This was meant to come out on Wednesday, but my muse and I have not been on speaking terms this week - and visiting relatives seemed to want me to actually pay attention to them instead of staring at my computer. Thanks to everyone who has put the story on alerts and favorites, and especially to those who have taken time to review! Happy New Year to one and all!
Loghain got up off of his knees, looking around his chamber. He was alone. All the spirits had gone. The Loghain of earlier, the one who had existed before Maric's ghost had sat dripping in his armchair, would have pretended the spirits had never been there at all, and gone about his day, thinking nothing more about it.
Not now. Loghain walked across the room, throwing open the heavy damask curtains to view the grey light of dawn. It was a new day—not just for him, but for all of Ferelden. And there was no time to lose.
Energized, he threw off his nightshirt, getting dressed swiftly. His fingers shook with excitement, so that he could barely buckle his armor.
As he was moving swiftly through the palace, his daughter's maid caught up with him. "Sire," she said, "your daughter is asking for you."
Loghain stopped short. He couldn't see Anora yet. Other things had to be set right, he had to have something good to bring her when he went to apologize for what he'd done to her husband. "Tell my daughter I will come and see her later. I have … much to do this morning."
The maid's eyes flashed briefly with something he couldn't define, but she bowed her head. "Yes, sire."
He strode through the puddles toward the Alienage. The Tevinters outside the ramshackle building looked surprised to see him, but he pushed past them brusquely. Inside the building, he looked immediately for the cage where Cyrion and the others had been kept. As he had expected, they were gone—the scene the spirit had shown him had been accurate. One of the Tevinters started to ask him a question, but Loghain ignored the man, hurrying out of the hovel and through the alleys to the room where the elves waited to be loaded onto the Tevinter ships. The mage in charge, Caladrius, looked up as Loghain came in.
"Yes, sire," Caladrius said impatiently, the honorific dripping with sarcasm. "The next shipment of gold is due to arrive tonight. We were just preparing the goods." He motioned to the cages lining the walls.
Loghain started to order Caladrius to let the elves go. Then he looked around him, noticing the sheer number of the Tevinters. What had he been thinking, walking in here alone? These men were never going to turn the elves loose on his request, and he had no backup.
"I want to review them," he said. "Get them out of there."
"You can review them in the cages just as well," Caladrius said, surprised.
"What's it to you?" Loghain snapped. "I want to see them out of the cages. One of them … has some information I need, but I'm not certain which it is."
Caladrius shrugged. "As you will." He motioned to his guards to let the elves out. They shuffled forward, their eyes downcast, the picture of abject defeat. But Loghain knew not all of them were defeated. He looked for Elion, the brown-haired elf who had challenged Cyrion.
There he was, at the end. Loghain moved to stand in front of him. "Look at me, elf," he commanded. Elion looked up, his eyes smoldering with anger. "What kind of man sells his own people for money?" he asked, echoing Elion's words from last night. He kept his voice low, so only the elves on either side of Elion could hear him. "Sometimes even a black-hearted bastard can have a change of heart." Elion's eyes widened. "Will you help me?"
Elion's brow furrowed, and he shrank back slightly, as though expecting some kind of trick.
"I mean it," Loghain said urgently. "Will you help me fight?" He looked at the elves standing on either side of Elion, knowing they had heard the question. One, a red-headed man, clenched his fist, nodding slightly. The other, a blonde woman, looked at Elion in confusion, waiting for his decision.
Elion looked down the long row of dejected, unarmed, unarmored elves, then at the slightly shorter row of Tevinter archers. His eyes met Loghain's with derision. "Aren't we worth more alive?" he said quietly.
"Don't you want to show them what Fereldan elves are made of?" Loghain stepped back. He cleared his throat, raising his voice. "Elves of Denerim! You are here because of one man's greed and blindness. I can never apologize enough for what I have done—but it ends here! Join me, and let's send these Tevinters back where they came from!"
Everyone in the room stared at him, dumbfounded, for a long second. Having expected that reaction, Loghain pulled the dagger he always carried and threw it in one swift motion. It embedded itself exactly where he wanted it, he thought with pride—in Caladrius's throat. The elves still stood, staring, except for Elion and the red-headed man beside him, who ran forward, attacking one of the Tevinter archers.
The Tevinter archers were in motion by then, arrows flying. Loghain drew his sword and closed with one of them, but the others aimed for the unprotected elves, two of whom fell on the first volley.
