Saturday, October 20, 2007
A feeling of peace and wonder descended on me when I stepped out from the violet mist of the portal. Before me was the city of Darnassus, the new home of the night elves. It is utterly different from any other city in the world. Darnassus rests in the tremendous boughs of Teldrassil, the new World Tree, which itself rises from the chilly waters of the Veiled Sea, the roots plunging deep into the ocean floor. A sheltered new world lives in the great branches of Teldrassil, a peaceful and quiet realm bathed in eternal twilight.
When I departed Stranglethorn and returned to the Undercity, the first order of business was to purchase the materials for my disguise from the Masquerade. It was then that I found out that many who used his materials were exposed as the undead. However, those caught had been spies, looking into areas under high security for even the Alliance races. The Alliance did not detect me in my previous ventures into their territory, so I deemed it safe to use again. Of course, I did not really have any other options.
I returned to the congested seaport of Menethil and took a ship to the night elf port city of Auberdine, on continental Kalimdor. I saw almost nothing of Auberdine, as the ferry to Teldrassil was about to leave when I arrived. I got on board with only minutes to spare.
Kaldorei vessels are living things, for the night elves revere the forests and are loathe to destroy trees. Instead, the glowing wisps cull wood from the forests, stopping before the tree loses too much. Then, the legendary craftwrights shape the still-living wood into new forms, stretching and altering it as needed. The interior of the ship had the loamy quality of a forest. Moss grew on the floors and walls of the irregularly shaped cabins, and mushrooms sprouted on the railing. Rather less pleasant was the sap that sometimes found its way into the open, at one point tangling up an unfortunate dwarf’s beard.
The ship run under a crew of one, a druid who acted as helmsman. Named Alcibiadon Starvale, he spent much of the trip in a meditative trance, communing with the vessel.
We spent the first day sailing beneath the grim skies of the Veiled Sea, where rain falls in a nearly constant drizzle. At noon on the next day the skies began to shift into violet. The great roots of Teldrassil soon came into sight, and the ferry docked at a tiny community called Rut’theran Village, nestled in a grassy meadow between the roots. In Rut’theran stands the portal that gives access to Darnassus, high in the canopy.
Darnassus does not truly feel like a city, being more like an exceptionally beautiful park. Night elves walk on the bridges and pathways with the impossible grace natural to their kind, never in much of a hurry. The population is also rather small in comparison to the other major cities. The night elves built (or more accurately, grew) Darnassus around a great lake of the purest water. Lily pads float calmly on the surface, and a lazy rain of flower petals drift down from the boughs reaching over the surface.
I turned south from the central island, heading towards the Temple of the Moon. The night elves do not literally worship the moon; it is merely a symbol for the goddess Elune. The deity of nature, Elune is the head of the Darnassian pantheon. Having not been a part of the Alliance when contact was first made with the night elves, I knew relatively little about Darnassian faith beyond that fact.
A great stone ramp leads up to the temple complex. The architecture of the temple is quite different from most of the rest of the city, made entirely from stone. Much like a human structure, the elves built it from blocks of marble. The feel of nature is still present however, as flowering vines grow along the walls and a mattress of woven leaves blankets the causeway.
“Darnassus was to be a rebirth for our race. As such it was decided that the Holy Sanctum would be crafted in the manner of the old days. Their glory would be ours once again.”
I was speaking to a silver-haired night elf woman named Nyrinnia Mistsong. She had been one of the designers of the new temple.
“Thousands of years have passed since we last built temples of stone. We long believed wood to be best for such matters. This new temple granted us a chance to open our hearts to the dwarves and humans, for they are able to remind us of the art of masonry,” she explained.
“Do you think this will become the new standard for night elf religious architecture?”
“I do not. Many of the elder druids in Nighthaven said that a stone temple would be a blasphemy. They remembered the stone citadels of Zin-Azshara, and the terrible deeds committed there. Yet stone is as much part of nature as wood, so it is certainly acceptable. Stone is not alive, of course, though High Priestess Tyrande has an interesting justification for the use of stone.”
