The Ruckus


 

This takes place in an alternate universe where Duncan has recruited a pair of qunari, a saarebas mage and her handler, as well as a Dalish elf who has been living in the wilds. The two elf and two human recruits have just met the taciturn qunari. Now it’s time to bed down before their excursion into the Wilds at dawn.

 

 

Bannon had left the watchfire to his new comrades. Let the others crack their skulls against the qunari wall of imposing reticence. He’d figure them out later. It was a short walk to the small cul-de-sac where the recruits had their tents.

He ducked into his own tent, startling the red-haired elven woman there. “What are you doing here?” he asked with a grin.

“Your laundry, ser,” Fyora replied with overacted subservience. She patted down and smoothed out the extra blankets and pillows she’d laid out on his cot. Bannon set his weapons down by the door. She stood and came over to him, her bright sea-green eyes dancing.

“Don’t you know about the king’s edict about not having elves in your tent after dark?” he admonished her.

She tilted her head back and laughed. “If we followed that, you, me, and every other elf in the camp would be sleeping out in the fields.” Without waiting for a reply, she leaned in and kissed him. He kissed her back and wrapped his arms around her. After a moment, though, she pulled back. “You reek of leather.” She wrinkled her nose prettily at him to take the sting out of her words. “Patryk said the Dalish are here. What do you know about that?”

“Oh, I see,” Bannon said, “you’re just here for gossip.” Nevertheless, he started unbuckling his weapon harness and getting out of his leather armor.

Fyora scooted around him to tie the tent flaps closed. “Don’t be silly. If I wanted just gossip, I could get that anywhere.” When she finished with the ties, she returned to the cot and sat on it, tucking her feet under her. She looked up expectantly, like a child demanding a story.

“Well, ‘the Dalish’ aren’t here,” he told her, setting his armor pieces on a bench that doubled as a low table. “There’s one Dalish, his name is Llornwynn.” Bannon frowned slightly to himself. “I don’t know where his clan is…. I couldn’t get much out of him.”

“Where’d he come from? What’s he doing here?”

“I don’t know,” Bannon admitted. “And apparently he’s going to join the Wardens.”

“Is he really arrogant?” Fyora asked. “Patryk said he made all kinds of snide remarks about city elves doing laundry and wearing aprons.”

“I think he was just joking,” Bannon said. He sat on the end of the bench and pulled his boots off. “Honestly, how often do you make laundry jokes? Oh, let me see, I think you made one just five minutes ago.”

She laughed. “Can you introduce me to him?”

Bannon let his boot drop to the carpeted floor with a muffled thud. “Oh, now I see,” he said slowly. “You just want to use me to get to him, is that your nefarious plan?” He put on a hurt puppy expression.

“No, no, no.” Fyora reached forward and tugged him by the hand, til he sat down next to her on the cot. The extra blankets and padding made it almost soft as a true mattress. The woman stroked his shoulders and arms soothingly. “I was just curious is all. You know I like you.” Her lips met his gently, in a series of brief, soft kisses.

“I like you, too,” he said, cradling the back of her head so he could hold her still for a longer kiss. He caressed her neck, then pulled back a little. “Look, Fyora,” he said, “I don’t want to be a total cad….”

“But…?” Her brows went up as she gave him a warning look.

“But I have to be out at first light tomorrow morning. I’m going on a mission.”

Her expression darkened. “Oh, so you want to bed me, then have me leave, like a common whore — is that it?”

He winced, but that was hardly unexpected. He worked to smooth it over. “It’s not that. I just don’t want you to get into trouble if someone comes for me first thing in the morning.”

Fyora rolled her eyes. She wasn’t buying that line. “You mean you don’t want to get into trouble. Well, maybe I should go now, before it rains.” She moved to get up.

Bannon forestalled her with a grip on her arm. “All right, all right.” He tugged her back. “If anyone comes to get me, it’ll probably be Daveth. I can handle him.” If Daveth threatened to blow the whistle, Bannon would just turn around and threaten to start a rumor that Daveth had a terrible rash. That would make it twice as impossible for the scruffy rogue to get a woman. Though the worst Daveth would probably do would be to get jealous and needle Bannon all day. He wasn’t exactly uptight about following the rules. “But if they send Ser Jory after me, we’re doomed.” The knight was another story altogether.

Fyora leaned against his shoulder and toyed with the collar of his shirt. “I wish you weren’t a fighter,” she said. “Going off on missions, smelling of sweat and leather, maybe even getting killed.”

Bannon took a breath, then held it to keep from sighing. He rather liked the smell of his leathers. What was so much better about smelling of sweat and dirt? And working for shems all your long miserable life? He tried to fight back his ire, but he said bitingly, “Maybe you should have brought me a bath instead of laundry.”

“Maybe you should have gotten yourself a wife,” she snapped back. He flinched, and that wasn’t an affected gesture. He’d told Fyora an abbreviated version of his story, about his wedding being invaded by guards who tried to rape his fiancee, and his having fled after killing some. Immediately, she paled, her eyes going wide. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t think.” She stroked his arms again. “Bannon, I’m sorry.”

He didn’t reply. He stood and reached for the lamp hanging from the tent pole. He doused the light. The orange glow faded slowly, leaving the interior of the tent painted in washes of charcoal.

“Do you want me to leave?” Fyora asked quietly.

“No,” he said in the darkness. He came back to the cot and took her in his arms. Without any more words, she comforted him.

 

At this point is a brief interlude while another qunari (a kossith, actually) wanders into camp and stumbles upon the slumbering qunari. The uptight qun take him for some kind of outcast enemy and the saarebas tries to blast him. This is not a good thing to do in the middle of an encamped army….. All hell breaks loose and everyone starts fighting whoever they think needs fighting.

 

Things were just getting interesting when suddenly something somewhere outside the tent exploded in a flash of white light and deafening thunder. The inside of the tent lit up brighter than daylight. Fyora screamed, and Bannon leapt straight up in the air. He almost landed on his feet, but tangled up in the bedclothes as he was, he pitched right over on his arse. Dogs started barking and men started shouting and running. Fyora screamed again and clamped a hand over her mouth, cutting it off. Bannon scrambled around in the sudden darkness, grabbing for his pants and putting them on. The right way ’round would help!

He stamped his feet into his old boots, heart hammering as the sounds of chaos outside built to a dull roar. “What’s going on?” Fyora cried, her eyes wide, her fingers pressed nervously to her lips.

“Stay here,” Bannon told her as he grabbed one of his swords with one hand and the leather armor chestpiece with the other. Deftly, he yanked the flap ties open and ducked out of the tent.

He stopped and looked around. He saw shadowy figures running past from the mage quarters. There was definitly the sound of swords ringing together near the Warden watchfire. Darkspawn couldn’t possibly have gotten this far into the camp without making a ruckus until now — was somebody fighting? Bannon tossed his armor over his head and awkwardly started buckling it into place. It would chafe without clothing or padding underneath, but he didn’t have time for all that.

A few moments later, Jory and Daveth appeared from their tents. Either they slept in their armor, or they hadn’t bedded down yet, because both looked ready for battle. “What’s going on?” Bannon asked them, yanking his leathers straight.

Daveth shrugged — how would they know? Ser Jory scowled at Bannon. “Did I hear a woman screaming in your tent?”

