“I’m not budging on this, Alistair,” growled Cailan, not even looking up from the table in the ancient open hall that had become their meeting area to discuss strategy. As he shoved a new set of pins into the map of the area to represent the latest reports from his scouts of darkspawn movements, he heard his younger brother growl angrily. Looking up now, he met angry hazel eyes with his own blue, trying to project calm when he was anything but. “You’re leaving tomorrow with the rest of the non-essentials. You and Aedan both.”
“No!” snapped Alistair. “I won’t do it because it’s stupid and you need two more swords.”
“Two more swords?” repeated Cailan. “Aedan can’t even keep it together long enough to speakmost times.” The boy was well and truly shattered by what had happened to his family and really Cailan couldn’t blame him. After Father had died…he hadn’t been at his best himself. “He cannot fight. And if he is leaving, he needs someone he trusts with him.”
The features so like his own twisted into a mask of fury and Alistair stormed forward, slamming his hands down onto the stone table before he leaned forward into Cailan’s face. “Don’t you do that!” he snarled, his voice dark with fury. “Don’t you try and push me away by guilting me into taking care of Aedan!”
His little brother’s entire body shook then and he slumped into the table, all of the fury suddenly gone. “Please, Cailan,” he breathed. “I can’t…I can’t lose you too. Don’t send me away. If…if you die and I’m not there…”
Cailan leaned across the table and lifted his brother’s chin so their eyes could meet. “There are more things for me to consider,” he said slowly, “than just us. Have you even thought that I dowant you by my side? That I’ve hated the fact that we’ve been apart for five years except for seeing each other during holidays?”
Letting his hand drop away, he continued, “But I have to think beyond myself, brother. I have to think of this army and I have to think of Ferelden.”
“Don’t,” whispered Alistair.
Cailan shook his head sadly. “I’ve already spoken to Anora about the possibility of me dying here. She…” He took a deep breath before he continued because Father had made him promise once that he would always keep Alistair free of politics, able to be his own man, and his backup plans would not make that possible. “She agreed to support your claim to the throne and to help see you recognized by the Landsmeet.”
Alistair made a choking noise as he pushed himself back from the table suddenly, eyes wide with sudden fear. “Father…”
“I know what Father told you. He made me promise to keep you free of all of this, to let you be your own man the way neither of us ever were. But…you’re a Theirin, Alistair. You’re a prince, no matter what anyone has ever said.” Cailan closed his eyes as he added, “And duty sometimes means giving up everything we wanted.”
The words were Loghain’s, spoken to a very young Cailan when he’d been railing against his arranged marriage with Anora. And the pain in the older man’s eyes had told him all too well that he knew the words were a terrible truth.
Silence hung heavily in the open hall for a moment then Cailan dared look up and saw Alistair had sunk down onto his heels with his head in his hands, his entire body shaking. Moving around the table, he fell to one knee in front of his little brother and pulled him into a hug. Alistair clung tightly, making him recall the day he’d left Denerim for Redcliffe, when a seven year-old Alistair with tears streaming down his cheeks had had to be dragged away from him by Father.
“I’m sorry, little brother,” he breathed. “I tried. I tried.”
Perhaps it was took much to put on him after Highever. But it couldn’t wait. He had to know.
Cailan blinked as Alistair suddenly shifted, both of his younger brother’s hands suddenly coming up to grab his shoulders tightly. The look on his face was intense, almost feverish, as he hissed, “Promise me you’ll survive.”
The word was almost a sob, drawn from the very depths of desperation. And there wasn’t anything Cailan could do but bow his head as he breathed, “I promise you, little brother, I’ll do my best. That’s all I can give.” It was essentially the same promise he’d given Anora, the onlypromise he could give either of them in the face of the unknown.
The hands clutching his shoulders shook then Alistair’s arms were around him again and Cailan hugged him just as tightly. They stayed like that for a long moment then slowly stood, Cailan rising first and pulled Alistair up after him.
Hazel eyes met his for a brief moment, fear and betrayal clear in them, then Alistair turned and walked away, leaving Cailan standing alone in the middle of the open hall. Bowing his head, the King returned to the table but was unable to focus clearly on the plans and maps laid out through the sudden tears clouding his eyes.
After a few moments he gave up and dragged one of the camp chairs out from under the table, sinking heavily into it and burying his face in his hands.
“I’m sorry, Alistair,” Cailan whispered even though there was no longer anyone to hear the words. “I hope one day you’ll be able to forgive me.”