Disclaimer: I do not own Dragon Age: Origins, or anything else associated with the Dragon Age franchise. BioWare owns it, more or less. And I am in no way affiliated with BioWare. So please don't sue me; trust me, you wouldn't get any real money out of it.
Chapter 8: Of Kings and Their Bastards
"Something's bothering you, Alistair."
Alistair blinked, brought out of his thoughts. He looked over at Anders, who bore an unusually serious expression on his face.
"Something's bothering you," He repeated firmly, "You've been acting weird since yesterday. What's wrong, Alistair?"
"N-Nothing!" The younger boy immediately denied, as a red tinge overtook his face. "Nothing at all, Anders. I, um, just...have a lot on my mind. That's all."
"Really?" Anders inquired skeptically, an eyebrow raised. Alistair looked away, but nodded all the same. Anders scrutinized him for another moment before heaving a sigh.
"Fine, fine. If you don't want to talk about it, that's your decision. I don't want to pry." Anders sighed again and went back to eating his food.
Alistair nodded again, and started eating again himself. It didn't take long for his thoughts to drift to other matters, though...
Anders was right to be worried; he had been out of it since yesterday afternoon, ever since Duncan had given him that letter.
That letter...because of a single letter, Alistair's entire world was overturned; moreso than it had ever been when he learned that he was a Mage, a mere three months ago.
Hearing from his father for the first time in his life...it was still hard to believe that it had actually happened.
But it had, and now Alistair had a choice before him; a choice he had been contemplating all of yesterday, and even now was still thinking over.
Under the table Alistair clenched a fist, as a powerful whirlwind of emotions roiled within him. Alistair took a few calming breaths between bites of food, but his efforts to bring some semblance of peace to himself failed yet again, much like it had the day before.
"It isn't fair," He thought, not for the first time since he had read the letter, "It's not fair! Eamon...he always told me that I could never have any contact with my father at all, and now...now..."
And now, out of the blue, his father the King suddenly wanted to talk with his bastard son. That fact, more than anything, was what really made him angry. Sure, a part of him was still thrilled that Maric wanted to do this in the first place; a part of him still held some joy about the whole situation. But that voice within him was so very small, and so very weak, compared to the voice inside of him that raged against the whole thing.
"He never visited me at all. And he never asked me to come to Denerim, either."
Alistair knew that there was a good reason for that hurtful fact, of course; he was a bastard, and Eamon had always warned him that a great deal of trouble would come about if he ever tried to contact his father, or vice versa. Eamon had always done his best to comfort him about the whole nasty business, too, and had told him that it was all for the best...
But even so, Alistair had always yearned to hear from his father. He had always wanted to have a loving father, like the other boys at the Redcliffe stable had. And now...well, it was a dream come true, wasn't it? So...why was he so angry? Why wasn't he more happy about this than he was?
"...He's only writing me now because I'm a Mage. That's it. Not because he loves me. But because I'm a Mage"
He knew that Maric said that he regretted all of his previous actions, and truly did love him, and just wanted to start a new connection with him, now that the circumstances of their forced silence had changed. But...didn't that imply that his father was doing all of this just because he was a Mage, now? That, if he hadn't been born with magical abilities, that he'd never have sent him a letter now, or any time at all? That if Alistair himself hadn't changed, then Maric wouldn't have bothered with giving him the time of day?
Alistair didn't want to believe it. He honestly didn't want to accept that as the truth. Besides, it didn't make sense. If...if Maric hadn't cared for him at all, then why would him being a Mage change any of that? If...if his father chose to contact him now, it must mean that he loved him, after all. Right? And if him being a Mage finally made his father reach out to him, well...what was the harm in that?
"I should be happy about this," Alistair thought with a sigh. "I really should be happy about this; I always wanted this when I was younger. But why am I so angry about this now, then?"
In all honesty, he was probably being too paranoid about all this. After all, he could have a father, for once in his life, if he said yes to Maric's offer! He could finally have a parent! What wasn't there to like about this offer? Things could finally change for the better for him, even moreso than it already had at the Circle! Life could become truly wonderful for him, with Maric in his life! He was sure of that!
