(Warning: mild language)
“If you are done interrogating me, I have a proposal.” Zevran’s mind worked quickly. Now that he’d been given a reprieve from death, he found that he’d really rather go on living. The words tumbled out of his mouth, quite reasonably explaining his predicament with the Crows, and how the Grey Wardens could protect him from them. While he, in turn, could help them with his many skills and talents! Surely, they’d never believe any of it. He wouldn’t, if he were in their position.
Zevran lay in the dirt on the left side of his chest, his hands bound behind his back. They were well-tied — of course he’d checked. He was getting an awful crick in his neck from looking up at the Wardens, but he couldn’t drop his head. No, that would be like a prisoner bowing his head for the executioner’s axe. Better he keep eye contact, and pain be damned — it was better than dying!
The human warrior and the Dalish elf stood to the fore. The human had kept mostly silent, deferring to the elf. Somewhere behind them were two women — a red-headed Chantry sister and a dark barbarian (oh what imaginings he could have there, if his mind weren’t so keenly focussed on staying alive) — and a looming qunari. There was another elf, the third Warden, who faded into the background.
No, the Dalish occupied Zevran’s direct attention. An intricate tattoo crowned his brow. His long honey-blond hair was tied back in warrior braids. And his eyes, they were steel grey. Looking into them, Zevran recognized an efficient, ruthless killer.
“I wish to join the Grey Wardens,” he said, his mouth running dry. He licked his lips. “Do they not accept help wherever it is offered? You do not seem to be in the position to be picky, my friend.”
“And you will show us the same loyalty as your previous employers?” the Dalish elf asked. His voice, too, was like steel. Cold and hard.
“I happen to be a very loyal person!” Zevran protested. “Except when it comes to being expected to die for failure. If that is what you demand, you might as well just kill me.” Zevran’s eyes widened, because the Dalish elf stepped forward, drawing his belt knife. “It doesn’t have to be right now!” the assassin quickly clarified. “We can still negotiate!” The elf moved behind him. He couldn’t see the elf, but he could feel the presence crouching over him. His heart hammered in his chest so hard it felt as if it were punching a hole in the ground beneath him.
The human Warden spoke up. “You must think we’re royally stupid.”
“I think you’re royally tough to kill,” Zevran argued, twisting to look up at him. He was kind of cute, too, but Zevran suppressed that comment. “I’m just hoping for the royally stupid part.” What had he just said? Did those words just fall out of his mouth!? “Uh — What I mean to say is…. I-I think you are the kind of men who are not afraid to take risks when the rewards could be quite great.”
The human just shook his head in disgust and turned away. Where was he going? They were still discussing this, no? Zevran still had a chance! His heart was pounding so hard now, his whole body shook from it. The rushing of blood in his ears drowned out other sounds, like the retreating footsteps of the Warden and the others.
Zevran felt a strong hand fist in his hair and grip his shoulder, pinning his head back and holding him steady with brutal efficiency. The Dalish elf was going to cut his throat. It would be quick, he might not feel anything. Maybe. But he’d never see it coming.
Then all his thoughts just… stopped. Nothing ran through his mind but silence. His eyes fixed on a patch of dirt before him and unfocussed. A strangely comforting warmth spread out over his limbs and body.
A voice brought Zevran back from the brink of shock. He still felt numb and unfocussed, but he realized the other elf was speaking. The brown-haired one, who looked uncomfortable in his armor and weapons. A scruffy street elf from Denerim. “It’s not his fault a bunch of shems forced him to come here and try to kill us.”
From above Zevran, the Dalish elf’s voice rumbled like a god’s. “You cannot believe anything he says.”
“Look, I’ll watch him.”
“He is too dangerous.” Valorien tightened his grip; he’d made up his mind. Zevran could sense the sharp steel blade above him. His breath panted between his open lips, but he had no words to convince them of the truth. Or thank the angel who tried to intercede with the god’s will.
But that angel wasn’t finished yet. “He’s a slave,” the Denerim elf said, stepping closer. Zevran could see the scuffed toes of his boots now. “He’s asking for our help.” Such beautiful words, delivered so pleadingly.
The Dalish Warden made no reply. Sevral agonizing minutes seemed to pass. Then suddenly the elf moved. Zevran felt the knife now. It… it cut through the tough cords binding his wrists. Valorien stood, dragging Zevran bodily to his feet. A hard push between his shoulder blades sent him stumbling towards the brown-haired city elf.
