A/N: This is a sequel to The Lion of Orlais and while it isn't necessary to read the original story, doing so will make this story easier to understand at times.
- Spoilers for Origins and Awakening contained within.
- Bioware owns all, I am just a dreamer, borrowing their vision.
An Uncivil Welcome
It was not supposed to happen this way. She wanted longer to mourn Duncan, longer to come to terms with everything that had happened. Not only had she lost her beloved Duncan at Ostagar, she had lost her dearest friend Riordan during the final battle in Denerim. To hear that Loghain was the only surviving Grey Warden in Ferelden and Duncan's protégé Alistair had abandoned his brothers on the eve of battle devastated her. And why had Phindar Surana, the mage who was to be her second, made the killing blow? Why hadn't Loghain insisted on doing that? The man led too charmed a life, she thought sourly.
Nothing had gone as it should and now she was being forced to leave Val Royeaux to take up command at some place called Vigil's Keep. Leonie dragged her heels, finding excuse after excuse for not leaving immediately. Kristoff came to see her before he left for Ferelden.
"Leonie, it's time to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. Isn't that what you told me Duncan taught you? Press forward, always forward. You have to do so now."
Leonie sighed, rubbing her temples with her fingers, trying to rub away a headache that seemed ever present. He was right, of course. Duncan would hate to see her in this state, hollow eyed and pale, moping and morose. She dropped her hands and nodded.
"You are right, my friend. It is time to press forward. I want you and the others to leave as planned. I will take a month to train Laurent and then I shall join you."
Kristoff nodded and flashed a sudden smile. "You look like a ragamuffin, Commander. I don't think I'll ever get used to your hair that short."
Leonie frowned and reached up to run her fingers through her short hair. She had cut her braid off, as all Orlesian women did after the death of a loved one. By tradition it was supposed to be growing out. The length of mourning was determined by how long it took for a woman's hair to once again reach below her shoulders. She hadn't allowed it to grow at all, hacking it short every few weeks.
"Well, you practically shave your head, Kristoff, I hardly think you have a say in the matter," she responded with a faint smile for him as he stood to leave.
"And Kristoff," she added as he made his way to the door, "be safe."
"You and Aura, always the same. Of course I'll be safe."
And with another flash of a smile, he was gone.
Light rain was quickly giving way to a steadier downpour and the air had cooled considerably since they had left Amaranthine. The road was becoming a muddy rivulet and the horses were slipping and sinking in it. She pulled her cloak tighter and hunched down in the saddle. After an hour the rain lightened again but the clouds clung tenaciously to the sky.
As they approached the fortress known as Vigil's Keep, Leonie could not help but be impressed with the huge rock and timber fortress looming in the gloom. This is what she had always imagined Ferelden structures to look like, vast dismal edifices that had no clear design, just stretching up and out haphazardly, looking strong and forbidding, much like many Fereldans she had met.
As they drew closer, she instructed Mhairi, an uncertain horsewoman at best, to dismount and they continued on foot.
She couldn't help but wonder if she was walking in the same places that Duncan had once walked and the thought slowed her strides as a sharp pang of grief, clutching with talons at her heart, threatened to stop her in her tracks altogether. She struggled for a moment, surprised that after so many months, the pain was still so intense. But then the young knight beside her spoke and her grief slithered back into the bleakness of her soul.
"Warden Commander, are you sure it is wise to continue on foot?"
Leonie sighed. Was there ever a more earnest and naïve recruit as young Ser Mhairi, she wondered. Leonie was concerned that it was her very earnestness and naivety that would be her death sentence. She had learned that is was the hardened and strong willed who survived the Joining most often, not those who dreamed of griffons and glory, with no comprehension of sacrifice and vigilance. Still, as Mhairi was already a recruit, there was little she could do to prevent her from joining, though she had tried to discourage her. The young knight proved impervious to her attempts.
"Trust me, Ser Mhairi, you do not wish to come across a band of darkspawn while traveling on horseback. And there are darkspawn about. I cannot tell how many or where exactly, but they are there."
Leonie removed her cloak and instructed Mhairi to do the same. Fighting in cloaks or on horseback were tricky skills to acquire and she didn't want to see Mhairi tripping on her cloak in the midst of a battle, or worse, have the cloak catch on her sword and wrap around it half a dozen times.
Mhairi was content with her answer and they continued up a gentle slope in the road. Tingling alerted Leonie to the presence of darkspawn, a brisk pull and tug at her blood and a short time later it was the hot stinging of blood trying to stab its way out of her veins that told her there were many and they are nearby.
