“I have a student who wishes to learn.”
“You know I am no teacher, Yerieth.”
Aragh frowned at the voices from outside the room where he was waiting, purely picking up on them because worgen hearing didn’t stop at the worgen form. One was clearly Yerieth Duskthorn, the night elf woman who had become his guide around Moonglade since he’d arrived seeking to learn. The other was certainly not a night elf. The voice was lower, rougher, a completely different octave. It was more on the lines of a worgen voice in its gruffness but with less growl.
“You know the basics in order to teach those, Caren, but that is not the reason the Circle asks this of you.” Yerieth paused then continued, “This is an older learner. One who has taught himself much by his own admissions and who learned much of his craft from his grandmother. We’ve tried to match him up with several but there hasn’t been a connection. He is…”
“Practically a wilds druid, yes. I understand what you’re saying.”
“Then you will do it?”
There was a loud snort from the other druid, Caren, and Aragh jerked because it sounded like his father-in-law’s horses. What was she? Then she replied, “I would meet this wild druid of yours first.”
There were no doors in the building Aragh sat in, only open doorways and yawning windowpanes. Yet he sat in the backmost part of the lower floor, half-hunched on a stool that was far too short for his height, where he wouldn’t see whoever was entering until they were inside.
Yerieth came in from the walkway to the side of the building first, her pale purple skin clashing with her bright green hair as it always did to his eyes. She smiled at him and waved him forward, saying, “Aragh, I believe we have found you a teacher. If you are both amenable to it, of course.”
He frowned and stood, not mentioning that he knew because he had heard them outside of the building. It wasn’t something he liked to advertise, his hearing. He’d met too many people who it made uncomfortable, especially after they connected to what it meant. As he moved forward, he asked, “Why would we not be…oh.”
His voice trailed off immediately as the distinct thunk of a hoof hit the boards of the walkway outside. Aragh reflexively clenched his fists and stood tensely as he listened to them approach the door. He had met a few of the hooved allies of the Alliance, the draenei, but he also knew that they knew no druidism. Therefore, anything hooved in Moonglade had to be…
Abruptly he held his breath as a horned head entered the building, followed by the dark-furred form of a towering tauren female. She straightened up carefully, obviously so as to not scrape her tall head or upward curved horns against the roof, and then her amber eyes fell on him.
“A human?” queried the tauren, obviously surprised. She then glanced over at Yerieth. “A harvest-witch?”
“Worgen,” corrected Yerieth
“Ah.” The tauren moved forward and Aragh tensed slightly, which she seemed to immediately see. As she stopped moving, he noticed that her green and brown leathers weren’t clean like the clothes of many of the night elf druids he’d met since arriving. They were obviously travel worn and were coated in a fine patina of dust and there were leaves clinging to the wraps and fur around her hooves. Then she bent down, bringing her eyes level with his, and he jerked his gaze back to those amber eyes. “Are you frightened of me?” she asked, her low voice a gentle rumble.
Aragh’s mouth felt a little cottony as he replied, “Can’t say I’ve ever met one o’ yer kind. Bit…big.”
Yerieth sighed but the tauren Caren’s eyes crinkled at the edges and she let out a low chuckle.
“I would imagine you haven’t if you have been hiding your talents since Gilneas’ wall fell,” commented Caren. She then tilted her head and asked, “Or perhaps not hiding them?”
“Never hid ‘em,” replied Aragh a little defensively. “I’m a farmer.”
“So you are good with plants?”
The tauren laughed again, waving a massive three-fingered hand at him, before saying, “Caren is fine, though I appreciate that you have manners. But where are mine?” She then extended that hand towards him. “Caren Bloodwolf.”
Aragh blinked at her hand before he moved his own to rest inside of her palm, her fingers curling around it in a brief closing of the handshake. “Aragh Thackeray,” he stated before their hands separated.
Yerieth coughed lightly then to catch their attention and asked the tauren, “Well?”
Caren snorted before saying, “I need a bit more than a look, a name, and knowing he’s good with plants, Yerieth.” She then asked, “Would you be comfortable walking Moonglade with me, Aragh?”
He blinked several times before saying, “Yer certain?”
She arched a brow slightly in reply, one of her ears flicking as well, and asked, “Why would I not be?”
