Benny looked terrible. His face had been battered almost to the point of being unrecognisable. He sat with his back against one of the huge casks of wine, his knees drawn up, his arms resting on top of them. All his knuckles were split apart, a few still oozed blood. He turned his head as they approached. The flesh around his eyes had swollen so much he could only look out of slits. Still, they widened a little when he saw Unambi.
'Idira,' he said, his voice hoarse.
She wanted to run to him and hug him, but he looked like he was in so much pain she didn't want to hurt him anymore.
She turned to Unambi. 'Please, tell Kip to find Arinna.' Unambi nodded and went back upstairs. She hoped Kip would do it.
'What happened?' she asked, stepping nearer to Benny. In the meagre light of the hanging lamps, the shadows of his bruises deepened. He licked his swollen lips, blistered, split open and caked with dried blood.
'Water,' he croaked. 'Please.'
Idira ran back upstairs. Both the men were gone, and so was Unambi. She wondered where the troll had gone. She glanced at the table. Very little remained of the food. Her platter was gone too. Of course. He had taken the meat up to Blackie before someone else ate it. He really did love cats.
She fetched a jug and pumped water into it. Grabbing a cup, she bolted back down the stairs. Benny hadn't moved. She poured him a cup of water and held it up to his lips. He raised one of his swollen and bloody hands to the cup, steadying it, and drank. He gulped down its contents, slurping, noisy, frantic with thirst. She poured him another cup. He drank all of that too. He settled back with a heavy sigh.
She sat down in front of him. His armour and body were filthy, his flesh covered in cuts and bruises. He looked even worse than the time VanCleef had beaten him up. Benny closed his eyes and leaned the back of his head against the cask. Within a handful of heartbeats his body sagged. He slid down onto the floor, unconsciousness.
Unambi returned and sank into a crouch, eyeing Benny.
'Why didn't Benny warn us?' Idira asked again.
Unambi shook his head. 'Let da man tell ya hisself. He be earnin' da right.'
Footsteps approached, hesitant. It couldn't be Arinna already. A quiet gasp filled the air.
Myra stepped out from the shadows into the little pool of light under the solitary hanging lamp. Her hair hung loose, tumbling around her nightgown. She looked so pale and fragile, she seemed almost ephemeral. She crept across the wine cellar towards Benny, her eyes raking over his body, taking in his injuries. She sank to her knees, tears glistening in her eyes.
'You're still alive,' she breathed. 'My love. You came for me.'
'No he didn't. He tried to kill Papa. That's why he's here,' Idira corrected, searching her sister for signs of injury, thinking of VanCleef's shattered bedroom. 'Did you get hurt? What about Vanessa?'
'We're fine,' Myra answered, not taking her eyes from Benny. 'There's a passage beside the fireplace that leads to the cellar, we made it out just in time.' She looked like she was drinking in the sight of him, it reminded Idira of the way Benny had looked at the jug of water.
Footsteps pattered across the floor above. Someone came down the stairs, panting.
'Idira?' a voice called out, frantic with worry.
'Arinna?' Idira called back, astonished she had arrived so fast.
The priestess came down the corridor into the wine cellar. She skidded to a halt when she came upon the little party. Ignoring the others, she went straight to Idira and clutched her against her chest.
'Oh poppet! I am so glad you are alright. I came as soon as I could.'
'What do you mean?' Idira asked as Arinna let her go, looking Idira over, examining her for injuries. 'I thought Kip went to get you?'
'Kip?' Arinna looked bewildered. 'No, I left Stormwind Cathedral last night as soon as the storm passed. I have been so worried about you. I came straight here to find the house in near ruins and drenched in blood.' She shot a dirty look at Unambi, her expression filled with accusation, as though the whole thing were somehow his fault.
Idira pointed at Benny. 'Please can you heal him? He's hurt really bad. He's my friend.'
