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Skafloc

A Radical Solution..

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(( Several days ago, prior to the previous edition of the Gadgetzan Times ))

The bat set down in Hammerfall in the early evening light. From the high platform Skafloc could see that the outpost was less busy than usual, just the odd figure walking around the main compound.

" Hopefully the surgeon is still awake." he thought. Not that he knew if the forsaken actually slept. Still, he was ready for his next first aid lesson and didn't feel like spending the night until the man woke in the morning.

Before heading down to the makeshift triage center Skafloc decided to stock up on food from the inn. Walking over to the building he ran into a familiar face.

" Nymare Sunfire! How are you dear? "

The woman jumped at the mention of her name. Turning to face Skafloc, he could see immediately that she was troubled. Her hands were working, her eyes shifted from his face to either side of the pair, looking to see who might also be around.

" Is something the matter? You look jumpy." he asked. He knew the woman casually from chance meetings in the wilds. Also a farstrider in training, they had talked about the hunt, and their pets. She had the most wonderful dragonhawk as a companion, an animal he shared a fondness for, even if he presently has his windserpent along for the most part these days.

" Oh. Mr. Skafloc, its good to see you again. " she said. There was a look of worry in her eyes that belied her light hearted welcome.

" Is something troubling you Nymare?" he asked.

She hesitated. There was definitely something wrong.

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Skafloc had a knack for running across her when it was horribly inconvenient, and to say Nymare was distracted this time was an understatement. One moment she had been visualizing Alin's death, how it would all go... right down to the sound of her blade slickly forcing it's way through his sternum as the final move in a series of many slow, painful moves leading up to then... and the next moment she was torn from it all by the sound of her name alive in the air around her. She never was good at recovering when taken by surprise, and it seemed he could sense she was even less like herself tonight than usual. Shake it off. Be polite, be convincing. Disappear.

Her brightest, most reassuring smile appeared.

"Oh no, I am fine," she lied. She hated lying. "It is just that, as usual, you have managed to catch me off guard... a rare talent. You should be proud." She could hear her own voice - she sounded sincere, playful... as if she, herself, believed in what she was saying... but though he smiled graciously at what she had to say, the look in his eyes seemed to imply he knew that she was not telling him the truth. It made her even more uneasy than she already was.

If there was anything she hated more than lying, it was being caught.

An orc appeared from the Inn behind her and walked out onto the deck with a lantern, visiting each torch that lined the deck in turn to set them ablaze. A warm glow lit the features of the Ranger before her, pulling him from the darkness that surrounded them. Her instinct was to mistrust him, but as she looked up at him, she could see nothing but the face of someone who appeared genuine and concerned. She wished she could tell him everything, but admitting to one noble how you planned to murder another did not seem, then, the right way to further her cause. She kept the conversation superficial.

"Jassart has said you have offered to grace us with your presence at the next open Fête we have planned, is this true?" she asked pleasantly.

"Yes," he confirmed with gusto. "Jassart has invited me. I believe he said it will be in Silvermoon. Will you be there, Miss Nymare?" Silvermoon... of course. I will be there, either as a free woman or a dead one.

She groaned inwardly as she realized she was hesitating again. She grasped for some thread of recovery to cling to, but everything was sliding from her grip. Again, she was caught.

"You can talk to me," he assured her suddenly, his voice low. "I will understand if you do not, but if you ever need to..."

"I do not get to Silvermoon much these days," she admitted, long errant strands of brilliant blond hair falling into her face as she looked down at her hands, the sudden longing to see her family again overcoming her. "Very sadly, I am most likely safer in Tarren Mill than that city."

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" Not safe in Silvermoon?" asked Skafloc. She appeared completely in distress now, no mistaking it. " You don't have to tell me if you don't want, but is it trouble with the law? You know I am not without some connections with the Council, perhaps its something I can help with?" She was almost trembling with whatever secret she was keeping inside.

She looked up at him, her eyes damp from tears barely kept in check.

" No, not that kind of trouble. I doubt you can do much as its not really a political thing. " she told him, still being evasive.