“Watch him, then,” Valorien said. “If he tries anything, kill him.” The Dalish elf turned to follow his companions. A mabari hound joined him.
“I will.” The city boy’s eyes were hard, but his voice was only a pale imitation of the true cold-bloodedness of the Hunter’s.
Zevran stood, still dazed, unconsciously rubbing his neck with one hand as he watched the Dalish elf’s retreating back. He swallowed and turned to the city elf. “You saved my life.”
“Don’t make me regret it.”
“I promise, I will not.” Zevran took another look at him. The fellow wasn’t as scruffy as he’d first thought. His hair was a bit unkempt, but thick and soft-looking. Zevran had to restrain himself from trying to comb it out with his fingers. The boy’s eyes were very pretty, too. And… staring at him warily. Zevran smiled. “I hereforth pledge myself to you. Until I die, or until such time as you release me from my oath, I am your man, without reservations.” He gave a slight bow. The other elf’s look didn’t change, except maybe to become more skeptical. Zevran tilted his head. “What’s your name?”
“Bannon. And that’s Valorien.” The two turned and started to follow the others as they gathered up spent arrows or fallen coins from the mercenaries. Bannon nodded towards the human Warden. “That’s Alistair.”
“Oh, brilliant,” a cold voice said sarcastically. The dark-haired woman glared over with eerie cat eyes. “Be sure to point his targets out to him.”
“And that,” Bannon said firmly, “is Morrigan. She’s not a Grey Warden,” he emphasized as she gave him a humorless sneer. “She’s an evil witch. Don’t mess with her.” While they were at it, Bannon introduced the others — Leliana the Chantry sister and Sten the qunari.
The group gathered together before heading out. Zevran saw that Valorien had his gear. “May I have my weapons?”
“What if we are attacked?” the assassin wheedled reasonably.
“We will protect you.” That Valorien was steel: unmoving, unbending. Zevran shivered inwardly. Damn, what a leader!
The Wardens and their entourage travelled along a forested trail. Perhaps it was a shortcut. Zevran would have been skeptical, except a Dalish elf led them. Suddenly Valorien held up a hand, and made a fist. Everyone crouched down, silencing all conversation.
Puzzled, Zevran followed suit. Were they under attack? This hiding rabbit response was not what he expected. He crept silently to Bannon’s side. “What is it?” he whispered.
“Dinner,” Bannon muttered back, giving a slight nod with his chin. Zevran looked ahead. After a moment, he could see a buck moving slowly through the underbrush, grazing.
“Don’t stare,” the city elf whispered to him. “He says they can sense predators watching.”
Indeed, Bannon and all the others seemed to be looking at the ground. Zevran did so as well… until his curiosity got the better of him. He glanced up to see the Hunter in action. But the Dalish elf had vanished. So had the dog. Zevran had thought at first it had been the human’s dog — Alistair spent most of his time talking to the mabari. But it soon became apparent that Tarroth, as he was named, harkened to and obeyed only one master. The same Dalish elf everyone else did.
The deer was speedily dispatched and field dressed. Zevran was exempt from all work, being as it has to do with their food. He had to grin. They didn’t even let him carry his own pack, although he’d humbly offered to relieve the others of the burden. He did feel particularly naked without his weapons. But, there definitely weren’t any Crows waiting to ambush them. For now, Zevran could bask in the unusual sensation, feeling almost liberated.
They came across the narrow dirt road a few hours later, and continued north. They passed several orchards. A town, or more likely a small village, must be nearby. The road took a sharp turn between the regimented rows of fruit trees. Both sides of the lane were built up with earthworks. If Zevran were worrying about ambushes, he’d think this was a fine place for one. He was right.
Valorien froze, his head up, listening. At his side Tarroth growled low. “Wolves,” the elf warned his companions. They readied their weapons, and Zevran looked around rather helplessly. They were going to protect him, right? But wolves were fast, and they tended to home in on the weakest in the herd.
The shaggy beasts appeared at the other end of the lane. They split and scrambled up the earthworks. Alistair led the charge forward, the dog at his heels. Sten and Leliana followed. Bannon hung back. Good, he was taking his job of watching (and protecting) Zevran seriously. Before the group reached the wolves, they were brought up short. The ground under their feet exploded with the snapping jaws of leg-hold traps. Only Leliana was spared. She saw Sten brought to a halt a split second before she came even with the line of traps. She twisted and used the qunari as a bulwark to stop herself.
