Guarded Love

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Chapter 6: Roommates

Chamberlain Karelle, as Reiss later learned was her official title, whipped her so fast through sections of the palace there was no way the awestruck elf had a moment to catch what anything was. They paused at the stables, Karelle nodding once over at the kennels nestled in the back and a litter of pups yipping for attention. Reiss shook off her wandering fingers aching to pat soft heads and maybe sneak one out in her coat. She was here on business, a unimaginable one, but it was business. After that it was past the official royal guard training grounds where Karelle sized up the elf without tugging out a single measuring stick. She didn’t even work her hands around to try and surmise Reiss’ less than human proportions, only nodded once, and said that this was the best armor they had for now but something could be taken in.

It was the fanciest metal she’d ever been allowed to touch. During the Inquisition years, unless you were on the front lines or assumed to be, you made due with their boiled leathers and scraps of splint mail dug out of the back of Orlais’ armories. And even then, that was ten times better than what they suffered in as a Denerim guard. “Is this actual gold?” Reiss stuttered from the lines of shining yellow dipping down the breastplate and forming the Ferelden shield front and center.

Karelle shook it off, unimpressed with the splendor as she must see it every day. “It should suffice for now...” the chamberlain began, but Reiss waved it off. She’d been padding human armor to fit her ever since picking up a sword. This was no problem.

After returning the armor to a stand marked with her name, as well as selecting a few swords and a bow should something strange occur, Karelle looked up at the other royal guards shuffling inside. “It must be nearing on midnight if they are changing shifts. Perhaps it would be in our best interest if I show you where you will be sleeping.”

“Ah,” Reiss nodded. She began the day assuming she’d stand all afternoon in the baking sun waiting for nobles to shuffle out, and was going to end it being given a bed in the royal palace. Maker’s breath, this had to be some trick. Lunet would come rounding the corner and laugh herself silly at the look on Reiss’ shocked face.

Unaware of her turmoil, Karelle led her through a back path. All the other hallways bore sconces of gilded metal but these were brushed steel, with no paintings or rugs to spruce it up. Even the stone looked cheaper as if they barely hewed it from the earth before slapping it up. A servant’s entrance if she ever saw one. Catching her thoughts, Karelle said over her shoulder, “We often employ some of the older passages to get through the castle undisturbed.”

“Who would disturb you?” the woman trained as a solider then a guard, aka killer of all fun, asked.

“Any and all who think you can get them a moment of the King’s time. I rather suspect as people come to know your face you shall find yourself swamped with requests.” Karelle paused in the narrow staircase and turned back to face her, “Do try to use your best judgment with them. We don’t want any incidents occurring.”

“No, no, of course not,” Reiss nodded, fully lost. What did she mean by incidents? Did they think she was going to throw the doors open and invite in all the elves of the kingdom for one big party?

“Ah, here it is,” Karelle slid out of the staircase to heave open a plain, unassuming door which revealed the most decadent hallway Reiss had ever seen. Granted, the closest she came to Orlesian splendor involved the frozen, half rotted town of Sahrnia so perhaps they did it better. Instead of rich crimson and gold as bedecked most of Ferelden’s fancier decor, it was all a cobalt blue embedded into silver finishings giving the hall a crisp and more modern feel. Reiss reached a finger out to glance against the silver sconce, expecting it to be freezing to the touch. That was what the hall was -- like stepping inside a beautiful but terrifying glacier.

“Ahem,” Karelle coughed, shaking Reiss out of her thoughts.

“Right, sorry,” her head hung down as she scampered after the imposing chamberlain.

Walking down the empty hall Karelle continued in her booming voice that quieted for no one, “These are the King’s quarters. As you’ll no doubt note, they’re rather bereft.” She had no idea how bustling an honest to the Maker King’s bedroom should be, but even Declan had a few foot servants stand around near his bed for shits and giggles. It was strange that no one else rushed past. “People will arrive with schedules, laundry, on occasion snacks, but in general our Majesty is...peculiar, as you will no doubt learn.”

