Without Logan at the farm, Idira had more work to do, but she welcomed it, it kept her busy, leaving her little time to dwell on the dark thoughts that had returned and begun to plague her. In less time than she'd anticipated they resumed their old routine, with Margle once more coming up every morning with his gifts from the sea, carrying them into the kitchen to Idira, his little webbed feet slapping, soft against the floorboards.
Every night before going to sleep, she kept track of the days using the bar and gate method Nin had taught her, marking the blank endpapers of her least favourite book. The months passed. As the count approached a year, she found herself glancing towards the eastern horizon more frequently, imagining Logan arriving on his horse, gleaming in his armour. But he didn't come. More months passed, then another year, swallowed up by the daily routine of living and tending the farm.
Once more, just like when she was little, no one ever came. The farm was too far away, too isolated. No roads led to their farm, not even a path, and since Logan had told Stoutmantle's messenger his intention of joining the military, no one from The Westfall Brigade had ever had any reason to make the trip back, either. They were utterly alone. At times she fancied they might be the only living beings in all of Azeroth.
Two more years drifted away, marked by the careful notations her book. The unchanging seasons and the endless, monotonous days punctuated only by the memory of two severe storms, though the damage they did was nowhere near as serious as the day the dragon arrived. They cleared up the yard, replanted the gardens, repaired the damage to the buildings, and moved on. Her twenty-sixth birthday came and went, unremarked. She never dreamed of Khadgar, nor would she even allow herself to think of him anymore. It hurt too much. The books she had about him she stashed at the bottom of the book chest, where she would never see them.
Since her birthday, she had begun to despair in her belief that her Light—even if it was of no benefit to her—had a purpose. Not since those first days thirteen long years ago, right after they had arrived, had anything happened.
After the day the dragon arrived, when she couldn't help the chickens, she'd never tried to call on her Light again. It had let Blackie die when she could have protected her. She simply wanted no part of it anymore, it was easier to close herself off from it than to be continually disappointed.
She gazed at the dozens of numbered gates filling the endpapers of her book. Four long years had rolled by, each one blurring into the next, identical and unchanging since Logan left. Idira found herself beginning to believe she would live on the farm until she died, alone and unloved, until she became an old woman, never touched by a man, destined to be buried beside her cat. Even Logan had never come back. She suspected he had moved on, found a woman, had children and long forgotten about her. She understood, he would be almost thirty years old, long past time to be settling down. But still, it hurt so much when she thought about it, her heart becoming so consumed with envy she felt like she couldn't breathe. What had she ever done to deserve such an empty, meaningless existence? But as always, for her, there were never any answers—only a deafening wall of silence.
In the dead of the night, Idira woke. The sound of approaching footfalls came from the cliff path. She sat up, straining to listen, her heart pounding. Silence. She exhaled, slow. Perhaps she had dreamt it, though it had sounded real enough. She waited. Still nothing. She lay back again, reassured. A dream, nothing more.
The footfalls came again, shuffling, hesitant, jagged against the distant familiar susurration of the ocean's waves against the shore. She slipped from the bed and went to the sitting room, thinking to wake Unambi but he was already strapping on his belt, and sheathing his daggers.
'Ya be waitin' in ya room until I be callin' ya name,' he said, so quiet his words barely reached the edge of her hearing. She nodded and fell back as he opened the door, the oiled hinges swivelling in total silence. He slipped out, not making a sound as he left the porch and went round the house.
Her heart pounding, she crept back to her room and sat on the edge of her bed, her fingers twisting into the material of her nightdress, fear scything through her, sharp. They had had things go their way for so long she had begun to take for granted how safe she believed they were, always expecting strangers to arrive from the east, never from the sea. And now, after all these years, in the dead of the night someone was coming up the cliff path as though they knew of its existence, hidden as it was in between the long, waving grasses.