Why did he want to say no?
Breakfast passed by in a blur, and soon enough it came time for that day's morning lessons with Enchanter Angelica. Alistair was still bothered by the letter, to say the least, but he vowed to put that behind him for the time being. He knew Angelica was already concerned about him, given how distracted he had been yesterday during their afternoon lesson. He really didn't want to make her even more worried.
His decision made, Alistair straightened up in his seat, and intently listened to Angelica as she started their lesson.
"Healing magic," She intoned, "Is a very important aspect of our abilities, one that could very well save your life, or the life of another! Healing is also very important for a Mage to know and master, as it can help you in getting accepted into a very powerful position; for example, becoming the Court Mage of the Fereldan Monarchy! Indeed, being an adept at Healing would be a big factor in us magic-users getting accepted as any noble's Court Mage."
Angelica paused, and added, "There are many different applications for Healing magic, of course, but for today we'll focus on a more simple layer of it: sowing back up cut skin. Now, for my demonstration, can I have a volunteer?"
She let that sink in for a moment. Alistair exchanged an uneasy glance with Talia, not liking the idea at all. But before they could raise any fuss about it...
"I thought so. That is why I shall volunteer myself." The Enchanter stated with a slight smirk, gaining relieved sighs from her students. After a slight chuckle, she raised her hand so that they could all see it. She then reached into the satchel slung over her chair, and brought out a small knife from it. Very carefully, she sliced a small cut on her index finger, and let it bleed for a moment, before casting a simple Healing spell on it, stopping the bleeding altogether and sowing the skin back up.
Making sure she still had their attention, Angelica continued her speech,
"Did everyone see that? Good. Now, it's your turn! I will prick my finger again so that each one of you can try to Heal it. Everyone understand?"
They all nodded, and Angelica proceeded to make another shallow cut on her finger, holding it out for her students to focus on.
Jowan went first, and after a brief struggle with his magic, managed to do it. Sort of. The cut didn't heal all the way, but Angelica swiftly assured him that it was a good try.
Emilia gave it a go, and fully succeeded in her attempt. Talia volunteered next, and also managed to succeed. Then it was Alistair's turn; focusing on Angelica's finger, he attempted to gather the surging magic within him, and...
...And nothing happened. Alistair blinked in confusion, and tried again. Still, it didn't work. So he tried once more, trying to draw even more magic into the spell. And...still, nothing. Absolutely nothing happened.
What in the world was going on?
"Is something wrong, Alistair?"
Angelica's voice brought him out of his concentration, and Alistair looked up at her with a frown.
"I...don't know." He confessed, his brow furrowed in confusion. "I...my, um, magic isn't working right..."
"It isn't?" Angelica tilted her head, and gave him a considering look. "Odd..."
Alistair didn't know what to say, so he just shrugged in response. His face started to redden, and he looked down at the floor in a mixture of embarrassment and anger. This...hadn't happened to him before! His magic had always worked fine; if anything, it always leaped to his command. So what was wrong with him now? Why was it acting up now?
After a moment still silence, Angelica finally spoke again.
"Well, we can talk about that later, Alistair." The Enchanter decided. "Now that we've seen the practical usage of a Healing spell, can anyone tell me how else the spell could be applied?"
After another hour of discussion and application—the latter of which Alistair didn't succeed in doing at all, much to his growing frustration—their morning lesson came to an end. Angelica dismissed them all for lunch, though she asked him to stay behind for a moment, before he himself could leave.
Alistair remained in his chair as Angelica stared at him. After a prolonged silence, she inquired,
"Is everything alright with you, Alistair?"
"No," Was what immediately came to his mind, but Alistair bit that response down. This...this deal with the letter from his father, it was his problem alone to sort out, so he certainly didn't want to tell Angelica about it. He really didn't want to bother her with it, either.
And even if he did want to tell her, it wouldn't be a smart idea. Eamon had always warned him against telling others about his situation...even if it was someone who he could trust, like Angelica, Alistair simply couldn't let her know about this.
