I had bathed, shaved, and set my armor aside for the crisp silks and supple leathers of the noble born. It had been a very, very long time since I had worn such clothing, and I felt like some trickster pagan god. The feel of it against my skin took me back nearly a year, when I was a lay about youngest son with little in the way of prospects and even smaller fears. It was Fergus who would take over Highever and I would while my time away however I saw fit. Before my Conscription, I would have said those idle hours would have been filled with fine mead and a woman in my arms or bed.
That is not to say I lacked education or was incompetent, for I learned my parent’s lessons. I merely grew bored with it all nearly immediately, and never would have imagined I would be the last Cousland rather than Oren or some other child of Fergus’. Maker keep your soul, my brother. You are gone, but not forgotten.*
The clothes were at once familiar and oddly alien after so long spent under the trappings of armor. Upon my meeting with Anora, however, it was the protection I would need adorn myself with rather than blades and stiff leathers. We were about to dance, the peasant queen and I. Our ballroom was built of political bricks and our steps would be made of wordplay, but that is the way of the nobility.
Running a comb through my hair, I examined myself in the mirror, and the man who looked back at me with the dark rust colored hair and green eyes seems much older than the one who I remember. Has it been so long since I have seen myself thus? No, but the toils of the Blight have changed all of us; Alistair, Morrigan, Leliana, Zevran. Even Sten and Shale have altered, and the only one who has been more or less untouched has been Wynne, ever full of advice and lectures. She means well, but she is a mage. For all her age, she does not know court, how to turn sweet words into an insult to a rich widow’s face, or insult a young nobleman with kindness. Those are things which Alistair must learn, and something which I shall teach him, for I do not mean for Anora to take the throne.
It is no more personal than how she tried to dispose of Alistair and myself. Both of us, in our way, are a threat to her rule. I do not know if I could ever hope to drum up a Landmeet’s support for myself against Loghain, but just watch me kill an Archdemon and try it if it came to that. I am, no matter how reluctantly, my father’s son, with purer noble blood than runs in her veins.
Immaculate and looking my best, which is exceptionally dashing if I do say so myself, I prepared to face the lioness in her den. I allow her to choose the tone of the waltz as I place one arm at my waist and the other behind my back to bow deeply in recognition of her station.
“I am glad you came to see me,” she begins. Demurely, she twists one of her fingers as she stares at me with startling blue eyes.
She is a beauty, there is no doubt of that, but some of the most beautiful flowers have the most poisoned roots. I am in a position to know a great deal about poisons, because what Zevran and Morrigan had not taught me, I have learned on my own.
“First, let me say that I knew your family. Eleanor in particular was dear to me, and what Howe did was … unforgivable. How fitting he died at your hands.”
“Indeed, and your condolences are appreciated.” I knew better than to take them at face value, but it was possible she meant them. “Shall we sit?” I ask her graciously and stand beside her chair as an obedient subject of the realm, cordial smile fixed in place. We have begun. “I understand you wished to speak to me.” Only once she has gracefully situated herself, giving me a generously coy smile do I situate myself to face her,
“I will be blunt.” She kept her posture rigid and proud, giving the projection of a woman who was accustomed to having her way while I relax enough to rest my ankle on the opposite knee. I am nonchalant, allowing the reputation she has heard about me to appear unchanged. I am was the Cousland frustration, the boy nearly thrown into matched marriages because of my flighty ways with women, and never one to take anything seriously. She tries to keep my attention with the piercing intensity of her gaze and I watch back, letting an almost bored demeanor slip over my face.
“Your voice will be important in days to come, and it is to you that Arl Eamon listens. It is with good reason. My father must be stopped, but once that is done, Ferelden will need a good ruler. I will welcome your support for my throne.”
If it was already your throne, then she would hardly need my support would she? The threat Alistair posed had been recognized, then. I shrugged. “You give me far too much credit. I am no longer able to hold my father’s title or lands. Surely you know this.” I had no illusions she did not, because it was common knowledge about the Wardens, and part of their reputations for taking in pariahs. “I am merely someone who is trying to put a halt to the Blight as quickly as possible. Perhaps they shall transfer me off somewhere warm after all this is over, presuming I survive.” Allowing my tone to hit certain notes she suspected me of not being half as certain as I sounded that I would come out breathing. It was true that I might perish, but we had cheated Death thus far, and it would not catch us easily.
