The river drifted by with a whispered sigh, the water gently sliding past the ice and snow along the banks. The previous night, as if anticipating events in Elwynn the next morning, a winter storm had rolled down from the north, and even in these southern climes all was frozen. Near a stretch of bank in the southwest of the region sat a rich carriage, at odds with the rustic surroundings. Within, two kaldorei waited. One showed his usual implacable patience, the other fidgeted and squirmed.
“Lilybeth, do you want to get out?” asked the patient one.
Irritably, she replied, “No, Kalithil. I told you, I am just trying to stay warm. Or comfortable, and I cannot seem to do either.”
“Hmm.” He reached across, pulling the thick blanket back over her shoulders.
Sighing audibly, Lilybeth looked out the window, a shadow on her face, saying, “What’s taking so long? The waiting is killing me.”
“It froze last night, Forosuul and Dæsin are making sure we can,” here he coughed, hesitating, “proceed as planned.”
The woman across from him shifted in her seat again, her hand unconsciously rubbing her distended belly. “This can’t be good for the babies.”
With a sad whisper, Kalithil agreed, “None of this has been good for them. But we will make it though. The Silverthorn grows back.” She smiled weakly at the ancient proverb, hoping it was true.
An eternity later, it seemed, she was startled by the sound of crunching snow right outside the carriage door. Drawing the curtain back, she was greeted by the sight of Forosuul, the man she chose to call father, standing at the rear of the carriage, loosening the straps that held its precious cargo. His manner of dress defied the weather. A long black kilt with silver edging, and a red sash. He went shirtless, baring his demon hunter tattoos to the frigid air. Seeing her peer out the window, he smiled ever so slightly and said, “Everything is fine. It didn’t get cold enough to really freeze the ground. Dæsin and I were just clearing the snow away.”
“Papa,” she admonished, “you should cover up. You are going to get sick.”
Smiling at her concern, he replied, “I’ve told you before, I don’t really feel the cold any more. I’m fine, really.” Pulling away the final strap, he added, quietly, “I am going to move her now. Do you want to wait here, or…,” he let the words trail off, allowing her to decide.
“If I sit in this carriage anymore, I may not make it through the day. My nerves are shot. I’ll come out.” Saying this, she gestured to Kalithil, who moved to help her.
As she descended from the carriage, she saw Dæsin approaching. The moment he saw her, he hobbled forward – his bad leg trailing behind him through the snow – and wrapped his burly arms around her in a warm, comforting embrace. “My dear friend, I am so very sorry.”
Nodding and making a valiant effort to hold back her tears, Lilybeth said, “Thank you, Dæ. Thank you for being here for her.”
“I could do no less.” She smiled at him, tears coming despite her, freezing on her cheeks like drops of crystal.
Walking to the rear, she stood next to Forosuul and looked down at the long, blue silk-wrapped bundle. Laying her right hand on it, she began to tremble. “Min’da…” The word was torn from her in a keening whimper. Beside her, Forosuul put out a hand to steady her, and waited patiently. Eventually she gathered her courage and nodded thanks to him, stepping back to let him finish his task. She went back to Kalithil, smiled weakly at the concerned expression on his face, and took his arm. Slowly, they made their way down the hill.
As they walked, she began to hear muffled sounds coming through the woods around her. She looked up, and saw, on all sides; Silverthorns. Every Silverthorn she knew. They came in, slowly, reverently. Some walking, some astride majestic mounts. Idly she thought, they match the day, with their white hair and pale skin, one would barely see them if not for their clothes. Beautiful things, made of frost, hardship, and love.
Suddenly, without knowing how, she found herself staring at deep hole in the ground before a massive oak. She wondered, briefly, why is it there. Who had dug this precise, rectangular hole here? And why, on such a cold day. She looked at the man standing next to her, about ask what was going on, and then she saw them again. All around her. Silverthorns. Her new family. So the hole must be…
She fell suddenly, collapsing without warning. Kalithil, her beloved, lurched forward to catch her. On her other side, Alsabe, When had she arrived, Lilybeth wondered, the one she called sister, did the same. The two of them knelt with her, holding her from either side as her tears began to flow.
