He was in fact a leader, though his influence refused to extend beyond the kaldorei. And in some eyes, he was a madman bent on destroying kaldorei civilization. A would-be murderer. A man riddled with a lust for power that took him so far over the edge that he quite literally burned any and all bridges with the rest of kaldorei society. An angry, hollow shell of a man bent on revenge for a crime that was the fault of no one.
To others, he was a father, one who cherished his son over everything in the world. His radical ideas often clashed with those of higher rank, yet none could argue the depths of his power. And still more could argue that Archdruid Fandral Staghelm wanted nothing more than the ideal kaldorei society, free of entanglement from the affairs of others and led with strong, almost military precision.
He wanted what was best for his people and his family, but there always seemed to be something in his way.
My first character in World of Warcraft was a night elf druid, and I remember clearly the first time I walked into Darnassus on a quest to find the archdruid. I also remember vividly being taken aback by exactly how gruff and angry this supposed leader seemed to be. I remember him being very critical of Tyrande, which I thought was odd -- and I remember the Cenarion Circle mentioning that they weren't on especially good terms with Fandral, which I found even more odd.
Fandral's history extends back to some point in time after the War of the Ancients. It has been stated before that Fandral is younger than most of the other night elves, yet Fandral was clearly shown during the War of the Satyr, portrayed in the Curse of the Worgen comic. At that point, Fandral had already been studying with Malfurion for quite some time and had spent enough time in the Emerald Dream to know what it was all about.
Staghelm was there for the official beginning of the Cenarion Circle, and he was there when the worgen were banished away. He was there to see Malfurion take the first steps to paving the path of druid study, the first steps toward making sure that druids did not traverse the wrong path like the Druids of the Pack had done. Certainly he studied druidism from Malfurion Stormrage, but he also witnessed firsthand that Malfurion was not infallible. Malfurion made mistakes. To Staghelm, leaders never made mistakes.
And perhaps because Staghelm was there from the beginning, he butted heads with Malfurion more often than not. His idea of a rigid, more militaristic society did not mesh with what Malfurion envisioned for the kaldorei. And because he was there from the formation of the Cenarion Circle onward, he witnessed every mistake Malfurion made, likely making a mental list of each error the Archdruid committed.
Despite the arrogant and prickly outward exterior Fandral often showed, underneath was a man who loved with all his heart. His wife died in childbirth, giving him a healthy son who he treasured all the more because of it. Not only did he have a fine, strong son, but that son was a reminder of the woman that he treasured, a memory of the times they spent together. Valstann and Fandral had a deep relationship, and Valstann doted on his father like none other, wanting nothing more than to make Fandral proud.
In an idyllic world, father and son would still coexist, but it was not to be. Thousands of years after the War of the Satyr, the Qiraji rose up en masse in Silithus, intent on ravaging the entirety of the Kalimdor continent. The kaldorei rose to defend, and the War of the Shifting Sands began. Because of Fandral's military leanings, he was put in charge at the battlefields -- and his son Valstann stood proudly at his side.
The war was brutal, and the swarms of qiraji defenders seemed as if they would never come to a halt. It resulted in a clash between Fandral, Valstann, and the qiraji general -- Rajaxx -- and led to the Qiraji retreat. This was merely a ruse, for the qiraji then leapt to attack the nearby village of Southwind. Upon hearing of this, Valstann volunteered to lead a troop to defend the battered city, and Fandral agreed, likely confident his son would return triumphant.
And as the sun rose on the third day after Valstann's departure, the qiraji general reappeared. Rajaxx had not only decimated Southwind, but he'd captured Valstann and held the son of Staghelm in one great claw. And as Fandral watched, horrified, Rajaxx tore his son in two before his eyes. The kaldorei army crumbled even as Fandral fell to his knees, stricken with grief at the loss of his son. He soon retreated to Un'goro Crater.
In desperation, Fandral turned to the Bronze Dragonflight for aid. Though Nozdormu was absent, his son Anachronos agreed to help, calling upon the sons and daughters of the other flights for their aid as well. The dragons clashed with the qiraji, driving them back and managing to seal the threat behind a great wall with the help of the druids. And with remnants of the battle, Anachronos crafted a gong and a scepter. Should any wish to pass through the gates, the dragon told Fandral, they would only need ring the gong.
Fandral wanted nothing to do with the dragonflights. He wanted nothing to do with future battles, and he wanted nothing to do with the qiraji or with the sands of Silithus. He shattered the Scepter of the Shifting Sands, leaving the scattered shards at the feet of Anachronos and walked away, still mourning his only child.
Unfortunately, there is no return from death. But Fandral retreated further into the bitterness that surrounded him after the death of his son. His only comfort lay in the presence of Valstann's widow, Leyara. Soon after her husband's death, she gave birth to their only child, a girl she named Istaria. It was family, of a sorts -- and Istaria represented the last remnant of Fandral's beloved son.
"My son's soul will find no comfort in this hollow victory, dragon. I will have him back. Though it takes millennia, I will have my son back!"
In the interim, Fandral found himself butting heads with Malfurion yet again after the Third War, when Nordrassil was destroyed. Fandral's plan was simple: Take a seed from Nordrassil and plant a new World Tree so that the kaldorei could regain the immortality lost when Archimonde was defeated. Though Fandral's intentions were good, Malfurion warned Staghelm that nature would never bless such a selfish act, and then he left for the Emerald Dream once again.
