Chapter 5: Worms and Serpents
"-. Truth is beyond the reach of the wicked.-"
Raonar was seething as he sat there, in the middle of the passage, surrounded by burnt corpses. He was exhausted, breathing heavily, still clutching his brother's great war hammer. His own bruises stung him, yet even that wretched physical pain couldn't even begin to compare with the incredible agony that throbbed in his chest. He kept seeing Gorim's face, staring at him in shock, even as he remained resolute and accepted the fate the Prince had forced upon him.
"Gorim is dead now" the Prince kept repeating in his mind, as if the charred corpses surrounding him and whose stench filled the air were all illusions. "And so is Trian. And still, it may not be enough for him," he thought to himself.
"Someone's coming," Frandlin Ivo uttered, almost startling Raonar out of his revelry. The prince looked in the direction of the footsteps and saw his father, the King, approaching, accompanied by Lord Harrowmont, the royal guards, some nobles and about three dozen soldiers. And, of course, there, at the King's side, walked the great schemer, Bhelen himself. And how haughty Raonar thought he carried himself and how clear he though he could see his satisfaction as the party approached the scene. He got up and waited for them to draw near, still clinging to the maul.
"By the stone!" the King cried out in disbelief as he couldn't believe what he saw. His second eldest stood there, in the middle of a battlefield, surrounded by corpses burned beyond recognition but which still reeked of blood and smoke. Only he and Frandlin ivo were there, alone, as though they were the only survivors of an inferno. Seven corpses littered the area.
"My son! What is the meaning of this? What happened here?"
Raonar ignored him and threw Trian's Maul at Bhelen's feet.
"Congratulation, little brother," he uttered with a grim tone than no one could interpret, though his eyes were fierce with outrage. "You got more than you bargained for!"
"What happened here?" one of the Deshyrs demanded. "So Prince Bhelen was right after all! Are we too late?"
Raonar ignored him too, still looking straight at Bhelen.
"Look at what you've accomplished! You hired mercenaries to kill Trian, even Gorim and me!" his tone was uncharacteristically agitated, as though he had trouble breathing.
"Don't try to project your own treachery onto me!" Bhelen riposted, just as outraged.
"These corpses don't lie!" Raonar yelled. "Look upon them! See what your madness has wrought! Look at what your insane ambitions have made of our House!" Raonar paused, though he kept staring straight into Bhelen's eyes, even as he had no trouble staring right back. "Look at what you've done! See them! House Saelac's crest! The Aeducan royal armor!"
Those words suddenly drew everyone's attention and caused them to approach, even as the rank smell of death and the hideous charred flesh stung their nostrils. And as he drew closer, the King inevitably recognized his eldest's princely armor, though the body inside it, now facing down, had been reduced to a burnt husk that could no longer be recognized. And there, right in front of him, just as disfigured, was what looked like Gorim, his shield lying motionless next to him, with its crest partially burned. All of the ones present stared at each other in disbelief, not knowing what to even say, until the King himself fell to his knees near his son's corpse. He turned it face-up and felt his insides churn as he saw that what covered the skull of his first-born could no longer be even remotely called a face.
"Don't just stand there, you hypocrite!" Raonar shouted at his little brother.
"Oh, I'm the hypocrite am I?" Bhelen yelled back. "And what about you? I heard you say how you planned on killing Trian yesterday night! How eager you were to get your "idiot of an older brother" out of the way!"
"How dare you! When it was you wh-" Raonar was cut off.
"Oh, don't try it, big brother! Don't even try to deny it! You always resented him, thinking how unfair it was that he was heir when you clearly thought you were better! And you even kept saying how it was his fault mother died, even though it was yours!"
Raonar really was surprised to hear those last words. "Wh... What do you mean it was mine! And what does that have to do with this!"
"Enough!" Endrin cried out, even as he was barely able to get back on his feet from the shock. Harrowmont held him up.
"You killed Trian!" Bhelen yelled at his sibling. "You always planned to do it!"
"Enough," Harrowmont blankly commanded. "Child, tell us what you claim happened here. The we'll see if it's true."
"You're asking what happened?" Raonar was outraged and he immediately left his spot and strode towards one of the farthest bodies whose face wasn't completely burnt. He lift it up, showing it to the others. "Are you blind? Can't you see the brand? These are castless thugs! They were hired to kill me and Trian so the way to the Throne would be clear!"
"Oh really!" Bhelen retorted in apparent disbelief. "Then what about you? Where were you when this happened? You don't have a single burn mark on you! Don't tell me that's a coincidence! And don't make me say how you mysteriously slipped out of sight of your escort yesterday, only to be spotted coming out of Dust Town some hours later! You hired those goons yourself!"
Raonar said nothing more, instead he looked blankly at his sibling, trying to make out just what was driving him, though Endrin was quite shocked to hear this talk of Dust Town.
"That's enough," Harrowmont ordered. "Since it's your word against his, we'll get nowhere. We'll have to settle for the testimony of the only other person present." Everyone turned to Frandlin Ivo who, obviously, didn't enjoy the attention and started to fidget.
"You are of noble birth and are known as an honorable man," Harrowmont began, "so your word carries weight in this matter. Tell us what truly happened."
Frandlin an Raonar exchanged looks and, for a moment, it looked as though the former was struggling to decide on something, so pained his face was. Eventually, he managed to gather courage enough to speak.
