Redcliffe Castle


 
Content:
Rating: Teen
Flavor: Drama/Adventure
Language: some
Violence: yes
Nudity: no
Sex: no
Other: dogs are killed
 
Author’s Notes:

I managed to cut some detailed conversation scenes down into quicker summarizations. Well, just some of them. At least they are blending together properly. I’ve been studying people’s techniques.

The dog-killing is the last part on the end. You can skip that if you want.

 


Redcliffe Castle

 

 

Sten sat on his knees, his back straight, his head bowed, hands resting on his thighs. His eyes were closed. His maul lay crosswise on the ground before him. Despite the number of people crowding the Chantry courtyard, a clear space had formed around the stationary grey giant.

He was on a grassy patch near the well, so Bannon gratefully dropped to the ground and leaned back against the stones. He had a gash in his left arm, and the left side of his face was sticky with dried blood. Sten seemed to have fared better. He had any number of light gashes in his torso and arms, but his armor seemed to have foiled most of the blades. He had a wide swath of bandages wrapping one treetrunk thigh. It was tinging to pink as Bannon watched.

The qunari sat still, his horns sweeping back from his skull and pointing to the sky. His breathing was deep and even. Bannon couldn’t tell if he were asleep or praying. Leliana came around the well as other Sisters from the Chantry worked to draw water. She wore a bandage across her forehead like a headband. She went to Sten with a small bottle. “This is the healing draught, Sten.”

The qunari opened his eyes. “I thank you.” He took the potion and downed it in a gulp. He set the bottle down by his maul and re-closed his eyes.

Leliana turned to Bannon and knelt before him. Instead of offering him any of the elfroot elixir, she took a wet cloth and began bathing his wounds. “Let us see how you fare.” Quickly and neatly, she bandaged his arm. Then she gently tugged at his damaged leather helm.

Bannon winced. “Easy — don’t tear my ear off.” He was deathly afraid that the long point of his ear was going to fall out of the helmet once she got it off. Like most young male elves, he was rather vain about his ears. “Is it notched?” he asked when the worst didn’t happen. Would it be a rakish notch, or an ugly chunk taken out of the sweep of his ear?

She laid aside the helmet and carefully began wiping blood off. “Hold still,” she insisted as he squirmed. “It’s just a scratch. You ought to be more concerned with this gash in your head.”

“Do I need a healing potion?” he asked, letting a thin whine of pain infuse his voice. He squinched up his lower eyelids as he looked up at her.

Leliana scanned over the Chantry yard before answering him, perhaps calculating how many healing potions they had on hand, and how many people needed them. “That may perhaps be best,” she agreed. She gave him a small vial of the reddish liquid.

“Thank you.” He tipped his head back to swallow the draught and didn’t have to feign wincing from it. He grimaced and handed the vial back. Then, nodding to her own bandage, he asked, “Are you all right?”

“Yes, thank you. It looks much more serious than it is.”

Morrigan made her way over to their little clearing. She had dark circles under her eyes, and apparently didn’t even have the energy to snap at the people in her way. With weary grace, she dropped to the ground on the other side of Sten.

Leliana brought the witch a dipper of water. “That trickery with the magelight was entirely unneccesary.”

“‘Twasn’t my idea,” Morrigan replied tartly.

Bannon said, “I thought it was quite effective at boosting morale.”

Leliana shot him a look, but quickly smoothed her features. If she had any further comment, it was forestalled by the approach of Bann Teagan.

Heavily favoring his right leg, he limped around the well and stood towering over Bannon. “Warden,” the bann addressed him.

Bannon scrambled to his feet and immediately regretted it. He pressed a damp cloth to his aching head. “Yes, ser?” Dammit, he was a Grey Warden, he didn’t have to bow and scrape to this nobleman. He should have stayed lounging arrogantly on the ground.

Teagan smiled grimly. “This is the first time we’ve defeated these phantoms, thanks to you and — where’s Alistair?”

Morrigan said, “Most of your knights perished. He was with them, and likely suffered the same fate.”

The bann paled.

“No,” said Bannon. “He’s over there.”

Teagan turned to where the elf pointed. “I don’t….” He squinted. “Where do you see him?”

Well, Bannon didn’t, really. The Chantry yard was crawling with townsfolk, and one short elf couldn’t see much. He couldn’t put into words how he felt or sensed Alistair. The other Warden was merely a presence he was aware of. “I saw him earlier,” he said, because it was easiest.

The bann untensed. “Good. We should strike out for the castle now that the way is clear.”

