Greatness Thrust Upon Him
Disclaimer: I do not own Dragon Age.
Lord Pyral Harrowmont, High-General of Orzammar and trusted advisor to the late King Endrin, never thought he'd find himself in this position. Endrin was a well-respected King and he reestablished communications with the only other dwarven city known to be in existence, Kal-Sharok. There was no reason at all that his heir would have any trouble ascending to their father's throne – widely regarded as the Aeducan throne as Endrin was the ninth successive Aeducan king – and there were three potential heirs to choose from.
Trian was the natural heir. He was the oldest and had a healthy respect for tradition. He and Aunn could barely be in the same room together without getting into a fight, but that was because the Prince worried about his sister's ever-rising popularity. No one could deny that his diplomacy could use work, but that was what advisors and seconds were for. Orzammar under his rule would have continued much the same way it had under Endrin and that was no failing.
Aunn was the popular choice for Queen. She never was much for holding grudges and always made sure to treat the people she met respectfully – not that she had much interaction with the lesser castes. Her father worried that the lesser castes would take advantage of her tendency to at least hear people out to inundate her with their problems and a Princess of Orzammar simply could not personally solve everyone's problems for them, as much as she would have liked to. If the unthinkable hadn't happened, the Assembly might very well have chosen Aunn to rule instead of her brother and that would have benefited Orzammar, too.
Her skills in dealing with people would have served her well and though she was not as big a supporter of traditions as Trian, they were still very important to her. The only way she would have assumed the throne, however, would be if the Assembly chose her of their own accord. Aunn would have made a capable Queen but her interests lay more in taking an active role to protect Orzammar than in being an administrator. He couldn't even count all the times he'd walked in on Aunn attempting to convince King Endrin to let her go off and become a Grey Warden, though of course her request was always denied. He hoped she had managed to achieve that particular dream, after all.
And then there was the third heir, Bhelen. Harrowmont had always known that while it was highly unlikely that a third son would ever inherit the throne, he was still more likely to inherit the throne than anyone else save his two older siblings. He supposed that if Bhelen had proven himself to be Aunn and Trian's superior than the Assembly might choose him – for hadn't the first dwarven king been the youngest brother Bloadlikk? – but he had not. In fact, his siblings had been the talented ones and he had been the one left to his own devices as he had shown himself well-capable of keeping out of trouble. Managing to be a Prince of Orzammar while appearing to be so innocent and helpful and not have his fellow nobles walking all over him should have been their first clue that something wasn't right.
Things had started to fall to pieces the day Aunn took up her first command post. The day before was very promising and she had won the Proving held in honor of the event, partly for the glory and partly so the fighters she beat would not try to impress her with their performance. Harrowmont knew that Aunn was not amused by his attempts to find her a nice noble boy but it had to be done. Trian was going to marry Jaylia Helmi and strengthen House Aeducan's traditional alliance with them and Bhelen was barely grown so he had time yet. Since her taste seemed to run more towards the warrior caste, the noble winner of a proving seemed like a good bet to catch her attention. She would have none of it, however, and bested them all. It wasn't like anyone expected her to step aside once she was married, but he knew she feared an untimely pregnancy would get in her way.
Aunn winning her own Proving – while unusual – should have been a sign of good things to come. It wasn't. She and her second, Gorim, were tasked with finding the legendary Shield of Aeducan, wielded by the Paragon Aeducan himself when he saved Orzammar during the first Blight while the majority of the troops headed further in. Bhelen had looked grimmer and grimmer as the expedition went on and finally Endrin asked what the problem was.
Hesitating ever so slightly, Bhelen confessed that he'd been concerned about Trian's hostility towards Aunn as of late and so had warned her the day before that he might try something. This morning, however, the brothers had had a discussion that convinced him that he was wrong and that Trian wasn't plotting against Aunn after all. As she didn't know that and they were both wandering around nearly alone in the Thaig…well, who knew what might happen.
