The opening sequence previously appeared (in a slightly different form) on the Cutting Room Floor. Ah, but I found somewhere work it in!
At the Crossroads Inn, the companions and Bodahn crowded into one of the larger booths. Bannon made sure they were listening, then laid out his thoughts on their mission. “All right. Loghain and his soldiers are going to be on the lookout for two Grey Wardens. We need to be sure we do not attra–” Suddenly he stopped, then shot a look at the assassin sitting next to him.
Zevran looked back a moment. Then, with a silent sigh, he put his hands on the table and folded them neatly.
“–attract any attention,” Bannon finished. He looked around the table. “To that end, I’m going to ask Morrigan, Wynne, and Sten to wait outside the city.”
Only Wynne looked disappointed, but she said nothing against the idea.
“Don’t start a war with each other while we’re gone,” Bannon admonished them. Perhaps it would be better to leave them in separate inns. Well, he couldn’t plan for every contingency. On to phase two. “Alistair, I’m not sure you should go. You might be recognized.”
Leliana said, “It is not unusual for a Chantry priestess to travel with a Templar.”
“He does not have Templar armor,” Zevran pointed out.
“But people may find it odd for a Chantry Sister to have no escort at all.”
Alistair said, “Leliana and I have the most Chantry training. One or both of us should talk to this Brother Genitivi. Make sure he’s not a total nutter making up stories of the Risen Andraste.” He looked between Bannon and Leliana. “I’ll keep my helmet on.”
“All right,” Bannon decided.
“Do you need to go in?” Alistair asked. “If we don’t want both Grey Wardens sticking their heads into the lion’s den.”
“I have to,” Bannon said. “I know my way around the city. At least the market area. And my family is there. I have to check on them. It won’t take long; the Alienage gate is right next to the market….” He had more reassurances, but Leliana cut him off with a hand on his arm.
“Bannon, of course you have to go see your family.”
Alistair nodded. “That’s right, I forgot. You should go.”
Bannon relaxed a notch. “All right, so me and Zevran will be servants working for Bodahn.”
“I think not,” Zevran said. “We shall be caravan guards.”
“It’s illegal for elves to carry weapons in the city,” Bannon pointed out. “Especially without house livery.”
“No one bothered me about my weapons when I was here.”
“Did you care if the guards stared at you?”
“It’s not like we’ll be unarmed,” Bannon said. “We can carry knives.”
“If we do end up confronting the guards, and having to fight our way free, we do not want to be without armor and long blades,” Zevran insisted.
“I hate to say it, but I agree with Zevran,” Alistair said.
Leliana said, “It is a time of unrest. I do not believe it will be remarked if people see a merchant with armed guards.”
Then Bodahn said, “I’ll ask around. There should be some merchants up from Denerim. I can ask about how much trouble my elven guards will have.”
Bannon nodded gratefully. “All right, that’s a good idea.” He took a breath, let it out. “I’ve never been through the north gate. Bodahn, have you come this way before?”
“Yes, ’tis an easy route straight through to the market.”
“Won’t we be passing right by the Royal Quarter?” Alistair asked with apprehension. “Like, right by the castle gate?”
“Loghain’s guards are bound to be thickest there,” Bannon agreed.
Leliana said, “We cannot circle around. A merchant would head straight to the market.”
“We’ll all keep our helmets on,” said Alistair.
“All right,” Bannon said. “Once at the market, Bodahn will… market.” The dwarf gave him a smile. “And do you think you can find me some decent armor?”
Bodahn nodded. “I know just the place!”
“Good. Cooper street is just off the market square. You two,” Bannon told Leliana and Alistair, “can find Brother Genitivi, while Zevran and I visit the Alienage.”
“We should not split up,” Leliana said.
“Yes,” Alistair agreed. “We’ll go with you, then find Brother Genitivi.”
Bannon glanced at Zevran. The assassin shrugged one shoulder. Bannon turned back to the others. “You actually want to go into an Alienage?”
“Why not?” Alistair asked.
“We’ll be with you,” Leliana said. “So they won’t mob us, yes?”
Alistair looked at her with worry. Then he looked at Bannon.
The elf bit back a sigh. “It’ll be fine,” he said.
There was safety in numbers, Bannon found. Bodahn tagged along with a small caravan of merchants from Amaranthine, and they passed through the gate without even a second glance from the guards. Once inside, the comforting mantle of anonymity wrapped around him. Soldiers and guards were everywhere, but they weren’t hunting for Grey Wardens, were they? After all, the Wardens would have to be crazy to just waltz into the stronghold of their greatest enemy. All they had to do was keep their heads down and not draw too much attention. The guards wouldn’t even bother the armed elves as long as there were humans with them.
They left the merchants in the Market Square. They’d meet before nightfall to leave again, or at worst, return to the Crossroads Inn if they got separated.
It was only a few more steps to the Alienage gate and home. Bannon picked up the pace, eager for news. Good or bad, at least he’d know.
