The Curse of Redcliffe


 
Content:
Rating: Teen
Flavor: Drama
Language: a bit
Violence: none
Nudity: none
Sex: none
Other: religious discussion
 
Author’s Notes:

So tempted to call this part “Redcliffe: The Phantom Menace” :X

Thank the Maker for the dragonage.wikia, without which I would have to make up names for all these NPCs. And would give them entirely the wrong ones. (Like Mother Hannah, whose name I’ve already given to a mercenary with Zevran. So I had to make up “Chantrise” as a name. Gah.)


 
The Curse of Redcliffe

 

 

The road sloped down below a wall of living rock. The Wardens’ group crossed over the first bridge and headed towards the castle gate. Or, rather, the bridge gate. The castle was situated on a craggy island in the lake, connected by a long bridge of stone. On this shore, the bridge continued as a stone and timber passageway that ended at the cliff face. A heavily-barred portcullis was lowered in the entryway.

“That’s odd,” Alistair said. The party drew closer, but there was no one manning the mechanism to open the gate. “Why is it closed?” Alistair asked no one in particular. “Where is the guard. Halloo?” He pressed closer to the portcullus, trying to see down the bridge.

Bannon looked around, a bad feeling settling in his gut. They’d pinned their hopes of aid and an army on this Arl Eamon, the solution to all their problems. Life couldn’t be easy for once, could it? He spotted a man armed with a bow, coming up the road from the town. The fellow saw the group at the same time and broke into a trot.

“You! Have you come from the outside?” He slowed and they all turned to him. His eyes darted over their armor and weapons. Oddly, he didn’t have a cuirass, only bracers. “Have you brought help?”

Bannon glanced at Alistair, who seemed to be trying to shrink. So the elf stepped forward and said, “We’re Grey Wardens. We have urgent business with Arl Eamon.”

“No one sees the arl!” the man blurted in surprise. “No one goes to the castle — not since the curse started.”

Alistair and Bannon shared another glance. Bad feeling confirmed. “What curse?”

“Every night, strange creatures come out of the castle and attack us. We tried to send for help….” He glanced down the road past them, as if hoping for, well, more of them.

“Out of the castle?” Alistair’s concern overrode his reticence.

“What kind of creatures?” Bannon asked. Darkspawn? But how would they get into the castle first, then come out and attack the town?

The man shuddered. “Dead creatures. Folks reckon it’s the punishment of the Maker upon us.” He seemed to come to a decision. “If you’re really Grey Wardens, maybe you can help us. I should take you to see Bann Teagan.”

“Bann Teagan?” Alistair’s ears perked up. “Eamon’s brother? He’s here? Take us to him.”

 

 

The city of Redcliffe was nothing compared to Denerim. The main street was paved with the red cliffstone, but the rest were either hard-packed dirt, or overlain with wooden boards. Closer to the shore of the lake, these became elevated walkways, and in fact, some of them extended over the water, as did the houses, built on stilts.

There was no wall. The cliffs on one side and the lake on the other protected the town. There also didn’t seem to be an alienage, unless it was further down the shore. Bannon wondered where the elves lived. If it were cheek by jowl with the shems, it couldn’t be too comfortable.

Their guide led them past makeshift timber barricades to the courtyard of the Chantry. The ground here was layered with white gravel — crushed shells, actually. The church itself was built of pale fieldstone and whitewashed timber, lending it the bright gleam it sported amidst the reddish-brown of its surroundings. The courtyard was not quiet. Rows of men drilled with bow and arrow. Several people were scurrying inside the big double doors.

The archer led the Warden’s group inside, where yet again the Chantry had become a house of refuge for the wounded, the homeless, the fearful. So caught up were these people in their own misery, they barely glanced at the looming Sten or the exotically-garbed witch. Leliana broke away and went among them.

Bann Teagan was a man in his prime, with dark auburn hair and neatly cut beard and moustache. He wore fine armor of crimson-laquered chainmail with reinforced leather guards. He was beleaguered by a group of townsfolk. Teagen’s rich, strong voice carried over their babble. “No, I want all the stores brought inside…. Well stick them against the doors; the crates can double as a barricade…. We can’t retreat, to go outside is suicide.”

He issued them more orders, and a few dispersed. The Wardens’ escort approached him, boldly elbowing a few of the others out of the way. “Ser, these folk have come in through the barrier.”

Teagan’s hazel eyes alit on them with keen interest. “Well done — Tomas, isn’t it?”

“Yes, ser!” The archer straightened with clear pride at being recognized by his commander.

Bannon shot Alistair a look, wondering if he had any idea what this ‘barrier’ was. But the young man’s attention was fixed on the bann.

Alistair stepped forward. “Bann Teagan,” he said; “you probably don’t recognize me, at least when I’m not covered in mud.”

“Covered in…?” Teagan’s eyes widened. “Alistair?”

“Yes, it’s me,” the Templar said with a sheepish grin.

The nobleman seemed genuinely pleased to see Alistair — relieved, even. “Thank the Maker you’re alive! When we heard all the Grey Wardens had perished at Ostagar, we feared the worst.”