" But, its plain you feel you can't return to Silvermoon. It isn't the city itself, that I think I'm gathering. But, is it someone in it? Someone you are running from. Yes? " Skafloc prodded.

Around them the evening light was starting to slowly dim. A few travelers had arrived and were bartering with the vendors on the balcony overlooking the compound. Nymare bit at her lower lip, she appeared to be in some sort of inner conflict, deciding how or if to respond. Slowly she took a breath. The words when they came out were strained and soft. Almost a whisper.

" I am running away from the man I am betrothed to.."

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It all sounded so simple. But to assume it was as simple as some stupid girl running away because she did not want to get married would be tragically ignorant as to assume her family only needed money to be whole again, her sisters were only good for marrying off, and Alin was only a jealous man.

"I know how it sounds," Nymare scoffed a bitter smile and looked away, off over the field at the encroaching darkness. A small group of shadowy figures darted across the landscape, more than likely reinforcements on their way to defend the resources that were constantly warred over in the Arathi Basin, but she watched them anyway until she was certain of where they were heading. She hated the paranoia, the fear. It would all be over soon, she assured herself. She was so close to doing what it was that needed to be done. Her eyes slowly drifted back to Skafloc, her gaze stern in it's embarassment. It did sound silly. What else would he hear in what she just said but the simplicity? "I do not expect you to understand."

But the elder ranger before her was not looking away. He was not looking at her as if she were just some stupid girl. He was looking at her as if he were concerned, as if he saw more than she was telling... like he always seemed to.

"I would like to understand," his voice was warm and reassuring, drawing upon her resolve and pulling it away. The urge was strong to tell him everything, to believe he would understand, yet she still managed to hold back. He shrugged lightly, patiently accepting her silence. "But if its something you don't want to talk about, I will understand. In your own time, when you are ready, you will let it out."

Her reasoning flailed wildly. Could she trust him not to tell anyone? Maybe he can help you, Nymare... But that wasn't it. Maybe he can stop you...

"He is the worst kind of man," she found herself saying suddenly, her fingers curling into her palms. "Very possessive. Very... violent. Very powerful."

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She was a bundle of nerves, that much was plain to see. Her eyes darted at every movement around them, her hands working her fingers together absently.

There was much she was not saying, some great stress she was holding inside. She had all the appearance of a woman who was wrestling with some great emotional pain or dread of some unavoidable tragedy she saw coming.

" In your own time, when you are ready, you will let it out." he had told her. Skafloc found himself hoping that she would trust him enough to open up just a little. He hated seeing women is such distress.

Her mouth opened as if to speak, then at the last second she closed it again. But her eyes told him she wanted to say something. Patiently he waited, giving her a reassuring smile.

Slowly her hands came down to her sides, fingers curled up tight into her palms. She looked at him briefly, then cast her eyes down and the words came measured and strained.

" He is the worst kind of man. Very possessive. Very... violent. Very powerful." said Nymare.

Skafloc heard the words she spoke, but more than that, he heard the pain and shame that came along with those words, which told more of a tale to him than the words alone could have.

A powerful Sin'Dorei. Probably a lord or lordling then of a Noble house. Already Skafloc could understand much more of her dilemna. Such a man would only be able to feel confident enough to press a claim of marriage if he felt he had the support of the Council behind him. She was running from him she had said, which implied she wanted nothing to do with his marriage plans. But to fear returning to her home, her family because of this? There was more to this than she had said.

"Violent" she had described him. There was the key word. She had hesitated when saying it, which could mean it was understated. What had this man done to her? For surely that is the reason she feared him so. Yes, fear. Thats what she was feeling. Skafloc saw it now as plain as he could see it in the eyes of a courser being surrounded by a worg hunting pack.

" Nymare," he said softly. " Did this man.. hurt you? Will he hurt you? Is that why you fear to return to Silvermoon, because of what he will do to you?"

Skafloc asked the question as delicately as he could, but inside he felt he already knew the answer.

