My initial non-entry for this week's prompt, AU role reversal (Zevran is the Warden, and the PC is the assassin sent to kill him). :o I wanted to sort of lay the groundwork for the situation, but it took far, far too long, and way too many words. XD If I have time, I may do a proper timed entry in the same setting, but we'll see...
I reused one of Zevran's lines from WWN in there... the opportunity seemed too good to pass up. XDRecruitmentAuthor: jenovaWord Count:
The tread of booted feet approaching pulled Alessar out of his stupor; it sounded like more than one person, which was something new. Until now, there had only been a single guard, coming twice a day to shove fresh water and food barely fit for pigs into his cell.
In a few moments, his visitors came into view: a human man, probably a noble, judging by his dress, flanked by two guards. "This is the one, then?" he asked the guard on the left, who Alessar recognized as the captain in charge of the dungeon.
"Yes, m'lord," the captain mumbled, looking uncomfortable. Was this noble of such high status?
"I see." The man paced in front of the cell for a moment, then stood back to address the imprisoned elf. "You may be unaware of recent changes in the city during your confinement. I am Rendon Howe, Teyrn of Highever, Arl of Amaranthine... and now, Arl of Denerim."
Alessar stared at the man for a moment. He couldn't recall the name of the Teyrn of Highever, but he was certain it wasn't Howe. And how was it possible for a teyrn to hold two significant arlings, as well? "What has happened to Arl Urien? My lord?" He added the latter as an afterthought. If this man was truly the arl now, he was the one who controlled Alessar's fate.
"Sadly," Howe said in a tone that was anything but, "Urien Kendalls was killed at the battle of Ostagar. Since the younger Kendalls is no longer among the living..." and here he turned his shrewd gaze on Alessar, "the regent has very generously granted me the arling."
"The... the regent?" This was too much news all at once. His captors never spoke to him about what was going on in the world outside, and he'd lost track of how long he'd been imprisoned here. He knew that the King had gone to Ostagar to fight against an upwelling of darkspawn; if Arl Urien had been killed there, had the King...?
"Ah, you haven't heard, of course. King Cailan was killed at Ostagar, by treachery," Howe said, almost casually. "Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir, the Queen's father, is now regent."
"I... I see." The elf thought hard about what the news would mean to him. It sounded as if this man was an ally of the new regent, someone with a great deal of influence, but he wouldn't be Arl without Alessar's actions. Was that a good thing for him, or a very bad one?
"Speaking of our dearly departed King, however, I've come with a proposal for you," the noble said briskly. "Vaughan Kendalls may have been a little toad, but he was also a trained fighter, as any arl's heir must be. And yet, you defeated him and
his companions. You cannot have taken all three of them by surprise. You have some skill with weapons, then?"
Alessar wasn't sure he liked where this was going. What did this have to do with the King? "I... have trained, some. On my own." That was true enough — in recent years, anyway.
The noble smiled thinly. "I see. Well. Our regent has need of certain... talents, and if you were to assist us..." He paused, glancing at the elf to make sure he had his full attention. "...I might see fit to pardon you for the murder of Vaughan Kendalls."
Alessar's hands were clenched at his sides. Could it possibly be true? Or would this man use him for whatever job he spoke of, and kill him afterwards, to clean up any loose ends? "You might
see fit, my lord?"
"I am not unaware of how your actions here have... provided unexpected opportunities for me," Howe said smoothly, "but the people must see that you have paid for such a brazen murder, somehow. If it is with service to the crown, well... everyone wins, you see. I will have a problem or two neatly solved, and you will be free — and rewarded for your trouble. I understand you were to be wed, before Vaughan's... unfortunate lapse of judgment?" At Alessar's surprised nod, he continued, "A little gold would go a long way towards making your new wife comfortable, don't you think?"
Marriage was the last thing on the elf's mind now. After what had happened, he would be surprised if Nesiara still wished to wed. He had come to rescue her, true enough, but now he was a marked criminal. Even if he was pardoned, there would still be a stain on his name, and possibly a certain amount of danger for anyone known to be his kin. What woman would want to start a family with such a man?Or perhaps,
Alessar thought bitterly, that's what the gold is for: to buy back favor and good standing.
