King Takes Knight [Complete]

[[OOC: 7 Haring, 9:34, early afternoon on the roads outside Denerim; ]]

If she hadn’t felt perfectly fine that morning, Adel might have suspected she was ill. Her stomach kept making uneasy flips and every muscle in her body felt tense. But it wasn’t an effect of the harsh winter cold. No, the cause was stalking just ahead of her as she made her way down the Imperial Highway to the spot where Ethan’s carriage had been attacked. She was, unbelievably, out hunting bandits alone with the King of Ferelden.

It wasn’t that she didn’t have faith in King Alistair’s abilities. He was a Warden, he’d helped to stop the Blight, and he’d been there when it all began in Ostagar. That final point alone would have given Adel confidence in his skill as a warrior. There were incredible stories about just how he’d survived that horrible battle when nearly all the other Wardens fell. No matter what the truth of the matter, he had survived. That was no small accomplishment. It didn’t matter that he was younger than her, he was not untested. She had little doubt he could hold his own against any in his kingdom.

No, the problem wasn’t his skill, it was that he had insisted on taking only her for this little adventure. What if, despite the odds, he got injured? Or worse, killed? Then she would be the one who got him killed. No doubt the reason Ethan had quickly excused himself on account of his injured knee.

Adel swallowed a sigh and picked up her pace so that she was in step with the King.

“The bandits ambushed us just up there, your majesty,” she said, pointing to the foot of a hill that extended up to the road. “Given their number and how bold they were, I can’t imagine this was their first such attack nor that they didn’t have some sort of base hidden in the hills nearby.”

She chewed the inside of her lips. The only noble she talked to on a regular basis was Ethan and they’d developed a sort of… familiarity. It was still cold and she never forgot her place but he’d almost been her brother. This was the king! She couldn’t stop thinking of that and it made her unsure in how she ought to behave. Was it her place to give suggestions?

She straightened the hunch of her shoulders and tried to push beyond her anxieties. “My Pippa is no scent hound, but I suspect she could help us track,” she said, gesturing to the collie that trotted easily through the snow at her side. “At least it might save us time and an inglorious death in the cold.”
The crunch of the snow beneath his boots should have brought him more satisfaction that it did, but instead the impotent feeling of his steps only served to heighten Alistair’s foul mood. He didn’t like feeling like this, angry and betrayed and hurt beyond measure. He didn’t like lashing out at his nobles, especially the ones who had been so loyal to him.

He’d torn into Teyrna Ainsley, whose only crime was becoming a widow before she could give birth to a child. That ate at him all on its own. The poor woman was grieving her husband of just a handful of weeks, and was now faced with the truth of his murder, which had been meant to take her very life. Alistair should not have spoken to her as he did, but he was too caught up in his own hurt to be as kind as he should have been.

That was to say nothing of Teyrn Cousland, who’d also suffered a loss at the former Queen’s hands. The truth about his relationship with Nathaniel Howe equal parts enraged and distressed him. Was he embroiled in the betrayal of the ex-Warden-Commander? Alistair had no way to know, and once again, he was faced with outrage and no way to expend it without harming another.

So, here he was, a knight from the Storm Coast rushing to keep up, storming after bandits that by all rights he should have asked Arl Eideard to send a patrol after. In his anger, Alistair convinced himself that Arl Eideard had already failed to do so, and had come to the conclusion that the only person to bring justice for the attack on Bann Gunter was to do it himself.

“The bandits ambushed us just up there, your majesty,” Ser Wolfram explained, indicating a slope in the road ahead of them that would provide perfect cover and advantage to such brigands. “Given their number and how bold they were, I can’t imagine this was their first such attack nor that they didn’t have some sort of base hidden in the hills nearby.”

He grunted his understanding, just before snapping at a pair of guards at the gates to the city who tried to follow. Good. He really, really, really wanted to hit something. Hard. He wanted to hear bone crack against his shield and feel the give of a body beneath his blade. He couldn’t lash out at the person responsible for his anger just yet, and his temper would not wait a week to be vented.

“My Pippa is no scent hound,” she offered, indicating the dog which trotted by their side, “but I suspect she could help us track. At least it might save us time and an inglorious death in the cold.”

“The cold didn’t kill me during the Blight,” he said as he pulled up short, not wanting to advance just yet without more knowledge. “I can’t imagine it’s going to do so now.” For the life of him, he couldn’t understand what her dog could do if she wasn’t a scent hound. “If you prefer to go back and get warm, you have my permission to do so. I'm big boy and do not require a nanny.”