“Uhh…” Bannon’s eyes darted as he tried to think of an answer to that one. They fell upon Daveth, who only gave him a sympathetic grimace. The elf snapped his eyes back to the knight. “Yes!” he blurted. Rapidly he spit out, “Yes, th-th-there’s a woman in my tent! Because it definitely was not me, screaming like a girl. Because, heh-heh,” he chuckled weakly, “I don’t do that. Of course.”

Daveth slapped a hand over his mouth, utterly failing to stifle a snorting laugh. Ser Jory just rolled his eyes and turned away, muttering something about elves underbreath. Behind his back, Daveth just shook his head at Bannon, still snickering, though not for the reasons the knight expected.

As the two followed Jory towards the commotion, Bannon growled at Daveth, “You had to joke about Darkspawn coming for tea.”

“You started it.”

They almost smacked into Ser Jory’s broad back as the Redcliffe knight stopped short. “Th- there’s two of them?”

 

Two massive horned figures were battling it out, oblivious to the mass of soldiers, Wardens, Templars, and a scattering of mages surging around them. There were shouts from all quarters: “What’s going on?” “Are we under attack?” “It’s Darkspawn!” “It’s the mages!” “There’s an ogre loose!” “GET THEM!”

“What do we do?” Daveth cried.

“Well, that’s our ogre!” Bannon snapped. “Uh, or one of them is!” He dashed towards the fray.

 

He darted past several pairs of fighting men. One felled an opponent with a charge of his shield, then raised his sword to strike the downed man. Bannon lashed out low with one foot and tripped him, sending him sprawling instead. Then to his right he saw a soldier wrestling with an elf. The elf was armed only with a bowstave and the two fought to twist it out of each other’s grip. Bannon came up behind the shem and nailed him in the nuts with a swift kick. That settled that fight.

The elf nodded his thanks, then his eyes went wide, focussing on something behind Bannon. The Warden recruit was no dummy, without bothering to look, he ducked and dove over the shem writhing on the ground. He came up out of a roll and looked back. Another shem, this one with a heavy warhammer, was after him. He and the army elf started backpedalling.

Suddenly there was a flash, and the hammer-weilder keeled over, snoring prodigiously. Several soldiers behind the man also slumped to the ground, fanning out in a circle.

“Mages!” the elf warned, taking off.

“Shit!” Bannon replied eloquently. He glanced around swiftly, but couldn’t identify any mages. How would you fight such a thing anyway? And where were the Wardens in this mess? Yet again he cursed them for not having an insignia.

He’d gotten turned around in the battlefield, and he couldn’t see the towering qunari anywhere. He struck off in the direction of the loudest noise and hoped for the best.

Bannon came up behind a robed figure with a helm. The tall human raised both arms and started glowing blue. Bannon had no idea what that meant, but he gamely brough his sword down on the man’s head. With a loud CLANG! the Templar pitched forward and flopped on his face. Surely he wasn’t dead, but least he stopped glowing.

Unfortunately, Templars didn’t work alone. Another whirled on Bannon as his companion fell, striking out with his sword. The elf ducked and darted in low, ramming his sword hilt into the Templar’s groin. That also resulted in a CLANG, but nothing more from the armored man than a slight grunt. Bannon cursed. As the Templar brought his sword around in a backswing, Bannon ducked left, then reversed and dodged right. The blade swished over his head, and the Templar lost his balance for a moment. The armored man’s head swung back and forth, and Bannon realized the guy was having a hard time seeing him when he ducked out of sight too quickly.

Nevertheless, the Chantry’s knights were highly trained to overcome their weaknesses, and in a moment the Templar was advancing on Bannon again. The elf back pedalled, and tried another feint. The Templar tracked him more carefully this time and followed, leading with his sword. Bannon backed into a soldier in splintmail, then rammed his elbow into the metal plates across the man’s back. It hurt him more than it hurt the soldier, but the shem turned to face the threat behind him. Bannon turned with him, deftly dumping this new dance partner on the Templar. The soldier blocked the Templar’s sword with his mace, then counterattacked.

 

A flare of green marshlight flickered low through the combatants’ legs, and a dark stain spread across the packed dirt and half-buried paving stones of the ground. Bannon frowned down at it, wondering what horrible spell this was. He didn’t have much time to contemplate it, because another soldier was bearing down on him. He tried the fake-left/dodge-right trick again, only as he shifted direction, his feet shot out from under him and he landed in the slick goo covering the ground. The soldier tried to follow his feint and ended up sprawled in the other direction.

“I hate mages,” Bannon decided. Carefully, he got his feet under him, then stood. The shem scrambled around in the muddy glop, and Bannon had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. In a huge circle, soldiers and Templars, and not a few mabari, were all trying to stand up with hilarious results. The stoic Templars especially seemed to be in a panic, and the faster they tried to stand, the faster they fell back down — and those long dresses they wore were not helping matters. Of course, Bannon had no idea that mages often followed up with a fire spell, and the grease they were standing in was highly flammable.

“Yep, yep, yep,” he said, cockily swinging his sword in a circle. “Can’t beat good ol’ elven dexterity.” At that moment, a mabari made an impressive lunge and managed to end up sliding several feet across the circle of grease. The dog slammed into the elf’s legs, and Bannon went flying face first into the muck. “AUGH!”

He lifted his head and spat out a mouthful of grease. “Stupid mutt!” He shook his head violently to flick goo out of his eyes.

“What did you call my dog!?” the Ash Warrior on the other end of the leash snarled. He wriggled towards Bannon, practically swimming towards the elf with murder in his eye.

Bannon’s sword had fallen out of his hand; he scrabbled around for it, cursing. He couldn’t find it, so he slugged the dog-boy in the face with his fist. The mabari barked and snapped at the elf’s legs, so he rolled away from the beast. The Ash Warrior half raised himself out of the muck and lunged at Bannon, tackling him. By this time, the elf was entirely coated in grease, so he was hard to hold onto. Bannon flailed about with elbows and fists.

The grease started drying up on the ground, and more Ash Warriors converged on the two combatants, egging them on with yelling and the barking of their hounds. Bannon wasn’t doing too badly. Though he was smaller and not as strong as the human, he had a slight edge from the fear the dog would get ahold of him. That, and he didn’t mind fighting dirty. Even literally.

 


Before the Storm


 
Content Warnings: foul language.

Bannon was an exceptionally handsome elf — and he knew it. He had the classic foxen features of his race: high cheekbones and triangular face. His nose was well-defined and proportioned, and his ears tapered elegantly to a point — not too thin and needly, and certainly not blunted or coarsely rounded.

He wore his dark brown hair down most of the time, his bangs drawn back like curtains to frame his brow and eyes. A few unruly locks gave him an artfully dishevelled look, as if to say, “I’m so good-looking, I don’t need to work at it.” Of course it was not really tangled or unkempt, but it gave him a wild, rakish air, and invited fingers to comb through it.

About the only thing Bannon was unhappy about were his eyes. They were a rich deep brown, elegantly slanted, and fringed with long, dark lashes — beautiful to be sure, but downright “girly” in his opinion. He would have much preferred steely eyes, or penetrating hawkish eyes. Nevertheless, he couldn’t complain. The doe-eyed look gave him an air of innocence and sincerity that was immensely useful whenever he was trying to convince anyone of almost anything. Plus, a long, soulful gaze from them would make women melt.

