Nudity: partial (m), implied (m)
More bits of business amidst the companions. Zevran’s second night.
Typos squashed by spellcheck.net.
Of Demons and Templars, Of Bards and Assassins
The next night saw them camping out once again. Bannon sent Zevran off to dig the latrines — by himself this time. He had to do something to get rid of the other elf. The Antivan hadn’t shut up all day, and he was very friendly. With everyone! Bannon glanced at the qunari and shuddered. He had to be joking about Sten!
His thoughts were interrupted by Alistair. “I’m worried about Morrigan.”
“More than the assassin?”
“At this point, I’d have to sit down and think about that one. But I don’t think Zevran can actually talk us to death. If Morrigan made a deal with that demon….”
“What exactly would happen?” Bannon understood the concept of demonic possession being A Bad Thing, but other than that, he knew next to nothing about it.
“Either she’s in control of the demon and can use it to enhance her powers — at least until it breaks free. Or… it is already in control and just biding its time until it’s ready to slay us.”
Bannon rubbed his neck, noticing how long his hair was getting. “Look, I’ll talk to Morrigan.”
“Maybe I should talk to her.”
The elf’s brows went up. “You want to talk to her?” That was unusual. Not to mention a recipe for disaster.
“I have training as a Templar. I’m not a full Templar, but I know how to deal with mages and demons….”
“You’re enough of a Templar that she’ll spook if you try to talk to her. Let me at least go first. I’ll let you know if I notice anything strange.”
Alistair looked unhappy. To distract him, Bannon said, “See if Leliana will give you another trim. That wild bear-man seems to be lurking nearby.” The spot of humor seemed to cheer Alistair up. Bannon walked over to the little corner of the clearing the witch had staked out for herself.
“Need any help?” Bannon asked her cheerily. She didn’t say ‘yes’ of course; that might imply some weakness or neediness on her part. But she wasn’t shy about ordering him around. He collected brush to cushion her bedroll, and got her fire started. Not a bad job for a city elf.
“So,” Morrigan began their conversation; “not stabbed in the back yet?”
Bannon chuckled dryly. “No, but I haven’t allowed Zevran a blade yet.”
“Hence the possibility that you will die a foolish and useless death is still a good one.” Vehemence laced her tone. What would she have to be angry about? Unless she wanted to be the one to kill the Wardens. Though she’d had her chance, many a time.
“Why Morrigan… you actually sound as if you care.” He said it softly, careful not to goad her. She did not reply. Also uncharacteristic. There was no way this was the effect of a demon. In Connor, the thing had been insane. Out of control. “What would you do if that happened?” he asked, referring to his foolish demise.
“Leave Ferelden.” She met his eyes. “Since it would soon be devastated by the Blight, having no Grey Wardens to defend it.”
“That could still happen. Even with two whole Grey Wardens here.”
Morrigan pinched her lips shut and busied herself with her pack, moving and rearranging things; setting out a few pouches. “Where’s Bodahn and his infernal cart? I’ll need more potion flasks.”
“He’ll be along.” Bannon sat on the ground near the fire, pretending to tend it until it was well-established.
Morrigan sighed and turned to face him, idly fiddling with a small packet. “Why is it you are here?”
“To check up on you.”
“Worried about me?” she asked archly. “Or worried about yourselves?”
Now seemed as good a time as any to broach the subject. “Alistair is worried that you didn’t actually defeat that demon. That you made a deal with it, or… are already possessed.”
Her golden gaze didn’t waver. “And what do you think?”
He spread his hands. “Like I say, I’m just a backstreet city elf. I don’t know anything about demons except what’s in the stories. I don’t think you’re possessed. That demon was much more insane.”
“It was impulsive,” Morrigan clarified, half-questioning. “Flighty. Childish, even?”
Bannon frowned, chewing at the inside of his lip. “You mean, because it was inside a boy’s mind?”
“The spirits and demons of the Fade can only view our world through our perceptions.”
“That’s why the demon thought Eamon was its father?”
“‘Twas a young demon, as such things go. Naive about the real world. Living vicariously through her host’s mind.”
Bannon frowned harder. Morrigan wasn’t exactly denying having made a deal. “Connor told Alistair that the demon promised to keep Eamon alive. That if we fought it, took Connor away from it, it would… I don’t know, release it’s hold on Eamon’s spirit? Let him pass through the Fade and on into death.”
“But, he didn’t die. After you… removed the demon from the boy.”
