tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 119-120

There and Back Again Ch. 119-120

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter One Hundred Nineteen: Goodbyes

The Landsmeet convened four days later; we'd all gotten over any hangovers we'd been left with - Anders had looked like death until he healed himself the next day - and Aedan had sent most of our group on to Amaranthine to wait for us. The Landsmeet was the last thing we needed to do before we followed them, and Riordan, Loghain, and Dougal would be leaving for Nevarra with Anora by boat from Denerim.

I was surprised to discover, as I entered the Landsmeet chamber, that I had an assigned place to stand. It was up on one of the daises, near Fergus but thankfully not right beside. Based on the few nobles I recognised and where they were standing, my rank was somewhere roughly equivalent to an Arl, and I saw more than a few scowls and speculative glances directed my way by the nobility who stood below. No one spoke to me, and everyone nearby left a small but obvious space around me. I had to admit to being slightly offended, but didn't care enough to try and breach the gap with small talk.

I wore black trousers and a long jacket that hung below my rear end, similar in style to what Sereda had been wearing in Orzammar; Leliana, my personal fashion miracle worker, had found a tailor and had several similar outfits made for me before the Landsmeet. I had a thin, expensive chain shirt on under the jacket as protection, and the trousers were lined with some fabric she'd found that was almost as protective as leather. The style was distinctly feminine without being overly girly, and I noticed some of the looks I got from the noblewomen in attendance were more directed at my clothing than my station. I wonder if I've started a new trend, or just made myself the target of the court gossips. Not that I cared, but it could be amusing.

Cailan had the Wardens near the front in a place of honour, and I exchanged nods and winks with my husband and brother as they stood impassively in full armour. They weren't the only ones, I noticed; Teyrn Wulff and Arl Bryland, among a few others, were also wearing plate mail. Even the nobles in fancy clothes, which was most of them, had swords sheathed at their sides, and the women had daggers tucked under belts and kirtles if you knew where to look. I saw the glint of metal under more than one shirt. But their demeanors weren't aggressive towards each other, and it felt more like preparation against assassins or an attack from the outside than fear of fighting within the Landsmeet.

Riordan, Zevran, Wulf, Sten, and Dougal stood behind Aedan and Alistair, with Loghain half-hidden behind them. I was somewhat surprised to see him there, but supposed that Cailan could benefit by his tacit support. None of the nobility had openly declared opposition to Cailan's rule, but it wasn't too far a stretch to imagine that some of them might rally behind Loghain or Anora given any encouragement.

The Grand Cleric was conspicuously absent, as the Landsmeet began; there was an older woman in Chantry robes, a Revered Mother I assumed, standing quietly where she normally would have sat, and as Cailan welcomed everyone, I speculated on whether she'd be Elemena's replacement. Anyone would be better than that old bat, but I hope at least Elemena doesn't get to pick her own successor.

The initial part of the Landsmeet was interesting to me only in speculating which aging, overweight nobleman was going to expire of a heart attack as Cailan described the fire and rebuilding in the Alienage. Apparently half of the nobility weren't even aware of what had happened - Maker forbid one of them look over the wall or speak to an elf! - and some of them were having complete fits over the expense. Cailan justified it, given the basically free labour - between the elves and the army - and the stonemasons, who'd already been paid.

The outrage increased even more when Cailan announced that he had revoked the law prohibiting elves from being armed. Now they were allowed to carry weapons within the Alienage, as well as join the city guard. Sergeant Kylon was called, and he strongly supported the measure, giving testimony that the elves he'd accepted were some of the hardest working and most effective of his guardsmen.

All of that was forgotten, however, when Cailan introduced Kallian as the Bann of the Alienage. Evidently Valendrian had been allowed to choose who would speak for the elves, and he and the other elders had unanimously chosen Kallian. She came in and stepped down onto the floor with several other Banns and lower nobility, purposefully placing herself at the bottom of the hierarchy, I noticed. There was a lot of muttering and staring; the nobles left enough room around her to avoid spreading a plague, but Kallian merely stood straight, looking directly ahead at Cailan, the very image of grace under pressure. After a few awkward moments, Alfstanna stepped forward, nodding at the petite elf and standing by her side, arms crossed imposingly. Cailan shot the young Bann a grateful look, but she didn't look like she felt the need for his approval. The muttering stopped, people obviously not wanting to offend Bann Alfstanna, and the Landsmeet moved on.

