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TalkRadar 47 – Danger! High Voltage!

The following is an excerpt from the book World of Warcraft: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King, which you can enter to win through this forum thread.

Chapter Four

"As you can see, Your Highness," said Lieutenant General Aedelas Blackmoore, "the taxes have been put to good use. Every precaution has been taken in the operation of this facility. In fact, security is so tight we've been able to stage gladiatorial combat here."

"So I've heard," said Arthas, as he walked with the commander of the internment camps on a tour of the grounds. Durnholde, not an internment camp itself, but the nerve center of all of the others, was huge, and indeed had almost a festival air about it. It was a crisp but bright autumn day, and the breeze caused the blue and white banners that flew over the keep to snap energetically. The wind stirred Blackmoore's long raven hair and tugged at Arthas's cloak as they strolled along the ramparts.

"And so you shall also see," Blackmoore promised, giving his prince an ingratiating grin.

It had been Arthas's idea for a surprise inspection. Terenas had praised Arthas for his initiative and compassion. "It's only right, Father," Arthas had said, and by and large he meant it, although his primary reason for the suggestion was to satisfy his curiosity about the pet orc the lieutenant general kept. "We should make sure the money is going into the camps and not Blackmoore's pocket. We can ascertain if he is taking proper care of the gladiatorial participants -- and also, make sure he is not walking the path of his father."

Blackmoore's father, General Aedelyn Blackmoore, had been a notorious traitor, tried and convicted of selling state secrets. While his crimes had taken place long ago, when his son had been but a child, the stain had dogged Aedelas throughout his military career. It was only his record of victory in battles, and particular ferocity in fighting the orcs, that had enabled the current Blackmoore to rise in the ranks. Still, Arthas could detect the smell of liquor on the man's breath, even at this hour of the morning. He suspected that particular piece of information would not be news to Terenas, but he'd make sure he told his father anyway.

Arthas looked down, feigning interest in watching the dozens of guards who stood at rigid attention. He wondered if they were that attentive when their future king wasn't watching them.

"I look forward to the bout today," he said. "Will I be able to watch your Thrall in action? I've heard quite a bit about him."

Blackmoore grinned, his neatly trimmed goatee parting to reveal white teeth. "He was not scheduled to fight today, but for you, Your Highness, I shall pair him up against the worthiest foes available."

Two hours later, the tour was complete, and Arthas shared a delicious meal with Blackmoore and a younger man named Lord Karramyn Langston, whom Blackmoore introduced as "my protégé." Arthas took an instinctive dislike to Langston, noting the man's soft hands and languid demeanor. At least Blackmoore had fought in battle for his title; this boy -- Arthas thought of him as a boy, although in truth Langston was older than Arthas's seventeen years -- had been handed everything on a platter.

Well, so have I, he thought, but he also knew what sacrifices a king would be expected to make. Langston looked like he'd never denied himself a thing in his life. Nor did he deny himself now, helping himself to the choicest cuts of meat, the most lavish pastries, and more than one glass of wine to wash it down with. Blackmoore, in contrast, ate sparingly, though he had more alcohol than Langston.

Arthas's dislike of the pair was completed when their serving girl entered and Blackmoore reached to touch her in a proprietary manner. The girl, golden-haired and simply clad, with a face that needed no artifice to be beautiful, smiled as if she enjoyed it, but Arthas caught a quick flash of unhappiness in her blue eyes.

"This is Taretha Foxton," Blackmoore said, one hand still caressing the girl's arm as she gathered the plates. "Daughter of my personal servant, Tammis, whom I'm sure you'll see later."

Arthas gave the girl his most winning smile. She reminded him a bit of Jaina -- her hair brightened by the sun, her skin tanned. She returned the smile fleetingly, then demurely looked away as she gathered the plates, dropping a quick curtsey before leaving.

"You'll have one like that soon enough, lad," Blackmoore said, laughing. It took Arthas a second to grasp the meaning and then he blinked, startled. The two men laughed harder, and Blackmoore raised his goblet in a toast.

"To fair-haired girls," he said, in a purring voice. Arthas looked back at Taretha, thought of Jaina, and forced himself to raise his glass.

An hour later Arthas had forgotten all about Taretha Foxton and his indignation on her behalf. His voice was raw from screaming, his hands hurt from clapping, and he was having the time of his life.

At first, he'd felt a little uncomfortable. The first few combatants in the ring were simple beasts pitted against one another, fighting to the death for no reason other than the enjoyment of the onlookers. "How are they treated prior to this?" Arthas had asked. He was fond of animals; it unsettled him to see them used so.

Langston had opened his mouth, but Blackmoore shushed him with a quick gesture. He had smiled, leaning back in his chaise lounge and snagging a bunch of grapes. "Well of course we want them at their fighting peak," he said. "So they are captured and treated quite well. And as you can see, the bouts go quickly. If an animal survives and is not able to continue fighting again, we put him down at once, mercifully."

Arthas hoped the man was not lying to him. A sick feeling in his gut told him Blackmoore probably was, but he ignored it. The feeling vanished when the fighting involved men against the beasts. As he watched, riveted, Blackmoore said, "The men are paid well. They in fact become minor celebrities."

Not the orc, though. And Arthas knew it, and approved. That's what he was waiting for -- the chance to see Blackmoore's pet orc, found as an infant and raised to be a fighter in these rings, in combat.

He was not disappointed. Apparently, everything up until now had been a warm-up for the crowd. When the doors creaked open and a huge green shape strode forward, everyone stood, roaring. Somehow Arthas found himself among them.

