The Wardens and their entourage return to Redcliffe to confer with Arl Eamon. All of their allies are ready, all that remains is the human contingent of the kingdom. And so Eamon calls for the Landsmeet, and all the nobles quit their strife and convene at the castle in Denerim. King Cailen’s widow, Anora, is now reigning queen, with her father Loghain as the regent in charge.
Arl Eamon returned from checking in with the seneschal. “Everything is in order,” he told the Wardens’ group, mainly to reassure Alistair, who looked ready to bolt like a rabbit. “The nobles are assembling — most of them peaceably, thank the Maker. At least the civil war has been put on hold by the Landsmeet.” He released a tense breath. “We’ll have to test the waters, see who is allied with whom; how much support we can garner. And find out anything we can about Loghain’s dealings since Ostagar. He has many supporters in the Bannorn. We need to be prepared for when he shows himself.”
“When do you think that will be?” Alistair asked, fidgeting nervously. The mere thought of Loghain made him itch. He’d rather face the traitor in a duel than a political meeting.
“We can only wait and see,” Eamon told him.
“Perhaps now,” Valorien said quietly, looking past them.
The two humans startled and turned around. Indeed, Loghain was striding towards them from the main hall. At his right was his lieutenant, Ser Cauthrien, and at his left a hatchet-faced man. Eamon and Valorien stepped forward to meet him. Alistair hung back, clenching his fists at his sides.
“Teyrn Loghain,” Eamon said, trying to recover his balance. “This is quite an honor. I didn’t expect to be met by the regent himself.”
“And how could I not?” Loghain countered. “For a man so important as to pull everyone away from their estates while a Blight claws at the land.” He glared accusingly at the arl. Eamon steeled himself to stand his ground.
Valorien stepped forward and met the teyrn’s eyes unflinchingly. “If the Blight so concerns you, put aside your bid for power and ally with the Grey Wardens to end it.”
Ser Cauthrien bristled. “Watch your mouth, churl!” she snapped. “Your betters are talking.”
Loghain raised a placating hand to her, not taking his eyes from Valorien. “Always making demands, I see.” With a sneer, Loghain pointedly ignored the elf. “Eamon, you’d best keep your wild elf on a tighter leash. We do not need traitorous Wardens. The queen has her armies, and I command them.”
“Some of us don’t like the way you’ve been doing your job,” Alistair muttered.
“When I want the opinion of a royal bastard,” Loghain growled, bestowing a withering gaze on the knight, “I’ll let you know.”
Alistair fidgeted. “Well, you’re admitting the ‘royal’ part at least.”
“The Grey Wardens were not the betrayers at Ostagar,” Valorien said levelly.
“They Grey Wardens betrayed Ferelden, and led her king to his death,” Loghain replied just as implacably. “Naturally, you prefer lay the blame on me. If this is the best you can do, Eamon, you are wasting your time. A lot has changed since you’ve been ill.”
“Ill?” scoffed the arl, bristling. “Why not name your poison for what it was?”
The general shrugged that off without comment. “Your allies of Highever and Denerim are no longer with us.” He gestured to the man beside him. “Rendon Howe of Amaranthine now holds those arlings, and is teyrn of the northeast.” Howe’s mouth twitched in a smug half -smile as Loghain continued. “He has been an invaluable aid to me during this petty civil war. And don’t expect to find much support for this scheme of yours to supplant Anora with your bastard protege. She is a strong queen, and is more than capable of leading this nation against the Blight.”
“If she is so capable,” Valorien asked, “why does she not speak for herself?”
Loghain’s eyes flashed in anger. “You will learn to curb your tongue, elf! The queen has more important matters to attend to.” With that, he turned on his heel and strode out. Rendon Howe, apparently used to Loghain’s severity, nimbly dodged out of the way before he was flattened. He scurried after his master. Cauthrien favored Valorien with one more scathing glance, and followed.
“Gee,” said Alistair after they’d gone, “first we’re terribly important, and then we’re not. I’m hurt,” he growled in glib contempt.
