disclaimer type=standard

Anything you recognise is Bioware's. I daresay anything else belongs to them too.

/disclaimer

o_ooo000ooo_o

The battle was over.

Faren Brosca grunted with effort as he tugged hard on his axe handle. Instead of coming free with a grisly slurp, it just pulled the head it was buried in off the stone parapet. He'd hit the talkative darkspawn pretty hard there at the end. The blade was stuck hard in the skull.

The tattooed dwarf rolled his eyes and decided that pulling harder to free it wasn't worth the effort. Faren hefted the warhammer he wielded in his left hand, and smashed it down on the side of the darkspawn corpse's skull. The thick bone shattered under the powerful blow, releasing the axe blade.

The dwarf grinned with satisfaction, wiped the axe-blade on the corpse's leg, and stowed the weapons on his back.

The talkative thing with the facepaint had actually been a challenge. It had taken quite a bit of punishment to put it down, and Faren had taken hits that would have flattened most other warriors. It had been a while since he'd had a challenge. Not since the top of Fort Draken. The archdemon. He'd nearly been that bloody dragon's dinner more than once. He could vividly remember the awful breath and teeth clamping down. It had only been his exceptional armour that had saved him. Armour that no duster would normally ever dream of owning.

Oghren slapped him on the shoulder, bellowing some congratulations and drawing Faren back to the present. There was work to be done. Important work.

Faren dropped to one knee and efficiently stripped the corpse of everything remotely of value. The sword was a quality weapon, but beyond the coins in its pockets, there was little else of interest.

"Er, is that really necessary, Commander?" the human called Mhairi asked him.

Faren snorted, clearing his sinuses and spat a gob of phlegm over the battlements. "You ever had to go without eating for three days?" he asked pointedly.

She blinked at his vehemence, but shook her head.

He grunted, but gave her a nod. "Then keep your sodding opinions about what's necessary to yourself."

The woman swallowed and blinked a few times, but stood rigidly at attention and said, "Yes, Commander."

Faren sighed. It was second nature to any duster to loot every corpse you came across. It wasn't theft, not if the body was cold. It seemed that those of higher castes didn't get that when you don't know where your next meal was coming from, as sure as diamond didn't waste a single opportunity. "Don't sweat it," he grumbled, feeling unaccustomedly ashamed at his words. After all, the woman had proved herself a competent warrior and comrade during the fight with the darkspawn. She had missed a lot of opportunities to finish fights quickly; her training had obviously been flavoured with all that honour and rules-of-war nugshit.

Still, once he and Oghren had knocked all the nobility and sense of fair play out of her head, she'd be a true scrapper worthy of the name. She'd be kicking balls and biting off ears in no time.

"I've gone without eating for three days," the flaky mage with a feather fixation offered cheerfully. "I didn't enjoy it all that much."

Faren gave him a foul look. The fellow had introduced himself as Anders, and while he had decent muscles on him, he carried a sodding stick instead of a decent sword or axe. And he either wouldn't or couldn't swing it at the darkspawn to save his life. Sure, he could cast magic, but in Faren's experience, there wasn't anything that magic could kill that couldn't be taken down with an axe and his muscles. Magic was a crutch the weak relied on.

Anyway, the mage smelled of soap! What sort of self-respecting warrior bathed with soap?

"Pity it wasn't longer," Faren growled at him.

Oghren barked a laugh and punched the mage on the bicep. "Don't mind him," he said. "The only mage he knows was a bitch who pissed off before we turned the archdemon into paste."

"Oh? Anyone I'd know?"

Faren barked a humourless laugh. "Ha! Doubt it. The bitch hailed from the Wilds in the south. She'd never been inside your sodding Circle before we cleaned it out."

"Cleaned it..." Anders faltered. "You were there at the Circle for the Rite of Annulment?"

Faren spat, rose to his feet and gave the darkspawn corpse an absentminded kick. "Aye. Sodding mess it was. Them mages went crazy, and that old chap in the dress was too scared to do anything about it but run away."

Anders frowned. "Old chap? In a dress? You mean Irving, the First Enchanter?"

Oghren gave an ugly laugh. "Nay! The flaky bugger in the purple kilt. Greagoir!"

Anders made a face. "Oh. Him."

"Aye," Faren retorted with a nod in Oghren's direction, in the same tone of voice. "That's him. Useless bastard. Still, with no more mage ladies to waste their time perving on, he ordered his men to help out with the Blight. Some of them weren't completely useless."

"Not many," Oghren opined with a dismissive snort.

"I'll grant that," Faren conceded. "Even the Pike Twirler was a bit surprised at how shitty most were. Still, they served all right as fodder."

"Fodder?" Anders asked weakly.

"Aye," the duster said with a nasty grin. "We let the 'spawn waste time and effort tearing them apart while me, Oghren and some friends got to the big bitch on top of that tower."

Anders looked a bit uncertain. "Yesterday, I overheard Biff complaining about how badly his friends were treated by the Wardens. He even claimed that he was going to get even with them – er, you – but that might have been bravado." He looked at Brosca curiously. "Did you really deliberately kill some templars in the battle with the archdemon? There are rumours, but no one who actually knows is talking."

