Ah, time for an update. I'll be damned if the first part of this chapter wasn't a hard thing to write. Redid it almost six times just to get the flow right. I also had to look up some of the more obscure Fereldan characters, and reread a lot of Protectores Mundus to make sure I didn't retcon anything.

That said, time for chapter 2. Hopefully the next one will be easier to write ^_^*

Chapter 2. A Matter of Faith and Family

It had not been since the days of Tiber Septim himself that a spectacle would occur such as the one planned today.

Titus Mede knew this, and had in fact counted on the novelty of it. For events to transpire as they had until this point had cost him no end of sleepless nights, and days where the mirror seemed less than kind. A lesser man perhaps would have judged the means too cruel for the end, no matter how just that end was. When did one arrive at the point where the greater good was not worth the sacrifices made to achieve it? If the Empire had a soul, how cynical could he be before that very soul was tainted, even if it was to guarantee its very survival? Morrowind, and all her people. It had not been his wish that they would attempt to tear themselves free from what they thought a withered Empire, but the chance these secessionists offered, as if on a silver platter, had been too beneficial to overlook.

Now, the province was reclaimed in more than just name. The hardline independent Houses had been snuffed out to the last man, woman and child. He had allowed only two exceptions, on the plea of those of his agents directly responsible for the fall of House Telvanni. Three, technically, though it was known well and wide that Neloth no longer concerned himself with the politicking of anyone but himself. Cato had deemed the ancient magister a non-threat, or at least a potential threat too far removed and too easily prevented to warrant killing. Enough blood had already been shed, too much of it innocent. Too much of it had belonged to children who had never conspired.

Hopefully, Valerian would never know. Octavian would understand, if he ever knew, but was better left unknowing all the same. Reprisals had been expected, of course. The Morag Tong had to be snuffed out before the Great Houses. The fact that it had even been possible... if it had, that is. Who knew how widespread their roots had grown over the years? In Morrowind they were no more, but how many were in Cyrodiil? In High Rock? The other two lives spared had been those of the Maryon girls, Brelyna and Adurdal, though the former had been less complicated, knowing nothing of the cleansing and being adopted into House Aulus. The younger, though, Adurdal, had witnessed the massacre. It was a strange bit of irony that it was her parents' killer who pleaded for her life. He'd relented, eventually, though he was still in the dark as to where to place the girl, or how to deal with the likelihood of revenge in her later years. The Maryons always had that streak...

In the end, things had started settling down, at least for the time being. The major cities were being garrisoned and the roads patrolled. To ease the transition, taxation was halved for the province, though their tithe in minerals maintained. The Empire needed Ebony more than gold, and he would forego the latter entirely if need be to keep the precious, black metal flowing. The boundless stores of Ebony beneath Vvardenfell made the province worth its weight in gold, mountains and all.

If today went well, it would help the Empire and his people along the road to recovery after the war, from which many still bore wounds both physical and not. If today went well... he could pass on the task, the burden and mantle of safeguarding his people. It was only slightly past noon yet, and the procession was not due for another hour. Still, he could do little but let the doubts fester and gnaw. What if today did not go as planned? Octavian was bringing the fabled Dragonborn here, after all. An orphan son of Cyrodiil, and a Legate of the Skyrim Auxiliaries... but all the same, a man.

Men lusted for power, he knew that better than most. It was doubtless that the Dragonborn knew of the significance of his blood, and that many likely would want a dragonblooded Emperor on the throne, out of sentimentality if nothing else. People still believed that a dragonblooded Emperor was required, to some degree, to keep up the wards between Mundus and Oblivion, even as they walked past the great Dragon, the monument and result of Martin Septim's sacrifice. There was a sense of legend in it too, he supposed, a promise of return to the Empire's glory days, when the Septims ruled.

