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Not Made of Gold [Complete]

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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Noble
Grey Warden
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#1
((OOC: Cloudreach 23, 9:34 to the evening of the 24th, @Cauthrien ))

"Ser Cauthrien returns, m'lord," the guard standing before Nathaniel's desk informed.

The thought had niggled at Nathaniel's mind briefly upon his trip back from Highever that Cauthrien might change her mind and decide not to willingly associate with a Howe again. He would not have blamed her if she had. But she was a woman true to her word and returned to the Keep.

Would she still be willing to speak with him, though? He hoped so, but not on this day. He would seek her out the next day. Rest and a hot meal before questions was appropriate. Nathaniel nodded to the guard. "Have someone show her a room in the Warden wing of the Keep."

---

Nathaniel's invitation went out the next day via a guard after dinner. He waited until the end of the day because he had not wanted to seem anything of those things he knew he was, eager and desperate.

Rendon Howe was a man that protected his secrets and liked to present himself as an chameleon, always morphing himself to match the mood and whims of those he wished to influence. There was little chance he'd revealed anything about his reasons or actions to Cauthrien, but Nathaniel had to find out all the same. There was the possibility that Rendon relaxed his guard when she was around and not Loghain. Rendon might have viewed Cauthrien as nothing more than Loghain's servant and the help did not matter nearly as much.

The help... His father had a tendency to not give credit where credit was due. Cauthrien was much more than that and part of why Nathaniel wished her in the wardens. They desperately needed skilled warriors in their ranks. A bunch of crafty and sneaky rogues were good in a pinch, but nothing could compare to having warriors in the front line. After having first met her two months back, Nathaniel did some research on Cauthrien and had his suspicions that anyone that was Loghain's second had to be a gifted combatant confirmed.

As he waited on her arrival, he started to pace, anxiousness forcing him to move about the room. His gaze drifted toward his desk. It was hard not to look at it and think of Fiona and the whiskey bottle kept inside the desk now because of her. But those demons he welcomed each evening when he faced his bed alone could wait for a time. Older demons demanded his attention now and those he did not wish to cloak within in a whiskey fog. He resisted the temptation of his whiskey. This was a conversation he wished his wits about him, his mind clear.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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#2
The room she'd been shown to had been different from the one she had stayed in before. That one had been in the guest wing, and had been furnished as a guest room: tasteful but bland paintings on the walls; rugs and curtains in muted colors that complemented the woolen cover on the bed; flowers in a vase on the dresser; a couple of books on the bedside table.

The new room was located in the wing where the Grey Wardens were housed: larger, the furnishings simple but more than adequate, and bare of any decoration. The shelves were empty; reed mats covered the stones of the floor; the hearth in the fireplace swept clean and wood arranged for a fire, but the mantel was unadorned; plain muslin curtains over the windows and no art on the walls. Waiting for the new occupant to apply their personal tastes.

Cauthrien made no attempt to do so. Not yet. Her gear remained packed, although she did make use of the rack in the corner for her armor and weapons. The bed had been comfortable: not too soft, but the Wardens plainly understood the advantages of a well-rested fighting force.

She had spent much of the day seeing to her armor and sword. After better than a week of travel and a pitched battle, there were rust, dirt and nicks that even her twice-daily fireside maintenance had missed. She left her room for the morning and evening meals, keeping to herself at a corner table, even as her eyes noted familiar faces. No point in settling in and furthering acquaintances until she had been fully accepted as a Grey Warden. If she were not, she would be moving on; perhaps Wrenna would welcome company on the road to wherever her search took her next.

A knock at the door just before sunset proved to be one of the guards, requesting her presence in the Warden-Commander's office. She had not seen Nathaniel since her arrival, had wondered if he had perhaps had second thoughts about his offer. She followed the guard through the halls until he stopped outside a door and opened it, gesturing for her to enter.

Nathaniel Howe stood within, rather than sit behind his desk to await her arrival, as Rendon Howe would have done. She entered the room, stopped and executed a crisp salute. He had become her commanding officer the moment she had accepted his offer, and would be so unless – until - that offer was rescinded. “You sent for me, ser?”
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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#3
With the opening of the door, Nathaniel stopped his movement and turned to watch Cauthrien enter. She saluted him and greeted, “You sent for me, ser?”

