Flavor: Drama, Action/Adventure, Humor
Finally! The event you’ve all been waiting for! Bannon vs Zevran! Ah… well, one of the two events you’ve been waiting for. ;P As for the other, that’s going to take some time, so be prepared for a long, crazy ride.
Two days later, they were on the road again, rested up and reprovisioned. Bannon was sorry to leave the comfortable bed of his guest room, but quite glad to be missing the effort to clean up Redcliffe castle.
Morrigan had been successful in defeating the demon. She would not give them any details, which put the wind up Alistair’s back. Connor was fine, though he seemed to have lost his memory of the time he had been possessed. As for his father, Eamon, he had not died when the demon was removed, but neither had he awakened from his coma.
Teagan clung to the belief that the Urn of Sacred Ashes was the only possible cure. Since the knights of Redcliffe had been decimated, the onus of this quest had been pressed onto the Grey Wardens. The notes Ser Bryant had passed on gave them a few leads, either in Laketown by the Circle Tower, or in Denerim itself.
The Blood Mage, Jowan, had been granted a stay of execution. He’d been returned to the dungeon to await Eamon’s judgement, should the arl ever awakened. If he died, so would Jowan.
The blacksmith’s daughter, along with all the other servants of the castle, had been killed. Owen went on a bender and nearly tore down the forge. The town was currently looking for a new blacksmith.
Bannon avoided the boy, Connor. He still had a knee-jerk reaction of wanting to kill him on sight. The fact that there weren’t any elven women in the castle chafed him; he could certainly have used the comfort of an elven lass in his big guest bed. It would have been mutually comforting! As it was, he volunteered to let Sten sleep on the floor in his room, leaving Alistair free to look up any of his old girlfriends. Or hell, a new one, if what he’d said about the dogs were true…. That would be awkward. Bannon hoped Alistair had some luck there, but the former Templar was so moody and morose, the elf doubted anything had actually happened.
At least Teagan never mentioned the royal bastard bit. Alistair seemed almost relieved to be leaving his home town. Bannon didn’t get a chance to talk to him. Alistair strode eagerly forward, taking the vanguard with Sten. So the elf hung back with Morrigan. The witch seemed more introspective after her battle with the demon. Bannon wanted to make sure she was all right, still dedicated to the Grey Wardens’ cause.
Leliana trailed behind, also uncharacteristically quiet. Something had been bothering her since Redcliffe as well. Bannon made note to put Alistair onto that. They were both Chantry-trained, they ought to get along well.
Four crows sat in the old dead tree overlooking the mercenary camp. Zevran enticed a few closer to the wagons with scraps of spoiled food. Hannah wrinkled her nose. “What’s with the birds?”
One of Zevran’s partners, Taleisen, had always liked to lure crows to an ambush site. He claimed it gave the target a feeling of dread forboding, a mark of doom that guaranteed their failure to defend themselves. Zevran thought it was ridiculous — weren’t ambushes supposed to be a complete surprise? Besides, crows were so common, he doubted the marks ever noticed their presence, let alone realized the dread they were supposed to feel before their last moments of life. Taliesin was like that, though; full of drama and poetics. Zevran did it on a whim, since Taliesin wasn’t here. He’d offered to come, but Zevran had turned down the help. The last job they had done together… had gone badly. It wasn’t Taliesin’s fault, of course, but Zevran wanted to face this challenge alone. He had some things to work out for himself. Some bad luck to shake off his boots, as it were.
Quinn, the scout, came pounding up the road, scattering the crows. “A qunari, a knight, an elf, a barbarian woman, and a Chantry Sister–” he reported in one quick breath. It sounded like the start of a convoluted joke.
“The Wardens?” Hannah asked Zevran.
“Either that, or a very unlucky circus troupe,” he quipped with a grin. “Get ready!” He ordered. “Man the tree — do not drop it until we can separate the Wardens from their allies,” he told Quinn. The mercenaries scrambled into position, drawing the oxcarts across the road and felling the beasts in their traces.
“Go get them,” Zevran told Hannah with a wink.
“Help! Please, come quickly!” A farmwife ran down the road and nearly ran into Alistair. She caught him by the hands. “There’s been an attack!”
“Wh–?” was all he had time for before she ran back the other way.
Sten growled, “Another delay?” But the human Warden was already chasing the woman.
Bannon and Morrigan caught up with the qunari. “Brilliant,” Morrigan sneered. “It’s as though they wait for us to show up before having their disasters.”
“Come on, before Alistair gets himself into too much trouble.” The elf led his troops in a ragged charge down the road. It couldn’t be darkspawn; he didn’t sense any nearby.
They came around a bend to behold a sight of slaughter and chaos. But no attackers. Bannon skidded to a halt, Morrigan beside him. Sten continued until he drew abreast of Alistair, who had stopped near the first wagon.
