Author's notes: Welcome to my first one-shot!
This is a tie-in with Crown of Thorns. I was thinking about what the protagonist of that tale would have been like as a kid and what sort of a relationship he would have with Trian, long before they actually had their falling out. Note that this is, in fact, something that genuinely happened in the backstory to my epic-length tale.
"-. A guide to the proper use for nugs, Use 21: Terrorization.-"
King Maric was starting to feel a bit tense. When he received the missive saying he had been invited to the Grand Provings being held in honor of Prince Trian's 10'th birthday and his official introduction to the nobles as Heir to the Throne, Maric had, needless to say, instantly formed an idea of what he could expect. He did assume there would be some semblance of protocol associated with the event, but most of the images his mind conjured up included some form of duel or another. As such, he had been looking forward to the event up until he, his son Cailan and his royal escort entered the Diamond Quarter.
That was when he found out just what kind of protocol dwarves actually practiced. Apparently, there were many rules of conduct and things that needed to be taken care of before the actual Provings were even held. And while the fights had, indeed, been quite interesting, enough so that he still had the vivid memory of Cailan wanting to jump out of his seat because of excitement, what followed afterwards was far from matching it in terms of how interesting it was.
Basically, the Grand Provings were followed by the high feast that was being held in honor of King Endrin and Queen Errinne's firstborn son.
And it was as annoying as it was boring.
Maric had lost count of how many times he had shift in his armchair, and the only thing he was even more worried about was that Cailan had apparently shifted even more, to the point where he was outright fidgeting (he was sitting in an armchair next to him). Currently, they were in the Throne Room, at the head of the table on to the right of the two thrones, on which the King and Queen sat and kept giving greetings to all the noble family heads that had yet to finish streaming into the chamber.
Of course, he king of the recently-freed Ferelden could well see that the noble dwarves themselves were in their element, what with all their gossiping and ale drinking and double speak. But that was the problem, while they seemed to be having casual conversations, everyone kept eyeing each-other in very odd ways, as though they were constantly plotting something. And the whole thing made Maric feel a sour taste in his mouth because it seemed very... Orlesian, although the silver lining was how that led to imagining Loghain with a look on his face as though he had just chewed on an entire lemon.
The human sovereign decided to focus his attention on King Endrin and his wife. The former was sitting on his appropriately intricate throne in an appropriately solemn posture and wearing an appropriately ornate royal vestment. Like most dwarves, he had a fairly muscular build and Maric's trained eye could spot the hints of chainmail woven in between the silk fabrics of his clothes. His nose was a bit on the larger side, but that somehow did not seem to take away from his so-called appeal and actually fit in quite well with his long and elaborately-trimmed beard, arranged with several braids. His hair was mostly white, but with remnants of what once was golden hair.
Then, there was the Queen, and she seemed to be the only person whose air of majesty was not just an appearance. While all the other lords and ladies had their own measure of lordly countenance about them, it still seemed like they were wearing it as a sort of vest that would come off once they went home. Queen Errinne, on the other hand, practically emanated it as she sat there, next to her husband, effortlessly matching his stern appearance with her grace. She had her black hair tied up in a single bun at the back of her head and her green eyes surveyed the entire scene in front of her with a calm vigilance. She wore a long dress made of blue-dyed silk and had a silver-colored scarf around her neck, with cyan embroidery on both ends. Her nose was free of the hugeness factor that her husband and a few other lords, especially one Bemot if Maric remembered right, displayed with what could only be an unexpectedly high degree of pride.
And again, Maric started to feel bored and had to put everything he could in preventing himself from yawning while also sending stern looks in Cailan's direction, to keep him behaved as well. And all the while, he found himself wishing for something outworldly to happen if only to just break that air of rigidity that permeated the entire hall.
And a dwarven woman squeaked in fright.
Maric instantly turned to face the direction where that squeak had originated, much in the same immediate fashion as everyone else in that chamber, only to see a female noble frantically trembling after she had raised her feet on her chair. Then, the woman next to her at the table screamed in fear as something seemed to hit against her legs and chair. Then, another chair almost stumbled, along with the noble on it.
"Paragons! What's happening over there?" one lord Meino cried out, just before the table cloth, which reached as low as the floor, was disturbed by something.
And there were screams.