“She says that life does not naturally come from stone. Yet the ancient stone temples still contained lush and beautiful gardens, as vibrant as anything you could ever hope to see. The presence of nature’s grace in the halls of stone would be proof of Elune’s power and goodness.”
“An interesting line of thought. The High Priestess was a proponent of this temple?”
“Not at first. Many feel that Teldrassil is cursed because it did not receive the blessing of the dragons. She still distrusts this new World Tree, but she accepted the idea of a stone temple. Perhaps she missed the world of her youth.”
“Does the layout of the temple bear any special significance?”
“Very strongly. The temple is perfectly symmetrical, and this is important because we are all charged with maintaining the holy Balance.”
“The balance of nature?”
“More than just that. All things must be balanced. War and peace, old and new, man and woman... if the scales of the world tip too far in one direction, disaster can result. Azshara’s sin was that she cast aside the old ways, the respect for nature. The Sundering of the World was her punishment.”
And a punishment for the rest of the world as well, I thought. I thanked Nyrinnia and entered the open archway of the Sanctum.
Words cannot describe what I saw there. At the center stands a great statue of Haidene, Elune's first high priestess, holding aloft a bowl from which pours the sacred Moonwater. Trees and blossoms grow from the temple floor in profusion, all filled with an inner illumination and shining in brilliance. Motes of blue light hover around the falling streams of water, and the dome is filled with a violet sun of healing darkness.
I knelt among the trees, stunned. My hands touched the thick blades of grass, savoring their life, their sharp smell intoxicating me. Did warm blood again flow in my veins? Could I hear the once-silenced sound of my own heartbeat in that holy place?
The light in my vision faded and I looked down to see my pale dead hands. I slowly stood up, trying not to let the disappointment overwhelm me. The relative comfort I had with my own undeath soothed the pangs of longing, though they could not dispel it entirely. In that brief moment I had felt like the human I once was.
The whispered songs of elven priestesses dance in the pure air of the temple, Darnassian words flowing and intermingling. Leading them is the steady voice of High Priestess Tyrande Whisperwind, the beloved servant of Elune.
Tyrande is the closest thing that the loosely-knit night elf communities have to a leader. The elves revere her as one of the heroes of the War of the Ancients. Her consort, the Archdruid Malfurion, is similarly vaunted though he has since been in another world called the Emerald Dream. The current Darnassian Archdruid is Fandral Staghelm. While he has a following, he lacks Malfurion’s charisma.
I went outside, overwhelmed by the temple interior. The strange experience left me unsettled, reminding me of joys that were best forgotten.
Elegant white towers flank the causeway to the temple. Curious, I entered one and found another lush garden. Soft grass carpets the room, and light comes from a glowing lantern that hangs from strand of rock. The place is serene and peaceful, less staggering than the Holy Sanctum. Under the boughs of a violet-leafed tree lounged a tall priestess in sky-blue robes. She observed a trio of acolytes who appeared to be meditating. Two of the trainees were women, as was standard for the priesthood, but one was male.
The priestess turned to me, her eyes gleaming in the half-light of the garden. Thinking that I was a disturbance, I bowed my head apologetically and turned to leave. Then she gave a silvery laugh.
“You may stay if you wish, human,” she said.
“I’m not interrupting anything?”
“If they are distracted by mere conversation they will never become the Servants of Elune. I am Tirrimea Nightstem.”
“I’m Talus Corestiam, a scholar. I’m trying to learn more about the night elf religion. Could I ask some questions about that?”
“My understanding is that Elune is the head of the pantheon. Do the other gods have temples and priests?”
“They do, after their own fashion. Elune is quite distinct from the other Ancients, as we call the gods. Ancients like Malorne, Aviana, or Cenarius the Undying are nature’s will, given flesh and consciousness. In the old days they walked among us. Regretfully, I was born after the Golden Age, though there are still some, like Holy Tyrande, who remain from that time.”
