Loghain Mac Tir stared down into the ward of the castle at Montsimmard, and watched a man sweep up rose petals in the rain. The parade had passed through more than two hours ago: Painted figures and gilded carriages, jugglers and bards, all light-footed in the shower of pale pink petals and early spring rain. The day had grown greyer since then, and the petals stuck to the cobbles in the surface water. The rasp of wet bristles on stone permeated the room and sharpened the silver-grey silence that had settled over the fine furniture and tapestries.
For some reason, that man reminded him, more than anything, of working the fields of Gwaren when he was a boy. The Cloudreach rain soaking through his clothes and running down his sides as he slogged for hours to break the heavy earth. Before their fragile lives had finally fallen apart.
If he had been born in Orlais, he would still be working those fields now. A farmer from Montsimmard could never ride in the King's army, give council to his generals, or rule one of the most important stretches of land in the kingdom. The streetsweeper had probably been born into his job. And, if they were fortunate, his children would one day follow in his footsteps.
But Loghain was no longer the Teyrn of Gwaren. He had been stripped of his name, and his dignity. His lands slowly filtered down into the hands of his enemies. He had been conscripted into an order that would one day claim his life. Cast out of Ferelden for the waning years that he had left.
Some days, he wished that Eladir had killed him instead of invoking the Right of Conscription. Mostly, however, he wished that he had been on that ship with Maric when it sank.
Wouldn't it have been better, then, if he was still working the land of his ancestors: A pain in his back, and sons and daughters to marry off? No, Loghain reminded himself as he watched the man brush the rosepetals out of the street. He would not be working the fields now. He would be dead. Somebody here would have seen to that. Men and women in shining silver armour like the ones that he was training now. There were many mages among them, of course, especially in Montsimmard, but many of the recruits that had been placed under his command had once been chevaliers. They had signed up at the height of the Blight when it looked as though Ferelden would fall, in the hopes of honour and glory, and now that Eladir had killed the archdemon and the darkspawn had retreated, they were stuck with the Taint.
It gave Loghain no small amount of pleasure. He had to take his comforts where he could find them now, not least because Warden-Commander Damiane had seen fit to put him in charge of these people. It was an easy mistake for her to make: To assume that the low-born, disgraced Teyrn of Gwaren would have no trouble teaching these men and women to fight for their lives instead for a medal. Most likely, she had intended for it to be an easy job, but it had one small problem at the heart of it: Loghain Mac Tir did not know how to train an army.
During the Ferelden Rebellions, they had relied on the armies of men like Arl Rendorn and any other noble who could be persuaded to defect, and afterwards, his guard captains and generals had seen to it themselves. He knew how to fight men, and how to lead them, but he had never learned to teach them how to fight.
As a result, what was intended to be a comfortable job had turned into a source of endless discomfort. At a loss for what else to do, he had adopted the strategy of putting swords into hands of four or five recruits, and then beating the shit out of the lot of them until they improved. He found, in fact, that he was quite enjoying it. He had started to lecture the chevaliers in particular, telling them that he was on the warhorse that killed their father.
Loghain chuckled. Warden-Commander Damiane had not complained yet, but it was probably only a matter of time.
Over the sound of the rain against glass and bristles against stone, he almost did not hear the knock at the door.
“Come in, Adrienne,” he told his steward, although he did not move from the window or look at her as she crossed the threshold.
“Messer, it is so dark in here!” she said. He still could not help but flinch at that thick, Orlesian accent. “Shall I... Light the lanterns for you?”
She had hesitated, and Loghain smiled to himself. She was slowly growing wise to his stubbornness. He made sure to smooth any trace of amusement out of his voice before he answered her.
“That isn't necessary, Adrienne,” he told her stiffly. “Is there something that you wanted?”