A quick glance told Harrowmont that Endrin didn't believe Aunn would start something serious but that he was unwilling to risk it and so they immediately set off towards where they'd left the Princess. When they found her, Aunn was standing over her older brother's body seemingly in a state of shock with Gorim, Frandlin Ivo, and a dwarven scout he did not recognize hovering awkwardly a few feet away.
Bhelen's second, Vartag, broke the silence by lamenting that Bhelen was right to worry. Gorim immediately spoke up to insist that they had arrived moments before themselves, but his loyalty was not an asset in this matter as it meant his word could not be trusted. The scout was the next to speak, accusing Aunn of murdering Trian in cold blood. Almost before he finished speaking, Aunn threw a knife at his head for his insolence.
Since Aunn was the one being accused of fratricide, Gorim was clearly biased, and the scout was both insignificant and dead, Endrin turned to the second son of Lord Ivo to illuminate the situation. House Ivo might have been relatively inconsequential, but it was still a noble house and so when young Frandlin agreed with the scout's version of events, Endrin had little choice but to arrest his only daughter.
Harrowmont could hardly believe what was happening. Trian, dead? Aunn, suspected of his murder? It was impossible. The fact didn't lie, however, and nothing was going to bring Endrin's heir back. There was simply no way Aunn was responsible and surely the Assembly would see reason. The deshyrs loved Aunn and she was clearly innocent so this whole matter would be cleared up soon enough. That's what should have happened. It didn't.
The first warning sign was the way a great many of the deshyrs did not seem very surprised to hear that Trian was dead and Aunn had been arrested. Had the situation been reversed and Trian stood accused of murdering Aunn, he could see that having been the case. Trian wanted the throne and Aunn was the biggest threat to him inheriting it, after all. Aunn had little interest in the throne, however, so why would she kill the one person standing between her and having to assume it?
The next warning sign was when Ivo's word alone was enough to convince the Assembly of Aunn's guilt. While Ivo was a noble and thus his words must be considered, he was from a lower house and Aunn was a Princess and next-in-line for the throne now that Trian was dead. Ivo's story – which he looked strangely hesitant to tell and kept glancing over to Bhelen for whatever reason – was apparently so compelling that the Assembly felt confident in convicting the accused without even calling her before them. That simply was not done. Law demanded that she be called forth to defend herself. Tradition demanded that she be given that opportunity. The Assembly did not think it necessary.
The final warning sign was when it came time to decide what the punishment should be for fratricide. Gorim, of course, was sent to the surface. It was a fitting punishment for such a crime (though if Aunn were innocent surely he was, too) and that was settled with little fuss. Aunn, however…he had reluctantly moved for her to be sent to the surface as well but to his great surprise, the deshyrs had a problem with that plan. Killing the heir to the throne and her own kin was enough to be sent down to the deep roads in rags and barely armed, it seemed.
This was a travesty and everyone knew it. Endrin looked sick but he agreed to abide by the Assembly's decision. Harrowmont understood. Trian was dead so he could no longer become King. With Aunn convicted by the Assembly she could not become Queen. There was only one winner that day and that was Bhelen. It was clear that he must have been involved and if a proper inquiry was done into Trian's murder and any evidence was found that the youngest Aeducan Prince had set all of this up…Endrin was old and the scandal would not abate before his death. He could either save his family's throne or save his daughter's life.
Harrowmont knew what he would decide almost before he did. He'd been King for many years, after all, and had worked too hard to willing put his family out of power. Aunn's fate, it seemed, was sealed. Except. Except the Grey Wardens had delayed their departure and were likely even now still making their way through the Deep Roads. If Aunn could find them…
He couldn't tell her personally, of course; he was a deshyr. Instead, he called her second to him. Gorim looked angry at the world and terrified for Aunn's sake. Clearly he'd heard the news then. Harrowmont told him about Duncan and gave him leave to deliver the message, watching as the hope grew in the warrior's eyes, both at being able to see Aunn one last time and at being able to save her.
