val survives and becomes a full fledged grey warden of course. a new battle approaches. loghain approves king cailen’s plan: part of the army will stand with the king below the bridge to ostagar while loghain keeps his troops in reserve. when the signal fire at the top of the old tower is lit, loghain’s forces will slam into the darkspawn flank.
duncan assigns alistair and valorien to activate the signal. when they get to the tower, though, it is crawling with darkspawn coming up from below. they fight their way through to the top and light the fire, but there is no way they are getting down again with the tower overrun. at the last moment, they are rescued by a giant bird (no really!)
the bird is flemeth an ancient witch of the wilds, and morrigan’s mother. morrigan is a nasty witch they met before. she tells valorien how her mother rescued them and brought them to the wilds. also, despite their heroic efforts to light the signal fire, loghain failed to engage his troops. thus, the darkspawn slaughtered everyone else, not the least of which were king cailen and duncan. and all the grey wardens. morrigan tells valorien that alistair is a total wreck over duncan’s death, so valorien goes to him to try to straighten him out.
Morrigan wasn’t exaggerating; Alistair’s face was haggard, his eyes red-rimmed. He looked up at Valorien’s approach. “Ah, you’re up at last. We thought we were going to lose you.”
“I will bear a scar, but I am hale. Are you well?”
Alistair nodded, then sagged and shook his head. “Everyone’s dead. Ser Jory, Tara, Estavan… all the Grey Wardens — gone. King Cailen is dead. Duncan… I can’t believe he’s gone.” He put his hand over his face. “Loghain just abandoned us to die.”
“Do you want to talk about Duncan?”
“Do I want to talk about Duncan? To you?” The intensity of his grief made his voice waver. “You hated Duncan! You’re probably glad he’s dead.”
“No. I am not.”
“But since he is, you don’t have your oath keeping you here any longer. You can leave any time you want; go back to your own people.”
“I did not swear my oath to Duncan. I swore it to the Keeper of my Clan. I will serve as Grey Warden, and until this Blight is ended, I cannot return.”
Alistair looked up at him. “You do realize that if it weren’t for Duncan, you’d be dead by now. Or worse. He had to do what he did.”
“Yes. I understand.” The elf’s voice did not soften one bit.
“Can’t you see it in your heart to forgive him?”
Valorien lowered his head. “Not today.”
“Not today? What does that bloody mean?”
“It means I know he did what was best for us all. But in my heart, there is still anger. In time, I shall forgive him. But not today. Elves do not let go of their grievances so easily. I will not lie to you, Alistair. Not even to spare your feelings.”
“Thanks for that,” he replied glibly. “Duncan was everything to me. He turned my life around, gave it real meaning. He was like a father to me, and a friend, a brother, a mentor. He was the first real family I ever had.”
“I have recently lost someone dear to me,” Valorien said quietly. “It is hard to go on, even when you know you must.”
Alistair nodded. He ducked his head and rubbed his eyes. “You’re right. Duncan would want me to carry on, to do whatever it takes. Though with only two of us, I can’t imagine how we’re supposed to defeat an entire army of darkspawn.”
“We do not have to.”
“What do you mean?”
“To stop a Blight, the Archdemon must be killed. That is only one creature.”
“Yeah… one huge, angry, demon-possessed, pissed-off, half-mad DRAGON. Surrounded by an entire darkspawn army.” Alistair shrugged. “When you put it that way, it sounds easy.” He began to regain some of his blithe attitude, or at least the veneer of it. His eyes were still shadowed with grief.
“Can we not circumvent the army? Skirt the fringes until we discover the Archdemon’s lair?”
“No. You know that little trick the Warden’s have of sensing darkspawn?” Valorien nodded. “Well the thing is, they can sense us as well. There is no way we could be anywhere near them and they not know it.”
“Leaving us no chance, instead of a very slim one.”
“One we definitely wouldn’t survive, either way.”
“That is not important. Stopping the Blight is all that matters.”
Alistair looked into Valorien’s eyes, those steel blue, unflinching eyes. Clearly, he meant what he said. Alistair recalled what Duncan had told him, that Valorien wanted to do the right thing. He began to realize what the Chief Warden had meant, what Duncan saw in Valorien. He saw an honorable man, unflinching in the face of his enemies, unshakable in the heat of battle. A man who would do the right thing.
“Be that as it may, no Grey Wardens have ever been able to defeat a blight without an army at their backs.”
“Would these help?” Alistair jumped at the sound of Flemeth’s voice; even Valorien startled. She waved Alistair’s scrip at them.
“What are you doing with my papers?” he yelped.
“They were my papers longer than they were yours. Maybe I shouldn’t have let you take them, if I’d’ve known you would be so careless with them.”
“Of course! The treaties! I forgot I still had them with me.”
“Hmph! See what I mean.”
“Flemeth, you’re an angel!” He took the packet from her hand while she was still stunned at the unbridled compliment. “These promise aid to the Grey Wardens in times of Blight. Every nation is here, even the Circle of Magi.”
“Dwarves, Elves, Wizards, and men… sounds like an army to me,” mused Flemeth.
Morrigan came over. “Mother, the stewpot is on. Will we be having four at dinner, or only two?” Her emphasis indicated her preference for the latter.
“The Grey Wardens will be going north to Lothering.”
“And you will guide them there.”
“So sorry to see you g– what!?”
Alistair saw Valorien cover his mouth, as if to stifle a polite cough. Was the elf… laughing?? He was sure of it, though it was impossible to tell from Valorien’s stony expression.
“Gather your things, dears,” Flemeth told them. “You should leave before darkfall.”
While Morrigan said her goodbyes to her mother, Alistair drew Valorien aside. “Before things get awkward, I want to clear something up. You know I was made a Warden only a few weeks before you.”
“You are the senior Warden of rank. I understand. I will obey your command.”
“Um… actually, no. I’d really prefer if you took the lead, and I will follow.”
Valorien quirked a brow. “Why?”
“I’m really bad at making decisions.”
“There are no bad decisions,” the elf told him. “Only different outcomes.”
“Yeah… some of those outcomes are bad,” Alistair insisted. “Look, I just really, really hate making decisions. I’m no good at it. I’m a terrific follower, though.”
The elf regarded him a moment, his arms folded. Alistair braced for a scathing criticism. But instead, Valorian only said, “Our Hunters do not have a hierarchy like the humans do. All are equal, and we make decisions together.”
“Well, we have committees that try to do that… but how does that work when you don’t have time to discuss everything? Like in battle, or an emergency or something like that. What’s to keep everyone from running around in different directions?”
Valorien shrugged. “Each knows his skills and that of his companions, and how each would best be deployed.”
“All right, but since I’m only human and we don’t know each other all that well…. If something like that comes up, you give the orders. I’ve seen you lead; you are more than qualified.”
“As you wish.”
Morrigan joined them, looking more introspective than usual. Her manner was scathing as ever, though. “All right, Mother wants me to guide you, spirits know why. I can’t imagine why you need my help.”
“You could cook,” offered Alistair.
“You do not have to cook, Morrigan,” Valorien said placatingly.
“Well you lost your chance there,” Alistair told him. “I’m a terrible cook.”