Chapter Two of Griffon Eggs.
Louis pushed the hood of his cloak back from his shaggy black hair as he entered the close, smoky interior of the tavern. A flick of his eyes panned over the best lit area in front of the bar, where rowdy Crimson Oars were trying to elicit free favors from the working wenches.
Although he didn’t personally recognize any of them, one of the pirates was strutting as he tried to impress a wench with a busty décolletage. “Don’t ye know we’re the Crimson Oars?” he barked with a rowdy laugh which shook the rafters. One of his mates was trying unsuccessfully to park a woman with a tight skirt and a firm, round backside onto his lap. They certainly hadn’t changed any since Denerim and Louis’ run in with them, but by the look of the woman’s displeased expression, the Oars would either part with coin or have a mug shattered on the side of the skull. Louis didn’t care which. It wasn’t his problem this time. Ignoring the spectacle, he was more concerned about the tables where the greasy light of the lamps couldn’t manage to crawl. Shadows were deeper in the corners for those who kept their cloaks pulled close and muttered furtively across the rims of dented metal mugs. They clustered in knots, shuffling out of the public eye, obviously not wanting to be disturbed, and Louis didn’t let his attention drop on any of them too long. They weren’t who he was looking for, and he hoped his tip this time was worth the silvers. Ferelden had more shady taverns in it than he could count, and he was beginning to feel like he’d seen all of them.
His gaze swept over the more casual drinkers, and finally fell on the one who he’d been trying to track for the last two months. Loghain might be dead, long live the Queen (whatever), but Louis had lost a friend at the Landsmeet when his well lain plans had all gone wrong. It must have stung Loghain to have his own daughter sacrifice him up on a serving plate to an Orlesian Warden, and all the worse to be indoctrinated into the Grey Warden fold by Riordan. Although born to Highever, Riordan might as well have been another Orlesian from Loghain’s point of view.
The former Teryn may have had his suspicions he was going to be used as a sacrificial goat, but it had almost worked. It would have been perfect had Alistair not exploded in public, and Louis might have been able to have talked his brother Warden out of leaving. Alistair had shown loyalty beyond question in the Brecilian forest, but he’d thought himself betrayed. It had been a bad gamble which came back to bite. Louis owed it to his long term friend to at least try and get the truth through Alistair’s thick skull.
Boots treading over sawdust scattered on the floor to collect the vomit, Louis ordered a mug of ale which was obviously watered down. He dropped a few coppers for the barkeep’s greedy sausage fingers to make himself look like he belonged, although his armor and stride may as well have been a signal fire that he did not.
A broad, half drunken lout lurched the Grey Warden’s direction, looking like he wanted to instigate something. It wasn’t difficult to recognize Louis for an outsider, even for those who couldn’t sense the strangeness which came with the taint. Sprouting paws and whiskers had prompted him to shave off his beard and clip his hair after the incident when he’d been a werewolf, but old habits died hard. After a few months, he’d let it grow back, and features, accent, hair cut and everything about him still had the stamp of his homeland.
Louis’ cold, strange, feral golden green eyes bored into the drunken fool, and once he would have gone straight for the throat with teeth, tolerating no challenge. No matter how hard he had tried to put those weeks of the wolf behind them, they were evidently going to linger for the rest of his life. At least they were residual. Almost bored, Louis flipped his cloak back completely over his shoulders, showing the hilt of Starfang jutting up beyond his shoulder blades. There wasn’t enough liquor in the local to try to tangle with someone sober and armed. Smart. With a drunken sneer and muttered curse, the man turned aside, so Louis pressed forward, mug in his free hand, to Alistair’s table.
Even had he not recognized the Grey Warden, there was no mistaking that mutt Barkspawn which had attached itself to him. Barky was nearly as depressed as his master, and didn’t bother to growl at Louis. The event was noteworthy almost next to beheading the archdemon. Fereldens and their dogs. Louis would never understand it, although Barky had proven worth his battle weight in a close fight. Alistair always insisted Barkspawn was a purebred Mabari war hound, but he looked like any other big mutt to Louis. That might have been why he and Barky never seemed to get on with each other.
