Violence: a little
Little bits of business as the gang goes to Denerim. (and apparently lots of them!) Absolutely nothing important happens during this chapter. You can skip it if you don’t like reading. …Which… if you got this far, would be strange, but whatever!
On the North Road
Party Banter: Rotten Apple
Alistair: This apple is rotten.
Bannon: It is not.
Alistair: It is! Look, it’s got brown spots on it.
Bannon: No, rotten is when it’s all black and mushy. Those are just a couple of bruises. They’re not going to kill you.
Alistair: What, you just eat them? What happens if you eat them?
Bannon: You’ll get a little sour taste in the back of your throat. Seriously, Alistair, you shems are going to throw away a perfectly good apple just because it has a few bruises?
Bannon: Just eat it.
“Alistair, where are we again?” Bannon unfolded the map just after lunch. He held it up in front of the Templar knight.
“We’re on the North Road. We keep going until we get to Denerim,” Alistair said wearily. “It’s not that difficult.”
“Yes, but, there might be a town nearby? Along the way?” The elf flapped the map at him insistently. “Maybe there’s an inn where we could stay the night.”
“Can we afford that?”
“It might actually be cheaper than renting tents from Bodahn,” Bannon mused. “Maybe some bandits will attack us, and we’ll get some more money.” One could always hope for a bandit attack.
Alistair took the map and frowned at it. “Well…,” he said finally, “I don’t know. They don’t have any inns marked on here. Just the cities and the bigger towns.”
Zevran appeared on the Templar’s other side. “We shall never know until we get there. Let us go!” He gave the man a firm slap to the backside.
“Hey!” Alistair yelped and jumped as if he’d been bitten. “What?! Did you–?” He turned away from the smirking elf to his fellow Grey Warden. “Did he–?”
“What, Alistair?” Bannon took the map back and began folding it. He didn’t seem to have noticed anything.
“Yes, Alistair,” Zevran piped up. “Do tell!”
“Did you just touch my butt?” the former Templar spit out, his face going crimson.
“Did I?” The Antivan feigned shock. “I’m surprised you can tell, with that armor on.”
Alistair’s face looked like a disgruntled tomato. He looked back, where Morrigan and Leliana were snickering. Wynne frowned and opened her mouth to say something, but Alistair slapped his helmet onto his head and turned away.
Bannon looked at the old mage and put a finger to his lips. Zevran yanked his arm and dragged him off behind the qunari and Templar.
No bandits sprang froth along the road. Alas. But they did spy a small, ramshackle inn in the early evening.
“See if you can get us some rooms,” Bannon told Alistair.
“Me?” The penny-pinching elf usually handled that.
Bannon tugged at his short hair, trying to yank his forelock down and forward. “Well, I can’t! I still have the world ‘LOSER’ visible across my forehead.” He shot the snickering Antivan an evil glare.
“Put your helmet on,” Alistair told him.
“Oh, that’s an improvement,” Zevran said sarcastically.
“Shut up.” Bannon unhooked the ugly thing from his belt and put it on his head. He tugged it down low so the brim shadowed his forehead.
Inside, Bannon and Zevran lurked by the fireplace, pretending not to know Alistair, who went to the bar with Sten.
“Honestly,” Wynne said nearby. “How long are you going to let that poor boy carry on?”
Leliana said, “Morrigan and I have a bet to see when he notices. Excuse me.” She went to help Alistair procure food and lodging.
“So can anyone get in on this bet?” Bannon asked Morrigan. “What’s your money on?”
“That he doesn’t notice until up in the room.” She shot a glance at the older mage. “The bet will be called off should anyone actually tell him.”
“Oh, you’re all children,” Wynne griped. She went to find an empty table.
Bannon looked over the patrons of the tavern. A few were looking towards the bar with puzzled expressions that graduated into snickers and low comments to their companions. Someone was bound to make a comment or start laughing. “I’ll take that bet. Ten silver says he’ll figure it out before then.”
“That’s hardly worth much when you hold all our money.”
“What are you and Leliana betting?”
“Who has to cook dinner and breakfast for a week.”
“I’ll toss in Zevran digging latrines for a week,” Bannon offered.
