The forest clearing glowed blue as the teleportation spell summoned a gold-plated telescope into the circle of runes drawn in the air by the young mage. The telescope materialised on its three thin legs, but they were unbalanced on the wild grass and the whole thing immediately fell with a thud.
Stupid! Please don't be damaged, please don't be damaged...
Khadgar knelt to inspect the instrument, lifting it and squinting in the moonlight as he checked every inch of its beautiful design for scuffs or dents. It seemed unharmed in any way, and the mage knelt admiring it for a while, as the gold was detailed with tiny etchings of constellations and shooting stars.
'What're you doing, bookworm?' a voice made Khadgar jump in surprise, causing him to drop the telescope to the ground again.
'No! Nothing! I mean, good evening, Commander. You surprised me,' he stood and nodded respectfully to Anduin Lothar, picking up the telescope and rubbing it with his tunic sleeve. He felt the usual butterflies in his stomach that showed up whenever he spoke with the commander. 'I was watching the stars,' he tried to read Lothar's expression. 'Outside of camp. Sorry.'
Is he mad? One of his troops would be probably reprimanded for breaking camp rules.
Do I count as part of the troops?
These butterflies, sheesh.
Lothar laughed softly. 'I guess I should've included bookworms in my order that all soldiers are to remain in camp tonight, huh?'
Khadgar's shoulders relaxed in relief.
He's not mad.
'I gave that order because I told Captain Shaler we'd stay put and wouldn't interfere with her lookouts tonight while we're passing though the area.' Khadgar recalled the Redridge captain's no-nonsense demeanour and the disdainful look she'd given him when the commander had introduced him as a mage.
Lothar continued. 'I know there she has some scouts stationed just over those ridges,' he nodded in the direction of some nearby rocks beyond the treeline. 'Any closer and one of them could've assumed you were an orc sneaking about.'
'Orcs can sneak?' Khadgar joked and they both chuckled. The mage was happy to share moments like these with Lothar, but there were always the little doubts in his mind.
Is it right that I get special treatment for being his friend?
Does he only like me for helping with the Fel?
Should I behave more like a soldier to keep his respect?
Argh, not now. We are friends.
Pay attention to now . This moment.
'Commander, how did you find me out here?'
'A soldier on guard duty reported seeing a blue light in the forest. Your tent was empty, so it didn't take much deducing to figure out you were sneaking off,' he winked at Khadgar. 'I thought maybe you were practising your sword training out here. I thought I could give you some help,' he patted the wooden training sword at his hip that Khadgar hadn't noticed before.
Yikes, my swordplay is so bad, he thinks I'm ashamed to be seen training?
'You're welcome? I'm not trying to be mean; I've heard some of my soldiers giving you a hard time about fighting.'
Khadgar had barely even noticed the mockery of some of the soldiers in the camp; they just didn't seem worth spending any mental power on at all.
Though I should probably take sword training more seriously.
He notices things like that.
He cares enough to help me out in the middle of the night
Khadgar looked at Lothar, and to his horror, the commander's attention was shifting to the telescope standing beside them.
Don't ask where it's from, don't ask where--
'That telescope is from the Redridge camp, isn't it?'
Khadgar momentarily considered kicking over the telescope and running into the woods, before a more rational part of his mind considered lying, followed by an even more rational thought to just talk to Lothar.
Lothar smirked, his arms folded. 'Part of being a good soldier and Commander is being attentive. I noticed it in their quartermaster's tent and obviously you were awestruck enough to steal it from our ally.'
He's smiling. Is this going to turn out okay? Explain!
'I asked first! It was part of reclaimed treasures, not the quartermaster's personal belongings. I didn't think they'd miss it for one night,' Khadgar felt his face getting hot. He knew it would be obvious in the moonlight, which made him blush even more.
Lothar was clearly enjoying himself. 'So you've been practising your teleportation for the sake of petty theft this whole time,' he shook his head in exaggerated disappointment, grinning.
He's disappointed, he's just hiding it under the humour.
His hair looks so soft in the moonlight-- NOT NOW.
Is he actually disappointed or not?
Why did I steal this thing-- they probably would've let me use it if I just asked --
Anduin stopped smirking and took a step closer to Khadgar. 'You look like you're about to freak out. Calm down, kid, I know you would've put it back in one piece.'
'I know you're joking, but...I am sorry. I'm not representing Stormwind well. I'm letting you down,' the mage sighed. He wanted to be with Lothar, but he was constantly anxious of disappointing the commander. He wanted to behave like a wise mage who had defeated the Fel, but he was always feeling these butterflies and embarrassing himself.
He can't see how mixed up my thoughts are.
Just act normal.
Things will work out.
Lothar was looking at him with mild concern. 'It's fine. You're not in trouble. You okay?'
'Yeah. Thanks,' Khadgar avoided looking at the commander by fiddling with the telescope's legs, making sure it was secure on the grass.
He's pretty great.
