A Hidden Weight

Well, readers, it’s been a while. When did we last speak, you and I? Long enough back I think that life has carried us both into unexpected circumstances. In my case, about four months ago I became a Dadthunders for the second time, and I’m writing this in the afternoon sun with one hand rocking Sonthunder’s nappin’ crib, an old wooden washbasin rubbed golden and smooth by time. Hopin’ his nap lasts a little longer. One eye is on Daughterthunder runnin’ in circles in the grass a few yards yonder, wonderin’ when she’ll find a new way of injurin’ herself that no one imagined was possible.

Just a few minutes, then, to set this down, for it’s probably long past time. This ain’t a last testament; hell, I don’t even think my wanderin’ days are all done. But they’ve been in remission for some time now and I suspect they will be for some time yet. It’s a story of how I decided to become a traveller an’ tourist of sorts, of the type as you have seen in previous letters.

It’s not, I should confess to you up front, all that impressive a story. In the bare facts, it doesn’t take very long to tell, though I find as the years go on that its events seem to grow somehow. Not in the way that tall tales grow in the tellin’, but in the way dark moments grow in the thinkin’.

There’s no real moral to it. No twist ending. Not much in the way of bravery or derrin’ do, though it has its share of danger.

It has to do with a curious little rock I have in my possession, piece of obsidian. Doesn’t look remarkable, though you’d be hard pressed to find its like around these parts (that bein’ Mulgore, no big surprise there). Handy, though. Always stays pretty cold. It’s in the bottom of my beer at the moment, and in the middle of a hot summer’s day that beverage is almost painfully refreshin’.

It’s what you might call a second-hand war trophy.

I don’t talk about it much, but ol’ Tenthunders is a veteran of Icecrown. I spent a very uncomfortable six months trying to climb that damn thing, part of a brace of lads and dames in the Third Horn. Most of the details I don’t need to tell you. Many of you were there; most of the others will have known someone who was there. It was cold; the dead walked. Fill in the rest yourself.

I remember pretty clearly the closest I ever saw the Icecrown Citadel. It wasn’t from very close, though I suppose it wasn’t from very far away, either. Perhaps three leagues, though over cracked ice and razor-sharp rock that’d make marching it feel like twelve. Half obscured through a curtain of blowing snow, mostly a shadow, just a big black jagged spire against the aurora. The first blossoms of good old red fire takin’ chunks out of its unholy side as the final assault began.

By then, though, I was done. So I’ve carried this rock around for a long while, but I don’t like showing it to people. Not because there’s any evil left in it, because there ain’t; it’s as beat and tired-out as I was. It’s just that I don’t like people assumin’ I chipped it off myself. Lots of us did, I’m sure you know, both of the Horde and the Alliance. Little momentos; little bit of architectural vengeance, eh?

Have some powerfully mixed feelings about that. I was supposed to be there, in the environs anyway. The twelve of us, however many would have made it through the three-day siege. So there’s a certain sting to it, I guess, but most of the sting comes from the fact that I ain’t that sorry at all. Gettin’ stuck in that cave was like bein’ let out of class early, much as it shames me to say.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Already you can see how talkin’ about this simple, short story makes my mind wander off into spirals. It’s amazing how much can fit into so li

Shit, okay, sorry, I’m back. Sonthunders woke up and we had to walk around for a little bit. Sometimes interruptions can be good for the concentration.

The cave. I ended up there because of a very bad spill. A good ol’ thousand-foot surprise courtesy of the frozen legions and their artillery. Man, it was only even meant to be preparation for the siege; we got skunked in rehearsal. Seventh Spear, Third Horn, go up and land near the east bulwark, make camp behind the ridge, and spot for the big siege ships coming up from the north. Signal them in and then join up top.

Pick the one spirits-damned hour of the night when the wind drops, the snow stops blowing, and you stick out like a whale in the sky in front of those beautiful northern lights. Get yer ships peppered with icicles the size of castle roofbeams. Crash in the middle of the glacier just in time for the storm to start again.