Perhaps it was Malfurion's inaction, perhaps it was sheer stubborn will, but once Malfurion slept, Fandral went ahead with the plans to create Teldrassil despite the warnings he'd been given. And though the tree grew, it did nothing to restore the immortality of the kaldorei, just as Malfurion had told him. Yet Malfurion did not wake from his slumber. Something had gone wrong in the Emerald Dream, something that kept him at rest.
That something was Fandral Staghelm, though none knew it.
Morrowgrain kept Stormrage fast asleep and slowly poisoned his body over time. Morrowgrain that Fandral bid all to collect for mysterious research over the years. And when his treachery was discovered, it was discovered as well that despite whatever sanity Fandral may have seemed to possess, he was actually under the influence of the Nightmare Lord that corrupted the Emerald Dream. Fandral had done the unthinkable -- brought corruption to Teldrassil and tricked the druids of the Cenarion Circle into feeding that corruption with their power.
Fandral didn't do this out of malice, per se. There was one huge factor in his decision. The Nightmare Lord was in actuality the satyr Xavius, bound and trapped in a Nightmare Tree. Xavius sent Fandral a hallucination of his son, Valstann. And with his beloved son returned from the dead, Fandral listened to everything he had to say. When Malfurion finally escaped the Emerald Nightmare, he destroyed the illusion of Valstann as Fandral watched in horror. To the archdruid, it was like watching his son die all over again. And it pushed him over the edge into madness entirely.
The druids took Fandral to the barrow dens for recovery, though it was apparent that Staghelm's mind was broken for good. And this was proven by Fandral's next step. When he was kidnapped by the Twilight's Hammer, brought before Ragnaros and offered the power of flame, he readily agreed. And he infiltrated the kaldorei, finding others like himself who were fed up with Tyrande and Malfurion's ineffective leadership. One of these was his daughter-in-law, Leyara, who happily joined his cause, raw with grief from the loss of her daughter at the hands of the Horde.
Firelands, and an ignoble end
It was in the Firelands that Fandral lay in wait, the newly appointed Majordomo to Ragaros the Firelord. And it was in the Firelands that Fandral met his end -- not with a crescendo but with a whimper. There was no ultimate showdown between himself and Malfurion. There was no redemption for his crimes. There was no grief shown toward the death of Leyara, no final words for Valstann, no mention of his wife of long ago. Whatever was left of Fandral's memories had been seemingly burned away, leaving nothing but a shell bent on hatred and vengeance for little reason at all.
I think that's the part that's most bothersome about the tale of Fandral Staghelm. It wasn't the atrocities he committed. It wasn't the crimes against the kaldorei. I wasn't even his grumpy reception of the first character I played in WoW. It was that in the end, in his last breath, he thought nothing of his life before. It's that his end was merely a moment in a raid. It's that this stellar character with so much untold potential was in the end reduced to a punching bag that distributed loot on a regular basis.
Fandral Staghelm had the kind of rich history that begged to be expanded upon. His past with Malfurion, his apparent conflicts with Tyrande and the Cenarion Circle -- where did they come from? How did he come to be this arrogant creature who assumed he knew more, was more skilled than the leaders of the kaldorei? Who was his mysterious wife who died in childbirth? She never got a name -- nor did she ever get a story. What happened to her? How did she and Fandral fall in love in the first place?
Valstann's fate, the story neatly told in The War of the Shifting Sands by Micky Neilson, was another poignant refrain on the tale of Fandral. Here we had a character who was so bitter, so angry, and so unreasonably upset with anyone that came in contact with him, and we had no idea why. When Ahn'Qiraj was introduced, we suddenly got that explanation -- and Fandral went from a jerk with no real redeemable characteristics or reasons for his behavior to a father who was still, years and years after the original war, shattered by grief.
That moment was a defining moment in Fandral's history. The words he spat at Anachronos as he left the Scarab Wall, the harsh proclamation that he would have his son back no matter what that took was a mysterious omen to future events that remained unexplained until years later, when the novel Stormrage was released. And perhaps that was part of the problem -- the novel attempted to explain what had happened within that time period, but Fandral was almost a footnote to the actual story. He was a pawn, nothing more than Xavius's puppet, in the end.
That seemed so incredibly out of character for a man that had been defined as a figure of authority. It seemed so oddly out of place for a man who was as arrogant as Fandral, for one who wished Tyrande out of the picture altogether. The promise of a phantom son was almost but not quite enough to justify it. After all, Fandral butted heads with Malfurion because he thought he could lead the kaldorei far better than anyone else. Why on earth would he willingly lead them down a path of destruction, whether his son was present or not?
And this is why I mourn the loss of Fandral Staghelm -- because he was a character who had tremendous amounts of potential that will never be tapped. He could have been the type of villain we haven't seen in Warcraft since the likes of Gul'dan, a villain who was a villain for the sake of himself. A villain who was a villain not because of corruption, not because of outside influences, but because he had a vision of a great and noble future, and no matter what anyone told him to the contrary, he was utterly convinced he was right, that he was following the right path.
It's the kind of story we haven't really seen in Warcraft, and it's something that's bothered me to this day. Despite the innovations we continually see in lore development, major villains aren't simply allowed to be villains. There's always some outside source that has turned them into the creatures they've become. The old chestnut of evil being a corrupted force is a repeat refrain we've heard time and time again, and I'd like to see something new. I thought there was the potential for something new with Fandral, but he was taken down the predictable path instead.
It's impossible to bring back Fandral, the character that he was, the enigma. And while I don't think his intentions were right, nor do I think his actions were good -- he was a villain, after all -- I mourn the loss of potential. I mourn the loss of what could have been.
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.