tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 099-100

There and Back Again Ch. 099-100

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter Ninety-Nine: Protest

The trip back to the estate took longer, though at least I wasn't as grim as I'd been on the way. We took turns half-leading, half-carrying Zevran, but I was just grateful he'd come back with us. I almost hoped Zev would make Aedan beg and crawl for a while before taking him back...until I remembered what they were supposed to be doing the following day. I wasn't sure Aedan would be able to pull off infiltrating Howe's estate without Zevran, especially if he was in as bad a mental state as I expected him to be.

Zev finally sagged into unconsciousness; Alistair carried him the last hundred feet to the estate, and we went straight to the barracks, putting the unconscious elf in the bunk he'd been assigned but not used since we'd arrived. I'd insisted Leli and Alistair promise not to tell Aedan where we'd found Zevran and what he'd been doing; there was going to be enough drama over the next few days without Aedan finding out those details.

I went to tell Aedan we'd found the Antivan; as much as the idiot deserved a bit of misery, I couldn't leave him worrying all night.

"He's in his bunk in the barracks, Aedan. And I expect you to leave him alone there until he comes to you; he needs some rest. If we're lucky, he'll agree to go with you tomorrow. If not, you need to be prepared to go without him."

"I want to see him." Aedan looked like hell warmed over, and my irritation with him faded just a little.

"Maybe he doesn't want to see you? Leave him be. At least until the morning. And I'd suggest a public apology when he wakes up." He nodded. "I'm going for supper. I hope the cook still has something left for us. You coming?"

He shook his head miserably. I took pity on him and kissed his cheek. "Don't screw it up tomorrow, okay?"

I had a quick supper with Leli and Alistair, everyone else having eaten earlier. Afterwards I couldn't justify sending Alistair to bed alone; I was still a little emotional, and I needed my husband. We went to bed early, not even bothering with the fiction of separate rooms. We spent a couple of hours just cuddling and kissing and talking, before we made love and fell asleep entangled.

I left in the morning only to get clean clothes out of my room; I had no doubt that, by now, the servants had caught on to the fact that we were sleeping together, and by extension, I was sure Erlina knew. I could only hope no one had realised that we were married; the fact that wedding rings weren't a Fereldan custom helped, because both of us had tan lines around our rings that would have been obvious on Earth.

When we went to the dining room, Zevran was seated, chatting animatedly with Teagan like nothing had happened; I wondered if it was just the sleep, his innate metabolism, or if Wynne had given him a potion, but he didn't look hungover at all. Aedan hadn't arrived yet, but he came in just behind Alistair and I, and I wondered if it was on purpose.

Hands shaking, Aedan ignored the onlookers and approached Zevran; the elf took one look at his face and stood, stepping out into the hallway. He turned back once to see if Aedan was following him; Aedan, whose face was crestfallen when Zevran walked away, rushed to catch up. By unspoken consent, we all stayed at one end of the hallway while the two men headed to the other end; they were far enough away that we couldn't hear what was said, though we could still see.

Aedan reached out and took one of Zevran's hands before kneeling in front of him in supplication. Words were exchanged; Aedan shed tears, Zevran pulled away, the conversation became more animated, and finally Aedan stood and pulled the elf to him and kissed him savagely. Zevran responded in kind. There was so much raw pain in the kiss I had to look away; I curled into Alistair's chest, noticing he was also conspicuously not watching.

I looked back just in time to see Zevran wrench himself out of the kiss angrily. They spoke again for a few moments, and then Aedan nodded as Zevran turned and walked away. I rolled my eyes; yet another man trying to make up for stupid mistakes with kissing. At least he didn't try fellatio in the library...

Aedan returned and we ate an awkward breakfast together. No one spoke, everyone darting quick, worried looks in my brother's direction before looking away again, embarrassed. Finally finished, he confirmed that he would be taking Zevran, Leliana, Wulf, and Anders with him; the rest of our companions would be going with Eamon and Duncan to the Palace. Our distraction was planned for noon; Aedan hoped to be back at Eamon's estate for supper, Anora in tow.

I worried about what would happen; I didn't want Aedan to end up in Fort Drakon, even though I knew he could get out if he needed to. He'd swallowed a specially prepared lockpick, as well as had one braided into his hair and another tucked inside his cheek, just in case. We'd also made a plan for Alistair and Jowan to break him out if he wasn't back by nightfall – Leli had somehow acquired a set of uniforms for the Fort Drakon guard, and they were the only two who would fit.

