Our intrepid group tiptoes into Denerim, Loghain’s seat of power. Actually, Loghain is thinking about them; he hires an assassin — an “Antivan Crow” — to hunt down the Grey Wardens. But he has no clue they’re in town.
They find out the scholar of the Ashes was headed west to do some investigation of the legend. Before they can sneak back out of town on the trail, one of Loghain’s knights spots them.
“You there, stop!” The knight planted himself in front of them, an armored wall. “I recognize you — you were at Ostagar.” His eyes widened, then narrowed in a scowl. “You’re the Grey Wardens!”
“Actually, we’re travelling minstrels,” Alistair interjected.
“You betrayed us,” the knight growled. “King Cailen is dead because of you! I demand satisfaction, if you will face me honorably.”
“You were at Ostagar?” Valorien asked.
The elf stood up to the knight, his tone colder, but no less accusatory. “Then judging by the fact you are still alive, you were not fighting beside your king, but standing on the slopes with Loghain.”
“That’s right.” He folded his arms.
“You did not fight while your brethren were dying. You did not return to look for survivors while the darkspawn were carrying off the bodies, dead or alive.”
“We followed Loghain’s orders!”
“Did you see the battle from where you stood? Did you see the signal fire?”
“We couldn’t see the fighting through the trees. But we did see the tower fire.”
“Did you not know that was the signal to start your attack?”
The knight shifted his weight. “We weren’t told the exact signal, no. But it makes sense. What are you saying?”
“We did not betray the King at Ostagar,” Valorien told him levelly. “We gave our lives to light that signal fire.”
“That’s obviously an exaggeration,” he replied, glancing between Valorien and Alistair, “seeing as you are still alive. How do you explain that, when all your brethren are dead?”
“When we got to the tower, it had already been invaded by Darkspawn. We fought our way to the top. We lit the signal, but the tower was overrun. We only survived because we were rescued by a shape-shifter whom we had aided.”
The knight snorted. “A likely story.”
Alistair said, “Really too stupid a story to be a lie, though.” The knight shrugged.
Valorien asked him, “Why did Loghain not attack at the signal?”
“Ostagar was already lost. The Darkspawn forces were too strong for us to overcome. The army with Cailen was defeated — we had to pull back or risk annihilation.”
The elf’s brows raised in surprise. “Does Loghain truly believe this?”
“Of course,” the knight growled. “It’s true!”
“I wish you to take a message to Loghain.”
“What?” said the knight.
“What??” said Alistair.
“The Grey Wardens were not the betrayers at Ostagar,” Valorien said. “By all accounts, Loghain is sincere in his desire to combat the Blight. This is our goal as well. We are not his enemies, except that he makes us so.”
“You can bring your ‘message’ to the front of the warehouse behind the Gnawed Noble Tavern in half an hour. We will settle this honorably — if you have honor enough to show up.”
“What are you thinking?” Alistair snapped as soon as they were out of earshot. “Loghain betrayed us — he killed the king!”
“You do not know this.”
“I know it,” Alistair growled.
“You do not *know* it,” Valorien explained patiently. “You believe it. We saw little of the battle, and that was only at the start.”
“I know Loghain failed in his sworn duty to protect the king!”
“If he saw the field was lost, it was his duty to preserve his forces for war. Not to let them be destroyed in a futile battle. Here, hold your shield so I can write.” He pulled a parchment and quill from his pack.
“Or,” Alistair countered, unslinging his shield, “he planned the king’s death and blamed us for it. The man put a price on our heads for Andraste’s sake!”
“It is not an unreasonable assumption.”
“As the guy with the death warrant out on him — I can argue that point!”
“Peace, Alistair.” Valorien began writing on the parchment while the former Templar held his shield steady. “We will see how sincere Loghain truly is.”
“How do you propose to do that?” Alistair craned his neck, trying to read the missive as the elf wrote it out.
“These are the terms whereby Loghain will prove to us his sincerity in his quest to end the Blight. First, he shall recind the price on our heads. Secondly, he shall settle the unrest with the Bannorns peaceably, without bloodshed. And lastly, he will negotiate a tready with Orlais for aid against the Darkspawn.”
Alistair snorted at point number two, but nearly choked on the third. “Well, *that* will never happen.”
“Then you need have no fear of allying with a traitor.” Making sure the ink was dry, Valorien rolled and tied the parchment.
“Oh yeah, that’s comforting. You’re not seriously going to duel this guy, are you?”
“I’m afraid we have no choice. If he will not listen to reason, we can’t let him alert Loghain of our presence here.”
“He could bring more of Loghain’s men and capture us.”