Andraste’s mercy, Alistair was a wreck. No longer giving a damn about himself, his clothes were shabby and his hair was worse, starting to fall as a filthy curtain into dull, sunken eyes. There was enough reek coming off of him to rival Oghren, and when Louis set his mug down on the table, Alistair didn’t bother to look up. “Don’t want company,” he half slurred, folding his arms across his chest.
“Too bad. I’ve covered half the taverns in this forsaken land to find you. I’m not leaving.”
“You!” Alistair lurched unsteadily to his feet, incensed, “you bastard!” He could barely stay upright, but outrage was giving him strength through the haze of alcohol. “Don’t even try to speak to me after what you did!” He groped over his shoulder for a sword and shield which were no longer there, although his fogged mind didn’t grasp it immediately.
“Sit down,” Louis snapped, shoving a chair behind the other man’s legs so he hadn’t much choice in the matter, “before you fall over.” Barkspawn had taken an interest and stood up, starting to growl. “Don’t start with me,” he warned the dog.
Collapsing with a rattling thump, Alistair glared, and coarse living had aged him badly. “I trusted you! I went looking for you when we were in… in the … When you were a werewolf! I helped you, and you … you bastard!” he repeated incoherently, unable to keep his thoughts strung together. “How could you do that? You made Loghain a Warden. I thought you were my friend! I trusted you!”
So there it was, and Louis didn’t know if Alistair would even remember the whole conversation by morning. “I know you did,” he told him reasonably, for once trying to be diplomatic. It wasn’t easy when all he wanted to do was pick up Alistair by the lapels and shake him a few times. There was a reason no one let him into the Orlesian Courts before he’d joined the Wardens, although he didn’t consider himself that untactful. “Let’s cut the horseshit.” Then again, perhaps he was a little too crude and direct for the nobility. “I didn’t want you or I to die if there was another reasonable way. I wanted Loghain to do it for us. That was the only reason I did what I did, but I couldn’t very well explain that to you in the middle of the Landsmeet. We’d already changed our plans and made Anora the Queen. You’d stay with the Wardens, so that made Loghain an expendable resource.”
Alistair’s eyes were bloodshot and they narrowed as he sneered. “Good plan. You kept him from the death he deserved in front of the Landsmeet. Instead, he died a hero. I should have never trusted you.”
He’d expected that attitude, and sat down across from Alistair. “A dead hero. Let history remember him that way,” Louis grunted with a smirk. “What use is history to men like us? You and I are alive to make a difference, and he’s not. That’s all that counts, eh? You don’t know everything because you weren’t there when Riordan told Loghain and I about the way the taint has to be taken in by a Warden, and how it kills them. Every single Blight has ended with dead Wardens, but always one in particular.”
Alistair shrugged, reaching for his mug until Louis grabbed it, snatching it out of reach. “Hey…”
“Pay attention,” Louis snapped, patience expended and resisting the urge toss the brew in the exile’s face to try and sober him up. The whole plan was probably a bad idea, but he couldn’t just leave the man to the blight wolves. Although Alistair didn’t believe it any more, it was out of friendship. “The taint of the old god will leave the dragon on death and go into the nearest powerful darkspawn. Just killing the dragon wasn’t enough. It’s never enough. A Warden has to land that death blow and the old god’s soul travels to the taint. Darkspawn are empty, soulless vessels, but Wardens aren’t. One of us makes the ultimate sacrifice and dies to stop the Blight. There were only three of us. Riordan tried to be the one because the taint wouldn’t spare him for much longer, but I’d rather have seen Riordan live to keep fighting, too. Loghain deserved to take the final blow not because of honor, but because he was expendable. We were going to kill him anyway, so better to make him useful. Riordan tried to tell us that, and it’s what he meant about ‘compelling reasons’ for more Wardens.” Had Loghain outlived his usefulness, Louis would have also slit his throat first opportunity given, because that was often the way of The Game back home. Just because he chose not to play it didn’t mean he didn’t know how.
Alistair made a sodden snorting sound and wobbled slightly in his chair. “Why didn’t you just tell me that, then? You’re a liar, and worse. Traitor.” He should have expected as much from an Orlesian, or that was one of the more bitter things he stewed about in the past months since his exile.