Alistair let a huff, watching the steam from his breath rise up into the air. “That was uncalled for, Ser Wolfram. Please accept my apologies. How is it you think Pippa might help us?”
The king seemed less than impressed by her suggestion that they might freeze to death if the wandered endlessly in search of these bandits. “The cold didn’t kill me during the Blight. I can’t imagine it’s going to do so now.” He stopped short and put his attention more squarely on Adel. “If you prefer to go back and get warm, you have my permission to do so. I'm big boy and do not require a nanny.”

It was perhaps a credit to Ethan and the shear wave of condescension he sent at her on a regular basis that she was able to respond, unblinking, to the king’s snappish mood. He was undoubtedly her superior and while she might have been anxious about traveling alone with the king, she also knew her own worth. “I have no doubt, your majesty,” she replied with a steady voice and deferential dip of her head.

King Alistair let out a puff of air that rose as a cloud before him. He took a moment to watch it and then said, “That was uncalled for, Ser Wolfram. Please accept my apologies. How is it you think Pippa might help us?”

She dipped her head again by way of accepting the apology. That he had the grace to apologize spoke well of him. She’d heard good things of the king, but then, who was going to openly speak ill of the man? He was not only their ruler but one of the Heroes of Ferelden. It was better to see for herself what sort of person he was. He had clearly been put into a dangerously foul mood- one she would be sure to step around softly, if she could- but he didn’t let him utterly forget manners.

Thankfully, rather than dwell on sharp words, he offered her a safer topic. She did what any Ferelden would and focused on the finer qualities of her dog. “As I said, she’s no scent hound, but she has a far clever nose than you or I. No offence intended to your royal faculties,” she said, daring at a small bit of levity. She stroked Pippa’s snout affectionately and let rested her palm on top her head, between pert ears. “She also has sharper eyes and ears. She might help us find something we could not on our own, particularly with the snow obscuring so much.”

She briefly looked out at the white expanse and then back at the king. “I’ve been a guard and a shepherd before that. I can’t offer you more than my sword in this matter, so I offer her to make up for what I am lacking. I have no doubt you picked up tracking skills of your own during the Blight and I wouldn’t want to slow you down,” she said. It was delivered as a simple statement of fact. She might not know much, personally, about the king but she knew the sort of experiences that bore hard won skill. That was something more tangible she could hold onto than the blood that ran through his veins and whatever worth it was supposed to hold on its own.
It was no easy thing to tell if Alistair’s words were taken as any person said they were, or if they were simply kowtowing to him for fear of rebuke. As far as he could tell, Ser Wolfram was genuine as she nodded acceptance. He would never know the truth of it.

A safer topic was to be the Fereldan favorite: dogs. “As I said, she’s no scent hound,” she responded to his inquiry, “but she has a far clever nose than you or I. No offence intended to your royal faculties.” Was that a joke? Did she just make a joke after he’d snapped so rudely? She fussed the collie, resting her hand atop the dog’s head, and one corner of Alistair’s mouth twitched upward. “She also has sharper eyes and ears. She might help us find something we could not on our own, particularly with the snow obscuring so much.”

Not as keen as any Mabari, by her own confession, but yes. “If I didn’t know better, Ser Wolfram, I’d think you were making fun of my nose.” Not his best work, but it was all the effort he had to make at present, and his dry delivery was nearly effortless at this point.

“I’ve been a guard and a shepherd before that,” she explained, “I can’t offer you more than my sword in this matter, so I offer her to make up for what I am lacking. I have no doubt you picked up tracking skills of your own during the Blight and I wouldn’t want to slow you down.”

Self-effacing? Perhaps. “No more than I gained from the Chantry.” Though that had been help enough in the beginning, when they’d hardly known their asses from their elbows or which end of the Joining chalice was up. His eyes searched the landscape around them and he hummed near-silent to himself in thought. “My specialty was finding traps.” Not disarming them, unless you considered that no one else could get caught in them after he’d trampled over it. He lifted an arm, pointing to a copse of trees where a small ditch had formed not far off the side of the road. “And if asked, I would say that’s a great place to lay one. Or, at least, that’s where I’d be likely to have run ahead, drawing everyone out.” He glanced at her. “I was something of a battering ram on legs.”

