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Alright... since His Father's Son needs some background information about Ned, Necessary Things, the account of the events around the Landsmeet, gets its time and place on the wiki, as well. I decided to post two chapters per a blogpost, since they are quite short and there won't be two (almost) neverending stories published at the same time. The story features various PoVs, mostly Ned and Alistair, but there will be parts from Wynne, Anora, Loghain and Cauthrien, as well. Hopefully, enjoy
Next chapter:Necessary Things 3,4
Chapter 1 Cauthrien
The gates of Denerim stand open: though the time is unsafe, the war has not touched the capital yet.
There have always been watchful eyes, following the progress of those who enter; at a time like this, even more so. The arrival of Arl Eamon Guerrin and those accompanying him does not go unnoticed.
The endgame is about to begin.
"My Lord… but, my Lord!" the exasperated servant calls in vain but dares no more: if the Lord Regent wishes to announce himself on his own, so be it, especially if the Regent's face forebodes ill.
Ill to the traitors, Cauthrien thinks as their fast steps bang loud in the corridor. She smirks inwardly but maintains an unmoved face for the show; and there's bound to be one.
She is mildly disappointed, though: the chamber door is guarded – truly, the traitors do not feel safe in their own house! – and as they approach, one of them is apt enough to alert those inside. Arl Eamon thus gains time to compose himself and greet Loghain civilly.
Cauthrien does not listen to the exchange; these are meaningless words, only a prelude to the battle, and she is a woman of swords, not words. Instead, she concentrates on the two young men standing by Eamon. The blond and more athletic of the two resembles Maric so much that there can be no doubt of his descent; too bad if he is truly the king's bastard and not an impostor as she had expected. The other, dark-haired and slenderer, seems vaguely familiar.
The Warden. He must be the Warden.
She thought he would be older. Both are, in fact, no more than in their early twenties. Both are armed, and both shift their weight in the battle stance as soon as they set eyes on the newcomers.
In response, Cauthrien shifts hers; while Maric's bastard does not move his eyes past Loghain, the Warden notices her move immediately. A warrior born, and as such assesses Cauthrien with his glance. She is unused to such scrutiny – Loghain's second, and the best sword of Ferelden, famed wide and far – she feels offended by the lack of respect. Come on, boy, wanna test? She feels the battle excitement building up inside but then his eyes move past her to the right and his face stiffens. She quickly glances that way: Arl Howe's lips curl in a small grin. She keeps a deep and profound dislike of the man but hides it well: it is not her place to criticise Loghain's choice of allies.
The debate becomes excited: the civil words gain an edge. The derision in Loghain's voice is nothing new to her; but while people normally cow when they become its target, Arl Eamon is unmoved, and the Warden stands defiant, proclaiming:
"We met in Ostagar, in case you do not remember. I am Ned Cousland, the Teyrn of Highever. And I demand the right of blood: this man here murdered my family." His narrowed eyes burn into Arl Howe.
The Arl remains complacent to the passion. "You have no rights. Any rights the Couslands had were forfeit when I revealed their treason. The teyrnir of Highever now rightfully belongs to the Howes."
For an instant, Cauthrien thinks that the young man will attack; Maric's bastard evidently shares her assumption and quickly puts a restraining hand on his friend's shoulder. Both are wrong, though: he only pales and his voice is sharp like a blade.
"You think I will tolerate you slandering my family's name? Bring your 'proofs' to the Landsmeet if you dare – I hear that murderers are still hanged here!"
Cauthrien feels her jaw drop but this is not yet an end to the insolence as young Cousland – Ned, was it? – addresses Loghain directly. "Regent, this man basely murdered his host's family under the cover of night and the king never condoned his action. I demand that you uphold the law as you are obliged to!"
"Enough!" Loghain snaps. "The traitors' rights are forfeit, as Arl Howe has said, and there is no more to it. You may be grateful that the charge of treason does not extend to your person."
His command is not heeded, though. "I take it then that it was you who condoned Howe's deed – before or after you left Cailan die, I wonder?"
Cauthrien cannot see Loghain's face but can well imagine how it flushes with wrath. "Mind your betters, young man!" she blurts, astonished at the insinuation, but no-one pays attention, taken aback by that unbelievable impudence.
Ned Cousland's dark eyes then flash back at Arl Howe who stands there, not even trying to conceal a sneer. "Enjoy your moment of glory while it lasts!"
Despite her personal feelings towards the man, this has gone too far. "You must be either very bold or very stupid to threaten the Teyrn before witnesses!"
This time she is noticed. "Since when is justice considered a threat unless by those who have to fear it?" Ned Cousland demands in a soft voice at the same time as Arl Eamon and Loghain both command: "Enough."
The young Cousland breathes rapidly but speaks no more; if glances could kill, Cauthrien has no doubt that Arl Howe would already be sprawling on the floor.