The only person who might be an attacker was an elf in leather armor, armed with swords and bow. The distraught farm woman ran right up to him, then stopped and gave him a nod. Completely unlike enemies.
The elf gave a sharp whistle and raised one fist. Bannon saw several armed men step out from behind the wagons. Even more broke cover on the hills on either side of the road, bringing crossbows to bear. Shit! A trap! Retreat would be really smart right about now!
He opened his mouth to yell at Alistair to run, but a loud groan drowned him out. An old dead tree heeled over and was falling on him. He dove forward, Morrigan leaping ahead of him. Leliana cried out as the tree crashed to the ground, sealing off this end of the trap. Fortunately, she sounded more fearful than hurt.
Bannon scrambled to his feet, drawing his weapons. Morrigan started a spell. That blond elf pulled a large bow from his back. “Resist if it makes you feel better!” he sneered. “The Grey Wardens die here!” Silver-blue light flared from the woman’s hands — she was a mage! The battle was swiftly joined.
Alistair cried out as blue mage-light encircled his feet, pinning him in place. He managed to get his shield up in time to catch a yard-long arrow on it. He pulled out his sword and waited, head ducked down.
Sten charged forward with a roar. Crossbow bolts chewed into the ground behind him as the archers concentrated most of their fire on him. He met the mercenaries with a clash of metal and human cries.
A smaller volley of bolts bounced off the air around Morrigan. “Stay behind me if you wish to remain safe,” she suggested to Bannon. She raised one hand and called down lightning to her fist. She then aimed it at the nearest row of crossbowmen.
Bannon didn’t heed her advice. Ducking low, he raced to help the beleaguered qunari and trapped Warden. One of the mercenaries was angling for Alistair’s blind side, behind his guard. Bannon plowed into the man and threw him to the dirt, then thrust a sword through his ribs.
“Morrigan,” Alistair yelled. “The mage!”
Bolts of magic and lightning flashed through the melee as the two apostates fought.
Behind the hulk of the felled tree, Leliana cursed in a most un-Chantry-like manner and bent to rip her new robe up the sides. Vowing never to wear her robes on the road again, she clambered up the tree trunk and perched by a shielding root. She drew her crossbow and began sniping the enemies on the ridges.
Bannon ducked instinctively, and something sheared through his hair, making him flinch aside. Where were those damned arrows coming from? He blocked a mace with his sword and drove his short blade through the bicep of the arm holding it. He cast a glance across the battlefield, towards the mercenary elf and his mage. That elf had the bow; he was drawing another arrow.
Their eyes met.
Their eyes met across the battlefield, deep brown and honey-amber. Zevran saw the flash of anger, the instinct of a killer. He knew in an instant that the other elf was coming for him, figuring to cut off the head of this mercenary snake, to remove the biggest threat.
Zevran released the arrow, but the Warden was gone before it landed. He disappeared behind the mercenaries as he circled to get to Zevran. He didn’t waste any opportunity as he passed. He hamstrung one of the fighters. He ran past another, completely ignoring the man’s challenging stance, then turned and swiped a blade through his neck, almost as an afterthought.
“He’s mine!” Zevran snapped to Hannah as he threw down the bow. He pulled out his swords and sprang forward, right into the charge of the Warden. The two elves impacted heavily, blade to blade, body to body. They staggered back a half step, caught their balance, then moved into a swift dance, exchanging fast and vicious blows.
Zevran bared his teeth in a grin; he felt the excitement of bloodlust straight down to his groin. The dark-haired elf merely snarled, intent on killing him. Zevran had the advantage of two long blades, whereas his opponent had one long and one short. A glimmer of disappointment cut through the thrill of the fight. This elf was clearly nowhere near as well-trained as a Crow assassin. Zevran was going to beat him.
Oh, but it wasn’t going to be easy. The elf was quick — Zevran trapped his short blade between his swords and circled to wrench it out of his hand. But the Warden somehow snaked his blade straight back, twisting with the maneuver instead of fighting it. Then he struck forward, slicing Zevran’s forearm between the bracer and elbow guard.
And he was strong — fearlessly, the Warden followed up with an attack. It had no finesse, no technique, but raw as it was, Zevran couldn’t predict it, and he found himself giving ground, trying to find an opportunity to turn the tables. Bursts of magelight flared around them as the main battle raged on. The quartet of blades burned crescent streaks into the air, yet neither elf dared to blink.
And — Zevran barely turned his hip in time to deflect a vicious kick — he fought dirty. The force of it knocked Zevran sprawling, and he twisted like an eel to avoid the Warden’s stabbing blade. He cut upward, more a desperate delaying tactic than an actual attack. The Warden avoided his swords and cut at his legs. Zevran scrambled backwards, the relentless elf following, determined to slice him open anywhere he could reach.
