[Completed] [Past] Sins of the Father
Solace, 9:31 Dragon
After the events of Awakening

Elanna accompanied the aid caravan to Amaranthine.  Highever was still in dire straits itself after Howe's reign, but she and her brother agreed that they would share what they could.  They owed a lot to Lanariel, and the people of Amaranthine shouldn't suffer because of bad blood between noble families, especially when one of those families no longer held any power.

After ensuring that things we were underway in the city, she turned and headed on to Vigil's Keep on her own.  It had taken some convincing to travel there without an escort, but she had no reason to believe she would be in danger and the nature of her visit this time was intensely personal.  It seemed Howe's eldest son had returned to Ferelden with daggers in his hands and vengeance on his lips.  She knew she didn't have the whole story, and what role he had played in her family's demise was as of yet uncertain.  It was entirely possible that he'd been back from the Free Marches in time to be at his father's side during it all and was only just recently caught, but there was no proof of that.

She was trying not to let her anger cloud her judgement, and was telling herself that her visit here was truth-seeking in nature.  That would be the proper way of going about things, at least.  Whether or not she stuck to it remained to be seen.

When she arrived at Vigil's Keep she announced herself and asked to speak with Nathaniel Howe, privately.  And then she waited, doing her best to at least appear composed even if a tempest stirred beneath.
Nathaniel still felt the sting of anger when he heard in the Free Marches that thanks to their father his family had lost everything. It wasn't fair, it wasn't right. He'd been in the Free Marches, why was he being punished for something he didn't do. All he'd wanted to do was take back some heirlooms that were rightfully his family's, but that excuse hadn't gone over well when he'd been caught by the Grey Wardens. He still wasn't used to being one of them, but his choices had been limited and alive was better then dead, even if as a Grey Warden he was essentially a dead man walking.

He hadn't always gotten along with his family, but aside from the outrage that his family was paying the price for his dad's sins, he also felt an outrage towards what his father had done, what Loghain had done. It felt like too insane to be his life, it had to be someone else's, not his. He had been mostly avoiding his family and friends since returning to Ferelden and becoming a Grey Warden. 

He couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if he'd been home, he certainly wouldn't have gone along with the insane plan, but what would that have meant. He wasn't home though, and now he had to look people in the eye that blamed him as much as they blamed his father. He was considering transferring to the Free March Grey Wardens, but for now he stayed to help rebuild Amaranthine, it was the least he could do. He could decide later if he could bear sticking around Ferelden or not.

When he got word that Elanna Cousland was there to see him, his shoulders slumped. One of the last people in the world he wanted to see right now. How the fuck was he supposed to see her, his father had taken so much from her. For fuck's sake he'd even had Fergus's wife and child murdered. He hadn't always gotten along with his father, but the fact his father was willing to stoop that low absolutely sickened Nathaniel. He made his way to the room where Elanna was waiting. He entered he wasn't sure what to say, was she going to blame him like so many others did, accuse him of being in Ferelden helping his father, there were so many rumour sfloating around, most didn't know the actual truth. He sighed.

When he entered she froze.  There were a hundred iterations of this meeting that had played out in her head and none of them had truly prepared herself for seeing him in person.  It had been a long time since they'd seen each other, so she wasn't surprised that he seemed different, but she hadn't expected him to look so defeated.  It was almost as if he was expecting her to berate him and so she found herself backing down from the impulse.

"Nathaniel," his name rolled off her tongue, bitter and frigid.  She had half a dozen pithy and cutting remarks that came to mind, but she was doing her best to stay her tongue.  To handle this responsibly, like Fergus would.  She assured him before she left that she could manage this, and she was not going to fail him by flying off the handle in the very first moments.

So instead she let the silence linger for a moment before skipping any small talk, accusations, or other nonsense and skipping straight to the heart of the matter.  "I came here because I want to hear the truth from you about when you arrived, why you're here, and what part you played in your father's crimes."  Perhaps she should have included if any to qualify that last bit, but that was more than she could manage at the moment.  Fair or not, she was assuming some level of guilt until proven otherwise.
Well, she was actually asking him his side of things. That was an improvement to how some were reacting. Some didn't even care that he wasn't in Ferelden when it happened. They blamed his entire family for the sins of his father as if they had done the deed themselves. His father was dead, and they were still being punished, forced out of their home. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, ready to tell the story again for the umpteenth time.