She said that often “No doubt learn.” Reiss felt like she was five years old again with her father about to toss her into the river where she’d either figure out swimming or drown. She screamed her head off, terrified of the water and certain that it’d tug her down to its depths without a second thought. But, of course, the minute she hit it survival took over and within about five minutes she was paddling from shore to shore in the creek barely three feet deep. If she’d stood up, she’d have been fine. Something in her soul told her this river she waded into was bottomless and one wrong stroke would doom her to the abyss.

“Ah, here it is,” Karelle paused at a door and Reiss expected her to open it, but she only pointed at it. “This is where the King often enters. He has three rooms at his disposal, though tends to only recline in two and the third contains, well...”

“I’ll no doubt learn,” Reiss interrupted, a laugh in her throat. Then she paled at interrupting the chamberlain and tried to apologize but the woman found it quaint.

“You two may get on after all,” she said, her finger knotted over her lips revealing a small ruby chip embedded into her nail. “I wanted you to familiarize yourself with this door. Beyond the servants, all of whom you shall meet tomorrow, no one else should enter this room without his Highness’ leave. Is that to be understood?”

“Yes, Ser,” Reiss nodded solemnly.

Karelle smiled at the Ser. “You will be sleeping near in case of an emergency, or long nights, or any other such matter the King may require your services for. He’s rather known for keeping late hours of his own accord.”

“All right,” Reiss tried to not imagine what the long hours all meant.

Stepping past the mythic King’s Bedroom door, Karelle walked her past another one seemingly connected to the quarters before stopping. She pulled a key out of her pocket and inserted it into the lock. Twisting it, Karelle pushed on the door revealing a unitarian room. A free standing vanity with basin sat across from her, Reiss watching her dark reflection in the mirror. Beside that was a bed; simple, sturdy blankets covering what was probably an old but well made mattress. To finish off the small room was a desk, its edges dark from age but someone took the time to add stacks of fresh vellum and an ink bottle to it, no doubt the chamberlain’s influence.

“For previous regimes, this was to be used for the King’s live in servant but he seemed to be of the opinion that that was of no need,” Karelle tipped her head, obviously in disagreement with that assessment.

“I’ll be staying here?” Reiss tried to not stutter, her fingers tracing over the desk as she stepped into the room.

Without a thought, Karelle whipped a flint out of her pocket and struck it upon a sconce on the wall. “For the time being. I admit, we’re not well prepared for this eventuality and the room is lacking in size, but I can supply you with anything you may require. A chest to hold your change of clothes is already being hunted for, and any books you would like to whittle away your down time with.”

Small? Reiss’ eyes wandered over every inch of the room, her mind all but screaming in shock. She’d shared a room half this size with her siblings and parents. In the Inquisition, the barracks -- while of a giving size -- housed a good fifty people at a time. And in the guardhouse, she was always sleeping behind a partition while other guards moved in and out on their shifts. This was the first time in her life that Reiss would have a bedroom all to herself. She was in such insane joy, the edges of her vision began to sparkle. Great, why not have a stroke right now, Reiss? That’ll be the perfect start to your new job.

“Regarding your salary,” Karelle began, yanking Reiss back to reality. Damn, she was terrible at this part. “Twenty-five Sovereigns to begin.”

“Twenty-five a month?” Reiss said. With the guards she pulled down twenty and that was without taking into account boarding she had to pay for. In the end it amounted to about 12, half of which then went to various amenities. An extra five Sovereigns would really help her.

“No,” Karelle shook her head, a hint of a smile turning up those flat lips, “Twenty-five a week.”

Yup, it’s okay to stroke out now. Just flop right onto the floor in total shock. Her ‘she was dead’ theory roared back to life as one half of Reiss’ brain screamed that was a hundred Sovereigns a month while the other gibbered something incoherent and pissed itself in the corner.