“Right now? We haven’t had a moment to rest. We need at least a little time to recover.”

“We need to move swiftly.”

Sten opened his eyes. “I agree.”

“We’ll move more swiftly if we have something to eat,” Bannon insisted. Sten might have unlimited energy, and the nobleman had only fought in the back ranks, not on the front lines where the fighting had been thickest.

“The Warden has a point,” Sten admitted. All right, maybe qunari giants did get fatigued.

“Very well. I’ll send someone to the tavern to fetch you some food.” The bann turned, scanning the crowd with a worried frown. “Meet me by the flour mill when you are ready.” He limped off.

Bannon sat back down. His head felt better. He carefully cleaned more of the crusted blood off the side of his head. The flesh was knitting due to the healing potion, but it was still tender.

“Warden! Warden!”

Bannon groaned, stifling it before anyone heard it. It was that kid, the one with the sword. A young woman in a peach-coloured dress, bearing a basket on her arm, followed in his wake.

“Katy, this is the Warden I told you about,” Bevin said excitedly. “This is my sister, Kaitlyn.”

She gave Bannon a dark look. Ah, of course, she’d also want to chew him out for encouraging a child to fight. He ignored her and smiled at Bevin. “Did you get any phantoms in the battle?”

“No,” Bevin said heavily, his young body slumped in disappointment. “Mayor Murdoch said I was too young. I had to go stay inside like a baby!”

“Well, it’s a good thing,” Bannon said. “We needed more defenders on the inside, in case they broke through. It was a very close thing.”

“Really?”

The elf flashed Kaitlyn a quick wink. “Absolutely. It’s a good thing you were ready.”

The kid brightened and pulled out the dented belt knife. “Splinter woulda taken care of those monsters!” He brandished the blade.

“Bevin!” his sister cried. “You shouldn’t be waving that thing around. It’s dangerous!”

“But sis! It’s a Grey Warden weapon!”

“Your sister is right,” Bannon told him sternly. “A Grey Warden weapon is not for showing off and flashing around. You need to be more disciplined and handle it with respect.”

“Yes, ser.” Mollified, Bevin put the knife away.

Bannon smiled up at Kaitlyn, and this time she smiled back. “I do want to thank you for finding my brother and getting him back to the Chantry. I was worried sick about him.”

“I was coming right back,” the kid complained.

Kaitlyn put a hand on his head with an indulgent smile. “Is there any way I can repay you?” she asked Bannon. “I wouldn’t mind at all; I am very grateful for your help.”

“Well,” he said, “we could do with some food.”

“Oh! Of course.” She smiled and swung the basket off her arm. “I have apples.”

Bannon took the whole thing. She seemed surprised. “Thanks,” he said with a sparkling smile. “Sten here is very hungry. Aren’t you, Sten?”

“Yes.”

The elf made sure to nab at least five apples for himself before relinquishing the basket to the qunari. Leliana and Morrigan weren’t shy about helping themselves, either. They thanked Kaitlyn (well, Leliana did, anyway). She invited them to her home after this mess was cleared up, if they had time to visit and have a meal. Then she excused herself to help with the rest of the wounded while her little brother scampered off to get into mischief.

All right, Bannon thought; a shem cooking for an elf. It paid to be a hero! He wondered if she were dimpling at him in a suggestive manner, or if that was just her natural way of smiling. She was a fine-looking human with fresh, youthful skin and a skein of blonde hair. Of course, if he made a mistake reading her intentions, there might be a lynch mob in it for him. He munched his apples in deep thought.

Alistair finally came over, looking half dead, though he didn’t seem to be hurt. Leliana fussed over him, and Sten let him have a few apples. Then the serving girl Teagan had sent to the tavern brought them bread and cheese, and a jug of wine. The Wardens wolfed down most of the food, and this seemed to revive Alistair somewhat.

 

 

Rested and refreshed, the Wardens and their group went up the road to meet Bann Teagan. The bann stood gazing across the gulf between the cliffs and the castle. The edificie looked perfectly normal and benign in the early morning light.

“I thank you again, Grey Wardens,” Teagan said without preamble, turning as they approached. “Alistair, Bannon.” He met both their eyes. “This is the first time we’ve exhausted the enemy’s numbers and left none to return to the castle at dawn. I believe it is now safe — at least relatively — to enter the castle. I propose we–” He stuttered to a halt. Gaping in surprise, he raised a hand and pointed behind them.

