This is a companion piece to my story 'Gifts'. The missing Zevran chapters. Once again thanks to Bioware, I hope I do Zevran justice within this little tale.
The sun had just crested the rolling forest that separated Vigil's Keep from the Knotwood Hills, but had yet to burn off the mist that shrouded the stonework and ramparts. Zevran leaned forward, noiselessly and cocked his head. There, the smallest scrape and a scuff of leather upon stone. He leapt lightly to the ramparts and ran across the stonework, eyes never leaving the misted figure moving across the ground below. He came to the end of the wall and had to make a snap decision: down the outside or risk taking his eyes from his prey to descend the shadowed staircase? He slipped into shadow and chose the staircase. Zevran stepped soundlessly from the darkness below and put one arm about his quarry's throat, the other at his back, dagger point just barely piercing leather armour.
The man stiffened within his hold and Zevran whispered quietly, "Who goes there?"
"I, I'm just a messenger, ser," the man stuttered, but his armour and weapons gave lie to his words and Zevran prodded a little harder with his dagger.
"I see, and what would your message be, my friend?"
"I, er, um."
Zevran twisted the man around and grabbed the pouch from his belt. He weighed it in his hand. "Had you not been so greedy, you might have got away more soundlessly. You have a month's wages in gold in here. Did you think the Wardens were too busy fighting darkspawn to guard their treasury?"
"But there were no guards!"
"What do you think I am, hm?" The mist had lifted enough for the two men to see one another clearly and though they both felt surprise, only his captive let it cross his face.
"Kelaf. You are fortunate the Warden Commander is in Denerim. I am sure his punishment would be more severe than anything Captain Wyman might mete out." Zevran saw the young man's eyes lift further in surprise and he fought the desire to laugh. Aedan's reputation as a berserker in battle came in very handy when intimidating, no coercing, the newer recruits, Zevran had found.
Ah, what an order, these Ferelden Grey Wardens. They took in wanderers, beggars from the streets and now this young rogue from Amaranthine. Zevran had no idea if Kelaf would be allowed to stay, it was not up to him. He merely watched backs and helped with weapons training. Worthy work, to be sure, but hardly exciting until this morning.
He took the rogue by the back of his collar and marched him toward Aedan's office, where he hoped to find Wyman already up and trying to decipher the lists and instructions the commander had left before departing to Denerim the day before.
Wyman stood behind Aedan's desk, just as he'd predicted, and Zevran allowed himself a smile at the look on the Captain's face as he scrutinized the notes left for him.
"Wyman, I have brought you a little something to go with your breakfast."
The warden looked up and his eyebrows rose at the sight of young Kelaf being pushed into the room. He shook his head and sighed.
"Where did you find him this time?"
"Helping himself to the treasury. I do not think he agrees with the stipend offered recruits." Zevran tossed the pouch of gold onto the desk and Wyman picked it up and hefted it, his eyebrows rising nearly to his hairline. He sighed again.
Zevran nodded to Wyman, he knew what went through the warden's mind. This was the third offense, not even Aedan would let the man go with a warning this time.
"Have him escorted to the dungeon where he may await the Commander's leisure."
Zevran nodded and turned to summon a pair of guards to take the young rogue off his hands. He returned to the office and stood before the desk. Wyman looked up. "Was there something else, Zevran, and thank you, by the way, I don't know what we would do without you."
Zevran nodded again at the thanks and spread his hands. "I do not know either, Wyman. Your punishment does not fit the crime. You think three weeks of idleness while this man consumes food and drink equal to the gold on your desk is enough?"
"We need all the recruits we can get, Zevran. Ferelden cannot afford to go executing petty thieves when they might better serve as Wardens." Wyman shrugged. "Either way, it will be for the commander to decide."
"As you wish." Zevran made to excuse himself, a bitter taste upon his tongue. He'd felt this frustration more and more often of late. He knew Aedan worked hard to discipline the recruits, and this order hardly compared with the Crows, these men were trained to fight darkspawn, not kill men. But the excitement of the morning's chase had worn off and Zevran felt curiously flat.
"Zevran, have you any more leads on the smuggling ring operating between the Northern Highway and Amaranthine? Aedan left a note about it." Wyman shuffled the papers on the desk and picked up one, holding it out.
Zevran couldn't help the chuckle that passed his lips. "It seems Aedan would not know what to do without me either. I am a one man crime fighting syndicate, no?"
Wyman smiled. "You are a valued member of the order, Zevran."
He dipped his head to Wyman and slipped from the office, Aedan's note dangling lightly from his fingers.
Aedan had asked only once if Zevran would undergo the Joining, commit himself to the Grey Wardens. Zevran had refused and he did not miss the relief in Aedan's eyes. He knew how it pained the warrior to pass the taint to other men, even for such noble purposes. Usually Zevran enjoyed his role as ancillary officer to the order, he had the freedom to come and go as he pleased. However, it was a double edged sword. Despite the freedom, he did not go. Had he become complacent? Or did simply seek to avoid the inevitable: A confrontation with the Crows.
Of course, there was something, no, someone else that kept him in Amaranthine. Kayley. He and the elven rogue had danced about one another for eighteen months now, neither willing to commit beyond the casual relationship they both enjoyed. Yet he knew neither of them dallied either. Perhaps the way they conducted their affair was for the best, she had her duty to the wardens and he forever reminded her that his involvement with the order would be temporary.