“You understand, I hope, that this is not a simple you head home at the end of the day job,” Karelle punched through her pink, fuzzy fog of joy. “The King will require constant protection until these monsters are found, and if anything gets through...”

There it was. Reiss knew it had to be waiting for her, that damn catch to trip her up and send her careening off the cliff. Of course, even if it was fully beyond her control, if she had to be in two places at once and failed, the first one they’d string up for endangering the King would be the elf. She nodded her head despondently, her moment of levity dampened by the heavy hand of duty.

“I expect you to act with the solemnity that comes with the uniform of a royal guard. Try to refrain from any cursing, spitting, sexual innuendos, or political statements while you are serving in the official capacity.”

In other words, have no life. Well, they picked the right elf for that job. She hadn’t had one of those in...since before the Blight, really. Nodding her head, Reiss saluted against her chest, “Yes, Ser.”

“That second door there,” Karelle stepped over and pushed it open, “leads to the King’s chambers. It will most likely remained locked and, of course, anything you overhear in there should be kept under the strictest of confidence.”

“Right,” Reiss bobbed her head.

“You are wondering why this room has two doors,” she said, smiling at the instincts percolating in Reiss’ head.

Reiss pointed first at the hall, then back to the King’s room, “Is it so...” That brain of hers, the one that often drug her into trouble whether she wanted it or not, spat out an answer, “if there is a certain situation occurring in his Lordship’s room I can return to mine without disturbing him?”

“Exactly as you say,” Karelle beamed. She seemed to be treating Reiss like a student that got a math problem right, or perhaps a small dog that learned to not wet the carpet. Either way, the patronization was beginning to wear on the elf. “And on the subject, if the King should bring someone of a feminine mystique back to his room you should not under any circumstances draw attention to it.”

Reiss nodded grimly, that order she was used to. Now if there were sheep involved... “Yes, Ser.”

“Excellent,” Karelle clapped her on the back, the giantess all but scattering Reiss to the floor. Maker’s Breath, how was she not the Commander of the guards? As the elf massaged her shoulder, trying to bring life back into it, the sound of shoes stepping across the floor drew her to glance out at the hallway.

The voice, however, came from behind her. “Fancy running into you here, roommate.”

Reiss whipped back to find the King standing in the doorway to...of course he was standing in the door to his chambers. It’s his bedroom, Reiss. He had his royal hands folded up against his chest, a smile that never seemed to slip away plastered on. “Karelle, how’d it go?”

“Fine, Sire. I believe she has things well in hand until the morrow when we can introduce her to the rest of the crew.”

The King nodded along, waiting for his chamberlain to finish speaking before asking, “Are you finished with her because I’d like to have a few words with the new bodyguard?”

“I...” for a moment Karelle’s eyes lingered over Reiss as if she was uncertain to push the baby bird out of the nest. “I am, your Highness.” Before turning away, Karelle rolled a key off her loop and pressed it into Reiss’ hand. “Welcome to the royal guards,” she said before turning on her heels and marching back to her own bed somewhere else in this gilded fortress.

Reiss’ fingers flexed over the key to her bedroom, trying to imprint it into her palm. Maker, this was the first time she’d ever been entrusted with a key. Even on the farm, the foreman was the one to lock them in at night for fear they’d all try to nick the silverware and run off into the night. As if you could sell cheap ass ceramic forks for anything more than a song.

“So,” the King began, drawing her away from the milestone. Dropping her hands to the side, Reiss stood at full attention. “Bit of a strange day for you. Me too, come to think of it. It’s okay,” he snickered, waving a hand at her, “you can calm down. We’re going to be stuck together for a lot of the day and I thought perhaps a little...” He waved his hands back and forth between them but she had no concept of what he wanted.

He tried a few more times, his hands increasing in tempo before falling slack and groaned out, “Getting to know one another.”