There was something alive under the table, and it was running around and hitting everything. Another woman screamed, then a man jumped from his seat and almost sent the huge armchair toppling over as he made to back away, only to look down and be unable to prevent himself from having his eyes widen in horror at seeing his boots and pants covered in a worrisomely red set of fresh stains.
And then another bump was heard, and the creature burst out from under that table, sending the tablecloth fluttering and revealing that it had been soiled with a frighteningly large red splotch.
Everyone gasped with differing degrees of horror, except the monarchs who just looked slightly flabbergasted. What followed was a series of unintelligible sounds, like snorts and pig sounds mixed with the kind of noises made by a mole when caught above ground.
What had burst out from under the table, an had left half of the dozens of noble in varying degrees of shock, was an indistinguishable red blur that only cut off its panicked charge when it reached the very middle of the room. There, it stopped abruptly, tough it slid on the stone floor about half a foot at lost its balance, slipping on the red fluid it was covered in and rolling over once before regaining its balance. And when it did, it seemed to realize that about eighty heads were staring at it from all directions, so it quivered in fear and started snorting and nipping, and squealing in a very odd way.
It seemed to look like a sort of combination between a mouse, a rabbit and a pig, or so Maric thought. He could not tell for certain, however, because it was completely covered in a thick layer of red yet oddly concentrated and even sticky red liquid.
"By the ancestors! Is that a nug? And it's covered in blood?"
Maric could not tell which of the dwarves asked that question because the creature seemed to be set off by that shout and panicked.
And before anyone could react, it quivered again.
A few moments later, a few women fainted and everyone else recoiled in either shock, disgust or fear, or a mix of all three.
For the beast had shaken its entire body with all its might and splattered the fluid it was covered in all directions with such force that none but a few had escaped the unholy shower. In fact, only the King and Queen escaped unblemished because they were behind said creature and the very wet assault of red had somehow not gone off in their direction. The way they were both massaging their foreheads in aggravation hinted at the fact that they may actually have an inkling of who had caused that entire chaos.
Maric looked at his ceremonial armor, now splattered with red drops, and then glanced in Cailan's direction, who seemed quite taken aback, though he had managed to duck under the table just before the spray and had avoided being covered in that substance. An seeing how no one looked ready to do anything, the human King slowly got up from his chair and quaintly walked towards that creature, which seemed frozen in fear again and squeaked periodically. It was probably best that he put the poor beast out of its misery as soon as possible. But Maric's advance was halted when he touched the hilt of the sword that rested on his side.
"Hey! Don't hurt Squip!"
74 heads (the other six belonged to the six women who had fainted) suddenly darted towards the entrance, only to meet the sight of a small dwarf, smaller than all the others in that room.
It was a very diminutive dwarf child, dressed in a white silk blouse and loose-fitting trousers, and he wore a pair of sandals. His forehead, Maric guessed, probably reached no higher than his own knee. He had slightly unruly, spiked blond hair and, physically, looked a bit skinny overall, at least compared to others of his kind. He lacked the large nose that many of his kin displayed, and his forehead was fairly wide compared to theirs as well. His face was more or less round and was completed by a pair of very deep, dark blue eyes that were locked onto the gaze of king Maric and had not blinked since he had demanded that the beast of chaos, which the child himself had probably unleashed, be left unharmed.
Maric thought of Rowan and figured she would have probably found that kid adorable, if not for the very harsh glare he was sending his way right now.
There was an awkward silence.
"Step. Away. From. Squip, you meanie!" the child again demanded as he frowned and his lower lip came forward in a very prominent pout. One would think he'd be at least a bit intimidated by that gigantic human.
And while that whole occurrence only left everyone staring in stunned silence, the creature covered in red seemed to snap out of its fright and instantly turned around and scrambled away, until it was lost underneath the other table, from which all guests promptly jumped away with the expected set of exclamations that ranged from undignified to outright terrified.
The human almost missed Queen Errinne's chuckle but turned his head in the monarchs' direction in time to see Endrin shaking his head in despodency.
And then, the silence was finally broken by a random noble that could not contain his outrage as he was fanning his unconscious wife.
"What kind of disturbed brat would send a blood-covered nug into the feasthall?"
"That would be my son," Endrin's voice was heard, bearing a very sharp and unforgiving edge, or so Maric thought. Sure enough, the glare sent by the Dwarven King in the rash deshyr's direction was enough to make him flinch. On the other hand, the aforementioned child also seemed to shrink as his father's gaze switched to him.
