This was a failed entry for a Blizzard writing contest. I still kind of like it though, so here it is. On the short end of their length requirement.
Anduin Wrynn’s breath steamed from cold and exertion as he crested the steep road climbing from the valleys of Dun Morogh to Ironforge. The pair of adventurers he had wheedled into accompanying him from Stormwind balked at leaving the cloaked and incognito young prince at the base of the mountain, but he promised to reveal himself to the nearest guard if anything went amiss and sent them on their uneasy way.
He drew a few curious glances as he bent down at regular intervals, poking holes in the snow with a stick and dropping in small objects before smoothing them back over, but no one stopped him or asked what he was doing. This was not Stormwind. Dun Morogh hadn’t escaped wholly unscathed from the elemental Cataclysm, true, but Deathwing had not scarred their citadel and orcs were not burning Kharanos. There was still some small room for innocence, so he planted his seeds unmolested.
He couldn’t remember ever walking into Ironforge before. It was always gryphons or portals or hearthstones – the way important people, even young ones, traveled. He could have slipped onto the Deeprun Tram, he supposed, to escape his father’s notice, but in truth he wanted to see the snowy dwarven lands from the ground so he flew into Kharanos and walked from there.
The immediate environs were surprisingly untouched, as if the blanket of snow which covered them year-round also hid them from prying, malevolent eyes. It wasn’t true, of course. Magni Bronzebeard had paid a terrible price to keep Ironforge safe from the Shattering in Deathwing’s wake. And perhaps Garrosh Hellscream was too busy burning the Night Elves out of their homes and harassing other formerly peaceful alliance lands to cast his covetous eye upon the dwarven stronghold. Yet.
He passed beneath the gates of Ironforge unnoticed. He was a boy who knew a thing or two about invisibility, standing in the shadow of his father: Varian Wrynn, King of Stormwind, leader of the Alliance military, veteran of far more battles than Anduin had years in his life.
Aside from the local residents, Ironforge was quiet. He remembered the days when it teemed with the bright colors and swagger of adventurers. But then men and women flowed through the Dark Portal to drive the Burning Legion back from Azeroth. After the demon Kil’jaedan’s defeat they were drawn to Northrend to confront the menace of the Lich King.
And when that threat was repelled, people clustered anew in Stormwind. Initially perhaps it was to honor Tirion Fordring and the memory of Bolvar Fordragon; it was easy to forget that Magni Bronzebeard’s fury and sorrow forged Ashbringer into a weapon able to defeat the fallen Arthas. Then Deathwing broke loose, trailing the fury of the elementals and Garrosh Hellscream in his wake. Though Stormwind was maimed, in the aftermath it stood stronger than the rest of the Alliance, and Varian Wrynn towered the strongest of their rulers.
Anduin sighed. Whatever manner of king he might prove to be when his time came, he would never be his father. He patted the Theramore hearthstone Jaina Proudmoore gave him as a gift. There were other models of leadership, in Jaina and Baine Bloodhoof and even in the departed Magni Bronzebeard, closer to Varian’s warrior ideal though he had been. Being a different kind of competent would have to suffice as a goal.
It was old king Magni – partly, at least – who brought Anduin to Ironforge today. Hood still pulled up against his shock of blond hair he walked past the bank down the long hall to the Great Forge. He peeked into the High Seat. Muradin Bronzebeard and Falstad Wildhammer were chatting together while Moira Thaurissan sat sullen on her throne. She cast a bored glance in his direction and their eyes met for a moment before he turned into the narrow corridor that wound down to where her father, King Magni, stood frozen with arms held out in supplication, a crystalline monument to the dangers of playing with the Titans’ toys.
Anduin’s footsteps echoed against the stone as he descended, alone in the corridor save for dust and cobwebs. Unease at the air of neglect only sharpened as he made the final turn into the chamber where Magni Bronzebeard activated the Ulduar tablet, gaining Ironforge’s salvation at a terrible personal price. He pulled back his hood, stepped past a broken brazier and entered the diamond heart of Old Ironforge, now King Magni’s tomb, where Advisor Belgrum and Honor Guard Dunstad stood nearly constant watch amidst broken furniture and abandoned tomes.
Belgrum’s eyes widened in surprise. “Prince Anduin,” he bowed. “Does your father know you’re here?”
“No, sir.” Royalty or not Anduin possessed an unfailing belief in politeness to one’s elders. He waved a sad hand toward Magni Bronzebeard. “I wanted to pay my respects. The way wasn’t open when I was here – before.” He left the remainder of the thought unsaid; no need to churn up memories of Moira Thaurissan holding him hostage during her heavy-handed attempt to claim Ironforge’s throne. As for paying his respects – well, that was only slightly wide of truth’s mark. “I was wondering, sir, if you’d mind – leaving me alone with him for a little while?”