Amusingly, few indeed were the commoners who could name more than Tiber, Uriel and Martin Septim. The rest had gone into the anals of history, forgotten by all but those who studied their lives. His own father suffered much the same ignominy, overshadowed entirely by himself because of what the elves had wrought against Man. It was fame he would rather have been without, and in a way he envied those forgotten Emperors, his own father included. To rule in peace was to rule forgotten, the saying went. It rang truer by the day. Those who were remembered were so because of the great events they endured or caused. Tiber Septim forged the Empire of legends by sword and divine will, while Uriel was murdered in the tunnels beneath the city by the very cult that sought Dagon's entrance into Nirn. Martin... well, everyone remembered the man whom Akatosh himself had touched, and whose form now presided over the Temple District like a personification of the Dragon-God himself, watching over his children.

"Emperor." It was Cato, the spymaster awaiting him in finer dress than usual; "The Royal entourage has crossed the bridge."

"It is time, then." it was strange, he almost felt...nervous. Was it to see his son again, or was it because of whom he brought along? A man who was simultaneously a threat and a promise of salvation to the Empire as it stood. Either he would be a boon for the Empire, or demands for the return of Dragon Blood to the throne would see them ripped apart. Quieter, soft steps alerted him to the approach of his grandchild; "Valerian."

"I've seen them from my window." the Prince spoke, halfway eager and anxious. Much like himself, perhaps, though for different reasons; "Father's back, isn't he? And he brings the Dragonborn with him!"

Valerian, in a sense, was a sound gauge of the public mood. If the young prince was this keen on the Dragonborn's arrival, the crowds would likely be no less ecstatic. At least the boy was unlikely to demand the crowning of a man who would then depose his family.

"It would seem so." Cato hummed, amused; "Now calm yourself, Liege. The people shouldn't see you too moved."

"I know." Valerian nodded, and it was not the first time the Emperor had appreciated Cato's diligence beyond his field of work; "Father wouldn't approve either if I was not in control of myself."

"Indeed." the Emperor nodded, turning his gaze onto the guards, faceless both behind their metal masks; "Open the doors."

Beyond the great oaken doors, the spectacle awaited. Almost an hour of speculations and doubts had passed already, though it felt less than minutes. The Emperor breathed, calming old nerves before gesturing for the guards to push apart the massive frames. The interior of the palace was dimly lit compared to the hot, blinding summer sun outside, and he heard the crowd before his eyes had adjusted. A thunderous roar greeted him as the people of the Imperial City laid eyes on him, or maybe it had been so all along and the walls had merely sheltered him from the sound. It was applause the likes of which he hadn't heard since Prince Valerian was presented to the public, a mere babe then.

The triumph would be held down the main street, stretching all the way from the city gates to the Green Emperor Way, a straight line of paved road, pressed now on both sides by jubilant crowds that numbered in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. It was a mass and sea of life, of hope and rejoice. It was impossible to discern a single word or chant from the crowds, as he and Valerian took their seats on chairs placed before the massive doors. Fabric was strung out above to shield their eyes from the sun.

Though not that there would be a great deal of waiting, for already he could see the city gates swing open, those massive, iron doors. It was a tradition from the days of Reman that the victorious conquer when returning home would bear the laurel-wreath of victory, crowned like Reman himself had once been. Though, in those days the homebound hero would ride in on a chariot, rendered somewhat obsolete ages past. Instead, Octavian Mede rode at the head of his entourage, visible for his golden, gleaming armor hundreds of meters away. Titus Mede reclined in his chair, hands folded as he watched his son, the Imperial Crown-Prince, and heir to all that was in sight and more.

"Your father's always loved the crowds." the Emperor mused, seeing Valerian fidget where he sat. It was very little, but he felt like the prince stiffened at his words; "And the crowds love him, a conquering hero... Do you see the man on the horse next to him?"

The prince squinted against the light, and even he himself only asked because he knew who would be there. He couldn't yet make out any details of the fabled Dragonborn. And the doubts lingered, if this had been a wise decision or not. What was he like, this hero-soldier Tulius had reported on? The man who'd broken the stalemate in Skyrim and broken the armies of Morrowind. Beyond his abilities, what was his character?

"That's the Dragonborn?" Valerian said, though he almost sounded... disappointed?

"You sound as if you'd expected him to have horns, or breathe fire." it was not unappreciated that the prince had disrupted his darker thoughts. Levity, perhaps, could for once be allowed. In other circumstances he'd have asked the boy how the Aulus girl, Alai, fared. The more time those two spent together, the better. Evermore and Daggerfall were the greatest powers in High Rock, after all, and the allegiances of the latter had already been cemented by the boy's father. With both kingdoms tied by blood, the Empire would be stronger for it.

