Disclaimer: The inimitable World of Warcraft and the characters, settings, and languages it contains are the property of Blizzard. I make no claim to them; this fic is not intended for commercial use.
The quote from the summary is taken from one of the whispers the PC gets while attempting to solve Yogg-Saron's puzzle box.
This story is set between the events of WotLK and Cata, so it's brimming with spoilers (including, much later, a few from Cata). Due warning issued.
The news that the Lich King is dead should bring him nothing but satisfaction, but Rommath is too weary to celebrate.
All he can see from the top of Sunfury Spire is what looks like an endless line of veterans weaving their way into the city, the first heroes come home from the war (but they're not the heroes, not really, the dark part of him whispers). The Regent Lord is busy, shaking hands and embracing people he doesn't know and attending council meetings and preparing the city for the next influx: the wounded, returning home to rest or to die. It all seems somehow hollow, as though the three of them—Lor'themar, Brightwing, and Rommath—are rushing around to avoid thinking, to avoid having to see.
Where there are heroes there should be Knights, but there are no Kings, not anymore.
Rommath holds this piece of knowledge close to his chest, feeling the coldness, the bitterness of it. He remembers his own homecoming, the people stirring from apathy into a slowly growing exhilaration. Faces upturned towards him. The promise, his promise. He takes the memory out sometimes and looks at it, and it makes him feel ancient to think that he was once that man, once lived in that world. There is no joy this time. His people are battered, and so weary that every gaze he meets seems blank.
And, really, he is ancient. That's the difference now. The worst part about getting old is the tiredness, the feeling he gets early every evening that he would like to retire to bed and just sleep and sleep forever. The night after a messenger arrives from Undercity in the court of the Regent Lord, breathless, his chest heaving with the news, all Rommath can do is drag his feet up the stairs to his apartments and fall into a bath.
He knows he should be exultant, glowing with triumph, and he tries to at least look the part, but he doesn't feel anything. Just annoyance at his Magisters' pestering. And resignation to the fact that he is now an antique, a relic of a bygone era consigned to obsolescence. He feels age settling into his bones the way frost settles on branches. His feelings harden at the same time as his body weakens. He grits his teeth and tilts his chin up even as he leans on his staff for support. Yes, growing old is bad enough—but to disintegrate within sight of a public which hates him, that is one step too far.
Everyone warns against the regrets, the disrespect, the loneliness—that he expected. But the weakness has caught him off guard. He remembers his young, strong muscles, obedient to his slightest wish. Dancing for what seemed like hours; swimming in rivers thick with icy slush; running through the streets of old Silvermoon, his movements as swift as the wind. One night, when he was sleeping, it seems that his body had been replaced with a rickety model that can do none of these things. He cannot join in the commoners' celebrations, although they are muted even by his standards. The cost they have paid, all of them, is too high. There is too much grief, too much memory.
Maybe that is why there is no dancing, no rejoicing, just remembering and endless nights spent in his office in the Spire, bent over estimates of the costs of the war. He's glad that the duty of counting the dead falls to someone else. Sometimes, on the nights when the entire city seems hushed with expectation and the air doesn't even carry the sound of wind, he can pretend that nothing has changed, that everything is as it was before: the prince still alive, his own reputation still intact, and endless possibility stretching out before all of them.
It's never clear, the point at which imagination gives way to dreaming.
What rankles worst is that it was their betrayers, their filthy mongrel cousins, and the lesser races that carried out what seemed to him only an impossible vision. The immortal horror of the Lich King is put to rest, and he would be able to rest too were it not for the fact that it was put to rest by their rivals.
"We should be grateful for what they have done," Brightwing says, and Rommath is, he really is—he just wishes that the final blow had been dealt by a friendlier hand. It gives him no pleasure to admit that his people's vengeance was carried out by the enemy. Now he will have to spend his remaining years in secret gratitude to the Alliance.
But that is another thing about old age—after a while, not even kindness can soften your heart.