Sex: some smexy talk
Other: obesity is mocked for humor, contains Zevranisms
This was going to be quite short. Then the boys started in. Then there was this big religious argument. Oh well, at least there’s cookies. And pie! And Zevran vs Carroll.
But no, no DA2 cameo appearances.
The town was overflowing with people, ox carts, chickens and goats, even a fancy horse-drawn carriage of some bann or other. It looked like a festival, until one got closer and saw apprehension in place of delight on people’s face.
“More refugees,” Bannon said sourly. On the bright side, there was a crowded, make-shift market that spilled out from the town square and down the road. The merchants were probably as bad as Stafford back in Lothering. As crowded and chaotic as it was, any guardsmen would have trouble keeping watch on it all. “All right,” Bannon told his troops; “meet in front of the biggest inn at noon.”
They dispersed, Leliana towing a scowling, yet oddly compliant Morrigan. Alistair started off, saying, “I’m going to get me some sausages!” Then he winced and stopped dead. He shared a leery look with Bannon. “Um… perhaps a nice ham instead.”
Bannon, of course, was stuck with his charge, the assassin. Zevran grinned irrepressibly. “So, can we find the whorehouse?”
“Hey, ox-head! Ox-head, ox-head! Hey, you big ox!”
Sten turned his horned head slowly. His body followed, and he walked over to a very rotund child sitting on a low garden fence. The rail bowed under him slightly. “You are too small. Return to the creche for more training with the priests.”
“I’m not small,” the boy said, cramming a handful of food into his mouth. He chewed and talked, and sprayed crumbs everywhere. “You’re a big ox. You should pull our wagon.”
“Are you a farmer?” Sten asked.
“Of course not,” the boy said indignantly, partly muffled by the wad of food in his mouth. He stuffed more in before he’d even swallowed. “I’m Bann Adelph. My daddy is Bann Roald.” He puffed up his chest, emphasizing his bulk.
“They need to reduce your rations,” Sten pointed out. He plucked the bag of food from the child’s pudgy hand.
“Hey! That’s mine!” Adelph screeched. He pushed himself off the fence rail and tried to grab the bag back. It was a futile effort. Standing upright, he was even shorter. “Give it back!”
Sten held the bag casually in one hand, well above the child’s head. “If you are not overweight, you should manage to reach it.”
Adelph hopped like a puffed-up frog, his feet barely leaving the ground. The strained seams of his boots threatened to pop at each heavy landing. His face purpled in effort.
After two and a half futile tries, he turned and waddled off as fast as his legs could carry him. “Waaaah! Daddy, daddy, the big ox stole my goodies!” He disappeared between two wagons, bawling.
A moment later, the noise was cut off with a sharp slap and a woman’s voice yelling, “Addy! How many times do I have to tell you? Stop fibbing!” Then ensued more wailing.
Sten turned and continued on his way. In curiosity, he pulled one of the baked roundels from the bag and bit into it. He stopped dead.
It was crunchy, and yet a bit chewy at the same time. More dense than bread, and crumbly. And the flavor! He’d taken the food for some sort of hardbread, but it was like nothing he’d ever tasted. It wasn’t dull and bland like bread, nor gamey like meat. It wasn’t strong and earthy like vegetables, or tart like fruit, or fiery like spices. Sten chewed slowly. It was a pleasant, tingly taste. Just to be sure, he finished that one and ate another.
Whatever the basra did to their hardbread, it was amazing!
The two elves wended their way through the bazaar of wagons and carts, the crowds of tall humans. No one remarked on the fact that they were carrying weapons. Everyone bore weapons; it was a bad time.
“We should stock up on supplies,” Bannon said. He passed Zevran a few coppers. “All right, Bann Charming, see if you can occupy the lady’s attention.” He nodded towards a doughty woman with an applecart.
Zevran’s brows went up. “As you like, mi patrone.” He marched right over and leaned towards the woman. “What fine apples you have today, my lady! Yet none can compare to the rosy shine of your cheeks.” She tittered and blushed while the Antivan laid it on thick.
A few minutes later, the two elves met up a bit further down the lane. “Look at this,” Zevran bragged. “Two for the price of one!”
“That’s good. Put them in here with the others.”
Zevran goggled. Good, it was about time for him to recognize Bannon’s prowess. “Where did you get that sack?”
“Hey, nobody was using it,” Bannon said. The fact that it came with a few potatoes already in it was just a bonus.
The two continued through the market, picking up various goods at discounted prices. It worked very well, until Zevran started complementing the man with the carrots. That merchant set two boys with sticks and a dog on them.
