AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is very AU. What if the Tower of Ishal had not been breached by the darkspawn? What if Loghain and his army had not abandoned Cailan and the Grey Wardens to their fate? What if Ferelden had had more than just two Grey Wardens during the Blight? This story takes place immediately following the battle at Ostagar, only instead of death and betrayal, the Wardens and the king's men won another victory against the darkspawn. There are some dark elements in the beginning at least, as the feelings about the events occurring during the background of a city elf are explored.
Something hit the ground with a sloshing, slapping sound, and Sayre glanced to her side to see the wineskin rolling to bump against her leg. She had absolutely no desire to drink, to get drunk and celebrate with the other Grey Wardens, and she had hoped that seating herself as far away from the party as possible would allow her some sort of privacy, but she could see that she was wrong. Sayre lowered her knees, which had been pulled up to her chest, and tilted her head up to see who had tossed her the wine.
The fighting earlier in the day had been fierce, and there had been a high number of casualties. Even as the other Wardens drank and sang and talked loudly of their grand exploits, all of which had just occurred only a few hours earlier, the bodies of their fallen brethren lay on the fields below. That had troubled Sayre to no end. Did humans care so little for their own that they would let them lie in the cold and the mud, the slain among the Wardens and the king's men lying alongside the dead darkspawn, while they reveled in their so-called victory? She knew the pyres for the dead would be built in the morning, once the sun rose over the horizon, but it somehow seemed wrong to celebrate before that was done.
Sayre had only recently arrived in Ostagar, had only recently completed the Joining to become one of the fabled Grey Wardens, though she'd had little choice in the matter. It was become a Grey Warden or face the hangman's noose for her crimes against the late Bann Vaughan. And really, even there she didn't have a choice. Duncan had used the Right of Conscription, which meant she would not have to face arrest and a stay in Fort Drakon, but it also meant she would never return to the alienage, would never see her father or Soris or Shianni again. So she had left Denerim with Duncan, to travel to Ostagar. He claimed to have known her mother, and Sayre found him at least reliably trustworthy. For a human. For a man. At least he had never tried to touch her.
But if she had been expecting to be treated differently in Ostagar than she had been in Denerim, Sayre was sorely mistaken. She was a woman and an elf, and there were few enough of either around. Most were either servants or priests, and Sayre suddenly found herself very alone among a large group of human men, most of whom talked too loudly and drank too much, and often looked at her too long in that way men had that said the knew just what an elven woman was supposed to be good for. Worst of all, though, was that when it came time for the battle, she hadn't even been allowed to fight. She had been sent, along with one other Grey Warden, to climb to the top of a tower to light a signal fire. It was humiliating enough that they thought that was the best use of her abilities, but they hadn't even trusted her to be able to manage it on her own? As the Wardens and king's men fought in the valley below, she and her fellow Grey Warden, a man named Alistair, had climbed to the top of the empty tower, lit the fire when required, and watched the battle play out below them. Of course, he had been just as disappointed with his assignment during the battle as she had been. So while the others celebrated their victory against the darkspawn in the fields of Ostagar, Sayre sat and sulked. She had done nothing worth celebrating.
However, it seemed the man standing at her side thought differently. When Sayre didn't pick up the wineskin, he sat down at her side, rather ungracefully, she noted. He picked up the skin and held it out to her. "Pretty girl like you shouldn't be sitting here, all by herself. Have a drink. Join the celebration."
Sayre felt like she could likely become intoxicated just from the fumes coming from the man's breath. He had obviously consumed his fair share of wine, and then some. "I'm... not thirsty, Your Majesty, but thank you," she said carefully.
King Cailan gave her a sideways glance. "It's not a matter of thirst," he said, his tone cheerful. And loud. He continued to hold the skin up. "Have a drink. I insist."
As uncomfortable as he made her, the man was her king, and she could not refuse a direct order, no matter how ridiculous she found it to be. She took the skin from his hands, trying not to wince as Cailan allowed his fingers to brush over her own. Sayre tilted the wineskin up, letting the dark fluid just barely touch her lips before lowering it again. "Thank you, Your Majesty," she said, unsure what else to say as she held the skin out for him to reclaim.
