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In Between Life

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CHAPTER ONE

 

Bella waved a greeting to a some new customers that had opened the door to the Grey Warden’s Rest as she filled a tankard of ale and handed it to the person who had asked for it. Business was booming for perhaps for the first time since the Blight had ended. Redcliffe was in the throes of recovering, rebuilding what the darkspawn has destroyed. It was only a few months after the Fifth Blight was ended and so for the most part, the country hadn’t recovered. Yet people always needed a drink to help them forget their problems and what was more common nowadays, to help forget the horrors of war.

She handed a drink to a customer and couldn’t help but overhear some conversation coming from a nearby table. Three soldiers on their off duty hours were having a casual drink and rewinding after their shift finished.

“I’m just saying, I don’t see how one man brought a whole nation together and ended the Blight. It just isn’t possible, Grey Warden or not.” The first man was saying. He was a short but sturdy man with a declining hairline.

The second man, a tall lean man, snorted as he took a swig from his drink. “That’s even if he was a Warden. I heard from a reliable source that he was actually just some lucky peasant boy with a sword.”

“That’s horse shit. No boy with no sword could get close enough to kill a dragon. Most wouldn’t even be able to do that, let alone slay it.” The first man said.

The second man growled. “I heard it from a good source. You calling me a liar?”

The first man laughed. “No, I’m calling you stupid! He was probably some knight or Templar.”

The third man, who had been quiet up until that point, spoke up. He was obviously a cloth cut above the other two men, maybe even a learned man to some degree.

“Both of you are wrong. He is indeed a Warden, that much is clear. But he is not some lucky farm boy, nor is he a Templar. He is the second son of Teyrn Bryce Cousland, Aiden.”

The second man snorted. “Bullshit. Didn’t the Couslands all die out shortly before the Blight broke out?”

The first man took another drink. “Apparently that isn’t the case. But what I want to know, is how some noble prick killed a dragon.”

The third man took a small bite from the bread on his plate and wiped his mouth of the crumbs with a cloth. “Simple. He is perhaps the deadliest swordsman Thedas has seen in Ages. It helped that he is a natural born leader too.”

The first man raised his eyes at the third man. “And how do you know that? You his lover or something?”

“Not at all. That title belongs to a bard named Leliana. As for how I know, I fought alongside him and his team during the siege of this place. I’ve seen his fighting skills firsthand and I can say that without a doubt, if anyone could kill a dragon, it would be him. Redcliffe owes its life to him.”

There was a pause before the second man grunted. “Well where does a man like that go after saving the world from another full on Blight?”

The third man shrugged. “I’m not sure. But wherever he went, I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a nice vacation.”

The other two grunted in agreement.

Bella’s attention was drawn away as the door to the tavern flew open and a massive Qunari stepped in. A hush fell over the patrons of the tavern as everyone turned to stare at the new arrival that towered over them all like a grey giant.

The Qunari for that much was obvious from his size and skin, had long silver dreads and small beady eyes but something was off about him. He had no horns unlike most Qunari. He was wearing heavy armor that clinked when he moved and on his back was an enormous broadsword. He swung his gaze around the tavern, almost as if he was making sure there were no threats, before his gaze landed on Bella. And for a split second, she thought she saw a hint of warmth in his eyes before he looked away, stepping aside to let the others behind him in.

An elf followed. With long hair tied in a ponytail and very tan skin, like he had been out in the sun too long. The elf had two daggers on his back and wore a dark green cloak that almost reached his knees. Unlike the Qunari though, the elf smiled suavely to those around him, bowing ever so slightly before making his way to an open table while the Qunari stayed by the door as if keeping watch.

A woman entered next. She had a light blue cowl that normally his her bright short red hair. A bow was slung over her left shoulder and she had a small dagger at her side. Her dark blue eyes twinkled sweetly but if you looked closer, you could tell it was a mask. She joined the elf at a table as the next person entered.

This next person was a red haired dwarf with a bushy beard. He swayed slightly like he was already drunk. The dwarf had on dwarves armor and had a battle-ax almost as tall as he was on his back. He almost tripped as he stepped inside but no one dared laugh.

The last person to enter was a man with a bow on his back and two swords strapped to his sides. The swords cackled with magical energy. The man wore light armor with the Grey Warden insignia sported proudly on the chest. He wore a cowl much like the elf and the woman but unlike them, the cowl covered his his eyes. All that could be seen from under it was a thin red beard that failed to hide all of his many scars. Scars that would have made the bravest man pause at the sight of them. Walking alongside the man was a sturdy Mabari with wild fur that rose up like a blaze of fire. The man closed the door behind him and accompanied by the Mabari, also went over the table and joined his companions. The Qunari, though, remained by the door, his eyes ever watchful for any trouble. Bella has a quick thought that the Qunari would make a wonderful bouncer before she recognized the dog.

