(Finally, the arls and banns are assembled in the castle’s great hall. The Landsmeet has commenced, but where are the Grey Wardens? Ser Cauthrien is waiting outside the chamber with half a dozen of Loghain’s best men to prevent them from even getting there. There’s a vicious fight, and Loghain’s contingent is killed, including his faithful second. Meanwhile, the nobles of Ferelden debate.)
Loghain was addressing the assembly from the hall floor, his commanding voice pitched to easily reach the balconies on either side. “And where were you,” he charged the nobles, “when we were fighting Orlais? When they were rampaging over our fields and raping our wives?”
“That is not the issue,” Arl Eamon insisted firmly. “Ferelden must have a ruler on the throne; not a regent.”
“It’s no secret that there will be a puppet ruler on the throne,” Loghain countered, “but who will be pulling the strings?” The doors at the end of the hall opened, and Valorien strode through with his hound at his heels. Alistair followed, along with Wynne and Oghren. And Loghain knew his last ploy had failed. “Augh!” he cried at the sight of them, not bothering to disguise his outraged impatience with the Wardens. “Here they are now; let’s ask them. Tell us, Warden, how will the Orlesians take our nation from us? Will they deign to send their troops, or simply issue their commands through this would-be prince?” The teyrn glared at Alistair, who flinched. Then Loghain turned his hard gaze onto Valorien. “How much Ferelden blood does Orlesian gold buy these days?”
The others stopped, but Valorien moved forward to face the teyrn. “There is no Orlesian gold,” the elf raised his voice to be heard in the hall, but his tone was level. “Only your obsession with your old enemy.”
“The Grey Wardens from Orlais were crossing our borders, into our land, uninvited!”
“The Wardens were summoned by King Cailen,” Valorien told him firmly. “Which is why you had him removed.”
“The Orlesians wanted to bring four hundred chevaliers with them.” Loghain swept his gaze over the nobles. “And once the chevaliers enter our kingdom, how do you propose to get rid of them again?”
Valorien’s brows lowered. “Loghain!” he snapped, “the war is over. You ended it, thirty years ago! Outside this very hall, there are Orlesian traders in your marketplace, buying and selling goods. They are not soldiers or spies; there has been peace and commerce between your kingdoms.”
“Just biding your time, aren’t you?” Loghain said.
“I am not Orlesian, in case it has escaped your notice,” the elf replied coldly. “I am an elf of the Dales.”
“The Dales,” Loghain sneered, “the land between here and Orlais, where their armies crossed to invade Ferelden!”
The elf’s steel grey eyes bored into the human. “And where were you,” he asked, “when the Orlesians were rampaging through our forests and raping our women?”
Loghain’s eyes widened a moment, then he leaned down close over the elf. “It wasn’t my war,” he growled low. More loudly he said, “I have no predjudices against the elves–.”
“Yet you sold the elves of this city into slavery.”
Bann Karson leaned on the balcony railing above, breaking into the verbal duel. “What is this? There is no slavery in Ferelden!”
“The alienage was a wreck,” Loghain stated. “Riots and fires, and plague; dead bodies rotting in the streets. I wouldn’t send my worse enemy in there!”
“Too late,” Alistair interjected; “already been there.”
Ignoring him, the teyrn explained, “If the Blight comes, we cannot hold the alienage.”
“Hold the alienage?” Valorien asked. “The alienage is entirely within the city; the only way the Blight could get to it is through the walls and streets of Denerim.” He narrowed his eyes. “Or do you mean to say that if the Blight comes, you cannot hold the elves imprisoned inside it?”
“The Taint has already brought plague into the alienage,” Loghain insisted forcefully. He loomed over the elf, but Valorien gave no ground.
“There is no plague. That is only an excuse the Tevinters gave to scare the people into their trap. They were taking healthy elves as slaves, and they did so with your express written permission.”
“What is the meaning of this?” Seneschal Barret said, holding up her hands for silence from the gallery. “Do you have proof of this?”
Wynne stepped forward, retrieving the paper from her satchel. “I have it right here.” Some of the lesser nobles crowded around to see it.
And Loghain did not back down, nor did he sound the slightest bit guilty. “They would have had a better life in Tevinter. The city can no longer support them.”
“A better life?” Valorien challenged. “As fodder for Blood Magic rituals? And are you going to offer this better life to your human refugees from the south?”
The nobles stirred, muttering in unrest. Oghren sidled over to Alistair. “Valorien’s really letting him have it.”
Alistair nodded, not taking his eyes off the confrontation. “Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”
The elf now had Loghain on the defensive. “You sent an apostate to poison Arl Eamon,” he accused.
“I do not know what enemies Eamon has,” the stony human replied. “If I wanted to have him removed, I would have simply sent my own men.”
“You did not send them after us,” Valorien said. “You sent an assassin.”
“I don’t know anything about that.”
“He said he was with the Antivan Crows, and he told us that you hired him before I cut his throat.” More than one person flinched at the thought of someone skilled enough to survive a Crow assassin — let alone someone cold-blooded enough to execute one so off-handedly.
“Perhaps Arl Howe knew something about that,” Loghain admitted with a scowl. “If you hadn’t murdered him, we could ask. And is it too much to hope that you haven’t murdered my daughter as well? What have you done with Anora?”
Another voice drifted into the hall, cold and strong, yet full of grace. “I am right here, Father.” Anora came forward. “I asked for help from the Grey Wardens in escaping Howe’s ‘protection.'”
Loghain sighed and lowered his head, at last showing defeat. “I had hoped to spare you this, my child.”
Undaunted, Anora moved to the center of the hall. She raised her head and her voice. “Good people of Ferelden, you know my father as a good man, a loyal warrior. I must tell you now, that Loghain is no longer the hero he once was. His hatred of Orlais and suspicion has led us here to this dire state.” She looked higher, eyes unfocussed at the rafters. “I love my father dearly, but I can no longer believe he is capable of leading our kingdom. The Blight is at our gates. Ferelden is without Grey Wardens, save these two brave men. I ask now for the Landsmeet to come to a decision; I pray it is the right one for us all.” She folded her hands and waited, not looking at Loghain. He looked at her once, without emotion, then closed his eyes and looked away. Above and from all sides, the nobles debated. Some shouted their support for Loghain, but most held faith with the Grey Wardens.
Loghain met Valorien’s gaze. The elf said, “The Landsmeet is against you, Loghain. Step down.”
The teyrn took a deep breath. “Do the words ‘Fat Chance’ have any meaning for you?” Behind him, two rows of knights closed in. They eyed the Wardens with hostility.
“Call off your men,” Valorien said quietly. “We can settle this in the tradition of Ferelden honor.”
Slowly, the muscle of Loghain’s jaw tensed. Just as slowly, he released it. “Will you do this yourself? Or do you have a champion?”
“That honor,” Valorien answered levelly, “belongs to Alistair.”