Leliana turned to see if I was right behind her and I was, sort of limping along the way. She stopped and waited for me to catch up to her.
“It’s your legs?”
“Yes, pushing of the wall made them throb.” I’ll be alright, let’s get to the Dalish Camp.”
“We need to keep to the shadows.”
“I agree,” I whispered.
I really wasn’t in the mood for talking. I was on edge because Zevran had left the fort by the front door which put him on the eastern side of the city instead of the western side. Since the fort and harbor shared an alleyway separating the two sections of the city. Which meant Zevran would have to go through the Market District and Maker forbid near Eamon’s estate. I was fearful but I knew Zevran had a silver tongue incase Alistair was in the area and saw him. I’m sure Zevran would claim he was on his way for a game of cards or dice in the Dalish Camp and hopefully Alistair wouldn’t tag along if their paths crossed. If Alistair did tag along I was sure The Keeper and Zevran would ditch the King. Hopefully anyway, but Alistair was sharper than most gave him credit for being. Nothing slipped his eye.
I had chosen the route I had because our escape from the Fort put us on the western side closer to the Northern Gate. We’d pass several city blocks from Eamon’s estate where the future King was staying. We’d be ok as long as no bandits confronted us and the city guard as well. That would be all I’d need was for the city watch to stop us especially with Captain Kylon being able to recognize Leliana and I both. He’d recognize Zevran as well. Zevran’s path would also have him crossing the Crow Boss in the Market District. I sure hoped those two didn’t get into it. That would be all we’d need Zevran killing a man whom most thought was just an ordinary vendor in the market. I and my companions all knew who the man really was…a Crow Assassin and one who knew Zevran. A man who had no love lost between him and Zevran and for what reason I didn’t know. Unless I thought, Ignacio had been Zevran’s boss, and to my delight Zevran had failed in his mission as a Crow Assassin to kill Alistair and me. Which reminded me, I needed to corner Zevran and find out if it was both Alistair and me or just one or the other Zevran’s contract had been for. That was on my to-do list as well.
Leliana raised her hand for us to stop, she had come to a corner that we needed to turn and before we stepped out from behind the buildings she surveyed the alleyway. I guess she didn’t see anything and we both hurried on our way. Our left turn headed us directly into the harbor and tang from the salt of the sea could be tasted in the back of my throat. Not as sweet smelling or as fresh tasting as the fresh sea salt air from Highever. I wrinkled my nose at the smell. Yuck, dead fish I thought, my stomach protested at the smell. The wind from the ocean almost blew my hood off of my head. I reached up to pull my hood back up. Hmmm, might have been a mistake that action.
“Halt, who goes there?” It was one of the city guard night watch. Terrific I thought. Here we go! Think fast Bell! I rolled my eyes at the heavens, just once Dear Maker, can I please get through one mission without any mishaps!
Leliana and I looked at each other. I nodded my head at her which indicated to her the man was all hers to deal with. I had my hands inside my cloak and my hands where reaching for a sleep draught potion if we needed one. I keep my hands on the vials under my cloak, just in case. I turned my face away from the guard in case he recognized me. Since all of Denerim’s soldiers that had escaped the city when the darkspawn invaded had ran to join up with my army before we stormed the city gates and they had all witnessed Alistair’s speech to the troops and Alistair pointing me out to all of the troops. Hopefully this man wouldn’t recognize me.
“Officer, what can we do for you?”
“I’ll ask the questions here miss.”
“Of course officer, what do you want to know?”
“What I want to know is why you two ladies are traveling the back streets?” “Its unsafe for you two women to be out without an escort.”
I almost snorted at his comment and just caught myself.
“We’re on our way to the Pearl, where we’ll be looking for Isabela the Captain of the Siren’s Call, we wanted to book passage with her to Kirkwall if she was sailing that way.” “We also wanted to see if we could raise some funds at the Pearl to earn some coin.” I’m a troubadour, and I have hope of employment of joining a noble house there for a Lord who wished to hire me to entertain his guest.” “We also have rooms at the Pearl.”
“A trouba what?”
“I’m a bard and this lady is my minstrel.”
The guard glanced over at me.
I nodded a quick greeting in his direction and turned my face to look out over the sea.
“If she is your minstrel where is her instrument?”
“My lute is in our room, I really didn’t want to lug the big thing all over Denerim.” I had turned to look the man in the eye and I batted my eyelashes at him.
“Well the Siren’s Call sailed just before the darkspawn invaded.” “I’m afraid you’ll have to check with the Harbor Office for a different ship.” “Ships are slowly coming back into port and I’m sure you’ll find one to take you.”
“No Isabela then?”
“I’m afraid not miss.”
“Oh well, said Leliana in a sweet voice.”
“Since you ladies are on your way to the Pearl, I’ll escort you.”
“That won’t be necessary and we wouldn’t want to take you away from your post.” I offered in a blasé sort of fashion.
“I’ve the whole dockside to patrol, miss; the Pearl is part of my watch.”
“Surely, not all by yourself?” Leliana asked in a sing song voice of concern.
