Contrary to what most people believe/know, the Order of the Silver Hand was not founded exclusively by Uther the Lightbringer. At the time, Uther was actually still an apprentice. His teacher, Archbishop Alonsus Faol, was the true founder of the Order, though Uther was at his side, naturally.
Alonsus Faol was originally the founder and leader of an order of clerics based in Northshire, aptly named the Holy Order of Northshire Clerics. What is a cleric, you ask? Think a Melee Priest. Yes, Melee Priests. This Order existed prior to the First War and the arrival of the Orcish Horde, primarily with a focus on peace and spreading the good word of the Light throughout the Eastern Kingdoms. This Order... did not last long, but not due to any flaw in the Order itself. It was not an especially war-like organization. Regardless of their lack of battle experience, the clerics certainly did their fair share of fighting in the war, though it did not do much good.
Stormwind was razed, as well as the Order's beloved Northshire Abbey. After the Orcish victory, Alonsus Faol and his apprentice Uther gathered the survivors of the war and travelled north, to Lordaeron. While in Lordaeron, Alonsus Faol founded the Alonsus Chapel in the city of Stratholme, and trained his remaining clerics in the art of war. Uther the Lightbringer was the first Paladin(of Azeroth), with a few other well-known names to follow. Gavinrad the Dire, Saidan Dathrohan, Tirion Fording and Turalyon joined Uther as the first of the new Order: The Order of the Silver Hand.
The Order of the Silver Hand was essential to the Alliance's victory in the Second War. Acting not only as soldiers, but champions. Bearing the standards of the Silver Hand and the Alliance, the mere arrival of the Order on a battlefield rallied the troops and substantially boosted morale. Of course, they weren't just there to look pretty. The Paladins of the Silver Hand tore up the battlefield, wielding sword and shield(and mace and axe and etc.) in perfect fluidity with the Light. The perfect defense, the perfect offense. The physical prowess of the Paladins combined with their healing powers was one of the single largest contributors to the Alliance's victory in the Second War.
The Silver Hand quickly became the heroes of the Alliance, heralded by all, and treated very well wherever they went. The ever-growing Order became so prestigious that King Terenas Menethil of Lordaeron sent his very own son to join the Silver Hand. That son being Prince Arthas, of course. Being the freaking Prince of Lordaeron, he received the best treatment possible in the Silver Hand. Uther the Lightbringer, Paladin of Paladins, would take Arthas Menethil as his apprentice. Things went well at first... until they stopped going well, of course.
Alonsus Faol himself seems to have left this Order to be fairly self-sustained, as the Archbishop himself focused his efforts on raising funds to rebuild Stormwind and the Northshire Abbey. The Cathedral of Light in Stormwind is dedicated to him, and you can see a statue of him just outside of the Cathedral. The Archbishop died shortly before the arrival of the Scourge in Lordaeron, and it's very likely you've seen his burial place without realizing it. The graveyard directly outside of the Scarlet Monestary(not the one inside) is named, "Faol's Rest." That would be the place.
Turalyon was chosen to be a member of an expedition to Draenor. The expedition, composed of Turalyon, Khadgar, Alleria Windrunner, Kurdran Wildhammer and Danath Trollbane, uncovered a plot by Ner'zhul that would tear Outland asunder. The Expedition rallied together to close the portal back home to Azeroth so these unholy powers wouldn't harm their homeworld. They would not be able to return to Azeroth themselves and likely faced death, but did it regardless. As we now know, the expedition was not actually killed in the destruction of Draenor. However, Turalyon himself has gone missing, along with Alleria Windrunner. It turns out that Turalyon doesn't necessarily have it that bad, wherever he is. He's apparently been shacking up with Alleria, so there's that. Being on some random planet in outer space must suck, but most of the other founding members of the Silver Hand have recieved much worse treatment.
Tirion Fordring was very well known throughout the Second War for his skill as a warrior and military tactician, but his training as a Paladin drove the idea of peace and acceptance in to his mind, making it one of his primary values. This came into play shortly after the end of the Second War, when the Paladin met an orcish hermit by the name of Eitrigg. His duty as a member of the Alliance demanded that he kill this orc, but his own morality stated otherwise. Eitrigg told Tirion of the Orcish history of Shamanism, the two discussed honor and glory, and Tirion made the decision not to kill the man. Instead, he returned to the Hand and informed them that the orc had been dealt with.
Tirion's apprentice, a slimey, ambitious man by the name of Barthilas, wouldn't accept that as the case. He urged Saidan Dathrohan to follow up on Tirion's claims, so... he did! He also found Eitrigg, and took him into custody. Tirion's sense of honor kicked in, and he fought Dathrohan and his men to defend Eitrigg. Fordring was put on trial for treason because of this, and though his loved ones urged him to lie about the circumstances around the orc, he was insistent on putting forth a good example for his son. He told the truth of the situation, as well as the details of the honorable orc. The jury did not like this one bit, and Tirion was stripped of his rank within the Silver Hand and sent into exile.
A final rush of honorable intent caused Tirion to charge into the heart of Stratholme on horseback and free Eitrigg from the hands of Dathrohan and the rest of the Alliance. He was successful thanks to a 'lucky' attack on Stratholme from another clan of orcs. Eitrigg ultimately ended up joining Thrall's New Horde, and Tirion has taken to living in the wilds of the blighted Plaguelands. He would often watch his son from the background, being sure not to disturb his life any further, as the boy was told his father had died. His son, Taelen, would eventually join the Scarlet Crusade and rise to the rank of Highlord, over Tirion's betrayer Barthilas.
