Part Twenty-Four: Denerim – Alienage


 

There are reports of unrest in the alienage — the walled-off sector of the city where the elves live. There were riots and plague, and the alienage was closed off. Now that some order has been restored, it is open once again. No one (at least that Eamon knows) is really sure what went on, exactly. Only the Queen knows… or perhaps only Loghain and his cronies know. And so, the Grey Warden/bastard prince contingent prepares to head into the elven sector to snoop around and see what they can find out.

 

 

Valorien met Alistair in the hall outside their rooms. “Alistair, there is something I wish to say to you.”

“All right.” The human’s voice was flat, if not outrightly cold.

“If Loghain does kill you, I will avenge your death, once the Blight is quelled.”

Alistair chewed that thought over for a few moments. “Why would you take revenge on him? You don’t even think he’s done anything wrong.”

The elf’s grey eyes met his levelly. “I do know that he abandoned his king, and that his action caused the death of the Grey Wardens.” His voice and eyes held steady. “There is yet no evidence he did so out of deliberate malice.”

The templar shifted, blowing out a strong breath of frustration. “So you’re saying it was our fault, then.” The elf gave him a questioning look. “We were late lighting the signal fire.” Alistair’s voice trembled with guilt. “By the time we got to it, the king and — and all the others, they were wiped out.” He put a hand over his face.

“No, Alistair.”

“Yes it is,” the human insisted. “It’s my fault Duncan is dead.”

“Duncan said one hour,” the elf told him firmly. “It did not take us much longer than that to reach the signal fire.”

“But are you sure?” Alistair’s eyes, red-rimmed, searched Valorien’s face. “It seemed like we were fighting in that tower for hours.”

“Time can seem to draw out during battle,” Valorien replied steadily. “I can only estimate, but that is my reckoning.”

Alistair frowned, his face drawn in sorrow. He did not look convinced, but he held his tongue.

Valorien said, “You are a good man, Alistair. That is reason enough for retribution, should Loghain indeed kill you.”

“I’d prefer it done before that happens.”

The elf tilted his head. “You told me you wished to do that yourself.”

“Either way, that man needs to die.” Alistair’s eyes hardened as he looked off, as if seeking the target of his hatred through the stone walls of the keep and the city.

“Control your temper, Alistair,” Valorien cautioned him, making the human grimace in frustration. “Ferelden will not follow a murderer.”

“They already are,” Alistair spit. “Nevermind,” he cut Valorien off. “I know.” He turned and stalked away.

 

 

Only a few were needed to poke around and ask questions — as long as they didn’t stir up another riot. Oghren and Morrigan seemed relieved not to be needed. Alistair had to get out of the estate, or he’d wear a hole through the carpet and into the stone with restless pacing and worrying. Leliana wanted to accompany them, but Valorien told her curtly she was not coming. Bristling, she stalked off, probably to go to the market. Valorien asked Wynne to go, and he did ask Shale what she wished to do.

“Will there be creatures to squash?” she asked in a tired gravelly voice.

“I would doubt it,” Valorien replied. “But one never knows.”

The golem gave a heavy sigh. “Will there at least be things to smash? Just looking at these painted vases and knick-knacks makes me want to start hurling things at the wall.”

“Perhaps it would be best for you to get out for a while,” the elf said judiciously.

 

 

Tarroth had coaxed Alistair into playing a bit in the courtyard, and the human seemed to be in a less dour mood. He and the hound led the companions down the streets to the alienage gate. The guard gave them a cursory glance, then stared at Shale. But he let them pass onto the bridge that ran over a small tributary of the river. The anemic waterway was further choked with refuse and sewage. The stone wall that backed onto the market district kept the smell trapped on this side. Valorien’s nostrils twitched, and he looked across at the buildings. They had the same carelessly patched air as Dust Town, though most of the stuctures were at least made of wood. A few scraggly weeds sprouted up around the puddles in the street.

Wynne moved closer to Valorien. “Are you prepared for this?” she asked him quietly. He shook his head, slightly. Then he took a breath (not too deeply), and straightened himself even more. He took the lead across the bridge.

“Are they going to mob us?” Alistair muttered. “That’s what they do in alienages, isn’t it?”

“Apparently, they are going to mob that guy,” Valorien answered.

Four elves surrounded a lone human man. He began to plead with them, but they attacked, viciously punching and kicking at him. Wynne seized her staff and took a step forward, but stopped when Alistair didn’t move ahead of her. Alistair looked to Valorien. The elf did not move either, he only watched impassively, one hand on Tarroth’s head. Alistair fidgeted and bit his lip. He glanced at Wynne who gave him a stern look, so he quickly avoided her eyes. Just before the elderly mage could march over there and give the delinquents what-for, the city elves knocked the man to the ground and ran off.

Valorien walked over as the human picked himself up. “What are you doing here?” the dalish elf asked him.

“All right!” the man screamed, as if Valorien had drawn a weapon on him. “I get it! I’m going, I’m going!” He turned and ran off back across the bridge.

The companions watched him a moment, then looked to Valorien. He shrugged, then turned to move down the street, Tarroth at his heels. Wynne and Alistair exchanged uneasy looks. Alistair suddenly remembered Valorien as he had been in the camp at Ostagar — strung tight as a drawn bow, and ready to kill any shemlen that looked at him the wrong way. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea for the dalish elf to come into the slums where the dregs of his people were kept like penned animals. Things could go badly for humans here, and the biggest threat might not be from the city elves.

Tarroth snuffed and snorted along the narrow, twisting street. Valorien followed behind, silent as usual. Then the two humans, trying not to look as if they wanted to cling to each other for protection. And, thumping along behind them all, subtle as a rockslide, was Shale. The lane opened out into a lopsided square that was bordered by a platform stage and a few shopfronts. Dominating the center of it was a massive tree. Five dray carts could have parked around the base, and the trunk rose, with a few kinks and twists, above the rooftops around it. The tree only supported a few main branches and not much of a canopy, though the boughs that were there showed healthy dark green leaves and pale, purple-edged blossoms.

“Wow,” said Alistair, craning his neck. “That’s a HUGE tree. I wonder if the elven children get to climb it?”

“No, Alistair,” Valorien said, his voice icy. The human looked at him. “There are no branches remotely near where a child could reach,” the elf pointed out flatly. “There is no purchase on the trunk. It is not possible to climb.”

Alistair ducked his head, feeling foolish yet again. Wynne frowned in concern. Valorien had not raised his voice, but the raw edge on it — it was almost as if he were yelling at Alistair. She saw tightness in the corners of his eyes, and his pallor was almost greenish. “Are you all right?” she asked him in concern.

“Is this all they have?” he asked. “This is all that is left of the forest that once lived here?”

“It’s the alienage tree,” Alistair said hesitantly, but determined to prove he knew stuff. “Every alienage has one. It’s to remind the elves of their heritage.”