The rogues raced through the market and into the town proper. They managed to lose the shems, but the dog was, well, dogged. They cut through narrow alleyways, and finally ended up treed in a dead end piled with broken crates.
“Give me a boost,” Zevran said, looking up from their precarious perch to the roof of the building next to them.
Bannon snorted. “You give me a boost.”
“Oh, fine! But leave me the sack of goods so I know you won’t take off without me.”
Bannon happily let him carry the sack. He clambered up to the rooftop with help from the assassin, then reached down to give him a hand.
“You’re quite strong,” Zevran noted as he scrambled up beside the Denerim elf.
“Yeah, it’s a Grey Warden thing.”
Zevran grinned. “And rooftop running is an assassin thing. Come, let us lose that yappy mongrel.” He sprinted away over the slanted roof and leapt to the next. Not to be outdone (and not to lose his prisoner), Bannon followed.
The cluster of tenements had only small variations in height. Then they came to a taller, larger building. Zevran launched himself at the chimney, scrabbling for hand- and toe-holds in the stonework. Bannon almost caught up to him, then he cut a sharp turn, ran down the slope, and flew across an alley to the roof of a shop.
Bannon put on a burst of speed and hoped he made it all the way across. He did, but landed awkwardly with an “oof!” A loose tile skidded out from under his foot and dropped over the edge. “And nobody notices you up here?” he scoffed.
“Tsk. You must learn to be lighter on your feet!” Zevran turned on his toes, graceful as a dancer. Another loose tile dislodged, and then he was as graceful as a dancer on ice. “And run on roofs in better repair,” he grumbled. “Do they need to be so steep? In Antiva, they are flat. Good for a midnight rendezvous in rooftop gardens.”
“We don’t spend any time on our roofs.”
“They’re for keeping off rain and snow.”
They continued to a quieter residential part of town and got back to the ground via a shed in someone’s back yard garden.
“Aha,” said Bannon. “And here’s our carrots, much fresher!” He yanked up a handful.
Zevran came back and held the sack open for them, but he was impatient. “Come on, I do not wish to be chased again.”
“Hey, waste not, want not. That’s what my mother always said.”
“Was she a thief, too?”
Bannon’s head snapped up. “I am a carpenter,” he asserted. “And a Grey Warden.” He dusted off his hands and made his way to the garden gate. It was locked, so he just vaulted it.
“Is that what you call it in Ferelden?” Zevran said, following suit and then shouldering the sack. “I can see how your carpentry skills are most valuable to the Wardens.”
Bannon chuckled as they went on down the lane. “Yeah, well, keep it under your hat.”
“I do not wear a hat. Can I keep it under my kilt?”
“No? I should whip it out of my kilt then, shall I?”
Alistair spotted the qunari first. It wasn’t difficult; Sten stood head, shoulders, and horns over everyone else. Plus, an empty space always seemed to form around him.
“Whatcha got there?” he asked amicably as he walked up to the giant.
“Small, round, crisp foodstuffs.” Sten contemplated the one he held delicately between finger and thumb.
“Oh, cookies! I got a nice big ham!”
“Cookies,” Sten repeated contemplatively. He put the cookie in his mouth. “We do not have these in Par Vallon.”
“Where’d you get those?”
“There was a fat, slovenly child. I relieved him of them.”
“Wh–!?” Alistair blinked up at the placid qunari. “You stole them? You stole cookies from a child?”
“Trust me, he did not need them.”
Alistair was still trying to formulate a response to that when the two elves came over.
“Don’t ruin your appetite,” Bannon said. “Leliana got a pie.”
“Pie?” asked Sten. “What is pie?”
“Oh-ho, pie!” said Alistair. “Pies are good. It’s for dessert,” he explained to the blank-looking qunari.
“‘Dessert’? To abandon one’s post?”
“No, ‘dessert,’ with two S’s. It’s, you know– sweets, confections, goodies. What you get to have after dinner if you eat up all your vegetables.”
Sten solemnly filed this away. Zevran said, “I suppose this dessert is only for people who are not your horribly mistrusted and mistreated prisoners.” He sighed wistfully.
Bannon rolled his eyes. “You can have some pie.”
“Oh, truly?” Zevran clasped his hands together and made exaggerated doe-eyes at the other elf. “You are such a kind and generous patron,” he gushed with false gratitude. “Whatever have I done to deserve such high regard from your–”
“Does he ever shut up?” Alistair asked Bannon.
“Not that I noticed.”
“Eloquence and charm are valuable assets,” Zevran began. The Wardens just spoke over him, ignoring whatever he was saying.