"I'm sorry, your highness" he said as he looked at Raonar with what appeared to be great sadness. Then he turned to Harrowmont. "I'm afraid that..." Raonar noticed the menacing glare that Bhelen gave Frandlin that moment, even as the others remained oblivious to it. "I'm afraid that Prince Bhelen is right." Everyone gasped and looked at each other in confusion. Then, Frandlin continued.
"Prince Trian and his men got into a fight some way off, against some mercenaries. I don't know who hired them. It wasn't going well. Then, my Lord Aeducan charged in with his men, supposedly to stem the tide of the fight. After that, he persuaded his brother that the battle was lost and got him to follow him and his second back here, where these other castless thugs were waiting. Prince Trian saw the treachery but he didn't stand a chance, though he did manage to bring Gorim down before he fell."
"Incredible!" Raonar cried out in disbelief. "You were in league with my brother all along! What lies! You fought alongside this man and still you spout such lies!"
"Silence, Raonar!" Endrin cried out in grief.
Everyone now noticed that Gorim's armor had been smashed on the back by a heavy object, presumably Trian's hammer. "My Lord was outraged," Ivo continued. "When he saw Gorim dead, he almost lost his mind, He charged at the remaining mercenaries and slew them for being incompetent. Then, distraught, he stripped his brother's signet ring, saying he didn't deserve to own it, and threw a magical potion of fire over all of them, saying that their faces were unfit to be looked upon by the ancestors. It was... horrible."
"This is all a lie!" Raonar yelled with a mix of disbelief and astonishment.
"I want to believe that!" his father answered, pained beyond measure. "I really do! But... but this... look at all this!"
"Are you kidding? I've been looking at this for hours!"
"Exactly!" Bhelen observed, "You had more than enough time to do everything that Frandlin Ivo told us just now!"
"Search him!" one of the nobles suggested in spite. "Find Trian's signet ring. If it's intact and not burned, then he's the liar!"
Raonar could not even protest, so immediately was he taken a hold of by two of the guards, while a third started to search him. Before long, the man found what he sought, and it was just as Frandlin had said. The ring was in perfect condition. Endrin looked at his second eldest in disbelief, hoping he would still wake up from this horrible nightmare. He kept going back to the previous night, to thinking how earnestly his child had warned everyone of the dangers, and now, all signs pointed to his hand being behind it all. And the worst part was that Raonar, now, didn't even seem in the slightest inclined towards giving his father a reassuring look. Instead, the two Princes kept staring into each other's eyes. if stares could kill, both of them would have dropped dead ten times over by now, so it seemed to the King.
"Treachery!" the biased Deshyr sneered.
"Is there anything else you have to say about this...?" Endrin asked, desperate. "Please, my son, anything, tell me this isn't real!" Endrin pleaded. His son only answered him with a strange look, as if he pitied him.
"You wouldn't believe it, anymore than you believed everything I said so far," he replied, almost emotionlessly. "This is out of your hands now."
"This is a matter for the assembly" Harrowmont concluded. "To Orzammar!"
"-.A snake does not leave scraps for worms to feed upon. It swallows its prey whole.-"
The ground was humid, the walls were moldy and light was even more scarce than in those spider-filled caverns he had been through just hours earlier. Still, the smell, at the very least, was not as horrible as that of darkspawn. This meant that, even clad in tattered prison clothes and tired as he was, Raonar could still find some calm through meditation, even as he knew that only two possible outcomes were left for him. Either he was to be called before the Assembly to stand trial, or Bhelen would convict him of kinslaying right off the bat. Either way, it was the deep roads for him, and the Prince knew that he had to recover some of his energy or he would die as soon as he was made to walk them.
Raonar sat there, in the middle of his cell, cross-legged, his back straight and his hands resting on his knees, though not completely relaxed, in order to keep the blood flow constant. He breathed from the bottom of his lungs, but so slowly that he only inhaled about seven or ten times per minute, so steady and sure his chest was. But even this exercise could only do so much. He had lost a lot of blood when he joined his body with that of his elder, not to mention that getting close to 40 hours of no sleep was less than easy on his nerves. He knew it would only be a matter of time before he broke down because of the stress on his muscles, but there was still something left to do. So he waited, thinking of how shamelessly he asked Gorim to renounce his life so that his own plan might work.
The Prince's mind drifted to Gorim's father, and he could already see him, broken up, angry at the king for letting something like this happen to his child. And he had every right to be, since he had entrusted his son to Endrin's House, only for him end up dead because of some hatred between siblings. Raonar could not help but think of how low Aeducan had fallen, and how that man's suffering was his doing entirely. But he questioned not his goal. What he had done was necessary, and his own fate proved it. Or so he hoped, since there were still some variables that had the potential to drift to other values and change the arrangement of the pieces. But Raonar was alive. And as long as he was, he knew he could still do something.
The presumed kinslayer heard the portcullis on the far end of the prison corridor creek as it opened. Footsteps were heard and a dwarf eventually stopped in front of his own cell door. He waited there, until the prisoner decided to finally open his eyes. It was Frandlin Ivo once again.
"Ah..." Raonar uttered, somewhat surprised. "Isn't it a bit... dangerous, for you to be near me right now?" he asked him with a tint of irony, though he was remarkably calm for a prisoner on a death row. The meditation could be counted on for that much at least.
"The Assembly has called for you," Ivo responded, forcing himself to eliminate as much as he could of the emotion in his voice. Raonar was more than a bit surprised to hear this.
"Really?" he said, blinking. "That's... odd... I would have expected Bhelen and his many allies to have me exiled immediately. Isn't he afraid I'll sway the Assembly back in my favor? Or did father say something?"