“Ah,” she didn’t anticipate that. Fellow soldiers in the Inquisition came to know her, some more than others, but rarely the commanding officers. They had their own friends in higher echelons to keep track of, those of the rank and file preferred to stay in their own stratum as it were. And Bann Declan had no use for anyone that wasn’t an Arl or greater. “You have already read my file, your Highness.”

“So I did, so I did,” he wafted back and forth on his toes uncertainly. “Lots of war stuff in there. A few mentions of helping little old ladies cross the street to beat up demon possessed chickens. Uh...” Reiss waited as patiently as possible while the King seemed to be struggling to put together his words. “Do you, um, have any children?”


“A husband, or wife, or someone waiting for you?”

Reiss tried to not roll her eyes at that thought, “No.”

“Good.” He smiled, drawing her eyes to him and an almost adorable panic crawled across his face. Lashing his fingers back to his forehead, he tugged his hair upward while shrugging, “Because, it would save on us having to send a runner to fetch them for reasons of making it all easier on everyone trying to sleep. And not for any other reason that it probably sounded like when I asked. Ha. Okay, truthy time from me. I’ve never had a personal bodyguard before.”

She tried to not chuckle at his obvious admittance. Folding her arms, Reiss glanced over at the man acting as if his shoes were two sizes too small. “I guessed as much.”

He shrugged, that lopsided almost dog-like smile knotting up his lips while Reiss mentally shook herself. Did she know that about him? How did she know that? Okay, he was acting like a fool, but people said that of the King often. And he seemed to have no concept of how to establish a line of command quickly, letting -- oh Maker -- someone like her talk back to him.

“I mean, Sire, I...”

At that he winced, “Right, first thing’s first, how about you call me Alistair? We’re going to be stuck together for Maker knows how long and I’d much prefer my name, as boringly common as it is, to any of the titles involving how tall or wide I am. The less said about the validity of my um, trouser contents, is...I really hate Sire.”

Reiss mouthed his name a moment but gave it no breath. “I...” Andraste’s flaming buttress, she wanted to obey his order but she knew in her gut she couldn’t. “I’m sorry, Si...your King. I don’t think it would be proper for someone of my station to refer to you so informally.”

“Why not?” he gasped shaking his head.

She knew this would probably be her downfall, snapping to a noble’s impossible demands was what elves were kept around for when not singing songs to get flowers to bloom or turning straw into gold. Bye bye her own room, so long more coin than she ever imagined possible. Unable to voice it, Reiss slowly ran a finger up the slope of her ear until knocking the tip forward out of her knotted hair. Arls could call the King by his name, no doubt some Banns would get away with it, but if she breathed anything other than total groveling it’d be an instant obliteration for her. She’d be branded the ‘uppity elf’ for life before she finished the third syllable in his name.

Her eyes darted away from the floor to catch his face softening into an almost bitter understanding. “Right, I get it. Don’t like it, but...okay.”

“What if...” She shifted back and forth on her boots, for the first time since walking to her assumed death feeling the blister on her pinkie toe, “what if I call you Ser?”

“Respectful, fancy but not stuffy, and technically correct,” he shrugged, “I see no downside. Ser works when you need to get my attention. I will on occasion answer to ‘Hey You’ and ‘Stop That!’”

Her lips broke open causing a laugh to tumble out of her throat. Maker’s breath, Reiss, this is your boss. No, this is your sovereign who could have your head cleaved off your body and stuck over the bridge if he was of a mind. Be serious. Solemn. That was the deal. She tried to wipe the laugh away and any hint of jocularity while the King’s eyes traveled away from her face. Reiss steadied herself for the once over she’d known since turning thirteen, but his eyes didn’t linger down her small chest or towards the even thinner hips.

He pointed at her and asked, “Do you have tape on your ears?”

Flames, she completely forgot. Her fingers rolled up her skin to nudge against the white tape she began the day with. “Yes, Ser.”

