On The Road
Language: i don’t think so
This is one of the parts I warned you about where the characters just stand/sit around and chat. (Or walk around, as the case may be.)
Morrigan lengthened her stride to keep up with the qunari. “Are you still confused, and think me not a woman?”
“No,” he replied, not looking at her. “You are a beast that wears the face of a man.”
“A beast now, am I?” She narrowed her eyes up at him. “I suppose that’s an improvement over a– never mind. But with the face of a man?” She frowned. “Are you calling me ugly?”
“Do not speak to me.”
“And why not?”
The giant stopped dead and turned, nearly clubbing Morrigan with his elbow as he did so. Sten glowered back at the Wardens. “I have heard you Fereldens do not chain your saarebas, nor sew their lips shut. But do you let this dangerous beast roam free? Where it will? When it might turn on us at any time?”
“Well,” Alistair said aside to the elf; “he’s pegged Morrigan again.”
Bannon aimed a smack at Alistair, not really connecting because he’d just bruise his hand. To Sten he said firmly, “This is Ferelden. We don’t enslave anyone.”
“I was led to believe that all your saarebas — mages, do you call them? — were penned in one place.”
“Oh, you mean the Circle Tower,” Alistair supplied. “Well… all legal mages are there, yes.” He narrowed his eyes at the still-glaring witch.
“Look,” Bannon said forcefully. “Morrigan is our ally. The only ones she’s a threat to are our enemies. Or –” and here, he shot a pointed glance at both Sten and Alistair — “anyone who insists on annoying her.”
Sten scowled down at the witch. “As far as I am concerned, you are a dangerous beast and not to be trusted.”
“As far as I’m concerned,” she shot back; “you’re just another fool Templar.”
“Great,” said Bannon, projecting a tone that both cheerful and hostile at the same time. “Now that’s settled, can we get a move on?”
The qunari turned and resumed his quick-paced march. Morrigan followed behind with Bannon, Alistair, and Leliana.
“I’ve been thinking,” Bannon said a bit later, at an opportune moment. “I think we should pool our money.” Alistair, Leliana, and Morrigan looked at him. He spread his hands in an open, honest gesture and explained. “The Grey Wardens aren’t exactly in a position to pay us any more. With a severely limited income, it would be more efficient for us to combine our resources so we can equip and resupply everyone.”
“That makes sense,” Alistair said.
“And who is meant to be holding all our money?” Morrigan asked.
“I think I should,” Bannon told her honestly. “I’ve had quite a bit of experience stretching pennies and eking out bargains. Unless you have a better idea?”
“I like to do a fair bit of shopping,” said Leliana.
Morrigan snorted. “You like to spend money on fripperies like make-up and shoes.”
“Well, but I do like to find a good bargain, yes?”
“As I understand it,” Morrigan said, not directly answering; “elves that live in the cities are so poor, even the beggars look down on them.”
“Yeah,” Bannon said with bitter humor. “That’s us.”
“Well,” said Alistair; “I’m rubbish with money, so I think it’s a good idea.” Ah yes, cross one more responsibility off Alistair’s list.
“Is there anything you’re not ‘rubbish’ at?” Morrigan asked him, clearly already having an opinion on the subject.
“Yeah,” Alistair growled. “Smiting apostates!”
“Funny, I thought you were kicked out of Templar training.”
“Guys, that’s enough,” Bannon snapped.
“Yes, please,” Leliana agreed. To the elf she said, “Would each person be able to have an allowance for personal use?”
“That’s a good idea,” Bannon said. It was a good idea. It would keep morale up, and his ‘minions’ could be rewareded with coin — if they had any to spare. “We’ll see how much we have when we stop for the night.” Bannon looked down the road, hoping it would be at an inn. Make that a deserted inn, everyone having fled the darkspawn. Cheaper that way.
They pushed as far from Lothering as they could that day. They stopped once, the Wardens sensing another band of darkspawn near the road. The cretures, two dozen or so, turned towards them. Bannon, Leliana, and Morrigan picked off most of them, firing down from the raised Highway. A few managed to climb the Imperial Highway’s struts. Sten, sighing in impatience, waited for them and clubbed each one as it finally made it to the rail.