Instantly, the boy was made to notice that he was inside a throne room, now also serving as a feast hall, filled with about 80 people that were glaring at him in unison. He seemed to waver for a moment, but he clenched his fists tight and raised his chin in defiance, though he seemed to regard his parents with a sort of uneasy anticipation.
Maric knew Endrin was probably torn between his duty to his people, which would probably imply having to publicly reprimand his child, and his love as a parent, so he decided to try and help him out if possible by trying to steer the conversation around at least a little.
"So, is he your firstborn that was going to make his first public appearance today?"
Endrin's response came slowly enough for the human to spare the young prince a glance and see his eyebrow raised in surprise.
"No, that is my second eldest in fact," Endrin answered with a sigh. He had gotten up from his throne and was looking at the boy with narrowed eyes.
Then, a female servant, probably the child's governess, ran into the room and froze in her tracks when she saw what she had gotten herself into. Needless to say, she promptly started to apologize.
"Forgive me, your majesty, I had him out of my sight for just a moment and then he was gone."
"Indeed? Is your task not to see to the wellbeing and best behavior of my son in my absence?" the Queen asked with a raised eyebrow, and the servant clasped her hands together, becoming unexpectedly self-conscious.
"F-Forgive me, my Queen, I was at fault. Please don't punish him for my blunder."
Maric realized that the royal family was probably trying to turn her into a scapegoat in order to salvage the situation and not have to openly reprimand their son in front of the noble houses. By the looks of it, the servant girl had actually been schooled in preparation for such a situation. He did not exactly agree with such a move, but he did understand that Endrin and Errinne were trying to prevent themselves and their House from appearing weak or unable to deal with the tantrums of just one child, even if he was one of the three princes.
But the boy would have none of it. "Hey! You always say 'don't tell lies' so why are you lying now?"
"Young master, please don't push this," the woman pleaded. "This has already gone too far."
"But it's not fair! This masker prank is mine! I spent the whole past two weeks planning it!"
There was a pause before the boy realized what he had just blurted out. His shoulders slumped deep just then and he slowly turned back in the direction of his parents.
"What kind of prank is a blood-covered nug? What did you do? Stab it and let it squirm and run amok while you watched with sadistic glee?" lord Dugan Lantena almost spat between his gritted teeth.
Endrin looked like it was taking everything he had not to snap at that noble, though he seemed just as ready to start on his son.
The boy, on the other hand, looked genuinely puzzled, which meant he either had no idea what blood was or was simply totally oblivious to the red spots and stains that covered all the people and furniture in that chamber. "What blood?"
"This blood, whelp!" Dugan spat, throwing a red-stained cloth on the floor in front of the boy, the same cloth he had used to wipe the 'blood' off his still fainted wife's face.
"I will remind you that the one you referred to as whelp is still my son," the Queen harshly spoke, much to the man's chagrin.
The child scowled in a very odd way for a seven year-old and looked up at Dugan with an amazingly innocent look on his face. "But... That's not blood ser..."
Maric wondered if the dwarves knew about the analogy about a silence deep enough that one couldn't hear a fly. (Did flies even exist in Orzammar?) Then, he looked down on the drops of red fluid that still stuck to his armor and had something akin to an epiphany. He used his fingers to take some of it to his mouth and taste it. Some of the other guests covered their mouths in revulsion, but that wouldn't last.
"Hmm," the human realized. "Cherry jam."
"Of course it's cherry jam!" the boy protested, completely (and probably on purpose) oblivious to the disbelieving look that his apparent governess, as well as roughly half the people in that room, were sending him. "Blood would have been gross... and totally not creative!"
"Cherry jam?" one of the lesser nobles asked in confusion, though by now everyone seemed to have taken a taste of the substance and were displaying unequal degrees of realization on their faces.
"What are cherries?" another one asked, causing Maric to roll his eyes.
And that set the child off. "Oh, cherries are awesome! They're this really cool fruit from the surface! And they grow in t- tris.. trees, trees, yeah that's it, trees. Trees are really big and are like these huge, growing stones that get bigger and bigger and split into more, long sticks, branches, whatever those are, and then they grow bits of green parchment on their pointy ends, hundreds of them each! I only read about them in books and saw just a few drawings of them, but they're so awesome! And the cherries are like these little beads that are actually soft and squishy, but you have to be careful because there's this hard part in the middle that can hurt your teeth if you bite too hard. Anyway, cherries are really cool and they can turn into this really tasty stuff if you boil them with a lot of sugar and-"
"And you just felt you had to pour a whole jar of it over an innocent nug and unleash it upon our guests?" his mother asked with a straight face, which made it clear to Maric that she was merely covering off the river of amusement that boiled on the inside.
