Ostagar is a ruin of an old fortress in the wilds. they’ve fixed it up some and encamped the army and wardens there.
Duncan and his new recruit are met at the gate by King Cailan himself. A young, boisterous, and enthusiastic King who is eager to go into glorious battle against the darkspawn. Valorien wonders if the humans’ king is mad. But Cailen has to run off to be bored by Teyrn Loghain’s strategy session. Duncan lets Valorien wander around the encampment, and his first stop is to try to find out who’s really in charge around here!
Finding Loghain’s tent was no difficult matter. It was a huge affair, striped blue and white, near to the king’s own elaborate tent. The area was conspicusouly clear of anyone idling about. Valorien approached the guard, but was summarily turned away.
He prowled further around the camp. In places there were trees, and of course tents, much like an elven camp. But much of the ground was paved with stone, and parts of the ruined city remained intact: walls, ramps, pillars. Some were built up with newer, semi-permanant structures, such as wooden pallisades, a raised platform where a woman cast blessings on a small gathering of soldiers, sheds and corrals, and hastily-assembled roofs for storage areas. From afar, Ostagar had seemed like a city being taken back by the natural world. Up close, it looked more like the unnatural buildings were invading and killing the forest. It was disconcerting, and yet, it was not a full human city.
A group of human warriors stood near the north gate. Large, thick-chested dogs lounged around with them. These where the mabari — war dogs. Each was painted with a different pattern of stripes and spirals in various shades of brown and red. Two of the dogs lunged at each other, growling and tussling, until the handlers yelled at them and broke it up.
“Hey, Pic!” a dark-bearded human called out to a passing elf. The young, russet-haired fellow went scurrying over, bobbing his head in respect. He must be one of the ‘city elves,’ who lived with the humans. Mostly, they were servants and laborers, hardly better than the slaves they had been thousands of years ago.
Valorien narrowed his eyes, but the mabari-handler only handed the elf a folded missive and told him to take it to Loghain. The elf bowed and tucked the paper into his belt. He shifted a bundle he was already carrying and continued on his way. Valorien slipped between the tents and caught up with him.
“You, there. Wait a moment.”
“I’m already working as fast as I can; I have to deliv– oh!” The elf nimbly tried to duck past Valorien, but then he happened to glance up. “What– Who are you?”
“I am with the Grey Wardens,” Valorien told him.
“I couldn’t believe the rumors were true — you *are* an elf!” His hazel eyes traced the interlocking pattern tattooed across Valorien’s brow. “You — you’re Dalish,” he breathed in awe. “But what do you want with me? I have to deliver Brielach’s sword to the quartermaster for repair, and I’m late as it is.” The young man fidgeted, necessitating another heft of his bundle to resettle it in his grip.
Valorien made an effort to soften his voice, as he did not want to frighten the fellow. “Did not those knights give you a message to deliver to Loghain?”
“Well, yes. But that can wait, the quartermaster will beat me if I am not quick enough about my work.”
“Is that so?” Valorien forced his tone to stay level. “Give me the message for Loghain, and I will take it to him.”
The elf frowned and tipped his head. “Why? Why would you want to help me?”
“I wish to speak to Loghain, and the guard will not allow me to see him.”
“I could get in big trouble. BIG trouble! I’d better not.”
“Very well, but at least let me accompany you when you deliver it.”
The servant scurried off, and Valorien followed with a more measured stride. He stopped to admire the longbow worn by one of the humans. This man turned out to be another of Duncan’s recruits, a Grey Warden in training. He seemed decent enough. But Valorien excused himself, saying he had to see the quartermaster.
This person turned out to be a balding human, who was harranging his servant. “How many times do I have to tell you not to dawdle? Damned lazy elf!” This he punctuated with a backhanded slap.
“Quartermaster,” Valorien interrupted.
The man glanced at him. “What took you so long? And what are you doing wearing that? The soldiers’ things are not for you to play with!”
“Just to whom is it you believe you are speaking?”
“I–!” The quartermaster turned from his cowed servant. “Oh. Oh, it’s… it’s you. You must be the new Warden Duncan brought in today. I didn’t expect… uhm…”
Valorien only stared at him.
“I mean, uh… I heard he brought an elf, I didn’t credit it. I didn’t think– er..”
Valorien stared coldly and the quartermaster sweated.
“I mean, I didn’t mean any insult! It’s just that, my servants…. They, uhhm…”
“Perhaps you should treat your servants with more respect.”
“Oh, yes!” He nodded, seeming relieved this wild elf wasn’t going to put an arrow through his throat. “I should do that. I mean, I will do that. Yes, sir!” He flapped his hands at the elf, who flinched. “Go on, off with you now! There’s a good lad.” The quartermaster turned back to Valorien. “Is there anything I can help you with, sir?”