Bannon checked their ammunition supply and decided the time and effort it would take to climb down and retrieve their arrows and bolts would be too great. None of them knew how to make arrows either, though Leliana hazarded she could figure out how to fletch one.
“I know who you can pluck for feathers,” Alistair said.
Bannon kicked him in the shin. Morrigan just glared.
They hurriedly set up camp in the waning light. They only had one tent. It was decided that Leliana and Morrigan could share it. Morrigan had other ideas, however. She set up her bedroll and her own small fire in a corner of the clearing. Sten eschewed the need for any shelter or bedding. No wonder his skin was so thick. Bannon and Alistair set out their bedrolls by the central fire.
Suddenly, Alistair gasped and flinched back. “It’s that shirt!”
Bannon moved to his side and looked down into the Templar’s bedroll. Sure enough, the paisley monstrosity was lying there in it. “Alistair,” he gasped, widening his eyes; “you told me a Bandersnatch stole it!”
“Yeah, I did,” the knight said, frowning in confusion. He cut a suspicious glance at the elf, who looked as surprised and bewildered as possible. Alistair collected himself. “I mean… It did! I-I have no idea how it got here.” He narrowed his eyes.
“You know what this means?” Bannon said dramatically. “It’s haunting you! The spirit of the Paisley Monstrosity. I’ve heard legends of such things in the alienage.”
“Legends of haunted laundry?”β
“It will not rest until you Wear The Shirt,” the elf proclaimed direly.
“Really?” Alistair said dryly. “Oh wait, I think….” Cautiously, he knelt by the bedroll. “Yes, I think I hear it calling me….” His face went slack, his eyes unfocussed. Slowly, he lifted the shirt. “Alistair,” he intoned, “Alistaiiiiiiir… Wear the Shirt. Become the Purple Monstrosity….”
Bannon gaped at him.
“Don’t think so.” Alistair balled up the shirt and tossed it over his shoulder.
The elf glanced to where it had landed, then looked back at the knight tidying his bedroll. “All right, but it’s on your head.” As he went to finish straightening his own kit, he noticed Leliana staring at them. She’d brought up the pot full of water to cook dinner.
“Do I want to ask what that was all about?” she said.
“Uh…,” said Alistair sheepishly, while Bannon scratched his head, wondering how you explained two Grey Wardens being goofy. Alistair made vague hand gestures. “It’s… you had to be there.”
“Well, I was here,” Leliana pointed out. “I still don’t get it.” Alistair and Bannon just shrugged. The bard sighed and gave up. “Bannon,” she said, “may I speak with you?”
“Sure.” He moved to her side. Alistair offered to help prepare the soup, so Leliana relinquished the pot to him.
She said to the elf, “I apologize if I inadvertantly insulted you. I did not realize you were the leader of the Wardens.” She twined her fingers nervously. It would have been a decent apology of she had stopped there. But then she said, “It’s just that you seem so young. It must be an elven thing.”
“Oh,” Bannon said jovially, “you mean you didn’t mistake me for Alistair’s serving boy?” Alistair coughed over the carrots.
A bit of colour rose in the Chantry Sister’s cheeks. “I… it wasn’t like that,” she stammered, until she brought her voice under control. “In Orlais, elves are held in high regard.”
Bannon softened. “Really?” He’d never heard of shems valuing elves, except perhaps as cheap labor. And even that stopped as soon as any shems complained of not having a job because of them.
She nodded. “Elves have a natural grace and beauty that most find aesthetically pleasing. They are highly sought after in the rich households of the Orlesian courtiers.”
Was that supposed to be a compliment? His brow creased. “They’re valuable because they look good with the carpeting and drapes?”
“No, that’s not it at all,” she protested. “Many are trained artisans, gifted with song and dance. Some of these talented elves make more money than human craftsmen.”
Bannon glanced at Alistair. The human was looking at him with a pained grimace. “So they look good with the decor and they’re good entertainment at parties?”
“I do not know why you insist on twisting my words,” she said, a small line appearing between her brows. “I only meant that while here in Ferelden, elves are seen as shabby, unskilled laborers, in Orlais they are held in higher regard. They are given choice positions, dressed in the finest fashions, kept in sumptuous chambers.”