When the time came to see the former Princess off to the deep roads and her fate, Harrowmont was there. It wouldn't be appropriate for the King himself to come and Harrowmont knew casting her out to die like that would kill him. He had brought two swords with him: one for if he was right and one for if the Assembly was.
"You call this justice?" she had asked bitterly, defiance flashing in her eyes.
Harrowmont hadn't answered. He hadn't needed to. Instead, he asked for the truth, or at least her version of it. He was probably the only one who had. "Look me in the eye and tell me that you did not slay your brother, for your father's sake!"
Her eyes had softened a little at that. "I swear to you, I had no part in Trian's death."
He hadn't thought that she had, but it was nice to hear some confirmation from her since Ancestors knew he wouldn't be getting it anywhere else. "That is all I wish to know. Take this sword and go seek a glorious end."
Aunn had taken the sword curiously. The startled look she shot him showed that she knew that that was a finer blade then the one the convicted were supposed to receive, but he knew that if she were to live to reach the Grey Wardens she would need all the help she could get and if this better blade would make the difference between life and death for her…well, he was willing to go against tradition then, just this once. "Tell my father…" she started to say, her voice shaking a little. She closed her eyes. "Tell him I go to a warriors death."
"I will," he had promised.
And then she walked through doors separating Orzammar from the deep roads and she didn't look back.
As Bhelen had managed to take them all by surprise with his hitherto unseen political prowess and set himself up as next in line for the throne with no rivals, everyone was sure to keep a much closer eye him from then on, particularly Endrin and Harrowmont. What they found was…distressing.
"Tradition means nothing to him," Endrin had finally concluded after days of denial. "There's no one else to take the throne, but if he truly cares so little about the ways of our people…"
Endrin's health had taken a turn for the worst from practically the moment Bhelen became an only child and this new insight into Bhelen's character just made things worse. It was then that Harrowmont made the decision to reveal his part in giving Aunn a chance to survive to her father, who wasted no time calling for Gorim and the Shield of Aeducan, which had been sitting in storage since it had been recovered. While they waited for Aunn's former second to show up, the King quickly wrote out a note.
When Gorim did arrive, the hatred in his eyes quickly died and was replaced by pity at the sight of the old King.
"Give this to my daughter," Endrin had commanded, holding out both the shield and the accompanying note.
"If I ever see her again, it will be done," Gorim had vowed. He had been putting off leaving for the surface for some time, but after that he quickly left the city.
More time passed and more of Bhelen's character was revealed. It really did seem that tradition was only something that mattered to him as long as it would personally benefit him. For instance, he seemed to love the notion that the throne of Orzammar was the Aeducan throne. It wasn't, of course, but the last nine generations had provided fine rulers and while this generation was no exception, Bhelen had gotten them out of his way. The merchant caste loved him for his valuing wealth and trade above their culture, which simply wasn't done. He spent far too much time with the casteless and that casteless girl he had gotten pregnant was often at the palace. As each new day revealed more of what a wretched ruler Bhelen would make, Endrin grew sicker and sicker with grief and regret.
"Fine my child," he had all but begged. "Please."
And Harrowmont had tried. Bhelen was against it from the start, of course. At best it was a wasted endeavor and at worst it could succeed at finding Aunn and ensure he was never getting anywhere near the throne. As Bhelen often reminded them, the scandal would hurt House Aeducan more than recovering Aunn would help it, but Endrin was past the point of caring. Several expeditions into the deep roads were lead, but no traces of the exiled Princess were found. That was, Harrowmont often had to remind himself, a good sign.
And then had come the day when Endrin knew that he would not live to see his daughter again and could not, in good conscience, leave Orzammar in Bhelen's power-hungry hands.
"My son must not succeed me," he had declared, looking as though the words pained him.
"I'll start looking for an alternative among the Aeducans immediately," Harrowmont had started to say.
Endrin smiled sadly at that. "There is no one else."
"Then what would you have me do?" Harrowmont had asked, feeling helpless. It would figure that there would be no one else capable of ascending the throne. With three potential heirs, why would they need anyone else?
