The young elf leaned his head back against the cushions, watching the violet-skinned girl dry her hair. With those fragile wrists and tiny fingers, her small body curving forward, the delicate shapes of her spine and shoulderblades showing through the thin cloth of her undershirt, she was roughly scrubbing her head and horns without a hint of elegance or grace. She lowered the cloth and tossed her wet hair, sneezed, and smeared her nose against her arm; then she blinked as the boy began to laugh at her.
He restrained his chuckling and shook his head, a characteristic awkward smile twisting his lips, and waved apologetically at the glaring girl. "You are cute," he said, truthfully.
Astrolabe snorted even as she broke into a broad smile, most pleased. "Strange boy," she retorted, and tossed the cloth aside, picking up her clothes and pulling them on roughly before flopping down next to Seol, gently headbutting his shoulder and then staring, with him, at the covered dishes cluttering the low table.
Seol had yet to return to Silvermoon and report to the Masters; he was still too "ill." But when Astrolabe had suggested he rest for the holiday and let the family eat the baked goods the anonymous Master M.R. had mailed them, he leapt straight out of bed and charged off to the market to buy the ingredients for their Winter Veil dinner. And there they sat, the fruits of his efforts; steamed vegetables, pudding, sweets, and, in lieu of a fancy serving platter, an upturned mixing bowl to cover the roast turkey.
"Lucky," said Astrolabe, closing her eyes and rubbing her face against the soft fabric of Seol's sleeve, "husband a chef."
"No chef," Seol murmured, trying not to look too pleased. "It may be bad."
"Impossible," Astrolabe scoffed, raising her head to give him a disapproving look and wag of her finger. But then she glanced again at the crowded table, raised her eyebrows and sighed, "But may be too much."
Seol laughed nervously and regarded the heaped food as well. It was true; perhaps he had been filled with a bit too much holiday spirit or righteous determination. It would be only the usual three residents of the house – Seol, Astrolabe, and her father, Abelar – at dinner; her mother, Helaah, was off in Zangarmarsh, back to cataloguing species for the Circle after her long break. With only the three of them, perhaps they would not be able to clean that whole table.
"Do not worry," Seol finally said, looking back down at Astrolabe with one long brow playfully quirked, "I eat as three men."
"True? You are true elf?" Astrolabe giggled and prodded at Seol's stomach, prompting him to squeak and shoo her away with fluttering hands. "Must be draenei insides!"
A moment's pause; the laughter had stopped. The two looked at each other with the same cringe of sadness, and then they turned their eyes away at the same time.
"Father is home soon," Seol finally said.
"Not too soon," said Astrolabe, "for two gifts of you." When Seol gave her a puzzled look she scooted even closer to him, pressing her body against his side, and wrapped her fingers around his arm – as close an embrace as he could tolerate, she had learned. "I ask," she said, gazing up at him with a broad smile – and, too, something slightly fearful in her eyes.
He tilted his head, his expression questioning.
"One is," she began slowly, turning her face away as worry began to fill it. "One: you… after Silvermoon, go to Isle?"
He, too, turned his head away, tucking his chin down to hide the look of slight shame. "Yes," he said; in this tiny house it was impossible for Astrolabe not to notice that he had taken out his armor to clean and inspect, especially since she had appointed herself its steward as a smith-in-training.
Astrolabe peered through the open doorway to their bedroom and the gold and black tabard folded on top of the mattress, then turned her gaze up to Seol's face again, studying the shadows under his eyes, the angle of his long eyebrows. He looked back at her to find her fingertips reaching up towards his mouth, hesitating, stopping short.
"One is, to go we two," she said softly.
He looked at her with worry – sadness – fear – a faint smile, a resigned smile. She had trained, practiced, refined her skills beyond that of the reckless Adept Plumfall who had stepped through the Dark Portal many months ago; perhaps her skill with the Light was even greater than his, now. He could not say no.
And so he whispered, "Yes. Together. To the Isle."
She smiled too, with more relief but no less sadness, and again stretched out her fingers towards him. "Then, gift two."
Seol nodded, then jumped – because her fingertips were cool, touching the corners of his mouth and the sides of his cheeks, tracing along the edges of his ears, cool against his hot face.
