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Murphy's Law

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I opened the door to back seat of my Ford Aspire and let Argent out to run. Aspire right? Yes, it was a really old car, but I it got really cheap from its original owner some old lady that lost her license. It’s a shame for her, but her loss was my gain, right? I know it was old, but it was spotless. Was spotless, until me and my big slobbery dog got a hold of it. Now it was never clean. Short silver dog hair and slobber everywhere. Sometimes it wasn’t even worth cleaning it.

Argent, that’s my dog’s name, and I went for a hike in the woods near my apartment. I needed some fresh air to clear my head and figure out my next step. Today had been the worst day of my entire life, now I know I’m only twenty-five, but come on. It was a real shitter of a day. The man… boy... asshole, I had been engaged to and living with, decided that after two years together I wasn’t the one for him. If that wasn’t bad enough he already found the next love of his life and since the lease to the apartment was in his name, I was the one being evicted. EVICTED! By my fiancé. Well, my ex- fiancé. Of course, the new love of his life was a girl that I introduced him to because I worked with her. Ginger, what a hoe! A few times we all went out as a group of coworkers and their significant others. Dinner, club, whatever. I thought we had fun at least. Apparently, just not with me or Ginger’s boyfriend. I wonder how he’s taking it?

My schedule change at work makes sense, now. I was told that management decided to keep the payment office in the hospital open later to accommodate patient’s that worked later hours. She was my supervisor, so who do you think got the early hours and who do you think got the late hours. Perfect set up to make sure the competition isn’t around. Did you notice I said I worked with her? Because I don’t anymore. She was at the apartment with Brian when I got home from work. They were waiting for me. They decided to tell me together, so it would be more honest and mature. Assholes! There was nothing mature or honest about what they did.

That was when she said that working together wouldn’t be a good idea. She could no longer be my supervisor. She said she was sorry it didn’t work out and I could use her as a reference. HA! Fucking bitch. I really had no clue what was going on. How could I have been more stupid? Then Brian said that he would let me use the apartment until the end of the next month and the lease was paid in full. That it should be plenty of time for me to find another job and another apartment. That’s when the smart, beautiful and perfect Ginger handed me my severance pay. Two weeks’ severance, three weeks earned vacation and the hours I worked for the last week and a half. I was at the job for seven years, right out of high school. Good benefits, decent pay. I’ll never find another job like that again.

My eyes started to tear again, so I called Argent over and kiss her big beautiful head and rub her muscular chest. I got her from a friend who ran a dog adoption site. My sweet little baby girl was rejected by her mother a few weeks after she was born. She was the runt and her mother had too many puppies in the litter. So I offered to help with the feedings. Her eyes hadn’t even been open that long. I would love to say that she imprinted on me, but dogs don’t do that do they? Well any way, I practically raised her and when they time came for the puppies to be adopted, what option did I have? She was like the daughter I’ll probably never have. That was four years ago pre Brian, so at least he can’t say that she is his. She would probably bite him anyway. She never really did take to him. Should have been a clue right there. At least I have her. At least things can’t get worse.

Really, who in their right mind says or even thinks something like that. Because that is exactly when Murphy’s law decided to explode in my face. Argent saw something stir in the trees and darted off at breakneck speed. It must have been something pretty interesting too, because my normally well trained and obedient Cane Corso ignored me like it was bath time. She flew into the trees in a big silver flash leaving me to wonder what the fuck else was going to happen today. Normally I would let her have at it, but I was already feeling deserted enough and now my dog ran off leaving me to feel even more useless. It can’t get worse, I thought to myself.

I heard loud crashing in the woods and then everything stopped. Suddenly I heard a horrible howl and I knew, just knew my baby was hurt. I had to find her and help her. I sprinted in the direction of her howling filled with dread. She was a big girl, over a hundred pounds. If she couldn’t walk, if she was hurt, I didn’t think I could get her back into the car. Ugh! Please, please, please let her be okay. Let her just have treed a tabby cat or something equally ridiculous. Please, please, please.

I called her name over and over, saying here girl, here Argent. I’ve got cookies. Come to Mama. All that usually worked if she was in the mood. Soooo that either meant she was really hurt or she couldn’t get to me. I hoped it was the latter. Her howling seemed to weaker and weaker or farther and farther, but I continued to follow. Even after it started to drizzle a bit. Of course! Why do I keep thinking it couldn’t get any worse?

I finally saw her across the other side of a really deep ravine, maybe ten feet across. How did she get over there? She couldn’t jump that far, could she? She only had a small ledge to land on. There was no way I could get over there and lead her back and now it was starting to get late. In the next hour it would be dark.

Really, a complete shitter of a day. Would anyone disagree?

Then I saw the log. It must have been what she had crossed over, but it fell leaving her stranded on the other side. How was I going to get to her? Think, damn it. THINK!

That’s when it came to me. I could jump it. Definitely, I could jump it. I think I could jump it? People could do miraculous things when lives were on the line. Yes, I could do it. I would too. I think? Yes! Yes. Maybe? Then she looked at me with her beautiful golden eyes and bayed at me. Don’t leave me here Mommy, she said. Crap! I was going to jump the ravine. But first what was I going to do when I got over there? The ledge wasn’t really that big, how were we going to get back?

Suddenly I saw a faint movement a little farther down the side of the ravine under Argent. I barely saw it, but I did see it. It was a rabbit and it was on another ledge a little bit bigger, but this led into a cave. Yuck, a cave. But at least we could get out of the rain and I didn’t hear any growling or see the rabbit run back out. So it was safe, right? Nothing in there to eat it…

So here I go. Mommy’s coming, Argent. Mommy’s coming. I backed up pretty far and started to run for it. How hard could it be. You run. You jump. You land. Perfect! It was unbelievably perfect. I can’t believe I landed on that tiny little ledge right next to Argent.

CRACK!

SWOOSH!

Did I mention that the drizzle had gotten heavier? Kind of like a shower. No, just like a deluge. A stream of water poured on us and the ledge gave way. I heard Argent yelp as she slipped down the side scrambling to catch on anything to stop falling. I couldn’t help her because I was falling too. Falling. Nothing to grab onto but slippery wet mud and then I crashed to the ledge below with a thud.

Oof! I think Argent landed on me sandwiching me between a hundred pounds of muddy wet dog and the cold wet rocks underneath me.

I think I fell unconscious because when I came to, it was dark and wet. I tried to open my eyes and couldn’t find the strength.

I think I blacked out again. It was getting harder to breathe. Was she still on top of me? I think I have to cut back on the treats. Ugh! Definitely cut back on the treats.

Darkness again. I think I heard some yelling too. Someone must have found me because I heard voices getting closer, but I couldn't make out the words. I couldn't hear over my ragged breathing. Man, I was getting thirsty. I fell asleep again.

Now I think I heard screaming. The sound of metal scraping against…something? I’m really weak.

Where’s Argent?

Argent! I screamed her name, but it came out in a whisper.

Argent. I whispered again or was it in my head.

I heard voices again and more metal scraping on something. Now I felt someone next to me. I tried to turn and look at them but I was so so tired. I think I’m bleeding from somewhere too because I felt sticky and smelled copper.

The voice was high and melodic and definitely another language, but it's soothing and a hand brushed my hair out of my face and another handed me… A bag of water? I don’t care. I drink it greedily, coughing most of it up. Then try for some more before the water is taken away from me. I think the voice was talking to me, but I had trouble concentrating and it sounds so soothing. I feel like I am going to fall asleep again.

I heard shouting again and someone shakes me awake.

Oh. I guess I am not supposed to sleep. I tried to open my eyes and barely manage it. Maybe they already were open because it is really dark in here. Did I make it into the cave?

Where’s Argent?

“Argent.” I managed to groan.

“Argent?” The voice repeated. I felt someone lift me and set me on my feet. I collapsed almost immediately and a stronger pair of hands gripped me and leaned me against the wall.

Wait, where did the wall come from?

The female voice spoke to me gently, soothingly. By her inflection, it sounds like she is asking me something. I can’t understand so I shake my head. Then I hear a man’s voice, oddly comforting. Familiar even.

My vision starts adjust to what little light there is in the cave and I looked around. Ugh, I groan. My head feels like a dog fell on it. Which I’m pretty sure happened, even if I can’t find my dog. A wave of dizziness overwhelms me and suddenly I feel sick. Real sick and I dry heaved. When’s the last time I ate or drank or relieved myself. Suddenly I really have to go. Oh God! It’s going to come out both ends. And it does. I am so weak that when I dry heave again I expel so much fluid from my body that I collapse right next to a pile of filth.

I heard the voices shout and they got weaker as my vision gets cloudier then I am out.

I woke to the feeling of a cool damp cloth pressing against my forehead. I heard the voice again; I still can’t make out the words. They are arguing, hissing at each other.
Why didn’t they take me to the hospital? I groan in disgust as I start to notice the stench, probably from me. Yuck. Am on the floor? It feels like I am laying on something really sharp. I groan again louder as I try to adjust my position and the fighting stops.

Ah. Great I got their attention. I heard two distinctly female voices hoovering over me. The musical one from before and the gentle grandmotherly voice wiping my face. I try to crack my eyes open but they feel crusted shut. The older voice seems to be telling the younger voice something and she doesn’t seem to like it.

I heard metal scraping again and the younger voice is yelling. I hear a new voice, a male voice and he seems to be distressed. I hear them coming closer to me and the young voice is hissing at the man. I am still trying pry my eyes open and for some reason they are not very cooperative. Finally, finally I manage to get one eye open and the room is dimly lit. There seems to be a torch on the wall. And I finally can see where I am and it sure as hell isn’t a cave!

It almost looks like a freaking dungeon. Great! I’ve been taken to some lunatic’s basement. Murphy’s Law is in overdrive right now.

My surprise must have been obvious because the owners of the three voices turned to look at me. If I thought I was surprised to be in a dungeon, can you imagine my surprise when I found myself looking at Leliana and Wynne.

Great I was dead. How could this day get any worse?

Chapter Text

The two women continue to murmer gentle words to me, but I do not understand. Wynne offers me the cloth and gestures to me to wipe my face. Which I do gratefully. It’s stained but relatively clean and beggars can’t be choosers. I wipe my face as best I can without a mirror and not knowing what I look like. I must have missed something because Leliana giggles and takes over wiping my left cheek firmly but gently. Then she looks at me and asks a question again.

I sigh in response and shake my head. I still don’t understand.

Wynne hands me a bag of water and says something I don’t understand but I get the intent. I drink it much slower this time and she smiles at me.

I feel a little better but it still smells awful in here. I smell awful, like death. I wonder how long I’ve been dead. Can you smell yourself when you’re dead? How long until you get used to it? And why aren’t I in Heaven? I mean I went to church. I accepted God into my life. Sure I made mistakes. I was living in sin with someone, but I had intended to marry him. Yes, we had premarital sex, but he was my first and that was after he proposed and I moved into his apartment. Was that why I wasn’t in Heaven? I prayed, maybe not as much as I should, but I did it. I didn’t just pray for selfish reasons either. I prayed in thanks. I prayed for others, maybe for a little clarity and guidance, but never for material things. But I can’t believe I was forsaken by God, he knows me, knows my heart, my intentions.

I took a deep breath and look around. Was I in hell, then? Purgatory?

I felt my arm get a little numb from propping myself up to drink. Little pins and needles in my forearm and hand and I shake it. Causing me to move more and I feel intense pain shoot up my arm into my shoulder.

Curious.

Can you feel pain in death, too?

I take stock of my body. I’m thirsty. I smell. Stink actually. Relieving myself in clothes was the most embarrassing thing I have ever done. Can you be embarrassed when you die? My arm hurt and I was dirtier than I think I have ever been. If I feel all this, then maybe I am not dead. Maybe I am still laying in the cave, unconscious or asleep. Maybe if I close my eyes here I can will myself to wake up in the cave and get Argent and I back home. I close my eyes and lean back.

A strong hand grips me and shakes me again. Leliana shakes her head no and I take it to mean I shouldn’t go to sleep.

I have to get out of here, though. I’m starting to feel claustrophobic. I attempt to stand and all three of them make sounds of disapproval. I can tell none of them want me to lean on them. I’m surprised they are even this close. I try to tell them that I need some air and to get out of these disgusting clothes maybe a bath. They don’t understand me either. How frustrating for all of us. So I do the only thing I can do and wrinkle my nose and sniff the air. I make a disgusted noise and start to remove my clothing.

The man I don’t recognize, at least I don’t think I do, gasps and turns around. Leliana and Wynne grab my hands to stop me, but I have to get out these clothes and this room? Cell? I shake my head again and this time I notice the corpse in the room behind me and scream.

The man turns around just as I jump to the doorway and I fall into him. We both land on the floor with me on top of him. He looks absolutely horrified. But that’s when I look at him. Really look at him. His dark lanky hair those sad eyes and that… voice! This is Jowan!

I must have said his name out loud because he looks utterly shocked. Then Leliana pulls me from on top of him and snaps at him making him cower.

My head is swimming. My thoughts are muddled and I slowly realize, Leliana, Wynne, Jowan in a dungeon, at least I think it’s a dungeon, I never really saw one except in the movies. This has to be Redcliff Castle. I’m in the dungeon at Redcliff. Ok so that just clinches it. I am either crazy or dreaming. I am aware of the irony in that thought. If I am crazy would I know it? Does it matter, because if this is a dream, it’s more of a nightmare. If I could dream about being in Thedas I certainly wouldn’t pick this time period, stuck in a dungeon, pissing and puking on myself in front important members of The Warden’s companions.

At least I’m not the only reason it stinks so badly in here.

I still need to get out of these disgusting clothes. Even if I am not the only reason for the horrible odor, I still stink. I pull my shirt over my head and see a see stars. My arm really hurts. Did I break it? I cradle it and whimper slightly until I feel a warm tingling sensation exactly where it hurts. Or it used to hurt. Wynne? I look at her and she smiles at me wiggling her fingers. I nod in appreciation and start to remove my boots and socks and Jowan huffs again as he turns around. Leliana tries to hand me my shirt, I take it but do not put it on. I stumble toward Jowan. Mages have clothes on under those robes, right?

I finally get the boots and socks off and work on my pants. These were my favorite jeans and they are completely ruined. Stained and smelly. What I wouldn’t give for a hot shower and a washing machine. Now I am just standing in the cell in my bra and panties. I try to tell them I want to wear his robe when I hear more voices down the hall outside the door. More male voices. Oh shit and I am in my underwear. It’s not even sexy underwear. It’s just nylon high cut briefs and a sports bra, both of them purple. At least they matched.
Now I know this is just a nightmare. Isn’t this the one that everyone has? Being caught in a roomful of strangers in just your underwear. I snort at the absurdity of it all.

The voices are coming closer. I hear one shout something and Leliana responds. The voices get closer and I see four figures stop at the cell across from us that held Jowan. Then I hear arguing and Leliana calls them over. When they turn around they look surprised to see Jowan with Wynne and Leliana. I hide behind Wynne and her big robe because she is the closest to me.

I carefully crane my neck over her shoulder to see who Leliana is talking to. The first one is not too hard to figure out. He’s huge really with white hair in corn rose down is back. He’s formidable and one menacing look from him would be enough to stop anyone in his tracks. The weapon strapped to his back is what’s truly impressive. I can’t believe anyone can carry something so immense. It’s as big as me and probably just as heavy. Even though he doesn’t have any horns, I know he is Qunari. This is Sten.

Then there is the woman. I know immediately that it’s Morrigan and she is breath taking in a pompous feral kinda way. Her glossy black hair is tied in a messy bun and she is dressed in rags. Gorgeous isn’t even a good enough word for her. Is it cliché to say that she can make even rags look hot? Maybe it’s just that she doesn’t have an ounce of body fat on her and her exposed skin creamy and flawless. I must meet her dermatologist. How does one maintain such a perfect complexion fighting like she does? Magic? She lived in the wilds for God’s sake, weren’t there brambles and wild animals out there? She must be able to make really great healing potions. I think I hate her on principal alone.

Petty, much? Yeah, well that’s what happens when you’re just dumped for a more beautiful woman. It’s called bitterness. Resentment, maybe?

The last two people are warriors. I can tell because of the swords and shields strapped to their backs. Both of them are men, I can only assume that one of them is Alistair, although I can’t see them very well because they turned away from me and are arguing. Great infighting and I can’t tell what they are saying. They seem to be gesturing toward Jowen who is cringing as far away as the he can in the now crowded cell. The cell that still contains the dead body.

Doesn’t that bother anyone but me?

Finally, the two men turn slightly to face Jowan and I see Alistair. He. Is. Absolutely. Gorgeous. Did I just hear a chorus of angels and see a halo over him? Wow! He is beautiful even if he has dirt on his face and his armor is covered in…blood? Does he have gash on his cheek? Oh no. That will not do. Someone give him a health potion or something, please.

The other figure is a man I do not recognize. He looks human and is a warrior. So this must be the Warden Cousland. He is taller than Alistair by a good three inches and his hair is really blond and he looks like he needs a haircut. And just like everyone else he looks exhausted. I hadn’t noticed before, but they all have dark circles under their eyes. I guess that’s what happens when your running for your life while constantly looking over your shoulder. You don’t get a lot of sleep.

Alistair is shaking his head and Cousland is yelling louder now. Jowan just looks resigned. Sten growls and Morrigan says something that sounds sarcastic making Alistair grimace. I don’t think the four of them have noticed me yet. That’s okay with me because I am still in my underwear covered in crap. I can’t even imagine how horrible I look. Ok, yes I can, but I don’t want to. First impressions and all. It seems they have come to a decision if not an agreement and Cousland reaches for Jowan pushing him forward. They all file out of the cell behind him but me. I am frozen to my spot.

I can’t go anywhere dressed in my underwear! Seriously, I’m in underwear.

I pull back on Wynne just little, reminding her I’m still there and she says something. They all turn around to look at her. Wynne moves to her side slightly and I peak my head over her shoulder again. I receive a multitude of reactions. There was gasping, groining and growling. I leave it to you to figure out who responded how. None of it made me feel particularly comfortable.

Wynne pushed me forward, in spite of my near nakedness. I noticed Alistair turn away scrunching his face with disapproval and gesture toward me. Really disapproval? Thanks a lot. Cousland barked something at Leliana and she started searching a pack she had in her possession. Cousland seemed to be an ass because he yelled again and Leliana mutters something and quickly removes a nightdress and hands it to me.

I sigh and nod in appreciation and put it on when another way of nausea overcame me. So I sit down. I had to put on my boots anyway. Being barefoot in this dungeon made me think of foot fungus and not just any ordinary foot fungus. Some ghastly blighted foot fungus that can eat feet.

What? It’s alive. Living things can get the blight. Ridiculous? I don’t care. This place was horrid. Did my world really use dungeons on anybody? Disgusting.

I must have been too slow for them because Cousland just barked another order and Leliana quickly helped me up and nudged me forward. We trudge through the dungeon in relative silence and came to the stairs leading up into the castle. It wasn’t very wide so we climb the stairs in single file all the while they were bickering. Incessantly. Alistair would say something, probably trying to be funny or cut the tension, unsuccessfully. Morrigan would reply sarcastically. That would set off Cousland to shout at them most likely telling them to shut the fuck up. Sten would growl and Wynne would tut in her best grandmotherly voice. Only Leliana was somewhat quiet. She sounded like she might be praying. She’s probably watching everyone like a hawk, filing everything away in her mind for future reference.

When we get to the castle proper, the real fun begins. I’m being sarcastic can you tell? We are set upon by zombies. I think they are zombies. They look like zombies. At least what I think zombies should look like. I don’t know. I don’t have much experience in the zombie department. They are shuffling as they attack. They aren’t very fast but there is a lot of them. They look dead. Decomposing even and one whiff is enough to make me retch.

But wait does that make me a zombie too? They don’t smell good either and aren’t zombies just dead people. Are all these zombies people who worked in the castle? A sobering thought. I guess that just clinches the I must be dead theory that was still nagging at me. This is a nightmare for sure or they would have cut me down already.

The zombies are practically endless. Shouldn’t the zombies and demons be taken care of already? I mean Wynne is here and Jowan is here. Aren’t we on our way to do the ritual for Connor and destroy the demon that possesses him? Why couldn’t my nightmare have skipped to the end of this quest and got us to the throne room or whatever it is already?

As much as they bicker, they certainly fight well together. The boys slash and block, Morrigan hits her targets with some seriously damaging spells and Wynne rejuvenates and heels them. Leliana is shooting arrow at them from a short distance. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, like a well-choreographed dance. That’s when I hear something form being one of the doors. Barking?

Argent?

I run from behind the chair I was hiding behind and open the door. Oops. It’s not Argent. I think this is the kennel and these are the mabari and they are not at all happy to see me. I scream and fall back when one of them lunges at me. It only makes sense. I’m knocked unconscious by a dog falling on my head and killed by one in my nightmare.

I’m saved when a sword skewers the mabari effectively stopping it. I watch as it twitches briefly and dies in front of me. Shit. But I don’t have time to cry. Cousland pulls me up practically dislocating my arm and shoves me toward Wynne. Then he returns to finish off the rest of the attacking dogs. I can’t look. I only look long enough to assure that Argent is not in here. Thankfully she’s not. Cousland glares at me when it’s all over and screams something in my face that I’m pretty sure wasn’t very nice. Ass. But maybe he has a point, I don’t know. This all seems very real even for a nightmare. I mean even in my nightmare; I don’t think I would smell like this.

We finally get to the main floor of the castle after fighting a legion of zombies and demons. Along the way we found Valena, the blacksmith’s daughter and send her home to her father. We finally arrive in the main hall and see Teagan dancing and singing like fool with Isolde wringing her hands on the side. She’s beautiful, I give you that, but in my opinion that’s all she’s got. Beauty but not brains and no sense either.

I still get that niggling sensation that something is out of order. I can’t tell.

Imagine that. Something I’m involved in doesn’t seem right. So I just keep back and watch.

Chapter Text

I haven’t played Dragon Age Origins in so long. I don’t remember the specifics and the timeline exactly, I think that is why I’m confused. Well, the way things are going that is probably not the only reason. This is a nightmare and they are not known for making a lot of sense. They just make you scared and creep you out. And this one is definitely accomplishing all that and more. The scared part being not knowing what’s going on, waking up in a dungeon, almost being killed by a mabari and a zombie. The creepy part, besides waking up in a dungeon, is dreaming I’m taking part in a video game quest, not understanding the language and traipsing around in my underwear through a castle filled with dead bodies. That’s not the extent of it but I think you get my drift.

As I watch the Warden, approach the possessed Connor I realize that this is a pivotal scene where they decide his fate. Do they kill him? Do they perform the blood magic ritual and sacrifice Isolde or do they go to the Circle at Kinloch Hold for help? And since Wynne is with them, they must have already cleared the tower, so that’s a big favored owed to them right there. However, Wynne doesn’t look at that great. Maybe the spirit of Faith didn’t merge with her yet. Just saying. She looks the most worn out of all of them when the fighting is over, but then again she is pretty ancient.

What? I’m twenty-five. Everyone over forty is ancient.

I personally always chose to save Connor. I mean it wasn’t his fault he was a mage. Nor was it his fault his mother was a brainless fool who chose to hide his magical abilities and hire Jowan of all people to tutor him. I mean, I realize you can’t request references when hiring and apostate blood mage, but seriously this kids is going to have significant guilt in his future. Poor boy.

Although by the sneer on his face and the way he looks as he is taunting everyone in the room, I’m not so sure they would agree. I see Isolde quietly pleading with Connor and he all but bites her head off making her spring back from him.

I can feel the tension grow as everyone reaches for their weapon. The wardens step forward to talk with Teagan and Isolde but Connor interrupts. I still don’t know what’s going on but everyone in the room but me has drawn their weapons and are at the ready. Suddenly Connor disappears and Teagan is leading an attack against them with suits of armor.
Horribly fascinating! They really are empty suits of armor attacking them. I run to watch behind an overturned table. Once again everyone is dancing around the room in perfect synchronization hacking at the empty armor and felling their attackers until it is just Isolde and Teagan left. The beat down seems to have brought Teagan to his senses and Isolde runs over to him crying and helping him up.

Teagan looks stunned for a moment until he gets his bearings then he advances on the Warden and Alistair looking none too pleased. As he approaches them he pauses and then takes a deep breath. Then he does something no one was expecting. He punches the Warden knocking him to the floor.

I yelp in surprise, causing Isolde to notice me. That didn’t happen in the game!

The Warden jumps up and raises his sword toward Teagan but Alistair steps in front of him and blocks his attack. Brave, very brave, Alistair I think to myself. Brave but stupid. Apparently Cousland thinks the same thing and yells at him gesturing him to get out of the way. Alistair stares him down and shake his head in determination. Is this a fight for dominance or is something else going on? Interesting.

Cousland’s shoulders sag and he lowers his sword. He wipes some blood from the corner of his mouth and backs up slightly. God I wish I could understand what was going on. I mean, I think I get the gist of it, but really what are they saying? Suddenly Isolde starts crying and carrying on. Jowan approaches hesitantly and begins to address them.
They all look at him in horror as Jowan speaks to them about what I can only guess is the blood magic ritual. She shakes her head and gets on her knees in a begging stance in front of Cousland and Alistair. Alistair’s face turns white before mutters something under his breath to her. Cousland shrugs his shoulders and pulls out a dagger.

Oh.

Oh!

Oh, no. Not on my watch. Not if I can help it.

I step out from behind the table stop what I just know is coming when I hear Wynne’s motherly voice ring out. Everyone freezes and she steps up to speak to them. I believe she is trying to convince them to go back to the circle for the extra mages, but Cousland is shaking his head and Alistair just looks lost.

The Warden raises his knife and steps toward Isolde who is crying Connor’s name over and over again as she wrings her hands. Sten moves forward to block Teagan and the shouting begins. Alistair looks like he is going to puke and Wynne is calmly trying to talk to Cousland.

I dart around then as swiftly as I can, which impresses me because I still feel pretty shitty, and knock Isolde to the ground and out of his reach.

“No!” I yell as I cover Isolde’s pristine body with my foul smelling bulk.

I did that, really. It surprises me too.

I landed right smack on top of the Arlessa with all the grace and coordination of a newborn elephant successfully halting her unnecessary slaughter and she wrinkles her nose at me and screams. I hear Leliana and Wynne start yelling in high pitched tones what I could only guess was an appeal for my life. Isolde is stronger than she looks and she pushes me off her in a huff and looks angry. Angry. I just saved that ingrate’s life and she is angry with me.

Alistair comes over and helps up Isolde leaving me on the floor then places himself between me and her. Real chivalrous, Alistair. Isolde gets to her feet and she screeches at me. Woah, now. I know she doesn’t know this, but I was trying to help. And Alistair, she throws him out of the castle to live in a stable when he is a child and he helps her? Ugh! I will never understand men.

I cock my head and the confusion must be evident on my face because Alistair hesitates and lowers his weapons. I look around the room to see everyone’s eyes on me.

Teagan looks relived. Alistair looks confused. Sten is watching me with a steely gaze. Jowan’s eyes shift away as soon as I look at him. Leliana and Wynne huddle together slowly making their way toward me. Morrigan looks on arrogantly shaking her head. Cousland looks positively enraged. His face is red and veins are popping out of his forehead. I mean he is angry. He takes a step toward me and growls something I don’t understand. I hear Leliana and Wynne shout something again and his gaze flickers to them a moment. I use that brief distraction to scramble out of the way. I unsuccessfully try to get to my feet and run but I am reminded of those ridiculous horror movies where the girl trips as she runs away and can’t get up only to be cut down by the hideously deformed psychopath.

Cousland moves toward me but lowers the dagger and his voice. His face softens and he reaches out to me with his free hand. I don’t trust him and cringe backward hitting the wall behind me. Shit! I feel absolutely trapped. I look around for something anything to get him to back off. Out of the corner of my eye I see a broken chair just out of my reach and one of its broken legs not too far from it. If I can only reach it.

I inch my fingers toward it, keeping my eyes on Cousland so he doesn’t notice what I’m doing. But he does. He’s not as stupid as I hoped and he lunges at me. I lift my legs up and kick with all my might barely stopping him. He lets out a string of words I can only assume are curses and roars at me. I manage to grab the chair leg and try wave it at him looking as scary as I can. I’m sure I’m quite a sight to behold. A feeble, filthy lanky little girl waving a stick yelling at him to back off.

He laughs. Not the stereotypical villainous cackle like most bad guys in the movies, but a hearty full from the belly laugh. I’m confused. Not quite what I was expecting. Not quite what anyone was expecting as they all seem frozen in the same state of confusion as me. I see Leliana rush over toward us and Cousland’s face darkens again as he straightens. He puts a hand out to stop her and she halts. He says something to all of them and of course I don’t know what the hell he is saying and quite frankly I’m starting to be very annoyed. I mean come on. Give me something to work with here.

He says something again, this time looking at Isolde and then motions at me. Isolde shakes her head and Teagan wraps and arm around her shoulder and speaks to her softly. She shakes her head again as she looks at me and then motions to Jowan. Jowan also shakes his head.

I slowly start to raise to my feet only stopping when Cousland glances my way. He backs away allowing me to stand. I’m still unsteady on my feet and lean against the wall taking some shallow breaths. That stupid stunt I pulled took all the energy from me and some I didn’t have and I feel dizzy and nauseous again. I sink back down with a groan. Stupid Isolde.

Cousland must have allowed Leliana to move again and she comes to my side and hands me a little flask motioning for me to drink it. By God it is awful! It takes all I have not to spit it out in her face. She nods her head giving me a knowing smile but believe it or not I feel a bit better. I can’t take on the world or anything but I don’t feel like I am going to pass out anymore. Leliana helps me to my feet and Wynne makes her way over to me and puts a hand upper arm. I don’t know if she’s trying to or not but it reassures me somewhat.

I see Isolde move away from Alistair and go over to Cousland and point at the dagger. She whispers Connor’s name and shakes her head and kneels in front of him. Teagan says Isolde’s name as a tears stream down her face. What is she doing? I stumble over toward them again yelling no. No! No!

“What do you think you’re doing?” I scream at Isolde. “You’re his mother. He needs you to take care of him. Be a responsible mother for once and do what’s right. How do you think he’ll feel if he knows you sacrificed yourself for him? Connor doesn’t deserve the. Think of Connor.”

Then I round on Cousland and give him a piece of my mind too.

“You can’t kill his mother because it’s easier. Go to the Circle!” I cry pointing to Wynne and drawing circles with my fingers in the air. “Go to the Circle. Connor would never forgive you. If you kill his mother, you’re no better than Howe.”

I may have gone too far with that last sentence. I know they do not understand a word I am saying but it got Alistair and Cousland’s attention. Cousland pales when I say Howe and I think he understood the word mother. He looks like he’s going to be sick and he leaves the room. I think Alistair even hisses an admonishment at me as he follows him.

Wynne pats my arm and nods her head. Boy does she look tired. The lines are etched deep in her face and as pale as she is the dark color under eyes is more noticeable. She is definitely not well. I put my hand on her cheek and she flinches. Oh Wynne, I think. You need to take better care of yourself, I want to say. Her eyes go wide then narrow immediately.

Did I say that out loud? Did she understand? Uh oh.

She looks at Leliana and says something to her and Leliana studies me for a minute. Then shakes her head and replies back to Wynne before they lead me out of the room into another hall. I can see Eamon’s study on the left and remember that’s where Alistair’s mothers necklace is. I try to pull them toward that room to get it but they are not having it.
We join the rest of the group in the courtyard where the others seem to be having a discussion about something. As we reach them Alistair says something to Leliana and Wynne that makes them smile and Morrigan rolls her eyes at him her words dripping with sarcasm. Cousland growls at them and they all start walking. Leliana takes Wynne’s hand and starts to follow them. They take a few steps when Leliana abruptly turns. She reaches into her pack and hands me two little copper coins and chunk of stale bread before waving at me and resuming her position in line at Wynne’s side.

Wait are you leaving me here? Like this? In a nightgown? Oh hell no.

I stumble after them squinting my eyes because they are not quite adjusted to the sun and Morrigan looks back at me. I hear the mocking tone in her voice as she says something and the wardens look back at me and shake their heads. Cousland says something to Alistair who in turn repeats it to Leliana. She stops as they continue and speaks to me. I know she’s trying to tell me not to follow them. I already feel like an unwanted puppy, but this just makes it more real.

Even my nightmares don’t want me.

I try to think of something, anything. I race up to the front as best I can. I can see in the sunlight that my skin is really dirty and I still smell faintly of rot. I think it’s faintly maybe I got used to it. Gross. I obviously can’t use feminine wiles, not that I’m good with them anyway. I wasn’t able to get Alistair’s necklace. What can I use to…?

Of course!

I run over to Sten and start babbling to him about his sword. I point down the hill to Redcliff and dance around him, but he just growls and says something to Cousland who answers with a shrug and a nod.

Sten pulls out his sword and looks at me growling. I wasn’t expecting that and fall on my ass but they keep walking. Leliana helps me up and motions for me to go away again but I shake my head. I run up to Sten again who sneers and raises his sword. What was his sword called?

Nala? No that’s the Lion King.

Kadan? That means something about his heart, I think.

Asala? Wait. Asala? That sounds right. Here goes.

“Asala.” I say loudly and point to the village below.

Sten stops abruptly nearly causing Wynne to bump into him. He looks at me and in a low voice he snarls a few words at me, Asala being the only one I recognize. He grabs me by the throat his grip like a vice surprising me and everyone else. I can’t breathe. I can hear my blood rushing in my ears and my vision starts to turn black at the edges. I try to wriggle free but it only makes it worse. I try to cough but can’t. I feel like I’m going to pass out for like the fourth time today. I can barely manage enough air for one word but I try to make it a good one.

“Dwyn,” I say before blackness takes me.

Chapter Text

I wake up feeling like I’ve been strapped to the top of a bumper car, bouncing from one side only to be knocked into the other. Memories of Disney World and Hershey Park collide around in my brain reminding me of the days right after high school graduation when I thought it would be so cool to take a tour of some of America’s most famous amusement parks. Oh yes, I did that. I thought it was so awesome! Disney Land, Knott’s Berry Farm, Cedar Point, Busch Garden’s Williamsburg, Six Flags Texas, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari Water Park and finishing with Disney World. It was half of the money I had saved for the first semester of college. My parents were livid until they found out that I didn’t get accepted right away then they were just happy I didn’t decide to backpack around Europe for the summer like one of their friend’s kids did. Little did they know, I would never do something like that. Way to dangerous. Practically different countries, different languages and different money if you just drove an hour in any direction. No way, I was not that brave.

Ironic, huh?

I realize that I’m not strapped to a bumper car but laying in the back of a wagon. Face toward the sun, piled high with… I look around slowly turning my head. Surrounded by crates and sacks of, I don’t know stuff and… I squint my eyes real hard it looks like a boy. A boy? In Origins? Connor is that you? I blink my eyes a few times and then try to clear my throat but it feels like it’s on fire and my neck hurts. That’s when I remember, Sten tried to kill me. That bastard! I try to scramble and sit up but we go over a rut in the road and I’m knocked back to the floor of the wagon hitting my head on a crate on the way down.

Fuck that hurt.

It seems this dream will never end. Oh wait it’s a nightmare isn’t it? If I go to sleep here without being knocked unconscious, will I wake up back home? Am I sleeping somewhere on a ledge in the rain having a horribly bad dream of this place or am truly being carted around Fereldan in a wagon full of…

Wait that isn’t a boy. Not just any boy, at least not any normal boy. He probably wasn’t even a boy. Short cropped blond hair, haunting lyrium colored eyes. This is Sandal!
I sit up again more abruptly than I should and manage to croak out a single word from my pain racked throat. “Sandal.”

Sandal smiles at me, that vacant mysterious smile and says something I can only take to mean enchantment. Then he says it again louder this time and I smile back at him. He definitely said enchantment.

The driver turns to look at Sandal and smiles at him and I realize that it is Bodahn. Good at least I know they did not leave me behind. Bodahn hollers something and I feel the wagon start to slow. I look around to get my bearings but that’s in vain. I wouldn’t know where I was anyway. I only guess that we are leaving for the circle. At least I hope we are. I look around and don’t see any water. If I recall, the circle was north of Redcliff on the same lake, I think? Too much time has passed for me since I played Origins to remember specifics.

Then I see someone approach me out of the corner of my eye. I turn and see Sten walk up to the wagon. Shit its Sten. I scramble onto all fours before crouching, getting ready to jump out if he comes any closer. I’m not a stuntman. I don’t want to add wagon jumping and cliff jumping to my resume on the same day. He says something but I don’t know if it is to me or Leliana who has suddenly appeared out of nowhere. She looks at me and must see the fear on my face because she smiles and places both her empty hands out in front of her as if to show she’s not a danger. I’m not biting. She’s a rogue and a spy and a bard. She can shoot me in the back with an arrow just as easily as gut me with a knife and I will never see coming.

The wagon suddenly jerks to a stop and I am briefly knocked to my knees. Wynne walks up leaning heavily on a walking stick or maybe it’s her staff and stands next to Leliana. She speaks softly and points to her throat and then points at me and then wiggles her fingers. Is she asking if she can heal my throat? I mimic her fingers and she nods her head. I unintentionally swallow, feeling the aching pain and gag which makes me cough which makes me whimper making me gag yet again. I can sense cycle here. Bodahn hand me a water skin and I drink it greedily hoping to stifle the cough feel coming on. I think I take two huge mouthfuls and Leliana’s eyes grow to the size of saucers. She runs forward and snatches the skin from my hands.

How rude! Ugh! What was that? Yuck. That was the foulest tasting water I ever drank.

Leliana hands the skin back to Bodahn and shakes her head.

Oh, my. My throat is starting to burn. I mean really burn. Like someone was pouring alcohol on an open cut. Did I just drink alcohol? I don’t even drink. Not usually. I don’t even like the taste of alcohol. I get in plenty of trouble without the foul tasting stuff. Sten hands Leliana another water skin which she offers to me. I eye Sten and Leliana and shake my head.

Are you kidding? He just tried to kill me. I clutch my throat and shake my head no. No way in hell. It even hurts my throat to do that. Someone bellows something from behind me. I don’t even have to guess who it is.

Cousland and Alistair appear behind Wynne speaking softly to one another engrossed probably in wardeny things, as they approach. They look up at the same time to see that I am half crouching half standing in the back of the wagon. Alistair looks somewhat relieved, probably because Sten managed not to kill me and Cousland shakes his head as he rubs a hand over his forehead.

Nice to see you too, dickweed.

They move closer and instinctively I tense readying myself to jump from the wagon. I know what they are trying to do but it is not working. It’s too much. Everyone but Morrigan and Sten are talking softly to me with their hands where I can see them, but they are also closing in like litter of hungry puppies. I’m getting claustrophobic again. Finally, I can’t take it anymore and jump off the side of the wagon onto the ground below. As I go over the side, I feel the back of the night gown catch on something and hear a loud rip as I land on the ground.

I turn around in shock and pull the night gown loose from the nail. Give me a break! Why would someone put a nail right there? Sorry Leliana. I owe you one night gown because this one has a giant freaking tear starting at the middle of my back going to the bottom almost spiraling around my waist.

Oh for the love of all that is holy, what next? And I knew better. I just knew that as soon as I said those words out loud, I should find some way to wire my jaws shut. Everyone froze for a moment and then started laughing. The stifled giggles made me flush with embarrassment. Someone snorted and I started to get irritated. The last straw was when sweet little old Wynne laughed. Not your everyday grandmotherly chuckle but deep hearty guffaw making her bend at the waist and slap her knee kind of laugh.

That did it! I knew I was turning red. I felt hot and I’m pretty sure I had steam coming out of my ears. I yelled a string of obscenities that would make the most seasoned of marine’s blush. I ranted on the injustice that was my life. The rage I had been ignoring in favor of the insecurities over losing my fiancé to my boss, the fear I felt at not knowing what happened if I was dead or dreaming and the absolute panic I experienced at not knowing where Argent was all came to a head. They all stepped back more than a few paces watching me with surprise on their faces. I even went up to Sten and screamed in his face for choking the life out of me when all I wanted to do was tell him where his sword was.

When he twitched I freaked. What did I just do? It was probably an accident that he didn’t kill me when his hands squeezed the air out of me. I backed up quickly. A little too quickly. I tripped in a hole in the road and fell right into Cousland.

Without wasting a moment, he picked me up, threw me over his shoulder like a collage freshman’s laundry bag and walked away from the wagon. I had no idea where he was headed and started to beat on his back to let me down but he was wearing armor. I’m sure he barely felt it. We must have been a sight to behold, a muttering warrior carrying a flailing wretch across the countryside.

Really. He literally carried me for ten minutes while I squirmed and squealed unsuccessfully trying to get him to let he down. Finally, he stopped walking and I stopped screaming. When he set me down, I found myself standing on pier jutting into a little lake. He looked me square in the eyes. I didn’t like the way he looked at me. He looked amused.

NO!

He pushed me in.

I let out a shriek. Not so much because of the cold but because of the unexpectedness of it. I was used to cold lakes and streams because my family liked to go camping. Well my mother’s version of camping. It included a fully stocked fully furnished cabin by the lake with shopping and entertainment within a reasonable distance. They used to take us on summer vacations at a lake in Vancouver. They would rent a first-rate cabin complete with a pier where we would go boating and fishing and hiking. My favorite thing was swimming in the lake. I would lounge on the pier with some music and sunscreen and then dive in and swim. When I was tired, I would climb back on the pier and rest once again with my music and sunscreen and start it all over again. Sometimes I even used to lifeguard for the campground pool to earn some extra spending money, since we came so often they knew us relatively well.

The lake was not as cold as I thought, despite the fact that I had been so barbarically thrown over the Warden’s shoulder and pitched into it unprepared. It was cold but the kind of cold you can get used to as long as you stay under the water and the longer I stayed in the more alert I started to feel. After recovering from the shock of being thrown in. I sputtered to the surface to survey my surroundings then I took a deep breath and sunk below the surface. I didn’t open my eyes under the water. I didn’t want to see if there was anything else in there with me. Who knows what kind of critters swim in Fereldan waters. I relaxed slightly feeling the grime that had dried onto me start to loosen and I vigorously rubbed my arms and face with my hands. Leliana’s shredded nightgown kept floating around and tangling in my arms and legs so I took it off letting it float to the surface. I’ll see if Bodahn has any thread so I can repair it. I’m not sure where the clothes are that I was holding onto when Sten killed me. Well, attempted to kill me. As a matter of fact, I wonder if he has any extra clothes I could buy off him, maybe I could trade one of my diamond stud earrings. I wonder how much it would give me for it.

I don’t know how long I was under. Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed under quite so long. As I started to swim to the surface someone grabbed me forcing me to the top faster. I heard yelling and arguing and almost choked on the water because I was so surprised. It was Alistair. He had grabbed me by the waist and was dragging me back to the shore and he looked pissed. He collapsed next to me on the sand and started yelling. Why was everyone always angry at me? I was the one that was thrown in the lake. As it turns out that he wasn’t angry at me after all. He was looking at Cousland and yelling at him. Was he yelling at him because of me? Did they think I was drowning? The Warden just stormed off in a huff.

Alistair caught his breath and put a hand on my shoulder. As I looked at him he started to speak. If I could only understand. He was so cute and so wet and so very very sexy. The sun was reflecting off the water on his skin and was dripping down his back and face. I just wanted to lick it off his shoulder and chest. And well… you know.

He must have realized I was in my underwear because suddenly he blushed and turned away. Leliana sunk to my side and placed a blanket around my shoulders and started talking to Alistair. He blushed even harder. Did she just tease him?

We all saw Cousland coming at the same time. I flinched and got to my feet ready to run at the first sign of trouble. Alistair stood and placed himself in front of me blocking the Warden from coming closer. Alistair, it seems, had a bit of a temper. He was hissing at him with what sounded like very angry words but Cousland’s demeanor didn’t change. He simply threw a piece of cloth and a bar of soap at us and stalked away

Chapter Text

I didn’t realize until I was in the water a bit longer, that a certain malodorous essence was originating from me. You know how dogs tend to have an undeniable... fragrance- shall we say, that is all theirs, and when they get caught in the rain the wet dog smell can be overpowering. Just think of that, times ten. The smell of me wet was so strong it practically made me retch. Could that be why Alistair left as soon as he could? I most likely stunk to high Heaven. I must have washed and rinsed my hair and body at least a dozen times. I still thought I smelled funny, I guess it just worked its way into my nose. I’d probably be smelling it for days.

The soap that Cousland left for me was great stuff though. It reminded me of that harsh abrasive soap that car mechanics use to get the grease off of their hands. It sort of had a built in pumice stone, great for scraping away the exceptionally tough grime I had accumulated in the last few hours. I can’t even begin to tell you how some of that crap got in the places it did. It didn’t have much of a smell, though. I guess Cousland didn’t want to smell like some kind of fruit or flower. He’s probably too manly for that nonsense. It would have been nice. It was interesting to wash my hair. I never washed my hair with a bar of soap before. It was, well, weird. The soap didn’t lather very much but I remembering hearing somewhere before it wasn’t the lather that made you clean. It was just different that’s all I’m saying.

I felt bad for using the soap in the lake. You know endangering fish population that kind of thing. I’m all for recycling and saving the environment. I’m already sure they are plotting revenge for all this gunk anyway. I had to remove my bra and panties and scrub them clean as well. They were pretty rank. Shew!! It was not very easy washing clothes with a bar of soap in a lake. I took a little bit of sand from the bottom and tried to use it for the friction. Oh but the stains, the stains will probably not come out no matter how much I wash them. Even a washboard would be welcome. Now if I could only find a comb and a tooth brush everything would be damn near perfect.

Leliana literally had to drag me back to the wagon. I stayed in that water as long as I could while she chatted away to a massive dog, I could only assume was Cousland’s mabari. And when I say massive, I do mean massive. The dog was easily one hundred fifty pounds and all of it muscle. He looked lean and well-built and strong, everything I would think a war dog should be. He seemed to be enjoying the attention Leliana was lavishing upon him as she scratched his head and chest. But with every noise I made his ears twitched in my direction giving me the impression he was perfectly aware of his surroundings.

I wonder if he can help me find Argent?

When Leliana convinced me to come ashore, we realized I had no clothes to wear for the walk back so I had to use the towel. Which normally wouldn’t be a problem, but the towel I used to dry off with was small and I barely managed to wrap it around myself, plus it was thin and wet. I’m not overweight, but not exactly a size two. It covered just enough skin to hide my nipples and the fact that I just had a Brazilian wax a couple days ago.

I’m not sure the nearly naked look is much better the verminous vagabond. But I felt clean, even if I did bathe in a lake filled with, well, I shudder to think. No. I’m just not going to think about it.

I felt a little insecure about being barely covered in front of Leliana knowing that she appreciated both male and female company and I could tell Leliana was amused as we walked back. I saw her try to hide her little smirks as I kept pulling up or down on the towel when I accidently exposed myself if I walked too fast.

The group must have decided to set up camp for the night because I could smell the fire as we got closer and I really wanted to warm myself next to it. But definitely not dressed like this. I stopped Leliana and tried to tell her that I need to get some clothes but I’m not sure she really understood. I suppose there is a possibility she was having some fun at my expenses because she was smiling as she kept trying to pull me over to the fire. Finally, I saw Bodahn’s wagon and made my way over there as quickly and as decently as possible. Leliana and the dog followed behind me. I’m sure the rest of the group was amused as much as Leliana when I stopped in front on the Bodahn’s wagon if the looks on their faces meant anything. My thick hair was still quite wet and trickling lines of water down the middle of my back, and my hiking boots were making a squelching sound with every step. Quite the sight I imagine.

Please let me wake up soon!

I was disappointed when I realized that Bodahn wasn’t there. I removed one of the diamond earrings I had received as a Christmas present from Brian and showed it to Leliana. That’s when I think the light went on.

Leliana strolled over to the campfire at a leisurely pace and found Bodahn sitting on a crate probably telling stories of his travels. He kindly followed her back to the wagon and looked at me shaking his head with a grin on his face. I offered him the earring and tried to mime what I want. It wasn’t easy but I was able to trade enough to procure a backpack, a needle and thread and a pair of pants that looked a might too small and what looked to be a man’s puffy shirt. He also threw in what was supposed to be panties and a pair of slippers. At least I could wear the slippers until my shoes dried out by the fire. I went to change behind the wagon when I heard someone call Leliana’s name. Without giving me time to change properly I was dragged over to the fire.

Great! Show and tell time.

There I was standing at the next to the fire in a small wet practically see through towel. Talk about awkward. Thankfully Alistair once again came to my rescue and motioned for Leliana take me into one of the tents to change. He still couldn’t look me in the face. Was I really that bad?

Once inside the tent I set everything on a crate near the entrance. These tents did not have doors, not even flap really. Just a little extra fabric left over from when they draped it over the crude tent poles. I so wished I could have just changed behind the wagon there was much more privacy. Thankfully Leliana stood in front of the door and turned around giving me the privacy I so desperately wanted.

I emerged from the tent wearing my new clothes minus a bra. I’m not really that big anyway so it didn’t bother me. I just had to be careful not to lean over as the ties on the shirt didn’t go very high. I tried to ask where I could hang up my clothes to dry but she really didn’t understand. I just got a bunch of wiggling fingers. I laid my clothes on a rock not too far from the fire with my boots then shyly joined the group around the fire. I knew they were having their fun with me when the only empty seat was between Sten and The Warden.

I shook my head. No fucking way. Laugh all you want, but no!

I remained standing on the opposite side of the fire looking at them as they looked at me, refusing to sit until Alistair laughed and offered me his seat. Not knowing how to say thanks, I smiled my best closed mouth smile. The way this dream was going I probably had a huge piece of broccoli stuck in my teeth somewhere. Why chance it?

The fire was warm and someone shoved a water skin in my hands. I opened it and smelled it hesitantly.

Wynne, who was sitting on my right nodded at me signaling it was ok to drink. Boy was I thirsty. I don’t know how much water it held but I drank nearly all of it before she took it from me and shoved a wooden bowl of some kind of broth in my hands. I looked at her and then everyone else before sniffing it. It was tinged brown and smelled faintly like beef broth. I looked around for a spoon but utensils must be a luxury they don’t have. I’ll have to rectify that somehow. I tipped the wooden bowl to my lips and tentatively taste the liquid. Not much of a taste, almost like someone melted a stick in it. I drank it quickly. It felt warm and soothing in my belly. I hadn’t realized how upset my stomach was feeling or how hungry I was. After I finished the broth, they refilled my bowl and gave me a hunk of stale bread to go with it. It didn’t fill me up but it was better than nothing.

When I looked at Alistair across the fire I was startled to find him boldly looking back at me. I couldn’t get a read on him, but he doesn’t look away. It’s a little unnerving and I notice a weird vibe. Does that mean I still stink and he can smell from across the fire? Or is it something else? Suspicion maybe? But I’m too tired and too hungry to care at the moment.

I’m pulled out of our staring contest by Wynne and Leliana who take me over to the rock where my things are drying. Wynne smiles and wiggles her fingers at me and of course I don’t understand. I tilt my head in confusion and she waves her hand with a small movement. I feel a momentary warmth envelope me, starting at my feet and it quickly works its way up my torso out through my fingers and continues up my neck and out the ends of my hair. Did she just dry my hair? I touch my hair and realize it is dry! Then she hits my clothes and boots with the same spell drying them as well. That’s is just the greatest thing ever.

I hug her, probably, a little too tight and I can feel her bones through her robes. She feels so tiny and frail. How is she still walking around? Why don’t they let her ride in the wagon? I notice that she looks more tired after expending the energy to dry my things so I put my arm around her waist and help her back to seat at the fire. I look to Leliana for help. Wynne quietly says something to her that makes her frown. Leliana pulls out her water skin and hands it to the elderly mage then moves to her seat by the fire. I notice that her hands are shaking and her breath is labored. What is going on here? I thought that spirit of hers helps her become stronger.

I feel someone touch me lightly on my shoulder and turn to my left hand side where Leliana is sitting. There is a joke in there and I have to smile. Leliana is beautiful, her shocking red hair is cut in a bob at her chin and her bright blue eyes are set in a still rounded face, she is so young here. It makes me hate how jaded she becomes later. It almost makes me dislike Justinia. I return from my musing to realize that it she is trying to communicate with me and everyone is watching us. I know she’s asking me a question but I can’t figure it out. This language doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard of before. It’s just as familiar to me as Chinese and I definitely do not know Chinese. Then she says her name and points to herself. Next she does the same for Wynne as she goes counterclockwise along the circle, Sten, Alistair, Aedan, Morrigan Bodahn and Sandal.

Ah, the son of a bitch’s name is Aedan. I never played Dragons Age as a male before. That’s the default name isn’t it? Then Aedan says something to which Liliana responded by pointing to the dog and saying something that sounded a lot like Drake.

I smiled at the dog and cooed to it causing it to come over to me and flop down on the ground at my feet. I leaned down and scratched his belly calling him sweet puppy names for a moment and look up at them and smile. They all look at me expectantly. What now? Leliana points to me and arches her eyebrow in question.

Oh yeah! They don’t know my name yet. So just to play with them a bit I start repeating everyone going clockwise. Leliana, Sandal, Bodahn. Morrigan, Aedan, I make a face when I say his name and Leliana giggles as Alistair says something that sounds sarcastic. Sten, Wynne, then I hesitate and point to Sten’s sword and say Asala. He looks surprised but inclines his head. Leliana points to me again and I nod as I touch my chest.

“Renata,” I say. “My name is Renata.”

“Renata!” Leliana squeals and claps her hands together. I like this Leliana, totally not scary, more like that slightly eccentric chantry sister. I can’t help but giggle back. Maybe we can be friends after all.

Morrigan grunts standing to leave the fire with a disgusted look on her face. She heads over to a little tent farther from the fire than anyone else and casts what could be a barrier spell? It briefly glows a light blue-green and looks like force field from Star Trek. Really pretty impressive. When she finishes casting, she enters her tent. So she really does do the solitary thing. I look over at Aedan who is watching after her intently. Hmm... I wonder if he likes her? That will come in handy when it’s time for the dark ritual.

It looks like they are packing it in for the night. Bodahn and Sandal wander away to their tent. Sten picks up Asala and heads to his tent while Alistair and Aedan seem to be deep in conversation. Once in a while they one of them shakes their head and the other one nods. It makes me extremely self-conscious when they both look over to me for a moment and then start talking again.

Leliana calls my name and motions for me to help her take Wynne to the tent. When we reach the tent Leliana helps Wynne inside. She looks so worn out. They all do, really. Maybe if they let me stay I can help out with something to make it easier on them. Maybe cook their meals, clean their clothes, anything to be useful.

Wynne speaks my name and motions for me to lie down next to her. The tent is so small and Leliana is settling down too. That leaves a tight space between the two of them. A slumber party, how nice. I sigh and squeeze between them knowing I’m in for a long night. It’s a weird thought, going to bed when I’m already asleep.

I think I’m already asleep. I hope I’m already asleep. It’s very realistic for a dream. I hope it’s a dream.

Chapter Text

Much to my amazement I had fallen asleep smashed between Wynne and Leliana. It was surprisingly comfortable. It brought to mind visions of litters of puppies all snuggled together for security and warmth. Not that I thought we were dogs mind you, but I’m just going for the visual. I remember waking up to the sound of yelling. It was awful. I quickly put on my slippers and stumbled my way out of the tent. At first I thought we were being attacked but it was only Alistair. It must have been the blight mares, another reason that they weren’t getting much sleep. I guess I surprised him because he turned toward me with his blade drawn and I froze, holding my breath. I did not want to provoke him. We stared at each other for a moment, both of us bleary eyed until he lowered his weapon. He said something to me, an apology maybe, I’m not sure but he looked as if he was expecting a response. I could only shake my head to let him know I didn’t understand. That’s when Leliana called for me to come back to the tent. With that he turned and went back to the fire.

Surprisingly I was able to fall back asleep. Alistair’s blight mares must have been on my subconscious because the rest of the night I also dark dreams. I don’t think they were darkspawn but I just had a feeling of being watched by something dark. They didn’t wake me up thankfully and I was able to sleep somewhat comfortably the rest of the night. When they roused me the next morning from my sleep I was sure that I too hard dark circles under my eyes.

The sensation of waking up while I’m still dreaming is strange to say the least. I certainly felt like I was waking up. I yawned and stretched as usual. I’m sure I had the same morning breath too. Eww. How do I fix that? Leliana touched me on the shoulder showing me a bowl of water. She took a sip and swished it in her mouth before spitting it out and placing something that looked like parsley in her mouth to chew. As she chewed it she dipped a cloth in the remaining water and wiped her face and neck and hands. Then she spits out the plant and shoved another bowl of water at me along with the piece of parsley.

Maybe it was mint.

It sort of tasted like mint.

But it didn’t look like mint. Nothing here seems exactly what it is anyway, it was refreshing none the less. So that’s how they take care of morning breath on the road. I can handle that. I do hope, however, that I can find a toothbrush or something to use real soon.

They were quick about breaking camp and setting out for the day. It took less than an hour for us to eat breakfast and pack everything up. Leliana took me with her to fill up the water skins at a nearby stream.

I’m grateful it wasn’t the lake.

She must have been tasked with being my babysitter. On the way she babbled to me incessantly. I’m glad I couldn’t understand her. I think I may have gone out of my mind. On the way back we picked up a bunch of berries that looked like a strawberry lemon mix but tasted more like a banana. She slapped my hand and admonished me when I tasted it. I guess these were to be for everyone. I shrugged and we wrapped them in a cloth and set them inside my backpack. It seemed to have the most room. When we return to camp the tents and larger things had been expertly packed in the wagon by Bodahn and Sandal and once Wynne was settled in the back we embarked upon our journey.

This was no leisurely stroll, let me tell you. These people walked with a purpose. The purposed I hoped was to get the Circle and then back to Redcliff as soon as possible. They seemed to have their procession down pat. Aedan and Drake were scouting up front, followed by Sten and Morrigan, good choice I thought, as they were probably the least talkative. The wagon was next with Wynne, Bodahn and Sandal inside. Leliana and I walked next to it with Alistair bringing up the rear.

I didn’t do much regular exercise at home. My routine for the last couple of years was wake up, walk the dog, go to work, come home walk the dog and then spend the evening with Brian if he didn’t have to work. On the weekends I would usually take Argent for a hike in the woods near town where she could enjoy being off leash. Sometimes Brian would join us, usually he wouldn’t. That was the extent of my exercise. Which is why I was amazed to find that I was able to keep up with the group. I was quite proud of myself because they were walking pretty fast.

I’m not sure how long the trip to the Circle was supposed to take but I was not disappointed that we made two stops along the way. The first was for lunch which consisted of dried meat and the berries Leliana and I collected. The second was to allow the horse pulling the wagon some time to drink from a stream and rest for about half an hour. I’m not sure how old that horse was but I think I saw circles under his eyes too. Poor thing.

It was likely close to eight hours that we had been on the road when we crested a hill and everyone stopped to take in the view. As I reached the top and looked out below it struck me just how detailed my imagination was. The view was amazingly detailed. Not only were there a variation of green trees, but I could see variations in the green on the trees. I saw shrubs and birds and critters running around and a little town on the edge of a lake.

Did I just see a nug? They’re kind of creepy, but I won’t be telling that to Leliana.

As they descended the hill toward the town the order of our procession changed. Alistair moved up to the front with Aedan and the dog. Morrigan moved back to walk beside the wagon near Wynne. Sten moved toward the back behind me and Leliana.

Were they protecting the mages?

I noticed in the horizon a tower sitting on lake. The Circle! It looked huge even from this distance. I couldn’t help but smile. We had made it. It took another hour of travel until we reached the town by the edge of the lake and by that then the sun was starting to set. Would they try to get across to the tower now or wait until morning? The Spoiled Princess was right here. At least I think it was the Spoiled Princess. They surely had rooms to rent.

And a hot meal that didn’t taste like tree bark.

And a bath in clean water.

I’m sure the mages at the tower wouldn’t want to leave until morning anyway. I really hoped they waited until morning and got a good night’s rest. I was starting to feel tired and I could see it in the faces of the others, although no one complained. Not that I could tell anyway.

The wagon stopped and Aedan helped Wynne onto the ground and they all gathered for a discussion without me. Once I did see Sten look over at me though and shake his head. When the discussion ended, it seemed that the group was going to separate. Sten, Morrigan and Wynne and me were to stay behind, while Aedan, Alistair and Leliana and the wagon go on ahead. To tell you the truth I was a little nervous about being here with Morrigan and Sten, especially Sten. He looks at me funny sometimes. I can understand that. He is probably curious how I knew about Asala. But I think I will stick close to Wynne, just in case. Those two seem to leave her alone.

Since I didn’t know how long it would take for them to return, I pulled Leliana’s night gown from my pack along with the thread and needle and started my not so great attempt at repairing it. I almost gave up. The thread is not as fine as I am used to and the needle itself is also a bit thick. I think it’s meant to be used on stronger materials such as leather or suede. It doesn’t take me too long to finish sewing it but her night gown will never look the same again. I think I will have to pay her for it. I folded it up and put it back in my pack. I turned to Wynne and held up the needle and thread to ask if she needed anything mended, but she was dozing. I’ll ask her later.

I’m was getting bored just sitting here and waiting and doing nothing. Sten was pacing around camp endlessly. Maybe getting bored too? More likely he was just guarding the perimeter? Morrigan was looking at some type of big book. Or do they call it a tome? Should I go over and introduce myself?

I think I will.

As I stand up she looks at me out of the corner of her eye and arches a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at me, looking me up and down. Never mind. She’s successfully intimidated me into staying away and I sit right back down. She sneers and shakes her head. Never mind, I didn’t want to meet you anyway.

I’m starting to get fidgety and I have to go to the bathroom. Of course that’s all relative because there are no bathrooms out here.

No outhouses.

No chamber pots.

Will they let me just walk away and do my business anywhere? How far should I go? This like THE MOST embarrassing thing ever. Maybe not. It was more embarrassing when I lost control in front of Leliana and Wynne yesterday. Thank goodness I was too sick to care very much.

I made sure Wynne was still asleep then walked over to the opposite side of our little camp and headed away from the town for some privacy. An extremely large, extremely strong hand clamped down on my shoulder before I could go too far.

“Imekari.” I freeze and look at my shoulder than follow the line of Sten’s hand up his arm and look at his face. He shakes his head and says,” Saar.” I’m not sure what he said but clearly he does not want me to go anywhere right now.

How do I tell Sten I have to pee?

Then I looked at Morrigan who paused in her reading to watch us. I look between the two and shrug. I cross my hand over my bladder and do a little dance trying to look uncomfortable. Sten immediately removes his hand from me and grimaces and I hear Morrigan chuckle. He hisses something to her.

You know what I really have to go now. Soon I will not be able to wait.

................................

 

When I returned to the clearing I saw that Wynne was awake and having a conversation with Morrigan and Sten. She didn’t seem very happy with them but to me, it didn’t look like they cared. I cleared my throat announcing my presence and the three of the turned to look at me making me feel very insecure. Wynne looked relieved and the other two just looked irritated. Morrigan even rolled her golden eyes at me and flicked a hand in my direction. What could have possibly happened in the last ten minutes to make them look so unhappy?

Then Wynne narrows her eyes at me and gasps rushing over to me with more haste then I thought possible. She gestures at the leaves in my hand. The ones I used to... Well you know.

They are extra leave, I mean! Not the actual leaves.

Yuck. That would be gross.

She points me the direction I came from and gives me shove. I stumble little bit, greatly confused. I don’t really know what’s going on. She points to the leaves in my hand and asks me a question.

I don’t understand you. I shake my head at her.

Then she slaps my hand hard making me drop the leaves.

Ow! Son of a bitch!

She scowls at me shaking her head again. Why do I feel like a four-year-old that just did something stupid?

She pulls out a little silver flask from within the folds of her robe and pours its contents over my hands. It smells suspiciously like alcohol. No surprise there, huh? Then she returns to the clearing only to bring back a bar of soap and a water skin. She mutters something I don’t understand to Morrigan who chuckles, is it possible to believe she chuckled sarcastically, and to Sten who growls. Only then does she let me return to the clearing but not near them. She has Sten pull a crate away from them and she directs me to sit on it and not move.

I guess she didn’t like those leaves.

Not much later Aedan, Alistair and Leliana return looking grim. Uh oh. Looks like trouble.

Leliana plops herself next to Wynne and speaks softly to her as she rubs her shoulder. Whatever she said resulted in a horrified look on Wynne’s face, she looked white as a sheet.
I start to get fidgety again and don’t know what to do with myself all the way on the other side of the clearing. I scratch at my leg and clear my throat to get someone’s attention.

“Leliana,” I call to her scratching my other leg.

She turns to my voice and I wave at her smiling. She starts to make her way over to me but Wynne stops her whispering something in her ear making her cover her mouth and giggle. It starts softly at first but then Leliana’s fit of giggles turns into a full blown laugh with snorting and all. This causes Alistair to smile at Leliana begging her to be let in on the joke. Sounding like Vulcan, Sten somberly says about four words to them causing everyone pause before they all double up laughing. Even Morrigan.

What? I scratch my head, what’s so funny?

Then Leliana points to me and takes a deep breath before she says something else that makes them laugh again.

This dream sucks!

Then I see the little telltale signs on my hands. There are tiny red marks starting on my hands, small now, but apparently I’ve been scratching my hands and didn’t realize it because there are red lines all over them.

Similarly, one time in Girl Scouts I took an overnight trip to the local scout camp with my troop. We all pitched tents and built a campfire and roasted hot dogs and made S’mores. We all had fun telling ghost stories and playing camping trivia. That was fun and what I had been hoping for last night and tonight. Later that same night it started to rain and our tent collapsed, sending us all to the counselor’s cabin to sleep on the floor. On the way there, I slipped in the mud. I didn’t fall believe it or not but I walked through a patch of poison ivy and it gave me a rash that looked suspiciously like the one starting on my hands now.

But I checked those leaves earlier and they did not have three points. They should have been perfectly safe.

Right? Right?

Then I realize that my nether regions are feeling rather uncomfortable. Itchy like.

Leliana brings over a blanket and my backpack and makes it very clear that I am not allowed near anyone of them. Later on she brings me a third of a loaf of bread and some more dried meat shaking her head as she returns to the fire.

I guess I’m stuck here for the night.

Even in my dreams Mother nature is a bitch.

Chapter Text

There have a handful of times in my life when I could say with certainty I hated the Circle and living within its oppressive stone walls. The first time being when I had been brought to the tower as a child after my magic manifested itself. Even as a youth I could see the fear and the disappointment in the faces of my parents as the Templars took me away from everything I knew and loved. My attempted escape and subsequent capture at a barn in Langwynne only cemented my depression. Never again was I to sit in the old apple tree next to my parents’ humble home. Never again would I enjoy a birthday or Satinalia with my parents or siblings and never again would I enjoy the freedom of simply being a child trusted and loved by my own family. No, magic took that away from me.

The second time I hated the Circle, I was a young maiden on the verge of adulthood growing bolder and more curious about life outside the Circle. I excelled in my studies and had not yet picked a specialization. I studied tirelessly asking countless questions about mages in other circles, apostate mages and even those horrible Tevinter magisters that were so reviled, that now I believe they may not have known the answers many of my questions. One day quite by accident I found a book on Dalish mages in the library. The tome mentioned a curious specialization I had never heard of before. It was called an Arcane Warrior. These amazing mages were trained in the art of combat as well as magic. I was impressed to learn that not only could they wield their only natural magic and handle weapons, but that some of these weapons could actually be conjured from the fade itself. It was right then that I decide I wanted to specialize as an Arcane Warrior. I was so excited that I went immediately to one of my instructors and showed her the book informing her that was the course of study I was interested in pursuing. My instructor was surprised to say the least but promised to take my request to the Senior Enchanter for consideration.

It was the next day that I was taken in for my harrowing.

Usually a mage has time to prepare for such a traumatic event, but I was caught off guard and escorted by one of my mentors to the Harrowing Chamber on the way to my lessons. The Harrowing is a rite of passage every mage must participate in and be successful. The stress is so intense that a mage scheduled for it is given extra instructions and tips from most of the senior instructors for weeks before it is to take place. During one’s harrowing a mage is essentially cast into the fade helpless save for their magic and wit and forced to literally, face their demons. To add to that unease, the Circle’s Templars are placed strategically around the chamber to 'take care of' anyone that may be overtaken by their demon. I had heard rumors of mages cut down or made tranquil for failing their Harrowing, but to be faced unprepared was another thing indeed.

Hate may not be a strong enough word.

Later in my life I fell for the sweet words of a lonely Templar and we began a torrid affair. A relationship between mage and Templar was not acceptable in the Circle. Usually one or the other was transferred to a different Circle as a deterrent, but as it is nearly impossible to keep healthy men and woman from acting upon their base instincts, these threats did little. There were times when we were together that we could forget the constraints of our reality and just be two people in love like any other couple outside the tower. Sadly, we were not.

When I was found to be with child, he ended the physical relationship although he continued to profess his love. We, of course, were unable to maintain our secret for obvious reasons and were separated immediately. The day that the child was delivered was the happiest day of my life. To see his tiny little form as he was released into the world made my heart swell with a love I never thought possible. I was a mother. I finally knew true love that the Maker himself could never take that away.

But the Templars could.

That day was another day I knew I hated the Circle. That day was the day I started to plan my escape.

My chance at escape would not come for many, many years. During this time, I continued my studies in a less controversial discipline. I chose to be a healer and I had an unexpected affinity for this field of study. I continued my devotions attending Chantry services. I continued to pray. I learned patience as I dealt with novice mages and the children that were placed in my care. I believe that the Templars thought that if I was able to spend some time with other children the pain of my loss would lessen. It did not. I still plotted but I was patient. I started to pray to Andraste and the Maker with more vigor. I did not believe that all magic is inherently dangerous. I do believe that the Circle was necessary in some form. I do not believe it should be a prison and that Templars were our wardens. Under my tutelage, many mages with questionable control successfully passed their harrowing and continued their studies.

Then I met Anders. I realized I had become complacent. He seemed to sense a kindred spirit even if I would never admit such out loud. I taught him as much about healing as I could. He was a quick study. He would confide in me his dreams of escape and I being true to my duty would try to convince him otherwise. A halfhearted attempt I admit. The first time he escaped I was jubilant. If this scrawny young mage could elude the Templars, then surely I could as well. I realized that all that was holding me back was fear so I planned to leave three nights after his escape.

They brought him back the next night badly beaten and half dead. I pleaded with Knight Commander Gregoir to let me heal him but he would not. I was sent to the Templars that were injured in his capture. That boy all but took out three full grown seasoned Templars. It was a week before they let me see him and check his injuries. I was appalled at his condition in the basement. Dirt and dried blood. No nourishment but for water. This renewed my desire to escape. The day after Anders was allowed out of the basement, he escaped again. A weeks later he was returned. They cycle continued until one day he escaped and I never heard from him again. I never found out if he got away or was put to death. I never asked. After that I had to change my plans.

I never got to enact my plan because First Enchanter Irving and Senior Enchanter Uldred called for volunteers to support the King of Fereldan’s army in the Korcari Wilds. Rumors of the Fifth Blight had started to be heard within the tower walls. My chance had finally arrived.

I had figured to follow Senior Enchanter Uldred and the other mages to the Korcari Wilds and slip away at the first opportunity, but something about Uldred made me suspicious. He had always been one of the more ambitious mages of the Circle. His ability to root out blood mages made him very popular with the First Enchanter and Knight Commander. Though I had known him many years, it still gave me pause.

My first clue that trouble was on the horizon should have been the argument that Uldred had with the Revered Mother about lighting the signal fire at the Tower of Ishal. That his suggestion the Circle of Magi could complete this task instead sending a warden was so callously dismissed by the Revered Mother enraged him. Instead of fighting a losing battle with her, he requested and audience with Loghain Mac Tir. In retrospect, that conversation was probably the beginning of the end.

The battle started sooner than anyone anticipated and I did not have time to slip away before we were dispatched to the battlefield. Never more did I wish I had continued my study to be an Arcane Warrior. I could have been just as useful with a magical blade as I was healing the injured.

There was not enough Lyrium potions to enable us to heal everyone that needed help. And when the supply ran out, which it did quickly we were left with only our limited mana pool. As weakened as it made us we continued to pull at our reserves as best we could, having to be content with merely keeping the soldiers alive and not healed. We knew our break would come when Loghain and his army joined the Wardens. If only those two new Wardens would light the beacon. My fellow mages and I kept an eye on the tower but it did not light. We were exhausted and our mana ran out. We could only pray to the Maker and Andraste. Then when we thought all was lost, the beacon was finally lit.
But Loghain simply retreated and Uldred recalled us to the Circle.

Two other mages and I refused, hoping to continue our meager attempts at healing the soldiers. But then the Wardens were overrun by another wave of darkspawn and no more soldiers were no sent to us for healing. It was hopeless. When the dragon circled the tower, we knew we were beat and retreated.

The other two mages, my two friends, did not make it. Three wandering darkspawn attacked us and only I got away. My mana reserve was totally depleted and I sustained a grievous injury to my abdomen. I did not expect to make it.

I awoke sometime later to the comforting voice of one of the wardens tasked with lighting the beacons as he tried to dribble a healing potion down my throat. They were accompanied by a disagreeable young apostate tasked with escorting them as they continued their quest to end the blight. In return for the kindness they showed me, I agreed to help them as long as I was able. The warden called Aedan seemed particularly distressed by my condition and occasional called me Nana.

It was when we stopped for supplies at Lothering that we learned of the supposed treachery of the wardens. In order to replenish the meager supplies, they had on hand, the wardens and their apostate, Morrigan provided Chantry Board’s service while I recovered in the tavern with a mug of ale and listened for more gossip. That is where we learned of Sten and they recruited the innocent chantry sister Leliana.

The two wardens, Alistair and Aedan decided to go to Redcliff so the Arl could get the bounty lifted. When the Arl lifted the bounty, they could travel freely and secure the required assistance to complete their mission.

It was there in Redcliff dungeon where we first came across the odd young woman now under our care. I say odd but it was more than that. Something I can’t name.

Leliana and I had stayed behind in the dungeon when we saw Jowan. The three warriors Alistair, Aedan and Sten and the apostate worked ahead to clear the dungeon for safer passage. We needed to discover the cause of the undead that had been troubling the town. We were busy questioning Jowan in the dungeon when we heard the noise.

Jowan insisted he never knew she was there and despite all the trouble he had caused I am inclined to believe him. It was if she was simply born in the dungeon. The girl seemed to have no sense of where she was and had the strength of a newborn. It took several tries to get her conscious and several more to get her to her feet. The boys were certainly surprised to see our half naked patient and even more so when she willing followed us throughout the castle.

We determined her to be a simpleton. She neither spoke nor seemed to understand what was being said and she caused more trouble than should be normal. We were definitely surprised when she stopped Aedan from sacrificing Isolde in order to save Connor. He was so shocked at her stupidity, he agreed to go to the Circle. For that alone I owe her my thanks.

The Circle. My life is like a circle. I find it ironic indeed that the stone prison I spent my life hating and years planning to escape is the place I wish to spend my final days. I wish to see my friends one last time. Say goodbye to my children and yes, they are like my children and exhale my last breath in the place I have come to think of as home. Tomorrow I would be home. Tomorrow I would die.