Then Endrin said the words that had sent Orzammar into chaos. "I need you to succeed me."
Whatever Harrowmont had been expecting, that certainly wasn't it. "You want me to…a Harrowmont has never been King, you know that! Surely there must be someone else-"
"There isn't," Endrin had insisted, cutting him off. "And even if there were there's no one I trust more than you. Please, Pyral. Orzammar needs you."
That was when he realized he was trapped. He was far too old for this and taking the Aeducans out of power – even with Endrin's blessing – would be no easy feat. "I will not turn my back on Orzammar if it needs me."
Soon afterwards Endrin died and Orzammar did need him.
Bhelen had expected to assume the throne smoothly and so when Harrowmont stood to oppose him, it took the arrogant young Prince by surprise. Their battle of wills had been going on for three weeks now and while it was starting to feel like this would never get anywhere, the most recent votes revealed that he had forty deshyrs on his side – exactly half of the Assembly. Bhelen's support was weakening, it seemed. It made sense. The longer he was keeping a tenth generation of Aeducans off the throne the more the other houses could see him actually succeeding and they all wanted their turn to be the royal family. Still, the fact he could not safely leave his own house was more than a little pathetic. At least Bhelen could not safely leave the palace, either.
There was a knock on the door. "Come in," he called.
Dulin pushed open the door and stepped inside, looking a little uncomfortable.
Apprehensive, Harrowmont asked, "What happened?"
"Aunn is back," Dulin replied shortly.
Harrowmont drew back in surprise. That Aunn was not only alive but back in Orzammar? He knew the guards to the surface were letting no one in so how did she…? The treaties. She wanted to become a Grey Warden and knew Duncan was her best hope of survival. Duncan himself was only there to confirm whether there was really a Blight and if there was and she was calling upon the treaties she would have to be allowed in.
"Where is she?" Harrowmont demanded. "I would like to see her."
Dulin sighed. "I thought you might say that. She's supposed to meet me at the Tapster's soon and I can bring her here directly."
"Why is she meeting you at Tapsters?" Harrowmont asked suspiciously. "What aren't you telling me?"
"She might have just won the Proving Bhelen was hosting in King Endrin's memory in your name," Dulin admitted. "Even though she was exiled, she was able to compete because she's a Grey Warden now."
Harrowmont blinked. "You made her win a Proving before allowing her to see me?"
Dulin was unrepentant. "I needed to be sure she wasn't working for Bhelen."
"You thought Aunn, of all people, would be working for Bhelen?" Harrowmont couldn't believe it. "I know these are uncertain times, but you'd think Aunn would be the one person we knew we could trust, given the circumstances behind her exile."
"I thought you might say that, too," Dulin replied. "But you know how the Aeducans can get about these things. They think that just because they've held the throne for nine generations they are entitled to it and since helping you removes her family from power she may have decided to work with Bhelen either way. You know that if she won him the throne he'd reinstate her in order to neutralize her if nothing else. I couldn't take that risk."
"Winning the Proving in my name certainly does help my cause," Harrowmont mused. "I did not believe there was any hope of anyone beating Piotin Aeducan since Baizyl and Gwiddon withdrew."
"As it happens, they both competed in the Proving and did quite well," Dulin looked quite pleased with himself. "Baizyl and Gwiddon even fought alongside Aunn in one of the matches."
"And you think this was Aunn's doing?" Harrowmont queried.
Dulin nodded. "Their resignations were unexpected but probably Bhelen's doing. If anyone could convince them to change their minds, Aunn could."
"Very well. Bring her here immediately," Harrowmont instructed, wondering just how this reunion would play out.
Harrowmont did not turn around when he heard her enter his study. He knew it was her because unlike Dulin she didn't bother knocking and because the rest of the household knew not to interrupt him. "Your father missed you sorely in his final days. I am glad you found a new place among the Grey Wardens."
"And I am glad that you chose to practically throw me at the Grey Wardens," Aunn replied, sounding a little amused. "I never did get a chance to thank you for saving me."