"Be on the ready, Ser Mhairi. They are close."
"Maker's breath, Vigil's Keep is just around that bend up there. Hurry!" Mhairi yelled and began to run.
Sighing, Leonie went after her. Earnest, naïve and impetuous, she amended as she unsheathed her sword and dagger.
There were indeed darkspawn. Too many of them and she could smell the stench of death and tainted blood and burning wood and the unmistakably acrid foulness of burning flesh. But she was the commander and it was up to her to keep a level head so she beat back the fear that rose like angry bees in her stomach and she managed to pick up a new recruit, whether he realized it or not, along the way.
Heartbreakingly, it appeared that her brothers from Orlais were all dead or missing. Her handpicked brothers were gone and another wave of grief and guilt rippled through her. And Kristoff, where was Kristoff? How had such an attack occurred while he was in charge? She tamped the grief down. Now was not the time, but the feeling of self reproach, the anger at herself for not having arrived sooner ate away at her as she fought.
Most disturbing was the talking hurlock that wanted to capture her, not kill her. She knew then that the Architect was out there and she smiled bitterly. You will die, creature. Never doubt it.
Before Leonie could catch her breath, her new seneschal, Varel, was directing her attention to the sounds of metal clad feet marching through mud. Now there are troops arriving right after a horrific battle? Leonie grit her teeth and removed her helmet, wondering if the eternally long day would ever end.
"Let us hope they are friendlier than the last arrivals, yes?" she asked Varel softly and offered him a wry smile. They weren't.
She surveyed the queen's entourage as it made its way up the curving entrance to the keep, and more specifically she studied the aloof woman with golden hair and the tall man beside her. Queen Anora and her father, Loghain Mac Tir.
This is the woman Cousin Celene called the rose among the brambles? More like a calla lily on a frosty morning, Leonie thought as she removed her gauntlets. And the infamous Loghain was wearing Chevalier's plate, which made Leonie's teeth ache, her jaws were so tightly clenched; the sharp picture of Marliss and Maraville was a vivid splash against her briefly lowered lids.
"Your Majesty, welcome to Vigil's Keep," Leonie murmured, dropping down on one knee and bowing her head. She supposed she should have curtsied but doing so in full plate was painful and awkward and as tired as she was she wasn't entirely sure she could manage it.
"Thank you. I see we are too late to offer assistance," the queen acknowledged in her cool, regal tones.
"So it would seem. No matter, we have secured the keep for the moment," Leonie replied with a slightly raised brow but carefully hiding the ire she felt. She rose and continued, "I am Leonie Caron, former Warden Commander of the Grey of Val Royeaux,"
"Welcome to Ferelden, Commander," Anora said coolly and then turned to the man beside her.
"This is General Loghain Mac Tir," she introduced, with a slight warming in her tone and a fond nod of her head.
Leonie found her fists were clenched, though she had no clear recollection of clenching them. She looked at Loghain Mac Tir and then Queen Anora.
"I beg your pardon, your Majesty, but the Grey Wardens have no titles. This man is Warden Loghain," she contradicted as politely as she was able. There would no doubt be power struggles yet in their future and she was determined to make sure both the queen and Loghain understood that she would not allow such a thing. The air around her got noticeably colder, which made it frigid. Leonie barely held back a sigh.
"Yet you have a title. How very interesting," the queen responded in dangerously dulcet tones.
"As will Warden Loghain, should he ever rise within the ranks of the Grey Wardens. Perhaps I should explain more clearly, yes?" Leonie asked with a helpful smile.
"Grey Wardens relinquish all former titles when they become Grey Wardens. Ranks within the Wardens are limited to command ranks," she added sweetening her smile.
She met Queen Anora's glacial stare with a carefully neutral one of her own. Again she barely held back a sigh. She could almost hear Duncan's reproving, "Diplomacy, Lion," as she stood there.
She glanced at Loghain who was standing very tall and straight, glowering at her and his daughter in equal measure. An impossible situation that would have to be dealt with at a later time as a templar came striding up, claiming that a dangerous apostate was in their midst.
Leonie waved her away with an angry scowl.
"This man, Anders, is hereby conscripted into the Grey Wardens, Templar. Do not touch him or you shall deal with me and I assure you it will not go in your favor," Leonie said in even tones.
Anders, the apostate in question, whistled sharply and stood up straighter. She turned her gaze to him and said sternly, "Do not disappoint me, Anders."
