The cells beneath the Chantry stank of stale human sweat and urine, the walls damp with condensation and the braziers doing little to stave off the perpetual chill. It all felt unpleasantly familiar to Aleska. It was strange to think that less than two weeks ago she’d been exactly where this man was, with the prospects facing her equally uncertain.
Watchful guards stood around as he knelt awkwardly in the middle of the floor, heavy iron manacles digging into his wrists. The restraints looked painfully tight; according to the captain, he’d managed to pick the locks on the previous pair and had been busy working on the lock of the cell door before they noticed. A piece of bravado more than anything else, even if he’d been able to slip out of the Chantry undetected there was no way he could have got far from Haven.
They’d stripped him of his clothes and gear, leaving him in undershirt and breeches. The bruises on his face and arms and the smears of fresh blood showed they hadn’t been too gentle in handling him. He’d certainly fared worse than she had, but perhaps Cassandra’s intimidating presence had more to do with that than any sense of chivalry.
The prisoner was younger than Aleska anticipated, possibly only a couple of years older than her and, despite the bruises, undeniably handsome; with light, reddish-brown, hair and alert green eyes now fixed intently on her. The black line of a tattoo emphasised the straightness of his nose and, beneath the stubble, she could see thicker lines defining the curves of a strong chin.
That was interesting. She knew that some humans marked their faces and bodies to indicate clan or religious affiliations – like the flaming sword some of the Templars wore on their arms – but she’d seen ones exactly like these once before; on Rylen, Cullen’s subordinate. She would need to speak to him afterwards, see if he had any insight into what they meant and the significance they carried.
The man laughed slightly as she stepped into the light, looking up at her with a half-smile and a glint in his eyes
“What’s so funny?” she asked, placing a small leather satchel on the table where it would be in his line of sight. It only held a few blades, enough to make him very uncomfortable if he didn’t come out with the answers they needed.
“Just thinking; if I’m going to be hideously tortured and put to a slow, painful, death – at least it’ll be by a beautiful woman…”
There was a ‘thunk’ and a quiet vibrating noise. The man looked down at the knife embedded in the floor between his thighs, the edge of the blade barely a fingers-breadth from his crotch
“Ah….” He glanced back up at her with a tilt of his head “Perhaps we should start this conversation over again?”
“Perhaps we should…” she agreed, coldly, leaning back against the table and folding her arms “Or the next one hits two inches further up; let’s begin with your name”
His voice was refined, educated, with a graceful Free Marcher lilt. He was nobility, she knew that for certain. His clothes and equipment were all the highest quality; the leather supple and finely stitched, the curving lines of a Rune worked into the limbs of his bow - doubtless made especially for him. Some spoiled son of a Marcher Signor; used to getting his own way with charm, good-looks and a purseful of gold. There had been plenty like him at the Conclave; what Cassandra and the others wanted to know was why this one hadn’t been present on the fateful night. He’d been spotted at the Singing Maiden, throwing his money about like he owned the place, and vanished without a trace in the wake of the explosion – until a patrol spotted him in the Hinterlands, pulling one of his arrows out of a dead Templar. That struck her as unusual. If he did have anything to do with what happened, why was he sticking around taking potshots at rogue Templars when he could have been halfway to Jader? Something about this man didn’t quite add up. Aleska knew from experience how quick Cassandra could be in jumping to conclusions and that was why she’d wanted to interrogate him first – before one of Leliana’s experts peeled the skin off him strip by strip
“I’m Anselm…” he said, still smiling up at her hopefully “Will you tell me your name now? I imagine it’s quite lovely…”
“Anselm what…?” she could feel her irritation rising “You’re no commoner, that’s for sure, you have a family name – probably even a title…”
Anselm sighed heavily. The beautiful Elf with ice in her eyes was determined to remain unimpressed by his attempts to be pleasant, despite his uncomfortable situation. Whatever mess he’d got himself tangled up in wasn’t going to go away with a smile and a joke; honestly, he never really believed it would, but the attempt made him feel a bit better.
“Look, my family thinks little enough of me as it is. They wouldn’t thank me for tarnishing our good name further by getting hanged for… for whatever it is you seem to think I’ve done…” His shoulders sagged a little and some of the bravado faded from his voice “If you’d seen what those bastards are doing down in the valleys… you would’ve done the same…”
“What…?” Aleska straightened herself up a little “You think this is about those Templars you killed?”
He looked up at her with a puzzled frown.
“You mean it isn’t?"
“No, it isn’t…” she responded sharply, her temper fraying “You were at the Maiden, boasting about your ‘important role at the Conclave’ then you disappeared. I don’t need to spell out how that might look to certain people. Perhaps you should stop trying to get into my smallclothes and explain that while you still have some of your good-looks left…”
Anselm gawped at her in astonishment for a moment then laughed again
“At least you think I’m good-looking…” he flinched back as her hand hovered over a knife “Alright! Alright! I wanted a drink, a game of cards and a pretty girl on my… never mind… Haven seemed a better option than a Temple full of Mages, Priests and Templars. Once I stopped shitting myself after the place blew up and the sky tore open I decided to take the sensible option and clear out. I don’t know if you noticed, but there were demons all over the place and lots of people looking to take it out on someone. I didn’t fancy being their target…”
“I did notice it, now you mention it…” Aleska folded her arms again, at least they were getting somewhere. There was still the possibility this man was a clever liar, but his story was perfectly consistent with the impression she was forming “And yet you stayed around the Hinterlands, hunting Templars, why?”