So it was with a heavy heart that Alistair merely shrugged and replied, "Not really, Angelica. Things are...fine, I guess."
That...wasn't exactly a lie. But not the truth, either...
However, it seemed he was a bad liar, as the Enchanter pursed her lips and frowned at him, obviously not satisfied with his answer. Alistair shied under her gaze, already feeling the guilt well up within him about lying to Angelica, of all people. Ugh! Even if it was for a good reason, he felt horrible! Angelica was so nice and kind to him...Alistair hated lying to her...
She let him squirm under her gaze a minute longer, and spoke out once more.
"Are you sure, Alistair? You were having trouble with your magic earlier, after all. You see, the mood of the Mage often affects how the spell they cast turns out; for instance, if I was very angry about something and tried to cast a powerful spell, my emotions could interfere with my control, and thus lessen the power behind my spell. And in your case, being so young and all, a bad mood could easily hamper your ability to cast even a simple spell."
Alistair remained silent in the face of that stunning fact, completely unsure of what to say now. After seeing that he wouldn't comment about that, Angelica asked once more,
"Is everything alright, Alistair? Are you sure something isn't bothering you?"
"No. I'm...I'm fine, Angelica. Really." To prove his point, Alistair looked up and smiled at her, though it came out very strained and very fake. His teacher sighed in reply, and shook her head.
"Very well. You're dismissed. Just know...if there is something bothering you Alistair, I hope you aren't afraid to tell me. I'm your teacher and your friend, Alistair. I'm only here to help."
Alistair nodded, and swiftly made his exit from the library. As he walked away, another wave of anger overtook him.
Maker...that stupid letter...it made him lie to Angelica and it was even affecting his ability to use magic! It was bringing him nothing but trouble to him at this point! Ugh!
"I need to do something about this," Alistair finally mumbled to himself. He couldn't let this situation get any more out of hand than it already had. Alistair didn't know if he was ready yet to commit to a possible decision to his father's offer, but he needed to do something about this!
Maybe...he could at least tell someone about his feelings! Alistair considered that, and started to like the idea more and more. Yes, that might just work. That way he could get it all of his chest, and finally think about the matter with a clear head! That would make everything better, for sure!
...But who could he talk to about this? Alistair couldn't tell anyone about this, after all. It was...too personal, and too dangerous to let any of his friends know about this. After all, if he couldn't tell Angelica about this, then he certainly couldn't tell Anders, Jowan, Talia, or Emilia about this. Who, then, could he tell? Who on earth could help him?
"...Duncan could," Alistair realized with a start, pausing mid-step. Yes, that could work...
A few quick questions to the some of the older Apprentices later, and Alistair was heading over to the guest room that had been provided for Duncan. It was after lunch now, and Alistair had some free time left before his afternoon lessons began; and he was determined to use that time to talk with Duncan. He was the only person in the Tower that he could come to about the letter; the only one he could trust with this...personal information.
Alistair just hoped that Duncan would actually be able to help him.
Soon enough he reached the room that Duncan was staying in, though he paused before it, surprised to see an actual door before him. Huh. He'd become so used to all the rooms of the Circle being door-less, that it was shocking for him to see one that actually did have a door. Well. That was something.
Brushing that train of thought away for the moment, Alistair knocked lightly upon the door. He heard a muffled reply to come in, and so he entered.
The room appeared much like Enchanter Torrin's quarters had looked, what with having a bookshelf on one end of the room, a writing desk at the other, and a bed toward the center. He didn't focus on those observations for long, though, and he quickly zeroed in on his target.
After a hesitant start, Alistair asked, "Um, Mister Duncan? Can I...can I talk to you?"
The Warden-Commander looked up from the book he was reading at the writing desk, and he smiled kindly at him. "Of course, Alistair. Take a seat on the bed."
The young boy nodded, and quickly trotted over, and planted himself at the edge of Duncan's bed. Duncan, who was sitting at a nearby desk, turned his chair to face him.
"This is about the...letter I gave you, I presume?" Duncan asked. Alistair gave a hesitant nod, before explaining,
"Um...I was, ah, wondering something, Sir. Could I, um, talk to you about it?"