Zevran feinted and rolled, got his feet under him, and flung a handful of loose grit at the Warden’s face. The Warden threw up his left arm and turned his head away, squinching his eyes shut. Zevran followed up with an hard downward cut that laid the Warden’s bicep open. He cried out in pain and rage, and attacked. Zevran hadn’t managed to blind him with the dirt; he’d been too quick to react.
Zevran exploited an opening in the elf’s guard, left by his wounded arm. The assassin cut hard across the Warden’s chest. Somehow, he managed to catch the blade on his long dagger and deflect it upwards. He flinched because the sword nearly went into his neck, instead. The Warden threw his head back and the blade only skidded against his jawbone.
Zevran’s grin widened, his bloodlust enflamed as he struck his opponent. He pressed the attack, aiming at the extremities, to hurt, to cripple, not to kill. To draw the duel out. The Warden stumbled back clumsily, drawing the killer on. Incensed, Zevran lunged, overextended. The Warden dropped entirely under his guard and thrust his sword into Zevran’s thigh. “Ah!”
The assassin struck down instinctively, but the Warden spun aside in a move that left his back completely open and unprotected. He’d actually disengaged and was aiming a strike at the mage’s neck. Did he think the pain lancing Zevran’s thigh would incapacitate him? With an angry snarl, Zevran turned and lunged to drive both blades into the elf’s back.
But at that moment, there was a world-shattering CRACK! Pain flashed red across Zevran’s eyes, then there was only blackness. It was the last thing Zevran knew. He didn’t even feel his body hit the ground.
The mage’s eyes flew wide as Bannon turned and thrust his sword into her neck. Just behind him, Alistair finished off the elf who was the apparent leader of these people. Both bodies collapsed lifelessly at nearly the same time. Bannon shot Alistair a grateful look, but they didn’t have time for more. Something, somewhere, was exploding, and one very angry qunari was screaming imprecations in his foreign tongue.
Ignoring the few scattered crossbow bolts that peppered the ground, the Wardens charged up the hill after Sten.
“Not that way!” the witch started. “It’s full of–! Oh well.”
Alistair tripped on a wire and went sprawling, which was lucky, as the explosion belched fire and debris over his back.
“Traps!” Bannon yelled.
Bannon turned back to the witch. “Get those bastards on the other ridge!” They couldn’t let any of them escape!
Once the heart of the assault had been cut down, it was just a matter of cleaning up the remaining skirmishers and crossbowmen. It was one hell of a mess. Bannon was covered in blood, at least half of it his own. Whoever that elf was, he had been damned good. The others, save for Leliana, were in worse shape. She and Alistair knelt over the qunari, trying to pull bolts out of his neck without killing him.
Bannon passed Morrigan a healing potion, then set about binding up his arm.
“Well, these didn’t last long,” the witch quipped as she downed the potion with a grimace. Despite having restocked at Redcliffe’s Chantry, they were left with barely a handful after this fight. “I would dearly love to thank whoever set these mercenaries on us,” she continued scathingly. “Too bad we killed them all, or we might have gotten some satisfaction extracting the information.”
“Does it matter? It was probably Loghain.” Bannon got up and moved stiffly down the hill to check the corpses. The thief from Denerim started pocketing little prizes he found.
“Hey,” he called back to the witch a few minutes later. “Bring some rope, I think you just got your wish.”
Some pitiful fool was moaning in pain. From a distant shore, an angelic voice said, “I think he’s waking up.” And then Zevran realized the pitiful fool was in fact himself. How embarrassing.
He blinked his eyes a few times. When they were open, he saw a bleary mass of brown and red. When they were closed, he could see a bright red crack on a black field. It must be the crack in his skull, he reasoned.
He blinked some more and tried to rub his eyes, which is when he discovered his hands were bound behind his back. Further investigation revealed he was lying on the ground, a bandage around his leg. Pain throbbing through his body helped him recall that vicious fight with the elven Warden.
“Here,” the angelic voice said softly, and something cool and soothing touched Zevran’s eyes. Then he could see that red-headed Chantry Sister crouched over him, wiping his bloody face with a damp cloth.
“That’s enough,” someone else said. The red-haired angel stood and moved back. The others were there, gathered around him — the barbarian and the two Wardens.
Zevran rolled halfway towards them so he could lift his head to look at them. He groaned again. “I’m not dead?” he said stupidly. Head injuries were no fun.
“A condition that can soon be remedied,” the cold-voiced barbarian told him pointedly.
“First,” the dark-haired elf said, “we want to ask you a few questions.”
“Aha,” Zevran said. “An interrogation, then? Very well, let me save you some time and effort. I am Zevran Arainai of the Antivan Crows. Zev to my friends.” He frowned to himself. “Not that I have any friends.” Where had that come from? “Sorry. Head injury, you know.”
“Why are you trying to kill us?” the elf asked.
“Is my job.” Zevran shrugged, or tried to. It wasn’t so easy while lying down on one side with your hands tied behind your back. “I am with the Antivan Crows, as I believe I mentioned.” The Fereldens looked more blank than impressed.
