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My take on the post-Lothering dialogue, Alistair's PoV.
This one is meant as a new year's present for my fellow forumers - for being the wonderful guys you are.
- Two Of Them
They make camp further off the town, not to attract any further unwelcome visitors.
A real camp, with tents – Morrigan, of course, had to have her own and put it up as far from the others as possible – and a cooking fire with a pot, in which the stew is already happily bubbling. Wolf’s lying just next to the fire, no less happily sniffing at the tempting smells, issuing whenever Leliana adds some herbs and stirs with the spoon. Her red hair glows in the firelight, and she is humming some tune along, in a surprisingly clear voice.
Crazy or not, she can apparently cook much better than me.
Alright, not such an impossible feat, but the fact remains that the pot and the stew with herbs, as well as the tents and extra blankets and everything else the Lothering Chantry and Templars could spare, are the cloistered sister’s contribution to the Grey Wardens’ cause.
If only the said Wardens were not reduced to the number of two, currently waiting for the stew no less eagerly than Wolf, and one of them being Alistair himself in his own person, the world would be a much brighter place.
His stomach rumbles softly, to remind him that after a week of travel throughout the Korcari Wilds on meagre provisions, dried or undercooked or even eaten raw when they could not risk a fire, he really should not complain too much.
And I don’t want to know why everything Morrigan brought for cooking had tooth marks as if she scavenged from wolves.
Cheer up, Alistair. You’re warm and more or less safe and soon also fed, and, look! there’s still some of that dark ale in the flagon, even though Leliana used most of it into the stew – a weird habit, though who am I to complain?
He takes a sip and then quickly puts the ale away: the taste and the smell remind him too much of the dinners in the Denerim compound, with Thraxel and Jeor and Sornas bantering, while Duncan –
Come on, idiot. You’ve had enough of Morrigan’s venom, you needn’t our new companions to laugh at you, as well.
The controlled breathing and the meditative mental patterns drive the tears back. Alistair takes a cautious look at his fellow Warden, sitting cross-legged next to him and inspecting the content of their coin purses. Apparently, the moment of weakness has passed unnoticed, for once, unlike on the previous occasions.
I guess I should be thankful to the Maker that at least our lordling Warden does not think me a laughing stock for that. Though he might simply be too noble to tell, one never knows…
The sarcasm is followed by a pang of guilt: for all he knows, the sympathy Ned has been showing seems genuine. After all, he knows himself what it is like to lose someone…
Quickly blinking, Alistair looks around for some distraction, and so he clears his throat and shakes the flagon. “Want some?” he addresses his fellow Warden. “Can’t understand why a dead rabbit needed to drink so much but at least the cloistered sister left a little for us, as well.”
Without looking up from the coins, Ned reaches his hand for the flagon, and takes a sip as he adds the last silver. “It should last for some time,” he assesses the result of his accounting, “provided that we don’t spend excessively and make do with the old armours.” The way he presses his lips while staring at the heap of coin is not very reassuring, and for a good reason: the fight through the Tower of Ishal left their armours torn and punctured, and especially Ned’s leathers are damaged almost to the point of unrepairability.
Not to mention their last addition, and one Alistair is much less comfortable around than the crazy-but-quite-pleasant Leliana. Somewhat aside from them, Sten is currently hunching over the remnants of two studded leathers, which he is trying to make into one fitting a Qunari. Getting him a proper armour around here is next to impossible even if we had the coin.
Receiving the flagon back with still some ale left, Alistair lowers his voice: “Should I, er, offer our newest friend a share?”
This time the answer comes with a chuckle, though Ned also keeps his voice low. “What, trying to stick to the Warden tradition of offering a drink whenever someone joins in? You may try you luck, though I suppose that Sten would actually prefer the original mixture.”
Alistair finds himself chuckling in answer: the Ale of Joining, huh? I never suspected you actually had a streak of humour in you before that Remigold line. – And cracking a joke here and there is actually much better than that brooding you displayed before, if you ask me.
Then, however, he meets those dark eyes, which disturbingly remind him of Duncan’s.
“By the way, you do not know how that is prepared, I presume?” Ned asks in an even lower tone.
Oh, sure. We’re all given an exact recipe upon the Joining; how come you ever missed that part? “Nope. I know as much as you do – the blood and some magic. Not exactly a topic for a novice, I guess.”
Ned nods. “So, unless some reinforcements from Orlais miraculously appear, it’s just the two of us.”