Mention of that fateful battle erased the smile from Alistair’s face. “Not all of them,” he said darkly; “but near enough. My friend Bannon and I were the only ones to escape.” He nodded at the elf. Bannon stepped forward and bowed his head to the nobleman.

Teagan’s sharp eyes sized him up. Bannon couldn’t read any conclusions in them. At least he didn’t sneer or make a comment about elves. Bannon also quickly introduced Sten and Morrigan. He looked around for Leliana, but she seemed to have vanished. Or she was well-camouflaged. She had chosen to wear her Chantry robes for the audience with the Arl, rather than her armor.

“But how did you get here?” Teagan asked. “The road is blocked off–”

“It isn’t,” Alistair said. He glanced at Tomas. “And what did you mean about a barrier? And what in Thedas is going on here? Has this to do with Eamon’s illness?”

“Tomas, go check on the road, see if the barrier has vanished.”

“Yes, ser!” With a crisp salute, the young man hurried off.

Teagan drew a hand down over his face. “Maker, where to start? Eamon fell ill… it must have been several weeks ago now. Nothing could cure him.” The bann paced a short distance, fueld by pent-up agitation. “Arlessa Isolde grew concerned — instead of sending our knights to Ostagar, she charged them with searching out the legendary Sacred Ashes.”

“Which may have saved their lives,” Alistair said darkly. “Ser Bryant told us this, back in Lothering.” He bit his lip, recalling that doomed town.

Bannon added, “He said he hadn’t any luck, so… the arl is still sick?”

“My brother has never been sick a day in his life,” Teagan said heatedly. “Someone must have poisoned him.”

“Loghain,” Alistair growled. “He must have known Arl Eamon would have opposed him, and that he was his strongest enemy.”

“But,” Bannon said, drawing them back on track, “that fellow, Tomas; he said you were being attacked from the castle. Just who is attacking, and how did they get in there?”

“We don’t know,” Teagan said in frustration. He stopped pacing and looked up towards the glow of the stained glass windows. “Three… was it only three nights ago? A sortie of creatures came forth from the castle. They were like dead men — skeletons with strips of flesh and skin still holding them together. And a strange glow, almost like ghosts. We lost so many that night.” The bann put a hand over his eyes. “Every night they attack, in greater numbers, while we lose more and more.”

“Why do you not simply leave?” Morrigan asked.

“Do you think we haven’t tried?” Teagan exclaimed. “We sent a rider with a message to call for aid, but a thorn barricade sprang up across the road. We tried to row out in the boats, but huge lake monsters arose and smashed them.”

“There wasn’t any thorn forest or barrier on the road,” Alistair said, looking at his companions for confirmation, in case he’d missed something.

Morrigan said, “‘Tis likely an illusion.” She tapped her lower lip thoughtfully. “But magic to create undead phantasms is much too powerful for an ordinary mage.”

“Blood Magic,” Alistair spit. “But that doesn’t explain why they’re attacking Redcliffe.”

“We haven’t been able to get into the castle,” Teagan said. “Any men we’ve sent have never returned.” He looked between Alistair and Bannon, the ragged edge of weary desperation clear around his eyes. “Is there anything the Grey Wardens can do to help us? Will you at least stand with us and fight? Everyone who is left… left alive, is coming to shelter here for the night. We’ll make our last stand at the Chantry gate.”

“We’ll do everything we possibly can,” Alistair assured him.

Morrigan said, “You cannot be serious. We should leave these doomed weaklings to their fate.”

Alistair whirled on her, his face darkening. “I’ve had just about enough of you! Shut up about how weak and stupid everyone is, and do something to help!”

Bannon stepped in before there was bloodshed. “Alistair.” He put a hand on the human’s arm. Then he turned to the witch. “Morrigan, go check out this barrier, whatever it is. If you can’t find a way to get through it, we’ll be stuck here the same as everyone else.” Alistair fumed beside him, but he had to couch it in a way the witch would understand. Besides, if she really couldn’t dispell the illusion, she’d have to face up to being as doomed as the rest of the weaklings.

Morrigan nodded curtly and stalked off in typical hauteur.

Bann Teagan said, “We are grateful for any help you can lend.” He outlined their final defense strategy, and directed them to coordinate with the town Mayor, Murdoch, and Ser Perth, leader of the small group of knights that had returned from the arlessa’s quest. Teagan went back to fortifying the Chantry and organizing the influx of refugees.

Bannon found Leliana on the way out, to fill her in on what they had learned. She listened intently, her storm-grey eyes wide. “The situation is dire,” she said. “Death awaits in the darkness. Light can help, but only heart can defeat it.” Bannon frowned in puzzlement, wondering what she was artistically trying to say. Leliana clutched his arm. “Beware the shadowed one.”

“Um….” He gently plucked her fingers from his armguard. “I will.”

She blinked and drew back. “What do you need me to do?” she asked, her tone now solidly businesslike.

“See if you can help with the defenders, here.” Bannon pointed out Bann Teagan to her. “If not, we’ll be outside with this Murdoch fellow.”

 

 

That Murdoch fellow turned out to be a sad-looking hound dog of a man, with bushy, dark moustache and muttonchops. He looked as if he hadn’t slept for days, and he probably hadn’t. “Arrows are next to useless against ’em,” he was telling Sten and Alistair. “‘Less you hit ’em in the head. Smashing or cutting will do. Then they fall into dust.”

