Maric was dead, to begin with. That had started all this mess, Loghain reflected darkly. If the impetuous fool hadn't taken off in that ship none of this would have happened. Maric would never have been in the front lines at Ostagar, the way Cailan had been, Loghain told himself as he slogged through the muddy streets of Denerim. It rained all the time these days, as though he had brought his own personal thundercloud with him when he'd taken up residence in this Maker-forsaken den of blackguards and fools.
Two of those fools, thorns in Loghain's side for months now, had finally been captured. As the doors of Fort Drakon opened before him, Loghain felt a small amount of satisfaction. And gratitude to his daughter Anora and his lieutenant, Ser Cauthrien, for managing to put Maric's bastard and his companion, that Cousland puppy, behind bars. With those two out of the way, maybe Ferelden could finally make some headway against the darkspawn.
As he approached the cell, the two nearly naked occupants scrambled to their feet, standing at attention. Despite their wounds and the filthy smallclothes, there was a dignity about the two young men, one so fair and one so dark. Loghain was struck again at the extraordinary resemblance the bastard bore to Maric. Cailan had looked like his father … but this one, this Alistair, was Maric all over again.
"Teyrn Loghain." It was the Cousland, impatient and imperious, like all his ilk. "Is there something we can do for you?"
"I believe you've done it already," he said, nodding at the bars that imprisoned them. "Wouldn't it have been easier to have turned yourselves in after Ostagar, saved us all the time and trouble you've caused?"
"We've caused!" It was the bastard, his hands gripping the bars of the cage, white-knuckled. "You dare to speak to us of Ostagar, after what you did?"
"Alistair," the Cousland said, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. The bastard subsided, but his eyes still blazed. "Loghain, what do you want down here?" said the Cousland brusquely. "You need the Grey Wardens to end the Blight—we all know that. So either let us out now so we can finish this, or get out of the country and wait for the horde to come for you."
It was funny, Loghain reflected, looking at the two of them, how much they reminded him of himself and Maric at their age. What a long time ago that seemed, their whole lives ahead of them. Loghain shook his head impatiently. No time for mooning about like a ninny. "I just wanted to be sure you two were comfortable down here."
"Peachy," the bastard sneered sullenly. "Just like being back in the Chantry."
"Well, you should feel right at home then," Loghain said. He turned his back to them, leaving the jail cell. Whatever had possessed that fool of an Eamon to send Maric's son to the Templars? It never ceased to amaze Loghain that Rowan, who'd had the heart of a lion, had such milksops for brothers. He supposed Teagan wasn't too bad, but Eamon was the most hidebound stuck-in-the-past old fogy Loghain had ever had to deal with.
It was a relief to exit the dungeons, smelling as they did of blood and sweat and excrement. Almost as much a relief as knowing that the Grey Wardens were safely under lock and key. Loghain strode through the ever-present drizzle toward the Alienage. Even if he hadn't known where it was, the smell would have led him there. It was only marginally better than the dungeons, and the sounds, the shriekings and moanings, were worse.
Looking neither right nor left, but always wary—most of the elves were pretty downtrodden, but some still had the energy to band together—Loghain strode through the filth, ignoring the dead dogs and other refuse that lay strewn across the ground. His destination was a small shack, impossible to differentiate from the other shacks if it weren't for the forbidding men in Tevinter robes standing guard.
The Tevinters stepped aside as Loghain approached, allowing him to go up the rickety steps and through the flimsy door into the building. More Tevinters filled the room, filling out papers and inspecting the few elves in the room.
"All in good health, I presume," Loghain said sarcastically to a dark-haired Tevinter elf in full armor.
She snorted. "Good enough for our purposes," she said. "Come to count your money?"
"I have." He bent over the desks, checking the logs. Regrettable, really, selling good Fereldan elves to the Tevinters, but the country's coffers were nearly empty, thanks to Cailan's constant extravagances. There had to be a way to make money, to rebuild the country. As he straightened up, he thought of Maric again, thought of how cocksure they had been that once they took the country back, everything would be fine. Typical Maric, Loghain thought with an irritated sigh, to die young and escape all this, leaving it to Loghain to clean up the mess. Again.
He made his way back out of the Alienage in the gathering darkness. Denerim was dreary enough during the day, but at night it became downright squalid. He would be glad to get back to the palace.
As he crossed a muddy street, Loghain thought he saw Maric standing in a doorway on the other side. His first thought was that some idiot had let the Grey Wardens escape. Loghain sped up, anger fueling his steps, but by the time he reached the doorway, no one was there. He shook his head. Clearly he had missed his dinner time—hunger must be addling his wits.
The meal was being served by the time he reached the dining room in the palace. Anora was waiting in her place, her napkin already in her lap. She looked up, smiling tightly, as he came in. "Father. How was your day?"
"Most excellent. And yours?"
"I barely escaped Rendon Howe's home with my life, and you used me as a cats-paw to capture two men. Something shy of excellent."
Loghain's head snapped up, staring at her. Anora's eyes were downcast, and she leaned forward to pick up her soup spoon. The great bulk of her belly, where Cailan's child awaited birth, got in her way, and she put the spoon down, pushing the plate back with a sigh.
