The cheers from his people as he returned to Denerim never seemed to get old, and Cailan allowed himself to bask in their adoration as he rode from the city gates to the palace. Both Eamon and Loghain broke off from his party as they moved through the city, each going to their own estates, but Fergus requested to accompany him to the palace. The Couslands had their own estate in Denerim as well, as did all of the high-ranking nobles of Ferelden, but there would be little to no staff there. Certainly not enough to tend to the man's needs. It was no secret that the trip had been difficult on him, as his many wounds were still healing, and they'd only just managed to keep infection at bay. Fergus needed a skilled healer, but that wasn't the only reason Cailan agreed to letting him stay at the palace. If Rendon Howe's accusations against the Couslands were true, he wanted to keep the man where he could watch him.
Cailan was a bit surprised to find Anora waiting for him when he finally made it through the palace doors. He instructed his steward to make arrangements for Fergus' stay before he went to his wife. Finding himself in desperate need of feminine attention, Cailan had planned on seeking out one of his favorites as soon as he returned, but perhaps his wife might actually be the one to see to his needs. With his most charming smile plastered on his face, he went over to her.
"Hello, my queen," he murmured to her. "Did you miss me?" The paleness of her face shocked him. "Why, Anora... were you worried for me?"
She placed her hand in the crook of his elbow, and he steered them towards his private rooms. "You cannot begin to imagine the rumors we have heard these last few days. Last few weeks, really," she breathed. "I had feared..." Her voice faltered for a moment. "But you are well. You've returned safely, and for that I am glad."
Cailan stopped and turned to face her. "But you got my message. About the Landsmeet? I wanted everything to be..."
"It is," Anora cut in quickly. "All is prepared, and many of the nobles have already begun to arrive. I just... I'm glad you are home."
Cailan gave her hand a squeeze, and they continued on. Once inside his rooms, Anora ordered food and drink and water for a bath, but when all arrived she sent the servants away. At his questioning look, she explained, "I will... bathe you." He couldn't help but smile as she helped him disrobe. This was going much more easily than he might have hoped.
Once he was seated in the tub, Anora sat behind him and began undoing his hair. Cailan closed his eyes as she pulled a comb through it. "Tell me what has been going on in my absence," he ordered.
Anora paused for a moment in her grooming. "There is unrest in the alienage."
Cailan scowled. He'd almost forgotten about the incident with the elven girl, having been caught up in the more important matters of the Blight and the Landsmeet. "Yes, I heard that Bann Vaughan was killed."
"I... yes. How did you hear that already?" Anora asked.
"I met the person responsible for his death," he replied. "Saved from the noose by the Grey Wardens' Right of Conscription."
Anora's lovely fingers worked their way up into his hair to massage his scalp. "They should have just killed the fool. As it is, I've ordered the alienage to be completely closed off. No one going in or out. It was the only thing I could think of to keep a riot from occurring."
Cailan took one of her hands and kissed the inside of Anora's palm. He did not agree with her decision at all, but chastising her would not improve his chances of getting the woman out of her dress. "I think, in cases like these, sometimes it's best to just let things burn out on their own." He kissed her wrist. "I will reopen the alienage, though I will tell my guards to put a patrol there, so nothing can get too out of hand. I think it best if we allow the nobles to seek satisfaction for the bann's death. His father deserves that much at least."
"Arl Urien was in Ostagar with you, I thought," Anora said.
Turning around so he could face her, Cailan said, "No. He wasn't there. You mean he's not in Denerim?" Anora shook her head. "That is troubling. If he is gone, and his son is dead, then that means Denerim has no arl."
Her eyes flitted down and then back up to his face. "Arl Howe has been seeking to remedy that problem. He came to the palace a couple weeks ago, looking for support of his claim to the arling of Denerim."
"He expected you to give him your support?" Cailan asked, suspicion coloring his words.
Anora shook her head. "Rather, I think he was hoping Father might give him his, although as he has only just returned and was not here when Rendon came to the palace, the conversation did not go much further than that. I'd already heard what had happened in Highever at that point, and I had already gotten your message about the Landsmeet. I told him that we could not possibly entertain such a notion, especially not until after the Landsmeet. He seemed none too pleased to hear that Fergus was with you and on his way back here."
"Howe always was ambitious, but this seems like a lot even for him," Cailan said, settling back into his bath. "He would seek to control the entire northern half of Ferelden." He closed his eyes. While all of this was important for him to know, it was not exactly the way he wanted to be spending his time just then. "We can worry about all of that later." He smiled at Anora over his shoulder. "Why don't you join me in here?"
Anora laughed. "Don't be ridiculous, Cailan," she said. "Besides, there is one more thing I need to tell you."