“Is this a new elf thing or personal preference?” He tried to lean closer without taking a step nearer as if attempting to honor the sovereignty of her room. Which seemed particularly stupid as it was his castle.

“No, I...” Reiss steadied her breath and tugged her hands down from the edge of the tape flaking free. She could deal with it later. “The city guard helmets are not designed with elves in mind, so our ears will often chafe and sometimes blister or worse. I tape it up to prevent that.”

“You,” he gasped, jabbing a finger at her while Reiss felt herself melting into a puddle at the attention. “Why didn’t anyone say something? We could get new helmets or...”

She should apologize instantly for making him agitated. Put all her sentences in the form of questions as if begging for permission. Internally, in the rarely delved smart part of her brain she knew that, but something in him brought out the old soldier that didn’t have time for niceties and needed to get that old lady to finish off the demon infested chicken. In a gruff voice Reiss explained, “There are only three elves in all of the city guards. Forging new helmets for so few of us would be expensive and, given the always lagging coffers, it didn’t seem prudent to become known as one of the complainers.”

“Does it hurt?” he said and she winced. No one ever asked her that. Certainly none of the other humans in her guardhouse no matter how often they’d watch Reiss and Lunet ripping off sections of tape with their teeth and trying to line it up in the mirror. Often, one or the other elves would signal when it’d fall off their skin and stick in hair.

“No,” Reiss lied, “I’ve grown used to it.”

“Well, royal guards don’t wear helmets so we can keep track of who’s coming and going. Which I should ask Ghaleb about later. Do you know him?”

“No, Sire...Ser. Sorry, it will take some time to adjust.”

“No problem, Ser Reiss,” he grinned a pure beam of sunshine upon her and for a moment she felt something flutter in her stomach.

“He’s our spymaster, everyone calls him weird. Okay, he is weird. Spymaster’s tend to be, but...” the King tapped his finger against the wall, his eyes darting past her shoulder to the hall. “The man you beheaded, the assassin...” Reiss nodded, remembering it well. That was a difficult thing to forget. “Do you know what happened to his head?”

“I,” she shook her head slowly, “I’m afraid not, Ser.”

The King threw his hand up and shook his head, “Maybe it’s not important, or I’m...Maker’s breath, I’m tired.” His head lolled down, trying to roll a knot out of his neck, “Beyond tired. This was a long day, one I hope to never repeat.”

“I shall endeavor to make that come true,” Reiss said, standing at attention.

For a moment the King’s head snapped up at her, a hint of a smile wafting away his exhaustion. “Thank you for that. And thank you for saving my ass,” he stuck his hand out and instinctively Reiss took it. “I mean it. I know there wasn’t much time in the thick of things and...”

“Ser,” she shook their hands again and then in true soldier fashion slugged him on the shoulder, “that’s what you pay me for.”

He laughed at her response, and more of that fluttering rose in her stomach. “I suppose I do. Okay, I’m going to go fall flat on my face on the bed. If you hear a scream in the morning, it’s one of the maids thinking I’m dead. They’re always doing that.” He turned to walk away before snapping a finger and whipped back around. “Ah, here, you should probably have this...”

The King pressed a second key into her hand, this one with a small crown decorating the top. “Ser?”

“For the door between us. I’m terrible about losing those things and you seem to be the responsible type.”

That was putting it mildly. “I try,” she said, already sliding the key in beside hers.

“Right, okay, goodnight Ser Reiss. We’ll dig into the real marrow tomorrow.”

“Sleep well, Ser,” she called out before the King shut their door between them. Weary feet shuffling over the stones, she could hear him moving deeper into his rooms alone until another door opened and closed cutting off all sound. For a moment, she thought about locking the door between them, but that seemed unwise at least until there was a reason. Instead, she closed the door to the hallway and slowly turned around in her room.

Her room.

