The Uninvited Guest
Content Warnings: violence
“Never mind that, we have more trouble, cousin!” Soris stopped abruptly, and Bannon almost ran into him.
“A disaster to stop the wedding?” Bannon grumbled. What else could possibly go wrong? Then again… no wedding meant at least one more night of freedom….
“Some shem just walked in. He’s got weapons.” Bannon looked over to where Soris’ gaze led. There was some dark-haired man, complete with thick moustache and goatee, wearing some kind of white armor and kilt. Two weapon hilts protruded over his shoulders. The man’s face looked sun-worn, and his eyes gazed around with predatory intent. “Is that a Templar?” Soris asked. Templars occassionally marched into the alienage, searching for elven children with the talent for magic.
“Doesn’t look like the others I’ve seen,” Bannon mused.
“Well, let’s see if we can move him along before someone starts something. Your friends have been drinking,” Soris warned. “You know how they get.”
“They’re your friends, too.”
“Not when they’re drunk, they’re not!”
The shem stopped near the Vhenadahl, gazing up at the towering trunk. He wasn’t sightseeing, though. He turned before the two elf cousins got to him. He said nothing, but his dark eyes watched them, waiting for them to make the first move.
“Good day, ser,” said Bannon, adopting his unassuming elf demeanor. “Were you looking for someone? Perhaps we can help.” Or, ‘Move your ass out of our alienage.’
“No, thank you,” the human replied politely.
Soris fidgeted and looked at Bannon. This wasn’t going to go well, either, was it? Bannon spoke up again. “It is going to get crowded here very soon. That might make it difficult for you to… conduct your business?” He gave a slight smile and looked up into the shem’s face, giving him a good look at his innocent and trustworthy eyes.
The human stroked his beard a moment. “Oh, I don’t think that will be a problem,” he said with irritating calm.
“There might be a better place for you to wait,” Bannon suggested.
“We don’t want any trouble,” Soris added hastily.
“And armed strangers are usually trouble, is that it?” the human asked. Yeah, this guy had a real firm grasp of the obvious. “Don’t worry, I promise you I mean no harm.”
Bannon bit back a sigh. And yet, so thick. A canny thought entered his head. “Ser, there is to be a wedding here. It would go against our traditions to have weapons present.” He frowned thoughtfully. “A bad omen for the ceremony.”
The shem’s obsidian gaze fixed on him. “Diplomatic in the face of overwhelming force,” he muttered as if to himself. “Shrewd as to the motivations of others.” One brow arched upward. “Then appealing to my chivalrous nature and respect for tradition. Impressive.”
Bannon was taken aback. Did this guy just read him? He blinked, but before he could for a reply, the aged voice of the hahren came into the fray.
“Duncan! Are these boys harassing you?” Valendrian, the elder of the city elves, came strolling around the broad trunk of the Great Tree. His hair was grey, but still lengthy enough to be braided on either side of his face. Like all elves, he bore few age lines, just a hint around the eyes and mouth. His limbs were still hale, and his back straight, only a slight slump of his shoulders atesting to the weight his age and position placed on him.
The shem chuckled. “No, my friend. Just looking out for the peace and safety of their community.”
“Elder!” Soris exclaimed in surprise. “You know this sh– uh, human?”
Valendrian nodded. “Duncan, this is Soris and Bannon; the two cousins I told you about. Boys, this is the Grey Warden, Duncan.”
The elves looked at him anew in wonder. Grey Wardens were even more rare than Dalish Elves. Although most of them were shems, they were still heroes of all peoples in all nations. Well, they had been barred from Ferelden for several years, though no one seemed quite sure why. Before they could gather their wits and dozens of questions poured out, Duncan said, “Then I understand congratulations are in order.” He smiled.
Bannon couldn’t stifle another groan. Soris shrugged helplessly, making the human show his teeth in a grin and chuckle all the more. “Ah, the young and eager grooms,” he teased them. “I hope I am not interrupting any escape plans.”
“Do you have any?” Bannon piped up.
Valendrian heaved a put-upon sigh. “No,” he answered for the Warden. “And you boys have preparations to finish.”
“No, Bannon,” the hahren said firmly, cutting him off. “Whatever it is: no! Now go get dressed, and I want to see you back here in fifteen minutes! Soris, if he ‘gets lost,’ it will be on your head.”
The young elves sighed again. “Yes, Elder.” They trudged off towards their doom.
Behind them, the two old time friends had a moment to talk. Valendrian rubbed his temples. “I swear, that boy is the reason for my hair going grey.”
“He seems quite bright,” Duncan replied, his gaze not leaving the departing elves until they were out of sight. “Does he have weapons training?”