Faren shrugged nonchalantly. "Aye. Three of them were surrounded by a bunch of about a dozen 'spawn; pinned down on top of Fort Draken. I turned a ballista on them and fired it. Took out three darkspawn mages and a heap of others with one shot, and only lost three of those boys." He gave another shrug. "Result, I say."

Mhairi paled, and Anders' mouth dropped open. "You fired on your own allies just to kill some darkspawn?"

Faren gave the most evil grin Anders had ever seen. "If you're not willing to fire on your own allies, you're not willing to win."

Oghren's nasty laugh echoed across the parapet at the expressions on the human pair's faces.

There was little to say after that. An old chap in battered armour who'd been rescued by the Wardens turned out to be the Keep's seneschal. As he introduced himself to Brosca, Mhairi turned back to Oghren and cleared her throat. "Er, excuse me Oghren, who is the 'Pike Twirler'?"


"See that nancy-boy in the sparkly armour?" Oghren said as the group observed the approach of the armed column of men. "That's the Pike Twirler."

Mhairi craned her head to see, and suddenly gasped. Her mouth opened and closed a few times before she managed some actual words. "That- that's the King! King Alistair! He's the..." she clapped a hand over her mouth, her expression mortified at her near brush with mild treason.

Faren grunted. "Aye. Good lad. Takes orders. One of the best I've seen with a sword, human or dwarf. Saw him nut an ogre once."

Anders blinked. "Nut? As in, butt heads?"

"Aye. Nearly killed him, of course; he doesn't have a dwarf's skull. But you've just got to respect that level of ambition. I had to give him points for trying."

Mhairi looked at the approaching royal person with a much different expression.

The two dwarfs met the King of Ferelden with a shocking lack of decorum, but from the royal expression, there didn't seem to be any resentment at the greeting. Indeed, the casual insults exchanged conveyed a good deal of mutual respect with no tension in the air.

Right up until a templar stormed up from the rear of the royal column and demanded that the mage Anders be arrested. Faren didn't seem too worried at the idea, though it seemed to pain the King.

"Well, there is one way to sort this out," Alistair said with a pointed look at Faren.

The duster gave him a blank look before his expression brightened considerably. "Aye! There is that, isn't there!"

Faren turned to face Rylock. "I hereby invoke the Right of Conscription!" he announced.

Rylock gasped. "You can't!"

Faren grinned nastily at her. "Can. Did. It's done."

Rylock spun to face Anders. "I won't let you escape justice, murderer!"

Several people exploded into a babbling mess of voices. "Not your concern any more, little lady," Faren countered, raising his voice above the cacophony. "Now get inside, we'll get you Joined quick smart."

There was a short moment of complete, stunned silence.

"What?" Alistair said, confusion radiating from him like heat from a furnace. "You're conscripting the templar?"

Faren blinked. "'Course I am. Why?"

"I didn't mean..." the King began before being interrupted.

"I refuse!" Rylock screeched. "I have taken holy vows that cannot be broken! I will not be turned from my course by a filthy-"

She spun in a complete circle and hit the ground. Faren's fist had blurred.

"Never disobey me," he growled through a snarl; low, deep and malicious. Everyone took a step back in the face of the dwarf's menacing tone. Even Oghren leaned back a bit.

Anders stood still, looking from terrifying dwarf warrior to crumpled templar form. He didn't seem to know whether to laugh or flinch. "I, er..." he stammered.

Faren just started talking over the top of him, not even bothering to tell the mage to shut up. "Oghren, get little miss prissy inside. I'll deal with her later."

"Right ya are," the red-haired dwarf said, grabbing a leg.

Alistair cleared his throat. "You're not going to conscript the mage?"

Faren looked at the King as though he was an imbecile. "What for?"

"I just thought, well, that he and his magic might be more useful than..." he trailed off with a helpless shrug.

Faren stared pointedly at him. "Than what? A bag of nug shit? Thanks, but no thanks. I need people who know what end of a sword to hold. Look, thanks for dropping by, it's been great. Now sod off so I can get back to work, yeah? I've got too much to do to waste time gabbing with some stuck-up bastard playing king."

And with those parting words, the Warden-Commander turned and marched off towards the keep, leaving Oghren, Mhairi and Varel to sheepishly follow along, dragging their newest recruit.

King Alistair opened and closed his mouth a few times, but eventually settled for, "Right. Well, he hasn't changed a bit. And it looks like he has things in hand. Let's be off, Captain."

"At once, Your Majesty!" the soldier next to him replied with a salute.

The royal column marched away from the keep, leaving a bewildered and speechless mage standing all alone.

"Er," Anders said nervously, looking around at the empty air surrounding him. "What just happened?"

o_ooo000ooo_o

AN: This little bunny was the brainchild off a conversation between Isabeau of Greenlea and myself around the broad outline for her next fic. We were discussing how little changes could have big impacts on events in the DA universe.