(Warning: contains nudity and torture.)
Anora, Loghains daughter and widow of King Cailen, sends her serving maid to beg the Wardens to help her escape her father’s protective custody in Arl Howe’s estate. The servant can sneak them in, but complications pile up. First, the door to Anora’s quarters is magically sealed and they have to find the wizard to get it ‘removed.’ By, of course, removing the wizard. Who happens to be down in the dungeon with Arl Howe himself, and well…. our fearless rescuers kill them all. And happen to rescue a Grey Warden from Orlais who was being held down there, as well.
Right after they get Anora out of her room, Ser Cauthrien shows up in the front hall with about 15 of Loghain’s knights. Valorien closes the door on them and puts a trap on it. Then he tells Leliana, Wynne, and Tarroth to take Anora and her servant back down into the dungeons to cut around the knights while he keeps them distracted. (Gotta love those dungeons with multiple exits.)
Unfortunately, Valorien is captured by the knights and taken to the tower.
The locks of the great door rattled open, and Loghain entered with a handful of his knights, Ser Cauthrien faithfully at his side. The door boomed shut behind them. “You’re sure he’s unarmed?” Loghain asked the jailer as they approached the cell. Valorien stood in the center, clad only in breeches and shirt, waiting for them. He said nothing, only watched dispasionately.
“Yes, sir,” the jailer said.
The man pulled a keyring from his belt and unlocked the door. He swung it open and stepped back. Loghain moved to enter the cell, but Valorien did not wait. He stepped to the doorway and met the teyrn there.
Loghain seized his shirt in one mailed fist and yanked the elf closer. “Where is Anora?” he snarled.
“Being held prisoner at Arl Howe’s estate,” Valorien answered coldly.
“Don’t play games with me! What have you done with my daughter!?”
“Seeing as she is not here in this cell with me, I cannot imagine how you think I have done anything with her.”
With a roar, Loghain clubbed him across the face with his other fist. Valorien fell against the iron bars. The teyrn turned and strode away from him. “This is what comes of elves not being taught their place! Strip him,” he ordered his men. They fell on the elf before he could regain his feet. “And don’t be gentle about it!”
Cauthrien seized Valorien’s arm and dragged him from the cell; one of the knights kicked him in the side as he tried to wriggle free. Two others seized his breeches and yanked them down over his legs. Cauthrien pulled roughly at one sleeve, and another knight seized the other. They tore the shirt from him. The knight who had kicked him gasped as they all fell back. “What is that?” muttered one.
Loghain turned to see what they were on about. He saw a huge scar cutting a swath across the elf’s back.
“That,” Valorien said as he pushed himself to his feet, “is the wound I received defending Ostagar.” He stood — one small naked elf amidst the armored men — unbowed and unashamed. The knights were silent, weighing the accusation that they had not fought in that battle.
Loghain growled. “Take him to the post.” The jailer shoved Valorien from behind. The elf moved past the knights without flinching. “Landry,” said Loghain then, annoyed that his man’s attention seemed to be more on the prisoner, he said it again, more sharply. “Landry!”
“Take Dane, Harrod, and Barton and put together a handful of search teams. I want this city combed, and I want Anora found and brought back safely.”
“And here’s a hint,” Logain called after them as they left, “start at Arl Eamon’s estate!” He turned to watch carefully as the jailer chained Valorien’s wrists to the T-bar of the whipping post. The man looked back to him. “Go ahead and stripe him; he’ll learn soon enough.” The elf looked scornfully over his shoulder as the jailer took up the whip. Loghain beckoned Cauthrien to him. “There’s going to be trouble at this Landsmeet,” he told her quietly. “I want you to assemble the best and most loyal men into my personal guard. And Landry and his cohorts are off the list.”
“You don’t trust him?” Ser Cauthrien asked, wrinkling her brow.
“I don’t think I can trust anyone who’s been in contact with that elf. He’s a damned wiley opponent.”
After she left, Loghain returned his attention to the prisoner and his questioning. He strode forward to inspect the jailer’s handiwork. He was very good at his job; ten welts crossed the elf’s back as neat and even as if they had been drawn with a ruler. Valorien had not cried out, but Loghain was hardly surprised; that damned elf was stubborn.
He moved to Valorien’s side, where he could look the elf in the eye. The one that wasn’t swelling up from where he’d hit him, of course. “I want to know what the link is between the darkspawn and the Grey Wardens,” Loghain told him in a cold iron voice. “I want to know what power the Wardens have in Orlais. And you are going to tell me all that, and more. I want to know the secrets of the Grey Wardens!”
Valorien turned away, lowered his head. He made a soft sound in his throat, and Loghain realized… he was laughing.
Anger blazed within him. He turned to the jailer. “Again!”
The man nodded, and the whip hissed through the air. It cracked loudly across the elf’s back. Valorien gritted his teeth, but remained silent through another ten lashes.
“You’re stubborn, knife ears,” Loghain growled. “But you won’t last long. I’ll have your Warden secrets yet this day!”
