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Originally written May 17, 2012.

Though it too was a port city, Stormwind differed greatly from Theramore.


Size was the greatest factor. Though small, Theramore Isle was plentiful in space. Its open grounds invited the sea air, but its high walls were just high enough to turn away rough seas.


Stormwind in comparison was tiered and built against a jagged mountain range, as if its masons personally forbid the city to feel like anything less than a stone prison. The city crowded its denizens together and smothered them with each unique stench and stink of city air.


Arialynn knew the city well, but had long ago decided it was far from her favorite. Every visit felt formal and confining; the city imposed a decorum upon her that even her personal rigid code found stiff. Perhaps it was different for others, more peaceful, welcoming, inclusive. But to the lady knight, Stormwind was a prison.


To her, for every one pleasant visit to Stormwind, there were at least three unpleasant. This visit was a nightmare.


She sat at an unadorned table, her hammer draped across her lap, her shield set aside. Her chair lacked padding or cushion, despite the luxury of the surrounding room. A cluster of three voices spoke nearby, each with their own inflection, some more silent than others.


In the chair beside her sat Taldrus Dawnfield. Her betrothed sat mostly silent, only asking the occasional question. Signed conscription papers lay before him, the edges caught just beneath one of his armored hands. He sat and listened attentively, but gave little else to the conversation.


Before him stood two men, both nearly twice his age. Their eyes bore into the younger paladin with all the weight and judgment of accomplished veterans; their decorated armor likewise suited their respective rank and breadth of experience. The difference between the united pair and the lone man was stark and staggering in innumerable aspects, but all shared a grave expression.


The marshals spoke with little inflection, their words plainly outlined a likely war to come, anticipated plans of attack, the obstacles ahead. Such dark talk normally stirred Arialynn to speak and strike down each point of pessimism, but she remained seated and silent. It was not their high rank or the stifling decorum that silenced her, but the loom of simple, indisputable reality.


War was coming. If not tomorrow, then within the year. The drum beats were low, pounding at times in sudden erratic beats, then fading to a quiet, steady, unheeding march. War was coming.


The lady knight looked to her betrothed. Though Taldrus gave little, Arialynn could see everything. Her eyes saw the hidden strain in his expression, marked by the slight tightness of the jaw and the deepened line it always drew across his cheek. His attention remained solely on his new superiors, his silence seemed to honor them. Perhaps partly it did, but Arialynn also knew Taldrus' silence was a sign of discontent, of waiting. Waiting to see, to understand, to act.


Arialynn paused her inward gloom just long enough to take in a portrait of the table: four paladins, each of different age and rank, but all bearing the clenched silver fist of a holy knight's tabard. How odd it was that from afar, the four could appear united as righteous brothers and sister. In truth, the air was thick with tension, but lined with quiet resignation.


The lady knight contemplated then quickly dismissed the thought of whether the four would ever sit together again at this table. She knew her seat was temporary, a condition set by Taldrus and Taldrus alone, permitted by the marshals as respectful, if pitying courtesy.


War was coming, but the lady knight had no place. The chair allotted to her would either go to another or remain empty. Her sole reason to attend was Taldrus, and him alone.


The meeting concluded, and she followed Taldrus outside. As the tense air and decorum of the room faded behind her, she was greeted with the renewed smells of civilization:  smoke, food, salt, wood and must stood out most among them. Though released from one net, she remained tangled in another.


"This will need to be survived," said Taldrus as they walked together in the streets.


She nodded in reply, agreeing with him on immeasurable accounts.


"Aye," she replied, then added after a moment's pause. "I sent over some of my personal things. I will remain for as long as I can depart from my duties."


Taldrus looked at her, his gaze ever-perceptive, then reached out to grasp and squeeze her hand.


They walked together, passing the local sights, weaving through the stone maze of streets, dwelling in the shadow of the city spires and looming mountains.


Stormwind was a prison, but in her hand was at least one cellmate.


War was coming.

Author Ari
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