There and Back Again Ch. 105-106


Wulf spent all his time broodily watching Kallian with his startling, mismatched eyes. I hope that doesn't end badly.

I went to the Chantry, taking Leliana and Kallian with me, and met with Mother Boann. She was younger than I thought she'd be, and refreshingly forward, asking straight up what we wanted with her, specifically. Kallian thanked her for trying to intervene during her kidnapping in the Alienage, and then I explained that from what I'd heard, she was one of a very few in the Chantry who cared for the well-being of the elves, even if she was limited in what she could do for them.

I asked if she would consider establishing a school for the children of the elves. My plan was for her to accept those of any age and begin with learning to read, then basic math, and perhaps a little bit of history and culture. And possibly even provide a meal each day to ensure the children were at least occasionally well-fed.

"If you didn't want to do it, you could hire someone to teach," I told her. "I am willing to cover expenses for supplies for a while, and would consider paying someone to teach. And I think at least the Hahren, and maybe some of the better educated elves, should be encouraged to be involved, teaching their own histories."

Mother Boann was taken aback, but flattered that we had come to her; she felt she could probably teach the basics, though she may need help later on, but was unsure if she could convince the Grand Cleric of the importance of the project. I encouraged her to remind the Grand Cleric that she could teach some of the Chantry's history as well, encouraging the elves to be more devout – and to tell her that I would offer the Chantry a 'donation' for the running of the school.

The Mother told me she would discuss it with the Grand Cleric and let me know after the Blight was ended.

Blake became Theron's eyes and ears, for the most part. He would have been a formidable spy; everyone ignored him when he was in the room. He openly eavesdropped on Eamon, Teagan, and Anora, and while he hadn't overheard anything too startling, he certainly had unfettered access to the entire estate. I spent a bit of time with him making sure he was settled, and he was still having reading lessons with Theron daily. He'd taken to everything – the reading, his responsibilities helping Theron, the spying (and certainly the food) – with alacrity. I was impressed at how quickly he learned, once he no longer lived in constant fear. The job as Theron's manservant, which started out as only a way to get him out of Redcliffe, became an enjoyable challenge, and I wondered in the end which of Blake and Theron would end up having helped the other more.

Morrigan spent most of her time flying outside of the city; she had agreed, with some encouragement from me and Aedan, to teach Dariel to shapeshift into a bird – we all knew we could use one more aerial scout.

As the Landsmeet loomed, Alistair and I made love every night, and not infrequently even more often than that. I couldn't have said why we were both nervous – he was not to be King, and I knew at least roughly how things would end – but the closer we got to the day, the more desperate and insatiable we both were.

I justified it to myself that Anora would see it as normal, at least – the two of us clinging together before we had to be separated by duty.

The day of the Landsmeet, we got up early, everyone bathing and getting cleaned up, dressing up in our most formal armour. The Wardens wore their tabards, except for Alistair; his dragonbone had been polished to a shine, his hair freshly trimmed by Leliana, his face freshly shaved. The rest of us wore our own tabards over our armour, the ones that identified us as companions. Theron wore plain but good quality armour, and Leliana also freshened up his haircut.

Zevran came to inform us that Anora and Erlina were already gone. They'd left earlier, or possibly even in the night. Everyone else was uptight at the revelation; I couldn't even be surprised. She had to find herself someplace to hide, after all, so she could make her grand entrance. I snorted in disgust and encouraged everyone else not to worry about it.

The dwarves had not yet returned, and we planned to leave Sten, Shale, and the mages outside of the Landsmeet chamber, and Wulf and Kallian at Eamon's; that left thirteen of us actually attending the Landsmeet. Zevran, Leliana, Riordan, Conrad, Dougal, Duncan, and I were to spread out throughout the chamber, alert and armed but not part of the proceedings; Eamon and Teagan would leave early to take their places among the other nobles. The rest: Alistair, Aedan, Nathaniel, and Theron, would enter together and stay on the floor, the likely centre of attention. Theron would keep his helmet on, as would the Orlesian Wardens, Zev, Leli, and I, so as to make it less conspicuous.

Before we left, I covered the process again with the group, reminding them that we would likely face Cauthrien on our way in, but trusting Aedan to talk her down; once inside, we needed to let Anora and Loghain talk long enough to hang themselves before we intervened. The only one I was truly concerned about was Theron; I hoped he'd learned the control that would be necessary to listen to the things Anora and Loghain said without revealing himself.

