I have a fondness for dream imagery and nightmares. I bet you could tell.
“A strong woman will be good for you.” Cyrian smiled blandly and patted Bannon on the shoulder.
“Dad, I don’t need–” Bannon tried to back away, but he was hemmed in by something. Cyrian slipped a bridle over his head. Mother Carson came up on Bannon’s other side and helped his father fasten a harness around his chest. “But–!” Bannon’s protests were in vain.
Nesiara appeared, beaming radiantly in her fine wedding dress. She tugged at Bannon’s bridle until he was bent double, then she climbed up on his shoulder. “A fine husband,” she said, sitting in a demure sidesaddle. “To support our family.”
Bannon didn’t have time to protest as more people crowded around him. Soris staggered up and laid a gallows frame across Bannon’s back. The heavy timber pressed him down. He struggled to keep his balance.
“Help me!” Shianni cried. She was lying at his feet, her dress torn and bloodied. She reached up towards him. “Bannon, please, save me!”
“Shianni!” He moved to reach for her, but how could he lift her? People were piling more things on his back.
Alistair ran up. “I need you to take these cheeses–”
“Furniture for your new home,” Cyrian said, lifting a newly-carved chair.
“–to Redcliffe–” Impossibly large wheels of cheese came out of the Templar’s satchel. Alistair started stacking them on the chairs.
“You need to take this loot,” said Leliana, producing a lute of solid gold, “to Orlais–”
“–to the Mages of the Circle–”
“–the Empress will help you, yes?”
“–to the dwarves of Orzammar–”
“You must be made presentable, with ribbons and bows–” Leliana started strewing him with frippery.
“A cradle, for the baby.”
Bannon staggered. “I cant–!” With supreme effort, he managed to avoid falling to his knees.
Sten said, “You must keep the Qun in balance.” He solemnly placed a thick book on Bannon’s head.
“–to the Dalish–”
“–and these boots will never do–”
“What about our family?”
“Get me out of prison!”
“–and save them all from the Blight.”
“I’m trying!” Muscles screaming in protest, Bannon shuffled forward one step. Another. The piles on his back creaked and swayed. The Qun was sliding off his head, Shianni wouldn’t move out of the way, and no one was helping him! They all stood back, watching. Nesiara kicked her heels impatiently against his chest.
Duncan strode forward, the crowd parting before him. “Is this what you’ve learned?” he sneered, bending to look Bannon in the face. “To make the Archdemon laugh itself to death?”
“I’m trying!” Bannon craned his head so the Qun fell against his right shoulder and wedged there precariously. “Help me! Where are the Grey Wardens?”
“You’re it, you sniveling little knife-ears!” It was Vaughn’s voice. Duncan’s hair began to turn from raven black to ginger. “Ferelden is doomed because of you! And where’s my rent?”
“Bannon, pay him,” Nesiara cried in panic.
The beleaguered elf fumbled for his money pouch. Vaughn, having completed his transformation, snarled in contempt. He drew back his fist to hit Bannon’s upturned jaw, and there was nothing Bannon could do to stop him.
Nothing, that is, that wouldn’t cause him to drop something. So Bannon pitched himself forward and got to enjoy Vaughn’s look of shocked surprise a split second before the whole huge pile crashed down on them both. Nesiara screamed as she went tumbling.
Bannon lay pinned under the crushing weight, struggling to move. Panic burned inside him, making his heart race. Get up get up get up GET UP! With a roar, he pushed up on his arms and gathered his legs under himself. He heaved upwards again, toppling lumber and cheeses. Lips drawn back in a snarl, he looked for Vaughn. Nesiara stomped up to him. “What have you done? You’ve ruined our lives!” He lashed out and tore her face off. She spun to the ground.
Shianni stirred underfoot. “This is all your fault! Why didn’t you protect me? Why didn’t you save me?” With a growl, he swept her aside, sickle claws snatching her from the ground and flinging her away.
“You didn’t save me, either, you selfish bastard!” Soris held the end of the rope around his neck and shook it angrily at Bannon.
“You always took after your mother,” his father said sadly. “Why couldn’t you be a good boy?”