"Don't just stand there! You outnumber them!" Loghain shouted. His sword found a weak spot in the archer's armor, driving home. The elves, several of them wounded, scrambled to find cover, except for two or three who joined Elion and his friend in the fray. Elion had taken a dagger from one of the Tevinters. "Cyrion!" Loghain shouted. "We fought together once, and we drove the Orlesians from our country! Let us do the same with these men!"
Cyrion's head snapped up, and something in his face changed, the apathy fading. Another elf, hiding behind a crate, shouted, "Your country, Loghain! Why should we fight for it?"
"Because if you don't, who's left to fight for your wives and your children?" Loghain slashed at an archer viciously. It was good to have form, to have a sword in his hand and something in front of him to fight. "Get up, you elves! No one can keep you down if you band together and fight for yourselves—not even me! GET UP!"
Cyrion was infected with the adrenaline and spirit that filled the room, and charged into the fray, his fists swinging, and most of the other elves followed him.
When the fight was over, and the Tevinters had been defeated, Cyrion looked at Loghain. "Why?"
"A friend … helped me," Loghain said. It wasn't quite the right word, but he could hardly explain about Maric's ghost. "I am sorry about your son, Cyrion. If I—I know I can't change what happened, or what I've done, but I would like to work together to make a better future for your people." He held out his hand, surprised to see that it trembled slightly as he waited to see if the elf would take it.
It took a minute. A long minute. But the elf reached forward, and the two men clasped hands.
"Thank you," Loghain breathed. "You won't be sorry. I promise."
It wasn't quite as easy as that. There were the wounded elves to care for and the fallen to mourn; the rest of the Tevinters to deal with; the other elves of the Alienage to speak to; more apologies to make; more promises. It would be a long climb to build trust between them. But as Loghain left the Alienage at last, he felt heartened that the first steps had been taken toward a new age for the elves of Ferelden.
As he hurried toward Fort Drakon, Loghain realized that for the first time in days, it wasn't raining.
The fact that none of the guards in Fort Drakon would look him in the eye should have been a clue. The extreme difficulty he had finding the jailer with the keys should have been another. Having heard Alistair mention escape the night before should have readied Loghain for the possibility. But in his haste and eagerness, Loghain didn't stop to consider any of these things, and so he wasn't at all prepared to come into the dungeon and find the Grey Wardens' cell empty.
He turned on the jailer. "Where are they?"
"I don't know, my lord. They were just gone when we came in this morning." The man shrank away from Loghain, as if expecting to be hit.
"Well, where do you think they've gone, then?" Loghain didn't wait for an answer to the rhetorical question. The jailer wouldn't really know, and he did, once he thought about it: they were at Eamon's estate. Eamon would move mountains to see that Loghain didn't get anywhere near his precious Alistair, representing as he did Eamon's only chance to seize power in Ferelden.
On the steps of Fort Drakon, a messenger from the palace caught him. "Sire, your daughter," the messenger gasped, "is most desirous of your presence."
Loghain stopped, looking at the messenger. He'd started to fix the mistakes he'd made with the elves, but he needed to set things right with Alistair, to make his peace with Maric's son, before he could approach his daughter and feel that he had truly made a fresh start. "Tell her I'll see her later," he said brusquely to the messenger, pushing past on his way down the steps.
"But, sire!" the messenger called after him. Loghain barely heard the man, his entire focus on the sticky problem of how to approach Alistair and the Cousland in Eamon's estate.
On his way to Eamon's estate, he passed through the market district. The leader of Denerim's guards, Sergeant Kylon, was speaking with a couple of heavily armored men. Loghain assumed at first that these were guardsmen, but then he saw that the men were accompanied by the red-headed woman, the Orlesian who had knelt at Alistair's grave. He stopped short, looking closely at the armored men. It was the Wardens! But to approach them here, in the marketplace, would probably provoke the Wardens to attack him. He ducked behind a display of weaponry, making a show of looking at an ornamented dagger while covertly keeping an eye on the Wardens.
They left Kylon, moving purposefully through the marketplace. Alistair was the taller, but he hung back, letting the Cousland take the lead. Just as Maric had, Loghain thought with a pang. To his surprise, the Wardens and their party—which included that preachy old mage, Wynne, he noticed now—went into the Gnawed Noble. That seemed like a foolhardy place to show themselves, knowing they were wanted, he thought. He followed them cautiously.
By the time he reached the doors of the Noble, a stream of rowdy men was exiting the establishment. The Crimson Oars, Loghain realized. How in Thedas had the Wardens managed to eject them from the Noble? Kylon's men had tried several times, to no avail.
