tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 103-104

There and Back Again Ch. 103-104

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter One Hundred Three: Alien Nation

"Nice shot, by the way," I praised Kallian.

"Not that nice -- I meant to nick his cheek."

Zevran chortled, and I howled, bending over and propping my hands on my knees as I laughed. "Well thank you for erring in that direction! A guard with an apple pinned to his nose would not have helped our cause any."

Kallian flushed and looked away, but I saw a smirk before she turned.

When we all finally got our giggles under control, we turned back to the Alienage gate. Kallian took a deep breath, steeling herself, and squared her shoulders. Then she marched through, and we followed her across the bridge.

My first visit to the Alienage was a revelation, and not in a good way. Much of it was in worse shape than even the game had demonstrated; the buildings all sagged together, looking one stiff breeze from total collapse, and even those that were well-maintained were clearly old and worn out. There were half-dressed children running around and playing games, ribs visible from long-standing malnutrition, bare feet blue from the cold.

The children gave us a wide berth, even as some of them tentatively waved at Kallian, staring at the group of us with wide, frightened eyes; within moments, they were gone. The further we walked, the more elves I noticed watching us -- from balconies and alleyways, through doorways and from behind abandoned crates. Word apparently spreads fast in the Alienage. We were all very careful to keep our hands well away from our weapons, and we let Kallian lead.

No one approached us until we reached the centre of the Alienage, and I got my first look at a Vhenadahl. It was beautiful, huge and green, and someone had decorated it with paper lanterns and other colourful, handmade ornaments. A grey-haired elf who I recognised as Valendrian was waiting for us, as we got closer to the massive tree, and when he saw Kallian, he let out a cry and held out his arms. With a sob, she ran into them, and he folded her into a protective hug. We stayed back, respectfully, to allow them to have their reunion. After a moment, he gestured to a nearby elf who was watching with an inscrutable expression, and I heard him say the name Cyrion. With a nod, the elf jogged off, presumably to go get Kallian's family.

A bunch of the elves who'd been watching us approached cautiously, greeting Kallian with enthusiasm even as they stared at us with barely concealed suspicion. It didn't take long before a familiar red-headed elf came running -- Shianni, Kallian's cousin. The two women hugged, both crying, and then pulled a smiling Soris into the embrace when he showed up. They talked quickly, Shianni's dirty looks morphing to begrudging appreciation, and I guessed Kallian was telling them that we had been responsible for her rescue from the dungeon. Soris nodded, pointing at Wulf and Leliana.

The crowd of elves now surrounding us parted to allow a tall, tired-looking, salt-and-pepper haired elf to shuffle through. He stopped, shocked, when he saw Kallian, and dropped to his knees, reaching one hand out towards her. She cried out and dove to her knees at his side, wrapping her arms around him as he kissed her forehead, tears streaming down his face. Everyone turned away, giving them as much privacy as they could, given the public nature of the reunion.

Valendrian addressed the crowd, shouting to be heard. "Go about your business. These people are no threat to us. They brought us the supplies for the plague and the warning about slavers, and now have brought Soris and Kallian home. Please, go home."

Slowly, with a lot of shoulder patting and handshaking and hugging, the crowd dispersed, leaving us alone with Kallian, her family, and Valendrian. The Hahren gestured to us, and we came closer; Kallian actually smiled at us, shifting to stand next to Wulf, as usual. I saw Cyrion raise his eyebrows at this, but it seemed both Kallian and Wulf were unaware of the connection they apparently shared. I hoped it wasn't just gratitude, on Kallian's part, or protectiveness on Wulf's, or we were going to be seeing heartbreak down the road.

We were all introduced to Valendrian, Cyrion, Soris, and Shianni, and they all thanked us profusely for our help, both with the rescue and the plague. The elves began talking amongst themselves, Kallian telling them what had happened to her, though she glossed over the abuse. Apparently Vaughn, after the unsuccessful rescue attempt by Soris and Nelaros, had kept her as a plaything, and a cautionary tale for other women who'd been kidnapped. Soris had had no idea she'd survived, and hadn't seen any of the other victims either; it was assumed they were all dead. When Howe imprisoned Vaughn and declared himself Arl of Denerim, he'd passed Kallian over to his son, Thomas, and eventually, Nathaniel.

