Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 10

Like Déjà vu All Over Again

Petrice was, with the help of her pet Templar, busily erasing every trace she’d ever been in Lowtown. Being a sporting soul I spoke to her before the planned shield back-hand. I was stunned by the venom in her voice as she attempted to explain why she’d laid such a trap. She seemed to think that our deaths at the hands of the Qunari would have caused an uprising and that the people of Kirkwall would turn the godless heathens out of the city, despite the disdain or disgust with which most of the citizens regarded us refugees and outsiders.

In the face of such delusion I couldn’t bring myself to actually strike her. Clearly she had problems that the Maker alone could fix, all of them in her head. I made a mental note to ask Sebastian about her and then ordered her to get out of Lowtown and not return. Finally, the rest of us went to get those drinks. We’d well earned them by then, nearly dawn or not.

That was the sum total of my experience with the Qunari before I travelled to the Deep Roads, three accidental encounters, only one of them with the Arishok. So you can imagine my surprise when I received, at the end of those three years of relative leisure, a summons from Viscount Dumar who proceeded to tell me that the Arishok had specifically requested my presence for an unspecified reason. What had I done to draw his attention beyond killing other Qunari? I could only spread my hands in confusion when the viscount asked.

It seemed unlikely such powerful creatures would have waited so long to seek revenge for those we’d killed when escorting the sarabaas but I could not fathom what other explanation there could be. I went to visit Sebastian but even his outside perspective couldn’t help me. I asked him to accompany me, and we picked up Fenris as well. With luck his facility with their language could help forestall any misunderstandings.

The boys and I bumped into Isabela on our way through Lowtown but she declined to join us. Her normal insouciance disappeared when I told her where we were going and she shifted uncomfortably, clearly fabricating an excuse to be away. Here was another mystery to solve but one for which I’d have to make time later. Varric was much happier to join us, even if he pretended that story fodder was his only reason. The dwarf may turn our less-savory escapades into the heroic tales of derring-do by which he earned his keep but often I thought he was simply happy to be adventuring with us.

My little band, gathered almost at random so long ago, had become a group of fast friends with Varric at its center. Fenris may despise Anders and both of them lectured Merrill like she was a toddler determined to reach into the fire but Varric secretly arranged help for each of them in different ways. Merrill wandered the streets at all hours but was never accosted despite the rampant crime in Lowtown. The protection racket that ruled Darktown left Anders to run his clinic undisturbed, at least by them. When I was unavailable people seeking our sort of help approached Fenris directly with offers of generous compensation. Varric would never admit to having a hand in any of this but I overhead him often enough in his rooms at The Hanged Man to know that his well-known fingers were in each of these pies.

Aveline, too, used her influence as captain of the city guard to look after our friends. She could accompany us much less frequently as the years passed but she kept a protective eye each of us, persuading the tax collectors to ignore Fenris where he squatted in Hightown ever awaiting Denarius’s next move. Her guards watched out for us, not interfering when we mopped up yet another band of criminals or slavers but intercepting pickpockets and other nefarious characters that threatened as we staggered home in the wee hours of the morning.

It was in this security that we all operated, some of us more aware of and thankful for it than others. Merrill was oblivious to it all, taking as a matter of course the charmed life she led as though the city were as open and secure as the forests of Ferelden where her clan had once lived. Anders questioned both Varric and Aveline but seemed to take their denials at face value. Fenris knew what they did for him but seemed unable to fully believe that their help was not part of some long-ranging plot the depths of which he had yet to plumb.

He had a difficult time trusting, did my favorite ex-slave. Yet he was as much a part of our circle as anyone and a particular friend to me. We all took our turns trying to make him smile or at least feel comfortable with not having a clear-cut role in the world, not having a master to make his decisions for him. That was, in part, what made him long to confront Denarius, the sense that he could not ultimately be free while his former master could appear at any time to take charge once more.

I did what I could to make Fenris feel like his own man, seeking his opinion and offering him decisions to make when I could. Over the years the most acute of his awkwardness did seem to ease, thought the specter of recapture haunted him still. We spent a great deal of time together, both on jobs and in his slowly-rotting home. I teased him about the appreciative glances neighborhood nobles cast on him and told him about how glad I was that the blight and the darkspawn had forced my family out of its comfortable rut in Lothering.

The loss of my father and brother had been a high price to pay but the new life I’d built seemed to inspire Fenris. The price he’d paid had been even higher but he couldn’t seem to convince himself that he’d earned the right to stand on his own. After a few bottles of wine he’d often ask me how I’d managed to shake off my past and become someone wholly new. My explanations that my past would always be a part of me were not what he wanted to hear. He wanted a formula, a defining moment that would mark a clean break from the horrors that serving a powerful magister had forced him to witness or perform. Sadly, there is no such thing short of wiping his memory again.

