Fenris would have been the first person to admit that stealth wasn't his strong point. He liked to think that he was graceful enough in combat, but his tattoos made it difficult for him to sneak up on people in the dark. Fortunately, the slaver's camp was making enough noise to cover a herd of brontos walking into their midst, and he was easily able to take up a sheltered position in the bushes and watch them to his heart's content.
Strangely, they only seemed have a single captive. The slightness of the form in the cloak made him think it was an elf, but it was difficult to tell at a distance. He couldn't be one of the slaves that they were waiting here to buy, so in all probability he was some poor unfortunate they captured on the road. The presence of a potential hostage made his plan more complicated, but even if the prisoner was killed in the battle he might be better off dead than in Tevinter hands.
Fenris waited until late afternoon when most of the slavers went into the forest - probably to gather firewood, although two of them had been making eyes at each other half the afternoon - and only three were left. Three at once he could handle easily, if they weren't well-trained.
When the moment came, he didn't bother with subtlety. He waited until one slaver was checking on the prisoner and another was preoccupied with eating, then charged the only one left on guard duty. Before anyone could do more than shout in alarm, his sword was buried deep in the man's guts. Of course, it couldn't be that easy. While Fenris was withdrawing his blade and taking a defensive stance, someone called out behind him. Hoping that the whole group wasn't about to return, Fenris cautiously glanced over his shoulder as the other two slavers in the camp came for him.
The woman had knives, and was better with them than Fenris had anticipated, and the man opened by throwing a bottle at his head. That gave the one behind him time to get closer, and he had to spin and parry fast to stop a dagger thrust at his back. Luckily, they were all sloppy opponents, surprised and more used to beating slaves than to fighting with anyone who could fight back. Fenris kicked the woman hard and hit the man behind him with the pommel of his sword. The one who had thrown the bottle was running in the direction of the trees. Probably going for help, which was something Fenris couldn't worry about now.
The woman recovered from the kick and started to get to her feet, but she had dropped one of her knives. Fenris didn't hesitate, thrusting his sword forward into her side. She fell back to the ground again as he turned to deal with the man. He was only armed with a small knife, but he was much taller and heavier than Fenris, and flung himself into combat with a new ferocity now he could see that he was fighting for his life. They traded parries for a long minute while Fenris tried to avoid being bowled over by the other man's greater weight. Eventually, he saw his opening, and was able to gain enough momentum to sink his sword into the man's thigh, deep enough that he fell to the ground with a scream. Fenris took pity on him and put the blade into his throat.
He was about to relax – if only for long enough to check if there were reinforcements coming – when the woman behind him thrust at him. He spun to counter the blow … only to see the woman fall at his feet, gurgling out her last breath, a daggerdeep in her back.
The captured elf was not so helpless after all, and not nearly as tied-up.
It took him a moment to recognize the man - he was covered in mud and blood, some of which appeared to be his own. Then he shoved his dagger into his belt sheath and something clicked in Fenris's mind. The elf Hawke had been sent to hunt down, that she had set free instead. The one that knew Isabela.
"Thank you," the elf said. "Being killed by incompetent slavers would have been an exceptionally stupid way to die."
"You're Isabela's ... friend. Zevran, wasn't it?"
"Ah, you remember me. Naturally I could not have forgotten you, exceptional as you are. What are you doing here, of all places?"
Fenris scowled, just on principle. "Hunting slavers," he said. "Are you injured?"
"A little. And I would murder someone for a bath," his eyes scanned the corpses at their feet, "but somehow I don't think any of these fine fellows is hiding one on his person. In any case, I suggest we get out of here. They have more friends and soon we're going to be badly outnumbered."
Fenris hesitated. He was here to kill slavers, not to run away from them.
"I promise you, we can come back and kill the rest of them later," Zevran said, reading his expression. "I have a camp nearby where we can recover and plan."
There was no time to loot the slaver's belongings thoroughly. They snatched up a few packs full of supplies and left as quickly as possible.