“Tell you what? Morrigan talks in her sleep? Didn’t think you wanted to know.”
Alistair turned his head to one side and his face convulsed into a mask of disgust. “You’re right. Boundaries. I didn’t need to hear that.”
“She offered a way out, too. All one of us had to do use Blood Magic to get her pregnant with some demon child for her to run off and raise.” He’d sent Morrigan off fuming worse than any woman scorned he’d ever seen. That was after a few choice words about his mental facilities. The arguments she proposed had been very convincing, too. Too bad he was weaned off the tit with schemes, flattery, and false sincerity. “She took off when I told her no.” Unfortunately, Morrigan sincerely believed she was helping him. It doubly infuriated her when he’d denied her, then refused to plant Loghain in her bed. “That was the whole reason Flemeth rescued us, but it was starting to bother her at the end, I think. She began talking in her sleep.”
“Huh?” Alistair must have been more drunk than he thought, because most of that almost made sense.
At least it got his attention. “You going to sober up and listen to me?” Louis might have had the diplomacy of a charging Bronto, but he could manipulative and persuasive when he had to be. “The Wardens need you,” he tried to appeal to whatever was left of Alistair’s sense of duty. “I need you, and able to walk a straight line.” Being dumped in a river with some soap wouldn’t hurt, either. Maker, he stank.
“I … no … yes… will you go away if I do?” he finally mumbled, making an ineffective swipe for the mug. Louis yanked it out of reach, pouring what was left onto the floor. The rats and roaches weren’t going to mind.
“No. Now get off your drunken ass and come with me.” Louis ignored Alistair’s protests that he wasn’t a Warden any more, hoping that wherever Duncan was, he appreciated this. Hauling his brother Warden up to his feet, Louis half supported and half roughly marched him out the tavern door. “You too,” he told Barkspawn, although the dog was imprinted on Alistair and would have followed to the death.
At the first animal trough he found, the Orlesian grabbed Alistair by the neck and forcibly dunked him face first into it. He left him under for only a split second before hauling him back out, screaming and fighting. “You paying attention now?” he demanded loudly, too close to his inebriated friend’s ear for comfort.
Alistair spit, coming up with a few obscenities which made Louis proud. At least the Chantry boy’s vocabulary had expanded. Alistair leaned forward, propping his hands over his knees coughing violently until he retched.
Louis shook his head, but at least that was half a pint which wasn’t going into his gut. Not everyone could hold their liquor like Oghren. “You done?” he finally asked when Alistair had reeled back to sit on the edge of the trough.
Wiping his mouth with the back of a dirty sleeve he shrugged. “I guess so. What do you mean you found out why Morrigan was with us?”
Louis had to explain it several times before all the details sank in, including the part where Morrigan’s conscience was getting the better of her in the dead of night. “It took weeks, but by the time we marched to Denerim, I had an idea why Flemeth sent her. You were right all along. She wasn’t with us to stop the Blight.”
“Is that really why you were…?” Alistair felt like he was about to heave his insides out again, and clutched his gut.
“Yes and no. She used me. I used her,” his voice was emotionless as a fish’s eye. “It’s common enough, but we cared for each other as much as the situation allowed. It was complicated.” Doomed, of course, but she’d known that and so had he. They’d both wanted it that way. Wardens didn’t live long enough to be family men, and she wasn’t the kind looking for it.
“You still shouldn’t have betrayed me, Louis.” Alistair sounded broken, like half the man he’d been when they’d known each other.
“You saved my life. I wanted to return the favor without fulfilling Flemeth’s plans.” His former friend was in a sorry state, and he’d dropped a lot of weight.
“Bad idea.” Alistair stared at the ground in front of him, still clutching his stomach with one arm.
“Yes,” Louis agreed, unexpectedly, and Alistair looked up, suddenly at attention. “Very bad idea. For whatever it’s worth … Sorry.” Crossing his arms over his heart, he bowed to Alistair. “This wasn’t how I saw it working. I should have listened to you – you’re from Ferelden. Things are more honest here.”
They fell to silence for a long awkward moment until Alistair finally released a sigh. “You said you came looking for me for a reason. What is it?”
