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.”

 


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