It was remarkably easy for Zevran to sneak into Arl Howe’s keep in Denerim. The household staff wore plain tunics and trousers, the sort that could easily be purchased from one of the shabbier market stalls. He could have stolen them, of course, but he had a bit of coin—there was no sense in risking unwanted attention over a few coppers.
Once inside the keep, Zevran prepared himself to answer any queries about who he was or what he was doing there, but the humans who bustled past him barely seemed to notice his presence. An elf in drab clothing could go almost anywhere in a Ferelden keep, it seemed. Useful to know. It was not long before Zevran found himself in the Arl’s empty study, without ever having to answer a question about his presence.
While he waited for the Arl to return, he wondered what sort of man would order the assassination of Grey Wardens. Even in Antiva few had the desire to cross the Wardens, partly due to their fearsome reputation, partly out of instinctive respect for their purpose. And, if the rumors Zevran had heard in the Pearl earlier that day were any indication, the Darkspawn had already dealt the armies of Ferelden a crushing defeat. This was an odd time indeed to be killing those who were supposed to stand against a Blight.
The door opened.
Arl Rendon Howe was not quite what Zevran had expected. Howe was a middle-aged man with a long jaw and prominent nose. His leather armor was expensive, but it bore scratches and scuffs from battle—it was clearly not just for show.This was no fat, lazy nobleman too frightened to confront his enemies directly. Zevran recognized the calculating, detached look in the Arl’s eyes. He had seen it in the Crows who particularly enjoyed torturing their targets.
The Arl arched an eyebrow when he spotted Zevran, but registered no more surprise than that. “Ah. You came earlier than I expected.”
“The Crows send their regards, and their thanks for the business. I am Zevran, your lordship.” The elf made a bow.
“I did not ask your name,” the arl said dismissively, crossing to his desk. “I must tell my staff to be more suspicious of elven strangers, especially considering what happened to the last Arl’s family."
Zevran wanted to ask the story behind that comment, but he suspected Howe would not be forthcoming.
“Although for your price, I suppose I should be glad you come with at least a few useful skills,” the Arl continued as he sorted through a pile of papers.
The assassin chuckled to himself. He was not about to tell the Arl how little of the price he himself would keep, if he succeeded. “So. Tell me about my targets.”
“There are two of them.” The Arl pulled two sheets of parchment from the pile on his desk. “I doubt they shall be much trouble. Certainly not enough to demand such an extravagant fee.”
“But they are both Grey Wardens, no?” Zevran said matter-of-factly. He held out his hand for the papers. “You will need the best to deal with two heroes of legend. Especially ones who survived Ostagar when their brethren all died.”
The Arl barked out a cold little laugh. “I fear you will find the reality disappointing.” He tossed the parchments in front of Zevran. “It was a lucky accident that spared these two, a banal assignment away from the front lines. They fled the field when they saw the Darkspawn overwhelm that idiot Cailan.” He tapped a callused finger on one of the sheets. “This one. This one will be leading them.”
Zevran looked down at the sketch on the bounty announcement. A handsome human stared back at him, his ink eyes narrow and his mouth thin and grim.
“Alistair is his name,” the Arl informed him. “He is a former Templar and the senior Warden of the two—though that’s not saying much.”
The assassin made note of the man’s features, then pushed the parchment aside to reveal its companion. His eyes widened in astonishment when he beheld a sketch of an elven woman. An angry scar ran down the right side of her face; the artist had given her wild hair and an expression that bordered on a snarl. She looked almost witchlike.
“And here I thought all of Ferelden’s elves were slaving away over hot kettles or scrubbing floors,” he said, not bothering to conceal his surprise. “Her name?”
“Does it matter?” the Arl said acidly. “No one caught it. She was a new recruit at Ostagar, barely a Warden at all. They were last seen in Redcliffe. They have three companions that we know of: a Qunari, likely a mercenary, a red-haired woman who wields a bow, and a dark-haired woman who may be an apostate mage. Do not bother going out of your way to slay them. The Wardens are the priority.”
Zevran felt his stomach sink. Once, he would have been pleased with the news of such an easy assignment. Now he felt an odd sort of despair. He had taken this contract precisely because fighting Grey Wardens sounded so impossible—because it sounded like the kind of assignment that was likely to get him killed.
The reality, however, was that his contract was eminently fulfillable. He could make a suicidal run at them alone, he supposed, but even now Zevran was too proud to get himself killed through incompetence. He supposed all he could do was assemble some reasonable mercenaries and hope one of the Wardens might release him with a single, lucky blow. It would probably be this Alistair.
His eyes returned to the sketch of the nameless elven woman. The harsh expression made her features appear plain, not at all like his lovely Rinna’s. Nonetheless, he wondered if this woman too would beg for her life before she died.