Harutt Thunderhorn dismounted his kodo, wincing as he did so. His age was catching up to him – after a long day of training braves to fight, he could feel it in his aching bones. Nevertheless, he had one last task to complete before the sun went down and he could sleep.
Not fifty paces away, Alhazad Ghosteye sat cross-legged, surrounded in a haze of incense, meditating. His form, massive but held perfectly still, calm, seemed almost limned by the fading light of day. Fitting, thought Harutt, for a Sunwalker-to-be.
Approaching, Thunderhorn inquired gently. “Alhazad?” He did not wish to interrupt the tauren’s meditation, but the matter at hand was most dire. “Alhazad, I’m sorry to interrupt-“
Though his eyes remained closed, Alhazad smiled and replied. “Harutt.” And before Harutt could suspect the Sunwalker of having sight beyond mortal sight, Alhazad added, “My friend. I’d know that voice anywhere.” He opened his eyes and still smiled.
Harutt smiled back, though it lacked any cheer. “The Lich King is dead, you’re back from Northend, and now taking up the ways of the Sunwalkers. You’ve come far, friend.” His tone was not congratulatory, but sad.
Alhazad immediately picked up on this, and his brow furrowed with concern. “What is wrong?” He quickly got to his feet and swept dust from the backs of his thighs. “You’re troubled. What happened?”
Harutt sighed deeply. Alhazad, like many of the braves he had instructed over the years, was a joy to behold. He was fit, capable, and – to this point – showed unfailing determination in his pursuit of the Light of An’she, just as he had pursued the path of the warrior in days past. It crushed Harutt to have to bring this news to his former pupil. “There is no good way to say this, so I will simply say it. The High Chieftain is dead.”
Alhazad was struck by an invisible blow. He physically faltered, taking a step back, his next words more a gasp than anything. “Cairne? What?!” Dumbfounded and seeming sucker-punched, he then asked, “How?” Quickly, and perhaps more importantly, he forlornly added, “Why?”
Harutt knew the bloody tale in its entirety. How best to condense it into something Alhazad could digest, stunned as he was? He spoke slowly and tried to purge all emotion from his voice. “There was an attack on Hamuul Runetotem and members of the Cenarion Circle. Kaldorei. They were slaughtered, and Cairne believed Garrosh was behind it. He went to Orgrimmar and challenged Hellscream for the position of Warchief. It was to be a ‘mak’gora,’ a duel, just a duel. Garrosh proposed it instead be a fight to the death. Cairne agreed.” He could see Alhazad was visibly bridling now – better he leave out details of the fight, lest his former pupil truly start to seethe. “When the fight was done, we learned Garrosh’s axe, Gorehowl, had been coated with poison… by Magatha Grimtotem.”
Alhazad was stung. “Garrosh,” he growled, his eyes narrowing with contempt. They closed completely, and his teeth became clenched as he then spoke the name of the Elder Crone. “Magatha.”
Harutt, having hoped for a somewhat cooler response to the news, could see a fury welling up inside Alhazad. It was one better suited for the way of the berserker, not a paladin, yet he knew there was little to be done to soothe the tauren. His countrymen were similarly, understandably enraged, and Harutt’s next words would only stoke the Sunwalker’s fire. “There is more. Magatha and her Grimtotem have taken the Bluff. Many are dead. Many more were exiled.”
“The Bluff!” Alhazad was soon at war with himself. He brought up his hands, looked at them, and clenched them tight. All his teachings – especially those that brought him, for a week’s time, to this remote place – were designed to instill patience and discipline in the Sunwalker-to-be. Harutt knew the news he brought worked to undo this. Alhazad’s simmering would soon be a boil. “I’ll cut her vile heart out.”
“No, Alhazad. You have your training-“
“The Earthmother will understand. She must understand. Betrayal! This cannot go unpunished!” If he would remove Magatha’s heart, he could well do it with his words alone, they were so venomous and sharp.
Harutt sighed and hung his head. It was true; the Earthmother, the spirits, the ancestors – they would not wish this vile deed to go without reprisal. Many Sunwalkers elsewhere in Mulgore similarly set aside their training to swear retribution against Magatha. It was a fact – Alhazad too would go to fight, and he should know where to go and how to apply himself. “Baine is preparing a counterattack. He’ll be encamped outside Bloodhoof Village through the night, planning. Many of our people are already there, and others are coming in by the droves. I heard even the sorceress Lady Proudmoore has sided with him.”
“Then I go to him.” Alhazad then swiftly moved to gather his belongings. A great double-edged axe, its center emblazoned with a carving of a skull, was among them.
Harutt nodded. He remained troubled, truly saddened by both the passing of Cairne and the fact he had to relay this news to Alhazad. It was a tragedy for all the tauren people – Cairne represented all that was good and honorable of their kind, and many of Azeroth’s various races, not just those of the Horde, praised him for his kindness. How he could die with such dishonor, done in by a traitor’s trap and an overzealous warlord’s attack?
As Alhazad began loading his kodo, Abhrams, with his equipment, Harutt touched a hand to the beast’s nearest shoulder. “Some of the Ani are there. Your wife is, too.”
Alhazad grinned. It was a grin worn by one who relished the vindication about to come. “No doubt she is. Her battlecry might be the loudest.” He pulled a strap tight, securing a satchel. “And when we are done with Magatha, perhaps I too will go to Orgimmar.”
The implication was alarming. Harutt took a cautious step forward and touched his former pupil on the arm. “Alhazad, no. You cannot fight Hellscream. Like it or not, he was Thrall’s choice for Warchief.”