He nodded once and motioned to the chairs just to his side by the hearth. "Please come in and have a seat. And it's just Nathaniel."Titles had their time and place. But he did not wish Cauthrien to feel obligated to speak to him merely because he was her superior. Besides, Ser... It was one title Nathaniel did not have the right to possess. "I was never knighted." His father saw to that.

His father... If the journal Nathaniel read was to believed, Rendon planned to undo that wrong and much more. Knight. King-Consort. There was no limit to the machinations of Rendon Howe.

Just as there would be no escaping thoughts of the man on this evening. His ghost was to be center of attention; something Nathaniel knew would please the man. From within whatever grave he found himself in after his death, Rendon still held sway over his son. Nathaniel hoped this meeting with Cauthrien might help free him from those bonds.

"Would you care for something to drink?" He did not wait on her to respond, already moving toward his liquor cabinet. If she did not, he did if for no other reason than to dull the edge of his nerves.

He withdrew a mug from the cabinet and poured himself a generous portion of whiskey. "I'm happy to see you arrived safely. Varel told me about what happened on the road here. I've tasked him with finding the woman a job and home." Varel was none too pleased with the assignment, but that was nothing new. He was often displeased with Nathaniel. Some wounds from the past had yet to heal.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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#4
The Warden-Commander welcomed her with the request with the request that she call him by his name. “I was never knighted,” he added, and while there was no bitterness in his words, there was also little doubt that he knew the reason why had never been about ability. It had simply been another of Rendon's ways of reminding the less favored son of his status; he'd been fond of such reminders to any and all who he deemed beneath him.

She nodded. “As you wish,” she replied, barely managing to avoid the reflexive addition of any honorific, wondering what it meant. If she was not to address him as a superior officer, did that mean she was not to be a Warden?

“Would you care for something to drink?” he asked, striding toward a liquor cabinet.

“That would be welcome,” she replied. “Thank you.” She could sip at it slowly, and the glass would give her something to do with her hands. She kept her expression carefully neutral as he poured a tumbler better than half full. “Less than half that for me, please,” she requested politely. She rather doubted that it was cheap rotgut, and it would be a waste to leave half a glass of good whiskey, but she wasn't about to try to drink so much simply to be sociable. She wondered a bit at him pouring so much for himself, but there was no battle imminent, and it was late enough in the evening that a drink was not inappropriate. Still, Thomas' weakness had been well known...

"I'm happy to see you arrived safely,” he told her. “Varel told me about what happened on the road here. I've tasked him with finding the woman a job and home."

She nodded, relieved that her report had been passed on. She had wondered if it would be, and had been fully prepared to ask, if no mention had been made. She hoped that the old man would not take his dislike of Cauthrien out on Brigit and her children, but she trusted that Nathaniel would not have made such an assignment if it had been likely. “I've little doubt that Blake and what are left of his lackeys are well away from here, but I would recommend a notice be put out through the Chantry. He's not likely to leave Ferelden unless he has no other choice. He'll stay away from the larger towns, but he's not going to stray far from a tavern.” It was a behavior that he had displayed consistently in the weeks that she had traveled with him. “If the Wardens make any attempt to track him, I'd like to volunteer.” It was an honest offer: she wanted that bastard badly, but it was also a way to begin to discern if his plans for her had changed.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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#5
Cauthrien requested a drink, but not nearly as generous a serving as Nathaniel poured himself. In hindsight, he should have poured himself a smaller serving. Evening or not, his office or not, Nathaniel did not make it a habit to drink to excess in front of others. And though he did not believe Cauthrien was amongst the number of people that would talk of such things, he was overly conscious of his familial history. He glanced down at both glasses for a moment before picking them up to return to Cauthrien. He would drink this cup and nothing more, he resolved.

“I've little doubt that Blake and what are left of his lackeys are well away from here, but I would recommend a notice be put out through the Chantry."

Oh yes, we know how the Chantry would react to notices from me.