“I got ham,” Alistair said, proudly displaying his prize.
Bannon’s eyes lit up. “All right!” He shared a grin with Alistair.
“Is this exclusively Grey Warden ham, or is it for everybody?” the annoying Antivan butted in.
“You know, it’s my ham; I get to decide who to share it with.”
“Name your price, O Master of Hams!”
“Do you even talk with your mouth full?”
Zevran’s grin broadened. “That depends entirely on what it is full of, my dear handsome Warden.” Alistair didn’t know why Zevran was looking at him like that and licking his lips, but he found it very disturbing.
“Maybe Sten will give you a cookie.”
From Sten: “No.”
At an end to his rope, Alistair looked at his fellow Warden. Bannon said, “If you’re not good and quiet, then you won’t get any pie.”
“But you said the pie is for everyone!” Maker’s Breath, sometimes this elf sounded like a 7-year-old!
“The pie is for everyone,” Leliana said, coming over to them with Morrigan beside her. The bard carried a deep, covered dish, which immediately drew everyone’s undivided attention. “We only need to find a place for luncheon. The inns and taverns are crowded with refugees from the south, and even local people who are abandoning their homes in fear that the Blight will not be stopped.”
“They don’t even have any rooms,” Bannon griped.
Alistair said, “They have one here.” He pointed at the large tavern behind Sten. “But the innkeeper told me he’d charge us sixteen silvers per person.”
Morrigan snorted. “He offered it to us for ten.”
“It’s all in the charm, Alistair.”
“The charmer or the snake,” the Templar grumbled underbreath.
“Wait a minute,” Bannon jumped in before a full-blown argument ensued. “He told us we had to sleep in the barn!”
“That must be because you are elves,” Lelaiana said, earning herself a dirty look from both Bannon and Zevran. “I mean,” she added hastily, “he must have taken you for servants. Did you tell him you’re a Grey Warden?”
“With the price Loghain has on our heads?”
Alistair agreed. “Yeah, we’re not trying that any more.”
Bannon said, “Look, we have the treaty with the Circle of Magi, we’ll just go to the Tower and have them put us up for the night. They must have guest rooms or something.”
“I am not sleeping in a barn again,” Zevran insisted.
Morrigan said, “Do these poor fools even have visitors? Or are they just locked up and forgotten?”
“The mages aren’t locked up,” Alistair said. Morrigan made it sound like one huge dungeon.
“Oh? Then they are free to leave at any time?”
“Um….” He shook his head. Now as not the time to get caught up in trying to explain Circle protocol to the witch. Not when there was pie to be had! “All right, I have an idea,” he said, deftly avoiding that morass. “Everyone’s taking the north road up towards West Hill arling. It branches off to go to the Tower. Nobody should be on that road, maybe we can find a quiet spot for a picnic?”
This notion was unanimously received, even by Morrigan. They followed a group of wagons out of town. Alistair asked Leliana to take the others ahead, because he had some ‘Warden Business’ to discuss with Bannon. He dropped back with the elf. Or, rather, elves.
Alistair frowned at Zevran. “Private Grey Warden business,” he emphasized.
“Who am I going to tell?”
“It’s all right, Alistair,” Bannon said. “The others don’t want to watch him.”
“Well, since you’re here, I thought I saw you guys running through town. What was that all about?”
Zevran laughed, and Bannon groaned. “Zevran complimented a man on his carrots.”
“Yes!” the Antivan said eagerly. “He had magnificent carrots! So long, so thick.” He began gesturing. “So nicely rounded at the tip. Not those skinny, tapering ones. Not limp, but crisp and hard. And oh, such a nice, thick root….” He half-closed his eyes and mimed grabbing the carrot.
“Gah! I was happier not knowing the details!”
“But you asked, no?”
“Look, just walk up ahead there a bit, would you?”
“Where you can see me, but not so far as a bowshot, si? As you wish!”
Alistair and Bannon dropped back a little more. “If this is about Morrigan….”
“Actually, it is. How did you know?”
The elf shook his head. “Don’t even think about it.”
“But– what? There will be a platoon of Templars there at the Tower. Just one word, and they will have her locked safely away.” Why was Bannon staring at him so incredulously? It seemed the most logical thing to do. “She’s an apostate,” he spelled out.
“Dangerous to who?”
“To us, for one.”
“Only if we piss her off,” Bannon said. “Which, by the way, turning her over to the Templars definitely will do.”
“They can handle one apostate.”
“She knows this is what you’re thinking. She’ll be prepared. It will get messy.”
“But it’s the Law,” Alistair said, falling back on the bulwark of his training. “It’s the Maker’s word.”