Already the ring of steel sounded from the practice yard outside the windows along the hall. The men trained from early morning until late afternoon. This discipline Zevran enjoyed. Training the men, working with the rogues, passing on his knowledge of assassination techniques and poisons, these facets of his work excited him. A pity all that training went into simply killing darkspawn.
Zevran realised he had stopped and that his eyes gazed at nothing through the open window. What had got into him today? His feet itched and his mind raced. Perhaps it was time to exercise that freedom, seek adventure in the wider world of Thedas instead of tracking down smuggling rings.
Zevran stepped outside and had moved to join the practice when a commotion sounded by the main gates. A courier had arrived and by the lathered state of the horse he rode, the news was urgent, dire, or both. Zevran's pulse quickened and he moved to intercept the guards and escorted the messenger to Wyman himself.
The warden captain took in the state of the courier and exchanged a worried glance with Zevran before taking the satchel of letters. He sorted them on the desk and handed one over while he picked up another one for himself. Zevran opened his, read the contents and then looked up to catch his own expression reflected in Wyman's face.
"I am summoned to Denerim."
The warden shook his head sadly. "An attempt to assassinate Alistair, it is an affront to Ferelden and her wardens. Will you leave at once?"
"I will take one of the horses." The wardens maintained a very small stable of horses for the use of royal couriers. Philippe had urged Aedan to adopt this practice and it had paid for itself in reducing the time it took to travel to and from Denerim in cases such as this. Zevran folded the note and slipped it into his belt as he started walking, already mentally packing his kit. These smugglers would have to wait.
He arrived in Denerim after sunset, stopping at the message post only to leave the horse. He took the courier's mailbag to the palace with him, a grim smile across his face at the thought he had become a messenger. The palace bristled with guards and every lantern had been lit as if to ward off the darkness. A contingent of four guards escorted him to the dining room. Zevran was well used to escorting himself around the palace and tried not to be affronted by the steel cage that walked about him.
The first face he saw upon entering the room happened to be the Empress of Orlais. He experienced a shiver, but considered the connection far too obvious. Celene would not sit at dinner in the house of a man she had just tried to assassinate, would she?
Aedan rose and strode over to grasp his arm. Zevran measured the commander's face a moment and felt a chill creep down his spine. Obviously more had come to pass in the time it had taken him to journey to Denerim. Aedan looked more than tired; he looked worried, haunted and overwhelmed.
They went to Alistair's study.
"Eamon is dead." Aedan's voice was almost flat and emotionless.
"Tell me everything." Zevran stood before him and listened as Aedan related all the news.
"Thank the Maker you are here, Zev, Alistair insists Oghren and I leave for Orzammar tomorrow…" Aedan finished with.
Zevran acknowledged Aedan's last comment with a terse smile and raised a hand to his shoulder. "I am your man, Aedan, you know that. No harm will come to Alistair while you are gone. Now, tell me of this would-be assassin." He spat the word assassin as if it were distasteful to be associated with such.
"He was caught trying to sneak out of the kitchens and taken to Fort Drakon. Zev, he won't talk." Aedan swallowed and drew in a deep breath before he continued. "They…" he stopped speaking, a flush taking his cheeks as he went to the window and gulped in breaths of fresh air.
Zevran had rarely seen Aedan so disturbed. Though he killed quickly, efficiently and well, Aedan had not been trained as an assassin. He was a warrior and the practice of torture obviously troubled him. Zevran stepped forward and laid a hand lightly on his friends arm. He summoned the sympathy he felt for Aedan, Alistair and Eamon and lent it to his voice. "He was paid for silence, then."
Aedan nodded mutely.
Zevran squeezed his arm and said, "Take me to him."
They did not speak as Aedan escorted him to Fort Drakon. In the company of the Warden Commander, Zevran raised no further suspicion and they walked alone to the fort. They descended to the dungeon and he caught sight of the plain little man Aedan had described. He had indeed been tortured to a point that would break most men, even some Crows. His arms and legs lay loosely at his sides and it might be that he would never wield a weapon or run from justice properly again.
Zevran looked up at the face and his breath caught in his chest.
"This man is not your assassin."
Zevran watched the blood drain from Aedan's face and wondered if a similar effect had occurred in his own. He gathered his thoughts and crooked his lips into a small smile. "Let me rephrase that, Juilden was most certainly involved, but he is no bowman, poisons are his specialty." He turned and winked at the man, whose expression and demeanor had yet to change. "Aren't they, my friend?"
On the outside Zevran maintained his façade of cocky self assurance while inside he scoffed at himself. Friend? He had not seen this man in ten years.
"So he is a Crow then?"
Zevran shook his head. "He was, but it was rumoured that he was recruited away by the Brethren." He turned towards Aedan and said quietly, "Might I have a few minutes alone with him?"
Aedan nodded and walked stiffly, but quickly away. Zevran had caught the shiver that took the warrior as he moved. He did not want to witness any more torture. Zevran could not blame him; it was not a practice he necessarily enjoyed himself. A messy and often purposeless business.
He turned his gaze back to the man in the cell and stepped forward. "So, brother, are you as surprised to see me as I am to see you?"