Though he managed to appease the Reverend Mother in Highever with talk of conscripting templars to watch over Warden mages, a certain level of tension still existed between the Wardens and the Chantry. Bad news traveled quickly as a brief stop at the Amaranthine chantry before returning to Vigil's Keep after his trip to Highever demonstrated. A polite aloofness that has not been there before persisted in the manner in which the sisters and Reverend Mother greeted Nathaniel. He would need to do something more to make this right or at least make the Chantry believe he was sufficiently sorry for exercising his rights as Warden-Commander. And truth be told, he was not sorry, but he knew the importance of perception and putting on a good show when necessary. Yet another thing he could thank his father for.

"He's not likely to leave Ferelden unless he has no other choice. He'll stay away from the larger towns, but he's not going to stray far from a tavern. If the Wardens make any attempt to track him, I'd like to volunteer.”

Nathaniel offered the cup to Cauthrien and then took a seat. "Of course, after the Joining." The Joining, he'd told her nothing of the ritual and would not until the day of the actual ceremony. It was how things were done before him and how things would be done by Wardens long after Nathaniel took his final trip to the Deep Roads. If people knew what it took to become a Warden, at best, they would not volunteer and at worst, the Wardens would be hunted down as aberrations much like apostates.

A sip of whiskey filled his mouth. He kept only the highest quality whiskey, smokey yet with a touch of sweetness, for himself. He'd considered bringing up one of his father's cherished bottles of wine for this conversation, hoping Cauthrien might appreciate the irony in such a gesture. He had not, though, not wanting to risk her lack of amusement.

He stalled no further and got to the reason for his summons, "I thought we might discuss my father."
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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#6
"Of course, after the Joining." With those few words, Nathaniel assured her both that her concerns about Jacob Blake would be addressed and that his offer to her still stood. Cauthrien accepted both with a nod, raising the glass of whiskey he had given her to her lips. It was good: smooth and smokey, rolling easily over her tongue and burning gently in her throat and gut. One small sip, then another, and she lowered the glass, watching as he seated himself in the chair nearest hers and took a drink from his own glass.

“I thought we might discuss my father.” Simple words, casually spoken, but there was a barely palpable tension underlying them, in his outwardly-relaxed posture, in the too-full glass of whiskey.

“I will tell you what I can,” she said again. He could have waited until she was officially under his command to ask, to even inform her of his intent to ask, but he had not. “But first, I will tell you what I think you should know: you are nothing like your father.” If that particular worry was haunting him, she could put it to bed quickly.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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#7
“I will tell you what I can,” Cauthrien repeated what she said in Highever. “But first, I will tell you what I think you should know: you are nothing like your father.”

Nathaniel glanced down at the cup within his hand, grey eyes storming pensively. Others had said those words to him: Aedan, Fiona, even Oghren. But none of them really knew the man. They knew things about him, what they noted or heard from the outside looking in. But Cauthrien... She had a different perspective. During those last days of his life, she was there to witness the cruelty, the schemes, the treachery. She was there when the image of Rendon Howe everyone else would remember was cast in indestructible stone.

To hear her say he was nothing like that man was not something he expected her to say, not at the out front. Nor did he expect it to cause such a sense of relief to blanket him. He'd begun to doubt the differences as of late; little things he'd done making it feel to him that he was walking his father's path even if his footsteps were different. A man was not born evil or cruel. Such a man was often made either through necessity or an unquenchable ambition.

"My father was not always....," he began, pausing to search out the right word. Cruel. A bastard. Infamous. No one word seemed suited to describing Rendon Howe. "I have been trying to figure out why he became the man he was at his death." It was a confession he'd shared with no other and why he chose this moment to speak those words to Cauthrien he did not know. Perhaps because he believed she might understand, having watched the transformation of Loghain. The Loghain Nathaniel remembered was not the man executed on the Landsmeet floor, after all.

He raised his glass to his mouth and drank deeply of the whiskey."I've learned recently some of his plans. I am curious what he may have told Loghain about his ambitions. Do you know?"
 

Cauthrien

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#8
Some of the tension left him at her words, but his expression remained troubled. "My father was not always....," he hesitated, searching for words. "I have been trying to figure out why he became the man he was at his death."

She nodded silently. His questions about his father were not so different from hers about Loghain Mac Tir. She wondered if either of them would find answers enough to still those questions.

He took a deep drink from his glass, lowered it. "I've learned recently some of his plans. I am curious what he may have told Loghain about his ambitions. Do you know?"