Maker, she had a bed she didn’t have to share with her siblings, or the other farmhands stuffed into the same straw pile, or a gaggle of soldiers fighting for space on a pallet. Reiss’ ecstatic vision drifted up to the mirror where she caught a glimpse at herself. You look even worse than usual, and that’s saying something, Rat.

Her broken nose barely set when it happened a few months ago, leaving a swelling at the bridge she was coming to accept as normal. Mud from the training grounds, and smoke from the assassins stained her cheeks, but it was the tape that drew her attention. That damn tape that set her apart from the rest of the shems, trying to protect the part of her they rarely looked past.

Someone, most likely Karelle, was kind enough to leave water in the basin below the mirror. Reiss drew a finger across it; cold but not freezing. She’d suffered worse before. Sliding next to the fogged mirror, she twisted her head until she could see her ear from the edge of her eyes. Working a nail under the tape, Reiss slowly tugged it off. A sharp hiss of pain broke from her lips as she ripped off the layer of skin below. Dabbing the end of the cloth into the basin, she carefully scrubbed away the blood caked into the tips of her ears. They rarely looked this red, the day having involved more action than normal. Swelling puffed up under her skin, giving her an even more elven look than usual. The last time her tips were this red her sister was flicking at them with her fingers and calling her ‘turtle neck’ while Reiss kept dodging to get away. She hadn’t seen Atisha or her brother in such a long time.

Scarlett bloomed through the water basin as Reiss turned to tackle her second ear. Maker, what would either of them think of her here in the palace working for the King? To even have elves as servants was unheard of for royalty. They were so well off they didn’t need to slum the alienages for their foot maidens or whatever they were called. Not just any servant, not just any guard, but the personal bodyguard.

Reiss wiped off as much of her blood as she could manage, leaving the raw and oozing skin to heal in the exposed air. She thought the Inquisition was her salvation once. It offered her a job, a bed, and a surprising number of friends. And then she went and ruined it all because didn’t matter. In the end it was her choice, she did it, and she’d been scraping by ever since wishing she had someway to correct her biggest mistake.

Maybe, just maybe, for once the Maker’s looking out for you, Reiss.

Metal sliding against leather dug through the fog of sleep and straight into Reiss’ sore ears. She sat up, her fingers searching for the blade she kept stashed under her pallet. Ambushes weren’t common in the camps but this far out on the road they could...could. Her fumbling hand pushed down upon a mattress, a real one stuffed with feathers and not straw. Quickly, the past day snapped back at her and she tried to not groan at her first foolish assumption that she was back with the Inquisition.

Sometimes her fellow guards would think it funny to wake the elf by trying to cover the tips of her ears in cream. That stopped when she sat bolt upright, grabbed what she thought was a red templar’s throat, and shoved him into the wall. Ever since then people tended to give a wider berth to Reiss when she slumbered.

This is the castle, remember. Palace. Whatever they call it. The fancy one on the hill in Denerim. She snickered, realizing she’d have to learn its proper name in order to send out any letters. Though ‘Where the King lives’ would probably work just as well. And you’re here because...

Another sound echoed through the night, muffled but the distinct crunch of sword digging into wood.

Because you’re the King’s blighted bodyguard!

Reiss leaped out of her bed, her feet smacking into the floor. She’d tossed off her trousers before sleep but there wasn’t time to put them back on. Instead, she unearthed her short sword off the belt and tugged back on the door between their rooms. No screams of the male and dying variety broke the air and she breathed a sigh of relief. It would be just like you to fail within not even twelve hours of your new job.

Lamplight from one of the old glass ones used by night patrolmen cast shadows along the wall. One in particular moved outside of the flame’s dance, a sword extended in its hand as it advanced towards something on the other side of the room. Gripping tight and trying to not think about how she was in her smalls and a training tunic that was more stain than not, Reiss inched closer towards the potential attacker come to finish off the King. If she was quick, he wouldn’t see her. Dropping down her sleeve, Reiss planned to jam it into his mouth to muffle the screams. No reason to go alerting any other potential assassins.