“To remind them, or mock them?” Valorien asked bitterly.

The human winced. Valorien said no more about it, but shook himself slightly. “There.” He pointed across the square, past the tree. “Something is going on over there.”

 

 

A crowd of the city elves stood waiting before a long, low building. The door was guarded by two armed men, while three mages in fur-trimmed robes strove to calm the people. A red-headed elven woman was harranguing the crowd. “Go back to your homes,” she urged them. “These charlatans are not here to help us!”

“Be quiet, Shianni,” another woman snapped. “They are helping us! My sister’s two little girls got the cure, and they are well!”

“And what about your brother?” the redhead insisted. “He got the same cure, but we haven’t seen him for two weeks! And your brother?” she called out, pointing to another man in the crowd. “What about my uncle? What about our hahren, Valendrian? And the others?”

The elves were not listening to her. Someone flung a clod of mud at her. She dodged backwards, almost tripping on the uneven cobblestones. “Why won’t you listen to me?” she cried.

“We’re not as messed up as you, Shianni,” a dark-haired elven woman sneered. “Go back to hiding under your bed! Let those who want to live be cured!”

Shianni turned, her eyes brimming with tears. She raised one hand to swipe at them, and almost ran straight into Valorien. She flinched her eyes went wide. She stared nearly a full minute at the tattoo across his brow.

“What is going on here?” Valorien asked.

The elven lass gaped and her lips worked up to what she was trying to say. “It’s — There’s– plague and — are you — you’re not from around here, are you? You — you’re dalish?” She stared at him as if he were some sort of mythical beast.

“Yes,” he said. “I am Valorien; I am a Grey Warden. These are my companions.” He introduced them, but Shianni barely batted an eyelash, even at Shale. She just kept staring at him. After another minute of this, he reminded her of his question. “Now, what is happening here?”

Then the words spilled out of her like a torrent. Apparently, there had been riots, an execution, a purge, a plague….. Valorien didn’t try to understand it all at once, but filed it away to sort out later. Then these Tevinter mages came, with their cure for the plague, and while many people they helped were staying healthy, some who had been sick were taken inside the hospice and never seen again. “But no one is sick,” Shianni insisted. “The ones they say are sick aren’t! They’re perfectly healthy. But they say they are sick, they take them inside, and that’s the last we hear of them.”

“Is there a plague, or isn’t there?” Wynne asked.

“People were sick, but that has passed.”

Alistair said, “Isn’t it possible for the mages to see something that maybe someone without magic couldn’t?”

“Like the sickness infecting someone before there are any outward symptoms,” Wynne added, nodding her head.

Shianni sighed in exasperation. “Can’t you at least… do something? Find out what is going on inside there! I tried,” she growled. “I pretended I was sick so they’d take me in, but they wouldn’t.”

Wynne frowned. “If there is plague, they would have to quarantine those who were sick.” She looked at Valorien.

He was staring across the crowd at the mages. “We will look into it,” he said. He moved past the waiting elves to the head of the line. Alistair and Tarroth hurried to catch up with him, Wynne right behind. Shale just shrugged and watched.

The mages were trying to placate the crowd. “Please, wait your turn. We will help everyone that we can,” the nearest one was saying. He turned as Valorien approached. “Do not push ahead of the line. You ne–.” He blinked and then looked more closely at the elf. He stared penetratingly a minute, then said, “It’s fortunate you got here when you did. You are very, very ill!”

Valorien tilted his head contemplatively. “Yes…,” he said very slowly. “I have… had fevers.”

“You must come inside,” the man insisted, gesturing behind him. “Quickly, before you infect any others. If we hurry, we may be able to cure you.”

“And my friend?” Valorien indicated Alistair. “Is he sick, as well?” If the mages were sensing the Taint, things were in worse shape here in the alienage than anyone thought. The Blight could swallow this place whole.

But the mage gave Alistair the most cursory of glances. “No, no, he is fine. Thank the Maker.” Anxiously, he gestured again to get Valorien to move towards the door. “You must come inside at once, you are very ill.”

“I am not ill,” Valorien said coldly. “And you are a blood mage!”

“What?” yelped Alistair.

“Look at his arms.” The elf seized the mage by the wrist. The robes fell back, revealing criss-crossed scars on his forearm. “What are you doing to these people?” Valorien demanded.

The mage jerked back, but Valorien had him in a strong grip. “Guards!”

Valorien had to let go of him in order to draw his bow. “Tarroth!”

The mabari howled, stunning the guards with the power of his full-throated cry. Nearby, someone — some poor unfortunate someone — exploded in a shower of blood and gore. The elves screamed and ran, panicked. Magic ripped across the courtyard, throwing Wynne and Valorien to the ground. “Alistair!” the elf yelled, “the head mage!” Tarroth leaped for the throat of the Tevinter standing over his companion. Shale barrelled past and grabbed one guard in each massive stone fist. One of them spewed a fountain of blood, but it wasn’t from the golem squashing him. Another arc of dark magic sizzled through the air, leaving the smell of ozone and burnt blood in its wake.

Alistair caught the brunt of one of the attacks on his shield, and his back foot wrenched and gave out under the strain. Luckily, his head wasn’t where the mage aimed his next bolt. The mabari had one bloodmage on the ground, the second turned on the others, but the head mage — Alistair’s target — ran off after the fleeing elves. Clearly he wanted to use them to fuel his spells. The ex-templar heaved himself to his feet and took off after him.

The mage dodged under some scaffolding, weaving back and forth between pilings. Alistair followed, slowing down so his armor didn’t throw him off balance as he tried to change direction. Suddenly, a screaming elf ran straight at him. He raised his shield and pulled back his sword, startled. The elf hurled himself at Alistair and detonated on impact. Alistair landed flat on his back, sprayed with blood and bone shards. “Maker’s Breath!” he cursed. He dragged himself to his feet once more, and saw the mage touching two more cowering elves — a mother with her boy. They both turned and ran screaming at Alistair. “Valorien!” he yelled desperately. “Help!” He couldn’t go charging through innocent people to get to this bloodmage! He backpedalled, then realized they were faster at a run than he was.

He turned and fled, back through the pilings, hoping to lose them. He pounded back towards his companions. They had the tevinters down. Valorien turned, his bow drawn, and shot past Alistair. The templar didn’t look back, though he heard the elven woman stop screaming and gasp in pain. “Wynne, stop them!” he panted. Wynne drew down her magic and cast, paralyzing the elves. Alistair stumbled to a halt and turned. Still gulping for air, he pulled his focus inward, concentrating on his old training excercises. He moved closer to the elves, and with a force of will, banished the magic surrounding them. The forcefield holding them collapsed, but so did the bloodmagic controlling their minds and bodies. They slumped to the ground, unconscious, but alive.

