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Despite himself, Lothar was impressed.
Stormwind had been a towering, imposing city, filled with spires and terraces, carved from strong stone to resist the wind but polished to a mirror sheen. But in its own way Capital City was equally lovely.
Not that Capital City was the same as Stormwind. It was not as tall, for one. But what it lacked in height it made up for in elegance. It sat on a rise above the north shore of Lordamere Lake, gleaming all in white and silver. It did not glitter as Stormwind had, but it glowed somehow, as if the sun were rising from its graceful buildings instead of beating down upon them. It seemed serene, peaceful, almost holy.
"It is a mighty place," Khadgar agreed beside him, "though I prefer a little more warmth." He glanced behind them, toward the lake's southern shore, where a second city rose. Its outlines were similar to those of Capital City, but this mirror image seemed more exotic, its walls and spires suffused in violet and other warm hues. "That is Dalaran," he explained. "Home of the Kirin Tor and its wizards. My home, before I was sent to Medivh."
"Perhaps there will be time for you to return, at least briefly," Lothar suggested. "But for now we must concentrate on Capital City." He studied the gleaming city again. "Let us hope they are as noble in their thoughts as they are in their dwellings." He kicked his horse into a canter, and rode down out of the majestic Silverpine Forest, Varian and the mage right behind him and the other men trailing them in their carts.
Two hours later they reached the main gates. Guards stood by the entrance, though the double gates were wide open and large enough for two or even three wagons to pass abreast. The guards had clearly seen them long before they reached the gates, and the one who stepped forward wore a crimson cloak over his polished breastplate and had gold traceries in his armor and helmet. His manner was polite, even respectful, but Lothar could not help noticing how the man stopped only a few feet away, well within sword range. He forced himself to relax and ignore the laxity. This was not Stormwind. These people were not seasoned warriors, hardened by constant battle. They had never had to fight for their lives. Yet.
"Enter freely and be welcome," the guard captain stated, bowing. "Marcus Redpath warned us of your arrival, and your plight. You will find the king in his throneroom."
"Our thanks," Khadgar replied with a nod. "Come, Lothar," he added, nudging his horse with his heels. "I know the way."
They rode on through the city, navigating its broad streets easily. Khadgar did indeed seem to know the way, and never slowed to ask directions or puzzle over a turn until they had reached the palace itself. There they surrendered their horses to some of their companions, leaving them to mind the steeds. Lothar and Prince Varian were already striding up the palace's wide steps and Khadgar quickly joined them.
They stepped through the palace's outer doors and into a wide courtyard, almost an outdoor hall. Viewing boxes lined the sides, and though empty now Lothar was sure they filled with people during celebrations. At the far end another short flight of steps led up to a second set of doors, and these opened onto the throneroom itself.
It was an imposing chamber, its arched ceiling so high overhead its edges were lost in shadow. The room was round, with arches and columns everywhere. Golden sunlight streamed down from a stained-glass panel set in the ceiling's center, illuminating the intricate pattern in the floor: a series of nested circles, each one different, with a triangle at their middle overlapping the innermost ring, and the golden seal of Lordaeron within that. It had several high balconies and Lothar guessed these were for nobles but also appreciated their strategic value. A few guards with bows could easily strike anywhere in the room from those vantage points.
Just beyond the pattern stood a wide circular dais, its concentric steps rising up toward a massive throne. The throne itself looked carved from glittering stone, all sharp edges and planes and angles. A man sat there, tall and broad, his blond hair only lightly touched with gray, his armor gleaming, the crown upon his head shaped more like a spiked helmet than a coronet. This was a proper king, Lothar knew at once, a king like his Llane who did not hesitate to fight for his people. His hopes rose at the thought.
There were people here, townsfolk and laborers and even peasants, gathered facing the dais from a respectful distance. Many carried items, scraps of parchment, even food, but they parted before Lothar and Khadgar, falling away from the pair without a sound.
"Yes?" the man on the throne called out as they approached. "Who are you and what do you wish of me? Ah." Even from here Lothar could see the king's strangely colored eyes, blue and green swirled together they were sharp and clear, and his hopes rose still further. Here was a man who saw well and clearly.
