Rabbits. Marbelma always did love rabbits. She wanted a pet rabbit, but her mother wouldn’t let her have one. ‘I don’t want no rabbit leavin’ poop all over my nice clean floor’ she’d say. So, she got her a stuffed rabbit many years ago. It was cute for a while, but Marbelma was beginning to outgrow it. She was twelve years old, for Light’s sake! She wasn’t a baby anymore.
So if Mom wouldn’t get her a rabbit, Marbelma would just have to catch one herself.
She knelt behind a bush as she watched the snowshoe rabbit munching on what grass was able to poke through the snow. It was cold, kneeling in the snow that went up to her knees, but Marbelma didn’t mind it. She was a Snowshoe after all - her bloodline was built for life in the cold. Ice was practically her element!
She leapt out from the bush in am…bush! But the rabbit was too fast and took off. Marbelma growled and pounded her fist in the snow. “Consarn it!”
“Marbeeeelllmaaaaa!” she heard her mother’s voice call over the snow. “Diiiiiiineeeeerrrr!!!”
She sighed, her breath visible in the cold. She got up and walked back home, sulking the whole way. She’ll get that bunny one of these days.
When Marbelma returned home and removed her jacket, she joined her family at the dinner table - her mother, her father, and her Uncle Barter. Uncle Barter lived in the house’s basement and worked as an independent brewer. Her father, meanwhile, was a mountaineer. A captain, in fact! All the other mountaineers had to do what he told them to! It sounded like a really cool job.
“So, we pinched another snuff shipment comin’ in from the east.” her father said.
“Dark Irons?” Uncle Barter asked.
“That’s what I used to think, but now I ain’t so sure.” Da replied. “I asked (Loch Modan man) about it, and he said that the last shipment he pinched was by the dam, which tells me it’s comin’ in from somewhere up north.”
“Could still be Dark Irons.” Barter said. “I’ve heard they’ve got a few hideouts in the Wetlands. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had a lab there.”
“Alright, alright, that’s enough work talk, Faldor.” Ma scolded Da as she set dinner down on the table - blood sausages! Marb’s favorite! “Especially with your child at the table.” she added in a whisper that she thought Marbelma couldn’t hear (she totally could).
“So Marbelma, what were you doin’ out there in the cold before Dinner?” Barter asked in an attempt to change the subject away from drug shipments to something more family-friendly.
“Nothin’.” Marbelma replied.
“Ye better not have been tryin’ ta catch a rabbit out there.” her mother scolded as she poured a glass of ale for her husband. “I told ye a million times, I don’t want no rabbit poop in this house.”
“Ah come on - Jennily has a rabbit that poops in a box!” Marbelma protested. “We got plenty of boxes we can use for poop boxes!”
“Don’t try to argue, Marbelma Snowshoe. You’re not gettin’ a rabbit and that’s final.” her mother said. “Honestly, why did the Light curse me with such a defiant, argumentative child?”
“Well, she didn’t get it from me…” Faldor muttered before sipping his ale.
“What was that?”
“Damn right, nothing.”
As Mum sat down for her own sausages, Uncle Barter changed topics again. “So, have you heard the latest news from Northrend, brother?”
“Nae, I haven’t.” Da said after another sip of ale.
“Oh for - yer a bloody mountaineer captain! Ain’t it yer job to stay informed of current military affairs?” Uncle Barter asked.
“I’m a Dun Morogh mountaineer captain, Barter.” Da said. “My duty is to these mountains and these mountains alone. Any affairs beyond our kingdom’s borders are above my pay grade.”
“Well, allow me to enlighten ye brother. I was in Kharanos the other day and I heard that the Argent Crusade is finally beginning preparations for a proper assault on Icecrown Citadel.”
“Oh really? And how do they intend to do that?”
“That’s the thing - they’re hosting a tournament!”
“A tournament! The idea is to host a big tournament - hundreds of heroes from both factions are invited, but only twenty-five winners will emerge. Those twenty-five winners will BE the assault force on the citadel!”
“What the - is the Crusade daft? They’re gonna need more than a couple dozen men to lay siege to a fortress like Icecrown.”
“No no, that’s the thing. They CAN’T use a large force because if too many of their own men die, they just turn into zombies and bolster the Scourge’s forces. So the idea instead is to send in a small team of REALLY good fighters who CAN’T easily die, and can cleave their way through the Lich King’s forces with the greatest of ease!”
Uncle Barter snapped his fingers and smiled. “Oi Faldor - there’s Argent Crusade recruiters in Kharanos. Maybe YOU could join the tournament!”
“Out of the question!” Ma interjected. “My husband risks enough life and limb right here with all those nasty troggs and trolls about! Like hell he’s going to leave us to go fight the undead, die, and leave my daughter without a father!”
