The girl shuffled in front of her father awkwardly, the scent of crushed grasses and flowers rising up, giving her the only hints as to where she might be as darkness filled her sight. Then, suddenly, the pressure on her eyes lifted and daylight spilled between her father's fingers, too bright, and it took her a few moments of blinking to resolve the large, dark shape in front of her. Her glowing blue eyes went saucer-like, and she clapped her hands to her mouth, gasping.
"PaPA! A PONY!" The girl exclaimed breathlessly, her carefully spiral-curled and beribboned pale blonde hair bouncing, her eyes glittering with delight. "Just like I always WANted!"
Thomil straightened, folding his arms, regarding his daughter with a warm smile. "It's yours," he said, and his deep voice was the very definition of assurance, security and love to the girl. She whirled, wrapping her arms around his waist, hugging him with as much strength as her slender arms could muster, and he chuckled, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "You know that I cannot deny my Princess anything that she wants."
"Oh my goodness, what will I NAME him?" She turned on the small horse again, her hands clasped tightly in front of her face as if she had to somehow hold in the sheer excitement bubbling within her to keep it from bursting out. It whickered softly in response, pressing a soft muzzle against her side, its chestnut fur shining in the sun and contrasting with the pink ribbons that had likewise been braided into its mane.
Thomil pondered this, stroking his chin his small, neatly trimmed goatee. "Something noble, something that implies strength. This is not just a pony, my Princess, but will in fact someday grow to be a mighty steed, to carry you and protect you when I can't be at your side."
The girl giggled, twirling, her skirts swirling around her legs. "Oh PaPA, don't be SILLY. You'll be there, always! You PROMised!"
He chuckled again, nodding in assent. "So I did, so I did. But remember, you go to Dalaran soon, to study, to assure your future..."
A shadow passed over the girl's face, and she glanced away, uncertain and anxious.
"You need to leave the cocoon to blossom into a beautiful butterfly..." He brushed a knuckle under her chin, smiling at her winningly, trying to draw an answering smile from her, and after only a moment the shadow passed and she was beaming at her father again. It was in fact what she was named for, a slightly awkward compounding of archaic words for "Sun" and "Shadow," a name that he had insisted on when she was born for the way she could eclipse the Sun itself in his heart.
And, her mother might have suggested, for the way her temper could shift so quickly between the two, depending on whichever suited her at the moment.
The girl refocused her attention on the young horse, little more than a weaned foal, wrapping her arms around its neck. The animal shifted awkwardly to accommodate this, eying her as best it could with a mixture of confusion and anxiety. "Wait until I show you to RILIEN," she whispered to the horse, her forehead pressed to its head conspiratorially, as every young girl knows that the ideal confidant for her secrets is a horse.
Thomil's expression shifted at this, his eyes narrowing slightly. "Princess...I hardly think that's appropriate. I know that his father is a friend of mine, but they really are of a different station in life than we are."
"PaPA!" The girl pouted, still hugging the horse tightly. "Rilien is my OLdest and DEARest friend! He hasn't thrown mud at me in AGes!"
But on this, Thomil would not be moved. "And soon you will be on to Dalaran to study, and he will..." He gestured, vaguely. "Go about doing whatever it is he's destined to do. Besides, his family could never afford something like this. You don't want to make him feel envious, do you? To resent that you were born to better things?"
The girl's expression fell, and she straightened, disentangling herself from the horse to its great relief. "No, Papa."
He nodded, his expression softening again. "Besides, you'll forget all about Rilien Sunlance soon enough once you're in Dalaran, meeting new people, working at your studies..." A slight, conspiratorial grin curved his lips. "You know, if you make yourself visible enough, you might come to the attention of the Prince himself..."
"Oh my, the Prince!" The girl's eyes widened again, her hand moving to her mouth in a slower, more thoughtful gesture. "How would I ever manage to do THAT?"
Thomil grinned, patting her on the head indulgently. "When the time comes, Princess, I trust that you'll know. Now!" He sighed reluctantly. "I'm afraid that business calls. I'll be away in the human cities for a while, performing important negotiations," he held his hands up reassuringly as she opened her mouth to protest. "But! I promise that I will write, every day."