“Where is the mage?” Valorien asked. Alistair pointed, and the elf ran off, the dog beside him. Instead of following directly, Valorien slung his bow and leapt up onto the scaffolding. He climbed to a safe vantage and shot down at the bloodmage while Tarroth dodged and herded the elves trapped in his spells. He led them back to Wynne, who cast another paralyzing rune. Once more, Alistair drew on his willpower to free them from the bonds of magic.

“I can’t keep this up,” he panted. Maybe if he had a lyrium potion… if it didn’t kill him, first.

“Are you hurt?” Wynne asked him.

He shook his head. “It’s not my blood. Most of it, anyhow.” He wiped his face with the back of one gauntlet. It didn’t help much.

Tarroth returned shortly, but without any chasers in tow. Valorien walked back behind the dog. “The mage is dead.” He passed the humans and Shale and moved to the door of the hospice.

Wynne moved to the fallen elves, who were beginning to stir and recover. “You’re going to be fine,” she assured them. “You should really return to your homes, now.”

The door to the hospice was locked. Valorien and Alistair rifled the tevinters’ bodies for the key, but found none. “Well, no doubt the head mage has it,” Alistair said. “Where did you leave him?”

“He fell in the river,” Valorien said.

“Great.”

“You could try the back door,” a helpful voice piped up. They turned to see the red-haired elf again.

“You didn’t mention this before?” Alistair asked.

She shrugged. “You didn’t ask?”

“Oh, great. Elven jokes again.”

Shianni gave him a puzzled look, but pointed them the way to the back door. There was a young elven man standing guard. To his credit he tried to stop them, despite the golem looming behind them.

“Look,” he said, “I get paid ten whole coppers to stand here and not let anybody in. I ain’t letting you in.”

Wynne said, “Don’t you care what might be happening to your people in there?”

“They don’t pay me to care. I do my job, I get paid, I go home.”

Valorien faced the elf squarely. “We are going in there,” he said quietly. “We are going to kill every tevinter who is in there. If you like, you may follow and collect any money they leave behind.”

“Uhhh….” The elf paled. His eyes darted to Valorien’s weapons, Alistair’s blood-slicked shield, Wynne’s staff, Tarroth’s panting jaws, and Shale’s stony visage. “I think my shift just ended.” He left in quite a hurry.

 

 

The Grey Wardens and their companions went inside, and they killed all the tevinters that were there. The place was empty of anyone else. There were no sick patients. There weren’t any beds, just a back room with a couple of cages. Wynne found a note requesting “more strong young males.”

“Tevinter slavers,” Alistair spit. “But where are the elves they’ve taken? They’re not here!”

They went back outside, into the back alley. This section of the alienage was darker and more narrow than the rest of it. Halfway down, the buildings formed a roof over the alley. They went into the artificial cave and found a trail of empty tenaments and hallways. It led them through a pair of rooms set up as guard posts — full of mercenaries, for all the good it did them. At last the Wardens came to a stone warehouse, the last stop where the elves were to be packed onto ships and taken to the Tevinter Empire.

There they met Caladrius, the true leader of the Tevinter ‘entrepreneurs.’ He was a master bloodmage, confident in his pack of mercenary bodyguards. And, people’s ability to reason. “I’ll make you a deal,” he told them. “I have one hundred gold pieces here. You take my gold, and let me leave with this last shipment of slaves. And,” he agreed generously, “I will not return. Or, perhaps you’d like to keep the elves and let me leave with my gold.” He smiled.

“Perhaps you shall not leave at all,” Valorien told him ominously. “And we will have your gold and these people.”

Caladrius affected a put-upon sigh. “All right, I know what you want,” he said. “I leave with my money and my cargo, and I will give you the legal contract that has invited us in here and allowed us to take whomever we choose. Signed by the regent,” he said, smiling even more.

Alistair looked at Valorien. “It’s what we need to put Loghain down,” he murmured. “But… we can’t just let him take these people. Can we?”

“No.”

The bloodmage’s smile vanished. “Kill them!” he screamed.

“Back!” Valorien ordered. They retreated into the other room just as a storm of hail and sleet burst into the air where they had been. “Shale, hold that door!” The golem slammed shut the door on the right, and leaned against it as the mercenaries battered at it. Alistair held the other door, as Valorien crouched and laid down a trap.

“It’s c-c-cold!” the templar complained.

“His own allies cannot be faring better than we,” the elf assured him.

“Always a bonus when fighting bloodmages.”

“Can you kill him?”

“Have to get to him, first,” said Alistair. “There’s a lot of mercenaries.”

“All right, back! We will take them at these choke points.”

Wynne helped thaw them as they retreated from the unnatural blizzard. The mercenaries charged in and fell, at least one of them held fast by the jaws of the trap. Alistair stood at the frosted edges of the cold zone, knocking the fighters back as they rushed him. Wynne and Valorien used their ranged attacks from the corner. At the other door, Shale and Tarroth used their own methods to thin the ranks of the enemy.

The howling ice winds died down. Arrows flew thick and fast through the doorways. Alistair ducked down, holding his sheild up. “He’s getting ready for another huge blast,” he warned.

“Move up,” barked Valorien. “Rush the archers. Alistair, get to the mage!”

He darted through the doorway, ducking arrows. There was little cover, so he returned fire while on the move. Shale, Tarroth, and Alistair formed a wedge and barrelled through the mercenaries. It was a sloppy battle, not helped by the random spray of blood as the mage used his people as fuel for his spells rather than expend them in fighting.

A whirlwind kicked up, and lightning forked from the clouds that boiled against the ceiling. Alistair cleared a space around himself, kicking one impaled mercenary off his sword. In a moment of respite, he gathered his energy and loosed it in a burst of anti-magic. The storm sputtered and died. The bloodmage looked up, aghast. No doubt he’d expected a couple of green Wardens, not a templar. Alistair saw the look on his face and bared his teeth in a feral grin. He went for the bloodmage.

Alistair rammed Caladrius with his shield, slamming the bloodmage to the flagstones. He raised his sword to strike.

“Mercy!” Caladrius screamed. “I yield!” He scrambled to his knees, hands clasped in supplication.

Alistair backed away, sword lowered. Wynne and Valorien moved up, warily, and Tarroth padded back and forth behind them, growling low. Shale looked around at the blood spattered walls and floor and the crumpled forms of the mercenaries. She sighed and folded her arms. The excitement never lasted.

“Spare me, I beg you,” said Caladrius. “I will reward you! I know the Grey Wardens take allies wherever they can find them. I can help you!”

“Speak,” said Valorien.

“If I use the life force of these last elves here, I can grant you great power! Indominatable strength!” He licked his lips. “Think about the battle ahead, about the great Archdemon. You will need it to fight!”

“We’re not actually listening to this, are we?” Wynne asked archly. “You swore–!”

