"'ey der, elfie. What you doin' on dat box, eh? 'e 'ired ya ta bring in dem customer, eh?" He gesticulates at Panis, the muscles in his huge shoulders and arms flexing gently as his arm moves, his voice curiously melodic, heavily accented, like most of his race, but some how pleasant to the ear. Troll, nevertheless! What am I thinking?
"Good evening... troll." Thankfully my voice remains steady, but as I digest his words I feel my skin heat up, my face reddening at his words, 'eye-candy' to bring in trade for Panis indeed! I deliberately douse the spark his magic lit with ice water and let my tone reflect this, "And I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"Well why else a lady sittin' on a box den? Should ya no be dancin' or sometin'?"
"Dancing?" I let the ice drip from my words, but suspect this is having little, if any effect upon him, "Do I really look like that's something I would indulge in?"
He shrugs, unconcerned, "I seen a lot o'dat roun' 'ere. I tink it be da custom..."
"I think it depends on the 'class' of elf you associate with."
"What ya mean by dat? I tought all yas elfies was 'igh class?"
I sigh; how would I even begin to explain the stratification of Sin'Dorei society to a troll? The shifting alliances between the Houses, the agendas, the political manoeuvring, desperate people seeking their chance at power, the calculation, the arrogance, the occasional frenzy that sweeps through the City, the infectious desire to let it all go for one night, the drinking and dancing that ensues. "Even the ones that dance? I would disagree..."
"Ya not tink dancin' be classy, den? Ya should come down ta Sen'jin some time den. Catch yaself some rhythm."
The thought brings an unbidden smile to my lips, if only mother 'dearest' could see me now, consorting with a troll, being told to get 'rhythm'. Why, she would lock herself into her room for a week with all the mana crystals she could lay her hands on! "I'm uncertain as to whether I have 'rhythm'..."
"Well, I don' mean ta be rude, darlin', cos I know yas elfies like ta dance an' all, but sometime yas look like ya got a broom stuck up yas. Too stiff, ya see." He moves before me, his body swaying effortlessly, unselfconsciously, to some beat only he can hear.
"Are you suggesting that I should.... loosen up? Be like those of my kin, with no sense of dignity?" The thought is almost laughable - that I would behave like the painted women in the taverns of the City, reduced to the oldest profession known. Almost, but not quite laughable... How many times have I looked on with something approaching envy, not at the prospect of being brought so low there is nothing but myself left to sell, but at the thought of no longer caring...
" Well what ya mean by dignity, eh?" I look away, uncertain. These are not topics we discuss with our kin, never mind with other races.
Not doin' sometin' cos 'e no be proppa?" I nod, relieved that he appears to understand something of the Sin'Dorei. "Well oo get ta say what dem rule be, eh? " Or then again, maybe he doesn't. "Now me, I dance when I wan' to, not when some rulebook say so."
"Then your life must be infinitely less complicated than the lives of many." Flustered again, I turn my head away. This is dangerous, the midst of the City is no place to be seen conversing with a troll.
"Look - I shows ya. Get down o'dat box fa a while." I look back to him, my stomach drops as I see a small cluster of people standing behind him, the inevitable gossipmongers amongst them. I will be ruined, Fates help me, how can I disentangle myself? Unperturbed by the attention we are starting to attract, he beckons me down. No, don't step down, don't make this even worse. If you have to get down, walk away quickly, there are people present should he try to follow. I step down cautiously, stumbling briefly as my feet touch the ground. Curse my clumsiness. Unthinkingly I reach out for his arm to steady myself and as my hand clutches his arm he smiles down at me; drawn up to his full stature he looms over me, my head just about level with his chest. I draw my hand back sharply, too sharply, an obvious overreaction but he takes no notice and vaults up effortlessly onto the box I have just vacated.
He pauses briefly, seeming to centre himself then begins to dance. Gravity appears meaningless as he throws himself into the air, landing lightly, only to jump again, hands and feet soaring through the air, suspended momentarily in time and space. How...? The beat he moves to apparent, even though there is no music. The moves themselves are graceful at first glance, but when repeated it is impossible to ignore the sinister undercurrent lurking, the sweeping legs cutting through the air, the balance, the control, the pivot, the tension in the movements. My kin standing behind me are still and silent, after all we are raised to believe that trolls are primitive, savage, barely civilised, that there is no beauty or art in their culture. How can the unenlightened move like this? Behind me I hear brief applause, stifled quickly as realisation of what they applaud dawns. It appears that I am not the only one who has been swept away with the currents...
As he lands for the final time, he looks down into my eyes, "Yas gotta let go. If ya be afraid o'fallin, ya never get 'igh." He vaults down from the box, landing directly in front of me. Move back... you cannot be this close... Behind me I feel the crowd departing, looking for the next piece of entertainment.
"I feel our upbringings are very different." Damn the stammer, the catch in my voice, he is too close, the spark re-ignited from nowhere. "But... I... I envy your ability to let go. It looks like you have... fun."
"Maybe so, darlin', maybe so." 'Darlin'? What does he mean? "But I ain' got notin ta let go of, ya see. Ya need ta cut dem string dat 'old ya up. Move on yas own."