Arinna continued to glare at Unambi. He looked back at her, impassive. A shudder rippled through Arinna, her outrage palpable. For a heartbeat, Idira wondered if Arinna was going to hit him. Idira took hold of the priestess's arm and shook it, trying to pull her attention from Unambi to Benny.
'Can you heal him,' Idira repeated, urgent.
Arinna glanced at Benny and nodded. 'I can,' she said as her gaze swivelled back to Unambi, fierce. 'But then I want answers. Just wait until Lady Nin finds out. VanCleef is going to be held accountable for what's happened here. A child in a charnel house! It's unthinkable!'
Unambi shook his head and looked away. Idira felt sorry for him. It wasn't fair. It wasn't his fault. He just happened to be the first one Arinna could find to blame. Arinna knelt beside Benny, rigid as a board. She took several deep breaths, trying to calm herself. She bowed her head and closed her eyes.
It took her a little while, but finally, Light, warm and clean, enveloped her hands. She lifted them to Benny's face, drawing out the dark tendrils of pain and injury, cleansing them in her Light. No one said anything. Idira hardly dared to breathe. Little by little, Benny's cuts and bruises faded, the swelling around his eyes eased and the familiar outlines of his brow and jaw returned.
She moved to work on his arms and hands. The gashes on his knuckles shrank and new skin knitted over the gaping holes, fresh and clean. Arinna fell back onto her haunches, though the Light still glowed in her hands.
'Someone needs to undress him, he has more injuries under his armour,' she murmured.
Myra came forward, her fingers working quick and deft on the buckles and straps of his leather tunic. She pulled it off and tossed it aside, it hit the flagstones with a heavy slap.
'Help me lay him down,' she said to Idira. 'Hold onto his ankles, and pull him out straight when I say.'
Idira did as she was told, trying not to think what might happen if VanCleef were to come down and find Myra undressing Benny in the wine cellar. Her fingers trembling, Myra pulled at the ties of Benny's breeches, her breathing quick and nervous. Maybe she was afraid of VanCleef finding them together, too. She freed the laces and yanked his leather breeches down to the top of his boots. He was completely naked underneath, something between his legs sprung up proud and erect, like a fat, pink tube. A pungent smell of stinky cheese filled Idira's nostrils. Unambi's hand came over Idira's eyes.
'It happens sometimes, an effect of the healing. It means nothing,' Arinna said, brusque. 'Just put his tunic over it.' Idira heard the rasp of Benny's heavy leather tunic being dragged across the floor. Idira pulled at Unambi's hand, impatient. After a few heartbeats, he let go. Benny lay naked to his knees, flat on his back, his filthy tunic spread out over his hips. Nasty bruises covered his ribs and thighs and several gouges in his torso seeped blood. Idira could make out the outline of a club in the bruises. Idira shook her head. Poor Benny. He had been beaten really bad.
Arinna carried on with her work although it took much longer to heal his torso than his face. She held her hand over his flank, murmuring his kidney had been ruptured and the toxins in his body had already begun to poison him. Without her aid, she said he would have died within a day. Myra watched in silence, her eyes glassy with unshed tears. She glanced at Idira and offered her a wavering smile before her gaze returned to Benny, her hand holding his, just like VanCleef had held hers when Arinna healed Myra.
Steps came down the stairs, Idira recognised the sound of the footfalls. Idira shot a look at Myra. VanCleef, she mouthed. Myra blanched. She let go of Benny's hand and scuttled backwards. With one last, longing look at his prone body she hurried away into the shadows.
VanCleef's footfalls neared. Idira looked up, biting her lip, what if he didn't want Benny to be healed? VanCleef came in. Exhaustion etched his features. His eyes moved over the scene, slow, assessing, suspicious. Idira was glad Myra was gone. He glanced at Unambi, his look filled with accusation. Unambi shook his head and jerked his chin at Idira. VanCleef nodded, resigned.
'Will he live?' he asked Arinna, even his words sounded tired.
She nodded as she finished, the Light fading from her hands. She looked up at him, pale and drained. 'He will now.'