Despite our preparations, I worried. The game faded to black when the Wardens were captured – had they been beaten? Tortured? Raped? – and I couldn't help but obsess over those possibilities. And that was without worrying what would happen at Howe's. We would have enough manpower at the Palace, between the soldiers of the nobles involved, the rest of the Wardens and our companions, that Loghain's options would be limited; Aedan would only have himself plus three other rogues and a healer.

I tried not to be sick as I put on my armour. Red, the colour of blood, I decided morbidly.

I gave Aedan one last desperate hug, before turning and hiding my concern. Zevran approached me and offered me a hug as well; I clung to him, whispering "Stay safe, and bring him home, okay?" and the assassin nodded.

"I won't get the chance to make him squirm, if I don't, yes?"

I giggled despite my worry and kissed Zevran's cheek in appreciation.

The rest of our group – Eamon, Teagan, Alistair, Duncan, Theron, as well as our companions, sixteen of us in all – formed up with the identifiable targets in the middle, joined up with the group of soldiers accompanying us, and headed towards the Palace.

I couldn't help but worry it would be the last time I saw Aedan. I put that thought out of my head as fast as I was able. Their plan was solid; they'd take out a couple of guards on the grounds with coma-inducing poisons, Leli would fire poisoned arrows at those on the ramparts, and then with the aid of a kind of cross-bow equipped with a grappling hook instead of a bolt – one of Zevran's acquisitions – they would scale the ramparts. They'd sneak through the place as much as possible, disabling rather than killing the guards; Leliana had stolen a guard uniform the day before, slipping into the kitchen and poisoning some of the food with something that would incapacitate even more of the guards.

Once done, they'd confront Howe, kill the mage barricading Anora's door, and escape. I worried about Aedan seeing Howe, as well; I had real concerns that he would lose his head and go berserk, putting himself at risk. I hoped Zevran had his head in the game enough to catch Aedan and pull him back from the brink as he so frequently had before.

I shook my head, trying to bury the worries; I could do nothing to improve the situation, and I was going to need my wits about me at the Palace. I tried to focus on our surroundings, watching for danger at every cross street. Alistair caught my eye at one point and shot me a sympathetic look; I tried to smile reassuringly, and then looked away before I could start worrying again.

The Palace gate had dozens of people standing around it; I caught sight of Alfstanna, and a man with strawberry-blond, long hair who I assumed to be Arl Bryland. Both were surrounded by a sea of guards who parted to allow Eamon, Teagan, Alistair, and Duncan through. The rest of us tried to stay with them, but had to settle for being distributed throughout the crowd of armed men at the gates. I couldn't get close enough to hear, but the nobles spoke with a smartly-dressed guard, who apparently called for another to come over; after a few minutes, a third arrived. The third guard was wearing a more elaborate uniform than the first two, and I assumed he was a captain. He left after a few minutes of tense discussion; Duncan had had to come forward, and it increased my anxiety to know that now Loghain knew exactly who was at his gate.

More guards poured out of the Palace, though we still had them greatly outnumbered; soon a tall, dark-haired, severe-looking woman in shining armour pushed her way through. Ser Cauthrien. I almost cheered. She began ordering the guards to form up ranks, then spoke with Eamon for a while. She was visibly agitated when she caught sight of Duncan, and I wondered how much was guilt and how much rationalised anger. I'm curious if she's been able to convince herself that she did the right thing, calling the retreat at Ostagar, or if she knows she left the King to die.

I noticed that Theron had managed to situate himself close to the group of nobles; I only hoped he'd be able to keep his temper regardless of what might be said. I slowly inched towards the centre of the group, and noticed the others doing the same.

After probably half an hour of intermittent discussion between Ser Cauthrien and the two Arls and two Banns, there was a disturbance at behind the forces lined up on the opposite side of the gate. A gap was made, and through it walked Teyrn Loghain MacTir himself.

I had never been a fan of Loghain in the game; regardless of his intentions at Ostagar, he'd tried to kill the Grey Wardens, seize the throne, start a civil war, allow any nobles who could stand against him to be killed or poisoned, and tried to sell elves as slaves. He was nothing that Ferelden stood for, in my experience; not anymore. I had read the book about him as a young man during the rebellion; I could not reconcile that Loghain with the man who stood before me.

