Months ago, an old trouble made itself known to the Riders: Uthas, the man who tried bringing a new plague to Azeroth a few years ago before his people were driven into the sea, had resurfaced. Before he was the Plaguefather, he was the boy who had grown up in Lordaeron’s orphanage with Bricu Bittertongue.
On learning that not only was Bricu now married, but also that he and his wife were expecting their first child, Uthas inquired after the baby’s name.
Word of that got back to Threnn. Names have power, and she wasn’t going to give the Wordweaver opportunity to wield that kind of power over their child. Bricu agreed, and they chose two names for their daughter. To the world, she is Naiara Bittertongue. This is the story of her other name. Her True one.
Annalea sat beneath the rowan tree, the full moon’s light filtering down through its leaves, affording her just enough illumination to dig by. She sang as she worked, softly enough so she wouldn’t wake Mrs. Stone and her apprentice. The chandler had planted this tree before Annalea was born, to ward off evil spirits; now Anna hoped it would lend its protection to her niece.
She pawed down through the soft earth until her fingers struck the jar she’d buried when the moon was new. The concoction inside bathed her hands in a soft glow as the moonwell water caught its lady’s light. Flecks of crushed herbs floated within — sage and kingsblood for wisdom, dreaming glory for clear sight. She unscrewed the cap and set it aside.
From her herb pouch, she pulled a few more ingredients. First, a tiny sprig of foxglove — they said the stalks leaned over when spirits were present. Then Khadgar’s Whisker, to strengthen the spell. She rolled them both in her palms, to crush the leaves and release their oils. The only things left to add were contained in two crystal vials she’d wrapped in white silk. One was half-filled with a thick, dark liquid; the other contained only a few drops of something clear.
She handed her belt knife to him hilt-first. “Prick your finger for me.”
Bricu didn’t take it, instead looking at her as though she’d gone mad. He glanced around the Rose’s kitchen and dropped his voice. “What the fuck are yeh playin’ at, Annie?”
Anna dropped hers, too, even though none of the staff seemed to be listening. “I’m not playing at anything. I need it for the Naming. ‘A father sheds his blood to protect his child.’”
That wiped the mockery out of his eyes; he wouldn’t snub the Old Ways. He slid the knife closer and held its tip against the pad of his middle finger. “A father sheds his blood,” he repeated as a fat bead of red welled up. “What does a mother shed, then?”
Anna took his hand and turned it over, catching the first couple of drops in the vial she held ready. She squeezed his finger, coaxing forth a few more before she released it and replied. “Tears.”
The Light flared as he closed the wound, bathing his glower in a flash of gold. “Yer goin’ ta make me Threnny cry?”
“These days, my sister cries at the drop of a hat.” She showed him the twin container to his blood-filled one, the liquid within barely visible. “Or a stitch.”
“If it’s any consolation, she was so confused when I came at her with the vial, it stopped the crying.” She tucked her tools away and kissed him on the cheek as she stood. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”
Anna swirled the contents of the smaller vials together, still crooning her song. A woman’s tears, her husband’s blood — they were the elements of countless songs. Stark images, but true; it was what gave them power. She tilted the mixture into the jar, the glow of the enchanted water dimming as the darker liquid diffused throughout.
One last ingredient, and tonight’s work would be done. She took a slip of paper and a pen from her pocket, and wrote a single name. Three times she folded it, until it was smaller than a fingernail, and tucked it into the jar.
In three days’ time, the moon would be waning and she’d add the last things — ashes and sweet oils for the anointing — but for now, the jar went back into the ground, nestled in its earthen bed beneath the rowan tree. As Anna patted the dirt over it, she sang a lullaby that was older than the founding of Stromgarde.
Into its melody, so softly even the night-birds couldn’t hear, she wove her niece’s Name.
Three weeks later
She’d dug the vial up from beneath the rowan tree just after Threnn’s first call. In the morning light, the mixture’s glow was barely discernible, as much a product of the sun filtering through the crystal as it the magic swirling around inside. When she went upstairs to catch a few more hours of sleep, she laid a strip of white cloth in her windowbox and placed the vial on top of it, so it could gather the sun’s warmth. Blessed by day and night and in-between.
When the time came, the vial rode in her pocket all the way across the city, nestled close to her heart. It stayed there as they counted off the hours, as people came and went. When Threnn put an arm around her shoulder for yet another walk around the room, Anna twined her sister’s fingers with her own, and every step became a syllable of the Name she’d written with the goddess as her witness.
Then came the hours of blood and pain, where the body that had never been anything but hale and hearty betrayed Threnn at last. While they waited for Indarra to arrive, Anna exchanged worried looks with Haemon, and thought of the fading cries of kits in a cave.
But then, at last, there was a girl, a tiny baby in Fells’ careful hands, letting out her first shuddering cries as she was given into her father’s arms, and then her mother’s.
Anna still had Threnn’s blood on her hands as she edged closer to Bricu and reached for the vial, but that was all right; it would only strengthen the spell. A mother will bleed for her child just as much as a father does, after all. She bent over her sister and her niece as she unstoppered the vial and poured some of its contents on her fingertips. It was warm as it splashed out, whether from her own body, or whether it had retained the sun’s heat, she’d never know.
Bricu placed his hand on her back as she brushed sigils on the baby’s forehead, lips and heart with gentle fingers. Anna looked up, waiting for Threnn’s permission. Her sister brushed sweat-darkened hair from her eyes, and nodded.
Annalea smiled, and whispered a Name in the curve of one tiny ear: