Content Warnings: foul language, violence, rape
Upstairs, the mansion was eerily quiet. Plush carpetry ran the length of the hallways, muffling footsteps. Where were the guards? Surely Vaughn would have himself heavily protected while he perpetuated his crime.
The two elves sidled around a corner — to another empty hallway. Then it hit Bannon. Vaughn wasn’t “perpetuating a crime,” he was having his little noble party for himself and his guests. Nothing untoward, or unseemly, and certainly not against the laws of man or Maker. Bannon’s blood burned.
As they moved down the corridor, they could hear the sobbing cries of a woman — was that Shianni? Bannon had never heard his cheerful cousin sound like that before — and the deeper voices of men, talking… and laughing. Bannon and Soris broke into a run and slammed open the door to the master bedroom.
“Show her again what elf whores are for!” Lord Braden was goading his companion, Lord Jonely, who had Shianni on the floor, her dress torn to rags.
“Get away from my sister, you filthy son of a bitch!” Soris screamed. He raised the crossbow. Bannon barely stopped him from loosing the bolt with a warning that he might hit Shianni.
Jonely scrambled around on the floor, trying to flee the crossbow’s sights with his pants binding his knees. He grabbed Shianni and rolled over on one hip, cowering behind her. “Let go,” she sobbed, struggling. But her strength had left her. The side of her face was blackened in one long bruise; blood trickled from her nose and lip.
Vaughn stood nearby, frozen momentarily in shock, his lips parted slightly. He was shirtless, and bore furrowed scratches across his upper chest. Shianni had clearly fought him to the last. Bannon pointed his sword at the man.
Braden rounded on the elves. “How dare you interrupt, churls!” The reek of brandy on his breath reached them. “We’ll have you whipped for this,” he sneered. “Guards!”
“Quiet, you idiot!,” Vaughn snapped, regaining his wits. “They’re covered in enough blood to fill a tub. What do you think that means?” he drawled, narrowing his eyes at Bannon.
Bannon narrowed his right back. “It means your men are dead,” he growled low. “Just like you.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s wise,” Vaughn replied calmly. “You try to fight us,” he threatened, his cold blue eyes boring into Bannon, “and more of your girls are going to get killed.” With a smirk, the bann turned casually, gesturing towards his cowardly companion on the floor. “Jonny can wring this little wench’s neck easily.” At a glare from his master, the lordling put his hands around Shianni’s neck.
Shianni whimpered, and Soris aimed the crossbow at Jonely. Braden took a half step towards the door, and Soris swung the weapon around to train it on him again. Sweat beaded on the elf’s brow.
It was Ferelden tradition that the weapon rack was placed by the door, so that when the lords — and their ladies, more often than not — sprang from their beds to defend their holdings, the weapons were at hand as they rushed out the door. When the elves had burst in, they had effectively cut the shems off from their weapons. But this stalemate wasn’t going to last. Bannon mentally encouraged his cousing to shoot. Shoot the bastard! Bannon had a clear avenue to Vaughn’s back. With the element of surprise, they could take these highly-trained noblemen. But it was not to be.
Vaughn turned back to face them. “You boys seem quite capable. I have sixty silvers there in that box on the desk.” He flicked a hand in that direction. “You take the money, and you leave the city — tonight. Resourceful fellows like yourselves could get quite far with such a generous sum.”
Sixty silvers was indeed a lavish sum that a clever elf could use to take himself far, far away. Bannon had always wanted to escape the city, though he doubted he could stand life as a Dalish elf. Perhaps he could hire himself out as a mercenary. At worst, he and Soris could just travel to Highever, or Amaranthine, and see what the alienages there had to offer. He had prayed to the Maker to save him from this marriage — but he never intended for anyone to suffer for it.
Bannon looked up from his thoughts at Vaughn. The shem hadn’t moved, but his smirk seemed more firmly affixed. Clearly, he had seen Bannon contemplating his offer. Bannon clenched his jaw firmly. “What about the women?”
“Oh, they’ll be returned, in the morning,” Vaughn said airily. “Not much the worse for wear, I promise you.”
“Let them go, now,” Soris growled.
“Or what?” Vaughn snapped back. “You’ll shoot me?”
Soris sighted at him down the crossbow’s shaft. “Don’t tempt me, shem.”
Lord Braden looked to Vaughn, clearly itching to make a dive for the weapon rack. The bann, picture of confidence despite his being unarmed and half-dressed, simply sighed dramatically. “You might actually succeed in killing one of us.”
Jonely said from the floor, “My lord–!”
Vaughn rounded angrily on him. “Oh get up, you sniveling toady! And for the Maker’s sake, pull your pants up!” The lordling released Shianni and scrambled to his feet, tugging at his clothes.
Braden shifted another half step closer to the door. Soris turned on him again. “Not one more step, shem, I swear!” Now the human began to sweat as profusely as the elf.
Vaughn turned back to them. “Even if you succeed in killing me, what have you really gained? When my father, the Arl of Denerim, returns from the war and finds his beloved son has been murdered, what do you think he’ll do?” He narrowed his eyes and stepped forward menacingly. “He will call for a Purge on your sorry little slum and start exterminating you like rats.”
Soris’ face went white. He and Shianni had lost both their parents in the last Purge six years ago. Armed soldiers would sweep through the alienage, hunting for criminals or dissidents, killing anyone who resisted or just anyone who was out on the street at the time. It didn’t really matter to the shems — the basic purpose of a Purge was to terrorize and punish the elven people for becoming too brazen. Keep your head down among shems, the saying went, or some lord is likely to lop it off.
Vaughn examined his well-manicured nails nonchalantly. Soris risked shooting a glance at Bannon. “What are we going to do?” he asked shakily.
Bannon closed his eyes, but he could still hear Shianni crying softly in her throat. He ground his teeth. Then he looked at Vaughn again. “Show me this money.”
As if aware of how much it made the elf want to run him through, Vaughn actually tried to surpress his smirk. “It’s right there on the desk.” He gestured, but made no move towards it. “See for yourself.”
Bannon sensed a trap. “You show me.”
The nobleman shrugged and walked over. A small, ornamental box sat there, one for holding trinkets or gems. He reached past the box, towards the edge of the desk, and Bannon sprang at him, realizing now that Vaughn’s weapon wasn’t on the rack, but propped up against the far side of the desk.
Vaughn whirled, suddenly a lot faster than his lazy demeanor suggested. He caught Bannon’s sword on his own blade. The weight of the elf’s charge slammed them both against the desk, which rocked and slammed against the wall. But the human was bigger and stronger. He shoved Bannon off him and pressed a counter attack.
Startled into motion, Braden lunghed for the weapon rack, and Soris triggered the crossbow. The bolt caught the human in the left shoulder and spun him back. That only slowed him down. Desperate, Soris swung the crossbow at the man’s head. Braden caught it, and they grappled.
Bannon backpedalled away from Vaughn, barely able to bat away the human’s precise cuts. The elf might have trained hard with weapons and streetfighting, but Vaughn was a nobleman of a long lineage of Ferelden warriors. He clearly overmatched his smaller opponent. Vaughn even grinned as they fought. Then, with a sweeping arc, he caught Bannon’s shortsword and deftly flung it out of the elf’s hands, without any apparent effort. The weapon sailed across the room, knocked against one of the tall bedposts, and fell onto the nightstand where it brought a vase of flowers crashing to the floor.
“Grandmother painted that vase,” the human growled, grinning maniacally. “Father is going to be pissed!” He slashed at Bannon, whose only recourse was to leap back. The leather cuirass barely slowed the blade as it cut across his chest. At least it wasn’t a serious wound — yet.
Braden yanked back on the crossbow and turned, trying to fling Soris around like a dance partner, but his wounded arm lacked the strength. Jarring it forced a grunt of pain from him. Soris hung on doggedly. Suddenly, instead of pulling, he leapt forward into the human. They both went down in a heap.
Braden twisted around under Soris and flung out a hand towards the weapon rack. It teetered and spilled a scabbarded sword to the floor. Though Soris fought to pull the shem back, the human snagged the blade and pulled it free. Unfortunately for him, grappling on the floor was not an ideal situation in which to swing a long weapon. The elf grabbed his arm with one hand and started punching him — anywhere: chest, ribs, face — with the other.
