The reluctant war hero Jarod Shadowsong looked across the table at his older sister, listening to her make awkward small talk with his mate, Shandris. Finally, he took advantage of a lull in conversation and spoke.
"Lets dispense with all this polite chitchat and cut to the chase. We all know youre not here just to visit, or if you are its the first time in over six thousand years. You never leave that barrow prison. Whats going on, Maiev?"
She glared at him with the same haughty expression she had used on him his entire life. "I thought you might be happy to see your only sister after all this time."
"All right, I admit I didnt come all the way to Feralas to make pleasant conversation," she said irritably. Her gaze strayed out the window at the lush, green forest outside as she straightened in her chair. "Theres no point in mincing words." She turned to look her brother in the eye. "Through a series of circumstances that were not exactly planned but which are absolutely none of your business I find myself pregnant."
"You what?" Jarod glanced at her stomach but saw no confirmation there.
"Recently so," she explained, self-consciously adjusting the front of her tunic. "As such, I cannot attend to my usual duties. To be blunt, I need a place to stay until this situation runs its course."
Jarod was speechless so Shandris took over. "And then?"
"I cannot forfeit my role as Warden indefinitely. When the child is born I intend to leave him or her in the care of the Sisterhood of Elune. Unless you wish to raise it."
"Us?" Shandris said, wide-eyed. "But we"
"Have had six thousand years to conceive one of your own. As that has not happened yet I can only conclude that you are either unable or unwilling to do so. If the former is the case, I thought you might appreciate this opportunity."
"I We " sputtered Shandris. "Wed have to think about it."
Maiev nodded. "There is plenty of time."
Jarod found his voice again. "Wait, back up a minute! Where does the father of this child figure into this?"
Maievs eyes flashed dangerously. "He doesnt."
"Does he even know?"
"No. Nor shall he ever."
"Thats not fair to him," Jarod protested.
"Trust me, brother, its better for all concerned if he remains in the dark." Her lips briefly curled into a thin smile as if reacting to a private joke.
"Who is he?" Shandris asked. "Someone we would know?"
"That is irrelevant, and I have no intention of discussing him. I didnt come here to be judged"
"Says the Warden!" interjected Jarod.
"Oh, ha ha," Maiev said dryly. "If you choose not to allow me to stay here through these months, please say so and I will attempt to make other arrangements."
"No, no," Shandris said quickly. "Of course youre welcome here, Maiev. This is just such a surprise!"
Jarod looked less enthusiastic but said nothing.
The subjects of the babys father and Maievs future plans were not spoken of for the rest of the summer. Never one for idleness, she insisted on pulling her own weightsometimes to the extent that her hosts had to scold her for doing too much.
Shandris was sweeping out the entryway of their home when she saw Maiev returning home from the hunt dragging an entire wolf carcass behind her. Even the special clothes she had bought to accommodate her expanding waistline were looking too small now, the dark blue fabric stretched tightly in front.
"Maiev!" she said harshly, dropping her broom. "What do you think youre doing?"
"Filling the pantry with enough meat to last another week," she replied through clenched teeth, stubbornly refusing to let Shandris take the wolf from her despite her shortness of breath.
The younger woman blocked the front door, forcing her to stop. "Maiev, dont be so impossible! Youre too far along to be doing things like this! Look at you, pale as a ghost!"
"Im fine," she insisted.
"Are you trying to lose that baby?"
"No!" Maiev snapped immediately.
"Then drop that bloody thing and go lie down!"
"I refuse to be treated like a useless doll. Im perfectly capable of"
"Youre our guest, and youre responsible for another life besides your own. Now go lie down and rest before you pass out and I have to get Jarod to help me carry you to bed!" Shandris yanked the carcass from Maievs hands and practically shoved her in the direction of her bedroom.
"I never asked you to be my mother," she grumbled, putting a hand to her sore lower back.
"Well, youre going to be one yourself soon, so somebody has to act like one!"
She made a disgusted noise and slammed her bedroom door.
Two months later, Maiev sat on the small pier near Jarod and Shandris home, resting her swollen feet in the cool ocean water. She had long since given up hunting, finding herself far too slow and clumsy to track anything, much less kill it. Instead she had taken to fishing as her contribution to the household instead, largely without success.
Now, however, her pole and covered jar of bait sat forgotten beside her as she stared out to sea. She rubbed a hand over her round stomach, smoothing out the light green fabric of her gown.
"Oh Elune," she sighed, although it was nearing morning and the Mother Moon was fading into the west. "What am I going to do?"