"Your Father didn't attend. He's taken ill, apparently. But, Bhelen tried to do that alright. Almost succeeded too. But something... unusual happened after that..." Ivo wasn't sure how to begin.
"Well?" Raonar said, impatiently. "Out with it!"
"It appears that your men won that battle against the castless thugs after you and your brother retreated. "
"Ha!" Raonar let out with boundless relief. "And what exactly did that lead to?" he continued. "Did Melec survive?"
"Oh, he did at that. And when he got back to the city, just about an hour ago, and he heard what was happening, he was furious. He just... barged into the Assembly chamber, all covered in dry blood, and demanded that you be allowed to stand trial." Ivo actually sounded impressed, glad even.
"Did the Deshyrs even care?" the Prince asked, reserved. "He's Warrior Caste after all. Didn't they just ignore him?"
"Oh, they intended to. Until he threatened to take his entire House and leave for the surface."
Raonar was stunned. That was one thing he definitely hadn't expected, especially knowing how irreverently he had smacked that man over the head some hours earlier, as a reward for taking an arrow for him no less.
"Wow... That's... something..." he managed to stutter."But this is perfect." he thought to himself.
"Anyway, it'll not matter if you just sit there. Get up and let's get going." Ivo demanded.
"I assume Bhelen sent you to get me. No doubt he meant it as an insult. Or he hoped I'd snap and try to kill you for revenge." The Prince's tone was unexpectedly humorous, though Frandlin only looked as though he wanted to be out of that awkward situation as quickly as possible. Eventually, Raonar got up, in no hurry, and let himself be led to the halls.
They were just as he remembered. Tall, grand and swarming with self-important lords and ladies, idiots as it were. Most people already looked at him in scorn, as though he had already been proven guilty and the trial was just a formality to confirm it. The prince was not surprised and, predictably, not in the least impressed with their scoffs and sneers, though he did enjoy seeing them get so aggravated. It made for a nice change from the ever sickly feigned smiles that he was, by now, used to seeing on everyone's faces. Frandlin Ivo led him as far as the main access corridor, where two guards took him off his hands, much to his relief, or so he made it seem. The guards then proceeded to leading him on to the assembly room itself, but they were stopped in their tracks when a man stepped in front of them, causing them to flinch.
"Hmm? Ah, a friendly face. Not all are extinct, it seems," Raonar said in acknowledgment, allowing a sincere smile to decorate his tired but still vibrant facial features.
"I know you didn't do it," Melec bluntly stated, crossing his hands, without even hesitating, even though the guards were right there.
"Hah!" Raonar smirked. "Did what? And how can you be so sure? You weren't there, you can't know. And everyone else seems to think I did it. Ah, but my attitude isn't the same as that of one who just lost a brother and is about to be sentenced to death for it," he added with a strange look that the warrior did not completely understand. "But that's irrelevant Did many of your men die?"
"Your men you mean, Commander," Melec corrected. "Somehow, we managed to get off easy. After that coward Vartag fled, the castless started breaking ranks. Only about nine of our own died, and that's because of those poultices you left us, if I might add," His voice was filled with a mixture of gratitude, admiration and uncertainty, but changed to worry as he saw the odd look in the young man's eyes. "I take it you're planning something again. This has something to do with what you talked to those other three earlier, doesn't it?"
"It makes no difference," the Prince cleanly stated, with an air of finality that made it more than clear to the veteran that he wasn't going to find out anything more, for his own good. "Take care of Orzammar, will you? Even if these Desyrs squabble over lost unmentionables, at least you try to make sure the city doesn't fall to those beasts in the deeps."
"You speak as if you'll not be here to do it yourself, even though the trial hasn't even started..."
"Indeed," Raonar confirmed, unhesitatingly. After that, the guards finally led him off, leaving Melec to gaze at his Prince until he disappeared behind the hall's large doors.
Except for Endrin, all the lords and ladies of the assembly were present in the grand, circular chamber. That hall was where all matters of politics and economy were decided, although few discussions ever went smoothly unless the King had some sort of great idea that put everyone in their place. This once, the King was absent, which meant that neither of the 80 members would feel any sort of restraint to ridicule the accused or berate him. The Prince also noticed Bhelen among the nobles, smug and proud, but not exactly satisfied. It was plain to Raonar that he wasn't at all pleased with the fact that his brother was given a trial.
"The Assembly is now in session," Assembly Steward Bandelor began as the doors closed and the Prince slowly but tactfully walked towards the centre of the hall. "This meeting's purpose is to ascertain the events that took place in the deep roads crossroads earlier today and to determine whether or not the accused, Prince Raonar of House Aeducan, had a hand in the death of his elder brother, Trian, the eldest son of King Endrin and Heir to the throne of Orzammar."
"This trial is a farce!" Bhelen protested. "You already agreed he was guilty but are doing this because you allowed yourself to be cowed by some lower castman!"
"Hmpf!" Raonar snorted, knowing that the excellent acoustics of the Assembly chamber ensured that his every word was heard perfectly by everyone present. "You'd think your own brother would be more supportive."
"You have some gall to say that after you killed Trian!" Bhelen protested with unrestrained disdain.
