Alistair could count the number of girls at the monastery on one hand. All of them save one—an instructor over twice his age—carried a torch for him. They giggled at his jokes, stole bits of cheese from the larder, and one even kissed him on the cheek. Much as he enjoyed the attention—and what eleven year-old boy wouldn’t—he never felt anything for any of them. He never wanted to pick flowers for them in the practice yard or pull their hair during lessons. He didn’t even think they were that pretty. If the stories in the library were to be believed, he was different. Just how different, he couldn’t be certain, but he never held much stock in books.
He spent more time playing pranks than studying the Chant. Often it earned him cleaning duty in the kitchen, but the thrill and the attention was worth the risk. His favorite person to antagonize was an older boy named Cullen. He had nearly completed his training in only five years and word was that he would be sent to Denerim for his official knighthood in only a few months. He was the most studious recruit Alistair had ever seen, and that made him a target. Sometimes being a target meant itching powder in his bunk, others a chamber pot full of warm water—not that Cullen had to know the real contents. Despite the number of tricks he played, Alistair was never malicious, and Cullen never reported him.
Contrary to popular belief, he did not always quite live up to his reputation as a mischievous young boy. When the older recruits were out in the practice yard, he would sneak out of his lessons to watch them. They were the only recruits who were allowed real weapons—swords made of iron or steel, not the overgrown sticks he had been subjected to. On most days, he would watch the shield bearers, but at times his gaze drifted away. Not to the sky or to the turnip garden ready to harvest, but to Cullen. He marveled at the prowess behind each swing of his zweihänder—slow, but powerful. In a real battle, he could slice a man in half with one swing. As much as Alistair hated the idea of becoming a Templar, the life of a warrior intrigued him.
Or, perhaps, it was the boy who held his fascination.
He could still remember the day when Cullen and the others departed: 30 Drakonis 9:23 Dragon. The instructors had allowed everyone in the monastery to see them off, lined up in a row by the path down the rocky hillside. The sky was dark and the grey clouds had threatened to burst since the night before, but the would-be knights shone. The sun shields on their tabards seemed to glow as though the Maker’s light emanated from them. For the first and only time, Alistair felt pride for the departing boys—or perhaps they were men then.
The marching had begun when boy broke from the line and ran up to the elder, slowing to a trot as he fell in beside him. “Ser Cullen!”
Cullen jolted and his eyes widened at his presence, though he managed to keep his calm. “Yes, Alistair?”
“May the Maker watch over you.” Before he could hear a proper response, he felt himself being yanked back by one of the remaining instructors. Through the droning of administered discipline, he swore he heard a chuckle—or maybe it was a huff. It was impossible to tell if it had come from him at all, but he would have to be satisfied.
That night, after all of the candles in the monastery were snuffed out, Alistair wept into his pillow. For what reason, he wasn’t entirely sure. He only knew that he was sad, and it was likely he would never see the knight who endured his tricks again. He balled his fist beneath the pillow, clutching the phantom of his mother’s amulet.