Know Your Lore: The peculiar tale of the Headless Horseman

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|10.31.10

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Know Your Lore: The peculiar tale of the Headless Horseman

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

Prepare yourselves, the bells have tolled!
Shelter your weak, your young and your old!
Each of you shall pay the final sum -- CRY for mercy!
The reckoning has come!
He was introduced with Patch 2.2.2 in 2007, his gruesome shade sending players frantically scurrying for water buckets to put out buildings he'd set on fire. The Headless Horseman has been around ever since, providing a fun holiday break from the usual Warcraft grind -- but few people knew the origins of the new boss. Other than a brief note by the orphan matron who begs players to put out the fires, the character of the Headless Horseman seemed to have little story behind him.

The Warcraft Legends manga series introduced a story about the fearsome rhyming foe in issue number 5 released in September of 2009. Though the Horseman's story had been fairly short until that point, the manga told the whole tale of the Horseman's origins, why he haunts the streets setting buildings ablaze -- and why he prefers to speak in those peculiar poems rather than simply saying what's on his mind. It's a sad story, taking place before the fall of Lordaeron, and it begins with a paladin named Sir Thomas Thomson.

Please note: The following post contains spoilers for Warcraft Legends Vol. 5. If you wish to remain unspoiled, run away little girl! Run away ...

Who is the Headless Horseman?

The Headless Horseman, once a knight of the Silver Hand and a hero among his fellow paladins, is cursed. Driven insane within the Scarlet Monastery, he believes that he is alive and we are dead.
Now, his fervor no longer serves the Light. With the coming of Hallow's End, he spreads gloom and fire across the villages of Azeroth.

It was year 20 in the Warcraft timeline -- the Second War was over, and though the orcs of the second war had broken free from the internment camps in which they'd been imprisoned, there was far more to worry about. The original Alliance had splintered, Gilneas retreated behind a great wall, the high elves of Silvermoon withdrawing to the forests of Quel'Thalas and washing their hands of the human allies they believed responsible for the burning of their forests. But beyond all of this was the new threat of a curious plague that took the people of Lordaeron, a terrible Scourge that roamed the land and killed any who stood in the great undead army's path.

Sir Thomas Thomson was a knight of the Silver Hand and fought alongside Uther and Prince Arthas as the young prince investigated the source of the plague. When Arthas ordered the purging of Stratholme, Sir Thomas was among those who, along with Uther, objected to Arthas' command and left the prince to purge the city on his own. Thomas was first and foremost a good man, a good paladin with nothing but the good of the people of Lordaeron in mind -- and like any good paladin of the Silver Hand, he sought a way to protect the people of Lordaeron without blindly slaughtering them.

It was while he was stationed at a small village that the first of several tragedies in Sir Thomas' life struck. The town was low on supplies and a shipment of grain was sent in by Baron Rivendare, a wealthy noble who, in Sir Thomas' opinion, was a generous man who had always shared his wealth with the people. Unfortunately, Rivendare's motives were anything but charitable, and the village was turned overnight, thousands of people raised as new members of the undead Scourge. Thomas, who had spent the evening fasting in order to clear his mind, had to fight his way out of the village, slaughtering every plagued villager he could find and sending them all to their final rest.

He blamed himself entirely for the incident, insisting he should have known better, that he should have seen Rivendare's plans coming, but the rest of the Silver Hand reassured him that there was nothing he could have done. It was during this time that Alexandros Mograine traveled to Ironforge to have the dwarves there forge the mysterious blade Ashbringer, in order to use it against the Scourge masses. Sir Thomas, exhausted and still blaming himself despite what the rest of the Silver Hand said, was sent home to rest and recover.

But while on the way home to his wife and two children, horrific news spread -- news that the young prince that had ordered them to purge Stratholme had done something utterly incomprehensible. King Terenas Menethil was dead, slain by Arthas, and the Scourge grew stronger than ever. Once again, Thomas blamed himself and the Silver Hand for not seeing the slow corruption of Arthas that led to the situation sooner -- and as his children begged him to explain why Arthas had done what he'd done, Thomas told them a story, a fairly simple, rhyming tale of a prince who died fighting selflessly to save his father, the king. "The king was saved; the curse, unmade. The Prince's blood his sin had paid." When Thomas' son asked what this meant, Thomas replied:
You asked why Prince Arthas did those bad things. He did them because those were the easy choices. It would have been much harder to stay and fight for Lordaeron. Good people have died doing just that. But no one said following the Light would be easy. It's hard to be selfless and honorable.

It's hard to fight the good fight. If it weren't hard, it wouldn't be heroic.
And that was Sir Thomas in a nutshell -- selfless, heroic, striving to do the right thing, crushed when he failed, even if the failing wasn't his fault. Sir Thomas caught word of Jaina Proudmoore's efforts to gather people and travel to the distant continent of Kalimdor, and he told his wife to take the children and go. His wife refused, demanding to stay at his side and insisting that if they left for Kalimdor, they'd never see Thomas again. He agreed to let them stay, but his mind was changed by shocking news that arrived in the morning.

Uther Lightbringer, the spearhead for the Silver Hand and beloved leader, had fallen at the hands of Prince Arthas and the Scourge, as well as the rest of the city of Andorhal. Sir Thomas, completely devastated by the loss of his beloved mentor and friend, begged his wife to go to Kalimdor -- he'd lost so much already, he couldn't bear to lose them, too. His wife, stunned by the depth of his sorrow, agreed and took the children the next day.

Sir Thomas returned to the paladin order, fighting under Lord Alexandros Mograine the Ashbringer for four years against the Scourge. Faithful to his leader and dedicated to the continuing battles, he fought alongside the Silver Hand like a man almost obsessed with vengeance, each blow against the Scourge another blow against the tragedies that had plagued his life relentlessly ever since the plague had crept its way into his beloved Lordaeron.

Men live and men die -- and Highlord Mograine was no exception. Mograine was murdered by his son, though the manner and cause of his death was unknown to those that fought alongside him. And with the fall of the Ashbringer came the fall of the Silver Hand and the rise of a new order. An order that would see the land cleansed of the undead filth that wandered it, no matter the cost. This order was the Scarlet Crusade.

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