He shrugged one shoulder. “In the spirit of not cracking my royal skull again, or getting us both ambushed, perhaps you might have a more subtle tactic in mind?”
The king took her very careful attempt at a joke with good humor, which was fortunate. She wasn’t really sure what she’d have done otherwise. Perhaps pointed out that he was undeniably handsome or that you couldn’t insult the sort of nose that graced the surface of the kingdom’s coinage. Most likely she’d have simply poked fun at her own nose, which was arguably just as prominent and far less regally situated. Instead she dared a soft, acknowledging smile.

She decided to play it safe, however, and not insult the royal visage any further, jokingly or otherwise. Instead she tried at a compliment. She wasn’t one to ingratiate herself to anyone but she was ready to give credit where it was due. Not that the king completely agreed with her assessment.

“No more than I gained from the Chantry,” he said. “My specialty was finding traps.” He scanned their surroundings thoughtfully and indicated a small thicket off the road. “And if asked, I would say that’s a great place to lay one. Or, at least, that’s where I’d be likely to have run ahead, drawing everyone out.” He glanced at her. “I was something of a battering ram on legs.” He shrugged one shoulder. “In the spirit of not cracking my royal skull again, or getting us both ambushed, perhaps you might have a more subtle tactic in mind?”

When he wasn’t glowering in a way that made her feel the phantom of the headsman’s ax on her neck, his gently self deprecating humor put her at ease. Funny that she should feel more comfortable around the king of Ferelden than Ethan.

“You’ll find my own tactics fall dreadfully close to human battering ram as well,” she said with a light laugh. “I would have suggested acting as bait so you could get the jump on them.” She narrowed her eyes at the trees, her hand idly scratching behind Pippa’s ears as she thought. “If there are bandits there, I would guess they’ve seen us already. If we want to get the jump on them, I think it would be best to pretend to return to the city first. Once we’re out of view, we can circle around the hill here and come at them from an angle they aren’t expecting. And-”

She looked at Pippa. The dog cocked her head curious of what her mistress was thinking. “Pippa here is bred to herd. She knows how to get beasts running exactly the direction I want. We may be able to flush the bandits out and spring a trap of our own. That or,” she added with a shrug of her own, “we see if two battering rams are more effective than one. King’s choice.”
Ser Wolfram was forgiving, if nothing else. Or she was very good at pretending to forgive him for the sake of moving on with their impromptu mission. She accepted his apology and they planned how best to proceed.

“You’ll find my own tactics fall dreadfully close to human battering ram as well,” she told him, mirroring his own listing of talents. Funny how warriors could be like that. “I would have suggested acting as bait so you could get the jump on them.” She squinted against the sun into the area he’d pointed out, fussing her dog without thought as she considered their options. “If there are bandits there, I would guess they’ve seen us already. If we want to get the jump on them, I think it would be best to pretend to return to the city first. Once we’re out of view, we can circle around the hill here and come at them from an angle they aren’t expecting. And-”

She tilted her head, her thoughts wandering off with some snatch or another of epiphany she’d stumbled across. She indicated her dog once more. “Pippa here is bred to herd. She knows how to get beasts running exactly the direction I want. We may be able to flush the bandits out and spring a trap of our own. That or,” a shrugged filled the pause, “we see if two battering rams are more effective than one. King’s choice.”

“I think a combination could work.” Alistair crouched down in the snow, using one gauntleted finger to draw out his plan. “If we can flush them out here,” he pointed to a more or less centralised point, “then we could come at them from either side. More of a hammer and anvil manoeuver.” Now he shrugged, indicating a familiarity with such a plan.

He turned his eyes up to her remarkably blue ones, almost at odds with the dark colour of her hair against the bright backdrop of sun on snow. “That’s only if you believe your Pippa will make it out. She’ll have to be quick, or risk being trapped between.” And by all he could tell, she was the right breed for quickness. “Otherwise, I actually like the bait idea.” He leaned in as he rose back to his feet and whispered conspiratorially. “But don’t tell Ser Donnall. He doesn’t have quite your sense of humor.”
The king crouched and drew a rough battle plan in the snow. It was simple enough. Then again, Adel found that most good plans were. Making things overly complicated only opened the way for things to go wrong. It was part of the problem she had with Ethan. She couldn’t help but feel like everything was a scheme with him or that even simple conversations required quite a lot of maneuvering. Clearly he needed more simple, clear cut warrior sense.

“It’s a sound strategy,” Adel agreed when the king finished explaining what he had in mind.

She stood a bit straighter when his eyes turned to her. “That’s only if you believe your Pippa will make it out. She’ll have to be quick, or risk being trapped between,” he said. “Otherwise, I actually like the bait idea.” And then added in a conspiratorial whisper, “But don’t tell Ser Donnall. He doesn’t have quite your sense of humor.”