And his woman-melting days were over! No soulful beseeching would move his father on the subject of this arranged marriage. The old man was too wise to Bannon’s ways. The worst had happened: his bride had arrived early and he was getting married. His perpetually gleeful cousin Shianni had delivered the news this morning.

Shianni, Perpetually Cheerful

 

Bannon wended his way past the Great Tree, skirting the few puddles of rainwater that had collected in the last shower. The spring rains had come and given the alienage a newly-washed look. The fresh sprouts of the Vhenadahl gave the air a cleaner scent. The normally grubby slums were at their best today — a fine day for a wedding. Bannon spared a curse at the world for conspiring against him. If only there were a downpour, perhaps he could convince the hahren to postpone the ceremony. But no, the sparse fleecy clouds and smiling golden sun mocked him.

Soris, Daydreaming

He found Soris standing on a corner, daydreaming. His cousin seemed to be staring towards the Market gate, like a rat caught in a trap. Bannon sympathized. Soris shook himself out of reverie. “Aren’t you dressed yet?” he asked. “I would have though you’d spend as much time as possible wearing your Feastday best.” Soris wore an outfit of orange-dyed linen, embroidered in yellow thread about the collar and seams. Panels of the vest were inset with burgundy cloth, and the belt leather was dyed to match. Soris had a rather plain face, a bit too sharp around the nose and eartips, and short, light brown hair; but the outfit made him look that much more handsome. Bannon, by contrast, had left his finer clothes folded in the trunk and was wearing his everyday pants and tunic of serviceable brown linen and leather.

“What for?” he replied dryly. “Impressing the ladies isn’t going to get me anywhere, any more.”

His cousin snorted. “At least your bride is pretty. Mine has a nose so sharp you could slice cheese with it. And she squeaks like a mouse.” He wrung his hands and shifted from foot to foot. “Is there still time for us to run away and join the Dalish?”

“Come on, Soris,” said Bannon. “What do you or I know about tromping through the woods, eating nuts and berries?” He turned and looked back at the narrow, crooked streets, the weathered tenements, and the bustle of the elven people. “We’re city elves,” he declared with finality.

“So you’re going to make the best of it?” Soris asked. His brows lowered in a thoughtful scowl. It wasn’t like his clever cousin to not be able to get his way. He could charm a turtle ouf of its shell. Then again, the marriage was Uncle Cyrian’s idea. If anyone had built up an immunity to Bannon’s wiles, certainly it was his own father.

“Don’t you think I’ve wracked my brain for ways to get out of this?” Bannon gestured emphatically and paced back and forth in agitation. “My father has this deal locked up tighter than the Queen’s jewelry box. It would take some kind of disaster to get out of it.”

“Don’t say that,” Soris insisted, as if believing such words could bring bad luck. Luck, Bannon knew, ws what you made it. Soris swatted him on the arm. “Come on,” he said, dragging his voice into cheerfulness by its bootstraps. “You should at least meet your bride so you don’t pass out from shock on seeing her at the ceremony.”

 

 

The two cousins made their way back towards the square. They had almost arrived when a dark-haired elven woman acosted them. “I suppose you’re happy with your pretty brides, brought all the way from Highever.” Her mouth was perpetually pinched as if she were biting a lemon. “Lucky for you, your father has money,” she griped at Bannon. Cyrian was a carpenter — by no means a rich man, but he had been squirrelling away money for several years now. “All the hahren could dig up for me was some fat slob who wouldn’t even know what to do with a woman if he ever sobered up enough to be interested!”

Soris looked at Bannon, and they both rolled their eyes. Elva had chased after Bannon for two years, but he had steered quite clear of her grasping claws. Suddenly, Soris looked past Elva, his eyes widening. “Oh, shit,” he swore. “Vaughn’s here.” Bann Vaughn Kendells was the arl of Denerim’s son. He was a few years older than Bannon and Soris, and taller of course, being human. He had ginger hair and neatly groomed moustache and beard. His eyes were as clear blue as a spring day, and hard as a river stone. As usual, he wore richly dyed cloth and his ring sparkled with a large ruby. “Why did he have to come here today?” Soris fretted. “Of all days!”

“Come on,” said Bannon. Elva faded back into the woodwork as the boys quickly crossed the square.

Vaughn had already found Shianni and the two elven women who, by their fine dresses, were the prospective brides. The nobleman smiled and stroked his beard. “Well, look what we have here,” he said smoothly to his two cronies — sons of lesser lords in the city. “Three little whores all prettied up for us.”

“Looks like they were expecting us, my lord,” Lord Jonaley said, looking to Vaughn like a big fat mabari drooling for attention from its master. “How considerate of them.” His cohort, Lord Braden sniggered. Braden was small and thin, a weasely human with dark hair. He had a pointed beard, but shaved his moustache off — probably because having one would make him look like the typical moustache-twirling villain of the hero tales.

The blonde elven woman in elaborate braids and powder blue dress said, “We are not whores, ser.” Her voice was soft and unthreatening, yet firm against this shem she did not know.

“Please,” drawled Vaughn with a bored sneer. “Grab a whore, boys, and let’s get this party started.”

Shianni, Bannon’s redheaded cousin, wasn’t so diplomatic. “Touch me and I’ll gut you, you pig!”

“Oh, feisty!” Vaughn’s sneer turned into a grimace. “I hate that.”

Lord Braden, slippery as a snake, encouraged him. “Putting them in their place is half the fun!”

Before Shianni could continue her rash tirade, Bannon broke in. “My lord,” he said obseqiuously, keeping his eyes cast down; “there must be finer entertainment in the city than what we can offer.” ‘Or,’ he thought to himself, ‘Get the hell out of our alienage!’

Vaughn turned on him and looked down his nose. “What would a grubby little knife-ears like you know about the finer things in life?” His cronies chortled. Bannon fought not to draw himself up to full height. Trying to disagree with Vaughn would only make him angry. The man’s cold eyes cut across to Soris. “And what are you all dressed up for?” Soris shrank behind Bannon. “You look like a pig in a party dress,” Vaughn sneered. “I hope to the Maker you aren’t trying to get yourself invited to our little soiree — we aren’t into that.”

Soris turned red to his eartips as the humans guffawed. Bannon’s mind raced. He had to get the damned shem interested in something else besides their women. Though he doubted anyone else would come up and offer themselves as Vaughn’s whores. The square was emptying rather quickly. The only chance Bannon had was to appeal to the noble’s affluence.

“My lord,” he tried again, “surely you can afford the finest quality entertainment for you and your friends.” — ‘Go pay for your damned whores, you cheap bastard!’

Vaughn waved him off dismissively. “Why bother with dried up old sows when we can come straight to the source and pick the freshest meat?”

This was going too far, getting loose from Bannon’s control. Shianni didn’t wait for him to get another idea, nor for Bann Vaughn to start grabbing. She cast about and spied an empty cider bottle. Soris’ eyes flew open in alarm and he motioned frantically for Shianni to stop.

Vaughn cut off what he was about to say and turned — just in time for Shianni to club him in the head with the bottle. Heavy glass shattered on his temple, and the shem dropped like a slaughtered steer. For a moment, Bannon feared he was dead. For a moment, he hoped….

Braden and Jonaley crowded around their fallen leader. “You knife-ears are going to pay for this,” hissed Braden. Jonaley drew his sword. Bannon and Soris crowded the women back. From the ground, the Bann let out a pained groan.