It was a question that was not entirely a question and he could see the old dwarf weighing the consequences of Anduin’s displeasure now versus Varian’s later. The young prince took it as a small sign of his growing maturity that the advisor considered his options at all. Honor Guard Dunstad, ever the good warrior, waited on Belgrum’s decision. Finally the advisor nodded. “All right. For a few minutes.”
Anduin read the words behind the words. A few minutes before I have someone get in touch with your father. He hoped that was enough.
But the echo of their boots was just dying away when soft slippered feet pattered near. Moira Thaurissan slipped into the chamber a moment later. “I thought I recognized you.”
“How did you get past Advisor Belgrum and Guard Dunstad?” Anduin asked. It went without saying that they wouldn’t knowingly leave him alone with Moira.
“Hid behind some debris. ‘Keep things exactly as they were’ old Belgrum said. So he can wallow in his guilt. That’s fine by me. Keeps him out of my hair, and comes in handy at moments like this.” She gave him an unpleasant smile. “I’d say it was foolish of you to send everyone away and risk me finding you here alone, but I expect that’s exactly what you intended.”
“Hoped, yes,” he corrected her. “It’s good to see you again, Moira.”
“Alive, you mean? I understand that was your doing, keeping your feral father at bay.” She picked up a book, flipped through it, tossed it carelessly on the floor again. “Did you come to hear my thanks? If so you’ll wait a long time.”
He shook his head.
“So why are you here?” She tapped her foot as a silence lengthened. “Cat got your tongue?”
“Your words,” he said cautiously, “are a double-edged sword. Whichever way I answer they will cut.”
“If I say I didn’t come for you, you’ll say that I – and by extension, Stormwind – find you insignificant. If I say I did you’ll tell me that I merely want to gloat over saving your life.”
“You’re such a clever boy.” She walked a circle around him, assessing him like a prize ram. “Pretty, too. Not like your father.”
“He’s had a hard life.”
“Haven’t we all?” she snapped. She followed Anduin’s straying glance toward the old king. “He was a tourist attraction when we first opened the Hall of Thanes. A constant stream of visitors at all hours of the day, gawking. After a few weeks the novelty wore off and people found some new carnival attraction to amuse them. I still come every few days.” She rapped her knuckles against a crystalline forearm and turned challenging eyes on Anduin. “To remind myself how glad I am that he’s gone.”
Anduin held her gaze for a few moments, warm before her coldness; as her chin jutted out and her lips curled into the beginnings of a snarl he looked away. “People can regret their decisions, their actions, their feelings. Perhaps you never gave your father a chance to prove that he loved you.”
“He didn’t love me,” she hissed. “He didn’t want me. Everyone in Ironforge knew that.”
“He might have changed. We’ll never know what his final thought was, in the moment before the curse took him.” He picked up the book Moira had thrown down and set it on a shelf. “Maybe it was of you.”
“Never.” She snatched the book and threw it back on the floor. “You don’t know what it’s like, having a father who wishes you were someone else.”
Anduin smiled sadly. He did, of course. He would never be the warrior his father wanted. But Moira, believing herself unique in her tangled snare of resentment and shame, didn’t want to hear that. He was considering what to say next when a thin bright line flashed against Magni Bronzebeard’s face. The prince brushed his fingers against the king’s diamond-hard cheek. They came away wet, and he held them out to Moira.
“Condensation.” She slapped his hand away. “It happens, sometimes. Now stop wasting the few minutes we have before Belgrum thinks better of being away and tell me, why are you here?”
He reached into his tunic and gave her a small leather bag. “I brought you something.” He avoided calling it a gift. Let her attach the word to it, if she chose.
She hefted the satchel appraisingly and listened to the rattle of coin-sized objects before untying the ribbon that secured it. Covetousness turned to confusion as she pulled out a glossy metallic sphere about the size and deep color of a blueberry. An X was lightly inscribed on one end. “What are these?”
“Seeds of what?” she laughed. “Did someone tell you that baby mineral deposits come from mommy and daddy ore? Because I’m afraid you’ve wasted your gold.”
Ignoring her jibe, he took the sphere and cradled it in his palm. “It’s a tree. There are all different kinds in there. I had a gnomish engineer design the shells for me.” His face took on a boy’s unguarded enthusiasm. “They stay shut tight unless they’re exposed to really intense heat. Like a dragon’s breath. Then after they cool down they’ll break open and let the seeds inside sprout. I’ve been taking them everywhere so that – ” catching her cynical look he faltered.
