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Dogs of War, Dogs of Peace [Solo, Complete]

Alistair Theirin

King of Ferelden
Canon Character
Noble
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
97
#1
((OOC - 9 Justinian, 35 Dragon; Morning))

Elena had agreed to keep Arwen occupied today while Alistair took Bran and Peter to a holding a short ride away from Cousland Castle. He'd promised his nephew a mabari, and while Arwen had reluctantly accepted his decree that she was too young yet, he had no interest in having his resolve tested by puppy eyes from both his niece and a puppy.

Peter already had one, and had accepted with amusing gravity when Alistair had asked him to come along as the voice of experience. Donal, Hicks and Hudson accompanied them, and the ride was a pleasant one, with the excited voices of young boys rising in the warm morning air.

As the farmhold came into sight, their presence was announced: three deep barks, then silence. Bran's eyes went as round as saucers, and he pointed in delight at the massive shape silhouetted on a rise, flanked by two slightly smaller shadows. After a moment, the sentinels vanished, only to reappear a stone's throw from the road to pace the new arrivals for the last leg of the journey: a burly brindle male as tall as a dwarf and very nearly as broad, and two slightly smaller bitches, one brindle and one tan with a dark face.

The horses snorted and rolled their eyes, but did not otherwise seem inclined to panic, while the hounds maintained their distance, breaking off as they approached the gate to lope ahead to the man who waited for them. A sweeping gesture from his arm sent them barreling back the way they had come, presumably to resume their sentry duty.

"Your Majesty." The man bowed deeply. "You honor my house. Darius Glenmorgan at your service."

"Your house has earned its own honor, Freeman Glenmorgan," Alistair told him. "Everyone I've asked has said that you are the man to see if I'm seeking a good mabari."

"My family has been breeding mabari in this spot for eight generations," Darius replied with quiet pride. He was a tall, strongly built man in his late forties, dark hair shot through with grey and clear blue eyes. "Our foundation bloodline can trace its pedigree back to the days of Calenhad. Brogon there," he nodded in the direction that the massive beast had gone, "is of that line."

"He's really big!" Bran observed enthusiastically.

Darius nodded. "And intelligent, which is even more important. Here. My lads will see to your horses." Three youths approached to take the reins as they all dismounted, leading them in the direction of a paddock that looked to be a fairly recent addition. Alistair did a double-take, realizing that he knew the big roan that was already tied beside a water trough.

"The Warden-Constable is here?" He asked in surprise. She had never seemed the type for pets, and that brute of a horse that she rode was quite deadly enough.

"Aye," Darius responded. "Been here since dawn, watching us put the warhounds through their paces and asking questions." He looked at Peter and Rhodri. "I'm guessing that you'll be wanting companion-bred for these two young men?"

"Just for Bran," Peter piped up, nudging the older boy forward as he added proudly, "I already have a mabari. His name is Rufus."

"A fine name," Darius agreed solemnly, but the blue eyes cut briefly to Alistair, who kept a straight face with no small effort. Roderick Yorath had bought the dog for Peter, naming it for Constance's late and unlamented father. "You'll be all kinds of help to your friend, then."

"Bran's my brother," Peter corrected him. Bran gave him a fond smile, shyly pleased by the proclamation. Neither Alistair nor Constance had actively encouraged the assumption of such a relationship, but it was an indication of how lonely Peter had been that he had latched onto the notion of siblings so eagerly. Thus far, Constance had given no sign of either approval or disapproval ... which Alistair was learning meant that she most likely didn't approve but was biding her time.

"Even better, then," Darius told him. "Come along, Your Majesty, young sers. I've a litter just the right age playing in the yard now. Brinda!" His shout brought a burly black and tan head up over the top of the low picket fence that he was leading them toward. "We've guests to see your pups, lass. Round them up."

There was a distinct note of protest in the answering whine, but by the time they stepped through the gate, eight roly-poly balls of fur had been nudged into a loose grouping.

