Ace rode through Stormwind toward Elli�s place, casually returning the occasional wave from citizens who recognized him. A slight smile lifted the corner of his lips as he reached her house; the small dwelling was almost overrun with greenery. A few trees crowded each other and the bushes, flowers, and vines covering every inch of ground as well as every inch of the house except the windows and entrance. Leading his charger up the grass walkway, her rapped his knuckles politely on the door.
Elli wrinkled her nose at the knock then sighed as she made her way to answer it. He�s so going to owe me for this. Pulling it open, she looked down at him, silver eyes glowing in the waning light. �Do you want to come in or should we go?�
At the opening of the door, Ace looked at her in surprise. A braided band of flowering vines graced her forehead, with the vines continuing to the back of her head and intertwining with the aquamarine hair flowing down her back and over her shoulders. Small white flowers shimmered faintly in the dusk, giving off a soft, subtle glow. The silver and blue cloth of her dress clung to her pale pink skin, going from her neck to past her waist, but leaving her arms bare. Her old Knight-Lieutenant�s insignia, newly polished, rested where the cloth ended on the left side of her upper chest. At her waist twin gossamer panels, one in the front and the other in the back, hung to just past her knees, leaving the top half of her legs exposed. Soft silk ribbons crossed and wound their way down from her knees to her ankles, ending in soft leather sandals covering her feet. He gaped at her for a moment before composing himself to say in an awed tone, �By the Light, Elli, you are beautiful beyond measure.� Her pink skin flushed at his compliment, and turned an even darker shade when he took her hand in his and pressed it to his lips before releasing it.
She stood perfectly still for a moment, not sure how she should respond to Ace�s words and actions. �Thanks.� Obviously well out of her comfort zone, she fidgeted a bit then waved towards the charger. �Should we go?�
Ace continued to eye her for a moment longer. The memories he had of her as an elf were a stark contrast to the woman in front of him now. He blinked once, then again. “Ah, yes. Yes of course. You can ride while I guide Justice to the noble’s residence. It’s not far.”
Now it was her turn to blink. �Justice can�t carry both of us? Did you injure him?� Concern colored her voice as she strode over to the charger, placing a hand on his neck to examine him.
�No, he�s quite well. It�s customary for the lady to ride so there�s no chance of her footwear or dress being soiled by the road or path.�
�Okay, but why can�t you ride too?�
�If it were a longer distance then I would. Since it isn�t I�m not. Plus, this will give a greater impression that you are my date for the evening, and that you are more than a passing acquaintance.�
Elli frowned. �How does your not riding with me make it look like I�m your date more than you riding with me?�
“Because I am escorting you, rather than walking beside you. They think that you are nobility simply by attending the party with me, and this will reinforce that notion.”
�But I�m not nobility. I�m Kal�dorei. We don�t have nobility. Well, Kal�dorei haven�t had nobility since the Sundering. Anyone who thinks I�m nobility is stupid.�
“These people will have no idea who you are. Giving the impression that you are someone of high importance by arriving on my charger will put you at an advantage when they come to speak with you.”
Tilting her head, she thought for a moment. �By me riding and you leading, that makes me important?�
�Well that�s stupid.�
“It’s one of the many ways we humans do things, Elli. Here, let me.” Placing his hands at her waist, he picked her up and placed her on Justice’s saddle. The charger moved slightly, adjusting to the sudden weight. Eyeing Acele, he let out a quiet snort.
Elli grinned and chuckled. �Justice agrees with me and thinks we should�ve already been gone.�
“That he does.” Gently pulling the reins behind him, Ace led them down the path back into Stormwind on the way to the noble’s residence.
Her expression sobering, Elli looked down at Ace. �I�ll try my best not to embarrass you tonight. I can�t promise that I won�t, but I�ll try.�
Ace looked back at her and smiled gently. �I have faith in you that you won�t, Elli.�
Elli stroked the charger�s neck, nervous fingers combining the horse�s mane. �When they see me, they won�t know I�m your bodyguard since I�m not worgen.� The expression directed at him held a combination of concern, uncertainty, and a trace of fear. �I don�t want them to know. I don�t trust any of them to know I�m a Kal�dorei worgen.�
Ace stopped and stepped over to cover her slender fingers with his and give her a supportive smile. “You’ll do just fine, Elli. And you’re right. They’ll have no idea who you are. Other than being the most beautiful woman at the party, and attached to one of the most powerful men at the party.”