'I've caught my soldiers doing worse plenty of times,' Lothar looked up at the sky. 'Look, you can see the stars just fine. Send that thing back and we'll stargaze without it.'
“We'll stargaze”? Together? Stay normal.
Khadgar stood before the telescope and concentrated, visualising the exact place it was when he first saw it atop a small mountain of cases, trinkets, paintings and books. He whispered the incantation to send it back and it was gone.
Probably collapsed the whole stack of treasures in the quartermaster's tent.
He almost laughed at the thought of Captain Shaler's fury.
'Hmm? Now something's funny?' Lothar asked with a raised eyebrow.
'Khadgar, tell me you did send it back to the Redridge camp?'
He used my name.
Would the quartermaster get in trouble if the treasure did fall over?
He's using my name more often these days.
The treasure will be fine. Probably.
'Of course,' he tried to sound casual.
Lothar sighed to himself and lay on his back on the grass. Khadgar joined him, sitting cross-legged and facing the direction of the camp. The tents weren't visible through the dense forest, but Khadgar could make out thin columns of smoke from the campfires.
'Our own observations combined with Captain Shaler's confirm this is probably an orc-free area,' said Lothar. 'So I figure we can stargaze in peace if we keep quiet.'
The night was beautiful. The stars and moon shone on every leaf and branch around them, while white bell-shaped flowers were swaying around them in the grass. Above, the entire sky was speckled with countless stars.
He's a good person. He forgives his soldiers...and he's spending time with me.
'I think you'll like this constellation,' Khadgar lowered himself to lie beside Lothar and pointed up at a cluster of lights. 'That's the Great Gryphon.'
'I know that one. Medivh loved the stars, too,' Lothar said quietly.
Khadgar glanced at the commander. He looked deep in thought.
He's sad again. He's always sad.
Lothar turned his face to look at Khadgar. 'When we were kids, he'd insist on showing us the constellations he'd learned. Taria loves them too, but Llane and I would joke and make up our own stupid shapes,' he smiled at his memories. 'I should've paid more attention to him back then.'
He's lost so many people.
Khadgar didn't know what to say, so still lying on his back, he pulled a scroll from his tunic pocket and unrolled it, holding it above his head and looking up at it.
'Hey, I found this star chart. It has some constellations I've never been taught before. I think it's really old.'
'You didn't steal that too, right? Let me see,' Lothar shifted closer to look at the chart. 'That's the old language.'
Maybe scrolls and books can cheer him up too? They always help me.
'Yeah. I can make out a little. This is called something like The Royal Hunt or The King's Hunt. It's those stars there,' Khadgar traced his finger across the sky.
'You always surprise me with how much you know.'
'Thanks... My family never visited and I didn't have friends like you did, so I really look my studies seriously,' the mage tried to imagine having a life like Lothar's. Always having friends and siblings around him, people who were there and stayed friends even after they all became adults.
Now his friends are dead. His son is dead. His sister is grieving.
Poor Taria. She's so nice. Maybe I should spend more time with her, too.
The commander didn't say anything for a moment, then sat up. 'You've told me that before,' he plucked a blade of grass and shredded it. 'I think I was sarcastic about it then. Sorry.'
'It's okay,' Khadgar blinked at the stars, recalling the conversation. Garona was still their ally at the time. She had teased him and Lothar had laughed. They were all together then.
I think that's when I realised how I feel about him.
I miss her.
'Commander? Do you miss Garona?' he noticed Lothar freeze, his expression darkening.
'I shouldn't have mentioned her, sorry--'
'Khadgar, I hate her. She killed my best friend. She betrayed m-- she betrayed us all,' he was gripping the handle of the wooden training sword with a white-knuckled fist. 'I kind of hate her for corrupting you, too. You still think there's more to the story, that she couldn't have done it, don't you?'
The mage sat up and tucked the chart back into his tunic. He placed a hand on Lothar's shoulder, expecting him to shake it off, but the soldier didn't object.
'Yes. I don't think she would do that. She isn't a bad person.'
'I can respect your honesty, despite knowing I might get angry at you about this... considering how you feel about me.'
Khadgar withdrew his hand and sat back in pure surprise.
What did he say? Did he mean...?!
'What? How I feel about--'
Lothar looked Khadgar in the eyes. 'Taria pointed it out to me and I couldn't un-notice. You're kind of obvious. Hey, wait!'
Khadgar didn't realise he was doing anything until he had already teleported away, with no destination in mind.
He looked around, his heart racing and with blood whooshing in his ears. He immediately realised how stupid he had been to teleport without visualising a clear destination. He has inside the Redridge's military camp, specifically inside the quartermaster's tent, still sitting, in front of the pile of reclaimed treasure.
I'm lucky I'm not inside a tree.
He knows he knows he knows!
He doesn't feel the same way...
Khadgar brought his hands to his head, trying to make sense of his emotions. He knew that Lothar had never given any hint of feeling anything more than friendship towards him, and Khadgar had thought that caring for the commander from afar was enough.
So why does this hurt?
