This was inspired by Monoral's 'Kiri'; a moody song that's become this particular Alistair's anthem. Oh, and Warden Alistair shedding quiet man-tears in my head.
PS A reader suggested a little note (thanks by the way!) for some background: this story takes place after Wishing You Weren't Here. If you haven't anything better to do such as saving the whales and small kittens up trees, then you might want to read it. Though fair warning – it is rather long, and has a frog in it.
Characters, world and attitude are the sole domain of Bioware and their world of Dragon Age. I'm just flittering about the edges…honest!
Chapter 1 – Detritus
"…oh dear Duncan…!"
Sigh…He rifled through the creased woodblock prints before throwing them onto designated pile 'D'. Resting his chin in his hand, Alistair surveyed the mounds of personal belongings. Grey Wardens came from all parts and all walks of life; noblemen, farmers, scholars, the devout and chaste, the criminal-minded…and yet all of them had accumulated over their relatively short lives, the kind of cheap clutter you'd think to only find in an elderly aunt's chintz-infected sitting room. Although he had to admit, there were some things no elderly aunt would be caught dead with. Or maybe they were; who was to know?
Naughty prints of ladies performing what could only be described as acts in defiance of the natural laws of gravity were not what he expected to find in the old Warden Commander's personal store. Or maybe he should have…It was difficult to lump his old mentor in the category of 'just another male'. His memories of Duncan were of an upright, taciturn individual – endlessly patient, unrepentantly dedicated, wise, gentlemanly, elegantly ruthless…not some old geezer that collected cheeky pictures of scantily-clad, impossibly-provisioned women. Even if some of them were rather good.
The piles he'd sorted were small. He supposed anything of value – sentimental or otherwise – would have been taken to Ostagar with the Wardens. He'd been hoping to find enough items to set up a kind of – what could he call it – a display? A memorial? Something for people to remember the Grey Wardens by, besides a single engraved line on a slab of marble. Something that told people Grey Wardens had been people like everyone else…Sort of.
He sighed. Displaying what he had found in the Grey Warden building thus far would probably get him arrested.
Alistair turned to the single rose, propped unassumingly in a tumbler nearby. It had been his rose, the one he'd found in Lothering over two - Blessed Andraste, has it been that long? - years ago. Sandal had cleverly given it a new lease of life, in shimmering metals of red and silver, and of such a delicate yet strong construction that even Shale could pound it into the ground and it wouldn't even dent.
He held up the prints for the rose's inspection. "What do you think? High art? Or the fastest way to a week's long incarceration and a ration of mouldy bread and stale water?" Alistair shrugged at the rose, "Well, I don't know…I'm not Sergeant Kylon – is it illegal to be in possession of depictions of very chilly ladies? It's not going to kill anyone…still…there's not much you can do with these…I wonder if I can sell them to Jowan? He's gullible enough…"
On the rose's unspoken 'suggestion', Alistair shifted the prints to the pile designated 'J'. Then he reached for the last of Duncan's things; a battered lockbox that had the lock practically falling off it. Inside, was a sheaf of papers, bound by waxed string. Sifting through them he was slightly disappointed to find they were mostly business documents; requests from the general public to have cellars cleared out or noisy attics investigated. There was a folded inventory of the items stored in a certain Denerim warehouse, some receipts and a couple of odd missives from a gentleman identifying himself as Levi Dryden.
Dryden…Dryden…Now where had he heard the name before?
He returned the documents to the lockbox and leant back, stretching out his legs while wiggling his feet to encourage the circulation back into his legs. He turned to the rose. "Well, that's it," he told it. "That's the last of it."
He noted that the pile of things to be discarded was the largest of them all. It was depressing to think that the evidence of the lives of a handful of brave, dead men would end up as refuse.
"What do we do now?" He asked the rose – and shook his head. "I know we should be preparing for Amaranthine. It's not like I'm not being asked that question every day. It's just that…" He sighed. "Having escaped being made king, I really don't relish the idea of being in charge of a bunch of nobles who would see me as someone's upstart bastard. I had enough of that during my time at the monastery and I'm not keen to rekindle resentment over my station in life again – King's decree or not".