"Enough!" Bandelor ordered. "The lords will refrain from losing their composure, especially those emotionally involved." Bhelen was irked to be reprimanded, but said nothing more. "Now," the Chancellor continued "On to the matter of the trial. The one known as Raonar Aeducan is accused of High treason and fratricide in the eyes of this Assembly, among other, less serious but intimately related acts, such as conspiring against the Throne, deception and, finally, misappropriation of royal property. By law, a lower caste man would have his hands cut off, be given a public flogging and, ultimately, be publicly executed. But since the accused is of noble birth, the assembly agreed that erasing him from the Memories and making him walk the Deep Roads, fighting against the enemies of Orzammar, would be best suited."
"This would at least give your life some last semblance of usefulness," a Deshyr said.
"And would, ultimately, imply some measure of redemption," another, female noble added.
"Bah!" Raonar scoffed, interrupting them and taking them off guard. "Then why did you call me here? If you've already decided to erase me from existence, why didn't you just do it? I'm hungry. I'm tired. I haven't slept in almost two days. I have only half my blood in my body right now and I've fought against deep stalkers, cavern crawlers, darkspawn and mercenaries for hours. I would have been more grateful if you had let me doze off for a few minutes in my moldy cell instead of having me dragged down here."
Most of the nobles were too surprised to say anything, some even failing to completely restrain their laughter. Others were quite outraged at the 'child's' audacity.
"Be careful what you speak," a more grumpy lord demanded, annoyed. "Your arrogance will gain you nothing!"
"Ah, but it did, My Lord Bemot, it gave me the immeasurable satisfaction of seeing that lovely brow of your scowl," the Prince responded, smugly.
"You dare!" he yelled in outrage. "I'll-"
"You'll what?" he cut him off, quite matter-of-factly. "It's out of your hands. I will walk the deep roads and fight darkspawn. How original, really. It's not like I haven't been doing that for years already, keeping your asses out of the fire in the process."
"Why you little-"
"I said enough," Bandelor demanded, quite annoyed himself, though he secretly enjoyed seeing Bemot being shown his place. Then he turned to Raonar again. "Child, you're not making this situation any easier on yourself."
"He's just a fool!" Bhelen argued, "I say send him to the deeps already, as all murderers deserve."
"That he is a murderer has yet to be decided by this trial," Harrowmont retorted. He seemed to be the only one there actually believing that the Prince might be innocent. Or, if there were others, they were good at hiding it.
"Ahem," Bandellor cleared his throat. "Now, I suggest you weigh your words carefully young man."
The Prince took a straightforward stance and just looked the Steward in the eye, after which he did the same to some of the Deshyrs. Some drew their gaze away, others started fidgeting or scratching their foreheads. "So tell us," Bandellor asked "What do you have to say about all this?"
Raonar was annoyed and didn't even bother to hide it. "What do you want me to say?"
"Please child, just tell us the truth," Harrowmont pleaded.
"Hmpf!" the Prince sneered. "How easily you speak such words! Just the truth! As if it were nothing! No, my lords and ladies," he added with a cunning grin, "Far better the lie! You all wouldn't recognize truth even if you married it in packs!"
'Why you littl-" a Deshyr tried to protest.
"Silence!" the Prince commanded in a loud voice that was only amplified by his central position in that chamber. His order fell like a boulder and caused almost everyone in that assembly to flinch. Bhelen only frowned, as even he didn't know what to expect. "My turn to speak has been recognized by the Steward and you will all hold your tongues until I am finished! I am not erased from the Memories yet! I am still your Prince!" His declaration was so direct and decisive that no one dared answer, except Bhelen who chose to keep silent simply because he was quite intrigued by the whole affair. That, and he knew that shouting at the assembly wouldn't help his brother's case at all, so why stop him?
"You all act so self-righteous," the Prince continued, "Even though you backstab and steal from each other on a daily basis! You, Lord Dace (turns to him) act all kind and compassionate towards the surfacers, when you're just interested in getting your kin debts repaid by my own house and others' houses! And you, Lord Hrildan (turns to him), think you're so subtle and always try to keep up that spotless visage, and then go and murder Lord Voldin's fourth eldest child over a love affair! And it seems no one cares about Lord Dugan Lantena's own attempt at high treason today!"
"How dare you impune my honor boy!" Hrildan yelled back.
"What's this talk about killing my son!" Voldin protested as he glared at Hrildan.
"Order!" Bandelor dictated.
"Ha!" the second son smirked, "Some players of the game of politics you are! You can't even see what's in front of your own noses!"
With every word that came out of the Prince's mouth, the lords and ladies in the hall began to exchange accusatory glares amongst each others. A rustle started to be heard, growing stronger and more chaotic. Bandelor didn't have time to say anything else though, since the Prince immediately followed up with more.
"But why should you believe me?" he asked, stupefying most of them. "I am just a kinslayer now, no? So you can't really know if what I say is true! But what if it is? Ah, that doubt, now that is what you deserve! Something to keep you awake at night, always worrying about this or that sinister plot that your enemies may or may not have set in motion. "
"Child, please," Harrowmont tried to stop him, "I ask for your own sake, stop th-"
"Oh come now, Harrowmont," he broke him off with a dismissive wave, "what did you think I was going to say if I was called here? You thought I would beg to be believed guiltless? You thought I'd cower and grovel? Before these scum that are no better than what they are trying to make me pass as? You want the truth? Orzammar is a venom-filled cesspool! Our people are dying and our own brethren from Kal Sharok hate us! The castless and surfacers look to outnumber us but you stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their existence, even as you encourage noble hunting! Such hypocrisy! And all this time, instead of doing something about it, you 80 fine members of the assembly squabble over gold and silks, and who is or isn't better at the 'game of politics." And as you do, the rest of us who actually care have to sleep with knives under our pillows and make nugs eat out of our plates before we do, to test for poison!"