"A Grey Warden? And the templars can't touch me? I am your humble servant, Commander," Anders replied and she heard the gratitude in his voice, mixed with a healthy dose of innuendo and she couldn't help her quick intake of breath as grief hit her in the stomach like a well aimed fist. He sounded so much like Riordan at that moment.
"Do not thank me, Anders. You will have much work to do in the coming weeks. But I think you will make a fine warden."
"No, your majesty, I must protest. This murderer needs to be brought to justice," the templar cried, her voice shrill in her anger. Leonie fought the urge to cover her ears. The woman sounded like an angry fishmonger on market day.
Queen Anora's voice was as cold as the Frostbacks when she told the templar that she would allow the conscription, though Leonie couldn't tell if the ice was directed at the templar or herself. She would assume both.
"And now I must leave. There is trouble in the Bannorn."
Leonie felt a prickle of unease. "Trouble, your majesty?" she asked quietly.
"Nothing you need concern yourself with, Commander. It has nothing to do with the Grey Wardens," Queen Anora answered in a voice both dismissive and icy.
Leonie tried to relax her muscles and she took a steadying breath. "My mother is married to Bann Roan Gilmore of Hunter Fell and my uncle is Bann Renfrew Parnell of Goldenvale, your majesty. I ask only about their safety," she explained evenly. Apparently upsetting the queen was not a good idea.
Leonie watched as a look of surprise skittered across the queen's features and she was fairly certain she would see much the same look on Loghain's face but she held her gaze steady on the queen.
"Both fine men and loyal to Ferelden. They're in no danger," Loghain said finally when it became apparent that Anora would say nothing.
His voice was not what she had expected. Deep and worn around the edges, a shade cool, but warmer than his daughter's. She had expected the booming voice of a monster.
"Thank you," Leonie said reluctantly.
With that, the queen's face softened for the blink of an eye as she turned and gave her father a slight nod of her head. "Be safe, Father," she said softly and took her leave with no fanfare at all.
It was then that the red haired dwarf piped up, his voice raspy and thick with drink, demanding to be a Grey Warden. Leonie straightened her shoulders and turned to him. She had hoped he would not ask such a thing because she knew he would not like her answser.
"I am sorry, ser. Your help here tonight is very greatly appreciated but I do not believe the Grey Wardens are for you," she said as kindly and firmly as she could.
He immediately became offended. He grabbed his axe, swung it over his shoulder and started down the road, staggering slightly, muttering very colorful curses as he went. Most were directed at her and yet again she bit back a sigh.
"Are you sure that was wise? With the loss of the Orlesians, he might have been of some –," Loghain began, his voice a clear reproof. She held a hand up, cutting him off.
"A moment, Warden," she said, fighting to control her temper, which was flaring sharply and threatening to become a raging inferno. She would not allow him that kind of familiarity and second guessing. Not now, not ever.
She walked some feet away from Varel, Ser Mhairi and Anders. Mhairi looked faintly scandalized and Anders looked more than a little amused. Varel was stone faced. She would at least spare Loghain the indignity of being reprimanded within hearing of the others even if he had not been as considerate.
When she spoke, her voice was low and cold. "The losses we suffered today were not Orlesians, they were your brothers, just as I am not Orlesian and you are not Fereldan. Grey Wardens are all brothers and sisters," she began and there was a certain amount of contempt in her voice that she knew she ought to do something about but didn't.
"Furthermore, I will not have you undermining my authority. I assure you, Warden, insubordination is not tolerated in our ranks."
She had his attention. She could feel the heat of his anger, see it in his rigid posture.
"The dwarf may have been an excellent warrior at one time but he was drunk when he joined us and continued to drink throughout the fighting, putting us all at risk. While it is true that we accept even the most disreputable of people…" she paused briefly, ensuring her meaning was clear before she continued, "we consider it very dangerous to have drunkards swinging large weapons about willy nilly in our midst," she finished.
His eyes widened before he brought his own anger under careful control. She saw the effort it required and she took a certain childish pleasure in that.
She leaned in even closer, narrowing her eyes to meet his, dark blue eyes clashing with ice blue eyes. "Have you your orders for Montsimmard with you, Warden?" she asked in a lethally quiet voice.
He looked startled at the sudden direction the conversation had taken and then she saw him fight to mask it. "I do," he replied stonily.
"Hand them to me."
She watched as Loghain lowered his pack and after a moment of rummaging, he produced the vellum. She took it and quickly tore the orders into small pieces. She carefully handed them back.
"Welcome to Vigil's Keep," she said coldly and walked away.