Chapter Text

I don’t think anyone’s happy we’re here except Wynne. She smiled as we rode the ferry across the lake, hesitantly at first, but then she seemed to become happier and her face more relaxed. Her breathing seemed to be evening out and she trembled less. She seemed to glow with excitement but maybe it was just magic. I hope when I’m as old as her, I’m just as beautiful. I realize I barely know her but I was worried about her and I prayed I was over reacting.

As soon as we stepped inside the tower I could tell something was wrong. The tension and fear was palpable. A heavily armored man approached us immediately upon entry and attempted to herd us back outside but Aedan and Alistair did not back away, standing their ground until another older looking Templar joined them.

It was so frustrating not understanding exactly what they were saying. If the five Templars blocking the only other door in the room was any indication, I’d say that this was the part where Circle had to be cleared of blood mages and abominations. But Wynne was with us, didn’t they already do it? Clearly my nightmare had other ideas. You wouldn’t be wrong to say I was confused.

Wynne joined Aedan and Alistair in their conversation with the Templars she looked visibly upset. When she paled at something they said and tears welled up in her eyes, I hurried over to her side so she could lean on me for comfort. Her knees buckled and she looked ready to fall to the ground. Leliana noticed too and came over to help.

The words between the Wardens and the Templar grew louder and until finally they relented and escorted us to a massive wooden door. I was surprised to see that there really was a requisitions officer right outside and I motioned for Leliana to stop by pointing at the few red and blue vials on his table. Leliana cocked her head as if to question me but then nodded in my direction as she quickly paid for the potions.

Everyone stopped abruptly at the door before the Templars opened it and Aedan and Alistair had a heated conversation which consisted of pointing finger at Wynne, Leliana and me. Apparently they said something that Wynne didn’t appreciate and she hissed out some harsh words as she pulled herself from our embrace steadying herself. As she walked past everyone the door opened and we all followed her inside.

It was closed behind us with a loud thud. Then an ominous slide of metal could be heard, locking us all inside.

I think things are about to get dangerous. They even rearranged the order of our group. Alistair headed our little party mostly, I think because of his previous Templar training not because he wanted it. Sten was in second position. Leliana followed with Morrigan, and Aedan and his dog were after them. I was last supporting Wynne who slowed again once we passed the door.

Then it was on!

There was a loud crash and then yelling and screaming coming from the hall in front of us. We all ran toward the commotion. Including me. This was not good. As we rounded the corner we saw two mages trying to protect a handful of children from a...

Oh my God!
This can’t be real.
It looked like a real live demon. Not one from the game. Now I was very bad at distinguishing between all demons except a Pride demon. Those mothers are hard to forget! I usually would stab at my targets with a pair of daggers until they were dead. I didn’t care what they were and it wasn’t until much later that I found that if I targeted them it listed their strengths and weaknesses and hit points. That would really come in handy about now. It looked like it was on fire and it was a fair bit bigger than the mages trying to fight it back. The mages cowered in a corner trying to protect the children, their fear was obvious. The children were shrinking as small as possible and they were crying in panic.

Alistair charged right for it as did the rest of the crew. I tried to hold Wynne back as the others hacked away at it. But suddenly another one formed not very far away and they had to split up as that demon tried to attack the children from another angle. Suddenly Wynne screamed bloody murder and charged toward the demons and let loosed with an intensity I would never guess a lady of her age to possess. A stream of magic erupted from her lighting her up like a Christmas tree shooting great jets of ice at them and freezing them instantly.

The first demon was all but obliterated. The second one thawed much quicker moving off toward the direction of where library should be. It looked like Alistair had the first one under control and he waved the others after the second one. It shattered after two more sweeps of his sword. I almost relaxed.

Almost.

I screamed as I noticed what I would only call demon ichor bubbling on the floor beside Wynne. Wynne threw another barrier over the children when the third demon rose up out of the floor and she drop like a stone. With Wynne all but passed out, I did the only thing I could think of, I grab her staff and hit the demon.

Yeah, that was stupid. I immediately thought of the Minions movie when the caveman hit the cave bear on the nose with a flyswatter. It had the same effect. None. Then he was eaten. But he didn’t have Alistair. When that demon turned its attention to me I almost peed myself again.

Almost.

But Alistair roared at it and pushed me out of the way while he made quick work of the third demon. The mages looked wiped and were hugging the children still huddled together in the corner. I think they used up all their mana as they all slumped together in a whimpering mess. I crawled over to the corner with the healing potions that Leliana left behind and checked the children. They were shaken but unharmed. They did not need the healing potions. Which was great because when I turned to check Alistair he was bloody mess.
I ran to him as knelt over Wynne. I grabbed his sweaty bloody face in my hands and said his name. He didn’t look at me. I couldn’t get his attention off Wynne laying at his feet. I quickly ran my hands over his face and head noting minor cuts. Then looked him over from head to toes to see if there were any wounds. Let me tell you, not particularly easy to check while wearing armor. I waved a potion in front of his face. That got his attention.

The he whispered something I could barely hear. I looked at him following his eyes to Wynne’s body. She wasn’t breathing.

Oh.

Shit! She wasn’t breathing. She wasn’t breathing. I shoved a healing potion in his hands motioning him to give it to her. He didn’t take it and he wouldn’t look at me. She still wasn’t moving.

“Alistair!” I shouted. That got his attention.

Once again I shoved a healing potion into his hands and motioned for him to use it on her. He shook his head and said something I think I didn’t like. As soon as he said it the mages ran over and knelt beside her...body and started to cry. Wailing, really. I never really knew what that might sound like.

I never want to hear that sound again. It made the little hairs all over my body stand on end and I felt nauseous.

No! No! Oh, hell to the no! Think, think, think Renata. Wynne will not die on my watch. I don’t care if this is a nightmare. She. Will. Not. Die!

CLICK!

Did I mention I worked at a hospital? Once a year everyone had to take or recertify in CPR. The lightbulb just came on.

I shouted at all of them to hush and pushed the mage next to Wynne’s head away. Alistair tried to grab me but I glared at him hard enough he didn’t try to stop me. I think he knew I needed to do this. I tapped her collar bone and called her name. One of the mages tried to stop me and I shoved her away roughly. Alistair called my name. I glanced at him and told him to keep them away but he shook his head.

“Wynne.” I called louder and tapped her collarbone again. No response. I bent over her head and placed my fingers on her carotid artery as I looked at her chest and prayed that I would feel a breath on my cheek.

I was so nervous. I never did this on anything other than a mannequin before. Not a real live person, anyway.

She wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. Ok, now I that I decided to try this I was getting confused. What came next? Breathing or compressions? Did it matter at this point? Dead is dead. Ok here goes nothing.

I positioned myself over her chest and locked my hands together. I said a quick prayer and began pumping on her chest. Thirty times I think. Alistair grabbed my arm and whispered my name again.

“No!” I yelled yanking myself out of his grasped. I heard him sigh in resignation.

Then I tilted her head back and pinched her nose shut. I closed my eyes in another prayer and exhaled. I took a deep breath and covered her mouth with mine and blew into her mouth. I did not see her chest rise and repositioned her head again. I heard someone gasp and I think I heard a crackling sound from behind me. I ignored it and blew into her mouth again. This time I was successful and her chest rose. I blew a second time. Successful again.

I did chest compressions again. One. Two. Three. I continued until I did it thirty times. The I repeated the breaths. Then the chest compressions. Then the breaths. I paused. I could tell I was tiring. I didn’t know how long I could keep it up. I took another deep breath and counted the thirty chest compressions. I could feel myself starting to sweat. I hate sweating. That’s why I didn’t really like working out.

Every January I would resolve to join a gym and get in better shape. One time I took spin classes. Boring. The next time I took step classes. Okay that was pretty fun. Hard but fun. The last time I joined a pole dancing gym that opened in my area. It too was fun and pretty risqué for me. My parents heard I joined and asked that I stop. Whatever. It was just a gym. So I stopped.

Wait a minute. What was I doing? Oh yeah, I hate sweating. I could feel my frustration but I was in the zone. I did the cycle like four more times then I had to quit.

A little girl put her hand on mine when I tried to start the next cycle of compressions. I didn’t want to look at her. I didn’t want to look at anyone really. I could hear the crackling around me again. Then I saw blackness bubbling on the stone a few feet away. I shouted to Alistair and pointed to the floor and he charged over to attack the demon before it fully formed. I looked down at Wynne again and grabbed her hands warming mine with her touch and started to pray for her. The children screamed and I saw that Alistair slipped in some gore on the floor. Crap!

I ran over toward the demon and screamed at it calling it stupid names hoping to give Alistair time to get up. It simply looked at me and turned back to finish Alistair off. The demon swiped at him with its fiery talons burning claw marks through his armor into his shoulder.

This can’t be happening. I can’t lose Alistair too. I grabbed one of the candelabras and shook off the candles. I’m going to get this thing’s attention if I have poke him full of holes.

I feel the crackling again and I see that Alistair notices it too. I look around for more demons but I don’t see anything. Then even the hair on my head stands up on ends. There is a loud sizzling sound and a bright blue light blinds me. My hair falls back to my head and I trip over the candelabra and end up next to Alistair on the floor. I look at him and apologize as the demon bares closer and swipes at us again.

It doesn’t connect. It explodes into a million tiny crystals of blue ice. What the fu...

“Renata,” A familiar voice calls to me.

Wynn? I look over to where her dead body was and I see her kneeling and smiling at me.

“Wynne,” I breathe. I look over to Alistair and smile at him. Tears of joy are already forming. Ugh! When did I become such an emotional wreck? But Alistair looks like he is in shock and I don’t think it was from seeing Wynne. I think the gash on his shoulder nicked something important. There is a lot of blood.

I pull out a healing potion and it all but breaks in my hand. Wynne crawls over to us. Wow. Pretty impressive if I do say so myself.

“I’m so glad you’re alright.” I whisper. She freezes and looks over at me. “You got to help him. He’s lost a lot of blood. Please, can you help him?”

She’s still looking at me and then down at Alistair who is quickly fading. She uncorks the vial and pours it in his mouth. She mutters something under her breath and I smile. Good old Wynne. She may be alive but her mana was just depleted dispatching that demon. She looks at me and points to the potion then points me in the direction of the library.

Am I supposed to find more healing potions?

She nods. Wait did I say that out loud? I look at her and blink.

She waves the empty potion vial in my face and points to Alistair and then toward the library.

“You want me to go?” I ask pointing the direction of the library. “In there? And look for potions?”

She nods at me again.

I narrow my eyes. “There’s demons in there.”

She shakes her head and cradles Alistair’s head. Then she shouts something at me and points to the library.

“I’m going. I’m going.” I say. “Geesh.”

I stand up and edge my way toward the door. She really wants me to go in there. I look back at them and she nods. Her skin is not as pale as it was. She looks more alert healthier even.

 

“Will you be ok in here?”
She smiles and wiggles her fingers.

Ok. I guess I’m going then. Really going. In there. Where there could be demons. I guess I’m off to see the wizard. How bad could it be?

Chapter Text

I’m getting really tired of this Fade bullshit. Demons and illusions and tricks of the minds. Can’t one thing in this fucking world be easy? Even Morrigan knew what she saw was not the real Flemeth. Sten only needed to be reminded of his oath to me for him to wake up and Leliana being the most difficult, had to be reminded of her vision in the chantry. So why am I still here? I defeated all the guardians, spoke with Niall and woke my companions. Shouldn’t I be snapping out of this too?

Fucking Fade bullshit.

I trudge forward into the endless green haze looking for my portal home.

Why can’t anyone just say, “Yes, Warden. We would be happy to honor our treaty and lend you our aid in stopping the blight.”

It’s the FUCKING BLIGHT for the love of The Maker.

I locate another portal that I didn’t notice before and step through it. Might as well, I’ll never get out of here if I don’t see this through. The misty green vapor that makes up the Fade seems to be less thick here and I find myself standing on a narrow ledge overlooking a valley below. The drop is too steep and I don’t think I can make it down safely. I’ll need to find another way. I turn around and I find myself facing a sheer cliff wall. The portal that brought me here completely vanished. Terrific. I take a deep breath and turn to face the valley again. It makes me dizzy just looking down. My only choice is to jump, maybe if I die in the Fade I’ll wake up. There doesn’t seem much else I can do. I no longer have the ability to shift my shape.

I close my eye, grit my teeth and jump...

I feel myself falling.

Falling.

Falling.

Oomph!

The air is knocked out of me as I land face down. I try to catch my breath and slowly roll onto my back, assessing myself as I turn. I don’t think anything is broken. Although the way the last few weeks have been going, I probably have a bone sticking out of my leg. Fucking Howe! Fucking darkspawn! Fucking Arch demon!

I get to my feet and start to survey the area looking for telltale signs of demons or anything else that may need my attention. In the distance, I see a large green lake with a pier jutting about 15 feet out into the water and someone is lounging on it. A large silver dog is laying stretched out not to far away seemingly soaking in the sun. I ready myself as best I can for the unexpected. As I move closer, I see the person is a woman wearing dark round spectacles posed almost seductively as she relaxes in the sun. Her chestnut colored hair is falling down between her shoulders in large round waves shimmering in the simulated light of the sun. I have never seen anyone with hair so shiny. I just want to reach out and touch it to see if it is as soft as it looks. The way the sun hits her hair, colors of red and gold reflect throughout and I think I have never seen such beautiful hair. She is humming a song I am unfamiliar with and I inch closer so that I can hear more. Her voice is sweet and real not like the practiced voices of the hired singers common at the many banquets I attended with my parents and brother over the years.

Her back is to me as I approach and when she swings her hair exposing smooth sun kissed skin, I falter. She could be a desire demon. I am well aware that she is drawing me in. Her manner of dress is odd and lacking coverage. Most would considered it improper. I would say it looks like smalls but not any that I am familiar with. Not that I am familiar with that many. The style vaguely reminds me of the rags that simpleton Renata was wearing when we found her in the dungeon, only they are much much cleaner.

Andraste’s flaming smalls!

Renata?

I strangle on my next breath and she jumps slightly and turns around to look at me. The dog lifts its head and looks me over before deciding I’m no threat and lowers its head again. A sparkling smile breaks out over her entire face making it hard to catch my breath.

“Aedan?” She asks raising her spectacles to sit on top of her head as she peers at me from under thickly lashed eyes the same color as her hair. “It’s about fucking time!”

It’s Renata. Illusion shattered.

What in the Fade? Why is she here?

“Well don’t just stand there. Have seat and tell me what’s going on?” She pats to a spot next to her on the pier.

“Renata?” I ask unsure what to make of this turn of events.

“Of course you twit. Who else would it be? Why did you bring me here?” She asks.

Why would she think I would bring her here? Wait a minute, why can I understand her? I want to ask her all these questions and more and then she holds up here hand and tells me to wait. She lifts the rectangular object attached to the thread and presses on it before removing the thread form her ears.

“I’m sorry. I needed to turn of the music.”

Did she say music. I didn’t hear any music. “Music?”

“Yeah. On my phone.” She cocks her head as if expecting me to understand the meaning of the word.

“Phone.” I repeat back to her.

She huffs at me and shakes her head. “Not important. Never mind. Just tell me why I’m here, please.”

“Why would I know?” I counter. “Why do you think I would have brought you here or anywhere for that matter?”

“Ouch.” She grimaces. “No need to be so hateful. I thought I was having another dream. Way better than the last, by the way. What a nightmare! Although you wouldn’t be my first choice of companionship but I suppose you’re better than nothing.”

“Exactly what every man longs to hear.” I say snidely. “Now look who’s being hateful.”

She has the decency to blush and mumbles a quiet apology. I incline my head in acceptance.

“Maybe I got too close when I followed you. The demon must have got me too.” I wince at the mention of the demon. I hate those things.

“Why were you following us? Weren’t you with Wynne and Alistair and the mages?”

“Wynne sent me to look for health potion.”

“Whhhhyyyeeee?” I drag out the question fearing the answer.

“Well more demons spawned but Alistair couldn’t get them all so Wynne used her last bit of strength to save the children. But she died.”

I startle at that bit of information but I’m not really surprised. She wasn’t doing very well and there were a few times already I thought I lost her.

“But she’s ok now.” I look over at her in surprise. “But then Alistair got hurt. So then Wynne sent me for healing potions. I thought it would be safe to follow your trail and look for discarded potions. I must have gotten too close.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“What?” Renata asked in disbelief.

My eyes narrowed and I raised my blade to her throat. That got the dog’s attention and she stood growling at me. Not as big as my dog but looked just as dangerous.

“If you’re really Renata then why can I understand you?”

“I dunno,” She answered. “Maybe it’s a Fade thing.”

“Fucking Fade.” I lower my knife realizing killing her will get me nowhere. I need answers and maybe she has a few. We sit in silence for a few moments and the dog settles back against her.

She turns to me looking me in the eye. “If you kill me in here, will I wake up or will I go back to my nightmare?”

I stare at here incredulously. “You think this is a nightmare? Sunning yourself at a lake in the peace and quiet?”

“Not this, dingbat. The last one.”

“What?”

“The nightmare where I smell like shit. Sten strangles me to death. You try to drown me and there’s no toilet paper and I’m forced to use what turns out to be poison ivy. And that’s only the highlights.”

“Pixie Bane.” I laugh.

“What did you say? I can’t hear you over the mockery.” She hissed at me.

“Pixie Bane.” I snort clutching my gut. “Every three-year-old knows to stay away from Pixie Bane. It poisonous. Rashes, itching. Maker you must be uncomfortable.”
“I would be even more so if I was wearing underpants.” She said.

I stop laughing and glanced over to see if she was joking as an image of her without smalls filters through my brain. It’s not a stretch given the amount of clothes she was wearing when we found her. I shake my head to clear away the image. I sit on the pier beside her for looking at the stretch of water in front of us. It’s water but it’s not. Do they even have water in the Fade? This is all very perplexing.

I had to convince everyone else they were dreaming, but it seemed I needed to convince Renata that she was not dreaming. Very puzzling, indeed.

“Renata, why were you in the dungeon?” Maybe if she tells me what happened, we can figure this out.

“Your guess is as good as mine. The last thing I remember after walking my dog and falling off a cliff is Leliana and Wynne. Maybe I’m supposed to help you.”

I’m intrigued and amused. She can’t even relieve herself without help and she thinks she can help me. I can’t wait to hear this. “How do you think you can help me? You don’t even know what’s going on.”

She turns to me indignantly and rises to her feet. The dog also stands and she places her hand on its head. “This isn’t my first rodeo you know. I’ve done his before and treated my friends much nicer than you do.”

Her answer confuses me and I jump to my feet too. Rodeo?

“I know what Howe and Loghain did.” She shot back. “I been through this before. I know the choices you’ll face and the consequences. I can help you. I just don’t know if I’m supposed to.”

“Why wouldn’t you? You know the Fereldan is in the middle of a blight, right?” Now I’m getting angry.

“What if I change things?” She whines. Ugh. There’s nothing I hate more than someone who whines.

“I’m starting to think that you’re just a distraction. To keep me from my path.” I tell her preparing to take my leave.

“I can’t wake up and end up back in that nightmare. If I do I’ll... I’ll... Well, I don’t know what I’ll do. Please don’t make me go back.” She’s pleading, almost sobbing. I almost start to feel sorry for her. “I can’t defend myself. I’m always cold and hungry and I still stink. I just know it. I just want to go home. And I want a bath. And Argent.”

She starts whining again and my compassion fades.

“Give me some proof and I’ll see what I can do to make it easier on you.” I bargain. “Information for comfort.”

She looks at me with her sad doe eyes but I wait for her answer. Then she smiles and nods her head.

“After you get rid of Uldrid and the other abominations, because I already know you will. Please tell Cullen I love him and things will get better. Tell him be wary of Meredith too, and be careful in Kirkwall.”

“Meredith?” I ask.

“She’s a bad person.”

“Why not tell him to avoid Kirkwall altogether?” This sounds ridiculous. I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.

“Because if he does it could change things. And he will be very important later. All your companions will be. They’re important now too. You all need each other to fight this blight. Even the ones you haven’t met yet.” She sounds so sure of herself. I almost believe her.

“There are more?”

She nods and her entire face lights up in a smile. “At least three.”

Whoever thought putting me in charge of saving Thedas was a good idea had a sick sense of humor. Noble born cock-up, that’s what I am. Biggest joke around Highever. Because now I’m starting to believe this imbecile.

“Okay. I’ll tell him. I promise.” I see her relax and exhale a big breath and then she fades away. I find myself waking up on the hard stone floor of the circle. Sten is leaning over to help me to my feet. I have to find that damn girl.

 

 

Renata

Chapter Text

I can’t believe I fell asleep. I only had time to return one potion to Wynne who sighed after receiving it and waved me off to search for more. It must not have been that strong of a healing potion. God, I really hope Alistair’s going to be okay. He was like my first love. In Dragon Age love anyway. Does that make me weird? It does, doesn’t it? Oh well. Who could resist that accent? Or his humor, or his naiveté? I mean a lamp post in winter? Who says that? He was so cute. The first time I played I didn’t even realize romance was an option. The second time he got me, I ended up dying because I couldn’t bare him being with Morrigan. I mean he really didn’t like her. What kind of person would I be if I asked him to sleep with her? The third time he broke my heart when I played a mage after making him king. That one hurt. A lot. Embarrassingly so. I was upset for days. Then I kinda got pissed off and romanced Zevran after that. I never got that perfect play through with him. I don’t know why. I guess I was still kind of mad at him. Talk about holding a grudge.

I was still waking up when I felt Leliana touch my shoulder and call my name. I rolled over on my back and blinking open my eyes I saw Sten Leaning over me. Shit. I jumped to my feet immediately and backed up right into Morrigan. I should have stayed asleep. The look she gave me was enough to turn me to stone.

Someone grabbed me by the elbow and dragged me off to the side of the room. I Looked over and saw that it was Aedan. He asked me something and waited for an answer. I just looked at him feeling disappointed. I wanted to cry. It had been nice to talk to someone for a change. To feel normal. To be clean and somewhere familiar. It was nice to see Argent again. Apparently he noticed I didn’t understand him anymore and he growled loudly in frustration punching the wall. Thank the Lord he was wearing armor on his hands. What are the called? Are they still gloves if they are made of metal?

“Well that was stupid.” I say as I grab his hand and pull off his glove thingy. He looks at me arching an eyebrow but doesn’t pull away. Leliana hands me a clean cloth and I wipe at his knuckles telling him all the while what a dumbass he is for hitting the wall. His knuckles are cut up but not bleeding very much. Morrigan joins in, I think, as I remind him just how brave he was for attacking that particularly treacherous wall.

Then I hear it. Something in the next room. Praying, chanting maybe? What floor are we on? Then I realize I recognize the voice. I may not understand the words, but I would know that voice anywhere. A voice that expressed happiness that I stopped by to visit him. A voice that growled in frustration when our first kiss was interrupted. The same voice that confessed his love for me after the first time we made love in his tower on his desk. It made me blush just to remember. My sweet beautiful Cullen was in the next room. I just had to see him. I raced in the room as Aedan and Leliana yelled after me.

I stopped short upon entering the room horrified at the scene before me. This is the first time I entered a room before Aedan and his party. Grave mistake. I come face to face with a baby dragon. A dragonling! What the hell are they doing in here? Way scarier than in the game. All hissing and drooling and gnashing of teeth until it takes a swipe at me. I’m pushed out of the way just in time and land against one of the walls. I hear a hear cracking sound in my shoulder and feel a sudden wave of sickening pain come over me.

Did I just break a bone? I never had a broken bone before. I start to feel light headed. Aedan and Sten with the help of Morrigan and Leliana make short work of three dragonlings that just appeared from nowhere.

I manage to pull myself up and lean my back against the wall. I feel hot and sweaty but I have to get to Cullen. He needs me. I stumble toward the stairs practically tripping over one of the bodies and reach Cullen.

Oh Cullen. My heart is breaking for him. He is trapped, physically safe behind a barrier. But looking oh so tortured. I fall to my knees in front of him. I realize I am crying when my vision blurs. I know he can’t understand me and he is confused but I try to talk to him. He looks at me angry and confused. I wish I knew how to help. I know the barrier will not fall until Uldred is slain and I am prepared to sit with him until he is free. My sweet Cullen.

Aedan’s harsh voice calls my name. I look at him and by the look on his face I think he is surprised at my reaction. I point to the barrier and say Cullen’s name. I hear Leliana’s sympathetic voice and she touches my shoulder. Finally, Cullen speaks and I remember what he is saying and wish I could wrap my arm around him and chase away the demons he will be carrying with him most likely always. Morrigan waves her hand at the barrier a few times and shakes her head unable to remove it. Cullen says Uldred’s name and points up the stair. Then practically begs something of them. Unfortunately, I know what he is begging and I can only hope that Aedans not planning on acting upon that request.

Aedan looks at me and points up the stairs then waves at Cullen. I think he is telling me to stay here with Cullen. No worries there. I am not about to enter the Harrowing Chamber. I know what’s up there and I will have no chance of survival up there. I may be dumb but I’m not stupid. I sit back on the floor next to Cullen about to start talking to him again when I call after Aedan.

“Don’t forget the Litany of Adralla.” I remind him. “Use the Litany of Adralla and good luck!”

He looks at me for a moment and then nods his head before entering the Harrowing Chamber. Now all I can do is wait and sit with Cullen.

So I do. I don’t really know what to say, he’s not going to understand me anyway. So I introduce myself and start babbling to him. Whatever comes to mind. I try not to look directly at him, I don’t want to upset him anymore than he already is. Then I tell him about my dog Argent and how she looks suspiciously like Aedan’s Mabari except for the size and coloring. I tell him about the cabin my parents’ rent in Vancouver and how much I love to swim in the lake. I tell him about the spelling bee I won in the third grade.

I feel him start to relax just a little and he sits in the center of the barrier. I look at him, really look at him. Wow. He looks so young. Nothing like the Cullen I romanced. First of all, he does not have that sexy scar at this point. I wonder if he got it in Kirkwall. His hair is really curly and almost an afro but cut short. I guess he has not discovered whatever they use for product yet. I look in his eyes and they are haunted. I tell him I am sorry for everything that happened to him and everything that will happen to him. I feel like I’ve been talking to him for hours.

Then the barrier falls and he leaps from his spot and into my lap and hugs me tight. So tight it brings tears to my eyes, partially because I feel so overwhelmed that he is trusting me to touch him after what he just went through and also because my collarbone is still broken and the pain is all but unbearable. Then he lays his head in my lap.
I seriously start to cry right then and so does he.

I lay one of my arms on his shoulder trying to be comforting and weave my hand through his hair with the other. I wish I knew what to do to make him feel better. But I don’t, so I start to sing. The only song I know from Dragon Age and I keep singing over and over.

Shadows fall and hope has fled
Steel your heart, the dawn will come
The night is long and the path is dark
Look to the sky for one day soon
The dawn will come

The Shepherd’s lost and his home is far
Keep to the stars, the dawn will come
The night is long and the path is dark
Look to the sky for one day soon
The dawn will come

Bare your blade and raise it high
Stand your ground, the dawn will come
The night is long and the path is dark
Look to the sky for one day soon
The dawn will come

Chapter Text

I had no idea how long we sat there. I didn’t care. I Would have sat there forever if it meant that Cullen was going to be ok. Eventually his sobbing subsided but we continued to sit on the floor with his head buried in the crook of my neck while I murmured words of consolation into his hair. I only realized we weren’t alone when I felt a hand gently touch my shoulder. I looked up and saw a paled faced Alistair standing behind us next to still twitching dragonling corpse. I shuddered. Looks like it had been a close call. Cullen and I never heard it coming. I mouthed a thank you to him and went back to whispering in Cullen’s ear. I think he started to fall asleep, he was so exhausted. I didn’t want him to do that here. I shifted to my knees and quietly called his name. He held onto me tightly. A little too tightly. I was starting to feel faint from the pain in my shoulder. That’s when he realized we were not alone. He snapped to his feet wrenching my shoulder in the process making me shriek in pain. Suddenly I had my two favorite Templars fussing over me. Had it been any other situation, believe the opportunity wouldn’t have been wasted.

Alistair produced a healing potion and handed it to me. It looked suspiciously like the one I had delivered to Wynne. I was in pain and didn’t question it. I just drank it down to the last drop. Not my favorite mixed drink, let me tell you. It helped though, but just barely. I was trying to convince them that I was ok when the door to the Harrowing Chamber opened. Both of the immediately stood in front of me and drew their swords. I stood on my tip toes to look over their shoulders when I heard the familiar caustic voice of Morrigan followed by a curt response from Sten. Alistair relaxed and sheathed his sword but Cullen did not. Sensing that he may be going into full on Templar mode I called to him before touching his elbow.

Not a good idea.

He whirled around breathing heavy and red faced. I took a small step back and called his name again repeating that he was safe. He looked at me with wild red eyes still huffing but didn’t advance. After what may have been a few seconds that felt like an eternity, he lowered his sword and relaxed slightly. I think Alistair and I both let out a deep breath at the same time. Once again I looked at him and said thank you. He may have blushed at that but it was hard to tell because he was already flushed from killing that baby dragon.
Aedan and the rest of the group, including an older man I could only guess to be Irving, reached the bottom of the stairs and beckoned us to follow.

I knew this would be difficult, getting Cullen down the stairs without seeing all the bodies of the mages and the Templars. I grabbed his hands and decided to walk backwards. I spoke with him the whole time trying to keep his attention on me. I wished I could spare him the sight of his friends and comrades slain on the floor. For the most part I made it without tripping and falling and thankfully Alistair walked next to me to help guide my steps. The rest of the group walked ahead wary for any more trouble.

At last we made it down to the first level where Wynne was sitting with the children and the apprentices and Cullen froze. He started to yell and pointed to them which made the children cower and cry all over again. I placed my hands on both sides of his face forcing him to look at me.

“Cullen, look at me. If you don’t trust them, Cullen trust me. Trust me Cullen. You are safe right now.” I repeated this until he deflated and looked at me. I grabbed his hand again and backed toward the big door and knocked. Everyone else followed and I waited with baited breath.

 

Someone called out from the other side. When we answered, there seemed to be a slight argument until Irving yelled something through the door then we heard the sliding of the lock and it groaned open.

Finally.

I hadn’t realized how stuffy the air was in the tower until I walked back out the through the door.

Cullen dropped my hand and immediately charged over to the Knight Commander followed by Wynne, Irving, Alistair and Aedan. I sat back on one of the crates and watched quietly. I was exhausted and I didn’t even do anything. I couldn’t imagine how everyone else felt. I was sticky and sweaty and dirty and I noticed blood on my clothes and I didn’t even kill anyone. How did that happen? How would I even get that out without a bottle of peroxide and a washing machine? Yuck.

Leliana came up behind me and patted my shoulder as I watched everyone argue. She looked so worn out. A lock of red hair spilled into her face and I tucked it behind her ear. “I’m glad you’re alright, Leliana.” I grabbed her and hugged her real tight before I realized what I was doing and let her go. She seemed surprised at first but then hugged me back. It made me realize I wanted her and I to be friends.

I didn’t realize how scared I was until that moment. Anyone could have died. Hell, Wynne almost did.

Maybe she did.

It also made me realize that maybe this wasn’t just a nightmare.

Cullen was yelling at the Knight Commander, shaking his head while Aedan and Alistair spoke more calmly than I expected. Wynne added some comments of her own and then Cullen stomped off leaving the building. It seemed a decision had been reached.

When Wynne finally beckoned us to join them I was hesitant to go over there. Everyone single one of them looked really pissy. I groaned as Leliana giggled and pulled me over to them. Once everyone was gathered, Aedan gave a short speech. I didn’t pay it much attention. I didn’t see the point. I decided to go look for Cullen so I could say goodbye or at least attempt it.

I got a questioning look from Leliana when I tried to follow Cullen so I pointed at the door and she let go.

When I walked out of the tower into the sun, I felt its warmth flood over me and smiled. I was so glad to be free of that place. What a shitty place that turned out to be. I saw Cullen standing by the edge of the water next to the pier where our boat had been tethered. I really wanted to memorize this moment, my last contact with Cullen. Memorize his young face even now covered in stubble, his scar free mouth and his short springy curls. It made me wish I still had my phone so I could preserve this image forever. God he was gorgeous even now at just barely a man. He was probably younger than me, though not by much but I could already see this experience was aging him.

I must have made some kind of noise as I watched him because he suddenly tensed and spun around to face me with his sword drawn. That movement of course, startled me and I fell back on my ass.

Another great impression, Renata.

Oh for the love of... Can’t I have one embarrassment free moment or is that too much to ask?

I know I started to blush because I felt the heat starting to rise up my neck and to my cheeks. I looked up at Cullen and he seemed horrified. Well I didn’t land in a very lady like position so no surprise there. Without warning I was surrounded by a flurry of activity and Cullen was knocked to the ground by Aedan as Sten hauled me to my feet.

What the hell?

Aedan loomed menacingly over Cullen as he laid sprawled on the ground before me.

This time the heat I felt rising to my cheek was not humiliation. I punched Aedan hard in the arm.

“Damnit Aedan! What the fuck did you do that for?” I yelled surprising him. Then I hit him again in the arm. “What did he ever do to you? Can’t you see he’s been through enough without you attacking him for no reason. Are you ever anything other than an asshole?”

I reached down to Cullen and offered him my hand. When he seemed uncertain, I just kept it there for him until my arm started to tire. He looked at me then Aedan and then he seemed to look around to the rest of the group. When his eyes reached me again, he grabbed my hand and I helped him up. Aedan just walked off in a huff.

He was heavier than he looked even when Sten grabbed him by the arm stood him on his feet. I thanked Sten and turned my attention back to Cullen who was busy glaring after Aedan. So much for a private goodbye. I brushed the dust off his armor, but it didn’t really work out. I just ended up scraping my knuckles over his armor and making him look uncomfortable.

Sheesh.

The moment was gone before it even began. Everyone started get into the boat and Leliana tugged on my sleeve, her melodic voice beckoning me. I looked over and nodded.
“I’m coming.” I said automatically.

I opened my mouth to say goodbye when he grabbed my hand and pulled me to the boat. Oh. Okay then. This is it. This is goodbye.

“Try to be safe.” I told him as I stepped into the boat. “And beware of Meredith. Just be strong. You’ll make it.”

Cullen looked at me and stepped into the boat settling next to me. Wait. What?

I looked around and noticed there were a lot more people in the boat than I thought. Our group was in the boat along with Irving, two other mages, Cullen and two other Templars. Was this the group going to Redcliff? Was Cullen part of the escort they were sending with the mages for Connor?

All right! More time with Cullen. I guess I never realized how the mages got to Redcliff before. They were always just there when we arrived to finish the quest. It makes sense that they returned with us. This is gonna be fun. I think.

Right?

The boat ride back to shore was quiet. A little too quiet. It didn’t take a genius to realize that no one was happy about the mages and Templars travelling with us to Redcliff. Everyone kept giving each other sidelong glances then looking at the bottom of the boat then chancing to look at someone else. It made for an uncomfortable ride. I think we were all happy when we reached the shore and the boat was tethered. Everyone practically flew out of the boat onto the beach, including me. I was never so glad to get off a lake before.

Aedan and Alistair walked a few feet away deep in conversation when the dwarves and the dog made their way over to greet us. Right away I noticed the split. The Templars and the mages were in one group and Warden and the companions were in another. Cullen wasn’t standing with either group.

“This ridiculous,” I muttered. So I marched right over to him and dragged him over to our group then dropped his hand so I didn’t embarrass him further.

Alistair and Aedan returned with an announcement and everyone gathered to listen but I didn’t pay attention because suddenly my stomach growled rather loudly.

Yep, hungry again, even after going through some crap like that. Seems nothing can kill my appetite.

Morrigan said something that didn’t sound that nasty and everyone else nodded. What could she have said that anyone would have agreed with, even the Templars?

It looked like we were splitting up again. This time Leliana, Wynne, Cullen, Aedan and I walked up to the tavern while Alistair and everyone else walked over the wagon with the dwarves.

When we got inside the tavern, Aedan passed out some coins to everyone including me and Cullen, much to our surprise, before he and Leliana headed off to the counter. Cullen and I looked at each other in surprise.

Wynne spoke up pointing to the bar making Cullen twitch. I grabbed his arm leading him over to the counter as Wynne followed us.

“I wish I knew how to tell you that right now you’re safe.” I muttered.

“ðú béo gehealdfæst.” I heard Wynne say to Cullen. This sucks. I want to know what’s going on too. Cullen shakes his head at Wynne and growls something at her that doesn’t sound very nice. Then I hear her say my name and repeat her comment.

Cullen looks at me and asks me a question. Grrr!!! Somethings gotta give. I just shake my head at him. “I don’t understand.” I apologize.

“Ic unáspyrigendlíc ácnæwe.” She says and he looks at her blinking. He asks her a question and she nods at him. Then he gestures at me and asks another question, this time she shakes her head side to side in response.

Wait a minute here. I narrow my eyes at her. Does she? No, she couldn’t. But...

“I wonder what the name of this place if?” I wonder aloud.

“Awerd cwén.” Wynne answers. That didn’t help very much. Did she answer my question? I’ll have to think of another question? One whose answer I’ll understand. Hmmm...

“Can you understand me? If so what’s the name of the boy we’re trying to save?”

“Connor.” I gape at her.

Well shit.

I can talk to Wynne!

Chapter Text

I could tell by the pinched look on her face, Wynne was losing patience with me. I couldn’t help it. I had so many questions I’d been following her like a puppy asking them since we left The Spoiled Princess. It took me a while to realize even though she could understand what I was saying, she couldn’t answer back. How weird was that? She would just smile and nod or frown and shake her head. I would have to wait to ask the harder questions until we figured out how to communicate better. I just had to be patient. That’s easy.

Nothing’s ever easy.

And I was never really know for my patience.

“Are we headed back to Redcliff?”

“Why are we going this way? This isn’t the way we came.”

“Are we going to travel straight through or are we going to stop somewhere for the night?”

“When do we get to stop for a break?”

“Is anyone else hungry?”

I heard Wynne mutter something under her breath as I moved behind her from her left side to her right.

“Renata!” Alistair called my name.

I stopped mid stride and spun around to face Alistair so quickly it almost caused him to lose his balance. God he was cute. I loved that spikey hair thing he had going on. It took all my self-control to not touch it. They didn’t have gel did they? How did he get it to stay up?

“Alistair?” I asked.

He sighed and put his index finger to his mouth. “Shh.” I balked at him. What?

Did he just shush me? Alistair of all people just shushed me? I thought that he was the one that never stopped talking. If he was shushing me then I must really be annoying everyone. I opened my mouth to say something and he shook his head then he placed both his hands on my shoulders and turned me around nudging me forward. Seriously. I think he just told me to shut up and keep walking.

Morrigan said something. It probably wasn’t very nice and I heard one of the circle mages chuckle. Alistair just stuck his tongue out at her and kept walking.

...........................

We finally stopped to make camp. It had been so nice to finally be able to lay down and close my eyes. My feet were so sore. I would have kept walking if we had to but I think they only went far enough so we could no longer see the circle in the distance. I seriously felt everyone breathe a sigh of relief when we couldn’t see it anymore.

Camp was set up, dinner was prepared and guard duty was established. I think there were so many people that everyone would be able to get at least a solid six hours sleep. The mages and I were not included in the watch duty. It was obvious to me that almost no one trusted us. The mages, well because of the magic thing and me because I seriously couldn’t seem to do a thing right. Fine by me. I was out by the time my head hit the make shift bed roll pillow thing.

I woke up to Alistair’s screams again that night. Unfortunately, it seemed to be something I was gonna to have to get used to if I was going to be sticking around. I peeked my head out of the flap as I lay between Wynne and Leliana, who let me back in the tent following the Pixie Bane incident. But I didn’t see Alistair, I saw Cullen pacing around the fire mumbling or apologizing to Sten and one of the other Templars. I pulled on my clothes and left the tent for the fire. Being that I was by no means stealthy, Cullen heard me approaching and turned to see me heading his way.

He definitely looked a wreck. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair askew, not the Cullen from Inquisition for sure. I sat on the ground across from the fire and leaned back against one of the logs we had pulled over to sit upon.

“Cullen,” I said and patted the ground next to me. He shook his head and said something and turned to walk away but I called out to him again. This time he looked torn but he sat on the log near me leaving a good three feet between us. I had to laugh.

“You think I’m going to bite you?” I smiled.

He looked uncomfortable so I started talking to him knowing he wouldn’t understand but hoping the tone of my voice would comfort him. I made up stories, told him about my parents and friends, it seemed hours passed. The stars poked in and out between a few clouds and the watch changed. Alistair emerged from his tent after being awakened by Sten to take his turn. He gave me questioning look when he saw us sitting by the fire. I shrugged in response and he moved on.

Slowly over time Cullen had relaxed and sat next to me, exhaustion finally seemed to catch up to him. His eyelids were drooping so I started humming to him as a last ditch effort to get him to finally fall asleep again. It must have worked because the next thing I remember was Wynne waking the both of us for a breakfast of water, stale bread and berries. Cullen looked ashamed and quickly got up and moved away from me. I on the other hand, was still groggy and had in incredibly stiff neck.

I was going to walk the rest of the way next to Cullen and give Wynne and Alistair a break, but he seemed to be avoiding me. I walked the rest of the way to Redcliff wondering what I had done to alienate him.

...........................
Upon reaching Redcliff we split in to two groups. Aedan, Alistair, Cullen, Wynne and Morrigan along with the Circle mages and Templars went to deal with Connor. That left me, Sten, Leliana, and the dwarves along with the dog to pass the time. So we did what any normal warm blooded person would do, we went to the tavern. They actually let the dog inside. I couldn’t believe it. How Fereldan of them. He was really well behaved and so cute. I couldn’t help but coo at him and scratch him under the chin.

“There’s a good boy. Such a good boy.” His stubby tail wagged enthusiastically. It shook his entire backside. It left me with such a miserable feeling in the pit of my stomach at the thought of never seeing Argent again.

Sten, Leliana and Bodahn all went to the bar for drinks leaving me to sit with Sandal. We both made polite conversation speaking the only word we both seemed to know.

“Malscrung!” Sandal cried happily.

“Malscrung!” I repeated.

This seemed to entertain him to no end but I guess it started to get old for the rest of them because Sten put a heavy hand on my arm and shook his head at me when I looked over at him.

“Spoilsport.” I sighed.

“Drinc.” Leliana said shoving a mug of something at me.

“Drink?” I asked surprised because, wow, I understood that. I think.

“Béor.” She nodded at me and then pointed at the mug.

I just had to laugh. Of all the places for us to speak a common language, of course it would be a bar. I picked up the mug and looked in it. Yuck. It smelled bitter and looked like, well it wasn’t appetizing for sure. I grabbed the mug and wished that I had purchased the one I saw in Bodahn’s stores last night. Looking at this thinly carved wooden mug made it pretty obvious hygiene did not seem to be a high priority here. Gritting my teeth, I took a sip.

Ye gads! That was awful

“Forwynsumaþ!” Leliana grinned at me then made a face before chugging her drink.

Obviously she wasn’t a fan either. But we all needed a little release, especially since I knew what was coming. So, when in Rome...

I know I chugged at least two, maybe three mugs, but no more than three when I noticed Leliana had pulled out her lute. Sweet! She was going to play some music. It reminded me of when we went to karaoke at home. I would have definitely needed some liquor in me to get up and sing in front of people, but not Leliana. Church choir, I was fine with, but something about getting up in front drunken strangers who didn’t care about your feeling, well that I needed the liquid courage for.

I knew I wouldn’t recognize what she was playing but it was such a great idea, plus I forgotten she was a bard before she was Miss Scary Spymaster. Slowly she strummed the strings on her lute getting everyone’s attention. Not so hard as there was only a dozen or so people apart from us anyway. The barkeep didn’t look thrilled but made no move to stop her. She rounded the room smiling at the other patrons before taking position in the center of the bar and started to sing. It was a lovely song, very lovely, just a little slow for my taste. I clapped when she finished and saw that a couple of people put a few coins in the empty mug she placed on the table in front of her.

Ah ha! She was so very awesome. The easiest money is doing something you enjoy. That’s what my father always said and Leliana was clearly relishing the attention. The next song was faster and I found myself drumming my fingers on the table to the beat. It catchy and repetitive so I had no trouble keeping up. I realized I may have had a bit too much to drink when I started to hum along with her as I continued to pound out a beat, also when I knocked my mug on the floor. I bent down to retrieve it but Sten was faster and soberer and plopped it on the table with popping sound
.
Uh oh. I feel a moment of regret coming on, and I think I may just be too drunk to stop myself.

Leliana played another catchy tune and I felt myself clapping to the beat again feeling so very relaxed. I guess that explained why people kept coming to this sticky floored pigsty. The booze done did its jog. Hee hee. I mean job.

When Leliana finished her third song she grabbed her mug full o coin and practically skipped back to us falling into Sten’s lap. She was laughing and looked so beautifully flushed when she poured her earnings into her coin purse.

“A’singin.” She giggled to Sten offering her lute. When he shook his head she frowned.

“A’singin.” She said to Bodahn. Sandal laughed and reached for the lute but Bodahn stopped him as he yelled, “Malscrung!”

Leliana looked so disappointed that nobody would keep up the music and started to pout before turning to me and hesitantly asked, “A’singin?”

She offered her lute and I shook my head. I had no idea how to play a lute or a guitar or any instrument. She slumped down into the seat between me and Sten.
Oh shit, talk about guilt.

I grabbed the last full mug on the table and drank my courage knowing regret was some mere hours away, along with a wicked hangover.

I started to hum and clap my hands, because yes I knew how to do it. A couple of friends of mine at work went to go see that movie that our men wouldn’t dare see and fell in love with the song because it was pretty and easy and didn’t need instruments. So there you go. I did the Cups song. The entire song. It was very liberating.

 

I got my ticket for the long way round, two bottles of whiskey for the way
And I sure would like some sweet company and I'm leaving tomorrow, what do you say
When I'm gone, When I'm gone
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone
You're gonna miss me by my hair
You're gonna miss me everywhere, oh
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone...

Granted it didn’t sound quite the same with wooden mugs but the claps sounded fine. Leliana stared at me in silence for what felt like forever after I finished that I started to get embarrassed. I really felt like crawling under the table but then I remembered where I was and thought better of it.

I was just starting to feel the heat burning up my cheeks when a young girl burst into the tavern shouting something and everyone jumped to their feet and followed her as she ran back outside.

So what the hell. We did too.

Down the hill from the tavern it sounded like there was a fight going on.

Oh no. No thank you very much.

I was not going down there just to watch a fight. Something bad always happened when I intervened anyway. I would have probably just tripped over my own drunken feet and fallen down the hill. Plus, God forbid I did something stupid. Never happen right? I had no way to defend myself. I couldn’t fight or use a weapon even if I had one. So, no. I stood outside the tavern and waited for the commotion to die down just like the rest of our little group. I think we all really just had more than enough excitement for a few days and didn’t want anymore.

Things are never really that simple. I heard a familiar sound rise above the noise of the fight.

A loud mournful baying sound that chilled me to the bone making all the little hairs on my body stand up on end. A cry so heartbreakingly familiar in spite of the misery I never before heard leaving that slobbering maw that I bolted into a dead run. Straight into the fight.

Surprisingly, I didn’t trip.

Surprisingly, no stopped me.

Not so surprisingly I found Argent outside the Chantry lassoed by a couple of villagers, ropes encircling her neck pulling her around like they were trying to fell cattle. I plowed into the first startled villager knocking him flat on the ground screaming at him to drop the rope. I didn’t even wait for a response when I got up and saw the other villager struggling to control Argent. I grabbed a conveniently located broom from off the porch and started whacking the guys in the legs.

A pair of strong arms wrestled the broom from my hands. Looking up I saw that it wasn’t Sten or a guardsman but Aedan trying to wrench it from my grasp. I growled at him and his eyes grew wide with surprise.

Hell no. I didn’t care whether or not he was going to be the Hero of Fereldan or not. There was no way he was going to stop me from rescuing my baby. So I let go of the broom letting him fall to his ass and ran over to Argent and tried to unwrap the ropes from around her neck. She was wild eyed and spooked. She couldn’t register that it was me and fought against the ropes tightening them as fast as I loosened them. I was crying, begging her to relax, to settle down, telling her it was Mommy.

Finally, finally she seemed to realize who I was and that I was trying to help and she calmed enough for me to remove the ropes completely. But as soon as she was free, she bounded by my side and turned to face her attackers. As did I, and much to my surprise and delight I saw our entire group, mages and fighters, encircling us, weapons and magic at the ready, facing the guardsman.

My heart was so full of gratitude. They were defending us. I practically broke down right there I was so full of emotion.

But then someone got in a lucky shot and knocked me out cold.

Chapter Text

When I woke up the back of my head was killing me. It was dark and damp and smelled like mold. How’s that saying go? It was like déjà vu all over again. I felt slightly disoriented until I realized I was laying down in a bed. A real live bed. Well you know what I mean. A snuggly soft warm bed with a thick fuzzy blanket tucked around me like a cocoon. It was absolutely fabulous. I was almost starting to believe the last few days weren’t a dream after all. There was no way that I could wake up in a dungeon during a blight. Ridiculous. But the time I thought I spent in that dream started to feel so real. I was always too hungry or too cold or getting hurt or embarrassing myself. Well to be honest, embarrassing myself wasn’t a new thing, that was just a part of being big mouthed, dorky, silly me.

The dream or memory or whatever it was of me comforting Cullen after a nightmare and making googly eyes at Alistair was positively crazy. Enjoyable but crazy. In real life I would never be surrounded by a bunch of hunky men. Especially nice hunky men. It definitely had to be some kind of dream. One where everyone kept trying to kill me. Well, maybe more of a nightmare.

I rolled over to look for a clock and felt like I was going to be sick. Maybe I shouldn’t have moved so quickly. My blurry eyes darted around the room looking for an emesis basin, something, anything to get sick in, then I saw a pitcher. It would to do. I reached it just in time to retch.

I heard someone enter the room but was too preoccupied to care who it was until I felt hand on my back and a wave of cool air flow over me.

“How long was I out?” I sputtered with my face still in the pitcher. “You got any Tylenol for this headache?”

“Ti- Len- All?”

I whipped my head around bringing on another round of dizziness and nausea. When I saw Wynne sitting on the edge of the bed, I couldn’t be so sure whether it’s from a hangover or someone knocking me upside the head. Either way I was miserable and Wynne was still sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Shit.” I clutched the left side of my head and pulled the pitcher closer with the other.

“Medicine. Tylenol is medicine.” I groaned. “Is this is really happening, Wynne? Am I really here?”

She nodded and brushed a lock of hair out of my face and behind my ear. It felt unexpectedly cold and I flinched at her touch. “Your hands are like ice.”

She nodded again and ran her hands over my head soothing the pain with each pass. I started to feel better but my stomach was still unsettled. “You wouldn’t happen to have anything for my stomach would you?”

She smiled at me again and started talking to me as her hands pass over my body. I start to feel relaxed and my headache and nausea began to dissipate. The she asked me a question.

“I don’t understand, you know that.” I said. “How are we going to do this if I can’t talk to you?”

She sighed and shook her head.

“I think I’m going to need to talk to Jowan. He was down there too. Maybe he knows what happened.”

A knock at the door interrupted our ‘conversation’ and Leliana popped her head in the room.

“Renata.” She smiled at me and rushed in the room to start fussing over me. I had to smile, she was so sweet right now and then she smacked me in the shoulder. Hard. Forget I said sweet. How about vicious. She scolded me, at least it sounds like a scolding.

“Ouch! What did you do that for?” I moaned rubbing my bruised arm. Damn that hurt. I got up on shaky legs breathing from the exertion of standing and realized my breath smelled awful. “Is there any way I can brush my teeth maybe get a bath or something?”

Wynne laughed and Leliana looked at her for an explanation but she raised her hand instead with first one finger then two finger and then three.

A knock sounded on the door and someone called from the other side.

Leliana jumped up to open the door and shrieked in delight when a large basin was brought in the room and filled with hot water. It didn’t look like a bath but I’ll take it. The three of us washed up although I was a little uncomfortable being able to see everyone’s business. Honestly, I didn’t try to peek but with everyone washing each other’s back it was hard not to. They certainly didn’t seem uncomfortable and Leliana seemed very interested in my navel piercing, if her oohs and aaahs were any indication.

Leliana handed me my blue jeans and the tunic I bought off Bodahn. Someone had kindly cleaned them and they actually smelled quite nice, like a muted cedar and lavender. I was grateful to be in my jeans again and the tunic looked nice with it. When I checked the pockets I was pleased to find two hair scrunchies.

Thank you for small miracles. My skin may have been cleaned but we did not wash our hair. It felt dirty to me because I was used to washing it every day so I twisted it up into a bun and secured it with both of them. I didn’t want to lose either of them. I highly doubted they had scrunchies here.

Now if I could just brush my teeth.

...............................

 

I found myself at the bottom of the courtyard steps with Wynne and Leliana, my girls, as I was starting to think of them. I was still chewing on the springs of mint and parsley that had mysteriously arrived when the wash basin was removed. It seems they also provided me with my own personal toothbrush. It was more like big toothpick with a scrap of material wrapped on the end and there was no toothpaste but beggars can’t be choosers.

Anyway, my girls and I were hanging out in the courtyard when I heard a familiar bark from the direction of the gates.

“Argent!” I squealed and turned. There was my big beautiful lumbering hulk of muscle racing toward me. When she got within two feet of me she leapt off the ground and into my waiting arms. I was waiting too. She had done this before. She thinks she’s a lap dog. I braced myself for the full brunt of her weight. And when it came she knocked flat on my back. She was pissed and excited at the same time. Licking and growling and slobbering in my facing. To anyone who didn’t know her it probably looked like she was mauling me. But I knew better, she was giving me hell for leaving her alone and I was loving it and laughing the entire time.

Cullen bravely pulled her off me and Aedan offered me his hand to pull me up. Still laughing at our happy little reunion I took it. Maybe he’s not a bad sort after all. As a matter of fact, since dumping me in the lake he’s been mostly nice to me. He even made Wynne give me a salve after the Pixie Bane incident. I guess he’s kind of cute too, big blue eyes and shaggy white blond hair. He still needed a haircut though. He flashed a great big smile at me when he pulled me off the ground. I couldn’t help think what gentleman he was after all.

Then he laughed and let go of my hand.

What the f...

“Aedan!” Leliana reprimanded him as she reached over to pull me to my feet.

He looked at me still smiling his brilliant smile and said quietly, “Nú emnettaþ.” Then we walked away.

“Asshole.” I hissed as I wiped the dust and dirt off my chest and backside.

It seemed that since I was awake and in one piece everyone was packed and ready to go. Go where I wasn’t quite sure. I didn’t even know what happened with Connor. I would have asked Wynne but she was busy talking with one of the mages from the circle so I didn’t want to bother her. I checked my pack and was happy to see the few possessions I had were packed inside along with something that looked like beef jerky and more dried fruit. A skin of water was hanging from the side. I guess we were getting ready to head out. But where?

Argent came bounding over again like an over grown puppy. I loved being able to see her run around without a leash. Running and jumping and sniffing where ever she wanted and no one was freaking out about the huge grey dog attacking them. She was enjoying it too. She would run and jump and bark and roll in the dust. She even seemed to be getting along with Drake. It was amazing how much they looked alike. Maybe a Cane corso and Mabari are the same thing? She was on the smaller size though, but she didn’t seem to care, she was just happy another dog was playing with her. They were panting and slobbering and wrestling each other. It was quite a sight. She was in Heaven!

Alistair came over and spoke to me and pointed to the dogs. Whatever he said to me he must have thought was funny because he chuckled. I wished I knew what he said though but I just looked at him and nodded. He must have realized I didn’t get the joke and waved his hand dismissively in the air and reached into his pack. The cloth he pulled out was wrapped around big hunk of cheese which he generously broke a piece off and offered to me.

I didn’t realize until then how hungry I was and my stomach answered his offer eagerly. I thanked him and gobbled it down greedily. It wasn’t gouda, but where did he get cheese? And let’s face it Alistair just gave me some of his own cheese from his own stash. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

..........................................................

 

When I finally got to speak with Wynne, I found out we were going to Denerim looking for Genativi, I suppose. I was confused however because Cullen was still with us. The mages and the other Templars stayed behind in Redcliff at the Chantry. I tried to ask Wynne about it but I didn’t understand her answer and she seemed surprised I even asked about it.

As we walked, Argent never seemed to be far from my side and her and Cullen really took a shine to each other. He actually smiled once. Later after we made camp for the evening the three of us sat around the fire. I don’t think Argent ever had it better. We both doted on her and I gave her most of my dinner. She was looking a bit thin and I didn’t want to take any chances. Even though I was still hungry I had eaten more than enough for the next two meals.

I ended up dozing next to Argent around the fire since my girls wouldn’t let Argent inside the tent. Not enough room, I think they were saying. I didn’t care. I was just happen see her again. I curled myself around her and fell asleep with my face on her hip.

I woke up to the sound of Cullen again. I sleepily opened my eyes to see him crawl out of his tent and approach the fire. He looked embarrassed when he saw me watching him but came and sat next to me when I beckoned him. Again we fell asleep leaning against each other and again we were woken by Wynne. As I expected, the next morning Cullen became embarrassed and left quickly and he didn’t make eye contact with me for a while after that.

......................................................................

“I think I need a weapon.” I told Wynne later as we were walking.

She snorted a laugh and told me no.

“What’s so funny. I should be able to defend myself. You guys can’t be expected to protect me all the time.”

She told me no again in a more forceful tone that caught Sten’s attention. When she apparently explained what I said, he barked out a laugh too. Then it seemed the entire party was in agreement that I shouldn’t have a weapon, chuckling and shaking their head in amusement.

“You guys are messed up. How am I supposed to protect myself if anyone attacks us?” Wynne just shook her head again and the subject was closed.

I was kind of pissy the rest of the day, not that anyone cared. I only stopped when they called me to rest and break for lunch. I was really starting to hate the food here. It was all dried meat, hard bread, something that looked like raisins. What I wouldn’t have given for a juicy steak, a salad or even some steamed broccoli, maybe some fresh fish.
I went over to Bodahn’s wagon to check out his wares and found a few things I needed. I don’t know where he got them because I didn’t remember seeing them before, but I bought a writing book, like a journal and a couple sticks of charcoal. I also bought a large sturdy wooden pole about the diameter of a fifty cent piece and a hook. Now don’t get me wrong. I knew that big stick wasn’t a fishing pole and it didn’t look like a mage’s staff either. I believed it to be a quarter staff. Now not only could I go fishing for dinner if we stopped by some water but if anyone tried to harm me at least I would have a weapon to defend myself.

That night we weren’t lucky enough to camp by any fishing holes and everyone was far too tired to go hunting so I suffered through more camp rations. Drake and Argent were lucky and caught a rabbit or something that looked like a rabbit. We let them keep it, it was only fair and no one wanted to try to take their dinner from them but I wasn’t going to cuddle with her for a while not until she got a bath. She was a bloody mess.

Eeww.

That night around the fire I asked Wynne to start teaching me some words and phrases in whatever language it was they spoke. She agreed and I pulled out my book and charcoal. I made three columns per word. The English word, the phonetic spelling and asked Wynne to write the correct spelling in the last column. Terms like help, thank you and please and were the first words I requested. I figured I would add a couple of words each time we rested and a couple of phrases a little bit later. It wasn’t easy either, even though the letters were similar to the English alphabet there were some I didn’t recognize and accent marks I had never seen. It wasn’t like I was learning Spanish again. That would have way too convenient.

After the language lesson I sat by the fire and pulled out some of the mending that I was given. I hadn’t been able to fish for dinner so I agreed to patch up the holes in everyone’s clothes. I didn’t want to be a freeloader. Argent was laying her big sloppy head in my lap making it difficult to see the stitches by the firelight. Wynne must have heard me mutter something about not being able to see because she said something to Alistair who kindly brought over a lamp and sat down next to me. He asked me something I couldn’t figure out so I told him I didn’t understand. I might as well practice. Right?

He was so surprised that he rambled on about who knows what until Leliana passed by reminding him that I didn’t understand. He looked a little sheepish after that and pulled out a couple pairs of socks from his pack and gestured to my needle.

Those socks reeked!

Woah! I pinched my nose with my fingers. There was no way I was touching them until he washed them first. Hell no! I couldn’t shake my head fast enough.

Wynne laughed and translated for him although I don’t think she needed to. He grinned and made an apologetic face before stuffing them back in his pack and exchanging them for a couple more pairs that didn’t smell as bad. Those I took and told him he could have back in the morning.

The next two days seemed to become routine. Wake up, eat, walk, eat, walk, camp, sleep, repeat. In the evenings I would fill water skins and pick berries and look for firewood. After dinner I would pull out any mending if there was any and then work on a couple of words and phrases with Wynne. I would sleep next to the fire with Argent and then Cullen would join us after having a bad dream. Sometimes we would 'talk' in whispers until we both couldn’t stay awake anymore even though we couldn't understand one another. It could be easier to talk to someone you know is unable to talk back, it can be quite cathartic when there's no fear of judgment and sometimes we just quietly looked at the stars.

I was beginning to enjoy the routine.

The third day the routine changed.

The third day we came upon a hysterical blond woman running from an attack.

Chapter Text

Alarms!

Big loud flashing alarms were going off in my brain.

The farther up the road we followed the woman, the more scared I became. Wynne motioned for me to stay behind them. No shit, but wouldn’t I be safer in the middle? Who knows what could come up behind me. My eyes darted to the trees and rocks looking for any sign of what was coming. Something familiar was happening. What was it?

I was beginning to feel panicky. This was not good. Not good at all. What was I supposed to do? Hide? Run?

Think. Renata. Think!

Off to the right I saw a flash of something out of the corner of my eye. Then it dawned on me what was going to happen.

That’s when the woman turned and hesitated. A creepy smile formed on her lips and someone stepped out of the shadows and stood next to her. Oh shit!

“Crows!” I screamed.

“Cráwan?” Wynne asked bewildered but Leliana heard and understood as she pulled out her bow and shouted something to the rest of the group.

That’s when the they began their lethal dance.

Morrigan immediately sent out electrical bolts of magic to the archers farthest away as Leliana took them out with her bow. Wynne threw a barrier around the guys who were already starting to advance weapons drawn and shields readied on the closest of the attackers. Argent ran off and followed Drake into the fray.

“No,” I screamed. “Argent, No!” She didn’t listen she just followed the others like she had trained for it her whole life.

Crap! I couldn’t do anything without exposing myself as a vulnerability to them. I dropped to the ground and kept as low as I could and crept toward the nearest overturned wagon for cover. I held tightly to my quarterstaff. I looked out from beneath the wagon to see one of the attackers sneaking up behind Morrigan. She truly was fierce looking as she twirled her staff, magic arcing out of the crystal tip and flying from her fingertips. A feral snarl formed on her lips as she cast another powerful spell then she shuddered like she was getting low on mana. Her next spell just didn’t seem to have the same force as they had before she let loose her electrical storm.

She was too concerned with the assassins in front of her to notice the one creeping up silently behind her and everyone else was already engaged in their own struggles to help her. As quietly as I could I thrust my quarterstaff toward his feet and tripped him. The resounding thud he made as he landed on his face caught Morrigan’s attention and she looked back just in time to see Drake and Argent pounce on him.

I had never seen a person killed before. Dead yes, I mean I work at a hospital or worked anyway, but never had I seen one so brutally killed and die in front of me. The dogs were ferocious and merciless. And even though they were quick about it they were not quick enough because I saw the life fade from his eyes as he noticed me under the wagon. I will never forget his green eyes. Green eyes wide in surprise then with terror and finally relax when they glassed over upon his death. I know he was trying to kill us. I know that is the way of this world. I know I will see much more and much worse but I will never forget those green eyes staring at me.

I was frozen in that spot under the wagon for a while, lost in my prayers for the assassin’s soul, my soul, everyone’s soul when I heard the concerned cries of Wynne and Leliana. I stayed there. I think I would have thrown up had I moved. I just couldn’t stop staring at the man with the green eyes. He had parents, maybe even had siblings or a wife or child. Someone would probably miss him. I was too shocked to make a sound but I could feel tears were streaming down my face. I barely noticed Morrigan’s patronizing voice through the haze in my brain. I still couldn’t move when Sten and Alistair righted the wagon and pulled me to my feet. And I stayed there frozen in that spot until Alistair put his arm around me and led me away murmuring something in my ear.

I heard Wynne tell me to breathe. And I think Morrigan actually inclined her head to me in thanks before walking away.

Alistair guided me toward the end of canyon when I realized the ambush was over. Aedan and Leliana were standing over a single figure laying stretched out on the ground before them. The rest of us reached them as the conversation seemed to be coming to an end. Leliana handed Aedan a dagger from her boot and I finally noticed the person laying submissive on the ground had long blond hair and pointed ears. Zevran?

I must have gasped aloud because they turned to look at me as I stared at the him.

Aedan pointed to me as he said something to Alistair who tightened his grip on me and tried to lead me away. I heard Zevran sigh and say something and Aedan replied to him harshly. I paused mid turn and looked at Alistair who looked tired.

“What’s going on?” I asked him knowing he understood the intent of my question if not the words themselves. He just shook his head and gently pushed me forward. I braced myself and turned fully back to Aedan and Zevran. Aedan’s eyes were closed briefly as he whispered something over Zevran’s head and raised the dagger.

Wait. What?

“Aedan,” I shouted. “You can’t do this. You can’t kill him.”

His eyes shifted to me for a moment his jaw tightly clenched and then barked an order to Wynne and Alistair. Wynn grabbed my hand and tried to lead me away again.

“Hasn’t there been enough death?” I pleaded and faced Wynne. “Don’t let him do this. Didn’t he offer his services to him. Tell him that he’s one of the companions I told him about in the fade.”

Wynne’s eyes grew wide and shook her head.

“Tell him, Wynne!” She shook her head. Old bat!

I twisted from her grasp and jumped between Aedan and Zevran.

“Stop, Aedan.” I implored and took a small step toward him. “Foreþingian?”

I saw something flicker over his face as I took a chance and stepped closer to him and placed my hand on his chest plate. “Aedan, please don’t do this.”

He growled something and I stepped back. Cullen came to my side along with Alistair and forced me out of the way. I looked over my shoulder at Zevran and apologized to him as they led me away from the scene. They led me back the way we came and I saw the lifeless body of the assassin that tried to kill Morrigan and choked back a sob.

This world sucked. Why did anyone think it would be fun to be here. There’s too much violence and death. I haven’t seen anything good or fun or worth a shit around here worth saving. Let the blight have it. It was better than what was going to happen in another ten years anyway wasn’t it? Where’s the good?

As we walked past the bodies of the dead assassins Cullen and Alistair took turns looting them and then left them where they fell. I can’t believe how much that offended me. I spied a shovel leaning against the wagon and grabbed it. If we can kill them, we can bury them. My dog did this, so it’s my responsibility to take care of this. With that though Argent suddenly appeared with Drake bloodied and dirty but none the worse for wear. She looked sheepishly at me and I found that even if I couldn’t be mad at her I just couldn’t look at her right now. My sweet loveable well behaved puppy was losing her innocence and becoming a war dog. My tears started to fall again and I turned from her and started to dig a hole right next to Green Eyes.

“Renata.” Cullen called to me. I looked at him though the tears and he shook his head offering me his hand. I looked away and returned to digging.

The ground was hard and crumbly. I mean really hard. I knew I wouldn’t be able to dig graves for all of the dead but at least for my sake and for that of Green Eyes I could dig at least one. My dog was the one that killed him. I gagged at the memory of her teeth sinking into the soft flesh of his neck. The blood flowing from the wounds while her mouth was still on him, unable to move or fight for air as she stood on his chest, the soft crunch as she bit down on his windpipe. I promptly threw up.

Wonderful.

I still kept digging. The hole was not very big. Cullen tried to take the shovel from me, but I hissed at him, like literally hissed at him and he let go. Argent suddenly started to dig then Drake did too. They mostly loosened the dirt enough for me to shovel it out.

“As well you should.” I told them. “This was you’re doing not mine.” I took a deep breath and closed my eyes willing the shakiness I was feeling from the nausea to go away. I felt like I had been digging forever and the hole was barely big enough to bury a guinea pig.

I heard a commotion from behind me and looked to see Wynne and Leliana walking toward us holding on to a rope. Sten and Aedan were behind them blades drawn pointing at their backs. What the fuck?

I stopped my digging to watch them approach and realized that something was attached to the rope. I held my breath as I waited to see what was going on. Alistair moved toward them and stopped short pointing to the center of the group. Clearly he was not happy. He rolled his eyes at me and then at Aedan and muttered something before stomping off. When he left, the group split enough for me to see Zevran alive in the middle. His wrists were bound and there was sash or something tied around his mouth but he was very much alive.

“He should be helping.” I muttered to Wynne and resumed digging. “These are his people after all.”

Apparently she agreed because within a few minutes he joined me. It went much faster with the two of us digging. Well four of us if you count Zevran and I and the two dogs. Digging was not something I was used to other than what needed I wanted to plant in a yearly vegetable garden and I was already aware that I was going to be sore and that it was only about noon and we would need to resume our travels soon. They wouldn’t humor me forever.

Zevran tried to talk to me but Cullen must have told him not to because after the second attempt when he said something, Cullen punched him the mouth.

“Cullen!” I shouted at him. “Don’t be a dick.” I dropped my shovel and looked around for some cloth or a rag to blot away the trickle of blood from the cut Cullen’s fist had given him. I didn’t see any so I tore at the hem of my new tunic and put it against the corner of his mouth.

I noticed look of confusion on both Zevran and Cullen’s faces as I pressed the hem into what amounted to no more of a scratch. Wounds looked much more serious to me when they were bleeding. Cullen grunted and threw his hands up in defeat and Zevran gave him a seriously scary look before thanking me and we returned to finish the hole.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, the hole was large enough to lower the man inside. First I kneeled beside him and closed his eyes then said a quick prayer for him before Zevran and I put him into the ground. Covering him back up was much easier.

When I was sufficiently satisfied I had taken responsibility for Argent’s actions, I said a quick prayer over his grave and stood up to wipe the dust from my clothes. Only then did I notice the sprays of blood on the front of my tunic. Cullen must have noticed my panic start and quickly came over to try to calm me. The rag he handed me did no good as I tried wipe the dried blood from my shirt. I closed my eyes and took slow deep breaths to fend off my horror. When I opened my eyes Cullen had binded Zevran’s hands again and was holding the end of rope. Looking at me he gently took the cloth from my hand and I recognized his words of apology as her started to wipe at my face. I felt dizzy as he wiped my forehead and cheeks and nose finally pausing my mouth then wiping off my bottom lip. I dry heaved one last time before blacking out as I realized there must have been blood on my face.

Chapter Text

Maybe blacking out wasn’t exactly the correct word. My vision tunneled, I became dizzy and I dropped like a stone but I remained conscious. I sat down in the dirt with my head between my legs and took deep breaths until someone shoved a water skin in my face. I took it without looking up and drank it until it was wrenched away, leaving water dribbling down my chin. That was close, I think I almost had another panic attack. I had actually followed them into an ambush with no defensive skills and survived and someone was worried I might drink too much water. It made me start to laugh hysterically. Where’s the logic in that? It took a few moments before I could catch my breath and when I looked up, Cullen was bending over me, concern all over his face as Zevran stood quietly to the side.

Shit. I couldn’t look at either of them right now.

I stood up and looked around for my quarterstaff and saw it propped against the wagon where I dropped my pack. Argent was lying on her side next to it. Ugh! I was having trouble looking at her too. Right now her shiny silver muzzle was stained red making her look like a two-year-old playing with Mommy’s makeup. I don’t think I’ll ever wear red lipstick again.

As soon as I got my things together Aedan called for us to march again and I was grateful for it. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I would rather be anywhere than here, even back in my old home with my ex fiancée and his new girlfriend.

We walked for what seemed like hours not even stopping for something to eat. It didn’t matter to me. I didn’t have the stomach for it anyway. My only purpose was to get as far away as possible away. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone or looking at anyone. I had a hard time dealing with how casually they dealt with all the death. Alistair offered me some cheese, I declined. Wynne tried to get met to talk but I was still angry at her. Leliana tried to get me to sing a song. I was so not in the mood. I just kept walking until the only people in front of me was Aedan and Sten.

Much later when everyone else seemed to be lagging, Sten got my attention and indicated that we would be stopping for the evening. I looked around and saw we were not too far from a tree line and a lake and a ...waterfall?

Oh sweet mother a lake and a water fall!

I finally caught a break. I could catch some fish, give Argent a bath and take shower. I really needed some time to think about things just as much as I needed to get this blood off of me. All I could think of was Shakespeare’s quote from Macbeth, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”

I quickly did my chores of gathering kindling along with a few smaller tree branches so they could start the fire then ran to the tree line to find as many berries as I could. I did all this while Leliana, Aedan and Sten left to hunt for dinner and the others made camp. Then as swiftly as I could I gathered my quarterstaff and the fishing supplies and ran off to the lake.

I had to make due. I didn’t have my usual bait. I used a couple of the berries, the way I would have used salmon eggs at home. I hoped they could be comparable. As laid my staff against a rock waiting for a bite, I dug in the ground and found a couple of scraggily worms to use then I also caught a couple of dragonfly looking things to use as well. I might not catch anything but just being alone with my own thoughts right now was the best thing I could do. It was hard to come by when there was a half dozen people always around, not much privacy. I just relaxed in the fresh clean air and waited for the fish to bite.

And bite they did. I caught a total of six fish. Two off each kind of bait. The biggest one got away, I wondered if they would believe that? I kinda felt proud and couldn’t wait to show off my catch to everyone. I didn’t know what kind of fish they were but hopefully they would be able to supplement whatever it was that was brought back from the hunt.
I don’t know how long I was gone but I was feeling significantly less bitchy as I returned to camp with my catch. I saw Cullen and Alistair deep in conversation with Aedan. None of them looked particularly happy. As a matter of fact, the conversation looked a little heated. They were hissing and pointing fingers at each other. It was all very testosteroney. Testosteroney, is that a word?

I certainly didn’t want to get in the middle of that.

“What’s going on?” I asked slipping next to Wynne.

“Renata!” She exclaimed causing the three of them to turn our way.

“Renata.” Aedan growled at me rushing angrily my direction.

The three of them practically tripped over their feet on their way over to Wynne and I and I jumped back. My feet tripped over my staff and I landed on my ass as usual. Alistair smirked as he helped me up and started to dust the dirt off my pants before looking mortified. I guess he realized he was touching the smelly klutz and hastily backed away apologizing profusely.

“Renata.” Cullen said breathlessly as he placed both hands on my shoulders looking me up and down.

What the hell was the matter with them? Weirdos the lot of them. I shrugged away from Cullen and motioned to the fish that fell in the dirt.

I picked them up from the ground and thrust them forward. “I caught fish.”

They looked surprised and I turned to Wynne. “These are edible, right?” She laughed and nodded.

“Great. I’ll clean them, then after dinner Argent and I are going to take a bath.”

I walked away looking for something to use as a filet knife and wondering just how many times Alistair was going to end up picking me up off the ground.

..................

For a change there was plenty of food, enough for us all to have seconds or thirds including Zevran and the dogs. I was hungry as usual and had a bit of everything. We had ram steaks, fish, berries and someone had even found some wild carrots. It was absolutely delicious. After we had eaten our fill and cleaned up after ourselves, I announced that Argent and I were going to bathe. I got up and gathered my change of clothes, towel and soap and headed to the lake calling to Argent.