“Brilliant,” Morrigan complained. Valorien loosed an arrow, trying to deter the wolves from the others. Zevran cast about for anything with which to defend himself — a rock to throw, a branch to use for a club, a pokey-stick with which to annoy them soundly(β) — anything! There was a chorus of growls and shouts as the wolves descended upon the trapped companions.
“Zevran,” Valorien said, calmly shooting into chaos and picking off wolves, “go free the others.”
“You said you were well-versed with traps.”
“Well, certainly,” he sputtered, “but in case you have fogotten, I am unarmed! Why don’t you send Bannon, here?”
“Because,” the city elf in question told him, “if I put down my blades, there won’t be anybody to ‘protect’ you.” Was that a teasing, mocking tone in his voice? Implying Zevran was scared? Hah!
“Well, after you, then!”
Bannon ducked flying arrows and bolts of magic and darted towards the fray. Zevran shadowed him closely, but positioned himself to be clear of the elf’s weapons. Bannon efficiently dispatched a wolf menacing Leliana from behind.
“Glad you could join us,” the Chantry Sister said. She was spattered with blood and cheerful as ever. A strange girl, that one. A wolf leapt at her, and a scissoring sweep of her blades took out its throat. Right, Zevran thought, don’t mess with the deadly Sister or the evil witch.
He darted to Alistair’s flank. “Keep them off me!” he reminded all of them. “And don’t hit me,” he told the human Warden. He crouched down, trying to ignore all his instincts screaming at him not to leave his back exposed.
He jammed down on the release lever, and Alistair was freed. The human threw him a quick thanks and side-stepped to release the dog. As Zevran turned to free the qunari, Alistair lunged forward. “No, look–!” Too late, the fool shem stepped right into another trap. “Brasca!”
Zevran stomped on the lever to release the qunari and hurt his foot right through his boot. Damned things were rusty on top of everything else.
“Keep your head down!” Bannon yelled at him. He shoved himself between Zevran and another wolf. It leapt, and just at the apex, a white-fletched arrow pirced its skull. The dead wolf fell heavily onto Bannon, who fell onto Zevran. They all went down in a heap, nearly knocking Sten over. The qunari cursed.
“Get if off! Get it off, get it off!” Bannon was yelling.
Zevran gave him a shove. “It’s dead! Get up!” The Antivan scrambled to extract himself from the pile and stand. He grabbed Bannon by the scruff and yanked him to his feet.
Another wolf sprang and they had to duck or be decapitated by Sten’s huge blade.
“Stay down!” Leliana called to them.
“We cannot lie here in the middle of a fight!” the assassin complained.
“Relase my leg,” the qunari told him.
“It’s stuck! I have to stand on it, which I cannot do with you lopping off important pieces of my anatomy.”
Bannon got back to his feet, shoved the wolf carcass aside with one foot, and looked for the next to jump in, his blades out. “I’ve got you covered; hurry up.”
Grumbling, Zevran seized the qunari’s belt to haul himself upright. Then he stood on the trap lever. It creaked partway open. “Is the best I can do,” he huffed.
Sten wrenched his leg free, knocking Zevran over into the other elf again.
“Will you get off my back!” Bannon complained.
“You think I am having fun!?” the assassin complained right back.
But at last all the wolves had been dispatched. Zevran went to rescue Alistair — yet again.
“Thanks,” the human said sheepishly. He sheathed his sword and turned to continue down the lane.
“Alistair! Zevran yelled at him.
The assassin palmed his face in an effort to restrain himself from tearing out his hair. “Can you not see all those traps?”
“Where the dirt is kicked up and raked over. D– never mind!” Zevran sighed. “Just do not move until I tell you it is safe.” So Zevran had to go ahead of them, disarming the staggered rows of traps that lined the entire section of the path.
He got to the end and dusted his hands off. The Grey Wardens and their companions joined him. “What’s this?” Alistair said, moving around a wooden sign that had been hurriedly tacked up. “Danger, rabid wolves,” he read. “Beware of traps. Oh, well that’s handy! They couldn’t tell us this before?”
Valorien said, “No doubt all the villagers come from this direction.”
“Well, then they should already know about it,” the human Warden sulked. “Could warn visitors.”