Sten grumbled to Alistair, “There are no darkspawn here. Why do we remain?”

“We have to,” the Templar explained. “We have to help these people.”

The giant was not moved. “You are Grey Wardens. You fight darkspawn. Not phantoms.”

Alistair sighed in exasperation, then brightened when he caught sight of Bannon.

The elf went right over to the qunari. “Sten, you’re a warrior, right? So if pirates or invaders attack a coastal village, you go and fight them. Right?”

“Yes.” There was a trace of hesitation in the qunari’s deep voice. Perhaps he sensed a trap.

“Well, if you fight them off, but a fire breaks out, do you just stand around while the buildings burn and say, ‘We’re warriors, we fight pirates, not fires’?”

“Of course not. That would be stupid.”

“Well, these people are our allies,” Bannon pointed out. “If we want them to help us fight darkspawn, we have to help them fight this curse — or whatever it is.”

Sten grumbled unhappily, but, “Very well,” he said.

That disaster averted, Bannon turned his attention to Murdoch. The mayor explained their situation.

Most of the town guardsmen and half the knights had been killed in the surprise attack on that first night. They’d made up the numbers with able-bodied men and women, but they were not trained fighters. The phantasm army seemed to grow each night as the defenders were whittled down.

It didn’t make sense. What did they want? No one could get into the castle to find out. Whoever controlled the undead army hadn’t issued any demands. And if all they wanted was to take over the town, why not let the townspeople run away?

The knights of Redcliffe were posted at the windmill, standing guard, watching the castle and acting as the first line of defense. Murdoch’s other problems included a lack of supplies — weapons and armor, and the blacksmith refusing to work. There was also a little band of mercenaries, holed up near the docks, who refused to help in the fight. They were led by some dwarf named Dwyn.

Bannon decided a look around wouldn’t hurt. Not that he was a military strategist by any means, but he knew a bit about facing bigger foes and fighting dirty. Not to mention how to hole up and hide when armed forces swept through your town looking to exterminate you.

He told Murdoch to divide his troops in half so they could rest in two shifts — whether they thought they could sleep or not. Tired and inexperienced men were twice as bad as rested ones. He sent Alistair to coordinate with the knights. Murdoch found Bannon a guide, a young elf with a short mop of blond hair, named Anselm.

 

 

He led the Warden and qunari the blacksmith’s shop. The door was locked, the shutters closed up tight. Bannon banged on the door. “Hello?” He glanced at Anselm. “What’s his name?”

“Owen.”

“Hello, Owen?”

“Go ‘way, Murdoch!” a deep voice bellowed from within.

“I’m not Murdoch,” Bannon began to explain.

“Go ‘way!” The voice meandered into a baritone warble. “Go ‘way, go ‘wa-a-ay; way awa-a-ay–!” It cut off suddenly. Then there was silence.

The two elves looked at each other. Anselm shrugged. Bannon wondered if Leliana wouldn’t be more suited to this particular job. He rapped on the door again. “Are you still there? Owen?”

“Are you still there?” the voice echoed groggily.

Bannon rolled his eyes toward a passing cloud, taking his patience in a firm grip. “Yes, we’re still here. We– look, this is kinda hard, talking through a door, here.”

“Oh!” Something bumbled around within and the latch was drawn. “Swipe me for a tarpon, where’s me manners?” The voice — Owen — slurred as Bannon eased the door open. “No call bein’ rude….” He trailed off uncomprehensibly.

Bannon led his companions inside. It was dark, only one feeble oil lamp burned low. Owen was a hulking bear shape in the shadows. He turned around. “Oy! Who let you in here?”

“You did,” Bannon said quickly. “Remember?”

“Eh? Oh.” Owen swayed forward and blinked blearily down at him. “You’s an elf. Din’t know you’s an elf.”

“Didn’t I sound short through the door?”

“Huh?” An aromatic cloud of breath washed over Bannon with the human’s exhalation. Right, don’t try to joke with an inebriated blacksmith.

Sten said, “I thought this was a blacksmith. Why does it smell like a brewery?”

Anselm replied, “He’s been on a bender since this all started.”

“A what?”

Bannon waved for them to shush. “Owen, I’m with the Grey Wardens.”

“Cor! Streuth?” The man’s eyes brightened. “Are you here to save us from this curse?”

“Well, we’re trying,” Bannon said, shoving a foot in the door of rationality in the blacksmith’s mind. “But we need some help. We have a lot of armor that needs re–”

“No no no no! That lout Murdoch sent you!” Owen started wailing. “‘E won’t save my lovely Valena! She’s gone. All gone. Far an’ awa-a-ay…!” Big, fat teardrops rolled down the man’s face to splash onto his tunic.

Bannon hesitated to console him. The man might breathe on him again, and he’d pass out. Why didn’t he send Leliana on this job? “Who’s Valena?”

“Me own lovely daughter, Valena. Gone up to the castle she did, to be a lady. Her Maw woulda been so proud!” He started sobbing again, collapsing onto a stool and laying his head on his arms on the edge of the forge. “Me precious baby girl is trapped up there and no one will go save her!”