By the time I got word about what had gone down, father had already paid for his sins with his life and my family was set out of their home. I came back to retake some of our family heirlooms, but was caught in the process. Lana chose to punish me by making me a Grey Warden, so here I am. He paused, looking her in the eyes, squarely. He wanted her to be sure he wasn't telling any tales, that his words were the bitter truth. Nothing I do can ever replace what my father took from you or make up for it. It was clear he wanted your whole family dead, and I can't fathom why. Growing up, our families seemed to get along well, it was as much a surprise to me as it was to you, but then my father sent me away over eight years ago for a reason, we've never seen eye to eye, and in the Free Marches I was out of his way.
She didn't know what she had come here wanting to hear.  That he was part of it, that he wasn't?  The truth - and she didn't doubt it was the truth - was so damn simple and she didn't know how to take it.  He wasn't even in the country, he hadn't been home for years, and then he came back and ended up in this mess.  Fuck, she didn't want to come here and sympathize and be understanding, she wanted to be angry, to lash out, to hurt something, to have a good reason to take it out on him...

But there was no good reason.  His family would go down in history reviled and had lost everything because of his father's actions.  He had been conscripted and there was no way out of the Wardens once you were in.  What more could she ask for?

She didn't try to hide any of the contradictory emotions warring in her as she stood there processing what he said.  She didn't realize it, but her previously cold countenance had softened and her stance had slipped from commanding to something much smaller and more vulnerable.  "I believe you." Three words, so simple, and yet the weight they carried could move mountains.

Nathaniel didn't know his father's motives, but she did.  He deserved to know.  "He did it because he was jealous.  I don't know why - I always remember our families getting along as well.  But he... craved the power.  And he didn't regret a single one of the terrible things he did to get it."  His last words I deserved more still echoed in her head.  It was the basest of motives, and yet it had sent her family and every other soul in that castle to their graves.

Now it was her turn to look him squarely in the eye.  "I don't know if Lana told you, but you should know I was the one to kill him."  It hadn't been a kind death, she'd made sure of that.  Nathaniel didn't need to know that particular detail, but she wouldn't shy away from taking responsibility for the death of Rendon Howe.  She didn't regret it in the least.
Nathaniel breathed a little easier, relaxed a bit more when Elanna responded to his explanation. There were some that didn't care he was out of the country. All that mattered to them was that he was the son of the man that betrayed the Couslands. She even seemed a bit sympathetic, which was far more than he was expecting. He'd been carrying around a heavy weight on his shoulders ever since he came back, not to mention of the fiance he left behind him in the Free Marches. How the fuck was he supposed to explain to her that he left to collect his family's things and was now stuck being a Grey Warden? So sorry her life would not turn out like she'd expected? He wasn't really what to say now that the hard part was over, but he had to say something.

I wish everyone was as easy to convince, especially for my mother. She doesn't really have any friends left outside of me and my sister. They're still in Amaranthine. They didn't get run out of the city, but had to beg and scrape to find a roof over their heads. He paused. None of this was Elanna's problem. She had enough of her own. He listened as she explained why his father did what he did, and that only made him hate his father even worse. So many deaths over something so petty. It wasn't as if the Couslands had more than the Howes, or were more important than them. He just couldn't believe his father threw all their reputations away for jealousy. It was absurd. 

I'm glad you were the one to do it. You earned the right when he tried to murder your entire family. I'd expect nothing less. I wish I could say that being here, I could have talked some sense into him, but I fear he cared little about what I've ever thought. Sometimes I think I'd have been better off if I'd just kept my temper and stayed in the Free Marches, but here we are, no turning back now.
While she understood Nathaniel's concern for his family, Elanna had significantly less sympathy for them than she might for Nathaniel.  He had been out of the country and away from his father's influence, but his mother and sister?  They had been here and as far as she knew they didn't do a damn thing to get in Rendon's way.  If anything they would have benefitted from his deeds and the power grab that came with them.  No, unless she learned something new Nathaniel was the only Howe that would get an ounce of empathy from her.

"I don't think anyone could have talked sense into him.  The depth of his hatred, his greed, it was too all-consuming."  Maker, the things she'd heard, the things she'd seen, that she herself experienced at his hands...  No.  There was no persuading that, no changing it, no halting it.  Once enabled by Loghain there was no stopping Howe.

