Disclaimer: I don't own Dragon Age or any of its related characters. This is just for my own enjoyment and the potential enjoyment of other fans like me, and no monetary gain was expected or received.
Spoilers: Takes place ten years or more after the events of Dragon Age: Origins, from the background of a female Human Noble pc who has recruited Loghain and persuaded an "altered" Alistair to marry Anora and rule as King despite his survival, and persuaded Loghain to perform the dark ritual with Morrigan. May contain spoilers for Origins, Awakening, and Dragon Age II as well as the novels The Stolen Throne and The Calling, though given the mildly changeable nature of what is considered "canon" and my own rather radical ideas about how things should be, spoilers should be fairly mild and the story can probably stand relatively well on its own even without prior knowledge of these events.
A/N: I made Loghain tall not because that's the way I prefer him - I actually like the idea of him being somewhat average in size, making up in attitude what he lacks in physical presence - but there is precedent to think he's big (in The Stolen Throne his father is described as a giant of a man, and we're never quite assured that Loghain isn't) and big is very impressive to children so I felt making him a large man plus the big sword would be the draw that pulls Duncan into that back alley.
A/N for the benefit of those who read my Psych fics and hope to learn what's up: I'm currently working on a Lassiet that isn't going well mainly because I really, REALLY need new episodes or at least some fresh ideas beyond simply making Lassiter and Juliet hook up because "Shules" makes me want to puke. I've suffered long enough, I feel, so I'm clearing my palate with a little Dragon Age fic whilst brainstorming, though unfortunately all the stuff I've done in this fandom that was lost when my computer crashed is far better than this (ain't it always the way?).
Chapter One: A Chance Encounter in the Lower Market
He'd hid himself in the junction of the back of the tavern and the adjacent warehouse to escape the bitter cold wind and passersby both while he rested and ate the apple he'd bought from the stall around the corner, but there was no place safe from the inquisitiveness of a child and it did not surprise him when a boy, eight or nine years old perhaps, skipped up to him and squatted on his hunkers just past arm's reach and blinked owlishly at him. The quality of the boy's clothes did surprise him a bit, for this was the lower market and most children were dressed rough.
"Are you a soldier?" the boy asked after a time, big blue eyes fixated on the heavy shield and dragonbone longsword that rested beside the big man.
He cocked a forbidding black brow at the lad and deliberately cut a slice of apple with the wicked silverite blade of his skinning knife. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that you shouldn't speak to people you don't know?"
"All the time," the lad said easily, and plopped onto the cobbles in an attitude of absolute trust. The big man stared for a moment, then burst out in a hearty laugh. He popped the apple slice into his mouth and cut a larger quarter.
"You're a bold pup, I'll give you that," he said, and handed the boy the piece of apple. "You don't look like you belong in the lower market, though. Having a bit of illicit adventure, lad?"
The boy thanked him beautifully for the bit of fruit, and blushed at the insinuation that he was out of bounds. "I…sneaked away from my nurse when she was looking at silks in the upper market. Looking at girls' things is boring, and papa will just laugh about it later. Mama will scold, but she's busy with the baby so it'll be all right. Are you a soldier?"
"I was once, long ago. Now I'm just a wanderer. Your papa won't laugh if harm comes to you, and the low market is dangerous. Particularly for little boys who look like they come from wealthy families and who are so incautious as to stop and chat with large, heavily armed strangers."
The boy grinned, showing a mouthful of fine white teeth. "If you were a bandit or a ruffian, Ser, I should not have stopped. I'm not completely without sense, as my mama says."
The big man smiled, unable to help it in the face of the lad's infectious easy joy, but there was sadness in his smile. "Ah, but my lad, I've been the one, and I'll always be the other. So you see your perceptions are not so clear as you think. What's your name?"
"Duncan, Ser. And I don't believe you are a bandit or a ruffian, for if you were, why would you tell me so?"
"Well, Duncan, perhaps I would tell you because I knew you would not believe me if I did," he said with an air of asperity and aged wisdom thinly veiling a deep vein of humor. The boy seemed to recognize that humor and smiled in response.
"I saw you buy that apple," the boy said. "Apples are expensive this year, since the harvest was so bad. And still you shared it with me. Why would a bandit share, and why would he not steal the apple?"
