[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 253
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cullen ♂, Aveline ♀, Anton Hawke ♂, Cormac Hawke ♂, Anders ♂, Keran ♂, Donnic ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Canon-typical violence
Notes: Aveline finds the source of her problem and solves it. With her sword.
This time, when Anton appeared in the Gallows, with Aveline in tow, Cullen was less surprised but no less put out. "Not going to steal me away today either, are you?" Cullen sighed, rising from his desk to properly greet Aveline. "I see you’ve brought the captain. None too happy about the accusations against her, I’m sure." Although he addressed Anton, Cullen eyed Aveline.
"You could say that," she replied, rubbing her forehead as though to ward against a headache. She offered Cullen a tight smile.
"You’ll be happy to know," Anton cheerfully cut in, "that I have successfully wasted my time, and there is no merit to the claims."
Cullen nodded, the lines on his forehead smoothing in relief. "As I suspected."
"Then why press this?" Aveline asked. Her voice was calm and measured, but Anton could tell her temper simmered underneath.
Cullen sucked in a breath. "Some feel that the solution to the current crisis of leadership is to… consolidate authority. As long as the complaints continue, baseless or not, they will serve as justification for eliminating the position of guard captain." Cullen shook his head. "It would be the simplest fix, whether or not I agree."
"And he doesn’t agree. And I don’t agree. And a lot of that is because he’d have your job and his job at the same time, and he’s already doing three people’s jobs," Anton muttered to Aveline, before returning his attention to Cullen. "Just point me in the right direction, dear husband, and I’ll get you some peace and quiet."
"I really don’t know what to say, except that all the complaints have come from Lowtown. Anonymously." Cullen shook his head and gestured at a filing cabinet to one side of the room. Knowing where everything was and not having it all on his desk was such a nice change. He’d have to find something better than dragon kebabs for Ella.
"That’s Guardsman Brennan’s patrol. Why wouldn’t she have told me of this?" Aveline looked deeply troubled.
"I don’t know, but I do apologise for the … assumptions of this incident, Guard Captain. It has been … unfortunate," Cullen apologised.
"It’s not done." Aveline grabbed Anton’s shoulder. "To Lowtown. I must speak with Brennan about this."
"Guardsman!" Aveline called out when she spotted Brennan. The guard stiffened before turning around to come face to face with her guard captain. "Why did a templar have to tell me there is unrest in this district? What’s going on?"
Brennan’s shoulders sagged, and she shook her head wearily.
"Better make it good," said Anton, as though Aveline’s glare wasn’t incentive enough.
"It’s Captain Jeven," Brennan answered, speaking earnestly. "I didn’t report his return because… I’m ashamed for him. He trying to rile the guards against you, but none of us will follow him. You lead better than he ever did."
"Really?" Anton huffed. "We’ve made so many enemies. I don’t remember him as that impressive."
"He deserves to be forgotten," Aveline said through grit teeth. "He abused his position and blamed me when we caught him."
Brennan shrugged. "He was well-liked by some, but not once the truth was known."
Anton bumped Aveline’s shoulder with his. "Well, let’s go have a chat with the man!" he suggested cheerfully. "I love catching up with old friends."
"The guards will have nothing to do with him," Brennan went on, "so he found others. Militia, mostly anti-Fereldan. The same kind who were against the qunari. I guess it’s been long enough they’ve forgotten how many the Champion killed." She handed over a flyer.
"Anton, don’t you dare say something about your horseradish," Aveline muttered as she looked over the flyer. "A rally. Against ‘the tyranny of the guard, and foreigners who infest Kirkwall’."
"I’d like to think I’ve done a wonderful job keeping the Orlesians in check, at least!" Anton protested.
"You’re still Fereldan, Lord Dog," Aveline reminded him.
"I’m sorry, Captain," Brennan said, at last.
Aveline sighed and turned away. "Return to the barracks," she told Brennan.
"But, my—" the guard began to protest, but Anton cut her off.
"No, she’s right. You’ll be safe, there. Not that I think a guard should need safekeeping, but these are extraordinary circumstances, and you, in particular, have just painted a target on yourself by talking to us about this." Anton glanced at Aveline. "Do you have someone to cover, or do I need to go talk to my brothers?"
"Whoever’s awake," Aveline said to Brennan. "Three of them. Ones you’d trust your life to, because that’s what you’re doing."
As Brennan left, Aveline looked at the flyer again and eyed Anton. "The rally is in Darktown. We have to be there."
"The rally isn’t for another six hours, and I want to get some help and some witnesses, before we go walking into that. There’s only two of us." Anton yawned. "And I also want to get some sleep. This is an unreasonable hour, and I shouldn’t be awake."
