Chapter Seven: A Broken Land
The armies of Lordaeron were disbanding. Not all of them, but a large part. The men were to return to their villages with their arms. Not because the war was over, but because the treasury was running out. Now Arthas had to provide the appearance of an ending where there was none.
He walked before them, uncertain, but not showing it. At last, he stood upon the stand and gazed down on his men. Every one of them had fought through impossible odds. They had proved themselves time and again. They deserved this. "Men of Lordaeron," he said, "it has been my greatest honor to serve alongside you in this war. By your hand, the forces of darkness have been stopped time and again. No army has faced such an enemy as we have and remained defiant.
"Now, however, victory is ours!"
A roaring cheer broke out from them. It was deafening as men raised their hands. Arthas found a smile creep to his face. "The undead have been driven into hiding and are but a remnant of what they once were. Mal'Ganis is now but a vagabond in the wilderness. With no more corpses to fuel his armies, he will remain so until he is hunted down.
"And yet our work is not complete.
"Though we have triumphed over our enemies in every battle, our land has been ravaged by the Scourge. It is time for us to set aside the sword and take up the plow. To begin the process of restoring Lordaeron to what it once was. Yet remember that though our campaign is over, we may well have to take up the sword again.
"Remain vigilant. For the day may come when your courage is needed again." Then he raised his hammer aloft. "For Lordaeron!" "FOR LORDAERON!" cried the men as they raised their weapons.
Arthas decided to lighten things up. "Now, break out the ale! They need a drink!"
And so began the celebration. Arthas walked among his men as they drank and ate food that had been carefully examined. No plague would get in here. He spoke with them on one thing or another. Eventually, he retired to stand a little outside, feeling tired.
Falric approached him. "It's over then."
"It isn't," said Arthas. "But let them have their moment."
And so the celebrations followed. They lasted nearly an entire day, but Arthas retired to his office to do work long before they ended. There were plans to make with limited resources. A messenger entered. "Milord, there is a message for you from King Varian Wrynn of Stormwind."
Arthas nodded and took it. What did Varian want? Unrolling the message, he read it:
It's been far too long since we last met.
I've heard you have been more than busy with the Undead Scourge in your land. I'm sorry I haven't been there to fight it with you. However, there are still remnants of the Orcish Horde within Stormwind, not to mention gnolls and fouler things. Ever since all this happened, I've had to be constantly working to make sure Stormwind doesn't fall to pieces.
Fortunately, I have good generals, and I'm not facing nearly so great an enemy. My most serious problem is dealing with the Stonemasons and the Council of Nobles. Both of them are making demands of the other that are unreasonable, and I'm afraid there might be riots soon. Tiffin is trying to calm people, but I'm afraid things might get out of control.
Should you require more help, I may eventually be able to send one of them to aid you. Grand Marshall Garithos once had family in Lordaeron, before the orcs came. Although he has some prejudices, he is a competent soldier, and he is eager to help.
Too little, too late, was Arthas' first reaction. Still, the support could be useful. Drawing out a pen, he quickly wrote out a reply.
I am pleased to hear from you. In all honesty, I have begun to think we were wholly abandoned. Gilneas and Stromgarde have been of no help. And Quel'thalas has only sent token forces of priests. But I am glad to hear that you are well and that there were reasons for your absence.
I pray for the wellbeing of your wife, Tiffin, as well as your son.
If I might provide some advice, grievances are often forgotten when faced with a common enemy. Find an enemy that could be a threat and convince the people that they must be destroyed as quickly as possible. Use the crisis as a pretense to make decisive decisions you would not otherwise be able to do. A King is most powerful when people need a figurehead.
Once you've done that, crush the enemy and throw their ashes to the winds.
Speaking of which, Lordaeron has more need of food than soldiers. Vast stretches of land were ruined by the undead. Now I'm afraid there will be starvation among my people. If you could provide food aid, or know of anyone who could, I would greatly appreciate your assistance.
Hoping this finds you in good health,
Handing it to the messenger, he looked up. "Take this to Varian."
The man nodded before leaving.
Arthas leaned back in his chair and continued sorting through reports. He had to make sure his men were all paid for their efforts. And he also had to arrange compensation for some of those who had been on the Northrend Expedition. It had been used as a prison colony by the Alliance. Many had not been paid at all.
Then the door opened, and Falric entered. "You called for me, Prince Arthas?"
"Yes, Falric, I have an assignment for you," said Arthas. "One more important than I have ever given anyone."
"I stand ready to serve," said Falric.
"I am assigning you to the Capital of Lordaeron," said Arthas, finding the relevant paperwork. "I want you to personally oversee the grain supply and make sure nothing compromises it. It is a well-paid position and very important."
Falric shifted from one foot to the other. "I would prefer to remain in your service."
"I know," said Arthas. "Unfortunately you are the only man I can trust completely who also has experience with the grain. I could assign Marwynn, but he's never had the same talent for logistics you do. You will be holding Lordaeron City in your hands.
"Lordaeron City relies on imports for most of its food. What if the grain shipments were tainted?. If that happened, Mal'Ganis' armies would swell. They could rise to a level that all our remaining forces would struggle to defeat. Ensuring our cities are not corrupted is of the highest importance."
