Writing Work


 

I wanted to get further on the latest B&Z chapter; I wanted to get through the part with Connor. That didn’t happen, however. I had a really hard time concentrating on this chapter. I do think that once it got moving, it went along pretty well. But coralling my brain to work on it…!

First, my brain wanted to work on the B&Z/Torchwood crossover. Then I had a dream about Torchwood, and I started writing THAT out as a story. Yeah, hello? Brain? Concentrate, here!

At any rate, now I have 2 weeks to work on the next part in Redcliffe Castle. I think it is shaping up in my head, so it *should* work out all right. If I can get Bannon to do what he’s supposed to do… :X

 


Redcliffe Castle


 
Content:
Rating: Teen
Flavor: Drama/Adventure
Language: some
Violence: yes
Nudity: no
Sex: no
Other: dogs are killed
 
Author’s Notes:

I managed to cut some detailed conversation scenes down into quicker summarizations. Well, just some of them. At least they are blending together properly. I’ve been studying people’s techniques.

The dog-killing is the last part on the end. You can skip that if you want.

 


Redcliffe Castle

 

 

Sten sat on his knees, his back straight, his head bowed, hands resting on his thighs. His eyes were closed. His maul lay crosswise on the ground before him. Despite the number of people crowding the Chantry courtyard, a clear space had formed around the stationary grey giant.

He was on a grassy patch near the well, so Bannon gratefully dropped to the ground and leaned back against the stones. He had a gash in his left arm, and the left side of his face was sticky with dried blood. Sten seemed to have fared better. He had any number of light gashes in his torso and arms, but his armor seemed to have foiled most of the blades. He had a wide swath of bandages wrapping one treetrunk thigh. It was tinging to pink as Bannon watched.

The qunari sat still, his horns sweeping back from his skull and pointing to the sky. His breathing was deep and even. Bannon couldn’t tell if he were asleep or praying. Leliana came around the well as other Sisters from the Chantry worked to draw water. She wore a bandage across her forehead like a headband. She went to Sten with a small bottle. “This is the healing draught, Sten.”

The qunari opened his eyes. “I thank you.” He took the potion and downed it in a gulp. He set the bottle down by his maul and re-closed his eyes.

Leliana turned to Bannon and knelt before him. Instead of offering him any of the elfroot elixir, she took a wet cloth and began bathing his wounds. “Let us see how you fare.” Quickly and neatly, she bandaged his arm. Then she gently tugged at his damaged leather helm.

Bannon winced. “Easy — don’t tear my ear off.” He was deathly afraid that the long point of his ear was going to fall out of the helmet once she got it off. Like most young male elves, he was rather vain about his ears. “Is it notched?” he asked when the worst didn’t happen. Would it be a rakish notch, or an ugly chunk taken out of the sweep of his ear?

She laid aside the helmet and carefully began wiping blood off. “Hold still,” she insisted as he squirmed. “It’s just a scratch. You ought to be more concerned with this gash in your head.”

“Do I need a healing potion?” he asked, letting a thin whine of pain infuse his voice. He squinched up his lower eyelids as he looked up at her.

Leliana scanned over the Chantry yard before answering him, perhaps calculating how many healing potions they had on hand, and how many people needed them. “That may perhaps be best,” she agreed. She gave him a small vial of the reddish liquid.

“Thank you.” He tipped his head back to swallow the draught and didn’t have to feign wincing from it. He grimaced and handed the vial back. Then, nodding to her own bandage, he asked, “Are you all right?”

“Yes, thank you. It looks much more serious than it is.”

Morrigan made her way over to their little clearing. She had dark circles under her eyes, and apparently didn’t even have the energy to snap at the people in her way. With weary grace, she dropped to the ground on the other side of Sten.

Leliana brought the witch a dipper of water. “That trickery with the magelight was entirely unneccesary.”

“‘Twasn’t my idea,” Morrigan replied tartly.

Bannon said, “I thought it was quite effective at boosting morale.”

Leliana shot him a look, but quickly smoothed her features. If she had any further comment, it was forestalled by the approach of Bann Teagan.

Heavily favoring his right leg, he limped around the well and stood towering over Bannon. “Warden,” the bann addressed him.

Bannon scrambled to his feet and immediately regretted it. He pressed a damp cloth to his aching head. “Yes, ser?” Dammit, he was a Grey Warden, he didn’t have to bow and scrape to this nobleman. He should have stayed lounging arrogantly on the ground.

Teagan smiled grimly. “This is the first time we’ve defeated these phantoms, thanks to you and — where’s Alistair?”

Morrigan said, “Most of your knights perished. He was with them, and likely suffered the same fate.”

The bann paled.

“No,” said Bannon. “He’s over there.”

Teagan turned to where the elf pointed. “I don’t….” He squinted. “Where do you see him?”

Well, Bannon didn’t, really. The Chantry yard was crawling with townsfolk, and one short elf couldn’t see much. He couldn’t put into words how he felt or sensed Alistair. The other Warden was merely a presence he was aware of. “I saw him earlier,” he said, because it was easiest.

The bann untensed. “Good. We should strike out for the castle now that the way is clear.”

“Right now? We haven’t had a moment to rest. We need at least a little time to recover.”

“We need to move swiftly.”

Sten opened his eyes. “I agree.”

“We’ll move more swiftly if we have something to eat,” Bannon insisted. Sten might have unlimited energy, and the nobleman had only fought in the back ranks, not on the front lines where the fighting had been thickest.

“The Warden has a point,” Sten admitted. All right, maybe qunari giants did get fatigued.

“Very well. I’ll send someone to the tavern to fetch you some food.” The bann turned, scanning the crowd with a worried frown. “Meet me by the flour mill when you are ready.” He limped off.

Bannon sat back down. His head felt better. He carefully cleaned more of the crusted blood off the side of his head. The flesh was knitting due to the healing potion, but it was still tender.

“Warden! Warden!”

Bannon groaned, stifling it before anyone heard it. It was that kid, the one with the sword. A young woman in a peach-coloured dress, bearing a basket on her arm, followed in his wake.

“Katy, this is the Warden I told you about,” Bevin said excitedly. “This is my sister, Kaitlyn.”

She gave Bannon a dark look. Ah, of course, she’d also want to chew him out for encouraging a child to fight. He ignored her and smiled at Bevin. “Did you get any phantoms in the battle?”

“No,” Bevin said heavily, his young body slumped in disappointment. “Mayor Murdoch said I was too young. I had to go stay inside like a baby!”

“Well, it’s a good thing,” Bannon said. “We needed more defenders on the inside, in case they broke through. It was a very close thing.”

“Really?”

The elf flashed Kaitlyn a quick wink. “Absolutely. It’s a good thing you were ready.”

The kid brightened and pulled out the dented belt knife. “Splinter woulda taken care of those monsters!” He brandished the blade.

“Bevin!” his sister cried. “You shouldn’t be waving that thing around. It’s dangerous!”

“But sis! It’s a Grey Warden weapon!”

“Your sister is right,” Bannon told him sternly. “A Grey Warden weapon is not for showing off and flashing around. You need to be more disciplined and handle it with respect.”

“Yes, ser.” Mollified, Bevin put the knife away.

Bannon smiled up at Kaitlyn, and this time she smiled back. “I do want to thank you for finding my brother and getting him back to the Chantry. I was worried sick about him.”

“I was coming right back,” the kid complained.

Kaitlyn put a hand on his head with an indulgent smile. “Is there any way I can repay you?” she asked Bannon. “I wouldn’t mind at all; I am very grateful for your help.”

