“Do ya ‘ave yer books?”

“Aye…yes, miss Issy.” 

“An’ yer wee sword?”

“Yes, miss.”

“An’ ya know what ta do if some bug…person tries to grab ya, or if a boy plays too rough?”

“Yes, miss. I have to ask them to stop or scream and then kick ’em inna fork like you said.”

Isolde paused, expression twisting for a moment at the little girl who clutched a doll and a book before her. Young Nell looked down, shuffling her feet. She took a breath and smiled, crouching down and patting the girl gingerly on the shoulder. 

“Naw, that’s right on, luvvie. But we gotta use proper words when we’re talkin’ to other folk, is all.” She paused again. Nell was getting better with people, didn’t even flinch when she was touched and even accepted the occasional hug from Issy herself. A softer look. “Y’call me Issy if’n ye like, ya din’t need ta be sayin’ miss if ya din’t wanna.”

“Yes, Issy.” Nell smiled shyly, and Issy straightened her little cap, tucking away a strand of hair. 

“Well then! I fink we’re all ready. And….” She winked at the girl, pressing a small wooden sword just behind the bow of her dress. “There we go. Now you have a wee weapon just like yer Annabelle doll, aye? Ya can fight just likes she does.”

Nell’s eyes widened, and she nodded, comparing the hilt to the one her small, mini-mail clad doll carried. “Really? Is it sharp?”

“Naw, but it’s good for practice, and you can bop bad guys over the head.” Issy smiled and took her hand, leading the little girl towards where the portal mages waited. They weren’t the only ones leaving the city, not by a mile, and the wages the mages asked hurt. But, to their credit, they weren’t gouging. Yet.

Nell nodded, clutching Issy’s hand and leaning close as the portal loomed. Issy carried a small chest for her. A couple books of letters, a picture book for fun, a plain book for colouring, her meagre collection of clothes, a few pennies…not much, but enough, Issy hoped, to keep the girl entertained and clothed and happy while she was away. And, gods bless, enough till she was able to return. 

Issy stroked the girl’s hair again. A bit more auburn then her own. Afraid, yes, and she hated to take her from the comfort that the Cathedral had brought, but there was nothing for it. And the Justicar, bless her, hadn’t minded.  “It’ll be fun, our Nell. Bein’ in foreign places. Pandaren make them squidgy desserts ye like, and there’s lotsa flowers an’ it’s all green like. Ya might e’en pick up another language, an’ it’ll make ye e’en smarter then ever.”

“Yes, miss…” Another fearful glance, and Issy gently picked the girl up, holding her close as their turn at the portal came up. 

“Wotcher, our Nell. Whassit I said?”

“Don’t get scared, get angry?”

“Aye, lass.” Issy hugged her. “An’ yer little dolly ain’t scared of nuffin’, eh wot?”

“No…” Nell clutched Annabelle almost protectively. “She’s a very fierce warrior f-from the farm and she beats up bad guys.”

“Yup.” Issy nodded in approval. “And she loves to adventure. So! We’re gunna be just like Annabelle an’ go on an’ adventure and…whoops!”

There was a wink, a giggle, and then a half gasp as Issy distracted Nell from the portal, pretending to stumble and making a silly face as she walked through the portal. A second later, Nell’s face buried in her shoulder, and they had landed at Tian. 

“Lookit, Nell. Lookit them big pink flowers. Ain’t it grand?” Issy murmured, setting down the small chest as an aged Pandaren female came close, a small boy trailing behind her. Nell peeked, nodded, and clung to her still as Issy gently placed her on her feet. “Easy there, luvvie.”

She nodded to the pandaren. “This ‘ere nice lady’s gunna keep an eye on you, our Nell. An’ that there’s ‘er ladyship’s lad. Ya gotta be nice to ‘im, ’cause he’s still wee.” She squatted down and bit her lip for a moment, then embraced the girl. A second later and the hug was returned, Issy nearly closing her eyes. The feeling. She had to come back for the poor we gal, didn’t she?

“Are ye comin’ back, Issy?”

“Aye, lass. I’ll try. Gotta go beat up some bad demon butts first tho.” Issy took a deep, steady breath and looked at the girl. “Yer a fierce one, our Nell. Ye take care of Annabelle and the wee lad and ‘er ladyship, aye?”

The girl nodded, shyly. Fearful. Issy squeezed her hand. “Ye’ll like ‘er ladyship, if’n ye see ‘er. She’s a proper sort, an’ she’s from Gilneas just like me. Ye gunna do the curtsy?”

There was finally a small smile, and a nod, and a neat little curtsy. Issy beamed. “Naw, see that! Pretty as a picture an’ tough as Annabelle. Ye’ll do well ‘ere, our Nell.”

“Good bye, Issy.” Nell pressed a kiss to Issy’s cheek, and the young woman clutched the girl for a moment.

“Good bye, our Nell. Ye mind yer prayers, fer ‘er Ladyship an’ fer ‘alo an’ whomever else.”

“Aye, Issy.” 

Isolde ruffled the girl’s cap, nodding once to the pandaren nanny and the little boy she guarded. Then turned with a sigh for the portal home.

Author Wallaroo
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