Darrian stopped fidgeting for a few seconds, but then went right back to shifting on his feet. Shianni glared at him. “Seriously, cousin, it’s like you haven’t been married before or something.”
“That one didn’t count,” he muttered, but tried to force himself to still.
“Why not?” she asked while the human tailor put the finishing touches on fitting the velvet doublet, the cost of which could probably have fed half the elves in the Alienage for a month. Darrian felt guilty about that, but Alistair had insisted, agreeing in compromise to spend an equivalent amount in public aid to assuage Darrian.
“For one, it was never completed. Second…” he trailed off, feeling the blood drain out of his face.
Shianni wasn’t always the most tactful person, and Darrian hated her a little at the moment for pressing him. “I didn’t love Nesiara.”
“Ah,” she said with a mocking laugh. “Right.”
“And how’s my favorite Hero today?” Alistair’s merry voice interrupted as he breezed in.
“Is there another Archdemon to fight? It might be easier. Wait, why are you here? You’re supposed to be with Zevran.”
“Zevran told me to get lost, something about an Antivan tradition.”
Darrian groaned, nervousness escalating to something nearing panic. “Go back to him, make sure…”
“What?” Alistair said with a wry grin. “That he doesn’t run off? Darrian,” he put his hands on Darrian’s shoulders, leaning over to bring himself to eye level and ruining the line of his resplendent regalwear. “He’s had ample opportunity to run away before now, have a little faith in him. You are marrying him, after all.”
“I know… Please?”
Alistair grinned wider.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
Darrian grimaced. “Is it too late to apologize?”
“For marrying me off to Queen Anora, or something else?”
Clapping his hands before withdrawing them, Alistair beamed. “I’ll let you know at the end of the day,” he said before departing.
“He hates me,” Darrian groaned.
“He does not,” Cyrion’s stately voice chastised his son. His eyes twinkled. “Are you ready?”
Inhaling a deep breath, Darrian released it. “Yes, Father.”
They left his childhood home to walk across the scarred ground, the crowds parting to let them pass. Faces blurred together, none of them recognizable. Focused on the platform set up before the vhenadahl, Darrian scanned it.
It was empty.
The door to Valendrian’s house opened, and Darrian began breathing again. Alistair exited first, with Zevran following. Taking in Zevran’s appearance, his doublet equally fine in complimentary colors, his hair re-braided in ways more intricate than usual, Zevran met his eyes, and Darrian stumbled on the first step, saved from landing on his face only by Cyrion’s quick reflexes steadying him.
“Graceful as always,” Zevran murmured as he reached Darrian’s side before Valendrian.
“You make me stupid, what can I say?”
His chuckle rasping, Darrian recognized Zevran was as nervous as he felt.
Valendrian smiled benevolently at them both, at Alistair on Zevran’s right and Cyrion on Darrian’s left, then out to those gathered to witness the handfasting of their very own Hero of Ferelden and the dashing Antivan who had tried to kill him then won his heart—their romance was the stuff of legend already—when everything seemed to happen at once. A familiar but out of place twang and whistle, Darrian grabbed Zevran’s doublet and dropped his weight, an arrow slammed into Zevran’s back. The look of shock as he toppled forward, following Darrian down to the ground, dominated Darrian’s vision.
Pandemonium erupted; a woman screamed. Alistair barked some order, taking charge, but all Darrian’s attention was on easing Zevran down, shielding him with his body. Light footsteps raced up the stairs, and Wynne gently nudged Darrian aside, her hands already glowing blue with healing magic. “Go,” she said with quiet authority. “Help Alistair. I’ll take care of him.”
There was nothing to help with. By the time Darrian had sprinted to fetch his bow and quiver from his house and caught up with Alistair, a picture was taking form. The gates had been closed, but the Alienage was hardly sealed tight. “Given the angle,” Alistair said with a scowl. “The shooter was probably on a roof. There are any number of warehouses along the walls the assassin may have jumped to.”
“Crows,” Darrian spat, rage burning through him. “I thought taking out Taliesin would’ve bought us more time.”
“I guess not,” Alistair said, watching Darrian. “I’m going to go coordinate the search for the assassin. You should go back to Zevran.”
“There’s nothing you can do,” Alistair enunciated carefully. His voice softened. “Go see how he is.”
Anger drained from Darrian suddenly, replaced by a tide of anxious concern. He capitulated with a nod, breaking into a jog, then a run, as he headed back to the vhenadahl and Valendrian’s house, slowing only when he reached the doorway, breathing hard.
Cyrion stopped him from rushing in with a hand lifted to Darrian’s chest, giving Darrian’s eyes a chance to adjust to the darker interior. He spied Zevran laying on the only bed, the elder hovering at the foot while Wynne sat beside it. She turned her head as Darrian entered and smiled wanly.
Relief turned Darrian’s knees weak. He hurried to the bedside, Wynne ceding the stool to him, as Zevran struggled up to a seat. “Did you get them?”
“Alistair is coordinating the guard to search for whoever it was. But if it was a Crow…”
“They’re gone,” Zevran said with flat certainty.
“It’s my fault.”
Zevran snorted, wincing from the sound, then responded. “No, it is not. I should have recognized the possibility. It is, after all, what I would have done.”
“If you hadn’t put him off-balance,” Wynne interjected gently, “I’m not sure I could have saved him even with all my skills.”
Taking up Zevran’s hand between his, Darrian laced their fingers together. “Some special day this was.”
“It still can be.”
Darrian blinked. “What?”
“Elder,” Zevran said, looking to Valendrian. “We have you, and two witnesses. Can you not finish the ceremony?”
“Now?” Darrian said, shock making him dim-witted.
“I can…” Valendrian said slowly.
Zevran turned back to Darrian. “If you will still have a poor assassin like myself. Letting myself be shot at at my own handfasting.” He reached over with his free hand and slid his fingers under Darrian’s chin, pushing it upwards. “You’re gaping like a mudfish. It’s very provi—ah, unsightly.”
“I love you,” Darrian blurted out.
Chuckling, Zevran patted Darrian’s cheek. “Yes, and you can show me how much later tonight.” He smirked. “Elder? If you please?”