Vaughn cut and slashed, and Bannon barely ducked out of the way of the blade. He had a long belt knife, but he needed both arms free just to keep his balance. He backed up again and suddenly fetched up against a warm, solid mass. Jonaley grabbed him from behind in a bearhug. “I’ve got him now, my lord!” Bannon twisted desperately, but could not break free. “Finish him off!”
With a snarl, Vaughn lunged. Bannon’s eyes went wide, and he picked up his legs, letting his full weight drop straight down. Lord Jonaley was jerked forward and bent over. Vaughn’s blade sliced through his cheek and neck. The bann yanked back as soon as he realized his thrust had gone awry, but it was too late.
Jonaley screamed, and blood sprayed from his mouth and throat. Bannon scrambled out from under him, twisting aside. Shianni shrieked as the shem’s body collapsed onto the floor beside her, spasming in its death throes.
“You idiot!” Vaughn roared. He wasn’t smirking any more. His face twisted in rage as he turned on Bannon.
The elf didn’t wait for him; he had his knife out, and he attacked. For half a second, he beat Vaughn back with sheer ferocity, but soon the nobleman had him on the defense again. Bannon held the knife in both hands to keep it from being knocked out of his grasp. Vaughn hit harder and harder, and Bannon feared his blade would simply snap under the onslaught.
He had to do something to gain an advantage. He leapt aside, avoiding the next blow altogether. Vaughn overreached, but quickly compensated. Bannon cowered away from the bigger man. Breathing heavily, Vaughn raised his sword for a final blow.
Just at the apex, Bannon suddenly darted forward and kicked. He planted the toe of his boot into the human’s groin. Vaughn turned green and doubled over as breath whooshed from his lungs. But, realizing he was fighting for his life, he didn’t drop his sword. Sheerly by force of will, he lifted it again, straightening. Bannon grabbed his arm and moved in. With a snarl of his own, he kneed Vaughn hard once more, and then drove the knife up under his ribs. Soundlessly, the nobleman’s mouth opened, and blood poured out.
The sword finally dropped from his numb fingers, and the nobleman began to slump to the floor, his eyes glazed in an expression of bewilderment and pain. Impatiently, Bannon shoved him back and yanked his knife free with another splash of blood.
“Soris!” he turned to aid his cousin. Soris had pummelled Braden senseless and had his sword now. He stuck it several times into the bastard’s torso, until he stopped moving. “Soris,” Bannon said again, moving closer. “He’s dead. Come on.”
“They hurt Shianni!” the elf cried.
“She’s here,” Bannon said, cautiously approaching him. “She needs you.” Gingerly, he tugged at his cousin’s arm. Soris shook himself and moved to help his sister.
Bannon walked over and retrieved his borrowed sword, then crossed back to them. Shianni sat on the floor, clinging to Soris and crying into his shoulder. “It’s all right,” he kept telling her. “It will be okay.”
Shianni flinched at Bannon’s approach. “It’s okay; it’s me,” he reassured her. “They’re all dead.” He looked around a moment — Maker’s Mercy, the bedchambers were a mess. They’d best get out of here, fast. “Shianni,” he asked gently, but insistently, “Where are Nesiara and Valora?”
She pointed towards the back corner of the room. Upon investigating, Bannon found a nook extending off the main room, and a door. It was unlocked. Cautiously, he pushed it open, keeping his sword firmly in hand, but lowered. He didn’t want to accidentally skewer one of the ladies. Or get skewered by an attacking she-elf.
The room was small, more of a closet — or a cell. It was stone-floored and windowless. Valora and Nesiara sat huddled in the corner, on the floor, next to a mat covered with blood-stained rags. Another shem was in there with them, standing with his back pressed to the side wall, as if he were trying to push himself through the stone. He had blond hair that brushed his shoulders, and a small sprout of a moustache. Bannon pointed the sword at him.
“Don’t kill me!” the man shrieked, throwing his hands up.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Jacen. L-lord Jonaley’s brother.” His words started tumbling out as he wrung his hands. “He- he told me there was a party, that there’d be wh-whores. I didn’t know they weren’t paid! I swear! I didn’t mean to hurt anyone!” His knees were shaking. “Please,” he gulped. “I swear — I give you my solemn word — I won’t tell anyone you were here. P-please just don’t kill me.”