Fancy furniture of the chifforobe and armoire type stood in the way, providing a strange maze for Reiss to navigate. She flattened up to the edge of one of those mabari statues that littered all of Denerim. At nearly seven feet tall, it easily hid her form as she waited for the opportunity to strike. The shadow stepped closer and closer to its target, to the exact left of her, leaving its back exposed.

Gripping tighter to her sword, Reiss made a step to move out when blonde hair whipped backwards. She froze in the shadows, her brain filling in the rest. The King, for reasons unknown, was stripped to the waist while running with a rather plain sword at something further inside the room. He didn’t spot her, thank the Maker for that, even as he stood with chest heaving a few feet away. His focus was upon whatever dummy or piece of royal furniture he got it in his head to destroy, while Reiss’ was, well...

Maker, those were gorgeous shoulders. Lunet gave her constant grief for her fascination with that part of the male anatomy. As she’d often put it, “What could one possibly find interesting in shoulders? They’re lumps of muscle atop arms.” The bad ones, sure, but when you got the right set like a taut ball dipping forward and back as the arm sliced through the air, something in Reiss awakened. She didn’t care much about stomachs, or asses (though Lunet could talk her pointed ears off about them), but Andraste’s holy pyre did she ache to dig her nails into the right kind of shoulders.

Something of a gasp broke her lustful concentration, causing Reiss to notice a few scars decorated the King’s chest and one in particular against those tempting shoulders. Still unaware of his audience, the King dropped his bastard sword down and wiped at his forehead with the back of a forearm. Whipping the arm away to shake it dry, he turned to glare at the practice dummy. Certain that his attention was too focused to see her, Reiss inched nearer to spot one that looked like it belonged in her guardhouse. Simple, stuffed with straw, the arms were knotted on by rope and hooks. Only a cheap wooden crown perched on its head made it appear any different. Three throwing knives were embedded into its chest while another dozen littered the ground.

Rolling his shoulders back, the King stood at attention. His stance, normally knock kneed and uncertain, fell into perfect formation. With right foot forward and left back, he lifted the sword high and charged at the dummy. It was a massacre, straw spilling to the floor in clumps as the King cried out incoherently. “I...Am...Tired...Why can I ever-? Just fix it...Ahhh!” Tumbling out of his hands, the sword clattered to the ground, metal echoing against stone as it rolled back and forth. The King knotted what she saw were red and swollen knuckles in his hair and tugged upward. Moaning, he dropped to his knees, the hands he’d no doubt been wailing upon the dummy with earlier collapsing to the ground.

You shouldn’t be seeing this.

Reiss knew in her heart that this was supposed to be a private moment, the King showing weakness in the only way he knew how. But, some silly stupid part of her wanted to reach out and help him, as if he wouldn’t rear back, wipe the tears away with his bloody knuckles, and then shout her out of Denerim for thinking he ever cracked.

“Damn it,” Alistair breathed, the tears evident in his broken voice. “Damn it all.”

Slowly, Reiss slid back from the King, certain that there weren’t any assassins leaping through the windows about to finish him off. She could have explained what drew her out of her room, maybe he’d even understand, but...this was wrong. Too personal and private. And she’d been gawping at his half naked body no less.

Scowling at her ineptitude and lack of decorum, Reiss slithered towards her room. Before she closed the door, she watched the shadow across the wall. It staggered to its feet, bent over to snatch up the dropped sword, and then picked up the dummy’s hand to shake it for a well fought match. Terrified the King might catch her, Reiss closed her door -- muffling the final click -- but she stood beside the wood listening. No more sounds of battle filled the night, he seemed to have worked it out of his system.


Reiss heard her mother’s words ringing in her head, first ordered to her when she was only seven years old and wanted to play with a neighbor boy.

Don’t get involved with shems. It never ends well for the knife-ear.

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