Hadakha shifted out of lionform, sitting with his back pressed against the large rock from which Jiang was curiously watching the jinyu woman frolic in the river below. "That was good thinking, Jiang," he said in a low voice, "but from now on let's dispense with the babytalk."
"'Dispense'?" Her brow furrowed at the unfamiliar word.
"Oh. Sorry, Mr. Hadakha. I didn't mean to be rude, I just thought -"
"No, no, it's okay, you did well. Just...go back to a normal voice. For my dignity." He heard her smother a giggle.
"I will do that, Mr. Hadakha."
He could sense her struggling to compose herself. Sighing, he gave up. "Come on, let it out so we can move on..."
With a snort of laughter followed by uncontrollable giggling, Jiang blurted out, "Oh you were so cute, Mr. Hadahka! It was so much fun having a great big kitty to pet and talk to, it was like having LiuLiu back! Of course, I had to leave her at home when I joined the Horde, and she's only a housecat, but you know what I mean. I don't know why you want to hide from Jessha, but I hope I can 'keep' you for a bit longer!"
"Yeah, well, we'll see. Are you done now?" he said sourly. She nodded, wiping her eyes. "Mhm."
"Okay. So we need to find the other Horde landing force. We'd have heard from – or of – them by now if they had landed close by, so we're heading north until we get more intel. I know that Jessha wanted to go north too, but I couldn't understand why. Where did she say she was going?"
"She said she was travelling to a monastery in the northern part of the forest, Tian was the name, I think. She is going to be a student there, like her brother."
"Excellent. That seems like as good a place as any to start our search. Tell her you'll escort her there. Does she know that you're not from Pandaria?"
"I-I'm not sure, Mr. Hadakha. I don't think she can tell that my accent and dialect is different from the locals, her Pandaren is a little better than yours but it is still basic. And her village didn't have much to do with Paw'don. She hasn't asked anything about where my home is yet, should I tell her?"
"No! No, be vague, don't give anything away. We can use a guide, so let's not spook her. Your role now is to get as much information out of her as you can, about the land, the people, the culture, the history, the dangers, everything. That is why I am leaving this to you, Jiang – my true form would frighten her, she will be much more likely to talk openly to you if she thinks I am an animal. If she asks, tell her you are a wanderer, out to explore the world. It's worked for me many times."
"I understand, Mr. Hadakha."
"And see if you can persuade her into stopping by a village, or temple, or whatever settlements they have here. You can mingle with the locals and gain more information." He smiled. "I'm sure you'd enjoy sleeping indoors again for a change, eh?"
"Oh most certainly, Mr. Hadakha! Yes, indeed! I can't wait....oh, Jessha is coming back now, Mr. Hadakha." She looked down at the place where he had been sitting. Smiling ruefully, she turned back to her new friend making her way up the path. This was not what she had envisioned when she had joined the Horde, and she was not entirely sure what Hadakha's motives were, but at least she was alive........now, to see about talking Jessha into going through a town, a village, anywhere with a hot bath!
Next: The Tree in the Arboretum
Next: The Tree in the Arboretum