Bannon lowered the sword. Almost instantly, colour flooded back into the shem’s pasty face. He almost collapsed in relief. Bannon glanced at the women. They clung tightly to each other, frozen in fear or shock. He looked back at the young noble. “No,” he said, smiling slightly; “I believe you won’t.”
“You’ll not regret this, I promise!” Jacen moved towards the door. Bannon stepped aside as if to let him pass, but as the shem drew even with him, he shoved the sword through the human’s gut. Jacen’s eyes went wide in shock. He doubled over, exhaling a weak death rattle. One of the women let out a scream at the suddenness of the blow. Bannon pushed the corpse off his blade. He shoved it so it wouldn’t block the door.
The women seemed galvanized. They broke out of their paralysis and hurried through the door. Bannon followed them.
Soris had Shianni on her feet; they all huddled around him. Soris gave his cousin a hard look. “You didn’t have to kill him.”
“Oh, please,” Bannon snapped. “You believe his story?” He snorted. “Besides, he saw us, and the first thing he was going to do was go straight to the city guards.”
Soris bit his lip, but didn’t argue. “Let’s just get out of here and hope we don’t run into anyone else. You go first, I’ll follow with the women.”
Bannon first moved to the desk. He opened the small box; inside were two copires of the Kendell family seal. Bannon cursed — there wasn’t even any damned money!
They made it out of the estate and back to the safe harbour of the alienage without incident. They congretated in Cyrian’s home. Valendrian brought a nurse, who bandaged Bannon’s chest and saw to the boys’ other injuries as they stripped out of their stolen armor and bloody clothes. Then she went into the back room to tend to the women. It wasn’t long before Zack came looking for the Elder. The city guard was here. Hurriedly, the elves stashed the weapons and armor in the false bottom of one of the carpenter’s chests. Then they followed Valendrian out to face the guardsmen.
Most of the elves from the wedding were milling about beneath the Great Tree. They eyed the uniformed city guards with distrust. The guards, more than a dozen of them, stood in close formation as if expecting to be besieged. Bannon and Soris melted into the crowd behind Valendrian.
The guard captain was raising his voice, calling for order. Valendrian also raised his voice, to calm his people. Without the need for pushing and shoving, he moved to the forefront, and his human friend, the Grey Warden, appeared at his side. “What is this about, Captain?” the hahren addressed the guard.
“There’s been an attack on the Denerim estate,” the captain replied. He was solidly built, with a strong, shaven jaw. His voice remained level. “Several men were killed. The bann has been murdered.” The elven crowd around them milled about, and the guardsmen tightened their grips on their sheathed weapons.
Valendrian remained calm. “Why is it you have come here?” he asked the captain. “We are unarmed. Surely you don’t believe we perpetuated an assault on a guarded estate.” He spread his hands. “As for the bann being murdered… you know what kind of man he was like. Are you really surprised?”
The captain chewed at his lower lip. “The Reverend Mother told us Bann Vaughn interrupted a wedding here. We know that it must be someone from that ceremony.” He raised his chin slightly, speaking to all the elves. “If they turn themselves in, they will receive a fair trial.”
Soris glanced at Bannon. Bannon didn’t belive the slightest in the shem version of ‘fair.’ He kept his mouth shut, and so did his cousin. No one else spoke up.
The captain looked around at the crowd again. Then he appealed to Valendrian. “Please. We don’t want to have to start arresting everyone.”
“What proof do you have?” the Grey Warden spoke out. “You can’t go taking these people away, when they haven’t done anything. The Reverend Mother reported a crime committed by the nobleman himself. Perhaps you should investigate that matter.”
With a gloved hand, the captain rubbed his brow. “We could, except the bann is dead. And no matter what he’s done, it’s still a crime to commit murder.”
“Was he unarmed when you found him?” the Warden asked shrewdly. “Perhaps he wasn’t murdered, but slain in self defense.”
“No,” the captain admitted reluctantly. “But it isn’t up to me to decide that. There will be an investigation. A jury will decide. Elder,” he addressed Valendrian directly, “ser, would you please ask your people to turn the guilty ones in.”
“I am afraid I am unable to help you, Captain,” the hahren answered firmly.