The girl nodded, somewhat mollified, and turned her attention once more on the horse. "Hmm...would it be too preSUMptuous to name you Kael'thas? I think perhaps it would...Oh! Perhaps SUNfury!"
Thomil lingered for a few moments more, watching her with an indulgent smile, and then with a sigh he turned and headed back to the family's countryside estate a short distance away, his cape turning crisply in the afternoon breeze, falling just so against his blue Magister's robes.
He nodded vaguely to a woman standing just inside the doorway as he passed, tugging on his glove. Her hand was resting on her rounded abdomen, and her face which, save the expression, might have been called lovely at one point, had been drawn and pinched as she'd watched the goings-on outside in the meadow.
"Leaving again?" She asked, still watching the girl frolicking outside, dancing with bare feet through the flowers, sweeping them up and pushing them into the horse's braids.
"Only for a few days. Business. You know how it is," He patted down his pockets, searching for something, and then nodded to himself as it was apparently located.
The woman was quiet for a few moments, and then narrowed her eyes slightly. "And how much did that cost us?" She said quietly, her tone neutral.
Thomil stilled and turned, looking at her for the first time. "I assure you it was no burden. I have more than an adequate handle on our finances," he said stiffly.
The woman gave no response in word or gesture, she simply continued to watch the girl in the meadow, whatever thoughts she was having closely guarded behind her eyes. Thomil watched her in turn for a few moments before making a small, exasperated sound, sweeping through the house and shutting the door firmly behind him.
In the meadow Shaali frolicked with her new lifelong companion, planting a firm kiss in the middle of its forehead much to the horse's alarm, the light breeze twirling and toying with her ribbons and curls and fine, silken and laced skirts, and from the house her mother watched her, silent and expressionless, one finger tapping the doorframe lightly.
How Things GoEdit
Shaali's ribboned curls bounced as she skipped down the stairs of her family's Silvermoon home, humming a fragment of a stray tune, motes of light dancing around her from the sun's warm rays shining in through the windows. She was carrying armfuls of clothes, and catching sight of her mother at the foot of the stairs she pushed them towards her. "Here's MORE of my things!" She declared with a giggle.
Vilvara's lips pressed into a thin, disapproving line, her glowing blue eyes narrowing. "You aren't going to need all this."
"Nonsense!" her father Thomil's voice rang out good-naturedly as he entered, unclasping the blue cloak that was a symbol of his station with the Magisters as he entered the mansion. "The girl is going to LIVE in Dalaran, we can't send her looking like a pauper!"
"PaPA!" Shaali declared, dumping the rest of the clothes uncerimoniously into her mother's arms and dashing down the remaining steps, throwing her arms around him. He chuckled indulgently, drawing her into a tight embrace.
Vilvara's eyes moved to take all of this in, but otherwise her severe expression didn't alter in the least.
"Pa!" A small voice declared from the vicinity of Thomil's knees, and he absently patted his son on the head. "And hello to you too, young man," he said with a slightly more distant smile, nodding to the toddler. Not getting quite the reaction he wanted, the boy tugged eagerly on Shaali's skirts. "Sa!"
"ASHer, be CAREful!" She said with a smile, untangling the delicate lace from his slightly sticky fingers, repeating her father's patting gesture.
The boy's expression shifted thoughtfully and he ambled on stumpy legs to his mother instead, holding out his arms. "Ma?"
Vilvara shifted the pile of elaborate dresses to one hip and scooped the boy up with her freed arm. She glared at Thomil for a few moments, but after it drew no reaction from him she swept out of the room with a twitch of her austere, dark skirts.
"You're not nervous are you? This is going to be a big change, living so far away," Thomil laid a hand against Shaali's cheek reassuringly.
"Oh PaPA, I'm anxious but excited! I'm going to study MAgic with the best teachers in the WORLD!" She covered his hand with hers, beaming, but after a moment a concerned frown passed over her expression as she looked up at him, catching sight of a red mark above one arching, dark eyebrow. "Papa? What's wrong with your eye?"
