The young Draenei woman crouched with the others behind the benches around the practice area. Giggles and gasps filled her ears as the woman, barely past being little girls, watched the males engage in their mock duels and work with the training dummies. They were supposed to be watching the older paladins, both male and female, to determine who they would prefer to be their mentors for the remainder of their training. However, it wasn’t the females or older males that garnered their collective attention. Seella watched the young females more avidly than she watched the older paladins, a slight smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. Though they were her classmates, they were not nearly as old or experienced as she was. Not that she was old or experienced in her people’s eyes; in fact, most thought she wasn’t old enough to attend training as a paladin when she began years ago and didn’t think she should “mingle” with the humans since she was still so young to them. Warmth and Light filled her heart as she remembered being brought into A’dal’s presence and receiving his blessing to study the ways of the Light through vindicator training. O’ros ‘s agreement and encouragement to continue her training among the humans after the Exodar crashed on Azeroth was an added blessing.
An awed giggle redirected her attention away from her memories to the object of the other young paladins’ attentions. A human male walked across the training field, eliciting excited gasps and chatter from the girls with her and formal nods and salutes from most of the people on the field. She couldn’t see his face, covered as it was by a helmet, but from the reactions of the other females she guessed he was attractive by human standards. His shoulder-length, dark chestnut hair was carefully split and braided, its preciseness telling her more than most would think. He is careful. Pays close attention to detail. The ease with which both the younger and older men and women approached and spoke to him told her more. A true leader. One whose people follow him willing. After a few brief conversations, he moved towards a training dummy and began stripping down until the top half of his body was bare. This elicited even more excited gasps and giggles from her companions. She flicked them a glance before returning her gaze to the man. Scars crisscrossed his back, evidence of previous battles. The marks danced along his skin as it flowed over muscles that rippled with each motion. Watching him, she noted his graceful movements, enhanced by the strength inherent in his body. This is part of the reason they follow him. He has earned whatever position he has at least partially through skill. She continued to watch him as he cycled through a series of weapons, each one handled as skillfully as the last. He will do. Still wondering why O’ros had suggested she chose a mentor more skilled in combat than healing, she shifted, preparing to rise and go speak to him when he turned. Her heart skipped a beat, nearly stopping, as her gaze took in his face. Deep green eyes looked out from a ruggedly handsome face, narrowing briefly, before a slight smile twitched the corners of his lips. The slight smile grew to something of an indulgent one as he bent down to gather his armor and weapons. Rising, arms loaded, he gave a short nod in the direction of stands and turned to leave.
Barely noticing the squeals and chatter around her, Seella watched the human male leave the area, rooted to the spot, unable to move until he disappeared completely from view. Her heart fairly hammered in her chest. He knows we were watching him. A deep flush covered her cheeks. Did he see me? Embarrassed, she retreated from the giggling squad and wandered back to the barracks.
Seella approached the ancient paladin sitting behind his desk. Lord Justinel Derawin rose and smiled, beckoning Seella forward. “Neophyte Seella, come in! Sit, sit.” As the young Draenei seated herself, he leaned against his desk and smiled at her. “So, you’ve decided on a mentor?” At her nod, he smiled anew. “You two have reached an agreement then?”
A slight flush crept up her neck and cheeks. “No, Lord Derawin. I did not approach him. He was … busy with others and I have not seen him since I made my decision.”
Lord Derawin’s smile dropped to be replaced by a slight frown. “Not seen him? We haven’t sent anyone out from here since we know you neophytes will be approaching potential mentors.”
The flush covering her cheeks deepened. To be honest, sir, I … have not searched … diligently for him.”
He eyed her for a moment, noting the redness of her face. The frown quickly became a slight grin. “You find him attractive, do you?” A soft chuckle escaped his lips. “Child, it’s not uncommon for a young woman, or a young man for that matter, to find the person she or he wants as a mentor to be attractive.” His smile became fatherly as he walked around his desk to take her hands in his. Leaning a hip against his desk again, he asked, “Who is it that you wish to have as a mentor?”
If possible, she blushed even darker. “I do not know his name. I was too … embarrassed to ask the others. I believe he saw me and the other females watching him as he … exercised.” Her head ducked in a vain attempt to hide her mortification.
Aged hands kindly patted hers. “All of the older men and women know you young ones watch them from time to time. And don’t think that both they and the younger males and females don’t show off for you.” Still mortified, she merely nodded at him. “Describe him to me.”