Bannon whirled and tore apart the old man, too. Rage burned inside him, building up heat. The scattered wood around him suddenly burst into flames. Bannon cast about, clawing and kicking aside debris, looking for his enemy, Vaughn.
All he saw were broken bodies. The area had become a battlefield. No, the alienage. The buildings were wrecked, bodies strewn everywhere. What had happened? His family, his friends, torn asunder. Who did this? Bannon stumbled a bit further. There was Duncan’s body, soaked in blood. And Alistair, his chest torn open, his armor ripped apart like stiff paper.
The heat at his back grew, but no light came with it. Or, rather… something cast a huge shadow. Bannon froze, panting. He could sense the immense weight behind him, but he dared not turn around.
“No….” His voice trembled.
“…no…” His whole body shook. Heat seared his back.
He felt his claws — hands — flex. “N-no.”
There was a roar, felt more than heard, a rushing of air, and of fire. It roiled over Bannon, stripping his flesh, crisping his skin. Bannon screamed. He clawed his way out of bedroll and tent and ran madly through the camp.
Alistair scrambled to his feet from where he sat on watch and grabbed the elf before he ran headlong into the fire. “Easy, whoa!” The Templar held onto the squirming elf.
“The cheeses! The cheeses are melting!” he screamed in panic. “The greyspawn cheeses!”
“Calm down!” Alistair grunted as the elf nearly pulled him off-balance. “You’re not making sense!”
“Cheeses! Dark Warden cheeses! Treeses!”
“The Grey Warden treaties?”
“Are melting!” Bannon shook his head. “Burning!”
Gingerly, Alistair let him go. “All right; easy… easy.” Bannon seemed to be getting ahold of himself. “You’re awake now? That must’ve been one doozy of a nightmare. Did you see the Archdemon?”
Mutely, Bannon shook his head. He shivered. Alistair took him by the hand and led him to the tent. He ducked inside and nearly had a heart attack when the assassin said, “What is going on?”
“Gah! Just… nothing! Go back to sleep.” Alistair dug up his satchel and brought it back outside to show Bannon the treaties. “There, see? Everything is all right.” He patted the stricken elf on the arm. “We’ll have a good laugh about this in the morning.”
“You want me to stay up with you a bit?” Alistair bent his knees, trying to peer into the elf’s face, but Bannon wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“No. No, I’m all right.” Bannon waved him off and turned away, rubbing his forehead.
“Are you really sure? Because I haven’t been able to sleep very well,” Alistair said. “There’s an assassin in my tent.”
“He’s tied up.”
“Well, yes. It’s the ‘what if he gets himself untied’ part that worries me.”
Bannon scratched his head, rumpling his hair. “All right, bring him out here. I’ll watch him.”
Bannon went to pull on his armor and weapon harness. Alistair thanked him profusely and went to fetch Zevran. He had to call Bannon for help a minute later, because he’d tied double knots and couldn’t get them undone. Too weary to grumble, Bannon helped get the assassin and his bedroll out by the fire.
“Just go back to sleep,” he growled at the talkative Antivan. He sat morosely staring at the flames, trying to forget the nightmare, trying to banish worries about his family, and the stench of charred flesh.
“You know,” Zevran said, idling in his blankets, “you should sit with your back to the fire. Then it will not blind you to attackers sneaking in from the dark.”
Bannon bit his lip. Damned know-it-all assassin. It made sense, though. He shifted position, but made sure to keep Zevran in sight.
“Tell me about your dream.”
“Well, it’s a little trick I have,” Zevran said cheerily. “To retell a nightmare as a grand adventure, where you win in the end. Makes it much more pleasant, no?”
“Don’t think so.”
But the Antivan persisted. “Do I understand you had a nightmare about cheese?”
Bannon groaned and rubbed his face. There was no getting around it, so he told Zevran parts of the dream: Alistair giving him giant wheels of cheese, his father piling furniture on his back. “Then that bastard, Vaughn, showed up, laughing, and demanding rent money. I could barely move with this giant stack of stuff on my back, and when I didn’t cough up the coins fast enough, Vaughn went to hit me.” Bannon’s mouth curved into a satisfied little smile. “That’s when I said to hell with everything and dropped it all on him. You should’ve seen the look on his face just before he got squashed.”