He isn't the man he was before the Blight, right? He can keep it together for the sake of Ferelden. I hope...

With one last deep breath, and one last sweet kiss from Alistair, I jammed my helmet on my head and set out, with the others, for the Landsmeet.

Chapter One Hundred Six: Landsmeet

It was a long walk across the city to the Landsmeet, and we'd had to get up way too early. I cursed the lack of technology again. I miss cars. And traffic lights. Who'd ever have thought I'd miss traffic lights? Denerim could definitely use them, with people, wagons, carriages, and beasts of burden everywhere, as there were. While we could have taken a carriage, given the crowded, narrow streets of Denerim, it wouldn't have been much faster.

I was used to the walking – spending months on foot traversing Ferelden ensured my level of fitness could take it – but trying to get anywhere quickly was nigh-impossible. I sighed and just kept going.

The Landsmeet chamber was attached to, but separate from, the Palace. Everyone had to enter through the main doors – there was no favouritism for the reigning monarch, so no special entrances, and every noble house held a vote in the Landsmeet, though as I understood it, the minor nobility and non-landowners usually gave their proxy to their respective liege lords. Still, there were always expected to be dozens of nobles present, more for such an unusual circumstance as a debate over who would take the throne.

Teagan and Eamon separated from us, leaving their guards outside with the other nobles' guards in a post designed just for that purpose. The rest of us waited a few minutes, until it began to sleet, the late winter weather unpredictable and uncomfortable, and as a group we surged toward the doors. Once inside, those who were to remain outside of the chamber in case we needed backup peeled off and found themselves an alcove in the foyer. The rest of us, shaking off the water, headed toward the ornate doors leading to the Landsmeet chamber itself. Aedan, Alistair, and Nathaniel led the way; I stood at the back of our group, and could not hear the conversation when Cauthrien stepped out of her own alcove and confronted us. She spoke with Aedan for a while, finally bowing formally and stepping back to let us pass.

I felt sorry for her; whether Loghain was her father or not, he was her liege, her hero, and in less than a year she'd watched him fall from a man to be respected, even revered, to a treasonous, obsessive, insane reflection of who he had been. It couldn't have been easy.

Finally the doors opened, and we filed in. As we'd agreed, most of us spread out and headed into the crowd of lower nobility on the floor, those without the standing to have a dais or alcove for themselves. The remaining four – Alistair, Aedan, Nathaniel, and Theron – walked through the crowd, which slowly parted in curiosity to let them through.

I headed left, leaning against the wall below the empty alcove that had evidently belonged to my parents. It gave me a good view of Eamon and Teagan, the Grand Cleric – a wrinkled prune of a woman I immediately was sure I'd hate – Elemena, Arl Bryland, Bann Alfstanna, and the others who would be critical in the upcoming discussion. Duncan was opposite me, below Eamon's balcony; the others were scattered throughout the room as well. The floor was far more crowded than it had been in game, and I wondered if it was more to do with the game's details being vague, or whether it was because of the number of nobles who'd survived, that hadn't in game. It was clear, based on the many derisive looks being shot at Loghain, that there was far more enmity towards him than the game would have led me to believe.

Eamon was saying the line I expected from the game – disparaging Loghain, of course – his impassioned speech drawing some cheers and a bunch of chatter on the floor. Loghain had the temerity to be standing in Cailan's spot right in front of the throne up on the royal dais. Hardly surprising, but I wasn't the only person who noticed the placement – I saw several nobles gesturing to him and whispering amongst themselves, overhearing a few words, like 'King Loghain' said in a scornful voice. He stepped down, perhaps in response, responding sarcastically to Eamon's accusations, when he noticed Aedan, Alistair, Nathaniel, and Theron pushing their way to the front of the crowd.

When he hit the bottom of the stairs, Loghain called out, "Ah! And here, we have the puppeteer. Tell us, Warden, how will the Orlesians take our nation from us? Will they deign to send their troops, or simply issue their commands through this would-be prince? What did they offer you? How much is the price of Ferelden honour now?"