“Indeed, you are protecting us from the darkspawn as you must,” she threw in just the right calculation of praise for me, tossing the lazy mabari a bone. “And I will do as I must for the good of our country. Alistair seems like a kind, well meaning man and no doubt he is biddable enough. These are admirable qualities if not kingly ones.”
She must have some inkling to how close Alistair and I are, but there was no hiding that. We were in council together, and have been raising armies. To the outside, likely to her father, they must have been asking precisely what we intended to do with an army of dwarves, slathering, hairy monsters, Eamon’s men and templars. Loghain’s men were many, but they had been wearing themselves thin squabbling in a civil war and ripping the already ragged country apart at its seams.
He would be able to turn that against me at the Landsmeet if he was smart, and I was not going to underestimate the strategical brilliance of my enemy. I had pulled together proof of his crimes, but he would undoubtedly hope to do the same to me. There were a good many things which he could readily use as ammunition toward Alistair and I, which was why I wanted Anora to bite the hand who had fed her so many years, and add her voice to ours.
She would not support Alistair, and that would have been far too much to hope for. If I could convince her to turn on her father, we might have a chance, however. We spoke of my fellow Warden, and how his qualities might be fine, but how he truly did not wish to be king. Anora sang her own praises of how she had loved Cailan, but it had been she who had run the country while her dear, deeply mourned husband preferred the field. “Oh,” she casually threw down the gauntlet, “there are those who would follow Alistair because of his Theirin blood, but the others would see this as Eamon grabbing for power.”
Or myself? My face remained pleasantly smiling as I tilted my head toward her, “you do have a point,” I decided slowly. “Alistair is a fine Warden, and that is the mantle we both took up willingly. The country did prosper well enough under Cailan.” I was beginning to sound bored again, as if I were distracted by the smell of food coming from the kitchens. “Forgive me. Meals are too few and far between for us. I am being rude, we were speaking of Alistair being a Theirin. I did not realize his heritage was so well know.”
“Cailan knew of Alistair, but Eamon kept him out of the courts as Maric desired.” She clasped her hands daintily in her lap, and her guard was easing. She drove her point home about my bedraggled, bastard friend. “Who else but Eamon would Alistair turn to for help? Eventually the nobility would fall into the days of constantly warring each other. Alistair’s weakness would destroy everything Maric built. I, on the other hand, am a great queen, and as beloved to my people as I care for them. Ferelden needs an experienced ruler to see it through the Blight and then after. That isn’t Alistair.”
There lay her fatal flaw and her hubris, because so long as I had breath in my body, I would help him. Alistair might have been brought up with the hounds his young life, but he was intelligent. The one flaw in him was his willingness to trust too readily, but I would not send him to the throne alone nor unprepared. With the right tools and education I knew he could and would surely not just manage, but thrive as king of Ferelden. Anora was a brilliant politician full of honey lies, deceptions, and cunning. She could play the games very well, but I asked about her father, and listened to her describe his terrible sight on only one goal to keep out the Orlesians, mixing it with his humble farmer’s origins, and an event from her childhood. Loghain had bundled up a rosebush into his saddlebags and took it personally to his wife. He was not, she seemed to be telling me, a monster, only misunderstood.
What would she do for her father? Would she betray him for her own power and gain? That was the most crucial question of all, and I had to make the bait so tasty that she would not want to betray us. I needed her voice at that critical point in time to turn the tide against some of the nobility who were still sitting on the fence. We had done our own bits of helping and undermining as we collected evidence, but I needed Anora.
“I loved my father, too,” I told her without having to feign the heartache, “so I can only imagine how much it pains you. Surely he has his reasons for all of what he has been doing, and seeks to protect us from Orlais.” It always came down to that, and I cast my line. “Truly, I would see him disposed, unharmed if possible.” I outright lied because I did not leave my enemies standing where I could help it. She had no way of knowing that, not completely. “He has served his land faithfully for many years, and I had the honor of meeting him once.” That was just before his regicide, actually, at Ostagar. “Would you propose an alliance, then, between us to help save your father from himself?” I wanted to offer power as well as possible lack of harm to her father, but he had dug his own grave. I would not greatly mind putting him in it, even if his decisions to pull his troops at Ostagar was a sound military one. Cailan was not precisely the brightest man I had ever met, so evidently Alistair had inherited someone else’s common sense.