It might even work if he went to Highever with Nesiara, but if they stayed in Denerim...
Foolish to dream of gold, though, when he didn't even know what he was up against. He looked down, insides churning. He really had little choice. If he refused, he would likely be executed, or just left here to rot. If he accepted, it was still possible he'd be killed, one way or the other — but there was at least a chance
for freedom there.
"What is it that you want me to do?" the elf asked finally. He didn't look up, but he could hear the satisfaction in the noble's voice as he explained what he — and the regent — needed done.*****
It wasn't a sophisticated plan, but it didn't have to be. The hired mercenaries simply needed to stall the Wardens' party long enough for Alessar to pick off the Wardens themselves.
Perched high above the battle, the elf was a little surprised that he was able to watch with a certain amount of detachment. He cared not at all for the hire-swords, including, and especially, that harpy of a hedge-mage. They were waterfront scum for the most part, willing to take up just about any job for a little coin. Unfortunately for them, they seemed to be no real challenge to the Wardens' party. The small group seemed quite competent, and were battling through the mercenaries more quickly than he'd expected. Still, he had a few good minutes left to line up a couple of clear shots.
There were supposed to be two Wardens — two men — but Alessar saw only one man, fighting with a sword and shield, and two women. The tall brunette, dressed like some southern savage, seemed to be a formidable mage, while the other woman, her hair coppery red in the sunlight, was a nimble rogue armed with a pair of daggers. One of the Wardens was supposed to be an Antivan, recruited by the traitorous former Warden-Commander, but none of the folk down there sounded foreign, from their shouts to each other during the fight. It seemed that one of his targets was missing, then, something he would not be happy to report... especially after losing all of his mercenaries.Well. One thing at a time.
There was still one target here he could take care of.
There was no warning. One moment, he had drawn back on his bow, aiming carefully; the next, one end of the suddenly broken bowstring stung his face, tracing a hot stripe along his cheek. Moving mostly on instinct, he dropped the bow and dodged to the side before turning to face his attacker.
Or he tried
, at any rate. Alarmingly, his unseen opponent seemed to predict his movement; even as he ducked low, an arm came up around his neck, tight enough to choke. The hold pulled Alessar off balance, and before he could steady himself again and try to buck his assailant off, a rag was clamped down over his mouth and nose. He got a whiff of the high, sweet scent of deathroot before he realized he should hold his breath, but he knew it was probably too late.
have worked," a voice murmured in his ear, the accent unmistakably Antivan and the tone almost conversational, "were you not up against another assassin, my friend. Unfortunately for you, I have set a few too many traps like this in my day."
Knowing it was likely futile, Alessar struggled against the Warden's hold. An assassin? As a Grey Warden?
He had had doubts about the official declaration that the King had been killed by the Wardens, but this suddenly made it plausible.
"Ah, let us not be tedious about this, hmm?" the Warden behind him chuckled. As the drugged rag was repositioned over Alessar's face, he realized, from the feel of the hand holding down the cloth, that the Warden was an elf!
Howe had mentioned no such thing, and Alessar was startled enough to make the critical mistake of inhaling in surprise.
He held his breath after that, but his vision was starting to play tricks on him, flickering and wavering and gleaming with unnatural colors. The effect was almost nauseating, and he shut his eyes tightly, but that wouldn't save him from the poison's effects on the rest of his body. He felt a heavy, unnatural tiredness and tried to fight it, but it was no use.
"I would greatly prefer," he thought he heard the Antivan elf say ruefully, as he slowly slid into unconsciousness, "to tie up a handsome man for mutual enjoyment rather than necessity." It would be much later before Alessar was able to make any sense of the remark.*****
When Alessar came to, the first thing he became aware of — besides a dry mouth and a terrible thirst — was the sound of fire. He opened his eyes quickly to make sure he wasn't about to be thrown into the flames, and reassured himself that the large bonfire was several yards away.
