This is by the estimable Tarquin ap Danwryith – who posted it today on the Wildfire Riders boards. It’s an excellent example of interacting with Lore characters without turning them into something they’re not. It’s also a very cool way of looking at the Wildfire Riders and how they interact with Old Town – the part of Stormwind that they both haunt and are fiercely proud of. Many of the Riders actually live or rent apartments there. In short, it’s awesome, and I hope you all enjoy it.
Edgar Pomeroy rested his back against the long-dead king who gave Irandun’s Way its name, wiping the sweat from his brow. It was a crisp November day, but of course he’d started sweating the moment he put on his bloody armor. It was one of those things that came with the job – no matter how high they promoted you, how many keen young watchmen snapped to attention when you walked down the hall, foot patrol was still a sweaty, tedious mess punctuated by brief and usually deadly excitement. And any proper watchman wouldn’t have it any other way.
Foot patrol had its rewards – how else was he going to get to see children playing in the streets of Old Town, safe because he and his men and women kept them that way? There were maybe a dozen boys and girls, grubby in the way of all children of a certain age, festooned with bedsheet cloaks and pot-lid helms, armed with sticks and bright ribbons that apparently stood in for the bursts of battle magic. As Edgar watched, one boy cast his face in a horrible rictus, gave a convincing shriek of despair, and toppled to the ground beneath the assaults of the others. The throng imploded around him, cheering at whooping at what was apparently the defeat of the dreaded Kel’Thuzad. The officer restrained himself from applauding and shattering their hard-won immersion as they clustered ’round a tall boy with pale hair drooping out from under an oversized, wide-brimmed hat.
Then they started planning the next one.
“Alright,” announced the boy in the bolero. “Let’s do Riders an’ Trolls next. Everyone switch off.” He pulled off the hat and held it over his head as a small thing shaped like a tuber leapt and made a grab for it. “Gerroff, Pen!”
“I wanna be Tarquin!” the root vegetable declared in the voice of a girl of eleven or so. “You gotta be a troll this time, gimme the hat!”
“You can’t be Tarquin,” objected a lad about half again the size of any of the others, pushing a makeshift eyepatch back from his forehead indignanmtly. “You’re a girl.”
“Well I ain’t a rottie neither!” the girl snapped. “But I hadda be Great Widow Fareena, an’ before that I was a, a Verskul shield-woman!”
“That’s different.” The big lad folded his arms over his considerable belly. “Boys an’ girls is always different.”
“Fine,” Pen spat. “Gimme the eyepatch then, Joan. I wanna be Ceil. You been Jolly-ster for two games now.”
Another boy interjected, a weedy specimen with one hand holding his cracked spectacles together. “If we’re gonna do Trolls, Andry needs the eyepatch so’s he can be Sly Degmarlee.” He spoke with the sober voice of a future lawyer. “Sly Degmarlee wore an eyepatch, I read it.”
A fourth boy sneered beneath a covering of grime, significant even by his cohorts’ standards. “Nah, you watch. Pen-el-o-pe‘s gonna let Andry be Tarquin again, an’ then she’s gonna kiss him.” He snickered dirtily, and the girl turned on him with a fury.
“You better shut up, Billy. You gotta be a troll this time an’ – an’ you know how Ceil sorted out them trolls.” She glared ominously beneath carrot-orange brows.
“Alright!” Andry waved his hat in the air and spoke with crisp authority despite his reddened face. “Here’s how we’ll do it. I’ll be Degmarlee. Johan can be Matt-soojin. An’ Pen can be Ceil, cos’ she din’ wear no patch til the Butcher took her eye out, right? So whoever plays Nimjull gets to do that.”
There was a cacophony of responses, the children claiming the likes of Bricu Bittertongue, Genise Crownsilver, and Ulthanon Kaidos or their opposite numbers “Day-jeeya” and “Ockerth.” The grubby boy shouted over and over again that he would be the Butcher. Pen scowled as she thought about it, then nodded and shot a seething look at her dirt-caked tormentor. “Alright. But only if I get to kill Nim-jall!”
The bespectacled boy spoke up again, albeit cautiously. “That’s not how it happened, Pen.”
“Yeh, well, that’s how it shoulda! So shut up, Wesley!” Several of the others joined in on her last three words, making thin Wesley cringe back into the roughly circular mass of the group.
“Alright!” Andry declared again. “Fair. So who’s gonna be Tarquin?” Before anyone could claim the mantle of notorious crimelord for this round, a filigreed gauntlet descended and plucked the hat from Andry’s grasp, and the stern face of the Law loomed among them.