“Just take him and go,” Bannon snapped. The shems reluctantly capitulated, picking Vaughn up and hauling him away like a sack of onions. They spat warnings and threats back at the elves.

Shianni’s voice quavered as she said, “Oh, I’ve really messed up, now.” She put her hands to her face then slid them down, clasped them under her chin. “I didn’t mean to hit him that hard.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Bannon reassured her. “That arrogant prick won’t ever admit he got taken down by an elven woman.”

She smiled and even flushed slightly with pride. “Oh, where are my manners?” She turned towards the other women. “Valora, Nesiara; you’ve already met my brother Soris. This is my cousin Bannon.” She extended a formal hand, and he bowed his head in greeting. “Bannon, this is Valora,” she gestured to the brown-haired woman, who had a long face and, yes, a rather sharp nose. “And this–”

“This lovely vision must be Nesiara,” he interjected smoothly. He took Nesiara’s hand and bowed over it, praying to the Maker that his father had picked a flighty, air-headed woman for him.

“I hope that’s not your best suit of clothes,” Nesiara said, a frown line pinching her porcelain brow.

“Oh, no,” Bannon said with his best smile. Charm her, charm her! Wrap her around your little finger, and you can get away with anything! “I didn’t want my fine clothes getting mussed. Rescuing damsels can get a little rough.”

Valora and Nesiara, the Brides

Nesiara lifted her hand free of his. “Well, it seems to me all the ‘rescuing’ came from you damsel cousin.” Oh great; she thought his humble elf act was how he really felt towards shems. “Do get yourself dressed up,” his fiancee’ ordered. “The sooner the better, and we can get settled in.” She nodded towards Valora and Shianni, and began leading them off to tend to more preparations of their own. “Don’t dawdle, now,” Nesiara called back sweetly, “or we may have to hunt you down.” Her laughter rang like silver bells behind her.

Bannon kept his smile in place, but his teeth clenched behind it. Why did his father have to find a smart, bossy woman who was immune to his charms? He put his face in his hands after the women were gone.

“Did you say, ‘mussed’?” Soris snickered at him.

Bannon groaned. “I’ve died and gone to the Blackened City!”

“It’s just a marriage, not death,” Soris insisted.

“I am dead,” Bannon moaned. “My entire sex life just flashed before my eyes.”

Soris cast his eyes heavenwards. “Honestly, Bannon; we have to grow up sometime.” He prodded his cousin towards their house to get changed. “I think a strong woman will be good for you.”

Bannon just moaned in pain again.

 


Introduction


 

Introduction

———————————————

Cyrian Tabris had thought he’d finally found a way to settle down his wayward son, Bannon, even though he’d had to send all the way to Highever to find him a wife. Bannon had a good heart, Cyrian knew, but he’d lost his mother at a tender age and didn’t have the benefit of her loving temperment as he transformed from boy to young man. Instead, he’d been rife with anger. Cyrian had let him study at Alarith’s school, hoping that would serve as an outlet for his rage. Perhaps that had been a mistake, because Bannon trained there long after the other boys lost interest in fighting and turned their attention to girls.

Not that Bannon had any trouble in that arena. With his good looks and natural charm, the young ladies all flocked to him like bees to a bright flower. He could have his pick of any of them. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem interested in picking just one.

Cyrian wondered if perhaps he should have remarried. But deep down, he knew Bannon would only resent any woman who tried to supplant his mother. Besides, Cyrian’s heart wasn’t in it. Adaia had been his sunlight and gentle rain, until she had been killed. Cyrian also had his sister and her husband, until the Purge a few years ago had taken them as well.

And so Cyrian had become the sole parent for his niece and nephew, Shianni and Soris, as well as his own son. Shianni was a good girl. She’d left behind her awkeward tomboyish phase and blossomed into a lovely young woman. True to her red-headed heritage, she often lost control of her temper, but she was smart and vivacious and eager to find a prospective husband to care for her.

Bannon and Soris, however… well. Cyrian had worked with the hahren Valendrian to find them suitable brides, and had extended them a comfortable dowry to come and live in Denerim. Then Cyrian could look forward to expanding his dwindling family and indulge in the joys of grandparenthood.

But it had all gone horribly wrong….

 


Still Not Coming to a Blog Near You


 

 

Bannon & Zevran: the Uncharted Waters Crossover!

No. Noooooo, no no no. No matter how much Venice looks like Antiva City…. Just, no. This is actually my character, SebastianBlack (left), and some NPC that stands around the city doing nothing. They just remind me of somebody. Cripes, I have elves on the brain.

I’m also addicted to UWO. Check out my review on my (other) Blog.

 


Part Eighteen: Brecilian Forest II


 

After Orzimarr, Valorien leads his band back to the Dalish elves in the Brecilian forest, as he has more business with them.

 

Valorien lifted his hand, bringing Alistair, Wynne, and Tarroth to a halt. The hound raised his head, eager for his companion’s next instruction. The elf walked ahead of them a short distance. He did not draw his weapon.

Talsa!” (Halt!) An elven woman emerged from the trees, followed by a small band of hunters. Valorien awaited their approach. “I am Aenfala, hunter of the Shailleah clan.”

“I am Valorien; hunter of the Dalrasha clan and Grey Warden. These are my companions.”

“Are you not the ones who fought the werewolves who preyed upon my people?” At Valorien’s nod, she said, “I wish to know what happened to the werewolves.”

“Their curse has been lifted, by the grace of your Keeper. They are no more.”

“And of the shemlen they have become?” She and her hunters shifted in agitation.

Valorien remained still, his gaze steadily meeting hers. “They have gone.”

“You let them live?” Aenfala snapped angrily. “They murdered may of my people! They must be punished for their crimes.”

“It is cruel punishment that led them to harm you and your people. They have been released from it, and they have left your forest.”

“Then you are a traitor to our people.” She drew her bow.

“I will not fight you,” Valorien said, his voice hard. He held his hands low, palms up. “There has been elven blood shed enough!”

Alistair rushed forward. “Valorien!” The knight broadsided him as Aenfala loosed her arrow. Valorien was thrown to the ground, and the arrow pierced Alistair’s arm. He knelt over his fallen companion and ducked, covering the both of them with his shield. Three arrows thudded against it, and one clipped the top edge and bounced off Alistari’s helmet.

With a roar, Tarroth charged the elves. Wynne moved behind Alistair and swiftly drew a rune of protection around them. This did not stop another hail of arrows. “They’re going to kill us!” Alistair shouted.

Valorien rolled out of cover and came to a kneeling stance, bow drawn. He aimed directly over Alistair’s shoulder and loosed. The arrow took Aenfala just below the breastbone. Alistair lurched to his feet and drew his longsword. He ran to aid Tarroth.

In a few moments, the hunters lay dead. Alistair bent, panting to catch his breath, while Wynne set to healing his and Tarroth’s injuries. Valorien stood looking bleakly down at the bodies.

“I’m sorry,” Alistair told him. “But they attacked us.”

“I know.”

“And you were just going to stand there and let them kill you? What were you thinking!?”

“I have let my people down.”

“They’re not your people,” Alistair told him, making him look up finally.

“The Grey Wardens are my people, now?”

Alistair straightened, still breathing hard from the sudden battle. He nodded.

