This is the final story of the doll and the lives it touched. It's told in three Christmasy parts; past, present and future (sound familiar?) I've separated each tale for the reader so that you won't have one long lengthy read. Each one stands alone (so read them in any order you like) and I'll spread them out over the week.
Happy Christmas everyone!
Salt water splashed Shessuna’s face but she remained still. Face down on the plank of warm wood she couldn’t be distracted… her life depended on it. Assessing the hostile odds that grew by the second below, she decided it was now or never.
“Ya dare test a High Priestess of Atal'Hakkar,” she shouted, as the murloks swirled, trying to get a fix on her. She rose up, balancing easily on the driftwood, hands already churning in lethal familiarity. “I’ll have da hide of every last choker down there---”
Shessuna turned on the voice, fingers stretched in deadly earnest.
“If my pop finds out you’re playing off his dock he’ll flay the both of us!” Dizzywig cried. The two twelve year olds stared each other down.
“Aw, I’m not playin’. Just pokin’ around.”
“Yeah, that Makrura will be poking ya if he has anything to say about it.” Shessuna fell from her plank trying to scramble ashore before realizing she’d been had.
“Good one, Diz,” she yielded, surfacing. The wharfmaster’s son shrieked laughter.
Teasing aside, she, as well as her family, were valued by the merchants of Ratchet. Many a wanderer lost in The Barrens found the bored little girl out feeding livestock and made their way toward town with a point of her finger. Realizing she’d earn the family more money working the dock than doing chores, she found herself literally living in Ratchet.
“Dad wants ya to make a run to the Crossroads, Suna. Guess the Alliance got some raid itch this week and they’re short on stuff. Get an inventory report and head back in the morning. Five copper now and ten when ya get back.” The goblin coughed and studied his boots.
“Ya liar, it be twenty up front. I’m tellin’.” The goblin sneered, threw the coins at her and fled as she took a swing at him.
Retrieving her pay, Shessuna did the math: A dull run to the Cross would take all day. If she started back first thing in the morning she could be home by sunset Winter Veil Eve. She’d been banned from the hut until then anyway. No reason was given but she had her suspicions. Her dad had been made all too aware how badly his daughter wanted some empty vials to mix her flowers in.
Already cooked dry under the blazing morning sun, she started up the hill. Dizzywig’s father, Fezzywig, was kind enough but didn’t pay by the hour, so the sooner she got it done the more she made, technically. Other than some flattened silverleaves and peaceblooms, only one item filled her backpack, but it weighed a ton; an enormous skin of warm water. It would be empty by the time she reached the trade station.
She took her shortcuts in the frying heat with confidence. The cats and raptors were all either dozing or lethargic and they watched her pass by, indifferent. What began as a brisk trot it was a shuffle the undead would envy as she passed the outpost guards. No small talk here; it was too dangerous for “runners” to loiter. She entered the inn and asked Boorand Plainswind, its budding new owner, for a list of merchants in need of items as dusk stained the landscape. That done, she headed for the stabled wolves. It was the only safe place to rest with no money for a proper bed at this hour. Drawing the backpack over her head to fend off the flies and soften the hard ground, Shessuna drifted off.
Dream-walking, she came home to glowing evening lights, a rarity outside of Winter Veil. Stockings hung over the fireplace. Pulling her hand from its pocket, she held a fragment of cloth. Before her mind could paint its picture a pained howl splintered the dream.
The girl awoke with a start, yanking the pack from her head. The cry came again, weaker this time. The wolf mounts she was nestled among growled uneasily, their attention pinned on one of the gnarled trees. Cautiously, the troll sidestepped bulging roots. There, curled up against the cooling night wind, was a tiny grey ball flecked with red. Shessuna ran to it; she didn’t need the shallow moonlight to confirm what seemed to be impossible. It was Islen Waterseer’s lion cub, Tinsel.
Islen was a tauren; a young, lonely shaman just moved to the region southeast of Ratchet. She was miserable before finding the abandoned cub whose unnaturally bright grey coat was a beacon to plains predators. How could he be so far from home? Stolen? Accidently stowed away? Shessuna crouched before the wild kitten and recognized none of that mattered. He had been badly mauled by a Sunscale raptor, given the looks of the long thin slashes.
The girl gingerly lifted him from the tough ground and ran to the inn. Boorand took one look and shook his head.