“But everyone who’s tried to get into the castle hasn’t come back.”

“They’re all dead!” Vincen wailed. “My baby’s gone! I have nothing left to live for.” He buried his head in his arms again.

Bannon rubbed his forehead. How was anybody supposed to rescue his daughter if she were dead? Maker, he’d let them all die if he could just get rid of this damned headache.

Sten said, “It is your duty to perform your job. This… sentiment is useless.”

Which just went to show why Bannon was stuck with this job. “Ignore my unsympathetic friend, here,” he said placatingly. “Look, the Grey Wardens will go up to the castle after we defeat the attack tonight. We can look for your daughter then.”

Owen looked up with wet, red-rimmed eyes. “You’ll bring her back to me?”

“We’ll do whatever we can,” Bannon vowed.

“No!” One ham-handed fist pounded the edge of the forge. “No, that’s what Murdoch said, and he ain’t doing nothing, ain’t he?” The blacksmith glowered stubbornly. “You promise me! Promise me you’ll bring my Valena back to me.”

Bannon hesitated. It wouldn’t do to agree too easily, it would sound like a cheap lie. “Are you sure that’s more important than finding out who is causing this evil? Of rescuing Arl Eamon?”

“Yes! Well… no.” Owen sniffled guiltily. “Well… you can do all that first, but promise me you’ll bring back my Valena!”

“All right, I promise.” Bannon looked Owen in the eye. “But first, we have to defeat this phantasm army. And to do that, we’ll need–”

“Arms and armor!” The blacksmith shot to his feet, mostly steady. He ran around like a whirlwind, throwing the shutters open, pumping the bellows, pulling various chains and tossing tools into some sort of chaotic order. “Arms and armor!” he yelled towards the townsmen practicing in the Chantry yard, like a battle cry. Or perhaps that was his usual market pitch. “Made and repaired by the best blacksmith in Redcliffe!”

“You’re the only blacksmith in Redcliffe,” Anselm pointed out.

Owen rounded on him. “Nobody else can run a smithy here, acause I’ll out-do ’em every time, an’ they won’t have no custom!”

“Right, right; that’s what I meant!”

Bannon snagged the young elf by the collar and dragged him out the door before Owen conscripted him to help with the bellows or other scutwork. “Come on,” he grumbled. “This was so much fun, we might as well find Dwyn.”

 

 

Morrigan walked back up the road that zig-zagged down the stone cliffs. She wondered how she’d gotten into this mess. Oh, she didn’t mind travelling with the Grey Wardens — once they’d gotten the rules straight. And she didn’t mind the fighting. She’d just never realized they’d have to deal with so many people. It seemed simple enough: the Grey Wardens would fight the darkspawn, along with the army. Anyone not capable of fighting ought to be hiding, or fleeing. Or at least stayng out of the way, but no! How did these people survive? From what she’d seen of Lothering and Redcliffe, they didn’t.

She met that town boy on his way back. “It’s still there,” he informed her.

“This I shall see for myself,” Morrigan said. She was not one to trust the dull and addled senses of an ordinary man. She brushed past him.

“Just be careful,” he said, before scurrying back to town to report. As if she were some weak and helpless girl! Morrigan grit her teeth and exhibited mighty restraint in refraining from a reply.

She quickened her pace as she passed the upper bridge and the road grew more level. It seemed clear as far as she could see. Perhaps the illusion only worked on dim-witted creatures. In which case, she should have brought Alistair. Morrigan wrinkled her nose. Oh no, any break from that insufferable idiot was a blessing. How did she end up burdened with that fool? Ah, right: Mother’s Grand Scheme. Morrigan shook her head. If only the Spirits hadn’t conspired to make Alistair one of her targets. The elf was all right. Bannon seemed rather afraid of her. Of course, he was no idiot.

Be careful what you wish for, Morrigan mused. She had wanted to leave the Wilds and that tiny little hovel. Get out, see the world. Get far away from her mother. Flemeth spent a great deal of time away from her home, since Morrigan had grown old enough to fend for herself. But being cooped up even a few days with that batty old coot was enough to make Morrigan just as–

Morrigan jerked to a halt, a bare armslength away from a wall of thorny vines. It hadn’t been there before, it had just… appeared, between one step and the next, in the blink of an eye.

“‘Tis surely an illusion,” Morrigan said aloud. She glanced about self-consciously. Great, talking to yourself. The first sign of a mind getting a little wobbly on its hinges. Morrigan shook that thought off and eyed the thick growth, willing herself to see through it. The waxy green vines and long, black thorns refused to yield.

She should just ignore them and walk right through, if she were so confident it was an illusion. They only had power if you believed in them. If any sliver of doubt lodged in your mind…. Morrigan eyed the thorns bristling towards her; seven-inch spines with needle-sharp points, aiming right at the tender flesh of her chest.

She turned away with a huff of frustration. She scowled ferociously, but when she turned back around, it was still there. She closed her eyes and pictured the empty road. Before she could second-guess herself again, she thrust her left arm forward.

“Ah!” She cried out and yanked her hand back. Blood welled up from a deep puncture at the base of her thumb. Amplexus! she fumed, employing one of Flemeth’s favorite expletives. She pulled a bandage from her kit and wrapped it around her hand.