I knew some people found him attractive; I didn't really get it. His face was all angles, sharp and severe, and his hair was braided in a fashion that I found didn't suit him. His expression was haughty, and I wondered if the young man from the novels would even recognise himself as an adult. There was more than a passing resemblance between him and Cauthrien, actually, and I began wondering if the speculation I'd seen of the forums that he was her father was true.

Cauthrien walked up to him before he reached the gate; they talked for a few minutes, while Loghain's eyes roved the crowd in front of the gates. He scowled at Eamon and the other nobles, even more so at Alistair; he looked practically apoplectic when he saw Duncan. I nonchalantly inched even closer, hoping to hear what he would say; unfortunately, so did the rest of the crowd, so it didn't help much.

Finally Loghain approached the gates, voice pitched low enough that I couldn't hear it over the clanking and shifting of the armoured men around me. Eamon replied, and soon Alfstanna, Teagan, and Leonas were all interjecting. Duncan and Alistair stayed quiet, watching, though I saw Alistair's face redden as he tried to hold his temper.

There was a flash of movement in my peripheral vision, and I turned in time to see an unfamiliar man collapse on the other side of the crowd; blood sprayed out and some of it caught Loghain across the face, which was almost funny until I saw Faren and Bel drag the man into the small clearing near Eamon and throw him down.

"An assassin," asserted Faren, loud enough that everyone could hear him, and I looked at the human on his belly. He had dark hair, was in fact entirely non-descript, and wearing armour without markings, but on second glance, his armour was a lot nicer than most of the soldiers around us, and a wicked-looking barbed dagger – probably poisoned – had been knocked from his hand to land on the ground at Loghain's feet. "Stupid, too – he assumed no one would notice the knife if he held it down below the waist." The dwarf hauled him to his knees, ignoring the pool of blood slowly spreading at his feet.

I could see an entirely inappropriate joke about dwarven height being hilarious later, but at that moment all I could feel was fury. I wondered who the dagger had been meant for. Duncan? Eamon? Alistair? So many targets, so little time.

"One of yours, Loghain? And you wonder why the Landsmeet is in no hurry to hand you the throne." Eamon looked smug, and it occurred to me he might have been hoping for just such an event – as long as it hadn't succeeded, of course. He spoke loudly enough for his voice to carry over the entire crowd.

"I've never seen this man before," Loghain declared, expression offended. But I thought his eyes lingered a little too long on the bowed head to be entirely believable. Cauthrien blanched, looking between Loghain and the would-be assassin in shock. Not so good at hiding her expressions, that one. The prisoner himself just looked resigned, avoiding making eye contact with anyone. It didn't take much to guess it had been a suicide mission.

Eamon gestured at the man. "Senior Enchanter Wynne, if you would? This man will be taken back to my estate for questioning."

The elderly mage stepped forward, but before she could even start casting, the captured assassin began to convulse, flopping forward onto his face, blood and foam running out of his mouth. Wynne knelt, and began one of her diagnostic scans; her face twisted in an unpleasant scowl.

"Poison, your Grace. Lethal. He must have cut himself with his dagger." She gestured to one outflung arm with its own small pool of blood. "I'm sorry; there's nothing I can do." She stood, dusting off her robes, and melted back into the crowd. After a few horrifying minutes, the assassin stopped thrashing, now just a shell covered in blood and excrement.

Eamon spoke, ignoring the corpse at his feet. "Well, Teyrn Loghain," his voice was dripping with scorn, "unless you'd like us to wait while you arrange another assassination attempt, we demand to speak to Anora, the Dowager Queen of Ferelden."

I winced; calling Anora the 'dowager' – which was tantamount to declaring her rulership entirely illegitimate – in front of Loghain was carefully calculated to infuriate the man, and it worked. Loghain's face reddened with anger, his mouth working silently as though he was too furious to speak. The silent gasps of almost everyone in the vicinity – on both sides of the gate – would be obvious even without sound.

Eamon carried on. "As her regent, it is your duty to produce her when requested by the Landsmeet. Frankly, I'm surprised she's not here already; in fact no one has seen her in weeks."

