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.

 


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