Chapter 1: 9:10 Dragon, Betrayal - Loghain
He cannot possibly betray Rowan like this.
That was the thought that blazed in Loghain's mind as he took the stairs two at a time up to the floor with the royal rooms. The news of the babe's arrival in the wee hours of the night had brought him out of his bed when one of Maric's pages had come knocking at his door. Now, after a day of being fairly relaxed, he was outright furious.
From what he'd forced out of the page boy, who had been there when the babe had been brought to the King, the child was Maric's. Maric's and who's though? Had he gotten some by-blow on a random common woman? On a Bann's daughter?
Or, worse still, was it that elf Warden from that fool's escapade of his months ago?
Loghain gritted his teeth and stormed down the hall to Maric's door, slamming it open so hard it bounced off the wall. Instantly a babe's thready wail struck up and a woman with wild looking hair on the other side of the room bolted to her feet, eyes full of terror and her arms full of screaming child. Maric, standing in the middle of the room, waved her back into her seat then turned towards him.
"Whose child?" snarled Loghain.
The King just looked at him for a moment then held up a folded letter he had clasped in his right hand. "Fiona's. The Wardens apparently allowed her long enough to give birth and a week to find a wet nurse before sending him and her on a horse.
Him. A boy. Of course the bastard child of his - dare he still call him friend - King had to be a boy.
If the Orlesians heard about this and found out that his mother was not only one of their own, a Warden, elf, and a mage, they'd be seeing the chevaliers at the border so quickly every head in Ferelden would spin so fast they'd fall off.
Loghain sniffed then spat viciously, "You know you have to hide him. Get him out of sight." It would be political suicide to keep the boy as well as an affront to Rowan's memory.
Then again...Maric had never cared for Rowan the way he had.
Maric looked stunned at the statement. "You can't possibly think I'll send the boy and his nurse away again in the dead of night. She's exhausted and he could die on another such journey so soon."
All for the better, was all but on Loghain's tongue but he didn't say it. Instead he drew in a steadying breath and said, "To keep the boy means acknowledging him. It means lying successfully about his mother. It means possibly alienating the Guerrins and the whole of the bloody Bannorn, Maric!"
"You think I don't know that!" Maric finally shouted back at him, his blue eyes furious, and the babe started to wail again just as he'd settled down. The King flinched and looked apologetically towards the frantic woman as she hushed the child and whispered words in the heavy Anders dialect to him. Regaining control, he continued, "I know what the response will be, Loghain, but who could I trust to raise him? You?"
Loghain snorted and Maric smiled.
"Exactly. I dare say I can't trust any of the Banns to do it without raising him as a contender to Cailan."
"What of the Arls?" pressed Loghain. "What of the Couslands?"
The King shook his head and looked up towards a spot high on the wall that Loghain couldn't see from his spot by the door. He knew what was there though and he had avoided looking there since Rowan had died. Seeing her looking back at him from a painting and smiling falsely was too hard on his heart.
"Do you really think Eamon would be able to treat the boy fairly? Teagan I could trust, perhaps, but he's still young and would likely fall prey to too much advice from his brother." Maric looked at Loghain again as he added, "And the Couslands have a new baby boy to deal with according to the news coming out of Highever. I can't thrust another mouth on them."
Everything he said made sense but Loghain still did not want the boy under the roof Rowan had lived and died under. "What about Howe?"
Maric's eyes, flashing disbelief and anger, told him everything he needed to know about the response to that before the words were spoken. He had known what it would be but he had asked anyway.
"Give a child of mine over to Rendon Howe? I barely trust him with the children he has!"
Loghain pursed his lips then growled, "Then it seems you've already made your decision to keep the boy no matter what."
With a heavy nod, the King looked towards the painting again then at the Anders woman who had managed to finally quiet the babe once more. Then he looked down at the letter, grasping it in both hands as he breathed, "He's my son, Loghain."
"He's a bastard, Maric."
"Andraste's bloody Grace, man, it's not his fault!"
"No!" snapped Loghain, stalking forward to shove a finger in the other man's face. "It is yours and that damn Orlesian bitch's fault that he was born with that title. And if he lives here, I will remind him of that every day of his life, I can promise you that."
The hurt in Maric's eyes almost made him take back those words but Loghain remembered Rowan's hurt and his resolve steeled. Maric might have been his friend before he was King but Rowan was the woman he'd loved, the woman his rank hadn't allowed him to have. And he hated himself every day for convincing her that she had to be Maric's queen.
Then the pain faded in the King's eyes and he said coldly, "The boy stays."
Loghain nodded curtly with a muttered, "So be it," and left, not wanting to look at the man or the woman or the bundled form of the babe any longer.
I'm sorry, Rowan, he thought as he angrily stormed back towards his own rooms in the Palace. I tried.
Chapter 2: 9:10 Dragon, Thoughts - Maric
I have constructed a dozen letters these past months to send to you but the courage to write the words always fled before I was half done. It is only now, when I must, that I have found the strength to write what need be said.
I have born you a child, Maric . A boy.
His name is Alistair and I would hope you let him keep that one thing I've been allowed to give him besides life. I wish I could keep him but Weisshaupt is no place for a child to be raised and given the life a Warden lives I cannot keep him. So I send him along with his wetnurse to you at only a week old. I can only hope he survived the journey.
Other than the name I have three requests. If only until he no longer needs her, keep her in your employ. Her name is Osanna and she is a woman who has lost a great deal but has also helped me greatly. Without her I might have gone mad throughout the bearing of him. Second, if you can, let Alistair live without the ties to my life or yours. I have seen the terrible weight of the crown upon you and the Wardens upon me. I want him free of our shackles.
My third request is perhaps the hardest for me. I do not want you to tell him who I am. To say I was a Warden might only allow him to figure out who I am if he speaks to the correct people. And neither he nor anyone else need to know what he was born by an elf and a mage . You and I both know that it will only make his life harder if such were known. He appears human so let him be simply that.
Beyond these things, I have little else to ask of you. Forgive me for springing this upon you.
It was the eighth (or perhaps the ninth, tenth) time he'd read the letter and absolutely nothing had become clearer in the reading. Sighing, Maric tossed it onto the table and leaned back in his chair to stair moodily at the dying coals of his sitting room fire.
The woman Osanna and the babe had been safely esconced in one of the closer rooms hours ago at his order but he had not found sleep since then. Everything that had happened in the last few hours merely played back through his head over and over and he wondered if there was something he could have, should have, done different.
Should he have gone with Loghain's advice to foist the boy off on someone else to raise?
Would doing so be more true to Fiona's request to keep him out of the path of his own life and hers?
Was keeping him going to anger so many as he and Loghain feared?
Lifting a hand to rub at his face, fingers scraping against the rough growth on his cheek, Maric looked up at the painting of Rowan. She smiled down at him, all too prim and proper, and nothing of the woman he'd known. "What would you tell me?" he asked aloud. "Could you love a child not yours?"
Then again that was a moot question. If Rowan had lived, he never would have been with Fiona in the first place.
"Better question," he mused as he rested his chin on his fist. "Would you rather I take responsiblity for my own actions or to thrust it upon one of your brothers?" Given what he recalled of his queen, Maric was certain that her answer would be the former. They had had many conversations with each other whilst struggling to become something more than married strangers and he had worked hard to repair the shattered trust between them. Rowan had also been rather pointed about him honestly claiming his relationship with Katriel despite it being one of the larger points of contention between them.
Shaking his head a little, he smiled up at the painting. "You'd never forgive me if I did such a thing." The Guerrin brothers were both painfully young still and to bog either of them down with the responsibility of raising their King's bastard son would be irresponsible. Eamon, however, could perhaps help him with crafting a cover story for the boy.
Maric turned away from the painting then and stared towards the door, beyond which lay the Palace and his sons. The plural rolled around in his head, a strange but almost right thing. And it made him think of all the things he should have said to Loghain.
How having Alistair around would be good for Cailan as it would teach him responsibility. And when the boy was older, they would have that companionship that brothers do. At least that was his hope.
How he hoped that having the boy around would bring some kind of life back to the Palace because since Rowan's death it had been all too dead.
How he was all too terrified that he was going to mess up another child because he was a terrible father and he needed his friend's support.
Hanging his head, Maric closed his eyes as he stilled suddenly shaking hands and breathed to the empty room and the portrait of his dead wife, "Please don't let me mess this up. Please."
