Sunday, October 7, 2007

Stormwind City



The post-Second War Alliance feared that the orcs would regroup on the dying red world of Draenor and make another attack. To prevent this, they formed the Alliance Expeditionary Force. Stormwind and Lordaeron contributed the lion's share of troops, but warriors of every banner marched through the Dark Portal to ensure their world's safety. None returned, and most believe them lost in Draenor’s destruction.

The five leaders of the expeditionary force, who had already become heroes through their actions in the Second War, are memorialized in titanic and lifelike statues lining the great bridge leading into the city. They provide a magnificent symbol of the Alliance. At the front are Kurdran Wildhammer of Aerie Peak and the doughty Danath Trollbane of Stromgarde. Next stands Archmage Khadgar of Dalaran (I had studied his work extensively) and Alleria Windrunner of Quel’thalas, the sister of our Dark Lady. Overseeing the Valley of Heroes is Turalyon, the great paladin of Lordaeron.

“The statues certainly are a fine piece of work. They were only actually built five years ago. For a while we were pulling double shifts around the statues,” explained a Stormwind City patroller.

“Why was that?” I asked.

“Because not a single one of the heroes was from Stormwind. Most of the people here were fine with it, but some were very angry at seeing tax money go to celebrate some dead northern folk. A lot of them had lost family in the Draenor Expedition, and thought those soldiers deserved a monument. There should be a memorial for them too, but I think these statues are a grand addition to the city.”

“Have the statues come to be accepted?”

“More or less. A month ago someone scrawled graffiti all over the base of Khadgar’s statue. That sort of thing does not usually happen though, and we got it cleaned up.”



The teeming Trade District sprawls to the north past the great walls. Though wide, the streets are so packed as to make movement quite difficult, at least during midday. The air is alive with the sounds of conversation and merchants advertising their wares. One does not need to stay there long to see individuals from all the Alliance nations. Kul Tirasi merchants in elaborate finery rub elbows with clean-cut Stromgarders, and elves of both varieties move about the crowd. Though night elves and high elves tend to despise each other, they are peaceable enough within the city.

The Trade District is actually more orderly than it was in the days before the First War, when the entire city was a labyrinthine deathtrap. Like most cities, it had simply grown without any planning or reason. When rebuilding it, the royal authorities elected to organize it. Designers widened streets and subjected buildings to rigorous codes. The new Stormwind City quickly earned its appellation as the most modern city in the human kingdoms. A few prefer the rambling city of old, though nostalgia likely colors their perspective.

I was fortunate enough to find a spare room at the Gilded Rose, one of the finer hotels in the city. The establishment lives up to its reputation, giving travelers comfortable rooms in simple yet elegant surroundings.

Astoundingly, there is no tavern in the Gilded Rose. The place exists solely to provide shelter to weary travelers. If they wish to carouse, the innkeeper says, there are more than enough taverns throughout the city. Alcohol is held in vague disrepute within Stormwind, and a substantial minority of Stormwinders completely abstain. Temperance was nearly nonexistent in the northern kingdoms, and (as I learned in the Forlorn Cavern) viewed as a deviant behavior in Ironforge.

The darkness of night amplifies rather than stifles the energy of the Trade District. As the more utilitarian shops close down the area switches its focus to pleasure. Jugglers and entertainers fill the street in the dim evening light, while taverns and cafes stay open into the late hours. Much like old Dalaran, arcane lampposts gleam through the night, a substitute sun for the citizenry. Of particular note is the griffin post, a site of constant activity as travelers fly in from distant places. The sheer feeling of life in the streets is nearly intoxicating. Fears of the Scourge, bandits, or the Old Horde fade away to little more than bad dreams.

“You can do very well here if you work at it.”

I was speaking with Torrigio, a Tirasi acrobat who performed in the Trade District at night, along with his colleagues. He took off his white carnival mask, revealing a lean, pockmarked face.

“Is there a large Tirasi population here?”

“A good-sized one, yes. Some are very rich, and I hope to be the same one day.”

“That’s good that you have confidence about your future.”

“I have to have hope for my future. Right now I barely have two silvers to rub together,” he laughed. “I have plans though.”

“What do you think of the nobles here in Stormwind?”

“Hm? Oh, they’re barely here. Did you know that in Stormwind, almost no tax money goes to nobles? It goes to the king, the army, but not the nobles.”

Not everyone shares Torrigio’s optimism. That same night I spoke to a melancholy looking peddler named Eli, who sold flowers in the Old Town and Trade District. Though initially reticent, a tankard of ale loosened his tongue.