“Well,” he said, “we could do with some food.”

“Oh! Of course.” She smiled and swung the basket off her arm. “I have apples.”

Bannon took the whole thing. She seemed surprised. “Thanks,” he said with a sparkling smile. “Sten here is very hungry. Aren’t you, Sten?”

“Yes.”

The elf made sure to nab at least five apples for himself before relinquishing the basket to the qunari. Leliana and Morrigan weren’t shy about helping themselves, either. They thanked Kaitlyn (well, Leliana did, anyway). She invited them to her home after this mess was cleared up, if they had time to visit and have a meal. Then she excused herself to help with the rest of the wounded while her little brother scampered off to get into mischief.

All right, Bannon thought; a shem cooking for an elf. It paid to be a hero! He wondered if she were dimpling at him in a suggestive manner, or if that was just her natural way of smiling. She was a fine-looking human with fresh, youthful skin and a skein of blonde hair. Of course, if he made a mistake reading her intentions, there might be a lynch mob in it for him. He munched his apples in deep thought.

Alistair finally came over, looking half dead, though he didn’t seem to be hurt. Leliana fussed over him, and Sten let him have a few apples. Then the serving girl Teagan had sent to the tavern brought them bread and cheese, and a jug of wine. The Wardens wolfed down most of the food, and this seemed to revive Alistair somewhat.

 

 

Rested and refreshed, the Wardens and their group went up the road to meet Bann Teagan. The bann stood gazing across the gulf between the cliffs and the castle. The edificie looked perfectly normal and benign in the early morning light.

“I thank you again, Grey Wardens,” Teagan said without preamble, turning as they approached. “Alistair, Bannon.” He met both their eyes. “This is the first time we’ve exhausted the enemy’s numbers and left none to return to the castle at dawn. I believe it is now safe — at least relatively — to enter the castle. I propose we–” He stuttered to a halt. Gaping in surprise, he raised a hand and pointed behind them.

Bannon turned, gripping his sword hilt. He relaxed when he saw it was only a woman running awkwardly towards them. Alistair, in constrast, caught one sight of her and tensed as if for battle. He shrank back slightly between the elf and the qunari.

The blonde woman was richly-dressed in cream satin and red velvet. The mud of the road was was ruining her slippers. A single guardsman trotted behind her. Her round face was blotchy red with exertion. Her generous bosom heaved. “Teagan,” she gasped, accenting the second syllable in fluted Orlesian patois. “Oh, Teagan; thank the Maker!” She stumbled to a halt and cast a confused look at the group by the mill. “Who are these people, Teagan?”

“Lady Isolde.” The bann found his voice and regained his composure. “These are Grey Wardens and their company. This is Warden Bannon and….” He trailed off awkwardly.

Alistair shuffled a half step forward. “It’s… Alistair, Lady Isolde.”

“Alistair?” A brief look of — fear? scorn? — flashed over the lady’s face, replaced quickly by yet more puzzlement. “What are you doing here?”

A simple question, but laced with a clear preference that he be elsewhere. Well, this was just grand. As if the phantom menace weren’t enough, now Bannon had to deal with noble family politics. He answered for the Wardens. “We’re here to help the people of Redcliffe, and to seek aid from Arl Eamon. Is it safe to enter the castle now?”

Isolde’s eyes widened with fear. “No,” she said tremulously. “No, you mustn’t come to the castle.” She turned to the bann once again. “I was only given a short time to come and find you. Connor… he isn’t well. You’re his uncle, Teagan. He needs you.”

“But why can’t we take the Grey Wardens?”

“And who is it exactly that let you out?” Bannon cut in. This smelled like a heavily-baited rat trap.

“There is… something terrible in the castle,” Lady Isolde said, wringing her hands. “It… it keeps us trapped there. It has killed almost everyone. At night, it raises the dead and sends these ghosts to attack the village.”

“Why is it keeping you alive? What does it want?”

“I don’t know!” she wailed. “Please, Teagan, without his father, Connor is… is lost and afraid. You must come with me!” Tears spilled from her eyes.

“All right,” said Teagan, placing his hands comfortingly on Lady Isolde’s arms. “I will go with you. Compose yourself my lady; I need to leave instructions with the Wardens before I go.” She nodded and found a lace kerchief to wipe her face. Teagan beckoned the Wardens to step aside for a private conversation.

“Ser,” Bannon said; “this has got to be a trap.”

“I know. But… I have an idea.” Quickly, he outlined his plan. He would go with Isolde and try to hold the attention of whoever or whatever this ‘something terrible’ was. He gave Alistair his signet ring and instructions on finding a secret escape tunnel that would get the Wardens’ party inside the castle walls. “Do what you have to, to save Eamon. Never mind the rest of us, we are expendable, but he is not.”

 

 

The tunnel was entirely unpleasant. First, of course, there were interminably long ladders descending a chimney in the cliff, to down below the bed of the lake. The passage itself was black as pitch and damp. Water trickled down the walls and puddled in some places on the floor. Occasional spatters from the ceiling threatened Leliana’s sputtering torch. The weaving she did to avoid them didn’t help the chancy light. The constant gurgle made Bannon acutely aware of the vast lake of water over their heads. Was this little worm tunnel about to collapse? He tried to hurry his steps and almost trod on Alistair’s heel.

“Ow!”

“Sorry.”

To distract himself — and Alistair — Bannon asked, “Who was that woman back there?”

“That was Lady Isolde. After Arl Eamon’s first wife died, he married a younger noblewoman from Orlais.”

“She doesn’t seem to like you.”

“Ah, no. She despises me, really.”

“Why?” Leliana asked.

“My mother and I worked in Eamon’s castle. The thing is, it was no big secret that I was a bastard, but whose bastard, that was another story.” He bit his lip as he ducked around a low-hanging rock in the ceiling. “Of course, everyone just assumed Eamon was my father. And his pretty new wife didn’t like the rumors of his indiscretion running around in her new home,” he added bitterly.

Leliana asked, “Didn’t the arl tell her the truth?”

The Templar shrugged. “The truth didn’t matter, did it? It’s what everyone thought — what they believed. Lady Isolde used to give my mother the coldest looks. When she took ill and died, I was certain Lady Isolde had put a curse on her.” He blew out a breath. “Arl Eamon was kind enough to take me in and foster me in the castle. But Lady Isolde made sure my life was a living hell. She blamed me for… I don’t even know what! She just hated me.

“Then when she got pregnant and had a son…. She was always like a hawk, watching me with those hard eyes, judging me, waiting to swoop in with her talons bared.”

“What a horrible thing to do to a child!” said Leliana.

“Well, you can’t blame her.”

“Like hell,” Bannon muttered.

“She was just looking out for her own interests.”

They slogged through another puddle, and Leliana asked, “Why didn’t Eamon put a stop to this?”

“She was the arlessa!” Alistair said. His voice rose, years of misery finally working free. “It was her right to punish the servants as she saw fit. Anyway, she was his wife. I wasn’t even related to him!”

“But he must have cared for you,” Leliana insisted. “He did take you in when you were orphaned.”

“Yeah, or maybe he was just keeping a leash on Maric’s royal bastard,” he growled bitterly. “When their son Connor was born, she must have given Eamon an ultimatum. He sent me packing off to the Templars. Without even asking me what I wanted, or talking to me about it at all. I was so furious with him for taking her side! I grabbed the nearest thing I could, it was a necklace I had, with Andraste’s symbol on it, and I hurled it at the wall. It shattered into a million pieces.” Alistair hung his head. “It was my mother’s necklace. It was the only thing I had left of her. I was so stupid.”