“I have nothing here that can save this poor creature, Suna. He needs a shaman and immediately. I’ll dress his wounds. Check the grounds for anyone Ratchet-bound and find Islen, but pocket your hopes. Few merchants remain who have not gone abroad this holiday.”
Shessuna dashed from one building to the next and it was as Plainswind had said; she was in a ghost town. The few remaining inhabitants were hard and brief with her. However, a horse-drawn cart stood facing her destination! It was Tinkerwiz, a novice engineer new to Ratchet trying to get the jump on her for some desperate cash. No way was he going to take her back to town… not willingly anyway. He was haggling with that creepy undead guy, Helbrim. Shessuna bolted for the inn.
“Thanks Boo,” she said, hastily taking the heavily-bandaged cub who regarded her suspiciously. Ugh, even just a few weeks old the animal weighed a good ten pounds. She took her jacket off, balled it up into her backpack and set the cub atop it. A furry head was all that popped out.
“Wait, what of your water ration?” Boorand called.
“No room Boo,” she said over her shoulder, “but I owe ya big-time!” The troll barely glanced at Tinkerwiz making his way in the darkness to his cart before she slipped in the back. The engineer climbed into his seat, cursed at his horse and off they went. Several miles along the Gold Road, Tinsel had had enough of the jostling cart. The cub cried out in Shessuna’s ear and the horse reared up in fright, bringing the whole party to a screeching halt.
“Suna! I thought I smelt sumthin’!” the goblin roared. “Get yer worthless tail outta my ride!”
The girl leapt fearfully just as a bullwhip creased the air behind her and with that, was left standing alone with her wounded passenger. The cart double-timed it to Ratchet.
“Some hot soup now, bigmouth,” Shessuna sighed and felt a grainy tongue sampling the sweat on the back of her neck.
“Ow,” she giggled, “relax eh, we be in da raps backyard.” She sniffed the breeze and realized just where they were. It was the delicious aroma of homemade gingerbread and she made for the hovel where it wafted from.
“Hey Duhng,” she whispered fiercely. A young orc, built much like the brick oven he tended, grabbed a worn spear and turned crouching.
“Feh! Suna! I nearly pinned your skinny carcass to that table! What are you prowling around at this hour in the morning?”
Tinsel was growling in pain but it sounded faint. The girl’s urgency stepped up a notch, but she spoke calmly.
“Quick, I gotta scrounge ya dad’s cart. Can ya snag one of dos Zhevras and hook me up?” The boy flexed at the chance to show off his prowess and made short work of lassoing one of the more docile runners and hitching it to the ailing cart.
“That’s fine, mon! I get ya back soon,” Shessuna said and clicked, snapping the reigns at the animal, but it just stomped in place. “Um, I be doin’ it wrong?”
“It just needs coaxing,” replied her friend and he hissed in its ear. The runner panicked and shot off into the night.
“What in blazes!? My cart!” Her friend’s father bellowed from the doorway of his hut, “Stop thief!”
Duhng’s cheer was the last thing she heard while trying to gain control over the crazed beast. Worse still, the cub on her back stopped complaining. The little girl held the reigns of the powerful animal for a mile or so before her strength gave out, the runner broke free and the rickety cart rolled to a stop. It couldn’t have happened in a worse place. A pack of nearby raptors snapped at the air that suddenly smelled of blood.
“Talk to me Tinsel,” Shessuna murmured, climbing down and scratching the head that lay against her shoulder blade. She heard a purring groan that didn’t comfort her in the least… but he was still alive. The Sunscales appeared luminescent under the bright moon, bobbing in sync with one another. The largest plunged low at the girl, bent on filling its belly and the others followed suit.
Shessuna went to her knees and was returned to an earlier day when she would fall repeatedly trying to keep pace with her father. Her palms pounded out what he taught her, as a toddler, was the “Sympathy” beat. The enamored raptors bowed their heads and began rhythmically scratching their claws against the rocky earth, searching for the elusive vibration.
Dazed from fatigue, the girl slid away from the circle of snarling beasts, her hands already bleeding against the brittle grass. The raptors’ drooling snouts were still snuffling when she backed into the hooves of a steed standing on the path leading down to Ratchet.
