The carta was less a problem than I had feared. The ruffians were great bullies but poor fighters. The most difficult part of the exercise was finding them in the first place. Once we gained admittance to their hideout, it was more like simple butchery than fighting. We did manage to pick up a good deal of booty from their lair, and we were given a fair share of the proceeds in recognition of our efforts. With a bit of coin to spare, I scouted out the marketplace for 'new' used armor, but dwarves are very fond of heavy armor and are much too short for the likes of me. I guess armor will have to wait until we are above ground once again. Wynne returned to the above-ground camp, saying her bones have had enough of caves to last for a long time.
Harrowmont's supporters are not taking my actions well. They have attacked my party twice now, once in the marketplace and once in the Diamond Quarter. In both cases, we dispatched our attackers, but I feel guilty for doing so. I would not meddle in dwarven affairs had I any other option.
Bhelen was pleased to take credit for the elimination of the carta, but felt that it was not enough to guarantee his ascension to the throne. He sent us back into the Deep Roads once again in search of a Paragon named Branka. Dwarves venerate their ancestors, and a Paragon is a living person who is regarded as an ancestor, and so is venerated while still alive. At least, that is my sketchy understanding of how it works. Apparently this Branka took her whole clan into the Deep Roads some two years ago in search of an artifact called the Anvil of the Void, and they have not been heard from since. Bhelen wants Branka to support his bid for the throne, or at least requires proof that she is dead. I gather finding such proof would stand him in almost as much favor as having her speak on his behalf. His instructions to me made it clear that if she was not willing to support his claim, he would far rather that she never return from the Deep Roads. I mentioned to you in a previous letter that Bhelen is a snake, didn't I?
Alistair, Zevran, and I were about to venture in to the Deep Roads on this latest assignment when we were approached by a red-headed dwarf by the name of Oghren. He wished to join our party, saying that if we pooled our information we would have a better chance of locating Branka. Naturally, I asked him what sort of information he might be privy to. He said that Branka was his wife, and that he knew what she was looking for and where she intended to look for it. Bhelen's people had scouted as far as a place called Caridin's Cross, and Oghren seemed confident that he would be able to guide us toward Branka from there. Despite the fact that he smelled rather like an unsanitary brewery, he seemed sincere enough, so I elected to take him along.
We made good time on our way to Caridin's Cross, as the path had been largely cleared of darkspawn by previous scouting parties. Oghren was as good as his word, pointing out signs that told him which way Branka and her clan had gone. He was correct that, unless you knew what to look for, the signs of her passage were not noticeable. We proceeded toward a place called Ortan Thaig, a sort of settlement or small town. When I heard the name of the place, I took note. There had been a young dwarven lass named Orta in the Diamond Quarter who was looking for proof of the existence of Ortan Thaig, saying that she was descended from that clan and wanted to re-establish it as a noble house. I felt sure that if we found the place and were able to bring her some evidence of its existence, then she would be most grateful. We came to Ortan Thaig to find it chock-full of darkspawn and ogres and the like. It took a long while to clean them out, and by the time we had done so, we decided to stop there for a rest. I did some looking around, and came upon a bundle of scrolls written (not surprisingly) in dwarven script. I could not read them, but tucked them in my pack to take back to Orta in hopes that they will provide the proof she needs.
After a meal and a rest, Oghren found signs of Branka's passage once again, and we continued on toward a place known as Bownammar. This is an ancient city built to honor the Legion of the Dead. It was lost to the darkspawn generations ago, and we once again had to fight our way in past their defenses. The architecture and the exquisite skill with stone carving evident in Bownammar were amazing. Still no Branka, however. We did find her journal, and Oghren read it to find that she had gone from there to a place called the Dead Trenches.
The Trenches are heavily infested with darkspawn. In fact, I suspect that there is more than one breeding ground to be found among them. We had our first live sighting of the Archdemon, an immense and ancient dragon. I have seen it in my nightmares many times and both Alistair and I recognized it immediately. There is a terrible beauty about it that awes at the same time it repels. I was very afraid that it would sense us there, so close to it, but it was preoccupied marshalling its troops for the march to the surface. It flew off to another part of the Trenches while we watched. I was more relieved to see it go than I care to admit. It is a truly fearsome beast, and I confess that it was a few minutes after it left before I found the courage to move on.
