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Of Love Enduring

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Liadrin is restless tonight. Has been since she returned from Argus and then from Orgrimmar, an uneasy celebration amongst misfits and miscreants. Adjusting to regular life, having free time – she just doesn’t know how to do it anymore. She has been crusading, working to repay the Light for its forgiveness for so long now that she’s physically unable to sit still.

This is how she finds herself meandering into the throng gathered in Sun’s Light Park, pretending that it is only chance that has drawn her here. Here, where she is one among many, thousands upon thousands, all of whom have struggled and survived despite their countless hardships. She has been a leader for so long that she welcomes her facelessness – without her regalia she is just another sin’dorei woman, more muscular than most but otherwise unremarkable.

I am the very opposite of unremarkable, she thinks as she takes a mask from an attendant. Few have sinned so egregiously as I. The lynx mask hides the top half of her face, the red of its fur likely clashing terribly with her hair. It will not matter for long; the street lamps and magelights in the park will be dimmed to almost nothing once the festival begins.

During the years immediately following the fall of the city the Thalassian fertility festivals had had an oppressive, desperate air to them. The regency had emphasised the urgent need to repopulate, providing financial incentives but also removing contraceptives from official sale. It had turned a blind eye to back-alley dealings – likely at Lor’themar’s insistence – but almost nothing had been more important than producing a new generation while they waited to join Prince Kael’thas in paradise.

They had stopped short of compulsory couplings at the annual festivals, but only just – attendance had been heavily suggested, as had coupling with the opposite sex regardless of one’s orientation. A festival that had once celebrated sensuality and love as well as fecundity had become desperate, tainted, and Liadrin had kept far, far away. As the Blood Knight Matriarch she had become eligible for state-supplied contraceptives, but she had still been repulsed, even with her diminished faith.

After the civil war, after the dangers of prioritising a desired outcome over all else had been made clear, the clenched fist of the state had relaxed somewhat. The financial incentives had remained and the importance of new elven children had been reiterated constantly, but the citizens of Quel’thalas had once more been allowed complete control of their reproductive destiny.

The atmosphere had remained tainted for many years. But this year, after the defeat of Sargeras, the ultimate origin of all of their suffering and hardship, Silvermoon City feels revitalised, refreshed. Liadrin isn’t here for a child like many are; Salandria is still her ward, and she does not think her work to repay the Light for its blessing will ever truly be over. She is here, she thinks, for the companionship, to be part of this collective rejuvenation of the city. She has not taken a lover since Draenor – finding a genuine, discreet partner as one of the highest ranking people in Quel’thalas is more trouble than it is worth to her.

Tonight, in the dark, with an anonymous partner, perhaps Liadrin can finally enjoy herself. Join together with thousands upon thousands of her people in a festival as old as their race. A heritage of love, of pleasure, of family.

She passes the time before the lights are dimmed and partners are assigned by listening to the excited chatter around her. A husband and wife are hoping to conceive tonight; two women holding hands want a family to raise together; a group of young apprentices, just of an age to attend, is thrilled at the prospect of getting laid.

Liadrin smiles to herself; though it was many centuries ago she remembers that feeling well. Her first time had not been at a festival with a stranger, but the butterflies had likely been the same.

Is he here? She does not want him, has steadfastly refused to think of him like that for years, but in this split-second of choosing a partner she remembers his warmth, his devotion, his passion, and she steps into the line for women seeking men, until that moment undecided.

Liadrin – this Liadrin – is not romantic. The scourge, as with so many things, stole it from her. She has always had a level head, has never been one for fairytales – losing one’s parents will do that to a young girl – but this does not mean that she does not miss being in love. A quiet love, strong in the way a stone shelter is strong: inelegant and rough, but warm and caring. Earnest.

What became of you? That warm, earnest man, forced to debase this festival along with his heart. Forced to remain here, year after year, to see the results of the many decisions he made in the name of safety and unity. They are both scarred with indelible shame, wounds on their souls and their people that will take centuries to heal. Liadrin, at least, has been able to throw herself into crusade after crusade to escape; if she stops, she knows, she will dwell on every sin that surrounds her in this city, the Blood Knight headquarters a remorse and a warning.

