"My apologies, Highness." The baron bowed. "We were merely having a lively debate with Theramore's esteemed leader."
Varian walked up to the baron and only stopped once he was well within the noble's personal space. Nose to nose, the king spoke quietly, but his growl came through loud and clear.
"While you were a whelp in your family's fetid den, I was leading Stormwind's armies to triumph." Varian's eyes flashed across the room to the others, daring any face to challenge him. "I have led us across the sea, to the cold climes of Northrend, to the unholy depths of the Undercity—victory after victory, and yet many of you still doubt."
The dignitaries shuffled uncomfortably, but no one dared breathe a word. Jaina was beside herself with internal anger. So much for keeping the king's fangs at bay.
Varian looked across the faces. "So why did you come here today? To waste my time? To demand I hear your petty complaints about my efforts to protect this world? To protect you?!"
The fire of the Ghost Wolf burned in his eyes now, an ember-hot glow that stood fearless in the night, holding back the shadows.
"Or did you come to see Lo'Gosh yourself? To behold up close the one who wages war with a relish equal to his enemies?!"
Many people began to carefully exit, but Varian wasn't finished.
"Some say I am no better than those we fight! That I am the monster. Well, if so, then I am the monster you need! I am the one ferocious enough to strike fear in the very heart of darkness! The one who has the courage to do whatever it takes to protect humanity from the abyss!"
As Varian ended his diatribe, he looked around and caught the familiar face of Anduin staring back at him from the rear of the throne room. His son had arrived sometime during the king's rant. By the horrified look on the young prince's face, it was clear that nothing had changed since they last had parted on such bad terms.
Anduin's eyes were filled with both fear and bewilderment, and Varian's heart sank. Have I become such a stranger to my own son? He tried to soften his face, but the king could feel the heat of his rage still burning on the skin. Anduin slowly backed away, then turned and fled the room. As Varian watched him go, his anger drained like water from a broken dam, leaving only emptiness behind. Varian sat down on his throne and motioned wearily for everyone to leave.
The stunned audience slowly filed out, filled with fear both of the future and of the leader of mankind. Only Jaina and the archbishop remained, eyeing Varian warily. Unconsciously the king reached into his tunic and touched the silver trinket in a pocket, its cool metal surface soothing the fevered purpose still boiling in his blood. Varian knew that no one understood what he must do, what he must be. No one understood him, and no one ever would.
Varian paced the floor back and forth like a caged animal as Jaina and Benedictus watched. He turned the silver locket over and over in his hands, its bright chain lashing about with the same fury that consumed the king. Jaina and Benedictus stood helplessly nearby, trying to find a calm harbor in the storm.
"The prince will understand someday, Highness," Benedictus offered. "He has an enlightened soul." The archbishop looked to Jaina for support, but before she could say anything, Varian scoffed.
"I should never have let him leave. Anduin's duty lies here with his own people, not with the draenei."
"But he is still young," Jaina said. "Anduin is still looking for his place in the circle. He's on a quest to find out who he really is."
Varian stopped pacing and glared at her. "Who he is, Jaina, is the heir to the throne of Stormwind, and very nearly a man! At his age, I had already mastered the sword and was ready to meet Alliance enemies in battle!"
Jaina flinched at his anger. "Is the only measure of a man how early he kills, Varian?" She tried to return his fierce gaze with one of her own. "Can't you see that Anduin has chosen a different path?"
Varian paused at this, thinking. "I have… come to terms with Anduin's choices, but I fear he still lacks the strength needed to rule. These are perilous times, as you yourself have noted, Archbishop."
"It is true the world teeters on the brink." The archbishop tried to fashion the words carefully with his hands. "But the Light shows a different path for each of us, to whatever end is in store."
"No more sermons, Benedictus! The real world is not so forgiving as your church. Being king is dangerous work; one misstep and people die!"
Benedictus stepped forward and put his hand on the king's shoulder. "On Remembrance Day, more than any other, I know you hold yourself responsible for many things, especially what we've lost…" He continued carefully. "What you have lost."
The king reached for his silver locket, lost in a jumble of thoughts and worries. "If Anduin is not ready, if he is weak in any way, it will lead to…" Varian stopped cold and tried to shake off the thought.
Jaina jumped in to dispel the dread. "Anduin has a different strength to give this world, Varian. He chose the priesthood for a reason. He is a healer, and he is attuned to the Light."
Varian nodded. "What you say is true, Jaina. Anduin has never been… like me." With a sigh, Varian sat down hard on the throne again.
"As you said earlier, my king," Benedictus began, "times have changed, and it is clear we must change with them. The age when hearts like Lothar's were the only way to survive may be drawing to a close. The world seems to yearn for someone new."