Dust Their Wages: What Blood Remained These Wounds
Carry my crying spirit till it's weaned
To do without what blood remained these wounds.
(from Wilfred Owen, A Terre)
Her father's desk is cluttered with maps and reports. Two years after his death, Rowan Theirin still thinks of it that way, Father's desk. Father's study. Even, sometimes, Father's kingdom.
Father's Warden-Commander, certainly.
Who is also dead. Or as good as, by now.
Chill winter light slants through the high windows, illuminating Ser Alban of Hildfell's straw-blond head. An Anders, and a Weisshaupt man: at his hip the fingers of his left hand keep twitching towards where a sword would have hung, as though unconsciously seeking reassurance. It's giving her bodyguard - a elf in Theirin colours, stationed discretely just inside the door - a nervous tic.
They had to sodding well go and die and leave her here, facing the Warden-Commander of Vigil's Keep across the parchment-cluttered span of her royal desk in her royal study, with a royal bloody mess in her kingdom.
Temper won't help, she reminds herself, and leans her palms on the smooth wood between the papers deliberately slow, holding the knight's gaze. "This is not the Anderfels, Ser Alban," she says, quietly. "You will explain why you felt it necessary to conscript the fifteen-year-old son of one of my banns with neither Blight nor shortage of manpower to compel you. You will do so clearly and you will do so now. And you may account yourself fortunate that the boy survived the Joining, for if he had not, ser, I would this moment be trying you for murder on the floor of the Landsmeet."
"The Joining is supposed to be a secret of the Order," Alban says, stiffly. Maker, he's young. Rowan had thought Weisshaupt would send someone a little older, a little more practiced in treachery, not someone barely ten years her elder and green as spring barley where it came to politics.
Or promoted the Warden who was Aud's second these last years. But Sion Cafels is a mage and a Fereldan, and - Maker be praised - her loyalties don't lie in the Anderfels or in Orlais.
Or in Seheron.
"And my subjects in Amaranthine are supposed to be under your protection." Rowan shows her teeth. The charitably-inclined might call the expression a smile. "The Wardens hold the arling by my father's gift. The last Warden-Commander was arlessa by courtesy, and as a token of Ferelden's gratitude. Do not be misled into thinking that gift cannot be revoked."
One hundred and nineteen Wardens, at the last muster. Nearly five hundred in the Silver Guard and assorted auxiliaries, who will probably follow Ser Alban if it comes to a struggle between the Order and the Crown. The loyalties of Amaranthine's militia and levies are less certain, but whichever way they chose, it will be messy if she has to press the case.
Messier yet, if she has to do it fast, to stop a second front opening up behind her.
It's all well and good when a private army of some of the hardest fighting soldiers on the face of Thedas are led by someone you trust, Dad, she thinks, not without irony and not for the first time. But when they have one of our wealthiest arlings and an impregnable fortress, trust is something I can't afford.
"Your Majesty." Alban does not give ground easily. Rowan could like that in him, if he were someone she could trust. And not Weisshaupt's through and through. "I understood I was within my rights to recruit at will. If I have misjudged, I beg pardon, but if Bann Ulfgyfa did not tell you her son was willing, then she failed to tell the whole truth. According to Warden Sion, he ran away to the Order at the Vigil twice before in the last two years. He seems a likely lad, and I invoked Conscription to prevent his mother carrying him bodily home."
Rowan nods. "You are within your rights to recruit, Ser Alban. But where you conscript - and most especially in Amaranthine - I will expect a full accounting of your reasons." She allows her lips to curve, a more genuine smile. "Maker knows, I'd join the Wardens to get away from Ulfgyfa if I were any child of hers, but when less than two in three survive the Joining - don't twitch like that, Commander, my father was a Warden as well as a king and I could hardly help overhearing his conversations with your predecessor - I will have no one condemned to death without cause."
"Majesty," he murmurs, and inclines his head.
Rowan claims his escort to her public audiences through the tapestried halls of the palace. They talk of the grain trade and the price of oil in Antiva, and she invites his presence at an evening salon before he makes his bow, lower than protocol strictly requires.
Behind his retreating back, over the lowered heads of the Rivaini ambassadors, she meets her chancellor's eyes, and the eyes of the dowager queen, and sees foreboding written there like banners.
She will have send someone to Vigil's Keep. She will need Warden-Commander Alban's measure, and quickly.
If she's very lucky, what's coming is only a war.