"Can we?" Bran and Peter waited - barely - for permission before dropping to the ground, and moments later, high pitched laughs and whining barks filled the air as the puppies swarmed over the new arrivals, snuffling and licking.

"Had a pup when I was a lad," Donal said, looking over the fence with a nostalgic smile. "Not a mabari, but he was a good dog."

"My old mutt Shag was the best," Hudson put in. "I wandered off once when I was little, and he stayed with me until my da found me."

"Must've been before you discovered beer and women," Hicks quipped. "Otherwise he'd have known right where to look."

"Didn't have a - house of ill repute anywhere near our farm, anyway," Hudson replied, a quick glance toward the boys before he edited his words. "Why do you think I left? Sure miss old Shag, though," he added wistfully, watching pups and boys rolling on the ground.

"Couldn't have beat my Hafter," Hicks bragged. "That dog whipped every other hound on our block."

"Did you ever have a dog, Ser?" Peter asked, looking up at him with his arms full of a squirming, face-licking brindle puppy.

Alistair shook his head. Such things were for boys with fathers and mothers and homes. "The Chantry had a terrier that caught rats," he said, "but it never really liked me." The feeling had been mutual; Nu had been his first real acquaintance with doghood, and he had left a lasting impression.

"Maybe you could get one, too!" Peter suggested in the manner of someone who had hit upon a brilliant idea.

"I don't think so," Alistair replied. "I'm afraid I'd be too busy to look after one properly. I'll just help you and Bran with yours." The wedding was in (Maker help him) little more than a month, and he strongly suspected that his bride-to-be would not approve of his spare time leading up to the event being spent housebreaking.

Darius had been regarding the roiling mass of puppies with a faint frown. "He's wandered off again, lass," he announced to Brinda. "Best fetch him back." The bitch cocked her head, studying her offspring and giving a chagrined chuff before bounding off to a stand of tall grass in the far corner of the yard and returning with an indignantly squalling pup carried by the scruff.

"He's a wanderer, that one is," Darius said with a chuckle. "He was over the side of the whelping box before his eyes were open."

Alistair watched as Brinda deposited the runaway in the midst of his siblings. Black and tan, with a white patch on his chest, the little fellow sat up, looking around with hazy blue eyes until he spotted Bran. His pose suddenly became intent; he rose from his haunches, sniffed the air and made a beeline to the boy.

"And done," Darius said in a low voice, watching with satisfaction as the pup planted big paws on Bran's chest and began licking his face. "Oh, they can play as long as they like, but the choice has been made. He'll never be any farther from the boy than he is now, if he has anything to say about it. You see it?"

Alistair nodded, feeling a pleasant tightness in his throat. The rest of the puppies played with his nephew, Peter, each other, even tufts of grass, but this pup's attention never left Bran. "Does it always happen like that?" he asked, remembering the way Nu had never been far from Aedan's side.

"Sometimes it takes longer," the houndmaster replied. "The imprinting can occur over time if someone takes a pup, though I've had a few returned who refused to imprint on the ones that bought them. Almost without exception, they turn out to be bastards. Vaughan Kendalls tried and failed with three." He smiled thinly. "I've stopped letting folk take them unless there's at least a hint of affinity on the dog's part. The smartest ones, though ... They tend to know right away, and that one is one of the smartest pups Brinda's dropped. You'll be wanting a trainer after he and the boy have settled in together."

“Do you have anyone you recommend?” Alistair asked.

“My eldest daughter has a good touch with the companion-bred hounds.” Darius replied, “but don't take my word. Ask around about Caitlyn Glenmorgan. If you like what you hear, I'll be happy to send her to Denerim.”

“I'll do that,” Alistair promised, though he had little doubt that reports on the young woman would be favorable. He glanced over his shoulder at the hill that rose behind the main house. “Are the warhounds being trained over there?” he asked.

“Aye,” Darius replied. “My son can show you the way, if you like.” He waved, and one of the boys who had taken their horses came running.