She was very careful not to mention rape or torture, but the pity in the eyes of her family was obvious. And I couldn't blame them -- she'd been through hell. Somehow, though, talking to them about what happened, even the abridged version, and hearing them praise her strength and courage, she seemed to come alive. Her rigid posture relaxed some, and she smiled and laughed, not sardonically like I'd seen before, but actually mirthful. She was absolutely gorgeous when she smiled, which was not lost of Wulf, who watched her with longing eyes.

After a bit, Kallian asked if we would wait while she went to the home she shared with Cyrion and now Soris, and we agreed, settling down in the grass near the Vhenadahl to wait. The children were back outside playing, and the elves walking around in the Alienage largely ignored us, though at least we weren't the focus of so much rage anymore. I did notice that many of them, male and female both, had poorly concealed weapons -- I could see bulges under sweaters, in waistbands, and several 'walking sticks' that I was quite sure were actually disguised spears. And there were rakes, hoes, and shovels laying around, apparently abandoned, in places where they could be easily grabbed and used as weapons. I wondered if several of them had actually even been sharpened.

Zevran had obviously noticed the same, and he frowned when our eyes met. Nothing good could come out of this. I stood and walked towards Hahren Valendrian, who was standing nearby talking with passing elves.

"Hahren?"

"Yes, my Lady?"

I scowled. "Please call me Sierra? I really hate the 'lady' thing."

He chuckled. "Ah, you are Warden Aedan's sister. He said something similar."

I laughed. "I'm very happy to see everyone here safe, and Kallian and Soris back home. But, Hahren..."

"Yes, Sierra?" he prompted.

"These people...they need to hide their weapons. There will be a purge if any guards come through here and see so many armed elves."

He glanced around, assessing each of the people within sight. "I don't see any weapons."

I shook my head. Looking around, I pointed at one. "There. That man has a dagger sheathed in his armpit. That one's got a sword down his pant leg. And no one makes walking sticks that long. It's a spear. I'm not even all that well trained, and I can tell. Someone from the army, or a guard...they'll know instantly."

Zevran approached. "Yes, cara mia, you are correct. This will bring a world of trouble onto the Alienage, no?"

Valendrian paused, thinking. "What would you have me do? I have already tried -- and failed -- to convince the people not to arm themselves."

"I think that ship has sailed," I muttered, and Valendrian grimaced. "Maybe...Zev? Could you at least teach them to hide them better?"

"We'd need different weapons. Swords and traditional daggers aren't easy to conceal, yes?"

"Hmm." I pouted. Zevran laughed, and Valendrian chuckled.

After a while, Kallian emerged from her house, exchanging hugs with her father, Soris, and Shianni. She walked over, expression sad but determined. There were tear tracks on her cheeks. "I am ready to go now."

Valendrian twitched. "You aren't staying? Kallian-"

"I cannot, Hahren. Surely you must understand. Nelaros is dead." She choked back a sob. "I may not have wanted to marry him, but he died because of me. My father cannot afford another wedding contract, and even if he could, who would marry me now?" She gestured down at herself, and we all flinched. "The guards may still come after me, if they see me. I will bring nothing but trouble if I stay here."

"But, my dear, where will you stay? What will you do?"

"You can stay with us, for now, until you figure it out," I offered. "No one will bother you at the estate. I'm sure Duncan won't mind, and the Arl won't even notice."

Valendrian looked at me, a strange expression I couldn't interpret on his face. "Duncan?"

I nodded, incredibly glad that the world knew about Duncan so I was free to tell the elderly elf. "Yes, that Duncan. He's staying at the Arl of Redclffe's estate with us."

"We will make sure she's safe, ser. I promise." Wulf stood behind Kallian, close but not touching.

Finally, sadly, the Hahren nodded. "Your mother would be so proud of you, Kallian. Please come to visit as often as you can."

Kallian closed her eyes as he kissed her forehead, then threw her arms around the elder's neck. "I promise."

With that, she turned and marched out of the Alienage, and we all shuffled along behind her.

Once out in the Market District, I had an idea. "Hey, can we stop by Gorim's on the way back? I want to see how he's doing."

No one disagreed, so I veered towards the little house he shared with his wife and her family. One of the mercenaries Aedan had hired stood outside, leaning against the wall. He nodded to me, and I replied in kind. I knocked on the door, and Riana answered, her belly now bulging past what should have been physically possible even at this late stage of pregnancy.

"Oh!" she exclaimed when she saw us, and I couldn't tell if she was pleased or irritated by our presence. "You'll be looking for Gorim, I imagine. He's out back with father. Let me just get him." She looked nervous.