“An assassin?” the human man asked.
The Sister clarified. “The Antivan Crows are a powerful guild of assassins. They are reputed to be the most deadly and most efficient killers. They never fail to kill their mark, once they accept a contract.” Ah, at last, an enlightened person!
“Well, they can’t say that any more,” the barbarian sniffed.
“Who hired you?” the knight asked.
“Eh, a rat-faced fellow in the capitol. Howe, his name is. On behalf of that taciturn Regent, General of the blah blah blah.”
“Loghain!” the knight spit with vehemence.
“Oh, there’s a big surprise!” the elf said in sarcastic shock. “That’s an incredible– I think I’m gonna have a heart attack and die from that surprise!” The Wardens shared a flat look.
Zevran snorted, and instantly wished he hadn’t, as that red lightning fork flashed before his eyes again.
The elven Warden looked down on him. “Why are you just giving us all this information?” He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Zevran was beginning to like him; so smart, so ruthless, so handsome. And such gorgeous eyes!
“Oh,” Zevran said, remembering the question. “Why not? I was not paid for my silence, after all. Not that I offered it.”
“How much did they pay you? And where’s the money now?”
“The contract on your lives went for an exorbitant sum. As for the money, it is on its way to Antiva, to my Crow Masters. I, myself, will only see a paltry share of the take, should I be successful.” He blinked. Things worked a little more slowly in his rattled brain. “Which I clearly have not been. Therefore, death shall be my only payment.” For some reason, this saddened him. After a lifetime spent clinging to life like a drowning man on a small plank in the ocean after a shipwreck, he found he couldn’t truly let go. Since he had first clashed with the elven Warden, he’d been fighting to live. It was ironic. “If you are done questioning me, I would like to offer you a proposal.”
The small group looked at each other. The barbarian spoke. “His exceedingly limited usefulness is at an end. Finish him off and be done with it.” She turned and stalked off, clearly dismissing him.
Zevran’s heart pounded. The others didn’t appear inclined to hear him out. He didn’t wait for an invitation. “Listen, since I have failed to kill you, the Crows will now seek my death. That puts us in the same boat, no? It occurs to me that the only way to be safe from the Crows is to join with someone stronger than they are — which you have quite adequately proved to be.”
“You want us to protect you,” the elf stated; “from your current — soon to be former — employers.”
“Si! I can be of great use,” Zevran added quickly. What did he have to offer them? “I am well-versed in poisons, stealth, and lock-picking, traps, spying…. I can warn you should the Crows try other, more sophisticated means of killing you, now that my efforts have failed.” Pitiful fool! He’d just admitted failure, three times in as many minutes. It should have stung more, but the pain in his head seemed to drown that out. Zevran squirmed a bit, wishing he could use his hands, or at least stand upright and talk. “I know twelve massage techniques, six different card games, and a great many jokes — most of them dirty. I would be great fun at parties, no?”
“You’ve got to be joking,” the human said.
“You see how amusing I can be!” Zevran stressed. “I am an expert swordsman, as you can attest.” He nodded to the elf. “I am sure you can use such skills, to fight darkspawn and other unsavory creatures.”
“How do we know you won’t just stab us in the back as soon as we untie you?” the elven Warden asked.
“Uh….” Zevran’s mouth went dry. “You don’t, really,” he admitted. “I can only pledge my loyalty to you.”
“The same loyalty you gave to these Crows?”
“Well, it’s not like I had a choice with them. They bought me on the slave market when I was young.”
“You’re a slave?”
Ah, of course! Fereldens had a notorious distaste for slavery. “Yes,” Zevran said. “A well-paid and pampered slave; a very deadly and dangerous one to be sure, but a slave nonetheless.” Was that just desperate, wishful thinking, or did the elf’s demeanor soften? “My pledge to you would be that of a free man, not the forced loyalty of a slave.” Zevran blinked. Blood was running into his left eye again.
“You must think we’re royally stupid,” the human scoffed.
“I think you’re royally tough to kill,” Zevran corrected. “I’m only hoping for the stupid part.” He blinked again. Oh shit, what did he just say? “Uh, did I say that out loud? Sorry, head injury….” He started to shake his head to clear it, then realized what a horribly bad idea that would be. “What I meant to say was….” He tried to salvage his chances, looking up into the dark-haired elf’s gorgeous eyes. “I think you are the sort of person who does not fear to take risks, when the reward can be so great.”
He hoped that sounded tempting enough. His only other resorts were offering sexual favors and plain outright begging. Not that he’d ever stoop to the latter! He looked imploringly up at the elf. The Sister and the knight looked to him as well. He seemed to be the one holding Zevran’s life in his hands. He stroked his chin in thought.