No alarm had been raised by his appearance in the camp, so it seemed nobody had noticed the blue glow from his teleportation. He could see the silhouettes of two soldiers guarding the entrance, but they had their backs to the tent. The young mage sat on the floor with his back against an ornate treasure chest, thinking for a long time.
He didn't actually say he doesn't.
I'm not behaving like a wise mage. This is childish.
It doesn't matter if he knows...
I can face the Fel. I can face this.
He closed his eyes and imagined the woodland clearing, whispering the teleportation incantation.
'Commander?' he called out, looking around the empty clearing. The white flowers swayed gently and clouds crossed the moon, but the scene was lost on Khadgar, who span in a frantic circle, peering at the dense forest all around.
What if he went deeper into the forest looking for me?
He could be in danger.
Stupid! The most obvious place he'd look is back at our camp.
He teleported back to his own tent in the Stormwind military camp, materialising beside his bed. He hurried outside and ran to the edge of the camp closest to the clearing, where two soldiers kept watch. One was a friendly woman older than Lothar named Seera, the other was a man a little older than Khadgar, but whose name the mage hadn't learned yet.
'Good evening,' Khadgar panted. 'Have either of you seen Commander Lothar return from the forest?' The soldiers both turned slightly so they could speak with him, while still keeping an eye on the treeline.
They've had good training.
'You mean you pop out there against orders and the Commander goes to find you, then you pop back without him?' the male soldier scowled.
I'm a bad friend.
Khadgar felt his face redden. 'We were separated. Forget it, I'm going back out to look for him,' he started for the forest, but both soldiers shifted to block his path.
'No one is to leave camp, mage,' the man made a point of touching his sword hilt.
Seera was more sympathetic. 'The Commander walked through the woods alone to find you just fine; he can take care of himself,' she smiled reassuringly.
'Look, I could just teleport past you, just let me go--'
'So use your magic!' the young soldier barked. 'But we aren't breaking our orders and just letting you walk outta here. Do you wanna be arrested?'
'Vasor, let me handle this,' Seera muttered to her fellow guard. 'Khadgar, if you go out there and go missing, we'd have to send out a search party. Commander Lothar gave us specific orders to let him go alone and to keep the camp closed.'
Why would I go missing? Why does everyone think I'm so inept?
'He could be attacked out there because of me, I--'
'Stand down, soldiers, I'm back,' Lothar strode towards the camp casually, looking relaxed and spotless, despite the hike through the woods. The guards stepped away from Khadgar back into their watch positions, saluting.
'Vasor, Seera, I overheard you upholding your orders. Good work,' the commander nodded to the soldiers as he walked into the camp. 'I apologise for any concern caused by myself or our Guardian in training.'
Despite the distracting butterflies dancing in his stomach again, Khadgar noticed how Lothar used his more formal title in front of the soldiers.
He wants them to treat me with respect.
I need to work harder to earn it.
'Ask for double bacon rations at breakfast. Good evening, soldiers,' Lothar placed a arm across Khadgar's shoulders and walked with him across the camp, to the far side where his gryphon was housed in her travelling-stable. There was a small firepit near the stable to keep the gryphon warm and Lothar sat on one of several low wooden seats beside it, gesturing for Khadgar to do the same.
'We can talk with some privacy here, most of my troops are still a little scared of her, heh,' the commander nodded lovingly at his pet and steed, who was snoring with her massive beak resting on her forepaws. 'Where did you go?'
'The Redridge camp-- but nobody saw me.' the mage insisted, seeing Lothar's expression. 'Then I went back to the clearing, but... you weren't there, so I came back here.'
'Are you okay?'
'I think so. Where did you go? I worried you might get ambushed looking for me.'
'The Redridge lookout post at the rocks. I told them a lovestruck mage might be running around the forest and not to attack him thinking he's an orc. Then I walked back here,' he shrugged.
'Thank you. Commander, I kinda freaked out because-- because I didn't know if I was ready for you to know how I feel...and you don't feel the same way.'
Though he already knew. For a while now...
Breathe. In and out. Match the gryphon's breathing. Calm.
'Kid, I think I still love Garona. I hate her, too. So I'm tryin' to figure myself out right now. I'm sorry I haven't said anything sooner,' Lothar was blushing, looking up at the sky while he spoke.
He loves Garona?
Why didn't I realise that?
Lothar shook his head and smiled at Khadgar. 'I do care a lot about you, but don't count on me being uh... receptive. I'm a jerk and I'm a mess. Maybe in time I'll figure out how I feel,' he reached out and squeezed Khadgar's hand for a moment. 'You've gotta calm down and not worry so much. I don't mind you liking me. It's pretty adorable.'
'Okay, Commander,' Khadgar smiled back. The mage felt like a heavy blanket had been lifted off of him, one he hadn't realised was even there. 'I think I'm happier now that you know.'
We're still friends.
'Hey, bookworm? When we get back to Stormwind, why don't you show me some more of those lost constellations?'
'I'd love to.'