“Ah, I see,” Bannon said, smoothing his features and calming her with a gesture. Dressed up in ribbons and lace, trained to dance and sing, the aesthetically pleasing elves were kept in the rich noble houses like pampered lapdogs. He wondered how many noblemen visited ther elven women’s sumptuous chambers to be ‘aesthetically pleased’ in private. Aloud he just said, “Yes, I understand now.”
“Good.” She smiled, dimpling prettily. “Oh, and….” She turned to fetch her purse from the tent. “The funds for the Grey Wardens.”
“Thank you, Sister Leliana.” Bannon tied the purse to his belt.
“Just ‘Leliana,’ please,” she said, moving to stir the soup. “I am not a fully-ordained Sister.” There was a big surprise.
For some. “Really?” Alistair asked.
“I was Affirmed,” she clarified. We reaffirm our faith in the Blessed Andraste, but no other vows are taken. I was staying in the cloister, where peace and sanctuary are given to all who seek refuge.”
“But why would you need refuge?” asked Alistair. “Were you running from something?”
“Oh, no. It was more like I was running to something.” She looked at Alistair. “I… had some turmoil in my life. A rest in quiet contemplation helped me find meaning and clarity.”
“You mean,” Bannon ventured, “your mission to aid the Grey Wardens?”
“Yes! Just so.”
Right. There was a load of manure big enough to hide a pony or two. Bannon would have to figure it out later. Whatever she was up to, her goals seemed to coincide with theirs for now. He’d keep an eye on her. Maybe Alistair could pry more information out of her; she seemed to get along well enough with him. Hah! What was he thinking? Bannon would just have to ingratiate himself with her. Yeah, maybe later.
“I should go check on Morrigan,” he said.
“Better you than me,” Alistair grumbled.
Bannon approached the outlying fire warily. He wasn’t sure of Morrigan’s mood, but if it were turning bad — worse — he’d have to do something to make her happy. Happier. Less murderous, let’s say. “Morrigan?” he asked deferentially. He smiled softly, his subtle and trustworthy smile. “Are you settling in all right?”
She fed some more twigs to her fire and dusted her hands off. “Yes. Just keep that qunari of yours away from any needles and thread.” The witch cast a dark look across the camp, where Sten was patrolling, prowling restlessly at guard. “And I thought the way the Circle treated mages was barbaric.”
“I won’t let him try anything.”
Morrigan arched a brow at this. “How do you propose to stop him? He’s easily twice your size.”
“Well, he’s honorable, isn’t he?” Bannon said. “The Reverend Mother put him in our custody, so he’s bound to do what I say.” Boy, he hoped! Morrigan looked skeptical. “Isn’t that what you said?” he asked her. “You called him a noble creature left as darkspawn fodder?”
She looked aside. “Well, that was based on a first impression.”
Aha, so she didn’t know anything about these foreign qunari. Bannon shrugged. “If all else fails, I suppose his head burns like any other.”
She smiled at that, genuinely pleased. Then her countenance darkened. “Just make sure your fool Templar doesn’t get any ideas.”
“Alistair knows he’s not supposed to be a mage hunter.”
“Be sure you keep reminding him.”
“I can handle him,” Bannon said firmly.
“Mmm,” the witch mused, raking her eyes over him. “Yes, you are too clever by far, aren’t you?”
“Ah, well, I try,” Bannon said with an ingratiating smile. He looked down at the ground, hoping she didn’t realize the full extent of his cleverness, or he’d be a very clever pile of ash. Best to change the subject. “You must be glad to get back to the open, away from all those people in town.”
“It is a relief to be away from those doomed fools,” she said.
Bannon looked up at the unexpected venom in her voice. “Morrigan,” he said slowly, not without a bit of worry, “you do know it’s people like that the Wardens are trying to save?” Why was she helping them?