Duncan gave a curt nod, and Alistair wondered just what to say first. In the end, he settled with,
"Does...does my father really love me, Sir?"
Duncan straightened up at those words, and he swiftly closed the book in his hands, setting it down at the desk.
"Yes, Alistair." The Warden-Commander eventually said, after taking a moment to compose his reply. "Yes. Your father loves you very much, Alistair. I've seen it so myself. He has always loved you, and always regretted the necessity of shunning you. But now that...things are different, your father wants to make up for it. He wants to start up a true father-son relationship with you, my boy. If that is what you want."
Alistair gave a nod and stared down at the floor, unsure of what to say to that. Duncan regarded his silence, and asked,
"Is that what you want, Alistair? I will completely understand if you say no; as will your father. He doesn't want to put any undue pressure on you—"
"Then why did he send me this letter in the first place!" Alistair burst out, his earlier rage and anger reaching its boiling point.
A heavy silence filled the room; Duncan looked deeply shocked at his outburst. The Grey Warden opened his mouth to speak, but Alistair didn't let him; he wasn't finished. He was far from finished.
"How else am I supposed to feel about that?" He inquired, his voice a low monotone.
"My father wants to connect with me now, but only if I say yes; how else is that supposed to make me feel? That letter...it's brought me nothing but trouble since I opened it. It made me lie to Angelica, it made me unable to use my magic, and it's made me so...so confused, Duncan. I...I just don't know what to do about it. I...I want to feel happy about this, I really do, but..."
Tears started streaming down Alistair's face at this point; however, he took no notice of them.
"I wanted to hear from my father for so long...really, I did. But...but after awhile, I just...I just started to hate him. I hated that he never wrote to me, or never visited me. I know that it was for a good reason, and I know it was for my safety, but...that didn't stop me from hating him. And now...now that I have a new and wonderful life at the Circle, my father wants to write me? After all these years, now he wants to reach out to me? I'm, I'm sorry Duncan...I want to be happy about this...and a small part of me is, I think. But, the rest of me...
"The rest of me wants nothing to do with him." Alistair concluded. Silence matched his reply, as Duncan continued to stare at him with utter shock.
After a minute or two passed, with yet more silence, Alistair came to a decision. He got up from the bed, and wiped his tears on his sleeve. He reached inside the front of his robes, pulling out Maric's letter. He carefully sit it down on the bed.
"I'm sorry, Duncan. I can't...I just can't do this. Not now. Maybe not ever. Tell my father...tell him I'm sorry."
And without waiting to see if Duncan would reply this time, Alistair left the room.
I'd like to apologize for the extended wait for this chapter. I encountered some heavy writer's block early on, and I later became conflicted on what direction I wanted to go with for this chapter. Those two factors led to the delayed release of this chapter, and I do apologize for it. I'll try not to let it happen again.
Also, just so all my readers know, at this point I am putting up a new schedule for Alistair the Mage. Instead of updating it every week, like I was doing in 2012, I shall be updating this fanfic every other week.
Why? I have another fanfic I'm working on now, in conjunction with this. An Avatar: The Last Airbender fanfic called Daughter of the Dai Li, which I highly encourage you to read if you're a fan of Avatar. I started it late last December, and at first I tried to work on both this fanfic and DotDL together and write them at the same time, but...that didn't work out so well.
So now, I've come up with a new schedule so I can better juggle writing these two fanfics together. From now on, this fanfic will be updated every other week, as I said. So next week, I'll be working on Daughter of the Dai Li instead, and the week after that, I'll swing back with a new chapter of Alistair the Mage, and so on and so forth.
Ideally, I'll keep up this schedule until one or even both fanfics are completed. Which is going to be a long, long time from now, honestly. AtM and DotDL are both long-term projects that will take dozens and dozens of chapters to see truly and completely finished, I wager. So unless I decide to change the updating schedule again, that's how things will be from now on. Just so you all know.
Please do not forget to review. I like to hear the thoughts of all my readers, good or bad.