Cailan waved her off. "Oh, I'm sure you need more than that. And I'm sure that some would say I've had more than enough, so keep it. Drink it so that I won't." His smile was too wide, and he sat too close, and it took everything in her power not to move away from him.
Sayre had not always been so skittish around humans. She had grown accustomed to the ways they looked down their noses at her kind. It was not something she enjoyed, not something any elf enjoyed, but she'd always been able to tolerate it. But then Vaughan and his friends had shown up, on the day of her wedding no less, to treat her and her friends as if they were whores, as if the alienage was their own personal brothel. Some elven women gave themselves willingly to the human men who came looking for such things, thinking it would gain them something from those... activities, but Sayre was not such a woman. She had been lucky to escape from the bann's estate with her virginity intact, but her cousin, Shianni, had not been so fortunate. Sayre held herself solely responsible for what had happened, but her faith in humans, what little she'd had, was shaken to its core. Her friends and family were attacked, some were killed, and she was the one who would have been arrested?
Vaughan's words came to her. You know elves, every now and then they get this idea in their heads that they're people. Logically, Sayre knew that not all humans felt that way, not all mistreated elves the way she had been, but the acts committed against her and her family could not be pushed aside so quickly. A few months ago, she might have been flattered to receive the attention of a king, but no longer. Especially when he smiled at her the way he did, when he sat so close that he just barely touched her leg with the back of his hand. His touch made her shiver, and she drew away from him, the irrational fear she felt making her heart thud in her chest. She was stronger than this, braver than this. He was the king. He was not going to do anything... untoward. She was a Grey Warden now. Surely if Cailan were to overstep his bounds, someone would come to her aid. Sayre glanced around, dismayed to find that no one was really paying attention to them that she could see. But then her eyes passed over Alistair.
He, too, was sitting away from the others, likely not participating in the celebrations because he felt as unworthy of it as she had. He had been looking in their direction, but when her eyes met his, he scowled and looked away. Like most of the people in Ostagar, she had been wary of him at first, but when she had learned that he'd been raised in the Chantry to become a templar, that had eased some of her worry concerning him. Like priests, templars took vows of celibacy, and that fact comforted her a little. But the look he'd just given her hadn't been a pleasant one. Perhaps he saw her sitting next to the king and assumed the worst. Sayre then looked around for the only other Grey Warden she might hope to intercede on her behalf, but Duncan was nowhere to be seen. No, it seemed she was left to deal with the king on her own. He was married, it was true, but she'd always heard the whispered gossip that alleged the king had a bit of a wandering eye. The thought did not sit well with Sayre, and when she felt his hand brush against her cheek, she jerked back violently from him.
Cailan chuckled, holding up a hand. "You just... had something in your hair," he said, then made as if to drop whatever he'd plucked from her hair, though she had seen nothing in his hand. "No need to be so jumpy. I won't bite. Though I noticed you shivering. It is quite cold out here. I hear that the tents they supply to the Wardens don't do much to keep out the cold, but my own tent is actually quite cozy. Perhaps you would like to... join me there?"
In the past, Sayre would have been outraged by his suggestion, by his presumption that she would even consider such an offer, and she tried to feed the flames of anger that passed through her. Mostly, though, she was afraid. It had been a request, not an order, so she could refuse, of course, but how might a king respond to such a refusal? He hadn't been like this when she met him upon arriving in Ostagar. He had been kind, even respectful. Even before the battle, when he had informed her of her part in lighting the signal fire, he had not looked at her the way he currently was. But then, she'd heard of battlelust before, and there had been a few elves living in the alienage that worked at one of the local brothels who would mention that men returning from battle always seemed to find coin to spend on alcohol and women. Or men, depending on their interests. Cailan had already found his alcohol.
Sayre pulled her knees back up to her chest, trying to still her trembling. As she tried to figure out what she would say, how she would turn him away, she couldn't help but wonder if Duncan would have still wanted her for the Wardens had he known what a coward she'd become. However, footsteps approached, and Sayre was saved the need to respond to the king.