"Logical. You are a learned man, Duncan?"
"I have a lot of tutors, if that's what you mean, Ser."
"And are you a good student?"
The boy winced slightly. "Yes, Ser. I try to be, anyhow."
"Keep on trying. Education is a gift not many children receive, and the ones who do seldom appreciate until it's too late," he said with a wink. "You evidently know how to amuse yourself in your free hours, since you're clearly the adventurous sort."
"Are you educated, Ser?"
"Not particularly. And not when I was a child. It's much harder to pick up book learning when you're grown, but I did my best."
"You speak like you're educated."
"My life has been quite the education on its own. Unfortunately I am rather a dull scholar, and am still learning." He wiped the blade of his knife clean on a red bandana he pulled from his deep coat pocket. "Don't you think you'd better get back to your nurse now, Ser Duncan? I dare say she's through looking at girls' things and is probably searching for you by this time."
"No, she'll finish her shopping before she comes looking for me," Duncan said easily. "She has to find some things for Baby Anora."
The big man seemed momentarily taken aback by the name. "That's your sister?" he inquired after a moment.
"Yes, Ser. She's cute, but she's too small to be much fun," the boy said, and made a face. "And sometimes she smells bad."
"Babies often do. Tell me, Duncan-brother-of-Anora, how did you happen to come by your names? Both seem to me rather familiar in some way."
"Well, Ser, I was named for a man my papa served under when he was a Grey Warden, and my sister is named for our mama."
"So your father was a Warden and your mother is named Anora," the man said, with a strange, almost hopeless note in his voice the boy couldn't figure out. "So that means your name, Ser, is actually Prince Duncan…doesn't it?"
The boy's face fell. "Well, yes Ser, it is. But I'd rather not be called that, if it's all the same, please."
"It is not all the same, my Prince. And now I know you must return to your people; you should not be out of the care of your attendants."
The big man rose to his feet and gathered his things. The shining silverite knife, with its ornately carved halla horn hilt, he sheathed in its ancient but well-tended scabbard and, briefly evincing indecision, handed it to the boy. "For you, my prince."
"Ser, I…thank you, but I can't…"
"My father gave this knife to me," the big man said, "when I was not much bigger than you. I've been able to count on that blade when everything else in the world failed me, and it will give me satisfaction to think that now it will be there for you."
The boy stood slowly and accepted the offered tool. "Well I can't say I understand, Ser, but thank you. Thank you very much."
The big man placed his big hand gently on top of the boy's golden curls for a brief moment, and then with a light caress chivvied the young royal toward the head of the alley. "Speak to the guard sergeant standing on the corner, my prince," he said. "He'll see you back to your people. I am very pleased, your highness, to have met you."
"Wait, what's your name, Ser? You never told me."
The big man smiled, as sadly as before. "I have no name, my prince."
"Everyone has a name."
"I had one once, but I fear that I lost it, your highness." And the big man disappeared behind the warehouse and was gone into the forbidden back alleys of the Alienage in an instant.
A little downhearted from this exchange, Prince Duncan obediently went to the city guardsman posted near the tavern doors and received his assistance in returning to his nurse in the high market. That worthy woman scarcely acted as though she had noticed his absence, but she broke off the rest of her shopping expedition and took the prince home to the palace, where he was immediately swept into the strong arms of his father, King Alistair.
"Well, my little man, what mischief have you been havocking, to bring nursey back from the market before she's finished shopping?" he said, with a kiss.
"I wandered into the lower market, papa, and the city guard had to bring me back," Duncan confessed.
As predicted, his father's response was a hearty laugh. "What a scapegrace you are! And won't your mother scold? Come sit with papa, my boy, and tell me of your adventures while your nurse finishes her outing without your merry hindrance."
Without a care for propriety the King carried his son into the vast throne room and sprawled across the royal seat with the child on his knee. Gravely, Duncan took the knife from his pocket. "I must tell you about the man I met, papa."
"So you must, particularly if you took that rather expensive-looking blade from his person," Alistair said, still merrily, but with a look of worry on his ingenuous features.