“Griffon eggs.” He might as well have it out, because nobody in their right mind would believe it, anyway.
“Griffon what!” Now Louis had his full and undivided, if wavering, attention. “Griffons have been extinct for … for… forever.”
“Almost four centuries,” he corrected, “keep your voice down. Which is a lot less time than Andraste’s ashes were lost and we still managed to find them, didn’t we? This may be a wild rabbit chase, don’t know, but we can’t take that chance. Listen, things happened after you left. The Darkspawn didn’t go to ground, and we had to find out why. Nobody knows how long they’re really going to be gone. We need any advantage we can get. You’re someone who can do this, and if there’s any truth to the chance of finding griffons at all, you can do something for the Wardens. You might be able to bring back our traditional steeds.”
“That’s insane,” Alistair argued obstinately. “They’re gone, and have been for centuries.”
“Maybe not. Are you going to dry up and do this or not? I need to know now.”
“I …” Alistair let loose a long sigh, “all right, all right… I’ll go, for all the good it will do. Where am I going, exactly?”
“You’ll do it?”
“I said I would,” Alistair snapped ungraciously. “I will.”
“Good, I have some other Wardens you need to meet once you’re cleaned up. Come with me.” He roughly part hauled, part shoved, and otherwise escorted Alistair in front of him. Keeping him on his feet wasn’t as difficult as he thought it would be, and they managed to arrive at the inn where Louis had been staying.
Lending Alistair a set of clothes, he left him alone in the wash room to sober up and scrape off the stench. There were werewolves who smelled better, and Louis would know.
Once he was sure Alistair wasn’t going to fall into the bathing tub headlong to drown himself and was serious about staying on, Louis knelt beside a storage trunk and removed a solid broadsword along with a peace offering. Alistair might not ever forgive him, even after being bribed. If he didn’t, then there were worse things Louis had survived, including burying friends and family. As long as Alistair stopped trying to drink himself to death, fry the rest. Pulling aside the cloth he’d been using to protect a basic square shield emblazoned with the crest of the Grey Wardens, he lay it and the sword aside on the bed as he sat on the other end.
Pushing himself back so he could rest against the wall, he brought one knee up, propping his heel on the bed frame, and waited. After giving the dog a glance, he informed Barky, “You could use a bath, too.” It earned him a chuffed snort and faint growl to which Louis rolled his eyes.
When Alistair reemerged, he looked more like himself, although still too haggard when compared against the Orlesian’s memories of him. They seemed fresher than they should have, as if the pair of them had been fighting in the Deep Roads almost back to back with Oghren mere weeks ago, when it had been almost two years. The man in front of him was a virtual stranger when correlated against those reflections. Louis gave him a critical visual inspection, his face carrying all the expression of a wall in Vigil’s Keep. Better. Still in a sorry state, still half drunk, but better. He’s going to have to pull himself together if he stays with us. Oghren fights better drunk than sober, but Alistair can’t even complete a sentence. They all have to be able to hold their own ground for this, or they’ll be useless. Louis didn’t know what kind of wasp’s nest they were going to be shaking up, but he needed another Grey Warden flanking him, not a inebriated boy who didn’t give a piss about anything except wallowing in his own self pity. There had already been problems on the roads, and he might have gotten things done faster and more efficiently if he’d forgotten about looking for the lost sheep.
Sighing inwardly, Louis caved in, although he’d never do it aloud. Even he wasn’t that ruthless, and he would have gone looking for Alistair even if it hadn’t been for the eggs. They just made a convenient excuse, but his brother Warden was going to have to meet them halfway if he was going to be part of the group again. Both his teams had gotten through the bulk of the Blight and the aftermath with the Architect because they could function as one. They were all different people, pulled into the stygian quests to try and save mankind, but only because they worked together seamlessly when it mattered. Letting his sigh turn audible, he snapped his fingers under Alistair’s nose and bluntly demanded, “you focused?”
Alistair startled, blinking, and used a towel to rub the dampness from the back of his neck where his hair had gotten too long. Although he’d wrung it out, it itched, and he shrugged. “I guess so. What’s… that…?” His eyes were still bloodshot, dry, and ached in spite of the steam rolling from his bath a few minutes before. He scrutinized the other man warily.