Chapter 3: 9:10 Dragon, Brother - Cailan
“Cailan,” said Father very quietly as he looked up from the chair he was seated in on the other side of the royal suite's sitting room, “come here.”
Even at five year's old, Cailan had known something had happened during the night when he woke up that morning. The Palace had been in an outright uproar and he'd seen Loghain storming around the halls, looking like he should have a small thunderstorm following in his wake given his expression. So when he was ushered into Father's rooms after being dressed by Dora, he wondered if he was going to find out what was making everyone crazy.
As he moved closer to the chair, he noticed that Father was holding something. His first immediate though was a puppy but why would a mabari have the Palace so overwhelmed?
“What is it?” he asked, standing on his tiptoes in an attempt to see. When Cailan looked up and saw the strained, sad look on Father's face, he added, “Is it why everyone's gone mad?”
Father then leaned forward and Cailan could see it was a baby, all wrinkly faced and pink like Arl Howe's daughter who'd been born last year. “His name is Alistair,” said Father gently, “and he's your brother.”
“Mine?” breathed Cailan in awe. It didn't fit quiet rightly in his head because Mother had died too long ago but that wasn't the important bit in his mind. He had a brother.
Father laughed at the awe in his voice – that big, honest laugh that Cailan didn't hear so often anymore – and nodded. “Yes, yours. And do you know what that means, Cailan?” As he shook his head, Father continued, “That means you're his big brother. Big brother's look after their little brother's.”
“'Kay,” mumbled Cailan as he tried to arch even higher on his toes, reaching up to touch the baby's blanket. As Father moved him closer, the baby opened his eyes and the five year-old grinned brightly. “Hi, Alistair!” he chirped as his fingers curled into the blanket. “I'm your big brother! And I won't ever, ever let anything happen to you.”
Chapter 4: 9:15 Dragon, Sickness - Cailan
His hands shaking, Cailan slowly opened the door to Alistair's room and peered inside. He jumped as the woman at his little brother's bedside looked up and then rose from her seat.
“Young Prince!” she exclaimed in her heavy Anders accent. “You know not to be here!”
“I know,” he answered. “I just...” Sliding into the room and closing the door, he leaned back against it. “I just wanted to be nearby, Osanna.”
Osanna sighed and pinned him with a serious look. “He will not die.”
Shaking his head, Cailan stammered, “Loghain...I overheard him talking to Father. Saying children as young as Alistair so rarely survive this.” He'd been going to talk to Father when he'd inadvertently eavesdropped on that conversation. It hadn't helped the already jumpy state he'd been in since Alistair had gotten really sick several days before after they'd been outside in the newly fallen snow.
Hissing something under her breath in her native tongue that didn't sound very polite, Osanna moved across the room and knelt down in front of him. As she reached up to brush back a lock of his hair, she said, “He is strong. I know, yes, I carried him here, have cared since he was small.”
“Shh,” she interrupted, thin fingers folding over his lips. Cailan just stared at her for a moment then he breathed a handful of words that terrified him to the core.
“I don't want him to die.”
“He will not.”
“But how do you know?”
Osanna merely smiled as she answered, “I have already said. He is strong.” She then reached for the edge of her shawl and pulled him close, drying away tears that Cailan hadn't even realized were trailing down his cheeks. “You must be strong too, young Prince.”
Sniffling, Cailan shook his head and choked out, “I don't know how.”
“Mmm. Each must find there own way but I shall share mine.” Looking towards the little bed where Alistair lay, she continued, “I know he will be well.”
“Akin but not. It is...” She trailed off and said something in her native language, the words flowing so quickly Cailan wasn't quite sure where each separate word began or ended. “I do not know it in this tongue. Faith but not. It is the simple knowing.”
Definitely not understanding, Cailan frowned and as Osanna sighed, he mumbled, “I'm sorry.”
“Shh,” said Osanna as she drew him into a hug and he clung to the woman, wrapping his arms tightly around her neck. He'd always liked his brother's nurse because of her affection – his own had been kind but always aloof, keeping her distance. Osanna treated Alistair almost as if he were her own son.
It was something he'd missed, a feeling garnered from faint recollections of Mother.
After a moment, Osanna pushed him gently away then pointed to an overlarge chair on the other side of the room. Cailan smiled at the sight of it because it was his and Alistair's chair, where they'd curled up together many times and fallen asleep listening to Osanna (or Father on the rare occasion) telling one story or another. “You may sit there,” she said sternly. Then she ran her fingers through his hair as she added, “We do not need you sick, young Prince.”
“I'll stay there,” he breathed, almost unwilling to believe he was getting to stay. Father had told him he wasn't to go to Alistair's room for fear of him getting sick but he didn't care. He just wanted to be near his little brother.
Nodding, Osanna released him, gently ruffling his hair as she rose and returned to her seat. By the time she was resettled at Alistair's side, he was curled up in the chair with his eyes on his brother's bed.
Smiling at him, the woman leaned forward to brush hair away from Alistair's face and began to sing softly in her own language. Though he didn't know the words, Cailan found a strange comfort in them and a surety that his brother would be alright. It was that alone that eventually allowed his eyes to drift shut and let him sleep.
Chapter 5: 9:15 Dragon, Sons - Maric
As he moved wearily down the hall towards Alistair's room during the final hours of the night, Maric rubbed a hand over his face. He grimaced as he felt the stubble that had grown out over the past few days as worry for his youngest son had consumed him.
Loghain's stark reminder that young children often didn't survive winter sicknesses certainly hadn't helped any.
Pushing open the door, he smiled as he caught the strains of Osanna's voice humming what sounded like an old Ferelden lullaby. He hadn't been too sure of himself two years past when he'd offered her a permanent position in the Palace as Alistair's nurse but now he was happy he'd made the decision and that she'd accepted. She was a good woman and he couldn't fault Fiona's choice.
Moving across the room, he asked quietly, “How is he?”
Quietly trailing off her humming, she answered, “The fever is gone.” Leaning forward, Osanna brushed the hair back from Alistair's face and then pressed a kiss to his forehead. “He is strong, as I told the young Prince.”
Maric stilled at her words. “Cailan? I told him he wasn't to come.”
“He overheard harsh words,” said Osanna, her voice sharp now with hard enough edges that he could hear them. “Between you and the Teyrn.”
Cursing under his breath, Maric lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. Of course Cailan had heard Logahin's damnable words! His eldest had been just as distraught as himself since Alistair had fallen ill and likely those words had sent him on that same careening spiral of worry. Enough worry to make him disobey and come where he'd been ordered not to go.
Knowing now that he'd come, he knew where Osanna would have pointed the boy. Turning to look across the room, Maric smiled as he saw Cailan asleep in the overlarge chair he and Alistair liked to share. It was one of the few pieces of furniture he'd kept from the Orlesian occupation of the Palace as it had been built by a Denerim carpenter attempting to impress Meghren according to one of the maids from the time. Given that the chair hadn't been of the style Orlesians seemed to prefer, it had ended up in a storage room until they had retaken the Palace.
It had been a favorite of Rowan's and she'd often read to Cailan while sitting in it with him in her lap, though he doubted his son remembered. After her death, he'd moved it from where it had been in their shared sitting room to Cailan's room. And then Cailan, at a mere five years old, had offered it up when he'd happened to overhear Maric discussing furniture for Alistair's room with his seneschal Cedric and the most senior and trusted of the maids, Margery.
“He shouldn't have heard that,” he said after several moments of just standing there watching his eldest son. Looking back towards Osanna, Maric asked, “Was there trouble getting him to settle down?”
Shaking her head, she answered, “Little. He was afraid. I soothed as able.”
“Thank you, Osanna.”
She waved a hand almost flippantly – a motion that surely would have set a few of the nobles into a fit if they had seen it – and said, “I need no thanks.” Smiling at him briefly, she then turned towards Alistair and leaned forward to run her fingers gently through his hair. “Fiona asked and I came to serve. Owed her my life and she gave a second chance.”
Second chance at caring for a child after you lost your own, thought Maric, remembering that detail well from the letter that had accompanied Osanna that night. That had been the reason he'd been wary of keeping her on but it was also what made her an excellent nurse to Alistair.
Moving to the other side of the little bed, he dropped to one knee as he reached out to rest his hand on Alistair's chest. He closed his eyes as he listened and felt the deep breathes his youngest was now taking instead of the shallow, ragged ones of days before. After a moment he moved his hand upwards to cup the tiny face, fingertips tracing gently across a warm cheek.