“Oh come on, Ednis. We need to send as many sons of Ironforge to that tournament as we can. Don’t forget - the Horde is joining the tournament too. Last thing I want to see is a barbarous orc or a traitorous elf or worse, a bloody troll win that tournament.”
“Sorry, but Ednis is right.” Da said firmly. “Besides, someone has to guard the homefront while everyone else is in Northrend, saving the world. That’s me role, and I take pride in it.”
“Well said, Faldor.” Mum congratulated. “Now please, no more talk of that awful war at this table. From either of ye.”
Marbelma finished her dinner a few minutes later, She excused herself and headed up to her room and read her book. It was a great story book about a dwarf adventurer who braved the depths of kobold-infested catacombs for adventure and treasure. Though Mum disapproved of it, Marbelma often fantasized about becoming such an adventurer one day.
No. Not just an adventurer. A hero! Just like the heroes fighting the Lich King!
She reached under her bed and pulled out a wooden sword and made pretend that she was fighting the Undead Scourge. Take that, Kel’thuzad! Take that, Arthas! She grabbed her stuffed rabbit, Cotton, and saved the helpless civilian from the imaginary ghoul that was about eat her face! Take that, vile creature!
...Uh-oh. She had to use the little girl’s room.
She held on to Cotton as she left her room and made her way downstairs to the bathroom. Da was in the kitchen, still reading his paper. Ma was in the living room, sweeping. And Uncle Barter was probably down in the basement, working on his perfect brew again. Or at least, he said it would be perfect. It never was, but he kept trying.
She went into the bathroom and did her business, washing her hands afterwards because the last time she neglected to do that, her mother smacked her hands and said -
What was that?
Marbelma came out of the bathroom a thick white smoke coming from the kitchen. It sounded like Da was fighting something, but what? Marbelma didn’t have time to wonder what as her mother grabbed her by the hand and dragged over to the nearby closet and pushed her in. “Marbelma, no matter what happens, do not come out of here until we say so.”
“Mum, what’s-“ The door was closed before Marbelma could even finish the question. The sounds of struggle continued. Panicked yelling. Screaming. Fighting. Dishes breaking. She held tightly on to Cotton. She was getting scared.
Then, suddenly, silence. There was the sound of cabinets opening. Was it over? Marbelma stepped outside the closet and looked inside the kitchen.
There were three fresh, bloody corpses in the kitchen. Mum, Da, and Uncle Barter. Standing behind them, almost triumphantly was a tall figure. He was skinnier than the local Frostmanes and wore fancy leather armor, but the huge tusks left no doubt. It was a troll. “Zebb bip-bip.” it spoke in its tongue as it cracked open a small pony keg of Barter’s ale and started drinking directly from it. As it took a swig and then set the mug down, it made eye contact with Marbelma.
That’s when Marbelma ran.
“Pikskap!” the troll hissed as it gave chase, cornering her in the living room. Marbelma was trapped in a corner, with only Cotton to protect her. The troll was studying her, tilting its head curiously, as if unsure what to do.
That’s when she heard another crash. Another giant figure bursted through the door, but it was no troll. She was wearing glittering gold armor and was armed with a sword longer than Marbelma was tall. “Halt in the Light’s name!” she shouted in a thick accent the little dwarf never heard before. Those horns. Those hooves? Was this a draenei? Marbelma had never seen one in person before.
“Xif!” the troll cursed before attempting to run back into the kitchen. The draenei cut it off by conjuring a solid-gold hammer, seemingly out of nowhere, before throwing it at the troll, catching it in the leg. The draenei snarled and lunged at the creature, but it was slippery, nimbly dodging what would’ve been a fatal downward swing from her blade. It pulled out a pistol and fired square in her chest, but thanks to her armor, it only succeeded in making the draenei mad. Realizing it was outmatched, it pulled a black pellet from its pocket and tossed it at the ground, engulfing the room in white smoke. By the time it cleared, the troll was gone.
The draenei looked around and snarled, angry that the fiend got away. She marched out the door, ready to give chase, when she finally noticed Marbelma. She walked over to her and knelt down on one knee. “Are you alright, little one?” she asked. Marbelma nodded. She then looked over her shoulder and saw them again - the dead bodies of her family.
They were dead.
That’s when it finally clicked. They were all dead.
“…Mum……Da……..” she sobbed as the tears started to flow. The draenei glanced at their bodies, then took Marbelma into an embrace.
“I’m so sorry.” the strange, yet heavenly woman spoke as Marbelma weeped into her shoulder.