"Your Majesty," said a cold voice, and they both looked up. Teyrn Loghain stood over them, the frown on his face encompassing them both. Sayre winced at the look he gave her, one that clearly said he found her to be responsible for the king's presence at her side. She couldn't say for sure what her own face showed, but the teyrn's expression softened towards her just a touch before turning to Cailan. For him, Loghain showed no softness. "Perhaps it is time for you to retire," said Loghain. "Building the pyres will take much of our energy tomorrow, and you will need to be present for the entirety of it."
Cailen let out an easy laugh, leaning back on a hand that he strategically placed so that it was behind Sayre's back, though at least he was not touching her. Still, she hunched in on herself even further. "Be at ease, Loghain," Cailan said. "We have won a great victory tonight, and we all deserve a chance to celebrate. The darkspawn were driven back by our might. I believe we have ended a Blight before it even had a chance to begin. Tonight we should be allowed to have our... fun."
Sayre could actually hear Loghain's teeth grinding against each other, and a sudden realization hit her, one so obvious she almost slapped her own forehead. Loghain was the queen's father. What must he think, to see his daughter's husband at the side of another woman? "I think you have had enough fun for one night," Loghain said evenly.
"I am your king," Cailan said, all indignation and self-righteousness. "It is not for you to say when I've had enough of anything."
"Perhaps this is a conversation best continued in private?" Loghain suggested, his face still an icy mask of disapproval.
Cailen let out a dramatic sigh and stood up. "Fine, as you wish." He gave Sayre a smile. "Perhaps we can finish our own conversation some other time, my lady," he said, giving her the smallest of winks before turning back to Loghain.
The teyrn gave Sayre a look, and she offered him a grateful smile. He seemed puzzled for a moment, but then he nodded his head ever so slightly before he and the king began walking back towards the others. They had only gone a short ways when Cailan let out a boisterous laugh, throwing an arm around the other man's shoulders. Sayre shook her head at the strangeness of it all. She had heard some of the other men speak of Loghain, that he was a hard man, a stern man with little sense of humor, but he had been one of the first to show her any kindness upon her arrival in Ostagar. His words their first meeting played through her mind.
Don't let anyone tell you that you don't belong. The first Warden Maric brought to Ferelden was a woman. Best warrior I've ever seen.
Still, what he had saved her from left Sayre feeling shaken, and she stood up. No one was really paying her any attention, but it was reflex that made her stick to the shadows as she moved, habit that drove her to keep anyone from seeing her leave the area. Once she made it away from the camp, she skirted along the outside of the area until she made her way to the bridge overlooking the field of battle. Torches burned along the bridge, and the moon was out, but the darkness was still almost overwhelming after the light from all the fires back in camp. Sayre walked to the edge of the bridge to look down on the field below. There appeared to be lights down there as well, and they seemed to be moving. She blinked her eyes a few times, not sure if they were playing tricks on her. However, she had little time to think about it as her attention was caught by a sound coming from behind her. She turned in time to see the figure approaching.
Alistair sat by one of the many fires in the camp, but he was still away from the others. He was pouting, he knew, but he felt he had the right to feel a little sullen. Cailan had purposely kept him from the battle, and for what? They had both been in Ostagar for a while, and the king had never treated him any differently from any of the other Wardens, really only ever speaking to him when absolutely necessary. Sure, there was no bond of brotherhood between the two men, and if the king wanted to pretend they weren't related, that was fine with him. Alistair preferred that no one knew he was King Maric's bastard. Still, there was no reason for Cailan to treat him like a child, one incapable of holding his own sword. Had he been worried that Alistair might receive some sort of notice, some sort of recognition? Cailan couldn't have that, now could he?
Alistair had lived a hard life, and he'd always felt at least a little bitter about the life his brother had gotten to have, the life denied to him. It wasn't the crown or the title or anything like that which he wished for himself. Alistair envied the fact that Cailan had gotten to know their father, had been raised by people who cared about him, while Alistair had been shipped off to the Chantry. While he was grateful for his templar training, which was the only reason Duncan had taken notice of him at all, he couldn't help but wonder if his own recruitment into the Grey Wardens was why the king seemed to show a sudden interest in the order. Could he not allow his bastard brother even a small semblance of happiness without having to trod upon it?