Valorien raised his hand to forestall her objection. He slung his bow over his shoulder and went forward to Caladrius. He held his hands down to the mage. He did not look back at Wynne’s tight-lipped outrage, or Alistair’s shocked disbelief.

Caladrius looked up at the dalish elf and breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.” He took the proffered hands. “You won’t regret this, I promise.” He moved to get to his feet with Valorien’s help.

Valorien gripped the bloodmage’s hands and shoved him back down onto his knees. “You come in here to prey on these people,” the elf said in a low voice, leaning over the man. “No! — you are not a predator. You are a bloodmage; you’re nothing but a parasite!” His steel eyes bored into Caladrius as the mage’s widened in fear. “You don’t deserve to live.” The mage stammered a protest, tried to rise again, but Valorien held him down. “Shale!”

The golem approached, stone footfalls thudding. Caladrius shrank back. The elf didn’t turn, but only said quietly. “If you please, crush his head.”

“As you wish.” Shale reached for the mage.

“What!? No!” Caladrius tried to pull away; he struggled in Valorien’s grip, his feet scrambling for purchase on the stone floor. The elf held him firm as he thrashed. “No… NO!” His protest turned into a scream as the golem’s hand engulfed his skull. He screamed again in pain, a crescendo of agony that was mercifully brief, and ended in a wet crack of pulverized bone and brain.

Valorien barely twitched as a spray of blood splashed his face. He dropped the dead mage. “Thank you.”

Wynne swallowed bile. “Don’t you think that was a little extreme?”

“No.” The dalish elf bent and retrieved a key from the corpse’s belt. He turned and moved to the slave cage along the wall. The elves inside shrank back as he approached. “I mean you no harm,” he told them softly as he unlocked the cage. He opened the door and stepped back, but the frightened elves did not move. Valorien frowned.

One of the younger elves licked his lips and found a voice. “Y-you… that thing…! You made it–!” He gulped. “That was a man’s head….” He shuddered.

“Ah,” said Valorien in understanding. “As a wise man once said, ‘elven revenge is a real bitch.'”

Alistair sidled up to him, and proffered a clean rag. “Um, you have a little smutch… right….” He gestured at his own face. “You know.”

“Alistair, you get blood on you all the time,” the elf said.

“Ah, yeah. Okay, I lied,” said the human, shrugging sheepishly. “It’s not a little smutch; your face is totally covered in blood.” Valorien sighed and took the rag, wiping his face. Underbreath Alistair told him, “You’re scaring the wits out of them.”

Valorien handed him back the rag and turned again to the city elves. “You are free. The tevinters are all dead; there is no one to stop you returning from your homes.”

They shuffled forward hesitantly. A greying elf moved to the fore. “I am Valendrian, the hahren of Denerim — the elder,” he added for the humans’ benefit. “You’re Dalish, aren’t you?”

Valorien gave him a respectful bow. “I am Valorien of the Dalrasha Clan. This is Alistair; we are the Grey Wardens.”

The elder’s brows went up. “We had heard all the Grey Wardens were wiped out at Ostagar.”

Alistair nodded. “Nearly. When he says we’re ‘the’ Grey Wardens, he means it. We’re… it.”

“Just the two of you?” They nodded. “Then there is hope for Ferelden.”

Alistair puffed out his cheeks. “From your mouth to the Maker’s ear.”

Valendrian smiled slowly. “Well, it’s better than no hope, which is what we had before.” He turned to his people. “Come. We are free elves once more. We must return to our families.” He began shepherding them out. “Thank you, Grey Wardens,” he told them, before following the others.

Valorien returned to the corpse and rifled the mage’s belt pouches. He pulled out a folded sheet of vellum and exclaimed softly, “It’s real.”

“What is?” Alistair leaned over his shoulder.

Carefully, as not to smear it with too much blood, the elf unfolded the document. “A license to take elves from the city and into slavery, for a fee. Impressed and signed by Loghain MacTir.”

“Well, for one hundred gold, it had better be real.” Alistair reached for the paper, but Valorien pulled it away and handed it to Wynne. The templar looked down at his blood-caked gauntlet and shrugged. Wynne put it away in her scrip, for safe-keeping.

A small voice from behind startled them. “Um, excuse me, sirs? Ma’am.” They turned to find the young elf still there. He was a scrawny youth, with an unruly thatch of straw-like hair. He scratched at it with one long-fingered hand. “Um, Ser Valorien, I….” He stepped forward, taking his courage in his hands. “I just wanted to say, you done a righteous thing here today, and… well, ser, for what it’s worth, I’m your man. I — that is — if you’ll take me on.”

Wynne and Alistair looked at him in surprise. Even Shale raised one heavy brow. Valorien said, “Do you not have family here that needs you?”

The elf shook his head. “No, ser. My brother, he was killed in the purge. The tevinters took my mum and her sister. I, uh….” He shrugged. “That’s about it for my family, ser. I mostly just live on the streets.”

“What’s your name?”

“Shane, ser.”

Valorien pursed his lips in thought. “Well,” he said; “I’ve never had a squire before. You can try it if you like. I’ll most likely send you off in the morning.”

“Really?” Shane’s eyes lit up.

“Really??” Alistair’s brows were in danger of flying off his head.

“Yes. Get your things. Meet us at the gate.”

“Yes, ser!” Shane beamed a wide smile and ran off.

Alistair turned to Valorien. “Oh, you are not serious.”

“Why not?” The elf rubbed the side of his face where the drying blood began to itch.

“Just… That… He…” Alistair gesticulated inarticulately. “He’s probably a thief, you know. Living on the streets? Probably with a gang!”

Valorien just shrugged. “He seemed sincere. It isn’t like we have been picky about allies in the past.” He glanced over at Wynne and Shale. “No offense.”

Wynne smiled. “None taken. And I don’t mean any offense, either, but….” She quirked her brow in worry. “Taking a street urchin into Arl Eamon’s estate?”

“He could just be looking for a meal ticket,” Alistair added. He backed up as Valorien frowned at him.

“We shall see,” was all the elf said. He resettled his bow and quiver on his back, and moved to find the way out of the tenament maze.

“All right,” said Alistair with resignation. “But I’m going to call him ‘Skippy.'”

 

 

‘Skippy’ was waiting for them at the gate with a small, tattered satchel. He hadn’t much in the way of clothing, nor bedding, and only an old knife for a weapon. Nevertheless, Valorien took him under his wing, and the young city elf followed him around like a puppy.

As they waited for the guard to open the gate, Alistair said to Valorien: “I’ve been thinking.” He met the elf’s grey eyes. “If Loghain does kill me… you can avenge me, any day.” He nodded. “Definitely the right guy for the job.”

Valorien nodded once. “As you wish.”

