Idira didn't waste any time, now they had the chance to escape, all she could think about was getting out, before something else happened and they would never get away. She hurried to gather whatever she could, blankets, clothes, plates, the silver cutlery and the gold candelabra, stuffing all of it into the leather satchels they had packed in Moonbrook all those long months ago. She took the books too, she couldn't bear to leave them behind. Unambi came back from raiding the galley, carrying provisions and pots for cooking. He had found Blackie hiding between the cupboards and managed to coax her into her basket.
Holding Vanessa's hand, Idira followed Unambi down the scaffolding, walking the same path she had taken eleven months ago, trying to ignore the sounds of the serpents in the waters thrashing on the other side of the ship, feeding on the bodies Unambi had thrown over, to keep them occupied while they made they way out of the cavern on the little rowboat. She had looked for Kip, but he was gone, she wondered if Unambi had pitied him, refusing to leave him to rot like VanCleef and the champions.
Vanessa walked beside Idira, silent and withdrawn, her eyes blank, seeming much older than her almost six years.
They reached the boat. Unambi loaded it with their belongings, his armour and daggers. Idira glanced over her shoulder, uneasy. Everywhere, the bodies of the dead lay scattered along the path up to the tunnel, the remains of the gate's timber splintered outwards, jagged, like the sharp teeth of the serpents below.
'Let's be leavin' dis place,' Unambi murmured as he lifted Vanessa into the boat. Idira slipped in after her and sat down beside her, reaching up to take Blackie's basket from Unambi. She settled the basket onto her lap, just like when they arrived, only this time Blackie was quiet, as if she sensed her freedom was coming, too.
Vanessa looked up at the ship as Unambi cast off, expressionless. Idira wrapped her arm around her niece's shoulders. In the space of less than a year she had lost both her mother and her father, both of them to violent deaths. Idira tightened her hold on Vanessa as the boat wobbled under Unambi's efforts to row it. He cursed, quiet, struggling to work the pair of oars made for human use. The boat turned in a circle several times, and bumped against the dock more than once before he found his way and settled into the rhythm of rowing, pulling the little boat across the dark waters towards the gates.
Idira kept her gaze on the sliver of light, its sunbeams playing over the black-dark waters of the cavern, brightening and dulling whenever clouds passed over the sun. The scent of sea air beckoned, growing in strength with each passing moment. A gull cried, piercing the dead silence within the cavern, promising freedom. Idira lifted her face to the light, savouring the sun's warmth, listening to the splash of the oars as Unambi rowed on, determined, distancing them from the hated ship with each powerful stroke.
The memory of the dream with Khadgar flashed into Idira's mind, unbidden. She wondered where he was now, if he had found out about the one called Gul'dan. Maybe he was fighting him, even now. She hoped he was safe.
The boat slid into the narrow opening between the doors of the water gate, the space so tight, Unambi had to draw in the oars and pull them through, using his hands and the boat's momentum to drag them between the gates, their sides as thick as the length of the whole rowboat. They emerged out into the late afternoon sunshine, the sea air buffeting them, making Idira's hair blow around her face. The boat bobbed, playful in the choppy waters. Idira smiled. Free. They were free. Finally, it was over.
'Ya got anyplace ya want ta be goin'?' Unambi asked, settling the oars back in the water. He turned his face towards the wind, breathing deep, savouring the fresh, salty air.
Idira nodded, she had already thought it out a thousand times while trapped within VanCleef's ship.
'Follow the coast north,' she pointed past the lighthouse. 'Let's go home, to the farm. No one will be there, I'm sure of it. We'll be safe. You'll be safe.'
Unambi cleared his throat. 'Ya don' wan' ta be goin' ta Stormwind, ta Lady Nin?' he asked, appearing nonchalant though when Idira met his eyes, he looked away. She realised he was afraid she might say yes.
'And have to leave you behind? My best friend? No, where I go, you go, and if you can't go there, I won't go there.'
Unambi nodded and started rowing, slow powerful strokes, widening the distance between them and the hateful gates.
'Dat's right,' he said to himself, quiet, pleased. 'Dat's right. Dat's my Idira.'
As the sea air filled Idira's lungs and the sunlight played over her skin, warming it, she hugged Vanessa, hoping the air might help her niece to revive, to grieve. But Vanessa just stared, silent, out at the ocean, her eyes dark and filled with hate.
Unambi rowed all through the rest of the afternoon and into the night, even as the sky's canopy darkened and began to blossom with stars and constellations. Idira watched the stars come out, one by one, their reflections cold and sharp against the dark waters of the ocean. She wondered which bright light was Khadgar's home. One star sparkled, bright, rotating, its colours shifting, red, orange, blue, white. Could that be where he was? He had looked up at the sky that night she met him, searching, too. Was he looking at his sky right now, even as she was looking at hers? She shivered, the thought pleasing her.
