed comment, steering their conversation to safer harbours. Jaina tagged along, more than happy to be amused by her wife’s puckish chatter. Together, they finished lunch until only a few chips remained, having gone soggy now that the glyphs on the wax paper had been broken.

“Thank you,” Jaina said when their talk had slowed. “This was a lovely surprise for my birthday.”

Around the stem of her wine glass, Sylvanas held up one finger. “I do have one more thing. Though I’m not sure it can be considered a gift.”

Curious, Jaina craned her neck while Sylvanas used her free hand to pull something from a pouch at her belt. She put down her own glass -- her second, and mostly drained. Sylvanas turned and held out a letter.

Or -- not a letter. An invitation. Jaina took it. She flipped it over, running her hand along the thick card stock. It hadn’t been sealed yet. Opening it, she slid the invitation out to read its contents. She inhaled sharply through her nose. Not just any old invitation. An invitation to their own wedding anniversary, due to be held in Boralus in a mere five months.

“This a draft of the ones that are set to be delivered in two weeks,” Sylvanas said, sipping at her wine and watching Jaina’s reaction carefully. “We can change the styling on it, if you want.”

“No, this is fine. This is -” Feeling swept, Jaina ran her fingertips over the embossed script. “Has it really been that long already? It feels like I just arrived here.”

Sylvanas hummed. “I know the feeling. When you live as long as we do, time has a way of slowing to a crawl. It can be maddening, but sometimes with the right person a lifetime can feel like an instant.”

Her voice softened while she spoke, and a wistful expression crossed her face. She did not look at Jaina, instead thoughtfully studying the contents of her glass before lifting it to her lips.

Without thinking, Jaina wondered aloud, “Do high elves have divorce?”

Sylvanas choked, coughing on her drink. “What?”

Realising how that must have sounded, Jaina’s eyes widened. “Not like that!” she insisted. “No! No no no! I was just -- you know -- you said all of that as if you’d experienced it before, and I was wondering if this was the first time you’d ever -” she gestured between the two of them, “But then I realised I didn’t know if elves even got divorced, or had laws for divorce, or precedence or whatever. How does your legal system work, anyway? Is it a system of common law or -?”

Putting down her glass, Sylvanas rubbed at her forehead. “One of these days, you’re going to give me a heart attack,” she sighed. “To answer your questions: it’s a civil law system; elves can get a divorce; it’s not technically called ‘divorce’ and it works a bit differently, though I understand the comparison; and no, I have never been married before.”

“And why not?” Jaina asked. “Was marriage something you never wanted?”

Sylvanas laughed, a low chuckle with a wry edge. She shook her head and took another sip of her wine before saying, “When I was young I had a very clear idea of what my wedding would be like, what kind of person I would marry, and how my life would be with them. Needless to say, life has a way of diverting one’s expectations.” She tilted her glass to Jaina as if in a mock toast. “I never expected to marry a human, or to marry for politics instead of love. I certainly never expected to make my spouse unhappy.”

“I’m not -” Jaina almost lied, then cut herself off with a grimace. “I mean -- it’s getting better. Things are looking up. And it’s not you. I swear it’s not. You don’t make me unhappy.”

“What a ringing endorsement,” Sylvanas drawled with that flair of self-deprecating humour she preferred.

“Please. You are the only thing making this situation bearable,” Jaina said with as much earnestness as she could muster. After a moment, she added, “Ithedis helps, too.”

“I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to know.”

Sylvanas was refusing to meet her eye, and Jaina’s blood ran cold. Swallowing thickly, Jaina started to ask, “Are you -? Um -?” Her hands were trembling. She had to fight the urge to squeeze them together in her lap for fear of crumpling the anniversary invitation. “Are you unhappy?”

Before this moment, Jaina had never thought to ask that. The idea had never struck her that Sylvanas was anything but perfectly content to sail through their marriage for the good of her people and no other reason. Now, the mere notion that she may have been just as unhappy sent a jolt of fear racing down Jaina's spine.

Rather than answer immediately -- Tides, but Jaina wished Sylvanas had just answered immediately, that she denied it, that she flashed one of her signature roguish grins, made everything better, and put Jaina's mind at ease, like she was so good at doing -- Sylvanas gazed contemplatively into the distance. The sun was sinking towards the horizon, sweeping the world in bright lilac hues; it would be evening before long. She idly swirled the dregs of her glass before setting it down.

“It’s getting better.”

Without further explanation, Sylvanas pushed herself to her feet. She offered her hand to Jaina. “We should start heading back. It’s getting dark.”

 


 

The weeks passed. Jaina found a new rhythm. She accepted Elosai's proposal. She started personal lessons three days a week at the Academy, and led seminars with the Novices on another day, giving her a day in Dalaran and two days of time for rest, which of course she used to lock herself away in her personal library at Goldenbough for more study. Just as Elosai had predicted, within a month Jaina was promoted to a full member of the Kirin Tor, and presented with a new set of robes at a small ceremony in Dalaran.

Jaina had sent an excited letter to her mother with the news, hoping Katherine could attend the ceremony. In return she received a long glowing letter, complete with an apology at the end saying that her mother was detained at sea and could not pull herself away from her duties. In the end, only Sylvanas and Ithedis attended. Afterwards, Sylvanas insisted on taking Jaina out and being seen at a restaurant in Dalaran.

These days, it was rare for the two of them to see one another outside of the occasional meal at the manor. She still reserved dinners with Sylvanas, but the they were both busy enough that dinner and bed were the only times they reliably saw one another.

If it bothered Sylvanas, she did not complain. Though after their visit to Windrunner Spire, Jaina had grown far more suspicious of Sylvanas’ silences. Her wife seemed to speak as much with silence as she did with words, perhaps more so. Often Jaina found herself studying Sylvanas across the dinner table -- Sylvanas had purchased a Kul Tiran dining set to go on another side of the banquet hall, though she herself continued to eat with her hands rather than use the utensils that Jaina preferred -- but Sylvanas was as adept as ever at deflecting scrutiny with an easy laugh and a terrible joke.

Had her humour grown more self-deprecating over the last few months? Jaina couldn’t tell. Maybe Sylvanas had always held herself in such low esteem, and simply hid it well.

“Lady Proudmoore, are you paying attention?”

Jaina jerked. Elosai was frowning at her, not unkindly but curiously. “Yes!” Jaina said, straightening her shoulders. “Sorry, Magistrix.”

They were standing in Elosai’s office space, far larger than Jaina’s own office space, which -- Jaina had noted with intense relief when she’d first been assigned it -- was little more than a glorified broom cupboard with a single window. Meanwhile, the Magistrix’s circular office had enough space for magical baubles and statues and even an open second floor library connected to the ground floor by a floating spiral staircase.  She had been forced to beg Elosai to give her the worst office in the building, which the Magistrix had granted with great reluctance and no small amount of confusion.

Elosai lowered the scroll she had been reading aloud. Her usual expression of calm had been marred with genuine concern; she had a knack for earnestness that Jaina always appreciated. “It’s unlike you to be so distracted. Is there something on your mind?”

Opening her mouth, Jaina scrambled for a lie and decided instead to settle for a half-truth -- she had never been very good at lying, anyway. “Some of the Novices have been asking me questions that I’m not sure how best to answer.”

“I’m assuming these questions are of a personal nature?” Elosai asked. When Jaina nodded, the Magistrix hummed. “That’s not unusual, especially when the younger ones take a liking to you. I wouldn’t concern yourself too much over it. Answer what you can, and don’t be afraid to tell them they’re crossing a line if they pry too much.”

“Of course,” Jaina cleared her throat. “I just don’t want to anger the institution or any parents with my answers about humans and -- things.”

“You have a level head on your shoulders, Lady Proudmoore. I trust you to not say anything of an inflammatory nature.” Elosai’s voice gentled. “Is there anything else?”

For a brief wild moment, Jaina almost blurted out everything, as if the first friendly face were a repository for all her woes. Her worries that other Apprentices and Magisters were starting to resent her for how quickly she rose through the ranks. Her worries that her pride was over-inflating her actual abilities. Her worries that she wasn’t a good teacher to an ever growing group of Novices that seemed to trail around the Academy after her like a gaggle of excited geese. Her worries that Sylvanas was only ever concerned about Jaina and never about herself. Her concerns that Sylvanas wasn’t talking to her about anything of substance, that their relationship was already starting to stagnate so early in their marriage, that she herself had no idea how to stop it from happening, so that she felt she was standing on a cliff and watching the chasm between them widen beyond her control.

Instead, Jaina swallowed it all down. Maybe Elosai could have helped her with a few of those anxieties, but it wouldn’t do for Jaina to go blabbing about strains in her incredibly politically important marriage. So, she plastered on a smile, shook her head, and said, “No! Nothing at all! You were saying something about arcane constructs?”

 


 

While intellectually Jaina had always understood Sylvanas’ forced leave would come to and end, she had never quite gotten around to preparing for it. The day came when Sylvanas was reading her latest field report after dinner, and she announced casually at the table that she would be leaving for the border the next morning.

Jaina almost dropped her cup of tea. “I’m sorry -- what?”

Not looking up from the report, Sylvanas repeated herself with the same air of calm assurance, “I need to go early tomorrow. There’s been an increase of activity along our eastern border. Probing attacks and other reconnaissance. Vereesa thinks it’s a tactic to divert our attention from the south and split our forces, but I’m not so convinced. The Amani wouldn’t leave Zul’Aman so poorly defended and push all their resources into a full-on assault from the south. It would leave their capital at our mercy. And if their capital falls, they fall.”

“Oh,” Jaina breathed.

“Mmm.”

Jaina sipped at her tea in an attempt to steel herself; a good strong cup of tea always helped. Then, still cupping her mug, she said, “I think I should go with you.”

Sylvanas blinked, then stared at her over the top of the field report. A thousand questions seemed to run through her mind, before she settled on an incredulous, “Why?”

Clearing her throat, Jaina set her tea down on the table. “Ithedis, could you give us some privacy, please?”

Without question, Ithedis left his post at the entrance and closed the door behind them so that they were alone in their corner of the banquet hall.

Sylvanas watched him go, her face blank with shock, then looked back at Jaina. “Are you feeling sick?”

“What?” Jaina was taken aback. “No! Why is that your first question?”

Folding up the field report, Sylvanas used it to gesture at Jaina. “Because from the looks of it you’re actually initiating a serious conversation.”

Despite herself, Jaina could not help but fiddle with her teacup, running her finger along its rim. “I suppose I am.”

She paused for a moment, but Sylvanas had leaned back and was waiting for Jaina to continue. Straightening in her seat, Jaina drew in a deep breath before starting. “I don’t think having that much distance between us would be good right now.”

“And I think that your studies at the Academy are more important than endangering your life,” Sylvanas countered calmly.

“Technically speaking, I’m a Magistrix now -- low ranking, I’ll grant you -- but I only teach Novice seminars, so I have no real obligations at the Academy. Plus, I won’t be in danger. I’m more than capable of handling myself, thank you.”

At that, Sylvanas’ eyebrows rose. She turned the field report over between her hands, but never took her gaze off Jaina. “Let me see if I understand what you’re saying: you want to go onto the front lines of a warzone, because you’re afraid of us growing distant.”

“I -” Jaina grabbed her tea and took another sip, mumbling around the lip of her cup, “I don’t want to not see you.”

Sylvanas snorted. “Is that your way of saying you’ll miss me?”

“Sylvanas, please. I’m being serious.”

“So am I.”

Jaina lowered her teacup. A few months ago, she would have said that Sylvanas’ expression was inscrutable. Now, Sylvanas looked like she was holding her breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It was Jaina’s turn to soften her voice. “I enjoy your company. You know that, right? You always find a way to make me laugh.”

Sylvanas’ ears twitched ever so slightly, and she leaned her head back as if drawing in a sharp breath that Jaina could not hear. Looking contemplative, she murmured, “And apparently you always find a way to surprise me.”

Jaina shrugged and offered an apologetic little smile.

Deep in thought, Sylvanas tapped the field report against her cheek. “I suppose we can find a good way to spin this,” she mused aloud. “We can say I’m giving you a tour of the troops. Involving you on the front lines can be a show of good faith between our militaries.” Then, she chuckled darkly. “If you die, your mother will probably have me assassinated.”

“Oh, no. Definitely not.” Jaina shook her head. “If I died, she’d kill you herself.”

Sylvanas’ grin widened and her eyes brightened. “Now wouldn’t that be a scandal.”

As usual, Jaina couldn’t help but return the smile. “In all seriousness though, let’s not have a troll kill me.”

“You won’t start fights at fancy balls with me. You won’t let yourself be impaled by a troll.” Sylvanas tsked and shook her head. “The list grows longer everyday. And everyday I am disappointed.”

Jaina wadded up one of the napkins from the table and threw it at her. “And you’ll keep on being disappointed.”

Rather than bat the napkin aside, Sylvanas let it hit her square in the face.

 


 

If Jaina had thought the heat was bad before, it was nothing compared to travelling in the field and living without a proper bath for weeks on end.

“You should have warned me about this.”

Sylvanas rolled her eyes. “I did warn you. You just weren’t listening.”

Fighting back a smile, Jaina schooled her features. “When? I don’t specifically remember you saying ‘Jaina, conditions in the field will be horrible and by week three you’ll wish you got impaled by a troll.’”

“I had assumed that exact phrase was implied every time I said ‘Jaina, we’re going out into an active warzone,’” Sylvanas drawled.

They were riding at the head of a long column of Rangers. Their mounts trudged, side-by-side, as they had since disembarking from Goldenbough. Back in Quel’Thalas, Jaina had been able to employ various magical means to cool herself off while they travelled, but ever since they had crossed into dangerous territory four days ago, she’d had to abandon those tactics. Sylvanas had warned that any superfluous magic use might alert enemy shamans, and Jaina had stopped using magic since then unless otherwise instructed.

Thickly forested mountains rose up on either side of them, raking against the overcast sky. In the past, Jaina had always loved the rain. The smell of it, how it seemed to bring the earth to life, how cool and gentle. It had only taken her one rainy season in Quel’Thalas to come to the conclusion that rain was something to be avoided like the plague. She looked up towards the sky, which bore heavy black patches of cloud, and hoped beyond hope they could make it to the next camp before the downpour began.

“It’s odd, isn’t it?” Jaina said, lowering her gaze and guiding her horse along the narrow path that wound through the mountains. “In all my readings, historians tend to gloss over this kind of stuff.”

“I imagine suffering doesn’t make for good propaganda.” Sylvanas tugged up the hood of her cloak, obviously taking note of the clouds just as Jaina had.

Jaina glanced at her. “A few centuries tarnishes the romance, does it?”

She could just see the edge of a wry smile around the edge of Sylvanas’ hood. “Something like that.”

They continued along the road, quiet but for the march of feet behind them as the battalion of Rangers followed in their wake. Jaina looked over her shoulder at the long line of troops extending along the road. Roughly six or seven hundred soldiers by Jaina’s count. Large enough for limited independent operations. Small enough to slip from camp to camp towards the front lines and reattach itself to a larger regiment. The lieutenant colonel in charge of the battalion itself rode beside Ithedis, and the two of them were conversing in low tones. Apparently, the colonel knew his eldest daughter and held her in high regard.

“Do you remember when we went to the seamstress’ shop? You asked me about the march on Zul’Aman.”

The sound of Sylvanas’ voice dragged Jaina’s attention back around. She turned to look at her, but Sylvanas’ face was still largely obscured by her hood now. “I remember. Why do you mention it?”

Sylvanas adjusted her grip on the reins of her mount before answering. “You thought it was funny -- the idea that I could have killed a thousand people.”

“I -” Jaina tried to say something, but her mouth had gone dry. She swallowed. “Yes. I mean, on your own -?”

“Forty two thousand casualties,” Sylvanas said. Her words lacked any inflection; she sounded far too aloof. “And that was just the enemy losses. In one battle, I might add. Not to mention -” she waved her hand in an all encompassing gesture, “- everything else.”

Frowning, Jaina tried to lean forward in her stirrups a bit to get a better look at Sylvanas’ expression. “I know what you do, Sylvanas. I know that the titles you hold aren’t just for show.”

Sylvanas hummed, a thoughtful hum, as though she were unconvinced. She tilted her head to meet Jaina’s eye, and while her face was not implacable, it was not soft either. “Of course, you do. And I don’t intend this to be some sob story of tortured self-reflection. Only that -- yes. The romance of what I do has died. It died long before I ever reached this rank. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think there are things worth fighting and dying for. If I had the choice, I would kill those forty two thousand trolls again. Except next time I would do it with more artillery.”

Jaina blinked. Whatever she had been expecting, it had not been that. “And what prompted you to bring this up?”

Sylvanas shrugged. “In all likelihood, you will see battle. Possibly on this trip. Most definitely in your lifetime.”

“I’m guessing there’s a moral to this story, right?” Jaina tried to make light of the situation as best she could.

“Oh, yes. There are three, in fact.” To her relief, Sylvanas smiled, but it had a cold steely edge. “A good general is a general who wins. There is no nobility in suffering. And you can never have too much artillery.”

And with that, Sylvanas turned her attention back to the road ahead of them, leaving Jaina mystified. They did not speak again for a while; Sylvanas seemed content riding in silence, while Jaina watched the treeline above them, letting her horse do all the work and not paying much attention to where they were headed. Two birds flew overhead, one darting after the other before they vanished beyond the canopy.

After a moment, the exact same two birds flew overhead, one darting after the other before they vanished beyond the canopy in the same direction as before.

Jaina frowned. “Well, that was -” she made a face. “- odd.”

“Hmm?” Sylvanas hummed beside her, only mildly curious.

Pointing towards the sky, Jaina said, “I thought I just saw -”

Two birds flew overhead. The same two birds in the same direction and in the exact same pattern. Dip and dart and a flash of red-tipped wings.

“Sylvanas,” Jaina said slowly, moving her gaze around to study their surroundings. “When was the last time the lieutenant colonel sent out a scouting group?”

That caught Sylvanas’ attention. She stiffened and pulled sharply at her reins. Jaina did the same, her heat beginning to race in her chest. While Sylvanas said something to the lieutenant colonel behind them in Thalassian, Jaina stared at the treeline. It was so faint, the wrongness of everything in that moment. Tiny details leapt out at her. Not inconsistencies, but rather the absolute consistency of foliage and branches. Even the sounds were too regular, as if everything were repeating a script.

Without looking over, Jaina reached out and grabbed Sylvanas arm. “We need to leave. Now.”

Sylvanas finished what she was saying to the lieutenant colonel, and lowered her voice to speak to Jaina. “We are stretched in a line to fit on the road. If we run, there will be a slaughter.”

“There’s going to be a slaughter if we don’t,” Jaina hissed.

Eyes narrowing, Sylvanas pulled her arm from Jaina’s grasp. “Ithedis,” she snapped.

He rode up beside them. The road barely allowed for them to ride three abreast.

Sylvanas jerked her head back the way they had come. “Take her and go.”

“What?!” Jaina said, aghast, but Ithedis was already snatching up Jaina’s reins and pulling her horse around. “Sylvanas, you can’t just -!”

Ignoring her, Sylvanas barked over her shoulder, “Colonel, are they ready?”

“As ready as they’ll ever be.”

“Then let’s go.”

Jaina tried to pull the reins away from Ithedis, but his grip was iron. He urged her mount as fast as it could go behind his. As they cantered along, the lines of soldiers they passed had picked up their pace until they were running as fast as they could without scrambling over one another.

“What is going on?” Jaina yelled to Ithedis over the pounding of hooves and the stamp of booted feet.

He did not spare her a glance back. “The only way out of the killing zone, my Lady, is forward. Except for you. The ambushers will focus on the main force. They won’t bother coming after us.”

The first sounds of an attack bellowed through the air: the call of horns and answering shouts. Swearing loudly, she twisted her body around to try to catch a glimpse of what was going on behind them. An arrow streaked towards her. She ducked, and the arrow went skittering away through the trees.

With grit teeth, Jaina lunged forward, grabbing Ithedis by the wrist. The first flicker of magic was absorbed, then a jolt raced up his arm, a streak like white lightning that left her blinking smears of purple from her vision. Ithedis grunted, but did not loosen his hold as he took in the magic, his eyes flaring white.

“Let me go!” Jaina sent another bolt of arcane energy careening up his arm. “I have to go back! I can help them!”

“I am sworn to -!”

Whatever he had been about to say was cut off by a sudden cry of pain as she released a focused torrent of magic into his wrist. His armour had begun to trail smoke and the stench of burnt flesh, and his hand spasmed. It was just enough for Jaina to grab the reins and pull back.

Her horse skidding to a halt, rearing back on its hind legs and snorting with a toss of its head. Jaina half fell, half jumped from the saddle, landing on the muddy ground and scrambling upright. She whirled around and raced back the way they came.

“My Lady, don’t -! Stop! Jaina!”

Before he could come after her, she had reached out her arm, a portal spell upon her lips. She fell into it with a gasp. For a moment there was a blank, chilling darkness. Then she tumbled out the other side. More mud. Jaina slipped trying to stand, barely catching herself. Panting, she glanced around, but found only calm empty road.

Too far. She’d gone too far.

Behind her, a cohort of trolls were firing back along the road, harassing the Ranger battalion, which had turned into the main body of the ambush and were engaging the enemy. She could not understand the glottal language they were speaking, but she didn’t need to. Two ballistas, lines of archers, and a single masked shaman leading them all. All Jaina had was a chance to take them by surprise before she would be discovered and overwhelmed.

Fire? No. She’d have to take them down all at once. Ice? No. Not ice. Even if she did manage to freeze them all, the shaman would find a way to break free. Or maybe -?

Her eyes widened. “Oh! I know!”

She snapped her fingers, and time stopped.

The ballistas froze, coiled back and ready to be launched. Several of the archers were caught mid-fire, their arrows stopped just as they’d been shot. A ball of potent lightning continued to crackle eerily in the shaman’s grasp, though the shaman himself had been rendered immobile.

“Thank you,” Jaina gasped to an absent Magister Duskwither. “Oh, thank you thank you thank you.”

She had mere moments. The rest of the battle below was continuing, her sphere of influence contained around the smaller cohort of trolls that were blocking the road. Rushing forward, Jaina sprinted towards the ballistas first.

They were constructs of wood and rope, but when she placed her hand on one she could feel the glyphs carved into the wood grain, warding them from enemy spellfire. It would take her too long to completely unravel the glyphs and destroy the ballistas. Already she could feel time starting to slip around her, like grains of sand slowly gaining speed as they fell to the bottom of a glass. She couldn’t unravel the glyphs in time, but she could rewrite them.

With a shaking fingertip, Jaina scorched new lines into the major glyphs. The world around her was filling with colour and sound, like a cup being filled as time washed about her ankles. The shaman was slowly turning his head towards her, the eyes of his mask burning with pale fire.

Drawing her arm back, Jaina slammed her open palm into the centre of the glyphs, and the ballistas shattered. Great splinters of wood were flung in all directions like shrapnel. With her free hand summoning an arcane barrier, Jaina warded herself from the bulk of the blow, but the burst of magic flung her back and time started again.

Jaina’s ears rang. Her vision had gone a dull grey. Or -- oh no, that was the sky. She was lying on her back, staring up at the clouds. Shaking the ringing from her ears, Jaina pushed herself into a seated position on the ground, but stopped with a hiss. One of her shoulders ached. A stab of pain pierced when she moved. Cautiously, she reached around and pulled a chunk of wood from the back of her shoulder, tossing it to the ground.

The side of her face stung as well, and an exploring hand discovered smaller splinters all along one cheek and jaw. She winced, but otherwise felt no other injuries. A deep-throated growl snapped her attention back up, and her eyes widened.

The archers were all dead, their bodies sprawled across the gore-streaked ground amidst the twisted remains of the ballistas. A lone figure struggled upright, the shaman’s broad-shouldered form rising above the others to stand. One of his long curved tusks had been cleaved in two from the blow, but his own shield of arcane energy shimmered as it faded from view.

He turned towards her, and Jaina tensed. His mask had been knocked off, but his long narrow face was painted beneath in the pattern of a black-inked skull. His expression was contorted in fury, and he bared long wickedly sharp teeth as he began to advance upon her.

Jaina scrambled back. She tried to stand, but a vine lashed out from the ground at the shaman’s command, chaining her in place. The counterspell was on the tip of Jaina’s tongue, but she stumbled over the phrasing as the troll sprinted towards her with long-legged strides, his fists brimming with the snap of lightning. He snarled, leaping forward, and Jaina squeezed her eyes shut, flinging out her hand in a blind upward strike.

She heard a sickening, wet and crunching sound, then felt cool air gently caressing the side of her face. Slowly, Jaina opened her eyes, her hand still raised. The shaman was impaled through his chest by a glacial spike, his body speared and suspended over her. With a gasp, she shuffled back, but her boots and breeches were already splattered with his blood and other matter that she didn’t care to identify right at this moment. For a moment Jaina thought she was going to be sick, but she swallowed the bile down and struggled to her feet.

She didn’t wait to catch her breath. Staggering forward, Jaina hurried down the road. Without the support of their archers and ballistas, the main body of the ambush had buckled under the chaos of an assault from a disciplined Ranger battalion. The trolls were fleeing, outnumbered and outmatched despite their position, leaving behind a battered but very much living battalion of elves.

Or, at least, mostly living.

A host of Rangers led by the lieutenant colonel were pursuing the trolls that were in fast retreat, firing arrows and tracking their movements to ensure they would not return and attempt to flank them. Others were dragging the bodies of the dead to one side of the road and stacking them up. Others still were helping the wounded to their feet or assessing the severity of the damage done while a pair of healers worked steadily through their ranks.

Some of them glanced up at Jaina’s approach. Most ignored her to focus on their individual tasks, working to get the battalion up and moving again as quickly as possible so that they could make it to the forward camp. Jaina searched among them for a familiar face, walking quickly, her heart sinking with every step.

“Lady Proudmoore!”

Jaina’s head jerked, and she looked up to find Ithedis heading right for her. His damaged arm hung limply at his side, and her stomach seared with guilt. A jagged cut ran along his helm, cleaving one of the flanged plates that protected his cheek, but beneath he was unharmed.

He stopped before her and with his good hand cupped her chin, tilting her face to one side to appraise her wounds. “Superficial, anar’alah. Are you alright? What happened?”

Biting her lower lip, Jaina pulled away slightly. “I’m fine. I just -”

She jerked her thumb over her shoulder to the wreckage behind her. The ballistas still smouldered, and the glacial spike had yet to melt, leaving the shaman’s body behind like a grim effigy. Ithedis’ eyes widened. He stared at the carnage she had caused, then at her.

“You did this?”

Jaina sucked in a deep breath and nodded. She waited for the scolding, the sharply spoken words, but they never came. Instead, his shoulders drooped and he sighed in relief, “Thank the Light.”

“Have you seen Sylvanas?” Jaina asked, already glancing beneath the hoods of passing Rangers. “I looked but I can’t find her, and I’m worried that she -”

Jaina bit back whatever she had been about to say. Vocalising the fear gave it more substance, made it more real. The concern in Ithedis’ eyes certainly didn’t help.

He pointed down the road from the way he had come, where Rangers bustled about. “She’s that way. The healer is seeing to her now.”

“Healer?” she repeated, but she didn’t wait for his reply.

Stepping past him, Jaina strode in the direction he had pointed. Her steps quickened. She dodged around Rangers and upended carts and horses and other beasts of burden. She searched for that distinctive armour, listened for that familiar voice. When she finally found her, Jaina was breathing hard and her hands shook.

Two Rangers had propped Sylvanas’ back up against the trunk of a tree, and a healer knelt over her. They had removed her armour from the waist up, revealing her dark-washed leathers beneath. She was awash with cuts. Cuts along her face. Cuts along her arms and shoulders. And worst of all a throwing spear imbedded low in her abdomen.

“Just do it,” Sylvanas snapped. “We don’t have all day.”

With a murmured apology, the healer broke the spear in two and pushed it all the way through. Sylvanas did not scream, but she flung her head back against the tree, eyes squeezed shut, and groaned through gritted teeth.

“Fuck you,” she gasped when the healer had finished.

“You always say that,” the healer replied, tossing the broken spear aside, her hands already aglow with light. With a single touch, the healer staunched the flow of blood, and Sylvanas’ wounds began to knit themselves shut.

Before the healer could finish her work however, Sylvanas waved her away. “That’s enough.”

“General, you should really let me -”

“Save your energy and attend to the others? I couldn’t agree more.” Sylvanas opened her eyes to glare at the healer and growl, “Go.”

The healer shook her head and muttered something low and scathing in Thalassian as she strode off to do as she was ordered.

“I heard that,” Sylvanas said after her. When she saw Jaina lingering nearby, her eyebrows rose. “Oh, good. You’re not dead. For a moment there, I really thought I was going to be locked in a knife-fight with your mother, but this is much better.”

The Rangers had taken their leave of their General, as casually as though they had done this a hundred times before. The very thought made Jaina’s stomach swoop unpleasantly. She stepped closer. She opened her mouth to say something, but had to clear her throat before she could speak. “No, I’m not dead. I’m -”

She almost said ‘fine’, but stopped. The words refused to come. Jaina knelt on the ground before her, close enough that their thighs brushed. The hard jut of Sylvanas’ armour was cold against Jaina’s knee, but she did not move away. Rangers continued milling along the road, but Jaina ignored them. They might as well have not existed.

The half-healed scars still bloomed across Sylvanas’ face and abdomen. Intellectually Jaina understood they would fade in a few hours time, but the sight of those pale marks made her blood run cold. The punctured armour had been discarded nearby, and now stood as evidence to the very narrow death Sylvanas had evaded. A pang of fear and something else -- distress? desperation? -- clutched at Jaina's chest, seizing her neck until she could scarcely breathe.

Sylvanas was wincing as she pushed herself into a seated position, gritting her teeth and swearing under her breath. Before she could stop herself, Jaina reached out to brush a smear of blood from Sylvanas’ jaw. Sylvanas went very still and looked up at where Jaina was kneeling over her.

It pounded in her chest, the thought that Sylvanas could have been snatched from her life so quickly, so easily, snuffed out like a dim candle by a merciless breeze. Over nine months they’d been married. Two years since Jaina had first learned of the Ranger-General of Silvermoon. No time at all, in the grand scheme of things. Barely a flicker. Jaina had to swallow past the clenched fist caught in her throat.

She stroked her thumb across Sylvanas’ cheek, across her jaw, across the bridge of her nose, tracing old scars and new. Sylvanas did not move. She watched Jaina’s face. She hissed a sharp inhalation when Jaina’s thumb brushed the corner of her mouth.

Without pausing to think, Jaina leaned down and kissed her. The kiss lingered. It was just a simple meeting of lips, but it made her fingers tremble all the same. Her hand continued cupping Sylvanas’ cheek, even as she closed her eyes, even as she broke the kiss and pulled away, just far enough to lean their foreheads together.

“You’re alright,” Jaina breathed. She did not dare open her eyes; she was too cowardly. She did not want to see Sylvanas’ expression, did not want to know if her actions were going to be rejected or rebuked. “You’re alright.”

After what felt like an age, there followed the gentle scrape of Sylvanas’ gloved hand against the nape of Jaina’s neck, holding her steadily in place. She felt the warm exhalation of Sylvanas’ words when she spoke.

“I’m alright.”

Chapter Text

It only rained for less than an hour. Just enough that Jaina’s clothes were saturated. Then, the clouds drifted back to the barest memory of rain, a light drizzle that misted the air and obscured the golden tops of trees. The ambush, which had taken place late that morning, meant that many of those who had ridden on the road were now without horses to carry them, Sylvanas included.

Ithedis had gone back and fetched his and Jaina’s horses, despite Jaina’s protests that she could walk just fine. As the battalion had readied itself for the continued march east, he had appeared from the treeline, somehow managing to wrangle both steeds and haul himself up into the saddle with only one good arm. On the other hand, Jaina had to help Sylvanas to her feet and all but force her onto one of the horses.

“I’m fine.” Sylvanas tried to wave her away, even as Jaina held onto her upper arm.

“It’s not a problem. Just take my horse.”

“I can ride on one of the wagons with the other injured Rangers. We can commiserate over our shared misfortunes.”

“Or,” Jaina countered, steering her towards the horse, “You can take my horse, and I’ll walk because I’m not injured.”

At that, Sylvanas’ keen eyes fixed upon her. She glared pointedly at the wounds along one of Jaina’s cheeks.

“Oh, no,” Jaina shook her head. “No. You don’t get complain about a few splinters, when you were run through by a spear.”

Before Sylvanas could respond, the lieutenant colonel approached them along the road, walking through a group of Rangers. She stopped nearby and saluted. “General?”

Relenting with a sigh, Sylvanas jerked her head towards the horse, and Jaina helped her up. After she had clambered into the saddle with a grunt of pain, Sylvanas grabbed the reins and said to the colonel, “What’s our status?”

“Ready to continue the march at your command,” the colonel answered smartly.

“And our losses?”

“Ninety four dead. Seventy eight injured. The healers have done what they can for the worst of the injuries, but we need to get to the forward camp as soon as we can to restock and rest.”

Sylvanas’ jaw was set in a grim line. “Then let’s go. I want us there well before dusk.”

With a nod and another salute, the colonel turned and began barking orders to her captains. The Rangers arranged themselves back into their orderly lines, and the air was filled with the familiar creak of armour and rustle of booted feet.

Before Jaina could start walking, Sylvanas held out her hand.

Jaina blinked at it for a moment before understanding what was happening. Reaching out, she grasped Sylvanas’ forearm and hauled herself behind her. The horse shifted beneath their combined weight, its ears flicking with a stamp of one hoof. Once she was there though, Jaina didn’t know what to do with her hands. Sylvanas had pulled her cloak back on and her hood up, but her armour had been put onto a cart and pulled away with the rest of the supply chain, presumably for repairs or scrap. Underneath she wore her battered leathers, revealing glimpses of skin where her injuries had once been.

Not wanting to touch anywhere that might still hurt, Jaina rested her hands on Sylvanas’ shoulders. Without a word, Sylvanas nudged the horse forward. Jaina could feel Sylvanas tense, shoulders and back hunching somewhat. She almost snatched her hands away, then realised Sylvanas was being jostled by the horse’s choppy steps.

“You could have told me this was why you wanted to ride in a cart,” Jaina said. She didn’t have to look around to know that Ithedis was following them on his own mount.

Sylvanas guided the horse around Rangers, making their way to ride at the front of the line. “It’s fine. And you were very insistent.”

“I -” Jaina started to say, but Sylvanas cut her off.

“Forget I said that. It was unfair.” Yanking back on the reins once they had reached the head of the battalion, Sylvanas said, “It’s good for me to be seen back on my feet, as it were.”

When Jaina clenched her hands, she grasped handfuls of Sylvanas’ cloak and grumbled, “You should have told me.”

“I forgot that you wouldn’t know. Most Rangers would have understood. As I said -- it was unfair.”

The horse plodded along the road. Behind them, the battalion marched just as before, except this time they had hooked up carts to the yokes of horses and oxen. Injured Rangers swayed within the carts, some of them chatting easily, others nursing bandaged limbs. As they passed the remains of the ballistas and archers -- the shaman’s body had since slumped to the ground after the glacial spike’s magic had finally faded, Jaina noted with relief -- Sylvanas tilted her head to admire Jaina’s handiwork.

“Not bad,” Sylvanas murmured.

“Better than you.”

Jaina thought she’d muttered it low enough that Sylvanas wouldn’t hear, but Sylvanas snorted with laughter. She stopped with a wince almost immediately.

Leaning forward slightly with a frown, Jaina asked, “Are you sure you’re alright?”

Sylvanas reached over her own shoulder to gently grasp Jaina’s hand, but she would not turn to look at her. “I’m fine.”

After that they rode in silence. Once or twice Jaina tried to initiate conversation, but every time she opened her mouth words escaped her, and her voice died in her throat. The mist grew thick and fast around them, shrouding the battalion on its march through the mountains. Jaina bowed her head, letting her brow rest against Sylvanas’ back. Sylvanas made no comment, and they continued on without a word.

They reached the forward camp well ahead of dark. Temporary wooden walls had been erected all around the encampment, and beyond the walls a series of groundworks -- ditches and stopbanks and stakes dug into the earth to funnel an enemy charge. The gates were winched open for them using a system of cleverly designed pulleys that Jaina could not see from the outside. And inside, Vereesa waited to greet them.

“My scouts gave me the news,” she said by way of hello as Sylvanas swung her leg over the horse’s withers and slid to the ground with a grunt. “You’re lucky to be alive.”

“I think that everyday,” Sylvanas quipped.

Vereesa’s eyebrows rose when Jaina slipped off the horse as well. She nodded her head to Jaina. “It’s good to see you again, Lady Proudmoore, though you’re looking worse for wear than when last we met.”

With a grimace, Jaina touched the side of her face. Her shoulder still stung as well, though the pain was muted. “It looks worse than it is, Lady Windrunner.”

“I wasn’t just referring to the wounds,” Vereesa murmured, ignoring Sylvanas’ sharp look. “I’m afraid I need to steal your wife away for a time; the General and I have much to discuss. You should find yourself a healer and rest. I understand you’ve had a long journey, and I’ve taken the liberty of having my Rangers pitch you a tent.”

“I - uhm -” Jaina glanced at Sylvanas, who nodded.

“I’ll find you later,” Sylvanas assured her.

“Right.” Inclining her head to Vereesa, Jaina said, “Thank you. Where are the healer tents?”

But before Vereesa could answer, Ithedis murmured at Jaina’s side, “This way, my Lady.”

He gently touched her elbow to indicate she should follow him, then lowered his hand. Jaina turned to walk after him, but could not help glancing back over her shoulder. Rangers streamed into the camp, obscuring her direct line of sight. Vereesa and Sylvanas were already striding away, their backs turned, conversing amongst themselves.

Chewing at her lower lip and wishing she could listen in on what they were saying, Jaina trailed in Ithedis’ wake. He had slowed his pace to let her catch up, and together they walked side by side through the camp.

Jaina’s eyes roved down to his bad arm, which he had braced to his chest with a makeshift cloth sling. “I’m sorry about hurting you.”

“I’m glad you did,” he answered. When she stared at him in disbelief, Ithedis said, “Do you not realise the impact you had on the outcome of that ambush?”

“Well, I -” Jaina fumbled for how to respond. “I mean, I noticed the ambush.”

“If you hadn’t destroyed that ballista group, the battalion most likely would have died. All of them.”

She winced at the bluntness of his words. Lowering her gaze to watch the path they walked, Jaina said, “I’m trying not to think too hard about that.”

Ithedis’ next words brought her head snapping right back up. “Have you considered any formal military training, Lady Proudmoore?”

Her footsteps slowed. “Have I -? What?”

He stopped beside her. “Forgive me if I have overstepped. I only ask because of your future role in your own kingdom.”

Ever since her father died, ever since her brothers were claimed by the sea not long after, Jaina had known that being the Heir of Kul Tiras would fall on her shoulders. For all that however, she had never entertained the idea that her mother would actually die. Katherine Proudmoore was and always remained dauntless, a pillar of strength that could weather any storm and overcome any obstacle. On the rare nights that Jaina lay awake, staring at the ceiling, imagining herself as the Lord Admiral, she was an old woman in her mother’s clothes, as if Katherine had never truly died, as if she had simply stepped into Jaina’s shoes and took her place instead.

Jaina had to clear a burr from her throat. “I don’t necessarily have to be a naval tactician to succeed as Lord Admiral. I would have advisors.”

Behind his helm, Ithedis frowned. “Your family did not bother teaching you anything?”

“They never thought that I would -” Jaina started to say, but paused.

Her earliest memories of her father were at sea. In fact, she was hard pressed to recall any memory of Daelin that did not take place on a ship. How he would lift her atop his shoulders while he stood at the prow of his flagship, pointing to the fleet. How she would watch him pour for hours over the charts strewn across the desk of his cabin, pestering him with questions until he answered every last one to the level of detail she demanded. How she had grown up steeped in the fleet until she knew the names of every last ship of the line like the back of her own hand, until she knew what order they should file into line for the most effective broadside attack. How to cross the T. How to read signal flags. How to hold the weather gage.

“They may have taught me a few things,” Jaina finally admitted.

Luckily, that seemed to satisfy Ithedis’ curiosity. He continued walking. All around the camp, Rangers milled about, tirelessly preparing for the coming night and the arrival of their new battalion. They worked in groups, talking in low voices when they caught sight of Jaina and Ithedis.

Jaina sighed. More staring. Great. She supposed her name and title got around even on the front lines of a war.

Though -- she blinked, taken aback -- all the saluting whenever she walked by was definitely new.

“Why are they doing that?” Jaina mumbled, watching yet another group of Rangers stop what they were doing and salute to her.

“They are showing you the deference you deserve,” Ithedis answered in his usual stiff tone.

Jaina shot him an incredulous look. “For what?”

“You single-handedly killed over sixty enemy soldiers, my Lady.”

Swallowing thickly past an ugly taste in her mouth, Jaina said, “Yes, I’m trying not to think too hard about that either.”

He did not offer her a comforting hand on her arm, but his voice gentled, “If ever you need to talk to someone, Lady Proudmoore -”

“Yes, I know.” She offered him a grateful smile. “Thank you.”

Inclining his head, Ithedis stopped by a large tent. It was longer and far broader than all of the other tents dotting the landscape. Where all the tents were a deep blue-green in colour, this one was white. It had no other discernible features, apart from the fact that a stream of Rangers walked in and out, each of them bearing marks of recent battle.

Holding open the tent flap, Ithedis stood to the side. Jaina ducked into the tent and straightened. Rows upon rows of identical cots lined the space. Not all of them were filled, but some of them were. Rangers sat, awaiting treatment, or were lying prone. A handful of healers worked their way steadily through the ranks, assessing patients. They looked like any other Ranger, apart from the fact that they wore only simple leather armour covered in a white tabard.

The one nearest the entrance glanced up when Jaina and Ithedis walked inside. She looked away, then back up again in surprise. Saying something soft to her current patient, she patted their wrist before rising to her feet and approaching Jaina.

“Lady Proudmoore,” she saluted just like the others outside. “Please, come in. Allow me to see to your wounds.”

Raising her hands, Jaina said, “Oh, no. You should really see to the others first. I’m not -”

But the healer was already peering at Jaina’s cheek and shoulder. She walked around Jaina before coming back to stand in front of her. Then, she reached beneath Jaina’s chin and tilted her head to the side, tapping the tip of her tongue against the backs of her teeth in a disapproving sound. “This should be no trouble. May I?”

Jaina gave up and nodded. The healer cupped Jaina’s face between her hands, her touch soft but her palms calloused. With a whispered spell that seemed to thrum through the air, her hands filled with light, which spilled outwards. It did not hurt, but still Jaina squeezed her eyes shut against the sensation of dozens of splinters being pushed from her cheek before her skin could seal itself shut. The pain subsided in her shoulder, and by the time the healer stepped back, all Jaina felt was exhaustion.

“Thank you,” Jaina said.

The healer waved her appreciation away, then frowned at Ithedis. “You, Spellbreaker, will be far more difficult. Your kind have a way of rebuffing any magic, good or bad.” She carefully lifted his bad hand from its sling, turning it this way and that. “Welded to the metal. This will take a while.”

The guilt Jaina had felt before came roaring back. She fidgeted, sliding her fingers over her healed cheek and feeling the faint bump of scars that would fade by morning.

“You should go, Lady Proudmoore,” the healer said to her without looking up from Ithedis’ arm. “This one will take until tomorrow.”

At that, Ithedis looked like he wanted to snatch his hand back and protest. His brow had darkened and his scowl was fierce. He fell silent however, when Jaina placed a hand on his shoulder. “Stay. You don’t need to watch over me here. I’m surrounded by soldiers.”

With great reluctance, Ithedis gave a curt nod. The healer led him towards an open cot, and Jaina ducked back outside.

It had started to drizzle again, skeins of rain unspooling from the edges of tents. Jaina hovered beneath the short awning that provided her a narrow ledge of cover. Peering around the camp, she tried to look for a familiar face -- any familiar face. She would have taken the lieutenant colonel at this point. Or the healer that had tended to Sylvanas in the field.

The Rangers that noticed her presence stopped to salute, and Jaina ducked her head in embarrassment. She could feel an oddly sickening feeling welling up in her throat that had nothing to do with the heat. Steeling herself, Jaina walked out from beneath the awning. She approached one of the Rangers, who was working away from the others, rather than walking straight up to a more formidable group. “Excuse me?”

When the Ranger saw exactly who it was that had addressed her, she offered Jaina a military salute. “Something I can help you with, Lady Proudmoore?”

Jaina waved the salute away. “Please, don’t do that. I’m just -- I mean, I’m not -” Sighing, Jaina gave up and asked, “I’m looking for the command tent?”

The Ranger pointed her in the right direction. Thanking her, Jaina started off, the command tent looking like any other amidst the forest of pitched canvas, apart from the fact that it was slightly larger, had a single golden statue of an eagle atop its crest, and two Rangers guarding its entrance.

Jaina slowed her footsteps as she walked forward. The guards had not yet noticed her, idly chatting while they stood watch over the command tent in the very centre of the busy camp. Eyeing them carefully, Jaina slipped around the tent and walked not to the entrance but to the back. A number of crates and barrels were piled up along its border, and similar supplies rested behind every tent. Casting a glance in either direction to see if anyone was watching, Jaina clambered through a gap in the crates. She wedged herself out of sight and crouched down on the ground.

She cast a minor illusion spell. Nothing to draw attention to herself, should a healer be walking by. Just enough to guide the eye around where she was hiding. Then, carefully, Jaina ran her fingers along the trim of the canvas tent. A gentle probe of magic informed her that -- just as she had suspected -- a series of glyphs were stitched into the command tent’s fabric all along the edges. She could break them if she wanted, but she didn’t need to. All she needed was another small gap.

She wormed a thread of arcane energy through the wards, until she could hear the voices of Vereesa and Sylvanas murmuring within. They were speaking in Thalassian. With a whisper, Jaina cast a quick spell of Arcane Brilliance, allowing her to understand just for a few minutes what they were discussing.

“- heard that you refused treatment like a stubborn ass. Again.”

“Who told you that? Was it Narilis?”