“No it isn’t,” Zevran said from ahead of them. Alistair gritted his teeth. The elf turned around, walking backwards for a few paces. “What?” he said; “You think these long ears are just to attract the ladies?” Zevran stopped until the Wardens caught up, then he continued along with them. “You don’t seriously believe everything the Chantry says is the word of the Maker.”
“Of course I do. Because it is.” That’s what the Chantry existed for! To spread the light and word of the Maker.
Zevran waved his hand, dismissing the entire notion. “No. The Maker comes down, riding a golden cloud, and write letters ten feet high in flames– that is the word of the Maker. Some mortal comes along and copies them, then it enters the realm of the mundane. They can be misinterpreted, copied wrong… changed. The Chant of Light was written entirely by humans. Not by the Maker.”
“You do not believe that the Maker speaks to all the Sisters and Chanters? Like your lovely red-haired friend?”
“I– Well… no.”
Zevran shrugged. “So you see. Even the Divine in the Holy Palace in Val Royeaux– she is a mere mortal like the rest of us.”
“The Chantry exists to help people. To do good works in the Maker’s name.”
Zevran turned to face him. They’d slowed to a stop on the road. Bannon watched the two of them, his face drawn in thought. Alistair felt the furrows wrinkling his forehead. He didn’t like aruging about holy matters. Especially with unbelievers. Zevran said, “The Chantry’s concern is the same as any other mortal endeavor: money.”
The elf stopped him with a raised finger. “If you wish to enlist a healer, who do you go to? Who do you pay for these services?”
“The Chantry heals and cares for the needy–”
“If you want to buy a magic potion, where do you go? Who do you pay? An enchanted weapon? If you want a mage to go with you on an expedition, where do you go, and who charges you the fees? The Chantry,” Zevran said evenly. “The Chantry controls the mages, and thus has a monopoly on all things magical. They can charge whatever they please.”
Alistair bit his lip, because he didn’t know what to say. Zevran continued. “If mages were allowed to roam free, they would become competition. The Chantry would lose money.”
Alistair shook his head. “But mages are dangerous. What about abominations? What- what about Maleficarum? The Templars protect us from those things.”
“You know, I can’t help but notice a similarity between the Templars and the Antivan Crows.”
“What?” Alistair didn’t anger easily, but this elf was seriously asking for it.
Unconcerned, Zevran said, “They find these mages when they are young, when they are– how do you say?– malleable.” He mimed squeezing a lump of clay in his hand. “Strip them away from their family, isolate them, teach them obedience out of fear….”
“That’s not true!”
“Some of these Templars, they do not take vows, si? They get a pretty little maid, helpless and alone, surrounded by strong, armored men….”
“You shut up, right now!”
Bannon stepped between them. “All right, take it easy!” He pressed one hand to Alistair’s breastplate. The elf was too small to move him, but Alistair stepped back anyway. He didn’t want to get into a fight. He didn’t want to have a theological discussion. Maker, he just wanted to have a peaceful, quiet lunch!
“Zevran, go on ahead and tell the others we’ll catch up.” Bannon jerked his chin, indicating the fork in the road where the others were standing, looking back with varying degrees of concern.
“I think they can hear us yelling,” the assassin said.
“Just go. Please.”
“As you wish, mi patrone.” He gave a brief bow and left, swaggering down the road, that arrogant–!
Alistair put a hand to his face, grinding the glove leather to his skin.
“Let’s be logical for a minute,” Bannon said, after watching the others turn down the road to the Tower. Alistair looked at him. “If we do turn Morrigan over, if they do take her…. We’re going to be facing lines of darkspawn that aren’t frozen stiff; they’re going to be hell-bent on kicking our asses. If there’s a mage, one of those alphas, he’s going to be flinging fireballs and shooting lightning at us, and there won’t be anyone shooting back.” Bannon moved in front of him, looking up into his face. He put both hands on Alistair’s arms. “Morrigan is the only one of us who knows how to make the elfroot into those potions. And without those? Every one of us would be dead by now.” He tugged at Alistair’s arm. “We need her.”
“We’re going to the Circle. We can get another mage.”
“Uhh… well, we can put in a request. I mean, we do have the Treaty and all.”
Bannon rubbed his face. “We could conscript one, I guess.”
Alistair frowned. “We can’t. We don’t know how to do the Joining.”
“They don’t know that.” The elf tipped his head.
“What? Lie to the Templars?”
The elf sighed. Alistair gritted his teeth again. “Look, I know the Grey Warden mission is important, but we’re supposed to be the good guys here.”