"I just wish I could have done more. Perhaps then we would not be in this mess," Harrowmont told her, glancing behind him. Aunn was alone and looking better than she had the last time he had seen her. Her long blonde hair was braided and pinned up like it always was but instead of rags she wore what appeared to be dragon scale armor and was armed with a glowing blue sword and the Shield of Aeducan. "You found Gorim, I see."
Aunn's eyes flickered. "I ran into him in the human capital of Denerim," she informed him. "He's working as a merchant for his father-in-law. Between his pregnant wife and the injuries he sustained making his way from Orzammar to Denerim, he could not accompany me."
"That's a shame," Harrowmont told her sincerely. Gorim was loyal to a fault and would have proven useful to have along. "You received your father's note, then?"
Aunn nodded. "I did. Father finally noticed Bhelen's allergies, I take it?"
"His…allergies?" Harrowmont repeated, uncertain. "I've heard you mention them before, but surely your father would not include a medical matter in his final words to you?"
"That was how I always referred to his hatred for tradition," Aunn explained. "As he probably would have killed me had I actually come right out and told people that."
"So you knew what a disaster his rule would be?" Harrowmont asked, surprised. "Your father was the first one to realize it once you'd left and that was only after weeks of observation."
"Of course I knew," Aunn replied, sounding a little affronted. "He is my little brother, you know."
"Why did you never tell anyone then?" Harrowmont demanded.
Aunn shrugged. "It seemed unlikely to ever be relevant, honestly. He claims he doesn't hate tradition, he just doesn't want to be held back by it."
"And what do you think?" Harrowmont questioned, wondering if she was going to come out to support her errant brother after all.
Aunn didn't answer for a moment. "I don't think Bhelen being King would be the unmitigated disaster some people seem to think. He is right that we are slowly dying off and unless we want the surface dwarves to be our only legacy then we need to do something to change that. Just the same, I want there to be something worth preserving so we can't so easily abandon our culture. My brother has some good ideas, but he's too impatient. He wants too much too quickly and he'll never get the Assembly to approve it."
"So you will stand with me, then?" Harrowmont inquired.
Aunn nodded again. "Absolutely," she said firmly. "I'll confess I almost wish I could support Bhelen, just so Trian's death and my exile would be worth something and I certainly don't wish to remove my family from power but I have to put Orzammar first and I worry that I won't recognize an Orzammar under Bhelen's rule for a few years."
"Your brother has a lot of support," Harrowmont told her. "And if it were not for your father's wishes he would be King by now and then Ancestors help us all. My support is growing, but I'll need to do something to show that I can still get things done, despite my age. Have you heard of a woman named Jarvia?"
Aunn bit her lip, thinking. "I might have," she answered at last. "One of the shops I stopped at before the Proving had a few thugs demanding ten sovereigns for 'protection' and I thought they mentioned a Jarvia."
"That sounds about right," Harrowmont confirmed. "She took over the carta in Dust Town once Beraht died a little before your exile. She made sure to keep under our notice until your father died but has since taken advantage of the chaos to operate openly in the commons. Every day the Assembly is petitioned by more and more people begging someone to do something about her. As we can barely keep the peace in the Diamond Quarter itself these days, no one has managed."
"So if I do manage to take them out and I'm working for you that will show that not only do you have the power to defend Orzammar but that you're concerned about things other than politics," Aunn surmised. She headed for the door. "I'll be back in a few hours."
"Aunn," Harrowmont called after her. She stopped and turned back to him. "I apologize for Dulin forcing you to win the Proving before allowing you to meet with me."
"Don't worry about it," she assured him. "I'm still an Aeducan after all, no matter what the records say, and if I thought there was any chance that Bhelen would be willing to compromise with the Assembly…well, I don't and let's just leave it at that."
Aunn returned, still alone, looking much more somber than she had when she'd left. "The carta is dead."
"So I've heard. You did well to take them out with only three other people," Harrowmont told her.