“Aye misses, a few other city guards are a whistle blow away; there are two others besides me for this area.”
What an idiot I thought to give that information out. How this city guard had not gotten himself killed yet was beyond me. OK Bell, you should be fair he thinks you’re damsels in distress, far from it but he doesn’t know that.
I walked up to the gentleman and batted my eyelashes at him again and slide up against his arm. He was slightly old for my taste but he was a big guy and as dumb as a bag of rocks. I’m sure Shale would be offended if she heard me say that. He wasn’t a bad looking fellow. Dark dirty brown hair with pale green eyes adorned his face. His forehead was wide and his eyes close together and sunk deep. Several wrinkles around his eyes from what I could see from the lack of light in the alley. Rounded chin and a nose that looked like it had been pummeled once or twice. He was taller than Alistair I guess by an inch. Not as broad as Alistair in the shoulders. He had large thick thighs and large hands. My guess a farmer that had escaped the blight in the Southlands and the poor fellow had ran smack into the thick of it. It was stand and fight or die and it appeared no ship had been available for him to escape on.
I’m sure a big strapping fellow as yourself has no problems handling this patrol on your own?”
“My, my, what strong arms you have, you heft a sword a lot don’t you?” I winked at him. I took hold of the upper part of his arm and smiled sweetly up at him.
“I’ve been told I handle my sword very well miss.”
“I beat you do,” I answered him in a sultry voice. I hope that sounded hot. I couldn’t believe we were doing this. I’d rather bash him on the head and be done with it. Zevran was taking a detour through the city and it looked like Leliana and I were going to take a detour through the Pearl. Maker, help us.
“It can get a might ruff from time to time; but, my mates and I…we’ve handled far worse.”
The guard puffed out his chest in a show of bravado.
Leliana walked up to the guard and tip-toed her fingers up his chest. Where they came to rest just under his chin where she tickled him. The guard raised his eyebrows at her.
“That is so sweet of you to offer to escort us.” “Perhaps when you get off duty you’ll come by to hear us sing and join us for a pint?”
The guard splashed a very male smile across his face.
“I’m game if you ladies are?”
“What time do you get off?” I asked him directing his attention back to me.
“In about an hour,” he said.
“Perfect,” said Leliana, as she took his other arm.
It was a good thing, it was us, instead of some bandits or other rebels or this guard would be dead. The ranks of Denerim Soldiers were limited and they must be taking anyone they could get. I doubted this Denerim Night Guard would have a long career in the King’s service or he’d be on the take before long.
We both took the guard by the arms and headed him in the direction of the Pearl which was a few blocks down the way from where he had stopped us. We keep throwing sexual undertones in the conversation when it warranted that we do so. I was rusty at this; it had been so long since I’d used these types of rogue and bard skills, it would have been awkward with Alistair standing next to me. I wasn’t a bard but I knew what they did and how they did it. I was a trained assassin just like Zevran. The darkspawn didn’t give a damn they just tried to kill you without any conversation, all you heard from them were grunts of rage.
I hoped if we didn’t show up at the Dalish Camp soon, Zevran would come looking for us. Leliana keep the guard distracted and I joined along in the conversation to keep it moving along.
We finely made our way to the Pearl and it was crowded. The outside was bustling with make shift tables set up to serve pints. The Pearl looked just the same as it had before the darkspawn invasion so the darkspawn hadn’t fully focused on this part of the city. The Pearl had the same clientele as well. There might be nobles here who would recognize me. I had to be careful here.
“Do you wish for me to escort you ladies to your room inside?”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary, the owner has her own guards inside, we’ll be fine since we’re not only employed for a short length of time but patrons as well.”
“Alright then, I’ll see both of you ladies in about an hour then.”
“We’ll look forward to it.” “Until then,” Leliana and I both chimed.
The guard saluted us with his fingertips to his forehead then he turned and left us amongst the crowd outside of the Pearl. Leliana and I watched him walk away for a minute. Smiling and waving bye to him.
“Do we go inside or make a run for it?”
“We better go inside incase he turns and looks this way.”
“Umm, yes, good idea, let’s go inside then.”
I got the impression both of us were being watched from the shadows.
Leliana and I both opened the heavy doors of the Pearl and went inside. More so than the last time we’d been here, The Pearl was the place in town where nobles went to get away from their wives and for other forms of entertainment. A traveler could get a nice room for the night and a decent hot meal and a good hot bath. Rooms could be rented by the hour or two; we’d taken advantage of this to just get cleaned up while fighting the blight when we had been in Denerim. Since all of us were on the run, we’d taken our food to go or bought: bread, dried salted meat, cheese, apples, and wine. It was an upscale inn and bordello. It wasn’t decorated in that bad of taste as some other bordellos I had been in.