"Son, one of these days you really have to learn that there is such a thing as a limit before your pranks start seriously hurting those around you," Endrin continued, though it was obvious that much would not be enough of a public lecture to satisfy some of the nobles that were just waiting to pose as victims of 'such indignity.'
"But you always say how good things should be shared... And Squip and I were careful! And no one was actually hurt..." the boy shyly said. He also let his face contort into a puppy dog eyes impression that was so perfect and, Maker help us all, cute that Maric could only pray to the higher powers that they make it impossible for Cailan to duplicate. Lord knew that if Cailan ever learned to pout like that he would have him, his father that is, at his every whim.
And that seemed to go for the dwarven monarchs as well, because their faces had actually softened, to the point where it was unclear what would happen.
But the mystery was promptly dispelled when the chaos beast known as the cherry jam-covered nug, whose name was Squip, once again burst out from under the table, this time making for the exit...
...Only to slip past everyone and end up charging straight into what looked like a red velvet cape that had come out of nowhere.
Of course, it had not actually come out of nowhere. It had been skillfully thrown directly in the nug's path. The animal had then promptly lost balance and ended up trapped under that cape, which a certain someone had quickly intercepted and gathered around the beast in the shape of a bag.
The newcomer was another dwarven young man, one that even had some resemblance to the first one that appeared. He was significantly taller, however, and looked to have a much more robust build. His hair had more or less the same golden color, but his nose was as large, proportionate to his face at least, as Endrin's. His eyes were also blue, albeit a lighter shade, though still brilliant. As for his clothing, he looked to have been dressed for the occasion, with a velvet, specially-tailored suit, colored a mixture of gold and scarlet.
Presently, he was tying up the 'bag' he had improvised with the belt he used to have around his waist, and he did all that with the completely straight face of someone who had plenty of experience in dealing with the other child's mischief.
"Of all the pranks you ever pulled, little brother, this one tops them all," he told the other boy in a scolding tone as he let the 'bag' out of his grasp. And even though the creature inside that bag was struggling comically, giving out the occasional squeal, the sight did not seem to take away the attention that Prince Trian had garnered upon so skillfully neutralizing his little brother's minion.
And the other boy, oddly enough, became incredibly subdued and he bowed his head. "Hello big brother..."
"Is that all you have to say for yourself?" Trian harshly followed as he stopped a foot in front of his little brother and crossed his arms in front of him. "Have you so little respect for our parents that you would go so far as to risk bringing shame upon our house by doing something like this?"
Maric could only feel awe at how dutiful that boy was acting, even though he was just ten years-old. He briefly wished Cailan would pick up some of that behavior and not the other boy's pranking tendency.
"Well?" the firstborn pressed."Are you so caught up in your games that you found nothing wrong with giving our guests a scare big enough that they actually fainted?"
Queen Errinne let herself fall back on her throne and began to display an unparalleled skill in concealing her laughter behind a river of feigned coughs.
Trian didn't seem to get it though. "See what your games led to? Now mother isn't feeling well. Are you proud of yourself?"
The boy instantly caved. "No, big brother..."
The eldest seemed to assess his honesty for a moment and appeared to judge his admission as genuine. "Good enough. Now apologize to everyone."
Maric was amazed at the fact that the previous perfect puppy dog eyes expression was not the best one in the second eldest prince's arsenal. The look he had put on right now, complete with a heart-rending gaze and almost teary eyes, was unlike any he had ever seen.
Which made Trian's follow-up line all the more unexpected, considering that practically everyone who was at a good enough angle to see the second son's look was on the verge of going 'awwww.'
"Oh please, you know that look never works on me," the firstborn said with absolutely nothing out of place on his face except a raised eyebrow.
"I said apologize."
"... yes, big brother."
The boy with slightly unruly hair turned around to face as many people as he could.
"And say it like you mean it," Trian sternly suggested.
The other child sighed before lifting his eyes to look his audience straight in the face. "I'm sorry," he said faintly, sounding actually sincere, but that only made his next words have the same effect as a hammer over the head of everyone that was listening, mostly because they sounded not only formal but totally rehearsed many times beforehand.