She sipped from her own glass and set it aside, rising to her feet and moving to the window, looking out onto the courtyard, all but empty at this time of night. Even the smithy was dark. It was fitting to speak of Rendon Howe in darkness, but it made her uneasy, all the same, giving the conversation a furtive feel that took her back to those days in Denerim when she had known that things were growing more wrong by the day, but had said nothing, making herself a co-conspirator by her silence, her obedience.

“Your father was known as an abrasive, arrogant man for as long as I can recall,” she said at last, looking back at the Warden-Commander as she spoke, “but he was known as a patriot, as well...and a hero. His deeds during the war, during the battle at White River, were well known. That mattered more to Loghain than his personality.” Her mouth twitched into a rueful half-smile. “He wasn't known for being overly charming, himself,” she admitted.

“What your father told Loghain,” she went on, speaking slowly, reaching into her memory for what she had actually heard: from conversations between the two men, from comments that her commander had made when Howe had not been present. She owed Nathaniel an honest answer before she burdened him with her suspicions, logical or not, “was that there was a conspiracy afoot to return Ferelden to Orlesian control, that Bryce Cousland, Arl Eamon Guerrin and others had been pressing Cailan to set Anora aside and marry Empress Celene, and that Cailan was giving the matter serious consideration. Loghain believed him,” she went on somberly. “I think that he had enough proof of some of it to give weight to the rest, but -” She shook her head, returning to the table where she had set her glass and taking another sip without sitting down. “I never saw anything that would have indicated a conspiracy of the scale and type that he claimed.”

“There were concerns, of course,” she went on, returning to the window with her drink, “that Anora had not conceived, but it was well known enough among those who guarded the King that he wasn't exactly giving his attention to the matter.” She shrugged awkwardly. She still felt the duty of her former position, and discretion had been chief among them. “Cailan was...young, inexperienced. Maric had shielded him for most of his life, and none of us were ready for him to disappear like he did.” She had been on one of her rare periods of leave when the ship carrying the King to a meeting with the Viscount of Kirkwall had sailed out of Denerim and off the edge of the world; she had not permitted herself more than a few hours off duty in the years that had followed, even though her presence on that voyage would likely have ensured nothing but her own disappearance.

“Cailan and Anora were more like brother and sister than man and wife. They cared about each other, but she was content to run the kingdom, and he was happy to let her. He knew well enough what was needed to get an heir, and in a few years, he would probably have matured enough to get down to business on that score, but I don't believe that he would have hurt Anora by setting her aside...for Celene or anyone else.” She glanced out the window again, watching as the guards at the gate changed. “Loghain believed differently. Anora never seemed to care much about Cailan's lovers, but Loghain saw it not only as a betrayal of his daughter, but as a weakness that a monarch should not possess.” She snorted softly. “Maric had the same tendencies, obviously, but he took the business of ruling more seriously, and he was not married to Anora.”

She turned back to Nathaniel, leaning against the wall beside the window. “Loghain was already angry with Cailan, and I think that is why he believed what your father told him so readily, but I don't think that patriotism was what motivated Rendon Howe...not any more. He told Loghain what would gain his support in his plans, but not what his real plans were. And he definitely didn't share those with me, though I have my suspicions.” She regarded the Warden-Commander curiously. “What did you find out?”

And how? The second question remained unspoken but clear in her eyes.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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#9
Cauthrien took a sip from her glass before setting it aside to move across the room to stare out the window. A pause filled the air, the woman appearing to search her thoughts for an appropriate response. Eventually, she turned and looked back to Nathaniel.

Nothing she said came as a surprise to Nathaniel. She spoke of his father's less than perfect people skills. Rendon was quite capable of being charming when necessary, but there was always an oiliness about his demeanor when he did so, his sincerity easy to question by those that knew him best.

Cauthrien went on to explain Rendon brought to light a possibly conspiracy to unseat Anora as Queen in favor of the Empress Celene. Mention of Eamon Guerrin caused Nathaniel's expression to thin. How many schemes was that man responsible for?