Alistair stepped forward before Aedan could, and responded, "The Blight is the real threat here, Teyrn Loghain, not Orlais." The scorn placed on Loghain's title was obvious, but he kept a straight face. I was immensely proud, and for one minute, a stupid grin plastered itself to my face.

Alfstanna and Wulff jumped in, agreeing vehemently, and then Loghain began to reply, confirming the Blight but questioning whether Wardens were needed to end it.

Aedan interrupted him, going completely off script, which amused me for some dark reason – I'd always wanted free reign to shout at Loghain in game, and finally Aedan had it.

My brother knew how to speak in public, his education as a noble's son obvious; he stepped forward, pitching his voice loud so it practically reverberated through the room; for the first time since we'd entered, all of the nobles stopped whispering amongst themselves and listened.

"You don't know the answer to that question, Loghain, because you never bothered to ask, or to listen. The truth is, Lords and Ladies, that Grey Wardens are the only ones who can kill the Archdemon. Cailan knew that." A little white lie, I supposed, that wouldn't hurt. "So in effect, Loghain sending the Wardens to their deaths at Ostagar, and sending assassins after the remaining two who survived his betrayal, almost ended any chance Ferelden had at defeating the Blight.

"And all this so he could try to seize power before anyone could oppose him; he even sent his men around the country, declaring him King Loghain to anyone who would listen."

Loghain tried to respond, but angry muttering which started out quietly soon became a roar of furious shouting. Aedan was able to raise his voice further, booming out over the noise, and they quieted again.

"And we know you were working with Rendon Howe, Loghain. He was many things, but he was not stupid; unless he knew in advance that King Cailan would not be coming home, he would not have felt secure in attacking Highever, massacring my family, or in taking over the Arling of Denerim and killing Vaughn Kendalls, the rightful heir, never mind torturing nobles and templars in his dungeon."

Bann Sighard shouted out, confirming that his son had been tortured; the angry muttering increased in volume again, and Loghain actually took a nervous step back from the seething crowd.

Loghain, trying to regain control, replied, "Howe was responsible for himself. He will answer to the Maker for any wrongs committed in this life, as must we all. But you know that – you were the one who murdered him. Whatever Howe may have done, he should have been brought before the Seneschal. There is no justice in butchering a man in his home."

Nathaniel stepped forward, and as one, the crowd fell silent. "Actually, I killed him, Loghain." Nate turned and faced the crowd. "I am Nathaniel Howe. I was warned that my father had gone mad, and I returned from the Free Marches to see the truth for myself. When my father realised that I opposed his actions, he captured me, torturing me just as he did Oswyn." He nodded to Bann Sighard. "I am sorry for his actions with your son, my Lord.

"I was forced to endure, while my father gloated how he had Loghain in his pocket, how once he had broken me, he would force Anora to marry me and then a Howe would be King. When the Grey Wardens rescued me from captivity, I accompanied them to the dungeon, and it was I who put him down like the rabid dog he had become.

"Justice would not have been served by bringing him to your Seneschal, when he was undoubtedly in on the whole thing. When an animal develops a taste for human flesh, it must be killed, and my father was just such an animal, at the end. He deserved no other outcome, and neither do you."

There were assorted indignant cries at the revealed information, and someone at the back actually threw something at Loghain – I thought it might be a prune, or perhaps a small plum – he dodged, and it landed wetly on the floor behind him. The crowd surged forward, and it seemed they might actually be angry enough to rip the man apart with their bare hands. I caught Zevran's eye – he was fingering his daggers, working his way towards a scowling, pock-faced man who had gripped his sword and looked to be debating pulling it to defend Loghain.

Aedan shouted out again and the crowd paused to listen once more. "Besides, Loghain, you would speak of justice? What justice was there in sending a blood mage to poison Arl Eamon, the one noble other than my father most likely to stand up against you? Are we expected to believe it was a happy accident for you that both of the families who could oppose you were conveniently out of the way? What justice was there in trying to have the Grey Wardens assassinated? In fomenting rebellion within the Circle?"

Loghain sneered and replied, "I assure you Warden, if I were going to send someone to poison a noble, it would be my own soldiers. I would not trust to the discretion of an apostate. Nor would I consort with hired assassins or Circle Mages."

Alfstanna stepped forward again. "Indeed? My brother tells a very different tale. He says you snatched a blood mage from the Chantry's justice. Coincidence?"