“Ri-ight. With the current situation, about as probable to happen as Andraste’s second coming.” Alistair shifts uneasily: the topic builds a lump in his stomach. On their way through the Wilds, they never really discussed their options; their plans not extending behind the task of reaching Lothering.
Looking back at the coins, Ned slowly says: “We need support. The mages, the dwarves, the elves…. we cannot hope to stop the Blight here with an army of outsiders of dubious strength, and we cannot simply crisscross all over Ferelden with that price on our heads…” His right hand balls into a fist. Alistair can feel the anger emanating from him, like when that underling of Loghain’s hurled the accusation of treason into their faces. The lump in his stomach grows harder.
Gather an army and stop the Blight, and bring down the Hero of Ferelden.
Sure. And find Andraste’s ashes and cleanse the Black City, while you’re at it.
Nonetheless, we must try. I must try. For Duncan, if for nothing else.
If only I knew how.
His stomach twirls almost painfully, as Ned continues. “First and foremost, we must spread word of what really happened at Ostagar, or we’ll be battling not just darkspawn but our fellow Fereldans, as well. We must rally the nobles to our cause, or at least persuade them not to side with Loghain against us.” He rakes his fingers through his hair: an untypically frustrated gesture, in his usually controlled conduct. “We just have to pick carefully who to address first, or we’ll find our heads on the pikes in no time at all. Out of those who didn’t make it to Ostagar prior the battle, Bryland should be quite a safe choice. I suppose I could at least persuade him to hear us out, or we could –“ Bringing himself to a halt, he finally raises his eyes to Alistair. “Sorry, I got carried ahead. I didn’t mean to… What do you think we should do?”
Oh-oh. Now, wasn’t the life in the Wilds actually much better? Just keep going and follow Morrigan, and don’t stare at her hips too much or you stumble into another mudhole; no leading, no thinking.
Even when they arrived in the town, they simply reacted to circumstances – quickly and without time to think when it came down to a fight, or in a consensus when the flow of events allowed to talk.
And each and every time, Ned acted first, instinctively, halting himself and turning to Alistair for approval only as an afterthought.
He has it in him. Bloody aristocrat. Where does it come from, that self-confidence and decisiveness to act? From being born with a silver spoon in an orifice?
“It does not matter who your father was. You are nothing. Remember that. Remember your place, Alistair.”
Why, of course, my Lord.
As if anyone ever let me forget.
Feeling Ned’s expectant look on him, Alistair grins and waves his hand leisurely. “No, that’s alright. Go on, decide that… I sure don’t mind.”
His fellow Warden does not seem convinced. “You are the senior Warden here. I do not wish to… usurp. There are too few of us to allow our differences to interfere.”
You are the senior Warden, Alistair. You are the one who should lead here. The very thought makes him feel sick.
“You are no-one, and the only thing you can command here are your boots, and these are not even your own, in fact. Show respect and obey the commands, Novice Alistair, or you’ll never become a Templar!”
Who told you I ever wanted to? Alistair drops his eyes to ser Maureth’s polished boots, and the knight grasps the gesture correctly. His already flushed face turns a couple of shades darker. “Humility and obedience, Novice Alistair. I believe there are quite a number of chamberpots to be scrubbed in the next fortnight, and ten more rounds with gear in today’s training. Is that clear?”
“But of course, ser.”
The smooth tone does it.
“Twenty rounds,” the knight grits through his teeth before he turns on his heel and strides away.
Alistair bows to his back with perfect civility.
I knew you would have me scrub the pots, and the extra training will rid me of a bigger part of reciting the Chant of Light, you know? And, since you did what I wanted and expected, it’s almost as if I commanded you and not the other way round, right?
The years of honing the skill produce a sheepish grin on his lips. “No, really, I have no problem with that. Take over the lead, if you want.” You’re practically doing it all the time, anyway.
And what you’re rising your brows at? Is it past your little noble brain that someone might actually not want the power? The responsibility? ‘Cause, even if I knew what to do, I’d have no idea how to make others do it? You had those soldiers following us into the Tower of Ishal even before I could start to think how to do it!
But none of this gets past his grin. “Really, I do not want to lead. No, no, no. Terrible things happen when I do. We get lost, people die, and the next thing you know I’m stranded somewhere without any pants.”
The dark eyes watch him, unreadable. “No one died when you led us into the Wilds before the Joining. I couldn’t see a problem with your leading there.”
Because Duncan sent me.