She brightened and nodded slowly, clearly pleased that I had finally come round to that assumption. “That is exactly what I am proposing. When the time comes, you support my bid at the Landsmeet to remain on the throne. You will be seen as my father’s enemy, yet you will be in support of his daughter. You will be seen as supporting the interests of Ferelden to solely those of the Grey Wardens. In return, I add my voice to yours, and together we can do what alone we cannot. Do you see?”
She proceeded to tell me how Highever would be restored to me as part of the bargain, but she could not resist tossing in a slur that the promise of a strong queen was better than that of a weak king if Alistair would give me the same. Her words might be iron clad, but she was not nearly so stable upon the golden chair as she would like me to believe. Good. This was excellent indeed, but I pretended to agree with her with a whole heart. I had to nudge it a bit deeper to insure she was serious enough to clench it. “What if I were there beside you? You are in mourning, so forgive me, but these matters,” I sighed heavily, “they do not wait. I am Bryce Cousland’s son, and my father was well liked of the people, too. He ever supported Cailan.” Even, I reminded her with words unsaid, when my father could have been king, himself. It was why he was killed, ultimately, but he had chosen to support the Theirin line.
“Tempting,” Anora had the grace to consider it for a few seconds as she rolled the word off her tongue, “that is true.” She was trying to decide just how crafty I was and if I had delivered that as a veiled threat, reminder, or if I was blundering around like a three legged, blind dog in the dark. I stared back at her with my best beguiling smile and gave her nothing. “You are of noble blood, even if you are a Grey Warden. It would be unprecedented, but.. A man like you could make a fine prince and consort.” She began to smile fetchingly at me, “is that what you are proposing? My hand for your support?”
“I would rather be king,” I informed her with a bit of a childish sulk, playing my part to the fullest and a reputation which I knew proceeded me. I was never the responsible Cousland son. “They are the ones who get the real prestige and never have to do much, particularly if you wish to do the ruling.”
“I am tired of ruling in my husband’s name. If I marry again, it will not be as a figurehead,” she informed me firmly with a bristle. I had struck a nerve, and knew then she was likely attached enough to her power that even her father would not stand in her way from seizing or keeping it. “If being a consort is not enough, then marry Alistair. Perhaps he will bend over more easily than I.”
Well, that certainly showed her breeding by talking like one of the wenches at the Pearl, and was utterly beneath her station. If ever I had any thoughts of actually supporting her claim, that had sunk it for well and good. “You would look better in the wedding dress,” I informed her with mild wit. “What would I have to do as prince consort?”
“You would be my adviser,” she placated me, tasting victory as she batted her lashes demurely at me. No doubt it was the same ploy Eamon had described Cailan collapsing with watery knees too, and I pretended to be more than a bit dazzled. “You would spend your time almost however you want. When we attend court and functions, you would be with me.”
“I presume that will also include making heirs, yes?” I did have a reputation to maintain, and she was a beautiful woman, so I grinned as innocently as I could manage.
“Yes,” she managed a dainty blush on her cheeks for for effect, as she reached up to rub her neck behind the tight braids and look away as if she were a fresh maiden rather than a widowed matron. “That would be part of the arrangement as well. Of course.”
“You are very beautiful, Your Majesty, so what man of sound mind could ever say no?” I rose from my seat and extended my hand. She clasped it and I raised her knuckles to my lips to kiss them.
“Very well,” she agreed as she accepted the minor token of affection with a pert smile, rising to meet me eye to eye. “It is too good of an opportunity to pass up. Once I am coronated, I will take your hand as my consort. I trust you’ll keep your end of the bargain…. So we have a deal then. Now, I suppose comes the task of dealing with my father. That will be no small feat, but I am certain you already know this. I imagine you have much to do. Is there anything else you needed from me?”
“No,” I told her after pretending to mull it over and asked if there was anything she needed, ready to seem dutiful and obedient.
I truly hoped this would go well because that king killer poison was ridiculously difficult to put together.
(Author’s Note: I know Fergus isn’t dead. Reginald, however, did not know that until he saw his brother at the very end of the game.)
* Dragon Age Origins, Dragon Age 2, the Toolset and all its characters belong to Bioware and their respective owners. This blog is dedicated to their work with fiction, tutorials, and things to share with other fans.
You may not copy and share this anywhere else online or offline without my written permission. This includes Tumblr, Twitter, magazines, books, collections, blogs, etc. Fergus, Anora, Morrigan, Zevran and the Cousland surname and setting belong to Bioware. Reginald and the story belong to me.