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Chapter 7 Ned
Fortunately, the young man – still a boy, in fact, no more than eighteen – swoons as they are taking him off the rack. His identity is beyond any doubts – the blond hair and fine features leave no place for speculation.
Oswyn. Bann Sighard' lost son.
Most probably crippled for life – to punish his father's lack of loyalty, or to satisfy Howe's perversion?
Howe. If I could kill you multiple times, I gladly would.
The question remains, to what extent did you act on your own, you bastard?
"The sword and the hand that wields it," he remembers the assassin's words once again. Though it hardly matters: the day you appointed him to this title, Loghain, you became responsible for his actions. And I'm going to hold you to that.
– First things first, though: the way out.
Ned rakes his hair in frustration. Going to Eamon's estate is not an option, it's too far and they would be too vulnerable on the way.
Young Oswyn whimpers as he is coming to again.
"Can you do something for him?" Ned turns to Morrigan.
With a little hesitation, she nods and kneels down. Expertly, she places her hands at Oswyn's throat and presses both his carotids for a moment, safely rendering him unconscious. "Why waste magic if this works, as well," she remarks as she gets up. "As for the rest, you'd better leave that to Wynne, I'm not going to mess something." The tone is cold but she leaves out her usual line about helping stray kittens and by the way her eyes flicker around like those of a caged wild animal, Ned can say that she is as uncomfortable in the circumstances as everyone else.
Sten does maintain his usual calm face but the composure is too perfect to be genuine. Leliana does not even pretend to be unmoved: the effort it costs her to control herself is apparent.
Feeling Ned's gaze, Leliana turns to him; then she casts a quick glance in Vaughan's direction and lowers her voice to whisper: "You should probably know something. This… room… was in frequent use even before Howe came here."
The realization comes crystal clear. "Horrible things were done to me." Here? In this very room? Oh, Leliana…
Alistair will be mad that I've taken her here. Or does he know at all?
She averts her eyes for a moment. "What are we going to do about all those people?" she asks, still in a low voice.
All those people, constrained and maltreated at Howe's whim.
A delirious templar, Bann Alfstanna's brother.
The heir of the Arling of Denerim.
Maker, thank you for this chance.
"Get them out of here, of course. I just don’t know how when a half on them are unable to walk and the other just barely so." Ned also keeps his voice low. And I have to figure out how to keep Soris and Vaughan from each other – I certainly did not free the elf just to see him murdered on the spot. I will definitely have to speak to him later, to learn some more details about our 'friend' Vaughan. Ned checks the Arl-of-Denerim-to-be: he hasn't changed his position, sitting on his heels, muttering the plans of revenge. Had I spoken to Soris first, I would have gladly let you rot in here.
If I did not need your vote for the Landsmeet so badly, I would put you back to your cosy cell. We will have to find a way to deal with you later – Alistair will not have such filth in a position of power.
As he watches Vaughan, though, it dawns on him what must be done.
"Leliana," Ned asks, "can you secure the other exit so that no-one gets in for a while?
She nods in understanding. "Yes, and lock Howe's chambers – but I cannot make sure that the door will hold if someone decides to get in before we return from Eamon's estate."
"Not from Eamon's. On the way here, we passed Arl Bryland's residence, just behind the corner."
"Can he be trusted?"
I certainly hope so. "He is on good terms both with the Dragon's Peak and the Waking Seas, so at least in this respect, yes. And he was also my father's friend." Though this does not give such credit as it used to. "We'd also better take Vaughan along, to vouch for my word."
Leliana thinks for a moment, then nods again. "This should work. What about the queen?"
Ned smirks. "Oh, I nearly forgot. She might actually whisper a word or two in Bryland's ear, as well." Though with Loghain's daughter, one may never be sure. "Let us not keep Her Majesty waiting any longer."
And let's finally get out of here.
Chapter 8 Cauthrien
Approaching footsteps, light and fast.
Cauthrien tenses and gestures at her men. Then, as the Warden and his companions enter the hall, she steps out. For a moment he freezes, his face flashing an emotion she cannot recognize; she also realizes that he is barely surprised.
"Ned Cousland. I'm here to place you under arrest for the murder of Arl Howe and his men," Cauthrien says as instructed. "Surrender, and those with you may leave."