“Please,” Alistair responded, looking to Donal, Hudson and Hicks. “Stay with the boys,” he ordered them. “I'm going to speak with the Warden-Constable.” Donal nodded and Alistair turned to follow the young man, laughter and playful yips fading behind him as low growls and snarls grew more audible ahead.
 
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Alistair Theirin

King of Ferelden
Canon Character
Noble
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
97
#2
Cauthrien stood alone at the edge of a large field; in the middle of the field stood three men wearing heavily padded leather armor. Their hands were covered with thick leather mittens that would make grasping a weapon difficult, if not well nigh impossible, and steel plating was visible on the boots. The metal helmets atop each set of armor were secured to the rest of the outfit with stout straps. All in all, the most uncomfortable and impractical looking armor Alistair had ever seen.

She glanced around at his approach, then turned to give a proper bow that he acknowledged and accepted with a nod and murmur of greeting. The formalities attended to, he stepped up to stand beside her; they weren't likely to ever become bosom companions, but they'd grown to respect each other. The Warden-Constable was polite without being obsequious, and she always told him exactly what she thought on a matter. That was worth something, and so was the company of someone who didn't feel the need to fill up silence with useless chatter, or expect him to.

Standing with her, he could now see the pair of mabari standing with a handler near a low stone building that looked to be a kennel. Slightly shorter and considerably more burly than Brinda had been, both of them bore a strong resemblance to the male that Darius had called Brogon, and both kept their eyes locked on the three figures in leather.

The handler, a man who looked to be close to Alistair in age and bore more than a passing resemblance to Darius, glanced toward them and, at Cauthrien's nod, spoke, his voice calm and clear.

"Brodin, take down the one on the left; Bretha, take down the one in the center. At my signal, both of you take down the one on the right: Brodin, go high, Bretha, stay low."

Neither dog moved an inch, but they tensed, ears cocked forward and muscles coiled, until he called out, "Go!". Both of them took off at a dead run, reaching their targets in seconds, splitting as they had been instructed. The two armored figures each raised an arm as if trying to fend off the attack, but powerful jaws closed around the defending limbs, heads shaking and saliva flying as sheer mass and momentum took each one to the ground. The mabari stood over them, bloodcurdling growls emitting from clenched teeth as they maintained their holds on the respective arms of their prey.

"Take down is a command to bring a target to the ground and keep them there," Cauthrien remarked without taking her eyes from the action. "You don't tell them to kill unless you mean it."

“Been here a while?” he asked curiously.

“An hour or so,” she replied without elaboration.

The third among the armored individuals turned and broke into a clumsy run, heading toward the two spectators, but the attention of the two mabari never wavered until their handler raised his fingers to his lips and gave a single, piercing whistle. Immediately, both released and spun to race after the fugitive, closing the distance swiftly. The slightly smaller female lunged, jaws closing around a calf, while the male leaped, his full weight hitting the man squarely in the back and sending him sprawling forward.

“Out and settle!” The words had barely had time to reach Alistair's ears when the two attacking hounds backed away and dropped to the ground, tongues lolling as they panted lightly, all traces of aggression vanished.

“You can pet them now, Your Majesty, Warden-Constable,” the handler called as he approached. Cauthrien moved first, scratching the male behind the ear and receiving a friendly lick to the hand and a wag from a stubby tail in response. Alistair bent in turn, offering the same attention to the female. “Good girl,” he murmured. She chuffed softly in agreement.

“Impressive,” he remarked as he straightened, watching as the three armored figures got slowly to their feet, pulling off the hand shields and unbuckling the straps securing the helmets. He wasn't particularly surprised when two of them revealed sweat-tousled dark hair and features undoubtedly inherited from Darius, but he was a bit taken aback when the third helmet removed released a tumble of dark curls and an undeniably feminine face.