Thomil shook his head dismissively. "It's nothing. A minor accident at work, some fool of an apprentice wasn't being careful with building materials, got me right here," He gestured to his face with a dismissive smirk. "At any rate! We should have a celebration tonight before you go, just the family. Your mother can make your favorite dinner--"
Shaali's focus on his words faded as she caught sight of movement just outside of the window. She continued to nod as the face of a fair-haired adolescent boy, roughly her age, came into sight just behind her father's shoulder, waving for her attention. Thomil turned away to hang up his cloak and Shaali's eyes darted nervously back to the panes of glass. "What?" She mouthed in a silent, exaggerated fashion.
"We need to talk!" He likewise said silently, pantomiming a talking motion with his hand.
"Shaali?" Thomil said, and her focus moved quickly, almost guiltily back to him. "Hmm?"
"Would you like roast pheasant or duck?" He asked her again, smiling indulgently.
"Oh...pheasant!" She said with an eager nod, her curls bobbing.
"Pheasant," Thomil relayed to his wife as if she hadn't been standing right there when Shaali had said it, Asher still at her hip, and Vilvara swept away again with a long-suffering sigh.
"Why?" Shaali mouthed back towards the window, and the young man gestured exaspiratedly.
"Because! Meet me byalwaowa!" He appeared to say, and Shaali frowned, puzzled.
"Meet me BY THE LAKE," he tried again, his arms waving as his lips worked furiously and silently.
"OKAY!" She replied hastily, scowling and making shooing motions at him.
"Now! We're going to need to have a discussion about the things that will be expected of you during your schooling, and the standards of behavior that you're going to need to hold yourself to--" Thomil started, laying his hands on her shoulders, and her focus moved back to him quickly.
"Actually, PaPA, can this wait until dinner? I really should go and say goodBYE to my FRIENDS and run a few ERRands before I finish getting REAdy," she said earnestly, frowning and nodding.
Something unreadable flickered across Thomil's expression and his hands tightened on her shoulders for a moment, but as Shaali's look shifted to wide-eyed pleading he slumped slightly, chuckling. "Of course, Princess. Be back in an hour, hmm?"
Shaali bounced excitedly, kissing him on the cheek. "I will Papa! I'll be right back!"
Friends, of course, was an overstatement. She had any number of casual acquaintences from other well-to-do families, a future network of contacts and connections that she would one day use to climb the social ladder of her people. There was only one person that she knew that would truly call a friend, but as her father reminded her nearly every time he saw them together it would do her no good to do so.
"RILien, WHAT?" Shaali huffed with exaggerated annoyance as she came on him by the lake they often met by in Eversong. Twilight glittered off the water as a light breeze turned the leaves of the trees overhead, sending her ribbons twirling. "I'm TRYing to get ready to GO."
Rilien frowned, picking up a pebble and tossing it down the hill into the water where it splashed with a satisfying "Pook!" sound.
"I know, that's what I wanted to talk to you about," he said quietly, his eyes staying fixed on the horizon. "Do you want to go to Dalaran?"
Shaali sighed and settled next to him, arranging her lacy skirts carefully so as not to rub any part of them into the grass. "How could I NOT? My future lies there. I'm going to be a powerful Mage, and I'm going to meet the Prince, and then unspecified THINGS are going to happen and I'm going to become a key member of his Cabinet, and I'm going to have the contacts and power to--"
Rilien caught her hand, interrupting her train of thought, frowning at her earnestly. "But is that what you WANT?"
She blinked at him, puzzled. "It's...well...it's not a matter of WANting it, it's just how things are going to GO. Just like...well, I'm sure YOUR family has plans for you ALso--"
Rilien shook his head, looking into her eyes intently. "I make plans for myself. *I* choose what I want to do. Do you WANT to go away to Dalaran? You know that you won't be back for years. You'll be *living* there, and we won't see..." He faltered a bit. "You won't see anyone here for a really long time."
"I..." She looked him over closely, uncertainly. "It's not something that I have a choice about, Rilien. It was all decided a long time ago."
He went quiet, gathering his resolve, and moved his hands to either side of her face, brimming with nervous earnestness. "Stay here with me," he said, the words tumbling out of him hastily.
Shaali blinked hard, trying not to laugh. "Do what?"
"Don't go to Dalaran. Stay here, with me. We can run away together. We can make a life for ourselves however we want it to be," he said firmly, gathering confidence as he went on.