Finally we happened upon the woman who had been Branka's second in command. She retained enough sense of self to tell us what had transpired. Branka had become obsessed with the Anvil of the Void to such a degree that she had been sacrificing her own clan in her efforts to reach it. The creator of the Anvil, Caridin, had protected it behind a labrynth of traps and puzzles, and Branka had been sending her people into the gauntlet one after another in the hope that one would open the way. As her clan's population dwindled and became more resistant to her orders, she discovered that the women could be transformed into brood mothers by feeding them darkspawn flesh and vomit, then giving them the flesh of their own kin to consume. The darkspawn these brood mothers created could then be used to spring the traps and move toward the Anvil. The poor soul who told us all this was well on the way to becoming a brood mother herself.
After much fighting and searching, we finally found Branka, but she was so twisted by her obsession that Oghren was barely able to recognize in her the girl he had married. She trapped us by means of collapsing the passage behind us and so forced us to enter the gauntlet as the only means of escaping the tunnels. We were able to overcome the obstacles and came out into an immense cavern populated by stone and metal golems, one of which was Caridin himself.
Caridin had created the golems to defend dwarven territory from darkspawn and other would-be invaders. Only he had known the secret of the Anvil's creation and the method by which golems were made. In order to make a golem come to life, a living soul had to be entrapped in the stone or metal shell by means of blood magic. He said that at first the souls came from volunteers, but later the hunger for more and more golems resulted in sacrificing prisoners, then low caste captives. Finally he could stand it no longer and refused to make any more. His king ordered Caridin himself turned into a golem, which his master smiths knew enough to do but were not able to control him. He killed them so as to erase the knowledge of golem creation, but proved incapable of destroying the Anvil once and for all.
We had learned this much of his story when Branka appeared, demanding that the Anvil be given over to her. Caridin begged us to destroy it so that its evil would be stopped. Oghren pled with Branka to let go of her obsession, but she would not give up what she had paid such a high price to obtain. She then produced a control rod and ordered the golems to kill us all. We fought, and I now understand why the golems were so much in demand. They are nearly indestructible, they do not experience pain, they do not fatigue as we do. If the Maker is kind, I will never have to contend with another one. Oghren was ultimately forced to slay his wife to stop her from killing us all.
Caridin was grateful for our assistance, and offered to grant us a boon. I explained that we had hoped to settle the succession by obtaining a Paragon's support for our candidate. Caridin, a Paragon in his own right, used the Anvil one last time to create a crown that we could bestow upon our choice for king. At his request, I then took up his hammer and, with a single massive blow, shattered the Anvil. He thanked me, wished us well in our endeavors, and then threw himself into a river of lava that ran through the chamber.
We returned to Orzammar with the crown to find that the Assembly was in session and voting on the succession. We raced to the Assembly Chamber and presented the crown to the Speaker. He verified its authenticity and asked to know who was to be chosen king. I stated that Bhelen was to be king, and for good or ill, the deed was done. His first act as king was to order the execution of his rival, Harrowmont, and his second was to publicly swear to uphold the treaty with the Grey Wardens. I pray that I did not err in choosing him. Time will tell.
Before we left Orzammar, I took the scrolls I had found in Ortan Thaig to the girl I mentioned earlier. They were exactly what she needed to re-establish her house and clan, apparently. She was thrilled and was bubbling over with plans for the future when we left. I hope that I have not made her future darker by setting Bhelen on the throne.
We are going back to Redcliffe to find Sten's sword if at all possible, and to check on Arl Eamon and the others at Redcliffe castle. Oghren has joined us. He says there is nothing left for him in Orzammar but bad memories, and he has a wish to see something of the world. I could not bring myself to refuse him. Besides, he has a ribbald sense of humor, and even drunk, he is a warrior to be reckoned with.
I am looking up at the stars as I write this, and wonder if perhaps you are doing the same. It comforts me that even with so much time and distance between us we can yet have this in common. Maker speed the day we meet again. I miss you, brother mine.