 


The Recruits and the Carpenter


 
(no warnings)

 

Bannon went past the mages’ section, up a ramp to an old, collonaded area that still had parts of its thick stone roof intact. The elf he’d asked had pointed out this way. He neared a corner and heard raised voices.

“We will not stand for this harassment by the Chantry!” There was a dark-skinned man with tightly braided hair standing there. He wore midnight blue robes that fell in orderly pleats to his ankles. He bore a staff with a curled tip that was bound in brass. He was arguing with another man, a fair-skinned warrior in worn splintmail armor.

“Yes,” the second man retorted, in glib irony, “I was harrassing you, by delivering a message.”

“We are here at the King’s behest,” the mage snarled. “We are not here at the beck and call of her Holiness, or her pet dogs!”

“Oh, now you’ve gone an insulted me.” The warrior sighed dramatically. “Here I thought we were getting along so well. I was even going to name one of my children after you,” he said, his voice tinged with regret… until he added: “–the grumpy one!”

Bannon snorted in amusement, and the mage shot him an evil look. He spared a withering glance at the soldier. “Fine!” the mage spat. “Consider your message delivered.” He stormed off.

“You know, one good thing about the Blight,” the warrior remarked fondly, “is how it brings people together in the spirit of brotherly love and harmony.” His mouth crooked in a sardonic grin. Then he blinked and focussed on Bannon. “Sorry. Were you looking for me?”

“I’m supposed to find this Grey Warden named Alistair?”

The human beamed a smile. “That’s me! I’m Alistair, the newest Grey Warden. What do you need?”

“Duncan said I should find you; you’d show me around?”

“Duncan’s back?” The smile broadened in glee. The shem almost bounded off like a boisterous puppy. He seemed to catch himself at the last second. “Oh! You must be the new recruit?”

Bannon nodded. “Yes, ser. My name’s Bannon.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Alistair extended a hand, and Bannon was so shocked, he found himself taking it. The Warden shook his hand with a warm, firm grip. There didn’t seem to be any artifice to this guy. His face was open and honest, his dark blond hair in a short military cut. There was a bit of fuzz on his chin, a square patch below his lower lip. Maybe he wasn’t all that used to shaving. Although he looked fully grown, something about him seemed very young. Perhaps it was just naivete. “Did Duncan bring anyone else?”

“No,” said Bannon, his curiosity piqued. “Who else were you expecting?”

“No one, really,” Alistair replied, his voice dropping from its exhuberant pitch. “It’s just that we were hoping to get more recruits. There are only two others here, besides you.” He shrugged with a moue of resignation. “It’s difficult to find suitable candidates. Not everyone is cut out to be a Grey Warden.”

Bannon narrowed his eyes. “So I’ve been told.”

The human either didn’t notice his ire, or he just didn’t acknowledge anything that didn’t fit into his cheerful world view. “Well, let’s do the grand tour, shall we? I’m sure we’ll run into the other recruits along the way.”

 

 

The camp was fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. Instead of even rows and straight picket lines, it was divided by segments of walls, ramps, clumps of trees, and occassional constructions the army had raised, like the kennels and the stables. Each chunk of ruin was given over to whatever purpose fit it best. The mages had a neatly-enclosed L-shaped segment, guarded by Templars. Blue light flashed through chinks in the walls as mages worked on enchantments. A raised stone floor was fortified with a canvas roof and served as a long-term hospital area. A broad apron between two gutted towers served as a drilling area and lookout post. The King and the General had massive tents near there. There was also a huge pen for the dogs of the King’s elite Ash Warriors.

Alistair gravitated towards the pen. Bannon followed, a faint line appearing between his brows. He didn’t like the way the big, hairy shems were looking at him. They were uglier than their dogs.

Alistair leaned on the fence, and Bannon tensed in anticipation of him getting his face ripped off. But the mabari war hounds just crowded around, heavy jaws agape, their stumpy tails wagging madly. Bannon edged closer, putting the Warden between him and the Ash Warriors. He was very careful of where he stepped. Alistair grinned down at the slobbering hounds. “Who’s the King’s best warriors?” A chorus of arfs anwered him. “Yes you are!” he simpered. Bannon forestalled rolling his eyes by hitching his pack up higher on his shoulder. Maybe that’d give Alistair a hint that they should get a move on. Then again, subtletly might be lost on this guy. Alistair turned and said to him, “You know, when I was a boy, I spent almost all my time in the kennels.”

“Really?” That was interesting. Not in and of itself — that was just downright weird. But Bannon realized Alistair must be of noble blood, to have lived somewhere with kennels full of mabari. His estimation of the shem dropped another few notches.

“Yes,” Alistair said with a happy sigh. “Good times.” Bannon just stared politely at him until he shook himself and said, “Well, let’s see about getting you settled in. The Quatermaster is this way….” He tore himself away from the hounds. “Do you need any supplies?”

“Uhm,” Bannon hedged, moving alongside him. “I don’t have any money, ser,” he said quickly, sounding poor and a little embarassed about it. Of course he had money; he’d left home with thirty coppers in his pocket, and he’d managed to gain a bit more with some judicious investments in dice games while he’d travelled with the army. But he needn’t mention all that. Not when there was a noble shem to fleece. Wouldn’t want to burden the fellow’s mind with too many details. “Duncan said you could fix me up.”

“He did?” Alistair looked puzzled.

“Well, he said we do get paid,” Bannon assured him hastily. “But I just got here, and I haven’t gotten paid yet…. Of course, I can pay you right back when I do.”

“Oh! Well, I’m sure I have something here.” The shem fumbled with his belt pouch. “How much do you need?”

“Well, I don’t know, ser.” Bannon poured on the trustworthy innocent look. “I do have some things to trade. And I do have a sword already.”

Alistair nodded. “Well, here.” He just handed the money pouch to Bannon without even counting it. Score! “If that’s not enough… I guess we can work something out to get you some credit as a Grey Warden. We’re important, you know.” He winked.

Bannon slowly grinned. Clearly, Alistair had spent more time in the kennels than working with the family ledgers. “Thank you, ser. I’ll give you your change right away.”

For a moment, the human grimaced uncomfortably. “Look, Bannon… you don’t have to ‘ser’ me all the time.” He looked a bit sheepish. “The Wardens don’t stand a lot on rank and ceremony. Besides which, I hardly rank anything. I was only inducted a few weeks ago.”

“Thank you, ser.”

“Just ‘Alistair’ is fine. Really!” The human chuckled lightly, and he really seemed to mean it. Duncan had said that Bannon only knew the dregs of human society, and that there were decent shems. Maybe it was true. Or, maybe Alistair was just the exception that proved the rule.

 

 

Alistair shook his head with a smile. He liked Bannon — not that that was unusual; there was hardly a person he couldn’t get along with. But something about the elf seemed… ‘out of place,’ he supposed. Then again, he was an elf, amidst a whole lot of big, armored humans. He had to feel a bit sorry for the little fellow. Alistair vowed to do his best to make Bannon feel more comfortable.