“Not exactly like them, I would hope.” She frowned at his expression. “The Chasind have a saying,” she explained. “‘The gods help those who help themselves.’ If they wanted to survive, they should have made more of an effort, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” Bannon said hesitantly, thinking about his effort to save Shianni and the other women. A nearly futile effort. No — he mustn’t think that. If he hadn’t tried at all, things would have been much worse. Not for him; he’d be a free man instead of a murderer — but for the women.
“The Wilds has its own law,” Morrigan said, breaking into his thoughts. “Survival of the fittest. The strong survive, the weak perish. Do you not agree this is so?”
Again, Bannon thought back to his own experiences, his life in the alienage. The powerful shems, the ones with money, lived well. The elves, too poor to afford lavish meals, died younger. And then there was Liam. Once Bannon’s closest friend, Liam had become crippled, a beggar. Too weak to work. He’d died barely a year later. Bannon rubbed his face. “Yeah,” he agreed with the witch. “I do think it is true.”
“‘Tis such a relief to talk to someone with some sense.”
Bannon cocked his head at her. “Is that a compliment?”
“Only if you need to fish for them,” she countered, pressing her lips together to supress a smile.
“Not quite that desperate,” he replied shielding his own smile. Maker, she wasn’t flirting with him, was she? He shook his head. “But you don’t need to stay way over here,” he said. “There’s plenty of room in the tent. Leliana doesn’t mind sharing.”
Morrigan looked past him to the main camp. “I think not,” she declined. “You forget I know how disturbing the Grey Wardens are to those trying to sleep.”
“Ah, of course.” When they’d slept at the inn, the nightmares hadn’t seemed so bad. Whether it was the shelter of the walls, or the comfort of a real mattress, Bannon couldn’t say. He hoped they found more places to stay the nights. Somehow, he doubted it was in the cards. “Well, suit yourself,” he told the witch cordially. “As you usually do.”
She gave him another cat-like smile.
“Now about the money for the group funds…,” he prompted.
Her teeth caught her lip as she nodded. “And should I refuse to lend my money to the pot?”
He spread his hands. “You’re an independent woman,” he said. “If you wish to keep your own finances that is, of course, your prerogative. But,” he added with a slight moue, “if you do, I’m afraid we can’t provision you from the group stores.” Yeah… clever that, witch!
“Hmm.” She hooded her eyes. “Very well, then.” And just like that, she handed him a pouch full of silvers.
Bannon was surprised. “I didn’t expect this much. I mean, living out in the Wilds, I didn’t think you’d need much money.”
“We do not.” Morrigan shrugged. “Which is why it accumulates. Mother’s visitors often carry money with them.”
But they didn’t take it when they left? Bannon was far too smart to wonder aloud, but who would travel to such a Maker-forsaken mudhole to spend money on a whore? And… Flemeth? He suppressed a shudder.
“It’s not what you think,” Morrigan said slyly, reading his expression.
“Do I want to ask?”
“No. You really don’t.” She had that cat’s smile again.
Bannon nodded, any last traces of curiosity immediately doused. “Well, dinner will be ready soon. If you’d like to join us,” he said deferentially. “If there’s anything you need, let me know.”
“If there is anything I need and cannot acquire on my own, what do you think you could do about it?”
He spread his hands again, walking backwards towards the main camp. “I can’t promise anything,” he said. “But I could try.” He turned and continued back to the big fire. Stuck-up witch. At least he hadn’t given her a chance to order him to bring her meal over.
Bannon found Sten pacing back and forth across the track that led from the road to the clearing. He balanced his huge maul over one great shoulder pad. He must be glad to stretch his legs after being stuck in that cage for days. Bannon thought he might wear a trench in the ground. “Sten,” he said cautiously, for the qunari seemed a bit over-eager to smash something.
The giant quit pacing and faced him, his brow drawn low in a scowl. “Why this delay?”
“Well, it’s getting dark, and some of us need to eat and sleep. Qunari sleep, don’t they?”
“And eat, I presume.”
Sten sighed. “Yes.”
“There you go, then.” Bannon smiled encouragingly at him. The giant’s expression changed not one whit. Oh well, best to carry on. “I was wondering if you are any good with a bow.”
“Ah. Well, we can teach you. We could use some help with the hunting.”
Bannon blinked. “No? Why not?”
“I am a warrior. The bow is not a warrior’s weapon.”