Loghain finally turned his back on the petals and the falling rain. Adrienne was standing far back in the grey gloom. He could just about make out the coil of her diligently pinned red-blonde hair, and the silver light against her shoulder guards. She might be his steward, but he was almost certain that she could best any of the greener Warden-Recruits without even breaking a sweat. She had once told him that she had wanted to be a chevalier herself, but that her mother had been an armourer, and so she had settled for a life in the Orlesian infantry instead. She would make an excellent Grey Warden, and perhaps he could even convince her to try, but the wardens of Montsimmard had glutted their ranks with noble bastards and glory-seekers during the Blight, and now they had to figure out what to do with all of them.
The Commander wanted them sent to Ferelden to help re-build the order in Amaranthine. It was an immense relief to Loghain that so far Eladir had resisted her efforts.
“The Warden-Commander would like to know if you are going to the ball at the palace in Val Royeaux tomorrow night, Loghain,” said Adrienne. “She has made it a personal request.”
“Has she now?” Loghain took a step further into the gloaming that had settled on the room like smoke. For the first time, he noticed the pile of neatly folded silk that she had placed on the back of an armchair. “And what is that?”
“Clothes, messer!” Adrienne told him, trying to infect him with her enthusiasm. “We cannot have you meeting Empress Celene looking like a barbarian, no?”
Loghain crossed his arms, and tugged at the rolled steel of his shoulder guard.
“I suppose that wouldn't do now, would it?” he said, a storm brewing in his voice. “You cannot take the man who helped to decimate half of the Orlesian army at River Dane, and parade him around in front of the Empress like a leashed pet, unless you have him dressed up in one of your ridiculous costumes to do it!”
He seized hold of the stack of embroidered silks and linens and threw them back at her. Somewhere in the dark of his mind, he knew that he shouldn't be taking it out on this poor girl, but he had been in Orlais for six months now. Some things just push a man beyond his ability to cope.
Whoever it was that had sent him here, they had either been incredibly foolish, or else they were laughing at his expense now. For a short while, he had almost believed that Eladir might have something to do with it, but the look on the elf's face when he'd told him had dispelled the idea: A mixture of horror and stifled laughter that was beyond even Eladir's powers to feign.
“Messer,” Adrienne pleaded, bending down to gather the silks up off of the floor. “Please.”
“You can tell Warden-Commander Damiane exactly what she can do with those,” Loghain said, taking a small grain of pleasure from the flicker of horror on her face. “I will have no part in her games with the Empress, or with anyone.”
She only used that word when she wanted to flatter him, and Loghain was in no mood to be flattered.
“Enough!” Loghain raised his hand to silence her, and drew a long, slow breath. After the second, his temper began to evaporate. It left only bone-deep weariness behind. “Enough, Adrienne.”
He rubbed his eyes with the thumb and forefinger of his gauntlet, and let it fall back to his side. She was just watching him now: Steady and unafraid.
They should have given her the Joining.
“Did she send word of this to you from Val Royeaux?”
“No...” Adrienne hesitated again. “Messer, Commander Damiane arrived back from Val Royeaux this morning. Before the parade.”
That was the first that he had heard of it. He should probably have learned to expect it by now. It didn't matter, he had pushed his thoughts on to other things.
“Then I assume that some of her staff returned with her,” he said. “What have you heard from them? What do they say is happening in Val Royeaux?”
Adrienne looked towards the window, following the paths of raindrops that cast their blurred shadows on the wall.
“I... I don't know what you mean, messer. Everything in Val Royeaux is—”
“You know damned well what I mean,” he spat, cracking his gauntlet into the palm of his hand. “A week ago, Lord Rainer drowns his tailor in a trough in the middle of the square, in broad daylight. I heard one of the runners telling a recruit that there were protests in the streets.”
Adrienne gave him a sad smile and shrugged her shoulders weakly.
“I do not know what to tell you, messer,” she said. “They are... Not so uncommon here as they would be in Ferelden, I think. But they never last for very long. This time it is a little... complicated, but everything will have quietened down in a few weeks. It always does. You shall see.”
“Complicated?” Loghain laughed. “Yes, I suppose that's what you might call it when Empress Celene's Lord Chancellor makes a public speech calling on her to try and punish one of her vassals for what he has done.”