The treaties Cailan had signed - with Sereda and Lanaya, as well as with Aedan and Alistair - were put on record, and I thought I saw a hint of surprised approval from many of the nobles present. He'd done a remarkable job to get the agreements, and was clever enough to word them in such a way that they were not only mutual non-aggression pacts, but required aid from both elves and dwarves if Ferelden were ever invaded - whether by darkspawn or Orlesians. And all he'd had to give up was some Blighted land near Ostagar, and recognise Orzammar's sovereignty - which had never been up for debate, as far as I knew. We'd have to protect those new allies from invasion as well, but given their locations, if they were under attack, so was Ferelden. The treaties between Orzammar, the Dalish, and the Grey Wardens were mentioned only in passing - Warden matters, not Landsmeet, I supposed.

After a brief break for lunch - food was brought in by a small army of servants, and the nobles were served fresh bread, cheese, chilled meat, and watered wine - the Landsmeet approved a small increase in taxes from the lands unaffected by the Blight to help those with damaged lands rebuild, as well as support the Grey Wardens. Cailan spent some time explaining trade deals he'd worked out with various cities in the Free Marches, Nevarra, Orzammar, and Orlais to aid in the recovery. He announced the separation of our Grey Wardens from Weisshaupt, explaining we had requested a mutual-aid treaty in the case of another Blight. I wondered if Weisshaupt would accept; time would tell.

I was shocked when Cailan put Eamon's name forward as the new Arl of Denerim. Given the degree of acrimony between the two men, I was amazed Cailan would want his uncle so close by, but I had to admit, Eamon had done surprisingly well working on the rebuilding of the Alienage, and Kallian was the first to throw her support in for the appointment. It was approved on a temporary basis, given his lack of eligible heirs; I wondered if he and Isolde would try again and end up with a little girl who was also a mage. Redcliffe was transferred to Teagan, who managed to look pleased and shocked, though I doubted anyone was actually surprised. Word of Teagan's defense of Redcliffe and his leading a battalion against the darkspawn had spread among the nobility, and he was suddenly exceptionally popular with the young ladies.

I wondered how disappointed they'd all be when he married Kaitlyn.

The last order of business was the fate of Anora. To Cailan's credit, his ex-wife was brought in for the discussion, and he told the Landsmeet she would be allowed to voice an opinion on the options available. He didn't mention she'd already made her choice. He proceeded to explain the choices he'd approved:

She would be allowed to dedicate herself as a Chantry initiate, staying in Ferelden at an isolated Monastery on the eastern shore beyond the Brecilian Forest. She would have to give her oath not to become involved in Fereldan politics in any way, and not to leave the monastery for the rest of her life.

She would be allowed to join the Weisshaupt Grey Wardens, if they would take her, with the understanding that she would be kept out of Orlais and away from Ferelden.

The third option would be to travel to Nevarra, which was what I knew had been decided. Cailan explained the favourable marriage contract with an older nobleman, a duke named Rethnar Anaxas from Hunter's Fell, in northern Nevarra. If he succeeded in his political bid, and she helped him, she'd be well set up in Nevarra when he died and his children inherited. He had the equivalent of an Arling, with several vassals, that she would administer while he was in Nevarra City, not to mention joining him there if he was successful.

Everyone seemed surprised to see Cailan had gone to so much effort to give her options that weren't awful; he'd seemed so angry, before the prior Landsmeet, but all I could see in his eyes when he looked at her was regret. I was proud of him for not trying to make himself feel better by punishing her. Her expression was still somewhat startled, and I wondered if she had expected he'd change his mind and have her executed for treason.

The other nobles seemed to be waiting to see what Anora would say; she traded glances with her father, then examined Cailan's impassive face for a moment before speaking.

"For one who has been put aside and all but charged with treason, I am gratified to be allowed the opportunity to have input on my own fate. I would apologise for my actions before and during the Blight if I thought those sentiments would be accepted, but I know they will not.

"While I respect the Chantry and the Grey Wardens, I have no wish to join them. I am neither sufficiently devout, nor do I have the martial prowess for either of those options to make sense. I will accept my exile to Nevarra, and my marriage to Duke Anaxas, if his Majesty will allow it, with gratitude."