He didn't realize how badly hurt Zevran was until they'd walked for almost a mile and he noticed how far the blood had spread.
"Wait," he said. "Let me take a look at that."
"There is not much point until we can do something about it," Zevran said, "but if it will make you feel better ..." He moved the hand that was covering his wound away from his side.
The cut was shallow, but wide.
"This needs stitches." Not for the first time, he found himself accidentally thinking that Anders could have fixed this with a wave of his hand, and frowned harder.
Zevran clicked is tongue in irritation. "I have a needle and thread in my tent, and some Antivan brandy. It seems a shame to waste it cleaning a wound, but then, it would also be a shame for me to die."
That was about the time that it started to rain. Fenris wondered if the afternoon could get any worse.
One of the packs they looted from the slave traders had rotgut in it. They drank the brandy instead, passing the bottle to each other after each measured swig.
Zevran kept absolutely silent while Fenris cleaned and stitched his wound in the light of the flickering lamp, with the calm of someone who already had plenty of scars.
"Would you care to tell me what you're doing here?" Fenris asked when he was finished.
Zevran snorted. "I went into the forest to avoid the Antivan Crows that are hunting me. I did not think to run into slavers on the road when I went to fetch water and food. I decided it was better to surrender and play for time than to try fighting all of them at once."
"They move slaves from Antiva to Tevinter by skirting through the borders of the forest."
"A dangerous path," Zevran said. "Everyone knows that this place is full of monsters and angry elves. Of course, we are also angry elves. That might save us from the Dalish if we met them, although their tolerance for outsiders is never great."
Fenris hadn't seen a single Dalish while on the trail of the slavers, but then, he had never claimed to be a woodsman of any skill. He had lived most of the life he remembers in cities, save for his time in Seheron. There were no Dalish there.
"You should probably get out of those wet clothes," Zevran said casually. "I have a spare tunic there." He hadn't bothered to put his own shirt back on.
"No thank you," Fenris replied stiffly. Everything in the tent was wet, including him, but at least it wasn't too cold out of the wind.
Zevran shrugged. "Suit yourself. I suggest we stay put until morning."
Fenris lay down and closed his eyes, but there was no chance that he was going to sleep. Not with a stranger next to him, and slavers out there somewhere in the dark. The rain would have covered their tracks, and they probably wouldn't come looking before morning if they came at all, but it made him uneasy all the same.
After a while, Zevran rolled over. "Has anybody every told you that you glow in the dark?"
"It has been mentioned," Fenris said, though gritted teeth.
"It is a most unusual effect. One that I've never seen before. The tattoo artists of Antiva City would pay a fortune for the secret."
"Believe me, they wouldn't want it," Fenris said, wondering if he could excuse himself from the tent right now.
"Ah. Forgive me. I did not mean to hit upon a sore spot. Shall we talk about something else?"
"Do we have to talk at all?"
"Oh, I am sure I could think of another way to pass the time with a handsome man in my tent, but we have only just met."
"Perhaps you should try to get some rest and not aggravate that wound."
"Suit yourself," Zevran said cheerfully.
Fenris eventually dozed off listening to the rain falling on the tent.
Fenris woke from his fitful sleep at dawn, only to find Zevran already awake, sitting framed in the opening of the tent, still without a shirt on.
"Our luck improves!" he said. "The rain has stopped." It was true. It was going to be a beautiful autumn day, crisp and cool. Perhaps his armor would even dry out properly if they got some sunshine.
"How many slavers were there in the group?" Fenris asked.
"Oh, it is far too early to talk about business. We should at least eat breakfast first."
"Do we have any breakfast?" Fenris asked, with a raised eyebrow. Zevran hadn't offered him food last night, and he was aware of his empty belly. Neither of the packs they had lifted from the slavers contained food.
"Ah ... no. Not precisely. Perhaps we should wait for an unwary rabbit to wander past?"
Fenris snorted. "It would probably be faster to kill the slavers first and eat their breakfast."
"In that case, we should have left an hour ago. They've probably already broken camp."