He stroked his chin in thought, and his fingers brushed the ridge along his jaw where the healing potions had gone to work on the cut. He almost took my head off, Bannon mused. For some reason, this elf tugged at him. He surely wouldn’t mind his own personal assassin! But that was nonsense. The man was paid to kill them, contracted to kill them. This was no doubt a ploy to finish the job and collect the reward.
Still…. If it were true about him being a slave…. Fereldens despised slavery. Bannon despised elves being relegated to servants and slaves even more. And hell, truth be told, he was getting tired of being the only elf among these shems. It would be a relief to be able to talk to one of his own kind.
In the end, the captive’s last argument decided it for him. “Give him a healing potion,” Bannon said. Leliana nodded and took one from her pack.
“What?!” Alistair yelped. “We’re taking the assassin with us now?”
“Mercy is a virtue in the eyes of the Maker,” Leliana said. “So long as one is careful, yes?” This last remark was aimed sharply at Bannon.
He looked at Alistair. “Look, you want to kill him? Here.” He pulled out his new belt knife, flipped it hilt-out, and offered it to the Templar.
“Uh….” Alistair backed up a bit. “Well, no. Just….” He slumped in defeat, then looked heavenward. “If there were a big sign saying ‘We Are Desperate,’ I think it just knocked on our door.”
Morrigan tromped back over. “Tell me I am not hearing this! You cannot be serious!”
Bannon re-sheathed his knife, not about to tempt the witch with it. “I’ll handle it. Don’t worry.”
She flung up her hands. “No sense of self preservation whatsoever!” She stalked off once more. “Don’t expect me to help you! But I do suggest you thoroughly inspect everything you eat or drink from now on.”
“Sound advice for anyone,” the assassin — Zevran — quipped cheerfully. He seemed in much better spirits now that he’d had a healing draught. And wasn’t in imminent danger of being executed. Bannon recalled feeling much the same when Duncan had plucked him from the clutches of the Denerim city guard. Except for losing Soris to them at the same time, and being forced into the Grey Wardens, that is.
“Leave it,” he told Leliana, as she leaned to untie the prisoner.
She looked to him and nodded. “I must check on Sten.” She rose and returned to where the qunari lay.
Bannon settled down next to the prone assassin and started rifling his belt pouches. He pulled out something that looked like metal tongs with stone tips. “What’s this?”
Bannon squeezed the metal arms rapidly, making the flint and steel strike sparks. “Nice!” He put it in his own belt.
“That is mine.”
“Not any more.”
“Aren’t you going to untie me?”
“Not just yet.”
Vials of — these must be poison, throwing knives, a wire garrote, a set of simple lockpicks, and other miscellaneous mundane items were in the belt and its pouches. And a lovely, razor-honed belt knife.
“Those are mine,” the assassin insisted.
“Not any more.” Bannon tried not to smirk, and the assassin bit his tongue. The thief unbuckled the weapon harness, and retrieved the two swords. He wiped them with a rag before sheathing them. “These are really nice.”
“Those are mine.”
This time, Bannon did smirk. “Not any more.”
Zevran growled. “What are you, just going to tie me up and rob me?”
“Is my job,” Bannon shot back, imitating the Antivan’s accent.
Zevran only growled again. “I will need those back, if you intend me to fight for you.”
“First, we need to make sure you’re sincere about not killing us.” Bannon leaned down and untied the ropes. “After that, we can get to the ‘you helping us’ part.”
The assassin grumbled as he loosed the rope from his arms. Bannon gave him a hand up, noticing what a strong grip he had. He didn’t let go of the Denerim elf’s arm right away. “You have spared my life,” he said, looking Bannon in the eye. “I hereby pledge my oath of loyalty to you, until I am killed or you choose to release me from it. From now on, I am your man, without reservation. This, I swear.” With that, he released Bannon’s arm and bowed, his fist over his heart.
Bannon just stared. This guy had to be joking. “All right,” he agreed hesitantly.
Zevran grinned. “What is your name, my noble patrone?”
“Bannon. That’s Alistair,” the elf said, nodding in the human’s direction.
“Oh, that’s brilliant,” Morrigan griped. “Be sure to point out his targets to him.”
Bannon rolled his eyes after the witch turned away. “That’s Morrigan,” he said. “Don’t mess with her, she’s an evil witch.”
“Definitely!” Bannon lowered his voice and looked around to make sure no one else was within earshot. “Leliana is our lunatic nun, and Sten is the giant.”
The assassin had a bemused, crook-browed look on his face. Bannon chuckled. “Yeah, you’ll fit right in.”
Leliana told Bannon he needed to speak to Sten, so he left her and Morrigan with the assassin for a while. He instructed them to plunder their attackers for food, money, and any healing potions. Zevran should know where those were, and if he tried anything, Morrigan would surely set his head on fire.
