Denerim is in turmoil, what with refugees flooding in from all over Ferelden, nobility arriving for the Landsmeet, and Howe's forces everywhere to "maintain order". Did you know that Howe was named Arl of Denerim after Urien's death and his son's disappearance? It seems that playing the traitor pays very well these days.
Loghain himself met us at the gates to Arl Eamon's estate in the city. He had Howe with him. He accused Eamon of dividing the country with the call for the Landsmeet. He seems supremely confident that he will keep control of the throne. He chided Eamon for picking up strays, meaning Alistair and myself as the only remaining Grey Wardens, and threatened to have us arrested as traitors to the Crown. He meant to make us angry and put us ill at ease, but Eamon is an old hand at these tricks and kept the rest of us (read that to mean me) from doing or saying anything too stupid. The jockeying for position has begun, and drawing steel on Howe at that moment would not have helped our cause.
We were sent out to find some of the nobles to get a feel for where their loyalties lie. It seems to favor Loghain at the moment. He is a proven general and his daughter is recognized as a capable administrator for the kingdom, despite her lack of royal blood. Alistair is an unknown quantity to them. He has the right blood but they have no history by which to judge his worthiness to rule. Strangely enough, Loghain has done us one big favor. He admitted that Alistair is, in fact, Maric's son. No one questions Alistair's parentage as a result, and that is the one major factor in his favor.
When we returned to Eamon's estate, we were surprised to find Anora's Orlesian lady in waiting in conference with the Arl. She was apparently sent by her mistress to beg our help. Erlina said that Anora is being held prisoner by Howe, and that she fears for her life. Howe was overheard by one of the servants to say that Anora was a better ally dead than alive, especially if her murder could be pinned on Eamon or Alistair. Erlina returned to Howe's estate to await our arrival. She said she could get us into the keep unnoticed and went to make arrangements to that end. Eamon felt very strongly that we had to try to rescue Anora, and I agreed that it seemed the best course. If nothing else, it is better to have her where we can know what she's up to than to have her actively showing support for her father.
As a result I found myself at the gates of the Arl of Denerim's estate, along with Alistair, Zevran and Leliana. Erlina took us around to a servant's entrance and distracted the guard long enough for us to enter. She had house armor on hand for us to wear so as to reduce suspicions as we passed through the keep. We made it to Anora's quarters with very little trouble, but that was where our good fortune came to an abrupt stop. Howe had had one of his mages seal the door magically, and the only way to break the spell was to either coerce or kill the mage that set it. Erlina stayed by her mistress' door while we went in search of Howe and his mages. You can imagine that I was more than willing to look for Howe!
I know that Highever had a couple of holding cells in the lowest levels of the keep, but you should see what the Arl of Denerim has, Fergus! It is beyond belief. While I would love to ascribe every evil thing there to Howe, there is simply no way he had sufficient time to make extensive modifications to the dungeons. That is not to say that Howe was loath to make use of the facilities provided. There are torture chambers complete with chains, beds of nails, racks, and other such implements. There are cells and cages too small to permit either standing up or lying down. There are rooms that have been dedicated to the skinning of corpses, and other less savory activities. The smell was beyond description.
The first prisoner we came upon was a fellow Grey Warden named Riordan. He told us he saw Howe going past his cell, deeper into the dungeons. He declined to join us due to weakness and injuries resulting from the tender care of Howe's torturers. We sent him back the way we had come and advised him to go directly to Arl Eamon.
Just a few rooms further down we came upon a poor soul stretched out on a rack. His legs had been nearly pulled out of every joint, and his arms as well. He said he was Oswyn, son of Bann Sighard of the Dragon's Peak Bannorn. We got him loose and aided him to stand. I thought he might want to wait while we finished our business with Howe so that we could help him leave, but he was frantic to get out of there. I can't say that I blamed him at all. He managed to move under his own power, if slowly, so we sent him after Riordan.
The next of Howe's "guests" was a chap named Rexel. I recalled that someone had posted a notice on the Chantry board looking for him. He was far gone with darkspawn sickness, but from his babbling I gathered that he had been at Ostagar, had been captured, had been forced to eat darkspawn flesh, and then left to rot in the cell where we found him.
We continued along to the next occupied cell, where we found a Templar by the name of Irminric. Alistair said that the man was suffering from lyrium withdrawal. All I know is that he was barely coherent. He was able to give us his name and tell us that he had been hunting an apostate when Loghain's men took him prisoner and brought him to this place. He pleaded with me to give his sister, Alfstanna, his ring and to ask her to pray for him. We left him in the cell, praying and weeping. He showed no inclination to leave, and we had business with Howe that was becoming more and more urgent with every prisoner we found.
The next poor sot was not actually Howe's doing. We came upon an elf who had been imprisoned by Urien's son, Vaughn. His story was horrific as well. On his wedding day, Vaughn had come in to the Alienage and demanded nuptial rights of the bride. When Soris tried to protect his wife-to-be, he was knocked unconscious and left in the dungeon to rot. He had been there so long, in fact, that he knew nothing of Urien's or Maric's deaths. We set him upon the path that Riordan had taken to leave the keep.