Aragh frowned and reached up to rub at the back of his neck nervously before replying, “Not…not a lot o’ people comfortable with worgen. Not that I’ve met.”
“Are you going to attack me?”
“Wha’? O’ course not!”
Caren smiled, showing off her teeth, and stated, “Then we won’t have a problem, Aragh. Now come, it’s more than a bit cramped inside these building for me and I’m tired of hunching.”
“You are always hunching,” Yerieth stated mockingly with a smile as the other druid turned to make her way carefully back out of the building. That was when Aragh noticed that she was indeed hunched down, obviously too tall to fully straighten up inside the building.
“Because your buildings are too short, little elf!” Caren called back before she exited the building.
Aragh glanced at Yerieth, who smiled at him and said reassuringly, “Caren will take care of you if you both decide to accept the arrangement. She is immensely loyal and an excellent druid if a bit…eccentric.”
“I heard that , Yerieth,” commented Caren from outside.
“It is not untrue!”
He heard Caren snort then before she muttered, “You lot and wanting to call everyone who doesn’t trot the line eccentric…” Aragh glanced at Yerieth to see if she’d heard it but apparently she hadn’t as she was just shaking her head in amusement.
“Go on,” she urged. “You’ll be safe wherever you are within Moonglade.”
Nodding, he moved towards the open doorway and peeked out, seeing Caren was just outside, leaning up against the wall of the building. Standing up straight, she was well over two feet taller than him and he was taller than the majority of the other men he’d met. Yet her smile was gentle and that…that reminded him of himself. Of trying to put people at ease when they met him, people who were obviously ill at ease with how much bigger he was.
“Ready?” asked the tauren.
Aragh smiled and stepped out onto the walkway, nodding as he replied, “Yes.”
Caren chuckled and pushed herself away from the wall, saying, “Come then, little harvest-witch. Let us walk.” He stepped into place immediately beside her and noticed that she deliberately shortened her naturally longer stride to his.
They were largely silent until they left Nighthaven behind them, following the road out of the town and into the wilds of the Moonglade itself. As soon as they were a decent way outside of it, Aragh began, “So…now wha’?”
The tauren laughed at that then replied, “Tell me about yourself.”
“No, about you ,” stressed Caren. “ Who is Aragh Thackeray?”
He frowned for a moment, having not expected that, before he replied, “Well, I was born in Keel Harbor in Gilneas. The Thackerays have ‘ad a farm outside the town since anyone can remember.”
“Keel Harbor is around where the last battle with Horde forces happened, correct?”
Aragh jerked around to her and found Caren looking down at him, her expression tense. When he nodded sharply, unable to formulate a response in words to the fact that his own home was the last thing he’d seen before his people had fled before the Horde forces, she turned back to stare ahead of them.
“The action was one of several terrible ones ordered by Garrosh,” she stated, her voice low and rumbling with obvious anger. “I am truly sorry that it happened and that you lost your home.”
Finally finding his voice, he muttered, “Not yer fault.”
“I am a member of the Horde.”
“Were you there?” demanded Aragh, a bit of a growl creeping into his voice as he remembered that day. Crouched inside a house in Keel, claws digging into the wood of the floor as he quietly grew flowers out of smashed planters inside to distract the crowd of children who had gathered around him for safety. He’d been just another scared civilian, still struggling to come to grips with the curse in his blood.
“Then not yer fault.”
Caren nodded slowly before she murmured, “I lost my home as well. Before the tribes of my people came together in Mulgore, we lived in the Barrens. We were attacked by centaur and driven away, having to find shelter amongst another tribe far to the north. I know how it feels to look back and watch your world fall apart and there be nothing you can do.” Her gaze turned towards him again as she finished, “I am sorry that you had to witness such a thing.”
“Sorry’s enough,” Aragh stated firmly, wanting to be done with the subject. When she was silent for a long moment, he continued, “My parents an’ sister died when I was young. A fever. Rest of the family was in Pyrewood Village an’ couldn’t take in another mouth. So my gramma came and raised me on the farm.”
Caren made a vague noise that indicated she was listening, so he went on.