The qunari was lying on his back where Leliana and Alistair had left him. The dirt around his head was damp and sticky with blood. Bannon crouched next to him. There was more blood drying on his neck, jaw, and chest. As Bannon understood it, Alistair had had to pull quarrels from the giant’s neck, and then Leliana had to pour potions down his throat before he bled out. Even if they’d done it perfectly, he would need more rest to fully recover his strength.
“How are you feeling, Sten?”
“I should have died.”
“You know we’ll take care of you. Le–”
“No. They should have let me die. I was meant to die in battle, do you not recall?”
Bannon sat back on his heels. Just what he needed, a suicidally depressed qunari. “I thought we agreed that you should die fighting darkspawn. Not a bunch of hired assassins.”
“What difference does it make?”
“Come on, you’ve fought a few darkspawn. But not many. We’ve had our hands full with bandits and phantoms, humans and skeletons. All right, today you just saved the last Grey Wardens from being assassinated. But how many darkspawn can Alistair and I kill on our own?” The elf let him mull that over a bit. “Not as many as we can with you helping us.”
Sten only sighed with a grumble.
Bannon stood up. “All right. But if you stay there, you won’t die in any battle. Just from starvation.” He turned and walked away. “Or maybe it will rain, and you’ll drown, like a goose.”
There was a deep, rumbling growl behind him, and he actually felt the vibrations through the ground as the qunari shifted his great bulk upright. He didn’t dare turn around. If he looked weak or afraid, he feared the qunari would crush him on the spot. Instead, he looked at Alistair, a few feet away. The Templar was frozen in place, his eyes wide and staring behind Bannon. But his expression didn’t change into a wince, or perhaps a bit of rage at this giant attacking his best friend. Hopefully he wasn’t just slow.
As calmly as he could, Bannon walked over to the other Warden. “We just about ready to go?” he asked in the most off-hand manner he could muster. He didn’t feel his skull being crushed, so he figured Sten was back to his usual cheerful self.
Did the Warden just call the towering qunari a goose? Zevran looked over. Elves weren’t all that tall to begin with, and compared to a qunari standing on a hill above him? Bannon looked like a child. The qunari hefted his maul, the weapon shaft nearly as tall as the elf and the head weighing probably as much. Bannon didn’t turn or bat an eyelash. Sweet Andraste, he had some stones! Zevran shivered in admiration. The giant only shouldered the weapon.
“Are you all right?” the sweet Chantry Sister asked him.
Zevran smiled at her. “Yes, my dear. Though your illustrious leader gave me quite a vigorous workout….” His eyes wandered in that direction again, but he quickly brought them back to focus. “But the potion you gave me has done wonders for my head. And such a thorough job you did bandaging my leg.” He stepped a bit closer, his seductive smile widening. “‘Twas you who ministered to me so lovingly, yes?”
“Um, yes.” She looked so much prettier with a little colour in her cheeks.
“You are truly an angel of mercy!” He bowed, sweeping her hand to his lips before she could escape. “Your hair is like a fiery sunset. Your eyes are like the sea after a storm. Your lips are like a red, red rose. Your breasts–”
“Thank you, Zevran.” She pulled her fingers from his grasp. “I get the idea.”
Undaunted, he grinned toothily. “Should there be anything I can do for you, to repay your kind services,” he waggled his brow suggestively; “do let me know.”
“Actually,” she said, making his ears perk; “there is.”
“Name it, my angel of mercy!”
“Since you don’t have your own pack, you can carry mine.” She unslung her pack and dumped it into his arms. It was compact, but decidedly heavy.
Zevran bolstered his wavering smile. “Of course! It is my honor.” He shouldered into the straps.
The evil witch, having been a silent observer of the entire exchange said, “You can carry mine as well.” Before Zevran could even form a protest, she slung it at him.
“Ah. Well. Of course.” He juggled the burden. “When we stop for the night, perhaps you ladies would care for an Antivan massage, no?”
“No,” was the unanimous reply.
Zevran sighed and turned his wandering eye back to the elf, qunari, and human. “Perhaps one of our handsome Wardens would like to indulge in such pleasures that I can offer.”
The two women shared a brow-raised look. Narrowing her eyes shrewdly, Morrigan said, “Handsome in that way?” She shot another glance to Leliana, as if to confirm what she was hearing.
“Mmm, just so.” Zevran blinked and took hold of himself. “Oh, but of course, I do not wish to step on any toes…. If you ladies have staked your claim–”
“No,” said Leliana quickly.
“Not a chance,” the witch agreed, with a slight sneer of distaste.
Interesting. Zevran wondered what they had been doing in that cozy little inn, then. Actually sleeping? What a waste of a perfectly good nap.
They rejoined the rest of the group. Bannon was checking if everyone were ready to move out. He spared and extra glance at the packs Zevran was laden with. “Where did you get all that?”