Adel bit the corner of her mouth to stop from grinning like a fool. “You have my word.” She gave Pippa a good thump on the side. “But I trust in Pippa’s abilities. She’s meant to dodge kicking hooves and possibly panicked animals. The bandits didn’t seem particularly clever. Any advantage they had was in numbers. I have faith they’ll be too alarmed by the large animal snapping at their heels to put any good thought into how to stop her.”

“So, if you agree, I will play the part of bait. I think they’d more readily believe I’d be traveling alone." And she wouldn't have to say she suggested the king draw out a bunch of bloodthirsty bandits. "You can pretend to turn back and, when you’ve had time to go around, I’ll send Pippa in. I’ve trained her under the same whistles that we used for the dogs back on the farm, so you’ll hear when she’s gone.” She gave a shallow bow under the pretense of bidding him farewell. “I’ll see you on the other side?”
Ser Wolfram did her best not to laugh, and if Alistair were in a better mood, he might have tried to exploit that for the fun of seeing how far she’d last before cracking her serious veneer. “You have my word.” She gave her dog a solid pat, clearly proud. “But I trust in Pippa’s abilities. She’s meant to dodge kicking hooves and possibly panicked animals. The bandits didn’t seem particularly clever. Any advantage they had was in numbers. I have faith they’ll be too alarmed by the large animal snapping at their heels to put any good thought into how to stop her.”

Pippa made a sound of approval. Even if she didn’t know what they were about to do, and like any good Fereldan, he was sure she did, Pippa seemed excited to have people talking about her. “If you trust her, Ser Wolfram, then so do I.”

“So, if you agree, I will play the part of bait. I think they’d more readily believe I’d be traveling alone."

“Aww, I thought you said I could be the bait,” he sulked.

In fairness, they both knew she’d been joking. And also in fairness, it was better if neither of them angered Ser Donnall today. "You can pretend to turn back and, when you’ve had time to go around, I’ll send Pippa in. I’ve trained her under the same whistles that we used for the dogs back on the farm, so you’ll hear when she’s gone.” He gave her a very subtle nod of approval in response to her quick bow, maintaining the ruse of parting ways. Fortunately, he probably was dumb enough to go wandering through bandit-infested woods without an escort, so that was working for them. “I’ll see you on the other side?”

“Hopefully of the trees, and not the Fade.”

Exactly as planned, Alistair turned and headed back towards the city gates until he was covered by the trees, at which point he turned to double back. Very quietly, he circled back, shield on his arm and sword in his hand. Despite his careful steps, a single rogue did surprise him, but he was treated to a royal introduction to Alistair’s shield. The small ruckus aside, he found himself in place just about when planned.

He crouched down in the ditch, armed and ready, and listening for the signal.
Adel was relieved when the king went along with her version of the plan. While she was quite sure he would have made the more tempting bait- and the bandits too stupid to question it- she really didn’t need word getting back that she’d let that happen. Not that she was in any position to let the king do anything but if she’d learned anything from her time around nobility, it was about visuals. Did it look like she maybe didn’t care about the king’s safety? Not a good look. And not true, for whatever that mattered.

“Hopefully of the trees, and not the Fade.”

“Have you never heard of tempting fate, your majesty?” she asked with a slight, teasing twist of her crimson lips. “I’ll see you on the other side of a soon to be felled group of fools,” she amended.

She turned sharply on her heel and clicked her tongue so Pippa would follow. Perhaps she should have been concerned about the fact that she was choosing to be bait for a pack of bloodthirsty bandits but she was far too distracted by the fear that she would do something to get King Alistair killed. What would she possibly do in such a scenario? Honor would say she should avenge him or at least stay with him to meet whatever judgment lay in store for her. But she knew what was most important to her and, if it came down to it, she’d probably run back to Milly and keep going until she got to some far forgotten corner of Thedas. Not that she so feared her own death but she’d be damned if her foolishness blew back on her sister.

Luckily for her, Pippa had her own thoughts on the present. The dog let out a small huff of warning. It was nothing that her attackers would hear, but it was enough that she was able to dodge as a arrow sailed through the air. It sank into the earth a few feet from her. The trajectory let her know where the archer was hiding amongst the trees and tangle of dead, brown underbrush.