“Hey,” the Antivan complained. When Bannon looked over, Zevran flipped an obscene gesture.
“You can take a turn for a week as well,” Morrigan said.
“If you’re that sure.”
“All right; you’re on.”
“How much are your rooms?” Leliana asked the bored-looking innkeeper.
“Don’t have rooms. We got a loft. Three coppers a cot.” He rolled his eyes speculatively at Sten. “Ain’t got any that big.”
“I will sleep outside.”
“We will take cots for six and meals for…,” Leliana did a quick calculation in her head, “nine.” She smiled winsomely at the man, but he wouldn’t budge on the price he named.
A couple of local farmers filed out, laughing, and Leliana turned from her negotiations to smile at their humor. Alistair turned to look, too. They laughed again, but said nothing.
“What’s so funny?” Alistair wondered.
“They probably heard a good joke. Let us eat, yes?”
Alistair followed Leliana to the table. The others had dumped their packs in the corner, so he unslung his shield and pack and tossed them down without looking. “Boy, I’m starved,” he said as he claimed a seat on the bench.
He noticed the two elves sniggering. He glanced at Morrigan and wasn’t surprised to see a smirk on her face. When Leliana took the last seat, he noticed her dimpling with a suppressed smile. “What’s so funny?” he asked again.
Zevran started laughing harder. Bannon said, “Nothing.” He shot a glance at Morrigan. “Ignore him,” he said, elbowing Zevran in the ribs. “He’s an idiot.”
“You just figure that out?” Alistair replied. He moved aside to let the server bring in the platter of food. “So what’s the joke, then?”
“Nothing,” Bannon insisted, grabbing a plate.
Sten came over, and the elves grumbled as he made them move down the bench.
“Come on,” Alistair insisted as he attacked a slab of meat. “Tell me this joke, Zevran.”
“Ah….” The assassin winced as Bannon clearly kicked him under the table. “I’m afraid it was quite lewd. Do you still wish to hear it?”
“Yeah,” he said on a hunch.
“Well the rest of us do not,” Morrigan said snippily. The elf shrugged apologetically, then busied himself stuffing food into his face.
Alistair shook his head and attended to his own meal. They ate in companionable silence, except Bannon and Zevran, who started whispering and giggling back and forth.
“Will you two behave!” Wynne snapped at them.
“And what’s so funny?” Alistair demanded.
“Nothing,” Bannon said again. “Just… elven humor.” This prompted another snort from his cohort. Bannon smacked him on the arm.
“I said behave,” Wynne insisted, before they ended up wrestling on the floor.
“Wynne, do you know what’s going on?”
“Me?” The older mage glanced around. She frowned, her mouth pinched in a tight line.
Alistair looked over and saw Morrigan glowering back at Wynne. “You,” he said, leveling a finger at the witch. “Did you do something to me?”
“Did you cast a spell on me?” He ran his hand back over his hair. “Turned my hair pink or something? Made a tail grow? Feathers sprout out my ears?”
“Of course not. I resent such an accusation.”
“Oh, you do, I’m sure. Only everyone here seems to think something is funny, except me. And they keep looking at you. I know they’re not laughing at you, because no one’s hair is on fire.” She blinked at him in surprise. “I’m not stupid,” he growled.
“I have done nothing to you, Alistair.”
He didn’t believe her. “Sten, do you see something funny about me?”
The qunari paused in his methodical eating to look at Alistair. “No.”
The elves, Leliana, and Morrigan laughed. Alistair sighed.
“I do not see what is so humorous,” Sten said.
“Sten,” Alistair told him, “you always say ‘No.'” The qunari grumbled and went back to eating. Alistair looked at Bannon. “You.”
“You’re my fellow Grey Warden. You’d tell me if someone were playing a practical joke on me, right?”
“Well….” He looked between all his companions. If Wynne, Sten, and Bannon didn’t notice anything odd…. “All right, then.” He finished his meal, and snagged extra helpings. Come on, he told himself. We’re not a bunch of village kids.
He’d just about convinced himself of that when he got up to gather his things. He felt everyone watching him, so he turned back warily as he grabbed his pack and shield.