Anselm grunted derisively
“I’m sensible, not a coward; and armed men attacking terrified farmers and their children because they might have given a loaf of bread to a Mage, well…”
Aleska had to admit this was unexpected. Perhaps he wasn’t entirely the spoiled, lecherous, brat he seemed to be…
“You support the Mages?”
Anselm looked at her cautiously for a moment then gave a sharp laugh
“I don’t support defenceless people being cut down in their own homes, or anywhere else, if that’s what you mean” he dropped his gaze to the floor and when he spoke again it was slower and lacking flippancy “I have family on both sides of this mess, some of them died up there. I couldn’t tell you who’s right or wrong but, whether you believe me or not, I don’t like seeing people get hurt…”
A quiet cough in the doorway caught her attention. The Dwarf, Varric, stood there beckoning her urgently. However he’d managed to get down here without being noticed, Aleska was sure he wouldn’t be interrupting unless it was important and the man, Anslem, seemed lost in thought for now. She turned to one of the guards
“Keep an eye on him, but loosen those manacles…” she nodded at the blood trickling down the prisoner’s hands “they’re cutting into his wrists…”
“I know who he is…” Varric said quietly as she closed the door “and you should have seen the look on the Seeker’s face when I told her…”
“Spit it out, Varric…” Aleska replied, running her hands over her face “It’s been a long day and he’s got a talent for getting on my nerves.”
“He’s Lord Anselmo Guillaime Montecaballo Trevelyan di Tresaquae…” Varric grinned, the polysyllabic Free-Marcher names and titles rolling off his tongue “Better known as Anslem to his friends and creditors, yours truly included among the latter. He’s the scandalous nephew of the Sovereign Count Boniface of Ostwick. The Trevelyans have had Ostwick in their grip since the Second Blight, and they’ve got fingers in every pie worth tasting from Rivain to Nevarra. There’s even a few branches of the family tree in Orlais…”
Aleska sighed as Varric leaned back against the wall, folding his arms with a satisfied smirk. The Lavellan Clan might avoid wandering too close to the great cities of the Free Marches – preferring to roam in the perpetually disputed borderlands between their territories and venturing into the towns and villages only to trade – but that didn’t mean they chose to remain ignorant of human affairs. The Count of Ostwick was known to be less openly hostile to the Dalish presence in the Marches than some other rulers, but the Marcher lords were proud and wilful – even by human standards – and quick to take offence at any slight, real or perceived
“Great! This is going to cause problems, I imagine…”
Varric shrugged, the smirk still creasing his face
“Look, if you ask me – which maybe you all should have at the start – that kid had nothing to do with what happened up at the Temple. He’s a cheerful loudmouth who’s too damn good at cards and keeps his brains in his breeches. The most he’s guilty of is having one too many aces in that last game of Diamondback…”
Aleska let out a long, slow breath. Varric’s estimation matched the opinion she’d formed, the only problem was how to deal with him now. The new-born Inquisition, and Clan Lavellan, faced enough enemies without adding another one needlessly to the list
“So, what do suggest we do?”
Varric chuckled, brushing some imaginary dust from the shoulders of his coat.
“Letting him go with all his vital parts attached would be a good start. The Lady Ambassador is having conniptions, of course, although he’s not the sort to go crying to his uncle that the nasty Inquisition bruised his noble arse so you don’t have to worry about that. But he’s handy with that bow, and with a blade; it might be useful to have him around, at least until he pays me those fifty royals he still owes.”
The dwarf strolled off whistling cheerfully as Aleska squared her shoulders and walked back into the cells
“Take the manacles off him…” she ordered
Anselm gave her a vaguely hopeful look as one of the guards moved to comply with her instruction
“You’re letting me go… or is this where it get’s really nasty? If it’s the latter, I do have a couple of sensitive spots – tickle them enough and I’ll probably tell you everything…”
“I already know everything… Lord Trevelyan…” Aleska snapped back, enjoying the sight of him flinching in surprise “You’re a spoiled, pampered, boy who enjoys drinking, whoring and gambling - and thinks a few clever words will get you your own way in everything, but you do seem to have a shred of conscience and some skill at fighting. You can either get out of here and run back home, or you can stay and be of use for once in your life; your choice…”
“Well, when you put it like that…” Anselm tried to stand but his leg had gone to sleep, and he fell to one knee with a genuine cry of pain. Aleska grabbed his arm and helped him to a chair
“Thank you” he gasped, stretching out his leg and massaging the calf to restore circulation “and since you have such a high estimation of me I feel obliged to accept your most generous offer. I am at your disposal… my Lady”
“Good. Get yourself a bath and somewhere to sleep. The guards will return your gear. We ride down to the Hinterlands at dawn, let’s see if you’re as good with your bow as you are with your tongue…”
She cursed her words the moment they left her mouth and she saw the mischief in his eyes
“Oh, I’m very good… with both…”