“You have a choice, Saraku.”
That is what my tauren said to me the first day, when we stood on a windy ledge before another netherdrake disguised as a blood elf. I would not forget the way her eyes held my gaze as she spoke, because I would see that same glint in them every morning after. She did not speak those words again but then she did not need to. My choice was my own and only my own. At a moment’s whim, I could have flown away from Netherwing Ledge, away from Shadowmoon Valley, and I would have never had to return. She would not judge, she would not argue. My life was my own now, as she said it.
At first it was confusion that made me follow her back to the Ledge. The blood-elf-drake spoke of things that would only make sense much later, and all the while he looked down his nose at me with pity and frustration. My tauren, on the other hand, had been giving me the same gentle care that she gave her wolf Blacky and without my slaver, I was at a loss for what to do. She also cooked better food than I had ever tasted in my life. Merely thinking of her feltail delight made me drool.
I stared at her for a long moment when she said those words to me, not understanding what they meant. But I knew I was not allowed to ask any questions so I simply nodded my head. The blood-elf-drake then spoke some words to her and handed her a small metallic object. As soon as it brushed her fingertips, my tauren was gone and a slaver I had never seen before stood in her place. I shied away abruptly, fearing that another slaver had finally come to beat me for losing the first one. Then the slaver dropped the object as if it was burning him and just as suddenly my tauren was back. She dashed over to me and reached up to softly hold my head in her hands as she explained very patiently how it had simply been an illusion, nothing more. Once I had calmed down and understood what was happening, she scooped up the object to transform once again. She and the blood-elf-drake worked efficiently to secure already prepared packs to my back while Blacky weaved in and out under my legs. Before she heaved herself up on my back in a rather ungraceful manner, she bent over to give her wolf a tight hug who whined mournfully in response, to which my tauren whispered something softly in the beast’s ear. The Nether stirred itself forcefully the instant I snapped open my wings and threw us over the void.
The slavers were none the wiser of who my tauren really was, but seemed content with giving her menial tasks and then dismissing her with a crude grunt. Blacky joined us on the island sometime during the night, materializing out of the shadows with a wolfish grin that made my tauren laugh heartily.
“It is this gift she has,” she explained to me with a similar grin after she had finished hugging her pet and had noticed my startled expression.
The mundane tasks my tauren did each day appeared strange to me but soon she explained that her purpose–our purpose–was to sabotage the slavers from within. My part to play was not only to be her means of flying, but also her guide and sentry when her attention was otherwise on her mission.
At the time, I did not appreciate or understand her work as she did…it was our meals that were the highlights for me. She would make a small smokeless fire and the three of us would gather around it as she passed around whatever food that a certain netherdrake-disguised-as-a-goblin had smuggled to her that day. It was never the same thing twice but every meal was as tasty as the last. These were also the times when she would explain everything she did that day, why she did it, and then she would finish up with a tale of her own experiences before coming to the Netherwing Ledge. Slowly, under her careful encouragement, I began talking as well and asking questions.
One of the first questions I asked was if she was my new slaver.
Her stone green eyes widened at my words and she waved her hands at me frantically. “No no no, Saraku. I am not your new slaver, and never again shall you be a slave. You have your freedom now just as I or Blacky does. You need not listen to anyone’s orders anymore, not a slaver’s or even my own.”
“But you do the slavers’ tasks, you listen to their orders. Which is the orders that blood elf gave you. And Blacky listens to your orders,” I pointed out around a mouthful of grilled mudfish.
“It is my choice to follow those orders, because what I want to do is to help you and the other netherdrakes. If I did not want that, then I would not listen, and I would fight them tooth and nail if they tried to force me to do them. Blacky listens to me because she is my dearest friend and she wants to protect me as I protect her. If it was what she wanted, she could try to attack me and chew on my bones as her next meal, but she does not want that.” Smiling wryly at her wolf, my tauren added, “At least I hope that she does not want to do that.” Blacky huffed indignantly and cracked the large talbuk bone she had been chewing on as if to prove a point. My tauren laughed in response.
I scratched an itch under my chin with my right foreclaw. “So Blacky is your wolf, your pet, your friend, and you are her hunter, her friend as well. Then what am I to you?”
My tauren prodded the fire with a small thin stick, stirring up the ashes and sparks that floated up high into the night sky. “You are my guide, my drake, and if I may call you so, also my friend,” she said gently, eyes drifting from the flames to meet my gaze.
This concept of having a friend…I turned it over in my mind with a facination of someone who had just discovered a strangely brilliant gem hidden among dull grey stones. “So to me,” I mumbled slowly, “you are my friend, my rider, my…tauren.”
Her face broke out in a smile and she chuckled softly, her eyes lit with humor. “If that is what you wish me to be, Saraku. I would be honored to be all of those, especially your tauren.” She bowed to me awkwardly from her seated position and I could not help but return her infectiously good mood with a smile of my own, even though I was not quite sure what the joke was. It was then that she told me her first story of how she had met the blood-elf-drake and in joining the Netherwings in their cause, came to meet me. And it was also then that I realized, without even knowing what I had been doing, I had made the right choice and made my own dearest friend.