"Two is, to feel pleasure," she said, and leaned up to rest her forehead gently against his.
At that time, the lock of the front door clicked, and Seol's eyelids fluttered open, both children twisting around to look, in amazement, at the Broken woman standing there, little dragonhawk on one arm and a wreath of evergreen Terokkar boughs on the other.—
Helaah blew on the steaming cup of cider, idly watching Astrolabe lighting candles at the table. The room smelled good; Seol was at the hearth stirring a small pan of gravy, and the aroma mixed in a savory way with that of the warm spiced cider.
Draenor no longer felt the passing seasons, and Terokkar was as temperate as always, but with that rich scent, the wreath up on the door, and the orange glow of the candles, she could imagine the houses in northern Azeroth, a soft snowfall outside and crackling fireplaces within, families huddling together under blankets and laughing softly, sharing warm drinks.
She smiled, something she did rarely outside, for it stretched her misshapen Broken mouth and showed her rows of sharp teeth. Her son-in-law happened glanced over at that moment, and he smiled as well, happily, bashfully. Such a peculiar boy he was; it almost made her laugh.
"Dad's still not here," Astrolabe muttered in Draenei, waving out the match and slumping down on her cushion, plonking her elbows noisily onto the table. "Food'll be all cold at this rate."
"Just now remembered the holiday, no doubt," Helaah chuckled in reply, taking a short sip of her drink. "Should I go look for him at the market?"
Seol came to the table, shaking his head as he knelt to set the gravy down. "One of us should go," he answered, in Common, "so you can surprise him."
"Or we can start now and keep all of the cooking of Seol for ourselves," Helaah suggested with a wry grin, peeking under one of the dish covers.
The elven boy blushed and laughed. "But it is too much for three people," he said, scratching his head, "perhaps even too much for four."
"You eat, you made. And you are thin," Astrolabe scolded him, making a quick jab at his ribs as he sat down next to her. He laughed awkwardly once again, then drew his limbs in neatly, folding his pale hands in his lap. He lowered his eyes, his smile growing gentle and distant. The two draenei women looked at him. Then the gaze of the once-priestess wandered up to the ceiling as she sipped her drink again, while her daughter slowly tilted her head, still watching her husband with large and curious eyes.
Health and prosperity for many joyous centuries. A daughter walking proudly across the Aldor Rise with her manuscripts in her arms, dressed in flowing purple vestments – and maybe a son doing the same. And a certain insufferable husband sitting on a bench upon that Rise, watching the two of them and laughing. Laughing with her. That is what one of them wished for.
The gentle chime of the naaru outside and the dark pulse of Auchindoun to the south. The raised, angry voices of paladins in a distant Cathedral and the sighs of the refugees huddled in tents and run-down buildings just outside. The vague and elusive pleasure of a gentle, green-eyed man, a soft and gentle, very foolish young man. How to describe those things. How to understand those things. Words, wisdom. Wisdom and words. That is what another of them wished for.
And so many houses all over the worlds, houses where families gathered around Winter Veil roasts. Garrisons, castles, surrounded by walls and spikes, where soldiers huddled fearfully, dreaming of families gathered around Winter Veil roasts. Thin and broken bodies lying upon some battlefield somewhere, dreaming of one bite of warm food. The deep sadness welling up from them, their bittersweet memories, their fears and hopes – the sound of their drawn-in breath, the sound of their making a wish. That sound rolling out, covering everything, embracing everything like a warm, soft snow – that is what the last of them wished for, with a faint smile.
And then there was a knock on the door, and three heads turned, all three with confused expressions. The Broken woman, closest to the door, set down her cup and rose to answer it, wondering if perhaps her husband had lost his key in the market today.
At the door, a brown-haired elven youth, his green eyes bemused and fixed on the little dragonhawk perched on Helaah's shoulder and his hand resting on the shoulder of a small, yellow-haired girl, her head turned away disdainfully… or, perhaps, embarrassedly, as her arms were full of brightly-wrapped packages.
"Sinu a'manore," she said. "My brother is?"
Astrolabe 31 ← SS3