Fenris shook his head. "I doubt it. They're waiting to buy slaves."
Zevran stood up and stretched like a cat. "In that case, I suppose I should come along and earn my keep."
"Don't be ridiculous. You're wounded."
"It's only a scratch. You freed me, the least I can do is help you."
Zevran's shirtless state gave Fenris more than ample opportunity to study the wound. It looked to have closed well enough, and there were no signs of it turning bad. The slight inflammation of the night before seemed to have receded.
"It's my fight, not yours."
"You are not the only person who has reason to be angry with slavers, my friend, and I have a grudge against those ones in particular."
"And if I tell you not to come, you're just going to sneak after me." It wasn't really a question.
"Ah, I see you're already getting the hang of this," Zevran said with a grin. "Let us go, before those rain clouds return."
Reaching the slavers wasn't nearly as difficult as Fenris had feared. This time they had posted guards, but like all humans in the forest, they made an enormous amount of noise, and they still had their fires lit. Clearly they planned to stay where they were.
"Do you think they're waiting for us to come back?" Zevran said softly.
Fenris shook his head. "No. They're expecting to receive their goods here." He took a moment to look over the camp. "There are seven of them," Fenris said. "That means I grab their attention and you keep out of the way of my sword."
Zevran mock-saluted. "Certainly. But first, give me a few minutes to take out the guard on patrol and perhaps their numbers down a bit for you. I'll be sure whistle for you when I'm finished."
If the first guard made a sound as he died, it was too quiet for Fenris to hear. He held his breath in silence while Zevran stole into the camp – if he hadn't been looking for the movement of an elf in a dark cloak, he wouldn't have had any idea that there was something to see. As it was, another man got a silent knife drawn across his throat before one of his companions turned and saw what had happened.
That was Fenris's cue to rush from the bushes on the other side of the camp, engaging the nearest slaver as noisily as possible. That attracted the attention of two more, and he soon had his hands too full to pay attention to what Zevran was doing.
Luckily for him, his opponents were no better armed than the ones the day before, and no better prepared to fight someone with his abilities. Once he cut the first one almost in half, one of the others broke away and tried to flee, only to find one of Zevran's daggers in his back.
Under other circumstances, Fenris would have enjoyed watching Zevran fight. While Isabela preferred to hold the attention of the foe she was engaging, Zevran was always on the flank, to slit a throat or put a knife through the ribs without anyone noticing him until it was too late. As usual, Fenris had little trouble keeping attention on himself. After the next slaver fell, he looked up to see that the fight was over.
"They were waiting for someone," he said. "That means more slavers."
"Presumably with some actual merchandise to sell," Zevran agreed. "I would suggest that we leave now, but you're not going to agree to that, are you?"
"Not a chance. Killing slavers is the reason I'm here."
Zevran sighed. "Very well. Let us deal with these corpses, and then we can at least loot ourselves some breakfast before they arrive."
As it turned out, they had time for breakfast, looting and lunch. Fenris piled the corpses of the slavers into a pyre while Zevran watched the road, and then Fenris watched the road while Zevran took every potentially valuable object in the camp and packed them carefully into a portable bundle. They both ate two meals, and Fenris took a moment to once again check Zevran's wound over. It had bled again after his exertions of the morning, but not too badly, and there was plenty of elfroot in the camp to apply to it.
"You know," he said, chewing on some dry meat, "you could just leave, without me. I wouldn't stop you. Or blame you."
"I have no interest in wandering off into the forest by myself again," Zevran said. "Besides, you obviously need my help."
"I can deal with slavers."
"Oh, not to kill people. I have no doubt that you can manage that. But who else will help you carry all this gold, not to mention entertaining you on the road?"
Fenris rolled his eyes. "I don't need help with that, either."
"I take it that you are Tevene yourself?"
"I was born in Tevinter, yes." The distinction might be lost on an outsider.
"Were you a slave to begin with, or did it happen later?"
"I don't want to talk about it," Fenris said.