"Please," I stopped her, putting my hand on her shoulder, "let me. I'm not here to take him, I promise. We just want to talk. Don't trouble yourself."

She smiled, patting her belly fondly. "It's not as bad as it looks. I'm still capable of walking a few steps."

"Still. Please. I just have a quick question anyway."

She nodded towards the back of the house, and I left her there chatting with Leli and Wynne, being introduced to the others. I found Gorim in the shed that doubled as a smithy, bundling up weapons while Riana's father hammered on a lump of white-hot metal. He smiled at me, and gestured outside; he didn't try to talk, as it would have been impossible to hear over the forge anyway.

We stepped outside and closed the door, and he turned to me with a grin. "I wanted to help Sal get caught up, but I was going to come back to the estate tomorrow, honest-"

"No, no. I'm not here to collect you, Gorim. No reason for you to sit around staring at the estate's walls with the rest of us. The politics here don't involve you, and you and Riana need some time, anyway. I actually have a business proposition for you."

I told him what I had in mind, and he gave me a price. Once agreed, he walked me into the house, putting his arm around Riana's shoulders when we reached the front door. He greeted the others, nodded at Kallian, and then excused himself to go check on Revan in response to wailing coming from the back hall. Riana watched him go with a fond smile, and then turned back to me, grabbing my arm.

"Thank you," she whispered. "For bringing him back. I never thought I would see him again."

"I didn't do anything, I assure you, but you're welcome, anyway." I squeezed her hand.

"Is he...did you find her?"

I raised my eyebrows, surprised. "He didn't tell you?" She shook her head, lip trembling. "We did. She's the Queen of Orzammar. Bhelen joined the Legion of the Dead."

"Why didn't he stay?"

I looked at her for a moment, thinking. I am not going to be the one to tell her he slept with Sereda and then left because he couldn't be her consort. "Do you really want to know? Does it matter? He had a chance to stay, and he didn't. He's here. Given that you sent him to another woman, do you really want to know the details?"

A single tear trickled down her cheek. "I shouldn't, but I do."

I squeezed her hand again. "He's here, and he's not going to leave you again. Your baby will have a father, and so will Revan. He loves you, and there won't be anything hanging over his head. And if he wants, he could get a job with the Palace Guard or the army without any trouble. You both have the gratitude of the entire Dwarven nation, and you're together. Just... be happy, and don't think about the rest, okay?

She nodded, wiping away the tear and taking a deep breath. "You're right. And I am grateful. It doesn't matter." She smiled tentatively. "Thank you again."

"Tell Gorim I'll be back to visit in a few days?"

She nodded, and we headed out. We took another quick detour to meet with the messengers who we knew waited just outside the city once a day from the camp we'd left outside Denerim. Dariel, Mithra and a Circle mage from the camp waited just outside the gates. We filled them in on what had been happening; they had no real news.

We headed back to the estate after a few minutes of idle chit chat; I was pleased to see Dariel less afraid of me, and starting to come out of his shell a little. The trip was thankfully uneventful, and we trooped inside to find Aedan and Alistair waiting for us in the hall.

Alistair grabbed me in a hug, then held me at arm's length to inspect me. Aedan looked us all over, a deep frown on his face.

"Where were you?" His tone was trying to be scathing, but ended up just sounding anxious.

Holding Alistair's hand with one of my own, I turned to Aedan with a chuckle. "You're just jealous we weren't stuck in a meeting all afternoon." He growled, and I sighed. "We escorted Kallian to see her family. You didn't ask any of the servants? I told them where we were going."

Alistair rubbed his neck sheepishly. "It didn't occur to us."

I laughed. "Anyway, we're back. How did the meeting go?"

"Oh, you're going to love this." Alistair actually giggled.

Aedan rolled his eyes. "Let's go talk."

Zevran and I followed, leaving Kallian and the others to their own devices. Aedan led us into the library, turning and closing the door with a thump. Alistair sat on a chair and tugged me into his lap, and Aedan and Zev sat together opposite.

The two took turns telling us about the meeting. Apparently, Anora had not only said some rather rude things about Cailan's intelligence and competence, apparently implying that Ferelden was better off without him, she'd also attacked me and my relationship to Alistair.

"Theron was furious. It was a good thing she was sitting with her back to him, because if she'd seen him the secret would have been out." Alistair laughed. "I thought we might not have to worry about competing for the throne -- it looked for a minute like he was going to strangle her right there."

"Speaking of, where is Theron?"