There was some truth to the fact that Nathaniel might have been better off in the Free Marches, but that option was long gone.  "There are worse places to be than by Lana's side," she offered.  She hadn't forgiven Lana for sparing Loghain, and she might never forgive her for that, but she had seen Lana accomplish the impossible and her abilities were beyond question.  And she had been (or maybe still was or would be again) a friend.

"I suppose neither of us are where we expected to be," she said ruefully.  She'd spent her life running from the responsibilities that came with her name only to end up thrust into them all the same.  He should be living his life in the Free Marches.  Now both of them were saddled with a lifetime of obligations and duties they hadn't expected.
Nathaniel nodded along as she talked about how Rendon couldn't be talked sense into. She was probably right, but as he hadn't been there to try, he felt like he'd never know for sure if his presence could have helped or not, or hell might have just gotten himself imprisoned or killed. If his father had been that long gone, there was no way he'd have let his son question his judgements and actions. 

There are some that think my sister and mother should have stopped him, and because they didn't that they must have been working with my father. Them and my brother didn't even know what was going on until after the attack on your home. When they did speak up, he threatened to kick them out and leave them somewhere the blight was heaviest, as it was my brother didn't survive the blight. Sometimes he wondered if people would have been kinder to them if they had died trying to stop Rendon, at least in memory. He was just glad they had lived though, he'd have been devastated to lose his entire family. 

He tried to take Elana's words to heart, that there were worse places to be than by Lana's side, but it was still fresh and he was struggling to see things that way. There was a woman he loved back in the Free Marches, a woman expecting a husband and a family, and now that he was a Grey Warden, he couldn't give her the family she so desired. It was a heavy blow, and so far hasn't found the words to write and explain what had happened. He felt it was better for her to hate him and think the worst of him than the truth.

I haven't told anyone this, but I left a fiance back in the Free Marches. I don't know what to tell her now, she's wanted a large family her entire life, and now that's not something I can give her. I figure it's easier to let her think I'm dead than the truth, or maybe just easier on me because I can't find the words to explain it to her, to let her down easy.
She still didn't speak on the matter of his mother and sister, but she did find herself considering her stance.  She heard where Nathaniel was coming from, and she herself knew that there was no stopping Rendon once he got started.  Yet, even so, there were always options.  An option was still an option even if it meant losing everything... but that might be too much to ask of someone unprepared to survive on their own during a Blight and a civil war.  It was food for thought, perhaps something to discuss with Fergus.  But it wasn't something she could give on now.

But the next revelation was something entirely unexpected.  A fiancé in the Free Marches?  He'd left her to come get some things and gotten stuck as a Warden.  In some ways, she couldn't blame him - wouldn't she have risked much to get an heirloom or two back in his shoes?  Maybe.  Probably.  Alright, in all honesty, she would have been on the first boat out and would likely have made a mess of it too.

"I don't know if you can let someone down easy in circumstances like yours.  All you can do is give her the courtesy of closure - and she deserves that.  I think you know that."  Not telling her was the coward's way out, and she didn't take the man standing before her for one.  "Letting her think death took you, it's a cruelty no one should want to impose on someone they love."

Knowing someone was alive but could not return was heartbreaking, but not soul-crushing in the way that death was.  She would much rather have been able to tell Fergus that Oriana and Oren had run off back to Antiva rather than face his grief at knowing they had died horribly.  But face it she had, and own up the the consequences of his actions Nathaniel could.
Her words were tough to hear, but they had truth to them. He wasn’t typically a coward, but then the battlefield was one thing, facing up to a fiance was an entirely different matter. There was also a part of him that felt like telling her in a letter was, he wasn’t sure what it was to be honest, only that the whole affair was one giant mess that had become his life and every which way he turned he felt like he just didn’t have the answers.