"I thought he'd be taller, maybe..." the Prince muttered, standing as beckoned when the entourage came close enough that their faces could be made out. The people was in absolute uproar, a deafening spectacle of applause and cheers, a shower of roses and wildflowers drizzling through the air from both sides of the street as the Empire's heir rode past. The old man noted with a faint smile that he even managed to catch a few.

"Appearances can deceive, Valerian." he said, nodding with approval as Octavian first, then the fabled Dragonborn next dismounted their horses. There was new scarring on the Crown-Prince's cuirass, he noticed, a long, shallow gash. It would not be the first time the enchantments in the armor had saved his son's life. The Emperor stepped forward, meeting his son at the base of the steps, where Crown-Prince and Dragonborn both now knelt.

"Octavian." Though he'd not raised his voice, the crowd fell silent as if by magic, leaving the name to echo down the street; "My son, you are returned to us. Stand, embrace your father."

The crowd rose in renewed cheers as Octavian obeyed him, the Legate aside him still on one knee. The Crown-Prince had never been much for such intimacy, and not at all out in public. All the same there was no hesitation in the act.

Valerian was next, embracing his father more than the other way around. It was clear that the young man has missed him, though not often did he speak of this. His father did not spend much time in the Imperial City, had not since the death of Valerian's mother.

"But you have come not alone to us." he said, clapping his son on the back. His son nodded, a satisfied grin set within his well-kempt beard. It was a twist of irony, that he had brought the Dragonborn here, but himself was the spitting image of Tiber Septim. At least, of the paintings. Titus turned now and beckoned for the kneeling soldier to stand. Valerian was not wrong in his observation before; the man was not as tall as one would expect of so mythical a figure.

"Gaius Aurelianus, I hear?" he said, placing a hand on the Legate's shoulder. He'd almost expected to feel some sort of power at the mere touch. The way the stories went, the man was half-god even when he wasn't trying. Dangerous, indeed, but then the look in the man's eyes... "Welcome. It is an honor beyond words to finally meet the famous Dragonborn. Tulius has told me much of your exploits."

Aurelianus actually seemed to shake at his touch, but did not recoil. It was a moment before Titus realized and recognized the reaction for what it was. It was only because of the irony of it, that he'd not noticed the anxiety and awe so plainly written upon the demigod's face. Awe, at meeting a simple mortal? Was it not he himself who should be in awe, trembling knees, at the sight of legend made manifest. At the sign of Talos himself once more returning to the Empire.

The Legate opened and closed his mouth, attempting to speak but producing no more than unintelligible sounds. The crowd's cheers were still queting, and so none would hear but those very much closest to them, but if the man could not speak for himself, time must be bought. But he could do better than merely to purchase time. In fact, a humbled legend was better than he'd dared to hope.

The Emperor held up his hands, bringing the crowds to an absolute silence in mere moments.

"In a time long lost to all but the scholars and the most ardent of scribes, Tamriel was brought together stronger than it had ever been before. This Empire was forged by the kinship of gods and men. As it has so many times before, the Empire faces enemies who would see us wiped from the material plane. We are beset, indeed, by those who would see us destroyed, our legacies undone. Just three decades past, they stole away our rights of worship, desecrating our temples and washing our streets in the blood of our children. For thirty years we have endured. We have tolerated the presence of those would would call themselves our betters, our masters, as they stalk the land. In Skyrim, when our brothers and sisters, the Nords, dared to venerate the very founder of our Empire, the Dominion sent its hunters and murderers to steal away men, women and children from their very beds. We have suffered oppression and contempt, remaining stoic in the face of such blatant vileness..."

The mood was changing. Silenced cheers became angered murmurs, as memories were revived of what had been lost. Of the people lost, when the Dominion had sacked the city. Many amongst the people assembled before him now had lost loved ones to the massacre. The elves had spared none they could find, no matter their age. The elderly had been slain with the same butcher's knife that cut the throats of their grandchildren. The elves had butchered his own wife, cutting her down where she'd stood in the Temple. Her statue stood before the entrance to this day still, a ward for those within against outer terrors.