Just you try anything, she thinks, and I'll shove those words back in your throat.
With their obligation here fulfilled, Loghain turns and leaves without a goodbye: the last chance was granted, and refused. Arl Howe follows with a look of hatred, and Cauthrien closes the line, feeling the skin between her blades itch as in an anticipation of a strike.
The time of words is over; next time it will be the time for swords to speak. Her turn.
Chapter 2 Ned
"I'd much rather see Anora on the throne that a bastard of Maric's, that would be unprecedented!" The nobleman's excited exclamation rises above the hum of surrounding voices.
Not particularly reassuring, is it. Though it could have been expected.
Alistair returns Ned's look with a wry smile. "And here I thought I would be getting a hearty welcome with a feast." He takes a sip of the warm spiced wine. "Could you remind me once more why I ever agreed to this?"
And this is just the beginning. "Oh, that will come; just you never let them learn about your socks."
Both keep their voices low so as not to draw attention: the Gnawed Noble Tavern is overcrowded tonight, despite the sleeting rain. The noblemen who have arrived for the Landsmeet, the bright young people of Denerim, opportunity seekers, nosey types – all have gathered to gain advantages, coin alliances, or merely gather and spread gossip.
Alistair gives him a hurt look. "Isn't it most aristocratic, not to take care of one's underclothes?"
"You should have spent some time with my mother, you'd quickly find out the contrary," Ned mutters. The joke comes naturally, though accompanied by the usual pang of pain, undulled by time.
Though I suppose that even she would find you hopeless in this respect.
Ned drinks from his cup: the warmth descending to his stomach drives away the chill he always feels with the memory of his parents. Almost a year since…
As if provoked by his thought, the quarrelling noblemen again raise their voices, in the heat of argument and wine not heeding whoever might be listening.
"But you cannot deny that the King's advisors did die in a suspiciously short period of time! Bryce Cousland, Urien of Denerim, even Eamon –"
"Eamon's not dead," the older man snorts.
"But fell seriously ill at that time! A coincidence?"
Ned tightens his grip on the cup. "No, I don't think that was a coincidence, either," he grits through his teeth.
"Well, if the guy mysteriously disappears over the night, that will definitely not be a coincidence," Alistair remarks under his breath with a grin. "Who is he, by the way?"
Ned furtively surveys the improminent features lined with a fair beard, then rakes his memory for faces not seen in a time. "Bann Sighard of the Dragon's Peak, I should think," he assesses at last. "My father considered him a good and honourable man."
Alistair slightly raises his brows. "Then I hope that he really does not disappear overnight, he looks like a potential support for our cause. Actually, a dozen of such Sighards would come handy. And who might be that spiteful bald mongrel?"
"Bann Ceorlic," Ned replies without further looking. "He has to keep a low profile, because of his family history." Seeing Alistair's enquiring look, he explains: "His father betrayed and murdered Queen Moira – so I suppose his son would never dare to come within ten miles of anything vaguely resembling lack of loyalty."
"Well, he does seem… convinced," Alistair observes as they keep overhearing further pieces of the conversation:
"You're being very foolish. Why would Loghain leave half our own army to die when a Blight threatens? I take him at his word: The battle could not be won."
"Oh, my. Who would have thought that this was exactly what he did. I hope the guy's not going to bet money on his conviction – or maybe I do, we do need re-funding."
Alistair's sarcastic remark comes as Ned is taking another drink. When he catches his breath again, he glares at his fellow Warden: "Next time you try to kill me, could you possibly choose a more decent method? If I am to die, I hope it will have nothing to do with clove and cinnamon."
"Don't worry about that. Archdemons are not notorious for spicy tastes."
"Oh, thanks for cheering me up so much."
"You're always welcome."
Their banter is interrupted as Bann Sighard, flushed in the face, storms out of the room. Ned mouths down his cup. "Time to go," he decides. "Can't wait to tell Eamon what bright news we bring."
The streets are empty as they return to the estate. As they reach the first floor, Alistair hesitates. "It's getting late. Shouldn't we leave that for the morning?"
From where they stand, Ned can see the light under the library door, meaning Eamon is still up. I see, Leliana's waiting. "As you wish. There is certainly nothing that could not wait for the morning." He hides a smile, seeing Alistair rush off.
As Ned turns to his own room, he can also see the light under Morrigan's door: she's probably preparing one of her herbal concoctions, her eyes narrowed in concentration, her hands moving with elegant precision, her neck arching in the curve he would trace with his fingers –
Realizing that he has stopped involuntarily, Ned takes a deep breath and quickly passes by the door, to his own cold bed. I'm really not in the mood to be turned down tonight.
Enough time for bad news tomorrow. Either of them.
Though when the next day comes, the tavern gossip turns out insubstantial, compared to the story brought by the servants from the market when everyone is gathered for breakfast:
Bann Sighard's son disappeared during the night.