Cecilia Cousland Theirin aided her four year old daughter down from the carriage by picking her up and carrying her to the ground instead of allowing her escorts to do so as they insisted, though they were quite used to it at this point. "Okay sweetheart, ready to go inside?" The little girl nodded, giving her mother a big grin while clutching her favorite stuffed dog to her chest. Cecilia's Marbari War Hound, affectionately nicknamed Puppy so many years ago, barked happily and bounced around near Cecilia, obviously too happy to be home from their trip to Highever. The three walked together through the open gates to the royal palace.
"Your Majesty, Your Highness, welcome home," Wynne said to them as she stood at the top of the stairs. "His Majesty has been anxiously awaiting your arrival." Wynne smiled just slightly.
Cecilia understood the message in her smile. "I am sure he has," she answered as they climbed the stairs. "Are they in the throne room?"
"Yes Your Majesty. King Alistair has called for a private court for the rest of the day."
"Very good." Cecilia knelt down to her daughter. "Linea, will you please go with Lady Wynne?" Cecilia could see that Linea was about to protest, but Cecilia squeezed her hand reassuringly. "Mommy and Daddy need to speak first, then Daddy will come visit you. I promise."
"Okay!" Linea chimed out with a big smile.
"Then you will not to be too…" Wynne trailed, knowing she did not need to finish the question since Cecilia understood its meaning.
"We shall see."
"Now then Your Highness, why don't you tell me all about your trip. Did you have fun?" Wynne asked, taking Linea's hand and guiding the young princess to her room.
Cecilia drew a deep breath and straightened herself, marching straight to the throne room. She smoothed the front of her dark green gown before having the guards open the door for her. She took a few steps inside and when she stopped, Puppy stopped by her side. She took a moment to assess the situation. There at the top of the stairs in front of the throne stood the three men in question, Zevran on her left, Alistair in the middle, and Sten on the right. Her eyes roamed to the balconies, making sure that they were truly alone and be able to speak freely. She was grateful she never stopped practicing the skills she learned training as a rogue all those years ago as a teenager in Highever. As soon as Cecilia heard the door click shut behind her, she advanced forward towards them, Puppy keeping in step with her.
"Cecilia! My love! Welcome home!" Alistair called out, keeping only some of his nerves out of his voice.
Cecilia stopped a few steps away and two stairs down, but it was clear to see who was in charge of the situation. "Thank you Alistair. I am quite happy to be home. Everything has been well?" Alistair only nodded.
"Ah, Your Majesty," Zevran piped in, bowing dramatically to her. "It is such an honor to be graced by your presence yet again. Please, tell us about your trip."
Cecilia sighed and crossed her arms, her sharp stare moving between the three men. She shifted her weight just slightly, causing her blue and white cloak to move with her and her dress to gracefully brush the floor. "Let us get to the point. You know why I have asked for the three of you here."
"You needed love and affection from all of us to make up for the time spent away?" Zevran asked. Cecilia immediately glared at him. "No? Worth a shot."
"Alistair? Why don't you start?" Cecilia asked while she watched Puppy walk up to Sten and sniff at one of the pouches on his belt.
"Well," Alistair began, his hands already moving dramatically. Cecilia was almost completely amused by the way he was panicking. "You see… I… I really have been trying to do what is best for Ferelden… for Denerim. And uh, how do I explain this?"
"What we have done," Sten finally spoke up. "Is bring trade between Ferelden and the Qunari. We have brought goods from Denerim to Par Vollen, and in return brought wealth to Denerim."
Cecilia eyed Sten suspiciously. "You have told me yourself that the Qunari see little use in trading with foreigners." She looked at Alistair next. "And why has this not come up in any of the financial meetings we have held with Arl Eamon?" Finally she looked at Zevran. "And what exactly is your part in all this, I wonder." Zevran was the first to move his mouth to answer. "And before any of you answer, I have a vague idea of what's going on here. Wynne was nice enough to use the words black market in her correspondence to me."
Cecilia watched as Alistair and Zevran, nearly in unison, sighed and stared at their feet. Sten said nothing, but shifted his weight just slightly and seemed to stare just past Cecilia. Silence remained over the throne room until Cecilia spoke again. "So there. Now that we have all have a clear understanding of this underground trade, will someone please tell me what we've been trading with Qunari."
"Cookies," Sten answered.
Cecilia drew in a quick breath as if she were going to argue, but just as quickly the breath left her chest. "…Cookies…?" She asked quietly in complete disbelief. "Cookies…? As in sweet baked goods you sneak to our daughter past her bedtime?" Cecilia looked at her husband, hoping he might clarify. It did not get by her though that Puppy was still nudging, trying to get into Sten's pouch.
"Yes, those are exactly the ones." Alistair answered. "Well, not actually those ones. I would never give cookies to Linea then take them away…"
"I understood what you meant Alistair," Cecilia answered poignantly. "Okay, so now that we've established there is a black market trade of… cookies… Just… Why?"
"As I told you many years ago, the Qunari do not have anything like this. But I knew my people would enjoy it, the same as I did," Sten answered. Cecilia sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.
"But when the bakers in his land would not start making these treats, since I am always up for a new adventure, I came in as a special guest merchant, selling these wonderful treats to the Qunari. We make them here in Denerim then sell them in Par Vollen. Great idea, no?" Zevran continued.
"And by special guest merchant, I can only assume you mean you somehow have developed shady ties to sell them?"
"Er, I suppose that is one way to put it Your Majesty."
Puppy ran back to Cecilia's side, excitedly carrying a cookie with brown sugar sprinkled on it. Her eyes went up to Sten who was clearly agitated now. When his eyes met Cecilia's, he spoke suddenly. "That's uh, not mine. I was holding that. For a friend."
"Oh? And what friend might that be?" Zevran asked.
"I can't tell you. The king may have me exiled." Alistair audibly sighed at Sten's response.
Cecilia put her hands on her hips. "Alistair, please tell me this is a joke."
"This is a… uh joke? Haha, funny. Glad you got it. All one big prank!" Alistair began chuckling and Zevran quickly joined in. Another glare from Cecilia got them both to stop. "Well, how do you think we got the funds to finish the rebuild of Denerim in so short of time?"
"Through an illegal trade? Really? How exactly did you get suckered into this plot?"
"By cookies of course," Zevran happily answered with a smile. "They are quite delicious. Would you care for one?" He asked, pulling a cookie from a pocket.
"Hey, now nothing coming from your pants should ever go near my wife."
"Oh? Then perhaps you should stay away from your wife as well?"
"What?" Alistair exclaimed. He scowled immediately. "Oh Maker…"
Cecilia nearly lost it there. She almost burst out into a fit of giggles like Zevran had managed to do so many times before. She had to remind herself of her training in the courts and remain calm and angry - after all there still was illegal activity going on here. Although if word got out that it was over cookies, maybe people would just assume it was a big joke. "No, Zevran, I would not like a cookie."
"No? Too bad no cookie for you. Your Majesty?" Zevran held the cookie to Alistair who immediately made a face and refused. Sten, however, eagerly accepted it. "At least someone here appreciates cookies."
"Let's just…" Cecilia threw her hands up in exasperation. Never in all the ages had she seen this coming. "This ends here and now. No more. All done. Understand?"
"Yes. Of course," Alistair answered.
"I will see you for dinner then. I would like to rest after my trip home and… this." Cecilia turned and left the throne room.
"Well… that was… interesting," Alistair mumbled.
"We don't really have to stop, do we?" Zevran asked.
"No," Sten and Alistair answered at the same time.
"Good," Zevran answered with a grin.