“Frostmaw wouldn’t let you near our stowaway, would he?” Voca asked. “Beli said you tried to toss him overboard earlier.”
“The damned fool bear seems to think he’s the wee bugger’s pop. Ye’ve never been woken up in the middle of the night when a damned clammy murloc climbs into bed with ye because he had a nightmare. And now, I’ve got two of them to deal with.”
Voca snickered and Widge continued knitting what looked like a very small rug.
“You know,” Widge said quietly, treading carefully, “I always wondered why you never went to Northrend to find your brothers. I mean, you always seem to have some plan, and I know there was something about the king …”
“The king, aye,” Belsun nodded his shaggy head. “With the Scourge on our northern border and Dark Irons, troggs and trolls at home, he said the security of Khaz Modan could no’ withstand scores of dwarves heading north to find Muradin’s expedition and bring them home. Travel to Northrend is a crime, punishable by imprisonment in th’ depths o’ Ironforge Mountain.”
Widge and Voca looked at each other in alarm, but said nothing.
“When the Scourge attacked a while back, the Senate almost overruled him. They came this close to doin’ it,” Ringo said, holding up two fingers close to each other, “But no’ enough to overturn his veto. Next time, though, he won’t be able to stop them from liftin’ th’ ban.”
“So, arrested …” Voca began.
“I should have come anyway,” Ringo growled. “‘s my fault me little brother went with Muradin at all.”
“Eh, how do ye reckon?” Belsun grunted, the icicles in his beard tinkling as he turned his head.
“Ely was no’ like me other brothers,” Ringo said, staring off into the fog and mist. “Me and me other brothers, we liked huntin’ and fishin’ and shootin’ and scrapin’ and such. Ely, he was diff’rent. He used to spend time with the gnomes, learnin’ about numbers and helpin’ our uncle and his son Mangorn with their shop’s books.”
“Didn’t they have gnomes for that?” Widge asked.
“Of course! Ev’ryone knows that’s gnome’s work.”
Voca and Widge nodded in agreement. Gnomes understood numbers like dwarves understood beer. Everyone knew that.
“When Ely did his service with the mountaineers, he actually requested to work for the quartermaster, managin’ inventory.”
“Didn’t they have gnomes for –”
“O’ course they did! They had to make his green eye shade special! They don’t come in dwarf sizes!” Ringo caught himself and settled down. “Ely wanted to go study echo … icho …”
“Economics,” Voca provided.
“Aye, that. He wanted to go study that in Gnomeregan and then maybe open a shop in Ironforge or run for the senate or what ha’ you. But me and me brothers had to get involved. We rode Ely hard, tellin’ him he was no more than a no-shootin’, no-fightin’, yellow belly. We was teasin’ him, o’ course, but we never let up on him. Ev’ry day, we was on him, leavin’ out dresses for him to wear, buyin’ him flowers, callin’ him ‘th’ Flinthammer Girl.’
“Then Muradin’s man comes round, hirin’ up scouts and riflemen and what have you, and me brothers all sign up — I was already signed with Feanor Steeltoe at this point — and there’s Ely, signin’ his name and carryin’ a brand new rifle we knew he barely can shoot.
“When Arthas burned their ships, leavin’ them stranded in Northrend, left to die, all I can think was me and me brothers, we got the baby of the family, wee little Ely Flinthammer, killed.” Ringo pulled out the letter delivered to him in Quel’Danas. “Me little brother’s alive, though, so, aye, I’m goin’ to Northrend now, king or no king.”
“Certainly,” Voca said, clearing her throat. “But are we going to be arrested when we get back, and tossed down into Old Ironforge?”
“Nay,” Ringo said, pulling out more pieces of paper and handing them out. “We’re all probationary members of the Explorers League. Here’s yer membership cards. There’s tabards in Northrend for us to wear, in case any of the king’s men ask questions when we get back.
“Oh, aye: I always have a plan,” Ringo winked.