He had underestimated the boy. The conclusion was unavoidable. Loghain had been caught off-guard when the constable stammered the order that he was under arrest. At least Alistair had the courtesy to allow him to attend the funeral.
Maebh's body was taken to the Anderfels as he was locked in the Tower. As if the physical presence of her corpse had been the last measure of protection between him and the boy's wrath.
And then he had been left for months. To what purpose, Loghain could only guess. The boy had been chantry-raised, perhaps this was some attempt at forcing him to reflect, repent, and atone. Or maybe he really was as stupid as Cailan and had forgotten. Both possibilities were equally as likely as the other, he realized.
He grew tired of speculation on the enigmatic motivations of his second fool of a son-in-law and found himself thinking of the past. An exercise even more useless than attempting to untangle Alistair's convoluted thought processes. The Taint gnawing in his gut would have left him hungry even if he allowed to eat to his heart's content. Alistair must have known this. Loghain was given half-rations. In his hunger he chewed on regrets, an undeniable compulsion, an itch he scratched until it bruised, bled, and scabbed over. Images of his children, his wife, a life he only barely recognized at the time but now was the only thing he could think about.
Again and again his thoughts turned to a day at Redcliffe. Was it the only time they had together? It was the only time he could remember with any clarity. His daughters were still together, only seven years old and Cailan younger still. Rowan was still alive, as was Celia. And Maric. Teagan was barely a man and Eamon only recently married to that Orlesian. Come to think of it, Alistair had probably been living there at the time, as it would still be a few years before Isolde sent him away. It never occurred to Loghain to seek the boy out.
But they were happy. He was sure of this. That was the visit where they had decided to betroth Cailan to Anora. A decision that had been so simple it was almost disturbingly easy.
And he and Maric had taken the children into the forest. Cailan had declared that they were on a hunt for gremlins. Anora was horrified by the venture and insisted on riding on his shoulders so as to keep her shoes from getting muddy, and Maebh had dashed off into the underbrush within seconds of entering the sylvan glade.
Maric had been the one to find her, and catch her, and save her from falling over the cliff to her doom.
And years later, when Maebh rescued him from Alistair's blade and forced him to drink the from the bitter cup, she turned south and dragged him to a place he never wanted to return. The look on her face as she stared at Cailan's corpse was burned into his mind's eye, frightening and familiar.
In the Tower, in the dark, alone with his memories and regrets he finally made the connection between the two events. At the cliff, she had not slipped. And at the crucifix, she had made her final decision. She had not told him what would happen. She had to have known, Duncan must have told her, or Riordan. Or maybe Alistair, though he seemed to have been as surprised as Loghain by the sight of her lifeless body. No bruises, no broken bones, no scratches or burns. As pale and perfect as a babe. As if the passionate soul that had so tormented her had simply departed and let her body finally be at peace.
Maebh had wanted to die most of her life. Alone, in the dark, with his failures, Loghain finally understood. And for all that she had claimed to love Alistair it was not enough to keep her alive. He was not enough to keep her alive. And so Loghain was left in the Tower to rot. Fair enough.
The door flew open, a blindingly bright lantern flooding his sight. Loghain held a hand up to the light and tried to discern the identity of the jailor in front of him. "Come," the man ordered gruffly, nudging him with a booted toe.
"To what do I owe this pleasure," Loghain winced as his stiff joints protested the unexpected movement. "The King has invented some new form of torment?"
The jailor clapped irons on his wrists and around his neck. "Come," he repeated, tugging on the chain attached to his collar.
"Surely this is unnecessary," Loghain tried to straighten his shoulders under the weight of the irons. "Or has the boy been listening to his Orlesian advisers. Rumors of my abilities to turn into a many-headed dog during battle and fell enemies with a single glare have been greatly exaggerated, I assure you."
The jailor's only response was to tug more sharply on the chain and lead him down the stairs.
They had changed the throne room since the last time he had been there. In fairness, they had changed him as well. The throne room had gotten the better deal.
They had changed the windows somehow, made them bigger or cleaned them or something. The sun shone in on Alistair and Anora with a vengeance. The old throne had been taken away and replaced with a double-throne, carefully designed as to reflect a perfect balance between the two rulers.
Anora was resplendent in the sun, she wore a gown of ivory silk embroidered with pink flowers and green vines. The train of her gown was perfectly draped across the steps of the dais. Her gleaming hair plaited in her customary style, matching the gold of the tiara she wore. She leaned slightly to her right, towards Alistair. The fingers of her right hand just barely brushing the cuff of his sleeve. Her eyes wide, she looked toward Loghain but did not see him. Her eyes matched those of her mother, when Loghain had returned from the River Dane without Maebh, and years later when she had succumbed to her own illness. There was no hope in her heart.
Loghain turned his attention to Alistair. What he saw was not what he expected. In his thoughts during the past months he had shrunk him down to a small, indecisive, scared boy unprepared and unworthy to claim his father's birthright. Instead, he was forced to confront his misconceptions in the form of the actual man.
Alistair had grown into his role as monarch. He did not rely on the trappings of armor and weapon to appear powerful as Cailan had. Maric's sword and Cailan's shield hung on the wall behind the throne, ostentatious objects displayed next to the painful simplicity of Maebh's staff, a mere oak branch. The golden armor was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Alistair was dressed in a doublet that complemented Anora's attire, with a slightly larger crown. He leaned back on the throne, away from Anora's imploring fingers, stroking his tightly-clipped beard and regarding Loghain with a look of cold rage.
