I don't remember much about the rest of the day. Gilmore woke me up to go to the last night pizza party downstairs. Alistair made me go sit at their table, with him, Cailan and Elissa. I didn't care, so long as the pizza kept coming and the pitcher never emptied.
I didn't pay too much attention to what was going on, not even to the old silent slapstick films they were showing. There was a Pizza War, where the tables were trying to see who could eat the most. I was a little surprised that Sten wasn't there; I knew he liked pizza, and any table he'd be at would win the war easily. Instead the Dwarves won by a mile, meaning they got a certificate for a year's worth of free pizza. If they'd been giving out coupons for free beer, the dwarves would've made sure the pizza company went broke.
I saw that the Orlesian models were still hanging around Anders. I wondered how he was going to fit them all in his car for the trip home. Maybe his cat would cast a spell and make his car bigger inside or something.
Alistair told me that, since the van was gone, we'd get to ride home in one of their coaches. Everyone else we'd brought had arranged rides except for Gilmore, and since he lived at Highever he'd come too. He also let it slip that they'd paid for our room. I didn't know what to say outside of "Thanks."
He smiled. "Good. See you in the morning."
When it was time to leave I saw what Alistair meant by 'coach'—the giant RVs that we had seen following Cailan on his bike. Inside these were like no other RV I'd seen, and that includes my Dad's. They had a big TV, a bar, and even a little fireplace. There were sofas, of course, a game table, and a chef in the kitchen. The head of security was in here, too, an older Grey Warden named Duncan. He, Alistair and Cailan obviously liked and respected each other. I wondered where Duncan had been all week, but a look at the dashboard answered that: this had been the command center for security during their stay. I didn't think Alistair and Cailan would be allowed to go anywhere without some kind of guard, and I was right. But this beat the nervous guys standing around Anora by a mile.
Before I could leave I had to go up to the cabin and make sure Daveth and his friends were gone. Since I didn't have a car I was going to ask Nate for a ride, but Alistair volunteered to take me instead. He'd heard a lot about the cabin from Elissa, and had to see this place for himself. I felt stupid taking him up to the cabin, but I couldn't very well say No.
We took his Hummer. He used it as an excuse to drive it over the countryside, although not very fast and not too far into the wilderness; he was worried about driving over somebody's garden or something. He kind of drove around things, rather than right over them.
By the time we got to the cabin, the only car left was the little gold one Jory had won on Family Feud. Jory and Daveth were hauling bags of trash out to one of the big dumpsters the village had set up for storm debris. Considering how close the whole cabin had come to being debris because of their idiocy in the first place, that seemed appropriate.
Daveth started with the excuses the second he saw me get out of the Hummer. But when Alistair got out, he shut his mouth in a hurry. Jory, though, wasn't quite that smart and kept talking.
"Umm, we got the toilets unfroze before you got here because we knew you'd be mad if we didn't."
"That was very thoughtful of you, Jory," said Alistair. "It's always nicer when people clean up after themselves."
"Umm, yeah." Jory picked up the bags of trash and headed for the dumpster.
Inside the cabin wasn't nearly as bad as I was afraid it would be. There was a nasty scorch mark on the floor where the rug had caught fire, but other than that there wasn't any obvious damage. There was still a ton of beer in the fridge, with some pizza stacked out on the stove. Jory put all that into his car. I figured they'd probably be eating that for the rest of the week.
Like Jory'd said, the bathrooms were all OK. That was good, because I didn't want to have to have Anders or Morrigan come and unfreeze them before calling in a plumber. Considering what the plumber had charged last time, I could imagine what he'd want for coming out here after the storm.
I made Daveth lock up and give me the keys. He said they'd hauled eighteen bags of trash out, and knowing what the place looked like before, I believed him. He stood there after giving me the keys, like he was waiting for something.
"What?" I asked.
"Um, I was wondering if I could, you know, have my cleaning deposit check back. Cause I did haul out the trash, and we did fix the toilets."
"And you guys set a rug on fire and almost burned the place down! And that was after you broke the toilet."
"Well, yes," said Jory, "but, I mean, it's not like something serious happened."
"I want to know where you're from," said Alistair, "where they don't consider broken plumbing and fires serious matters."
"Umm, I'm from Redcliffe. But there's a girl I like from Highever."
"Well, you know what, Jory?" Alistair said. "I know people in both those places, and I'm pretty sure they'd consider those things serious events. So you might want to rethink what you're saying."
That was a little too hard for Jory. He had to think about it for a minute before saying, "Uhh, yes, I think I get it. You think it's serious."
"That's right, Jory!" Alistair smiled at him. "Now, why don't you and Daveth get in the car and leave before Fergus decides you owe him the car, too."
Joey opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but then shut it and got into the car with Daveth.
I thanked Alistair on the way back for helping me out. He snickered.
"I thought they were both a little slow before, but now I know how bad they are. Maker's breath! And your father rented them the cabin. I hope their check's good."
"I'll let my Mom handle them."
