Winter came and went, and Jac's stranglehold on Westfall increased. Kip contacted the goblin again, and sold all the furniture that wasn't being used, which was most of it. Apart from Unambi, and Kip's occasional presence, there was no one left in the house to protect them. Though of what interest were two children and Myra? There was nothing to take, unless thieves were inclined to start stripping the wooden panels from the walls. Even Myra's jewellery was gone now, taken in the third run by that nasty goblin, along with almost all of her gowns, apart from her plainest ones.
The smithies took it upon themselves to organise huge caravans to help Moonbrook's citizens leave Westfall. Armed with borrowed guns supplied by Captain Greenskin, they escorted the people of Moonbrook across Westfall and over the river bridge into the safety of Elwynn Forest, leaving them outside the safety of Westbrook Garrison to carry on the rest of the way to Stormwind on their own.
The wealthier people shut up their businesses and boarded up the windows of their big houses, driving away in their carriages to the dockyard, followed by wagonloads of crates filled with their most valuable possessions. Idira heard most of them had headed for Menethil, a huge walled city far to the north in a province called The Wetlands. A fresh start, that's what they wanted, they said, away from VanCleef who was rumoured to be going mad, and his warring Brotherhood. They had had enough.
In the middle of spring, Kip let the last of the house staff go, though there weren't many left to send away. Most of them had already left Westfall, fleeing with their families, along with the caravans. Lanira left as well, taking the last caravan, saying she had stayed as long as she could for Idira's sake but her own family's safety was also at stake. Idira cried harder than she expected she would when Lanira finally pulled away and walked out the front door, escorted by Kip. Idira ran out into the empty square and called after Lanira, frantic, begging her not to leave, calling her Mama. Lanira crumpled and staggered in Kip's grip. Her shoulders shook as she wept, but she kept on. Supported by Kip, she never looked back.
Cook was the only one who stayed, saying she had no family to go to and nowhere else to be, declaring she had been born in this house and would die in this house. Idira didn't know what Kip thought about Benny, but there was no doubt he turned a blind eye to the stolen time Benny spent with Myra. Late one night, Idira had woken up hungry and gone down to the kitchen in search of food. When she had walked past VanCleef's door, she heard Myra cry out Benny's name as they made love on VanCleef's bed. It was as if VanCleef didn't even exist anymore. It felt as though everything had come full circle, right back to where they started from. It was just Myra, Benny, and Idira again, poor and hungry, and Papa was still bad, just like before. The only thing that was different was they lived in a bigger house, and now there was Vanessa, and Unambi, and Kip.
Idira woke on her twelfth birthday to a house shrouded in total silence knowing there would be no celebration and no presents. They barely had enough food to manage, just whatever Kip could scrounge from the dockyard intended for the workers on the ship. It had been six months since VanCleef had left for the Deadmines. Idira wondered anew if the rumours were true and he had begun to go mad, maybe they would never see him again. She was glad they had Benny, he would know what to do, maybe they could finally go and live in Elwynn Forest.
She sank down onto her window seat and looked over the deserted square. The smithy lay empty and forlorn, a large tumbleweed rolled back and forth inside it, caught between the forge and anvil. The Weary Traveller, boarded up for more than two months bore a thick chain and padlock around the handles of its front doors. The rest of the shops on the square stood silent and dark, their dust-coated windows broken. Whatever little the owners had left behind was long gone, stolen in the frenzy of self-preservation which had overcome the town as its abandonment progressed.
Her gaze drifted to the once-pretty fountain and its garden, long since fallen into disrepair. During a sudden, brief cold snap over the winter, the pipes burst and the poor fish froze to death. Borda cut off the water supply, but no one bothered to remove the fish, leaving them to rot in the rancid, filthy water, the stink of their decay rising up to Idira's room for days. Without its gardeners, the garden, lawn and rose bushes died of thirst, leaving behind the skeletal spines of their once beautiful branches, now twisted and gnarled.
The other houses on the square lay ransacked, their doors kicked in and windows shattered. For a while mayhem had controlled the streets, as the poorest, lowest classes—unable to pay their way on the caravans—vented their anger and resentment against the privileged in an orgy of destruction. Eventually, even they left. Hunger drove them out onto the wastelands of Westfall, in search of something, anything, to eat. Without ever having to return, Papa had managed to lay an entire town to waste.
She glanced at the letter in her hand, brought to her by Kip. He had found it in the tunic of one of Papa's dead men, after one of his many skirmishes against them. A little blood stained one side of it, but the words were still legible. It was a letter from Nin, handwritten in her elegant hand on a fine piece of embossed stationery. Dated three months ago, she apologised for not having been able to say goodbye in person but she had had to leave in great haste with an escort of Stormwind guards sent specifically to collect her. She learned her royal connections to the previous queen had been enough to warrant her protection despite her fidelity to VanCleef.
She wrote detailing how she had barely had enough time to shut up her house in Moonbrook and leave. Once in Stormwind, she had been taken aside and told she wouldn't be allowed to return until VanCleef was contained. She later saw a generous reward had been posted around the city, inviting adventurers to enter the Deadmines and defeat VanCleef before he could attack Stormwind. She quickly moved on from that disturbing news to say Arinna and Bishop Mattias also sent their love, having accepted her offer to join her in her flight. She reassured Idira if anything ever happened and she needed a home to go to, she could always find one with Nin in Stormwind. She had enclosed a promissory note for ten gold pieces, but Idira had no idea how she could ever access her sudden wealth when the bank in Moonbrook had been closed since the New Year, the vaults long emptied by VanCleef's demands for support. She hid the bank note in her book about growing into womanhood. Somehow she suspected not even that greedy goblin would bother to look in there.