“No, it was your face just now,” Vereesa said. Sylvanas must have glared, for Vereesa snickered. Her next words however, contained not a hint of laughter. “Why do you do this to yourself? I’ll never understand it.”

“I don’t recall stabbing myself with a spear, if that’s what you’re implying.”

“You know damn well what I’m implying.”

“Enlighten me.”

“The other spear jammed very far up other parts of your anatomy, for starters.”

Jaina swore she could almost hear Sylvanas’ eye roll. “I can already tell this is going to be a productive conversation.”

“You didn’t need to come here. I have everything handled,” Vereesa pointed out.

“I should be where I am most effective in fighting this war.”

“You should be at home. Making your wife look less sad.”

“Winning the war sounded easier.”

Upon hearing herself being mentioned, Jaina held her breath. Her palms were sweaty and she tried to wipe them off on her breeches to very little effect. A pair of Rangers strode between the tents, walking right past her hiding spot. Jaina ducked her head down a little further just in case and continued listening.

“I can’t tell if your little mage looks more like someone’s been making her watch a puppy being kicked, or if she’s the kicked puppy.”

A weary sigh, then Sylvanas said, “She always looks like that these days.”

“What have you been doing?” Vereesa asked, accusing.

Sylvanas growled, “Nothing.”

“Well, it has to be something. She didn’t look like that at the wedding.”

“How should I know? She only talks to me when I drag the words out of her. She won’t let me do anything to help. I tried, and she yelled at me.”

“Is she even capable of yelling? I have my doubts.”

“I don’t,” Sylvanas muttered darkly. “Honestly, yelling would be bearable, if it wasn’t immediately followed by tears.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Mmm.”

“Sylvanas,” Vereesa sighed, “are you even trying?”

“Of course I’m trying!” Sylvanas snapped. “I’ve used every trick I know to try to make her more comfortable with me! To smile or laugh or -! I feel like one of those Darkmoon Faire lions that they train to keep their mouths open while some moron sticks his head between its jaws.”

Rather than say something to the contrary, Jaina could hear Vereesa make small noises of agreement and say, “Except it’s the early morning show, and there’s only one or two audience members.”

“Exactly. Just like that.”

“And the lion is all old and underfed and anaemic, and its fur is going patchy -”

“Alright, yes. Thank you. You’ve made your point.”

Vereesa relented and steered the conversation back towards more serious waters. “It can’t be all that bad.”

“Oh?” That familiar drawling note had entered Sylvanas’ voice. “And how did you come to that conclusion?”

Vereesa’s words lowered as she continued. “Well, from what I hear, that little mage of yours was very relieved you weren’t stupid enough to actually get yourself killed this time.”

A groan was muffled as if from behind a hand. “Of course. The rumour mill has already started its grind. Why am I not surprised?”

“Is it really a rumour if it’s true?” There was the sound of a chair creaking as someone’s weight shifted in their seat. “So, tell me. Kissing? What happened to this being -- oh, what did you say before we spent that whole day signing documents? You had such a good turn of phrase -”

“Vereesa -” Sylvanas warned in a dark tone.

Vereesa snapped her fingers and deepened the pitch of her voice just enough to capture Sylvanas’ inflections, “ - ‘A purely political union to which I am utterly indifferent.’”

“I think I’ve had enough of sisterly talk for one day,” Sylvanas said in a cold voice. “Lieutenant General, report.”

“Really? You’re pulling rank on me right now?”

“I said: report.”

With a sigh, Vereesa relented. A chair scraped back against the ground, followed by a few muffled footsteps. When Vereesa next spoke, she sounded clipped and officious. “One hundred and two friendly casualties in the last three weeks. Three hundred and fifty three enemy casualties counted in that time, though they could not be confirmed without risking further injury. We have gained a foothold in the foothills directly to the northeast, giving us a minor flanking position on any incoming attack to our current forward camp. The enemy has reacted accordingly and shifted their line further north, giving us a numbers advantage directly to the -- are you really not going to tell me about kissing your wife? Has there been anything more between you two?”

“No,” Sylvanas said through grit teeth.

“No to both? Or no to -?”

“No.”

“By the light of the sun, you really need to get lai -”

Jaina had heard enough. Cheeks burning, she released the spells and let the wards stitch themselves shut once more. She checked over the barrels and crates that nobody was around before stumbling from her hiding place. Her foot almost snagged on the lip of one crate, and would have sent her sprawling had she not caught herself in time.

Jaina straightened, and quickly walked away from the command tent. The first small group of Rangers she came across were chatting in Thalassian, not bothering to keep their voices down much as Jaina strode by. The effects of her spell still lingered, fading in and out so that their words seemed a garbled mix of Common and their own more fluid tongue. Still, Jaina got the gist of what they were gossiping about.

Her. Of course. And Sylvanas.

Apparently Jaina had taken down not sixty but ninety trolls, five ballistas, and no less than three shamans. And apparently Sylvanas had torn out the spear from her own stomach herself to keep on fighting, their combined efforts turning the tide of the ambush. Oh, and afterwards Sylvanas had swept Jaina off her feet for a mind-melting kiss in front of the whole battalion.

Jaina thought she would have remembered doing any of that. Especially the last bit.

Quickening her step, Jaina passed them. She sought out the first Ranger she could find that wasn’t part of a group, and was led to the tent that had been pitched for her and Sylvanas. Jaina left her muddy boots outside, and escaped into the privacy of her tent, away from prying eyes. She groaned and buried her face in her hands.

One shaman was bad enough, and now everyone thought she killed three. And a kiss like that had definitely not -! How on earth did they even think -! It wasn’t anything like -!

Straightening, Jaina put that thought out of her mind. She stepped more fully inside, but her brow knit in puzzlement. The tent was slightly different to the one they had been sharing on their trek eastward. It had a small dining space complete with couches that could be folded up for the sake of travel. Their trunks were all here, but there was the surprising addition of an ablutions corner. It wasn’t much more than a series of buckets -- one that she would stand in, one that contained water, as well as a sponge.

Already the thought of being clean was enough to make Jaina fumble at the buttons of her shirt and head straight for that corner of the tent. She peeled off every scrap of clothing with a grimace of disgust at the troll’s blood caked onto her breeches. Briefly, she considered burning everything, but instead settled on piling the clothes up and leaving tomorrow to decide what to do with them.

There wasn’t enough water to do more than sponge herself down. The whole time Jaina dreamed of the baths at Goldenbough Manor, and of soaking in the cold pool until she felt a normal temperature again. Still, she took her time, making sure to not miss a single speck of dirt or blood, scraping under her fingernails and between her toes until she felt raw; until she felt vaguely human again. By the time Jaina had finished drying herself off, dressing herself in a nightgown, and tidying up the wash area, night had begun to cast its shadow across the sky.

Sylvanas still wasn’t back yet. Ithedis was still being treated in the healer’s tent, and would be until at least tomorrow. Vereesa was presumably still in discussions with her sister. And for the first time in a long time, Jaina truly had a moment to herself.

She didn’t know what on earth to do with it. She lit a portable lamp with a whisper of magic, and carried it over to a stool beside the cot that took up one section of the tent. Placing it down on the stool, Jaina sat on the cot. She pulled out a book. She tried to read. But on every page, she saw the sprawl of bodies spread out in pieces at her feet. She thought about the expression on that shaman’s face as he’d died. She saw Sylvanas braced against the tree, the spear in her stomach, a pool of red blooming around her. She shut the book.

When Sylvanas finally arrived, Jaina was sitting on the cot, her legs drawn up to her chest. She must have done the same thing Jaina did, for she no longer looked mud-splattered, and she wore a new set of Ranger leathers. She also walked fully upright now, which got Jaina to wondering if the healer’s work had finally paid off, or if Sylvanas had gone for another dose at the white tent.

Sylvanas tied the flaps of their tent shut, giving them as much privacy as they could afford in an environment like this. Silent from her place on the cot, Jaina watched her walk across the tent, unhooking her cloak as she went and hanging it over the back of a low-slung couch.

“I’m sorry.”

Sylvanas froze at the sound of Jaina’s words. Her back was facing Jaina, the slant of her cheek and fall of her long hair gilded in the dim lamplight. She did not turn around as she began tugging at the buckles of her leathers and asked in a tone too even to be truly calm, “About what?”

Jaina rested her chin on her knees, and said, “For making you think you weren’t doing enough.”

Shucking her bracers and tooled leather cuirass, Sylvanas arranged them atop one of the travelling trunks. “I see you were eavesdropping.”

Jaina winced. “Yes. Sorry. I feel like lying about it would be worse. Plus, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a terrible liar.”

Sylvanas huffed with laughter and gave a rueful shake of her head. She was still smiling when she glanced over her shoulder. “If this is how your lies typically start, then yes. You’re very bad at it.”

All Jaina could do was offer an apologetic shrug. Sylvanas continued stripping on the other side of the tent, efficiently and methodically removing pieces of embossed leather armour and setting it aside in a neat pile. When she realised she was staring at the whitened scar along the skin of Sylvanas’ lower back, Jaina tore her gaze away.

After a long few minutes, Jaina blurted out, “I don’t think you’re a Darkmoon Faire lion.” She knew by the way Sylvanas stiffened that she should stop, that she should shut her mouth and drop the subject, but instead she forged on, “I think if it had been anyone else, I probably would have left Quel'Thalas by now. And I know I haven’t been the easiest person to read or get to know, but I don’t want you to think you have to keep me entertained or perform for my amusement. I just -- I’m sorry I didn’t notice, or acknowledge how hard you must have been working to make sure I feel comfortable. I will try hard to - uhm - to -”

Sylvanas turned around and Jaina’s voice trailed off. Like most nights during their march east, Sylvanas wore a simple, long-sleeved cotton shirt that hung down to mid-thigh, and -- as far as Jaina could tell -- naught else. She crossed the tent and sat on the edge of the cot, so that if Jaina were to extend her legs they would touch.

In the end, all Jaina could manage to say was, “I really am glad you’re not dead.”

One of the corners of Sylvanas’ mouth quirked in a grin. “I noticed.”

Heat flooded Jaina’s face. Of all the conversations she expected to have tonight, this was the one she had been dreading the most. She fumbled for how to reply, casting about for something that wouldn’t make her sound completely ridiculous, but before she could do so Sylvanas murmured, “Thank you.”

Jaina blinked. “For -?”

When Sylvanas tilted her head, a curl of her pale gold hair draped across her neck. “For wanting to make an effort, rather than giving up and running away. And for being such a terrible liar.”

“I do my best,” Jaina said weakly.

“Now,” Sylvanas twisted her body around so that she was leaning her weight on one hand propped on the cot. “How much exactly did you hear?”

Arms linking around her own ankles, Jaina said, “I stopped listening right when Vereesa was giving her report to you.”

Sylvanas narrowed her eyes. “You’re lying, aren’t you?”

Jaina closed her eyes and confessed in a rush, “Maybe a little after Vereesa was giving her report.”

A sigh, then her weight lifted from the cot. Jaina opened her eyes to see Sylvanas rounding the cot to climb in beside her. “Don’t listen to everything Vereesa says,” Sylvanas warned in a dark tone as she adjusted her pillow. “She likes to exaggerate.”

Slowly, Jaina relaxed. The cot was far too small to comfortably accommodate the both of them -- at least, to the extent that Jaina had enjoyed back at Goldenbough. Here, Jaina lived in fear that any wayward movement would have them brush up against one another.

Maybe she could ask for another cot? No. That wouldn’t work. Elves were terrible gossips. Someone would find out. And after the day Jaina had, she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted a separate cot tonight.

Extending her legs and scooting further down the bed, Jaina lay down. Before Sylvanas could roll over however, Jaina asked, “Are we alright?”

Sylvanas peered up at her, curious and thoughtful. After a moment, she replied softly, “We’re alright.”

Jaina didn’t realise she had needed to hear those words until she felt something unclench in her chest. Sylvanas was already turning away, tugging the sheets just so over her shoulder. Propping herself up on her elbow, Jaina leaned over the little wooden stool that acted as her bedside table. She cupped her hand around the flame of the bronze lamp, and blew out the light.

 


 

Time was starting and Jaina couldn’t breathe. She wrote and rewrote the glyphs on the ballistas, over and over, but each time the shamanic runes would shift their form like some sea creature of legend. Her hands trembled so badly that she could barely trace new lines into the glyphs. Sparks fell from her fingertips, trapped in midair, slowly descending.

And all the while the troll shaman was turning towards her. His mask was a skull and his hands were peeled of flesh, revealing sharp tips of bone. Jaina tried to slam her palm onto the glyphs, but they shifted again, and the shaman was bearing down upon her, looming, his chest a ribcage of glowing runes that smoked like fire, like the emptiness of his eyes.

He reached out. His skeletal fingers dug into her shoulder. And Jaina jerked awake with a gasp.

Someone was still grasping her shoulder. When Jaina tried to scramble away, she fell from the cot and onto the tent floor with a startled cry.

Sylvanas peered down at her over the edge of the cot, her hair mussed with sleep but her eyes bright and concerned. “Are you alright? You were thrashing in your sleep.”

Jaina tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. Her body shook, and she could feel her nightgown sticking to her skin in a cold sweat. Finally she managed to gasp, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. I’m sorry.”

Sylvanas held out her hand and hauled Jaina back into the cot, murmuring, “Come on. Come here.”

Clambering back into bed, Jaina could not stop the shaking. She panted, adrenaline coursing through her veins, racing under her skin like poison, setting every nerve ending alight. Sylvanas asked no questions. She only pulled Jaina into a gentle hug. Jaina went without protest, gasping into the space between Sylvanas’ neck and collarbone, while Sylvanas propped her chin atop Jaina’s head.

As the shivers began to slow, so too did Jaina’s breathing even out. Her eyes slipped shut. Sylvanas was tracing senseless patterns across her back, and Jaina sighed. Her hands unclenched, fraction by fraction, and as sleep eventually claimed her, she thought she felt something at the top of her head, like a hesitant kiss being dropping into her hair. But she may have just imagined it.

 


 

Over the next week, the nightmares were inconsistent and -- thankfully -- fading. Neither Jaina nor Sylvanas mentioned the fact that they awoke in the mornings pressed up against one another. Jaina told herself that the cot was too small, even as she was quietly grateful she didn’t have to wake up in the middle of the night alone.

It didn’t happen every night, but it happened enough that Jaina was tired of the nightmares and wished they would just go away, thanks.

“It gets better, right?” Jaina asked one morning. She was still sitting on the edge of the cot in her nightgown, her legs hanging over the side.

On the other side of the tent, Sylvanas paused in buckling her leather cuirass into place. “It does,” she said. Her hands started moving again, tugging at a strap so that the leather hugged her figure. “Do you regret killing those people?”

Jaina didn’t even have to think about her answer. She shook her head. “No. It was the right thing to do at the time.”

“That helps.”

Jaina chewed at her lower lip, watching as Sylvanas reached for her bracers. “Did you have nightmares afterwards?”

For a moment Sylvanas seemed to consider that question, tightening a bracer around her wrist with a thoughtful slowness. “For a while. Sometimes I still do. But I was trained for these things.”

“Can you ever really train for killing someone?” Jaina asked.

“Of course,” Sylvanas replied without hesitation. “Reactive targets. Guaranteed to improve the accuracy of your archers and infantry.”

Making a face, Jaina asked, “How?”

Sylvanas offered a one-shouldered shrug. “Most people will shoot to miss on purpose, unless they’ve been trained to expect the target to move when it’s been struck.”

“Wish they’d had some of those in Dalaran,” Jaina grumbled.

“I don’t recall you missing any of your hits.”

At that, Jaina wrung her hands in her lap. She couldn’t stop the nervous bouncing of her knee. “No, I didn’t.”

She could hear Sylvanas’ bare footsteps padding across the ground towards her. The cot dipped and Sylvanas sat down. Her voice was soft when she said, “You did well. You didn’t hesitate. You don’t regret it. And it will get better.”

Jaina snorted. “Ithedis thinks I should get military training.”

“Is that what you want? Because I am undoubtedly the best placed person to arrange that for you.”

Jaina shook her head. “Can you imagine me trying to lift a sword or fire a bow? I think my arms would fall off.”

With a grin, Sylvanas poked at one of Jaina’s arms. “Why, I think you’re right, Lady Proudmoore.”

Jaina’s answering glower lacked any heat. She huffed and stood, crossing over to her own trunk to get dressed. Propping open the lid to her trunk, Jaina said, “Thank you, though. For -- you know -” she waved towards the cot, where Sylvanas still sat. “- everything. And if there’s anything you need from me -”

“You’ll hug me at night and make it all better?” Sylvanas teased.

Jaina flushed. She didn’t need to look over her shoulder to know that Sylvanas would be smirking, enjoying the way Jaina tried to keep from fidgeting.

And suddenly it struck her. Hands on hips, Jaina turned and narrowed her eyes. “You like making me squirm, don’t you.”

Sylvanas wasn’t just smirking. Jaina could see a gleam of sharp teeth that made her mouth go dry. Rather than answer, Sylvanas nodded to the trunk. “You should get dressed so we can go have breakfast.”

Jaina had never gotten dressed so fast in her life. And that counted the time she had been late for an exam on telemancy her first year in Dalaran. She still felt flushed when Sylvanas held the tent flap open for her, and she ducked out into the warm morning air.

The sun was still hidden behind the distant northern hills, casting a shadow across the camp that slowly receded. The clouds had pushed further north, and the rains had gone with them, leaving behind a heat that baked the roads. The ground that had been churned up by feet and carts and hooves had now solidified into a series of tripping hazards that Jaina was constantly cursing when she walked around camp. Even the elves, who normally walked with a feline grace, stumbled every now and then, though they tried to hide it and pretend nothing had happened.

The moment they stepped from their tent, Ithedis fell into place behind them. Jaina greeted him with a smile, and he offered back a murmured, “Good morning, my Lady.”

As they did every morning since arriving at the forward camp, Sylvanas and Jaina ate in the command tent with Vereesa and her lieutenants. The meals were a far cry from the lavish fare Jaina had come to expect back in Silvermoon, and the officers had a habit of working while they ate. They would discuss the latest raids, the latest enemy movements. They would lean across tables to point at maps and add annotations, food in one hand, quill in the other. It was a more relaxed atmosphere than any of the strategy meetings Jaina could remember sitting in on as a child, watching a host of broad-shouldered ships captains in greatcoats reporting to her mother as if on parade inspection.

When they entered the command tent, a few Rangers glanced up. They saluted as Sylvanas and Jaina strode by, before returning to their business. At the back of the tent, Vereesa sat behind a long table spread with letters and maps and paperwork. More paperwork than Jaina had seen since her wedding. She was writing on a piece of parchment, her quill scratching across the page as they approached.

Without looking up, Vereesa tossed Sylvanas a letter from atop one of the piles. “For you.”

Sylvanas caught the letter. “Good morning to you too, sister.”

Vereesa’s only reply was a wordless hum. She continued to write, her brow furrowed, scratching out a word and then scribbling above it. Jaina sat on a chair opposite, and reached for a platter of food that was perched on one corner of the desk, as far away from the paperwork as it could be.

On the other hand, Sylvanas turned over the letter and froze. She looked up sharply at Vereesa and asked, “When did this arrive?”

“Two hours ago,” Vereesa replied, sounding bored.

“And you didn’t tell me?” Sylvanas’ voice bordered on a growl.

Vereesa did glance up then, only to shoot Sylvanas an incredulous look. “I'm not barging into your tent in the morning. I remember what happens when I do that.”

Sylvanas’ shoulders went tense. She glared at Vereesa, who had already returned to writing her letter. Jaina was pink and fidgeting in her chair, reaching forward to pick at the plate of food in order to hide her squirming.

When Sylvanas looked at her, Jaina could have sworn her hand tightened its grip around the letter. If it had though, Sylvanas turned the motion into breaking the very large very official wax seal of the letter. She unfolded it and read.

Jaina was taking a bite of bread and dipping it in a hearty legume dish, when Sylvanas snapped suddenly, “They must be fucking joking.”

“Bad news?” Vereesa asked, her face never changing expression as she sanded her own page to dry the ink.

Sylvanas threw the letter on the table in front of Vereesa, but Vereesa very purposefully did not look at it. “Those decrepit old sons of -” Sylvanas spat a word in Thalassian that Jaina didn’t know but which made Vereesa lift her eyebrows “- are demanding my return to Silvermoon for no other reason than because they can, and they want me to know they can.”

“I’m sure our esteemed Council of Elders has a good reason to call you back to the glory of the Sunwell,” Vereesa said dryly.

Sylvanas’ lip curled. “They really don’t.”

“Can I see?” Jaina reached across the desk even as she asked, but the moment her fingers touched the single page of the letter, both Vereesa and Sylvanas started forward with a jerk.

Sylvanas grabbed Jaina’s wrist, while Vereesa slapped her own hand over the letter, folding it shut in one fell swoop. Startled, Jaina went stock still, looking between the two of them with wide eyes.

“I’m sorry?” Jaina said.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Sylvanas let go of her hand with an apologetic grimace. “The Convocation of Silvermoon is a bit old fashioned.”

“By that, she means this kind of letter is a sacred summonings,” Vereesa explained, handing the letter back to Sylvanas, who tucked it away. “For anyone but Kael’thas or Sylvanas to read it is -- well -- bad.”

“So,” Jaina leaned back in her chair, “You’re the same rank as Kael’thas?”

Sylvanas shook her head. “Not exactly. It’s complicated.”

Vereesa scoffed and reached forward to share the same platter of food as Jaina. “It’s not that complicated. The Sunstriders and Windrunners are both noble houses, but according to legend one is descended from the sun to rule our people, while the other was gifted Thas’dorah and founded the Rangers to defend our people. Neither answer to each other, and only to the Silver Circle, or Council of Elders, or whatever you want to call them.”

“Eight old men who waste my time and like to remind me that I can’t declare war on my own, is what I call them,” Sylvanas added.

Pointing at Sylvanas, Jaina asked, “I knew you headed the military, but does that make Quel’Thalas a two king state?”

“I am not a king,” Sylvanas said darkly. Then after a pause, “Queen. Sovereign? I’m not any of those things.”

“Is the Lord Admiral a king?” Vereesa asked Jaina. When Jaina shook her head, Vereesa said, “Well, there you go.”

Sylvanas swore softly under her breath and sat on a chair beside Jaina, across the table from Vereesa. She rubbed at her forehead and groaned, “This is a nightmare. I just got here, and now I need to leave so I can prance around Silvermoon in that useless tissue armour.”

Taking another bite of bread, Jaina listened to the two of them. From the sounds of it, Jaina assumed she meant the extravagantly ceremonial armour she had been wearing when they had first met in that garden courtyard almost a year ago. Or -? Jaina’s chewing slowed. A year? Over a year?

Tides. Over a year.

Vereesa nudged the platter of food a bit closer to her sister. “Why all the fuss?”

Sylvanas tore off a piece of bread and began to eat. She spoke around a bite, “They need me to perform a ceremonial launching of our new fleet. I assume after that, I need to figure out how to actually run a navy, even though I told them we wouldn’t need a navy so long as we kept this -” she gestured at Jaina, “- alliance going smoothly.”

Beneath the table, Vereesa kicked her sister’s shin with the toe of her boot. “Since when have you ever not wanted to expand your military?”

Sylvanas grimaced. “What do I know about operating a navy?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Vereesa agreed. “That’s why you ought to find out. Or aren’t you supposed to be in charge of all of Quel’Thalas’ military?”

Scowling, Sylvanas countered, “And what am I supposed to do? Commandeer some of the Lord Admiral’s captains? It’s bad enough our allies have had to divert resources to help us build ships while fighting off the Zandalari fleet, and now the Council expects me to go begging for officers, too?”

“Uhm -?” Jaina said.

Vereesa rolled her eyes and continued talking to Sylvanas. “It can’t be that hard. You just steer into the wind, don’t you? Even better, get some mages to work it out for you so you don’t have to rely on the weather at all.”

“I don’t need mages. I need officers. Our sailors are salvageable, but our leadership is completely -”

Jaina raised her hand to get their attention. “I know how.”

Both Sylvanas and Vereesa turned to stare at her. They glanced at each other, then back at Jaina, their expressions suddenly thoughtful.

“She is technically the Scion of the Fleet,” Vereesa pointed out.

“And with the -?” Sylvanas started to say.

“About the whole -?” Vereesa finished for her, pointing at Jaina and miming an explosion with her hand. “- ambush?”

“Mhmm,” Sylvanas hummed in agreement.

“It could work, you know.”

“But only if we spin it right. Are you still -?”

Vereesa scoffed. “Of course I am. What do you think I am? An idiot?”

Shaking her head, exasperated and boggled, Jaina said, “Can the two of you please use full sentences?”

They stopped. Sylvanas looked at Vereesa, who gestured for her to speak. Clearing her throat, Sylvanas said, “Jaina, how well would you say you could induct new naval officers?”

Chewing at her lower lip, Jaina thought about that for a second. Then, she shrugged. “I can’t imagine it’s any more difficult than teaching a hundred rowdy Novices.”

Sylvanas appeared taken aback. “A hundred Novices?” she repeated. “They have you teaching a hundred Novices?”

“Well…yeah?” Jaina said slowly. “How many did you think I was teaching at the Academy?”

“I don’t know? Twenty?”

Jaina had to choke back a laugh. “Oh, no. No, that was when I was still skulking around the Academy being blacklisted by Magister Duskwither.”

At that, Vereesa’s brow darkened, the glow of her eyes intensifying into a dangerous look. “Who was doing what now?”

Both Jaina and Sylvanas waved her away.

“It’s fine now,” Jaina assured her.

“We handled it,” Sylvanas said at the same time.

Rather than appear mollified, Vereesa bristled and hissed at her sister, “Why don’t you tell me these things?”

Sylvanas ignored her. Instead, she looked very seriously at Jaina, leaning forward in her chair so that her elbows rested on her knees. “Are you sure you can do this? If you say yes, I will believe you. If you say no, I won’t think less of you. But don’t say yes just because you think that’s what I want to hear.”

Straightening her shoulders, Jaina lifted her chin. “I can do it. I’m no war hero or anything like that, but I was raised to know how to command a Fleet. It’s undeniably the one thing I am qualified for. Apart from -” she added with a shrug, “- the Kirin Tor and all that.”

A tell-tale grin tugged the corner of Sylvanas’ mouth. “From what I hear you’re well on your way to becoming a war hero, too.”

Jaina made a face. “Please, don’t.”

“Next thing you know, your Novices will be asking about your military escapades instead of mine.”

“Tides, I hope not,” Jaina mumbled.

Half-heartedly, she picked at the platter of food. This time, when Sylvanas reached out to grasp her wrist, the touch was warm and light and comforting. Jaina went still, but did not pull away.

Quietly leaning back in her seat, Vereesa watched the two of them interact with an oddly aloof expression, as if specifically trying not to be noticed. Which, of course, meant that Sylvanas looked her way almost immediately.

Releasing Jaina’s wrist, Sylvanas squinted at her sister, suspicious. “What?”

Vereesa raised both hands. “I didn’t say anything.”

Sylvanas lips pursed, but she only said, “We should make a start for Silvermoon first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Are we travelling back with a battalion or on our own?” Jaina asked.

Sylvanas propped one ankle on her opposite knee. “It will be quicker travelling on our own. We’ll take four horses and ride hard from camp to camp, restocking as we go.”

“Or -” Jaina said, “- I could just portal us there? I've made a temporary anchor at Goldenbough. I can't use it for travelling any great distances, but anything within Quel'Thalas I should be able to achieve without, you know -” she mimed a tearing and splattering motion, "-that."

Sylvanas blinked at her, as if that thought hadn’t crossed her mind.

“Did you forget you were married to a mage?” Vereesa teased.

“No,” Sylvanas growled. After a second she added lamely, “She doesn’t use magic around me that often.”

At that, Vereesa snorted in disbelief. Her laughter was cut off though, when Jaina piped up in her wife’s defense, “I try not to use magic for everyday things. One of the first things you learn when becoming a mage is that magic is incredibly addictive. When I was eleven -- I think? Ten? -- When I was young anyway, I used magic for basically anything of convenience. That’s how my parents found out, and figured I needed proper training. First thing the Kirin Tor mage they brought from Dalaran did was make me not use magic for a month before he let me use it again.”

Sylvanas and Vereesa were watching her in silence. Vereesa was the first to speak. She cleared her throat and asked in a too casual tone, “And at what age do humans typically discover they have magical potential?”

Jaina shrugged. “I don’t know? I didn’t officially start classes until I was seventeen like the others.”

Slowly, Vereesa nodded. “Right. That answers that question, at least.”  

“So, uh -” Jaina lowered her voice and said to Sylvanas, “- just let me know when you want to go, I guess? And when do you need to introduce me to your officers-to-be?”

“We can begin officer inductions after the anniversary celebrations in Kul Tiras,” Sylvanas replied, tapping her fingers against the flat of her thigh. “As for the portals? This afternoon, if that’s alright.”

“What’s the rush when you can ferry yourselves back and forth at the snap of your wife’s fingers?” To make her point, Vereesa snapped her own fingers.

“The Council specifically said ‘with all haste.’ And as much as I would love to tell them exactly where to shove their summons, I am legally bound to answer them as quickly as I can.” Sylvanas rubbed at her eyes, then stood. “Excuse me. I need to attend to a few things before we go.”

Jaina gave her a little wave as she left, receiving a tilt of Sylvanas’ head in return. As Jaina turned back to the platter of food, Vereesa watched her sister’s retreating back. She waited until Sylvanas was well out of earshot, before turning her gaze upon Jaina.

"Well," Vereesa said, pushing herself out of her seat. "While my sister runs about, why don't we take a walk?" She gave Jaina a friendly smile, but Jaina didn't quite trust the way her eyes glittered. "I feel like we haven't spoken in ages, and we have much to catch up on."

Jaina hesitated, holding a piece of bread in one hand which she debated putting back on the platter or taking with her. She decided on a compromise of stuffing it in her mouth and chewing as she stood to follow Vereesa from the command tent. When they stepped outside and were joined by Ithedis, Vereesa said, “Would you mind if we had a bit of privacy? Not that I don’t trust him, just that I want you to feel you can speak freely with nobody else listening.”

A nod was all it took for Ithedis to drop back.

Leading her towards the calmer sections of the camp, Vereesa and Jaina ended up walking along the perimeter, just inside the walls. Ithedis followed exactly ten steps behind, far enough away to give them privacy, but close enough to be at Jaina’s side in an instant. Vereesa glanced over her shoulder at him.

“You have yourself a very loyal gentleman there. His eldest is one of my best brigadiers,” she remarked. Before Jaina could comment however, Vereesa turned her attention forward. “But I wanted to ask you a few questions before you left, if that’s alright.”

Puzzled, Jaina looked over her shoulder at Ithedis, then back at Vereesa beside her. “Sure. What did you want to know?”

Vereesa did not immediately answer. She clasped her hands behind her back in a pose strongly reminiscent of Sylvanas. Jaina was struck by how similar they looked. If not for their difference in height and hair colour, they could have been twins.

“I’m sure you’ve noticed,” Vereesa began abruptly, “that my sister can be an ass.”

Jaina blinked. She fumbled for what to say before admitting, “Sometimes, yes. But she’s been doing her best. It hasn’t been easy for either of us.”

“And are things between you alright?” Vereesa slowed their pace to a leisurely amble. “I only ask because this alliance is very important. If you need me to box her ears so she behaves, I will gladly volunteer my services.”

“No, that isn’t -! I mean -- She’s been ‘ behaving.’” Jaina almost stumbled on the word.

“Has she? That doesn’t sound like her. Are you sure we’re talking about the same person?” Vereesa held out her hand above her head to approximately Sylvanas’ height. “Tall? Arrogant? Vain? Loves the sound of her own voice?”

“She’s not that bad,” Jaina insisted.

Very abruptly, Vereesa stopped walking. Her expression grew serious. “You don’t have to hide behind social pleasantries here. Whatever you’re thinking, you can say it.”

Jaina opened her mouth, and what came out was, “I wish she would stop performing and just relax.”

At that, Vereesa stared at her. Then, she laughed. “That’s like asking the sun to stop shining.”

“Then, I guess I’ll have to summon a bit of rain.”

Jaina’s quip only seemed to make Vereesa’s grin widen. “Do you want my advice?”

Mutely, Jaina nodded.

“Sylvanas is and always has been incredibly stubborn and set in her ways. Keep in mind that she isn’t always aware that she’s performing, or being a complete nightmare to deal with. She does the things she does because she craves approval.” Vereesa seemed to consider her next words carefully, before continuing just as emphatically, “Also she is a complete and total pain in the ass to buy gifts for. So, if you ever hear her mention something, no matter how small, write it down because you will not remember it later and you’ll have nothing to get her.”

“Should I be writing this down now?” Jaina almost summoned a quill and parchment on the spot.

A familiar mischievous look crossed Vereesa’s face, but she merely shook her head. She continued walking, and Jaina followed her back towards the centre of the camp. “You’re clever. You’ll figure it out.”

As they neared Jaina’s own tent, Vereesa wandered to a halt and turned to look at Jaina. Her eyes wandered down, and Jaina stiffened. With a particularly elfin tilt of her head, Vereesa studied the gap in Jaina’s collared shirt. Then she sighed, and looked away. “At least tell me you two have had more than one lousy kiss.”

Jaina had to resist the urge to button up the last inch of her collar, even though there was nothing there to hide except the pendant, which always hung from her neck. “I -- Well, that depends on what you mean by a lousy kiss?”

At that, Vereesa rolled her eyes and muttered, “Hopeless. Both of you.”

 


 

Jaina opened them a portal directly to Goldenbough from the forward camp. Vereesa saw them off with a few comments to Sylvanas, the two of them bantering with their typical cutting flair, even as Vereesa offered Jaina a pointed look, which Jaina pretended to not notice. Sylvanas and Ithedis rode through the portal first, Ithedis leading another horse along laden with their personal effects. Jaina was the last to step through, the portal winking shut behind her. Several servants came from the house, puzzled at their return so soon, and Ithedis handed everything over to them.

Sylvanas on the other hand, remained on her horse. Back at Vereesa’s camp, she had donned her ceremonial armour which flashed, gold and green, in the light when she moved. She tugged at the reins and turned her mount towards Silvermoon. “I’ll be back late,” she said to Jaina. “These things always take an age.”

“Good luck,” Jaina offered with a small wave.

With a wry smile, Sylvanas kicked the horse into action, heading down the road, long ornate cloak streaming behind her. Jaina watched her go until Sylvanas rounded a corner and disappeared behind a copse of russet trees. When she turned around, the servants had unpacked one of the horses.

“May I?” she asked, pointing at the horse in question, and one of the servants handed her the reins with a bow. “Thank you.”

“Are we going somewhere as well, Lady Proudmoore?” Ithedis asked, immediately hauling himself back into his own saddle.

“The Academy,” Jaina said. She guided her mount around, careful so as to not upend the trunks and bags that the servants had piled on the ground and were carting into the manor. “I thought I might surprise my students with a pop quiz this afternoon. They’ll never know what hit them.”

If anything, Ithedis seemed approving beneath his helm.

The Novices gaped when Jaina walked into the study room that had been allocated for her seminars. A silence washed across the room, followed swiftly by an excited scraping of chairs as they crowded around her, demanding to know if it were true she had killed a hundred trolls, if she had any scars to show them, if she got to see Sylvanas in action on the battlefield and if she was as deadly as the stories led them to believe.

Jaina raised her hands. “No, no, and no. Now, if you’ll all sit down, please? I have something far more exciting for you today.”

Eagerly, they filed back to their seats. She counted, taking a tally of who was missing; it was her afternoon class on the off day. Only thirty students today, and three had not bothered to show up under the assumption that she wouldn’t be there. Fair enough, she supposed, as she moved around to the lectern. From the looks of it, the Apprentice meant to stand in for her had left early as well. She would have to have a chat with Magistrix Elosai about that one.

A few of the Novices were already fidgeting in their seats. Some of them whispered to one another, though they fell quiet when Jaina started to speak again.

“I hope you’ve all been studying while I’ve been away these past few weeks, because today we’re having a quiz on that list of runes I gave you.”

Her announcement was met with universal groans.

She nodded with false sympathy. “Yes, I know. Specifically, I want you all to partner up. One of you will draw a rune on the table, and the other will attempt to alter the rune. Anyone who successfully manages to alter the rune into a new working sigil, will get a prize.”

One of them raised his hand and asked before she called on him, “Can the prize be food?”

“Sure,” Jaina said. “Why not?”

That got them moving. All of them scrambled to find a partner and sit across from one another at their desks. Predictably with an odd number of students, one was left without a partner. A young girl whose name Jaina couldn’t remember sat at her desk, alone.

Jaina pulled up a chair across from her and smiled. “I’ll be your partner.” She tapped at the desk’s surface. “Can you draw me a rune? Any rune is fine.”

Nodding slowly, the elven girl dragged the tip of her finger across the wooden surface, scorching uneven marks into the tabletop. She would pause every now and then to hesitate. Jaina watched her work without a word. By the end, the girl had drawn a crude yet effective glyph for an ice trap.

“Good. You see this line here?” Jaina pointed, waiting for the girl to nod before continuing. “If you connect it here and add this -” she reached down herself and etched more burns into the table, “- then you get something very different.”

As she spoke, Jaina finished her alteration. The sigil glowed an intense green, and a single golden rose grew from the very centre. She plucked it, and handed it over to the girl, whose eyes had gone wide.

Jaina wiped the table clean, restoring the desk to its previous untarnished state with a sweep of magic from her palm. “Now, your turn.”

Only two pairs managed to successfully alter a rune so that it produced another spell, and one of them had been an accident that resulted in the desk catching fire. Jaina had to rush over and douse the flames. Nobody was hurt, but all of the kids were equally delighted by the commotion. In the end, Jaina still gave treats to everyone before the class was over.

The Novices crowded around the long table near the chalkboard that stretched across the front of the room, suspiciously eyeing the treat she had summoned for them.

“What is it?” one of them asked.

“A treat from my homeland,” Jaina answered proudly. “Ice cream!”

Another tentatively grabbed one of the twenty seven cones and tasted it. His face screwed up in disgust. “It’s cold.”

That had not been the reaction Jaina had been expecting. “Well, yes,” she said. “It’s supposed to be cold.”

Collectively, the Novices took a step away from the table, their ears pinning back in revulsion. The one that had actually tried a taste put his cone back in its holder.

Sighing, Jaina gave up. “Alright, alright. I promised you a treat, so tell me: what sort of food would you like for your hard work today?”

At that, twenty seven faces brightened. Before Jaina quite knew what was happening, two of the Novices had each grabbed one of her hands, and the rest were herding her from the room and down to the main floor of the Academy. Ithedis, who had been standing guard outside the classroom door, trailed after the long line of Novices in bemusement. Apprentices and Magisters watched them stream by, puzzled expressions on their faces at the sight of the Lady Proudmoore being half dragged, half pushed towards the Academy dining hall.

“Lady Proudmoore, you’re back early.”

“Oh! Magistrix Elosai!” Jaina tried to turn to talk to Elosai, who had paused in a broad hallway to watch Jaina go by. The Novices kept pulling her along, so that she had to talk over her shoulder. “I wanted to talk to you about -! Hey, no pushing! Can I meet you at your offices later?”

If Magistrix Elosai said anything in reply, Jaina could not hear it for the Novices were already leading her through the dining hall doors. As far as Jaina was aware, the meals at the Academy were free for all enlisted members, but additional amenities such as sweets and other more expensive items had to be purchased independently. The Novices urged her to stand before a food merchant’s stall. A glance at the stall told her that the merchant sold only one dish.

“Uhm -?” Jaina began in Thalassian. The merchant watched her with a bored expression. “Can I please get twenty seven -- no wait -” She counted in her head. “- thirty three of whatever it is you’re selling?”

Apparently what the merchant sold was fried balls of dough that had been soaked in a honey rose syrup. Each little container came with two pieces of fried dough impaled on a thin wooden stake. Eagerly, the Novices each accepted their share with an enthusiastic, “Thank you, Miss Jaina!” before they darted away with their prize.

“Don’t forget to study those runes! I’ll be here next week! There will be a test!” Jaina called after them, though only one or two seemed to take notice of her warning.

While Jaina paid -- thankfully with actual coins this time, instead of that silly bank slip like at the seamstress’ shop -- Ithedis held the additional three servings of treats left over.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a popular quiz, my Lady.”

“I’m an innovator,” Jaina countered with a smile and a murmured, “Thank you” to the merchant for her change.

She turned and walked towards the exit. Ithedis tried to hand her back all of the servings, but Jaina only took two. “That one’s for you.”

He blinked in surprise. Very carefully, he took it from her, though he did not eat it right away. It wasn’t until they were on their ride back to Goldenbough that Jaina spied him removing his helmet and eating when he thought she wasn’t looking. Rather than point it out, Jaina pretended she did not notice and ate her own serving. The fried dough had softened, bursting with sweet syrup when she took a bite. She had to lick her fingers clean and wipe her sticky hands on her breeches afterwards.

When Jaina arrived at the manor, Sylvanas still had not yet returned from her Council meeting. She ate dinner alone, then retreated to the library. It wasn’t until well past dark that Jaina heard the front doors open, a distant creak followed by the sound of a servant drawing them shut once more. Jaina emerged from the library, peering down the third story staircase in time to spot the flutter of Sylvanas’ cloak as she headed towards the banquet hall.

Abruptly, Sylvanas footsteps stopped. A pause, during which Jaina leaned over the balustrade to get a better view of the main floor far below. The top of Sylvanas’ head came back into sight as she approached one of the small tables that lined the entryway. Even from this angle, Jaina could see that those long ears had perked up slightly.

From the table, Sylvanas picked up the simple note Jaina had left beneath the elven treat in its container. She pocketed the note. Then, she took the sweets and kept walking towards the banquet hall.

Jaina couldn’t quite tell -- it was difficult to get a good view from up here -- but she could have sworn she saw a soft smile cross Sylvanas’ face.

 


 

 

It was only two weeks before Jaina and Sylvanas were set to travel to Boralus for their anniversary celebrations, when Jaina went to Magistrix Elosai’s offices. Oddly, the door was shut. Jaina knocked, waiting for the sound of Elosai’s gentle “Come in, please,” before pushing the door open.

“Forgive me for intruding, Magistrix, I -” Jaina started to say as she entered, only to stop less than three steps into the room.

Elosai was sitting behind her halfmoon desk, and she was not alone. Across from her in one of the seats that Jaina normally occupied on her training days, sat Prince Kael’thas. He had removed his long scarlet cape, so that he sat in his royal armour, the pauldrons like the flared wings of a golden eagle.

He and Elosai both stood when Jaina entered the room. Elosai bowed, but Kael’thas merely inclined his head in a respectful nod. “Lady Proudmoore, how good it is to see you again.”

“I -” Jaina looked between him and Elosai. “Do you need me to come back another time?”

“Nonsense. Please.” He gestured towards the chair beside him. “Won’t you join us?”

Jaina hesitated for a moment before crossing the circular room to sit in the chair he had indicated. Both he and Elosai waited until she was seated before taking their seats themselves. Before Jaina could ask what was going on, Kael’thas spoke.

“You’re part of the reason why I’m here, actually,” Kael’thas waved towards the room around them with a vague flutter of his fingers. “I thought I might check in with Magistrix Elosai and see how your studies were progressing. And from the sounds of it, you’re doing very well indeed.”

“Thank you. The Magistrix is a very patient teacher,” Jaina replied.

Elosai accepted the praise with a calm smile that did not touch her eyes. She did not look cagey, merely reserved. For her however, that seemed to be a natural state of being: serenely aloof at all times. Even when Jaina had accidentally summoned an unstable void anomaly from the Twisting Nether during one of their more cutting-edge private tutoring sessions, Elosai had merely coached Jaina through the necessary steps to contain and banish the anomaly once more.

Now, Elosai seemed content to sit back and let her Prince do the talking, leaving Jaina to wonder if it was some code of etiquette she was observing, or if she was truly that deferential to her sovereign lord.

“Isn’t she just?” Kael’thas shot Elosai a charming grin. “She was my teacher as well, long ago. Before I ever approached the Kirin Tor, in fact. Which is how I knew she would be the perfect instructor for you.”

Jaina blinked. “You -- ah -- you what?”

“A few months ago, I got wind of Magister Duskwither’s unseemly behaviour.” Shaking his head, Kael’thas scowled and leaned back in his seat with a clink of gold against the high-backed wooden chair. “Unacceptable, quite frankly, to treat anyone that way, let alone you of all people.”

“But I thought -” Jaina started to say, only to cut herself off, mouth snapping shut.

If Kael’thas noticed that she had begun to speak, he gave no indication of it. “So, I took care of it for you. Well, not just for you, of course. For the good of the Academy. We can’t have that style of leadership here. No, no. What sort of precedent is that supposed to set?”

“I -”

But apparently that was a rhetorical question, for Kael’thas continued. “Which is the other reason why I’m here. In fact, your visit could not have been more serendipitously timed. In the next few weeks, I will be nominating Magistrix Elosai here for the position of Headmistress of this Academy.”

Elosai appeared unfazed by the announcement. Jaina glanced over at her, then said, “Congratulations, Magistrix. Does this mean you will be passing me over to another Magister for training?”

Kael’thas shook his head with a patronising chuckle. “Oh, of course not.”

“You will remain my student as long as you like, Lady Proudmoore,” Elosai said for herself, her voice even. “Or for as long as you still have anything to learn from me, which may not be that long.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Jaina sounded a bit breathless to her own ears.

Again, Kael’thas cut in, unsatisfied with being on the perimeter of the conversation for even a moment. “However, it does mean that the Academy will need to allocate you new offices, Lady Proudmoore.”

Taken aback, Jaina’s brow furrowed. “What? Why?”

“I won’t have you being seen in that little hovel Elosai has you in now,” he replied with a dark look in Elosai’s direction.

Eyes widening, Jaina leaned forward and insisted, “It was me. I wanted that office. I was uncomfortable with anything more grand, and Magistrix Elosai was very kind to accommodate me and my -- uhm -- eccentricities.”

The last bit she added with an apologetic grimace at Elosai, who tilted her head forward in a grateful nod that was all but imperceptible.