Harrowmont could clearly feel the outrage that the prince burned with, especially considering how his countenance became more and more fierce as he pronounced each word.
"Don't act like you care!" Bhelen protested in spite.
"Oh, you'd know all about acting, wouldn't you little brother?" Raonar responded, getting a nasty glare in response. Then, he returned to berating the lords, knowing he may never get the chance again. "You are all egotistic worms!" he proclaimed.
"That's enough!" a Deshyr angrily let out. "I'll not simply sit here and listen to him spouting his venom left and right! The arrogance!"
"Then you'll have to stand up if you're uncomfortable," the Prince simply noted. "You are all worms, now rallying around a snake (glares at Bhelen), thinking it's a fitting idol for you to worship and hoping it will leave you some scraps to gnaw at once it's done with its meal! You are all fools! A snake does not leave remains for worms to feed upon! It swallows its prey whole!"
Harrowmont was completely astonished to hear such terrible declarations come from the young man's mouth.
"So there it is, my honorable lords and ladies of the assembly!" Raonar concluded in a tone that was so perfectly sarcastic and solemn at the same time that they could find no retorts. "If you want to feed on the prey of that snake, you'll have to let yourself be swallowed up as well!"
"That's enough!" Bhelen said, calmly. "It's clear he has no intention of even trying to deny he's a kinslayer. So let's get this so-called trial over with."
"Yes, the Deep Roads will be a nice change compared to this," the Prince said in approval, taking his little brother slightly by surprise.
"Then," Bandelor conceded, with an air of resignation, seeing that the Deshyrs were now busier with glaring at each other in suspicion, "The Assembly finds the accused, Raonar Aeducan, guilty of fratricide and high treason. Your name will be struck from the memories, your status as Aeducan removed and you will be made to walk the Deep Roads and fight the enemies of Orzammar until your death."
"How ironic," Raonar concluded, "that even in my death I get to help my people more than you ever deigned to consider. Fools and their politics."
"-. Snakes and rats. Well, mice really. Small, fuzzy creatures indeed.-"
And, once again, he was in his beloved cell. Raonar wasn't even upset anymore, instead he felt invigorated after seeing the angry faces of the oh-so-honorable lords and ladies. Meditating came even easier as he sat in the darkness, mindful of the small mouse that had started to scurry about him, trying to keep warm. Eventually, he turned his attention to it and saw that, strangely, the small furry creature did not fear him at all, even letting him stroke the back of its head. The mouse squeaked in satisfaction as the prince picked him up and put him on the top of his head.
"Ah, you little thing. I feel like I'm in one of those adventure tales mother used to read to me... and my brothers..." His tone became somewhat sad, at which point the small creature started to play with the Prince's spiky hair, tickling his skull, as if trying to cheer him up. "What are you anyway?" Raonar asked with faint delight, "If this is the Ancestors' way of showing some measure of parental support, it's a horrible performance. Ah, but here I am, talking to animals no less!" He felt amused at himself, a small dose of comic relief before the plunge into the deeps. Even small as it was, it was welcome.
Eventually, the mouse managed to form a sort of nest and went to sleep, at which point Raonar was able to resume his meditation. He thought of nothing, hoping that the calm would allow his body to regenerate even in absence of sleep. It worked somewhat, but only just. Unfortunately, he didn't have time to think of a better method as he again heard the portcullis creek open and a dwarf with light steps approach. Raonar didn't even bother to open his eyes, so many times he had heard that almost soundless walk before. Eventually, the steps ceased in front of his cell, at which point the second son calmly picked up the small furry creature on the top of his head, his eyes still closed, and laid him to rest on the floor. He then met the visitor's gaze and slowly got to his feet and approaching the cell door. Then, he stopped there, crossing his hands and staring straight at him.
"Well, come to gloat over your achievements little brother?" he asked Bhelen dryly. "Or did you come to yell at me for throwing your pet nobles at each other's throats?"
"I bet you feel all proud and satisfied, don't you..." Bhelen retorted, unable to completely conceal his rage.
"Hmpf!" his elder scoffed. Raonar was not bound to show humor, not after Bhelen hired mercenaries to kill his brother and knowing that Gorim's life was over. If he did, it would have caused Bhelen to become suspicious."Really Bhelen, how creative. Asking me if feel proud of myself and satisfied even though I'm hours away from fighting darkspawn with my bare hands, or a dagger and a battered shield if I'm lucky. If I didn't know better, I'd say you're angry. Don't tell me you're feeling insecure," he smugly added.
"Even in defeat, you still squirm..." the youngest blurted.
"(snort) Defeat. As if I played your game. Don't presume to know the status or motivations of others just because things seem to go according to your plans," the second son advised, coldly.
"Oh, don't try to act all strong and resolute!" Bhelen blurted. "And really, you're in no position to give out tactical advice," he added, seemingly emotionlessly.
"Ah, and who says I am not?" Raonar replied with a glint in his eyes that Bhelen could not exactly place. "Do not presume, little brother. Great men lost everything because they misjudged their own position, not just that of others. But this point is moot. I never really was a threat to you, It was your own paranoia that led to this. Fratricide, even that wasn't beneath you. "
"You have some nerve," Bhelen let out, seething with anger. "Even now, after you have become nothing, no, less than nothing, you still show the same arrogance!"
