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WARNING! Chapter 10 is rated MATURE, for the obvious reason of Fort Drakon, so, if you're roaming this M-rated game wiki despite the fact that you're underaged, consider yourself warned that there are some disturbing scenes ahead. Not really graphic, but disturbing still - I hope.
Previous chapter: Necessary Things 7,8
Next chapter: Necessary Things 11,12
Chapter 9 Wynne
Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp.
Scratch, scratch, whine, scratch, scratch.
Wynne casts an increasingly impatient lok over her knitting needles. "Why don't you sit down for a moment, my dear? You are disquieting the poor animal." And me.
In confirmation of her words, Wolf whines again.
"They're taking too long!" Alsitair slams his fist against the wooden panelling. "Maker, this waiting is killing me!"
The room will be in the need of re-panelling soon. Wynne sighs and considers something in the line of "patience is a virtue of kings" when Alistair leans to the window. "Oh, finally – "
He never finishes and Wynne raises her head to see him stand frozen against the windowpanes. The next moment, Alistair turns and springs to the door, Wolf following him with a bark.
Wynne blinks. With a feeling of unease, she inserts the needles in the yarn and carefully puts her work aside.
She does not even reach the stairs when she hears unusual commotion in the main hall and above all, Alistair's roar: "What do you mean, 'captured'?"
Captured. Maker help us.
Maker help him.
The hall is full of people: there are soldiers with the South Reach coat of arms on their surcoats and their leader, an impressive tall man in a full plate armour, is agitatedly talking to Eamon. Leliana is sobbing in Alistair's arms while Wolf sits before them on his hinds, howling; Sten watches the chaos with his usual stoic expression, unmoved like a rock washed by tides; Morrigan –
Wynne has no idea what Morrigan might be thinking, since she looks as if she were not really there, her eyes unfocused, her expression blank.
Then Wynne feels someone's stare on her: blue eyes of a stranger, very pale and leaning exhaustedly against the wall. There is something oddly familiar about him, and when Wynne realizes that, her already speeding heart leaps up a little more: a Warden. He must be a Grey Warden. The taint within him is strong, like it used to in Duncan, and he is about the same age: a weathered, seasoned veteran. Assessing everyone and everything with cold, rational mind, like Duncan did.
Like Ned does, on occasions.
What is he doing here?
Her heart still races as she settles down in an armchair in the library where they gather for a war council of sorts. The intent is unanimous – rescuing Ned; no-one seems to think that the risk might outweigh the gain, and if they do, no-one dares to voice such an opinion before Alistair.
It is carrying out the plan that causes discrepancy.
"We must not rush things, there will be no second chance." Eamon.
"What we must is get him out as soon as possible!"
"Alistair," Leliana looks at him with red-rimmed eyes, "you cannot fight your way through all Loghain's soldiers in a frontal attack, and sneaking in requires preparations. Besides, we don't even know for sure where he is!"
"I do." Morrigan speaks for the first time since their arrival; for the first time, that distant look in her eyes disappears.
"You do? How?" Alistair's distrust can almost be felt.
Morrigan seems to be loath to answer at first. "I… gave him a ring which allows me to locate him."
Interesting. Meaning, you probably have another for yourself. What other information are you able to extract from it, I wonder?
"So, where is he?"
"There," she points. "The direction and the distance make it Fort Drakon, I believe."
The infamous Fort Drakon.
"That makes things a little clearer." Leliana gets up. "I'd better get going. We need to track the periods of changing guards, people coming in and out – "
"But Leliana, it's already almost evening!"
"There's plenty of time till the morning," she retorts and Alistair pales.
"You would let him in there through the night? Don't you realize that Ned might be killed even before we attempt to rescue him?"
She sets her eyes into his. "If they wanted him dead, they wouldn't have bothered taking him alive – but they will certainly kill him rather than let us liberate him."
Oh, Alistair. I suppose that sometimes it is better that you do not see all the options.
Leliana mercilessly continues. "Besides, they'll be expecting us to atempt something at night – everyone knows that night is the right time for sneaking in, so you may count on doubled guards and increased alertness. No-one expects anything at daylight."
Alistair's shoulders sink. "We cannot leave him in there," he insists desperately.
"I agree." The support comes from a most unexpected source: Morrigan. "We must get him out and not waste time with idle talking."
"Rush is pointless. Ned Cousland is a strong man, he can endure some discomfort through the night."
"Can he?" Morrigan hisses at Sten. "What do you think they are doing with him, serving him tea and cake?"
Her words bring about gloomy silence. Wynne opens her mouth to ask but is preceded by Riordan, who insisted at being present even despite his condition: "Is this a guess or do you actually know?"
Morrigan narrows her eyes but answers impassively: "I know that he is in pain."
"He has been injured. You can be sensing this."
Morrigan' s voice drops low, unnaturally blank. "I should have worded it more precisely, then. I can sense horror. Despair. Agony. Believe it or not, I can tell the difference. If you can offer a less sinister interpretation what it means, you are welcome."
"This makes it, then." Alistair breathes hard. "We go now."