"With all the dragons, drakes, and ogres I've taken on lately, killing a few dozen dwarves, elves, and qunari was child's play," Aunn said flatly.
"You look upset," Harrowmont noted.
"I did what had to be done," Aunn replied. "They wouldn't back down and so they died. Still, I've never been to Dust Town before."
Harrowmont chuckled. "I should think not; your father would never allow it."
"It was so much poorer than anything I've ever seen. I thought I'd seen poverty amongst the refugees at Lothering but this…" Aunn trailed off, at a loss for words.
Harrowmont knew what she meant. Even if they were only casteless or criminals (and often both), seeing the conditions the dwarves of Dust Town lived in was difficult, especially the first exposure to that world. "It is unfortunate that it came to this, but of course they could not be allowed to threaten whoever they pleased. We must have order."
"I know," Aunn said quietly. "Tell me…how did my father die? I was told that he died in his sleep of grief but I've heard whispers of poison. Surely Bhelen wouldn't have killed Father, right? Even if Father's reluctance to hand him the throne disturbed him, setting the precedent for killing the King would be a bad idea for him."
"I have also heard those rumors," Harrowmont confirmed. "The more people see Bhelen's true character the more inclined they are to believe that he killed Trian and – until you returned – caused your death as well. If he could have his brother and his sister killed – becoming a Kinslayer twice over – it would not be too much of a leap to assume he would not balk at killing his own father."
"Did he?" Aunn sounded urgent.
Harrowmont shook his head. "No. At this point, I'm not sure I would put it past him but he had no opportunity to. When your father knew he was dying he would have nothing to do with Bhelen. I was the only one there in his final hours and, in my view, King Endrin died of a broken heart. Losing Trian was hard on him but no one could claim that was his fault."
"It wasn't his fault what happened to me, either," Aunn insisted. "I mean, yes, he could have technically stopped it but it would have caused more problems than it solved. While it would have been nice if I had a father willing to put me first, I forgave him for casting me out a long time ago."
"He did what he had to," Harrowmont verified, "but that doesn't mean he didn't regret it. He regretted it every day for a year and in the end Bhelen did kill him, but only through what he did to you. He asked me to look for you, you know. Bhelen disapproved but searches were conducted anyway. As you can imagine, we didn't find anything."
"Because I wasn't there. Thank you for being there for my father when I couldn't," Aunn said softly. "I wish I had been able to see him again but…such is life, I guess."
"When your father realized what a terrible King Bhelen would make and that he would not live to see you again he asked me to step up and several of my colleagues echoed his sentiment. I never sought the throne and always assumed that Trian would rule or that you would. While I will not deny that there would be some definite advantages to being King, I am far too old to try and take your family out of power and that's why I need your help," Harrowmont confided.
"What else do you need me to do?" Aunn asked.
"You wiping out the carta won me a great deal of respect and Bhelen is well-aware that the more time goes by the more support he loses as more people start to believe that I have a chance," Harrowmont responded. "Naturally, Bhelen has responded by forcing a vote in the next two days. If he can't win a vote now then he'll never win one. Until the vote is settled, we legally cannot address any other business. I feel more assured of my success with the carta gone but I will not be underestimating Bhelen ever again; that is what started all of this, after all. Tell me: what do you know of the Paragon Branka?"
"Branka…she was the smith girl who invented a smokeless fuel that decreased deaths and doubled production, wasn't she?" Aunn asked rhetorically. "She couldn't stand the noble lifestyle so she took her entire house – except her husband and wasn't that a scandal? – into the deep roads a year or so before I left."
Harrowmont nodded. "She hasn't returned and, despite her husband's best efforts, there haven't been any expeditions to find her in quite some time. Still, Bhelen's been looking for her and my men have picked up her trail as well. While I'm not certain that she's even still alive, if you could find her and convince her to support me then the Assembly would certainly crown me King."
"I think I met her husband earlier, actually," Aunn mused. "If he hears that I'm going to look for her then he'll want to come along and he may know something your men don't. What will you do if I find her but she won't support you?"