The Quartermaster was a burly man, his bare arms thickened from lifting and carrying heavy boxes; his leather apron stained with whetstone oil and leather polish. His “store” was a corner formed by a wall of crates turned on their sides to serve as shelving, and the brick back of the forge next to it. Rickety planks served as tables and the counter. The place was a beehive of activity as soldiers came to trade or make purchases; and elven servants carried weapons and armor for repair, or made deliveries. Alistair and Bannon waited their turn.

“There’s Daveth,” Alistair said, pointing over to a young fellow in battered leather armor. He carried a finely-carved bow of pale wood over one shoulder. “He’s one of the other recruits.” Alistair left the queue to go talk to him.

Daveth was chatting to one of his friends — one of his lady friends. Or, rather, one of the women warriors he was hoping would become one of his lady friends. Alistair wasn’t sure if this one was Johanna or Clarise. Whoever it was, she just gave Daveth a pitying look, turned up her nose, and stalked off. Daveth called gamely after her, “We’ll be in battle soon. Don’t put it off too much longer! Death could be just around the corner!”

Alistair came up beside him, though Daveth didn’t notice for a minute as he craned his neck to watch the woman until she was out of sight. “Oh, that’s going well,” Alistair cracked. The other human just shot him a look. “Duncan’s back,” the Warden said, quickly switching topic.

“Oh, good. Are we finally going to through with this initiation thing?”

“Soon,” Alistair assured him. The lanky recruit had been chafing under all the secrecy surrounding the Grey Warden Joining ritual. Alistair couldn’t blame him, but neither could he tell him the details. “There’s another new recruit, too; his name is Bannon.” He gestured back towards the Quartermaster’s stand.

Bannon had gotten up to the counter and laid out a pair of leather cuirasses — one of which had seen better days. Alistair wondered who had been wearing it when it got that slash through the chest, and if the poor blighter had survived. The Quartermaster was still busy counting coins into his cash box.

Suddenly, a thin, red-haired elf darted right in front of Alistair and Daveth. “Sorry, sers!” He skidded to a halt, almost colliding with the Quartermaster’s ample backside. “The packet from the Red Brigade,” he announced, almost dropping the bulky package as he wrestled with it.

“Dammit, Pik!” the Quartermaster growled, turning. “Didn’t I send you down there half an hour ago? Have you been dawdling again?”

“No, ser! The Ash Warriors –” Whatever he’d been about to say was cut off as the burly human cuffed him hard across the face. With a yelp, Pik did drop the package.

Bannon looked down at the ground under the counter, biting his lip so hard, Alistair expected to see blood start dripping from it. The Warden glanced at Daveth, who only shrugged uncomfortably. Alistair’s face clouded with a scowl.

The Quartermaster cursed again. “Pick that up and put it on the bench where it belongs! Then get that sword to Lord Darrien; he’s been waiting all day, you lazy knife-ears!”

“Yes, ser!” The elf scrambled to obey.

“We do not keep the lords waiting!” The Quartermaster turned and saw Bannon. “What are you doing?” he snarled. “That counter is for paying customers! Deliveries are to be neatly packed and placed on the bench.” He glanced at the hilt sticking up over Bannon’s shoulder. “And what are you doing with that sword? The soldiers’ things are not toys for you to play with!”

Bannon had quit biting his lip, which is a good thing, because Alistair was sure he could hear the elf’s teeth grinding from here. “I’m with the Grey Wardens,” Bannon growled at the Quartermaster.

“What? I’ll have none of your nonsense, knife-ears!”

Alistair and Daveth moved up beside the elf. “He’s with the Grey Wardens,” Alistair said in a low, forceful voice. Daveth didn’t say anything; he just glared.

“Uhm….” The Quartermaster blinked, and his eyes darted between the three of them. “I didn’t know they took — er….” He lifted his shoulders and shook his head. “Well, no one told me, did they?” he asked defensively.

Bannon reined in his temper. “It’s all right,” he told Alistair and Daveth. They eased back a little while the elf traded in the used armor bits for a set of elf-fitted leathers. Alistair also helped him pick out a few other useful things: bedroll, bandages, whetstone. The haggling back and forth between the Quartermaster and elf made him dizzy, though.

At last, Bannon had his new gear paid for and packed up. Daveth introduced himself and offered to help carry some. But Alistair wasn’t done with the Quartermaster. “I don’t know where you learned your prejudices, but you’d better start respecting your elven helpers more.”

“I’m not prejudiced, ser,” the Quartermaster insisted. “There are a good many fine elves, but… a lot of ’em, they have this attitude. Like they owe us payback for being slaves, hundreds of years ago! And they do it any way they can manage: being lazy, lying, stealing, shirking their jobs…. They don’t think they should have to work; they think the world owes ’em something. If you don’t keep a tight rein on them, they’ll walk all over you.”

Alistair just shook his head in disgust and walked off after the other two.

 

 

The Wardens had a secluded area behind the hospital and prison section. They got Bannon settled into a tent pitched in a small cul-de-sac where the recruits were stationed. They met a few of the Grey Wardens briefly, but they didn’t exchange many words. The Wardens actually seemed particularly cold to Bannon, and he got the feeling they didn’t like elves. He was clearly the only one recruited to join their little cadre.

Alistair went off to find Duncan, and Daveth took Bannon around to the mess tent so they could get some dinner. They ran into Ser Jory, the other new recruit. He was a knight from up north, a hefty man with close-cropped hair. In fact, the hair bristling off his chin was longer than the fuzz on his head. Bannon wondered who would find such an ugly, mixed-up combination attractive, but apparently Ser Jory was married, so shem women must. Some of them, anyway.

Bannon figured Ser Jory for some noble right away, judging by the laye of fat covering his muscles. Clearly, he had grown up in a household full of elven servants, and went out of his way to assure Bannon that he thought the elf would make a fine Warden despite being a lesser race. Bannon just adopted a dull-eyed look and subservient air that many of the elves used when interacting with humans. Really, sometimes that was the easiest way to deal with them. They were so fat and stupid, they couldn’t even comprehend how insulting they were.

Daveth was clearly of a lower class and not apologetic about it. He was lanky and lean, dark-haired and scruffy. He propositioned at least three of the women in the mess tent, and struck out on all counts. What an amateur, Bannon thought. He couldn’t imagine any woman, even a near-sighted shem, being attracted to a man with stubble all over his face. He looked like someone had dragged his head through wet gravel and some of it had stuck.

 

 

As evening drew on, the recruits returned to their area. As they passed the rows of tents and fires of the Grey Wardens, one of the grizzled veterans gave them a jug of ale. “To celebrate your last night,” he said cryptically. The three gave him puzzled looks, but Bannon thanked him all the same.