Alhazad pulled away and snapped. “Temporary Warchief. Thrall will return. What do you think he’ll say, when he finds Cairne has been slain by that… that mongrel?” He bristled, though not at his former teacher – Harutt knew this. “Garrosh is brash, reckless… fine for a fighter, but a Warchief? A Warchief?! He’s not my Warchief. Not for one day, nor a hundred days.”
Harutt stepped back, but did not relent in his attempt to calm Alhazad – or at the very least steer him away from thoughts of slaying Garrosh. “Many believe Garrosh was unaware of the poison. Yes, he made it a duel to the death, but I think he practiced no trickery. He may be headstrong, and foolish at times, but he does have honor – and to use poison is dishonorable. You cannot kill him. If you do, even if he had a part in this, a great war might erupt within the Horde – there has been talk of it already. Many of the orcish people support Garrosh. Perhaps Cairne did not think of this, but… they would die for Garrosh, and would not abide a tauren Warchief.”
“Then perhaps I will only grievously wound him. Then the orcish people,” he began, sneering as he named his green-skinned allies, ”can nurse him back to health with their adoration. Can they not see what sort of leader he is? He’s done so much damage already, slaughtering night elves, skinning them alive… I heard of this, yes. And members of the Circle, too? We had a peace treaty, Harutt! Next he’ll run the whole of the Horde into the ground, seeking his glory. GLORY! Of all things! Did he even say a prayer for Cairne, after he slew him in ‘honorable combat’?!”
Harutt was not getting through to him. He could not, not this day. Alhazad, like many of his people, was incensed and beyond reasoning with; truly, upon hearing the news himself, Harutt’s first thought was to put a horn through Garrosh’s right eye, but his good sense returned in time. The storm in his heart and mind had cleared. Hopefully Alhazad will reconsider as well, before it is too late. Shaking his head, Harutt retreated a few good paces and left his former pupil to finish packing up. Alhazad did so, grumbling and cursing the entire time.
As the sun disappeared beneath the horizion, Harutt lowered to his knees. In supplication to the Earthmother, he then pressed his hands to the soil and whispered, “I implore you, great mother… protect this one. Protect those dear to him. Give them wisdom. Strengthen their arm as they cut down our betrayers. But do not let them challenge Garrosh. Do not let them go to Orgrimmar to die. Show them another way.” His eyes closed, he quietly pleaded, “Show them a better way. If the Horde is broken, all will be lost.”
* * *
The outskirts of Bloodhoof Village was teeming with activity. Clearly, this was a center of operations for the retaking of Thunder Bluff. There were more tauren assembled in this one spot than Alhazad had seen anywhere else – not on the Bluff itself, not even in Northrend. It was heartening to see so many of his people having come together, yet upsetting knowing the event that necessitated such a gathering.
On the outskirts of the village, others were still coming in. At least two flying machines had landed in the last five minutes, and another was buzzing across the sky, soon to arrive. A distant group of kodos, earlier thought to be a herd of the wild beasts, turned out to be a band of veteran warriors come down from Winterspring of all places, and more were coming still.
Locating Mishotah would prove difficult. There were simply too many tauren to sort through – and trolls as well, a handful of orcs, a smattering of Forsaken, and he could swear he saw one or two humans and a trio of night elves on the far side of the gathering. News of Cairne’s death and Magatha’s betrayal had traveled far, indeed.
Beside him, a mounted male orc arrived. His riding wolf had fur black as pitch, and its panting was heavy, like that of a blacksmith’s bellows, now that its journey was done. The orc looked young, but thick with muscle and already wearing a collection of scars. Alhazad’s opinion of his green-skinned compatriot was low – lower than low – after hearing how many of their kind supported Garrosh’s position as Warchief, but this was not the time to make it known. He turned, intending to move elsewhere.
The orc gave Alhazad no chance to be outwardly disapproving, or to leave. He clapped the tauren on the arm and spoke solemnly, strongly. “I am sorry for your loss. I was half-dead from a vrykul spear, and Cairne pulled me from the beach and put me on Mannoroth’s Bones. He must have done that for twenty of us.” He lowered his hand and placed it upon the haft of an axe at his hip. “It is because of Cairne Bloodhoof that my daughter knows her father. I will one day give her this axe, and teach her to use it, because your chieftain saw worth in my bleeding corpse. I’ve come to repay that.”
This hit home for Alhazad, knowing Cairne had effected the life of a father and his child in such a way. He had heard of the escape from the beachhead of Garrosh’s Landing, and how many of the Warsong Offensive were beset by vrykul. The battle was bloody, and many good fighters – men and women who survived the wrath of the Lich King himself – were lost during a sneak-attack launched from the cover of a dense fog. Cairne was there, and he selflessly threw himself into the thick of combat to save the lives of many wounded that day. This was Cairne. This was the tauren way. This was why they gathered on the eve of battle, here in the village named for the High Chieftain’s tribe. In recognition for the orc’s oath, Alhazad gave a brief but approving nod.
The orc too nodded, grunted, and dismounted his wolf. He led the beast off to a nearby water trough without another word, while Alhazad’s attention turned back to the mass of fighters, shamans, and others assembled in and around Bloodhoof Village. Though his heart ached, the pain of Cairne’s death was tempered by his knowing the Elder Crone and her adherents would pay for what they had done. The battlecry would be for the Bloodhoof chieftain, for honor; the tide that would wash over the Grimtotem would consume them, and few, if any, of their traitorous lot would survive the next day.