Many establishments of this type in Orlais where up and over the top in their gaudy decorations, some so outlandish to have been thought up, but the one from my memory had been and in a seedy part of Orlais had done just that. Many of the decorations and displays had boggled my mind, to be in one way back when and see what I had seen. Their wares for sale dancing around maypoles! It had been a site and a few in large gilded bird cages with the dancer dressed up in peacock feathers on swings in the cages. The cages had been hung from the ceiling and painted a horrible gold color. Very few peacock feathers hide what they had been offering. Those in the cages had been mostly elves; it had been done in poor taste in my estimation. They also had a viewing display which was to look like a pond or small lake with an elf dressed up as a mermaid from fantasy stories laid out in the water beckoning their would be buyers to join them in an ultimate fantasy of mermaid fun. I wasn’t a house of pleasure owner so maybe my opinion didn’t matter and I sure wasn’t the type to go buying.
The only thing I had gotten out of my visits was to better my skills of slight-of-hand. You couldn’t ask for a better rogue education than in a house of ill repute where card games were shrewd and deadly. My rogue master had been a crafty one. He would be in the room to judge my test and if I got caught I better have the dagger skills and my wits about me to get myself out of a bad situation. He wouldn’t come to my aid unless it looked like I was going to get myself killed. I got tired of getting my ass kicked and I soon learned my skills extremely well. It was hard coming up with excuses going to class with black eyes and a busted lip or two; add broken ribs to that list too. After all, I was there to get a high born education, I was getting one alright. I received two educations for the price of one on King Maric’s dime and later Cailan’s. I was getting my high born ladies education during the day and my rogue master training at night. It was a good thing I had a scholar to do my homework for me while I was getting other lessons at night. I’d get a briefing in the mornings before I set off for class on what I needed to know in case I’d be called upon in class. I’d had a house full of servants as well since my father and Maric both had rented me a small estate on the campus grounds. I had a full staff at my disposal plus all of my instructors stayed with me some of which were personal body guards to King Maric and hand- picked by him for my task in Orlais. I felt right at home in places like the Pearl and just as confident on a ballroom floor. A rogue’s work could take a person anywhere at any time and you had to know how to handle yourself in any situation. You’d find yourself dealing with all types of people from all walks of life. The only people I’d rarely run into before were the Qunari, they were not welcome in Orlais except as bodyguards for obvious reasons. Tal-Vashoth, I think they called themselves and completely different from Sten. I’d lied to Sten telling him I’d never meet a Qunari before.
I pulled the hood of my cloak up over my head and Leliana did the same. We walked from the entrance hall and opened the next set of doors and walked inside. The lovely owner of the Pearl was hard at work keeping everyone happy.
Sanga approached us at our entrance as I looked around for a table hidden in the shadows, no such luck it seemed. Leliana also came to the same conclusion as I, no room at the inn. The place was packed and the only room seemed to be at the bar.
“Welcome to the Pearl, if you are seeking entertainment for the night, just let me know and I’ll make the arrangements for whatever you desire.”
“I think a quick drink at the bar will do Sanga.”
She looked deep into my hood and she smiled widely as she recognized me. Before she could say anything I placed my fingers to my lips for her to be quiet. I walked up to her and took her by the arm. “Is there a place we can talk privately,” I whispered to her.
“Follow me,” she whispered back.
She led us out into the hallway on the right through the door, which took you to the many private rooms available. She opened the door on the right which I already knew was the most expensive room in the entire establishment. An Elven maid was busy preparing the room for what seemed an important guest whom I surmised would be soon to arrive.
“Leave us,” spoke Sanga to the maid.
Once the maid had left and closed the door, Sanga took my hand and kissed it and she bowed on her knee to me.
“My lady, it is an honor to have you here, please… whatever I can do for you and the Wardens please allow me to help.”
I raised her back up to her feet.
“I am in need of your assistance Sanga, and you will be helping the Wardens in doing so.”
“I’ll gladly help my lady and I’m also glad you are here, I also have need of your services and I’m hoping you can help me as well.” “I’m in need of assistance.” “I tried to get a message to you at the fort; but, they wouldn’t allow anyone in to see you.” “I knew if anyone could help me you could, Kylon tried to get in to see you for me.”
“I see you are preparing this room for what seems an important guest.”
“Aye, my lady, your good friend and our future king will soon arrive.”
I ground my teeth together.
“Is that so, what pray tell is my good friend going to be doing here for the evening?”
“Why taking advantage of the entertainment offered here at the Pearl and to talk with subjects here on what they deem important to the rebuilding of the kingdom my lady.” “The King felt this place would put his nobles at ease for them talk as men and not as King vs. noblemen.” “He also said when making the arrangements for this evening he wanted to speak with me as well and that he wished my aid also.”
“I see.” I had huffed out my reply and Leliana had taken my arm in warning.
“You are here to help the King, my lady?”
“No, Sanga, I’m on a mission of secret for the Wardens.”
“The King especially, must not know that I’m here, Sanga, nor anyone else.”
“But, my lady, he is a Warden as well, he doesn’t know of this mission?”
“No, he does not, Sanga, the Wardens didn’t feel it was right to burden him with this mission since he is soon to be Ferelden’s king, it’s for his own safety as our future King that he must not know of this mission.”
“As you say, my lady, I will do as you ask.”
“Thank you Sanga.”
“What can I help you with my lady?”