Adel let out a sharp whistle that cut through the snow muffled air. Pippa launched into an arcing path around the edge of the wood. Another series of whistles and she zigzagged through the snow, easily dodging more arrows and disappearing into the treeline. Adel’s sword was already out and her legs pumping as she let out another series of whistled instructions.

Her blade was waiting as the first panicked bandit stumbled out of the trees with Pippa snapping at his feet with the intention of moving him as she would one of the sheep back home. Adel had a short moment of pride that Pippa would have done well on the farm before they were both too busy handling bandits to think of much else. They worked as one to make sure their trap went as planned. Pippa wove to and fro to make sure they all fled toward the designated point and Adel took out any foolish enough to attack or try to flee in another direction.

She saw the king. Hammer to her anvil… or was she the hammer and he the anvil? It hardly mattered. She flashed a manic, toothy grin as the lot of them were caught between one hard place and another.
Alistair’s pulse pounded in his ears. Not that his blood pressure had not been up recently, but this was the good kind of worked up. The thrilling kind. The anticipation of a fight on the wind. The coursing of adrenaline waiting to be spent. Alistair had never known a life of sitting idly by until he’d become King, and in his mind Ferelden needed a ruler who could continually prove they would fight for her.

The sharp whistles rang through the air--the signal--and what he really hoped were the sounds of Pippa doing her part in all of this. He dashed off a quick prayer to the Maker for the dog’s safety, and launched himself from his hiding place. His steps pounded, his senses reached out, making the whole of the world seem to slow to a allow him to perceive each one.

And there was Ser Wolfram. The hammer to his anvil. Or was she the anvil to his hammer? It didn’t really matter, and his shield was crashing into the first bandit to cross his path before the thought was even gone. Crash. Each slam of metal against body was swiftly followed by a downward thrust of his sword. When a Fereldan drew their sword, they needed to be prepared to use it, and the best way to win a fight was to make certain the enemy did not get back up.

His first inclination was not to steal all the fun. His passive Warden’s reflexes would have allowed him to do so, even as latent and unused as they’d been in some time. There was a very good chance that Ser Wolfram, with the battle-crazed expression on her already intense face, needed this just as much as he did.

And let no one say that he was not a generous King. Once, twice, thrice he pounded his shield against one foe, sending the man staggering into her path to finish.
Any worries that Adel might have had that the king’s skills might have gotten rusty and that she was putting him in harm’s way with this plan were quickly put aside. The first bandit to reach Alistair may as well have laid down and invited the sword for as easily as he was bashed off his feet. Three more to dispatched just as effortlessly. Adel was almost tempted to sit back and enjoy the show. Almost. She’d been frustratingly inactive while Ethan healed up. The bandits also weren’t going to make it so simple. As soon as they realized they were as good as dead running toward the king, they scattered.

Adel used her momentum to slam her longsword easily into the gut of the bandit Alistair had bashed into her path. She turned smoothly on her heel to veer off after another. She kept her sword low as she pulled it from the body of the first and swung into the legs of one of the fleeing men. She continued running, right up onto his back, so that he was pinned in place and more easily finished off.

Pippa barked and drew Adel’s attention across the snowfield. It looked like there were only a couple of bandits left. The collie was hot on the heels of one, chasing him toward the king. Nothing to worry about, if it wasn’t for the other bandit further behind who was loading a bolt into a crossbow. Adel let out another shrill whistle. Pippa immediately made a sharp left. It took her out of the pursuit but it also left the bolt in the snow instead of her back.

“Hey!” she shouted to draw his attention her way instead. “That’s my dog, you bastard.”

Adel took the knife from her boot and tossed it at the crossbowman. It didn’t sink into flesh, but the blade did prevent him from loading the other bolt while Adel crossed the ground between them. She charged with her sword held in a reverse grip. As soon as she was upon him, she brought the hilt up into the bandit’s jaw. While he staggered, the sword was buried in his throat. That meant there was only one bandit left and Adel decided it was only fair to share the wealth after the king had been kind enough to do the same earlier.
Ser Wolfram was certainly capable on her own. Seamlessly she finished off the thief he flung at her. With another competent fighter by her side, the bandits never stood a chance. As promised, Pippa held her end well, herding their adversaries with a deftness that would have been the envy of any of his personal guards. He certainly hoped Bann Gunter knew his good fortune with such a capable knight in his service.

“Hey!” Alistair spun about on his heel and toe at the sound of her voice. “That’s my dog, you bastard.”