Other than the two guards at the door, and the jailor who still believed it necessary to lead Loghain like a dog, the only other person in the room was a young man dressed in black leather armor. A griffon was emblazoned on the chest piece. Most likely the head of the Orlesian Wardens, Loghain surmised. A vanguard to fool Alistair into trusting them under the banner of "brotherhood" before retaking the country. The man frowned and crossed his arms.
"Leave him," Alistair ordered the jailor. The man bowed and left. Alistair watched him go, before turning his stoney eyes back to Loghain. "You are probably wondering why I had you brought here."
"Not particularly," Loghain answered truthfully, "though I appreciate the chance to stretch my legs." Of course Alistair had him dragged out to kill him. The only thing surprising about it was that he was choosing to do it in private.
A vein on Alistair's forehead stood out, but other than that he was perfectly still. "You probably assumed that I had forgotten about you these past months."
"The thought had crossed my mind, yes," Loghain shrugged and the shackles clanked. Anora winced, a tiny motion.
Alistair gave no indication that he noticed. "I have been trying to see what she saw in you," he said in a voice as soft as it was deadly. He leaned forward slightly, pulling his arm away from Anora. "I have spoken to your friends, such as they are, your colleagues, your rivals, your enemies. Would you like to know what I learned?"
Loghain looked down and shook his head. He remembered when his daughters were so small he could hold them in his hands. "I know who I am," he was unable to hide the note of defiance in his voice.
Alistair stood and strode down the steps toward him. Loghain steeled himself, waiting for the blow. But it never came, Alistair stopped short of him, he never even raised his hand. Their eyes met, and Loghain saw the corner of Alistair's mouth twitch. It pleased him to see Loghain flinch. "Every single person I spoke with sang your praises. Your honor, your intelligence, your courage," he spat the accolades.
"I'm sorry to disappoint," Loghain lifted his head and drew himself to his full height. The boy was still a few inches shorter than he, allowing him to look down at him.
Alistair was not intimidated, but stepped towards him until he was just inches from his face. "I know what you truly are," he snarled with such venom that it was Loghain who ended up feeling intimidated. "A coward and a liar. You let your ambitions murder my brother and you sent your own daughter to die in your place." He turned away, jaw clenching and unclenching. "But I promised my wife I would let you speak for yourself. So tell me, Loghain. Why should I let you live?"
This surprised him. "Why?"
"You have no response?" He turned to Anora, and Loghain could see the tears in her eyes. "You see? You should have just let me leave him there to starve it would have been easier." He turned back on him. A sunbeam was refracted in the jewels in his crown, burning Loghain's eyes. "I posed that question to everybody I spoke to. Most of them were capable of giving me an answer but I wanted to hear yours."
Loghain was tired. A bone-deep weariness weakened his knees and caused his back to ache. He fought against the frailty of his own body and refused to slouch. A strange thought occurred to him. Alistair had claimed to speak to his friends. Who would claim such an attachment to him? His friends were all dead. "You shouldn't."
Again he was surprised by Alistair's reaction. He stared at him for an everlasting moment, agate eyes boring into him, before he burst into a sudden and inexplicable laughter. "You're serious? No, you can't be this is some ploy. Like how you get a pig to go where you want it to, you pull it in the opposite direction. Oh, very clever Loghain." Alistair paced back towards him and continued to laugh. "Very clever!"
Loghain shook his head. "I am giving you actual advice. You can't trust me. I still demand some measure of popularity. I will oppose you as you get closer to the Orlesians. I'm too dangerous."
"Father," Anora said so softly he almost did not hear her. "Please."
Loghain frowned. "What would you have me do, Anora? Beg?"
"Tell him!" she pleaded. "Do you regret anything? What would you atone for?"
He looked back at Alistair. "For what it's worth, she did not tell me. And if I had known, I would have never let her take that final blow. A man should not outlive his children."
The strike came with no warning. The full force of Alistair's fury landed on Loghain's jaw. He staggered as his vision exploded in stars and his ear began to ring. "Do not speak of her in my presence." The implacable calm in Alistair's voice chilled his blood.
Loghain watched as Alistair retrieved Maric's sword from the wall. "Sir!" the Orlesian finally spoke up. "I must, once again, voice my deep objections to this course of action. This man is a Warden, and your Brother."
"The Fade take your Wardens!" Alistair roared, red-faced. "Piss on your 'brotherhood'!"
"Alistair," cried Anora, "you promised mercy!"
"What 'mercy' did he show your sister? What father sacrifices his child to the chantry and then holds out the phantom of family to a love-starved girl only to strangle her with it?" He pointed his sword at Loghain, holding the massive weapon in one hand. "You are the most despicable person to ever draw breath." He turned back on Anora. "You wanted my blood to legitimize your claim on the throne? This is the price I claim in return!"
Anora covered her face and choked back a sob. "Father, forgive me, I tried..."
Alistair advanced on Loghain. A sudden fear gripped Loghain's heart. "What have you done to my daughter?" he asked. Never had he seen Anora so thoroughly cowed.
"Wrong question," Alistair ground out between clenched teeth and let the blade fall.