“And people should help us because it’s the right thing to do?” the elf asked skeptically.
“Like they did at Ostagar?”
Alistair winced; he literally felt as if Bannon had struck him. “I don’t want to turn into Loghain, just to fight Loghain.”
“All right. We don’t have any real clout to back up a conscription, anyway.” Bannon scratched his head, then smoothed back his hair. “But Alistair, please. Don’t do anything rash.”
“I don’t think it’s rash. I think it’s prudent.” Why didn’t Bannon see the danger? Hello? Apostate mage on the loose!
Bannon took a breath, and Alistair could see he was trying to keep his patience. “I think… your opinion might be somewhat influenced by your training.” Bannon looked him in the eye. Alistair scowled. “Have you been talking to Sten? The Qun tells them to treat their mages like rabid animals.”
“No. That’s barbaric.”
“They’re not animals, they’re people, like everyone else. And honestly? I don’t see anything wrong with them wanting to be free instead of locked up somewhere. Anyone would want that.”
Alistair blinked, nearly poleaxed. Mages were people, but that fact was buried under the labels the Chantry doctrine gave them. It was always ‘mage’ this and ‘mages’ that. ‘A mage,’ ‘the mage,’ never simply ‘him’ or ‘her.’ Always what they might do, never what they might think, or how they might feel. “But the Chantry teaches them about the dangers of demons in the Fade. Without that….”
“I’m sure Morrigan knows all about that. Flemeth probably taught her.”
“You know, Flemeth is probably a demon. If she really is the Flemeth from the legends.”
“You can’t possibly believe that.” The elf tossed up his hands. “She’s not that old.”
“A demon might be able to keep her body young.”
“In that case, it’s doing a really bad job,” Bannon shot back. Alistair had to admit he couldn’t argue with that. “Look, Alistair; I’m not saying you’re wrong. And I’m definitely not saying Zevran is right, but–”
“He’s not completely wrong, either.” The elf’s sentence stumbled to a halt. Alistair wasn’t even sure himself he’d said the quiet words out loud, but there they were. He dropped his gaze to the dirt of the road and began walking.
A moment later, he felt Bannon’s presence walking quietly beside him. The elf said nothing, for which Alistair was immeasurably grateful. But like a lanced boil, the bitterness he’d been harboring bubbled out. “Some of the older boys,” he mumbled. “They’d talk like… like that.” They walked on a bit more in silence, then Alistair had to stop. He stood under the old dead tree that marked the turn off to the mage’s enclave.
“I’m a devout Andrastean, don’t get me wrong. I believe in the struggle to make this world a better place. I believe in the freedom Blessed Andraste bought for us with her life. It’s just… when I got to the Chantry, it was all rules and politics.
“The Chantry is a real dumping ground for kids nobody wants. The lazy second son of the noble families, the useless third son a merchant can’t afford to buy a dowry for, or especially any unwanted bastards like me.” He spat out the words, trying to clear their bitter taste from his mouth.
“Alistair, you’re not–”
“Oh yes I was! Lady Isolde couldn’t stand the sight of me. She wanted me gone. That was it, then, pack him off to the Templars, with all the other useless trash.” He shook off Bannon’s further attempt to mollify him. It was all true, and what did it matter any more, anyway? Hell, Isolde was dead, and he honestly couldn’t dredge up a tear for that.
“And if you were some rich brat? Or had connections in the nobility, you’d get all the promotions, all the plum assignments. And the rest of the dregs? We get to scrub the floors! ‘Oh, cleanliness is next to holiness,'” he mocked viciously. “‘Learn humility in the service of our Maker.’ Like we needed more humility? Learn humiliation is more like it. Those stuck-up rich bastards are the ones who could use that particular lesson. They treated us like servants, always ordering us around. We had to do what they said, they outranked us!”
Alistair paced beneath the tree, while his comrade watched. “Some of the men and women who joined the Templars, I think they did just because they hated mages. They didn’t want to guard and protect them, they just wanted to hunt them down and kill them. I can’t imagine them living in the Tower.” He gesticulated, his voice rising in volume. “They’d just be waiting for any excuse. Some poor mage could be reading in the library, and get a paper cut, and they’d go nuts. ‘Oh, look, a blood mage! Off with his head!'”
He stopped to catch his breath. “You know, I really–.” Alistair blinked, the realization hitting him out of the blue. “I really hated being in the Templars,” he said, a bit hesitantly, trying it out. “I never realized. I… I always thought I just resented being sent away from Redcliffe. But… Wow. I’m so glad Duncan got me out of there. I mean, sure the Grey Wardens recruit almost anybody– thieves, lowlifes, brigands. You know, like Daveth. But he wasn’t a bad guy. And the Wardens… they just seem so pure in their purpose. Do you know what I mean?”