Zevran chuckled. “Remind me not to make you angry at me. You are quite vengeful. Not,” he was quick to add, “that I have any intention of angering you. And it seems you hardly need my help in the matter of this nightmare, mi patrone.”
Bannon’s smile turned sour. “Yeah, well, then the Archdemon showed up and destroyed everything.”
“Yeah.” Bannon lowered his head, pressing his fingers that aching spot above his eyes. The cheerful assassin wasn’t daunted for long, however. He wriggled to sit upright, cross-legged in his bedroll, while Bannon watched him warily.
“But you are a mighty Grey Warden, si? You shall slay this Archdemon when you meet.” Zevran grinned cockily. “Is what Grey Wardens do.”
Bannon stared at him a moment. He decided sitting that way was a really bad idea for a guy who disdained pants in favor of a short leather kilt. And what in Thedas was he wearing underneath? Bannon squeezed his eyes shut. Maker, he didn’t want to know. He looked off to the edge of camp, but kept the assassin in his field of vision– just in case. “Have you ever even seen an Archdemon?”
“Uh, no. It is a big demon, is it not?”
Bannon looked sidewise at him. “Have you ever seen a darkspawn?”
Zevran nodded. “Si. Several chased us in Lothering.”
“Have you ever seen a dragon?”
“Hmm. Only in paintings.”
“The Archdemon is a Tainted dragon,” Bannon said, looking him in the eye. “Think really big. Really pissed off. And quite insane.”
“Oh.” Maybe that would finally shut him up. But oh no. That hope was in vain. “Well, I could slay such a thing.”
Bannon snorted in disbelief. “You?”
“If I were a Grey Warden? Surely! And,” Zevran continued, ignoring Bannon’s further noises of incredulity, “since you defeated me, it follows that you can kill it easily. So you see? There is no cause for concern. This Archdemon should be having nightmares about you.”
Bannon had to laugh, albeit dryly. This guy’s ego knew no bounds. “All right, you win. Now go to sleep.”
“I am not tired. Besides, two pairs of eyes on guard are better than one, no?” Zevran leaned forward. “We should go on patrol, around the edge of the camp.” Bannon narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Or not, as you prefer,” the assassin hastily added, seeing his look.
The Denerim elf gave it some thought. I seemed like a ploy– get him alone, out on the fringe of the camp, do away with him quietly. But if they kept a tight leash on the assassin all the time, he’d just keep waiting for the opportune moment to strike. If Bannon could give him the opportunity now — or at least appear to — while he was on guard against it…. He could discover Zevran’s true colours. Hopefully without dying. Something told him there was a major flaw in this plan, somewhere. His head was just still too muzzy to see it.
Perhaps a walk would help clear it. “Do me a favor, would you?” he asked, moving around behind Zevran to untie him.
“What is it, mi patrone?”
“When you turn on us, kill me first.”
The ropes slipped free, and Zevran turned, looking at him in confusion. “I have no intention of killing any of you,” he said. “I pledged my loyalty to you, did I not?”
“You were serious?”
The Antivan drew himself up indignantly. “Of course I was serious! Do you think I pledge my service to just–?”
“All right, all right,” Bannon said, motioning for him to keep his voice down.
Zevran huffed and settled for seething in silence. That lasted all of two seconds. “Out of curiosity,” he said, “why would you wish me to kill you first?”
“It’s my fault you’re here,” Bannon said.
“Believe me, no one is more grateful than I.”
Bannon gave him a look. “No one is grateful,” he pointed out. “If I made a mistake…. If you kill me first, the others will have a chance to take you down, and continue with the mission.”
“It means that much to you?” Zevran tilted his head, his amber eyes assessing Bannon.
The Denerim elf shrugged uncomfortably. Maybe this was a burden he couldn’t put down. “I don’t know,” he said, looking away. “But it would be terribly embarrassing if I got any of the others killed by being royally stupid.”