“My brothers, Ivar and Fredric, my sister, Hannah,” the handler remarked. “I'm Adam Glenmorgan, and you've met Brodin and Bretha.” He bowed respectfully to Alistair, mirrored – a bit awkwardly – by the other three, then crouched beside the mabari, rubbing each head affectionately.

“We have.” He watched curiously as the three erstwhile targets bent to pet the two mabari, receiving the same friendly response that he and Cauthrien had. “They don't hold grudges, then?”

Adam shook his head, smiling faintly as he said, “If they did, we'd be hard pressed to recruit people to wear those suits. Temperament's the most important consideration in a mabari. Properly bred and trained, they should be able to step away from a fresh kill to play with a toddler – not that we necessarily recommend that, you understand, but these two -” He signaled, and they rose, crowding against him with eager whines as he wrapped an arm across each massive chest. “- have been around my own children since they were babes.”

Cauthrien nodded. “They've been raised around you, though,” she commented to Adam's siblings, her eyes asking the question.

Hannah answered. She was a strongly built young woman, her face handsome, rather than pretty. “These two are both bonded to Adam,” she told them. “They'd attack our Da if he told them to, but if I got mad at Fredric, here,” she gestured to her brother with a smirk, “and wanted his backside chewed on, I'd have to order my Brawley to do it.”

“So, they won't obey anyone but the one they're bonded to?” Alistair inquired. He'd gotten Nu to follow his commands on a few occasions when Aedan hadn't been handy.

“That depends,” Adam spoke up, coming to his feet. “In general, the smarter the mabari and the stronger the imprinting, the more likely they are to pick up on their partner's likings and preferences. They'll follow orders from someone their partner trusts, as long as it does not conflict with orders from their partner. My dogs will follow instructions from my parents and siblings, my wife and children, just as their bonded dogs will follow my instructions … to a point.”

“But if that person were to attack their - partner?” Cauthrien asked, hesitating over the term.

“They would protect their partner,” Adam replied simply. “With the warhounds, that would generally be fatal, but the companion-bred animals can be trained to employ less lethal responses. We recommend that if they are imprinted on children.”

“Makes sense,” Alistair remarked. Childhood squabbles could very easily turn serious otherwise.

“Are you looking for warhounds, too, Your Majesty?” Adam asked him.

He shook his head. “Not right now,” he replied. “I'd promised my nephew a mabari for his eleventh birthday. He seems to have bonded with one, and I just thought I'd see what the Warden-Constable was up to while they were getting acquainted.” He glanced at Cauthrien. “Thinking about getting a mabari?”

“For me? No,” she replied, adding with a grimace, “That damned horse is handful enough for me, but I've been thinking that allowing the other Wardens who are interested the chance to bond with one would give a strong addition to our combat capabilities.”

“You'll need bloodflower paste,” he warned her.

“I know,” she said, nodding towards Adam. “They have the recipe.”

“A lot of mabari were lost at Ostagar,” Adam replied grimly. “That recipe was one of the only good things to come of it. We learned how to make the paste from one of the southern breeders, and it was the Maker's own blessing when the Blight moved north. The downside is that so far, the plant won't grow anywhere but the Korcari Wilds, but drying them doesn't seem to reduce the potency. I can give you the names of some traders who carry it; demand's gone down with the Blight over, but it's not good for anything else, so you shouldn't have a problem obtaining it. My sister, Gayle, is our alchemist; she tinkered with the potion and came up with a variation that will protect from the taint if you give it to the mabari before a fight.”

“That would be very useful,” Alistair commented. Aedan had been at pains to be sure that Nu consumed the paste after every battle with the darkspawn.

Cauthrien nodded. “What's the obstacle course down there used for?” she asked, staring past the kennel.

Adam followed her gaze. “Another kind of training,” he replied. “The dogs need to be comfortable in a wide range of situations and environments. Before we start field training, we get them accustomed to running the course. Would you like to see?” At her nod, he turned to his siblings. “Good work. Get cleaned up,” he told them, adding to the two mabari, “Go to the course!” Their ears pricked, stubby tails wagged, and they took off at once, their bounding gait a far cry from the long, purposeful stride that they'd used when pursuing their targets. “I'll go ahead, get it set up,” he added to Alistair and Cauthrien before following the mabari at a jog.
 

