Loghain does not know this Warden that finds him at the Landsmeet. She is not the same credulous recruit she’d been at Ostagar— and while a less careful eye would find little difference, Loghain has ever been observant. This Warden eyes him with no fear and the Landsmeet with no particular esteem, her gaze only catching with emotion when it lands on Maric’s bastard, and he thinks: Ah.
A mortal fulcrum, a point of pressure.
And so it’s as much a surprise to him as it is to Alistair when after the duel, she spares his life. Over a storm of protest she nods when Riordan calls to make him a Grey Warden, and faced with only the one dwindling possibility as doors close in every direction around him, he drinks, and Joins.
The Wardens were lovers.
The others—the hangers-on and allies the Warden associates with—they talk very carefully around the subject of Alistair, but Loghain is not a stupid man and none of the others are as subtle as they think they are.
He wonders what kind of woman would willingly send her lover into another woman’s bed.
And there is something in the tempered gravity of the Warden’s bearing that makes him think he is not as entirely unwelcome here as the elder mage would have him believe, as though the Warden has a use for him and so, for the moment, he is part of her circle.
When observation reveals nothing and her companions reveal not quite enough, he asks.
She frowns minutely, as though she barely remembers how, as though it’s an odd question and not an obvious one. “It was for the best,” she answers at last, rough and contemplative.
An unexpected answer; he finds himself frowning the slightest bit in response. “For whom? For Alistair?”
An unwilling king on a bitter-cold throne; surely she doesn’t believe he’ll be grateful.
“No,” she says, sounding tired. “For Ferelden.”
There is a long moment when familiarity comes piercing and dark, the barbed hooks of memory dragging bloody through his soul, and he almost laughs then, low and incredulous.
We’re living the same life, you and I, he thinks, and irony lays heavy under his tongue.
But he doesn’t think that the Warden would appreciate such things, and so Loghain holds his peace.
There are moments of symmetry in the dark days that follow, of unexpected reflection and insight.
The Orlesian goes quiet and it’s a mercy; the dwarf gets belligerent and is silenced and it’s a relief.
The Warden studies her maps by firelight, shadows growing under her eyes by the hour.
Such is the burden of command, Loghain knows, of having the weight of countless lives dependent on your continued determination and unflagging perseverance.
He knows, too, that every victory comes at a cost.
In the evenings Loghain watches the Warden, a record of violence carved into her skin and her legacy written in blood from one end of Ferelden to the other, and he wonders then if the full price of victory has yet to be reckoned.
There are guards in front of Loghain’s door at Redcliffe and he has no illusions that they’re stationed there to protect him.
It’s a surprise when a knock comes at his door as he pours a drink; two brisk raps, and the Warden lets herself in.
She looks at him keenly a moment as though she could descry his darkest thoughts, his soul laid bare for examination and the iron hand of judgment.
“Morrigan wants to perform a ritual,” she begins flatly, and lays out the details with dispassionate weariness.
It only occurs to him belatedly that she’s expecting him to choose.
“No,” he answers finally, aware that of the three of them, one will die.
Or all will. There are no guarantees in the battle to come.
“It would be… unbefitting of us,” he explains, though she’s not asked for an explanation. “We cannot expose Ferelden to an unknown threat when the means of preventing it are at hand.”
The Warden nods, leaving. “I thought the same.”
After a heartbeat’s hesitation, Loghain frowns. “Then why ask me?”
She’s already at the door, and turns, and there is something familiar in the press of her hand on the doorframe, the determined set of jaw and shoulders, but just then he can’t place it. “One should be aware of one’s options,” she answers, watching him closely. “If there was a way to turn this threat to an advantage, I knew you would see it.”
Her hand turns on the knob, and in the gathering darkness she leaves him alone. In the depths of his cup hangs his own reflection, blurred and distorted and wavering into nothing.
Loghain has never cared for the concept of sin.
Can’t and shouldn’t are the leashes of the fearful, a whimpering clutching at self-impressed limitations to keep the world squared off into boxes, compartments of yes and no and Maker help us if we get it wrong.
Loghain has lived too long to believe that anything is ever that simple.
So it’s a surprise when it comes down to absolutes at the end: black and white, choice and consequence.
There is blood and fire and the roar of battle and all this is familiar, and the blaze of ferocity in the Warden’s posture as enemy after enemy falls at her feet is familiar in its own way and at last—almost too late—he puts the pieces together, the niggling feeling that he’s seen this before.
The Warden’s hair is the wrong color and her eyes the wrong shape, but she is a terror to behold—there is the echo of Maric’s laughter in his ears, delighted and far, far away, the sound snatched to nothing by the aggrieved roar of the Archdemon filling the world as dark wings stretch ominous against the sky.
“Warden,” he manages, and his voice seems unaccountably loud but she doesn’t seem to hear him—she’s stalking toward the Archdemon already, sword raised. “Warden.”
She turns, stops.
You are young, he almost says, but it’s barely true—war burns away the dross of youth too completely, pulls more from anyone than they ever want to give—
You’re a warrior, and a hero, and if there’s any justice in the world you’ll die before the people forget what you’ve done for them, Loghain thinks, more tired than he’s ever been, but he says only, “Let me.”
He doesn’t feel like a Warden; is vaguely aware that he’ll never really be a Warden, but here atop the fort with the Archdemon howling in the background he will do as he must.
She doesn’t protest and no one else is there to witness—there are darkspawn cornering the Orlesian, the mage has already fallen—and so there is no momentous sense of justice or right, no poets to witness or Sisters to offer absolution.
Still, Loghain knows the beckoning of duty.
For Ferelden, he thinks, and then to someone who isn’t here: for you.
“It’s been an honor, Warden,” he avows, and it occurs to him too late that there’s little enough honor in all this to speak of—but she nods, and considers him gravely, eyes streaming from the blowing ashes and chin rising in salute.
In the corners of her voice there’s a measure of pardon and the reflection of—not himself, exactly, but a younger, other self that never quite took root, poisoned by circumstance—but it’s all he needs to hear. The sky opens above the city as he turns, but Loghain doesn’t feel the icy slant of rain— with his sword in his hands he feels sunlight, and the smell of grass in summer, a thousand afternoons of elsewhere to carry him over as his body falls, as his soul pours down into a steep and fathomless darkness and finally—finally—an end.