Cailan stood and reached for his towel. Taking his time to turn around, he was pleased to see his wife's eyes on him. "Well? What is it?" He asked, making no move to cover himself.
"Oh. Well. Umm..." She gave her head a little shake. "There is a group of Tevinter mages, staying down by the docks. They have requested an audience with you."
"What do they want?" Cailan asked.
"I don't know," Anora admitted. "They wouldn't tell me."
He could tell that she was offended by that, but what did she expect? He was the king, not her. She should realize that some people would not settle for an audience with the queen. However, he had no idea why mages from the Tevinter Imperium might be seeking him out. "Maybe I'll just send some priests to go see what they want," he said casually and was rewarded by Anora's soft laugh. "As for right now, though, I'd rather focus on what I want. Hopefully it's the same as what you want, too." Dropping the towel at his feet, Cailan closed the distance between the two of them, and when he reached for her, Anora didn't pull away. Nor did she balk when he led her to the bedroom.
Howe came the next morning, demanding an audience with the king. Of course, demanding anything of Cailan was the best way to assure that one would be denied, and he had the man turned away. Rendon was informed that he would have to wait for the Landsmeet like everyone else. Cailan heard later that the arl threw a bit of a fit when he heard that Fergus was staying in the palace, and he also heard that Howe had gone straight to the Mac Tir estate when he was turned away from the palace. Did he think that he might gain the king's favor by first procuring that of the teyrn? Surely the man was not so daft as to think he was going over Cailan's head by going to Loghain. No, that couldn't be it.
A few days before the Landsmeet, only an hour or so after Anora had refused his advances, Cailan was pacing angrily in the halls. He was trying to decide how foolish it would be to sneak off to see one of his favorite maidservants in the castle while it was so full of visiting nobles, when he saw the captain of his guard coming his way.
"Your Majesty," the man said as he bowed. "There was an incident in the alienage late last night."
"Oh?" He said idly. "Is everything quiet now?"
"Well, yes, your Majesty, but..."
"Do any of the nobles have new complaints I should hear of?" Cailan asked, cutting the captain off in mid sentence.
"No, your Majesty," the captain answered.
Cailan nodded. "Good. Continue the patrols. Make sure your men are seen, in the hopes that they will discourage any fighting, but only step in if absolutely necessary."
The captain nodded and offered another bow before he turned and left. Cailan wondered for just a moment if he should have let the man finish, let him tell him what had happened in the alienage, but he knew it was only due to curiosity and nothing more. No, it was better to remain unaware of the details about what went on between the elves and their betters. Besides, they needed to see that they couldn't kill a Bann without repercussions, no matter what the man might have done.
With a start, Cailan realized he had been pacing again, and he'd taken a turn down the hallway where Fergus Cousland was staying. With a grimace, he watched as the door to Fergus' apartments open, but he was relieved to see it was only a servant exiting the room. It was strange, though. While there were certainly many elven servants in the palace, Cailan couldn't say he remembered ever having seen one with tattooed lines down the side of his face. But the elven man was forgotten the moment Cailan turned the next corner, for there in front of him was Nandra, one of the maids of whom he was particularly fond. And she was alone. He smiled to himself. It seemed the day was starting to look up.
It was still early in the evening, but the camp was quiet. Duncan and the others still hadn't returned yet. Leliana was among the Dalish, apparently trying to ease the tension that hung in the air. Sayre was hiding in her tent, with Morrigan of all people. She wouldn't let anyone else in, nor had she told any of them what had happened. So Alistair sat near the fire, wondering what to do. In a way he wished Duncan was there just so that he knew everything would be taken care of. On the other hand, Duncan would not be pleased at all when he got back and heard about all of this.
Alistair had been sitting with Ben and Nevar when they heard the shouting. He still had a hard time believing what they had seen. It was Alistair who'd grabbed Sayre and hauled her off of the Dalish man, and for a moment she had fought against him as well, slamming her head back hard enough to bloody his lip. But then she just went limp in his arms, and he had carried her back to her tent while Ben and Nevar took Lanthon to the Dalish camp. He asked her repeatedly what had happened, but she never uttered a word, and he was just outside her tent when Morrigan appeared.
"Fool woman," Morrigan spat, appearing as if from thin air. Alistair set Sayre back on her feet, though he kept a hand on her shoulder. Morrigan did not act quite so concerned with her state, and she strode forward and struck Sayre across the face. The elf's whole body jerked, and suddenly she was standing up straight. "Into the tent," Morrigan ordered, and then both women had disappeared.
There was nothing he could do but go back to the fire, so that's exactly what Alistair did. Ben returned ten minutes later and informed him that Lanthon had come to as they were walking him back. His nose was broken, and he'd be wearing some nasty bruises for a while, but he was otherwise all right. Nevar had stayed in camp to see if he could find anything out from the man.
