I’ve got to find a way to better format letters… Some of the punctuation is also messed up here as I wrote half of this in WordPress, and half in Google Docs. Who knew that Google Docs doesn’t use standard hyphens and quotation marks?Author’s Note
I’d like to visit you, and know you are no longer in Newhome. Where might I find you these days?
At the Crossroads, in the Barrens…
The Tauren windmill rattled dutifully around its course. A Tauren stood nearby, quietly shifting corn and other grains into it to be ground into meal. Mirium watched him for a moment, then turned to the tent pitched just outside the Crossroads, its dark Forsaken heraldry shaded by a savanna tree. The rest of the Barrens outpost lay quiet, as if just as anxious about the tent as Mirium was.
Medi was still asleep in the inn. They had come in late, and Mirium had swiftly put her to bed, cutting off excited protests that her daughter wanted to see her step-father right away with one word: “Tomorrow.”
It was tomorrow now, just after dawn. Medi was still asleep, and Mirium hadn’t roused her. Somehow, this first meeting, she wanted to go alone.
She walked up to the tent. There was Keelath, stirring a fire to do some metalwork—breakfast not typically being a need for the undead. He deflated a pair of bellows, fanning up the fire further, and when he put them down, he saw her through the flames.
“Hello,” offered Mirium, bobbing slightly in place with anxiety.
Keelath smiled, and there was a warmth in it meant only for her.
It was enough. The worry of the past few days—most especially her last disastrous meeting with Tyrdan—crashed over her, and then she was running up to him to throw her arms about his neck. He stood still for a moment as if in shock, then Mirium felt his icy arms close around her and pull her close.
“Are you alright? Or were these enthusiastic greetings a norm for us?” he asked.
“Both. I mean neither. I mean yes to the second and n-no to the first.” She hugged him tighter.
He played with her hair, then bodily lifted her up and placed her down on a large stone rolled up from somewhere to use as a seat. He sat beside her, not letting go, seeming to sense she needed his closeness. “Tell me.”
She thought back. She hadn’t cried like that in centuries. When Tyrdan had lit himself on fire with the Light, burning with the intensity of his fury at her, she had a scrambled-up moment where she thought he couldn’t possibly be threatening her, couldn’t possibly be asking her to leave—Tyrdan would never hurt her like that. But then he had started to shout, and though his words might have been meant differently, what she heard was the blame, and she heard the threat to a beloved child—all because of her, again, just like when Evelos left for the Alliance, shortly after Keelath’s funeral…
Keelath seemed to sense her scrambling thoughts and stroked her hair soothingly. “It’s okay, Mirium. Be easy.”
Her desolation was ameliorated by the reminder that her once-dead husband was now here, and holding her, even if the death knight also bore scars for his experiences. That thought gave her enough control to straighten up and dry her eyes with a rag Keelath offered her from the forge. It had soot on it, and the ash burned her eyes enough she stopped thinking about her misery altogether for a moment, rubbing her smarting eyes.
Keelath was still waiting patiently for an answer when she could see clearly again. She didn’t say anything immediately, curling his long ponytail of white-gold hair about her fingers.
“I resigned from stablemaster at Dawnmist,” she said eventually.
“What? Why?” Keelath sat back to stare at her. “I thought you loved it there.”
“Please, Keelath, don’t ask me to go into details. I—something happened, and Lellith got very upset with me.”
“Yes, Tyrdan told me about that. She almost lost Tyreli, didn’t she?”
“Yes. And I—something else happened. There were imps everywhere and I—I thought they were Lellith’s, so I didn’t do anything about them. I was just trying to respect her after what Tyrdan–b-but they weren’t hers. Tyrdan came rushing home to stop them even though—he’s in trouble with his superiors because of it, and I—” Her words came tumbling out over and around each other, but Keelath seemed to understand. “Oh, Keelath, I—he-he was going to take Lellith to Newhome–and I told him that-that was a bad idea, but he just got angry at me, saying something that it was my fault Lellith got so upset with me and couldn’t be at the manor in the first place—“
“What? Not be at the manor but at Newhome—that’s foolish!” Keelath rubbed his face. “It’s a war front. She could die there, not just lose his heir. I don’t care how powerful of a warlock she is–“
“–I know, I know, and I—I left—told him I would leave—for her—so she wouldn’t have to go–but he just started yelling at me. Keelath, I was so afraid…he was shining like the sun with the Light; he was that angry. I thought—I thought—“
“Did he hurt you?” Keelath asked abruptly, brusquely.