The witch smiled faintly. “A reasonable assumption might be that I made another deal with that demon. To keep the arl alive. What would you think of that?”
Bannon sat back, leaning on his hands. He puffed out a breath. “Well, Alistair seems to think this Arl Eamon holds the key to ousting Loghain. Bann Teagan himself told us no one else mattered; we had to save Eamon at any cost.” He looked over at her. She slowly raised one brow. “Alistair also says — keep in mind, he’s the only one trained and educated in these matters, which is why I have to rely on him — he says a strong mage could control a demon. Use its power to enhance her own.”
“Would you consider that a good deal, then?”
“Keep Eamon alive… become a stronger mage to help us fight? Sure.” He shrugged, sitting upright again. “But… Alistair also says the demon would still try to escape control. And eventually, it would destroy us all.”
Morrigan picked up the little packet of herbs she held. She looked at it, turning it over in her hands. Then she leaned and put it away neatly back into her pack. Bannon waited quietly, until she faced him again, her gaze steady. “Do I seem the sort of woman to you,” she asked, “who would relinquish control of herself to some demon?”
“No. Definitely not. But,” he returned her gaze frankly; “you do seem the sort of woman who would feel strong and confident enough to try to control one.”
She smiled slowly. “I see. To answer your unasked question: No. I did not bargain with the demon for power or for the arl’s life. I defeated her in combat and broke her hold on the boy. As for how Eamon yet lives, I do not know. Perhaps his hold is tenuous. Perhaps he has already expired, or will do so soon.”
“Or,” Bannon mused cautiously, “you could just be lying.”
“About any or all of it,” she agreed cheerfully. “‘Tis always an option.”
“You don’t exactly instill people with confidence.”
“I try to be honest.” She tilted her head. “What would it take for you to trust that I am not harboring a demon?”
“I don’t know.” Bannon prodded the fire. This resulted in some of the sticks collapsing, so then he had to fuss with it further to keep it from smothering itself.
“Perhaps if I gave my word? That’s how the assassin gained your trust, is it not?”
“I do not trust him,” he told her firmly. “He’s full of bullshit. All those stories about being chained up in crates, or hanging down wells, but that wasn’t him because they paid too much for him or some nonsense?” The assassin seemed flippantly careless when speaking about his enslavement. Could that all be a lie? A bid for sympathy? But why wouldn’t he have bothered to at least make an effort to sound sincere?
Morrigan took the stick from Bannon’s hand and thrust it into the fire, expertly twisting it so enough air got in under the base to keep the flames alive. She wedged the stick into place and began adding more, building a new foundation. “What would it take for you to trust him?”
Bannon wondered that himself. “I guess… some outside confirmation of his story. We don’t even know if he’s really in danger from these other Antivan Crows.”
“They need to show up and kill him?”
“Or, I suppose Zevran would have to save me and Alistair from certain death.” Bannon looked at Morrigan. “What would it take for you to trust him?”
The witch snorted. “I trust no one. Not completely.”
“You’re here with us,” he pointed out. Then he glanced at her little campsite, deliberately separated from the Wardens. “Sort of.”
“There are different levels of trust,” she said. “Trusting someone to work with you as long as it achieves their own ends? That is not a problem. Trusting that someone would never turn on you? ‘Tis asking a bit much. Especially when they’ve already tried to kill you.”
“Trust, but with reservations,” Bannon mused. Then he nodded. “That seems the wisest course and the best use of resources. For now, I’ll trust you aren’t harboring a demon — or at least that you are in complete control of it. And if that proves wrong, it will be dealt with, swiftly.”
Morrigan frowned, her head lowered as if not expecting the conversation to turn on her. He got up to leave. “Wait,” she said. “Bannon, I’d like to ask you something. If you’ll allow.”
Curious, he hunkered back down.
She did not look at him, but she said, “That woman, Isolde. She was willing to give up her life for her child. Do you find that… unusual?”
He blinked. “No.” With a shrug, he said, “That seems normal.”
“Would your mother die for you?”
He flinched, not expecting the sudden stab of pain. He hadn’t thought about his family for a few days. They all seemed so distant, unreachable. And his mother — she was long dead. The witch’s question dredged it back up. Adaia hadn’t died for him. But would she have? He and his mother had been close — he took after her so much more than his father. It hurt him to think of her dying for him, because of him, but…. “Yes,” he said softly. “I think she would have.”
“I see. Thank you.” Morrigan stared thoughtfully at the small fire.