Nathaniel listened on as Cauthrien described Cailan and Anora's relationship. Cailan was hardly the first King to stray and Anora was definitely not the first Queen to turn a blind eye to such behavior. But as Cauthrien put it, none of those women were Loghain's daughter and none of those men were his son in law. Fathers and their daughters... The protective instinct was quite strong. What was permissible in another man with a a woman suddenly became reprehensible when directed at one's own family.

Leaning against the wall next to the window, Cauthrien continued, “Loghain was already angry with Cailan, and I think that is why he believed what your father told him so readily, but I don't think that patriotism was what motivated Rendon Howe...not any more. He told Loghain what would gain his support in his plans, but not what his real plans were. And he definitely didn't share those with me, though I have my suspicions.” Curiosity colored her gaze, “What did you find out?”

That question was inevitable, he supposed, having opened the possibility of it with mention of learning of his father's plans. The answering of the question, though... Grey eyes shadowed with thought looked to the fireplace. Hot coals burned bright, but lacked for flame. Nathaniel rose from his seat and moved toward the hearth and set his glass atop the mantel. A fresh log pulled from a holder next to the fireplace, he dropped it atop the dying fire. Tiny flames kissed the splintered edges of the wood, slowly growing in size and intensity until the entire log was set aflame.

No one else save Fiona knew what Nathaniel read in his father's journal. The plans held within were treasonous and dangerous to repeat. If another King sat upon the throne or if another person stood in this room asking him that question, there would have been no dilemma for Nathaniel. Nothing would be shared.

From his brief interactions with King Alistair, Nathaniel had come to believe the King was not the type of man to hold a child responsible for the actions of a parent. And Cauthrien... In a way, Nathaniel felt she was owed that truth, to know what ambitions spurred Rendon Howe into manipulating one of the greatest heroes Ferelden had ever known.

He turned from the fire, his pose mimicking Cauthrien's as he leaned against the wall next to the hearth. "A journal of my father's was found when cleaning out the Arl's estate in Amaranthine. It contained information about Celene and Cailan and mention of Eamon's closed door meetings with the King." But this was nothing she did not know already.

He pressed on, expression souring further with each spoken word. "Thomas was already married to Constance. So father... He planned to send for me and marry me off to Anora." Dark humor tugged his mouth at a sardonic slant, "He had great plans for Ferelden and my family." Howes were to control both Teyrnirs and the throne. That was what Rendon Howe believed he was owed; what he deserved.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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#10
Nathaniel didn't seem overly surprised at anything she said, though she suspected that he would not have shown it if he were. A son of Rendon Howe would have learned early and well to hide his emotions and reactions. He did react with visible discomfiture when she asked him about his own knowledge, staring into the fireplace, then rising and placing another log on the guttering flames and watching as the fire took hold.

"A journal of my father's was found when cleaning out the Arl's estate in Amaranthine,” he said, turning back around and leaning against the hearth. “It contained information about Celene and Cailan and mention of Eamon's closed door meetings with the King."

Cauthrien nodded. Howe had been the type of arrogant egomaniac to have kept a journal. Eamon and Teagan had both been sent to live with relatives in the Free Marches while the war had raged against Orlais, but she still could not fathom what advantage the Arl might have seen in giving their former oppressors a new foothold in the land that his sister had fought so valiantly to free. Even assuming the possibility that Anora's fertility – or lack – was the reason behind the absence of an heir, there had been no shortage of eligible women in the Bannorn. Why turn to Orlais...or had that simply been Howe, taking advantage of what was unknown to insert his own crooked slant?

Nathaniel went on, his expression that of a man faced with a plate of rotted meat that he must completely consume. "Thomas was already married to Constance. So father... He planned to send for me and marry me off to Anora." His lips twitched into what might have been a smile...or a snarl. "He had great plans for Ferelden and my family."

“He definitely didn't share those plans with Loghain...or anyone else, that I know of.” She was silent for a long moment, thinking. “Constance was heir to the Frozen Seas, bound to Gwaren. If the Teyrnir were vacant, she and Thomas would have been viable candidates...particularly if you were on the throne and your father was Teyrn of Highever.” She gave him a mirthless smile. “No, he definitely didn't share those plans with Loghain.” The bastard had used Loghain: fed him lies, led him so far down the path of treason that no return had been possible, and had ultimately intended to kill him, and likely place all the blame for the crimes committed on his head.