“We could lay in wait and ambush him, if you prefer.”
Alistair sighed with a grimace. “That’s not very honorable, even if it is smart. He didn’t seem malicious, just… angry. But you know, he’s wearing full plate, with a really large sword, and all you have are little pokey sticks.”
“Your confidence in my ability is truly inspiring,” the elf told him mildly.
“I’m just saying — your fighting style is not particularly suited to duelling.”
Valorien nodded. “I know.” He held the parchment out to Alistair.
“You’re giving this to me?”
“If I am killed, I will not be able to give it to the knight.”
“So you expect ME to do it?”
“You will do what you feel is best.”
“I hate when people say things like that. This means I have to make a decision, you know.”
“There are no bad decisions, Alistair.”
“Right, only bad outcomes.”
“Whatever the outcome,” Valorien told him steadily, “you will deal with it. You *must* trust in this.”
“Haven’t you ever — not once in your entire life — made a decision you really regretted? Where someone you cared about got hurt?”
The elf’s eyes darkened, and he lowered his head, thinking of his friend Tamlen. “Yes,” he said softly.
Alistair bit his lip in sympathy. “How… how do you come back from that?”
Valorien took a breath and raised his head again. “As I told you, we cannot put aside our other burdens of duty and honor to carry only our grief. They may be heavy, but it is how we shall keep going.” Again he held out the parchment. “You will know what to do when the time comes.”
Reluctantly, Alistair took it. “Even though I don’t agree with you?”
“I can tear it into tiny bits, burn it to ashes?”
“If you feel that is best, yes.”
Alistair frowned at the paper, then tucked it into his belt.
Valorien said, “Let’s go check out this alley; make sure it is not an ambush.” He called for Tarroth, who bounded up to them followed by a scruffy little boy. “What is this?”
Tarroth barked, bouncing on his forelegs in emphasis.
“Oh, he just followed you, I suppose?” The elf sighed at the dog’s enthusiastic affirmative bark. “Alistair, can you go on ahead? I will deal with this.”
“Right.” Alistair nodded and walked off.
Valorien frowned down at Tarroth. “No, you cannot keep him,” he said, unmoved by the dog’s wagging tail. Nor Tarroth’s disappointed whine. “We have important things to do now.”
“Awww man,” said the kid.
“Go back where you came from,” Valorien told him.
“Hey, you can’t tell me what to do! You’re an elf!”
Valorien glowered at him. “Do you know what we do to humans, out in the Dale lands?”
“Uhhh….” He glanced nervously at Valorien’s bow, and the longknives on his belt. “I, uh, think I hear my mom calling!” He turned and ran off.
Tarroth looked reprovingly up at the elf. Valorien sighed, releasing the murderous tension in his frame. He crouched and gave Tarroth an apologetic pat. “Listen to me,” he said, “this is very important. If anything should happen to me….” Tarroth cocked his head and whined questioningly. “I know your will is your own, but… Alistair is very fond of mabari — you in particular. If I should be killed; please, will you take care of him?”
Tarroth whined again, sadly but with a little tail twitch of agreement. He put is right forepaw on Valorien’s knee. The elf smiled and patted him on the shoulder. Tarroth licked his nose.
“Well,” Valorien said with a grimace, “I’m glad that’s settled. Go find him and make sure he’s not in any trouble.” He stood and wiped his face after Tarroth bounded off, then followed.
Tarroth growled as they rounded the corner into the alley. The knight was already there with four of his cohorts.
“Oh great,” said Alistair, “he brought friends. Is this where we run?”
The knight didn’t give them a chance; he approached them right away. “Well, you did show up — and early, too. Now we can be done with this.” The knights ushered them towards the dead end at the warehouse entrance.
“I do not wish to fight you,” Valorien said.
“We could take your heads to Loghain right now if you prefer.”
“No. Since a duel is what you wish, you shall have it.”
The knights fanned out behind their leader, watching suspicously. Alistair moved aside near a side wall of the tavern, glancing anxiously down the street as if fearing an ambush… or hoping for a miracle. Tarroth remained at Valorien’s right. He lowered his head and growled.
“What are you doing with a mabari?”
Valorien said, “He is my companion. Another survivor of Ostagar.”
The knights muttered something about elves and mabari, and one mentioned the Ash Knights who were at Ostagar. “Didn’t I see you arguing with them?” the knight asked Valorien.
“Tarroth’s former companion was killed before I arrived, if that is what you are implying,” he said levelly. “He was wounded, and I helped the kennelmaster tend to him. He will not interfere.” He looked down at the mabari who looked back to him attentively. “Guard,” he said, indicating Alistair. With a threatening glare at the knights, Tarroth moved to stand in front of Alistair. “Stay.”
