"Is it true?"
Maiev stopped in her tracks, her high-heeled boots nearly causing her to trip on the smooth marble of the temple steps. She had hoped to be back to Hyjal before Tyrande realized she had been there.
Keeping her face carefully neutral, Maiev turned to face the High Priestess. "Is what true?"
"You know quite well what I mean, Warden Shadowsong." Tyrande continued down the wide steps, her flowing white gown giving her an airy, delicate appearance that was in distinct contrast to her stern expression. She halted facing Maiev at the bottom of the steps, projecting authority despite her slight disadvantage in height.
Maiev was not intimidated, but raised an eyebrow in a show of innocent curiosity.
Tyrande probed her eyes with a penetrating stare but the other woman did not look away. "A rumor has reached my ears about you and the identity of the childs father."
Maiev tensed further but kept her voice coldly unconcerned. "Hes to be raised here as an orphan. Whomever his father might be is of no importance."
"On the contrary, Warden. If certain rumors are true, it is of great importance."
Maiev sneered. "Rumors are only that: rumors. Ill neither confirm nor deny anything."
Tyrandes expression softened slightly. "Maiev, if something has happened if you were forced or somehow"
"No!" she interrupted vehemently. Then, more quietly, "No. I will tell you this much. The actions that led to the childs conception were mutually agreed upon, even if the consequences were not."
"I see " Tyrande studied her with renewed scrutiny.
"And he doesnt know about the child. He never will."
"And your son? You leave him here as an orphan?"
Maievs face darkened. "I have no other recourse. I know the Sisterhood of Elune will care for him well."
"You could request a less isolated and demanding assignment."
"I have no intention of doing so."
"And when, someday, the boy asks about his parents?"
"Tell him his mother was a Watcher and his father was of no consequence. Or tell him we are both dead. It matters little."
"It will matter to him."
Maiev looked away but said nothing.
Tyrande continued. "But Maiev, if what I suspect what everyone suspects is true, we will need to keep a close eye on this child. He may share certain qualities with his father."
"You speak as if the Sisterhood doesnt keep a close watch on every foundling under their care."
"You know of what I speak, Maiev, and surely you of all people recognize the danger."
"Hes a baby, Whisperwind. Surely even you can handle that." Maiev pushed past the priestess and began walking away. As she departed she muttered just loudly enough for the other to hear, "Jealousy does not become you, Tyrande."
"Jealousy?" Tyrande spat. "Then the rumors are true!"
Maiev turned back to face her again with a triumphant smirk. "And which rumors might those be to inspire jealousy in you?"
Flustered, Tyrande made no reply.
"I know you must think to yourself, if only Malfurion were not in the Emerald Dream If only he were here, you might be a mother, too. If only certain choices had been made differently."
Tyrande narrowed her silver eyes dangerously and stepped closer to her adversary. "You know not of what you speak, Shadowsong. I love Malfurion with all my heart. If Elune chooses to grant us children it will be on Her time. I do not question the will of the Goddess, and I do not regret any choices I have made in my life."
Maiev looked slyly unconvinced.
"But your insinuations do lend credence to the rumors," Tyrande added.
"You may interpret them that way if you choose to."
"If that child is my nephew I deserve to know."
"He shares none of your blood, regardless. You would do well to forget his parentage completely both halves of it."
Tyrande leaned forward, nearly shaking with anger. "If I can ever prove any inappropriate actions on your part, Warden, I will see you removed from your duties and punished severely."
"Which is precisely why I will never confirm nor deny any suspicions you might have." Maiev turned to leave once more.
"Tread carefully, Warden."
"I always do, Priestess," Maiev said without turning around.
Only when she was well out of sight of the temple did she allow her eyes to fill with tears. She did not permit them to fall. Her son was better off here. It pained her to think of never seeing him again, but it had to be this way for his sake and for hers and for his fathers the father who would never know he was one.
Maiev took a deep breath to center herself before striding into the hippogriff aerie. The animal she had arrived on a few hours before was now fed and rested, and she took the reins with a nod of thanks to the attendant.
The trip from Feralas to Astranaar had been a long one, and she could hardly bear the thought of riding again. She had barely recovered from the birth and this journey wasn't doing her body any favors. Staying here was not an option, however.
Within minutes she was in the air, holding onto the bird-like creature with her thighs and fistfuls of dark feathers. She forced herself not to look back as the lights of the temple faded into the moonlit landscape behind her.
By daybreak she would be back in the icy depths of Mount Hyjals caverns, back about her duties, and could pretend to forget any of it had ever happened.
Times being what they were, with most male Night Elves in the Emerald Dream, there were few children being born to the elves, and fewer still being placed in the care of the Temple of Elune. Maievs son was one of only seven children in the Astranaar orphanage; only two others were male.