Morrigan stepped back, scanning the thorn wall. It spread across the entire road, two wagon-lengths at least, tall as three men, and so dense that not a scrap of the landscape beyond could be seen. The witch started to feel uneasy. No mortal power could fashion such a thing, not instantaneously. Morrigan clenched her jaw and pulled her staff from its sling. She pointed the enchanted ironwood at the thorns and hissed a spell. Fire spewed out from the staff and clutched at the vines. But they were too green to burn. The fire died, leaving faint singe-marks on the thorns.

Morrigan bit her lip and tried another spell, spraying the wall with ice. Nothing could withstand cold. Frost thickened over the vines and thorns, turning into a brittle crystal shell. Morrigan swung the butt of her staff at the frozen plants. They failed to do so much as even crack. It was like striking a full grown oak tree.

Morrigan tried one of the city elf curses. “Shit!” She cast about one more time for a solution. The rock walls on either side of the road were not readily scalable. She crouched low. No, not even a space between the vines and their roots where a fox or hare could slip through. “Shit,” Morrigan said again, rather liking the vulgarity of the simple word. But she would still have to admit defeat. She didn’t like it — not one bit. Whatever was at the heart of Redcliffe’s curse, it was very powerful. Perhaps even stronger than Flemeth. That thought was most frightening of all.

Morrigan turned back.

 

 

There were no less than six locks on the door, and even after Bannon got those sprung, there was a chain. Sten bumped it with his massive shoulder plate and the door broke open, bringing them face to face with a livid dwarf.

“What in the Name of the Shattered Stone do you think you’re doing? Busting down my door!”

Bannon blinked and shrugged. “You didn’t answer, we thought the place was empty.” He smiled ingratiatingly and tried to push his way in, but two burly humans with crossbows pointed their weapons at his nose. “Oh, good! You have weapons.” Bannon noticed more and bigger mercenaries in the back of the room. Dwyn did have his own miniature army. “See, we’re recruiting all brave fighters to–” And suddenly he was talking to a slammed-shut door. “… Right,” he called through the thick wood, “No brave fighters here, then?”

“I done told Murdoch it ain’t got nothin’ to do with us! Their be-damned ancestors want to lay a curse on ’em, let ’em!”

“So you’re just going to cower inside there, hiding under your beds?”

“You’re damned tootin’, skinny-shanks!”

A fierce hammering and clattering rang out from the door as those within started boarding it up.

Bannon shrugged and turned to Sten. “If those are qunari mercenaries, don’t they have to fight if they’re paid? Isn’t that what the Qun says?”

“They are Tal Vashoth,” Sten said with a glower. “They have no honor.”

“They’re who?”

“Those who have abandoned the way of the Qun.”

“Qunari who don’t follow the Qun?” Bannon asked.

“They are not qunari!” Sten growled heatedly. “They are Tal Vashoth.”

“The Tall… right, guys without honor. Got it.” Whatever and whoever they were, they weren’t any use. Bannon dusted his hands of the whole mess. To Anselm he said, “So where’s the store?”

 

 

The store was a bust; the townsfolk of Redcliffe had looted it of anything useful. All that was left were a couple of books, some jars of buttons, and a passel of barrels that stank to high heaven. Fish oil, Anselm explained, for lamps. Well, for cheap lamps. Rich folk could afford more refined oil. Bannon jimmied open the till. At least the looters had honestly been trying to survive. He scooped the coins into his pouch. He handed Anselm five silvers and the elf shut his mouth as fast as he’d opened it. Sten, of course, didn’t care if Bannon helped himself to… funds for the Grey Wardens’ army.

Outside, they caught up to a boy lugging a large broadsword towards the Chantry.

“That warrior is too small,” Sten said. “He should be sent back to the creche.”

“How about you let me handle this,” Bannon suggested. “What’s your name?” he asked the boy.

“Bevin. Who are you?”

“I’m Bannon of the Grey Wardens. Where are you going with such a big sword?”

“It’s my father’s sword. I’m going to fight the evil creatures and save my sister. I’m a proud warrior, like my father.”

Like his father used to be, Bannon figured. He noticed Sten about to say something else unsympathetic. He cut the qunari off. “Sten, why don’t you and Anselm go on ahead? See if Alistair is back at the Chantry yet.”

When he was alone with the boy, he said, “Don’t mind him, he just doesn’t think short people like us are any good at fighting.”

“Well, I can fight,” Bevin said stubbornly.

“I bet you can,” Bannon said with a grin. “That sword looks a bit big for you though. Here,” he drew his own sword; “go like this.” He held the blade out at arm’s length, angled just slightly up from horizontal.

Bevin pulled the big sword from its scabbard. Or rather, pulled the scabbard off the blade. He held it out in both hands, not quite strong enough to lift it in one.

“Right, good. Now let’s lop off a monster’s head.” Bannon drew his arm back, stepped forward, and swung. His blade whistled through the air in a tight arc. Then he moved well back in case the boy accidentally flung the broadsword out of his hands.

Which is almost what happened. The weight of the sword almost tore it out of the boy’s grip and threw him staggering off balance. His face crumpled up as he fought back tears. “It’s too big!”