Leliana touched his arm with her free hand. “It’s not your fault, Alistair.”

Bannon chewed on his lower lip. He looked down at the boots he wore, his mother’s. He hadn’t really given them much thought. They were practical and serviceable, not really much in the way of a sentimental keepsake. Adaia had lived in poverty, her family had never really held on to anything. “It isn’t things that are important,” he said. “It’s your memory, your love you need to keep.” He stopped as the others looked at him. A fat drop of water splashed his head. “Can we speed this up? I’d like to get out of here sometime this morning.”

 

 

The end of the tunnel contained, predictably, yet more ladders. The companions climbed until they came to a slab of stone. Bannon was at the top; they passed the signet ring up to him to unlock it.

“Don’t drop it,” Alistair quipped.

“If we do, you’re going after it,” Morrigan growled.

“But I’m not the one at the bottom,” he said down to her. “I can’t climb past you on this narrow ladder.”

“No one said anything about you using a ladder.”

The secret door slid open and Bannon scrambled up into an empty storeroom. He cast about quickly, but there were no guards. He helped Leliana up, and the two of them went to peer through the door as the others climbed out.

The door led directly out onto a dungeon corridor. The place stank of rotting corpses. Wrinkling his nose, Bannon moved down the hall. The cells were empty; the smell was coming from a pair of dead bodies at the guard station. He started past them when a voice nearly made him jump out of his skin.

“Is someone there?”

It came from the first cell. The companions gathered around as a gaunt figure lurched towards the bars. It was a skinny young human male, so pale he almost looked like a ghost. His hair was dark and lank, a few days growth of beard dusted his face. As he came into the torchlight, they could see he’d been tortured. Angry burn marks striped his chest, his arms. He wore but a soiled breechclout.

“Who are you?” Alistair asked. “Who did this to you?”

“My name is Jowan. I’m- I’m a mage.”

Bannon asked, “What are you in for?”

“I… that’s complicated.” Jowan swallowed dryly. His pale blue eyes darted. “Please, have you anything to eat? No one has been down here for days.”

“Sorry,” Alistair said compassionately.

Sten said, “Another unchained saarebas. It is a wonder your country still stands.”

This provoked an argument from the witch. “All right, shut up!” Bannon snapped. To the prisoner he said, “Uncomplicate this story of yours real quick; we have things to do.”

“Lady Isolde threw me in here when bad things started happening in the castle. She blamed me for the demon; said I summoned it, but that’s not true.” He licked his cracked lips. “They- they tortured me to make me stop it, but I can’t! I didn’t have anything to do with that, I swear!”

“Do you have any idea who did?” Alistair asked.

“Yes. It’s Connor. Lady Isolde hired me to tutor her son in secret–”

“Connor’s a mage?” Alistar gaped.

“Yes,” said Jowan. “Please, let me out of here. I want to help pay for my mistakes.”

“Of course we’ll help you,” Leliana said, touching his hand where it clutched at the bars. Alistair turned to find the keys.

“Hold it,” Bannon said. “What mistakes? I thought you said you had nothing to do with this demon, or the things going on in this castle.”

The prisoner blanched. “I didn’t!” he insisted. “It’s… I… I poisoned the arl.”

“You’re the one who tried to kill Eamon?” Alistair growled. He stepped threateningly towards the bars.

“No!” Jowan shrank back. “I- I didn’t want to poison him, but I had no choice! They- they forced me to do it.”

“Who did?”

“Some royal guards.” Jowan’s face wrinkled in sorrow. “I’m an apostate. They captured me in Denerim. The Templars were coming for me. Some high-ranking official told me he’d get me away from them if I poisoned the arl of Redcliffe.” He sobbed dryly. “I didn’t want to! I had no choice. I- I didn’t use enough, and he only took ill.”

Alistair said, “Why didn’t you just go back to the Circle with the Templars?”

“They weren’t going to take me back,” Jowan insisted desperately. “They were going to execute me!”

“But they don’t just execute apostates.” Alistair frowned. “Unless….” His eyes widened. “You’re a Blood Mage!”

“No!” Jowan went pale. “No! I- I only dabbled in the forbidden arts, so I could escape the Tower. There was no other way!”

“Maleficarum!” Alistair spit. “They use blood to power their magic, usually the blood of innocents. They can control people’s minds, summon demons–” The incensed Templar overrode the mage’s protests. “He must be the one who summoned the demon into the castle. We ought to execute him.”

“No! No, please, I beg you! I can help, I swear!”

Bannon weighed the options. “So… he’s a liar, a fugitive, a poisoner, a demon-summoner, and a Blood Mage?” Only an idiot would trust this man. Bannon shook his head. “Kill him or leave him there; we don’t have time for this.”

“No!” Jowan scuttled back in his cell, out of sword reach. “Please, I’m not a bad person! I only did it so I could live my life, and be with the woman I loved!”

“And now it’s a sob-story.” Bannon rolled his eyes and turned away.

It was useless trying to kill the maleficarium; he wouldn’t last much longer in his cell, anyway. Alistair and the others followed the elf.

Morrigan paused and looked back at the broken mage. “You poor bastard,” she said. “Just look what they turned you into.”

Jowan collapsed in a sobbing heap.

 

 

Bannon and Alistair were halfway to the door leading upstairs when the Templar tripped and fell with a loud clanging of armor. Annoyed, the elf turned to help him up. “Dammit, Alistair; can’t you– oh shit!

Alistair hadn’t tripped, he’d been pulled down by one of the guard corpses. As bloated and flyblown as it was, it had grabbed his ankle and was even now struggling to stand upright. The second jailer was halfway up and leering at Bannon with one swollen eye. The other eyeball stayed rolled up in his head.

The elf pulled out his sword and brought it down on the thing’s head with a jarring crunch. It had no effect, and the elf cursed again. He slashed across the thing’s face and instantly regretted it. Congealed blood, like black pudding, splattered thickly out of the cut. “Ugh!”

“Hold still,” Morrigan commanded. A moment later, ice sheathed the corpses. Sten stepped in and smashed each one to bits with his maul. Chips of frozen meat flew everywhere.

“Thanks,” said Bannon, finding something to wipe his sword on.

“I guess phantoms aren’t the only dead things we need to worry about,” Alistair said glumly.

 

 

Blessedly, when they got upstairs to the main floor of the castle, they left behind the dampness and corpse-stink. The halls were deserted, eerily quiet, but well-lit and… almost cheerful.

“I think we’re near the kitchens,” Alistair said. “I wonder if they’ve got any breakfast on.”

“You can’t possibly want to eat at a time like this,” Morrigan complained.

“Grey Wardens require a lot of food,” Alistair recited.

“A logical excuse for your gluttony.”

Bannon’s nose twitched. “Smells like sausage.” He followed the eager Templar down the hall. “I could murder a sausage right now!” His mouth watered.

Morrigan grumbled. “They ought to be called the ‘Gravy Wardens’.” She shared a commiserative sigh with Leliana.

Alistair found the kitchen door where the delicious smells were emanating. He flung it open and stopped dead. Bannon smacked right into him, nearly spraining his nose on the Templar’s shield. Alistair kept backing up, pushing the elf back and almost off his feet. Bannon danced around to the side. “Wh–?” He looked at Alistair; the man’s face was white and tinging green. Then he looked into the kitchen. He felt the blood drain from his own face. Quickly, Bannon grabbed the door and shut it.