“Life is difficult here. There are so many people that no one will care if you fall by the wayside. I’m sure you’ve seen the beggars.”

“I have.”

“I’m from Raven Hill, a town to the south. Back there if something happened, you would have family and neighbors that helped you. Here, no one cares,” he sighed. “I haven’t heard from any of my family back in Raven Hill for some time.”

“You seem to have done reasonably well.”

“Not particularly. I grind away the days in these streets, selling to whomever will buy. Cutpurses are everywhere, especially in the Old Town. Be careful if you go there, it’s not the safest place. Oh! You see him over there?” Eli pointed to an inebriated man missing a leg.

“Yes.”

“I know that fellow. His name is Cosmin, he’s a drunk and a scoundrel. Care to know how he lost his leg?”

“I would.”

“After the war, King Varian Wrynn said that any soldier who lost limbs or was otherwise maimed in the war would be supported by the nation. A fitting reward, after all. Later this was extended to any subject of Stormwind hurt in such a way.”

“How were these people supported? They were given money?”

“No, they are given food, sometimes given a simple post in the local government if they had some previous service. Now Cosmin, he paid a man to cut off his leg.”

“In order to reap the benefits?”

“Basically. Now he takes the food he receives and overcharges it to the desperate. If you’re insane or drunk, the king is not going to spend his money helping you. With the money Cosmin gets from that, he buys ale until he’s under the table. The worst thing is there are plenty in this awful city that do the same.”

“The authorities don’t know about this?”

“No, of course not. And there are many who deserve the food they receive. Peasants who suffered farming accidents, soldiers who lost limbs in the war. But people like Cosmin still thrive. The reason is that there are too many people here. He doesn’t care about the people he cheats, he doesn’t know them.”

I have spent time in small towns, and I suspect that Eli’s memory was selective. Nonetheless, he had a point about the large city’s impersonal and sometimes callous nature. The truth of Stormwind City’s society probably lies somewhere between Torrigio’s enthusiasm and Eli’s gloom.

Having explored the Trade District I spent the next few days in the Mage Quarter. Where the Trade District is noisy and frenetic, life in the Mage Quarter goes by at a slower pace. The neighborhood is an affluent one, occupied by prosperous merchants and government officials. The cobblestones of the streets give way to lines of thick grass dotted with toadstools and delicate flowers. Tall, regal structures rise on both sides of the winding streets, many of them covered in ivy.



The Mage Quarter used to be called the Conjurer’s District, before the destruction of the original city. I spoke with an elderly woman named Ulna Altrecht who knew the neighborhood when it belonged to the conjurers. We met in a well-appointed tavern called the Blue Recluse, favored by teachers and students at the Mage Tower.

“Oh my, you can’t imagine how different it is today. This is a lovely place now, and most of the mages are very pleasant people. In the old days, ha ha, you wouldn’t feel safe at all!”

“Did it look different?” I asked.

“Very! Not safe to go there at night. Not safe during the day either! No one wanted to live near the conjurers. The people who did couldn't afford to live anyplace better. If you took a wrong turn you could end up dead, or at least horribly lost.”

“Why did you go there if it was so dangerous?”

“I went there because it was dangerous. I was quite the daredevil when I was young. And I met my first husband, Dolnar, in the Conjurer’s District. Handsome young rogue, he was. He died in the Second War.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“He died bravely, more than I can say for some. Anyway the Conjurer’s Spire loomed over the whole place like some dreadful beast. The place stank! The air around the Spire smelled... honestly I can’t say what it smelled like. Sort of like a fire, I guess.”

“Infernal magics have that effect,” I explained.

“I can well believe it. The poor wretches who lived near it often got sick, and at night the ground glowed with this awful green light. I can’t say I miss it at all.”

“Is the Mage Tower built over the ruins of the Spire?”

“Um, no. The Spire was a bit north of where the Tower is today. There’s a tavern over the Spire's foundations now, called the, um, oh I know the name. Yes, the Slaughtered Lamb, that’s right! Frankly, you couldn’t pay me to drink there.”

The Mage Tower is a graceful structure surrounded by a grove of trees. The tower is supported by a slender cylindrical base that expands at the top into a larger compound crowded with turrets and windows. A spiraling stone ramp rises airily from the ground, going all the way to the top. The power of the arcane enables all sorts of architectural feats, something particularly enjoyed by the more artistic mages. The Mage Tower cannot compare to the spires and floating palaces of old Dalaran, but is still beautiful in its own right.