She had awoken that evening from a disturbing dream: not a nightmare, exactly, but a vision that left her feeling wistful and melancholy. Her subconscious had conjured an idyllic scenario. She was living in a rustic little house, not unlike her brothers, and her baby had been born. She had lounged among the pillows as Illidan sat on the edge of the bed, rocking the child contentedly in his arms. That was the entire dream: just a blissfully peaceful moment together with her family.
Then she had awoken and thought of all the reasons why such a thing would never happen. In her heart of hearts she wasnt even certain she wanted it. But the choice was out of her hands. There would be no happy ending. The best she could hope for would be for her child to have a good home, and for her to return to her duties as Warden, overstating the hatred she felt for Illidan to conceal the love that also dwelled in her.
And she did hate him. He was an arrogant, selfish, reckless, miserable Betrayer and
Oh, how she missed him! She missed trading insults through the bars, missed the constant battle of wits, missed goading him to see his reaction, missed knowing that he was hers whether he wanted to be or not and listening to his pathetic excuses as to why he didnt want to, missed the moment when a single look would change everything and all that energy would turn to actions Actions that led to her current situation, she reminded herself.
The child within her moved, jabbing a tiny foot into her ribs, and she rubbed her belly to quiet it.
Despite everything, against logic and her brothers assumptions, she did not regret this pregnancy. It was difficult and inconvenient, but at the same time she found herself inwardly glowing with the prospect of carrying Illidans child. Even if she had wanted him to be freed from prisonwhich she did notit wasnt in her power to do so. This way, however, she could take a part of him and set it free in the world. This secret disobedience thrilled her more than she cared to admit.
She leaned back against the docking post, lazily swirling one foot through the lapping salt water. Elunes pale orb was nearly invisible now, fading into the haze where sky and sea joined. It was time to go back to the house and get some sleep, but that would mean getting up, an act that had become a tedious and cumbersome ordeal in the last month. Instead she closed her eyes and listened to the hiss of the surf, feeling the baby change position again beneath her hand.
She was growing quite drowsy when she heard someone approaching, and opened her eyes.
"There you are," Shandris said with audible relief. "We couldnt find you."
Maiev made a slightly apologetic noise.
Her brothers mate sat down beside her and joined her in watching the moon sink into the ocean. "Maiev, as your time approaches, I think we need to talk about what will happen afterward."
"Have you and Jarod made a decision?"
"Not yet. We have somewhat different opinions on the matter, to be honest, and I really think we need to know who the father is."
Maiev scowled. "Does it really matter that much to you?"
"Jarod worries that youre hiding his identity for a reason, that you know wed never agree if we knew."
"Jarod is paranoid." She made a dismissive flicking gesture in the water with her foot.
"He has a point. Youre been so secretive about it, so well, hostile. Theres more to the story than youve told us."
Maiev crossed her arms on her chest. "Of course theres more to it, but thats my own business," she snapped. "All you need to know is that the father is a night elf."
"Do do you love him?" Shandris asked gently.
"I" Maiev cut herself off with a sigh. "Its complicated."
"Love is always complicated."
A single laugh escaped her. "Truer words were never spoken."
Shandris grew serious again. "Maiev, Im sorry to pry but this really is important. Ive given you one last chance to confess, and now I have to tell you what I know. This evening you were talking in your sleep. I didnt mean to intrude but you sounded upset, almost crying, and I I couldnt understand everything you said, but I heard one name in particular."
Maiev avoided eye contact and swallowed. "And?"
"You were talking about Illidan. The Betrayer."
"So I was having a nightmare about having to watch over that lunatic for millennia," she said with a shrug.
"No, Maiev. It wasnt that. I couldnt make out every word, but you were talking about the baby at the same time."
"So I naturally came to the conclusion that the two are connected in your mind. And the fact that youve turned at least three shades paler since we began this conversation doesnt do anything to change my mind." Shandris grabbed Maievs arm and forced her to meet her accusing stare. "Hes the father, isnt he? Illidan Stormrage?"
"No! Of course not! How dare you even" Maievs voice was suddenly an octave higher than usual.
"How dare you? Illidan! The Betrayer! The shame of our people, who defected to the Burning Legion, recreated the Well, and nearly killed Jarod!"
"He didnt-- It wasnt" Maiev stammered angrily, then shifted with some difficulty to face her sister-in-law. "He never actually aided the Burning Legion. He was trying to help defeat them from within."
"He let Sargeras burn out his eyes!"
"He had to prove his loyalty or he would have been killedor worse! And he wasnt targeting Jarod specifically, he was just in the wrong place at the"
Shandris slapped Maiev across the face, the sharp sound loud in the salty dawn air. "You dare take his side? Over your own brother? I cant believe this! You, of all people!"
Maiev put a hand to her stinging cheek and glared icily at her. "I am not on Illidans side!"