Zevran started laughing again. Bannon punched him in the head, but he was trying not to laugh as well. Morrigan looked triumphant. Alistair slung the pack up onto his shoulder. “All right, what’s going– What in the–!?” As he went to pull his shield up, he saw a flash of purple. The front of it was covered with that horrid Paisley Monstrosity! “Gah!”
Everyone at the table started laughing. Well, except for Sten. Sten looked up and quirked a brow. Well, for him, that was practically doubling over and slapping his knee.
“How long has this been here?” Alistair demanded as he tugged at the knots in the sleeves. They couldn’t answer for laughing, and he noticed the other people in the tavern laughing, too. “Morrigan!”
“I had nothing to do with it.”
He turned his glare on the elves. “Bannon! I thought you were my friend!”
The dark-haired elf pointed emphatically at Zevran, who slapped at his hand in return. “Come on, Alistair. It was just a joke.”
“Was this here all day?” Maker, how many people had seen him parading around as the Paisley Knight? “What if we’d been attacked by bandits or something?” His face grew even hotter, just imagining going into battle like that.
Zevran piped up, “You would have stopped their charge dead! They would be helpless on the ground while we dispatched them.”
“You don’t look any worse than I do,” Bannon insisted. He gestured to his ill-fitting armor. “I look like some kind of patchwork scarecrow. Oh, and let’s not forget that some idiot wrote on my head with boot polish!” He rubbed at the stain on his forehead. The Antivan howled in laughter, and Bannon shoved him hard enough to dump him off the bench. “You shut up, or you’re going to wake up one morning to find your braids decorating my helmet.”
“You propose to sneak up on an Antivan Crow while they are sleeping?” Zevran bounced to his feet. “Very dangerous. You stand to lose life and limb.”
Bannon ignored his boasting and finished talking to Alistair. “And my hair looks like a cow ate it.”
Alistair had no interest in the elves’ byplay. He turned to Wynne. “Seriously, Wynne? I’d expect this sort of thing from the brat brigade, but you?”
She had the grace to look embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Alistair.”
“No one could say anything,” Bannon put in. “Or the bet would be off.”
Alistair yanked the Paisley Monstrosity free from the shield. “Bet? What, you bet on how stupid Alistair would look?”
“Look at the bright side– Morrigan has to cook breakfast and dinner for two weeks!”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh, grand, that. You know what she’s like. Bugs and slime for breakfast.” They started to protest, but he cut them off by flinging the stupid shirt onto the table. “I’m going to retire to my cot, get some mending done. Good night!” He delivered the last viciously, then stomped towards the stairs.
“Well, I hope you’re all happy,” Wynne told the group.
“He’ll get over it,” Bannon said without concern. He got up and said to Zevran. “Let’s go outside.”
“Oh? What for?”
“You said you wanted to spar.”
Zevran’s eyes lit up. “Excellente’!”
The others dispersed to relax and have some time to themselves.
The next night, it was camp again. Bannon brought the book to Morrigan after dinner. “Hey, I thought you might find this interesting.”
Her brows peaked into surprised arches. “Where did you find this?” She took the black book eagerly. “This… this looks like Mother’s grimoire.” She tore her eyes from it and leveled her golden gaze at him.
“Oh, well, I saw it in Irving’s room.” He shrugged. “I said it looked interesting; he said I could keep it.”
She snorted, then her eyes were drawn back to the book. She ran a palm over the cover. “This can’t possibly be… but it looks just like the one I remember….” She trailed off. Just before he could take his leave, however, her attention snapped back to him. “This could be quite important. I do thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said with a charming smile. “Oh, and dinner was great.”
Bannon returned to the main camp and went over by Alistair’s tent. Although everyone had complained about the paintings on the tents, the fact is it was a lot easier to tell which belonged to whom. Even after most of the ingredients had rubbed off, the red ‘sword’ on Alistair’s tent lingered.
Alistair himself was still surly after the Paisley Monstrosity attack. He returned Bannon’s cheerful greeting with a monosyllabic grunt. The elf didn’t bother with any preamble. “Here, I thought you might like this.” He gave Alistair the little wood carving he’d been whittling.
