Karazhan and the Brotherhood of the Horse

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of hard drives? I did when I came across this old article on mine – written for Loregy back in Dec 2012. As it never saw the light of day, and Loregy seems to be defunct, I’m putting it up here with minor edits.

Much of the conjecturing here is obsolete, of course, but it’s a nice look back at a time when WoW yet held some mystery for me.

The Brotherhood of the Horse, also the Knights of Stormwind or the – my personal favorite – Knights of Azeroth (ah, the days when that was not a planet but a mere kingdom!), though now but a footnote in the extensive annals of contemporary Warcraft lore, has long been one of my favorite elements of the game universe. There’s a certain romance about the concept of a valiant, doomed knighthood that also happens to be the first we ever saw within the world of Warcraft.

The Tides of Darkness game manual states that they were wiped out during the First War and that Gul’dan raised their rotting corpses into Teron Gorefiend and his ilk. A fine story, even though my inner fan of all things knightly never liked this ending.

Then came Burning Crusade, and Karazhan, and the lore surrounding it led me to an immediate connection – which I’m reminded of now with the long overdue Dark Riders graphic novel less than half a year away.

To recap some of the prevalent beliefs regarding the Ivory Tower and the true nature of the alleged ‘Nazgûl ripoffs’:

1. The Dark Riders of Deadwind Pass are 1G death knights who somehow survived or were not involved in the Second War.

Given the origins of the said death knights, this theory alone is a strong link to the Brotherhood.

2. Attumen the Huntsman shares his model with the Ghostriders of Karabor, who (according to Gorefiend himself) are also 1G death knights; ergo, he is one of their number.

Ergo, his presence in the tower is another Brotherhood link. Except that we don’t know for certain what the Ghostriders really are since Gorefiend was exposed as a liar at the Altar of Shadows.

But, going by the old adage that all lies contain a grain of truth, the possibility exists that he was at least partly honest about their origins – or it could be that Blizzard was just rehashing models here and there is no link at all.

3. The horse motifs in the tower, as well as the presence of a stable, indicate that the Brotherhood once occupied Karazhan.

My initial stance that the idea of the realm’s greatest wizard letting an order of knights use his mystic tower as a base didn’t really fly. Nor could the motifs and stable have been added after Medivh’s death, as Stormwind was losing the First War by that time.

Until I made a leap of logic which I will go into below.

Let’s look at point three. Supposedly, Metzen cooked up the horse motifs during a design meeting in just a few minutes. (Since he also talked about them progressing up the tower to eagle heads and then lion heads, could we see a Brotherhood of the Eagle and a Brotherhood of the Lion – divisions of King Llane’s knightly retinue – retconned into existence in future Warcraft lore?)

The reason for this snap decision: Lothar belonged to a group named for horses.

Why the mention of Lothar? Why the connection between the greatest knight in human history and a wizard’s tower?  

The answer is simple. Karazhan was always a Brotherhood base.

We still don’t know who built it. When we first see it, it was already a wizard’s tower, in the Orcs & Humans mission to slay Medivh. But the above makes it quite plausible that this episode of its history does exist, albeit overlooked or forgotten in-universe: the Brotherhood of the Horse were tenants of Karazhan in the time before Medivh awakened from his twenty-year coma.

Perhaps they were evicted by royal edict to allow him to take up residence there as Guardian of Tirisfal. That would explain the motifs and stable (added during the knights’ tenure as the Ivory Tower’s occupants), which Medivh mightn’t have bothered removing when he moved in.

Now to point one.

If the Riders are indeed remnants of the original Horde DKs, it is oddly appropriate to have them – orc warlocks’ spirits though they may be – congregate where their borrowed mortal coils once did. To take this a step further, the fact that the site of Karazhan is known as a ley line nexus of great arcane power lends credence to another speculation concerning a possible association between them and the Legion.

Do they serve Prince Malchezaar, whose possession of Gorehowl in his loot table leads to the surmise that he is using them to hunt down artifacts of power like it and the Scythe of Elune?

The warlocks of the Shadow Council were beholden to the Legion. The corpses their spirits inhabited were those of Brotherhood knights, based out of Karazhan. Hence, if the Dark Riders are really Gorefiend’s first-gen colleagues, it would make a poetic sort of sense to have them serve a demon prince who has seized control of the tower.

Parallel to this, there is another line of thought, a disturbing one, that bugs me.

If the motifs and stable were there before Medivh, could the Brotherhood actually have been Karazhan’s very builders (or in some way involved in its original construction)? If so, why that particular site? Did they know of the weakened fabric of reality there, and seek to exploit it somehow?

What of David Wayne, the former Sons of Lothar blacksmith turned hermit, who exhibits knowledge of demonic spells when he crafts you an Illidari-Bane blade? Not the sort of thing a smith, even one as evidently talented as he, would be expected to know. We know now he’s not the second Mograine son, or the one to reforge the Ashbringer. So what is he?

An ex-Brotherhood member who was taught said knowledge within Karazhan, and then, surviving the First War and coming to Outland, forsook what he saw as deep-buried corruption in the ranks of the Alliance’s elite so as to become part of ‘something larger’?

And what if those few Brotherhood knights who, along with their last Armsman, had survived the fall of Stormwind, had been integrated into the Lordaeron knighthood? What might they have brought with them from the depths of Karazhan into the realm of King Terenas?

Anyone who has read conspiracy theories concerning the real-world Knights Templar will be familiar with the conjectures of them surviving as a secret society into modern times, but I dare not hope that the Knights of Azeroth will ever return similarly as a force of good. It seems more in line with Blizzard’s style to resurrect them from the moldy pages of the old game manuals as the exact opposite.

If the Brotherhood of the Horse was indeed involved in matters of arcane or even demonic import during their occupation of the Ivory Tower, we should not be surprised to see the Dark Riders expanded in the lore to connect these two groups in the future.

And I looked, and behold, a pale horse.

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