The look that passed between Cailan and Anora was heartbreaking, but also hopeful somehow. Perhaps it was the reality of their annulment setting in, but it seemed they both regretted how things had fallen apart between them, but also accepted that they were better off separate, not together; they had hope for their futures. Maybe they really just brought out the worst in each other. Had things been different... I was struck by a sobering thought, and I sought out Alistair on the floor near Cailan. He glanced at me at the same time, eyes drawn to mine, and he smiled - the type of smile that crinkled his eyes and lit up his face. No, that will never be us. I blew him a kiss, and he reddened slightly, rubbing at his neck with a silly grin.

The court approved Anora's choice, and Cailan declared that Anora, escorted by the Orlesian Wardens and Loghain, would depart for Nevarra on the morning tide. With that settled, the Landsmeet was over - one of the fastest in recent history, according to a nobleman I overheard talking to Fergus.

"And that's as it should be," he declared, a bored-looking Fergus nodding. "We have enough problems waiting for all of us at home; it's a waste of time for every noble in the country to be tied up here in meetings when we should be attending to the harvest and rebuilding."

I hoped the rest of the nobility felt the same way, and would go home and work hard to ensure the entire country didn't starve over the winter.

The remaining Wardens - except Loghain - and Cailan, Kallian, Teagan, Eamon, Fergus, Alfstanna Eremon, Leonas Bryland, and Gallagher Wulff, among a small number of other nobles, went to the Gnawed Noble for supper. I was famished; the lunch in the Landsmeet had been fine, but the portion was suitable for a normal skinny human girl, not the Grey Warden appetite I had. I ate as much as I could without being obvious, and Alistair promised to sneak into the palace kitchens when we got back for a snack.

It was a nice celebration, more personal and real than the massive gathering we'd been so visible at a few days prior. Kallian was accepted without question, to her apparent surprise, and was soon chatting with Bann Alfstanna and Teyrn Wulff about ways to improve the lives of the elves living in their Alienages. Cailan and the other nobles acted like normal people, much to the confusion of the wait staff who had to be convinced to stop bowing or curtseying every second minute and calling everyone by pretentious titles. It was amusing to watch them initially fall all over themselves, but they finally got back to normal, serving us without fuss.

By unspoken agreement, we didn't discuss the Blight or the Landsmeet, the rebuilding, the darkspawn, or anything else awful or contentious. I got to know several of the nobles better, and felt like they were the sort of people who'd support the changes I hoped to see in Ferelden since Cailan's reinstatement. None of them seemed racist, classist, sexist, or homophobic, and all of them avoided discussing the Chantry in a way that led me to believe they'd fix those problems too, given half a chance. And it was nice having a chance to talk to a female noble; there weren't many that held titles, despite there being no rule against it, and Alfstanna was refreshingly direct about holding her own in a man's world.

"You'll be alright," she asserted. "Don't let them get away with anything, stand up for what's right, and don't let it matter what you have under your armour.

"I like that outfit, though - feminine without being...frilly. I've been accused of being too masculine, never taking off my armour. Can I have the name of your tailor?"

I had no idea, of course; I promised to find out from Leliana and send word.

Teagan admitted he had chickened out and had yet to propose; he promised he would be asking Kaitlyn to marry him on his return to Redcliffe, and was teased good-naturedly for a while about working on an heir. He avoided turning it back on Cailan, Fergus, Alfstanna, or Eamon, all currently without heirs of their own - for various reasons, many of them tragic - and I was grateful.

Fergus bowed out early, not that I was surprised; we were all trying to be happy, and he was still coming to terms with his losses. I held Aedan's arm when he got up to chase after him; it was clear Fergus wanted to be alone. "In the morning," I assured Aedan, and my brother sighed and nodded sadly.

We settled the bill between us and went back to the palace; I was almost dizzy with relief that the Landsmeet was over and no one had died. My Prince made love to me, as relieved as I to be done with the politics for a good long time.

The ship to Nevarra was set to sail on the mid-day tide; we found ourselves on the dock an hour before, trying to figure out how to say goodbye to someone we knew wouldn't survive to see us again. I let Aedan and Alistair talk to Riordan and Dougal one last time, standing off to the side alone, while Cailan had words with the captain. Anora approached me while I was busy watching Cailan, clearing her throat to get my attention.