Alistair Theirin

King of Ferelden
Canon Character
Noble
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
97
#3
Cauthrien waited until Adam had gotten a good head start before she followed at a casual pace.

“Did you know that Grey Wardens used to put wardogs through the Joining?” she asked as Alistair fell in beside her.

He blinked, startled. “Where did you hear that?”

“One of the books that Matthias brought from the Free Marches,” she replied. “It mentions the process being utilized during the Fourth Blight by the Wardens of the Anderfels and the Marches.”

“And it worked?” he wanted to know. “Did it have the same effects on the dogs that it does on people?” The idea was an intriguing one, but there were drawbacks, as well.

“Yes and no.” She wasn't prone to being needlessly oblique, so he waited for her to elaborate. “Mortality at the Joining was actually considerably less: maybe one in ten. The survivors could not be used for breeding, but their sensitivity to the darkspawn increased markedly; they could track them for miles in the Deep Roads, and they displayed a profound antipathy to them. And their lifespans did not seem to be appreciably shortened; the ones that didn't die in battle lived as long as the ones that hadn't been Joined.”

“Any idea why?” Could the secret of defeating the Calling lie with dogs?

“The Warden historian who wrote the treatise believed that both that and the lower Joining mortality were due to differences in the dogs' bodies. They are naturally resistant to things that might kill a human or an elf, and they age faster than we do: a large dog might live to be twelve or thirteen. It doesn't give the taint time to kill them slowly.”

“Hmmm. Well, I don't think anybody's going to be getting in line for a tradeoff like that,” he murmured, disappointed but still intrigued. “But mabari -”

“- hadn't been bred yet,” she finished for him. “They're smarter, and have a longer lifespan – twenty to twenty-five years isn't unheard of, so there's no way of knowing for sure how the Joining will affect them, but I think that by adapting that bloodflower paste recipe that Darius' daughter has come up with, we have a chance of reducing the mortality at the Joining even further.”

“You're going to try it, then?” It wasn't really a question.

“We're considering it,” she confirmed. “But carefully. If any Wardens do get mabari, we'll ask if they're willing to try.”

“That's … potentially asking a lot,” he told her. The idea of putting Nu through the Joining would have been rejected vehemently by Aedan, and Alistair would not have blamed him. Mabari were not just pets … not to the ones they bonded with.

She nodded, her expression grave. “That's why I'm asking, not ordering,” she agreed. “It would be easier to Join them as puppies, before they've imprinted, but the treatise is quite firm on the animals needing to be mature, and it makes sense. The taint could seriously stunt their development. If they agree, then once the animals are a year or so old, we'll try it. If not -” She shrugged. “If we were staring another Blight in the face, we could make a case for requiring it, but I'm not about to force the matter just to experiment. They'll still be highly effective additions to our combat capabilities, and with the bloodflower paste to protect them, we can hopefully keep losses to the taint to a minimum.”

“That might be the better option,” he suggested, then snickered. “Have you considered putting your horse through the Joining?”

“That might well start the next Blight,” she replied dryly, then fell silent as they reached the edge of the obstacle course.

A nod from Alistair and a command from Adam sent first one mabari, then the other, sprinting through the obstacle course: up and down ramps, through tunnels and hoops, leaping over ditches and fences, zigzagging through closely spaced poles. Unlike the deadly serious intent displayed in the attack training, Brodin and Bretha were clearly enjoying themselves in this endeavor, their stubby tails bobbing and tongues lolling in doggy smiles, ears pricked for the command that would send them to the next obstacle.