“Then you leave me no choice.” The captain turned to the guards. “Arrest everyone here.” The guards snapped into motion, as did the elves. Many on the fringe of the crowd fled.
“Wait!” a shrill voice cut through the pandemonium. Everyone turned, and a path cleared as Elva forced her way to the front. “I know who did it! Those two!” Someone in the crowd tried to silence her. “No! They’ll bring down a Purge on us all!” the woman screamed back. She gripped the guard captain by the arm and pointed directly at Bannon and Soris. “Him. And him! Those are the ones. They were getting married. It was their women he took!”
The guards elbowed everyone else out of the way and took hold of the two cousins. “You are under arrest,” the captain called out, raising his voice above the angry milling of the crowd, “for the murder of Bann Vaughn, Lord Braden, Lord Jonely, Lord Jacen, and seventeen guardsmen of the Estate of Kendell.”
Bannon struggled in the grip of the two men holding him. He turned to the hahren, but Valendrian’s mouth was pinched into a thin line. There was nothing he could say or do. Bannon then shot his gaze towards Elva, but the woman had vanished again, crawled back under her rock. His guards tightened their grip on him; the one on his right shook him forcefully to warn him to stop struggling. This could not be happening! Of all the times for the damned guard to care anything about what nobles in the city did!
“Hold it, Captain.” It was the Grey Warden. The guard captain turned to face him with a glare. “I am Duncan, commander of the Grey Wardens at Ostagar. It is my right to conscript anyone into the Order.” He nodded solemnly at Bannon. “I hereby invoke the Right of Conscription on this elf. Release him into my custody.”
“You can’t do that,” the captain growled.
“I can, and I am,” the Warden shot back, his voice cold steel. “By the power invested in the Order by King Cailen.”
The captain gestured at his men, and Bannon was suddenly let loose. He stumbled over by his savior. But Soris was being chained, and led away. “Do something,” Bannon told the human.
“I’m afraid I’ve done all I can,” Duncan replied implacably. “This is best for him.”
“What are you talking about?” Bannon hissed angrily. “Use that conscription. Get him out of there!”
The shem looked down on him. “This isn’t charity,” he said. “Joining the Grey Wardens is dangerous; not everyone survives it. And don’t think I was only mouthing empty words to save your hide,” he added, turning to face Bannon squarely. “You belong to me now. And you’re coming with me to Ostagar to join the Order.”
“What!?” Bannon stared at him. The audacity!
“Pack your things, and say your goodbyes,” Duncan insisted, his voice hard. “We’re leaving in an hour.” He turned and marched back towards Valendrian’s house.
“Son of a bitch!” Bannon swore. He looked towards the gates. Already the guards and their prisoner were out of sight. The elves of the crowd melted away. Within minutes, he was alone in the shade of the vhenedahl. “Shit!”
He picked up his feet and trotted home. He stormed through the door, his ire raging out of control. Cyrian looked up in worry. “Bannon, what’s wrong?”
“Soris has been arrested,” he told his father. “That shem, the Grey Warden; he says he’s taking me to Ostagar.”
“Maker’s Mercy,” Cyrian breathed. His shoulders slumped, and he passed a hand across his face. “The Grey Wardens? You’re to become a Warden?”
“So he says.” Bannon snorted. “I can’t become a Warden! I can’t go to Ostagar, I have to–” He stopped, suddenly. “I….” What? What was there for him to do? Soris had been dragged off to Fort Drakon. No one broke into that fortress. Or if they did, they never got out. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to rescue his cousin, but… it was hopeless! “Dammit!” he cursed.
He grabbed a sack and kicked open the door to the bedroom to go pack his meager things. He startled Shianni, who let out a shriek. The nurse, who was still there sitting by Shianni’s bed, gave him a dark look. “I’m sorry,” he blurted. “Shianni, it’s me. It’s Bannon.” His cousin huddled against the pillows of her bed, curled up tightly, her head pulled in low. “I have to go away for a while,” he said to her. He opened the trunk at the foot of his bed and threw a bunch of stuff onto the counterpane so he could pry open the secret compartment and get out the armor and weapons.
“Bannon?” Her eyes peered out from dark shadows under her brow. “Where’s Soris?”
“He’s all right,” he reassured her, not looking up. “He had to leave for a little while, too.”
