Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 25


After a quick plea for Donnic to have just one more drink and another few minutes of excruciatingly-awkward conversation I looked up to see Aveline pacing behind the others. She turned her panicked face toward me, waving her arms, and mouthed, “I’m sorry.” Then she fled back up the stairs to Varric’s rooms.

Donnic had noticed my nonplussed expression and turned to see at what I had been staring. My friends hurriedly pretended game of Wicked Grace and he looked back at me, frowning. I gave a little “heh heh”, about the only thing I could think to say for a moment. “So,” I finally came up with, “that Aveline is great.” I gave him an encouraging smile.

He shook his head disapprovingly. “Look,” he said sternly, “if this was all a plot to get close to me through the captain I have to tell you, you’re not my type. I like a woman with a little backbone, none of this pussyfooting around.” He stood brusquely and gave me a little nod of a bow. “Thank you for the drinks.” Then he stalked out the door before I do more than protest, “No, I…”

Approximately two seconds later Aveline rushed down the stairs. “What did he say?” she begged.

“Thanks to your complete inability to behave like a grown woman, Guardsman Donnic now thinks I’m interested in him,” I answered. “While I appreciate this deeply humiliating episode having been added to my life I’m not going to talk to him again…ever.”

“I’m sorry,” she groaned. “I just couldn’t do it. I’m no good when I’m not on patrol and it’s a bit hard to have a casual conversation while you’re fighting bandits.”

“Then we’ll clear the road for you,” Isabela said, deftly flinging an arm around her shoulders without breaking one of them on a paldron. “You set up the patrol and we’ll get rid of any obstructions before you get there.” Varric laughed and Merrill clapped in that childlike way she had that made even Fenris smile. Sebastian clapped Aveline on the back. “Don’t we always help you get your man, Ser Guard Captain?”

Varric signaled for another round as we all had a good laugh at that. Aveline furrowed her brow again. “I suppose that could work. Now all I have to do is think of something to say.”

I snickered again and shoved her onto the nearby bench. “We can definitely help you with that!” I said. Somehow every one of our suggestions sounded dirtier than they should have and by the time Sebastian escorted me safely home I’d laughed so hard my sides ached. The drama with my mother and my regret over the death of Emeric had been shoved to the back of my mind by the camaraderie I so often enjoyed, the joy in my life that my mother disdained.

The next morning I found Mother in her usual place beside the fire. She spoke frostily, telling me that Aveline had come an hour before, looking nearly as bad as I did, to take my dog for his training duties. That brought a smile, thinking of my brilliant beast making guard recruits jump to and finding new ways to teach them to expect the unexpected.

My mother smiled a little, too, and we shared a look of guilt. “I’m sorry I snapped at you,” I said to her at the same time she apologized to me. We gave a little laugh and, from the corner of my eye, I could see Sandal grinning. Tension in the house made him very nervous and when that happened he tended to pour more energy into his rune-making. It had cost me half a pile of gold to repair the walls and the damage done to the neighbor’s kitchens after my last big argument with Mother so I was glad to see him happy.

“If this ‘suitor’ makes you happy then I’m glad for you,” I said magnanimously. “Bring him to dinner some night so that I can meet him, though, would you?”

“Only if you promise not to have Aveline investigate him,” she answered, only half-joking. I’d fended off more than one date she’d set me by having my friend arrange for increased guard patrols around their homes and unsubtle questioning of their neighbors. It was still a bit of a sore spot, as the offended parents had snubbed her at subsequent social events. I gave my word. Then, tentative peace restored and resentments buried once more, I went about my life.

Before Aveline could arrange her expedition with Donnic I received the summons from Viscount Dumar that started the chain of events that ended with Seamus’s death. Between the shock of that and the energy I had to devote to restoring my strained friendships with Anders and Fenris I completely forgot about my mother’s supposed suitor. The man never did arrive for an evening meal and she failed to mention him again.

A few days after I made things up with Anders and spent some time at the clinic with him again, getting him fed and presentable while very carefully avoiding any of our usual topics, Aveline finally arranged the patrol we’d agreed to weeks before. Isabela and Varric insisted on accompanying me so that we could spy on Aveline after we’d signaled that the path was clear.

I invited Sebastian, as well. He’d been spending altogether too much time in the Chantry and wasn’t reacting at all well to the situation surrounding Petrice’s death. It ought to do him good to see something more hopeful, I thought. A budding romance would have to be better than the bitter arguments on which the brothers and sisters spent most of their time just then. The Qunari and their intrusion into the Chantry building itself had polarized those that lived there, even more so that the citizens of Kirkwall in general.