Adrienne sighed and linked her hands behind her back.
“Chancellor... Ansell has been relieved of his office,” she said, and when Loghain only groaned and turned back towards the window: “But the Divine, she has asked the people to return to their reflections on the prophet Andraste for Ascension. She says that the Chantry will oversee the investigation into Lord Rainer as soon as everything is back to normal.”
Loghain made a short, unamused sound at the back of his throat.
“By which she doubtless means that everyone needs to shut up and get back to work while the Chantry cover all of this up. While the devoted Lords and Ladies publicly flaunt Andraste's teachings, and instead spend three weeks gossiping about who is going to be wearing the finest shoes at the Empress's Ascension Ball!”
Adrienne opened her mouth to protest, but he wasn't about to give her the opportunity.
“And all the while the land is Blighted in Halamshiral and the people are starting to starve.” He was lecturing her now and he knew it, but the pressure inside of him had been building for months. He could no longer hold it in. “Not that anyone could get food to them even if they tried, what with the roads being either under water or woefully neglected. And where is the money that they would need to make those repairs, Adrienne? Squandered on an army large enough to fight in the Ferelden Rebellions, and the last of it wasted in the name of arming herself against a Blight that never came.
“You could use the Imperial Highway to bring corn down from Montfort and Val Chevin, of course, if Emperor Leal had not allowed the bridge across the Waking Sea to fall into ruin seven hundred years ago, doubtless because he was more concerned with pursuing an Exalted March against the elves.
“You know...” Loghain laughed, and shook his head. “I heard that Lady Mercer has planted a garden on the ruins of that bridge, is it true? Built a gazebo into one of the arches. That, in summer, she has whole hosts of her servants row her, and all of her friends, out there for garden parties. Lit up like a candle by the pet mage that the Chantry have given to her for Maker knows what purpose. That the the ruins glow with blue and purple fire right through the night. I suppose that will be very beautiful to the people starving in Halamshiral this year. A welcome respite from having to bury their own children.”
Adrienne's voice did not crack or simper. It was as firm as a hand, and it pushed the last of the fury out of him.
Loghain Mac Tir sighed, and raised his gauntlet to his forehead.
“Leave me, Adrienne.”
He looked out into to rain. The streetsweeper was gone now, and only a handful of pale pink petals were left plastered to the rain-blackened flagstones of the ward.
He could feel her eyes on him. Weighing him up. Maker, but sometimes she reminded him of Anora. Ever since he left Ferelden, he had been seeing his daughter's likeness in the face of everyone he met.
“As you wish,” she said at last.
He did not see her bow to him, but could hear it in the shifting of her armour before the door pulled shut.
It is impossible to say how long he stood at that window after that. Long enough that the light faded, and the Circle enchanters began to pass through the ward like painted shadows, lighting the magefire in glass lanterns. Almost despite himself, he could not help but be fascinated by it—by the thick tendrils of blue and green and purple that twisted over on themselves, and filled the streets with a mixture of shifting shadows and ghostlight.
He was there for long enough that, by the time that Adrienne came back, his muscles and joints were beginning to seize up underneath the weight of his armour.
Too old, he was getting far too old.
All of these years, all of this time, he had only known one life. And now it was gone, and he found that he could not resign himself to living out his dying years in this place. He could not give in to all of those who wanted him to leave Ferelden, and just die a quiet death.
Something would have to be done.
“What is it, Adrienne?”
Adrienne cleared her throat apologetically, and took a step towards him.
“Warden-Commander Damiane has asked to speak to you, Loghain.”
Loghain sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. Outside, the rain was finally beginning to clear: The stars fading in and out of being between the banks of high, black cloud. Blue-white, and shimmering like lyrium.
“Fine,” he said at last and resigned himself to it. He pulled himself up and squared his shoulders, despite his aching bones, and took his sword off of the table to sheath it at his side. “But I shall be damned if I am going to dress up like a jester for her.”