“Well,” said Bannon placatingly, “maybe now. But when you grow up, it will be a good size for you.”

“But how can I fight? My sister needs me now,” the boy wailed. “Father’s gone and– and they took Mother, too.”

Bannon sheathed his sword and then unfastened his long belt knife’s sheath. He handed it to Bevin. “Take this, it’s just your size.”

“Wow,” the kid breathed. “A Grey Warden’s weapon?” His eyes went wide over the gift. “For me? Really?”

“Sure,” Bannon said with a crooked smile. It was really only a city elf’s long knife, which had seen better days before Vaughn had nearly destroyed it with his sword.

Bevin juggled the knife, the sword, and its sheath awkwardly a moment, until Bannon helpfully took the latter to hold for him. Bevin affixed the knife sheath to his belt like a sword’s, and experimentally pulled the blade out and give it a few quick cuts. “It’s not very fancy,” he said, his enthusiasm ebbing. “What are these marks?” he asked, peering at the dents Vaughn had left in the blade.

“No, it’s not fancy,” Bannon said; “It’s made for fighting, not for show. And those are from darkspawn teeth.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes, he was the biggest, ugliest, and meanest son of a bitch you’ve ever seen.” The boy flinched at the bad language, but Bannon gave him a conspirational smile, warrior to warrior. “Then I stabbed him right in the heart with that very blade.”

“Wow!”

Bannon laughed. “Don’t worry, it’s been cleaned since then. No Tainted blood on it.”

The boy’s eyes drank in the ‘legendary’ Grey Warden blade. “Does it have a name?”

“Splinter,” Bannon replied solemnly. Very small, very annoying, and — as a carpenter’s boy could attest — very painful.

“Splinter….” Reverently, the boy sheathed the knife. He looked sadly at the sword Bannon still held. “But… my dad was a guardsman — I mean knight. That was my grandfather’s sword before then, too.”

Bannon handed the sheathed sword back to him. “Bring it to Mayor Murdoch; he needs all the weapons we can spare. And tell him you’re ready for duty; he should have an assignment for you. Double-time, soldier! Redcliffe needs its defenders!”

“Yes, ser!” The boy flung a salute and scampered off.

Bannon breathed a long sigh. Finally, a moment of peace, without someone hounding him about anything. He’d better get moving before some old lady asked him to help her across the street. “I need a drink,” he grumbled.

 

 

Bannon found Leliana on the Chantry steps, talking to a knight. Sten waited nearby, managing to look both bored and impatient with the same blank, stony look on his face he always had. “How is everything going with the Chantry?” Bannon asked. “Have you seen –?” He blinked at the knight. “Alistair? Did you get a promotion?”

The young human flushed with a sheepish grin. He wore the light plate of the Redcliffe knights, with a chain hauberk. “The knights have… a few spare suits of armor.” The smile vanished from his face. “This used to belong to Ser Andrew.”

Bannon nodded solemnly. He turned to Leliana. She gave him a dark look. “May I have a word with you in private?” she asked.

The elf looked around at the crowded courtyard; the townsmen practicing, older children scurrying to and from the blacksmith’s shop with weapons and bits of armor, the few straggling families pushing by to move into the Chantry. “Doesn’t look like it,” he said. He shot a glance at Alistair. The former Templar looked uncomfortably at his boots. He must know something, but he kept his mouth shut.

“Fine,” Leliana said. “Do you want to explain to me why you gave a child a weapon and told him to fight in this battle? What were you thinking?”

This again! Why was he not surprised? “I was thinking,” he growled, fighting to keep his voice level, “that Murdoch could use a good sword, and that he might be smart enough to assign the boy to defend his sister from inside the Chantry, where he would be safe.”

Leliana bit her lip and lowered her head. Bannon continued viciously. “What did you want me to do? Steal his father’s sword? Tell him he’s useless and doomed to die?” He snorted. “That’s Morrigan’s job.”

“I’m sorry,” Leliana said. “I’m afraid I’ve misjudged you again. I really–”

“That’s fine,” Bannon cut her off impatiently. He rubbed his forehead. “Where is Morrigan, anyway? Has she come back yet?”

“Maybe she escaped that barrier,” Alistair said egarly. “And she ran off never to return.” He smiled with humor.

“That would be really bad,” Bannon said, in no mood for jokes. He asked them again for the status of the Chantry and the knights.

Bann Teagan had things well in hand at the Chantry. The knights were prepared for tonight’s assault. There were only sixteen left; they didn’t believe they’d live to see the dawn. If their sacrifice would save the people of Redcliffe, they wouldn’t mind so much, but they held little hope that the curse could be ended by mere fighting.

“The knights have asked the Revered Mother for a blessing before this last… before this battle,” Alistair finished, chewing his lip in concern. “But Ser Perth says she’s refused them, and that’s shaken their morale.”

Bannon cursed underbreath. Leliana said, “Why does she refuse them?”

“I don’t know, but I gather she’s lost her faith in the Maker.”

“All right,” Bannon said. “Leliana, can you talk to this Revered Mother?”

“Of course.”

“Alistiar, go to the knights and tell the leader to come down here.”

Alistair blinked. “Me? I don’t have any authority to be ordering knights around.”