"It’s mid-morning!" Aveline reminded him, with a jab.
"And I got up yesterday afternoon." Anton yawned again. "I’m taking a nap, before we go anywhere near angry militiamen with big swords."
Six hours and a nap later, Anton strolled into Darktown, Ser Keran on one side and a fuming Aveline on the other. Slipping through the shadows unnoticed was impossible with these two, with their clanging mail and heavy boots, so Anton had to rely on his reputation and Aveline’s scowl to ward off any trouble.
Anton paused to ask Tomwise if he’d heard about this rally.
"Hard to miss," the elf huffed, eyeing Aveline’s guard uniform. He pointed them deeper in, down the stairs and near the sewer entrance.
Keran looked about him with wide eyes as they walked, one hand on his sword, and Anton wondered how long it had been since Keran had been down here, if he’d been down here at all since Tarohne.
"Maker," Keran muttered, raising a hand to his nose. "I’d forgotten the smell down here."
"Sewers," Anton reminded him. "And, oddly enough, the most competent healer in all of Kirkwall. I will never understand what that man gets out of living in a sewer, but he does it."
Keran had only met Anders twice, so that took a moment to sink in. "He lives down here? I’d have thought…"
"Fereldan refugee, like the rest of us. Just because I’m amazing doesn’t mean all of us are." Anton shrugged, expressively.
"You’re an amazing cad, Anton," Aveline grumbled, rolling her eyes. "It’s all beggars and Coterie down here, wherever they came from."
Anton took a moment to get his bearings. "And directly above us it’s nothing but elves. People rarely rise higher than they’re permitted by circumstance."
"People rarely make the effort," Aveline shot back.
"People rarely start with your advantages or mine. You were a soldier. I was some prodigal noblewoman’s son. We had something to reach for, a level to rise to. But, these people? Mostly farmers. Mostly out of the Bannorn. How do you farm in a city? How do you farm in a city sewer? Well, some of them have figured it out — learned from the dwarves how to grow edible mushrooms, but man does not live on mushrooms alone, and there’s not really room for mushroom farming with people living as close as this." Anton spied a bit of the sky and turned in that direction. "It’s not ‘try harder’. It’s ‘try what’?"
Aveline opened her mouth to go on, but as they rounded the corner at the bottom of the stairs, she heard a voice she recognised.
"The Champion? Here?"
Gauntleted hands clenched into fists as Aveline pushed in front of Anton, letting their argument drop for the sake of more immediate concerns. At the bottom of the stairs congregated a group of armed, masked men and women.
"It’s the captain!" said another voice. "Are we ready for this?"
The only face bare was Jeven’s. "Too long, brave Kirkwall!" he boomed. "You did not throw off all others to fall under Fereldan influence!" He paced in front of them the way Aveline paced in front of her guards as she issued orders. "Leaderless, displaced! Alien hands on the most basic authority. Foreign elite, bleeding you!"
"Jeven!" Aveline shouted as she pushed her way through the crowd, and only then did Jeven see her. "You… disgrace yourself."
Jeven didn’t back down. "The Fereldan with the Orlesian name!" he sneered. "Is there anyone else who so embodies how far this city has fallen?"
Anton raised his hand. "Me? I’m the Champion of a city that couldn’t show kindness to those in need, and landed itself in a war for its troubles. A little assistance and Darktown wouldn’t be teeming with displaced foreigners, because they’d all be out farming in the hills, providing for themselves and the city. But, no. This… I don’t even know half of what you did to this place, but I know Aveline’s still cleaning up after your mess. Tell the man, Aveline. This one’s all yours."
"Do they know how you sacrificed your men?" Aveline asked, gesturing to the crowd. "How you alone disgraced your name?"
"Bitch! You took everything from me!" Jeven snapped, jabbing a finger at Aveline.
"You took it from yourself!" Aveline threw her hands out. "The guard know this and none stand with you! He stands alone. This is no rebellion. This is delusion! A joke inflicted on Kirkwall! Your home and mine!" She paced, growing more intensely annoyed at the entire situation.
"I will not be left with nothing, again," Jeven warned, head tilting down in faux apology.
"No, you shall have less," Aveline declared, drawing her sword.
Next to her, Keran drew his, while Jeven and his mercenaries readied their weapons. A pair of daggers appeared in Jeven’s hands as he made a stab at Aveline, feinting left while stabbing up under her shield with his right. Her shield dropped, batting the blade aside, and Jeven ducked out of range of the blow meant for his head.