Valorien dropped his eyes. His shoulders slumped. Without another word, he went to each of the hunters and touched them once on the forehead, then drew their eyes closed. Alistair looked at Wynne; she watched the elf in concern. Finally, he stood and turned towards the elven encampment. “Let us go.” He headed down the path, his dog at his side.

“What are we going to tell them?” Alistair asked. “We don’t want to make them angry.”

“I will handle it, Alistair,” Valorien said firmly.

 

He led them through the Dalish encampment, then stopped by the fire. “Please enjoy the hospitality of the Clan while I speak with the Keeper,” he told his companions. He added something in elvish to the elves seated there. They nodded and made room for the humans and dog.

Valorien continued on to find Keeper Calenna and request a private audience in the aravel. Calenna sat on a cushion inside the low-ceilinged wagon. Instead of taking another cushion, to her surprise, Valorien knelt before her. “Keeper, I have slain elves of your Clan. I seek restitution.”

Her eyes widened as she rocked back in surprise. Part of her spirit coiled like a predatory beast, prepared to lash out against the slaying of her people. But she took a breath and marshalled her training. “How did this happen?” she asked levelly.

“We met a band of Hunters in the forest,” Valorien answered. “They sought vengeance upon the werewolves. When they learned I had not slain them, the Hunters attacked.”

“They attacked you?” the Keeper clarified.

“Yes, Keeper.”

“And were I to examine these bodies, would I not find more than elven arrow wounds upon them?” she pressed. “Perhaps a dog’s bite, a human’s sword…?”

Valorien hunched his shoulders, head down. “They are not to blame, for they defended themselves. I… It is I who failed in my duty to my people, to slay our enemies.”

Calenna looked down on him. “I cannot fault you for defending yourself against their attack.”

“I did not wish to kill them.” Valorien’s face crumpled in pain; his voice grew ragged. “They are our folk. We are so few already. In the coming battle, so many more will be lost.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “You are of our folk as well. And we cannot afford to lose you, Grey Warden.”

“My life is already forfeit to that cause,” he replied, not without some bitterness. “I beg you, Keeper; assuage this guilt I bear.”

Celanna took a deep breath, raising her eyes to the decorative ceiling of her aravel, and beyond, to the ancient elven gods. Slowly she exhaled, eyes closed. When she opened them again, the Keeper of the Shailleah Clan spoke. “How many were killed?”

“Seven.”

The Keeper drew her dal-sharok. “Give me your left arm.” Valorien drew off his glove and bracer and surrendered his arm to her. She gripped his wrist firmly and drew the blade in a long stroke over his flesh. A muscle in his jaw twitched, but he remained silent and still, even as she cut him again, seven times in all, and he bled freely. However, the pain was clear in his eyes.

When she was finished, she bound up his arm. She said nothing more to him about the incident; she knew he understood. They stood and exited the aravel. Calenna sent some of the other Hunters to retrieve those slain and prepare them for the death ceremony. Valorien also requested an assemblage of the Clan, for he had something important to tell the people.

He then rejoined his companions at the fire. Alistair glanced at his bandaged arm. “What happened to you?”

“Nothing,” Valorien replied flatly. The knight just stared at him, and kept staring. “Nothing that you need to concern yourself with,” the elf clarified. Then Alistair looked away. Perhaps it was not something to be spoken of in front of the elves, but he was damned sure going to corner Valorien about it later.

 

The Hunters were laid to rest, a small seedling tree marking each site. There was a small grove of saplings developing, a testament to the hardships the Shailleah clan had suffered of late. The Hunters were honored for their service to the clan, but the greatest mourning was for the fact they lost their lives attacking one of their own out of an unslakeable thirst for vengeance. Afterwards, the elves had a somber evening meal. Passage was granted for the rest of the Grey Wardens’ companions, and as darkness fell over the forest, Valorien addressed the clan.

“We have discovered something about the Darkspawn,” he began without preamble. “We have discovered how the horde perpetuates itself. The Darkspawn are all male. In order to breed, they take women from the surface races, and the dwarves.” A quiet ripple passed through the elves, looks of disgust passed from one to another. Valorien’s voice faltered slightly. “I… cannot describe to you…. These women are not just violated. They are transformed into monsters. And from them spring the Darkspawn multitude, fully formed.” He took a breath, and gazed levelly over the crowd. “If we are to destroy the horde, they must not be allowed to take any more women.”

Calenna said, “Many of our Hunters and warriors are women. We cannot send them away from this battle.”

“We cannot deny those who would fight,” Valorien affirmed. “But those who fall in battle must be willing to die, rather than be taken. To this end, I ask the Clan to prepare deathroot.”

Calenna nodded. “It shall be done,” she said heavily.

“There is another way,” Valorien said. “In the dwarven kingdom of Orzammar, they have a magical anvil. Upon this anvil, people may give their lives and have their essense transferred into that of a golem.” He turned and motioned to Shale. “This is Shale, one such golem; a stone golem. I have also spent a short time as a golem, within the Fade. I can try to describe what it is like.” He thought back. “There is a great strength, and solidity. There is great weight, and it is difficult to move quietly,” he confessed. “The golems are immune to the Taint, and –unless destroyed– immortal. They are also sexless, and cannot be used to perpetuate the Darkspawn.” Valorien took another breath. “For those who fear the Taint but wish to fight, this may be an option. Please, if you have any questions on this, come speak to me and Shale.”

 

 

Epilogue:

———————————————

 

The companions hiked out of the Brecillian Forest, back to the main road. Alistair caught up with Valorien and Tarroth.

“Are you going to tell me what that’s about, then?” he asked, nodding at the bandages under Valorien’s bracer.

“No.”

Doggedly, the human continued. “Well, now I’m asking you directly.”

“And I am telling you directly: I do not wish to speak of it.”

“Fine.” Alistair heaved a sigh. Taciturn elves. “Then I’ll just say what I think. They had no right to go and punish you fo–”

“Alistair!” Valorian said sharply. In a hard voice brooking no argument, he added, “We are not speaking of this.”

The human knight grumbled and moved away, but Valorien called after him. “There is something I do need to ask of you.”

“Yes?”

“I wish you to know, I do not ask this for myself,” the elf told him. “But though there are only two of us, I ask that you grant me the title of Chief Grey Warden.”

Alistair blinked and gnawed the corner of his lip a moment. “All right. But why?”

“If I am to negotiate this new treaty with Harrowmont, I will need the authority to make it binding,” Valorien explained.

“One forbidding him to make golem control rods?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t see any reason why you can’t be the Chief Grey Warden, then. Maker knows I don’t want to be.”

“Thank you, Alistair,” said Valorien. “I will not use this authority against you.”

“Well, darn,” the human replied. “You mean you won’t order me around and tell me what to do? I was so hoping.”

Patiently, Valorien explained again. “We are equal partners in this venture.”

“Right,” Alistair agreed. “So, where are we going next?”

“We should affirm this treaty with Harrowmont. On the way, I wish to revisit Honnleath.”

“What? There’s a dragon there.”

The elf nodded. “That is why we must return. I have been thinking about that dragon. She could make a powerful ally.”

Alistair laughed. “You’re joking, right?”

“I have a plan,” Valorien insisted. Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks. “Alistair?” The human went on a few paces more, then turned around. The elf wrinkled his forehead. “Did you just trick me into telling you what we should do?”

