"Like Carrion Men"

Yep. Been a while. And I still don't know what tense I'm in, so we're going with present.

We'll see if I manage to tie this up in another couple of scenes, or if it will take another couple of months.


Orzammar must change or die.

Oh, ancestors, she has been a fool not to have seen this before. When every year fewer warriors and nobles come back from the killing expeditions in the Deep Roads, the ones that keep the darkspawn back from the gate; when more and more abandon the Stone for the surface and not just dusters, but high caste dwarva with prospects. When the Legion of the Dead marches out into the Deep Roads, dead men and women going to their doom reclaim their honour, and the halls of Orzammar grow ever quieter, the faint odour of the taint in the rock ever stronger. Tradition will not hold it back.

Trian would have made a terrible king.

On those grounds, so will Pyral Harrowmont.

Aud tells stories, on the way back from Ortan Thaig. Endrin Stonehammer. The Last Stand of Kal'Hirol. The Fall of Thaig Aeducan. It passes the time, between darkspawn attacks. It eases some of the strain in Morrigan's features that Aud has not noticed until it starts to relax. It distracts Oghren from his brooding into long, involved arguments - sometimes carried on into the middle of a fight, and trying not to get herself spitted laughing when the drunken warrior beheads a genlock emissary and turns to berate her on the finer points of history is one of the hardest things she's ever done. And it draws Leliana out of the tense, silent shell into which the bard has retreated, until she's trading stories in turn, and Aud counts that amongst her better achievements.

Her own pain and pride cannot be allowed to rule her. Look at Branka's pride. Look at Caridin's. She can't afford pride. She cannot let tradition grind Orzammar into dust: she is no longer an Aeducan, and never will be again, not even if by some Stone-bound miracle the Assembly gives her back her name. The taint is in her blood, and the Wardens need her.

Bhelen might be a Stone-bound snake, but she must admit he understands necessity as well as ambition. He has never, at least, been blind.

They come up from the Deep Roads rank and stinking. Blood crusts their armour, and the reek of the taint follows them like a cloud.

The guards at Orzammar's gate give way before them. Aud sets her teeth and strides through the entrance to the Diamond Quarter, Oghren and Leliana at her shoulders, Morrigan fierce and watchful in the rear. They have discussed this. Appearances are important, and this march straight from the Deep Roads to the Assembly will leave a lasting impression. Aud intends it to.

Their progress draws a crowd. Alistair is among them. And Wynne. And Sten. She swallows her relief - they're safe, they're alive, talking will wait - and tries not to snarl at Alistair's horrified expression. "Aud -"

"Later," she snaps, hard and quiet. "For now, fall in."

Reaver comes to her heel, and Alistair does as he's told, for once without arguing. She shoves through the doors of the Assembly, the guards here falling back before her just as the ones at the entrance to the city. Darkspawn blood is caked in her hair, smeared like warpaint across her cheeks, and the deshyrs stutter into silence as she claims the chamber floor.

She looks like a nightmare. It is what they have made her, they and the Blight between them. Let them remember this.

She has nightmares enough on their account.

Harrowmont is in his seat, his controlled expression hinting at satisfaction. Bhelen stands under the Aeducan banner. Her brother has always been hard to read, but she thinks he is wary. It would be justice if he died by her decision here. Not that politics have ever had much to do with justice.

"Orzammar must change or die." Her words ring in the silence. It is her battlefield voice, by choice: harsh and angry like the cry of some carrion bird. Caridin's crown is heavy between her hands. "I carry a crown forged by the Paragon Caridin for its rightful king." She throws it underhand, fast and vicious, at Bhelen, and has the satisfaction of seeing him rock back in bewilderment. The words curdle her throat. A dull clamour starts in the back of the hall. "Bhelen Aeducan! Serve your people better than our father did, brother, or by the bones of the ancestors, I'll send you home to the Stone to join him!"

She turns on her heel and marches out. This is not her place anymore, and she has other things to do.

She really, really wants a bath.