“I’m so sorry,” Shianni sobbed. “This is all my fault. I’ve been bad.”
“No you haven’t,” Bannon insisted. He dropped his stuff on the floor and went to comfort her. She shrank back with a cry as he tried to put his arms around her. Biting his lip, he drew back, then knelt next to the bed so he didn’t loom over her. “You have not done anything wrong. Don’t think that.”
“Vaughn’s going to get me.” She curled up even more tightly, pressing back into the pillows, shrinking behind her coverlet.
“No he’s not.” Bannon wanted to touch her, to take her hand — something — but he didn’t dare. “He’s dead, Shianni. He can’t hurt you ever again.”
“You killed him?”
“That’s right. I killed Vaughn.”
“Now you and Soris have to go away.” Tears leaked from her eyes. “I really messed up.”
“It is not your fault. Soris and I would never–” He hesitated a moment; unsure what to say. He wanted to say they’d never let anyone hurt Shianni, but that was all-too-clearly not true. “We’d never abandon you,” he finished lamely.
Her eyes closed. The spirit departed from her voice, leaving it dull and lifeless. “But you have to go away.”
“It’s just for a little while,” Bannon lied. “We’ll be back. We love you, Shianni. You’ll see us again, when you get better.”
The nurse carefully touched Shianni’s arm. “You should rest now.” Again, she shot a pointed look at Bannon. Then she prepared a dose of medicine for Shianni. “This will help you sleep,” she said, encouraging her patient.
Bannon gathered his things, then slunk out of the room, feeling like a criminal in his own home. His mind was miles away from having to go to war, to join the Wardens, or go anywhere, but he figured he should see if there was any food to sustain him for a while. He startled Nesiara and Valora in the kitchen. “Sorry,” he mumbled again. “Are you… Are you going to be all right?” He should know better than to ask them if they were all right now. He didn’t really know what they’d suffered in the mansion. And they probably didn’t want him to know. He rummaged in the cupboard for a small wheel of cheese.
“Yes,” said Valora. “We… Well, we thought we’d take the dowry money and return to Highever.” She twisted her fingers nervously together in the awkward silence that followed. “I mean, it’s not like– That is, no one is blaming you. Or your cousin. Just–” She shrugged and bit her lip.
“Yeah, I understand,” Bannon said, not meeting either woman’s eyes. “Sorry,” he said again. What else could he say? He wasn’t the conquering hero, or the triumphant rescuer. He was a criminal. A murderer.
He met his father in the front room. Cyrian’s face was lined with pain. All the joy he had known, for just a few minutes at the wedding ceremony; it was all torn away. Bannon went to him. “I never meant for things to go so wrong,” he said.
“It’s not your fault, son. You did the best you could.”
Bannon slumped. “Sometimes that isn’t enough.” He swiped a hand across his face.
“Bannon, I have something for you,” Cyrian told him. “It’s a….” His voice faded out. Of course, a wedding present at this point would just be a ghastly joke. “Since you’re going to be travelling a fair bit. Going off to Ostagar and all.” The old carpenter’s voice caught in his throat for just a second. He covered neatly by turning and reaching under the table, and producing a pair of soft leather boots. “These… well, don’t laugh, but these were your mother’s.”
“Ladies’ boots?” Bannon grinned wryly.
“Well, you know how your mother was,” Cyrian said pointedly, with a sad smile of his own. “They’re sturdy, and serviceable. And not very frilly.”
Bannon chuckled. His mother hadn’t been one for any frills. “Thanks, Dad.” He tucked the boots into his bag, because he didn’t want to wait to put them on. “I guess… this is good-bye.”
The Tabris men hugged again, a long, silent time.
Then Bannon had to break away. He went out the door and practically flew down the steps — and almost crashed into the Grey Warden standing there. “Uhh….” He blinked up at the dark-haired man. Thoughts of dodging the Warden and hiding out in the rat-maze of the alienage flew straight out of his head.
“Well,” Duncan said. “Seems I was right; I didn’t think it would take you a whole hour to pack. You weren’t going anywhere, were you?”
“To meet you,” Bannon replied. Sincerely. Of course.
“Right. No sense wasting time, then. Let’s be on our way.”