The ‘ook Up
Rhianon decided that if ever she could have a “do-over”, she would redo the whole agreement with Silda. Like most silly plans, she couldn’t even remember exactly how it had started – but the end result had been Rhianon agreeing to find a prospective match for Silda. In exchange, the dwarf shaman would clear her name with the Wildhammers and open up the way for Rhianon to eventually re-acquire a gryphon. At the time, it had seemed easy. Surely, there were plenty of eligible dwarves! Rhianon had almost imagined herself in more of the match-maker role, choosing between scads of prospective mates to pick the one best suited to Silda’s whims. This fantasy usually ended with a statue of Rhianon being installed in the courtyard of Silda and the lucky dwarf’s descendants, as testament to the “one who began it all.”
Instead, she was realizing just how few available dwarves she knew – and out of those, how many fewer met Silda’s criteria. At Rhianon’s rate of progress, Silda was going to be old and gray before she finally wound up with the perfect drunken dwarf whose major claim to fame was killing a few more ogres than the guy down at the other end of the table.
It was time for drastic measures.
After tying her hippogryph to the gryphon post outside, she ducked into the Thundermar inn, eyes darting to check the corners and shadows for the barmaid who had given her a browbeating the last time she had been there. Luckily, the only soul in the bar at high noon, amazingly enough, was the bartender. He hovered behind the bar, cleaning glasses and arranging bottles. He nodded at her as she approached the counter.
“What can I getcha, lass?”
Rhianon shook her head. “Nothing. I’m actually looking for someone. I met him here last time I was in the area. Name is Jessep Thundermar.”
The bartender snorted. “Good ol’ Jessep, eh? Whatcha need him for?”
“Just some business. Can you tell me where I can find him?” She retrieved her map from the front pocket of her satchel, showing it to the bartender. “If it helps, you can just mark the location down on here. I know directions can be difficult in these parts.”
At the request, the bartender sighed and motioned for the map. “Fine. He ought to be out by his family’s hunting post near the lowlands. They don’t usually come up this way until dusk.” He spread the map out on the counter, scratching a small ‘x’ on the specified location with the pencil he kept tucked behind his ear, and then pushed the map back towards Rhianon. “That should be the right spot.”
“Thanks.” Rhianon rolled up the map and stowed it back in her satchel. She hefted the satchel over her shoulder, preparing to exit the establishment. When she turned her back to the counter, however, the bartender let out a small cough. She glanced over her shoulder at the small dwarf, his arms crossed over his chest. “Yes….?”
“I’m sure ye need a drink for the road, lass, don’t ye?” He grinned toothily, gesturing to the wealth of bottles and mugs behind him. “Whatever yeh want. I’ll even knock a silver off a refill if one isn’t enough for yeh.”
Rhianon glanced at the array of bottles and then at the bartender. She sighed, taking a seat in front of the bar. One favor did deserve another, particularly in the case of a bartender with no customers. Just one drink and she’d be on her way in a matter of minutes. “I’ll take a glass of sunfruit juice, if you have it.”
“Aww, c’mon. We have the finest Thundermar ale on tap. Sure you don’t want a big frothing mug of it?”
“I…I can’t,” Rhianon explained, stumbling over her words. It seemed pointless to mention that it was barely into the afternoon to a bartender who was already pushing beer on her. “I have a long journey ahead of me, and you know what they say -”
The bartender rolled his eyes. “Can’t drink and fly. I know. Spoil sport. Fine. I’ll get yeh your juice.” He said the last word bitterly, as if Rhianon had requested that he go out and pick the fruit himself, but set about fetching her a frosty mug of the requested beverage.
Thanks to a bartender who repeatedly assured her that one was never enough in Thundermar, one hour and several glasses of sunfruit juice later, Rhianon was flying out over the southern Highlands, scouting out Jessep Thundermar’s hunting post. The bartender had been kind enough to mark the location on the map, but without knowing what she was looking for, the shaman kept crossing over the same spot time and time again. Deciding that she was likely to have more luck on the ground rather than flying over the trees, she had started to pull Tobias into a gentle descent when a kindly Highland breeze spirited past her head, carrying with it the very same voice that had so delicately proposed marriage to her. Jessep! Rhianon tapped the side of Tobias’s head. “Do you hear that?”