“I am being eminently useful to your little troupe! Since I am unable to fight by your side, I have instead become your beast of burden. Though if I am attacked, I’m sure I can sling this effectively at an enemy.” He let loose his hold of the witch’s pack, catching it by the straps and preparing to fling it around in demonstration. Ah, something decidedly glass-like clinked within.
“Give me that!” Morrigan snatched it from his hands.
“Ah well,” Zevran said in mock dejection. “Defenseless again. But do not fear! I am still dedicated to serving your every desire.” He leered at the handsome elf.
“Oh.” Bannon looked around, a bit confused. Zevran sighed inwardly as the leer went right over his head. “All right. Let’s get going.”
“So, Alistair,” Zevran asked a while later, to lighten the boredom of hiking. “How is it you became a Grey Warden?”
“Oh. Well, I was in training to be a Templar,” the human said affably enough. His earlier mistrust seemed to have nearly evaporated. “I wasn’t exactly cut out to be a Templar….”
“Ah, handy with the ladies, were you? Rambunctious? A wild, tavern-haunting–”
“No! No, no, not at all,” Alistair stuttered. “I mean… I had a sense of humor.” Zevran chuckled. “Right, not exactly the ‘sterner stuff’ of which Templars are supposed to be made.” The human stared down the path a while. “Anyway, a man named Duncan recruited me.” His face turned melancholy. “The Grey Wardens just sounded… I don’t know. Fighting a Blight seemed more worthwhile than herding mages, I guess.”
“Interesting,” Zevran said. Then he turned his head to the elf beside him. “How about you?”
“Duncan recruited me, too,” Bannon said. “From the alienage in Denerim.”
“Oh, really? How did he find you there?”
“Eh… I’ll tell you later,” the elf hedged.
Oh ho! Very interesting, that. Zevran skipped ahead a few steps and raised his voice slightly to the women in front of them. “So, Morrigan. How did you come to be in the Wardens’ esteemed company?”
“I’m sure that is none of your business, assassin.” Bannon wasn’t kidding; she sure did her best to live up to the ‘evil witch’ role.
“There is no need to be like that,” he said lightly. “It wasn’t like I asked your every weakness, or what favorite drinks you might like to indulge in, that I might poison.”
“Zevran,” Bannon said warningly. “Remember what I said about annoying Morrigan.”
He signed and gave up. For the moment. “What about you, my fiery angel of mercy? Do you fear to reveal yourself to my dastardly wiles? Will you not tell me a simple story of how you came to join this merry band?”
“The Maker told me to.”
Zevran shot Bannon a look. The dark-haired elf rolled his eyes and shrugged. What had he called Leliana? Ah right, the ‘lunatic nun.’
Leliana continued her tale, oblivious to the byplay. “I had a dream, a vision sent by the Maker, of a vast darkness devouring the land. Then the Maker told me I could help prevent this terrible fate, if I went to Lothering and joined the cause of the Grey Wardens.”
“I see…. Do you have these conversations with the Maker often?”
She shot him a look over her shoulder. “I had a vision, not a conversation. Are you trying to imply that I’m crazy?”
“Me? No! Why would I do such a thing?” he asked. “I am sure that not everyone who hears the Maker speaking to them is insane.”
“I am not–!” Leliana nearly bit her tongue cutting herself off so abruptly. “We are not speaking of this.” She lengthened her stride.
Zevran dropped back with Alistair and Bannon again. “Should I go ask your qunari how he joined?”
“No,” the two Wardens answered together in the same deadpan voice. Then they started cracking up. Zevran just watched, bemused.
Then Alistair said, “Why don’t you tell us how you joined the Crows?”
Zevran smiled, himself being his favorite subject. “Well, as I mentioned, they bought me when I was a child. They paid an exorbitant sum for me, so I am told. Of course, I became the best assassin the Crows ever had — quite a return on their investment.”
“You sound rather proud of it,” Alistair said hesitantly.
“Should I not be?”
“You, like… murdered people for a living!”
Zevran shrugged. “If one is going to do something, one should do one’s best at it, no? It’s not like I was given a choice on the matter of how I was employed.”
The Wardens shared a look.
“Yes,” Zevran said. “Now that I am employed by you, you shall have the benefit of my utmost talents.”
“And you don’t want to kill us?” Alistair asked dubiously.
“Why should I?”
Bannon said, “Guild loyalty? Revenge for nearly killing you? Being bound by a contract?”
“Pfeh.” Zevran waved a hand carelessly. “The Crows will deal with their contract — I am well rid of them. As for loyalty? They now wish me to die for my failure. I can be a very loyal person, but I do draw the line there! If you are expecting to execute me for failing any task you set to me, then you can also expect for me to escape from you as well.”
“What about revenge?” Alistair asked.
Zevran shrugged. “It would be stupid, no? Why would I harm the very royally tough to kill bastards who are now my allies? Powerful ones at that. No, it would be foolish to go against you, as I have learned.”