The massive gate was closed, an unusual occurence in the middle of the day. Alistair, Leliana, Bannon, and Zevran approached the gate, and Alistair called for the gate guard. The portly man barely stepped out from the gatehouse. “The Alienage is closed, by order of the Arl,” he recited in a bored voice.
“But I live there,” Bannon protested.
“Nobody goes in or out,” said the guard, giving the elf a hard look. “Nobody.”
“Why not?” Alistair asked.
The guardsman turned to the human, and his voice warmed an actual notch towards civility. As for Bannon and Zevran, they might as well have been a pair of dogs that Alistair was taking for a walk. “There was a riot,” he explained. “Bunch of elves stormed the Arl’s keep. They murdered the Arl’s son. The old Arl, that is. That new fellow from up north called out a Purge on ’em.” He shook his head slowly. “Root out the troublemakers– but they had to pull out, on account of the Plague.”
“Plague?” Leliana asked. “What sort of plague?”
The guardsman shrugged offhandedly. “Some of the elves came back with the army. They had that darkspawn sickness. They started dying left and right.” He was almost grinning with the excitement of rehashing bad news. Truly, he must have one of the most boring jobs in the city.
Bannon could barely hear him over the rushing in his ears. His face went white as blood drained from it. “My family is in there,” he breathed. “I have to find out what’s happened to them.”
Alistair shot the elf a worried look. Leliana tried to charm the guard with her guileless smile. “Perhaps we can help, yes? I am a sister with the Chantry. I could bring healing prayers to th–”
“Not a chance,” the guard cut her off. “Some fancy foreign healers went in there a couple weeks ago. Ain’t heard a word since. I don’t care if you’re the Queen of Ferelden– nobody goes in or comes out. It’s worth more than my job– my life— to open these gates.” He frowned and turned to go back into the gatehouse. “Now shove off before I call a squad of city guards to remove you.”
Bannon was breathing, but he couldn’t get any air. His vision darkened around the edges.
Zevran turned to his friend. Bannon’s face was ashen, his lips almost blue. His eyes were dull with shock. Zevran gripped his arm. “Come on,” he said in a low voice. He tugged when Bannon didn’t respond, and practically dragged the Denerim elf after him. “Don’t let the shems see you weak,” Zevran hissed, squeezing Bannon’s arm hard. The pain must have roused him a little, or else shame did, for he managed to straighten a bit and get his feet moving. “Leliana,” Zevran said, “find the nearest tavern.”
Her face creased in worry, she nodded, and led them across the marketplace. It wasn’t long before she spied a sign graced with a foaming mug: The Gnawed Noble Tavern. Well, these places had the most unusual names, if not the most enticing.
The group bustled inside and Zevran shoved Bannon into the nearest booth. He sat across from his friend, and Leliana slid in next to the Denerim elf. Alistair had barely taken his seat when a waitress appeared. “Three whiskies,” Zevran ordered without preamble.
The waitress frowned and looked askance at Alstair. He nodded in confusion, but that seemed to mollify the woman. She turned to Leliana. “Nothing for me, thank you,” the bard said.
She turned to Bannon and rubbed his shoulder. “Just breathe,” she told him softly. His eyes were fixed on the table top and glazing over.
After a few moments, the waitress returned and set down shot glasses in front of the three men. Alistair gave her a silver to cover it, and she went off again.
“Drink,” Zevran prodded Bannon.
The elf’s hands were shaking so badly that half of the whisky sloshed over his fingers and onto the table before he could toss back the glass. He coughed after the drink had burned its way down his throat.
Alistair winced in sympathy and reached for his own glass, but Zevran plucked it out of his fingers and slid it across to Bannon. The Denerim elf managed to get it all down his throat this time, though it was a near thing.
“Again.” Zevran passed the third glass to him, and Bannon gulped it with a shudder.
He breathed in gasps now, nearly coughing from the hard liquor. A little colour returned to his face, though it was only two splotches of red high on his cheeks. Leliana rubbed his shoulder again.
Zevran took both his hands across the table. “Look at me,” he said. Bannon didn’t respond, so the assassin squeezed his hands hard– painfully hard. “Look at me,” he demanded.
Bannon glanced up.
“Stop imagining the worst possible things,” he told the other elf firmly. “You don’t know anything– they could be safe for all you know.” Leliana shot him a doubtful look, but the assassin ignored her. Bannon dropped his eyes and they began to unfocus again. Zevran squeezed his fingers with nearly bone-crushing pressure, forcing Bannon to look at him again. “You don’t know,” he said pragmatically. “And you can’t find out just now. So concentrate on what you are doing. Put it out of your mind.”
“Ease up,” Alistair told Zevran.
“No,” said Bannon. “I’m all right. I… I’m all right.” He swallowed thickly.
Zevran released his hands. “You two go on ahead to find this Brother Genitivi. I will sit with him until he is a bit more steady.”
“Good idea,” Alistair agreed. “The sooner we get out of Denerim, the sooner we can stop looking over our shoulders. Bannon,” he looked at the shaken elf; “Where is Cooper street?”
