“Leave?” he questioned, half unable to believe the plan that his brother had laid out. They had only just said goodbye to Father and he was supposed to go back to Highever. As if nothing had happened?
“For your own safety,” insisted Cailan. He sighed before continuing, “Loghain has been hearing treasonous rumors -”
“Loghain!” exploded Alistair, shoving himself up out of the seat he’d fallen into while listening. “You’re listening to Loghain of all people about this! He hates me, Cailan! Of course he’d rather see me at Highever than at home.” Running a hand through his hair, he continued, “He’d probably rather I’d stay there.”
There was a moment of silence and then his brother quietly said, “Anora agreed it was the best course.”
And Alistair froze, his hand halfway through a second run through his hair. Anora had agreed, had said it was best that he leave his home again. That hurt just the tiniest bit because she knew exactly how much it had hurt him to be away from home.
Oh, he loved Highever and the Couslands but home was home.
She was, however, also his sister. Maybe not officially yet but he’d thought of her like that for a while. Since he’d known about her and Cailan’s arranged marriage to be honest. And her being his sister meant that she looked out for him, just like Cailan did.
Turning to face his brother, Alistair asked, “What’s going on, Cailan?”
“Can’t we leave it at treason, little brother?”
“Stop trying to protect me!”
Cailan took a step back and Alistair knew he’d surprised him. Maker, he’d surprised himself a little. Taking a deep breath and trying to calm his already shaky nerves, he said softly, “I deserve to know why I’m being sent away.”
Sighing, his brother nodded and then explained all of the treason. Cailan disposed or, worse, dead. Himself harnessed like he was some kind of dog (not even a Mabari, just a hound) and made to be a pet King. And who knew what might happen to Anora in the aftermath of that, though she’d likely end up dead herself.
Shaking his head, Alistair lifted his hands and rubbed them across his face as his mind whirled. Finally he breathed, “Highever is the safest place for me to be.”
“Yes,” said Cailan and he jerked his head towards his brother. The pain in his voice was as sharp as the lash from a whip and suddenly Alistair was ashamed of himself. He’d been thinking of himself and how he was being hurt by this and hadn’t even stopped to consider how this was hurting Cailan.
Maybe that was why he was the bastard son, because his first thought was his pain and not his brother’s. And Cailan’s had been of protecting him.
An apology burst from his lips and then his brother was on him, arms wrapped tightly around his shoulders. Alistair choked down another rising sob – because by the Maker he was fifteen and too old for that sort of thing – and clung to him in return.
“I’ll go,” he breathed. “I’ll go back to Highever.”
“This isn’t what I want, little brother,” hissed Cailan. Pushing them apart, he held them at arms length from each other and Alistair met his blue eyes as they darted to meet his own. “If I could have my way, you’d be here. You know that, right?”
Alistair nodded. “That’s what makes it hurt the most,” he choked out.
Cailan just shook his head and pulled him back in close and Alistair closed his eyes as he clung to his brother tightly. He knew from Aedan that the Couslands would be returning to Highever in a few days and now…now he would be going with them for his own protection.
A few days wasn’t enough time for anything.
He then thought of Father, of the fifteen years they’d had, and the tears from earlier came back with a vengeance as he realized that no amount of time was time enough.