Valendrian bit his lip. “You know that’s illegal, my friend.”
“And you know that I am not affiliated with Denerim’s government, nor Ferelden’s.”
The elder nodded. “Yes,” he answerd the previous question without explanation. “Rather more than the others.” The elves could get away with “traditional” archery competition on Feastdays, but that was hardly enough to make them competent warriors — and no doubt the shems liked it that way. Though it was forbidden for elves to carry weapons larger than a dagger, and certainly against the laws for them to learn the art of swordsmanship, the hahren knew it would be cruel to withhold the knowledge of fighting and defense from his people. The truth of it was, the elves had a secret school. It was not meant as a weapon against the shems; its purpose was to give the elves the power to defend themselves during a Purge, nothing more. Ironically, if the shems ever discovered the existence of the school, that would give them cause to run a Purge through the alienage. Valendrian’s mouth twisted wryly. “Has it become that desperate, then?” he asked his friend.
Duncan bowed his head. “I’m afraid it has. But enough ill-omened talk before the wedding.” He looked up once more and brought his smile back. “I should take myself and my weapons away from this auspicious occassion. And I know you have important duties to perform. Perhaps a search party to organize,” he jested. Then his words became overshadowed once more. “We will speak of dire matters later.”
True to the day, the wedding was beautiful. Cyrian beamed with pride at his handsome boys — son and nephew — as they stood before the Priestess, ready to become men. Truth be told, the sparkle in his eye might be the result of an unshed tear of joy.
Bannon did look resplendent in his fine cobalt tunic. It matched smartly with his bride’s powder blue dress. She, too, was beautiful. She had long flaxen hair and periwinkle blue eyes. Who knows? Once he got to know her better…. His stomach did a slow somersault. He really hated being pinned down. ‘Relax,’ he told his rebellious innards, ‘we can handle anything life throws at us.’
“You look divine,” Nesiara murmured to him as he took his place by her side. She seemed happy, her smile genuine.
Bannon smiled back — it wasn’t as hard as he’d expected. “You do, too, my dear.”
Valendrian opened the ceremony with a speech about the freedoms Blessed Andraste had bestowed upon the elves. Mother Carson had come from the East City Chantry to give her blessings on the unions. Bannon glanced around — not, of course, looking for an escape route — but he caught his father’s eye. Cyrian looked almost ready to burst with happiness — something rare in the rocky life they had led. It gave Bannon a warm feeling under his ribs, like a ray of sunshine. He smiled back at his father and vowed to make the old man this happy as often as he could.
He looked back towards the Revered Mother, but something beyond caught his eye, and that ray of sunshine inside him turned into a lump of cold iron and plummeted. Guardsmen in Kendell livery were crossing the square, shoving people out of their way.
Vaughn marched proudly in their midst, his eyes glinting with the lust for vengeance. Oh, no, thought Bannon. He can’t. Not even Vaughn would be so crass as to disrupt a wedding. Nor be so bold as to go against the Chantry. But Vaughn mounted the steps of the platform, just as Mother Carson turned to see what was causing such a commotion.
“Pardon me for interrupting, Mother,” Vaughn said jauntily; “but I was just having a party, with fine wine, delectable food — but then I noticed we were missing something. Oh yes, that’s right!” He snapped his fingers as if a thought had just come to him. “No whores! But look, here they are!” With a dramatic sweep of his hand, he indicated the bridal party.
“My lord!” the Revered Mother spat in outrage. “This is a wedding!”
“Oh, please!” Vaughn laughed. “You can dress up your pets and play tea party all you want, but they’re nothing more than animals, created to serve us.” He beckoned for his guards.
“Get behind me,” Bannon said to Nesiara, sheilding her with his arm. Vaughn was either drunk out of his mind, or Shi had truly rattled his brains. He’d never seen the bann act this demented.
“Grab those pretty brides; oh, that cute bridesmaid in the tight pink dress….” Vaughn turned, his eyes narrowed dangerously. “And where’s that bitch who bottled me?”
Shianni tried to slink behind the other maids towards the protection of her uncle and the hahren. But Vaughn’s lackeys cut her off. “Here she is, my lord!” Jonaley called out with glee. Braden grabbed Shianni’s arm and twisted it behind her. She cried out.
Two guards came to wrest Nesiara from Bannon. “Don’t you touch her!” One of them drew his sword and pointed it at Bannon’s chest. He froze. Nesiara reluctantly went forward with the other guard, too proud to be dragged around like some animal to slaughter.
“What do we do?” Soris cried in panic.
“Remain calm,” the haren’s voice rose over the mutters of fear and cries of pain. Valendrian’s face was colourless as whey, but more guards had their weapons drawn. If the elves rioted, there would be a bloodbath.