And the damned elf only laughed again, even louder this time! The teyrn ordered another set of lashes. Now the criss-crossed welts began to bleed. Valorien slumped forward, leaning on the post for support. The pain made him gasp, but when Loghain questioned him again about the secrets of the Grey Wardens, he couldn’t help but laugh. This only made the teyrn more furious. “Put your back into it, man!” he screamed at the jailer.
Valorien gave up trying to suppress his cries. He closed his eyes and let the pain wash over him as the whip flayed his back and the blood ran down. Each bite of the lash forced a wounded animal sound from his throat. Loghain questioned him, his face purpling with rage. The angrier the teyrn became, the harder he tried to torture the secrets out of Valorien, the more ironic the whole situation became.
Loghain seized Valorien’s hair and yanked his head back to look him in the eye. “Talk, damn you, or I swear I’ll rip your ears off!” Valorien started giggling. Actually giggling.
“My lord,” the jailer said, “he’s gone delerious from the pain.”
“I’ll show you pain! Where are the irons?” He released his captive and moved towards the braziers.
“I haven’t put any on, my lord,” the jailer said hurriedly. “It will take a few minutes to–”
“Never mind,” snapped Loghain. He seized a pair of tongs and pulled a live coal out of the fire. Murder in his eye, he returned to his victim. He pulled Valorien’s head back again and raised the glowing coal.
“Not the face, my lord!” the jailer cried. “He still needs to be executed for the murder of Arl Howe.”
“Ren-na’i leis reheilythen,” Valorien said.
“Ren-na’i…” the elf… coughed… slightly, “leis reheilythen.” (I don’t know any secrets.)
“So I can understand you,” growled Loghain.
Valorien only laughed. His laugh turned into a full-throated scream as Loghain pressed the burning coal to his ribs. “I am out of patience!” He didn’t let up; he shifted the tongs to sear another bit of flesh. Slowly, he moved upward, towards the tender skin under the arm. Valorien’s back arched and he howled in pain. Suddenly, his entire body shook, then he slumped in the chains.
“He’s passed out, my lord,” the jailer said anxiously. He was not eager to have his important charge die on his watch.
“I can see that!” Loghain threw the tongs on the floor, ignoring the skittering cinders that splashed his boot. “Put him back in his cell. I have more important things to tend to.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Meanwhile, Leliana and Anora pose as guards at the kitchen door on Arl Eamon’s estate until Loghain’s men are done searching the place. Of course, they don’t find her, just one seriously peeved Morrigan who doesn’t like knights breaking down her door.
At any rate, after they leave, Leliana and Anora tell Alistair and Eamon that Valorien has been captured. Leliana volunteers to sneak in and rescue him, with help from Tarroth. they manage to find their way to the dungeons.
“I don’t see any more guards,” Leliana whispered to the dog, “but we should be c–”
Tarroth let out a bone-shaking roar and charged across the dungeon. He charged straight for a man, not armored like a guard, who screamed. Tarroth slammed into him and started ripping, even as the man still screamed and thrashed.
Leliana darted in and closed the door, in case anyone heard. “Tarroth!” The dog dropped the bloody corpse and howled. He leapt to the door of one cell and started digging frantically at the rock and iron. Alarmed, Liliana ran over and looked into the cell. “Sweet Andraste! Valorien!?” The elf lay face down in the cell, unmoving, in a sticky pool of blood. Leliana darted back to the remains of the jailer and plucked blood-drenched keys from his belt. “Easy, easy!” she told the dog. She found the right key and opened the door. “Valorien?” The dog ran in, and she followed more hesitantly. Tarroth whined and licked the elf’s face. Valorien stirred and groaned.
“Here, can you move?” Leliana knelt down and dug around in her pack. She fished out a healing potion. “Try to drink this.” She eased him over on his side and held his head so he could swallow the liquid down. “Merciful Maker, they tortured you,” she breathed. Tears stung her eyes. Valorien… giggled. “Are you all right??” Leliana asked, wide-eyed.
“He’s been like that,” the man in the next cell said. “Laughing while they questioned him.” He shook his head in incredulity. “Must be an elf thing.”
Valorien pushed himself to his feet. “Yes. I am all right,” he said hoarsely. Tarroth licked his hand.
“I’ll find your clothes.” Liliana ducked her head and turned away.
Valorien took the keys from her and unlocked his neighbor’s cell. “You’re going to let me out?” the man asked. “You don’t even know what I was in for.”
“Does it matter? No one deserves to be here.”
“Maker’s blessing on you, thank you!”
They get out of there and manage to dodge Loghain’s knights enough to get back to eamon’s estate.
Alistair dropped the book he hadn’t been reading for the past half hour and jumped out of his chair. “You’re back! Are you all right?” The elf looked… well, the worst Alistair had seen him since he nearly died after Ostagar. He looked hollowed, almost fragile.
“I am… I will be fine.”