VanCleef didn't say anything. His eyes moved to the passageway leading to wherever Myra had come from. He followed it without saying another word. Idira waited for the fighting to begin again, but there was nothing, only silence followed in his wake, ominous and cold.
For the next few days, Idira spent the daylight hours with Benny while Unambi worked with Lanira to restore Idira's room. Arinna bought her a new colouring book and a new box of pencils from a shop in Moonbrook, although the pictures weren't as fancy as the books from Stormwind. There weren't any pictures of Khadgar either, only animals. Still, Idira was glad to be able to colour again.
Kip brought down a spare mattress and blankets from the men's quarters for Benny and a stool for Idira. No one seemed to care what she did while the house was being put back into order, not even Lanira, who had become obsessed with the project of restoring Idira's bedroom back to its former state.
From dawn until dusk, the hammering of scaffolding going up rang out, relentless. A team of men, masons all of them, arrived from the north, where they had been collecting tolls from Stormwind travellers for the Brotherhood. As soon as the hammering stopped, the tink of stonecutter's tools rang out from both the square and the stable yard. One by one, the servants returned, driven by the necessity of their wages. VanCleef docked the days they missed, but forgave them, understanding they had been frightened. He promised them nothing like that would ever happen again. Slowly, under the efforts of a small but growing army, the house began to take shape again, the memory of the morning of their attack fading with each new dawn.
Three days after being healed, Benny woke up and asked for something to eat, saying he was famished. Idira went upstairs and asked the cook what she could give him. A little while later she came back down, carrying a platter laden with fresh roasted Roc meat, a small loaf of beer malted bread and a bowl of creamy potato soup.
As he ate, ravenous, she told him about his ruptured kidney and Arinna's healing saving him just in time. He mopped up the dregs of his soup with the bread, finishing the last bite with a satisfied belch. He patted Idira's hand, affectionate.
'Ye've allus been such a good girl,' he said. 'Thank ye for lookin' out for me.' He leaned his back against one of the wine casks and looked around the cellar. He sniffed. 'An' Myra, she's safe?' he asked, trying to act casual. Idira could see through him though, just like she could see through Myra.
'She is. She has a baby girl, born on the night of the storm. Her name is Vanessa,' Idira answered, watching him.
'Oh?' he said. He brushed a few crumbs off his blanket, trying to look nonchalant but Idira could tell he was gutted. 'Is she happy?' he asked without looking up.
'She was until you turned up again.'
He didn't say anything. Idira thought he looked a little pleased, but she wasn't sure. She decided to change the subject, she had waited long enough for her answer.
'Why didn't you warn us Papa was going to attack?' she asked, her eyes hard on him. 'Didn't you care we might have been killed?'
Benny flinched. 'I tried so hard ta talk him out o' it,' he answered eventually, his eyes unfocusing as he relived the memory. 'I did everything I could ta stop him. When I wouldna' agree to go along wit' him, he set his men on me an' left me trussed up at Klaven's Tower ta die. I managed ta get free and ran the whole way ta Moonbrook, terrified I was too late. All I could think of was the two of ye, gone forever . . .' Tears glinted in his eyes. He rubbed them away with the back of his hand. He shuddered. 'I'm so glad ye're safe,' he whispered.
Idira stared at him, incredulous. The club marks she had seen on his torso, Papa's men had done that to him. Klaven's Tower was far, and Benny had run all the way to Moonbrook, with a ruptured kidney, to try to save them. And then after all that, he had confronted Papa outside the town, trying to kill him with his bare hands. Her throat tightened, thick with emotion. Tears gathered in her eyes. She threw herself into his arms.
'Oh Benny,' she cried out, 'you are the best man in the world. How I wish everything had turned out different. But it doesn't matter. Myra still loves you. So much.'
He sobbed so hard, he shuddered. His arms came around her, clutching her tight against him as she wept. He whispered nonsense words to soothe her, even as he continued to sob, soft, his tears falling into her hair, grieving for the woman who had been stolen from him and still loved him, even after all this time.