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All The King's Horses

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            Arthas Menethil had spent much of his life training to protect his people. Years of work and careful teaching led to his knighthood, all in the hope that one day, when the time came, he would be the kind of king who could keep Lordaeron strong. That day had come, and all he could do was slaughter his people one by one.

            “He should answer for what he’s done, Terenas. He slaughtered an entire village.”

            Sometimes when he fell asleep, he could still see them. At times, they would look at him with blank, glowing eyes void of any humanity. When they shambled toward him, their legs bent in unusual ways, and their gaze never left him, as if they could sense that he had come to kill them. Other times, they would meet his sword unchanged, eyes shining with tearful confusion as they whispered a plea.

            “Please, my prince, I beg you…”

            “He’s not well, Uther. He hasn’t said a word since he returned.”

            He would grip his blankets so tightly that his knuckles would turn white as he waited in the darkness for the demon to return. He could hear the creature mocking him, daring him to follow it to Northrend. He had intended to, but when he rose from bed, his stomach churned, and he could barely walk without feeling the urge to vomit. There would be no voyage to Northrend so long as he was bedridden.

            “He’s changed, my king. He is unfit to rule. He should be tried for what he’s done, well or not.” The sound of Uther’s voice sickened him.

            “Not yet, Uther.”

            He didn’t know how long he laid there, letting other men decide his fate. He was vaguely aware of time passing, but he drifted in and out of troubled sleep as day became night and night became day. Every time he closed his eyes, they were there. In his waking moments, he knew that somewhere in the frozen wastes of Northrend, the demon he’d encountered was still waiting for him to come and avenge his fallen people. There wasn’t a moment of peace.

            “Arthas.” His father’s voice startled him awake.

            Only the dull flame of his oil lamp lit the room. Terenas’ kindly face looked harsh as the shadows filled under his eyes and in his wrinkles. His blue eyes studied Arthas with unreadable emotion. When Arthas found the will to speak, it was barely more than a whisper.

            “Father…”

            Terenas sat on Arthas’ bedside. “You are unwell, my son. Since you came back from Stratholme, weapon bloodied—”

            Arthas flinched. Light’s Vengeance had been given to him when he had been inducted to the Silver Hand. He had sworn to use it in service of the Light. “If you mean to have me jailed, then do it.”

            “Punishing you is not my intention, least of all when you are unable to defend yourself. You’ve refused to speak since you returned here. You slipped into Lordaeron in the middle of the night, you’ve refused to see Uther, you’ve refused to see me. When you sleep, you are restless. You are in no condition to come forward to face what you’ve done.” Something akin to concern flickered in his father’s eyes.

            Terenas had been counting on him. He still didn’t know what had happened at Stratholme. He didn’t know Mal’Ganis was still out there, and until Mal’Ganis was defeated, what had happened with the grain could happen again. Lordaeron was still vulnerable. “I need a small force of fighting men and a ship to travel to Northrend.”

            “What?”

            “I need to go to Northrend soon. I can gather my things by tomorrow if the men can be organized so soon. What happened at Stratholme wasn’t the end, Father, it was the beginning.”

            Terenas shook his head. “You haven’t left your bed for a week, Arthas. You still call out in your sleep. You have shown that you cannot be trusted to follow the orders of those wiser than you. There is no way I would trust you with your own ship and your own unit an ocean away from my guidance.”

            “But Father—”

            “You will wait until I decide what to do with you! Uther is too shaken to aid you, and I cannot reach you. Your sister cannot reach you. I have sent for the only other person I think could help you in your time of need. I woke you to be sure you knew.” Terenas stood and made his way to the doorway. He gestured at someone outside and disappeared into the hallway without a goodbye.

            The man who took his place had always been Arthas’ superior. He was older, taller, stronger, more driven. It had been some time since they’d seen each other, but when Stormwind’s king came in to greet him, it was as if no time had passed. Varian sat at his side, where Terenas had been moments ago. He offered Arthas a wry smile.

            “Varian…” Arthas found himself at a loss for words. Did Varian know what he had done? Would he turn his back on him, as Uther had? “What did my father tell you?”

            Varian shook his head. “Not tonight. There will be time to discuss everything. When Stormwind burned, I couldn’t sleep. It haunted me every moment of every day. I didn’t understand the horror I’d escaped, and the fear and anger felt like they would crush me even then. They will crush you if you don’t take the time to recover.”

            Arthas wanted to tell Varian that there was no time to rest as long as Mal’Ganis lived, and that the empty place the Light had left was calling out to him to be filled by something, but he found himself too weak to argue. He settled himself against his pillow. “Is that why he brought you here, then? To watch me sleep?”

            “To make sure you survive.” Varian settled in, and Arthas was able to relax more easily with his warmth making the room feel a little less empty. “Now sleep; we’ll talk in the morning.”

            He drifted into a fitful sleep, with the visage of Mal’Ganis smiling at him.