“I don’t think I’ll ever eat sausage again,” Alistair said weakly.

Bannon swallowed thickly. “Come on, let’s keep going.” He glanced back at the other three companions. Thankfully, they didn’t ask.

 

 

They turned the corner and froze. A big tan mabari lay across the middle of the corridor, gnawing on a bone. It was the biggest damned dog Bannon had ever seen. Its neck and shoulders could fit a bull. He did not want to fight this thing, but it was blocking their way.

“Charger?” Alistair said quizzically.

The mabari’s head whipped around. Its eyes glinted red as it growled low.

“Easy boy,” said Alistair. “It’s me. It’s Alistair.”

“Alistair,” Bannon hissed; “I don’t think–”

But the human wasn’t listening. He moved forward, his empty hands held out placatingly. “Here, Charger. There’s a good boy. Remember me?” Oh, brilliant! The kennel boy has come home.

As it stood, the mabari dropped what it had been chewing on. The long bone still had five digits dangling from the gristle at one end. As the dog turned, a small ribcage behind it was revealed. Very small. Alistair paled.

Thick saliva oozed from the mabari’s jaws as it lowered its head and growled again. Lips peeled back from thick, stained fangs. More mabari hounds entered the corridor from a side door behind it. They looked gaunt, unkempt. Their eyes glittered with feral red light.

“Oh Maker,” Alistair breathed; “what have they done to you?”

With a bestial roar, the lead mabari charged. The pack fell in behind him.

Alistair fled.

Dammit! Bannon would have followed, but he was rooted to the spot. If he tried to run, he’d trip and fall, and they’d be on him, snapping and tearing. Well, hell; they were going to do that anyway if he didn’t move! Bannon threw himself to the side.

Sten stepped up. The head of his maul impacted with an airborne mabari resulting in a deep crunch and a high-pitched yelp. The pack flooded around the giant and two mabari fastened their teeth onto his leg, jaws finding purchase behind the leather greaves. The qunari cried out as they tried to hamstring him.

His cry was nearly drowned out by the deep baying of the dogs. “Keep them back,” Bannon yelled, but he could barely hear himself. He slashed at the milling dogs before him, not hoping to hit, but just to keep them off. A tawny brindle cut through his guard. It reared up to seize his arm, but never got the chance. The maul smashed down, crushing the dog’s skull and compressing its spine.

Bannon whirled around behind Sten and sank a blade into the flank of one of the dogs tearing at the qunari’s leg. He stabbed for the other, but it let go to dodge away.

Leliana fell back. She’d fired her crossbow once, not sure if she hit anything. She had to drop the weapon to pull out her short sword.

Beside her, Morrigan cursed the confining hallway. She backed away from the dogs as well, raising her arms as she gathered her power. In moments, she let it burst forth, expanding her shape into that of a great bear. She let out an ear-splitting roar, throwing the mabari pack’s challenge back in their faces. She lunged, swiping with great sickle claws. Jaws snapped, bones crunched, blood flew. Growls, roars, and yelps filled the air.

In short order, silence descended, broken only by the heavy bellows of the bear’s lungs. She lay on one side, exhausted but unharmed. Her thick fur had protected her from the mabari jaws.

Leliana hurried to see to Sten’s leg. Bannon wiped blood and drool off himself and his weapons, then set off in search of Alistair.

The Templar hadn’t gotten far — there wasn’t anywhere to go except into the kitchens or back down into the dungeon. He huddled in the corner by the door, his arms over his head.

“Alistair. Alistair, hey! It’s over.” Frowning, Bannon walked closer to him.

“He was just a puppy,” he whimpered. “When I left… just a pup….”

“It’s just a dog.”

“He was my friend!” Alistair lowered his arms to put his face in his hands. “They were my only friends…. The dogs; Charger, Sabaton, Merri and Tori, Lion, Galoot….” Anger tinged his voice. “None of the other children liked me. Not the grubby little bastard. The stupid, clumsy idiot. The useless waste. Good for nothing but taunting and laughing at.”

Embarassed, Bannon looked away, fidgeted. “Come on, man.” He wished Leliana had been able to go after the Templar instead of him. “You’re a Grey Warden, now. They respect that. What you did at the battle last night–.” Alistair peerd up at him. “They all saw you tear into that horde.” Bannon bit his lip. “You know I’m your friend,” he said. “And I need your help. Without you, I… I’m all alone.” He took a breath as that realization set in. “Come on, you have to be strong. We’re going to get this bastard demon.”

Alistair clenched his jaw. “All right.” He stood.

Bannon had to lead him through the carnage. Alistair’s face was wet by the time they got to the end of the hall, but he made no sound, said not a word. He pointed out the way to the castle’s main hall.

Leliana retrieved her crossbow and reloaded it. Morrigan returned to human form. She leaned heavily on her staff. Sten limped in silence behind them.

 

 

 


Writing Schedule Update: May 2012


 

Okay, last week’s B&Z post was a day late and I cut it off at a good cutting off point, but… I was going to have more in it. This week’s post isn’t even started, I’m trying to get my brain to figure out what Bannon is doing. My brain is not listening to me. It just runs off on its own, tra-la-la, like a disobediant dog. Or… perhaps like a typical cat. ::sigh::

So. I have officially decided to go back to a 2-week publishing interlude. I would rather let the scenes cook up a bit more in my brain, get typed, and get proofed/edited more slowly, than to rush out shoddy product every week. Next B&Z post is due May 25. The Ambush all the Zevran fans are waiting for will occur… sometime in June. I think.

 


Night Battle


 
Content:
Rating: Teen
Flavor: epic battle
Language: some
Violence: whole lotta
Nudity: none
Sex: none
Other: none
 
Author’s Notes:

I will probably now lose my credibility as a ‘realistic’ fight scene writer. But oh well, it will be cool!

“Hold Forth Andraste’s Soldeirs” is based on “Onward, Christian Soldiers” (of which I know neither the words nor the exact tune), and any battle anthem by Manowar.


 
The Night Battle

 

 

Zevran contemplated the irony of life.

The comely tavern wench had mentioned that Lloyd hid himself in the cellar every night and let the phantom horde pass him by, while the more valiant men and women of Redcliffe fought them. Zevran thought this a fine and practical idea. He’d been strolling into the town proper to find such a bolt hole when he’d been impressd into service. They’d shoved a bow into his hands and sent him off with Ser Vincent.

Which is why he was now standing here on the narrow wooden walkway that joined the cliff road to the sawmill. Except it no longer joined, exactly. They had torn up the planks between their station and the road, to prevent these phantoms from turning and attacking them. Zevran presumed the things could not fly.

He and two other elves stood near a brazier. One was a tow-headed kid and the other — one of the ironies Zevran was contemplating — was that spy from the tavern. Beads of sweat, like jewels in a tiara, popped out on the spy’s forehead every time he glanced at Zevran. Zevran, for his part, ignored the other elf as if he didn’t exist.

Zevran stood in front of the burning coals in the brazier to preserve his night vision. It also kept his face and distinctive tattoo in shadow. He didn’t think the knight would notice or care. Ser Vincent had been sorely wounded. He sat in a chair, his mangled leg propped up on the walkway rail. His face was white beneath a dark beard and he carefully measured out medicinal doses from a bottle of whiskey. True to his chivalrous calling, he was trying his hardest not to get drunk and pass out on duty. Each time he gulped a swig, he grimaced and cursed. Zevran suspected he was growing tired of waiting. The assassin sympathized.

