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VII

The cart creaked loudly. Soon the Mudclaw home disappeared over the horizon. Vindicator Maraad kept his attention on the orc. His chest armor lay beside him; the battle had left it cracked and damaged. He had remarked that he would need to get it repaired or replaced.

Lyalia scanned the fields, but her gaze drifted to the road behind them. Maybe three dozen virmen were closely following Haohan's cart, staring at Mashok. In daylight, their glowing red eyes weren't as menacing, but every time one of them yipped, Mashok flinched. The orc was back in his shackles and hadn't said a word since sunrise.

Maraad had spent the morning healing the others. And himself, last. Lyalia had kept the orc company. Haohan had sent word to Halfhill that he was in need of workers to rebuild his home; outsiders were welcome to apply. Fung had objected strongly to the final part.

"I've been thinking," said Haohan. His paws rested lightly on the reins. "What would have happened if we had wanted to surrender?"

"But you did not," Lyalia said.

"Still. Our friend's offer. Your lives in exchange for ours. If we had believed him and wanted to take him up on it, what would you have done?" The cart creaked along in silence. "Seems like it would've been a pickle for you two. Do you fight us to save your own lives? Or do you give up and allow yourselves to die for an offer you know is a sack of mushan pies?" Haohan chuckled. "Some might call you two fools if you had chosen the second option."

"Some might."

"Some might call the whole Alliance a great heaping flock of fools for capturing defeated enemies instead of gutting them, because they might be a bit dangerous," Haohan said.

"Some might," Maraad said.

"Mmm." Haohan tugged on the reins, and the cart turned south at a fork in the road. Toward Krasarang. Toward Lion's Landing. "Look at me. Jawing the whole trip. Talkin' nonsense. Annoying you two after that rough night we all had."

Lyalia and Maraad shared a quick glance. The draenei shook his head in amusement and returned his scrutiny to the orc. Mashok flinched again as a virmen hopped up on the rear of the cart, yipped loudly, then bounced back onto the road.

"Still, I've been thinking," Haohan continued. "Maybe you can stand to bear a little more of a farmer's philosophizing. I wonder if the people who'd call y'all fools aren't missing the point. If you claim a standard, you have to live by it. Win or lose. Else the standard never meant nothing. You Alliance folk like to claim all sorts of civilized standards. I bet some people might think that puts you a step behind when the going gets tough."

"Some might," Lyalia said.

"Mmm. Still, I've—"

"—been thinking?" asked Maraad.

"How'd you guess? What I've been thinking is this: being all civilized probably does put you a step behind. If people trust you not to put a knife in their back, they get to scheming that maybe they could put one in yours without a problem." Haohan cracked the reins. "But that'd be a mistake, wouldn't it? There's nothing quite as frightening as a civilized person roused to anger. Some might not like what they get when they force good people to fight them."

"They might not," Maraad agreed.

"Are the virmen going to follow us all the way to the coast?" asked Lyalia.

"Probably," Haohan said. The orc shivered.

The cart rolled on.

The Untamed Valley

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