Bannon turned, gripping his sword hilt. He relaxed when he saw it was only a woman running awkwardly towards them. Alistair, in constrast, caught one sight of her and tensed as if for battle. He shrank back slightly between the elf and the qunari.

The blonde woman was richly-dressed in cream satin and red velvet. The mud of the road was was ruining her slippers. A single guardsman trotted behind her. Her round face was blotchy red with exertion. Her generous bosom heaved. “Teagan,” she gasped, accenting the second syllable in fluted Orlesian patois. “Oh, Teagan; thank the Maker!” She stumbled to a halt and cast a confused look at the group by the mill. “Who are these people, Teagan?”

“Lady Isolde.” The bann found his voice and regained his composure. “These are Grey Wardens and their company. This is Warden Bannon and….” He trailed off awkwardly.

Alistair shuffled a half step forward. “It’s… Alistair, Lady Isolde.”

“Alistair?” A brief look of — fear? scorn? — flashed over the lady’s face, replaced quickly by yet more puzzlement. “What are you doing here?”

A simple question, but laced with a clear preference that he be elsewhere. Well, this was just grand. As if the phantom menace weren’t enough, now Bannon had to deal with noble family politics. He answered for the Wardens. “We’re here to help the people of Redcliffe, and to seek aid from Arl Eamon. Is it safe to enter the castle now?”

Isolde’s eyes widened with fear. “No,” she said tremulously. “No, you mustn’t come to the castle.” She turned to the bann once again. “I was only given a short time to come and find you. Connor… he isn’t well. You’re his uncle, Teagan. He needs you.”

“But why can’t we take the Grey Wardens?”

“And who is it exactly that let you out?” Bannon cut in. This smelled like a heavily-baited rat trap.

“There is… something terrible in the castle,” Lady Isolde said, wringing her hands. “It… it keeps us trapped there. It has killed almost everyone. At night, it raises the dead and sends these ghosts to attack the village.”

“Why is it keeping you alive? What does it want?”

“I don’t know!” she wailed. “Please, Teagan, without his father, Connor is… is lost and afraid. You must come with me!” Tears spilled from her eyes.

“All right,” said Teagan, placing his hands comfortingly on Lady Isolde’s arms. “I will go with you. Compose yourself my lady; I need to leave instructions with the Wardens before I go.” She nodded and found a lace kerchief to wipe her face. Teagan beckoned the Wardens to step aside for a private conversation.

“Ser,” Bannon said; “this has got to be a trap.”

“I know. But… I have an idea.” Quickly, he outlined his plan. He would go with Isolde and try to hold the attention of whoever or whatever this ‘something terrible’ was. He gave Alistair his signet ring and instructions on finding a secret escape tunnel that would get the Wardens’ party inside the castle walls. “Do what you have to, to save Eamon. Never mind the rest of us, we are expendable, but he is not.”

 

 

The tunnel was entirely unpleasant. First, of course, there were interminably long ladders descending a chimney in the cliff, to down below the bed of the lake. The passage itself was black as pitch and damp. Water trickled down the walls and puddled in some places on the floor. Occasional spatters from the ceiling threatened Leliana’s sputtering torch. The weaving she did to avoid them didn’t help the chancy light. The constant gurgle made Bannon acutely aware of the vast lake of water over their heads. Was this little worm tunnel about to collapse? He tried to hurry his steps and almost trod on Alistair’s heel.

“Ow!”

“Sorry.”

To distract himself — and Alistair — Bannon asked, “Who was that woman back there?”

“That was Lady Isolde. After Arl Eamon’s first wife died, he married a younger noblewoman from Orlais.”

“She doesn’t seem to like you.”

“Ah, no. She despises me, really.”

“Why?” Leliana asked.

“My mother and I worked in Eamon’s castle. The thing is, it was no big secret that I was a bastard, but whose bastard, that was another story.” He bit his lip as he ducked around a low-hanging rock in the ceiling. “Of course, everyone just assumed Eamon was my father. And his pretty new wife didn’t like the rumors of his indiscretion running around in her new home,” he added bitterly.

Leliana asked, “Didn’t the arl tell her the truth?”

The Templar shrugged. “The truth didn’t matter, did it? It’s what everyone thought — what they believed. Lady Isolde used to give my mother the coldest looks. When she took ill and died, I was certain Lady Isolde had put a curse on her.” He blew out a breath. “Arl Eamon was kind enough to take me in and foster me in the castle. But Lady Isolde made sure my life was a living hell. She blamed me for… I don’t even know what! She just hated me.