Commander Pomeroy took his time in silence. He was not by nature an ill-tempered man, so his rare angers tended to master him. The children, meanwhile, were accustomed to interruptions by nagging parents, irritated shopkeepers, their rival gang from a block over, and the odd familiar watchman grumbling for them to go to school or something – but never an officer of the Watch in his blue and gold enamel, his clean-shaven face pale with anger. They shuffled their feet and exchanged nervous looks until Andry swallowed and mustered his courage. “Is somethin’ wrong, sir?”
Edgar breathed in through his nose and kept his voice steady. “Lad, do you and your friends always play Riders and Trolls?”
“Nossir!” Andry replied quickly. “We jus’ played Riders an’ the Scourge of Nacksarammis, an’ before that we did Vrikkul, an’ I think we done…jus’ about everythin’ else, sir. We use’ta do Riders an’ Roses sometime, but this big girl ‘Cosia said she’d bust all our noses if she caught us actin’ like that again.” The boy scrunched up his face and shrugged. “Wasn’t that fun anyway. Everyone knows they’re both really good folk.”
“Do you never play Heroes of Stormwind? Highlord Bolvar, Reginald Windsor, Gareth Orson? Do you argue over who gets to don King Varian’s crown for an hour?” He looked incredulously at the cluster of wide-eyed faces. “Do none of you want to be watchmen?”
The resulting silence was positively eloquent.
Finally, young Andry managed to stir his mouth into action. “Watchmen’s good, sir. An’ my mum says the King’s just what Stormwind needed. But the Riders…” He struggled to verbalize concepts his mind was only beginning to grasp. “We know ’em, sir. They’re from Old Town. The stories is different when they got people you see every day in ’em.”
The big lad, Johan, spoke up hesitantly, pronouncing a Northern name with care. “When Sir Jolstraer died last week, my da’ let me have a cup of wine, and he said even children get to drink when a hero dies.”
“I saw Miz Annalea sing at the Lion’s Pride!” This blurted out by a tall, gawky girl hovering uncertainly in the back of the group, and of life at large. She looked around defiantly before saying, “I tole’ her she had a pretty voice, an’ she said that with a little practice I could be a bard too!”
It was the argument over roles all over again, the floodgates bursting open as each of the children claimed their special link to the criminal scum of Old Town:
“I saw Lady Crownsilver goin’ to a fancy ball -”
” – gave me a penny an’ told me to learn how to bluff -”
” – an’ he let me pet ‘is wolf – ”
” – tole me I’d make a good paladin, like her – ”
” – kissed me on the cheek, honest, an’ said I was brave – ”
” – turned into a bear and chased her around the block!”
When the hubbub faded, Andry spoke again, voice comparatively solemn. “Last year, my mom took me to the funeral for all them died when the Scourge come. Said that Dad woulda wanted it. She pointed at Mister Tarquin an’ said that if it wasn’t for him, we’d of all died in Old Town. Cos’…” Pomeory could see the boy’s mind working, struggling to draw a line that put the world on one side and somehow, himself and the men and women of the Black-and-Red on the other. “Cos’ they’re like us. They’re jus’ people what dress up as heroes an’ then put it away an’ go home in Old Town. I like that better’n kings, sir.”
Edgar Pomeroy had never liked ships; the motion of deceptively solid wood beneath his feet made him feel rootless and disconnected from the world he’d sworn to fight for. He felt at sea now, among these children who argued over which of the thieves and murderers and monsters of Stormwind shone as the brightest star in their little sky. He lowered his hand and returned the crumpled hat to the towheaded boy, who watched him with a wary respect that he saw on all too many faces in Old Town. “Go back to your game,” he said, and forced wooden lips into a smile. “And don’t put each other’s eyes out, now. You’ve only got the one patch.”
They mumbled their thank-you-sirs and Light-blesses, and watched quietly as he turned about and continued on his patrol. He felt their eyes on his back all the way down Irandun’s Way, fancied he could feel them through all the twists and turns of the next quarter-hour. A grown man knew that the fantasies and willful delusions of children shouldn’t concern him. A watchman knew better; knew on what ground the battle for the hearts and minds of Stormwind’s subjects was fought.
He thought of those children in ten years as men and women, in thirty as citizens of consequence, in fifty as the guiding wisdoms of Stormwind. His steps carried him past the sprawling white barracks, to the snug and unmarked wooden structure that housed Stormwind Intelligence.
I wanna be Tarquin!
Edgar Pomeroy hesitated, but not for long. Then he was at the door, shouldering past the surprised bruisers loitering out front, calling for Mathias Shaw to come and do his duty by the city that they loved.