Know Your Lore: The tragic fall of Arthas Menethil
Last week we talked about Arthas Menethil, the Paladin, the son of Lianne and Terenas Menethil. The Crown Prince of Lordaeron. This week, we talk about Arthas Menethil’s fate.
Stirrings of the Plague
For a while, all seemed well in Lordaeron. The Trolls of Zul’Aman made a few forays into the kingdom, but Prince Arthas led counterattacks that dealt with them before they could make much headway. A brief courtship with Jaina Proudmoore fired the kingdom’s gossips, but in time Arthas pulled back in order to pursue his role as Prince and to allow Jaina to continue her studies in Dalaran. The Prince was a popular figure — brave, heroic in defense of his kingdom — and although he was perhaps a touch arrogant, it wasn’t as though he had no cause. It was generally agreed that he’d make a fine King someday. He even served as one of the four jurors who judged Tirion Fordring.
He and Uther even confronted a group of Blackrock Orcs attacking Strahnbrad together, defeating the Orcs who were still loyal to the Burning Legion. Little did they realize that this unconnected attack was merely a harbinger of bad times ahead. Weeks after the Strahnbrad incident, news arrived in Lordaeron of an unusual plague ravaging the northern reaches of the kingdom. Arthas set out to investigate, and found himself reunited with Jaina Proudmoore who was sent to do likewise by Antonidas. Dalaran found this new plague as vexing as Lordaeron did. Quickly, they would discover why.
The disease was more than a mere ailment. Instead, it was a virulent magical contagion that didn’t merely kill those it infected — it warped their bodies after death into horrid undead monstrosities that sought to devour the living. After doing battle with these shambling corpses at a granary they caught up to Kel’Thuzad, once a member of the Council of Six and now the leader of the Cult of the Damned. This cult was using granaries all over Lordaeron to spread the plague. Kel’Thuzad died at Andorhal, but not before Arthas learned of the Nathrezim Mal’Ganis, who Kel’Thuzad painted as the leader of the undead Scourge. He also learned that the infected grain from Andorhal had already been shipped out to spread the plague to other cities in the kingdom.
Hearthglen and Stratholme
Racing to try and stop the plague, Arthas and Jaina ended up at Hearthglen when a legion of undead were about to destroy the town. Arthas had Jaina go to find Uther to get help for the citizens of Hearthglen while he and his troops stayed and tried to hold the undead off. This is where Arthas learned that the plague was more insidious than he knew. He witnessed the people of Hearthglen succumb to it, and rise as shambling monsters themselves. Rather than save the people of Hearthglen, Arthas and his men were nearly destroyed between two hordes of screaming corpses out to consume their flesh. They were barely saved by Uther and Jaina’s arrival.
Having been forced to kill the defenders of Hearthglen, Arthas was now convinced of two things. One, that Mal’Ganis had to be destroyed, and the other, that this plague could not be fought with half measures. On their way to Stratholme, Arthas encountered Medivh in his guise as Prophet. Arthas was not receptive to Medivh’s argument that the only way to save his kingdom was to abandon it. Jaina tried to convince him to consider the Prophet’s words, but he would not. His drive to defend his people at all costs was adamant, and he would not relinquish it. Thus Arthas arrived at Stratholme, where his experience at Hearthglen repeated itself. Again, the tainted grain had already reached the city and the people had already started to consume it.
Arthas had seen this first hand at Hearthglen, but neither Jaina nor Uther had been there when the people of Hearthglen turned. His demand that the city be purged horrified them. Uther argued that there must be another way. Arthas insisted, and when Uther refused (pointing out that he was still Arthas’ superior as a Paladin) Arthas invoked his position as Crown Prince and demanded that anyone who wouldn’t stay and help him do what must be done leave. Uther and Jaina did so, Jaina sorrowfully, Uther in a fury headed straight for Lordaeron and King Terenas.
Thus Arthas, accompanied only by those soldiers who were personally loyal to him, entered Stratholme.