Like a tingling electrical shock his mind flashed back to long years past, to the writings of Danyxandra Ran'Deau and his own Grandfather Arloc Ran'Deau. To their journals of the tragic events that plunged his family into dark despair and near obliteration. Somewhere in the words of Nymare Sunfire he was hearing Dany's voice as surely as if she were reciting those words she wrote long ago. Ominous and forbidding. The similarities were impossible for Skafloc to ignore.

His heart felt heavy as he waited for her to continue, dreading the truth he sensed was coming.

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The first sounds of night began to creep into the air, the soft cricket chirps in the distance giving a false sense of peace to the hotly contested lands. Perhaps, for a moment, Arathi had found a sort of quiet, but there was no peace within Nymare. Conflict saturated her every nerve, and every word spoken was giving more away than the tormented Sin'Dorei knew she should. She could push past him right now, throw everything away, do what she had set out to accomplish, but what he had just asked her could not be walked away from. Walking away was an answer. Anger was an answer. Silence was an answer, and, as if some part of her conscience sought to actively betray her, one of her hands instinctively raised to her cheek, feeling for the pain or sting of a bruise as she wondered, for a moment, if any physical signs still showed from her last encounter with her betrothed. There was no turning back now.

"Yes," Nymare's acrid confirmation was barely more than a whisper, her will's last vain attempt to keep everything buried and safe, as she explained. "His cruelty, when based off of speculation alone, is unreasonable... but I told myself I could endure it, whatever I needed to, for my family. This time, though, he has no reason to speculate..." Her voice trailed off with defeated anger, her hand dropping back to her side helplessly. "Someone very selfishly decided to kiss me. It was nothing, but it was in the Court of the Sun for all of Alin's ever-watching eyes to see. I have not been back since."

Skafloc regarded her solemnly by the torchlight, carefully absorbing all she had just shared with him. The expression behind his eyes was familiar, the unmistakable burning to help, to solve, to fix, but beneath it all she could also see a depth of empathy so immense that it surprised her.

"You fear him that much?" he finally asked, his voice as quiet as her's now.

She nodded weakly in return. She was unused to fearing anything, even less accostomed to admitting it.

"But I have to go back." Though she spoke quietly, everything about her screamed that she did not want to go back. Ever. In the warm early spring air, the young ranger shivered. "And soon." There was a cold finality in those last words.

"Why would you go back to that, Nymare?" Skafloc ventured to ask. Here, he did not seem to understand. Here, the speculation came, the incredulity. "Surely..."

"I do not have a choice, Skafloc!" she interrupted desperately, her eyes snapping up to meet his, brilliantly alive in their fierceness like some trapped animal. "He is hunting me.... Baiting me... with my friends and family. The longer I am away, the more of them he will hurt. I have to go back."

And here, his incredulity gave way to alarm. The night seemed to grow darker at the revelation, an ominious swell in the wind stirring around them both. The crickets had stopped their chirping.

"What do you mean...?

"There was a girl," Nymare began to explain, but her mind kept racing ahead to the end - the pain, the regret. She gave herself a moment to breathe, to let the rustling night's wind wash over her and calm the hurt seething beneath her skin, but the mere thought of it all brought fresh tears burning to the surface, waiting for release. She began again, her words a slow, controlled, and painful stream of guilt and remorse. "She was a servant in our household, and the closest thing I had to a friend outside of my sisters. She went looking for me after I disappeared to tell me that I was in danger... but I found out too late to protect her. Alin's men found her first, and when she would not tell them where I was, they..." At this, Nymare swallowed hard, drawing on every ounce of her strength to push it all back down. "I do not know if Alin sent my sister to me with the poor girl, or if Vythica came on her own, but the message was plain - Alin knows how to find me, and he knows how to get me to come back. I watched that poor girl die... slowly... over a week. I cannot watch anyone else suffer for me in this twisted game of his."

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The pain in her voice was tangible. As she described her horrible plight Skafloc felt the hairs of his neck starting to rise. This was history repeating itself in some fashion. The sequence of events that he had read in the journals of Danyxandra Ran’Deau were not too far off what was happening to this girl and her family. His own family’s plight generations past, the dark and sinister plots set against them by a bully, ultimately destroying them.