It is fully dark now. The stars twinkle overhead – Liadrin fancies she can see the Lynx and Dathremar’s Glory – and the park is lit only by the softest of magelights. It is hard to keep herself present; she came here to feel connected, but she keeps floating away on her thoughts, isolated from all these innocent, decent people who surround her.

When she hears his voice, though, she is yanked back to reality like a lasso around a hawkstrider’s neck.

“Lia?”

Liadrin cannot speak, at first. She has allowed her partner to lead her to a blanket at the base of a grand oak, a coveted spot, more private than most, but in the dark he could have been any man... until he spoke. That voice is unmistakable. Regal, opulent. As exquisite as the first time he had whispered sweet nothings in her ear with it.

“Lor’themar, I had not...”

“I know,” he says, the silhouette of his eyebrows conveying his abashment. “I did not arrange this, I promise you. I am participating merely to fulfil my duty.” He does not sound enthused.

“A grim outlook for such a happy celebration.” She does not mean this as a rebuke, not entirely.

“I deserve that.” Lor’themar’s sigh is world-weary. “Sit with me?”

They sit, side by side, on the blanket, like they once had centuries ago, with sunshine and picnic baskets.

“I attend because I must. The legacy of my decisions demands nothing less. Rommath hates it more than I, but his pride forces him back every year. Halduron minds it less, but he never agreed with our policies in the first place.”

For a moment Liadrin thinks that being paired with Rommath would be even worse than Lor’themar, but she is wrong: they would take one look at each other and leave, a mutual distaste. There is no animosity between them, not anymore; they had both been frightened and desperate after the city had fallen, and while Rommath had been the one to offer her the path of corrupted vengeance, Liadrin herself had seized it gladly. They are each culpable for atrocities, each ashamed, each striving to do better. They are friends, of a sort, but she would still rather fuck an Amani troll, and she is certain the feeling is mutual.

With Lor’themar she doesn’t know what she wants. He will be hurt if she just walks away, and perhaps she doesn’t want to leave anyway. It has been years since she last sat with a man as anything other than comrades. They are not quite touching, but she can feel the warmth radiating from his body, and the subtle scent of his cologne, still the same after all this time, stirs memories that redden her cheeks. Luckily for her it is too dark for him to notice.

“So this is your penance? To make babies with women who lack partners or whose partners are incapable? At what price, Lor’themar? Must duty always come first?” Unhappiness churns in her gut, and she doesn’t know whether it’s jealousy or pity.

“Duty has ruled me since Kael’thas saw fit to appoint me Regent. There can be no other way.” Lor’themar looks up at the stars, a more forgiving audience for his thoughts. “Silvermoon still needs children. Mine was the word that caused misery for the women of Quel’thalas – what right have I to complain of my own suffering?”

“None in public, perhaps, but you are more than just a politician. Those close to you will see it as unburdening, not complaining.”

Lor’themar shifts on the blanket, angles himself to look at her better. “And are we close?” he asks, searching her face the best he can in the dark, achingly vulnerable. Liadrin feels ashamed that he has to ask, ashamed that she doesn’t know the answer.

“We will always be friends, Lor’themar. You may always unburden yourself to me.”

Lor’themar nods. “Likewise.” Ever a politician, his ears curl downwards for only a moment, the silhouette almost imperceptible.

Almost.

“It has been a joy, as ever, but duty calls.” He attempts a smile, begins to rise.

“Wait.” Liadrin does not want this lonely, unhappy man to go. This lonely, unhappy friend. “Sit with me a while longer?”

“As you wish.”

She deserves this. He made himself vulnerable and she equivocated in response: of course he is on his guard now.

“I am truly sorrowful that we were driven apart,” she says into the gloom, wondering what she can offer him.