“Then when she got pregnant and had a son…. She was always like a hawk, watching me with those hard eyes, judging me, waiting to swoop in with her talons bared.”

“What a horrible thing to do to a child!” said Leliana.

“Well, you can’t blame her.”

“Like hell,” Bannon muttered.

“She was just looking out for her own interests.”

They slogged through another puddle, and Leliana asked, “Why didn’t Eamon put a stop to this?”

“She was the arlessa!” Alistair said. His voice rose, years of misery finally working free. “It was her right to punish the servants as she saw fit. Anyway, she was his wife. I wasn’t even related to him!”

“But he must have cared for you,” Leliana insisted. “He did take you in when you were orphaned.”

“Yeah, or maybe he was just keeping a leash on Maric’s royal bastard,” he growled bitterly. “When their son Connor was born, she must have given Eamon an ultimatum. He sent me packing off to the Templars. Without even asking me what I wanted, or talking to me about it at all. I was so furious with him for taking her side! I grabbed the nearest thing I could, it was a necklace I had, with Andraste’s symbol on it, and I hurled it at the wall. It shattered into a million pieces.” Alistair hung his head. “It was my mother’s necklace. It was the only thing I had left of her. I was so stupid.”

Leliana touched his arm with her free hand. “It’s not your fault, Alistair.”

Bannon chewed on his lower lip. He looked down at the boots he wore, his mother’s. He hadn’t really given them much thought. They were practical and serviceable, not really much in the way of a sentimental keepsake. Adaia had lived in poverty, her family had never really held on to anything. “It isn’t things that are important,” he said. “It’s your memory, your love you need to keep.” He stopped as the others looked at him. A fat drop of water splashed his head. “Can we speed this up? I’d like to get out of here sometime this morning.”

 

 

The end of the tunnel contained, predictably, yet more ladders. The companions climbed until they came to a slab of stone. Bannon was at the top; they passed the signet ring up to him to unlock it.

“Don’t drop it,” Alistair quipped.

“If we do, you’re going after it,” Morrigan growled.

“But I’m not the one at the bottom,” he said down to her. “I can’t climb past you on this narrow ladder.”

“No one said anything about you using a ladder.”

The secret door slid open and Bannon scrambled up into an empty storeroom. He cast about quickly, but there were no guards. He helped Leliana up, and the two of them went to peer through the door as the others climbed out.

The door led directly out onto a dungeon corridor. The place stank of rotting corpses. Wrinkling his nose, Bannon moved down the hall. The cells were empty; the smell was coming from a pair of dead bodies at the guard station. He started past them when a voice nearly made him jump out of his skin.

“Is someone there?”

It came from the first cell. The companions gathered around as a gaunt figure lurched towards the bars. It was a skinny young human male, so pale he almost looked like a ghost. His hair was dark and lank, a few days growth of beard dusted his face. As he came into the torchlight, they could see he’d been tortured. Angry burn marks striped his chest, his arms. He wore but a soiled breechclout.

“Who are you?” Alistair asked. “Who did this to you?”

“My name is Jowan. I’m- I’m a mage.”

Bannon asked, “What are you in for?”

“I… that’s complicated.” Jowan swallowed dryly. His pale blue eyes darted. “Please, have you anything to eat? No one has been down here for days.”

“Sorry,” Alistair said compassionately.

Sten said, “Another unchained saarebas. It is a wonder your country still stands.”

This provoked an argument from the witch. “All right, shut up!” Bannon snapped. To the prisoner he said, “Uncomplicate this story of yours real quick; we have things to do.”

“Lady Isolde threw me in here when bad things started happening in the castle. She blamed me for the demon; said I summoned it, but that’s not true.” He licked his cracked lips. “They- they tortured me to make me stop it, but I can’t! I didn’t have anything to do with that, I swear!”

“Do you have any idea who did?” Alistair asked.

“Yes. It’s Connor. Lady Isolde hired me to tutor her son in secret–”

“Connor’s a mage?” Alistar gaped.

“Yes,” said Jowan. “Please, let me out of here. I want to help pay for my mistakes.”

“Of course we’ll help you,” Leliana said, touching his hand where it clutched at the bars. Alistair turned to find the keys.

“Hold it,” Bannon said. “What mistakes? I thought you said you had nothing to do with this demon, or the things going on in this castle.”

The prisoner blanched. “I didn’t!” he insisted. “It’s… I… I poisoned the arl.”

“You’re the one who tried to kill Eamon?” Alistair growled. He stepped threateningly towards the bars.