“So you worship them in addition to Elune?”
“Ah, no. You must understand that until recently we were immortals. The Ancients were our teachers. Our betters, even, but not by such an insurmountable gap. Elune is different. She is the All, the collective of everything on this world. As such, only She can truly know what is right. It is from Elune that all are aware of the Balance.”
“Then Elune is the ultimate source of morality, whereas the other Ancients are more like... there’s the human term of demigod, would that be accurate?”
“It is close enough.”
“Is the Balance regarded as the ideal for all things?”
“Not precisely. I do not think that balance is quite the right translation of ahssiva, as it is called in our tongue. If everything was to be balanced we’d have to tolerate satyrs and demons in the temples! Ahssiva is better understood in our role as the caretakers of this world. Every tree and animal was made by Elune. They are precious to Her, as children would be precious to any mother. If the natural order that She made, in Her wisdom, is set out of order, many of Her children will suffer.”
“That does make a great deal more sense than balance.”
“I should say so!” she laughed. “It is a complex ideal, and even many Kaldorei are a bit vague about it.”
“When did men start entering the priesthood?”
“After the Battle of Mt. Hyjal. The world has become very large for us, we do not have enough of anyone. We held council about the matter, and decided that it would not be a terrible breach of ahssiva if we allowed men in the priesthood. And of course, women have entered the druidic ranks, which were formerly exclusively male.”
“Did the elves lose so many at Mt. Hyjal?”
“We lost numerous sentinels and druids. Many more of our people fell in the Legion’s march to the mountain. There was also a period of terrible strife when Nordrassil fell. We thought it was the end of the world, and went mad with fear. Many of the villages spared from the Legion’s wrath tore themselves apart.”
A gentle rain was falling over the city when I left the temple garden. I passed two night elf women bedecked in shimmering pastel robes, sheltering themselves from the rain with parasols. Looking closer, I saw that parasols were actually living tree branches with broad fern-like leaves protecting the bearer from the rain. Tiny yellow flowers peeked out between the fronds. The women smiled at me and gave slight bows; I did the same in return.
In a curious way, the recent history of the night elves is a mirror to the story of the Forsaken. While we suffered a gruesome immortality thrust upon us, the elves lost their cherished eternity. It is hard for me to imagine living for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years with the full expectation of never-ending joy beneath the stars, only to have it taken without warning. Of course, the high elves endured a similar plight when the night elves first exiled them from Kalimdor, though they were perhaps less blameless.
All in all, it is actually quite remarkable that night elf society enjoys such stability. The hope that so many of them must have held for Teldrassil was also thwarted, yet they continue to live as well as they are able.
Most of Darnassus’ citizens live on the eastern side of the city, the closest thing there is to a commercial district. The Tradesmen’s Terrace and the Craftsmen’s Terrace are made up of rows of elegant pagodas. The imposing gateway of the Warrior’s Terrace is between the two neighborhoods.
The night elves do not have a very strong notion of privacy. Their homes and shops usually have one or two sides entirely open. Curtains do exist for when a resident wishes to be unseen, though they are seldom used.
I was curious to see how the night elves handled matters of commerce. Recent years saw them adopting the Undermine Monetary Weight Standard, allowing greater ease of trade with dwarven and human merchants who were eager to exploit the new market. Yet I did not know what they did before that. Early on my third day, I spoke with an elven merchant named Esteriul Boughshadow who owned a trading vessel that sailed between Auberdine and Menethil. He was born shortly after the Sundering.
“Nature’s glory is no longer ours. Perhaps we have lost it, do you think?” he said, in a whispery voice.
“I would not know. Have there always been merchants in night elf society?”
“There was no need. Even the tiniest village could survive on its own. Harvesters sang fresh fruit from trees, and hunters always found game. The old, true Heart of the World still beat in those days.”
“The Heart of the World?”