“What was that about?” he muttered to Daveth, as they entered their little enclave.

“The initation, probably,” the rogue answered back. “Hopefully we’ll get it done tomorrow, and this mysterious mystery nonsense will be over.”

Alistair was there, tending the small fire, and he welcomed them. “Yes, it’s true,” he told them as they settled around him. “Tomorrow, we’re to head out into the Wilds for the first part of the initiation ritual. By tomorrow night, you’ll be Grey Wardens.” The normally ebullient human glanced down as he said this, and Bannon got the sense there was something else he wasn’t saying.

Ser Jory said, “Finally!”

“Are you going to tell us what this ‘Joining’ is, now?” Daveth asked, pouring some of their gifted ale into a mug and handing it to the Warden.

“No,” Alistair said carefully and firmly. “So you can stop asking. And stop trying to get me drunk so I’ll tell you.”

“Give that back, then!” The rogue made a grab for the mug, and Alistair yanked it out of his reach, laughing. Bannon and Jory scrounged up some mugs for themselves, and comandeered the ale before the other two spilled it all.

Alistair sipped at his drink. “Duncan will tell you what you need to know, tomorrow morning.” Daveth asked him several more questions, but that’s all the young Warden would say on the subject. “Really,” Alistair finally insisted. “Don’t you have anything else to talk about?”

Bannon raised his mug, indicating he had one. “I was just curious,” he said; “How did you guys get into this job?”

“Duncan recruited me,” Alistair said, the warmth he felt for their leader clear in his voice. “I was in training with the Templars. If you can believe that.” He finished off his ale and held his mug out for a refill.

“He recruited me, too,” said Ser Jory, while Daveth was busy filling Alistair’s mug. “I’m a knight in Highever. I was at a tournament in Redcliffe. Best in my division,” he proclaimed proudly.

“The heavy-weight division,” Daveth interjected with a snicker.

The knight snorted. “Greatsword, you ninny.” He seemed a bit flustered, confused how to handle the rogue’s teasing. “Afterward, Duncan asked me to join the Grey Wardens. The need was dire, and I agreed.”

“I’m from Amaranthine,” Daveth said. “Well, not originally, but that’s where I ended up. I won’t lie: Duncan saved my neck from the noose — literally, and at the last minute — with that Right of Conscription.” He rubbed his neck, eyes darkening with the memory. “Yes, I’m a crook and a thief.” He brightened. “But now I use my talents for the good of mankind.” He chuckled slyly and winked. “Knights and rogues, defending the virgins! I mean, ‘virtuous’!” Daveth raised his mug and took a long gulp.

Ser Jory gave him another indignant snort. Alistair only chuckled. Then he looked at Bannon. “So what is it you do?”

Bannon glanced at each of the human faces looking at him with open curiosity. Hesitantly, he said, “I’m a carpenter.” He looked down at his mug. He couldn’t tell them the truth — if word got back to Arl Urien, neither the King nor the Grey Wardens would stop the powerful noble from taking him and having him executed.

The shems exchanged dubious glances. “And…,” Alistair probed, “why did Duncan recruit you, exactly?”

“There was a brawl,” Bannon said, not looking up. “I had the most knock-downs.” He shrugged uncomfortably.

Yet again, the humans exchanged looks. This was not doing a thing to win over their admiration. Well, he doubted that ‘Oh, and I killed a high-ranking noble’ would help matters any.

“Care to elaborate?” Alistair asked again, looking confused and embarassed at being confused.

Bannon took a deep breath and hoped the story he would come up with would satisfy them. “There was a wedding,” he began. “Actually, a double wedding.” He left out the fact that he was in it. “As it started, the one bride noticed on of the other bride’s bridesmaids had on a dress that she had wanted to buy, but she didn’t have enough money at the time, so she asked the tailor to hold it for her. He said he would, but she was late with the money, and his brother was courting the other woman, so he sold it to her, instead. Well, they started to get into that.” He didn’t bother elaborating or qualifying his pronouns. Confused shems asked fewer questions, for fear of looking stupid. Rapidly, Bannon continued. “Then it came out that the other groom’s brother had been making time with the other bride the night before. That’s when the real fighting broke out, and the families got into it, and there was quite a ruckus, and the cake was demolished. Well, anyway, I was the last one left standing when the City Guard got there, so they were talking about arresting me, but Duncan took care of that and brought me here.” He really didn’t mention the details of all that.

The humans stared at him, barely blinking, for two whole minutes. Bannon gave them the wide-eyed innocent look.

“Serious?” Alistair finally asked.

Bannon nodded. “Oh, I know street fighting,” he assured them. “I can take care of myself.”

Somehow, they didn’t look convinced. It hurt Bannon’s ego, but it was all for the best, really. If they heard rumors of him killing anyone, they’d be more likely to scoff. “Well…,” he added, feigning reluctance only partially. “I guess I could do with some sparring. If we have time.”

“Definitely,” said Alistair. He frowned into his mug.

Daveth grinned affably at Bannon. “I’ll show you a thing or two,” he offered.

“What, like stabbing people in the back?” Ser Jory accused with a moue of disdain.

“Not everyone can wield a huge blade, ser knight,” Daveth told him humbly. Then his hand darted out to poke Jory’s ample stomach. “Not all of us are big enough,” he teased. “We need some way to keep up.”

“Lay off,” the knight blustered, slapping at Daveth’s hand.

“So, hmm….” Daveth gave Bannon and appraising look, squinting one eye. “You’re a carpenter. Should we get you a hammer to fight with?” He laughed good-naturedly, and Bannon joined him.

“Well, I do carve wood, so I am good with knives,” the elf said with a grin.

“And a sword is just a really big knife!” The scruffy human grinned back. “We’ll have you sorted in no time!”

 

 

The army settled down for the night, like a vast dragon curling up to roost, twitching here and there, trying to get comfortable and relax. Alistair picked his way carefully in the dark to the orange glow of the Warden watchfire. Duncan sat at the mouth of his tent, staring into the flames. Harsh shadows carved lines of worry in his face. By daylight, he looked as strong and impassive as a marble statue of a guardian. But the night was unkind, and the cracks began to show. He seemed lost in thought, oblivious as the former Templar came up on him. Then he looked up, and his face softened with his fondness for his young protege.

Alistair smiled back and settled to the ground next to him, with a slight grunt. He waved off the bottle Duncan offered. “No thanks. I had my ration with the recruits.”

The Warden Commander nodded and set it down. “How are they getting along?” he asked. “Will they be ready for the excursion into the Wilds tomorrow?”