When night had fallen and the gibbous moon rose over the lake, the defenders of Redcliffe could see their foes boiling out of the castle and coming inexorably across the bridge. The phantom army raised a faintly-glowing miasma around them, like a cloud of dust. The evil mists gathered force at the bridge gate and… stopped. Whatever the small contingent of knights and Grey Wardens had done, they’d effectively halted the onslaught. The rest of the defenders had been getting bored waiting. Or… at least Zevran had.

Ah well, it was marginally more fun than holing up in some dank cellar. Or so he assured himself.

At last the ring of metal on metal drifted down the road. Zevran perked up his ears and craned his neck to see. After a few minutes, the knights jogged down the hill in an orderly retreat. They passed the end of the broken walkway and gathered in a wider section of the road just before the bridge. The far side was bordered by steep rock and a pile of wooden containers; the near side by a sharp drop-off a few storeys high. There, the defenders turned to once more engage the pursuing phantoms.

The creatures looked solid enough, save for a faint green luminescence about them. They were human-looking but clearly dead, their faces no more than grinning skulls. Zevran nocked an arrow and drew the fletching smoothly to his jaw. He sighted down the shaft at the milling figures. Such chaos on the battlefield; anyone could be felled by a stray arrow. The Wardens’ giant was easy to spot; the Wardens themselves, not so much. The human had been wearing armor just like the knights. Ah, yes — there. The one in the mis-matched helmet.

Zevran parted his lips and exhaled gently, like a lover’s sigh. He loosed the arrow.

The Warden was surprisingly quick. He whirled at the last moment, just as the phantom behind him dropped like a stone, an arrow in its skull. Zevran saw a flash of surprise, lost in an instant as the Warden turned to a new foe.

The assassin slowly drew another arrow, listening to the faint caress of the shaft against the wood. The elven Warden was more difficult to spot, almost impossible to track. He moved swiftly, not in a panic, but in effective viciousness.

Zevran let fly again. This Warden was nowhere near the shaft by the time the arrow sped past him and buried itself in a phantom eye socket. The creature pitched back, lost among its fellows.

“Hey,” Ser Vincent barked; “Quit wasting arrows.”

“I assure you,” Zevran told him levelly; “as soon as I miss, I will cease.”

 

 

The knights and Wardens gave ground, but grudgingly. A phosphorescent river churned against the dam of the defenders. Mortal men grunted in effort, or pain. Metal rang out as weapons and shields clashed. The phantoms screeled eerily, their shouts like ghostly whispers. Zevran calmly loosed his arrows into the fray. He hadn’t missed yet.

As the line of defenders moved back towards the bridge, the road widened, allowing more of the undead warriors to reach the knights. Somene yelled a signal, and magic flared. The front row of phantoms turned to ice, and the knights fled.

“Sten, hold the bridge!”

The qunari giant stopped at the middle of the span and turned, allowing the rest of the defenders to flow around him. The two Wardens were the last. The undead creatures were clawing at their frozen comrades, intent only on passng the obstacle. They tore limbs and heads off in their frenzy. Then the dam broke and they rushed the lone figure standing there legs braced, hammer gripped in both hands.

Screaming for blood, the phantoms lunged. The qunari swung his hammer in a lazy arc, appearing to put little effort into it. A swath of phantoms went over the side of the bridge, half of them smashed by the hammer, the other half battered to pieces on the rocks in the cascade. Then the hammer swept back, felling another row. Then another. The massive hammer swung like a pendulum.

At the far end of the bridge, someone had grabbed a torch and was waving it. “There’s the signal,” the elven spy said excitedly. “Ser Vincent!”

“I see it,” the knight growled. He braced his crutch and heaved himself upright. With one last look of disgust at the whiskey bottle, he hurled it into the brazier. Flames leapt up from the coals. “Arm!” the knight barked.

Zevran put his arrow away and picked up one of the pitch-dipped ones. The other two elves held theirs nervously, waiting for the orders to light and fire them.

Ser Vincent stared past them, squinting against the fire’s light. His eyes darted side to side, watching the lower end of the road, where one lone giant had the horde stopped cold, and the upper end, where more of the creatures were still coming.

Several tense moments passed, counted out by the rhythmic swing of the qunari hammer and the pounding heartbeats of the archers.

“Light!”

The elves dipped their arrows into the flames then put them carefully to string.

“Draw….”

They weren’t aiming at anything. The stacks of barrels and crates lining the curve of the road were literally as broad as a barn; it wouldn’t take a crack shot to hit them. The elves held their bows drawn, flames licking the ends of the arrows.

“Ser…,” the kid said nervously as the knight withheld the order to fire.

“Not yet.”

“These are going to burn out,” Zevran griped.

Not yet.

The patch of road swarmed with the phantasmal mass. They gathered to rush the qunari.

“FIRE!”

Three flaming arrows streaked over the heads of the undead warriors and thudded into the wooden barrels. And then, nothing happened.

“Light!” Ser Vincent barked again, and the elves selected fresh arrows. “Draw….”

Three of the ghostly warriors took notice of the archers. They began to edge out on the two struts the held up the walkway.

“Uh, Ser…!” the kid gulped.

“Ignore them. Fire!”

Again the arrows hit their mark with nothing to show for it. Zevran cursed the idiot who’d laid this trap. Hadn’t they opened the barrels of oil? The fool knights should have slashed the kegs open as they retreated at the very least.

The undead warriors on the walkway struts were getting closer. Their jaws gaped in glee at the prospect of slaying some weak and vulnerable archers. Fortunately, they were also as clumsy as regular shems. As they rushed forward, they tripped or slipped, and fell crashing to the stone far below.

“Fire again!” Ser Vincent said, voice rising in panic.

Brilliant plan, Zevran thought sourly. He lit and shot another two arrows while his comrades managed one more volley.

Zevran had a third arrow on the string when the oil went up. It didn’t just burn; it caught alight too hot, too fast, and far too strong for its containers. Huge fireballs blossomed along the line with a tremendous thunderclap. Zevran slitted his eyes as the wind flung particles of dust at his face, but he couldn’t turn away. In an instant, the fire burned an image into his eyes, the image of splintered wood and nails spewing out at the phantom warriors, ripping, shredding right through them.

When his ears stopped ringing, he could hear himself laughing. Oh, that had been marvelous! The entire section of road lay covered in the limbs and glowing miasma. If they had been flesh and blood…. Zevran felt a tightness in his groin at the thought of such carnage. He grinned like a maniac.

The remains of the barrels burned hot, loosing dark, greasy smoke into the sky like a twisted banner. The stragglers at either end of the trap, many of them burning, stumbled forward towards the bridge. The Wardens’ qunari fell back, and a ring of knights at the far side dispatched the remnants of the horde. There rose a ragged cheer, echoed by the townsfolk, further below.

Then, as if in answer, came an angry roar from the castle across the lake. The entire edifice shimmered in sickly green light. A column of green and black smoke rose from the highest tower.

This can’t be good, Zevran thought.

“How do we get down?” the spy asked the knight.

Ser Vincent chewed his moustaches nervously. “This way. Like the rest of the deadwood.” He stumped towards the sawmill, where a winch and platform stood overhanging the lake.

 

 

Bannon took a deep breath. It was his last and only chance for one. His trap had worked better than his wildest imaginings, and the undead horde had been defeate while the night was still young. He let a cocky congratulatory grin spread across his face as he looked over to Alistair. The other Warden grinned back. The knights let out a whoop as the last of the phantom army dissolved into mist at their feet.

The celebration was short-lived. Whatever mage or demon was in the castle, it made it’s ire known. “This can’t be good,” Bannon said.