"He gave it to me, papa, once he realized I was the prince. I tried to put him off, but he was insistent. He told me that it would give him 'satisfaction' to think I had it. I believe the knife was very special to him, he said his father gave it to him when he was small. I'm not sure why he would be so happy to think of me having it, since I'm nothing to him."
"You're a prince, my little man, and I've told you how it may be sometimes; good and loyal sons and daughters of Ferelden feel quite protective of you, and want to know you are safe and well. After all, there were fears that your mother and I would never be able to produce an heir of our own."
"But he said it would make him happy, papa, and yet he seemed so sad. I wanted to be able to cheer him, but he walked away from me. I'm worried about him, papa, for I think he had no home."
"I think perhaps you'd best tell me the whole story, my son."
And so he did, and as he did his father's face grew more and more thoughtful. "Let me see your knife, my boy, while I think on it, for I confess myself as puzzled as you by this exchange."
The prince handed over the scabbard, and King Alistair drew the knife out of it. "This is a fine piece of work," he said. "This blade couldn't have come cheaply even today, and it looks old enough to have been made during the Occupation when silverite was doubly dear and hard for a Ferelden citizen to acquire. Are you sure this man was native?"
"Oh yes, papa, he spoke the King's tongue and had…kind of a southern accent," Duncan said, but he said it doubtfully.
"What do you mean 'kind of,' my boy?"
"I'm not sure, papa. Have you ever heard someone talk like they were from the west of Ferelden and the south?"
"Sometimes, my boy, when they lived in one bannorn as a child and many years in another bannorn when they were older, the new region's accent kind of 'overlays' the old without completely replacing it."
Duncan nodded, his face cleared with understanding. "That was the way he was, then. He had a growly western accent with a barky southern accent on top of it."
Alistair laughed at his son's description of Ferelden regional accents, but a moment's thought marked it an accurate assessment: in the west, people living huddled in the foothills of the Frostback mountains spoke in deep, throaty voices with a bit of a Clayne brogue. In the south, particularly in the deep south like Gwaren, people tended to speak in high, sharp tones and bit off their consonants aggressively. Trying to imagine what the two accents would sound like combined was difficult, but a particular voice he had not heard in many years edged its way into his thoughts unbidden. Disturbed, he turned the blade over in his hands. A carving on the hilt caught his eye, and he nearly dropped the knife into his lap in his surprise, which would have put paid to the possibility of his producing any further heirs to the kingdom. Carved just below the pommel in elegant script was a name and a date: "Loghain; 8:91." Below that, etched smaller and plainer, were the words, "with your father's love."
"Did this man tell you his name?" Alistair asked, alarming his son more than a little with his sudden paleness of skin.
"No, papa. I asked, but he said he'd lost it. How do you lose your name, papa?"
"You do something bad that doesn't suit it," Alistair said abstractedly. "What did he look like, this man?"
Duncan thought for a moment. "Well, papa, he was very big. Bigger even than you. And he was kind of pale, and he had long black hair going streaky gray and blue eyes."
"Blue like yours?"
"No, papa. Much lighter. Like the sky when it's cold out."
Maker's breath, it was him, Alistair thought, but all he said was, "What was he wearing?"
"A long, dark leather coat. I'm not sure what else he was wearing because he had it buckled shut. But he had a bow and quiver on his back, and he was carrying a big longsword and a huge shield like a big shiny kite."
"What was his heraldry?"
"He didn't have a picture on his shield, papa. But it was all scratched up like the pots when the scullery boys take the steel wool to them."
"Like he'd scrubbed off his heraldry."
The little boy shrugged. Alistair hugged him and sent him to the nursery, whereupon he immediately called the captain of the guard and swore out an arrest warrant.
"If he resists, don't force the issue. Stand down and set a watch on him. If he'll come quietly, bring him in, but gently, Captain. Don't rough him up or anything. Send word to me directly the moment he's in custody."
The Captain, a decade ago a young Sergeant nominally in charge of a mixed bag of illegitimate nobility and hand-picked hatchet men equally useless for patrolling the seedier areas in and around the lower market, looked worried but clicked his heels smartly and bowed himself out. Nervous and fretful in his own right, King Alistair threw himself back onto his unwanted throne thinking dark thoughts about himself, the big man in the lower market, and the Maker's troublesome sense of humor.