Maric met Osanna's eyes across the bed as he said, “Let me thank you for your service to her then. Without you I wouldn't have him.”
She was silent for a moment then inclined her head. “That thanks I accept.”
Nodding slightly, Maric then turned his attention back to Alistair and bent down to kiss his forehead. “Sleep well, son,” he murmured, before he rose and crossed the room towards the chair.
Cailan moaned as he lifted him up, shifting him carefully so his eldest's head rested against his shoulder. Turning back to Osanna, he quietly ordered, “Get some sleep now that his fever's broken.”
“I shall,” she assured and rose as he moved towards the door, holding it open so he could keep his grip on Cailan. “Goodnight, Your Majesty.”
“Goodnight, Osanna,” intoned Maric with a smile before he headed down the corridor, making the turn that led to Cailan's room. Thankfully the door had been left partially open – probably when the boy had crept down to Alistair's room from his own – so he only had to nudge it aside to enter. Carefully, he laid his son down on the bed and pulled off the soft boots he wore before drawing the covers up to his chin.
Impulsively, Maric brushed the long hair back from Cailan's forehead then bent to press a kiss against it as he had done with Alistair. When he leaned back, blue eyes were blinking at him blearily.
“Shh,” he said. “Go back to sleep, Cailan.”
Smiling, Maric assured, “Alistair is safe.”
Cailan blinked slowly at that then nodded as he rolled over and burrowed into the blankets. As his eyes drifted shut, he breathed, “Promise?”
Maric smoothed the blankets over Cailan's shoulder as the boy finally dropped back into sleep then turned to leave the room, shutting the door firmly behind him. As he made his way back to his own rooms and collapsed tiredly into bed, he couldn't help but smile because both of his sons were safely ensconced in bed and all – for now – was right with the world again.
Chapter 6: 9:16 Dragon, Words - Anora
She called Alistair a Prince all of once in Father's hearing. It had been when she was much younger, just after he'd arrived at the Palace, and she hadn't known of the difference between a bastard child and a natural one. That day she had been swiftly informed of just what the distinction and it was one of the few instances where she feared Father just that tiny bit. She had never forgotten the lesson.
Years later, sitting next to Cailan on one of the benches in the Palace gardens and watching a newly six year-old Alistair, she ended up bringing up that lesson because of a comment made by the boy beside her.
“I think everyone's wrong about Alistair.”
“Wrong?” questioned Anora, confused as to what he was talking about.
Frowning seriously – a look that was strange on his eleven year-old features – Cailan explained, “Father says that he can't be a Prince.”
“Well he can't. That's just what happens with bastards.”
“Adults are stupid then. So he has a different mother. We're both Father's sons!”
Sighing, Anora said firmly, “He was born out of wedlock. Imagine if you'd been born without the King being married to the Queen, Cailan. It would have been the same thing only the Landsmeet probably would have confirmed you.”
“But why does it even matter!” he exclaimed, throwing up his hands.
Pursing her lips together, she summoned her father's words from years before.
“Because blood is important. And Alistair's mother was just some servant girl.”
“So?” spat Cailan, turning to look at her with his blue eyes blazing. “Loghain was just a farmer before he became Father's friend and they drove out the Orlesians! Now he's a Teyrn and you're a Teyrn's daughter! Blood isn't important, Anora, it's just words!”
Turning to look at his half-brother, he continued, “Alistair's a Prince, same as me. No matter what anyone says, I'll always believe that.”
For a moment Anora just stared at him then slowly turned her head to also watch the younger boy where he was playing with some of Cailan's old toys. There was something in Cailan's words that rang of truth and it reminded her of one of her teacher's favorite sayings, that words were the greatest power one could harness. Words could raise King's to power or bring an entire country to it's knees.
And words, too, could raise a bastard son to a true Prince.
Suddenly Father's words seemed more than a little hollow and she found herself wondering at the motivation behind them. Surely he knew this? Father was the smartest man she knew, so surely he did.
Why then? Why tell her that Alistair could never be a Prince because of blood when it perhaps wasn't the truth?
Shaking her head, Anora reached out and covered Cailan's hand with her own where it rested between them on the bench. As he turned to look at her, she smiled and said softly, “I think what I've been told might have been wrong.”
His eyes widened then he closed them as he sighed heavily. “Anora, if you're just agreeing because our fathers have this whole marriage arrangement idea between us...”
“No,” she snapped, her voice stern. “I honestly think you might be right. Bastard born, natural born, they're just words. And blood...” Bowing her head, Anora continued, “If blood were really that important to titles, then Father wouldn't be a Teyrn. Alistair has far more reason to be a Prince because of blood than I do being a Teyrn's daughter.”
Cailan just stared at her and she smiled. After a moment he shook his head and turned his hand underneath hers to squeeze her fingers.
“Thank you,” he said quietly as his eyes drifted back to Alistair.
Nodding, Anora softly said, “No one else will see things like we do, though. You know that.”
They lapsed into silence after that, just watching the younger boy with their hands clasped and Anora suddenly found all of her thoughts shifting, wondering, pondering what else Father might not have had right.
Chapter 7: 9:17 Dragon, Days - Maric
"Let the boy enjoy his last day in Denerim, Eamon," said Maric airily, ignoring the glower his brother-in-law was aiming towards him. "After all, it's Summerday. One last day of freedom before he starts training."
The elder Guerrin scoffed and left shaking his head. Maric just watched him go then smiled at Teagan, who was still standing nearby shaking his head in a completely different fashion. "Has Eamon ever had a day of fun in his life, Teagan?" he asked with a smile.
"That I can recall?" replied the younger with mischeivous smile. "Eamon's always been a bit of a stick in the mud. He, thankfully, was the only one of us to inherit that from our mother." Teagan then sobered and bowed before saying, "I'll look out for the lad, Your Majesty."
Arching an eyebrow, Maric said, "You can call me by my name, Teagan." He had a good guess for the reasoning behind the sudden use of titles between them when Teagan had always been the most relaxed with him. Glancing pointedly towards the door of his office where Eamon had just left, he added, "I promise I won't tell Eamon you're butchering tradition."
That made the younger Guerrin laugh and he nodded his head as he said, "Maric."
"Thank you. Now, Eamon told me that you were going to be covering Cailan's martial training while he's at Redcliffe?"
Teagan straightened smartly as he nodded. "Well, as the overseer of the training at least. The real teachers will be our Knights, of course. Cailan will have company as well as you probably know."
Maric inclined his head as he answered, "Yes, I know. It was actually at my suggestion that Bryce sent Fergus to Eamon."
"I see." Stepping forward, Teagan peered down into the Denerim market and smiled sadly. "I don't think, however, that Fergus will be a replacement for his little brother."
Shaking his head, Maric turned his attention back to the two boys, ages twelve and seven, who were darting through the crowds in front of the Palace with a pair of guards hurrying on their heels as well as the sedately walking Osanna. As they watched, Cailan hefted Alistair up into his arms for the younger boy to get a better view of the procession of white-clad boys and girls making their way through the city.
"Nor can anyone replace Alistair for Cailan," intoned Maric quietly. He was setting himself up for a long stint of dealing with a very unhapppy seven year-old with his plans but Cailan already knew the ins-and-outs of the Palace. There were things that boys needed to learn from other places besides home. Thankfully, Osanna had already promised him she would do her level best to keep Alistair distracted.
Teagan shrugged helplessly before saying, "They'll forgive you for separating them eventually." When Maric made a face, he added, "Just think. The two of them will have the rest of their lives to bother each other and they'll both thank you for the training they got."
"Eventually," repeated Maric.
"Such is the burden of fatherhood," chirped the other man. "At least so far as I'm given to understand it."
Shaking his head, the King turned to smile down at his children. Teagan was right, at least, in that fact that they would have the rest of their lives to be brothers.
Chapter 8: 9:17 Dragon, Gifts - Cailan
"There you are."
Cailan jerked upright in surprise and stared at the brown-haired head of the older boy. "Fergus! I..."
Fergus just laughed and shook his head before he clambered on up the ladder into the stable loft. As he collapsed into the loose hay nearby, he said, "You've put your uncle into fits today, just so you know."
"Well you certainly can't be talking about Teagan. He doesn't have fits."
"Of course not, Teagan's sensible." Fergus then folded his arms casually behind his head as he drawled, "He is worried about where you disappeared to though."
Cailan frowned before asking, "Anyone else know you're here?"
"Not a soul. Unlike some people, I know what day it is."