Well, almost. If it weren’t for the selfless efforts of one man, who had managed to preserve some remnant of the Ran’Deau family, even unto his own death. A man to whom death itself wasn’t enough to divert him from the path of setting to right the wrongs that were inflicted. Morgauth Nex’Cruor, who managed to not only be reunited with his love Danyxandra, a tragic victim of the fall of House Ran’Deau, but to restore the family to its former prominence with his actions.

Now here Nymare and her family faced much the same threat. Extortion, blackmail, death threats and more at the hands of a bully. A son of a Lord, who used his position to intimidate and abuse with impunity.

Or so he thinks…

“ Nymare. So you would return to him, to submit yourself to this monster to save your family and friends? You will let him win? “ he asked.

She bit her lip in frustration, hesitating before speaking. “ What else can I do? He has too many connections! Too many people that can hurt the ones I care about!” she was a mess, the stress taking its toll. “ It has to stop! “

Skafloc knew only too well the trap she was caught in. If she refused, the torture, pain and death inflicted on her loved ones would continue, her family members probably next on the list. If she returned, she and her family would be forever enslaved by the bully Alin. She abused and degraded, while her family stripped of all their dignity and probably used as servants or worse.

If she took drastic, desperate action she could lose her life, and those of her family.

Just as the Ran’Deaus did.

Alin Vos’Arryn, Skafloc didn’t know much at all about the Vos’Arryn’s but it was obvious they enjoyed some leverage with the Council, otherwise his antics would never be tolerated against another house, even a modest one as Nymare’s. She was in a predicament for sure. That he was a bully was plain. Secure in his position enough to feel he can inflict his torture without a care. He was a cockroach, doing his dirty work under cover and rummaging about under what he felt was security.

“How best to defeat a cockroach?” thought Skafloc. You expose it, take away its cover and subject it to glaring light. Reveal it for what it is, then watch it scurry away or squash it if it doesn’t.

The beginnings of a plan started forming in Skafloc’s mind. A solution that would expose the cockroach and force it into confrontation, or force it to scurry away. It was a radical plan, and it carried risk. Much personal risk for Skafloc and Nymare.

The image of Evanthe flashed across his mind. Yes, he risked losing her forever if she didn’t understand what he was about to suggest to Nymare. He would need to explain as best he could if indeed this plan went ahead to its conclusion. Explain and pray she could see his reasoning. Not that there was much reason in his mind at the moment, only empathy for this girl, his friend.

“Nymare, there is a solution. One that would be well within Sindorei law, something Alin would be hard pressed to fight. It also would gain you your freedom from him, as well as instantly put your family in a position of safety against retaliation. He would be taken aback, forced to reconsider everything and drop his claims against you, or else risk open conflict with another Noble House and its allies.”

Nymare wiped away tears and regarded Skafloc with a strange mix of hope, curiosity and doubt. She was as a castaway at sea, grasping for a piece of flotsam. “ There is? What is it? I will do anything at this point.”

Skafloc swallowed the lump he suddenly felt in his throat. For a moment he chickened out. What would she say? What would be her reaction? Was he really going to say this?

Evanthe again.. no, file that away or you will never get the words out. You need to do this or you will never forgive yourself. You owe it to Morgauth. You owe it to yourself..

“ Nymare. There will be risk involved, and there will be many who will question this action. Many will not understand, our friends and our loves. But I see it as the only real solution that will solve it all. “

Skafloc started to sweat a bit. Slowly he approached Nymare there on the balcony of the Hammerfall Inn, and went down on one knee. Her face registered confusion, question, then slowly dawning comprehension followed by shock.

“ Nymare Sunfire, will you marry me and become Baroness Ran’Deau? “

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There was an uproar behind her and to the right, in the direction of the bat handler. A small group of adventuring trolls had arrived just in time to hear the proposal.

"Way ta go, mon!" one shouted out to them.

"Whatcha waitin' for, girlie?" another asked, his voice filled with as much anticipation as if he were the one doing the asking.