“So that if Deathwing and his fiery minions devastate all of Azeroth something might survive and grow?” she sneered. “How precious. Sometimes you almost make it easy to forget that you’re a child. Then you go and do something like this.” She stuffed the seed into the satchel and shoved it back at him. “Your gift is unworthy of a queen. Give me something else.”
It had seemed like a good idea in Stormwind, but now Anduin was beginning to doubt the wisdom of his plan to use the opening of Old Ironforge to make some small overture to Moira. Just as he wanted to believe that a flesh-and-blood Magni still lived somewhere beneath the crystal layers and that someone – the druids, perhaps – could restore him, so he wanted to believe that someone – himself, perhaps – could chip away at the stone encasing Moira’s heart to reveal a vibrant, vital organ beneath.
But Magni had done what he did out of love and in selflessness. Moira seemed to know nothing but hate and advantage. Anduin had heard the boots of nearby guards retreat with Advisor Belgrum but still more guards stood watch beneath them at the tombs of the dwarven kings. A single shout would bring them running, extricating him from this fool’s errand. And lose Moira’s regard forever. If there was any regard to be had. “What would you like?” he asked.
“I said that you’re a pretty boy.” She took a step toward him. “How about a kiss?”
Anduin felt a moment’s confusion. There was a trick here, but what manner of trick? An attempt at seduction, a reason to be offended, poisoned lips? Each was equally likely and far more so than genuine affection. He could think of only one way to put her off. “As you said, I – I’m just a boy.” At least his blush was real enough.
She drew nearer still, close enough that he could smell the earthy perfume favored by dwarven women. A few rebellious hairs had escaped the tight braids pinned to either side of a pale face whose complexion would be cream perfect by human standards but had a death pallor on a dwarf. “And what makes a boy a man?” she asked.
“Valor and honor,” he replied without missing a beat, pretending he didn’t know what she meant. “Chivalry and respect.”
She answered with an explosive laugh and stepped away from him again. “Very well, little prince. That’s one gift you’ve denied me. Let’s see if I can find another that better suits a child’s means.” She pointed at the satchel he clutched – rather tightly at the moment – in his hand. “Are you taking some of those silly seeds to Baine Bloodhoof?”
“I – ” he was so taken aback by the sudden shift that he answered out of reflex, “yes – we were planning to meet near Theramore.” Because with Garrosh whipping the Horde into a blood frenzy and the Alliance responding in kind, Jaina was one of the few rulers left who wouldn’t encourage her troops to attack a Tauren on sight.
A new cunning sparked in her eyes. “Then take back Fearbreaker from him and bestow it with the Bronzebeards, where it belongs. By rights it should pass to my son, Dagran, grandson of Magni. That is what I desire for a gift.”
This was a less unexpected request, and the young prince imagined Moira was not alone in wishing the ancestral Bronzebeard weapon returned to Bronzebeard hands. Anduin had been surprised and touched when King Magni gave the rune-etched silver and gold hammer to him: not only someone outside the clan, but a human youth at that. But the wise old king, fond of both the battle-hardened Varian and Varian’s peace-loving son, sought to mend a rift he feared might grow between them with an heirloom that could succor as well as slay. Anduin cherished the weapon as he had no other before it, and worked hard at his martial skills to be worthy of it.
Then by chance he met Baine Bloodhoof in Theramore, so treacherously deprived of both his father and his home, turned away by the Horde and reduced to begging an Alliance ruler for aid. And though Anduin loved Fearbreaker both for itself and for the memory of the kind dwarf who had broken with centuries of tradition to give it to him, he offered the hammer to Baine, to heal his own heart and the hearts of his bereft and despondent people.
From the small act of his gift and Baine’s gracious acceptance sprouted Jaina’s decision to support Baine in his struggle with the Grimtotem, and Baine’s own eventual ascension to high chieftain of the Tauren. Anduin had hoped to sow the seeds of a similar reconciliation here, with Moira Thaurissan. But not by demanding back the symbol of his affection for another. “I can’t do that,” he said. “Fearbreaker has bonded with Baine, and in any case, it would be wrong. I’m sorry.”
She held up her middle and index fingers. “That’s two times denied. I might grow angry soon.”
The desire to call the guard rose in him again. Perhaps his father was right. Perhaps she never would change. But no, he couldn’t give up as long as she was still talking. “Ask me for something that’s mine to give. The seeds – ” he suggested hopefully.
“I don’t want the silly seeds! I want – I want – ” She paced across the room, thinking, then returned to him and held out her hand. “Give me your hearthstone. The one the Proudmoore woman gave you. The one you used to escape me before. To prove that you trust me. If you say no, that’s three times denied. I would never forgive you for that.”