At that the young boy froze then he forced each limb to uncoil, shaking his head as he sank back into the hay. Turning his head to look at Fergus, Cailan said quietly, "I miss him."
"I know," replied the older in a quiet voice that was full of knowing. Out of anyone in Redcliffe, Fergus knew exactly what he was going through because he'd been through it himself years previous when he'd left Highever. "Did you send him a gift?"
Anger flared through Cailan and he gritted his teeth as he growled, "So Uncle Eamon didn't say why I disappeared."
"He merely said you'd gotten upset."
"Of course I got upset!" he exploded, sitting up and whirling to face Fergus. "I asked one of the men down in the village - Toric, the stoneworker - to make something I knew Alistair would like and I gave it to Uncle Eamon to give to the next courier a week ago. Come to find out he didn't even send it because he looked at it and thought it was foolish. How is it foolish to send my little brother a birthday present, Fergus!"
Fergus sighed and sat up as well, hay clinging to his hair and shoulders. Leaning forward to rest his arms on his knees, he said, "That was wrong of him. Why didn't you go to Teagan about it?"
"Because I was furious !" Cailan tossed his hands helplessly in the hay, sending it flying around them.
The older boy just sat sedately through the small tantrum, blinking dark eyes at him. After a moment or so under the gaze, Cailan slumped back into the hay with his hands over his face. "I'm acting like a child," he groaned into them.
"Which you are," pointed out Fergus.
"I'm twelve ."
"And I'm sixteen, which makes us both still children."
Cailan rolled his eyes behind his hands before dropping them into the hay beside him. "You know what I mean, Fergus! We're supposed to be proper ."
"Oh, I'm well aware of what we've been taught, Cailan. However, it's just the two of us here at the moment so I think you're in your right to be as childish as you want."
He snorted before nodding respectfully at the older boy, who just smiled serenely. Cailan then sighed before climbing to his feet, brushing hay from his clothes and picking it out of his hair. "Where's Uncle Teagan?"
Fergus just smiled as he too rose with the same motions, replying, "I left him waiting outside the stables."
"You said you were alone. "
"Which was not a lie."
Cailan shook his head, saying, "Alright, alright, I'll give you that one, Fergus. And thanks."
Fergus just smiled in response before climbing down the ladder, waiting at the bottom as the younger boy clambered down. As they exited the stable and Cailan caught sight of his younger uncle, he ducked his head, feeling suddenly ashamed of his earlier behavior. Teagan only looked relieved, however, not angry and clasped his shoulders warmly.
"I told Eamon you'd be found in one piece," he said with a smile. He then ducked his own head, trying to catch his nephew's eyes, as he asked, "Now, would you care to explain why you left in a huff and went to hide in the stable all day?"
Cailan sighed then lifted his head just enough to meet his uncle's blue eyes with his own. Scuffing one foot in the dirt, he mumbled, "He didn't keep his word. To send something. A gift."
Fergus stiffled a laugh and the young boy glared at him out of the corner of his eyes before sighing, "For Alistair ."
Teagan frowned then realization seemed to dawn as he said, "Oh! Today is...oh, lad. You should've come to me in the first place."
"Well I know that now ."
"Whining," said Fergus in a sing-song voice and Cailan promptly swatted at the other boy. That made the Cousland heir laugh before he bowed and asked Teagan, "Shall I go find someone to ride to Denerim?"
"Hunt down Marcus," answered the man. "He'll probably be down in the tavern now with the rest of the men. Just tell him I need to see him up in the castle in my study." As Fergus nodded sharply and jogged off, Teagan shifted and wrapped an arm around Cailan's shoulders. "Now, my lad, we're going to go see my brother."
Cailan jerked his head up fully and stared before breathing, "I'm in trouble."
"For shirking your daily duties only," chimed Teagan. His expression darkened as he looked ahead of them and added, "I myself am going to have a very in depth conversation with my brother during which I am going to get that gift of yours back. After that, we are going to send Marcus to Denerim with it because, late or not, there is likely a worried little boy in the Palace wondering if his brother remembers him."
That had been one of his own exact thoughts, right down to Alistair thinking he'd been forgotten, and Cailan shuddered before leaning heavily against his uncle. Teagan didn't seem to mind at all and hummed under his breath as they made their way up from the stable to the the castle. As they approached the doors, he straightened himself up and took a deep breath.
Turning to look at his uncle, Cailan asked, "Is it wrong that I like you more than Uncle Eamon?"
There was a sadness in the older man's eyes and Teagan's smile was a little weary as he replied, "You aren't the first, lad. Nor will you probably be the last. He's still your uncle, though."
Teagan just smiled in response and Cailan returned it before squaring his shoulders as they entered the castle. It wasn't going to be a pretty conversation but whatever happened, it happened. All that mattered, to his mind, was that Alistair was going to get his gift.
Chapter 9: 9:20 Dragon, Lessons - Maric
“Aren't we supposed to be in lessons?” asked Maric in amusement as he peered up the tree in the Palace gardens at his youngest son. Alistair let out a yelp at his discovery and then looked down, smiling sheepishly.
“Ser Nicholas was asleep when I found him,” answered the ten year-old, swinging his legs idly. “Didn't want to disturb him.”
Maric hummed in response and waited to see if that was all of the excuse. Alistair didn't disappoint him as, after a moment, the boy whined, “And his lessons are so boring!”
“But a requirement of your education.”
“I never learn anything, though.” Alistair then grinned and said proudly, “Except Cailan explains it later if he's home or when I write him about it and then it makes sense.”
“Oh?” questioned Maric, wondering exactly how his eldest could explain something better than the old soldier who'd now taught both of his children. “And how does your brother do that?”
The bright smile that his youngest son flashed down at him was almost blinding and Alistair was suddenly swinging down out of the tree as he chirped, “I can show you!” As he landed on the ground, he held up a hand and said, “Wait here. I've got to get our things.”
Smiling, Maric shook his head and leaned against the tree, watching the boy as he bounded off and disappeared into a thick cluster of bushes that he remembered being one of Cailan's favorite hiding places during his 'avoid Anora' stage. It was only a few moments later that Alistair burst back out of them, his arms full of a bulging burlap sack and the broken haft of some old tool probably salvaged from the rubbish pit. As he jogged back over, he pointed with the stick towards one of the little alcoves at the edge of the garden alongside the Palace wall.
“We have to go over there,” he intoned seriously and Maric motioned for him to lead the way. Which Alistair did with such seriousness that it brought a smile to his face.
When they reached the area and his son dropped the sack, he realized that there was a small section of sand here, though he couldn't recall why there would be. Something must have shown on his face because Alistair stated, “Cailan asked Simund to make it. For us.”
He then used the stick to etch two lines into the sand before he stuck it into the ground at the edge and reached into the sack. As he bent down and started placing haphazardly painted wooden pegs into the sand, Maric suddenly had an idea of what was going on. Crouching down, he waited as Alistair continued setting up, merely watching until the boy leaned back and nodded to himself.
“There!” chirped Alistair. “Generally I'm the ones with the black bases 'cause Cailan likes the white ones better.”
“He does the same in chess,” murmured Maric as he flicked his eyes over what was laid out before him. His eldest son had built a small model of a battlefield and had been teaching his youngest tactics when simple instruction without the practical part didn't make the lesson make sense. It made him both proud of his sons because obviously it had helped Alistair in his lessons but he was concerned as to why neither had come to him.
Looking at the boy beside him, he asked, “Why didn't you come to me if you were having trouble getting Ser Nicholas' lessons?”
Shrugging, Alistair answered, “I told Cailan and he said it helped him,” he paused then continued with a great amount of concentration to quote, “nail out the part-ic-ul-ars to actually see the battle.”
“Ah. And who did Cailan learn this from?”
“Loghain,” came the answer. “Cailan tried to get him to help us but when he found out it was for me he wouldn't do it himself. He got the pegs for us, though.”
“I see,” said Maric, wondering why Loghain had kept Cailan's minor difficulty a secret. Or perhaps his oldest friend had thought he'd known already. “Have you been working through things on your own without Cailan here?”
“Yes. It's a lot harder. He knows all the pieces better than me.”
Nodding, Maric asked, “Well...how about while Cailan isn't here, you work through these things with me. I could even have a small sand table built for us.”
Alistair's eyes grew wide for a moment then he breathed, “But...what about this one?”
“This one is yours and Cailan's,” answered Maric with a smile. “The other one will be just for us.”
