Becoming Wardens and a Country Divided
Something wet with a rough warmth to it kept running over the back of Ffion's hand, rousing her slowly. In her half-wakeful stupor, with the way light was creeping into the room, she thought she was in the castle. Pushing Tilly's head away, she moved to roll onto her other side, expecting to hear Nan's voice waking her or her mother's gentle call...
The thought of her mother and cook and the fact that pain suddenly exploded in her head reminded her sharply that she wasn't home and then the events at Ostagar flashed through her mind. With a gasp of shock she tried to sit up and look around when a hand pressed firmly on her shoulder.
"Do not fret," A cool, vaguely familiar voice commanded, "You are safe, for the time being, and though your wounds were severe, you will survive."
Risking the pain, Ffion opened her eyes wide and took in her surroundings. She was lying on a cot inside a clean, rather quaint, little room. Sunlight flooded the windows and shone dully off the flagstone floor. There were a few threadbare rugs covering the stone and directly ahead of her was a dead fireplace and two tall, narrow bookshelves piled with dusty tomes.
Next to her, seated in a wood and thrush chair was the woman that had spoken. Blinking in the light and trying to make the throbbing pain in her head subside, Ffion dug frantically for the witch's name.
"Morrigan?" She was more so looking for affirmation that she got the name right and was assured when the woman nodded. Trying to put her thoughts in some sort of order, she rasped, "What happened?"
Morrigan stood gracefully. She was garbed in a similar outfit as the last time Ffion saw her and she moved across the room to pull the shades even further from the window. Turning back to look at Ffion, she stood at the foot of the bed.
"From what we have gleaned, the man that was to come to your aid tucked tail and deserted your forces. None of the other soldiers survived and you were lucky Mother acted so quickly," Her expression was an interesting mixture of pity and faint annoyance as she added somewhat hesitantly, "Your friend... He is not taking it well."
Ffion slowly attempted to sit up again, clutching the blanket to her when she realized she was wearing nothing but her small clothes. Her cheeks flushed in spite of her confusion over Morrigan's statement.
"My friend?" She repeated, wincing at the pain in her ribs and shoulders. Her head was pounding and she had to close her eyes again as she leaned against the headboard, "You mean Alistair?"
"If that is the dim-witted one that was with you earlier, yes," Morrigan's arrogant tone was back and she was once more the superior ice-queen, "I have just looked over your wounds and you are healing well. The blow to your head has been the most troublesome. It is causing problems now, yes? I will get you something for that and you are at no risk if you wish to get up and walk about. The beast has not left your side since Mother brought you here and it will only eat if... Alistair? is the one that feeds it."
Ffion peered fondly down at Tilly who had propped her chin on the mattress, staring up at her lady as though she could read her thoughts. Instantly the stub tail started wagging and Ffion had to admonish her gently as the dog tried to jump up onto the bed.
"How did Flemeth save us?" She asked, rubbing Tilly's ears as Morrigan took up a potion bottle and poured the contents into a pottery mug, "I don't remember anything beyond that last assault."
"She is the great and fearsome Flemeth," Morrigan's tone was ice as she handed Ffion the mug, "Do you think she would stoop to telling mere mortals her secrets?"
Ffion arched her brows and wished she hadn't. Even that hurt. She swallowed the contents in one gulp, grimacing at the bitter taste and handed the cup back.
"Not even her vanity demands it?" She asked and sat up fully, rolling her shoulders and trying to ignore the stabbing pain in her ribs again.
Morrigan allowed a small smile and set the bundle of Ffion's clothes down beside her.
"She is outside with your friend," She replied, "Humor her and she may consent to giving you an answer. I will be preparing something to eat."