“Not at this time. But I shall return later.”
Valorien caught up with the servant again.
“I thank you, ser,” the young man said, bowing in gratitude, probably out of habit. “Would you still like to take this message to Loghain?”
Valorien pressed his lips together. He didn’t like how swiftly the elf had changed his allegience. Was that all it took, one instance of someone speaking up to the shemlen? This human king did not hold much loyalty among his subjects if this were so. “You are diligent in your task not to turn it over to some stranger,” he told the elf. “Come with me and we will take it to him together.”
They approached the guard at the tent. “You again? I told you–”
Valorien didn’t wait for him to finish. “We have a message for Teyrn Loghain. Is he in his tent?”
“That is correct.”
The guard scowled. From inside the tent, a voice growled, “Bartolo! Where is the field report from those knights?”
“There is a message here, sir,” the guard replied.
“Send the elf in, then!”
The guard put a hand up to forestall Valorien. “I’m not letting anyone in there with weapons.”
“Very well.” In a trice, Valorien unshouldered his bow and quiver and handed them to the servant. In return, he took the folded message, brushed past the guard and into the tent.
“Who the bloody hell are you?” Loghain was a tall human who easily shouldered his heavy armor.
“My name is Valorien; I have joined the Grey Wardens.” He offered the note. “This is the missive from your knights.”
Loghain took it and dropped it on the table. “And what are you doing delivering it? Where is Patryk?”
“He is outside. I brought it in here because I wished to speak with you.”
“I don’t hold audiences.”
“So your guard has told me. I only wish a moment of your time.”
“What is it you want, then?”
“I have met your King Cailen; he seems either a fool or a madman.”
Loghain scowled. “It is treason to speak of the King in such manner!”
Valorien didn’t flinch. “He is not my king.”
The teyrn met the elf’s fearless gaze a few moments. “Heh. Very well. But we of Ferelden follow him, as do the Grey Wardens. Which mean you do, too.”
“And you are his advisor?”
“Yes, I am the general of his army, and his father’s army before him.”
“What befell his father?”
“What do you mean?”
“He is young, even by shemlen standards,” said Valorien. “Why is his father not still king?”
“Because,” Loghain growled, “those bloody beasts of Orlais killed him! He died freeing our land from their tyranny. There was a war, you know!”(*)
Valorien shrugged. “It was not my war, either.”
“If you want a history lesson, ask Duncan! There is another war brewing, and I need to tend to it, as well. If you’re not here to fight the darkspawn, then why are you here?”
“I have sworn an oath to the Grey Wardens, but I do not wish to throw my life away if we are to be led by a man who treats this like a game, who will lead us into glorious defeat using a wild strategy he has read about in some wondertale.” Valorien fixed his gaze on the teyrn. “I want your assurance that you can temper your young king and lead us with sound strategy.”
Loghain nodded slowly. “You are… treasonus or not — well-spoken. I am the king’s advisor and the leader of all the armed forces. I do assure you, he listens to my advice.”
“Very well, then. I thank you for your time, teyrn.”
(*) according to David Gaider, King Maric was lost at sea, not killed in the war with Orlais (which has been over for 30 years now, anyway). I didn’t know all that when I wrote this, so I just made that up and put it in.
Duncan stood at ease by the camp’s fire, half-listening to the priestess’ prayer for the soldiers. He caught the attention of a young knight hurrying past. “Alistair!”
“I’m on a really important mission right now, Duncan.”
“I’m sure you are, but as you go about it, do you think you could keep an eye out for Valorien, the recruit I brought in from the Dales?”
“An elf? How will I recognize him?”
“Oh… I don’t think that will be too hard,” said Duncan. “Just try to see he doesn’t get into too much difficulty. But… be subtle about it.”
Alistair shook his head. “And why does he need babysitting? A Dalish elf ought to be able to take care of himself.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. He is a Hunter for his Clan — and they don’t just hunt for their supper. They guard their lands against human incursions. He has never been away from his people, and right now he is alone, surrounded by people he considers to be his enemies.”
“And probably feeling like a cat in the mabari kennels, I’ll bet.” The young man nodded. “I’ll keep an eye out.”
“One more thing, Alistair.” Duncan lowered his voice. “If you sense something amiss about him… it’s all right. I already know about it.”
The knight’s eyes widened slowly. “He’s Tainted?”
“It will be fine. He is remarkably resilient, and the Joining will cure him.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“If not, he will die.” Duncan sighed.
“All right, I’ll keep an eye out.”
“Thank you, Alistair.”