"In the barracks, murdering a sparring dummy." Aedan rubbed his eyes irritably. "We asked about the regency, why she had supported her father against the charges; why, if she was so capable, she needed a regent at all, and she just kept changing the subject. Like I was too stupid to notice that she never answered the question."

"She accused Aedan of trying to put a Cousland on the throne surreptitiously, saying I'd be a puppet King." Alistair's face was positively gleeful.

I looked at Aedan, who flushed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I might have lost my temper a little."

"But Eamon jumped in and assured her that there were no plans for you to be Queen," Alistair assured me.

"Of course he did. You know," I giggled, "one of these days she's going to notice how we all keep dancing around actually calling Alistair the King. We say 'the son of Maric' or 'the future King', stuff like that. It's kind of hilarious. I can't wait until she sees Theron's face."

Aedan sighed. "She invited me for a private discussion afterwards, asking me to support her bid for the throne. She called Alistair-"

"Let me guess -- charming but stupid." Alistair frowned at me. "Her words, love. Not mine." I kissed his nose and he stuck his tongue out at me.

"Essentially, yes. But then she starting nosing around a marriage alliance." I stiffened, and Aedan snorted. "Not to him. To me. She asked me if I really wanted a Cousland near the throne so badly, and if I thought you were the right person for the job."

I laughed out loud. "She actually propositioned you?"

"Well, not in so many words. She even implied that my 'friendship' with a particular Antivan wouldn't be a major problem as long as we were discreet."

Zevran sat forward, eyes flashing mischievously. "I rather think I'd enjoy being the paramour to the King." Aedan punched him, and I giggled.

"She also hinted that duties in the bedroom would not be required."

"Yeah, well, she's barren anyway -- what would be the point?"

"She said that the infertility was Cailan's."

"That's not true." They all stared at me. "Not my secret, okay? Let's just say that before he married Anora, he certainly wasn't infertile."

"I'm an uncle?" Alistair looked...enthused.

"Not anymore." I sighed. "She died."

They all contemplated that for a minute. "Before he got married? So his child died, then Maric, and he was left alone and grieving and married to her?" Alistair looked horrified.

"Yeah." I sat silently for a minute. "Turns out he had a hell of an excuse for not being the best King, at least at first. And then Anora and Loghain had taken over and wouldn't even let him help." I sighed. "So what did you say to Anora?"

"No, of course. I told her the Couslands would have enough to do between the Grey Wardens and Highever and we wanted nothing to do with the throne. I also said I thought it was important that a Theirin was King. She wasn't happy."

"I'll bet."

"And I'll be watching her and Erlina, to see what she does next?" Zevran grinned. "Perhaps I should try seduction of the lovely Orlesian handmaiden, yes?

"No." Aedan took Zevran's face between his hands. "Not a chance. Mine." He kissed Zevran, and I giggled, remembering my own possessive spouse back in Redcliffe.

Chapter One Hundred Four: Helping or Hurting

"So what are the next steps?" I asked Aedan.

"Well, Anora didn't tell us about the Alienage, so either she didn't know about the slavers beforehand or she figured out that they weren't successful."

"Maker, I wish we knew whether she really was involved in all this. At the end of the day, she's still his wife. I don't envy him the choices he will have to make." I'd never wanted to be involved in politics less.

"So now we just wait for the Landsmeet."

"Which is when?"

"A week today, Eamon said."

A week of waiting did not appeal. I turned to Aedan. "Okay, in the meantime, I have a plan."

"This has to do with our side trip on the way back from the Alienage?" Zevran asked.

I nodded. "I want to help the elves."

I went on to tell Aedan and Alistair about the elves carrying poorly concealed weapons, and how it put them at risk if a guard noticed. "And they'll notice, believe me. If I could figure it out, so could a guard."

"So what's your plan? You think you can talk them out of carrying weapons?" Aedan looked skeptical.

"Nope. I propose a trade-in program." At their confused looks, I elaborated. "Gorim's father-in-law can make knives like the ones Zev has hidden all over the place. Thinner, smaller, easier to conceal. We have a bunch made, and then tell folks in the Alienage we need their thicker, larger weapons for the army, and offer a trade. One small, concealable blade for one clunky weapon. I think Kallian, Zev, and Wulf will have to do it -- no doubt they'll think it's a trick if a human offers them a weapon -- but Gorim said he would get us a discount for quantity, and also if any of the weapons turned in have decent, useable metal they can reforge."

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