I ascended the ramp, curious as to the state of mages in Stormwind. With the fall of Dalaran it has become the last real school of magic for humanity. I also wondered if I would see anyone I knew from my student days.

An outsider would find it hard to believe that such a relatively small tower acts as a center for arcane studies. In general, practitioners of magic are exceedingly (perhaps excessively) fond of deceptive appearances. The ramp ends at a small room dominated by a circular stone portal. Swirling green fog fills the opening and violet runes glow on the stone surface. I smiled, remembering a similar portal in Dalaran that led to an extra-dimensional museum.

Few mages care to admit it, but the first person to develop one of the so-called “pocket dimensions,” floating bits of stable matter within the Twisting Nether, was a conjurer. Named Farven Nimmes, he spun a great palace out of arcane energy. Runic supports held the matter of the structure in place, but it was inherently unstable. Farven was lucky to escape with his life. Others attempted to do the same despite his failure, and the Dalaranese eventually perfected the process. Making a stable pocket dimension requires immense effort and energy, so it is rarely done. The conflux of leylines in Dalaran made it much easier to produce pocket dimensions. No proper conflux exists in Stormwind City, but a substantial number of leylines do run across the metropolis on the way to the large but unexploited conflux over Kharazan to the southeast.

The portal leads to a magnificent, vaulted hall. Tall, narrow windows give the place a sacrosanct air. Cluttered desks and bookshelves line the sides as robed scholars of the unknown work at various experiments and argue their theories. None of them even seemed to notice my entry.

I examined one of the bookcases, packed with tomes detailing the study of the arcane. I smiled grimly when I noticed “Introduction to Arcane Structures and Formulae,” one of the most dull and obtuse books I’ve ever had to read. As I recall, I only actually read the first half; for the sake of my sanity I utilized the notes of a more diligent student for the second.

“Can I help you, sir?” inquired a polite voice. I turned to see what appeared to be a student in his late teens.

“Thank you, I’m merely an itinerant mage in for a visit.”

“Are you from Lordaeron? Your accent—”

“Yes, I am. I studied in Dalaran.”

“Oh! Master Lumiurre, there’s a Dalaran mage here.”

A small man with a huge white beard stood up from his desk and peered at me. With a start, I realized that I had seen him before. Lumiurre was an archmage of some renown. I never personally spoke with him, though several of my friends had attended his lectures.

“Ah, a fellow from the old country! Ecton, get our guest a chair!”

The student who had just spoken with me raised his hands and pointed at the floor in front of Lumiurre’s desk. A wooden, upholstered chair morphed out from the stone. I thanked him and he nodded.

“I should tell you that I’m from Lordaeron, not Dalaran,” I explained as I sat down.

“But you studied in Dalaran, did you not?”

“I did.”

“I’ll consider that to be close enough in this day and age, heh! What is your name?”

“Talus Corestiam. I don’t think we ever met while I was studying, though I had some friends who were students of yours. Do you recall teaching Danner Berdenhof or Emette Sera?” I asked.

“Hmm, I’ve had so many students. I think I remember Danner though. Skinny, blonde hair, very intense?”

“That would be him. Do you know if he survived?”

“I am sorry, I haven’t any idea. I was in Stormwind when Archimonde destroyed the city.”

“And Emette?”

“I cannot even recall if I ever taught anyone by that name. I am sorry.”

“There’s no need to apologize.”

“Here, have some wine. It’s a fine vintage of shiraz, the last made in Dalaran before the fall.”

Lumiurre produced a bottle of wine and two glasses from a desk drawer.

“A true Dalaranese,” I joked.

“More than ever now that I live in this distant land. Stormwind is a fine city, but it cannot compare.”

“Nothing can,” I agreed.

He filled the glasses, and handed one to me. I sipped at the beverage, trying to savor the taste. I could not remember if shiraz was my preferred drink while alive, though I did not think it was. I complimented him anyway. I began to discuss matters of magic with Lumiurre.

“How have the mages done in Stormwind?”

“Reasonably well, I would say. So few of the conjurers survived the First War that we did not have any real competition.”

“Do records of the conjurers still survive?”

“Yes, though really I can’t say they’re terribly useful. Their arcane studies were not nearly as good as what we had in Dalaran, and mages do not deal with the infernal.”

“Though you do utilize a pocket dimension. That was the creation of a conjurer.”

Lumiurre smiled.

“True, but it was a mage who created the first pocket dimension that didn’t implode after a few days.”

“Of course. If I may ask a sensitive question...”

“Go ahead.”