“A’stynte, ætsitte!” Leliana called after me. l had learned at least one of those words from Wynne and it meant stop. I turned around to look at her and saw that she was gathering stuff to bathe with. I guess she was coming along. Awesome, communal bathing. I forgot about that. I guess there was safety in numbers though. Then I noticed Wynne and Morrigan also were gathering their things too.

Okay, whatever. I was still going to take my shower, maybe I could even get Morrigan to warm the water coming over the falls. It didn’t hurt to ask, right?

And apparently it didn’t hurt to ask. It didn’t take much convincing at all. The three of them loved the idea of a warm shower. I would have asked Morrigan to make it hotter but I didn’t want to risk hurting the lake. I mean it already supplied us with an excellent dinner and I bathed my disgusting ass dog in it. That should have been enough.

I’m sure we stayed in the waterfall far too long but it felt so good on our sore muscles even Morrigan was hesitant to get out. When the four of us had dried off and redressed ourselves, Wynne used some kind of elemental wind spell to dry our hair. It really was a cool thing to see and it left my hair feeling soft and fluffy. She even dried Argent.

No one really enjoys the smell of wet dog do they? Not even Fereldans.

I felt sooo much better when we returned but when I went to settle in my usual location by the fire, it was occupied
.
By Zevran.

He was still bound by the wrists by a thick rope. I never would have thought they could hold him. Maybe they were enchanted?

I sat down at the fire opposite him and got a good look at him for the first time. I tried not to be rude, really I did. But I couldn’t help it. I never saw an elf before. He wasn’t as tall as the other guys. When he was next to me digging the grave we were almost the same height. He had long blond shoulder length hair and a really straight nose and the marks on the side of his face reminded me of the Dalish Vallaslin.

What were they then? I couldn’t remember.

He looked up from the fire and saw me staring at him. He didn’t look away. He straightened his back and jutted out his chin but he didn’t look away. Man he was a mess. He still had dried blood on his face and his clothes were a disaster.

I looked over at Wynne. “Did anyone check him out for injuries. Or offer to help clean him up?” I asked her. She just turned up her nose.

“Cra’wen.” She sneered and shook her head. She said a couple of other things that probably weren’t very nice. Boy she could be a piece of work when she wanted to be.
They would probably be mad at me again, they were usually yelling at me anyhow, but I grabbed an unused bowl and a water skin and my wash rag and walked over to him. Confidently at first and then much slower when I was closer. Now I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this or not. But this was Zevran and the sooner everyone could trust him, the better.

He kept his eyes on me as I made my way over to him. He didn’t look scared or evil, just hesitantly curious. Maybe even amused. I sat down on the log next to him with about five feet in between us and introduced myself.

“Zevran Arainai,” He answered inclining his head. Then he said a few other things I didn’t understand. I shook my head and told him in the words that Wynne had taught me that I didn’t understand.

“Wynne?” I asked. “Can you translate for me please?” She shook her head again. “For God’s sake Wynne, I’m just asking you to translate for me, not adopt him. Please?”
She sighed and nodded her head before joining our side of the fire.

“Thank you.” I smiled.

I had her ask him if he was hurt and he pointed to his left side. He allowed me to lift his shirt and look at his injury. I was a scabby oozy mess. I had to clean it up with the water and soap but once I cleaned up his side there was a weeping stab wound that looked like it was getting infected. When I asked her to heal it, she flat out refused.

You gotta be kidding me?

“What do you mean no?” She sneered at him and shook her head again. She could be a judgmental old witch. Leliana came over and handed me a healing potion, she apparently had been watching us from a distance and chided Wynne which made her get up and leave. Probably for the best, anyway. She may be a healer but she had a shitty bedside manner.

I uncorked the potion and put it up to his mouth. “Salud.”

His eyes narrowed for a moment but he smiled and drank it all. I marveled at how the discoloration around his wound became less red and the edges started to knit back together healing itself. Really cool stuff!

Since Wynne left, I no longer had a translator so I gestured to the cloth and the water bowl. He raised his bound hands together and said something with a sigh.
I don’t know what he said but it didn’t sound very sincere to me and maybe just a bit lewd. Leliana smiled at him, though.

To tell you the truth I was a little bit intimidated by Zevran. He oozed equal parts eroticism and lechery. I knew I would have to watch myself around him. Not only was he dangerous, he was dangerously attractive. And if I could have understood him, I probably would have heard him make some kind of sponge bath joke.

I dipped the cloth in the water bowl and started by wiping down his forehead and cheeks. He was pretty dusty. When his face was cleaned I could see the lines of his facial tattoos much clearer. I must have absently traced a finger over them because I swear he purred. Not like a cat but he said something that made Leliana giggled and she staid my hand.

Oops.

Next I washed his hands. There was no blood on them. That should be unusual for an assassin, right? An assassin that had no blood on his hands, how does that happen? I chanced a look at him again to find him still staring at me. He wasn’t saying anything but his dark amber eyes were on me like flies on honey. I felt the warmth of a blush creep up my neck to my cheeks. Then he caught me by surprise.

“Gracias, Renata. Mi carina.” He breathed.

Chapter Text

It’s a funny thing about accents. Some people have them some people don’t and depending on where you live everyone has an accent but you. For example, anywhere in America you can tell a Boston accent when you hear it, except in Boston and then to them its everyone else that has an accent. In the game I heard American, English, and French accents, but as I was learning Fereldan from everyone in the group, I couldn’t tell one accent from the other. They all sounded the same to me.

Except for Zevran.

He had rarely said a word that I heard since he joined us but something about the way he rolled his Rs when he said my name instantly drew me. It made the way everyone else said my name sound kind of blah. Rrrrentaaahh. I think I giggled and he flashed me a killer smile. Literally. The flirt. It pleased me to no end that I finally understood something someone said. Gracias, Renata. Rrrrentaaahh. Rrrrentaaahh. It reminded my friend Santana’s mother. She barely spoke English and everything she did say was heavily accented Spanish. He sounded just like her. I was so stunned; I practically fell off the log.

“Renata.”

“Renata!” I looked up to see Cullen calling me. It didn’t have quite the same ring to it. Hmm...

“Renata.”

Oops.

He sounded more urgent that time. I gathered my things and got up as he waved me over. He was looking at me kind of weird. What’s with everyone giving me these looks? I smiled at Zevran wishing him a goodnight then I headed back over to Cullen. I guess talking to Zevran would have to wait.

Cullen shook his head at me and sighed. Apparently he was not happy with me again. Was it possible that there would ever be a time I wouldn’t have at least one person angry with me? He took my arm and led me over to Wynne and they attempted to explain to me that Zevran was a dangerous man.

He bad man. Don’t go.

Ughh!

It made me feel like a damn idiot the way they had to use baby talk to communicate with me. In my best broken Fereldan I told them I was sorry I had worried them and would try not to do it again. I could see Cullen visibly relax and his shoulders dropped when he let out a breath.

I ended up sitting with Wynne for a while and practiced more words and phrases. It seemed to amuse Zevran who watched everything from across the fire with those magnetic eyes. Every so often he would chuckle when I said a word. I couldn’t tell if he was laughing at me or just found it amusing that I didn’t know such simple words as why, how and where. When I attempted one particularly difficult phrase it made everyone laugh. I knew they weren’t being malicious but it made me want to stop. It didn’t exactly hurt my feelings but it tamped my enthusiasm for the rest of the evening. The boys caught on and apologized while Leliana and Morrigan just kept laughing. I wonder what I said.

It started to grow late but I wasn’t ready to sleep so I turned to the back of my book and started to doodle. I hadn’t drawn seriously in quite some time so I drew some cartoons. Aedan wandered over and sat behind me watching as I drew silly things. It seemed to relax him and he even smiled. He was always so uptight. He needed a little fun. I drew a picture of Drake and gave it to him. I think it actually made him smile again. Two times in one day. Must be some kind of record. Then Leliana wanted a drawing too so I drew her a nug. I would have drawn a nightingale but I didn’t really know what they looked like. I gave Sten a picture of a dragon. Atashi, I told him and I think just maybe the corner of one side of his mouth quirked upward. But only for a moment. By then I was started to feel the exhaustion of the day catch up to me and decided it was time to try to sleep.

I chose to sleep next to fire using Argent as a pillow and wait for Cullen to join me. It was where we would end up anyway after he had one of his nightmares. I unfurled my bed roll and waited to fall asleep.

This time it wasn’t his nightmares that woke everyone up.

 

I saw things swarming in the darkness. Lots of things. Foul things. It was odd that no one else seemed to notice them. I couldn’t make out exactly what they were so I got up to get a closer look. If I were in a horror movie I would have been the first one to die. Smart Renata. I heard hissing and sputtering and then finally silence. When I got to the tree line I chickened out and decided to go back to the fire. That’s when the darkspawn descended upon the camp, hundreds of them glowering at me with huge green eyes. All of their throats were ripped open revealing their tendons and tissue and gushing black blood. Argent and Drake were running beside them with that black goop dripping from their mouths. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I could barely scream!!!

 

“Renata!” Someone called for my help back at the campfire. I still couldn’t move.

“Renata!” The voice was getting closer as they called me again. If I could just will myself to help them.

“Renata!” I jerked awake. It was Cullen holding me tightly as I thrashed against him. He hugged me close and whispered quiet things into my hair. I started to hyperventilate. In through my nose. Out through my mouth. In. Out. I started to breathe easier and looked around. What happened? Where did they go? Was I shaking?

Why was everyone staring at me.

Did I just have a nightmare? Well shit.

It’s no wonder everyone looked tired all the time. If it wasn’t Alistair and Aedan’s nightmares. It was Cullen’s. And now I had nightmares of my own. I felt really bad for everyone else. How were we supposed to fight the blight on only four hours asleep each night?

I remembered my dream and shuddered, I suddenly was wide awake again.

Green Eyes. Monsters. Torn throats. I probably wouldn’t sleep again the rest of the night.

Because I was shaking, I couldn’t convince them I was okay. Wynne was sitting next to me and offered me a water skin but I buried my face in Cullen’s chest and hugged him tighter. I heard Wynne shoo everyone away and I broke. I just couldn’t hold back the tears anymore and started to cry. For a long time, I cried and Cullen just rocked me and whispered to me and I finally I felt safe enough to lift my face from his shirt. It was so wet I probably could have wrung it out. I looked up at his sweet face as he tried to console me for a change. It felt very safe in his arms. I apologized for soaking his shirt but he just shrugged indicating he didn’t care. When I finally looked away from Cullen’s concerned eyes, the only one still looking at me was Zevran. Eventually I fell asleep in Cullen’s arms but it was Zevran’s face I was looking at when I did.

 

……..

 

The morning came faster than I would have liked. We were all dead tired thanks to me. I’m not sure how much sleep anyone got after I woke everyone up with my hysterics. We all seemed to be pretty listless.

Caffeine anyone? What I wouldn’t give for a soda right now. Not decaffeinated. Not diet. A honest to God sugary jittery soda.

After breakfast, we packed everything up and I sadly said good bye to the lake and the waterfall. With our luck this was probably the best camping place we would ever find.
We walked until just after lunch when it started to rain. Dark clouds had been spotted earlier and we had hoped to get closer to Denerim before it started. There were little warning drops at first that allowed us to scout for someplace to wait until it passed. We spent the better part of two hours trudging in the rain until a shelter was found. Actually it was the dogs that found it. They managed to find a cave large enough to shelter all of us with a rocky over hang that allowed space to park the wagon and tie the horse. I’m sure the horse appreciated the opportunity to get out of the rain. I know we sure did. It turned out to be lucky we stopped when we did. About an hour after we were settled in the cave it really started to pour. Hard. Like cats and dogs. Big round splattering drops of rain.

It was refreshing. It wasn’t a cold rain, just a heavy one that washed the dust and sweat from my skin and it was calling my name. It reminded me of the times when I was little and stayed at my grandparents’ house. It would rain so hard that my grandmother would bring out a bottle of shampoo and we would wash our hair in the downpour. It always seemed to rain long enough for us to wash it twice and be rinsed completely of suds. Then we would dance around until we fell in the wet grass in fits of laughter. I really missed her.
Wynne generously offered to dry everything with a monster wind spell. And when I say everything I mean everything. That spell was so powerful she dried all of us, our clothes, everyone’s packs and all the goods in Bodahn’s wagon. Cullen just clenched his teeth, I could tell he was uncomfortable so I squeezed his hand.

I worriedly pulled my book out of my pack and checked for any damage. Nothing. Whew. I was really afraid that all my notes and things might have smudged or worse dissolved with the rain.

I realized we might be here for a while when Aedan directed everyone to set up camp. This time though no one needed to set up tents. I hated them anyway. Not much room to sleep in them and my feet almost always hung outside. The next order of business seemed to be finding food. When I realized Cullen and Alistair were going out to hunt for some food I jumped at the chance to go along with them.

What? I love rain remember?

What I got in response was equivalent to a hell no. Wow! It was harsh.

My disappointment must have shown on my face because Wynne and Leliana pulled me over to the heating runes to sit with them. Morrigan kept off to herself watching us from her side of the cave and Sten and Aedan took turns keeping watch on Zevran.

Zevran! How could I forget Zevran? This was a great opportunity to see if we could understand one another. I pulled Leliana’s hand and dragged her to where he was seated. I was getting so anxious I could feel butterflies in my stomach. Please, please let me be able to talk with him.

Aedan stepped in front of us as I approached and shook his head waving me away. I told him no and stood my ground. Aedan said something to Leliana and she started to pull me back.

“No.” I said firmly as I pulled away from Leliana. It’s not Iike I was going to cut him loose. Yet. I just wanted to see him! I did save his life after all. I looked behind Aedan and saw that Zevran had gotten up from his spot and took a step back. Sten moved behind him and place a hand on his shoulder, I felt the tension start to build.

Ah fuck it! I tried to skirt around him but I wasn’t fast enough. Once again speed and agility were not my thing. As Aedan pulled me back I panicked and yelled over my shoulder, “¿Zevran, hablas Español?”

Aedan froze for a minute and looked at me as I waited for what seemed like forever for him to answer.

Silence. I think I whined a bit.

“No, no hablo a Español pero hablo Antivan.” Zevran finally answered. I almost cried.

Aedan and Leliana both looked startled before Leliana smiled widely and said, “¿Hablas Antivan?

I definitely started crying at that.

“No, no hablo Antivan pero, si me entiendes que a quién le importa.” My throat starting filling with emotion and I choked on my answer.

“¿Entiendes lo que estoy diciendo?” Aedan asked in Spanish or Antivan or whatever, all of us surprised he could speak it too.

“Sí, sí gracias a Dios entiendo alguien!” I threw my arms around his neck nearly knocking him off balance and Leliana joined us making it a group hug. I was so excited that I extricated myself from their arms and rushed to Zevran wrapping myself around him likely crushing him in a bear hug before moving on to Sten.

Thank God for Senora Cruz and her broken English.

I skipped over to hug Morrigan but got the look from her. Her loss. Then I danced around Wynne happily before giving her a hug and thanking her.
Antivan. How cool. So Antivan and Spanish were the same or pretty darn close. I could finally talk to them and ask questions whenever I wanted to without spending fifteen minutes going over conjugations with Wynne.

Oh, I fully intended to continue learning Fereldan but now I could hear the answers to my questions instead of trying guess what they were saying. I could actually have a conversation with three different people. I couldn’t wait to see if Alistair and Cullen could speak it too maybe make it five. It made me appreciate the summer I spent in Mexico during that church retreat in a whole new way.

Maybe things were starting to finally look up.

Chapter Text

“Are you Antivan?” Leliana asked.

“No.” I snorted a laugh. “Are you? Wait never mind. You’re Orlesian - Fereldan or something like that, right?” Leliana tilted her head and scrunched her face in confusion as Aedan led me to the center of the cave.

“Now that we found a way to talk to you, there are a few things we need to ask you about.”

“I agree,” I said. “I have lots of questions for you too.”

Wynne interjected with a question to Aedan and Leliana as I looked over to Zevran still sitting on the bench with his hands still tied. I surprised him and gave him a little smile and a wave. I have to figure out how to get them to untie him.

Aedan looked at me incredulously and placed his hands on my shoulders turning me away from him. “He’s a killer, Renata. An assassin. Do you even know what that is?”
I made a face at him. “If you think he’s so bad, why did you spare him then?”

He sighed. “Sometimes, Renata, when a pretty girl asks a man to do something, he does it. Even if it’s against his better judgement. Do you even know about what happens between a man and a woman?”

“Of course I do,” I balled my fists and stomped my foot. “I not as unexperienced as you seem to think.”

“It’s such a relief to find out you’re not the simpleton we thought you were.” Aedan smiled.

“You thought I was an idiot?” I looked at them confused. “Why?”

“Pixie bane ring a bell? Taking on the entire town of Redcliff over your dog, wandering the forest by yourself without protection, stepping in front of my dagger not once but twice. Need I continue the list?”

“Oh.” I said feeling a strange mixture of disappointment and anger ball up in my gut. “And now?”

>“Now, now you two,” Leliana interjected. “We only just started this conversation. Are we to resort to name calling already?”

I heard Zevran chuckle on the other side of the cave and Aedan told him to shut it. Zevran raised his hands palms out and with a smirk apologized, “Lo siento, Warden. Lo siento.”
Again Wynne asked a question to Aedan who just nodded in response.

“Wynne suggests we wait until Alistair and Cullen return before we continue this any further and I agree. It will be easier for her to translate for everyone at once. After dinner we can figure this all out. Now why don’t you go with Wynne and practice some Fereldan. It comes in handy when talking to Fereldans, especially when you’re in Fereldan.” He mocked me.

I rolled my eyes and in a huff retrieved my book from my pack. I thought he was supposed to be charismatic not insulting.

He’s still a dick even in Spanish.

Oh, I’m sorry in Antivan.

The guys arrived back at the cave empty handed but for a few berries and full water skins. As soon as they arrived I bounded over to them and handed a blanket to each of them. Boy were they soaking wet. Cullen seemed to sense my excitement and I tried talking to them. Unfortunately, they didn’t know Antivan, but I could tell they recognized it.
Leliana, it seemed, knew Antivan better than Aedan. I suspect it was due to her days as a bard, and I don’t mean the minstrel type either. Aedan agreed to let her be the one to question me while Wynne translated for everyone else, her little spirit friend must let her understand different languages even if she couldn’t speak them. I wonder if this is how Leliana started down the path to spymaster. To be truthful she made me a little skittish and all eyes were on us when she began. I just needed to figure out what would be safe to say. Could I just come clean, tell them I’m from another world? I’m not sure that would go over to well. I’m not even sure it was true. This could still be nightmare for all I know.

“What is your family name?”

“What?” I asked surprised at her choice of first question.

“Your surname. What is your surname?”

“Shepard. “I answered. I heard Zevran chuckle in the back.

“Come on, you expect us to believe you are a shepherd? You are far too full- figured to be mistaken for any shepherd I’ve ever met.” She smiled as she said it. I knew she was baiting me but I couldn’t help and take it. Vanity and all.

“Did you just call me fat?!” I stood at the insult.

Aedan laughed at me. “That’s what you respond to? An insult to your vanity and not your honor.” He shook a finger at me. “She’s correct thought. You bare no countenance to any shepherds in my experience.”

“And what of your experience? How many shepherds have had contact with in your privileged life?” I huffed. “Besides I didn’t say I was a shepherd. I said my name was Shepard, Warden Cow land.”

Leliana and Zevran both laughed. While the others looked confused until Wynne finished translating.

“What were you doing in the dungeon?” She asked circling me. She seemed to be enjoying this far too much.

“That’s what I want to know.”

“You don’t know? You cannot in all good faith expect us to believe that?”

Crap! How was I supposed to counter that? A Nervous laugh escaped me.

“You’re starting make me feel like you don’t trust me Leliana.” I replied. “And I know you have faith, more than everyone I know, well except for maybe Wynne. Maybe I’m just what you need to help navigate this shit storm that’s coming. Can you believe that at least?”

“Shit storm?” Aedan cocked a brow at me. “I assume you are talking about the blight.”

I nodded at him. “I told you in the Fade I could help and I mean it.”

“How can you help us when you can’t even be honest about why you were in the dungeons?” He pressed.

What could I do? Lie? I wasn’t fond of the idea. I really did want them to trust me but how much truth could I give them?

“I don’t know why I was in the dungeon. I was just out for a walk and fell off a cliff. When I woke up I found myself in the dungeon and Wynne and Leliana were there. That’s all I swear!” I explained.

Aedan laughed again. “So you were always this graceful?”

“Listen Aedan, I don’t appreciate all the snark. First, I’m an idiot, then I’m a fat idiot, now I’m a clumsy fat idiot. You’re not making a very good impression on me either. Cow Land.” I was kind of getting tired of this. “Are we done with the interrogation?”

Aedan advanced and stood in front of me. His face was mere inches from mine as he placed a finger in the middle of my chest and pushed me down. “We are not!”

Cullen and Zevran both stood up but did nothing as everyone watched our interaction. I even heard a low growl coming from Argent as she stood next to me.

“Where are you from and how did you get in the dungeon?”

“I just woke up in the dungeon. I don’t know how I got there. Ask Wynne. She knows. I told her I wanted to talk to Jowan. He must have seen how I got there.” I was starting to freak. Did he give everyone such a hard time or just me?

“Where. Are. You. From?” He repeated.

“America.” I sighed. “I’m from America.”

After Wynne finished translating there was a quick flurry of conversations before they all looked back at me.”

“No one here has ever heard of America. Where is this town? Leliana asked. I sighed in resignation.

“It’s not a town. It’s a country.” I corrected.

“We have never heard of it.” She told me. “Where is it?”

“I don’t know where it is compared to here.”

“Well where is it compared to someplace else?” Aedan snapped. “You think you’re tired of this. Maybe it was better when we didn’t understand you, at least we could somewhat trust you.”

When he said that it stung like a slap in the face.

“This isn’t easy for me either,” I stood facing him and put a finger to his chest. “I’m not supposed to be here.” I punctuated my sentence by poking him in the chest. “I have a home, probably far, far away from here. My family could very well be looking for me. Or I could be dead and this is my hell. Or I it could be some kind of nightmare.” I poked him in the chest again.

“But I’m here. I think is real and I don’t appreciate you treating me like a criminal. I can help. I’m smart. I can bring a different perspective maybe.”

“You can’t even fight. How can you help us against the blight?” He narrowed his eyes at me and didn’t back down.

“I know things about blights and Grey Wardens. I told you in the Fade I know things. If you let me, I will help. As for fighting, I don’t particularly like the idea but Commander Cullen could teach me to defend myself?” Cullen’s eyes snapped to my face at the mention of his name.

“Commander?” Aedan smirked. “It seems you don’t know everything. He’s not a Commander.”

“Yet.” I smirked back.

“Alright, alright,” Leliana interrupted. “Let’s just say you have information that could help us, what can you give us?”

I thought about it. What could I say that might convince them I could help and that I wasn’t a danger.

“I could tell you how to catch fish so we don’t go hungry again,” I joked trying to stall. They weren’t amused.

“I know how to get the Dalish and the Dwarves to join the fight.”

“So do we. We have the treaties.” Aedan challenged stepping closer to me again.

“God,” I groaned pushing him away. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you about personal space? Fine, I know the ashes are real. In a town called Haven. But I don’t exactly know where it is. But I believe there is research at Brother Genetivi’s place in Denerim that can give you that information.”

Leliana gasped and started praying and Alistair came forward to ask a question.

“Will they work?” Leliana repeated for Alistair. I nodded and smiled as relief flooded his features.

“Yes,” I told Alistair touching his arm. “Arl Eamon will be fine once he has the ashes.”

“What do you want for this information?” Aedan looked me over suspiciously.

“What do you mean, what do I want? Fereldan’s in the middle of a blight. Isn’t that what you said? Why wouldn’t I help? I just want to stay alive long enough to figure out how to get home. You guys are my best shot. Haven’t I helped already anyway?’’

“In what way do you think you have helped us? You have been nothing but trouble since we found you.” He asked enraging me.

“You ingrate!” I exploded. “I have done nothing but help you! All of you. I patch all your clothes, even Alistair’s smelly socks. I collect berries and fire wood every night. Last night I even caught some fish.”

“That hardly counts as...” Aedan interrupted and Alistair had the decency to look embarrassed.

“I’m. Not. Finished.” I growled at him. Pointing at Morrigan I proceeded. “I helped to save her life.” Morrigan gave a small smile and nodded as I continued over to Wynne.
“I helped to save Wynne’s life.” She nodded. “Cullen, well we know how I help Cullen.” I flashed him a small smile.

“And you. I prevented you from a life of guilt over killing a young boy’s mother. Need I continue the list?” I repeated his question back to him.

I thought I may have gone too far with that last one. Maybe I was stretching the truth with all of it, but I was at a loss. I really didn’t know how to fight. I couldn’t protect anyone if push came to shove. I just hoped my angry outburst made a difference.

Then they all started talking at once. I could only catch one or two words.

I sighed. I really needed to learn Fereldan.

Aedan came a me again and I tensed. He schooled his face so I couldn’t tell what was going on.

Oh, shit. I did go too far. I started backing away from him toward the cave entrance. If I needed to run, then I would just have to run.

“Renata.” Aedan said still coming at me
.
Sten somehow found his way behind me and blocked my exit.

Perfect.

I stopped when my back hit Sten’s chest. His very big, very broad chest.

“Renata,” Aedan repeated. I just hung my head.

“Let’s get this over with.” I whimpered.

“I’m only going to say this once. I’m sorry. We would like you to join us. We think you can be an asset.”

What? I was not expecting that.

“Really? You’re serious?” I looked at him checking for signs he was joking.

I didn’t see any.

“Oh thank you!” I exclaimed and surprised him by jumping into his arms and hugged him tight. I could tell it made him uncomfortable and he freed himself from my arms. I didn’t stop there either. I hugged them all, even Sten and Morrigan. What’s even more surprising is that they let me.

“Malscrung!” I heard Sandal shout.

I tried to go over and hug Zevran but was pulled back by Cullen who shook his head at me.

Okay. I think we’re going to have to address this Zevran issue, but not right now. He’s alive. I’ve been accepted. I just needed some time to think about how to bring it up. I looked over and saw Aedan had moved over to the other side of the cave by himself and was staring at me.

“What’s the matter with him now?” I wondered aloud.

“He already told you, Renata,” Leliana explained. “When a pretty girl asks a man to do something, he does it. Even if it’s against his better judgement.”

Wait.

Does that mean?

Aw shit.

Chapter Text

Leliana told me we should reach Denerim by tomorrow morning, in the afternoon at the latest. I hope it’s soon because I think all this travel is making Cullen kind of edgy. He hasn’t seemed quite himself since we left the cave yesterday morning. I hardly think he slept at all since then. Last night I fell asleep at the fire alone and when I woke up this morning I didn’t see him at all. Maybe I pissed him off? We did have a very brief sparring session which consisted of him teaching me the correct way to hold a quarterstaff and how to avoid tripping over its length. I think my incompetence amused him at first but then after about fifteen, twenty minutes his face became pinched and he looked irritated. What did they expect? I never had to worry about darkspawn and bandits before. I lived in a relatively low crime area. I tried to talk to him about it but it’s hard to have a private conversation with someone when you need a translator. He just ended the session and shrugged me off. Aedan must have noticed it too because I caught the two of them talking later that evening

The rest of the evening I decided to catch up on my mending so I made my rounds to everyone asking if anyone needed anything patched. I got more of Alistair’s perpetually smelly socks, a pair of pants –wait breeches from Leliana and a tunic from Aedan. Everyone else said they were good or didn’t want me touching their things- Morrigan. I sat with Wynne as she knitted and patched everyone clothes while we practiced speaking Fereldan. It was not going very well. She was more interested in the proper language lessons than conversational Fereldan. It was a bit frustrating. When I was done with the mending, I thanked Wynne and ended the lesson as well. God it’s going to take forever. At least now I had three other people to teach me even, if it was Spanish or Antivan to Fereldan. That’s not to say that Spanish and Antivan matched up completely either. There were a few times when I had Aedan and Leliana laughing so hard that they had tears in their eyes. They still won’t tell me what I said.

I returned the tunic to Aedan and found he was keeping watch over Zevran. Perfect. Now I could find out why they still had him tied up like a prisoner of war.

“Here’s your shirt,” I said to Aedan handing over his tunic. “Why don’t you let me mend Zevran’s shirt?” Not only was it starting to reek with blood and sweat, there were quite a few tears in it. “I could clean it do some sewing…”

“No.” Aedan stopped me.

“What do you mean no? You can’t keep him tied up like that forever. He needs to get cleaned up and look presentable before we enter Denerim. If we don’t they’ll think we’re bringing in criminal.”

“Maker’s Breath. He is a criminal.” He retorted rolling his eyes at me before muttering something under his breath.

“But why?” I asked.

“Are you serious?” He looked at me shaking his head in disbelief. “You were there. He tried to kill me. US!”

“But you spared him. I don’t understand.” I looked from him to Zevran and back again. Zevran just sat on the rock taking in our exchange, looking at us out of the corner of his eye. “Why did you show him mercy if you’re just going to keep him tied up? What if we need him?”

“Need him? He is a criminal and I only spared him because you used your wiles and convinced me otherwise.”

What?

“My wiles? What are you talking about?”

“He’s staying tied up until we get to Denerim and then we are turning him into the authorities. End of discussion.” He glared at me then purposely tightened the rope around Zevran’s wrist causing him to flinch. I could see the red areas where the rope was starting to rub him raw.

“What authorities? The Arl’s an idiot and his men will just have him killed as soon as we leave. They’ll kill just as much for being an elf as an assassin. There’s no way he’ll get a fair trial!” I exclaimed.

I could see I was starting to cause a little scene because Leliana and Alistair started making their way toward us and all the while Zevran just sat on the rock staring at the ground while he listened to us argue. I don’t know but I think he looked a little too relaxed to me. I could swear he was wearing a little grin too but he kept his head down so no one looked twice.

In his own sarcastic fashion, Aedan filled Alistair and Leliana in on our argument. This I knew even, if I could only understand every ten words or so. Leliana gasped and looked genuinely surprised while Alistair kept repeating the word for no and shaking his head over and over again as if to make a point.

“Are you kidding me?” I scowl at him. “He pledges to protect you and you treat him like this?”

Zevran’s eyes snapped up to look at me tilting his head to the side but he remained silent.

“You really are senseless!” Aedan ranted making me jump back in surprise. I probably would have tripped again but Alistair was there and time prevented my fall. “Why would you think that?”

Okay. So what the heck is going on? Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? Zevran is spared for switching teams, right? Right?

But by the tone of his voice and the look of confusion on Alistair and Leliana’ face, I’m not quite sure that’s what happened. Did something go wrong?

I turned to Zevran and studied him before addressing him. I tried to remember what had been going on with him for the last couple of days. I knew the wound he had was mostly healed because Wynne had been begrudgingly treating it, muttering and bitching the whole time. Leliana had been seeing he was fed and Aedan had been escorting him when nature called. He was dirty except for his hands which were cleaned for him before each meal at my insistence. His hair hung in limp dirty strands practically covering his face making it difficult to see his facial tattoos. He also had a wicked bruise and a scab on the side of his mouth where Cullen had hit him for talking to me that first day.

Damn, he was a prisoner.

“You didn’t offer to protect the Warden in exchange for sparing your life, did you?” I asked him tentatively.

He shook his head, “No.” He scoffed. “I did not.”

“Why not?” I continued. I really, really hoped that I could fix this.

“My contract was to kill the Wardens, not care for them.” His eyes looked cold and his face was a mask. I didn’t know what to think. “What kind of assassin would I be if I changed alliances when a mark was more difficult than I anticipate? They did not spare my life. They merely postponed my death. When they turn me over in Denerim, I am as good as dead. If the city guards do not kill me, it will be the Crows for failing my duties.”

“If we untied you would you promise not to kill us?” I asked him realizing exactly how stupid it sounded as soon as the words came out of my mouth. What I wouldn’t give to reload that moment.

By their reaction you think I just told them I sneezed on Sten’s cookies because I really wanted to eat them all myself.

Their reactions ran the full gamut that’s for sure. There was anger, outrage, incredulity and amusement. Mostly the amusement was a Iook I got from Zevran.

“Okay, okay. Never mind I said anything.” I sniffed as I felt tears starting at the corner of my eyes. They certainly were a tough crowd.

“Just never mind.” I called to them as I stomped away with the dogs happily trailing behind me.

*********

 

For whatever reason nobody really spoke to me the rest of the night. I ate dinner away from the fire not really feeling as hungry as I usually do and gave most of my food to the dogs.

Seriously, I know. Don’t worry, though, I think I had some cookies somewhere.

I kept myself apart from the rest of them until I was ready to go to sleep. Maybe I could figure something out by morning. I unrolled my bed roll and settled down for the night. The problem was that I wasn’t sleepy yet. Tired, of course. Tired of being misunderstood. Tired of being laughed at. Tired of not understanding the language. Tired of missing my parents. Tired of not getting enough to eat and tired of sleeping on the ground. Just down right tired.

I think I was getting home sick and I think I ‘m getting depressed because of it. I just really wanted to go home. How did I get here and why? How would I even go about figuring it out? I knew I needed to talk to Jowan. He was the only lead I had. After we got the Ashes of Andraste I made up my mind to speak with him. Hopefully he will have some answers.
I pulled out my notebook intending to study but decided to doodle a bit. Alistair came over and I was inspired to draw him giving a flower to a wheel of cheese. I was careful not to draw a rose. I didn’t want anyone to think I was any stranger than I was. He really liked it. So much so that he placed a peck on my cheek in thanks and practically skipped back to the others. It was meant to be a joke, Alistair losing his precious flower to a piece of Swiss cheese.

Then at long last Cullen made his way over to where I sitting and looked for permission to join me. I consented with a grunt and returned to my drawing. I was still angry at them after all. We sat quietly for a while before I finished up my drawing and turned to him. He was really starting to look bad. He practically had a beard now. His close cropped curls looked all fuzzy and his once beautiful gold eyes were watery and bloodshot.

That’s when I realized I hadn’t seen him take any Lyrium the last two days. Well that explains some things. So this must be the start of withdrawal. I checked my notebook for the word Lyrium and tried to piece together my question. He looked surprised when I asked him about it but nodded. Using very simple words he told me he felt sick without it. I half mimed and half asked if he had a headache and he told me with a wry chuckle that he had an everything ache.

I turned to face him directly. Really I didn’t know what to do. The only thing that helped me feel better was sleep. When I got my migraines nothing helped me but sleep. I just locked myself away in a dark room for a day and made sure the bathroom was unoccupied. Medicine didn’t usually help too much so I no longer always took pills for them. Well I did for the really bad ones, it couldn't hurt. I never could give myself the injections. Thanks God I wasn’t a diabetic. Sometimes my mother would come over and massage my temples and my hands with a mint and eucalyptus lotion. Well I didn’t have that but I could see if a massage would help him.

I did my best to ask him if I could massage him but I didn’t know the words and the hand gestures I made probable came off kind of vulgar. So I just went for it. I just grabbed one of his hands and started a slow tentative hand massage. If he wanted to pull away I certainly wanted to give him ample opportunity. He didn’t and I felt his hand relax under my touch. When it was completely limp I switched hands. He still didn’t pull away but kept very still. When I was finished with that hand I mimed to him again and pointed to his temples. The nod of his head was all the approval I needed to move behind him and begin kneading his temples. I felt his head droop to his chest as he relaxed and his breathing seemed to steady. I tried to look if he was falling asleep but every time I tried to move I felt him stiffen. That kind of made me smile. He was practically putty in my hands.

I looked over toward the rest of the group to see they had dispersed to different areas of the camp. It looked like Morrigan and Sten were taking first watch while the rest of them turned into their tents hoping to sleep until it was their turn. Everyone but Zevran. I still couldn’t figure out what to do about him. He was leaning against a tree and his bindings were attached to a large heavy metal pin stuck in the ground. He was tied up tighter than a calf at branding time.

Suddenly Cullen went completely slack and all but slipped off his seat. I gently lowered him to the ground and put my pack under his head. Nothing in there was breakable but the cookies anyway and if I can eat cookie dough, I can eat cookie crumbs.

I yawned and moved my bed roll a little closer to him in case he needed anything when he woke up. A drink of water, a lullaby, one of our nonsensical talks, anything at all. But I definitely wasn’t prepared for what he wanted.

I woke to the feeling of hand cupping my cheek and hot breath in my ear. I blinked a few times to be sure I wasn’t having a naughty dream. Then I felt a kiss on my neck and woke up fully. What the...? Cullen was hovering next to me with a distant look in his eyes.

To quote someone, Wow! I mean, wow! Was Cullen really trying to you know what with me? This didn’t seem like him to me. He practically fell over when he talked to me let alone dare to put his hands on me without permission. Then I felt his moist lips kiss my cheek and nip my chin.

Holy moly!

This wasn’t real. I mean I could definitely enjoy this but I wasn’t sure he was in his right mind.

“Cullen.” I whispered trying to discreetly stop him. He must not have heard because his mouth moved back to my ear and I heard him moan something that sounded like it was probably pretty filthy.

“Cullen,” I called to him again but he didn’t acknowledge me. I tried to wriggle away but he rolled on top of me. Damn he was heavy. Thank goodness he wasn’t wearing his armor.

I put my hands on either side of his face and forced him to look me in the eyes. “Cullen,” I said it much louder this time. He swiftly grabbed my hands and pinned them over my head before planting a long slow kiss on my lips.

At first I couldn’t think but when his tongue slipped in my mouth, I knew this had to end. Dream or no.

“Cullen!” I shouted and tried to push him off with my knees. With that movement the look on his face changed from dull and hazy to sharp and twisted. One of his hands slid down my arms grazing my cheek and neck before settling at my waist just below my breast. He flicked at it with his thumb and smiled an evil smile before his hand travel up to my neck.
“ Déofol!” He hissed and tightened his grip on my neck causing me to cough.

“Stop, Cullen!” I choked as his hold got tighter and he growled.

“Gelysted de’ofol! Þú ne scierdan eftcyme!”

I felt his hands squeeze tighter and tighter until I couldn’t breathe anymore. My neck was starting to hurt and so was my head. I started to struggle harder but couldn’t move anything but my feet. I tried to kick and twist them and dig into the dirt with my heels but everything else was unable to move under his weight. I don’t know how long I was struggling until my body started to weaken and my vision dimmed but all I could think of was first Sten then Zevran and now Cullen. What was I doing to piss everyone off so much? I felt tears start to fall from the side of my eyes to the ground as my last bit of energy gave out.

Maybe now I can go home.

Chapter Text

I must have fell asleep on the couch again because boy did neck hurt like hell. Brian always hated when I did that. Especially when we watched a football game on television. He said he’d rather watch it alone than watch it with someone who couldn’t stay awake to understand the nuances of the game.

I didn’t need to open my eyes to hear the grunts as they called the plays and the crashing together of bodies when they tackled each other to the ground. It almost felt like I was on the sidelines, the surround sound was so good.

I laid there groggy for a few seconds with my eyes closed as I listened to sounds of the game. I hated football. Actually let me clarify that, what I really hated was watching sports on TV. I loved being at a game in person. There was always something going on. Whether it be the interaction with other fans or the five dollar hot dogs and French fries or the fights with the referees. I even loved going my cousins’ high school games. I only watched sports at home with Brian to make him happy. I started to open my eyes when I felt him wipe a wet cloth over the side of my face. I don’t know why Brian did that but the cloth was kind of sticky and really smelly. When I tried to bat it away, I came into contact with a big slobbering mouth.

Eeeewww! I sat up fast and pushed her away. Argent! You just have no idea where that mouth has been.

The fast movement made my head swim and I had to take a minute to get my bearings. My head was hammering and I felt a bit nauseous. Maybe I had too much drink while I watched the game. My head was fuzzy making me feel as though I had passed out for a really long time. I looked around to see what was going on when someone came up to me with a cloth looking very concerned. She wiped Argent’s slobber from my face and looked me up and down.

“What’s going on?” I asked but it came out more like a hoarse whisper. It took a while for me to realize I wasn’t at home on the couch, to remember that I wasn’t dreaming and that I really was here. In Thedas. During the Fifth Blight.

Shit! Every time I thought things may be getting better, they just went to Hell in a hand basket. Images flooded my brain of Cullen hovering over me and kissing my cheek and sucking on my earlobe followed by one of Cullen as he tried to strangle me. I felt tears well up in my eyes as I remembered him pinning me down and placing his hands around my neck. I brushed them away with the back of my hand trying to sniff back any more that tried to fall.

“Cullen?” I sobbed looking at Wynne. She tilted her head compassionately as her eyes flickered over to the football game that really wasn’t a football game after all.

It was hard to make out clearly what was going on because it was still dark and the fire had died down but I saw Alistair and Aedan pulling bodies apart from one another. It looked like an out of control wrestling match. I stumbled a little but managed to stand on my feet without falling over. Wynne put a steadying hand on my shoulder and I saw that Aedan had just pulled Zevran off of Cullen and everyone looked as though they had just rolled in the dirt. Which obviously they did. Aedan was holding back Zevran and they were both breathing hard, their chests heaving as they gasped for air. Cullen was sitting on the ground with his face in his hands babbling something I couldn’t make out. I watched as Alistair handed him a cloth that he batted away. When he looked up at them his face was a bloody mess. It looked like he had the crap beaten out of him. When Cullen tried to get to his knees Zevran launched at him again knocking him to the ground. Cullen didn’t even put up a fight. He just took the blows that landed on his body and face before Zevran was pulled off him again.

“Stop!” I croaked as loud as I was able before beginning to cry from the pain. “Just stop.”

I couldn’t speak very loud but it still got their attention and relief flooded their features as they saw me stagger toward them. Leliana rushed to my side putting an arm around my waist to steady me as Sten and Morrigan appeared out of nowhere from their posts. Time must have slowed. Because what felt like it happened hours ago to me seemed to be merely minutes to everyone else.

They all watched as Leliana escorted me over to the brawl.

I nodded when Aedan asked me if I was alright and they all let out a sigh of relief. I grabbed the cloth from Alistair and dabbed as one of the cuts on Cullen’s head. He sobbed something before pushing my hand away. I could see Zevran tense at the action. Something in me snapped at the sight of Cullen’s pitiful sobbing.

My hoarse whisper grew harsh and I felt myself becoming a bitch and not particularly not caring if I regretted it later. I mean, my friend just tried to kill me. I wasn’t even going to think about what else could have happened.

“Cullen, I’m only going to say this once. Get your shit together and clean yourself up! Stop your blathering I can’t take it right now.” I grabbed the cloth from Alistair and threw it at Cullen. I turned around to face Zevran. He wasn’t looking much better. “And you stay away from him. Let it go. It’s over.”

No one said a word. I looked around narrowing my eyes daring them to say something. They didn’t. So I walked up to Morrigan and grabbed her hand and pulled her to her tent. She followed me hesitantly, her expression guarded. I pulled her into the tent with me and half mimed half asked her to set up one of her wards around the tent. She looked at me as if processing my request and then cast her spell. Once she did that I curled up in a ball as far away from her as I could and cried myself to sleep.

 

**

 

I woke up around dawn the next morning. I didn’t sleep particularly well. Big surprise there. Even though I tried to be quiet and not disturb Morrigan I heard her leave sometime during the night. I’m sure my presence made her very uncomfortable. I got to hand it to her, she coped with it pretty well. I’d have to thank her later.

One good thing did come out of last night’s incident. I knew what to do about Zevran now, provided he didn’t already leave and was still alive.

I rolled over on my back and stared at the ceiling trying to gather the self -confidence I would need to project for what I was planning to do.

Please God, I prayed. Just let me have this one. I crawled out of the tent and steeled myself for their reaction. I was lucky the only ones awake right then were the fabulous four, Aedan, Alistair, Zevran and Cullen. I guessed it was the A-Team’s turn for watch. With as much grace and aplomb as I could fake, I made my way over to them. I tripped over a branch alerting them to my presence thereby eliminating the grace part of my plan. Bracing myself I awkwardly kept on walking straight over to their little huddle. Cullen was the first to stand and backed away putting plenty of space between us without looking me in the eye.

Believe me I was having trouble looking at him too. This was not going to be easy.

I went directly over to Aedan and stood in front of him for a moment. I could tell he was concerned by the look on his face but he said nothing and waited for me to speak.

Here goes.

“I need a knife please.” I croaked at him. Definitely not what he was expecting to hear me say but he recovered quickly.

“Good morning to you too.” He quipped. “And how are you feeling this morning?”

“We’ll find out after I get that knife.” I could hear Cullen’s intake of breath and Alistair make some sort of comment after Aedan translated for them. “The knife please?”

I put out my hand as if waiting for a knife to magically appear in it. It didn’t.

“What do you need the knife for?” He countered. I could feel my fuse start to shorten.

“Is it too much to ask for someone to give me a fucking knife?” I glared at him.

“Give her the knife.” Zevran called from behind them.

“Enough from you!” Aedan shouted.

I kept my hand out waiting for one of them to give me the knife. My arm was getting tired. This wasn’t going to work if they didn’t give me a knife.

Aedan bent down and pulled a dagger from his boot and slowly placed it in my hand. I saw his eyes flicker to Alistair and Cullen. Both of them tensed.

Finally!

I strode purposefully over to Zevran and pointed the knife toward him.

“Ah ha,” He cackled wickedly. “So we know where your allegiance lies don’t we.”

“Shut it!” I said feeling a headache starting behind my eyes. Oh please no! Not a migraine now.

“You cannot even hold a knife the correct way.” He challenged. I closed my eyes and stopped directly in front of him.

“You have a choice.” I warned him as I leaned over him with the knife.

“I can only imagine.” He snarled as I bent over surprising them all as I cut off the ropes. I heard the murmuring as soon as they fell to the ground.

“Are you crazy?” Aedan asked as Alistair unsheathed his sword. I heard Cullen call my name and I twisted around to glare at him. He looked torn between wanting to pull me away from Zevran and turning away in shame.

“You tried to kill us.” I said looking at Zevran. When he smirked at me I wanted to slap it off his face.

“Nothing personal, Mi Carina. It was only a job.”

Ugh, he was so frustrating!

“One it seems at which you sucked at.” I told him. My headache was getting stronger and I seriously was reconsidering those injections at the moment when I felt a wave of renewed energy flow over me. I looked up to see Wynne had come over and was wiggling her fingers at me. I smiled at her in thanks and got back down to business.

“So it seems, Mi Carina.” Seriously this man was getting on my nerves. The way he was looking me up and down was making me way uncomfortable. Staring at me luridly, I think that was exactly the right way to describe it.

“So it seems,” I repeated. “You still have a choice.”

“What are you doing, Renata?” Aedan asked standing beside me.

I glance over at him and sighed. “I’m too tired to explain. Just go with it.”

I turned back to Zevran giving him my full attention. I just wanted this conversation over as quickly as possible before I lost my nerve.

“Zevran, you are wrong when you say no one spared your life. “I saw him start to argue but I put my finger to my lips and shushed him and got laugh from Alistair. “I’m not done talking. I spared your life and now you have saved mine. Now I give you a choice. You are free to go.” That got a gasp from Leliana who had also made her way over to us after waking up.

“Or,” I continued and Zevran cocked hid head to the side as he listened to my proposal. “You pledge your allegiance to the Wardens. You can travel with us. Help us raise an army to fight the blight and we’ll protect you from the crows and anything else that would threaten us. Your choice. But if you leave you can never return and if you do we will kill you on sight.”

I turned to Aedan and Alistair and waited for their argument but no argument came. Not from anyone. They didn’t look particularly thrilled but they didn’t say a word.

Well. Well.

Maybe I did something right for a change. “Do you have a problem with this arrangement?” I asked looking at Aedan. He raised his eyebrow at me and shrugged before shaking his head.

“He may not have a problem with this arrangement, Mi Carina but I do.” Zevran began.

Oh hell. So much for doing something right for a change.

I turned back to Zevran letting my shoulders sag as I let out my breath. “What the hell is your problem?” I groaned.

“I do not wish to pledge myself to the Wardens.”

Of course not.

“Then you are free to go. But be warned, you will not be spared again.”

“Ah, Mi Carina, you mistake my meaning. I will not ally myself with the Wardens. They were my contract and I cannot in good conscience ally with them. It would make the Crows look bad, yes?”

“Are you kidding?” I’m so over this. “Good luck than and goodbye.” I walked away and headed toward Cullen to deal with the other half of my problem.

“But I will ally myself with you.” He called after me. I smiled but kept walking waving my hand at him.

“Then welcome to the party.”

 

I grabbed Leliana and Aedan. “One of you needs to come with me while I talk to Cullen.”

“Are you sure you want to do this right now?” Leliana asks.

“It needs to be done and soon. We can’t let something like this go unaddressed. If we do, it will fester and it will be too hard later. Believe me I am not too keen on doing this either.” I answered. “But I could wait until I get a drink of water. My throat is killing me. Ah, sorry about that. No pun intended.”

“I’ll do it.” Aedan surprised me. I really thought it would be Leliana. “If he tries something again, it will be easier for me to stop him.”

“Is that so?” Leliana mused. “Oh well. First let’s get you cleaned up. I see Cullen has made himself scarce anyway. We’ll talk to him afterward.” I nodded and followed Leliana but asked her to stop over at Morrigan’s first. I needed to thank her.

**

I felt a little better after breakfast. I didn’t eat too much because it still hurt to swallow. I knew it wouldn’t last much longer because Wynne would be healing me shortly but I needed to feel the pain while I spoke to Cullen. To remind myself that even though he would never intentionally hurt me, he was still dangerous.

Just like they all were.

Cullen tried to avoid me just like I thought he might. When he saw me approaching he apologized and tried to walk away.

No way. Not going to happen.

“Don’t you dare walk away from me.” I yelled as best I could to Cullen. It might not have worked but Aedan’s translation was far more convincing than me.

He froze midstride but didn’t turn to face me. I knew he was having trouble dealing, I was too. It’s not easy to get over your friend trying to kill you, even if he wasn’t in his right mind.

“I can’t.” Aedan translated for him. “I can’t do this. Not right now.”

“Too bad.” I told him. “I have to. If I don’t do this now, I might not be able to do it later. “

Cullen turned around with a defeated look in his eyes. His big beautiful haunted eyes. I could see his breath was ragged, his chest was heaving as he looked down at the ground unable to face me.

“You tried to kill me.” I croaked not only from the pain in my throat but because I was trying not to cry. “You put your hands on me and when I tried to stop you, you tried to kill me.”

Apparently Aedan was not aware of that part. He must have only known about the strangling part because he inhaled sharply at my accusation and put a hand on his sword. I reached beside me and placed my hand over his preventing him from drawing it. “Don’t.”

“How long has it been since you had any lyrium?”

“Today will be the third day.” He admitted after a long pause.

“Didn’t Wynne or Morrigan have any for you to use.” I asked slightly confused. Why do Templars become addicted and not mages, I wondered?

“Theirs is prepared differently.” He stated simply. “I ran out after the ambush. I won’t be able to get more until we Denerim’s Chantry.”

Okay, okay. That explained somethings but not everything.

“What happened last night? Did I do something to trigger you actions?” I know he has no good excuse but I was willing to move on. I can’t live with myself If I can’t forgive him. He is not mine to judge and I would continue to pray for him as I did for everyone else.

“You did nothing, Renata.” He finally looked at me and I could see the all the pain in his eyes. His physical pain and the anguish over what he endured in the tower accompanied by his actions from last night. “You were kind. Perhaps I am not meant for things such as that.”

“Bullshit!” Aedan smiled as he repeated what I said to Cullen. “We all have issues. You are not the only one that had it rough. You are strong Cullen and you need to stay strong.”

“I don’t want to hurt you again, Renata.” He pleaded. “Just stay away.”

“I need you.” I said surprising even myself.

“What?” Aedan and Cullen asked in unison.

“I forgive you. Even though you put your hands on me.” I swallowed back the emotions starting to well up at the memory of last night. This was harder than I thought. “You tried to kill me. That never happened to me before. I need you to make sure that doesn’t happen to me again. Now you have to teach me to defend myself.”

“Why, Renata?” He lamented. “Why do you forgive me?”

“Forgiveness doesn’t excuse your behavior, Cullen. It prevents it from destroying me. Will you accept it, Cullen so that I can move on?”

“I am not worthy of such generosity.” He whispered but taking a step toward us. I finally saw the result of the beat down Zevran gave him last night and it was a doozy. There was a cut on over his right eye and it was swollen and black. Really the entire right side of his face was marked up and there’s familiar looking mark at the corner of his mouth.

“Let me help.” I asked again and offered my hand to him. He walked to us slowly as if he had not quite made up his mind. I waited with my hand extended for the second time that morning wondering why the heck I left the tent.

It took forever but he finally placed his hand in mine and I surprise us again by thanking him.

“For what?” He sighed looking dejected.

“For trusting us.” I reply with a halfhearted smile. “Come on now. We need to get to Denerim as soon as we can.”

Chapter Text

We had been waiting in the back of the smoky old tavern forever or at least it felt that way. The tavern owner agreed to let us wait provided we stayed at one of the tables in the back out of sight. He didn’t want it publicized that a Qunari, an apostate and an Elf were hanging around indefinitely. Judging by the way we looked he wasn’t being unreasonable either. After more than half a day’s walk we were filthy, covered in dust and dried blood and I’m sure we didn’t smell the best either.

We had split up as soon as we entered Denerim. Aedan sent Alistair off with Cullen to get him what he needed while he took the dogs along with Wynne and Leliana to check out Brother Genetivi’s house. It did give me some time to try to get to know the rest of the crew. The only trouble was that I had to rely on Zevran to interpret and I wasn’t sure he would say exactly what I wanted.

Zevran. I still couldn’t believe I was sitting with an actual elf. Here I was sitting across from a man with large pointed ears and I wasn’t at a Comicon. I was staring at the dirty glass in my hand supposedly filled with water when I heard Morrigan’s mocking voice. I glanced up to see her looking at me expectantly.

“It’s not polite to stare, my darling.” Zevran said. “Is something bothering or do you see something you would like?”

Ugh. He was nothing like in the game that’s for sure. In the game his innuendos and comments were charming but in real life, and I still couldn’t even believe that this was real life, it was just nauseating.

“Sorry. I didn’t realize I was staring.” I apologized looking away from him as I slouched in my chair.

“I’ve never seen an elf before. Your ears they’re just so...” I admitted looking at my glass as I twirled the water around it.

“Never?” He scoffed. “Were your servants not elves? Did you not have one to help you wake up in the morning and get you dressed or wipe your...”

“Hey wait a minute! What makes you think...”

“Well only someone with no such experience would use pixie bane for such...”

Furious I stood up knocking over my chair. “What the hell is your problem? And who told you about, you know what, never mind.” I glowered at Morrigan and Sten. I’m glad they thought my discomfort was funny enough to share. I started to rant in English causing Sten to stand up and hiss something to Zevran as he scanned the room. Morrigan spat something to him and he grimaced but nodded before standing up to speak to me.

“I apologize for my impertinent remark. But if you would please, have a seat. You are making the big guy nervous.” He inclined his head toward Sten who was frowning at me.

“Fuck him.” I said walking away from the table. I was the most normal looking one in here. “I’m going out for some air.”

Somehow Zevran slithered his way in front of me before I got more than two steps. “There is air in here, my darling.”

“Well I would prefer it to smell less like beer and piss so I’ll just wait outside.” I snapped at him as I tried to slip around him. But he was expecting that and I felt his arm slide around my waist as he tried to nudge me back to the table.

“You are causing a scene, my dear.” He whispered in my ear. Then he bowed to me in an exaggerated movement. “I respectfully request that you return to our table to wait for the rest of our party. It is obvious to me that you are unfamiliar with this type of establishment. You give off the airs of one that is extremely sheltered. The moment you step outside you will be a target for thieves or worse. And as I have pledged myself to your protection, I would be the one to have to suffer from your stupidity.”

I faltered for a moment and looked back at Sten and Morrigan who were clearly not pleased with our display.

“You’re an ass.” I hissed at him as I righted the chair and flopped into it. I hated him for being an ass, even more for being right.

I’m never going to make it here.

Everyone settled back into their seats at the table and Morrigan once again said something.

“She says that you were weak and that she would have killed the Templar if it would have been her and I must agree”. Zevran stated.

“Well you can tell her that that makes three of us. I am weak. But I still wouldn’t have killed him.” I replied.

He cocked his head but translated my response to Morrigan who snorted and rolled her eyes at me before launching into a long winded tirade. Sten nodded in response to her monologue.

I looked back to Zevran. “What did she say?”

“She wonders how one such as yourself has survived so long being so incapable at protecting yourself.” He leaned forward across the table. “I say you must use your considerable charm and hidden talents to entice others to do your bidding, yes?”

In that comment alone I was accused of being a weakling, an idiot, and a whore. Apparently I ‘m making the wrong impression around here. I took a deep breath in through my nose and tried to fight back the resentment growing inside me.

Nope, not working.

“I’ll have you know, I think I’ve done pretty well for someone who has been strangled twice, thrown in a lake, attacked by city guards and almost killed by assassins. And Morrigan, I do believe I helped to save your magical ass. So don’t take this the wrong way but I may have more to offer than you realize.” I stood up to leave and realized I had nowhere to go so I sat back down with a huff. Zevran eyed me as he translated for them with a chuckle.

“My darling, I can help you learn to defend yourself. A few lessons will be all it takes and no one would be able to harm you like that again.” Her raised his eyebrow after lessons for effect.

I squinted my eyes at him and leaned over the table toward him. “A few lessons, huh? Just what kind of lessons are we talking about here?”

He leaned toward me smirking in response, “It would be my pleasure to instruct you in these methods and I’m sure you would enjoy them as well. A little exercise to get the blood flowing, yes?”

I’m more than certain we were not talking about self-defense lessons.

“Where and when would these lessons take place?” I sit back in my chair but he places his hand over mine so I can’t lean back too far.

“Well you were attacked when you were sleeping, so I suggest we practice the next time you lay down to sleep. I could…” I pull my hand from under his and shake my head vigorously at him.

“Not just no, but Hell No! “I continue to shake my head.

Unbelievable. Well maybe not too unbelievable. This is Zevran of course. “Why would you think I would ever do that with you?”

“The best way to learn to prevent another disaster such as that would be to try to recreate it and learn from it. Or would you like to practice with your charming young Templar?”
“He’s not my Templar. He’s just a friend.”

“Friends like him are my favorite kind.” Zevran laughs. “Strong, silent. They know how and when to use their mouth.”

“Asshole to lech in less than five seconds. You’re revolting.” I snorted making a face at him before turning away. “I’m not talking to you anymore.”

I can’t wait for the others to get back. Thankfully Zevran decided that drinking was more fun than conversation because he went to the bar and ordered a round of drinks.

It was probably another hour before Alistair joined us in the tavern and pulled a chair to sit between me and Zevran. Thank God! He said something I couldn’t quite make out but irritated Morrigan. I offered him my untouched drink and asked him where Cullen was.

Zevran chuckled and mumbled, “Not your Templar, huh?”

“Thug!” I snapped at him sticking out my tongue. Zevran just raised an eyebrow but resumed drinking as he smirked from his glass.

Again I asked Alistair where Cullen was in my broken Fereldan. He just gave me a smile and waved apparently saying something that made him laugh. Only it wasn’t a real smile or a real laugh. It looked like a sickly weak smile and a nervous laugh that you used when you didn’t know what to say to someone.

I let out a long sigh. I was getting really bored here. I couldn’t talk to anyone. There was no music and I never really liked alcohol and the water looked like something from my fish tank when it needed to be cleaned. I could sure use a soda about right now. Iced tea, maybe. Lemonade, even, in a CLEAN glass. But I got nothing. This day was taking forever. Then Aedan walked in like he owned the place, so much for keeping a low profile.

After throwing a handful of coins on the bar he made his way over to us pushing another table against ours to make room. Argent was hot on his heels until she saw me and bounded over and half jumped into my lap slobbering all over my face.

Okay, somehow dogs really just make everything better.

Chapter Text

I may have been a bit more vocal than I intended when Aedan instructed us to leave the city so we could make camp.

I didn’t see the reason behind it. I mean, yes we were keeping a low profile but there were things that needed to be done in town before we left in search of Brother Genitivi. We needed gear and supplies and information and there was a perfectly good house we could stay in while we were getting them.

“Renata!” Aedan sighed. “We cannot stay in town. There are not enough rooms and if there were, we do not have enough money for something so frivolous.”

“Frivolous? How is a good night’s sleep frivolous?” I stomped my feet. “We don’t have to worry about the weather, we are protected on all sides and most importantly we don’t have to sleep on the dirt.”

“It’s irrelevant because there are not enough rooms. Maker, woman, why must you question everything I say?” He asked running his hands through his shaggy blond hair. Actually when he did that, he reminded me of Cole. Sort of, only he was more buff and chiseled instead of lanky and scary.

“What do you mean there aren’t enough rooms available? We have an entire house we can hole up in!” I winked at Leliana who snapped to attention. I knew she also preferred not sleeping in the dirt as well.

“What do you mean?” Leliana asked sweetly.

“Why can’t we stay at Brother Genitivi’s? He’s not using it.” I asked causing Aedan to grab my arm roughly and pull me into the corner.

“How do you even know that?” His breath tickled my ear as hissed at me.

“Ow.” I pulled my arm from his grasp rubbing at the future bruise on my forearm. “That hurt.”

“What are you talking about?” He growled.

“I’m saying, let’s stay at Genitivi’s house. We would be safe there until all our business was concluded. There’s a roof, four walls...”

“A body...” Leliana added.

Yeah, there’s that. I forgot about that. I guess bodies don’t really magically disappear after being looted do they?

“So, ah... get rid of the body.” I shrugged. I know. It was a little cold of me, but the house wasn’t being used and did I mention I was tired of sleeping outside on the ground? Oh please let Brother Genitivi have wooden floorboards.

“How did you know he wasn’t there? We didn’t tell the others yet? Oh wait, it’s one of the things you just know.” He glared at me. “You want to sleep there so bad, you get rid of the body!”

I really wanted to sleep inside for a change, someplace that had a roof that wasn’t a cave and without dirt floors. Oh please let Brother Genitivi have wooden floorboards. I just looked at him for a minute, debating. I really really wanted to sleep in Genitivi’s house. Really. Aedan scowled at me, his unintentional challenge still hung in the air. I knew he wouldn’t expect me to do it but he seriously underestimated the passion with which I wanted to sleep inside an actual building.

Camping is ok, but staying in a house is much better.

“Okay,” I told him. “But someone else needs to clean up the blood. If there is any, I mean.”

His blue eyes blinked at me in disbelief. Ha Ha. Challenge accepted.

Leliana giggled putting her arm around my shoulder. “I knew I was going to like you.” Zevran looked at me over his drink but when he saw me looking back at him he shook his head and mumbled into his glass. Aww. Poor Zevran. Was he mad at me?

Too bad so sad.

“And just how do you intend to do that?” Aedan looked at me in surprise raising his hands palms out. “Wait, never mind. I don’t want to know. But if you get caught, you’re on your own.”

I must have paled at his comment because his face softened and he told me that I didn’t have to do this if I didn’t want to. But, I still felt like I needed to prove to myself to them that I was more than just the group’s seamstress and a whiner and could contribute something more than fish and complaints. I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders.

“Can I take a couple of people to help?” I asked him. Reluctantly he nodded after looking to Leliana.

“Take your assassin and someone else.” My assassin? I almost argued with him about taking Zevran, but realized that he was probably the best choice. Who knows better about disposing of bodies than an assassin and Aedan would only take so much lip from me.

Alistair stood and put his hand on his sword and Leliana stepped forward. “Alistair and I will help you too. We aren’t completely comfortable leaving you alone with Zevran.” Leliana whispered.

At first I was surprised, I admit it but I was also grateful.

“First things first. We need to get Alistair of his plate mail.” He blushed as I smiled up at him rapping my knuckles on his chest piece.

Zevran looked up from his drink again and smirked at me. “Ahh. It seems you do have a type. I can’t say as I blame you. I would also like to see him out of that armor.”
Hmmpf. I scowled at him but didn’t respond to him other than that. It would just have encouraged him more.

 

**

 

Before we left the tavern I asked Leliana to have Alistair go to the bar keep and ask if there were any ‘special problems’ that needed solving. She was just as surprised as him when he came back with a list of three other bodies that needed to be disposed of. I just shrugged at them and smiled. I had remembered this quest. I figured if we’re taking care of one, we might as well take care of the others and get paid for it in the process.

Zevran was the only one who didn’t seem impressed.

We started with the body in Genitivi’s home to give them time to clean up the blood plus it gave me incentive to take care of the other bodies faster knowing that when we were done I would be able to relax inside for an evening.

“I am surprised you chose to do this. Do you not have a problem with death?” Zevran asked as we were dumping the third body down the Chantry well.

Gross huh? I hope they didn’t drink from that well. Hell, I hope we didn’t drink from that well!

“Death isn’t the issue, Zevran. It’s the dying I don’t like. I don’t like to see it and I don’t want to be the cause of it.”

“Well then, my darling, you are in the wrong profession.”

“This is not my profession. This was a twist of fate.” I gritted teeth my teeth at him. “A very bizarre twist of fate.”

“Did you not just make a deal with someone to dispose of three bodies for money? In my experience that makes you a professional. And it seems that you knew exactly the correct spot to dump them. Very well executed for someone that is not in the business.”

Oh, I hated that he made sense.

“He is correct, Renata. Is he not?” Leliana smiled and winked at me as Zevran scouted our next location. “Even if I wouldn’t turn my back on him, he is rather charming, yes? Maybe he will be able to teach you a few things.”

“About as charming as Dracula courting a blood mage.” I sniped. Thank goodness we only had one more body left to take care of.

 

**

I never visited a brothel before and frankly never planned to but that was where the last body on the list was, so that’s where we had to go. If I thought the tavern was disgusting, the Pearl was even more so. The staff, if you could call them that, were dressed in extremely provocative clothing that left little to the imagination and posed in a multitude of seductive positions. It didn’t take a genius to see that Alistair and I were clearly out of our element. As a matter of fact, the owner came up to us as soon as we entered and asked if we were here because we wanted our first experience to be with someone who could ensure our satisfaction.

Truly!

She even offered us a two for one deal if we wanted share the same partner. Leliana and Zevran laughed at us but Alistair and I turned red and stammered out an excuse trying not to offend the Madam. Both of them seemed a little too comfortable there for my taste. I mean Zevran I could understand because he was raised in a brothel, but Leliana?

“Let’s just get this over with.” I said with a sigh. “I want to relax a little this evening and not worry about contracting some horrible STD.”

“We could relax together, you and I.” Zevran laughed. “Especially here. As they say, when in Nevarra...”

“You can get your jollies without me after we finish dumping this body.” I told Zevran. Did I really just say that? “You too, Leliana if that’s what you wish. But let’s get this over with. Being in here just makes me want to take a bath.”

“I believe they charge extra for that.” Leliana giggled.

 

**

 

After finally dumping the last body we returned to the tavern for our payment. Alistair divided it up but I wouldn’t take anything, “Just put it toward our expenses.” I said.

Since everything had gone smoothly that evening, we were done earlier than we expected so I turned to Alistair and asked him to take me to the Chantry again. I decided I wanted to try to see Cullen. He hemmed and hawed and stalled until Leliana finally convinced him that I wouldn’t give up until I saw Cullen and Zevran and her would head back to Genitivi’s house without us.

“But I don’t speak Antivan.” He whined as they started to leave.

“She doesn’t either, Alistair. She speaks Spanish or so she says. You will be fine. Or would you prefer that Zevran escort her?” Leliana teased. Or at least I think she said that. I’m pretty sure she did anyway. I think I’m getting a lot better at understanding Fereldan just not very good at speaking it.

Alistair shook his head at Leliana and sighed a loud, long, ‘I really don’t want to do this’ kind of sigh before taking my arm and escorting me back to the Chantry.

When we reached the Chantry doors they were closed for the night. I didn’t even think it was that late. It gave me the impression that there were not a lot of evening prayer services in this neighborhood. Alistair shook his head at me when the Templars at the door refused us entry and started to pull me away.

“No,” I told Alistair putting my foot down.

“I want to see Ser Rutherford.” I told the Templars at the door. I hope that’s what I said anyway.

They shook their heads and still refused to let us see Cullen. Again I told them I wanted to see Cullen but maybe I was a bit more obnoxious this time. One of the Templars took a step forward and it sounded like he threatened Alistair? They still weren’t letting us in.

So what did I do? The only thing I could do. I made a scene. I dropped to the floor and started to cry. Loud, mournful annoying sobs that made Alistair turn white and cringe. I grabbed the skirt of one of the Templars and my sobbing turned into howling and my howling turned to wails and finally the Chantry door opened from the inside.
Alistair was mortified. I owed him a big apology but that would have to come later.

A woman in a big hat and a tired expression answered the door. Her annoyed face turned to pity when she saw me on the ground hanging on the Templar’s skirt. She reached down and lightly touched my arm and whispered something in my ear. I could only make out the word ‘what’. I shook my head hoping she would realize I didn’t understand her. Then Alistair told her I spoke Antivan.

“What can I do for you my child?” She said in Spanish. I mean in Antivan.

“You speak Antivan? Thank goodness.” I breathed.

“I do my child. My name is Mother Perpetua. What is troubling you that you are unable to wait until morning?” She asked.

I stood up as the woman helped me to my feet and smiled slyly back at Alistair. When he realized what I did he looked pissed. Another apology for another time.

“I’m sorry I didn’t realize the Chantry was not open until it was too late and I needed to speak to my friend.” I explained faking a few hiccups and sobbing. “I was told he came here as soon as we arrived and I need to see him.”

“And just who is this friend?” She asked.

“He’s a Templar. Ser Rutherford.”

“Oh,” She said simply taking my hand. “Well come along child. We must not keep him waiting then, must we?”

She led Alistair and I into the Chantry past rows of pews making her way to the back of the building. Then she slipped into a door behind a statue of someone that was probably Andraste and asked us to wait. It seemed like we waited a long time and I could see Alistair was getting agitated. I was about to apologize for wasting his time when we heard a commotion coming from the door Mother Perpetua went through. I could hear voices but not make out the words. It sounded like someone was having a disagreement but I couldn’t be sure. Finally, Cullen stepped out of the room with the Mother behind him guiding him to our direction.

What a difference an afternoon made. He looked like a totally different person. Gone was the haggard blood shot look in his eyes. He obviously bathed, being free of the dust and grime from the road and he was clean shaven! Well cleaner shaven, I suspect he was one of those guys that always had five o’clock shadow even after he shaved. But wow, he looked like a dream. His hair was styled in tight little curls cropped close to his head. And his armor was so shiny I could practically see my reflection in the breastplate. He was wearing the traditional skirt of marron and gold and he looked damn fine. I could tell even Alistair was impressed.

There was no question in my mind that he must have taken Lyrium. I can’t say that I was surprised. Disappointed, maybe, but not in him. It wasn’t his time to quit and I knew it. I was being rather selfish with my unspoken hope that he would stay off the Lyrium and join us. But in order to be the man I fell for playing Inquisition he had much more to do. God help him with the crap that he had to face before becoming Commander of the Inquisition.

As soon as he got close enough, I lunged at him and wrapped my arms around him as best I could and practically knocked him off of his feet. He stiffened at first then the laugh that came from him made my heart sing and when he wrapped his arms around me I could have died on the spot.

I forgive you.” I told him and I knew he understood what I said when he hugged me tighter.

“I’m sorry to break this up,” Mother Perpetua sighed separating Cullen and I. “But now that you two have seen each other, Ser Rutherford must go back to his devotions. He has a lot to prepare for.”

“Oh,” I was disappointed I couldn’t stay longer. “Can I see him again tomorrow? I really need to talk with him.”

“We shall see, my child. Now if you and your other young man,” She pointed at Alistair. “Would please be on your way, we have things we need to do before morning service. Will we see you then?”

“Yes, “I said. “If I can get someone to bring me.”

I gave Cullen one last hug before Alistair and I left the Chantry for Brother Genitivi’s house.

Finally, I was going to sleep in a house again.

Chapter Text

I was almost late for Chantry service the next morning. It was amazing how much safer everyone felt in the house allowing us to sleep so much longer into the morning than we intended. It was the bells that woke us and I scurried to make myself presentable by dampening my washcloth and popping a sprig of mint in my mouth. I attempted to smooth the wrinkles on my shirt and pants, shaking my head when I realized my clothes would just have to do, then I wrapped the dark mass of tangles attached to my head in a scrunchi. At least I was presentable, I hoped.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Aedan asked sitting up, his voice hoarse from sleep.

I opened the door ready to leave and looked back. “Chantry service. And I’m late. I’m sure the Mother will be angry.”

“Not alone.” Aedan jumped up blocking the door throwing a look at Alistair. “You two were just there last night and it’s too dangerous.”

“So running around dumping bodies down a well isn’t?” I countered trying to adjust to his sudden proximity. I rolled my eyes at him. “I’ll be careful, plus it’s daylight. How much trouble could I get into during the day that I can’t get into at night?”

“You weren’t alone. And if you don’t like the way we do things around here, you’re free to move on. Your departure won’t change how we fight the blight. We have better things to do today than accompany you while you shag that Templar.”

Whoa!

I slammed the door and glared at him. Maybe I can be late.

“Shag a ... What the hell is your problem?” I snapped at him no longer caring about the lack of personal space. “And that Templar is our friend.” I’m not sure what bothered me more that he insinuated I was a slut or made me feel like I was expendable.

“I’ll go.” Offered Leliana as she pulled on her boots and ran her fingers through her bright red hair. “We’ll be discreet and won’t stay long. Come on, Renata it’s not worth it.” Then she grabbed my hand before we could argue further and pulled me outside.

“What’s the matter with him?” I asked scurrying after her.

She shrugged pulling me along faster. “Ah, you know boys. Sometimes they just need to feel like they are in charge.”

“In charge of what? Of who stays and who goes? Because it sounded like he couldn’t care less if I stayed.”

“Oh my dear, it doesn’t matter what he thinks. I would be very upset if you left. You make life so much more interesting.”

“As if fighting assassins and darkspawn weren’t exciting enough. Just add me, right? At least until we get back to Redcliff and I can talk with that mage.” I sighed. “Until then I guess I’m along for the ride and have to hold on with both hands.”

 

We slipped in Chantry just as the Templars were shutting the doors. I almost didn’t recognize Cullen as the one ushering us inside and gave him a relieved smile. He squeezed my hand as he led us to one of the pews in the back and saw that Leliana and I were settled before leaving us to continue some other Templar duties. As the service began I was able to actually look around. When I was here last night with Alistair I didn’t take the time to look other than a quick glance at my surroundings.

The Chantry was relatively simple. A large plain wood and stone building with a statue of a woman in the front holding a bowl of fire and candles lit at its base. And whoa! The place was crazy with incense. It wasn’t a particularly bad smell just a very over powering one and it made me a bit light headed. There were maybe two dozen people in attendance scattered around the nave and sitting in the pews. The pews were simple as well. They were basically split log benches and had no back. What impressed me is that they were polished so smooth that they reflected the small amount of light that shone through a small skylight in the ceiling. It reminded me of pictures I’d seen of early pioneer churches during the western expansion of The United States. Plain, simple, no frills, a Church for the serious minded worshipper, with no distractions.

