Alistair laid on his bunk in the templar barracks, following the cracks in the ceiling as he had done for countless nights since coming here. The barracks were empty except for him. Classes, training, sparring practice, had all been canceled for the Warden Commander of Ferelden had come to choose a recruit from among the templars to join the Grey Wardens and a tournament was being held to display the best that the Chantry had to offer.
Templars from all over Ferelden had come including probably the three best warriors the Chantry had. Ser Kalvin of Denerim, Ser Eryhn, a woman from Highever, and Ser Talrew of Lothering. Any templar that wished to could compete, but initiates had to be granted permission from Knight-Commader Glavin. Several had asked and been permitted to compete. Alistair had asked, nearly begged to be allowed to enter the tournament but his request had been flatly denied.
He had been so angry, furious in fact, which in retrospect hadn't helped his cause any. He wanted so badly to compete, wanted to be given at least the chance to be recruited and get out of this place, wanted to do anything but be a templar. And, well... saving the world from darkspawn sounded like a pretty good option. Besides becoming a Grey Warden was a great honor. It wasn't that he wasn't good enough to compete at that that level. He was. He knew that and so did the Knight-Commander. He was the best warrior of all the initiates and he wasn't being allowed to compete. Why? Because he wanted to, that's why.
It was a punishment, and he knew it. The Knight-Commander had found something he wanted, something he cared about, something to take away from him. Alistair had gotten used to the frequent corporal punishment and actually liked working in the kitchen. There was nothing they could do or threaten to do to make him submit and behave. They could not send him home in disgrace, he had no home to go to and no family honor to uphold. He was a trouble maker, willful, obstinate and not worthy of being a templar but he was the best they had. He wanted out so they were going to make sure he stayed. If he had been content here, a good initiate who never caused trouble, they would let him go with a happy heart but now they held on to him with spite. He tried to explain the irony of what they were doing but they didn't care. This was payback for years of disobedience and disrespect. It was vengeful and petty and there wasn't anything he could do about it.
He heard the horn, the tournament was about to start. He should stay here, refused to be a part of it, show they hadn't beaten him but they had and they all knew it. And he did want to see the matches. He begrudeningly got up and made his way to the courtyard.
He walked around watching the fights. He fought the rising anger at seeing those fight he knew he could best. He found where the knights were competing but he had gotten there too late to get close enough to see them. Then he thought he heard his name called. He looked around and saw the Knight-Commander motioning for him to approach. Fantastic! he thought. They weren't even going to let him watch.
Next to the Knight-Commander was a man, dark skinned, black hair, Rivani. He had a calm demeanor, serious, but kind too somehow. That must be the Grey Warden, he thought. Great. He gets called out in front of the Warden Commander of Ferelden, destroying any small chance he had of ever being recruited. This day just couldn't get any better.
The Knight-Commander looked as though he had taken a bite of spoiled meat. He sighed and said "The Warden Commander wants to see you fight. Go get your gear and try not to embarrass all of us." At least, that's what Alistair thought he said, but it was so incredible that he really didn't believe it. Alistair looked back and forth between the two men. The Warden Commander smiled and nodded to him.
Alistair turned and ran out of the courtyard and over several people on his way back to the barracks. He had to get his gear before the Knight-Commander changed his mind. He charged through the doors, running through the halls back to the armory. He grabbed his set of medium grade splintmail. It was only grey iron and he was going to be at a distinct disadvantage since most of the templars fought in their plate armor and the initiates had been given heavy armor to compete in. But he'd just have to be better. He buckled himself into the armor, grabbed a wooden templar kite shield and a simple iron sword and ran back to the courtyard.
He forced his way through the crowd of onlookers and combatants to the templar in charge of the matches. "I get to fight!" He blurted out. The templar looked at him suspiciously. "Knight-Commander said so. See look." He pointed to where the Knight-Commander sat with the Grey Warden who nodded to the templar. Alistair heard protests from some of the others that he had already missed the first round and shouldn't be allowed to enter the competition. But he didn't care, this was his chance and he didn't intend to waste it. The templar looked over the list of the remaining fighters and pointed to one of the areas designed for the matches.
Rules made clear: This was a skill contest. The match was over when either one party conceded or was dealt what in the judges' opinion would be a killing blow. His first match would be against another initiate, the fourth son of a minor noble in the bannorn. At least it's better than being a bastard, he was wont to say. We'll see, Alistair thought, this isn't sparring practice. Alistair blocked several showy blows, let his opponent feel good about pummeling him and then struck quickly and with force at the first opportunity. The judges reluctantly called the match. The other initiate protested but all three judges agreed. Alistair extended his hand but the initiate refused it. Alistair had expected as much and for the most part didn't care. He faked devastation at the slight. There were chuckles from the crowd. Alistair looked up to see if the Grey Warden had seen his victory and to his great surprise, he had.
