Tokens of Affection: Four

Whatever was going on with the Tevinters, it was far more sinister than they could have imagined. Inside the hospice, they battled their way through a host of guards they left dead on the floor before discovering a heavy pouch of coin and a mysterious note that suggested some kind of underground slave trade was the root of the problem within the alienage.

The plague was just a cover-up, an excuse to ship elven slaves from the alienage under guise of death, and though the plague certainly did appear rampant, they had suffered worse in years past and always gotten through it.

Inside a locked room, they found several caged elves, people she knew, beaten down, bloodied and bruised, but eager and relieved to see themselves saved. One of them even recognized her, thanking the Maker her funeral had been a farce before rushing out of the hospice and fleeing to hide.

Not for the first time since she’d come face to face with Shianni, she found herself wondering about this funeral of hers. Who stood vigil with sorrow lengthening their faces? Who mourned her loss, other than her father, Valendrian, Shianni and Soris? She’d never really thought about it, never imagined anyone would have even though much about her at all after she left the alienage with Duncan, a trouble-making murderer and known thief who’d brought nothing but shame upon them all.

The relief in that young man’s eyes said something different; though what that was, she couldn’t guess. Before he went, he told her to look in the apartments at the end of the alley. People disappeared within, never to come out again.

She stood in the middle of that hidden room in the hospice for several minutes after the freed elves scattered to the winds. She didn’t know what to think about any of it. She only knew she suddenly felt terrified and apprehensive and for the first time that day those fears had nothing to do with Zevran. She wasn’t sure if she should be grateful and relieved for that, or just a little be resentful that life had seen fit to distract her from one sorrow in her life with a far greater one.

“We should look into his claims,” Alistair took a surprising lead when she didn’t budge from her place in the middle of the room. “Head into those apartments at the back alley and see what we find.”

“Right,” she nodded. “Good idea.”

They met with opposition when they left the hospice, the Tevinters attacking the moment they stepped outside and bringing out such wrath in her, she moved through that fight in a haze of rage and blood and didn’t see clearly again until they were walking down the alley and the shifting wind rustled through her hair.

“I don’t like this,” Alistair muttered over her right shoulder as they stalked toward those apartments. “It stinks.”

“I, too, have a very bad feeling about this,” Zevran noted.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Morrigan shrugged, all three of them following as she led. “Probably none of our business at all.”

Only Morrigan was wrong. It wasn’t nothing, though even later she would fail to agree that what they’d stumbled upon had been in no way their business—a point that infuriated Illuviel to speechlessness so severe she had to keep her distance from Morrigan to avoid wrapping her hands around her pretty, little neck and choking the life out of her.

What they found within the apartments was shocking, only further adding to the sickness she felt inside her. They were enslaving her people, and no one seemed to care. None lifted a hand to stop it, and somewhere within those slavers had her father and Valendrian and only the Maker himself knew who else.

It was nonstop fighting through endless hordes of Tevinter slavers, and as much as she hated to admit it, she found herself wishing she’d brought Wynne, rather than Morrigan. Every time they finished a battle they only grew more bruised and weary without the healing magic the spirit healer provided. They were running low on potions, her own fault for not visiting not asking Bodhan what he had in stock, or at least visiting The Wonders of Thedas before venturing into the alienage, but then she hadn’t exactly been expecting a full-scale battle so epic four skilled fighters could barely make it through.

They had enough to get them through one, maybe two more fights, and that was only assuming they were easy battles. There were no more injury kits in her bag at all. It was going to be brutal getting out of the alienage in one piece.

And then the entire situation made her laugh—unexpectedly out loud—the sound garnering a concerned squint from Alistair and a narrowed gaze and quirked upper lip from Zevran. Morrigan seemed wholly unconcerned, glancing down at her fingernails as she tilted her head an ignored them all.

“Are you all right?” Alistair asked. “Did you hit your head, or something? Think of a good joke you don’t mind sharing, because honestly I could use a spirited chuckle right about now. This whole situation is absurd. I’m so sorry you came home to… this.”