“We don’t get paid enough to be all about the money?” Bannon quipped wryly. Alistair coughed a dry laugh. “So, you’re just going to… what? Throw over all your Templar training?”
“Well, no,” Alistair said slowly. “I didn’t mind the training, and the scriptures and devotions, just….” He gestured, trying to find the right words. “All the rules and the hidden agendas and politicking. The in-fighting.”
“Wardens don’t have all that crap. They just fight darkspawn.”
“Darkspawn are definitely not people.”
Bannon nodded. “And the Grey Wardens recruit all kinds of dangerous people. Like apostates….”
“… and asses. I see where you’re trying to go with this,” Alistair said with a wry smile.
“I saw Morrigan’s face when Flemeth talked about their home being destroyed and overrun by the Blight,” Bannon said. “She’s as dedicated as anyone to stopping it.”
Alistair nibbled the corner of his lip and contemplated that. “All right, so… maybe ‘keep your enemies close,’ and keep them pointed at the darkspawn.”
Bannon tapped a finger on his temple then pointed it at Alistair. “Now you’re using your noggin.”
Alistair snorted. “Dangerous as that is.” He felt better for having talked with Bannon. Well, talked at him. He still didn’t trust Morrigan fully, but he felt more secure in their ability to watch her and judge the danger. He smiled. “So, do you think the others have started lunch without us? We’d better hurry.” He turned down the road.
“Not a chance,” Bannon said, trotting to catch up with him. “You’re the one with the ham, remember?”
The road led straight through some light forest — woodland, Duncan would have called it. The trees opened out at a steep hillside that rolled down to the lake’s wide shore. The road cut to the right, towards part of the ancient Tevinter highways with their peaked arches. It appeared that the highway used to lead to the Tower, but several large chunks were fallen, or missing altogether. The road must lead to a switchback to get supply wagons down the hill, but a footpath broke off to take a more direct route.
Bannon and Alistair stopped at the hill crest. They could see their companions on the grassy sward below. Bannon shaded his eyes and looked at the Tower that thrust up from the lake like a giant iron needle. “Whoa,” he breathed. “It’s really tall!” It rose higher than any spire in Denerim that he’d seen, and the Tower of Ishal was a squat little hut in comparison.
“They say it was built with the help of magic,” Alistair told him.
“Is there a vast mechanism in the foundation? And they have to lower the entire thing so the sun can pass by?”
Alistair laughed. “No, it’s not quite that tall.”
“You’ve been here before?”
“Yes, once.” Alistair’s tone turned dark again. Bannon looked at him. “I’d rather not talk about that.”
“All right. But tell me that’s not the guest quarters up there.” He pointed to a rounded protuberance near the very top.
“No, that’s the Harrowing Chamber. Don’t worry, the guest quarters are just above the Templar barracks.”
Bannon didn’t know what a Harrowing Chamber was, but since they were on delicate ground, he deferred his curiosity. “And they get the bottom floor?” he asked. “So they don’t have to climb all those stairs?”
“Just about. Stairs are no joke with all that plate armor we wear.”
Bannon noticed he still said ‘we’ when talking about the Templars, even after his diatribe against them. There was something there, in the Templar Order, that he identified with. Bannon let that pass without remark as well. “Good. No way I’m climbing all the way up there.”
The two headed down the slope. The sun was shining warmly today, drying out the mud and grass, and doing its best to bring on summer.
Bannon found Zevran talking with Leliana by the water’s edge. “Ah, mi patrone, good of you to join us. I was just trying to entice Leliana into a bit of a swim.”
“The water is far too cold, Zevran,” the Chantry Sister insisted.
“Alas, that seems to be the bane of Ferelden: the air is too cold, the water is too cold, the women are too cold….” He made sad eyes at Leliana.
“You swim?” Bannon asked him. “I thought Antiva was a desert.”
“Oh, to be sure. But Antiva City is built on the Antiva River– quite literally in some quarters. There are canals everywhere. What sort of assassin would I be if I fell into one and immediately drowned?” He cocked his head. “Do you swim? Denerim is also on a river, no?”
“The Drakon River passes through the alienage, but I wouldn’t want to try to swim in it.” Bannon rubbed his nose at the mere thought. “It’d probably be easier to walk over, anyway, as thick as the sludge gets.”