That made him laugh and Maric reached out to ruffle Alistair's hair. “Really,” he confirmed warmly. “But...no more skipping Ser Nicholas' lessons. Not even if he's sleeping.”
The agreement wasn't a happy one but he knew his youngest son would stand by it. Especially now with a new goal to give him an incentive to keep to his lessons.
Settling himself down onto the ground, Maric reached out for one of the pegs and picked it up out of the sand. “Until we can get our table, though, I'm afraid we're going to have to make use of this one. So explain these pieces of yours and we'll set up a battle so I can measure just how well your lessons are going.”
Grinning, Alistair burst into an exuberant explanation of the pieces, detailing what each of the different color splotches across the tops represented, and Maric smiled as he watched his boy.
This part owes inspiration to MsBarrows' fic Atonement via Loghain and his sand table.
Chapter 10: 9:20 Dragon, Secrets - Alistair
"Come on, Cailan!" whined Alistair as he walked backwards down one of the lower corridors of the Palace. "We've only got a few days left and it's been years since we explored!" He grinned at the still figure of his older brother standing paces away and knew he'd almost gotten him.
Cailan let out a huff of breath, ruffling the loose strands of his blond hair, then he was striding forward. As he got closer, he pointed with one finger and said, "Fine but I'm telling you right now that if we get in trouble, I'm blaming you."
"And we'll still both get punished because you're supposed to be the responsible one," replied Alistair. He received a good-natured swat in response and a muttered brat but neither was really important. His big brother was with him on another adventure and if they did get in trouble, Cailan would probably take responsibility no matter what he said. That was just how Cailan was.
Turning on his heels, Alistair shrugged all else aside as he began to hurry down the corridor. "So," he called over his shoulder, "I found the start of something."
"Something?" repeated Cailan. When the younger boy didn't respond immediately, he sighed and asked in an over-exaggerated voice, "What did you find, Alistair?"
Laughing, he replied, "A secret!"
"Little brother, if you don't stop being vague I'm going to thump you one good."
Shaking his head at his brother's impatience, Alistair turned in mid-step so he was walking backwards again and extended his arms wide as he exclaimed, "It's a secret part of the Palace, Cailan! I found it while I was down here with Geoff and he was too scared to help me explore it." Shrugging, he continued, "So I waited until you came back for Satinalia 'cause I knew you'd come with me."
Cailan frowned for a moment then asked, "Who's Geoff?"
"One of the maidservant's sons."
"And does Father know you're playing with the children of the staff?"
Alistair blinked at the question and cocked his head to the side as he came to a stop in the corridor. "Who else am I supposed to play with when you're in Redcliffe and Aedan's back in Highever? Vaughan?"
"Fair point." Cailan then arched an eyebrow and said, "Well? Are we going?"
Grinning, the younger boy turned to start moving again, this time more quickly. He hurried down several of the lower corridors with his brother at his heels until they finally reached a bend that had obviously been disused for some time. There were cobwebs hanging in great gobbets from the ceilings and there was disused furniture stacked alone the walls, some of it showing the obvious marks of Orlesian craftmanship. Alistair nodded towards where the hall continued on beyond the bend and said, "It keeps going like this for just a bit before it dead ends. That's not the secret though."
Hopping up on top of a step stool that he'd put into place the last time he'd been down there, Alistair climbed up the front of an old armoire bearing an Orlesian flower motif and perched on the edge of it. "This," he proclaimed with a grin, "is the secret." Turning back towards the wall, he placed his hands against the small table laying on it's side atop the armoire and pushed it just enough to reveal the hole where aged brick and mortar had crumbled away.
Cailan just blinked then he was scrambling up the stacked furniture to peer at the hole that had been revealed. "And you haven't been inside?" he asked.
"Geoff wouldn't go," repeated Alistair. He then smiled and said, "Besides...this is ours, right? The Palace? If there's anything hidden here, shouldn't it be Theirins that find it?" Officially he might not be able to claim the name but, as Cailan and Father always said, that didn't make him any less of one.
With a laugh, his brother nodded and reached out to ruffle his hair. As Alistair groaned and pushed his hand away, Cailan said, "Too right, little brother. I guess we should get a torch then if we're going to explore as I doubt there's any inside."
"Or," drawled Alistair, "we could use a lantern."
"You snitched a lantern."
Cailan rolled his eyes and grumbled, "I doubt Father's going to see it like that. Alright, get your lantern. I'm assuming you grabbed something to light it as well as oil?"
"Top drawer," replied Alistair, patting the armoire.
"We might just turn you into a tactician yet."
"Hey. I understand tactics fine when you or Father explain them!"
Laughing, Cailan said, "I'm just being aggravating, Alistair. Now get your lantern and see if it needs oil while I dig out these other supplies of yours." Nodding, he did as requested and found that the lantern was still full of oil despite it having been months since he'd squirrelled it away. As he heaved the heavy peice of iron and glass around, Alistair saw that his brother had dug out the small jar of oil as the flint and steel he'd hidden.
Looking down at the wooden furniture they were sitting on, he nodded towards the floor before saying, "We probably shouldn't light it up here."
"Not unless we want to smoke ourselves out."
A few moments after scrambling down, they were climbing back up the furniture and shifting the now lit lantern between them. As they perched in front of the hole, Cailan took the lantern and leaned inside to get a look at what was on the other side. Leaning forward so he could see himself, Alistair blinked as he saw there was an almost identical corridor on the other side of the wall except that it extended beyond where the one they were in ended.
"So," he said hesitantly, "they just walled up this whole section? Why?"
"I imagine no one remembers anymore," Cailan replied. He then passed the lantern over and said, "Alright, I'm going to climb down and you hand me the lantern. Then you climb down, alright?"
Nodding, Alistair held the lantern as still as he could so Cailan could see where he was going before he handed it off. Then he carefully lowered himself down on the other side of the wall before dropping to the dusty stones on the other side. As puffs of dust came up underneath his boots, he noted, "I don't think anyone's been in here for a long time. Probably even before the Occupation."
"What makes you say that?" asked Cailan as he held the latern aloft and turned to look down either direction the corridor ran.
Alistair pointed towards the dusty, cobwebbed chair that was the only peice of furniture he could see in the hall before replying, "That's not an Orlesian style." He then asked, "Now what?"
"Now we explore, little brother. Come on, let's start at one end of the corridor and move down it as we go from room to room."
At first they didn't find anything but half empty rooms that held more cobweb covered furniture, most of it looking more broken than anything remotely useable. The rooms themselves were large and very open, which Cailan explained was either because the section was used for a different purpose years ago or it was to accomodate large amounts of people. Other than that, however, there was nothing of interest in the first rooms they explored other than the skeleton of a dead cat that they found underneath the sagging frame of a bed.
Disappointed at what little they'd found so far, Alistair scuffed his feet in the corridor and groaned, "Maybe we should just go."
"And leave our exploration undone?"
"There's nothing here."
Cailan just smiled and said, "One more room? If we don't find anything there, we can go back."
Sighing, Alistair nodded and headed towards the next door, which was going to lead to the fourth of the seven rooms in the corridor. As he turned the doorknob and pushed it in, he felt resistance and heard something scraping across the stones behind it. "Something's blocking it."
"Here, take the lantern."
As they shifted around and Cailan pushed the door open, Alistair peered inside and his eyes widened as he saw the tall back of a chair sitting just inside the door. "Cailan," he breathed.
"What...oh. Oh, Maker."
Despite the obvious years of dust that covered it, the arms of their family were clearly visible where they were carved into the high back of the chair. The cushion of the chair had rotted away, leaving little more than scraps of fabric clinging to the frame but the wood itself was still in good condition. It had obviously once been a fine chair and given the fact that the feet were carved into the likeness of paws and the arms of a mabari's head, it had probably been sat in by one of their ancestors.
Turning around the room, they found several more similar peices of furniture bearing the Theirin crest and mabari motifs. And half-hidden behind a claw-foot table that had obviously seen many better days judging by it's sword scarred surface, were two heavy chests, neither of which appeared to be locked.
Alistair stared at the for a moment then turned to look at Cailan, who was as wide-eyed as he probably was. "Do we open them?" he asked quietly.
"Of course," came the matter-of-fact response. As Cailan sat the lantern on the table near the edge so they would be able to see, both of them placed their hands on the lid of the chests. They looked at each other for a moment then, with perfect timed nods, both opened the chests at the same time.