“We only came in here Sanga because a city guard stopped Leliana and me out on the docks, thankfully, he didn’t recognize me.” “We told him we have rooms here and we were looking for Captain Isabela.”
“I’m afraid, my lady that Captain Isabela already sailed.”
“Yes, I’m aware Sanga; the city guard was kind enough to inform us of that fact.”
“I don’t understand my lady, what are you asking me to do?”
“This city guardsman is to meet us here in one hour and he will most likely come looking for us, if he does – tell him we have been hired out to sing and entertain nobles this evening at a nearby estate, and we are not here; but, we do have rooms here, in essence I want you to lie Sanga.”
I reached into the hidden pockets of my cloak and handed her 10 gold coins and pressed them into her hand. She gasped at the sum in her hand.
“If he returns tomorrow looking for you what should I say,” she asked?
“That we found passage on a ship and we left for Kirkwall.”
“As you wish my lady, I will tell him.”
“Thank you Sanga.” “Now what is this pressing problem that I can do to help you?”
Sanga suddenly got weak in the knees and she went and sat down on the freshly made bed. She took a deep breath to steady herself.
“I don’t know if you noticed when you came in but my security is lacking of late.” “So many men were lost and died in the battle for the city.” “I don’t have the protection that I need to properly run the place and keep my profits in hand and my staff safe.”
I stopped her before she could say more. “The King will be safe here for his visit?” I couldn’t risk Alistair coming to any harm, if it meant I’d have to reveal myself to keep him safe then I would do so. Leliana and I looked at each other.
“Yes, my lady he will, a full garrison is coming with him, and his Royal Guard to boot.” “We’ve been preparing all day for his visit.”
Eamon’s garrison I thought, all of them knew me and Leliana.
“No, what I speak of is day-to-day operations my lady.”
“So you’re being shaken’ down by some gangs then?”
“Yes, my lady, I am.” “When I had my own guards here everyone was relatively safe.”
“You need protection until you hire new men?”
“Yes my lady and I’m running into debt keeping the place going, since the blight and the battle my lady I’m having a hard time finding suppliers for ale and such.” “I’m being charged outrageous prices my lady and the nobles are becoming grumpy with the increase in prices.”
“I don’t have a solution just now Sanga, but I promise you I’ll come up with one as long as you are agreeable that this place will become a gathering place of information for Wardens in the future?”
“The Wardens will always be welcome here my lady.”
There was a knock on the door and the Elven maid who had been preparing the room earlier stepped inside. “My lady Sanga, the King is arriving I thought you’d want to know.”
I cursed out, “Andraste’s tits.” Leliana and I looked at each other.
“We have to get out of here Bell, now.”
“I know Leliana, but how?” “Alistair’s guards will have the place surrounded, they will stop and check anyone coming in or going out.”
“This must be why the city guard was so agreeable to meeting us here; he had to have known that Alistair was coming here,” said Leliana.
“I agree he’d get a free pint on us and I’m sure he was also hoping for a free tumble in the sheets, and an up close and personal look at his new king.” “A very rewarding night for a city guardsman coming off duty wouldn’t you say Leliana.”
“We have to think of something and fast.”
“My lady Sanga, you must hurry, also the fiddle player has injured his hand so we don’t have any music right now.”
“Gracious, no music for the King’s arrival?” “How did that happened?”
“There was a fight in the bar room my lady and the player helped break the fight up before the king got here and in so doing his hand is broken.”
“It looks like we’re singing for our freedom after all Leliana.”
“I don’t have my lute, what in the hell are we going to do?”
“I play the fiddle and harpsichord Leliana.”
“Yes, it’s a long story; I’ll tell you about it later, for now we can’t very well go out in the main bar to many people will recognize us both, especially Alistair.”
“I believe I can help with that,” spoke Sanga.
“How”? Leliana and I both asked Sanga.
“In one of the other room’s my lady there are customes that the ladies of my employ wear from time to time, wigs and various dresses when their patrons request they must dress a certain way.” “Would those do?”
“Perhaps, the wigs will do the trick; but, Alistair will recognize my eyes if he comes over and talks and he will surly recognize Leliana’s voice.”
“I believe I have the eyes and voice covered.” I raised my eyebrows at Leliana’s remark. Well this would be interesting I thought. At least I’d learn some new bard tricks.
“Hurry ladies this way.” We all left the room Alistair was soon to occupy which Sanga closed and locked the door behind us. She led us over to one of the other doors in the hall, which she also unlocked and led us inside. She went to a cupboard and started removing wigs and various gaudy dresses.
“I don’t like this Leliana, if a fight breaks out in the common room I don’t like being without my armor.”
“Nor I, but I don’t see any other way.”
“Ladies when you are ready to leave I’ll have a servant escort you back here and you can change back into your armor and get your gear.” “I’ll ask one of the city guardsmen to stand guard on this door to make sure nobody gets in here and I’ll see he is rewarded for his efforts.” “There is a hidden door that leads out onto the docks and you’ll be able to find your way from there.”
“I’ll pay you for whatever you need to do Sanga.”