“I—n-no. There was a moment when I thought—but no.” Mirium curled up, her chin on her knees. “I was just so scared and ashamed. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry to me about it! By Shadow, that woman! And Tyrdan wrapped around her little finger–“
“Keelath, it was me who—“
“No!” said Keelath sharply, then softened, looking at her. “No. Lellith is infused with the fel. Chaos is in her nature. Unfortunately Tyrdan seems to think he can fix her, with his love.” He sneered at the thought. “Instead he just sinks into madness with her–“
Mirium stared at him, a wince in her eyes.
Keelath caught the look. He let the remark go, placing a hand on her shoulder instead. He squeezed it several times until he was calm. “So. You are not hurt, but you are out of a job?”
“Yes,” murmured Mirium. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not angry at you. Light, if I thought it did any good, I would ride home now and give that brother of mine a severe talking to about sense. And Lellith too, if she didn’t start crying all over me again.” He rubbed his face a second time.
“It wouldn’t help,” Keelath went on. “He’s besotted, or quite possibly bewitched, but he brought this on himself. I can’t believe he lost his temper on you for what his wife has done. Imps…? To the point he had to desert to come home to fix things? Really?”
“It wasn’t her, it was an issue with the wards, and I upset her—“
“She upset herself!” Keelath snapped, temper flaring again. “Wards or no wards, she let herself slide so far into despair she put her own infant in danger. That is the act of a child, not a baroness! She’ll have to learn she can’t go rollicking around believing her magic won’t have an effect on the rest of us and expect us to not take matters into our own hands from time to time if she is to be so thoughtless. And for Tyrdan to just believe her over you–“
“She is his wife…”
“And you have been part of the family for centuries. If he doesn’t trust you after all that time, then what?”
Mirium flinched, but she didn’t say anything. Deep down what Keelath said resonated, but on the surface…the guilt still gnawed, along with a growing sense of confusion, that she had often felt when she and her abusive ex, Talthan, fought with one another. Was it really not so much her fault, as Keelath seemed to believe?
Suddenly her perspective shifted, and the realization made her feel ill. She glanced at Keelath, but he was still frowning into the distance.
“Keelath, I—do you respect your brother?” Mirium asked.
Keelath looked at her. “I try to. He makes it difficult sometimes. Like with this.” He scowled.
Mirium touched him, where his pauldron joined to the mail hauberk under his breastplate. She looked down. “He said something about not being respected. That no one ever crossed you, but that he—“ She rubbed her eyes as they began to prickle again with the thought. “That I didn’t respect him. That it was my failing, like I was-I was a spoiled—“
“How can you?” Keelath cut in. “Mirium, a real leader does not use fear or force to gain respect, and it is not being spoiled to rebel against that.”
Mirium looked at the ground, silent. Keelath had awakened a little pulse of clean anger inside of her, but whirling thoughts still shrouded her truth from her.
Like when she argued with Talthan. She swallowed hard. “I don’t know, Keel. It was so easy to believe I was to blame for Talthan’s cruelty. And I know I was partly to blame for what happened to Evelos—by pushing him away so hard. Some days, I don’t really trust my own judgement about these things…who was really in the wrong.”
“Then trust mine,” said Keelath gruffly.
Mirium looked at him. “Tyrdan and Lellith both believe you are a-a monster, Keelath.” Her shoulders dropped with the weight of the admittance, and Keelath looked shaken. “And if I am honest, with what the Warchief has done and you still supporting her, I—I just—“
Keelath’s face hardened.
“Well, it is hard.” She reached out to him again, caressing his breastplate. “I love you, Keelath. Always. No matter what you suffer. You understand that, don’t you?”
Keelath took her hand and held it in his, as he struggled through his own thoughts. “Then trust that I trust you, and that I know you are no fool. After all, you were not wrong that Talthan was cruel, and you could not possibly be to blame for his greed. So do not think you have no judgement in these matters because of him. It is okay to be afraid and feel put off balance by such a heavy accusation—“
“But—Tyrdan is not cruel, not like Talthan!”
“Maybe not as a manner of being,” said Keelath wearily, and pain came into his eyes. “But he loses himself in trying to right Lellith, in trying to control her chaos. She cannot be controlled—and I fear he will not have the strength to see his part in what has enfolded in attempting to do so–trying to regulate others’ opinions of his choices when he should instead be regulating the choices themselves if he’s so concerned.”
Keelath went still. “I spoke rashly,” he finally admitted in a quiet tone. “I do not care much for her choices either, but if what you say of the wards is true…”
Mirium took a breath. “She wasn’t even there when it happened, Keelath. Something went wrong with her magic, maybe–a loophole in her demon’s contract, or I don’t know–I don’t think it was meant.”
