Chapter 5: War’s Chains
At the creak of hinges from somewhere above him, Leothir lifted his head from where it rested on his knees. The sudden shaft of sunlight in the dim space around him made him wince and squint, raising a hand to shield his eyes and consequently setting the runed cuff and chain on his wrist jangling. The sharp sound echoed loudly in the root-strewn little dirt cellar, bouncing off the rough wall and the jagged, unyielding stalagmites of stone that formed the bars of his cell.
When shuffling and footsteps reached his long, pale ears, he scrambled to his feet. It was the first sign of life since he’d awoken in this strange prison, and he wasn’t about to let anyone leave without being addressed. The mage watched warily as resounding steps approached from the packed-dirt stairs outside the bars, but when he opened his mouth, it wasn’t to speak. It was to gasp.
An orcish man he didn’t recognize carried another blood elf flopped over his shoulder, the unconscious figure’s cropped, ruddy hair distinctive and alarmingly familiar.
“Relare!” he exclaimed.
“Shut it, pansy.” The orc unlocked the door with a large key. Striding in, he dumped the paladin on the opposite side of the room with a loud grunt.
Leo wasn’t about to let the orc’s demeanor put him off. “He’s the Lord of House Duskfall. Someone’s going to be looking for him. If you let us go now, I’ll-“
The orc snarled, “You’ll what? Betray us all? Not happenin’, elf. We’re onto you two thanks to our contact. You’ll stay here safe and sound until after our mission’s complete.” He roughly grabbed Relare’s wrist and snapped the cuff in place.
“And what’s your mission?” The mage had a feeling there was more to their goal than he’d pieced together so far.
“To lock him up and leave you both to rot.” Their current jailor was gruff and matter-of-fact as he locked the other cuff on Relare. “Which I’m doing now.”
“I won’t let you-” With the insensate paladin secured, the orc suddenly growled and surged at the cell’s other, smaller denizen, catching his lapels and smashing him up against the wall.
“Won’t let me what, pasty little twig elf?!” he snapped in the pale mage’s face, spittle flying from his tusks. “Y’want some more bruises to go along with all yer useless words?”
Leo coughed, catching his breath, and wrinkled his nose, his gaze bold against the orc’s dark eyes as he wiped spit from his face.
“I won’t,” he managed with a wheeze, “let you say another word to him with that offal-stench breath of yours. Have you ever heard of a toothbrush? I hear they make them jumbo-sized for your pig tu-”
The man’s massive fist smashing into his already-bruised stomach did a very effective job of shutting the mouthy sin’dorei up. He collapsed forward onto his knees, and the orc released him with a snort to curl around his gut and try desperately to convince his shocked lungs to draw in another breath.
“Shut yer face, elf,” the stranger snapped with a satisfied smirk. “And get yer scrawny butt comfortable. You’re not going anywhere for a good while.”
With that pronouncement, he turned and stomped from the cell and, soon, from the cellar, leaving the brothers alone in the dim underground.
“Rel! Rel, wake up!” Leo grimaced when his brother didn’t wake, but he didn’t see any blood and he noted the rise of his chest. Seeing him still like that brought back too many bad memories. He shook it off. “Rel, come on. I need my annoying little brother to follow me around again.”
The paladin’s head rolled to the side, and Leothir cursed at the nasty bruise along the side of his jaw.
“Listen. I’m the only one allowed to pick on my little brother. So, whoever did that is going to be in the hot seat. Remember? I used to always take care of the ones that teased you for being soft. And… And…”
He paused for a moment, recalling a memory from so long ago. “I guess you wouldn’t remember that. I don’t know if the other me did that, but trust me. I did. And… you’d always cover for my pranks and when I went out to have fun. Mother never did approve. She kept trying to make me into the perfect heir when I knew that you’d be so much better…”
The paladin grimaced and peeked one eye open. “Leo, my dearest brother, do you ever know when to shut up? I have a headache the size of a tauren at the moment… and I’m not sure that’s not what hit me.”
Leothir’s laugh was breathless and nervous. “You can complain all you like, Rel, but you know that you love my banter.” He grinned, but he faltered slightly. “Did you hear everything I said?”
“Enough.” Relare coughed but made no attempt to sit up yet. “You weren’t that different in the other time, Leo. The circumstances were different, but the more I hear, the more that I think that our childhoods were the same. I’m… I’m glad that we had this second chance together in this time.”
Looking away, the mage attempted to hide his pink cheeks. “Always the sentimental one, Rel. How do you stand to say such embarrassing things? You should be saving all that soft talk for the one you love.” He paused and looked back with a wicked grin. “Speaking of which, has mother been parading any eligible and interested women by you, yet? I’ve heard that several consider you quite the catch.”
The paladin groaned, whether from the pain or the question, it was hard to tell. “Really, Leo? This is hardly the time to be questioning my love life or lack thereof. I’ve been… busy.”
Leothir chuckled. “Well, after all this, then. We have to find someone that will appreciate all the sentimentality.”
“Ugh… I’m going back to sleep. My head can’t handle this conversation.” Still, the auburn-haired night elf was smiling as he closed his eyes. He fell asleep to his brother’s soft laughter.
It was a couple more hours before the door opened again and slow footsteps made their way down the stairs. A raspy voice preceded Leo’s view of the figure, “Well, look at the trouble you’ve made for yourself this time. You really shoulda kept your mouth shut. Nataro’s been angling for you since Pandaria.” Quaed entered the room carrying two bowls. He pushed them through the bars.