Kael’thas saw. He straightened in his seat. “Even if that’s the case, it’s inappropriate and unsuited for a person of your skill and station. Your wife should have done something about this fiasco long before I needed to step in, but I suppose we can’t all have the same contacts in Silvermoon.”

Gritting her teeth, Jaina swallowed down whatever unruly retort that bubbled up in her chest. Instead, she took a moment to breath and said, “Thank you, Your Majesty. Your generosity is appreciated. I’m just not sure if I’ll need the space soon.”

That seemed to throw him off his stride. “Whatever do you mean?”

“Well, truthfully I came here to discuss my upcoming obligations with Magistrix Elosai so I could adjust my schedule.”

Elosai nodded. “There has been an unprecedented number of Novices requesting entry to the Lady Proudmoore’s seminars, and we had discussed making her position here more permanent.”

“I can’t,” Jaina said. “I’m sorry. Sylvanas has asked me to help her train and induct a new round of naval officers. I can continue teaching my current amount of Novices, but I can’t take on any more students. In fact, it might be best to scale down a bit.”

With a hum of understanding, Elosai replied, “Of course. We can lower your class size to twenty each rotation. Would that suit?”

“That should be fine. Thank you so much, Magistrix.”

Kael’thas was staring between them, confusion marring his usual façade of candor. “The Ranger-General has asked you to -? What -?”

Jaina felt only a small shameful spark of pleasure at his bewilderment. She smothered it and offered him an apologetic smile. “Forgive me, Your Majesty. I thought you would have already been informed. With the launching of the new fleet, my wife has requested my expertise in training officers. I will have to manage my time more carefully, teaching at the Academy and also now at Sunsail Anchorage. Fortunately, the Anchorage is just south of Goldenbough. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

For a moment, Kael’thas was stunned, but he recovered quickly with a smile of his own. “But of course. What an excellent plan. It will look very good to the public for you to be involved in overseeing the new naval officers.” His smile widened somewhat, but his eyes had narrowed. “To be honest, I did not think the Ranger-General had it in her to display such social tact.”

Jaina didn’t tell him that it had been a collaborative idea between Sylvanas and Vereesa.

“You must be having a positive influence on her,” Kael’thas added.

Jaina returned his smile with a shrug. “That works both ways.”

He hummed, studying her thoughtfully. Then, he said, “Nevertheless, you will be moved to better offices. I won’t hear a word to the contrary,” He held up his hand when Jaina began to protest. “Think of it as an anniversary gift.”

Reluctant, Jaina bowed her head. “Thank you. You’re too kind.” When she straightened, she pushed back her chair and stood. “If you’ll please excuse me, I have a class soon.”

Both Elosai and Kael’thas had rose to their feet the moment she had done so.

“If I don’t see you before then, have a safe journey to Kul Tiras,” Elosai said, offering Jaina a far warmer smile than Kael’thas.

“I will.”

Kael’thas gave his own shallow bow of farewell. “And do say hello to your wife for me.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.

When Jaina was in the doorway and about to leave, Kael’thas called out, “Oh, and Lady Proudmoore?”

Jaina paused, one hand on the doorframe. When she looked around, both Elosai and Kael’thas were watching her. “Yes?”

Kael’thas smiled. “Happy Anniversary.”

 


 

“Is that what you’re wearing?”

Jaina was staring at Sylvanas, aghast. They stood in the entryway of the manor, their travelling trunks already being carted away by servants at the front door in preparation for their visit to Boralus. Sylvanas stopped, glancing down at her gold embossed ceremonial armour, lacquered and glittering whenever she moved.

“Yes?” she answered, sounding puzzled at Jaina’s reaction. “Don’t I have to play the part of Ranger-General? It’s an official diplomatic visit, and the first time I’ve ever been to Kul Tiras, let alone the first time I’ve been invited as the foreign spouse to their future leader.”

Jaina pointed at the fur-trimmed cloak Sylvanas had added to the ensemble like an afterthought. “I don’t think you’ll be very dignified when you freeze to death before we even reach Proudmoore Keep.”

Sylvanas rolled her eyes. “Please, Jaina. I’ve fought mountain campaigns. I can handle a bit of rain.”

“It’s autumn. In Boralus. It’s going to be more than a ‘bit of rain.’”

“Your concern, while touching, is unnecessary,” Sylvanas drawled.

“You know what?” Jaina strode over to one of her trunks before it could be loaded onto the carriage, and took it from a servant with an apologetic smile. She dragged it onto the ground and opened it up. Kneeling down, she rummaged through her things.

Sylvanas peered over her shoulder. “What are you doing? We’re going to be late.”

Jaina didn’t look up. “We are not going to be late.”

With a huff, Sylvanas said, “I don’t need a change of clothes. This armour is perfectly fine. I put on my winter cloak.”

“That cloak wouldn’t keep you warm through a fine Kul Tiran summer, let alone a wintry autumn.” Jaina dug around, found what she was looking for, and pulled out a package wrapped in brown paper. “I was going to wait to give you this until the anniversary, but here. Take it.”

Mouth twisting to one side, Sylvanas nevertheless took the package and opened it. Between her hands spilled a cloak the colour of the sea at storm, stitched with runes in gold thread all along its edge. She thumbed the fine fabric.

“It’s lovely,” Sylvanas said, brow furrowed. “But it doesn’t feel any thicker than the cloak I’m currently wearing.”

“That’s because it’s thinner.”

Sylvanas’ eyebrows rose. “How useful.”

Taking the cloak from Sylvanas’ hands, Jaina admonished her softly, “Oh, shush. I made it with sigils designed to keep you warm and dry. So long as you don’t go jumping in the ocean, it should do just that.”

Startled, Sylvanas asked, “You made it?”

“I went back to the seamstress’ shop and purchased some fabric, and then I enchanted a needle and let it go for a few days in the library,” Jaina explained.

She didn’t tell Sylvanas that she had almost forgotten about the needle, and when she’d gone back four days later, it had finished with the cloak and was attempting to embroider her books.

Reaching up, Jaina began tugging at the hooks holding Sylvanas’ current cloak in place beneath her pauldrons. Sylvanas sighed and helped. Still, she let Jaina place the gift over her shoulders and fasten the new cloak in place. It was longer than the old one, and it draped across Sylvanas’ front as well as her back.

As if to make a point of that, Sylvanas tried to sweep one of its edges back over her arm, only for the cloak to fall back over it again. She grunted. “How am I supposed to wield a weapon like this?”

“You’re not. You’re supposed to get stuffed full of arrows like the rest of us layfolk.” Jaina gave a tug to one of Sylvanas’ bracers. “And weren’t you the one complaining that this armour was made of tissue paper just a few weeks ago?”

“Sometimes I like to joke.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed.”

Satisfied, Jaina turned to re-pack her trunk. Before she could do so however, Sylvanas grabbed her by the wrist. Jaina stopped and looked back at her in puzzlement.

“Thank you,” Sylvanas said, meeting Jaina’s gaze and holding it.

Jaina smiled softly. “You’re very welcome.”

Sylvanas did not immediately let go of her hand. A shiver raced up Jaina’s arm as Sylvanas traced her thumb over the tendons of her wrist. Sylvanas blinked, her expression settling into something stiff, as if taken aback by her own actions, and she dropped Jaina’s hand.

Clearing her throat, Sylvanas stepped past her, “We should go. We’re going to be late.”

Jaina rolled her eyes and followed, repeating, “We are not going to be late.”

 


 

They were late.

“I told you,” Sylvanas grumbled.

“I’m sorry,” Jaina apologised for the third time. “But how on earth was I supposed to know the anchored portal system from Dalaran was having trouble?”

Breathing in a deep breath, Sylvanas closed her eyes. “I know. It’s not your fault. I just -” she opened her eyes and glared straight ahead. “I hate being late.”

Jaina placed a hand on Sylvanas’ shoulder. “It’s going to be fine. Are you ready?”

Still staring straight ahead, Sylvanas seemed to gather herself. A strange transformation swept over her. It was all a series of small things that Jaina had never seen her assemble before in person. A lift of her chin. A hardening of her eyes. A slight broadening of her stance, as if preparing for an incoming blow to the stomach. She tried to clasp her hands behind her back, only to scowl at how the cloak got in her way.

Then, finally, she nodded. “Let’s go.”

The moment they stepped through the portal, Jaina was struck by a wall of cold air. The chill washed over her, sinking its talons into the admiralty greatcoat she hadn’t worn for nearly a year since living in Quel’Thalas. For the first time in what felt like an age, Jaina was glad she was wearing heavy clothing. The greatcoat may have been uncomfortable and bulky even as it pulled her shoulders back, but it was designed for precisely this kind of weather.

They stepped out into the very centre of Unity Square. A statue of Daelin stared across their heads, and behind him the massive bulk of Proudmoore Keep loomed over the harbour. Dozens upon dozens of soldiers in Admiralty colours lined the square, hands clasped over their weapons, their uniforms darkened from the fine drizzle of rain that sifted down from an iron-clad sky. The banners of every great House of Kul Tiras were stiff with frost, hanging from the grey stone walls.

At the fore of the congregation, Katherine Proudmoore was waiting to greet them. In her Lord Admiral finery, her hair clapped back into a severe bun at the back of her head, she looked as stately as she did in Jaina’s memories. She made a gesture to one of her aides, and a roar went up as a captain shouted orders. In perfect unison, twenty one cannons facing the ocean fired. The noise that followed all but shook the ground, and Jaina couldn’t help but wince a bit.

On the other hand, neither Sylvanas nor Katherine flinched. They remained implacable in their own way. Behind her, Jaina could hear Ithedis clench his fist around his double bladed polearm at the sudden noise.

When the gun salute had finished, Katherine stepped forward until she was standing right before them. “Welcome to Kul Tiras, General. I hope you enjoy your stay.”

“It’s an honour to be here,” Sylvanas replied just as stiffly.

The two of them clasped hands in Kul Tiran custom, though Jaina noticed the way Sylvanas’ torso leaned forward just slightly, as if she were holding herself back from a bow.

When Katherine turned her attention to Jaina, her expression gentled. Jaina didn’t know she was holding her breath until her mother opened her arms. Exhaling a sigh of relief, Jaina all but fell forward into a hug. It was far too short for her tastes, but Katherine kept her hands on Jaina’s shoulders as she stepped back.

“You’re looking well, my dear,” Katherine smiled, lines appearing around her mouth and at the corners of her blue eyes.

A broad smile split Jaina’s own face and she breathed, “I missed you. It’s good to be home.”

Katherine took a moment to cup Jaina’s cheek with one hand before letting her go. The tenderness drained from her face as she turned on her heel and motioned for them to follow. “Please, come with me. I’d like to take you on an official tour of the harbour before we adjourn for tea, General.”

“It would be a pleasure, Lord Admiral,” Sylvanas replied.

She swept back her cloak to offer Jaina her arm. Jaina took it, and they walked together beside Katherine. Ithedis and a host of guards in Proudmoore colours trailed after them.

Sylvanas leaned her head down and whispered, “Tea?”

“She means ‘dinner’ in this context,” Jaina explained in a hushed tone.

“So, no actual tea?”

“Well,” Jaina shrugged. “Probably a cup of tea afterwards.”

Sylvanas gave her an odd look, as if debating with herself whether Jaina was making this all up.

“I swear it’s real,” Jaina hissed.

They fell silent, standing up straighter when Katherine glanced over at them pointedly. With a tilt of her head, Katherine said, “This way, if you will.”

Together, they walked through Boralus. Both Katherine and Jaina took it in turns pointing out various sights as they headed towards Mariner’s Row. The Stormsong Monastery earned them a few queries about the Tidesages, but mostly Sylvanas allowed them to steer her through the city as though they were leading a prize horse past an admiring crowd.

Even in the storm grey cloak Jaina had made for her, Sylvanas stood out from the everyday Kul Tiran in every sense. She was too tall, too slender, too graceful. Her long ears twitched at every wayward sound like a nervous cat, though her expression gave away nothing. As they walked, people would stop and stare. A few would greet their Lord Admiral and her daughter, but most simply gawked at what was undoubtedly the first elf they had ever seen in their lives.

For all that, Sylvanas made a convincing act of not noticing any of the attention. She alternatively spoke with Katherine or Jaina or both, asking questions about the history of the harbour, about its construction and what sieges it had survived. She requested to be taken across the battlements so she could jump nimbly atop the crenellation and stride from merlon to merlon as she gazed curiously down the walls, ignoring the way the Kul Tiran soldiers openly gaped at her.

Leaping down to stand beside Jaina once more, Sylvanas said, “We should organise an exchange of craftsmen. I have some ideas on how to fortify the Sunwell, and I’m sure these battlements could benefit from the addition of leyline anchors.”

Katherine inclined her head, not at all taken aback by Sylvanas’ behaviour. “A fine idea. I’m sure we can come to an arrangement that suits everyone.”

“I can talk to Magistrix Elosai about sending over a few experienced Apprentices,” Jaina pointed out. “Though, I don’t think they’d want to stay for too long.”

“The weather isn’t nearly as bad as you made it seem,” Sylvanas said, but even as she spoke, she held out her arm to Jaina once more. When Jaina took it, she felt how cold Sylvanas’ hand was beneath the magically preserved warmth of her cloak; her fingers held a fine tremor that she tried and failed to disguise.

Jaina shot her an incredulous look. Sylvanas blinked back at her, all innocence. To anyone else, Sylvanas would have appeared stoic and stony-faced, but Jaina saw right past that act.

“Mother,” Jaina said, “Shouldn’t we start heading back to the Keep? I’m famished.”

“Certainly. You can tour the Keep’s battlements tomorrow morning, should you find the time, General,” Katherine answered, already heading in the direction of the Keep.

The drizzle had thickened, not quite to a fully-fledged rain, but enough that Jaina could feel the damp start to seep through her own double-lined greatcoat. Sylvanas hadn’t pulled up her own hood, so that the mist dotted her golden hair. The tips of her ears and nose had long since gone pink. To Jaina, the icy rain was a blessed relief from her months and months of suffering through humidity, but Sylvanas -- for all her staunch refusal to acknowledge the cold -- couldn’t keep the shiver from her hands.

Discreetly, Sylvanas sniffled against the chill. Jaina pulled a handkerchief from a pocket of her greatcoat and handed it to her. Sylvanas shook her head, and with a roll of her eyes, Jaina stuffed the handkerchief away again.

Lowering her voice so her mother couldn’t hear, Jaina said, “I know you’re cold. You don’t have to pretend you’re not.”

If anything, that only made Sylvanas square her jaw bullishly. “I’ll live.”

“You’re being stubborn.”

“I’ve never been stubborn in my life,” Sylvanas sniffed.

For that, Jaina poked her in a gap in her armour, right above her flank. Sylvanas went stiff as a board, and trapped Jaina’s arm with her elbow. She narrowed her eyes, but Jaina merely hooked her hand into the crook of Sylvanas’ elbow, so that when Katherine looked over at them it appeared they were walking arm and arm just as before.

A cross between dry amusement and exasperation crossed Katherine’s face, before she shook her head and continued on as if she hadn’t seen anything. “How go your efforts with the Amani? I got your report that you narrowly escaped that ambush not long ago.”

“About as well as your efforts with the Zandalari,” Sylvanas answered smoothly.

Katherine chuckled darkly. “Tides help us all if they ever actually manage to join forces.”

“That’s what this is all about though, isn’t it?” Jaina added. “Keeping them fighting a two-front war?”

Eyes darting between the two of them, Katherine murmured, “So, it is.”

They did not dally any further on their way to the Keep. Both Katherine and Sylvanas tended to walk with purpose, always with a destination in mind. Sometimes when walking with them, Jaina felt outpaced. In this instance however, Jaina was glad, since she could feel the way Sylvanas was clenching her hands in an attempt to keep out the cold. When she glanced back at Ithedis, he looked just as miserable, despite the new set of winter fur-trimmed armour he had donned.

Walking into the Keep felt like sinking into a warm bath after a long and trying day. A steward took Jaina’s coat. When he tried to take Sylvanas’ cloak however, Sylvanas shook her head. Every fireplace on the main floor was lit, warming the dark grey stones lined with tapestries and rugs. Even so, Sylvanas made sure to sit herself at the chair nearest the fireplace in the dining hall. She tried to act casual about it, pretending not to notice Jaina’s knowing smirk as Katherine pulled out the chair at the head of the long table for herself.

When the first course was brought out, Sylvanas stared down at the table setting. From the corner of her eye, she watched the way Katherine picked up a fork and knife, clumsily following suit.

“Work from the outside in,” Jaina murmured, leaning in close to whisper in Sylvanas’ ear.

Shooting Jaina a grateful look, Sylvanas started to eat. Or at least she tried to. As the conversation continued -- talk of war, talk of politics, and always the bland talk of weather -- Jaina noticed the way Sylvanas’ brow furrowed, the way she fumbled with the cutlery, knife slipping across ceramic, fork unsuccessfully attempting to spear a boiled vegetable, which rolled to the other side of her plate.

Finally taking pity on her, Jaina nudged Sylvanas’ elbow with her own. When Sylvanas look over at her, Jaina very purposefully showed how to brace a bit of food with the knife while she stabbed it with the tines of her fork. Eyes narrowing, Sylvanas did the same and finally managed to get the sprout that had been evading her for a full minute.

“Why can’t we just use our hands like civilised people?” Sylvanas grumbled in Thalassian.

Jaina snorted with laughter. Rather than reply however, she looked to her mother and said in Common, “I’ve missed normal food. Everything in Quel’Thalas has to be toned down for me. Too spicy.”

Katherine shuddered in sympathy. “You got the low spice tolerance from me, I’m afraid.”

Sylvanas managed to finish the meal without further incident, apart from dropping a piece of food onto her lap with a scowl. When Katherine scraped her chair back to usher them into a side room for a cup of tea after dinner however, Sylvanas shook her head.

“Thank you, but I think I’ll let you two catch up without me.” She finished patting her leg down with a serviette, and tossed it onto the table atop her cutlery. As she passed Jaina, she grasped her gently by the shoulder and asked, “Where are we staying?”

Jaina pointed. “My old rooms. Take the stairs to the second floor of the main tower. Down two corridors -- right and left. Then the third door on your right.”

With a nod towards both her and Katherine, Sylvanas left.

Katherine watched her go with a mildly amused expression. “She’s a bit -”

“Waggish?” Jaina supplied helpfully.

“That’s exactly the word I was thinking.”

Together they headed into the sitting room and sat across from one another in armchairs before another fireplace. Tea was brought on a silver platter and placed on a table between them. Before Jaina could lean forward to pour herself a cup however, she heard a clearing of a throat and the clink of armour behind her.

“Excuse me, my Lady,” Ithedis murmured to her in Thalassian. “I will give you privacy, but I must ask first where I am meant to be staying during this visit?”

Confused at being addressed in Thalassian, Jaina nevertheless answered in his own tongue, “The captain of the guard will make sure you’re looked after, Ithedis. And if you need anything, let me know.”

He bowed to both her and Katherine, then departed.

When Jaina turned her attention back to her mother, it was to find Katherine looking at her strangely.

“What’s wrong?” Jaina asked.

“Nothing, of course.” Katherine leaned forward to pour them each a cup of tea. As she handed Jaina a cup and saucer, she said, “You’re learning their language very quickly.”

Jaina laughed. “Oh, no. Definitely not. I’m still terrible at it. They were speaking very slowly to me, is all.”

“Hmm,” Katherine replied, but made no other comment. She held out a little porcelain jug, “Milk?”

“Yes, thanks.”

“You seem to be acclimating quite well to life in Quel’Thalas. You’re positively rosy.” Katherina gestured towards Jaina’s face with her cup of tea.

With a shrug, Jaina sipped at her own cup. “I won’t lie. It hasn’t been easy. But it’s getting there.”

Katherine hummed in understanding, a low wordless noise as she drank. She handled her cup with the same poise Jaina had always admired and tried to emulate as a child. “I heard you handled yourself quite well in that scrape to the east.”

Somehow that poise had never quite stuck, no matter how hard Jaina tried. “I did what I had to.”

“Don’t we all.” Katherine’s eyes were keen and discerning. She was gilded in light from the nearby fireplace. “How are you? Really?”

“I’m fine,” Jaina said. Realising how unconvincing that must have sounded, she amended quickly. “Good. I’m good. Sylvanas is kind and considerate, and -- yes, she can be a bit of a stubborn ass, but everything is good between us. We make it work.”

Katherine sipped at her tea. “And they treat you well in Silvermoon?”

“They do. I’m teaching at their mage academy now. I sort of ended up with a lot of young students that needed help with their studies, and the administration decided to just make it official.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Finding purpose in a new environment is always a struggle.” Katherine placed her cup back on its saucer. She seemed to mull over something before announcing, “I’m sorry I couldn’t attend your Kirin Tor ascension ceremony.”

Stunned at the admission and the sudden shift in topic, Jaina said, “It’s - It’s alright.”

“No, it’s not.” Katherine paused to pour herself another cup. Leaning back in her chair, she stirred in a dollop of milk. “Ever since taking this position, I’ve missed half of your life.”

With that simple statement, the ground seemed to open up at Jaina’s feet. She stared at her mother, who was primly tapping at the rim of her cup with a silver spoon, refusing to meet her eye. “You haven’t,” Jaina insisted. “You were always there for me when I needed you.”

It was suddenly very important that her mother know that, but Katherine simply placed the teaspoon on her saucer and sipped at her cup.

“That’s kind of you to say, my dear, but it’s untrue.”

Jaina didn’t know what to say to that. Her father had died when she was thirteen years old, and ever since her mother had been an absent figure, consumed with the position that was thrust upon her and which she never wanted. For a year or two it hadn’t been so bad. At least Jaina had her brothers. Until suddenly she didn’t. And then it had been magic and training and Dalaran, filling the holes of her life with the pages of books as if desperately trying to plug the leaks in a sinking ship.

And now -

“It’s not your fault,” Jaina said softly. “It’s not anybody’s fault. Storms happen.”

Katherine smiled down into her cup of tea. “Oh, yes. Storms always happen.” She sighed and took another sip. “Thank goodness you turned out the way you did. I can’t imagine what would have happened if you’d had even a drop less mettle in your blood.”

“I think my governesses would have appreciated it, actually,” Jaina said.

Katherine snorted with laughter. “You did run through an awful lot of them as a child. I remember having to get the steward to interview new ones for me after you drove the last one away.”

“I wasn’t a very good kid.”

Katherine sniffed. “What nonsense. You were a wonderful child. Very well behaved.”

“For you.”

“Exactly.”

With a smile and a shake of her head, Jaina reminded her, “I used to enchant their teacups to pour hot water into the guardsmen’s boots as a distraction to escape through the north tower’s sally port.”

Over the rim of her cup, Katherine’s eyes sparkled. “And a fine tactical decision that was, too.”

The warmth of the fireplace cutting through the coolness of the stone walls of the Keep, the familiar smells and timbre of her home, made Jaina sink back into the cushions of her seat. She cupped her tea between both hands, relishing the transference of heat into her skin.

Looking up, Jaina said, “That reminds me. May I borrow some of your books? Sylvanas asked me to help induct some new naval officers, and I need to brush up on my reading.”

Katherine lifted one inquisitive eyebrow, but all she said was, “You may. Take anything you need.”

“Thank you.”

“Of course. And don’t be afraid to send me a letter, should you ever need anything. I may be at sea seven months out of the year, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be there for you.”

“I know,” Jaina murmured. “I’ve always known that.”

They finished their tea. They talked in soft voices. And then, as the fire grew dim beneath the marble mantlepiece, they placed their cups and saucers upon the table and stood. Together, they walked towards the stairs of the main tower.

Once there, Katherine kissed Jaina’s cheek and murmured, “Good night. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Night,” Jaina whispered.

Her mother walked down another hallway towards her own chambers, and Jaina headed off towards her old rooms. She did not rush through the familiar halls. She took her time, studying the high vaulted ceiling, scuffing her heels along the long train of cloth that trailed down the centre of the floor, running her hand along the base of a banner in passing. Even though she hadn’t lived here in years -- not since she left for Dalaran -- Jaina could remember every nook and cranny of this Keep. She was half tempted to go exploring for her old favourite hideouts, but instead she turned towards her room.

The door still creaked the same way at the hinges when she opened and closed it. Inside, her mother hadn’t touched any aspect of the room’s layout. Apart from having the space cleaned and the sheets changed, it was exactly as she recalled, down to the moth-eaten tapestry along the far wall that Jaina had begged her father not to take down when she was a child. Jaina had no doubt her brothers’ rooms were treated much the same.

The fireplace was lit, and the logs within had been reduced to embers that filled one side of the room with heat and a faint source of light that Jaina used to manoeuvre. Sylvanas was nowhere to be seen. For a moment, Jaina considered heading out to look for her, but instead crossed to her travelling trunks stacked in one corner. She changed into a nightgown -- one of her long cotton ones, rather than the flimsy silk thing that she’d left behind at Goldenbough -- and wandered towards the sprawling bed.

It wasn’t until she pulled back the sheets, that Jaina realised Sylvanas was already in bed. Another quick look around proved that her armour was piled up in another corner, covered by the cloak. An extra blanket had been thrown across the bed. Despite it, Sylvanas shivered, her narrow figure folding inwards as though she were trying to wrap herself into a ball, seeking out any shred of heat and trapping it in place.

Hesitantly Jaina climbed into bed and scooted over to the other side. She curled up behind Sylvanas, wrapping an arm around Sylvanas’ stomach and whispering, “Is this alright?”

She half expected Sylvanas to inch away, but Sylvanas nodded. She even hiked her legs up so that her knees nearly touched her chest. At the first brush of Sylvanas’ bare feet against her thighs, Jaina cursed softly under her breath. “Fuck! You’re freezing!”

In answer, Sylvanas burrowed deeper under the covers until even the tips of her ears were hidden from the brisk night air. Now that they were huddled together beneath the blankets so closely, Jaina had no choice but to have her head be completely covered as well. Jaina huffed with laughter, which blew against the silky strands of Sylvanas’ hair. Enveloped in heat and muffled darkness like this, the only thing Jaina could smell was the warm scent of Sylvanas’ hair. Comforting smells. Woodsmoke, and rain, and, as always, the faint strains of sunlight.

“We can never live in Kul Tiras except in the summer,” Sylvanas mumbled, her voice muffled by the sheets.

“So long as that means we don’t have to live in Quel’Thalas in the summer,” Jaina replied. “How about we trade? Summer in Kul Tiras. Winter in Quel’Thalas.”

Sylvanas nodded furiously. “It’s a deal.”

Jaina hummed another soft laugh. She could feel Sylvanas’ back slowly warming up against her, the shivers receding. She tightened her grip as she adjusted herself a little, settling her pillow so that she could fall asleep in this position and not wake up with a crick in her neck.

“Jaina?” Sylvanas said.

“Mmm?”

“You can say: ‘I told you so.’”

“That’s very magnanimous of you.”

“Magnanimity is one of my most sterling qualities.”

Eyes closed, Jaina smiled. She waited a moment, before nudging Sylvanas’ shoulder with her forehead. “Sylvanas?”

“Mmm?”

“I told you so.”

 


 

The anniversary celebrations took place three days later. Most of that time was devoted to preparations, and before Jaina knew it she was pulling on her ceremonial Admiralty garb in front of a narrow pane of glass in her rooms. As she was adjusting her sleeves, Sylvanas stepped into the room. Jaina glanced at her reflection in the mirror, then stared.

Rather than her ornamental Ranger-General armour, Sylvanas had donned a Kul Tiran suit, sleek and dark and tailored. It had just enough gold embroidery to add a foreign touch, while still keeping to its traditional Kul Tiran cut. She had left her hair down, softening the look, rather than pulling it back as was the current style in Boralus.

“That’s what you’re -?” Jaina had to clear the squeak from her voice. “What happened to your armour?”

“That was for our first public appearance when I was a foreign dignitary. Now, it’s our anniversary celebration, and I’m your wife.” Sylvanas added as an aside, “Also, I thought Kael’thas would hate it.”

Jaina considered that for a moment. Turning, she said, “Then you have to wear it.”

A delighted grin tugged at Sylvanas’ mouth. “You’re encouraging me to openly slight Kael’thas?”

“Fuck Kael’thas,” Jaina growled. After discovering his dabbling at the Academy, she had relayed the story to Sylvanas, who had taken her usual satisfaction in learning that he had blundered.

Sylvanas placed a delicate hand at her throat. “My, my! Lady Proudmoore, such obscenities about my divinely born sovereign Prince!”

“I figured since I wouldn’t start fights at fancy parties or get myself impaled on a spear, I should insult your leige lord.”

Sylvanas hummed in agreement, a sage expression on her face. “It really is the least you could do.”

A knock on the open door. They both looked over to find Ithedis bowing to them. “Lady Windrunner, Lady Proudmoore, the guests are arriving.”

“Great,” Jaina sighed. She crossed the room, giving her braid a last pat down to ensure there were no stray strands.

“Your hair looks fine,” Sylvanas assured her.

“I know. I’m just -” Jaina grimaced.

Sylvanas smiled. “I know.”

Gathering herself with a deep breath, Jaina looked at Ithedis. “Thank you. We’ll meet you downstairs.”

He inclined his head and departed.

Sylvanas watched Jaina for a moment before asking, “Ready?”

“No. But, let’s go.”

Wordlessly, Sylvanas offered Jaina her arm. Jaina took it, and together they headed downstairs to the grand hall of Proudmoore Keep.

Guests were invited from every nation in the Alliance and Kul Tiras. Officially, Kul Tiras had yet to join the ranks of other humans in their Alliance of other races, though the marriage linking Silvermoon and Boralus seemed to be a first step in that direction. Especially now, with a host of foreign diplomats arriving at Proudmoore Keep to celebrate.

Jaina and Sylvanas had to stand at the entrance of the hall, greeting every guest as they arrived. An hour in, and Jaina had to shift her weight back and forth between feet. Her smile had started to feel plastered on a quarter of an hour ago, and she wished she had gone Sylvanas’ route of august solemnity. Though truthfully Jaina doubted she could do anything even remotely described as ‘august.’

For most of the night so far, Sylvanas had thanked their guests in a smooth cultured tone, remembering each of their names without fail. At the approach of a mixed congregation of dwarves and humans however, she went a bit tense and glanced at Jaina. It took Jaina a moment to realise that it was an imploring look.

Rising up on her toes, Jaina whispered in Sylvanas’ ear, “Muradin Bronzebeard. The younger brother of King Magni.”

“And not the king himself?”

“I think Muradin’s an ambassador to Lordaeron? He was probably just more conveniently placed to attend.”

Sylvanas nodded. She straightened her shoulders as the group arrived, and greeted them with a shallow bow. “Muradin. Here representing both Ironforge and Lordaeron, I see.”

He returned the bow. Absent his usual horned helm, the top of his stout head barely reached Sylvanas’ waist. “On behalf of clan Bronzebeard, I thank you for having us this evening. Terenas and Lianne also send their regards, and apologise for being unable to attend themselves.”

“You’re more than enough good company on your own,” Jaina replied as he took her hand and shook it.

The braids of his long copper-coloured beard twitched in a smile. He let go of Jaina’s hand and his eyes sparkled as he glanced up at Sylvanas. “How did you ever manage to wrangle yourself a sweet girl like this, General?”

Jaina flushed, but Sylvanas appeared entirely unruffled for she drawled, “I’m sure it had everything to do with my charms and nothing to do with our stations.”

With a good-natured chuckle, Muradin inclined his head to the both of them. “Forge be with you, both. And happy anniversary. Here’s to another year.”

He continued on into the Keep, and Jaina turned her head to see which guests were approaching next. She groaned, “Oh no.”

“What is it?” Sylvanas asked, lowering her voice and leaning down a little.

Jaina kept her smile steadfastly in place even as she hissed, “The Ashvanes.”

“One of your noble Houses, yes?”

With a nod, Jaina said, “I can’t stand Lady Ashvane. She’s so - so -” She tried to think of a word strong enough to accurately convey her feelings, and ended up with, “- disingenuous.”

Sylvanas had to bite back a snort of laughter. “Is that all? You must hate half of Silvermoon, then.”

“Only the half that deserves it,” Jaina grumbled.

But then Lady Ashvane was sweeping towards them, and they had to lean apart again and pretend to look stately, which Jaina had never been good at and which Sylvanas seemed born to do well. Halfway through the introductions to Lady Ashvane, Jaina could feel her smile turn into a grimace. She was grateful when Lady Ashvane continued further into the room, and they could finish greeting the rest of the guests.

Then, they paraded themselves around the grand hall, the normally militant space made no less austere when festooned with additional banners from Silvermoon and House Windrunner. While everyone else got to eat and drink and mingle, Jaina and Sylvanas walked arm in arm through the crowd, strategically joining conversations here and there, saying a few choice words before moving on to the next group. With Katherine in the room and Sylvanas looking as refined as she always did, Jaina felt more like a shadow of her mother than ever.

A nudge at her side brought Jaina’s attention back to earth. She blinked at Sylvanas in confusion.

“Is everything alright?” Sylvanas asked, her voice low enough that nobody else could hear as they walked the room, though her expression remained aloof and unapproachable.

“Fine. Interacting with this many people is tiring is all.”

With a wordless hum of agreement, Sylvanas steered them towards a set of throne-like chairs that had been set behind a table at the head of the hall. “Come on. Let’s sit.”

Even seated, they were approached by a continuous stream of guests. This time however, it felt worse -- too much like they were holding court to a doting retinue. Every time a new group drew near them, Jaina would sink just a little further down in her chair, hoping that the stones would swallow her whole and she could escape this personal hell.

Being home wasn’t supposed to be like this. Being home was supposed to be about relaxing in a familiar place, eating familiar food, drinking familiar drinks, spending quality time with her mother, showing Sylvanas her favourite places in Boralus. Not introducing an obviously uncomfortable Sylvanas to her third cousin twice removed on her father’s side, whom Jaina herself had met only a handful of times as a child at family reunions.

“How many siblings did your father have?” Sylvanas hissed after shaking the hand of Jaina’s twenty-second cousin of the night.

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Jaina groaned. “Too many. My great-grandmother had seven children, and they all had at least five children a-piece, and so on and so forth.”

“Your mother wasn’t joking about Heirs. You’re swimming in them.”

“Drowning, more like.”

Another hour passed. And another. Jaina gave up and had a glass of wine, wishing it were a cold tripel at her favourite pub on the docks instead. Finally, nobody else approached, and they were left in relative peace.

“I’d say we’ve done our part rather well, wouldn’t you?” Sylvanas tilted her head towards the congregation that was now fully ignoring their presence. “We’ve given them the opportunity to gawp at us, and now they’re happily playing their own political games.”

“Joy of joys,” Jaina said dryly, setting aside her glass on the table. “And now we get to sit here and be bored for another few hours before they get drunk enough that we can slip away and they won’t notice our absence.”

At that, a thoughtful look crossed Sylvanas’ face, followed by a grin.

Jaina frowned at her, then her eyes widened. “Oh, no. I know that look. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not going to happen.”

“Well, whyever not?”

“Sylvanas, I am not starting a fight with you at our anniversary.”

She feigned offense at Jaina’s accusatory tone. “Such slander. From my own wife, no less. I was simply going to suggest you create a diversion so we could sneak out now, rather than waiting for boredom to kill us.”

At first, Jaina opened her mouth to tell Sylvanas off, but then she paused. Across the hall Lady Ashvane was sidling up to her mother with a goblet of wine and a sycophantic smile. Jaina sucked on the backs of her teeth, considering.

Turning to Sylvanas, Jaina glared. “You’re a very bad influence on me.”

In answer Sylvanas’ eyes gleamed. “I know.”

“You see that tapestry over there? The one with the kraken fighting a dozen ships?” Jaina motioned with her head.

Sylvanas glanced discreetly over her shoulder. “I do.”

“When I say ‘go’, I want you to run over there and press the fourth stone up from the bottom right of the tapestry. Don’t wait for me. Alright?”

Sylvanas nodded. She was already tense, muscles coiled to spring forward at Jaina’s command.

But Jaina wasn’t looking at her, she was looking at the Lady Ashvane. She waited until the Lady Ashvane had managed to get Katherine’s attention and was handing her one of the goblets.

“Go.”

With a whispered spell, Jaina flicked her fingers just as Sylvanas soundlessly slipped from her seat, quick as a shadow. The barest burst of magic jolted the Lady Ashvane’s elbow, so that she tipped the goblet of wine all across the front Katherine’s greatcoat. A gasp went up from the surrounding guests, and everyone turned to watch Lady Ashvane’s growing horror and the Lord Admiral’s tight-lipped anger.

Ducking from sight, Jaina rushed after Sylvanas. A small hidden door was open behind the tapestry. Jaina pushed the tapestry aside and scrambled inside, her hands automatically finding the lever that shut the door behind her.

Sylvanas’s hands found her shoulders, steadying her in place as they crouched in the dark. Her eyes glowed softly through the dimly lit corridor that extended before them. “Nicely done. Are you sure that doesn’t count as starting a fight at a fancy dinner party?”

“I’d rather not stick around to find out,” Jaina replied with a low laugh, already heading off down the corridor.

Sylvanas followed, bent nearly double to fit in the crawlspace. “Is your mother a fisticuffs person? Or a blades at dawn person?”

“Yes.”

“Terrifying. I almost feel sorry for the Lady Ashvane.”

“I don’t,” Jaina muttered.

Sylvanas laughed.

The exited the corridor onto a side hallway deeper into the Keep. Poking her head out, Jaina glanced up and down for any guardsmen. She gestured for Sylvanas to hurry, and they dashed along, rounding another corner and descending a series of stairs that curled in tight circles down into the bowels of the Keep. On the way, Jaina ducked into a spare room and grabbed them each a cloak in Proudmoore colours, draping it over their shoulders and pulling up the hoods.  

They had to hide behind a suit of armour as a group of guardsmen passed. The guards carried halberds taller than themselves, talking in loud voices that echoed across the high stone walls. Jaina had to stifle a laugh behind her hand when Sylvanas nearly knocked the helmet clean off the stand of armour. None of the guards noticed, even as Sylvanas stabilised the helmet with her hands, Jaina pressed up against her back and shaking with silent laughter.

As soon as the guards had disappeared from sight, Jaina grabbed Sylvanas’ wrist and pulled her along. “This way.”

Soon, Jaina was lifting the grate that hid the small sally port, and they were sneaking along the outer walls of Proudmoore Keep. And then, Jaina was leading Sylvanas through the streets of Boralus towards the Ashvane Company Yards.

“Where are we going?” Sylvanas asked.

“To get some real Kul Tiran food and an actual drink.”

With their finery hidden beneath the bulky woollen Proudmoore cloaks, they drew little attention. Sylvanas hunched slightly, and had to keep tugging at the hood of her cloak with a grimace so that her long ears did not push the hood back and reveal her face. She kept the hood up even when Jaina led them to the front entrance of the Salt and Shanty.

Jaina pulled back her hood the moment they stepped inside. The warm air was crowded with patrons, with the smell of home-cooked pies and spilt beer. Nobody looked at them twice. Pushing her way to the bar, Jaina ordered, then dragged Sylvanas to a far corner by the fireplace, where a dingy little table was free. They squeezed into the rickety wooden seats and looked out across the room.

Upstairs carried the thump of feet and the sounds of a fiddle, people singing well-known shanties with a zeal that earned the tavern its name. Sylvanas and Jaina could hardly hear one another speak over the noise, leaning their heads close to swap stories or comments as they watched the other patrons.

When two pies and two mugs of dark frothy tripel were brought out, Sylvanas’ head perked up. She took one of the plates, looking around at their small table. “No cutlery?”

With a pointed look at her, Jaina picked up her own pie with her hands and started to eat.

“Blessed be the sun,” Sylvanas sighed in Thalassian.

They ate and drank in peace. Jaina savoured every bite. She leaned back in her seat when she’d finished, cradling the pint in her hands and nursing it slowly as the fire warmed her side.

“I have a newfound appreciation for your struggles with elven cuisine,” Sylvanas admitted as she finished her own pie.

“You did tell me you would struggle just as much in Kul Tiras as I did in Quel’Thalas.”

“Prescentience is a necessary quality for a general.”

“Apparently so is an ego the size of planetary bodies.”

Sylvanas grinned at her. “No, but it helps.”

Jaina snorted with laughter and sipped at her beer. Just as she was thinking this night was finally taking a turn for the better, she heard a gruff voice from the crowd.

“Isn’t that the Lord Admiral’s daughter?”

Freezing, Jaina’s eyes widened. Beside her, Sylvanas went just as still and tense.

A few patrons turned to look at them. “Oy! Aren’t you two supposed to be at some fancy party at the Keep?”

“Was that what all those foreigners are here for?”

“I could have sworn I saw a dwarf in Tradewinds. Hairy as a pirate, and shorter than a cabin boy.”

“Come off it, Baz.”

“What’s the occasion, then?” One of them asked Jaina and Sylvanas directly. More people had joined in, half of the pub staring their way to get a glimpse of the Lord Admiral’s daughter.

Jaina half expected them to not actually wait for her reply. When they did however, she stammered out, “Uhm -- It’s just -- My wedding anniversary?”

That earned her a few scattered laughs.

“You don’t sound very sure about that, love.”

“Did you forget the wedding night? Thought you were supposed to remember that kind of thing.”

More laughter, and more raucous this time.

Jaina’s face was bright red now. Sylvanas’ shoulders were tense, her gaze fierce. She made an abortive movement, but Jaina grabbed her by the arm and shook her head.

“So, where’s your elven general, then? That her, there?”

For a moment, neither of them moved. Abruptly, Sylvanas reached up with her other hand and swept back the hood of her cloak. Rising from her seat, Sylvanas offered the room a mock bow. Appreciative whistles and claps answered her antics.

“Time to take advantage of the open borders! Anyone got a boat for Silvermoon?”

“How’d you land yourself such a catch, Lady Proudmoore?” Someone called from the back of the crowd.

Jaina didn’t know what possessed her to shout in reply, “By using finer bait than you could afford!”

The roar of laughter that followed filled the tavern. A few people slapped their hands atop their tables.

Someone swayed to their feet and hoisted a tankard into the air. “A toast for the Lady Proudmoore and the finest catch!”

As the crowd tipped their pints back, Jaina pulled discreetly at the edge of Sylvanas’ cloak. When Sylvanas glanced in her direction, Jaina nodded her head towards the exit, which was not so conveniently located all the way on the other side of the room.

“Barkeep!” One of the patrons yelled. “Drinks on the house for the happy couple!”

Jaina tried to wave that away. “Oh, no. Really. We should get going.”

A chorus of disappointed cries rose at that. “So soon? The night’s still young!”

“Pull up a chair, General!”

“Tell us about Quel’Thalas!”

“Fuck Quel’Thalas. Tell us about the Second War!”

“How old are you, General? Were you in the First War, too?”

Sylvanas ignored them. Taking Jaina by the hand, she started towards the exit. Nobody tried to stop them, but they barely made it halfway there when someone shouted, “Come on! You’ve got to give us something!”

“Give the Lady something at least!”

More laughter. It was crowded enough that Jaina was half pressed up against Sylvanas as they attempted to wedge their way through the other patrons.

“Go on, Lady Proudmoore! Show her how Kul Tirans give as good as they get!”

“I’m well aware of that already!” Sylvanas countered as they inched their way towards the exit.

At that, the patrons all but crowed.

“Prove it!” someone shouted.

“Prove it!” another repeated, and a number of them pounded their fists on the tables.

Sylvanas’ jaw was squared. She glanced at Jaina, before looking away quickly, trying and failing to push through to the exit as the crowd took up the cry.

“Just -” Jaina tugged lightly at the front of Sylvanas’ woollen cloak, even though they already stood near enough that she could feel the warmth radiating from Sylvanas’ figure. “Just kiss me. Let’s get this over with and go.”

Sylvanas hesitated only a fraction of a second before she seemed to come to a conclusion. Something flickered in her glowing gaze, and then she cupped the back of Jaina’s neck in one hand and bowed her head down to kiss her.

The twice they had kissed before, Jaina had initiated it. And both times, no matter how lingering or desperate or ceremonious, their kisses had remained firmly, strictly chaste. Now, Sylvanas grabbed Jaina by the hip with her free hand to pull their bodies flush together. Jaina inhaled sharply through her nose when she felt Sylvanas’ mouth open against hers, the tip of that tongue brushing against Jaina’s lower lip.

Hesitantly, Jaina let her mouth drop fractionally open, and Sylvanas did not wait to deepen the kiss. Jaina could faintly hear a whimper catch at the back of her own throat. This was nothing like before. This was fervent and heady and hungry. Sylvanas’ hand slipped down to the small of Jaina’s back, her other tightening its grip in Jaina’s hair. Her legs trembled when she felt her tongue graze against one of Sylvanas’ fangs, when those fingers skimmed against the nape of her neck, when Sylvanas pressed one leg forward, just enough that a jolt ran through Jaina from crown to toe and her breathing grew ragged.

All around them, the tavern patrons were roaring and laughing in approval, slamming their tankards against their tables in a slosh of bitter ale. Jaina could barely hear them over the buzzing in her ears, noises crashing together into a wordless static. She was clutching at Sylvanas’ shoulders like a lifeline, her eyes half shut, her vision hazy.

Even when Sylvanas broke the kiss, she didn’t pull away immediately. Jaina gasped, her grip tightening around the rough fabric of Sylvanas’ stolen cloak as if to hold her in place, or perhaps to hold herself upright. Jaina wasn’t quite sure.

Sylvanas swayed forward, and for a moment Jaina thought she was going to kiss her again as their mouths brushed. Instead, Sylvanas inhaled sharply and straightened. She took Jaina by the hand and dragged her at last from the packed tavern.

The cold night air hit Jaina like a slap to the face. Sylvanas was already pulling up the hood of her cloak once more and stalking back the way they’d come. Clutching her own cloak around her shoulders, Jaina hurried after her, half-jogging to keep up with Sylvanas’ long-legged stride. Her exposed skin was numbed by the time they reached Proudmoore Keep.

The last of the guests were departing through the front gates. Sylvanas and Jaina did not speak as they crept back through the sally port, avoiding the detection of stewards and guardsmen all the way through the Keep until the very last stretch of corridor. There, Jaina tried to say something, only for Sylvanas to stop suddenly in the hallway leading to their quarters.