Not completely reassured, she squeezed the fingers covering hers. �Please don�t let them know. Let me just be Ellinde Feralsong, the officer whose unit used to work with yours before she …� she shook her head, �before I disappeared.� Her expression changed and added a note of pleading. �Kal�dorei who have Goldrinn�s gift are feared. For a reason. They can�t control it. I don�t care if they fear me but I�m afraid of what they might do with the knowledge.�
Nodding, Ace�s voice became gentle and reassuring. “Your secret is always safe with me, Elli.”
Elli took a deep breath and let it out slowly, giving Ace a nod. �Thank you.�
They traveled a minute longer, coming to a stop in front of a large manor house. “We’re here,” he said, turning to her. Lifting her out of the saddle and giving her a light kiss on the cheek, he turned to lead her to the entranceway of the Countess�s house. Before Ace had the chance to knock, the door opened, revealing the stoic face of the butler.
�Grand Marshal, and Miss -?� The Butler looked at Ace expectantly.
�Ellinde Feralsong. Lady Ellinde Feralsong.�
Nodding politely to the two of them, the butler opened the door wider and waved the two of them inside. �Grand Marshal, Lady Feralwood, the Countess is expecting you.� A wide entranceway greeted them, leading to a larger room, from which a multitude of voices flowed. Elli�s fingers tightened briefly on Ace�s arm, the only indication of her unsettled nerves. Ace�s free hand moved to cover Elli�s, giving it a reassuring pat as they walked into the drawing room.
�The Grand Marshal Lord Acele Walkinson and Lady Ellinde Feralsong.�
The butler�s sonorous voice filled the chamber causing every head to turn. Countess Olivia Battenburg smiled genteely as she made her way over to the two of them and held her hand out to Ace. �Grand Marshal. How good of you to come.�
Ace took her hand and brushed his lips quickly across the back. �Countess.� Releasing her hand almost as fast as he took it, he placed his hand on Elli�s resting on his arm. �May I introduce Lady Ellinde Feralsong?�
�It�s a pleasure to meet you my dear.� The Countess smiled then turned back to Ace. �I was under the impression your bodyguard was accompanying you tonight.�
Elli interjected. �She realized most of the people here would be uncomfortable with her around given her … nature. Since the Grand Marshal and I worked together in the past and have been friends for years, she asked me to come in her place.�
Turning to face Elli, he raised an eyebrow at her for a moment. Turning back to face the Countess, he nodded. “That is correct. She did voice her objections to being in such a public place, with no armor as protection against an unseen assailant.”
The Countess looked surprised. �Does she really think someone would try to attack you here?�
“She wouldn’t be worthy of doing her job if she did not, Countess. The number of attempts on my life that I have survived due to her vigilance tells me that there is almost nowhere that is completely safe or secure. The best one can hope for is some modicum of comfort and security before the next attempt is done.”
�I realized your job was dangerous but I never understood just how dangerous, Grand Marshal.� The woman was sincerely apologetic. �Please, enjoy yourselves. Rather than a sit-down dinner, we�ve arranged everything to be a buffet style.� At the butler�s next arrival announcement, she gave the two of them a polite nod. �If you�ll excuse me.�
“Of course.” Bringing Elli with him, they moved into the house proper. “Are you hungry, Elli?”
Elli shrugged. �I could eat. Are you hungry?�
“Not at the moment.” Spying a few noblemen attempting to gain his attention, he let go of her. “Go and see what they have to offer. I’ll rejoin you in a moment.”
She eyed him but nodded. �I�ll keep an eye on you. Let me know if you need me.�
“You know I will.” Practiced grin on his face, he turned to meet the nobles waiting to speak with him.
Elli�s attention towards Ace was distracted by the approach of a young man. She tensed at first until she recognized the formal military uniform plus officer�s insignia decorating his shoulder. �Knight-Lieutenant Feralsong.� His salute was crisp and exact though the smile on his lips and in his eyes was less than formal.