Alistair had survived a Blight, and a good many people who wanted him dead over the years. None of them offended him quite so much as someone who could inflict cruelty onto someone’s dog. Especially one so devoted and spirited. Before he could move to assist, or more appropriately, avenge, Ser Wolfram had a knife buried in the man’s throat and had dispatched him easily with her sword.

That left one man between the two of them. It appeared that Ser Wolfram was a believer in turn and turn about, and left him the honors. The momentary distraction of realising such cost him a heartbeat’s worth of retreat, and before he could dodge out of the way, the final bandit, too close for shooting, threw a wicked right hook, catching Alistair right in the cheek and orbital bone. He felt the crack of knuckle to cheek, but couldn’t tell just how bad the damage would be quite yet. Unfortunately for their friend here, the already angry King of dog lords was spoiling for a fight, and he swung about, bringing the full force of his shield against the man, catching him across the chest and face. One more hit knocked him back, and one more, with the full of Alistair’s weight behind it, sent him sprawling.

“We’ll take this one back,” he grumbled to Ser Wolfram, pressing his boot to the man's sternum to keep him from moving. Addressing the man on the ground, he added, “I’ll let you decide if that is a boon or not.”
Adel turned back to the king just in time to see him catch a mean hook to the cheek. She realized too late she probably should have given him some advance warning but she’d been too caught up making sure Pippa didn’t come to harm. If anyone would understand that particular lapse in judgment, she hoped it would be the King of the Dog Lords. Now, if others would be as understanding of her letting harm come to the king, that would remain to be seen.

She called Pippa to her side and the two of them came to King Alistair’s side as he pressed the final bandit to the ground with his foot. “We’ll take this one back,” he told her and Adel acknowledged the command with a nod. “I’ll let you decide if that is a boon or not,” he growled down at the bandit.

Adel opened the satchel attached to her belt. She tossed a bit of jerky to Pippa to reward the dog for doing well in the fight and then withdrew a length of fabric. It was meant to act as bandaging or a sling in a pinch, but it would also do for their current needs. She grabbed the downed bandit by one of his wrists and used the grip to turn him roughly onto his back. She used the fabric to bind the bandit’s wrists tightly together. Once he was restrained, she pulled him back to his feet. Pippa growled out a warning, lest the man be foolish enough to try something more.

“I have a small tin of healing salve,” Adel said to the king, inclining her head toward his injured cheek. “It won’t do much if there’s serious injury but it might save you a bruise. If you’d like to use it, that is.”

One hand still firmly gripping the bandit by his bindings, she used the other to fish out the tin. She offered it up. Were she dealing with Ethan, she might have insisted against any pride and applied it for him. She would do the same if asked in this case but she wouldn’t make any presumptions with the king. She also assumed King Alistair was better able to care for himself than Bann Gunter. This could hardly be the worst wound the man had taken in battle nor the first time he’d needed to tend to his own injury.
Ser Wolfram answered by going to her pack, first attending to her dog by way of a scrap of jerky (as any respectable dog lord would), then retrieved a length of fabric, likely for quick emergencies while out on the road. Alistair removed his foot from the man as she grabbed him by one arm, flipping him over to begin the process of binding his wrists. Without fanfare, she hauled the man up to his feet.

“I have a small tin of healing salve,” she informed him, gesturing towards what he could already feel was going to be an impressive bruise at the crest of his cheek. Unthinkingly he reached up to touch the spot, wincing at the discomfort the light pressure put on it. “It won’t do much if there’s serious injury but it might save you a bruise. If you’d like to use it, that is.”

“I’d say I prefer to wear it proudly, but,” he had no end to that sentence, leaving the ‘but’ to hang there as he only shrugged one shoulder.

Understanding, she fished the tin out without letting go of her current charge. It couldn’t hurt to at least try some of the salve; he was likely to bruise no matter what. Using touch to guess where it was needed, he dabbed some around the swelling wound.

Torture was illegal under Fereldan law, and Alistair would not bend that, even in his anger. That did not mean that their captor would not have a good deal of questions to answer. From the look of their gear they seemed to be doing well enough for themselves, and it sickened him to wonder how many of his own people had fallen victim to their preying.

“We should get back, Ser Wolfram,” he announced, stating the obvious. No doubt there would be guards looking for him, which he would quickly send out to investigate this gang further. “I hope you’ll accept some hospitality as a thanks from the Crown for your assistance.” In case it wasn’t clear, he leaned in with a conspiratorial whisper, finding his mood bettered by the fight. “By which I mean it’s been awhile since I’ve opened a cask for a reason to celebrate, and I hope you will not leave me to drink alone.”