Zevran moved to face him squarely. Bannon could not escape his scrutiny as the assassin studied his features. “If it is of concern…,” he said slowly, his voice low. “I am unarmed, without armor. You have your weapons.” He held his hands out, slowly raising them away from his sides, palms forward. “You could dispatch me, here and now. Your… ‘problem’ would be solved.”
Bannon clenched his teeth. He didn’t like being baited like this, and he had a strong impulse to skewer the cocky elf just on principle. But he took a breath. “I’m not going to kill you for no reason,” he growled.
“Ah well, you see?” Zevran relaxed and grinned. “Already you are much better than my previous employers. Why would I throw that away, hm? And go back to them?” He made a sour face. “No, no, mi patrone; you are stuck with me.”
Bannon tried to suppress a groan. He dragged the assassin out on patrol. Zevran, of course, pestered him for a weapon. “It would make me marginally more useful to you, should we be attacked.”
“I think it would be more meaningful if you threw yourself in front of my enemies with no hope of survival,” Bannon countered.
“Hmm. Perhaps I will simply run back to camp, screaming, to raise the alarm?”
“Yeah… unless they think you killed me, and it’s some kind of trick.”
Zevran just sighed heavily, and Bannon counted that as a point in his favor.
The two elves walked the ragged edge of the camp, their steps naturally light as they subconsciously avoided making noise. The moon was full, but patches of clouds were moving in from the west.
Bannon wanted to learn more about the elf he’d let into their midst, but so far, that had proven difficult. It wasn’t that Zevran didn’t like to talk about himself — in fact he seemed to be his own favorite subject — but when asked specific questions, he deflected them, and when he spoke in general, it was always some self-aggrandizing bullshit. So he decided to try a different tack, to stick to more neutral subjects. “Tell me about Antiva.”
“Ah, Antiva,” Zevran sighed wistfully. “It is a tiny desert nation, clinging to the coast and the banks of the mighty Antiva River. A rich, golden prize surrounded by three nations — Rivain, Tevinter, and the Free Marches — all crouched over it like hungry lions. Did you know, Antiva does not have a standing army?” He chuckled. “The biggest organized military presence is actually the Crows.”
“You don’t have a royal guard?”
“Si, to be sure! But the royal family is quite large, with a great many branches– not all of them are allied to the same causes, you see. Most of the political power is wielded by the Merchant Princes. In Antiva,” he explained, “one can acquire great wealth, and with that wealth, build one’s own network of allies, and raise one’s own small army of guards.”
“So to become a nobleman in Antiva, you just need money?” Not that any city elf could amass that much wealth, but it sounded easier than being born into or marrying into a noble family.
“Well, not ‘noble’ in the purest sense of the term. But as powerful as one? Si. More powerful than many of the poorer noble houses.”
“If Antiva is so rich, and there’s no army… how is it they aren’t conquered by these other nations?”
Zevran grinned brightly. “Ah, you see, our greatest enemies are our most powerful allies. Should any one of these Great Lions seek to stretch out a paw and snatch the golden prize, the other two would spring upon him and kill him.” He demonstrated with a swipe of his arm, a toothy snarl, and a pantomime with claw-hooked fingers.
“Enemies as allies, huh?” Bannon mused. “Then it’s not just you. All Antivans are crazy.”
Zevran laughed. “Crazy like a crafty desert fox, my friend!”
“But what’s it like living there?” Bannon pressed, closer to Zevran’s home. “What city are you from?”
“I am from the capitol, Antiva City. It is a sparkling jewel built on the delta of the great Antiva River.”
“Overlooking Antiva Sea?” Bannon asked dryly. “Whoever named this place didn’t have much of an imagination.”
“Tcha!” Zevran scolded him. “Antiva was founded ages ago by our first queen.”
“Queen Antiva of Antiva, residing in Antiva City on the Antiva River, overlooking the Antiva Sea?”
Zevran slugged him in the arm. “If you were a powerful queen, you would no doubt name quite a bit of geography after yourself, too!” Bannon could only chuckle in response. Zevran continued. “At night, the sultry breeze wafts over the streets; lanterns are lit, twinkling like stars. Ah, and the festivals! A riot of colours! Music and revelry… laughter and sparkling wine….”
