Leaning back into the chair he’d been provided upon entering Teyrn Loghain’s tent, Duncan mused quietly over the story he’d been provided by the King. It was a rather impressive tale of survival given the surprise of the attack on Highever and he certainly wanted to meet both of the boys that had stumbled into camp only a few hours before.
That those boys were also the reason he, the King, and the Teyrn were meeting in the Teyrn’s tent instead of the King’s said something about Cailan as well. It certainly had him regarding the young man in a different light than he had the first time he’d met him. There were many tales revolving around the young King, most of them describing him as something of a fool, but that was not the man that Duncan saw.
No, he saw a very capable young man – perhaps a little overwhelmed from time to time but who was not when faced with a Blight – and a fair leader. And one who would obviously do anything to protect his brother. Given his own charge to protect Fiona’s son, he found that he could sympathize greatly with the latter.
“Should we change our strategy?” questioned the King, looking between the two older men. “We’ve already rebuffed two waves of darkspawn and according to our scouts they seem to have mostly retreated from the area. Dare we really keep all of our forces here while Howe ravages Highever?”
Leaning forward, Duncan said, “You dare not leave, Your Majesty. The darkspawn may seem to be gone but they no doubt will return given this is their best route north. As I have been telling you, we are in a Blight. Until the Archdemon is slain, we will continue to contend with darkspawn.”
From his left Loghain frowned darkly. “If we are in a Blight.”
“We are,” intoned Duncan seriously. “We Wardens know.”
The King looked like he wanted to question how, his blue eyes alive with curiosity, then he seemed to smother the urge. Instead he looked at Loghain and said, “Given that we have no idea of how the darkspawn operate, for now we’ll bow to the Wardens greater knowledge of them. Isn’t that how you taught me, Loghain?”
“You know full well it is,” growled the Teyrn. He then turned to Duncan and spat, “Very well then, Duncan, how is it you would have us operate?”
Duncan arched an eyebrow at the other man, wondering where the sudden ire from coming from. Then he recalled that long ago mission, his first back into the country he’d been born in, and a much younger Teyrn coming after his King. He wasn’t about to let the past play upon the present situation, however.
“Much as you are now,” he answered. “I would, however, put a closer watch on the Tower of Ishal. Those lower chambers worry me and darkspawn are capable of tunneling beneath the earth. I fear with the Archdemon behind this horde they might be wise enough to flank us.”
With a sharp nod, the King said, “I’ll send a larger group of men into the Tower then. I also sent one of my men to Redcliffe with a letter for Uncle Eamon to inform him that his troops were needed.”
Loghain straightened at this and Duncan blinked slowly as the Teyrn said, “Two days ago you were claiming that we likely wouldn’t need Redcliffe’s forces despite my warning that we should have them just to be cautious.”
“That was before my brother walked here from Highever,” hissed Cailan, his blue eyes snapping suddenly with cold fury. “Before I learned one of my Arls went against the oaths he swore and attacked the only other Teyrnir of Ferelden, killing it’s rightful Teyrn.”
There was a long pause after he finished speaking and then Loghain leaned forward, his dark eyes serious. “The boy is a bastard,” he snarled. “There is absolutely no reason to worry so much about him when he had no standing.”
The King rose from his seat, his expression thunderous, and snapped, “All the years of my life, you’ve claimed to never like the politics played by the nobility yet ever since Alistair arrived in our lives, you have taken every opportunity to play politics against him.” Leaning across the table they sat around, he continued in a low snarl, “I do not seek to protect him because he’s a possible heir to the throne in the case of my death, Loghain. I seek to protect him because he’s my brother, my blood, and I made a promise when I was only five years old that I would never let anything happen to him!”
Leaning back in his chair, Duncan stilled the smile that wanted to show itself. He truly could find himself liking this young King but this quickly growing (and old, by his guess) argument was not productive.
“Gentlemen,” he said in his firmest voice, drawing their attention, “we must not let our focus stray from the dangers of the Blight or we may find ourselves losing everything that we wish to protect.”
After a moment the King nodded and straightened. “You are too right, Duncan. I apologize for my outburst.”
“No need for apologies, Your Majesty,” assured Duncan, allowing his smile to show now. He then inclined his head towards both of them as he continued, “If you’ll excuse me, however, I must take my leave. Jarriad should be returning soon with my latest recruits from their mission in the Wilds.”
Loghain narrowed his eyes at him then turned his head away almost dismissively, curiously silent now. The King frowned at the older man for a moment before he said, “Thank you for your advice, Duncan. I should go see to getting those men in the Tower and then see to my brother and Aedan. Good night to you both.”
“Good night, Your Majesty,” said both Duncan and Loghain at once as Cailan left the tent. As he turned to leave, the other man called his name.
Turning back, Duncan arched an eyebrow and met the Teyrn’s dark gaze levely.
“I don’t like this game you’re playing,” growled Loghain.
Narrowing his eyes, Duncan found himself not particularly liking the man the much younger Teyrn he’d met had grown into. Especially not after hearing of how he’d treated Alistair all of the boy’s life firsthand from Cailan’s lips. “I do not play games when it concerns darkspawn, Teyrn Loghain.”
“Wardens always play games! I learned that firsthand when you all dragged Maric off on that little mission of yours years ago.” Loghain paused then hissed, “That merely led up to that boy.”
“That boy as you call him,” said Duncan slowly, his voice dangerously low, “is the child of one of my oldest friends. She never expected Maric to keep him, merely to keep him safe. It was her wish that he not be involved with either of their lives.”
With a snarl, the Teyrn was out of his seat so quickly that the camp chair overturned. He stalked away a step, his back towards Duncan, and then stopped.
“It was a betrayal to Rowan’s memory,” said Loghain and suddenly Duncan could hear the much younger man from years before. There had been pain there then but his own younger self was never able to comprehend it. Now, he could feel it all too well though he did not dare ponder at the why’s too closely.
“Alistair was not responsible.”
“I know that!” exploded the other man. He then stilled and turned to lean on the table, suddenly looking far older than he actually was. “The boy surprised me. Surviving that mess in Highever…it was an impressive feat.”
Somewhat amused now, Duncan said, “You shouldn’t be surprised. He is, after all, Maric’s son.”
“I never saw him as such.”
“And perhaps that is the problem.”
Loghain looked up at that then scowled suddenly, asking, “Wasn’t there somewhere you needed to be?” Shaking his head and not at all put off by the abrupt rebuff, Duncan stepped forward and leaned on the other side of the table, smiling slightly.
“I have a few moments,” he answered.
“And something to say,” snarled the other man.
Duncan tilted his head slightly to the side. “You are the one who opened the door. I’ve merely stepped through it.”
Loghain snorted then fell silent, obviously waiting for him to continue. Shaking his head, Duncan leaned a little further across the table and said quietly, “Perhaps you should try seeing Alistair as the son of your friend instead of the bastard son of your King.”
With that, Duncan turned on his heel and left the tent, leaving the Teyrn to his memories and likely painful confrontation with the reality of what he had been putting an innocent boy through for too many years. He could only hope that the man would come to terms with it quickly as he was all too certain they did not have much time left.
The horde was coming, whether they were ready or not.