Alistair woke to the sound of sounds of fighting outside his door and frowned as he laid in bed, confused by the fact. Then he heard the distinctive gurgle of a dying man – starkly obvious to him because he’d only heard it once before when he’d attended an execution with Father – and bolted out of bed. His first instinct was to reach for his sword and as he drew it from the scabbard, the blade gleaming in the dying light of the candle on his bedside table, something slammed into his door.
There were several grunts and growls from the other side then whoever it was apparently decided to give up. He waited, every muscle tense, until he was certain they were gone then lunged for his armor where it hung on the stand across the room. His hands trembled a little as he pulled on the gambeson after putting down his sword within easy reach and he paused a moment to take a couple of steadying breaths.
As calm settled over him, Alistair reached for the armor. It was all fine steel and hard leather and had been a gift from Cailan on his twentieth birthday earlier in the year. Perhaps the most shocking part about the gift had been the inclusion of the Theirin mabari emblazoned across the right pauldron and he’d immediately written a letter asking his brother if he’d sent the right armor. Cailan had sent a response that practically bled amusement as he answered that bastard or not, acknowledged by the Landsmeet or not, he had the right to wear the Theirin arms by blood alone.
Securing the last few buckles and making sure they were tight, he reached up to touch that pauldron briefly before grabbing his sword’s scabbard and his belt. Now ready, Alistair picked his sword back up, took a deep breath, and pulled open the lock on the door.
As he opened the door and peered into the hall, his eyes widened as he saw the downed figure of one of the Cousland servants, William. Maker, he has a little girl, thought Alistair, remembering that the man had proudly talked about his young daughter’s newest feats of artistry constantly. Who did this?!
Stepping out into the corridor, he looked left and right but there was nothing else with him but William’s body. He could, however, hear more fighting distantly from his left and his eyes widened as he knew exactly where that hallway led. Turning right at the end of the hall led you to a door that led out into a small, inner courtyard and there was a small set of stairs there that led up to the innermost section of the castle that held the Teyrn’s quarters.
Cursing under his breath, Alistair broke into a run and burst out into the courtyard to find a handful of the Cousland guardsmen embroiled in battle with their attackers. The closest pair broke apart suddenly, the attacker staggering back before going completely off balance and falling to the ground and the guardsman rushed forward to thrust his blade into his throat in one swift motion. As the man died, the guard looked up towards Alistair and the young man realized he wasn’t just some Cousland guard.
“Alistair!” gasped the Knight. He quickly moved across the space between them and reached out to clasp the younger man’s arm. “We feared you dead, lad!”
Shaking his head, Alistair said, “I had my door locked same as I always do in fear of one of Aedan’s midnight pranks. They tried it and when they couldn’t barge in they apparently moved on.” He glanced beyond the man at his fallen attacker and his eyes grew large as he recognized the heraldry on the man’s fallen shield. “I…Howe? It’s Howe’s men attacking us?”
“Aye, the bloody traitor!” growled Ser Martin. He then spun at a pained yelp from one of the other guardsmen and cursed when he saw one of them was down permanently. Pointing upwards, he snapped, “See to the Teyrna and the others, Alistair! We’ll hold them here or damn well die trying!”
Nodding because that was all he could do, Alistair watched as the man ran across the small courtyard to aid the other guardsman. Then he turned and took the steps up towards the inner section of the castle two and three at a time. When he reached the door, he threw his shoulder into it and found himself bursting into the large, common room of the Teyrn’s quarters with the backs of two of Howe’s men facing him.
And the focus of their attention was the open door at the far end of the room where the Teyrna stood dressed in battle leathers with a bow drawn and a withering expression on her face.
Alistair didn’t wait for Howe’s men to notice him. He gripped his sword tight with both hands to draw it back and lunged at the man on the right who had a crossbow. At the last moment, the other man turned and his mouth opened to say something but he never got the chance as Alistair brought his blade down in a swift swing that caught him just below the jaw. The force of the blow separated his head from his shoulders and the young man fought a sudden rise of bile in his throat as blood spattered across the floor.
“Alistair,” came Eleanor’s voice then and her strong grip on his arm. He looked at her, a little surprised to suddenly find her at his side, and then he saw that the other guard was down with two arrows in him – one to the throat and the other through the eye. Swallowing hard and thinking of how he never, ever, ever wanted to piss off the Teyrna that much, he turned his attention back to her.
“They’re Howe’s men,” he managed to say. “Ser Martin and a few of the other guardsmen are down in the small courtyard trying to keep more of them from getting up here. He told me to see to you.”
She nodded and started to say something before they both spun as a door opened. Thinking it was the one behind them, Alistair spun all the way around, sword at the ready, but it was instead a door to his right that revealed a bloodspattered Aedan and Dane. “Oh thank the Maker,” breathed the Teyrna and she moved to embrace her youngest son, touching his face as if to make sure he was real. She then looked beyond him, down the hall he’d come from and asked, “Where are Oriana and Oren?”
Dread lapped over Alistair as his friend’s expression turned haunted.
“They’re dead, Mother,” Aedan answered, his voice barely above a whisper and his hands clenching around the bloodstained short swords he preferred to fight with.
“Those monsters. Oh, my poor Oren!”
Alistair turned his face away, letting them have whatever moment he could, and quietly mourned himself. Oriana had always been kind to him, very much like the family she’d married into, and he’d been at Highever since Oren’s birth excepting those months when he’d returned to Denerim. He’d watched the boy grow up! And now he was dead.
Rage filled him suddenly and Alistair gripped his sword tightly as he growled, “They’ll pay.”
“Yes, they will,” agreed Eleanor and he looked towards the Teyrna to see her wiping her eyes. Then she straightened and said, “We need to find Bryce. He never came to bed last night so he’s somewhere in the middle of this. Then we’ll see that Howe pays for this treachery.”
Nodding, Aedan took a deep breath and said, “Let’s go then.”