Marbelma hated the Ironforge Orphanage. It was noisy for one. The other kids were constantly running around shouting and screaming at each other. Second, the food here sucked, all cooked by a lunch lady who was always grumpy and probably hated her job. Worst of all though, was Dagrella.
Dagrella was a Dark Iron girl about Marbelma’s age who, unlike everyone else, chose this life. Her parents were still alive, she just ran away because she didn’t want to worship Ragnaros or whatever evil thing Dark Irons do. Could’ve fooled Marbelma, because Dagrella was just as evil as any other Dark Iron. She was mean and loved to bully all the other kids.
“Give her back!” Marbelma said as Dagrella played a “friendly game” of keep away with Cotton, Marbelma’s beloved stuffed rabbit and the only thing she had left of her family.
“Or what, shorty?” the Dark Iron taunted. Despite being about the same age, Dagrella was considerably taller than Marbelma. With her superior stature, she was easily able to push Marbelma onto the floor. “You know, me Da was a mage. Learned a few spells from him, even, before I ran away. Watch this!”
The taller girl tossed Cotton to the other side of the room. She then conjured a fireball in her hand. “No! Wait!” Marbelma’s pleas fell on deaf ears as the bully threw the fireball at Cotton.
The stuffed animal exploded into flames.
Marbelma was shocked, frozen, even. Cotton…..She was all she had left. It was Dagrella’s harsh laughter that snapped her out of her stupor. “Aw, is the little Bronze Baby gonna cry now? Come on, baby! Let’s see some tears!”
As the Dark Iron resumed her uproarious, sadistic laughter, Marbelma shakily stood up and stared her down. Despite the tears streaming down her cheeks, there was no more sadness within her. First the troll who murdered her family and destroyed her life. Then Dagrella, who had been tormenting her for the last two months, and finally the death of the one thing she still held dear.
There was no more sadness.
Now there was only rage.
Marbelma grabbed a fork from the nearest table and lunged at Dagrella.
“She stabbed the other child with a fork?” Eadric the Pure asked.
“Aye.” Orphan Matron Hearthkeeper replied with a nod. “They were in the dining area. Dagrella, the bully, burned up Marbelma’s stuffed rabbit. The poor girl snapped, grabbed the nearest fork and attacked Dagrella like a wild animal.”
“Oh my…” Eadric stated. The middle-aged dwarf woman nodded as she rose out of her chair and poured herself and the paladin some tea.
“I’ve been this orphanage’s matron for nearly forty years now.” Hearthkeeper said. “It’s rare to see this kind of rage in a child. The kind of rage that can lead her down a bad road later in life. That’s why I invited you here, Mr. Eadric.”
“I understand that you and some other paladins are here to recruit champions for your Argent Tournament up in Northrend?” Hearthkeeper asked as she handed the human some tea.
“Indeed. We’ve almost gathered enough champions to qualify for the tournament.” Eadric said. “I suspect this is the last time I’ll be in the Eastern Kingdoms for quite some time.”
“But you also recruit squires, yes?” Hearthkeeper asked. “Children to serve as apprentices to your argent crusaders?”
“And you want us to take in this child to be a squire.” Eadric surmised.
“Marbelma’s a good girl.” Hearthkeeper assured. “She just needs guidance, I think. A Light to show her a way out of the darkness. I even have a crusader in mind.” She fished out a folder from a drawer and handed it to Eadric. The human looked through it, and found crude crayon drawings of a female draenei paladin. “That’s the woman who rescued Marbelma from that dreadful troll that night.”
“Vindicator Rhyliaandra.” Eadric said. “Yes, she was patrolling that area as a favor to the Ironforge mountaineers when she heard that commotion from the Snowshoe household. She saved that little girl’s life.”
“Aye, and I’ll bet it’d be a dream come true for little Marbles to be a squire to her.” Hearthkeeper said. “That moon goat’s practically her hero.”
“Hrm. I’ll speak to Rhyliaandra about it.” Eadric said. “She’s always been a bit of a lone wolf - prefers to operate alone. But I think I can convince her. With her sense of duty and unwavering dedication to justice, she’ll make a fine mentor to the child, I think.”
Two weeks later….
“Marbelma!” Rhyliaandra barked outside the smithy’s.
“Coming, Rhyliaandra!” Marbelma Snowshoe, newly-minted Argent Squire said as she came out of the smithy and handed the freshly-repaired sword to the Argent Crusader. The draenei inspected the weapon with a skeptical eye, then nodded with approval as she sheathed it.
“Come.” Rhyliaandra commanded. “Our boat will arrive soon.”
Marbelma shyly followed the draenei through the busy streets of Menethil Harbor towards the docks. She had only been a squire for a little over a week, and already Rhyliaandra was proving a stern master. She had given the young dwarf a wooden sword and a dummy to practice on. So far, practice sessions were nothing but a storm of blunt critiques of Marbelma’s form and technique.