The town was a flyspeck on the countryside. They had no inns or taverns or anything designed for visitors. Not even a brothel! They traded for some food and supplies, then continued along the road until it was time to make camp.
As the group moved into a suitable clearing and began prepartions to lay camp, Zevran pestered Valorien and Bannon to give him his weapons back. It was nearly the hundredth time the assassin had complained, and yet again they refused.
“Is there nothing I can do to earn your trust?” he asked.
Bannon paused a moment in thought. “Yeah. The next time we’re attacked,” he said reasonably, “throw yourself between us and our enemies, and die a heroic death.”
“Ha-ha,” Zevran countered dryly. “But would I not be more inclined to throw myself into the fray if I had some weapons with which to fight?”
“Oh, no. It would be much more dramatic if you were to sacrifice yourself with no hope of winning.” The Denerim elf smiled and clapped Zevran on the shoulder with a laugh. Zevran had to join in, but he shot the elf a dirty look. “You can help me build the fire,” Bannon told him.
“Oh, I couldn’t do that. I might lace your firewood with a drug to make you all fall asleep from the fumes, so that I may dispatch you easily while you are helpless.” Zevran turned and, with a smile, went to help the others. “I would gladly cook for you,” he started.
“Uh — No,” Alistair said.
“But of course, you fear poison. Very wise.” Zevran paced around them, gesturing pointedly. “I could also coat your dishes with poison, so clearly I should not wash up after dinner. I might put contact poison in your clothes, so I should not do your laundry. Or I might slip some selfsame poisonous powder into your bedrolls, or rig your tent to snap closed and strangle you like a trap! So,” he concluded, hands spread helplessly, “you see, although I would gladly aid you in your chores, alas, I’m afraid there are none you would trust me with.” He smiled sadly and prepared to relax and watch them scurry about. He could get used to this!
Then Valorien turned wordlessly and held out a spade. Zevran deflated, his shoulders slumping. He raised his eyes to the Dalish elf. No, there was not an ounce of humor in that steely gaze. With a sigh, he reached out and gripped the spade handle. “Fine,” he said. “But you realize of course, that to dig latrines, I need to venture outside the perimeter of the camp. I could perhaps slip away and escape.”
“Oh, I’ll be happy to watch him,” the witch, Morrigan, volunteered. “Come along, elf. Let’s see to it that you do a good job.”
With another sigh, Zevran trudged towards the edge of the clearing.
“Zevran,” Valorien said. The assassin turned back. “Downwind.” The Dalish pointed in a different direction. Oh. So Zevran trudged that way instead.
It was dark by the time the food was prepared. Zevran and Morrigan returned to the campfire. The elf was rather sweaty, and the witch had a smug smile on her face. Leliana gave him a canteen to wash up with. “I trust it went well,” she teased gently.
“Oh, of course,” the assassin jumped in. “It was quite strenuous, with Morrigan exhorting me to dig harder, to thrust deeper –!”
The witch’s eyes flared. “Why you dirty swine!” She raised a hand as if to cast death over him.
“Peace, Morrigan!” Valorien snapped. The witch froze. Now it was Zevran’s turn to smirk at her. Then Valorien said, “Zevran, apologize.”
“What?” he yelped. “What for?”
The Dalish elf turned to him. “For making lewd comments at Morrigan’s expense,” he said, his grey eyes boring into the Antivan.
Zevran dropped his gaze. “I, uh… I apologize, Morrigan,” he said quietly.
“Sit down,” Valorien said. Zevran found himself obeying. The Dalish handed him a bowl of venison and vegetables. And that was it. A Crow “master” would have felt the need to punish him further, whip him, humiliate him. This elf could manage with just one look. Zevran shivered to himself again. Damn.
Dinner passed compaionably enough. The others had questions for Zevran, questions he deflected with his usual dexterity. Or his usual bullshit, take your pick. It wasn’t that he meant to deceive them — he was convinced more than ever that these Grey Wardens could protect him from the Crows. Just… he didn’t need anyone’s pity. They knew he was a slave, what else did they need to know? None of it mattered, anyway.