“What’s -?” Jaina started to ask, but she fell silent when she looked around Sylvanas and saw who it was that stood before their bedroom door.

Ithedis glowered, shield in hand, his expression thunderous.

“Oh…” Jaina winced. “Shit.”

For a moment Ithedis said nothing. When he spoke, his tone was as stiff and officious as ever. If not for the fury in his gaze, she might have thought nothing was wrong.

“My Lady,” he began, “you disappeared for nearly three hours.”

Jaina grimaced, “I know. I’m sorry. We were just -”

When she trailed off, Ithedis continued, “It does not concern me where you go in private, only that you tell me where and when you go.”

“I know,” Jaina repeated, more firmly this time. “It was a spur of the moment decision, Ithedis. We didn’t mean to worry you.”

“And yet you did. The only reason why I did not tear this Keep apart brick by brick, is because the Ranger-General was also gone, and I presumed she was with you.”

At the mention of her title, Sylvanas’ ears twitched beneath cloth. She reached up and pulled back the hood, but said nothing.

“If this were Quel’Thalas,” Ithedis said, “it would have been different. But this is a diplomatic mission, and the officials here all have their own agendas. I know of at least two guests tonight, who would have gladly taken advantage of any vulnerability to see this alliance in ruins by the month’s end.”

“Just two?” Jaina said weakly. Ithedis gave her a sharp look, and she mumbled, “Sorry.”

With a sigh, he stepped forward. His voice softened, “The Lord Admiral was asking after you. I told her that the two of you had adjourned to your quarters for the evening. My answer seemed to satisfy her curiosity.”

Jaina shifted, uncomfortable. “Thank you.”

He nodded. Walking past them, Ithedis parted with a brief, “I am only glad you are unhurt, Lady Proudmoore. Lady Windrunner.”

Jaina held her breath until he had rounded the corner, and they were alone in the hallway. She tried to laugh, walking towards the door to her old rooms and pulling it open, but it sounded feeble to her own ears. “Well, that didn’t go quite as expected.”

She stepped into her rooms, but Sylvanas did not follow. Hesitating in the doorway, Jaina looked back.

It had been months since Sylvanas had last worn an expression that Jaina could not decipher. Now, Sylvanas was watching her with an utterly inscrutable face. She looked as if she had been carved from stone, the unyielding line of her shoulders, the fists clenched at her side. Jaina swallowed against the sudden dryness of her throat, afraid to speak, afraid at what answer she might hear.

“Are you -?”

“I have something I must attend to,” Sylvanas said abruptly, sounding hoarse. She turned on her heel, already walking away. “Don’t wait up for me.”

“Wait -” Jaina started to say, but the words died on her tongue.

Sylvanas left with quick and silent footfalls. Jaina stared after her until that dark green cloak whipped around the corner, and she was gone.

In a daze, Jaina stepped into her room and shut the door. Her heart hammered in her chest. Her hands and face were only just warming from their walk. Still feeling numb despite the fire crackling away across the room, Jaina tugged off the stolen cloak and tossed it onto the floor. She leaned her shoulders back against the closed door, and simply stood there, gazing at the empty room.

She chewed at her lower lip, at the memory of the kiss. It lingered at the very edge of sensation. Fragments of it came rushing back like the tide in a jumble. The softness of Sylvanas’ mouth. The firm grip of her hands. The glide of her tongue. The insistent press of her thigh.

Even now, Jaina could feel a coil of heat hooking into a place beneath her stomach. She shifted her feet and could feel an answering slickness between her legs.

Closing her eyes, Jaina tilted her head back until it bumped the door. She clenched her hands into fists, and repeated, “Shit.”

 


 

They did not talk about it.

At some point in the night Sylvanas had presumably returned to their room. It had taken Jaina an age to fall asleep alone, though she suspected she wouldn’t have slept at all if Sylvanas had stayed.

Not that anything would have happened -- she was absolutely sure nothing would have happened. Just that the very thought of trying to sleep that night knowing that Sylvanas was within arm’s reach would have been far far worse than what had actually transpired, which was Jaina clutching a pillow tightly to her chest, squeezing her eyes shut, and trying to ignore any friction when she shifted her thighs.

Needless to say, she slept very poorly when she did manage to finally fall asleep. And still, she woke up at the first traces of watery sunlight peering through a latticework of heavy cloud that dappled through the Keep’s windows. Groggy and already fending off a headache, Jaina stirred to find that the sheets on the other side of the bed were mussed and warm, but that Sylvanas was nowhere in sight.

Their travelling trunks were packed and ready to go by the door, an unwelcome reminder that they would be leaving Boralus today. With a groan, Jaina rubbed at her eyes and hauled herself from bed to get dressed. She had to force herself to brush out her hair rather than leave it in the tangled mess that her braid had become during the night. Then she re-braided it -- sloppily, and not nearly as nicely as Sylvanas would have done if she’d been there and if Jaina actually had the courage to ask her to touch her -- and, yawning, left the room.

Down at breakfast, Sylvanas was seated at the long dining table with Katherine, the two of them already eating and talking. Directly behind Sylvanas, the fireplace crackled with heat, though she still wore the enchanted cloak Jaina had made for her. A glint of her ceremonial armour could be seen when she moved, the gleam of a bracer here, the shine of a sabaton there.

Both Katherine and Sylvanas looked up when Jaina entered the dining hall. Their conversation died off, but not suspiciously so.

Katherine smiled warmly. “Good morning. Your wife and I were just commiserating over your sheer number of cousins.”

“They do seem to multiply every year, don’t they?” Jaina approached, fighting off another yawn. She hesitated for a moment between sitting at Sylvanas’ side or sitting across from her. Deciding that sitting across from her would look suddenly suspicious, Jaina took the same seat she had a few nights ago, slumping forward so that her elbows rested upon the table and she could rest her chin in her hands. “You two are up early.”

“Military time,” Sylvanas said by way of explanation. She met Jaina’s gaze, but glanced away soon after.

Something stuttered in Jaina’s chest. She straightened slowly, arms lowering. She had hoped that somehow last night had been a fluke. An accident. Something that would vanish like smoke by the time they saw one another again. In that brief moment however, a simple glance managed to send an electric jolt through her. Jaina’s hands clenched together in her lap. The bite of fingernails into her palms did nothing to ground her against the irrational idea that if she looked too long at Sylvanas every thought would be clear as day across her face.

She really needed a better night’s sleep. At least the nightmares had gone.

Clearing her throat, Jaina kept the shakiness from her voice, but just barely, “Can I have a cup of tea, please?”

The pot was nearest her mother, who leaned forward to pour Jaina a cup and pass it along. This end of the table was laden with various breakfast foods, all hearty Kul Tiran fare apart from a selection of fruit from Quel’Thalas. Sylvanas’ plate had been filled primarily with the fruit, though she had also taken a roll of buttered bread.

Jaina didn’t touch the food, but accepted the tea with a desperate kind of relish. Her stomach had seized itself into a knot of snakes. She hated the way she found herself watching Sylvanas out of the corner of her eye, like a naughty child peeking through a curtain at some forbidden scene beyond. Sylvanas seemed not to notice; she was wearing that inscrutable expression from last night. Jaina also hated that she was inscrutable again.

A steward approached Katherine with what appeared to be a letter. Without a word to him, she took it and he left. With a glance at Jaina, she remarked, “You look tired, my dear. Is something troubling you?”

Shaking her head, Jaina said, “I didn’t sleep very well.”

Technically not a lie, though the words still twisted in her mouth as if she had lied.

Katherine lifted one eyebrow as she broke the letter’s seal and opened it. “I thought you two went to bed early?”

Both Jaina and Sylvanas went tense.

“We - uh - well, we -” Jaina fumbled for what to say She could lie, but Katherine would know. Finally Jaina breathed out in a rush, “Can we talk about something else?”

Flipping open the letter, Katherine looked over the top of it at the two of them, but all she said was, “Certainly. Wasn’t it convenient, the way Priscilla Ashvane flung her wine at me last night right before you disappeared? I do love ruining my best frock in front of a roomful of my peers.”

Jaina froze. Beside her, she could hear Sylvanas’ soft derisive laugh, no more than an exhalation.

Face flushing, Jaina mumbled into her teacup, “Sorry.”

For all the flat disapproval in Katherine’s words, they lacked any bite, and the corner of her mouth pulled into the hint of a smile as she read her letter. “I must say, for a marriage of convenience I am glad you two get along so well. I know that’s not always the case.”

Jaina’s stomach swooped, and she made sure not to look at Sylvanas. Then, she frowned at her mother in confusion, “Wait. What do you mean: ‘you know’?”

Not looking up from her letter, Katherine sipped at her cup of tea. “Your father and I were an arranged pair, of course.”

“What?” Jaina gaped. “Why didn’t I know about this? Did you two not like each other?”

Katherine flipped to another page of her letter. “We got along just fine, obviously,” She gave her daughter an amused glance. “Did you never care to look into the line outside your Proudmoore lineage? I was a minor noble of House Waycrest and married into this House.” Taking a thoughtful drink of her tea, Katherine said, “Your father and I always thought you might have a bit of Drust in you. His line isn’t particularly well known for their magical abilities, after all.”

Jaina touched her pendant through the cloth of her robes. It radiated cold against her skin, but seemed to ignite beneath her fingers, a flare like a cool breeze sending a shiver down Jaina’s spine. She snatched her hand away and continued to drink her tea.

“It’s a shame we have to leave so soon, Lord Admiral. You’ve been an excellent host,” Sylvanas said. She ate a slice of red-fleshed fruit that smelled of nectarines and made her mouth brighter against the gold of her skin. In the grey halls of Proudmoore Keep, Sylvanas burned like a torch, all crimson and colour. Jaina had to swallow down a hasty gulp of tea and look away, when Sylvanas’ tongue swiped at the corner of her mouth.

“You’re welcome back at any time,” Katherine replied, folding up her letter and setting it aside. “And best of luck with your fledgling navy.”

“We won’t need luck. We have your daughter.”

If Jaina could have hid behind her teacup, she would have. Still, she tried her best as both her mother and her wife watched her -- one with mild amusement, the other unreadable as a book in another language.

“And I’m sure she’ll do me proud,” Katherine said, both serious and teasing all at once. “You have sixty ships of the line in total now, yes? You’ll need to elect a Vice Admiral to help with your command administration right off the bat, Jaina.”

Jaina paled at the implication of that. “Oh, no. I’m not the Admiral of the Silvermoon Fleet. That’s -” She pointed to Sylvanas.

At that, Sylvanas tilted her head to one side. “I’m sure we’ll find someone suitable for the job.”

“I hope so,” Katherine sighed. She picked up a knife to start buttering a roll of bread, but paused to gesture with it towards the letter at her elbow. “I’ve just received news from the west. More Zandalari ships engaging in skirmishes all along our waters, trying to lure us into a vulnerable position. As if I’d be so stupid.”

Sylvanas hummed, taking another bite of fruit and leaning her elbows on the table. “We’ve experienced similar to the east. I suspect they’re trying to keep us off balance so that when the real attack comes, we won’t know from which direction.”

Katherine put down her knife, leaning it against the edge of her plate. “It is the obvious strategy. Turn their greatest weakness into their greatest strength.” She gave a little huff of annoyance, scowling at the bread roll in her hand. “It’s bloody irritating when the enemy actually has a decent head on their shoulders.”

Sylvanas’ answering chuckle was dark and throaty. “Yes, but that’s what makes it so fun.”

“You and I have very different ideas of fun,” Katherine replied dryly, taking a bite of bread. As she chewed she looked over at Jaina. “Is this the reason why you were almost killed in an ambush?”

“That was too much fun, even for her,” Jaina said.

With a disdainful sniff, Katherine said, “I think I’ll stick to a good novel and a warm fire for fun, thank you.”

Sylvanas snorted. “I see you get more from your mother than a magical ancestry.”

Jaina’s last morning in Kul Tiras passed far too quickly. She drew out the pot of tea with her mother for as long as she could, but before long Sylvanas was pushing back her chair with a murmur about seeing to their luggage. Then Jaina perused the Keep’s library and her mother’s own personal stock of strategy books, during which Katherine offered helpful commentaries on which texts would be the most use and for what.

Soon, Katherine was seeing them off back at Unity Square. Jaina had loaded an extra travelling trunk with books and other materials from the Keep’s library. A crowd had gathered to see them off, just as they had done when Jaina and Sylvanas had first arrived. A smaller but no less dignified military arrangement accompanied them, bringing up the rear procession. Thankfully, they did not have a repeat of the twenty-one gun salute.

Jaina hugged her mother twice before opening up a portal. Once before she opened the portal and once after, for longer. She took a moment to breathe in the familiar smell of her coat, tightening her hold around her mother’s waist and savouring the way Katherine stroked her back.

“When do you go back?” Jaina asked into her mother’s shoulder. She didn’t need to clarify. They both knew that Katherine spent more time at sea than she did on land.

“Two days,” Katherine murmured, squeezing her just a little tighter.

Not for the first time in her life, Jaina wished she could teleport herself onto the Lord Admiral’s flagship so she could visit her mother whenever she wanted. But a teleportation spell or any portal required the caster to know the exact location of their destination, and the flagship was never still.

With a final squeeze, Jaina pulled away. She waved before stepping through the portal. Back to Dalaran, and then back to Quel’Thalas, Sylvanas right on her heels, Ithedis not far behind them.

The heat of Silvermoon swept over Jaina in a sickening wave. It had her tugging off her greatcoat and slinging it across the crook of her elbow. She looked up at the spires of Goldenbough Manor, which glinted bronze in the noonday sun. Long thin triangular banners streamed from various points of the tall, slender building, emblazoned with the emblems of both House Windrunner and Proudmoore.  

The first thing Jaina noticed was how colourful the world seemed here in comparison to the perennially overcast gloom of Boralus. The second thing Jaina noticed was an odd sensation blooming in her chest, a warmth that had nothing to do with the summery air of Quel’Thalas.

Something about the sights, perhaps? The sound of lyrical birdsong? Or the scents of the manor itself -- sweet amber resin and sun-baked earth and roses -- as the doors opened and she walked with Sylvanas into the entryway? Jaina could not tell.

Rather than head upstairs to their quarters to change, Sylvanas strode straight towards the rear atrium. Curious, Jaina followed, trailing in Sylvanas’ wake a few steps behind. Sylvanas pushed open the double glass doors leading to the sweeping estate grounds overlooking the sea. She did not stop walking until she had left the shade of the manor and stood in a glare of light so intense Jaina had to shield her eyes with the flat of one hand.

Then, Sylvanas removed her cloak, draped it on the ground, and sprawled down atop it so that she basked, arms outstretched gracelessly to either side, in the sun.

“I can never leave Quel’Thalas ever again,” Sylvanas sighed in pleasure. Her eyes were closed and she tilted her face up to the sun.

Jaina stood over her, angling herself so that her shadow did not disturb Sylvanas’ sun-soak. Despite the events of the morning and the night before, she could feel a soft smile pulling at the corner of her mouth as she studied the fan of Sylvanas’ hair across the cloak, a spill of gold across storm grey fabric. Jaina idly plucked at a loose thread curling from a button of the greatcoat folded over her arm.

Sylvanas opened her eyes, meeting Jaina’s gaze but not moving from her spot on the ground. “Are you sad to have left Kul Tiras?”

Looking out across the whitewashed cliffs, the sea beyond a dappled emerald blue, Jaina felt that same strange stirring that scratched at a place just behind her breastbone. The pendant seemed to answer that feeling, an echo of sensation. With her free hand she played with the pale stone on its fine chain around her neck.

Another year rolled out before them like a long length of cloth stretching to the horizon from their feet. She had Novices to teach, new offices to move into, exchange Apprentices to arrange in Boralus, naval officers to induct at Sunsail Anchorage, a mysterious pendant to crack, work to be done, direction and purpose -- and a wife watching her with wary eyes, as if waiting for Jaina to affirm every fear she harboured.

Jaina shook out her admiralty greatcoat. She placed it on the ground and sat atop it right beside Sylvanas. Rolling up the sleeves of her white button down shirt, Jaina smiled, leaned her arms upon her knees, and said, “Actually I was thinking it was good to be home.”

 

Chapter Text

Jaina’s new offices at the Academy were pristine, but for the lone fact that her chair squeaked. Kael’thas had insisted on something grand, but Elosai had made sure the ornamental decorations that lined the walls and inset pillars were replaced with dark-washed wood paneling that gleamed against the white marble floors. It was still just a little too glossy for Jaina’s tastes, but reminiscent enough of Kul Tiran architectural touches that she could pretend otherwise.

The chair on the other hand was something that looked like it had been imported directly from Jaina’s childhood. From the dark walnut finish to the creaky back legs. When Jaina first sat in it, Magistrix Elosai’s eyes had widened.

“Lady Proudmoore, you must let me replace that.”

If anything, Jaina sat down more fully in the chair and gripped the uncomfortable armrests. “No. It’s perfect.”

“But -”

“Magistrix, please. Just let me have this one terrible thing. The rest of it is too nice. It makes me uncomfortable.”

With a reluctant sigh, Elosai nodded. “At least be sure to not let it squeak too much if my Prince stops by for an unexpected visit. He would be most displeased.”

“I will try to be my unsqueakiest so as not to offend His Royal Majesty’s delicate constitution,” Jaina said, dryly. As she did so, she leaned her forearms on her desk, and the shift in her weight made the chair creak again beneath her. She shot Elosai a sheepish look, “I swear that was not intentional.”

Elosai gave a wry huff of laughter that was quickly smoothed away into her usual calm smile. “I asked for everything to be moved down from your old offices, but if they missed anything, do let me know.”

Toying with the pendant at her neck, Jaina glanced around at the tall bookshelves, the dark encloistered warmth in an otherwise pale and lofty building. Elosai had missed nothing. Not Jaina’s baubles and magical trinkets. Not even the new additions in the form of a rare oil painting of her father’s old flagship hanging on the far wall, and mounted on another the skull of a stag engraved with druidic Drust carvings. Oddly, the last two made her feel most at home.

Turning to Elosai with a warm smile, Jaina said, “You really have outdone yourself. I am embarrassed you went to such lengths for me.”

Elosai bowed. “Not at all. It has been a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

Jaina had to hide a grimace at that. Always with the political maneuverings. Even the nice ones.

“Is there anything else you needed?” Elosai asked as she straightened.

For a brief moment, Jaina considered asking her about the pendant. So far, she had kept her studies of it restricted to herself, taking the time to puzzle over the pendant in quiet solitude over an increasingly large pile of books, none of which seemed to hold the key to unveiling the stone’s peculiar secrets.

Eventually though, Jaina lowered her hand from the pendant. Asking for help would feel like cheating. This -- this one thing -- was too personal for anyone else to look at too closely. Even if the mystery were solved, it would be a disappointment were it by anyone else’s hand but her own.

Then, Jaina blinked. “Actually, Magistrix, there is one more thing. Do you have a few Magisters that you would be willing to send to Boralus for a craftsman exchange?”

 


 

After a year, the heat remained noticeable but was at least bearable. Quel’Thalas baked beneath the sun absent the rainy season, and Jaina couldn’t even long for that now that she knew what it entailed. She would never be truly comfortable, but she didn’t feel like she was going to melt into a human-shaped puddle on the ground every time she stepped outside.

Whereas before the heat had always seemed an oppressive presence that shrouded her every step, these days she began to notice variances in temperature. The nights were cooler in comparison to the summery afternoons. Spring actually held a vernal trace, like the scent of a cold glass sweating in the sun. And not everything was uniformly gold. Flowers dotted the countryside with additional colour, and new life bloomed.

Jaina had even started to take her morning cups of tea on the veranda out back, much to Sylvanas’ surprise.

“You’re sitting in the sun,” Sylvanas remarked one morning, dropping into the chair beside her. “Of your own volition.”

Jaina sipped at her tea, curls of steam gently rising from the painted white porcelain cup. It was part of a set her mother had sent from Kul Tiras as an anniversary gift, along with a bottle of aged whiskey that Sylvanas had tried one evening upon their return to Goldenbough with a newfound appreciation for Kul Tiran beverages. “I am. Though only for a few minutes. I’ll burn otherwise.”

Sylvanas cocked her head. “Burn?”

Jaina stared at her. “Tides, you don’t even get sunburnt?”

Mutely, Sylvanas shrugged.

With a prim sip of her tea, Jaina announced, “I hate you.”

That earned her a snort of laughter, which she pretended to ignore, though there was no missing the smile that tugged at the corner of her mouth.

“Is that why your skin sometimes goes all red and -” Sylvanas scrunched up her nose and fluttered her fingers, “- peeling?”

“Ugh. Yes. It’s also why I get freckles.”

A pause. Then: “What?”

Placing her cup on its saucer, Jaina sighed in disbelief. “Do high elves honestly not have freckles?” When Sylvanas shook her head, Jaina pointed at her own cheeks and said, “These. I’m talking about these.”

A furrow appeared between Sylvanas’ brows, and she leaned forward in her chair to better see. Jaina hadn’t properly accounted for Sylvanas actually cupping her cheek with one hand, and she inhaled sharply at the unexpected contact. This close, she could see the faintness of Sylvanas' irises behind the arcane glow from overexposure to the Sunwell, a mere notion of what her eyes must have looked like without it -- hazel, perhaps? She could see that narrow scar high on Sylvanas’ cheek, and it made her wonder what others she might have. After their trek to the eastern front, she knew there must be others.

It had been weeks since their return from the anniversary celebrations in Boralus, and still that feeling had not faded. She both half hoped it would and half hoped it wouldn’t. Sylvanas’ presence was like a candle cupped away behind one hand. Sometimes bright in the darker hours of the night, when Jaina lay awake in their bed, watching the steady rise and fall of her wife’s chest. Sometimes dim in the noonday sun, when Jaina was consumed with work and the flurry of activity her life had become. But always burning just within reach.

Right now it made the sun fade to a shadow.

Sylvanas brushed the pad of her thumb across the bridge of Jaina’s nose, which was dotted with sparse pale freckles. “So that’s what those are. What did you call them? Speckles?”

Clearing her throat, Jaina averted her gaze and pulled away. “Freckles.”

When Sylvanas leaned back in her seat, her ceremonial armour glanced with sunlight. She pointed to the rest of Jaina and asked, “And do you get them all over? I don't recall seeing many in the baths.”

With a shake of her head, Jaina steadied her grip on her tea. “Only where my skin has been exposed to the sun for long periods of time.”

“To be perfectly honest, I’d thought you may have been catching some sort of illness,” Sylvanas admitted.

“No wonder the Novices keep asking if I’m sick,” Jaina grumbled into her cup. She turned one of her hands over to check if the backs had started to go a little red. “It’s probably time for me to move into the shade.”

“It’s probably time we go.” Sylvanas pointed out, already rising to her feet as she asked, “Shall we?”

Jaina drained her cup and placed it and its saucer upon their matching round tray. She stood and grabbed her admiralty greatcoat from where it hung on the back of her chair. “Yes. Let’s.”

They rode south together to the natural harbour of Sunsail Anchorage. Jaina almost didn’t recognise the buildings on the shore as a naval barracks and other military structures; elven architecture would always be too flowery for her. When they arrived, a procession awaited them at the docks. They dismounted, followed closely by Ithedis, and began to walk through the ranks of sailors and crewmembers and builders that had lined up to greet them.

A few Kul Tirans dotted the crowd of elves, the dreary hue and style of their clothing setting them apart from their new allies. They brightened upon seeing Jaina walking at Sylvanas’ side, standing a little bit straighter. In the water was docked the flagship of Silvermoon’s fleet. Its name was painted in fluid gold Thalassian letters along its stern, and as they approached Jaina could just read it: Dawn Runner.

They stopped at the first group, rows of craftsmen who had helped make the fleet itself. They bowed and spoke to as many of the craftsmen as they could, the Kul Tirans leaning over the shoulders of their elven allies to make sure they got to shake Jaina and Sylvanas’ hands, an act which seemed to puzzle the elves.

Kael’thas was conspicuously absent, though Jaina’s eyes sought him out amongst the crowd as if expecting him to pop up at any moment. As she and Sylvanas moved on to the next group of people to greet, Jaina leaned in close. She used the pretense of taking Sylvanas’ arm as they walked to whisper, “No divinely born sovereign today?”

“At a military ceremony? How uncouth!” Sylvanas drawled in a low tone. Though she continued more seriously with, “Also unorthodox. He’s not allowed to be seen meddling in military matters, even ritualistic ones. It would be like me trying to pass a law.”

“Right. Of course.”

More bowing and shaking of hands, this time to sailors and lower level officers. Jaina eyed the unfamiliar rank tags of their uniforms, deciding that the more gold meant the higher the station. Hence why Sylvanas’ ceremonial armour made it look like she had been poured from the heat of a crucible.

They had everything except officers above the rank of captain, as far as Jaina could tell. And who knew how competent the captains were.

Only one ship loomed in the harbour, a hulking colossus the likes of which Jaina rarely saw outside Kul Tiras, and yet Jaina could already see the sixty ships that comprised the Silvermoon Fleet in her mind. Before this moment, sixty ships had seemed like such a small number in comparison to the three hundred her mother commanded at any given point in time. A third would rotate through dry dock, but that was still forty ships. Ships that she needed to administer so that they could be self-governing in their own right, so that they could stand under Sylvanas’ banner and be an asset to Quel’Thalas rather than a burden.

They certainly had their work cut out for them.

Before she could stop herself, Jaina tightened her grip on Sylvanas’ arm. Immediately, Sylvanas’ ears twitched, and she glanced over at her with a question in her gaze. She stopped, angling herself in such a way that Jaina was shielded from most of the onlooking crowd at the Anchorage.

“Is everything alright?” Sylvanas murmured. She placed her free hand over Jaina’s, a warm comforting weight, and the supple leather of her gauntlets rasping over the backs of Jaina’s knuckles.

Jaina nodded. “Yes,” she whispered, then again with more confidence. “Yes.”

For a moment Sylvanas studied her, searching Jaina’s face for some hidden answer. Her gaze softened, and she gave Jaina’s hand a squeeze. “Then let’s get to work.”

 


 

The first thing Jaina asked when interviewing potential flag officers was: “Do you get seasick?”

She was always surprised by how many of them answered “Yes,” or lied and answered “No,” only for her to immediately march them onto a dinghy and ask them to sail for a bit. The ones who lied ended up puking overboard in less than ten minutes. The worst of the lot vomited on her shoes, splattering at the hems of her mage robes.

Only a handful passed her initial round of questioning. Sylvanas was not one of them.

“You didn’t need to actually come onto the water with me,” Jaina told her with a sympathetic wince at the faint sounds of more splashing overboard.

Sylvanas leaned over the side of the dinghy, while Jaina handled the till. She had gone pale the moment they had touched water, and five minutes into Jaina guiding their little boat along the calm waters of Sunsail Anchorage’s harbour Sylvanas had started puking.

“It didn’t seem fair to the others that I didn’t do the same,” Sylvanas mumbled. Her voice was difficult to hear over the sound of the waves lapping against the painted boards of the dinghy, and the creak of lines and canvas. “This is just another reason why I should never command a fleet.”

“If I’d known you got this seasick, I wouldn’t have let you onto the boat.”

“And yet I bullied my way on regardless.”

“Well,” Jaina trailed off with a shrug, and did not dispute that fact. “So, you’re just torturing yourself to make a point?”

“Is there a better reason?” Sylvanas laughed weakly, but the sound was cut off by a dry heave.

Sighing, Jaina tacked, bringing the bow around to face the shore once more. “Don’t lift your head.”

“What?”

“I said: Don’t -!”

Jaina winced in pained anticipation. Sylvanas looked up right as the boom swung round. Eyes wide, Sylvanas ducked back down just in time, and the boom missed clocking her upside the head by the breadth of a finger. Once in the clear, she sat back down on the floor of the dinghy. The boat was too small for her to sprawl her legs, but her knees splayed out regardless. Sylvanas eyed the boom with suspicion, as though it might suddenly leap back and bite her.

“If I’d known ships were this dangerous, I definitely would have remained on land,” she drawled.

“And why didn’t you?”

Sylvanas did not answer immediately. White-winged gulls swooped overhead. The currents were warm and the winds favourable, and Jaina handled the dinghy with the kind of ease that only came with years of studied practice.

Jaina waited for a reply, and just when she was opening her mouth to ask again, Sylvanas said in a voice almost too soft to hear, “You like sailing.”

Jaina stared at her. For a moment she thought she hadn’t heard that correctly, that perhaps Sylvanas had said something else that was obscured by the boat dipping over a wave and sending a salt spray dappling across the bow.

Hand tightening on the tiller, Jaina focused on steering. “If you wanted to come sailing with me, you need only ask.”

“I never want to go sailing,” Sylvanas drawled, “for reasons that I think are quite obvious.”

“Then why?”

Sylvanas waved towards the sea, towards the small white-peaked waves that dotted the wide bay of jewel-toned green. “Because I want to do things that make you happy.”

Jaina gave a particularly hard tug on a bit of rigging to hold the sail steady in the right direction. “Well, I don’t want to do things that make you unhappy.”

“I’m not unhappy,” Sylvanas lied.

Jaina leveled a look at her.

Shrugging, Sylvanas admitted, “Alright, I’m miserable. But only out here.”

With a huff of irritation, Jaina tied down the rope she had been bracing in one hand, looping it into place. “How about another compromise?”

“I’m listening.”

“We can go sailing once in a while, but only if we also do something you enjoy.”

Sylvanas thought over that proposition. Then, she said, “Hunting.”

Jaina grimaced. “Oh, I’m going to be terrible at that.”

“Then I guess that makes it fair.”

The shore was quickly approaching. They were only fifteen or so minutes from dry land, and Sylvanas was perking up at the very sight of it.

“I’ll have to make a potion,” Jaina announced without preamble.

Sylvanas frowned over at her. “A potion?”

“Yes. To combat seasickness.”

“That’s very kind, but I don’t think it will work. Trust me, I’ve tried everything.”

“Well, you haven’t tried my latest invention, which I have yet to invent, but I will.”

Sylvanas rolled her eyes. “Oh, good. I get to be a test subject. Does that mean I have to go sailing again to ensure it works?”

“Only if you want to.”

At that, Sylvanas let out a quiet dry laugh. She stopped quickly, and had to scramble to her knees and lean over the edge of the dinghy again. With a grimace, Jaina leaned forward to stroke her back and pull her hair out of the way, keeping one hand on the tiller as she did so.

“Thank you,” Sylvanas mumbled, wiping at her mouth with the back of her hand.

“Come on,” Jaina patted her shoulder. “Let’s get your stubborn ass back onto land.”

“Please.”

 


 

After the initial round of weeding out officers with chronic motion sickness, Jaina culled the list back to a reasonably sized number. A stack of military files sat on her desk at the Academy. She ferried them back and forth from Goldenbough, reading and working as she rode.

A separate stack of recent reports from her Novices were on the opposite side of her desk, between them a tea set steaming with Kul Tiran black. And across from her sat a Novice, who was sniffling and wiping at his face. His long ears drooped, and he slumped in one of the chairs reserved for her visitors.

Jaina leaned her forearms on her desk and spoke in a low soothing tone, “Palan, what happened? You were doing so well, and then all of a sudden you don’t show up to class for three weeks and you miss two assignments?”

The Novice gave a wan shrug as his only reply.

She sighed. “Do you want some tea and one of those treats you’re all so fond of?”

Another sniffle, and he nodded.

“Alright, then.”

As Jaina was pouring him a cup, a knock sounded at the door and Ithedis let in an elven officer before closing the door shut once more.

“Just a moment please,” Jaina smiled up at the latest officer that had come to her offices at Falthrien for an interview. She pointed to the other side of the office, “Make yourself comfortable, I won’t be a moment.”

The elven gentleman, tall and fair but not much taller than herself, bowed and did as instructed without complaint. That was certainly a good start. Jaina eyed him for a moment as he turned his back to her and the Novice, perusing her selection of books. Some of the officers she had interviewed had scoffed or grumbled or demanded a reschedule of their examination, when she had invited them to the Academy instead of to the barracks or somewhere they were more comfortable.

Sliding across the cup of tea and a treat to the Novice, Jaina continued her first interview for the day. Troubles at home. From what she gathered, the Novice’s father was a Farstrider who recently died during a raid along the southeastern border. Jaina escorted him from her offices with a gentle hand on his shoulder, and as much extra time to finish his assignments as he needed before the term ended. Then, closing the door, Jaina turned to the officer, who was watching her with interest.

“Thank you for your patience,” she smiled and pointed him to the same chair the Novice had been occupying not moments earlier. “Please.”

“It is no trouble, my Lady,” he replied, sitting where indicated. He had a cultured accent, with only a hint of the lilt that other high elves had. “In fact, I believe I knew the boy’s father. A good man. A great loss.”

Jaina hummed as she rounded her desk and lowered herself into her own seat, which creaked slightly beneath her. “The inconsistency of these Amani raids has us all puzzled. Then again, I suspect that’s the point.”

“Indeed.”

Without further ado, she opened up his file, and skimmed its contents, passing over his name. “You served as a Farstrider lieutenant during the Second War, and again as Ranger-Lord. Is that correct?”

“It is, Lady Proudmoore.”

“That’s good,” Jaina murmured without any real enthusiasm as she turned to another page of his file. Almost all of the potential Vice-Admirals she had interviewed so far had extensive military records and officer training. None of them had impressed her much, either in their demeanor, their arrogance towards her, or -- worst of all in Jaina's mind -- their appalling mathematics.

Jaina shut the file with a muted slap of parchment and set it aside on the table between them. Then she reached for the tea set that was perched there. “Tell me about the sea.”

He hesitated. “I beg your pardon?”

Without looking up, she poured herself a cup of black Kul Tiran tea, stirring in a dollop of milk. “The ocean. What’s the first thing you think of when I said that?”

“Fish,” he answered immediately. “Nets. Ships. Ports. Trade.”

Taking a sip of the tea, Jaina nodded. This was the first time an officer hadn’t included words like ‘sick’ or ‘drowning’ or anything that implied that the sea was an obstacle to be overcome. Jaina would never understand that. Elves thought of the sea as something to pin an enemy against, like a wall. Whereas she looked out at the ocean and saw the world’s largest road at her disposal.

“You see an enemy ship at seven leagues,” she began, cupping the tea in her hands. “You give chase. Your enemy is travelling at five knots and you at five and a half knots. By the time you are within gunshot, how many hours and how many nautical miles would you have logged?”

He crossed his legs and laced his hands across one knee. With a tilt of his head, he thought and then answered, “By my reckoning, roughly twenty hours and one hundred and twenty five miles, depending on the weather conditions.”

Jaina’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, and she gave him a warm smile. “Would you like a cup of tea?” She gestured to the tea set and one of the extra cups.

“Thank you, my Lady, but no,” he demurred with a bow of his head.

Lifting her own teacup to her lips once more, Jaina continued, “What do you do with the wind making a right-angle with the tide, and the enemy to windward, versus the enemy in the wind’s eye and the current setting to leeward?”

His answering smile set a dimple in one of his cheeks, giving him a roguish air, “That is a trick question. Various books give different explanations, but there is no clear answer. The tides are unpredictable, even when drifting.”

For an hour, she peppered him with increasingly difficult questions. Questions about the specifics of ships of the line. Questions about command structures. Questions about potential scenarios at sea. Each of them he answered carefully, considerately, and with a calm bearing that nonetheless lingered on the knife’s edge of cavalier.

“Well, I’m glad to see someone actually did some reading before coming to these interviews,” Jaina said in a dry tone.

“I’m surprised I’m the only one,” he replied with a chuckle.

Humming and leaning back in her seat, Jaina said, “Some of them did, but I didn’t like their first answer, which disqualified them immediately.”

At that, be blinked in surprise, his blue eyes emitting a soft glow like so many of his kin. Still all he said was, “Then I am pleased to have made it this far.” He checked out the window to gauge the position of the sun. “We still have another hour or so, I believe?”

“We do.”

Jaina handed him an enchanted quill and a sheet of parchment with a series of complex mathematical equations. “Can you solve these for me, please? You have -” She waved her hand and an hourglass timer materialised on the table between them. “- forty minutes. After which time I will look at your work, regardless of whether you’ve finished or not.”

He took the paper without question. The moment the hourglass timer turned, he started working. His quill scratched against the page, his keen eyes flicking back and forth as he progressed. The silence was interspersed only with the papery etch of the quill’s nib when he would underscore an answer or cross out a mistake in arithmetic.

Meanwhile, Jaina settled back in her chair with a creak, and picked up a book that had been sitting beside her for just this purpose. She flicked through it, pausing only to glance up at him every once in a while to check the time and ensure he wasn’t cheating in any way.

He finished just before the timer, and handed the page back to her.

Setting aside her book, Jaina took the parchment and read it. She followed the flow of his answers and how he got to them, what shortcuts he took, which ones he missed, where she would have done differently and even -- she noted with a spark of pleasure -- where he had taken paths she would not have thought of herself yet arrived at the same conclusions.

With a smile, Jaina folded the page up and used it as a bookmark. “Only one wrong, and even that was only by two degrees sou’west. You would have reached your destination eventually, given the distance travelled. What did you say your name was?”

“Theron,” he answered with a smile of his own. “Lor’themar Theron.”

 


 

Jaina dropped the file onto Sylvanas’ lap while they sat in bed that night. “I've found you a Vice Admiral.”

Opening up the file, Sylvanas propped it on her knees and began to read. She hummed when she saw the name. “Lor’themar. Good choice.”

Jaina flopped down onto the mattress, pulling the sheet up beyond her waist as she arranged one of her pillows. “He’s no Vereesa, but he’ll get the job done.”

“Probably for the best,” Sylvanas countered in a dry tone. “If there were two Vereesas, I’d be tempted to quit.”

“Well, I can’t remain as the head of your navy forever. Much as I don’t like the idea, I’ll have my own fleet to look after eventually. He also has something over the both of you,” Jaina said, and had to stifle a yawn behind her fist.

“A good sense of humour? Dignity?”

“Close, but no.” Jaina reached out and pointed at Sylvanas’ stomach. “He doesn’t get seasick.”

Sylvanas closed his file and tossed it onto her bedside table. “I see you pick only the best for my navy.”

“It’s what you deserve,” Jaina mumbled into her pillow, her eyes already closing.

She heard Sylvanas’ chuckle, then felt a dip in the mattress as Sylvanas settled into bed beside her. “Good night.”

Jaina couldn’t remember if she said ‘Good night’ back, or if she dreamed of soft hands brushing back a lock of hair from her brow.

 


 

The two of them could be seen at all hours of the day administering tasks to Lor'themar and others, writing reports, and overseeing naval manoeuvres beyond the harbour. While Sylvanas still preferred to remain on land, Jaina would stand aboard the flagship with Lor'themar, summoning vast illusions of enemy ships and putting the fleet through their paces.

Drills upon drills upon drills. She pulled everything from her mother's strategy books and put them to the test. She invented new ways of puzzling her own captains by making her illusions cheat, by conjuring miniature storms, or fields of fog, or winds unfavorable to only one party. Lor'themar tackled every challenge she set before him, but his captains needed to act independently as well, and they would still welter in their indecision if not for his keen guidance.

The days where she wasn't at the Anchorage, Jaina was at the Academy. She continued her Novice lessons, as well as her own lessons with Elosai. She puzzled over the pendant and over a little cauldron in which she attempted to brew potions to cure seasickness, but every batch she threw out, and every attempt at solving the pendant would amount to nothing but more questions.

The hours would fly by, but always she fell into bed at the end of the day, exhausted. Sometimes on the ride back to Goldenbough, Jaina would nod to sleep atop her trudging horse. Ithedis would rouse her by grasping her shoulder when they approached the manor, or -- depending on how tired she was -- she would sit in front of him atop his horse and fall asleep while he held the reins behind her, guiding them back towards home.

 


 

“I hope you like not catching any game,” Jaina said.

“Love it,” Sylvanas quipped back.

Jaina shifted the pack’s weight from where it was digging into her shoulders. It wasn’t that heavy, but after carting it around for so long it still chafed. She followed Sylvanas along the secluded trail through the Eversong Woods, no more than a glorified deer track through the thick underbrush.

Sylvanas prowled a few steps ahead, Thas’dorah in her hands rather than slung across her back. A full quiver of arrows bristled over one of her shoulders. In the full day and a half they had been hunting, Jaina had yet to see Sylvanas fire a single one of those arrows. Though she knew the reason why.

A twig snapped under Jaina’s boots, and Sylvanas’ ears twitched at the sound. She turned to give Jaina an exasperated look, and Jaina raised her hands. “I swear that wasn’t on purpose.”

“I’m beginning to have my doubts.” Despite Sylvanas’ words, she gave Jaina a smile and continued walking.

In contrast, her steps were lithe and all but silent. She seemed to always know how best to avoid stepping on any leaves, and even her cloak barely seemed to touch the underbrush as they pressed on through the forest.

“I told you I was going to be bad at this.” Jaina sighed, but followed. She peered up at the sky, shielding her eyes with the flat of her hand. “You should just go ahead while I make camp. You’ll have better luck that way.”

Sylvanas did not turn or stop when she said, “That would defeat the purpose of this exercise.”

“This exercise of not catching deer?” Jaina asked slowly.

“Of making sure we clear our schedules to spend some time together.” Sylvanas said. “Some actual game is just a bonus, at this point.”

Jaina didn't know quite what to say to that. She stared at Sylvanas’ back, at the surprisingly broad shoulders beneath that cloak for someone so lanky. Probably from all that archery.

Realising she was doing more than just staring now, Jaina looked back down at the ground. She could feel heat rising to her cheeks. This latest -- she didn't know exactly what to call it -- fascination should have burned itself out months ago. Apparently all it took to reduce her to a bumbling mess was one lousy kiss.

She felt like a romance heroine, and she didn't like it.

Sylvanas stopped and turned her head, looking through the trees towards something unknown. “We should start heading west if we want to make it back to Goldenbough by tomorrow evening.”

Immediately, Jaina started rummaging through a pouch at her belt for a compass. Before she could even pull it out, Sylvanas started walking with a murmured, “This way.”

Jaina fumbled with the compass as she trailed after her. She flipped it open as she followed, and scowled down at it. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

Jaina flipped the compass shut and tucked it away again. “Always know which direction to go in?”

Her answer was an elfin shrug.

Sighing, Jaina trudged after her. She tried to be as light-footed as possible, but no matter how many sticks she avoided there always seemed to be one that appeared beneath the soles of her boots.

After another hour or so of quiet hiking, Jaina admitted, “And here I thought I'd get to learn how to shoot a bow, and you'd get to laugh at how bad I am at that, too .”

Sylvanas stopped and turned. “That's easy enough to accomplish.”

“Yeah, but we could have done that at home.”

“And we can do it now.” Sylvanas was already unslinging the quiver from her back and motioning for Jaina to approach.

Jaina did so, but even as she let her own pack slide to the ground, she said, “What about making camp?”

Sylvanas waved to the trees. “There's a clearing that way. And since it's unlikely to rain, we won't need much by way of shelter. Now -”

She held out Thas’dorah.

Jaina took a step back. “Oh, no. I can't use that.”

“Why not?”

“Because it's -” Jaina pointed at the sleek lines of the bow, so distinctive it could be recognised in someone's hands across a field. “- it's a magical family heirloom! It has national and historical importance!”

“So do half of the things you and I both own,” Sylvanas said dryly. She held out the bow again. “Just come here and take it.”

Slowly, Jaina reached out and grasped it. The bow hummed with arcane energy beneath her fingers. The very woodgrain was flooded with it, until it seemed to sear beneath her hands like a beam of purest sunlight made solid. Jaina flinched, expecting it to hurt, and almost dropped the bow.

When she looked hesitantly up at Sylvanas, it was to find her grinning. “It doesn't bite.”

“It's lighter than I was expecting,” Jaina said. She hefted it between both hands. The arcane magic imbued into the polished and engraved wood seemed to writhe beneath her fingers, and she grimaced at Sylvanas. “And it squirms.”

At that, Sylvanas blinked. She laughed softly in surprise. “It what?”

“It squirms!” Jaina repeated, insistent. She held the bow out and made a face. “It feels like I'm holding a live eel.”

“Ah,” Sylvanas nodded in understanding, still smiling broadly. “It's livewood.”

“Great! It's terrible.”

“You'll get used to it. Though being a mage probably makes the feeling worse. I hardly notice it.” With a chuckle, Sylvanas pulled a few arrows from the quiver at her feet. She handed one to Jaina, then pointed to the trunk of a tree to their right. “Aim for that, but don't shoot until I tell you.”

As she spoke she moved to stand behind Jaina. Close enough to touch, but not so close that Jaina couldn't wield the bow and feel overly crowded for space.

Jaina tried to nock the arrow, and almost dropped it in the process. “Aren't you going to give me some pointers before handing me arrows?”

“Just aim.”

Grumbling, Jaina pulled back on the bowstring and lifted the bow. It pulled in a single fluid motion, so seamlessly that she almost loosed the arrow in shock. She had been expecting at least some resistance, but Thas’dorah offered none.

Sylvanas touched Jaina's elbow. Jaina jerked and again almost let the arrow fly.

“Move this up a bit,” Sylvanas murmured.

She guided Jaina's arms with the feather-light glance of her fingers. Jaina swallowed and had to fight back a shiver when a hand moved to her waist.

“You need to angle yourself this way. And move your feet.” Sylvanas nudged at Jaina's back foot with the toe of her own leather boot until Jaina was standing just so. Despite the fact that Thas’dorah seemed to have no resistance, Jaina's arms began to tremble.

“Breathe,” Sylvanas said. “And when you're ready: release.”

The moment Jaina let loose the arrow, the bow sang beneath her hands, a silent thrum that reverberated up her forearms. In a dart of motion too fast for the eye to follow, the arrow streaked through the air and landed, quivering, at its exact mark.

“Not bad,” Sylvanas remarked, stepping away.

Lowering the bow, Jaina stared down at it. “That wasn't me at all, was it?”

“It was. The bow just helps a little.”

“Just a little?” Jaina asked dryly. “What happens when you use it?”