“I was ten when I dozed off in the field an’ woke up surrounded by flowers. Already knew Gramma was a witch, so I went to her about it. She started teaching me wha’ she knew about growing things an’ keeping animals away from the crops. We kept the harvest aroun’ Keel healthy an’ strong, best you could get in Gilneas before the war broke out.”
“The civil war.”
He nodded and Caren asked, “How old were you then?”
“Seventeen years. We didn’t get involved in it directly, kept ourselves quiet and just tended the farm. Kept the King’s forces in food up until the rebels took Keel. Then we worked the field but didn’t give ‘em the care we usually did.” He shrugged slightly before continuing, “Even if the rest of the family was cut off by the Wall, we couldn’t fault King Greymane for it. Not when it ended up protecting us ‘gainst the undead later. That an’ we were harvest-witches. We were best to keep our heads down as my gramma always said.”
“After it was over,” Aragh continued, “things went back to way they were mostly. Gramma got sick a few winter’s after that an’ passed. She asked to be buried in the Blackwald, said the forest was important to her. I think ‘cause the Blackwood’s were originally from around those parts.”
He then sighed and lifted a hand to rub at the back of his neck before saying, “I was vistin’ her grave when I got attacked. Had heard of worgen attacks happening but none had touched Keel so I figured I’d be fine making the trek. Of course it didn’t end up like that.”
Aragh shuddered briefly and glanced around at where they were walking for a moment. There was an odd…peace…about Moonglade that was soothing. Not quite like Tal’doren or the Howling Oak in Darnassus but…similar.
“I remember tryin’ to heal myself and then…nothing. Next thing was coming to amongst Crowley’s lot, which wasn’t…pleasant.”
“Crowley led the rebellion, correct?” asked Caren.
Aragh nodded and replied, “I’m thankful for what he an’ the elves did but…his rebels weren’t kind in Keel while they held it. I understand his reasons for being angry – we were too with kin in Pyrewood – but I don’t understand throwing up a rebellion against the King. If I can not deal with his lot ever again, I’d rather do that.”
She hummed in reply and he went on.
“After we fled, I got offered…well, what I’m here for now. Trainin’.” Sighing, Aragh then immediately went on, “I didn’t wan’ it then. I just wanted to go back to my farm. I wanted to go home.”
“And you couldn’t,” Caren noted softly, with a tone in her voice that reflected exactly what she’d said earlier: that she knew how it felt to lose her home.
“Righ’,” he confirmed with a nod. “So…I caught the first boat I could from Darnassus to Stormwind and went lookin’ for work. Most of the farms out in Elwynn, of course, wouldn’t hire me after I told them what I was. Stonefield finally took me on after Gramma Stonefield found me in the fields trying to repair damage some bandits had done to the crop.” He laughed and shook his head. “She was fierce in getting me hired on an’ showed not one wit o’ fear when I told her what I was. Made me miss my gramma. They’d ‘ave gotten on like a house on fire.”
The tauren snorted and let out a great laugh, making him chuckle in return. Then Aragh finished, “Anyway, not long after that I met my Lena while making a supply run to Stormwind.”
He lifted his hand to touch the ring on the chain around his neck then, the metal cool to the touch. Orlena hadn’t taken his insistence that he couldn’t have a ring seriously because of his transformations (clothes were fairly easy to get enchanted to work with shifts but metal was more expensive) and had still gotten him one for him to wear in their wedding ceremony. When they’d exchanged them, she had already had it strung on the chain and had hung it around his neck herself in lieu of putting in on his finger.
“Still amazed by the fact tha’ she married me,” he muttered softly.
Caren hummed and softly stated, “Those who love us will look past many things to see who we truly are.”
Aragh frowned and looked up at her, his fingers still lingering on the ring. “Do you have someone?”
“Had,” she replied with a soft smile. “He was an orc. A shaman.”
“Northrend,” Caren stated firmly. It was the same tone of those who had lost kin in the rebellion or the undead invasion and he knew not to press. “I made sure the Scourge did not take him. I would not let them have him.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It must’ve been hard.”
She nodded slightly then smiled down at him, her eyes grateful. “Before and after. We were not looked well upon but we did not care.” Chuckling, Caren shook her head before continuing, “It was not even a sexual thing between us. We simply cared for each other in the deepest way. I am glad to see when others do the same.”