"You just left him?" Alistair demanded. "You didn't... do anything?"
"Do anything?" Ben asked, eyebrows raised. "Like what? Don't you think Sayre did enough to him? Look... I know you feel protective of her. But you can't assume that, just because she's a woman, that she's the victim here. You saw it as well as the rest of us. Sayre's in much better shape than Lanthon."
"It's not that I feel protective," Alistair protested. "It's just..."
"You were there at her Joining," Ben finished for him. "I know. And I understand that. We all feel that way for the people we've watched go through it. Why do you think I put up with Nevar?" He smiled a little as he shook his head. "But you have to consider the possibility that she's not the perfect Warden that you'd like everyone to be. We already know she's killed a man in the past. She wouldn't be the first recruit who's good at being a Warden but not so good at being a person." When Alistair didn't respond, Ben asked, "Did she tell you what happened?" Alistair shook his head. "Well... Duncan will get it out of her, but I hope it doesn't come down to that." He grimaced. "He will not be happy to come back and find out she's ruined our chances here."
"So what do we do?" Alistair asked.
"Well, we need to find out what happened. And that's probably going to have to be up to you," Ben said. "You're the one who knows her best... if anyone knows her at all."
Nevar returned then, and he sat down next to them with a sigh. "He didn't tell me anything," he said before either of them could ask. "And his friends were making it very clear that they didn't want me there, so..." His eyes slid to Sayre's tent. "Where is she?" Alistair watched the man's eyes narrow. "She'd better..."
Ben placed a hand on Nevar's shoulder. "Alistair's got it covered," he said.
"But..." Alistair hesitated, not wanting to have to be the one to deal with the matter. "Shouldn't we just wait until tomorrow? I mean, it's late, and..."
"No," Nevar said in a tight voice. "The sooner this is dealt with, the better. Look, you're still new enough that you've only seen the warm, fuzzy side of Duncan." Ben snickered at that. "You look at him like he's your best friend, or even as a father-figure, but we know better. Trust us. You don't want to see him mad. And he'll be spittin' fire if he comes back and finds out the Dalish won't honor the treaty because of something she did." He jerked his head towards Sayre's tent. "You're also still new enough that we can tell you what to do. At least go find out what happened."
"Right," Alistair mumbled. He couldn't really refuse when they were both telling him the same thing. "Right."
He stood up and turned towards Sayre's tent without another word. When he got to it, he cleared his throat loudly. "I'm coming in," he called out, though he waited a moment to see if there would be any protests. When there were none, he lifted the tent flap, but Morrigan came darting out before he could go inside.
"I hope you have better luck with her than I did," the witch said. "The fool actually broke her hand. I healed it as best I could, but I should have just let her suffer!" The last few words were spoken loud enough to ensure that Sayre would hear them.
Alistair glanced into the tent. "Can I?..."
Morrigan threw her hands up. "Do whatever you like. I'm through with her."
The witch's reaction was confusing, and it made Alistair hesitate even more, but when he looked over at Ben and Nevar, they both made shooing motions at him. Taking a deep breath, he ducked into the tent. Sayre was sitting on her bedroll. Her armor lay in a pile in the corner, and she had her knees pulled up against her chest. Alistair was surprised by how small she looked without her armor. It was hard to believe someone who looked like she was barely more than a child could have... He cleared his throat again, and she lifted her head to look at him. The light from her lantern was dim, but he could see the gash above her eye and the bruise rising on her neck. Bandages were wound around her hand.
"Please just go away," she whispered, her head dropping to rest atop her knees.
He almost did as she asked. "What happened, Sayre?" He moved to crouch in front of her.
"I... I'm not sure I'm comfortable with you in here with me," Sayre said.
Irritation flared, and Alistair scowled at her. "Well, I'm not comfortable with you nearly killing someone we're supposed to be asking for help. Maker's bloody breath, what happened out there?"
"I don't know," was Sayre's response. "Is he... did I... how is he? Lanthon, I mean. Is he all right?"
The question made Alistair feel sick. If she was worried about the man she had just attacked, then maybe Ben was right about her. "He will be," he said slowly. "Sayre, you need to tell us what happened. This is... this could be really bad. I mean, if he did anything to you, or if he tried to... You just need to tell us." When she didn't respond, he raked his fingers through his hair in an exasperated motion. "Some of the others have been in the Dalish camp, trying to calm things down, but we need you to talk to us. You can't just hide in here and expect it all to go away." Alistair's voice picked up speed as he spoke, as if Sayre might be compelled to talk if she could sense his urgency in wanting to be done with the whole ordeal. "Not talking will only make things worse, especially once Duncan gets back."