Then it was time to bed down. Or, well, to take care of business before bedding down. Valorien and Tarroth walked with Zevran out to the bushes past the latrines. The assassin moved ahead of them a few steps and addressed an appropriately inoffensive bit of foliage. “Uhm,” he said hesitantly. “I don’t suppose I could have a bit of privacy? I really don’t care to do this while… there are….” He stopped, then frowned. Suddenly, he whirled around. No one was there. Well, except the dog, staring at him, his ears flat. “Dogs, watching,” Zevran finished lamely. Tarroth stared hard at him, then, very deliberately, lifted his leg and watered a bush. “Right. Okay.” Another glance around showed absolutely no sign of Valorien. “He’s got to show me how to do that,” Zevran muttered, turning to tend to his own business.
A few minutes later, he was returning to the camp accompanied by the dog. Valorien appeared beside him, doing nothing more magical than walking out from behind a tree. They got back to the campfire where some bedrolls were laid out. Alistair sat on one, watching warily. Two others faced the fire on the other side. Valorien produced a rope and proceeded to tie Zevran’s hands, leaving a long leash. He tied the ropes snugly, but not too tightly. Then he gestured for Zevran to take the one bedroll.
“We don’t have a tent?” Zevran asked, ignoring the bonds. He thought he could work out of them with a bit of effort. Valorien hadn’t tied his hands behind him, or anything that would make it more difficult.
“Not used to sleeping under an open sky,” the Antivan said. He sat on the bedroll cross-legged, facing his captor.
“Just put a blanket over yourself.”
Zevran sighed. “You know,” he said, “I could probably get out of these ropes. Just in case you were worried.”
Valorien only dropped the leash end of the rope onto the ground between the bedrolls, the end of it under his own blankets. He lay down over top of it. Clearly, he was not worried.
Zevran frowned. He didn’t think a little rope twitching would wake the elf in the depth of sleep. He could still get out of them. Then Tarroth came over and lay down on the middle of the rope. Oh, right. He has a dog. “What if I need to, you know, get up in the middle of the night?”
“There will be an opportunity for you to do so.”
Zevran frowned, wondering what that meant. Oh well, there was no help for it. He stretched out in the bedroll, tugging and twitching the old blanket to cover himself up with. Then he tried to sleep.
He must have succeeded, because the next thing he knew, he jerked awake. For a moment, he didn’t know where he was, or why he was tied. Then it came back to him. He twisted his hands, checking to see if the ropes loosened up, and wondered what had woken him. To his left, he heard Valorien twitching in the blankets.
Zevran sat up and looked around. The camp was virtually silent, the fire burning low. Suddenly, the Dalish elf nearly leaped out of his bedroll, startling the dog into a crouch. Zevran threw himself flat, fearing attack.
Valorien only crouched on his blankets, panting. A low moan came from the other side of the fire. “Alistair,” the Dalish elf called. “Alistair!”
Zevran picked himself up back into a sitting position. Tarroth gave him a menacing look, to which he just shrugged inoffensively. Across from them, Alistair started thrashing and moaning more loudly in his sleep. Then with a choked yell, he came awake.
“Alistair,” Valorien said; “go wake Bannon.”
The human mumbled something whiney and incomprehensible, then flopped down onto his blankets, rolled over, and shoved his head under his pillow. With a sigh, the Dalish elf got to his feet. “Stay here,” he told Zevran and the dog.
“What’s going on?” The assassin twisted around to see. Valorien approached a tent behind them, calling Bannon’s name. From inside the tent came a horrible scream. Valorien ducked inside. Zevran could hear his voice, just barely, speaking to someone. This was truly… odd. He looked at the dog. Tarroth just twitched his ears once.
Valorien returned momentarily, and Zevran repeated his question. “It is nothing. The archdemon touches the dreams of the Grey Wardens.” Then Valorien asked, “Do you need to get up at this time?”
“Uh… now that you mention it. Perhaps that is best.”
The two elves and the mabari went for a short walk. On the way back, Zevran asked, “So what does that mean the archdemon touches your dreams? You have nightmares about it?”
“They are not nightmares,” Valorien replied. “It is a connection to the archdemon. It… speaks. Directly into one’s mind.”
Zevran nodded thoughtfully. “You know, considering that… I think I would like to retract my application to join your order.” He smiled to show he was only teasing. Mostly.
“None of us knows how to perform the Joining, at any rate.” Right. Dalish elves definitly needed to work on a sense of humor. No doubt, Valorien could use some of Zevran’s expertise in that area!
β: 5,000 Bloodsong points if you know the story of the annoying pokey-stick!
(Hover your cursor here for the answer.)