The next match was against a templar in full massive armor, who seemed almost insulted that he was being asked to fight an initiate. Alistair was patient and good at his chosen discipline. He blocked the blows he had to and avoided those he could. He was quicker in the lighter armor and would tire less easily. He could afford to wait and let the templar wear himself out, let him get frustrated by his lack of success, let him seethe at the indignity of not being able to dispatch such an unworthy opponent. Alistair could play the waiting game, watch... and wait... for the right... opportunity and then... strike. Alistair swung his sword, just hard enough to get his attention and then bashed him with the shield, knocking him back. Before the templar could recover his footing, Alistair followed it up with another bash. Then he changed targets and went after the templar’s sword. A stunning blow to the templar's wrist and he dropped it. The templar tried to retreat, to regroup and recover his weapon but Alistair in the lighter armor was too quick. Another blow brought him to his knees. The match was called. There was some light applause and again he extended his hand but the templar refused. Alistair shrugged to the crowd and then, while trying not to be obvious about it, checked to see if the Grey Warden was still watching him and to his surprise, he was.
The next match was another templar. This one fought with patience and skill. Alistair finally gained an edge and knocked the templar to his back, with his sword at his throat the match was called. Alistair again extended his hand and this time the templar took it. Alistair helped him to his feet."Good match. Best one I've had today, obviously." He smiled.
Alistair responded. "I got lucky."
"No," the templar said shaking his head. "I am man enough to admit when I have been bested by my betters. You are very good. Good luck to you."
Alistair fought several more matches and won them all and qualified to advanced to the next round. He was the only initiate still in the competition. Over and over and match after match, he bested each opponent. Finally there were only four combatants left: Ser Kalvin of Denerim, Ser Eryhn of Highever, Ser Talrow of Lothering and him.
His first match of the final round was with Ser Kalvin. He tried to keep up with the flurry of strikes, many he blocked, several to the great surprise of Ser Kalvin but there were too many and too fast. He realized he couldn't beat him but was determined to last as long as possible. Finally he felt the knight's blade at his throat and the match was called. He extended his hand to Alistair who shook it. "Well fought." he said.
"Thank you." Alistair responded.
"You're good, very good. It was an honor." He said.
"Yes, thank you, you too. I mean it was an honor for me as well." The knight smiled and walked away.
His next match was with Ser Eryhn. Alistair knew that he had to win at least one match to even be considered for recruitment but given the competition that seemed highly unlikely. As the match began, he knew immediately he was outmatched but wanted to make a good showing. He tried attack after attack but couldn't get any blow to land. He fell back into a defensive stance and waited for an opening that never came. After several tries, he was finally knocked back and the match called. She walked over to him as he regained his footing. She extended her hand and he shook it. "Quite a match there. I'm impressed and I don't say that often."
"Thank you." He replied.
"You have talent and skill and the intelligence to use both. Most any idiot can pick up a sword and a shield and figure out how to block with the one and strike with the other, but true mastery of the discipline takes, talent, study, time and hard work. You show a great deal of potential, keep working at it. Maker watch over you." She smiled and walked away.
The last match was with Ser Talrow of Lothering. It was a grueling battle of attrition that he knew he couldn't win. Finally, exhausted, he took one more blow than he was able and collapsed to the ground. The match was called. He had lost the three final matches and no doubt any chance he had at being recruited. He tried to get up but couldn't. "Stay down." He heard the knight say. "Take deep, slow breaths. Don't try to stand ‘till breathing is normal and your vision clears." Alistair took several deep breaths and then as he tried to stand the knight picked him up from under his arms and raised him to his feet.
"Good match. I was almost worried." The knight smiled. "What's your name again? Alastin?"
"Alistiar" Alistair was finally able to say.
"I'll remember that, no doubt I'll hear it again someday. Maker guide your steps, lad." He said.
Alistair’s whole body hurt. He stiffly walked over to the edge of the courtyard and sat down and then fell back upon the ground. Soon the Knight-Commander would announce the winner and who the recruit would be. He knew it was useless but he prayed anyway. As hard as he ever had in his life. He doubted the Maker would answer such a prayer but he prayed anyway.
He opened his eyes and saw the Knight-Commander and the Grey Warden approach and slowly got to his feet.
"Here is your recruit." the Knight-Commander said with obvious distaste.
Alistair looked to him and then to the Grey Warden and blurted out "But I didn't win the tournament!"