Hard to say even now if anyone else landed okay. My hoof was pretty smashed up and my head was ringin’, but I’d been braced between sacks of oats and rolled a good ways in a kind of barrel of hull spars that came apart gentle. Stood up and everything around me was just white. Between the wind, the echoes, and the things walking out there in the storm, you could yell yourself hoarse shouting people’s names and never be sure if you were leavin’ someone behind.

I know one other person was still breathin’ after we came down, but they were hurt real bad. When they saw that I was gonna try to drag them with me across the glacier on my bum leg, they made a decision to make sure that option was not available to me. There’s no need to say any more.

So I just had myself to drag. Those of my comrades I could find who lay still, I set alight to keep them from bein’ drafted by the Scourge, but that made the wreck pretty obvious, and in the end I only found three of ’em anyway before I had to get hoppin’. I had some wood and leather to use as a crutch, and after a while the cold got into the hoof and it didn’t burn so bad anymore; I knew that was bad news of course, but you know, it felt like a bit of a consolation prize.

The first few steps were the worst, but after a while you get into a kind of rhythm. The moment and the task at hand command so much of your attention that you don’t even really think about the horror of it. When I see daughter’s total attention to a game, her utter absorbtion, it sorta rings a bell like that – like it felt like a bit of a game. I think I was even singing to myself after a while; not happy singing, but tryin’ to keep a beat so I’d keep my good hoof landin’ steady, over and over again. Not thinkin’ about much other than that. Not even thinkin’ about what might be comin’ up behind me, because what was the point? Either they’d catch hold of me or they wouldn’t.

As you can probably figure out, they didn’t. Maybe there was just easier catchin’s behind me. Maybe they can’t really see or smell that well in the storm they called their home, the dumb fuckers. Good enough.

So I got to the edge, and then it got a little harder. Up until then the fear an’ pain and drive had me hardly feelin’ the cold, and I was makin’ good time, but when I got to the black sides of the glacier I had to get down on all fours – well, threes, three-and-a-halfs? – and crawl up to find shelter. Grandmother spirits that was a bitch. Even after I saw the cave, and convinced myself it was a cave and not just a trick of the shadows, it took me so long to get there I nearly froze.

That would have been it, I think, tumbling into the cave and freezin’ to death right there inside, if I hadn’t had the damn fool luck that’s followed me in my damn fool journeys ever since to pick a cave that already had someone inside it. Someone alive and in much the same unfortunate position I was, though someone crazy enough to have put herself there more or less by choice.

“Kay” was the closest I got to understanding what her name was; we didn’t really share a language. I didn’t speak much human back then except for dirty words and insults, and Kay was a dwarf who spoke the human tongue with some kind of frankly ridiculous accent.

Other than being sworn enemies blah blah, Kay looked almost as scary as the things out there on the ice. She was clearly some kind of scout or commando or nonsense, dressed in leathers draped in a lined burlap cloak, hooded, painted to blend in with the ice. Like me, though, she was hemmed in, her options dwindling down to a very few in a very tough corner. Strong little munchkin, though; managed to grab me by the shoulders where I fell down, face-first, and drag me deeper in to where she could keep a little fire going without much of the glow showing up from outside.

The thought of doing anything other than get along never crossed either of our minds, I don’t think. This wasn’t some grand moral awakening. This isn’t a romantic tale, or a call for peace in our time. If you don’t see how stupid the big war is by now, this ain’t the time to argue with you. The cold fact is, another living being on the Icecrown glacier might sometimes be a friend, but they’re always a tool. Finding them isn’t any different from finding a burning tree branch or a crate of food. You see someone with a beating heart, and your chances of living a little longer just went up. Even if they’re a bull with a cracked hoof.

