The door burst open, and the high commander of Stormwind Defense rushed in. General Marcus Jonathan's face was a mask of alarm. "Is something wrong, Your Highness? We heard a scream."
Varian quickly put the locket away and stood up. "Everything is fine, Marcus." The king tried to straighten his armor and brush a clump of dark hair away from weary eyes. His fingers felt the deep lines of worry and lack of sleep over the last few months—a blur of weeks spent responding to the many emergencies in the aftermath of the dragon Deathwing's sudden attack on the city and the world.
Both he and the general were in full dress splendor for the holiday, and General Jonathan, with his tall frame and sharp features, looked the part better than most.
"The Honor Ceremony will be in three hours, Your Highness," Jonathan offered. "Is your speech ready?"
Varian looked to the blank parchment on the map table. "I am still working on it, Jonathan." And I can't seem to find the right words.
The high commander studied him, and Varian sought to quickly change the subject. "Has my son arrived yet?"
General Jonathan shook his head. "No one has seen Prince Anduin, Your Highness."
Varian tried to hide his disappointment by looking out the keep's windows to the courtyard below. It was a sea of people, with flags and streamers waving in the air, children dressed as their favorite heroes of old, and food and mead flowing with laughter. Remembrance Day was part memorial, part celebration, yet Varian himself could never find mirth in this event.
As he watched, the throng slowly moved toward the Valley of Heroes, heading for the statues of the great champions of humanity that lined the entrance to Stormwind City. The stage for the Honor Ceremony had been set up in the shadow of these impressive leaders, and today they would be acknowledged with respect and thanks for their great deeds.
Jonathan continued. "When you are ready, sire, the archbishop is waiting outside to brief you on the city's repairs and our care for the wounded."
"Yes. Yes, in a moment." Varian waved him off. Jonathan bowed his head and quietly backed out of the room, closing the door behind him.
Varian shook the cobwebs from his mind and pulled out the delicate locket again, staring at the rumpled reflection of himself on its mirrored surface. The world has changed, but I must hold steady.
Varian glanced up at the portrait of King Llane over the fireplace. Today of all days, the leader of humanity, the king of Stormwind, the rock of the Alliance, must be at his very best. His father would expect nothing less.
Archbishop Benedictus stood adorned in his finest robes and trinkets, representing the pride of Stormwind's culture for the great day at hand. Next to him stood a small and grimy man carrying a large bundle of wrinkled scrolls.
Benedictus looked up eagerly as Varian emerged from his private quarters. "Light bless you, King Varian." He smiled as Varian descended the stairs.
"And you, Father," Varian said. "You look dressed to meet your maker."
Benedictus waved his staff in a well-rehearsed and solemn gesture. "In such times as these, we must all stand ready to join the Light at any moment."
At the archbishop's side, the rumpled and nervous-looking fellow fidgeted with his overloaded bundle of papers and city diagrams. Varian suddenly realized it was Baros Alexston, the city architect. He was barely recognizable with all the mud covering his face and clothes.
Varian motioned for them to continue following him down the stairs. "How go the city repairs, Baros?"
"As well as can be expected, Highness." Baros nodded, trying to keep from dropping his scrolls. Benedictus reached over and patted the architect on the back. "He is being entirely too modest, Your Majesty. Baros here has pulled off miracles getting much of Stormwind back in order, even making some notable improvements to the city."
Varian felt a sense of relief. It was good to see some optimism returning to his advisors. "So what is most pressing?"
The architect nodded and went to nervously unroll one of his many scrolls as he walked, causing at least three others to slip from his grasp and tumble to the ground.
"My apologies, sire… yes, here it is." Baros pointed to a place on the map, his dirty fingers leaving earthy smudge marks behind. "We've investigated the damage to the two main towers at the entrance to the city." He shook his head and blew out with a whistle. "That black dragon must be even heavier than his massive size would suggest—likely the beast's dark elementium armor. We've tunneled down, and the damage to the tower foundations is quite severe."