“No!” Jowan shrank back. “I- I didn’t want to poison him, but I had no choice! They- they forced me to do it.”

“Who did?”

“Some royal guards.” Jowan’s face wrinkled in sorrow. “I’m an apostate. They captured me in Denerim. The Templars were coming for me. Some high-ranking official told me he’d get me away from them if I poisoned the arl of Redcliffe.” He sobbed dryly. “I didn’t want to! I had no choice. I- I didn’t use enough, and he only took ill.”

Alistair said, “Why didn’t you just go back to the Circle with the Templars?”

“They weren’t going to take me back,” Jowan insisted desperately. “They were going to execute me!”

“But they don’t just execute apostates.” Alistair frowned. “Unless….” His eyes widened. “You’re a Blood Mage!”

“No!” Jowan went pale. “No! I- I only dabbled in the forbidden arts, so I could escape the Tower. There was no other way!”

“Maleficarum!” Alistair spit. “They use blood to power their magic, usually the blood of innocents. They can control people’s minds, summon demons–” The incensed Templar overrode the mage’s protests. “He must be the one who summoned the demon into the castle. We ought to execute him.”

“No! No, please, I beg you! I can help, I swear!”

Bannon weighed the options. “So… he’s a liar, a fugitive, a poisoner, a demon-summoner, and a Blood Mage?” Only an idiot would trust this man. Bannon shook his head. “Kill him or leave him there; we don’t have time for this.”

“No!” Jowan scuttled back in his cell, out of sword reach. “Please, I’m not a bad person! I only did it so I could live my life, and be with the woman I loved!”

“And now it’s a sob-story.” Bannon rolled his eyes and turned away.

It was useless trying to kill the maleficarium; he wouldn’t last much longer in his cell, anyway. Alistair and the others followed the elf.

Morrigan paused and looked back at the broken mage. “You poor bastard,” she said. “Just look what they turned you into.”

Jowan collapsed in a sobbing heap.

 

 

Bannon and Alistair were halfway to the door leading upstairs when the Templar tripped and fell with a loud clanging of armor. Annoyed, the elf turned to help him up. “Dammit, Alistair; can’t you– oh shit!

Alistair hadn’t tripped, he’d been pulled down by one of the guard corpses. As bloated and flyblown as it was, it had grabbed his ankle and was even now struggling to stand upright. The second jailer was halfway up and leering at Bannon with one swollen eye. The other eyeball stayed rolled up in his head.

The elf pulled out his sword and brought it down on the thing’s head with a jarring crunch. It had no effect, and the elf cursed again. He slashed across the thing’s face and instantly regretted it. Congealed blood, like black pudding, splattered thickly out of the cut. “Ugh!”

“Hold still,” Morrigan commanded. A moment later, ice sheathed the corpses. Sten stepped in and smashed each one to bits with his maul. Chips of frozen meat flew everywhere.

“Thanks,” said Bannon, finding something to wipe his sword on.

“I guess phantoms aren’t the only dead things we need to worry about,” Alistair said glumly.

 

 

Blessedly, when they got upstairs to the main floor of the castle, they left behind the dampness and corpse-stink. The halls were deserted, eerily quiet, but well-lit and… almost cheerful.

“I think we’re near the kitchens,” Alistair said. “I wonder if they’ve got any breakfast on.”

“You can’t possibly want to eat at a time like this,” Morrigan complained.

“Grey Wardens require a lot of food,” Alistair recited.

“A logical excuse for your gluttony.”

Bannon’s nose twitched. “Smells like sausage.” He followed the eager Templar down the hall. “I could murder a sausage right now!” His mouth watered.

Morrigan grumbled. “They ought to be called the ‘Gravy Wardens’.” She shared a commiserative sigh with Leliana.

Alistair found the kitchen door where the delicious smells were emanating. He flung it open and stopped dead. Bannon smacked right into him, nearly spraining his nose on the Templar’s shield. Alistair kept backing up, pushing the elf back and almost off his feet. Bannon danced around to the side. “Wh–?” He looked at Alistair; the man’s face was white and tinging green. Then he looked into the kitchen. He felt the blood drain from his own face. Quickly, Bannon grabbed the door and shut it.

“I don’t think I’ll ever eat sausage again,” Alistair said weakly.

Bannon swallowed thickly. “Come on, let’s keep going.” He glanced back at the other three companions. Thankfully, they didn’t ask.

 

 

They turned the corner and froze. A big tan mabari lay across the middle of the corridor, gnawing on a bone. It was the biggest damned dog Bannon had ever seen. Its neck and shoulders could fit a bull. He did not want to fight this thing, but it was blocking their way.