"If she chooses your brother then clearly he has the Ancestors favor," Harrowmont replied promptly.
Aunn's eyes flashed. "She'll support you if it kills her, I swear it."
Harrowmont raised an eyebrow at her.
Aunn coughed. "Figuratively, of course. It wouldn't do to attack a Paragon…"
Each successive Assembly meeting since King Endrin had passed had gotten more disorderly than the last and this one was no exception.
"Lords of the Assembly, I call for order!" Steward Bandelor called loudly. "This discussion gets us nowhere."
"Then why all these delaying tactics?" Bhelen demanded. His spies had no doubt informed him of Aunn's attempts to locate their sole possibly-living Paragon and he was getting more annoyed at every opportunity taken to stall. If Branka still lived, they both knew Aunn would find her. The only question was whether it would be in enough time to settle the dispute. "My father has but one living child to assume the Aeducan throne." There it was again. The 'Aeducan throne.' Could he sound any more like an entitled child? He was saying nothing of why he would make a good leader and everything about who his father was. Yes, the Aeducans had ruled Orzammar for nine generations but that was only because each of the Kings had proven popular enough for the Assembly to approve their successor and a capable heir had been ready to take over once the previous King was dead.
"Your father made me promise on his deathbed that you would not succeed him," Harrowmont reiterated yet again. He was getting a little tired of constantly having to bring that up but if Bhelen's strongest claim to the throne was his through his father then the fact that said father hadn't wanted him anywhere near the throne also needed to be remembered.
"Excuse me, but the Warden has returned," Steward Bandelor announced. Harrowmont looked up anxiously to see Aunn, Branka's husband Oghren, a golem, and a human man. Branka wasn't with them, which was disappointing to say the least, but Aunn was holding a finely forged crown.
"We should let the Warden speak," Harrowmont spoke up immediately, wondering if it was too much to hope for that this crown had been forged by Branka, who had elected not to return because she was either engaged in something pressing or simply did not want to become too embroiled in politics. There was, of course, a chance that Branka had chosen Bhelen and he could not defy a Paragon so he would have to respect that, but Aunn had seemed determined to make the former smith see things her way. "What news do you bring?"
"I bear a crown forged by the Paragon Branka for her chosen king," Aunn declared boldly, holding up said crown for all to see.
And as Oghren spun his tale of Branka's heroic sacrifice, Harrowmont waited patiently and kept his eyes on Aunn. Her face was impassive so he had no way of knowing who she was about to award the crown to. She had said that she did not feel her brother would be a successful ruler and her admittance that if she had she would have supported him made him believe her. If Branka had chosen Bhelen, he wasn't quite sure what she would do. Convention would dictate that she respect the Paragon's wishes but since she truly did not want her brother on the throne and had spent nearly a year on the surface, who knew how this would play out?
"And we are supposed to trust this?" Bhelen asked incredulously, venom in his voice. "The word of a drunken sot and a murdering exile known to be in Harrowmont's pocket?"
Aunn narrowed her eyes at that and Harrowmont knew then who she would choose, regardless of Branka's actual wishes. He resolved not to ask what Branka had said as even if he got the truth he might not like the answer.
Steward Bandelor, predictably, ignored this. "Silence! Then tell us, Grey Warden, which King did Paragon Branka endorse?"
Aunn was silent for a moment, clearly enjoying all of the attention. Finally, she spoke. "Branka chose Harrowmont."
"I appreciate your forthrightness, Warden. You have acted with grace throughout this entire torturous process," Harrowmont said, relief sinking through him. He had done it. He had actually managed to fulfill Endrin's final request and prevent Bhelen from having the power he needed to destroy Orzammar and it was all thanks to the forgotten Princess. He made his way down to the floor of the Assembly to be crowned.
As he knelt before Steward Bandelor, he could almost feel the favor of the Ancestors upon him. The Aeducans were a fine House, but Bhelen was clearly not worthy of it.
Bhelen, whose face had been frozen in a look of abject horror since Aunn had named his opponent King, moved forward. "I will not abide by this!" he swore.