"Careful what you speak, little brother," Raonar suggested as he frowned. "You're the last person entitled to speak of arrogance, especially after you had the audacity to have your own sibling killed. But this doesn't matter now," he waved with an air of pained boredom. "You're here, so you must want something. So, what did you come here for?"
"I came to look at you."
"Oh, how heartwarming," his elder proclaimed, putting as much dry sarcasm and disapproval as he could in that exclamation. "And how do you like the view? Or did you like the mouse better? I can introduce you if you like."
"Pfah!" Bhelen shrugged.
"Well, judging by that reaction I assume this isn't what you hoped to see," Raonar asserted with a scowl. "So, what did you hope to see?"
There was no answer. Bhelen just stared at him.
"This won't turn out as you want it to, you know," the now former prince forecasted quite matter-of-factly.
"Don't get all smug!" his brother almost shouted back. "You think that stint you pulled will do any good? I've been gathering support for years! I own more than half of the assembly already! Don't be so stuck up as to think you can just shatter that in a few minutes and with just a few shouts! What you did in there will mean nothing in the end."
"Oh really?" his sibling simply inquired, feigning confusion. "Then why are you here? And why are you so obviously outraged?" He got no answer, so he just continued. "Ah, Bhelen, so that's how it is."
"What is what?" the new heir asked with spite.
"My my, how sad yet not completely unexpected. To think you're afraid of me even now."
"Don't get all high and mighty! I was never afraid of you!" Bhelen snapped, striking against the prison bars with both his hands.
"My, and how explosive a reaction that was! That must have struck a cord. And why do you speak in past tense?"
"Don't practice your semantics games on me," Bhelen responded as he seemed to regain his composure.
"What do you want Bhelen?" Raonar suddenly asked, slightly peeved. "I can't believe you just came here to convince me that what I did was meaningless. That would be too odd for even you."
"(deep sigh) Trying to convince anyone that you're right about something is just another way of seeking that someone's approval." Bhelen flinched a little, but said nothing. "What did you expect? Did you expect me to congratulate you on your prowess at playing the political game? Why would I? I didn't play with you, so it's not like I lost."
"And yet, here you are. I think you're just in denial," his little brother observed.
"Hey, I'm not the one that came all the way to the dungeon just to try and squeeze out some final measure of praise. Though I'm flattered you'd think me an opponent worthy of your notice. But this is irrelevant. I didn't play your game, Bhelen, regardless of what you think. I didn't conspire to kill anyone and, as you know from eavesdropping on the throne room last night, I had no intention of letting Trian die either. Your attempts of throwing us at each other failed."
"You can try to scream about your innocence all you like, it will change nothing," Bhelen assured him.
"Bah!" Raonar felt his insides churn. "You disgust me! To think you'd feel so proud for having your own brother killed! How far you have fallen!"
"I don't think it's your place to give lectures. You don't know anything about what I did and why I did it! So don't think you can just-"
"I don't know anything?" the former Prince cut him off. "Don't I really? And what will you do with the throne Bhelen? At most you'll just trade a set of problems for another and whatever reforms you make will be undone by future generations because you ended up pissing off the assembly too much."
"Stop acting like you know all there is to know!" Bhelen demanded. "How smug, to think you'd still talk such rot even after losing everything!"
"Ah!" interrupted him with a straight gaze. "But I haven't lost everything. I still have my life. And I suppose having all my limbs in working condition can be seen as a bonus. And you can deny it all you want, little brother, but even this much was more than enough to make you come down here yourself. Face it Bhelen. You're still afraid I might have some hidden ace, something that will crush everything you've striven so hard to achieve as you plotted and schemed the past two years. Honestly, your paranoia is going to get you killed. And setting aside how much that would crush me, I can't help but think of all the other unfortunate people whose deaths you'll cause in the process. None of your reasons will ever be good enough to justify even one death, not to mention fratricide."
"You'll never understand my reasons!" Bhelen protested.
"Oh really? What makes you think I don't already?" Bhelen just glared back. "I think you want me to understand. I think that's exactly what you came down here for. You have that idea that what you're doing is for the good of our people and necessary and, thus, completely justified. And because it's justified, you expect me to finally see your point and admit defeat, if not even praise you for you 'noble spirit' and "self-sacrificial" tendencies and, of course, for your incredible intellect that made all of this possible."
"Trian would have handed Orzammar to the darkspawn with his stupidity!" Bhelen burst out, lashing at his brother, though the cell bars acted as a barrier. "He was weak and you know it! As long as he was alive, no one could ever hope to actually do something worthwhile for Orzammar! And still, you kept saving his sorry hide! You were weak! You still are! You'll never be able to make the tough decisions that our city needs in order to survi-"
That moment, Bhelen was cut off as his throat suddenly refused to let any air come out of his lungs. The muscles on his neck started to sting as a force started pressing on it from all directions. Finally, he managed to notice that his brother's right arm, now outstretched, had reached out from beyond the bars and was choking the life out of him. He gasped and used both hands to try and loosen the grip, but it was firm and resolute. He could keep the hand from crushing his throat, or was being allowed to, but he couldn't undo it. That moment, his eyes met Raonar's, and the two brothers were locked in a battle of wills that would not relent. Both gazes were feral, both stared with passion and even as terrible as the elder's gaze was, Bhelen didn't even show a glint of fear. There was only an unmistakable disapproval on Raonar's part, and just as much defiance on Bhelen's.