As soon as the doorway was cleared, he hurried in, hoping to find the Wardens still in the Crimson Oars' back room. The bartender recognized Loghain as he entered.
"They's in there, sire!" called the bartender. "I di'n't know who it was, ser, honest!"
Loghain ignored the weasel, and threw the door open. Immediately upon stepping into the room, he was faced with the business end of two blades and a bow, the mage readying a spell. He pressed himself back against the door. "I mean you no harm," he said.
"You'll forgive us if we don't believe you," the Cousland said.
"If I meant to harm you, would I be here alone?"
"Who knows what you would do?" Alistair said. "You've proved you can't be trusted."
Looking into the hazel eyes, hard with suspicion and anger, Loghain was struck all over again by the extraordinary resemblance to Maric. "Your father was my best friend, lad. Did you know that?" he asked gently.
"I knew it," Alistair said. The sword point at Loghain's throat didn't waver.
"He was the most irritating man I ever met," Loghain went on, "but you couldn't help liking him. No matter how many stupid mistakes he made, how much he inadvertently hurt people, he always … believed. Maybe not in himself, but he believed in people. That everyone deserved a second chance."
"And you think I should give you one?" Alistair laughed bitterly. "Give me one good reason not to run you through right here."
Loghain's eyes shifted, and he looked over Alistair's shoulder at the Orlesian girl. She had put her bow away and was watching Alistair, her blue eyes wide and trusting. He looked back at Alistair. "Because you're a good man," he said simply. "Like your father."
Alistair swallowed hard, and the sword point shifted for the first time. "So were the men you left to die on the battlefield at Ostagar," he whispered. "You showed them no mercy."
"I thought … I didn't understand the purpose of the Grey Wardens," Loghain said. "I thought they were nothing but pawns of the Orlesians. I know better now."
"You do, do you?" the Cousland broke in skeptically. "Right."
"What is it that you want, Loghain?" Alistair asked.
"I want to stop all this," Loghain said. "I … My best friend wanted me to save his son. I find that I want that, too," he admitted. "Let us try and find a middle ground somewhere," he pleaded.
"It's a trick," Alistair said, but his tone was unconvinced.
"I think he means it," the Orlesian said. She was looking closely at Loghain. "We should give him a chance." She laid a hand on Alistair's arm, and his eyes softened as he looked at her. "What will it hurt to listen?" she asked him.
The Cousland moved first, his blade finding the sheath with a clank. "It's better than going back to jail, brother," he said to Alistair.
"How can you say that, Donal? After everything?"
"Because Duncan was a practical man," the Cousland said. "He'd have said that we can't save Ferelden while fighting amongst ourselves."
"How do you know?" Alistair asked.
"Because of everything you've told me," the Cousland said. He and the Orlesian stood close to Alistair, waiting, as the boy fought with himself.
At last the sword point moved. "Talk," Alistair said shortly. "Tell me why I shouldn't kill you."
Set free, Loghain's mind went momentarily blank. Why shouldn't the boy kill him? He'd done everything he was accused of. He'd left Duncan and Cailan on the battlefield, when he could have fought Cailan's stupid and grandiose plan. He'd sold the elves, he'd turned a blind eye when Rendon Howe murdered the Couslands in their own home. At last he said, "I loved your father, boy. You are … strikingly like him, and not just in looks. Where Cailan saw only the glory of battle, Maric saw his people, and he suffered for each drop of Fereldan blood that fell. You do, too. I see that. I was … wrong to paint an entire order with the Orlesian brush, wrong not to give them a chance to at least explain their purpose," he said. "Cailan was having secret meetings with the Empress. I didn't know what it was that he intended, but I knew … we fought hard to take back our country. I couldn't let it fall again, not because of a glory-hungry puppy who cared more for his own martial prowess than the good of his country. I am sorry for those who were caught in the middle between Cailan's arrogance—and mine."
Alistair's eyes faltered. He'd known, then, known enough of his brother's weakness to recognize the truth when he heard it.
"If not for the sake of your father, boy, forgive me for the sake of all the Fereldans who will need your blade in their defense. Together, your little group is formidable. You've led me a merry dance," Loghain admitted. "With my backing and my knowledge of battle tactics, we can end this Blight. Then, when the Archdemon is defeated … if you still don't believe that I am truly sorry, you can try to kill me. My word on it," he said. For the second time that day, he reached out a trembling hand, reaching for another man's forgiveness.