“Thanks,” Alistair said. He took it and looked it over. “It’s a mabari,” he added with a bit of surprise. It wasn’t Bannon’s favorite subject, but the shape of the wooden knot had dictated the course of the carving knife. A slight grin tugged at Alistair’s lips. “It’s not like the usual stiff, decorative, mean-looking Fereldan mabari statues. Look at his goofy smile, and his little pot belly!” His expression matched the dog’s more and more. “And he’s got a bone to chew on. He’s so happy.” The former kennel-boy’s eyes went a little misty. He turned the carving over again, then looked at Bannon. “This is so unique… I love it! Just… wow! You really are talented. Thanks!”
The elf chuckled at his exuberance. “You’re welcome.”
“I’m still going to get back at you for that Paisley Knight incident, though,” Alistair growled in mock severity.
“Hey, that’s what friends are for.”
“To play pranks on each other?” Alistair asked in disbelief.
“Who else are we going to play pranks on?” Bannon retorted. Then he had an idea. “Maybe, when we get to Denerim, we can play that prank on Loghain.”
“Well, your hair still looks ridiculous,” Alistair griped when he couldn’t win an argument any other way.
“It looks exactly like your hair!” Bannon pointed out.
“No it doesn’t.”
Bannon licked the palms of his hands and pushed his bangs back until they stood up in a cowlick. “Look familiar?”
“No,” the former Templar insisted.
Bannon grabbed Alistair’s shield. He stood with it before him, his chest puffed up and his shoulders thrust back. “Fear me, darkspawn,” he said in a reasonable imitation of Alistair’s voice. “The Paisley Knight will show no mercy!”
Leliana turned, her eyes and mouth open in amazement. “That’s brilliant! I didn’t know you could do impersonations.”
Morrigan looked up from stirring the pot. “‘Tis most accurate. The word ‘LOSER’ across your forehead only makes it a more convincing rendition of Alistair.”
“Ha, ha,” the Templar griped.
“Is it still there?” Bannon rubbed at his forehead.
“You’re going to rub your skin raw,” Wynne warned him.
“Don’t you have a cleaning spell?”
“You’ll just have to wait a few days until it fades. Consider it your punishment for your shenanigans the other night.”
“But Wynne! Zevran’s washed off. And he started it.”
“I don’t care who started it.”
“It was his fault!” Bannon threw his arms up, since Wynne wasn’t interested in the truth. “I should just kill that assassin; where’d he go?”
“Right behind you, mi patrone.” Bannon whirled to see Zevran twirling a throwing knife idly in one hand. “Daggers at the ready.”
Bannon spat on his hands again and slicked his hair back as far down to his scalp as it would go. He put his head back and thrust his jaw out into a huge underbite. He half-closed his eyes and said in an Antivan accent, “Your daggers would melt in the very presence of my sexy self.”
The others snorted and sniggered, but Zevran narrowed his eyes. “You–”
“I am the greatest assassin in all Antiva City, overlooking Antiva Bay on the Antiva River,” Bannon continued, broadening the accent.
“How dare you mock my beloved Antiva City!”
“Oh? I thought I was mocking your beloved country of Antiva.” Bannon could barely keep up the accent all the way to the end of that sentence.
The others laughed while the assassin fumed and muttered Antivan curses.
Bannon shook his short hair out, cocked on hip, pinched his lips into an unfriendly line and looked down his nose. “‘Twould be most unfortunate should you ‘accidentally’ fall into the soup,” he said archly in a higher-pitched tone.
Alistair and Leliana snickered. Morrigan glared. “You tread a dange–”
“–a dangerous path, elf,” Bannon finished in the same frosty tone. He alternately squinted and goggled each eye in a fearsome glare. Alistair was nearly falling over. Wynne was shaking her head while trying not to laugh, and Leliana put a hand over her mouth.
“Keep it up,” Morrigan suggested threateningly.
Bannon grabbed his hair and tried to pull the short cowlick down on either side of his face. In winsome Orlesian falsetto, he said, “Keep it up, and I will have to perform last rites on your charred remains, yes?”
Leliana said, “I have to say, you are really very good at this. Have you ever considered the theater? In Orlais, you could become quite the famous actor.”
“I agree,” Zevran added. “I did not know you were so talented.”