“You don’t think Flemeth–?” Her sharp glare cut off his words. “But mother bears protect their cubs. Even a city elf knows that,” he said, trying to mollify her.
“There are some creatures who eat their young,” she replied tartly. “Some who would let their offspring starve in order that they, themselves, may live. After all,” she said, “they can always have another litter.”
Bannon really didn’t know what to say about that. “I suppose that is so.”
“It is. Thank you for talking with me.”
He stood up again, rather relieved at the abrupt dismissal. “You can talk to me any time, Morrigan,” he assured her. “I’ll send Bodahn over with your things as soon as he arrives.”
Leliana was busy trimming Alistair’s hair, so Bannon was on cooking duty. They hadn’t spotted any deer that day, so it was vegetable soup again. When Alistair was bristling like a newborn hedgehog, Bannon took a turn sitting for Leliana’s ministrations. Alistair took over stirring the soup.
Zevran reappeared, shirtless again. He’d also been bathing. He’d let down his warrior braids and had his wet hair tied back in a single ponytail. He stopped suddenly as he saw them. “What are you doing?”
“Making soup,” said Alistair. Rather exaggerating his role as cook.
“I’m cutting the Wardens’ hair,” Leliana said.
“But I like you with long hair,” the assassin said to Bannon.
The Denerim elf rolled his eyes. Instead of answering, he said to Alistiar, “It’s your turn to watch him tonight.”
“Oh, no,” said the Templar. “We can flip the coin again. In fact, I think it’s my turn to flip it. Give it here.”
Bannon grumbled to himself, and Leliana paused while he fished out a silver. He gave it to Alistair. Zevran, meanwhile, hunkered down near them. “Is this what is so heavy in your pack?” he asked Leliana, peering over into her makeup kit. “Perhaps you would like to help me braid up my hair again this evening?” The opportunist gave a grin.
“Perhaps your assigned guardian tonight will do that,” the bard deflected smoothly.
Bannon groaned, and Alistair said, “Oh, please don’t give him any ideas!”
Too late. “Ah, it would be marvelous to have such handsome men running their fingers through my hair.”
“Don’t think so,” Alistair said.
“Just flip the coin,” Bannon told him.
Alistair did so. “Call it.”
“He– no, tails!”
The Templar caught the coin and trapped it on his forearm, but he didn’t lift his hand. “Well, which is it?”
Alistair peeked under his hand. “Blast.”
“Yes!” cheered the elf, raising a fist.
“Hold still,” Leliana chided him.
“Bene!” the Antivan said with a smile. “I look forward to spending the night with you, my strong, handsome captor.” He leered hungrily at Alistair.
“Gah!” Alistair flushed uncomfortably. “You are going to be tied up very securely!”
“Oh for Maker’s Sake!” Alistair’s face reddened further as the Antivan wound him up. “And you,” he said to Bannon; “you’re still taking him ‘walkies’ beforehand!”
“All right, all right,” the elf chuckled. The assassin started making eyes at him, but Bannon ignored him. Let Alistair make a fool of himself, Bannon wasn’t going to fall into that trap.
After dinner was washing up. Zevran had found a small pond for water, but it didn’t leave much room for privacy. The Wardens let the ladies go first. Then Bannon had Leliana watch the assassin while he and Alistair took their turn. Sten would continue his evening watch and then bathe later.
“Morrigan says she didn’t make any deal with that demon,” Bannon reported, when the two of them were alone. He started shucking his armor.
“Do you believe her?”
He shrugged. “I don’t have any proof if that’s what you’re asking. Do the Templars have any fool-proof way to determine if someone is possessed?”
Alistair puffed out his cheeks as he released a breath. “No,” he replied glumly.
“Well, for now we’ll have to presume Morrigan is fine, and she’s still on our side. If she ever shows any definite sign otherwise….” The elf sidled a little closer to the human, glancing around for any birds lurking nearby. “Take care of it.”
“You’re the Templar, Ser ‘I’ve been trained’ and blah blah blah.”
Alistair rubbed his face, then moved off behind a clump of reeds to finish disrobing. “There is something about the training I didn’t mention.”
“Templars are trained to control and fight mages. So we do have these techniques for cancelling and suppressing magic.”
Now that sounded handy. “Can you teach it to other people?” Bannon stepped down into the pond. The water was chilly and the bottom was muddy. He grimaced as it squelched between his toes.
“W– no. I mean, these teaching are only for the sacred order of Templars.”