Thus the four of us found ourselves winding up The Wounded Coast on a sunny late afternoon, engaged in a lighthearted search for bandits that might interrupt our friend’s attempts at pitching woo. When I’d seen her that morning she’d looked more nauseous than excited but we’d all seen the way Donnic looked at her. He was sure to respond favorably if she could just bring herself to actually express her interest.

Aveline had set up signal flares at a few overlook points along the hilly path where bandits were most likely to lie in wait. The Captain of the Guard knew her job well: at the first outcropping we found a group doing just that. They hadn’t expected anyone along the back way before the regular patrol so my little group was able to take them by surprise.

Keeping quiet so as not to alert Donnic to our activities presented more of a challenge than the men themselves. Varric and Sebastian had skewered half of them before Bela and I could even get there. I lit the signal and soon Aveline and her beau sidled into sign. Donnic remarked how quiet the patrol had been and she cleared her throat nervously. “Indeed,” she said, “It’s a nice night for an evening.”

Four faces met palms where we crouched behind the overhanging rocks. Donnic hesitated for a moment before he replied diplomatically, “As you say, Captain.”

“Yes,” Aveline murmured to herself as they moved off, “as I say.” I could all but hear her shaking her head. No wonder she hadn’t wanted to talk to the man directly, if this was the best she could do.

Once they’d passed out of earshot my friends and I moved to the next spot. We found there a pack of Mabari, proof that the bandits we’d dispatched had been Ferelden. The hounds would have nothing to do with Free Marchers and had been known to attack an Orlesian should a greedy person seek to sell puppies to one. Though the dogs bonded with a single person for life they were Ferelden through and through and refused even their bonding partner’s attempts to sell one into other service. They’d been created by Tevinter magisters centuries before but no self-respecting Mabari would be caught allied to one these days.

It pained me to slaughter them but they left us no choice. They were making enough noise to wake the dead, barking their forbidding tones and snarling at us. We cleaned up and lit the second torch. Below us Donnic appeared, a quizzical look on his face. As he passed, Aveline came within earshot and I could hear her carrying on about the making of swords. She wound down at length and asked his opinion but by then his eyes had glazed.

“I’m sorry, Captain” he said, sounding bored to tears. “I drifted off a bit there.” The poor man was probably praying that the Maker would send some bandits about then.

“Right,” she responded briskly, “of course.” She strode down the path as though nothing had happened.

“By the ancestors!” Varric exclaimed when they’d disappeared. “That woman is going to die single.”

Isabela shook her head. “More drastic measures may be needed, here.” She refused to say more and we moved off to the last stop. As always, Aveline’s information proved accurate and we found a group of mercenaries lying in wait for the evening’s patrol. They could not be allowed to stand in the way of true love, or at least getting Aveline a roll in the hay, so we dispatched them quickly and I lit the third signal.

Instead of hiding behind a nearby boulder with the rest of us, however, Isabela stood right beside the path where the two could not miss her. I leapt up to drag her back just as Aveline and Donnic rounded the corner. As it was too late to hide I tried to look nonchalant and mildly surprised to see them. Donnic eyed me suspiciously and I knew he was thinking I’d searched them out so that I could see him. We definitely needed to clear the air.

“Hawke!” Aveline exclaimed, looking daggers at me but managing to sound merely surprised. “What are you doing here?”

I elbowed Bela in the ribs but she just smiled sweetly and proceeded to suggest that Donnic bend Aveline over the nearest basin and be done with it. Varric cracked up behind that enormous rock and Sebastian stepped out to add his own two coppers. “I’d not have been so blunt,” he agreed, ”but Isabela’s suggestion does have merit.”

Bela laughed and patted his shoulder. “That it does, princeling.” She sounded very self-satisfied but Aveline had turned an alarming shade of red. All she could do when Donnic, one eyebrow up nearly into his hair in his confusion, turned to her and asked, “Captain?” was give a weak little laugh that she probably intended to disavow any knowledge of this episode. His other brow slid up to join its fellow. Clearly he wasn’t fooled.

Aveline whipped around to face me. “I thought you were my friends,” she said. “What are you doing to me?”

“Friends sometimes push,” I said. “This was Isabela’s idea but I’m all for clearing my name with Ser Donnic, there.” I nodded at him and was gratified to see understanding sweep the confusion from his face.

“I…think I’ll head back,” he said, shifting his weight uncomfortably. No one responded and the awkward silence spun out as we looked all questioningly at one another. Sparing a glance at Aveline, who refused to meet his eyes, he then suited words to action and moved off down the path back toward Kirkwall.

The Captain of the Guard drew herself upright and used her most commanding voice, the one that made grown men twice her size jump to attention. “Back to the barracks, double time.” She pointed after Donnic. “You will do whatever is necessary to fix this before he files a complaint with the Viscount. Move!”

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