The hippogryph squawked in reply, stretching his head towards the trees just underneath them. Rhianon nodded and urged Tobias onward. The two of them descended, neatly slipping through the tree cover, and lighting on the path below.
As startled at the exclamation as the dwarf shouting, Rhianon spun around on Tobias’s back, coming face to face with a wide-eyed dwarven couple, their arms clasped tightly around each other. The female dwarf, clad in leather armor, had a tiny bouquet of wildflowers clutched in her hand – and the male, presumably Jessep, was dressed in a sharp set of mail armor, his beard nicely trimmed. It was at that moment that Rhianon realized she recognized both of them, not just the male. The female dwarf, flowers in hand, was the very same bar maid who had kicked her out of the Thundermar inn over two months ago!
“Dontcha got anything to say for yerself, lady?” Jessep fumed, shaking his fist. “Like what possessed ye to dive down out of the air like some sort of orcish invader and interrupt our nice walk?”
“Jessep Thundermar?” Rhianon stammered, eying him.
He frowned. “That’s my name, aye.”
Before she could begin to speak again, the female dwarf leaned over, tapping Jessep on the arm. “Hey, isn’t that the draenei lady I scared out of Thundermar a ways back?”
Jessep surveyed Rhianon again. “Aye, it is.” He sighed. “I was hoping this day wouldn’t come around. You’ve come to call me in on my offer, haven’t you?”
“Not…not – “
“I like to be known as a dwarf who keeps his word,” Jessep continued, not allowing Rhianon to answer, “but circumstances have changed a bit since that night.” He squeezed his female companion’s hand. “You see, Lissa and me are a couple now. And…” He grinned at Lissa, the beaming barmaid. “And she just accepted my offer of marriage! So, ye can be the first to congratulate us!”
“It’s thanks to you, lass,” Lissa gushed. “If it hadn’t been for that night and your refusal, Jessep would have never gotten some sense into his head!” She smiled at her fiance. “He realized that he isn’t going to be young and handsome forever, and if he doesn’t get his life settled soon, all the good ones will be taken! Thank you!”
Rhianon took a step backwards, blinking. “Uh…thanks…”
“So, I’m sorry, lass,” Jessep said, reaching forward to pat her hand. “This dwarf is taken now.”
Lissa was equally apologetic. She took one of the flowers from her bouquet, offering it to Rhianon. “I sure hope there is someone for you, lass, but I know you understand.”
Rhianon took the flower, looking down at its butter-yellow petals. She wanted to be happy for them – no, she was happy for them – but at same time, she couldn’t help feeling sorry for herself. Her last option, her best option, was gone. She would have to go slink back to Silda and say she couldn’t accomplish her half of the bargain. She could just imagine Silda now, rolling on the ground in laughter until her face was red and her eyes bulged out. There was nothing to do, however, except go back and face her…unless…
She looked up. “Do you have a brother?”
Jessep’s eyebrow quirked. “No, lass.”
“A cousin? A friend?” Rhianon caught herself. “Who is available, of course. I wouldn’t want to tread on anyone else’s feelings.”
Lissa and Jessep looked at each other, bewildered, and then back to Rhianon. “Well, lass,” Jessep said, slowly, “I do have one cousin who might interest ye. He’s a bit of an odd one, though. Lives up yonder on the mountain peaks. Raises gryphons by hand! Name’s Dolgal Featherfly.” He grinned at her. “Not sure he’ll be interested in yeh, though.”
Jessep then gestured up to the craggy mountain peak overlooking them to the east. “Up there. Fly to the highest outcropping and you’ll find him.”
Flying to the highest outcropping, however, was easier said than done. Carrion birds swirled around the base of the mountain, making the ascent tricky. By time Rhianon and Tobias reached the upper heights of the mountain, fast winds whipped around them, hindering flight. As a proud hippogryph, however, Tobias Skythorne did not like to be bested by his gryphon colleagues who called the mountain home – and he did his best to carry Rhianon through the tempestuous winds to the cropping of rock that jutted out from an opening in the mountainside just below the summit. At that height, the crying of the carrion birds and the wailing of the mountain gusts was replaced with an odd silence, pierced every so often by the chirp of a gryphon chick.
Rhianon hopped from Tobias’s back onto the outcropping, motioning for him to light on one of the other perches nearby. “I’m not sure how stable this is,” she explained. “Best you rest somewhere else while I see if this guy’s up here.”
