Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 6

A Stolen Sister and a Princely Request

When finally I arrived at my uncle’s grotty little apartment it was to find Knight-Commander Cullen at the door and my mother screaming. It seemed Bethany had been forced during my absence to be more open in completing jobs and had come to the notice of the Chantry. Cullen could no longer pretend not to see her.

Our previous help was not for naught, however. He promised as much leniency for her as he could manage and tried to ease the sting by vowing that our family would not be punished for hiding her. He offered as courtly a bow as the circumstances allowed before he and his men took my resigned sister and headed back to the Gallows.

Naturally, mother blamed me for this development as well, particularly since I’d given most of our coin to Bartrand for the expedition and taken the two most helpful friends we’d had with me. I tried to deflect some of the blame on Gamlen, the lazy lout who had put us in this position in the first place, and asked if she would rather Bethany had gone to work at the Blooming Rose. Mother was having none of it.

And so despite my triumphant return bearing rare and ancient dwarven artifacts I found myself back where I’d started, my own mother cursing me for allowing my sibling to die. The Templars had not, of course, slaughtered my sister before our very eyes but mother believed that Bethany would be made Tranquil with no delay which was essentially the same thing. She’d recognize us still but all of her feelings would have been stripped away and she would care no more for us than for any other person she met.

After the horror stories I’d heard from every side about the relations between the Templars and the mages I expected the same but the First Enchanter, an elf named Orsino, simply subjected Bethany to the same Harrowing that every Circle mage must endure. She’d passed with flying colors and settled into her stone cage quite nicely despite all our fears, sending frequent letters about the children they’d put her in charge of training.

At least she was out of the squalid life we’d been leading and no longer had to concern herself with from where her next meal was coming. Even Cullen couldn’t get me into the mage’s quarters to visit her, however, though renewing the request gave me an excuse to visit him regularly.

There followed three years of relative peace. I discovered that Gamlen had lost the estate to slavers, of all things, and that they had been plying their trade through a basement tunnel that led straight to Darktown. I could hardly let that stand so I went to Fenris for assistance. He and Anders cheerfully helped me clear out the lot of them.

In exploring the lower levels of the home in which my mother and uncle had been raised I found my grandfather’s will moldering in the vault. He had left everything to my mother: the estate had not been Gamlen’s to lose in the first place. With this evidence in hand and a pile of gold to pay for “paperwork fees” my mother petitioned the viscount to return the deed for the property to our family. As the new owners were all dead I would just as soon have taken a leaf from Fenris’s book and moved us in without the paperwork but mother wouldn’t hear of it.

With Bethany not dead and herself installed once more in her childhood home my mother allowed that perhaps I was not the heartless beast she’d so often accused me of being. At least we were away from the mood swings of Gamlen. I know mother fed him coin and visited him often but it was rare that I crossed his path directly. It took months and a large part of what I had brought back from the Deep Roads but eventually workmen restored the Amell home to its former glory.

While I loved living at the top of the city, with windows at the front of the estate overlooking stone courts washed clean by servants every morning and another near my bed that let me keep watch on Sundermount for any returning dragons, I quickly grew bored. Fenris and I spent a lot of time together, often with Isabela and Varric in tow, looking for trouble as a way to fill our idle days, taking jobs that let us right a few little wrongs from time to time and kept the coffers full enough for comfort.

Aveline became the most popular Captain of the Guard ever seen in Kirkwall, at least outside of the criminal element, and sought my help on occasion still. She spent most of her time on paperwork, arranging schedules and training, and escapes with me offered the action so often missing in her life. She paid me on the sly for eliminating groups of bandits and thieves that prowled the streets of the city at night. Crime was down under her watch and helping kept us busy.

I visited Anders and Merrill, keeping up on their odd and demon-infested lives. Anders turned into a bit of a project for me. While Fenris and Varric were companions with whom I had fun and could talk endlessly, usually while drinking and playing cards with Isabela, it was the mage to whom I turned when I wanted to feel useful.

I made him eat whenever I saw him because he otherwise never remembered. Sometimes I brushed that ratty, blonde hair and pulled it back out of his face more neatly while we talked, knowing he wouldn’t think to do it on his own. He spent hours between patients telling me about Justice and mages and Templars and Gray Wardens while I simply took care of him.

Only playful flirting ever seemed to distract him from his obsessions. Despite his downtrodden demeanor he could hold his own in trading innuendo and suggestive comments and from time to time he would actually smile or even laugh. I found myself making wholly inappropriate jokes just to derail another rant about mage freedom and equality. Thank heavens I’d spent so much time with Isabela honing those skills.

Once or twice I’d let him go on without interrupting only to see him get so worked up that Justice began taking over, the spirit glowing that icy, lyrium blue through Anders’s eyes and even his skin. Eventually I learned to read his moods when I arrived at the clinic and stop his obsessive contemplations with lighter topics. Yet despite all of my attempts he continued to slide farther into his particular madness. Justice had hold of his soul and was dragging him somewhere terrible. No silly double entendres would deter the spirit’s fury forever. Anders seemed to appreciate the respite, though, so I kept at it.

Much happened over that time, little of it important to Kirkwall in general, but the whole point of telling this tale was to explain about Sebastian, not to detail the oddities of my day-to-day life. I discovered that the Prince of Starkhaven, in exile though he was, was also a pledged brother of the Chantry. He had been, that is, until his family had been murdered.