"I'm afraid not." Wynne can feel Riordan's eyes on her, understanding. Is this age that makes one see all those dire choices? She hates her sharp mind that sees all the possibilities and consequences; she hates to be the one to bring this on Alistair but she does not shun. "If we fail, they may eventually find a way how to use him against us, and that is something we must not allow – what Ned himself would never allow. We must wait for our chance, and hope."
"Have faith, Alistair," Leliana says softly. "He will endure; the Maker will not let him fail."
If only I could share your conviction, Leliana.
But Wynne's belief in the Maker's providence transpired long ago, even before he let their glorious young king die at the hands of darkspawn, betrayed by the man who used to craddle him on his knees.
Nobody speaks. Alistair watches her with wild eyes but says nothing; yet it is Morrigan's silence that strikes Wynne most: the ever-sarcastic witch does not even snort at Leliana's remark.
Morrigan's eyes are unfocused again, looking past the walls, as if she were not truly there.
The air stinks with burnt flesh and Loghain holds his breath for a moment. A disgusting business, yet not one to be postponed. He is not the one to avoid duties.
Young Cousland hangs limp in the fetters, sweating and bloodied, his breath ragged to the point of sobbing. Without his armour he looks frailer, and not at all so proud as before. He is injured, Loghain reminds himself of Cauthrien's report; whip and iron wouldn't have got him to such a state so fast. Yet he does feel a tinge of disappointment: this one has been such a constant source of trouble for so long?
He motions the torturers to step aside and moves closer. Realizing his presence, the prisoner slowly raises his head. A moment before the dark eyes focus on him – they they fill with such intense hatred that Loghain involuntarily blinks. Not that it matters, I have seen worse from better men.
Loghain lets the silence prolong, then tilts his head and slowly scrutinizes the prisoner from head to toe.
"Quite an unenviable position, don't you think so?" he states in a matter-of-fact voice. "Nonetheless, this is all unnecessary. Yield. You are the last of the Couslands: you will be treated as such and your death will be a clean matter. You may even be graced – you are young and you were seduced by others."
Hoarse and weak as the voice is, it still brims with contempt. "Who are you trying to fool here, Loghain MacTir? We both know how things were. We both know what 'grace' you show to those who cross your way, be their subjects or kings. I will have no dealings with the likes of you, traitor and murderer!"
"You are in no position to judge others, young Cousland – yourself a traitor's son and a murderer who was caught red-handed."
"My father was no traitor!"
A passionate outcry – truly, so expectable.
The next words, however, hit closer home. "Concerning murders, did Howe give you a full report how a six-year-old was slain, having watched his mother hacked as she was trying to protect him with her bare hands? That was also an act of just punishment?"
"I did not order that." For once, Loghain's tongue betrays him: the words issue on their own before he can stop them.
Ned Cousland's lips crack as they twist scornfully. "Oh, and you minded so much. The Teyrnir of Highever, the Arling of Denerim – such disapproval. I don't believe you."
"Enough." Loghain is mildly annoyed how easily he gets off balance these days – little wonder with all the stress and strain he has to face. With all those stubborn fools I keep running into. "Believe what you will – you will confess here and now that it was the Wardens who betrayed the king and plotted with Eamon to put an impostor on the throne, and you will confess again at the Landsmeet. In return, your misery ends, your wounds will be treated, your case judged benevolently. Should you be sentenced to death, it will be merciful. Yield. You are almost out of strength, and this was just the beginning. Save yourself the pain."
"Shall I confess a betrayal I did not commit to cover up yours? After we fought through foor floors of darkspawn just to see you retreat? No way!"
The resolute tone is undermined by exhaustion and Loghain scoffs: he has no time for this. He grabs hold of Cousland's jaw, firmly enough to cause pain. "Do you honestly believe that you can hold much longer?"
The answer comes with great difficulty, yet come it does: "This… is hardly… any concern of yours."
Fed up with the play of defiance, Loghain catches the eyes of the torturer standing with the whip ready and sharply nods.
The cracking of the whip is accompanied by loud gasps and uncontrollable writhing of the bonded body.
After a while Loghain motions again: stop. He raises Cousland's head, this time almost gently: closed eyes and trembling lips speak for themselves. "Water," Loghain commands and himself offers the cup.
With his eyes still closed, Ned Cousland faintly turns his head away.
Loghain frowns. "Drink, you fool."
The head remains averted.
Not from my hands? Loghain shrugs and spills the water on the floor. "Stupid boy," he says coldly. "There is nothing to be gained by stubborn pride or insolence."
The eyes open. The voice is barely audible, the face streaked with sweat. "And what will you do… torture me some more… than you would otherwise? Go on… don't restrain yourself… you're obviously enjoying it."
Loghain suppresses the impulse to slap him for that; he already feels disgusted enough. What filth one has to go through… "As you wish." He shrugs again. "Do what it takes to break him. And do not give him water until he begs," he commands, turning to the door.
Choke on your pride, young fool.
The door slams shut and Loghain strides away: there is more important business to be attended. Hopefully, Anora has already been located by more conventional means by now – and if not, Ned Cousland may have something to say to that soon enough.
A long piercing scream reaches Loghain's ears even before he turns round the corner.