Alistair had actually been watching Cailan all evening, after everyone had returned from the battlefields. The king, being his usual, gregarious self, had made his way around the camp, laughing and joking with the other Wardens, probably congratulating them all on some heroic feat accomplished while Alistair had been stuck atop a tower, the place Cailan had decreed he must be because, apparently the king thought him too stupid to be able to manage to light a fire by himself. There had been no need to congratulate Alistair, so Calian hadn't spoken to him at all. And he had almost convinced himself he didn't care... until he saw the king approach Sayre.
Sayre had been in the tower with him, had also done nothing deserving of any sort of accolade, yet there Cailan was, sitting at her side, offering her wine. Alistair picked up a handful of pebbles and threw them into the fire. He would have liked to have thrown them at the king, but he was not entirely stupid. But then Sayre looked his way, as if she knew he was looking at them, and he scowled. Were they talking about him? Was Cailan laughing at him, telling the newest Grey Warden recruit about his fool of a half-brother? Alistair pulled his eyes away from them. If Cailan was going to befriend everyone but him, he didn't want to have to watch it. But he could only look away for so long before curiosity got the better of him, and Alistair once again glanced in their direction.
Loghain was standing there as well. Alistair had never been too terribly fond of the teyrn, as few people were, but he'd always enjoyed the way the man could set Cailan in his place like no one else could. Alistair wondered what he had missed as he watched the interactions among the three of them. Loghain had his arms crossed over his chest, and he didn't look happy. Cailan actually looked a little sulky, and Sayre... she almost looked frightened. With a frown, Alistair recalled the way she'd acted when they'd gone out into the Wilds with Daveth and Ser Jory.
She was a strange woman. When they first started out, he'd been worried for her safety. It was not because she was a woman, or because she was an elf... or at least not just because of that. Sayre had seemed scared almost, like she was unsure of herself and unsure of the rest of them. That uncertainty could be dangerous in a fight. One had to be able to trust the others in his party to watch his back, and if she didn't act like she trusted any of them, it could lead to her doing something she shouldn't, something that might get herself hurt. She had seemed to take an instant dislike to Daveth, though Ser Jory she hadn't minded too much. And strangely, Sayre had seemed to be a little more comfortable with him after they'd had a short conversation of his templar training. He would have almost wondered if she'd had some bad experience with a mage at some point in her life, but she'd been comfortable enough around the swamp witch.
But when they fought for the first time, he realized his worries had been unfounded. Though small, Sayre could handle herself in a fight. She was skilled with a bow, but she hadn't been afraid to meet a foe head on, either. Of course, it was silly to have doubted her skill. Duncan had recruited her, and Duncan only chose the best. That thought put a small smile on Alistair's face.
With a start, Alistair saw that his thoughts had distracted him from whatever had been going on between Sayre, Cailan, and Loghain. The king and the teyrn were walking away from her, and the woman actually looked a little relieved. Then he watched her rise and move away from the camp, and she almost seemed to disappear. Sayre was certainly light on her feet. When they'd been in the Wilds together, he never heard her move. She even managed to draw her weapons without making a sound, but this was something different. Sayre seemed to blend into the shadows, and he was only able to follow her movement because he caught the light from the fires reflecting off of her armor a few times. He lost her for a minute, but then he saw her again, off in the distance near the large stone bridge they had crossed to get to the Tower of Ishal.
Alistair couldn't begrudge her the desire to be away from the others. It had to be overwhelming to someone so new to the order. Yet for some reason, Alistair found himself rising to his feet. He felt the need to speak to someone that night, and she would be the only person who might possibly understand how he was feeling. He'd have gone to Duncan, but the man had already retired to his tent, clearly displeased with the behavior of the others but unwilling to stop them from their revelry. Glancing around, Alistair saw that no one was paying him any attention. Why should they be? With a shrug of his shoulder, he set off in the direction Sayre had gone.