“Um…,” Alistair hesitated. “I’m not too sure about this new guy, Bannon.” He picked up a small clod of dirt and turned it nervously in his fingers until it crumbled into so much dust. Alistair liked Duncan a lot; they were good friends. But he couldn’t help also feeling intimidated by the older man’s rank and experience. It was rather like having a caring but stern father, or so Alistair imagined. Authority, he could deal with — behind the rigid discipline of the Templar Knights, or the cocky irreverance that was always just shy of real insubordination. But he also cared about Duncan’s feelings, and didn’t want to the man to think less of him. It was a tricky dichotomy to balance. “I was just wondering,” Alistair ventured cautiously. “I’m not trying to second guess your judgement or anything — but why, exactly, did you recruit him?”

Duncan nursed his mug of ale. Without looking up, he said carefully, “He saw an injustice. And at great personal risk, he set out to rectify that injustice.” He took a slow sip.

Alistair puzzled that one over. He couldn’t quite figure it out, so he pushed onward again. “At a brawl, at a wedding?” No, the picture was not becoming any clearer in the young Warden’s mind.

Duncan chuckled. “Something like that.”

Now Alistair gnawed at his lower lip. That, he understood: there was something they weren’t telling him. He shook his head. “Sorry, but I have to ask, if you want me to take care of these recruits.” Lead them, is what Duncan wanted. Alistair shied away from that thought. “I understand Templars and knights, and even hardened criminals, but… a carpenter?”

This time, Duncan hand to laugh out loud, though he kept his voice down in the darkness.

Alistair stopped his nervous fiddling and pressed his hands together, squeezed one fist inside the other. He tried to not feel angry; Duncan was not one of the bullies from Alistair’s childhood. He wasn’t laughing at him. Exactly. “Call me stupid,” he said, though it came out harsher than he meant; “I just don’t get it. Can he even fight? I mean a real fight, not brawling bridesmaids.”

Duncan laughed again at Alistair’s irrepressible wit. Then he coughed to collect himself and replied, “City elves aren’t permitted weapons and training. Well, unless they are retained by a noble family as house guards.”

“Meaning….” Alistair’s eyes flicked back and forth as he traced through his thoughts. “It’s illegal for carpenters to learn to use a sword.”

“Mm hm.” Duncan sipped at his ale.

“So… if he did learn, he wouldn’t come out and say so?”

“Mm.”

Alistair mulled this over, then decided to just come out and say it. “All right, are you doing this enlightened mystic bit just to annoy me?”

“It’s the prerogative of crotchety old teachers everywhere, isn’t it?” Duncan said with a grin, his teeth showing white against his dark beard. “How else are we to supposed to amuse ourselves?”

“Ha-ha,” Alistair retorted, but without a sting. He suppressed his own smile. “So can he fight or not?”

“Yes. He can.” Duncan was serious once more. “I daresay he knows more about ‘real’ fighting than our illustrious knight.”

His young friend nodded. “All right. I trust your judgement.”

“You don’t need to, Alistair,” the Commander told him. “Test him for yourself. Trust your own judgement.”

“Well, I don’t want to waste time,” the Templar said quickly. “If he’s good enough for you, that’s good enough for me. I shouldn’t have questioned you.” Of course Duncan knew better! Alistair was the inexperienced one, with no worldly wisdom or knowledge to speak of.

Duncan sighed. “When are you going to learn to make your own decisions and to have confidence in them?”

The Warden sounded almost bitterly disappointed. Alistair deflected it with his ready humor. “When I don’t have crotchety old commanders to tell me what to do, ser!” He snapped out a silly salute with a swirling filigree and forced a laugh. Of course it didn’t escape him that they were on a battlefield, in a very real war, against a merciless foe. But he couldn’t imagine Duncan dead, he couldn’t think of it, because that way led to madness. If the unthinkable did happen, he would deal with it then. Or, more likely, he’d be dead. If any Wardens perished, it would be the younger recruits on the front lines. He took morbid comfort in this thought.

“Well, I should be getting to my tent,” he said, levering up to his feet and dusting his hands off. Another good thing about the Grey Wardens — they really didn’t stand on rank and formalities all the time. He didn’t need to wait for his superior to officially dismiss him. “Good night,” he told his friend. “Oh, and don’t forget, tomorrow night is card night!”

“Good night, Alistair,” said Duncan, a smile creasing his beard. “And I look forward to fleecing you all again.”

 


B&Z and NaNoWriMo


 

So National Novel Writing Month is coming up in November. The goal of participants is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month, or an average of 1,667 words per day. I have never participated in NaNoWriMo, though I would have liked to, especially in my youth. It was only instituted a few years ago, and I have had my Serious Typing Injury for about that long. (For those that missed that particular story, I played Doom 3 for 5 hours straight, two days in a row, and my left elbow hasn’t recovered since.) Doing a lot of typing inflames my RSI.

I have decided, however, to tighten up my schedule to definitely post one part per week. I’ve been noticing that each part comes out to about 3,000 words to 5,000 or so. So that’s not too shabby for a 3-5 day week of NaNoWriMo.

I might ask a couple other Dragon Age Fan-Fic writers to join the post-a-week thing. I did try nudging Whuffie about NaNoWriMo, to get her to put out a lot for Audrie’s Tale… but she didn’t bite. Yeah, she’s too smart. :X She also dodged my hint about a post-a-week pact. Though I think her normal goal is two posts per week. Don’t want to hold her back. I should also ask Tryynity. She’s working on her Zevran-centric story as well.

At any rate, my goal is to post each Friday in November. Write that down. :X (I also need to hold some sort of fan drive, get some fans in here to motivate me.) I’m a little leery, because this is part of the Bannon & Zevran story coming up that I don’t have much mindwork done on. In fact, Leliana and Sten are coming up, and these are two characters I don’t really have a very good handle on. Bannon tends to collect people he thinks will be useful, then ignores them. ::cough!:: Like, say, Shale especially.

It would be helpful, no doubt, if I started playing through the fool game again. I meant to, last night, but… I played UWO instead. :X But I do need to replay it with Bannon. Get back in that groove. Besides, I added a bunch of enhancements to the game. Dialogue fixes, extra Zevran goodies, more black rogue armor… and a couple of add-in adventures.

There are also a number of minor characters that will have their own stories woven into the grand scheme of things. Leliana has things to do, as does Wynne (and the whole Circle). Soris is gonig to reappear down the line, as well as Ariadne from Witch Hunt. And I have little idea WHAT they are doing. Just inklings. I hope my brain is working on figuring it all out down there, somewhere, in the murky depths….

Oh, as for DA2’s story… at this point it is not clear if or how much influence that will have on the B&Z story. If it were up to me, I’d pretty much ignore DA2. :X However, the basic concept of the Tower/Chantry/Templar conflict is interesting. I can tell you right now, there is one major plot point of DA2 that is not going to happen, because certain characters have already had their futures locked in.

And, for the record, there’s no way in hell Bannon or anybody told Anders to ditch Ser Pounce-a-Lot! :P!!!