“Is there much of a warlock presence in Stormwind?”

“Regrettably, yes. The dwarves have a much more sensible approach to warlocks: kill them on sight.”

“The dwarves do allow gnomes to practice infernal studies,” I said.

“Gnomes have their own rules and laws, separate from the dwarves. Warlocks are allowed within Stormwind, so long as they are discreet. I must admit that at times they have their uses. Still, once things get settled up north I imagine they will have outlived their usefulness.”

We talked for a while longer. Afterwards, I thanked Lumiurre for his time and stood up to go. I was about to enter the portal when Ecton, the student from earlier, stopped me.

“Did you get everything you needed sir?” he inquired.

“Yes, thank you.”

“I overheard you talking about conjurers.” Ecton looked to his sides as he spoke, though he did not seem especially anxious.

“Yes?”

“I know a former conjurer, if you would like to speak with him. I think the conjurers were better than Master Lumiurre gives them credit for.”

“You disagree with your teachers?”

“I do.”

“Then Dalaran still lives,” I said, smiling. “Lead the way.”

Ecton led me down from the tower as the sun set over the violet gables of the Mage Quarter. He introduced himself to me as we went through the streets. Ecton was born in Goldshire though he had lived in Stormwind City for some time. His parents were modestly wealthy jewelers and could easily fund his entry into arcane studies. Ecton was a mage, and also a firm Stormwind patriot with a particular interest in his nation’s history during the First War.

We came to a tavern called the Slaughtered Lamb, which I remembered Ulna mentioning. The establishment does not seem significantly different from any other part of the Mage Quarter, at least from the outside. The interior is clean though uncomfortably dim, shadows pooling around the faint auras of dirty lamps. The parlor was nearly empty when we arrived, having only two occupied tables. A worried-looking gnome sat at one, while an old, bald man rested at another. The human’s eyes brightened when he saw Ecton.

“Say, Ecton! What’s the news from rabbit country?” He spoke with the voice of a young man.

“Only the usual, Tomar.”

“Who’s your friend?”

“Talus, he’s from Dalaran. Well, Lordaeron, but he studied in Dalaran. He wanted to know more about conjurers.”

“You’ve come to the right place then!”

Tomar motioned for Ecton and I to sit down, and we did. He called a server and ordered three tankards of some local ale. Looking at me, a large smile spread across Tomar’s wrinkled face.

“I remember when this was the ground floor for the Spire. Powerful magic went on in there. Pity the mages are too afraid to really study it.”

“With all due respect, if the art of conjuration was so good, why is it no longer practiced?”

“Like I said, the people of Dalaran, for all their wisdom, lack vision. The only real problem with the conjurers was that we did not go far enough.”

“How do you mean?”

“We knew how to call demons to this world, and even how to bind them to our will. We didn’t, but we should have.”

“Essentially you would advocate the path of the warlock.”

“I say they are worthy successors. These are dark times, and we cannot afford to fret about minor dangers.”

“I’d hardly call the Burning Legion a minor danger.”

“Granted. But it is a minor danger to control one little demon. Besides, it’s no great loss if a few incompetent summoners are killed.”

I began to feel dizzy, depthless shadows roiling in the corners. Tomar spoke at length about the importance of power, and how it was Stormwind’s only hope against the Horde and the Scourge. Ecton happily agreed with what he said and I wondered why he bothered studying the arcane when his interests clearly lay with the infernal.

Dusk turned to night and the parlor filled up with patrons, a disparate mix of young and old. I detected a faint stink in the heavy air, the smell of mold and burnt glass. Then an obese, flabby man in an ill-fitting red robe ambled out from a dark recess. He slowly made his way to Tomar, his movements jerky and irregular.

“Tomar,” he said, in a scratchy voice.

“Yes?”

“There are good times right now at Red Heaven! Care to see?” He spoke strangely, putting emphasis on the wrong words.

“Oh! Right, of course. I think I will. Good evening gentlemen, but I’m afraid I have business elsewhere.”

Tomar stood up and the newcomer smiled, revealing a mouthful of pink teeth. The two of them disappeared into the darkness. I recognized the scent of infernal energy hovering over the tavern and quickly returned to my room at the Gilded Rose, quite shaken.

*********

The encounter in the Slaughtered Lamb disturbed me on a deep level. As a practitioner of the arcane, I hate to see it corrupted. I wished to spend some time away from arcane magic and the Park gave me an opportunity to do just that. The Park is home for many of the noble families in Stormwind, their graceful manses overlooking the tended meadows and groves. As I walked through that relaxing spot, I heard the sound of someone practicing scales on a harpsichord inside one of the houses. The nobles had initially petitioned to have the Park as a private holding, but the city council vetoed their proposal.