The knights shifted uneasily under the dog’s scrutiny. Their leader squared his shoulders. “I am Ser Landry,” he said. “You should know my name before you die.”
“I am Valorien. And should you die, will your companions take my message to Loghain?”
“Ser Sedgewin is my second.” He indicated a ginger-haired man behind him. “If it is indeed an honorable fight, he will take your message.” The man nodded, though it was clear neither one of them expected a fair or honorable fight. “And who is your friend here?” Ser Landry asked.
Valorien didn’t even glance over. “No one of consequence.”
The knight gave a slight shrug. He narrowed his eyes and regarded the elf standing before him, relaxed, poised — not even breaking a sweat. The knives and longbow were completely unimpressive to a grown and battle-hardened man. The leather armor would be as effective as Orlesian silks against a greatsword. This was either a setup, or the elf was suicidal. “You sure you’re ready?” Ser Landry asked him.
The elf shrugged one shoulder, then suddenly the bow was in his hand and there was an arrow pointing at Ser Landry’s face. The knight stepped back reflexively. Behind him, he heard swords being drawn. “Hold!” he snapped, before they could clear the scabbards. The knights froze.
Valorien watched them down the length of the shaft. “Whenever you are ready.”
Careful not to make any sudden moves, Ser Landry leaned slightly left to unhook his helmet from his belt. The point of the arrow tracked the motion smoothly. He pulled the helmet on, still waiting for the elf to blink, or move, or… something. But he couldn’t stand there all day, waiting for the elf’s arm to get tired. He pulled his greatsword from the scabbard on his back and sprang forward.
Before he brought the sword down, Valorien loosed his arrow into the gap between the arm and chestplate. The knight’s swing faltered and only struck a glancing blow to the shoulder. He swung again, laterally, but overreached. Valorien stepped closer, inside his guard and fired downward, burying an arrow in the knight’s knee. He leapt away before the knight could recover, putting distance between them.
Ser Landry went after him, limping. He ducked and an arrow skidded off his helmet and clattered to the street somewhere behind him. He interrupted another shot with a swing of his sword. The elf jumped aside and the knight turned doggedly after him. The sword cut through leather and flesh, leaving a deep wound in the elf’s thigh. Blood ran freely down over his boot as he backed up, now limping worse than his adversary.
The knight moved in for the kill, but a point blank shot rocked his head back. The arrow shattered against the edge of his helm, driving splinters into his face. He moved back, shaking his head, blinking his eyes clear. He attacked again, keeping the elf off balance, unable to get in a shot. Valorien’s wound slowed him, the knight’s blade cut across his ribs. Still, he did not cry out. Ser Landry stepped in and brought the sword across in a vicious backhand arc, but Valorien dropped under it. He knelt and drew back his bow, waiting for the knight to raise his sword one last time.
Ser Landry stepped back. “Hold,” he said, breathing heavily. He dropped his swordpoint to the ground. After a moment, Valorien also lowered his weapon. The other knights, as well as Alistair and Tarroth, moved closer to the combatants. Ser Landry looked around, then pulled off his helmet. “The duel has moved too close to the street. We will not endanger the citizens of Denerim.” He narrowed his eyes at Valorien.
The elf pushed himself to his feet, not leaning on his bow, but favoring his left leg. His face paled, but his voice retained its strength. “As you wish.”
“This is not over,” Ser Landry said. “I will have my satisfaction. But not today. Give me your message, and I suggest you leave town.”
Valorien nodded at Alistair, who stepped forward and handed over the roll of parchment. Valorien passed it to the knight.
“This is not sealed,” he said.
“I have nothing to hide,” Valorien told him.
Ser Landry shrugged. “Let’s go,” he told his men. He sheathed his sword and limped off.
Alistair wasted no time tying up Valorien’s leg. “I’m surprised he didn’t kill you. We better get out of here, and fast.”
“Lean on me.” Alistair reached for his hand, but Valorien pulled away. The elf stared at him. “What?”
“I can walk.”
“You just said you agreed we need to get out of here fast. As in, quickly.”
“I can walk,” Valorien insisted. He started limping towards the market. “I can walk… as far as the city gate.” Tarroth followed, hovring close to him.
“Great Maker, you’re a damned stubborn elf!” Alistair followed him. Slowly. “Oh, yeah, you’re doing a fabulous job at that.”
Valorien muttered something decidedly elven.
“What was that?”
“Stop attracting attention,” Valorien gritted out through his teeth.
“Oh, is *that* what this is all about. You’ve got too much elven pride to let all the humans see you needing help.”