“You’re a Grey Warden,” Bannon told him. He huffed with impatience. “Never mind. Anselm!”

Bannon called for the elven youth again, and he appeared from the ranks of the militia. He’d gotten himself a bow from somewhere. “Yes, ser?” he asked with an eager grin.

“Anselm, go run up that hill and find the knight– what’s his name?”

“Ser Perth,” Alistair supplied.

“Find Ser Perth and tell him the Grey Wardens want him to come down to the Chantry yard for a strategy meeting.”

“Yes, ser!” The boy’s grin widened. What elf couldn’t wait to order some knight around? He ran off to do so.

A moment later, Morrigan appeared and came over to them. “The situation is dire,” she reported.

Bannon grimaced. “Try to keep your voice down.”

“I don’t see how it matters; they are doomed whether they know it or not.”

Alistiar growled, “Haven’t you ever heard that ‘Ignorance is Bliss’?”

Morrigan arched a brow at him, new understanding dawning on her features. “So that explains your perpetual cheerfulness.” Alistair’s face reddened.

“We don’t have time for this,” Bannon snapped. “Morrigan, just tell us what you’ve learned.”

She confirmed the existence of the barrier, and its impenetrability. “This is no mortal magic,” she warned, keeping her voice low as requested. “And worse than Blood Magic.”

“An abomination?” Alistair asked. Bannon didn’t know what that was, exactly, but by the look on the Templar’s face, it was bad.

“Whether ’tis a mage with a demon thrall, or the other way around, I cannot say. But mark my words, a demon is involved.”

“We have to get into the castle,” Leliana insisted.

“That’s not going to happen today,” Bannon said. “There might be a chance after the battle.” If anyone is left, he added to himself. “All right; Leliana, Alistair, you speak with the Revered Mother. Sten, Morrigan; we’re going to meet with the mayor and the knight commander. If you can think of any strategy to give us an edge, it would help.”

 

 

“Revered Mother Chantrise,” Leliana said, with a courteous bow to the Chantry leader. “May we speak with you?” Alistair, beside her, bowed with a hand to his heart.

The Revered Mother was a tall, thin woman. Her long brown hair was drawn back into a loose braid. “You are not a Sister with this parish,” she observed.

“No, your Reverence. I am Sister Leliana. This is Alistair, a Grey Warden.”

“Has the curse been broken?” the Revered Mother asked. “Is Redcliffe free?”

Alistair said, “I’m afraid not, Revered Mother. But we are hoping to get to the bottom of this after the battle.”

“Are you from Redcliffe? You look like one of our knights.”

Alistair ducked his head sheepishly. “I am from Redcliffe, but I’m not a knight. I was training with the Templars before I became a Grey Warden.”

She nodded. “What may I do for you, Warden?”

“We’ve come to beseech the Maker’s blessing for the knights.”

Mother Chantrise’s eyes darkened. She turned away, her neck bowed. “The Maker has no blessing for us,” she said hollowly.

“You’ve lost your faith?” Leliana asked gently. She had a considerable amount of experience with that.

“I have seen the horrors. I have seen good people trapped here, doomed to die.” She paced a short turn, and stopped to look out the thick, rippled glass of her office’s small window. “The Maker has forsaken us.”

“That’s not true!” Alistair siad.

Leliana laid a hand on his arm. “Revered Mother, the knights still hold to their faith. It would mean a great deal to them. It would give them heart, courage, and strength to face these foes.”

“You want me to lie?” Chantrise turned back to them. “Speak empty words to thin air? How is that to help them? False hopes, nothing more would this bring.”

“It would mean so much to them,” Alistair said. “Can’t you bring yourself to do it just for that alone? These men are likely to die tonight.”

“I have nothing to give them,” Chantrise whispered, her voice like dry leaves on the wind.

“Alistair, let me speak to her alone, please.” Leliana looked at the Warden. He chewed his lip, then nodded. He walked out to the main altar and knelt, joining the others in prayer.

Leliana moved to Chantrise’s side, touched her elbow. She looked up into the woman’s face. This might be me someday, she thought. An older, wiser woman, the faint brush of age around her eyes. Would it be so hard to keep the faith in a jaded world? But Leliana knew the touch of the Maker. “There are many who believe the Maker has forsaken us,” she said. “Is that not what the Canticle of Threnodies teaches us? That man desecrated the Golden City of heaven and were cast down, shunned by the Maker, yes?”

The Revered Mother nodded.

“It seems to me there are those in the heirarchy of the church that would profit greatly if the Maker were absent from the world, and stayed that way.”

Chantrise gasped. “That’s blasphemy!”

“No, it is not.” Leliana pinned the woman with her gaze. “Blasphemy is to speak out against the divine. The leaders of the Chantry are mere mortals, yes?” She knew she was on thin ice with her radical views, but the Revered Mother had already lost her faith in her god. “I do not believe the Maker would be so petty and cruel as to abandon His creation. And to demand we cross the world, speaking the Chant of Light over all the lands before he will deign to forgive us?”

“It is what the Chantry teaches us.”

Leliana pressed forward intently. “It is what the words of men say. What does your heart tell you?”

Mother Chantrise closed her eyes for a long moment. She clasped her thin hands together at her breast. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “Why would we suffer so, if it is not the Maker’s plan?”