Alistair put on a shocked blank face. “Me? No! I wouldn’t even have enough brains to come up with such a cunning and skillful plan!”

Valorien only stared at him, hard. Alistair smiled, turned on his heel, and continued down the path, whistling a jaunty tune.

 


Part Seventeen: The Anvil of the Void


 

Now their job isnt over yet. If they can just go on an excursion into the Darkspawn-infested Deep Roads and find their missing paragon, Brankha, and fetch her back. Not that anyone’s seen her in 2 years. It seems Brankha went chasing some legendary ‘Anvil of the Void,’ which was a demi-magical item used to create the golems.

The group, joined by a grumpy (is there any other kind??) drunken dwarf named Oghren, travels through the dilapidated ruins of the underground kingdoms, beyond the Orzammar patrols, beyond even the tunnels patrolled by the Legion of the Dead. Past a rift, and into the bowels of the earth itself, so it seems. They find Brankha’s trail, but before they find the paragon herself, they run into an insane dwarven woman who explains what has happened to some of Brankha’s kin. It seems the Darkspawn can’t, well, spawn by themselves. All Darkspawn are male. They need surface women, whom they capture and taint, and twist into a huge aberration called a broodmother. Our heroes manage to slay one of these monstrosities, and in the tunnels beyond that cavern, they find Brankha.

Brankha is only marginally more sane — she’s found Cairiden’s lair, but she cannot get into it due to a series of traps. Fortunately, the Grey Wardens and their companions make great new guinea pigs. They successfully navigate these traps and they do find the legendary Anvil of the Void. There is a problem, however… the creator of the Anvil, Cairiden himself, has been turned into a golem, and he is there to stop them!

Cairiden explains how the creation of each golem can only be completed by destroying the body of one of the living — dwarven volunteers — to lock the spirit within the metal or stone. However, the king Cairiden served so long ago grew greedy, and began demanding more golems, made from unwilling victims. Cairiden protested and was slain upon the Anvil, but his apprentices could not make a control rod for him. And so he ran amok and wrested the Anvil from the dwarves’ grasp. But he himself cannot destroy the Anvil; no golem may touch it. He asks the grey wardens to do so for him. Alistair agrees this is the right thing to do, and Wynne concurs. Oghren thinks they should let Brankha have it, ‘just a little while, til she comes to her senses.’

 

Valorien thought it over carefully. He had spent time as a golem, in the Fade. He recalled that he did not care for it, being so large and so loud, but there was no denying the strength and fortitude of being one. And the darkspawn horde would never be quelled, not while they had access to these broodmothers. Finally, he looked up and said, “If only those who volunteer to give their lives are taken, the Anvil can be put to good use.”

“You cannot guarantee that will always be the case,” Cairiden said, “and that they will never force anyone to suffer the hammerblow.”

Alistair said, “You’re talking about Brankha using it, first off. She didn’t exactly give her followers a choice in her prior ‘experiments.'”

“They were my people,” she told him firmly. “They pledged their lives in service to me.”

“My point exactly!”

Valorien said, “Despite the fact the Dwarves cannot seem to make up their minds, we cannot keep making their decisions for them. Brankha is right, they do not deserve their kingdom to be cast-off ruins, turned to rubble and the spawning grounds for the darkspawn. Not when they have the means to defend it.”

“Cairiden is the creator of the Anvil,” Alistair insisted, “and he wants it destroyed.”

Branka said, “The Anvil belongs to his people, now.”

Wynne stepped up to Valorien. “This is Blood Magic! You swore you’d never stand for the existence of such horrors.”

Calmly, the elf replied, “The Dwarves do not have magic, therefore it cannot be Blood Magic.”

“Whatever semantics you use, it’s still barbaric!”

Cairiden said, “Were not your people once enslaved, elf? Would you wish that on any other?”

“Peace!” said Valorien, cutting off any more argument. “The choice is clear.”

Alistair raised a brow. “And that is…?”

“Brankha and Cairiden must face each other in the Provings. The ancestors will decide whose course to take.”

“I thought you didn’t approve of those contests,” said Wynne.

“They are, as you say, barbaric,” he told her. “But you also told me it is their way, and their own choice in honoring their ancestors. And those would would give their lives in the Provings? Would they not better serve their people giving their lives to become guardians of stone and steel?”

“You’re insane,” Brankha spit. “That Anvil is mine, and I can take it here and now!”

Oghren tried to placate her. “Easy, Brankha. Just listen a minute, willya?”

Cairiden said, “I cannot leave my post as the last guardian of the Anvil.”

“You’re not suggesting they fight it out here and now, are you?” asked Alistair. “We can’t just stand by and watch! I will fight for Cairiden, if you won’t.”

“Well, I’m on Brankha’s side,” growled Oghren. “Stone Mother help me.”

The combatants began to square off. “Stop this!” said Wynne.

Valorien held up his hands to both sides. Then he motioned Alistair to come aside with him. “Excuse us,” the elf said, “we have Warden business to discuss.”

 

Puzzled, Alistair followed him. “I’m not going to like this, am I?” he said, looking at the elf’s expression.

“If we agree to destroy the Anvil, Brankha will fight us,” Valorien told him. “If we kill her, we will return to Harrowmont with no paragon and no Anvil. He may still win the election, but his incentive to pledge his aid to us would be greatly diminished.”

“Still, these are signed treaties. He can’t just ignore them.”

The elf nodded solemnly. “If he is elected. Harrowmont is an honorable man, by all accounts. But if Bhelen wins, he will surely have even less reason to honor the treaties.”

The knight frowned. “But it’s not right,” he insisted.

“No,” the elf agreed. “It is politics.”

“I hate politics.”

Valorien nodded sympathetically. “I will try to reason with Cairiden. If he will not listen, we will have no choice. I am sorry, Alistair.” The knight nodded glumly and they walked back to the others.

 

Valorien faced the dark steel golem. “Cairiden, you are the guardian of the Anvil. If you would see that it is never used to harm another, then step aside now.”

“No!” the golem roared. “Stop them!” He took a swing at Valorien’s head, but the elf dodged back.

Six steel golems ground to life around the chamber and closed on the humans, dwarves, and elf. Brankha screamed in anger and pulled a control rod from her pack. Teeth grinding to force out her will, she caused two of them to turn on their brethren. Oghren unsheathed his axe and charged the nearest. Valorien dodged away from Cairiden and Alistair tried to impose himself between the enraged golem and his fellow Grey Warden. The elf led Cairiden away from Wynne. The mage dodged another golem and did her best to support her comrades.

The battle was bitter, but at last seven steel carapaces lay empty of life and spirit, and five weary creatures of flesh limped onward towards the great Anvil.

 

Brankha makes them a crown on the Anvil, but figuring out how to make golems is going to take some time. The Wardens return to Orzammar and give Harromont the crown, making him king. Bhelen’s forces pull out weapons and try to stage a coup, but are defeated. Weary down to the soul, the Wardens and their comrades return to their camp for the night.

 

Shale imposed himself between Valorien and the campfire. The elf looked up into his glowing eyes. “Am I to understand,” the golem asked, “that you have met Cairiden, the smith who created me?”

“Yes.”

“Only no one will tell me more than that. I would like to meet him, to know more about how I was created and perhaps why.” The stone brows lowered. “Where is he?”