But much as she wished to, she could not absolve her mentor of his share of the responsibility. He had allowed himself to be led astray...perhaps he had even wanted it, wanted any excuse to strike back at the man who was humiliating his daughter. “I don't believe that the retreat at Ostagar was a spur of the moment decision,” she told him, deciding to voice her own thoughts. “They planned it together. I don't believe that Cailan was ever intended to leave there alive; Rendon Howe would never have dared attack Highever if he believed he would have to justify himself to the King. Bryce Cousland would never have conspired with Orlais, and any evidence that was offered would have crumbled under any serious scrutiny.” Saying the words out loud for the first time...it hurt. She should be dead with Cailan, but Loghain had denied her that, had made her a traitor...and she – blind, loyal fool – had let him. She took another swallow of whiskey, larger than she had intended to, and set the glass away from her, still holding most of what had been poured. She would not blunt the hurt that way.
 

Nathaniel Howe

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#11
“He definitely didn't share those plans with Loghain...or anyone else, that I know of.” Silence cloaked the pair, Cauthrien taking a moment to compose her thoughts before offering, “Constance was heir to the Frozen Seas, bound to Gwaren. If the Teyrnir were vacant, she and Thomas would have been viable candidates...particularly if you were on the throne and your father was Teyrn of Highever.” A humorless smile graced her lips. “No, he definitely didn't share those plans with Loghain.”

It did not take long for Cauthrien to piece together the entirety of the plan. North, South and the Crown. Rendon's ambitions knew no bounds. Nathaniel had listened to his father talk on more than one occasion of all the Howes lost that once was theirs. Highever went to the Howes after the Cousland's sided with Sofia Dryden. Rendon expected it to return to the Howe's after the rebellion only to see it given back to the Couslands making the Bryce Rendon's liege lord. A bitterness he would not reveal around others cracked Rendon's well-practiced mask when around family.

“I don't believe that the retreat at Ostagar was a spur of the moment decision,” Cauthrien added. “They planned it together. I don't believe that Cailan was ever intended to leave there alive; Rendon Howe would never have dared attack Highever if he believed he would have to justify himself to the King. Bryce Cousland would never have conspired with Orlais, and any evidence that was offered would have crumbled under any serious scrutiny.”

The events of Ostagar were something Nathaniel had spent some time considering. Not being there, though, it was hard for him to know one way or another way actually happened. He had not wanted to believe that Loghain purposefully sent his son-in-law to his death, but what Cauthrien said made sense and made the idea of Loghain's innocence harder to accept. His father would not have acted against the Couslands if he thought there would be retribution. Then again, Nathaniel imagined his father had not planned on anyone surviving the attack. It would have been his word against the word of who... Ghosts did not speak. Aedan, however, did not die.

"I doubt my father planned on a Cousland surviving the attack. That Aedan had..."
He shook his head, "I am sure that did not please him." Like a great many things...

Nathaniel retrieved his glass from atop the mantle and and took a sip of the whiskey as he walked away from the wall and toward his desk."I want to show you something." He set the glass aside once more, this time atop his desk and bent to open a drawer along the side. Two letters were withdrawn; correspondence he'd found once he moved into his father's rooms. The Keep was riddled with hiding spots; Rendon was fond of squirreling away his secrets. "I found these recently and thought you might wish to have them."
 

Cauthrien

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#12
She wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed when Nathaniel did not dispute her theory. "I doubt my father planned on a Cousland surviving the attack. That Aedan had..." He shook his head slowly, his expression bleak. "I am sure that did not please him."

“I'm sure,” Cauthrien echoed. “Aedan made claim against Howe when he arrived, and Cailan promised to see to the matter after the battle. That may have been what sealed his fate.” Rendon Howe over Bryce Cousland, even taking into consideration his personal grievance against the king...what in the Fade had Loghain been thinking?

As if she had spoken these last thoughts aloud, Nathaniel walked away from the fireplace to his desk. “I want to show you something.” He returned bearing two folded pieces of paper which he held out to her. "I found these recently and thought you might wish to have them."