The pillar of magic began spilling down the sides of the castle, like sickly water in a fountain. Clouds boiled and clumped and began to take form. Ghostly screams echoed across the water. The drumming sound of hooves and shrill whinnies bespoke of the army now forming.

“They’re coming across the lake!”

Ser Perth shouted, “Knights! To the Chantry!” He led the weary warriors down into the town.

Bannon turned to Morrigan, who was staring at the surge of magic pouring from the castle. “Morrigan?” The witch was smart enough that he didn’t have to voice the whole question.

“‘Not good’ sums it up quite nicely.”

“Shit. Let’s go.”

 

 

“Move those barricades! Move! Move!

“They’re coming from the shore!”

“Form lines! Hold fast!”

The defenders scrambled to turn their barricades around, faces pale and drawn even in the ruddy firelight.

“Morrigan,” Bannon said breathlessly, trotting beside her; “how long can you keep casting ice?”

“That would depend on how fast I cast it. I will need to conserve my energy if this battle is expected to last until dawn.”

“I need an estimate. Just tell me how often you can do it.”

“Without casting any other magic? Two or three minutes.” Morrigan followed him as he leapt aboard a wagon serving as a barricade. “I’ll still tire, eventually.”

“All right.” Bannon nodded as if he had an idea what she meant. “You! You lot, stand here and defend this gap.” A group of burly men armed mostly with farm tools formed a ragged line. Bannon waved over some archers. “Up into the wagon.” There weren’t many, but then he spied some elves with bows trotting out of the darkened town. “You three! Over here!” Bannon had an idea, but looking at the sweaty, scared faces of the townsfolk, he didn’t know if they could accomplish it properly. Well, he had to give them something. And keep it simple.

“Listen up!” he said in his hardest battlefield voice. “You’re going to hold the enemy here. When Morrigan gives the signal, drop back. Fall back right away, or you’re going to get frozen.” He looked over at the witch. “Morrigan will freeze the phantoms. You archers: they’ll be just like the targets you’ve been shooting at all day — they’ll stand still.” Someone coughed a nervous laugh. Bannon grinned wryly. “Shoot ’em in the head, just like at practice.”

“Piece of cake, Warden,” Anselm called.

Bannon shot him a confident grin. “Good lad!”

A movement near the center of the defenders’ circle caught everyone’s eye. Bannon turned with the rest and saw Leliana climbing an upturned wagon. She wore her old robe as a tabard over her armor, the sun symbol of the Chantry gleaming in the torchlight. It was slit up the sides to leave her legs free, showing the leather guards.

“Sweet Andraste,” the Sister’s voice rang over the defenders; “Hear our call! The blessing of the Maker shine over us.”

 

 

Zevran didn’t know whether to laugh or curse fate. No sooner had he extricated himself from battle than he got drawn back into it. And that kid had called the elf ‘Warden.’ Zevran hadn’t gotten a good look at him in the dark and chancy torchlight, but the elf now stood not three paces from him, back turned, consulting with that mage of his.

Zevran stared. His hand itched to take his dagger and plunge it into that unsuspecting back. What are you thinking? he snarled silently. He rubbed his palm on his shirt, trying to relieve the itch. You want to get out of here alive, don’t you? He frowned. He busied his hand with grabbing an arrow and putting it to string. The phantom army would be on them momentarily. The Warden’s plan was simple and neat. And of course, doomed to fall apart at the first engagement with the enemy, like every military plan did.

 

 

Alistair trotted after the knights. “Polearms!” Ser Perth called. They didn’t have lances, so they made do by pulling up some of the smaller sharpened stakes in the barricades. Ser Perth directed them to the wide avenue leading to the lake, positioning them between the approaching army and the Chantry.

“Sweet Andraste, hear our call!” The knights turned to the battle angel standing atop the highest barricade. “The blessing of the Maker shine over us.” A shimmery light rose above Sister Leliana, bringing a gasp of wonder from more than one throat. The light glimmered and strengthened, rising over the defenders. Alistair touched a hand to his throat where he used to wear the symbol of Andraste. Around him, the knights performed the same obesiance. Leliana began to sing Hold Forth Andraste’s Soldiers, her voice gaining strength as others began to join in.

“The Maker is with us!” Ser Perth called. “Form the line!”

Alistair turned towards the lake and set his feet in a ready stance. He slid his back foot out a bit further, then lowered the butt of his big pointy stick to the ground. This is one thin line, he thought, without wavering.

They could hear the pounding of hooves now, which was truly odd, as the horsemen were galloping over water. As crazy as that sounded. Maybe it was all a dream. Alistair twisted his spear, grinding the butt more firmly in place.

“The buildings will slow them down,” someone said.

“We hope.”

Ser Perth called out, “Stand fast, men! We are knights of Ferelden!” A flash of white showed through the opening of his helmet as he bared his teeth. “It will be just like the battle at River Dane!”

The knights cheered. Alistair’s mouth twisted in a bitter grimace; he couldn’t join them. River Dane had been the battle where Loghain had become the Hero of Ferelden. Now he was a coward at best; at worst, a traitor.

Alistair did raise his voice with the next cheer. “For Redcliffe! FOR FERELDEN!”

 
Hold forth, Andraste’s soldiers;
Our voices raised in song.
Hold forth, ye faithful soldiers;
Maker’s Love will keep us strong.

 

The phantom horsemen rushed between the buildings, flowing like a river. They came barrelling down the main street, shrieking their war cries.

“Brace!”

As one, the knights raised shields, ducked heads, and lowered their makeshift pikes. The front line of horsemen hit them with an audible crash. Alistair felt as if he were battling the ocean. He held his breath at the impact. A horse and rider impaled themselves on his spear, dissolved into heavy mist, and broke over him.

Ghostly screams filled the air, as did the echoes of whinnying horses.

“Brace!”

Another wave washed over the knights, who stood like a dam before it. A few human cries answered the phantom screams, but the knights stood fast.

The charge had been broken. The horsemen milled about in turmoil, then they wheeled away and formed up for another charge.

“Hold the line!”

 
Carry on, Andraste’s soldiers;
Never falter, never stray.
Carry on, world-weary soldiers;
Maker’s Light will guide our way.

 

Alistair blinked sweat out of his eyes. The rushing in his ears lessened, and he could hear the defenders singing. His heart swelled in his chest. This was where the battle line was drawn, and they weren’t going to give an inch of it! Not while they had breath in their bodies. With a roar, Alistair pushed forward, meeting the charge with the face of his shield and the point of his spear.

 
Stand fast, Andraste’s soldiers;
Our faith will be our shield.
Stand fast, world’s bravest soldiers;
To Evil, never yield.

 

The enemy hit the knights with an impact that seemed to tremble the whole battlefield. Men and metal screamed. The line buckled. Alistair felt the men to his left falling, staggering back. He shoved a phantom beast off his shield and stabbed it with his spear. As its fall created a brief opening, Alistair tossed the spear up to reverse into a throwing grip. He took a step forward and threw with the might and power of a Grey Warden.

The spear flew through the neck of the fallen rider, two phantoms beyond it, and lodged in the ribs of a third. The fallen knights staggered back up, those that still could. The line rippled and re-formed, but began to fragment quickly. With a roar, Alistair drew his sword and launched an attack on the enemy. He swung his sword like a scythe, felling the undead like wheatstalks. He pushed deep into their ranks. They would not get to the villagers he protected, not easily.