"The ancestors have spoken!" one of the deshyrs on the winning side retorted.
"Stand down, Bhelen," Aunn entreated, sounding tired and like she knew there wasn't a chance he'd listen. "You've lost."
Sure enough, Bhelen just eyed her contemptuously. "You turned your back on Orzammar when you killed our brother!"
Aunn's eyes darkened. No doubt being accused of fratricide by the one who had actually committed it grated on her nerves.
"Watch out!" another one of the deshyrs on his side cried out. "They brought weapons!"
Harrowmont looked around. Bhelen and a good third of the deshyrs had, indeed, armed themselves. "Guards!"
Aunn went straight for Bhelen but that was hardly surprising. Those two had had unfinished business since the day Bhelen had killed Trian and pinned it on her. They exchanged a few words, though Harrowmont was too far away to hear them, before lunging at each other. Eventually, Aunn triumphed and Bhelen lay dead at her feet.
When the other rebellious deshyrs met the same fate, she turned to Harrowmont. "This might be the one thing I can never forgive; he's made me a Kinslayer after all."
"No one can blame you," Harrowmont was quick to reassure her. "You did what you had to do."
"And that is why I can't forgive him," Aunn said solemnly.
"I admit, I did not think even Bhelen would defy the word of a Paragon," Harrowmont confessed.
Aunn cocked her head. "No? A Paragon has no official power and so Branka's word being enough is just a tradition, which we both knew meant little to him."
"True enough. But that so many would follow him...At least now most of Orzammar has seen him for what he really is and I trust we will bring this insurgency under control," Harrowmont declared, hoping he wasn't being overly optimistic. Even with Bhelen's attempted coup, he had managed to take the throne and so it was difficult not to be.
"Ancestors willing," Aunn replied, still looking haunted. Ruthless to the core and as anti-tradition as they come though he might have been, Bhelen had still been her brother.
"Your father would be proud of what you did today," Harrowmont said gently.
Seeing as Aunn made no move to respond, the human boy quickly spoke up. "Thank you, King Harrowmont. Perhaps your rule will mark a new era for Orzammar."
"May we forge another four centuries of peace," Harrowmont said diplomatically before turning his attention back to Aunn.
"This is the staff I carried as your father's second," he told her, offering it to her. "Take it as a reminder of your place in Orzammar."
Aunn smiled wryly as she accepted it. "My place in Orzammar? My status as a Grey Warden may mean that I can come and go whenever I please but I'm still a convicted Kinslayer and what's more I just slayed my kin in front of the entire Assembly."
"He attempted a coup and his strongest supporters died at his side," Harrowmont countered. "Those that are left are mostly my supporters and not only will they not hold you accountable for Bhelen's death but they will reinstate you."
"Reinstate me?" Aunn repeated, looking stunned. "As an Aeducan, you mean? They won't want me back, not after I practically hand-delivered you the throne."
"They will either get over it or they will be faced with a hostile head of House," Harrowmont informed her. It was understandable that she was upset: House Aeducan had meant almost as much to her as Orzammar had but in the end 'almost' wasn't enough for her to crown her brother.
Aunn's eyes widened. "Head of House Aeducan? Me?"
"As your father and brothers are dead, I believe that does make you the highest-ranking member," Harrowmont assured her. "Now, I must begin preparations for this surface war and start moving into the palace."
"Of course," Aunn nodded. "I have other urgent matters to attend to as well."
And as he watched her walk away he knew that she'd stop the Blight. It was just a feeling, but his intuition was rarely wrong and that's how he'd made it as far as he had, even before becoming King. Aunn would stop the Blight and she would be a hero. She would come home and be the head of the Aeducans and, eventually, succeed him. The other nobles would no doubt be annoyed that they'd finally managed to wrest power away from the Aeducans only to hand it back within a few years, but there was no one within his House who he felt would be qualified to become King and Aunn had always had the makings of a capable ruler.
After all, she really was the best of the Aeducans.