Leliana said, “Oh, Alistair; his back was cut to ribbons.”
“They tortured you?” Alistair asked angrily. Valorien let out a dry chuckle. “You find that funny?!?”
“They wanted to know the secrets of the Grey Wardens.”
“But you don’t know anything about the Grey Wardens! I barely do.”
“That’s what is so funny. No matter what they did to me, I could not tell them.” He coughed out another small laugh.
“Is it true what the old man said?” Leliana asked. “You didn’t really laugh while they were hurting you?”
Alistair goggled at the elf, hearing this. “Are you insane? They could have killed you!”
“But you should have seen the look on Loghain’s face every time he asked me about the secrets, and I only laughed.” He started giggling again, then his body trembled.
“Loghain!” Alistair growled. He shook his anger off and looked at Valorien with concern. “You’ve been hurt badly. You should rest.”
“I need a bath,” the elf agreed. “And a nap, if there is time.”
Wynne strode in. “We’ll make time. Come on, let me help you.” She lightly touched Valorien’s elbow.
“Wait! Alistair, did they tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“About the Grey Warden.”
“What Grey Warden?”
Valorien took a breath, then explained excitedly. “In Arl Howe’s dungeon. We found a man — Riordan, I think his name was. He is a Grey Warden from Orlais. We freed him; he was wounded, I sent him to Brother Genitivi’s house.”
“The Grey Wardens from Orlais are here?”
The elf shook his head. “Loghain’s men stopped them at the border. Riordan came to the capital to find out why. King Cailen had sent a request for aid from Orlais and the Wardens there.”
Alistair ruffled his hair in frustration. “But they’re all the way back at the border! That’s even beyond the dwarven lands.”
“But don’t you see?” Valorien paused for another breath. “The only way Loghain’s men could have intercepted the Orlesians at the border is if he sent them almost immediately after Cailen sent his delegation. He couldn’t have done it after Cailen’s death, when he had been given power; he must have done it before. And the only way he could brazenly go against the King’s orders….”
“…is if he planned to murder the King all along,” Alistair finished. “Well I’ve been telling you that.”
Valorien nodded. “Yes, you are vindicated. But this is the proof we need to bring to the Landsmeet in order to convince them.”
Alistair nodded slowly. “We’ve got to find this Warden and make sure he is protected. I’ll go to Brother Genitivi’s house and look for him. You rest.”
The elf nodded again, gratefully. He followed Wynne out.
CODA: Anora’s Promises
Anora’s serving maid opened the door and ushered Valorien into the queen’s temporary quarters. “You wished to speak to me?” Valorien said to Anora without preamble.
“Yes, I want to thank you for rescuing me.” She moved in front of him, her azure eyes seeking out his bluesteel ones. “I’m glad you are safe.”
“You are welcome.”
Try as she might, Anora could find no warmth in the elf’s eyes, nor hint of emotion in his voice. She clasped her hands nervously and forged on ahead, anyway. “I wanted to ask you about Eamon’s plan to pursue Alistair’s claim to the throne of Ferelden. Do you, yourself, think Alistair should be king?”
“I believe Alistair will be a good king.”
Anora bit her lip. “Alistair is a good *man,*” she admitted, pacing a few steps to the settee. “But I do not think Ferelden needs a good man to lead it. We need a strong ruler.” She returned, gesturing firmly with one hand. “We need someone who can settle the Banns and keep a tight rein on them. I have dealt with these men and women for years. Yes, Cailen was king, but I was not a decorative queen. We were equals in his eyes. We shared everything.” A shadow settled over her eyes. For a moment, she seemed lost in thought. Valorien waited silently. Anora took a breath and turned to face him once more. “I have nothing against Alistair, but I fear he maybe too… ‘nice.’ The Banns will want concessions and delays, they will pluck at him for favors, and I fear he will not have the heart to tell them ‘no.’ Do you see what I mean?”
A small smile played at the corners of Anora’s mouth at this encouragement. “I understand you are the Chief Grey Warden in title. You may wish to consider giving the Wardens’ backing to me as the established Queen, rather than Alistair. Of course, I will honor the Grey Warden treaties and raise the army to your call to quell this Blight.” She looked at her hands a moment, lightly plucking at one finger, then another. Then she raised her eyes to Valorien again. “In return, as Queen, I can promise you a better treatment for your people. The city elves’ lives could be bettered, especially. Though,” she said, demurely lowering her lashes and shrugging one shoulder, “I suppose Alistair could offer you the same promises.”
Valorien’s eyes narrowed, very slightly. He thought back to the times Alistair could have offered him such assurances, but the human had not. Ever. He drew a breath. “Yes,” he said simply. “Yes, he could.”
Anora smiled again. “Well, give it some thought. As I understand it, Alistair doesn’t even want to be king.”
“And you wish to rule.”
“Yes,” she said firmly. “I do. I know I can make Ferelden strong again.”
Valorien nodded politely to her, almost a half-bow. “I will consider your words,” he said. Then he took his leave.