“Your help with my problem will be payment enough my lady.”
“As you wish Sanga.”
“Ladies you must hurry I’m sure the King has arrived in the common room by now. When you are ready, just come out and join the musicians in the band.” “I’ll let them know I found a replacement.” “I must go to greet his Highness.”
“Wait, how are we going to be excused from the other musicians to get away?”
“My instructions for tonight for the King is that the King wouldn’t stay in the common room for long, just to have a pint with the common folks then it would appear a lady of the evening would entertain him in his private room, you can get away then, when he comes back to his room across the hall where various nobles will be having private meetings with him.”
Sanga left to go greet Alistair. Leliana and I quickly chose new dresses to slip into. Leliana was ruffling around in one of her backpacks where she pulled out two black eye patches. She chose a black wig for herself and for me a red one that was pinned up to look like a bun at the back of my head. These were theatrical wigs I’d seen bards wear.
I choose a simply maidens gown done in dark green plaid with leather for the neck piece and trim on the apron of the garment. I was thankful it covered my bosom along with my new scars on my chest. Leliana’s was very similar but in a dark blue checkered pattern. Luck was on our side since the dresses were very long and covered our armor leg guards. I hide several daggers on my person, throwing daggers which would help keep the wig in place. I grabbed my bags of gold coins and tied them to my thighs. I wasn’t leaving our traveling money in this room. I could always replace equipment. Coin was a different matter.
Leliana looked great as a lady with dark black hair with her vivid blue eyes, and I was curious what I looked like as a red head.
She handed me the eye patches. “You’ll be blind but still able to play I hope.”
I slipped on the eye patches and to my surprise I could see out of them. The material was very thin black silk. The outward side of the patches had painted eyes on them. A very Orlesian thing, similar to the mask they wear at court all the time. It was perfect.
“Ok, how do I look?”
“See for yourself,” Leliana pointed to the bureau in the room which had a small mirror on it. I walked over to the mirror and grabbed it and turned it over to look at myself. Hopefully Alistair wouldn’t recognize my nose, chin, and especially my lips. The eye patches were rather comical looking and hopefully they would do the trick.
“Which instrument do you wish to play when we get out there?”
“I was thinking the harpsichord; this will keep my back to the room.”
“Grand idea, hopefully we can get the player to give up his seat.”
I watched with fascination, as Leliana slipped a new set of teeth over her own teeth. I bet those are made out of porcelain I thought. How ingenious, I’d have to find some of those for future use I thought. These porcelain pieces totally changed the look and shape of her mouth. She giggled when she saw me watching.
I laughed, “the things one learns while traveling with a bard.”
She laughed and the sound was slightly different from her regular laugh.
“Ok, how long did it take you to learn to alter your voice like that?”
“A few years,” she admitted.
“Leliana, I’d feel better in hiding our equipment.”
“So would I.”
We both looked around the room. Leliana looked up and I examined the floor. If we moved that chest we might be able to loosen a floor board and stow our gear under the floor. I pointed to the chest. Both of us walked over to the chest and we moved the chest out from the wall. Leliana took a dagger out of her boot and started testing various boards in the floor. Finally she was able to wiggle one lose, I started handing her our equipment and she stuffed it under the main floor of the room. Hopefully rats wouldn’t carry much of our gear away. She replaced the board and we moved the chest back into place. We still had to find a place to hide our large tent that she had been carrying. The only place would be the closet or under the bed. She chose the bed.
“Ready”, she asked?
“No, not really, was my reply.”
Leliana took me by the shoulders, “regardless of what happens just keep playing unless Alistair is in danger then it’s all out war.”
I nodded agreement with her.
“I’ll have to lead you since you are blind.”
She took my arm and we both left the room. Sanga had been true to her word the guard was already posted at the door of the room we’d just changed in, and many of Alistair’s royal guards were already checking his private room for any threats.
I stumbled since I couldn’t fully see. I guess this led to the belief that I was actually blind.
Leliana tightened her hand on my arm as a warning.
“A moment ladies, state your business here please.”
Leliana curtsied to Alistair’s guard and she dragged me down with her and I almost fell flat on my face trying to bow to the man.
He had reached out to steady me with Leliana’s help.
“We’re members of the band sir and we’ll be playing for the King tonight in the common room.”
“Shouldn’t you ladies already be out there?” “What are you still doing back here?”
“I couldn’t find my eye patches sir, the maid misplaced them and we had to search the room for them.”
“Yes sir, I got caught in cross fire between Templars that were hunting a mage that got loose from the tower.” “The mage was firing on everyone with fireballs and the bush I was hiding in caught fire along with my clothes and hair and it burned my eyes sir.” “I’d not allow the King or anyone else to see the disfigurement to my eyes sir.”
“Where did this happen?”
“Not far from Redcliffe, sir, Lee and I had fled to Redcliffe from Lothering.”
“You can still play lady?”
“Oh aye good sir, any musician worth their salt can close their eyes and play from memory any instrument they have been trained too.”
“When did you learn to play and what do you play?”