Alistair didn’t sound completely sure about this conviction. “Does that mean you shouldn’t be using it? Since you’re no longer officially a Templar?”
“Well, I can’t unlearn it,” Alistair protested quickly. “And if we come across any of those hurlock mages…. It’s my Grey Warden duty to fight them with everything I’ve got.” Good to know he held his Warden duty as more sacred than his former allegiances. “Anyway,” he continued, splashing water over his chest, “I don’t even know if these techniques can work without lyrium.”
“It’s a mineral mined out of Orzammar, and refined into a potion. In mages, it replenishes their magical energy.”
“Templars use magic?” Bannon asked. Wait, all you needed to do magic was some potion? He wouldn’t mind some of that!
“No,” Alistair said firmly. “It’s not magic. It’s… well, it’s willpower, basically. You focus that and… you know, smite with your mind.”
Now Bannon just stared at him, trying to imagine Alistair with the brainpower to knock a mage over.
“Hah-ha,” the former Templar said. “I see that look.”
“No, I was just–”
“Yeah, right.” Alistair’s voice lacked heat. “Anyway, I’ve practiced it, but only on inanimate targets, and without lyrium. My instructors said I did well, but I really have no way of knowing.”
“So how can we test it?”
“Ah, well, we need an evil mage to attack us. Next time that happens, I’ll try it and let you know how it works.”
“Pfft.” Another brilliant plan, there. Bannon got out of the pond, swishing mud off his feet before climbing up onto the muddy bank. He grabbed a towel and dried off.
“Before you go, would you mind holding the mirror for me?”
Bannon looked back at the human. He was contemplatively rubbing his sandpapery chin. “Oh! Sure.” The elf went and found Alistair’s razor and polished steel hand mirror.
“Uh, could you bring me a towel first?”
Shems! Bannon did as Alistair requested. Finally, the pair were perched on a stone, the elf holding the mirror steady while the human wet his bristles and coaxed them to stand out. Bannon watched in morbid fascination as Alistair slid the honed steel against his skin, mowing down the little hairs.
“What if we get you some lyrium?” Bannon asked, careful to do so between strokes of the blade.
“Well, the Chantry controls all lyrium trade.”
“We are heading to the Circle Tower. There’s a lot of mages and Templars there; they must have some stocked up.”
Alistair grimaced. “Look, the thing about taking lyrium… it’s addictive. And lyrium itself is poisonous — deadly in its raw form. The potion… it takes longer, but — I just don’t want to go through any of that. It’s why I got out of the Templars.”
“And into the Grey Wardens, where at least the darkspawn blood isn’t addictive,” Bannon quipped darkly. “But you’re still poisoned and going to die.”
Alistair grimaced. “Well, see, the lyrium destroys your mind.” He tapped his noggin. “Don’t have much up here, I’d kinda like to not lessen it any.”
Bannon chuckled darkly.
The freshly-scrubbed Wardens returned to find Leliana and Zevran sitting cross-legged in front of his pack, the contents of which were laid out in neat piles. The assassin had his hands bound securely behind his back, but was grinning all the same. Sten loomed nearby.
“What are we doing?” Alistair asked.
“We’re playing a marvelous game called Guess the Poison!” Zevran said. “Leliana is using her skill and extensive knowledge to identify the poisons in my possession, and then determine the antidote that goes with each. I have offered a kiss as forfeit each time she is correct, but alas –”
“Why don’t you just feed him some poison,” Bannon cut in; “then ask him which antidote he wants?”
Leliana suppressed a snicker as Zevran’s face fell. “Well,” he said defensively, “I have built up quite an immunity to poisons. I can probably get away with cheating.”
“All right, fine. I have been telling her what everything is, and she has been deciding whether to believe me or not.”
“Maybe we should just dump it all out,” Alistair suggested.
“No!” the assassin yelped. “It is not all poison! I have a great many healing supplies, a miraculous muscle ointment, massage oil — my Antivan brandy!”
Bannon saw where his frantic eyes alighted. “What, this?” He bent and scooped up the flask. He sloshed it around teasingly.
“That is m–! Grr.”
“Be careful,” Alistair said. “That’s probably the worst poison.”
The assassin sputtered. “You, ser, how dare you insult my beloved homeland’s greatest elixir?”
“I believe I can help, yes?” Leliana stretched a hand towards Bannon. He handed over the flask.
She opened it and took a cautious whiff. “Whew! It is certainly potent liquor. Though that can mask many a poison.”