Hunt for Mal’Ganis
Of the events at Stratholme, little needs to be said. Arthas and Mal’Ganis raced through the streets, Arthas trying to kill the people of the city before Mal’Ganis and the Plague could raise them into undeath, and the city burned. The horror of the event pushed Arthas even further into a furious determination that Mal’Ganis must pay for what had happened. For in Prince Arthas’ view every citizen of Stratholme who had died could be laid at Mal’Ganis’ feet. He remembered the horrors of Hearthglen, and how he and his men had been forced to slay the infected there.
Mal’Ganis taunted Arthas throughout Stratholme, claiming he would see him again in Northrend. So Arthas pursued the Dreadlord, believing that in destroying him he would end the Plague and the threat to Lordaeron once and for all. He arrived in Northrend at Daggercap Bay in the Howling Fjord. Once there, he almost immediately came under fire from Dwarves of the Explorer’s Guild, led by his old friend and teacher Muradin Bronzebeard. Muradin thought Arthas had come looking for him and his men, but Arthas disabused him of that notion. They worked together to destroy the undead but were no closer to finding Mal’Ganis.
Muradin told Arthas of the artifact he and his men were searching for, a runeblade named Frostmourne. Arthas decided to help Muradin in hopes that the blade would somehow help him against Mal’Ganis. But while they searched for the blade, a zeppelin from Lordaeron arrived. It delivered new orders to the troops who had accompanies Arthas to Northrend from Uther and King Terenas. The troops were ordered to return to Lordaeron. Arthas returned from searching for either Mal’Ganis or Frostmourne to find his men already preparing to leave.
But Arthas refused to fail — Mal’Ganis had to be destroyed from what had happened at Stratholme. They had to prevent any further innocents from falling to the Scourge. Arthas hired local mercenaries and raced his own troops to the ships. Once he arrived, the ships were burned and the mercenaries blamed, much to Muradin’s shock and disbelief. Outraged, the troops almost immediately killed the same men Arthas had hired.
Soon, the soldiers followed Arthas in the direction of Drak’tharon Keep, searching for the runeblade. Mal’Ganis taunted an already furious Arthas with his impending death, and Arthas redoubled his efforts. He used an ancient teleportation device to transport himself, Muradin and a few of his men to the Frostmourne Cavern. There, furious elementals called Revenants defended the blade. The inscription in the cave was written in Kalimag, the elemental language, and it warned that the runeblade was cursed. Muradin reminded Arthas of all he’d done to that point — how far he’d let his hunger for vengeance twist him. Arthas had lied to his men, burned their ships, and betrayed the mercenaries who’d fought for him. Muradin begged him to leave the sword where it was.
Arthas did not. Instead, he cast Light’s Vengeance aside to take up Frostmourne and declared that he would give anything, pay any price, if it would help him save his people. When the sword broke free of its icy prison Muradin was struck and left for dead. A changed Arthas strode from the cavern to confront Mal’Ganis’ forces as they destroyed the camp of Arthas’ troops outside Drak’Tharon. Using Frostmourne, Arthas struck down Mal’Ganis forces.
Then the Dreadlord laughed at him. Mal’Ganis pointed out that ever since Arthas had taken up the sword, he’d heard whispers. Those whispers were the voice of the Lich King, the true master of the Scourge. Arthas now served the very thing he’d sought to destroy.
Arthas listened, and indeed, the sword spoke to him. And Arthas told Mal’Ganis what it said — that the voice was telling him to kill Mal’Ganis. The shocked Dreadlord didn’t even have time to react before Arthas struck him down. But the hand that gripped the runeblade was no longer the man who’d started the hunt for Mal’Ganis — it wasn’t even the man who’d cast Light’s Vengeance aside in Frostmourne Cavern.
If only Arthas could have accepted failure, perhaps he would have been able to learn from it. Instead, he refused to bend until he finally broke. And Lordaeron would break because of him.
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