“I play the harpsichord and fiddle, my friend here sings.” “I learned at my grandsire’s knee in Lothering, – he stayed and gave me the last of his coin for me to get away before the darkspawn sacked the city.” “I’d imagine my grandsire is dead.” “We didn’t have the coin for both of us to make it Denerim.” “I meet up with this lady since she was a bard there and this is how we meet up.” “She promised my grandsire she’d get me to safety to the chantry here in Denerim.” “Imagine our surprise to get here when the darkspawn marched on this city as well.” “It’s been an ordeal sir.”
“But why here ladies, when I’m sure the Chantry would be glad of your services as well?”
“Begging your pardon sir, but a bard and minstrel can make more money in taverns or entertaining the nobility.” “Not so much in a chantry.”
“Point taken, then off with you to get into place.”
“Thank you sir,” said Leliana. She took my arm and led me to the common room.
The man walk over to the city guard and the man allowed Alistair’s guard into our room. “He is checking our room,” whispered Leliana. If he finds the tent that will hopefully back up our story.
I heard the cheers for the King before Leliana and I got to the door. The people inside the common room were cheering and offering up toast to their new king in him saving the city. Well he didn’t save the city on his own I thought with a huff. This night was going from bad to worse.
Leliana led me over to the harpsichord and the other player got up and fetched a fiddle. I took my place and seated myself at the harpsichord. I gently placed my hands on the keys being careful not to strike any of them but get a feeling for the instrument. Leliana was softly talking to the other musicians on what we would play.
“Maker, please allow me to pull this off.” It’d been so long since I’d played.
I could hear Alistair somewhere behind me laughing and talking. I could also hear Arl Eamon and my brother.
“Bell let’s start with ‘All For Me Grog’, do you know it?”
“The song is a favorite in Highever Leliana.”
Leliana turned to the other musicians and they counted the beat. The lute player started singing the lyrics:
Well it’s all for me grog, me jolly jolly grog
It’s all for me beer and tobacco
For I spent all me tin with the lassies drinking gin
Far across the western ocean I must wander
Where are me boots, me noggin’, noggin’ boots?
They’re all gone for beer and tobacco
For the heels they are worn out and the toes are kicked about
And the soles are looking out for better weather
Where is me shirt, my noggin’, noggin’ shirt?
It’s all gone for beer and tobacco
For the collar is all worn, and the sleeves they are all torn
And the tail is looking out for better weather
I’m sick in the head and I haven’t been to bed
Since first I came ashore with me slumber
For I spent all me dough on the lassies movin’ slow
Far across the Western Ocean I must wander
Where is me bed, me noggin’ noggin bed
It’s all gone for beer and tobacco
Well I lent it to a whore and now the sheets are all tore
And the springs are looking out for better whether.
Where is me wench, me noggin’ noggin’ whence
She’s all gone for beer and tobacco
Well her (clap) is all worn out and her (clap) is knocked about
And her (clap) is looking out for better whether.
Those in the tavern roared with laughter at the lyrics and they tapped their feet to the music. The lute player’s choice next was Holy Ground in Key of C. He strummed his lute and we set off joining in the music once again. This song was a favorite of sailors throughout the docks. The crowd shouted back with Fine Girl You Are.
I could see out of the corner of my eye Alistair and Eamon had the table in the center of the room, with Alistair’s and Eamon’s guards lining the wall behind them with Ser Alec nearest to Alistair with his hand on his sword hilt. The lasses of the bar were sure enjoying the attention of their soon to be new king. I ground my teeth together once more. My brother was also seated with them and so was Bann Alfstanna and Bann Sighard with his son whom I had saved from Howe’s dungeon. At least the King was keeping good company I thought as my hands flew over the keys keeping up with the song.
Fare thee well, my lovely Dinah,
A thousand times adieu.
For we’re going away from the Holy Ground
And the girls we all love true.
We will sail the salt seas over
And then return for shore
And still I live in hope to see
The Holy Ground once more.
[Fine Girl You Are]
You’re the girl that I adore,
And still I live in hope to see
the Holy Ground once more.
[Fine Girl You Are]
Now when we’re out a-sailing
And you are far behind
Fine letters will I write to you
With the secrets of my mind,
The secrets of my mind, my girl,
You’re the girl that I adore,
And still I live in hope to see
The Holy Ground once more.
[Fine Girl You Are]
Oh now the storm is raging
And we are far from shore;
The poor old ship she’s sinking fast
And the riggings they are tore.
The night is dark and dreary,
We can scarcely see the moon,
But still I live in hope to see
the Holy Ground once more.
[Fine Girl You Are]
And now the storm is over
And we are safe and well.
We will go into a public house
And we’ll sit and drink like hell.
We will drink strong ale and porter
And we’ll make the rafters roar,
And when our money is all spent
We will go to sea once more.
More ale and port was being passed around and to my surprise the King himself bought a round. Everyone at The Pearl seemed to be in high spirits and having a fine time.
The lute player started the next song. This seemed a fine choice in a song, once again in the key of C. The old song “The Dragon’s Retort” was the name of the song. I’d read long ago a favorite of Wardens. This song must have been chosen just for the King and him being a warden.