The bronze-skinned elf’s face relaxed into a genuine smile. Perhaps Bannon’s ploy was working, though it all sounded too good to be true. “What about the alienage?”
“Oh,” Zevran said, coming back to the present. “We did not live in the alienage. My mother was a high-class whore, you see. We lived in the Southwest district, at the brothel, close to the marketplace.”
“You’ve never lived in an alienage?”
“No. Of course, when the Crows bought me, they housed us in the warehouse district, near the tannery. The brothel was much nicer.” A shadow passed over Zevran’s features, but was quickly banished. “What about you? You are from Denerim, Ferelden’s capitol, no? Is it not a bastion of your country’s beauty and strength?”
Bannon snorted. “You’ve been to Denerim. I’m from the alienage there. Trust me, it’s no jewel and certainly not a bastion of anything, except maybe stench.”
“Ah, well.” Zevran shrugged, having to concede the point. “But in all honesty, Ferelden doesn’t actually smell like wet dog.”
“Oh, si. That is what everyone who’s ever traveled to Ferelden says. That the country smells like wet dog. They exaggerate. Truly.”
“Well. Good to know.” Bannon gave Zevran a narrow stare, wondering if the assassin were having him on. For his part, Zevran seemed to be biting the inside of his lips to prevent them from smirking. “What does Antiva smell like, then?”
“Ah, sweet orange blossoms.” Zevran smiled.
Bannon narrowed his eyes further. “Except the tannery.”
That knocked the smug look off the Antivan’s face. “True. And the fish market. And… the slave market.” His expression darkened again.
“They really have slaves in Antiva? I mean… that seems so ‘ancient Tevinter.'” Bannon had a hard time picturing it. Slavery seemed like something out of the histories, or lurid tales.
“Oh, Antiva is much more enlightened than Tevinter,” Zevran said sourly. “Tevinter has human slavery, as well as elves of course. In Antiva, only elven slavery is legal.”
Bannon snorted in disgust. “Fucking shems.”
“Tell me about it. Fat bastards, living off the labor of the ‘lesser race.'” Zevran sneered. “If they ever had to do real work a day in their lives, they’d keel over dead.”
The Denerim elf chuckled in agreement. “Hey, did you ever try to learn to speak Dalish?”
“Every city elf child tries to learn Dalish,” Zevran said. “For that day when they will run away and join the wild elves, no? Ah, but then things come up and other pursuits catch your interest.” He shrugged. “No one uses Dalish speech, so eventually you forget it. No?”
“Yeah, that’s the truth,” Bannon said. “But I do remember, when we worked down on the docks, we used to tell the shems….” He frowned, trying to remember. “Ah, ‘matraen shallotte, ir din.’ We told them it was a respectful form of address to one’s betters.”
“What does it mean?”
“Eat shit and die.”
Zevran burst out laughing. “Quiet!” Bannon shoved him. “You want to wake everybody up?”
The Antivan slapped a hand over his mouth, bent double to try to stifle his laughter. It took him a minute or two to regain his composure. “That is so funny! They thought you were greeting them with rspect, and you were telling them to eat shit?” He sniggered again. “How did you keep a straight face?”
Bannon grinned. “Oh, it’s a talent we Denerim elves have.”
“Tell me again, so I can learn to say it!”
“Matraen shallotte, ir din.”
Matraen shallotte, ir din
— Before you go yelling this at people, you have to realize Bannon’s translation is quite faulty. What do you expect from a kid sneaking a peek at the hahren’s terribly scanty dictionary?
Matraen (changed from the Elvish Lexicon at Pandymic): to eat
Shallotte (made up by me and used by my Dalish elf): an exclamation without any actual literal meaning. just something to say when you are mad.
Ir (DA canon): with
Din (DA canon): not, isn’t; or someone who has died.
— So literally, it means “To eat, an exclamation, with some dead guy.”
“Well, it’s a little trick I have,” Zevran said cheerily. “To retell a nightmare as a grand adventure, where you win in the end. Makes it much more pleasant, no?”
— He stole that from me. Of course, in most of my dreams I’m kicking butt on nazis anyway….