A Dragon Age fanfiction by Lywinis
Chapter Nineteen: Sellsword
Sebastian woke with a clear head. The sun shone in through the greasy glass of his room, and he stretched as he sat up. His back was still stiff, unused to the luxury of the bed, but he knew he would get used to it again. His eyes were bleary, sleep-worn, and he ran a hand over his face before turning to the washbasin. The jug was full, and he poured a measure of the water to wash his face and shave. He trimmed his new goatee, his reflection in the glass unfamiliar still. He hoped it would be enough to serve as a temporary disguise.
He wasn't keeping the long hair, however. He'd inquire about a barber over breakfast. He slid into his boots and leathers, slipping the toggles that held the brigandine closed in record time. His bow stayed in its oiled case in the chest, but his long knives went with him, two tucked in his boots, one in his belt. He wasn't expecting trouble, but his days in Kirkwall had taught him to always be prepared.
The landlady was chirpy and cheerful when she greeted him. She placed a warm mug of tea in front of him when he seated himself in the main room of the tavern, and he thanked her, sliding another silver piece her way. She made change for him, and he slipped the copper into his pouch as she bustled about, wiping the wooden tables down with a wet rag. She was a plump woman, with iron grey hair bound in a bun. Wisps of it fell about her face, and she moved with the aches and pains of someone who had lived a life of toil. Her eyes were grey and canny, and she had a sense of humor about her work. He couldn't help but be reminded of Leandra Hawke; the few times he had met the woman, she had been gracious and charming to him as well.
Sebastian left a few coppers behind after he finished his breakfast. He made his way out into the city, the day already underway around him. The small beggar boy he had given coin to yesterday was there, crouched in the dirt of the stairwell, and he dropped another couple of copper into his mug as he passed, not making eye contact. Whatever the boy was doing, Sebastian hoped that at least his coin would take the edge off his hunger.
He could feel eyes on his back as he made his way through the streets of Cumberland, but he was careful to never step anywhere that could be considered out of the way or too quiet. There were plenty of hidey-holes for cutpurses and muggers to hide in this city, just as any other, and he knew what to look for as he went about his business. He took no chances, staying in sight of the guards and in the crowds as he worked his way toward the barber that the landlady recommended.
The city was old, almost as old as some of the houses in Kirkwall, and the stone walls rose high over his head as he pushed through the crowds. He stopped at the barber and paid for a trim, ignoring the bloodied apron and other room where the barber did the other half of his job. There were, for some who were too leery of magic to let it do its work, alternatives to healers. It wasn't pretty, and it was often painful or dangerous, but it was the only alternative to letting a mage heal you. This one, at least, had a well out back and washed up after every operation he did, or so he said. He was handy and clever with his shears, however, and Sebastian thought it well worth the money.
His hair a reasonable length again, he set out to resupply himself. The market was bustling, as was expected of a harbor town, and he strolled past vendors selling fresh fish, fruit, and grain, as well as silks and trinkets. He browsed the stalls, the feeling of being watched still on the edge of his awareness. He ignored it, instead buying dried jerky, dried apples, and grain for the road. He gave the trinkets being sold a once-over, out of a need to just hear the hum of humanity around him.
A lot of the jewelry was hand-made, crafted in the wooden stalls as he browsed. Bracelets made from bits of shell, beads spun from glass and wrought from silver, pendants inlaid in gold and decorated with colorful bits of cloth; it was as diverse a market as he had ever seen, even in Kirkwall.
His fingers brushed over a carved wooden bracelet, the likeness of a hunting bird in flight, the wings arcing down and forming the encircling band. An arrow shaped head, built for speed, would rest on the back of the bearer's hand toward the fingers. Alert eyes, carved with cunning skill into the glossy wood, made the impression that the bird was watching, hunting. He picked it up to study it.
"A hawk, messere," said the shopkeeper, and Sebastian felt a tiny clench in his heart. "A fine carving for the special lady in your life."
"My daughter," he said, and the lie slipped past his lips unhindered. "She adores birds in flight."
"Ah, a father as well?" The shopkeeper smiled a knowing smile and tapped two fingers on the cloth of the table between them in a local sign of appreciation and acknowledgement. "You look to miss her very much."