Valerian had never known his grandmother.

"...today, I stand here before you, as do Crown-Prince Octavian and Prince Valerian, to bring you tidings of better days. We thought for years that the White-Gold Concordat had turned away the gods from our fates, and left us alone in the darkness. But no, it was not to be so! Instead, my children, I am before you now, here, today, aside the very proof that the gods have not abandoned us! Indeed, we are favored by the gods, and they have sent to us the blood of Akatosh reborn once again. Legate Gaius Aurelianus was born in the shape of a mortal man, indeed, but his soul is that of the sons of Akatosh. Already he has aided in the reunification of our realm. Together, Octavian and Aurelianus have reunited Morrowind with the Empire, strengthening both against the coming darkness, and believe me, my children, the darkness ever encroaches upon our shores. Renewed strength is needed, if we are to face down and bash against the rocks of our homeland coasts these terrors."

Turning halfway, he walked between Octavian and Aurelianus, close enough that both were within his reach.

"Thirty years ago, I led our people through the Great War." he said, placing a hand on Octavian's shoulder; "If we are to embark upon another, I do not have the strength in my bones to lead us again. Crown-Prince Octavian Mede, you are my firstborn and only son. There can be no doubts in my heart that the horizon darkens, and your torch burns ever brighter whilst mine own has dimmed."

"Father..." Octavian swallowed, beating a hand against his chest in salute; "You honor me."

"The day soon approaches that you will take my place as Emperor." It was the honest truth, no matter his schemes. The years had caught up to him, he knew that much. No longer could he lead from the front, or think clearly and quickly enough to strategize from the rear. If... when the Dominion came again, it could no longer be Titus Mede the Second who sat the throne. He took Octavian's hand, holding it up for the crowds to cheer; "The Empire is the strength of all its children, its Emperor no less so. We must realize it when the gods deem us worthy, and send us our second leg to stand upon."

Gaius Aurelianus then found his hand hoisted up, likewise as the Crown-Prince's.

"This world" Titus Mede said, looking first to his son, then to the Dragonborn; "And Aetherius. Each needs the other. Each is strengthened by the attentiveness of the other. It is my hope, as Emperor, that when Octavian succeeds me, he will do so hand in hand with Divine will made manifest. Side by side, Emperor and Dragonborn shall make safe and reunited Tamriel, and safeguard her children."

"Long Live the Emperor!" Aurelianus had finally found his voice, tears swelled his eyes. For all that he was divine in spirit, his heart remained as human as any of their own. At his side, Octavian bellowed and laughed at the sight, taking the Dragonborn's released hand in his own, raising them high in a united fist. His teeth shone in a rare grin as he joined his voice to that of his comrade, and to the rising cheers of the people;

"Long live the Empire!"

The Emperor allowed himself a smile, genuine in its nature if not for the reasons as the people. He had passed the first and chief of hindrances: the Dragonborn would serve the Emperor, not replace him. Rather than a threat to the stability of the Empire, Gaius Aurelianus had in this very moment become its very core. Emperor and Dragonborn, joined if not in blood then at least in comradeship.

Octavian was every bit the warrior-Emperor in the making, already a battlefield tactician worthy of generalship no matter his blood, and a fighter unafraid of bloodshed. The day when he would bear the mantle of safeguarding the Empire was fast approaching, far closer indeed than his son could comprehend. But he was ready, this Titus knew. For all he dreaded the future, he knew none could lead the Empire through it better than Octavian.

But for now, he would allow his son the respite, and the festivities soon to commence. He would make the announcements at their end.

For better or for worse, this would change the world.

Kirkwall was not a place she'd heard much, if anything of, before. Honestly it had registered, maybe, the last time she'd looked at the map of Ferelden on the big wall in Denerim. It showed some of the southern Marches as well, and apparently Kirkwall was one of the cities visible there.

A big place then, a remnant from the days of Tevinter greatness, as they said. The more Talia heard about the place though, between the bites as Brelyna forced food down Daveth's emaciated, half-starved form, the less she liked it.