“Let’s give it to him,” the Templar said eagerly. “Then he can be passed out tonight in my tent.”
“Drunken debauchery in Alistair’s tent tonight! Wohoo!”
Bannon rubbed his face and tried to ignore the escalating squabble. “Leliana, can you tell what all these things really are?”
“Oh yes,” Zevran jumped in. “As an assassin herself, she is quite proficient with the tools of the trade.”
Leliana gasped. Alistair said, “What?”
“Did you not know?” Zevran replied smoothly. “Bards in Orlais are assassins.”
The Wardens both gaped at Leliana.
She flushed. “No, I’m not a bard. I- I’m a minstrel.”
“Oh please, don’t be modest, my dear,” Zevran scoffed. “With your knowledge of poisons, of tying people up, weapons-play….”
“You lied to us?” Alistair yelled. “The Maker didn’t send you! Who sent you? Was it Loghain?”
“No!” Her bright eyes pleaded. “I… yes, I was a bard in Orlais. But I left that life; I left that country. I came to Ferelden, my mother’s homeland. I sought refuge in the Chantry. I sought peace. I pledged to do the work of the Maker.”
Alistair ran a hand back over his damp hair. “Is there anyone here who isn’t lying to us?”
“Please,” Leliana said, her eyes growing wet. “That is the truth. My vision is true; my mission from the Maker himself is to aid you in your struggles. I am loyal to the Grey Wardens, an enemy to the Blight.”
“All right,” Bannon said. “Alistair, calm down.”
“Everything I have told you is true,” Leliana insisted. “I have changed my vocation.”
“That is against the Qun,” Sten said, having been drawn nearer by the commotion.
“Qunari never change?” Bannon scoffed.
The elf tossed his hands up. “You can’t ever change jobs? What if you find something more suitable to do?”
Sten shook his head. “The Tamassrans determine each child’s strengths and assign them a vocation to which they are best suited. That cannot be changed….” Suddenly he looked off. “Unless one loses one’s asala.”
“A what?” Alistair asked.
“The asala is the symbol of the Qunari’s spirit. The soul, you would call it in your tongue. To lose one… is to forfeit your life.”
“That’s not the change I was thinking of,” Bannon said.
Agitated enough to drop the argument, Sten walked off.
“Bannon, please believe me,” Leliana said. “I am here only to help you.”
The elf rubbed his face, taking a moment to think. “I believe you,” he said. He grimaced wryly. “But either way, it’s not like we’re picky.” He shot the assassin — the other assassin — a glare. Zevran grinned. “At any rate, whatever it was you did before joining the Chantry, your skills are most valuable to us.”
The worried creases on her face smoothed over, and a smile lit up her features. “Thank you, Bannon. Your faith means a great deal to me.”
Bannon smiled back and determined to keep a closer eye on her. Perhaps she wasn’t as crazy as she seemed — only very clever.
Sten took his turn washing up, then claimed first watch as usual. The others, except for Morrigan, spent some time around the campfire, playing Guess the Poison, cleaning armor and weapons. Bannon found a gnarled knot of wood and started carving it. Not with any design in mind, just to give his hands something to do. He had to admit, the familiar feel of metal shaving against wood did soothe him.
Then it was ‘walkies’ with the assassin, and a double-check of Bannon’s retying of his bonds. Then Zevran was turned over to a trepidatious Alistair. The Antivan elf leered at his captor, making the Templar even more skittish. Bannon sighed. “Alistair, just tie him to the tent post.”
“I’ll be really good,” the assassin said with sultry breathiness. “I promise.”
“Gah! Leliana! Can’t we gag him, too?”
“All night, while he is trying to sleep? Alistair, that would be cruel.”
The knight looked tempted anyway. Zevran made big eyes at him and said, “You wouldn’t do anything cruel and unusual to me, would you?”
“Uh….” Alistair got stuck on trying to figure out which answer to that wouldn’t please the elf. Which was probably a hopeless cause. A smile spread slowly across Zevran’s face. Alistair scowled. “All right you, one more word, and I swear you will spend the entire night with a sock stuffed in your mouth!” Zevran’s eyes went wide. Hell, Bannon and Leliana’s eyes went wide, too. The Templar pointed towards his tent. “Now go to sleep!”
Slumped in defeat, Zevran trudged to the tent. Alistair followed, lifting the flap.
Bannon and Leliana looked at each other. “Didn’t know he could do that,” the elf murmured.
“People can do surprising things when under duress, yes?”
“I guess so.”