Rain fell on the somber throngs making their way to Lion’s Rest as if even the sky wept for those who had sacrificed their lives to defeat the Burning Legion. Anduin Wrynn, king of Stormwind, stood a few steps back from the podium where he soon would be addressing mourners of all the Alliance races. He watched them silently as they arrived, moved to see them, loath to speak to them. He suspected that this service honoring the fallen would be the most difficult he had endured in his relatively short life not just for the other mourners but for himself; it would be held in the shadow of his father’s empty tomb.
Anduin had attended far, far too many ceremonies honoring the casualties of war. As he did each time—as, he believed, every good leader did—he hoped and prayed that this one would be the last.
But it never was.
Somehow there was always another enemy. Sometimes the enemy was new, a group springing up seemingly out of nowhere. Or something ancient and long-chained or buried, supposedly neutralized, rising after eons of silence to terrorize and destroy innocents. Other times the enemy was bleakly familiar but no less a threat for the intimacy of the knowledge.
How had his father met those challenges time after time? Anduin wondered. How had his grandfather? Now was a time of relative quiet, but the next enemy, the next challenge, doubtless would arrive all too soon.
It had not been all that long since Varian Wrynn’s death, but for the great man’s son it felt like a lifetime. Varian had fallen in the first real push of this latest war against the Legion, apparently slain as much by betrayal from a supposed ally, Sylvanas Windrunner, as by the monstrous, fel-fueled creatures vomited forth from the Twisting Nether. Another account from someone Anduin trusted contested that version, suggesting that Sylvanas had had no other choice. Anduin was not sure what to believe. Thoughts of the cunning and treacherous leader of the Horde made Anduin angry, as they always did. And, as always, he called on the Holy Light for calmness. It did not serve to harbor hatred in his heart even for such a deserving enemy. And it would not bring back his father. Anduin took comfort in knowing that the legendary warrior had died fighting and that his sacrifice had saved many lives.
And in that fraction of a second, Prince Anduin Wrynn had become king.
In many ways, Anduin had been preparing for this position all his life. Even so, he was keenly aware that in other, very important ways, he hadn’t truly been ready. Maybe still wasn’t. His father had loomed so large not just in the eyes of his youthful son but in the eyes of Varian’s people—even in the eyes of his enemies.
Dubbed Lo’Gosh, or “ghost wolf,” for his ferocity in battle, Varian had been more than a powerful warrior superbly skilled at combat. He had been an extraordinary leader. In the first few weeks after his father’s shocking death, Anduin had done his best to comfort a grieving, stunned populace reeling from the loss, while denying himself a proper chance to mourn.
They grieved for the Wolf. Anduin grieved for the man.
And when he lay awake at night, unable to sleep, he would wonder just how many demons in the end it had taken to murder King Varian Wrynn.
Once he had voiced this thought to Genn Greymane, king of the fallen realm of Gilneas, who had stepped in to counsel the fledgling monarch. The old man had smiled even though sorrow haunted his eyes.
“All I can tell you, my boy, is that before they got to your father, he had single-handedly killed the largest fel reaver I ever saw, in order to save an airship full of retreating soldiers. I know for certain that Varian Wrynn made the Legion pay dearly for taking him.”
Anduin did not doubt that. It wasn’t enough, but it had to be.
Although there were plenty of armed guards in attendance, Anduin had put on no armor on this day when the dead were remembered. He was dressed in a white silk shirt, lambskin gloves, dark blue breeches, and a heavier formal coat trimmed in gold. His only weapon was an instrument of peace as much as war: the mace Fearbreaker, which he wore at his side. When he had gifted the young prince with it, the former dwarf king Magni Bronzebeard had said that Fearbreaker was a weapon that had known the taste of blood in some hands and had stanched blood in others.
Anduin wanted to meet and thank as many as he could among the bereaved today. He wished he could console everyone, but the cold truth was that such a thing was impossible. He took comfort in the certainty that the Light shone upon them all . . . even a tired young king.