"...and that's when I found the slavers..." he managed, before the Dunmeri girl shoved another spoonful of mashed potato through the opening he'd left by speaking. Of course, much of her own dislike of Kirkwall probably stemmed from Daveth being about as biased as one could be, all things considered; "...and started killing them."

"Good." Brelyna nodded approvingly, and honestly Talia was a little unsettled by how much she too agreed with his methods. Daveth had never been a swordsman, but she'd seen the blades he picked up in Denerim. Those things could do some nasty stuff to the human body; "Open."

"You found the slavers, and..." Aedan prodded, though Daveth, mouth stuffed with potato, was not capable of speech for several seconds. It was strange, really, how the strengths of a Grey Warden accompanied a very real weakness. A flaw in the design, so to speak. Daveth had been drifting across the Waking Sea for a bit more than four days, but looked like he'd been starved twice that. The metabolism of Grey Wardens was a real bitch when you couldn't sit down and chow til you dropped. That was a real bonus to staying at Castle Cousland most of the time, though an unexpected one. She'd known pregnancy could get women craving all sorts of food, but when it hit... she had to chalk it up to some lingering Warden traits that hadn't yet been washed out by Hakkon's blood, because there was no way a woman her size should be capable of eating the way she did.

"Found their boss." Daveth finally managed, dodging another potato. He didn't seem all that enthusiastic, despite the victory. It seemed a sour memory; "Fucker sold his entire 'stock' to a Tevinter Magister, a man named Darius or...something."

Aedan was the only one who seemed to react to that, though she couldn't tell if it was the name or the title, or maybe...

"You want to go to Tevinter, and... what, kill a Magister?" he muttered, shaking his head; "Do you even know how many guards those have? Even then, it's a magister. They get those titles because they're some of the strongest mages in Thedas... Maker's breath, what do you even intend?"

"Easy." Daveth shrugged; "I'm not going to Tevinter."

"Oh thank the gods..." Talia sighed, realizing she'd feared he would.

"He's a regular in Kirkwall, stops by every year. Thing is, he's coming back a little sooner this year, because of the Deep Roads expedition." That was another thing. An expedition to the Deep Roads... Were people just randomly suicidal these days? For non-Wardens, or non-Dwarves for that matter, to delve into the Deep Roads after a Blight, was that not just the absolute epitome of fucking stupidity?

"People do realize the Darkpawn are trickling back down into the Deep Roads now, yes?" J'zargo snorted, amused. It seemed it wasn't quite lost on the cat how goddamn stupid the whole thing was. An expedition during the Blight? Sure, that'd even be downright smart, considering the shit usually downstairs would be upstairs at that point. But after? "These...people, they are not of soundest minds, no?"

"Definitely." Talia agreed.

"According to my contacts in Kirkwall, there's a period of time after Blights where the Darkspawn haven't returned back to the Deep Roads in force yet, and haven't replenished their numbers yet either. That's the window they're gonna use."

"Your contacts?" Aedan mused.

"A dwarf and some Fereldan apostates."

"Of course they are..." her husband sighed.

"Why would Fereldans be in Kirkwall now?" Brelyna asked; "It is not the friendliest of places."

"Refugees get a lighter sentence, figure." Daveth shrugged; "Apostates are from Lothering, don't seem too familiar with the concept of hiding what they are. Pranced about in Lowtown, staffs and all. Anyways, they're signed on for the trip, mentioned who the financer was and... yeah, that's about it."

"So Darius." Of course a Magister would want to poke his nose into the Deep Roads. Talia barely understood what could be found down there, but of course a powerful mage would want whatever could be found down there. Daveth was being an idiot, a pretty big one actually, if he thought he could just...what, sneak up and stab a magister; "Okay, there's gotta be a way to do this that doesn't involve you getting your ass killed trying to... I'm guessing trying to free your wife from his evil clutches like some sort of dashing, chivalric hero?"

Daveth gave her a scowl that, more or less, confirmed those had been roughly his sort of in-the-making plans. She didn't sigh. It wouldn't be fair to him. Honestly none of this was, this whole mess with his wife. Aedan would probably have planned along the same lines if she'd been the one abducted, sold and, most importantly, not a mage. Actually... didn't he already pull something like that in Haven?