Piles of gold and jewelry as well as the spines of books and folds of fabric stared back at them as the lids fell back against the other furniture, the dull thumps making both of them jump. Alistair just gaped open-mouthed at their discovery then he slowly turned to his brother with only one thing on his mind. Cailan seemed to have the same thoughts as they both spoke the same sentence aloud.
"We have to tell Father."
Chapter 11: 9:21 Dragon, Sister - Anora
“Now,” said Anora as she deftly smoothed the front of Alistair's tunic, “what are we not going to do?”
Rolling his eyes, the boy answered, “Don't talk to anyone before being spoken to first even though Cailan said it would be okay.”
Humming in agreement, she asked, “And why is that?”
“Because my brother's an optimist?”
Sighing, Alistair replied, “Because very few people see me the way he, you, or the Couslands do.”
“Correct,” she said firmly. “Most of the people out there view bastardborn children as something to be hidden away. I know you've heard a lot of things before, Alistair, but you're going to hear a lot more tonight. And from here on out, it's just going to get worse.”
His shoulders slumped at that then he nodded slowly, taking a deep breath. Tilting her head, Anora said, “You asked me to be honest with you and tell you the truth of how your first real mingling with the nobility was going to go.” From what Alistair had told her, Cailan's version of how events would go had been a lot more optimistic than reality. It was sweet how he wanted to protect his younger brother but sometimes she wanted to strangle him because he was trying to protect him from everything. And he couldn't do that forever.
“I know but that doesn't mean I can't hate it, does it?”
Smiling, Anora reached out to lightly touch his chin to draw his attention. “Just remember those of us that care for Alistair, not the King's bastard,” she said reassuringly.
After a moment he nodded and managed to smile back at her. “Thanks, Anora,” he said. Then he paused and added, “You make a good big sister.”
It was the first time she'd heard the word referred to herself and the concept of siblings was an almost utterly foreign concept. One day, however, it would be true: she would marry Cailan and Alistair would be her brother.
“Thank you,” she managed to say. Then she laughed. “And you're not as annoying of a little brother as you used to be.”
Alistair looked affronted at that for a brief moment before he started laughing as well. They were still laughing when Cailan entered the little anteroom and his confused look as well as asking what was so amusing just made the two of them laugh harder.
If giving advice and having a good laugh was part of what being a sister entailed, Anora could certainly get used to it.
Chapter 12: 9:21 Dragon, Optimism - Anora
"Pity the boy has the Theirin stamp on him so clearly. The King might not have had to claim him otherwise."
Anora's spine stiffened at the overheard remark but she covered her distaste with a smile before she stepped forward to touch Cailan's arm. "Don't," she breathed, her lips barely moving as she watched the muscles in his jaw clench. As he let out a long breath, she looped her arm into his and slowly led him away across the hall. "You've heard all of this before, Cailan."
"Not essentially said to my face," he hissed in response.
"Well," she drawled airily while keeping her voice low, "no one ever said that Urien or Rendon were particularly subtle creatures."
Cailan snorted then looked over to where Alistair seemed to be safely esconced in a corner, chatting animatedly with Aedan and Fergus Cousland as well as Delilah Howe. Nathaniel Howe was lurking at the edge of the group, looking all too bored with whatever they were talking about while still apparently contributing every once in a while. Anora followed his gaze to them and she smiled.
"He's fine and he hasn't heard a thing," she said despite knowing that that probably wasn't true. Alistair was all too much aware usually of what was going on around him - a habit she'd noticed in him very young - and he already knew there were going to be comments. She'd prepared him for such before the Landsmeet, though never going so far as to to say exactly what sort of bile he might hear.
Despite the fact that he was smart for his age, he was still eleven years old and she didn't think he was quite prepared for that. Hence why she had also had a quiet word with Fergus once the Couslands had arrived and had him point his brother at Alistair. With them being so close in age, Aedan was the perfect distraction.
Cailan smiled and nodded as Bann Esmerelle passed haughtily by them on her way to Rendon Howe's side before he said quietly, "If the Landsmeet would just confirm him, we wouldn't have this problem."
Anora sighed and closed her eyes as she lifted a hand to lightly touch her forehead. Her betrothed was wise in many ways that a normal boy of sixteen years was not but sometimes he could be all too naive. In all matters concerning his little brother, he was almost overwhelmingly blind and it frustrated her.
"Are you alright?"
Smiling, she dropped her hand and rose on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. As Cailan flushed and sputtered in confusion, she whispered in his ear, "If you must be the optimist of us, dear, then I shall have to be the realist."
He just stared down at her as she settled back to her feet before hissing, "What's that mean?"
Anora just shook her head and smoothed out a wrinkle in his tunic, as she had an hour before for Alistair. "Only that you are oft times blind to the reality of the people around us. You think the best of people, Cailan."
"And that's wrong?"
"No, but people are not always kind."
Cailan scowled in response to that, his jaw tightening again. As Anora reached up to cup his cheek, he closed his eyes as he grumbled, "I don't like thinking the worst of people, Anora."
"You are completely missing my point."
"And now I feel like I'm being lectured at by your father."
Anora swatted his arm lightly and Cailan smiled down at her. He then shook himself and pulled her further off to the side of the room, nodding politely to those they passed until they settled behind a column. After a moment he took her hands in his own and she found herself absently inspecting all of the new callouses he'd gained since the last holiday when she'd seen him.
"Now," he said after a moment, "explain."
"Would you like me to be give you the polite or unpolite explanation?"
"What I would like is an explanation from the friend that I will one day marry, not the politician her father attempted to craft her into."
Anora felt heat in her cheeks at the words and she breathed, "I'm sorry. It's been hard without you here."
His voice was the warmest now that it had been since he'd arrived back in Denerim with the Redcliffe contingent a day earlier. Then again, they had had little time to be together as anything other than in their official offices as Prince and Teyrn's daughter. Now was truly the only moment they had had to simply be Cailan and Anora.
Squeezing his fingers with her own, Anora smiled up at him and said, "We have discussed Alistair many a time, you and I. You know I agree with you on all accounts regarding him. What you do not see, dear, is that even if he were confirmed by the Landsmeet, it wouldn't mean anything to those like Rendon Howe."
"Which makes no sense," he hissed. "That's what they want, isn't it? Him declared 'official' so he isn't a 'stain' on the family honor?"
She wrinkled her nose at his harsh inflection on those two words and said, "You've been listening to your uncle."
"Hard not to at the moment. That's beside the point, though, Anora. It's what they want, what they're always complaining about, so why wouldn't it solve the problem?"
"Because then they will find some other reason to complain about him." Sighing, Anora shook her head and continued, "I do love your optimism, Cailan, but you cannot cast it around blindly without getting yourself misused in the end. It is not that I want you to think the worst of people because I don't. You must, however, see that no matter whether he is ever confirmed or not, Alistair will always be a bastard in the eyes of those men."
Cailan frowned, his eyebrows crinkling together, then grumbled, "Politics."
"Politics," she nodded in agreeance.
"I hate it."
"So do I."
Cailan huffed out a breath then turned his head as one of the criers near the halls doors called out that the Landsmeet was about to begin. Turning back to Anora amidst the sudden shuffle of feet, he said, "Thank you for keeping me from doing stupid things."
Anora just smiled and rose to kiss him on the cheek again as she said, "That is why I am the realist to your optimist, dear. Someone must keep your head out of the clouds."
Chapter 13: 9:22 Dragon, Prince - Alistair
When Alistair arrived in Highever after that first long ride from Denerim with his father, he was surly and completely against the idea of being fostered under the Couslands. Not that he didn't like the Couslands, of course. The Teyrn and Teyrna were two of the few nobility who treated him properly and their sons, Fergus and Aedan, were the only noble children he actually liked.
Well, he liked Nathaniel and Delilah as well when their father wasn't around but he saw the Howes so rarely he wasn't sure he could count them.
But, no, his surly railing against his fostering was because he felt like he was being abandoned. It was just the tiniest bit of hurt but it curled up in his chest like a snake, waiting to strike at the most inappropriate times.
So after he was settled into his room by the servants and Father came to say goodbye, Alistair gave him the cold shoulder. Maric had stood there talking for a long time, saying how much he'd like it in Highever and all the things he might learn under Bryce while he was there, until he'd seemed to run out of words. Then, he'd sighed and said, “Alistair.”
It was the tone of voice – that slightly stern voice Father got when he wanted attention – that finally made Alistair turn towards him.