“Charger?” Alistair said quizzically.

The mabari’s head whipped around. Its eyes glinted red as it growled low.

“Easy boy,” said Alistair. “It’s me. It’s Alistair.”

“Alistair,” Bannon hissed; “I don’t think–”

But the human wasn’t listening. He moved forward, his empty hands held out placatingly. “Here, Charger. There’s a good boy. Remember me?” Oh, brilliant! The kennel boy has come home.

As it stood, the mabari dropped what it had been chewing on. The long bone still had five digits dangling from the gristle at one end. As the dog turned, a small ribcage behind it was revealed. Very small. Alistair paled.

Thick saliva oozed from the mabari’s jaws as it lowered its head and growled again. Lips peeled back from thick, stained fangs. More mabari hounds entered the corridor from a side door behind it. They looked gaunt, unkempt. Their eyes glittered with feral red light.

“Oh Maker,” Alistair breathed; “what have they done to you?”

With a bestial roar, the lead mabari charged. The pack fell in behind him.

Alistair fled.

Dammit! Bannon would have followed, but he was rooted to the spot. If he tried to run, he’d trip and fall, and they’d be on him, snapping and tearing. Well, hell; they were going to do that anyway if he didn’t move! Bannon threw himself to the side.

Sten stepped up. The head of his maul impacted with an airborne mabari resulting in a deep crunch and a high-pitched yelp. The pack flooded around the giant and two mabari fastened their teeth onto his leg, jaws finding purchase behind the leather greaves. The qunari cried out as they tried to hamstring him.

His cry was nearly drowned out by the deep baying of the dogs. “Keep them back,” Bannon yelled, but he could barely hear himself. He slashed at the milling dogs before him, not hoping to hit, but just to keep them off. A tawny brindle cut through his guard. It reared up to seize his arm, but never got the chance. The maul smashed down, crushing the dog’s skull and compressing its spine.

Bannon whirled around behind Sten and sank a blade into the flank of one of the dogs tearing at the qunari’s leg. He stabbed for the other, but it let go to dodge away.

Leliana fell back. She’d fired her crossbow once, not sure if she hit anything. She had to drop the weapon to pull out her short sword.

Beside her, Morrigan cursed the confining hallway. She backed away from the dogs as well, raising her arms as she gathered her power. In moments, she let it burst forth, expanding her shape into that of a great bear. She let out an ear-splitting roar, throwing the mabari pack’s challenge back in their faces. She lunged, swiping with great sickle claws. Jaws snapped, bones crunched, blood flew. Growls, roars, and yelps filled the air.

In short order, silence descended, broken only by the heavy bellows of the bear’s lungs. She lay on one side, exhausted but unharmed. Her thick fur had protected her from the mabari jaws.

Leliana hurried to see to Sten’s leg. Bannon wiped blood and drool off himself and his weapons, then set off in search of Alistair.

The Templar hadn’t gotten far — there wasn’t anywhere to go except into the kitchens or back down into the dungeon. He huddled in the corner by the door, his arms over his head.

“Alistair. Alistair, hey! It’s over.” Frowning, Bannon walked closer to him.

“He was just a puppy,” he whimpered. “When I left… just a pup….”

“It’s just a dog.”

“He was my friend!” Alistair lowered his arms to put his face in his hands. “They were my only friends…. The dogs; Charger, Sabaton, Merri and Tori, Lion, Galoot….” Anger tinged his voice. “None of the other children liked me. Not the grubby little bastard. The stupid, clumsy idiot. The useless waste. Good for nothing but taunting and laughing at.”

Embarassed, Bannon looked away, fidgeted. “Come on, man.” He wished Leliana had been able to go after the Templar instead of him. “You’re a Grey Warden, now. They respect that. What you did at the battle last night–.” Alistair peerd up at him. “They all saw you tear into that horde.” Bannon bit his lip. “You know I’m your friend,” he said. “And I need your help. Without you, I… I’m all alone.” He took a breath as that realization set in. “Come on, you have to be strong. We’re going to get this bastard demon.”

Alistair clenched his jaw. “All right.” He stood.

Bannon had to lead him through the carnage. Alistair’s face was wet by the time they got to the end of the hall, but he made no sound, said not a word. He pointed out the way to the castle’s main hall.

Leliana retrieved her crossbow and reloaded it. Morrigan returned to human form. She leaned heavily on her staff. Sten limped in silence behind them.

 

 

 


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