Her anxious amusement faded in the face of his direct gaze, but she frowned, trying to shake her head. "Rilien...things just don't WORK like that, that's not how things GO. What would we do? Where would we live? It SOUNDS nice enough in theory but it's just not PRACTi--"
Her words were cut off as Rilien took a deep, steadying breath and leaned in, pressing his lips to hers firmly. Her eyes went wide as she became suddenly, acutely aware of all the minor details around her that became etched in her consciousness, of just how CLOSE his face was, how a few strands of his blonde hair were being blown by the breeze against her cheek, the way the setting glowed a golden-orange on the water below, the light sound of leaves blowing being drowned out by the harsh sound of his breathing and hers in counterpoint.
Rilien didn't shift during this moment of clarity at all, he stayed almost unnaturally still, waiting for her to respond in some way.
As the numb shock of Shaali's surprise wore off, it was quickly replaced by a growing warmth and a wrench of anxiety and excitement in the pit of her stomach. She hadn't been kissed before, not like this, and she nearly swooned as the delayed rush of a response overtook her, her cheeks flushing deeply and her eyes fluttering closed. Rilien, sensing this change in her, pressed forward, rising to his knees and pulling her against him where she could feel the pounding of his heart through his chest. He hooked one arm around her waist as his other hand moved into her hair, holding her to him closely.
Uncertain as to what to do with her hands she finally laid them against his shoulders, her fingers trembling slightly as the single kiss became several. He pressed his lips to hers softly and slowly, again and again, his hand shifting to the small of her back and moving her closer to him still. "Shaali...I have to tell you something..." he murmured against her lips between the kisses, and it was all she could do to nod slightly, her mind in a whirl of new feelings and sensations. "I ERK!"
Shaali blinked dully as the warmth of him was removed from her entirely, and it was a moment before she realized that he'd been roughly jerked to his feet by the scruff of his neck. Familiar black boots and blue robes were next to Rilien's legs clad in threadbare trousers. Her stomach sank in dread as her gaze moved up to take in her father's expression, his eyes blazing with cold blue fury as he looked Rilien over, his lip curled in disgust.
"How DARE you TOUCH her," Thomil growled, tossing the lanky youngster aside. "And after all the Sin'dath family has done for yours. Your FATHER will hear from me about your behavior."
"PaPA!" Shaali yelped as he grabbed her elbow and hauled her to her feet as well.
Thomil whirled on her, his eyes narrowing, and his hand rose ready to strike her down. Shaali blinked at him in dull shock and the pair of them stayed that way for a moment, frozen, until Thomil's stance broke and he pushed her ahead of him with a snarl, his gloved hands flexing.
"At least he didn't RUIN you yet. We're going home, and you're going to wait outside while your things are gathered, and we're travelling to Dalaran NOW." Shaali opened her mouth to form a protest, but an icy glare from her father froze her in her tracks and she simply ducked her head instead, blinking widely.
"You don't have to go, Shaali!" Rilien called after her, but she didn't look up or hesitate at his words at all, she simply scurried ahead of her father, her head down. Some time after they disappeared into the city's gates and out of sight he stooped to pick up a silken pink ribbon from the ground, wrapping it around his hand with a deep frown.
Shaali and her father traveled in complete silence to Dalaran, punctuated only by occasional bewildered weeping and sniffles from the girl. Thomil glared out the window of the carriage, his expression cold and emotionless, and as they arrived Shaali was dumped unceremoniously with her bags at the front gates to the great magical city.
"P...Papa..." she said quietly, her eyes wide and filled with tears, but Thomil couldn't even bring himself to look at her. His hand clenched into a fist as he glared through the opposite window, his face briefly contorting with pain, and then he waved to the driver and the carriage took off with a lurch, without so much as a good-bye.
Home for the HolidaysEdit
Shaali pushed the food around on her plate disinterestedly, and yet didn't look up from it as the meal around the large table in the Sin'dath Silvermoon mansion wore on. There was a cold knot of tension in the pit of her stomach whenever she came home for a visit and it quite put her off eating, especially her mother's overcooked, dry pheasant as opposed to the more impressive fare prepared for the powerful teachers in Dalaran and their students.