“Nordrassil. We did trade, yes. In older times there was a village called Dyranaar in what is now Felwood, and they made shining arrows that stayed true to their quarry. Some night elves would give their own goods to the artisans of Dyranaar so that they could get those fabled arrows. It was not trade as much as it was an exchange of gifts. The soft metals were only used to make objects of beauty.”
“By soft metal you mean gold and silver?”
“Yes. They are lovely but why such concern with them I wonder? Gold is only useful in small amounts; too much of it is garish.”
“Why are there merchants now? Is it solely for trade with outsiders?”
“No night elf would take gold if they had any other choice. Much of it is for trading with the younger races. As I said earlier, we no longer seem to be nature’s chosen. The forest’s gifts do not come to us as easily as they once did.”
“Thus the need for exchange.”
“I suppose. Perhaps if we were fewer in number...”
“Pardon me if this seems presumptuous, but with your immortality gone wouldn’t the population increase?”
“It would. For all my life we only needed to replenish our numbers when an elf fell in battle or in an accident. Yet with too many of us, would that not upset the Balance?”
“Since they are mortal, a new Balance would be achieved, would it not?”
“Maybe. I think we were meant to have passed from this world during the last war. To return to the Mother’s embrace.”
“Why did you choose to become a merchant?”
“I thought that a change of scenery could rekindle my joy for life. That among the younger races I would find hope. I found only sound and filth. I hope I do not offend you. I cannot see how you stand living in those cities. Some of the Kaldorei recklessly plunge into the human and dwarven cities, though I think they must be mad.”
“Do you think you’ll find a new profession?”
“Loathsome though it is, this task gets me enough money that I may buy mementos of the glory days and lose myself for a little while. Besides, I shall only have to endure this for 700 years or so. A blink of an eye.”
Not all of the night elves are as pessimistic as Esteriul. Of the ones I spoke to, it seems that the ones most distraught are those born over 5,000 years ago. Elves who have come into the world more recently are usually more adaptable. This struck me as rather odd. I thought that the older night elves, having already experienced so much life, would be more willing to accept mortality.
“The Kaldorei who lived in the Green Times grew too used to it. Our people were not as humans, with nations and cultures constantly fluctuating and changing. Life was defined by a relative absence of change. We loved peace and eternity,” said Meyelle, a woman born not long after Nordrassil’s creation. The Green Times that she referred to was the time when Nordrassil stood on Mt. Hyjal.
“Then you would say that the younger generation has had less time to acclimate itself to eternity; thus, it is better able to accept the change.”
“Roughly how long ago would an elf have to be born to avoid getting used to the eternal state?”
“That depends on the individual. Some of the young ones are as broken as the elders. I doubt that the welcoming attitude towards change could be easily found in those older than 2,000 years, however.”
It is somewhat inaccurate to speak of generations when referring to the night elves. Thanks to the influence of Elune, the All-Mother, new elves were usually only conceived to replace those who died. An immortal and prolific race would quickly overrun the world, after all. This poses yet another problem for the now-mortal Kaldorei. They are, in a sense, obliged to have children. Unfortunately, many do not seem prepared to do so, an attitude furthered by the lack of familial strength in elven society.
I found an interesting variation on the acceptance of mortality in a sentinel named Illinerre Frosteye. The sentinels are the soldiers of the night elven armies. Much like the priesthood, the sentinels once consisted entirely of women. The agility of the these warriors is put to good use in the dense forests of northern Kalimdor. The elves prefer to fight at a distance, so it is best to have troops that can literally jump from tree branch to tree branch, or tread with silent feet on the forest floor.
The sentinels can still hold their own if close combat becomes necessary, though they do their utmost to avoid melees. In more recent years, the mighty Druids of the Claw came to the aid of the sentinels in close situations. When the druids hibernated, their military role was filled by treants or by local militias called defenders. Before the Third War, becoming a defender was the closest a male night elf could get to becoming a sentinel, though there were plenty of female defenders as well. The defenders were not particularly good soldiers, known for enthusiasm and poor organization. Defenders no longer exist, though they did lay the groundwork for the individual night elf fighters of both sexes who became more common after Nordrassil’s fall. These successors are often vastly more skilled than their forebears.