The witch disappeared from the room and gave Ffion privacy to get dressed. She got out of the bed gingerly, looking over herself as she did so. There was a broad swath of bandages across the right side of her rib cage and a few smaller ones scattered around her shoulders and collar bones. She touched those softly, remembering the arrows that had been buried there. The throb in her ribs was starting to decrease a little and she found herself thankful that she had no recollection of that wound. Whatever Morrigan had given her was effective and her head just ached dully, the sharp pain lessening.
She got dressed with care, trying not to pull any stitches loose and didn't bother with the leather breastplate. There was no way she could wear that with any sort of ease at the moment. Tilly kept trying to shove herself under Ffion's hands when she paused to allow the pain to subside and her lady, busy with thoughts of what to do next, would only absentmindedly give her small affectionate pats.
Outside, Alistair stood at the edge of the bog and stared towards Ostagar where smoke was still visible, rising against the bright blue sky. From behind he heard the door open and, figuring it was Morrigan, didn't turn.
"Ah, you see, boy?" Flemeth's raspy voice asked, disrupting his studious attempts to ignore her presence completely, "Here's your fellow Warden now and she is none the worse for wear."
That made him turn about sharply and he took in Ffion's appearance with one sweep of his honey colored eyes. She was blinking in the sunlight, looking like hell, which was actually an improvement from the past few days. Tilly was right behind her, still with the slight limp from that last foray with the Darkspawn.
Alistair's relief at the sight of Ffion was palpable. When he first regained consciousness and saw the extent of her wounds, he was terrified that he would be the only Grey Warden left in Ferelden and the weight of that on his shoulders was all too much. Adding to it the painful loss of Duncan and the rest of what had become his family... It would have destroyed him. Now, though, as he looked her over, he wondered if Morrigan and her mother would consent to them recuperating at the hut even longer. Ffion had taken at least four arrows to her shoulders and the mage's spell of small boulders had gone awry. Some of them slammed into her back, sending her to her knees and then the Hurlock was on her. Another blow to the head and Alistair had barely been in time to save her from a killing blow. Instead the monster's mace raked across her rib cage, tearing into the leather armor and breaking three ribs, cracking at least two others. He had been struck then too, but not by the enemy. The roof of the tower had been torn away and Alistair couldn't remember much more than flashes of the night sky and then he woke up the next morning with Flemeth bending over him. He had felt a complete wimp comparing his measly scratches and bruises to Ffion's wounds and so he had done his best to help. The witches hadn't allowed that for long and his own natural distrust for them soon left him nothing to do but keep Tilly company.
"You look like hell," He observed and was surprised to see that he made her smile a little.
Ffion didn't have the strength to stand for long and sank down onto a log with the pretense of enjoying the sunlight. She looked smaller without the leather breastplate and the paleness of her face made her appear much younger. Tilly immediately dropped down beside her lady, placing her head in Ffion's lap.
"I feel about the same," She finally answered and then glanced up at Flemeth, craning her neck in a way that made her wince, "Thank you, Flemeth. I don't know how to ever-"
"Do not talk of payment, child," Flemeth interrupted, her sharp tone softening some in the face of Ffion's genuine gratitude, "Consider this my contribution to the cause and you will be cursing my name in time for the exact reason you want to thank me. With the monumental task before you, you will be regretting that you did not die with the rest."
Ffion had to grudge her the point and she cradled her head briefly in her hands, wishing her strength hadn't suddenly disappeared. She felt that she could sleep for the next few months and it still wouldn't be enough. Alistair seated himself next to her and she was as reassured by his presence as he was by hers. This meant that someone else would be with her in this and where there was one, there may be more. She took a breath and looked up at the witch again.
"I'm afraid you're right, but we have to do something," She glanced at Alistair, "What are the odds of getting word to the other Wardens and asking for assistance?"
"At this rate, they would be here in time to watch Ferelden burn," Alistair said grimly, "I'm not sure there is anything left for us to do."
"Don't be foolish, boy," Flemeth scoffed and moved to stand a little more in front of them as though realizing how painful it was for Ffion to have to twist her head to look at her, "You are Wardens, aren't you? So you do what your kind has done in the past. It is not as though you are left completely without resources."