“The day before I was elevated to ranger-lord, I bought a ring,” Lor’themar says, slow and even. “I was waiting until I felt worthy of you. But since that day I have fallen farther and farther. What vanity, to think that I could distinguish myself further! To stroke my own ego so.”

“Lor’themar –”

He takes her hand and the sheer warmth of it shocks her. She remembers this hand, how strong and dextrous it is, how brazen, how gentle. Is it the memories or the aphrodisiac smoke wafting in the air that heats her skin so?

“I will not embarrass the both of us by doing something foolish,” he says, looking into her eyes with his one good one. “Everything is different now, and I could not take a wife even if I wished to. I will not entertain the thought of a Theron dynasty. But I loved you, Lia, and I still do, even after...”

Even after I ran away. Even after I retreated to southern Quel’thalas and became a pitiful recluse. Even after I rose up and seized the powers of a captive naaru to wreak vengeance and evil.

“Even after I abandoned you,” he finishes, voice heavy with shame.

“Don’t,” Liadrin says. “Your duty was to Silvermoon. To the survivors. You are the best of men, Lor’themar. You saved us all.”

“I didn’t save you,” he murmurs.

“I was beyond saving. The Light has a plan for us, and M’uru was my crucible, my redemption. I have travelled the stars and saved worlds. There was nothing for you to do.”

“Still,” he says. He is very close now; she can hear his breathing, can almost feel his pulse as he rests beside her. “I wish... I very much wish that I had been there to support you. And I wish, however foolishly, that you would allow me to do so now.”

The tension is expectant, electric. Lor’themar has always been charming, has always been disarmingly earnest outside of politics. His mouth, too wide to strictly be handsome, is still seductive, still inviting.

Memories of those lips roaming her body stir something in her, an unthinking longing for less complicated times. Liadrin senses his desire, senses how much it is costing him to hold himself back. Lor’themar is a man of deep passion, chained by necessity. Does she wish to free him of those chains tonight? Is he equipped to snap shut the padlocks afterwards?

“Lor...” She takes his hand, unsure whether it is merely a friendly gesture or something more. “I have nothing to offer you. I thought once that we would have a life together, but everything is different now. I am different now.”

“I seek no commitment,” Lor’themar says gently. The squeeze of his hand makes her pulse flutter. “But if I can help... ease your burdens, I gladly would.”

Liadrin laughs. “Is that the common parlance now?”

Lor’themar laughs with her, low and soft. “Pray do not make sport of my flirtations, my lady.”

At this, she kisses him. Dear, darling Lor’themar, so brave, so willing to make fun of himself. He has always been proud and noble, but the self-effacing way he masks his vulnerability during intimacy swells Liadrin’s heart every time.

Lor’themar hesitates, waiting to see if she will pull away, waiting to see if it is just a friendly peck – but it isn’t, because that would be cruel, and Liadrin is not cruel, not anymore. When she stays close and cups his face with both hands, Lor’themar’s passion surges: he draws her into his lap and crushes her against him, lean muscle against hard.

Liadrin’s blood pounds in her ears. The scent of the smoke in the air, cologne, and Lor’themar’s clean, natural musk makes her zealous: a soft sound escapes Lor’themar as she pushes him down onto the blanket, a soft sound full of hope and longing. Fiercely she pins him and he opens to her, opens to her hot hands and hotter tongue. It is easy to love him like this as he wraps his arms around her like she might fly away, easier still as, ever the gentleman, he tries in vain to avoid poking her too obscenely with his hardness.

Emboldened, she runs a fingertip over the strained cloth, pleased to see his eye widen and his tongue wet his lips. How long has it been since someone last touched him other than at this festival? His length feels odd beneath her hand – it has been nearly a decade since she last had a man – but also enticing; Liadrin wants this poor, tired man to feel loved.

Is this truly the way, though? Can fleeting pleasure truly be love? Liadrin feels warm, hazy, and the look in Lor’themar’s eye is not entirely lucid either.

“Lor’themar,” Liadrin murmurs gently, “how potent an aphrodisiac are they burning tonight?”