Now, I am a dragon. Please listen to me
For I’m misunderstood to a dreadful degree.
This ecology needs me and I know my place.
But I’m fighting extinction with all of my race.
Well, I came to this village to better my health
Which is shockingly poor, despite all my wealth.
But I get no assistance and no sympathy,
Just impertinent questioning shouted at me.
Yessss, virgins taste better than those who are not.
But my favorite snack food with peril is fraught.
For my teeth will decay and my trim go to pot.
Yet virgins taste better than those who are not.
Now, we Worms are deep thinkers; at science we shine,
But our world’s complicated with every new line.
We must quit all the things that we’ve done since the Flood
Like, lying on gold couches poisons our blood!
Well, I’m really quite good almost all through the year.
Vegetarian ways are now mine out of fear.
But a birthday needs sweets as I’m sure you’ll agree.
And barbecued wench tastes like candy to me!
As it happens our interests are almost the same.
For I’m really quite skillful at managing game.
If I ate just your men, would your excess decline?
Of course not, the rest would just make better time
But the number of babies a woman can bear
Has a limit, and that’s why my prunings done there.
Yet an orphan’s a sad sight and so when I munch.
I’m careful to take out a virgin for lunch.
I sure was glad my back was turned to the crowed. My face was beet red I was sure. The crowd roared with laughter. The whole place erupted in shouts once again for the King and The Wardens. The crowd was begging the King to provide heirs for the Kingdom and soon. I felt my face flame once again at the bitterness I felt in the shouts. So this is what the meetings tonight would be about, finding him a bride. Rage of fury coursed through me.
Virgins indeed I thought. As if right on cue a lovely lass took Alistair by the hand and he blushed with pleasure and I ground my teeth together once more. I had turned my head around to see what was going on. I felt my face flame with anger. I had caught the King’s attention. He kissed the girls hands and put them from him. He rose up and Eamon started to stop him. Alistair bent down and spoke a few words to Eamon. Ser Alec stepped forward to guard his back. Alistair’s whole guard moved with him, forming a semi-circle around him. The King was accessible to his countrymen but the King was also guarded.
He turned his head to look at me once again; he also glanced to Leliana who was talking and laughing with the lute player and accepting coins. Drinks were being served to the band. I grabbed mine where the serving wench had placed it on the harpsichord lid and I gulped it down in one shot. Well that hit the spot. Fire burned all the way to my belly. The warmth from the port was welcome; my children however protested the potent liquid and the liquor almost came back up. I swallowed hard. I felt a wave of dizziness hit me.
I keep glancing over my shoulder and Alistair was stopping to talk with average folks in The Pearl. Sailors and merchants and he keep glancing in our direction. He was going to come over here. Leliana stepped over to me and dropped something in my lap. I looked down my hands still on the keys just playing the cords that matched the current song the lute player was singing. Leliana had dropped small balls of cotton in my lap. I was puzzled at first then it hit me. I grabbed the balls of cotton taking my left hand off of the bass keys. I turned my head and stuffed the cotton inside my mouth. With my tongue I moved the cotton around in my mouth, one in each check. I hoped I had them far back enough in my mouth for them not to be seen if I was asked to speak. Where in the hell had she gotten cotton balls?
I turned my head back around and the sight that greeted me was the King himself standing next to the instrument I was seated at, watching me play. He was leaning back against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest and his feet crossed looking totally relaxed and at ease.
“You play very well and I’m guessing you have been trained to play the classics.”
I didn’t dare look up.
I just nodded my head yes.
“Might I ask where you learned?”
I swallowed hard once more.
“My grandsire was tutor to Bann Loren Sire.”
“You know who I am?”
“I’m sure all of Denerim knows who you are by now Sire.”
It was difficult trying to talk with cotton in my mouth.
“I guess your right about that.”
“Would you mind if I ask a personal question?”
“If you wish Sire, ask it.”
“Why are your eyes covered?”
“My eyes are scarred Sire and I would not make others uncomfortable in seeing them.” “My scars are most hideous to look upon.”
“What happened if you don’t mind me asking?”
“A mage burned them with a fireball, Sire.”
I shrugged my shoulders and keep my hands moving on the keys.
“Did the Templars catch the mage?”
“No he got away, I was told when I wake up from my injuries.”
“I heard he was later discovered at Redcliffe and he is no more, some trouble at Redcliffe I heard.”
“Yes, he was captured at Redcliffe and Arl Eamon had him hanged for his crimes.”
“That is good Sire, that he won’t be able to hurt anyone else.”
Alistair continued to watch me play and was watching my hands.
“You have studied for years to learn to play so?” I wasn’t sure if it was a question or a statement of observation.
I just nodded my head yes and keep my head down looking at the keys.
“Perhaps you’d be willing to play at my court sometime?”
“I appreciate the offer Sire and it would be an honor, but we’re only here earning coin to make our journey to Kirkwall.”
“I hope you change your mind on Kirkwall?”
“Oh, why is that Sire?”