Since his status as Warden Commander of Ferelden had been confirmed by the First Warden, King Fergus had been pushing for him to take control of the Arling – and soon. While it was currently being administered by its Seneschal, Amaranthine had been too long without an Arl and the Banns in the area were showing signs of restlessness. Riordan had not been able to stay. He had his own post to return to, once he had delivered the store of Archdemon blood to Weisshaupt. With his departure, Alistair's shield and excuse to stay in Denerim had also gone.
Alistair did think of going to Weisshaupt with Riordan. He'd always wanted to see the headquarters of the Grey Wardens carved into the side of a mountain. He'd heard about the Anderfels from that great, gruff Gregor chappie and wanted to find out whether Anders were as unfriendly as they were reputed to be. He'd wanted to walk down the halls where long-gone Wardens had gone, sift through the old Griffon eyries, maybe pick up some fossilised Griffon poo as a souvenir.
But he'd stayed in Denerim. Sometimes, he'd head into the city. No one really questioned why the dishevelled young man who bore a striking resemblance to the late king wanted to join a work gang. He'd only stopped volunteering because once people knew who he was, they wanted him to tell The Story and it was not a story he was willing to tell.
And then word had gotten around to the king that the Warden Commander had some free time on his hands…Alistair still resisted of course, though not openly. Defying the King's decree was treason after all. Were Duncan alive he would have made a good argument over why Grey Wardens shouldn't hold titles. He'd always been adamant about Wardens having no distractions from their Wardenly duties, but Alistair had never been any good at debate. He'd prefer to just hit people over the head and tell them to shut up – or try to tickle them and make them laugh. He doubted either technique would work on the Banns in Amaranthine...though it did occur to him that it would be amusing to try.
He sat, wracked in thought for some kind of argument, any argument for his next meeting with the king. What would Duncan say? His eye fell on the bound correspondence. Dryden…Hadn't there been a Warden Commander named Dryden?
He sorted through the letters, removing the ones from Levi Dryden; reading through them more carefully. As he recalled, Sophia Dryden hadn't just been Commander of the Grey in Ferelden, she had also held Soldiers Peak – she was the reason why the Wardens were ejected from Ferelden – and the reason why Duncan held the 'no title' line.
Interesting. The letter was more than a request for assistance against Darkspawn – which were only mentioned in passing. The more recently dated correspondence indicated Duncan had agreed to at least meet with the man.
"Well, I could do that," Alistair told the rose. "Soldier's Peak," he murmured. It was Grey Warden business. And Grey Warden business had to be sorted out before Arling business. But…Soldiers Peak was in the north.
"That's…sort of on the way to Amaranthine…" Alistair thought the rose looked sceptical. "Well all right, it's 'sort of' on the way to Amaranthine the way Gwaren is on the way to Orzammar. Look at it this way: the Arling has been waiting this long for someone to take over, they can wait a couple of weeks more, right?"
He picked up the tumbler and rose. "You're coming too, my love?" A tight frown formed between his brows. "Well, I suppose no, I won't be going alone. I could take Zevran with me, and Oghren is still in the city I think. Cullen's been doing her 'duty' at the Royal kennels...I think they'd release her to me." He'd have liked to have Shale and Wynne along too, but the two of them had gone on a long trip to Tevinter. He didn't expect to see either of them until at least next year…
The logistics of travel firing up the neurons in his too-long inactive brain, Alistair got to his feet.
He looked down at the tumbler in his hand, "What?" he asked the rose. "What do you mean?" He gave a single sigh of resignation. "Very well, I suppose Jowan must come…if you insist…But just so you know – I'm doing it under protest."
Turning to leave the room, Alistair happened to catch his expression in the small shaving mirror on the wall opposite. The tousled-haired, unshaven, red-eyed horror that gazed back at him would have been a shock if Alistair hadn't seen it every day since he had woken up in this room, heavily bandaged and feeling as though every bone in his body had been broken and then pushed through his skin from the inside out.
The shaggy mane of hair that he'd grown made him look wilder than a native of the Korcari swamps and the beard itched like nobody's business, but he didn't see the point in doing anything about it. Extra hair didn't affect his ability to swing a sword and shield.
"Very well," he told the rose in a resigned voice. "I'll wash…at the very least…just for you." Placing a tender kiss on a petal, Alistair left the room to complete trip preparations.