“Aren’t we supposed to be in lessons?” asked Maric in amusement as he peered up the tree in the Palace gardens at his youngest son. Alistair let out a yelp at his discovery and then looked down, smiling sheepishly.
“Ser Nicholas was asleep when I found him,” answered the ten year-old, swinging his legs idly. “Didn’t want to disturb him.”
Maric hummed in response and waited to see if that was all of the excuse. Alistair didn’t disappoint him as, after a moment, the boy whined, “And his lessons are so boring!”
“But a requirement of your education.”
“I never learn anything, though.” Alistair then grinned and said proudly, “Except Cailan explains it later if he’s home or when I write him about it and then it makes sense.”
“Oh?” questioned Maric, wondering exactly how his eldest could explain something better than the old soldier who’d now taught both of his children. “And how does your brother do that?”
The bright smile that his youngest son flashed down at him was almost blinding and Alistair was suddenly swinging down out of the tree as he chirped, “I can show you!” As he landed on the ground, he held up a hand and said, “Wait here. I’ve got to get our things.”
Smiling, Maric shook his head and leaned against the tree, watching the boy as he bounded off and disappeared into a thick cluster of bushes that he remembered being one of Cailan’s favorite hiding places during his ‘avoid Anora’ stage. It was only a few moments later that Alistair burst back out of them, his arms full of a bulging burlap sack and the broken haft of some old tool probably salvaged from the rubbish pit. As he jogged back over, he pointed with the stick towards one of the little alcoves at the edge of the garden alongside the Palace wall.
“We have to go over there,” he intoned seriously and Maric motioned for him to lead the way. Which Alistair did with such seriousness that it brought a smile to his face.
When they reached the area and his son dropped the sack, he realized that there was a small section of sand here, though he couldn’t recall why there would be. Something must have shown on his face because Alistair stated, “Cailan asked Simund to make it. For us.”
He then used the stick to etch two lines into the sand before he stuck it into the ground at the edge and reached into the sack. As he bent down and started placing haphazardly painted wooden pegs into the sand, Maric suddenly had an idea of what was going on. Crouching down, he waited as Alistair continued setting up, merely watching until the boy leaned back and nodded to himself.
“There!” chirped Alistair. “Generally I’m the ones with the black bases ‘cause Cailan likes the white ones better.”
“He does the same in chess,” murmured Maric as he flicked his eyes over what was laid out before him. His eldest son had built a small model of a battlefield and had been teaching his youngest tactics when simple instruction without the practical part didn’t make the lesson make sense. It made him both proud of his sons because obviously it had helped Alistair in his lessons but he was concerned as to why neither had come to him.
Looking at the boy beside him, he asked, “Why didn’t you come to me if you were having trouble getting Ser Nicholas’ lessons?”
Shrugging, Alistair answered, “I told Cailan and he said it helped him,” he paused then continued with a great amount of concentration to quote, “nail out the part-ic-ul-ars to actually see the battle.”
“Ah. And who did Cailan learn this from?”
“Loghain,” came the answer. “Cailan tried to get him to help us but when he found out it was for me he wouldn’t do it himself. He got the pegs for us, though.”
“I see,” said Maric, wondering why Loghain had kept Cailan’s minor difficulty a secret. Or perhaps his oldest friend had thought he’d known already. “Have you been working through things on your own without Cailan here?”
“Yes. It’s a lot harder. He knows all the pieces better than me.”
Nodding, Maric asked, “Well…how about while Cailan isn’t here, you work through these things with me. I could even have a small sand table built for us.”
Alistair’s eyes grew wide for a moment then he breathed, “But…what about this one?”
“This one is yours and Cailan’s,” answered Maric with a smile. “The other one will be just for us.”
That made him laugh and Maric reached out to ruffle Alistair’s hair. “Really,” he confirmed warmly. “But…no more skipping Ser Nicholas’ lessons. Not even if he’s sleeping.”
The agreement wasn’t a happy one but he knew his youngest son would stand by it. Especially now with a new goal to give him an incentive to keep to his lessons.
Settling himself down onto the ground, Maric reached out for one of the pegs and picked it up out of the sand. “Until we can get our table, though, I’m afraid we’re going to have to make use of this one. So explain these pieces of yours and we’ll set up a battle so I can measure just how well your lessons are going.”
Grinning, Alistair burst into an exuberant explanation of the pieces, detailing what each of the different color splotches across the tops represented, and Maric smiled as he watched his boy.
This part owes inspiration to MsBarrows’ fic Atonement via Loghain and his sand table.