The service was pretty close to the ones I attended at home, except it was led by a Revered Mother and not a Father. I wonder if that was because Andraste was a woman and Jesus was a man. It was always interesting to me how similar Andrastian seemed to be to Christianity. At least on the surface. A religion based on an omnipotent deity that created everything then choosing a seemingly insignificant person to teach, inspire and gather the faithful, only to be betrayed by a trusted loved one.

The parallels were obvious. My only question was if my God was the one true God, then was he also theirs? Was he also the Maker? He made everything, right? If he made my world, did he make theirs? Whose world came first, mine or theirs? Why did they get magic and we did not?

Okay, it wasn’t just one question. Unfortunately, I did not have enough of a theology background to ponder the finer details. Or enough language skills to even ask the questions. But it did make me think. That’s the good thing about faith, though, you don’t have to have all the answers in order to believe.

Leliana was enraptured. Her eyes glassed over as if in a trance and even though I couldn’t speak the language I could have sworn she was speaking in tongues. She was much more fascinating to watch than Mother Perpetua. She mouthed everything that was being said perfectly, every line, every chant, every prayer and sang every song in perfect time with the Revered Mother. I could tell she believed in the words of the Maker with her entire being. She was inspiring. It made me wish I could understand what was being said. Watching her made me think that she may have missed her calling by being a bard.

What if she never had met Marjolaine? Or had the time she spent with her been what led her to being so devout? Either way, in this setting it was easy to see her as a serious candidate for being Divine.

When I wasn’t watching her, I tried hard to be respectful and not fidget or act bored. It wasn’t easy though because I couldn’t understand anything more than a dozen words and after the lengthy service ended, I popped out of my seat and went to find Cullen. Last night while Alistair and I had been away, it had been decided we would head out to find Andraste’s sacred ashes the next morning and I needed to talk to Cullen. Things had been left unfinished between us and I suspected that even though he wanted to talk to me he was still too ashamed to have a real conversation, especially since we needed a translator. The things that needed to be said between us were private, discussions about feelings and regrets and desires. Things that were hard to say with an audience but in order for us both to move on we needed to say them. I only hoped it would help.

We found him escorting a pair of elderly worshippers from their seat to the exit.

“He looks much better already, no? His face no longer looks pinched and worried. It’s all but healed from the other night’s injuries.” She whispered to me skirting over the fact that he got those injuries for trying to kill me.

“I know,” I sighed wringing my hands nervously as I remembered how handsome he looked last evening. “Do you think he’ll want to see me? Do you think he has time to talk?”

“I think he does.” She smiled nodding her head in his direction.

I turned back to him and saw a tentative smile plastered on his face as he reached his hand out to me.

“Renata.” He said taking my hand and greeting Leliana.

He led us behind the door that Mother Perpetua disappeared behind last night to a small sitting area and I started to get nervous. Yes, I got nervous. I was never good at serious talks, I always screwed them up, made a joke or said something stupid when a serious response was required or just ran away. My break up with Brian, for example, instead of listening like an adult, I up and ran out of the house and look where that got me!

Here! About ready to screw up again. Some days I should just stay in bed.

Cullen sat on the chair next to me and looked at Leliana and nodded his head.

“Renata,” He said as translated by Leliana. “I know you have forgiven my behavior the other night but I have not. I feel as though I must explain what happened. I…I just don’t know where to start. Some things happened to me in the tower which I find hard to discuss but I need you to know that I care for you and I would like to make it up to you.”

I smiled at him and nodded, not quite sure where this was going. “There is nothing to make up. You agreed to teach me to defend myself so that it doesn’t happen again and that’s enough.”

He shook his head at me his smile faltering a bit and dropped my hands. “I want to and I will but I can’t do that now.”

I glanced over at Leliana in confusion who continued to translate for us. Both of us unsure what he meant. Her eyes flickered to his face briefly but remained neutral.

“In spite of what happened at Kinloch, I still believe that I can help. I want to serve. Too protect those who can’t protect themselves from demons and blood mages. Knight-Commander Greagoir heard from the Templars that were at Redcliff that I was headed here and sent me a letter.” He pulled out a small piece of paper rolled in the shape of a scroll and unfurled it for me and Leliana.

Leliana took it and quickly scanned the paper before murmuring something to Cullen and handing it back to him. He stood up and cleared his throat shooting me a nervous smile.
“The courier bird the Knight –Commander sent has new orders for me. There is an open position and they feel it would benefit all that I continue my service elsewhere. I agree. There are too many memories for me at Kinloch.”

He started to pace around the room but stopped and turned to face me. “I need to start somewhere fresh, make new memories someplace else.”

I felt a lump start in my throat. I think I knew where this was going.

He was going to tell me that he was going to Kirkwall. It made me sick knowing what would happened there in a few years but unfortunately that’s where he was destined to be.

Maybe I could beg him to stay here. Would that screw everything up in ten years? If there is no Commander Rutherford would the Inquisition fail? But I couldn’t just let him go without some kind of warning. He was going to work next to that crazy bitch, Meredith. I tasted bile rise in my throat at the thought. I, in the very least, needed to warn him of the red idol if not the red lyrium itself.

I hadn’t really told anyone that I knew about their future or their possible future as it were. I told Aedan I knew some things in the Fade and mentioned it again a little later but I think he just blew me off as crazy. The stuff I remembered wasn’t happening the same way, in any case. For example, Zevran, was supposed to pledge himself to the Warden not me and he certainly should be more charming than he was.

Obviously I’m changing some things, but how do I know what’s important and how can I stop it?

“How did you know it was Kirkwall?” Leliana asked placing her hand on my shoulder. I must have zoned out because when I looked up both of them were staring at me. Cullen was rubbing the back of his neck and looking at me like I should have said something then he kneeled down in front of me.

I needed to focus.

“Did you hear me?” Leliana moved her hand under my chin tilting my face to look at her. Did I miss something?

“What? I’m sorry. I must have spaced out. What was that again?”

“What is spaced out?” Leliana asked.

“It doesn’t matter.” I rubbed my temples as dark blotches swirled in part of my vision. Great, I think I’m getting another migraine.

“How did you know he was being sent to Kirkwall?” Leliana asked again narrowing her beautiful baby blues at me.

Did I say that out loud? Oops.

“Mi’n fréond,” Cullen whispered. “Cymst mid mé æt Kirkwall.” He has beautiful eyes too.

I heard Leliana gasp and looked over to see her mouth hanging open as she stared at Cullen. “Ne.” She said shaking her head to him answering half in Fereldan and half in Antivan. “I’m not asking her that.”

He smiled at me and took my hand in his. “Cymst mid mé æt Kirkwall.” He repeated turning pink.

“Wait a minute.” I think I finally came out of my daze. “Did you just ask me to go to Kirkwall with you?”

Leliana sighed and cradled her head in her hands. “Yes, he did.”

I jumped up nearly knocking them both over and started muttering in English. Kirkwall! Cullen just asked me to go to Kirkwall with him.
Well that was... unexpected.

Was that really an option? All this time I thought that I was supposed to be tagging along with the Wardens. Maybe I was really supposed to be with Cullen?
But did I want to? Kirkwall seemed like kind of a shit hole and I needed to talk to Jowan, he was my only lead on how I got here. If I went with Cullen, I might never get home. I mean it has been ever so much fun here. NOT!

I miss my parents. Did they even know I was gone? And still the question remains, am I really here?

“I need to think about it.” I answered causing Leliana to jump to her feet.

“You cannot possibly do that after what he almost did to you.” She hissed at me.

Cullen gave me a hopeful look and cocked his head when I asked. “Cullen, do you love me?”

She pursed her lips together and shook her head.

“Ask him!” I glared at her until she relented.

He paused at my question but didn’t answer and then he dropped my hand and looked at the floor.

That hurt. I mean I wasn’t in love with him either, attracted hell yeah, but it still hurt.

“Why do you want me to go with you then?” I asked.

He looked at me. “I could learn to love you.”

I sat back down but didn’t look at either of them. “You’re asking an awful lot. I couldn’t stay in the circle with you. Where would I stay?”

He kneeled next to me. “I didn’t plan that far in advance. But we can work something out. Will you come with me?”

I shook my head exhaling a long breath. “I don’t know. I need some time.”

“You cannot be seriously considering this?” Leliana exclaimed. “He tried to kill you!”

“This is too much. I need to think.” I repeated.

“His ship leaves tonight after the ninth bell.” She said reluctantly you only have until then.

“They leave tonight?” She nodded in response and stated, “And we leave in the morning.”

“Okay. Tell him that I will be back either to wish him farewell or to leave with him but I will be back.”

Cullen looked amazed that I was even considering his offer. I kissed him on the cheek smiling at his reddened face and promised to return in a few hours with my answer then Leliana and I left to go back to Brother Genitivi’s.

 

OMG. Did that really just happen?!

I was so confused!

Leliana made it quite apparent her feelings on Cullen’s offer and did it very loudly so much so that almost as soon as we entered the house, I was accosted by everyone telling me what a horrible idea it was. Did I ever get an earful! You must be crazy this, he tried to hurt you that, and my personal favorite but he doesn’t love you. Valid points, obviously, but a girl can only take so much negativity from people she was supposed to be travelling with. Drowning, strangulation, attempted murder, name calling just to name a few.

I wish I had my migraine medicine.

“That’s enough!” I said standing up and calling for Argent. “I obviously can’t think in here. We’re going for a walk.”

“You obviously can’t think at the Chantry either.” Aedan snarled.

See, nothing positive! Grrr!

It was no use arguing with him or anyone, to them I was just a useless airhead. I wrenched open the door and walked out. The only thing I was thinking was that my departure wouldn’t change how they fight the blight. I didn’t even hear anyone call after me as I slammed the door behind me.

Chapter Text

What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams. -Werner Herzog

Maker’s breath what was I thinking? 

Escape.  Guilt.  Redemption.  Salvation.  Or was I simply a coward, afraid of what I was becoming. 

I could blame the torture.  I could blame the death of my sweet Amell. 

The haunting vision lingers still.

Her fear and rage at what Uldred did to us, all of us, Jowan, her fellow mages and the Templar protectors.  She said she could end the chaos and save everyone. But she had only recently passed her harrowing.  She was too presumptuous for her own good, succumbing in the end and put down by another when I could not. 

But I withstood.  I endured the torture, one of only a few surviving Templars in the Circle itself, save for those locked outside.  I persevered because she saved me with a song.

 She has been kind to us all.  Sitting up with me at night when I was plagued by nightmares unable to sleep, gathering herbs for meals and potions, mending our garments; menial things that may not seem like much but contribute to morale.

I used my anger and expertise to defend the Warden and his crew enthusiastically ending all within my reach.  But, she had the Warden spare him.  She saw... something.  Whatever she may have seen in him surely saved her life.  She was the only one to treat him with any regard, saw his injuries tended and his belly full.  Even the healer refused to provide him aid.  It is no wonder he pledged himself to her protection.

I would have happily ended the assassin had the choice been mine and never thought differently. 

But where would she be then?  Those who were not in their tents sleeping were guarding the camp or watching the elf and not me.  It seems they should have.  I had been without Lyrium since the ambush and by the second day I felt my skin burning, my stomach churning and my head pounding.  I was seeing things that I knew were impossible, yet wanted to believe.  I let my guard down and let a sweet well intentioned face influence my good sense.  Again.  And again someone was hurt, almost died. 

Thank the maker for the elf. 

That she could forgive me, confuses me.  Her compassion shames me as does her capability for mercy.  Men have died for much less.  I was resigned to my fate at the hands of the assassin, almost to the point of anger when she stopped the elf.  I should not have been pardoned.  I do not deserve it.  I did not ask for it.  Yet still she gives of herself, her absolution.  Her humanity is all she has to give.   I am not worthy of it. 

She smiles less and less as if coming to some conclusion to which we are not privy.   I can see she is worried, as if she carries some great burden of which we know nothing.  In spite of it, she has been kind to us all.  It had been a mystery to us that she knows nothing about basic survival or the Common Tongue.  That she flourishes is a miracle in itself.  She is being instructed in common by Wynne, who until quite recently was the only one who understood her unfamiliar language.   Until the elf discovered another way.  Antivan of all things or at least a variation of it.  It’s as if she does not belong here and yet here she is.  Still she continues her language lessons with vigor wanting to be able to communicate with everyone.  Trying to prove she can adapt. 

Why is that?  Why does she know nothing about day to day life but is able to wrap every one of us around her finger?  She is courageous and determined.  She is light in the dark.  She is the embodiment of faith.  I feel inadequate in her presence.

Even the Qunari says he is indebted to her because she restored his soul.

Is that her purpose?  To help us retain our souls during the blight?  An overwhelming task to be sure.  If that is the case, may The Maker watch over her.

The Wardens and their company have formed an uneasy alliance, protecting each other while they figure out how to combat the blight.  She tells them there are a least two more who will follow them as they call on the treaties but will she last long enough to see it through?  I would like to say that I would be happy to lend my sword arm to the cause but truth be told I wish to be as far away from here as possible. 

Kirkwall seems to be the best solution. Did I make a mistake in asking her to follow me? I could assure her safety in a city far from the blight, the option seems prudent. She did not seem surprised at my reassignment as if she was expecting it. Yet she was surprised when I asked her to join me as was the bard.

I’ll admit to a certain amount of relief when the bard told me she declined.  I would never hurt her intentionally and have obtained a steady supply of lyrium to ensure an attack of that like would not happen again.  Of course I could not tell Renata that I loved her.   I am not in my right mind and her face is too familiar.  You do not force yourself on one you care for, no matter the circumstance.  That is not love. 

Warden Cousland says she seems certain of their success and seems willing to follow.  Her goal seems to go back to Redcliff and talk with the imprisoned blood mage.  To what end we cannot understand other than he might be able to help her get home.  Another mystery. 

She says that she is not of here but does not elaborate.  Only that she can help the Wardens and provide some information.  No one thinks she is a spy, she does not have the countenance.  She refuses to tell them what or how she knows, only that it is so.  That only makes Cousland wary.  He has confided in me and Warden Alistair that he feels he should trust her but after his experience finds it difficult to trust what cannot be proven. 

So he will wait for her to show her hand and be ready when she does.  For good or ill. 

I hate the sea.  It holds secrets beneath its depths as well as treasures.  One never knows what will happen be it storms, pirates or nothing at all.  There is no comfort in that for me.  Only my fervored prayers of a speedy voyage.  

So it is with great regret that I prepare to leave.  The ship is scheduled to leave at eight bells and will wait for no one.

I only wish she would have agreed to meet one last time so I could properly say goodbye but the bard explained of their immediate departure upon their return from the Chantry.  As it is I have prepared a letter for her to be delivered the next time she returns to Denerim and included a small token as a remembrance.  I only hope it serves her better than it did me. 

Farewell Renata and may the Maker keep you safe.    

Chapter Text

To say I was angry was putting it mildly. Enraged, furious, seething none seemed to cover what I was feeling. I’m not even sure there was a word invented for how I felt at this moment. I am a grown damned woman. I was sick of being intimidated and talked down to. Who the freaking hell did they think they were?

So they were warriors and mages and rogues, oh my! Who cares? They are only special because of they worked together, not because one was wiser or stronger of faster. I had just as much to offer, just not in the conventional way. Maybe if they removed their respective swords, staffs and daggers from their asses they would realize that. They made me want to scream in frustration!

Argent sat down next to me and leaned heavily against my leg as if attempting to calm me. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths to compose myself. Sometimes I can’t believe she is just a dog. Whatever she did worked and I felt much better. Bending down next to her I scratched under her chin then gave her peck in the top of her head.

“Come one baby, Mama needs some fresh air.” Then I stood up and headed down the dirt packed street.

I didn’t know where I was going but I probably should have paid more attention to where I was walking. Denerim may have been set up basically the same as in the game but from what I remembered it was larger. Much, much larger. The Market district was filled with people hawking things in stalls and tables lined around the square. It was great for me because when I was upset at home, I would go to the mall and window shop. So the fact that I had never seen any of this stuff before actually excited me quite a bit and took my mind of everything that was happening.

I found that it was just as relaxing for me here as it was at home. I enjoyed browsing the fabric stall that was next to the tailor. It sold all the materials the tailor used to make it’s few ready-made pieces. They must have had some kind of arrangement going because if you couldn’t afford the ready-made pieces, you could get the material to make them yourself at the fabric stall. There was a jewelry smith and let me tell you his pieces were beautiful! And I love jewelry. He mostly carried silver and semi-precious stones from what I could see. I had so much jewelry at home I could probably sell some and pay off two months’ rent, if it had been real. The only real jewelry I had were my diamond stud earrings, my diamond and emerald engagement ring- removed from my from my finger and placed in my purse out of spite, rather than return it to the asshole, and the large gold cross pendant of my grandfathers which I rarely removed. Unfortunately, that last piece didn’t seem to make the trip as well as the earrings. The heavy rope chain must have snagged or broken somewhere during my ‘travel’. It’s probably hanging on some brambles in the ravine or something. Too bad though, it was a beautiful piece and highly sentimental.

My next favorite stall belonged a baker. The smells wafting from there made it one of the most crowded. The sight of fresh bread and fruit tarts made me realize that I had not eaten yet today and that Argent was probably just as hungry. But there was no way I was going back to Brother Genitivi’s right now. I could deal with being hungry. I was always hungry anyway.

My attention was diverted from the market when I heard a moan from one of the side streets. This one didn’t look like a street from the game. I think it was more of an alley anyway. I looked down to see a scruffy young man bent over rubbing the back of his head. Poor kid. Looks like someone must have roughed him up. I headed down the alley to check if he was alright, hopefully he would realize that I was trying to help and not hurt him.

“Hey there,” I said softly as I slowly made my way toward the young man in the alley. “It’s ok. Are you hurt?”

His eyes shot up to my face and he tilted his head to the side in a question. I guess it was too much to ask that he knew English so I tried Antivan. Argent came up around from behind me and his eyes flew wide open. He raised his hands as if to fight her off.

“It’s okay sweetie,” I cooed to Argent. “Why don’t you fetch me something.” She did her little play bow and with a happy bark ran off to find something to play with, her stubby little tail wagging like crazy.

I helped the scruffy young man to his feet and check to see if there were any visible injuries but I couldn’t see any and when he stood up completely straight I realized he was a lot taller than I thought. Once again I asked him if he was ok and got no response until his eyes flickered off to the side. I turned around and saw two more men, one shabby looking and one greasy looking coming up behind us. I moved to stand between the Scruffy and the other two young men when I noticed a wicked smile start on Scruffy’s face too.

Shit, hell, crap! This was a set up and I fell for it.

I even sent my only protection away to go play. My mind was spinning trying to think of some kind of exit strategy that didn’t end up with me being beaten up again. No such luck. Well at least they didn’t have any weapons. I put out hands up and told the Scruffy I didn’t have any money but he just clicked his tongue and shook his head. I am more than certain he telling me his version of too bad.

I tried to back away from him toward the street but the shabby guy from behind us grabbed my wrist. Even though I wasn’t able to twist out of his grasp, I managed to maneuver so that he was on the same side of me as Scruffy. So now Greasy was the only one between me and escape save for the fact Shabby still had my wrist. I kept talking and tried to maneuver some more but I was not very successful at shifting Greasy’s position. I gave my wrist one last twist to get out of Shabby’s grasp and heard it pop. Oh my Lord I felt it too, like a white hot pain shooting up my arm and into my hand.

I tried to kick Greasy in the shin but I missed and fell to the ground when he suddenly went flying past me in the direction of his friends knocking them down. I quickly glanced behind me and saw Argent standing next to Zevran wagging her cute little stubby tail.

Well good girl, Argent. The next box of Scooby Snacks is all yours.

I guess I stood there staring for just a little too long because Zevran unknowingly reached for my injured wrist, “Come along, Renata darling, before I feel the need to finish them off.”

Instinctively I pulled my away from him. He looked surprised until I reached for him with my other hand and curled my injured wrist into my chest. Damn, it hurt.
“How very fortuitous that I found you when I did. It seems that not everyone is as affected by your charms as I.” He drawled as he helped me to my feet.

I’m not sure if that was a compliment or not but since he just saved my butt, I’ll let it pass.

“Thank you.” I panted as I cradled my wrist. I could feel myself starting to feel faint with the pain. “I think my wrist is broken.”

“Well, let us leave this dark alley and have a look at your wrist, shall we?” He escorted me out of the alley and found an empty crate nearby. Flipping it over he directed me to sit on it and reached for my wounded wrist.

I presented my wrist to Zevran and he took it more gently than I would have expected. He pressed lightly around my wrist and hand taking great care not to cause me any additional pain. As gentle as he was though, I still had a fair bit of it. As if he noticed my discomfort he stopped touching my wrist and grimaced at me. “I believe it is broken. You are lucky your hound came to get me when she did or it could have been far worse. What were you thinking?”

I felt my cheeks start to flush. I believe Zevran was actually being nice but what he said made me feel criticized and I felt tears start to form at the corner of my eyes.

No! Just No, Renata. You are being way too sensitive right now. Whoo. Take a deep breath and relax. I counted to ten. One. Two. Three. Four...

“Renata? Can you hear me?”

I blinked and nodded at him. “Thank you again, Zevran. You’re right. I’m lucky you came when you did.”

“If I didn’t know better I would think your hound was looking for me. She is a... special dog, it seems.”

Argent plopped herself in the dirt next to us and whined at her name while bits of slobber dripped from her large mouth.

“Special doesn’t do her justice.” I smiled at her.

“Are you ok now?” He asked me. “Do you think you can make it to the Apothecary’s stall? It seems you need a healing potion. I nodded at him and stood up.

“Yes that sounds like a great idea. Let’s go.”

Not only did he buy a healing potion, but he must have heard my stomach growling because he bought a loaf of bread and some milk and allowed me to eat it and share it with Argent refusing all but a small bite for himself. Between me and Argent it was almost an entire loaf. I must have made a very unladylike face when I ate the last piece because Zevran pulled out a fruit tart.

“I was going to save this for later, but it seems you could use it more that I.” He offered it to me. Oh boy it looked really good too. The crust looked just the right color topped with a caramelized mixed fruit and just a hint of sugar on the crust. My mouth watered just looking at it.

Man, I really was in a crappy mood. Zevran was actually being very nice and I was still mad at him because I was making a pig of myself. I hesitantly reached over for the tart but Zevran put up a hand.

“You will share this one with me, not the hound.” He warned.

Share? Who said anything about sharing? I was planning on eating it all by myself.

I sighed and nodded my head. He pulled the tart in half but it was very messy. Yummy but messy. Sweet and tart and flaky and doughy, this baker was a master. I could still feel the stickiness on my face when Zevran licked his thumb and wiped some of the glaze off my cheek. I must have looked like a deer caught in the headlights because as soon as he saw how I reacted his expression hardened and his body language stiffened.

“Are you ready to go back yet?” He snapped causing me to wonder where Friendly -Not So Smarmy Zevran went. I was caught off guard by the change in his attitude but decided to let it go. I was actually getting along with him without all the propositioning mumbo jumbo. I was nice while it lasted or maybe it was just the tart in me talking.

I wasn’t ready to go back just yet. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. This was a huge decision and could affect all of Thedas.

I don’t think that came out like I meant it. I mean deciding whether to follow Cullen or stay in Fereldan could have far reaching consequences and quite honestly I was afraid to make the choice. Wrong or right, I was afraid.

Zevran and I must have made our way through three quarters of the stalls when we saw a cluster of people standing around a fabric covered barrel. There seemed to be a rambunctious crowd hanging out there. It pretty close to one of the allies and a fast talking red headed man was at the center of it all. Of course, I couldn’t understand what he was saying but he was interesting to watch. It looked like he was playing a shell game of sorts and everyone was certain they could keep their eyes on the prize and find the stone under the nutshell. His hands were moving just as fast as his mouth and it was very entertaining.

It was interesting that nobody seemed to be able to figure out where the stone was and I felt myself want to give it a try as well. This guy was a con man. I never even met one at home, that I know of. But he was an honest to goodness con man. Wait, that didn’t come out right. Anyway, he must have noticed me and pointed at me as I watched from the middle of the crowd. Oops. I’m not supposed to be calling attention to myself. I just shook my head and put up my hands to wave him off.

“I don’t speak your language,” I said in Antivan as I backed away. His face softened and he smiled even brighter.

“Ah, but I might just speak yours.” He said in Antivan waving me closer and Zevran laughed pushing me toward him.

“I…I don’t have any money to play.” I stuttered. Crap. How do I get myself into these things?

“For a pretty girl such as yourself, I think I can spot you. My name’s Slim. Care to give it a try?”

“No really, that’s okay. I can’t pay you back.”

His grin just got wider. “One try. That’s all. It’s the last turn and then I will be closing up. I’ve noticed you watching for a while and I bet you think you got it figured out. Why not give me a try? If you beat me, I’ll give you a silver.”

“It couldn’t hurt,” Zevran smirked. “If you lose, you lose nothing. If you win, you could buy lunch.”

Well…

It was a pretty generous offer. And he’s right I didn’t have anything to lose. My self-respect seems to be missing anyway. So…

“Alright. I’ll give it a shot.” I heard some giggling from a couple of ladies that were also watching and a few chuckles from the men but who cares.

“All you have to do is keep an eye on the shell that covers the stone and when I’m done shuffling them, point to the shell it’s under. Easy right?” He just kept smiling as his hand moved the three shells around on the barrel. “Just keep watching.”

He made sure that I was able to keep my eye on the correct shell for a while before his hands got too fast for me to follow. So fast that I really did lose track of it.
“Okay,” Slim started. “Are you ready? Do you know which shell the stone is under?”

I didn’t. I really didn’t. I looked over to Zevran who just quirked his brow as he put up a hand as if to say, it’s all on you, girl.

Dang it!

I paused a moment raising my finger about to pick one of the three shells but stop. I can get this. I know I can get this. I remember something about how to win this from somewhere... White Collar, maybe?

I dunno.

“Come on Darlin’,” Slim says with an easy smile. “I can’t wait for you all day. I have important work to be done.”

Time for the moment of truth. I look at Slim and point to the shell in the middle. Slim smiles so big he looks like a jack o lantern. “Are you sure, Darlin’?”
I just nod at him and say yes but as he reaches for to turn over the middle shell I stop him. He cocks his head and gives me quizzical look. “Milady? Did you change your mind?”

I shake my head and look him in the eyes. “Can you turn over the two end shells?”

Slim freezes staring at me suspiciously. “What?”

This catches Zevran’s attention and I can feel his eyes burning with curiosity on the side of my face.

“Can you turn over the two end shells?” Slim narrows his eyes at me for a seconds and then a smile turns up end of his mouth.

“Ah Milady, you play a grand game.” He turned over the two end nuts revealing nothing underneath but an empty space. “It looks like I owe you a silver.”

There were a couple more gasps and chuckles from the crowd before they dispersed as Slim laid a silver on top of the barrel.

“Well done,” He praised. “You earned it. May I ask, are you in the business? And if so would you be interested in a few quick little jobs?”

Chapter Text

Zevran had really great fingers.  Long, strong, nimble fingers and I think he got off proving to me just how expertly he could use them.  I definitely had no complaints and I think he enjoyed the diversion as well.  As a matter of fact, after we did it, he all but said as much.  I’m starting to think there may be more than meets the eye to Zevran.  He may have said he wasn’t interested in doing it with me but I saw the glint in his eye when Slim propositioned us. 

Wait a minute.   Not in that way!

When Slim asked us for a little help with a simple job as he put it, I agreed.  I wasn’t doing any kind of Warden thing and Slim assured me that the person we would be stealing from deserved it.  Really deserved, like treated their servants and everyone else like crap and had it coming.  More importantly he promised no one would get hurt.  If we were successful we would split the profit.  Immediately I was game but Zevran had his reservations. 

“Are we not trying to lay low until we leave in the morning.  Your friends will be very displeased if we are caught.”  He warned pulling me aside his face mere inches from mine.  “Did I not already save you from a disaster?  Surely you can see that this course of action is unwise.”

 My friends?  They sure weren’t acting like they were my friends.  I think they were just keeping me around because of Argent.  They certainly treated her better. 

“Oh, come on Zevran.  Don’t you want to do something besides sit and wait quietly in a house until it’s time to leave?  Besides I just can’t go back there right now.  I’m not ready to deal with them yet.”

“This is not a good idea, my dear.   But, alas as I have pledged myself to your protection, I will accompany you and see that you stay out of trouble.”  I saw something in his eyes, excitement maybe.  Certainly not anger because I saw him smile a little as he turned away from me. 

After we got the information we needed from Slim, I grabbed his elbow and pulled him along with me, Argent close at my heels.  “I think I have an idea…”

The first job went pretty easy, at least for me.  Zevran reluctantly agreed to follow my plan and let me be the distraction while he actually did the stealing.  I have to hand it to him.  He was very talented.  I was definitely impressed and since he did most of the work I gave him more than half of what we earned from Slim.  I rather think the Zevran and I made a pretty good team.  He even said that if I wanted, he would teach me how to pick locks. 

Something else to think about.

The next job Slim offered us didn’t go as smoothly as we planned.  It was at The Pearl.  I should have known.  The plan was to grab some guy named Tilva’s key while he was otherwise engaged and then run like hell.   But when we tried to discreetly enter The Pearl leaving Argent outside, Sanga, the Madam recognized us.  She came right up to us with a grin and made a big show of how we returned and asked me, much to Zevran’s amusement, if I was finally ready to lose my maidenhood.  It was all he could do stay on his feet while he translated for me because he was laughing so hard.  That’s when Zevran changed the plan and ordered us a private room, which might have pissed me off had in not been right next to our target

Zevran slipped the lady a coin and we were instructed to wait in the lounge until our room was ready.

“Now we must be patient, my darling.”   I nodded at him as he came over and slipped an arm around my waist and pushed me against the wall.   “If we make a fuss we will be discovered so we must play along.  We must give them a show, mustn’t we?  They may suspect something if we do not look enamored with each other.”  

“Enamored?”  I croaked trying to clear my throat.  It was starting to get hot in the lounge with Zevran pressing me up against the wall and whispering in my ear.

“Yes, enamored.”  He exhaled, his breath tickling my ear.  He cupped my face with his hand and moved his head close to my neck as he continued to murmur instructions.  It made feel light headed and a fluttering started in my stomach. He nuzzled my neck with his nose breathing in my hair.  “Should we make it convincing?”

What the…?  How did this even happen?  Sure he was attractive, fascinating even but he was way not my type.  He was a murderer after all.  Maybe it was because he was being so nice and treating me like a person or maybe it was the bad boy thing.  I’m not sure but whatever he was doing was making for a good show.  I was starting to believe myself. 

His hands were ghosting over my arms and shoulders and he was leaning in so close, I couldn’t breathe.  If this had been happening to me at home, I would have thought that he was actually making a pass at me.  But I am not at home and we are “putting on a show.”

“I’ll follow… I’ll follow your lead for now.”  I stuttered unable to say anything else. 

“You should probably touch me.”  He smiled at me before taking the scrunchi from my hair and running his fingers through it.  “You have such beautiful hair, Renata.”

I couldn’t help myself and leaned into his hands and took a deep breath.  I closed my eyes and hummed in thanks unable to make words come out of my mouth.  I moved my hand to cup his face.  He nuzzled his face close to my ear and I reached out and lightly traced one of my fingers along the top of his ear.  It felt just like a regular ear but it was so different.  I saw it twitch involuntarily and felt him stiffen immediately.

“Never touch my ears!”  He hissed loudly pulling away.  

“What?”  I blinked in confusion suddenly feeling very cold without him against me.

He turned away from me and walked up to one of the working girls and speaking to her harshly told her something that made her jump to attention and run off.  “Our room will be ready in less than five minutes.”

He came back over to me and grabbed one of my hands and started to pull me down the hall after the girl.  “We will follow my plan now and you will do as I say.”

What in the world just happened?  Now he was back to being a dick.

“What did I do?”  I asked bewildered. 

But he didn’t acknowledge me.  He just kept pulling me along with him behind the girl.  When she got to a room at the end of the hall she unlocked it and we walked right past her.  After a curt nod from Zevran to the girl she shut the door and left us alone. 

“Take off your boots and open your tunic.”  He ordered as he sat on the bed and pulled off his own boots.  “Then get on the bed.”

“Whoa!  I thought this was just a show.” 

“Do not get so excited, my darling.  When I seek my own pleasure it is in the arms of those with more experience.”  He sneered.

Ok there you go.  All the good feels just went away.  What an a-hole!

“Fine.” I snapped untying my tunic.  “You don’t have to be an ass.”  Zevran just glared at me as he came closer.

“You should be grateful I’m such an ass.”  He put his hands in my hair on either side of my head and ruffled it. Then Zevran slid the tunic down my shoulders so low I thought he was taking it off but he stopped just above the swell of my breasts.  “I’m usually only nice to people before I’m about to kill them.  It catches them off guard.  It might serve you well to remember that.  Now get on the bed...and stay there until I return.”

I glared back at him but did as he said.  I really was kind of at his mercy.  There was no way I would make it out of The Pearl without him.  I just needed to wait out his mood swing, besides I think I figured out his plan. 

Zevran left the room and I got under the covers and waited.  It was nice laying down on a bed for a change.  Last night we let Wynne use the bed.  We agreed that is was the fairest thing and that everyone else would just bitch if someone else used.  It was the best sleep she ever had she told us later. 

It was hard for me to tell how much time had passed before Zevran returned but when he did, he jumped right into bed with me and got under the covers.  He placed a finger over his mouth and shushed me then rolled on top of me and situated himself between my legs.  I thought he was going to do as much, but AWKWARD!

Outside in the hallway we heard some yelling and a commotion then the opening and closing of doors.  “Get ready.”  He whispered pulling off his own shirt and rolling his hips into me.  Me thinks he takes the role play a little too far.  Whatever, at least he wasn’t being an ass.  There was a commotion outside our door and then the door handle started to jiggle.

“Now!”   He whispered as he leaned over me and kissed me. 

That’s right.  He kissed me.  Tongue and all.  Dry humping too.  I froze and closed my eyes.  “Renata, come one!”  He hissed.  I opened my eyes to see him looking down at me.  Why was I strangely turned on?  Psychology wasn’t really my thing, not my favorite class in college but I think it was because I knew this was just a distraction.  No feelings were involved.  Just a way to get the key and not get caught.  I wondered if he was getting turned on too until I felt a bulge in his pants. 

I could use that.  I grinned at him and leaned into his chest and licked one of his nipples resulting in a surprised gasp.  “Little minx, you are full of surprises.”

The door swung open just as he kissed me and rolled his hips again.   He tasted like fruit tart and his lips were surprisingly soft and gentle and the kiss was far too short.   I felt that flutter again.

 

Uh oh.   Danger, Will Robinson.  Danger!

 

I must have closed my eyes again but they flew open when footsteps entered the room.  I looked toward the door and saw one very pissed off man and screeched as loud as I could.    

I pulled Zevran tighter on top of me using him as cover.  “What is the meaning of this?”  He bellowed at him.  “We paid good money for this room!  Get out of here!” 

I heard more footsteps in the hallway and saw Sanga peer into the room and I screamed again for show.  She just shook her head and pulled Master Tilva out of the room and closed the door behind them. 

Shew!   I can’t believe that really worked. 

“Well done, my little thespian.” He smiled down at me with what looked like a genuine smile.  “You seem to be a natural.  There may be hope for you yet.”

Not so surprisingly, his compliment flustered me. 

I guess you don’t hate me anymore.”  I said and he chuckled.  “Is that a dagger in your pants or were you enjoying that too?”   

“I told you I prefer more experienced partners.”  His eyes turned hard again and he sprung off the bed reaching into his pants to remove an actual dagger. 

 

Oh.

 

Embarrassing.

 

The flutters turned into gurgling and I started to feel a little ill.  I sat up on the edge of the bed to put on my boots.  Zevran did the same.  I was at a loss for words.  That doesn’t happen often, believe it or not.  Zevran reached for his shirt to put it on when the door flung open again. 

“Oh my God!  What’s a person got to do to get some privacy around here?”  I yelled looking at the intruder.

Looking at Alistair.

Looking in his understandably shocked expression, mouth open and eyes wide open as he mumbled something before exiting the room and shutting the door behind him.  

 

Aw Shit.

Chapter Text

It’s amazing how much my life resembles a sitcom right now, where every episode is some kind of a misunderstanding.  I mean who could have predicted that sweet trusting Alistair of all people would walk in on a completely innocent moment between Zevran and I half naked on a bed in a whore house. 

Well mostly innocent.

Certainly not me. 

“You better go after him.”  Zevran grinned.  “We could use this as our escape.  Chasing after the jealous boyfriend is an excellent excuse to leave.  I have used it often enough.  I shall meet you at Slim’s.” 

“This isn’t funny.” I hissed as I finished tying my boot laces.  But I couldn’t help it, I turned away from him and covered my mouth with my hand and covered a giggle.  “Well, maybe a little.” 

I bolted off the bed and out the door to look for Alistair.  I saw him at the end of the hall heading toward the exit and called after him.  He froze but didn’t turn around so I kept running after him and right into one of the working ladies as they were exiting the last room in hall.  I fell with a thud onto my chest knocking the air out of me, probably bruised myself as well.  The prostitute falling on top of me dropped a tray of some kind of dessert on the floor next to me.  The way things were going, I was sure it should have landed on my head. 

Thank God for small miracles.  

The woman righted herself and started shouting at me, gesturing to her dress and the tray of food.  It may not have gotten on me this time but it covered her.  She may have been a tiny bit pissed.

I sat up and hugged my knees to my chest in embarrassment and didn’t move as she continued to yell at me.  

I might have to go to Kirkwall regardless what I decide just to get away from the humiliation that seems to be constantly dogging me here. 

A strong hand in front of my face and an adorably accented voice speaking my name snapped me out of my pity party.

“Alistair,” I croaked as I looked up into his slightly pink face.  Such a gentleman, even as he avoided looking at me.  He pulled me to my feet and still without looking at me, waved a finger at my chest.

What?

I looked down and saw that my tunic was still pulled down dangerously low practically exposing my breasts.

Oops.

I shrugged it back up onto my shoulders and tied it closed, making us both feel a bit more comfortable. 

“Please take me out of here.”  I managed to beg hoping he would understand.  He nodded hastily pulling me out the door practically tripping over Argent. 

It took a while for both of us to regain our composure enough to meet each other’s eyes without flushing but finally we were able to look at each other in the face. 

“How find me?”  I spoke in my broken Fereldan.  “Argent.”  He pointed at my feet where she was sniffing.  Probably trying to figure out what kind of dessert was spilled next to me on the floor.

“Thanks.”  I told him as he tried to lead me toward Brother Genitive’s house.  “But we need to see someone first.”

I pulled a reluctant Alistair along with me to Slim’s spot in the market to wait for Zevran just as Slim was packing up his table.

“Milady, your companion just left and asked that I give you the payment.  He says that he will meet up with you later.”

How in the heck?

Did they have a back door out of there that I didn’t know about?  Just how did he get to Slim’s before me and have time to leave without me seeing him?  Maybe it’s that stealth thing.  Maybe I’ll get him to show me how to do that too, if he stops being a dick.

Alistair looked on quietly trying to be nonchalant as I took the bag of coins. 

I wiggled the bag of coins at Alistair with a smile.  “Dinner.”  I said and his answering smile was worth it all.

We stopped at a meat stall and I bought 3 chickens to take back with us, already cleaned and butchered of course, they just needed to be cooked.  Hopefully that would make everyone happy.  Happier, at least.

I followed Alistair into house careful to stay behind him and the chickens, I wasn’t sure what kind of reception I would get.  I shouldn’t have worried.  As soon as I entered, Leliana was on me like a flash hugging me and apologizing for her behavior.  Everyone else just nodded at me to acknowledge my presence and Aedan and Zevran were nowhere to be seen.

“You brought dinner?”  She asked Alistair who shook his head and pointed to me.

“I was hungry.”  I shrugged.  “But someone else needs to cook it.”  Leliana clapped in apparent glee and hugged me again handing the chicken off to Sten. 

“I found a bathhouse and was just about ready to leave, would you like to come along with us?”  I looked and saw that Wynne and Morrigan were carrying their packs and headed out the door.  “Sten can cook the chicken.  We shouldn’t be too long.”

A bath! It felt way too long since I had a nice hot relaxing bath.  I knew better but imaging myself in thick aromatic bubbles up to my neck with loofa in one hand and a pumice stone in the other seemed delightful. 

She didn’t need to ask me twice.  I grabbed my stuff and followed them out the door.  I couldn’t wait.

 

The bathhouse wasn’t quite like I was hoped.  The place was dark and smelled like a cedar closet full of wet leaves.  The worst part was the soggy floor.  Not bad enough to keep me out though.  We got a bath like we wanted but the water was luke-warm and the tub though cleaner than I would have thought looked more like giant trough.  Thank goodness Wynne and Morrigan were with us because they heated the water to a nice relaxing hot temperature.  And I definitely wouldn’t have been surprised if we did bathe in a giant trough.  It wasn’t very comfortable either all hard angles and rough wood so there was really no relaxing in the tub.  However, bottom line was we got a bath, we got clean and we didn’t stink.

I still was a little put off about bathing in front of everyone, but that was what people apparently did here, well at least what we did.  It didn’t seem bother anyone else.  I guess privacy is overrated. 

I also noticed I was starting to starting to get a little fuzzy in certain areas.  Not a lot but the prickly feeling made me uncomfortable and self-conscious.  I do have dark hair after all and where I was from it was common practice to remove body hair.  When I asked Leliana how she kept her arms and legs free of hair she laughed and pulled out a giant straight razor.  Was she teasing me?

I mean giant! 

Bigger than the ones used by barbers in the old western movies I used to watch with my dad.  Really!  I just needed to shave under my arms not decapitate a cowboy.  My legs and my other more private area could probably wait.   I definitely didn’t want to take any chances.  I wasn’t that desperate just yet.  I just had them waxed not too long ago.   

Morrigan pulled vial filled with a cloudy liquid from her pack and handed it to me.  It smelled like clay.

“A dissolving cream.”  Leliana translated for me giggling as she put the razor back in her pack. 

Sweet Lord!  Morrigan had a bottle of Nair!  I could have hugged her but it didn’t seem appropriate considering our state of undress. 

“Could you teach me to make this?”  I asked her and being a woman of few words she nodded her head once in reply. 

 

 

Once back at back Bother Genitivi’s house I felt much better.  Not only because I was finally clean and clean shaven and didn’t smell like an Italian sandwich but my mood was better and I was relaxed. I had time to consider Cullen’s offer and what I was going to do.  I didn’t even feel anxious when Aedan who was in conversation with Alistair gave me a dirty look.   The only thing that worried me was that Zevran still hadn’t returned. 

Did he take off for good?  Not likely.  He did say he would meet up with us later.

Speaking of that temperamental elf, he had given me a few things to think about.  Zevran promised to teach me lock picking maybe even how to sneak around without getting caught.  Wynne was teaching me how to read and write Fereldan or Common or whatever we have been speaking.  Morrigan was going to show me how to make a depilatory cream.  Plus, I needed to see Jowan.  He might be my only hope of getting home. All this in addition to the information I could provide the wardens about their fight against the blight was a pretty compelling argument for staying with then in spite of our differences. 

On the other hand, there was Cullen.  My gorgeous, sweet, damaged Cullen.  Cullen who I knew, in spite of everything, was going to be okay as long as he kept his faith and stayed strong and stayed off lyrium.

Who needed who more?

Now that I think about it I don’t even think there was really a question.

 

After a filling meal of chicken and dried fruit in which we all mostly ate in silence, Aedan joined me.  If I would have been a dog, I would have raised my hackles.  Instead I just took a deep breath and waited. 

“It’s getting late.”  He said without looking at me as he sat on the bench beside me.  “Have you made your decision?” 

I grunted at him.   Not the response he was looking for, I know.  But...

“Look,” He closed his eyes took a deep breath as well.  “I know I can be an ass...”

I snorted. 

“Really, I hadn’t noticed.”  I stood up.  I was in a good mood, finally, and didn’t want to start fighting so the best thing was to probably move away from him before one started.  He reached out and grabbed my hand, gently.  I was surprised.

“Renata, “He sighed.  “Did you?”   He arched a brow finally looking at me. 

“Yes.  But you’re not going to like it.”  I warned reaching for my bag and quarter staff.  “I’ve got to go or I’ll be late.  Argent!”  I called to her patting my leg.  She looked up at me licking to remains of the giblets from her paws and rolled on her back. 

“Traitor!”  I hissed. 

“I’ll go with you.  You’ll need a translator.”  He offered grabbing his weapon. 

I forced a fake smile and nodded my head.  “As you wish.”

There were a lot less people in the street as we headed back to the Chantry. Must be the dinner hour, I thought.  I felt like my grandparents.  I’m pretty sure we just had an extremely early dinner, maybe not.  Sometimes at home we ate rather late due to scheduling conflicts-  my parents’ and mine.  All our schedules seemed to be determined to keep us apart it.  In spite of it, my mother always managed to find time for us to sit down to dinner together at least twice a week, usually once during the week and on the weekend. 

We passed by a couple of side streets and were making good time when Aedan was stopped by a highly armed and armored man in the market.  I shrank back behind Aedan a bit.  I saw this man in the market earlier and wondered if he noticed when Zevran and I did our little job for Slim.  But I didn’t have to worry, they just talked a bit and when they were finished we headed to the Chantry again. 

“What was all that about?”  I asked. 

“He just asked if I would be willing to help out with a little pest problem at the Pearl.”

Gulp.

“What?”  I stopped dead in the street

“An unruly lot has taken up residence there and he needed help to clear them out.”  He turned to smirk at me.  “Since you seem to be familiar with the layout, I wonder if you have any pointers for me.”

“What?”  I sputtered.

“I hear that you have been there at least twice since we arrived yesterday.  Enjoying yourself are you?”

“I... Wha... I don’t know what you mean?” 

“Last night with Alistair.  This afternoon with Zevran.”  He smiled and shook his head at me.  “I never figured you for that sort.”

“What sort?”  I gasped in disbelief feeling my cheeks begin to heat as Aedan laughed at me.

It took a few minutes for him to stop laughing before he continued.  “You are so red.”  He pointed at my face as he started to laugh again.  “I never knew teasing would be so much fun.  Come on, Zevran told us what happened at the Pearl this afternoon before he went out to finish up another job.  No one could picture you frequenting the Pearl.  You’re not the type.”

Whew!  For a second I thought that he thought that I... Oh, never mind. 

Hey wait a minute!

“What do you mean I’m not the type.  What type is that?”

“You know, sexy.” “He laughed until he saw that I didn’t find that very funny.  Not funny at all.

“What do you mean, I’m not sexy?”  I demanded.

“Uh... I didn’t mean sexy.  I meant uh... uh... provocative.”  I glared at him. “No not provocative.  Wanton.  Yes, wanton.”

I sighed.  Whatever.  He’s entitled to his own opinion.

We entered the Chantry just after the evening blessing ended and as soon as Mother Perpetua saw me she smiled and headed over to us.

“Did you bring more friends?  It warms my heart to see someone so new to our Chantry bringing so many new faces.”

I smiled back at her.  “Mother Perpetua, this is my...friend, Aedan.  I am traveling with him.”

“As you were traveling with those darling Templars and that red headed girl.”  I nodded.

“Yes.  Speaking of Templars,” I saw looking around for Cullen.  “Where is Ser Rutherford?”

Mother Perpetua looked confused and tilted her head.

“My dear, did he not tell you when you were here this morning that he was leaving for Kirkwall today?”

I nodded.  “He did.  But it wasn’t supposed to be there until much later.”

“Well he has already gone.  He left a few hours ago to get settled on the ship, but wait a moment, I think he left something for you should you return for him.”  She turned and left the room through a hidden door behind the curtain.

I panicked.  He couldn’t leave yet.  I didn’t get to talk to him.  I needed to talk to him.

“Are you ok?”  Aedan asked placing a hand on my shoulder.

I shook my head.  “We have to find him.  He doesn’t know.” 

“Is this about what you told me in the Fade?”  He asked.

I nodded and I felt tears start gather at the corner of my eyes.  “We have to warn him.”

“Here we are my dear,” Mother Perpetua returned from behind the curtain and handed me a wax sealed letter and a leather pouch. 

I ripped open the letter and nearly cried with disappointment when I realized I couldn’t read it.  Oh, I could make out a word here or there thanks to the instruction from Wynne but I really had no idea what it said.  I opened the pouch and nearly had a heart attack. 

This couldn’t be!

“Aedan!  We have to go right now.  We need to get to the boat.”  I shrieked.

“Would you like me to read the letter to you first?”  He asked knowing I couldn’t read it.

“No time!”  I grabbed his hand and ran out of the Chantry barely remembering to thank the Mother.

“What’s that?” Aedan asked pointing to the pouch.

“It’s something he’s going to need in Kirkwall.”

“Aren’t you going with him?  To Kirkwall, I mean.”  I stopped to face him.

“No” I paused as he frowned.  “I told you, you weren’t going to like my decision.  Listen I would love nothing more than to actually talk to you instead of fighting with you.  There is plenty I want to tell you, but this is not the time.  We need to find the boat!” 

I pulled him away from the Chantry toward where I thought the docks should be when Aedan pulled me to a stop. 

“The second this is over; we will have this talk.”  Then he pulled me in the actual direction of the dock.

 

 

The boat was still docked.   I mean ship not boat.  Aedan told me that sailors sail on ships and hate it when they are called boats.  It was hard for me to remember because the only comparison I had was the cruise ship we had taken last year on vacation.   And if you go by that, yeah, this was a boat not a ship.  People were milling around everywhere. They were still loading and unloading crates and barrels and sacks of cargo.  So it was easy for us to sneak aboard to look for him. 

I suggested that we split up to find him faster but Aedan refused with an exasperated gasp.  l guess I could understand his reluctance; things haven’t exactly been going smoothly for me here.    It took much longer than I thought but Aedan finally saw him on the opposite side of the ship.   He was staring pensively over the rail.

“Cullen,” I yelled racing over to him as gracefully as I could side stepping crates and sailors until my foot got caught in a rope.  Cullen turned around just in time to catch me as I fell into his arms. 

I think I need to add obstacle course training to my to do list. 

“Well hello, sailor.” I purred looking up at him with a shit eating grin. 

“Renata?”  At first his expression was one of shock and surprise before he smiled.  His eyes darted around briefly until then fell on Aedan to whom he gave a curt nod.  “Argent?” 

I looked away unable to meet his beautiful golden eyes.  Of course he would know I would never leave Argent.  I chanced a glance at him no longer smiling and hugged him tightly speaking into his chest.

“I love you, you know that?”  I sighed.

I could hear Aedan and Cullen talking in the background.  I didn’t know whether it was about me or not, not entirely. 

“I told him what you said about being careful and watching out for the red.”  Aedan told me.  “He doesn’t understand, but then again he said he never understood you.  But he will be careful.”

I laughed at that and oh it felt good to laugh for a change.   Cullen and Aedan both smiled.  I put my hand on Cullen’s right cheek and rubbed my thumb over it with a sigh.  His arms dropped from the hug around my waist and he grabbed onto my hand.  He started speaking but try as I might I just couldn’t understand what he was saying. 

I reached into to the pouch and pulled out the coin that lay nestled within.  Cullen gasped.

“No,” He said as he closed my hand over it. 

I looked back at Aedan for help translating who had been patiently waiting during our exchange.  He straightened and pushed away from against the rail he was leaning on and nodded.  I pried his hand away from mine and looked back at him again

“Cullen this is your lucky coin.  I can’t take this.”  I realized Aedan began translating from behind me when Cullen’s eye snapped to him and then back to me.  His head tilted in confusion.

“I know your brother gave this to you the day you left for training.  For luck.”  Cullen opened his mouth as if to speak but nothing came out and he closed it nodding his head.  “You need it more than I do.”

I hadn’t realized I was crying until he wiped a tear from my cheek.  I sniffed and wiped my hand over my face before offering the coin to Cullen.  “Take it for me.  It hasn’t finished its job yet.” 

He wiped another tear from my face but took the coin from my hand grumbling as he did.

“He says you have a beautiful soul and he doesn’t deserve you.”  Aedan spoke breaking the silence that fell between us.

I turned to him and smiled before punching Cullen softly in the arm.  “Can you tell him that he will make it through Kirkwall. Tell him to think of me when he thinks it’s too hard and how I forgave him and just try to do what he thinks is right, not what someone else tells him is right.  When it’s over he will have a chance to do something important and meaningful.  It will be his destiny and he better do it or I will find him and kick his ass.  If I am still here, I’m pretty sure I will be able to do it by then.”

Aedan snickered but relayed the message causing Cullen to smile.

“Tell him to never lose his faith.  It will always get him through.  And that if he does find himself wavering, I’ll find some way to remind him

Cullen listened and nodded watching my face the entire time.  His eyes shone with unshed tears. 

“Renata,” Aedan touched my back. “We have to go.  They are searching for stowaways.  If they find us there will be trouble.”

I nodded but hugged Cullen tighter not wanting to our feeling of closeness.  “Can you ask him for one little favor?”

Aedan and Cullen both turned pink at my request but Cullen agreed.  I figured I may never get the chance again.  I may actually get home or wake up or whatever and only see these people in a game.  So I’ll be damned if I am not gonna grow a set and ask for a kiss.  Maybe not the best euphemism but I think I made my point.

I tilted my head up to his and smiled at him suddenly feeling shy.  As red as Cullen’s face was, I believe he felt the same. Then I went for it.  I stood up on my tip toes and kissed the right corner of his mouth close to where his infamous scar would one day be.  It was a slow soft quick kiss.  Then my toes gave out and I ended up kissing the underside of his jaw.  I was completely unprepared for the moan that left his mouth at that point or when he pulled me tighter against him covering my mouth with his.

Did I say I was letting him leave without me?

His lips were strong and soft and tasted sweet like apples.  He placed his hands on either side of my face and I felt him jump when I opened my mouth and teased at his with my tongue.  He opened quickly but I broke away for a quick breath.  When both our lungs inflated with air I pressed up against him and demanded more from the kiss.  I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed closer.  I felt a sigh escape from me and he hummed in agreement. 

All too soon I heard a throat being cleared from behind us and Cullen gave a low growl.  Reluctantly, I pulled away from him and averted my eyes. 

Wow!  I just kissed Cullen. 

I pressed my forehead against his.  “May the maker watch over you.”  I whispered remembering Wynne’s lessons.

“May he watch over us all.” He answered. 

Chapter Text

They looked at me like I was crazier than Leliana.  I told them I knew a lot about the Wardens and the Blight because I used to pretend to be one when I was growing up, like when you pretend to be a knight that saves the princess.  Only I pretended to be a Warden that saved the world.  I neglected to tell them the role play game was computerized and that I was really an adult when I played it but it wouldn’t have made me appear any less eccentric.  Aedan and Alistair were definitely watching me with different eyes. 

“There’s more to it, is there not?”  Our observant future spy master pointed out.  I quickly looked at the floor.  Dead giveaway, I know.  

“Maybe,” I coughed into the floor.

“You told me you know things.  What things?  What could you possibly know that could help us?”  Aedan asked.  I could tell by his tone he was tired and disappointed by what I told him.  He was hoping I could help but was quickly losing patience. 

“I helped you find Sten’s sword and I earned us some money for supplies and last night’s dinner.”  I offered.

“We don’t need you whoring yourself out for money.  We can earn it other ways.”  Aedan sneered.

“Watch your mouth, pretty boy.  I know a lot of good stuff.  Some of it useful, some not so much but all of it proves I know what I’m talking about.”  I was starting to get angry and I think I needed that.  It made me feel more confident as I spoke. 

“What could you know that could help us?”  Aedan pushed. 

“For starters I know that this group will stop the blight.”

“You know this from playing dress up, do you?”  Aedan asked. 

“You’re an ass.  You know that?”  I hissed.  “and I was beginning to think you actually liked me for a minute.  I know how this is going to end because where I’m from all this already happened. What do you think of that?”

“That you were more unbalanced than the Chantry sister.  No offense Leliana.”  Aedan said.  She inclined her head to him in acceptance.

“How do you think I feel?  This was all a game that I played years ago.  It was never real.  I’m still not convinced that this isn’t some kind of dream or that I’m not dead.” 

“I think we will just leave you at the Chantry.  I can’t abide watching over a crazy girl who can’t defend herself.  At least Leliana can fight.”  He said.

I panicked.  They can’t leave me behind.  I needed to think of something to convince him to let me come along. 

“When I played before I was an expert at dual daggers.  I was a rogue and made poisons.  I could probably still make them.  I used to play fast pitch softball.  I could throw bombs and stuff.  You can’t just leave me at the Chantry.  I need to go with you.  At least as far as Redcliff.  I need to speak to Jowan. He might know how to send me home.”  I begged practically on my knees.

“Wynne!” I pleaded with her in English.  “What does Faith tell you?”  Her eyes grew wide for a moment before she composed herself and shook her head.

“You’re ingrates, all of you!”  I stood shouting at Wynne.  “After I keep your secrets and keep you alive. You would dump me somewhere leaving no chance to get back home.” 

I grabbed my pack and my staff and called for Argent.  “You want to know so much, maybe when you get those ashes and if you survive that stupid dragon worshipping cult at Haven you’ll believe me enough to listen.”

I stormed out the door not really going anywhere.  I just walked a few feet away and collapsed on a crate and started to cry.  I really did not like this place.  I don’t care how amazing it is that I am actually here.  This place sucks.  If it wasn’t for Argent, I just might have given up. 

I needed to figure out my role in the group.  How they could use me?  Everyone needed to pull their weight.  I’m not a healer, that’s for sure.   I was never a first responder.  I only knew moderate first aid.    Fighting, is way not my thing.  I was quite incapable of harming anyone even in self-defense.  The incident with Cullen was clear evidence of that and I never really needed that skill before coming here.  Violence and crime at home, though it occurred, was rare.  I only had a basic women’s self-defense class as a high school gym elective and again once in college.  I couldn’t speak the language so, they couldn’t use me as a go between or messenger, not unless they spoke Antivan.   But I did know what was going to happen.  Maybe everything wasn’t exact but I’m pretty sure basics were the same.

Sten got his sword, Wynne is being kept alive by Faith and Zevran was with the group despite pledging himself to me and not Cousland.  If only I could get them to listen to me.  Maybe my little rant would allow me to stay at least until we got to Redcliff.  I just need to find a way keep myself safe until then.   

I took a few deep breaths and wiped the tears from my face.  Argent nuzzled her massive head into my thigh and whined looking for a scratch. “Yes girl, you are so smart and pretty.  You’re my good girl.”  I cooed at her.

I heard the door of Genitivi’s house slam shut but ignored it.  No way I was giving anyone the satisfaction.  I didn’t look up until I felt the rush of air next to me as Aedan settled next to me on a crate and sigh. 

“I’m sorry.”  He said staring at his feet.  I looked back at the ground.  I wasn’t quite ready for round two so I didn’t respond right away leaving him room to hopefully continue.  “None of us really know what to make of you.”

He sighed again and I looked at him and waiting for him to continue.

“How are we supposed to keep you safe and continue to head into danger?” 

“What do you do with Bodhan and Sandal?  Don’t they follow you guys around everywhere?  I don’t see you giving them a hard time.” 

He sighed again and ran his hand over his creased brow.

“Stop with the sighing already.”  I begged.  “No one expects this to be easy, least of all me.”

“For some reason we all worry for you.  We do not wish to see you injured or killed.”  He explained.

“Even you?”  I scoffed and shook my head when he didn’t answer.  “Listen, I know you’ve been through a lot losing your parents and Fergus’s family but you didn’t lose everyone.”

“What would you know about that?”  He asked.

“Funny thing is when I played the game, I played as you.  Not you exactly you but as a female you.  Elissa.  It may not have happened exactly the same, but Howe still ordered the assassination my family, uh… your family.  I didn’t want to go but my parents, but your parent wanted someone to live and see that justice was served.”

Aedan scrunched his brows together and cocked his head.  “Elissa.”  He croaked.

I nodded. “Duncan conscripted me and your mother bravely stayed to defend your father as long as she could.  They gave us time to get away and hopefully find Fergus at Ostagar.”

Aedan’s face turned pale, momentarily sick and then abruptly red.  A vein on his forehead started to bulge and he pushed me against the wall of the house.  “What do you know of Elissa or Fergus!”

“Aedan!”  I shouted easily pushing him away from me.  “Stop!  Fergus is alive.  Hurt but alive Recuperating but alive.” 

I hadn’t planned on telling him right now but Aedan was, well he looked off.  His eyes were wild and pleading.  I couldn’t tell if he was angry or what.  So I told him.  I’m not sure it helped. 

“He’s alive?  How?”  He whispered with barely a breath.  A glint of something, maybe relief, hope flickered in his eyes.  

This I remembered.  This I could tell and hope that it was the same now.  “He was sent to lead a scouting mission prior to the battle of Ostagar, and didn’t return in time to fight in the battle.”

“Where is he?  I must find him.”

“He is safe Aedan.  You will see him when this is over.  He needs time to recover from his injuries.”

He pushed his face in to mine and turned red again.   “You just said he was safe.  What injuries?”

“He did see some fighting but he was rescued by some of those wilderness people.  I don’t remember what they are called.  They are caring for him.  He’s fine.  You’re going to make him proud.”

Aedan scoffed.  “How do you know?  How could you?” 

“I did this remember.  Some details are different but so far the main issues are the same.”

"I don’t understand how you did this already.  But no one is going to be proud of me.  I’m the family fuck up.  That’s why I wanted to joint he wardens.  I didn’t want to see the look of disappointment on my parents’ faces anymore.  I’m the reason that Iona and Dairren...  I couldn’t save them or anyone else.  When Fergus finds out that Elissa, our parents and his wife and child are dead he will kill me himself.”

Scratch the record player.  What?? 

“Did you say Elissa?” 

He nodded.

“What did you mean Elissa?  It was always you or Elissa never both.”

“She was my twin.”  He choked.  “She died because of me.”

Whoa!  That’s new.

“You know that’s not true.  All that was Howe’s doing.  He’ll get what he deserves.  Don’t you doubt that.  He will pay for his betrayal.”

Then Aedan started to sob.  Literally sob right in front of me.  What the heck?  I’m supposed to comfort the jerk who has been treating me like crap since day one?  I don’t think so.

No way.

No!

Crap...

I slowly placed my arm around him and lowered his head to rest on my shoulder and his body erupted with pent up sobs and shook so violently we almost fell over.  I let him release everything.  He obviously needed it.  Had he even had time to grieve for his family?

I don’t know how long we stayed there in the alleyway but finally his sobs lessened and he pulled himself away from me. 

“I’m sorry.  That was inappropriate.”  He straightened and wiped the snot from his nose with the back of his hand.  His eyes were puffy and red.  Didn’t he have anyone else to confide in?  Alistair maybe?  I guess not.  He didn’t strike me as the kind of guy that cried in front of others. 

“I hardly think anything we’ve done in the last couple of weeks could be considered appropriate.”  I teased hoping to light the mood.

“I guess not.”  That got me a little upward quirk on one side of his mouth before he turned serious again.  “Duncan came to Highever to recruit Elissa. She was the best swordsman out of the three of us.  I was just the slacker.  A playboy.  I never took anything seriously.  Elissa refused to leave my parents so I volunteered to go with Duncan and become a Grey Warden.  My parent’s made her promise to watch out for me.  She hated me for making her do that.  She would have become a Warden but not like that she told me.  Not until our parents were safe.” 

He started to falter again so I placed what was supposed to be comforting hand on his arm but he flinched and pulled away.

“You remind me of her in some ways.  She was tenacious and loyal.  Always wanted to help.  Like you are, were, with Cullen.  Caring for someone on a self-destructive path.  Elissa did that with me.  We were more than twins; she was my best friend.  She was the better of us.”

I sighed shaking my head.  “It’s obvious she loved you, even if I didn’t know you then.  But her death wasn’t your fault.  Howe is a traitor and he will pay.”

“It was!  Maybe if she did the joining ritual first she would have survived not me.  But as soon as she saw I was ok she took it and...”

He didn’t finish.  He didn’t have to.  Only one person survived the joining at Ostegar that day and it wasn’t Elissa.  It was Aedan.  The guilt must be overwhelming.   It explains a lot actually.  Makes me not despise him as much knowing that he was just as lost as me.

I pulled him into a hug and felt myself start to release my anger at him, forgive him as I did to Cullen.  I felt a weight being lifted from me as well as him until I heard a familiar accented voice.

“Moving on so quickly are we?  Your Templar is barely out of the harbor and already you are in the arms of another.”  He slurred.

I jumped back in surprise before regaining what little composure I had.  Aedan turn his head away so no one saw the tears.

“Maybe if you wouldn’t have left me at the Pearl I would be talking to you.” 

“Talking? That is what they are calling it these days, is it.”

Aedan turned around.  “She was just convincing me that she should come with us to Haven.”

“What?”  I turned back to him in surprise and he nodded.

“She can be very convincing.  I know from experience.” Zevran taunted.

I didn’t let it bother me.  I was going with them to Haven and after that Redcliff where I could hopefully, finally talk with Jowan. 

I walked over to Zevran and stood on my tiptoes and leaned in close to his face and stared at his mouth.  “Can I convince you to teach me to defend myself?”  I asked trying to make my voice as sexy as possible.

He swallowed then smiled and reached an arm around my waist.  “Learning to use those wiles?” 

“Is it working?”  I batted my eyes.

“What do you think?”  He leaned in his mouth close to my ear.

“Good,” I straightened pulling away from him. “We start tomorrow night after we make camp.  Right Aedan?”

He looked caught off guard as I headed back to the house but nodded.

“Right then,” I winked at them.  “I’ll see you there.”  I waved for Argent to follow me and headed into the house.

I was going to Haven.  I was going to Haven.  I was going to Haven!

Chapter Text

We left early that next morning.  And when I say early, I mean early.  We left at the crack of dawn before the rooster crowed and before the city guards were in full patrol.  It would not have been wise to sneak two wanted wardens, a snarky apostate, a murderous Qunari and a hunted assassin out of the city during daylight hours, especially since Slim left word with Zevran that we had been made and the city was being searched.  We snuck out in three groups this time through a route Zevran secured at Slim’s suggestion with the promise that if we returned we would perform a few more favors. 

Bohdan and Sandal must have been aware of the plans ahead of time as they were waiting for us a few miles outside of town with a new horse pulling their wagon loaded down even more supplies. 

“Enchantment!”  Sandal called out to me upon seeing me with a great big goofy smile on his face, which got even bigger when I repeated his own words back to him.  He is so cute and so strange.  I don’t really know what to make of him.  Is he like the dwarves in The Descent DLC?  Is he really lyrium addled?  Is he older than we think?  Did he have soul of an old god in him as well?  And just how did his journal get into the floating library?  Does he know where an eluvian is and how to work them or is he from the time before the floating library?  Either way would be something to consider and either way Morrigan would have tons of questions.  So best just to let it be for now. 

We walked well into the afternoon before we stopped for a break.  Aedan found a stream and had us rest and fill our water skins and eat our rations.  Thank goodness too.  Even though I was not really tired, my muscles were not used to the endless walking and were starting to feel a little sore.   But no complaints here because I was counting on by the time we got back to Redcliff I would have first class calves and a really tight ass for my trouble.  If I ever got another pair of jeans I was gonna look so awesome!

Bite me Brian.

We were about ready to pick up and move on when I spotted another wagon coming our direction.  I couldn’t really see much more than that though.  I walked up to Aedan and Alistair to tell them what I saw as the dogs ran off to investigate.

That’s when the screaming began.  I ran to the wagon in time to see a dwarf flailing around yelling at Drake and Argent.  It was quite a sight actually.  Even though the dwarf was taller than the dogs, they still seemed to be able to look him right in the face.  I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight, despite the fact that I could only understand a quarter of what he was yelling,

He didn’t seem to be amused.

“He just called your dog an infernal beast.”  Leliana snickered at the sight coming up behind me. 

I will never be able to say this enough. Thank God for obedience training!  One quick heel command and Argent was on me like a fly to honey, Drake was not far behind her.  I pulled out a bit of my rations and rewarded their quick recall with a snack and a pat on the head. 

I had no idea how to ask for what I was looking for.  I was hoping to look at his merchandise but he was a bit peeved at me for the greeting the dogs gave him and was intent on leaving as soon as he could.

  Golem control rod???  Golem is not a word I had ever needed to use in Spanish.  Stick to control a stone person?  Statue controller?  I tried every way I could think of with Leliana giving me skeptical looks as she translated for me.  She finally quit trying to help when I started talking with my hands, especially when we realized my gesticulating looked like I was jerking someone off. 

How do I get into these situations?  The merchant was so offended he couldn’t get away from me fast enough.  Poor Alistair was turning red and Zevran…  Well, Zevran absolutely took it as an invitation to try to mortify me with suggestive comments.  A fact that Aedan did not take to very well. 

Aedan, he was being distant since his revelation about his sister, kept giving me side glances though.  I couldn’t tell what to make of it.  He was such a wild card for me.  One heartfelt conversation did not erase all the cruel things he had said to me in the past. 

That wasn’t very fair of me, was it?  I know it seems weird.  I can forgive Cullen for assaulting me and almost killing me, but Aedan I was having a difficult time forgiving for his past behaviors toward me.  Maybe because I felt like I knew Cullen but Aedan was unexpected and I had no idea what his deal was other than the tragic death of Elissa.  

I think I need to pray harder about that.  It seemed like the only thing I had left from home right now was the knowledge God had a plan even if I wasn’t privy to it.  All I needed to do was be the best person I could and pray for guidance and patience and thank the Lord for giving me everything I needed to be healthy and happy.  That last bit was the bedtime prayer my mom had me recite ever since I could talk.  Dear Lord, thank you for giving me everything I need to be healthy and happy, Amen.  It seemed appropriate still. 

When everyone got over their amusement at my interaction with the merchant, Aedan suggested we resume our trek to Haven.   The short break did wonders for us all as well as the entertainment my antics provided for them.  Too bad I was still hungry.  These darn rations were never going to keep me satisfied.  All I could think was, “what’s for dinner?”   I was still far too used to the abundance of food available where I lived.  If I was this hungry, I could only imagine what the wardens were like with their increased appetite. 

How could they sustain themselves?

 

 

We traveled much later into the evening then everyone was comfortable with because we had been unable to find a suitable place to set up camp.  Everything was too rocky, too hard, indefensible or too many mosquitoes.  Finally, when the sun had all but faded from the sky and dark shadows made it difficult to see, we set up the tents.  I had so much difficulty getting my lean-to type tent to stay up, I gave up and decided that since it was a clear night, I would just sleep next to the fire with the dogs. 

We were all very grouchy, hungry and tired.  The constant bickering between Morrigan and Alistair was irritating everyone including me and I didn’t understand that much of it.  I was starting to think that maybe they secretly were attracted to each other. 

The problem with being so hungry was that it was becoming too dark for anyone to safely go hunting.  Thankfully there was a small lake nearby for us to fill our water skins otherwise we would have been hurting for water too.  I was unsure if there were any fish in the lake but I was so hungry I was willing to spend some time finding out.  I needed a mage to help me see a bit but Wynne was too tired to accompany me so I mustered all my courage and asked Morrigan if she would help.  I received her customary disdainful response but surprisingly I was somehow able to convince her to follow me. 

I dunno, maybe she was hungry too.

Not to be left out of the fun, Zevran of all people decided to tag along with the excuse of protecting me and filling everyone’s water skins.  Morrigan almost changed her mind but finally relented and we continued to the lake together.  The lake itself was not that big or very deep.  It turned out to be more of a pond with a stream flowing through it.  But I still had a plan.  I rolled up my trousers and removed my boots and socks and with the help of one of Morrigan’s illumination spells I searched the lake for freshwater mussels.  The water was deeper than I first thought and reached my calves.  I tried to go as slowly and methodically as I could because I didn’t want to miss any plus it was a bit slippery. 

I pulled out the front of my tunic like an apron and held the mussels that I found inside but I didn’t find nearly as much as I was hoping.  Zevran seemed impressed but Morrigan just gave me a look that said how pathetic the meager catch was. I found maybe half a dozen mussels a piece for each of us and they were not very big.  Better than nothing, I suppose. 

I started getting cold and feeling bogged down by my water logged clothes when I turned my ankle in a hole at the edge of the water.  Holy cow did it hurt too!  I limped to the sand and emptied my catch on the ground when I got an idea.  A really great idea too!  At least I thought so. 

I turned around to go back into the water when Morrigan said something I couldn’t decipher.

“She said you should remove yourself from the water before you catch your death.”  Zevran translated. 

“I am too hungry to give up.”  I said looking at Morrigan.  “These are edible here, right? Please tell me they are edible.”   He just chuckled and nodded his head in response.  “I’m soaking now so I might as well go back and finish my search.”

Morrigan grumbled but waved a delicate hand at me renewing the illumination spell and adding a touch of heat to warm me.  Ah, so she is not such an uncaring bitch after all. 

“What are you going to do now?  I believe you have scoured the entire basin.”  He circled his hand in the direction of the water.

“I’m going fishing.”  I smiled. 

“But you did not bring your staff and here is no bait.”

“Don’t worry.  I have an idea.” I smiled even bigger.  “It’s called hand fishing.”

Seriously.

Hillbilly hand fishing, I have never ever done anything like hand fishing before.  All I know is what I saw on Animal Planet.  Find a hole.  Search it then reach in and grab a fish.  Easy right? 

Was anything ever?

I did find a fish in the hole I twisted my ankle in but neglected to check for escape route.  I saw the fish I was grabbing swim right past my face as it exited through another hole.  Fine!  But at least I found a fish.  It took me a couple of minutes to locate another fish and I did block it’s escape by placing a nearby rock over an adjacent hole.  This time I surprised myself by actually catching the fish on my hand.  I was startled by the bite, though.  I mean I knew that fish could have teeth but the actual feel of one swallowing my hand and biting my wrist startled me.  So much so that when I pulled my hand from the hole with the fish attached I slipped and it got away.  I was sitting up to my waist in water and I looked over at the beach and smiled.  Believe it or not it was kinda fun.  Morrigan was studying me with a thoughtful look and I lost track of Zevran until I felt a pair of hands encircle my waist suggestively and help me out of the water.  Zevran was standing there shirtless laughing and there was a gleam in his eyes I hadn’t seen before.

Was it possible?  Was he having fun?    

I must have splashed some water on him because a few drops were trickling from his collar bone down to his noticeably defined abs.  I tried to look away before he noticed me staring but I wasn’t fast enough and he puffed out his chest for me and winked.

“Renata, you are full of surprises.  Come let me help you with this … hand fishing and maybe we shall have dinner enough for all tonight.”

We managed to catch two fish that way but it took a while.  An hour maybe?  One was about twelve inches, the other about 18 inches and we all dined on them along with the mussels and a couple of cray fish looking things we caught.  They assured me it was all edible and along with our rations and some berries, we had a decent dinner.  The dogs even got their share. 

I had been enjoying the quiet time around the fire, finishing up my meal when Morrigan sat down beside me and said something. 

“She says you are an odd one.”  Leliana giggled.  “I am surprised she even deigned to sit with you.”

I looked over that the both of them sitting by the fire and chuckled.  “Tell her I believe that she may have heard that about herself a few times as well.   I don’t find her odd at all and when I am able to speak with her myself there are some things about her I am curious about.”

Morrigan huffed, apparently not expecting me to take her comment so well and moved back to her tent and raised a ward.  Leliana shrugged losing interest in the lack of conversation and went over to talk to Alistair.  Whatever she said to caused him to blush.