While Aveline squared off against her former boss, Keran and Anton had their hands full with the mercenaries. Keran thanked the Maker he was wearing plate, taking the brunt of their attacks while Anton darted in and out of the shadows. Metal rang against metal, and Keran side-stepped to avoid a blow aimed at his ribs, turning just in time to see his newest attacker clutching his slit throat. Anton was on a new target before his first fell to the ground.
A few more ringing blows, and a wall of ice whipped through the crowd. "Andraste’s flaming knickerweasels!" Anders complained. "You couldn’t find enough trouble up top, so you had to come down here?"
The floor glowed green and a stun slammed through the group, followed almost immediately by another. "Who are these assholes, and why are we stabbing them?" Cormac asked, leaning against the rail on the level above.
Another corpse hit the ground and Anton kicked it out into the harbour, as the number of people actually moving was severely cut down. "Aveline’s former boss has a nasty anti-Fereldan streak, and he’s trying to get the templars to remove her and give him back his job. Sadly for him, the templars were going to give Cullen the job, if they could find a reason to take her out."
One of the militiamen suddenly stirred, lunging forward with his sword, but Keran punched him solidly in the back of the head with a gauntleted fist, and he fell. Anders slapped another stun into the crowd, his eyes lingering on Aveline’s duel.
"I could help her," Anders said. "How hard do you think she’d hit me if I helped her?"
"Do you like having teeth?" Anton asked. "I think that’s the real question, here."
Knees bent, Aveline limped from a wound in her thigh, where one of Jeven’s daggers had found the seam between plates. But a red smear on Aveline’s shield matched the drip of blood from Jeven’s nose, and a second smack of her shield against Jeven’s face drew another, matching smear.
Jeven staggered, throwing one foot back to steady himself, and he snarled at her through bloodied teeth. Turning the dagger over in his hand, he aimed a slash at her face, but desperation made his form sloppy. Her shield struck him a third time, and this time he went down.
"Stay down," Aveline warned him, sword pointed at his chest. "I’m warning you, Jeven."
Jeven answered by spitting in her face and trying to roll out from under her sword. Aveline struck the moment he snatched up one of his fallen daggers, pinning him back to the ground with a sword in his chest.
"You fool," Aveline murmured as the light left his eyes. "Why would you do this?" Aveline straightened, the set of her lips grim as she pulled her sword free again. "If I live to be a hundred, I will never understand his kind."
"What do we do with… them?" Keran asked, gesturing toward the militiamen who seemed to be coming unstuck from the floor.
"I can just keep them right there, until you decide," Anders offered, taking Keran for a young guardsman, until he noticed the design of his armour. The colour drained from his face, as Keran turned and looked up at him.
"The Warden’s a healer, first. He’s not in the habit of getting involved in city politics, but he’s also not in the habit of letting people get stabbed." Cormac’s warm hand wrapped around Anders’s fingers on the rail.
"I let plenty of people get stabbed. Usually the ones who are trying to stab me!" Anders protested, flicking his fingers at the militiamen one more time. They stopped moving once again, as the floor took on a dim glow. "Honestly, Captain, you should probably arrest them."
Aveline nodded, slowly. "That… I can do that. Has anyone got chain enough to bind them? It’s a long walk back to the Keep."
"Jeven. That son of a bitch."
It was just Aveline and Anton in her office now. Their prisoners had been locked away, masks removed to reveal their sullen expressions, and Keran had gone back to the Gallows to report to Cullen. Anders and Cormac meanwhile had gone back to… whatever it was they were doing. Anton didn’t want to know either way.
"You build a good thing," Aveline continued to vent, "work your hardest, and the past just claws at you."
"Tell me about it," said Anton, leaning his hip against the door-frame. "I can’t go twenty minutes without being jumped. And that’s just from the people who like me."
"But when does it start to hurt those you care about?" Aveline asked, slumping to sit on the edge of her desk. "I’ve tried to lead well, but this…" She shook her head, looking lost. "I wonder what I would do if my captain lost my respect."
"Exactly what you did, I expect," Anton pointed out, eyes flicking to the door at the sound of approaching platemail.
"Captain?" Donnic said, stepping into the room. "We’re waiting for orders."
"Will you accept them?" Aveline asked, chin tipped up with a pride she wasn’t sure she could feel.
"May I speak freely?" Donnic asked, but didn’t wait for an answer. "There isn’t a man or woman here who wouldn’t follow you through the Void." He paused and watched his words sink in, before excusing himself. "Captain," he said, and then turned and left.
"I’ll take it," Aveline said to Anton, finally. "I need a moment. I have to … Orders, reports… arrests… Why don’t you see how things are going in the Gallows and then come let me know, later?"