“Min’da!” she shrieked, unable to hold back any longer. Her hands clawed at her throat, clutching at a silver crescent that hung there on a slender chain. She wailed and sobbed, heedless. She tried to pitch forward, but Kalithil held her back, as gently as he was able. Her fingers grabbed at his arm, desperate to cling to anything. A few feet ahead of her, Forosuul made to prepare the body as quickly as possible without undue haste. The sound of his adoptive daughter’s pain slashed at him, but he held firm and kept his eye on his work. Gently he folded back the blue silk that covered Celebsilmare’s beautiful face. He mused that Tindomiel had done well in hiding her injuries. Finally he was done. He stepped aside, so that everyone might pay their final respects.
Kalithil let Lilybeth go then. She staggered forward, almost falling over her mother. She embraced the cold form, wailing inconsolably. She pulled her mother up into her arms, rocking her back and forth in the cold snow. Lilybeth buried her face in her mother’s neck, sobbing words that no one understood. Arrayed around her, the House of Silverthorn waited like a silent host of idols. They grieved with her, while sheltering her. Standing at their head, their Matriarch, Kajeda, looked them over and thought sadly, How many times over the centuries have we had to do this? And how many times more will we?
Eventually, Lilybeth’s wails faded to trembling sobs. Very slowly, Tindomiel slid the girl’s fingers from her mother’s hair. She let Kalithil and Alsabe pull her back, gently. Forosuul carefully returned Celebsilmare’s body to her place. Kalithil looked out at his gathered descendants and nodded. The Silverthorns made way as a small group stepped forward from the edges of the gathering. Set against the shimmering white of the snow and the Silverthorn themselves, they seemed almost a blemish. The House Retainers. A green-haired kaldorei, a severe and long-faced dwarf. A kaldorei woman in a gray cloak with violet hair whipping in the wind. A sapphire-haired kaldorei huntress arrayed in black. A demon hunter with ebony hair in a deep red gown. They stepped forward and bowed before the still form of Celebsilmare Starblossom. Some did just that, and moved on, as few of them had known her in life. Others said words that were lost in the wind. The violet-haired kaldorei knelt and chanted a prayer, and was joined by the dwarf, although their prayers were different, they said them together. Soon they were done, and the Silverthorns shuffled forward to say goodbye as their hearts instructed them.
Alsabe lay a hand on the dead woman’s face tenderly, and thanked her for giving her a sister. Dæsin, the gentle hulk, limped forward and bowed low, a tear in his eye. Tellanon, the outsider, came awkwardly and stared at the woman for a moment, unsure of himself. He settled for genuflecting before her briefly and moving away before he could embarrass himself. After him came the old one, Kalithil. He stood before Celebsilmare quietly for a few moments, for once baring his face to the unforgiving cold. He bowed low, holding the position for twenty-one heartbeats. The significance of his gesture was lost on the others, and he did not explain himself. Silannah came after, and bent over the still form, laying a gentle kiss on her brow. Next, moving slowly, Forosuul and Tindomiel walked together. Forosuul knelt in the snow hunched forward, and asked forgiveness, as Tindomiel stood beside him with a steadying hand on his shoulder. For her part, the tears she had held back before now could no longer be contained, here among her grieving kin.
Finally all them stood back, and made way for the Matriarch. Kajeda strode forward slowly, dignified as always, but her face was lined and her eyes rimmed with deep violet. She stood beside the body of her ancient retainer, laying a hand gently on her brow, and sang a song older than herself, a prayer for the dying from her youngest days.
Deep peace to you, Sister
Deep peace of the running waves to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the infinite to you.