And Maric could only try and fail to get his mind around how odd the next speech sounded coming from the voice of a seven year-old. He was well aware that dwarves were a naturally more precocious race, as was proven by how that 12 year-old kid had defeated his father in the Provings earlier, but he had never expected such words to be spoken by a kid that was barely taller than a human babe.
Apparently, neither did everyone else, because they looked like they had lost use of their brain functions, so stumped they were staring at him as he begun. "I realize that my actions may have brought shame upon our house and our family and am more than willing to assume full responsibility for them." He looked his mother and father straight in the yes. "And so I hereby state that I will not stand by and allow someone else to be made my scapegoat."
Endrin actually raised an eyebrow.
But the prince went on. "I will accept whatever punishment is agreed upon by my parents or whoever else they may decide to delegate that responsibility to. I hope you all will not take the behavior I displayed today into account when considering future relations with House Aeducan."
The second son finished his speech with a curt bow after which he turned to face his older brother. "Was that good?" he asked, his shyness returning.
"By the Stone, little brother, how many times did you rehearse that? Why did you feel the need to rehearse that?" Trian actually sounded a bit concerned.
"But you and mom and dad, and Lord Harrowmont, always say it's best to be prepared for anything..."
And that was when Trian finally couldn't stop himself from rubbing his eyes. "You know, little brother, instead of being prepared to give an apology speech for the pranks you also prepare beforehand, you could just not do those pranks and everything would be so much easier."
"But, but, but..." it was incredible how that young boy's composure had crumbled upon the arrival of his brother even though he had practically stared down a room full of angry people and both of his parents until just a few minutes ago.
"I know I'll probably regret asking this, but what?" Trian asked.
"But... scaring grownups is fun!"
There was a very long pause.
Until the smaller child broke it again.
"You know it's true!" His face had once again mixed a pout with a frown. Apparently, he had not lost his composure after all.
Trian stared at him every bit as dumbstruck as everyone else, since there really was no way anyone could actually argue with that kind of logic, until he sighed in slight exasperation. "Be that as it may..." he tuned out the mixed reactions of the audience, "Wait... You can't have put together that speech on your own. Just who wrote it for you? Don't tell me you have an accomplice among the servants." He eyed the second child's governess with suspicion, as did everyone else.
"She had nothing to do with this!" the younger boy instantly shouted. "I, uh... asked Lord Harrowmont to give me an example of a formal speech of the kind used when making compromises during one of the lessons on protocol last month and I... modified it... a little..."
Since Pyral Harrowmont was at the head of the table opposite the one that Maric had been sitting in, it was predictable that all confounded stares would fall on him.
"But he had no idea I actually had an ulterior reason for asking for one!" the boy was quick to add, making Maric wonder how it was that he actually knew what 'ulterior motive' meant. Actually, just being able to pronounce that properly was a chore in itself at that age.
Trian had had enough. "Little brother... You're grounded."
His sibling gaped and his eyes were unreasonably shiny, as though tears were welling up. "... Really?"
"Yes!" the elder said as he grabbed him by the wrist. "Mother, father, my 'introduction' is overdue, but I suppose our guests can wait for a time while I go and deal with his troublemaker, yes?"
The king and queen merely nodded, so Trian spun around and dragged the other one after him, both of them letting out just a few more words before disappearing through the doors.
"Ancestor's beard, little brother, what am I going to do with you?"
"I still think the prank was cool..."
"That's not the point!"
"Wait... you mean you thought it was cool too?"
"Oh, Stone's mercy, shut up and behave yourself before you ruin the rest of my day."
And, much to everyone's awe, the younger boy's voice turned sincerely apologetic. "I'm sorry, big brother, I really didn't mean to ruin your special day..."
Train stopped in his tracks and turned to look at him before a heaved a sigh. "I know, but I just said you would do it anyway if you didn't shut up. So shut up. You're giving me a headache."
"Yes, big brother."
And they were finally gone.
Maric looked at Cailan, who had a look on his face that said only something along the lines of "I wish I had brothers like them." The human King could definitely understand that sentiment. Then, he looked around from his higher point of view and saw that whoever had fainted had since gotten their bearings and understood that the red substance was actually cherry jam.
And when he finally looked at the king, he noticed that the corner of his mouth was twitching, as was that of his wife.