All of us should know the story of Arthas' downfall by now. If you don't, you can easily find out! I'll wait a minute while you go catch up. Waiting... waiting... waiting... okay, done waiting! After Arthas totally flipped and became hellbent on recovering the remains of the necromancer Kel'thuzad thanks to the urgings of the demon Tichondrius, he marched on Andorhal and met up with a familiar face. Gavinrad the Dire stood watch over Kel'thuzad's place of burial along with his soldiers, and essentially spat in the Prince's face when Arthas told him to stand aside. The two met in combat, and Gavinrad was slain.
Arthas' rampage through Andorhal would not stop there. Kel'thuzad's remains were badly decomposed, and wouldn't make the trip to the Sunwell where he was to be raised as a lich. Luckily(for them, not for us), there was an enchanted urn nearby that would be able to sustain the remains of the necromancer until they could reach their destination. Before going any further, I would like to point out how silly this idea is. Kel'thuzad's remains were described as 'decomposed' which implies that he wasn't cremated. Additionally, the character model of Kel'thuzad has his skeleton largely intact. How, I ask, did they put Kel'thuzad's corpse inside of this urn? Was it a really big urn? Did Arthas fold up the body, then cram it in the top as best he could? Did he have to jump up and down atop the corpse to get it to go in there? Why did they even need to preserve the corpse if Kel'thuzad is little more than an animated skeleton?
The mind boggles.
Anywho, they had to get that urn. Arthas fought deeper into Andorhal, slaying one Paladin after another, until finally coming face to face with the guardian of the urn: Uther the Lightbringer. Here's a little snippet of their wonderful conversation:
"Your father ruled this land for seventy years, and you've ground it to dust in a matter of days."
"Very dramatic, Uther. Give me the urn, and I'll make sure you die quickly."
"The urn holds your father's ashes, Arthas! What, were you hoping to piss on them one last time before you left his kingdom to rot?"
"I didn't know what it held. Nor does it matter. I'll take what I came for one way or another."
And after a fierce toe to toe battle between the two, another of the Fantastic Five bites the dust. Hero of the Alliance, co-founder of the Order of the Silver Hand, meets his doom.
After that, Arthas prances around Lordaeron and Northrend doing Scourge-y things, but the Silver Hand's fight against the Scourge raged on. Not very well, either. Another of the Big Five fell prey to the Undead: Saidan Dathrohan was slain. The people of Azeroth by and large were unaware of this, however. The Dreadlord Balnazzar possessed the corpse of the fallen Paladin, his fel strength sustaining the body and preventing decomposition. Balnazzar's Dathrohan abandoned the quickly-disintegrating Silver Hand to throw his support behind a new order forming in Lordaeron: The Scarlet Crusade. The Scarlet Crusade was an order formed to beat back the Scourge, originally founded on many of the same tenets the Silver Hand itself was built upon. Dathrohan, as a former ranking member of the Hand, very quickly rose through the ranks of the Crusade to become the Grand Crusader. The Scarletiest Scarlet. Balnazzar's influence drastically shifted the direction of the Crusade, twisting it into a shell of its former self, ripe with paranoia, grief, and xenophobia.
The Silver Hand was left largely leaderless after all of this, and it began to splinter even further. More than that, the survivors of the war against the Scourge chose these Paladins as their scapegoats. The Paladins were immune to the Lich King's plague, thanks to their close attunement to the Light. Simply seeing their loved ones become the Undead around them took a toll on the mighty Order, and the people they devoted their lives to protect turning against them was salt on the wounds. A large number of these paladins rallied together to travel to Northrend in a desperate attempt to dethrone the Lich King and prove themselves to their people once more. Many of these Paladins drifted from the Light in this expedition, falling down the same path Prince Arthas had done before. The Lich King's army of Death Knights grew ever larger. This expedition, by and large, was a failure.
The Silver Hand remains only in name. A shadow of what it was during the Second War, few continue to carry this banner simply out of pride and hope. Its representation is currently very minor, and certainly not considered to be a major player in the Alliance. However, Tirion Fordring has recently been inspired by the death of his son to raise the banner of the Silver Hand once more, transcending faction lines and old hatreds. In other words, look forward to grinding this reputation in Northrend, no matter your faction. I can't guarantee this will happen just yet, but it looks pretty likely.
Now, this Know Your Lore has been long. Long long. I have barely scratched the surface of the Silver Hand and the major players within it. There have literally been books written about some of these individual characters. There's no way to cover all that is the Silver Hand in a weekly column, without devoting many solid weeks to doing so. And let's be honest, that would get boring. So I recommend anybody who is remotely interested in this look towards those other sources.
You'll want to check out the following:
- Warcraft II and Warcraft III - These two games and their expansions set up quite a bit in the World of Warcraft(mostly WC3), so you should play them regardless.
- The Eastern and Western Plaguelands - Go questing here in WoW. If you skipped these two zones to go straight to Burning Crusade content, backtrack and do them. Do the Stratholme quests. Go track down Tirion Fordring. Even if you're level 70, do these quests. They're fun, exciting, interesting, and are setting the events of Wrath of the Lich King in motion.
- Of Blood and Honor and Tides of Darkness are two Warcraft novels that follow members of the Silver Hand, most specifically Tirion Fordring in the former and Turalyon in the latter. Of Blood and Honor was written by Chris Metzen himself, and is certainly a good read.