Falric bowed. "Very well then, milord. I will do as you command." He took the commission. Arthas opened his mouth to say something, but he had no idea what to say. "Good luck." Was what he settled on at last.
As Falric left, Marwynn came through the door. "Prince Arthas, can I speak to you?"
Arthas looked at him. "Of course, what is it, Marwynn?"
"Prince Arthas, with your permission, I'd like to retire from the service," said Marwynn.
"Retire?" asked Arthas. This was bad. "Are you certain of this? If it is your rank, I'm going to need someone to replace Falric-"
"It isn't the rank, sir," said Marwynn. "It's the war. I… I'm just tired of fighting, I guess. Faldine and I have gotten close, and I want to get out before one of us ends up dead."
"Marwynn, you know as well as I do that Father's orders are premature," said Arthas. "The war isn't over yet. This is the eye of the storm."
"Sir, I don't agree," said Marwynn. "Just because Mal'Ganis is dead doesn't mean he'll make a comeback. His forces are destroyed, and he doesn't have any more bodies to throw at us. It could be years before he returns."
"What if it isn't years, Marwynn?" asked Arthas. "We can't let the entire army dissolve; we need a core to reassemble it around."
"Well, why do I need to be a part of that core?" asked Marwynn, voice holding a note of hostility. "I've been in front of the fighting from the beginning. When you reassigned me to Hearthglen, I liked it. I liked not always being on the road and killing things. Then the plague happened.
"I want peace. And so does Faldine."
Arthas realized he wanted the very same thing. He couldn't fault Marwynn for this. But perhaps he could find a compromise. "Very well.
"What if I gave you a different assignment. I could make you the head of a garrison somewhere. You'd be able to live happily in peace, but if there is a crisis, I can call you back? You know better than anyone the enemy we face?"
Marwynn paused. "…I'd be willing to accept that, I guess. But Faldine wants formal pay as well. Her position was unofficial. Some bureaucrats are using it as an excuse to skimp on paying her."
"I'll see to it that they are paid and I'll do as you ask," said Arthas. "If you can, find somewhere you'd like to be stationed."
Marwynn nodded. "Thank you, sir." Then he turned to leave, before glancing back. "Sir?"
"Yes?" asked Arthas.
"It's been an honor," said Marwynn.
"So it has," said Arthas.
And so Marwynn left. Like everyone else.
One by one, Arthas was losing those close to him. Uther had turned against him at Stratholme. Jaina had abandoned Lordaeron. Muradin was gone overseas, and Falric was reassigned. Now Marwynn as well. For a while, Arthas sat at his desk, his hands clasped before him, staring at the wall. Then the door opened, and a man entered. "Prince Arthas, Prince Kael'thas Sunstrider is here to see you. It is a matter of great importance."
Prince Kael'thas, the last person Arthas wanted to speak to right now. "Wonderful.
Prince Kael'thas entered, looking less hostile and more tired. Arthas set out one of the glasses on his desk. "Prince Kael'thas, to what do I owe the honor?" Arthas motioned for him to sit down.
Kael'thas did not. "I am here on behalf of my father, King Anastarian Sunstrider. Until now, he has allowed large numbers of elven priests and sorceresses to assist in the war effort. It was understood that the Scourge was a potential threat and so they were dispatched in a support role-"
All pretense of courtesy was shattered. "Let me guess; he's abandoning us again." Arthas almost snarled.
Kael'thas fell silent for a moment. "We are not under any obligation to the Alliance. While I do not approve of his decision, he has chosen to withdraw all elvish combatants to Quel'thalas. I might have argued against it, but the massing numbers of Forest Trolls within Zul'Amon was a concern.
"You've increased their population to the point where they may well invade us. Hundreds of our people may die for your mercy. You should have killed them all. You could have."
"If you wanted to advise me on how to treat defeated enemies, you should have been beside me." snapped Arthas. "As things stand, I made my own judgments. I am not an elf, Prince Kael'thas. My word is worth something, and I possess a conscience. My first reaction to something I don't like is not to exterminate the entire species."
"I wasn't aware racism was among your flaws," said Kael'thas.
"It didn't use to be," said Arthas, realizing that he had become a racist. "But after all that's happened I've come to realize that everything the racists say about you is right.
"We called upon the old alliances. You sent a token force, and that was against your Kings orders. Because of that, the orcs broke through at Southshore and got as far as your land. Our armies marched to save you anyway. We died by the thousands to protect Quel'thalas. Many human villages were destroyed.
"We died by the thousands to protect your vaunted woodland realm. And what was our reward? You said, 'you should have sent more.' You claimed that we did not do enough to protect you, even after you abandoned us. And so you abandoned us again, leaving us to rebuild our shattered realms alone. Your spells could have helped us, but you didn't care. The human race was just a convenient source of cannon fodder to you. Our own lives were no more important than gnats.
"So we faced the Scourge alone. We faced an enemy more terrible than any that had come to this world before. And what help was given to us? A few priests, all of them volunteers. They were of great service in their own way. But they were acting contrary to King Anastarians orders as help always was.