Her ears perked, bending slightly toward the direction of the revelling trolls who were shouting cheers and encouragements into the air, but her shock could not pull her eyes from the man kneeling before her.

"B-But..." was all she could stammer in response. Marriage was serious. They both had their own lives. What if Alin reacted badly? What if Skafloc had just made himself a target? It was a resolution, but there were so many what-if's, so many questions, so much at risk - but he had said as much before he decided to kneel. It would have to be convincing, she blushed uncomfortably. What would they tell everyone? Would it work? If it failed...

Skafloc glanced up at her, his own small bit of uncertainty showing through his smile.

"As my wife, Alin would risk open war with both the Ran'Deau and Nex'Cruor estates if he ever tried to harm you again," he explained for her. Hearing him say it made it all feel more real to her, safer. "As Baroness, your own family's status will be raised... you will have the power to save them."

Something in the back of Nymare's mind questioned why he would do something so seemingly selfless. Not having an answer, she was reluctant to trust the gift he placed at her feet, which drew a momentary pain of guilt. How could she not trust him? She knew marriage, especially amongst houses, was purely political - it was something she accepted the day she was given to Alin, though she did try to love him. And though Alin had little to gain from her family, either, he always made her feel like a prize, a possession in his collection of things. He valued *something* about her. This was entirely different, however. Skafloc had nothing to gain. He certainly had never treated her in a way to make her think he was even remotely interested in her, let alone seeking to collect her, and her family had little else to offer him, except their own dwindling estate in addition to his. She had no political ties. They barely knew each other. So what was this marriage to him without love or gain? What was he thinking? Is anyone truly so selfless? She wished she knew.

"I..."

"Lookit him, girl!" the female troll insisted. "If ya don say yes, I will!"

You do not know him, what if... That does not matter, only they matter. This is your only chance... take it. Take it. Take it take it take it take it... Listen to the troll, Nymare. Look at him.

The cheering, heckling, pestering, and encouragements persisted, but she forced herself to drown them out, to look carefully into the face of the man kneeling before her in search of her answer. And there, she saw it as clearly as the brightest star in the sky.

"Yes."

She would never have imagined that the uproar of just three trolls could be so loud. Instantly, the two males began to jump around the couple, pushing each other around as the female troll ran up to Nymare and placed two great hands on her shoulders, shaking her with such enthusiasm, the world could have been giving way beneath her feet and she would not have felt it.

Skafloc, however, did not appear to have heard her... or her acceptance shocked him so much, his mind skipped a beat.

"Well?" he asked, his eyes carefully following the jubilant trolls moving about them.

"Yes!" Nymare repeated, beaming with exasperation as the shock was shaken from her and reality set back in. A great weight lifted from her soul. It felt... beautiful.

"Atta girl! Ya tell 'im!"

"She said yes, mon! Ya ken giddup now!"

Though her heart was pounding, her furture suddenly so uncertain, the night around them no longer felt as dark.

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It was a blur from that moment onward. Someone was cheering, a troll voice? Yes. What had been a deserted balcony in Hammerfall had suddenly seemed to fill with people, all clamoring to know what the commotion was about.

Again Skafloc asked Nymare " Will you marry me? " He wasn't certain he had actually heard correctly.

" Yes! Yes! How many times must I say it? Yes I will marry you!" she said with an air of giddiness.

Skafloc rose from his knee to smile at Nymare. " I should explain, this will afford you the protection of several houses as well as my allies. Alin would be hard pressed to do anything against you or your family under those circumstances. After a time, when his claims have been squashed, we can petition for divorce. You would retain your status in that instance as a baroness in your own right. That is something the Council cannot strip from you. Your family however would forever more be part of our larger House, earning full protection."

She appeared to hear the words, at least her nodding in agreement indicated she did, but the activity around them was distracting. Someone was shouting " A Wedding! We are having a wedding in Hammerfall!"

Skafloc tried to identify the speaker. One of the trolls, a priest from the look of him, was already rummaging through his packs for his scrolls and such.

" No, no.no. The wedding isnt taking place this instant! " Skafloc tried to explain. It didn't seem to register.

