Arren hadn't intended to eavesdrop on anyone's conversation, but as he and Mouse walked back to camp after going hunting for meat for the pot, he heard Morrigan's voice from ahead, and stopped to listen for a moment.
"Oh? And what exactly is it that you believe you have to offer?" she was asking someone in a cold tone of voice.
"I don't know. But if we are together it will be because he wants me, and he loves me. These things are real," a voice answered. The bard, he realized.
"And yet love grows rotten on the vine so quickly, a sour fruit that offers only a memory of sweetness. What is it worth, truly?" Morrigan asked, sounding bored.
"Everything! Only a dried up shell of a person would not know that!" Leliana exclaimed.
"What you call 'love' is nothing more than a wishful fancy," Morrigan answered, sharply. "Love is a weakness. Love is a cancer that grows inside and makes one do foolish things. Love is death. The love you dream of is something that would be more important to one than anything, even life. I know no such love. But I do know passion."
"Passion is not enough. He'll turn away from you, once he discovers you have nothing else to offer," the bard said determinedly.
They were talking about him, he abruptly realized; him, and his relationship with Morrigan.
"You can't possibly think he will prefer you," Morrigan snapped. "He has already made his choice. What he chose is passion. The respect of equals. Things far more valuable that I'll not speak to you of any further. Now begone."
"Are you jealous? Is that what this is about? Because I don't think it's for you to decide what I should or should not do."
"I have nothing to be jealous about, foolish woman," Morrigan snapped.
"You're confident, for a woman raised in a swamp, far from anything remotely resembling civilization," the bard sneered. "You are always dressed in such rags. It suits you, I suppose... a little tear here, a little rip there to show some skin. I understand..."
"Tsk, tsk, Leliana. Watch your jealousy, or you'll give yourself wrinkles. Now begone, I have far better things to do with my time than waste it in fruitless discussions with you."
He heard the bard stomp off, and stood a moment, biting his lower lip in uncertainty.
"Arren?" he heard Morrigan say, her voice low. "I know you're there."
He smiled crookedly, and walked forward. She was sitting on the ground under a tree, looking somewhat irate. "How'd you know I was there?" he asked.
Morrigan snorted, looking amused. "Much the same way you knew I was there, the time I eavesdropped on you and Alistair. Mouse gave you away. He's in need of a good bath again, and you were upwind."
Arren laughed, and moved to sit down beside her. "So. Should I tell the bard to make tracks before you kill her or turn her into something unfortunate?"
Morrigan laughed softly, and leaned against him companionably. "The fool woman is quite infuriating at times, isn't she? She appears to believe that you and she are fated loves, and that I am a temporary aberration that you will soon recover from and abandon."
Arren snorted. "A fool indeed. Even if you and I did part for some reason, it would not be she that ever replaced you."
Morrigan smiled warmly at him. "Let her stay then. It will amuse me to watch her throwing herself at you and being ignored."
"You are a cruel and evil woman at times," Arren pointed out, smiling crookedly again.
Morrigan's smile deepened, and she leaned over to kiss the corner of his mouth. She did so love that odd little smile of his. "Good thing you like me that way," she pointed out.
"Yes," he agreed, then sighed. "I'd better get these rabbits back to camp so they can go in the pot. Coming with me?"
"No, I will remain out here a little longer. Talks with that insipid woman invariably make me poor company for a while. And I would rather be in a pleasant mood when you visit my tent tonight."
"Oh? Is it going to be a cold night again?" he asked, one eyebrow arching like a bird's wing.
She grinned. "Absolutely frigid. You'll have to help me to keep warm."
He laughed, and rose to his feet. He bent down for a moment to kiss her, before walking back to camp.
Whatever tolerance he'd had for Leliana and her foolish tongue melted rapidly away the next day, as she made several all-too-obvious attempts to catch his attention. Morrigan, for whatever reason, had dropped back in the group to walk alongside Sten for a while, teasing the giant. She'd left him at the bard's mercy on purpose, he suspected, and made a mental note to punish her for it in some appropriate way later.
Lost in pleasant thoughts of what might constitute 'appropriate punishment' for the witch, he almost didn't catch what Leliana had said at first.
He stumbled, then looked sharply at her. "I beg your pardon – what did you just say?" he asked quietly.
"Oh, that travelling with you has opened my eyes to how wrong some are about the Dalish," she burbled happily, pleased to have his attention. "You are not at all savage. And I've not seen you snatch away women and children without provocation."
Arren frowned. "Are you... trying to be funny?" he asked cautiously.
"Funny? No, people actually do believe such things of you Dalish. If my people were more open to interacting with yours, we could do away with such misperceptions," she said, in a sultry tone that he supposed meant she was trying to make it clear that she wished to 'interact more' with him on a more personnel level.
"You assume we want to interact with you," he said coolly.
"Oh! I know humans and elves do not share a happy history, but peace must be possible," she exclaimed. "I hear many city folk talk about how wonderful it must be to live simpler lives, close to the earth... They could learn from the Dalish!" she suggested enthusiastically.
He stopped walking, then turned and looked at her for a long moment. "Do you think us a quaint curiosity meant for study?"
The bard finally seemed to realize she'd misstepped at some point. "I... I'm sorry. I did not mean it like that. I wasn't trying to belittle your culture. I have met very few elves and those that I have met were... pledged to the service of Orlesian nobles."
"Slaves," he said bitterly.
"They are serfs. There is no slavery in Orlais!" she protested.
"It's the same thing. Changing the name for it does not change what it is," he said, voice hard with dislike.
"Elven servants are well-compensated for their services. Some of them live richer lives than humans! A well-trained elven servant is highly valued in Orlais. They are nimble and dextrous, and many people find them pleasing to look at," she said, in what she clearly thought was a persuasive fashion.
"Like a prize-winning animal?" Morrigan asked. Arren was startled; caught up in his annoyance with Leliana, he hadn't even noticed her approach.
"No, I did not mean it that way!" Leliana exclaimed. "In Orlais most elven servants live in the homes of their masters, often in great wealth and luxury. I've known elven servants with servants of their own..."
"Leliana," Arren cut her off. "Enough. I think you should go."
"Go? What do you mean 'go?' You want me to leave?" she asked, looking perplexed.
"Yes. I've put up with a lot from you since I allowed you to join us, but this... this was the last straw. You are no longer welcome as a member of my party. Take your things and go."
Her face fell. "But..." She stopped, and looked around at the other party members, all of whom had come to a stop on the trail behind them. None of them were looking particularly sympathetic; she'd won no friends among them in her time with them, between her endless proselytizing for the chantry, often grating personality, and positive gift for opening her mouth only to firmly wedge her own foot in it.
Clearly she'd done so one time too many.
She drew herself up, lips pressed thin and face pale. "All right. I won't stay where I'm not welcome," she said, and started to turn away, then abruptly whirled back, looking infuriated. "Andraste forgive me, but you, Morrigan, are a bitch. A cruel, cruel bitch, and you will get your comeuppance," she hissed, then turned and stalked away.
They stood and watched her walk away.
"I believe I have seen snakes less poisonous than she," Zevran remarked thoughtfully once she was out of sight.
"We're well-rid of her, is all I have to say on the subject," Alistair said.
"Come on, let's get underway again," Arren said tiredly. "It's still a long way to camp."
"Hey... wasn't the bard on cooking duty tonight?" Alistair asked as they all resumed walking. "Whose making supper then? Is it finally my turn again?" he asked hopefully.
"It is never your turn," Sten said firmly. "I will heat the stew."
"Oh. All right then."