Cousland glances from the left to the right, apparently assessing the odds; Cauthrien hopes, but does not expect, that he arrives at 'overwhelming' – and a part of her is looking forward to the fight, the test of her skill against his. Not that she is going to take any chances, her orders are clear, which spoils her expectation a bit. Nonetheless, she assesses him in preparation, seeing the marks of the previous heavy fight in his face, his posture. There are stains of blood on his armour, some of it definitely his.
Light armour, as was reported.
The Qunari looks truly impressive but he is only one; the woman with cat-like eyes is obviously a mage – too bad but her men have dealt with mages before; the rest seem unimportant. It looks like he has picked some trash in here, as well.
"Ser Cauthrien," Cousland says slowly, "I am afraid that you do not know the whole story."
"I am not here to listen to your stories," she interrupts him. She will have no traitorous talk undermine her men's loyalty or her authority – or even her conviction, for that matter. "Surrender, or fight." And she draws her sword.
In response, he draws his, and the mêlée starts. The hall is a mess of clinging swords, flying arrows, bolts of ice and fire. While most of her group engage the Warden's companions, Cauthrien and the selected three aim at Cousland himself. "Dead or alive, preferably the latter." As my Lord commands…
She holds back at the beginning, studying the Warden's style and movement. Despite the weariness that he must be feeling, he moves with deadly grace – and equally deadly efficiency, slashing at Caspar's throat through the slightest gap in his defence.
A fearsome enemy – fresh and in a full plate armour, an equal match even for herself, Cauthrien has to admit.
Even outnumbered, he will be difficult to take down. He will not allow himself being cornered, and in the constant swirling dance her crossbowmen are of little use, the shot would be too risky.
Meanwhile, the Qunari is methodically chopping his way through her men, and Leoric is brought down by an arrow which strikes seemingly out of nowhere. For a brief moment, there is fire all around and Cauthrien quickly shields her face with her forearm; the dragonbone does not even warm up.
Time to act, she decides and switches from defence to active engagement. Her action catches the Warden by surprise and wounds him in the leg – and hardly slows him at all. He fights with grim determination, completely focused on the movement of sword and shield, thrusting and evading.
Then comes the moment. Cauthrien intensifies her attack, keeping Cousland fully engaged. She moves to his right, and as she does so, Desmond disengages from the parry. He glides past the Warden's back, dropping his sword and holding the shield with both his hands.
His movement does not go unnoticed, and the Warden swirls to face the attack.
Thus it happens that by his turn, the Warden adds his own momentum as his upper arm meets the edge of Desmond's shield, driven with full strength.
Cauthrien has seen Desmond crush a skull with his bare hands.
The blow brings Cousland down on his knee with a cry of pain. His sword clangs on the floor, the right arm dangles uselessly at his side.
He is far from finished, though, as Desmond finds out at his own expense in a well-meant attempt to grab the injured arm. A shield blow – shaky but still with sufficient strength – hits him in the face and sends him spinning on the floor.
The last harm you ever do, Cauthrien thinks angrily as she springs in and administers a harsh kick in Cousland's exposed side. As he bends over, she kicks once more, with all her strength.
A wave of intense cold stops her but for the shortest instant. She grabs hold of his wounded arm and twists it behind his back, forcing him flat on the belly. With her boot between his blades, she presses the point of her sword to his throat. "Cease the fighting if you will him live!" she shouts with the voice trained in the years of practice.
Unsurprisingly, they do. The mage with cat-like eyes stares at her with hatred but the magic light between her hands disappears.
Her men gather around her and Cauthrien must suppress the urge to finish the Warden off here and now: their ranks are painfully diminished.
Maker's breath, almost a half of them in such a short while… Desmond sits on the floor, spitting blood; Caspar's unseeing eyes stare into the ceiling. More names, more corpses.
"Take him," she orders roughly, straightening up. "The rest are of no importance." She looks aside as they tie the Warden's hands behind his back and haul and drag him out, by no means gently; traitors and murderers deserve no mercy, after all. I will have to send for the bodies…
Abruptly, Cauthrien turns and follows her men into the sunlight.
"You do not know the whole story" – and I do not wish to. As soon as you're done with, there will no longer be… the need for some necessary things.
She sincerely hopes so.
Cauthrien shivers, then shakes her head. Without a single glance at Cousland, she leads her troop with their prize to the looming tower of Fort Drakon.