What is it about those shy Templar boys?

It was after I finished cleaning up my plate that I decided it would be a good time to see Zevran about those self-defense lessons. 

Now that would be interesting.

Chapter Text

“It is a bit late to begin training tonight, don’t you agree?” Zevran looked over at me as I approached his tent.  “It is practically dark and you smell like fish.”

I guess trying to sneak up on him was useless.  “Pot, kettle.”  I smiled plugging my nose before placing both my hands on his arm and batting my eyes at him.  “Besides, I thought you liked fish.”

He looked at me in surprise at my unexpected response before nodding his head, “Indeed.”

“I thought you agreed to help me learn to defend myself or did you change your mind?” I started to worry he didn’t really mean it.

“I thought you may have been tired and changed your mind.  Clearly your stamina rivals that of the wardens.  Maybe one day we shall test just how much.”  He stood up from the boulder he was sitting upon and entered my personal space.

I blinked back at him without speaking knowing full well anything I said could be used against me.  He snorted at my lack of response and backed away slightly.

“Do you know anything at all about how to defend yourself?”  He asked looking at me skeptically.

“Ah… well, I know a little.”  I cringed as he advanced closer.  “I took a class in school once.”

He looked at me with an evil grin grabbing my wrists and backing up into a nearby tree pinning me against it.  “Let’s see if you can figure out how to get out of this move.”

His hands pinned me securely to the tree and I could feel the scrape of the bark on the back of my hands.  His body was flush up against me giving me little room to maneuver.

“What no warning or pointers or review or anything first?  We’re going right into a full on assault?”  I whimpered trying to struggle free.

“Your attackers will never give you warning.  In order to survive in this world, you need to learn to fight dirty and not to hesitate.  In a struggle for your life uncertainty will get you killed.”

I paused in my struggling. 

“What’s the matter, little one?  Giving up so soon?”  He whispered into my ear making me wince.

“I’m afraid to get hurt.”  I admitted.  Pain was never high on my list of things I wanted to experience before I died.

“You will get hurt.  But we have potions and healers in camp and it will hurt a lot less in training than during a real attack.” He declared.

Yeah, well that doesn’t give me a lot of confidence. 

“What about you?  Aren’t you afraid of getting hurt?”  I asked.  I didn’t want to get hurt but I didn’t want to hurt anyone else either. 

“No,” he said simply.

Oh, okay.  Apparently he doesn’t have that much confidence in me either.  I struggled again in vain only to hear Zevran laugh at me as he taunted me.  “I thought you were a clever little girl, Renata.  Come now is that the best you can do?”

Okay, that little one, little girl stuff was a bit demeaning and irritating. 

“Did you really learn anything at this school you say you studied at or were you just too slow to learn it?”

Oh yeah, he was starting to push my buttons.  Intentional?  Absolutely and it was working.  I took a few deep breaths and thought back to my self-defense class, the book stuff.  I’ll be the first to acknowledge I had way more book smarts than street smarts.  Let’s see what I could remember.

He was way too close for me to move.  So I would have to surprise him or something. 

“Are you sure?”  I looked at him for permission.  This was likely to get ugly for both of us, but mainly me.  He nodded.

So here goes.

  1. As soon as the attacker touches you or it’s clear that escape isn’t possible, shout loudly (“BACK OFF!”)

“Back off!”   I shouted loudly in his ear.  He just laughed, loudly as a matter of fact. 

“Is that supposed to work where you are from?  If so, you will not find much success with that here.”

So I spit in his face.  This startled him and made him growl but did not weaken his grip.

  1. Aim for the parts of the body where you can do the most damage easily: the eyes, nose, ears, neck, groin, knee, and legs.

Zevran was holding me closely up against the tree not only with his hands but his body was pressed against me as well, making it almost impossible for me to move.  So I opted to slump to the ground unexpectedly hoping to catch him off guard so he would loosen his hold.

It worked!!   Somewhat.  He let go with one of his hands and slipped it behind my back to try and prop me up.  It gave me enough time to get one of my wrists free and poke him in the eye. 

Wow!!   That worked too.  Not only wasn’t he expecting that, he didn’t expect the follow up knee in his groin as he reached for his eye. 

The knee to the groin did not cause him to fall to the ground like I thought but I did get far enough away from him to watch him double over in pain as he rubbed his eyes.  He was lucky I didn’t have my car keys.  I could have put out his eyes with them. 

“Good job,” He huffed when he was finally able to stand semi upright.  He was still clutching himself when Argent, Aedan and Alistair came running over. 

“Did I hurt you?”  I asked concerned.  Argent sauntered over to me and sat next to me nuzzling my hand. 

“What happened here?”  Aedan shouted as he eyed Zevran suspiciously.  He stood next to me and grabbed my hands looking at my reddened wrists.  “Did he attack you?”

I felt all three of their eyes on me as they waited for my answer.

“We were starting self-defense training.  Did I hurt you?”  I asked turning back to Zevran and putting my arm on his shoulder. 

“I will survive, Renata.  But you will not surprise me again.  Do not expect that move to work next time.”  He warned me and walked away but not before I saw the smirk on his face. 

“I think I did good.”  I smiled to Aedan and Alistair as the three of us headed back to the camp. 

Alistair shook his head at me while Aedan stormed off ahead of us with Argent trotting behind him.  I was beginning to think she liked him more than me sometimes.

“Did he hurt you?”  Alistair asked. 

Yes, I understood what he said to me.  Most of it, anyway.  Well at least the intent.  I was studying really hard not only at night with Wynne but on the road as we walked.  I looked over to him as we ambled back to camp together.  Man, but he was handsome even in his sweaty dirty unwashed state, and let’s not forget who was I to judge. 

“No, he just surprised me.  I didn’t think we would just get right to it.  I thought he might start with a little explanation first.”  At least that’s what I tried to say but I may have said something else I’m not sure.  But whatever it was, it made him blush. 

 

When we arrived at camp Leliana came up to us and grabbed my hands swinging them back and forth.  She was a little kooky.  “Zevran tells us you almost took him down in one move.”  She giggled as Alistair glared at her. 

“Did she say something about me?”  He whined.  “I know she’s making fun of me? Maker!  I can’t even walk next to you without being accused of wanting to leave the wardens and swoop you off your feet.”  He stalked away from us grumbling about never being taken seriously.

Where the heck did that come from? 

 

Chapter Text

Time and distance.  It was very hard for me to judge these things without a watch or clock or even my treasured cell phone.  God how I missed that thing, sometimes even more than hot showers and flush toilets.  I never realized how addicting that silly little thing was.  It was an ongoing joke at family get togethers when everyone was sitting around the same room but texting someone else, reading a book or scrolling through pictures.  Mine had so many apps on it could do just about anything.   I was particularly interested in the app that told me how many steps and how far I had walked in a day.  I’m sure it would be something outrageous.  

Were we making good time?  Was there a faster route?  A shorter one?  Well I’m sure there was an app for that too, but I guess we could only go so far and fast with a wagon tagging along beside us.  

It was also weird to realize we all travelled together.  In the game when you clicked on the map you ended up wherever you wanted to be with only four people unless you made camp.  But in real life, and believe me it is still hard for me to think that this is my real life and not some fucked up dream, there were about a dozen of us if you included the dogs and it took a long time to walk to Haven from Denerim.  Right now I missed that walking app and the translator app and, oh yes, my music app. 

God how I missed Pandora and I Heart Radio!  What I wouldn’t give for some of Aretha Franklin’s Respect right now.  Not to mention Michael Jackson, Adele, Laura Branigan, even Hooked On Classics.  You name it, it was more than likely on my phone and I wished I had it.  Music in Thedas sucked ass.  All the songs were boring to me.  They were mostly stories about adventures and dead people, nothing with much emotion.  Leliana had a great voice but she certainly wasn’t Christina Aguilera or Mariah Carey and the songs she had available to sing did her no justice. 

For the next few nights a new routine seemed to emerge.  We would walk for a good eight or ten hours and then make camp near some kind of water source.  Tents would be set up, sleep and watch schedules agreed upon and Leliana would hunt something and I would look for something to supplement it, whether it be fish or berries or something else edible.  Some of the stuff I found no one wanted to eat besides me except Sten.  That would be because I figured after learning the cray fish and mussels I found were safe to eat, probably everything else I could forage was safe too.  That didn’t mean I was happy about it mind you, but when you’re hungry sometimes you eat things you never thought you would.  Like crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars and ants.  Yes.  I admit that it is gross but starving was out of the question.  While everyone else declined, Sten just cocked his head and took a bite and ate it.  Thank God for the mint and parsley springs. 

After dinner we usually did chores like sharpening blades, mending clothes and armor and cleaning up the dinner dishes.  When that was taken care of it was usually a free for all until nightfall when we slept or took turns on watch.  Since they still didn’t trust me on watch I didn’t get a turn yet but it didn’t bother me.  I usually got a full night’s sleep unless one of us had a nightmare.  Even my dreams were horrible.  Knowing what was going to happen was no picnic.  I dreamed my share of darkspawn, dragons and deep roads but mine usually ended up with Alistair or Aedan dying before they killed the Arch Demon leaving me as the Warden Cousland and having to kill the thing itself.  And in my nightmares no one slept with Morrigan.  I’ll need to fix that.

My evenings were not so free though, considering that Zevran had taken it upon himself to kick my ass every chance he got.  I can’t tell you how many times I landed with a mouthful of dirt gasping for breath.  My bruises had bruises and I always felt like I was walking funny because of him and not in a good way.  He was merciless.  Every night I would as quietly as possible cry myself to sleep hating the fact that I was here, but I didn’t complain to anyone about it because if I did they would leave me behind somewhere and I would never get home.  So every night I was tossed around the campsite like a rag doll.  And every night Wynne healed my cuts and scratches and set my broken bones, then I would take a potion and fall in to my bedroll until someone woke me the next morning.

No one interfered with my training after that first night when Aedan and Alistair came running.  Even my loyal to a fault beautiful gray protector sat on the sidelines and watched the beat down.  I almost wished they would interfere.  I would wake up so exhausted and sore in the mornings that it hurt to do anything more than breathe.  Sometimes even that hurt too.  

After about an hour of walking, I would loosen up enough to care chat with Wynne and practice my language lessons.  They were coming around pretty good too, I thought.  I never spoke in English anymore unless I was speaking to Argent.  It was usually Antivan/Spanish or Common or a mixture of both.  But even Argent seemed to understand what I was saying.  Such a smart puppy!  She probably understood Antivan because I always took her over to my friend Santana’s house when we visited.  Argent just adored her mother.  I’m sure it didn’t hurt that that she always slipped my dog a treat or two or three.  To her everyone was malnourished.  Even my dog!!

If she could only see me now with all the weight I lost from the walking and barely eating.

On the fourth day of walking we stopped for the mid-day break at another lake.  That’s when I asked if we could stay for the rest of the day.  We could cool off, bathe, clean our clothes and rest or anything else that we needed to restore our declining enthusiasm for finding Haven and the ashes.  And when I say asked, I mean pleaded, well, really I mean begged.  Bodahn had an empty barrel on his wagon and I was going to fill it with water and have someone heat it.  I needed a good soak to soothe my muscles and that was as close as I was going to come to a hot tub out here.  Bodahn already agreed to the idea.   actually liked it and was going to give it a try himself.  It was all I could do to not to break down in a fit of sobs out loud when I was told no. 

It was really hard not to be snippy after that.  I tried to stay away from everyone and they all noticed my mood, except for Alistair who seemed to be oblivious to everything except darkspawn and other warden stuff.

“You know,” Alistair said dropping in step beside me.  “You seem different from other girls.”

“You don’t say?’’ I returned snidely.  “What gave it away?  The fact that I don’t know fifty ways to kill a man with a spoon?  Or maybe it’s the fact that I keep telling everyone I’m not from around here or maybe just maybe it’s because I basically know everything that’s going to happen before it does?”

“No really.”  He said oblivious to my burgeoning irritation.  “You don’t seem to be concerned with what everyone thinks.  You eat just as much as a man, some of it pretty disgusting and you don’t have a hang up about hygiene.  The first time we met you, you were probably the most disgusting thing we ever saw.  Well except for darkspawn but you just don’t care.”

Ho there.  I froze in my tracks.  Was this Alistair’s not so subtle way of telling me that I stank and that I ate too much?

Granted, it probably didn’t come out exactly how he meant it in his head. I long since realized that Alistair really didn’t think before he spoke.  He reminded me of Jessica Simpson like that.  Is this chicken or fish?  But damn if he didn’t say the wrong thing to me at the wrong time and I exploded on him by punching him square in the jaw. 

That caused him to fall on his ass by the unexpected blow which caught Argent’s attention making her sidle up to me in a protective stance and snarl at him as he cringed on the ground.  Any other time I would be pulling my oversized pooch off of him but I was just so emotionally and physically raw that I didn’t care.  I knew she wasn’t going to hurt him.  She was just a very intimidating big baby and used it to her advantage.  I on the other hand had my staff in hand and was ready to retaliate in case I had pissed him off.

“Heeeyy!”  He whined rubbing his jaw.  “What was that for?” 

Before I could respond I heard cackling from behind me. 

I turned around and yes, Morrigan was actually cackling.  She was practically bent over; she was laughing so hard.  Talk about a stereotypical witch’s laugh. 

“Tis what you should expect after you insult a lady.  Or did you think that comparing her to darkspawn would endear yourself to her?”

“Look Prince Charming, I’m sorry that I offend you so much.  Do you think I like being like this?”  I splayed my hands in the air trying to gesture how disgusting I was.  “I’m used to steaming hot showers every day.  With lots of bubbles and soap and shampoos.  Not this… this… this bohemian road show we have going on right now.  I would give anything for a hot bath, a soft bed and bottle of Tylenol right now.  But I am stuck in this mid evil nightmare and I have to make due.  I’m trying my best to fit in and Morrigan’s right.  Passive aggressive bullying like that does not make it any easier.” 

With every second of my rant Alistair’s face became redder and redder until I thought he would explode from embarrassment.  But when I started to cry in frustration he turned another ten shades redder. 

 

Man I hate crying when I’m so upset.  I sure hope it wasn’t my time of the month.  That would just be the icing on the cake. 

I turned around and composed myself as best I could by wiping the tears from my face before I started marching again.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed everyone trying to act like they hadn’t just seen that entire spectacle.  I kept walking, eyes straight ahead of me but I started to wonder if I even understood everything that he said correctly or if I over reacted.  Alistair couldn’t really be that insensitive.  He avoided me the rest of the day but I caught him giving me confused looks from time to time. 

 

That night I did not help look for food and I refused to train.  I kept to myself and ate rations of stale bread dried fruit from my pack.  I needed a rest.  I needed the time to heal.  I could not keep up with the constant thrashing I got every night.  Yes, it was the only way I was going to learn but even they didn’t spar every night. 

When Zevran came to me later that evening and sat next to me without saying a word, I merely said no.

“Ah, my little one but you do not even know why I am here.”  He reached into the small pouch attached to his belt and removed what looked like a cigarette.  “I offer you a little stress relief.  You seem to be wound up quite tight and I would like to offer my services to help you relax.”

I snorted.  “You think getting me high will get me into your bed, excuse me bedroll?”

“Not at all.  I simply wanted to provide you with a list of available options.   We could take a couple puffs then you could bathe in Bodahn’s barrel, I could rub your sore muscles and then and only then if you wish I would consider taking you to my bedroll as you put it.”

“The smell bothering you too?”  I sighed.  “I didn’t realize it was so bad.  It’s not me you know.  I just can’t get the smell out of my clothes.”

“Maybe next time you go fishing you should remove your clothes.  Not everyone enjoys the smell of fish as much as I.”  He smiled. 

Nude hand fishing?  A disturbing visual for sure.

“A bath and a massage does sound nice.  But,” I pointed my hand at his weed or whatever it was.  “I’m not smoking that stuff.” 

“Very well.”  He stood up and offered me his hand.

Bathing in a barrel was not as relaxing as I thought.  Don’t get me wrong.  I was happy to be clean and stink free but it was cramped. Truly a bath meant for a dwarf.  But the water was hot and soapy and I was able to wash my hair after removing my scrunchi.  Zevran kindly took my clothes including my underwear to have them cleaned by Wynne promising that he would bring them back after all trace of fish smell was gone.  I silently wondered if he would bring them back at all...

He didn’t.

Why did I get myself into these predicaments? 

Once again I couldn’t tell how much time had passed but I knew it had been plenty of time for Zevran to bring back my clothes.  And now I was stuck naked and wet in a barrel set up behind the wagon without a dignified way to get my clothes back.  I didn’t even have a towel.

You know what?  Fuck it!

I was just going to have to go back in to camp and act like it wasn’t a big deal.  They were obviously beginning to expect ridiculous crap like this from me anyway.  Why not walk into camp in the buff?  The girls had seen me anyway and the guys, well they were guys.  Any chance to see a naked girl was welcome.

I got out of the barrel and shook the water off my legs and skimmed the water off my arms and down my breasts and stomach.  Then I squeezed the excess water from my hair leaning back to run my fingers through it.  Man I needed a comb. 

“Andraste’s flaming sword!”  I heard a familiar voice choke out. 

I whirled around to find Alistair staring at me open mouthed with a bundle of clothes in his hands and I was giving him a full frontal non censored view.

Right. 

“Maker’s breath.”  Alistair stuttered trying to avert his eyes but somehow always glancing back at me.

“Are those clothes for me?”  I sighed not even bothering to try to cover myself. The damage was done. 

“Ah yes,” He coughed finally turning his head fully away from me and holding out the clothes. “Zevran asked me to bring them to you.  He said it would be a good time to apologize to you.  He didn’t say you would be naked.”

I ripped the clothes from his hands and put them on the best I could as they stuck to my wet skin.  You can’t put leather pants on while you’re wet.  So I had to settle for my tunic which fell just below my ass cheeks.  “You can turn around.”  I said.

He turned around slowly a horrified look forming on his face when he saw that I had no pants. 

“I’m too wet for pants.”  I said innocently making him choke again.

“Too wet for...”  He turned back around unable to face me.  “I’m sorry.  I was coming to apologize for being so thoughtless and I made it worse.  The Arch Demon should just kill me now.”

I couldn’t help it and started to giggle.  He was just as big a mess as me.  I didn’t think that either of us would ever get our shit together.

“I’m the one who should be sorry, Alistair.  I never should have hit you. It was immature of me.  I was feeling emotional and tired and you just got me at the wrong time.  I promise it won’t happen again. You can turn around you know.”

He glanced at me quickly before turning away again.  “You still aren’t wearing any pants.”

“Alistair, turn around.  I can’t apologize to your back and I can’t put my pants on right now anyway.”

“Uh, no that’s okay.  I accept yours if you will accept mine.”  Then he mumbled, “Can this get any more uncomfortable?”

“Believe me, I keep asking that myself and every day I prove that it can.  What are you complaining about anyway?  You aren’t the one who just got caught in your birthday suit.”

“Can we change the subject, please?” He pleaded.  I giggled again and nodded even though he wasn’t looking at me.

“Sure,” I laughed.

“Your Common is coming along quite nicely.  I can understand almost everything you are trying to say although your accent is very thick.”

“Um, thank you?”  I said grabbing his arm.  “I don’t have any shoes either.  Can you take me back to camp?”

He turned to me and his face became red again.  “Uh, sure.”  He scooped me up with an arm under my knees and one behind my back and started to carry me back to camp.

“Wait. Wait. Wait, Alistair.  Put me down.”  He immediately dropped me to the ground and I fell on my ass in a most unladylike fashion. 

“What?  Did I do something?  Did I touch something I shouldn’t have?  Maker’s breath.  I’m sorry.”  He leaned over to help me up again. 

I shook my head at him.  “No.  I, uh just wanted you to lead me back not pick me up and carry me there.”

“oh.”

This apology thing was not going very well. 

“Come on,” I grabbed his hand and led him away from the barrel.  “Let’s just get back to camp.  They’re going to start talking if we stay here any longer, if they haven’t already.”

He just nodded silently and allowed me to pull him back toward campfire.

“You must be jesting, Renata.”  I heard Morrigan say from the campfire.  “You pick him of all people to release you stress.  I thought even you had more taste than that.” 

“Well Zevran did kind of leave me high and dry.”  I joked with her and Alistair pulled his hand from mine.

“I’ll just be going to my tent now,” said Alistair as he walked away from me. 

“Here is a towel, little one.” Zevran popped up out of nowhere handing me a scrap of cloth.  “How was your bath?”

“Some people had a better view than others,” I answered feeling my cheeks heat up.  “But all in all it was cramped and not as relaxing as I hoped. 

“Would you still like a massage or was that taken care of already?”  He waggled his eyebrows at me.

“You,” I turned pointing my finger at him grinning slightly.  “are a trouble maker.  And sex does not solve everything.  I think I may have blinded him.  How well do you think he will be able to kill darkspawn now?”

“I can’t say I would mind my last vision being of a naked woman.”  Aedan chimed in from across the fire, a small smile playing across his lips.  “But maybe you should put some pants on before someone gets the wrong idea.”

“Maybe you’re right.”  I laughed at myself feeling a bit lighter as I headed to one of the tents.  “Maybe you are right.”

Chapter Text

After a few more days of intense walking we came across a trail that was determined to be too rough for Bodahn’s wagon to go any further.   Instead of pushing through, the wardens took the opportunity to set up camp. We would eat, rest, sleep and discuss tactics for their infiltration of Haven.  In the morning we would tackle the rest of the journey and the dwarves would stay with the wagon and assure it would be safely hidden while we explored Haven. 

And can I just say that I was excited to be so close to Haven.   I have to admit, as much as I was eager to see the Haven of the Inquisition, the Haven of Origins with their stupid dragon cult was not high on my bucket list but maybe the villagers weren’t really the crazy lunatics portrayed in the game. 

It’s not like anything else is turning out exactly the same after all. 

The consensus around the campfire that evening was that it would take us less than half a day to arrive at Haven and hopefully reach the temple by nightfall.

I just had to try and warn them again.  Any time I tried to bring up the dangers in Haven they rolled their eyes and took a condescending tone with me.  I kind of expected it from Morrigan and Aedan, not so much everyone else.  They had been making it perfectly clear they were just humoring me.  Sten so much as called it incoherent babbling. 

“There is no way the village is worshipping a reincarnation of Andraste.  That is just ridiculous.”  Aedan scoffed over his bowl of stew that evening.  “Do you realize how crazy this sounds?  If I thought I was living out one of my childhood fantasies, you could be dammed sure I wouldn’t be fighting a blight.  I would be the King of Fereldan.  No offense Alistair.  Sometimes I cannot figure out how you believe these things are true.”

“It is true!”  I exclaimed across the fire.  I wasn’t about to tell them that I was it wasn’t a child when I played this, there’s no way they would take me seriously.  “They are freaking isolationist wackos in that village and they believe the dragon in their village is Andraste.”  

“A dragon?   What do you mean there is a dragon?”  Alistair whined still too embarrassed to look at me directly. 

“She did say Haven was the home to a dragon worshipping cult.”  Morrigan reminded them coming to my rescue.  I smiled over at her but she ignored me to continue berating Alistair.  “Tis only logical to assume that would involve some sort of dragon.”

“No one has seen a dragon in years, Renata.”  Leliana added gently.  “Might you just be confused?” 

I growled at them in frustration.  They called this the Dragon Age for a reason.

“Big scary lizards with sharp teeth and wings that fly around and breathe fire?”   I answered a bit petulant.  “They sound like dragons to me.  I think there are little ones in the caves with the eggs or something but I can’t remember if that’s just in the nursery or what.”

“Nursery?”  Aedan gasped in a tone that clearly mocked me.  “You mean there is more than one dragon?  Why didn’t you tell us this before because I draw the line at baby dragons?”

Everyone else merely chuckled at my expense. 

I sighed heavily because I HAVE been telling them!  Every night since we left Denerim.  I tried to tell them about Haven and the cult and Brother Genitivi being injured and those stupid puzzles.  They just didn’t want to listen because they still didn’t believe me.  I get it.  I am the crazy girl.  But God!!!  Why would I lie about a dragon?!

“It couldn’t hurt to be prepared for it when we leave in the morning, take any extra healing potions we have.  Renata, the dwarves and the dogs can stay here at camp just in case.”   Leliana suggested placing a hand on my shoulder for which I gave her a grateful smile.  “That way she doesn’t get in our way.”

“Thanks, Leliana.”  I said unsure if she was being condescending or consoling. 

“Not at all.  How do you say?”  She asked smiling back at me.  “Just trying to keep it real.”

 

I had a hard time sleeping that night and the next day I was extremely anxious.  The group left me with the dogs and the dwarves to stay with the wagon.  I was tasked with watching the camp and to assure that no one would ransack it.  Mostly I think it was to keep me out of their way.   Busy work if anything.  I can’t say I blamed them, my training with Zevran was going very slow.

The exact words from Sten were that I was very much a liability. 

I hugged them all fare well and made them promise to be careful which they all took in stride even Sten and Morrigan.  All of them except Alistair that is.  Alistair was still very much avoiding me.  

Oh for goodness sake!  We can’t have that.  We need everyone’s head in the game.  Especially with a dragon involved.

“Alistair!”  I called after him as they headed up the trail.

He froze then turned to look at me before quickly averting his eyes.  He was still blushing.  How adorable and how irritating.

“Alistair,” I reached for his hand making him flinch.  “Please be careful.  I promise you that you will find the ashes and Eamon will be fine.  But please, please, please take me seriously when I say there is a dragon and she is not going to like it when you leave the temple.”  He nodded still afraid to look at me. 

 “Oh my God Alistair, you act like you’re staring at the sun!  If seeing me naked still upsets you this much, what are you going to do when you see Sten or Zevran or Morrigan?”

“What?”  Screeched Alistair finally daring to look me in the eye.  I could still see it though; how uncomfortable he was.  Oh for fuck’s sake, it wasn’t like I was horrible looking or anything.

“You better figure out how to deal with this whole nudity thing,” I said waving my hands in the air feeling offended.  “or you’ll never be able to get those ashes for Eamon.”

“What are you saying?”  Aedan eyed me warily as he made his way over to us.  “Alistair’s going to have to get naked?”

Morrigan rolled her eyes and Leliana giggled. 

“Not just Alistair.”  I answered.  “All of you.  And if I were you Alistair, I would stay as far away from Zevran as possible or you could come out of this far less innocent then when you went in.”

I knew it was mean to tease him, but seeing the sheer embarrassment on his face when he realized what I meant made me feel so much better and when he made a strangled sound from his throat it was all I could not to laugh out loud. 

The rest of then seemed stunned for a minute but Zevran played right along.

“Come along with me young warrior, there are some things I’d like to discuss with you.”  He winked at me and put an arm around Alistair’s shoulder leading him away.

Leliana and Wynne snickered like school girls as Morrigan leaned next to me for a moment before heading off toward Haven, with a devious glint in her eye.  “I knew there was something I liked about you.”

 

*

Ugh!!!

I was sooo bored.

The day seemed to drag on forever and I tried to pass the time tidying up the camp and mending the clothing that was left behind for me.  It didn’t take long to finish so then I decided to practice my Common with Bodahn.  As we spoke he told me about why he came to the surface and how he married a woman in Denerim which confused me because I didn’t remember that.  It also made me wonder what happened to her after the blight since I never saw her in Kirkwall in Dragon Age II.  He explained to me about Sandal not being his biological son and what a special boy and hard worker he was.  Bodahn really did love that boy like his own. 

He reminded me so much of my neighbor’s special needs son.  That boy was the nicest and most loving kid I ever met and he really just wanted to be like everyone else and have friends.  And he was an amazing artist!  His style was a little different but I guess that can happen when you look at the world in a different way than anyone else.   As a matter of fact, he was the one who resurrected my love of drawing.  On Sundays after church if I wasn’t working, Argent and I went next door for a couple of hours and we challenged each other to draw all sorts of things.  I really missed that kid. 

I really missed home.

“Forgive me for asking Serra but do you really think there is a dragon in these parts?”  Bodahn asked interrupting my reminiscing.

“Oh there is definitely a dragon.”  I confirmed for him.  “But I’m not surprised you don’t believe me.  Apparently nobody does.”

And I wasn’t really.  Surprised I mean.  I hardly had much contact with the two dwarves and I didn’t remember if there was anything special about them that I could prove what I knew.  I just had to wait it out and hope that soon someone would listen to my warnings.

“It’s just that they say the Arch Demon takes the form of a dragon.  You don’t suppose that could be the one in Haven?”

Wow.  I never thought of that.  I knew it wasn’t the case, but no one else did.  This whole time they could be thinking they were facing the Arch Demon. 

How shitty of me.  I shook my head at Bodahn to reassure him it was no Arch Demon.

“Just your normal average everyday fire breathing dragon.”  I quipped.

He snorted in response. 

In order to change the subject, I asked him if it was alright for Sandal and I to play fetch with the dogs.  The smile on that boy’s face when Bodahn said yes was absolutely brilliant.  I could tell Sandal loved the dogs and they sure loved him back, if all the slobbering kisses were any indication.  And the giggling! Sandal had such a cute childlike laugh.  It made me laugh just listening to him.  I didn’t have a ball like Argent and I usually used but she did locate a sturdy looking stick that we all tossed around and played with for quite a while.  Drake it seems didn’t quite get the game and refused to return the stick, I ended up having to retrieve it from him myself. 

I don’t know how long we played fetch until everyone’s energy levels seemed to get too low to continue.  Usually Argent could go for much longer than that at home but I assumed with all the walking we did every day she just didn’t have as much energy to burn.  Plus, neither of us ate near as much as we usually did.  I could see it in her body and tell by my loose fitting clothes.  Both of us were definitely more tone then when we first arrived. 

Sandal was really great at tossing the stick.  He could throw twice as far as me and when the dogs and him finally had enough the three of them all collapsed in a panting heap on the ground and quickly fell asleep.

“That was right kind of you, milady.”  Bodahn said coming up to sit next to me on boulder near our fire pit. 

“What was?”  I asked.

“The way you treat Sandal as if he is no different.  Most other people avoid him because he is so different or want to keep him locked up and study him.  But you,” He told me with a more than a little appreciation in his voice.  “You treat him like he’s just another person.”

“He’s not just another person Bodahn,” I said.  “I think you know that better than any of us.  But he deserves to be treated as such.  Plus, he’s fun and his laugh cracks me up.  And boy can he throw.  Those dogs wouldn’t even fetch that last toss because he threw it so far.”

Bodahn gave me a nervous smile and patted me on the back as he rose from the boulder, “In any case, you are welcome to a significant discount on anything I may have that you need.”

 

*

I had no way of judging time here but it seemed like forever since everyone left and I was worried.  In spite of the worry and because of the lack of sleep the previous night I think I dozed off.  I think we all must have dozed off because I was suddenly awake to the sound of Argent and Drake growling.  They were facing away from the trail to Haven and if the raised ridge of hair on their backs were any indication they were not happy.  Not happy at all. 

My eyes followed the direction they were looking and I saw nothing.   I crouched down and made my way over to Sandal and Bodahn and roused them from their respective sleep with a pat on the back and an index finger to my lips.  We were all as quiet as possible and cocked our heads to listen for what was upsetting the dogs. 

Nothing. 

Then I heard it.  I t was real faint at first and the dogs became more agitated as the sound grew louder.  Someone or something was coming in our direction.

Shit!

I made my way to my staff and Bodahn and Sandal spread out to opposite sides of the camp.  Bodahn drew a short sword from the wagon and Sandal just whispered enchantment in an eerie voice.  Something about the way he said it gave me chills. 

The sound of something crashing through the underbrush grew louder and my stomach became more upset. 

“Please don’t let this be bandits.  Please don’t let this be bandits.”  I murmured out loud repeatedly. 

“Bandits we can handle.  If this turns out to be darkspawn, milady, just run for the hills.  Sandal and I will do what we can.”  Bodahn ordered.

“Darkspawn?”  I choked nearly throwing up at the idea.  I was nowhere near ready to see darkspawn.  I couldn’t even handle a bandit yet.  Oh God, no.  I thought as I chanted, “Please don’t let this be darkspawn.  Please don’t let this be darkspawn.”

I practiced the stance that Zevran taught me and tried to look as intimidating as I could as the sound grew nearer.  I could finally see movement in the bushes and tensed ready to defend myself and the camp.  The dogs’ warning became more aggressive growls and barks and they started to pace back and forth.  Suddenly from one of the bushes a hand poked out and the stick that Sandal threw was waved in the air.

“Thank the Maker I found you.  Does this belong to somebody?  It nearly hit me on the head.”

Chapter Text

"Just once I’d like to enter one of these places and discover a lively dance or a drinking festival. Or an orgy. But alas no.” I sigh as I draw one of my daggers across the throat of one of Father Eirik’s worshippers. It amuses me that our deliciously awkward Renata is correct on much of what we have encountered so far. It also relieves me that she is not here. I am good but even one as magnificent as I would have a difficult time protecting her from all these cultists. It surprised me that there are families living here and they are all followers. I wonder if she knows. It is unfortunate that we must to dispose of them all.

“What a shame.” I sigh as I end another attack upon me.

I twirl around and find myself behind Alistair and expertly slip my blade in the kidney of the man attacking him. He drops to the floor of the Chantry gurgling his last breath clutching his weapon as he dies. Lunatics are a polite way of putting it, Mi Corazon. I smile thinking of Renata again. It seems we may owe her an apology.

“You may want to watch you back more carefully, Alistair.” I grin as I wipe the blood off my blades and onto my leathers. “Or may I assume that you prefer me at your rear?”

He pales and moves away. Oh, Renata. Thank you so much for this. Watching that innocent young warden blush every time I speak suggestively to him, it is very entertaining. Almost as entertaining as enacting my suggestions.

We are quick to dispose of the heretics when la bella pelirroja discovers the missing Brother Genitivi in a hidden room. Score another one for our lovely soothsayer. The beautiful Leliana and Wynne attend to his injures after the fight ends and we continue forward.

I find myself intrigued by the wardens’ unusual charge as I spend more time in her presence. She has a surprising strength in spite of her innocence and inexperience. I cannot find it in myself to see harm befall her. So instead I have unexpectedly offered my services as her protector and that she acts like she knows me and trusts me implicitly is faintly unnerving. I have yet to meet someone like her who does not expect anything in return. I find I relish the change.

*

 

We quickly dispatch the remaining cultists in the temple and exit the caverns at its rear. Only to see...

“Mi dulce madre,” I gasp at the sight of an enormous dragon lounging on a nearby cliff top. Thankfully it seems not to notice us as it looks to be dozing in the sun. “A High Dragon? We're not planning on... actually fighting it are we? Couldn't we just... sneak around it?" There is smoke billowing from its nostrils and the sunlight glints off its reddish blue scales.

“I believe that would be the dragon Renata tried to warn us about.” Morrigan reminds those of us who do not acknowledge it. “She may have some usefulness after all, it seems”.

“She is magnificent. We can take her.” Sten proclaims unsheathing his blade with a growl. “Ataashi.”

“Now hold on,” Alistair turns around to face the Qunari. “We do not have to do that right now. Renata said that we would deal with her after we retrieve the ashes. We need everyone inside the temple. If one of us gets hurt and can’t do their part, we may never be able to get the ashes.”

 

“I agree with Alistair.” Aedan says standing beside him. “If we don’t get the ashes, Eamon will never be able to have the bounty removed and it will be nigh impossible to enact the treaties. The dragon can wait.”

The ill-tempered, well-muscled Qunari grumbles for a moment about unnecessary distractions but sheathes his sword however I still feel tension between them. I shall have to keep an eye on that one.

Not such a bad task. Maybe I can convince him to let me help him release some of the stress I see he is carrying in those massive shoulders. I let my eyes roam over the figure before me appreciating his large toned arms. How sad that he does not have any horns. I have never had the pleasure of entertaining a man with horns before. I would love to, how you say? Coge el toro por los cuernos? Grab the bull by the horns.

Ah well, I can make due. I always manage.

*

 

" Madre de Misericordia! Es ... es real!" I exclaim in my mother tongue upon seeing the Urn of Sacred Ashes. I would expect that a vessel holding the remains of the Bride of the Maker to be much more extravagant, not a plain clay jar of no value. It looks much too insignificant to hold the ashes of Andraste. Maybe that was the idea too, that Andraste would not be caught dead in something so ordinary.

I sigh dramatically. How disappointing!

It seems now that the wardens have retrieved their prize I can concentrate on obtaining one of my own. I think I remember seeing quite a few chests while in the temple that we did not have time to investigate. There may be a few baubles worth some coin in there. I shall have to remember look into it as we head back to camp. Before we leave the temple though, I intend to have one more bit of fun.

“Alistair,” I say in my sexiest voice. “May I have a moment of your time?”

He turns to me an arches his eyebrow in a question. “Umm, uhh... yes Zevran?”

“I just wanted to tell you that you have the most well defined musculature that I have seen in some time. Seeing the sweat glint off your unclothed torso… well it has been a pleasure having your back.” I give him my sultriest smile and wait for his reaction.

He does not disappoint, blanching at my innuendo before his face turns blood red.

 

Ah ha ha ha!

 

“You are an evil man, Zevran.” He moans as he stalks away from me.

“You can thank your girlfriend for that.” I shout to him as he walks away. He puts his fingers in his ears and replies in a sing song voice. “I can’t hear you!”

*

 

We are all tired and wounded but we are alive. The dragon was the hardest thing I have ever fought. It was so invigorating and terrifying that I may need help addressing my excitement. We have decided to stay in one of the abandoned houses for the evening as we have no strength or energy to make it back to camp. Out morale is good in spite of the beating we took and we have elected Aedan to be the one to apologize for doubting Renata AND thanking her. Some of us would not have made it this far if it were not for the warning and extra potions we packed because of it. Wynne wants to replenish her mana before we continue as a few of us are unable to walk without assistance right now and we are all too tired for dinner. Sleep will claim us all before much longer. I will try to dream of our dear Renata and what else I may be able to teach her if she would let me but for now…

*

 

A sleepy redhead wakes us up with light of day and we grab our belongings to head back to camp. I am sore in places I have forgotten about and stiff and, ahh... stiff. Last night I was too tired to do anything other than fall asleep and I do not believe they would appreciate waiting for me to take care of things. Hmmm... I’m not sure which one of these capable companions of the wardens that I prefer. They are all so pretty. I haven’t been around so many beautiful people since I left the brothel. Makes me slightly homesick.
I think it may be a slow trip back to the camp. The Warden may need to recuperate a bit longer. Aedan’s leg was nearly removed after being bitten by the dragon and the lovely Morrigan was knocked unconscious by its tail. Terrible injuries to be sure. It is a wonder we have survived.

*

 

We drag our tattered bodies and egos back to camp by mid-morning to find no trace of anyone. No Renata. No Sandal. No Bodahn. No dogs. I would think we would have at least seen evidence of the dogs or heard them, even smelled them for Maker’s sake. My gut clenches as I worry then guilt momentarily overwhelms me. Why did I leave her alone with that eccentric dwarf and his peculiar son?

“Brasca!” I curse out loud.

“Someone should have made their way back to camp to check on them.” Morrigan voices the thoughts in my head. “They have no business being out here alone.”
We both know that we mean she, not they.

Renata’s pack is strewn about with extra clothes and her books for writing and drawing. I pick up her self-made language guide which she entitled Fereldan for Dummies and smile in amusement. She gives herself too little credit in learning the language. She has three columns one for her native tongue, one for Fereldan and one for Antivan but she labels it Espana.

Interesting.

The red headed chantry girl sees me looking through her belongings and looks in the book as well.

“We should learn this; it could come in handy for sending secret messages.” She tells me. “But first we need to find Renata.”

After making the injured warden and witch comfortable. Leliana sees tracks in the dirt around the fire and sets out to follow them. She says they are human but she mentions a set she does not recognize. I locate some provisions and hand them off to Sten to distribute before going with her. Alistair joins us and I follow Leliana as we search the area for Renata, Bodahn, and Sandal. Sten agrees to stay and watch over Aedan and the witch if anyone returns and Wynne stays behind to watch over their wounds. It would be more practical for all of us to stay together but I imagine rest will be hard to come by if we continue to worry over her.

Unsure if the camp is safe any longer we quietly search the perimeter slowly radiating outward for approximately fifteen minutes. As the search continues to yield no evidence of our other companions our worry begins to grow. That is until we hear a faint growl a few meters away.

“Quiet, you silly girl! You’re going to wake him and I don’t think he’s slept in ages.” A disembodied voice chides before it starts to softly sing a song I do not recognize or understand.

Renata?

Leliana carefully calls out her name and the voice grows silent.

“Renata?” Leliana calls again.

“Leliana?” The voice calls out loudly and I see the luscious Renata jump up from behind a large bush a few more meters away. She looks around and smiles in our direction. Truly a sight for sore eyes.

“You’re back!” She runs toward us her smile widening but stops as she gets closer. “Is everything okay? Are you safe? Oh my God! Look at the three of you. Are you hurt? Where is everyone? Are they okay?” She gushes.

She jumps into Leliana’s arms and gives her a crushing hug swinging her around like a child. I feel a pang of... jealousy? “I was so worried. When we saw that dragon in the sky, I thought I lost all of you.”

She vainly tries to hug Alistair but he fumbles around making it awkward so then her arms wrap around my neck in another tight hug.

Hmmm. She is a hugger. I think I can work with that. My hand slips down to rest just a hair above her derriere but she does not react. “I was so worried about you guys.” She says looking at me, her warm brown eyes full of concern. “Are you okay?”

I am surprised by the sincerity in her voice, as if she truly did care what happened to me so I lose my voice momentarily before I smirk. “Ah Gracias, Mi Corazon. But if you truly wish to see how I am, you can join me in my tent to evaluate me.”

“Zevran!” She smacks me very hard in the arm, a lovely little blush creeping up her cheeks but she is smiling. Radiant.

“What? What’s going on?” A hoarse voice from behind her protests and jumps up from the ground drawing his blade.

The three of us train our weapons on him and smiling I grab Renata and pull her to my chest. Not that I need to but I want to feel her against me again and why miss the opportunity? She gasps and stiffens a moment in surprise before she relaxes and smiles. “Any excuse,” She flashes her perfectly white smile at me and shakes her head slowly before pulling out of my embrace. “You’re going to be the death of me.”

She raises her hands in a submissive gesture. “You can lower your weapons. All of you.” She looks at the three of us and the bleary eyed stranger barely on his feet behind her.

“Who is this?” Leliana scolds her. “You cannot just make friends with any stranger. It is not safe. Not with bandits and soldiers looking for us. Although, he is not much to look at, no?”

The man who indeed is not much to look at, is still not quite awake and rubbing the sleep from his eyes and lowers his weapon when he sees all of us glaring at him. He has shoulder length shaggy hair the color of dirty straw and the dark circle under his eyes make it look like he has been in a fight. He is dusty and barley standing. Not much to look at, indeed!

“Who is this man, Renata?” Alistair demands of her surprising us all. “And why were you not at camp? We were worried for you.”

In her disbelief, her eyes grow huge. “You were worried for me? Are you serious? I wasn’t the one fighting the dragon. And yes I saw it. It was HUGE!! I can’t believe you all survived. I mean, I’m glad you killed it and all but... We saw it flying and breathing fire. When you didn’t come back last night I thought it killed all of you. And he kindly agreed to go to Haven with me to see if you were alive. He has a whole bunch of potions and...”

“Who is this man?” I interject. “How do you know you can trust him? As the bard has said you cannot make friends with any stranger.”

She looks confused for a moment and realization flickers across her face. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. You don’t know him yet. Alistair?”

The silly young Templar barely manages to look her in the eye. Oh, I am so wicked to set up those luscious young innocents as I did.

She approaches him and places a hand in his shoulder. “Alistair, this is Levi. He knew Duncan. They were friends. And I think you can help each other.”

He perks up at Duncan’s name and lowers his shield. “You knew Duncan?”

The man named Levi nods. “I did Ser and he promised to help me with a favor before... well, before. I am sorry for your loss.”

Alistair quietly lowers his head for a moment before responding. “Apparently it was a loss for us both. I’m sorry, Levi.”

Our conversation is interrupted by Sten crashing through the bushes. “Everyone back to camp. Aedan is not doing well. If anyone can help Wynne would like your assistance.”

Chapter Text

Even though I didn’t wander that far from camp, it seemed to take forever to get back.  Every bush, every rock, every stinking blade of grass made me stumble.  I don’t think I ever moved so fast in my life.  Yet it didn’t seem fast enough.  When we reached it, the camp was in disarray and Aedan was barely on his feet, precariously swaying over Bodahn as the stout dwarf tried to steady the flailing warden.  Alistair practically flew over the campfire to him and slung an arm over his shoulder to help support him.  The rest of us stopped short as Wynne chided him and firmly directed Aedan to sit back down.

I’m not quite sure what was wrong with Aedan, whether he was hallucinating from fever or infection or drugged up on pain killing potions but he was muttering belligerently and not heeding her instructions.

Well that’s enough of that.  He looked horrible, like death warmed over.  And given they just survived a dragon fight, I’m not surprised.   There was no way he looked fit enough to be on his feet at that moment.  He definitely needed some rest.  By the look of them they all been through the ringer and they all needed the rest. 

“Aedan Cousland!”  I shouted at him as I drew closer.  “You lay your ass on that bedroll right this instant and let us take care of you or so help me, I will make you regret the day you guys found me even more than you already do!”

Apparently my unexpected outburst was enough to shock him out of his confusion and his head snapped up to look at me.  Sten reached him just as he collapsed helping Alistair lower him gently to the ground.  “Thank the Maker,” He breathed before passing out.

Wynne kept him out with a sleeping spell for a couple of hours while everyone else got themselves settled and took stock of their own injuries.  As the dwarves and Levi and I were perfectly healthy, we made sure everyone was cleaned up, resting on a bedroll and well supplied with a full water skin while we took over their care.  Sten, Leliana, and Zevran seemed were the only ones that came away with nothing more than a few scratches, even poor Alistair had a deep gash on his arm that he hadn’t noticed due to the adrenaline pumping through his body.  I carefully washed it out and bandaged it up as best I could, painfully aware that he was glaring at me the entire time.

It was kind of creepy.

“How did you know?”   He cocked his head looking at me?”

“I beg your pardon?”  I played dumb. Hasn’t anyone been listening to me?

“Really, how did you know?  The zealots, the dragon, the clothing optional bit?  How could you know all of that?”  His eyes began narrow and I started to feel a bit uncomfortable being so near to him.  “Are you a spy or something?  You seem all innocent but it could all be a cover.”

“A cover for what?”

“You could be working for Logain trying to find a way to discredit the Wardens.”  He suggested.  “Charm us all and then stab us in the back.  It seems to be working even Morrigan and Sten seem to like you a bit.”

I just sat there next to him silently blinking in disbelief. 

Oh no.  He.  Did not.  Just.  Suggest.  That.

What the f?!

“First of all,” I started trying to keep my cool and not lose my temper.  I tended to cry when I got frustrated or angry and boy I hated that.  Then everyone thinks you’re an emotional cry baby and I didn’t want to deal with that.  Plus, showing my anger would only make things worse.  It wouldn’t do to be ejected from the group after all this time.  I still need to get to Redcliff and talk to Jowan and see what he saw.  If he saw anything.  “I am not a spy.  Not for Logain, not for anyone. Secondly, just where the hell have you been, Alistair?  I have telling you guys for weeks that I am not from around here and that I know the things that will happen.  I did this before.  I got you guys Zevran.  I told you where Sten’s sword was and now I warned you about the dragon.  What more do I have to do to convince you that I’m one of you guys?”

“Nobody believes your story about this being a game you played when you were young.  Everyone’s just too fascinated with you to care right now.”  He explained his face expressionless, unreadable.  I tried to keep myself from looking away, thought that if I was able to keep looking him in the eye I could prevent myself from crying like a fool.  It hurt that he said what he did but I couldn’t blame him really.  For God’s sake I found it hard to believe myself and there was probably a much better way to explain it than I did. But then I lowered my eyes for a moment to look around and saw everyone else waiting for my reaction. 

And I lost it and started to cry. 

Great just great. 

I got up and walked away.

“Nice job.”  I heard Leliana say. 

“Still dumber than the dogs,” Morrigan hissed. 

The last thing I heard before I was out of earshot was Alistair whining, “What?  I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking.”

Argent followed me like the sweet loyal puppy she was and sat on the ground next to me.  She was so cute.  She shoved her massive head in my face and demanded that I put up with her disgusting slobbering as she licked the tears from my face.  She really knew how to cheer me up.  Soon I found myself giggling as she started to wrestle with me knocking me flat on my back.  The only way I could win against her considerable bulk when she got this excited was to roll into a ball and hide my face and hands until she got distracted and then stand up as quickly as I could.

Thankfully she got distracted fairly quickly by the sound of someone approaching us from the camp.

It was Zevran.  Just lovely, exactly what I did not want right now.  A cute guy checking up on poor helpless, extremely filthy (thank you very much Argent) cry baby me.  

“Hey,” I muttered in greeting as I quickly glanced at him.  Even looking beat to hell after a fight with a dragon he was something to look at.  Part of him is like the game portrays, so suggestive and sexy other parts are actually pretty sweet but there are even more parts that are pretty dark and scary.  I mean really scary.  Sometimes he just looks at me and I feel the hairs on the back of my neck and arms stand on end.  He has such an intense look about him that I’m still too scared of him to even ask about that thing with his ears.  I mean he practically had me in a puddle in his arms when he touched my ears then BAM!!  I try to follow his lead and he all but kills me in the corner.  I just can’t figure him out.  All I can say is that he’s damn sexy. 

Argent bounded over to him and sat in front of him blocking his path to me.  He eyed Argent thoughtfully and said, “It seems your protector wishes me to stay over here.” 

“My hero.”  I dead panned. 

“Alistair is a dumb ass,” He said simply.

“Hmmh,” But a cute one I thought to myself.

“Your friend Levi offered to look for dinner and is making everyone something to eat.  I thought you might want something.”

“I’m not hungry,” I lied.  Of course, I’m always hungry!  Zevran knew that.  He arched his eyebrow in question but did not vocalize it and I didn’t respond. 

He stood in the spot Argent picked out for him until she caught some enticing scent elsewhere and wandered off to find its origins.  Zevran took that as an invitation to move closer.  “Do you need something, Mi Carina?”

“Besides a hot shower?”  I laughed.  “There are very few things I need but the list of what I want is endless.”

He opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something but closed it almost immediately.  “Why don’t we start by what you need.”

I looked at him half expecting there to be a sultry or teasing or even a mischievous look on his face but I saw none of that.  He looked like a normal person.  No attempt at a come on or innuendo and I found that I liked it.  It made him seem less intimidating.

“Hey,” I said again and grabbed one of his hands.  “Will you take a walk with me?” 

He didn’t flinch, look or anyway acknowledge that I held onto his hand he merely stood there with his hand in mine.

“It would be my pleasure to walk with you, Mi Carina.  However, I have been walking and fighting for the last two days and fear I would not be very enjoyable company.”

Damn. 

How could I be so selfish? I felt my face start to warm and I knew I was blushing.  God, how embarrassing.  I should have realized that he was tired.  He was probably sore too.  And hungry.  All I could think about was myself and wanting to get home and feeling bad because Alistair didn’t trust me.

How childish of me to run off and pout.    

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t think.”  I stammered.  “Let’s get you back to camp so you can get something to eat and get you to bed.”

He nodded and led me back to camp. Curiously we were still hand in hand but neither of us said a word.  I half expected him to try something suggestive on the way back.  I was strangely disappointed.  He even dropped my hand before arriving at the camp and went to his tent on the opposite side of the fire.

Aedan and Wynne were still resting.  Morrigan had much more color to her face and Leliana just smiled at us as we returned. 

Levi was apparently an excellent hunter and had bagged four rabbits and some kind of pheasant looking thing.  He and Alistair were chatting away preparing them to be cooked as we got back.  Alistair, however, refused to look at me.   

Dick! 

But Levi, I liked him a lot actually.  He’s hysterically funny in an I didn’t even realize kind of way.  And it was great the he found us when he did.  I had thought I was going to have to look for everyone alone but he said he would help me if he got some sleep first.   Something about walking around for days without much rest.  I agreed to let him sleep that first night and Argent and I would watch over him and in return he would accompany me to Haven.

That first night I spoke with Levi quite a bit.  Mostly about his grandmother Sophia.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that everything he was afraid of was true.  His grandmother did try to overthrow the King of Fereldan and she was technically a traitor.  Nothing good would have come of it.  So I just let him talk.  It made him feel better that someone listened anyway. 

I sulked in my spot around the fire scrutinizing everyone as I waited for Levi and Alistair to finish cooking dinner.  It was an interesting group I’d fallen in with, I thought as I looked around the fire.  All races, all classes and personalities were present and accounted for.  To quote a certain meanie, the blight really did have a way of bringing people together. And the majority of them were damn hotties, Leliana and Morrigan included.  Even Levi and the dwarves had their charm about them.  They were definitely all fit.  I guess that’s what happens in a game.  You make everyone good looking and nice and everyone gets along happily ever after.  Too bad the reality was different. 

 Aedan was enjoying nap time, hopefully.  Wynn had done some more magic and Levi had donated a few extra potions.  He definitely looked a bit better but he still needed rest.  Hopefully the rest will do wonders for his personality as well as his health.  Do they make potions for that?  Sometimes I think he may be able to compete with Fenris for the nickname Broody.  I know he has a lot on his mind with the attack on Highever and the loss of his parents and ugh, what happened to his sister.  It’s all just too terrible to dwell on but there has to be something I can do to lift his spirits.  Maybe Argent and I could dance for him.  I mean if we had access to my music, I would definitely suggest it one night if only to take his minds off everything.

It’s called canine freestyle and it’s a real thing.   Argent and I took a couple of classes and performed at a couple of events for kicks.  It’s an amazing bonding exercise for both person and dog.  And it’s not just for those little border collies either.  Any dog can do it.  I once saw a competition where a tiny little Asian girl did a dance with her Great Dane.  They were basically the same size!  It was freaking hilarious.  Anyway, we even had a routine where I could use my staff.  How convenient is that?  I could still do it, I guess but without the music it kind of loses its appeal and it ends up looking like glorified obedience work. 

I glanced across the fire to Alistair.  What a cheesy twat.  Pun intended.  But a damn fine cheesy twat that was also a gentleman in a true sense of the word.  And I was cruel to him first.  Normally I would be considered a prude at home but here I’m far from it.  I sort of enjoy not being the most naïve one in the group.  Maybe if I apologize to him for setting Zevran upon him he will forgive me and lay off the spy crap.  Maybe?

And Zevran is well, Zevran.  When he is training me it’s all I can do to concentrate on the lesson and not his eyes or mouth or body when it’s so close to mine.

How boy crazy can I get? 

It turns out the three of them are a fine distraction for Brian.  The ex-love of my life.  I haven’t really had time to think about him much.  I’ve been too preoccupied with trying to stay alive and all.  He can’t really compare to any of them, though... 

So what does it mean that sometimes I find myself daydreaming about them?  Maybe not Aedan so much cause he’s always yelling at me and said I reminded him of his sister.  That would be a little weird, right?

But I do find that with all this crap going on I am not feeling quite as heartbroken as I would have thought.  Does that make me a horrible person?  Imaging these other guys in my life instead of him?  Wanting to show up at one of our old hang outs with one of them on my arm just to rub it in his face that I’m getting over him?  Not very healthy, right? 

I guess I’m moving on.  I’m not sure where but I don’t feel the pain as much as that first day.  I had more pressing concerns like being a Modern Girl in Thedas. 

I guess that really is a thing.

Hopefully tomorrow everything will be settled and we can move onto Redcliff and I can see about talking to Jowan. 

 

It was barely light when I woke up.  A barely pink line on the horizon was fading up into a light gray becoming a dark blue then black.  I could feel eyes on me.  I looked up and saw a huge dragon staring down at me.  It opened its enormous mouth filled with black and yellowed fangs at me in what appeared to be a smile. 

I froze as my eyes quickly flickered around our camp.    How could no one else be awake right now and how come they didn’t realize there was a dragon in camp?  Argent was still sleeping next to me.  She at least should have woken up when I stirred.  Did it cast a spell?  Was I the only one in camp allowed to see it? 

I know you.”  It spoke.  But I didn’t hear the words so much as felt them in my brain and my heart started pounding.  “I know you and you will never stop me.

It moved its head until it was but inches from my own face.  Its rank breath burning my cheek and I felt like vomiting.  I am so surprised that I didn’t pee myself.  I was shaking with fear but could not move.  It was so close all it had to do was exhale and I would be burned to a crisp. 

But it didn’t. 

It stuck out its gigantic tongue and slowly licked me from my shoulder to the top of my head drenching me in a thick putrid saliva.  “I will win, Renata.  You will not best me.  Beware.  My minions and I are coming for you and your band of eccentrics.  I will prevail and you will lose again, Renata.”

Then it unfurled its leathery red-black wings and took off into the lightening sky with a deafening roar.  “Remember, I know you Renata.”

Then I screamed. 

Chapter Text

Renata,” It echoed in my brain.  “I know you and you will never stop me.”  As I watched the dragon fly upward and out of my sight the words it said stayed with me chilling me until I wasn’t sure if I was shaking out of fear or from the frosty morning air.

“Renata.”

Why did it spare me?

“Renata!”

What did it mean it knew me?

“Renata!”

I felt a sharp sting on the right side of my face and raised my hand to touch my cheek.  “Ow!”  I said blinking rapidly as my vision alternated between blurring and clearing.

I looked to the right and saw Morrigan crouching by my side and Argent sitting next to her whining.  “She is awake now, mongrel.  She will be fine.  Go slobber on someone else.”

I blinked some more as I became more oriented.  I was still in camp but everyone was awake and staring at me.  Again. 

I sighed.  The day truly doesn’t begin until I embarrass myself.  Argent whined and nuzzled her face in my side and started to lick me.  Of course!   All that dragon spit was Argent licking me in my sleep.  It was just a dream. 

A sense of relief flooded through me until I looked around again and saw Alistair kneeling next to Aedan, who was awake, thank goodness.  But they were sneaking glances at me and talking quietly amongst themselves. 

“You had a bad dream.”  Morrigan stated.   I nodded as she stood to leave.  “You are awake now.  You will be fine.”

Was that an attempt at a bedside manner?  “Thank you.”  I replied quietly as she walked away.  Argent rolled on her back begging for a belly rub and she absolutely got it.  Anything to forget that dream.

 

I found out after breakfast that Aedan had woken before dawn feeling much better but he and Alistair had decided one more day of rest would be for the best before they hurried back to Redcliff with the ashes.  We would leave at first light tomorrow.  That gave us an entire day off to do whatever we wanted.  And I wanted to check out Haven. 

I kept myself busy that morning, patching and cleaning clothes.  I even offered to mend Alistair’s infamous socks.  I filled the water skins and gathered berries and caught a few fish for their next meal.  I didn’t want there to be any excuse for them to say I couldn’t go to Haven.  I figured if two or three of us went then we could get there much quicker and maybe return just after night fall.  Especially since they already cleared everyone out of town. 

 

*

 

“No.  Absolutely not.”  He firmly told me.  “We just came from there and we are not going back to Haven.  Besides it would take too much time.” 

I placed my hand on my hip cocking my head to the side.  “I hardly need your permission, Aedan.  I just didn’t want you to worry when you couldn’t find me.  Sheesh!   I feel like I’m talking to my mother.  I did all my chores, Ma.  I want to go to Haven and look around.  You were all way too preoccupied to explore the place and I know there’s stuff there we could use.”

“Looting bodies now, Renata?”  Zevran sidled up to me interjecting himself in our conversation. 

“What?   No!”  I turned to him exasperated.  “If you must know I want to check out the store.”

“The store?”  Aedan snorted in surprise.

I sat down next to him on his bedroll and saw him briefly look up at Zevran.  “What if I promise to bring you back something nice?”  I teased.

He sighed and I squealed in excitement as he gave in.  “You would be much more convincing if you weren’t covered in dirt and dog slobber.  Only if you can convince two others to go with you.”

I got up and bounced around enthusiastically looking for anyone to offer. 

“I guess it’s time for that walk I agreed to.”  Zevran stepped forward with a smirk.  I clapped my hands still bouncing in glee. 

“I’ll come.”  Someone else offered.  I turned around surprised to see Alistair standing behind me.  

I’m sure the sound that escaped me was a grunt or grunt like.  “Wonderful.”  I muttered and saw the corner of Zevran’s mouth curl up.  “Don’t reply to that.”  I warned pointing my finger at Zevran’s face. “I know he walked right into it but don’t you dare.” 

Oh he was going to enjoy this way too much. 

“I’m ready to leave now.” I called to them as I slung my pack over my shoulder and grabbed my staff.  “How about you two?”

I walked up the newly made pathway toward Haven and called for Argent to join me. 

“Play nice, everyone.”  Aedan called after us.

 

I was fueled by determination.  I instinctively kept walking straight ahead only looking forward not looking back.  I knew I wasn’t alone by the flashes of silver that weaved around me as Argent explored the path.

“How do you know you’re going the right way?”  Alistair asked as he jogged over to me. 

“I don’t.”  I shrugged.  “I was just following the trail you guys made.”

I stopped short to turned to the side to face him.  “Are you saying we’re going the wrong way?”

“Ahh, yes.  You just seemed so focused on going this way I thought you knew a different way.”

Zevran snickered from my other side.  I turned to glare at him.  “You knew the entire time I was going the wrong way?”

He smiled sheepishly.  “You look positively radiant when you walk with such purpose.  I did not want to spoil the view.”

Arggh!

“Why does everything have to be so difficult with you guys?  I just want to get to Haven.  Is that too much to ask?”  I balled up my fists and stamped my feet into the dirt acting oh so very mature.  “Are we that far off?”

They both shook their heads.  “How long until we get there if we don’t stop for a rest?”

“Three- four hours tops.”  Alistair said.  “If we do not break for a meal.”

“Fine,” I said.  “Lead the way then.  I don’t need to stop to eat.”

Zevran snorted and Alistair rolled his eyes at me.  “Riigghht.”   He drawled. 

“What?  I can eat and walk at the same time.” I said innocently pulling a piece of jerky out of my pack and taking a bite, gesturing them forward.  “Come on now.  Let’s get this show on the road.”

“Wait,” Alistair said touching my elbow.  “I may have been slightly out of line last night.  I may have been a bit of a...”

“Asshole?”  I supplied.

“I was going to say jerk but asshole will do.  I was upset about Aedan being hurt and meeting Levi reminded me of Ostegar.  And the fact that you knew what to expect.  It just was too much and I over reacted.”

“I understand.  I’m scared too.”

“I didn’t say I was scared.”  Alistair argued.

“Of course you’re scared.  What’s not to be afraid of?  There are only two Grey Wardens left in Fereldan and you need to raise an army and fight the darkspawn. If Aedan falls it’s all up to you.  It very scary.”

“Yes, well.  Sorry.”

“You’re forgiven.” I sighed.  “It’s too hard to hold a grudge anyway.”

 

*

 

We made it to Haven just short of the four-hour mark putting us there a few hours before the evening meal.  Perfect.  It gave me enough time to rifle through the store before we had to head back.  We might even get back before dark.  I remembered there was something there or a few somethings that were important but I was foggy on exactly what.  I had been so focused on The Inquisition I hadn’t played Origins in a while.  Some of the specifics eluded me but I just knew there was something there. 

“It’s awfully quiet here.”  I remarked as we entered the store.  Argent stayed outside and laid next to the door as if saying I’ll be right here.  Have fun.

“Well we did just kill everyone in the town.” Zevran remarked a little too casually.  I scowled at him and he shrugged.  “It is true, Mi Carina.  What did you think we were doing here?” 

“Not the orgy you hoped?”  I joked.

Suddenly I was grabbed roughly by the elbow twirled around and pushed against the wall.  Alistair had me pressed against the wall, his sword at my throat.  “How did you know that?  Is this a trap?  Is there someone here waiting for us?  Was someone watching us then reporting back to you somehow?  Was it Levi?”

The air had been forced out of my lungs when I hit the wall and I couldn’t respond.  Alistair could be very scary.  He was definitely not the playing around and he was definitely more than capable of using his weapon.  I heard Zevran unsheathe his blades and managed to choke out for him not to hurt Alistair.

“He is right though,” Zevran stepped up behind Alistair narrowing his eyes.  “Why are we really here?”

“Check the chests.”  I squeaked.

“I thought you would never ask.”  Zevran smiled growing nearer.

“I believe she said the chests, Zevran.  Not her chest.”  Alistair scolded as he blocked his hand from reaching my torso.

“Fine,” He sighed.  “This may take a while.  There is more than one.”

I was finally able to catch my breath and forced myself to look Alistair in the face.  “Why are you so angry with me?  What did I do to make you hate me so much?”  I whimpered.  This was a total one eighty from the other night when he acted like the bumbling virgin and found me naked.  “I thought we were becoming friends.”

“I thought so too.”  He said brusquely.  “But something doesn’t feel quite right with you and Aedan is too infatuated to notice it.” 

“Infatuated?”  I squeaked again.

“That’s what you focus on?  Not the sword at you neck or the fact that your actions are starting to look very suspicious.  You go with infatuated?”  His chest heaved as he pushed the sword closer to my neck and I felt a slight burn as it dug into my skin.

“Then just do it, asshole.”  I dared him.  I was so over this.  They say you can’t make everyone happy and I was so tired of trying. 

“Alistair.”  I heard Zevran call to him.

But he didn’t respond.  I waited for his decision barely moving or breathing.  I closed my eyes.  I didn’t want to see it when it happened.  I started to recite Matthew 6:9-13.

“Our Father who art in Heaven...”

“Alistair.”  I heard Zevran call again and continued to recite the passage. 

“Are, are you... praying?”  I felt him relax his grip as he sighed.  “Very well.”  He pulled away and I slumped to the floor. Shaking with relief I pulled my knees up to my chest and crossed my arms over before burying my face in them.

I stayed huddled against the wall while the two of them searched the rooms of the store.  If I could only remember what was so important here, besides the ashes, I mean.

I heard a gasp in the next room and Alistair asked, “That’s it.  That’s all that’s here?” 

Two sets of feet stomped into the room and over to where I cowed on the floor. 

“All that’s here are a few potions, coins, a bow and a pair of boots.  You brought us all the way out here for this?”  Alistair scowled.

“Not just any boots.  Antivan leather boots!”  I exclaimed with a smile.  “That’s right, I remember now!  This is where I found the Antivan leather boots to give to Zevran.  And I didn’t bring you at all.  You volunteered!”   I snapped. 

“And how much of this stuff do you think they took from the Templars they killed?  Maybe we could take it back to Redcliff and give it to the chantry to return to their families.”

Alistair didn’t answer pursing his lips tighter together and handed off the boots to Zevran.  “I guess these belong to you.”

Zevran looked at the boots and then looked at me then the boots again before arching his brow.  “You wanted to come here to give these Antivan leather boots.”

“Yes?  Isn’t that okay?” 

“Well yes, it’s just that...”

“Oh don’t tell me.  You don’t really like Antivan leather.”  Wouldn’t that just be par for the course.

“No it’s not that...”

“So you do like Antivan leather.  Wait, was it too forward of me?  I shouldn’t have presumed that you would accept...”

“No.  No. I would be honored if you gave me a pair of Antivan leather boots.  They are the finest boots made in Thedas.  But...”

“But what?”

“These are not made of Antivan leather.” 

“What?  What do you mean they are not Antivan leather?”  I snatched the boots from him.

“I’m sorry, Mi Carina.”  He chuckled. 

“Unbelievable.”  Alistair muttered stepping outside.  “I’ll just wait out here while you pilfer more worthless items from the dead.”

“What’s the matter with him, Zevran?”  I whirled around to ask him.

He sighed.  “It is a hard story to believe.  You must understand that, no?”

“Of course I do.  But I haven’t done anything to deserve what he just did.  I’m stuck here for now so I’m only trying to help where I can.  I don’t know what else to do.  You don’t think I’m plotting or trying to hurt anyone, do you?”

“What I think doesn’t matter.  I only know that I have promised to keep you safe and that I will do.  You can trust me in that.”

I rushed at him and wrapped my arms around him.  “Thanks.”  I sighed into his shoulder causing him to pull me tighter.

“Renata?”  He breathed into my ear.

“Hmm?”  I hummed.

“Would you like to continue this elsewhere?” He murmured.

The door to the outside burst open and Argent leapt inside as we sprang apart.  She was soaking wet and shook her considerable bulk in an attempt to rid herself of the excess water.  Eww wet dog!  Dirty, smelly wet dog!

“You need a bath.”  I scolded her.

“We all do.”  Alistair said dripping from the doorway.  “And I think she found the perfect place.”

We gathered up a few things from the store that were useful and I put them in an extra pack I found.  I filled it with some extra potions I found in the room.  I recognized the healing potion and regeneration potions but there was one I didn’t recognize. 

“What’s this?”  I asked Zevran shoving it in his direction.

“Whoah!  Take it easy with that.  This is an Antivan fire grenade.  Very nasty.  Burns hot and fast as soon as it’s exposed to air.  Here let me take that.”  He gently removed it from my hands.   “I’ll just hold onto that.”

“Be my guest.”  I could tell bottles were more delicate than the others.  They must be put in them because they are easier to break.  He could definitely have them.

Alistair led us to a large bath carved out of the surrounding stone behind the Chantry. It was filled with beautiful clear looking water.  It looked like a baptismal pool and it reminded of a swimming pool.

Yes!!

“Is it safe?”  I asked.  Alistair nodded.  “And that’s just water?”  He nodded again. 

I didn’t have to think twice.  I quickly stripped down to my underwear and bra and dove in head first. 

Holy crap it was cold!! 

I dared not stand up higher than my neck in the water as I adjusted to the chill.  I could feel the dog/dragon slobber slide off my body and dunked my head under the water again as I ran my finger through my hair.  It felt glorious.  No washing up with a basin.  No bathing in a lake I couldn’t see the bottom of.  Nothing hidden swimming under the surface.  Just clear clean sparkling water. 

I finally broke the surface in time to see them gaping at me in the bath.  “The water’s fine.”  I called to them, I always wanted to say that.  “Come on in.”

Zevran didn’t need another invitation and stripped off all but his underwear and dove in too.  “Brasca!”  He shouted.  “You said it was fine.  This is cold.”

“Worried about shrinkage?”  I winked at him.

“Shrinkage?”  He repeated. 

“Never mind.   Alistair, aren’t you coming in?”  I turned to him.  “Tell me you are not just dying to get in here with us.”

Alistair just stood there quietly, again not looking directly at me.  “I can’t.” He muttered.  “The gash on my arm, the bandage.”

“Oh for crying out loud!”  I exclaimed swimming over to the edge and pulling myself out of the pool.  Alistair backed up quickly like I was contagious. 

Oh man it was so cold goose bumps were prickling up on skin. 

I reached over to the extra pack and pulled out one of the extra healing potions.  “Here.  I understand we ran out last night because of Aedan’s leg, but drink this.  It will heal you right up, right?  Then you can get in with us.”

“Why are you doing this?  I just threatened to kill you?”  He asked accepting the bottle as I dropped it into his hand.

“Because you’re an idiot.”  I snapped. 

He growled at me. 

“Really Alistair.  You’re not just an idiot, you’re a fucking idiot.  Now drink the potion, take off your clothes, get in the water and take advantage of this exceptional opportunity.”  I stamped my feet and pointed to the pool.  “I’m getting cold.  You can interrogate me in there.”

I dove back in the pool staying submerged as long as I was able, enjoying the sensation of the perfectly clear water surrounding my skin when a hand grabbed me roughly pulling me to the surface.

“You were under far too long for my liking, mi pequeña sirena.”  Zevran purred as he held me up out of the water.

We turned around when we heard a splash and saw Alistair slowly entering the pool.  “This is cold.”  He squealed. 

“Then do it fast I answered.”  I was really trying hard not to stare.  When would this ever happen to me again.  Me half naked in a pool, alone, with two equally half naked perfect specimens of manhood. Even in my dreams I could not I could not come up with this.  It was too much.  I had to turn away.

“See something you like?”   Zevran came up to me. His smooth wet chest glistening in the sunlight. 

“I’m not sure where to look,” I whispered keeping my eyes downcast.  “I don’t think I could look at either one of you right now without bursting into flame.” 

Zevran chuckled.  “I know the feeling.”

“This does feel good.” Alistair said splashing his way over to us completely oblivious to the way Zevran and I were looking at him.  “Thanks for the potion.”

“You’re welcome.”  I stammered.

“I propose a truce between the two of you.”  Zevran began.  “You think Renata seems suspicious in spite of not doing anything and Alistair, you have acted very very naughty toward her.  Until there is confirmed proof of her misdeeds, you two will stop your quarrelling and work together.  Now come on, you two beautiful people, kiss and make up.  Tongue is optional.”

Ack!  Wait, no.  He did not just suggest that Alistair and I kiss each other.  I mean I’d be stupid not to but ack!  Wait, no.

“Alright.”  Alistair agreed.

Wait.  What?  Did he just agree?

I looked up at him in surprise.  “You want to do that?”

“Uhmm... Yes?” He nodded.

“Uhmm... Okay.” I waded a little closer to him and reached up on my tiptoes and pressed my lips against his very slightly. 

Uh oh.  Something was very wrong.  I pulled back and looked at him curiously.  

He looked a bit dazed and surprised.  “What was that for?” 

“You said you wanted to kiss me.”  I had a bad feeling about this.

“No.  I was agreeing to the truce.”  He stuttered and I heard Zevran cackle behind me.

Annnd... there it was, today’s number two most humiliating moment.  The day truly doesn’t end until I embarrass myself. 

What do they say around here?  Maker take me.

Chapter Text

I have absolutely no idea how I ended up in these situations.  Not that kissing a handsome man is a horrible thing, mind you, but kissing him in public while in my underwear after being tricked into it, is a wee bit uncomfortable.  Especially when he doesn’t like you in the first place.  I should have realized it was a joke.   

Mortified, I decided to play it off in spite of the flush rising in my cheeks.  “Oh, well your loss.”  I tried, flashing Alistair my most brilliant smile then nonchalantly as possible hopped out of the pool and awkwardly pulled on my clothes.  “I’m told I’m a very good kisser.”

I heard Zevran laugh again as my shirt got stuck over my wet head and didn’t see his expression.  But from Alistair’s sputtering and Zevran’s laugh, I’m sure it was something. 

Alistair avoided all interaction with both of us after that.  It seems he can be just as easily flustered as me.  Focused, intent and purposeful were all accurate words to describe the way with which Alistair led us back to camp.  He didn’t look at us.  There was no idle chatter and we didn’t stop to rest because that would have involved some sort of communication which also would have involved looking at us.  We just powered forward.

 The silence was quite nice, though.  It gave me time to think about everything.  How and why did I get here?  Was I dead, alive or in hell?  Was I dreaming?  Who was it that could actually help me when no one really believed I wasn’t from here?  I had no proof of where I was from.  My phone, my keys, my ID were all gone.  The only thing I had on me was the clothes I wore and while they may not be normal, it certainly wasn’t enough to convince anyone I was from America and not Thedas and definitely nothing to convince them that I was from another planet or universe.  And to top it all off, everything I thought I knew was different.  Two Couslands surviving the massacre at Highever?  Alistair being so serious and those damnable fake Antivan leather boots!! 