With a smirk, Sylvanas held out her hand for the bow. Jaina gave it back, and Sylvanas nocked an arrow. She aimed towards she same tree, and fired.

The arrow leapt from Thas’dorah in a blaze of light. Jaina had to blink a spot of colour from her vision. When she looked at the tree however, there was no arrow there apart from her own. Or -- She squinted. A dark hole in the pale bark trailed with smoke and resin. Eyes widening, Jaina leaned to the side and peeked around the tree.

Sylvanas’ arrow was buried in the next tree behind it, smoking faintly.

Looking unspeakably smug, Sylvanas gestured with another arrow. “That's what happens.”

She held out the bow and arrow back to Jaina, and her grin was encouraging. With a wry shake of her head, Jaina took them.

They gave up on hunting. Sylvanas sat on the ground nearby as Jaina practiced, firing arrow after arrow but never able to achieve even a single spark from Thas'dorah. Sometimes Sylvanas would comment on Jaina's stance, gentle reminders on how to better stand or better aim. Mostly, Sylvanas whittled away a stick with a dagger, idly carving off chips of wood. She hummed as she worked, a bittersweet melody that Jaina did not recognise.

As the sun descended towards the horizon, Jaina gave back the bow, and the two of them started to make camp in the nearby clearing. Jaina swept ground of rocks for their bedrolls, while Sylvanas gathered wood for a fire.

“I'm sorry we didn't catch something,” Jaina said as she spread canvas on the ground and arranged their bedrolls atop.

Sylvanas dropped an armful of dry wood on the ground, and knelt down beside it. “We'll catch something next time.”

As Sylvanas stacked the wood up into a chimney formation, Jaina hesitated. Theoretically speaking, she didn't need to place their bedrolls so close together. They could have slept on opposite sides of the fire. Then again, back at Goldenbough they could have slept in entirely different rooms, if they wanted. Out here in the woods however, there were no prying eyes, no gossiping servants. There was only them.

“Can you hand me the flint?”

Jaina started at the sound of Sylvanas’ voice. Clearing her throat, she hurriedly finished setting out the bedrolls -- side by side -- and turned. “Let me.”

A whirl of her fingers, and the kindling beneath the stacked firewood burst into flame.

“That's one way of doing it,” Sylvanas said.

“Or you could've just shot it with Thas’dorah,” Jaina suggested.

With a huff of laughter, Sylvanas shook her head and began to paw through one of their packs for the rations they had packed.

Night fell. Dinner consisted of bread and hard cheese and salted meats, and an apple apiece. Sylvanas ate the core and flicked the stem into the fire.

Sparks and smoke rose into the air, and the trees around them grew thick with darkness. Sylvanas sat closer to the heat than Jaina, feeling the night's chill more keenly. She had started to hum again. The same tune from before.

Jaina listened to a few bars, before asking, “Why do you like hunting?”

The humming stopped.

“Why do you like sailing?” Sylvanas countered without missing a beat.

“That’s easy,” Jaina said. She drew pictures in the earth with a short stick she found lying on the ground nearby: wavy lines and a crude depiction of a sailboat. “Being a part of my family meant spending half of my time growing up at sea. Either with my father, or my brothers, or both. And later, my mother. Though by that time I was usually back at the Keep being tutored by governesses or the mages they brought from Dalaran before I could officially enroll as an Apprentice.”

Sylvanas made a wordless noise, then said, “It’s not much different for me. My mother used to take us hunting individually, and I enjoyed our time together. Later, when my duties began to pile up around my ears, I would learn to enjoy the solitude hunting offered.”

“And that?” Jaina pointed at Thas’dorah.

Sylvanas glanced over at where the weapon leaned along the earth. “That is something that should have passed to my eldest sister, Alleria -- like many other things -- but I was left filling those shoes instead.” Her smile was bitter, and she looked into the dancing flames. “Always following in Alleria’s footsteps ever since I was young. And somehow never catching up no matter how fast I run. Some things never change.”

Silence extended between them, broken only by the crackling of the fire and the snap of resin meeting flame. Sylvanas had a small furrow in her brow that did not go away. For a brief wild moment, Jaina imagined kissing it away. Her hands clenched into fists at the thought, and she swallowed the image down.

“Sometimes,” Jaina said, looking back at her drawing, at how the ship seemed to be sinking beneath the waves. “I wish this position had never fallen to me. That my brothers had lived and I never had to worry about politics or war. That I was left to my magical studies and became a -- I don’t know -- an archmage whose career was so dull nobody cared to record it.”

The fire flickered between them, illuminating the sharp angles of Sylvanas’ face. She engoldened in the firelight, until she seemed cast from purest metal but for the blue arcane glow of her eyes. “I think that the world would have been far worse off for it.”

Jaina shrugged. “Maybe. I certainly never would have met you.” She gave a wry smile and picked up the stick again to poke at the embers smouldering at the base of the firepit. “I don’t think I would have liked that.”

Sparks spiraled towards the night sky at Jaina’s rummaging in the fire. Sylvanas never blinked, watching her intently, until suddenly she looked away. When she spoke her voice was a low murmur. “No. I don’t think I would have liked that either.”

 


 

Two weeks later back at Goldenbough late one evening Jaina rushed downstairs from the library. As she burst into the banquet hall, she announced, “I’ve figured out the problem!”

“Which one?” Sylvanas asked dryly from where she reclined on one of the dining couches.

They had taken to eating separate dinners these days when their schedules were too full, though they made sure to share dinner at least twice a week to discuss their progress with the fleet. Jaina crossed the hall to stand over her, all but bouncing on the balls of her feet in excitement.

“Everyone thinks that seasickness is a problem down here.” Jaina prodded at Sylvanas’ stomach, and Sylvanas blinked, her abdomen recoiling at the touch. “But actually it’s a problem up here.”

When Jaina poked at Sylvanas ear next, it flicked away from her touch. Sylvanas jerked her head and clapped her own hand over her ear with an odd look in Jaina’s direction. “The reason why elves have a higher rate of seasickness is because of our ears?” she asked, sounding skeptical.

“Yes! Yes, exactly!”

Sylvanas wore a dubious expression.

Shaking her head, Jaina held up the round glass vial in one hand. “It’s your inner ears. Your sense of balance and direction is, quite frankly, incredible. I noticed it when we went hunting. You always knew which way was north.” She pointed north to make her point. “Now, at first I thought that was because of your sensitivity to the Sunwell -- it’s really not good for you, by the way, but that’s a discussion for another time -- but actually you can just tell which way is north all the time. I tested it extensively.”

Sylvanas reached up and changed the direction of Jaina’s pointing hand. “That’s northeast. That is north.”

“You see!”

“And how did you test this theory of yours?”

“On my Novices,” Jaina said proudly.

Halfway to reaching for a piece of food on the low table before her, Sylvanas paused to raised her eyebrows at Jaina.

“Oh! Oh, no, nothing like that!” Jaina waved her hand and cradled the potion to her chest. “We were doing a class exercise involving magnetism and its relation to Azeroth’s core and -- long story short -- I ended up asking them to arrange cards on their desks for me after they’d spun around on the spot. It was relevant at the time, I swear. The fascinating thing was, they all arranged the cards north to south. Every time.”

Leaning back on her elbow, Sylvanas asked, “As opposed to -?”

Jaina faltered. “Well, right to left, of course. The way you read Thalassian. Which, for the record, I hate reading right to left instead of left to right. It makes me feel weird when I have to switch.”

“Noted.” Sylvanas took a bite of food.

“In theory you should be excellent sailors with a sense of direction like that, if not for this one little problem. Which,” Jaina added, holding up the potion she had brewed and giving it a small shake so that its contents swirled purple and red in the vial. “Shouldn’t be a problem for much longer.”

All of a sudden, Sylvanas seemed wary. Her ears canted back, and she narrowed her eyes. “And I’m guessing you want to try this new miracle potion out on me?”

“Yes?” Jaina asked slowly with a wince. “I drank it myself, but I couldn’t sense any difference apart from feeling a little more tired than usual. So, I can confirm that if nothing else, it is safe to imbibe.”

“Wonderful.” Taking another bite of food, Sylvanas chewed. “At least tell me it doesn’t taste horrible.”

Lifting her chin primly, Jaina replied, “It tastes like peppermint.”

 


 

“It does not taste like peppermint.”

Jaina winced. “Sorry.”

With a shudder, Sylvanas handed the vial back to Jaina. She seemed to brace herself for something, closing her eyes, but when it never came she opened them again and looked down at herself. She turned over her hands. “I seem to not have been transformed into a frog. How comforting.”

Rolling her eyes, Jaina tugged at the edge of Sylvanas’ cloak as she walked by towards the dinghy, which bobbed at the edge of the dock. “Come on.”

Carefully, Jaina clambered into the boat, adjusting her weight and position aboard as it rocked beneath her. She took a seat on one of the wooden slats that crossed the middle of the boat, and leaned back so she could partially extend her legs.

Still on the dock, Sylvanas stared at her. “What are you doing?”

Jaina gestured towards the tiller. “That’s yours today. You’re going to take us sailing this time.”

“I don’t know how to sail,” Sylvanas said. “And we still don’t know if this miracle potion of yours will work.”

“Do you feel sick?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m still on land,” Sylvanas pointed to her own feet for emphasis. “And all I feel is cloudy. Like I just woke up.”

“Am I going to have to tell Vereesa that you’re frightened of a little boat?” Jaina teased.

For a moment, Sylvanas said nothing. Her jaw was squared, and her eyes narrowed. Then, she unhooked the rope tethering them to shore and leapt down into the boat, settling herself immediately at the helm. She grabbed the tiller and refused to meet Jaina’s eye.

“Wow, uh -” Jaina blinked. “I didn’t think that would actually work.”

Baring her teeth, Sylvanas growled, “Tell me how this infernal deathtrap works.”

“Well, you’re going to need to start by raising the sail.” When Sylvanas glowered at her silently, Jaina pointed to a bit of rigging, and said, “Pull that one until the sail is all the way up, and then tie it down over there.”

Surly and begrudging, Sylvanas followed every instruction to the letter. Her shoulders remained stiff as their boat cut through the mellow waters of the Anchorage harbour. Only slowly did she relax, in increments, until they sailed along in companionable silence.

After a while, Jaina squinted at Sylvanas through the glare of sunlight, and asked, “How are you feeling?”

“Not sick,” Sylvanas said, sounding surprised at her own admission.

“Am I allowed to say ‘I told you so?’”

With a rueful chuckle, Sylvanas shook her head, but replied, “You are allowed, yes.”

Smiling softly, Jaina instead said, “You’re doing great.”

Streaks of pale cloud drifted across the sun, sending strips of shadow along an otherwise flawless day. The wind filled the sail, bulging the canvas so that they were carried along at a fair clip. Jaina turned to hold her hand out and skim it along the cool spray of water that lapped against the hull. She wiped it against the back of her neck to combat the heat of the day.

Admiring the view, the feel of waves beneath her, the comforting sounds and smells, Jaina propped her chin on her hand, her elbow leaning against the side of the boat. “Isn’t it great?” she asked.

“Beautiful.”

When Jaina looked over however, it was to find Sylvanas watching her.

“What is it?” Jaina asked, puzzled.

Sylvanas turned her gaze to the horizon. “Nothing.”

 


 

It happened at Goldenbough one evening. Jaina and Sylvanas were returning from the Anchorage together. Jaina had a class the next day and was already going over a pocket-sized notebook she kept on her person at all times as her schedule, reviewing the lesson she would be delivering to her Novices.

The sun was setting over the sea to their left. Jaina would glance up every now and then to admire the view, the crashing waves dipped in wine-coloured hues by a ruby sun slowly sliding out of sight. Her horse walked beneath her, following the gait of Ithedis’ and Sylvanas’ mounts without needing her to urge it on in the right direction.

When they reached the manor, she tucked her notebook and enchanted quill away, and slid from the saddle. With a murmur of thanks, Jaina handed her reins over to Ithedis, who was ready to take all three of their horses to the stables. She turned towards Goldenbough, only to find that Sylvanas had not strode ahead for dinner like she had expected. Instead, Sylvanas was standing, hands behind her back, quiet and watchful.

Sylvanas tilted her head. “Would you like to join me for a walk?”

Hesitating, Jaina looked towards the manor entrance in confusion, but she nodded. “Sure.”

Sylvanas led her around the manor and out towards a copse of trees, their branches bent back at severe angles from the strength of the winds that swept the cliffs off the ocean. They did not walk so much as they strolled. Though Sylvanas wore her casual leathers and cloak, she held herself as though she were in her full ceremonial garb -- graceful yet militant. Yet Jaina could see the slight flicker of nervousness in her face, in the tenseness of her shoulders.

When they were firmly out of earshot of the manor, its spires raking the cloudless sky above, Sylvanas asked, “Is your workload alright? I know I prefer keeping busy, but some people don’t thrive on stress like I do.”

Jaina blinked at the sudden question, but answered, “It’s fine. I don’t mind, really. I like having something to do. I like feeling useful.”

“And you do? Feel useful?” Sylvanas pressed. She did not turn to face Jaina, but her eyes would glance sidelong to gauge Jaina’s reaction.

Jaina thought for a moment. “Yes,” she said, voice firm and sure.

“Good.” Sylvanas’ long-legged stride would have easily outpaced her if Sylvanas hadn’t slowed her step to ensure they both walked at a comfortable pace. “Because you are useful. You have been a great help to me. I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here overseeing this training.”

“You probably would've gone on the flagship anyway, and been incredibly ill.”

Sylvanas huffed with laughter. “Probably.”

Placing a hand on Sylvanas’ shoulder, Jaina assured her, “You would have been fine. Lor’themar will make an excellent left hand to lead your navy when I step back.”

Sylvanas’ long ears twitched, and she stopped walking. She looked down at where Jaina’s hand lay, and murmured, “If you say it’s so, then I have no doubt.”

As if burned, Jaina snatched her hand back. She gripped it tight into a fist and cleared her throat. Sylvanas said nothing, and beyond them the sound of waves crashing against white cliffs.

“And you?” Jaina breached the silence that lay heavy between them.

“What about me?”

“Well, you’re -?” Jaina waved towards her. “You’re handling the stress or whatever? Would you like to go hunting again? It’s your turn.”

Sylvanas’ eyebrows rose, and the ghost a smile played on her face. “My turn?” she repeated.

“Yes. That’s how I’ve been thinking of this whole exchange of activities. We take turns. We compromise. It’s fair and everyone’s happy.”

She hadn’t meant to say ‘happy.’ It had just slipped out. Jaina snuck a glance at Sylvanas, who hadn’t disputed it yet.

That smile was still present, small and soft, yet fading. Sylvanas spoke in a murmur and continued walking, “I suppose we are.” Then she went and ruined it by adding a dry, “In a sense.”

Jaina’s steps faltered. “What’s that supposed to mean?” She hiked up her mage robes and jogged a few steps to catch up. “Sylvanas, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Only that I would be far happier without the enemy breathing down our necks,” Sylvanas clarified. “Nothing more.”

“Oh,” Jaina breathed, a rush of heady relief washing over her. “Oh, good. For a moment there I thought you meant -- You know what? Nevermind. It’s nothing.”

Sylvanas stopped again. They stood near enough one of the trees that its boughs branched over them like streaks of gold pushed by the winds. They must have been the manor’s namesake. She straightened as if bracing herself, fixed Jaina with a firm look, and said, “No, go on. Tell me.”

“Well a while ago -” Jaina stopped to think for a moment, saying, “Almost a year ago actually -- has it been that long? -- anyway a while ago you said you weren’t. Happy, I mean. Or, rather, you implied that you were unhappy.”

Sylvanas cocked her head in an inquisitive pose, but her voice was sincere when she replied, “I am not unhappy. Not now, in any case.”

“But you’re stressed,” Jaina said slowly.

Sylvanas laughed. “I’m always stressed. That doesn’t mean I’m unhappy.”

“Yes, but -” Jaina trailed off. She tongued at the inside of her cheek and wrung her hands as she thought. Taking a deep breath, she said, “You once asked me if I would tell you what I wanted. I hope you feel comfortable doing the same.”

Sylvanas’ expression flashed with something Jaina did not recognise, fleeting and then gone. “I want to kiss you.”

A breath of wind played with the edges of her cloak, but otherwise the day was fine and clear and fading as the night swept in from the east. The sunset behind her was a slash of red that slowly dwindled to a darker lavender. The first stars glimmered in the sky overhead as night descended. Sylvanas was watching her intently, as if holding her breath while waiting for Jaina’s reaction.

“You -” Jaina had to swallow past the sudden dryness of her throat, “You can. If you want, you can kiss me.”

“But would you like it, if I did?”

Jaina shot her an exasperated look, even if it was tinged with a bit of fluster. “I’ve kissed you before.”

Sylvanas stepped in close until they were near enough that the scar on her cheek was clearly visible. “Yes, I remember. Very well, in fact.”

Jaina’s breath caught but she did not move away. “I didn’t dislike it any of those times. I mean, you’re -” Jaina gestured towards all of Sylvanas, “- you.” Sylvanas reached up to touch Jaina’s chin up even as Jaina continued to speak, her voice trailing off, “And you’re very tall. And we’re very married, so you should just -”

Sylvanas tilted her head and they were kissing. She brushed their mouths together, and Jaina’s eyes slid shut. There was no incident demanding their kiss, no ritual, no fabrication causing it. Sylvanas kissed her, and she could feel a coil of heat below her stomach despite the fact that it was, for all intents and purposes, perfectly chaste.

One of Jaina’s hands came to rest shakily against Sylvanas’ leather-clad stomach. She opened her mouth to deepen the kiss, and Sylvanas cupped her face. The moment a small noise sounded at the back of Jaina’s throat however, Sylvanas broke the kiss and stepped away.

Jaina opened her eyes just as Sylvanas lowered her hand. That same inscrutable expression crossed Sylvanas’ face before she could stamp it out again, except this time Jaina recognised it for what it was: a carefully masked desire.

Sylvanas nodded back towards the manor. “We should go inside. Dinner is waiting.”

“Right,” Jaina said hoarsely. “Yes. That.”

 


 

For weeks after that evening, Sylvanas would approach under the pretense of asking Jaina about her day, or her morning, about what book she was reading, about what lesson she had returned from, but always Sylvanas would eventually say, “I would like to kiss you,” and wait for Jaina’s answer.

It was always a: “Yes.”

The first few times this happened, her “Yes” was red-faced, the single syllable either blurted out or delivered in a bewildered mutter, as if she couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing. When Sylvanas leaned down, Jaina’s heart would rattle against her ribcage until she was afraid it could be heard.

Sometimes Sylvanas would take her time. She would play with Jaina’s hair. She would run her fingers along the cloth of Jaina’s collared shirt or along a fold in Jaina’s mage robes. She would tip Jaina’s face up and brush their mouths together in the suggestion of a kiss, and then she would step away, her hand lingering at the underside of Jaina’s chin.

Other times Sylvanas would hardly wait for the “Yes” before chasing the sound of it on Jaina’s lips. She would cup the back of Jaina’s head or grasp the braid at the base of her neck -- not hard, but insistent. She would bring their mouths firmly, hungrily together, and kiss her until Jaina was weak in the knees and breathless. She would pull away, abrupt, and stroke the line of Jaina’s spine, tracing shivers with her fingertips. And when Jaina was grasping at Sylvanas’ shoulders to initiate another kiss, Sylvanas would oblige. Once. Twice but only if Jaina was very lucky. Before again she stepped away, finding a convenient excuse to leave the room.

Sylvanas always had something to do right after, some place to be, some person to meet. She would leave Jaina dazed, and blinking, and wondering if she had dreamed it happening at all.

After two weeks of this, Jaina narrowed her eyes in suspicion when Sylvanas wandered into the manor library. Jaina was seated on one of the long couches, books piled up on the floor beside her tea set, her feet tucked atop a cushion, propping an open book on her knees. She did not close the book, though she did stop reading to watch as Sylvanas idly perused a shelf, trailing a finger across the spines of embossed texts as she walked by.

This time, Jaina spoke first. “Do you just come and find me to kiss me every time you think about it?”

“Not every time,” Sylvanas answered in a dry tone. She continued to circle her way closer, pretending to pick out a book from its shelf and turn its cover over before placing it back once more. “Sometimes I’m in a meeting. Or you’re not with me. Or you’re with me, but we’re in public.”

Jaina flipped a page in her own book in a pantomime of reading; she hadn’t read a single word since Sylvanas entered the room. She couldn’t concentrate with her here. “You didn’t seem to have a problem kissing me in public in Kul Tiras.”

Sylvanas gave her a look that made Jaina’s breath catch. “Do you want me to kiss you like I did in Kul Tiras?”

Jaina had to glance away, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear; it had escaped from her loose braid that she’d tied in a rush earlier that morning on her way to class. She cleared her throat and said weakly, “Maybe not in public.”

Sylvanas answered with a low throaty chuckle that made Jaina’s cheeks burn. When she finally crossed the room to stand behind the couch, Jaina had hunched her shoulders in anticipation, already feeling the faint impression of touch upon her, like a memory, like an automatic response. Jaina didn’t realise she was holding her breath until Sylvanas leaned against the back of the couch and asked, “What are you reading?”

“Um -?” Jaina had to check the front cover to remind herself. “A Compendium of First Era Inscriptions Complete with Annotations by Mysandra Swiftarc.”

A pause, then Sylvanas huffed with laughter. “You’re reading a dictionary?”

“No!” Jaina spluttered, opening the book back up and studying it furiously. “I was -! I was trying to find a new way to clean this pendant, is all.”

“What’s wrong with the pendant I gave you?”

Refusing to look up, Jaina said, “Nothing. It’s just dirty. I mean -- not dirty. Not the way you think. Not like that. I think someone used it for something once, and there’s this - this flaw that’s clouding it.”

At that, Sylvanas hummed curiously. She leaned down, close enough that Jaina could feel the warmth of her, though that may have just been Jaina’s imagination. Sylvanas pointed at the pendant and asked, “May I?”

Jaina nodded. Sylvanas -- careful not to actually touch her -- rested her elbows upon the back of the couch and held the stone between thumb and forefinger. She had to bow down to study it upon its golden chain, still strung around Jaina’s neck.

“I don’t see it.”

Jaina reached up and tilted the pale stone in Sylvanas’ hand so that it gleamed in the light. She was guiding Sylvanas’ hand more than the stone itself, and pointing with her other hand. “Right there, see? It looks like a dark little stormcloud got stuck in there.”

Sylvanas cocked her head to one side. “Still nothing. It looks clear as day to me.” She let go of the pendant so that it fell into Jaina’s hand. “Must be a mage thing.”

“Huh.” Jaina’s brow furrowed. She looked more closely at the pendant herself, then let it drop back down to her chest.

Sylvanas did not straighten, remaining bowed over the back of the couch. “I am sorry I got you a faulty gift. What a bad omen for a marriage.”

With a wave, Jaina said, “It’s not faulty. It’s like -” She thought for a moment, “It’s like a little puzzle that I carry around with me. It gives me something to do.”

“I’m amazed you haven’t solved it yet,” Sylvanas murmured. When Jaina shot her a confused look, she clarified, “You’re so clever. I’d always assumed you could solve any puzzle that crossed your path.”

“I’m not that smart.”

“I think you’re wrong about that.”

Jaina had never thought of herself as a particularly bashful person. Introverted, perhaps. But never bashful. Now, however, she busied herself with the book in her lap, clearing her throat and failing to suppress a self-conscious flush that rose to her face.

“May I kiss you again?”

Jaina hesitated. She aimed her best glare at Sylvanas over her shoulder and asked, “I don’t know. Are you going to run off again?”

Sylvanas met her gaze, unflinching, and her voice was calm and even when she answered, “I have a few reports I must write before dinner.”

Jaina scowled. “Necessity? Or convenience?”

“Is it too convenient if it’s both?” Sylvanas grinned, but it was soft. “You don’t have to say ‘yes,’ you know.”

At that, Jaina was the one to grab Sylvanas by the front of her leather armour. She tilted her head back as she tugged Sylvanas down for a kiss.

The book slipped from Jaina’s lap and onto the floor. She didn’t care. Her eyes slid shut. She opened her mouth and caught Sylvanas’ lower lip between her own. It was an odd angle. She could hear a sharp inhalation when she ran the tip of her tongue against a ridge of sharp teeth, but didn’t know if it came from Sylvanas or herself.

Jaina’s grip on the front of that leather cuirass tightened, when Sylvanas stroked one hand down the column of her bared throat and toyed with the golden chain at her collarbone. Sylvanas pulled back, but only just enough to bow her head and press her lips against Jaina’s neck. At the first touch of Sylvanas’ mouth at her throat, Jaina arched against her. She hissed through clenched teeth, the note ending in a breathless noise that Jaina didn’t know she could make.

Sylvanas froze. Jaina could feel the sweep of warm breath against the sensitive skin of her throat. Her hands trembled, and she let her fingers unclench when Sylvanas straightened. She could see Sylvanas’ own throat work as she swallowed.

Sylvanas was staring down at her, and her eyes burned. “I should go -- I have -” she gestured towards the door and jerked her gaze up, jaw clenching. “- things. Reports. Excuse me.”

Before she could leave, Jaina croaked, “So, I’ll -- uh -- I’ll see you at dinner?”

With a stiff nod, Sylvanas strode to the door, her steps brisk. She did not stop or look back, leaving as quickly as if a crocolisk were snapping at her heels.

Still gathering herself, Jaina shrugged against the crawling heat that continued to rush from the top of her head to the base of her spine. When she found herself touching her neck where Sylvanas had kissed her, she snatched her hand back, fist thumping against the couch cushion beneath her. She twisted around to gauge how far the sun was along the sky.

It would be hours yet before dinner. And now there was no way Jaina could concentrate enough to read anything and retain the information. In a huff, Jaina rose to her feet and stormed from the library to go for a walk along the grounds.

It didn’t help.

A dip in the cold pool downstairs helped a little, but mostly it was a means to pass the time and accomplished not much else. She pulled her same clothes back on and braided her hair to dry, secretly relishing the occasional cool drip that helped combat the heat of Quel’Thalas.

When she stepped into the banquet hall for dinner, Sylvanas was already seated at the table, waiting. For all that Jaina had thought the reports were nonsense, Sylvanas did still have a few letters she was reading over even as she picked idly at the shared platter of flatbread.

Jaina pulled back a chair and sat. “I see you weren’t lying.”

“I told you it was convenient,” Sylvanas replied, not looking up from the letter. Her brow furrowed. “I don’t like the look of these movements to the east. There’s something odd about -”

She looked up, and the words died in the air; her eyes were fixed upon the extra few buttons that Jaina had left undone after her bath, the cloth sticking somewhat to her still damp skin. Jaina blinked at her in confusion, and Sylvanas jerked her gaze back down to her letter.

Oh. Oh.

Clearing her throat, Jaina pointed to the steaming glass pot beside her. “Would you like some water.”

“Please.”

All throughout dinner, Jaina felt like she was engaged in a very deliberate dance. They avoided reaching for the same dishes. She kept her ankles firmly crossed beneath her chair so as to not accidentally nudge Sylvanas’ foot with her own. They spoke about inane topics, steering well clear of books and libraries. Once or twice she could have sworn she caught Sylvanas sneaking a glance at the pendant around her neck, but always Sylvanas would hide the gesture with a smile and a change in conversation.

None of it distracted Jaina in the slightest, and she was painfully aware of just how little the walk and bath had helped. Her stomach was still writhing, and it did nothing to help her appetite.

Halfway through dinner, she sat back with a sigh. “I’m not very hungry.”

Sylvanas’ eyebrows rose. “Heading back to the library, are you?”

It was the first time they had discussed the library since the incident earlier that afternoon, and Sylvanas’ voice was far too precise.

Jaina shook her head, “No, I - uh -” She tried to imagine going back upstairs and reading a centuries-old tome on glyphs. “I don’t think so.”

Sylvanas toyed with a piece of bread but did not eat it. Then, she picked up another letter and continued to work. “I'll be up later.”

That was probably for the best. Jaina did not complain.

In the end, she brought a series of her own reports to grade in bed. She changed into a nightgown, and sat with her back propped up by pillows, a stack of papers on the bedside table. She wielded a quill enchanted to never run out of ink or drip anywhere, marking mistakes her Novices had made.

The first time she had issued a report to her classes had been at Magistrix Elosai's suggestion. Jaina had been reluctant at first. She had insisted her Thalassian wasn't good enough, but soon discovered that she had grossly overestimated the Novice's writing abilities. Even more startling, Jaina found that her Thalassian greatly improved since regularly reading and grading the kids’ reports. She had started leading whole seminars in a mix of Thalassian and Common, her Novices correcting her grammar mistakes with glee.

Now however, the tip of Jaina's quill trailed across the same paragraph over and over. She only managed to get through a handful of reports on The Founding Tenets of Cenarius before she gave up. The Thalassian script did nothing to alleviate her restlessness. She piled the reports on her bedside table, tossed the quill atop them, and stood.

For a brief, wild moment, she considered giving Sylvanas a taste of her own medicine, by marching upstairs to the study Sylvanas used as an office and kissing her.

Instead, Jaina paced.

She was walking the line of the narrow red carpet that stretched across the pale stone floor of their bedroom, end to end, counting her steps, when the door opened far sooner than she had expected. It was barely night. A sliver past dusk. The faint lyrics of birdsong were still trilling outside.

Sylvanas entered the room and had the gall to look surprised to see her there.

“You’re here early,” Jaina blurted out.

Shutting the door behind her, Sylvanas blinked in confusion. “Should I be somewhere else?”

“No,” Jaina shook her head. She turned and kept pacing. “No, of course not. I just wasn’t -” She reached the end of the carpet and retraced her steps the other way again. “I suppose you have somewhere you need to be early tomorrow.”

Sylvanas had not moved. She watched Jaina warily. “Not that I can recall.”

Jaina tapped her fingers against her thigh as she walked, as if keeping time. Finally she came to a halt directly in the centre of the carpet and announced, “I think we need to talk. About this. About -” She gestured between the two of them.

“Alright,” Sylvanas said slowly, pulling off her rakish half-cloak and draping it over her arm. “I'm listening.”

“Good. Thank you.”

Jaina fidgeted and did not say anything else.

Sylvanas waited, glancing around. “Do -?” She started to say but Jaina cut her off.

“Could you just -? Maybe -?” Jaina pointed to the edge of the bed. “Sit? You're very tall and it's very distracting.”

Befuddled, Sylvanas sat. She tossed her cloak across a nearby trunk. Without the cloak, her arms and hands were bare, the supple leather cuirass only covering her torso. Her weight sank against the mattress, and she looked up at Jaina, waiting.

“Right. Ok.” Jaina paced a bit some more and had to force herself to stop. “I really -” She wrung her hands. “I quite like you. Which -!” she said in a rush when Sylvanas’ eyebrows rose. “- Which I know is a strange thing to say since we're already married. But I do. Quite like you, I mean. I know I haven't exactly said that before, so I wanted to say it now. I quite like you, and I quite like kissing you, and I have been thinking about kissing you all afternoon, so I would like to kiss you now, if that's alright.”

Another signature elven head tilt. “Why didn’t you?”

“What?” Jaina asked dumbly.

Sylvanas explained calmly, “When you thought about it this afternoon, why didn’t you come and kiss me?”

“Because you were -” Jaina mimed writing in the air with one hand “- working.”

“I would have stopped working.”

“I didn’t think you wanted me to disturb you. I thought you were using it as an excuse to give yourself space.”

“No. Well -” Sylvanas shrugged and amended, “Yes. But the space wasn’t for me.”

“What do you mean it wasn’t for -- Oh.” Jaina breathed. She shifted her weight back and forth between feet. “Then in the future, I will give you less space?” She said each word slowly, ending on a question and trying to gauge Sylvanas’ expression.

Amused. Sylvanas looked amused. Like she was having to stop a full grin. “I’d like that.”

“Good. That’s good.” Even hearing Sylvanas say that outright was a relief.

When Jaina did nothing except look at her, Sylvanas raised her eyebrows. “So? Didn’t you want to kiss me?”

Earlier when Jaina had nearly stormed up to Sylvanas’ tower-top study, she had imagined grabbing her and kissing the smug expression right off her face without a hint of hesitation. Now that she was actually presented with the opportunity, Jaina was rooted in place, as if her feet had sunk into the stone floor and stuck there.

Swallowing thickly, Jaina forced her legs to carry her forward. Sylvanas held out her hand, and Jaina took it. She was tugged gently forward to stand before Sylvanas, who did not release her hand but rather took a second to caress her thumb across Jaina’s knuckles before lacing their fingers together. With her free hand, her fingers trembling just slightly, Jaina combed back Sylvanas’ hair from her brow. She savoured its silky texture, letting her exploratory touch rove down to the sharp line of Sylvanas’ jaw.

When Sylvanas turned her head to press her lips to the centre of Jaina’s palm, Jaina could not help but stare. Sylvanas had closed her eyes, and was kissing Jaina’s hand with the softest expression Jaina could ever recall seeing. Any and all hesitation fled, then. Guiding Sylvanas’ face to look up, Jaina leaned down and kissed her.

It started soft. Softness matching softness. Jaina brushed their mouths together, angling her head to one side and enjoying this simple moment -- kissing her, caressing Sylvanas’ cheek, knowing that this was wanted, that this was encouraged.

She shifted her feet so that she stood, bracketing one of Sylvanas’ legs with her own. She was hyper aware of their proximity, every pulse against her hand, when their knees bumped together, when Sylvanas let go of Jaina’s hand in favour of touching her waist, just lightly, feeling the inquisitive glance of fingers across silk. Jaina moved to cup Sylvanas’ face with both hands. Tentative, she deepened the kiss, and the top of her head felt like it had caught alight at the slow sweep of Sylvanas’ tongue.

When Jaina pulled back, Sylvanas followed, swaying forward where she sat before stopping. Jaina stroked both thumbs over the bluffs of those high cheeks. Sylvanas was looking up at her, eyes bright, their glow more intense than usual. Her grip tightened momentarily at Jaina’s waist, and Jaina was transfixed at the dart of Sylvanas’ tongue against her lip.

This time when Jaina leaned down to kiss her, there was nothing soft about it. She grasped a fistful of Sylvanas’ hair, a low groan escaping her despite her best efforts to suppress it when Sylvanas nipped at her lower lip. Jaina was already breathing heavily when she stopped to gasp, “Can I -?”

Jaina ran trembling fingers down Sylvanas’ throat, waiting for a nod. She bent down further. She pushed back a wave of pale gold hair and pressed an open-mouthed kiss to Sylvanas’ neck, just as had been done to her earlier that afternoon. Sylvanas made a noise that Jaina had never heard before. Encouraged, Jaina kissed along her neck, but when she gave a cautious scrape of her teeth across skin, Sylvanas gave a warning hiss.

Jaina stopped immediately. She straightened. Sylvanas was watching her very intently now, and she looked as flushed as Jaina felt.

When Sylvanas spoke, her voice sounded hoarse. “You shouldn’t do that unless you want this to go somewhere.”

Jaina felt like she had swallowed a live coal. It burned its way through her stomach and settled behind her navel. “And what if I do want that?”

Sylvanas’ hands were still at Jaina’s waist. Gently, she kneaded Jaina’s hips before sliding her palms down to rest to either side of Jaina’s knees. “Do you?”

“I -” Jaina chewed at her lip.

Suddenly Sylvanas’ expression shifted to guarded and incredulous. “Do you even know about -?”

“Yes, I know,” Jaina said quickly and a little indignantly. If her face hadn’t been red before it certainly was now. “I mean I haven’t with -” she gestured to Sylvanas, “- anyone. But I know.”

At that Sylvanas seemed to relax a bit. She toyed with Jaina’s hemline, which fluttered at her knees, the act more contemplative than provocative. “You don’t have to make a decision right now. You don’t have to say ‘yes.’”

Those words, repeated from this afternoon, were spoken in a murmur. Jaina sucked in a deep breath. “I know.”

Jaina kissed her. Sylvanas’ hands faltered for a moment. Then, she leaned back and said, “That’s not a: ‘yes.’”

“That’s a: ‘I want to kiss you again,’” Jaina replied, already leaning forward for another.

Jaina could feel Sylvanas’ answering smile against her mouth. “Fair enough.”

They kissed, and Jaina’s knees hit the edge of the mattress. She steadied herself on Sylvanas’ shoulders, never breaking contact, pausing only to breathe before diving back in for another. It felt like the reverse of their kiss in Kul Tiras, Jaina standing over Sylvanas and pressing them closer together, seeking any closeness she could find.

When she propped herself atop the mattress, knees on either side of Sylvanas’ legs to straddle her, Jaina could feel the tense of muscle beneath her hands. Sylvanas pulled back just enough to mouth at the skin beneath Jaina’s chin as Jaina knelt over her. She kissed along Jaina’s jaw, while Jaina settled herself in place.

The sheets shifted beneath Jaina’s knees. She adjusted her weight, and when she rocked forward slightly, Sylvanas’ breath hitched.

“Sorry,” Jaina mumbled against the side of Sylvanas’ face. “Is this alright?”

“You’re fine. You’re -” Sylvanas started to say, her voice rough, but cut herself off to bring their mouths together again, harder this time.

There was an unwieldy clash of teeth, but Jaina couldn’t bring herself to care. Sylvanas’ hands were tracing the hemline of Jaina’s nightgown, which had ridden up above her knees. They smoothed a line across her legs, and Jaina’s breath stuttered in her lungs every time Sylvanas slowly dragged her fingers along the sensitive skin of her inner thighs. She would inch the hemline up only to circle back down to just above Jaina’s knees, until Jaina had to break the kiss and bite down on her lower lip to keep herself from whimpering.

Jaina lost count of how many times this happened before she finally gasped out, “Yes.”

Sylvanas let her hands linger at the top of Jaina’s thighs. “Are you sure -?”

“I said: ‘yes.’” Jaina clutched at Sylvanas’ shoulders in an attempt to calm the quaver in her own voice, the quivering that seemed to crawl all along her skin. Her knees were already beginning to ache from supporting her weight, an acidic burn that she would regret later, but which she now ignored. “Please touch me. I want you to.”

Sylvanas removed her hands, but only to cup Jaina’s face and kiss her softly; the contrast was enough to make Jaina groan. When she tried to deepen the kiss however, Sylvanas leaned away, not enough to break contact but enough to keep it feather-light. Sylvanas moved her hands down to the straps of the nightgown, working one then the other down Jaina’s shoulders. Gently, she urged Jaina to let go and lower her arms so she could pull the nightgown down.

The silk pooled around Jaina’s waist. Jaina shivered at the prickle of warm air against her bare skin. Sylvanas counted Jaina’s ribs with her fingertips, mapping them in stripes above her stomach. She smoothed one hand up Jaina’s chest between her breasts, coming to rest at the dip of her collarbone. There, Sylvanas touched the pendant that hung from its golden chain.

She was taking her time, and it was driving Jaina half out of her mind. Jaina reached up and grasped Sylvanas’ hand where it was playing with the pendant. “Sylvanas -”

“I’ve been thinking about this -” Sylvanas breathed, never taking her eyes off Jaina, “- for months.”

As she spoke, she arched up to kiss Jaina and palm her breast. Jaina whimpered into her mouth, grasping at the back of Sylvanas’ neck. Her eyes fell partially shut, but she could feel Sylvanas’ other hand slowly pushing the hemline of Jaina’s nightgown up her thighs. Fingers brushed the back of her legs, and Sylvanas reached both hands down to grab Jaina’s rear and pull her closer.

Jaina buried her face in Sylvanas’ shoulder, breathing raggedly. She smelled of leather and silk and sunlight. In lazy circles, Sylvanas drew patterns all across Jaina’s naked skin that seemed to leave phantom marks in their wake, like a footprint burnt upon the path that Jaina could still feel, could follow after.

As her hands wandered, Sylvanas asked quietly, “Can I bite you?”

Jaina nodded her forehead against the cuirass. Sylvanas kissed along her neck, carefully nuzzling for a good spot before she opened her mouth. At the first graze of teeth, Jaina twitched. Sylvanas nipped and dragged the sharp edges of her fangs along sensitive skin, then bit down. Not hard enough to break the skin, but enough that Jaina gasped.

Sylvanas found a new spot and bit her again. She sucked until Jaina’s skin bloomed with colour like dark sunspots, until Jaina was a squirming mess in her lap, teeth clenched so hard that she could feel an ache in her jaw. One of her hands circled round to trace along the space where Jaina’s thigh met her hip. When Sylvanas finally dragged her fingers along the slickness between Jaina’s legs, Jaina jerked her hips forward with a stifled moan.

Jaina couldn’t remember ever being this wet before. She clutched at Sylvanas’ back as Sylvanas drew her fingers up and down, mapping every nook and fold before tracing circles against Jaina’s clit. With her free hand, Sylvanas reached up and nudged Jaina’s head to the other side so she could continue branding unblemished skin with her teeth.

Jaina didn’t realise she was holding her breath. She panted. Her eyes were squeezed shut now, the world awash in darkness and sensation. Steadily, Sylvanas increased the strength behind her teeth the longer her hand continued its explorations between Jaina's legs. She focused her mouth on Jaina’s thready pulsepoint as she slowly slipped two fingers into wet heat.

Breathing could wait. Breathing could definitely wait.

Shifting her knees again, Jaina sought purchase against the sheets and the mattress so she could rock against Sylvanas’ fingers. She couldn’t stop the noises she was making now. Sylvanas’ other hand was at the swell of Jaina’s hip, urging along a steady rhythm that Jaina struggled to maintain. Every time Jaina would buck against her, Sylvanas would remove her fingers and return to stroking her until Jaina slowed her pace.

The second time this happened, Jaina whined, “Please.”

At that Sylvanas paused. She lifted her head from Jaina’s neck and kissed her. When she slipped her fingers back in, she pressed the palm of her hand up until Jaina could grind against her. Every roll of Jaina’s hips was met with a desperate sound that welled up in the back of her throat and was trapped by the kiss. Jaina could feel the coil of heat and pressure building at the base of her spine; she had to tear her mouth away to cry out, a high insistent note that hitched with every thrust of Sylvanas’ fingers.  

Sylvanas rocked her through the orgasm, until Jaina had to reach down with a trembling hand against Sylvanas’ wrist and whisper, “Stop. That’s -”

Immediately Sylvanas stopped. She moved her hand away with a wet sound and the trace of a touch that made Jaina gasp. Wrapping her arms around Jaina’s waist, Sylvanas rested her forehead against Jaina’s sternum and waited. It took a while for Jaina’s breathing to steady and for her heartbeat to stop its racing. She bracketed Sylvanas’ neck with her forearms and weakly combed through Sylvanas’ hair with trembling fingers.

It took her even longer to realise that not every shiver was hers alone.

Jaina leaned back slightly, trying to get a better look at Sylvanas’ face. “Are you alright?”

Sylvanas let out a huff of incredulous laughter against her chest. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”

“Well, of course I’m alright. I’m the one who had a good time.”

At that, Sylvanas looked up at her. She wore a grin, but for once its usual cant of mischief was tempered by sincerity. “Trust me. You’re not the only one who had a good time.”

“Oh. That’s -- That’s good.” Jaina smoothed her hands across the top of Sylvanas’ leather cuirass. “It’s just -- you’re still dressed.”

Sylvanas plucked at the silk of Jaina’s nightgown that now looped around her waist, as if to remind her that she still wore at least some scrap of clothing, but all she said was, “Would you like me to be undressed?”

Jaina faltered at that invitation. She followed the swirled patterns embossed in Sylvanas’ armour, meant to evoke curls of wind across the tops of trees, or perhaps mountains. “I figured that would be up to you. Do you want me to -?”

Eyes bright, Sylvanas murmured, “I would be disappointed if you didn’t. Though I can always take care of myself, if you’re not interested.”

Jaina laughed a little breathlessly, “I think we can safely say that I’m interested.”

Sylvanas hummed. For a moment all she did was watch Jaina carefully, then she tapped at Jaina’s back. “You’ll need to move.”

“Right. Of course. Sorry.”

With a wince, Jaina swung her leg over and set her feet back on the ground. The nightgown fell the floor and she stepped out of it, kicking it aside. Rubbing one of her knees, Jaina said, “Ow. Does that get any easier?”

Sylvanas shrugged. She didn’t appear at all sympathetic or remorseful. She wiped her sticky fingers on the bedsheets before starting to take off her boots. A bit awkwardly, Jaina stood there, watching Sylvanas, who was still seated, strip off her boots and cuirass, tossing them towards her side of the room. When Sylvanas pulled the cotton shift she wore beneath her cuirass free from where it was tucked into the high waist of her leather breeches, Jaina cleared her throat. Sylvanas stopped and glanced up at her, one questioning eyebrow arched.

“Can I -?” Jaina pointed. “Can I do that?”

Sylvanas nodded. “You may.”

Reaching down, Jaina dragged the cotton shift free. Sylvanas lifted her arms enough for the shift to be pulled over her head and discarded. At the sight of bare golden skin, Jaina found herself chewing at her lower lip again. She catalogued old scars on Sylvanas’ skin, feeling the bump of pale scar tissue with her fingertips, wounds gained in the field when there were no healers around to clear them away without a trace. Claw marks from an animal at her ribcage. Knicks and slashes from blades. The puncture of an arrowhead.

Sylvanas kept her face carefully self-contained while Jaina explored, but she couldn’t stop the traitorous rise and fall of her chest when Jaina circled her breasts, softly scraping a thumbnail across her nipple. Jaina filed away the flit of micro expressions across Sylvanas’ features that accompanied everything she did.

Despite the complaining her knees did, Jaina knelt down on the floor. At that, Sylvanas’ eyes widened in surprise, though the shocked expression faded when Jaina stripped Sylvanas of her breeches and smallclothes, and stood once more.

Jaina dropped the breeches to the floor in a crumple of leather. Sylvanas was leaning back on her hands, propped atop the mattress, head cocked, and completely naked. Mouth going dry, Jaina took a moment to study her before collecting herself. She hadn’t thought of what to do beyond this point.

“What do you like?” Jaina asked.

Sylvanas’ answering smile glinted, and it held an almost dangerous edge. “Lots of things. Fingers. Tongue. Accessories.”