"Incredibly so," he said. "It seems like forever since my last visit home."
"Ah, when I was a young man such as yourself, my shop traveled Nevarra and into Orlais. I can understand your pain. My daughters missed me terribly." He held his hands out. "For a fellow family man, I cannot do anything but offer a discount. Fifty silver, and it is yours."
Sebastian knew the opening salvo of a haggle when he heard one. "Surely that's not the best you can do for a poor courier? Thirty-five silver is much more palatable."
The shopkeeper gave a mock scowl, but his eyes twinkled in mirth. "Messere, you would drive me into the poorhouse! I cannot go lower than forty-five."
Sebastian grinned. "Forty, and you have a deal."
They shook on it, and Sebastian counted out the silver. He had no real idea why he'd decided to buy the bracelet, not really, but the shopkeeper wrapped it and he placed it in his pouch anyway. What was done was done. Still, it was a beautiful piece, and he had little enough in the way of possessions these days as it was.
He continued on his way, wandering back to the inn as his errands for the day were finished. Supplies for the trip back to Starkhaven were purchased, he'd gotten his share of fresh air, and he was convinced that whoever had followed him earlier in the morning was well and truly lost now. He could not feel eyes on the back of his head any longer, and he allowed himself to relax as he made his way up the steps, past the small waif and into the inn. He nodded to the landlady as he passed, continuing up the stairs to his room.
He entered and dropped his parcels in the corner of the room. He caught a glimpse of movement in the silvered, cloudy glass of the mirror, and whirled.
He was too late.
A burlap sack dropped over his head, and a sharp blow to the back of his head ensured he knew no more.
"Wake up." A sharp slap to his face roused him. "Get the bucket."
He spluttered as icy water drenched him. Another blow had him reeling.
"Enough, Farley." The voice was curt, and the hulking presence at his side faded. He shook his head, trying to clear it.
"Are we awake, then?" the voice came from his left, and he looked up to see a well-dressed man gazing at him. He caught the glint of gold in the candlelight, and blinked water from his eyes. A black silk eyepatch, embroidered with golden thread in the shape of an eye, greeted his hazy vision as he sat up, aching and miserable.
"What is the meaning of this?" he asked. He had a sneaking suspicion, but it was always a good way to get one's bearings back. Light filtered into the room from the cracked boards of the ceiling, and Sebastian could smell the damp earth of a cellar around him. He swallowed, his eyes flicking around him. Torches guttered in their holders, hiding the men in the shadows they cast. He could hear them, however, muttering amongst themselves as their leader stood before him.
"I would think you'd be hidden far better than you are, you know," said the man, a touch of humor to his voice. "You were far too easy to track and find. Gus knew just where you'd go, and he was right. He thanks you for the copper."
The boy. Sebastian stifled an inner groan, instead fixing his eyes on the man in the eyepatch. He was tall, built with rangy muscle along his frame. Sandy hair bound in a club behind his head with a leather thong, he moved with the easy grace of someone used to wielding a sword. Sebastian was reminded of Fenris in the way he moved, walking on the balls of his feet and rippling with the threat of movement.
"And what do you want from me?" There was no real malice in it, just curiosity. He had been caught by his own stupidity, it was only fair to ask.
He was tied to the chair, his wrists bound behind him through the slats in the back and his legs bound to the chair. He tested the bonds, flexing his arms and legs, and found them secure.
"Why, Prince Sebastian, I would think you'd be aware of the bounty on your head, placed by the true Prince of Starkhaven, Goran Vael?"
Sebastian resisted the urge to spit at his cousin's name. "If Goran Vael is the true heir to the throne of Starkhaven, then you're Varric Tethras's long lost twin, messere. I'd laugh, but I find no humor in the situation. Besides, you lack the chest hair."
"Regardless of your opinion of his highness's legitimacy, there is the small matter of the huge sum of money being offered for your capture," said the man in the eyepatch. His accent was faint, but he sounded Ferelden. It made him homesick for something he could never have again. He shook the errant thought away, driving it back to be worried about later.
"How much?" he asked.
Bandits, at the worst, mercenaries, at best. The eternal question, then: gold.