Tyrande usually had very little to do with them. She found children pleasant enough, and as Maiev has surmised she would have welcomed one of her own, but her duties as High Priestess kept her far too busy to become involved with the orphans in the temples care.
Now, however, she found herself in a dormitory lit by a vague glow of dawn, studying the newest arrival intently.
Maeldan, as Maiev had named him, was still very young, no more than a week or two old, and as yet unable to walk, talk or show any sort of magical aptitude. He slept in a wooden cradle, oblivious to his abandonment or the careful scrutiny he was receiving.
Is it true? Tyrande wondered again. Can this really be the son of Maiev and Illidan? It seemed impossible, unthinkable, absurd, but the babes nose did remind her of the younger Stormrage brother, and his coloring did as well. Could it be? And if so how? Why?
Maiev loudly detested her most notorious prisoner. She was the last person in the world Tyrande could imagine falling in love with him. Yet, Tyrande reminded herself, "love" was not technically necessary for things like this to happen. Things like Maeldan
She shook her head. Whether the childs father was Illidan or someone else entirely, he was an innocent and would receive the same care that all the charges of the temple did. She only hoped it would be enough to keep him from following in his hypothetical fathers footsteps or, for that matter, his abrasive mothers.
Tyrande sighed and silently left the nursery, frowning in deep thought.
The damp chill of Mount Hyjals caverns was oddly comforting to Maiev as she descended through the dark tunnels. It was all so familiar, and she felt more at home than she had in a long time.
The official story was that she had simply taken a years sabbatical, spending time with her brother and his mate. Considering the zealous dedication she had shown for over six thousand years, no one begrudged her the vacation. Only Jarod and Shandris knew the real reason. And, she reminded herself with a sour expression, that blasted Tyrande now knew as well. Ah well, that couldnt be helped.
As she first walked out of the orphanage, feeling her arms slowly lose the warmth of her sons bundle of blankets, she had been torn by second thoughts. Perhaps she should resign as Warden and raise Maeldan herself. By all rights she should lose her position simply because of the unprofessional boundaries she had crossed to conceive him. But it would mean never seeing Illidan again, and that was a truly unbearable prospect.
Maiev slowed her pace as she neared the entrance to the prison itself. She was both dreading and relishing the reunion to come. For the millionth time she considered the contractory swirl of emotions Illidan inspired in her: love, hate, frustration, admiration, disdain, lust None of it made sense. It never had. Yet, as she laid a hand on the cold metal gate, she knew that for good or ill, she was as much a prisoner here as he was.
"Mistress Shadowsong!" a happy voice cried out as she opened the gate. "Youre back!"
She smiled in spite of herself as Naisha rushed to greet her.
"I got your letter so weve been expecting you. Welcome back!"
"Thank you. Its good to be back." Maiev tried not to sound too weary, but in truth she was drained from a very long few days of travel with a newborn infant, and was still not back to full strength from his birth.
"Did you have a nice time off?" Naisha asked.
"Oh yes, very," she said convincingly. They strolled down the corridor toward the Wardens quarters. "How is everything here?"
Naisha had served at Maievs second-in-command for centuries and had taken over the duties of head warden while she was away. "Nothing much has changed. No new prisoners in the last year, and no old ones left us."
"Good, good." Maiev nodded. She would not ask about one specific prisoner.
However, Naisha was not completely unaware of her leaders particular interest in Illidan, even if she didnt realize quite how involved the situation had become. Smiling slightly, she volunteered a comment. "The Betrayer has been more sullen and much less agreeable in your absence."
"Less agreeable?" Maiev sniffed. "Is that possible?"
"If I didnt know better, Id think he misses you," Naisha said in a loud whisper, winking.
Maiev glared at her, causing her smile to fade. "I doubt that. But dont worry, Ill have him in line again soon."
Naisha nodded knowingly. "You do have a way with him that no one else seems to."
Maiev stopped and turned to face her with a hard look. "If you have something to say to me, Naisha, then out with it."
"No, Mistress, only that " She looked away meekly. "Nothing."
"Very well. Now if youll excuse me I have a lot of work to do to get everything back up to my standards around here." Maiev turned on her heel and stalked off toward her quarters.
Everything was as she had left it a year ago, albeit with much more dust. Maiev unpacked her extra clothes, which only filled one bag. The specially-tailored clothes she had worn to accommodate her pregnant belly were now in ashes in the trash heap at Jarods house.
It seemed like a lifetime ago that she had laid on this bed, exhausted and queasy, paralyzed by the realization of what those symptoms meant.
She had not dared to go near Illidan since that moment. There was no way to know how acute his magical vision was, and it would not have surprised her in the least to learn that he could somehow "see" the second life force within her, and to realize what that extra energy meant.