Thrall was enormous, appearing even larger because he was obviously so much healthier and alert than the other specimens Arthas had seen in the camps. He wore little armor and no helm, and green skin stretched tightly over powerful muscle. Too, he stood straighter than others. The cheering was deafening, and Thrall walked a circle around the ring, lifting his fists, turning his ugly face up to be showered with rose petals usually reserved for holidays.

"I taught him to do that," Blackmoore said with pride. "It's an odd thing, really. The crowd cheers for him, yet they come hoping every time he'll get beaten."

"Has he ever lost a bout?"

"Never, Your Highness. Nor will he. Yet people keep hoping, and the money keeps flowing."

Arthas eyed him. "As long as the royal coffers see their proper percentage of your earnings, Lieutenant General, you'll be permitted to continue the games."

He turned again to the orc, watching him as he completed his circuit. " completely under control, isn't he?"

"Absolutely," Blackmoore said immediately. "He was raised by humans and taught to fear and respect us."

As if he had heard the comment, though he could not possibly have done so over the thundering cries of the crowd, Thrall turned to where Arthas, Blackmoore, and Langston sat watching. He thumped his chest in a salute and then bowed deeply.

"You see? Utterly my creature," Blackmoore purred. He rose and lifted a flag, waving it, and across the ring a solidly built red-haired man waved another flag. Thrall turned toward the door, gripping the massive battle axe that was his weapon in this bout.

The guards began to raise the door, and before it had even opened fully, a bear the size of Invincible surged forward. Its hackles had risen and it barreled straight for Thrall as if it had been launched from a cannon, its snarl audible even over the roar of the crowd.

Thrall held his ground, stepping aside at the absolute last minute and bringing the huge axe around as if it weighed nothing at all. It tore a great rent in the bear's side, and the animal roared in maddened pain, whirling and sending blood spattering. Again, the orc stood his ground, resting on the balls of his bare feet until he moved with a speed that belied his size. He met the bear head-on, shouting taunts in a guttural voice in perfect Common, and brought the axe crunching down. The bear's head was nearly severed from its neck, but it kept running for a few moments before toppling into a quivering heap.

Thrall threw back his head and cried out his victory. The crowd went mad. Arthas stared.

There wasn't a scratch on the orc, and as far as Arthas could tell, the brute wasn't even particularly winded.

"That's just the opener," Blackmoore said, smiling at Arthas's reaction. "Next will be three humans attacking him. He's also hampered by the fact that he's not to kill them, just defeat them. More a strategic battle than one of brute force, but I confess, there's something about watching him decapitate a bear in a single blow that always makes me proud."

Three human gladiators, all large, powerfully muscled men, entered the arena and saluted their opponent and the crowd. Arthas watched as Thrall sized them up and wondered just how smart it was of Blackmoore to make his pet orc so damn good at fighting. If Thrall ever escaped, he could teach those skills to other orcs.

It was possible, despite the increased security. After all, if Orgrim Doomhammer could escape from the Undercity, in the very heart of the palace, Thrall could escape from Durnholde.

* * *

The state visit lasted five days. During one of those days, late in the evening, Taretha Foxton came to visit the prince in his private quarters. He was puzzled that his servants did not answer the tentative knock on the door and was even more startled to see the pretty blond girl standing there carrying a tray of delicacies. Her eyes were downcast, but her dress was revealing enough that he didn't speak immediately.

She dropped a curtsey. "My lord Blackmoore sent me with this offering of things to tempt you," she said. Color suffused her cheeks. Arthas was confused.

"I -- tell your master thank you, although I am not hungry. And I'm wondering what he's done with my servants."

"They have been invited to a repast with the other servants," Taretha explained. She still didn't look up.

"I see. Well, that's kind of the lieutenant general; I'm sure the men appreciate it."

She didn't move.

"Is there anything else, Taretha?"

The pink in her cheeks deepened, and she lifted her eyes to him. They were calm, resigned. "My lord Blackmoore sent me with this offering of things to tempt you," she repeated. "Things you might enjoy."

Understanding burst upon him then. Understanding, and embarrassment, and irritation, and anger. He composed himself with an effort -- it was hardly the girl's fault, indeed, she was the one being ill used.

"Taretha," he said, "I'll take the food, with thanks. I need nothing else."

"Your Highness, I'm afraid he will insist."

"Tell him I said it's fine."

"Sir, you don't understand. If I come back he -- "

He glanced down at the hands holding the tray, at the long hair draped just so. Arthas stepped forward and lifted her trailing hair out of the way, frowning at the brownish-blue fading marks on her wrists and throat.

"I see," he said. "Come inside, then." Once she had entered, he closed the door and turned to her.

"Stay for as long as you feel comfortable, then go back to him. In the meantime, I can't possibly eat all this." He gestured for her to sit and took a chair opposite her, snagging a small pastry and grinning.

Taretha blinked at him. It took a moment for her to understand what he was saying, and then cautious relief and gratitude spread over her face as she poured the wine. After a little while, she began to respond to his questions with more than a few polite words, and they spent the next few hours talking before they agreed it was time for her to return. As she picked up the tray, she turned to him.

"Your Highness -- it pleases me so much to know that the man who will be our next king has such a kind heart. The lady you choose to make your queen will be a very lucky woman."

He smiled and closed the door behind her, leaning on it for a moment.

The lady he would choose to make his queen. He recalled his conversation with Calia; fortunately for his sister, Terenas had started to have some suspicions about Prestor -- nothing that could be proven, but enough for second thoughts.

Arthas was almost of age -- a year older than Calia had been when their father had nearly betrothed her to Prestor. He supposed he'd have to start thinking about finding a queen sooner or later.

Tomorrow he would be leaving, and not a minute too soon.

© 2009 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc

Mikel Reparaz
After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.