If that were not enough, a familiar voice came out of the throng at them.

" Nymare darling! How are you? Mister Skafloc as well! What a pleasant surprise! "

Looking over the group of people Skafloc saw the blonde head Mr. Jassart. Friend of Nymare and head of that social circle called The Fête, of which Nymare was a leading member.

Before the two of them could say anything someone approached him with the jubilant news " Did you hear? They are getting married! "

The look on Jassart's face was priceless.

" Married?!! Oh.. I... well. this is a surprise. "

So it begins, thought Skafloc. Well, this was to be expected.

He had to admit though, there was a certain thrill he felt at the prospect.

Thrill and more than a little fear.

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Jassart Emberglow was still a bit bow-legged from getting off the giant bat. He walked gingerly as blood returned to the muscles and the pain in his groin subsided. Every ride on one of the damnable flying rats put the Fête jewels at risk. As he stretched out, he dreamed of the day when he would get his own hawkstrider with a cushy saddle. Perched atop his dire emu, he could ride in comfort and style.

But like everything, dire emus cost money. So to Hammerfall it was on a variety of errands. Besdies, there were ogres here. Ogres with ogre-sized pockets. Pockets that begged to be picked.

Chuckling in anticipation of the filthy lucre that would soon be his, Jassart walked through the former prison camp of Hammerfall and noticed a large crowd was gathering. "Oh, street theater," he said to himself and headed over to see what the crowd was watching.

As he got close he heard someone exclaim. "A wedding! We are having a wedding in Hammerfall!" Cak, Jassart thought. No bloody duel to wager on. He then heard a voice he recognized. It was Baron Skafloc of something or other with an apostrophe in it. You only got to use apostrophes in your name if you were nobility. For all of his apostrophes, Skafloc was a good bloke and Jassart respected him, his ability to hold his drink, and his ability to make women weak in the knees.

"No, no, no,” Skafloc was saying. “The wedding isn’t taking place this instant!” Skafloc getting married? Oh…this should be good. So he got pinned down at last. This is going to cause a quarter of the population of Silvermoon to lock themselves in their rooms and cry themselves to sleep tonight. Another quarter was going to cheer and toast their good fortune that their competition was leaving the field. The other half… eh, who gives a fig about them.

He then noticed one of his greatest friends and fellow host of the Fête standing near Skafloc. Wielding his sharp elbows he poked and prodded his way through the crowd. “Nymare sweetling! How are you? Milord Baron Skafloc as well! What a pleasant surprise!" Jassart called out.

Before the two of them could say anything someone approached him with the jubilant news "Did you hear? They are getting married!”

Jassart stopped cold. It was like cheap shot to the back of the head. He felt the blood drain from his face. He blinked several times as his tongue sought words.

“Married?!! Oh.. I... well. This is a surprise."

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Slowly, Jassart felt his thoughts slide back into place. He quickly rifled through his memories to see if there had been any warning of this – some tale-tell clue that he overlooked. He could find nothing that would lead him to believe that Nymare was even romantically involved with Skafloc, much less to the point of engagement.

“I didn’t know you were even seeing him,” he said to Nymare, but she had been pulled away by the rush of well-wishers and was beside her new fiancée. Surprise was quickly being replaced by annoyance and anger. He felt his fingers curl into fists. She’d met a man and was ready to spend the rest of her life with him and she didn’t even bother mentioning it before. If he hadn’t happened along to Hammerfall, would she have even bothered to tell him? Cak, she told the bloody trolls off the street before she told him.

If she wants her special day, she’s welcome to it. It’s obvious that he was no longer needed. She had found someone richer, more powerful, and more noble. And Jassart was no more importance to her than a soiled handkerchief. He had served her purpose and was of no more use to her. His right hand tightened around the hilt of his dagger on his belt. Venom pulsed through his veins. The urge to hurt was rising quickly. With the last vestiges of self-control, Jassart stepped back into the shadows and faded from sight. He slipped away from the joyful gathering and left through the gates of Hammerfall. Nymare and Skafloc didn’t even notice he had left.

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