“At least he is not going to try to contest your parentage,” the arl replied. “Either too many people know the truth, or he is just that confident we don’t stand a chance.”
Alistair grimaced. “I thought nobody knew about it.”
The arl gave him a defeated look, but did not reply. Instead he said, “Let’s retire to my estate. We have much to discuss.”
The Arl of Redcliffe’s estate was not far from the castle, and close to the marketplace. Eamon led his guests inside and ordered the servants to make preparations for them to stay there. “Let us meet in my study,” said Eamon to the Wardens and their allies, “then we can get settled in.”
“Give us a few minutes,” Alsitair said to him, putting his hand on Valorien’s arm. “We need to discuss some Grey Warden business, first.” He pulled the elf through a doorway into the library. Alistair swung the door shut, then turned and grabbed Valorien. He slammed the elf against a bookcase. “I told you,” he yelled in his face, “we will never ally with Loghain! How dare you offer to work with him again!”
Valorien’s eyes narrowed. The human panted, his face red with anger, his lips drawn back into a half snarl. Valorien glanced pointedly at Alistair’s hand on his arm. “Let go of me.”
Slowly, Alistair loosened his grip, then stepped back. “What the Hell were you thinking!”
“I was testing Loghain,” the elf replied levelly. “It was a trap.”
The knight’s expression faded from anger to puzzlement. “What?”
“I offer to work with him. Of course, he says no.” Valorien brushed at his sleeves to remove the creases. “Now we can say we tried to be reasonable.”
Alistair’s jaw dropped. “Politics!” he spit. He turned away in frustration, brushing one hand back through his hair.
“You cannot just come to the Landsmeet and say, ‘I am a good bastard and your hero is a traitor, so follow me,'” Valorien told him.
Alistair rounded on him. “You admire him,” he said, half question and half accusation.
“Didn’t you?” Valorien asked. “Before?”
The knight’s shoulders slumped. He turned away.
Valorien’s eyes cleared in understanding. “He was your hero…. A common farmboy who saved the nation and became companion to kings.”
Alistair remained silent for several minutes. He stared at the stained glass of the library window. When he spoke again, he’d regained control of his voice. “If Loghain wins,” he asked, looking over his shoulder, “you’re going to serve him, aren’t you?”
“I have to.”
Alistair straightened and nodded. “It’s all right,” he said dully. “Loghain’s thorough. He’ll definitely kill me to consolidate his power, so I won’t be around to see it.” He turned, but would not meet the elf’s eyes.
“I swore an oath,” Valorien explained. “Two, actually. I must fight the Darkspawn. Despite all else, Loghain seems determined to do that.”
“I understand,” said Alistair. “I just thought we could be friends.” He brushed past the elf, but Valorien stopped him with a grip on his arm.
“Do not let emotions cloud your judgement,” he warned. “That will be your downfall.”
The human shrugged him off and opened the door. He saw Morrigan standing there, leaning on the opposite wall. “What are you doing here?” he snarled at her.
She quirked a brow, but did not deign to move. “Wynne distracted the others, but I wanted to hear this meeting — not that it was so private, what with all that shouting.”
“Good, then,” Alistair snapped. “You don’t need an update. Maybe once the servants show you to your room, you can stay there!” He strode past her down the hall, face clouded.
Morrigan rolled her eyes and gave a dramatic heavy sigh as she straightened. “Such dramatics. I happen to think you are quite sensible,” she told Valorien. “And practical. You are a man who will do whatever it takes to get the job done. I admire that.”
Valorien shrugged. “I do not have a personal stake in this kingdom, or its people. My only wish is to end this Blight upon the land and return to my own clan in peace.”
“You really don’t care who rules in Ferelden?” she asked him.
“I do believe Alistair will make a good king,” he said. He turned and proceeded down the hall.
“You must be joking,” said Morrigan. “Wait…,” she said to his retreating back, “that was an elven joke, wasn’t it?”