Jaina frowned. “Accessories?” she repeated.

“Maybe we’ll get to that later.” Sylvanas said. When Jaina bit the inside of her cheek, looking unsure, Sylvanas lowered her voice to a soothing tone, “Come here.”

She patted the space beside her. It wasn’t patronising -- thank the Tides -- and even as she did so, she pushed herself further up the bed. Jaina hesitated for a moment, then rounded the bed to crawl atop the sheets beside her. When Jaina stretched out on the mattress, Sylvanas rolled atop her. She propped herself upon her elbows over Jaina, letting the length of their bodies settle against one another.

Sylvanas brushed back a few stray locks of hair that had escaped from Jaina’s braid, and tucked her own long hair behind her ears to keep it out of the way. “Comfortable?”

Jaina nodded.

“Good,” Sylvanas murmured.

Bending her head down, Sylvanas kissed her, deeply and slowly. Jaina reached around to stroke along the expanse of her back, charting the wings of her shoulder bones and the gentle taper of her waist. In comparison to before, Jaina could only describe this as languid. They kissed as if they had all the time in the world, with the night slanting through the windows at the backs.

And then Sylvanas started to move. She nudged apart Jaina’s legs with a knee and rolled their hips together. Breath catching at the back of her throat, Jaina gripped Sylvanas’ back. When she mimicked the movement, Sylvanas hummed a wordless pleased note against her mouth, almost a purr. Sylvanas pressed her thigh up, the next motion causing Jaina to drag a smear of wetness against her.

“I thought -” Jaina gasped, “I thought this was about getting you.”

“It is.”

Sylvanas sounded strained. The rocking of her hips was slowly growing more erratic, her kisses more fierce. With a whimper, Jaina wedged a hand down between them. She fumbled at the awkward angle, but Sylvanas hissed when Jaina found her clit. She shut her eyes and grit her teeth.

Slicking up her fingers and circling round again and again, Jaina watched in fascination as Sylvanas jerked against her. Jaina leaned up to nip at the skin where Sylvanas’ throat met her jaw, and was rewarded with a moan stifled behind a row of sharp teeth. As Sylvanas ducked her head, shifting her weight on her elbows for more leverage, Jaina mouthed her way towards an ear. She kissed just beneath it, opening her mouth to scrape her teeth, and felt a pant of warm air against her neck in response.

“Down a bit,” Sylvanas growled against her shoulder. “And harder.”

“My fingers or -?”

“Fingers.”

Jaina did so, and Sylvanas’ arms trembled. She did it again, and Sylvanas ground down upon her fingers with a low keen. A third time earned her name being gasped, and at that Jaina turned her head, seeking another kiss.

It was the only time Sylvanas had ever kissed her roughly. It was all teeth and desperation. Jaina groaned into it, and was answered with another growl, feeling Sylvanas tilt her thigh deliberately so that every rock of her hips sent a corresponding flare through her. Then Sylvanas was shuddering, every muscle tense, her movements sharp, Jaina’s name a half-mumbled chant on her lips.

Sylvanas came down slowly. She chased the vestiges of her orgasm against Jaina’s hand, until she was propped over her, still and shivering.

Jaina removed her hand but clutched at Sylvanas’ waist. She waited until Sylvanas’ breathing had steadied before asking shakily, “Could you -? Um -? Could you please just -?”

Sylvanas leaned back as if stung, “What is it?”

“Nothing!” Jaina insisted. Sylvanas’ leg was still pressed against her, and she squirmed slightly. “You just -- With your thigh -- And I’d really like it if you would finish me off again.”

With a relieved chuckle, Sylvanas dropped a kiss to Jaina’s mouth. “Gladly.”

It didn’t take nearly as long as the first one. After all the noises and writhing and everything else from before, all Sylvanas had to do was slowly stroke around Jaina’s clit and kiss her breasts, and Jaina was gripping fistfuls of the sheets.

When she had finished, Sylvanas rolled off of her. She lay herself down next to Jaina, continuing to draw lazy patterns against Jaina’s stomach. Jaina was still flat on her back, panting to the ceiling, when Sylvanas gave her a quick peck on the cheek and said, “Good talk. I’m glad we had it.”

Jaina laughed, disbelieving and breathless. “Yes. We should talk more often.”

Grinning at her, Sylvanas tapped at Jaina’s abdomen. “I’m always available for a nice long chat whenever you need it.”

Jaina shook her head, but couldn’t keep herself from smiling. She rolled over, relishing the easy closeness between them. For a long while they lay there together, until Sylvanas placed a kiss on her forehead and murmured, “Would you like to join me for another bath before we sleep?”

At the thought of another long soak this time with Sylvanas at her side, resting in the different pools until their muscles turned to liquid themselves, Jaina sighed, “Tides, yes.”

 


 

Jaina woke several times in the early pre-dawn hours. Each time, she and Sylvanas had shifted slightly in bed, but always remained touching. At one point, Sylvanas had her arm wrapped around Jaina's midriff and was snoozing against her back. At another, they were both turned away, the base of their spines pressed lightly together. The final time Jaina awoke to sunlight touching the foot of the bed, and her head nestled into the crook of Sylvanas’ shoulder.

Sylvanas had undone her braid and was running her fingers through Jaina’s hair, gently untangling it while Jaina slept. Not moving except to snuggle a bit closer, Jaina murmured, “Feels nice.”

“Mmm.” Sylvanas continued. Jaina was half atop one of her arms, but she did not complain or tell her to move. “You make noises in your sleep.”

“Are you saying I snore?” Jaina mumbled.

“I would never imply you did anything so undignified.”

With a sleepy huff of laughter, Jaina said, “Good thing I’m not a dignified person, then.”

Those fingers paused for a moment before resuming their carding. Sylvanas laughed, a soft incredulous sound, “You really don’t know, do you?”

“Hnn?”

Sylvanas kissed the top of her head. “Nothing. Nevermind.”

Jaina was already nodding off again. She dozed somewhere between sleeping and wakefulness, lulled on the liminal space between the two by the drag of Sylvanas’ fingernails against her scalp. After a while, Jaina stirred. She turned her head into warm-scented skin and kissed at Sylvanas’ shoulder.

Sylvanas stopped to tangle her fingers in Jaina’s long hair and tilt her head up for a kiss. The fine sheet slipped down Jaina’s back as she arched into the kiss. Sunlight warmed the bed. They did not rush. Sylvanas would pause every now and then to brush her hands through Jaina’s hair again, or to trail her fingers down her throat, circling various sensitive areas until Jaina was slowly more and more awake.

She set her own hands to exploring, retracing the steps she had made last night and determined to map new expanses of Sylvanas’ skin. At some point -- Jaina wasn’t quite sure when it had happened -- she found herself lying atop Sylvanas, kissing her mouth, her neck, nosing at the downy hair behind her ear.  

When Sylvanas slipped a thigh between her legs, Jaina pressed her back into the mattress and rolled their hips together. Sylvanas’ breath hitched. She grasped at Jaina’s waist, urging her to make the motion again. Jaina was more than happy to oblige.

The wave of her hair fell into their faces, and Jaina had to quickly tuck it behind her ears before she could continue. Sylvanas made another one of those tiny noises at the back of her throat, and she was determined to hear it again. She kissed Sylvanas hard, which was right when she remembered.

“Mmm!” Jaina pulled away with a gasped, “I have class today!”

“What?” Sylvanas asked, sounding winded.

Jaina was already scrambling off of her, half falling over the edge of the mattress on her way to the armoire, swearing as she went.

“Shit!” she hissed, tugging open the armoire and pulling down the first outfit within arm’s reach. “ Shit! I’m going to be late. Shit shit shit shit -!”

She heard a snicker of amusement behind her, and turned while jumping on one leg to pull up her breeches. Sylvanas had rolled onto her stomach to watch Jaina with a grin. “Now look who’s the one who has to go rushing off just when things are getting interesting.”

Making a face at her, Jaina tied the drawstrings of her breeches shut, and reached for her shirt. “Turnabout’s fair play.”

Sylvanas ears pricked up, and her grin widened. “I like that human expression. I’ll have to remember it for another time.”

Hastily Jaina buttoned up her shirt. As she was tucking it into the high waist of her breeches, she walked back over to the bed for a kiss. “I'll be back for dinner.”

“And I shall waste away without you.”

Jaina rolled her eyes at Sylvanas’ sarcasm. “No, you won't. You'll go to the Anchorage and work until Lor'themar is sick of seeing your face.”

Sylvanas grinned into another kiss. “How else am I supposed to know I'm doing my job right?”

“By irritating everyone to death?”

“Exactly. Though now that you mention it, Vereesa would make a far better Ranger-General on that basis.”

With a snort of amusement, Jaina kissed her again. Then again. “Ok, I really do need to go.”

“I'm not stopping you.”

“You are literally holding me down by my shirt.”

Sylvanas let her go with a dismissive wave and an airy sigh, “Details.”

Stepping away, Jaina left. She re-buttoned her shirt and jogged down the stairs into the main atrium. When she had reached the front doors, Ithedis fell into step beside her.

Without stopping her quick pace, she greeted him. “Good morning, Ithedis.”

“My Lady -”

“We're going to need to hurry today. I'm tempted to just teleport us there, but -”

He grasped her firmly by the shoulder. Startled, she turned around. He sounded even more stuff than usual when he said, “Lady Proudmoore, you cannot be seen in public like this.”

“Like what?” She asked, looking down at her clothes. They weren't her mage robes, but people at the Academy were accustomed to seeing her walk around in her Kul Tiran drab from time to time.

In answer, Ithedis cleared his throat. Very studiously not looking at her, he pointed to his own neck.

“What -?” She started to say, then her eyes widened in realisation.

Flushing in embarrassment, Jaina put a hand to her neck. She hadn't taken the time to look at herself in a mirror before rushing from the bedroom. She could only imagine what her neck must have looked like.

An illusion spell wouldn't do any good. Not at a mage Academy where any Apprentice with half a brain could weave a counterspell to see through it. And she didn't have time to stop off somewhere for a potion or concealer.

Instead, Jaina flipped up the stiff collar of her shirt and closed every last button as though she were going to march on military parade.

“Is that -?” She couldn't meet Ithedis’ eye. “Is that better?”

He nodded sharply. “It will have to suffice.”

Her cheeks still burned. She must have looked as scarlet as his armoured robes. Whirling around, she started off towards the stables, “Good. That's good. Shall we -?”

“Of course, my Lady.”

He didn’t mention it again. Jaina clambered into the saddle and spurred her horse towards Falthrien Academy as fast as she could without risking her own neck on the roads.

“I’m sorry I’m late!” Jaina said to the class as she hurried into the room.

The Novices were grouped around their various tables in casual conversation. They glanced over their shoulders at her, already moving towards their seats, though begrudgingly. She could distinctly hear one of them mutter, “I told you we should’ve only waited ten minutes,” while another insisted, “Fifteen minutes is the legal limit!” followed by a chorus of boos in his direction.

Clearing her throat, Jaina tucked her hair behind her ears -- since when had she grown so used to wearing a braid that having loose hair felt odd? -- and neatened the stack of papers in her hands by tapping them together upon the front table. “I have your reports here, though I must confess that I’ll need a few more days to finish marking them.”

That earned her a few puzzled glances. Many of the Novices looked at each other. Others still tried to make shushing noises. Jaina thought she saw one stuff something under his seat as inconspicuously as possible, which of course meant that she narrowed her eyes.

“What is it?” she asked slowly.

“Nothing!”

“Yeah, you can take a few more days. That’s fine, Miss Jaina.”

“You’re busy. We understand.”

“Those aren’t our reports. Those are for second rotation.”

The last Novice to have spoken got his chair kicked by a neighbor, and everyone else glared at him. He kept his back straight and defiant, though his ears drooped.

Glancing down at the reports, Jaina felt a flush rise to her cheeks. He was right. She recognised a few second rotation names. She set the papers down and straightened, “Which -- uh -- which rotation is this?”

“Fourth,” one of them said, and the rest nodded except for the one who had ratted on them earlier.

Jaina looked at him and raised her eyebrows for confirmation. He nodded.

“Alright,” she sighed. “Then that means your reports are due today. Thank the Tides.” The last she added as a mumble and in Common.

Most of the class slumped in their seats. A few looked bored, gazing out the window. That was always the worst. For as long as she could remember, Jaina had always encountered glazed eyes whenever she launched into a topic she enjoyed. Having a class of adrenaline-filled elven Novices didn’t change that in the slightest.

So, Jaina clapped her hands and rubbed them together. “But!” she announced, moving to the chalkboard behind her and flipping it over, “That doesn’t mean we can’t still have some fun!”

“Yay,” one of the Novices said sans enthusiasm.

“That’s the spirit,” Jaina quipped. She picked up a piece of chalk and held it out. “Does someone who’s better at drawing than me want to prepare a Lifecycle Circle on the board for me? I’ll give you extra marks on your paper if you do it correctly on the first try?”

A number of hands shot into the air at that opportunity. As the girl she picked trotted to the front of the room and began to draw, Jaina rummaged through her lectern for supplies. She pulled out a bag of seeds and, walking through the rows of desks, dispersed them to the rest of the class, one for each Novice.

Hands-on activities, in Jaina’s opinion, were always the best way to keep a class of kids occupied and learning. For the remainder of the class, she had them attempt to put the information they’d written in their reports to actual practice by making a seed grow. And by the end of the session, all of them managed to have their very own sproutling sitting atop their desks.

Jaina took a seed for herself. She flipped the chalkboard down so that it was horizontal upon its axis, and placed the seed directly in the centre of the circle her student had drawn. “Don’t be discouraged if your seedling is small. I’m not the best at Nature magic, either. But remember, you shouldn’t force it to grow. You’re just trying to encourage it, to -- to -”

Someone slipped into the room via the back door. Jaina glanced up, looked back down at the chalkboard, then jerked her head up again to stare.

Sylvanas stood at the back of the classroom, her hood drawn, wearing her casual leathers and looking like any other Ranger on their day off in Silvermoon but for the distinctly stylised Windrunner crest embossed on her cuirass. A few Novices seated not far from her, twisted around in their seats, and she raised a finger to her lips with a wink. A murmur swept through the class, growing in pitch.

“Uh -” Jaina swallowed. She tried to focus on the seed, on the smudges of chalk on the dark rugged surface of the board. She grabbed a piece of chalk to correct the smear.

“As I was saying -” She set the chalk back down and tucked a wayward lock of hair behind her ear again. Lifting her voice to combat the sudden excitement of her students with their unexpected audience, Jaina said, “As I was saying, Nature magic needs to be encouraged. It’s about animating the life that’s already there, not about creating something new. You just need to give it a little push, and -”

Jaina held her hand out over the seed, closing her eyes and searching for that spark. It was such a small thing, but it brimmed with energy. She whispered the spell, and her eyes shot open when she felt the rush of magic flood through her. Magic poured upon magic, overflowing.

The seed erupted. Skeins of vines and branches burst forth, crawling and lashing upwards, curling around the blackboard until the plant was so heavy the wooden frame groaned and snapped. With a squeak of surprise, Jaina leapt back, but the seed continued to grow.

“Oh no,” she breathed, eyes widening as the seed boiled upwards. “Uh -? Stop?”

The seed strained at the ceiling, which started to crack, paint chips raining down onto the floor. Jaina snapped her fingers. She waved her hands. Finally, she stomped her foot on the ground and commanded, “Stop!”

A wave of energy rippled along the floor. Her voice echoed through the room like a clap of thunder. She was breathing heavily, and the pendant on her neck burned, cold, against her skin. The seed stopped, but a few more chips of paint and heavier debris -- shards of marble and plaster -- scattered across the floor in a haze of pale dust.

Coughing and waving her hands, Jaina turned. None of the class had moved, remaining in their seats and watching with glee. They broke out into appreciative applause, as if the spectacle had been planned purely for their entertainment. From the back of the room, Sylvanas watched with her arms crossed. Even from this distance, Jaina could see the amusement on her face, clear as day.

With a shaky smile, Jaina brushed a bit of plaster from her hair and waited for the clapping to die down. “Yes, alright. Thank you. Don’t do that for your homework, or your parents will kill me.”

She swept the front table free of dust and paint chips with her hands, and said, “Now, I want you to line up neatly, drop your latest report on the table, and then -- since I know you’re dying to -- you may each ask the Ranger-General one thing on your way out.”

Immediately, the Novices scraped back their chairs and rushed to the front of the room to hand in their reports, stacking them atop the table. With a one-shouldered shrug, Sylvanas strode forward as well to stand by the front door, fielding questions while Jaina tried to clean up the mess she’d made.

“Can you show me the Ranger salute?”

“Of course.”

“How many battles have you won?”

“I lost count about three hundred years ago.”

“Can we see Thas’dorah?”

“I would say yes, but it’s at home right now.”

“Miss Jaina refuses to tell us about the battle she was in.”

“And that’s Miss Jaina’s prerogative.”

“Do you two kiss?”

“Sometimes.”

“Gross.”

Jaina listened with half an ear. She grabbed up a piece of chalk and crouched on the floor. On her hands and knees, she crawled around the base of the tree that had sprouted in her classroom, drawing marks in a large circle all around it. When she had finished, Jaina pushed herself upright. Another whispered spell, and the tree shrank back into its tiny seed casing once more, leaving behind only the damage that she had done in its wake. She picked up the seed and glared at it, before tossing it aside with a sigh.

“What happened to not being very good at Nature magic?”

The Novices had all gone, their reports stacked on the table. Sylvanas was leaning in the doorway, grinning at her.

“You -!” Jaina spluttered. “You flustered me!”

Sylvanas looked as though she had just received a well-earned compliment. “Really?”

“Oh, shut up! Why are you here?” Jaina gathered up the papers along with the other stack she had brought with her to class, careful to keep them differentiated from one another by turning one stack at an angle.

Sylvanas pretended to brush dust off her cloak. “I just wanted to see your new offices. I thought we could grab a meal together. Chat a bit. You know. Wifely things.”

Narrowing her eyes in suspicion, Jaina grumbled, “Lunch?”

“At the venue of your choice.”

With a grimace at the rubble behind her, Jaina relented. “Oh, alright. But we don’t have much time before my next class, and I’ll need to see someone on the way to make sure this gets dealt with.”

Sylvanas gave a mock bow and offered Jaina her arm when she approached. Rolling her eyes, Jaina nonetheless took her arm. Together they walked from the second floor classroom, starting towards the stairs.

Ithedis fell into step behind them. “Trouble in the classroom again, my Lady?”

“No more than usual, Ithedis.”

“Oh, so that was usual?” Sylvanas asked. “I wish my classes had been as exciting when I was a child.”

“Well, maybe if you had a scrap of magical ability, they might have been,” Jaina fired back.

“Wounded. By my own wife, no less.”

Jaina sniffed. “Good.”

These days, Jaina hardly noticed any stares or whispers she received. And to be honest the amount of stares and whispers had decreased significantly over time. People had grown accustomed to seeing her around on a regular schedule. And with the fact that she was now receiving tutelage under both Headmistress Elosai and Archmage Antonidas alike as a Magistrix in her own right meant that others were wary of her more than anything else.

Except for the Novices, who didn’t have the sense to understand politics yet, and who enjoyed her brash human novelty.

Now however, on the arm of the Ranger-General of Silvermoon, the staring had returned tenfold. It were as if most days people could conveniently forget who she was married to, but having Sylvanas Windrunner striding the halls of the Academy reminded them of exactly that fact. Jaina quickened her step and led Sylvanas to her offices on the fourth floor.

“We won’t be a moment,” Jaina told Ithedis as she opened the door and ushered Sylvanas inside. “Why don't you grab something to eat?”

He nodded, as solemn-faced as ever, turning to leave as Jaina shut the door behind her.

Sylvanas was already circling the office. Hands clasped behind her back in that familiar officious pose she preferred, she paced the length of the area from one bookshelf to another. She stopped before a contraption with crystalline hoops that circled round one another in a constant dance, fueled by a series of enchantments that fed one another through perpetual motion -- not infinitely in the true sense, but long enough to serve as a mind-bending thought experiment for arcane mages, who were overly enthusiastic about mathematics.

“Not bad,” Sylvanas said.

“I made it myself,” Jaina said proudly. “It was actually an artefact to accompany my Kirin Tor ascension dissertation on bending the laws of thermodynamics through the use of time crystals.”

Sylvanas shot her an amused glance. “I was referring to the office as a whole, but yes. This -” she waved towards the contraption “- thing is very nice. It certainly...glows.”

Jaina rolled her eyes. “Thanks.”

“It is my usual praise for magic,” Sylvanas admitted sans any shred of apology. She crossed over to stand beside Jaina and lean her hip against the desk. “Always a crowd-pleaser.”

With a snort of laughter, Jaina placed her Novices’ papers on her desk. “To be honest, I’m glad. ‘Not bad’ is exactly what I was hoping for with my offices. So, thank you for that underwhelming appraisal.”

Sylvanas grinned. “Anytime.”

“Shall we go?” Jaina asked, nodding towards the door.

In answer, Sylvanas cupped Jaina’s jaw, rubbing her thumb against her cheek. Jaina went very still, but Sylvanas only murmured, “You have a bit of chalk on your face.”

The air felt too warm, even for Quel’Thalas. Sylvanas traced burning trails down Jaina’s cheek to toy at the high collar of her button down shirt, which obscured the bruises from the night previously.

“I see why you really showed up here,” Jaina murmured.

“Am I so transparent?” Sylvanas asked, following the movement of her fingers with her eyes as she flicked open the first button of Jaina’s shirt, then the second.

Jaina swallowed. “Only recently.”

Leaning in close, Sylvanas kissed her. Jaina tilted her head, bringing her hand up to cup the back of Sylvanas’ neck even as her own shirt continued to be unbuttoned. Sylvanas only opened the shirt enough to slip her hand beneath, and Jaina groaned into her mouth.

Sylvanas broke the kiss to say, “You’re still difficult to read.”

“I’ll never understand that,” Jaina replied, as Sylvanas nipped along her jawline. Angling her head to give better access, Jaina breathed, “No marks where they’re too visible, please.”

Stopping, Sylvanas kissed the skin she had just been lavishing with attention. “I have a better idea.”

“What -?”

Hand on Jaina’s sternum, Sylvanas pressed her back a step, then another, not pushing, just a steady pressure until the backs of Jaina’s knees hit the edge of her chair, and she dropped into the seat. Immediately, it creaked beneath her weight. Jaina winced at the noise.

If anything, Sylvanas appeared delighted at this new addition. “Do you think you can stay still enough for this to work without anyone hearing?”

“I can be quiet,” Jaina insisted. Sylvanas gave her an amused look. “I can!”

While they spoke, she moved her legs so that when Sylvanas knelt down on the floor she was kneeling between them. Sylvanas traced her fingers along the seams of Jaina’s breeches that ran up her inner thigh. “I suppose you can just cast a spell, if you prefer.”

Jaina shook her head. “Then anyone passing will definitely know something is going on in here. It’s the same with -” she gestured to her neck. “- It’s too obvious.”

“We’ll get you some concealer.”

“That -” Jaina had to pause and gather herself when Sylvanas stroked the crux of her legs directly over her breeches. “That would probably be for the best.”

Sylvanas hummed in agreement. She untied the drawstrings of Jaina’s breeches. When Jaina lifted her hips so Sylvanas could pull them off, the chair’s hinges gave a loud creak. The wooden surface was cool against her skin, and Jaina lowered her weight back down as carefully as she could.

Rather than take the breeches all the way off, Sylvanas left Jaina’s boots on and tugged the breeches down so that they dangled between her knees. She bent down to kiss along Jaina’s inner thighs. At the first scrape of those sharp teeth, Jaina twitched. The chair beneath her squeaked, and she had to bite her lower lip to keep from doing it again when Sylvanas began to dot her skin with blemishes.

Sylvanas took her time making marks all along Jaina’s thighs. She alternated between sharp bites and soothing kisses, taking skin into her mouth and drawing blood to pool just beneath the surface. Jaina had long since stopped trying to control her breathing, and instead grasped Sylvanas’ hair firmly in both hands in an attempt to keep herself from moving too much.

Nudging Jaina’s knees a little wider, Sylvanas tilted her hips to a better angle -- another creak, smaller this time -- before she leaned forward and placed an open-mouthed kiss over her clit. Jaina hissed. She swallowed back a sound, and kept her hips resolutely still as Sylvanas slowly lapped her tongue in a broad stroke against her.

In the past, Jaina had never gone searching for much information about sex beyond the basics. She had read a few books, mostly dry medical texts and the like. She had listened to the rowdy talk of her older brothers when they thought she wasn’t within earshot, and of sailors aboard ships who didn’t care to curb their tongue even around the Lord Admiral’s daughter. She had received a bald talk or two from her mother, each of them succinct and brook-no-nonsense, always straight to the point and never superfluous. She certainly didn’t remember ever hearing of this, except perhaps in veiled euphemisms that she didn’t grasp at the time.

Sylvanas’ tongue circled back around her clit, and Jaina’s hips jumped in spite of herself. Her legs trembled. She was trying to swallow down any sound she made, trying to remain motionless when every nerve ending was screaming for her to writhe against that wicked mouth. Sylvanas tilted her head to lap at a different angle, and Jaina could feel her lungs begin to burn. She gasped for air, panting to the ceiling.

When Sylvanas began to suck lightly, Jaina clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle a loud noise, even as her other hand pulled at Sylvanas’ hair, insistent, trying to seek out more pressure. Sylvanas kept everything soft and light and evenly paced, grasping the backs of Jaina’s thighs and alternating the movements of her tongue until Jaina was keening into her hand, until she broke.

It took an embarrassingly short length of time overall. Soon, Jaina was covering her face with one of her hands, the other weakly tugging at Sylvanas’ hair to get her to stop. She couldn't see Sylvanas pull back; her eyes were squeezed shut, and she was still breathing heavily into her palm. She couldn't remember hearing much creaking of the chair when she had come, but then again Jaina didn't remember much of the last two minutes apart from raw snippets of motion and light and feeling.

A touch at the hand over her face as Sylvanas gently pulled it aside. Opening her eyes, Jaina grabbed the front of Sylvanas’ cloak and tugged her forward for a less than gentle kiss. She could taste herself on Sylvanas’ tongue. It sent another shiver racing through her.

“You need to teach me how to do that,” Jaina said when she pulled away.

Sylvanas rose to her feet and straightened her cloak. “Later tonight, then.”

Jaina paused in pulling back up her breeches and tucking in her shirt where she sat. “Wait -- tonight?”

Already Sylvanas was crossing the office and reaching for the doorknob. “I'll see you at dinner.”

“You're leaving?” Jaina blurted out, incredulous.

“Oh? I thought you had another class to teach?”

“I do, but -”

Sylvanas paused in the doorway and said archly, “Turnabout's fair play.”

 


 

Jaina had to wear concealer and high collars for weeks.

She took great pleasure in every lesson learned, and for the most part Sylvanas was a patient teacher. Except for the few times that she wasn’t. Like when Jaina reaped vengeance for leaving her in the office, and took an extravagantly long time to return the favour. By the time she finally gave in to Sylvanas’ urgent writhing and panting and not so gentle hair pulling, Sylvanas pinned her to the bed with a snap of teeth and repaid her in full.

It was only then that Jaina understood what sailors meant by “thoroughly fucked.” When she said that aloud, Sylvanas had laughed, the both of them still breathless.

After that, Jaina invented reasons to find Sylvanas whenever she could throughout the day, be it at the Anchorage or the manor. She would hurry through the day’s tasks and slip away as quickly as she could.

Sometimes she would only stop by for a brief kiss around concealed corners. Sometimes they would lock the doors of offices or side rooms for a few stolen moments of rushed fumbling at belts and buckles and the hems of long mage robes. Sometimes Sylvanas would push her against a wall and whisper Thalassian filth in her ear while Jaina rode her fingers and clawed at her back. Sometimes Jaina would kneel on the floor and Sylvanas was the one who had to stifle a cry to avoid detection.

Jaina didn’t think they were being particularly obvious about their newfound activities, but Ithedis was always conveniently elsewhere. And when he would find Jaina after she had composed herself and fixed her hair and clothing, he would usually have a small health potion vial or extra bit of concealer to discreetly hand to her. She didn’t always need it -- only sometimes -- but she was always very grateful that he had these little items when she did need them.

They still made a point of taking a day every second week off from their schedules to alternate between a sailing trip that only involved a few hours of actual sailing -- which also happened to be the length of time the potion’s effects lasted -- and a hunting trip that usually only involved hiking and never any actual hunting. The one time Sylvanas had actually managed to track and kill something, she had showed Jaina how to skin a rabbit, and the whole time Jaina had asked questions about anatomy and different skinning techniques, taking notes as she watched Sylvanas work.

Jaina was taking notes one such afternoon, letting Sylvanas steer their little dinghy. The sun glared overhead, and Jaina had elected to wear a broad-brimmed straw hat to protect her face and neck. The hat dappled her notebook with shadow and light. Her handwriting was periodically smudged due to a few calm waves. She would glance up to check that Sylvanas wasn’t doing something disastrous with the sail, or starting to go green around the gills.

In her other hand, she held the pendant. The gold chain glimmered between Jaina’s fingers. She studied it, sketching out a new set of runes that she had combined. Apart, none of them had worked in clearing the flaw from the stone, but together the seven runes might just do the trick.

She finished the new combination without any sense of triumph or satisfaction, pausing only to chew on the end of her quill with a thoughtful frown. Maybe this line needed a bit of tweaking? More water to clean the flaw? More water --

Before she could scratch another stroke of ink onto the page, the pendant flashed cold in her hand, a cold so intense it burned. A shockwave rippled outwards from the boat, smoothing every wave on the sea. Jaina yelped and nearly dropped the pendant. With a hiss of pain, she held it by the chain so that it dangled away from her skin. Her eyes widened.

“Jaina -” she heard Sylvanas say.

“I’m fine!” Jaina replied, a beaming smile crossing her face. She held up the pendant, clear of flaws at last. “I did it! Look!”

“Jaina,” Sylvanas repeated, sharply this time.

Jaina looked at her in confusion and concern at the nascent horror of Sylvanas’ expression. “What -?”

Sylvanas pointed over her shoulder. Frowning, Jaina turned in her seat. There along the far horizon: a bump in the perfectly otherwise flat ocean. Jaina squinted. Then she realised --

Going pale, Jaina whirled back around to find Sylvanas staring at her.

“What do we do?” Sylvanas asked.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean ‘you don’t know’? You’re supposed to be the one who knows what to do on the ocean! And what the fuck was that shockwave before?”

“I don’t know, Sylvanas! I don’t -! I’ve never encountered a tidal wave before! Certainly not one like -!” Jaina waved towards the wave rushing towards them, growing larger by the second.

“What did you do?!”

“Nothing!” Jaina insisted. She held up the pendant, which still burned so coldly it was difficult to even keep a hold of the chain. “All I did was figure out the puzzle! I cleaned the flaw! I was -! I was just thinking -!” She choked and felt an icy dread spill down the length of her spine. “More water,” Jaina croaked. “I was thinking ‘more water.’”

“Well, start thinking ‘less water’!” Sylvanas snapped.

But Jaina wasn’t listening. She was staring at the pendant’s stone, like a chip of perfectly translucent ice that gleamed in the sunlight. “I know what it is now.”

“Congratulations!” Sylvanas was tugging at some of the rigging and hauling at the tiller to turn their dinghy towards land.

“It’s a focusing iris!” Jaina proclaimed in triumph. She was grinning at the pendant. “And quite a good one, too!”

“How can something that small cause something like that?”

The wave had risen to a swell less than a mile off. From here, it was tall as Sunfury Spire, and still it hadn’t crested, remaining a massive wall of water rushing towards the shore.

Jaina shook her head. “Focusing irises aren't about strength, they're about clarity.” She clambered over the slats in the dinghy and grasped Sylvanas’ hand which was gripping the till in a white-knuckled grip. Sylvanas jerked her head around to look at her, and Jaina said calmly, “Turn the boat towards the wave.”

“Are you insane?” Sylvanas hissed. “You want to go towards it?”

“Trust me.”

Conflict warred across Sylvanas’ face. She grit her teeth, then swore under her breath in Thalassian. She turned the dinghy back towards the sea, and glared at Jaina, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Nope!” Jaina said cheerily, already scrambling to the bow of the little boat.

“That’s not what you’re supposed to say! You’re supposed to say ‘yes’!”

“I already told you: I’m a terrible liar.”

More Thalassian swearing. Jaina balanced herself shakily on the narrow prow of the boat. The soles of her boots nearly slipped, but eventually found a decent grip against the painted wood panels.

The tidal wave towered above them. It cast a shadow that blotted out the sun. Behind them, the water had retreated so far from shore that whole schools of fish were left, flopping and gasping, on the bared seabed. The rush of water had heightened to a dull roar that filled the air like a noiseless static, drowning out all else.

Jaina closed her eyes. She focused on her breathing. The pendant was clasped between her hands. It seared against her palms, but she only tightened her hold. A spell fell from her lips in a droning chant, and the stone scalded. She could feel the surge of water all around her, swift and suffocating and smelling of salt. The bow of the boat tilted, pushed upwards by the base of the wave, then stopped.

The wave extended like a wrinkle across the sea, and with the focusing iris in her hands, Jaina could sense the breadth of it as though tracing her fingers across the wrinkle in a length of silk. Slowly, methodically, she pushed down on one end, smoothing that ridgeline away.

With every second that passed, the focusing iris seemed to sap the energy from Jaina’s hands, like a needle drawing blood. She didn’t notice her hat being lifted away by a breeze. She did not notice anything apart from the eddies surging around her and beneath her, rushing out from her feet, draining away until she could feel the pull of the abyss yawning below, like a sea creature of legend guarding a treacherous pass from unwary ships.

The boat gave a violent jerk, and with a gasp Jaina fell into the water. Clutching the pendant like a lifeline, she struck out with her arms and legs, trying to swim for the surface. She opened her eyes, but the saltwater stung. She reached out one hand, groping for the surface, only to hit the sandy seabed.

Panic swelled in her chest, then. Jaina pushed off from the bottom of the seafloor and swam for what she hoped was the surface. Her clothes were heavy with water, and the sea tumbled her headlong, her energy sapped by the magnitude of the spell. Something grabbed her by the back of her shirt, and hauled her up.

The moment she broke the surface of the water, Jaina choked on a lungful of air. She was being dragged onto shore, and then she was dropped onto the warm sand. Coughing, Jaina wheezed for breath. She still gripped the pendant in one hand. She rolled onto her side and struggled to sit upright.

Something heavy landed beside her, and Jaina opened her eyes. The tidal wave had gone. The shore was not a ruin of its former self. The sea beyond was steady with smaller, perfectly normal waves. Their dinghy was nowhere in sight. And kneeling above her was a soaking wet Sylvanas.

“You idiot!” Sylvanas snarled. Her eyes were suffused with fury. “You complete, absolute, utter, fucking -!”

Rather than finish her stream of insults, Sylvanas seized the front of Jaina’s shirt and kissed her. It was a fierce and desperate kiss, all teeth and tongue and salt. Sylvanas’ hands trembled. Even when she pulled away roughly, she continued to grip Jaina’s shirt in her fists so hard her forearms shook.

“You had me worried,” Sylvanas said, sounding hoarse. She let go, but only to run her hands over Jaina’s cheeks, sweeping back the strands of wet hair that stuck to her face and brow.

“I had myself worried.” Jaina gasped. “ Tides. Let’s not do that again.”

Sylvanas laughed shakily and shook her head. “Not unless it’s a very specific occasion. You have my permission to do that if Silvermoon gets invaded.”

“You won’t let me drown your capital city in a tidal wave?” Jaina pretended to tsk the way Sylvanas did, a faux admonishment even as she grinned with relief. “To think you’re the one always telling me I’m a spoilsport.”

“You’re not allowed to die,” Sylvanas cupped Jaina’s face in her hands. “Or have you forgotten? Your mother would kill me.”

Jaina’s answering laugh was breathless, and Sylvanas silenced her with another kiss.

 


 

Overall it took six months from the time she elected Lor’themar as Vice-Admiral for her to be truly confident in his abilities. She returned from a training exercise consisting of four days at sea, a bounce in her step. It was her birthday, and Lor’themar was proving to be an excellent protégé, even if he was several centuries older than she was.

“That was perfectly executed,” Jaina said as they stepped off the Dawn Runner together and back onto the docks at Sunsail Anchorage. “I can’t think of a single way you could have better avoided that raking fire along your stern.”

Lor’themar bowed his head, the two of them -- three, counting a very weary looking Ithedis -- weaving their way through a bustle of sailors. “I have an excellent teacher.”

Jaina rolled her eyes. “No flirting, please. I get enough of that at home, thank you.”

“And it’s been a noticeable improvement in the Ranger-General’s disposition, my Lady,” he countered, grinning at the flush that rose to her cheeks.

Clearing her throat, Jaina shot him a warning glare. “Don’t be too smug, Admiral Theron. Your captains still have a long way to go, yet.”

“They do everything I say to the letter.” Lor’themar nodded towards a few sailors that stopped to salute the both of them.

“Exactly the problem,” Jaina waved to a lieutenant she recognised, but kept walking. “They need a bit of mongrel in them.”

“Mongrel?” He repeated, sounding dubious. “In what way?”

Jaina’s steps slowed, and she came to a stop. People streamed around her, Lor’themar, and Ithedis as they spoke, the docks abuzz with six ships in the harbour. Looking back at the ships, Jaina said, “My father had a glass eye. Did you know that?”

Bewildered, Lor’themar shook his head.

“Well, he did.” Jaina continued, tapping her own left eye for emphasis. “Lost it in battle. Shrapnel wound. He was a captain serving under his father, the Lord Admiral at the time. They were losing, and the Lord Admiral called for a retreat from the flagship. My father lifted the telescope up to his blind eye and said ‘I don’t see any call for retreat,’ and kept fighting.”

Lor’themar frowned at her. “Did he win?”

“If he’d lost, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Turning, Jaina kept walking back towards the barracks. “The point is: we need to help your captains find their own bloody backbones, or they’ll be buggered six ways to Tuesday before they ever see a real battle.”

He chuckled. “Lady Proudmoore, I believe you’ve spent too much time with the sailors these last few days.”

She sighed. “Oh, you’re probably right. I should take a bath and wash out my mouth, while I’m at it.”

“Lady Proudmoore!” a voice called. “Lady Proudmoore!”

They turned to find a courier riding towards them. He was -- Jaina realised in confusion -- human, and a Kul Tiran no less. His clothes were ragged, and his horse panted, its dark coat lathered in sweat. He leapt from the back of his mount and raced towards her, fumbling at his belt.

Immediately, Ithedis stepped between her and the courier, hand at the ready on his double-bladed polearm, and shield raised. The courier stopped in his tracks, raising his trembling hands to reveal that he held a letter. Lowering his shield and weapon, Ithedis took the letter, but the courier did not leave.

As Ithedis handed the letter over to Jaina, she asked, “Where have you come from?”

“Lordaeron, my Lady,” the courier answered. “And before that, Kul Tiras. Stormsong Valley, more specifically.”

“You’re a long way from home,” she murmured, breaking the seal on the letter and opening it, expecting a birthday letter from her mother and perhaps a present awaiting her at home.

She skimmed the letter.

And then she read it again.

Eyes wide, Jaina looked from the letter to the courier. She stepped past Ithedis, and stood over the courier, her voice hard but her hands trembling. “How long since you left Stormsong Valley?”

“Two -- Two weeks,” he stammered, quailing somewhat.

Jaina didn’t notice she had balled her hands into fists until she felt the crumple of parchment beneath her fingers. Without another word, she turned and with a sharp gesture cut a portal in the air. Before Ithedis or any of the others could follow, Jaina stepped through, alone.

The portal shut behind her. Sylvanas was reading at her desk in her private study atop one of Goldenbough’s spires. Jaina stared at her, trying to get her breathing under control.

“You’re back early,” Sylvanas remarked without looking up from her reports. She turned a page. “Did Lor’themar thrash your little simulations again?”

When Jaina did not answer, Sylvanas glanced up, then did a double take. She dropped her reports atop the desk and rose to her feet. “What’s wrong?”

Pale and shaking, Jaina held up the letter. “My mother’s flagship was sunk off the coast of Falconhurst. The Zandalari have split the fleet and are besieging Boralus.”

“And Katherine -?” Sylvanas asked slowly.

Jaina waved the letter with a shrug. “Injured. She -- uh -” Jaina had to swallow down a wave of panic to keep her voice steady. “- She lost an arm. Her condition is stable, but she hasn’t woken up yet. Though, this was written two weeks ago, so I don’t know what’s happened since then. If she’s -- I mean, I’m sure she’s -”

She couldn’t bring herself to say the word ‘fine.’

Sylvanas grasped her warmly by the shoulders. “She has excellent healers. She’ll live.”

Looking down at the space between their feet, Jaina nodded. She chewed her lower lip ragged. For a moment, Sylvanas just squeezed Jaina’s shoulders before pulling her into a hug.

Something tightened in Jaina’s chest, right on the edge of completely unravelling. She closed her eyes and buried her head in Sylvanas’ shoulder, breathing in deeply. She could feel Sylvanas stroking her back, her chin propped atop Jaina's head. Slowly, her hands unclenched.

Sylvanas waited until Jaina’s trembling had stopped. Then, she pressed a kiss to Jaina’s forehead and stepped back. Blinking through a haze of unshed tears, Jaina composed herself. She smoothed out the letter and tucked it into a pocket. Meanwhile, Sylvanas sat back in her chair.

From a stand on the desk, Sylvanas grabbed a quill, but upon inspecting its blunted tip she tossed it aside in favour of another. The next had a nib so worn it may as well have been blunted. Swearing under her breath in Thalassian, Sylvanas pulled out a small dagger hidden in one of her knee high leather boots to cut the nib back into something suitable for writing.

“What are you doing?” Jaina asked.

“I’m going to write to Vereesa, informing her of the situation and giving her orders on her next actions,” Sylvanas explained. She tried cutting the quill nib, but the knife was fractionally not sharp enough, and she muttered to herself in irritation.

Jaina stepped forward so that she stood beside the desk, looking down at her wife. “So, you have a plan?”

“Yes,” Sylvanas grumbled at the knife as she glared down its damascus patterned edge. “We wait.”

Blinking in shock, Jaina opened her mouth but no sound came out. Finally, sounding strangled, she repeated, “We wait?”

Sylvanas’ brows furrowed. “Why does that surprise you?”

“Why does that -?” Jaina pointed to the door behind her. “Sylvanas, my mother’s ship was sunk!”

“And yet the Lord Admiral’s life is not lost. A ship is a ship, but she is safe,” Sylvanas pointed out, gesturing with the knife as she did so.

“We are letting them take the initiative,” Jaina countered. She could hear the tinge of desperation in her own voice, but could do nothing to stop it.

Sylvanas obviously heard it, too, for she gentled her voice. “We have an excellent position, and they have limited resources. Let them waste their resources, and then we can clean them up afterwards without issue.”

Jaina stabbed her finger against the surface of the table, emphatic. “This isn’t guerilla warfare anymore, this is pitched battle.”

“I know what a pitched battle is,” Sylvanas said darkly, her eyes glowing bright and intense. “And it is not something I will enter into lightly. They want us to fight them on the open seas. They know our fleet couldn’t hope to compete. I will not fall prey to their attempts to lure us into the open.”

“Neither of our nations can handle an attack like this,” Jaina insisted.

“You think I don’t know what kind of siege Boralus is capable of withstanding?” Sylvanas said. “I’ve seen your defenses, remember? The Zandalari could besiege that harbour for a year, and your people would barely feel the need to tighten their belts. You’re too well supplied by the other Houses. There’s no way they could completely cut Boralus off from the rest of the isles without launching a three-pronged attack by land and sea.”

“I’m not talking about external attacks, I’m talking about internal ones!” Jaina snapped. “The trolls won’t need that long before the other Kul Tiran Houses start to break away. The Ashvanes are salivating at the chance to undermine the Admiralty -- you saw that, too!”

Rolling her eyes, Sylvanas scoffed, “I saw a sycophantic cow licking your mother’s boots.”

Jaina’s voice swooped to a darker note. “Trust me, Lady Ashvane is far more devious than you give her credit for. She will consolidate power at the first opportunity. She will strike quickly if it means she has something to gain.”

Sylvanas paused to consider that. She leaned back in her seat and tapped the flat of the knife against her opposite palm, studying Jaina for a moment. “Four months, then. At which point, your mother’s power base will be irreparably damaged, and you will have very little to inherit except empty titles.”

She laid the facts out so casually, so matter-of-fact that Jaina’s mind reeled. Shaking her head, Jaina said, “Then I guess whatever we do, we should make sure it happens in less than four months.”

Sylvanas smiled, but it was cold and held no mirth. “That would be for the best.”

Reaching into a fold of her cloak, Sylvanas pulled out the whetstone Jaina had bought for her as a wedding gift. Jaina blinked at the sight of it. Sylvanas lifted the lid, which she placed aside on the writing table, and settled the stone before her.

“Sylvanas?” Jaina asked.

“Hmm?”

“Theoretically speaking,” Jaina began very slowly, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in her stomach even as she said the words aloud, “what would happen if I did lose everything except my titles? To us, I mean.”

Sylvanas went very still. She turned in her seat to face Jaina fully, and her tone was very serious when she said, “If you think that I would let you go over something so petty, then you are gravely mistaken.”

“I don’t think ‘petty’ accurately describes the scale of the situation,” Jaina replied dryly, though for all her feigned sarcasm she wrung her hands.

“No, I suppose not,” Sylvanas murmured. She met Jaina’s gaze and held it. “Nevertheless, I have no intention of ending this union regardless of what happens. Unless it was what you wanted.”

Jaina shook her head and replied, “No. That’s not what I want.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Sylvanas’ eyes gleamed with a hint of her usual teasing air. “Because it would seem I quite like you, Lady Proudmoore.”

Despite the solemnity of the situation, somehow Sylvanas always managed to make her laugh. A tired, begrudging kind of laugh, but a relieved one all the same. It alleviated some of the weight Jaina seemed to have swallowed ever since that courier had arrived, breathless, on their doorstep bearing portentous news.

It wasn’t a grand declaration of love, but it was exactly what Jaina needed to hear.