More recently, the Park became the embassy for the night elves. One of their fabled Moon Wells shines at the center of the park. A soft blue light pulses within a circle of living stone and I sensed a primal serenity around the shining pool. The elves there are mostly druids and hunters, and tend to aloofness. Most human visitors return the favor, generally keeping to the normal areas of the Park.

While the Park’s natural beauty within the city is unparalleled, the greatest architectural sight is the Cathedral of the Light. Seeing it briefly rekindled a childlike faith in my heart. Delicate spires soar into the air, the entire structure looking too tall to stand. Yet stand it does, and by all accounts is one of the strongest buildings in the city. The old cathedral in Lordaeron was much less grand, more akin to Northshire Abbey in design. In the new Stormwind, the grateful citizens decided to surpass all previous efforts.



The cathedral’s sanctuary is, if anything, even more breathtaking than the exterior. The ceiling reaches so high that it seems lost in another world altogether. My sightseeing was interrupted when a man in a white robe brushed past me. He headed to a growing crowd at the foot of the altar, all dressed in identical alabaster wrappings. A harried priestess made her way through the mob and took a protective stance behind the altar.

“When shall the north have justice?” demanded one of the crowd.

“Brothers and sisters in the Light, mind yourselves!” ordered the priestess, raising her arms. Though a slight woman, she possessed a booming voice. “This is a place of worship and peace.”

“We cannot have peace while the undead slaughter our brethren in Lordaeron!” screamed an onlooker. “As they bleed, so shall we!”

With that, the crowd threw off their white robes, revealing red tunics emblazoned with the sign of the Scarlet Crusade. I suppressed the urge to bolt, though I did conceal myself behind one of the pillars, my hands clenching in alarm. The priestess again tried to maintain order and I saw several armored paladins approach the angry crusaders. A brawny man in a red robe slipped past them. The mob cheered when he came into sight.

“For the Crusade! For Brother Crowley!”

“Friends! Sister Amarie is right, we must not disturb this place. All will be dealt with, and we must have patience. The curse over Lordaeron will not be lifted in a day, it will only end with dedication and perseverance.”

“Forgive us, Brother Crowley. We are eager to join the fray however. The people here do nothing to help us!”

“The people here have their own concerns. Rest assured that soon you shall be marching in a holy army. And the people here are also part of the army, wouldn’t you say so, Sister Amarie?”

The priestess nodded uncomfortably, her face flushed.

“Now follow me to my chambers, and we will discuss this further.”

A smiling Brother Crowley went through the crowd, the people within gasping and holding out their hands at his approach. A hypnotic timbre underlay his voice, beguiling minds and souls. They followed him into a side passage and soon walked out of sight. Sister Amarie massaged her temples, looking exhausted.

“Are you all right?” I asked, venturing out from behind the pillar.

“What? Oh. Yes, I’m fine. Thank you.”

“I was not aware the Scarlet Crusade had power this far south.”

“They spend their time gathering up the faithful and sending them north.” She spoke with a sort of forced neutrality.

“Are you aware of the Crusade’s actions in Lordaeron?”

Amarie looked at me askance.

“They fight the undead,” she said, after a moment.

“With all due respect, they murder anyone they come across. They do not distinguish between living and dead, Scourge or Forsaken—”

“Wait! The Scarlet Crusade is quite zealous, but they are still of the Light. Who are you to accuse them of murder? And what real difference is there between the Scourge and Forsaken?”

“I am from Lordaeron, I have traveled through the Plaguelands. I assure you that the Crusaders are violent fanatics.”

For a moment, Amarie studied me in silence.

“The Church of the Light is aware that the Crusaders have, on occasion, overstepped their bounds. However their cause is noble, as are most of the members, and they have disciplined the more careless amongst them. The Alliance is embroiled in its own affairs and we have done little to help the people of the north. At least the Crusade carries the fight to the undead. If you are from Lordaeron, I would expect you to know that.”

Amarie spoke quietly, her eyes flickering to her sides. I wondered if my approach had been too brash. The point remained though, that the Scarlet Crusade is more or less accepted in the Alliance. Amarie and the other clerics might not care for them personally but will not persecute them. Even if they did, I doubt the church’s censure will do anything to halt the Crusade.