Louis traded the wet towel for the hefty square shield, emblazoned with the Grey Warden griffon symbol, its rampant claws outstretched in a faded blue-grey outline and painted white. It was well used and had seen scores of blows dealt to it by the dings and occasional nick in the heraldry, but it was also printed with a crest specific to one person. “A peace offering,” Louis grunted in monosyllable, handing it over.
“This… this shield…” Alistair blinked hazy eyes, not daring to believe as he took it by the edges, staring. “It’s … it was Duncan’s, wasn’t it?”
Louis shrugged and nodded, picking up the broadsword he’d brought with him to accompany it, and examining the edge.
“I… I had no idea this wasn’t with him when he died.” His tone turned incredulous as he ran his hand almost reverently over the surface. His fingertips grazed along the dimples and dents, letting a memory take him back to better times and a hall full of Wardens who were in a drinking contest. Even Louis had passed out that night against … Alistair never could remember the man’s name … but the one with the big, fuzzy beard.
Duncan had been a rogue, but the Blight had pushed him to mastery of multiple warrior talents. The shield had been much more than mere ornamentation, and Alistair had personally seen it on his mentor before Ostagar. “Where did you get this?” he entreated softly.
Louis hoped they wouldn’t reopen old wounds, because that particular memento had been revealed a few days after Loghain’s Joining. Leave it to that stubborn old bastard to survive where so many good men and women didn’t, but when Louis actually got to know the man and his motives, he hadn’t taken it all as personally as Alistair had. More specifically, he’d taken it personally and found a more productive way of getting even than slicing his enemies’ head off. In the end, Loghain had come to respect the Wardens and understand their place in the scheme, although the feeling didn’t extend to Louis. Wardens or not, Louis was an Orlesian, and Loghain might have resorted to murder given too much slack on his leash.
Although engrossed in the gift, Alistair would eventually want an answer. “It was in a the Grey Warden’s vault in Denerim,” Louis admitted through his teeth, tossing his own memories onto a pyre. “Riordan told me about before we marched.”
Instead of fixating on the time frame, Alistair turned his blatantly honest expression on the other man. “You kept it … all this time?” he demanded quietly, sounding as if he painfully wanted to believe.
Nodding curtly, Louis tersely muttered, “I knew you’d want it if I ever found you.” He tossed the wet towel over a rack which looked suspiciously like it should have been used for weapons. Must have been another Ferelden thing.
“I…” Turning to stare at the fire burning to coals in the hearth, the self exiled Warden put his arm through the straps on the back of the shield, testing its weight and balance. “Thank you. This means more to me … than you know.”
Although maybe Louis did know, and it was difficult for Alistair to hold a grudge. Loghain had been one of the few men who he had ever completely and blindly hated without finding any redeeming qualities in a man. Alistair and Louis had been through over a year of fighting side by side, and self loathing slithered through his gut. How many times had Louis picked him up when he’d needed it, albeit friendly as a wet cat? He’d have lost it when Duncan died had it not been for only Orlesian Warden in Ferelden to listen to him go on about how he missed and wanted to avenge the man who was like a father.
The thought of Duncan made Alistair swallow hard, his mind going sentimental and a little stupid with cheap ale. “I … I owe you an apology, too,” he managed, sounding like wool was stuffed in his mouth. “I shouldn’t have left you the way I did.” They were brothers in more than just the Grey Warden sense of the word. The other Warden had become more like the actual family Alistair never had. Although his savagely bitter side didn’t want to extend forgiveness, the rest of him had already buckled. It was also true, he did need to apologize. Alistair had gone the distance until the critical moment when they should have been standing together to fight the Archdemon. Instead, to his eternal shame, Loghain had done it. Loghain. “Duncan would have made me stay where I belonged to kill the Archdemon,” he lamented in pure misery, “but instead I left. It was a stupid … stupid, stupid, thing for me to do. I should have at least waited until the Blight was over.”