After realizing who these strange dangerous looking visitors were, she breathed a sigh of relief. Then she burst into action, walking over to the table to say hello and catch up with friends. Before she could, a soldier on his off duties marched over to the group.

“And who are you all to come barging into this place like you own it?” The soldier asked. There was no hostility in the soldiers voice, only curiosity. He had been the only person in the room, aside from Bella and the third man she had overheard earlier, brave enough to ask.

Another man, who had been drinking heavily and thought the man in the cowl had taken too long to answer, stood up shakily and rudely knocked the cowl off the newcomer’s face. “He asked ye a questiun. Anwser him!”

Instantly, both the Qunari and the Mabari growled threateningly while the elf reached for his daggers. The dwarf chuckled and the woman sat calmly, the corner of her mouth twitching in a smile.

The man who was so obviously a Warden, raised his hand in peace and the Qunari and the dog relaxed.

Now that the people could see his face more clearly, they gasped at how scar covered his face was. But they could also see that the man was very handsome behind the scars and one could see the mischievous light humored glint in his eyes.

Bella made it to the table finally and the man, upon seeing her, grinned and rose to his feet to embrace her as a friend. They hadn’t seen each other since the siege so many months ago. It almost seemed like a lifetime.

“Bella! How are you? It seems you are doing well for yourself! And you renamed the tavern after me or something? That was nice of you, I’m honored.” The man said cheerfully.

Bella smiled. She had forgotten he often rambled on when he was excited.

“Hello Aiden! I’m doing well, how about you? What brings someone as famous as you are to my humble tavern?” Bella  said happily. She quite liked the kind heroic man and she was proud to say that they were friends.

At the name of Aiden, the tavern people immediately started murmuring to themselves. It suddenly dawned on them that this man and his companions matched the description of those that had helped stop the Blight. So the man had to be the Hero of Ferelden. Then it hit them. They were in the presence of a hero.

The person that had knocked Aiden’s cowl down was quick to apologize, bowing deeply in both shame and fear that he would be punished. Aiden simply grinned and waved the man off, stating that it wasn’t a big deal.

Aiden then turned back to Bella, excited to catch up. Before he could say anything though, she raised a hand to stop him.

“Can we catch up later after I close? It’ll just be another couple of hours. Then we can all have a good chat without being stared at.” She said with a smile.

He snickered. “That would be nice. Alright then. We’ll stay out of your way so you can keep working. You won’t even notice we are here!”

Bella laughed to herself. The whole tavern knew who they were, she highly doubted that she wouldn’t notice them.

The dwarf, Oghren, slammed his fist on the table. “I would like some cold ale if you please.” He said, eying the barrels of mead behind the bar.

The elf Zevran nodded, asking for one as well. Bella nodded in acknowledgement and moved away to fetch them their drinks.

Aiden grinned at the two of them. “I do hope those drinks are being paid from your own pockets.”

Zevran winked at him. “Of course! Just give me a few minutes to find the coin.”

Leliana caught the hidden tone in what the elf had said and raised an eye, crossing her arms. “I sure hope that you aren’t planning on stealing anything again. Otherwise, I’ll ask Blaze to make you return the money, plus interest.”

Blaze chose that moment to give a little yip, as she wagged her tail cheerfully.

Zevran smiled. “And have you forgot about all the stealing our dear Warden did in Denerim? Of which we all helped with?”

Leliana smiled but the smile never reached her eyes. “We helped steal from the rich and arrogant, not from the poor and normal. There is a difference, Zevran.”

Zevran nodded, considering her very good point.

Oghren grunted. “I wasn’t allowed to help you nug humpers steal anything. I was stuck on guard dog duty. Literally.” he said grumpily.

Aiden chuckled. “If you had come with us, you would have gotten us caught in minutes.”

Oghren held his head up high. “I can be sneaky! I’m sneaky under the sheets.”

Leliana smiled once more but this time, it was genuine. “That isn’t something you should be proud of.”

Aiden and Zevran laughed as Oghren mumbled under his breath about how he hated them all. His spirits went up when Bella returned with the drinks. He grabbed a tankard and took a nice long drink.

Zevran took a smaller sip and licked his lips. “Excellent.”

Aiden rolled his eyes. “You two are such alcoholics.”

Leliana smiled. “So are you.” She accused him.

Aiden winced but didn’t deny the statement. He did like his ale.

The tavern had slowly gotten back up in volume as people talked about him and his friends. Several people kept glancing over at them and even more people stared nervously over at Sten who was still keeping a watch from the door.

