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The king, you see, was dead.

This is important to the tale overall because it is the reason I was in the state I was at the time.  I had just spent a decade working, training, striving to defeat the monster who had left my family, my home and my very life in tatters.  I gave up my studies of the arcane for demonology.  I gave up my father’s name, as I did not want my actions to sully it. I traveled to distant lands in pursuit of greater knowledge.  I trudged through frozen snows to battle the fiend’s forces in his lair.  I fully expected to die in pursuit of my revenge, one way or another… and I truly hoped for only two things: to actually die, without becoming a tool for further atrocities – and to do as much damage as I could on my way out.

In this I failed.  It took a while for me to grasp it… but one day I woke up and realized that the atrocity that had once been Arthas Menethil was finally dead… and somehow, stupidly, I yet lived.  I lived, and yet my family and friends were still dead and my home still in ruins; my one living sister had disowned me, my soul was in varying states of hock, and the thing that had kept me pressing forward for so long was simply… gone.  And without it, I had no idea what to do with myself.  I lived, and yet I had nothing to live for.

And so I came and went from my little Silvermoon apartment in something of a haze.  I drank.  I smoked.  I picked up pretty boys in bars… and pretty girls, and dangerous boys, and orcs and couples and whatever else captured my fancy on a given evening.  On a semi-regular basis I saw a man no less than three hundred years my senior by the name of Goredis Fireheart.  A paladin, naturally; an Argent, proud and self-absorbed and seeking a pretty little trophy wife – which I had no intention of becoming, mind you, but I certainly didn’t let that get in the way of him spoiling me as he wished.  And I felt not the least bit guilty at using him mercilessly to advance my involvement in a particularly heated little piece of political intrigue.

The Will of Dath’remar was a very briefly powerful party that was (I believe founded and) headed by an astoundingly charismatic paladin by the name of Annexious Bloodfury.  I could spend days writing about them but for now suffice to say their agenda centered around bringing increased order and prosperity to Quel’thalas through a regime of tyranny and oppression.  I did not like them, and yet Goredis joined their ranks at about the same time I came into contact with a group interested in thwarting their goals – and thus my role in this little melodrama was easily cast.  My connection to Goredis granted me access to meetings of the Will – and so I would go with him, and converse and smile and be sociable, and then I would later meet up surreptitiously with my contact (a coarse, black-haired, overdecorated and perpetually grumpy hunter named Westel Firewing) to pass on what I had learned.

A side effect of this charade was that I willingly prolonged the relationship with Goredis well past its natural lifespan – which was easy enough, enamored as he was of me – or rather, with the idea of me.  He constantly became irritated and frustrated when I didn’t act as he believed I should, and then he turned around and groveled for my affections.  And he was more than happy to give me the freedom to do as I wished as long as he didn’t have to see it.  But for all that, he was dull.  No fire, no passion, no spark.

I go into all of this detail to explain where I was the day I met Bareris Darksworne for the second time.  It had been some months since our first meeting; I had grown more sullen and annoyed with life and he had been sulking over Aestiah for some time.  We ran into each other (once more in the Bazaar) and almost to my surprise, he recognized me – and he remembered, and reminded me of the lascivious promise he had made me on our first meeting.  I demurred, of course, and he persisted, with charm and grace and good-natured arrogance… and though I could see the bitterness behind his eyes, I saw also a spark of something I had been missing for quite some time.  Ultimately I allowed him to sweep me away to Nagrand for a rocket ride around the islands – no, seriously! – and we found a pleasant spot to splash in the water and dive from the falls and sit on the rocks to watch the sun set.  It was nice – nice to be wanted and pursued by a handsome man, nice to laugh, nice to feel free, to not be pressured… to forget.  For both of us, it appeared.

We agreed to meet again.  I told Bareris I was seeing other men as well, and he did not care; to our mutual relief, we agreed that neither of us wanted anything serious.  He told me that after Aestiah he was never going to commit to a woman again, and as a commitment was the last thing I wanted from anyone I was fine with this.  When I saw Goredis again a few days later I told him that I had acquired a new lover, and he pouted a bit but did not argue – confirming once more that the old fool had given me ‘freedom’ with the expectation that I would be too sweet and loyal to exercise it.  Whatever.

Bareris and I went on several more dates over the ensuing weeks, and they were all fabulous – just reckless fun.  He was witty, urbane, dashing, fearless… everything stodgy old Goredis was not.  And still I attended meetings and took dinner every few nights with Goredis, to get what I still needed from him.  I did not tell either gentleman the name of the other; it seemed unnecessary at the time.  And besides, they both had acted so cool about it – I had no reason to expect them to be literally fighting over me not a month later.

I honestly didn’t see it coming.  It so happened that I was talking with some friends in the Bazaar one day (is it any wonder I avoid the place now?) when Goredis spotted me and wandered over to say hello.  A few minutes later Bareris also came by and stopped to flirt with me.  Within moments, even without me saying so, both men had figured out who the other was with relation to me and they were going at it like declawed cats.  They managed to keep it civil for all of ten minutes before Bareris said something especially cocky and derisive and just as I opened my mouth to tell him to knock it off Goredis hauled off and coldcocked him.  Then Bareris asked if Goredis wanted to take it outside and Goredis snarled “Ladies first,” and off they went over my great protest.

A duel for love – it’s one of those things that sounds so romantic until it actually happens.  Then, instead of being flattered by the lengths to which two men will go for your affection, you’re overwhelmed with irritation at both of them for being such children, unable to resolve their conflicts like grownups.   I remember standing there, staring after them as they raced for the gates, with my other friends blinking after them in confusion.  “Are you going after them?” one of them asked me.  Like I had a choice!

A duel between paladins of equal skill and training is, honestly, a thing of beauty.  A well-timed swing, an expert parry, the gleam of the Light from armor and blade as the combatants move in a violent dance.  I’ve watched such a battle go on for an hour or more; it’s almost an art form unto itself.

This was not such a duel. Goredis was older, sturdier of build, more experienced – and Bareris wiped the floor with him.  Truly I believe the fight was over in ninety seconds flat.  “Are you both done now?!” I snapped at them, as Bareris helped Goredis back to his feet.  There was a pause… and then both men turned and glared at me.

The conversation that followed was even more brutal than the duel.  They both wanted answers to very uncomfortable questions.  And while neither was going to hold me to a commitment (Bareris because he didn’t want one, Goredis because he knew I’d bolt), neither was willing to continue with me while I was also seeing the other.

I chose Bareris, of course.  Goredis was still useful… but I realized that I had pushed him about as far as I safely could.  Best to let him down, let him go, and let him believe that Bareris had stolen me away rather than force him to acknowledge that he had never been good enough for me.  He did not take it well.  And yet, I hardly felt even a twinge of guilt as he stormed off miserably.

As soon as Goredis was out of earshot, Bareris told me to go fuck myself.

Just watching the brief interactions between me and Goredis, Bareris recognized that I had led Goredis on. And if I’d done that to Goredis, who’d say I wouldn’t do that to him?  I was offended, upset.  I protested.  How could I lead him on in a relationship if we weren’t having a relationship?  Well, he countered, if we weren’t in a relationship, then this wasn’t really a breakup.

I was still shocked and offended as he drove away.  I stalked home, furious and upset.  The gall.  The nerve.  I’d chosen him and he’d scoffed at me.  The asshole!   I was angry at him for days. Even that infuriatingly abrasive hunter noticed, when I notified him that I’d lost my inroad to the Will.

I was even angrier at Bareris when I realized I missed him.