“Probably,” Louis agreed, and realized belatedly that he should rethink his ideas on tact. Alistair looked like he’d just been punched, and Louis clenched his teeth together so hard he heard his own jaw pop. Trying to salvage his brash mouth, he carried forward quickly. “It’s past. Apology accepted. It’s over for now, but it’s always just a matter of time, isn’t it? Later I’ll tell you about the Architect, but right now, we can do something else for the Wardens.” Also, the longer he could dodge questions from Weisshaupt, the better. They had a lot of questions about the Architect and an equal number of accusations. He really didn’t want to be hauled by the heels up to some Maker-forsaken wasteland where the politics were a combination of Orlais and Orzamar from the way Riordan had described the place.
“All right, I suppose,” Alistair mumbled uncertainly. Louis hadn’t forgotten or given up on him, even when he’d wanted to give up on himself. Added to that was the fact he’d kept Duncan’s shield as a gift for nearly eight more months on the thread of a hope they would meet again. He’d never had a proper family, but he supposed real brothers fought with each other, too.
“Here,” the Orlesian gave him the sword hilt first after the awkward pause, and Barkspawn’s canny eyes were watching the movement carefully for signs of hostility. “You’ll need this, too.”
Alistair’s fingers closed over it. He felt mildly better, but a battle had been just begun. It wouldn’t be fought with blades, and how harsh the arena was going to be would depend entirely on how deep he’s had fallen into the beer barrel. “So.” The air between them felt uncomfortable as Alistair wouldn’t meet the other man’s eyes. He looked at his reflection in the back of the shield, instead, and wasn’t fond of what was staring back at him. “So,” he repeated, discomfited, “you said we were going to look for griffon eggs? Where? What makes you think they aren’t extinct like everyone thinks they are?”
“In good time,” Louis grunted, rubbing his hand over his beard. He tossed his head toward the door and the last of the Theirin bloodline. “Come on. There’s some people who want to see you again, and someone I want you to meet.” Although he looked like there were more questions about to rise to the fore, Alistair submitted and scratched the top of the borrowed garment at his throat. Louis was slightly shorter but broader shouldered than the other Warden, so the clothes hung on him. It was made worse by the loss of muscle which had been eaten away by bad liquor.
Pushing the door open with a flat, gauntleted hand, Louis emerged into the still, late afternoon air. It was crisp around the edges and tickled his nose with a nip of coming winter. Ferelden had dogs and a lot of cold weather, but Louis had started to think of it as home since his transfer. Barkspawn was padding along behind them, and even the mammoth set of teeth and foul breath had become almost tolerable during that long stint where they fought the Blight. He’d almost missed the mutt when they were at Amaranthine, and made the mistake of saying so in front of Fergus Cousland. The Teryrn had pledged Louis a pup from a promising litter while the Keep was being put back together one dwarven forged rock at a time. There just wasn’t getting away from the smelly behemoths, it seemed, because it wouldn’t have been politic to refuse such a generous offer. The one and only remaining Teryn of Ferelden was offering a royal gift, and Louis couldn’t turn it down without at least annoying Fergus if not outright insulting him. Even Louis wasn’t that crass, so he supposed he’d better get used to the idea of having a dog. How did anyone train the things? It wasn’t like they were a civilized animal the way a horse was. Those he understood. Maybe he’d get killed on some fool crusade to find extinct griffons and wouldn’t have to worry about it.
Maker’s breath, he was starting to sound like Sigrun.
Alistair didn’t say anything as he trailed behind, which was as unlike him as the gaunt, hollow eyed, downcast stare. Normally, Louis had trouble shutting him up, and it was more like having a shadow follow him around than the young Warden he had known. Groaning, Alistair broke the silence as he squinted painfully in the slanting sun at Oghren, who was squirming around in the saddle of a small horse. “You brought him with you?”
“He’s a Grey Warden now. Evidently even the Joining couldn’t faze that iron clad gut,” Louis muttered as flipped his cloak back into place over his head. It occurred to him that bringing Oghren along and trying to sober up Alistair were probably going to be detrimental to one another. Being reared in a more decadent society, Louis had personally seen what was going to be ahead.
“You made Oghren a Grey Warden?” Alistair sputtered and sighed dismally. Well, for a drunk, he was a good warrior. The thought had a certain unsavory stench when he thought about it that way, so he decided to stop going on about it before someone else pointed out the similarities between himself and the dwarf.
