Even ne’er-do-wells get the opportunity to deliver Rousing Speech before the battle starts. This is what Tarquin said to his Wildfire Riders before the went to War.
The sun was rising when they assembled before him. He climbed a rock that might have been placed there by a forethoughtful god for moments such as this. The dawn cold ripped at him through layers of clothing, tunic and doublet and coat and cloak, and not for the first time he was struck by a great weightlessness. What was he doing here at the bitter reaches of the world, in the thick of dread War, the world’s least profitable, most costly business? His people were looking to him – young and old, fierce and retiring. His Riders. His professionals. His family.
He began with a lie, of course. “I’ve na pretty words fir this.” The wind turned his voice to a hollow reed, a whisper through highland pipes. “Nor any clevir plan, or wicked trick fir ta spring at the last. Sich things will’na be ay help at us here.” He smiled into the wind, easy and self-deprecating, a bare twitch of well-trained muscles. “Men ay business dinna win wars.”
There were a few scattered laughs – Tirith, Stormlord bless him, was always reliable. “Yeh ken I dinna ‘pprove ay war in gen’ral. S’bad fir the livelihood, an’ I mislike bein’ told fir ta kill a punter oan account ay nation or uniform or race. No’ when thir’s so many ither guid reasons.” They didn’t laugh at that, and he was grateful. “But if iver there wis a war worth the blood an’ mis’ry ay fightin’ it, ’tis this yin.”
He let his gaze travel through the crowd, adding all the faces that should have rightly been there with them. “‘Tis no easy thing ta risk all we’ve built o’er the last couple years, oan foreign shores, in open fields. No’ whit any ay yeh wir promised when yeh took the Black an’ Red, nor what I hoped fir. But it comes ta this – the Bloody Prince will take it, sure as sunset, if we dinna stop ‘im. An’ thit’s all thir is oan it.”
His words tumbled and sank like catapult stones in empty fields, spattering in the silence. Last night’s mirth and mockery had faded with the dawn, and the grim facade of Angra’thar leered in the distance, not nearly far enough. They knew what he was telling them, but they needed, some of them, to hear it again. To understand why they might die tomorrow in this frozen hell, far from home. He cleared his throat. “Air task’s a simple win – hauld this pass again’ flankers, fra’ ground an’ above. Yeh’ve all fought the Scourge afore; yeh ken the nature ay the foe. I need no’ worry on mercy or sich foolishness. What I’ll tell yeh is this.
“We stand on the Enemy’s ain ground, an’ ’tis his will thit drives thon legions, thra the lips ay his gen’rals. Ghouls an’ geists, death knights an’ Vargul, abominations an’ crypt fiends an’ aught else ay horror fra’ the Fleshworks beyond the gate – we ken thir no’ but fingers oan his hands. Teeth in his mouth. We’ll butcher thim in the hundreds, as we did oan the Longest Night, an’ they’ll keep oan comin’.” He looked to the banner on his right, the stirring black and red, as if to hearten himself for his next words.
“But Arthas is diff’rent.”
The name fell like thunder from a cloudless sky, and he raised his voices over the indrawn breaths and hissed curses, most of them in Common. “Aye, I said it! We gotta remember, afore he wis the Enemy, afore the Lich King, he wis Arthas fuckin’ Menethil! The Prince ay Lordaeron, the hope ay the North, an’ he’s ten times the bastard fir it all!”
Bricu’s voice rang from the crowd, thick with angers old and new. “True words, aye,” he snarled, “But Arthas is dead an’ buried. That fuckin’ monster’s nothin’ o’ the man might o’ been king. What use ta speak on it?”
He grinned wildly, flush with the glory of transgression, the seething joy of daring. “The use, mate, is thit he wis human once. ‘Tis oan his will this war turns, an’ the will ay men breaks. They ken doubt, an’ mistrust. They ken pride, an’ the void follows in its breakin’. They ken fear.” He sharpened his smile, made it a thing of hungry knives. “An’ if he’s fergotten all ay this, then we’ll fuckin’ well remind ‘im.”
The words hung for an instant, long enough for him to feel that fear that was his heritage, worry that he’d misjudged them. Then Ulthanon, towering lean and fierce in the back, raised his head and howled. The shaggy wolf at his side howled with him, chilling the morning further. Then Jolstraer was bellowing wordlessly, and Bellesta let out an ursine roar, and soon the air shivered with shouts and cries and cheers – and Tarquin ap Danwyrith knew that hope had followed them north.
“He came fir us in Lordaeron,” he shouted through the tumult, “An’ we lived ta sing ay it! He came fir us at Hyjal, an’ we broke his back oan the mount! He came fir us in Stormwind, an’ we paved the streets in corpses an’ turned his hands awey! Now we’ve come fir him!” He raised trembling hands and clutched at the sky, as to pull down the last winking stars. “We’ve come ta teach the Bloody Prince fear! We’ve come ta gie him the message ay the Longest Night, an’ when his misbegotten children come thra the mountains, we’ll write it in thir bodies!”
His outstretched arms described the circle of the world; there was nothing but the shouting, grinning, furious faces of this family they’d made, and the two words they all knew.
“Never again!” – and “Never again!” they roared back at him.
“Never again!” – and tall Aelflaed pumped her fist in the air, braid swinging as she shouted.
“Never again!” – and Varenna closed her tear-brimming eyes and sang it back.
“Never again!” – and Illithias’s harsh voice cut through the air, the dawning light limming her scars in merciless silver and painting the other side of her face in stainless beauty.
And Ceil stepped up beside him, smooth as the road their minds both walked on, the words of a tongue older than nations rolling from her lips to be echoed by the heirs of broken kingdoms.
“Balah ishnu!” – and Delion screamed back at her, robes clutched tight around his thin frame.
“Balah ishnu!” – and Fingold stood straighter and gave the battle-cry back, his sword shining in the air.
Tarquin saw Beltar in the press, wrapping his mouth around the elven phrase, and pointed at the wiry dwarf. “Gie us yin fra’ Dun Modr, auld boy!”
Beltar grinned and spat out the harsh consonants of the dwarven tongue – “Thros frean!” And “Thros frean!” they cried back, every tongue an axe blade at the walls of Angra’thar. They made it echo off the walls of the Wrath GAte until it seemed the dread columns might splinter from the artillery of their voices.
The Oathbreaker screamed through the shouts, scraping the flesh from his throat, spittle flecking his beard. “Let the fuckers come! Let thim come an’ we’ll send ‘em howlin’ home ta tell thir master thit this is wha’ comes ay it! THIS IS WHA’ COMES WHEN THE RIDERS GO TA WAR!”
He leaped down amidst the roaring, churning fury of his people, slapping shoulders, clasping wrists, laughing and shouting and exhorting them with orders that he would never remember, but were all variations on Ceil’s silver-edged call that came slicing in his wake.
“Let’s get to work, Riders.”