When Alistair arrived in Highever after that first long ride from Denerim with his father, he was surly and completely against the idea of being fostered under the Couslands. Not that he didn’t like the Couslands, of course. The Teyrn and Teyrna were two of the few nobility who treated him properly and their sons, Fergus and Aedan, were the only noble children he actually liked.
Well, he liked Nathaniel and Delilah as well when their father wasn’t around but he saw the Howes so rarely he wasn’t sure he could count them.
But, no, his surly railing against his fostering was because he felt like he was being abandoned. It was just the tiniest bit of hurt but it curled up in his chest like a snake, waiting to strike at the most inappropriate times.
So after he was settled into his room by the servants and Father came to say goodbye, Alistair gave him the cold shoulder. Maric had stood there talking for a long time, saying how much he’d like it in Highever and all the things he might learn under Bryce while he was there, until he’d seemed to run out of words. Then, he’d sighed and said, “Alistair.”
It was the tone of voice – that slightly stern voice Father got when he wanted attention – that finally made Alistair turn towards him.
“What have I done to wrong you, child?” asked Maric, his voice growing softer, gentler.
And everything exploded out of the twelve year-old.
“I feel like I’m being abandoned!” Alistair shouted back at him, his hands curling into fists. “Why can’t I just stay home and learn all these things?”
“Abandoned?” repeated Maric in surprise and he dropped to one knee, extending a hand. Alistair looked at it like it was that hurtful snake in his chest and took a step backwards, causing a pained expression to flash across Father’s face. “You know I’d never abandon you.”
“Why not? Everyone says you should.”
“Everyone might ought to keep their opinions to themselves.” Maric shook his head and leaned forward to hook his fingers into a fold of Alistair’s tunic, tugging gently. He leaned back for a moment, silently protesting, then shuffled forward reluctantly with a tiny kernel of hope blossoming in his chest.
Peering at Father through the short fringe that tried to fall over his eyes, Alistair asked, “You’re not abandoning me, are you?”
In response, Maric tugged hard against his tunic, pulling him close enough to draw into a warm hug. Alistair’s hands shook as they unclenched from the fists they’d made themselves into and came up to grip Father’s tunic. “My boy,” rumbled the King, “I’ll never abandon you.”
“Because there are things a young man has to learn somewhere beyond home,” answered Maric as he pushed Alistair back slightly and lifted a hand to ruffle his short hair. “Remember, if you will, that I sent Cailan to do the same with Eamon at your age.”
Wrinkling his nose at the mention of Eamon – because neither the Arl nor his wife seemed to think much of him – Alistair said, “But Cailan’s the Prince. I’m just me.”
That brought a laugh out of Father and a shake of his head. “And who,” asked Maric as he placed a finger against Alistair’s chest, “are you?”
“Alistair,” he answered, giving Father a confused look.
“Now, now, you’re more than just Alistair. You’re my son, that makes you a Prince as well.”
“No one calls me that!”
“No,” agreed Maric, “the Landsmeet refused to acknowledge you officially for the line of succession. That, however, doesn’t make you any less a Prince, Alistair.”
He mulled that over for a moment, turning the information over and over in his head. Alistair had known since he was very young that he was different from his brother and it had been driven into his head early by his teachers and Loghain that he wasn’t a Prince because of his common birth. Yet Father said despite all of that, he was a Prince.
“Cailan will be King one day,” he said after a long moment, biting his lip after he finished speaking because Cailan being King meant Father was gone. “What’ll I be?”
Smiling, Father pulled him close against and breathed in Alistair’s ear, “Whatever you want to be, child. That is what I’m giving you. Be a priest, a Knight, a well-learned farmer, anything.”
“Anything?” repeated Alistair. The word so was open and it brought with it a thousand possibilities that he couldn’t even comprehend. He had a sudden vision of Cailan, grinning that stupid grin of his, with Anora at his side and the crown on his head. And standing behind them was him, proud and tall in well-worn armor. “Whatever I am,” he muttered, “I want to help Cailan. Keep him safe.”
“Then be a Knight.”
Maric laughed and pushed Alistair back, gripping his shoulders with both hands. “Now that,” he said, “is a question you can ask Bryce.” He then cocked his head to the side and asked, “Are you going to be alright now?”
He began nodding in response quiet before he’d thought about the answer and realized that that terrible snake of abandonment was gone from his chest. Alistair smiled and confirmed, “Yes, Father.”
“Good.” Father rose to his feet then and reached out to ruffle Alistair’s hair again as the door opened behind him, revealing one of his personal guards. “Yes?”
“The horses are ready for the ride back to Denerim, Your Majesty, if you’re ready.”
“Give me a moment.”
The guard bowed and as the door closed after him, Maric looked down at Alistair. “Be good for Bryce and Eleanor. I don’t want to be getting too many reporting of you getting into mischief.”
“Only a little.”
“Scamp,” growled Father, cuffing him lightly on the shoulder. He then bent and kissed Alistair’s forehead, murmuring, “I love you, son.”
“Love you, Father,” he answered, briefly reaching up to tug at Maric’s tunic. As Father straightened, Alistair added, “See you at Wintersend? The Couslands have never missed Wintersend in Denerim!” For that reason alone, Wintersend had always been a holiday he looked forward to and he hoped this year that he would end up back in the capitol with them.
“And I’m sure this year will be no different,” were Father’s parting words, said with a smile before he disappeared out the door.
After he was gone, Alistair looked around his new room in Highever and chewed on his lip for a moment. Then introduce himself properly to the Teyrn as Father had told him he should during their ride since the King would be leaving quickly after their arrival.
He was a Prince of Ferelden no matter what anyone said and he was going to act like it. Starting now.