Fereldan men, she realized, probably had some sort of hero thing going. Not that she minded, though, it was a pretty endearing trait, and a far fucking shot more sympathetic than the power-mongering and politicking of those in High Rock. Or, maybe it was just that she was lucky. Rendone Howe had been a cunt, after all.

"Could do without that tone, Tali." he muttered. Fuck. Maybe she had come across as an ass there. Wasn't intentional, she'd swear. Just happened when... well, okay, it was maybe something that happened pretty often. Okay, she could fix this. Hopefully. Problem was getting Daveth to agree.

"...I'm trying to avoid you doing something that we can't walk away from." she said, slowly and trying her damndest to not sound like an ass. Well, not quite that either. Mainly, she was trying to not sound like an adult speaking to a child. Actually, she still didn't even know how old Daveth was. What if he was older than her and she was speaking to him like a child? Ouch; "Slavery is, far as I know, legal in Tevinter, more or less."

Brelyna made a disgusted sound.

"He bought Fereldan citizens in the Free Marches." Daveth countered.

"I didn't say he wasn't a fucking slaver." she argued, trying to keep her tone and voice cordial. They really should have taken this somewhere not in the main hall. Fuck it, too late for that now. Moving would be awkward; "Let's say you kill his ass, walk out of there with your wife, unscathed."

"That's the idea."

"Okay." hands folded, how the fuck was she going to explain international politics to a pickpocket, Warden or no Warden. Daveth had no educational background beyond what the Chantry had given him. He couldn't even read; "Right now, the Empire is trying to get in the good graces of as many powers in Thedas as it can. to prevent Tevinter joining in the bloodshed. I think. That or they will try and appease Tevinter. Black Chantry or not, it's still the second-most powerful country in Thedas after Orlais. It's an outcast, but the Black Divine's been trying to mend bonds with Val Royeaux for some years now. It would be real fucking unfortunate if one of their high-ranking Magisters was cut down by a Fereldan Warden."

Aedan gave her a look of confusion now, as if to ask how in the hells she knew about the Black Divine, considering he'd basically never been a subject of conversation. He could thank Mother Mallol for that, honestly. It was hard, as usual, to dislike a Chantry represented by women she simply couldn't dislike. I wonder what happened to Sister Giselle, actually. Wasn't she Orlesian?

"Mallol likes to chat." she said, shrugging before turning back to Daveth, who seemed at least more amicable now; "My point is, a Fereldan Warden killing a Tevinter Magister right now, or really as long as this whole shitshow's going on, might just push Tevinter to get back at Ferelden as a whole, and join in the Exalted March."

The amicable look went away from Daveth's face, replaced instead by irritation. Probably most of it aimed at her. Didn't change that she was right. Especially because her own involvement or mere knowledge by association of the killing wouldn't be a secret long. And that would then be tied to her family, and... yeah, she really didn't want to follow that line of thoughts to the end.

"You want me to just... leave my wife with him?" anger mixed in his words now. Talia felt it too, her own anger that was, because how dare he think she'd want something like that?

"No." she said slowly, drawing out the word before continuing, resisting the urge to bonk him on the noggin with a spoon. She didn't have one, but still; "I want you to be smart about this. There are ways to get ahead without killing people, and yes I realize of us all I've probably killed the most people. Shut up."

"I didn't say anything." Brelyna said.

"Were about to, I can tell." Talia muttered, drawing a hand over her eyes. Gods, she was tired. Why couldn't Daveth have come back tomorrow instead and she could have had a night's sleep before all this shit was thrown at her? If she didn't stop him, Daveth would absolutely kill the shit out of that Magister, no matter the consequences. There had to be another way, one that didn't result in the Magister keeping Daveth's wife in chains. Or, really, any other Fereldan citizens; "Okay. Let's establish some points here. Goal?"

"Getting Nesiara the fuck away from that slaver." Daveth grumbled, though the anger had dissipated somewhat.

"Free wife, yes." Okay, that was the first step. Goal, then method; "Method? We can't kill him, that's rule number one."