"I was doomed from the start, wasn't I? You played the game well." She sniffed, her superior attitude coming off as sour grapes, and I suppressed a smile.

"That's the thing. I wasn't playing a game. I mean, we lied, obviously, but none of us did anything to you, Anora. He'd have been prepared to forgive you, I think, to let you stay his queen - but you destroyed any chance of that when you betrayed us in the Landsmeet. Something you don't truly understand about your former husband, I think, is his sense of justice."

"Oh, and you know him so much better than I?"

I sighed, saddened by her pathetic insinuation. "Not carnally, if that's what you're asking." I rolled my eyes. "But when was the last time you actually talked to him? Not telling him what to do, or blowing him off, not trying to shoo him out from underfoot...but actually had a conversation? Asked him what he thought about something? I'd wager I do know your husband better than you, to be honest. Cailan is many things, sheltered being one, and he's had a lot of growing up to do over the past year, thanks not only to you and your father, but also to Maric...but he cares a lot about things being fair. And I don't think you know the meaning of the word."

"You could have been queen, you know. I've seen the way he looks at you. You chose the wrong brother. Too late now, of course; the Landsmeet would never accept you now, having been married to someone else."

"That's the difference between you and me, Anora. I don't want to be queen; I never did. I chose my husband for love, not power or influence. I wouldn't have cared if he was a peasant from the poorest farm in all of Ferelden, I'd still have married Alistair. As for Cailan, that look you mentioned is disbelief, not interest. He doesn't know quite what to do with someone who tells him the truth, without hiding or sugar-coating it, and who isn't helplessly waiting to fall into his bed. Was jealousy really what was driving you, all these years? That's just...sad. I think I pity you, actually."

Her eyes flashed, barely concealed rage on her face, but we were interrupted by the captain, who approached Anora with his hand out. "My Lady, may I escort you on board?"

"I wish you luck, Anora. I hope Nevarra agrees with you."

She huffed indignantly, refusing to make eye contact, and stormed on board, not saying goodbye to Cailan or even making eye contact; not even waiting for the captain, who watched her go with an amused smirk. "This is going to be a long trip, isn't it?"

I hummed an agreement, and after bowing politely to me, he turned and walked up the ramp, leaving me to approach the Grey Wardens with Cailan. Riordan turned to me with a subdued smile.

I had no words, so just stepped up and pulled the Orlesian into a hug. He patted my hair, reminding me of Duncan, and I turned away to hide my tear-filled eyes as the rest of the group said goodbye as well. Cailan and his guards left; it was just Wardens left on the docks as the sailors got ready to go.

I turned to Loghain, crossing my arms and bowing as Wardens seemed to like to do. "Good luck, Warden." He searched my face, probably for some sign of irony or mocking, but I was truly sincere. Just because I'm happy you're leaving doesn't mean I'm hoping for you to be miserable. Not entirely, anyway.

He finally nodded, one corner of his lips turning up in an almost-smile. "Thank you, your Highness."

I winced, rolling my eyes as he smirked. "Dare I ask - what for?"

"I know you were part of the reason I was recruited, and Anora was kept safe. Duncan told me, before... Anyway, thank you. And good luck."

"Try not to kill any Orlesians when they call you a 'dog lord', alright?"

He chuckled, his gravelly voice tight as he looked around at Denerim one last time. He bowed to the rest of the group, took a last deep breath, and walked up the plank without looking back.

Dougal offered hugs all around, the stocky older man somewhat teary himself, and I took the opportunity to tease him into smiling. "Don't worry," I whispered. "Wynne's going to travel, I just know it. Show her a good time, would you?"

He ruffled my hair, making me squawk in annoyance, and after finishing his goodbyes, he hoisted his bag and carried it carefully on board.

We all stood and saluted as the boat bearing three of the heroes of the Blight pulled away from the docks; Dougal and Riordan stood at the rails, and I waved until I couldn't see them anymore in the afternoon glare. I pulled my husband, my brother, and my Antivan friend into a group hug with a strangled sob when they were gone, grateful beyond my ability to express it for the three of them.

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