Bannon laughed off their praise. “All right, see if you can figure out who this is….” He puffed himself up again, folded his arms and scowled.
“Sten,” everyone chorused before he’d even finished.
“What?” said the qunari, coming over. He just shook his head as everyone laughed.
“So I was thinking,” Zevran said to Bannon the next day. “That talent you have, imitating voices. That would come in handy on some assassinations. How long does it take you to learn to do a voice?”
Bannon shrugged. “I dunno. I’ve always been good at making fun of people.”
“Hrm. But if you were spying on a guard, and he said a password to the gate guard, could you eliminate him and fool the other guards into thinking you were he? In the dark?”
“Pfft. Some assassin you would be,” Zevran griped. “Can you teach me how to do it?”
“I dunno. You just have to listen. Have an ear for it, I guess? Then make your voice sound like theirs.”
Zevran rolled his eyes. “As a teacher, you lack… teaching skills.”
“Well, try to imitate my voice.”
“Um….” The Antivan frowned.
“All right, maybe they’re a little too close, your voice and mine,” Bannon said. “Try to do Leliana in a high voice with an Orlesian accent.”
“Um… ‘Ze May-keer’s Blesseeng be upon yew,'” he squeaked.
“Yeah, you know, maybe the silent assassin thing is more your style.”
Bannon’s hair grew out quickly, but not quickly enough. Especially when it as too long to stand up, but not long enough to hang properly. It kept brushing his ear tips, which drove him mad. The only thing that helped was wearing the stupid helmet. It at least kept his hair squashed into place.
“Are you wearing that thing in the hopes I will strike you in the head and completely destroy it?” Zevran asked on their way to do a little sparring.
“Ha-ha,” Bannon said dryly. “It’s going to look a whole lot better when I tie your braids on it.”
“Did I not warn you what a dangerous endeavor that would be, amico? I would not wish to cause severe bodily injury to my patrone.”
“Yeah, you and what daggers?” Bannon goaded him.
The assassin scowled and reached for his belt knife. The look on his face when he grabbed only air almost made Bannon choke. Then he looked even more lost and confused as he started patting himself down for his other daggers. Bannon lost it and collapsed against a tree, howling with laughter.
“You!” The Antivan was almost incomprehensible in his ire. “What have you done with my daggers! When did you–? You stole them! Give them back this instant!”
“Try to get them,” Bannon taunted. That was a mistake, because he was still weak from laughing, and the assassin sprang on him. “WAUGH!”
They bounced off the tree and rolled in the grass, cursing, yelling, and yes, Bannon was still trying not to laugh.
The other companions sat around the fire, doing little cleaning and mending chores while Morrigan cooked. A cacophony of yelling and thrashing about in the undergrowth reached their ears. Wynne looked up in mild curiosity, at least, but the rest didn’t bat an eyelash. The elves had gone off to spar, after all.
Wynne looked back at the others. “They could end up in trouble one day,” she pointed out. “Someone could attack them.”
“These mythical bandits we’ve been waiting for?” Alistair asked dryly.
Wynne sighed. She winced at a particularly loud crack and an ‘OW!’ “You know, I’ve been curious to ask you all how it is you came to be on this mission. And… how you came to be actually following that young man.” She wasn’t exactly sure about that last part. Especially when yells of ‘Aha, I have a braid!’ and ‘You hair-pulling girl!’ echoed through the camp.
“That last bit is Alistair’s fault,” Morrigan was quick to point out.
“It’s not my fault!”
“‘Twas you who insisted he take command.”
“Look, he’s really very smart.” Alistair winced as the thrashing and yelling turned into running around the camp and yelling. “Most of the time.”
Morrigan just rolled her eyes.
Leliana returned to Wynne’s original question. “While I was meditating in the Chantry, the Maker sent me a vision. In it, He warned me of the coming Blight and told me to aid the Grey Wardens.” She smiled softly. “So here I am.”
“The Maker told you?” Wynne asked.
A little frown line marred the bard’s smile. “It wasn’t like that.”
“But I mean… the Chant teaches us that the Maker turned away from His creation.”