"Youre bearing his child!"
"Something that wasnt planned, and which he will never know."
Shandris eyes gleamed with unshed tears. "I dont believe it. You and I nursed Jarod back to health after Illidan almost killed him. You seethed with hatred for him. You wanted to execute him yourself for what he had done! You gave up your place in the Sisterhood and devoted your very existence to keeping him locked away. And now you defend him! Make excuses for him! Give your body to him!"
"If you must know, I was the one who seduced him," Maiev said with a sneer. "And Im not defending his actions. He is a vile traitor who deserves every moment of his imprisonment." She awkwardly attempted to get to her feet, holding onto the docking post for support. "I still loathe him, make no mistake about that!" Huffing and puffing, she finally managed to stand.
With annoying ease, Shandris also stood.
"But I" Maiev winced and braced her lower back with one hand. "I also have gained perspective in the last six millennia. Illidan Stormrage is an incompetent, misguided, reckless, pigheaded idiot, but in his twisted brain he actually was trying to help our people. Of course he went about it all wrong and failed miserably, and he was blinded by his own lust for power. Still, hes not evil."
"Listen to yourself, Maiev! Youre defending him!"
"I am doing no such thing. I merely have come to see him as more inept than evil. I still firmly believe he belongs safely locked away."
"So you can have him as your personal toy?"
Maiev shot her a venomous glare and unconsciously reached for a weapon only to realize she had none. Instead she simply mustered her most condescending expression. "Trust me, Shandris, it is virtually impossible to make Illidan do something he does not want to do. The trick is in convincing him that he wants it: a feat I have become quite skilled at in the last six thousand years. My duty is to keep him locked away in that barrow prison where hes no danger to the world. I do that very well, thank you. Whatever else may occur is between him and me. I dont need your approval." Maiev began walking back toward the house.
"Ill tell Tyrande. Youll be stripped of your rank and disgraced."
Maiev stopped and turned back to scoff at her. "If you want to tattle on me, be my guest. Its your word against mine and I guarantee Illidan wont admit to anything."
"Then go! Just leave! I wont have that monsters spawn under my roof!"
"Im afraid that opportunity has passed. I can barely walk and there isnt a hippogriff in the world big enough to carry me at the moment." Maiev continued her slow trek toward shelter.
Shandris made an inarticulate outburst of fury.
Less than a day later, Maiev found herself gripping the arms of a birthing chair as she rode out another wave of contractions. Despite their argument, Shandris was on hand to assist her. The younger woman provided the traditional candles and incense for the room, cool cloths for her brow, and anything else that seemed necessary.
Maiev labored in silence, keeping her eyes closed most of the time as she concentrated on her breathing. Nature and gravity guided her, and by dusk she had delivered a healthy baby boy.
Shandris helped them both to get clean, touching the child no more than absolutely necessary, and left without a word.
Exhausted physically and mentally, Maiev sank back into the clean linens and inspected the damp, wrinkled creature in her arms. All fingers, toes, ears and such seemed to be in order. She shook her head in disbelief as if realizing for the first time the true significance of it all.
The baby fussed until she wrapped him more snugly in the blanket and held him close to her heart. She stroked his impossibly soft hairthe same dark shade as his fathers, unfortunatelyand fought the overwhelming surge of maternal instinct.
She had to remain strong. Enjoy the moment, but it couldnt last. As soon as she was strong enough to travel
Her tiny son squirmed against her breast and opened his unfocused eyes. Twin glimpses of gold stared up at her.
Golden eyes, also like his damned father had before the Lord of the Burning Legion seared them away.
Tears streamed down her cheeks as she held him tighter. She knew what she had to do.
Before it had seemed to be the best solution for her, to preserve her reputation and position, but now, as she felt the weight of the babys helpless, trusting body in her arms, she realized all that was secondary. He deserved the best life possible, and her dysfunctional quagmire wasnt it.
She ordered herself to stop crying. It didnt work.
It was all too obvious that Shandris and Jarod wanted nothing to do with the baby, which left her with only one real option. The Sisterhood of Elune welcomed all orphans and foundlings, and she knew they were raised well. She had surrendered her role as a priestess long ago, but perhaps fate was coming full circle
Maiev wiggled one finger into her sons tiny fist, marveling as he instinctively squeezed. She held her breath a moment to quell her sobs, then swallowed to regain her voice.
"Maeldan," she murmured. "That will be your name, little one. A bit of both of us, just like you. Maeldan."
The newborn smacked his lips twice then wrinkled his nose as if about to sneeze.
She tucked him under her chin and nuzzled him closer, already dreading their separation.
"Oh, Illidan," she whispered. "Forgive me."