 

 

The rest of the battle was lost in a haze. The light was a dim, ashen grey. Few torches still sputtered, giving little light and no comfort. All over the are of the battle, the ghostly miasma gave a faint luminescence. As it dissipated, the bodies of the dead and the blood of mortals was revealed.

Alistair trudged wearily towards the Chantry. His sword nearly dragged on the ground; his arm hadn’t the strength to lift it to its sheath. His left shoulder burned. His shield hung like a lead weight. The Redcliffe device on the front had been scored by a blade, the tower was now broken with a jagged streak like lightning. All Alistair could think was, there should be more blood. There was no blood on his shield, nor on his chestplate, helmet, or gauntlets. He’d been fighting, but there was no enemy blood on him.

A weak gasp drew his attention. He stopped trudging to look around. There, where the green mist was leaking away, lay a body. “Ser Perth!” Alistair’s voice came out a hoarse croak. He hurried to the knight and dropped to his knees beside him, his sword clanging to the ground. He worked his tongue to try to lubricate his voice. “Someone! We need help, here!” He bent over the knight. Ser Perth was covered in blood. Why was Alistair’s armor clean?

Ser Perth opened his eyes and reached weakly for Alistair’s arm. “Andrew….”

“It’s Alistair,” the Warden replied gently.

The knight didn’t seem to hear him. “Tell Mother…. Tell….”

“He was your brother,” Alistair breathed. He hadn’t known. “Tell her what?” The knight didn’t respond. “I’ll tell her, I promise. Ser Perth? Stay with me!” He clutched the knight’s hand. “You’ll tell her! You’ll be able to…. Just hang on.”

It was too late. The light went out of Ser Perth’s eyes. Slowly, gently, Alistair lowered the knight’s hand to his chest. He closed the staring eyes, then turned up his own hand to look at the gauntlet. Now there was blood on his armor. Alistair hung his head.

 

 


End Notes:

In an instant, the fire burned an image into his eyes, the image of splintered wood and nails spewing out at the phantom warriors, ripping, shredding right through them.

Nailbombs, baby! Got to love them carpenters!

 


FAIL 5/11


 

Okay, it’s true! I didn’t finish this week’s scheduled part. BUT! I Have Excuses!

First off, I’d like to blame MY BRAIN, for obsessing over the Torchwood crossover. Bad Brain!

Secondly, I’d like to blame KLIDI/VENTI for running off with Bannon and his motorcycle. And also causing Zevran to go sulk. Do you know how disturbingly quiet it is in my brain without those two around??

Thirdly, I lay heavy blame on OHINYAN for writing some heavy Jack Harkness angst and torment. Yes, thank YOU for re-obsessing my brain with Torchwood. Thank you so much. (Insert sarcasm, there.)

Oh, and finally, I was sick this week.

 

So gimme a break, eh? It’s not my fault!

 


Redcliffe Tavern


 
Content:
Rating: Teen
Flavor: drama
Language: some
Violence: threats
Nudity: none
Sex: none
Other: none
 
Author’s Notes:

Of course, this fool tavern has no name. Speaking of horrid names, no I didn’t have one for this part. Except “Spying.”

Last part was very long. This part is much shorter. Next part… probably long again.
 


 
Redcliffe Tavern

 

 

Lloyd’s Tavern stood on an overlook above the town of Redcliffe proper. It was wedged against the hard cliff, and the builders had made the floorplan crooked in order to maximize the flat space available. It was small and cramped, but spotlessly clean, and had more than its fair share of dimly-lit corners in which to lurk. Or they would be, if it weren’t broad daylight outside. All-in-all a nice place to conduct clandestine business.

Completely marring the effect, however, was this ‘curse’ hovering over Redcliffe. The tavern wench, Bella, had listened with sympathy to Zevran’s vague tale of being a servant to an Antivan merchant who had been eaten by darkspawn. Then she totally trumped that tale of woe, rather gleefully informing him he was now trapped in Redcliffe with the rest of them. While the assassin was used to dealing with snags in an otherwise perfectly sleek and glossy plan, he had to admit that this one was the most unique.

He ordered one ale and nursed it, alone at his table in a handy nook. There were few other tavern patrons, and the talk was all the same. They only confirmed Bella’s wild story. So. Zevran was stuck here.

He’d left his mercenaries on a stretch of road outside of Redcliffe, a lovely boxed-in area that couldn’t be more perfect for an ambush if it had been built specifically for that purpose. He’d left his weapons and armor, let down his hair to help hide his tattoo, clapped a straw hat on his head, and headed into town to spy on the Grey Wardens, intending to return before nightfall. Brasca. Well, one thing at a time.

Zevran couldn’t see the door from where he sat, but no one missed the group coming in. A redhead in Chantry robes, a knight, an elf, a barbarian woman, and a giant. They glanced over the few patrons that were here, then went to the bar. As for the patrons, they all stared back. These could be none other than the mighty Grey Wardens.

Lloyd the barkeep was built like a shank of ham. He brought his considerable bulk over to them. “Are you the Wardens we’ve been hearing about, then?”

“Yes,” the knight said.

“Name’s Lloyd. You here for a drink?” he asked rather forcefully. “I have some other goods, too. Figured since the shop closed down, I could pick up the slack.”

“We’d like a meal — a big one — and some rooms.”

Lloyd’s eyes glinted with the prospect of silver. “Forty-eight,” he named the price.

The elf slapped something onto the bar. “This is what you’re getting,” he growled. “Seeing as your ‘fine inn’ might not be here come morning, you might want to consider a generous discount to those defending it.”

That shut the fat shem up. He scooped up the coins into one meaty hand. “Bella!” he shouted. “See to these guests, girl.”

The Warden’s group dispersed to a table across from the bar. Zevran kept his head down over his mug, but his ears perked up under his hat. Howe was right, one of the Wardens was an elf. So absorbed was Zevran in contemplating that, he didn’t notice the dark-haired fellow had left his companions until he heard his voice.

“Hey. It’s good to see another elven face around here.”

Zevran raised his eyes. The Warden had his back to him, talking to that other elf, the one with the bow across his back, but no armor. The Warden, in contrast, had both bow and blades, and hard-used armor.

“Just because you’re an elf and I’m an elf doesn’t mean we should be friends,” was the acerbic reply.

“Are you with the militia?” the Warden asked, tipping his head at the bow.

“Not really looking for conversation,” the elf replied, his whole body tensing.

“All right, fine.” With an exasperated huff, the Warden turned and went back to his companions.

Zevran slowly lifted his mug and drank it down as he studied his target. The elf was handsome enough, riding the ragged edge between scruffy and rakishly touseled. He had a faint trace of lines between his brows as if suffering from a headache. Zevran tipped his chair back and lowered the brim of his straw hat over his eyes. Feigning a weary farmhand, he could watch the group from under his lashes.

They talked over the various plans they had for the town’s defenses as they ate. The Wardens comandeered the lion’s share of the food — Zevran wondered how they’d even be able to move, let alone fight. The dark-haired woman said something; her voice cut through the quiet conversations of the small tavern, even the militiamen at the table next to Zevran’s. “– doomed. Why we should waste our time is beyond –”

“Morrigan!” the elven Warden cut her off sharply. “You’ve tested the ways out; we’re stuck here. If you think it’s so hopeless, then you can lie in your bed tonight with the covers over your head while the rest of us fight for our lives!”

“No, I–” The woman looked like a cat who’d been suddenly doused in cold water. “Of course you need my help.”

Snarling, the elf snatched the bottle of wine from the table and stood up. The human man grabbed his arm. “I don’t think–”

“Alistair, shut it!”