“I’m fine,” she shook it off.

Concern further narrowed Zevran’s stare, head tilting as he suggested, “I’m with Alistair. I wouldn’t mind hearing this joke you’re keeping to yourself.”

“It’s not a joke,” she insisted. “I just… I can’t help thinking how insane this all is. Slavers… in the alienage. As if my people don’t suffer enough.”

“And… you find this… funny?”

“No. Absurd, as Alistair said. There’s a difference. I’m laughing at the irony of it all.”

“I’m really starting to think she hit her head,” Alistair glanced over at Zevran, who agreed with a silent nod.

“I have been away from this place for a year,” she started, head shaking as she tried to find words to put it all into. “I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about coming home, seeing my father again, Shianni and Soris and Valendrian… But this… This is not what I expected at all.”

“You thought they’d have a parade in your honor?” Morrigan interjected, a haughty smirk tugging at the corners of her sly mouth. “Throw rose petals in your path and shower you with high praise and cheers as you marched around that ridiculous tree out there?”

“A parade would be a much better welcome than this, if you ask me,” Alistair decided.

“And that is why I don’t ask you,” Morrigan replied. “Anything. Ever.”

Amidst all the insanity, they still found things to argue about. Sometimes she wished the two of them would either kill each other or kiss each other and get it over with. Alistair said he hated Morrigan, everything about her in fact, but sometimes Illuviel got the impression it was the kind of hate that really meant something deeper, something entirely opposite to the way the rest of the world defined that word.

“Just… let’s just go.”

She kicked the body of the elven woman on the ground in front of her, disgusted that one of her own people could stoop so low, could take her own kind as slaves without even batting an eyelash, and then she led them further into despair.

The man responsible, a nasty, Tevinter magister who saw nothing whatsoever wrong with slavery, actually tried to strike a deal with her. While her father stood cowering and caged on the other side of the room, just feet away from her for the first time since she’d said goodbye to him before Duncan whisked her off to fight the Blight. She’d nearly spit in his face before rising stealthily behind him and drawing both daggers across his throat, scissoring his head from his body and watching the blood spray all over herself and the floor and everything else around her. She screamed while she did it, a terrifying sound she didn’t even know she was capable of and that would make her throat feel raw and sore later as the cold night air irritated it.

All she could think about as she watched the body crumple into a loose puddle of flesh and bone on the ground was a tentative Zevran declaring, “Some people simply need assassinating, or do you disagree?” shortly after they met.

She had definitely agreed with him at the time, but in that moment she’d never agreed with anything more strongly in her life. Once more she kicked a body from her path, this time rushing across the blood-slick floor, nearly slipping as she arrived at the cage. Her father gripped the bars, head tilted, tears in his eyes as he watched her trembling hands unlock his prison. Wrenching open the door with a groaning screech, she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him.

“Father,” she was almost sobbing, the emotions overwhelmed her so. It took everything she had inside her not to give into them, to collapse and cry like a child trembling with relief from her darkest and most terrifying fears. “Father, I was so… I was terrified.”

“Illuviel,” he remarked, gripping her shoulders and drawing her out to look at her in disbelief. “My Illuviel. When they said all the Grey Wardens died at Ostagar, I prayed they were wrong. Are you… all right? What are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t let them hurt my family.” She declared.

Already she had allowed too much harm to come to the people she loved the day she failed Shianni and Nelaros. Shianni had lived through the ordeal, yes, but sometimes Illuviel actually believed Nelaros had gotten the better end of that bargain. At least he didn’t have the memories, the horrors, the nightmares. He was… free.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” a soft smile rose to his lips. “You are so much like your mother.”

How many times had he said that to her through the years of her life? And with no reference to compare, she’d simply took his word for it and silently wished there was some way she could have known for sure. From the corner of her eye, she swore she saw Zevran and he was watching her, brow furrowed with more than just curiosity. She started to turn her head, intent on meeting eyes with him, but he looked away before she did and she didn’t know why, but it hurt.