I try to brush this away, "You may be right. But here and now, this would not be the right place." I smile briefly, trying to soften my words. What am I saying...
His voice cuts across my thoughts, "Maybe we needs ta take ya down Sen'jin den. Sa ya can feel da rhythm. Maybe try some o'dem ol' witch doctah potion, eh?"
Oh no... please no, that wasn't what I meant. Please don't ask me. I swallow hard, biting back the reponse I want to make, my heart thuds against my chest, suddenly the air becomes close again, my cheeks flare, but words tumble from my lips unchecked, "Are you asking me...?"
"Well dat be up ta yas. Ya wan' stay 'ere, dat be fine. Ya get back on ya box. But if yas wan' live, ya come feel da see breeze on ya."
"I have never been. It is near the sea I hear...?"
"Oh yes. Sun an' sea an' jungle."
"Oh ya, on dem islan' nearby. Darkspear islan', I might add. Wid raptas and tigers an' all maner o'dangerous ting. Jus' waitin' fa a tasty morsel."
"Dem gobble ya right up if ya don' learn ta move right."
"Now I feel you are just trying to scare me," I giggle nervously, gazing at him, the passion in his voice as he speaks of Sen'jin familiar for it is how I feel about my City.
"But if ya let go, ya learn 'ow ta tink like a troll, ta move wid da jungle, dey tink ya one o'dem. An' den dey know oo be da real boss. Ya need ta be rule by 'ere," he thumps his chest, bare save for a few tattered leather straps and I try to stop myself, but my eyes graze the defined muscles, the skin dusted with salt, and I lower my eyes to the floor, as a hopeless mixture of terror, confusion and attraction floods through me. "Not 'ere," he continues and I know, without looking up that he is he motioning to his head. "Ya tink ya can try dat?" I nod helplessly. I cannot walk away, it is already too late. Oh fel, this is beyond imagining. Dragging my gaze up again I see him grinning down at me, "Dat's da spirit! Now ya got ta come wid me. OK - follow me, darlin'. I takin' ya ta da wild place."
I follow him through the City, listening as he grumbles about its size, its atmosphere, "Ya gets no suchine down 'ere, no wind, no sun. No wonder a' elfies be so frail. Yas look like a ghos', darlin'. Again that word, the flames inside me lick higher, fanned by something I cannot place. I do not want to place... We reach the portal that takes us to the Forsaken city, he fumbles slightly but we reappear successfully in the Ruins. "Dat ting make ma 'ead spin"
I admonish him gently "It is a great achievement..."
As we leave the Ruins I realise that we will need to board the zepplin and my stomach churns. I hate the airships. I will embark regardless. To have come this far then flee would be a regret too big to bear. As we reach the top of the tower and step onto the platform the zepplin glides up. No time then, to reconsider, thank you Fates... I step on and close my eyes - hating my weakness I ask him softly to let me know when we arrive. The wind rushes through my hair, tangling it, I try to ignore my fears and eventually I hear his voice, "I recon' dis be it."
My shaking legs have just enough strength to carry me forward and I exhale gratefully when I reach the bottom of the tower. I am never as grateful to lay my feet upon the red dust of Durotar as when I have arrived by air "Euch, those things make me giddy."
"I seen a crash'd one in da nortlan'. Dey ain' too safe, I reckon. Now, ya got sometin ta ride, darlin'?"
I gasp, my pulse beats harder, the blood surges joyfully though my veins. I am far from home now, far from my comfort and my security. Ready...
An angry sound, crossed between a roar and a squeal startles me. He is seated upon a mount. Oh... right. I turn away briefly, mouthing the call to bring my hawkstrider to me.
"Dis be a rapta - don' take ya chicken too close, or 'e may eat im. Raptas be like da spirit o'da jungle."
"Beady eyed and viscious...?"
"Dey vicious, alrigh'. An' quick too. One minute ya by walkin' along, minden ya own business, den WHAM," I jump in fright, nearly unseating myself, "dey got ya. Savage, dey be. No warnin', jus' speed an deat. Dat be why we rides 'em. So dey know oo be boss."
Unbidden the thought rises, and before I can stop it becomes spoken word, "You enjoy the pursuit, the taming...?"
"I wen' out wid ma brothas an sistahs a couple o'days ago ta get some more. Dey don' like day tamin', dat be sure. One near bit ma leg off!" The subtlety of my words has passed him by, Silvermoon flirtations are not something he would understand. Be grateful...
I shiver slightly, "That sounds brutal."
"Life is brutal, darlin'. Ya fancy city may 'ide dat from ya, but der be folk der oo kill ya if dey get da chance. At least wid rapta ya die quick." That word again, presumably he cannot guess the effect it has on me. The images it conjours, the fuel it scatters over the flames. Or can he? Is this deliberate?
The drums, a moment ago so distant, become louder, we round a bend on the track and walk towards the huts, this then, is Sen'jin.
"Ya can feel da sea wind, now, eh? It caress ya skin like da fines' lovva." He walks towards the village, greeting his kin, unaware of the effect of the words he has just spoken, unaware that my heart is now beating in time with the almost hypnotic rhythm of the drumming. He walks towards the beach, I follow in his wake, completely powerless now. Oh Fates, what have you done to me?