Chapter 25 Cauthrien

Two days. Two days since her world shattered, and there is no-one else to blame but herself.

Necessary or not, I betrayed him.

Two days. Filled with guilt and remorse, doubt and self-hatred.

Two days which she spent in the seclusion of her quarters. No-one came to issue commands, or put her under arrest. Those who came for commands from her she turned away: she is in no position to command others.

'This is vital, Cauthrien. Don't fail me.'

The last words he ever spoke to her.

And I failed him in the worst possible way.

Two days was long enough, she finally decides. Carefully, she dons her armour. She checks the blade of her sword – his gift to her – before she returns it into its scabbard.

There is no way I can carry on like this. There is but one way out.

She can feel eyes on her, and hear the whispers as she passes by but she does not care; she knows who her people are and where she will learn what she needs to know.

Sometimes, things turn out in a very expectable way.

He took over the study.

There are no guards at the door; their absence sharply reminding Cauthrien of her guilt, though it also makes her task easier.

Cousland is sitting behind the table – Loghain's table! – and raises his head as she enters and bars the door behind her. Nonetheless, he does not bother to stand up even though he must see the bare sword in her hand.

He still makes no move as the point of her sword stops mere inches from his chest. "Get up and take out your sword, or I kill you as you are," she orders.

"And why should you do so?" he asks calmly.

Her sight is almost blinded with rage. "Why? You bloody liar! You promised that you would let him live!"

He slightly tilts his head. "If you care to recall our exchange, I never worded such a promise."

"But you mislead me to believe so!"

"Would you rather have been killed then?"

Cauthrien has to gulp, aware that her emotions are getting the better of her. Why did I ever let you live? "My own life does not matter! But him – how could you do that! For all his faults, he was still a great man! You already defeated him, there was no need to cut off his head! Why did you do that? Did you really hate him so much?"

He speaks very softly. "You are not the one I am answerable to."

"No? You bloody bastard, you owe me at least that!"

"Owe you?" His voice barely changes but Cauthrien sudenly feels chill running down her spine. "I do owe you – a couple of broken bones and a nice little session in the torture chamber, and that debt certainly remains unpaid."

Cauthrien finds herself perspiring and it takes a great effort not to stray from his eyes. I shouldn't have let him talk, she thinks. Her mistake is obvious but it is too late now, the words have prevailed.

Unexpectedly, Cousland leans back and folds his arms. "Fortunately, I do not intend to wring out my dues. I may even answer your question, if you answer mine."

"What question?" Her voice is unnaturally rasp.

"Did Loghain unleash Howe on my family, or did he only cover it up afterwards?"

Oh, Maker. "I… do not know."

His eyes are like empty holes… to a bottomless abyss. "You certainly have an opinion. As Loghain´s second, you… must have overheard things."

What do I tell him? That abyss might as well open under her feet. "There – there were all possible kinds of rumours going around. Most… most of them I knew were unbased. Some of them were true – and yet others were such as I knew nothing about." She takes a deep breath. "Those of your family… were the ones I didn't know about, and didn't care."

Slowly, he nods. "Thank you, Ser Cauthrien, for answering my question – and I believe I have also answered yours." He stands up right against the point of her sword. "Now… I have seen too many blades to be impressed by one more, so kindly put it away unless you wish to try your luck with me right now."

Oh, she does, her hand aches to plunge the sword in his body, to see life vanish from those eyes which already seem lifeless like cold stone. "Not only did you kill him, you also made his daughter turn against him…" She feels her hand trembling." You used her against him and then threw her away!"

"I did. She betrayed me, I betrayed her – now that is definitely a debt I never leave unpaid."

"How did she possibly betray you?"

He tilts his head again. "Am I truly supposed to believe that her father would have put her life in danger? Tell me, Ser Cauthrien –" his voice suddenly snaps – "how did you learn that I killed Howe, or of my presence at the estates at all?"

"Loghain told me –" she blurts and then stops as her throat tightens.

"Loghain told you," Ned Cousland repeats softly. "She had a disguise ready in case we should encounter Howe's or Loghain's men – but how could Howe´s men poise a problem if I have already dealt with their master, and why care about your folk at all if she did not at least suspect your arrival? Yet, she did not warn me, and did nothing, nothing at all to help me after I had just risked my life to help her."

"She wouldn't have been able to prevent anything! But you, first you robbed her of her father, then of her throne –"

"Cailan's throne, if you please, and I passed it to Cailan's brother, who was so merciful that he did not have her executed on the spot and even made her his successor for the time being! Would she have shown him such mercy, were their places exchanged? You must forgive me if I value my own life, or his, for that matter, too much to leave it at the whim of Loghain's daughter."

Cauthrien is seriously afraid that she might swoon, or retch, or start screaming. Instead, she manages a hoarse whisper. "You have an excuse for everything, don't you?"

He slightly frowns. "I'm telling you the reasons, since I do owe you at least that." He steadies the tip of her sword with his bare hand. "Do you intend to use it or not?"

Her shoulders sink as she realizes that she does not; her anger spent, she is bereft of the will and strength to carry out her plan. Embarrassed, she returns the useless sword into its sheath. "So sure you were I would not use it against you," she mutters bitterly. There is nothing, nothing left for her, not even her self-esteem; he has taken it all. "You would not even draw yours."

His eyes never leave hers. "I hoped it would not come to this." With a languid move, he throws a small object – where was he keeping it? in his sleeve? under the table? – at the wall with the tapestry of the Gwaren coat of arms. The object shatters, its content splashes on the tapestry, even the tiniest droplet issuing a spiral of smoke as it burns its way through the fabric.

Cousland walks around the table, to the door, where he stops. "Just so that you knew… As a boy, I was no different from others: we played at the battle of River Dane and we took turns to be Maric and Rowan and Loghain. Back then, I used to think that being Loghain was the best deal. I even wished to be like him. Strangely, now that I have become somewhat like him, it doesn't make me happy in the least." A pause. "As for you, Ser Cauthrien, you have time till tomorrow to determine what you wish. The new King would certainly appreciate someone who can be loyal to the extremes, and yet not be completely blinded by the loyalty. We are to depart to the south soon, and I´d like to leave the charge of the defences of Denerim with someone reliable."

And with that he strides away, leaving Cauthrien stare at the smoldering remains of the Gwaren coat of arms.

Ruins. Everything turned to ruins.

She is unsure whether she wishes to rebuild at all, or rather have the abyss swallow her.

Yet, a few weeks later, she is there, in the position Cousland offered her, watching the man and the bastard king leave, side by side, leading the army to Redcliffe. The news from the south are disheartening; the men march in grim silence. When, and if, Cousland returns... but Cauthrien will address this issue only when it arises, to sort what it is that she actually feels towards the man, and what she will do about it.

For the time being, she is only doing her duty, carrying out that which is necessary, for Ferelden - like they all do, and as Loghain would have wanted.

A/N: This is the end of the Landsmeet story. I'm going to post three one-shots that tie to it, and after that, either Ned's backstory, or his relationship with Morrigan, from her PoV. You can let me know which one you would like to see first.