His hands shook as Aedan grasped the sides of the wagon and climbed inside, his eyes focused only on the form of the man who lay atop a feather mattress that had been supplied by the King from his personal baggage. Stumbling slightly, he collapsed next to the mattress and reached out to touch his brother’s arm, still not quite believing that one of the last group of scouts to come back to camp during the night had brought him with them. It was even more unbelievable that he had been brought to the scouts by a group of Chasind who had quickly disappeared.
One of the mages had been brought almost immediately to assess his wounds – Wynne had been her name, he thought – and had declared them well on their way to healing. With his freshly broken left leg and wrist, mending ribs, and the scattering of smaller wounds and scratches, however, it would be some time before Fergus would be able to do anything physical.
And now, in the early morning hours after he’d been brought back, they were in a wagon about to be on their way out of Ostagar with the rest of the non-essential army staff and followers. Despite the fact that he knew he should be staying as he was able-bodied and capable with a sword, Aedan was happy that the King had ordered him to be amongst those leaving.
He wasn’t sure he could stand the sight of more blood right now. Not after…
Aedan shook himself, pushing away all thoughts of Highever and that terrible night. He then squeezed Fergus’ arm and breathed, “I need you to wake up, brother. I don’t know what to do. Everything’s been turned upside down and I need to know you’re okay. I don’t think I could stand it if you aren’t.”
“…Pup?” came a strained, quiet voice a moment later and he gaped. Brown eyes were actually open, looking at him with concern despite the obvious pain his brother was in. “How…Chasind?”
“They brought you back. You’re at Ostagar again.” The explanation of what exactly was going on spilled hurriedly from Aedan’s lips and then he nodded towards the back of the wagon. “We’re just waiting on the last to finish getting packed before we can leave.”
Fergus shifted slightly and reached out to grab Aedan’s arm, his grip firm despite his weakened state. He was obviously more aware now, as he hissed, “What are you doing here?”
A hundred explanations seemed to whirl through Aedan’s mind but he couldn’t pick just one. For all the words he thought of, none encompassed the terror of that night nor the loss that still ached inside.
“Arl Howe attacked Highever.”
Aedan whirled at the sound of Alistair’s flat voice and blinked at his friend as he climbed into the wagon with Dane clambering in behind him. As he waved for the mabari to lay down by Fergus’ feet, he frowned and asked, “Alistair?” He had never in the years he’d been at Highever or before when they’d visited at Denerim heard his friend sound like that.
“Howe?” repeated Fergus disbelievingly. “I don’t…I don’t understand. Aedan…”
“Fergus,” Aedan breathed. “Please. Don’t. Don’t ask.”
He watched as his brother’s eyes closed in agony and then Fergus asked quietly, “Mother and Father?”
“Dead.” The answer seemed to be pulled out of Aedan, the pain clawing at his heart and throat as he spoke the word. Grasping his brother’s arm, he gasped out, “Fergus, please.”
“Oriana?” continued Fergus, his voice panicked now. Then it went very quiet and soft as he asked, “Oren?”
Aedan just shook his head, rocking back and forth as he remembered finding the bodies of his sister-in-law and nephew. He was just barely aware of Dane coming to his side, licking his face once before laying down between him and the mattress. Fergus’ grip on his arm was on the edge of his perception and he was aware of that grip tightening – thought he wasn’t sure if it was in reassurance or anger.
“I couldn’t save them,” he managed to breath after a moment. “I couldn’t…Fergus, I tried.”
“I know, Pup,” he heard Fergus say and focused on his brother’s face, on the pain he was sure matched his own. Then Aedan looked towards Alistair and found his friend with the same wounded look on his face. Fergus seemed to notice it as well because he released Aedan’s arm to reach out towards the other young man. “Alistair.”
“Fergus,” came the answer in a quiet voice that tried hard to stay steady but didn’t quite succeed.
“For the Maker’s sake,” exploded Fergus, “come here, boy. You’re as much family as Aedan and right now…” He paused, swallowing hard, then finished softly, “Right now we need each other.”
For a moment Aedan didn’t think Alistair was going to move then he did, shifting across the space in the wagon and settling on the floor next to him. Fergus sighed as he settled and reached out to rest his hand on Alistair’s knee, which made the cloak of seriousness the other young man seemed to have wrapped around himself finally crack.
“We both tried,” Alistair whispered, his breath hitching slightly.
Distantly Aedan wondered where the steady friend from that night had gone. Then he shook himself and leaned sideways to bump Alistair’s shoulder with his own as he said to Fergus, “I wouldn’t have made it out of Highever without him. He gave me hope when I thought I’d lost everything.”
Alistair huffed out a breath then flashed them both a strained smile. “I told him we’d all see Howe pay.”
“And we will,” growled Fergus, his eyes flashing. He lifted his hand from Alistair’s knee and Aedan managed a smile as he clasped it with his own. After a moment Alistair’s hand reached out to rest on top of both of theirs, a solid confirmation of their dedication to that promise.