Recently I had my first Dragon Age-related dream, and what bubbled up from my subconscious was the last thing I'd have expected. This story is the fruit of it. As always, Dragon Age belongs to BioWare. Thank you to SurelyForth for the preview. -A.
5 Kingsway, 9:24 Dragon Age.
He was not so much losing his independence as gaining a valuable hound. This was the thought Loghain Mac Tir tried to keep foremost in his mind as he stood at his second floor chamber window, watching the young woman playing fetch with her mabari in the courtyard below. Secondary was to wonder again exactly how it had come to be that three days hence, he and this woman half his age, Elissa Cousland, would be wed.
It had been Anora, of course. He had to marvel, not for the first time, how much could be moved by the crook of his daughter's little finger. She was not even queen yet, but he already had the impression that the highest circles of Ferelden had begun to revolve around her as their vortex. Maric still ruled, though his old friend was beginning to be distant and uninvolved again, as he once had after Queen Rowan's death years before. Loghain argued often with him, usually over Cailan. The lad seemed to him to be neither prepared to take over the throne nor serious about doing so. There was still time to work with him, but the best hope he had of becoming a competent king was to rule beside a strong queen. Loghain and Maric had always planned for that to be Anora, and Cailan had gone along with their plan willingly. Over the past few years, however, rumors had started to circulate that he had his eye on another candidate.
That candidate was now wiping mabari slobber off her hands and greeting a carter bringing in a load of wine for the wedding celebration. The eldest child of Bryce and Eleanor Cousland was a lively young woman, with a thick coil of copper hair, snappy amber-colored eyes, and more of a penchant for leathers and swords than salons and tea. So much like Rowan. That was the thought which Loghain tried most to keep at bay, but the idea kept asserting itself. He supposed it was not an accident. Most of Ferelden's nobility had settled into genteel life after the restoration, but Bryce and Eleanor raised their two children wild and roughshod, as though they still had the Orlesians at their heels. It was little wonder that Cailan was taken with her.
Anora had been forced to find a way to take Elissa out of the game while keeping the Couslands firmly in her orbit. Only she could have come up with a solution so unexpected and yet so perfect. It took a lot to wear him down, but eventually even Loghain had been compelled to agree. He had always said that there was nothing he would not do for his country, nor for his daughter. Taking a wife at his age, after so many years of bachelorhood, was a sacrifice he had never thought would be asked of him. He would rather have faced another Orlesian army. For a time he could console himself that Bryce would never agree to the match, but Anora got to the Teyrn of Highever, too. The biggest mystery of all was how she had persuaded Elissa. Probably with romantic notions about the Hero of River Dane, Loghain thought wearily. He did not look forward to witnessing the young woman's disappointment when reality intruded.
There was a stir of activity in the courtyard and trumpets sounded. That would be Maric and Cailan. Loghain had hoped by hosting the wedding at Gwaren rather than in Denerim that he could keep the fuss at a minimum, but of course Maric insisted on attending, and with that development went all hope of keeping it an understated affair. Loghain turned, resignedly, to don his cloak. Time to greet his royal guests.
Even with lines around his eyes and silver streaks in his blonde hair, Maric was larger than life. He and Cailan rode into the estate at the head of an entourage of royal guard, servants and Denerim's gentry. Loghain hung back, letting Anora and Elissa receive the king first. The contrast between the two women was stark. Once Anora had been a country maid, too, but Denerim had refined her. She was dressed in a silk gown, the blonde hair she had inherited from her mother perfectly coiffed. Lady Cousland's hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, she wore trousers and a velvet tunic, and there was mud on her boots. Still Loghain could not help but notice that Cailan's face lit up when he saw her, whereas he greeted Anora with rote courtesy and a quick peck on the cheek. Mac Tir wondered how long it would take for him to be cuckolded by Ferelden's crown prince. By all appearances, it could be any day now.
Then Maric was at his side. Loghain clasped hands with his old friend, smiling. After so many years of friendship and sharing the rule of Ferelden together the two men could say more to each other with a look than most could with a long conversation. Today Loghain's expression screamed can't you get me out of this while Maric's reply ran to don't be such a ninny.
