Loghain's horse ambled through the Orlesian countryside. The animal's gentle gait and the warm sun combined to lull Loghain almost to sleep. He yawned and looked around him. The landscape was so different to Ferelden, he had ridden through miles and miles of a gentle, rolling landscape covered in small farms. While Ferelden had its Bannorn that was but a small part of its landscape, the rest being rugged coastline or wild, inhospitable land. Loghain noted with a mental sneer that while the land seemed prosperous, the people who worked it did not; this merely reinforced his opinion of Orlais.
Loghain tugged his horse to a halt at the brow of the small hill and reached for his waterskin. He slaked his thirst then poured some over his head. The sun was high in the sky now and he was starting to feel the heat. He looked down at the vista before him. From the top of the hill the town of Montsimmard was now visible, close to the shore of a lake; between the town and the lake was a large keep. He nudged his horse forward and headed down the hill, picking up the smaller road off to the right that appeared to lead to the keep.
"Welcome to Montsimmard, Brother"
Loghain spun round at the voice, speaking a strangely accented Ferelden. Before him stood a tall, fair man, slightly built.
"I am Pieter, the Warden Commander of Montsimmard." He held his hand out in greeting.
Loghain clasped the proffered arm. "I'm Loghain. I was ordered here from Ferelden." He scowled, unable to hide his distaste for his orders.
The Warden Commander chuckled, openly amused. "Orlais... a lovely country, but unfortunately full of Orlesians."
Loghain was startled, unsure if the man was mocking him.
"I myself am from the Anderfels," Pieter told him, "plus there's a couple of Wardens from Rivain and one from Antiva. You won't be the only outsider here."
Loghain nodded, relieved, in spite of himself.
"Come, I will have someone show you to your room. You can freshen up then find me in my office."
Washed and dressed in fresh clothes, Loghain hesitated outside the Warden Commander's office. Scowling at a passing servant who was eying him curiously, Loghain knocked sharply at the door.
Loghain entered, closing the door quietly behind him. Pieter rose from the large desk he was seated at. The two other men seated on Loghain's side of the desk turned to look curiously at him.
"Ah, Loghain. Come in. How is your Orlesian?"
"Rusty," growled Loghain.
"No matter, for now we can talk in Fereldan. It will probably be a relief for Michel, he is always criticising my accent."
The stocky, dark man sitting in front of the desk grinned broadly, "You are too kind, Pieter. It's not often you take pity on my poor ears."
"Allow me to make some introductions, said Pieter. "Gentlemen, this is Loghain recently from Ferelden." He turned to the dark man, "Loghain, this is Michel, my Second."
Michel stood and held out his hand, "Well met, Loghain."
Loghain clasped his hand briefly, then turned to look at the other man. Older than the other two, and possibly Loghain himself, his hair was a steely grey. Although tall and fairly broad, he wasn't obviously muscular.
"This is my Seneschal, Xavier."
The seneschal stood and extended his hand. Loghain, again grasped it measuring his grip Not a warrior, just naturally big. Not a Warden either.
"Please, sit." Pieter gestured, then sat down himself.
A light knock announced a servant bearing refreshments. As Loghain sipped at the hot, strong coffee the others quizzed him about the Battle of Denerim. Michel regarded him with a rueful smile.
"I don't know if I envy you or am relieved not to have fought such a monster, mon frère."
Pieter snorted with laughter. "It cuts him to the quick that he didn't get to smack the Archdemon in the face with his shield."
Michel chuckled, holding up his hands in a gesture of surrender, "C'est vrai," he admitted.
Pieter grinned, then set his cup and saucer on the desk. "To business, brothers." He regarded Loghain steadily, as if choosing his words carefully. "Tell me, Loghain... do you know why you are here?"
Loghain tensed. "Assuming that this isn't the First's idea of a sick joke, then no." He paused, frowning. "There is so much to do in Ferelden, I don't understand why I wasn't allowed to go to Amaranthine to serve under the new Warden Commander."
The Warden Commander looked slightly embarassed. "It was the First's feeling that you needed to learn more about the Grey Wardens in a setting where they are more firmly established and he particularly specified Orlais." He cast an apologetic look at Loghain, then continued, "He felt that, given your... history, you needed to learn that we value brotherhood over nationality and that Orlais was the best place for that."
A muscle in Loghain's clenched jaw twitched. "I see," he ground out.
"It is only fair to warn you that it will be a two-way lesson."
Loghain stared at the Warden Commander in confusion.
"There are those here who will also have to overcome their own prejudices. While we like to think that a man's history is put behind him when he takes his Joining, in your case that might be easier said than done." Pieter didn't miss the look of regret that flashed in Loghain's eyes, before the man looked away. There was an uncomfortable silence before the Commander continued, "Xavier here will see that you have all that you need in the way of equipment, then from tomorrow you will be with Michel. He'll show you around properly, introduce you to everyone and put you to work."