�Knight Battenburg.� Elli returned his salute and tilted her head. �I didn�t think humans used military greetings at noble functions. Then again I know very little about human nobles.�
�The stuffies don�t care for it, but I much prefer my military rank to my noble title.� His smile became a wry grin as he waved to a passing server for a drink for the two of them. �I see you�re keeping your eyes on our Grand Marshal.�
She grunted, shifting her attention partially back to Ace. �It�s like watching vultures circle in after a kill.�
Young Lord Battenburg chuckled and sipped his drink. �Not a bad analogy, though the term I would�ve used for many of the ladies is harpy rather than vulture.�
�Perhaps.� Her gaze returned fully to him. �Why aren�t you with the rest of the young bucks prancing in front of the females?�
Nearly choking on his drink, the young lord looked at her. �That�s an � interesting way to describe what�s happening.�
�It�s what all animals do when they�re competing for mates. Humans, or any humanoid, are no different except in how they compete.� Glowing silver eyes studied him. �You didn�t answer my question.�
Shrugging, he returned her gaze. �I don�t prance. My mother would love for me to � �prance� in front of the females and make a good connection with another families regardless of any � affection or attraction or lack thereof between me and whoever she shoves in front of me.� His eyes remained steady on hers. �I would prefer to find a partner. I don�t want a woman after my title or money nor do I look at a woman as someone to have in order to bear heirs.�
�You should talk to Ace. The Grand Marshal,� she quickly corrected herself. �He thinks the same way.�
�What do you think?�
Elli raised an eyebrow, a bit surprised by the question. �Kal�dorei don�t follow the same � rules or traditions about marriage as humans do. Theirs is more like what you think. A partnership that is wanted by and benefits both.�
A pleased grin lifted his lips. �That�s good to hear.� Glancing over her shoulder, he noticed Ace approaching the two of them. �I shouldn�t monopolize your time any further, Knight-Lieutenant.� He hesitated. �May I call upon you at another time?�
She blinked. Call on me? He�s not a member of our pack. Does he want to be? Unsure, she nodded. �Yes. You can call for me.� I�ll ask Ace if he approves of this one joining the pack.
The pleased grin grew into a full smile. Giving a polite bow, he left before Ace reached the two of them. Elli turned to Ace, brows drawing together in confusion. �He�s not a member of our pack. Why would he want to call for me? I doubt he can even howl so how would he call for me?�
“It’s a polite way of asking you out on a date in the near future, Elli. Who were you speaking to so I can let them know to not do that again?” His voice was level and even as his eyes held hers. “It’s considered extremely bad manners to ask a lady out on a date while already attending one with another gentleman.”
�He was asking me out on a date? I thought he was asking to join our pack.� She looked even more confused. �Why? I�m not human.�
“I’m not the only one that finds females from other races attractive, Elli.”
Noting the controlled tone of his voice, Elli watched him for a moment before leaning over to subtly sniff him. Her eyes opened widely. �You�re angry?�
“Wouldn’t you be, if you had the most attractive woman in this party as your date, and someone else tried to steal her right under your nose? You haven’t told me who it was yet, either.”
�No. I�d challenge the other female and show her who was dominant.� Even though she was in her Kal�dorei form, a soft whine still echoed in her throat. �I didn�t mean to make you angry.�
He smiled at her, taking her hand in his and patting it gently. “I’m not mad at you, Elli. There are still human customs that you don’t know about.”
Visibly relaxing, Elli nodded slightly towards the group of women he�d just left who were covertly watching the two of them. �Did the hens show you their pecking order and fluff their feathers for you?�
Grinning and shaking his head at her terminology, he replied, “I guess you could say that. One gossiped about the goings on in the court, while another asked about the adventures I’ve had in the military.”
Elli grunted. �Did you tell the about the �adventure� with your bodyguard losing her mind when she couldn�t find you and being a danger to everyone and everything?�
He let out an uncharacteristic snort. “Of course not. Why would I do that?”
Silver eyes gleamed, matching the Kal�dorei fangs exposed in her feral smile. �Because then the hens may not be so interested in having you as their rooster when they know a rabid wolf watches over you.�
“Perhaps.” He lifted her hand and pressed his lips to it briefly. “For now, I think us being by each other’s side will have to do. Besides, none of them could ever hold a candle to you, Elli.”
�No, they can�t. They�re human and weak. They can�t protect you like I can.� Her eyes narrowed at the hateful looks being tossed her way from the ladies watching the two of them after the kiss to her hand. �I think some of them may challenge me.�
�They may try but you will be civil towards them, Elli. No violence or the like.�
Those silver eyes shifted briefly from the women to him. �I won�t hurt them.� The hesitation in her response gave the impression of the word �yet� not being included.
