Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 4

While my family struggled to maintain even our humble place in Lowtown Aveline had joined the city guard and moved into the barracks in the viscount’s palace at the very top of Kirkwall. Her skills and integrity had quickly brought her up the ranks but I avoided visiting her much for fear of dirtying her reputation.

She threw jobs our way when she could, however, and had remained a fast friend that joined us for evenings of cards and carousing at The Hanged Man from time to time. She acted more as a babysitter on evenings when we got snockered on cheap whiskey; losing control and looking like an idiot in public held no interest for my straight-laced friend. But she clearly enjoyed seeing us act like fools and seemed at ease fostering our banter and restraining us from joining the not-infrequent fights that erupted there.

The city swarmed with corruption, dock officials and city guards taking bribes and involving themselves in even the nastiest business in Darktown much less the more affluent sections of the city. Aveline was shocked every time we uncovered another scandal, unable to believe that everyone who served the city did not do so with her commitment to the public good. I found her naiveté adorable and teased her mercilessly every time she hired me to recover goods from a sleazy dockmaster’s assistant or to corral criminals that had bribed a guard to look the other way while they looted someone’s home. She kept her ear to the ground and had paid me to thwart many a criminal enterprise but there was always another brewing.
The city’s underground was often surprisingly well-informed on matters of patrol schedules and guard assignments. Naturally, Aveline smelled a rat. She ferreted out clues and came to me with a request: help her trap the runners and get them to squeal. I leapt at the chance, both to get paid and to help her. I admit to a bit of hero worship where Aveline was concerned. She was all of the things my mother had taught me a person should be: strong and true and brave. I failed an awful lot at the middle part of that equation, often forced by circumstance and my own weaknesses to do things Bethany promised never to tell.

Between trips to hunt down mercenaries for our shiny prince Sebastian we helped Aveline lay her snare as well. When the trap was finally sprung it turned out we’d caught no less than the captain of the guard, selling the lives of his troops merely for coin. Aveline went straight to the viscount with her evidence and the Captain was jailed within hours. As a reward for both her hard work and her strength of conviction she was tapped for training as the new captain.

Once we recovered from a wild night helping her celebrate both the cleaning up of the guard and her new promotion, we left town again to finish off the last stragglers of the mercenary band that had murdered Sebastian’s family. Our mission accomplished we returned to the chanter’s board to report success and I tried to pry contact information from the sister there. She would tell us nothing more than that the man himself was inside the Chantry at that very moment. Flushed with the success of the week I skipped up the dozens of steep stairs and through the vaulted entry, mentally phrasing expressions of sympathy and my proposition as I went.

I found Sebastian just inside the door, contemplating a gilded statue and muttering prayers under his breath. I waited a moment to allow him to finish and then greeted him by name. It took him a moment to understand that I had accomplished his task. When he’d seen the posting gone from the board he had assumed that Grand Cleric Elthina had removed it after all. He had, when I approached him, been praying for someone to help him in avenging his family and recovering their lands from the pretenders. I must have seemed an instant answer to his pleas.

His surprised appraisal took in my weapon, shield, and armor and appeared not to miss the length of leg showing between my boots and the leather fringe above. Yet despite his warm thanks and promise of a future reward from his throne, he could not comply with my request for patronage. That lovely armor, the face of Andraste hanging at his groin notwithstanding, and the money he’d given me were all he had for the moment. I struggled to keep the disappointment from my face as I expressed my sympathies again and pledged myself to his aid should he need me in the future. It would be long, indeed, before he took me up on this offer.

With the evaporation of my intended sponsorship I turned to Athenril, the woman for whom I had worked that year of servitude, and the contacts I’d made during that time. I hated to stoop to such petty jobs but my options were few. Even the nobles in Hightown offered scant reward for my efforts. I tracked down an escaped murderer who turned out to be a magistrate’s son and complied with the young man’s request to kill him rather than let his father turn him loose to continue preying on children from the city’s Alienage. Not surprisingly his father refused to pay us for finding and killing the boy and the father of the elf girl I had saved in doing so had had little to offer.

I found a woman named Macha sobbing in a Hightown courtyard one afternoon. In my experience such women need help and are willing to pay for it so I approached her gently. Her brother Keran had gone missing from Templar training, it seemed, and she feared for his safety. I promised to find him, expecting that he’d absconded to The Hanged Man or the home of a lover. A quick chat at the Gallows with his fellow recruits, all strangely frightened of their own commander, disabused me of that notion. They revealed that several others had also disappeared and only one, young Wilmod, had returned.

I headed out to find that one and discovered Cullen, the curly-headed Knight-Captain of the Templars with the intense eyes that I’d met briefly, holding Wilmod at sword point up the mountain near the Wounded Coast. I’d no sooner expressed my surprise at such behavior, distracting Cullen, than the trainee had turned into an abomination. We quickly dispatched the possessed creature and the shades it had summoned to its defense and Cullen explained that he’d followed the recruit to pry information from him about his time away from the Circle.

None of us had ever seen someone who wasn’t a mage become an abomination but the Knight-Commander said he’d heard of such a thing, maleficars inserting demons into unwilling hosts. I thought of Anders at that, glad I’d left him at his clinic. The only things Justice liked less than Templars were blood mages. Fenris made a sound of disgust and expressed his derision for mages in that growl he reserved for speaking of such things. This once I had to agree with him. If apostates were kidnapping Templars and turning them into abominations they had to be stopped. Tensions were thick enough in the Gallows where the two factions lived side by side.

Cullen had stopped Wilmod not far from the mouth of a cave, one of dozens that riddled the hills around Kirkwall. He told me that the young man had clearly been heading for the opening so I took my merry band and descended into the dark. We found a nest of blood mages and young Keran suspended in a vortex that disappeared with life the crazy woman that had alternated furious condemnations of the Templars with summoning shades and demons that had kept Fenris, Bethany, Varric and me battling for our lives. The things I didn’t do for coin!

We rescued the half-nude and thoroughly-frightened Keran and sent him back to the Gallows. We verified that no more nasty surprises lay in the cave and followed. By the time we arrived Keran had notified his sister and covered himself in armor once again, more’s the pity. Macha cried all over him and then thanked us by saying she had nothing with which to pay us.

I drew a breath to tell her precisely what I thought of that but my new favorite Templar, Cullen, leapt in before I could speak. He paid me after all, expressing his appreciation for solving the mystery of the disappearing recruits and for cleaning out that viper’s nest before things had gone even worse. He promised to keep an eye on Keran and to let us know if he needed our help again.

The Knight-Captain appeared to carefully keep from looking at Bethany so he could pretend not to notice the staff so clearly rising over her shoulder. He made plenty of eye contact with me, however, and I wondered how I could encourage that lovely voice to keep talking without putting both him and my sister in a more-awkward position. Sadly, I was forced to admit to myself that such interest could never outweigh my family’s place in my heart and bid him a fond farewell. I would see him plenty more over the ensuing years and I always found him pleasant but shy. Some woman should have snapped him up long ago and I wondered what his story had been that none had.

Out of the payments from Sebastian, Aveline, Cullen, and another dozen or two little jobs we pulled together the coin Varric assured us would buy a full share of the expedition’s profits. Unfortunately he had not cleared the idea with Bartrand and the pair had a nasty set-to in the square of the merchant’s quarter until Varric had pointed out that we had not only the gold but a map of Deep Road entrances that our lapsed Warden, Anders, had provided. Suddenly all of Bartrand objections evaporated and plans for the group’s departure finally got under way.

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