But since we couldn’t talk, and I could barely move, there was a lot of awkward staring. We had food, and we could melt snow, but the body just churns through its energy to stay warm up there and we knew our time was limited. My memory of the three days or so gets a bit fuzzy, but I think we had a plan, worked out with signs, that we’d hole up and get me as strong as we could before the food ran out, and then try to strike a path east over the ridge to the Horde lines, the Alliance being too far north, and me bein’ able to vouch for her bein’ likely to ensure she’d be taken prisoner alive and traded home soon. She’d risk going out sometimes, trying to picture the path we’d take up that near vertical, but movin’ too much meant eatin’ more.

Fire ran out of fuel on the second day. At first Kay could scavenge some of the near-by wreckage from the ships, but then a big battalion of Scourge moved through and stayed put, and it was too dicey. We stayed side by side and I used one of my totems to warm the place a little, and took bites of our shrinking pile of food — on a schedule we marked with scratches in the wall.

Here’s where the tale seems to grow inside itself when I think back on it. Probably the longest part of the story is the twelve hours without a real fire, when we didn’t even try to talk at all. Just mostly alone with our thoughts. My thoughts tended to be about my friends, what was left of them, out there in the storm, looking for me with their dead eyes. And that was just about going to drive me insane, so to stop thinking about it I thought instead about all the places I’d never been to. Some I’d heard stories about in the bar; some I’d read books about. A few I’d seen from afar off the side of a boat. Warm places. Jungles and beaches. Deep green forests so thick the sun never came through to the ground. Cities of ancient pearl-coloured stone. Another world, broken into pieces and floating in starlight.

Everywhere. It all seemed so insubstantial, like the cave was basically all that existed. The world already over. The sun gone down behind the ice forever. Like everything still existed only inside my mind, in a dream. At the worst of it, probably when I was closest to just up and dying, I started to feel a kind of … grandiosity, I guess. What granny sometimes called ‘bighorn disease’. If it was all inside me, I had a responsibility to look after all of it, didn’t I? Remember all of it, even the parts I hadn’t actually seen. So the dream acquired a kind of circular logic of its own, trying to think of more and more details.

I came to sometime in the early hours of what I think was morning, judging by the little light coming in from outside. Kay was gone, but I could hear movement and voices from somewhere. Then the dwarf returned, moving low and quiet, and said in a cracked but clear voice: “Orcs.” I nodded, and understood that she didn’t mean to go through with our plan after all. She was going her own way, whatever it meant. Together we shovelled everything that was left into her pack, and then I gave her my knife and earth-leaf as well, though I don’t know how she’d ever manage to smoke it in this place. I made my way outside to where I could be seen, and she headed off in the opposite direction – not north towards the Alliance, but south towards the citadel.

I waved until the advance Horde patrol saw me, as they came down the side of the rocks from the east, and then watched her disappear among the southern spires, just as the bombs began to fall on Icecrown citadel from the airships, and the sounds of the final siege wafted my way on the howling wind.

Well, that’s it, more or less. There’s more details that you can fill in yourselves, I’m sure. I made it home. I took a lot of naps in the sun, trying to unfreeze all over. A few months later, a goblin made a landing not far from my place, and said he had a package for me, smuggled through Gadgetzan market. In it was a cold piece of the citadel and a letter. The contents I’m afraid are between me and one other person.

But I will say, they helped me put my thoughts in order. It was not a week later I wrote to you for the first time, from Thunder Bluff. The cold stone has been in the bottom of my pack since then, a silent partner in my odd adventures. I hope I have made it invisible to you.

It’s time to go pick all the twigs out of my daughter’s fur and meet Ladythunders at the dancing circle. I hope you’re doing well, and that you are bearing your burdens.

Peace of the wind be with you, friend. Peace of the earth be with you. Peace of the fire be with you, and peace of the water be with you all of your days. May they be long.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, September 3rd, 2017 at 10:06 am and is filed under Travels. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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