"May I remind you, my dear, that had you stayed in the castle as I ordered you to do, Rendon Howe would not have been able to hold you hostage."
She threw her napkin aside, and putting her fists on the table, she rose, glaring at him. "I am the Queen of Ferelden! It is my place to be among my people, not stuck here in the palace like some kind of fancy doll."
"And I told you I would take care of it. There's no reason for you to distress yourself." He ate a spoonful of soup, unperturbed by her outburst.
"What kind of a child do you think I am?"
"My child. And you'll do as I say." He was concerned for her, getting herself worked up this way. Much better for him to take care of her so she wouldn't have to worry about anything.
Anora stared at him angrily for a moment, then turned on her heel and waddled hastily from the room.
Loghain finished his meal, regretting the coolness between himself and his daughter. What he did, he did for her, for his grandchild, and for Ferelden. He wished she could see that. Perhaps she would, in time, once the babe had arrived.
He stretched out in a chair before the fire in his quarters. The palace was quiet by this time, and, save for an occasional shriek or burst of drunken laughter, so was Denerim. So Loghain was perfectly able to hear the bell ringing at the front door. The ringing went on for an inordinately long time. Loghain idly wondered where all the servants were. It kept on until Loghain couldn't tell if the ringing was real or just in his ears. Eventually it was replaced by another sound—a steady drip drop that seemed to be coming closer down the hall.
Loghain sat tensely forward in his chair, listening to the dripping as it grew louder. Finally it stopped outside his door, and he could hear the droplets landing on the carpet. After a long moment in which Loghain was too fascinated to breathe, a dull thud sounded on the other side of the door.
He was out of his chair before the reverberations ceased. "Who is it?" he called, but only more dripping replied. He stood for a long moment, considering the door and what might be on the other side of it. His interest was piqued, he admitted it, all the more so because there was no one alive who knew how the properly applied touch of whimsy could intrigue him. Another knock sounded on the door, and Loghain could smell the salty tang of seawater, the dampness seeping in under the door. "All right," he muttered to himself, striding across the room and flinging the door open. Immediately, he recoiled.
Standing there in the hallway was Maric. A pale, bloated Maric, hung with seaweed and dripping water all over the floor. He grinned cheekily. "Miss me?"
Recovering his equanimity, Loghain peered out into the hallway past the specter. Whoever was behind this grotesque joke would pay dearly, he thought.
"Don't bother," Maric said. "I'm here for you."
"Right," Loghain drawled. "Come from your watery grave just to torment me. Of course, why would that surprise me?" He stepped back as the dripping vision entered the room, not wanting those dank clothes touching him.
"It really shouldn't," Maric agreed equitably.
Loghain pinched himself surreptitiously, and Maric laughed. Loghain had a sudden vision of Maric's son shivering naked in a cell in Fort Drakon, and frowned at his own sense of disquiet. The bastard deserved it for selling himself to those Orlesians, he told himself.
"Something wrong?" Maric asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Just wondering what I ate to cause this disagreeable vision."
Maric crossed the room, seaweed littering the floor where he had walked, and settled into a chair—Loghain's chair—near the fire with a contented sigh. A rank steam rose from him as the fire's heat met his wet skin. "I'm not a bit of underdone potato, so stop grasping at straws. Sit down, Loghain," he said. "Don't stand there gaping. We're wasting time."
"Wasting time? What else do you have?"
"I have plenty. You have very little." Maric's smile faded, and he sat forward, the leather of the chair squelching beneath him. "You've got to make this right, Loghain. Before it's too late."
"This is about that bastard of yours, isn't it?"
"Alistair?" Maric's eyes were far away. "Not entirely."
"You and I, Loghain," Maric began, sitting back in the chair and sending a fresh gush of water over the floor, "we did a great thing. We took our country back from the Orlesians, won peace for our people. And now look at it. Under attack from the darkspawn, in the beginning stages of civil war—it's ripe for another takeover."
"Don't you think I know that?" Loghain snapped. "It's what I'm trying to prevent!"
"By selling the elves? Locking up the last two Grey Wardens? Loghain, I wasn't a very good king. Not trained for it, not ready for it. Rowan was the ruler here, much as your Anora has been the ruler in Cailan's stead. With Rowan gone …" Maric's voice trailed off, and Loghain glared darkly at him. "She says hello, by the way."
"Indeed." Loghain refused to rise to the bait. "Get to the point, Maric."
"All right, then, the point. You will be visited by three spirits."
"Oh, this keeps getting better and better. This delightful interlude isn't enough?"
"No. These three spirits will help you to guide our nation through this trial, and hopefully help you come out the other side in one piece. And at peace. Loghain," Maric said, and his puffy drowned face looked up at the Hero of River Dane, "Ferelden is in your hands. Guide it well. Or it will go badly, not just for the country, but for you personally."
He heaved himself up out of the chair, the bitter smell of the seaweed following him out the door. Loghain was left standing there, staring at the open door and the piles of wet seaweed left there. "When haven't things gone badly for me personally?" he shouted after the spirit, just to keep Maric from having the last word.