"So I am just an obstacle to be removed, am I?" the second son asked as his hand was slowly crushing his brother's neck. "And what if I suddenly did decide to make those so-called tough choices? Take this situation for example. I am already considered a kinslayer. What would one more dead brother mean?" his tone was completely cold. "How would it feel, little brother" he continued with utter sarcasm "what if I just killed you here? How would you like to see all your grand dreams shattered and all your plans ruined? How would you like to see me make one of those tough choices and just disregard your life as worthless trash?"
The next moment, Raonar threw Bhelen against the wall behind him. Bhelen collapsed to the floor and started to choke and cough, barely even able to utter a word.
"You (cough) bastard," he sneered as he struggled to catch his breath.
"Right," the second son blankly stated. "Don't blame me for this. For all your subtlety, it's your own fault for getting so close to the cell."
"Ha! (wheezes) I knew you didn't have it in you! You're a weak, weak fool who can't do anything, even when he has nothing to lose!" he declared in triumph.
"Fool, right," Raonar retorted with an indignant snort. "As if I didn't realize you got close and feigned rage on purpose just to see if I'd try to kill you. Like I'll play into that. You think I didn't notice how the guards were uncharacteristically 'absent'? I know they're hidden in the cell next to me." He then noticed the slight surprise that his little brother, choked and breathing heavily as he was, could not completely mask. "What? You're surprised I realized that much? Come now Bhelen, you and I already know that we're both beyond the realm of measurable intelligence. That is, after all, why you came down here. You want to see me admit defeat, to stroke your conceit, as Trian, ancestors catch him, so slyly put it. And you're also nostalgic because you know you'll not have a worthy 'rival', once I'm eaten up by the deeps. Though the idea that I'm your rival is, in the end, just a delusion of yours."
"Hmpf!" the younger Prince pouted as he got up. "You're just as self-important as ever."
"And you know what's funny about intelligence?" the second son asked, getting only a sideway glance in response. "It's dependent on creativity. And the more wicked one gets, the more one's paranoia murders of that creativity. Take care, little brother, or you may end up losing all of it. The signs are already showing."
Bhelen gave a last glare at his brother, though he received only a raised eyebrow of boredom in response. He turned to leave before letting the annoyance cover his entire face. Then, his brother called out to him one last time, the incredibly sad and compassionate tone stopping him in his tracks.
"Little brother..." Bhelen looked back over his shoulder. "How far you've fallen... even from just this little ambition. Father's crown of thorns... you cannot handle it."
Bhelen stormed off, even as his brother quaintly sat back down. The prisoner placed the mouse back on the top of his head and resumed his meditation, waiting for the hour when he would be picked up by the guards and finally made to walk the deep roads.
'-. It's not that I didn't kill him, it's that it wasn't I who killed him.-
Lord Pyral Harrowmont waited near the barrier door that was to be the sentence of the former Prince of Orzammar. He gazed upon it and just couldn't understand how that situation had come to be. Then, he remembered the former prince's words, the ones he had spoken that grim night, when he practically foresaw all that was going to happen. "Tomorrow, after the battle, I think I'll leave Orzammar... permanently." The lord could not decide whether the situation was ironic or tragic.
"The prisoner has arrived," the guard's voice was heard, almost startling the thoughtful noble. Harrowmont slowly turned around, though the sight he saw was not particularly predictable. Raonar was stretching his arms and yawning, almost completely unimpressed with the fact that he was being sent to his death. It seemed like he was more concerned with how sleepy and possibly satisfied he was after publicly berating the Assembly. Harrowmont didn't know what to say, so he just looked at him, his hands behind his back, trying to put together at least a worthwhile line of farewell.
"Duncan and the grey wardens are still in the Deep Roads right?" the Prince bluntly asked, stroking his moustache as if he was plotting some other new scheme.
"I... Yes, they are child."
"Good. Then let's just skip the formalities and get this over with. I've had a long two days."
"Is that really all you have to say?" Harrowmont asked in a worried tone.
"Hmpf!" the former Prince scoffed. "Actually, I have a lot of things I want to say. But none of them will make any difference."
"But they might to some," the lord said in disagreement. "Please child, you've already abandoned all of your chances to avoid this fate by berating the Assembly. At least tell me the truth."
"Truth! Bah! You're asking if I committed high treason? Killed my own brother? Had him killed by castless thugs? Seriously, as if Trian were as weak as to die by something like that."
Harrowmont looked at the former most popular figure in the entire city and was glad to see that, at the very least, his spirit was not broken, that some fight was still left in him. But even he was not completely sure of what to believe and, as all wizened old men, still looked for some type of reassurance.
"Child, look me in the eye and tell me you didn't do this." His voice sounded as though it was pleading for mercy. Needless to say, this caught Raonar's attention, though the look he gave the elderly noble was not at all warm and loving. The former prince sighed, deeply.
"Have you been by your estate today?' he unexpectedly queried.
"Why would you ask something like that?" Pyral asked in confusion.
"Just tell me."
"No. Ever since we returned from the deep roads, I've been in the assembly chamber. I only left briefly in order to accompany your father to the Royal Palace. He's taken ill, as you probably know by now. He couldn't bear to lose two of his sons at once." The man's voice was grave, almost mournful.
"I see. Well, to answer your question," he began, coldly. "I, of course, did not kill Trian. And if you had any mind of your own you wouldn't have needed me to tell you that."
"The way you say it reeks of arrogance, but for some reason, I believe you. That means that Bhelen planned this from the start! Believe me! I will spend the rest of my days making sure he doesn't profit from his deeds."
