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Chapter 17 Alistair

Neglected and unwanted.

He thought that his own life was a very embodiment of these, yet the visit of the Alienage has taught Alistair new depths of meaning of the words.

The shabby houses, the ragged people…. The looks of despair, and hatred.

It is even worse than the Dusttown. With their good clothes and fine armour, they were drawing attention even there – but there, Alistair was not one of those who caused all that misery.

Humans. 'Shems.'

"What do you want, shem?"

"Spare a coin for a veteran, sir?"

What do you want here? Leave us alone!

The fact that we've actually come to help is of little use.

The diseased, crouching in the streets, shunned from by everyone.

The crippled, the maimed, the poor and helpless.

Men, women, children – all alike

The Alienage.

The girl may be ten or eleven at most; with hair so pale blond that it is almost silvery, and clear purple eyes, too large for her tiny face.

Eyes full of despair.

The coin Ned gave her might save the girl for today, but what about tomorrow?

What about all the others, and all tomorrows?

And as if this wasn't bad enough as it is, these 'healers' preyed on the poor folk.

Alistair cleans his blade at the Tevinter's robe and straightens up, suppressing the urge to kick the dead body. He is a templar, schooled in history. He knows the role of elves in the Tevinter imperium, and the Tevinter magic. Nothing good could have awaited those who entered this house, with a false hope of help. He answers Ned's glance with a nod. Let's find the den of this filth.

The filth, of course, keeps guards. And quite… pretty. Hey, what's a pretty girl – a pretty elf-girl like you – doing in a slavers' business? 'Tevinter first, huh?'

"You will regret this! Believe it or not, we've been given a dispensation to do our business here. You Fereldans talk a great deal about how very wrong slavery is, but isn't it funny how quickly the smell of gold overcomes these ideals?"

Some Fereldans, if you please. And don't worry, they wil be dealt with later. This is just one more item on the list of your sins, Loghain. Alistair takes a side-look at Ned. Given the time they have spent together, he can see the unmistakable marks of barely contained fury. The elf, though lacking the experience, is clever enough not to press the issue.

"I'm no fool. I can see what you are capable of. So be it. I will let Caladrius deal with you before I fetch the Regent's men."

Oh. Not so clever, after all. To Alistair's surprise, instead of signalling the attack, Ned laughs; that kind of laughter always gives Alistair creeps even though he is on the safe side: "Give the Regent my regards while you're at it. Tell him I'm looking forward to meeting him again, we have not finished our little talk about betrayals."

I just hope that we deal with this 'Caladrius' fast, whoever he might be.

Caladrius turns out to be a Tevinter mage with an exceedingly big ego and an equally exceedingly poor business sense. Does the guy really think that we would let him take these people as slaves? – Oh yes, the swamp-witch probably would. And does he really think that getting away alive is not a bargain? Tut-tut.

The fight is tough but Alistair has seen worse – and two warriors with templar training do make a difference, as Caladrius finds out soon enough. Pleading for his life on his knees, he is much less self-confident than before – but no better at bargaining, still. His eyes bulge in shock, staring at the blade thrust in his chest almost up to the guard.

The worst offer you could have made, and the worst pick of a person you made it to.

Leliana is immediately engaged unlocking the cages and the manacles of the slaves-not-to-be while Wynne stares at the corpse with almost a predatory look. Blood magic. A mass sacrifice. No wonder Ned has a problem drawing the blade out, he drove it with such force that it must have got stuck in the spine. Man, I can't recall seeing you so furious before.

Nonetheless, as he thinks of it, Ned does fight today with unusual fierceness. Before Alistair can asses the meaning of this, he notices that his friend's behaviour has drawn Wynne's attention, too. Stretching and flexing his shoulders is definitely nothing Ned usually performs after a fight, and Wynne looks rather vexed as she hustles to him: the series of fights definitely do not fit under the description of "convalescence stroll", as Ned had put it earlier.

"Everything is fine, 'was just testing," he hears Ned saying with a tinge of irritation. "Mother hen Wynne," he mutters as he approaches Alistair, checking the Keening's blade once again before returning it in the sheath. He shakes his head, patting the hilt. "Can't really imagine fighting without this one any more. Good that Cauthrien didn't take it along, I doubt very much I'd ever see it again."

"Well, the charges were against you, not your sword," Alistair replies. "Speaking of Cauthrien: how fast do you think she will run when the elf tells her we're here?"

"Faster than you think if you indulge in idle talk." Oh Sten, I love your social skills so much. "Our business is finished here. Let's leave."