What was I going to do when we reached Redcliff?  Certainly the first thing they would do was take the ashes to the Arl.  But I didn’t have to be there, did I?   Could I visit Jowan in the dungeon and ask him a few questions, find out what he knew or saw?  Everyone knew I was counting on speaking with him when we returned.  I had only been talking nonstop about it.  Wynn and Morrigan agreed that it was a logical place to start.  But what if he wouldn’t talk to me?  What if he wanted his freedom before he would say anything?    What if he didn’t know anything?  What would I do then?

He had to know something.  He had to have seen something.

Right?

Right?

I felt myself start to become more anxious.  I think I may have actually started to get a bit angry too.  At what in particular, I’m not so sure.  Finding myself in this not so wonderful place in time?  Everyone I know here not being very friendly?  I was even starting to have my doubts about Leliana.  How do you explain the difference between her seemingly sweet and innocent nature in Origins and her manipulative personality later during the Inquisition?  I shouldn’t think like that.  I didn’t have reason to but something had been off about her since Denerim and I couldn’t figure it out.

Or how about the fact that three of the companions already tried to kill me.  It seemed like the answer to everyone’s problems here was murder.  How could I survive in a place like this?  I didn’t want to end up being a killer like them.  I wanted to go home where it was safe.

Sure Zevran was trying to teach me to defend myself but it was going slow.  I was slow.  Plus, he was so unpredictable, rubbing up against me one moment then giving me the cold shoulder then next.  Then after that he would pulverized me mercilessly while training.  No wonder I didn’t know which way was up.

My mood soured quickly. 

I felt Argent’s huge head try to burrow into my thigh and gave her head a good scratch.  She knew.  She always knew when I was feeling bad about something.  I really think that we shared an extraordinary bond.  There’s no other way to explain how she always knew when I needed cheering up.  She started to nibble on my shirt tail then gave a big tug.  She was the most loyal and intelligent dog, I think, I ever had.  Not that that I had a lot, but growing up we had about three or four dogs in the time I lived with my parents.  None of them exclusively mine, though.  Maybe that’s the reason.  She was mine and I was hers.  Together to the end. 

I heard a loud rip and looked down to see Argent grinning her silly face off with a piece of my shirt in her mouth.  She barked at me and dropped her front legs to the ground leaving her significant backside wagging in the air.

“Oh you want to play, do you?”  I growled playfully at her.  It was impossible not to smile.  And just like that my dark mood vanished.  How can you be upset when you have a dog begging to play with you?  I found a stick and tossed ahead of us and watched her race past Alistair.

“So, is that what I need to do to put you in a good mood?” Zevran grinned coming up behind me.

“What’s that?”  I asked putting a little skip in my step.

“Drool on you and tear off your shirt?”  He waggled his eyebrows at me.  I heard Alistair snort from in front of us so I knew he was listening in spite of trying to ignore us.

“Wow, Zevran.  I just never know what to expect from you.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were playing hard to get.”  I joked back trying to ignore the heat I felt in my cheeks.  “Weren’t you just trying to set me up with Alistair?”

“Mi Carina,” He answered.  “I was just having a little fun at your expense.  I knew he would never go for you.  He doesn’t trust you yet.  Or me for that matter.  Furthermore, he is not your type.”

“Don’t you mean I’m not his type?” Again Alistair snorted betraying just exactly how much he was not ignoring us. 

 

 

“Oh, Mi Carina, you are everyone’s type.”

I scrunched my brows together in confusion and glanced at him quickly trying to keep my eyes on the path without falling.

But...

I should have known better because Argent returned with the stick launching herself at me somehow hurdling me into me Alistair.  We landed in a tangled heap on the ground which only got worse as we tried to separate from each other.  I think I may have even groped his ass.  Unintentionally, of course.  He huffed a bit and turned pink before we righted ourselves then Alistair moved away as quickly as he could.

“Sorry,” I mumbled backing away from him and tossing the stick again. 

“You have a good arm.”  Zevran praised.

“I used to play softball in high school.”

“What’s softball?”  He asked.

It was then that I had “what the fuck” moment and launched into and explanation of my high school softball team and being second string pitcher and first baseman.  After that I just worked backward and told him about junior high spirit squad and the art club.

“I think I can work with that.  No,” Zevran paused.  “I know I can work with that.”

I stopped short whirling to face him.  “Just what does that mean?”

“You shall see. We will resume training tomorrow night.  Be ready.”

 

We arrived at camp just as the sun was setting.  Alistair made his way over to check on Aedan and Zevran wandered off elsewhere.  The others were eating some awful concoction of horrible looking brown stew.  I grabbed a bowl of the gag inducing stuff and sat next to the fire as far away from Alistair and Zevran as I could.  I didn’t look at either of them or anyone else for that matter.  I just played around with my food.  I needed time to get my thoughts together.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the feel of Alistair’s lips when Aedan made his way over and say down next to me.  He no longer had the pale color from blood loss and didn’t seem to be as shaky when he sat down next to me and started talking.

“I hear your trip was a bust,” he said to me. 

“Not completely,” I told him.  “I found a bow for Leliana and some extra potions which will come in handy.”

“So Alistair says.  He neglected to tell us about the injury to his arm.  Thank you for looking out for him.” 

I turned to look at him, surely he wasn’t being nice to me without a reason.  Argent got up and circled behind me to lay on the other side of him. 

“Traitor,” I hissed.  “You’re with me, remember?”  She grumbled in return and curled up with her nose in her belly and closed her eyes.

Aedan chuckled and rubbed her leg.  “At least one of you likes me.”

“You’re only nice to one of us.”  I hissed at him, surprised when he looked taken aback.

“Should I rub your belly too or would you prefer that I call you good girl and feed you scraps?” He shot back.

I rolled my eyes at him.  “I would prefer that you didn’t treat me like I was an idiot.”

He let out a long breath and moved his lips giving me the impression he was counting.  Him?!  Counting?  Incredible!

“You’re the one who insisted on going back to Haven.  What if there were survivors we weren’t aware of?  What if you ran into bandits or worse darkspawn?  Alistair was injured and Zevran couldn’t handle them all.  It was very foolish just for some cheap boots and a bath.”

I glared at him realizing he was right.  Sometimes I may think I know what’s going on here, but apparently everything was off in some way or another.  Like those freaking boots for example, I was so sure the boots for Zevran were found in Haven.  I can’t believe they were not Antivan leather.  I was so disappointed.

“Look,” He continued.  “I didn’t come over here to chastise you.  I am making an effort.  We all need to make an effort, every one of us.  I just came over to say thanks for what you did for Alistair.”  He grinned.  “I mean to Alistair.  He needed to be loosened up a bit.” 

He slowly got up from his spot on the ground, his eyes were sparkling as he teased me.  At least someone was having a good time. 

 

  *

 

The next morning, I stuck close to Levi and the dwarves as we started our return to Redcliff.  I had absolutely no desire to be goaded by Zevran or Aedan so early in the day.  Levi it turns out was actually a pretty nice guy, if a bit naïve.  Some would say we were two peas in a pod.  He told me about his brother the blacksmith and his quest to restore his family’s name.  All the time I was hoping he wouldn’t be too disappointed when he learned the truth about his grandmother.   When he asked about me, I told him the somewhat believable version about me being lost and trying to find my way home.  

I started to feel homesick and it made me want to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I mean for Pete’s sake there were little people and witches and magic. 

If I could only find the ruby slippers… 

 

Aedan was slowing us down.  His leg was still healing and though it looked great from what I saw when I helped Wynne check the wound.  It would be weak for a while.  He would have to build up his strength and walking was the perfect way to do it.  But the pace we were keeping was a bit much for him.   So after our second unscheduled break of the day it was decided that he would ride in the back of the wagon to rest for a bit and… that I would walk in back to keep an eye on him. 

Yay me!!

“We need to get you some better gear.”  Aedan said as we started moving forward again.

“What do you mean, better gear?”  I asked surprised at his comment.

“If you’re going to be coming with us we need to be sure that your adequately protected.  Right now what you’re wearing offers absolutely no protection.”

I laughed imagining me in a breastplate and oversized helmet.  “I don’t think I’m an armor type of girl.” 

Aedan smiled a bit.  “That’s not what I’m talking about.  Besides you’re not strong enough for armor.  No, I was thinking more along the lines of leathers.”

“Leathers, hmm?  The kind like a rogue wears?”  I wondered aloud as visions of Xena Warrior Princess spun around in my head.  “Would they be leather pants of one of those miniskirts?”

“Mini skirt?”  Aedan raise his brow in confusion.  “I’m sorry I do not understand the term”

“You know a mini skirt.  A short skirt that barely covers you know...  One that doesn’t even reach my knees.”  I gestured at my leg mid-thigh.

I think he may have blushed at that.  “I was thinking more along the lines of a leather jacket and trousers.”

“Would I get to pick the color?”  I asked.  I started thinking of the Avaar armor in Inquisition, knowing perfectly well that would not be what I would end up with.

“It’s leather.  It would be the color of leather.  We do not have the time to find someone to dye it for you.  Not if you intend to travel with us.  All it needs to do is fit and protect you.” He scolded.

I shrugged not really caring if it was dyed or not.  I was going to get real leather pants.  I always wanted a pair but they were so expensive so I usually just opted for pleather.  I had one leather jacket that Brian had bought for me, but it was more to his tastes and not mine, bright blue with fringes that only came to my waist.   Maybe I could have some say in the jacket style this time.  Just the thought of it made me a little giddy.   

 

After a rather short lunch break Leliana fell back to talk with us. 

“I hear that you and the King are a couple now.”  She cocked her head reminding me a lot of Argent.

“What?  No!”  I exclaimed.

“Did you two not kiss naked in a bath?” 

“What? No.  We didn’t.  Well not really.  Anyway it wasn’t just us.  Zevran was there too!”

Leliana’s eye grew big and I noticed Wynne stumble as her head tilted in our direction.  Aedan just laughed.

Crap, did I just add more fuel to the fire? 

“The three of you were kissing naked in a bath?  A threesome?”  She chuckled even louder.  “I am so proud!” 

 “It wasn’t like that.”

“You mean you didn’t kiss Alistair?”  She asked innocently.  I paused unable to answer.  She was leading me into a conversation I didn’t want to have. 

“Were the two of you naked?”

“No, we weren’t naked.”

“Was Zevran naked?”

“Listen, Leliana.  I know your bored and trying to have a little fun at my expense but it wasn’t like that.”  My voice was starting get louder.  “Yes the three of us were in our underwear and yes I kissed Alistair but he hated it.  It was a misunderstanding.”

“And I had such high hopes for you, my dear.”  I heard Morrigan sigh from up the trail.  Apparently she had very good hearing. 

Great!  I looked around and saw everyone unsuccessfully try to avert their eyes so I wouldn’t notice them looking at us.

“Why do you think he didn’t like it?”  Leliana asked.

I snorted.  “He didn’t act like he liked it.  He didn’t even kiss back!”  I looked toward the front of the path at Alistair who was oblivious to the conversation.  Either that or he was pretending to ignore me again.  I marched over as gracefully as I could, matching his stride and forced myself to look him straight in the eye. 

“I apologize for kissing you.  It was a mistake and,” I looked over to Zevran and stuck my tongue out at him.  “it won’t happen again.”

Alistair for his part looked like a deer in the headlight.  A bright red deer in the headlights.  His expression was a priceless mix of confusion and surprise.  “Thank you?”

I walked away probably looking just as red as him while the others laughed at our misery.   Zevran called out just as I was stalking my way to the back of the line.  “I just thought our resident virgins needed a little guidance.”

“Shows how much you know, “I snorted as I walked away from Alistair.  “I’m not a virgin.”  I didn’t realize it at first but Zevran’s playful cackling abruptly stopped along with everyone else’s.

“Looks like training is going to be a bit more interesting tonight.  Isn’t that right, Zevran?”  Aedan chuckled.

Chapter Text

Training with Zevran was definitely more interesting that night. 

Not interesting in the way I would have expected with Zevran being more flirtatious or hands on but he recruited Morrigan to coach my staff work and Levi to spar with me.  She acted a bit put off by it flaunting her air of superiority but she helped me.  I don’t know what he said to convince her or what he may have promised her but she truly did manage to help feel more comfortable holding it.

Levi admitted that even though he carried a short sword for protection on the road, he never had to use it as he usually traveled with merchant caravans.  Still Zevran made no attempt to adjust his training to our level of inexperience.  Instead he seemed to make it harder and harder every time we took a turn.  He even had Levi use his real sword during practice taking the opportunity to pit Levi and I against each other.  Morrigan seemed both bored and amused at our incompetence.

After two hours of training with Morrigan and Zevran and sparring with Levi, I found my grip on the staff improved as well as the ability to evade some of Levi’s attacks.  I started to feel a little confident about defending myself in a pinch when I was hit by Levi with an unexpected blow.

“Why can’t he use a wooden sword?”  I complained to Zevran after practically getting my arm cut off.

“Maker!  I am so sorry Renata.  I didn’t mean to get you.” Levi raced over with a stricken look on his face to look at the blood streaming down my arm before turning pale and averting his eyes.

“Unacceptable!  Both of you.”  Zevran’s eyes blazed.  “Levi you never apologize for hitting your target or you could be the sorry one.  And Renata, you are being careless!  We are in the middle of a blight with bandits, darkspawn and a bounty on us.  No one will take pity on you for being a beginner.  There is no time for practice with wooden weapons!  If you cannot learn fast, you will not survive and I will not allow you to be careless.  I could sneak up behind you and slit your throat before you were even aware I was there.  As could Leliana and Aedan and Alistair.  The path you have chosen is not for the faint of heart.” 

With a dramatic flair, Zevran ripped the fabric of my sleeve apart to closer inspect the gash on my bicep and when he touched it I hissed in pain.  A white hot stinging pain that all but brought tears to my eyes and made me nauseous. 

“This is just a scratch.  Go have Wynne look at it and hurry back.”  He scolded pushing me from the clearing where we sparred.  “Levi you stay here with me.”

I heard Levi groan but they must have resumed sparring because I soon heard the clanging of metal on metal and Zevran cursing about our hopeless situation in Antivan.  

 

Wynne would hear nothing of my complaints as she tended to my arm.  “I do not trust your assassin but he is correct.  The world today is not a safe place and if he can help you learn to protect yourself then you should not complain.  Take the lesson where you can.”

She cleaned out my wound before waving her hand over it.  I watched in fascination as a tingling sensation enveloped the wound and the pain lessened to a dull ache as the skin knit itself back together.

“You are a God send Wynne.   Thanks bunches.”  She smiled her acknowledgment and waved me back to training.

 

When I returned, Levi was nowhere to be seen and Morrigan had returned to her little corner of the camp.  “Where’d everyone go?”

“Ah, alone at last.”  A voice murmured coming up behind me and wrapping a pair of well-toned arms around my waist.  Instinctively I thrust back my elbow and twisted my body allowing me to pull my attacker and flip him on the ground in front of me where a dumbstruck Zevran looked up at me.

“Zevran?”  I squeaked in surprise.  “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I have been wanting to try that all day.” He said wheezing for breath as he clutched his side.  He pulled himself into a sitting position still looking at me.  The way he was staring at me I wasn’t sure if I should run or not.

“You have?”  I asked sucking in my breath trying to ignore the ill-timed fluttering in my stomach.

He nodded in response, “Most definitely,” He reached for my extended left hand to help him up and pulled me close nestling his face in my hair.  “I have something for you.”

“I’m sure you do.” I said, both afraid he was about to retaliate and not wanting to move.  I couldn’t think straight feeling his warm breath in my ear, it gave me goose bumps. 

He pulled back and flashed a toothy smile and his right hand reached up to my left shoulder and he ran his hand down my arm.   “I absolutely do.”  He assured me and pressed something small and hard in my hand. 

“What’s this?”  I looked down in my hand to see a small clay ball about the size of a shot glass in my hand. 

“More training.”  He winked still smiling at me then backed away.

“What am I supposed to do with it?”  I looked at the small mound of clay in my hand. 

What the heck?  I shook it and felt something slosh inside.  Water?  It was hollow?

“Try to hit me with it, if you can...” he taunted as he darted away toward the trees surrounding us.  “Your self-defense is improving. You just surprised me and I was not expecting that.  But let us see if you can go on the offense and hit me with that clay ball.”

“What is this?”  I shouted back toward the trees where I last saw him. 

“A grenade.”  He shouted back.

A grenade?  I froze almost dropping it. 

“What if I hurt you?”  I asked looking around losing him in the trees.  I only heard him cackle in response. 

“You can try.”

It seemed I was a natural at hitting my target.  I hadn’t noticed at first but Zevran had left a pouch of the clay balls on the ground beside me before he ran off.  By the time I was through the pouch he had more than a few bruise marks.  He seemed pleased as he showed me the few on his arms and he was all too happy to pull off his shirt and show me a few more. 

“Nice job.”  He praised as I tried to avert my eyes from his well-defined shoulders. 

Not very subtle, Zevran.  I turned around to head to the camp when he gently grabbed my hand and pulled me back to him.

“I may be a harsh instructor but by the time I am finished with you, you will have the skills you need to protect yourself.  And...”  He said running his index finger down my shoulder to my elbow before cupping my chin between it and his thumb, “I would be happy to share a few other skills as well.”

I was at a loss for words.  I mean, God it was so tempting, but I couldn’t.  Could I?

I took a deep breath and risked a look at him. 

Oh no.  Big mistake. 

Just looking at him and I started think very impure thoughts that made my mouth run dry.  I tried to swallow unsuccessfully and turned away for another deep breath averting my eyes.

“While that’s a very generous offer, Zevran.  I’m afraid I must decline.  You and I are too different...”  I didn’t finish before he dropped my hand and interrupted me.

“Yes, yes I understand.”  He stiffened, his voice becoming harsh.  “We are too different.  No matter, I should really be more selective anyway.  Sometimes when I am in the mood anyone will do.  One of my many many flaws.  Forget it, Renata, I am no longer interested.  I am not sure how enjoyable it would be in any case.”

 I shrank back like I was slapped in the face.  What just happened?  I could feel my face start to burn and my eyes start to water.  I would not cry.   I refused to give him the satisfaction so I ran back to camp.

Why was everyone so mean?

 

If anyone at camp noticed my distressed, they either ignored it or did not care except for Argent who greeted me with the same enthusiasm as always.  She nuzzled my side as I slipped into the tent I shared with Leliana and readied myself for bed.  It was one of the few nights I avoided praying and fell asleep wondering just how much crap I was willing to take from them.

 

“Renata.”

My eyes snapped open to find myself looking into the face of that revolting dragon. 

“They are coming for you and this time I will end you for good.”

 

“Renata!”

I sat up with a start to find a disheveled Leliana looking at me in concern. 

“Wake up!”  She hissed loudly as she shoved my pack and boots at me.  “Take this and go!  We are under attack.  You must run.”

The sound of grunting and metal clanging together brought me out of my daze.

“Did you say attack?”  I asked clutching my stomach suddenly feeling an overwhelming sense of nausea.  “I think I am going to puke.”

She pushed my boots at me and yelled, “Run now, puke later.”

The sounds outside came closer and I heard inhuman growling and grunting as a faint smell of garbage passed by.

“Hurry.”  She pleaded as she exited the tent and into the darkness.

I heard Argent barking and growling outside and hastily pulled on my boots.  I grabbed my pack and staff and raced out into the dark. 

The camp was a wreck and I saw Leliana fighting off what like could only be a darkspawn.  The blackened misshapen creature smelled like a wet dog that rolled in rotten eggs and then was sprayed by a skunk.  It made my eyes water.  How could these things sneak up on people with that smell? 

She was being maneuvered against a tree and looked about ready to be skewered by a massive sword.   Just as it thrust its blade forward it was encased in a thick coating of ice and smash to pieces by a massive shield half the size of my body. 

Alistair to the rescue!  He checked her over and they raced back into the fray confronting another putrid monstrosity. 

I spied the wagon where Levi and the dwarves were cowering and darted over to them as fast as I could manage. 

“Oh thank the Maker, Renata.  You are alive.”  Bodahn grabbed me into a hug before pulling me down to the ground with the others.  “They came out of nowhere.”

“Where is everyone else?  I only saw Alistair and Leliana.  Where did they go?”  I whispered.

“When the darkspawn realized that we were capable of fighting them off they retreated.  Very unusual.  The others went after them.”  Levi answered.

A snapping sound from behind us made us freeze and we crouched even lower to the ground.  All of us held our breath as we waited to see if we were discovered. 

After a few moments nothing happened and we let out a collective sigh. 

Wrong thing to do. 

The air suddenly became malodorous and a huge black creature stepped out of the darkness.  It was the most disgusting thing I ever saw.  No words I could think of could do this thing justice.  It took a tentative step toward us as it sniffed the air and we all slid under the wagon. 

I was pretty sure the wagon would not deter it. 

It took another couple of steps and we shrank even farther back under the wagon.  Any farther and we would be out the other side. 

“Bodahn.” I hissed.  He looked at me.  “Are there any grenades in the wagon?”

His eyes lit up and a small smile formed on his face as he nodded.  He pulled me out the other side of the wagon and leapt inside.  When he returned he handed me two small glass flasks with a shrug.

“It’s all I have.”  He pressed the two vials in my hands.  “This is a pitch grenade and this one is a fire grenade.  Make it work.”

He jumped out of the wagon and scampered back under with Sandal and Levi as the beast advanced with a roar.  It was a mother fucking monstrosity!

Instinctively I screamed and threw the pitch grenade at it and watched as it fell as its feet onto the soft leaves and did not break!  I peeked over at Bodahn and he shrugged.

It lurched forward again, one of its feet crushing the vial beneath it and I all but peed myself.  The pitch did not work.

Did they have a freaking expiration date or something?

I had one last chance to cause a distraction allowing us to get away.  I threw the fire grenade and it broke on contact covering it in flames igniting the pitch at its feet.  It howled in pain but kept trudging forward.

I may not have prayed earlier but it's never too late.

 

“Our Father,

who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.” 

 

I paused in my prayer as it stumbled forward again reaching the wagon.  Everyone scrambled out from under it behind me.

Me!  They stepped behind me.  Holy crap what were these idiots thinking?

“Run!”  I screamed at them.  “I’ll distract it, just go.”

The darkspawn lifted its right arm over its head raising a giant axe and growled. 

“No!” shouted Levi as he raised his sword in our defense.  The darkspawn knocked him away with a sweep of his left hand and he landed with a grunt.

I grabbed my staff with both hands and raised it in the air over my head trying to block its inevitable down swing and I felt a low buzzing from behind me.

“Sandal, don’t!”  I heard Bodahn warn. 

The flaming darkspawn stuttered but the axe continued to fall knocking me and the staff onto the dwarves behind me and the buzzing stopped.   It staggered forward raising the axe again and I closed my eyes as I covered their bodies with mine. 

“I’m sorry.”  I whispered to Bodahn and Sandal as I heard the axe slice through the air.  I felt coldness envelope me and felt something sticky spray onto the back of my neck and hair but I felt no pain.  I heard a grunt and a thud and cracked my eyes open to see Sten standing over us covered in gore.     

Sten?!

He reached down and pulled me to my feet.  “You are Maraas Imekari no longer.  Rise, Qunaron Vhel.  It is over.   That was the last.”

The darkspawn was split in two at our feet. I looked around and saw Wynne kneeling over Levi who was rubbing his head.  Thank God he was okay!  Leliana rushed over to me and crushed me in a bear hug as I stood trying to comprehend what the hell just happened.  I looked over at Sandal who flashed me a grin before singing Enchantment!  Bodahn just shrugged again and led him back over to the wagon.

“You were so brave!”  Leliana gushed. “Are you hurt?  Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” I said numbly crossing my arms around myself.  “Just cold.”

“I would be cold too if I was only in a shirt and pair of boots.”  Leliana said hugging me even tighter. 

I looked down and realized I was indeed only in a light shirt and the boots she forced on me earlier.  I guess this is why they sleep in their clothes.  Well I won’t be making that mistake again anytime soon. 

Someone wrapped a blanket around my shoulders.  I looked up to thank them and saw it was Aedan with an expression on his face I couldn’t decipher and quite frankly I didn’t care at the moment.  I took the blanket with thanks and was guided to a seat by the fire.  Argent came rushing over and practically sat on my lap and I hugged her probably as tight as Leliana did to me. 

“It will be morning soon,” Wynne said to me as I felt her magic check me for injuries.  “No one will be able to sleep now.  The boys will take care of burning the darkspawn.  I sense no exposure to the taint on you.  Just try to relax and I will bring you some pants.  We will leave at first light.”

I nodded silently and stared into the fire.  I just survived my first encounter with darkspawn.  Now I knew for certain this was no dream.  This was hell. 

Chapter Text

He cut such an imposing figure that any other time I wouldn’t have, but this time I couldn’t help it.  I hugged Sten and hugged him tight.  The skulking son of a bitch just saved our lives.  My arms didn’t even reach around him for a proper embrace but I held on as tight as I could.  I was afraid to let go.  He stiffened but allowed the contact.  I could sense his impatience but was unable to bring myself to let go.  I just couldn’t stop shaking.  If I had any cookies I would have showered him with them immediately. 

From now on any cookie I ever come across, I am giving to him.  Leliana gently pried me off him so he could move away, the look on his face indecipherable to me.  He was probably immediately regretting his assistance. 

Leliana nudged me in the direction of our barely standing tent and while trying to recover from the shock of almost dying, I pulled on a pair of pants to warm up.  I wasn’t just shaking out of fear, I was also freezing. I was sure that when the adrenaline wore off the shock would set in and I would be much worse than cold. 

Wynne had called it correctly.  We were impatiently waiting for daybreak so we could safely leave.  We had only just finished packing our belongings when Bodahn returned with the horse which he had cut loose and chased to safety and other than the few word words we spoke to assure each other we were fine; everyone was silent as we packed up the camp.   It came as no surprise to me that no one wanted to stay there any longer than was necessary so we eagerly left as the first rays of light rose over the horizon.  We didn’t even eat.  I don’t think any of us had much of an appetite anyway.

After an hour or so of walking the tension from the night before seemed to lessen and the others started talking again but I wasn’t quite ready.  I was still feeling shaky and a bit nauseous and quite frankly I was scared as shit.  Thoughts of the blights and dragons and darkspawn were too fresh for me to be able to say anything useful anyway.

I didn’t plan on forsaking my prayers again anytime soon.  Nothing like a near death experience to renew your faith.  Life is much more unpredictable here and to run the risk of not having my thoughts in order before I die scares me as much as the darkspawn do.  I recited a few verses as my hand absently clutched for my missing cross, my grandfather’s cross, only to falter when I remembered it was lost.  I knew it was just a material possession but it still held sentimental value for me, comforted me.  Its presence around my neck would have helped console me.   

I saw Aedan giving me a few looks as he talked with the others and he gradually seemed to drift closer to me until we walking in step with each other.  It seemed I was next on his list. 

“Are you sure you are alright?”  He asked, the concern uncharacteristic in his voice.  “I know seeing your first darkspawn is nothing to take lightly.”

He wasn’t kidding and this is the life he and Alistair have to look forward to, the life I have, until I get home.  No wonder they were constantly in a bad mood. 

“I hope Brother Genitivi is safe.  I can’t believe you let him stay in the temple.”  I shrugged, not knowing what else to say.  I squeezed my eyes shut trying to block out last night’s memory almost stumbling over a rut in the path.

 

“He’s a grown man.  He made it this long and as soon as we get back, I’m sure the Chantry will send someone after him.  A discovery like that won’t stay secret long.”

“They stink.”  I whispered changing the subject

He chuckled at that.  “Yeah, they reek alright.  But I mean how are you doing?  Why didn’t you run?”

“And where would you have me run to?”  My voice raised unintentionally, the emotions of the night still too close to the surface and I heard my own voice crack.  “I don’t know how I got here.  I’ve nowhere to go and no one to run to.  This is all I have.  You wretched bunch of mistrustful assholes are all I have.  There is nothing else.”

I almost, almost broke down into tears, but I was not going to let any of them see just how close to the edge I was.  I stopped mid step and closed my eyes again and took a deep breath in through my nose and let it out my mouth.  “I just want to make to Redcliff.  I need to talk to that mage.  I want to get home as badly as all of you want to get rid of me.  You’re right, okay.  I have no place here and I want to go home.”

Aedan’s face softened as he surprised me by grabbing my hand and pulling me from the group.  “Look at me, Renata.”  He raised his hand toward my face and I inadvertently flinched.  His face fell and he pushed a strand of hair behind my ear.  “It’s okay to be scared.  I’m scared.  Ah to the void, we are all scared.  No expects you to be any different.  You did well.  You kept your head and defended your friends. That more than anyone expected.”

“Defended them?”  I exclaimed. “All I did was run over to them hoping they knew how to get away.”

“Calm down, Renata.”  Aedan said softly. 

“I hate being told to calm down.”  I grumbled.

“This was a good thing.  Now we know you can protect yourself in a pinch.”  He placed a hand on my arm and smiled.  It tingled a little. “You did good.”

I was about ready to go off on another tirade when he walked away to the next person leaving me feeling strangely reassured.

 

“Renata.”  I looked back at the voice behind me.  I’m sure I grimaced when I saw who it was.  Zevran. 

No. No.  No.  I shook my head at him.  “Leave me alone.”

“You’re avoiding me.”  He started.  I held up a hand interrupting him. 

“You’re damn right I’m avoiding you.  I’m not in the mood for your games right now you… you… jerk face.  Go insult someone else.”   I was tired and scared and yes, started to get the faintest bit hungry and jerk face was the nicest slight I could up with. 

Zevran barked a laugh and repeated my insult.  “Jerk face?  That’s the best you have?  I would have though prostitute, whore, or murderer at the very least.  But you chose jerk face?”

“I’m sorry.   I’ll try to be more of an asshole like you next time.”

“You did well last night.  I am pleased that you have that you were able to use some of your skills and survived.   I tried to tell you I am an excellent instructor.”  He stopped with a sigh before walking besides me.  “I also wanted to apologize for my unacceptable behavior.   I sometimes forget how to deal with, how shall I say... normal people?”

Normal People?  Since when was I considered a normal person?  I groaned.  I am definitely not a normal person.  I was way too forgiving but if I could get over Cullen choking me to death, I guess I could get over Zevran being a jerk face. 

And darn it, how can I stay mad when he apologized so nicely?  And that accent... Lord knows I want to but…

“I accept.”  I forced a smile at him.  I didn’t really want to but I would rather spend my energy on more positive things.  “But don’t do it again.”

“Thank you.  And I will apologize to your Warden too.  I did not realize that you two were so close.  I wouldn’t have attempted had I known.  Well maybe, but I would not have taken your rejection so personally.”

I smiled nodding my head as we walked onward.

 

Wait.

 

 

 

What? 

 

I turned to look at him.  “Wait, what are you talking about?” 

“You and the Warden.  I will refrain from the suggestive behavior from now on.  I’m sure that I wouldn’t like it either if we were together.”

“Together? You think we are together?” 

“Well look at him.”  He pointed over to Aedan who seemed to blush awkwardly when our eyes met. He quickly d looked away as I gawked at him.  “He isn’t as good at hiding it as you are.  I guess everyone needs their privacy.  But if you want any suggestions on increasing your pleasure or any additional company.  I would not be adverse.  He is a handsome man after all.”  

 I blanched and almost tripped as I realized what he said. 

Aw hell.

I rudely stormed away to walk with Morrigan.  She usually wasn’t much of a conversationalist and no one would bother me next to her. 

 

“Renata!”  I heard Bodahn call from his wagon and sighed.  “Have a seat.  I need to talk to you.”

I guess I was wrong.  What now?

He saw to it that I was settled on the seat next to him and returned his concentration to driving the wagon.  He was silent for such a long time I was beginning to think that he was just helping me out so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone.  I had been wondering if he was going to say anything, if he knew what Sandal was capable of?  Did he even understand it?  I certainly didn’t.  Levi had been knocked unconscious so he didn’t see it and even if he hadn’t been he may not have realized it.  The tingle had been subtle but it was there, that Sandal was special was certain.  He had magic and Bodahn knew it and he wanted to talk about it. 

He finally cleared his throat.

Yep.  This was going to be good. 

“Care for a bite?”  He asked waving a piece of jerky at me as I settled in the wagon next to him.  I declined as I had a tendency to get motion sickness. 

Yep that’s right.  I even got motion sickness one time when I went snorkeling.  I thought if I was floating on the water without swimming, I could get a better look at the fish below.  How was I supposed to know that floating on the waves would make me sick too?  I was just lucky I made it back into the boat and reached the bucket in time.  I wasn’t about to add food to that equation. 

“I’m not sure if you are aware just how special my boy is but we have become very adept at assuring no one and I mean no one realizes it.”

“Is that why you took him to the Circle to have him evaluated?”  I wasn’t sure I liked the way this conversation was starting.

“Yes, well that was a mistake on my part.  Let us just say that’s one of the many I made after arriving on the surface.  Sandal seems to be very good at controlling and hiding his gift.  It was an incident like last night that led to my discovery of it.  I thought he was just a simpleton like everyone else did.  A mistake, much like the one we made with you.”  He cocked his eyebrow at me tilting his head in my direction as if daring me to argue with him.  “So can we count on you to keep this quiet?  I would hate for someone that Sandal really likes to disappoint him.”

“What the fuck Bodahn?  Is that the way it is with everyone around here?  Kill or be killed?  What exactly do you think I would do to Sandal?”  I asked leaping from the wagon in offense, practically landing on Levi. 

Bodahn merely shrugged.  “What would you do for your family?  I’m just protecting my boy, Milady.  Just protecting my boy.”  He repeated as the wagon rode ahead. 

“Did Bodahn just threaten you?”  Levi looked on incredulously. 

“It‘s par for the course.  I seem to be working my way through the group. You, Leliana and Morrigan are the only ones that haven’t yet.  Care to take wagers on who will be next?”

Levi sorted and shook his head smiling.  “How someone like you keeps getting into so much trouble, I can’t fathom.

“Pure talent.” I smiled back.

Chapter Text

We found a place to camp a little earlier than usual due to the fact that last night no one got much rest and we were all tired and hungry.  It would have been perfect if everyone wasn’t so grumpy and still a bit wary.  I don’t think we would be caught unprepared again too soon.    Once the camp was established and a perimeter was set we all started in on our chores. Tents were raised, the fire was started and food was cooked.  Thankfully there was a stream with fish in it and an abundance of berries nearby so we all may still have been a bit hungry but we didn’t starve.  Once again my staff served a dual purpose. 

We used Bodahn’s barrel to wash up as no one felt comfortable leaving the group to bathe even in numbers.  I skipped the language lesson and mending to sit with Levi by the fire. 

“How are you feeling?”  I inquired.  “Those darkspawn can be a real bitch.” 

“A few aches and pains.  I never quite got knocked on my ass like that before but I will heal.  Thanks for asking.”

I nodded my head and stared into the fire for what must have been a while and I realized Levi was no longer sitting next to me.  I looked over and saw Aedan sitting a few feet away. 

“Welcome back.”  He smiled when I looked over at him.

I snorted.  “I didn’t go anywhere.”

“Your mind was definitely somewhere else.” 

“I beg your pardon, but you tell me that every day.  How’s today any different?”

He frowned and took a deep breath.  “I deserve that.  I guess me out of anyone should believe you when you say you’re not from here. You know, that place in the fade and all.”

He continued after I made a face at him.  “Where was that place anyway?”

“Why are you asking?” I questioned suddenly getting suspicious. 

“I know it’s a little late coming but maybe we should at least try being friends.  It looks like we’re in it for the long haul.”

“Not if I can help it.”  I reminded him.  “As soon as we get to Redcliff I am going to find Jowan and see what he knows.  He must have seen something.  Maybe he already knows how to get me home.  Maybe he can cast a spell or something.”

“For your sake I hope so.”  He paused staring into the fire himself for a few moments.  “Elissa liked the outdoors too.  You know like that place you were in fade, although she didn’t like to fish. She preferred to bow hunt.  She’s not as proficient as Leliana is.  She preferred a great sword.  She loved to show off and scare potential suitors that our Mum would try to set her up with by challenging them to a sparring match.  It turned most of them off right away.  Mum always got right angry.”

“I bet your mother secretly loved it.  Knowing her daughter could take care of herself probably made her very proud.”  He nodded.  I almost almost thought he was going to cry but he sniffed back any tears that may have been forming and snorted.  “She was my parents’ little darling and could do no wrong.  She should have been the warden not me.”

I wanted to say something to make him feel better before he spiraled out of control so I reached for his hand but Alistair interrupted.  “Renata, you are going to take the first watch with Sten tonight.  “It’s probably the easiest and after last night we think you can start taking turns.”

“What?”  I stood up from the fire looking from Aedan to Alistair then back to Aedan.  “Is this why you came over and started being nice to me?”

He blushed and looked at the ground before turning a glare to Alistair.  “No!  But he is correct.  You can start taking turns like everyone else.  Sten suggested you start with him until we can determine which one of us is your compliment.  But as you say we may not need to worry about that, since you’re going home.”

Aedan stalked off in a huff leaving me with Alistair at the fire.  I snarled at him.  “You’re still an idiot.” 

“Here.  Here.”  I heard Morrigan’s voice ring through the camp.

“Hey!   What did I do now?”  He whined. 

“Don’t be so heartless.  He needed to talk.  I know it’s important to keep on task and all but maybe you guys need to take a moment to breathe and grieve.  Both of you.”  I was unsure of the emotion that flickered over his face but kept going.  “If I’m not mistaken, and I know I usually am so bare with me, you lost someone very important to you at Ostegar too.  Have you had the chance deal with it?” 

Alistair’s mouth twitched and he clenched his fists before he stormed off as well.

“Two for two.”  A sultry voiced Antivan purred behind me. 

“My lot in life seems to be chasing away handsome men.”  I sighed. 

“Come,” He grabbed my hand.  “We have a training session before you take watch.”

 

 

My watch with Sten was uneventful, boring really.  Seriously, all we did is watch, watch the sky, watch the trees, watch the camp.  We watched everything and when that was done we changed positions and watched some more. 

Ugh!

Sten would barely even talk to me saying that we were on watch duty not talk duty.  “Parshaara Imekari, you talk, you die.  We all die. Be as the wardens, ever vigilant.”

So much for getting to know him any better.  At least right now. 

It was two hours of pure torture and I was grateful when our watch was up and I could flop in my bedroll and fall asleep. The only problem was that I was so keyed up, I had trouble falling asleep.  After half an hour of tossing and turning and trying not to disturb Leliana, who was trying to sleep before her assigned watch, I decided to hang out by the fire.  It wasn’t long before I was thinking of home and my parents and friends.  I was grateful that Argent was here.  I realized I would be lost without at least her grounding presence.  That might seem strange to someone else but she was what I had left of my home, a home I was starting to fear I would never see again.  How was I expected to survive here?

I may be winning these guys over slowly but there was no way I would be able to positively contribute to fighting the blight.  I would be a liability.  Even if I could offer my knowledge of what was going to happen, it was obvious my information was flawed.  Would they accept that?  Could I accept that?

“Trouble sleeping too?”  A masculine voice from behind me asked before settling next to me beside the fire. 

“You’d have trouble sleeping to if you’d seen the things I have.” I paused and added sarcastically.  “Oh wait, you do, or you will anyway.”

“So there’s more?  Wonderful.”  He sighed.

“Werewolves, crazy dwarven paragons, arch demons.  This world is so fucked up.”

“And this world of yours is so much better?”  He challenged.

“Yes and no,” I said slowly.  “It’s my world and I know how to survive there, but it does have it negatives.  Of course I’m not going to dwell on them.  It’s my home after all.”

“Of course,” He nodded staring into the fire.  “Is there anything, anything at all you could tell us to convince us your story is true?  Anything?”

I sighed.  “I don’t know.  Like I said everything is so fucked up.  It’s like I’m remembering a story read to someone else who wasn’t paying attention.  Some parts I remember and other parts aren’t right, my mind must be it filling in.”

“Can you give me anything?”  He seemed to be almost pleading.

I shrugged.  I was still put off by the boot thing. “Maybe.”

“Try.”  He groaned and rolled his eyes. 

“Fine.  Were you guys in Eamon’s study when you were at Redcliff?” I asked.

“Not sure about where you’re from but that’s usually considered bad manners, rifling through others’ belongings.”  He smirked. 

“Yeah, well.  I never said I was perfect.”

I spent the next fifteen minutes explaining about the version of Alistair’s amulet that I knew, leaving out the possibility that he was born to a Grey Warden elf.  I never read that books and it wasn’t really mentioned in the games plus most my information was cocked up one way or another.  By then I wasn’t quite so keyed up and felt tired enough to go back to bed.  Aedan seemed to be appeased and wished me goodnight. 

Thankfully I fell into a dreamless sleep.  And thankfully it was a slobbering dog that woke me the next morning instead of a dragon. 

After a couple more uneventful days of traveling, camping and training and we found ourselves at Redcliff.  We arrived just after midday.  I had not seen this view before and stood on a dirt covered hill overlooking the village to take in the sight before me.  And a sight it was.  The faded wooden buildings were in disrepair, the shutters hanging crooked and swaying in the breeze.  The stench of decay and feces rose up the hill making me gag.  I was unsure if the village was dilapidated due to the recent undead activity or if this was how the village normally looked. 

God but I hoped it was due to the undead.  The only thing I remember about being in the town last time before I was clocked on the head was that disgusting tavern.

“Is this normal?”  I whispered to Leliana not wanting to offend Alistair, it had been his home for a bit and I had no idea how he felt about it.  I was unable to tear my eyes off the buildings as I noted loose planks or wood siding and missing sections of thatching in the roofs.  Thatch?  How does that even keep out the elements?  One house, if that was what it could be called was missing a door and I saw a dirty child watching us wide eyed from the frame as we walked by. 

“I am unsure.”   Leliana shrugged.   “To be truthful I didn’t pay much attention the last time we were here as we were too busy killing undead.  But the conditions are appalling.”

“Surely the Arl is unaware of these conditions?”

“No, this is not normal.”  Alistair answered coming up behind me grimacing.  “This is the damage done by those undead that mage released on this town.” 

“I thought Connor did that?”  I asked immediately regretting what I said.  

“No!”  Alistair shouted and I saw anger in his eyes.  “He is just a boy.  This is not his fault.  The only thing he did wrong was to be born to incompetent parents.  Isolde should never have been allowed to care for a child.  She has no clue how to treat them.”

I was surprised at the rage in his voice but realized I shouldn’t be.  If what I remembered was correct, this was the same woman who had little Alistair moved to the stable as a child and then sent to the chantry to be trained as a Templar all because she didn’t trust her husband.  His resentment would certainly be justified.  How could a woman do that to a child, I wondered?  How could Eamon allow it to happen?  

“We really should be heading to the castle if we are to deliver those ashes.”  Alistair told us.

Bodahn and Sandal made their way to the center of town with the wagon to sell, trade and resupply and Zevran and Sten went with them to assure that they were unmolested. Either that or they both had no interest in going to the castle.

I caught a few people gawking at us as we made our way up the hill to the castle gates.  It was flanked on either side by guards in coats of armor.   I attempted to move in for a closer look but was pulled back.  “Are there really guards in there?”  I asked trying to see through the eye slits.  “They aren’t even moving.”

“Thank the Maker for that.”  Leliana praised.  “The last time we saw them they attacked us.”

“I don’t have a good feeling about this.”  I thought out loud.

“Don’t you think the ashes will work?”  She whispered I my ear. 

“I’m sure they will.  But something else doesn’t seem right.  I just don’t know what.” 

As I finished my sentence a male figure exited from the castle entrance and descended the steps into the courtyard. 

 “Ah, Alistair my boy,” He clapped him firmly on the back, Warden, greetings!”  He acknowledged the rest of us with a nod.  His eyes lingered momentarily over Morrigan and her barely there outfit before returning his attention back to the Alistair and Aedan.   I glanced over at Morrigan who either didn’t seem notice or care.  “Have you returned successful?  Were you able to return with the ashes?”

“Teagan!  How is he?  How is Uncle Eamon?  Does he still live?”  Alistair sounded worried, I hoped for his sake that things went as they should.

“All is well, my boy.” Teagan smiled at him then ruffling his hair, “You have made it back in time.  There has been no change and that you are here brings us hope.  Let us go inside and get you settled while I call for the Revered Mother.  Then we can begin.” 

Chapter Text

The room I was led to was dark.  The only source of light being two large slits near the roof.  There wasn’t even fireplace for warmth.  How was one supposed to stay warm in such a dark dank space?  The woman that showed me into the room, lit a candle illuminating the space before setting it on the side table and leaving.  I looked about the room and despite the dungeon type feel practically cried with joy at seeing a bed. 

A real honest to goodness bed, big and fluffy and soft looking.  I was so happy I collapsed on it propping myself on a very stiff pillow before surveying my surroundings. 

The room may have been small for nobility, but mine at least, was approximately the same size as my room at my parent’s house, so I was content.   The bed was comparable in size to a double bed and there was enough room for two large high back chairs an armoire and a side table.  On the side table there were additional candle sticks and a sconce fixed to the wall by the door.  Thank goodness I wasn’t claustrophobic. 

It was a little musty smelling, I’d have to get used to that but I didn’t see any dust on anything and the linens seemed clean, all in all I couldn’t complain.

I popped off the bed and peeked my head out of the door.  It seemed everyone was staying in the same hallway.  Good, everyone was within shouting distance.  The door across the hall was ajar and I saw a flash of red hair that identified it as Leliana’s room so I crossed the corridor and knocked.

“Come in, Renata.”  She welcomed me although her back was to me and I hadn’t announced myself.  “You can shut the door behind you, please.”  I pressed my back against the door as I entered until I was sure it was shut.  Argent managed to slink in between my legs.  I took note that her room was a reverse image of mine.   

“How Fereldan.”  She exclaimed as she twirled around looking at her room.  “These must be converted servant quarters.  They are so small.  I bet the boys got bigger rooms.”

“Who cares, Leliana, we get to sleep in a bed tonight!”  I giggled.  “Give me a hot bath and a steak and I will be one happy girl.”

“Yes, of course.  You are right.”  She pulled me into a hug, giggling.  How does this sweet girl ever turn into such a scary spymaster, I wondered?  She pulled away looking me in the eye and asked, “Did you need something?” 

I plopped down in one of the chairs.  “Company maybe.  I thought since Wynne and the guys are seeing the Arl that maybe you, me and Morrigan could go to the dungeon.”

“Ah, the blood mage.”  She nodded her head.  “I am unsure if that is wise.  Maybe we should wait for Aedan or Alistair or Zevran to accompany us.”

“Are you afraid that the three us couldn’t handle one little ole mage?  Why Leliana, I am disappointed in you.”  I teased.

“You know better than that,” she chided.  “What if he is able to send you home right away?  Wouldn’t you want to say goodbye to everyone first?”

I made a face at her.  She was right, of course, I had spent too much time with these people to leave without saying goodbye but I knew full well things would never go that smoothly.  “I just want to see him.  Find out if he knows anything.  Maybe he’s hungry, I could bring him some food or water.  I can’t image it’s very pleasant down there.”

She sighed, “Very well. We will just see if he is down there but only if Morrigan agrees to come.  I don’t want to be responsible for you on my own.”

“The only one responsible for me is me.  No one else.”  I grumbled.

“Tell that to Zevran.”  She smiled as she slid out the door beckoning me to follow.  Argent and I were right on her heels.  “When we are done I would like to see about a bath.  How about you?”

“Definitely.”  I smiled, daring to place my hand on her shoulder.  “Thanks Leliana.”

Morrigan’s room was three doors up but Leliana stopped us short of entering.  “I don’t think she’s alone.”

I could hear two voices talking through the door.  One was definitely Morrigan and another sounded to be male. 

Did Morrigan have friend??  I hope it wasn’t who I was thinking.

I burst through the door, thankfully it was unlocked, and rushed into the room.  On the far side of the room Teagan had Morrigan all but pinned against the wall.  Morrigan looked irritated but not at me.  It was all directed at him.  “Oh my,” I gushed making my eyes as wide as possible.  “I am so sorry.  I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Teagan growled.

Morrigan didn’t speak, her mouth was tightly pursed but I saw a slight shake of her head.

Just as I thought, he was a schmoozy prick.  He was probably another self-entitled rich asshole who thought everyone would be honored to catch his attention.  I bet he’s sleeping with Isolde on the side too.  Especially if the way she approached him in the game was anywhere near what really happened.  

“Leliana, here she is.  I found her.”  I called into the hall. 

“Yes, dear,” Leliana called back entering the room.  “Her room is much nicer.”  She twirled around the room oohing and aahing over the décor, the same decor that was in all three of our rooms.

I plopped myself into one of the chairs and started pulling of my boots and socks.  “It feels like there is something in my boot. Someone look at it to see if I have a cut...”  I yanked real hard at boot and grimaced as I sniffed my sock. “Oh, jeez this didn’t come off very easy, probably still have some mud stuck in there.  “Is there water in here?”

Teagan scrunched up his face, infuriated and pointed to a pitcher of water on the side table.  “Oh, thank goodness.”  I said and grabbed the pitcher and drank so greedily from it and most of the water spilled down my shirt.  When I was done I let out a loud burp before wiping my mouth with my dusty sleeve. “Oops, excuse me.”

“Well then,” He said looking horrified as he edged his way toward the door eyeing Morrigan.  “I have other things to see to.  I’ll take my leave and I’ll see you later.”

“I had everything under control.”  Morrigan declared after she checked to make sure he was no longer in the hall.  

“Of course you could, but I didn’t think turning him into a frog would have been very helpful.”  I put my sock and boot back on.  “We may need him if Eamon doesn’t wake up.”

Leliana closed the door behind her, “That was very sneaky of you.  There is hope for you yet.” 

I just shrugged.  “No one should have to put up with that crap, even if they can handle it.”

“I supposed now you think I owe you a favor?”  Morrigan asked narrowing her eyes at me.

“No. I just wanted to see if you cared to tag along to the dungeon with us.  I’m going to find Jowan.  But if you would rather stay then…”

“This idea of yours that this talentless blood mage can help you get home is highly unlikely.  But I should be interested to see what transpires from this venture of yours.  I will accompany you.”

“Great!”  I smiled at them. “I really appreciate that the both of you are willing to do this.”

Morrigan rolled her eyes at us as Leliana took my hand and led us to the dungeon.

Finally, Jowan.  It seemed to me to be a long time coming.  I hoped he was okay. That he was in good enough shape to be of help.  And since I was trying not to be heartless, I hoped to God I could get him out of that dungeon.

 

*

 

Slipping into the dungeon without being seen was easy, there was not a living soul in sight.  And according to Leliana that was a very bad sign. 

“Shouldn’t someone be guarding him?”  I asked more than a little bit worried. 

“Not if he is dead.”  Morrigan pointed out.  “There is no one down here, there are no lights and I hear nothing.  We should give this up.  It is a waste of time.”

“Whose time?”  I snapped.  “Your time?  You are free to leave but I have to find him.”

Morrigan huffed but stayed with us. 

“There are two corridors, the one where we first found you, that is the one that is dark.  But there,” she pointed another direction.  “there is candlelight down here.  He may be that way.”

“Well what are we waiting for?” I asked starting for the occupied corridor. 

Morrigan deftly grabbed my wrist jerking me back and spinning me to face her. “Have you learned nothing while being in our presence.  You have no knowledge of what is down there.  You could be hurt.”

Her actions surprised me and quite frankly pissed me off.   I stared at her unflinching and then looked at my wrist still in her delicately boned hands.  “You have got to be kidding me.”  I growled at her twisting away out of her grasp.  She let me free.  I had no doubt that if she wanted to she could have held on but she released me. 

“Renata,” Leliana interrupted.  “She is right.  Let me sneak down there and check it out first.  No one will see me.”

I swore, quietly, not wanting to alert ‘whoever was down there’ but reluctantly agreed.  Leliana snuck down the corridor and then disappeared right before my eyes. 

Rogues are so cool!

I slouched against the cold stone wall while Morrigan and I waited. 

“We can go examine the cell where you were found while we wait, if you would desire.  It may also offer additional information on how you ended up there.”  Morrigan suggested hesitantly.  “Her survey may take some time the tunnels do twist and turn a bit.”

I immediately snapped to attention looking at her to make sure her offer was genuine then smiled as I scampered down the hall.  “You really do like me.”  I joked, then in a sing song voice.  “You-who  real-lee like me.  You-who real-lee like me.”

“Stop that, you clumsy fool.”  She grabbed my shoulder pulling me behind her.  “You need to ask that seedy elf of yours for some lessons in stealth.  You are too loud and will get us caught or killed.  Come on, quickly then.”

Morrigan and I creeped forward, her illumination spell lighting the way.  When we reached the end of the corridor she pointed to two of the cells.  “This is where Jowan was and I believe this one was yours.”

I stepped forward into the small dank room that was essentially my doorway to Thedas.  The body that had been occupying it with me, thankfully, had been removed but the cell was by no means clean.  The room was strewn with garbage and human waste.

So much for maid service.  I guess their castle is so big they have the luxury of just closing off areas they don’t wasn’t to clean or repair.  How disgusting!

I didn’t expect to see anything in the cell so I wasn’t disappointed.  I turned to leave when Argent started digging furiously into the floor next to the cell bars, dirt and dust and small rocks flying all around us.  “Cease that, mongrel!  Lest we are discovered.”  Morrigan hissed at her, causing her to pause a bit before whining then pawing at the ground.

I placed my hand on her back and kneeled down beside her.  “Whatya got, girl?”

Argent made a sound like Chewbaca before head butting me and sitting back on her haunches. 

“Ow!  What was that for?”  I closed my eyes falling on my butt.  I rubbed my forehead at the shooting pain suddenly between my eyes.

“It seems your slobbering cur has discovered something.  What... what is this?”  Morrigan leaned squinting as she pulled a strip of fabric from Argent’s hole.  My heart skipped a beat when I realized that the strip of fabric was actually strap.  And not just any strap.  The fabric was part of the strap that made up my wallet on a string!

Un-fucking-believable!

Argent just found my purse!  

Chapter Text

If I hadn’t already been kneeling on the ground, I surely would have collapsed to my knees. 

My purse. 

I didn’t even remember having it.  It wasn’t a big purse.  It was really just a wallet on a string.  But its existence was all the proof I would need to show these dingbats I wasn’t just any old nutcase.  I rudely snatched it away from Morrigan the way a dying man in the desert would seize a canteen from his savior.  I heard her snort. 

There would be time for apologies later.   My hands were shaking so badly that I was unable to open the zipper to the main compartment and I swore.

Surprisingly a pale graceful hand reached out to steady mine, “I assume this belongs to you. ‘Tis an odd contraption, to be sure.”  She easily pulled me off the floor of the dungeon impressing me with her strength. 

“I’m sorry,” I began.  I took a deep breath as I started to choke on my emotions.  “I just didn’t expect to see this again...ever.  I mean, I know I talk about going home, but to actually...”

I couldn’t continue.   I started to feel light headed and overheated.  I must have gotten to my feet too quickly and I slouched against the bars to steady myself. 

When Leliana suddenly appeared out of nowhere, I almost fell over anyway from the shock.

“What are you two doing down here?”  She whispered.  “We have to hurry, I used some knock out powder on the guard but it won’t last forever.  If you want to talk to him, we better go.”

Leliana grabbed my hand pulled me toward Jowan.  I grabbed Morrigan’s hand and flashed her grateful smile.  I really needed to spend more time with her or at least try to.  She may not really be a bitch after all.  I’m sure being raised in the woods by a witch and dressed in rags and having no other children to play with didn’t do much for one’s social development.  It’s a wonder she was as articulate as she was. 

Plus, she may really just be shy and afraid to open up. 

It’s possible, you know.  

Someone at work once told me that some people thought I was stuck up because I never talked to anyone.  I wasn’t stuck up!  I was just afraid they wouldn’t like me or I would be interrupting someone’s conversation and they wouldn’t like it.  It easier to stay to myself.   I was new, what did they expect?   But after that comment, I just started to say hello to everyone and smile at them when I walked by, eventually we all became one happy family.

I’ll have to work on that with Morrigan.

Argent ran ahead only stopping when we reached the end of the other corridor.  A man was slouched on a chair snoring loudly.  I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight and quickly muffled it when Morrigan glared at me.  I shrugged and gave her another smile. 

“Hello?”  A voice cracked from behind the bars. 

My clumsiness forgotten as well as the wallet slung over my head, I lunged forward and grabbed the bars.  “Jowan?”

“Who’s there?”  A resigned voice called back.

“Jowan, is that you?”  I squinted into the darkness of the cell before reaching for the guard’s candle and holding it forward. 

I saw a figure hunched over in the back of the cell, a bowl of rotted food crawling with bugs nearby.  I’m pretty sure I saw a couple of rats in there too.  I grabbed my water skin and thrust it through the bars.  “Here, have some water.”

Unbidden, images of that man in the desert filled my head. “There, there,” I soothed when Jowan half stumbled half flew the space across the cells .  “There is more where that came from.  Take it easy.”

“Renata, hurry up!”  Leliana urged.  “The guard won’t be out for much longer.”

“You!  And you!”  He looked at us in disbelief.  “You returned.” 

“Yes, we did.”  I sympathized.  “We don’t have much time, but I have questions.  Here take this.”  I offered him piece of stale bread and some jerky I had brought with us.  Keep the water.  I will try to get you free or at least not executed.”

“Good luck with that.”  He scoffed.  The Arlessa hates me for what I did to her husband and her son.  I doubt I will see live to see the end of another week.  This is the first food or water I have had in days.”

I reached for Leliana’s water skin and rations.  “I’ll get you another one.”  I apologized handing them through the bars.  Morrigan volunteered hers as well.  When I smirked at her she just shrugged.

“No one should have to put up with that crap, even if they can handle it.”  She reminded me. 

I felt myself grin in spite of my surroundings.  There was a heart in there yet. 

“Thanks,” He said as he greedily bit into the bread.  “What questions do you have?”

The guard stirred, faintly but enough for Morrigan and Leliana to back away and urge me to do the same.  

“One question, for now.  But I will be back later.” He nodded his approval in between bites.  “Did you see how, I got here?  Do you know how to send me home?”

The guard moaned and Leliana grabbed my shoulder dragging me away from the cell. 

“Yes.”  He called out to me as I was pulled down the hall.

**

 

I was giddy.

 

Maybe giddy was not the right word.  Not only did I find Jowan and was able to speak to him but he said he could help me and I found my purse!

I was fucking ecstatic!

While I was distracted with thoughts of home, Leliana had dumped the contents of my purse on my bed and was examining everything in it with intense curiosity.  Morrigan was leaning against the nearby wall trying to look uninterested.

“What’s this?”  She asking waving a travel size lip gloss in the air. 

“Lip gloss,” I answered absently still thinking about Jowan.

“Show me everything.”  She implored.

Within a half hour the three of us were sprawled on my bed going through the things from my purse.  Leliana seemed particularly interested in the makeup and purse itself.  “Too bad it cannot attach to a belt.”  She mused.

Ah ha!  When I showed her the back of the purse had a belt loop and showed her that the adjustable strap could also double as a belt she squealed in delight.  “This is extraordinary!” She then proceeded to adjust everything to fit around her waist. 

I sighed a deep breath then smiled.  Girls and their accessories...

Morrigan herself was fascinated with the mirror compact.  After looking at my reflection for a moment, I offered it to her.  “I’m not sure I like what’s staring back at me.”  I said.

“I am grateful,” She hesitated before accepting it.  “‘Tis thoughtful indeed.” 

A loud knock on the door alerted us to company just as the Wardens and Wynne stepped in my room. 

How rude!

“Do you always just barge into someone’s room?”  I scolded them.

“I knocked first.”  Aedan protested. 

“Then you wait for a reply.  What if we were indecent?”  He blushed at the thought before a smirk pulled at his lips. 

“Then I guess I would have been in trouble.”

“This argument can wait.”  Alistair interrupted.   “We need to talk.” 

He faltered for a minute, looking it seemed, at Aedan for reassurance, then strode purposefully over to the bed and stood in front of me.

“How did you know about this?” He bellowed.   Wynn said something to him I didn’t catch and he repeated his question in a much more respectable tone.  “How did you know that it was in the study?”

He dangled an amulet on a thin gold chain in front of me.  I held my hand up to catch it in the light and smiled at him.  “Is this your mother’s?”

He swallowed before nodding his head.  “It is.”  His tone of voice much more composed.  “Which brings me back to my question.  How did you know?”

I exhaled and sat on the edge of the bed.  I noticed everyone’s eyes were on me again. 

Yay!  Renata, always the center of attention. 

“You’ll think I’m crazy if I tell you.” I complained. 

“No, we won’t.” Leliana and Aedan protested at the same time. 

“Show her.”  Aedan urged him.

“Show me?  Show me what?”  I cocked my head waiting for an answer.

“This was in the drawer with my mother’s amulet.”  He held up something in his hand.  I did a double take. 

“How in the world...?”  My voice trailed off as I reached for the object in his hand.  “Oh, my God!” 

I sat back down on the edge of the bed, shocked to actually be staring at the thing in my hand.  I ran my fingers over the edges, twirled it around in my hands and then surprised everyone when I kissed it. 

I was in awe, dumbstruck actually.  “I can’t believe you found this.”

“I have never seen it’s like.  What exactly is this?”  Leliana asked.

“It’s my cell phone.”  I breathed.

“A cell phone?”  Alistair asked repeating the foreign words aloud.

“What is its purpose?”  Morrigan asked edging closer to me and the phone.

I laughed.  “It’s mainly a long distance communication device.  My world is overrun with these.  But they are so much more.  They play music, take pictures, play movies. You name it there is probably an app for it.”

“An app?”  Wynne asked moving closer. 

“Will you show us?”  Aedan asked hopefully. 

I nodded.  “If it still works and if it has power.”  I turned on the screen and breathed a sigh of relief when the screen lit up.”

Leliana gasped.  “It also provides light.  It has magic?”

I giggled.  Again I felt giddy.  How awesome was this?  But my excitement was short lived when the low battery warning flashed on the screen.  I quickly turned it off to conserve what little power it had.

“What happened?” Aedan asked.

“There is hardly any power.  Maybe enough for twenty minutes.” I frowned.

The disappointment on their faces was hard to look at.  “If the power runs out, it will never turn on again.”  I said sadly.

“We found something else with it as well.”  Aedan revealed.  He nodded at Alistair again who pulled something from a hidden pocket under his armor.  How he accessed it I couldn’t tell but he reached for my hand and placed another object in my open palm. 

As soon as he did I knew what it was.  I would know it anywhere in any situation.  It was my grandfather’s golden cross.  I dropped my phone on the bed quickly forgetting it as I examined the cross.  The cross was intact but the chain was not.  I was disappointed because I immediately wanted to put it on.  I rubbed the relief with my fingers and hugged Alistair as tight as I could while he was wearing his armor.

Suddenly I remembered myself and released him.  “Sorry,” I stuttered.  “I just forgot myself.  Forgive me I didn’t mean to...”

He smiled.  “You’re forgiven...this time.  This is something important to you?”

I nodded at him and looked around the room.  “As important as yours is to you.  It was my grandfather’s.”

“Sorry to break this up when you are obviously getting a long so famously for a change, but can you tell us about this cell phone?”  Morrigan narrowed her eyes.

I sighed again.  It seemed it was becoming my thing.

I nodded at her.  “First thing’s first,” I agreed and turned to Alistair again.  “How is Eamon?”

Alistair looked surprised that I asked.  “He is no worse.  The ashes are being prepared as we speak and the ritual will begin tomorrow at first light.”

“Hmmm.” I murmured.

“Why?” Aedan stepped forward.  “Is something wrong?”

“No.  Maybe.  I don’t think so.  I didn’t know there was a ritual.  But I guess I’m not surprised.  So he should be fine by tomorrow in time for dinner.”

A ritual?  Things always have a way of going bad during a ritual.  I just hope that I am wrong about this.

“We found the blood mage.”  Morrigan informed the others much to my dismay.  I stuck my tongue out at her in a very mature fashion.

“Well can he help?”  Aedan asked.

“I don’t know.  I think he can.  At least he has information I can use to help figure a way out of this mess.”

“The phone.”  Morrigan repeated

“Jesus, Morrigan.  Give it a rest.  I’ll probably only be able to use it once.  So let’s wait for everyone to be together.  Let’s get cleaned up and changed out of these dusty clothes and meet Zevran and Sten somewhere for dinner.  Then I will show you the phone.”

“Fine.”  Morrigan huffed as she headed for the door. 

“Wait!”  I barked at her.  “Here.”  I tossed the mirror in her direction.  “You forgot something.”

She caught it easily in her hand and inclined her head at me as she left.

“Come now,” Leliana ushered everyone out of my room.  “We will meet you in the entry way in one hour.  Not a second before. Now out, all of you!  We must prepare.”

“Prepare?”  I whispered to Leliana.

“Prepare.”  She smiled deviously.   “And you are going to show me how to use this makeup of yours.”  

Chapter Text

If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn Leliana was a mage. She had hot baths delivered to everyone’s room whether they wished for them or not so fast it was like magic and she also found clean properly fitted clothes for the two of us. They may have been simple shift style dresses but they were soft and comfortable.

“When I was in Orlais I would have never been caught in such a basic garment,” Leliana confided with a grimace as she smoothed her hands down the side of her dress. “However, this will have to do. At least I can wear my slippers, that is something.”

“You know Leliana,” I reminded her with a giggle. “Someone once said that with the right footwear you can rule the world.” At that her eyes lit up and she laughed, a sweet tinkling sound that filled the entire dingy room with music.

“A sister, indeed.” She smiled and pulled me over to the bed to the little pile of makeup found in my purse.

Conscious of the possibility of never ever having access to this kind of makeup again, or at least my preferred brand, we used it sparingly. The pressed powder and lip gloss wasn’t quite so fascinating to her as the eyeliner and mascara. The deep brown color of the mascara and liner that doubled as a brow pencil made her beautiful blue eyes pop as they darkened her red blond lashes and brows. It was Leliana, only better.

“These are amazing. I have never seen cosmetics such as these.” She gushed. “They are so rich and smooth. Such quality.” I would have liked to show her the results in a mirror but unfortunately there weren’t any in our rooms.

A knock on the door from Morrigan alerted us to the time. We needed to meet everyone downstairs. Morrigan poked her head in the door to assure we heard and scolded us. “Now, now. Do you two not realize your hair looks like it fell into the sea? Give me a moment and I will dry it for you. No sense giving everyone the impression you two are incapable of using a comb.”

I looked over at Leliana and shrugged as I removed my bright red scrunchi from my hair. “Have at it.”

With a twist of her wrist and an unfamiliar word, a warm breeze wrapped itself around Leliana's head carrying the air upward and toward the ceiling. It took less than a minute and when it was done her hair was dry. My hair was done with the same spell in less than a minute and was perfectly soft and dry if not styled to my preference. Unfortunately, I would probably never get to do my hair the way I preferred again. Do they even know what the terms texturize and point cutting mean here?

“Handy, that is.” I smiled. “Care to try a little make up?”

“To what end?” She scoffed. “I do not care what people think about how I look. I look how I look. ‘Tis no sense in changing something once that you will just have to change again.”

“Does that go for your clothes, too?” Leliana laughed.

Morrigan and I both rolled our eyes at her as I stuffed the makeup in my little purse and slung it around my neck. “Well, if you change your mind...”

 

The three of us made our way to entry to find Argent sniffing suspiciously at one of the displayed coat of arms.

“Excuse me while I let her out. I would hate for her to have an accident on somebodies’ old armor.”

“Antique.” I was corrected. “And not just any antique. But I wouldn’t expect someone as an unsophisticated such as yourself to recognize the nuances of such workmanship done by one of the finest smiths in Redcliff.”

I turned to see Teagan enter the room with a smile and the Arlessa at his side but kept my mouth shut. Any of a dozen comments ran through my mind, all of which would get me into trouble. I flashed a fake smile at them and attempted some sort of curtsey before excusing myself to take Argent outside. But not before I heard Isolde marvel that I was really the dirty little thing from her dungeon.

The air outside was much less stuffy than inside with Teagan and Isolde and Argent seemed to agree as I watched her run around the courtyard with the excitement of a greyhound on a lure course. I decided to stay out here and wait for them to come get me when a familiar voice caught my attention.

“You clean up quite nicely.”

“Aedan.” I nodded catching him coming up the steps in front of me. “If that was a compliment, it needs some work," I snorted. "I was just getting some air while letting her do her business.”
He nodded as he reached the top and stopped beside me. “As was I.” He whistled, the kind of whistle my mother loved to do by placing her fingers in her mouth but I could never do, and Drake bounded up the stairs to sit at his feet.
I bent over to scratch the enormous dog on the head. “You’re a good boy. A sweet boy. A pretty boy” I cooed.
“He’s not pretty.” Aedan complained. “Stop talking to him like he is a puppy.”
“Oh but he is.” I began before fussing at Drake again. “Aren’t you, you widdle baby. You sweet widdle puppy boy.”
I heard Aedan grumble as Drake leaned into my hand and practically purred. That big scary puppy purred! It was so unexpected I couldn’t help but laugh. Not just a girlie giggle either but a full out belly laugh. Oh, it felt so good to laugh like that, I hadn’t done it in ages.

“Now that was beautiful. You should do that more often.”

“Thank you. That was much better.” He smiled at me and I felt a little flutter in my stomach.

Oh, for goodness sake! Someone shows me a little consideration and I start making marriage plans. Rebounds suck!

I ignored the uncomfortable thoughts that were making me nervous and tried to change the subject. “Are you hungry? Because I’m starving. How long until you think everyone else will be able to joining us? Did someone go for Sten and Zevran and the dwarves?”

“Rambling a bit there, aren’t you? Scared to be alone with me?”

“No!” I answered far to emphatically causing him to smirk. “Unwilling to answer my questions or too self-absorbed to even listen to me."

Ughh!! Why was I being so defensive?

“Yes. Soon. Yes and no.”

The look on my face must have expressed my confusion. “Yes, I’m hungry too.” He explained. “Everyone else will join us soon and Sten and Zevran were sent for but no, the dwarves are not coming. They declined.”

Oh.

“Ahh, the lovely Renata. Zevran has heard that you are hungry. A craving, perhaps only I can satisfy?” He called with a grin from the castle gate.
I heard Aedan make a grunting noise from beside me and mutter something under his breath about elf hearing then I laughed as Argent tackle the mischievous elf to the ground.

“I better rescue him.” I shrugged as I jogged down the steps to the gate. “Argent! Get offa him.”

 

*

 

Not much later, as Aedan promised, we were all seated around a long wooden table in the castle dining hall. The wardens were seated closest to Teagan and Isolde with Leliana and Levi next then Morrigan and Wynne, at the end of the table was Zevran, me and Sten.

Could they make it any more obvious? I guess they never heard of a kiddie table.

Personally, I didn’t give rat’s ass but Sten and Zevran deserved a little more consideration. Especially Sten, as he had helped defend the village and the castle from the demons and undead. I think Zevran could read my aggravation because he started whispering lewd phrases to me under his breath. I had a difficult time keeping a straight face.

The one thing I couldn’t fault them on though, was the dinner. The table was piled high with roasted meats and poultry, vegetables of undecipherable varieties and as much fruit and bread as I could fill my plate with.

Boy, were they going to be sorry! I was clearing my third plate of food before I noticed everyone gaping at me.

“What?” I asked as I scarfed down the last delicious bite of warm buttery roll. “You’ve seen me eat before.”

“Never with such gusto.” Zevran smiled. “Do you do everything with such enthusiasm?”

“Nor quite so much.” Morrigan added.

“One would think you never ate before.” Aedan added.

I blushed as I realized that maybe, just maybe I had overdone it and lowered my head in shame. “We don’t usually eat anything like this. It’s usually just some kind of slop in a pot. No offense Sten.”

“None taken.” He assured me.

“I promise you that unlike those in the village, we have plenty. You will not go hungry.” Teagan declared.

“Maybe it would nice to share some with them then.” I grit my teeth opting to avoid saying exactly what I was thinking about him and go with a slightly less offensive reply.

Alistair shot me a look of pure disdain. I couldn’t really blame him; it was his family after all. And you can’t choose family.

Damn him!

“I’m sorry your... honor,” I sputtered.

What? I had no idea how to address him. “Arlessa, I will return to my quarters. Thank you for your generous hospitality.”

I started from my seat to head out the door when Isolde’s voice rang out. “My what a lovely pendant you have, my dear. Wherever did you get such a thing?”

I froze in the middle of rising from my seat. I panicked. I didn’t want the guys to get in trouble for going through Eamon’s study. “This… uh, uh was my grandfather’s.” I stuttered. “It was given to me when he died.”

“I assume you have proof?” Teagan asked.

My eyes darted to Aedan and Alistair. “Proof?” I squeaked.

“Yes, proof.” Isolde answered. I could feel the heat rise to my cheeks. Was she suggesting that it didn’t belong to me? “Well?” She demanded.

Fuck 'em! Really?

I looked around the table and saw everyone watching me. Are you kidding me? “Do you have proof that it’s not mine?” I growled as I looked at them. “What? Is no one gonna come to my defense?”

I growled again.

“Of course I have proof.” I cried. I hadn’t wanted to do this here but it seems I had no choice.” I reached into my bag and pulled out my phone.

Leliana stood up and squealed. “Your phone.”

“I was going to show this to everyone later in private but since I’m apparently being accused of something without proof, which where I come from is illegal or something, I guess I have to do this here in front of everyone.”

“What do you have there, Mi Carina?” Zevran eyed me curiously as drew nearer to me.

I turned on my phone, once again noting that it was soon going to be useless and opened my pictures. “Here!” I waved the phone in their direction. “This picture was taken a couple weeks ago. Look!” I pointed to the part on the screen that showed me wearing the pendant then I flipped to the next picture and the next and the next each one showing me with my parents or my friends or me at a park with Argent and all of them showing me wearing the pendant. They all crowded around the little screen craning their necks to get a better view. All of them looked dumbfounded.

“What is this thing?” Teagan asked.

“It’s my life.” I sobbed.

“Are those all you?” Isolde’s voice trembled slightly as she asked.

“Of course they are me!” I yelled practically in tears. Mostly because I saw pictures of my friends and family and home and realized how weak my chances were of getting back. And then the phone powered off and the tears began to fall.

 

*

 

I found myself huddled on chaise in Aedan’s room listening to everyone whispering quite loudly, though I do believe they were trying to be quiet. I looked around briefly. Leliana was right. He did get a better room.

“What about the bag?” A voice whispered.

“We found that when we went to the dungeon looking for the mage.”

“What? You went into the dungeon?”

You guys were busy and she was extremely anxious.”

“I can hear you.” I called to them. “I am in the same room you know.” The voices stopped and Wynne walked over into my view and placed a hand on my shoulder.

“My dear, you were so upset that I put a sleep spell on you to calm you down. You were only out a few minutes.”

“Your thing ran out of magic and doesn’t seem to be working any longer.” Alistair stated handing it back to me.

“Lovely. And it’s not magic.” I said and placed in my bag.

“I guess that explains why the mages couldn’t get it to work again.” Alistair noted.

“What?!” I cried as I turned it over in my hands looking for dents or dings or burn or any sign of damage. They weren’t any and I sighed in relief and tucked it back into my purse.

“That was the thing you had in the fade, was it not?” Aedan asked. I didn’t fail to notice the hand he gently placed on my shoulder. I nodded in reply.

“Is your world very different than ours?” Leliana asked. I nodded as I felt tears well up in my eyes again.