She waited, biting her lip, listening for the fight she was certain was going to break out. Silence. Uneasy, she stood and moved to the wall facing the sea. The bedroom didn't have a window facing the cliffs, so she couldn't see anything. She pressed her ear against a wooden plank, holding her breath, a wild tendril of hope shooting through her. What if it was Logan? He knew the cliff path. Another thought followed, like the flash of a fish's scales in the sunlight, arcing across her mind before she could stop it. What if it was Khadgar, finally come for her? She shivered at the thought, unable to stop herself from savouring the possibility that at any moment, the man she had waited all her life to meet could walk through her front door.
Unambi called her name, startling her, making her jump. He called her name again, urgent, telling her to join him.
She hurried to pull on her shoes and bolted out of the house, running toward the cliff path, curiosity overwhelming her. Against a glittering wall of stars, she made out Unambi's silhouette standing over a ragged heap of what looked like a very thin man, sitting slumped on the ground.
'I found him like dis,' he said. 'Ya better be preparin' yaself.'
Confused, Idira looked up at Unambi, his face lost to the shadows, the faint gleam of the stars barely catching his eyes. He reached down and grasped hold of the man's grey hair and tilted his face up to the wan light.
Idira stared, disbelieving, incredulous. The last person in all of Azeroth she ever expected to see gazed up at her, his eyes blank and glassy with fever.
'Help me,' he croaked through parched and cracked lips, holding up a trembling hand to her, imploring. 'Please.'
'Papa,' she whispered, tears coming to her eyes as she took in his wretched state. He looked old, ill, and utterly pitiful, an emaciated version of the man he used to be.
'We have to help him,' she said, leaning down to take hold of his arm. Through his ragged, stinking shirt, she could feel the bone of his upper arm, his skin moving, loose over it.
'No. We don',' Unambi said, cold. 'Da best ting we can be doin' is endin' dis one here an' now. He be half-dead already.'
Unambi was right, she knew he was right. Her father deserved to be killed. Apart from the horrible way Papa had treated her as a child, he had gambled away Myra to VanCleef in a card game, ruining her future with Benny and ultimately causing both their deaths. He had put her life at risk at Klaven's Tower when he tried to ambush VanCleef; had bombed the house they lived in, uncaring if his daughters lived or died, and had driven an entire town to ruin in his war against VanCleef, forcing her and her sister to retreat to The Night's Cutlass to be buried alive for almost a year.
She had plenty of reasons to want her father dead, but looking at him like this, trembling with fever, his hands so thin she could almost see through them, the past clashed with the present, leaving her uncertain, unable to think straight. It felt wrong to kill him. As he looked up at her, blank, his mouth hanging open, the corners crusted with scabs, she sensed he wouldn't understand why he was being killed anyway.
She glanced up at her protector, already gripping one of his daggers, his eyes narrowed to deadly slits, seeing only the man who had captured and tortured him, his troll honour demanding his wrong be righted—paid for with Papa's life.
'Please,' she pleaded, soft. 'Don't kill him. At least, not when he is like this. It's like killing a baby.'
'Ya be askin' much from Unambi,' he said in a voice that made Idira's blood run cold. Lulled into complacency by their peaceful life, she had forgotten who Unambi really was. He was no farmer or fisherman. He was warrior first and foremost, the son of the chief, and until Papa had deviously captured him by using paralysing poisons, Unambi would have been the next chief of his tribe. Unambi had every right to butcher her father. She owed it to her protector to allow him to do so, but the thought of killing Papa, like this, would make them no better than her father.
She touched Unambi's hand, the one holding the dagger, sensing the tension in his body, the restrained anger, held in check only for her sake.
'Is there no other way he can repay his debt to you?' she asked, quiet.
Unambi said nothing for a long time, just stared at Papa, still and steady, like a snake ready to strike.
'No,' he finally answered. 'He mus' pay da price wit' his blood.'
'But what good would it be to do it now, when he will have no comprehension of it?'
'Da good be dat dis monsta' be dead an' da world a betta' place.' He eyed her. 'Why ya be wantin' ta defend dis one, afta' all he be doin' ta ya and ya sista'?'
'Because I have lost everyone, and there is a chance he might be sorry. If you kill him, I will never know,' she tightened her hold on her father's arm, defensive. 'I need to know. Please.'