It seemed almost to be justice that in the next level of the dungeon we came upon Vaughn himself. Howe wanted no competition for the title of Arl of Denerim and so had the heir locked up. From what Vaughn said, it was a repeat performance of what happened at Highever. Howe's men came in to fortify the garrison and next thing you know, Howe had taken over the whole place. Given the story the elf prisoner had told us, Zevran wanted to put Vaughn out of the elves' misery. I admit I was very tempted to leave Vaughn in the cell, but releasing him in exchange for his vote in the Landsmeet was more useful than indulging in senseless retribution. He promised his support against Loghain most willingly, and I wrested from him a personal vow to stay out of the Alienage. I can do nothing to protect the elven folk in his service, but perhaps his word of honor will keep him away from their homes and families.
We continued investigating the labrynth of dungeons until at last we came upon Howe and his mages. He bragged about his elevation to Arl of Amaranthine, Highever and Denerim. He gloated over the influence he has with Loghain. He took great satisfaction in the demise of the Grey Wardens. In short, Fergus, he made me sick with his lust for power. I was overjoyed when he ordered his mages and armsmen to attack us, and I made it my personal business to engage Howe in combat. I am pleased to inform you that he is dead by my hand, my brother. Our family is avenged and our honor restored. Highever is once again held by the Cousland family.
Howe's mages died in that fight as well, so we made our way up out of the dungeons to return to Anora's chamber door. It was free of spells and opened readily. Anora had clad herself in house armor by way of a disguise and we made to leave through the servant's exit. To get to it, though, we had to pass through the entry foyer, which was full of Loghain's troops led by his Captain of the Guard, Ser Cauthrian. She ordered us to surrender for the murder of Rendon Howe. I refused. During the melee that ensued, Anora slipped away. We were hard pressed, as we were substantially outnumbered and these were some of Loghain's best troops, but in the end we prevailed. I was extremely proud of my people for how well they performed. Head on combat is not the greatest strength of either Zevran or Leliana, yet they fought well and skillfully, and committed themselves to the fray with no sign of fear. Alistair was amazing, using both shield and sword as weapons and overpowering everyone who dared come into his range.
We returned to Arl Eamon's estate a good bit the worse for wear, though. All of us were sporting injuries and damaged armor. Thank the Maker for Wynne and her healing magics! She assures me that the cut on my cheek will not scar, and Leliana's left arm will be strong again with just a few days rest. Eamon's armory was opened to us to make repairs on our gear, and his smith will take the dents out of Alistair's breastplate in good time for our next adventure into the city.
Alistair and I cleaned ourselves up and reported to Eamon's study. There we found Eamon, Anora and Riordan awaiting us. Anora wants us to support her claim to the throne at the Landsmeet. She believes that she is the best choice and I must admit that she does have some compelling arguments. She has been making the decisions and running the country for the last five years. She is very well educated and she is loved by the general population. There would be no interruption in the flow of government should she stay on as queen. She told Eamon that we would be seen as supporting the daughter of our enemy, proving that we are concerned with doing what is best for Ferelden rather than with fulfilling some private agenda to garner power for ourselves or the Grey Wardens.
In private conference, after Anora returned to her quarters, Alistair made it crystal clear that he thinks Anora has been doing a fine job as queen and he is quite happy to let her continue in that role. He does not want the throne, has never wanted the throne, and feels utterly and completely unprepared to become king. Eamon still insisted that Alistair must take power as the last scion of the Theirin line. The Arl maintained that the nobility have followed Calenhad's descendants for the last 400 years, and to accept one not of the blood to rule the country is to invite anarchy as the Bannorn breaks up into independent city states once more.
It was almost inevitable that the idea of Alistair marrying Anora would come up. After all, it would be the ideal solution to provide both the Theirin bloodline and the stability of known rulership should they wed and rule jointly. I had thought Alistair looked ill at the thought of taking the crown. He looked just about as ghastly as I felt when the possibility of marriage to Anora was raised. What made it even worse was that Eamon endorsed the idea and asked me to broach the subject with Anora. If only he had known what he was asking of me!
Like a felon walking to her own hanging, I went to Anora's chamber and put the suggestion of joint rule before her. She was not pleased at the idea. She had truly loved her husband, Cailan, and Alistair strongly resembles his brother. She said it would be unsettling to see her dead husband's features when she looked at her new husband. She also expressed concern that Alistair might try to rule, taking power into his own hands when he is manifestly unsuited to the task. She finally decided that she could accept a political marriage for the purpose of maintaining peace and uniting the country, so long as Alistair is willing to accept that she will be the one ruling.
So here I am, hiding in my chamber, writing my miseries out to you so that I can delay facing them in real life. I feel hollow and fragile, like the least touch will shatter me. I cannot face Alistair, knowing what I have done will cause him pain. I cannot face myself, knowing how I have betrayed my own heart. Poor Fidelius is distraught. He knows I am upset and tries to comfort me, but there is no comfort to be found while this task hangs over me. I have to go back to Eamon's council in the morning and tell them that Anora has agreed.
Maker help me get through this night.