“I’m coming with you,” insisted Aedan as he stared at Alistair. Before his friend could start the protest he knew was coming, he continued, “You’ll need someone with you!”
“And I’ll have it,” said Alistair quietly, his voice firm. “One of Cailan’s most trusted men, who he left here in charge of guarding the Palace and Anora. We’re leaving in a few hours, getting out of Denerim as quickly as possible.”
His friend shook his head. “No, Aedan, you need to be here. You and Fergus need each other a lot more than I do.”
From behind Aedan in one of the bedrooms attached to the main room of the Highever suite, Fergus called out, “Don’t you use me as an excuse, boy!”
With a chuckle, Alistair called back, “Not fair as I recall you using me as an excuse once or twice, Fergus.”
“Stop it!” snapped Aedan, his patience suddenly run to its limit. Staring at his friend, he exclaimed, “Stop deflecting, Alistair.”
“I have to,” answered Alistair quietly, “or I’ll go mad.” He seemed very small suddenly, even though he was slightly taller and broader than Aedan, as he shook his head. “And I can’t let you put yourself in danger for me. Not now. Not when Highever needs you.”
“Highever has Fergus!”
Swinging out at arm, his friend snapped, “And what can Fergus do from a bed? You heard what that mage at Ostagar said about his wounds. He needs you, Aedan, to help get Highever back.”
Shaking his head, Aedan asked, “And how are we to do that without you?”
“Anora will help you.”
“Anora,” he sneered skeptically.
Suddenly Alistair was in his face, hazel eyes blazing as a hand closed over the front of his tunic and jerked him up onto his toes. Aedan blinked at his friend in shock, hands coming up to brace himself against Alistair’s shoulders and about to push back when the he spoke.
“I grew up with her here in the Palace, while you and Fergus only saw her rarely,” growled Alistair, “so don’t pretend that you know her. Who do you think taught me how to be so politically savvy? Who made sure I knew exactly what I could expect from others because I’m bastardborn? My father and brother did their best to protect me from it so who taught me, Aedan?”
“Anora,” he answered softly. “Alistair, I’m sorry. I didn’t…”
Aedan suddenly stumbled back as his friend released him and turned away, leaving him staring numbly at his back. As he reached out, Alistair shook his head, and Aedan let his hand fall slowly back to his side.
“You didn’t think she cared? She’s been my sister for much longer than her marriage to Cailan.”
Silence rang between them for a moment then Fergus called out, “You’re an idiot, little brother.” As Aedan turned to glare at the bedroom, his brother continued, “And don’t glower at me like I know you are right now. You know I’m right.”
From behind him, Alistair snorted. “Well, he is right. You are an idiot.”
That made Fergus laugh and Aedan rolled his eyes before turning back to his friend. Shaking his head, he held out a hand and said softly, “I’m sorry. Collective apology for everything lately.”
“Apology accepted,” said Alistair as he turned and reached out to take the offered hand. He then surprised Aedan by pulling him into a sudden hug. “Don’t worry, I’m well aware that brothers have a tendency to stick their feet in their mouth.”
Abruptly Aedan was holding tight to his friend, terribly afraid to let go because Alistair was his brother in everything but blood and now he might stand to lose him. “Yeah,” he said after a moment, “well come back so I can work on correcting that bad habit. I’ll never get anywhere with Fergus around as I learned it from him.”
Alistair snorted then Aedan found himself being pushed back. As he looked up at his friend, Alistair clasped his shoulder and said quietly, “I’ll do my best.”
The promise was a weak one and Aedan could feel there was something deeper in the words because his friend’s voice broke ever so slightly. A weak promise was still a promise, however, and in their current situation it was probably the best Alistair could do.
“Be careful,” he pressed. The words I don’t want to lose a brother were on the edge of his tongue but Aedan held them back. Alistair had lost a brother and he’d gotten his back. It just didn’t seem right to say those words when Cailan was gone.
Alistair just nodded and then left, the door closing quietly behind him. Aedan stood staring at the doorway for a long moment then he turned to go stand in the open door of Fergus’ room, just looking blankly at his brother for a moment. “He’s gone,” he finally managed to say flatly.
Fergus nodded then closed his eyes. “May the Maker watch over him.”
“Over us all,” corrected Aedan. “I think we’re going to need all the help we can get.”