I left the Cathedral of the Light with a heavy heart. It had particularly troubled me when Amarie failed to recognize any difference between the Scourge and Forsaken. Taking my leave of the Cathedral Square I briefly visited the Dwarven District. The dwarves are better integrated to human society than are the night elves, and the Dwarven District is a thriving, industrious area. Smoke fills the streets, pouring out from the forges and smithies. I was not there long, though I did learn a few things about the local culture.

The dwarves in Stormwind are much more devout in regards to the Holy Light than their cousins in Ironforge. Perhaps this is due to their proximity to the Cathedral of the Light. Some regard the Mystery of the Makers with a great deal of suspicion, deeming it to be symptomatic of a kind of racial selfishness. Though I only got a brief overview of the situation, it seems that clan structure in Stormwind is a bit more lenient. This may have something to do to human influence, since the situation amongst dwarves in Menethil and Theramore is also more relaxed. The Dwarven District is, however, in most respects more conservative than either of those two cities.

The leadership of Stormwind resides in Stormwind Keep. In its latest iteration, the Keep is actually a rather small structure, at least compared to the behemoth that stood before the First War. The old Keep’s sheer size had made it very difficult for the Horde to conquer. The new keep's architects chose to streamline and reduce the structure, wishing to create a governmental seat that was impressive yet not overwhelming. The rationale lay in the king’s continued attempt to make himself seem as “one of the people,” rather than a distant and capricious noble.

King Varian Wrynn was away on some diplomatic business when I came to the keep. Perhaps in order to get practice for the future, his young son Anduin held the throne in his stead. Surrounded by chamberlains and nobles, the boy looked a bit overwhelmed.

I wandered through the austere yet elegant marble halls of the Keep. I frequently came to doors closed to the general public for security reasons. Thinking me lost, I was stopped by a rotund, elderly man with a friendly face. He was Lord Simon Lanchester, the patriarch of the Lanchester family, one of the more influential noble houses in Stormwind. Lord Lanchester had just left a meeting of the Noble’s Council.



“How much power does the Noble’s Council hold in Stormwind?”

“More than it used to, I’d say. The Citizen’s Council had the king’s ear in the years after the Second War. With the current, miserable state of affairs however, the king’s priorities have changed.”

“In what way?”

“Our liege has not forgotten that all the current nobles in Stormwind are the descendents of those who remained loyal to the crown in both the Civil War and the Culling. I recall King Llane for instance; a just ruler for the most part, yet he had a terrible lack of respect for those who stood by him. Instead he spoke with those who were less reliable. The commoners.”

“I see. So because Stormwind is currently in a somewhat precarious state, the king has fallen back on those he can trust?”

“Very good, very good. You are quite perceptive my northern friend,” smiled Lord Lanchester. “It would be dishonorable for me to say that the Citizen’s Council has nothing to offer. Yet... did you hear about Edwin Van Cleef?”

“Actually yes, it made the news even in Dalaran.”

“Not at all surprising; there was never a group better at staying abreast of new information than the Kirin Tor. I cannot say for sure what went on in King Varian Wrynn’s mind when it happened. Whatever the case, it revealed what the House of Nobles had known all along. Citizens think only for themselves, only for money. Honor is simply a lesser concern for them.”

“May I speak bluntly, my lord?” I asked.

“I cannot legally stop you.” Lord Lanchester then burst into laughter. “By all means, go ahead.”

“What would you say to the common soldiers? Wouldn’t they have honor? Even the knights are frequently of common origin.”

“They have honor as well. But again, it is a lesser priority. Stormwind would not exist without us nobles. I won’t deny that Tersus and Aldenmar were monsters. Despite all that, it was the nobles who followed King Strom south, hacking their way through gnolls and savages. Surely you would agree that the king cannot forget that?”

“Again, if I may speak frankly—”

“You needn’t ask. Go ahead, I enjoy having a real conversation.”

“The nobles who followed Strom are long dead.”

“Yes. But they were promised that their families would be remembered. They fought so that their children might have better lives. I think it would be grossly unfair for the king to renege on his promise.”

“However the commoners also fought. By that rationale, shouldn’t they have the same reward?”

“No. My esteemed ancestor, Lord Stendehl Lanchester, led a group of hearty Arathi warriors to victory against mountain trolls. Had he not been there to lead, the attack would have failed.”

“Couldn’t there have been another leader amongst the commoners?”

“Ah, but now you’re reaching into the hypothetical. Society must have leadership, and the human nations have begun to forget this. Dues must be paid, obligations honored. Without that, there is only chaos! If you go to the Trade District you will find people who think about nothing beyond themselves. All we seek is to ensure the king remembers those who helped him in the past. We want to help Stormwind more than anyone else.”