“And the Chantry teaches us that only through their intervention can we beseech the Maker to return. But I do not believe this to be true,” Leliana said. “I believe the Maker cares for all His children, and we can reach out to Him ourselves.”
“And… He can reach us,” Wynne mused.
“Well, you know how I ended up here,” Alistair said. “Sorta got drafted into it.”
The old mage looked at Morrigan. “And you? You don’t seem quite willing to be here at all.”
“My reasons are my own. –What was that?” This last, she snapped at Alistair, who had muttered something.
“Nothing,” he drawled innocently. “How’s that soup coming?”
“Not enough toad,” the witch growled threateningly.
Wynne didn’t want to step into that battlefield. “Sten, do you want to tell me how you came to be following the Grey Wardens?”
She sighed. She’d only been with them a few days and already that joke was getting old.
“You know,” Alistair said, “we’re going to have to stop asking him yes-or-no questions.”
“Dammit,” Bannon hissed, lifting his left arm. When the assassin had wrested one of his knives away, the blade had put a good slice along the underside of his bicep.
“You’re only lucky it wasn’t poisoned,” Zevran grumbled as he wrapped a makeshift bandage around Bannon’s arm. “So quit stealing my blades! We could have been attacked today; I might have needed them.”
“Oh, I would have made good use of them.” Bannon smirked and made the assassin snarl. “I’m beginning to think there aren’t any b–” He broke off suddenly and looked through the trees.
Zevran picked up his tension immediately and followed his gaze. And lost his belt knife again.
Zevran snapped his head back around before Bannon got the knife out of sight. “What are you doing? Give me my knife!”
“This is my knife,” the thief said, dropping his half-bandaged arm to conceal the hilt still in his belt sheath.
Momentarily confused, Zevran looked at the knife, then his sheath, then grabbed Bannon’s arm to move it out of the way. “Give me that!” The assassin snatched his knife back.
“Careful,” Bannon said, letting him have it without resistance. “Don’t cut yourself.”
“I have been handling knives since I was seven,” Zevran snapped. He finished tying the bandage with a vengeful yank on the knot. He sat on his heels a minute, watching Bannon. The other elf held his arm, trying to get it to stop bleeding. “So can you teach me some of these valuable thief skills?”
“Hey.” Bannon frowned at him. “What did I tell you? I’m a carpenter.”
“Si, and I’m a tailor.” Zevran rolled his eyes. “Can’t you teach me some of your useful ‘carpentry’ skills?”
“Not if you can’t keep a secret.”
“Oh, fine, fine. I promise, O Master Carpenter.”
“All right, give me your coin pouch.”
“Is this how you rob people?”
“No, you idiot; to do that, you have to threaten them.” Bannon held out his hand, impatiently gesturing for the assassin to hand over the goods. Zevran untied his pouch from his belt and slapped it into the waiting palm. “This is just how I get money from really stupid people,” Bannon said as he emptied the few coins into his hand.
“Hey!” Zevran made a grab for them as they disappeared into the thi– carpenter’s own belt pouch. “That is my money!”
“Did you forget? I hold all the money.”
“No, you gave me that to spend!”
“Now you can use it to pay your dues.”
“You want to learn this or not?” Bannon growled, fending him off with one elbow.
“This had better be good,” Zevran fumed. He sat back on his heels again.
Bannon scrabbled around on the ground and rolled up a hank of long grass and some leaves from a bush. He stuffed it all into the pouch, then hefted it experimentally. He frowned slightly and then cast around to find a few pebbles to add.
“Here,” he said, gesturing for the assassin to get up. He tossed the stuffed pouch up and caught it back in the palm of his hand. “Do that.” He lobbed the pouch at the assassin, who caught it.
“What, this?” Zevran tossed the pouch lightly into the air.
It had barely reached the top of its flight when Bannon’s hand shot out like a streak and grabbed it. Zevran blinked. “All right, you see that?” the Denerim elf asked him. “Now you try.”
He tossed the pouch and Zevran lunged for it. He hit it, but his fingers didn’t close on it fast enough, so he only knocked it away. “Brasca!”
Bannon made him go get it, which prompted more Antivan grumbling. When Zevran returned, he held onto the pouch and stared at Bannon. The thief looked bored and yawned. Zevran tossed the bag and whoosh! It disappeared in another blur.