"Your Majesty," Lothar replied, his deep voice carrying easily across the large room. He stopped several paces from the dais and bowed. "I am Anduin Lothar, a Knight of Stormwind. This is my companion, Khadgar of Dalaran." He heard several murmurs from the crowd now behind them. "And this" he turned so that the king could see Varian, who had been standing behind him, unnerved by the crowd and the strange trappings "is Prince Varian Wrynn, heir to the throne of Storm-wind." The murmurs turned to gasps as people realized the youth was visiting royalty, but Lothar ignored them, concentrating only on the king. "We must speak with you, your Majesty. It is a matter of great urgency and major import."
"Of course." Terenas was already rising from his throne and approaching them. "Leave us, please," he asked the rest of the crowd, though it was an order despite its polite wording. The people obeyed quickly, and soon only a handful of nobles and guards remained. The men who had accompanied Lothar faded back to the sides as well, leaving only Lothar, Khadgar, and Varian when Terenas closed the distance between them.
"Your Majesty," Terenas greeted Varian, bowing to him as to an equal.
"Your Majesty," Varian replied, his training overcoming his shock.
"We were grieved to hear of your father's death," Terenas continued gently. "King Llane was a good man and we counted him as a friend and an ally. Know that we shall do all in our power to restore you to your throne."
"I thank you," Varian said, though his lower lip trembled slightly.
"Now come and sit, and tell me what has happened," Terenas instructed, gesturing to the dais steps. He sat on the top one himself and motioned for Varian to sit beside him. "I have seen Stormwind myself, and admired its strength and beauty. What could destroy such a city?"
"The Horde," Khadgar said, speaking for the first time since they had entered the throneroom. Terenas turned toward him, and Lothar was close enough to see the king's eyes narrow slightly. "The Horde did this."
"And what is this Horde?" Terenas demanded, turning first to Varian and then to Lothar.
"It is an army, more than an army," Lothar replied. "It is a multitude, more than can be counted, enough to cover the land from shore to shore."
"And who commands this legion of men?" Terenas asked.
"Not men," Lothar corrected. "Orcs." At the king's puzzlement Lothar explained. "A new race, one not native to this world. They are as tall as we are, and more powerfully built, with green skin and glowing red eyes. And great tusks from their lower lips." A noble snorted somewhere, and Lothar turned, glaring. "You doubt me?" he shouted, turning toward each of the balconies in turn, looking for the one who had laughed. "You think I lie?" He struck his armor with his fist, near one of the more prominent dents. "This was made by an orc warhammer!" He struck another spot. "And this by an orc war axe!" He pointed to a gash along one forearm. "And this came from a tusk, when one jumped me and was too close for our blades to strike one another! These foul creatures have destroyed my land, my home, my people! If you doubt me come down here and say so to my face! I will show you what sort of man I am, and what happens to those who accuse me of falsehood!"
"Enough!" Terenas's shout silenced any possible reply, anger plain in his own voice, but when he turned to Lothar the warrior could see that this king's anger was not directed at him. "Enough," the king said again, more softly. "None here doubt your word, Champion," he assured Lothar, a stern look around daring any of his nobles to disagree. "I know of your honor and your loyalty. I will take you at your word, though such creatures sound strange to us." He turned and nodded at Khadgar. "And with one of the wizards of Dalaran beside you as a witness, we cannot discount what you say, nor the notion of races never seen here before."
"I thank you, King Terenas," Lothar replied formally, reining his anger back in. He was not sure what to do next. Fortunately, Terenas was.
"I will summon my neighboring kings," he announced. "These events concern us all." He turned back toward Varian. "Your Majesty, I offer you my home and my protection for as long as you shall need it," he stated, loud enough for all to hear. "When you are ready, know that Lordaeron will assist you in reclaiming your kingdom."
Lothar nodded. "Your Majesty, you are most generous," he said on Varian's behalf, "and I can think of no safer and finer place for my prince to reach his maturity than here in Capital City. Know, however, that we did not come here merely for sanctuary. We came to warn you." He stood tall, his voice rumbling across the room, his eyes not leaving Lordaeron's king. "For know this the Horde will not stop at Stormwind. They mean to claim the entire world, and they have the might and the numbers to make their dream a reality. Nor do they lack magical might. Once they have finished with my homeland " His voice grew deeper and rougher and he forced himself to continue. "They will find a way across the ocean. And they will come here."
"You are telling us to prepare for war," Terenas said quietly. It was not a question, but Lothar answered nonetheless.
"Yes." He looked around at the assembled men. "A war for the very survival of our race."
© 2007 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.