Posting for my wife, who is away for work for a few days. She's got some more in the hopper and thanks everyone for their support. I'm just the beta. Any suggestions and input are most welcome.
Combatant – heraldic term for two rearing animals facing each other
Denerim in the Royal Palace
This was the moment she had longed for and dreaded for so long.
They came there under the banner of parley, unarmored and bearing only sword and dagger for defense. Alice wore an emerald green dress, the color of Highever, with a broach bearing the two-headed griffon and Alistair wore a red and gold doublet, emblazoned with the combatant wolves of House Theirin. The Warden bit her lip as she adjusted Starfang in its scabbard at her hip. It was about the only thing that gave her strength at this moment. That, and the man by her side. She reached out and grasped his arm momentarily in her doeskin gloved palm.
The tromp of boots grew louder and louder and the Warden gritted her teeth as the man who murdered her house and family grew closer and closer. She fought down a wave of nausea in her gut as she looked upon his face, her hate and venom focused right between his eyes as if her rage alone would shoot through his skull like an arrow. Her muscles twitched and she placed the palm of her hand on Starfang's grip. Another's hand covered hers.
"Stay calm, love." It was Alistair. "This is neither the place nor the time."
"Promise me it will be soon," she whispered back.
"I swear it."
The Warden worked spit up into her mouth to ward off the sour taste on her tongue and nodded slowly, letting her hand fall back to her side. Then, the enemy stood before them – Regent Loghain, Ser Cauthrien and he, the butcher himself. The three were dressed as royalty in silk doublets, lined with fur and wearing golden livery collars of office. Howe had the audacity to wear the chain of the Teyrn of Highever and, if she could have, the Warden would have ripped it from his neck.
She could not watch as Arl Eamon bowed low before Loghain and spouted pleasantries and the regent was nothing but bombast as she had always known him to be. When the regent spoke of his leadership in the army, she could hold her tongue no longer. "Like you led in Ostagar? You've lost your touch…regent. Perhaps it is time to retire," the Warden said and then reached into her pouch. She held up the livery collars of Bann Pelham and Ser Sinton along with those of a dozen more bann, captured from the rout of Loghain's army at Castle Telmen. "Do you want these back?" she said with a provocative wink at Ser Cauthrien.
Cauthrien bristled, her hand moving to the grip of her sword and the Warden obliged, following suit. "I'll have your head, Warden!"
Alice was ready. If she had to kill here, then so be it. Consequences be damned. "You remember Starfang, don't you? She'd love to see you again."
Loghain was too smart and too experienced to take the bait of a hotheaded girl. He subtly shifted his body to stand between the Warden and Cauthrien, diffusing the imminent bloodshed. "Ah, Eamon, I see you have found a new follower for your cause." He pursed his lips and made a curt bow to her. "Lady Cousland." He then turned back to the arl and crossed his arms in a grand gesture. "I hope you have recovered, Eamon," he said in mock courtesy, "but, it is said that you no longer have the wits to advise Ferelden. Feeble was the word used."
"Recovered from your poison, regent? Yes, even your agent, this…this Jowan, revealed all. Your tool has been quite useful, you know. And, my recovery, it was quite a miracle, I assure you," Eamon replied with a nod to the Warden. "As I assure you that I am quite fit." The arl's mood darkened several shades before he continued. "Let us take this before the Landsmeet and see who sides with Ferelden against your sycophants."
Loghain snorted. "It had been a long time since you've been to Court, Eamon. The landscape of Ferelden has changed considerably as have opinions. The Court knows where its bread is buttered and who will keep them safe. It is only when rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf do the people sleep securely in their beds at night," he said with a thump on his chest. "And for that, I have men such as Rendon Howe," he added, staring directly at the Warden, "the Arl of Amaranthine and the Teyrn of Highever."
Alice didn't twitch. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction.
Howe chuckled his smarmy chuckle. "And, don't forget the Arl of Denerim now too after what happened to poor Urien at Ostagar. Pity. The regent is most kind to those with loyalty."
The Warden stuck her tongue out and then curled it up. "So, bootlicking is profitable, eh?"
Howe stepped back and laughed, but Cauthrien exploded. "Watch yourself, churl! Your Grace, let me run her through. I'll avenge our men that she butchered."
"I spared them…the prisoners. No heads on pikes. No drawing and quartering…this time. That's for another group."
"Enough," the regent said, holding his hand up to keep Cauthrien back. Loghain seemed impressed by the Warden's mercy. His expression softened and he nodded, almost as a thanks. He looked at Eamon's party, one by one, his penetrating gaze stealing into each soul. "I had hoped to talk you all down from this rash course of action," he said, the earlier bombast having faded into genuine concern. "The people…our people are frightened. The king is dead and our land is under siege. We must be united now, of all times now, if we are to endure this. King Maric, Queen Rowan and I worked tirelessly to bring Ferelden together. Let us not destroy this!" he said, his voice growing again to that of the roar of a lion.
Alistair stepped forward now, his finger nearly in Loghain's chest. "You're the one who divided Ferelden. You betrayed King Cailan. I saw his stripped and frozen body after the battle, crushed and filled with arrows. I was the one who sent our king to his final rest after you ran like a coward."
The regent snarled, his earlier fire returning. "I was not talking to you, pretender."
Eamon huffed, but still remained the cool politician. "I cannot forgive you for what you have done, Loghain. Perhaps the Maker will, but not I. The people need a ruler of the Theirin bloodline. Prince Alistair has declared for the throne. He will rule Ferelden. He will lead us to victory."
Alistair grasped the Warden's hand. The enormity of the situation seemed to be sinking in on him. "Oh, is that all I have to do, huh? No pressure there." She felt for him with the weight of Ferelden's future hanging on his success or failure. It was not a small load to bear.
Loghain's patience was wearing thin. "The Emperor of Orlais also thought he could destroy Ferelden. If you continue to threaten our kingdom, expect no more mercy than I showed him. There is nothing I would not do for my homeland," he said and turned on a dime, leaving the party watching their departure. Cauthrien turned back and made eye contact with the Warden. There was an understanding between the two woman warriors – there would be an end to this thing soon and only one would walk away.
Eamon adjusted his flatcap and gave an irreverent smirk. "That was…rather bracing. I did not expect the regent to show his hand so soon. We need to find allies and show Loghain's duplicity. We will need eyes and ears in the city to that end."
Alice could feel the heat flow from her face as she watched Howe disappear through the doors. Many had fallen to her sword, Gaxkang the Unbound, Flemeth and even a High Dragon, but there was only one monster that needed to taste her steel. She glanced back and forth with Alistair and Morrigan and a smile crossed her painted lips. "Eyes and ears, Arl Eamon, I think we have that covered."
"Really? You surprise me, Warden."
"I have friends in low places. We will not want for information."
"Good. That will be good indeed. Just to let you know, Connor and Amethyne are getting along splendidly. My own guards are seeing to their safety."
"Your guards, Arl Eamon? I thought my former werewolves were Amethyne's security."
"About that…I sent them on an errand back to Soldiers Peak. Do not worry. Your daughter will come to no harm under my supervision."
Something gnawed at Alice's gut, but she couldn't quite place it. "Please remember, my lord, Amethyne is my daughter."
"I shan't. Now, let us focus on the task at hand. We must find the root of Loghain's schemes and turn them to our advantage. Find the nobles who have arrived for the Landsmeet. We must know who will support us."
"And then, we will have justice."