“Why would the Maker curse Redcliffe?”

“They say it is because the Arlessa, Lady Isolde, refused to send the knights to combat the Blight. That instead, she sent them on a selfish errand.”

Leliana tilted her head. “To save Arl Eamon from his illness?” How was this selfish?

“Yes.” Mother Chantrise looked at her. “What is one man’s life compared to saving thousands from the Blight? No prayers nor magic could cure the Arl. They say it is his fate to die now.”

Leliana had to admit she had no answer to that. “She must love her husband very much.”

“She loves his power,” the Revered Mother said harshly. “Without it, Redcliffe would not accept an Orlesian arlessa’s rule.”

Ah, politics and religion. The world was never easy; not all love and heroism as the bards painted it. Leliana bowed her head in personal guilt. But she had put that behind her and had taken up the Maker’s work. “The curse is not from the Maker’s hand,” she said. “We believe an abomination is the cause.”

The Revered Mother blanched. “How- how do you know this?”

The Chantry held itself responsible for controlling every mage in Thedas, for protecting them and the world from their demonic possession. It wouldn’t do to tell her about an apostate like Morrigan. “Alistair,” Leliana said.

“The Templar who became a Grey Warden.” Mother Chantrise looked to where Alistair knelt, head bowed in piety.

Leliana nodded. “Your Reverence, I do not believe the Maker has abandoned us. A creator does not shun his creation. A father does not cast out his children, no matter how wayward. The Maker does not live in the dry parchment of books or in the thin air of words. The Maker dwells within our hearts.” If only she could make this woman see! “The knights will take comfort in your blessing, if you can find the Maker within your own heart. It shall awaken the spirit of the Maker within theirs, and it will help us to conquer this evil.”

“And… if I cannot feel the Maker’s presence?” She looked down at her shaking hands.

Leliana took the Mother’s hands in her own, gently. “What is faith, but the conviction in things we cannot physically touch?” She placed Chantrise’s hands upon her own bowed head.

Hesitantly, the Revered Mother said, “Walk in the spirit of Light, Sister.”

Leliana felt a faint warmth washing over the Revered Mother’s cool hands. The spirit within her leapt. Something passed between the two women, but in which direction, she could not tell. Leliana looked up. Mother Chantrise’s eyes held a new spark.

“I… I can do it, then.”

“Yes, Your Reverence. You can make all the difference in the world.”

 

 

“All right,” Bannon said to the assembled leaders; “I want someone to jam the gate. Cut some logs, wedge them through the portcullis holes.”

“It’s already locked from the inside,” Murdoch said.

“Well, we want it locked from the outside. If they can’t get to us, they can’t hurt us.”

Ser Perth said, “We will hold them as long as we can at the gate, then fall back to the end of the lane, where the windmill stands.” He crouched to sketch the layout of Redcliffe’s road in the dirt.

“That is not a secure point,” Sten said. He appropriated the knight’s stick. “A better choke point is here, at the bridge.”

“We can fall back, if we are overrun at the mill.”

The giant shook his head. “No, there is a steep section in the road just past the mill. You would not have good footing, and your enemy would be above you.”

“I see your point, ser giant.”

Bannon flicked hair out of his eyes. “If we could get them bunched up at the gate, maybe we could burn them all. There’s oil in th–”

“No,” said Ser Perth.

“No way,” Murdoch said, shaking his head. Bannon looked at them questioningly. “We tried that,” the hounddog-faced mayor said. “The second night.” He shuddered.

Ser Perth said, “Fire can destroy them, but they aren’t slowed down by it. We set them alight and… they just kept coming. They closed with us, burning like vengeful spirits.” He swallowed thickly. “I lost eight men that night.”

Murdoch said, “Fire ain’t going to work. Hacking them to bits is the only sure way. Sometimes taking their heads off, or an arrow to the brainpan.”

Bannon chewed his lip. “I have an idea…. Where’s the carpenter’s shop?”

 

 

The Wardens oversaw the final battle preparations. There was nothing more to be done, not by them, and it was time for Bannon’s enforced second shift to get some rest. The Wardens and their companions made their way to the inn overlooking the town. The elf’s head was pounding, and he hoped a little wine would ease the tension and let him rest. And maybe, just maybe, the daylight hours would protect him from the night horrors of the Archdemon whispering into his mind. He’d just about kill for a few hour’s peaceful rest.

 

 


&nbps;
Afterword:
—————————–
 
Alistair: “The knights have… a few spare suits of armor. This used to belong to Ser Andrew.”

If you look at the list of animations in the DAO toolset, you’ll see a few labelled ‘Andrew;’ apparently the ones for the endgame where Alistair is with Anora. It’s my guess that Andrew was the character’s working name before they changed it to Alistair. Much for the better, in my opinion.
 
Ser Perth: “Fire can destroy them, but they aren’t slowed down by it. We set them alight and… they just kept coming. They closed with us, burning like vengeful spirits.”

This is a remark about what happens if you use the oil in the game. Brilliant plan, right? Right, if only the stupid knights and your stupid companions didn’t RUN INTO THE BURNING TRAP and DIE A HORRID DEATH from it.

 


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