“Ah,” said the assassin, nodding in understanding. “In the Royal District upriver, the water is pure and clear. By the time it gets down to the alienage and the docks….” He made a see-sawing motion with his hand. “Not so much. But many a wealthy merchant has quarters down there, stench or no. In fact, I believe that’s how they became known as the ‘filthy rich.'”
“So you swim for fun?”
Zevran shrugged. “Not so much, no. But any excuse to get naked and wet is good in my book!” He leered at Leliana. “Do you not agree?”
“I’m afraid not,” she told him firmly. She turned her back and went to help lay out the picnic.
“Oh, you’re making a lot of headway there,” Bannon said sarcastically.
“Shut up. I don’t see you doing any better.”
“I’m too smart for that.”
Zevran moved ahead to join the others around the blanket they were laying out on the grass. “Alistair.”
The former Templar looked up from slicing the ham, not quite able to keep a scowl from shadowing his face. “What do you want?” he asked a bit abruptly.
“I want to apologize,” Zevran said. Bannon almost fell over.
The other Warden was just as shocked. He gaped, and it took a moment for his mouth to start working again. “Y-y-you do?”
“Yes. I should probably not have said those things.” By the Maker! He actually sounded sincere. Bannon wondered if he were sick. Had the witch enspelled him?
“Uh,” said Alistair. “Well… I apologize for yelling.” The assassin nodded curtly, prepared to let it drop. But then Alistair said, “Look, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll concede the fact that there are bad influences in the Chantry, if you’ll admit that there are also good people working in the church as well.”
Zevran’s eyebrows flew up. “You mean… people aiding others, for no reason? Out of the– what?– goodness of their hearts?”
It was Zevran’s turn to gape. His brows drew back down and together as he thought. “I have never witnessed such a thing. I find it difficult to believe it exists outside of the wondertales.”
“You’ve never,” Alistair clarified, “seen anyone, anywhere, do something for someone.”
“Without an ulterior motive?” Zevran shrugged.
Alistair looked at Bannon a moment. The elf had to agree with him. Even in the alienage, grubbing for food and money, people still helped each other out. When they could. Alistair looked back at Zevran. “Well, no offense, but I have to say that Antiva must be populated entirely by arseholes.” He returned to the ham, savaging it with a vengeance.
Zevran only laughed. “One cannot argue with that, my good Warden.”
Morrigan said, “I hate to admit it, but I must agree with the assassin. Everyone’s first priority is to themselves. Others come in a distant second, if at all.”
“I do not agree,” Leliana said. “What about your family?” She looked between the witch and the assassin. They shrugged. “Didn’t your mother ever do anything for you? Make sacrifices for you?”
“Mother raised me and cared for me, yes,” said Morrigan. “But for no ulterior reason? Certainly not. She expected loyalty and obedience from me in return.”
Zevran snorted. “My mother sold me to the Crows when I was six. I think that makes it clear what her priorities were.”
That pretty much killed the conversation.
The companions dawdled over their lunch. It felt good to just sit and relax, not having to worry about darkspawn lurking, stalking them. No bandits, no refugees. The sun was warm and the grass was springy. Bannon looked forward to a good night’s sleep in the generous beds of the mage tower. Important people visited the mages. They’d have fancy beds. The Grey Wardens were important people. ‘Here’s the treaty, give us your biggest quarters,’ that’s what he’d tell them. It’s good to be the Grey Wardens.
The sun narrowly missed getting impaled by the spire, and began to slide down behind the Tower. Bannon rounded up his troops, and Alistair led them to the dock where the ferry stood.
A lone Templar stood on the pier, guarding the ferry to the Tower. He didn’t bother to wait for them to get to him nor to state their business. He held up one hand. “No one is allowed in the Tower, by orders of the Knight Commander.”
“We’re Grey Wardens,” Bannon told him. “We have business with the Circle of Mages.”
“Oh, you’re Grey Wardens, are you?” the Templar drawled. “Prove it.”
Bannon and Alistair looked at each other. “Prove it?” the human asked. “How does one go about proving that, exactly?”
“Well, I don’t know. Slay some darkspawn.”
“There aren’t any darkspawn here,” Alistair insisted.
The Templar nodded. “Right, so toddle off, then.” He presses his lips tight, but couldn’t hide a smirk.
Bannon narrowed his eyes at the man. “Wardens can sense darkspawn before they appear. Perhaps your superiors would like to know if they are to be attacked at any moment.”
The Templar propped himself up on his toes self-importantly, then rocked back on his heels. “If the darkspawn are coming, then you can slay some.”
The elf gritted his teeth. “Fine. What do you want to take us across the blasted lake?”