Unambi shook his head, but he lowered his dagger. 'Ya be makin' a terrible troll,' he muttered as he slid his dagger back into its sheath. As he bent to hoist up her father, he cut a look at her, severe. 'Ya can have dis time ta be nursin' him back ta health, but if he be da same as before,' he drew his finger across his throat, 'Unambi be takin' what's owed.'
Idira nodded, relief washing over her. A part of her believed Unambi was right. Papa was bad, he had always been so, there would be no reason for him to have changed. She looked at her father, stumbling along beside them, his boots so worn his toes stuck out the front, his filthy flesh torn and blackened with dried blood. As she helped him up the steps, breathing through her mouth to lessen the stink of him, she realised even if he was still bad, she had no other choice but to try, because she was nothing like him, or even Myra. She was Idira. She was different, and somehow knowing that made her feel just a little bit better.
After two weeks of failing to break Papa's fever, Idira began to fear he might never get better. It seemed he was destined to lay in her bed, dying slowly while his body shut down, a prisoner to his low-grade fever, never once recognising her or giving her the chance to find out if he felt any regret. Apart from staying away from Papa, Unambi said nothing, though he made no effort to hide the fact that he checked his daggers often, spending more time than Idira felt was necessary sharpening his blades.
Papa never talked. He just lay in the bed, sleeping or staring, vacant, at the rafters, his thin fingers wrapped around the top of the bed sheet, kneading the material in his fists, like a baby. For being such an awful man when he was well, he was an extremely cooperative, passive person when he wasn't, as easy to care for as a kitten. He certainly weighed no more than one. He never complained, never refused his broth, and whatever Idira asked him to do, he obeyed without question.
Then, one evening three weeks after he'd appeared, just as she finished drying the dishes from dinner, she heard him call out from the bed, his voice thin and weak.
Idira went to the bedroom door, cautious, suddenly overwhelmed by feelings of uncertainty, fearing she had made a terrible mistake by hoping for the miracle she knew in her heart would never happen. From the corner of her eye, she caught Unambi creeping in from the porch, his daggers at the ready, waiting, tense, just out of Papa's line of sight. He nodded at her to go in.
'Papa?' she asked as she approached the bed, still clutching the linen drying towel. 'Are you feeling better?'
His eyes, sunken and bruised drifted to her. He tried to sit up, but fell back, exhausted.
'Where's Myra?' he asked, his voice hoarse.
'She's gone, Papa,' Idira answered. When he looked at her expectantly, she continued, her heart aching, 'She won't be coming back.'
He nodded and looked around the room, taking in the furnishings, the rugs and Idira's collection of seashells displayed on a shelf on the wall. After a while, he patted the bed beside him, gesturing for Idira to sit. She shook her head. She had no idea if he even knew who she was.
'Is she dead?' he asked, the slack skin of his grizzled grey jaw wobbling under his protruding cheekbones.
His eyes glinted, whether from anger or grief, Idira couldn't tell.
'Was it that mad bastard what killed my girl?' Again he struggled to sit up, and failed.
Idira looked down at the rug, bridling at his audacity. Had he actually forgotten about bombing their house with them in it? She opened her mouth to tell him so, then realised she didn't want to have this conversation, the past was best where it had been left—in the past. Fighting about it now wouldn't change anything.
She nodded again, her throat tight. What was the point in saying it was all his fault, that VanCleef's murder of Benny and Myra's suicide was only the end of a long line of tragic circumstances started by her father when he lost her in a card game. It would only lead to an argument and Unambi ending Papa's life, and then she would never know if her father had ever felt any remorse for his terrible, heinous crimes.
She glanced up at him. A tear slid out of his eye and down his cheek. He sniffed and wiped it away, his fingers trembling. He glanced up at her.
'I see ye still got them magic purple eyes,' he said, gruff.
Idira didn't say anything.
'Well, never mind about that,' he said as another tear escaped. He brushed at it, trying to make it look like he had an itch. 'Ye turned out real pretty anyway. Like yer Ma, I'm sure some boyo'll love ye, or have ye got yerself a man already?'