He lifted his face, knowing the sun was behind the clouds and letting the gentle drops fall like a benediction. He recalled that it also had rained a few years ago during a similar ceremony honoring those who had made the final, greatest sacrifice in the campaign to halt the mighty Lich King.
Two whom Anduin loved had been in attendance then who were not here today. One, of course, was his father. The second was the woman he had fondly called Aunt Jaina: Lady Jaina Proudmoore. Once, the lady of Theramore and the prince of Stormwind had been in agreement regarding the desire for peace between the Alliance and the Horde.
And once there had been a Theramore.
But Jaina’s city had been destroyed by the Horde in the most horrific manner possible, and its bereft lady had never been able to ease the pain of that terrible moment fully. Anduin had watched her try repeatedly, only to have some fresh torment reinjure her wounded heart. Finally, unable to bear the thought of working alongside the Horde even against so dread a foe as the demonic Legion, Jaina had walked out on the Kirin Tor, which she led, on the blue dragon Kalecgos, whom she loved, and on Anduin, whom she had inspired his whole life.
“May I?” The voice was warm and kind, as was the woman who asked the question.
Anduin smiled down at High Priestess Laurena. She was asking if he wished her blessing. He nodded and inclined his head and felt the tightness in his chest ease and his soul settle. He then stood respectfully to the side while she spoke to the crowd, awaiting his own turn.
He had not been able to speak formally at his father’s memorial service. The grief had been too raw, too overwhelming. It had shifted shape in his heart over time, becoming less immediate but no less great, and so he had agreed to say a few words today.
Anduin stepped beside his father’s tomb. It was empty; what the Legion had done to Varian had ensured that his body could not be recovered. Anduin regarded the stone face on the tomb. It was a good likeness and a comfort to look upon. But even the skilled stonecrafters could not capture Varian’s fire, his quick temper, his easy laugh, his motion. In a way, Anduin was glad the tomb was empty; he would always, in his heart, see his father as alive and vibrant.
His mind went back to when he first had ventured to the place where his father had fallen. Where Shalamayne, gifted to Varian by the lady Jaina, had lain, dormant without Varian’s touch. Awaiting the touch of another to which it would respond.
The touch of the great warrior’s son.
As he held it, he had almost felt Varian’s presence. It was then, when Anduin truly accepted the duties of a king, that light had again begun to swirl in the sword—not the orange-red hue of the warrior but the warm, golden glow of the priest. At that moment, Anduin had begun to heal.
Genn Greymane would be the last person to call himself eloquent, but Anduin would never forget the words the older man had said: Your father’s actions were indeed heroic. They were his challenge to us, his people, to never let fear prevail . . . even at the very gates of hell.
Genn wisely had not said they were never to fear. They were only not to let it win.
I will not, Father. And Shalamayne knows that.
Anduin forced himself to return to the present. He nodded to Laurena, then turned to look at the crowd. The rain was slowing but hadn’t stopped, yet no one seemed inclined to leave. Anduin’s gaze swept over the widows and widowers, the childless parents, the orphans, and the veterans. He was proud of the soldiers who had died on the battlefield. He hoped their spirits would rest easily, knowing their loved ones were heroes, too.
Because there was no one assembled at Lion’s Rest today who had let fear prevail.
He spotted Greymane, hanging back beside a lamppost. Their eyes met, and the older man nodded a brief acknowledgment. Anduin allowed his gaze to roam over the faces, those he knew and those he did not. A little pandaren girl was struggling not to cry; he gave her a reassuring smile. She gulped and smiled back shakily.
“Like many of you, I know firsthand the pain of loss,” he said. His voice rang clear and strong, carrying to those who stood in the farthest rows. “You all know that my fath—”
He paused, clearing his throat, and continued. “King Varian Wrynn . . . fell during the first major battle at the Broken Isles, when the Legion invaded Azeroth yet again. He died to save his soldiers—the brave men and women who faced unspeakable horrors to protect us, our lands, our world. He knew that no one—not even a king—is more important than the Alliance. Each of you has lost your own king or queen. Your father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter.