“We never have them run it the same way twice,” he said once they were done, calling the pair to him and rewarding each with a fist-sized chunk of meat. “Once they've mastered it all, we'll take them into the field, practice tracking live quarry across a wide range of terrain, by scent, sound and sight.” He scratched their necks and ears, nodding that it was acceptable for the spectators to do the same. Cauthrien simply bent to pet the pair, but Alistair crouched, welcoming the burly heads that pressed into his chest, not minding the drool that was smeared on his tunic.

“How old do pups have to be before they can leave their mother?” Cauthrien wanted to know.

“No less than six weeks, and we recommend eight,” Adam replied. “Gives them time to be socialized and lets us evaluate their temperament. We've bred out most undesirable traits, but not every pup is suited to every person, or what they want a mabari for. Some are trackers, some are better in battle … if someone is looking for a straight-up guard animal, we usually steer them toward our companion-bred bloodlines. But for what you're seeking, Warden-Constable, the wardogs will definitely be the most appropriate.”

Cauthrien nodded. “I'll discuss it with the Warden-Commander. You'll hear back from us in a few weeks. Thank you for your time.”

“My thanks, as well,” Alistair added. “I'd never seen them being trained before. It looks like quite an undertaking.”

“It's a lot of work,” Adam confirmed, smiling, “but they're worth it. You'll not find a truer or braver companion.”

Alistair's answering smile was more than a little wistful. “Yes, I know.”

As Adam headed toward the kennels with the two mabari, Alistair and Cauthrien made their way back up the hill. “Well?” he asked her.

“I'll recommend to the Warden-Commander that any Warden with an interest be permitted to get a mabari. As to Joining them …” She shrugged. “That will require a bit more thought and discussion. More research, if I can track down other histories. They're formidable without it, and potential risks may outweigh the benefits.”

He nodded, feeling a definite sense of relief that that part of the plan would be pursued cautiously. “Do you think you'll get one?” he asked, wondering if watching the animals in action had changed her mind.

Cauthrien shook her head. “I've enough to see to, as it is. Wouldn't be fair to a pup.” She gave him a sideways glance. “How about you?”

“Not going to say I'm not tempted,” he admitted as they reached the top of the hill, “but I think it'll be easier if I just play with Bran's.” He was getting married; he didn't have time for a puppy.

“Makes sense,” she agreed, a faintly amused smile touching her lips. Giving him a final bow, she turned and strode toward the paddock.

Alistair headed back to where he'd left the rest of his party, frowning slightly when he realized that Darius was the only one standing beside the low fence. The older man turned as he approached, the twinkle in the blue eyes giving him a bit of warning before he found himself staring down into nine sets of puppy-dog eyes … only four of which belonged to actual puppies.

OOO

“This is gonna be great!” Peter enthused, beaming approvingly from atop his horse. Seated in front of Alistair, Bran was silent, his attention still locked on the big pup licking his face, but his rapt expression spoke volumes.

Donal, Hudson and Hicks all wore similar expressions, their attention divided between the road and the chubby puppy that each of them cradled in the crook of an arm.

“This is coming out of your pay, you know,” he reminded them. One mabari pup didn't come cheap. Four? Don't ask … he certainly hoped Constance wouldn't.

“That's fine,” Donal said absently, bending down to let his little girl lick his nose, wearing a fatuous smile that no two-legged female had ever come close to getting out of him.

“For their training, as well,” he went on. “And no going out to taverns in the evenings until they're all housebroken.”

“Yup.” Hicks tipped his pup onto his back, scratching at his belly.

“Darkspawn on the road,” he mentioned casually.

“Uh-huh,” Hudson murmured, letting his pup gnaw on a gloved finger, tiny growls rising in the air.

Alistair exchanged a glance with Peter, who gave him a 'what can you do?' shrug and smile.

“Do what?” Donal glanced up and around belatedly, brow furrowed in mild concern.

“Nothing,” Alistair told him, smiling. It was a good day for a ride, the road was clear, and the odds of encountering anything remotely hazardous on the way back to the castle were low. Just this once, he could be the vigilant one and guard them.
 
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