"Of course!" Alistair exclaimed brightly, looking more like himself as the inspiration struck him, "The treaties! They have the power to call the Elves, Dwarves and mages to the aid of the Wardens when they are needed. But... Duncan had them. Unless we went-"
"If you were to go back to Ostagar now, you would never return," Flemeth interrupted smoothly, "I had taken them for safe-keeping once, it wasn't much harder the second time."
"And we thank you for it," Ffion said with pleasant relief.
"Can we do this?" Alistair was asking Ffion, "Is it really possible?"
She thought about it briefly and Morrigan's words came back to her. Looking at the ex-Templar carefully, she replied,
"You were told about what happened at Ostagar, right? About Loghain?"
She received her answer in the darkening of Alistair's handsome features and the black light that came into his eyes.
"Yes," He said shortly, "The one person who would have the power and sway to help us in confronting him is Arl Eamon in Redcliffe. Eamon is Queen Rowan's brother, Cailan's uncle; he won't stand by while Loghain gets away with murder."
"So we could go to him first," Ffion spoke to herself, her mind working quickly, "We will need some sort of protection against Loghain and if Eamon can provide it, we should take full advantage."
Flemeth watched them with an unreadable expression and she crossed her bony arms over her chest.
"Don't get me wrong, but calling up Elves, Dwarves and mages sounds like an army to me," She observed dryly, "It seems you will become Wardens yet."
Ffion smiled faintly and then looked back at Alistair.
"It's decided then. We make for Redcliffe and get Eamon's counsel and then go from there," She stood slowly, her face paling, "I know you don't want me to thank you, Flemeth, but you have been a great help. And the treaties... I don't know what we would have done without you."
"There is one thing you can do for me," Flemeth said, her eyes taking on a speculative gleam.
"The stew is ready, Mother," Morrigan's cool voice interrupted as she emerged from the hut, "Are we to have guests for lunch or no?"
"Go and prepare yourself, girl, you're to go with them," Flemeth said without pretense.
Ffion was too taken aback to say anything, but Alistair and Morrigan responded in kind.
"What?!" They exclaimed in unison.
"Now, wait a minute," Alistair said.
"Mother, please, you cannot-"
Flemeth was having none of it.
"You have been itching to get out of the Wilds for years now and here is your chance," She cut in and her voice had taken on an even more imperious tone than her daughter's, "Besides, these two will need a guide and who better than a girl like you?"
Ffion found her voice again and she glanced between mother and daughter briefly before saying,
"Flemeth, if she doesn't wish to go-"
"What she wants has no bearing on this. She will be helpful to you and you will need a safe path around the Darkspawn," Flemeth fixed her attention on Ffion, "You said anything I might need. I am allowing my daughter to be your guide, entrusting you with what means most to me, I consider that a fair trade."
Ffion and Morrigan exchanged glances, the witch frustrated and more than a little angry.
"No bearing, Mother?" She asked softly, rather dangerously, "Is it to come to that between us?"
"Do not play that game with me, girl. It is about time you left this hut and learned to walk on your own. No more protests, gather your things."
Morrigan glared for a heartbeat longer and then spun on her heel and stalked back into the hut. The door slammed and Flemeth could not have been more unaffected. Her yellow eyes fixed on the curls of smoke in the distance. An uncomfortable silence fell over those gathered and Ffion thought of several different arguments she could have posed for Morrigan, but she refrained from mentioning them. Flemeth wasn't interested in what her daughter wanted, obviously.
Morrigan came back moments later. Her face was composed again though her gold eyes were still snapping with steady fire. She had retrieved her staff and a pack that must have been partially prepared already.
"Well, like I said, the stew is ready, Mother," She said and her voice still had that almost dangerous quality to it, "Remember to mind it. I would hate to return to a burned down hut."