The human flinched as the elf tore his arm free. Zevran closed his eyes and held his breath as the Warden blew past with a storm’s fury. He disappeared up the rickety stairs.

Zevran eased his eyes open. The redheaded Chantry Sister was saying something to the man, but the group next to Zevran were talking too loudly about the Grey Wardens for him to hear. He opened his eyes wider, peering intently to try to read her lips. Something about ‘worse.’

The man — he must be the other Warden Howe mentioned — had his back to Zevran. He said something, shaking his head and gesturing helplessly.

The Chantry Sister’s beautiful lips moved so sensually, the words were entirely lost on Zevran. Her eyes darkened with concern, then she rose and followed the elf upstairs. Interesting.

Bella came over. Giving up his feigned nap, he gesture for her to refill his mug. He folded his arms on the table and let his head and shoulders slump. He stared sightlessly into his ale, concentrating on trying to pick out the threads of conversation from the noise of the table next to him.

The rest of the Wardens’ group finished their meal shortly. “Well, we have a few hours,” the human Warden said. “We should try to get some rest.” He and the dark-haired woman filed up the stairs, but the qunari left the inn.

Zevran curled his hands around the mug. His heart began pounding. His targets were upstairs, each with his woman. In a little while, they’d be asleep. Not deeply, perhaps, but a stealthy elven assassin would never disturb them. A swift strike of the poisoned dagger, and his contract would be fulfilled. His hands tightened on the mug. The only Crow in the history of Antiva to kill Grey Wardens! His fame would be immeasurable. His heart thumped faster. He could even see the incredulous look his Master’s face would bear. Yes, tinged just so with that edge of fear. Even the legendary Grey Wardens would not stand up to the legend of Zevran Arainai. His lips parted in the ghost of a feral grin.

Then he lifted one hand and chewed thoughtfully on the corner of his thumbnail. But…. There was the problem of the curse upon Redcliffe. That elf had said the stories were true, one couldn’t just leave. Bella had spoken of impenetrable thorn forests and tentacled lake monsters. Though an Antivan Crow was never completely unarmed — he had his dagger, a pair of small throwing knives, and a small vial of concentrated poison — he could hardly take on monsters or undead hordes. Hmm… yes; better to leave the Grey Wardens as they were, let them deal with this curse. His trap would still await them afterwards.

Zevran smoothed his face and calmed his bloodlust. Then he glanced over at the unfriendly elf. He smiled again and went over there. He slid into the seat next to the elf as the latter was quaffing his drink. The elf nearly choked.

“Look, I don’t want any company,” he growled.

“You don’t want any attention,” Zevran said softly, his voice lower than the elf’s. “Are you an assassin? Waiting for your prey?”

“Wh–? No.”

“You just like to lurk suspiciously?”

“I’m– I’m not lurk– no!”

“Oh, that was convincing,” Zevran sad dryly. He leaned his left forearm on the table and crossed his right under it. He let the dagger in his right hand slide out just enough to let the elf see it. He tapped his forefinger down decisively on the blade. The elf’s eyes widened. “Now,” Zevran purred conversationally; “it would really be a whole lot easier if you just answered my questions.”

“D-don’t hurt me,” the elf whispered. “Look, I’m not doing anything — I’m not. They just want me to keep a watch on Redcliffe and report back. That’s all.”

“Who are ‘they’?”

“I don’t know.” The elf blanched as Zevran frowned at him. “There’s a guy, he hired me. Tall, very tall. He never gave me a name.” He licked his lips nervously, eyes darting as he searched his memory. “He said he worked for some nobleman up north. Um… Howe. Arl Howe.”

Ah, old rat-face himself. Zevran relaxed a notch. They were working for the same man, so this spy oughtn’t be a threat to the assassin’s own plans.

He continued pouring out information, however. “I sent them a message when the arl got sick. But I had nothing to do with that, I swear. I sent another message after the curse hit, but… I don’t know if it got through.”

Zevran tipped his head. “How are you sending these messages?”

“Messenger birds.”

Brasca. Well, so much for a secret goat path or tunnel leading out of here. Zevran fixed the spy with a threatening glare. “After the Wardens leave — assuming they are successful — I may return with a message for you to send.” He made the dagger vanish. “Until such time, you have not seen me.”

“Y-yes, ser.”

 

 

Leliana tapped lightly at the door to Bannon’s room. “Warden? May I speak with you a moment?”

“What now?” was the irate reply.

Leliana took that as invitation enough to enter the room. It was rather small, with room only for a washstand and bed, and a storage chest by the door. The elf sat on the edge of the bed, tipping back the wine bottle. He lowered it and let it dangle between his knees.

“You know that’s not good for you,” Leliana said.

“Oh! The nun came to preach at me.” Bannon’s eyes drifted to the tiny window. “What a surprise.”

Leliana sat on the chest, facing him. “I know you have trouble sleeping,” she said gently, determined not to get caught up in his animosity. “Trouble with the nightmares that Wardens suffer.”

“Noticed that, did you?”

“And you must have noticed, that this drinking has had no effect on them.” He frowned at the bottle as she went on. “The only effect it has is to make you stupid, clumsy. It makes you sick; it gives you hangovers.” She didn’t hold back. There wasn’t much use; he already didn’t like her.

“Worked on my headache,” he grumbled, not looking up. “Until now,” he added in an even lower voice.

“I know we haven’t gotten along very well.” She forged on, ignoring the slight. “I have misjudged you badly, and I am truly sorry for inadvertantly offending you.” He stared at the bottle, a thoughtful look on his face. “You are a Grey Warden, of great importance to this world. You do see this, yes?”

Bannon closed his eyes. “I don’t want to be imporatant. I just want some rest.”

Leliana leaned forward and put her hands over his. He looked up, and she met his eyes. “I know. But you are very smart, Bannon. You have to see, this is not the answer.” Gently, she tugged the bottle from his grip. His fingers went lax, allowing her to take it. She set it aside and took up his hands again. His fingers were long, supple and strong, growing calloused from bladework. Leliana stroked them soothingly a long minute.

Then she took a small knife from her belt pouch and put it into his hands. It had a smooth wooden handle and a short, single-edged blade that curved up to a point at the end. “I want you to have this.”

A faint line creased his brow. “Is this to replace the knife I gave that kid? It’s a little small, isn’t it?”

“This is not for fighting,” she told him. “It is a carving knife. You said you were a carpenter, yes?” She searched his face, unsure now if he’d been joking. His expression was murky, unreadable.

“Yes, but what am I supposed to do with this?”

Leliana thought of a smart remark Alistair might say to that, but she feared offending the elf again. “You should try to work with some wood,” she said. “Do something constructive instead of fighting all the time. Just… I think it will help you. Help you to relax.”

“I could whittle myself to sleep?” He cocked a brow at her, and she bit her lip, feeling foolish. But then he relented. His face smoothed as he looked down at the carving knife, turning it over in his hands. “Thank you,” he said finally. “I…. Look, I’m sorry I’ve been short-tempered, and I haven’t been very patient with you.”

“That’s all right.”

“No, it isn’t.” Bannon rubbed one hand over his face. “I’m usually better than this.” His deep brown eyes looked into hers. “I apologize too, Leliana. Maybe… after this mess is over, we can talk some more. Get to know each other better.”

Leliana smiled. “I would like that.” She stood and placed one hand lightly on his forehead. “May the Maker watch over you.” And then, she shouldn’t have, but she couldn’t seem to resist brushing her palm over his hair. Quickly, she turned and left the room.