“He has been destroyed, Shale. I am sorry.”

“Destroyed? You mean killed.” He gripped Valorien’s shoulder in a huge stone fist. “Did you kill him?”

Without flinching, the elf answered, “Yes.”

Shale growled and lifted the elf off his feet. “And is there any reason I shouldn’t smash your putrid squishy insides here all over the ground?”

Alistair hurried over. “Put him down!”

The golem glared at him, but Valorien said, “It is all right, Alistair. Shale, I am sorry.”

“Why?” Shale asked, almost sounding hurt. “Why did you kill him?”

“Because he would not speak with us and reason. He attacked us, and we had no choice but to defend ourselves.” The elf did his best to keep his gaze level, dangling as he was in the golem’s grasp.

Slowly, Shale lowered him to the ground, then opened his fingers. “I don’t suppose then that I will ever know….” he trailed off.

“If you wish, we may explore the deep roads further,” Valorien told him. The golem nodded, and the elf went with Alistair back to the fire.

 

They sat down around the fire with Morrigan, Leliana, and Wynne. Tarroth flopped down beside Valorien, and the elf absently patted him. Alistair pulled out a jug of ale he had gotten in the dwarven tavern. He poured out drinks to the ladies, then frowned as Valorien held out his own mug. “I thought you didn’t drink,” Alistair told him.

“I don’t. After seeing….” He swallowed and avoided that topic. “After dealing with the dwarves, I need a drink.”

Alistair topped off his mug. “Careful, it’s pretty strong stuff.”

Valorien took a mouthful and swallowed, then shuddered and gasped. He made a face.

“Good, huh?” Alistair knocked back some from his own mug, with slightly less extreme reaction.

“I do not wish to be prejudiced,” the elf said, “but I hate dwarves.”

“Oh, dwarves are all right,” Alistair said. “It’s their politics that are insane. Different factions, always arguing, petty feuds while the world around them is going to hell — wait…. Isn’t that the same that the humans are doing in the Bannorn?” Valorien was saved from answering by a coughing fit, probably brought on by too strong drink. The knight took another gulp, then said, “I can’t believe you wouldn’t destroy the Anvil.”

“I told you why we couldn’t.”

“Yeah, politics. Which you claim to hate!”

“Do you wish the dwarves to fight the darkspawn or not?”

“Oh, stop it!” cried Wynne.

“No,” said Morrigan. “Let them get it out of their system.”

“You know they’re just going to start killing people to create those golems,” Alistair insisted.

“You do not know that.”

“Oh, now you’re just not being realistic.”

Their argument was interrupted by the rumble of a heavy stone tread. “What did it say?” Shale asked. “Who was killed to make golems?” They explained what Cairiden had told them about living souls animating the golems. Shale’s stone brow furrowed. “Meaning… I was once a fleshy creature like themselves? I can’t imagine I liked that.”

“Many were volunteers,” explained Valorien.

“And later, many were not,” Alistair added.

“Yet all were enslaved by the control rods, is that not right?” asked Shale.

Alistair shot Valorien a hard look. “That’s right. A whole race of slaves.”

The elf ducked his head and rubbed his face. “It doesn’t have to be that way. But if the Anvil were destroyed, there would never be any more golems, for whatever purpose.”

“No more golems?” repeated Shale. “That’s horrid.”

Alistair shook his head. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to become one.”

“I cannot imagine wanting to be squishy and vulnerable,” Shale replied.

“I guess you have a point.” Alistair drained the rest of his drink and refilled his mug.

Valorien tried to emulate him, but choked on the dwarven liquor after two swallows. After the elf stopped coughing and shaking, Alistair topped off his mug as well. “Are you still going to take revenge on me for siccing Tarroth on you?”

“Oh, yes.” Alistair nodded wholeheartedly. “I’m going to get you utterly drunk and then convince you to dance around the camp wearing my underwear on your head.” Leiliana and Wynne nearly spit out their drinks at that one.

“I am not shrunk,” Valorien said steadily. As if to prove his point, he carefully took another drink. He pulled a face and shuddered, but at least he didn’t start coughing again.

“Nope, you don’t look shrunk,” Alistair said, mostly managing to keep a straight face.

They drank a while in silence. Morrigan and Leliana refused a refill of their mugs. Suddenly, “It’s the control rod!” Valorien blurted.

“The control rod made you shrunk?” Alistair quipped.

“No no no. The control rod! Don’t you see? It’s all about the control rod.”

Alsitair shrugged. “What control rod? Shale’s control rod? You’re shrunk and babbling!”

“No, just listen.” Valorien stared hard at his mug trying to martial his thoughts. “You can’t just turn someone into a ten-foot-tall, invulnerable killing machine if they’re going to be spissed at you for turning them into one! They’d smush your head!”

“Yah, but they did have control rods. They enslaved the poor souls–”

Valorien waved at him to shut up about that. “Cairiden lied. If he were only going to use volunteers, he would never have to invent a control rod. What’s he need it for, if the dwarves were all willing to be transformed and would obey their commanders?”

“Uhhm… I dunno,” said Alistair, scrunching his face up in thought. “See, but they do have a control rod, so what’s your point?”

Valorien waved his hands around in frustration and nearly shouted, “No control rod means no people can be forced to become golems!”

“So… we have to take the control rod from Brankha?”

“Yes! And make sure no more can be created.” Valorien nodded. “First thing in the morning. I sleep now.” With that, his eyes rolled up in his head and he flopped over like a sack of potatoes.

Alistair looked over at Wynne. “You think that’s right?”

“It does make a certain amount of sense,” she replied hesitantly. “Though I don’t think it’s an ironclad guarantee. There are different ways to control people and make them do what you want.”

“But if golems didn’t have control rods, and they could think for themselves…?”

“Like Shale?” She nodded thoughtfully. “Then I suppose they are not truly enslaved.” A frown creased her brow. “But I still don’t like it. It smells of Blood Magic, no matter how you try to rationalize it.”

Alistair mused on that a while, nursing his drink.

Leliana said, “Alistair, you should take Valorien to his tent.”

“What, me? He looks cozy right where he is.”

“Can’t you do anything yourself?” Morrigan snapped. “I swear, you really do have the makings of a king — you expect everyone else to do everything for you.”

“Shut up, witch!” Alistair surged to his feet.

“That’s enough!” said Wynne. “Alistair, you’ve had enough to drink.”

“But Wynne…,” he whined.

“No ‘buts,’ young man. Hand over that bottle.”

Groaning, he slapped the cork back into the bottle and surrendered it to her. Then he ducked into his tent and secured the flap.

Morrigan rolled her eyes. “Come on,” she said to Leliana. “I’ll help you.” Together, they dragged the limp elf into his tent, and Leliana arranged him in a more comfortable position. “You’re wasting your time, you know,” Morrigan told her.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s an elf… you’re a human…. He hates you.”

Leliana gave her an icy look. “And you are an expert on the matters of love?”

“No, but I’m a pretty good expert on hate.”

“Then it is you who is wasting her time, trying to sow your seeds of hatred and discord.” The bard swept out of the tent.

Morrigan followed more slowly, shaking her head.

 


Part Sixteen: Revenge


 
Warning: contains foul language.