“How would you approach the problems in Stormwind?”

“Oh my, where to begin? Well, we certainly have to start reconsolidating our own territory. I’ve been trying to gather an expedition to go into Westfall at least, bring peace to that woeful region. It’s difficult though. Lady Katrana Prestor has been managing domestic issues while our King is away, and I fear that she sorely underestimates the strife there.”

“Do the other nobles wish to bring peace to Westfall? Redridge is also in a troubled position I might add—”

“Oh, I know! Duskwood too. Many of the nobles are not much better than the commoners. It was probably inevitable; as the king forgot his obligation to the nobles, they disregarded their own duties to the king! They keep insisting that they need more proof. Truly, if the current evidence is not proof enough, I don’t think anything can be done to convince them.”

“What of the Citizen’s Council?”

“Their opinions do not carry as much weight. Most of their power came from the king anyway, and he seems to have lost interest in them. For all my complaints about Lady Prestor, she at least understands how a kingdom is supposed to work. Lord Bolvar Fordragon, the regent, is the same way. King Varian is returning things to their just state. Here’s how it stands today: the Citizen’s Council tells their problems to the Noble’s Council, and the Noble’s Council relays the important issues to the king and helps him decide what to do. We deem what is most important for the king to hear.”

*********

The only major section of the city I had not yet seen was the Old Town. The name “Old Town” is something of a misnomer, as it is not significantly older than any other part of Stormwind. It got its name because it was the first part to be reconstructed, and was built over the fallen city’s trade district. The Old Town is similar to the Trade District in many ways, though rougher around the edges. The local citizenry is warier than others in the city, and I saw a number of shady youths loitering in alleys and street corners. At the same time, the Old Town enjoys a certain picturesque charm, having more greenery than the Trade District.



Clouds suddenly filled the sky around sunset and drops of rain began spattering on the cobblestones. I took shelter in a tavern called the Pig and Whistle. I heard the drizzle outside turn into a downpour the moment I stepped inside.

The Pig and Whistle is actually a haunt for the local artists. Artists in Stormwind lead a somewhat unsteady life, just as they had in Lordaeron or most anywhere else. They scrape by until their work attracts the attention of a wealthy individual or organization. They attain financial security once this happens. Until then, it is a touch-and-go life. Dalaran was the only nation that actually subsidized artists.

A flute's thin whistle, the note long and hypnotic, broke the quiet conversations in the tavern, its source a rangy night elf flautist standing in the corner. A second musical voice joined his, twangy strings on a wide-bodied Kaldorei harp plucked by an athletic Kaldorei woman, her green hair tied back in a ponytail. A third entered the act soon after, yet another night elf beating a set of small drums. Stormwind tavern songs tend to the robust and optimistic, reflecting the state's heroic past. This came from a world away, made all the more compelling for its novelty. Not quite atonal, one could hear a distinct melody carried through the mournful repetitions, an impression of eternity brought about through music.

"The elves have been playing in the Pig and Whistle for a month. Apparently their second time here; the first was before I discovered this place. No one else in the city—well, maybe outside the Park—gets this sort of a gift," remarked a bearded human sitting near me, the frays and stains on his clothes too artfully placed to be accidental.

"It's an interesting composition."

"Quite. Most of the rubes here just listen to the same old sets, but in the Pig and Whistle we have something truly unique."

"Do the musicians speak much about their homes?"

"They speak of it through their music."

The song tapered off into an ambiguous and melancholy finale, fading at last into silence. Patrons clapped in appreciation as the musicians rested from their labors. I approached the harpist, who cautiously sipped from a tankard of ale.

“I’ve never heard anything like that before. Is it traditional elven music?” I asked.

“As far from tradition as any Kaldorei can get. We came here to break out of the old and into the new. Traditional Kaldorei music lasts a dozen times as long as the piece you just heard.”

"Do you object to truncating your music?"

"Many elves would, but I don't. We are no longer immortal. We need to start paying attention to the passage of time, not spend so much of our lives contemplating the gleam of sunlight on leaves."

“Night elves are still long-lived though.”

“A thousand years doesn’t seem so keen when you used to have eternity. That’s why I think we have a lot to learn from humans. You’re just so fast, wouldn’t you say?”

“I suppose we are, in comparison.”

“Back in Kalimdor we concern ourselves with keeping everything the same. Like the druids.”

“You’d prefer something more dynamic?”