Sylvanas turned back to the whetstone and began to sharpen the little blade. As she worked, Jaina picked up the ivory lid of the box. “You still have this?”

“Of course, I do. I use it often,” Sylvanas replied, not looking up from where she was sliding the edge of the blade over the whetstone’s fine grain. Again and again. A smooth practiced motion.

Jaina turned the lid to read the inscription. It felt so odd to be able to read it at all, now; an oddly nostalgic reminder of how far she had come since that day in the shops of Silvermoon City with Ithedis.

“Prey hung is prey skinned,” she murmured the words in High Thalassian. What was it he had said the idiom was supposed to represent? Alternative solutions to a single problem?

She blinked. She repeated the idiom again.

One of Sylvanas’ ears angled towards the sound, but she only inspected the edge of her little knife. “I remember my mother used to say that to me when I was a child. Back when she would take me hunting in the Eversong Forest.”

“That’s it,” Jaina breathed.

At that, Sylvanas frowned in puzzlement and glanced up. “What?”

Jaina used the lid to point at her, “You once told me that if Zul’Aman fell, then the Amani would fall.”

“They’re not attacking from Zul’Aman, they’re -” Sylvanas stopped. The same thought Jaina had just a moment ago threaded its way through her head, and Jaina could see the realisation dawning in her eyes. A smile crossed Sylvanas’ face, slow and dangerous and predatory. “They’re not at Zul’Aman.”

A feeling of hopeful triumph welled up in Jaina’s chest. “No. They’re feeding troops and supplies to the Zandalari, and now they’ve revealed their hand.”

With sharp expert movements, Sylvanas trimmed the end of her quill and tucked the knife away once more. She dipped the nib in ink and pulled a fresh sheet of parchment towards her.

Jaina cocked her head to read over Sylvanas’ shoulder. “So, we have a plan?”

Sylvanas kept writing, a frantic scribble of Thalassian across the page. “We have a plan. We send the fleet in. All of it. We make an absolute spectacle of ourselves. And while they think they’ve distracted us, we have Vereesa take the real prize.”

Sylvanas tossed her quill aside onto the desk, where it blotted ink upon the wood. Not bothering to sand the page, she folded the slip of paper up and stamped it with the Windrunner seal on wine-coloured wax. Then, Sylvanas stood. Holding up the letter, she bared her teeth in a fierce smile. “How would you like to put on a thrilling performance with me?”

The wax seal was hot enough that it still dripped along the missive. Jaina had to tamp down the bubble of hope and fear in her chest. She couldn’t summon a smile, but her tone was firm when she answered, “I think I’d like that very much.”

 


 

Mustering Silvermoon’s full fleet and sailing to Kul Tiras itself took two weeks. And that didn’t include all of the other preparations that needed to be done.

Jaina’s first port of call was to invite Kael’thas to her offices at the Academy.

She and Magistrix Elosai rose from their seats when he swept into the room, his gold phoenix pauldrons no less resplendent than Jaina remembered. Ithedis shut the door behind him, and Kael’thas paid him no heed. Instead, the Prince smiled as Jaina and Elosai bowed to him.

“Thank you for agreeing to this audience, Your Majesty,” Jaina said as she straightened.

“Not at all! Not at all!” Without waiting for the offer, he strode to the spare seat beside Elosai across the desk, and sat. “I was on my way to Dalaran for business anyway. How can I help? Your offices look much better by the way. Very homey.”

Once he was seated, Jaina and Elosai resumed their own seats. Jaina was very careful not to let hers creak, and Elosai seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

“I’m sure you’ve heard the news from Boralus,” Jaina began, lacing her fingers atop the desk.

Kael’thas nodded gravely. “My deepest sympathies. I hope your mother will be back on her feet soon. Though I must admit, I’m puzzled as to why you would ask me to here to discuss military matters.”

Jaina gestured between him and Elosai, “Actually, it’s about something the two of you can do for me. Magistrix,” she turned to Elosai, “how many mages did you end up sending to Boralus for the craftsman trade?”

“Sixty two,” Elosai answered without hesitation.

“And that’s what I’m here about.” Drawing in a deep breath, Jaina announced, “I need them. All sixty two of them, and any additional Magisters you can spare for the siege.”

There followed a stunned silence.

“I’m sorry,” Kael’thas leaned forward in his seat with a polite little chuckle, “But I thought I just heard you say that you need Academy mages for a siege on foreign lands. Surely, I am mistaken.”

Shaking her head, Jaina replied, “No, you heard me correctly, Your Majesty. It is standard practice for every ship to carry two battlemages and four healers. The enemy will have blanketed the surrounding area with a suppression field to ensure we cannot teleport in and out of the city, else their siege would be meaningless.”

“So, you want to use the mages already within the city, and strengthen your own numbers aboard the fleet.” Nodding in understanding, Kael’thas leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. “While I applaud your tactics, Lady Proudmoore, I cannot help you.”

“I know this is unorthodox, Your Majesty, but -”

“Lady Proudmoore, this is beyond unorthodox. It is illegal. I simply cannot be seen to meddle in military affairs. It is out of my hands. I’m sorry.” He held out his hands, palms up, to drive his point home. “The law is very clear that -”

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Jaina only just managed to hold back a groan. “I know. I know. And I wouldn’t ask if this weren’t important.”

“You did not let me finish,” Kael’thas continued with that same air of infuriating calm. He even turned his hand over and inspected his nails. “The law is very clear, my Lady, that I, as the Sovereign Lord of the civilian government, cannot order the Magistrix to do anything involving military matters.”

“Then how does that -?” Jaina cut herself off suddenly. She blinked. She looked from Kael’thas to Elosai. Slowly, she asked, “Magistrix, can I ask you a theoretical question?”

Elosai clasped her hands together in her lap. “You may.”

Clearing her throat, Jaina tried to sound aloof when she said, “Hypothetically speaking, if the Ranger-General were to, say, declare a set period of martial law, would Falthrien Academy fall under the usual civilian functions of government?”

Elosai’s eyes flickered to Kael’thas, as if searching for some kind of reaction from him. He pretended to fuss over his nails.

With a cool careful tone, Elosai answered, “Yes. While our government does not have martial law in that sense, I believe there are provisions for a Regent Lord to take control of both the military and civic branches. For a short time, of course.”

“Of course,” Jaina repeated, feeling slightly faint. This time when she shifted in her seat, she couldn’t keep the squeak at bay, and Kael’thas frowned at the source of the noise. “Uh -?” Jaina said. “How long exactly is ‘a short period of time’?”

 


 

“You’ve gone mad.”

Jaina followed Sylvanas through Goldenbough Manor’s foyer, carrying an armful of paperwork she had painstakingly gathered over the last sleepless three days. “Sylvanas, please. Just hear me out -”

Sylvanas stormed upstairs from the main floor, her cloak flaring behind her. She did not turn as she said, “I won’t do it.”

A piece of paper almost fluttered from the top of the stack in her hands, and Jaina had to snatch it back into place as she half jogged after Sylvanas up the stairs. “It’s -- oh, blast -- It’s completely legal! I checked over everything! I even had a lawyer go over it.”

“I don’t care if it’s legal. I don’t want to be Regent Lord,” Sylvanas growled. She continued up the next set of stairs, winding her way up towards her private study.

“It’s only for six months,” Jaina reminded her, pausing on the side of the stairwell parallel to where Sylvanas stood. She craned her neck back to look up at her.

“Forgive me. I should have been more specific,” Sylvanas drawled, pausing momentarily to grip the bannister and snap down at Jaina. “I don’t want to be Regent Lord for any length of time!”

Sylvanas quickened her step, taking the stairs two at a time, so that Jaina had to raise her voice to make sure she was heard as Sylvanas gained ground on her. “You said we were going to take everything! That we were going to make a spectacle of ourselves! Mages are great at spectacles!”

Sylvanas did not stop.

“We can’t use the mages without them being a part of the military, otherwise they’re hors de combat! ” Jaina called after her.

When Sylvanas did not slow her pace, moving further away, Jaina yelled up the stairs, “We need more artillery!”

The sound of those footsteps stopped. Jaina held her breath, then hurried up the stairs to find Sylvanas standing, stock still, on the stairwell to the third floor. She was facing away, her shoulders tense, her long ears alert and wary, only the curve of her cheek visible around the wave of her golden hair.

Jaina slowed her approach until she stood just a step below. One of Sylvanas’ ears twitched, an irate flick, and she asked, “I can abdicate at any time?”

“At any time,” Jaina confirmed. She patted the stack of papers. “It says so right here, in clause one hundred and twenty two, subsection four.”

For a moment, Sylvanas did and said nothing. Then, she sighed. Her shoulders drooped. She turned and sat on the step, elbows on her knees and face in her hands. Not knowing quite what to do, Jaina slowly sat down next to her.

“And Kael’thas was alright with this?” Sylvanas asked, her voice muffled somewhat by her hands.

“It was kind of his idea.”

Sylvanas groaned. “Don’t say that. That’s even worse.”

Balancing the papers on her knees, Jaina patted Sylvanas on the back.

Finally, Sylvanas looked up, dragging her hands down her face as she did so. She stared glumly down the stairwell. “I’m never going to hear the end of this from the Council.”

 


 

Every ship had no less than five mages apiece. At night while the ships sailed towards Kul Tiras, Jaina was supposed to be sleeping in her officer’s cabin. Instead she sat at the small writing desk on one side of the cabin, reading by candlelight, while Sylvanas slept in the bed behind her.

The Dawn Runner creaked. The slat of arched windows along the stern admitted a pale sliver of watery moonlight. Beyond, the waves lapped against the hull, and she could hear footsteps above her, crewmembers maintaining their vigil through the night. They were sounds she was so accustomed to, she often fell asleep more easily with them present.

She went over her notes. Again and again. They had drawn the battle plan extensively on the larger sheets of parchment that were spread across the table of the Great Cabin above her, but she also kept more detailed figures and scribbles in her personal notebook. She and Lor’themar and the other flag officers had gone over the plan until they could recite it by heart.

Now however, they were less than two days away from Boralus, and Jaina could not for the life of her sleep.

She rubbed at the dark circles beneath her eyes, and blinked away a blur at the edge of her vision. Focusing, Jaina turned back two pages and started over from the beginning.

She didn’t hear Sylvanas’ approach, and jumped when she felt hands on her shoulders.

“You should sleep,” Sylvanas murmured.

“I will,” Jaina lied, turning her attention back to her notebook. “In a bit. I promise.”

“You said that two hours ago.”

When Jaina made no move to stand, Sylvanas sighed. Those hands began to undo her braid, slowly unfettering Jaina’s long blonde hair and running her fingers through it. Sylvanas pushed Jaina’s hair aside to lay a gentle kiss along the back of her neck.

“You’ll go grey if you worry like this all the time,” Sylvanas’ words were a brush of lips against skin.

In spite of herself, Jaina shivered. Sylvanas did not scrape her teeth or bite down, keeping her touch light. It became more and more difficult for Jaina to concentrate, and slowly she lowered the book onto the table, her head leaning to one side to allow Sylvanas better access.

“Come to bed,” Sylvanas whispered against her neck. Her voice held a slight husk that Jaina could never refuse.

Jaina let herself be guided across the cabin. Sylvanas pressed her against the sheets, gentle -- far too gentle for Jaina’s tastes. Not tonight of all nights, when it felt like she was carrying around an anchor with her wherever she went, a heavy dread that settled in the pit of her stomach and threatened to drag her down to the bottom of the sea.

Sylvanas took her time stripping Jaina of her admiralty garb. Every time Jaina tried to deepen a kiss, or rock against Sylvanas’ thigh, or clutch Sylvanas’ arms in a white-knuckled grip, Sylvanas would pause. She would soften the kiss. She would press a hand against Jaina’s hips to still them. She would stroke Jaina’s hair until Jaina loosened her grip.

Her limbs felt like liquid by the time Sylvanas slipped two fingers inside of her. Jaina whimpered into a kiss, against the softness of Sylvanas’ mouth and tongue.

Sylvanas fingered her slowly and gently, never increasing her pace until Jaina gasped, “Please. Please just -”

Sylvanas pressed the heel of her palm against her, allowing Jaina to grind down against that broad flat pressure. She did not speed up, no matter how much Jaina begged in broken whispers and mumbled half phrases, until Jaina came not with a cry, but with a relieved sigh, head turned against the sheets.

Trembling and breathing heavily, Jaina rolled over as Sylvanas lay down beside her. An arm snaked around Jaina’s waist, tugging her closer until her head was tucked beneath Sylvanas’ chin and their legs tangled together.

Jaina gave Sylvanas’ flank a weak squeeze. “I should return the favour.”

“Shh.” Sylvanas murmured into her hair. “You can. After we win.”

“But -” Jaina protested, even as he eyes grew heavy-lidded.

“Go to sleep.”

 


 

Early the next morning, Jaina was still a nervous fidgeting wreck, standing atop the quarterdeck. It had started to rain, and the slash of water against the windows their cabin had woken her. Despite the warmth and comfort of Sylvanas’ arms, Jaina had slipped from bed and gotten dressed, braiding back her hair, and going topside to pace.

Which meant that by the time their fleet met a section of her mother’s fleet, Jaina was drenched.

The moment she saw her mother boarding The Runner , Jaina strode right for her and did not stop until she had enveloped Katherine in a hard, desperate hug.

Katherine placed one hand around Jaina’s back and held her close. “You’re soaked, my dear.”

“And you’re alive,” Jaina breathed into her mother’s shoulder.

Katherine chuckled softly. “It will take a lot more than a few cannons to put me out of the fight.”

After a long moment, Jaina finally stepped away and led her mother towards the Great Cabin, where Lor’themar, Sylvanas, and Ithedis were waiting. As they walked, she stole a few glances aside. Katherine walked with the same surety she always did. By all appearances, she looked exactly the same, but for the fact that one sleeve of her admiralty greatcoat had been pinned up against her shoulder. Jaina swallowed at the sight and had to look away.

Katherine noticed, but said nothing.

When they entered the Great Cabin, Lor’themar bowed. “Welcome aboard, Lord Admiral. The ship is yours.”

“And a fine ship it is, too,” Katherine remarked, making a point of admiring the combination of elven and human craftsmanship. “Admiral Theron, I presume?”

Straightening, he nodded, “Indeed.”

“My daughter spoke very highly of you in her letters.” Katherine approached the planning table, giving Sylvanas a respectful nod. “General. Or should I say Regent Lord?”

Sylvanas grimaced. “Please don't.”

At that Katherine smiled. “I’m glad to see you looking well.”

“And you.” Sylvanas held out a hand. “May I help you with your coat?”

“Thank you, that would be wonderful,” Katherine sighed. Sylvanas stepped forward and helped her shrug out of the wet greatcoat, hanging it to dry on a rack by the door, while Jaina did the same with her own greatcoat.

The sleeve of Katherine’s white button-down shirt had been tied just above the elbow. As she circled the war table, she tugged the sleeve a bit tighter, though her full attention seemed to be on the plans and maps they had drawn up before she arrived.

“Right,” Katherine said briskly, pulling a few of the charts to reveal another map beneath. “Let’s get straight to the point, shall we? Tell me the plan.”

They told her the plan. In detail. Answering every query she sent their way with diagrams and charts and explanations until she at last seemed satisfied.

Eyebrows rising, Katherine’s expression shifted to appreciative. “I like it. Shall we send them to a watery grave, then? I feel rather vengeful of late.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Sylvanas said dryly with a pointed look at the half empty sleeve of Katherine’s coat, pinned up to her shoulder.

“Oh, this?” Katherine shrugged her shoulder. “Nothing a spot of tea can’t cure.”

At that, Ithedis, who had been silently guarding the door, opened it and said to the middy outside, “Tea for the Lord Admiral.”

Tea was served, but only Katherine, Jaina, and Lor'themar took a cup. Sylvanas demurred, and Ithedis shook his head when offered.

Tea in hand, Katherine sat with them around the war table. She gestured with her cup towards the maps. “You know this will only work if we win tomorrow. Zul'Aman will fall, but if we lose so too will Boralus.”

“Then I suggest we win, ma'am,” Lor'themar quipped.

Sipping at her tea, Katherine eyed him over the rim of her cup. She leaned to one side and said to Jaina without lowering her voice in the slightest, “I like him. Would you be terribly angry if poached him from you?”

Across the table, Sylvanas smiled and said in a polite tone, “With all due respect, Lord Admiral, find your own fucking officers.”

Katherine laughed.

 


 

Jaina did not sleep much better that night. She tried this time, but lay awake, staring at the dark-washed boards overhead.

They were all up early, walking the various decks, overseeing preparations. The dawn was a suggestion of light on the horizon through a blanket of cloud. The overcast weather of Kul Tiras had been the norm for a week now, and the elven crew members were bundled up in their fur-trimmed coats and cloaks, cursing the cold in their native tongue.

Sylvanas wore the cloak Jaina had made for her, a grey as steely as the sky above. The midshipmen relayed orders with a series of flags hoisted up for the rest of the fleet to see. Meanwhile Jaina stood with her mother and Lor’themar on the quarterdeck a few paces away, listening with half an ear to what the other two were saying.

She couldn’t concentrate. Her stomach was too busy trying to relieve itself of the breakfast Ithedis had insisted she eat an hour earlier. She worried her lower lip between her teeth and fiddled with the pendant at her neck, watching the familiar coastline for the sight of Boralus.

All too soon, it came. Jaina’s breath caught in her chest. She rose up on her toes to better see as they rounded the coast and brought the harbour into view. She had a suppress an icy lance of fear at what she saw.

Ships. Hundreds of Zandalari ships. All of them clustered in the harbour, shelling the walls.

Irrationally, Jaina had hoped the scouting reports had been wrong. Now, faced with the enormity of their circumstances, knowing what they could lose if this did not work, Jaina struggled to fight back a tremble from her fingers.   

In the distance, more ships loomed, forming a long line right towards their own. For a moment, Jaina tensed with apprehension before she saw the flags of the Proudmoore Admiralty streaming from the main mast.

Too late, the Zandalari realised what was happening. The two fleets, elven and human, linked together like a chain with the other half of Katherine's fleet, encircling the Zandalari ships against the natural harbour of Boralus.

As soon as the trap was sprung, Sylvanas barked an order over her shoulder towards one of the mages. The Zandalari fired their long cannons, but even their deadly accuracy was no good at this distance. Cannon balls splashed just out of reach, but close enough that Jaina flinched. Beside her, Katherine never even blinked.

Jaina made herself stand a little straighter. They had planned for this. They were expecting this. The only way the enemy fleet would escape now would be by punching a hole through their line and sailing through, but even that would force them to cross the T and expose their prows to a full on broadside assault.

So long as everything else went according to plan, they should be fine.

The Zandalari readjusted their aim and fired again. This time, their shamans imbued the guns, and as the cannon balls streaked towards them through the air, Jaina could sense the crackle of magical energy pushing their trajectory further.

As one, two of the mages on each ship raised their hands, their eyes flaring with blue light. The enemy fire slammed against arcane shields in a cascade of purple-white sparks, iron and steel shattering into pieces and falling into the ocean before reaching the ships.

Stalking towards the remaining three mages, Sylvanas snapped a series of orders in Thalassian, “Ready for the push! Who has eyes on the leylines?”

“They need another minute to prepare, Regent Lord.”

“I told you not to call me that,” Sylvanas growled.

“Sorry, General.”

Katherine watched the interaction with mild interest, asking Jaina, “Everything alright?”

“It’s fine,” Jaina replied. “Keep our distance. They’re not ready along the battlements yet.”

With a stiff nod, Katherine turned to Lor’themar and lowered her voice to discuss their next move. He nodded, then reached into his coat for a telescope, which he extended and then peered through.

“Just under four thousand metres, ma’am,” he answered whatever question Katherine had answered.

“Bring them in closer,” Katherine ordered.

Eyes widening, Jaina turned to stare at her. Lor’themar was already delivering orders to his next in command, the order flowing through the ranks, flags waving to notify the other ships.

“Mother,” Jaina hissed, stepping closer so nobody else could hear. “What are you doing?”

“Moving into position.”

“But they’re not ready yet!”

Katherine gave her daughter a tight smile that did not touch her eyes. “You are very intelligent, Jaina, but it’s obvious you haven’t seen a real battle before. We need to be in place when we’re needed, not after we’re needed.”

“But -!” Jaina bit back her objections. She grit her teeth and gazed out across the harbour at the Zandalari fleet trapped by circumvallation against Boralus.  

Another round of cannon fire. And another. Jaina couldn’t stop the flash of fear like a shock through her system every time they careened towards The Runner , only to be deflected once more. Though the distance was starting to close between them, the two fleets were still far enough apart that Jaina could not make out individuals manning the opposite ships.

“This feels so -” Jaina pressed a hand against her stomach as if holding back a retch curdling there. “- impersonal.”

“Trust me, my dear, it’s plenty personal,” Katherine said darkly.

“We have eyes!” Sylvanas called towards Katherine, Lor’themar, and Jaina over the sound of cannon fire and magic strike.

“In Common, please!” Katherine yelled back. “Some of us don’t speak Thalassian!”

Sylvanas repeated it again in Common, and Katherine nodded. “Take them away, then!”

Whirling back around, Sylvanas walked behind the line of mages, delivering orders with a stern expression, hands held officiously behind her back. One of the elven mages held open a line of communications with the rest of the fleet, as well as with the Magisters sequestered along the battlements.

Jaina held her breath. The enemy fleet were readying their guns again, and the pair of mages tasked with defending each of their ships were beginning to look strained. In the distance, the great walls of Boralus stood steadfast. She watched them in dreaded anticipation, waiting.

A crack appeared on the walls. A thin line of white.

Jaina inhaled sharply. The line spread, branching out, connecting at central points to create a spiderweb network of leylines that glowed and thrummed with arcane power.

“Now!” Sylvanas ordered.

Jaina had done the maths. Over and over, she had checked to make sure. Five mages per ship at seventy four ships. Two for defensive manoeuvres. Three for offensive. Including sixty two mages on the battlements. It was enough. Surely, it was enough.

She felt a speck of rain. Jaina looked up to the sky. Storm clouds brewed overhead, a concentrated churn of darkness directly over the enemy fleet. Thunder rumbled, followed by a flash of lightning.

The harbour boiled with waves, whipped to a frenzy by the rising gale. They were close enough now that Jaina could just see trolls scurrying across the decks of their ships, shouting, trying to trim their sail, trying to raise shields or counteract the spell with only two shamans apiece against the growing onslaught.

The leylines imbued into Boralus’ defensive walls seared with power. They created a barrier reinforced by mages and Tidesages that rose up into the sky, towering over the city and protecting it from the howling storm centred over the enemy fleet. Meanwhile, the Zandalari ships were swept further into the harbour, crashing against one another before careening against the walls themselves in a splinter of wood -- damaged, but not yet sunk.

The storm was already beginning to fade, the gusts of wind slowly dwindling as the mages’ combined strength faltered under the weight of such a spell. The human and elven fleet remained on the very edges of the tempest that darkened the sky, encircling the harbour like great sharks, waiting for the first hint of blood.

Jaina chewed at her lower lip until she tasted a copper tang. Over the gale, she could barely hear her mother and Lor’themar deliberating over the timing of their attack. At her side, Ithedis remained silent and stalwart, polearm in hand, shield at the ready.

Sylvanas strode towards her across the quarterdeck. She grasped Jaina’s shoulder, and asked, “Are you ready?”

“I - I need a second,” Jaina mumbled, unable to tear her eyes away from the ships battered against the walls.

“You don’t have a second,” Sylvanas spoke in a gentle murmur. “You need to act now.”

Steadying herself with a deep breath, Jaina nodded.

Sylvanas’ grip tightened in a comforting squeeze before she let her arm fall. “You’re going to do great. Just like we planned.”

Jaina could feel a fine tremble running down her arms. She swallowed, and turned back towards the harbour. Taking a step forward and another, Jaina approached the side of the ship until she was standing right at the edge, peering down the long drop to the water below.

Closing her eyes, Jaina reached up to touch the pendant at her neck. As she grasped at arcane magic, the stone seared against her skin, so cold it burned. It filled her to the brim with a savage clarity until she winced. Gritting her teeth, Jaina held it fast and scanned the dark waters writhing below.

There. A spark buried in the ocean’s depths. One hand clenched around the pendant at her neck, Jaina reached with the other, holding it out over the side of the ship. She stretched out her fingers and then grasped them together, seizing that spark for herself and wrenching it up to the surface.

She felt a great tug against her own chest, like pulling a line attached to her ribcage. With a shudder, Jaina tightened her hold. That spark rose up, rushing from the vast deep darkness in a blaze of crystalline white.

A wind rose from the south, billowing the sails, catching the edges of her greatcoat with cold fingers. She could feel the stone sapping the magic from through her hand, drawing out every last drop. The spark unfurled. Piece by piece, then all at once, a great surging wave that roared to the surface.

Ice formed along the water. Choppy waves curled into the air, and did not fall, hanging in place like snow-capped mountaintops. Jaina breathed heavily, eyes clenched shut. She could feel the snap of sleet at her skin even through the heavy layers of her greatcoat. The sea groaned at her feet into a solid sheet of ice that pinned the Zandalari fleet against the city walls.

“That’s enough.”

The words were a faint whisper at the very edge of sound. Jaina heard them as if through the shriek of blizzard. Arcane energy thrummed through her, drowning out all else until she could hardly breathe, until the ice seemed to well up in her throat and choke her from within. Something thick and warm dripped from her chin.

A hand at her shoulder made her flinch, but she did not open her eyes. She heard Sylvanas’ voice, “Jaina. That’s enough.”

With a gasp, Jaina released the spell. She opened her eyes. The entire harbour gleamed, a field of frost so thick she could march a battalion across it. Slowly, the water began to move again, and she could hear the ship beneath her fall back into the waves with a heave that made everyone on board stagger.

She caught herself on the railing. Looking up, she watched the ice recede all the way to the walls, then stop. The leylines continued to glow, the Magisters atop the walls holding the spell in place so that the Zandalari fleet remained, immobilised.

With shaking fingers, Jaina reached up to wipe at the blood that had dripped from her nose. She turned to find Sylvanas and the others at her with something like awe on their faces.

Katherine was the first to look away. Wordlessly, she held out her hand to Lor’themar, who immediately handed her his telescope. Lifting it to one of her eyes, she peered down its length at the enemy’s position.

“Admiral Theron.”

“Yes, ma’am?”

Katherine lowered the telescope and pressed it shut against her thigh with one hand. She handed it back to him. “Flank them broadside, and then blast these bastards back to hell.”

Lor’themar smiled, a fierce smile, and took back the telescope. “With pleasure.”

The ships closed in, pushed quickly along with favourable winds summoned by the mages aboard. Arranged in a long line, the began to fire and did not stop. Three hundred rounds of forty two pound shots every five minutes from each ship in a constant barrage that made the air shake from the din.

Great shards of wood splintered from the enemy fleet. Their ships all but disintegrated beneath the bombardment. Trolls were abandoning ship en masse. They clambered from the sides of their hulls or jumped off, scrambling away across the ice and fleeing towards land.

“Where are they going?” Jaina asked.

Sylvanas wasn’t even looking at where Jaina indicated when she replied, “North, to hide behind their trenching.”

“Then shouldn’t we go after them?” Jaina pressed. “Launch an attack by land! Chase them down and -! Why are you smiling?”

Sylvanas shook her head with a soft laugh. “Jaina, we won.”

“But Vereesa still has to invade Zul’Aman! And those trolls there are -!”

Sylvanas kissed her. Right there atop the quarterdeck in plain view. She cupped Jaina’s face in her hands and kissed her breathless until Jaina went weak in the knees and clung to Sylvanas’ shoulders.

Pulling away just enough to lean their foreheads together, Sylvanas repeated almost in disbelief, “We won.”

Chapter Text

 

 

The girl was tall for a human and stocky for a mage. It was the first thought Sylvanas had: that she should have been a homey farmer’s daughter, not the sole Heir to one of the world’s foremost naval powers. It didn't take Sylvanas long to realise her first impression of Jaina Proudmoore had been staggeringly off the mark. In fact, it took less than the length of a single conversation.

For all her quick wit and cleverness, her veneer of bumbling, Jaina was tenacious and grave-eyed. She moved her face and body remarkably little, as if every hint of expression had to be carefully prised into view, as if she were trained to sit in place and be still while others talked around her. Worst of all, she had the unnerving ability of giving someone her full attention, as though she were disassembling them with her gaze, each segment labelled and arrayed in perfect detail at her feet.

Living with her that first year had been terrifying. It only got better slowly, piece by piece. Everything she did, everywhere she went, Sylvanas could feel that dismantling gaze upon her. Living with Jaina Proudmoore was like trying to hide behind a pane of glass that magnified every feature, every minute flaw. She would give away nothing of herself without it being wrenched from her hands. She watched like the audience of a surgical gallery, white-aproned and impassive and always taking copious notes.

There was no telling what her reactions would be. There was no telling what would make her smile or laugh, but then again Sylvanas never could resist a challenge.

Sylvanas found herself ignoring the opulence around her in favour of watching Jaina across the Court ballroom. Keeping an eye on her. Nothing more. As much as she might have wished to be standing at her side, engaged in conversation, Sylvanas sat, alone, none brave enough to approach her as she was now.

They had erected a throne for the Regent Lord at the very head of the triumphal procession. A gaudy thing -- gaudier even than the procession itself through Silvermoon -- all carved ivory and gold and rubies and garnets, and all together nothing Sylvanas would have been caught dead sitting on in a thousand years. Except apparently for today.

She did not sit on the throne so much as she splayed, leaning an elbow upon one of the ornate wing-shaped armrests, chin propped on her hand. Her other hand, tipped in an unwieldy clawed gauntlet, tapped an irate rhythm against the other armrest. Her ceremonial armour had been outfitted with heavy gold pauldrons and a velvet red cloak that dragged heavily behind her whenever she tried to walk. She had almost tripped on it four times today, and Jaina’s calm insistence was the only reason why it wasn’t in shreds back on the floor of Goldenbough. Sylvanas shrugged against the weight of the pauldrons with a faint grimace of discomfort.

Liveried servants paraded throughout the grandeur of the Court of the Sun, bearing golden trays that were laden with food. Sylvanas eyed one of the platters as it passed. Earlier she had tried eating the bite-sized portions to disastrous results, her clawed gauntlets restricting her from handling anything smaller than a goblet, and even then she had to take utmost care not to spill all over herself and paint herself a fool in front of an entire triumphal procession.

Someone broke away from the mingling crowd to walk towards her, and one of Sylvanas’ ears twitched. Kael'thas was dressed in attire no less ornate than his usual fare, but for his current lack of titles. He wore his ornately armoured robes with the same graceful foppery that always made Sylvanas’ lip curl in mild distaste.

He was holding a cut crystal glass in one hand, and when he came to a halt before her throne he sipped at his wine. “Why, don't you look grand, Regent Lord! And what a party! Though I do hope it didn't cost too much. Our privy purse has been injured during this war too, you know.”

Gritting her teeth, Sylvanas tried to sound as graceful as she could manage, “Thank you. I was only as grand as decorum allowed.”

“But of course,” Kael’thas flashed her one of his signature smiles, all syrupy charm that left a sour taste in her mouth. “I’m not complaining. Not at all! In fact,” he lowered his voice and glanced over his shoulder, “I feel positively wicked being here at all. Do you know how long I've been dying to attend one of your little parties?”

“A lifetime, I'm sure,” Sylvanas drawled.

“Yes. My lifetime, in fact. And I must say: you have not disappointed.” As if in a toast he raised his glass to her, then took a dainty sip.

She smiled in a way that revealed too many teeth, but which only seemed to amuse him all the more. “I’m sure there is no shortage of people to lick your shoes even when you technically have no titles.”

“Oh, I’ve been keeping myself plenty busy these last two months, don’t you worry your pretty little head about that.” He even made a gesture towards her head as if he were going to give her a patronising pat, and her ears pinned back in silent dangerous warning. He only rolled his eyes and continued talking, “You’d be amazed at how much you can get done without tripping over silly things like titles and decorum every other second.”

Eyes narrowing, Sylvanas asked with slow suspicion, “What kind of things?”

“Well, what with your sister’s great military triumph -- truly spectacular, by the way, truly -- the Zandalari and Amani alliance is in tatters. You and the Lady Proudmoore have them on the run. You’ve expanded our borders south. You’ve ensured our people’s safety for the next thousand years. You’ve -”

“Get to the point,” Sylvanas growled. “What. Things.”

If anything, his smile seemed to widen at her irritation. “Why, the only thing that really matters, my most august Regent Lord: money.”

Sylvanas blinked. “Money?”

He nodded and took another sip of wine. With his free hand, he motioned to the throne upon which she sat. “War is so expensive! You know that better than anyone, what with the two of us constantly at each other’s throats over funding from the privy purse, an endless push pull between civic and military duties.” Kael’thas continued in a delighted croon, “Don’t you know how pleased people are to hear that -- now that the war is all but over -- the military budget can be pruned back? Why, I had a Marquess in tears the other day. Tears of joy, of course.”

The sharp claws of Sylvanas’ gauntlets curled against the solid gold armrests of her throne. “We’re not finished yet,” she said through grit teeth. “We’re still creating buffer zones. And the navy -”

“Is now under the control of your new pet, Admiral Lor’themar,” Kael’thas finished for her. “An excellent choice, by the way. Though it’s such a pity the Lady Proudmoore didn’t want to keep that position herself. It would have been an excellent symbol to both our nations.” Then he added in a low voice partially mumbled around his wine glass, “Not to mention all the money we could have saved.”

“As much as I hate to agree with you, I admit I said something very similar. She is -” Sylvanas paused, finding Jaina again in the crowd strewn below her dais. “- a far greater leader than she gives herself credit.”

Kael’thas looked over his shoulder, his gaze immediately alighting upon Jaina. With a contemplative hum, he said, “In my experience, young people don’t tend to have the best sense of self-awareness. Give her time.”

“She’s a human. How much time could she possibly have?” Sylvanas muttered under her breath. The moment the words left her mouth, she sat up a little straighter, darting a hard look in Kael’thas’ direction as if daring him to comment.

If anything, he was watching her -- and Sylvanas couldn’t quite believe it -- with a kind of softness. Not the pitying kind, and not with his usual superficial flair. And when he spoke it was the most earnest she had ever heard him sound, “She’s a mage, Sylvanas. And a powerful one, too. She’ll have a few centuries on this earth yet.”

Sylvanas stared at him. She had to shake her head slightly before croaking out, “What?”

He chuckled at her shocked expression, and lifted his near empty glass for another sip of wine, murmuring around the rim of cut crystal, “I had wondered if the rumours about you two were true. How romantic.”

She wasn’t listening. Her stunned gaze had gone back to Jaina, who was now surrounded by a group of Magisters, including Headmistress Elosai. Jaina kept her hands solemnly clasped before her while she spoke, and even from here Sylvanas could see a few of the other Magisters exchanging puzzled glances and straining to get a read on her.

Centuries. The word turned in Sylvanas’ head, over and over, until it lost all meaning, until she began to doubt Kael’thas had even said it at all. Centuries. A few centuries. How many was a few? She would have to corroborate this new information. If Kael’thas were lying for a laugh, then so help her -

Centuries.

And here Sylvanas had thought she would be picking out a mourning veil within sixty years.

Beside her, Kael’thas had returned to his usual air of smug self-assurance that never failed to irritate her. “I never dreamed you and the Lady Proudmoore would be so well suited, but I am absolutely thrilled to see how wrong I was. I’m looking forward to a few centuries of good solid peace.”

Tearing her gaze away from Jaina, she shot him an exasperated look. “And here I thought you’d still be pining after her, Kael’thas.”

He sniffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Whatever gave you that idea?”

She smiled, a sharp cutting smile. “Only that I know you propositioned her, and she shot you down like a lame pheasant.”

“As is any lady’s right.” Kael’thas returned the smile, though his expression appeared forced. “What a pleasure it’s been catching up with you, Regent Lord. I hope you enjoy your last three weeks on that throne.”

Frowning, Sylvanas asked, “What do you mean ‘three weeks’? You should know better than anyone that I’m abdicating next week.”

“Of course. Of course!” his smile broadened, but his eyes remained cold. “But you already know that it takes an additional week to file the proper paperwork, and that all official documentation being pushed through the Court will have to wait for due processing until the treasury budget is completed. Luckily for you, I already took it upon myself to finalise the numbers before your ascension, which means all you have to do is oversee all relevant administration of civic funding and committee hearings.”

A slow horror crept into Sylvanas’ stomach as he spoke. He tilted his head as if in a bow, but used the opportunity to whisper to her as if to a confidante, “You may want to bring a pillow to sit upon. Those hearings take hours.

As he finished, Kael’thas straightened, his expression suffused with a barely constrained glee at the look on her face. He pointed to a passing liveried servant and said, “Oh, canapés!” and left her gaping after him.

Her face faded from horrified to thunderous. Her hands clenched into fists atop the golden armrests, and Sylvanas glowered from her place atop the throne. She took note of how many royal guardsmen lined the halls, counting them and wondering how many would object to her killing their prince on the spot.

She was still brooding when Vereesa climbed the dais to approach her. Before Vereesa could open her mouth, Sylvanas asked, “Do you think the Rangers would support me in a military coup if I shot Kael’thas in the eye right now?”

Vereesa’s eyebrows rose, and she sent a surreptitious glance towards Thas’Dorah leaning against the side of the throne. She looked almost as resplendent as Sylvanas in her own armour, wearing a crown of golden leaves in her silver hair, and a triumphal cloth-of-gold cloak trailing from her shoulders. “I think they might have one or two objections,” Vereesa answered dryly.

“I like those odds.”

Rolling her eyes, Vereesa said, “Can you maybe hold back on the coup until after my triumph is over?”

“But it’s so traditional,” Sylvanas said, still glaring at the back of Kael’thas head, where he was entertaining a coterie of simpering nobles. “Don’t you want to be in the history books?”

“We’re already in the history books.”

“You’re such a killjoy, Vereesa. How are we related?”

“That’s a question I ask myself every morning when I wake up.”

Their banter was interrupted by Jaina breaking away from the group of Magisters and walking up the dais steps. Jaina’s warm gaze lingered on Sylvanas a moment before turning to Vereesa and greeting her, “Hello, Vereesa. Congratulations on the triumph. It was spectacular.”

“I feel like the procession should have included you in some sense,” Vereesa said, switching into Common.

Jaina waved her flattery away and continued to speak in Thalassian, “Oh, definitely not. I would have been so uncomfortable up on a chariot like that, paraded through the whole city. No, thank you. I’ll let you and Sylvanas soak up everyone’s attention.”

Vereesa blinked, taken aback. Sylvanas had to bite back a small smile at Jaina’s Thalassian. Neither she nor Ithedis had the heart to tell Jaina that her Thalassian -- while improving by the day at a truly mind-boggling rate -- was interspersed with rough slang that she had unwittingly picked up from her Novices.

It appeared Vereesa didn’t have the heart to tell her either, for she recovered quickly and replied, “I think if Sylvanas soaks up any more attention her head won’t fit on her shoulders.”

Without changing her facial expression, Sylvanas made a rude gesture with her fingers at her sister.

“Why are you so cranky today?” Vereesa asked. “Apart from the usual, I mean?”

Sylvanas bared her teeth. “You’re here. Do I need another reason?”

Before Vereesa could open her mouth to deliver a retort, Jaina cleared her throat and gave Sylvanas a disapproving glance. Sylvanas shrugged at her, but leaned back upon the throne. Her stomach growled, and she grimaced.

“Vereesa, can you stand here for a moment?” Jaina asked, pointing to a space directly in front of Sylvanas.

Frowning in confusion, Vereesa asked warily, “Why?”

When Jaina shot her an imploring look, Vereesa sighed and did as asked. It brought the two of them standing side by side before the lavish throne, so that Sylvanas was all but hidden from view. Then, with a sly wink, Jaina held out one hand. She snapped her fingers, and a few of those coveted canapés appeared, balanced in her palm. They were somewhat scrunched together, but otherwise perfectly edible.

Sylvanas gaze honed in on the offering. She reached out to snatch up one of the canapés, only to stop with a glare at her ridiculously clawed gauntlets.

“Here,” Jaina said softly, checking over her shoulder to make sure nobody could see before holding out a piece of food between her own fingers.

Sylvanas hesitated for just a moment, during which time her stomach gave an audible grumble. Then she leaned forward and ate the piece whole. They were only scraps, but Jaina hand fed her the lot, and afterwards Sylvanas sighed as she tried to wipe at her own chin, only for the pauldrons to restrict her movements so much she could barely reach.

Vereesa stared between the two of them, her eyes wide.

Sylvanas very pointedly ignored her, and instead said to Jaina, “Thank you.”

With a warm smile just for her, Jaina swooped down for a quick kiss -- no more than a peck on her lips -- before she straightened and said, “I’m going to pop out for a bit to have another chat with Elosai about implementing a permanent portal system directly between Silvermoon and Boralus, but I’ll be back in just a tick. Save a dance for me?”

Waving her away with an airy gesture, Sylvanas watched her go. When Vereesa cleared her throat, Sylvanas glanced up at her.

“What was that?” Vereesa pointed after Jaina.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sylvanas replied dryly.

“Oh, no. You’re not getting off that easy.” Glowering, Vereesa loomed over her, and with every word her face darkened. “I have to learn by official notice on the front that you’ve declared yourself Regent Lord? You leave me to clean up the mess out east, so you can go sailing off to Kul Tiras and destroy half the enemy fleet on a whim? And now to top it all off, you’re smitten with your wife?”

Sylvanas rolled her eyes and leaned back to sprawl on the throne once more. “Don’t be so overdramatic.”

Pointing at her indignantly, Vereesa hissed, “Just look at yourself! You’re literally draped in gold and scarlet like a minaret ornament! I could use you as a lure for dragonhawks!”

“You’re welcome for the triumph, by the way,” Sylvanas drawled. “It’s not like I could have put any idiot in charge, and they could have captured Zul’Aman. Oh, wait!”

“Don’t you dare change the subject,” Vereesa warned.

Sylvanas pretended to search the crowd. “Don’t you have a husband and children? Can’t you go bother them instead?”

“We are not finished with this conversation, Sylvanas. Not by any stretch of the imagination.”

“What goes on in my bedroom is none of anybody else’s business.”

“From what I’ve heard, it’s not just happening in your bedroom.”

Sylvanas bared her teeth. She reached up and tugged at the high collar of her armour to reveal the heavy bruising along her neck. “Fine. You’re right. Everything you heard is true, and more. Shall I go into greater detail for you?”

Immediately, Vereesa made a face and leaned back. “No. Absolutely not.”

“Are you sure?” Sylvanas sneered. “You were so keen to know all about what goes on between a married couple. For a moment I was worried you may not know, but then I remembered you have kids.”

“Alright. Yes. I get it,” Vereesa snapped. She sighed and rubbed at her brow. “When did this all start? The last thing I remember, you two could hardly stand to hold hands without either your little mage spontaneously combusting, or you threatening to court-martial me. Whichever came first.”

“I’m still leaning towards a court-martial, personally.”

“Sylvanas.”

“What’s the point of being Regent Lord, if there aren’t a few perks of the job?”

“I thought we weren’t allowed to use your title?”

“You’re not. I am. And I’m inscribing it in law tomorrow after all my torture sessions are finished.”

“More committee meetings?”

“Worse,” Sylvanas said. “Accountants.”

“By the Sun, I don't envy you. What happened to abdicating?”

Sylvanas shot her a dark look. “You don’t want to know.”

With a snort of wry laughter, Vereesa shook her head. She glanced to the side and did not look away, something else suddenly holding her attention. Sylvanas followed her gaze to find Jaina re-entering the main Court ballroom through one of the side entrances on the far side of the room. She moved in such a manner that the crowd parted around her, people making way for the Scion of the Fleet without even consciously understanding they were doing so.

Something about the shoulders, Sylvanas thought. Or perhaps the eyes. Jaina always could arrest a room just by entering it. How dignified. How utterly unreadable. It had taken Sylvanas months to figure out that Jaina’s expressions were comprised of the smallest details -- a tightening around her eyes, a twitch at the corners of her mouth -- and then finally to understand them.

It was almost amusing. Jaina would constantly complain about people staring wherever she went, and yet she never realised why.

“She looks -” Vereesa started to say, but had to stop and frown, looking back to Sylvanas. “- I want to say ‘happy’ but I honestly can’t tell right now. Happier, in any case. She is happy, isn’t she?”

“We’re fine,” Sylvanas answered. She had to tear her gaze away to look back at her sister instead.

“I know you’re fine. You look like the cat that caught the canary. Far too well fed, to be honest.”

Glaring, Sylvanas replied, “She’s fine.”

“Sounds like marital bliss,” Vereesa quipped.

Jaina was talking to Ithedis and his eldest daughter, now. The brigadier’s chest flashed with medals, one of which Sylvanas had bestowed upon her just earlier that afternoon during the triumph. An award for exceptional bravery in the face of danger while assaulting Zul’Aman.

“Really now. Be honest.” Vereesa angled herself in such a way that Sylvanas’ view was cut off, forcing Sylvanas to look up at her. “Is everything alright? Do I need to worry about national security because you two had a spat about rain or whatever that was all about?”

Just the mention of that time made Sylvanas have to shrug off a faint chill running down her spine. Sylvanas had spent the first six months of their marriage wishing that Jaina would show some sort of emotion, only to regret it the moment Jaina finally cracked.

It wasn’t perfect now. But it was a far cry from that day.

Realising that she had been gazing thoughtfully up at her sister and not answering, Sylvanas finally said, “It’s getting better.”

Vereesa’s eyebrows rose. “Now, that just sounds ominous.”

With a soft laugh, Sylvanas smiled. She tilted her head to look around Vereesa and instead continue to watch Jaina across the room. “No. Not at all. With her, it’s always getting better.”

For a moment, Vereesa said nothing. Sylvanas could feel her sister’s scrutiny, but did not care. Then, Vereesa sighed, “By the sun, you really are smitten.”