They do, but as they are coming near the gate Ned stops. "There is something I have to attend to yet. No need to come along," he calls over his shoulder as he spurts to a house in the shade of the city walls.

Oh, my. Is it really necessary to pull the snake by the tail?

Remembering yesterday, Alistair realizes that it probably is. I just hope that you know what you are doing, Ned.

Chapter 18 Alistair

The marching footsteps and shouted orders approach only a few instants after they have ducked in a side alley, and then disappear behind the Alienage gate.

Alistair and Ned exchange amused glances, Leliana shakes her head. You were right, Ned, they are so stupid as to expect that we would be waiting for them in there.

Wynne doesn't share their amusement. "That was quite close, and an unnecessary risk. What was so pressing that it had to be dealt with immediately?"

She gasps as Ned unexpectedly grabs her in his arms and kisses her cheek. "A personal matter, my dearest mage," he flashes a smile as if it was a sufficient explanation and pretends to ignore Morrigan's frowning brows.

Andraste's bosom, is she… jealous? I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't just seen it.

As they proceed through the market, somewhat less busy at this hour, Alistair asks Ned in a low voice. "That personal matter… was it about the little girl we saw begging in the street? You seemed very… concerned."

"Amethyne. Her name is Amethyne." Ned is staring straight ahead but since Alistair continues looking at him, he adds: "I knew her mother. She… was at the Highever castle… on that night."

"Oh. I see." Alistiar considers this for some time. "Is this why you were so vexed when we first found out that the Alienage was closed?"

"Exactly. I wanted to find the girl and provide for her – I owed it to her mother. I arranged it with Soris." A pause. "And it had to be done today because there may be no time for that after tomorrow."

Meaning, there may be no 'after' after tomorrow."Well… but shouldn't you have talked to the girl yourself? You could tell her – "

Ned turns to him abruptly. "Tell her what?" he hisses. "'Hello, I bedded your mommy once, and she died a minute after she got up from my bed?' Surely the kind of stuff young girls love to hear!"

Alistair only stares at him, aware that he is gaping but currently unable to do anything about it, so shocked by the reaction. As if he hated me

A second later, Ned closes his eyes for a moment and wipes his hand over his face. "Sorry," he mutters. "I – I am sorry."

"It's alright." But it sounds false even to himself.

"I'm sorry," Ned repeats, and the tone of panic in his voice finally brings Alistair to understand.

"It's alright, brother," he says softly and means it this time. Really, Alistair, your usual idiotic way. Did you honestly believe that everything could be right just over one night? "Are you – " he bites his tongue. Even better, asking when he's obviously not.

Ned laughs softly, and bitterly. "As alright as I can be, given the circumstances." He takes a deep breath. "Don't worry, I will be alright. I just have to stop snapping at people." Another breath. "It will be much better when this is safely over. There is a lot I have to deal with, one thing after another." His eyes stray to Morrigan who walks ahead of them, ignoring the looks of the passers-by drawn by her provocative outfit. "One thing after another," Ned repeats softly and turns back to Alistair. "Which reminds me: have your silverite thoroughly scrubbed and polished for tomorrow, we want you all nice and shiny."

"I thought we decided that I should be wearing Cailan's armour for the Landsmeet?"

Ned chuckles. "Nope, I've come up with an even better use for it – you're going to love this when I tell you. Get the silverite ready, I hear that this was Maric's favourite colour."

Well, this is probably the first good thing about being Maric's son. I like silverite, too.

Reminded once again of tomorrow's trial, Alistair hushes his voice even more. "And what about… her? What role have you devised for her?"

Ned doesn't look at him. "I have to speak to her yet."

Is it just me or are you avoiding the answer?

But before Alistair can frown and enquire any further, Ned grins and pats his shoulder. "First things first. Haven't we earned a decent lunch today? With some cheese as a desert?"

Wolf barks excitedly in agreement and starts dancing about, effectively hampering both walking and the conversation, until Ned grabs him by the collar and calms him down, partly by threats, partly by a generous promise of morsel bones.

You always have it your way with everyone, don't you?

As the gate of Eamon's estate opens for them, Alistair turns and looks back, to the Alienage. "When I am king," he says with resolution that surprises himself most of all, "I will do something for all those people. I will not tolerate any of my subjects treated like this."

"I would expect no less from you." Ned's expression is grave, and controlled. "When the time comes, remind me to tell you something about our valuable supporter Vaughan Kendalls. This is also something you will want to deal with. – But as I have said, first things first." Saying that, he takes Alistair by the arm and together they pass through the gate, long before Loghain's men realize that their prey has eluded them once again.