She took them with a knot in her gut that turned into a ball of lead when she opened the first to see the familiar, precise script. He'd hated writing letters, but, all too aware that he was still remembered as a farmer's son, he had made damn good and sure that his writing did not reflect those expectations. She folded it back quickly, drew a deep, steadying breath through her nose, willing her heart to stop hammering. Would there be answers in these pages...or more questions? “Have you read them?” she asked hoarsely without looking up.
 

Nathaniel Howe

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#13
Cauthrien took the letters from Nathaniel. Her reaction left no room for doubt she recognized the handwriting. Her voice cracked, eyes still focused upon the papers within her hands, “Have you read them?”

The temptation was there when Nathaniel found the letters, his own desperation for answers near overwhelming. "Only enough to know who wrote them." But he had not read the letters. Upon noting the signature upon the bottom of each letter, he tucked the letters away in his desk to save for Cauthrien. He was entitled to his answers much as she was to hers.

The glass upon his desk lifted once more, he took a drink and said, "If there is something in the letters you feel I should know, I will trust you to tell me." Fiona had respected his privacy with his father's journal; he would do the same for Cauthrien and Loghain's letters.

"My father never cared for Loghain." His free hand dropped, eyes cast down, finger idly tracing a line along the top of his desk as he recounted the way his father spoke of Loghain. Commoner was one of the kinder words used. Dry humor infused a gruff snort. "Of course, that was one of his many secrets. I'd like to think Loghain knew that, though. That my father hadn't fooled him."

He shook his head, logic telling him it was a fool's folly to believe such things. All the events of the Blight and Civil War seemed to imply Loghain was manipulated by Rendon, a very important pawn in a game Rendon had no intentions of losing. But he also remembered a man that sent a young boy a bow against his father's wishes.

Fingers rose to scratch at his brow. A confession followed, "My father never wished me to be an archer. Loghain sent me my first bow on my sixth birthday." A bow he thought lost. A bow Fiona found along with his father's journal. He'd wanted to believe Rendon kept it because, in the end, he was proud of his son and his accomplishments. Now though, he no longer believed that. His father kept the bow because of what he knew his son would think it represented. He kept it to manipulate Nathaniel and for no other reason. "That is the man I chose to remember when I think of Loghain. The hero and the man that saw something in me my father never cared to."
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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#14
Nathaniel had not read the contents. Cauthrien stared down at the folded letters as he went on.

"My father never cared for Loghain. Of course, that was one of his many secrets. I'd like to think Loghain knew that, though. That my father hadn't fooled him."

“Loghain never cared about being liked,” Cauthrien replied absently, fingering the edge of the parchment without opening it. “He considered your father to be a patriot, as dedicated to Ferelden's freedom as he was. At least, at first.” She looked up at him with a mirthless smile. “I got the feeling that neither of them cared much for the other later, toward the end.” As plan after plan unraveled or was uncovered, as the breadth of Howe's ambitions and the intensity of Loghain's obsessions became apparent, when they each realized that they were tied irrevocably to one they could not control.

"My father never wished me to be an archer. Loghain sent me my first bow on my sixth birthday,” Nathaniel said, rubbing his brow, his expression both wistful and hard. "That is the man I chose to remember when I think of Loghain. The hero and the man that saw something in me my father never cared to."

“As he saw a soldier in a too-tall girl with bare feet and a wood axe,” Cauthrien agreed softly, feeling an unwelcome tightness in her throat. The letters beckoned, tempting her back into yet another round of the 'what-if' game that she had been playing for the last two years. What if she had spoken up more forcefully? What if she had simply killed Rendon Howe? What if she had disobeyed her commander and led Maric's Shield into the final battle at Ostagar?

She turned abruptly, taking the three steps to the fireplace and tossing the parchment onto the blazing log before she could reconsider. “There's nothing in those letters for either of us, Nathaniel,” she told him, watching the sheets blacken and curl. “The ones who could give us the answers that we think we want are long dead, but I think that both of us know what we need to know.”

She turned back to him. “You are a good man who had no part in your father's crimes. I chose loyalty to an individual over my duty as a knight of Ferelden. What Rendon Howe did was wrong. What Loghain Mac Tir did was wrong. They betrayed this kingdom and its people. Speculating on why won't change that; some things are wrong, regardless of motivation. If you want to guide yourself, ask a simple question: what would your father have done? And do the opposite. You may err at times, but it will likely be on the side of kindness, mercy...and that is not such a bad error for a leader of men to make.”

