“Hey, long legs! How about giving a girl a hand?”
Blinking, Alistair stopped in the middle of running through one of the blade exercises Ser Martin had taught him in the free space near his brother’s tent and turned to look down at a short, stocky figure hovering nearby. He could just barely make out a bob of short dark hair behind the rather overwhelming looking stack of various gear and he sheathed his sword before moving forward. Taking a hold of a large section of the top of the pile, which seemed to be several spare bits of armor as well as a swath of blue and white fabric, he lifted it up and finally found the face of the speaker.
She wasn’t the pretty that he’d seen a few of the other lads in Highever making eyes over thanks to the series of blue tattoos that covered most of the right side of her face and a nose that had obviously been broken a few times but she was pretty. He thought that her green eyes stood out particularly thanks to the brand.
“Thanks!” the dwarf chirped with a broad smile, showing off a pair of chipped teeth. “I’d shake your hand for the help, long legs, as no one else seemed to be giving two nugs about me but they’re a bit occupied. Name’s Natia.”
“Alistair,” he supplied. Looking down at the fabric on top of the pile in his arms, he suddenly recognized the griffin embroidered across it and glanced down at her in a new light. “You’re a Warden!”
The chip-toothed grin appeared again as Natia cheerily said, “Newest in the country as of a few hours ago. Haven’t been able to sleep since then and I think old Jarriad finally got tired of me bugging him for info so he sent me to that grumpy looking quartermaster. I think he found it funny to try and make me fall over.”
Frowning, Alistair glanced in the direction he’d learned the quartermaster was from the quick tour one of Cailan’s guards had given him when he’d woken up. “He shouldn’t have done that,” he said shortly.
Natia shrugged as much as she could with her burden. “I’ll be angry about it later. Right now I’m just happy to still be breathing.” Her expression darkened a little as she added, “Seen a good few folks lately that aren’t anymore. Got to enjoy the moments you get, you understand me?”
“I suppose so,” he answered even as her words made him think of Highever. Shaking his head, Alistair hefted his new burden and asked, “So, where were you going?”
“Oh, edge of the Wardens camp! Apparently they’ve got me a tent and everything.”
Judging by the sound of her voice, Alistair could take a guess that in her life she hadn’t owned a lot of things.
“I’ll follow you then,” he said. Then he paused and turned to call out to the man who was standing guard in front of Cailan’s tent. “Ser Oswold, I’ll be walking with the Warden down to their camp. Let my brother know if he asks? Or Aedan?” He added the last almost hopefully as his friend had seemed to have fallen into a stupor that he couldn’t draw him out of.
“Of course, ser,” answered the guard, inclining his head slightly.
As Alistair turned back to face Natia, he found her eying him curiously. “What?” he questioned.
“Awful friendly with your King’s guard, aren’t you?”
Laughing, he said, “I’m not surprised you don’t know. Let me introduce myself again: I’m Alistair, the King’s bastard brother.”
Her eyebrows went up at that and she whistled as she started moving in the direction of the Wardens camp. As he trailed behind her, she turned her head to say, “Didn’t take you for royalty, long legs.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
There was a long moment’s pause before Natia answered. “Usually all we Dusters hear about royals is how much better than us they are. Unless you’re pretty, you won’t get anything from one of them.”
Sighing, Alistair shook his head and said, “I can understand that in a way. Bastard’s generally don’t get anything from nobles either.”
That chip-toothed smile flashed at him again and she said, “We got something in common then, eh, Alistair?”
“Suppose we do,” he answered with a smile of his own. He then frowned and nodded ahead of them towards a tent that looked a little smaller and shabbier than the other tents that were set up. “Is that one yours?”
“Guess so!” He must have been making a face because she continued, “Don’t curl up your nose so much, long legs. It’s a sight better than anything I’ve had before. And you’ll ruin your pretty face.”
Alistair turned to stare down at her at the ‘pretty’ comment then figured she was just referring back to their conversation, not making an actual observation. As far as he knew, dwarves didn’t have much of an attraction to humans. Shaking the thoughts away, he waited until she had carefully made her way into the tent then crouched down outside, peering inside to see what she wanted to do with the things he was carrying.
As he did so, he heard footsteps coming up from behind him and turned to look up at the Commander of the Grey himself. “Ser,” he began awkwardly, wondering how exactly to explain what he was doing in camp.
Duncan – Maker, Cailan had said his name was Duncan, hadn’t he – merely arched an eyebrow and Alistair suddenly didn’t have to say anything as Natia poked her head back out of the tent. “Hey, boss!” she chirped as she saw the dark man standing there. “Alistair here was just giving me a hand with the stuff old Jarriad had me get. Ought to give him a commendation or whatever you long legs do. Nobody else helped me when I yelled at them.”