"I only ask because the Crows paid three sovereigns for me, and I was wondering which of us was worth more. But if you only became a slave later on, then it would be difficult to compare."
Fenris was struck silent. He had never had any particular reason to think about where the Crows got their assassins from, let alone why Zevran might be opposed to them.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"I do not tell you this to gain your pity," Zevran said, "merely to convey that I might understand your desire to kill all of these people as messily as possible better than you might think."
"Is that why you're killing the Crows?"
"Oh, no," Zevran said. "Most of those I have killed are no different from myself, purchased as children from the streets of Antiva City and other places. I feel no personal animosity to them as individuals, but if they will insist on trying to kill me-" he turned his head. "Ah. Do you hear that?" I think our quarry may be coming down the road."
They hid side by side in one of the tents and watched. There were half a dozen slavers and twenty slaves.
"If we attack them now, they may use the slaves as hostages," Zevran said. "I would assume you would prefer that those people do not die?"
"Very much. Any suggestions?"
"We stay put," Zevran said, "wait for them to come into camp and spread out a bit."
It was a tense wait. They couldn't look outside the tent for fear they would be seen, and while the slavers weren't quiet, that didn't make it easy to work out exactly what was happening outside. They found the camp empty, and their shouts of alarm told him when they found the body pit. Then it was just a matter of staying still and silent, sword bared, while they went from tent to tent.
The first man to open the canvas flap shouted a warning before Zevran could kill him. Fenris cursed and pushed his blade into the man's chest, but there was another one close behind him. Luckily Zevran managed to get a knife into that one's back.
"Out of the tent," Fenris said. "I can't swing properly in here."
Zevran nodded and followed him as Fenris charged out. There were only four left now, and so they stood back to back waiting for the two women and two men to come at them.
Fortunately for everyone, the first thing the slavers did was forget about the slaves. They came at Fenris and Zevran at full tilt, all in a rush, and Fenris felt himself relax into the fight. Covered in blood he might be, but he didn't feel at risk here, and having help at his back made him feel safer than usual. It almost feels like being with Isabela and Hawke again.
It wasn't hard to put them down. They would have been smarter to try and run, but Fenris only had to lazily parry them until the slaves got out of their bonds and picked up bottles and furniture, and then it was truly easy. Distracted, the slavers died quickly. He cut the head of the last one – theatrical, perhaps, but extremely satisfying.
"Are you all right?" he asked the collection of dirty, battered men and women. Heaven knows what's happened to them on the road, but at least they're safe now and not destined for Tevinter blood sacrifice.
"Fine," one of them said, bolder than the rest. She hasn't put down her bottle, which is wise. It's not as if she knows Fenris or Zevran from a hole in the ground.
"It is all right," Zevran said. "You are among friends now. Well, among two friends, which is not all that many, but as you can see, we are formidable."
Fenris sighed. "Stop talking, Zevran," he says. "My name is Fenris, and you are free now."
"Thank you for saving us," the woman said in an Antivan accent.
Fenris sighed. "We're not safe here," he said. "We need to collect whatever supplies we can carry and leave. If this is a meeting point for slavers, there could be more."
"We aren't just going to leave these people stranded in the middle of the forest, are we?" Zevran asked.
Fenris sighed. "Of course not." They would need to go at least as far as Antiva. The Drylands were sparsely inhabited, but there must at least be a village they could be taken to. Still, it would be weeks before Fenris could travel north again.
The former captives packed up the tents and filled water skins while Fenris and Zevran cleaned their weapons for the second time that day.
"You know, this is really a blessing in disguise," Zevran said. "The Crows will never think to look for me escorting escaped Tevinter slaves back south."
"I thought you might have an ulterior motive."
"The best thing to do would be to head towards the coast. That way, we can get passage on a ship to Antiva City."
"I thought you were trying to avoid the Crows."
"Oh, I am full of fickle moods. It's probably time I went and made some trouble for them again. Perhaps I can show you around Antiva City when we get there?"
Zevran grinned. "I make every effort, my friend."