She just wanted something from him, a smile, a wink, anything to let her know he was still on her side, but he’d become so cold in the hours since she asked why he couldn’t just say he cared about her when he attempted to give her that earring in her tent.

“Where is Valendrian?” she scanned the frightened faces around her.

Her father shook his head, wordless for the moment and filled with unspoken despair.

Swallowing the lump in her throat, she pushed thoughts of Valendrian and despair from her mind and asked, “Are you okay? Can you walk? You should get out of here. We’ll talk later, Father.”

“Of course,” he nodded, “you’re right. Come to the house. Soris will be glad to see you and there’s something I should give you before you leave this place again.”

“All right,” she promised, her hand reaching out to curl for just a moment around his forearm. “I will come.”

“I…” he started, glancing down at her hand on him. “I’m so glad you’re here, Illuviel. That you’re alive.”

“Go, Father. I will come to see you, I promise.” She leaned inward and kissed his weathered cheek before shuffling him past her and listening to the sound of footsteps heading through the door at her back.

Only after her father and the other intended slaves were gone, did Alistair come up beside her and note, “Loghain,” as she rifled through the dead magister’s belongings. Pulling out the slaver documents, she skimmed them quickly, handed them back for him to peruse, and then confirmed his suspicions with a nod.

“Loghain.”

“This Loghain… He kills your king and your fellow Grey Wardens, hires me to assassinate you both, promotes the enslavement of your people,” Zevran noted. She began to wonder if there was a point to his observation, and then he added, “Pardon my Orlesian, but he is an asshole, am I wrong?”

“And that’s putting it mildly,” Alistair agreed.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Morrigan contemplated, “he certainly seems willing enough to do whatever it takes to stay in power.” And judging from the tone of her voice, she admired the man for it. “He did, after all, single-handedly slaughter every Grey Warden in Ferelden, save for the two of you, though how he missed you, I sometimes have no idea.”

She’d have to remember not to take Morrigan along to the Landsmeet. She had a feeling the woman would confess undying love to the man who’d tried to kill them all on more than one occasion and beg to be his queen.

“Yes,” Alistair glowered over at the witch, “thank you ever so much for reminding me.”

“Please just… stop, both of you,” Illuviel muttered, the plea earning a scowl from Morrigan almost powerful enough to rival her nightmares about the archdemon.

“If anyone stands behind him at the Landsmeet after this…”

“I’m sure there are plenty of nobles who think doing this to my people is perfectly acceptable.”

She’d met enough shemlen who felt that way, who instantly thought her a servant or a slave, and could scarcely begin to imagine her as anything else. People like Vaughan Kendells, for whom brutal, bloody murder was just not punishment enough. If she could do anything differently, she would have found more subtle and demented ways to make that bastard suffer before she bathed herself in his blood.

“No one worth associating with,” her friend assured her.

“When you’re king, Alistair, do you think you could…”

“Let’s not talk about that right now,” he edged past her and headed toward the door on the other side of the room.

They wouldn’t be able to put off talking about it much longer. Anora wanted Illuviel to choose, between her and Alistair, though why the opinion of one Elven Grey Warden really mattered so much, she couldn’t guess. There was always the option the current queen could marry Alistair and rule beside him, but she knew in her heart he didn’t want any of those things. He didn’t want to replace Cailan as Anora’s husband, and he didn’t want to be king.

He just wanted to be Alistair, to be a Grey Warden and fight darkspawn. Part of her even thought he’d rather die than take up the king’s mantle.

Again, she didn’t understand why it was left up to her to decide his fate. And then she supposed it didn’t matter, at least not for the moment. She wanted to get out of that place, to wash the blood of enemies from her skin and see her father and Soris and Shianni. She just wanted to be—even if only for a moment—with her family.

“Come on,” she started toward the door. “Let’s get out of here.”

About erica

Erica North is the fanfiction pseudonym for fantasy/romance author Jennifer Melzer.
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