The Grey Warden said "I did not ask for the tournament, nor did I offer recruitment as its prize. I came here seeking a warrior of character and I believe I have found him"
Alistair was taken back and stood there with his mouth hanging open. 'Warrior of character' that sounded a lot better than 'troublemaker with willful streak' that's for sure. Finally the Grey Warden said "Why don't you go collect your things. We leave immediately." Alistair nodded and as quickly as he was able made his way to the barracks.
He went to his bunk. He looked through his things. There was so little there, few pairs of socks and small clothes, couple change of clothes. He didn't even really want to risk taking the time to change. Figured if they really wanted the old rusty splintmail and now cracked shield he would let them have them and walk out of this place naked. He put his hand under the pillow and pulled out a book he had long ago borrowed from the monastery's library Tales of Calenhad. He put it on the bed and then took off his initiate's amulet and threw it next to it. He grabbed his pack and made his way to the front doors.
As he approached he heard voices talking and whoever they were, they were not happy. It was the Grey Warden and another voice, female... the Grand Cleric... Alistair felt his heart sink. He turned the corner and saw the Grey Warden standing facing the Grand Cleric who had not only a few templars behind her but several members of the Denerim city guard. This was not good.
He stepped up and heard the Grey Warden say, "I do not see the problem. I requested permission to choose a recruit from among the ranks of the templars. The tournament was held for that purpose."
"But you were not given permission to choose an initiate." she said. Oh no, Alistair couldn't believe it. She wasn't going to stop him, not now.
"If that was an issue why were other initiates allowed to compete?" He asked.
The Grand Cleric had no answer and said "He was not to be allowed to compete."
"Why? It would seem that since he made it to the final round he had more than enough skill and talent." He stopped letting the Grand Cleric know that he knew she had no answer, or at least no answer she wanted to give.
"You would interfere with a templar's duty to the Maker, to protect his world from magic." The Grand Cleric said trying to change the focus of the conversation.
"The duty of the Grey Wardens is the greatest in the Maker's world for if we fail it will not matter if magic is unsanctioned or not for the world itself will fall. When a Blight comes, will the templars be willing to stand against the might of a darkspawn hoard and fight an archdemon. For if they wish to take on that responsibility I will gladly retire today."
"There has not been a Blight in over 400 years." The Grand Cleric said.
"So that means there will not be another one?” Duncan said. “For that is the same thing that was said after the First Blight, the Second Blight and the Third Blight, but each time another came, and each time only the Grey Wardens stood against it."
The Grand Cleric looked to Alistair and said "I will not allow his recruitment." Alistair was crushed. He started to speak, to beg if he had to, but the Grey Warden grabbed his arm. "Then you leave me no choice." Duncan said. "I will conscript him."
Her eyes widened. "What?"
"I have the right given to the Grey Wardens by King Maric to conscript anyone I choose into the Grey Wardens." Alistair realized that the Grey Warden had pulled rank on the Grank Cleric. There was nothing more respected in Ferelden than the name of the king who had freed it from the Orleasians. He could see the soldiers waiver, as willing as they had been to obey the word of the Grand Cleric, they may not be so willing to go against the will of the king.
"You would... risk... do that." She said obviously surprised.
"That I take such a drastic measure should prove to you how much I believe that he will serve the Maker better as a Grey Warden than a templar." Alistair could tell she was fuming. She decided to change tactics and turned her attention to him.
"Alistair, is this what you truly wish?" She said.
Duncan spoke up "It does not matter what he wishes. I have conscripted him. He has no choice in the matter." Alistair knew that the Grey Warden was taking the fight and the responsibility on himself. He knew that Alistair wanted to leave, wanted to be recruited. He had faced and stood up to the Grand Cleric, risked her wrath to help him. No one had ever done anything like that for him... ever.
The Grand Cleric knew she had lost and didn't like it but she had no choice. If the Warden Commander was willing to push the issue she knew that Cailan would uphold the order of his father. She addressed Alistair. "If you are to go, I must ask one thing of you. You are not yet a templar, you have not yet taken your final vows. One of those vows is an oath to the Maker that you will never reveal templar secrets to anyone. It is vital to the security and safety of all templars that these secrets are not revealed. So I must ask that you give me your word, your solemn promise before the Maker that you will never reveal any templar secrets to anyone... not even to the Grey Wardens."
Alistair looked to Duncan, who slightly nodded to him. He looked back to the Grand Cleric and croaked "Yes, I give you my word."
She looked appeased and said dismissively "Then good luck and Maker watch over you." She walked away.
"Come." the Grey Warden said. They walked by the guards and out of the chantry's door. "By the way," The Grey Warden said as they stepped into the evening air. "My name is Duncan."