"Who would come to Quel'Lithien Lodge?" one asked.
Lor'themar looked down at him evenly.
"Do not be an idiot. You know who I am."
The other looked him straight in the eye.
"That does not mean you are welcome, Lord Theron."
Lor'themar unsheathed both of the swords he wore across his back. The Quel'Lithien guards' knuckles whitened around their own weapons, and he saw one twitch his fingers slightly, readying the signal of attack to the myriad others who were surely hidden throughout the terrain. Silently the regent lord tossed his blades to the ground, then loosed his bow and quiver and dropped them as well. He motioned for his escorts to do the same, and when they had done so, he raised an eyebrow.
"Is that convincing enough of my honest intent?"
The first Lithien scout spoke again.
"Tell us why you have come."
"I have news for Ranger Lord Hawkspear and High Priestess Skycaller," he said. "Regarding…" He cleared his throat. "Regarding Prince Kael'thas."
The guards considered this a moment, one briefly glancing at the other, but for the most part their eyes never left Lor'themar—eyes still blue and untainted, Lor'themar could not help but notice. At last one guard jerked his head toward the ridge.
"Fine, then," he said, "the ranger lord can decide what to do with you. Follow me."
The other snapped his fingers and, as Lor'themar had predicted, half a dozen more Lithien scouts jumped out from various gullies and fissures in the rock to collect the arms he and his guards had left in the dirt. Silently, Lor'themar followed them.
At the top of the trail, nestled among the boulders and dry brush, Quel'Lithien Lodge rose in front of them. Its fine wood siding had faded and pitted, undoubtedly due to the ravages of the plague, and the Farstriders had camouflaged its beams with rotting foliage. Lor'themar's stomach pitched strangely as the lodge came into view, and he tried not to think of the days when its surroundings had been green and his visits greeted with delighted shouts, not angry blades. Those days were lost.
He handed his hawkstrider to one of the scouts. She collected it and left him with a suspicious glare. One of the rangers who had stopped him on the trail had run ahead into the lodge. As Lor'themar watched, the ranger returned, trailing two elves he had not seen in several years.
"Lor'themar Theron." High Priestess Aurora Skycaller's voice was measured and not a little unkind. "I must admit I am surprised to find you here."
"You have some nerve," Renthar Hawkspear said cruelly, "to show your face. I should have a dozen archers turn you into a pincushion."
The words stung, even though he had expected them. He closed his good eye and slowly opened it again.
"I have news," he said simply, "that you should know."
"You could not have sent a letter?" Renthar sneered.
"Would you have read it?" Lor'themar answered, and the small twitch at the corner of Aurora's lip and the deepened scowl across Renthar's face told him what he already knew: they would not have. "I did not come all this way because of something trivial," he said at last. "Will you at least hear what I have to say?"
Renthar and Aurora eyed him wordlessly, then turned and walked into the lodge. Lor'themar followed, painfully aware of the high elven eyes watching him as he passed.
The Farstrider outposts of the Eastern Kingdoms had never been lavish, but Quel'Lithien's austerity was sobering. A number of the walls were scored deeply from some sort of blade and the dark stains trod into the floorboards were surely blood. Yet the elves clearly took pride in the lodge's keeping; the curtains, though worn, were carefully hemmed with even stitches. The ancient map of eastern Lordaeron nailed to the wall had been heavily annotated, but in elegant script, with not so much as a single blot of ink upon its yellowed parchment. A strange little ache grew inside of Lor'themar as he saw each of these things, as if he had rediscovered a forgotten lover's letter. He had lived the life of a Farstrider, in a past that seemed so distant now as to be nothing but a dream.
"In here," Renthar said, jerking his thumb toward a small room and banging the door open with a shove. "Close it behind you," he told Lor'themar without looking back.
Lor'themar sat across from Aurora. Renthar swept several scraps of bloodied leather armor off the narrow table before sitting next to her, and it almost made Lor'themar smile vaguely, the way they stared him down like judges at a tribunal.
"You said you had something to say." Renthar's voice cut the stillness. "So say it."
"Several weeks ago a number of the Sunfury forces returned to us."
Renthar's and Aurora's eyes rounded with disbelief. It gave Lor'themar a smug, but hollow, satisfaction.
"By the Sunwell," Aurora said softly. "I cannot say I ever thought they would."
"So, then." Renthar's eyes glittered strangely—he almost reminded Lor'themar of Rommath. "Are you here on the prince's orders to offer us an official apology?"
"I might be," Lor'themar answered, "if he were alive."
If either of the high elves in front of him had looked shocked before, it was nothing compared to their expressions now. The color drained from both their faces.
"Explain, damn you," Renthar demanded.
Lor'themar took a deep breath and began to outline the events of the recent past. He had not entirely anticipated how painful it would be to relay the story, especially to two people who so thoroughly despised him. He drew the words from his throat, one by one, sometimes forcefully. He had to spit them across the room to get them out at all. When at last he had finished, he blinked once, as if waking up.
"The Sunwell is thus returned to us," Aurora said. She turned her face to the window.
"Yes," Lor'themar replied.
The Plaguelands' absolute, dead silence fell across them. Lor'themar bowed his head, reliving his own moment of comprehension, when the last dust of battle had settled on Quel'Danas and the Sunwell had shone majestic and proud once again. He had stared into it with the same paralyzed expression that had now etched itself into Renthar's and Aurora's faces, and had found no joy in its glow. He had never dreamed the price of its return could be too much to pay.
Aurora's voice startled him. "I had wondered why the pangs of the addiction felt so eased lately. I have not needed... help... to cope."
"The magic in the Sunwell is different now," Lor'themar said. "It may take a while for some to adjust."
"Some, yes." Aurora reached her hand up and seemed to grasp something that Lor'themar could not see, twisting it between her fingers as if it were a long ribbon. "I am a priestess of the Light. I know this magic."