She truly had no idea what his reaction would have been. Would he have been happy? Horrified? Unconcerned? Would he have faithfully kept the secret, or used it to blackmail her in some way? He was unpredictable at best, and she could never trust him.
In the end it didnt matter, anyway. Whether or not he would want anything to do with the child, he had no means to support, raise or even visit his son. The only further purpose he could serve would be as a bad example.
So she vowed that he would never know about their child. If he were pleased with the idea it would only pain his already tortured soul to know he was missing his sons entire life. If he were to react with disgust, then it was best to avoid the subject altogether. Either way, it was better for all concerned that he never find out.
Maiev shook the dust from a tablecloth into the corridor and tightly shut the door again. Her living quarters were spartan and functional, but cozy in their own way. She had nearly forgotten having any other home.
Yes, she acknowledged privately, her home was here with Illidan. And oh, how she had missed him!
Her body urged her to get some rest, and her bed did look inviting, but she had to see him first. Damn whatever Naisha and the others might think. It had been far too long.
She put on her helmet and strode toward the inner section of the prison. Sweat dampened her brow and the back of her neck as she drew nearer. Each step was so familiar. The musty smell of stone The distant rustle of activity from her fellow Watchers Everything was as if she had never left.
Would he be glad to see her? Or angry at her long, unannounced absence? Or, worse, indifferent? She pursed her lips. Longing and loathing she could handle with equal aplomb. Apathy, however, she would not allownot that it had ever been a problem between them.
As she turned down the corridor leading to the Betrayers cell, the sentries on duty saluted smartly. "Welcome back, Mistress," said one.
"Thank you. I understand our star prisoner has been uncooperative for you in my absence." She approached the barred door and posed in front of it with a haughty sneer.
Illidan had been sitting on his cot, the only furniture in the cell. At the sound of her voice, however, he sprang to his feet and hurried to investigate. "Maiev," he breathed in shock, simply staring. "Is that really you?"
"I suppose you thought you were rid of me for good, Betrayer," she snarled, fighting to keep a smile from her face as she drank in the sight of him. "Well, I dont know how these novices handled things, but Im back now and I wont tolerate any insubordination from the likes of you."
Illidan stammered for a moment before recovering. "Oh good, just what I needed to break up the monotony of this interminable prison sentence: your feeble attempts to assert your superiority. I assumed you had given up."
"Never," she hissed.
They merely regarded each other for a moment, appraising unspoken signals. Finally, Maiev turned to the sentries. "Why dont you two take an early supper break? I need to get reacquainted with our favorite prisoner." She grinned wickedly and leaned against the bars in a menacing manner.
"Yes, Mistress Shadowsong," the younger elves replied. Soon their footsteps faded away in the distance and a heavy silence fell over the corridor.
"So youre back," Illidan said coldly. "I never expected to see you again."
"Well then, lucky you."
"I didnt say the thought distressed me."
"Oh, come now, Illidan surely you missed me just a little bit."
He frowned and looked away. "Miss what? Your annoying intrusions? Your scathing comments about everything I say or do? The million little ways you delight in making my life miserable?"
She Blinked through the bars and he suddenly found his face inches from hers. He did not draw away.
"I was thinking more about this," she said, seizing him in a kiss.
After only a few seconds he shoved her back against the stone wall, holding her at arms length. "You disappear without a word and come back a year later expecting me to be sitting here pining away for you? You overestimate your importance, Warden."
"I" she began but his scowl silenced her.
"I was under the impression that the arrangement we had before meant something more to you than mere recreation," he said, choosing his words carefully.
"And I was under the impression that it meant nothing more to you. Or so you tried to convince me on numerous occasions."
"If it did mean something more to you then why not show the courtesy of telling me before you disappeared for an entire year?"
"I couldnt!" she snapped. "Things came up rather suddenly." Her expression softened. "Im sorry."
He gave a skeptical laugh.
"I am!" she said fiercely. "I never meant to make you think that I simply that I But why do you care? If Im nothing to you then why does it matter if I disappear?"
"Call it idle curiosity. Call it the hope that you had been eaten by some ravening yeti, or fallen off a cliff, or gotten demoted, or I dont know!" He let go of her shoulders and turned away from her.
"Illidan, Im sorry," she said quietly. He said nothing as she put a hand on his bare back, then slid her arms around him from behind. "I missed you."
"Damn you, Maiev," he muttered.
She merely held him, her armor cool against his skin. Neither spoke for a full minute. At last he relaxed, surrendering yet again to her stubborness.
"I hate you," he said with no real venom as he turned to her, framing her face with one hand.
She grinned as if this was a compliment. "I know. I hate you, too, Illidan."
He trapped her in his strong arms and claimed her mouth with a kiss that made her knees go weak. She clung to him happily, letting him refamiliarize himself with her body, and fought back thoughts of the past year. She was back where she belonged now.