“A consequence of the powers she plays with,” Keelath said coldly. “Not intentional, perhaps, but still foolish.”
“I guess. I-I told Tyrdan we could handle it when he told me the imps weren’t hers and to get rid of them, but he just rushed home despite it and got angry at me–“
“Instead of at Lellith or himself for their own flighty actions?” Keelath asked bitingly.
“I upset her,” Mirium said softly. “If I hadn’t…”
“And he did not trust you to take it up with her, or her with you, if it was that much of an issue? He thought Newhome would be safe for her, when she runs from confronting you? Now I don’t know your powers, but I’m pretty sure your fury is still safer than the army of a psychopathic naga queen!”
Mirium remained silent.
“It is just all so needless.” Keelath sighed. “I’m sorry, Mirium, that you had to suffer through that. I really am. I don’t think it your fault.”
“I think, maybe, I acted rashly, too,” Mirium said quietly, “in startling her when she was already so upset about her other daughter.”
“It was still her choice to react as she did,” Keelath replied firmly. “And that was not admirable, whatever else it was motivated by.”
Mirium said nothing, and she and he both looked at the ground.
“Do you love him? Tyrdan?” Mirium asked after a long, unhappy moment.
“What would you do to help him, if you could?”
“If I could, it would be because he let me,” said Keelath softly. “And then I could only help him help himself. Support him, and be loyal, so he knows he is not alone.”
Mirium glanced at Keelath’s tabard, flung over one of the tree branches to dry from a washing. It bore the white mask of Sylvanas. A sudden thought occurred to her. “Is that why you are still loyal to the Warchief, Keelath? I know you can’t possibly not notice all the wrong she has done—“
Keelath squinted, but he wasn’t looking at her. He had gone very still. “Yesss,” he hissed, sounding more ghoulish then, than he ever had before. “She is my liege lady, and I follow her to the end, Mirium.” His voice echoed.
She kept pressing. “Even if that end is a terrible one, Keelath—for the rest of us? Even if she is corrupted…by the Old Gods?”
Keelath looked at her, and she knew his answer before he spoke. “Yes. Because it is in darkness that we need the Light of others the most. Others who knew us, who believed in us…who still have faith in us now.”
Mirium looked at him, expression pensive, then down at his hand. She touched it, touched the ring she had left there. “Like I am there for you.”
Keelath looked at her, slowly deflating, and Mirium smiled at him. “You’re not so different from your brother, you know,” she told him. “You’ve both made the same crazy choice for the people you care about.”
Keelath stared at her, then he sighed. “For all the good it will do either of us.”
“You see that, don’t you? If Tyrdan cannot change Lellith…I don’t know if you can help Sylvanas, Keelath. Not and still keep her from hurting many along the way. And I-I have my oaths to defend my people, from her if I must.”
“Mirium…” Keelath grimaced. “That is what I appreciate most about you. I would not ask you to go against your heart. Just do not ask me to go against mine.”
“So long as you know that you, too, might have your own part to seek redemption for, when this is all over.” Mirium kissed him on the nose, then stroked his cheek. She searched in his eyes for an answer, but he remained silent. “Keep dreaming, paladin of mine,” Mirium finally whispered. “Keep saving people, or trying. And try to forgive them when they don’t come clean as swift as you would like. Just don’t go so deep in their suffering you lose yourself in the process.”
His arms came up around her, and she pressed against his armor, ignoring an errant shiver from his cold.
“Don’t go saving my brother,” Keelath answered. “Because I am your prize, not him.” He raised an eyebrow at her when she twisted around to look at his face. Then she grinned, and he reflected it.
“I don’t want to save him,” Mirium said, after depositing a kiss on his grinning lips. “Or yourself. On the whole, you’re both quite capable of knocking any heads that cross you.”
“Heads, yes, but the nagging tongues of wives?” Keelath snorted. “What do you want to do, then? You seem to have made up your mind Tyrdan and Lellith aren’t to blame for this, whatever my take on the matter.”
Mirium laid her head on his shoulder, taking a moment to just bask in his presence, as she ordered her thoughts. “It is my take in the end, Keelath,” she said gently. “I can’t allow him to bend me over so in the future–you are right about that–but at the same time, I would hate to end it all on a note like this.”
Keelath regarded her grimly. “How long do we keep trying to fit a round peg in a square hole? How many indignities do you suffer from ones who should respect you before you stop seeking their regard?”
“I don’t have an answer to that. Nor do you, I think, given your choices so far.”
Nor was there an answer to Mirium. “I don’t like seeing you get hurt for their thoughtlessness,” Keelath finally admitted.
