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.
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?”
“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?”
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.”
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.