'No man, Papa. Not yet.'
He huffed and looked around again. 'Looks real nice in here,' he said, 'all cosy like yer Ma used ta have it.' He fell silent and glanced out into the kitchen, lit in the soft glow of candlelight. 'Ye're not livin' out here all by yer lonesome are ye? It ain't safe.'
'I have the troll with me. He protects me.'
Her father's eyes widened, and what little colour he'd had, drained away. 'Then why ain't I already dead?'
'Because I asked him to let you live, for a little while at least.'
'Ye're so much like yer Ma, good all the way through. Nothin' like me,' he said, soft. 'I'm guessin' ye want to know if I been regrettin' my actions or not.'
'Well, do you?' Idira blurted out, sharper than she'd meant to.
Her father looked down at his hands as he fidgeted with the sheet, folding it over and smoothing it down. He scratched his ear.
'There ain't enough time in the world ta make up fer all the wrong I done,' he answered, slow. 'Yer Papa's a bad man. I ain't never done one good thing in my life. Not one thing. But if ye want me ta suffer for what I done, jus' let me live. It's the livin' wit' it what's hard.' Another tear slipped free, tracking its way down his nose to hang suspended on its tip. He didn't bother to wipe it away. He slid a look up at her, sly.
Something stuttered to a halt within Idira. He was lying. He hadn't changed at all. He thought she was stupid, and wouldn't be able to tell. Her chest tightened so much, she couldn't breathe. She backed away, and hurried outside, gulping at the fresh evening air, pushing her way through the raised garden, unseeing, until she reached the shadowy line of acacia trees. When she stopped she realised she was still holding the dish towel, her hands shaking. Unambi strode up from behind her.
'He be tryin' ta put da confusion in ya mind,' Unambi said, hostile. He paced back and forth as he glared at the house, glowing in its warm pool of candlelight. 'Don' ya be listenin' ta dat talk. Once ya bad, ya stay bad.'
'It's just,' Idira whispered, 'I had hoped, now that it's all over, now that he's lost and Westfall will never be his, maybe he would be sorry and want to change and be a better man before he died . . .' She looked up at Unambi, her throat so tight she couldn't continue.
'An' be a real Papa ta ya an' make all dem wrongs he done ta ya right?' Unambi asked, quiet.
Idira choked and nodded, the ache inside her drawing so taut, she felt she would snap in two. She pressed her hand to her heart, trying to ease the hurt as a lifetime of heartache engulfed her. Her whole life she had waited for this moment, believing one day if she ever saw him again, he would change, be a good Papa, say sorry and mean it. He'd help around the farm, and they'd be a family. But it would never be. Her pain blossomed, opening, rushing over her, years of buried hurt and anguish, betrayal and confusion, her agony so raw, so untouched, buried intact since the times he had hurt her, she couldn't even cry. Unambi took hold of her arms and steadied her, helping her over to a tree stump to sit.
'Ya be stayin' here. It be time ta be finishin' dis. Though he don' be deservin' it, Unambi'll make it quick.'
Numb, Idira stared at him, his words not sinking in. He turned away. Realisation slammed into her. He was going to kill Papa. She lunged forward and caught his arm. 'No. It's murder. We would be no better than him. He should be handed over to Stoutmantle, to be tried.'
'An' how we goin' ta be doin' dat?' he asked, watching her, patient as she worked out the logistics.
She slumped, defeated. It was impossible. She would have to walk, alone and unprotected all the way to Sentinel Hill and then bring soldiers back to the farm, exposing her existence there and perhaps even causing Unambi and her to be separated for good if the soldiers decided she wasn't safe living there 'alone'. No. The risk was too great.
At the edge of her hearing she thought she heard a metallic sound, a light clanking, steady and rhythmic. Unambi must have heard it too, because he stood up, turning until he faced the north-east, listening, his eyes narrow.
'A soldier,' he grunted after several moments. 'Movin' in dis direction. Ya might jus' be gettin' what ya be wishin' for afta' all. Go on back ta da house, I'll be in da shadows if ya be needin' me.'