It’s just hard to find the words, I’ve never been great at letter writing, and something this serious, but you’re right, it would be cruel. She wasn’t for me coming, but how could I not, at the very least I had to check on my mother and sister. In one fell swoop my father has basically shat on every good thing my family has ever done, ever could do, this will be how we’re remembered now. It was an insult to their ancestors, but what was done, was done, there was no undoing it, all Nathaniel could do was try and move on, try an make a life for himself amongst the grey wardens, even if it hadn’t been the life he’d planned. I guess the best I can do is start with an apology and end with well wishes for the future.
After having traveled for some time with two Wardens, Elanna had a better sense of the organization than others in Ferelden might.  While relationships weren't forbidden, Wardens were sworn to their order and at the whims of it.  Much as she could have suggested well, you could just work it out, that would ring hollow.  Letting her go was the kinder move, heartbreaking though it may be.

Elanna found herself nodding.  "The words will come, I'm sure, hard though it may be."  She wasn't the best with words herself, and finding the right ones for this... she didn't envy him.

She was quiet for a moment, thoughtful, before she offered more for his consideration.  His words about how he'd be remembered by his father's deeds were not wrong, but it didn't have to be that way.  "Something else for you to consider about your name: Yes, your father put the name Howe right beside Maferath, but you're not bound by that.  It's going to take time, and work, but you can carve out your own path away from his."

It wouldn't be easy, not by a long shot.  Near impossible for some time, in fact.  But if he was relentless, consistent, and took the honorable path it would be noticed.  It wasn't fair, but none of this was, but as a Warden he had a chance to prove that his bloodline didn't define him.
He nodded, he hated the idea of writing to his fiance, but he couldn’t be a coward. His father had been a coward, his father had been a lot of things, and he wanted to be nothing like his father. Who would want to be like a man who had condoned the killing of women and children. Then he tipped his head at her words bout the family name.

I imagine Anora understands how I feel, though with her father in the wardens now as well. To be honest I was rather surprised by Lana’s choice there. I can’t help but blame him a little bit. If not for his absurd plan, my father may not have had the opportunity to do what he did. Though Loghain claims he had no knowledge of what my father had planned. All because the king planned to ally with the Orlesians, it seemed absurd now. Nathaniel had a hard time believing that the Orlesians planned to use the Fifth Blight as a way to once again invade Ferelden, but it was what it was.
Elanna's face darkened at the mention of Loghain.  The man who'd enabled and supported Howe, who'd done equally terrible things out of fear of the Orlesians taking advantage of the Blight somehow.  It was absurdity of the highest level, and Ferelden would never be the same after how many lives were lost and ruined.  "I'll believe that when Andraste comes back from the grave and tells me herself," she spat.

"Loghain should be dead for what he's done," her tone had turned acidic, the hatred she bore the man painfully obvious with every word.  She didn't want to give him any chance at redemption, and even though in the abstract she could maybe, maybe understand why Lana spared him she couldn't forgive it.

"But that's not up to me.  He's Lana's problem now."  For good or ill.  She didn't want to place bets on how that would turn out, but fortunately that was not her problem.  She had plenty of other things to deal with now.
Nathaniel was pleasantly surprised and happy with how the conversation with Elanna had gone. Way better than he had imagined, since he had imagined some worst case scenarios. Many people didn’t care that he said he wasn’t in Ferelden when shit happened. Some believed even if he wasn’t there that he probably supported it from afar. It made Nathaniel sick thinking about the idea of having supported such actions.

It was one thing to have a coup, but another thing entirely to murder innocent women and children. His relationship with his father had always been complicated, tense even, but there were just some things that Nathaniel didn’t condone, and that was the slaughter of innocence. At least he would be leaving the meeting with Elanna feeling better than he’d expected. His anxiety was less now, and if it weren’t for all the shit the two had been through, it might have even started feeling like old times.

I don’t envy her position. I just hope whatever bigger picture she’s seeing pans out, for everyone’s sake. He shrugged, it was starting to feel awkward now. It wasn’t like they could just go back to old times, old times were dead and buried and everything was just too damn fresh. Well, look I appreciate you coming out here and hearing my side. Not everyone would have done that, some seem more inclined to just believe the rumours. He wondered if that was why the Grey Wardens had been so hard on his trespassing in his own home, because some believed him to be as guilty as his father, but he didn’t say that out loud. I should be getting back to it though, I’ve got training in the yard.

He thought about what else he could say, but he felt like he’d said enough. They both had, now what they needed was time. Time to grieve, time to try and move forward, to cling to what was still there. He offered a weak and tired smile, once they’d said their goodbyes, he made his way back to the training yard, feeling a little better than he had from the beginning. Probably feeling better than he had in months really.