Exhausted, she flopped over sitting and looked up into the moonlit glare of glowing armor. A Stormwind paladin, his eyes piercing through the veil in his helm, nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Move along, clever one, you will not be followed.” He then rode in the direction of the raptors. Understanding nothing of what he said, Shessuna fled down the hill into town. She collapsed to the ground and carefully removed the backpack. There was no one to be seen. The small lion lay still and unresponsive. The troll could barely swallow her fear.
“No… please Tinsel, don’t die on me, please.” She held it close and rocked it gently. Stumbling to her feet, she continued on, all the while singing soft words of comfort to her bundle. But she couldn’t reach the path to Islen’s home. She dropped, tearfully, with the body of the cub in her arms and the dawn fell dark.
It must be the dream again. The air was so cool. She would be near the door Winter Veil morning, feigning sleep and her parents would come in. The push of brisk air would be too much. She’d leap from her bed and make her mother and father dance with her. They never protested. She opened her eyes to the coolness now and held her breath…
Shessuna didn’t realize the sea spread out before her because the only thing she saw was Islen knelt before the body of the grey kitten. She didn’t hear the waves because the only sound she heard was the shaman weeping in earnest. Someone had bandaged her hands.
“I’m sorry Islen,” she heard herself say. The cub rolled over at the sound and cocked its head, looking at her quizzically. It struggled to its feet and ran clumsily to her. The girl didn’t have time to understand what happened. The tauren shaman laughed, wiping away tears, as she swept both of them up in her arms, showering them both with kisses.
“You saved his life Suna! His injuries were absurd, but even the scars of these incredible lacerations seem to be healing themselves.” The small troll, weathering the relentless gnawing of Tinsel and her friend’s squeezes, looked down at her backpack where her flower collection had spilled out. Did those heal the animal’s mortal wounds? She couldn’t see how.
“I will tell you how,” Islen said, reading her mind, “Standing in the Broken Keel this morning, the innkeeper and I watched you pass. What we saw was raw power. Do you understand my meaning?” Shessuna shook her head.
“I’m no experienced healer, but as you went by with Tinsel in your arms, I felt the elements quail in your passing. May be it Winter Veil was your tutor. Whatever the reason, you border on something most can only dream of.”
“Eh?” Shessuna said, her mind still buzzing. Islen just laughed mightily and hanging on to her furry companion, set the troll down.
“Go home, dearest friend, before it gets dark. I shall be by tomorrow to greet you and your family my warmest wishes for the holiday.”
Passing the fence of her farm she heard some slight commotion. There, in the small hut, her father was actually washing clothes. She never would have believed it if she hadn’t first seen her mother lying in bed nearby. Shessuna hugged her father, but quickly went and knelt beside her mother. In her arms was a tiny bundle, wrapped warmly and cooing.
“Suna,” her mother whispered, “this be Shoo, your baby brother.” The girl delicately touched the infant and kissed his forehead. Her mother gave her the baby’s stocking to place over their meager hearth. Suna merrily recognized it as the tiny cloth from her dream pocket one day earlier. To the chorus of flames singing in the fireplace, the entire family was asleep by the time Winter Veil joined their home.
What is it that makes Winter Veil morning special? Answers gather like presents under a tree; each one different, coming from near and far: Strangers, friends, children and family. But each is labeled the same…
For You, From Me
Shessuna sat cross-legged near the fire; sprawled out before her was a scattering of vials and crushed herbs. Amused, her parents were curled up together, the sleeping newborn between them, as they tried to help her brew coffee. A staff gently tapped the window ledge, it was Islen.
“Ah, I’ve been expecting you,” Shessuna said in her deepest voice and laughed.
She took Islen to see the baby and the shaman spoke tranquilly, her blessings forever touching the child and his family. The tauren saw that the wrapped gift under her arm did not go unnoticed.
“Remember when I said you had a gift of incredible power, Suna?” The troll nodded, embarrassed by her parents curious attention. “You shared that with me and I am greatly honored. May this gift do something incredible for you some day,” and with that, Islen handed the present to Shessuna.
The box was sheathed in gold paper, almost cloth, which glimmered beneath a ribbon that swirled dazzlingly until it was pulled, at which, it all magically fell away. The little girl laughed with anticipation until she lifted the lid. Her silence flooded the room as she did what a thousand other children did that same morning; she held and fell in love with her doll for the very first time.