“What have I done to wrong you, child?” asked Maric, his voice growing softer, gentler.
And everything exploded out of the twelve year-old.
“I feel like I'm being abandoned!” Alistair shouted back at him, his hands curling into fists. “Why can't I just stay home and learn all these things?”
“Abandoned?” repeated Maric in surprise and he dropped to one knee, extending a hand. Alistair looked at it like it was that hurtful snake in his chest and took a step backwards, causing a pained expression to flash across Father's face. “You know I'd never abandon you.”
“Why not? Everyone says you should.”
“Everyone might ought to keep their opinions to themselves.” Maric shook his head and leaned forward to hook his fingers into a fold of Alistair's tunic, tugging gently. He leaned back for a moment, silently protesting, then shuffled forward reluctantly with a tiny kernel of hope blossoming in his chest.
Peering at Father through the short fringe that tried to fall over his eyes, Alistair asked, “You're not abandoning me, are you?”
In response, Maric tugged hard against his tunic, pulling him close enough to draw into a warm hug. Alistair's hands shook as they unclenched from the fists they'd made themselves into and came up to grip Father's tunic. “My boy,” rumbled the King, “I'll never abandon you.”
“Because there are things a young man has to learn somewhere beyond home,” answered Maric as he pushed Alistair back slightly and lifted a hand to ruffle his short hair. “Remember, if you will, that I sent Cailan to do the same with Eamon at your age.”
Wrinkling his nose at the mention of Eamon – because neither the Arl nor his wife seemed to think much of him – Alistair said, “But Cailan's the Prince. I'm just me.”
That brought a laugh out of Father and a shake of his head. “And who,” asked Maric as he placed a finger against Alistair's chest, “are you?”
“Alistair,” he answered, giving Father a confused look.
“Now, now, you're more than just Alistair. You're my son, that makes you a Prince as well.”
“No one calls me that!”
“No,” agreed Maric, “the Landsmeet refused to acknowledge you officially for the line of succession. That, however, doesn't make you any less a Prince, Alistair.”
He mulled that over for a moment, turning the information over and over in his head. Alistair had known since he was very young that he was different from his brother and it had been driven into his head early by his teachers and Loghain that he wasn't a Prince because of his common birth. Yet Father said despite all of that, he was a Prince.
“Cailan will be King one day,” he said after a long moment, biting his lip after he finished speaking because Cailan being King meant Father was gone. “What'll I be?”
Smiling, Father pulled him close against and breathed in Alistair's ear, “Whatever you want to be, child. That is what I'm giving you. Be a priest, a Knight, a well-learned farmer, anything.”
“Anything?” repeated Alistair. The word so was open and it brought with it a thousand possibilities that he couldn't even comprehend. He had a sudden vision of Cailan, grinning that stupid grin of his, with Anora at his side and the crown on his head. And standing behind them was him, proud and tall in well-worn armor. “Whatever I am,” he muttered, “I want to help Cailan. Keep him safe.”
“Then be a Knight.”
Maric laughed and pushed Alistair back, gripping his shoulders with both hands. “Now that,” he said, “is a question you can ask Bryce.” He then cocked his head to the side and asked, “Are you going to be alright now?”
He began nodding in response quiet before he'd thought about the answer and realized that that terrible snake of abandonment was gone from his chest. Alistair smiled and confirmed, “Yes, Father.”
“Good.” Father rose to his feet then and reached out to ruffle Alistair's hair again as the door opened behind him, revealing one of his personal guards. “Yes?”
“The horses are ready for the ride back to Denerim, Your Majesty, if you're ready.”
“Give me a moment.”
The guard bowed and as the door closed after him, Maric looked down at Alistair. “Be good for Bryce and Eleanor. I don't want to be getting too many reporting of you getting into mischief.”
“Only a little.”
“Scamp,” growled Father, cuffing him lightly on the shoulder. He then bent and kissed Alistair's forehead, murmuring, “I love you, son.”
“Love you, Father,” he answered, briefly reaching up to tug at Maric's tunic. As Father straightened, Alistair added, “See you at Wintersend? The Couslands have never missed Wintersend in Denerim!” For that reason alone, Wintersend had always been a holiday he looked forward to and he hoped this year that he would end up back in the capitol with them.
“And I'm sure this year will be no different,” were Father's parting words, said with a smile before he disappeared out the door.
After he was gone, Alistair looked around his new room in Highever and chewed on his lip for a moment. Then he shook himself and straightened his tunic, readying himself to go reintroduce himself properly to the Teyrn as Father had told him he should during their ride since the King would be leaving quickly after their arrival.
He was a Prince of Ferelden no matter what anyone said and he was going to act like it. Starting now.
Chapter 14: 9:25 Dragon, Arrangements - Loghain
“Tonight we mourn the loss of our father, King Maric Theirin, lost at sea in this year 9:25 Dragon. May his soul find peace in the Maker.”
Loghain watched the two boys – yes, boys still even though one had seen twenty years now – as they each grasped a torch and thrust them into the pyre. The fire blazed high almost instantly, orange and yellow tongues flaring up through the dry kindling to lick at the overlarge ragdoll stuffed with straw that had been placed on top in Maric's place. With no body, it was all they had to burn.
As they stepped back, Cailan bowed his head and Alistair hurriedly swiped a hand at his face in an effort to hide his tears. For some reason the light of the fire made the younger boy look all that much more like his father and Loghain had to turn away then, a choking knot in his throat suddenly.
Despite everything that had happened in recent years to fracture their friendship, he and Maric had maintained it. Even broken as it was, it hurt to lose.
Anora moved suddenly from her place next to him to stand beside Cailan and he was reminding that their already impending wedding had been hurriedly moved forward to take place before the impending coronation. As she stepped up, Alistair stepped away – giving his brother and his betrothed a moment together, he supposed.
He watched the boy as he stepped away and arched an eyebrow as the younger Cousland – Aedan, was it? – stepped up and swept him into a hug. Alistair latched onto the other boy and Loghain abruptly remembered that Maric had fostered the lad out to the Couslands three years ago but had wanted him back at the Palace in the months before he'd left. The plan had been to return Alistair to them at some point so far as he was aware.
A presence at his side suddenly had him turning away from the two youths and Loghain found Bryce standing at his elbow. The other man inclined his head slightly in greeting then asked, “I assume you're to have some charge over the lad?”
“I imagine Cailan will be his keeper,” answered Loghain sharply, even as Maric's parting Take care of my boys rang in his ears suddenly.
Bryce made a noise that said exactly what he thought of that and Loghain couldn't help but agree. Cailan was little ready to be his younger brother's keeper let alone take the Ferelden throne. “Perhaps you can suggest to his Highness that Alistair would be better away from Denerim and all it's machinations.”
He caught onto the 'machinations' and turned to scowl at the other man. “Speak if you've heard something, Bryce. I've no patience for political games.”
Cousland smiled thinly and replied, “And that is something I appreciate about you, Loghain.” Turning his attention back to his youngest and Alistair, who were now speaking quietly, he continued, “I'm sure whatever sources you have in the city have told you the same but there's unrest. A great deal of the Bann's aren't too keen on seeing Cailan coming to the throne so soon. There are a few, I hear, that are trying to raise me up as a claimant.”
Loghain arched an eyebrow at the last. Bryce was certainly well-liked amongst the Bannorn, he knew that much from his own sources, but he knew the man as well. Given the support the Couslands had given during the Rebellion, it wasn't likely that Bryce would go against the Theirins no matter how unprepared Cailan was.
“What does all of this have to do with the boy?” he grumbled.
“I've no names but there's talk of trying to convince Alistair to go against Cailan. Young and impressionable lad like that, they say, able to twist him in whatever way he needs to be.”
If he had been anywhere else, at any other time, Loghain would have laughed at the idea. “I may not like the boy,” he said shortly, “but he's almost painfully loyal.”
“Aye,” agreed Bryce, “Fergus has compared the lad to Aedan's mabari once or twice.” He paused before saying, “You may disapprove of Alistair but I doubt you want to see the lad used so. Particularly if it would mean civil war.”
“No. Won't your mysterious they, however, think you're taking the boy under your wing to attempt your own uprising?”
“Let them,” answered the other man. “If they think I am handling it, perhaps it will keep them from other attempts at changing leadership.”