Aiden waved him over and Sten reluctantly sat down at the table. “I’m pretty sure there’s no need to guard the door of a tavern. And I doubt anyone here is going to get violent so you might as well relax.” Aiden said half jokingly.

“Relaxing is how one dies.” Growled Sten.

Leliana laughed and put a hand on Sten’s shoulder. “There’s no need to be so grumpy. Besides, we all know you are just a big softie.”

Sten snorted. “Why must you keep calling me that? I am a soldier of the Beresaad. I am not a ‘softie’.”

Leliana grinned. “Softie!”

Oghren gave a belch and laughed. “Softie! That’s cute. Can’t get it up Sten?”

Sten glared at Oghren angrily. “The next person that calls me Softie is going out through the window.” And that was the end of that conversation.

 

It took another couple hours for the tavern to close and as the patrons began to sleepily get up from their seats and leave, Bella brought out a small plate of meat for Blaze. Who then got slobber everywhere as she wriggled her butt in the air, ‘wagging’ her tail. Aiden smiled, the mutt would love Bella forever now.

Bella giggled as Blaze gobbled up the meal and then when she was done, looked up at Bella with her eyes pleading for some more.

“Sorry, Blaze. That was the best piece of venison I had.”

Blaze whimpered but Bella could have sworn that the dog was cursing at her. Probably the effect of traveling around with Aiden and the others.

“So how have things been? Business has been blooming obviously.” Aiden asked as Bella sat down at the table.

She stretched. “Well it’s taken a little while for people to start to go back to drinking. The village has been too busy with reconstruction to drink much. But now its starting to recover and people have returned to their old drinking habits. How about you all? What have you been up to?”

Zevran grinned. “Traveling here and there. Screwing here and there. Killing here and there.”

Oghren nodded vigorously. “Drinking and walking.”

Leliana sighed. “We have been traveling around to different places in Ferelden, learning some culture. We didn’t have the chance to do so before the Blight was won.”

Sten grunted, looking away. “Destroying bas.”

Aiden smiled innocently. “Just seeing the sights mixed with the occasional visits to old friends.”

Bella raised an eye at them all. It didn’t take a genius to realize that they all were probably not telling her the whole truth. Which was fine. She wasn’t about to pry into the business of the people that helped stop the Blight.

“Well assuming that any of that is actually true, what about Alistair? I noticed he wasn’t with you. Or Wynne, Shale, or Morrigan. Where are they?” Bella asked.

The Warden snickered. “Well Alistair is back at our camp keeping an eye on things. He didn’t want to come back to Redcliffe and deal with the Arl. Wynne and Shale headed off to see if they could figure out a way to help Shale’s rocky condition. And as for Morrigan…”

Bella could sense the mood shifted at the mention of the witch. She saw Leliana even scowl, clenching her fists. There must be bad blood between them and Morrigan. Either that, or something happened.

“Well Morrigan is out doing her own thing. I wish her well but she more or less disappeared off the map after shortly after I killed the Archdemon.”

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.” Bella said softly.

“Good riddance I say.” Leliana said icily. She felt nothing but ill will towards the cruel woman.

Bella, eager to change the subject, said happily, “How is Alistair doing?” She liked the wise cracking handsome Warden. Not to say that she didn’t like the other wise cracking handsome Warden Aiden, but Alistair had an innocence about him that she found very cute.

Aiden, thankful for the subject change, smirked. “He’s doing well. Still same Alistair and bad witty jokes.”

“Well you do know that you all don’t have to camp out in the woods, right? I’d be happy to set up rooms here for you all.”

Aiden scratched the back of his head. “I don’t know, we’ve gotten used to sleeping out under the stars. I don’t want to impose.”

Bella shook her head. “I don’t mind at all! You all are heroes and friends, the least I can do is offer up some clean beds and rooms for you all. Besides, you are good for business.”

Aiden shrugged, standing up. “Well when you put it that way, how can we refuse? I’ll go get Alistair and help him take down the camp and then we’ll come back. Sten, mind coming along to help?”

Sten couldn’t get up quick enough. He had gotten dreadfully bored and irritated the moment he had stepped into the building. “Of course.”

Aiden grinned. “Great! We’ll be back in a little bit.” He looked over at Leliana. “Keep the bed warm for me.” He said with a wink, making the red haired bard blush a little.

Bella felt a quick pant of jealousy for Leliana but then it went away as fast as it had appeared. Aiden and Leliana were a nigh on perfect match. Anyone with half a mind could tell that.

Right before Aiden and Sten left the building, Aiden turned back around. “Oh and Zevran? Make sure Oghren doesn’t drink himself under the table please.”

Zevran laughed, staring at a drunken Oghren trying to flirt with one of the barrels of ale. “I believe he’s well past that already. But don’t worry, I’ll make sure he doesn’t choke on his own tongue.”