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The Hard Road of Our Present

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The boy was too quiet.


Not that Bernard could blame him for his silence as he had lost everything in one fell swoop but it still unnerved him. Ever since he'd joined the army, he'd been surrounded by noise. That hadn't changed when he'd risen through the ranks to Captain, when he'd been invited into Maric's Shield, or when he'd taken over command of the Palace guard at Cailan's insistence.


Silence always allowed him too much time to think. And nowadays thinking brought him back around again and again to parting words and where they'd led him.


Protect Anora, had been his King's last orders, spoken before he'd left Denerim with all of Bernard's fellows. He'd had a sickening feeling then as he'd watched them go that he would never see any of them alive again.


Protect Alistair, had been the parting words from his Queen, quiet but full of purpose as sharp as the edge of a sword.


Sighing, Bernard looked back at the boy and found his attention drawn to the pauldron with its dual mabari. That would certainly have to go if there were going to be discreet. Then again, he noted as he looked at the young man, he wasn't entirely sure how they were going to manage that. He remembered seeing King Maric as a boy and had served under Cailan as King long enough to have seen Alistair briefly a few times.


The Theirin features were strong in each of them and anyone who knew them would instantly recognize them in the boy. They were either going to have to avoid towns entirely or he was going to have to leave the boy alone in order to refill their supplies when needed. Neither option was a particularly good one.


"Where are we going?"


The boy's question was softly spoken but it was such a surprise to have him break the quiet that Bernard jumped slightly. Turning to look at Alistair, he arched an eyebrow before he answered, "I've got nowhere specifically in mind, lad. South is our only destination for the moment."


"Brecilian Forest then," said Alistair with a sharp nod. His gaze then focused on the trees beyond Bernard before he said quietly, "Too far south is dangerous. There's probably darkspawn pouring out of the Wilds now that we no longer hold Ostagar."


Bernard frowned before asking, "You actually believe the Wardens, lad? About the Blight?"


All he got was a nod in response for a moment then the younger man sighed heavily. "Cailan believed the Warden Commander was telling the truth," he said after a moment. "He'd ordered the men at Ostagar to put a heavier guard at the Tower of Ishal on his word. If Loghain..." Alistair trailed off, his eyes suddenly angry and he snarled something under his breath.


"There's no guarantee in war," Bernard intoned gently. That brought that angry gaze flashing towards him and he held up a hand in a semi-warding gesture. "It's the truth, lad, and you know it as well as I."


"There's no guarantee in anything. That's the truth I know," Alistair spat bitterly in response, all of the anger seeming to rush out of him as his shoulders slumped slightly.


While that was true, it certainly wasn't the viewpoint he'd expected from a young man just crossing into his twentieth years. Then again, as he recalled, the lad had experienced some terrible things during those few years. His father's death followed by the massacre at Highever, the death of his brother, and the prospect of a life on the run...really he shouldn't be surprised at the bitter commentary.


"I'll give you that, lad. I'll give you that." Bernard then tilted his head back to regard the fading daylight as well as the swiftly blackening clouds and said, "We'd best find ourselves some shelter. Looks like there's going to be a storm tonight."


As he urged his horse ahead, Alistair commented dryly from behind him, "If we die in the Forest, I'm going to haunt you. Just so you know."


"Duly noted, Your Highness," he called back, unable to resist a smile as he got the distinct feeling that there would be less quiet from now on.