His arms were tied quite securely behind his back, and his ankles were bound; his captors had removed his armor and had left him lying on the grass. At first, he wondered why they hadn't simply killed him, but then he realized that they would probably want to question him.
Well, he had no reason not to talk, really. It was no secret that the Grey Wardens were now outlaws, and they shouldn't have been surprised that they'd become targets. Perhaps they simply wanted to know who wanted them dead badly enough to hire a crew of thugs for the job.
Slowly, he tried to shift into a sitting position, his head still spinning a little from the dose of deathroot. His movement was noted immediately, and before he could rise to his knees, the tip of a broadsword was leveled at his throat.
"The prisoner is awake," a deep voice rumbled. Alessar looked up to the wielder of the massive sword, and found himself staring at a qunari. If he could have recoiled in his current position, he would have; at the moment, the best he could do was lean back slightly.
"Ah, good," said the now-familiar Antivan accent. "I do not believe he will be going anywhere just yet, my friend; no need to be quite so menacing."
The quanari grunted in acknowledgment and returned his sword to the scabbard strapped to his back. With the hostile steel out of his face, Alessar looked around awkwardly and finally caught sight of the Warden who'd captured him so easily. His first impression was of gold
: blonde hair, amber eyes, a warm brown complexion. The elven Warden caught his eye and smiled, clearly aware of Alessar's scrutiny. "You are thirsty, I imagine," he said lightly. "Deathroot has that effect."
Alessar got the impression that the man was testing his attitude and willingness to talk. "Yes," he tried to say, his voice coming out as a croak.
"Hmm, you will not be able to tell us much with your throat in that condition," the Warden said, shaking his head. "Bring a waterskin, if you please, my dear Leliana."
"Oh yes, let's make him comfortable, shall we?" A woman's voice, dark and caustic. The prisoner craned his neck to see her as she came closer: the dark-haired mage who had fought in the ambush. "Perhaps we should untie him, as well."
"He is of little use for information if he cannot speak, my lovely enchantress," the Antivan elf explained, seeming undaunted by the woman's obvious irritation. "I think, however, we shall leave him bound for now." A thoughtful pause, and then, "he does look rather charming that way, no?"
At first, Alessar didn't understand the Warden's comment, but then he remembered what the other elf had said as he was falling unconscious. That's— that's not—
He didn't want to think too hard about it, but of course, it was nearly impossible not to. After a moment, however, he realized the comment had been a dig at the mage more than anything else; the Warden wasn't even looking at him.
"Do you ever
think of anything else?" the woman said in an cold, disgusted tone.
"From time to time." The golden elf had a disarming grin, but it was difficult for Alessar to tell exactly how effective it was on the mage, who was surely used to it. She simply made a sound of disdain and crossed her arms.
"I still say you would have been better off killing him. 'Tis not difficult to guess who might have paid for this." Alessar suppressed a shudder at the chilly indifference in the woman's voice.
"I may be an assassin, my dear Morrigan, but I do not feel compelled to murder everyone who crosses me," the Warden said mildly.
"Even other assassins?" Morrigan said quickly.
"He is no assassin. A hired killer, perhaps, but not an assassin by any stretch of the imagination." The Antivan elf actually chuckled,
as if the very notion were absurd.
Approaching footsteps caught Alessar's attention before he could interject; he glanced up to see the red-haired woman from earlier coming towards him with a waterskin. She helped him to his knees, then gave him a small, slightly apologetic smile and gestured for him to open his mouth. Of course, they wouldn't untie him simply to give him a drink. Feeling foolish, but too thirsty to really care, the elf obediently let the woman pour a stream of tepid water into his mouth. After he'd gotten two mouthfuls, the Warden waved her off.
"That will do for now, I think." the relaxed amusement was gone from the Antivan elf's voice. "I hope, in the interest of avoiding any unpleasantness, you are prepared to talk." His eyes met Alessar's as he spoke.
"I am," Alessar said quietly, his voice thankfully steady. "I have nothing to hide."
