She’s so small, Duugvilder thought as he stepped into the room where the Night Elves were caring for her. She was little more than skin and bones and a very ragged looking hat. Her skin was a pale white, almost grey, and the freckles that he loved tracing a finger over were like mottled blemishes. He could feel tears starting to fill his eyes as he looked at her sleeping form. He fought them back, and whispered to her:
“Annie Mae?” He reached out slowly, and gently pressed his fingertips to her shoulder, careful not to jostle her too much, fearful that even this much contact would injure her further. “Annie Mae, are you…awake?” He didn’t want to say the word that first came to mind.
Annie Mae’s eyes flashed open, revealing vibrant green eyes that not even her brush with death could extinguish. She looked up at Duugvilder and flashed an enormous grin.
“DUUGY!!!” Her voice was raspy, but strong, and she flung her arms around his neck. “DUUGY! You’re still around! And you came here! They won’t let me leave until I’m ‘better fed’ and everything they want to feed me has frigging mushrooms in it.”
Duugvilder felt his heart swell, and wasn’t sure if the force at the back of his throat was laughter or sobbing. He held her gently, hugging her back while still careful of her condition. He lowered her to her pillow, adjusting it so she could sit up. He looked at her, concerned, but relieved and amused. Of course she will be well, he thought. With her spirit and will, how could I have doubted?
“I would not have let you leave either. You are nothing but skin and bones, Annie Mae! We are lucky that you survived…” He took the ragged hat off her head and set it aside so he could test her temperature. “I brought food for you, to help you regain your strength.. But I do not understand: what is wrong with mushrooms?”
Annie made a little gagging noise. “I’ve eaten nothing but mushrooms and cave crickets the whole time I was in that cave. Do you know how disgusting that is? And plain water, which wasn’t so bad, but I want a BEER.”
“Have they given you nothing else to eat?”
“Something they call pine nut bread. It’s not too bad. A little chewy. How did you know to come here? Did that stuffy git of an elf actually write you?”
Duugvilder smiled at her. Not even live burial could still her tongue, and he chuckled at the vulgarity. “The pine nut bread will help you regain the weight that you have lost, and it is mild enough that you would be able to keep it down when you were at your weakest. As for how I came here, yes, that ‘stuffy git,’ as you call him, sent a letter to me. While one cannot usually read tone into a letter, his desperation was palpable, especially when he begged me to ‘come and take this terrifying worg-kin off [my] hands.’” He took a moment to enjoy the look on her face. “I am joking. His letter was incredibly kind but it was direct in communicating your condition and the importance of my presence. I came as quickly as shopping and provision- gathering allowed.”
“Oh Duugy, you’re the best! But they won’t let me have bear burgers. Something about bear spirits…” She pouted. “Please tell me you at least brought beer. Stranglethorn Brew or Metok’s Bubble Bock or…” Her eyes widened. “DWARVEN STOUT!!!”
He took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “There will be beer when I know that you will keep it down. And you have my word that, by the time you and I leave here, you will never wish to consume bear flesh again. We will have time to talk soon – and we have much on which to catch up – but first I will make arrangements to take over your care, starting with your first non- mushroom meal…”
Annie Mae’s eyes gleamed brightly. “BEAR BURGERS!!! I’ve have a full pound with cheese and lettuce and tomato and hot sauce and bacon and…”
“Nonsense. You are still not ready for solid food aside from the pine nut bread. I am going to make you a nice soup that will help your body prepare for heartier fare…”
“Aw HELLS, Duug! I don’t want any more soup! I’m sick to death of broth! Please, if you ever cared a damn about me…”
Duugvilder smiled. “I do ‘care a damn’ about you, Annie Mae. I am incredibly happy and relieved that you are alive. But you simply must trust me on this. No bear burgers yet.” He looked at her as she grumbled, leaned forward, and kissed her furrowed brow.
“Annie Mae, my dear, have you ever had consomme?”