The ride back to Denerim and the Royal Palace was a long one. They persisted in an uncomfortable silence. There were things that should have been said, things that were on the tip of the tongues of the men and women that had been at Ostagar, but none of those things were voiced. The only words found laid blame at the feet of a secret order, the Grey Wardens. They had lit the beacon too late. They had convinced the King to enter battle to claim glory. They killed the King.
Cailan had been foolish, seeing the world through gold tinted lenses. He wished to match his father's legacy and to save the country from the grasps of a foreign invader. He had brought his Maric's sword with him. He had planned to slay a dragon, for Andraste's sake. Ferelden was to have two savior kings swathed in golden armor; until Cailan failed. On the fields of Ostagar he found his end. The history books would speak not of his victories but rather his defeats, and like his father he had died before his time and left Loghain behind to pick up the pieces.
Loghain's words had never been truer: A boy playing at being King.
A somber greeting awaited the army as they rode through the city gates of Denerim. News had been sent ahead via messenger. Loghain would not have his daughter find out about her husband through rumor.
Black flags hung throughout the city, marking a period of mourning for their King. Wreaths and other signs of respect could be found throughout the city.
Loghain left Cauthrien outside of Anora's rooms. The conversation had within those walls was to be a private one. Father to daughter. General to Queen. And when he reappeared, weariness creased the corners of his eyes, a flash expression hinting at something deeper behind his usually impassive mask. Memories pulled upon, her recollection drew images of similar looks in the past. Hints of past pride.
"I will act as Regent until this time of war passes, Cauthrien," he informed her, the weight of the words apparent in the downward turn of his lips. She could imagine the fun the gossipmongers might have with Regent Loghain.
He did this on purpose to rise to be King.
But she knew, this was a burden he did not wish to bear. He would do what must be done. It was his way.
It was Cauthrien's first time in the Landsmeet chamber. Had it not been for her position as Commander of the Shield, she would not have been granted entry at all. The low drumming of a multitude of conversations echoed throughout the chamber and only grew silent at the appearance of Loghain and Anora. They stood together, side by side, atop an upper balcony within the room. Out of sight, her presence not necessary, Cauthrien stood adjacent to a doorway and took on the stance of a soldier.
Motes of dust lingered in the air making the large room feel almost as if it was suffocating. She was nervous for Loghain because she knew he would not allow himself the luxury of such an emotion. These vipers, these political animals tolerated Loghain, but she had heard the whispers only one beneath the notice of a noble could hear. She was nothing to these nobility but a statue standing off to the side. Loghain had risen in the ranks thanks to his friendship to a King, but these people had never accepted him as one of their own. If given the chance, she knew, they would be sure to let him know as much.
She listened as Loghain spoke of duty to the throne, securing the country's independence and the loyalty and fealty he would expect of the Ferelden nobles. His requests were reasonable. They would surely comply.
But one dissenting voice rang through the crowd. He spoke for the Bannorn – Bann Teagan. "The Bannorn will not bow to you simply because you demand it."
Loghain's response was quick as he a\roiled at the rebellious comment, "Understand this: I will brook no threat to this nation… from you or anyone!" He glanced toward Cauthrien and dipped his head in a simple nod. They were done and would leave. She pushed away from the wall and walked to his side.
And it did not surprise her that as they left the Landsmeet chamber, Loghain turned and gave her the order. "Take a unit of the Shield, Commander, and go to the Bannorn. I will not have civil war."
He had done what must be done. Now it would fall upon her to do the same.
Work consumed Cauthrien. In command, she could lose herself. A straight course was set. A certain objective was to be achieved. She was to secure the Bannorn, to make the Regent's presence known. Organize troops, delegate responsibilities, it was her first real charge as Commander of the Shield.
No matter how much time Cauthrien spent in Denerim, there were certain things she never grew accustomed to: the smells of so many living in such closeness, the noise and the politics. Perhaps she was too simple in her pursuits and pleasures, but she never quite felt at home in the city. She had left the Bannorn at a young age. But still, whenever the concept of home drifted into her mind, ultimately, it was a sliver of farmland topped with a ramshackle house and wheat fields she thought of.