In a hidden alcove on the second-floor landing overlooking the Court ballroom, the sounds of musicians tuning their instruments hummed as the orchestra geared up for the first dance. Immediately, people began to clear the centre of the floor, revealing a sunburst mosaic in gold and white tiles, the tesserae glittering in a slant of sunlight through the tall windows.

The crowd parted, and Ithedis’ eldest daughter gave Jaina a gentle shove towards the dancefloor. Ithedis scolded his daughter, but she ignored him in favour of grinning at Jaina and shooing her towards the throne, where Sylvanas sat.

Vereesa stepped back with a bow and a smirk for added measure. “Looks like your dance partner is waiting, Regent Lord.”

Rising to her feet and sweeping back the heavy velvet of her cloak, Sylvanas growled, “Don’t call me that.”

 


 

By the time of their second anniversary, Sylvanas had finally rid herself of the title and was once again comfortably the Ranger-General of Silvermoon. To make a point, she arrived in Boralus by ship wearing only her casual leathers, and requesting that their docking be absent any fanfare. If she had to sit through one more obnoxious ceremony, she would scream.

Katherine was more than amenable, though she did make a note of it when Sylvanas and Jaina disembarked with only Ithedis trailing after them. After greeting them alone at the docks and hugging her daughter with one arm, the Lord Admiral turned to Sylvanas and remarked, “I almost didn’t recognise you without all that gaudy shit you usually wear.”

Eyebrows rising, Sylvanas looked at Jaina. “I see where you got your foul mouth from as well. Did you inherit anything from your father?”

“Good taste in women,” Jaina said primly as she took her mother’s good arm and began to walk towards the Keep.

Sylvanas snorted with laughter, and followed. Katherine shot her an amused glance over the top of Jaina’s head, but said nothing further on the matter.

During their last visit, the two of them had only spoken alone at breakfast on the last morning. Sylvanas remembered their conversation -- purposefully light and steering clear of heavier topics. Throughout the entire thing however, Sylvanas had the distinct impression Katherine was weighing every word, every expression with the kind of cold calculation that Sylvanas had come to expect of Jaina, but where her daughter only ever gave anything her full attention, Katherine Proudmoore had the facsimile of curbing her scrutiny. Like wearing an oiled cloak to combat the rain; the rain was still unavoidably present, eventually permeating everything, but momentarily stymied.

Even then, Katherine had probed for details about the ‘lengths of their relationship’ under the guise of friendly banter about her own marriage. At the time Sylvanas had carefully circumnavigated the conversation so as not to reveal anything -- not that there had been anything to reveal apart from one searing kiss, which Sylvanas had been desperately trying to not think about ever since its occurrence.

There could be no doubt in Katherine’s mind now, however. Not with Jaina strolling down the docks towards Proudmoore Keep, talking about setting up a summer home for them in Kul Tiras.

“The contract was clear: two years in Quel’Thalas. I don’t want to move permanently from Goldenbough. I quite like it actually. Which reminds me,” Jaina gave her mother’s arm a squeeze. “You should come visit now that the war is over.”

A smile still played across Katherine’s lips. “I’d like that, though the ocean will freeze over before you get me in Quel’Thalas during summer.”

“It’s too cold here in winter for some of us,” Jaina pointed out with a sympathetic smile at Sylvanas, who inclined her head, and over her shoulder to Ithedis, who stoically pretended to not feel the same chill that dug into Sylvanas’ skin even through an enchanted cloak. “And far too hot in Quel’Thalas for others.”

Katherine hummed, allowing her daughter to lead the three of them along past the various dock workers. “So, you wish to purchase a property in Kul Tiras.” When Jaina nodded, Katherine thought for a moment before saying, “Does it have to be in Boralus?”

“Would you prefer us not to be in Boralus?” Sylvanas asked.

With a dismissive shake of her head, Katherine said, “Not at all. I still have an old estate in Fletcher’s Hollow tied to my family’s inheritance. It’s mostly productive farmland, but the manor itself isn’t in use. I could air the place out and have it prepared as a summer home, if that would suit?”

“That would be perfect.” Jaina gave her mother's cheek a peck. “Oh! Can we see it while we're here?”

Katherine scrunched up her nose. “Only if you want to see a great deal of dust and cobwebs, my dear.”

“I hear those are the essentials of country charm,” Sylvanas drawled.

Both Katherine and Jaina shot her identical looks of exasperated disapproval that only made her grin.

“There's also excellent hunting down that way,” Jaina pointed out, adding, “And very little chance of any elven nobles trying to bother you.”

At that, Sylvanas’ ears pricked forwards. “I think that definitely warrants a visit.”

“I thought you might,” Jaina muttered under her breath, rolling her eyes when Sylvanas winked in her direction.

Even now, getting Jaina to smile or laugh felt like earning a hard-won prize.

Katherine watched the two of them without a word, striding along through the bustling streets of Boralus, nodding solemnly towards citizens who hailed them with hearty waves or cheers. As the docks faded behind them, she asked, “And how is that new Admiral of yours settling in? The dashing elf?”

“Lor’themar?” Jaina asked with a blink of surprise. “He's doing very well. Though there's not much for him to do, now that the war is over, to be honest.”

“Is that so? How interesting. If you ever find he needs more officer training, do send him my way. That craftsman exchange has been nothing but a godsend.”

“I hope you're not trying to poach him again, mother.”

Sylvanas lowered her voice in a pantomime of furtiveness, but not enough that Katherine couldn't hear, “I believe the Lord Admiral was asking about other matters regarding his -- how shall we say? -- availability.”

Katherine glowered, Jaina looked shocked, and Sylvanas could feel Ithedis’ reproachful stare. Both sent a thrill rushing through Sylvanas for entirely different reasons; the former due to a rush of adrenaline at the wild thought that Katherine might draw a pistol on her right there in the street; and the latter due to a rush of triumph at making Jaina's eyes widen that way. Any ensuing duel and diplomatic incident would just be an added bonus.

“Has anyone ever told you,” Katherine said, “that you're an incorrigible ass, Ranger-General?”

Masking herself in her most sombre expression, Sylvanas replied, “My sister. With every breath.” Then, because she never could get a firm grasp on the concept of self-preservation, she added, “And I think my wife already has an elven father figure in her life. Isn't that right, Ithedis?”

With delight, she looked over her shoulder to see Ithedis’ eyes narrow and his mouth thin behind his winged helm.

“Anyway!” Jaina tugged her mother along and quickened her stride towards the towering bulk of Proudmoore Keep rising above the streets. “Fletcher's Hollow! That sounds wonderful! We should go! Immediately.”

“I'll arrange a ferry,” Katherine growled, though Sylvanas could have sworn she saw the corner of Katherine's mouth twitch when she grinned at her over the top of Jaina's head.

They stopped at Proudmoore Keep just long enough to drop off their things, and for Katherine to arrange for a ferry to Fletcher's Hollow. While Jaina was talking to Ithedis back at one of the minor docks as they waited for the ferry to arrive, Katherine turned to Sylvanas.

Katherine reached around to fumble at a pouch on her belt with one hand, and Sylvanas was overcome with the irrational thought she might actually have to grapple a pistol from her mother-in-law's fist. When Katherine held out her hand however, she was offering a small package wrapped in oiled brown paper and twine.

Curious, Sylvanas took it but did not immediately open it. “What's this?”

“An anniversary gift. I heard you liked that whiskey I gave you last time.” Katherine hoisted up an amused eyebrow at Sylvanas’ sudden wariness. “Don't be such a little shit, and just open it.”

With a snort of laughter, Sylvanas began to tug on the strings. “I did like the whiskey, yes. It tasted like smoke and fire. You should consider importing it to Quel’Thalas. You would make a fortune.”

“Already in the works, my dear.”

Sylvanas paused. That was the first time Katherine had ever called her 'my dear.’ Sylvanas may have been tempted to believe it was a mere slip of the tongue, but Katherine gave the impression of always saying exactly what she intended.

Unwrapping the package, Sylvanas blinked down at its contents. A pair of simple yet elegant leather gloves, appropriate for travel and matching her casual attire.

“They’re lined in cashmere, and very warm,” Katherine announced airily, turning her gaze towards the water. “Last time I thought you were going to freeze to death.”

A crisp wind cut through the gaps in Sylvanas’ cloak. She immediately tossed the packaging aside and began pulling the gloves on. They were indeed very warm. Flexing her knuckles against the leather, Sylvanas said, “Thank you.”

Katherine hummed but did not turn to look at her again. “Normally I would have embroidered them myself. I used to enjoy a spot of needlepoint before my arm decided it liked swimming in the ocean more than it liked being attached to the rest of me.”

“I hear limbs can be fickle like that. Though in my field, it's normally the legs.”

That earned her a wry huff of laughter. It was followed swiftly by a dark glare. “If you're making a footman joke, I swear I will push you into the water.”

“Me?” Sylvanas feigned outrage. “After you've given me such a lovely gift, no less.”

With a roll of her eyes, Katherine turned back towards the harbour. “I see why my daughter is so smitten with you. She never could resist a good joke. Just like her father, that way.”

Sylvanas’ smile softened. She glanced around Katherine's back to look at Jaina, who had wandered off to a nearby stall to purchase roasted hazelnuts with Ithedis. Jaina was chatting with the stall owner, while Ithedis snuck a bite through the flanges of his helm when he thought she wasn't paying attention, only for Jaina to hold out the little bag of treats in his direction without pausing to look at him.

“I'm glad the feeling is mutual,” Sylvanas murmured.

When she turned back it was to find Katherine studying her from the corner of her eye. “As am I.” Katherine nodded towards the water's edge. “Come along. The ferry's arrived.”

 


 

The second anniversary celebrations went much as the first had. They greeted guests at the entrance. They walked around the room, speaking with key members of state. They sat at the fore of the congregation and were approached by family members as though by doting courtiers. Sylvanas forgot the names of every one of Jaina's many cousins the moment she shook their hands, so that Jaina had to whisper in her ear to remind her.

This time however, there were slight differences. More elves dotted the Grand Hall of Proudmoore Keep, their fair heads standing out above a sea of their shorter, stouter human counterparts. Vereesa was among them, talking animatedly to one of Jaina's distant cousins who had served as a Captain during the last four years of war. Her husband smiled alongside her, sneaking charmed glanced at his wife while their two children -- red-headed devils the way only half-elves could be -- snuck as many sweets as their pockets could carry from the buffet table.

Lady Ashvane was still there, looking thwarted and sour as she drank wine in a corner by the great fireplace. Jaina was the one to nudge Sylvanas’ elbow and point her out with a satisfied little smirk that Sylvanas wanted to kiss regardless of how many people were watching.

That was also new. Plotting how to drag Jaina somewhere private, not just to escape the dull party, but to indulge themselves in other ways they would not have a year ago. Jaina looked particularly striking tonight. Her sharp-lined military coat the colour of the night sky, bound in a green sash representing her House colours. Her grave-eyed gaze dissecting the room, only to soften when she glanced over at her wife. The near imperceptible twitch of her smile. The warm press of her fingers as she squeezed Sylvanas’ knee beneath the table.

When Jaina spotted someone standing nearby however, she pulled her hand away and stood. “Lord Stormsong! I'm so glad you could attend. I was hoping to have a quick word with you.”

Rather than wait alone and watch Jaina go, Sylvanas rose and trailed after her. Jaina shot her a puzzled look, to which Sylvanas simply smiled, offering her arm. Slowly, as if convinced Sylvanas were up to no good -- which was completely unreasonable, really -- Jaina took her arm and together they approached Lord Stormsong.

Dark-eyed and sombre, he gave the appearance of being tall but only because of his ridiculous hat, which Sylvanas was partially tempted to swat from his head just to see how short he really was. He bowed low at the waist, and had to adjust his hat as he straightened. “Lady Proudmoore. How may I be of assistance?”

“I understand you've been overseeing the exchange of Tidesages to Silvermoon, and providing accommodation for the elven Magisters here in Boralus, is that correct?” Jaina asked.

“It is,” he confirmed, clasping his hands together in the wide sleeves of his robes. “They have been living at the Monastery during their stay.”

Jaina's expression grew keen and sharp, as if honed to an edge by the slate of their conversation. “Yes, the Monastery would be perfect as an anchor, too.”

Somewhat bemused by that statement, Lord Stormsong glanced between the two of them, hoping that Sylvanas might give him more to work on -- she didn't.

“An anchor?” he repeated.

With a nod, Jaina explained, “For a permanent portal system between Boralus and Silvermoon. We need an anchor point for that kind of long-distance teleportation. Would we be able to set aside a spare room in the Monastery for that?”

Mulling that over, Lord Stormsong reached up to smooth down his moustache with one hand in a contemplative gesture. “Perhaps. We would need to realign the tidal runes protecting the city to allow for perpetual access. It may take a few weeks.”

“Eighteen and a half days, actually,” Jaina supplied helpfully, and her face grew bright, the way it always did when she spoke about a topic that aligned with her peculiar interests. “Provided we use a force of two Tidesages and two Magisters on each side. Half that time again, if we double our numbers.”

His head jerked back in surprise, and he had to reach up to stop his tall hat from falling off again. Clearing his throat, Lord Stormsong replied, “Yes, Lady Proudmoore. In which case, I see no reason why we can't implement this facility. Provided we acquire the proper consents first, of course.”

She waved that concern aside. “Oh, I've already drawn up the paperwork. Don't worry. So, can we start tomorrow?”

He blinked. “I was under the impression you and your wife would be returning to Quel'Thalas within a few days.”

At that, Sylvanas grasped Jaina's hand where it lay upon her forearm and said, “We can extend our visit as long as we need. It would give me a good opportunity to help the Lord Admiral prepare our second home in Fletcher's Hollow.”

“Of course.” He bowed again. “If you'll excuse me a moment, I see the Lady Waycrest is -”

“In the interest of conserving parchment,” Sylvanas interrupted before Lord Stormsong could depart. “Might I suggest an automatic renewal clause? Every new House Lord must give individual approval to such matters, isn't that right?”

“It is,” he answered with an even more confused frown than before.

“And when might that be?” Sylvanas pressed. “I understand that yours is a House of great mages, including yourself.”

“I'm not sure what it's like for your kind, being long-lived already, but human practitioners of magic tend to have lifespans extended beyond their kin. So, for this contract -?” He paused to think, before saying with a shrug. “Perhaps another two hundred years?”

With a smile, Sylvanas replied in a voice like honey, “Perfect. Thank you for being so generous with your time, Lord Stormsong.”

As he left, she could feel Jaina's eyes upon her, watching her with an odd expression.

“What was that about?” Jaina asked.

Sylvanas began to lead them across the room to make another send of rounds. “Am I not supposed to support your very important diplomatic endeavours?”

Eyes narrowing fractionally, Jaina said, “You are. It was just very specific.”

“What can I say?” Sylvanas leaned in close to whisper, “I'm a stickler for details.”

“You once told me that details were for infantry and big pictures were for generals.”

“I believe the expression goes: ‘Soldiers have an excellent view of the grass.’”

Jaina jabbed her finger against Sylvanas’ flank, making her grunt. “Yes. That, exactly.”

Catching Jaina's offending hand and giving it a squeeze, Sylvanas let go again. “Would you say you're a more powerful mage than Lord Stormsong?”

At that, Jaina stopped walking. With their arms still looped together, it brought Sylvanas to a halt as well. She cast a furtive glance at the people around them, before guiding Sylvanas quickly to a less crowded area along one of the tapestry-lined walls.

Jaina lowered her voice so as not to be overheard. “Why are you asking me this?”

Whereas Jaina kept checking to see if they had any eavesdroppers, Sylvanas could not have cared less about anyone else in that moment. The rest of the room might well not have existed. In the candlelight, Jaina appeared gilded, a glimmer of fire caught on the twist of her braid, on the epaulettes down her shoulders, on the smoothness of her cheek. Even grave-eyed and saturnine, she was still so young.

“I want to know how much time I have with you,” Sylvanas admitted, and Jaina's eyes widened.

“That's -” Jaina swallowed and continued in a mutter, “That's awfully morbid of you.”

“I'm being serious.”

“I know. And that scares me.” Jaina gave her a weak smile. “When are you ever serious? It's our anniversary.”

“Yes. It is.”

Realisation dawned, just a flicker across Jaina's eyes -- though that may have been the flicker of candlelight in a draught. Old castles like this were always so draughty.

Jaina hesitated, then placed her hand on Sylvanas’ shoulder in such a way she could smooth her thumb over the gleaming sapphire cravat pin at her neck. “It's not an exact science, you know. I can't -” She toyed with the pin as if pretending that they had ducked into this space so she could fix Sylvanas’ cravat away from prying eyes. “I can't give you the answer you want.”

Still, Sylvanas pressed, “Two hundred years?”

Jaina shook her head.

“Three hundred?”

“Sylvanas, I don't -” With a sigh, Jaina smoothed her palms across the lapels of Sylvanas’ formal Kul Tiran jacket. “How long has this been troubling you?”

Since I almost watched you drown and had to drag you from the sea, she thought.

“Long enough,” she said.

Jaina's expression hardened, her jaw squaring. She lifted her chin and said, “Well, I'm not going anywhere anytime soon.”

For a long moment, Sylvanas searched Jaina's face. She opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the clink of glass. Both of them looked up to find Katherine standing in the centre of the room. Ithedis stood at her side, tapping a knife against a wine glass at her behest.

“May I have everyone's attention, please?” Katherine said. She waited for the murmuring buzz of a hundred different conversations to die down, before she nodded her head in thanks to Ithedis, who bowed and fell back a step behind her. When she spoke, she did not have to raise her voice for everyone  to listen. “First of all I would like to thank everyone for attending. This celebration is far more than a wedding anniversary. It is a triumph. A symbol of our perseverance in the face of daunting times, and of alliances -- new and old -- which have brought us all here today.

That being said: it is still an anniversary first and foremost. And so it is with great pleasure that I invite our honoured couple to lead us in the first dance of a new era -- an era of peace.”

As Katherine gestured towards where Sylvanas and Jaina stood, the gathered crowd clapped. The applause was a mix of raucous and polite, the Kul Tirans and dwarven ambassadors bringing their hands heartily together, while the elves tapped fingertips to palms.

Beside her, Sylvanas could sense Jaina's discomfort, the way her shoulders caved inwards slightly in a stoop, the way her eyes darted about as if searching for an escape. Gently, Sylvanas laced their fingers together. “How do I look?”

Jaina barely spared her a glance before muttering, “Like you always do.”

“Unbearably snobbish? Perfect. That's exactly what I was hoping to achieve.”

Despite herself Jaina snorted with laughter. She shook her head and allowed Sylvanas to lead her through the crowd.

Together they walked towards the cleared space acting as a dancefloor. The small group of musicians in the far corner were plucking their stringed instruments and piecing together the silvery ends of their flutes, one balancing an enormous harp and strumming it to tune the others. Taking their positions on the dancefloor, Sylvanas slipped one hand to Jaina's waist, holding the other out to the side. They waited for the music to start.

“I hate this,” Jaina mumbled under her breath, shifting her feet under the weight of every stare in the hall.

With a sympathetic hum, Sylvanas said, “Just one dance, and we can disappear for the night.”

An unmistakable twitch straightened Jaina's shoulders, and she shot Sylvanas a heated look. “Is that a promise?”

Sylvanas’ only answer was a sly grin, and the music began to play. They danced. Sylvanas led them through a series of steps that took them around the outskirts of the floor. Some people weren't paying much attention at all, talking amongst themselves, drinking wine and beer while waiting for their own turn to join the dancefloor.

Jaina did not stumble once, though she would glance down at their feet every now and then as though afraid of just that. Every time she did, Sylvanas would tighten her grip at Jaina's waist or murmur a dry comment about someone in the crowd, anything to get Jaina's attention away from self-conscious avenues. Eventually, they moved seamlessly together, talking softly, Jaina rolling her eyes at one of Sylvanas’ more inane remarks, but always with a slight smile playing about her lips.

Sylvanas couldn't look away. She could feel hundreds of eyes upon her, but that only strengthened the urge to do something brash. Slowing their steps somewhat Sylvanas leaned forward to murmur in Jaina's ear, “Shall we create another diversion?”

Unable to repress a shiver at the brush of lips against her cheek, Jaina asked, “What did you have in mind this time?”

“Nothing they haven't seen before.”

The song began to wind down, and they circled round to the last refrain. As the musicians played the final chords, Sylvanas stopped Jaina in the centre of the dancefloor and kissed her.

Jaina grabbed the lapels of Sylvanas’ formal jacket and tilted her head to deepen the kiss. Her eyes slid shut when Sylvanas cupped the back of her neck, whimpering a soft noise into her mouth when Sylvanas pressed them flush together. Hazily, Sylvanas heard the sound of more applause, a few of the less than sober of Jaina's cousins whistling and laughing. When Sylvanas pulled back, Jaina's gaze was hooded and dark, her hands still fisted around the fine cloth of Sylvanas’ jacket.

The musicians began to play another song, and members of the crowd eagerly joined them on the dancefloor. Through the groups of people, Sylvanas could see Vereesa shaking her head and muttering something to her husband, doubtlessly unimpressed with her sister's public display. Meanwhile Katherine was hiding a look of dry amusement behind the wine glass Ithedis had handed back to her; she looked to be trying to encourage him to relax and have a drink as well, which he would be declining. Predictable.

As everyone else began to dance around them, nobody had eyes for the two of them anymore. Grabbing a firm hold of Sylvanas' hand, Jaina tugged her towards a set of spiral staircases hidden behind a broad pillar. “Let's go.”

 


 

The moment the door to Jaina’s old room at Proudmoore Keep was closed behind them, Jaina was upon her. She turned to pin Sylvanas against the wall directly beside the door, and Sylvanas had to fight back a shiver at the press of cold stone against her back even through the thick layers of clothing. The Kul Tiran styled formal wear may have been designed to combat the cool clime, but it offered no resistance to Jaina’s hands as she tugged at buttons and stripped off Sylvanas’ formal jacket.

With the jacket discarded on the floor, Jaina turned her attention next to the white silk cravat tied high along Sylvanas’ throat. Sylvanas pulled her up for a kiss, and though Jaina made a soft noise in the back of her throat, the kiss did little to distract her. She fumbled at the cravat while Sylvanas undid the many clasps holding together that damned admiralty greatcoat.

By the time Sylvanas managed to get the greatcoat off and Jaina’s shirt beneath mostly unbuttoned, Jaina had unwound the cravat. She leaned forward and began to kiss at Sylvanas’ neck, open-mouthed kisses that soon turned to teeth. Sylvanas could feel her own breathing quicken. She had to stifle a gasp when Jaina bit down, leaving a trail of bruises along Sylvanas’ neck to rival the ones on her own.

Sylvanas tilted her head back. Jaina tugged at Sylvanas’ shirt forcefully enough that one of the buttons tore free.

“I liked that shirt,” Sylvanas said.

“Sorry,” Jaina mumbled against her throat. It did not stop her from continuing to undo Sylvanas’ shirt with trembling hands, pulling it from where it was tucked into her high-waisted breeches.

With a chuckle, Sylvanas kissed her cheek. “I was teasing.”

“That’s good,” Jaina said breathlessly even as she yanked the shirt from Sylvanas’ shoulders and down her arms until she could drop it to the floor atop her now crumpled formal jacket. “Tides, I want you.”

Something constricted, tight, in Sylvanas’ chest. Jaina kissed her, and the feeling only worsened, winding itself inwards like silk spun round a spool. She grabbed a fistful of Jaina’s hair with one hand and kissed her until she whimpered into Sylvanas’ mouth. She got Jaina’s shirt off, and ran her fingers beneath the hemline of her breeches until she could feel Jaina tense against her. When Sylvanas reached down to rake her nails against Jaina’s inner thigh, Jaina had to break the kiss with a gasp.

Movements rushed, Jaina started to unlace Sylvanas’ breeches, but froze. Her eyes opened wide, and she glanced down between them.

“Are you -?” Her hand explored the edges of an unexpected bulge in Sylvanas’ breeches.

Sylvanas studied Jaina’s expression carefully -- something bordering on curiosity and fascination. “You asked about this a few times, and we discussed you wanting to try it.”

“Yes, I -” Clearing her throat, Jaina’s fingers hesitated at the laces of her breeches before she began to tug them loose. “I remember.”

Stepping away from the wall, Sylvanas herded Jaina across the room. While Jaina fumbled with the laces, Sylvanas distracted her with intermittent kisses, ducking her head to mouth at Jaina’s neck and chest, pulling her braid free of its ties and combing it loose, pushing Jaina’s breeches down her legs so she could step out of them -- almost tripping on the way.

With a huff of laughter, Sylvanas caught her, arms around Jaina’s waist. She could feel Jaina smiling into the next kiss, and she took the opportunity to run her fingers along the slickness between Jaina’s thighs until Jaina’s hands were trembling so badly she had to close her eyes and break the kiss to gather herself. Sylvanas circled around her clit, and Jaina’s hips jerked.

Jaina traced the waistband of Sylvanas’ breeches and asked breathlessly, “Can I take these off?”

Removing her own hand from between Jaina’s legs, Sylvanas nodded. She sat on the edge of the bed, feet splayed, and looked up at Jaina with an expectant expression. Jaina had to bend over to pull the breeches down Sylvanas’ legs, the dark cloth far more sombre than anything Sylvanas would have worn in Quel’Thalas, but which made her appear at home in the dreary castle halls of Proudmoore Keep. Kul Tiran formal dress always felt so restrictive, though not nearly as much as her Regent Lord attire, which Sylvanas had given back to the Council the moment she was able.

Holding Sylvanas’ breeches in her hands, Jaina looked down at her. Her eyes widened a bit when she saw the size of the toy, but Jaina appeared more inquisitive than anything else. She studied the harness that looped around Sylvanas’ waist and upper thighs as if the first thing she were going to want was for Sylvanas to take it off just to show her how it worked.

Sylvanas moved back along the bed until she was resting against the headboard, reaching behind herself to arrange a few pillows. She heard Jaina drop the breeches to the ground just as she settled herself back into place.

“It looks -” Jaina snorted, covering her mouth with one hand. “- I’m sorry. It’s a bit ridiculous.”

“No offense taken.”

As if to make a point, Sylvanas laced her fingers behind her head, resting comfortably against the pillows. When she bent one of her knees out at an angle to sprawl, the toy curved back until its tip was resting almost against her stomach. Jaina’s eyes followed the movement, and Sylvanas could see her throat work as she swallowed.

Softening her voice, Sylvanas reminded her, “If you’re uncomfortable, I am more than happy to get rid of it and do something that you’re actually comfortable with.”

At that, Jaina’s gaze hardened and she met Sylvanas’ eyes with a look of fierce determination. “No, I want to try. I’m always willing to try something once to see if I like it.”

“And if you don’t?”

“Then at least I know, and I’ve paid for a new experience,” Jaina said, very matter of fact about the whole affair, as if explaining one of her complex mathematics problems.

Sylvanas smiled. “Fair enough.”

For a moment Jaina said nothing. She took off her pendant and set it aside. Her eyes would drift down Sylvanas’ naked body, stop at the toy with curiosity, and then move on, but always returning to the new addition. Finally, she said, “You’ll tell me what to do?”

“If you’d like.” Holding out one hand Sylvanas pointed, “There’s a vial in that case over there. Grab it for me, won’t you?”

Jaina did so, turning over the glass vial in her hands as she returned to the bed. “Lubricant? I don’t think we’ll need this,” she said, then glanced at the harness with a considering expression. “Not too much, anyway.”

“You’ll need it.” Sylvanas crooked her fingers and motioned Jaina forward. “Come here.”

Hesitating just for a second, Jaina crawled across the mattress. She knelt beside Sylvanas, handing her the vial while she continued to study the harness. She pulled one of the straps back, trying to peek at the rest of the contraption. “Is it inside of you, too?”

Sylvanas unstoppered the vial. “No. Though there are designs that allow for that.”

“Hmm.” Jaina pulled back her hand and tapped at her chin. “You know, I could probably find a way to conduct increased feeling across a design like that. A spirit rune, perhaps? Needs more substance, though. Mixed with a druidic life-transference ward? That might work. Oh! Can I do that?”

Pausing, Sylvanas looked up to realise that Jaina was pointing at the opened vial. With a wordless shrug, she handed it over to Jaina, who poured a generous amount of lubricant into the palm of her hand before giving the vial back. Sylvanas stoppered it and set it aside, leaning over to place it on one of the bedside tables.

“Does this go on there or -?” Jaina pointed at herself.

With a small smile, Sylvanas answered, “Yes.”

Shaking her head with a huff of laughter, Jaina reached down to smear the toy with lubricant. She measured it with one hand, wrapping her fingers around the shaft and moving up to circle its tip, pausing to brush her thumb against bumps and ridges set into the design for a touch of realism. Sylvanas knew that it would still be warm to the touch from wearing it against her skin all night, its material firm yet giving almost like real flesh.  

For a moment Sylvanas watched the movements of Jaina’s slick fingers, her mouth going dry, before she ran her hand up Jaina’s arm. “Kiss me.”

Swinging one leg over to straddle her waist first, Jaina leaned forward for a kiss. Her cheeks were already flushed in anticipation, her mouth warm as Sylvanas kissed her. A needy whimper escaped Jaina when the length of the toy pressed against her inner thigh, and she pulled back slightly to inhale a shaky breath when Sylvanas palmed her breast. Sylvanas watched fixedly as Jaina reached down and faltered only for a moment as she positioned the tip of the toy against her entrance before lowering herself upon it.

“Take it slow,” Sylvanas murmured, studying every flicker in Jaina’s expression.

Jaina’s eyes flashed with that spark of tenacity again, as if a particularly challenging mental puzzle had been left in her path and she could not help but solve it. Sylvanas placed her hands on Jaina’s waist as she sank down fully, only for her brows to knit at the new sensation in a wince.

Sylvanas tightened her hold on Jaina’s waist. “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” Jaina breathed. She adjusted herself before sinking down once more with a sigh. “That’s better.”

Sylvanas remained propped against the headboard. She tilted her head back, searching Jaina’s face for any sign of discomfort.

“I’m not going to break,” Jaina said.

“I know,” Sylvanas murmured.

For a second Jaina seemed at a loss for what to do with her hands, and Sylvanas said, “You can put them on my shoulders.”

Jaina started to do so, but paused to wipe her sticky hand on the sheet beneath them. Then she steadied herself on Sylvanas’ shoulders, brushing back some of her pale gold hair to reveal the bruises along Sylvanas’ neck. She seemed to admire her handiwork, trailing her fingertips around the blemishes. Sylvanas shifted beneath her, just enough to drag Jaina’s attention back to herself instead.

Jaina’s eyelids fluttered, and she gripped Sylvanas’ shoulders more firmly. Experimentally, Jaina rocked forward on her knees, then lowered herself back down until she was seated on Sylvanas’ lap, spread by the girth of the toy again and again. Sylvanas forced herself to be still, to let Jaina set the pace. She had to tamp down the urge to do anything more than gently grasp Jaina’s waist and whisper a word or two of encouragement.

The first motion she made was to lean up and kiss Jaina’s bared throat, and Jaina tipped her head to the side. When Jaina rocked forward again, Sylvanas pulled at her hips, urging the movement on, so that she could feel the gasp beneath her mouth. She branded Jaina’s neck and chest with small bites before sitting back.

“Having fun?” Sylvanas asked, allowing herself a grin at the way Jaina's eyes had glazed over.

Biting her lower lip to stifle a whimper when she rolled her hips again, Jaina nodded.

“Excellent. You're beautiful like this, you know.”

Sylvanas trailed one hand up the soft skin of Jaina's stomach, between her breasts, then to her chin, stroking the pad of her thumb against Jaina's lower lip until her mouth parted in a sigh. Her own breath caught when Jaina ran her tongue against her fingers before nipping at them.

In retaliation, Sylvanas shifted her feet, flexed her calves and ground her hips up so that Jaina rocked against her with a jolt. A soft moan escaped Jaina at that, and she ducked her head to grip Sylvanas’ shoulders tighter, fingers digging into golden skin.

“Can you do that again, please?” Jaina asked, sounding winded, as if she had just run up a flight of stairs.

“Slowly,” Sylvanas reminded her. “I don't want this to be over too soon.”

Jaina's answer was to grind herself down harder into Sylvanas’ lap. She grabbed the back of Sylvanas’ neck with one hand and brought their mouths together for a desperate kiss, whining into it when Sylvanas thrust up into her again.

“Please,” Jaina mumbled against her lips, her eyes squeezed shut. “Oh, please please please -”

Reaching down between them, Sylvanas dragged her hand up one thigh until she stroked her thumb against Jaina's clit. Jaina dropped her forehead to one of Sylvanas’ shoulders. She panted when Sylvanas drew circles with her thumb timed along to their movements, bucking her hips with a whimper every time the shaft was hilted inside of her. Fingernails clawed at Sylvanas’ back, drawing a hiss from her. The bed creaked, and Jaina muffled a cry into Sylvanas’ shoulder, shuddering to a halt.

Wrapping her arms around Jaina's waist, Sylvanas held her close. She kissed the space just beneath her ear. She ignored the furnace burning in the cradle of her own hips, and instead traced senseless soothing patterns across Jaina's lower back, waiting for her to stop shaking.

It happened far more quickly than she had been expecting. Jaina recovered, but did not get off of her or pull the toy free. Rather, she leaned back, pausing to kiss Sylvanas as she did so. Then she began to comb her fingers through Sylvanas’ hair.

“Sorry about your back,” Jaina said softly.

Sylvanas sat low against the headboard, allowing her legs to sprawl a bit without dislodging Jaina from where she sat. “Trust me, I did not mind. Far from it.”

“I'd -” Jaina cleared her throat, and Sylvanas watched in fascination as a flush spread briefly across her face. “I'd like you to go harder next time.” Her eyes flashed. “I told you: I won't break.”

Eyebrows rising, Sylvanas smoothed her palms from the tops of Jaina's thighs to her knees and back again. “Next time, then.”

For a long moment, Jaina said nothing. She studied Sylvanas with another one of her myriad inscrutable expressions, as if trying to peel back Sylvanas’ skin to see all the sinews that held her together.

“Do you remember our last visit to Boralus?” Jaina asked without preamble, and as she did so she cupped Sylvanas’ breast.

She circled Sylvanas’ nipple with her thumb, then dragged her hand down Sylvanas’ stomach, lightly scratching with her blunted fingernails. Sylvanas’ stomach twitched away from the feeling. She watched, rapt, as Jaina continued to move her hand down until she traced the lines of the harness against her bare skin, roving from Sylvanas’ hip to the rough patch of pubic hair between her legs. There, the harness trapped between them was coated in a pool of wetness that had dripped from Jaina just earlier.

Sylvanas’ voice sounded hoarse to her own ears as she replied, “I do.”

Lifting the harness away just enough to stroke her fingers between it at Sylvanas’ skin, Jaina said, “I didn’t know what to do with myself after you left that night. I went to bed but couldn't stop thinking about you, no matter how hard I  tried. What did you do?”

“I -”

Sylvanas had to pause to swallow, when Jaina worked just the tips of a few fingers down to stroke against her. It could not have been a comfortable angle with her hand turned like that, but she managed to graze against the slickness between Sylvanas’ thighs. It was just enough contact -- the ghost of a touch -- that Sylvanas tensed and grit her teeth.

“I went downstairs,” Sylvanas finally answered. When Jaina stroked her fingers again, Sylvanas had to close her eyes and bite back a gasp. “I waited for hours in one of the side rooms with a dying fire until I was sure you would be asleep.”

It was not a lie. Not wholly. Sylvanas did not have the courage to tell Jaina how she had touched herself, muffling sounds behind clenched teeth, in that moment desperately wanting and desperate to be wanted, but unable to satisfy either.

The omission did not seem to pass Jaina by, for her eyes flickered across Sylvanas’ face, dissecting the information from her with that same old surgical precision. She leaned down until she was crouching over Sylvanas, until she could nudge back Sylvanas’ chin and rake her teeth across a bared throat, until Sylvanas groaned and ground up into her.

In response, Jaina gripped her hands into fists, the sheets spilling between her fingers. She turned her head to murmur in Sylvanas’ ear, “Probably for the best. I would have let you do anything to me that night.”

She nipped at Sylvanas’ ear, and Sylvanas went rigid. Jaina started to lean away, but Sylvanas grabbed her by the back of her neck to yank her back down for a kiss that was all teeth and fire. Jaina inhaled sharply in momentary shock, but returned the kiss with as much fervour as she could muster.

Sitting up, Sylvanas tore her mouth away and growled, “Tell me if it's too much.”

She waited for Jaina's nod of understanding and assent. Then, she hooked her leg around and rolled Jaina to the side in a surge of movement. Briefly she saw Jaina's eyes widen as Sylvanas slipped out from beneath her and pressed her against the sheets, face down.

She had fantasised about this and any number of obscenities she could imagine that night exactly a year ago. Crowding Jaina into a dark corner of the Keep and clamping a hand over her mouth to stifle her as guardsmen patrolled around a nearby corner. Pushing her onto one of the chairs by the fire and kneeling at her feet while the flames warmed her back and Jaina tugged at her hair. Having Jaina descend into a writhing sobbing mess beneath her, only to ask for more. Thinking that it would never happen, knowing that anything between them at that time would only be regretted and resented later.

Nudging apart Jaina's legs with her knees, Sylvanas positioned herself behind her. Jaina tensed and grabbed one of the pillows, while Sylvanas slid the shaft back inside her. There was no resistance; Jaina was drenched. There was no word for her to stop either, though Sylvanas was waiting for it with bated breath. Jaina only groaned a wordless curse as Sylvanas buried the shaft to the hilt in a single motion.

Sylvanas repeated the motion, forcing noises from Jaina with every thrust. She gripped Jaina's thighs tightly enough to bruise, and brought their hips together hard enough that she was pressed against the mattress. Bearing down over her, Sylvanas sank her teeth into the curve of Jaina's shoulder. Every cry spurred on another merciless thrust until Jaina was shivering and sweating, until Sylvanas was snarling into the crook of her neck, fangs bared.

“Stop.”

The single word was gasped into a pillow. Immediately, Sylvanas froze. Jaina had her eyes squeezed shut, and was panting into the pillow clenched in her fists. Sylvanas started to pull back, but Jaina grabbed her hand.

“I didn't say pull out, I just -” Jaina drew in a shuddering breath. “I just need a moment.”

“Sorry,” Sylvanas rasped, going as still as she was able.

She held herself crouched over Jaina, her arms trembling. Bowing her head Sylvanas gently kissed where she had bitten before, brushing her lips across bruised skin, across Jaina's shoulders and the back of her neck.

After a while of tense silence broken only by the sound of their harsh breathing, Jaina let go of Sylvanas’ hand and said, “Ok. Can you -?” She paused to swallow. “- Can you start off slow and then build up again?”

Sylvanas nodded against Jaina's back. She kissed along the ridge of Jaina's spine as she pushed herself further upright. Grasping Jaina by the waist, she brought them flush together, filling Jaina once more. She could feel Jaina go tense beneath her, could hear the hitch of breath.

Sylvanas rubbed a soothing hand at the small of Jaina's back. “Keep going?”

Jaina nodded, shifting slightly so that she was propped up on her elbows. The movement meant she pressed back, and Sylvanas readjusted her own knees for better leverage.

Starting off slow, Sylvanas steadied herself with her hands at Jaina's waist. She pulled back until the length of the shaft nearly slipped out, then rocked forward in a smooth motion that made Jaina choke on a low moan. Again, and Jaina gripped the sheets in a white-knuckled grasp. Again, and she leaned back to meet the steady thrust of Sylvanas’ hips.

The rhythm built between them. At first it was a conscious thing -- Sylvanas carefully measuring each stroke, listening and watching for cues, for little whimpers, and for the furrow in Jaina's brow when she turned her head against the pillow. With every encouraging gasp and muttered curse however, Sylvanas found the rhythm taking on a life of its own, reaching up between them and seizing hold.

Despite the cool air, Sylvanas could feel a bead of sweat trail between her shoulder blades. A ripple of muscle as Jaina’s entire back seemed to flex and a noise escaped her that Sylvanas had never heard her make. Sylvanas slowed, but before she could ask if everything was alright, Jaina gasped, “Gods, you feel good. Don’t -” She rocked back. “Don’t stop.”

Placing one hand between Jaina’s shoulders, Sylvanas pushed down, while with the other she pulled Jaina’s hips further up. She canted her own hips down and drove every stroke at an angle, hard enough that the mattress beneath them gave a dangerous creak, and the headboard lurched against the stone wall behind it. One of Sylvanas’ ears flicked when she heard Jaina muffle a keening whine into the pillow; it sent a dizzying haze winding up her own spine.

Sylvanas tightened her hold at Jaina’s waist and growled through grit teeth, “Touch yourself.”

Jaina reached down with trembling fingers, and bucked against the sensation. Sylvanas kept her pace -- short choppy thrusts -- watching, spellbound, as Jaina began to unravel beneath her. Jaina’s free hand scrambled at the headboard for purchase, and soon her movements grew erratic. Sylvanas focused on nothing but wringing every last hoarse cry from Jaina’s throat, ignoring the twinge in her knees and thighs, until Jaina ground down against her own hand with a deep-seated shudder.

Sylvanas brought her down gradually, each steady roll of their hips eliciting a gasp and trembling aftershock, until Jaina could barely keep herself upright. She pulled out, the toy dripping, and Jaina all but collapsed onto the mattress. Sylvanas leaned back on her heels, her calves and thighs aching, and unhooked the harness to toss it onto the floor for proper cleaning up later.

Jaina was breathing heavily, face buried into the pillow. Gently, Sylvanas placed a hand on Jaina’s shoulder, trying to get a better look at her. “Are you alright? Do you need anything? A towel? Water?”

Jaina shook her head and mumbled, “No, m’good.” Then after a moment, she rolled onto her side and amended, “Actually -- uh -- a towel would be nice.”

Sylvanas took a moment to stroke the backs of her fingers against Jaina’s still flushed cheeks before sliding off the bed. She stood, only to realise she had not planned this far ahead in the evening and there were, in fact, no towels. With a sigh, she made do with a clean shirt from one of their travelling trunks.

Returning to the bed, Sylvanas climbed in beside Jaina and handed it to her. Jaina took it without complaint and wiped between her legs with an embarrassed clearing of her throat. “We’re going to need to wash the sheets. I made a bit of a mess.”

Sylvanas hummed and traced a lazy pattern around Jaina’s breasts. “Do you hear me complaining?”

Jaina narrowed her eyes at Sylvanas’ smug grin, then tossed the shirt onto the ground as well. “We should do that again. Not now, obviously. But sometime.” Jaina’s face brightened, and she asked, “Can I try it on you next time?”

Smiling, Sylvanas brushed back a strand of hair that had fallen from Jaina’s braid. “If that’s what you want.”

Jaina rolled her eyes. “You’re always harping on about me telling you what I want. Sometimes, I want to know what you want, too.”

Sylvanas kissed her and murmured, “Then, yes. I would like that very much.”

“Good. That’s good,” Jaina said, still sounding a bit dazed. Then, she blinked, pulling her head back. “I still haven’t gotten you. Unless you -?”

Sylvanas shook her head. She could feel a heady flare of heat coiled tightly beneath her stomach, a desire that had been thrumming through her ever since Jaina had her pinned against the wall.

“You don't have to -” Sylvanas started to say, but Jaina cut her off with a kiss and a glare.

“Shut up. I want to,” Jaina said, and for all the force of her words, her touch was soft against Sylvanas’ cheek. “Haven’t you noticed I want you? Haven't you noticed I -”

Whatever Jaina had been about to say died in her throat. Her eyes widened, and she stared at Sylvanas as if caught with her hand in a jar of honey. She started to withdraw, her expression going stony as though she were carved from marble, intractable as the walls of her ancestral home.

Sylvanas reached out to cup Jaina's face between her hands. “Don't do that. Don't hide from me. Please -” She choked back the desperate note from her voice, and took a moment before continuing. “I don't want you just for a few hundred years. That's why I've been asking. Because it's not enough.”

“I would have thought you'd be sick of me by then,” Jaina tried to joke; for once she was the one trying to lighten the mood, when Sylvanas would have none of it.

“I could never be tired of you.”

“That’s a bold statement.”

“You must know by now,” Sylvanas murmured, running her fingers through Jaina's hair. “Aren’t I so transparent?”

Jaina stared at her, searching Sylvanas’ face. Always, Sylvanas had waited -- though perhaps not always with patience -- coaxing Jaina forward step by step, trying to read her thoughts until it drove her half mad. And now Jaina held her breath, watching Sylvanas as though she held the world in her hands, waiting to see what she would do with it.

“I've loved you for months now.” Sylvanas stroked her thumb across Jaina's cheek. “And you never even noticed?”

Jaina's eyes were wide, and when she spoke she sounded breathless. “But you -- You didn't say anything.”

“How could I? You had enough on your mind. You didn't need -” Sylvanas swallowed back all those old self doubts, and her gaze brightened in intensity. “I'm saying it now. The war is over. We won. And I love you.”

A silence followed that statement, so deafening Sylvanas could hear the rapid bruit of her own heart, like the beating of war drums rising once more in the distance.

Jaina opened her mouth, and breathed, “Oh.”

In that moment the world seemed to drop away. Sylvanas blinked. She pulled her hand back as if recoiling, trying to fight the nauseating feeling that clutched at her gut like the icy plunge of a blade digging deep. “I - I did not mean to be too forward -”

Panic flashed across Jaina's face, raw and open as a wound. She lunged forward to capture Sylvanas’ wrist in her hand, and gasp, “No! That's not -! That's not what I meant! You need to let me try again -!”

“It's fine,” Sylvanas lied, looking anywhere but at her, unable to bear the thought of it. “My feelings are my own, and shouldn't impact your -”

In an abrupt flurry of movement, Jaina sat up in bed. She pushed Sylvanas back and crouched over her with pure determination burning in her gaze. “Shut up! I'm trying to say it back, and you keep interrupting me!”

Sylvanas went very still. She could scarcely draw breath when Jaina placed hands on either side of her face and all but glared down at her.

“I love you, too,” Jaina announced, fiercely, as if pledging her service to a sovereign. “There. That's what I meant.”

Sylvanas tried to speak, but had to swallow first. “Are you sure -?”

“Shut up, and kiss me again.”

Sylvanas was only too happy to oblige.