"Do not think the Chantry will overlook this, Teyrn Loghain. Interference in a Templar's sacred duties is an offense against the Maker," the wrinkled prune shouted, and there was more unhappy murmuring from the crowd.

Aedan followed that up with his own reply. "I have the maleficar you hired, as well as the assassin; They can testify, if the Landsmeet feels that to be necessary."

One again, people started arguing amongst themselves, the noise rising to almost unbearable levels, when Loghain let out a wordless roar. "Enough!" he shouted, when everyone stopped to look at him. "Whatever I have done, I will answer for later. At the moment, however, I wish to know what this Warden has done with my daughter?"

Alistair actually laughed. "What have we done? We protected her from you, from torture at Rendon Howe's hands, from a forced sham marriage that would have given Rendon Howe complete control over the throne. She hadn't been seen since long before we came to town, Loghain."

"You took my daughter, our Queen, by force, killing her guards in the process. What arts have you employed to keep her? Does she even still live?"

"I believe I can speak for myself. Lords and Ladies of Ferelden, hear me. This Warden has slandered and defamed Ferelden's greatest hero in a bid to put an imposter on Maric's throne."

Theron stiffened, then I saw him irritably rub at his helmet with his hand, the closest to a face-palm he could manage through the metal face shield. Aedan looked at Anora, where she emerged from her hiding place, his excellent acting skills evident as he stared open-mouthed in disbelief. Alistair's lips moved, and I knew he'd be muttering something about not being surprised she'd betrayed us again. The entire Landsmeet seemed to gasp in shock...or, looking at the outrage on the faces of many of the nobles, perhaps it was disbelief.

Aedan scoffed. "Perhaps, instead of being rescued, you'd have preferred being killed by your father's lackey or forced into a marriage allowing Rendon Howe to be the real power behind the throne?"

"I know my father. He would never do less than his utmost for the sake of his country, but I needed to know your mind, Warden. You could have proven yourself an ally of Ferelden. It is unfortunate for all of us that you did not."

"And here I thought you might have some dedication to preserving Cailan's legacy, Anora," Alistair drawled, a sneer on his face. "All we have done is to protect my brother's country from your father's madness!"

"Cailan was nothing but a fool, a man-sized child. Just because someone means well, does not make him fit to lead, any more than you are!"

Angry muttering was the result of her poorly thought-out comment; I face-palmed as Theron twitched again. Stupid move, Anora. How many times will it take before you realise that bad-mouthing Cailan won't benefit you?

I knew this farce wouldn't continue much longer.

Loghain shouted over the grumbling. "Who here can say that Anora is not fit to rule this land? And who can say that this Alistair is? We know nothing of him, save that he may have royal blood. For five years, Anora has been queen..."

Theron finally stepped forward, interrupting Loghain with an outstretched hand. He reached up to remove his helmet even as he began to speak.

"I believe I can answer that question." He shook his hair out, golden strands falling into place in his signature style; he handed his helmet to Alistair, who took it without hesitation, and immediately knelt. Aedan and Nathaniel also knelt; the rest of us watched, seeing if anyone would make a move towards Cailan. "I am, after all, the king."

I almost cheered as Anora's mouth fell open, her face blanching in shock – or horror. Loghain just looked sour, like he smelled something bad. Both continued staring at Cailan, apparently too surprised to react in any other way.

"Lords and Ladies of the Landsmeet. I was rescued at Ostagar by a loyal Fereldan who witnessed Loghain's withdrawal and came to my aid. I have hidden, ever since, at first to recover from my injuries, and then because I feared for Ferelden should Teyrn Loghain learn of my survival and make another attempt on my life. Alistair, who is indeed Maric's son and my half-brother, permitted this deception of trying to take the throne to allow me to hide and survive long enough to reach here and speak to you now."

Slowly at first, but then faster and faster, nobles standing in the Landsmeet began falling to their knees, kneeling to welcome home their reigning monarch. A few, with angry scowls on their faces, looked to Loghain for direction, before reluctantly kneeling. Even the soldiers scattered throughout the crowd, clearly on Loghain's payroll, slowly took their hands off their weapon hilts before kneeling; finally, relieved, the rest of our party followed suit.

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