Laughing, he asked, “How can you tell I do?”
“You touch that ring like it is the most precious thing you own,” she replied with a knowing smile. “Your…Lena?”
“She’s special to you.”
“Best thing tha’ ever happened to me. Never thought…” Aragh paused then admitted, “Never thought I’d find a woman who’d care. Not one who wasn’t the same as me. Let alone one who’d give me two beautiful children.”
“Children?” questioned Caren.
“Penny and Renne. She’s five this year an’ he’s a year this winter.”
She smiled at that. “You’re proud of them.”
Aragh grinned sheepishly and shrugged, “They’re my babies. I hated leaving them an’ Lena.”
“And why did you?”
He could tell the conversation had suddenly gotten very serious and stopped in the middle of the road. Nighthaven was almost directly opposite them now and they were starkly alone except for the sounds of Moonglade’s wildlife. Caren took a few more steps before she’d noticed he had stopped and turned back, one brow arched slightly.
Aragh clenched his fists and replied, “Because the Legion threatens everyone. I saw the ones who came back from the Shore. Can’t ignore fel-touched wounds on a body, I can smell ‘em half across the city when they’re still recent.”
He paused then went on.
“Lena told me tha’ my gifts are better shared. Tha’ there’s a reason I’ve got ‘em besides takin’ care of our land an’ our family. My gramma always tol’ me things happen for reasons…so maybe this is it.”
Then he looked at her head on and stated firmly, “An’ I can’t just stand by. Not when the Legion’s threatenin’ our world. If they take it, they’ll kill my Lena. They’ll kill my baby son. They’ll kill my little girl. I’ll die before I let tha’ happen.”
Caren looked at him for a long moment before she lifted the edge of her tunic, showing off a scar on her left side. It ran horizontally across her side from the small of her back to just around the edge of her stomach.
“This is what I brought back from the Shore,” she stated. “And I walked back. Others did not.”
“You tryin’ to scare me off?”
“Just reminding you that you very well could die.”
Aragh lifted his chin slightly as he said, “An’ if I do, it’ll be for them. Their ma can tell them true tha’ their da didn’t stand idly by while the world tried to fall apart. Not this time. Tha’ he did something.”
Caren huffed a laugh before saying, “Well then. I can see you’re determined. Let’s see what you are made of Aragh Thackery. You know forms?”
“I can manage a crow,” he admitted. “Tha’s all my gramma knew to teach.”
“Then come,” stated Caren, “we will fly back to confirm with Yerieth that I can judge your basics and try to get you to a place where these hard-liners can teach you by their rote. Do you know what direction you’re wanting to go?”
“I…I’d like to protect. I’m shoddy at healing beyond minor though.”
“Strange given your penchant for plants,” she mused almost to herself. “Well, I can work you towards the feral forms, especially cat since I have a penchant for it myself, but bear…I can teach the form but you’ll have to find another teacher to go beyond the basics.”
Aragh frowned and asked, “Why?”
Caren just smiled and replied, “Too much rage in my heart for it. Now come.” With that her form changed in an instant to that of a massive brown, horned eagle with the same sharp amber eyes. She made a sharp, scratchy sound at him and spread her wings before folding them back along her sides.
Even he could take the hint that the noise was a sort of well, come on .
Closing his eyes, Aragh focused on the change as his grandmother had taught him, by picturing the shape and pushing his magic into that shape. The change wasn’t half as swift as the tauren’s but when he reopened his eyes, it was with those of a Gilnean raven and not his own. He hopped a step, fluffing his feathers before he opened his wings to readjust to the feeling of a different body than those he was used to.
Caren tilted her head down at him then made an approving sort of sound at him. Then she opened her wings and with a single powerful downsweep of them as well as a kick off of taloned feet, powered up into the air. Aragh launched himself after her, his own wings beating more frantically at the air to gain altitude since he didn’t have as large a wingspan.
Halfway across the lake, they finally settled into an even glide next to each other and he allowed himself a mental smile.
Caren might not be able to help him get where he wanted to be as a druid – if he ever actually claimed the title – but he fully believed that she could get him to the point he needed to be at to begin that journey. He just hoped it wouldn’t take too long.
He already missed home.