He found her peering over the side of the bridge, and just the sight of it made him feel a little queasy. Alistair had no problems with heights, not really, but it was a long way down. Apparently he did not have her skill at moving silently, and she turned to face him as he approached. "Hello, Sayre," he said.
"Alistair," she said with a nod. He couldn't help but notice that she took a step away from him. The image came to his mind of a skittish little mouse. He wondered if she saw them all as cats, ready to take a swipe at her. That was how she acted sometimes. "What are you doing here?" She asked.
Alistair gave her a smile, but that only seemed to unsettle her more. He shrugged a shoulder. "I saw you get up and leave. I thought maybe you knew of a better party going on over on the other side of the bridge and figured I'd follow."
Sayre frowned at him. "Your brothers, nearly half of our men, lay dead on the ground below, and you think it a time for jokes?"
With another shrug, Alistair said, "As much a time for jokes as it is a time for celebration."
Sayre turned away, her attention back on the fields below. "Both equally inappropriate, yes," she said. Alistair moved to stand at her side. Not too close, though, as he'd previously noticed her aversion to anyone invading her personal space. "Why are you really here?" She asked, the accusation clear in her voice.
"Why are you?" He asked, avoiding the question.
"As much as I enjoy being surrounded by drunk humans..." she muttered under her breath.
"Which bothers you more?" Alistair asked.
Sayre frowned at him. "What do you mean?"
"Are you bothered more that they're drunk, or that they're human?" Alistair clarified.
"It's often a bad combination," she shot back, and Alistair had to smile.
"Oh, I couldn't agree more," he said cheerfully. "That's why I don't drink. You know, since I've already got the human thing working against me, and there's not much I can do about that."
Sayre gave him the smallest ghost of a smile, and Alistair wondered if it was the first time he'd seen the expression on her face. "A wise choice," she responded.
"So... what were you and the king talking about?" Alistair asked, unable to help himself, but he immediately saw that he'd made a mistake with the question. Sayre's shoulders seemed to hunch, as if she was drawing in on herself, and any bit of a smile disappeared from her face. "I'm sorry," Alistair said hurriedly. "It's none of my business."
"No, it's not," she agreed.
Alistair shifted uncomfortably next to her as the silence between them stretched. He began to wonder why he'd even followed after her. In the brief time he'd spent with her, she'd never struck him as an overly friendly person. She wasn't mean or cruel, but not very outgoing, either. Maybe he was just trying to help her, trying to be her friend because he knew what it was like to be alone. And maybe he had gone simply because Cailan had shown her attention when he'd had none to give his own brother. That was a hard thing to admit to himself, even were it true. With a sigh, Alistair turned to go, to return to camp, when something from below caught his eye.
"What is that?" He asked, the uneasiness over the heights being pushed away as he peered down. "Are those lights?"
Sayre nodded. "It looks like it. They look like torches."
"Darkspawn?" Alistair whispered.
Sayre wrinkled her eyebrows at him. "I know I'm new to this whole thing, so I haven't quite figured out how it all works, but... wouldn't you be able to sense them, if that's what they were?"
"What? Oh... right. So not darkspawn," Alistair said, giving her a sheepish smile.
"No," she said, turning her attention again to the battlefield. "I think it's some of our men down there, moving the bodies to help get ready for the pyres in the morning. Perhaps we're not the only ones who find the celebration in questionable taste." She glanced at him. "I think I'm going to go down there, see if I can help."
Alistair nodded. "I'll go with you," he said. "We can both help." When she gave him a look, he held up his hands. "Hey, I mean no offense. I'm not questioning your strength or abilities. But Maker, all of those men in full armor probably weigh at least three times what you do, if not more. Even I... I mean... either of us alone would have trouble moving them, but if we work together..."
She looked at him a moment longer before nodding. "Fine. Let's go."
As Alistair followed her down to the ground below, he almost had to smile. He might spend hours down there, forgoing sleep so that he could spend the evening hauling bodies in a field littered with dead darkspawn, performing the act with a sullen elf who didn't seem to like him much. Still, it was better than being in Cailan's presence, so he figured, in the end, he came out ahead.