After supporting Harrowmont successfully in the provings, the Grey Wardens and company finally get to meet their candidate. He is grateful for their help, of course, but he believes he needs more to be successful in swaying the assembly in his favor. He tells them of the dwarves latest, living paragon: Branka. She led her house into the Deep Roads on some expedition and has been missing for two years. If the Wardens can find Branka and get her to support Harrowmont, well…. why not?

The weary elf and his companions return outside to their camp to rest before this expedition.

 

“It seems to me,” Valorien said, “if we could find this Branka, she would make a more sensible Queen than any of these men scheming for the throne.”

“You want my opinion,” said Alistair; “she only said she was heading into the deeps, then she done a runner for the surface and is living happily as some anonymous tavernkeep somewhere — just to escape all that fawning and pampering Brother Genitivi was talking about in his book.”

“Because that is what you would do?” Valorien asked him.

“Hey…!” Alistair grinned craftily. “Good plan. I’m going to file that one away.”

“The dwarves confuse me,” the elf admitted. “Their names are difficult to remember. Their architecture is… jarring.”

“You did get lost. There’s only two directions to go! And you got lost.”

Valorien nodded. “There is no sky. And the angles… it’s all different, yet all the same.” He frowned at Alistair’s chuckle. “Perhaps you should lead.”

“Shutting up now.”

“I really do not understand this need for servants. Do people not have any pride in being self-sufficient?”

“There are just some things people don’t like to do,” Alistair replied, holding out his empty dinner bowl so Tarroth could lick it clean. “Like washing socks. or some things that you’re just bad at. Like when I’m king, you can be my cook.”

Valorien whirled on him. “What did you say to me?”

“I–” He felt a dagger pierce his heart as he realized his mistake. “Nothing! It was just a joke. I was babbbling; running my mouth off without thinking again.” He withered under the elf’s gaze. “I didn’t mean it that way. I wasn’t — Look, it was a really, REALLY stupid thing to say, and I’m sorry…. Please don’t kill me?”

With nothing more than a cold narrowing of his eyes, Valorien turned and walked away in disgust.

Alistair shook his head at himself.

“Oh, Alistair,” said Leliana sadly.

With a grimace, he went after the elf. “Valorien! Wait.” He caught up as Valorien turned. “I didn’t mean that like it sounded. I didn’t say that because you’re an elf. I would have said the same thing to Shale, except he doesn’t eat, so he can’t cook…. Or Morrigan, but when she cooks, I’m always afraid of finding toadstools or newt eyes in it…. Well, what I meant was that since I don’t want to be king, we could just be miserable together.”

Valorien only gave him a hard look. Alistair dropped his gaze in shame. He forced himself to look up, and thought that he could make things right if he could just promise to liberate the downtrodden city elves of Ferelden. But when he looked into Valorien’s eyes, he could not say the words. Even as king, he could not undo what society had wrought for generations. Giving such a promise would make him a liar and an oath-breaker. And Valorien did not ask him for anything; the elf was pragmatic enough to know it would be to no avail.

Alistair took a breath. “Look…. If you’re mad at me, I’d really rather you just slug me now and have done with it.”

“Slug you?” Valorien gave him a puzzled look.

“You know… hit me. Kick my ass.”

Valorien’s look only grew more puzzled. “Why?”

“Because I feel bad for saying such an utterly ignorant shemlen thing, and it would make me feel better. Plus, well, maybe we could skip the decades of elven vindictiveness. Just… get it over all at once.”

“You want me to punish you?”

“Uhh….” Alistair had to think about that a moment. “Yeah.”

“And this will make you feel better?” Valorien sounded dubious.

“Yes. And you’ll feel better, too. You’ll see! You should try it.” Alistair swallowed nervously.

Valorien gave the matter serious consideration. “Very well,” he said finally. “Give me your sword.”

Alistair hesitated, a feeling of dread creeping over him. Who knew what this elf might do to him as ‘punishment.’ They were a strange, alien race. Mentally, he kicked himself. Here he was doing it again — on purpose this time — thinking of Valorien as some strange outlander, and not as a trusted companion and Grey Warden. He handed over his sword.

“And your shield.” Valorien tapped his palm three times against his leg as Alistair worked the buckles. Tarroth padded over and sat by the elf’s side.

“Oh no,” the knight said as he surrendered his shield, “you can’t be serious!” He stared, eyes wide, as Valorien crouched and started whispering to the war dog. “You couldn’t,” Alistair insisted. “You wouldn’t!”

The elf looked up at him. “You should start running.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t! Would you!?” He looked at Tarroth, and the dog opened his jaws in a toothy canine grin. “Oh… SH–!!” Alistair took off.

Valorien straightened slowly, then looked down at Tarroth. “Get him!”

With a deep-chested growl, the war dog sprang after the fleeing Warden. In less than three strides he caught up and slammed into Alistair.

“AAAAAAHHH!!!”

Wynne ducked out of her tent at the sounds of yelling and barking. “What’s going on?”

Without turning, Leliana said, “Alistair was a bit careless with his words to Valorien.”

“Opened his big fat mouth and put his foot in it that time,” Morrigan clarified.

“Augh! Get him off! Get off! You slobbering, mangy mongrel! Help!”

“And Valorien sicced the dog on him?” Wynne asked, aghast.

“He asked for it,” Morrigan told her.

“I don’t care what he said, I hardly think it deserves –”

“No, he literally asked for it,” the witch explained. “‘Kick my ass’ I believe he said.”

Leliana nodded. “Those were his exact words, indeed.”

“Help! Stop! Oh, stop! I swear, I’ll never do it again! Call him off!”

“I don’t believe this!” Wynne shook her head.

“I don’t either,” said Morrigan. She turned to the bard. “Do you see that? Or am I hallucinating?”

“Nay, I see it as well.”

“What?” said Wynne. “Alistair being slobbered to death by that hound?”

“Nay, that Valorien is smiling.”

“Really?” Wynne forgot about Alistair and looked at the elf.

“Alistair has told me that he once saw Valorien laugh,” Leliana said, “but I scarce credited it.”

“I certainly never have,” said Morrigan.

“Help! Get him off! You can be king! Ack! I’ll be your cook! I’ll be your valet! I’ll wash your socks — anything! Just call him off!”

“Down, Tarroth,” called Valorien. “That’s enough.”

Leliana went to him. “You should not cover your mouth when you smile,” she told him. “It suits you well.” She smiled at him, and he ducked his head in embarassment.

He bent to pet Tarroth. “Good boy! Good dog.” Ruffling the dog’s neck, he couldnt help but smile, though this time he did not seem to notice it.

Alistair tromped over, his face dripping with dog drool. “I have an announcement,” he stated. “Never, ever piss off an elf. Their revenge is a real bitch!” Tarroth barked sharply. “Not that kind.”

Valorien rose and returned his weapon and shield. Alistair took them and said in a low voice. “I’m going to get you back for this.”

The elf’s brow wrinkled in puzzlement. “You said this would make you feel better.”

“Oh, don’t you worry about that! I no longer have any feelings of guilt or remorse. That makes me feel a lot beter! Don’t you feel better?”

“I… suppose,” Valorien answered slowly. “I do not feel angry any more. I am concerned, however, about this promise of retribution.”

“Don’t worry about that, either.” Alistair started wiping his face. “It just means you were successful in trouncing me thoroughly.” He paused. “I really am sorry,” he said seriously. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“It is all right, Alistair,” the elf replied. “I accept your apology.”