The years of never letting know take over again. “See? Didn’t we get lost in the swamp there? Nearly eaten by leeches and mosquitoes?”
A small shade of a smile, which disappears as Ned speaks: “Are you sure of this, then? Do you really want me to lead?”
“Well, yes, I do – or at least I think this is I’ve been telling you the last half an hour or so.”
For a moment, Ned watches him intently… and then his features contort in a fit of laughter: only the second time since they met.
Oh. So it has come to laughing stock at the long last. And here I thought I was beginning to like you, for an aristocrat.
Alistair feels the heat of embarrassment rise to his cheeks, as Leliana, surprised, turns her head towards them.
Maker, even that dog is staring at me.
Alright, what have I said this time?
He waits till Ned, somewhat out of breath, finally deigns to clarify the reason of his amusement. “Correct me if I am wrong…. If I take over the lead, and the two of us are the only two Wardens in Ferelden… it actually makes me a Warden Commander! Maker, I haven’t been a Warden for even a fortnight… this must be the shortest rise to power in history!”
He laughs again, this time with a clear tinge of hysteria, then looks at Alistair, sobered. “And probably also the shortest Commandership ever, as well. You do realize that more likely than not, we’ll both be dead in a matter of weeks.”
Exactly what I’ve been thinking all along. But the old habits die hard, and so he says: “And here I hoped we might last at least two months.”
This provokes another fit of laughter. “Shall we start placing bets to raise our funds? You could be our treasurer… Though, I think I have an even better position for you: every Commander needs his second, or not?”
“What?” Is it just me, or does this suspiciously sounds like leading?
“But of course,” Ned explains in an exaggeratedly grave tone. “I cannot command our armies-to-be without the help of a second-in-command. Since there are just the two of us, it must be you, as simple as that. Really, I’m not going to take over the lead if you don’t comply.”
"Hey, that’s blackmailing!" “And… what are my duties supposed to be, then? All I can do is consume every single bit of cheese in sight and battle the darkspawn a wee bit more.”
“Well, I guess I might call these a boon. All I want from my second is to watch my back and be there when I need you.”
“Well… I suppose I could handle that?” With a sigh of fake resignation, Alistair places his hand over his heart and mock-bows. “I am yours to command, Commander.”
After a moment of looking at each other’s eye, they both burst into laughter.
The bloody Warden Commander and his second. What a joke of a lifetime. Maker, you must really hate me.
Though… watching his back and being there is something I could really handle, or not?
Yeah, I could handle that.
Maybe even a wee bit more?
And so he says: “Concerning that support… I think we should talk to Arl Eamon first.”
Ned looks up, somewhat alarmed. “But if he believes Loghain’s version that we are the ones responsible for his nephew’s death…”
“He will hear us out first. I know Eamon, and he – he knows me. In fact, he raised me. My mother was a maid at Redcliffe and he took care of me after she died. – Well, I am a bastard, you know,” he adds hastily, before that look fully forms. “The fatherless type, before you ask.”
No, Ned does not ask, but Alistair knows all too well the line of thought that usually follows here. “No, Eamon’s not my father,” he adds for clarity’s sake, ready for the quirk which the denial mostly brings about. “’Fatherless’, I said.”
No quirking? I wish I could tell you that Marric part, then, just to see the face you’d pull.
It dawns on him that it might actually be a good idea to tell just now and be done with it, but the loathing he always feels makes him hesitate even now, and the moment passes.
“Eamon is the most influential among the nobles now,” Ned slowly ponders. “If you’re sure he won’t have us beheaded on sight…”
“He won’t. He is a considerate man, fair and just. He will listen to us.” Maker, I didn’t know myself I still trust him so much.
“Then it’s done. We head for Redcliffe. We just –”
Whatever Ned meant, it remains unsaid as Leliana calls: “The supper’s ready! Fetch your bowls, if you want some!”
“And so the Commander is commanded,” Ned remarks with a grin as they both spring to their feet. “Really, the job is overrated.”
Alistair laughs a little as they both do what they are told.
It’s a natural course of things, after all.
- "Just so you know, if the king ever asks me to put on a dress and dance Remigold, I'm drawing a line, darkspawn or not."
- An unexpected sound - Ned laughs, genuinely and wholeheartedly; the very first time Alistair hears him laugh since they met. "I'll get you some fancy stockings to go with the dress." He winks exaggeratedly. "You can trust my taste."
- Duncan sighs at the exchange, his thought as clear as if articulated aloud: Oh, Maker. Two of them.
originally published at ff.n