The remainder of the Warden's companions had joined them by now — besides the other Warden, a relatively young human man, there was an older woman in the garb of a Circle mage. They all regarded Alessar with varying levels of hostility, except, perhaps, for the red-haired woman, Leliana, who simply seemed watchful.
"Good," the elven Warden said with a nod. "First, then: who sent you?"
That was simple enough. "The Arl of Denerim," Alessar replied.
"Arl Urien?" That was the other Warden, his tone one of surprise. "Why would he—"
"Arl Urien was killed at Ostagar," the bound elf interrupted, falling silent as his captors all stared at him.
"His son, then?" the human Warden said with a frown. "What's his name..."
"Vaughan—" Alessar began.
"Right, Vaughan Kendalls, he's the arl now?"
"Vaughan is also dead." The elf kept his tone flat and his face expressionless. It might not have been enough; the Antivan Warden looked at him intently as the other Warden continued to ask questions.
"Who rules the arling, then?" The young man sounded confused, suspicious.
"Rendon Howe." Alessar didn't expect that news to be popular.
First Highever, and now Denerim?" The human Warden was in a state of disbelief.
"A regent rewards his friends well, it would seem," the elven Warden said coolly. "Are there other groups like this, awaiting us further down the road?" he asked Alessar, who shook his head.
"Not that I know of, ser, but I truly don't know."
"I see." The golden elf seemed to consider his next question for a moment before asking: "What exactly were you sent to do?"
"...To kill two Grey Wardens," Alessar answered, dropping his gaze to the ground.
Surely they knew
that. The elf got the impression that the Warden was trying to find some other information with the question, but he didn't know what. "Because... the regent claims that the Wardens are infiltrators from Orlais, and that the King was betrayed by them at Ostagar."
"He wasn't," the human Warden said vehemently. "It was Loghain who betrayed the King! He ignored a signal to advance and took his men off the field. They left Cailan and Dun— and the Wardens to die!"
"This is the simple truth," the older mage said, entering the conversation for the first time. "I was there on the battlefield, as were several other mages and Templars; we know what really happened, and the Tower supports the Wardens."
Alessar looked between the human man and the Tower mage, trying to take in what they had said and fit it in with what he already knew. "You're saying that Teyrn Loghain abandoned the King on the battlefield... and came home to take the regency?"
"All the while blaming the Grey Wardens for the King's fall," the elven Warden affirmed. "With the Warden-Commander dead, along with almost all of the Wardens, there were few to challenge his claims at first. After all, since he pulled his forces out prematurely, he returned to Denerim long before other survivors of the battle." The elf's Antivan accent seemed to make his contemptuous tone even sharper. "But... that is not what I meant to ask you." His tone softened slightly, though it was still businesslike, impersonal. "why were you
, in particular, sent after us? Tell us."
Alessar looked up at the Warden in surprise. Why was that even important? Well... maybe someone who's an assassin himself has a different sort of questions to ask in a situation like this,
he thought numbly. "It's... the price of my freedom," he said quietly, knowing what the next question would be.
"Ah. You are a criminal, then?" The Warden's inflection made it more of a statement than a question. "Sent to atone by aiding the regent's cause?"
"Why does this sound so familiar?" the human Warden asked dryly.
Alessar's incomprehension must have been clear on his face, because the other elf explained, "We have encountered a similar situation already; an apostate mage was sent to poison the Arl of Redcliffe, with the impression that Loghain would protect him from the Templars."
they find all of these convenient wrongdoers?" the human Warden mused.
"A good question, although any powerful noble will have a surprising network of spies, my friend," the Antivan elf replied with a thin smile. "How did they find you?" he asked, turning back to the prisoner. "What was your crime, if I may ask?"
Alessar suspected that he already knew somehow; maybe he'd given himself away earlier, after all. But the Warden wouldn't know the circumstances, and that made all the difference, at least to Alessar.
"I killed Vaughan Kendalls," he said succinctly, "after he and his cohorts kidnapped several women from the Alienage, murdered one of them, and... brutalized another." He couldn't say the word, not when the memory of Shianni, shaking as he held her, was still so fresh.