Bannon raised his head and looked around, like a man waking from a dream. His eyes focused now on where they were, starting to recognize things. “Yes.” He blinked away more mental cotton. “Yes, this is Cooper street. It should be down a little further.” He gestured vaguely towards the street. “Before the turn.”
Alistair nodded, then he and Leliana rose and exited the tavern.
Zevran picked a napkin up off the table and wiped his fingers where whiskey had gotten on them when he’d gripped Bannon’s hands. Then he tossed it to the thief. Bannon was still in a daze; he didn’t catch it with his usual skill. He picked it up and methodically rubbed his hands with it.
Zevran signaled the waitress. “Two ales,” he said, not looking up, when she approached.
“Where’s your master?” she demanded.
The elves looked up at that, even Bannon roused from his stupor. Zevran narrowed his eyes. “We do not have a master,” he said coldly.
“Then I suggest you leave,” she replied in clipped tones.
“What is the matter? The colour of our money not good enough for you?”
The waitress stepped back and turned towards the bar. “Humphrey!” she called. “See these troublemakers off.”
“Ordering a drink is causing trouble?” Zevran snarled.
A bull-necked man came in answer to the waitress’ summons. “Get out,” he rumbled like an earthquake. “Afore I call the guards.”
“Call them for what?” Zevran insisted, his accent deepening with ire. “We have done nothing–!”
“It’s all right,” Bannon cut him off. “We don’t want any trouble,” he reminded the assassin. The elves slid out of the booth and left, under the waitress’ and bouncer’s baleful glare.
The two crossed the street and stood on the boards, out of the mud. Zevran was fuming. “Let’s wait out in back until she leaves,” he said. “I’d like to stick a few knives in her.”
“Nah, it’s all right,” Bannon told him. “I stole her napkin.”
The Antivan snorted and chuckled dryly. It was stupid, of course, but at least Bannon was beginning to show signs of recovering his old self.
The Denerim elf cursed underbreath. “Couple of guards heading this way,” he hissed. He turned away from the market, and the two elves began walking down the street. They tried to look nonchalant, but each felt the scrutiny of the guardsmen boring into their backs. They might not be recognized as being with the Grey Wardens, but they could be stopped just for being elves out on the streets in a city where elves were under quarantine.
“Where is this Genitivi’s house?” the Antivan whispered out of the side of his mouth.
“I don’t know,” Bannon hissed back. “Look for a nameplate or– wait, there’s Leliana.”
They quickened their pace to meet the Chantry Sister. Bannon pressed the napkin into her hands and whispered, “Guards.”
She frowned quizzically a moment, then swiftly turned to Alistair, who was just coming out the door. “Ser Dupont,” she said distinctly. “I seem to have dropped my handkerchief. Please look for it inside.”
“Uh? Oh, right.” Alistair ducked back inside before the door had closed.
Leliana and the elves made to follow, but were stopped by the guard’s call. “You there!” They turned, Leliana looking up in mild curiosity, Bannon and Zevran looking meekly at the ground.
“Are these your elves?” The two guards wore standard Denerim armor, so they were not from the castle, nor Loghain’s men. Just the city watch. They scrutinized the elves.
“They work for me, yes,” the Chantry Sister replied.
“Where are they from?”
“They’re from Antiva, actually. Why do you ask?”
The second guard spoke gruffly to the elves. “You, boys; what’s your names?”
“Paco, signor,” Zevran said promptly.
“Davide, signor,” Bannon supplied, copying the Antivan’s honorific as well as the accent.
The guards seemed satisfied with that and left to continue on their patrol. The trio bustled into Brother Genitivi’s house to rescue Alistair.
“It’s not here,” a dark-haired man was saying. “You must leave.”
“I am sorry, Wylem,” Leliana said soothingly. “But I am sure I must have dropped it in here. Perhaps in the study?”
Zevran took up a post by the window, looking out between the curtains to trace the guards’ progress. Bannon just stood by the door, still looking at the space in front of his feet. He paid scant attention to what Alistair, Leliana, and their host were doing.
Riot. Purge. Plague.
He felt numb; he didn’t want to think about it, but he had to wonder: why had the elves rioted? The only answer he could think of was a protest against Soris’ execution. Had they rioted at the gallows? Had they been able to wrest Soris from his fate? And if so, had he only lived long enough to be slaughtered in the Purge? Or to be sickened by the plague?
How had the Taint come here? Many Denerim elves were at Ostagar. Duncan had said they were well behind the army, protected. But Bannon had seen them running errands among the soldiers, even to the hospice tents. If an elf somehow picked up the Taint there… he would hide it from the shems. Bannon recalled the quarantine camp on the road to Lothering, the elven woman who’d tried to escape her fate.
He was shaken out of his morbid contemplation by a punch on the arm. “Hey,” Zevran said, clearly not for the first time. “Our mistress has found her delicate kerchief. It is time to go.”
“Oh. Right.” He got the door for them and followed his companions out. It’s all my fault, he thought. I should never have left Soris to take the blame for Vaughn’s murder. Cousin, I’m so, so sorry.