“Exactly! That’s why I love Stormwind City and Ironforge, they’re so fast! Like you go in, you blink and everything is completely different, like it became a whole new world and every second it’ll happen again! You can’t ever get bored in a place like that.”

I smiled wryly, thinking of the fondness the dwarves had for stability and tradition. To the night elves, the dwarves might well appear frenetic.

“You know what I really think is wonderful?” she asked.

“What?”

“Machines. Machines are some kind of strange, mad animal, wouldn’t you say? all full of movement, a wild symphony of metal and wood and all that. Night elves don’t grow machines—”

“Grow machines?”

“Aw, you know. Build them? Sorry, whenever I go to Tinkertown the machines look like they could have been natural, just grown right up from the ground and kept on sprouting.”

“It’s a bit more complex than that. Building them requires a great deal of precision and rigor.”

“Sure, but I think they’re great. Magic, I’m not so fond of that. It can be foul stuff. And I know that a lot of the machines have magic components or something. I think it balances out with them though.”

“Are there many night elves who feel this way?”

“Not too many. Then again, I never really counted them! It’s fine in Kalimdor, they just want to be left alone to do things the way they want to do them. Most of the night elves here, like the ones in the Park, still hold to their old ways. Some of us go around though, seeing what there is to see. I call us Castouts because we’re the ones who threw off all the old rules. They’re fine for some, but not for us. Now we make our own culture as we go along.”

Though my experience with night elves was limited, I could not help wondering if the Castouts were really that different from their kindred. Erelinde said she was trying to get the most out of her remaining life, but the elven indifference to time still applied to her. After all, she did not have any goal or mission to work towards. In a perverse way, it seemed as if she had reached a static state.



I stayed at the Pig and Whistle late into the night. I met Nellean, the flautist and Erelinde's brother, who acted like an amplified version of his sister. He talked as if overstuffed with words, and went on at great length about his future plans and previous adventures, sometimes mixing the two up in his speech. Erelinde spent much of her time writing in a battered journal.

“Here I write down what I’m thinking about this place, this Stormwind City. It’s my second time here and already I can’t wait for the third!”

Erelinde wrote in Common, which she considered a superior language for expressing the tempo of life.

It was still raining when I finally left at around midnight. Erelinde impulsively walked me back to the Gilded Rose. I was glad for the company, as Old Town does not have the safest streets after dusk. While I had more than my share of defenses, the constabulary is less than happy when offensive magic is used within city walls. Erelinde herself carried some wicked-looking daggers. She explained that she’d been in more than her share of fights before. Though previously flighty, she spoke more seriously of her travels as we braved the nighttime streets. Erelinde held a deep love for the world, evident in the way she described going down a river in Stranglethorn, and the beauty of sunset in the Badlands. Though I had been in the Badlands, her description was so affecting that I wondered if I had really seen it.

“Are you certain you’ll be all right going back to the Pig and Whistle?” I asked, as I stood in front of the Gilded Rose.

“Trust me, it won’t be a problem. I can go by rooftop if I have to, and I’ve been through the Old Town at night plenty of times.”

“All right. Well thank you for your company, and good luck in the future.”

“You too!” With that, she disappeared into the rain. I was still somewhat concerned, but was relieved when I saw her again (at a distance) the next day.

Though I was growing comfortable in Stormwind, new frontiers still awaited. With that in mind I got ready for the journey to Westfall.

7 comments:

  1. When Destron is speaking to Lord Lanchester, Lanchester says, "You are quite perceptive my northern friend", and that really should be, "You are quite perceptive, my northern friend." (this is in the part about the Keep) I know commas aren't your best area (no offense), so I've been on the lookout for them. But I have noticed that your usage has improved dramatically with the newer articles.

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  2. When Destron is speaking to Master Lumiurre in the Mage Tower, he asks, "Is there much of a warlock presence in Stormwind." You've simply left out a question mark here, so it should be "Is there much of a warlock presence in Stormwind?"

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  3. A suggestion: with the advent of the expansion, will you be adding an audience with the King?

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  4. I'm not planning to have Destron return to Stormwind City, so no. Besides, Destron's not really important enough to get an audience with any head of state.

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  5. First one of these bits I've read and I'm loving it. Engine limitations can never portray the world of Azeroth quite to justice. This goes quite a ways in giving it some of the complexity and scope it deserves.

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  6. Lol, the adventurous Night Elves... I guess Avantgardist Artists are the same everywhere?

    But there were, of course, enough little touches here and there to remind us that our little protagonist does not really belong to that place, for all its charms, his reactions here and there, most overtly the whole cathedral encounter.

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