The three travel north to Lothering, and a mabari hound Valorien aided manages to find them and bonds with the elf. He is named Tarroth, an elvish word for ferocious attack. Morrigan and Alistair hardly stop sniping at each other, you’d think they were dating. Alistair goes on about how she is unsupervised by the Circle of Mages which is penalized by death if the Templars ever catch up to her. She gets on his case for being a wuss and subordinating himself to a new recruit. Valorien manages to get along with both, somehow. He explains to Alistair (out of Morrigan’s hearing) that she only acts tough and abrasive because of her lack of confidence. This doesn’t help much.
They also pick up Leliana, a novice of the Chantry (ie a nun) with an apparently checkered history as a former…? spy? assassin? thief? And currently a bard, who feels a divine calling to fight the Blight.
After resupplying at Lothering, Alistair suggests that the Arl of Redcliff, Eamon, might be a willing ally. He also reluctantly explains that he is the illegitimate child of the former King Maric and a servant of the Arl, who had been raised by Eamon here in Redcliff. And, though he has absolutely zero aspiration to the throne, the nobility of Ferelden might have other plans for him.
Unfortunately, the Arl is deathly ill, the castle is sealed, and the village is under siege by undead fiends that attack by night. Valorien does his best to try to rally the demoralized militia, but his interpersonal skills…. leave a lot to be desired. He can’t get the dwarf and his bullyboys to come out of their hidey-hole, he can’t get the blacksmith to even talk to them let alone repair any weapons, and he can’t even get the priestess to give her blessing to the militia.
Nevertheless, he assures the captain of the militia that the Grey Wardens’ ragtag band will be there at sundown to aid the troops. Morrigan pipes up, “Oh yes, we can throw away our lives here, like the rest of these hopeless fools who don’t have the sense to leave.”
Valorien ignored this comment, at least until they got out of the chantry. He turned to her on the steps. “Morrigan, do you wish to leave our company?”
“No, I don’t feel any pressing need to leave you. Yet.”
“Then you will hold your tongue.”
“What? I’m not allowed to have an opinion?” she huffed.
“Your opinion is valid, but once I have made a decision, you will not mock my orders. Especially not when our allies’ morale is this low.” He fixed her with his steely gaze a moment, but he didn’t waste time asking her if she understood, nor waiting for an apology. “Go send for Leliana. I have a job for her.” He turned and moved to observe the militia’s archery practice.
For once, Morrigan didn’t seem to have a witty comeback. Without a word she went off.
Alistair looked down at Tarroth. “Ow,” he said to the dog, quietly so no one else could hear. “Sent back to camp like a naughty child.” He tsked and shook his head.
Valorien had Leliana break into the smithy so they could confront the drunken blacksmith. He was too absorbed in his grief over his missing daughter who served in the castle, but with the Grey Warden’s assurance they would investigate into her whereabouts, as well as a little pep talk, he was soon busy repairing and improving the militia’s armament.
At dusk, a ghostly force issued from the castle. The defenders were hard-pressed, and the captain killed, but the town withstood and the townspeople were safe in the chantry. Dawn came, and they spoke to Eamon’s younger brother, one of his knights, about investigating the castle. Then to everyone’s surprise, the Arlessa Isolde herself came to them with one of her footmen. She begged the knight to return with her, but would not explain exactly what force was holding her and her family in the castle. She forbade anyone else to return with them, but the knight gave the Grey Wardens a key to a secret passage to the castle grounds.
They managed to work their way into the castle, where they discovered the awful truth. The Arl was not sick, but poisoned by an apostate — a renegade blood mage — and his son was possessed by a demon. The blood mage appeared to be repentant, and offered a solution to freeing the child’s spirit from the Fade, but this solution would require intense magical power. Power that could only be summoned by a full circle of mages, or by one blood mage if he used the lifeblood from one person. Or, they could kill the child; that would break the demon’s ties with the real world.
The Arlessa agreed to give her life to save her son. Morrigan agreed to seek the child’s spirit within the Fade. And so the boy was saved at the cost of his mother’s life. The Arl was beyond recovery of poultice or magic, however. Except one nearly mythical cure — the ashes of Andraste, a holy martyr. If the Wardens want the Arl’s aid in reuniting the conflicting factions, they would need to find this… and hope it works its miracle.
Alistair approached Valorien at camp after they left Redcliff. “Now that we’re out of the castle, I’ll feel free to say this to you. How could you let Isolde be killed by that blood mage!”
The elf took a half step back at this uncharacteristic vehemence. His voice remained level, however. “It was her choice.”
“Of course she chose that– she felt guilty! That doesn’t mean she deserved to die! We could have found another way.”
“The only other way was to use a Circle of mages. I did not see a Circle there in the town, did you?”
“The Tower is not far north of here,” said Alistair. “We could have gone there for help.”
“That town would not have survived another night assault. The only other choice would have been to kill the child. Would you have preferred that?”
“No….” Alistair lowered his head. “But if Eamon awakes and finds out we let his wife die….”
Valorien regarded him narrowly. He recalled that the Arl had raised Alistair, and the Arl’s wife…. had not been kind to him. Wisely, he did not say anything about that, however. “The Arl will understand.”
“I hope you’re right.” With a mixture of sorrow and guilt, Alistair set about making the camp’s dinner.