So Maric did the noble thing and burst out laughing, and then so did the king and queen, and then the nobles joined in, until everyone in that room was laughing themselves to tears. There may have been some that were more reluctant to give way to their amusement, but it didn't take long for them to cave in. Laughter was contagious after all.
"My apologies, King Maric," Endrin said while still struggling to bring his laughter under control. "I imagine this was not what you had expected when you got my invitation."
"Those kids will really be something when they grow up," lord Meino said, wiping a tear away.
"I think I'll be more careful when his highness has any more unusually reasonable requests," Harrowmont said tiredly.
"So... that was your firstborn?" the human asked the dwarven monarch, still laughing.
"That he was Indeed."
"Well, if he was actually able to put that second child of yours in line so easily, I imagine he shouldn't have too much trouble ruling when he grows up."
Practically everyone in that room perked up at that and actually seemed to realize that that had actually made a great deal of sense.
No one even considered that this may have all been part of a much more intricate ploy.
Trian led his little brother away from the chamber with very hurried steps, nodding at the palace guards that they should give the two of them some space. After turning along the corridors a few times, they reached an alcove. That was when he pulled his sibling aside and saw that he had a very sour look on his face.
And the younger one spoke hesitantly. "Am I in trouble?"
The elder didn't know exactly what look he had put on his face but he knew it was the appropriate reaction to that totally stupid question. "What, you mean more than usual? I haven't yet decided."
The boy sagged. This was going to be very complicated.
"Little brother... what was that? That wasn't just one of your usual pranks, it was too big, even for you."
"I... well... I just... I'm sorry..." He started fidgeting, and that was also something very unusual in Trian's eyes.
So he breathed deeply. He needed to be careful here. "Why during my day of all days? Did I do something to upset you somehow?"
"No! That's not... I mean it's... No I..."
Trian could only ask himself why his brother was panicking. "Well excuse me but I really don't see why you would do this precisely on my tenth birthday which also happens to be the day I get introduced to the heads of the other noble houses in my status as Crown Prince."
"I... I just wanted to help..." he said weakly, staring at the ground.
And that only left his elder staring in confusion. "You... set loose a nug covered in cherry jam upon the noble family heads, knowing that everyone would assume it was blood, on this particular day... because you wanted to help me?"
"That doesn't make any sense!"
"Yes it does! I mean... sort of... I wanted to make you look good..."
"... That still doesn't make any sense! How did that help me look good? Stone, little brother, sometimes I wonder if I'll ever understand what's going on in that head of yours." Trian did not immediately realize that he was rubbing his eyes.
"Stop saying that and just explain yourself already."
"I... well... I overheard mom and dad talking about how they weren't sure how everyone would react to you so I... Well..."
"Just say it."
"But you won't believe me," he pouted, looking genuinely sad.
"I'm going to keep you here until you spit it out. Now let's hear it!" Trian wasn't exactly eager to use his hard edge of voice but it really couldn't be helped.
The younger one mumbled something that his elder brother didn't quite catch.
"I didn't hear you..."
"I thought you'd make a good first impression if you showed them you could handle a no good demon spawn like me..."
There was an uncomfortable silence.
Trian wasn't exactly stupefied by the fact that his little brother had actually conjured up such a convoluted plot even though he was only seven. He didn't even realize just how intricate that scheme had actually been and that some grownups wouldn't have even gotten close to pulling off something of the sort. Of course, that kid could have very well invented this excuse on this very spot, but that would have made it just as amazing. But Trian wasn't exactly among the most perceptive of people so that escaped him too. The firstborn also did not exactly take the time to acknowledge the fact that, if what had been said was true, then his brother had just deliberately gotten himself publicly ostracized just for his sake.
What really bothered Trian were those last words.
"No good demon spawn..." he echoed, his eyes wider. "Where did you hear that? Little brother, why would you think of yourself like that?"
The boy flinched and stared at his big brother with startled eyes for a moment before averting his gaze.
"Tell me," Trian commanded.
"I... it's nothing reall-"
"I said tell me," he ordered again, to which the other one instantly straightened up.
"... I was sneaking around the palace, like I often do, and I overheard... someone saying... something... No, please big brother, I don't want to repeat it-"
"Tell me exactly what whoever it was said."
"... They said that I'm just a no good demon spawn that's always causing trouble and... and..."
Trian really didn't like the fact that his brother looked like he wanted to cry but he really had to find out what had happened, so he gently put one hand on his shoulder and used the other to ruffle his hair. "It's okay, little brother, you can tell me."