Two months later, in the middle of a broiling hot late spring afternoon, Idira lounged on the steps of the inner courtyard watching Unambi play Vanessa's favourite game with her. It was a made-up game she called Dagger Girl. It wasn't really a game more just pretend, but Vanessa loved to play act she was grown-up like her father, carrying two blades. Using little wooden daggers, she attacked Unambi with a ferocity that was fascinating to watch. Only just turned five, she had clearly inherited her father's catlike agility. Unambi showed her moves, which she learned and executed with alacrity. Blackie came in and sat down beside Idira, swishing her tail and washing her face. Idira petted her, thinking at least Blackie would always have plenty to eat, once the people and all their cats left, rats had arrived, carried to shore by all the ships from other lands carrying VanCleef's supplies.
The front door slammed. Idira looked up, startled. Unambi stood up and pushed Vanessa behind him. Idira hurried over to join them.
'Where is everyone?' VanCleef hollered, his voice echoing through the deserted corridors and rooms of the house.
'We be 'ere,' Unambi called back. They waited. Eight months. Idira had not seen VanCleef in eight months, and now, all of a sudden here he was as though he had just left to run an errand.
He walked into the courtyard. Idira caught her breath. He looked very pale and tired. Grey hair had begun to streak his temples and deep lines furrowed his brow. Despite the bright sunlight, dark shadows stubbornly clung to his eyes.
'Daddy!' Vanessa screeched. She ran to him, her arms open wide. VanCleef's exhaustion vanished, his fatigue eclipsed by a radiant smile. He knelt down and swept her up into his arms, hugging her close.
'Oh my little love, oh my darling, how I have missed you!' he cried, tears brightening his eyes.
Idira hung back with Unambi, eyeing VanCleef. He looked leaner. So he had gone without food, too. At least he had not neglected them while he continued to look after himself, as she had occasionally suspected in her darker moments. He looked up at them, his gaze searching the edges of the empty courtyard.
A rush of terror swept over Idira as she remembered she had met Benny in the kitchen an hour ago. He had said he couldn't stay long, since he was on his way north to meet Kip.
'She's having a nap,' Idira said, ashamed how easily the lie slipped off her tongue. She didn't wait for VanCleef to answer, she ran up the stairs and pounded on the bedroom door, calling out Myra's name. She could hear the frantic sound of straps being buckled and lacings being tied. Idira heaved a sigh of relief. They must have heard VanCleef come in.
'I'll be right down,' Myra called out, breathless.
Idira returned to the courtyard. VanCleef looked up, expectant, his obvious disappointment plain once he realised Myra wasn't there. Idira swallowed a surge of guilt. She smiled and reassured him Myra was on her way. He let go of Vanessa and gave Idira a warm hug.
'Look at you,' he said, looking her over, fond, 'growing up so fast. And so pretty, just like your sister.' Idira smiled, flattered by the compliment. All the mirrors had been taken months ago, so she could only see her reflection in a pail of water, or at night in the candlelight against a window. She had had no idea if she was pretty or not. Somehow him telling her so, made her feel warm and happy inside.
Myra came in, her cheeks flushed and her hair hanging loose in its chignon. She patted down the stray wisps, nervous.
VanCleef went to Myra. He took her in his arms and kissed her, hard. He let her go and held her at arm's length, drinking in the sight of her. 'You are a sight for sore eyes,' he sighed before kissing her again. 'How I have missed you. All of you. But now you will see, my absence will have been worth it.' He tightened his hold on Myra. 'Everything is ready for you to join me on the ship. I have designed everything, hot running water, rooms for everyone, a kitchen, a washroom, every possible luxury. We don't have to live apart anymore, we can be together, just like before. A family.'
'A family,' Myra repeated, sagging in his arms, desolate, 'on a pirate ship, in a cave, in the dark.'
'But we will be together,' VanCleef persisted, desperate. 'Don't you want to be together? And in a few months, we will be ready to attack Stormwind. You'll see, it's all going to come out right in the end.'
Myra didn't answer. She pulled herself free, stumbling a little, and went into the house. The soft sound of her crying drifted back into the courtyard.
Vanessa tugged on VanCleef's breeches. He looked down, and smiled at his daughter, though his smile didn't reach his eyes.
'I want to be a family, Daddy. Wherever you go, I want to go.' He patted her head, distracted, and looked at Unambi.
'What happened since I've been gone?' he asked, as though he couldn't see how much things had changed. 'Myra is so different.'
Idira glanced at Unambi, wondering what he was going to say. Maybe VanCleef was a little mad, to ask such a thing.
'Ya been gone too long boss,' Unambi answered, giving nothing away. 'Dat girl needs time if ya gon' ta be puttin' her on a boat in da dark.' He looked down at Idira, pity in his eyes. 'We all be needin' time ta be gettin' used ta dat.'
Unambi's hand surrounded Idira's. He gave her a reassuring squeeze. She clung to him and looked at VanCleef, fearful. She didn't want to live on his boat. Even living here, in a ruined town, with barely any food was better than that. At least they had fresh air, and sky and clouds, and stars, and the sun. She thought of being closed up inside of a mountain, surrounded by walls of rock. She couldn't do it. Tears welled in her eyes. Please, let this be a bad dream. Please let her have fallen asleep while Vanessa played with Unambi.
VanCleef raked his hand through his hair, distracted. 'I'm going to win. She'll see,' he muttered. 'Everything will come out right in the end.'
He walked away, towards his empty study, behaving as if the house hadn't been stripped bare and there was nothing left for him to find but walls and floors. In his wake, oblivious to her fate, Vanessa trotted after him, as trusting as a lamb.