Xavier stood. "If you'll some with me, Loghain?"
Loghain stood and bowed to Pieter and Michel, then followed Xavier from the room.
Loghain lingered in the mess hall, drawing the dog-eared pack of cards from his pocket. He shuffled them expertly, then laid them out, one face up, then six face down in a row. He repeated this along the row until he had seven stacks of cards. Studying them he started to move cards around. Eventually he could move no more cards and scooped them up and shuffled them. Again he laid them out.
It had been several months now since he had sat here alone to play cards, he mused. When he first arrived he had played nightly. He had been virtually shunned by his comrades and not just the Orlesians; the Rivaini and Antivan Wardens had been just as unfriendly. Loghain hadn't lost any sleep over it. He had been content to sit alone and play his card game. The only people who had passed the time of day with him had been the Warden Commander, Pieter, and his Second, Michel. Xavier had been polite, but only spoke to Loghain when he needed to. Michel had quickly put him to work training the younger men in shield and sword techniques; up until Loghain's arrival, Michel had been the only warrior at Montsimmard profient enough with a shield to train others. Loghain had never considered himself as a teacher but found himself enjoying it... once the young men had stopped hating him enough to listen to him.
Loghain's lips quirked in a small smile. At first they had been surly and resentful of him, as he had been of them. They had insisted on speaking rapid Orlesian and when he had tried to speak to them in their own tongue they had looked at each other and laughed. If he reverted to Fereldan they stared at him blankly. He spent most of his time seething in frustration. They seemed to delight in being deliberately obtuse. Until Michel had turned up one day to assess them. Michel had sparred with each Warden, quickly besting them. He had scowled at them, then gestured to Loghain to spar with him. Although Michel was easily fifteen years younger than Loghain, the older man had held his own. After almost thirty minutes, a sweating, breathless Michel had called a halt.
He had glared around at the younger men, then turned to Loghain saying, "You see, Loghain? It is not only Fereldans who are stubborn in their prejudices. There are none so stupid as those who will not learn."
That he didn't translate his words into Orlesian wasn't lost on Loghain. His pupils had progressed rapidly after that.
Shortly after that Michel, and occasionally Pieter, had started taking Loghain out on patrol with them. There was nothing like fighting alongside men for breaking down barriers. Gradually, Loghain had come to know his fellow Wardens and they him. He had stopped thinking of them as Orlesians, they became Wardens; brothers. Camaraderie out in the field continued back at the Keep and Loghain often found his evenings caught up with discussions on tactics, re-hashing old battles or the merits of different weapons, armour and fighting techniques. Not tonight though. There was a dance down in the town and most of the young Wardens were down in Montsimmard trying to impress pretty girls.
"This is a sight I have not seen for many months."
Loghain started as Pieter sat down opposite him, then smiled. "My dancing days are long gone. It makes my knees creak."
"I have not seen you here playing Solitaire for a long time."
"Solitaire?" Loghain looked a little confused.
"The cards," said Pieter. "That is what the game is called, yes?"
"Ah, we call it Patience in Ferelden," Loghain told him.
The Warden Commander grinned. "And they say Patience is a virtue. You must have been a very virtuous man when you arrived here, Loghain."
Loghain snorted a laugh, "I don't know about that." He shrugged. "It's just a way to pass the time."
Pieter looked at him shrewdly. "Nevertheless, you are a patient man I think. Both Michel and I have been very impressed with you. I know it hasn't been easy."
Loghain pulled a face. "I'm not sure if that's patience or just plain stubbornness. I'm inclined to believe it's the latter."
"I disagree. A stubborn man wouldn't have changed but you have changed a lot since you arrived here a year ago."
Loghain looked embarrassed. "Was there something you wanted?" he asked gruffly.
A broad smile lit up Pieter's face. "I have received new orders for you." He struggled not to laugh at the wary look that came over Loghain's face.
"Weisshaupt has decided that Warden Commander Caron has suffered enough of your inhospitable Fereldan weather and posted her to Rivain. You are to take over as the new Warden Commander in Amaranthine. Congratulations,Warden Commander Loghain."
Loghain gaped at him, unable to take in what he was saying. "But..but...me?" he asked incredulously.
Pieter grinned slyly at him. "When I told you why you'd been sent here I didn't tell you the complete truth. What I didn't tell you was that the First had it in mind to make you the Warden Commander in Ferelden. He felt that a man with your experience would be ideal, however he was concerned that your loyalty to the Grey Wardens was not all it should be; that you were more concerned with national politics."
Loghain's lips twitched a small smile. "He was probably right. Even after all that happened in the Blight, I still didn't truly understand." He paused, his face suddenly solemn. "You say I've been patient but I would argue that you and Michel have been patient with me. Probably more than I deserved."
Pieter waved off the compliment. "Some things are worth being patient for. All things come to he who waits."