“I don’t think they realize their part in that, if I’m honest.” Mirium regarded him under her lashes. “After all, they choose to see you as inflexible and hidebound instead of sacrificing your happiness to give them peace.”
Keelath flinched. “What–”
“I know you,” Mirium explained quickly. “Even when you don’t know yourself. We spent centuries together, Keelath. I know what you are capable of, what you could’ve done. Let Tyrdan say it’s because of me that you left.” Keelath bridled, but Mirium grabbed his forearm and squeezed it hard. “I know it was also your honor to his wife and his authority that you chose to relent and forgive. Because you know there is a time and place to make a stand and to let something go gracefully by–well, in most matters not to do with Sylvanas.” She wrinkled his nose at him.
The death knight closed his eyes. “I only hoped he would trust you more than me.”
“Well, that was assuming he was worthy of my trust, now, wasn’t it?”
Keelath eyed her, puzzled. “What are you trying to say?”
“I don’t know,” Mirium groaned. “That we’re all to blame, a little, and that we all have to do something to fix this, I guess.”
“It would stand to reason,” Keelath said carefully.
“I owe him one more chance, Keelath. If he is true, and not just a blustering fool, he will be able to accept that much responsibility.”
“And if he is not…”
“I go my own way.” Mirium took a shuddering breath, but in her core, she felt a radiating calm materializing. She had landed on the right answer. She gave Keelath an apologetic look. “If I cannot wait for him to get over his ego about Lellith, I cannot wait for you to get over your own about Sylvanas, can I?”
“At least it can be said you are not repeating mistakes,” muttered Keelath.
“I love you, from afar or up close as we can manage.” She kissed his cheek. “And I’m here for you, when you are ready to accept the help I can offer…like I know you are there for your brother.”
Keelath looked at her, long and thoughtfully. “Perhaps I will need to prove it to him, if he still insists I am a monster.” Mirium felt the remark aimed at more than just Tyrdan.
“Perhaps,” answered Mirium. “You know you wouldn’t like what you might see there.”
“No,” agreed Keelath. “That is why I am here now.” Then he changed the subject, or so Mirium felt… “Don’t flatter yourself you have all covered your tracks that well with your treason at the manor, Miri.”
Mirium blinked rapidly for a moment, shaken by the strength of his admission. “You know about the Tauren…?”
“Nothing specific,” Keelath said quickly. “And it should remain that way, in case I am ever forced to speak the truth. Understand?”
“Yes,” Mirium said meekly. “I guess I should–I’m sorry…for not having faith in you to look the other way before.”
“Don’t,” growled Keelath. “I am no monster, but neither am I innocent.”
Mirium looked at him, and wondered, not for the last time, what he was not saying. What had he been forced to do for Sylvanas? What had he been forced to do for the Lich King, before her? Or had he done it all of his own free will, and that was why he was now too ashamed to speak? Yet as she looked at him, she couldn’t help but trust he wouldn’t betray her–or the Tauren the manor harbored–unless he had to.
He was still regarding her in silence, his expression leery.
“I won’t know what happened until you tell me,” she told him gently. “Nor I do expect innocence—just the bravery to accept what you might have done wrong, and the strength to try to amend it.”
“I believe Sylvanas can still be saved, and that there is a greater purpose to her actions,” said Keelath.
“I hope so too, for your sake. Even with that taken into account, there are still things she has done that are terrible.”
“That is true for all Forsaken.”
“And it is true you can all still be redeemed, if you want it hard enough.” She tweaked his nose. “Only you can make that choice, dalah’surfal, and only for you.”
He hugged her tight, then, and she let him, realizing it was him who needed the reassurance this time. His gaze was in the distance again, his mouth crooked in such a way as he seemed to be debating how to shape his next words.
“Mirium…there’s something I thought…about this latest mission…”
There was a sudden thunder of hooves, as Keelath’s Deathguard comrade, Garinus, rode into the camp, a trail of dust left in his bonesteed’s wake. He eyed the pair of them curiously as he went about dismounting, and Mirium felt just as much as saw Keelath abruptly withdraw into himself.
“Never mind,” Keelath said, rising as suddenly as the other Forsaken had appeared. “Your daughter is here, yes? I would speak with her.”
“Yes,” murmured Mirium, and she watched him quickly turn and go without a look back.
It was one of those sanguine moments, a turning point that could have been. She sighed and turned to Garinus, replacing her troubled expression with a polite smile. She said the words of greeting, even as her thoughts followed Keelath into the Crossroads.
One trouble solved only to be replaced with another. What now? she wondered. What now?