"I don't know what happened," Sayre said again, her voice almost hoarse. "Or... I don't know why it happened. He just looks so much like... someone I used to know. And then he said..." She looked up at Alistair. "What happened was my fault. I will make it right."
"And how are you going to do that?" Alistair asked, the sick feeling only getting worse.
She leaned her head back down on her knees. "I don't... I'll figure it out. Tomorrow, though. Tonight I just... need to be alone. Please, Alistair."
"Fine, tomorrow," Alistair replied through clenched teeth. "But I'm going with you." Her head shot up at that, and he held up a hand. "No, I'm sorry, but I am. This is one time when your desire for privacy isn't going to win out. What happened... what you did, it can possibly affect all of us, and we deserve to know what's going on." When she didn't reply, Alistair shrugged. "Unless you'd rather one of the other Grey Wardens went with you. But at least one of us is going with you. Especially since we don't know what Lanthon has told everyone."
Sayre seemed to shrink even smaller. "Fine," she whispered. "Tomorrow, then. But until then, please. I just want to be alone."
Taking a deep breath, Alistair rose and lifted the flap of Sayre's tent. Once outside, he was relieved to see that Ben and Nevar were occupied, as Leliana had apparently just returned from the Dalish camp. However, any thoughts that he might be able to sneak away were dashed as they all looked his way when he emerged from the tent. With a sigh, he walked over to them.
"Well?" Nevar pressed as soon as he made it to the fire. "What did she tell you?"
"Nothing, really," Alistair said. "Or not much anyway. Just that whatever happened was her fault, and that she's going to make things right."
"How?" Nevar demanded.
"I don't know. I assume she's going to apologize for whatever she did. She said she was going to go into camp tomorrow, and..." But Alistair wasn't allowed to finish.
"That's not good enough!" Nevar protested.
"I agree," Ben added. "If she wants to wait until tomorrow to go into camp, that's fine, but she needs to tell us just what in the Maker's name is going on." Without waiting for a reply, the man stood up and stormed over to Sayre's tent. "Sayre!" He hollered. "Come out here." He paused only briefly before adding, "If you don't come out, I'll come in and drag you out."
Leliana made a small noise, but Alistair kept his eyes on the tent. Sure enough, Sayre came stumbling out after a moment, a blanket wrapped around her small frame. Ben gestured for her to join the rest of them at the fire, and Alistair almost winced as he watched her walk over, back straight and shoulders stiff, as if trying to give herself as much height as possible. The flickering light from the fire only seemed to make her bruises look worse, but if she was in any pain, it didn't show on her face. In fact, nothing showed on her face.
"You're going to tell us what happened," Nevar started in before she'd even made it all the way to the fire. "I'd suggest you get started. The sooner you tell us, the sooner you can go back to hiding in your tent."
Sayre's eyes seemed distant, as if she was focusing on something far away as she spoke. "I lost my temper," she said, her voice as lifeless as her eyes. "I should not have, and I will apologize for my actions in the morning."
"But why did you lose your temper?" Ben asked.
"Lanthon made a comment to which I took offense," Sayre replied automatically, though her voice lowered to something barely above a whisper. Alistair leaned in to hear her, noticing that the others had done the same.
Ben pressed further. "And what was the comment?"
It was then that Alistair noticed the whiteness of Sayre's hands as she gripped her blanket, the slight tremor in her body that she seemed to be fighting to control. "He let me know that all of the Dalish assumed that I was your whore, only traveling along with you to see to your carnal desires, as apparently that was the only reason they could think of to explain why I was among so many human men... as apparently that is the only use a human might see in someone like me." When no one responded, Sayre turned on her heel and went back to her tent.
The men were quiet for a time before Nevar spoke. "Well... can't say I wouldn't have been angry if someone said something like that to me, but she's gonna need to grow thicker skin." Leliana made a scoffing sound, and the man rounded on her. "What, are you gonna say that what she did was justified, just because she was insulted?"
"It is obvious she has been... mistreated in the past, yes?" Leliana shrugged a shoulder. "Probably by humans who made the same assumption that the Dalish did. Does that excuse anything? Perhaps not, but it does help to explain it better. Did you not see how terrified she was to be standing out here in front of you all, to be interrogated by men who call themselves her brothers?"
"Two questions is not an interrogation," Nevar grumbled.
Leliana turned her eyes on Ben. "Perhaps being threatened that she would be dragged from her tent is what made her nervous, yes?" She held up a hand before he could respond. "She has taken responsibility for what happened and has offered to make amends. I would... suggest waiting to see how that leaves things. It is possible that they will accept her apology and all will be made right, especially assuming there is more to the story than either she or Lanthon is saying."
"Do you think that's the case?" Alistair asked.
Leliana quirked her lips into a smile as she turned to look at him. "I've found that there's always more to any story."