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"My dear, I believe there are more cells in the next room," Wynne said gently, touching Una's arm.
"What? Cells?" Una blinked, trying to clear her head, to remember where she was and why. "Yes. Let's clear those out." She took a step and her knees gave way beneath her. Zev was immediately at her side, taking her arm and holding her up.
"Breathe, cara. Let the emotions settle until you are yourself again."
Oghren nodded, his face unusually sympathetic. "Felt the same after Branka. Took all the oomph out of me once it was over."
Una nodded, closing her eyes until the dizziness passed. She straightened, tugging her arm away from Zev. "I'm okay," she said. "Just … want to get this finished." She stepped over the body on the ground, resisting the urge to spit on it, an unladylike action her mother would never have approved of.
"Hey! HEYYYY!" A loud voice was coming from one of the cells.
"I think I know that man," she said softly. "Let's save him for last." If he was Vaughan Kendalls, she didn't want to deal with him until she had felt stronger.
"As you say." Zev was watching her with concern, and she shook her head at him impatiently, turning to a cell where a man who wore only a loincloth crouched, looking up at them beneath the overgrown locks of his shaggy hair.
"Maker have mercy on me … your faithful servant. Grant me … grant me a place … at your side," he was whispering in a hoarse and broken voice, faltering as he spoke as though the words were unfamiliar to him. The voice was Fereldan, though, a Bannorn accent, educated and polished. "Grant me the cleansing flames. Andraste … Bride of the … of the Maker, have mercy on me. Please, mercy."
"Who are you?" Una asked, gripping one of the bars of his cell.
At her voice, he leaped backward, then crept cautiously back into the light. "Alfstanna? Alfstanna, is that you, little sister?" he asked, with an almost pathetic eagerness.
The name was familiar to Una, and she tried to place it. Where had she heard that name before?
"No," the man said sadly in his broken voice. "I don't know you. Do I? Are you—are you real?"
"Soddin' right we are," Oghren said.
Una moved closer to the bars. "Are you all right?"
"Alfstanna?" he asked again, brightening momentarily until he remembered that Una wasn't his sister. "I ... don't know. Where is my sister? Have you seen her?"
"Wait, I know you," Una said, suddenly remembering where she'd heard the name. "I've seen you before, at parties. Your sister is Bann Alfstanna of the Waking Sea, and that would make you …"
"Irminric. Knight-lieutenant of the Denerim Chantry." There was an almost automatic pride in the words as Irminric wrapped himself in the last shreds of his identity, but it dropped away as fear suddenly overtook him and he shrank away from the bars again. "You—you aren't one of the Teyrn's men, are you?"
"No. Definitely not."
He nodded sadly. "I failed, you know. I failed in my duties, Maker forgive me, and there's no telling what he's done now."
"What are you talking about?"
"The …" Irminric moved closer to the bars, his voice dropping. "The maleficar. He had turned blood magic on Templars and Circle mages to escape the Tower."
"Jowan," Wynne whispered softly, with pain.
"I cornered him at Redcliffe," Irminric went on. His eyes were bright with the memory, and Una thought she could imagine what he looked like before his imprisonment.
She wondered briefly what the Knight-lieutenant of Denerim had been doing in Redcliffe. It was the other side of the country, for the Maker's sake! Maybe Irminric had been sent there for other reasons, to get him out of the way? There was no way of finding out from him, though.
Irminric's face fell. "The teyrn's men took him from me, and they brought me here."
Loghain. Setting Jowan free to poison Eamon, imprisoning a Knight-lieutenant of the Chantry with Howe's willing collusion. Throwing the battle of Ostagar for reasons still unknown, usurping his own daughter's throne. What more? What other sickening revelations awaited her? Una closed her eyes, wishing to be somewhere far away from here, somewhere safe and clean and warm.
But Irminric was still talking, blaming himself for Loghain's actions, and Una's heart went out to him, broken and anguished as he was. "That's not your fault," she said, although she didn't expect her words to get through to him.
"I should have been more careful, Andraste forgive him," he whispered, getting to his knees in the filthy cell. "I—" Suddenly he broke off, looking up at Una with a startling clarity in his eyes. "You are real, aren't you? My dreams are so strange now." He got up again, his hands gripping the bars of the cell. "Please, if you're not a dream, help me."
"What do you want me to do?"
He nodded at her response. His face twisted, as though something hurt him, then cleared again. Twisting a heavy signet ring off his finger, he held it out to Una through the bars. "Please, give this to my sister, Alfstanna. Tell her … tell her I'm sorry. Please." He let go of the bars and retreated into his cell, his voice cracking again. "Ask her to pray for me." There was a silence, and then he began babbling again, the moment of sanity gone.
"We should do something," Wynne said softly.
"Yes." Una stared at the ring, wondering how it was that Howe had never taken it from Irminric. Didn't want to be caught with the signet ring of House Eremon, probably. Easier to let the ring stay on the rotted hand, keeping the owner barely alive in a place where no one was likely to find him. She wanted to go back to Howe's body and kick the sick bastard in the face.
"Una?" Wynne asked.
"I'm all right. I wish I could say the same for him."
"What do we do with the blighter?" Oghren asked.
"We cannot take him from that cell against his will," Zev said, in a voice that made it very clear that he knew what he was talking about.
"No, you're right, but we can't leave him there, either."
"Do you know his sister? We should go to her, quickly."
"She should be in town for the Landsmeet. Let's find her as soon as we're finished here." It would mean putting off going back to Eamon's house and dealing with Riordan before Alistair could fall under the spell of his Warden knowledge, and putting off the moment when she could collapse in Alistair's arms and cry and sleep and hold onto him for whatever security she could find in the insanity of the world, but Irminric had been through enough. He deserved the comforting embrace of someone who loved him more than she did.