“The sentinels are a different breed than the other Kaldorei. We are like hunters, and it is in the hunt that we find our greatest joy. The whistling song of a moonglaive is more lovely to me than to sit by a lake writing poetry all day,” she laughed.
“Then the night elves revere the hunt?”
“Of course! The wolves and nightsabers stalk their prey through the forests; why should we be any different? Struggle and death are part of nature.”
“What do you think about the loss of immortality?”
“Nordrassil’s death was an obscenity. I regret that I must one day grow old and put aside my blades, skilled though I am. Still, it does let us more sharply appreciate what lives we have left. It is also helpful for some of the gentler sentinels; those who have never quite embraced their feral instincts to the extent I and many of my sisters have.”
“Many elves found it frightening to face death. Most wanted to enjoy their lives forever. Because of this, they were less willing to risk themselves. Now, death is inevitable even for those who never touch a weapon. Already our numbers have grown much faster than they ever did before. A good thing too, with orcs and demons haunting this world. I think when you have less life, you will fight for it much harder.”
The nature of immortality, or at least longevity, has become the object of much study in the last few years. While access to such knowledge was limited in Undercity, I was still able to glean some information. Long-lived races actually perceive time differently than short-lived ones. A human or a troll is more conscious about the passage of time than is an elf, for whom years are miniscule increments. Night elves (and to a lesser extent, dwarves, gnomes, and high elves) are usually not as affected by boredom. They have more time, and thus feel less bothered by doing mundane activities. A similar mental state is starting to appear in the Forsaken.
The current thousand year lifespan of the night elves is just a hypothesis. Obviously, it cannot really have been tested. I was curious to know exactly how the night elves realized they were no longer immortal. All the elves I asked explained it as a subtle change in perception. It is notable that there is no solid proof that they actually lost their immortality.
That said, most of the evidence suggests that they are mortal. When Nordrassil was first created, not long after the Sundering, the mysterious Dragonflights blessed the budding World Tree with the ability to grant eternity to those most closely connected with it, namely the night elves. This immortality was not a simple gift. Its purpose was to better enable the night elves to guard the world from demons.
The dragons refused to bless the new Teldrassil. They deemed the creation of a new world tree a selfish act not worthy of their honor. Some sages believe that the dragons thought the night elves did not do enough to repel the Burning Legion, as they had to rely on orcs, humans, and others for aid. Considering that the elves sacrificed their beloved immortality, it seems to me that they did quite a lot. I also think that the social problems caused by mortality might significantly hinder Darnassus’ efforts to combat the demons. Though if Illinerre was correct, mortality serves to make the elves better fighters.
Since Teldrassil is so new, many still have hope for it. One was Shaddas Winterleaf, a craftwright. He invited me into his shop in the Craftsman’s Terrace. Well-lit and comfortable, the centerpiece of the chamber was an irregularly shaped chunk of wood about the size of a dwarf. Part of the wood was shaped into a stunningly life-like owl in mid-flight. Shaddes designed the walls of the shop to look like a teeming forest. Roots ran into the floor and branches reached out across the ceiling and under the eaves. Elegant birds perched on the branches and shy deer peered out from behind the trees. As it was all still alive, real moss and flowers grew from the artificial forest.
“This is a poor substitute. A forest should not be so still. But no craftwright would ever dream of outdoing Elune. We content ourselves with our little attempts,” he said, sounding a bit apologetic.
“It is quite beautiful.”
“Thank you. This owl I’m in the midst of shaping is actually for a wealthy gnome in Ironforge.”
“Your work must be quite well known.”