“I have heard of fast hands,” Zevran said. “But damn.”
“Keep practicing,” Bannon told him. They played snatch-the-purse until it was time to eat.
Wynne went with Bannon to wash up her bowl after dinner. She’d wanted to talk to the elf and try to understand him better. And his… followers? So far, except for Alistair and Leliana (and Leliana’s story about Zevran), she knew nothing about them.
“Bannon, can I ask you a question?”
The elf smiled pleasantly. “Sure, Wynne. Oh, here, let me do that for you.” He made to take her dinner utensils, but she forestalled him.
“It’s no trouble. I can pull my own weight around the camp.”
“Oh, in that case, you want to do mine?” He held out his bowl with a cheeky grin. She just gave him a look. He laughed. “All right; it was worth a shot.” He hunkered down and fished the scrub brush out of the bucket and set to work.
Wynne frowned at his bandaged arm. “Do you need healing?”
“What? Oh, that? Nah.”
“Really, it isn’t any trouble.”
“It’s just a little cut. It’ll heal by morning.”
“In my experience, ‘little cuts’ don’t need bandaging.”
“It’s a Grey Warden thing. According to Alistair, we just need a lot of food.” He shrugged. “I’ve had worse wounds than this that have been fine after a few hours.”
Wynne had never known that about Grey Wardens. She had heard, though, that they were extraordinarily resilient.
“You might ask Zevran, though,” Bannon said, rinsing out his bowl. “He’s got a pretty big black eye.”
Wynne huffed in disapproval as she took he turn at he washing bucket. “The way you two keep tussling, you deserve a few black eyes and split lips.”
“Well, horsing around with Zevran is how I got cut.”
Wynne grumbled to herself. Boys! And yet here he was, leading a ragtag band in a quest to save Ferelden. This worried her to no end. “What I wanted to ask you, Bannon, is how you came to be the leader of this… group.”
“Oh.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged and said, “Nobody else seems to want the job.” She stared up at him, agape. He chuckled. “Why, do you want the job?”
“But, for example, why does Sten follow you?”
“Oh, well, he was locked in a cage and left to be eaten by darkspawn, so when I got he Revered Mother to let him go with us, well… he’s in my custody, and he has to do what I say.”
“Why was he in a cage?” The qunari looked somewhat beast-like, but they were people the same as any other.
“Oh, he murdered some farmers.”
“You brought a murderer along?” she gasped.
Bannon winced slightly. “But look at him, Wynne. He’s huge! Instead of feeding the darkspawn, isn’t it better if he kills them?”
She paused to think it over, scrubbing her bowl and spoon.
“He truly is repentant,” the elf said quietly. “He’s come with us to fight and kill darkspawn until he dies.”
She glanced up at him. He wasn’t looking at her, but staring off through the trees. There’s more to this young man than meets the eye, she realized. Oh, he may look charming and act shallow, but there was indeed something going on beneath the surface.
Wynne finished rinsing her utensils and stood up. “What about Morrigan?” she asked. “The way she constantly complains, I can’t see why she’d follow you at all.”
“Her mother sent her with us, actually.” Wynne had to gape again, and Bannon chuckled. “Flemeth,” he said. “Crazy old lady out in the Wilds. Scary-crazy,” he clarified.
“Do you know why?” she asked. Alistair had mentioned Flemeth and seemed rather serious in entertaining the belief she could be the ancient witch of legend.
Bannon shrugged and started walking back to the cart with her. “The Wilds were being devoured by the Blight. Even witches have to live.”
“And then Zevran?” Wynne asked. “Is that story about him trying to kill you all– is that true?”
“Yep,” he said with a grin.
“But….” Wynne wrinkled her brow. “But why would you even let him live? Never mind trusting him to come with you.”
Bannon stopped and got that deeply thoughtful look on his face again. “Zevran was a slave. He doesn’t want to kill us. He’s just the sword.” Bannon looked at her, and she could see the depths of intelligence in his dark eyes. “He’s not the hand that wields it.”
Bodahn tugged at his short beard in thought. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “You want to get attacked by bandits?” He peered up at Bannon as if the elf’s ears had just fallen off.