“No, better idea,” Valorien said, “Attract *more* attention, but do it somewhere over there, far away from us.”
Alistair threw up his hands. “Oh, you know what? I hope you fall down, so I have to *carry* you out.” Tarroth whined and gave him a reproving yip. Alistair just made a stubborn face at him, and he snorted.
Valorien stopped and stood up straight. Alistair stopped slightly behind him, not sure if the elf was going to turn around and deck him or what. Or maybe he deserved to be the one being decked. But after a minute, the elf only held his arm out. Alistair glanced at Tarroth, as if the dog could explain to him what’s going on. The mabari turned his head slightly, then looked straight again, jaws open in a goofy dog smile. Alistair shrugged and moved up beside Valorien. He took his elbow, and helped him hobble out of town.
Aftermath: Ser Landry and Loghain
“Am I to understand,” Teyrn Loghain said, “that you saw the Grey Wardens, *here*, in MY city, and you didn’t apprehend them?” He shook the paper in his hand. “And you only brought me this? Like some messenger boy!?”
“That is correct, sir.” Ser Landry stood at attention before his commander’s desk, staring at the back wall in the attitude of a soldier being chewed out by his commander.
“Did you at least find out which Grey Wardens they were?”
“He said his name was Valorien, sir.”
“And the other one? Was he even a Warden?”
“He did not give his name, sir. He looked familiar, though.” Ser Landry gave him Alistair’s description.
Loghain frowned to himself, then unrolled the parchment to read it over. “Seems to be signed by this Valorien person. I don’t think I recall him.”
“The elf, sir. He has a distinctive facial tattoo.”
“Oh, *him*!” The teyrn bared his teeth in a ferocious grin. “Yes, I remember him all too well.” He reread the message, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. Then he looked up. “Did you read this?”
“No, sir,” replied Ser Landry, eyes fixed on the back wall.
“Do you know what this is?”
“He claimed the Grey Wardens were innocent of betrayal at Ostagar, and he apparently wishes to ally with you against the Blight.”
“It’s a list of demands, is what it is,” Loghain snarled, crumpling the parchment in one fist. “It’s ridiculous!”
“He seemed sincere, sir.”
“He’s a damned wild elf, and he came to me in Ostagar and told me he had no loyalty to the king whatsoever. He called King Cailen a fool and said he would never serve under him.” Loghain stood. “That lying bastard is the traitor! If you see him again, kill him — and his allies!”
Ser Landry’s jaw clenched. “Yes, sir!”
“Dismissed! And send in Ser Cauthein.”
The knight saluted and left. In a few minutes, Cauthein, Loghains lieutenant, entered.
“Send a rider with a message after that assassin. The Grey Wardens are behind him, and somewhere just outside of Denerim.”
“They’re here?” she exclaimed.
“They were,” Loghain growled. “Stirring up trouble. They could be more dangerous than I thought.”
Coda: Those Taken
“Something else that’s been bothering me,” Alistair said. “You told that knight about the darkspawn taking survivors at Ostagar. What did you mean by that?”
Valorien looked up from rebandaging his leg. “Morrigan told me this, after I awakened.”
Alistair chewed his lip thoughtfully. “She didn’t mention it to me. Or,” he admitted a moment later, “I was too caught up in my own grief that I didn’t listen.” He watched the road back towards the city until the elf finished and stood up. “You don’t think…. You don’t think Duncan could have survived? Been taken away?” His face creased with worry.
“Grey Wardens cannot be Tainted.”
“No. No, you’re right.” They started to make their way back to camp. “Duncan would have fought to the last. They wouldn’t be able to take him alive. …I hope.”
“He’s dead, Alistair,” Valorien told him, not ungently.
“But if there’s the slimmest hope,” the former Templar began. “I mean, I can’t wish that he’s dead. It’s like you said, about your friend Tamlen. I don’t know what would be worse, him being dead or…. still being alive.”
Valorien stopped and faced him. “Pray that he is at peace.”
Alistair nodded. “Only, if someday we meet him and he’s not dead….”
“I promise I will help you.”
“And… not just kill him on sight.”
“I would not do that.”
Alistair drew a deep breath and blew it out. “All right. And… thank you.”
The elf nodded solemnly, and they continued on their way.
after breaking camp and getting on the road again, they are ambushed by a pretty hefty group assembled by the assassin. their traps and arrows fail to stop and kill the group. the assassin is wounded but captured alive. he confesses that loghain hired him to kill the grey wardens, but begs asylum with them instead. valorien isn’t convinced that letting a paid assassin into their midst is the smartest of ideas; he cuts the assassin’s throat.