The boy's eyes were wary as he studied Loghain, but slowly, and with only the slightest nudge from the Orlesian girl, his arm came forward, and he took Loghain's hand, albeit gingerly.
Loghain could have wept with relief, if weeping had been a thing he allowed himself to do. "You won't regret this," he promised instead. "Now, you are all welcome to come to the palace, to meet my daughter. I want—to talk to you," he said to Alistair. "To tell you about your father. If you're ever in the mood to hear about him from me."
The hazel eyes lightened somewhat. "Perhaps. Someday."
It was as much as Loghain could have hoped for. And when he stepped out of the Gnawed Noble, the sun was shining on Denerim, drying the puddles and warming him all through, just as if Maric was smiling down at him. Loghain was nearly giddy as he turned his steps toward the palace, eager to tell Anora everything.
The messenger caught him almost immediately. "Sire, your daughter …" the messenger said.
"Yes, yes, I'm coming," Loghain said, breaking into a smile. And then he noticed the messenger's drawn face. "What? What is it?"
"The babe, sire. It's … You must come quickly."
Panic speared through Loghain. Had all this been for naught, then? Had he lost his grandson, and possibly his daughter, because yet again he hadn't taken her seriously? "Maker, no," he pleaded under his breath. He practically ran back into the Noble, relief soaking him when he found the Wardens and their party still there.
"Come back to tell us it's all a big joke and we're under arrest after all?" The Cousland asked, his hand on his sword hilt.
Loghain ignored him, grasping Wynne's sleeve. "Please, come quickly. You must help her!"
"Anora. The baby! Please hurry."
The mage nodded, already moving toward the door. "When we saw her yesterday, I thought she was nearly there."
"It may have been—she sent for me this morning, but I … thought it could wait. I didn't know the baby was coming." Loghain heard himself babbling, but he seemed powerless to stop the words from tumbling out. "If anything happens … I'll never forgive myself."
The palace was nearly silent, all the servants looking drawn and worried. They got hastily out of the way as Loghain practically ran toward Anora's room, dragging the mage along behind him. The rest of the party was close on her heels.
He could hear his girl crying out in pain even through the door, and he nearly broke it down in his haste to get in there. He sank to his knees next to the bed as the mage immediately moved to begin examining her. Anora's maid looked at Loghain, and at the mage, and she breathed a sigh of relief. The palace healers—pack of idiots, there more to rub Cailan's back after a bout of sparring than out of any particular talent—protested only mildly when Wynne brusquely pushed them aside.
"You're going to be fine," she said soothingly to Anora. "And the babe. It'll just take me a few minutes. Relax, if you can." She looked at Loghain. "Talk to her!"
Loghain took Anora's hand. "Norrie," he said softly. He hadn't called her that since she was a tiny girl in pigtails. "I'm here, Norrie. We're going to get the baby out, I promise."
"Father," she said weakly. "Cailan …"
"I know, pet," he said. "You don't have to say it. It's my fault he died, and you loved him, and I'm so sorry. If you'll just please hold on, I'm going to make it up to you."
"I never told him …"
"We're not very good at telling people things, are we?"
Anora groaned loudly as Wynne pushed at the baby inside her. Alistair was pressing down hard on Anora's abdomen.
"I'm going to get better at that," Loghain said. "You are the light of my life, Anora, and I am so proud of you—your strength and your intelligence and your spirit. You are a credit to your mother."
Her eyes shone with tears. "And my father," she whispered.
"All right," said Wynne. "Push, my dear."
Anora's hand tightened on Loghain. "Father?"
"I'm here," he said. "I'm not going anywhere."
Shortly thereafter, the baby's cry was heard—the healthy, lusty cry of a blond baby with the heirloom nose of his line, who was given the name of Maric Cailan Mac Tir Theirin, and who had his first nap in the arms of his Uncle Alistair.
Loghain was better than his word. He did everything he had promised, and much more. He became a revered figure to the elves, who forgave him his wrongs against their people when he led the efforts to clean up the Alienage and pushed for legislation that would make them equal citizens. To Alistair, who did not die killing the Archdemon, he was a mentor and, eventually, a friend. He learned to trust his daughter, who became Regent and was widely held to be the best ruler Fereldan had seen in an age, and to his grandson he was a tender and loving father figure. He never saw his old friend Maric's spirit again, nor any of the others, but the memory of his night with them never left him. Though he never completely lost his gruff demeanor, he no longer carried his own personal thundercloud, and it was said of him that he knew how to bring sunshine, if anyone did.