“Reasonably so. I have had around 2,000 years of work to sharpen my skill. When you shape wood you must coax it, grow it in ways that it wishes to grow. Ultimately, it is the work of the craftwright, but it would be arrogant in the extreme to say that it is a solitary creation.”
“Since you’ve lived for, 2,000-”
“Three-thousand. I hunted in the forests of Ashenvale for my first millennium,” he smiled. “It is from the well of those memories that I draw inspiration.”
“Ah. How do you feel about the loss of immortality?”
“What makes you so certain that we have lost it?” inquired Shaddas.
“Such is what I have heard, though I’d be interested to hear your reasons for disagreement.”
“Many of the Kaldorei speak of a change in the feeling of life as a sign of their lost eternity. I think it is only because the immortality from Teldrassil feels different. It is like how the water of one stream tastes slightly different from the water of another. But both are equally nourishing.”
“What about the dragons? They did not bless Teldrassil.”
“That is unfortunate. Yet the Dragonflights only have so much power. Elune will preserve us.”
We spoke a while longer about his art.
“To whom did you sell before the Third War?”
“No one. I lived in Astranaar, making the town more beautiful. I helped out in hunting, and when they wished to build a new moonwell or lodge I was among the first to help.”
“I see. Do you find it difficult to adapt to the eastern markets?”
“Not so much. I take joy in knowing that my work makes its way to the younger races, perhaps changing their hearts to become less bound to the artificial worlds in which they live.”
“But now that you are in competition with other craftwrights—”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Do you not compete with other craftwrights for customers?”
“Why would I do that? Even if everyone stopped purchasing my arts, I could always take what I need from nature. It is not as easy as it once was, but it’s far from impossible. There is no need for me to compete. That is the task of the merchants who ship my work. This is my joy here; I have no real interest in money.”
“Would you consider it a drop in your living standard if you had to abandon Darnassus for financial reasons?”
“I am fond of the city, but I am sure I could one day return to it were I to leave. I have the time, after all.”
In a certain sense, the night elf economy is not so vastly different from that of the humans or dwarves, at least on a rural level. A small human village is nearly as self-sufficient as a small night elf equivalent, though more vulnerable to the depredations of the weather.
As for cities, it remains to be seen. Will it become progressively harder for the elves to live off of nature as time wears on, or will it return to its former levels? The shift to a more dynamic population (assuming the immortality is indeed gone) also heralds changes.
I wonder too if other races can master the art of the craftwright. The night elves mostly trade luxury items and art pieces. If humans are capable of the same, their more competitive nature will probably challenge the night elf craftwrights, forcing them to adapt or fall into poverty. Or perhaps they will simply return to the forests or learn new arts.
As an interesting side-note, one can recognize the night elf unfamiliarity with commercial competition by looking at the store signs. Shops in most cities try to have memorable names, to better stay in the minds of customers. Examples would include “A Tailor To Cities” in Booty Bay or the “Pig and Whistle” tavern in Stormwind City. In Darnassus, the shops have imaginative names like “Two-Handed Swords,” “Leatherworking,” or even “Inn.” I suppose they should at least get credit for their clarity.
Some of the most memorable sights in Darnassus (and indeed, many elven lands) are the woodland ancients, which are essentially giant, ambulatory trees with varying degrees of sapience. The woodland ancients should not be confused with the Ancients so strongly revered by the druids. Perhaps a fitting analogy would be viewing the Ancients as gods (or demigods) and the woodland ancients as angels.
The more common kind are the Darnassian protectors, who only stand as tall as an elf. They supplement the elven armies as a sort of heavy infantry. Even a tauren would be hard pressed to counter a living tree. The protectors have enough intelligence to follow orders. They look more like humanoid stumps than actual trees.
The true woodland ancients are much grander creatures, standing as tall as great trees and looking the part. These ancients act as repositories of knowledge, freely giving it to those who ask. Some specialize in teaching the arts of war or druidic magic. I met an Ancient of Lore named Bosu, who looked like a mighty autumnal patriarch with a long beard of red leaves hanging from his gnarled face. He spoke with a rumbling slowness.