Her heart fluttered again at the memory of him practicing. “He was about average height for a human. Shoulder-length, brown hair with some reddish tints to it, kept in tight, neat braids and his eyes were green. He carried multiple weapons with him and was very skilled in the use of every one.”
The old man’s lips twitched. “That describes a few of our paladins here. Can you tell me anything else?”
“The others saluted him when he walked onto the field, even the older ones, but he seemed very informal with them.”
Lord Derawin’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Describe what he was wearing.”
Seella thought for a moment. “His shoulder guards were different than anything I’ve seen. Gold with an eagle on them on one side. In fact, his entire set of armor was gold. Even his sword had gold and blue designs on the blade and hilt.” Whatever she was expecting, deep laughter from the ancient paladin was not it. “Sir?”
Dropping her hands, Lord Derawin shook his head, still laughing. “Him? You do aim high, don’t you?”
Mirth still evident in his eyes, he looked at her kindly. “I’ll ask him for you, but I’m not sure if he’ll be able to oblige. Grand Marshal Walkinson is a rather busy man after all.” Heat rushed to her face again. Grand Marshal Walkinson?! I watched HIM with yearning?! At this point, Seella wished the ground would rise up and swallow her, taking her from this world and the extreme mortification she felt. Fumbling for words, she was silenced by those same wrinkled hands taking hers again and patting them gently. “I’m sure you’re not the first young woman to find Ace attractive.” He smiled down at her kindly. “I’ll present your case to him. If he can’t, then we’ll find another for you.” Unable to speak, she merely nodded. Another kind pat and her hands were released. “Go back to the barracks. I’ll send word to you after I’ve talked to Ace.” Nodding mutely again, she rose and exited as quickly as she could, mentally whispering prayers to the Light to save her from her own folly.
Ace walked into the audience room, a feeling not exactly of dread, but perhaps foreboding crawling up his spine. Lord Derawin’s kindly, wrinkled face broke into a smile. “Grand Marshal! I’m glad you could come. Please,” he said, waving to an empty chair. “Have a seat.”
Merely raising an eyebrow, Ace sat down where the older paladin indicated. “You needed me for something, Lord Derawin?”
Lord Derawin nodded. “I have a student who wants you as a mentor.”
The ancient paladin looked at him, fighting the twitching at the corners of his lips. “I have a student who wants you as a mentor.”
Not able to keep it contained anymore, a slow grin crossed the wrinkled face. “This young paladin was quite impressed with your skills on the training field and feels you would be a good mentor.”
“Really? Ooookay.” Ace rubbed a hand against the back of his head. “I knew that this time would come but I didn’t think it’d be now.”
The old face became serious again. “Because of Northrend.”
“Yes. I’ve got enough on my plate without having to add a neophyte on top of it.”
Sighing, the older paladin clasped his hands together and set them on his desk. “Ace, Northrend is going to be hard on everyone, particularly those of us who serve the Light. I think having this neophyte in particular will aid you.”
The slight emphasis on the words ‘in particular’ caught Ace’s attention though he didn’t react outwardly. “Alright then. Another sword could be useful on the battlefield. Is he seasoned or battle-trained?”
Lord Derawin cleared his throat. “This one’s more skilled in the healing arts than combat but has also done well in the protection arts. In fact, they’re one of the best at healing I’ve seen.”
Shaking his head, Ace asked, “Then why does he want me to mentor him? I don’t know much about the healing arts beyond our basic training.”
“Because they were told to find a mentor more skilled in combat than in healing by someone higher up than me.”
“Did he make the wrong choice? I don’t have time to retrain a neophyte that is indecisive.” Ace crossed his arms over his chest as he spoke.
The ancient paladin’s face took on a steely look that reminded Ace why Lord Derawin had been feared by evil in his youth – and still was. “I would not ask you to mentor anyone not capable of taking care of themselves, Grand Marshal. Or taking care of you if the need should arise.”
Ace eyed him for a moment, then nodded his assent. “Have him pack his things, then, and remind him to pack for cold weather. I’ll see him in Northrend if he can make the journey there alone.”
Lord Derawin relaxed and smiled again. “I’ll be sure to make sure they’re sufficiently supplied before departure.” He rose and extended a hand to Ace. “Thank you, Grand Marshal. I believe you won’t regret this decision. This young one may teach you a few things as well.”
Shaking his head and grinning, Ace replied, “I doubt it.”