"Fifteen hundred sovereigns, if you're brought in alive," he replied, a smile quirking the corners of his lips. "Considerably less if you're already dead, so please don't give Farley an excuse."
There was a grunt from the shadows, and the smile widened. Sebastian paled a little at the sum. That was far more than he had in his bags, even with his careful spending. He had been well and truly caught, and it was his own fault.
Damn. There would be no rescue. His every ally was gone, the bridges there turned to ash in the wake of his explosive anger.
"I'll double it." He tried for the bluff, the lie tripping off his tongue faster than it should have. The single eye narrowed, and the man stepped forward.
"We searched your things. You carry less than five sovereigns after your spending spree in the market today, and you promise us three thousand sovereigns?" The laughter was coarse, rippling through the room. "Princeling, you barely have enough coin to rub together yourself, much less to pay my men's wages."
"You misunderstand me," he said. "I'm not looking to free myself. I'm looking to hire you."
The laughter got louder, until the man held up a hand. "Your offer is generous, but you'll not be able to pay us. I'm not in the market for work on promissory notes, boy."
"Who said anything about promissory notes?" He returned, his smile predatory. "I'm asking you to help me retake a principality. We can come to an arrangement that's mutually beneficial."
"I'm listening." He snapped his fingers and another chair appeared beside him, placed there by unseen hands. He straddled it, arms across the back as he watched Sebastian with that single, sharp eye.
"When you went through my things, you didn't look quite hard enough, it seems. If you cut the seam at the bottom of my pack, you'll find three hundred sovereigns rolled into the lining. Consider it your sign on bonus."
"One tenth of your offer, it seems. Fair wage, considering we haven't done anything yet. Check it."
There was the sound of fabric ripping, and Sebastian mourned the loss of a good pack. The hoot of discovery was loud, and a small smile broke out on the one-eyed man's face.
"Seems you're good on your word, Princeling. What's to keep me from taking that gold, delivering you to Goran Vael, and then walking away?"
"My counteroffer." Sebastian's eyes narrowed. "Help me retake the city, help me eject the pretender to the throne, and you will receive the rest of the money. To sweeten the deal, I am prepared to offer you looting rights to any noble's estate if they back Goran. This counteroffer comes with two conditions."
His eyebrows rose. "Conditions? You're hardly in a position to demand anything of us."
"But you're listening anyway, aren't you? The conditions are these: one, you are not to raid, burn, or loot anything from the homes of the common man, nor are you to hurt their families. Two: the Chantry and its works are off limits as well."
"Your first condition is accepted, we don't do that kind of thing." Sebastian scoffed. "Munroe's Bleeders do not kill the innocent or enslave the masses."
"And the second?"
"No deal. Chantries are the largest source of income in the region. You think we don't know that?"
"If you burn down or loot the Chantry in Starkhaven, you get nothing." Sebastian's jaw twitched. "It's not negotiable. There will be people flocking to the building for protection, so if you violate the second rule, you'll have violated the first as well. There are at least four estates that will be open for you to pluck your spoils from, and those have concrete evidence against them that they plotted against my family."
There was a long silence. The room itself held its breath, the occupants not moving as the leader of the mercenaries pondered the offer. He rose, stepping back from the chair and paced around behind Sebastian, who tried to slow his breathing and calm himself.
The sound of a knife being drawn made him tense, ready to rock forward as best he could to avoid the blow, but the blade sawed through his bonds instead. He brought his hands forward, wincing as the blood rushing back to his limbs made his fingers feel large and clumsy. The mercenary knelt in front of him and freed his legs. He looked up, the single blue eye glinting in amusement.
"You've just acquired the services of Munroe's Bleeders, your highness. Your terms are accepted."
A/N: No, I'm not dead, just working incredibly long hours that leave me fair exhausted and unable to write much. This chapter is short, but the peak of the action, and we'll see the story slide home soon. I estimate (based on what I have as a shoestring plot), that this one is likely to have about thirty, maybe thirty-five chapters. I will try to write longer chapters soon and get them out, but I am moving in two weeks and may disappear again. I apologize for the wait, Constant Readers, but know that I do read and love reviews, so thank you for your patience and understanding.