Loghain made a humming noise and nodded his head in quiet contemplation. If Alistair went back to Highever, it would take him out of the immediate hands of those in Denerim who were likely some of the primary plotters. As Bryce had pointed out too, it would place him in the hands of their would-be claimant and that might have a good few of them relax, thinking that all their plans will eventually fall into place. Plus, his favorite, the boy would be out of his sight again.
Looking at Bryce, he said, “I will make the suggestion to Cailan tomorrow.” As the other man nodded, Loghain thought of something else. “How long will you be remaining in Denerim?”
“Only a few days.”
“It would probably be best if the boy traveled back with you.”
Bryce nodded then said, “I'll take my leave of you then, Loghain. When you have news, you know where to find me.”
Loghain nodded absently at the other man's back as he turned and focused his attention on the youngest Theirin. Maric's parting words rang through his head again and he sighed before muttering, “This is all the help I'm to give him. After that, he's on his own.”
Chapter 15: 9:25 Dragon, Safety - Cailan
“Send him back to Highever for his safety?” repeated Cailan, staring in concern at his father's oldest friend. His future father-in-law – Maker, was that idea terrifying! – had never made it a secret what his thought about his half-brother, so it was more than a little disconcerting now to find him speaking up for Alistair. He really wanted to ask Loghain if he was getting sick but he withheld the urge.
“There have been uncomfortable rumors on the wind,” intoned Loghain seriously.
From her seat in the chair next to his father's desk, Anora arched an eyebrow. “What sort of rumors, Father?”
“The treasonous sort.”
Cailan frowned at that and closed his eyes, lifting a hand to rub at his forehead as he thought over all that short sentence contained within it. Treasonous rumors meant certain members of the populace weren't happy that he was taking the throne so early. Not that he hadn't known that already – he'd overheard it personally thanks to Habren not having the good sense to keep her voice down.
Would that he could simply shout from the Palace rooftop that he didn't want the job right now. He'd had plans to simply get married and spend the years up until he took the crown doing as many aimless things as he could and possibly dragging Alistair along on them. Now the weight of the crown had been forced upon him and it was a nearly buckling force.
He couldn't help but wonder if that feeling was how Father had felt after he had watched his mother die.
After a moment, Anora broke the silence that had fallen by scoffing and saying, “And they think to use Alistair? They do recall that the Landsmeet never accepted him into the succession, do they not?”
“I don't imagine they intend to take the crown without a fight using that method,” answered Loghain. Cailan then opened his eyes to meet the older man's darker gaze as he continued, “Or they intend to force the issue by having only one heir of Theirin blood to succeed the throne.”
“Surely no one would be that serious about this, Father!”
“Perhaps not. Nevertheless...better to be cautious.”
Better for whom? Cailan wanted to ask. Father's sudden death had flayed both his and his brother's hearts open, exposing them to harsher elements. Anora was a shoulder for him to lean on, yes, but she wasn't Alistair. He wanted to keep his brother at his side where they could keep an eye on each other, not on the other side of Ferelden under the care of someone else.
And who did Alistair have besides him?
Loghain pursed his lips and said, “There is no family more trustworthy then the Couslands.” As Anora nodded her head in agreement, he continued, “And the eldest was fostered with you at Redcliffe, I recall.”
Cailan nodded slightly, remembering those days with both fondness and not. He had enjoyed the lessons he'd learned alongside Fergus – most especially from his uncle Teagan – but he had also hated being away from his brother. And then when his time at Redcliffe was done, he had returned home to find his brother was already on his way to Highever.
After a moment's thought, he looked up, first catching Loghain's gaze then Anora's. “Alistair's safety is one of my greatest priorities. Not only because if I die, he's the only Theirin claimant to the throne, but because he's my brother.” The expression on his future father-in-law's face at his words was one of disapproval but Cailan found he didn't care. Loghain might have never cared for Alistair but he himself had been ecstatic to become a big brother, no matter what his origins were. “Tell me, honestly, do both of you believe it best for him to go to Highever?”
“Yes,” answered Loghain almost immediately.
Cailan turned to look at Anora and she smiled back at him. Reaching across the desk for his hand, she said, “I've come to care for Alistair as well, you know.”
“I know,” he answered, even as he remembered younger days when she couldn't stand him. That, however, was mostly because a much younger Alistair had ruined one of her dolls.
“And I know it will hurt you both to be apart.” Ah, yes, she saw to the heart of him. “Sending him back to Highever will keep him the safest possible without sending him away from Ferelden entirely. Bryce and Eleanor will not let anything happen to him.”
Nodding, Cailan sighed and said, “Alistair will go back to Highever with the Couslands.”
Loghain nodded. “I'll send a page to inform the boy then,” he said and that brought Cailan to his feet.
“No!” Meeting the older man's frown with one of his own, he continued, “I owe it to him to explain why he's being sent away at a time when otherwise he knows I'd keep him close.”
“As you will,” ground out Loghain even as Anora squeezed Cailan's hand and smiled at him.
Squeezing hers in return briefly, he left his father's office where they'd had their little meeting and went to his brother's room, knocking politely and waiting for an answer. As Alistair opened the door, still hurriedly swiping at reddened eyes that told Cailan he'd been crying, he said, “We need to talk, little brother,” and watched painful realization dawn on the younger features so similar to his own.
And very quietly, in the back of his mind, Cailan damned every single soul that stood against the crown to a painful fate for what they were doing to his family.
Chapter 16: 9:25 Dragon, Protection - Alistair
“Leave?” he questioned, half unable to believe the plan that his brother had laid out. They had only just said goodbye to Father and he was supposed to go back to Highever. As if nothing had happened?
“For your own safety,” insisted Cailan. He sighed before continuing, “Loghain has been hearing treasonous rumors -”
“Loghain!” exploded Alistair, shoving himself up out of the seat he'd fallen into while listening. “You're listening to Loghain of all people about this! He hates me, Cailan! Of course he'd rather see me at Highever than at home.” Running a hand through his hair, he continued, “He'd probably rather I'd stay there.”
There was a moment of silence and then his brother quietly said, “Anora agreed it was the best course.”
And Alistair froze, his hand halfway through a second run through his hair. Anora had agreed, had said it was best that he leave his home again. That hurt just the tiniest bit because she knew exactly how much it had hurt him to be away from home.
Oh, he loved Highever and the Couslands but home was home.
She was, however, also his sister. Maybe not officially yet but he'd thought of her like that for a while. Since he'd known about her and Cailan's arranged marriage to be honest. And her being his sister meant that she looked out for him, just like Cailan did.
Turning to face his brother, Alistair asked, “What's going on, Cailan?”
“Can't we leave it at treason, little brother?”
“Stop trying to protect me!”
Cailan took a step back and Alistair knew he'd surprised him. Maker, he'd surprised himself a little. Taking a deep breath and trying to calm his already shaky nerves, he said softly, “I deserve to know why I'm being sent away.”
Sighing, his brother nodded and then explained all of the treason. Cailan disposed or, worse, dead. Himself harnessed like he was some kind of dog (not even a Mabari, just a hound) and made to be a pet King. And who knew what might happen to Anora in the aftermath of that, though she'd likely end up dead herself.
Shaking his head, Alistair lifted his hands and rubbed them across his face as his mind whirled. Finally he breathed, “Highever is the safest place for me to be.”
“Yes,” said Cailan and he jerked his head towards his brother. The pain in his voice was as sharp as the lash from a whip and suddenly Alistair was ashamed of himself. He'd been thinking of himself and how he was being hurt by this and hadn't even stopped to consider how this was hurting Cailan.
Maybe that was why he was the bastard son, because his first thought was his pain and not his brother's. And Cailan's had been of protecting him.
An apology burst from his lips and then his brother was on him, arms wrapped tightly around his shoulders. Alistair choked down another rising sob – because by the Maker he was fifteen and too old for that sort of thing – and clung to him in return.
“I'll go,” he breathed. “I'll go back to Highever.”
“This isn't what I want, little brother,” hissed Cailan. Pushing them apart, he held them at arms length from each other and Alistair met his blue eyes as they darted to meet his own. “If I could have my way, you'd be here. You know that, right?”
Alistair nodded. “That's what makes it hurt the most,” he choked out.
Cailan just shook his head and pulled him back in close and Alistair closed his eyes as he clung to his brother tightly. He knew from Aedan that the Couslands would be returning to Highever in a few days and now...now he would be going with them for his own protection.
A few days wasn't enough time for anything.
He then thought of Father, of the fifteen years they'd had, and the tears from earlier came back with a vengeance as he realized that no amount of time was time enough.