“Stop swinging it blindly, and AIM for something. It’s a sword, not a club.”
“Your follow-through was too slow - an ogre would’ve smashed you by now. Again.”
“You fight like an orc. Don’t smile, that wasn’t a compliment. Orcs are primitive brutes enslaved to their own bloodlust. If you’re to be a paladin, you must hold yourself to a higher standard than that.”
It was frustrating at times, but Marbelma never blamed Rhyliaandra for it. She knew it was her own fault for not being good enough yet, and even then it wasn’t entirely her own fault. As Rhyliaandra said of her;
“Of course you are ineffective as a fighter. You are freshly mined chunk of true iron. And I am a blacksmith. My job is to melt you down, mold you into shape, temper you, and eventually forge you into a weapon of the Light. It will be a long process, but by the time I am done, you will be a worthy blade for the Light.”
Even so, Rhyliaandra’s training was brutal. She was unforgiving of mistakes, and was quick to lecture the child every time she whined for a rest.
“We are weapons of the Light, Marbelma. Does the blade desire a break from slaying its master’s enemies? Does the arrow complain about flying too fast from the bow? No - they simply do what they were made to do, as shall you.”
But even so, the training was already paying off. As she shifted the backpack laden with food, water, armor polish, everything a traveling paladin needs, Marbelma never felt so strong before. She felt like she could beat the crap out of Dagrella a dozen times over, and with continued training, she was only going to get stronger. She already fantasized about confronting that troll one day and smiting him with the Light.
As they made their way over to the docks, there was another draenei waiting for them - a male wearing ranger-like mail armor, a pair of hatchets strapped to his belt, along with several strange objects he called “totems.” It was Rhyliaandra’s brother, Roniaar, or “Uncle Roni” as he had taken to calling himself around Marbelma. He was a shaman - a practitioner of Horde magic, as Rhyliaandra once told her.
“Hello, sister!” Roniaar warmly greeted as he saw the vindicator approach. “Got everything?” In sharp contrast to his stoic sister, Roniaar was nearly all smiles all the time. Were they really family, Marbelma wondered.
“Yes.” Rhyliaandra replied. “I’m surprised to see you here so soon - and sober no less.” The vindicator sneered at her brother. She once told Marbelma that he was a ‘hedonist’, whatever that meant.
“Well, we ARE about to hop on a boat.” Roniaar said. “Seasickness combined with a hangover hardly sounded fun, so I chose to take it easy on the ale last night. Although, I DID meet this nice night elf girl…”
“Not in front of my squire, please.” Rhyliaandra said as she gestured to the young dwarf.
“Oh right! Nobody told her about the moths and elekks yet, huh?” Roniaar asked. “Don’t worry, Marbles - I’ll tell you all about it when you’re older.”
Marbelma giggled a bit. ‘Marbles.’ She liked that nickname. Her giggles were silenced, however, by a stern glare from Rhyliaandra. “I’ll go check in with the captain. The two of you stay here, and don’t go anywhere.” With that, she walked away.
“How long will the boat ride be?” Marbelma asked.
“Not too long. A few weeks, at most.” Roniaar replied. “This will be your first time to Northrend, yes?”
Marbelma nodded. “What’s it like?” she asked.
“Cold, as you can well imagine.” Roniaar answered. “And also dangerous - not just from all the undead, but vrykul and ice trolls as well.”
Marbelma shivered. Trolls. Like the one that…….well, if she saw a troll up there, she’ll help Rhyliaandra kill it.
“But it’s not all bad.” Roniaar said. “Northrend can also be quite beautiful. The awe-inspiring cliffs of the Howling Fjord. The jungles of Sholazar Basin, teeming with life. And of course, Ulduar.”
“Ulduar?” Marbelma asked. “What’s an Ulduar?”
“You’ve never heard?” the draenei asked in playful shock. “Oh, it’s an incredible story that will thrill, captivate, and-“
“Marbelma! Roniaar!” Rhyliaandra barked from the end of the dock. “We are boarding now!”
“I’ll tell you the whole story later tonight - once Miss Bossy-Hooves over there is asleep.” Roniaar whispered, earning a giggle from the dwarf. She didn’t know why Rhyliaandra seemed to dislike Roniaar so much. He was nice, and fun! He was Marbelma’s first real friend since the orphanage.
As the two draenei and dwarf boarded the Northspear, Marbelma couldn’t help but imagine. What wonders and dangers would she encounter in Northrend? She had never been so far from home before. It would no doubt be an exciting adventure!
She only wished that Mum and Da could see her now. They’d be so proud…
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