She was going home.
The warm welcome she expected, however, did not come. Bann Teagan's threats at the Landsmeet proved to have merit. Everywhere she and the troops went, they met some sort of rebellion, be it the aloof and inhospitable welcomes of the nobility as they reluctantly offered accommodations to Cauthrien and her men or the encounters with those that wished to openly rebel and incite civil war.
These were her people and it was their blood she shed on the land she had called home.
She could not wait to return to Denerim.
The man leaving Loghain's chambers was exotic and elfin. There was a deliberate grace in his movements topped with an air of danger. Assassin. There was no mistaking the look. She supposed in a way, some might consider him handsome, a roguish air of confidence and sexuality about him. It all seemed too utterly rehearsed, a show put on to portray a specific image, provoke a certain response. The elf smiled up at her, an inviting curl to his lips and an undisguised roving of his eyes along the contours of her body. He dipped in a cordial bow, eyes remaining steadfast upon her while he bent at the waist. She was not interested in such bait and walked past the man.
Cauthrien knocked on the door. Two months since she had last heard his voice. It penetrated through the door, bidding her entry, "Come in." Cauthrien walked into Loghain's rooms half expecting to find him alone. Unfortunately, another man lingered, hovering close to the Teyrn.
There was something about that man, Rendon Howe, she did not trust. The purposeful curve of his lips in well-practiced smile, the overly agreeable nature of his tone that hinted at an underlying layer of condescending intent, and the spark that entered his eyes whenever Loghain was not looking as if he was enjoying the punch line of a joke only he was privy to, all conspired to make Cauthrien suspicious of the man.
He was a politician and in her experience that sort treaded in waters often muddied with self-serving purposes. They did not care what was good for the country; rather, all that mattered was what was good for them and their own personal advancement. This particular political viper appeared to have latched his hungered bite of ambition upon Loghain.
Her head dipped in an overly cordial nod at the man. "Arl Howe."
"It is Teyrn now," he corrected, an all too smug grin sliding slippery across the thin line of his mouth.
Teyrn? Much appeared to have happened while she was gone. Another drop of the head, "Teyrn Howe." New titles, assassins, the questions piled in her mind. Cauthrien walked toward the seated Loghain.
The pewter cup was clutched firmly in his grasp. "I believe we are done, Rendon."Loghain voiced his dismissal.
"My liege." The man bowed to Loghain, the gesture over-exaggerated and more for Cauthrien's benefit than Loghain. And he was gone, leaving the pair alone for the first time in months.
She wanted to not think, to let the horizon of knowing fade into black in the comfort of diversion. An ominous feeling ate at her gut. Fact upon fact piled up to create a mound of foreboding – civil war, associations with Rendon Howe, whispers of Fereldans sold into slavery. Each day it seemed as if little pieces of the man she had known all those years had begun to shear away and she was helpless to stop it. Denial tasted so much sweeter, engulfing the bitterness upon her tongue in a layer of purposeful avoidance.
So much appeared to have changed in her absence. Had other things? Had he grown to not… A careful reach, her hand found the nape of his neck in gentle touch. "Teyrn?" His head tilted back moving toward her fingers . Relief washed over her.
"And the Couslands?" Last she had heard, Bryce Cousland was still the Teyrn of Highever.
"Dead." No further explanations were provided and none were sought. She would let the subject drop for now, her interests pointing in other directions.
Her speech serious, formal airs cast aside with the departure of Howe. "I worry." A counter to her gravitas, hands moved, unbuckling the sides of his armor and took off his chest piece.
"Do not." Their words were few, but enough.
The nagging pain of doubt continued to nip, unwilling to release its hold upon her. "I do not trust him. He is a politician." Howe battled in fields less than honorable. Deception and lies, these were his weapons of choice. Cauthrien did not like or respect him at all. He tainted everything that he touched with a veneer of treachery.
Leg plates undone and boots removed, Loghain sat before her in only his underpadding. He rose, moving to stand in front of her. "A necessary means to an end and nothing more." There was a level of finality to his tone. The matter settled and sealed with his undoing the fasteners of her armor.