He gestured grandly, looking around, catching the eye not only of Cauthrien, but also the nearest guards on the opposite side of the gate. "Teyrn Loghain, where is your daughter?"

Loghain sputtered and mumbled something, making it obvious he didn't have a good answer to the question; picking up on his discomfort, the other nobles began asking their own questions, followed by shouting as the soldiers around got into it as well. Soon the noise was thunderous, only the odd word – Queen, or Anora mostly – intelligible. Loghain's face flushed, and he stepped back from the gate; if there was any reasonable response, no one heard it.

Ser Cauthrien spoke excitedly to Loghain for a few moments, gesticulating wildly; I didn't fail to see her pointing at the corpse of the would-be assassin at least once. Loghain shook his head, answering her with his hands raised in a 'calm down' gesture, and finally, reluctantly, she turned. He grabbed her arm, said something that looked harsh in her ear, and her shoulders slumped.

When Loghain released her, Cauthrien shouted to the guards formed up on their side of the gate, pulling them to attention; whatever she shouted must have been a command of some sort, because as one, they drew their weapons and readied their shields. Suddenly on the walls above us, a bunch of archers with arrows nocked leaned over the crenellations.

Loghain roared, loud enough to silence the shouting of the crowd, and everyone turned their eyes to his angry face.

"That's enough! This gathering is unlawful. I suggest you all return to your estates before I instruct the archers to fire."

"We will have a Landsmeet, Loghain! You cannot stop us. And then we shall see who is giving the orders." Alfstanna looked livid, her face an ugly almost-purple, as she openly threatened Loghain. Finally, with a lot more grumbling, each of the nobles counted off a handful of soldiers to remain watching the gates, and report back if anything happened, and the rest of us turned and shuffled off the way we'd come.

Eamon and Teagan bid goodbye to Alfstanna and Leonas as they peeled off to head to their own estates, and we finally arrived back at Eamon's estate probably three hours after we'd left. I only hoped it was enough time for whatever Aedan was up to. Once we hit the library, I collapsed into the first chair I saw, emotionally more than physically exhausted.

The rest of the group, minus the soldiers, who scattered back to the barracks, took seats around me, everyone looking as wrung out as I felt. Eamon looked slightly pale, and excused himself to go help the Arlessa pack – she was leaving with Connor the next morning. I closed my eyes, contemplating sleeping right where I sat.

"Did you see the look on Ser Cauthrien's face when she saw who that assassin was?" Alistair sounded incredulous. "She could use some acting lessons."

I snickered.

Teagan sighed. "Undoubtedly confirmation that he was one of Loghain's. Poor bastard."

"You feel sorry for him?" I opened one eye to peer at Teagan skeptically.

"Well, it's not like it would have been his idea," Teagan replied defensively. "And anyway, it was a suicide mission – either Loghain was blackmailing him somehow, or he was bought with promises – freedom for his family, perhaps? But he had to die in the attempt so he couldn't be questioned. Did you see the corpse? Whatever that poison was, it dried him up like a giant raisin. If he'd poisoned himself a minute earlier, Cauthrien wouldn't have been able to recognise him."

"I feel like it can only be a good thing that Cauthrien saw the lengths Loghain was willing to go to, that she knows the assassin was one of his." Jowan looked nervous, until everyone nodded and he visibly relaxed. "You said that, by the Landsmeet, she can be reasoned with, at least a little, right? That should help."

I nodded, smiling at the blood mage, and then closed my eyes again.

"Watching Loghain gape like a fish when the Arl demanded he produce the 'dowager queen' was pretty amusing," Faren laughed. "I can see that rumour getting around – the regent and general of the armies has no idea where the queen is? Perfect."

Theron, the only one still wearing his full helmet, gestured and Bel stood to close the door to the library. He pulled off his helmet and grimaced. "I admit I was sort of hoping you were wrong about where Anora was, Sierra." He ran his fingers through his long blond hair sheepishly. "But I'd say there's no question she's out of Loghain's grasp, and he wasn't happy about it."

"Let's just hope that Aedan and the others accomplished their goal." Duncan was practically glowering.

"I'm impressed you kept your temper, Duncan," Teagan responded. "Not that it was unexpected, but I rather worried that when he accused you of killing Cailan to escape, you'd try to kill him instead."

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