And that was the first time, as far as Trian remembered anyway, that his sibling actually kept his eyes shut while talking to him. "They said that... when we grew up, you and Bhelen would end up wanting to get me out of the way for all the trouble I'd have put you through if... If I didn't get you two out of the way first."
And Trian could only pray to the Ancestors that his sibling didn't understand what 'getting someone out of the way' meant.
"They meant I'd want to... to hurt you... to kill you, didn't they...?"
Trian swore whoever said that about his little brother would pay. Soon. But he somehow missed his cue to speak up and allay his brother's fears.
"Big brother... I... is there... there's something wrong with me, isn't there..."
At last, that helped him snap out of his daze. "Don't ever think that! There's nothing wrong with you and there never was. Now... who was it that said that?"
"I don't want to say... I don't want people to get in trouble because of me."
Trian bit his tongue before saying he put people in trouble with his pranks on a daily basis. "You wouldn't let your nanny get punished in your stead and those people still say those things..."
"I don't want to say. I want some time, to hear if they talk like that again. I mean, maybe they're right and I really-"
And there was shock.
And a certain dark blue-eyed dwaven seven year-old was staring and blinking at a taller and more solid boy, whose mouth was now covered with both of his hands and whose eyes were the stark image of absolute stupefaction.
And the former spoke in awe. "Big brother... you were so incredibly awesome just now."
"Look, do me a favor an never, ever mention this to anyone, alright? And I'll appreciate it if slurring doesn't end up being one of the habits you pick up from me."
"Oh... Well, can I pick the habit up from someone else then?"
"Oh for the love of... Just keep quiet about this alright?"
"My lips are sealed, big brother," the younger one agreed, flashing a brilliant grin.
The first son of King Endrin let go of a breath he did not know he was holding before placing both hands on the other one's shoulders. "Look, I want you to understand that you're my little brother and nothing is ever going to change that, alright?"
That did lead to a smile but the reply was most unusual. "Okay... That really sounded like a cliche though..."
If there were onlookers, they would probably wonder if the older child was contemplating the meaning of the term 'silent as the grave.' It definitely took him a while to actually speak again. "I can't believe I'm asking you this, of all people, but... What does cliche even mean?"
And an eyebrow rose in surprise. "Oh... A cliche is when a certain motif gets overused in so many tales and situations that it gets annoyi- It's a motif that gets overused."
Trian decided to ignore the slip (which indirectly called him annoying) because there was something else he wanted to know. "Little brother... I never thought this would happen twice in the span of ten seconds, and definitely not in a conversation with a seven year-old, of whom I am three years the senior but... what does motif mean?"
And the child actually frowned and pouted at the same time. "A motif is an idea or something that shows up more than once in a story and is sort of important... Have you been dozing off during lord Harrowmont's lessons again?"
"I don't doze off!" he challenged in mild outrage, though his snort mostly ruined whatever believability his words had. "I don't think I'm even at the age I get to be taught this stuff, and I know you don't get that kind of lessons yet... what in the deeps have you been reading?"
"Just... stuff... From the books I got mom to get me from the Shaperate... and the surface merchants."
"Stuff... You've been reading stuff...?"
"Is it a bad thing?" the small one worriedly asked.
"I suppose not, but... I think I understand why people say those things about you..."
The eldest had to gather a lot of courage to say what he said next. "I guess they're jealous... because people can't help but feel completely stupid around you."
Trian wanted to kick himself. "That's not how I meant it. I didn't mean it's something you should apologize for. It's not your fault people get jealous of you because you're already smarter than most."
"Are you jealous of me too?"
That caught him off guard, and he could do naught but stare blankly because he wasn't sure himself. "A little... I think..." he eventually admitted with a thoughtful look on his face while looking at a random spot on the wall. That wall had become really interesting to look at all of a sudden.
And his little brother just stared into the bowels of the earth.
So the older one shook his head and ruffled his dear little brother's hair again, forcing him to look him in the eye. "Look, it's ok to be smart."
But the other one just looked even sadder. "I really wish I was big and strong like you instead."
And that got Trian to raise an eyebrow. "What, like people can't be both smart and strong? Are you calling me stupid?"
"I didn't! I meant I... I'm sorry..."
Trian was amazed at how his little brother could make people feel guilty. He could only wonder if he wasn't maybe doing it on purpose. He was just too good at it "That was meant as a joke."