“Where did the woodland ancients come from? How did they first arise?” I asked.
“We were once trees that were sprung from seeds when the world was still young. At first we slumbered, until great Cenarius woke us.”
Cenarius was the most revered of the Ancients. He fell to orcs in the Third War, though many believe he will return.
“Why did Cenarius waken you?”
“He taught us of the world Elune had created, and we in turn taught the Kaldorei. When Cenarius still walked this world, we woodland ancients could speak with each other through the spirits of the forest. What one knew, all knew. With Cenarius’ departure, this is no longer possible.”
“How do you get your information?”
“Much was taught by Cenarius and the other Ancients. Other knowledge is given to us by the spirits.”
“What exactly are the spirits?”
“The dreams and perceptions of the forest.”
“Are you then saying that the forest is sentient?”
“Not sentient, but keenly aware. The closer a tree was to Nordrassil, the more aware it became. It is no longer easy to hear the spirits. They are reluctant to come to us now, or do not heed our calls.”
“What is your opinion of Teldrassil?”
“Teldrassil is being corrupted, as it was not blessed by the Dragonflights. It cannot sustain itself indefinitely.”
“Then it will not ever give immortality to the night elves?”
“The potential for immortality exists; perhaps it is already present. We cannot see the future so we do not know if it shall ever come to pass.”
“Are any efforts being done to halt or erase the corruption?”
“The druids and sentinels work at it, though they have had little success so far.”
“Why do you stay here, if you know it to be corrupt?”
“I was made to remember, and this too must be remembered. We exist to serve.”
Bosu stood near the Cenarion Enclave, the headquarters for the local druids. The Enclave consists of three great trees, all of them filled with natural chambers where various Kaldorei work. The center tree is for druids. To the right is a heavily reshaped tree where hunters meet and learn, and to the left is another dedicated to scouts.
The tree of the druids grows around a moonwell brimming with incandescent blue water. Specks of light drift up from the well in a constant stream. The relatively open nature of Darnassian society meant that I was able to explore the interior at my leisure, though I was warned not to bother Archdruid Staghelm, who lived on the top floor.
The druids revere Elune but their main religious focus is on the Ancients. As the Ancients represent Nature’s Will, it is the duty of the druids to see that will is enforced. The druids are most famous for their ability to change into animal form, such as bears, nightsabers, or sea lions, among others. Different orders of druids (not dissimilar to the more religiously oriented knightly orders in old Lordaeron and Stormwind) work together to serve a greater purpose.
Archdruid Staghelm was (and still is) a very controversial figure. As the mastermind behind Teldrassil and Darnassus, he is often blamed for the new World Tree’s failures. Many others dislike his aggressive policies. A common criticism is that he acts too much like a human to be allowed to lead the elves. Staghelm also has to deal with the unenviable task of living up to his beloved predecessor Malfurion Stormrage, who is still deep in hibernation.
Still, it only serves to reason that Staghelm would have his followers, and the Cenarion Enclave in Darnassus is where many of them gather. I spoke with one, a druidess named Alefennia Stormsky.
“The Archdruid has made his share of mistakes, but at least he is trying to do something. Remulos and his followers over in Moonglade are stuck in the past,” she complained.
“In what way?”
“They act like the Third War never happened. Or as if they’re still wandering the Emerald Dream. We cannot afford to distance ourselves from the world any longer. Had the druids been paying more attention, we would have come to the Eastern Kingdoms when the orcs first invaded and stopped this business before it got out of hand.”
“That would have been good.”
“In some ways I feel that the Alliance dead of the First and Second Wars are on our hands.”
“What does the Archdruid wish to do? Aside from regain immortality.”