Alistair was oddly hurt that she was calling humans ‘long legs’ in general. It had seemed like a strangely endearing nickname coming from her.
“I see,” intoned Duncan, his eyes trailing back to Alistair and considering him for a long moment. He then smiled and said, “I’m afraid since Alistair isn’t a member of the army he can’t get a commendation. However, I do thank you for aiding one of my Wardens.”
Shrugging slightly, Alistair said, “It’s no problem,” as he handed the gear he’d been carrying over to Natia. As she ducked back into the tent, he stood up and grinned sheepishly. “I’m always willing to help people if they need something. You can just ask anybody in Hig -” He trailed off as, like a kick to the gut, he realized there might not be anyone left alive in Highever that could be asked.
There seemed to be sympathy in the Warden Commander’s eyes as he said, “I heard what happened in Highever. My condolences.”
“Aedan needs them more,” insisted Alistair. “He lost his whole family practically.”
Duncan arched his eyebrows at that. “I was under the impression you had been at Highever since you were young?”
Blinking, he nodded. “Since I was twelve. Minus…” Maker, he still got choked up remembering those few months he’d been back in Denerim. “I was in Denerim before Father died. Cailan sent me back to Highever to finish my fostering under the Teyrn and I kind of ending up staying on as Fergus’ squire.”
Mostly because it was always too dangerous to come back home, he thought bitterly to himself. Oh, he understood the reasoning well enough as he’d had the same lessons in politics as his brother. As Cailan had said once about something he couldn’t even recall, though, there wasn’t anything in the rules that said he had to like that reasoning.
“Then my condolences still stand,” intoned Duncan seriously. He then leaned down and asked in the direction of the tent, “Did the quartermaster supply you with new daggers, Natia?”
“Oh, yeah, boss!” came the dwarf’s voice from behind the shabby cloth. “He gave me a pair of nice shiny ones but I sold one back to him this morning. Took a wicked looking one off one of those darkspawn we were fighting.”
Alistair blinked at her words and frowned. She had been out fighting darkspawn? He guessed it could have been a straggler but he was a little confused because Cailan had told him most of their scouts reported few darkspawn still in the area. Looking at Duncan, he commented as much and the man frowned as he straightened.
“The reports the King was given yesterday were true but I fear similar reports today will bear different news. On that note, I must continue on and give my Wardens their orders.”
Natia suddenly reappeared from within the tent, her slightly battered and shabby leathers from earlier replaced with newer ones with the blue and white Warden tabard belted over the top. Resting a hand on what was obviously the dagger she’d taken from the darkspawn judging by it’s bare blade thrust through her belt, she asked, “I got orders, boss?”
Smiling, Duncan answered, “Given that you are the newest of the Order, I will be consulting with Jarriad as to where to place you. He’ll find you later to inform you of our decision. Until then…” Looking at Alistair, he asked, “Perhaps until then our young friend here would not mind some company?”
“Me?” said Alistair, surprised. He then shook himself, remembering his manners, and turned to Natia, bowing slightly as he said, “M’lady Warden, I would be honored to have your company for the day.”
Whistling, the dwarf exclaimed, “Royal blood and fancy manners to boot!” She then laughed and tipped two fingers at him in a rough salute. “Not got many manners myself, long legs, but I’ll accept.”
Smiling, Alistair turned to look at Duncan only to find that the man had disappeared, leaving the two of them alone. Looking back at Natia, he began, “So…”
She just grinned up at him and echoed, “So?”
With a shake of his head, Alistair turned and headed back up the hill towards his brother’s tent, calling over his shoulder, “How about I give you an introduction to a decent noble?”
“Why not?” answered Natia as she caught up to him. As he forced himself to take shorter strides so she could keep up, he felt himself blushing as she added, “Though I don’t think any nobles are gonna beat you for decency, Alistair.”
“My brother might surprise you,” he answered with a smile.
The dwarf just flashed him that chip-toothed grin and said, “I’ll trust you on that one. But one thing I’ve learned in my life is that nobility doesn’t necessarily mean blood.”
Alistair blinked a little then nodded, smiling down at her as he thought of the likes of Arl Howe, Vaughan, and Habren who were some of the worst examples of the nobility and then those like his brother, the Couslands, and Teagan who were some of the best. The Couslands, of course, led him to the people of Highever, who were almost all like their Teyrn and Teyrna; good, kind people, most without a drop of so-called noble blood. And, for the first time since escaping from that nightmare, he didn’t shudder at his own memories.
He then looked at her again, seeing her in that same light, and said, “Too right.”