"And now you stand before me, having done everything in your power to destroy us short of sticking a knife in our back. Now you act as if I should be grateful to you. As if I should feel ashamed that my victories have causes you indirect pain." Arthas realized he was rambling; his voice filled with despair. "It wasn't my intention that my actions should hurt your people. Can your father say the same?
"Have you no shame, Kael? Are you incapable of empathy? How do you stand before me now and justify speaking to me with conceit as my land burns around me? Where do you think the Scourge will go next when they have destroyed Lordaeron? And if not the Scourge, there will be some other enemy.
How do you think your people will fair the next time someone invades them? When they are known as oathbreakers across the world, who will ever make a treaty with them. The Forest Trolls will grow in number with every generation. And if they are wiped out, what of humanity?
My life will be over before you have grown to middle age, Kael. And these days will become legends. What stories will I pass down to my grandchildren, and to their grandchildren? What will they say about you?
"Do what you like. But you may live to see my descendants burning their way through your lands, regarding you to be as vile as the orcs. Is that what you want?"
Kael'thas said nothing for a long moment. There was some confliction on his face, but finally, he shook his head. "…Whatever my personal plans, I have orders I must carry out. You are currently in command of the majority of the elven forces in this place. I must ask that you allow me to speak to them."
"Do as you will," said Arthas.
Kael'thas turned to walk out the door, before halting and glancing back. "…I'm sorry."
"It doesn't matter," said Arthas.
And so he was left alone once again. Arthas should have felt enraged or helpless or something. He just felt empty, empty, and angry. Then the door opened, and a messenger came through. "Prince Arthas, Lord Uther of the Silver Hand requests your presence."
Arthas sighed. "Well, I'd best not keep him waiting, then."
One more speech to hear, then.
It was the last holding of Mal'Ganis' forces in this part of Lordaeron. Only a token force remained here, the rest having fled into the mountains or gone undercover. He strode up to the cultists working at the grain field.
"Is the enchantment on the grain proceeding as we planned, Necromancer?" asked Mal'Ganis. "Time is of the essence."
The necromancer looked back. "Yes, Lord Mal'Ganis. Our efforts are bearing fruit. We need only a little time-" Then a presence was felt, and the necromancer stammered. "Lord Tichondrius?"
Mal'Ganis barely stopped himself from whirling to see him. Tichondrius was standing there, his great two-handed sword on his back. The older Dreadlord eyed him in mistrust. "Mal'Ganis. It is the dominant opinion of our brotherhood that you have failed in your task."
Mal'Ganis controlled his fear. Lord Tichondrius, I assure you the situation is under control. My efforts have been set back, but the destruction of Lordaeron still progresses."
"Enlighten me, then, how losing the war on all fronts will achieve our goals?" asked Tichondrius.
"Now that the Cult of the Damned is in hiding, the humans believe they have all but won this war," said Mal'Ganis. "They have let their guard down. And I have a plan that will engineer their final destruction."
Tichondrius remained silent for a long, long time. Finally, he nodded. "Really? Do tell."
Mal'Ganis explained as best he could and hoped Tichondrius would approve it.
Lord Uther had made his camp amidst a blackened and miserable part of the forests in Andorhal beneath an unholy, greenish sky. The trees were ruined and withered. The villagers here were gathering their things, no doubt to move somewhere else. Uther himself was warming his hands over a fire, for it was cold here, far colder than it should be in fall.
The old paladin looked up as Arthas neared him. "Prince Arthas, I'm glad you finally arrived."
"We can dispense with the false pleasantries, Uther," said Arthas, coming to a halt.
"As you wish," said Uther. "The Paladin Order does not approve of your actions at Stratholme, Arthas. However, in light of the present crisis, we are putting the matter on hold. We have a task for you."
"What is it?" asked Arthas.
"Numerous people throughout Lordaeron have been displaced from their lands," said Uther. "Vast tracts of farmlands have been rendered worthless by the Scourge. There will be starvation and death soon if something is not done.
"I want you to oversee the resettlement process. You are to construct enough shelters to house the various refugees. King Terenas has authorized the use of magic to speed harvests and avoid starvation. We've already chosen an ideal place for a settlement in the wilds of Andorhal.
"That said, there have been rumors of Blackrock Orcs being seen on the borders. With most of our troops being disbanded, you'll need to keep your eyes open. We've arranged for some special help from the Church of Light to make things easier."
Was he being assigned to oversee farming? This was the sort of thing given to novice commanders, not veterans, although it could be considered a good sign. "Surely there must be a better use for my talents."
"Quite possibly," admitted Uther. "But there isn't a mission better suited to you as a person. Think of this as penance for Stratholme. You'll be met with someone of like mind there. I expect you'll get on fine."
Arthas took that statement for the dubious compliment it was. Still, at least he wouldn't be fighting anymore. Perhaps he'd even have a chance to wipe out the Blackrock Orcs once and for all. He could dream. Honestly, he could use the rest.
This marks the end of the first 'arc' so to speak. There will be some time before I post the next one. For one thing, I'm basing this off of a custom campaign I've been making. And unfortunately, I've run into serious issues with the trigger functions. So it could be a while.