They were all staring at him now, of course. He ignored them, keeping his eyes on the Warden, who laughed, a short, ugly sound.
"I see. How very convenient for the new Arl of Denerim. If you were to somehow succeed, it would have certainly been a worthwhile investment for him — much cheaper than a professional assassin." He gave Alessar a dark smile. "But regardless of whether you failed or succeeded, wasn't it so merciful of him to give you the opportunity? Surely none of your friends and kin could protest that you were treated unfairly. No, indeed. The arl recognized your skill and gave you a chance to support your regent. How marvelous."
Now it was Alessar's turn to stare, dumbstruck, at the Antivan elf. He'd known that he was being used, to some extent. But to look at it through such a cold, hard lens...
He was utterly expendable, he realized, a shot fired in the dark: not really
expected to hit the target, but cheap enough to be worth the attempt.
"One more question remains," the Warden said quietly. "What will you do, now that you have failed?"
"I... I don't know." Alessar shook his head. He'd never thought about this situation — that the Wardens would capture and not kill him. He had the feeling his employer hadn't considered the possibility, either. "I don't think I can return to Denerim, though. I'd just be imprisoned again." And maybe executed this time.
"Zevran, you can't—" the human Warden said suddenly, sounding exasperated.
"I can," the Antivan elf asserted, "and I will." He turned to Alessar again, his expression serious. "Would you help us, and defend Ferelden, then? We need every strong sword arm we can find."I could say no,
Alessar realized, and find somewhere to hide.
The thought only lasted a moment, though. For one thing, he owed the Wardens (mostly Zevran) for sparing his life — no small thing, considering how efficiently they had mowed down the hire-swords. Above and beyond that, though... he might be able to evade the law, but there would be no hiding from the Blight. This was the sort of thing his mother had wanted him to use her teachings for: to protect. He'd tried to protect his cousins and his betrothed before, and now, he was being given a chance to help protect the entire country. It seemed foolish — and ungrateful — to pass up the opportunity that had fallen into his lap.
"I will," he said quietly, meeting the Warden's golden gaze.
"A fine plan," the dark-haired woman said scathingly into the silence that followed. "Now he can simply kill us in our sleep."
Alessar was about to protest, but the wolfish grin on Zevran's face gave him pause. "He is most certainly welcome to come into my tent any night and try," the Warden purred, the invitation in his voice unmistakable.
"I— what?" Feeling blood rushing to his face, the elf floundered for a reply, until he realized that Zevran was probably attempting to needle Morrigan again. It seemed to work this time — the woman turned away with an exasperated wave of her arms and stalked off to the other side of the campsite.
That seemed to break the tension that had held everyone in place; in a moment, they had all drifted away to attend to whatever tasks had been interrupted by the interrogation, except for Zevran, who deftly untied him.
"There. Now, since none of us were polite enough to ask, what shall we call you, my friend?" the Warden asked with a charming smile.
"Alessar," the younger elf murmured, trying not to rub at his chafed wrists.
Zevran grinned wryly, though Alessar wasn't sure why, then said, "I am most pleased to make your acquaintance, Alessar. I believe Bodahn has at least one spare tent on the wagon; hopefully there is a bedroll, as well. Your equipment is over there," he pointed at a pile of armor on the other side of the fire, "and I think we can find you another string for your bow. In fact..." The Warden took a step towards the tents, apparently intent on finding a bowstring now
"Zevran," Alessar said quietly, testing the sound of the name. It was an unfamiliar combination of letters, but it flowed well off the tongue.
"Hmm?" The other elf turned back to look at him questioningly.
"Do not thank me yet," Zevran chuckled. "This quest is not without its perils."
Alessar could only shrug to that. "I'd expect no less, but... I meant to say, thank you for giving me a chance."
"Ah." The Warden looked away for a moment. There was a faint smile on his lips, but the expression didn't reach his eyes. "You are quite welcome."
For a moment, Alessar thought that the other man would say something more, but he turned away without another word, leaving the younger elf to wonder why for just a moment, the cheerful, clever, lascivious assassin-Warden had seemed so... sad.