The peace of Elune go with you
The peace of the stars shine on you
Sleep well, Sister
Until we are rejoined
Tears fell from every eye as she finished her chant, freezing before they struck the earth and tinkling like a hundred tiny shards of glass.
Held by Kalithil, her beloved, Lilybeth wailed like the damned, uncaring. Forosuul nodded at his cousin Dæsin, and they moved to deliver Celebsilmare to her final rest. Reverently they covered her face and lifted her into the rift that would house her bones. All the others simply watched silently as Forosuul and Dæsin finished their work, the only sound the howl of the wind and the cries of Lilybeth Starblossom.
When all was done, Dæsin made a gesture to Forosuul, letting him know he would finish. As the Silverthorns scattered, murmuring farewells to one another, Dæsin smoothed the earth and the snow over the grave. Forosuul made his way back to Lilybeth, and without a word, swept her into his arms. Kalithil made as if to protest, but Forosuul simply shook his head, saying softly, “You’re cold, grandfather, and you have not slept, I see it on your face. I will manage her. Prepare the carriage.” Hesitating only a moment, Kalithil nodded tersely and did as he was asked.
Soon everyone was gone, fading into the blowing snow as they had come. Only one remained. Kajeda, the Matriarch, stood at the grave, unmoving, perhaps unwilling to say goodbye.
“You can come out now.” She said the words softly, barely audible above the wind. It had been a few minutes since the rest of her family had disappeared into the snow and the trees, but she didn’t want them seeing who she suspected was watching.
“How long have you known I was here?”
“From the moment you set foot in this glade, Mire.” Turning, she saw the woman she addressed. Mire Whisperwind, Second of the House of Whisperwind. “Why are you here? I did not call you out while my House was arrayed here. They’d have torn you to shreds for what you’ve done.”
Gazing out haughtily, the midnight blue-haired kaldorei scowled and said, “I did not do this, Kajeda. I came only to pay my respects. Surely you do not believe I instructed Kasuura to do such a thing.
“I believe – nay, I know – that your ambition led us to this.”
“And what of yours,” came the retort. “Did you not invade my home and challenge me to do my worst? What was it you said? ‘Make us strong’? Yes, that was it.”
Sliding forward with slow menace, Kajeda growled, “Do you admit it then? Dare you claim responsibility?”
Laughing bitterly, Mire answered, “Nay, Kajeda, I do not, nor did I call for this. Kasuura was a fool and acted as one. And she has paid, it seems.”
“Kasuura earned her fate a thousand times.”
“And so? Do you claim responsibility for that?
“What if I do? Will you bring me before the council? Make formal charges? You cannot. If you tug that thread, the tapestry of your misdeeds will unravel.”
Glaring hatred, Mire spat, “As you say, Silverthorn. We are locked in this dance together.”
Cackling like one possessed, Kajeda cried, “Indeed! Let us dance, bandu!” She raised her hands high in the cold air, and a light bloomed in the sky above Mire’s head. It swirled, coalesced, took on substance, an image of the disc of Elune. It shined with blinding radiance as Kajeda called down its power to smite her rival.
“Daro!” From one side, the command to halt. Kajeda froze, letting the moon image blow away in the wind as quickly as it appeared. Glancing over, she saw a slender male, not a kaldorei, but one of the shal’dorei. The nightborn of Suramar. His eyes glowed with felfire, and he made ready to cast a spell. From across the glade another stride from the trees, hands raised also. So. Not merely shal’dorei, but felsworn.
“You brought these here?”
“You think I would come unprepared?”
Trembling with rage, Kajeda nevertheless lowered her hands and calmed herself. “You have made your point, Mire. You have allies. Congratulations on your choice of a wasting people who chose to side with darkness. In the end, they will do you no good.” So saying, her form blurred and she took wing to vault into the skies as a raven. As she shifted she left Mire with the parting words, “This is far from over, bandu.”
Left behind on the ground, Mire simply glared at her companions. Spitting a curse, she turned from them, muttering, “Useless.”