“The creation of Elune is in greater danger than ever before. The Scourge has corrupted Northrend and much of Lordaeron, the orcs have despoiled our forests and threaten the rest of Kalimdor, and there are still the demons to consider. Including, I might add, Illidan the Betrayer, so wisely released by Tyrande.”
“How does Staghelm intend to meet these dangers?”
“The control of all Kalimdor. Some think the tauren are capable of protecting the southern reaches, but they are allied with the orcs so I do not see how that is possible.
“Then he intends to conquer Kalimdor.”
“Correct. Perhaps it would not be necessary if we had acted earlier, if we had made an attempt to reach the tauren before the orcs came. Yet it is already done. We must fix the mistakes of old.”
“What role do the druids play in this?”
“We are to lead the forces of nature. To care for and nurture it in places it has been hurt. The druids have no choice but to become more active. I probably would not be a druid had not been for Staghelm.”
“After the Battle of Mt. Hyjal, the priesthood was quick to induct men into its ranks. The druids however, rankled at the thought of a woman joining their orders. Fandral Staghelm was the greatest speaker for our inclusion into the druidic orders. His words changed hearts.”
“So you would credit him with making the druid’s path more accessible?”
“Definitely. And we need more druids today than ever before.”
“What does Archdruid Staghelm think of the other Alliance races?”
“He accepts them, though we still have much to teach you.”
“I fear that the humans, dwarves, and gnomes are strongly separated from the natural world. They need to return to it. I am not saying that you in particular are cut off from nature, but I think you would have to agree that the monstrous cities and farms that cover the Eastern Kingdoms are proof of your race’s dilemma.”
“But Darnassus is a great city. And the humans are not able to get food as easily as the elves.”
“Darnassus is with nature. That is what differentiates it from Stormwind City or Ironforge. And I am sure that you could learn better methods for getting food than clearing forests and replacing them with fields,” she claimed.
“Yet there are many more humans than there are night elves. It is difficult to support such a large population.”
“Then bring fewer humans into the world.”
“I do not think that many humans would agree to that.”
“It is probably the best way to serve nature, which is what most humans need to do.”
“Yet with our shorter lifespan we can’t afford to have such a small population,” I argued.
“It will be difficult to adapt, I won’t deny that. It is necessary however.”
We debated for a while longer, neither of us convincing the other. Finally I thanked her and took my leave. I do think that Staghelm is correct in saying the druids need to take a more active role and be more inclusive, though in other respects he (or at least that particular follower) is staggeringly ignorant.
As is the case with the rest of Darnassus, one often sees wisps flitting through the air at the Cenarion Enclave. The wisps appear as small orbs of glowing blue light, inside of which is the vague form of an elven face. I'd heard that they were the spirits of departed night elves, who stay on to tend the forests. The truth (as is usually the case) is more complex.
“Yes, they are spirits,” explained Eselleral Cloudwing, a night elf minstrel who was visiting Darnassus. “But they aren’t the whole spirit. When I die, sadly inevitable now, alas! my force of will stays on as a wisp. It shall act as one of the minor tenders of nature, a noble fate. My wisp will not be me though. It would not have my personality. It may have some of my memories, but would not be affected by them. The memories would just be so much information.”
“Then what happens to the part of your soul that maintains its attributes?”
“That sacred portion shall return to the Great Mother. There I shall rest from fear and worry. The force of which the wisps are made is called sil. The part that is most like me, my true soul, is the an-sil. Finally my animating life force, the vey-sil, returns to the Waters of Life, to become the soul stuff for from which future life will spring.”
“Would the vey-sil allow you to live on in these future generations?”
“Not quite. Vey-sil is completely shorn of all my aspects. It metamorphoses into the Waters of Life, which appears as Moonwater in the mortal plane. It is from the Lake of Life that Elune shapes new souls to send into the world.”
Beautiful as Darnassus is, I still sensed the anxiety that most elves hold towards the future. None can say for sure just how healthy Teldrassil is, or how holy. The city is but one part of Teldrassil. The wild forests outside the gates were still unknown to me.