Know Your Lore: Fandral Staghelm
For players just starting out with World of Warcraft when it debuted in 2004, Archdruid Fandral Staghelm was an intriguing mystery. Malfurion Stormrage was nowhere to be seen, and Fandral appeared to be running the show in his place. A few things were made blatantly clear right off the bat: Fandral didn’t care for Tyrande or her idea of leadership, and Fandral really didn’t care for you, either.
Over the years, Fandral’s story was slowly expanded, and players learned more details about the Archdruid. From endless days of collecting Morrowgrain all the way to the Firelands, Fandral has had a remarkable journey. What players didn’t realize at the time was just how far back that journey began.
There’s never been any mention of Fandral Staghelm’s parents, so we still don’t know just who raised the Archdruid, or where he originally came from. But we do know that he was one of the Night Elves that took an interest in druidism following the War of the Ancients. Fandral was present for the founding of the Cenarion Circle after the War of the Satyr. He even agreed with its purpose – to establish a tradition of druidism, and prevent misuse of druidic magic.
And yet…roughly 4,500 years before the first war, Fandral displayed the first recorded hint of rebellion. All across the world, pockets of saronite began to appear. Fandral didn’t consult with the Cenarion Circle about the strange mineral deposits. He took matters into his own hands, and took branches from the World Tree Nordrassil, planting them at the sites where the mineral had appeared.
The largest of these deposits was in Grizzly Hills, and it’s also where the largest tree grew. Fandral dubbed the tree Andrassil, “Crown of the Snow.” And when the Cenarion Circle discovered what Fandral had done, they were rightfully furious. He hadn’t asked for their permission, he’d simply taken branches from the World Tree – a sacred gift from the Aspects – and scattered them all over the world. It was an act of arrogance, yet the Circle couldn’t deny that Andrassil and the other trees were doing their job.
At the same time, one has to wonder – why did Fandral take this course of action? Why did he ignore the Circle and act on his own? Was it simply arrogance, or did his dissatisfaction with the Cenarion Circle – and Malfurion – stretch that far back?
The trees may have done the trick to halt the spread of saronite, but they also had an unintended side effect. Andrassil’s roots grew deep into the earth, brushing the prison of the Old God Yogg Saron. And Yogg Saron wasted no time in corrupting the tree, using it as a gateway into the Emerald Dream, and opening the way for the rest of the Old Gods to corrupt Ysera’s realm. Whether he realized it or not, Fandral was responsible for the beginnings of what would later become the Emerald Nightmare.
Fandral’s nightmare, however, had just begun.
At some point between sleeping in the Emerald Dream, Fandral met and fell in love with an unknown Night Elf. But his wife died while giving birth to their child – a son named Valstann. Fandral doted on Valstann – the boy was the only family Fandral had left. And Valstann doted on his father in return, working diligently to please and impress his father in any way he could. When Valstann married, Fandral welcomed his wife Leyara as another member of what little family he possessed.
When the War of the Shifting Sands began, Fandral traveled to Silithus with his son at his side. Staghelm was ruthlessly efficient when it came to fighting the Qiraji, so efficient that the Qiraji leaders had to come up with a plan to deal with him. Strike at Fandral’s weakest point: his son.
General Rajaxx used a diversionary attack on Southwind Village to lure Valstann into a trap. With his forces slain, Valstann was carried to the front lines by Rajaxx. And there, in front of the entire assembled Night Elf army and Fandral himself, Rajaxx ripped his son in two, brutally murdering the one thing Fandral held most dear in his life, right before his horrified eyes.
It broke Fandral. The only thing that kept the Night Elves from losing the war was the timely intervention of the dragonflights, who sealed the Qiraji behind a great wall. Yet Fandral had no joy in the victory. Anachronos tried to hand over the Scepter of the Shifting Sands to the grieving Night Elf, but Fandral wanted no part in it. He smashed the Scepter, shattering it into pieces, and left the sands of Silithus, never to return.
Maybe that’s when Fandral started going a little mad. It wasn’t out of place, really – after all, he’d planted the World Trees that opened the way for the Old Gods. He was arrogant, to be certain, but he was also in pain. He’d lost everything – and he wasn’t the only one. Fandral returned to the forests, where Leyara had just given birth to a daughter – Valstann’s child. Fandral vowed to protect them both.
And Fandral continued to butt heads with Malfurion. Perhaps he blamed the Archdruid for Valstann’s death, or perhaps he was too grief-stricken to notice his own arrogance. But after the Third War, Fandral proposed creating a new World Tree to replace Nordrassil and restore the immortality the Night Elves had lost. Malfurion disagreed, pointing out that there was no way the Aspects would bless that kind of a selfish act.