“You really have absolutely no personal interest in killing us?” the former Templar insisted. “Even after we killed all your friends back there?”
“Oh, them?” The assassin waved that off. “Those were just a bunch of mercenaries.”
“They weren’t Antivan Crows?” Bannon asked.
“No, I am the only Crow who took this job. Actually, I think I am the only one who even bid on it. Even in Antiva, there is an age-old respect for Grey Wardens.”
“Why did you take this job?” asked Bannon.
“Oh, well….” Zevran shrugged. “It is difficult being the best assassin there ever was. I already have so many princes and princesses to my name, where could I go for a challenge, hm? Only if a contract came in for the very King of Antiva himself. So, I thought to myself, a contract for some Grey Wardens, in some foreign country, that would be a challenge worthy of my skills, no?”
Alistair said, “Yeah, but we beat you.”
“Just so,” the elf replied, undaunted. “A challenge more than worthy of my skills. And now, I join your distinguished company.”
Morrigan put in, “If you’re the only Crow who took this job, it seems to me that killing you will remove the one and only threat.”
“No, they will still send others, eventually,” he pointed out pragmatically. “After all, the Crow Masters would not want to return all that money! We have a reputation to maintain. Once a contract is signed, the mark always dies. No exceptions.”
“Then when can we expect your Crow friends to show up?” Alistair asked.
“Oh, assassins don’t really have friends,” Zevran replied matter-of-factly. “We are always competing, pitted against each other since we were young. It weeds out the weaker ones.”
Alistair slowed and turned his head back to look at the elf. “You’ve never had any friends?” His foot hit an exposed root and he had to turn back around to pick his way up a slight rise.
Zevran shrugged. “Not really, no. There have been a few I have associated with — worked with, did a few jobs together. But such attachments are discouraged.” His mouth turned down in a bitter frown.
Leliana had apparently not moved out of conversation range. She said, “That sounds horrid. What a terrible thing to do to a child. To anyone.”
“Oh, to be sure, it is ruthless and cruel,” he replied cheerfully. “But that is how the Crows hone their skills. Competition keeps us on our toes– WAUGH!” Suddenly, the Antivan pitched forward on the path, his cry startling and scattering his companions. Zevran caught himself, barely, on his hands and one knee, then instantly pushed off to spring back to his feet. He whirled on Bannon. “What is the meaning of this, ser?” He demanded angrily. “Did you trip me?”
The Denerim elf only burst out laughing, nearly doubling over in mirth. The assassin’s amber eyes flashed in anger, and he sprang at the other elf. Bannon could hardly defend himself, because he was still laughing. Zevran began pummeling him.
“Hey, hey!” Alistair moved forward, but he hesitated to try to grab the assassin. Sten had no such compunction and drew his great maul as he strode towards the two combatants. Alistair turned to the qunari. “Whoa!” He held out his hands placatingly.
Leliana watched in partial amusement and partial ire. Morrigan just rolled her eyes and continued down the path.
Zevran backed off, sensing a large no-nonsense warrior threateningly close.
“I’m sorry,” Bannon said, still trying to control his laughter. He held up his hands. “I’m sorry,” he chuckled. “But I couldn’t resist. ‘It keeps us on our toes’– whoop!” With one hand, he pantomimed Zevran’s faceplant. Leliana covered her mouth, but her eyes danced with mirth.
The assassin growled, then lashed out one last time, punching Bannon hard on the arm.
“Ow!” That cut off his laugh right there! Then he thrust a finger at the Antivan’s face. “Admit it,” he said while Alistair coaxed Sten to put away his weapon. “That was funny!”
The qunari muttered something under his breath and turned to follow the witch. Zevran bit hard on the inside of his cheek, not sure himself if it were in anger or just to keep from laughing. Then he huffed a breath.
“Great,” he said, his ire intensifying his accent, making the vowels more breathy and the consonants softer. “Just what I always wanted: a patron with a sense of humor!”
Morrigan: “Brilliant! It’s as though they wait for us to show up before having their disasters.”
–she hit the nail on the head, there! :X
Zevran/Bannon: “Is my job.”
–this is barely recognizable, but go ahead and give yourself 5,000 Bloodsoing Points if you recognize this as something don karnage says in TaleSpin, after baloo accuses him of taking every opportunity to lie, cheat, steal, etc. (no clue what ep! maybe the glue one.)
Bannon: Oh, there’s a big surprise! That’s an incredible– I think I’m gonna have a heart attack and die from that surprise!”
–this quote is worth 1,000 Bloodsoing Points if you know where it comes from. my favorite character from Aladdin, iago! the only smart one in the bunch :X
Zevran: “Yes, my dear. Though your illustrious leader gave me quite a vigorous workout….”
–yes, just like in The Mark of Zorro. um, no wait. nothing like that at all :X oh, no… yeah, it was a duel. close enough! no, no points for that, that one was obvious :P