"What's rule number two then?" their leader asked sardonically; "We're not to insult him either?"

"There's no rule number two, actually." she shrugged; "Call him a dog's cock if you want when we find him, just no killing... actually, no hurting either, at all."

Aedan sounded like he choked on something at the slur. Oh yeah, Fereldans and dogs...

"...we could buy her back, I guess." her husband suggested, regaining air; "Provided he'd even sell her. Or any of the others."

"It's an option." an option she hated because it felt like legitimizing slavery, but... still an option; "I don't suppose appealing to his better nature would work?"

The Dunmer looked like the spoon in her hand could become a cudgel. Talia waved her off, then looked back to Daveth;

"So, when exactly is this expedition Darius is financing?"

"Roughly a month from now, I think." he said; "I'm not entirely sure how long I was at sea on the way back. So, maybe take a few days off, but that's about it."

"We could cross the strait in four days tops in a proper ship." Aedan said; "We lost the ones that were docked when the Chantry attacked Highever, but Harper's Ford is just a full day's ride east, and they weren't hit by the fleet. Let's say ten days off that month, just to be sure."

"Gives us twenty days to get ready." Talia nodded; "Who should go? We have time to contact Denerim."

"As Fereldan nobility and a Grey Warden, I should accompany Daveth." Aedan said. She didn't like that he was right, mostly because she'd already written herself off the list. There was no way she was going somewhere like Kirkwall in her condition. Also she knew Brelyna would tie her to a bed if she tried; "Considering we're going to be dealing with a Magister, I wouldn't mind if we had mage or Templar support, but..."

"CĂ­ada, maybe?" Brelyna mused; "If we get the Chantry's support, why not someone we know?"

"The Circle doesn't just let its mages run around." Aedan said; "They need permission to just leave the Tower, not to mention the country. It would be more practical to request a Templar, I think..."

"Cullen?" Talia suggested. She only knew a few Templars, and liked him the best. Of course, Ser Ava was an option too, but probably too high-ranking to bother with something like this. Either way, it probably wouldn't be something they could just request and pick and choose; "It's a three day ride to Kinloch, and back. If we want their help we should get a letter sent tonight."

"I'll see to that." Aedan nodded, a small smile etching onto his features. They were at least making progress, in decisions if nothing else. It was never a question of whether they would help Daveth or not, and she hoped the bastard knew it. Hadn't come this far just to throw him under the proverbial wagon; "Either way we'd better not draw too much attention as is, over there. I'll take Roland with me, even if we do get Templar or mage support."

The resident Dunmer made a disappointed noise, and Talia nearly choked on her tea. The castle gardens had all sorts of herbs, and she'd found nettles there, of all things. Apparently nettles could be used for tea, in spring, but these had been dried since and were still pretty good. And she'd nearly spilled it when Brelyna's reaction caught her off guard.

"I don't suppose Sten's an option?" Daveth suggested; "Wouldn't mind having him along in the Deep Roads."

"No idea where he is but..." Talia shook her head, suddenly snapping up; "Fuck, that reminds me. Carver."

"Who?" their leader asked, and it was actually kinda funny. Normally the leader would be the first to know of the new recruits. Yet here he was, the only one in the dark; "Or what?"

"Sten's been recruiting." Brelyna said, and she almost sounded proud; "He recruited a soldier from Loghain's forces, or... well, he was. After they returned to Denerim he deserted... wasn't he from Lothering too?"

"He is." Aedan said, as if it was a sudden realization; "That's... oddly coincidental. It wasn't a big town, really. Maybe he'd known the apostates?"

"Probably not." Daveth shrugged; "Known apostates don't tend to stick around, I figure. He any good?"

"I'd say." Talia nodded, grinning a little. Carver was good, no question there. He was strange too, but considering all he'd survived... it wasn't really something she'd hold against him. Plus, if Aedan took him along for Kirkwall, it'd be less time for the kid to brood over the Architect. She had not exactly made the best first impression. Oh yeah... I wonder if he's still pissed. At me, specifically.

It was not often the Royal Palace in Denerim could boast of such esteemed guests as those now in its very halls. Anora certainly could not remember the last time this had happened, though she knew, vaguely, that it was a regular occurrence even in normal times.

