He was halfway back to Stormwind when Lothar realized that Llane’s corpse was still breathing. He landed immediately, directing his gryphon to set down deep in the forest. Surely he was losing his mind, imagining things in his grief. He leaped down from the saddle with no regard for the pain in his bare feet and tugged Llane’s body down to the ground. He had not imagined it. The breaths were slow and shallow, but they were definitely breaths. How Llane could still be breathing without any of the orcs having realized it during the battle at the gate was completely beyond him. He rolled his king to his side, tracing his fingers over the knife wound Garona had left behind. There was something… different about the wound. Anduin had seen many wounds in his days as a soldier, and not a few of them were done by such small daggers.
This wound looked nothing like them.
Its edges were blackened, as though it had been charred over a fire. Probing, Lothar pressed one finger into the wound. His heart skipped a beat. The wound wasn’t nearly as deep as he’d believed. It did not penetrate straight into Llane’s back. Instead, it was as if the blade had entered sideways, running parallel to Llane’s spine. Were it the wound of the blade alone, Llane probably wouldn’t have even lost consciousness.
So, what else was on that blade?
He returned Llane to the back of the gryphon and flew hard for Stormwind, calling for Taria the moment he landed. He had Llane whisked away with them, and refused to speak until he, his sister, and Llane’s ‘body’ were behind a locked door. Then he explained everything he knew to Taria, including the nature of the wound he hadn’t allowed anyone to examine. They talked for hours, musing over the different possibilities for why the king was still unconscious. Eventually they agreed that the only hope they had to get the king back on his feet was to find Garona and figure out what she had used.
It was Khadgar who found the way. He teleported into the room when they had found themselves at a complete loss, upsetting the spread of wine and snack that lay untouched upon the table and ruffling the curtains in the window. He had been scrying, and he explained to Taria and Lothar what he had seen of the orcs since the battle. Convinced of Llane’s demise, the orcs had elevated Garona to a position of honor. They had no way to be sure, but at the mage’s news both Anduin and his sister had the sudden, prickling suspicion that some sort of plan was underway.
Their suspicions were confirmed when Garona appeared two days later. Taria woke in the middle of the night. She had been sleeping sitting up in the chair beside Llane’s bed since her council with Anduin and Khadgar, praying in every waking moment that his eyes would open. When she opened her eyes something moved in the shadows of the room. She looked hard and found Garona there, standing against the corner with something clutched in her hands.
“He said it was the only way,” she pleaded, begging Taria to understand. “He told me to find a way to peace.”
“And did you find one?” Taria asked, her voice seeming to echo in the quiet of the night.
In answer, Garona came forward from the shadows, opening the bundle in her hands. Within it was the head of an orc, its face twisted in an ugly snarl. “My people do not know I am here,” Garona admitted. “A small band is camped a short journey outside the city. Tomorrow they will come to discuss peace between our people now that Gul’dan is dead.” At the name Gul’dan she gestured to the head she carried before sealing it back in the bundle of cloth.
“Then why are you here, Garona?”
The half-orc’s eyes turned to where Llane lay prone on the bed. “You did not burn his body.”
“Anduin discovered that he was still breathing.”
At that, Garona smiled. “I am glad. I thought you might have burned him before I could come back and explain.” She set the bundle to one side and slowly approached the bed, coming to stand beside Llane with her back to the queen. “It is a type of orc magic. There aren’t many orcs that still use it. I wasn’t sure it would work, but it was the only chance I could take.”
“What exactly have you done?” Taria asked, coming to stand beside her. “Anduin could tell that it’s something to do with the knife wound, and Khadgar said it seemed like some kind of magical sleep.”
“It is both,” Garona admitted, turning to face the queen. “He is tied to me now. If Gul’dan had killed me he would have died as well. It was a better choice than killing him outright.” Taria did not disagree. “You will be angry at me when I tell you how I must wake him.”
Taria’s blood ran cold. “Llane would not accept your life in exchange for his, Garona.”
Garona was shaking her head before the queen’s sentence was finished. “It is not a matter of life, but I must lie with him.”
Whatever ideas Taria might have had about the ways to awaken her husband, that was not among them. Her mind turned, trying to work out if there were any other meanings Garona’s words might have had. In her experience the half-orc was always blunt in her speech, leaving little to the imagination. She couldn’t think of any other meaning she might have for ‘lying with’ besides the obvious. Still, Taria wanted her husband back. She dropped a hand to the laces on her dress. “Well, then, where do we start?”
At half past noon the following day Garona Halforcen led a small delegation of orcs through the gates of Stormwind and up to the steps of the keep. They were received at the top of the steps by King Llane Wrynn himself in his first public appearance since the battle at the Great Gate. The orcs showed no confusion at the king’s survival. In fact, with Garona translating they expressed regret that the king had been injured in the battle at all. In short order a tentative peace was negotiated, and the members of the delegation were given rooms at the keep for the night.
If anyone noticed that Garona was led to the king and queen’s chambers rather than a room of her own… well, it was best for everyone if they just left it alone.