“Seems we owe her another apology.” Morrigan hummed. “You wish to return to the people in those pictures?”

“Of, course. Can we go back to see Jowan now?”

“When Zevran returns we will take you down.” Aedan said. “He is making sure we will not be caught.”

 

*

 

No more than twenty minutes passed and I was standing outside of Jowan’s cell again with two temporarily unconscious guards both head down on a nearby table. The food I had attempted to hide in my skirt for Jowan at dinner was lost when I was put to sleep so I had nothing to offer him. And it seemed the food and water he received earlier did nothing to improve his overall health. He was still curled up in a ball at the far end of the cell, listless and pale.

“Jowan? Are you still with us?” I whispered and waited but no answer came. “Wynne can you do something for him?”

“For Jowan? Not likely.” She refused. “This man is one of the reasons my home at the circle fell. He and those other damnable blood mages! He can rot for all I care!”

“You should not be so harsh on him.” Leliana urged. “This request is from Renata, not him.”

Wynne huffed a bit before speaking. “I will do the minimum required to keep him alive, for now. Until the Arl can judge him.” Then she waved a pair of angry wrinkled hands in the air before chanting something and I heard a sigh from within the cell.”

I swear, sometimes she can really hold a grudge.

“Jowan can you hear me?” I asked again.

He slid over floor to the cell bars. “Oh thank the Maker. You’re back.”

“Are you feeling better? I need to ask you some questions. I need to know what you saw when I was brought here.” I rambled.

“I’m not sure I can help you.” He started to say and then the guards started to stir again.

Damn it.

“Can’t you guys put them out for longer? I need more time. I’m not finished.” I hissed.

“Not without permanent damaged.” Zevran smiled pulling out a dagger and running his finger along the blade. “If you insist on that, I can take care of that right now.”

“No!” I interjected quickly. “Don’t hurt them.”

Aedan pulled me back gently leading me out of the dungeon. “We will talk to the Arl when he wakes up tomorrow and we’ll get you back down here. I promise.”

“Does anyone have any water they can give him?” I begged.

Zevran nodded and pulled one of the wooden cups off the guard’s table and filled it from his water skin.

“Thanks.” Jowan smiled before moving to cower back in the cell again.

“I’ll back.” I called as Aedan pulled me out of sight. “I’ll be back!”

Chapter Text

I woke early the next morning quickly realizing I was not alone when an arm draped itself around my waist and a warm body snuggled against my back.  I peeked quickly under the blankets to see if I was still dressed. 

Relief flooded over me when I realized that I was.   It may have been my thin well-worn tank top and underwear but at least I was covered.  I carefully turned around to find myself face to face with a very peaceful sleeping Leliana.  Then it all came back to me.  I was so upset last night; I didn’t want to be alone so she allowed me to bunk with her.  Argent refused to join us and wanted to go with Drake and Aedan.  Secretly, I was grateful I wouldn’t have to wake to the sound of my perfectly annoying puppy licking herself silly self and whining to go out.   

What can I say?  It’s hard to sleep in late when you have babies, even if they are fur babies.

That being said, even though I was excited for the day to start so I could be present for The Ritual of the Sacred Ashes, I was way too comfortable and it was far too cold to get out of the bed so I pulled the covers higher over my head and leaned back into her arms. 

“How long have you been awake?”  The sleepy redhead next to me yawned.

“You’re up?  I’m sorry I didn’t want to wake you. It’s so cozy in here.”

“Hmmm.”  She hummed and wrapped her arms around me tighter.  “You feeling any better?”

“Not really,” I answered her.  “But I think I’m done crying.”

“For now anyway.”  She teased.  “Do you need to get out or would you like to talk?”

I shrugged.  “That might involve more crying.”

“Ah, yes but you would not have an audience.  And I long ago learned how to be discreet.”  She breathed into the back of my hair.  I had to laugh at that, she had no idea.

I debated for a moment over whether telling her the things I believed I knew would be harmful or helpful and came to the conclusion nothing I knew made much of a difference.  So, I decided to tell her everything from the horrible day with my ex fiancé and the end of my engagement to jumping the ravine and trying to save Argent to waking in the dungeon.  I told her what I knew of Thedas and the blight and the arch demon and everything I thought I remembered about her from Origins.  But I left out the parts about everyone else’s issues, my nightmares and Kirkwall and the Inquisition.  And it felt good!  I told her about the game and how I played as a rogue Warden Cousland and how we all stopped the blight and all lived happily after.  She listened patiently only asking questions to clarify things, point out differences between what I thought I knew and reality.  She never once pushed for answers I was uncomfortable giving and she was very supportive.  When I was done, she squeezed me tighter and thanked me.

“You’re thanking me?”  I asking in surprise. 

“Of course.  All of this information can do nothing but help.  Just knowing that it is possible to defeat the Arch Demon in itself is a morale boost.” 

I breathed a sigh of relief.  She believed me!

A crashing sound in the hall, a loud bark and a thud against the door told me that it was time to get out of bed.  I whined about the cold when my foot touched the stone floor on my way to open the door.  It flung open much easier then I remembered until I realized that Aedan had been pinned against the door by my loyal protector. 

An undignified fall to the floor caused him to curse loudly and in return startle Leliana. Argent went wild with excitement when she saw me and pounced on me as I reached down to help him up, causing him to fall back on the floor and me to land awkwardly next to him.   

“Are you alright?” He asked looking at me quickly before getting back up on his feet and covering his eyes with his hand.   

“Maker Aedan, stop being such a prude.  What did you think we would be wearing first thing in the morning?”  Leliana’s amused voice giggled.  “We were just in bed sleeping when you crashed into the door.  We hardly had time to make ourselves decent before you barged inside.”

“What are you two wearing?”  As he looked between the two of us, his face turned red.  Still, I noticed he wasn’t averting his eyes anymore. 

“We are in our underwear, Aedan.  You have seen girls in their underwear before, haven’t you?”  I teased. 

“Of course I have!  I just never…  I never…  But I didn’t…  Arghh!!”  He growled.  “We’re going down for breakfast in ten minutes.  Meet us in the hall then.  We will all go down together and the prepare for the ritual.”

The slam of the door behind him caused a candle sconce to fall off the wall and Leliana and I couldn’t hold back our laughter any more.  It took just about the entire ten minutes to stop but somehow we were both able to get dressed and presentable for breakfast. 

I never would have been ready that fast at home. 

 

Breakfast was much like the previous night’s dinner, me siting at the far end of the table like an afterthought with Sten and Zevran.  Much of the breakfast offered was what remained of last night’s feast.  Left over fruit and bread were used to create a French toast kind of dish and there was thinly sliced cheese and hot tea.  In a world without refrigeration and airtight storage containers it only made sense to use as much as possible before it went bad.  I tried my hardest to eat with less abandon so as to cause less of a scene but that in itself caused just as much attention when Zevran asked about my poor appetite.  

“I’m fine Zevran.  Thanks for your concern.” 

“Anytime.”  He grinned, flashing a swoon worthy smile if ever there was one.  “Your well-being is my job.” 

I nodded and returned the smile. “Thank you Zevran.  I appreciate it.  I don’t know why you do it. But it is appreciated.”

He looked about to say something to me when Aedan approached and stood behind me at the table.  I guess breakfast was over.

“A word please, Renata.”  As I turned around to look at him, I noticed him glaring at Zevran. 

“Yes, of course.”  I stood and wiped my mouth and hands on the napkin provided before taking a swig of water and followed him away from the table.  “What is it?” 

“Something you will not like.”  Aedan began.  “Teagan and Isolde refuse to let anyone other than Alistair, Wynne and myself and his family attend the ritual.”

“What?”  I cried loudly before clearing my throat and whispering again.  “What?”

I saw Aedan look over to the head of the table where Teagan sat in conversation with Alistair.  Isolde had not been present that morning having opted to eat with Connor.

“He doesn’t want any unnecessary distractions.  He suggests you go into the town and wait.  We will come for you when Eamon wakes.”

“So that’s it?”  I protested.  “You’re just dismissing me?”

“Go into town with the others.  Bide your time.  Relax.  Have fun.  Whatever you need to do.  Just stay out of trouble.  We will come for everyone once...”

“I know.  I know.  You’ll come for me when he wakes up.”  I grumbled slinking back to my seat the table. 

Zevran leaned over to me his warm breath tickling my ear, “Is everything alright, Mi carina?” 

I sighed.  “No.  Yes. I guess.  I’ve been benched, Zevran.  I’ve been exiled from the castle for the day.”

Zevran chuckled.  “Ah, we have been banished as well.   After breakfast, we will be leaving for the town.  You will accompany me.”   I gave a halfhearted shrug.  At least I wasn’t the only one.

 

*

 

I was in the courtyard with Argent and Drake watching them play silly games of chase and wrestle waiting for everyone when I spotted Morrigan descending the stairs.   

“Seems that the Chantry wishes for no witnesses if their ritual fails.  Would make it hard to explain how the story regarding the ashes of their Maker’s bride are false.  What do you know of this?”  She narrowed her eyes at me.

“Me?”   I asked, confused by her question.

“Yes.  You. What do you know, if anything of this?  Do the ashes work?  Does the Arl recover?”

“I should like to know the answers to those questions as well.”  Leliana asked suddenly appearing beside Morrigan.  I cocked my head to the side. 

“Well, when I did this, the ashes always worked.  And it didn’t take so long.  But what do I know?”  I sighed again “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Zevran and Sten exited the castle not long after Leliana.  “We are going to town.  There are supplies I wish to purchase before we leave again.”  Sten announced matter of factly.

“Do be so embarrassed, my large friend.  No one will think any less of you for wanting to buy more of those delectable baked goods.”

Sten growled at Zevran and stomped toward the gate as Zevran chuckled.  My eyes grew wide as I realized what Zevran meant and I skipped after him.  “Cookies?”  I giggled.  “You want more cookies?”

He kept walking toward the town but there was no mistaking the growl of displeasure that rumbled forth.

“Oh come now,” I joked.  “You’re embarrassed about liking cookies?  Who doesn’t like cookies.  My favorite are peanut butter cookies then chocolate chip and then Nutter Butter wafers.  Ooh!  They are sooo yummy.  Wait they are still peanut butter.  How about Lorna Doones?  My mouth is watering now.    Oh, my goodness.   I miss cookies so much.  Wait chewy oatmeal raison.  Oh, now I want some too.”

I suddenly felt silly and started to sing pranced around Sten.

C is for cookie, that's good enough for me, yeah!

C is for cookie, that's good enough for me

C is for cookie, that's good enough for me

Oh, cookie, cookie, cookie starts with C, yeah!

Cookie, cookie, cookie starts with C, oh boy!

Cookie, cookie, cookie starts with C!

Sten stopped short and just stood there looking at me.  I was unable to decipher the look that flashed across his face before he shook is head and continued down the road.

Leliana whispered in my ear and she followed him to town.  “I think you just made him smile.” 

“That was a smile?”  I snorted wondering what his laugh was like and how I could get him to do it.

 

We passed by the doorless house on the way to town and I stopped.  “You guys can go on ahead.  I want to check something out.  I slowed and detoured to the house.  “Hello?”

“What are you planning, Renata?”  Levi asked coming up beside me.   I edged slowly to the run-down shack and called out again.  “Hello?  Is anyone there?”

I felt Levi’s arm on my shoulder anchoring me in place.  “There is no one here.  No one would stay in a hovel in such disrepair, especially when the chantry is just down the road.”

Sten had continued to town along with Leliana who decided to check in with Bodahn and Sandal but Morrigan and Zevran had stopped to watch me.

“You are free to go into town.  It looks like I won’t be alone.  Go on,” I insisted.  “You need to get in contact with your family.  Especially if I have anything to say about it.  Our next stop should be the keep.”

His eyes widened before a hesitant smile pulled at the corner of his mouth.  “Are you certain?”

“I’ll try. But no promises.  We need a home base, somewhere to strategize and regroup.  I think it will be the perfect place.  It did belong to the wardens after all.”  I patted his back and he trotted off to town following the others.

“What do you hope to accomplish here?”  Morrigan demanded. 

I shrugged in response, “Dunno.”  I stepped slowly stepped through the threshold my eyes flitting around the inside of the cabin.  It was dark despite the light filtering through the open windows and doorway.  It was a mess inside with a fire pit in the center of its only room.  I noticed there was scarcely any room for the three of us once Morrigan and Zevran entered behind me.  A pile of rags in the farthest corner from the doorway shifted as I looked around. 

I placed a finger over my mouth hushing them as I moved closer and sat next to the pit.  “Here is a perfect spot to rest.  Morrigan, could you start the fire, please.”  I would like to heat up our breakfast if you don’t mind.”

“You breakfast?  Are you daft?  Have you forgotten the meal you just finished...”?  I gave her a withering look and raised my finger to my mouth again. 

“Please Morrigan?”

She grumbled about my incessant appetite but a low fire erupted from the remaining wood in the pit.  I pulled out half a loaf of bread from my coat and two apples.  “Mmmm.  Fresh warm bread.  Would either of you care for some?” 

Morrigan rolled her eyes and Zevran smiled as his eyes also shifted to the pile of rags next to me.  I heard a low rumble for under the rags and turned feigning surprise.  “Who is there?”

“Must we keep up this pretense?”  Morrigan snorted.  “Come out from under those rags.  We know you are there.  You are fooling no one.”

I hear a whimper and another rumble then a sigh.  “I’ll come out of you don’t hurt me.”

“No promises.”  Morrigan said. 

“Morrigan!”  I hissed.  “Don’t worry.  She just has a horrible sense of humor.  Come on out.  We won’t hurt you.  I hope we can help you.”

A thin hand threw back the tattered rags and the gaunt dirt stained face of a little girl stared out at us.

Pulling a piece of warmed up bread I offered it to her.  “Hungry?’’

The words were barely out of my mouth when she grabbed it from my hands and gobbled it down greedily.  I held out an apple in one hand and the rest of the loaf in the other and nodded not surprised when she plucked them from my hands and started to devour them. 

“This space is stifling.  I will wait outside.”  Morrigan announced as she made her way out of the cabin.

“Is she a mage?”  The girl asked.

“She is.”  I nodded.  “But we don’t spread that around.  Can you keep that to yourself?” 

The girl nodded and Zevran lowered himself to the ground next to us handing her a water skin.  “For you, mi pequeña eriza.”  I arched my brow in question.  I was unfamiliar with that phrase but he just smiled. 

“What is your name?”  I ask gently.  She looked at me with watery eyes. 

“Kiera.”

“Kiera, where are your parents?” I continued.  She shook her head and the tears fell.  I pulled her into a hug.  “I’m sorry, honey.” 

Zevran and I sat there until she emptied herself, he quietly watched as I petted her hair and rocked her in my lap.  She couldn’t have been more than six but she was so thin, I couldn’t tell.  A lifetime of hunger and need was evident in her features.  She was just so thin I had to choke back the tears myself. 

How could I console her when I was just as lost as her?

“Are you here to help?”  She sobbed.

“’I’m going to try.”  I promised as I looked over to Zevran. “I’ll try.”

Chapter Text

“You cannot be serious.”  She exclaimed, to say that Morrigan was displeased was an understatement.  “We cannot be responsible for the welfare of a child.  Not while we are fighting a blight.  No!  I refuse to be a part of this.  Leave her here and let her find her own way.  If she survives then it was as it should be.”

“Morrigan!”  I laughed.  “She is not a stray dog.  We are not leaving her here.  Just look at her, she won’t make it through the winter.”

“Turn her into the Chantry then.  They take care of orphans.  We do not.  Find her parents, something.”  She waved a dismissive hand at the girl.

“There you go Morrigan.”  I sarcastically tapped my head with my index finger.  “Now you’re thinking.  I’ll find someone to take care of her until we can figure out what to do with her.  I never would have thought of that on my own.” 

Zevran chuckled from the doorway.  He seemed content to listen to our argument.  Kiera clutched at my tunic and I grabbed her hand.  “Come on, little one.  Let’s go to town.”

“You will regret this.”  Morrigan warned.

“Possibly,” I agreed.  “But I would definitely regret leaving her here to starve or freeze or worse.”

When I stepped out of the shack, excited barking closing in from the castle caused me to turn around.  Argent was barreling full speed in my direction.  Horrified, I scooped the young girl up into my arms.  “No, Argent.  Stop.  Argent slow down!”  But my panic only caused her to speed up and bark more frantically.  “Brace for impact.” I shrieked tightening my grip on the girl and turning my back to Argent.

Kiera and I both closed our eyes and waited for the inevitable collision. 

 

But it didn’t come. 

 

I cautiously cracked open an eye and slowly turned to find Argent encased in a light covering of ice frozen mid stride, a confused whimper barely emanating from her.  Shocked, I glanced over to Morrigan who was smirking.  “Don’t give me that look.  It didn’t hurt her and it slowed her down.”

As she finished the words Argent started to violently shake and pieces flew in our direction pelting us with bits of ice.  Kiera squealed and jumped out of my arms running over to the shuddering dog.  “You have a puppy!”  She shrieked.

She dropped down beside Argent and started to brush off the ice particles still clinging to her shiny fur.  “I didn’t see her yesterday.  Is she yours?”  She looked at me hopefully. 

I nodded.  “Since she was a puppy.  I bottle fed her when she was born and we’ve been together ever since.”

Kiera squealed again.  “I love her.  I love her.”  She scratched her dirty hands behind Argent’s ears and she promptly flopped over on her back to receive the same attention on her belly.  Her tongue lolled out of her mouth and she reached over to lick the girl’s leg leaving a wet slobbering trail on her skin.  “Ewww!”  She cringed.

I couldn’t control my laughter any longer.  “All right, all right.  You are both definitely going to need a bath.   I don’t suppose there is a place to get you cleaned up that has nothing to do with that nasty contaminated lake?”

She shook her head for me but was still concentrating all her attention on Argent. 

“I suggest we immediately go to the chantry and leave her there.  She will be cared for as all the others orphans are being cared for.”  Morrigan said.  “Then she will no longer be your responsibility.”

“You think I want to keep her?”  I sighed.  “I can’t even take care of myself.  Come on, Kiera.  Let’s go see if we can find someone to take care of you.”

 

We followed Kiera who skipped after Argent to the center of town.  Morrigan walked proudly ahead while Zevran took the rear making me slightly nervous.  I was, after, all waiting for him to make some kind of comment.  Finally, I couldn’t stand the suspense anymore.  “See something back there you like?” 

“Always,” He chuckled.  “Why is it you think I walk back here if not for the view?”

“But you’re awfully quiet back though.  I would have expected a suggestive comment or two by now.”

“I can use my imagination much better when I do not speak.  Do you miss me?”

“You seem to say things when Aedan is around, though.”  I pointed out.  “Are you trying to rile him?”

“Maybe just hasten things along for you.  I hate to see two beautiful people not taking full advantage of a situation.” 

I felt myself blushing when he said I was beautiful.   “I assure you my situation is just fine.  I would have thought that you would have been to town already and taken up with someone by now.” 

“Who says that I have not?”  Zevran teased me. I think.  “There are many lonely suffering women whose husbands perished recently in need of my specific type of consolation, many of them quite lovely.  Should I not offer them the opportunity to experience the perfection that is Zevran.”

“The perfection that is Zevran?”  I snorted.  I turned back to look at him still laughing but the frown he was aiming at me stopped me short.  “oh.  Oh, you’re serious?  I’m sorry I thought that you were joking with that line.”  I turned around again wishing to be struck by lightning.   

 I felt him close in behind me and winced when I felt his hot breath on my neck.  “This is your last chance to find out for yourself, Renata.”  My name was barely a breath when he said it, giving me chills down my spine and goose bumps on my arms.  I turned around to apologize again but he must have pulled some kind of rogue stealth thing because although I’m absolutely sure I felt him and I know I definitely heard him, I could not see him.

“I think I am going to vomit.”  I heard Morrigan say.  “The two of you make me ill.”

I turned back around took a few deep breaths and cleared my throat.   Thankfully I had little Kiera and Argent to concentrate on.   

I didn’t remember much of the Chantry from the last time I was here being too busy fighting villagers over my dog and all.  But when we got there I had to say I was disappointed.  It was not like the one in Denerim and definitely not like what I remembered in the game.  Although I wasn’t so surprised given what I’ve remembered from the game so far wasn’t necessarily what happens.  As we got closer to the shabby building, Kiera slowed down. 

She slid around behind me and peeked her head though my arm.  “Is this the Chantry?”  She squeaked.  “Momma told me to stay away from these places.”

I looked sharply at Morrigan who narrowed her eyes at the girl.  “Why would your mother tell you such a thing?”  She demanded stepping forward.  But Kiera pulled her head back through my arm and tightly pursed her lips.  “Now child, don’t be so foolish.  Answer my question.”

I could think of only one reason that someone would run from chantry at that moment and by God, I hope it wasn’t what I imagined.

“If we are not taking her to the Chantry right now, maybe we should move elsewhere.  Loitering may cause suspicion.”  Zevran whispered from out of nowhere.  I glanced around but still couldn’t find him. 

“I bet you’re enjoying this.”  I muttered and I think I heard him laugh. 

I reached for Kiera’s hand and guided us from what I thought was out of earshot from the Chantry and turned to the little girl playing kissy face with Argent.  “Are you a mage?” I tried to ask gently.  She shook her head emphatically. 

Morrigan continued to stare at her with narrowed eyes.  “Was your mother a mage?”

Kiera stopped shaking her head but did not answer her question.  “Do you know where she is?”  I asked, praying she didn’t wasn’t taken by Templars.   

“She told me to hide and she would come back for me.  But I saw them take her.”

I knelt down and pulled her in to a hug.  “Where?”   

“The lake tower.”  She sniffed.

“Brasca!”  I heard Zevran swear softly.

I collapsed next to her on the ground and pulled her into my lap to pat her head.  I started to sniffle too as I stroked her hair.  I couldn’t just leave her; she was lost just like me.  I was not good at this kind of thing, consoling children, I mean.  The most contact I ever had with them was my niece and nephew and I never had to comfort them.  But Argent, Argent was a professional.  She seemed to always know the best way to get me out of a funk.  She suddenly started digging in the dirt causing clods of it to fly everywhere, irritating Morrigan.  She had a slight pothole carved out when she stopped to sniff her work.  She pulled what looked like a coin out of the dirt and dropped it next to me. 

“I think she’s giving you a present.”  I said offering the coin to her.  “Look there’s a picture of her on it.”

“My very own lucky coin!”  She exclaimed happily after a quick recovery.  She gripped it tightly in her little hand as she turned it around so she could inspect it running her fingers over the relief.

“Yeah and it’s all yours.  I bet no one else can say a dog gave them a present like that.”  I ruffled her hair as I stood pausing to wipe the tears from my eyes.  Zevran materialized from out of nowhere and handed me a what looked like an equivalent of a Kleenex so I dabbed at my eyes before wiping Kiera’s face with it.  She had stopped crying but her eyes were still watery. She stood up and grabbed onto my hand. 

“You mean a mabari.”  She laughed as she launched herself at Argent.   “Mine!”

“Perchance we can leave them here together.” Morrigan proposed.

“I’m not leaving a defenseless little girl her by herself.  And if you think I’m going anywhere without Argent you’re crazier than your mother.” 

Picking a stick off the ground nearby, I showed Kiera how Argent like to play fetch.  I threw it the first couple of times until Kiera was no longer afraid of Argent’s stampeding form coming toward her.  She threw pretty well for a six-year-old girl and it was good for Argent to practice her restraint.  Sometimes she didn’t realize what a lumbering oaf she was, or maybe she did, but didn’t care.  But she was being so gentle with Kiera she made me proud.  Back home this dog would have been shunned and avoided because she was so big and imposing but here everyone loved her.  The fact that she looked like a Mabari didn’t hurt either.  She was in her element and she knew it.   

“If you do not mind, I have some business to attend to.  I will find you later.” Zevran whispered, his warm breath tickling my ear.   

“I’m be around.  I’m not going anywhere.”  I waved after him.  “Have some fun.  You deserve it.” 

“What you see in that elf is beyond me.  He is a murderer and a thief and…” 

“And he saved my life.”  I interrupted Morrigan.

“After he tried to kill all of us.  You included.”  She added standing next to me. 

I sighed.  I wasn’t quite sure how to explain why I did what I did to her.  But I wanted to give it a shot.   

“Morrigan, I love that you worry about all of us, about me.”  I corrected when her face squinted at my words.  “But people aren’t all bad.  There is good and bad in everyone.   You have to cultivate the good, show them you care about them despite any mistakes they may have made.   Because if no one cares about them they won’t learn to care about themselves.  Besides, I would be more worried about someone who thought they were perfect because you never know what could set them off.” 

“I do not see how you can believe that.”  Morrigan said. 

“What?  That there is good and bad in everyone?”   

“No,” She stepped to move away, her face remained neutral save the barest hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth.  “That I worry about any of you.”

” What?” I laughed.  “Did you just make a joke?”  Was she being nice?  Did she just inadvertently say she did worry about me?  “Aww, you do care!” 

“And now the moment is passed.”  Morrigan’s tone was cutting but she didn’t fool me.  In my head, I was channeling my inner Sally Field.  She liked me.  She really, really liked me. 

The morning quickly became afternoon.  Morrigan had been unwilling to stay with me to watch Kiera and I needed to get a few things so I had Argent wait for us on the porch of the only shop in town and took Kiera inside to look around.  Our plan was get in, get what we needed and get out before Argent wandered off to cause trouble.  Both of us needed some shoes and thanks to Aedan, I had more than a few coins burning a hole in my pocket. 

Did I ever mention that I loved to shop?

That plan was immediately shot to hell when we got inside.  The first thing Kiera saw was a doll made from what looked like corn husk with a face full of buttons and hair made of orange yarn.  Fereldan’s version of Raggedy Ann?  It so reminded me of my old Raggedy Ann doll, I just had to have it. 

For her, of course. 

The look on her face when I gave it to her was priceless compared to the measly amount of copper it cost.   From what I could tell the merchant in the store was just grateful to have a customer who was willing to spend money instead of trade items that he gave me some great deals.  We left the store with a child size cloak and a pair of slightly used boots for the both of us and a hat and blanket for Kiera.  That left me with a few coppers in my purse and nothing to spend it on, so we left.    

When we exited the store, I ran smack into Aedan as he came up to porch steps.  “Looks like you made a friend.”  He smiled reaching out to me before hastily pulling back.  The crinkle around those blue eyes of his caused me to momentarily feel giddy.  Kiera darted behind my back and peeked out to watch him. 

With a furrowed brow, he asked if I was okay and all could do was nod.   

“This is Kiera,” I coughed clearing my throat.  “Kiera this is my friend Aedan.  You don’t have to be afraid of him.  He is a good guy.”

“That’s right.  I’m a good guy.”  He said crouching down to her level.  “Hey, what do you have here?  Is this a new doll?  She’s quite pretty.  What’s her name?”  Aedan, it seemed, liked children and seeing him talking to her made me feel a little giddy.  Watching the big strong mean warrior being so nice to the lost little girl made me think I may have been wrong about him.  Maybe he wasn’t such an ass. 

Maybe. 

“What?  I’m not always mean to pretty girls.  I can be nice too.” He noted me gaping at him and stood up with a groan.  “I came to find you because we are being summoned back for the mid-day meal.” 

I looked over at Kiera who had started petting Argent.  “You can bring her too.”  He said.  “Maybe she can play with Conner?”

“Yeah, right.”  I muttered.  “Isolde wouldn’t let anyone come within a hundred feet on Connor right now.”

“Bring her anyway.  I’ll send some food to my room and Argent and Drake can sit with her.”

At the mention of Argent, Kiera perked up and returned to my side.  “Who’s Drake?” 

 

We managed to smuggle Kiera and the dogs into Aedan’s room without the guards noticing.  We also managed to bribe Lucy, one of the servants, into looking the other way when she found out that two huge dogs and a six-year-old would be hiding out in my room. 

“You can’t leave her alone with these two brutes.”  She complained waving at the dogs.  “Let me get some food for everyone and I will sit with her until you return.”

“They’re not brutes!”  I called after her as she left the room.   Kiera giggled.

A knock on the door seconds later proved to be Leliana dropping off a different dress to wear to lunch. 

“Oooh, it’s so pretty!”  Kiera squealed as she ran her hands over the intricate embroidery on the hem and cuffs of the long sleeves.  It was long and pale green with lots of buttons up the back, not really my taste, but it was clean.  “Try it on.  Try it on.”   

I stripped down to my underwear and bra and was pulling the dress on over my head when I heard the door squeak.  Those damn dresses and all their buttons.  I must have missed a few because I couldn’t get it over my head.  It was stuck!

“A little help!”  I called out.  I heard Kiera laugh.  “What’s so funny, little one?  Can to give me a hand?”  Another giggle and I finally felt her at my back trying to help with the buttons.   Her hands were shockingly cold and bigger than I realized.  Then I heard her contagious giggle again from the other side of the room.   

From the other side of the room? 

“Kiera, why are your hands so cold?”  The hands stopped for a minute and I heard someone exhale a few sharp breaths.  She giggled again, still from the other side of the room.  “Kiera?” 

I heard a throat clear and then a raspy voice replied.  “Sorry.  It’s only me.”

“Aedan?”  I choked attempting to cover myself with my hands but they were uselessly tangled in the dress.

“Sorry.  Just hold still a bit.  I’ve just about got it.”  I felt the fabric move allowing me to pull it completely over my head and turned around to find a pink faced Aedan looking at the floor.  “Sorry.  I… I wasn’t going to try anything.   He stammered. 

I scowled at Kiera who was still smiling on the other side of the room.  “He saw your small clothes,” She sang.  “He saw your small clothes.” 

“You little…”  I started toward Kiera.

“Is there a problem in here?”  Lucy asked entering the room with a tray carrying two big beef bones and a plate of fruit, cheese and bread.  Setting it down on the side table she threw the bones to the dogs who raced over to devour their prize.  Then she set a large bowl on the floor and filled it with water.  “Come on little one.  Let’s get you something to eat and a bath.  And maybe if you take a nap Nanna Lucy can take one too until your parents get back.” 

I choked and Kiera giggled bounding forward to hug me around the waist.  “Mamma Ren!”     

Momma Ren?  What the hell?

 

Chapter Text

During lunch a servant rushed in to deliver a message to the Bann from Wynne and the healers. The Arl was awake and out of danger. The ritual worked!

If I had any doubts as to Teagan’s feelings for his brother, the look on his face chased them all away. He may be an ass but he clearly loved his brother. With a teary eyed look of relief, Teagan quickly excused himself, gesturing at us to continue the meal in his absence.

Hmm, surprising. Maybe he had some redeeming qualities after all.

With Teagan gone the mood of the meal quickly changed. Gone was the polite small talk and carefully considered comments and in its place was the witty banter I remembered from the game. Sten complained that we were not staying on task. Morrigan was making fun of Alistair and Levi was joking with Leliana. The change was almost surreal. Finally, all of us were able to eat a nice meal in a comfortable setting and not worry about being interrupted by darkspawn, bandits and roaming wildlife. Plus the self-proclaimed Don Juan wasn’t giving Morrigan and Leliana suggestive looks. I think it was the most relaxed meal we ever had since I joined them. I was actually able to enjoy the fresh bread and hot vegetable soup we were served. And since I wasn’t trying to disgust Teagan anymore I decided to use better table manners. No more drinking soup from the bowl and sopping up the broth with the bread. At this I was immediately called out by Alistair.

“Was it absolutely necessary to act like that in front of my Uncle? I know you have manners. I have seen you use them. You are using them now.” He whined.

My laugh came out in a snort, water filling one of my nostrils. When I looked up from my bowl, I realized he was actually kind of pissed. “It was either that or punch him in face when he tried to trap me against some wall and get with me. This way he’s too disgusted to try it and I don’t embarrass you worse by kicking his ass for touching me.”

“He wouldn’t do that!” Alistair hissed defending Teagan. But I noticed Zevran clench his fists and heard Aedan growl.

“Didn’t you notice him checking out Leliana? We already had to rescue Morrigan from him. He’s kind of a snake Alistair. I’m sorry. That little display of relief he just showed was the only decent behavior he’s exhibited since we’ve been here.” I said stuffing a large portion of vegetables in my mouth. “Bu if yu pefr I coo go ba t’ eting w my mouf foo.”

Surprisingly only Sten laughed. Well his version of a laugh. It was kind of a growly bark but he had a little smile on face so it counts. “That’s one way to take care of it.”

Who would have guessed Sten had a sense of humor?

Alistair growled and jumped to his feet, apparently offended by my comment. Aedan repeated the move.

Aedan narrowed his eyes and turned to Morrigan. “Is this true, Morrigan?”

“No.” Morrigan answered succinctly and I took a deep breath ready to argue with her. “I did not need their assistance. I was perfectly capable of taking care of it myself. Actually, they saved your Uncle, Alistair. I was just about to turn him into a frog.”

Alistair’s eyes widened and he sputtered as if to argue but deflated when Leliana interjected, “He is a bit too used to getting his way, Alistair. I will admit to being uncomfortable around him as well.”

“I apologize,” He groaned then tilted his head at me and shrugged. “It seems my entire family is incapable to treating others with kindness or respect. Morrigan, I apologize for my Uncle. You too Leliana.”

He plopped back down in the chair and started to push his food around his plate. It was Morrigan’s turn to be surprised. “Why thank you, Alistair but your Uncle is not your responsibility. One day he shall get all that he deserves.”

“Well maybe one of us should stay with the ladies for the remainder of our visit. That way he will not get the chance to bother them. I’ll do it.” Aedan offered. “That way you can spend what time we have left here with your family.”

“You say that likes it a good thing.” Alistair muttered hanging his head.

I couldn’t help but snicker. “It’s not your fault he’s an ass.” I said. “Just don’t make it a family trait.”
He stuck his tongue out at me in response.

A commotion outside the dining room caused us all to turn our heads to the door as we heard a disturbance coming from the hall. Lucy flew into the dining room practically tripping over her feet and kneeled at my side sobbing. “I’m so sorry, M ’lady. So sorry.”

Uh oh. That wasn’t going to be good.

Confused I stood up pulling her with me and noted the tremble in her hands. “What is it?”

“The little one. Your daughter.” I felt everyone’s head snap to me and I rolled my eyes. “She is missing. I left the room for a moment to fetch a towel for her to use and when I returned she was gone.”

“Your daughter?” Leliana giggled. I just shrugged. “She’s just a little girl,” I said much more calmly than I felt. Logically, I was sure she was safe but this was a castle recently filled with undead and demons, not to mention an impressionable young mage. “She’s probably just looking for me.”

“Are you sure she isn’t in the room? That she’s not hiding?” Aedan lunged at her and grabbed her wrist.

“I’m sure your daughter is fine.” Her eyes widened with fear as she looked at her wrist. “I just can’t seem to locate her.”

“His daughter?” Alistair and Zevran both repeated looking at Aedan and me.

I sighed and shook my head. Why is everything so complicated?

“Lucy, where are the dogs? She won’t be far from the dogs.”

“Mistress Lucy!” A thin Elven girl with dull stringy hair raced into the room. “Mistress Lucy, I think I found her.”

We all watched as Lucy turned to the girl and cuffed her on the ear making her squeak in pain. “Well what are you waiting for? Take us to her.” The girl bowed her head in submission and waved for us to follow. As we followed her out of the dining room and up a flight of stone steps, Lucy continued to ridicule her for her clumsiness in misplacing Kiera. It was really starting to piss me off and I noticed Zevran’s face getting redder as he looked like he was about to explode.

“Mistress Lucy,” I said loudly. “Are you not the one I left in charge of watching Kiera?”

Lucy stumbled at my question and glared at me. “Well?” I demanded. “If I left you in charge of her, why are you blaming this girl? It seems to me she just saved your ass.”

“Yes Milady,” She apologized though gritted teeth. “You are correct.”

The elven girl gave me a shy smile before leading us down a smaller hall near the top of some more steps. “I’m sorry Mistress Lucy. I do not know how she made it up here. But they are playing in his room.”

We stopped at the door’s threshold and Lucy turned red gasping at the sight inside. I peeked in and saw Kiera and the dogs playing with a young boy a few years older than her.

That must be Connor.

And by Lucy’s reaction the situation, this was not a good thing.

I rubbed the bridge of my nose between my thumb and index finger. Man, I could feel a headache coming on already.

Our not so quiet, not so little party of eight caught their attention and Argent and Kiera ran over to me, both trying to leap into my arms, literally. With a grunt I braced myself for Argent’s impact. Zevran deftly, thank God, diverted her and heroically took the hit. Just in time, too! I never could have withstood them both. I caught Kiera as she squealed “Mama Ren! Look I made a friend,” and pointed over at Connor.

She wriggled out of my arms and the rest of the group snickered at my new nickname. She grabbed my hand and tugged me into the room. She was stronger than she looked!

“Wait!” Lucy called grabbing onto my other hand. “The Arlessa will be very displeased to find anyone here. We must get her and go now.”

“Mistress Lucy!” A shrilly accented voice came from behind us. Lucy’s eyes grew to the size of saucers as she bowed her head and the elven girl just seemed to melt into the wall. Isolde stepped away from the wall she had been leaning against and a grave look crossed her features. “Are you responsible for this?”

Lucy stammered before taking the blame. “I am so sorry. I…”

Ugh!!! Why did I have to be such a nice person? Why couldn’t I keep my mouth shut for once instead of trying to make everything run smoothly? Sometimes I think I have some kind of psychiatric condition.

That’s a thing right?

I was going to get in so much trouble for this.

“No, my lady.” I bowed my head trying to be as respectful as possible to the glowering Isolde. “The girl is with me. It is entirely my fault and we apologize for the intrusion. We’ll just be leaving.”

“Wait! No! Mother,” Connor pleaded. He ran over and took his mother’s hand. “I haven’t had anyone to play with in so long. Can she stay for a while? Just a little while? Please?”
Isolde’s features softened immediately and she nodded her consent. “Yes, my Connor. She can stay.”

The children squealed in delight and Isolde turned to face us. “She can stay.” She sighed and slumped back against the wall. “Lucy you can go and take all these people with you.”
I shook my head immediately. “No.”

She wasn’t getting rid of me that easily.

“Renata,” Aedan hissed in my ear. “This may not be the best time to argue with her. We’ll just let them play together for a while. I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Oh, I’m sure it will be fine, but I’m not leaving Kiera alone with anyone, especially her.”

Isolde raised an eyebrow at me and sighed again waving off the comment. “She may stay. I wouldn’t expect a mother to leave her child anyway.”

I winced at being called her mother. Why did they assume I was her mother and not a big sister or her aunt?

“See.” I smirked at him. “I’m staying. I’ll catch up to you later.”

I could hear a bit of grumbling in the hall as they retreated. But Aedan moved closer to me catching my elbow in his hand. “I wish to speak with you before we are called for the evening meal. Will you come find me when you two are done here?”

I looked at him expectantly and he shook his head, "Later.” His face gave nothing away. I had never been too good at reading people’s expressions and now was no different. I felt like I was being called to the principal’s office and the fact I had no idea what he wanted made me crazy. “Sure,” I agreed in spite of my apprehension. “See you later.”

I sat on a bench next to were Isolde stood watching Connor and Kiera. There was an uneasy silence between us as I racked my brain for something to say that didn’t sound stupid. As much as she rubbed me the wrong way, I could see by the way she gazed lovingly at Connor that she loved him. She couldn’t be all bad, right?

The children played with wooden blocks painted in bright colors on the floor and every time they tried to build a tower either Argent or Drake would sniff it too closely or lick it and it would fall to the floor causing them to fall over in fits of giggles. Soon Argent grew bored and found a ball on the floor. Connor looked perplexed when she dropped it in his lap then nudged his neck with her wet nose.

“What does he want?” Connor looked at me.

“She.” I corrected. “Argent is a girl and she wants to play ball.”

“What do I do?” He smiled taking the ball in his hands.

“Haven’t you ever played with a dog before?” I asked him, glancing at Isolde in surprise when he shook his head.

“We don’t let him play with filthy animals. He is our only child and heir; I do not want him to get sick or hurt.”

“Isolde!” I scolded her, placing my hands on my hips as I stood. “He’s not going to break. Children and dogs have played together forever and she would never hurt anyone.”

“She is a war hound, is she not? Am I correct in assuming you use her for protection?” She asked.

I sighed. How to explain the difference between a war hound and a loyal protector? “No, she is not a war dog but yes I count on her for protection. She has come through for me many times since we’ve been together. But she counts on me too. I would fight to the death to protect her. She is my best friend.” Before Thedas I would have said she went almost anywhere with me and now that I really think about it it’s most definitely the truth; that she was able to find me in another world says a lot. “She is my soul. We are part of each other and I would be lost without her.”

“That must be a Fereldan thing.” She insisted pressing out the wrinkles in her skirt. “ I am not Fereldan. We do not do that where I am from.”

“You married a Fereldan. You moved here and you live here. Whatever you were before, you are now a Fereldan.”

She sighed. “Connor you can play ball with the dog.”

He practically glowed as he jumped from the floor. At first I wasn’t sure if it was a magical thing or if he really was that excited. I opted to believe it was the excitement. “Since we are inside, Connor, it might be best if you rolled it on the ground and tried to pass it through her legs, so you don’t accidentally hit anything.” I suggested.

The room was fairly large and absolutely able to contain them while they tried to play keep away from each other with the ball. Soon the dogs were chasing the ball as Connor and Kiera attempted to throw it between Argent and Drake’s legs and the room began to fill with laughter and excited barking.

It was encouraging to watch but Isolde still seemed to be a bit uptight.

We sat silently, again, not really acknowledging each other. I tried desperately to look everywhere but at her then I realized that Connor could never learn to interact with others if he didn’t see how adults managed it. The problem was, I wasn’t sure how was I going to manage it.

I cleared my throat in an attempt to break the silence. “I’m happy to hear that your husband will be okay.” I started in an attempt lessen the tension between us.

“Thank you,” She stammered then sucked in a deep breath and straightened her posture even more if it was possible. “I do love him, you know.”

“That’s lovely to know.” I murmured keeping my eyes down cast.

So much for lessoning the tension…

“Do not think me a fool,” She said quietly. “I know what people think. That I am with him because of an arranged marriage and while it may have started out that way, I most definitely love Eamon.”

“Umm…” I cleared my throat again. “Okay.”

“He cannot know that I hired the mage. You and your companions can not tell him.” She whispered. “If it were to come out that his Orlesian wife hired someone that tried to kill him, it would make everyone look bad.”

I scoffed. Everyone or just you, I thought to myself.

“Everyone!”

I jumped. Did I just say that out loud? I lowered my head, mortified at my lack of filter.

“People already think I am a spy for the Orlesians. I hear them whisper behind my back. The only reason they put up with me is because they care for Eamon.”

“Okay.” I said drawing out the last syllable before rubbing the hint of pain starting to grow between my eyes.

“He just can’t know.” She pleaded. “Do not tell him.”

Why do people do this to me? Why do they tell me these things? It was none of my business. I didn’t ask. I never would have thought to ask. Ever. I might have wanted to but I never would have asked. I felt like pressing my hands to my ears and making loud noises so I didn’t have to hear what she was saying.

I tried to concentrate on watching the children and the dogs but suddenly I couldn’t keep my eyes off Isolde as she continued. I literally had to sit on my hands so I wouldn’t have to cover my ears.

“I was saddened when my father said he had finalized the marriage contract and that I was to be sent off to a stranger in Fereldan. I was devastated to be leaving my country, to Fereldan of all places! There was too much bad history between our two countries for it to go smoothly. But an alliance was forged and I was to go as an example and I was determined to be the best wife I could.”

Okay, okay. I realized it was probably just a sob story to garner sympathy, but I did start to feel sorry for her. Here she was brought here from a different country, essentially a mail order bride; nothing she did seemed to go right. It felt oddly familiar to me.

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I am unsure.” She scrunched her brow only momentarily as if remembering it could give her wrinkles and becoming expressionless again. “You seem to be easy to talk to.”

“My curse.” I muttered under my breath. I had to get out of here. “How about I just promise to keep this information to myself?”

"How can I be sure that you will keep your word?" She asked finally looking me in the eye.

"I keep my word. You can trust it or not. The choice is yours."

"No matter what?" She narrowed her eyes.

"Cross my heart and hope to die."

"Very well. I will trust you to keep your word to never tell Eamon of my mistake."

I stood and clasped my hands together, even though it was probably not the best time to go, it had just gotten way too uncomfortable for me to continue this conversation. “Kiera!” I called. “It’s time to go now. Maybe you two can play again later.”

Or not, I thought to myself.

“Arlessa, Connor. Thanks for the play date but we have to take the dogs outside for a potty break. We’ll see you later.” I grabbed Keira’s hand when she obediently ran over to me and whistled for the dogs. Faster than you could say, see ya, we were out the door.

It nearly broke my heart when I heard Connor tell his mother he couldn’t remember the last he had so much fun and asked her when they could play together again.

 

I don’t know how long it had been before I had been able to excuse Kiera and I from Connor and Isolde’s company, but it seemed like an eternity. In that time, the beginning of a migraine had started to build behind my eyes with annoying visual disturbances and some nausea that was usually followed by an agonizing night of pain. Some nights it was all I could do to lay in the dark and not toss my cookies. I hurried us to the outer courtyard and hoped the fresh air could help because without any medicine it was going to be a long night. Kiera seemed to sense my discomfort and left me to lean against one of walls while she took the dogs into the yard.

I started to feel a bit better outside of the castle in the somewhat fresh air. And let me remind you that the air was only so fresh without indoor plumbing, even in a castle.
Plumbing is one thing I don’t think I’ll ever get used to living without. It’s pretty much the only thing I missed about living with my former fiancé right now. We had an amazing master bathroom with a large whirlpool tub, separate massage shower and a flush toilet! What I wouldn’t give to use any of those again.

Anyway, being outside in the ‘fresh air’ seemed to calm my nerves. I’m not sure whether it was seeing the dogs romping in the grass carefree like dogs should instead of ripping out throats or watching Kiera smile, when only hours before she was hiding under rags, but I felt myself decompressing and the pressure behind my eyes oh so slowly ebbing away.

“I was going to say motherhood becomes you, however you look dreadful.” A smooth accented voice spoke from out of nowhere. I turned around to find Zevran leaning against a stack of crates, with a concerned look on his face.

“What every girl wants to hear from handsome man.” I smiled weakly before changing the subject. “You’re going to have to teach me how you do that, sometime.” I said shuffling my way over to him and plopping down on one of the crates next to him.

“Do what?” He asked.

“That sneaky thing you do so well.”

“I’m sure I have no idea what you are speaking about.”

“Would it help if I begged?” I teased lightly punching him in the arm.

He laughed unexpectedly before his voice got suddenly husky. “Maybe if you did it on your knees...”

“Zevran!” I blushed punching him in the arm again, harder this time. I thought you were going to stop the innuendos.”

“You are quite right, I did. But did you truly expect that from me?” He asked faking injury as he rubbed his arm where I smacked him. He sighed quite loudly, “If you sincerely wish me to stop, I will. It will be the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I will.” He exaggerated, placing his hand over his heart and kneeling before me.

“Zevran!” I smiled weakly pulling him to his feet. “You are way more than I could ever handle. Besides how many times have you told me you prefer more experienced partners?”

His face fell, “Ah, yes. Sadly, I believe I did say that. Then if that is the way it must be can I at least help you to bed?”

I must have flinched and didn’t realize it because he reached for my hand and placed an arm around my waist. “You look ill, Renata. I would not take advantage of you in this state. I was merely offering to help you to your room so that you could lie down for a while and rest.”

Kiera and the dogs wandered over as he helped me to my feet. “I’m fine Zevran,” I insisted. “This isn’t my first headache, you know. I’ve had them ever since I could remember and nothing much helps but sleeping it away.”

“Humor me,” He persisted. “I promise I will only go as far as you wish.”

Hmmm… If that didn’t sound suspicious… but he looked sincere when I peeked at him through my bangs so I shrugged and let him help me. Argent knew the drill. She walked beside me allowing me to rest my hand on her broad head for balance as squiggly lines distorted my vision and Keira followed quietly behind us. True to his word Zevran left me at the doorway and made Kiera promise to find him if I needed anything. She mumbled something to him and closed the door but not before shooing the dogs out of the room.

“I’ll take care of Mama Ren. You watch the dogs.” She told him. With more responsibility than should be expected from any toddler, she helped me to the bed and placed the chamber pot on the floor near my head.

“Thanks,” I managed before she climbed in bed with me. “You’re one special little girl.” She let me get comfortable on the bed and then cuddle behind me and the last thing I remember before falling asleep was the goose bumps on my skin as her warm little fingers rubbed designs onto my back.

Chapter Text

It was deceptively dark when I woke up.  The only light was from a lone candle on the sideboard across the room.  It was cold too, which I felt keenly as I had apparently grown accustomed to being cuddled by a massive dog and Kiera was no longer pressed against my back.  I hoped that she was alright, that someone had come in and took pity on her and removed her from my sick bed.  I sat up and realized my migraine and nausea were now manageable, just barely there twinges that deep breathing exercises would most likely take care of for me.  It had helped me a few times in the past, but not always.  So I hoped it would help, this time, at least. 

I felt a shiver go through me when I sat up and flinched as the candle light threw scary shadows on the wall.  I closed my eyes and took a deep centering breath, waiting to calm myself before I stood.  The migraine was manageable but not gone and I didn’t want to exacerbate the pain.  I also didn’t want to open my eyes because the room was pretty damn creepy.  I took another deep breath in through my nose and squeezed my eyes shut tighter. 

A faint rustling sound caused me to hold my breath longer than I intended. 

The sound of someone exhaling behind me startled the air from my own lungs causing me to cough.

I braced myself and opened my eyes to an empty room.   

Yeah, creepy alright.   

I began to stand up and felt something push me back onto the bed paralyzing me in place.  I closed my eyes again and tried to scream. 

There you are.

I opened my eyes at the voice and saw nothing.  

I said I would always find you.

I suddenly felt myself able to move and jumped off the bed tensing for an attack.

“Where are you?”  I screamed. 

There was no response.

“You don’t scare me?” I lied.  I could feel myself shaking so hard anyone could probably hear the rattling.

A disembodied voice cackled in my ear and I batted it away.   There was nothing there. 

“You’re just a coward!”   I shouted.  “At least have the balls to show yourself.” 

It laughed again and I felt a rustle of air behind me and then hot damp breath on the back of my neck.   

I slowly turned around, forced myself actually.  Inch by excruciating inch I turned until I was face to face with the dragon!

I tried to scream but no sound came from my throat.  I kept screaming anyway until I felt my throat get sore and I began dry heaving.  

It was enormous, far larger than should have been able fit in the room.  How it managed to get in I didn’t know.  It didn’t even look uncomfortable.  It just filled every space it could and still had room to move its head, its wings, and its tail.  The tail flicked in such a way it reminded me of a cat but this was certainly not a cat.  I didn’t want to imagine its purr but I could picture it playing with its food.

“Pretender, your end is near.  You think your plan has changed things.  Soldier, conjuror, scoundrel.   Changing your tactics will not work.  You may have found a way to kill arch demons and darkspawn but we always prevail.  You may have eluded the others for a while, but your magic has faded and I see you now.   Your numbers are too small; your trickery has come to an end.  We will still multiple; we will still return.  In the end you will lose, Warden.”

Something snapped when he called me Warden and I laughed.  I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding and continued to laugh.

“You think I am a Grey Warden?”  I asked incredulous.  “That I’m some kind or warrior or mage or rogue?” 

The dragon growled; his evil eyes glowing red in the darkness.

“I see it in your dreams.  I see all in your dreams.  I have seen you since you drank the blood of my underlings.  It is what connects us.  Our blood is now as one.  I know all you do to achieve victory and you will not succeed. 

“Wait, my dreams?”  I realized what he was referring to and tried unsuccessfully to suppress another laugh.  “That was just a game.  I never really took the joining.  I can’t believe my subconscious created such a stupid arch demon.”

“You are amused?  How amused will you be when I breathe fire down on you and your friends?  Will you be amused when my worshippers cut down your cities?  You insolent fool.” 

I laughed harder.  I had to literally squeeze my legs together so I wouldn’t pee on myself.   Not that it would matter.  It was just a dream, anyway.   

“Oh my God, what an idiot!  All I have to do is wake up.”  I giggled to my dream dragon.  “Only in my dreams would my arch demon be stupid enough to think I was a warden and haunt the wrong person.” 

The dragon roared at me, hot moist breath and stank hit me directly in the face.  I still wasn’t afraid.   “You can’t hurt me in my dreams,” I grinned at it as I wiped my face and opened my eyes.

I was laughing when I woke up.  It was still cold and kind of dark and I was still alone, but I couldn’t stop laughing.  The realization that this dragon slash arch demon was just a dream or nightmare and not something real was all I needed to pull me out of the funk I had begun to slide into.  I was not being stalked by an arch demon in my sleep!  The mere thought of it seemed so silly now.  Why would an arch demon terrorize me?  I was nothing, no one, definitely not a warden.  I’m definitely no Renata Cousland, Grey Warden, assassin, bard and duel dagger extraordinaire.  

No.  I’m just me, normal, unremarkable, screw up.  If I licked a lamppost my tongue would just stick to it.

Sometimes even I had to wonder about myself.   

I noticed a folded piece of paper near where my head had been a note for me I guess.  I was much better at speaking common now.  I understood almost everything and could probably say it too but reading that was a little bit harder.   Actually, a lot harder.  Especially names, names were hard to read.  They didn’t necessarily mean anything and the handwriting was a scratchy swirly mess with flourishes and curls that made it difficult for me to tell where the letters began or ended.  The only word I could make out on the note was ‘sleep’ and I had no idea what it meant for this note.   

So I ignored it.

My stomach growled loudly and I noticed happily that along with my nausea, my headache was completely gone.  I guess I really did need that rest.  There was a pitcher of water on the side table and a rag so I washed myself up as best I could and changed into the only clean unwrinkled clothes I had left, my jeans and a borrowed tunic.  As far as American style, it didn’t look to bad, skinny jeans and an oversized top along with hiking boots.  It was everyday wear where I was from, here though maybe not so much. 

My stomach growled again.  I needed to find something to eat.  After I finished cleaning myself up, I gathered my purse and feeling my neck for my pendant headed out the door leaving the note on my pillow.    

I realized when I stepped outside the door that I didn’t really remember how to get to the dining hall; I had always just followed people around.  What I did remember was how to get to the dungeon and that I hadn’t seen Jowan yet today.  Crap!  What if he thought I wasn’t going back for him?  It was the perfect time to practice my stealth.  Sure I didn’t have a stealthy bone in my body and Zevran had not been interested in teaching me that skill yet, but it didn’t mean I couldn’t try.  

So slowly, slowly, slowly I crept toward the dungeon making frequent stops when I thought I heard someone or saw something.  I felt like I was playing any of the Elder Scrolls games and I almost laughed out loud.  I could practically see the cursor’s eye opening and closing in front of me.   

I came to the fork in the dungeon and I remembered one led to where I was found or where Jowan was being held.  The hall was dark in both directions.

Damn!  How long did I sleep?

I decided to check out Jowan’s cell and pretend to be lost if I got caught.   I was getting tired of hunching over and getting hungrier the longer it took so I stood up and walked down the dark corridor knowing I’d hit light when I reached the guards watching his cell.  But I didn’t hit any light; I just kept walking in the darkness.  Something was wrong.  Maybe I took a wrong turn somewhere. 

Then I walked right into a chair.  I remembered the chair and table the unconscious guards sat at when we snuck into see Jowan before.  I did go the right way.   

“Jowan.”  I said quietly. 

There was no answer. 

“Jowan?”  I called again a little louder.   

Still no response.   

“Jowan, are you there?”  I shouted before instinctively covering my mouth and crouching down into the darkness.   

But still there was no response.  I didn’t even hear anyone coming to check out who was yelling.    Not a very good sign.  I walked forward with my hands outstretched and felt the bars of the cell.  I squinted trying to look inside the bars and shook them to see if the rattling would wake him.   The bars did not shake but I heard the door to the cell swing open. 

That’s when I started to panic.

I got down on my hands and knees.  I don’t know what I was hoping for maybe he was sleeping on the floor or was too weak because those jerks weren’t feeding him enough.  I don’t know but I crawled all over the dirty floor and couldn’t feel a thing.  

No!  No, no, no, no.  NO! 

I was lucky so far that I hadn’t crawled in anything wet or smelly but the stench of the dungeon was starting to get to me and I began to feel claustrophobic.  I pulled myself up by the bars and took a couple deep breaths trying to get myself under control.   Crap!  Where was Jowan?

Aedan and Alistair could find out.  Maybe they could get me into see the Arl.   I needed to find them now but I needed to clean up first.  I couldn’t very well speak to them or the Arl looking and smelling like a bum.  

Sneaking back to my room was unnecessary since there was no around to hide from down there.  I had to think.  Where could they have moved him to or did he escape?  I definitely couldn’t fault him for escaping if that were the case but it was still upsetting.  If he left how was I going to find out how I got here?  He said he had in formation but it could have been a lie to get me to help him.  I would have done it too.  Anything to find out what he knew, even if to him it seemed insignificant, it was better than knowing nothing.  At least with his information I had a place to start and a little hope I could get back home. 

Leliana was just leaving my room when I arrived at my door.  She sighed in relief when she saw me.

 “Thank the Maker,” She breathed.  “I was getting worried about you.  Where did you wander off to?  And why are you such a mess?  Hurry we must clean you up.  I was sent to bring you to dinner if you were well enough.”

 “Take a breath,” I said patting her arm.  “I can’t believe you got that all out in one breath.”

“It’s all from the diaphragm,” She joked.  “You learn that when you are a bard.  But enough of that talk.  I managed to dig up another dress for you to wear for dinner, everyone’s waiting for us.”

Between the two of us we managed to perform a minor miracle and make myself presentable.  A quick rub down of some soiled areas, a braid in my hair and tiny helping of eyeliner and mascara and we were out the door in fifteen minutes.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to inspect my appearance in a mirror but I trusted the Leliana would not let me go to dinner with the Arl looking like a hobo, even if she didn’t know what one was. 

When we arrived at the dining hall everyone was just being seated around a long rectangular table and when I say everyone, I mean everyone.  The room was filled with guards; at least four of them were within arm’s reach of the Arl who was seated at its head.  Isolde and Teagan were flanking either side of him and Alistair and Aedan were seated next to them.  Aedan was next to Isolde and Alistair next to Teagan which had to have been for Alistair’s benefit because if I was Alistair I wouldn’t want to sit next to the woman that had me thrown out of the castle either.  Everyone else was gradually settling down at the sides of the table including Sten and the dwarves.   There were two empty spots left, one next to Levi and one next to Aedan.

I headed to the seat next to Levi when Leliana announced our arrival. 

“I have found her and she is well enough to join us.”  She patted my back and directed me to the seat next to Aedan.  All the men stood to acknowledge us with a bow before sitting.  All of them except Aedan.  He pulled the chair out next to him and motioned for me to sit in. 

Chivalry.  I guess that really is a thing.

 “You look lovely,” He whispered in my ear as he pushed in my seat. “I’m glad you are feeling better.”

“Thank you,” I smiled looking around noticing a distinct lack of children.  “Where’s Kiera?”

“The children are taking dinner with the nanny,” Isolde interrupted.  “I thought since they got along so well that they could take it together.  They will be fine.”

I nodded my consent and looked around the table.  My gaze stopped on the Arl.  Aside from being a bit pale, he looked stout and strong and was totally in command of the room.  His mere presence exuded confidence. 

“I am glad to see you are recovering,” I smiled both because he better and now I could ask him about Jowan.  “I know everyone was worried for you.”

“Thank you my lady,” he responded.  “It is nice to be up and out of bed.  I thought the healers were going to keep down for much longer than they did.  But it is called a miracle for a reason, is it not?   But enough talk of that for now.  This is a celebration of sorts and there will be no more talk of dying or demons here tonight.  Tonight we spend with family and friends and enjoy each other’s company.  For all too soon you must part and carry on your quest.” 

The Arl stood and raised his goblet looking around the table.  “To the Warden’s and their companions, may the Maker watch over them.”

Everyone at the table raised their mugs and goblets in response, “May he watch over us all.”

As they lowered their drinks, the Arl’s servants entered the dining hall carrying platters piled high with food.  Meats, fish, vegetables, one of the trays in particular caught my attention.  It looked like prime rib.  The sight of it made my stomach growl, loudly, and for a little while my attention was drawn away from Jowan as I relieved the growing ache in my belly. 

Food was always a good way to get my attention.  I wasn’t ashamed to admit, whether it was steak or chocolate, I enjoyed food.   I wanted to pace myself but weeks of travel and small meals had taken their toll and I dove in with gusto.  I was amused to see Alistair’s weakness was indeed cheese as he helped himself to at least three different kinds so at least that much was the same as in the game.

I had completed an entire course before I was able to concentrate on anything else.  Everyone else was in polite conversation when I nudged Aedan in the ribs to get his attention.  He immediately turned to me smiling and placed his right arm on my back, “Yes Renata?”

His quick attention took me by surprise as did the look of fondness in his eyes.  It made my stomach flutter or maybe I just ate too much.

Hopefully I just ate too much. 

I could just complicate anything anywhere, couldn’t I?

I shook off my off my confusion.  “Uhh, can you ask him about Jowan?”

Aedan squeezed my arm and smiled again.  “I do not believe the time is right.”

“But he just said if there was anything he could do for us, to ask.”  I whispered.  “So I’m asking.”

“Not now.  It’s his first night out of bed and… now is not the time.”  He hissed through his teeth and then looked back at the Arl.    

“We have to do it now,” I hissed back trying to stay quiet but I could hear my voice start to get louder.  “He’s not in his cell anymore.  I couldn’t find him.”

“What!”  He raised his voice at me before clearing his throat and lowering his volume.  “What?”

“Is everything alright?”  Isolde asked from his left. 

“Yes, my lady.  It seems our friend may not be feeling as well as she thought.”  I growled at him in response. 

“That’s not fair.” 

“I suppose it had nothing to do with all the food she just ate.”  She replied with disdain.

Did she just say that?

“Really?  I just spent the afternoon with you and you gotta be like that?” 

“Renata!”  Alistair interrupted from across the table; the annoyance was clear on his face.  “Please go to your room.”

“I beg your pardon, Alistair?  Since when are you my father?”  I heard a gasp from someone in the room and felt Aedan’s hand grip mine tightly.  “I just wanted to ask a question and you damn well know it.  I deserve that much.”

“I think we have had enough of this.  The dinner has now been ruined.”  Isolde complained throwing down her napkin. 

“If it will end this scene then let the child ask her question.”  Arl Eamon sighed.

Everyone quieted down around me as I felt all eyes on me.  I started to grow nervous and cleared my throat before speaking.  “I apologize.  It wasn’t my intention to make a scene.  You may or may not be aware that I am not from around here.”  The Arl nodded in response.

“If nothing else, your accent made that abundantly clear.”  He said gruffly.

I had an accent?  I closed my eyes.  Concentrate, Renata.

 “When I woke up in your dungeon, I had no idea how I got there, neither did Leliana or Wynne.  And the Arlessa seemed to be oblivious as well.  But…   ” 

I hesitated clearing my throat again.  “There was one other person there that I never had a chance to talk to and I think he may know the answer, or at least something.  I need to speak to him sir.”

His eyes grew wide and he looked at Aedan and Alistair.  Both their eyes went straight to the floor before looking at me then going straight back to the floor again.

“What’s the matter?”  I asked looking to them both.  They avoided my face and shook their heads.

“What?”  I cried out looking around the table.  “What?”

No one but Sten would meet my eyes. 

“I am sorry young lady, but did your friends not tell you?”  He asked his eyes softening.

“Tell me what?”  I whimpered.  This couldn’t be good.

“Come on, Renata.  I’ll take you back to your room.”  Aedan tried to stand.

I could feel my heart beating so hard inside my chest I was sure they could hear it.  I steeled myself trying to contain my frustration and rounded on Aedan pulling his hands away.

“Get your hands off of me.”  I spat at him.   

“That’s enough!”  The Arl barked momentarily freezing me in my seat.  My eyes grew wide and I turned to look at him towering over the rest of the table.  A quick glance at everyone convinced me that this was no time to argue.  “Now I am sorry to have to tell you this but that man tried to kill me and as Arl it is my right to judge him as I see fit.   He was executed at sundown today in accordance with the law.”

“WHAT!”  I jumped from the table.   My vision blurred from tears and I started shake uncontrollably.  “I needed to talk to him!”  I yelled.

“That is enough!  I am in charge.  These people are my responsibility and after what he put us all through, I executed the man that set out to destroy our village.”

I swear I saw Isolde smirk.  That conniving little bitch and she made me promise not to tell. 

“You stupid, stupid man.”  I seethed.  “You think he worked alone?  Did you even talk to him?  How about the one who sent him here or the one who hired him?  He didn’t just have information I needed, you dumbass.  He had information you needed and you were too blind to see it!  This fucking town deserves everything it gets!  If I had my way…”

An unexpected pressure in my chest and the air was expelled from my lungs.  I found myself upside down gasping for air.  “What the f…” 

Then I realized I had been tossed over Aedan’s shoulder and was being carried out of the dining hall.

Chapter Text

I found myself tossed over Aedan’s shoulder and carried away from the rest of the group. Memories of the last time this happened when he threw me in the lake did nothing to calm my indignation.

“Let me down!” I screamed at him as tears ran down my cheeks. “Let me down!”

And once again he proved just how much strength he had as he carried me wriggling and screaming up a flight of stairs and down the hall to the room I had been staying in while we were at Redcliff Castle. But once he managed to get me through the door and inside the room, he dropped me so fast I couldn’t get my balance and I landed on my ass.

“Don’t you ever do that again!” I sprang back up and shouted at him pointing my finger in his face. I could feel the heat from my cheeks rise so fast up my forehead I thought my head was going to explode. “That fucking bitch had him kill Jowan. She asked me not to tell anyone that she hired him and then had him killed.”

“You can’t prove that.” He warned as he leaned against a wall to catch his breath. “Not now anyway, it’s your word against hers.”

“She smiled, Aedan. She fucking smiled when he said Jowan was executed.”

I couldn’t believe it. I practically saved her life the first time I saw her and spent an entire afternoon in her company only to have her turn around and betray me because she was afraid of the consequences. Then somehow she convinced her idiot husband to have that poor man killed so she could avoid all blame for what she did. That damn bastard agreed! They deserved each other.

For the good of the Arling, he had said.

“What kind of people do you have running this country anyway? No wonder Fereldan is in such a state of chaos. You have a bunch of idiots running the country. First you have a dumb ass king who thinks he can end the blight in its first major battle and live happily ever after. Then you have his Number One betray him by leaving him to die and then the fucking Arl looks the other way while his wife does what she pleases. She not only destroys their village but endangers their only child by trusting him to an unknown mage.”

“Shut your mouth, Renata!” Aedan hissed. “Shut it right now or I will shut it for you. I don’t know how it is where you come from but you can’t talk shit about a man in his own home and expect to get away with it. Especially a powerful and well liked man like Arl Eamon.”

“But that bitch had him killed and that asshole approved it!” I wailed louder.

Aedan loomed closer and I could see him shaking with anger. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought he was going to punch my lights out. He was so pissed off at me that the rage was radiating off him in waves. But I was even more pissed off. My one chance. My one and only chance to figure out what had happened and Jowan was dead.

“That bitch!” I screamed again as I lashed out and knocked everything that was on the nearby side table onto the floor.

“If you don’t shut your mouth right now…” He warned.

“What?” I crossed my arms and glared at him. “You can’t send me to my room, I’m already here. Thank you very much.”

He growled.

“The only way you’re going to get me to be quiet is to knock me out.” I challenged as tears streamed down my face. “I don’t give a flying fuck who they are or where I am. Those assholes just killed my only chance to get home.”

I found myself unexpectedly pushed back against the stone wall behind me when Aedan’s body crashed against me. His mouth found mine and his lips were brutal and unforgiving. I felt one of his hands travel up my side to cup my face and the other travel to my hair where his fingers tangled in my braid. He removed the tie and combed his fingers through to loosen the waves.

Oh. My. God.

Aedan was kissing me, passionately, greedily before becoming slower and tenderer. I was dumb founded to say the least, unable to think as he took my bottom lip in his teeth and gently pulled. The hand that had been in my hair travelled lower and circled my waist pulling me closer as we broke for air. I thought I heard him moan when our bodies shuffled to meet each other but it could have been me. Who knows? In that instant it was too difficult to tell where I stopped and he began.

I felt heady with lust.

Oh God was I lusting after Aedan?

“There. That should do it.” He panted as he leaned his forehead against mine and slowly opened his eyes causing me to emerge from my shameless stupor.

“What the hell?” I swore as I wrenched away from him in shock and slapped him hard across the face.

“I told you I would shut you up.” His face became red again even before my handprint surfaced and he narrowed his eyes at me.

“By sticking your tongue down my throat?” I sputtered.

“Did you really want me to hit you?” He asked rubbing his hand over his jaw. “Alistair wasn’t kidding you do have a good right hook.”

“Why would you do that?” I sobbed pushing him hard in the chest with both my hands. “This isn’t a joke Aedan. Jowan was my only chance.”

He looked at me and sighed.

“You knew.” I whimpered wiping at the tears running down my face. He nodded and quickly averted his before looking at me again.

“I tried to tell you. I wanted to tell you. I just… couldn’t. No one could. No one wanted to be the one to tell you what happened.”

“You all knew!” I started to shout before deflating slightly.

“It happened while you were sleeping and we were going to tell you after dinner. I left a note…”

“That I couldn’t read!” Well, duh! “It doesn’t excuse anything. Those fucking assholes deserve everything. Everyone suffered because of them. Someone should do something about it.” My voice started rising and I felt myself winding up again.

“You just can’t go around talking like that to about the Arl in his own home. It’s stupid and dangerous. Did you even notice when the guards unsheathed their weapons? Alistair is probably down there right now smoothing things over so you don’t get sent back down to that damn dungeon.”

“What’s Alistair going to do about it? Isolde never treated him any better than she treats anyone else. Eamon should be ashamed of himself. To let her convince him to treat a young boy like that not to mention killing the one person who could implicate her in everything that happened in Redcliff. They’re all just covering their asses. They don’t care about anyone but themselves.” I started to cry harder now and when I say cry I mean blubber like a baby.

“That may very well be,” Aedan brought out a somewhat clean rag and started to dab the tears from my face. “But you can’t act the way you did either. You almost got yourself killed. Thankfully Zevran was on his toes as usual and stopped one of the guards from reaching you.”

“I don’t care! It doesn’t matter anymore!” Aedan put the rag away realizing its uselessness and tucked a strand of hair sticking to my cheek behind my ear.

“I care.” He whispered staring at me. “It matters to me.”

“Why?”

Then he cupped both my cheeks in his hands and slowly brought his face to mine and lightly kissed me on the lips.

“Another distraction?” I croaked looking into his eyes.

“I hate it when you cry.” He stared at me, touching my face with his hands. He seemed to be unsure where to put them so he kept touching me, my cheek, my hair, my shoulder, and my hip. And I did nothing to stop him. Then he encircled my waist again and pulled me closer as he stared at my lips. His eyes briefly flickered to mine and when I tilted my head ever so slightly to the side he leaned in again for another kiss. Only this time, this one started sweet and gentle growing more intense as I enthusiastically returned it.

It felt so good to be held and kissed and touched. It had been ages since anyone saw me as a real person and not a crazy idiot from only God knows where. Finally someone wasn’t trying to kill me or think I was a traitor. I relished the sensation of being wanted even if it was just for moment. I realized it was Aedan that I was kissing me and that the womanizer that he was, was just looking for any excuse to get in someone’s pants, but right now I wasn’t insulted or offended. I just needed physical contact with another person; anyone and I kissed him back. I didn’t care that it was Aedan and I let my hands roam over him. I gripped Aedan’s shoulders before curling my arms around his neck. He countered by pressing me against the side table as one of his hands traveled back up to my cheek, grazing the side of my breast on its way.

Heat surged in my belly and I grew more confident. I reached around the front of him wanting to untuck his shirt from his pants and run my hands down the planes of his chest. I wanted to, but restrained myself just in time. I just ran my hands up his sides resisting the temptation to touch his bare skin as I made my way up to his shoulders again. It was hard not to just rip off his shirt. He always looked incredibly strong to me even completely dressed but as I ran my hands up and down the front of his shirt and over his shoulders and arms I could feel just how fit he was.

I really wanted him out of that shirt. I wanted to see those muscles. I wanted to feel those muscles pressed against me, holding me... I sucked on his chin and made my way over to his ear pulling it between my teeth. He groaned and moved to kiss the juncture of my neck. I started to feel over heated and uncomfortable.

That stupid side table was impaling itself into my back.

Who would put a table there anyway?

Aedan must have sensed my discomfort because he rucked up the bottom of my dress and wrapped one of my legs around his waist before lifting me on top of the tale it and I found myself pressed against his abdomen.

Whew! It really getting hot in here? It was all I could do to contain myself; thankfully all we were doing was kissing. If I wasn’t careful it could have easily get out of control. I shifted to move my body away from his and I brushed against his belt buckle.

Suddenly I felt an unexpectedly familiar and all too infrequent sensation start tingling in my belly. I gasped out of surprise catching Aedan off guard as well. The force of the feeling exploded within me as I arched into him before tightly clutching his shoulders to ride out the waves of pleasure coursing through out my body.

Holy mother of…

My body betrayed me as another wave took me even higher and I panted to catch my breath. I was frozen in place afraid to move lest another one overtake me. I buried my face into Aedan’s shoulder ashamed to look him in the eyes. How embarrassing!

“Did you just…?” Aedan started to speak, stopping when I nodded with my face still buried in his shoulder too embarrassed to look up.

“I am so sorry.” I squeaked as I tried to catch my breath. I refused to move my face from his shoulder. I could feel all the warmth from my core rising up to my cheeks. How was I ever supposed to look him in the face again?

I felt him start to shake before I heard him chuckle. “Well if that doesn’t stroke a guy’s ego, I don’t know what would.”

“What?” I whispered still not looking at him.

He tilted my face up to his forcing me to look at him and kissed me. “That was amazing. You came undone by my kisses alone. I never knew I could do that.”

“Smart ass,” I smiled shyly looking at him from beneath my lashes. “You’re not angry?”

“Are you kidding? Zevran was right. All you needed was a little stress relief and everything should be okay now.”

“What?” I screeched in outrage. “You talked about me with Zevran? Are you planning on telling him about this?”

I am so going to hurt someone if he does. I’m not sure if it will be Aedan or Zevran, possibly both.

“You asshole! I was starting to think you liked me.” I growled. “Get out!”

“Wait. What just happened?” He looked surprised.

He seemed genuinely confused when I shoved him away from me and pushed him with both hands toward the door. “Get out right now!”

A loud knock on the door brought me to my senses. Oh crap, I don’t remember either of us locking the door; anyone could have seen us like that. I smoothed my hands over my clothes and twisted my hair into a bun hopefully making me look less disheveled.

“Aedan!” Alistair shouted from outside the door. “We need to talk.”

“Alright! Alright, I’m coming.” He turned standing at the door with a smirk. “Does this mean you’re not going to help me relieve my stress?”

I ignored his question to open the door and jumped back when I saw a very angry looking Alistair glaring at us. I groaned and pushed Aedan out the door slamming it in their faces. I slid the bolt through the lock and turned to rest my back against the door and slid to the floor.