Closing his eye and inhaling carefully, Lor’themar tastes it, lets it roll over his tongue and down his throat. “Kingsblood,” he says, well-versed in herb lore, a child of the forests. “It’s... vigorous.” He clearly already knows where this wretched conversation is going – he shifts beneath her, places his strong hands on her hips, and lifts her to a sitting position with an ease that she envies. “Forgive me, I should have considered its effect. I should never have allowed myself to sit with you on this night of all nights.”

The shame in Lor’themar’s voice rends Liadrin’s heart in a way she had thought she was long hardened to.

“I am sorry. So very sorry,” she says, looking down at him, moisture welling in her eyes as though she is back at the Sunwell’s purification once more, though this moment is the exact opposite of holy. Has it really been so long since she last wept? She has made herself a pillar of strength to support Quel’thalas and all the Light’s children, standing tall and unyielding – but, just as one man brought Silvermoon to its knees, so does one man bring Liadrin to hers.

“I wish I could be what you need, but I –”

“We are both different now.”

Liadrin feels ashamed as Lor’themar picks her up once more, places her by his side, wraps an arm around her like she is a maudlin drinking companion too deep in her cups.

“Do not comfort me when it is I who has caused you sorrow,” Liadrin says, trying to sound forceful, in control.

“Nonsense,” Lor’themar says, in that kind way he always did back before everything in their lives fell apart. “It is I who forced the issue. I was a fool to sit back down when you had already made your feelings clear. I was deeply inappropriate, and I apologise.”

Dear, darling Lor’themar, so honourable, so willing to take on blame that should not be his. In Sunfury Spire he is a harder man, circumspect, calculating, but for her he has always been tender, has always been that joyous, dutiful ranger who first gave her a cheeky salute in Tranquilien all those centuries ago.

They sit for a while; there is little point in claiming more fault for themselves, and Liadrin isn’t sure she has the words for it anyway. She feels wretched, but also scoured clean – this tension, this unresolved energy, has marred their interactions ever since she retreated to the Ghostlands in anger and fear. Lor’themar is clearly suffering, but perhaps he will be able to move forwards now, find some other elf to share comfort with behind closed doors.

“Lor’themar,” Liadrin says eventually, squeezing his hand, the regent-lord’s signet ring feeling strange on a hand she had once known better than her own. “As a daughter of Quel’thalas, I forgive you. Do not attend any more of these festivals unless you desire it. Stop punishing yourself for a decision that no one could claim to have made easily.”

A luminous green eye, once the deep, dark brown of the forests, blinks at her slowly. “I will think on it,” Lor’themar concedes, audibly weary. “I have certainly lost my taste for it tonight.”

“Leave,” Liadrin says gently. “Go home – home home – and I will do the same.” She pauses, considers. “Tomorrow, visit the Sunwell. Meditation will ease your soul.”

Lor’themar stretches, makes to stand. “I am not certain that anything has that power, but for you, my lady, I shall try.”

For what is almost certain to be the last time, Liadrin allows him to grasp her hand and help her to her feet.

“All any of us can do is try,” she says, full of hope and sorrow. “Repentance, not punishment, will make us whole.”

“Is that the goal?” he asks. “To be made whole?”

“It has to be.”

Lor’themar presses a kiss to the back of her hand, a gesture of friendship. Of love enduring.

“Then I shall trust in your counsel, as I always have.”

Liadrin’s smile is warm, fond. “Light guide you, my friend.”

Returning the smile, Lor’themar gives her a pithy Farstrider salute of old. For a moment they are young again, and Liadrin allows herself to believe in Lor’themar’s resilience. By Halduron’s reckoning he has finally stopped castigating himself so completely for failing to anticipate Dar’khan’s betrayal – hopefully in time the same will be said for dark decisions made during dark days.

 


 

Like Lor’themar, Liadrin has lost her taste for the festival. Perhaps she never really had one to begin with. It was not a partner she sought, but closeness, intimacy, a meeting of minds. She leaves satisfied, never to return.