She then turned around and tilted her head, peering into the shadowy mouth of the opening. “Heelloooooo? Anyone up here? Hellooooo?”
At first, Rhianon thought she heard the sound of a wind whipping towards her, a gust blowing from the inside of the cave out towards the perch, and she craned her neck, waiting to listen to the words carried its back. It took her only a split second, luckily, to realize that while it was the sound of wind rushing, the source wasn’t a mountain breeze, but a shiny, very sharp object careening through the air towards her.
Her breath surging in her chest, she stepped aside, just barely avoiding the flying axe. Her step, however, was just a bit too close to the edge. She stumbled, caught herself for a moment on unsteady hooves while casting a glance down to the valley below, and then lost her footing as quickly as she had regained it, toppling over the cracked outcropping edge.
Falling, in Rhianon’s experience, always seemed to be removed from the normal continuity of time and space. Whether falling from a staircase or just tripping over a rock in the road, the fall itself seemed to take forever, each moment visualized in gruesome detail. This time, however, it was completely different. Before she fully realized that she had fallen from the ledge, she found herself crashing into a second outcropping of rock, this one jutting out just a few yards below the higher one.
Her head pounded and her stomach churned, regretting each one of the sunfruit juices she had chugged down less than an hour ago. She could feel each one of the individual rocks poking into her back, biting at her skin through her mail armor. Rhianon rubbed at her face and cussed under her breath in Draenic. Above, Rhianon could hear Tobias’s squawking, his blustering less about being overjoyed at her survival and more about being amused at her silliness for falling off the ledge in the first place. “Oh, shut up, Toby!” she shouted up at him, her voice echoing through the still mountain air. “Some people don’t have wings!”
“Hey, you okay down there?”
Rhianon opened her eyes again, glancing up at the ledge above her. A dwarf leaned over the rock, staring down at her. Seeing her move, he called down, “Whatcha thinking, leaping over the side like that? You don’t got wings!”
“I’m not the one throwing axes at people on mountain tops!” She shot back. “I just lost my footing, that’s all!”
“Dangerous place to lose your footing, aye? Or is that your ‘hoofing’?” The dwarf chortled at his own joke and Rhianon bristled. “And I didn’t throw the axe, lass. That was Jasmine, my best gryphon. She doesn’t like other women poking around her territory.” He grinned. “I try to keep her in line, but what can you do?”
Rhianon glared at him, picking herself off the ground. She dusted off her armor. “I can see I’m just wasting my time here. Come on, Toby.”
“Hey, now, don’t get all angry on ol’ Dolgal! What’dya come up here for anyway?”
Rhianon sighed, casting another glance up at the dwarf peering over the edge. “I’m just trying to find a date for my friend, that’s all. I got pointed in your direction and I can see those people were mistaken. I’m sorry to waste your time.”
At those words, the dwarf lifted his head up, glancing to and fro. He then ducked his head down and hopped over the ledge, landing on the rock next to Rhianon with a loud grunt. He looked up at her, one eyebrow arched. “You say you got a friend?”
“Yes, well – “
“She a Draenei like you, I’m guessing?”
Rhianon shook her head. “No, no, she’s a dwarf. Wildhammer, actually.”
Dolgal cocked his head. “Even better.”
Confused but not willing to question fate, Rhianon straightened up, adding, “She’s a shaman too. And she’s probably really nice looking for a dwarf, but I’m not an expert in that sort of thing. Her name is Silda Thunderheart.”
He nodded up towards the ledge and whispered, “You think she’d mind a few axes tossed ‘er way?”
“Uh, no, actually, I think she’d probably like it. More exciting, right?”
Dolgal beamed. “My kind of woman!” He clapped his hands over Rhianon’s, and squeezed them tightly. “Now, yeh got my interest!”
Within the next few minutes, Rhianon had all the details sorted out with Dolgal and was flying back to Thundermar on a still-bemused Tobias. Against his normal routine, Dolgal would be going out of his way over the next few weeks to stop by the Thundermar Inn for an ale in the evening, wearing a sky-blue cape clasp as an identifier. All she had to do was give Silda his information, point her in the right direction, and the match was sealed (provided Silda was still interested, of course).
She would be flying a Wildhammer gryphon in a matter of months, maybe weeks. She had already decided she wanted a white one with red markings, if that was possible. All that was left was to pick a name, which, in Rhianon’s opinion, was the hardest part of the whole matter anyway.