"Ha, it is far more likely you will return to find Darkspawn and their filth in place of this hut and the swamp," Flemeth's voice was sharp and it was clear that she was angrier than she let on.
Morrigan almost appeared stricken. She parted her lips and glanced quickly at Ffion and Alistair.
"I- I did not mean-"
"I know what you meant, child," Her mother interrupted and her voice was much gentler, "But that is the reality of this disaster."
The younger witch nodded slowly. Her gold eyes went to Alistair again and dismissed him easily. Instead she directed her words at Ffion,
"I suggest making for Lothering. 'Tis not far and we will find the supplies that we need. If you prefer a different arrangement, I will simply remain your silent guide."
Ffion teetered briefly between asking why it was up to her and just putting Alistair on the spot. But she pushed both to the back of her mind and shook her head a little.
"No, that's fine. I would prefer you speak your mind."
Flemeth let out a bark of amused laughter.
"Rash, child, you will be regretting that offer."
"Sweet Mother," Morrigan purred and it was anything but pleasant, "You are so dear to turn me out like this."
Her mother was nonplussed. Her arms folded across her chest again and she arched her brows.
"You will be thanking me in time," Flemeth spoke quietly; "This will be a fine experience for you and should be quite... enlightening."
Alistair was looking at Morrigan with more than a little distaste. His eyes lingered on the worn staff and he questioned Ffion without bothering to lower his voice,
"Do we really want to bring her along simply because her mother wants us to?"
Morrigan's eyes sparked in his direction and Ffion spoke first.
"We owe Flemeth our lives and if this is all she wants in payment, consider yourself lucky," Her voice was sharp. She didn't like being put on the spot and the fact that he was allowing her to make the important decisions did not sit well with her. Alistair was the senior Warden and in Ffion's mind that made him the responsible one in all of this and instead he was deferring to her. Normally she would jump at such an opportunity, but it was very different playing war and peace and taking an active role in it, "Morrigan is welcome and we should be thankful she knows this land well."
The witch sent Alistair a triumphant, rather poisonous look and then smiled faintly at Ffion. The young Warden looked dead on her feet still; her grey eyes even paler with the dark circles under them. She was straightening her shoulders and trying not to wince.
"Well, I suppose there is nothing left to say but good bye," Morrigan said to her mother, turning her attention from Ffion.
"Behave yourself, girl," Flemeth cautioned, "You will have better luck returning if you do."
"But Ffion just-"
"Don't coddle me," Ffion interrupted Alistair impatiently, "I'm not dying and broken ribs are not new to me. I'll be fine."
Alistair let out a huff of breath and glanced between the two women that were to be his companions for Maker knew how long. It was going to be a long trip.
Denerim was unsettled. Not only did Ostagar prove to be a colossal failure with the loss of 'Good King Cailan', but Darkspawn were now attacking the more remote posts and villages. Add to that: Loghain had returned to the city, proclaimed himself regent to Queen Anora, and blamed the Grey Wardens for the death of Cailan and destruction of Ostagar. This was met with more than a little disbelief. Most people were extremely reluctant to entertain such a disloyal thought, but it was Loghain's word against nothing but the bodies and smoke left at the ruins. No one was left to dispute his claim, at least none that the public knew of. The general had done his best to bear down on the stragglers and deserters from the battle and those lucky enough to escape him were seeking refuge in the Wilds and might possibly never resurface.
Bann Teagan Guerrin paced in irritation, waiting for Loghain to make his appearance at the city-hall gathering. Around him, townsfolk with heavy purses and the nobles they delighted in rubbing shoulders with were milling and chattering. The tone of voices, the strain of conversation, all leaned towards fear of what tomorrow might bring. The uncertainty was the killer here and so far they had heard nothing of value from Loghain or the queen.