"Ooooh! Ow. I've heard about your mother. Well, the football team can always get another tackle, I suppose."
When we got back to the Lodge the coaches were loaded and ready to go. Elissa and Alistair settled down to watch "Mary Poppins" for the trip home. Alistair knew all the words to the songs by heart. That meant that Gilmore and I ended up playing games with Cailan, who was annoyed that he couldn't ride his bike. Duncan told him there was too much snow on the road, and that while the storm was over there was still too much danger from debris and black ice and whatnot. It's funny; I kind of got the feeling that, while he wanted to ride the bike home, having Duncan explain why it was a bad idea saved him from wiping out and looking like an idiot—something he wanted even less.
Playing Monopoly with Cailan and Gilmore was nothing like playing at home. For one thing, we didn't have Dad shouting that if he said the sodding top hat was a hotel, the sodding top hat was a hotel. For another, Mom wasn't banker, meaning she wasn't giving loans to herself or Elissa all the time. And Clue-it was weird not being yelled at for holding back cards that might have given someone else the win. The only thing that approached the homicide- in- a- box levels of insanity of family game night at home was Scrabble, and that was because Cailan and Gilmore got to arguing over how some words were spelled. Finally Cailan asked Alistair to come check.
"Gilmore's right," said Alistair without moving from the TV. "You know he wouldn't argue with you if you were right."
I didn't want to say that I know Gilmore will argue anything with a dragon if he thinks he's right. I just kept my mouth shut and tried to adjust my score so I wasn't losing quite so catastrophically.
We'd been on the road for a few hours when we spotted someone walking along the road. Cailan had Duncan pull over to see who it was.
Cailan got out to find out what was up. I could see him talking and Sten just standing there, breathing steam. All Sten had on were the clothes he'd worn that day with the lamppost. Maker's breath—had he been walking along since then?
After a few minutes Sten went and climbed into one of the other vehicles in the motorcade while Cailan rejoined us. "It seems," he said, "that Sten has been hiking back to Denerim to get away from the humiliation perpetrated on him by Tommy Howe. He decided to leave because he said he would have to kill Tommy otherwise, and that was not a good thing to do while a guest on vacation. So here he is."
"Maker's breath," said Alistair, "is he all right?"
"I don't know," said Cailan. "That's why I sent him to the other coach, where one of the mages can look at him. Qunari are tough, but there is a limit."
Now I felt guilty for not trying to talk to Sten after he bashed Nate's car to bits. Maybe if I had, he would have gone back to the Lodge instead of trudging alone to Denerim. But Cailan said no, Qunari are odd beasts; and in any event I could easily have ended up looking like Nate's car. Or worse.
Alistair started up "Beauty and the Beast" for him and Elissa. He knew all the songs by heart for that one, too. Somehow I suspect he knows all the Disney movies by heart.
It was dark by the time we reached Highever. I'd called Mom and told her we were coming with the Royal coaches and motorcade, so she'd be prepared. What I wasn't prepared for were the TV trucks and lights all over the front courtyard. There were TV cameramen walking around, talking into microphones as we pulled up. Maker's breath—had something happened to Mom or Dad?
"Sweet Andraste," sighed Alistair. "I'd hoped to avoid this. Can't they let us have any peace?"
"You know better than that," said Cailan. "They have to find some kind of story, and if they can't find one that they like they'll just make one up. Right now you and Elissa are one big, glorious story for them. We just have to deal with it. Elissa, Fergus—do you think you can handle them?"
"I can escort you out of here," said Alistair to Elissa. "That way they'll ask questions and take pictures, but you won't have to say anything. All right?"
"Sure." She grabbed his hand and they went to the door. I could see the cameras already crowding around. Duncan went out, driving them back away from the coach.
"Gilmore," said Cailan, "why don't you, Fergus and I leave together. That way they won't start asking questions about Anora's whereabouts. All right?"
"Where is Anora? I asked. "Still sulking at the lodge?"
Cailan sighed. I realized I'd crossed the line. Too late.
"What I wanted," he said softly, "was a marriage from the great romance tales. Equals, a king and queen so in love with each other and their people that they cannot bear to be apart, who share dreams and hopes, and whose goals for their kingdom are wise and good. Instead—ah, well. At least Alistair still has a chance. Elissa at least likes him."
"Maybe something will come up," said Gilmore.
"Yea," said Cailan, "and maybe Loghain Mac Tir will suddenly begin dancing around with unicorns. Let's attack our besiegers, shall we?" At the door he stopped long enough to make sure that big, wide smile was in place. I knew I'd better be smiling, too, or Dad would kill me.
We followed him out. The flashes from the camera and the big lights were much, much brighter than I expected. It took a second for me to get my bearings before walking to the castle. Most of the papps just took pictures, but one guy grabbed me and spun me around. "Fergus," he yelled, "how does it feel to have brokered a romance for your sister with Prince Alistair?"
Before I could answer, I was surrounded by them, all screaming different versions of the same question. Gilmore finally pulled me through and we dashed into the guardhouse.
Maker. I need a vacation.