"Damn, little brother, why does your sense of humor seem to die around me? Or is mine really that bad?"
"How am I supposed to know the answer to that, Trian? I'm seven."
"Well beg your pardon, but it's really easy to forget that about you."
"That was a compliment."
"Well, why didn't you say anything then?"
The big brother groaned. "You're impossible! You can debate for hours with your tutors, you can outsmart everyone I know, you just pranked everyone worth knowing in Orzammar, you even talked down father once, of all people, and you basically get mother to go along with everything you set your mind on. And you do it all with that wide grin on your face. So why is it that you seem so... quiet and uneasy around me?"
"I... just don't want you to hate me..."
If he was any more perceptive, Trian would have been annoyed at how long it had taken him to put the pieces together. "What those bastards said really got to you, didn't it?"
"How long have you been holding that in?"
"... a while."
"And you're really not going to tell me who they were?"
The young boy just shook his head.
"Alright, then we'll compromise." He saw his brother perk up, so he made sure to use his most stern tone. "Promise me that if you hear anyone say that again, you'll come tell me what it was and who said it straight away."
There was an uneasy silence, but the concession eventually came. "Okay... I promise."
At last, the eldest let himself smile widely for once. "That's my good little brother. And you'd better give up on the thought of me ever hating you because that is just never going to happen. Now come on," he put his arm around his shoulder and drew him close before starting to walk again.
"Are you sure? Isn't everyone waiting for you in there?"
Trian tried not to let his face soften because of how cute his little brother looked as he stared up at him. He failed of course. "They can wait until I walk my little brother to his room."
And there was a very brilliant smile on the small boy's face. "Thanks, big brother, you're the greatest!"
"You know, it's kind of sad that you're practically telling me I'm the greatest big brother in the world for grounding you to your room."
"... I'm sorry."
And once again, Trian wanted to kick himself. He had gotten the confirmation that his little brother really didn't make people feel guilty on purpose... which was even more troubling because he did it anyway, and it was a really... scary skill to have. "Will you stop saying that? That was supposed to be a joke. I do know how to make jokes you know."
"Well beg your pardon but it's really easy to forget that about you."
Trian got the allusion to his previous words a bit too late but he did eventually feel glad that his sibling was finally loosening up around him. Unfortunately, by the time his frown eased up, the other one had already visibly shrunk.
So he decided he would definitely have to work on his sense of humor. After, of course, he talked to father and made sure to find out who it was that told those horrible things about his brother. After all, he didn't say he would keep quiet about it. And if the culprit wasn't found, then it was a simple matter of just changing all the servants in the castle. That sibling of his had just put himself on the line to help him put on a good show, even if it was in his own, twisted and disturbing way, and it was still uncertain if it had actually worked or just blown up horribly.
Regardless, his little brother would never have to hear anything like that again, not if he had anything to say about it.
"You're scowling, big brother. What are you thinking about?"
"Oh? Ah, nothing..."
"You know I can tell when people are lying," the young boy complained, eyeing him sideways.
"Fine, I am thinking about something, but it's a secret."
There was a raised eyebrow. "Oh. That's okay, I guess. After all, I have secrets too."
Trian did his best not to shudder at the grin that took being on the seven year-old's face just then. He didn't know why he felt so uneasy though.
And, as they walked over to the second eldest prince's quarters, the second son in question smiled with glee on the inside. He had pulled off his greatest prank ever and helped his brother out (it did work, right? He'd have to ask Harrowmont next time he had lessons with him. He always seemed easier to convince to talk about stuff like that than his elusive parents were). He had also finally been told there was nothing wrong with him (he had really needed someone to tell him that, and that it was Train that did it made it all the more interesting). And the cherry on the cake was the fact that he had actually managed to turn the world on its head... and still gotten off with just getting grounded to his room... which meant he had all the privacy he needed to put together his next, insidious prank.
In other words, everything had gone according to plan.
Now, next scheme was going to be particularly world-shaking, so he'd have to get Bhelen to help out. Little brother always did seem a bit reluctant but it was clear as the lava warming the city that he had as much liking for mischief as he did.
And all the while, Trian could only wonder why his little brother had that overly pleased look on his face even though he was going to be under house arrest for a while. Basically, the firstborn son of king Endrin, Heir to House Aeducan and Crown Prince of Orzammar, couldn't shake the feeling that he was actually missing something...