Suddenly a bell rang out and the chatter came to an abrupt halt. On the head-high balcony that ran around the great room where everyone was gathered, Loghain walked into view followed by his daughter. Anora was dressed somberly in a dark grey dress with a black sash fastened around her waist. She was as breathtakingly beautiful as always: her blonde hair caught up in a braided bun and the sleek, graceful way she moved spoke of the royalty that seemed second nature to her. She was not of royal blood, but she could have fooled anyone. Her sky blue eyes, usually so clever and quick to take in every little detail, were tired and shadowed today, proof that she was still shocked by the outcome at Ostagar.
Teagan knew for a fact that Cailan and Anora's marriage had been one of convenience, and a blatant power grab by Loghain, but the queen had been quite fond of her husband and Cailan had always seemed in awe of her pale beauty. Looking her over now, the Bann could almost forget his anger and frustration with her father, but not quite. Loghain was not handling the situation well and the nobles not firmly paid off were too few to stand up to him. Someone had to do something.
"My lords and ladies," Loghain's rasping voice called out, breaking through the thoughts in Teagan's head, "Thank you for your patience. I understand how you must be feeling, but now is not the time for petty arguments and endless meetings. We must stand firm against this Darkspawn horde and I will need your help in supplying the ways and means to do so."
"I thought that was what we were doing at Ostagar," Teagan called out, hearing the mockery and frustration in his voice, "I believe that is what the king was attempting when he was slaughtered."
"It doesn't do us any good dredging up what happened at Ostagar here, Teagan," Loghain replied and spoke shortly, his eyes flashing, "What's done is done. We must deal with the consequences now."
Teagan shoved away from the post he had leaned against and approached the balcony where the general was standing. Loghain had the air of completely assured authority and it grated on the Bann unlike anything else. He paused and glared up at Loghain. He would have to tread rather carefully, the other nobles present were the ones belonging to the general and Teagan would have precious few allies here.
"Is this where we hear about the truth of what happened at the ruins?" He demanded and heard a few shocked gasps behind him. He was borderline accusing Loghain of lying and he continued to press, "We have your account, General, but what of the others? Anyone could simply show up and tell any tale they like and who's to refute them? We need to stand united, General, and eradicate the Darkspawn completely. But how can we do that when you insist on alienating the very warriors that are bred to do so?"
Loghain's face was carefully controlled but his grey-blue eyes snapped with fire. Teagan stood tall and proud below him, his blue eyes angry, and the iron of his armor gleamed in the sunlight streaming through the windows.
"Where was it written that Wardens are the only men and women capable of killing Darkspawn?" The general demanded, "Anyone willing to take up a sword and hold firm a line can help us in this battle and we will see that it is done. No more questions, no more demands. We will prepare as best we can and take it to the enemy. It worked with the Orlesians and they were no different than these monsters."
Loghain spared Teagan a withering glare and spun on his heel, leaving the gathering of nobles and disappearing again. The Bann shook his head. No questions had even been asked and he was sure he was the only one that was as incensed now as he had been before this... farce began.
"Bann Teagan, please," Anora's cultured voice called.
He turned to her as she placed her slender hands on the balcony railing and gave him an imploring look. It was as though she knew what he was thinking and she wanted to make sure everything was put into the correct light.
"Majesty, your father is willfully ignoring those nobles whose lands and people are suffering the most in these attacks," He said, speaking quickly so as not to be interrupted. There were things that simply had to be said, "He risks civil war while we should be fighting the Darkspawn."
"My father is doing what he feels is best for everyone," She answered and her tone was politely contrary.
Teagan stared for a moment longer, feeling his temper slipping and then he added before he could help himself,
"As he did for your husband, majesty?"
Anora's face changed instantly. Her blue eyes flashed quickly and her expression grew sad. Teagan felt a prick of guilt at his words, but was too incensed to take them back. He turned sharply and headed for the door, not realizing that, with his words, he had planted a seed of doubt and possibly gained one of the strongest allies he could hope for.