Regular, of course, did not make it any less of a cause for ceremony when it did happen.

"Grand Cleric Elemena" Much as she could, Anora knelt before the head of the Fereldan Chantry, second in rank only to the Divine herself. Fergus did the same, suffering in silence as his ankle strained, and metal pressed. With the most revered of Revered Mothers was also her interpreter, as the Grand Cleric had lost her hearing nearly twenty years ago. It still baffled Anora how the woman had so actively participated in the last Landsmeet. But this was no Landsmeet, and yet soon enough she suspected these halls would fill up with nobles of the realm.

Aside from her interpreter, Elemena had also brought the Revered Mothers of Ferelden's Chantries, those at least that still stood after the Blight. The Grand Cleric herself would not have come if not for the Conclave having finally reached a decision. And either way, regardless of what that decision was, its making would need to be relayed to the Landsmeet. Somehow, Anora did not feel like either decision would bring her much in the way of relief.

"Your Majesties." It was not always that deaf people retained coherent speech, but through the Maker's grace or simple determination, the Grand Cleric spoke as clearly as had she still had the use of her ears. With a gesture, she bade them both rise again, though Fergus did so awkwardly; "I presume to ask, you understand my purpose here today?"

"The Conclave has reached its decision?" Fergus asked, nodding. The interpreter's hands flashed, faster than Anora could make sense of. Elemena nodded sagely, beset by her years and the stress of her mantle.

"Amongst the twenty-four remaining Revered Mothers and myself, we have reached an accord on the matter of Ferelden's Chantry and its ties to the Chantry in Val Royeaux." she said, her voice a slow rasp until she came into breath; "Due to the actions undertaken by Divine Beatrix the Third, which resulted in the as of yet ongoing assault on Ferelden, its holdings and its peoples, and the silence we have met in attempting communications with the Grand Cathedral..."

Ah. So, it had come down to this, then. Anora knew the answer now, but still needed to hear it spoken aloud. Her insides churned like a worm in its death throes. In a way, she had known from the very beginning of the Conclave just what would be the outcome. The Exalted March had torched shops and shrines alike, all in the name of burning the heresy out from Ferelden's very heart.

"...and we no longer regard it as a viable path, nor a righteous one, to remain tied to a Chantry which so blatantly sets the righteous and the faithful ablaze like were they the lowest of heretics." a hint of anger slipped into the old woman's words, but more so it seemed sorrow. Sorrow, likely, for the lifetime of service to the Grand Cathedral and the Divine, all now seemingly for naught as that very Chantry had turned its back and blade upon them; "In two weeks time, we request a Landsmeet of the Nobility, that we may relay our decision to them."

"Maker's Mercy..." Fergus whispered; "This is it, then? We separate from the Orlesian Chantry? We split from the Divine, just as Tevinter did?"

"We are not Tevinter, nor will we be a Black Chantry." Elemena's voice was stone, even before the interpreter's hands were silent; "We are not the ones who have erred, and sinned. It is Divine Beatrix who, in whatever state of mind she be, made the decision to set the birthplace of Andraste ablaze. It is she who is the heretic. Her soul's only salvation now rests in madness, for if she is of clear thought, then indeed this is a most malicious heresy she commits."

"It changes little, regardless." Anora said, a hand on her husband's arm. When he stood, it would be awkward to reach his shoulders anyway; "We are beset by Exalted Marches all the same, whether we take a stand or not. At least this way, we can once more look to the Chantry, our Chantry, for aid. A Fereldan Chantry for Ferelden..."

In that very moment, Anora felt as if she could hear her father's voice in the hall, laughing with quiet amusement at the irony of her being the Mac Tir to remove them even further from Orlais.

Indeed, she was following in his footsteps. Fate seemed to want it no other way.

Bioware did an oopsie, I noticed when reading up on the Grand Cleric. Apparently she's been deaf for a decade or two, according to the game's own lore, but she didn't seem to have any problems keeping up with the Landsmeet, even reacting to and accusing Loghain of interrupting Templar work. So, an interpreter was my solution to it.