"I know," Raonar cleanly assured him, slightly taking him by surprise. "But I have one last request before I go."
Harrowmont was a bit surprised, though he somehow managed to notice the dark shadow of regret and pain that suddenly loomed over the young man's brow. But even so, the majesty of house Aeducan still lived on within him, and even the tattered prison clothes and the mouse playing around in his hair couldn't take that away. "Very well, let's hear it."
"When you meet my father... Don't tell him I didn't kill Trian. Instead, tell him that it wasn't I that killed Trian."
Hrrowmont was stunned. He couldn't even understand what difference it would make to choose between the two sentences and started considering that the mouse may be a sign of something less fortuitous than he originally thought. Then again, there were a lot of things that caused him to question the sanity of other people during the same day, so he resigned himself to just asking the obvious question.
"What do you mean?"
"You'll either understand when you get back to your estate, or you won't, case in which I will truly have failed. But I doubt it. Either way," he continued, with a shrewd glance, "I've softened up the field for you. I made a small crack in the assembly's unity today. Over time, that crack will widen. This is my last gift to you. The field is yours now."
With that, Raonar picked up the sword and shield that had been supplied to him and bravely strode past the gates, even as the Deshyr could do nothing than helplessly look at his back, starting to grieve as if for a lost relative even before the gates had closed behind him. And as the child disappeared off to his uncertain fate, Harrowmont himself took off and slowly made his way towards his own home, knowing that he would not be able to sleep at all that night because of the unusual last request. He had no idea how much more complicated the entire situation really was, and how dangerous his life was going to become.
As Harrowmont returned to the Diamond quarter, he had half a mind to go straight to the Royal Palace and at least give the king the confirmation that his son was innocent. Still, he decided to follow Raonar's last wishes and stopped by his estate first, though he didn't exactly know what to find. Fortunately, what he needed to find managed to find him first. For as he entered and made his way to his quarters, a very familiar figure greeted him in the hallway.
"Greetings cousin," Baizyl Harrowmont uttered as he saw the elderly noble nearing. Pyral was more than a little surprised to see him, especially given the way he was dressed. He was still clad in the leather armor he had on during the mission, now worn and torn, and he also wore a dark grey cloak. The warrior also looked exhausted and, if the noble could read his face right, somewhat astonished, as if he'd been witness to some incredible event and had still not gotten over the experience.
"Baizyl? What is the meaning of this? What are you doing here?"
The soldier simply turned around, gesturing to him to follow. "You have to see this."
Baizyl led Harrowmont straight to his own quarters, after which he made his way to the far wall and pressed on the switch that only the first members of the house, as well as a certain select others, including Baizyl himself, knew about. The switch opened up a passageway that led to a hidden section of the estate. All noble houses had areas like these, where a member, or several, of the family may take refuge from some enemy assassin or, ancestors help them, an inter-house war, if the need should arise. Essentially, those parts of their domain were spacious and supplied enough that they could actually serve as substitute residences. Members of the family could spend months there, even years. Mostly, they were secure because that secret path was the absolute only way by which that space could be accessed. Pyral had a mind to ask what was going on, but the look on his cousin's face threw him off. He had never seen him in such awe and so determined, though the noble still did not know the cause. Eventually, the two reached one of the dormitories, the one buried deepest into the stone, and entered. And what met Harrowmont's eyes that instant was so shocking that he couldn't help but gasp.
"By the Stone!" he cried out as he ran towards the bed. "This... this is Trian! He's alive!"
It was indeed Prince Trian. He wore only a pair of white silk trousers, as his upper body was bare and his abdomen was bandaged, to keep what seemed like a stab wound under pressure. He looked tired and in pain, but his breathing was steady, though he was obviously unconscious. Pyral was stunned, which was understandable considering that the last memory he had was that of the king turning around the heir's supposed burnt corpse and almost vomiting from the sight.
"What is the meaning of this?" he asked with a mixture of disbelief and relief as he turned around, finally noticing that another cloaked figure stood to the side of the entrance. Pyral was started for a moment, until said figure also threw back its cowl, giving the noble a real reason to be completely confused.
"You... It can't be! Ser Gorim! Gorim of House Saelac!"
It was indeed Gorim, though he wore a low quality steel scale male instead of his own attire. Otherwise, he looked quite lively, if a little grim.
"But how is this possible!" the Deshyr asked in astonishment. "I saw you! You were both dead!"
"Well..." Gorim began, dryly, but just as solemn as Baizyl was. "Technically, I am dead... in a sense. At least as far as everyone else is concerned. And so is Prince Trian."
"I... I don't understand any of this..." Harrowmont let out, still unable to make sense o the situation.
"I know it's a lot to grasp cousin," Baizyl told him, as if trying to offer him some assurance. "But what we've been witness to..." he broke off, as if he had remembered something incredible and the memory still haunted his mind.
"Lord Harrowmont," Gorim took the word, "We have a very..."
"Weird," Baizyl suggested.
"Weird indeed," Gorim approved. "We have a very weird tale to tell you. And some rather nasty news, for you personally at least."
"What do you mean?" Lord Harrowmont asked, actually becoming concerned.
"Cousin, you have just become one of the main players in the greatest political scheme our people have ever seen," the warrior spoke with a straight face.
"I now ask," Gorim added "that you allow us to relay my Lord Aeducan's last will and testament."
Pyral Harrowmont looked petrified, but immediately understood some of what the prince told him just before he left. "The field is yours now."
"Then tell me. I want to hear all of it."
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