“We’re not going to fight,” Bannon said. “We’re just going to shoot some deer or maybe rabbits or something. If you’re worried about being embarassed, don’t be. You can’t possibly be worse than Alistair.”
“I am Sten of the Berasaad, the vanguard of the Qunari nation. I am a warrior, not a hunter.”
Vanguard of the stubborn nation. “But you could learn,” Bannon insisted.
“It is against the Qun.”
“What’s the ‘kyoon’?”
Sten straighened, appearing even taller than usual. “The Qun is our sacred text. It defines who we are and what each shall become.”
Bannon tilted his head. “A book told you that you’re a warrior?” he asked carefully.
“The Tamassrans divine each child’s place in life, based on his abilities. Every qunari fills the role he is best suited for. To struggle against one’s place in life is to go against the Qun, to disrupt the harmony of the world.”
Bannon shook his head. “And you can’t learn anything else? What about a hobby?”
“Why would I do anything else but that which I am most suited to do? And what is a ‘hobby’?”
“Something you do in your spare time. You know, for fun?” Bannon looked up into the stony grey face. “Uh… fun? You do know what that is, don’t you?”
“Fun…,” Sten mused. Then he scowled further. “The qunari do not have ‘spare time.'”
“You’re always warrioring?”
Boy, this guy needed to relax. “All right, then. Keep up the good work.”
Bannon counted out a handful of silvers as he walked back to the fire. He hunkdered down next to Alistair and handed the coins to him.
“That’s the money I owe you.”
Alistair looked at him. Bannon looked back. After a moment, Alistair said, “You’re paying me back now, just as I’m about to hand over all my money to you anyway?”
Bannon grinned. “Yep.”
Alistair chuckled. “All right then. Can’t say you never paid me back.” He handed over his own money pouch, and the extra silver.
“No, you can’t.” Bannon went to sit on his bedroll and count the money. He’d never seen this much money before in his life. And the gold coins — they were so small! He tried to act nonchalant and not do anything crazy like scooping up the coins and letting them fall through his fingers like cold water. But they did glitter so in the firelight. He couldn’t help it if they reflected in his eyes. He counted three times — just to be sure, you know — then put them away.
The soup was bubbling merrily. Leliana stirred. Alistair changed the bandage on Bannon’s arm. It was well-advanced on its healing. The dog bites had been reduced to mere scratches, already scabbed over. Morrigan came over from her corner, offering Leliana a small packet of spices from her herb collection. Alistair bit his lip in worry, but Leliana beamed brightly at the witch and thanked her.
Sten came over a few minutes later, with that dwarven merchant they’d met earlier today. “Bodhan Feddic,” the garrulous fellow reminded them, “in case you’ve forgotten. When I saw your campfire I remembered your kind offer. My boy and I won’t be any imposition, but I’d feel a lot safter if you’d let us park our cart nearby.” He didn’t give them time to answer. “And, we’ve a mutton bone for the pot, to sweeten the deal.”
Alistair grinned. “Bodhan, you’re my new best friend!”
The dwarves parked in their own little corner of the clearing, away from Morrigan. Bodhan insisted on not travelling with the Wardens, but he was content to follow them around, scavenging any armor or weapons the Wardens’ troupe couldn’t carry with them. He even offered to sell them goods at a discount. Bannon wondered if they couldn’t just rent tents from him for the night. Or crate space to hault their camping supplies. But it wasn’t certain the little donkey cart could keep up with them, or that the dwarves wouldn’t just decide to go off in some other direction.
Still, the possibilities were there. They’d see what unfolded on the road to Redcliffe.
Party Banter: Demon Squirrels
Bannon: Alistair, where did that shirt go?
Alistair: Oh, some little woodland creatures dragged it off to line their nest or something.
Bannon: Are you sure it’s safe to leave it? Future travellers could be attacked by demon squirrels.
Alistair: ::dryly:: Oh yeah, a pair of paisley chipmunks. Scary.
Bannon: It’ll be on your head!
Alistair: I think that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
β: 800 Bloodsong points if you know where “haunted laundry” comes from.
Hover your cursor here to see the answer.