Leothir reached toward the bars. “Quaed,” he hissed urgently. “You have to get us out of here. Rhoelyn’s in danger.”
Quaed crouched just outside of his reach and stared at him evenly, the undead stillness about him. “No, Leothir. You gotta wait this one out.”
“Wait?” The mage tugged on the chains, his brows furrowing. “I can’t wait! How long have I been here, already? Has the attack started?”
There was a long silence while the two of them considered each other, one calmly, the other distinctly not calm. Finally, Leo could take no more.
“Quaed!” he exclaimed, pleading.
The rogue frowned, but he rasped, “The invasion started at dawn. About twelve hours ago. Night elf army was halfway to Silithus, so the city defense is outmatched.”
As the golden-haired blood elf paled, sinking to his knees, another voice intruded, preceded by a cough and a groan.
“Darnassus is going to fall,” Relare announced with a sigh, pushing himself gingerly onto his arms. He raised his saddened gaze to his brother’s and shook his head. “It’s going to happen fast, now.”
Leothir covered his face with his hands. “Rhoelyn could be in danger… Will they head through Winterspring?”
Quaed nodded in agreement with Relare. “Ain’t no way to get their forces up there quick enough. I expect a few days, but not more. Far as Winterspring?” he shrugs, “… dunno.”
The paladin ran a hand through his hair. His gaze went to his brother, and he sighed. “Rhoelyn isn’t in Winterspring, Leo. She…” He winced, dreading the next words he needed to say: “She suddenly left for Darnassus two days ago.”
Gasping, the other blood elf surged back to his feet. “What? No. No! She was supposed to stay with Nysse and Rhese for the wedding! Why would she-”
“Take a breath, brother,” Relare shot a meaningful look at the rogue who watched them both. “It’s true, and that’s what matters.”
Quaed grimaced and straightened from his crouch to lean a shoulder against the rock bars, his rotting arms crossing over his black and grey cuirass. “Idiots. Just how deep are you with these Alliance? You wanna get yourselves killed?” he snapped.
The paladin shook his head, sighing again as his shocked older brother clenched and unclenched his fists, biting his tongue. “I don’t know if anything I say could make you understand, Quaed, but I owe Rhoelyn and her family my life. I’m indebted t-”
“We both are,” Leo corrected.
Relare’s answer was a nod. “We are indebted to them in ways you would respect. Lives for lives.”
The rogue once more stared from one elf to the other, and finally just rasped, “Idiots.” But he sighed and unfolded his arms. “What’re ya asking me, exactly?”
“Are you going to reinforce them?” Relare waited for Quaed’s second nod, then continued, “Then perhaps we can ask you to do something else for us. Watch out for her if you can and get her out. It’s a lot to ask, but maybe we can give her a shot to escape at least.”
The undead considered the request, ignoring the hope on Leo’s face as his hands lowered. “Not sure I’ll see ‘er or where I’ll be deployed.” It was more of a neutral answer and definitely wasn’t a no.
Relare bowed his head gingerly. “If you don’t, then there’s nothing you can do. But… if you do…” The younger brother always had a way of haggling and convincing others that the mage had to admire, especially in the current circumstances.
His yellowed eyes thoughtful, the undead rogue considered Relare and then swung his attention to Leothir. He was silent for as long as the desperate young man could stand, and then Leo tugged on the chain once more, pulling as close to the former human as he could manage.
“Please. Please, Quaed.” The mage felt his brother’s eyes on him as he spoke. “If you won’t let me out of here to protect her, then please at least protect her for me. She’s…” He hesitated, but his emerald eyes never strayed from the undead’s. “She’s worth saving, and you know it.”
The animated corpse grimaced and straightened, stepping back from the bars. There was yet another long, thoughtful silence before he grated out, “I’ll consider it.”
With a vague wave of a gloved hand at the bowls on the floor, he muttered, “Eat. Gotta get on with it.”
Leo opened his mouth when Relare cut him off, “Just eat, Leo. We need to keep up our strength.” The paladin picked up his bowl and began to eat the simple stew. “Be glad they aren’t intending on starving us.”
Still glaring, the mage picked up his food and ate as well. They did so in silence and Quaed waited for the sound of spoon scraping the bowl to ask, “Are ya done yet? I don’t have all day. Seems I got work to do. No thanks to you idiots.”
Relare smiled blandly and pushed his bowl toward the bars as Leo mirrored him. “Of course. I understand. War is war. There’s no telling what will happen. You could easily get separated from your unit in Darnassus. You should be careful.”
His brother snapped, “You’re telling him to be careful! What about Rhoelyn?!”
“We have to hope, Leo, that she’s already doing that.” The paladin said it gently, though his glance flicked over to Quaed. “She’s not quite as fragile as you like to think. I doubt she’s hiding in the Temple if the fighting is in Darkshore, as I’ve heard.”
The rogue sighed and grumbled, “Think yer so subtle, do ya, Duskfall?” He leaned down, joints creaking, to gather the bowls and utensils, scowling at Relare. “Might just shank the girl myself to put you two out of your damn idiot miseries.”
Leothir growled, but Relare held up a hand to silence him. It earned him two people in the room glaring at him.
“Thank you, Quaed,” he said with a little smile and a bow. When he gave his brother a meaningful look, the golden mage frowned but echoed the sentiment, bowing as well.
“If you help her, there’s no limit to what I’ll owe you,” Leothir said softly, worriedly, even as he kept his head lowered.
Nolin Quaed just snorted irritably and turned away from the both of them, stomping back up the stairs with his cutlery and closing the trap door behind him.