He fingered the hearthstone where it lay snug in his pocket. He didn’t think Jaina would be very pleased if he bestowed that particular gift on Moira Thaurissan. Not that she would dare to use it herself; she knew that Theramore’s guards would be on her as soon as she finished materializing. He wondered if Jaina could deactivate it somehow, remotely, if she knew it had been compromised. Probably. She was the cleverest mage he knew, after all, and the most cautious. After a moment’s hesitation he pulled the hearthstone out and placed it in Moira’s palm.
She laughed as she took it from him. The hand that hid it within her tunic emerged gripping a dagger, which she swiftly held to his abdomen before he had time to react. “Who’s going to rescue you now, princeling? What’s to stop me from spilling your precious royal blood in these,” she spat on the ground at her father’s feet, “hallowed halls?”
The conviction that she was somehow testing him fought with a panicked fear that she wasn’t. Though his heart beat like a trapped bird’s he forced his voice to remain level. “If you do then neither you nor your son will ever sit on the throne of Ironforge.”
“You’ll still be dead.”
“And the living will have learned something about you.”
He could feel the dagger’s point through his shirt as she prodded him toward the door and onto the narrow path leading down to the tombs. “Why did you come here?”
“I came to give you something.” Magma roiled below them. He could feel its heat on his back. It was too late now to call for the guards.
“Seeds.” She poked him with the blade. “Baine Bloodhoof gets a mighty weapon – my family’s mighty weapon , and I get – seeds. Why did you think I would care about such a trifling thing?”
“They’re life,” he said, trying to will her to understand. “They’re hope.”
“Hope would be a weapon we can use against Deathwing,” Moira snapped. “Those are an admission of defeat.”
“They’re not, they’re – ”
She cut him off. “You loved Bolvar Fordragon, didn’t you?” Another vicious poke, this time pushing him closer to the edge of the path. “Didn’t he die in Alexstrasza’s cleansing fire? Will your trees sprout from the lava as the dragon queen’s meadow did before the Wrathgate, a memorial to folly before force? Shall we find out?” Anduin remained silent. “Say something!”
“We have all – all of us,” his voice was soft but he put peculiar emphasis on the second all, “suffered so much. Our enemies are more than pleased to multiply our sorrows. Why should we who are friends aid them?”
“I – am – not – your – friend.” She enunciated each word with harsh clarity.
“By your choice,” Anduin said more softly still. “Not mine.”
He couldn’t deny he was relieved when he heard his father’s voice echoing down the twisting corridor and Falstad Wildhammer calling loudly, “Moira, are you down there?”
Moira pocketed her dagger and shoved Jaina’s hearthstone back at Anduin. “Take it. I don’t need more trouble with your father. If you tell him what happened here, I’ll make you regret it.”
He backed away, holding out the leather satchel. “I’ll only take that if you take this.”
Varian drew near enough that they could hear him gruffly berating Advisor Belgrum, who remained silent while Muradin Bronzebeard mounted a half-hearted defense of his actions. Rage contorted Moira’s features, but she snatched the seeds from him and hid them away. By the time his father rounded the final corner the Theramore hearthstone was back safe in Anduin’s pocket.
Stormwind’s king looked from Moira to Anduin. “What is going on here?”
“Nothing, father,” Anduin replied before Moira could speak. “I was just conveying my sympathies to the princess.”
Varian was not a stupid man, and he eyed his son skeptically. “Are you quite finished with that duty?”
“Then it’s past time to return home.” He gave Moira an icy nod, Advisor Belgrum one not much warmer, turned on his heel and started back the way he had come. “That was foolish, Anduin,” he said once they were out of earshot. “Foolish, and dangerous.”
Anduin wasn’t in the mood for a scolding. “A warrior is supposed to accept danger, isn’t he?”
“A warrior,” Varian retorted, “is supposed to be armed.”
“Facing the enemy, yes.” His father lengthened his stride, forcing Anduin into a near jog to keep pace. “But I don’t want Moira Thaurissan to be my enemy.”
Varian glared at him. “What you want from Moira Thaurissan is irrelevant. There is only what she is: the treacherous, scheming widow of a treacherous, scheming servant of Ragnaros.”
And if we treat her that way, she’ll certainly never be anything else, Anduin thought, but he saw the storm clouds gathering on his father’s brow and thought it wise to hold his tongue.
“Why did you want to see her? What were you doing?”
Anduin paused for a long moment before replying. “Planting seeds.” His father gave him a sharp glance, then crossed the forge to the griffons.
* * *
After Muradin and Falstad satisfied themselves that nothing untoward had occurred between Moira and Anduin, they left her alone. Twice she took the young prince’s gift from her tunic and started to throw it into the lava below. Twice she put it back. Finally with a dissatisfied grunt she returned to the High Seat and her throne, feeling the seeds an awkward weight over her heart.