“And because he and so many others had the courage to make that sacrifice, we did the impossible.” Anduin looked from face to face, saw how hungry they were for comfort. “We defeated the Burning Legion. And now we honor those who sacrificed all. We honor them not by dying . . . but by living. By healing our wounds and helping others heal. By laughing and feeling the sun on our faces. By holding our loved ones close and letting them know every hour, every minute of every day, that they matter.”
The rain had stopped. The clouds began to clear, and bits of bright blue peeked through.
“Neither we nor our world escaped unscathed,” Anduin continued. “We are scarred. A defeated titan has pierced our beloved Azeroth with a terrible sword crafted from hatred made manifest, and we do not yet know what toll it will take. Places in our hearts will forever remain empty. But if you would serve one king who grieves with you today, if you would honor the memory of another king who died for you, then I urge you—live. For our lives, our joy, our world these are the gifts of the fallen. And we must cherish them. For the Alliance!”
The crowd cheered, some through their tears. Now it was others’ turn to speak. Anduin stepped to the side, allowing them to come up and address the crowd. As he did so, his gaze flitted back to Greymane, and his heart sank.
Mathias Shaw, master of spies and head of Stormwind’s intelligence service, SI:7, stood beside the deposed king of Gilneas. And both men looked as grim as Anduin had ever seen them.
He was not overly fond of Shaw, though the spymaster had served Varian and now Anduin loyally and well. The king was intelligent enough to understand and value the service SI:7 agents performed for their kingdom. Indeed, he would never know exactly how many agents had lost their lives in this recent war. Unlike warriors, those who operated in the shadows lived, served, and died with few ever knowing of their deeds. No, it wasn’t the spymaster himself Anduin disliked. It was the need for men and women like him that he regretted.
Laurena had followed his gaze and stepped in without a word as Anduin nodded to Genn and Shaw, moving his head to indicate that they should speak away from the throngs of mourners who would not depart for some time. Some lingered, kneeling in prayer. Some would go home and continue to grieve in private. Others would go to taverns to remind themselves that they were still among the living and could yet enjoy food and drink and laughter. To celebrate life, as Anduin had urged them.
But a king’s tasks were never done.
The three men walked quietly behind the memorial. The clouds were almost gone, and the rays of the setting sun sparkled on the water of the harbor that spread out below.
Anduin went to the carved stone wall and placed his hands on it, breathing deeply of the sea air and listening to the cry of the gulls. Taking a moment to steady himself before hearing whatever dark words Shaw had to utter.
As soon as word of the great sword in Silithus had reached him, Anduin had ordered Shaw to investigate and report. He needed boots on the ground there, not the wild rumors that had been circulating. It sounded impossible, and terrifying, and the worst part of it was that it was all true. The final act of a corrupted being, the very last and most devastating blow struck in the war against the Legion, had all but obliterated much of Silithus. The only thing that had mitigated the scope of the disaster had been that mercifully, in his random, angry blow, Sargeras had not thrust the sword into a more populated part of the world than the nearly empty desert land. Had he struck here, in the Eastern Kingdoms, a continent away from Silithus . . . Anduin could not permit himself to go down that path. He would be grateful for what little he could be.
Shaw had hitherto sent missives with information. Anduin had not expected the man himself to return quite so soon.
“Tell me,” was all the king said.
“Goblins, sir. A whole mess of the unsavory creatures. It seems they began arriving within a day of—”
He broke off. No one had come up with a vocabulary to describe the sword that felt comfortable. “Of the sword-strike,” Mathias continued.
“That fast?” Anduin was startled. He kept his expression neutral as he continued to gaze out over the water. The ships and their crews look so small from here, he thought. Like toys. So breakable.
Copyright © 2018 by Christie Golden. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.