"Shaali! Shaali! Shaali!....Shaali!" Asher said excitedly, trying to get her attention from across the table. Eventually he resorted to throwing peas in her general direction and she blinked as she looked up. Her little brother beamed at her, a condensed mass of wriggling little-boy excitement.
"What is it, Asher?" She sighed, laying down her fork. Her mother continued eating, slowly and quietly, her face more deeply lined every year as she too hardly looked up from her plate. At the end of the table Thomil Sin'dath had long since finished his meal and was watching his children over steepled hands.
It was taking every bit of will that Shaali contained to keep from wringing her hands, under the force of that gaze.
"Shaali! Are you friends with the PRINCE? He's at Dalaran too, Shaali, just like you! Do you KNOW him? I have a friend! His name is ROGET! ROGET says that he can jump THREE BIG ROCKS at a time! He hasn't dunnit yet but he says that he CAN! HE says the Prince is at DALARAN just like YOU!" He said in a steady, breathless and ongoing chatter, and Shaali waited for him to wind down.
"I have seen him, Asher, but the Prince is a busy man and he is apprenticed to different masters..."
"Still, there is likely ample opportunity for you to make yourself known to him, to become part of his inner circle. Make yourself a valuable resource, Shaali, I shouldn't have to tell you these things," Thomil interjected curtly, and Shaali's gaze moved back to her plate with a silent nod. It was likely the first thing he'd said to her directly since she arrived.
He closed his eyes for a moment with a small, quick sigh, his expression drawn and reserved, and then continued on with a resigned air. "What are you studying in particular? Something useful I hope..."
She flinched a bit, but straightened, a glint of excitement in her eyes as she started to talk. "It's a new technique that we're just beginning to investigate, it involves the positioning and the energy of the stars and the Void--"
Thomil made a curt, dismissive gesture. "Astromancy. It's a fad. What does the Prince study?"
Shaali faltered, blinking. "It...he...I'm not certain that he specializes in anything in particular but his tutoring is doubtlessly much more advanced than mine is--"
Thomil's gaze moved to the ceiling in exasperation. At the other end of the table, Vilvara focused more intently on her food, her eyes narrowing. "It's obvious that you have a lot more to learn than magic. I had thought that you were more quick-witted than this." He tapped his fingers together thoughtfully as Shaali stared at him, frowning. She watched him for a moment, searching for any trace of the man who'd raised her and adored her in his icy blue eyes. There were traces, flashes, a hint of concern? Perhaps he just wanted her to perform better...she would have to do better...
The table went silent again, save the occasional thudding sound of Asher kicking his chair. Shaali picked up her fork again, prodding her pheasant for a few moments. "Papa?"
"Mmm?" He was contemplating his own empty plate thoughtfully.
"I went out to the stables earlier, but where is Sunfury? I couldn't find him..."
There was a soft rustling of stiff fabric as Vilvara gathered her plate and left the table without a word, sparing a brief, pointed glance at her husband.
Thomil shrugged, rising as well, tugging the cuff of the sleeve of his embroidered blue Magister's robe down. "He threw a shoe. We've had to send him out to be re-shod." He moved to the foyer, taking down and fastening his traveling cloak around his shoulders, putting on his gloves. Shaali followed, watching him take down a small valise and check its contents, regarding him with a puzzled expression.
"You're leaving?" She asked with a small frown, uncertain whether she was upset or relieved. "I'm only here until morning..."
Her father didn't look up from his preparations. "I have business to attend to. The humans are asking for our help with their war, and negotiations need to be conducted. They will not conduct themselves regardless of whether or not the house has visitors."
She barely had time to nod before he turned on his heel and strode out the door, the edge of his cloak twirling in the brief, cold gust of wind that came blowing down through the streets of the city. Catching dark movement from the corner of her eye she caught sight of her mother, also silently standing and watching him go. She fixed her daughter with a long, unreadable look, and then she too turned and left the room, back towards the dining room, where she took Asher's hand and lead him upstairs despite his loud complaints on the necessity of baths. The dishes had already been cleared.
At a loss, Shaali watched the empty room for a while, her gaze turning to the floor thoughtfully. She wasn't doing as well as she needed to be. She would redouble her efforts, she would do whatever it took.
Anything, to make her father proud of her again.