In reaction he’d denounced his vows and donned that sparkly family armor to seek revenge. After I’d come to him to announce the end of the mercenary band that had actually killed them, however, he’d found himself stalled. He had sought fruitlessly to find who had hired Flint Company, making trips to other cities in the Free Marches in pursuit of answers and armies, living in the Kirkwall Chantry on the Grand Cleric’s charity between them, and growing more frustrated by the week.

I visited him there regularly, sympathetic to his frustration over having been the third son and thus given to the Chantry despite a complete lack of devotion because his parents had their “heir and a spare” as he termed it. Such traditions rarely took a child’s disposition in to account and the Vael family was no exception. Over the years since he’d taken his vows, however, Sebastian had truly grown to believe in the Chant of Light and in Andraste. When the Gray Wardens had found the mythical woman’s actual ashes in the mountains of Ferelden it had only strengthened his faith.

Yet he had still harbored jealousy that his brothers had remained free to live as they pleased and would have ruled Starkhaven. After they’d been killed his envy had bloomed into guilt over the realization that their deaths had granted a submerged wish, one to which he’d never have admitted while a committed brother.

Sebastian was now the rightful king, free to leave the Chantry and obligated to reclaim his lands and avenge his family. But he could not find a way forward and believed himself a failure in his first royal duty. Having abandoned his vows and yet continued living in the Chantry only worsened his conflict.

I shared from the other side of the coin my anger at bearing the blame for what had happened to my younger siblings (and, when mother was in a particularly foul mood, my father as well) just because I was the eldest. I’d been striving be get away from the family farm in Lothering and then the blight had come. With my father’s death I had somehow become responsible for all of us. All I had wanted was a chance to live my own life and instead I found my brother killed, my sister imprisoned, and myself living with my mother for the rest of her life, supporting her increasingly-luxurious lifestyle, because she heaped guilt on my head for everything that had led us to share the whole estate between us in the first place.

Once Sebastian and I had found common ground in our familial grousing a friendship grew rapidly. We debated the Maker and magic, argued the roles of the Templars and the Circle, and considered avenues down which he could seek the identity of the conspirators behind his family’s deaths. A distant and previously-destitute cousin sat on the throne for the moment but someone else had clearly provided capital for the coup.

I found that, despite a few rebellious years spent escaping from the Starkhaven Chantry to carouse and enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, Sebastian had a streak of prudery a mile wide when it came to women. Ribald remarks from Varric and Anders didn’t faze him in the least but he couldn’t even look at half-clad Isabela and even the gentlest insinuations from me had him blushing and stammering a subject change. We all had a great deal of fun with the man but he put up with it good-naturedly and even joined us for the occasional card game at The Hanged Man or Fenris’s mansion.

One bright and incredibly dull afternoon I was lounging about in my shiny new estate, debating whether to spend an afternoon teasing Anders out of his funk again or take a nap so that I could indulge my baser instincts hunting lowlifes on the docks with Fenris that night with drinks as a reward afterwards. Before I could decide a messenger arrived with a request that I come to the Chantry immediately. I beat the runner back to the prince.

Sebastian was pacing at the foot of a statue of Andraste that towered thirty feet above the raised oratory, one coated in gold and showing that same placid face as ever though she bore a sword at her side long enough to cleave my entire front room in two. A hundred red candles guttered around her toes.

That particular display had always upset me, even more than the gilded vestiges on the massive front doors. The wealth wasted on that idol alone could have housed and fed the Ferelden refugees rotting in Darktown. But the statue had been made hundreds of years before and mere mortal circumstances would not alter its placement one iota no matter how many in Kirkwall were in need. That seemed about right for the Chantry, in my experience: complacency and appearances put before good works and reason.

The Grand Cleric herself stood at the lectern with her back to the entry. She was speaking placidly to the prince whose armored boots flashed in the candle light. His normally good-natured face betrayed both excitement and anger. When he heard my footfalls echo in the entry he hurried down, clasping my hand and drawing me up to the dais. “”Explain to Elthina that I must do this!” he exclaimed, leaving me as much in the dark as I’d been by the door, outside the flickering circle.

For once, Elthina’s imperturbable manner helped. She calmly explained the situation. She’d been urging him to return to his vows for years by this point. I’d have thought she’d have known this tack was useless but she tried once again to make him see her objections.

“This will not bring back your family,” she said reasonably, as she did everything. She turned to me. “Sebastian has discovered that their old family friends, the Harimans, contracted those…people.” She couldn’t even bring herself to speak ill of the murderers or name them as such. “He is angry and confused. Perhaps you can talk some sense into him.”

“Letting this go will not tell me why,” Sebastian whirled to face her. “They murdered my family, their friends. I need to know what happened.” Even Elthina had to admit he had a point. I promised to keep him from killing the entire household when we spoke with the family but that was as far as I could honestly go. I wasn’t going to lie to the Grand Cleric, despite my lack of religious conviction.

Regardless of the outcome I knew that he could never make peace with his new role unless we confronted the Harimans. I sent word to Varric and Fenris that we needed their assistance and Sebastian and I went to stake out the nearby estate that his family’s killers called home.

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