Oghren twisted one direction then the other, peering over the side of the placid animal as it ran its tongue out to fight the bit. “Erhrm…” He rubbed his nose, holding tight with one hand to the saddle, then looking at the flicking black tail. “How do I get off of this thing?”
“Louis explained it to you,” a familiar, red headed woman patiently explained. She lead her own horse by the reins as she strolled toward Oghren to get him out of his dilemma. “You just use the stirrups.” She secretly thought it was possible dwarves were simply not made to ride, lacking the legs for it, but she held the stirrup anyway. She had a natural sense of balance and grace which had made it much easier for her to learn, and it wasn’t her first encounter with equines. She’d ridden a few times in Orlais, herself, and had always enjoyed traveling with Louis.
The last in the group Alistair didn’t recognize, although he seemed to know the others well enough. “I don’t suppose a lovely lady such as yourself would like to be so accommodating with me, would you?” he flirted as he leaned forward in his own saddle toward her.
Leliana ignored the human, but her expression warmed immediately when she saw Alistair. “Thank the Maker, Louis finally found you! We have all been terribly worried about you, you know.”
“Why?” Alistair asked with a self deprecating smirk.
“Alistair,” Leliana reprimanded softly, her brows lowering as she impulsively went forward and hugged him. “You are my friend; a true and loyal person. Of course we were worried for you. Had it not been for the Blight, we would have gone after you.” Someone with less penchant for forgiveness and overlooking the errors of others would have condemned him for his mule headed, abrupt departure from the Landsmeet, but Leliana was in earnest as she let him go. “You look terrible!” she surmised, her voice rife with concern.
“Good to see you again, too,” he retorted with a dusting of sarcasm which was far more biting than it had once been, and less buoyant. “Did you join the Wardens too?”
“Oh, don’t be so silly,” she scoffed pleasantly, petting the nose of her horse with fingerless gloves. Although she’d come to a compromise with the shapeless, clunky fur abominations the Fereldens called shoes, Leliana had a working pair made which were also more pretty to the eye. Her clothing was somewhat more decorative than Alistair remembered it, as well, although comfortably functional. “First the Grand Cleric wished to speak to me, so I couldn’t go and help Louis fight the darkspawn as I would have liked at Amaranthine. When that was all settled, he sent word and told me what had happened. He said he planned to go looking for you, and of course I came back to help.” She was trying not to compare the stench of Alistair’s breath with Oghren’s. At the moment, they both smelled foul, only in different flavors.
Alistair hung his chin, staring at Leliana’s new boots and horse hooves. “I… I feel very unworthy of that.”
“We’re your friends, are we not?” Leliana asked compassionately, and her smile was a warm ray of sunshine. “It is what friends do for one another.”
“What she said,” Oghren agreed, with a lofty belch which stretched his diaphragm, and Louis took over where Leliana had left off in helping him from the horse. “Good to see you again, Kid.”
“Well, they came to look for you, anyway,” the last member of the party piped in with an infectious, easy demeanor of a man who didn’t take anything very seriously. A sleek, tawny cat with brown stripes poked its head out of his robes and wound its way up to perch on the man’s shoulders, staring at Barkspawn with green, saucer eyes. “I just decided I’d rather go with the Commander than be stuck at Vigil’s Keep any longer, listening to that dwarf go on about human engineering and Varel trying to have enough money for it all.* I am Anders, formerly a wanted Apostate and now a Grey Warden,” he introduced himself with aplomb. “We’re currently on a mission with the Commander to find extinct, flying monsters and tame them. Which, I might add, is probably a very bad idea, considering Oghren can’t stay on the back of his horse for more than five minutes.”
“Watch it, Sparkle Fingers,” the dwarf huffed as he finally made contact with both feet to the ground. “Or we’ll find out how well you mages can fly when you fall off, too. I can tame anything! Woman, drink, or monster!”
“Wait,” Alistair’s head still hadn’t cleared and he pressed his palm against his forehead. “Commander? Apostate?” His sloshing brain was having trouble keeping up, but even if he was sober he thought the conversation would have been moving too fast. “Wasn’t Morrigan bad enough, what’s with you and Apostates?” he asked Louis plaintively.