Now the stalwart bastion of righteousness’ eyes lit up. “Well, that lynx-eyed beauty is certainly a looker.” He leered at Morrigan.
Alistair and Bannon both turned to the witch. This poor fool obviously had no idea. Bannon inclined his head as if suggesting Morrigan go with the Templar.
Morrigan smiled coldly. “Oh, such a lovely young thing. Will you fall prey easily, I wonder?” Her eyes raked him over. “Or will you struggle and scream as I devour your flesh?”
“Ohhh,” the Templar quavered. “She’s going to eat me!” His leer widened. If he wasn’t careful, drool was going to start leaking out of the side of his mouth.
“Haven’t you taken vows with the Chantry?” Lelaina asked pointedly.
“No,” the smug Templar assured her. “Have you? Would you give them up for me? You pretty little minx!” He folded his arms, puffing up his chest.
Leliana opened her mouth to retort; Morrigan raised her hand to begin a spell of destruction; Bannon tried to think of something– anything– to say; Alistair prayed for deliverance from this disaster. But before anyone could make a move, Zevran stepped forward. “I’ll handle this.” They all gaped at him.
Even Sten’s brow went up a notch as the Antivan moved towards the Templar with a very distinctive sway to his hips. “My my, what a deliciously handsome man you are,” the elf purred.
The Templar grinned and started to nod, then blinked rapidly. “Bu- bu- uh– You’re a guy!” He unfolded his arms as if in preparation to run away. But there was nowhere to go on the end of the dock.
Zevran drew an admiring hiss between his teeth. “So sexy, so virile, and smart? Be still my heart!” He walked right up to the frozen Templar and ran his hands across the man’s breastplate. “I do so admire a man in a suit of hard, steel armor.”
The Templar backed up a step, a small, strangled sound that sounded rather like “ack” escaping his throat.
The assassin put his hand pre-emptively on the Templar’s swordhilt. “Such a long sword you have,” he leered, drawing the word out. He rubbed the palm of his hand provocatively over the pommel. “Are you very skilled in its uses?”
“I- I- I– ulp!” Skittishly, the man backed away, but Zevran followed him relentlessly, licking his lips.
“Are you wearing anything under that sexy dress of yours?” the elf asked brightly. “Because you know I want to get down there right now and–”
“WAAAAAAAAUGH!” Just then, the Templar took another step back, but he’d run out of pier. He toppled over into the water with a mighty splash.
Zevran shrugged. “Or,” he said, “if not, we can just steal your boat.” He turned and hopped in.
“Okay!” said Bannon, joining the assassin. Morrigan and Sten started to follow.
“Wait,” cried Alistair. “We can’t just leave him to drown!”
“And why not?” the witch asked archly. “It is his own stupidity that landed him there. He deserves what he gets.”
“I agree,” the qunari added.
Alistair gave Leliana a pleading look, then started shucking his own armor. The lay Sister bit her lip a moment, then darted to fetch a rope. Together they worked on saving the foolish Templar. Meanwhile, the rest sat waiting in the boat.
“Who is expected to row this thing?” the qunari asked.
Bannon gave him a look. “Sten, what does your book tell you?”
He lowered his brows threateningly at the elf. “The Qun tells us many things.”
“It says that everyone is assigned a job based on his abilities,” Bannon told him, like a teacher reciting a lesson. “To row a boat, we need someone big and strong. And who might that be?”
The qunari grumbled, but he took a seat between the oars.
Bannon turned to Zevran. “What were you going to do if he was actually interested in that?”
The Antivan spread his hands with a shrug. “Then he would right now be very distracted and you could steal his boat. Or, you could wait a few minutes, and he would be happily rowing us across with a big smile on his face.”
“Seriously?” Bannon’s face wrinkled half in disbelief and half in repulsion.
“And why not? He is a very handsome fellow, no?” He ignored his patron’s doubtful look and gazed past Bannon. “Such a straight spine, broad shoulders…; that blond hair, those rugged good looks…. So witty and charming. Mmm, that sexy upper-class Ferelden accent….”
Bannon twisted around wondering what the Antivan was going on about. He couldn’t have gotten all that just from talking to the lech for two minutes. All he saw was Alistair and Leliana hauling the unfortunate Templar onto the dock, water streaming from him. Alistair had dove in and managed to get the Templar free from his weighty chest plate and back armor, as well as the soaked skirting (and yes, he was wearing something under it). Bannon shook his head. Sometimes, he didn’t understand that Antivan at all.
Zevran: “What sort of assassin would I be if I fell into one and immediately drowned?”
— ::ahem:: Altair!!!