“Well… yes.” Bannon resisted the urge to rub his forehead again. The others insisted the boot polish had faded completely by now, but he swore he could still see traces of it in Alistair’s shaving mirror. “Look at it this way, they won’t be robbing you, we’ll be robbing them. It will be poetic justice. It’ll be great!” He grinned in confidence.
Bodahn only looked at him as if two horns had grown out of his head where his fallen ears used to be. “It’ll be dangerous.”
“If you’re worried, you can let Wynne and Alistair take your cart and you can travel a safe distance behind us.”
“My boy won’t leave Toby alone with strangers. And if anything happens to that poor creature, Sandahl will be beside himself.”
“Nothing will happen,” Bannon pointed out. “We’ve got two mages, two Grey Wardens, two assassins, and a giant qunari.”
“If you all guarded my cart, the thieves wouldn’t attack us at all.”
“All right, if that’s what you want,” Bannon conceded heavily. “But if you want us to guard you, we’ll need to be paid.”
This made the dwarf frown. “If this goes wrong, if I lose any of my stock, if my boy gets so much as a scratch on him– then I’m out. That’s the end of it, and we won’t be following you around any more.”
Bannon raised his right hand. “You have my guarantee.”
The dwarf narrowed his eyes. “All right, then. This road here,” he pointed to a line on the map that cut a corner from the North Road to the road between Denerim and Amaranthine, “should take a day off our travel time. Now what’s this crazy plan of yours?”
“Wynne, Leliana, and Morrigan will walk along with you and the cart. An old woman, a Chantry Sister– what could be more harmless? Oh, hey, Morrigan,” he called, a new thought suddenly occurring to him. “Can you fly ahead and scout out where the ambush is?”
“Great! So when they get in sight, circle around and then fly back over them, and come get the rest of us.”
“She’ll what?” Bodahn asked.
“When you see a crow–”
“–circle around, then fly back overhead, then you’ll know when they’re going to jump out at you.”
“How long is it going to take for the rest of you to come save us?”
“It’ll be fine,” Bannon reassured him. “You haven’t seen Wynne’s giant stone hand.” The dwarf’s brows went up at that. “And Alistair will be with you. Throw a cloak over him and his shield, and he’ll look like an old hunchback.”
There’s an old adage about the best laid battle plans not surviving the first engagement with the enemy. Nevertheless, the Wardens’ group dispatched the bandits with relative ease and few injuries. The dwarves and their donkey were unscathed.
The loot could have been better. Bannon wondered if the closest Chantry had a reward posted for clearing out these bandits. He looked for insignia or anything else that would prove they’d been dispatched.
“Hey, Sten,” he called to the qunari. “There’s a huge sword here; do you want it?”
“Didn’t you tell Alistair that a greatsword was your weapon of choice?”
“Well, this is a greatsword. Don’t you want it instead of that maul?”
Well, no one could say he didn’t ask. Bannon turned the massive weapon over to Bodahn. There were no decent helmets or elf-sized armor. Bannon found a light sword he thought he could use left-handed, but Zevran pronounced it trash.
Bannon restocked the Warden storage chest that rode on the cart, especially the liquor stash he and Zevran had pilfered. Everyone pitched in to load the dwarf’s share, while he and Bannon haggled on who got what discount, trade, or cash.
Finally, they were ready to continue. Bodahn said, “There’s an inn at the crossroads, about half a day from Denerim. Were you planning on pushing through to the city? Or stopping there?”
Bannon chewed the inside of his lip and looked down the road. He was so close to home, though it hardly felt like it. He could find out what happened to Soris, finally. A stone weight settled in his stomach. “Let’s stop for the night,” he said. “We’ll need to figure out how we’re going to handle Denerim.”
“It’s not like the usual stiff, decorative, mean-looking Fereldan mabari statues. Look at his goofy smile, and his little pot belly!” His expression matched the dog’s more and more. “And he’s got a bone to chew on. He’s so happy.”
—inspired by Whuffie’s persona drawing. ::waves at Whuffie!::
—Bannon doing his best impersonation of Riff, from Sluggy Freelance.