“Commander of the Grey,” the Orlesian clarified with a shrug which rattled his armor plates together as they ignored the rest of the exchange between Anders and Oghren. “I was the last one left, so they promoted me. You’ll like him better than Morrigan. He’s a Circle Mage.”
“Hey,” Anders protested, mock scowling, “there’s no need for talk like that, and who’s this Morrigan?”
Leliana and Louis exchanged looks, but Alistair was first to get his opinion out. “A complete and utter bitch. You don’t want to know, trust me.” Which made Anders want to know more than ever, but to his frustration, no one elaborated.
“She was hot,” Oghren argued, “although she and the Commander were polishing the old footstones — “
“Shut up,” Louis growled at him, almost sounding like he had when he’d been covered in fur. “Let’s get inside. I don’t want to talk out here.” They’d already spent too much time in the open. Untying a set of reins to a dun colored gelding with black legs and muzzle, he slapped them into Alistair’s hand.
“Er…?” Uncomprehending, Alistair gawked between the animal and Warden, and rocked unsteadily as he tried to understand. “It’s a horse?”
“It’s your horse. Come on you lot, we’re putting them in the stable for the night.” Alistair continued to gape, and Louis rubbed his index finger and thumb over his eyebrows. “Don’t know how to ride, do you.” It was more of a statement than question, and from the way the animal was being stared at dumbly, he already had an answer. “Great. Another one.” Did no one learn to ride a horse in Ferelden? “You’ll learn on the road with the others. Follow me, I’ll show you how to stable it.”
Once he got Alistair moving in a nominally straight line in the direction of the rented stable space across the cobbled street, Leliana caught Louis with a light touch on the arm. Lowering her voice, she held him back with a quick glance in the direction of the man they’d come to retrieve. “How is he? Maker’s breath, he smelled like a brewery.”
“Drunk,” Louis responded through a grunt, taking the halter of a chestnut beast he’d named after the very first horse his brother had taught him to ride with. His sibling had gone on to become a Chevalier and had a seat like a centaur, and although Louis lacked that particular talent, he had enough skill to get the job done.
“Do you think he’s been drunk often?” the bard pressed, watching the Warden carefully in profile for reactions.
Louis hesitated, then nodded, knowing they were thinking the same thing. “This isn’t going to be easy.” Neither was what Alistair had done for him in the Brecilian forest, so Louis wouldn’t abandon him. He was had done a lot of things which weren’t savory and had even gotten him tossed out of the Orlesian Wardens into Duncan’s lap, but he was not unfaithful to his friends.
“No,” Leliana agreed somberly, “I am afraid it won’t be. One step at a time, yes?”
“One step at a time,” he agreed, then changed the subject. “I haven’t seen anything from our pursuers, do you think it’s safe to stay a few days?” The hunt for the eggs hadn’t gone unnoticed, and Leliana had been a master at The Game, such as the finest of Orlesian nobles would have paid handsomely for her services at one time. He relied on her to be able to pinpoint the milling merchant who did not fit in, or the innocent woman strolling with a laundry basket who did not belong. They were the skills of the bard, not the hot tempered warrior.
“I think we’re safe, for now, although I wish I knew who they were.”
Louis could only agree, clicking his teeth together, “so do I. So. Do. I.”
Chapter Two of Griffon Eggs.
* Author’s Note: [minor spoiler for Awakening] Seneschal Varel’s fate is never mentioned in the end slides if you chose to save the city of Amaranthine. You do find out what happens to him if you return to Vigil’s Keep, but I decided on a different fate during my fiction. I realize this isn’t “cannon.” Of course, neither was the story which actually introduced Louis, so consider this either “just a story” as I do, or a parallel world.
According the Players Guide book for the official Dragon Age table top role playing game, there were only two Teyrns during the reign of King Cailan. One was Loghain, the other was Bryce Cousland, so that’s where I drew the information of there only being one Teyrn left.
Dragon Age Origins, characters other than Louis and the general setting belong to Bioware. No infringement is intended, and this is a work of fan fiction.
You may not copy my work, publish it in any form, or post it on another web site in whole or part without my permission.