"HEYYYY!" came an extremely aggrieved shout from the next cell, and Una groaned. There was no doubt about the voice—it was Vaughan Kendalls, and she would have to deal with him. Briefly she entertained the idea of simply walking off and leaving him there to be someone else's headache, but he was the Arl of Denerim now, after all, and his influence in the Landsmeet would be invaluable. That assumed he could be trusted, naturally, but after being locked in a dungeon by his father's usurper couldn't have left him with any very kindly feelings toward Loghain.
"Hello, Vaughan," she said, stepping in front of his cell.
His eyes nearly bugged out of his head. "Una? Una Cousland? I— we all thought you were dead."
"She takes a great deal of killing," Zev said, softly and with affection.
Vaughan's gaze flicked toward Zev and away with a thinly disguised sneer. "Where is that little weasel, Arl Howe?" he asked Una. "I'm going to flay him alive for putting me in here. I'm the Arl of Denerim, by the Maker!"
"He's dead," Una said flatly.
"Warden here killed him," Oghren chortled. "Bang! Crack! Popped his neck like a deepstalker's."
Vaughan frowned, studying Oghren as though he was a bug. "Surely you are imagining things. Lady Cousland is—" He looked Una over, and his tone became pained. "A lady, however little she looks like one."
"Not anymore. I'm a Grey Warden now. What are you doing in here?"
"What do you think? Cooling my heels while Howe steals my Arling! After all our troops were lost at Ostagar, Howe came here with his men to reinforce the garrison—or so he said. As soon as I let him into the palace, he threw me in here."
"You didn't know a secret way out? I find that hard to believe." These dungeons clearly were older than Vaughan, and they were just the kind of place Una imagined him playing in as a young boy.
"Howe sealed it up," he said sulkily.
"What reason did he give for your disappearance?"
"'One more victim of the elven uprising'," Vaughan quoted bitterly.
"The elves rebelled? Why?"
"You need to ask, my Warden?" Zev said.
Una frowned at him, then remembered the elf they had freed from the other cell, and his story that Vaughan had interrupted his wedding and stolen his bride. In the battle with Howe, she had forgotten.
Vaughan smirked. "You know how elves are. Every now and again they start to think they're people, and you have to put them back in their proper place."
Una would have liked to see him stranded in the Brecilian Forest at the mercy of the Dalish, although she suspected even that wouldn't change his tune. Distasteful as she found his opinions on this topic—and most others, she remembered—that didn't change the fact that he was still the rightful Arl of Denerim.
"They've called a Landsmeet. As your father's heir, you have a voice in the assembly. You could be a powerful speaker for whichever faction you choose to support."
"And you want my vote."
"And you want out of this dungeon."
They stared at each other.
"You say Howe is dead?"
Vaughan nodded. "You have my vote."
He brightened, taking an eager step toward the door.
"One more thing."
"What is it?" Vaughan asked, alarmed.
"The elves. You will make restitution to them for the depredations you've committed, especially to the young man whose wedding you disrupted, and you will be the driving force after the Blight for cleaning up the alienage."
"Why would I do that?"
"Because I could kill you right now." She smiled at the surprise and the fear in his eyes. "And because I'm giving you back your arling despite your crimes, and because I'm going to save this country and the world from darkspawn."
"You and what army?"
Oghren bellowed with laughter. "You're lookin' at it, son!"
"Believe me," Una said. "Besides which, if I don't defeat the Archdemon, you'll face a far worse death at the hands of the darkspawn than any you've ever dealt to a helpless elf."
"Fine," Vaughan snapped. Una had few illusions that he would keep his promise later, but she would find a way to deal with that then. The promise was enough, for now.
She nodded to Wynne, who looked doubtful as she leaned in to freeze the lock, which then broke under a blow from Una's hammer.
"Mages, too, along with elves and dwarves? Quite the band of miscreants you've gathered."
"Powerful, too. And with good memories. Zev here used to be an Antivan Crow." Una saw that Vaughan knew the Crows very well—no doubt he'd been party to their hiring once or twice. "He's got no love for people who mistreat elves … or who break their word to old friends. And he's very good at being where you don't expect him to be, if you follow my meaning."
Vaughan's gaze settled on Zev directly for the first time, and Zev smiled at him. The elf was all Crow for the moment, dangerous, serious, and not to be trifled with. "I get you," Vaughan muttered.
"Good. You're free to go."
"I'll, uh … see you at the Landsmeet." Vaughan hurried by them, flinching when Zev casually laid a hand on his dagger hilt just as Vaughan passed him, and then Vaughan was gone, presumably heading upstairs to begin taking back his arling.
"You seem unconcerned by his attitudes," Zev said.
"Vaughan's not a fan of elves. He mistreats them. I know that. I also know he isn't the only member of the Landsmeet of whom that's true." Una sighed. "If I refused to treat with anyone whose personal habits or attitudes I don't like, I'd never get anywhere and we might as well let the Archdemon walk all over Ferelden. Unpleasant as the nobility can be, unpleasant as the people's prejudices might be, my job today is getting aid against the Blight. Tomorrow it might be standing up for the rights of the elves, or the mages … but we're not there yet, and not likely to be for some time yet to come." She looked Zev in the eye. "Can you live with that?"
He nodded, although he didn't look happy about it. Frankly, Una was a bit surprised; she'd never thought of Zev as a particular champion for the rights of elves. He seemed mostly fairly uninterested in his own people. Still, she thought, following as Oghren and Wynne led the way back to the upper levels, blood will tell. No doubt Zev occasionally felt the tug of his ancestors when he witnessed the evils done to other elves, and all things considered, Una respected him for still being able to have those feelings after the job the Crows had done on him in his training.