“I’m getting reports that our people are not being treated well in Kirkwall as refugees.”
“I hope you plan on doing something about that Sire.”
“In time yes, for now, my priority will be for the people here in Denerim and Ferelden.”
“A wise decision Sire.”
The music changed to a slow soft ballad which Leliana was signing and I followed the flow changing the cords and I played softly. I placed my foot on the peddle of the harpsichord to stop the resonance of the music coming from the instrument. Where in the world had Sanga found a harpsichord?
“You do that very well with little effort?”
I looked at him and he smiled at me.
“Many years and hours of practice Your Highness.”
“Very few people have the luxury of learning such an instrument, most high born ladies are taught to play.”
I didn’t respond but keep playing.
“Are you a high born lady fallen on hard times?”
I stiffened. I looked up and Alistair had his eyebrow raised waiting for my answer. He was still leaning against the wall looking totally relaxed.
“Your eye patches are Orleasian made as well and he glanced over at Leliana.”
“Our new king follows Orleasian fashion does he, I said with a sneer.”
Alistair’s eyes flashed back to mine.
“I don’t think your court will be pleased to hear that.” I couldn’t seem to help myself from saying that.
Alistair clamped his right hand on my wrist hard and I stopped playing. I heard Leliana’s intake of breath. I also heard Alistair’s guard step closer to him. The King and I looked at each other. He took his foot and kicked my stool back from the harpsichord.
The next thing I knew I was being lifted and swung over the King’s left shoulder to gales of laughter. Alistair turned to cheers in the room. He slapped my bottom with his hand. The crowd awarded him with more cheers of approval. His hand on my romp connected with a wallop and I gasped out. I knew Alistair’s reflexes were fast but I never realized how fast he could be. He was one of the fastest warriors I’d ever seen and in his footwork and shield defense. I had to grab his belt through his armor to help me hang on. I knew he wouldn’t drop me of that I was certain.
“I hope you all don’t mind but I’ve found a most pleasing little bird to sing for me in private and I’ll retire to my private room to enjoy her good company for a time.”
I was struggling to get down and more laughter followed. Cheers and advice were being offered to the King on how to plow a trough as he strolled off with me to his private room and he motioned for Alec to take Leliana in hand. My face was on fire from embarrassment. My hair and the large wig were hiding my face from the crowd.
I was still struggling in his arms. His arm around my legs tightened.
He slapped me on my romp again harder than before and I grunted.” “Be still my lady or I’ll spank you right here in front of everyone for defying me and do you wish your brother embarrassed as well.”
I immediately went very still in his arms and he chuckled. I was furious. How did he figure out it was me and Leliana?
He placed his hand on my rear as he stepped through the door of the common room into the private hallway. A flash of heat went through my body from his hand on my bottom. His touch always did that to me. He had placed his hand on my bottom like he had a right to touch me still.
Alistair carried me into his private room and dumped me on the bed. I landed hard with my arms and legs flung out. I scrambled to get up into a sitting position and the wig on my head was cock-eyed. He grabbed it off of my head taking some of my hair with it in his fury; he tossed the wig across the room. The daggers inside the wig had cut some of my hair. We both heard the small daggers clatter as they hit the wood floor where the wig had fallen.
“Ow,” I screeched as I rubbed the top of my head.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
My black hair was hanging in my eyes and the eye patches also were cockeyed on my face and I reached up and jerked them off, flinging them onto the bed next to me.
I glanced at the door as Alec was bringing Leliana into the room. Ser Alex glanced at me quickly with a smirk on his face. I slapped the bed in fury at being caught.
Alistair turned to Alec “Show Mistress Leliana back to the common room and if she wishes to continue to sing for her supper allow her to do so, don’t allow her to leave until I question her which will be awhile Alec.” Alec nodded to Alistair. “I’m not to be disturbed Alec.”
Leliana and I looked at each other. She was held in Ser Alec’s grasp and I half lying on Alistair’s bed. Her eyes were asking me what I wanted to do. I looked away from her which meant just sit tight for now.
“I don’t think Arl Eamon is pleased Highness.”
“He’ll get over it Alec I’m sure.” “Alec, don’t tell Eamon it’s the Warden Commander.”
“As you wish Highness,”
Alec took Leliana by the arm and left the room with her closing the door behind him. Alistair and I both heard his guards take up position outside of his room. He walked over and threw the bolt locking us both in his room. There would be no escape for me now unless I thought of something. I couldn’t tell him the truth. I heard footsteps on the roof above us, more of the king’s guard on roof. The roof was out then if I could get out of this room.
Alistair turned back to me with his hands on his hips and fury full in his face. He was angrier than I’d ever seen him before. Warden King and Warden Commander both pissed off at each other and the red heat of the taint coiled through both of them and coming off both of them in waves. The room inside the pearl was bathed in the red glow of their taint. Both of them were the only ones who could see the steams of red swirling around both of them. Warden to Warden.
The king spoke through clenched teeth.
“Bellavalia, explain yourself, and it better be one of the best stories I’ve ever heard in my life or I swear…..