Reverend Mother Carson was the only one, being human herself, who dared stand up to the bann as his guards ebbed down from the platform. “My lord, this is an affront to the Maker!”
“Oh shut up, you dried-up old biddy!” Vaughn snapped. More than one person gasped at his open blasphemy against the holy woman. He actually shoved her aside.
Bannon stepped forward. “You won’t get away with this, Vaughn,” he growled. “When your father hears–!”
The nobleman whilrled suddenly in a rage and clubbed him across the face. The elf dropped, unconscious before he hit the wooden stage.
By the time Soris could rouse Bannon, Vaughn had taken the women to his estate. Valendrian tried to keep his people calm. The hahren’s duty was to all the people of the alienage, and at the moment, Vaughn wasn’t actually thratening to kill anyone. Valendrian’s heart ached for the indignity the women would suffer, but he would counsel them as he had others before them. Sometimes it was the elves’ lot to suffer, but at least they would be alive. “The Reverend Mother has gone to fetch the city guard,” he told the worried elves crowding around him.
“What good will that do?” someone cried. “Vaughn has enough riches to pay them off!”
“He won’t even have to,” Bannon growled, getting to his feet. “With the king and the arl away at war, Vaughn’s in charge of the city. He gives the guards their orders!”
“I cannot condone an act of violence against the bann,” Valendrian said firmly, though his words were heavy with sorrow. “The safety of our people comes first.”
“If we don’t do something, no one will!” Bannon argued. “I’ll go by myself, if I have to!”
“Bannon, no!” Cyrian put a hand on his arm. “You can’t just march into the estate — you don’t even have any weapons.”
“I can find some!”
A dark-skinned fellow elbowed his way to the front of the crowd. “Hahren, I might be able to help. I work in the arl’s estate. I could bring someone in through the servants’ entrance.”
“Bannon and I will go,” said Soris. “They took our wives — and my sister!”
The human who had been with Valendrian earlier appeared as well. He came forward and said, “I have a few spare weapons.”
“Duncan, please,” Valendrian said. “This is not helping.”
“Surely you don’t believe it’s right for a crime like this to go unchallenged?” The Grey Warden fixed the elder with a penetrating gaze.
Valendrian dropped his eyes. “No. But only two shall go,” he added, his voice finding strength again. “The rest of you return to your homes.”
The Grey Warden produced a shortsword and crossbow from his pack. Bannon accepted the blade gratefully. “Why don’t you come with us?” he asked the man. “You’re a fighter.”
Duncan put his hands out in refusal. “I cannot take direct action. The Wardens’ welcome in Ferelden is precarious at best,” he said. “I, too, have responsibilities to the greater good, no matter what my personal feelings might be.” He paused, his eyes darkening in thought. “May the Maker watch over you,” he told the two elves solemnly.
The estate was a small palace sprawled behind its high wall like a pampered lion in its enclosure, with the grounds stretched out around it. Room enough for a dozen elven tenements, it was given over to a luxurious lawn with well-trimmed bushes and flowerbeds. In the back were the kennel runs, a modest vegetable garden, and even its own smokehouse. The estate had two gates. The larger main gate faced a broad, curving lane that led to the market. On the eastern side was a smaller gate, and this let out directly onto the alienage.
Bannon and Soris wrapped their borrowed weapons in rags, stuffed them into some old crates, and carried them up to the gate. Ian, the serving man, convinced the gate guard that Vaughn had sent them on an errand and that they were very late. The guard snickered, but said nothing as he let them through.
As soon as they were out of sight, the two cousins readied their weapons. They met no guards as they quickly traversed the length of the mansion to the back, but as soon as they got there, they realized why: Vaughn had left the dogs loose.
The Kendell family owned a large pack of mabari, but most of them had gone with the arl off to war. Vaughn personally owned two — a brindle male and a huge black bitch. The male spotted them first and charged with a growl. Soris put a bolt in its thick neck, but that barely slowed it down. Bannon managed to finish it off with the sword, though it was a messy job. The bitch took three bolts as the elves retreated around the corner. This time, Bannon waited for the dog to charge past him, then he swung the blade down across its back, severing the spine. The mabari’s hind legs collapsed, immobilizing it long enough for him to bury the swordpoint in its heart.
All three elves were shaking and panting; even Ian managed to go pale under his dusky skin. Bannon’s pants were spattered with blood, but there was no help for that now. Ian led them around through the gardens to the servants’ entrance on the west side of the building. He unlocked the door for them. “This is as far as I can take you,” he said, eager to quit this dangerous endeavor. “Good luck.”