�I suppose that will have to do for now. Would you like to meet them? I�m sure that with me present they�ll be very courteous if not polite.� Upon noticing her posture and facial expression, he spoke again. �Perhaps that isn�t a good idea.�
�We can meet them.� She shrugged. �I already promised I wouldn�t hurt them. Starting a massacre here would cause too many problems for you. Besides, I don�t think any of them are foolish enough to challenge me.� Glancing back at the ladies, she snorted. �No, they won�t challenge me no matter how much they want you.�
Ace thought about it for a moment then shrugged as well. �All right.� Holding his arm out to her to guide her to the ladies, he asked, �Have you tried any of the food laid out for everyone?�
Elli accepted the offered arm. �A few things. Human nobles put weird stuff in the meat when they cook it.�
�Oh? Like what?�
�Like putting one kind of meat inside of another kind with bread and herbs.�
�What was the name of it? Sounds like it might be something I�d like to try at least.�
�I don�t know. I didn�t ask. I smelled meat and tried some.�
�Did you like it?�
Elli just looked at him. �You know how I prefer my food.�
�Yes, I do. But did you like it?�
She shrugged. �It was better than going hungry.�
He chuckled and shook his head. �Never a straight answer from you, hmm?�
Her silver eyes narrowed. �Are you delaying taking me over to meet the ladies or are you rambling for another reason?�
�If rambling means trying to get a straight answer from you on a simple question, then sure.�
Sighing, she shook her head. �I would eat it to keep from starving but I wouldn�t choose to eat it otherwise nor would I want to learn how to cook it unless you liked it and wanted me to learn for when we�re on the field. Is that straight enough?�
�Yes.� Leading her to the cluster of ladies he�d recently left, he smiled and introduced her. �Good evening again, ladies. Have you met my companion?� At the demure shaking of heads, he continued. �This is Lady Ellinde Feralwood, a close friend of mine.�
The young noble lady who�d been giving Elli the most looks from across the room smiled graciously. �Lady Feralwood, I�m very pleased to make your acquaintance.� The other ladies nodded their heads, murmuring their greetings as well. �A close friend? From the insignia I take it you two have fought together then?�
Elli glanced at Ace before answering. �Yes, we did until Deathwing came. My Sentinels had to report back to Ashenvale to deal with the destruction and encroachment of the orcs afterwards.�
�Oh?� The blonde�s eyes gleamed. �So, you haven�t worked together since then?� Her comment was directed towards Ace along with a slight batting of her eyelashes.
Glancing at Elli, he nodded slowly. �We have not, but we�ve kept in close contact since then.�
�Yes, we speak to each other periodically.�
�Ah.� The gleam sharpened with an almost predatory intent. �Then you�re just a friend?� This time the question was directed at Elli.
�Mostly, yes.� The scents given off by the women around her confirmed what she thought. They want him for a mate and they�re not sure if he�s my mate already. Maybe if they think he is they�ll leave him alone. �I use him for sex sometimes. Well, I guess he uses me too since his wife is gone.� Ace choked on the drink he was sipping. �I wasn�t supposed to say that, was I?�
Ace sighed. �No, Elli. No, you weren�t.�
�Sorry. I don�t know human customs that well.�
Most of the ladies tittered behind their hands, but the young blonde�s gaze sharpened further and her smile disappeared behind a moue. �Using our Grand Marshal? That doesn�t sound very nice. He�s such a brave man. He deserves better.�
�Yes. Yes, he does. He deserves the best,� Elli nodded in agreement.
�It�s not as one-sided as you may think,� Ace interrupted. �There have been many instances of soldiers of different genders serving together and starting physical relationships. Once you�ve been through the things that we have, it�s actually comforting in a way. Putting your life in the hands of another engenders a brand of trust that you only see between married couples, I believe.�
�I wouldn�t know, Grand Marshal, as I have no experience with either,� she demurred. �But a man of your standing shouldn�t stay single for an extended time, I would think. A wife can do more for you and your house than simply … provide comfort.�
�Perhaps you are right in that assumption, Lady Fiennes. When I feel I am ready for that, rest assured the lady I choose will definitely be the right one for the job.�
All of the ladies perked at that announcement with Lady Fiennes practically preening. After all, she was the one who got the Grand Marshal to admit he�d need to marry again and implied the elf wasn�t in the running. Elli watched them all, her mind once again returning to the comparison of all of them to hens strutting around a rooster. Ace�s choice of words puzzled her enough to ask, �The job? Being a wife is a job?�
�Yes, in a way.� The young blonde�s face maintained a triumphant visage. �It is work but with the right husband it wouldn�t be bad.� Her eyes drifted to Ace and she added coyly, �Not bad at all I would think.�
�When the right man comes your way, I have no doubt that it will be nothing but pure wedded bliss for you and him, Lady Fiennes. Unfortunately for me, I�m afraid I will need more time to properly grieve the passing of my late wife.� The only indication of the emotion he felt at the mention of his dead wife was a brief tightening of his jaw. Elli noticed and stiffened in response. She was supposed to protect him from the grasping females. Her attempt didn�t work and now those females were making him feel the pain of Seella�s loss again. The wolf in her moved forward and she struggled against the need to shift and destroy the person reminding him of his pain.
�Oh, of course, Grand Marshal.� Lady Fienne�s voice was appropriately sympathetic. �It�s entirely too soon for you to be searching for a wife. We can only hope that when you�re r