Sebastian needed the least protection of us all but even my devout prince wandered from the Chantry from time to time. He encountered rather more support for his bid to regain his throne that one might have thought, something he seemed to think showed the justice of his purpose. Varric, Aveline, and I knew the root lay in the determined political campaign we continued to wage in each of our spheres of influence. His sparkling armor and clear belief helped his cause but we pulled hard for him behind the scenes.

Only Isabela never seemed to need rescuing. She could handle herself on the streets and certainly had no difficulties in the taverns. She and Merrill had formed an unlikely friendship and Isabela regularly followed her home to ensure the waif-like elf was unmolested. ‘Bela never wanted to talk much about her history before taking to the open seas as captain of her own ship but she was more than open about her love of life and all of its unusual pursuits. I intervened a time or two at The Blooming Rose where that joie de vivre had disturbed the more-prosaic interests of the usual customers.

In short, we helped each other, loved each other as family, and bickered as one, too. With my sister locked away in the Gallows and my brother dead I found myself relying on my friends to fill the voids that siblings and my father had once occupied. My mother settled into life in Hightown like a natural, deploring my habits and my manners but mostly spending her time spending my money and socializing with the other women of leisure. How she’d managed to live as a farm wife in Lothering for so many years I will never understand.

But I’d meant to tell you of that second trip to visit the Arishok. The compound had changed little in the intervening three years. It seemed that the same guards stood in precisely the same places, none moving or acknowledging us in the least. The Arishok greeted us sternly from his high seat, explaining that he would not have cared to know us better but for a theft that endangered the stability he seemed as concerned as the viscount to see continued.

In order to trap a thief the Qunari had pretended that the recipe for that same explosive Jevaris Tintop had bargained for and lost was unguarded and available. The Arishok declined to clarify why they would have done such a thing but the theft had been accomplished without springing the trap after all. Somehow the warriors keeping watch had known that the intended target hadn’t been the one to snatch the prize.

The bait they’d actually used, however, had been more dangerous—to humans but not Qunari—than mere explosives. It was a powder that, in quantity, would create a choking gas that warped the minds of humans, making them unable to tell friend from foe, if they lived long enough to do any damage. Should someone use this unusual powder to cause mayhem in Kirkwal the blame would undoubtedly be laid at his enormous feet, something he wished to avoid. Jevaris made a likely suspect and the Arishok suggested we seek him out and prevent him from making what he likely believed were the explosives he’d long ago schemed to procure.

We tracked down the dwarf as he fled the city only to find that he had been set up as well: a crazy elf had promised him that he would go down for the theft as part of some larger—and unspecified but clearly loathsome—plan. I took the boys back to Kirkwall and down to the alley where Jevaris said he’d been told whatever event was planned would take place. Sure enough we arrived in time to find city guards blocking the entrance and what few of its residents as could escape retching violently all around them.

As the worst of the poison had already dispersed we tipped our hats to the guards and entered the dead end. A stinging cloud of green assaulted us more effectively than the crazed and sick few that still moved. Varric and Sebastian stayed mostly above it, sniping from various stairways with their bows. Fenris and I found latches to secure the barrels in which the mixture had been made and, as the air further cleared, the promised elf appeared.

She could have been Fenris’s sister. The two faced one another, of a height, skin dark, hair bright, each with an enormous, two-handed sword raised threateningly. We never did get her name. She jostled for position with Fenris, ranted about the Qunari luring elves to their faith, and said she needed only a few more bodies to cause an uprising against the foreigners. Yet it was an allusion to someone planting the idea in her head that caught our attention.

Having gotten as much from the elf as we were likely to, we dispatched her and reported to the guard where the concoction lurked. I promised to speak with the Arishok to get instructions for rendering it harmless, if possible. But through that whole conversation my suspicions churned. As soon as we were out of earshot Varric turned to me with one eyebrow raised. “Who do we know that wants Kirkwall to oust the Qunari so badly?”

“Petrice,” I answered grimly, “and she isn’t too concerned if people die to accomplish it.” Sebastian looked confused and I realized that I never had asked him about her. We filled him in on our last encounter with the lovely sister and he protested that it could not be the woman recently lifted to the rank of Mother in the Chantry, despite her increasingly vitriolic sermons against the Qun and its adherents.

Some days I wanted to pat the prince on the head. He seemed so childlike at times, his embarrassed and delicately-told tales of debauchery and drunken escapes from the Chantry as a youth notwithstanding. He’d been shielded from the worst that people could do to one another until his family’s friends had turned on them. The shock had been all the worse but still he could not conceive of an avowed sister doing something so very, very naughty. You’d think he’d have learned more about the world, spending so much time with me.

0 Response to "Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 10"

Post a Comment