Shortly after that, Malfurion returned to the Emerald Dream…and didn’t awaken.
Malfurion was gone, and in his absence, Fandral stepped forward as the new Archdruid in his stead. Conveniently left with no one to argue against him, Fandral convinced the other druids to create the new World Tree – Teldrassil. And then Staghelm had the utter gall to approach the Dragon Aspects personally, and ask for their blessing. They politely refused.
Archdruid Staghelm was nothing like Malfurion. He regularly clashed with Tyrande, considered her a poor leader with no vision for the future of the Night Elves. And he clashed with the Cenarion Circle, too – disagreeing with the idea of bringing Tauren Druids into the order. Fandral didn’t care for the other races of Azeroth, believed Night Elves were far superior and demanded strong military action against the Orcs of Durotar. And he made no move to hide his disdain for Whisperwind, or anyone else for that matter.
Really, the only thing he seemed to find other people useful for was the procurement of Morrowgrain. He stockpiled the stuff, much to the curiosity of his fellow Druids. Both the Tauren and the other members of the Cenarion Circle began gathering the herb in response. They hoped to unravel its purpose, and Staghelm’s strange fascination with it.
In truth, Fandral was using the herb to keep Malfurion in forced slumber.
Archdruid Fandral Staghelm wasn’t acting of his own accord. He’d been contacted by a vision of his beloved son, Valstann. Valstann told his father that he could be returned to life, if Fandral took the proper actions necessary to do so. Keep Stormrage trapped in the Dream. Graft a strange branch to Teldrassil. Lead the Cenarion Circle into feeding their powers into the World Tree.
Valstann, of course, wasn’t really Valstann. He was a vision created by Xavius – the Nightmare Lord. The branch that Fandral grafted to the World Tree contained the remains of Xavius’ soul. Malfurion Stormrage eventually fought his way out of the Emerald Dream, confronting Fandral and shattering the illusion of Valstann right before Fandral’s eyes.
For the second time, Fandral witnessed the death of his beloved son – and this time, the experience shattered him completely. Fandral was taken to the Barrow Dens, in the hopes that he might yet one day recover.
Druid of the Flame
But the Old Gods and their allies weren’t yet done with Fandral Staghelm. Ragnaros orchestrated the release of Staghelm, bringing him back to both sanity and full-fledged rage against Malfurion and the rest of the Night Elves. The Firelord offered Fandral a position as his new Majordomo, and on top of that, power. A new Druidic order was born, with Fandral as its leader: the Druids of the Flame.
He recruited other like-minded Druids to the cause. Druids who had seen what could be construed as the downfall of Night Elf civilization. Fellow Night Elves who were disillusioned with Stormrage and Whisperwind’s leadership. And Night Elves who, like him, had lost everything. Fandral visited Leyara, grieving over the death of her daughter – the last link either of them had to Valstann.
Why did Fandral agree to do all of this? Because he was still grieving the death of his son. In his rage and grief, he wanted to bring ruin to a world that had only brought ruin to him. Staghelm didn’t want to live in a world without Valstann in it – and we obliged him in the Firelands by bringing the Archdruid of the Flame to an abrupt end.
His story was one driven by grief and pride, but Fandral’s history always makes me wonder what could have been. In some ways, Fandral was most assuredly wrong. But in other ways, he had some interesting points. Since the Third War, the Night Elves have been through a lot of suffering and a lot of loss. One could argue that had they simply retreated back into the forests and ignored the Alliance, they would have been better served. One could also argue that perhaps they should have demonstrated a stronger military presence when dealing with the Horde, to drive them away from Ashenvale’s forests and send them elsewhere.
At the same time, Fandral displayed an immense sense of arrogance, and that makes me wonder where he came from, originally. Who were his parents? Was he from a Highborne family, originally? What happened to them? Were they killed during the War of the Ancients? Or were they part of that Highborne contingent that was banished by Malfurion, sent across the sea?
And I can’t help but feel that Staghelm met his end far too soon. Fandral had the potential to be the Alliance’s version of Garrosh Hellscream – a leader that wanted only the best for his people, even if it meant stepping on everyone else in the process. A dissenting voice that had the ring of truth behind it. The kind of voice that could potentially create an inter-faction division similar to what we saw with Hellscream’s vision for the Horde.
We’ll never know what could have been. But Fandral Staghelm is still one of Azeroth’s most fascinating characters. He was one of the WoW originals that really stood out, both in first impressions for leveling Night Elves, and as a cautionary tale to those who let arrogance drive their actions.
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