"You are always welcome in Gwaren, Maric," Loghain intoned, which was about as formal as he got with the king even in public. "I trust you have met my... betrothed?" He had to force himself to say the word. It stuck like a pit in his throat.
Maric put a hand on Elissa's arm as she approached. "Of course. Bryce has preened about her since the day she was born. Where is your father now, Elissa?"
"In the countryside, your Majesty. He is hosting a hunt tomorrow for our guests, and he and Fergus have gone off to scout the route."
"Excellent. We'll bring back some meat for the wedding table. And don't worry, I'll keep an eye on Loghain and make sure he doesn't sneak off." Loghain had expected Maric to be at his smirking best, and the man did not disappoint.
Elissa laughed. "Who will keep an eye on me, majesty?"
"Anora, of course."
That was a given. Loghain waited patiently for the banter to finish before showing the king and prince into the house. Not only the estate but the entire village would be packed full of guests, and small tent cities had sprung up in the Gwaren outskirts to accommodate the traveling merchants and minstrels who were using the occasion like a fair. This much Loghain himself had arranged, intending the incomes from the merchant fees to offset wedding expenses. His days as a camp follower during the rebellion gave him a frugal streak that never left him. Both the royal treasuries and those of Gwaren had benefitted from it. However, the tight space had meant that Elissa's rooms- once Celia's, and over the years kept just as she had kept them- needed to be used for royal quarters. The house steward had arranged this, assuming that for the first week the wedding couple would occupy Loghain's chamber anyway. In this instance the teyrn regretted his frugality and wished he had built a less modest estate. There were already female things in evidence in his chambers, even though Lady Cousland was sleeping in her parents' room for now.
Dinner was both jovial and enlightening. Jovial was a given when Maric was at table, and there were enough guests to respond to his and Cailan's native charm that the host could mostly sit back and silently observe. Loghain paid special attention to the Couslands. If he was going to be aligned with Ferelden's most powerful family outside the royal line, it paid to know where they stood. They all knew each other from the rebellion and from every Landsmeet since, but time could change anyone. If this marriage farce was proof of anything, it was that no alliance, not even a marriage contract settled in Anora's childhood, could be taken for granted. Bryce and Eleanor Cousland appeared to be enamored of one another and to be quite cozy with Maric, though they spoke once too often about their connections to Orlais. That would bear watching in the future.
At one point, out of the corner of his eye, Loghain noticed Cailan's hand straying towards Elissa's on the table. The lady subtly but firmly moved it back to its place. Loghain assumed she did so out of propriety. Regardless, he had no intention of playing the jealous husband. Even if it were not the sort of arrangement where such was out of place, he had endured enough years of seeing Rowan and Maric together that jealous impulses had been battered out of him. Elissa was a young and vital woman and he did not expect her to be satisfied with a dried-up husk of a middle-aged man. That Lady Cousland was discreet, however, spoke well of her. Loghain wondered if Anora would be as understanding. He tried not to think at all of the fact that father and daughter both had cause to be jealous over Cailan's conquest. Anora's own schemes had brought them to such a pass.
"Come have a drink with me, old friend," Maric said as the dinner was winding down. Loghain obliged with relief, ordering the staff that they shouldn't be disturbed. The constant well-wishing of guests was trying, to say nothing of the precious looks from both men and women alike.
"They're jealous," Maric laughed when Loghain commented on it. "And not just the lonely men who spent the last few years lining up at Highever Castle. No, don't pull that face with me. This isn't the first time a woman has petitioned to become your teyrna. Just the only one you actually accepted."
"These are precarious times, Maric, though I know you don't like to see it," Loghain responded darkly. "We cannot rest on laurels."
"Don't start again with your cranks about the future of the realm. This is a happy occasion and we aren't going to argue about the kingdom." Maric was pouring Antivan brandy for them both.
"It's always about the kingdom, and you know that. This is no different."