“As for Loghain,” she dropped her gaze to the flames, “remember who he was, what he gave you. He taught me lessons that I will carry all my life; he made me who I am today. I followed him after Ostagar in spite of those teachings, and I stood down and let Aedan Cousland challenge him at the Lansdmeet because of them. I think that the man that he had been would have approved, and I will always remember him and be grateful for what he gave me. But I will never let myself forget what he did, what he became, and what I did out of loyalty to him. I will become a Grey Warden, if I can, and if not, I will atone in some other way, but the only sins that I can redeem are my own, and I can't do that if I keep brooding over his.”

She sighed. “I'm sorry. I should have just given the letters back to you, but...I would have been tempted to read them.”
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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#15
“As he saw a soldier in a too-tall girl with bare feet and a wood axe,” Cauthrien agreed. Turning quickly, she strode to the fireplace and tossed the letters atop the flames. “There's nothing in those letters for either of us, Nathaniel. The ones who could give us the answers that we think we want are long dead, but I think that both of us know what we need to know.”

Perhaps she was right or perhaps not. A part of Nathaniel wished he'd done the same with his father's journal when presented with the same decision: to read or not. He'd reasoned the it was better to read and know than guess and question. But the journal had brought no resolution. The phrase 'ignorance is bliss' always seemed a silly one, but he began to see the merit in the words as he regarded Cauthrien.

She looked back to him and offered him advice he already heeded: use his father as a measuring stick. He tried to do that, to ask himself would his father approve or not. In theory, it was a good ideal. In practice, though... For as many times as Rendon had been wrong, there were many he had been right as well. It was a line Nathaniel struggled with straddling each day. Some days the line was very defined, the choice to make quite obvious. And then others, the line faded to murky shades of grey.

“As for Loghain,” she looked back at the flames, “remember who he was, what he gave you. He taught me lessons that I will carry all my life; he made me who I am today. I followed him after Ostagar in spite of those teachings, and I stood down and let Aedan Cousland challenge him at the Lansdmeet because of them. I think that the man that he had been would have approved, and I will always remember him and be grateful for what he gave me. But I will never let myself forget what he did, what he became, and what I did out of loyalty to him. I will become a Grey Warden, if I can, and if not, I will atone in some other way, but the only sins that I can redeem are my own, and I can't do that if I keep brooding over his.”

That was a luxury Nathaniel did not have. He had to atone for his father's sins for the sake of his family. He had to prove to Ferelden the Howes were more than Rendon and his father before him. But still, he understood her point even if he could not apply it to himself.

She sighed. “I'm sorry. I should have just given the letters back to you, but...I would have been tempted to read them.”

"The letters were yours to do with as you pleased, Cauthrien. No need to apologize." His gaze drifted, looking to the fireplace. His father's journal, these letters from Loghain, they were nothing both leashes that had the potential to keep those left behind tethered to a past they could not alter or understand, not completely. It was better to destroy those all too tangible links. Some puzzles simply could not be solved no matter the desire.

He shook his head and a wry smirk slanted his mouth, "My father's journal is also ash." No amount of fire, though, could destroy some connections just as knowing the futility in trying to solve the unsolvable was not always enough to stay a man's attempts to solve it all the same.

The glass upon his desk uplifted, he offered it in toast, "To new beginnings then and Cauthrien MacLean, Grey Warden."
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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#16
"The letters were yours to do with as you pleased, Cauthrien,” Nathaniel told her. “No need to apologize." She could not tell how much weight he would give her advice, but that was out of her control. You chose your own actions, decided your own path, dealt with the consequences.

His eyes drifted back to the flames. "My father's journal is also ash," he informed her.

“A wise choice, I suspect.” Besides being a focus of useless broodings, were it found in his possession, it could well stir up rumors that he intended to follow in the footsteps of his sire.

He lifted the glass from his desk, raised it in a toast. "To new beginnings then and Cauthrien MacLean, Grey Warden."

She nodded, moving to reclaim the glass she had abandoned. One more sip, and she would drink no more. “To new beginnings,” she agreed, letting the rim of her glass tap his lightly before taking her last drink. She'd not tempt fate by toasting a status she'd not yet earned.
 
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