'Wait for me,' she whispered to the star. 'Please just wait for me to grow up. Don't find someone else first.'
'Did ya say som'ting?' Unambi asked, his face shadowed in the starlight.
Idira blushed and shook her head. She stroked Vanessa's head on her lap. Her niece had finally fallen asleep, lulled by the rhythmic sound of Unambi's rowing, and the susurration of the waves crashing against the shore.
Ahead, the outline of mountains began to block Idira's view of the sky, their familiar peaks and valleys triggering memories long forgotten. She turned to look toward the shore. There. In the distance a little building stood alone, perched near the cliff's edge, surrounded by vast reaches of emptiness. Her breath caught. Home.
Under her quiet instructions, Unambi steered the boat up onto the shore. He jumped out and pulled it up onto the beach into the little cove where the crab pots used to be, where Idira had been saved from a vicious murloc by another murloc. She eyed the long sea grasses, growing in large clusters between them and the overgrown cliff path leading up to the farm, hoping there wouldn't be any bad murlocs.
Unambi stood up and stretched, working out the kinks in his muscles as he looked around, taking in their new surroundings. He grunted, a sound of approval. Idira hid her smile, secretly pleased he liked it.
A rustle came from the cluster of sea grass nearest them, Unambi reached into the boat and took out one of his daggers, wary.
A murloc stepped out, curious, its dark scales glistening in the light of the stars. It turned its head from side to side, and looked at Idira, eyeing her with its big, wet eyes. It made a little sound in its throat, it sounded like a question, almost hopeful. It went back into the sea grass, and returned a heartbeat later carrying something in its hands. It approached Idira, scuttling sideways out of Unambi's reach, holding what it had up to her.
It asked again, soft. Something clattered, quiet, around its neck. Idira leaned closer. Her breath caught. The seashell necklace. The one she had left for her murloc friend all those years ago.
Idira choked as she accepted its gift, tears spilling from her eyes. 'You waited for me. All these years, you never forgot me.' She looked up at Unambi, watching her, his eyes soft.
'This is my friend,' she whispered, 'it saved my life once.'
'Da Light be protectin' ya,' Unambi murmured, his voice catching. He looked at the murloc. 'Now ya be gettin' a new friend.' He put his hand to his chest. 'I be Unambi.'
The murloc eyed Unambi for a long time. It glanced at Idira, then imitated Unambi, patting itself on the chest, making a short guttural noise with a little trill at the end. It turned and ran toward the cliff path, bouncing from one foot to the other, excited, waiting for them to follow.
'Ya be ready to go home?' Unambi asked, as he reached in to pick up Vanessa, still fast asleep.
'I am,' Idira answered as she picked up Blackie's basket. 'Let's go home.'
The house looked the same as it had when she left. Run-down and forlorn; the windows and door still boarded up. It felt as though no one had been there since the day they left. The pot belly stove still stood where Borda had left it in the middle of the yard. So, the men hadn't come back for it after all. Somehow it didn't surprise her. She wondered if it could still be used. Unambi pulled the planks away from the door. Dessicated after years of heat and drought, they snapped apart, brittle. Dust filled the porch, making Idira's throat itch. He went inside, to check for 'nasty tings like big spidas'. But the house was empty, not even a mouse stirred within.
He made two trips to the boat, carrying up their bags while Idira waited with Vanessa and the murloc, her niece eyeing the creature, curious, saying she had seen one of those before, in the galley of the ship, working as the chef. She had called it Cookie. Idira shook her head, amazed. All that time, and this was the first she had heard about it. A murloc, on the same ship as her, and she had never even known about it. Vanessa could certainly keep secrets.
The bags safe in the house, Unambi made a little fire out in the yard and prepared and cooked the crab, using the pots and utensils he had brought from the ship's galley. The murloc stayed with them for awhile, sitting to one side, watching them with its big eyes, making little happy sounds in its throat. It left before they sat down to eat under the warm summer sky and the glow of the stars; quiet, companionable, peaceful. Unambi hung up his hammock in the bedroom, insisting Idira and Vanessa sleep in it. He gave it a little push, so they rocked, soft, lulled by the swaying of their bed and the sound of the waves crashing beneath the cliffs against the shore. He spread a blanket on the floor and lay down, Blackie curling up beside him, still licking her paws after her crab dinner. Idira wrapped her arm around Vanessa and for the first time in a very long time, fell asleep, content.