The king made a face as he handed Loghain his glass and sat before the fire. "Fine, fine. Let us discuss a few matters that are on my table, then." For a time they went over kingdom business, discussing the year's harvest and some new ships that Maric had commissioned. He was determined to see a royal navy built, and for once Loghain did not think it a bad idea despite the cost. Coastal raiders were always a hazard, and always there were the Orlesians. They had learned how treacherous the mountains of their border with Ferelden could be and might turn more creative in future. Maric himself was set to test out the flagship once the winter storms let up. Loghain had not been able to talk him out of going, despite the danger. It seemed now the one thing for which the king had any enthusiasm at all.
At a lull in the conversation, Loghain felt Maric's eyes on him. The king's voice was earnest. "Don't come back to Denerim unless you bring her with you."
Loghain grimaced. "Now we come to it. Do not speak to me of romantic fancies, Maric, I won't hear them." There was more to it than this, more reason than his bachelor modesty that Maric's words rankled. Shortly after Rowan's death, Loghain had left his wife and infant daughter behind in Gwaren and gone to Denerim. The new Theirin king and their young, unruly kingdom needed him, and it was easier to focus on that than to remember that Celia and their young daughter needed him, too.
The king pressed on. "Maybe it is a romantic notion, but hear me anyway. We have given our lives for our people, Loghain. Always it was for Ferelden, just as you said. By and by, now and again, if we find some small measure of comfort and happiness, is that such a terrible thing?"
"Are we speaking now of me or of you?" Loghain did not bother to soften the accusation in his tone. There had been someone for Maric after Rowan, though the king refused to tell him who the woman was. According to Maric, it was at her request and to protect her. Loghain only knew that somewhere along the line a son had been produced of the liaison. Maric had been circumspect about when it had begun, too, which led the teyrn to believe it might even have been in Rowan's last years, when she was merely the shell of the vibrant woman she had been in her youth. Hence he had not inquired more energetically, though in truth his duty demanded that he do so. Loghain hadn't wanted to dredge it up. The fact that Maric had so soon tarnished Rowan's memory by finding solace in another woman's arms was bitter, all the more bitter because Loghain could not really blame him for doing so. The weight of their duty was crushing, and Maric had always wanted to be loved.
The king was meek as ever on the subject, confessing readily. "Of us both, my friend. I know you like to pretend you're made of silverite, but you're just a man. Never forget that. I won't always be around to remind you. If you have a pretty young wife who's willing to do so..."
"Stop. Enough." Loghain belted back a draught of brandy and reached for the bottle.
Maric was smiling again. "Go on now. Try to tell me that you aren't a little pleased at all this. She is pretty, you know. And spirited. A very Fereldan girl, I always thought."
Loghain rested his face on one hand, looking depressed. "There are few enough of those in the nobility. Denerim stinks of Orlesian perfume."
"It was inevitable. We could keep out the chevaliers, but our own people want the nice things and fancy manners they remember of the occupation. They consider them marks of our success, the rewards of peace."
"How quickly they forget what that peace cost us," Loghain grumbled.
Maric nodded. "It's true. I know you think I'm partly responsible for that, but at least I've got you around to remind them of the other side."
"I won't always be here, either."
"So do what I did, and make a son in your spitting image to carry on the memory." Loghain scowled fiercely at this remark, provoking the king's laughter again. "You do remember how it's done, don't you?"
The teyrn's voice was dry. "No, Maric. Why don't you describe it to me in fine detail."
"Eh, I'd just get it wrong. But there's this book I found Cailan sneaking around with, The Art of Passionate Love by Brother So-and-So. Banned by the Chantry, I understand. Very enlightening." Maric wore a mischievous grin.
"Tell me, wouldn't you rather go sit with the women? I'm sure they'd be much more entertained by all your sly chatter than I am."
Loghain's scowl had softened to a wry grin. It was probably the wine at dinner and now the brandy, but it felt a little like old times, before there had been a woman between them and a kingdom on their shoulders. Perhaps there was something to what Maric had said, about happiness still a possibility even with so many years of struggle behind them and the pressures that remained. One thing he had learned the hard way, however, was that no happiness, not even the smallest, came without a price. He wondered how dear the price would be for Lady Cousland.