What did I just do?

What should I do now?

What could I do?

I certainly couldn’t stay in Redcliff. Not after that. I didn’t want to anyway. If I never came back it would be way too soon. But I couldn’t just leave my friends or Kiera. Someone had to take care of her. But who was going to take care of me? I collapsed on my bed sobbing when I heard the knocking again.

“Renata,” It was Leliana and I ignored her but the knocking became louder. “I am a rogue and I know how to pick locks.”

I sighed and let her in before collapsing face first back into the bed.

I felt the bed dip as she sat down next to me and ran her fingers through my hair. “You certainly keep us on our toes. Come now, we must pack your things up and get you out of here. I’m sure you are not surprised that you wore out your welcome.”

“Not particularly,” I snorted. “Where’s Kiera? She can’t stay with them either.”

“Don’t worry about her,” She reassured me. “Morrigan and Wynne are collecting her and they will meet us at the tavern.”

“The tavern?” I asked wearily.

“Arrangements are being made for you to stay there until we leave Redcliff. The dwarves have an extra room rented and you and Kiera are to stay there and out of trouble until then.”

I shrugged. “Whatever. Nothing matters much now, anyway.”

“The Maker has a plan for everything, Renata. Even you.” She bent over to pick up the pitcher of water from the floor. “What happened here?”

I could feel the heat rise up my cheek again and attempted to play it off as the memory of what happened on the table returned with a vengeance. “Temper tantrum.”

Not a lie, exactly but no one needed to know the extent of what occurred.

“Right,” She smirked. “Well best bundle yourself up with a scarf or everyone will want to know how you managed to bite yourself in the neck during your temper tantrum.”

Chapter Text

I wiped some stray tears from my cheek as I surveyed the room Leliana had left me in; it would be tight but it would work. I was sharing the extra room at the tavern with some of the slightly more expensive wares that Bodahn didn’t want to leave in the wagon and when Kiera and Argent arrived it would be even tighter. I couldn’t imagine where he fit all those things in the wagon. The only space that wasn’t filled with a crate or sack or barrel was the bed and the small trail that led to it from the door. It was like a Walmart store the week before Christmas.

I placed my pack and staff on the bed and wandered down to the bar area to wait for Kiera …and the dressing down I would mostly likely get for my behavior at dinner. Granted, I probably deserved most of what was coming but there was no way I was going to let them go without telling them how betrayed I felt. I had only been talking about Jowan every day for the last month. I mean, I know I wasn’t officially one of the companions but I was their friend, right?

Right?

I was at the very least useful to them. They really should have told me. Good intentions or not, as soon as they found out what happened to Jowan, I should have been told. Or was I expecting too much?

Would I ever be able to see my family again? I was supposed to be my best friend’s maid of honor in a couple of months. Would I get back in time for that now? Probably not. Brian and I had even secretly taken dance lessons so we could do a little routine as a wedding present for the lucky couple. What I wouldn’t give to still have a chance to dance with that a-hole. Believe or not I even missed him. What I wouldn’t give to even see him again for a minute.

I could feel my face start to heat up and my throat grow tight. If I wasn’t careful I was going to cry some more and that wouldn’t do anyone any good. Plus, they were bringing Kiera to stay with me and she didn’t need to worry about any of that. She had enough problems of her own. And given that she seemed to adopt me I couldn’t let her see just how useless I really was. How could she feel safe and protected with someone who was so weak? So, I needed to be strong for her and for me.

I sighed and thought of Kiera again. It probably sounded horrible bringing a child to a bar, I know, but it’s not like they had a lobby or anything. I was still feeling extremely betrayed that no one told me about Jowan and I would not forget it very easily but right now I needed to figure out what I was going to do. Now not only did I need to figure out what to do with myself, I need to figure out what to do with her. I had already asked Leliana to help me by asking one of the people in the next village if she could stay with them, if I suddenly had to leave. I still didn’t think that Redcliff was safe for her and I had some gold to give them for their trouble. I would gladly give them all of it if it meant she had some place safe to stay.
I shrugged, I guess she could stay with me for now. But just where the hell would we end up?

I took a deep breath as I descended the staircase blowing it into my bangs. Man, I was due for a haircut. If I were at home I would have gone for a trim a week or two ago. But I wasn’t there I was here.

Come on Renata, focus. My hair was the least of my concerns right now.

When I reached the bottom of stairs and I saw Zevran sitting alone at one of the tables. Figures, they probably sent him here to keep an eye on me. Well if they thought I was going to forget this they had another think coming and it was as good a place as any to wait so I made my way across the room. I wasn’t really in the mood to be sociable but I saw no reason to be rude to him, he had after all defended me from the Arl’s men. “Looks like you’re having fun. Do you mind if I sit here?” I said plastering on a smile and sitting in the chair opposite him.

“Ahh, you returned.” He looked back at me with a suggestive grin. “I was beginning to think you found someone else.”

As his eyes met mine, his smile faltered for a moment before resuming a mischievous grin. He flashed a look behind me before muttering something and reaching for the bottle on the table, finishing it.

“Renata,” He exclaimed as he lowered the bottle. “What a nice surprise. Please have seat. I did not think you would be leaving your room. Should you not still be there, out of sight? We agreed that you would stay out of sight until we left in two days’ time.”

“Who did? I didn’t agree to anything.” I asked before pausing. “Zevran, what is going on? What happened to Jowan? I needed to speak with him. You all knew that!”

I took a deep breath and blew it into my bangs again. Where was a head band when you needed one? “Did you know about it when you put me to bed?”

I could feel my anger grow as he arched a condescending brow at me. “Mi Carina.” He purred.

“You said you would help me and I trusted you.” I saw his shoulders slump and I thought when he opened his mouth he was going to say something but we were interrupted.

“Here, Luv.” A pretty older woman with a tired smile came from behind me and gently skimmed the tip of his ear as she sat down at the table and placed two mugs and a pile of coins in front of him.

If I had been blinking I would have missed it but I wasn’t. His jaw seemed to clench momentarily and an expression I couldn’t name flashed across his face. Oh, man. He really didn’t like his ears touched. He covered well though and the woman never realized a thing as he skillfully played it off by seizing her hands between his and placing a kiss on the back of them.

“That was my last customer. Now my sweet Zevran, I’m all yours.” She dropped in the seat next to him and flashed him another smile. “Who is your little friend? Will she be joining us?”

Before he could answer I stood up knocking over my chair. “No! Sorry, I, uh mean… no. I didn’t realize you were entertaining.” I reached down to right the chair giggling nervously. I felt my face get red and I couldn’t look him in the face. “Thanks, anyway. I think I see someone I know. I’ll just… um. See ya.”

I scurried out of the tavern narrowly avoiding knocking over another chair.

I leaned against the porch rail outside and waited for my heart to stop pounding in my chest. The disappointment that settled in my gut confused me. He was a grown man after all. I couldn’t expect him not to seek out companionship. And who was I to be talking? I had just sucked face with Aedan! Thedas could be a very lonely place as I had been finding out but it was a bit out of character for me to lose control of myself with a guy that way. I always felt being with someone had to mean something. I know it’s not that way for everyone and I don’t judge them. I’m definitely not one to throw stones but how could I kiss one man one moment and want to do the same thing to another in the next? I felt my face heat up again.

I pulled up a crate on the far edge of the porch to wait for Kiera and mull it over. Maybe I should talk to them about it, I thought, knowing full well I wouldn’t. I’m not really that brave.
I wasn’t on the porch long before Sten and Morrigan arrived at the tavern with Kiera and Argent.

“Mama Ren!” She squealed letting go of Argent and flying onto the porch to hug me. Argent and Morrigan followed joining me on the edge of the porch and Sten just nodded his acknowledgement before heading into the tavern.

“I never slept in a tavern before,” Kiera announced. “This will be fun. Do we get our own bed?”

“You seem to be much calmer.” Morrigan stated. “But I can say that I do not blame you for your reaction. It was only the timing that was ill conceived.”

I only made a face at her, “Timing was never my strong suit.”

Argent head butted me in the thigh and I reached over to pet her desperately trying to avoid her slobbering tongue to no avail.

“Tis why we never kept such beasts.” Morrigan stated. “Filthy animals. Always need to have something in their mouth in order to keep their tongues in their heads. Why anyone ever wants one of these creatures around, I will never understand.”

“Unconditional love, Morrigan.” I smiled. “Loyalty. I know there is at least someone here who will never hurt me. It’s something that people are usually afraid or incapable of.”

“You may well be correct.” She inclined her head and after a moment said, “Aedan has asked that we meet here for breakfast to determine our next course of action. I suggest you come up with a plan if you wish to continue your travels with us.”

“Great,” I sighed as she turned to walk away. “See you in the morning Morrigan.”

Morrigan’s escape from the porch was thwarted when the door to the tavern flew open nearly hitting her in the face and a drunk but merry couple exited. Horny drunks were the same everywhere. They never paid attention to anyone other than themselves. Thank goodness there were no cars. The way this couple was acting like a couple of handsy teenagers they would have crashed for sure.

“Come with me, Mi Carina. I have something I would like to show you.” The man said stumbling down the hill with the giggling woman following close at his heels.

“Ah, my sexy little elf. You definitely have something I would like to see.”

There was that disappointment again so uncomfortable and hard in my gut I thought I might throw up. “Was that Zevran?” Morrigan gasped with surprise before looking back at me. “I see what you mean, Renata. Dogs do seem preferable.”

Clearing my throat, I shrugged a reply and picked up Kiera to head in the tavern. “See ya in the morning.”

***

Apparently, Kiera was not a late sleeper. It figures, probably the last chance I’d have to sleep late and I was elbowed in the chin by little girl that I was surprisingly comfortably sharing a bed with. Poor Argent! She had to make do with the bed I prepared by swiping a couple of Bodahn’s crate covers. Since she was awake and Argent had some business to take care of, I bundled the two of us in our blankets foregoing any attempt at taming our bedhead and headed out side. We were on the porch watching Argent sniff the grass putting us in the perfect position to witness Zevran’s walk of shame.

Talk about uncomfortable. Suddenly I wished that I had burrowed under the covers and kept everyone inside for another fifteen minutes so this scene would never have taken place. His hair was thoroughly mussed, his braids having come loose. A few sexy strands of his blond hair were falling into his face. He definitely had that seductive ‘I just had a roll in the hay’ look down. It was all I could do not to stare and I don’t think I achieved that goal very well.

“Good morning, Renata,” He said not quite meeting my eyes. “I was unaware that you would be up this early.”

“Trying to prevent a mess you know, dogs don’t use chamber pots,” I smiled trying desperately to inject a little humor to the situation. “Besides, it’s a little stuffy in there, even you preferred to sleep elsewhere.”

He smoothed his hair back and cocked his head. “Ah yes, Mi Carina, I was finishing up some business and became too tired to return to the tavern. It was late and my host was kind enough to offer me a place to sleep and so I stayed.”

I shuddered at the use of the endearment and pulled the blanket tighter around me. Smug bastard! “I prefer you refer to me by my name. It’s Renata if you need the reminder.”

He stared at me and cocked his head. Smoothing his hair back again he responded, “Do not feel too bad, Renata, not everyone can possess the skills set needed to take care of business.”

“No, I guess only those brought up in Antivan whorehouse.”

Not until I saw the twitch under his left eye did I realize how bitter I sounded. God, Renata! What was the matter with you?

“Ah, yes. I have been told that may be one of my best talents and I do have many talents. Planning has never been my strong suit. No. Now, killing…killing and love-making. Killing and love-making and witty retorts. Those I am better at.” He clenched his jaw before continuing, “Well, I bid you a good morning…Renata. I must get some rest if I am to function for the day ahead. And just a suggestion,” He sneered walking into the tavern. “Wear your hair down and a scarf and maybe no one will notice your tantrum.”

Wow.

That so did not go very well. Way to put me in my place Zevran. What he did was none of my business and I shouldn’t have been so snarky with him. Especially since I had just sucked face with Aedan the day before. I guess I’ll be apologizing to him the next time I see him.

After stewing for a while I called for Kiera to go inside and wash up and change with me so that we might meet the others for breakfast. Believe it or not I was not all that hungry right then, the shock and nausea of not being able to return home had not completely left me. I wouldn’t give up, though. Maybe there was someone else out there that knew something. I would just have to be on the lookout for it.

Aedan was pacing nervously at the bottom of the stairs as we made our way back down for breakfast and smiled hesitantly when he saw us. “Renata, my lady Kiera. I trust you both slept well?”

I nodded and pulled the scarf I found in one of Bodahn’s sacks tighter around my neck. “Well enough.” I answered.

Kiera pulled herself from my grasp and ran over to a scowling Sten and Leliana who were talking.

Aedan took the opportunity to place his hand on my forearm. “I wish to apologize for last night.”

To say I was surprised was an understatement. “Do you even know what you’re apologizing for?”

He nodded his head adamantly. “I withheld information from you, belittled your feelings and then took advantage of your delicate state with only my own end in mind. I know you do not think much of me but I would like you to know that is not the type of person I wish to be. True that I have been known to be quite the scoundrel in my time, but I would like to prove to you otherwise.”

“I’m not sure what to say.” I admitted shifting uncomfortably on my feet.

“How about that you accept my apology as it is sincere and that you will allow me the opportunity of getting to know you better. Through conversation only.” He chuckled and I blushed at last night’s memory of our groping hands.

“Does this mean that I am allowed to keep traveling with you?” I asked and he nodded.

“At least until we find a safe place for you and Kiera to stay. We agreed to at least that much,” He answered waving a hand in the direction of the others. “We leave tomorrow and as you well know travelling with us is not for the faint of heart. Worrying about your safety would only serve as a distraction from our true goal.”

“To end the blight.” I replied.

“To end the blight, yes. The first safe place we come across the two of you will stay put and the rest of us will continue forward.”

“Okay.” I agreed. “That’s fair. The first safe place.”

“So,” He paused. “Do you accept my apology and the offer to get to know each other better?”

“I accept the apology. Thank you.” I glanced up at the stairs. “As for the rest, conversation would be nice. I miss having someone I can talk to.”

***

There wasn’t much business in that morning as we had all the rooms rented between Bodahn, Sten and Zevran. The owner had no problem with us pushing the tables together for breakfast.

“This is the second girl that hasn’t shown up this week. If you guys want breakfast, you’ll have to make it yourselves,” The owner told us. “I have no luck with those refugees. As soon as they make enough to move on, they leave without a word.”

I stood up and offered my services to the tavern owner. “I’ll make breakfast and after we’re done with our meeting I’ll help you in the tavern. No need to pay me either all I need is meals for the day.”

He squinted his eyes at me. “You work in a tavern before?” I shook my head.

“You know how to serve drinks?” I shook my head again. “Put it in a cup?”

He sighed and shook his own head. “What’s it matter anyway? You’ll only be here for the day. Fine. Meals for yourself and daughter only. Anyone else gets hungry it comes from your rations or they pay and any tips you can keep. You sweep, serve and clean, be nice to the customers and maybe I’ll give a you a nice present after we close.”

I grinned up until the last part, “You can keep your present, but the rest is fine.”

“You didn’t have to do that.” Aedan told me.

“I know. But it will keep us out of trouble until we leave tomorrow.”

“Us?” He asked.

“Me and Kiera. Argent can tag along with Drake,” I suggested as I headed to the area of the tavern that looked like the kitchen. “Now let’s see what we have for breakfast.”

I made an admirable attempt at breakfast; Kiera helping as best she could. But without the modern conveniences of non-stick skillets, cooking spray, toasters or microwaves, I was severely limited to what I could whip up. After about thirty minutes we finally ended up with some poached, scrambled over easy mess of eggs. That along with a loaf of what I hoped was only day old bread and a half a wheel of cheese and we served everyone breakfast. Kiera managed to find a jar of some kind of red colored preserves and I finished it off with a pitcher of water.

It wasn’t IHOP but it was edible and no one complained. Sten even thanked Kiera which made her giggle and blush. I think she had a crush on him.

During breakfast everyone discussed our next move. Alistair thought they should go to the Brecillian forest while Aedan wanted to go see the dwarves and Levi hesitantly reminded them of Soldier’s Peak.

“Do you have any insight?” Aedan surprised me by looking in my direction.

“Well I usually cleared Soldier’s Peak first. That gave me a home base of sorts to heal and trade and discuss strategy.”

“Clear Soldier’s Peak?” Alistair and Levi asked.

“Yes, well.” I rubbed my forehead trying to find a way to word it without offending Levi. “As I knew it, it was haunted. Taking care of it leaves the keep available for occupation. A perfect place for the remaining wardens to stay while stopping the blight.”

Aedan looked at Alistair and then Levi before shrugging. “Sound like a plan. So tomorrow we head to Soldier’s Peak if there are no objections.”

Everyone was quiet except Sten who voiced his objection stating that it was an unnecessary distraction and we needed to stay on task to fight the blight. They noted his objection but stuck to the decision. Finally, someone was listening to me. And finally, we were going to leave this crappy village. I almost felt happy.

Except for the part of me that wasn’t.

Chapter Text

After finishing our mediocre breakfast of soft cooked eggs and stale bread, which was not the worst meal we had ever had, Kiera and I gathered up the breakfast dishes and set about cleaning up the tavern, allowing the others to hammer out the details of traveling to Soldier’s Peak.

It was the longest day ever.

Kiera and I spent the morning cleaning tables, washing dishes, stocking mugs and sweeping the floor. I obviously had no idea what I was getting into when I volunteered to take care of the tavern. First of all, there was no soap!

How gross!

Seriously, no dish soap, no laundry soap, no soap of any kind and when I asked about it, Lloyd, the tavern owner, just laughed. It’s one thing eating from your own dishes and cups when you don’t have soap because it’s your germs but it’s an entirely different thing in a strange medieval village that was overrun with undead and threatened with the blight, those germs I just don’t want to think about. Thank goodness, I didn’t know this last time we were here. It sort of gave me the heebie jeebies just to think about serving anyone with them.

The next problem was there was no running water. The pump had broken during the raids and had yet to be repaired. How did he expect me wash tabletops and clean mugs and mop floors when there was no source of hot soapy water? Everything was basically a tacky disgusting mess and all we could do was rinse things off with a rag of hot water that Lloyd refilled only when he felt like it.

And that was not very often.

Ugh!

I did my best. We did our best, I mean. Kiera, the little smarty pants that she was, and she really was, managed to show me how to keep a low fire burning in the kitchen’s hearth so we could have pot of somewhat hot water to rinse our rags in before we cleaned the tables as well as a pot of stew for customers.
We made do with what we had. And even though I thought it was still pretty disgusting, Lloyd said he never saw the tavern cleaner. That comment only made me shudder more.

It was right before noon that the first customers arrived in the bar. I found it baffling that as squalid as their town seemed to be, they still had money for alcohol. I guess there wasn’t much of anything else that could provide the diversion the townsfolk seemed to need.

When the lunch crowd entered, the only chore I let Kiera do was wipe tables after I rinsed the rag in the hot water, otherwise she was to stay close to me. When she wasn’t wiping tables I pulled bar stool for her to sit on and asked her to watch everyone that came in. We made it into a game. When someone would leave, we would ask each other questions about them to see how much we could remember and how well we paid attention. It reminded me of a little game my friend Santana and I would play at the diner we used to eat at sometimes. Santana wanted to be a cop so it was a silly game we would play to practice her observational skills. I figured it was good enough for us then, it would surely be good enough now.

It was not. She was too good at it and quickly became bored and asked me to sing to her.

“I don’t know any of your songs Sweetie.” I explained to her. “Why don’t you teach one of your songs?” And remember their music was boring. Plus I wasn’t too sure if the tune was right. You know little kids, they don’t necessarily stay in tune.

“Why don’t you know the words?” She asked screwing her face at me in suspicion. “Are you just teasing me?” I had to laugh.

“No Sweetie pie, I honestly don’t know the words, but you are a great teacher. Teach me some more.” That seemed to placate her for a while longer and she shrugged and tried to teach me another song.

Many people came and went throughout the day. Even Bodahn and Sandal came and went as they loaded up the wagon with some of their inventory. Sten even helped with a load or two before he left on another errand. The Arl had even given the Wardens permission to search the abandoned houses in Redcliff for any needed supplies so that we would have as many necessities as possible for our travel the next morning, a perk of the treaties I assumed but the idea made me uneasy. Leliana had already assured me that they would only check the houses of those the Revered Mother confirmed dead or definitely never coming back. I did ask that they at least take anything they couldn’t use but was still in good condition to the Chantry to be passed out to those in need. Aedan agreed, probably in an attempt to get on my good side.

I was at the bar when Alistair, Levi and Leliana entered the tavern and sat at the table nearest to me. Leliana and Levi smiled but Alistair sat with his back to me. He must have still been mad. I guess I couldn’t blame him really. I just embarrassed him, again, in front of the only family he had ever known. I mean I know we weren’t on the best of terms to begin with but I couldn’t help be sad that his family was filled with assholes.

“Mama Ren?” Kiera shrieked in excitement bobbing up and down as soon as she saw them, nearly falling off her wobbly barstool. “May I?” I nodded and laughed as she bounded over to their table and flew into Levi’s lap. “Tell me another one. Tell me another one!”

He must have told her a joke because the four of them laughed as she pitched a giggling fit in his lap then ruffled her hair.

I kept behind the bar pretending to serve one of the customers not wanting to intrude on her fun and honestly, I was afraid to face Alistair. I just didn’t know what to say to him. Everything was just so confusing.

I lowered my forehead on to the relatively clean counter and closed my eyes. What a mess. I could feel my eyes start to well up and I took a shaky breath.
Did anyone except Aedan really want me around anymore? I mean I just embarrassed everyone in front of Eamon, I insulted Zevran, I couldn’t be counted on in a fight because I sucked with weapons. The only useful thing about me was Argent. She seemed to fit in like she was born to it.

I banged my head against the counter only slightly minding the tacky feeling as my head raised up and lowered again.

“Hey Barkeep!” A voice yelled from one of the tables. “What’s it take to get some service over here? We’re hungry and this little one says she makes a mean goat stew.”
I raised my head to see Alistair glaring at me from the table before his mouth quirked up in a smile. I blinked back the tears that had started to form and felt my mouth curve up a little bit too. Then he laughed rubbed at his forehead. It took a moment and then Leliana and Kiera started laughing too.

“What so funny?” I asked as my face started to flush.

“Oh, Mama Ren!” Kiera threw up her hands and jumped from her perch on Levi’s lap. “What am I going to do with you?” The she licked her fingers and rubbed at my face peeling something, I didn’t even want to know, off my forehead. So even she thinks she has to take care of me now? Great!

Crap, every time! Every stinking time it had to be something. I groaned and lowered my shoulders.

“The goat stew, Mama Ren. Let’s get them the stew.” She whispered. “No one could be mad at us after eating that. That’s what my real Mama used to say, it’s the secret recipe.”

I cocked my head at her and smiled reluctantly. “She was lucky to have you. Okay, let’s get this rowdy bunch something to eat.”

Kiera was right. There must have been something magical in that stew recipe because after the third bowl Alistair didn’t glare at me as much but he didn’t smile at me again either. I guess the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach but it must take a little time.

Leliana and Levi got up to leave after one bowl each, it must have been pretty filling. “Can we take Kiera out of here for a while? She needs to get out and get some fresh air?” Leliana asked as she headed toward the door.

Kiera gripped my leg and started jumping up and down. “Yes, I need some fresh air. Pease, please, please?”

I couldn’t help but giggle at her excitement. It seemed everything excited her, whether it be sleeping in a bed, hearing jokes or playing outside. “Sure. Just be sure to ask her to sing for you. She knows a lot of songs.”

Leliana broke out into a grin. “You like to sing little one? I think we can arrange something. Come on, let’s go learn some new songs to sing to Mama Ren later.”
She responded with her usual enthusiasm and the four of them left the tavern leaving me alone with Lloyd and a pile of dishes to try to clean.

I was finishing up the dishes when I heard the stairs creak but Lloyd got up from his stool blocking my view, probably because his ass had fallen asleep. He hadn’t really moved but twice all day when he left to fetch more water. I did a double take when I saw that it was Zevran he was talking to. He must not have realized it was me behind counter so I slinked back to the kitchen.

“Hey girl, bring me another bowl of that stew and a bottle of ale. Make it quick, this one says he is in a hurry.” Lloyd yelled back to me.

Well I guess this was it. It was time to apologize. I grabbed the cleanest bowl I could find and filled it close to the rim with stew. I tore off a hunk of bread from the one of the loaves and tucked a bottle of ale between my arm and headed out of the kitchen.

“Gimme that. Any time one of my girl’s take something to that knife…” I put my now free hands on my hips and frowned at him. “Err…uh, guy they end up not coming back. We may only be open for another couple of hours but I still need the help.”

I had peeked over his shoulder as he grabbed the food from my hands and the bottle from under my arm to see Zevran had moved to one of the tables closest to the door. His eyes met mine and he looked surprised to see me. We didn’t break contact until Lloyd got in my way.

I let out a long breath and moved to the counter to distract myself. I was scrubbing a particularly sticky area I was sure I have scrubbed before. God, it was acting just like a carpet stain! No matter how often I scrubbed at it and it looked like it was gone, it just kept coming back.

Lloyd nudged me in the side on his way back to his stool. “I’m warning you, stay away from that one, he’s trouble.”

I shook my head at him and looked back to Zevran’s table, actually I think I stared at him. He still looked tired but this hair was braided again and his clothes weren’t rumpled anymore. I nearly knock a mug off the counter when he looked up and caught me watching him.

At least it made him smile, somewhat. In reality he just nodded his head and smirked before diving right back into the stew.

Okay, that was it.

I needed to tell him I was sorry and that how he lived his life was none of my business and that I was an idiot for denying him the company of others. I made my decision and let go of the cloth and wiped my hands on my borrowed apron. He seemed to realize I was coming over to him and straightened a bit in what was probably apprehension, not that I blamed him. I had been a bitch.

“Renata,” Called Aedan who was suddenly in front of me. Where did he come from? I inched up on my tip toes and tried to look over his shoulder but he was just too tall. “Are you able to take a break? l can ask Lowell to give you some time.”

“Lloyd.” I corrected as I tried to crane my neck over his shoulder again.

“What?” Aedan cocked his head.

“The tavern owner, his name if Lloyd.” I settled back on my feet informing him. “And he may be more likely to agree to your request if you know his name.”

Aedan smiled at me and nodded. “Of, course. Thank you. But, uh, I was asking if you would like to take a break for a bit. We could go for a walk.”

He was trying. I could tell he was trying. He seemed nervous and fidgety and there was a slight flush to his face. It was quite endearing actually. “That would be nice… but…” He moved to the side and I saw Zevran’s bowl and seat were empty.

Huh?

I must have looked disappointed but he shook his head causing a lock of yellow blond hair to fall in his face. I felt my had reach up to his face before I realized it and had to consciously stop myself from pushing from his eyes.

“You really do not need to do this. We are not responsible for this man’s business.”

I pursed my lips shaking my head at him. “It will keep me busy and out of trouble. Plus, I kinda think we are responsible. I think Zevran may have conducted some business with his waitress, I saw them leaving together last night. They looked a bit…enamored, I guess it the best word, with each other. It seems she may have gotten her money’s worth.”

“Ah, yes. The spy.” He chuckled.

I looked at him I confusion. “The spy?”

“We had information that a couple of Loghain’s spies were still in the area and I sent Zevran to locate and remove the threat.” He chuckled. “Maybe he found her.”

“Her?” I swallowed the sour taste that started to rise in my throat and he nodded.

“We had information that one of them was a based in the tavern and that it was a woman. Since Zev has been staying here, it made the most sense that he follow it up. He does have a certain expertise in area.”

“Yes, yes he does. I guess.” The thought made me a little sick. I think I may have some apologizing to do. “You sent him here to find the spy and…kill her?”

Aedan seemed oblivious to my distress, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. He was a guy and all. “Not in so many words. I asked for him to try to convince her and her friend by any means possible that we were no threat and to look the other way. I haven’t seen him yet so I am not sure how it went.”

““I saw him return this morning. He looked a bit tired but he was fine.” The image of tousled blond hair flashed through my mind. “So, he wasn’t…? Damn, I have to talk to him.”

“He wasn’t what?” He suddenly moved my hair away from my neck and pulled the scarf down. “Did I do that?” He looked mortified. “Maker, Renata. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”

I hastily tightened the scarf back around my neck and cleared my throat.

“Leliana said something to me last night but I didn’t know what she meant until now.” He looked worried and guilty and confused all at the same time. I don’t know how he manage it but he did.

“Aedan it’s fine. You just have to be more careful next time.”

He stilled and whispered, “Next time?”

“Uh, I mean…Shit.” I muttered and felt myself blush.

“What?” Aedan grinned sweetly at me and I felt that little flutter again, boy was I fickle.

“Aedan, do you still want to go for that walk? Maybe I needed some fresh air too.”

His grin broadened and he took me placed my hand in the crook of his hand as he called out. “Lowell!”

Chapter Text

The sky was just beginning to turn shades of pink and blue when we left the tavern and we were out of Redcliff by the time the sun had fully risen over the horizon. I couldn’t fool myself anymore. There was definitely no going home now and I was never going to see my family and friends again. The hope of getting home that I had been clinging to was fading away with every step we took. With Jowan dead, all I could wish for was that everything would turn out okay.


I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, pausing to wipe a drop of rain that had fallen on my cheek. Great! It was going to rain already and we barely even started.
But when I looked up I must have gasped out loud upon seeing a clear sky because Argent butted against my thigh. Kneeling down I touched my nose to hers, grateful that I at least had her to comfort me as she licked away my tears.


“Good girl.” I cooed wiping away her slobber with my hand as I stood.


I stopped for a moment and turned back satisfied in the knowledge that this would be the last time I would ever find myself in that horrible town ever again. Redcliff. I hated that stupid place, nothing good seemed to happen there.


Repositioning the shoulder strap of my bag over my head and patting the golden cross on my chest, I grabbed Kiera’s hand and said a vehement FUCK YOU to that place before hurrying to catch up with the others.


Sometimes forgiveness was hard.


“I’m sorry,” Aedan said falling back after a few minutes to walk with me and Kiera.


“You are?” His clear blue eyes looked so full of concern it startled me. “What for?”


“I am not sure exactly.” He shrugged.  “That your last night in town you had to share such a little bed with kid and a great big dog. That you are stuck with us.”  He smiled but it quickly fell.  “That you are unable to get home. You will never see you family again.”


I nodded numbly. “I guess you know something about that.” He cleared his throat before continuing and I kicked myself for being such an insensitive jerk. I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t see their family again.


“Yes. Yes, I do.” He paused again. “Anyway, for whatever it’s worth, I am sorry.”


I nudged my shoulder into his and gave him a weak smile. “Unfortunately, it’s something we have in common. Maybe we can talk about it later when …”


I was interrupted when Kiera nearly pulled my arm out of my socket. “C’mon! We’re getting left behind again.” She complained. “Keep up or we’ll get lost.”


Aedan and I looked ahead at our silly little caravan of misfits and smiled knowingly at one another. We weren’t so far behind, maybe 50 feet, but she was right. We couldn’t afford to slow them down. I stuck my tongue out at her then smiled at Aedan. “Race, you!” I cried and ran toward the rest of the group.


We seemed to make really good time. The day flew by in a blur despite Argent and Drake running around and marking their territories and Kiera alternating between riding in the wagon and walking next to me. She walked much farther than I thought she would have but given that walking was basically how everyone got around, I shouldn’t have been surprised. A few times Aedan flashed a grin our way and he slowed down to check on us but other than that no one really talked to each other. It wasn’t as if everyone was in a bad mood. I just think they were dreading the fact that it was just us against, well everything.


Again.


When we finally stopped to rest for the night we were dog tired. It seems a few days of leisure made everyone but Sten yearn for the easy life. Kiera and I took care of my usual chores of helping to gather firewood at the edge of the nearby clearing. There was no close source of water nearby so they opened one of the casks in the wagon for us to use to water the horse and us. No bathing though, and I hoped that tomorrow we would find someplace with a clean source of running water where we could at least wash ourselves up. And as tired as everyone was, instead of hunting for dinner we unanimously agreed to pull out the rations we secured from the town.

   
The air was clear and chilled that evening and we could see our breath until the sun started to set. I pulled my cloak tighter after securing one around Kiera and I finally settled her down near the fire for the evening. Aedan sat with us to eat and told us a silly story about when Drake was a puppy and caught rats in the pantry for the first time. It was a cute one too, Drake ended up making friends with the rats and Nan promised to banish everyone from the kitchen for eternity. Kiera liked it and Drake seemed to know he was being talked about and flopped on his belly at Aedan’s feet with a grunt.


That night I drew silly pictures for Kiera of dinosaurs and taught her Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which she sang until she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer. Then I carried her to our brand new pre-owned tent that had been appropriated from one of the homes in Redcliff. She was so tired but she couldn’t fall asleep, just kept asking questions and talking with her eyes closed so I sat beneath the flap and talked with her. I think she was afraid that she would wake up and we would all be gone.


Zevran had made himself scarce and it bothered me. I still hadn’t had a chance to speak with him since I made a fool of myself and insulted him. Not that I had actively been searching out the opportunity. It was a little hard. No, scratch that, a lot hard.


I know I always talk a good game about forgiveness and not judging others but in reality, it’s not as easy as it should be and I didn’t really know why I was having such a hard time, but I was. I had missed plenty of opportunities to approach him that day. I only had to ask someone else to keep an eye on Kiera but I didn’t.  Someone needed to watch out for her and my excuse was that someone should be me.


I finally set eyes on him as I sat in the opening of our tent. I knew he was waiting for me to say something first. I caught him looking at me twice and all he did was look back silently.  When Kiera asked me to sing to her I decided to use it as my opportunity.


“Be right back, Sweetie.” I promised.   


Leliana was overjoyed when I told her Kiera wanted her to sing for her and I watched as she curled around the little girl crooning in her ear.  Crawling out of the tent, I headed to the warmth of fire. 


“If you wait much longer, you will never gain the courage.” Morrigan rumbled in my ear causing me to jump.


“What are you talking about?” I turned around. She stood behind me wrapped in a blanket protecting her shoulders from the cooling temperature. 
Try putting on some more clothes, I thought. 


“The elf,” She replied flipping her hand in his direction. “I realize it is your lot to regularly make a spectacle of yourself, however most times it seems you are unable to avoid it. This time is different, if you have something to say to him then out with it. But please don’t make us suffer this obscene display any longer. Be the bigger person, as you are so fond of saying. Stop stewing over whatever happened and talk to him.”


It flustered me to realize that Morrigan was reading me so well, I hoped that it was just her and not anyone else that realized what jerk I was being. But I wasn’t ready to admit it yet. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.” I fibbed.


She shook her head and grumbled at me before heading back to her part of the camp. “As you wish, then I will take my leave.”


I had to bite the bullet.   I needed to go apologize, if for any other reason than to be the bigger person. I knew it and Morrigan was right but it sure didn’t make it any easier. I slowly moved away from the fire and sat down on one of Bodahn’s crates.


Suddenly I felt warm. Heat was rising up my chest to my cheek and finally my ears started to burn. Why did I feel so hot? I was far enough away from the fire now that it shouldn’t have affected me this much. I started fanning myself but it didn’t help. This was stupid. Morrigan was actually wearing a blanket and I was starting to sweat. I bowed my head to look at my hands and grimaced. My nails were atrocious, dirt under every single one of them.


Really? Now my fingernails were distracting me?


I started to play with my fingers and pick the dirt out of my nails when I looked up and caught him staring at me again. He still didn’t look away. He just kept looking back at me with a look in his caramel colored eyes I didn’t recognize.  I groaned and looked down at my hands again.


What was my freaking problem? Deep breath in and deep breath out. Focus, Renata. Focus. I looked up at him again and stood, finally determined to just go over and apologize but when I looked he wasn’t there.


Of course.


Fuck!  I scanned the area determined to follow through with the apology before I chickened out but I didn’t see him anywhere. He was just gone!   Instead I walked over to the lonely old tree at the edge of our clearing, slid to the ground and leaned back. I was really messing things up. I pulled my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them to lay my head against them.


I could still hear our nightingale singing. At least I could enjoy how happy Leliana made Kiera. It was quite relaxing and soon I felt myself beginning to doze.
“Renata,” A soft voice in front of me called my name, rousing me from my thoughts.


“Hmm?” I replied, my eyes still closed.


“Renata. Wake up.  You should not be sleeping this far from the fire.”


My head snapped up, that sultry voice sounded an awful lot like Zevran.   I opened my eyes to see him crouching in front of me, a curious look on his face.  “Zevran!” Goose flesh erupted down my neck and back and I gasped uncomfortable at how close  he was to me.  I could even feel his breath on my forehead.


“I did not mean to startle you. Are you alright?”


I blinked at him a few times before answering. Was he really here or was I dreaming?


He cleared his throat and waited, a sexy smirk pulling at the corner of his lips. Those cocky, confident, probably soft lips. I wondered if he’d mind if I touched them. His smile widened and I watched his  tongue flick over his lips.


I rested my chin back on my arms and groaned, “No, I’m not alright.” He cocked his head to the side. “I mean, yes. Well…I’m not sick.”  I sighed and buried my face in my arms again.


I felt him slide to the ground next to me and lean back against the tree so that our thighs were barely touching.  It made me shiver.


Just do it Renata. You can do it. You apologized to practically everyone else around her for the stupidest things. And this was not a stupid thing, this apology was important.
I huffed and looked over at him as he sat quietly next to me.   “I’m sorry.” I croaked.


He looked at me and did a double take. “I beg your pardon?”


Smiling shyly, “I said I’m sorry.” I repeated.


“I heard that, Mi Carina. Uh, Renata.” He corrected when he saw my smile wither. “I do not understand what you are apologizing for.”


He watched me waiting for an explanation and I found it hard to concentrate.


“You want the list?” I tried again and paused. “Have you… ever done anything that you were sorry for?   That you right away wished you could take back as soon as you did it?”
I clasped my hands together covering my nose and mouth before rubbing my eyes and running them through my hair to pull at my roots. By the look on his face I could tell he still didn’t understand. “I just…”


He chuckled. I almost didn’t think I heard him so I stole a glance out of the corner of my eye.


“Ah Renata,” He scoffed lingering on the trilling sound when he said my given name. “I was raised by whores and trained as a killer. What do you think that answer to that question would be?”


The pain in my neck was almost instantaneous with how fast I turned my head in his direction. I could feel myself gaping at him and I literally had to force my mouth shut. “Zevran.” I gasped as I lurched to my knees. I stared him looking into his eyes. He remained still as I reached my hand to cup his jaw. “You are not a whore. Or an assassin. That’s what you do. That’s not who you are.”


He still didn’t look convinced so I decided to go full Monty. “Zevran, I care about you.”


I heard him gasp before I saw the shock written all over his face. “No, no no, Mi Car…Renata.” He placed his hand up between us.


“Zevran,” I interrupted. “Let me finish.” To which he nodded and closed his mouth listening intently. “Wow, this is harder than I thought. I tried practicing it in my head today and yesterday and still I’m not sure what to say. I’m sorry for being a bitch the other morning and well every other time. I know I can be high maintenance, Brian even said so. It’s really none of my business what you do on your own time it’s personal. It’s just… ugh!   Well I don’t need to know. I shouldn’t have judged you. Where I come from, I was raised with different beliefs and values but encouraged not to judge because it’s not mine to give. I was taught to not to kill or lust or covet and well, I ‘m happy to say that I’ve at least managed one of those things. I was upset when I thought you were leaving with someone you barely knew and maybe you were doing for some other reason than you cared for her.  You deserve better than just a roll in the hay.   And then I realized, maybe you did know her  And there I go being all judgey again. Then I thought you killed her because I thought Aedan asked you to. Stupid, I know. And now I’m rambling. Wow. Well, anyway there it is. I just hope you don’t hate me because what you do is none of my business.  And now, well,  I don’t know what to think but I still want to be friends.”


He didn’t say a word.  He just looked at me and shook his head in disbelief before his expression hardened and turned into something I couldn’t identify.  “Sometimes I do not understand you.” 


“What?” I scrunched up my face not the reaction I was expecting.


“You have nothing to apologize for.  I am a whore and assassin.”  He reached a hand out and helped me up.  “Go back to your Warden, Mi Carina.”  He stressed guiding me toward the fire.  “He has been looking for you.  We will resume your training tomorrow night." 

Chapter Text

“That’s a lie!” I laughed almost falling off the log I was sitting on. Aedan deftly caught me by the elbow before I slipped backward and took Kiera with me into the dirt. When I was settled he tried to nonchalantly put his arm around my shoulder pulling me in closer. I say try because he was not very smooth and everyone saw him putting on the moves. It made me smile more so because it reminded me of something from a sitcom at home. I ignored the looks and raised eyebrows everyone gave us in favor of leaning into his embrace. He was warm and it was a nice change from being ridiculed and suspect .

“You guys are being silly,” Kiera announced making me laugh that much harder. It was true. She had been giggling just as hard as us and I grabbed her hand to pat it before kissing the back of it and ruffling my hand through her blond locks. That evening we all had been sitting around the campfire during dinner swapping stories of our families and though most of mine we too unbelievable to everyone, Aedan’s were definitely funny. He had a great relationship with his family, especially his sister Elissa which made the stories he told all the more precious since he chose to share them with us. They seemed to help him.

His stories made me miss my family but they helped me too.

I was starting to see him in a different light. He no longer came across as an angry red faced martyr rushing headlong into battle regardless of the consequences. If things had been different and he had been in my world, I could definitely see him as someone I would be interested in getting to know better. And even though I wasn’t looking for a rebound guy, a slow friendship based romance might not be so bad, apart from the fact that anytime now they would be leaving me behind in some town.

A little bit of a stumbling block, I know.

That’s why I decided to take a page from Zevran’s book and find my pleasure where I could by not discouraging his attention. I could tell it didn’t sit well with Wynne or Sten. Sten didn’t say a word but his stern looks were enough to get his point across. Wynne was different and in all her meddlesome glory took it upon herself to remind me that he was a Grey Warden and responsible for everyone’s safety and it was selfish of me to distract him from his destiny or to give him hope of a normal life.

Old bat. I was still kind of on the fence about her. I know she meant well but she thought she knew everything and hers was the only way and the right one and fire and brimstone on those that don’t agree.

No one else seemed to care about Aedan and I or at least no one else said anything to me. If they said anything to Aedan he never told me and I didn’t notice or I didn’t want to anyway. Whether this thing between us was going to work or not was something I preferred to find out on my own. I didn’t want my feelings to be influenced by anyone elses.

The two that surprised me the most by their lack of reaction were Zevran and Alistair. Alistair was the first one I would have thought to put a stop to us but Aedan told me he didn’t say a word and after that first night , Zevran just kept quiet. He just kept me training with my staff using Morrigan and Levi as my sparring partners.

He was still watching out for me but no longer a casual flirt. He was brusque but not mean and only touched me when he needed to correct my stance and or practice our hand to hand and self-defense. I couldn’t tell if he was upset with me or was just behaving that way because Kiera was watching us. She made training kind of fun. She encouraged me in her own little way and asked questions It was like I had my own personal cheerleader!

After that first night without water we managed every night to to find a place to camp near one source or another. It was a usually a pond or stream allowing all of us to clean the dust and sweat from our bodies as well as our clothes. I definitely gave a shout out to Wynne and her laundry spell, as I liked to call it because not only were we clean but our clothes were too

Four days after we left Redcliff, we seemed well on our way to becoming a team. We were efficient at making and breaking camp and finding food. We practiced sparring with each other or cheering each other on every evening. Sten, of course was the reigning champion and Levi and I were…getting better.

I even kept up my language lessons with Wynne but Kiera and Leliana wanted to learn my language so while I would mend everyone’s clothes, with the help of Wynne, I began teaching them English.

We usually kept the same watch schedule. Poor Sten was always with me which I didn’t mind and we always took last watch. I think I was beginning to grow on him. He didn’t growl at me that much during watch after a while and I took it as a good sign.

The fifth day it started to get colder and I could see that we were getting to a higher altitude. We weren’t in the mountains quite yet but the wagon was slowing due to the incline and I could definitely feel it in my legs.

Yep, conceited of me, I know but my legs couldn’t be any more perfect!

We stopped just outside of some pass or another for a rest and lunch break of dried meat, stale biscuits and water and Kiera I were discussing the differences between Raggedy Ann and Cabbage Patch dolls when Aedan rushed up to me. “Come on you two!” He grabbed my hand and excitedly led us along the path.

“What has you all worked up?” I laughed as I pulled Kiera along behind us.

He just winked at me. “You’ll see.”

We followed him gladly, my excitement building as well and then we saw it. Just up ahead of us was a merchant wagon.

Oooh. Hopefully he carried different stuff from Bodahn. We all know how much I love to shop!

“Leliana and Zev already scouted him out so we know he’s ok but look! He’s got all sorts of things that he is selling and at deep discount prices. Even Bodahn is seeing what kind of things he can trade for.” I snickered at Bodahn’s words coming out of Aedan’s mouth. Kiera’s eyes grew large and a chorus of oohs and awws spilled from her as she looked over the merchant’s wares. Immediately I started to count my coin knowing that Kiera would soon need another pair of shoes and another set of pants and a tunic but my eyes paused at the jewelry.

As usual. Remember I said I was a jewelry whore?

Well, he had some really nice sparkly jewelry. There were gold chains and gaudy rings and something else suddenly caught my eyes. A large crystal blue phallic shaped item was prominently on display. I blushed but had to laugh. Was he actually selling a dildo? A travelling merchant? Now I’ve seen everything.

I shook my head in disbelief. I glanced at Aedan and saw him chuckling as he watched me and felt the heat rush to my ears. Darn it! I looked back at the display and concentrated real hard at not looking at the dildo. I focused on possibly getting Kiera another set of clothes. The weather was starting to get colder and I didn’t want here to freeze to death.

Was this how mothers thought?

As luck would have it I found exactly what she needed and happily paid the merchant for the items I found. I rolled them up and stuffed them inside my pack and attached her extra pair of footwear to the outside. I only got what I was willing to carry.

“Aren’t you getting anything for yourself?” He looked at me quizzically. “I thought for sure you would get something nice for yourself. Leliana bought a pair of silly shoes and Morrigan found some ridiculous mirror.”

“I bet Wynne got a bottle of wine, right?” I smiled at him.

He pulled me into a hug and nuzzled his face into the top of my head. “Isn’t there anything you want?” He whispered into my hair.

“Plenty,” I laughed pulling away. “But I need to be frugal and only get what we need.”

“Uh hmm. Sten bought all the cookies.” Aedan laughed.

“Cookies?” Shrieked Kiera as she pulled free of my hand and ran off toward Sten.

“Uh oh. Looks like Sten’s gonna have to fight her for the cookies.” I sighed happily and hugged him back. “You would be much easier to hug if you weren’t wearing armor, you know.”

“I could arrange that if you want.” He murmured huskily in my ear. I pulled back uneasy at the intense way he was staring at me. Wow. Staring at me like that and speaking to me in a voice so raspy, there was no questioning his meaning.

I slowly withdrew from his embrace and cleared my throat. “I’ll keep that in mind.” I croaked feeling the heat rise up my cheeks.

“Too soon?” He released me but didn’t look away.

“Maybe.” I squeaked looking down at my feet. I could feel the blush rise to my ears.

“I saw what caught your attention. Would you like me to get that for you? A gift, maybe?”

“Ahem.” The merchant cleared his throat.“Ser Warden, Felix de Grosbiosis' the name. Did I hear you say the lady was interested in the rod?”

“Rod?” Aedan looked back at him.

“Yes, ser.”He nodded vehemently. “The control rod.”

“Control rod?“ That got my attention. I practically tripped over my own feet to get closer to him. Could it be? “As in golem control rod?”

Felix smiled at me still nodding. “Yes, my lady. You know of it? “I started to laugh and the merchant just continued to smile. You know, one of those smiles where you have no idea what’s going on.

“Wait a minute. Is this what you were looking for last time?” He laughed. “A golem control rod?”

“Yes! Yes. Yes Yes.” I clapped in excitement as I bounced up and down on my tip toes. “How much?”

“Ten gold.” He answered and my excitement turn to disappointment.

“Oh,” I said weakly before backing away. “That’s more than I thought. I don’t have that.”

“Wait a minute! “They exclaimed in unison.

“Are you sure you want this? “Aedan asked. “Not some pretty slippers or an enchanted ring or a gemstone?”

“That’s okay, “I placed a hand on his arm. “That’s ok.”

“Huh?” He made a confused face before turning back to the merchant. “Maybe we can come to some sort of arrangement?”

I looked at the merchant hopefully and then over at Aedan. “You don’t need to do this.”

He smiled broadly at me. “I want to .”

“Gah!” Felix sputtered. “Take it. I don’t need it. It doesn’t work anyway.”

“Wait a minute. You were going to charge her ten gold for something that doesn’t work?” Aedan asked turning red.

“Oh, uh…well a man’s gotta eat!” The merchant cowered as he carefully handed the rod to Aedan. “I mean, look, my wagon fell apart, my mule ran off and my helper didn’t come back yet. I hope he is alright. I was just trying to make a living.”

“Hey, come on Aedan.” I placed my hand on his arm. “It’s no big deal. I think I know how to fix it anyway.”

He smiled holding out the rod as Reached for it and bounced on my toes again. “What’s it for?”

“Another party member,” I smiled thinking of Shale. “You’ll need it to activate her.”

“Her?” I nodded.

“Just you wait.” I laughed and shipped away to relieve Sten of Kiera’s advances.

That evening Kiera and I were curled near the fire after my training session with Zevran and Morrigan. Those sessions were getting harder and harder and I was covered in cuts and bruises all over my body. Kiera and her magic fingers were helping to relieve the soreness in my muscles by massaging my upper arms and shoulders. “Mama Ren, can I try out your staff?” She asked as she worked on a particularly tender spot on my right shoulder.

I shrugged, “It’s not magic you know. But sure. Just don’t hit anything with it. It’s probably a bit big for you.”

“S’ok,” She smiled reaching for the awkward piece of wood almost twice her size. She curiously traced her fingers over the grain in the wood. “Mama used to carry one or these but she used it differently.”

“Did you ever use one before?” Morrigan asked as she wandered over to our side of the fire. The little girl shook her head looking shyly at the beautiful witch. “She said I wasn’t big enough.”

“If you wish I can assist you in the proper technique of holding one. Tis something you may need to know one day, after all.”

“Thank you. Yes.” She wrapped her arms around Morrigan’s waist and hugged her tightly.

“Release me child or I may decide otherwise.” She said stiffly.

Kiera released her immediately and say down next to me again. “She’s scary sometimes.” She whispered.

“You don’t know the half of it.” I scoffed.

“You know, I think I have seen that same bird for the last four days.” Alistair mused pointing to a pigeon perched on the side of Bodahn’s wagon. “Am I crazy or is he following us? Wait, Morrigan don’t answer that.”

“Oh, that’s one of mine.” Levi admitted as we snickered.

“Yours?” Leliana exclaimed sitting upright from lounging against one of the crates. “Whatever do you have one of those for?”

Levi laughed getting up, holding his arm out for the pigeon to jump on. “Well, I do do a lot of travelling. It’s the fastest way to get a message to my brother.”

“You’ve had one of those flying with us the entire time?” I asked.

“Only since we left Redcliff and not just one.” He whistled and a flock of birds descended to roost on and around the wagon. “An entire flock.”

“Woah.” Alistair breathed. It would have been an amazing sight to me if it hadn’t been pigeons. I mean pigeons, come on. It’s not like they were parrots or peacocks or another equally impressive bird. I got used to pigeons at the parking lot where I worked and the time I visiting New York, but everyone else was shocked at the number of the birds Levi had at his disposal.

“I’ve heard of this before, sending birds with messages, I’ve even done it but never on this scale.” Leliana stood walking over to Levi. “May I see one?”

Levi nodded extending his hand and waited as the bird hopped from his arm to hers.

“Oh, it is adorable.” She cooed patting down its feathers. “And so tame.”

“Mama Ren, can I go see it? Please?” I nodded smiling as she and Leliana started grilling Levi about his pigeons about everything from what they ate to how long they could fly to how they found their destination.

Suddenly the birds took off, and in a flash they were gone, leaving Levi looking nervous. The uh-oh was barely out of his mouth when the dogs leapt to their feet and started growling looking intently past our camp.

Grabbing my staff, I jumped to my feet and raced over to Kiera. I picked her up and stuck her in the back of the wagon in time to see a pack of wolves enter the camp. We had a fire and it was still a little light. I couldn’t understand why they would approach us like that.

“Rabid wolves.” Zevran announced appearing out of nowhere.

I’ll admit, he startled me. I may have even wet myself a bit but I was glad he was there. “Here’s your chance to put your training to use, Bella. Defend yourself! Whatever you do avoid the teeth.” And he ran toward the pack with Argent to the others.

I along with Levi and Bodahn poised to defend Sandal, Kiera and the wagon from the stray wolves that managed to slip past the others. It seemed like a million wolves were attacking us. They would finish off one wave just as another would attack. They were relentless. I never saw wolves up close before not even in a zoo. It might have been something to do with the fact they were rabid or maybe they just grew bigger in Fereldan but they were huge and ugly. They were definitely not like any of the beautiful pictures of wild wolves I had ever seen. These were mangy, slobbering vicious beasts with gnashing fangs and huge claws. They were so big they seemed to be able to look me directly in the face with their glowing red eyes.

How could I defend myself let alone a child against these monsters? And with a stick?

But I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, when I heard Kiera scream, I reacted. One of the wolves slipped past in the commotion and was standing on its hind legs looking into the wagon drooling and growling. I felt helpless. I had a giant stick for crying out loud! Morrigan and Wynne had been healing everyone and distracting the wolves while Sten, Alistair and Aedan were cutting through them at a phenomenal rate. But they just kept coming. The dogs were flanking the wolves like Zevran and Leliana. If I wasn’t so scared I might have been impressed at the way everyone working together in such a synchronized fashion but Kiera screamed again.

Bodahn was standing on his seat yelling at the wolf and waving his short sword at it but it was too close to her for comfort.

“Don’t move Sweetie!” I yelled. “Don’t move. Everything will be ok.”

The wolf was fixated on her and the sounds it made scared both of us. “Hey, ugly!” I screamed picking up a rock and throwing it at him. He didn’t flinch as it hit him in the back and his gaze never left Kiera.

I took three steps closer to the snarling animal and yelled again.

No reaction.

“Keep still! Just don’t move, baby. Don’t move. I’m coming.” Kiera started to cry but did not move. Tears were streaming down her cute pudgy cheeks making my heart break.

How was I supposed to keep her safe?

I told her I would keep her safe!

“You’re so brave, honey. I never met anyone so brave. Don’t move.”

Another two steps and I could reach out and touch the thing with the end of my staff. Bodahn was still yelling and waving his sword and Sandal was sitting like a fool on the bottom of the wagon holding on to a piece of Kiera’s shirt. My eyes flickered a moment to the other side of the wolf to see Levi advancing with his sword looking just as scared as me.

Great! The amateur and the novice to the rescue. I caught his eye and we nodded in a silent agreement to take on the wolf.

I lunged forward with the end of my staff and poked it firmly in the ribs finally, finally getting its attention from Kiera. “Please don’t move.” I reminded her as her crying got louder. It’s ears flicker back to the wagon and it started to turn but I poked it again. This time I saw I had its complete and utter attention. It renewed its growling and teeth gnashing and moved a step toward me.

“Don’t do it, miss!” I heard Bodahn warn.

I barely had time to react when I saw its muscles twitching in preparation to crouch. It was almost too easy to miss and if it hadn’t sparked a memory from an old football movie, I definitely would have. But thank God for sexy Mark Wahlberg and the movie Invincible for I just knew when that thing was going to launch itself at me. I knew it with everything that I was, it was going to attack me.

The teeth didn't completely miss me. I felt them graze the skin on my hands and arms as I tried to shove the staff in between his teeth so he couldn’t bite, holding onto both ends of the staff as I forced it far back into its mouth passed its teeth. It startled him for a moment giving Levi enough time for him to stab at it with his sword. From my position I couldn’t tell but I think it was just annoyed. The force of the attack knocked the breath out of my lungs when I landed on the ground causing me to see stars. It’s front legs were standing on my chest preventing me from filling them back up. With all my strength I held onto that staff forcing it wide between its jaws. As it shook its head trying to free itself I felt like I was being flung across the ground. My only saving grace was that it was too mad to let go. It seemed to need to bite on something, I was only glad it wasn’t me. I was quickly tiring and felt my arms grow weaker. My lack of air and inability to see anything beside the wolf made it impossible to know what was going on around me. My entire world revolved around the wolf and me.

I felt like I was losing the fight. I was growing weaker and unable to get a proper breath and then I heard the wood crack. It lasted way longer than I thought it would and with one last twist of its head it snapped in two. With both my bloodied hands stretched in from of me, I grabbed onto the scruff of hair under its throat and tried to work my feet in between us.

Then with a look that I would only call a sneer it fell upon me in an onslaught of fur and teeth.

Poor Kiera had to see another mother taken from her. Who would take care of her when I died? And what of Argent?

My shredded arms burned and stung and I could no longer hold back as my vision turned black yet again.

Chapter Text

I thought I was dead. Everything was burning, my lungs, my arms, my head where it hit the ground when I was knocked down, everything. I saw tiny flashes of silver swim before my eyes and felt the pressure ease from my chest. My breathing improved and the pain in my shoulder lessoned. Surely that meant I was dead. I heard a scream and a yelp and a strange coolness that warmed me from within. I was floating, floating away, lifted from the ground where my body had fallen and enveloped in a loving embrace. Words of comfort surrounded me and I felt at peace. I smiled.

“I think she is going to be okay now. “A familiar aged voice said. “The worst of it has passed for all of us. Let me rest and I will look us all over again later.”

I heard a scurry of movement around me and flinched as small hands grabbed roughly at my arms. I must have whimpered at the touch because then I heard a tiny voice next to my ear as a hand brushed through my hair. “Sorry Mama, its okay. You’re so brave. I never met anyone so brave.”

I laughed but it probably sound like I was choking because another voice spoke soothingly in my ear. “You make me proud, Bella.”

“Zev?” I gasped still trying to coordinate my breathing with movement and talking.

“You called me Bella?” I wheezed.

You called me Zev.” He responded.

I snorted slowly opening my eyes. “You said you wanted your friends to call you that. How bad is it?”

“You live, so not so bad, at all.” He sighed. “I fear I have been remiss in my pledge to you. But we will resume training when you feel able and you will not be helpless again.”
He winced as I prodded for information about my injuries. “Mostly superficial, your hands and arms but the shock was the worst. You may wish to wear long sleeves or vanbraces with rerebraces for a while.” He said in my other ear.

“As if I even know what those are.” I scoffed.

“And you impressed the Qunari by wrestling the beast to the ground.”

I choked out a little laugh. “That’s not what happened.”

“We were otherwise occupied so who’s to say differently?” He smiled.

I heard more shuffling around me and saw Zevran move away as another took his place, Kiera’s small hands were still combing through my hair. “Renata?”

“Aedan?” I tried to sit up a bit but my body was so tired and sore and I was shaking so much, I flopped back down. “How are you? Is everyone okay? What about Levi?”

“Shh. We are fine. Definitely better off than you. I think you just about gave Levi a hard attack when you went down. He got a couple of good pokes at it before Argent took it out.” He smiled sadly. “I’m just sorry that I couldn’t help you sooner. If not for that hound of yours it could have been much worse.”

“She’s man’s best friend.” I nodded turning my head trying to catch a glimpse of her. “Or in my case woman’s best friend. And don’t you worry about me, you are responsible for so much and it would be selfish of me to expect you to ride to my rescue all the time. Your destiny lies elsewhere.”

I felt myself frown as the words left my mouth. With that sentence, I hated Wynne, at least a little.

See, I knew I didn’t want others to influence me.

“We are going to stay here and rest tonight, lick our wounds as they say but you definitely need to stay put for the evening. Here.” He pulled out a potion and cracked the top. “Drink this it should help. It is not healing potion but it should affect you enough so that we can move on in the morning as scheduled. Now stay here with Kiera. I need to take care of a few things. I’ll be later.”

Aedan looked at me guiltily as he got up and left to do whatever it was he needed to do. I felt a large heavy body press against my side and collapse practically on top of me with a grunt. I turned seeing my savior curl into me as she licked her own wounds. My beautiful baby was getting marked up with so many scars and abrasions it made my soul hurt.
I managed to twist around to face Argent with Kiera still clinging to me and scratch her under the chin. She sighed and whimpered and her entire back end did a halfhearted wiggle as she tried to wag her stubby tail. Goodness she was exhausted. This lifestyle was definitely not for the faint of heart.

I stayed down for the rest of the day and throughout the night. Getting up only once to empty my bladder. But Kiera and Argent never left my side and were attached to me like velcro. In the morning I was still terribly sore and had a major headache. I felt like my eye should have been bleeding and porcupine quills were constantly being fired at my head but I figured the best way to loosen up and relax was to keep moving. I wasn’t very talkative and no one expected me to be. My arms were sore and wrapped in thick bandages from my wrists to my shoulders and they were too weak to hold onto anything. But the wagon was stuffed and everyone else was carrying their own packs so I suffered in not so silence. Seeing as how my staff was bitten in two, I didn’t have to worry about that though and Kiera carried some things, mostly her doll.

Wynne said there would probably be some slight scarring but nothing too bad. Thankfully my face remained unmarked and I was alive. When I asked why she couldn’t heal me or anyone else completely to get rid of scars, she responded by saying that we needed to conserve everything including mana and health potions. If we were alive and could function then that was good enough. I pointed out that laundry spells didn’t exactly conserve mana and she frowned at me.

“Renata, why must you always be so argumentative. Take the good things while you can. There will be a time when I shouldn’t be casting those as well.”

No one babied as we walked, except for Aedan and Kiera which surprised me but I guess I don’t remember anyone else being babied after their injuries either.

I made it until lunch and then I started to feel really bad. The soreness in my arms was waning but I thought my head was going to explode even Wynne’s minimal magic didn’t have much of an effect other than to take care of the nausea. But I kept going, we need to get anywhere other than where we were and soon.

Evening came and went and they let me sit back and rest while everyone else took care of setting up camp and finding dinner. I was grateful but I knew tomorrow I would have to start pitching in. We must have found a pocket of warm weather because Kiera and Argent snuggled close that night and we didn’t sleep in the tent. I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of the fire and murmuring voices.

The headache was better in the morning and my muscles less sore so I helped break camp. I was stiff and it hurt but I did my part. Zevran nodded his approval and Aedan hovered as much as he could and definitely more than he should. If I wasn’t so miserable I might have been annoyed but instead I was grateful. Throughout the day the others would walk by me and talk for a while.

“Just tell me they weren’t those man wolf shape changing things, please.” I begged of Leliana the next day. “I just really don’t think I could stand being one of those. Well, at least I could probably keep up with Argent then.”

“You mean a werewolf?” She asked.

“Is that the Common word for it or Antivan?”

“Common, but anyone would know what you meant and they were rather ferocious. Why would you ask that?”

“It’s starting to seem like something that would happen to me. Travel to a different world, get attacked by and assassin, mauled by a werewolf. You know, one of the everyday things that seems to happen to me here. Hurray!” I did a sarcastic little dance around her but regretted it instantly when pain flew into my shoulder. She giggled before getting serious.

“You certainly know how to have a good time. I assume you were never attacked by assassins or maul by a werewolf before? Where you lived… in your world? That is much to take in, a different world, no?”

“Tell me about it. No.” I shook my head. “Where I lived was pretty tame. I woke up, went to work, came home, ate, slept and then started the whole thing over the next day. See? Boring. No room for excitement, I way too busy working and living a normal life.”

“You must have had more in your life than just you work? You must have enjoyed doing something?” She pressed. By this time I had noticed that a few of our group including Aedan and Levi had gravitated within earshot. It seemed they wanted to hear about my home.

“My shoulder is starting to hurt. If you carry my pack for a while I will tell you about some of the things I did at home.” Leliana didn’t have time to answer before Levi of all people snatched the pack from my back with a smile and a nod.

“Least I can do for saving my life.” He smiled throwing the pack over his back.

“Okay, I guess that means you want to hear some stories. Let me see. There was this time I went on a cruise to Mexico and …”

By the time they decided to stop for the evening I had told them about my cruise to Mexico and exploring the Pyramid of the Sun, my trip to Disney World and my flight to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I didn’t realize how fast time flew until Kiera let go of my hand and collapsed by the fire Morrigan had made at our evening camp site.

Kiera had adored the idea of Disney World while Sten just grumbled about wasting resources on needless excursions with no value. I couldn’t convince him that spending time with friends or family while sharing an adventure was never a waste of time so I let it go. Levi and Leliana were intrigued with the airplane while Aedan and Alistair were trying to wrap their heads around my attempts at free beads. Wynne and Morrigan gave no opinion on my adventures while Zev just smirked from across the fire. All in all talking about my life at home made me feel better mentally, if not distracted from the aches and pains I still had. My headache was a mere annoyance but I was able to concentrate on collecting some of the surrounding berries for our meal.

 

“I feel like I have been neglecting you?” Admitted Aedan handing me two bowls of stew, one for Kiera and one for me.

“Aww, you shouldn’t have.” I joked as I passed one bow of the unappetizing brown mess to a sleepy Kiera and picked at my own. “Nug stew again?”

He nodded sitting next to me then dug into his bowl as if using it as an excuse to cover for our awkwardness. “I really haven’t had the chance to ask you how you’re doing. I mean really doing.”

I chuckled before shrugging. “I guess as well as anyone can be expected for someone who was almost eaten by a wolf.”

He frowned at that. “It is not amusing. Your weapon was damaged as well. How are you going to defend yourself now?”

“Zev wanted me to try daggers. He said it would be more useful if God forbid something like that happens again.”

He sighed then gently placed his hand on my forearm causing me to flinch in pain. “Sorry.” I said as he quickly removed them. “They are still sensitive.”

“I don’t like that idea. Daggers are more offensive weapons. The staff was better suited to you and you were starting to wield it well. They make you a less likely target. If someone sees you carrying daggers they will assume you know how to use them.”

“I don’t like the idea of it either but Zev is right it would have come in handy when I was under that animal that did all this.” l raised my elbows still holding onto my bowl of stew. “But I need something until I can get another staff.”

We sat in thoughtful silence finishing our dinner. “I’m sure Bodahn has something you can use. If you two are finished, how about we go look and see if something catches your eye?”

Kiera squealed with excitement. “Shopping again? Yay!!!”

She was so cute. The danger of the last couple days seemed to completely leave her mind.

“Are you sure?” I looked at him. He was smiling a shy hopeful smile that showed dimples I hadn’t noticed before. There were crinkles at the corner of his eyes and mischievous glint reflecting back. He looked so hopeful and eager and so very cute. I nearly lost my breath looking at him.

He cleared his throat. “Did you hear me? I said I was sure.”

I gave my half eaten bowl of stew to Argent who had been uncharacteristically patient. “I’m ready when you are.”

Kiera who scarfed up her portion of dinner was more than willing so we went in search of a staff.

Bodahn didn’t have any staves that weren’t magical in nature and he didn’t have any daggers either, actually he didn’t have anything that was much interest to us. “I guess I’ll have to work on my hand to hand and hiding skills then.” I shrugged in disappointment. The staff was a bit unwieldy but I was becoming used to it and I kind of missed it. It gave me something put in between myself and danger and it had helped at least three times before. Kiera quickly became bored and ran off to see Leliana prompting Aedan to grab my hand.

“Walk with me?” He asked curling his fingers around mine.

“We’ve been doing that all day.” I teased.

He didn’t take me far. A little stand of trees within sight of the camp but far enough for privacy. “I don’t think we should take that long someone might come looking for us.”

He faced me, “This shouldn’t take long.” He leaned in and kissed me. A clumsy kiss at first, ours noses bumping twice before we got it right. I pulled back to see him smiling at me and felt myself respond in kind before I reached up for another. It was different than the one in Redcliff, not nearly as frantic or heated as before. This one was slow and deliberate, searching. We explored each other’s mouth and lips until we ran out of air, only then coming to our senses and gasping for breath. He pulled back this time then hugged me tight against his chest. “I’ve been wanting to do that for so long.” He sighed into my hair. I hummed in agreement.

“That was nice, wasn’t it?” I felt him nod into the top of my head.

“We fit nicely together. Don’t you think?” He whispered. “Like you were made to be held by me.”

I felt the butterflies return with a vengeance. “I didn’t know you were such a romantic. You better be careful or I could fall head over heels for you in no time.”

“Not a bad thing.” He responded by tilting my chin up to him. “Or is it?”

I saw a slight shift in his expression and as usual I couldn’t determine what it meant. His eyes were staring into mine waiting for an answer.

“Not a bad thing. Just fast. Unexpected but not bad.” He nodded.

“I understand. I’m sorry we have not always seen eye to eye. I was probably a bit of a bastard and you were just abandoned by your fiancé. I don’t expect to replace him so easily. ” He leaned back down, merely inches from my lips. “I cannot promise you a future forever but I would like the chance at a present with you now.”

I smiled in spite of myself. How sappy could he get?

Boy was I becoming an emotional mess. I felt myself get a bit sentimental at his declaration and tried to blink back a few silly tears. He leaned down and softly kissed one that slipped from my eyes and my stomach fluttered. I guess sappy could be good. I was beginning to like sappy. I felt his breath on my face and his lips moved closer to mine.
I leaned in about to kiss him punching him softly in the arm. “Just don’t play head games with me and we’ll be fine.”

“No head games.” He murmured against my lips. I closed my eyes and hummed in acknowledgement as I kissed him again.

Chapter Text

“No. No. No. no. No!” Zev growled at me in frustration, roughly moving my fingers into different positions along the knife handle. “You do not hold it like you are cutting a piece of meat at dinner. It is a weapon. You use it to pierce, slash and stab and kill your opponent, not like a piece of cutlery! Now try it again.”

I groaned and rolled my eyes but he ignored it. I was frustrated. This was ridiculous! I didn’t want to hurt someone like that. There was no way! Zevran was being way too harsh. “I’m not doing this. I can’t kill anyone!” I cried throwing the daggers to the ground. “Just help me get away from them, that way I don’t have to hurt anyone.”

Clearly he was growing aggravated with me, no longer bothering to hide his annoyance anymore. “Stop being such a child.” He hissed in Spanish before changing back to Common. “You can’t get away from everyone. What are you going to do if someone attacks you? And they will. The chances that you are never going to be attacked are slim at best. You must learn to defend yourself. Here. Try again.”

He picked up the daggers and tossed them back at me. I let them drop in front of me and smirked at him. “They have to catch me first. If they can’t catch me they can’t hurt me. I’m pretty fast, you know.”

“Pick. Up. The daggers.” He hissed again.

“Make me.” I challenged backing away from our lesson before turning around.

“What if your friends need your help? Are you going to let them die?” He called after me.

“They are far better at protecting themselves then I’ll ever be.”

“What about Kiera?” He asked and I heard a squeak from behind me. “How good is she at protecting herself?” I stopped mid stride slowly turning around to see him holding my little cheerleader by the hand, a surprised look on her face.

“Let her go.” I growled.

He grinned at my reaction. “Make me.” He repeated back to me.

“So this is how it goes? You use a little kid to get me to do what you want? You wouldn’t hurt her and you know it.” I didn’t believe for one second he would hurt her. Kiera didn’t look scared, just surprised and she had already started to smile.

“You think you know me, Bella.” His grin turned into a sneer and he drew out another dagger.

No. Zevran would never hurt a child, not even to make a point. Not anymore. I didn’t think. No! I was sure of it. A mild headache flared between my eyes and I pinched the bridge of my nose between my fingers.

“Let her go Zev. This is between us. Don’t bring her into this.” I exhaled closing my eyes.

“How are you going to make me?” He jeered.

“I’m not doing this.” I turned away. “I know you won’t hurt her.”

I heard another squeak and flew around to see he had placed his forearm against her throat. “What would you do to me if I hurt her?”

“Let her go!” I shouted. “I don’t want to do this.”

“This is your life now, Bella. Hers now too that you brought her along. She will need to learn to protect herself as well.”

“Let her go. “ I shouted, my headache escalating from mild to pounding. “Don’t make me angry.”

“What are going to do, Bella?” He taunted.

I screamed and picked up a rock and hit him in the side of the head. “Let her go.” He looked stunned but held onto her and shook his head.

“Shit! I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

“Pick up the daggers and get over here now.” He ordered before kissing Kiera on the cheek.

“Mama Ren?” She was looking at me with those beautiful eyes of hers, I think, but my vision was swirling at the time from my newly formed migraine, so I couldn’t be sure. “Protect me please.”

I sighed giving in to her pleading. “I don’t want to hurt anyone.” I croaked picking up the daggers.

“Sometime there is no choice, Bella.” He said softly letting her go and I felt Kiera wrap me her arms around me in a hug.

“Was this your plan all along?” I whispered into her hair as I returned her hug.

“Sorry.” She giggled pulling away. “Now go kick his…”

“Kiera!” I warned her.

 

For the next two nights I was trained by Zev in the basic use of the dagger. He even had an extra set he loaned me until I could get another staff or my own set of daggers. In the meantime I found his set acceptable. They were lightweight and plain with no embellishments or runes but they were deadly sharp. I wasn’t even sure how to hold or sheath them without cutting my hands. I ended up with a lot of cuts to my hands on those evenings but thankfully Wynne saw them as quick heal that required next to no mana so she healed me right up.

In an attempt to lighten my mood and possibly to irritate Aedan, Zevran started his flirting again. Most of it was harmless until he produced what he jokingly called a strap on.

“Ah my dear, I can see where your mind went right away but let assure both you and your paramour, it is not that kind of strap on.” He grinned pulling out what looked to be a tiny leather belt sized for someone Kiera’s age with a bunch of black straps. He reached for my leg. “This strap on is for you to sheath your daggers.”

I froze in place as Zevran’s hands quickly worked the straps and buckles around my thigh. It tickled and goose bumps formed on my skin. How high did he think I was going to let his hands wander up my leg? I was beginning to wonder myself.

“That’s far enough.” Aedan advised placing a hand on Zev’s arm. He looked up at me with a sparkle in his eyes and pulled away. “I can take it from here.”

“Certainly.” Zev smirked running a hand gently down my thigh and placing one of the daggers in the sheath. “Your coat is long enough that when you wear it no one will ever see the dagger.”

He rose to his feet and straightened the hem of my tunic to fall just below my hips then handed me my coat. “See, one would never know you are concealing a weapon.”

I buttoned the coat to conceal them and took a few steps to practice. It was surprisingly comfortable. I almost couldn’t tell it was there but I knew I would need to practice removing it from its holster for lack of a better word. I refused to call it a strap on. The term made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

“I still don’t like this.” Aedan reminded me when Zev left us alone. He scowled at him as he left then grabbed my hand and kissed the back of it. “Not one bit.”

Pulling him into a quick hug. “Which part?” I teased. “The daggers or the fact that Zev supplied me with a strap on?”

He huffed in my hair as his only response. “Take your pick. Maybe I could take over your training?”

“Are you jealous?” I scoffed. “Of Zev? You have got to be kidding. He made it quite clear the only reason he’s even here because of some stupid pledge. Once he thinks it’s been fulfilled he will be on his way. He’s better things to do then keep babysitting me.”

“Is that what you think?” Aedan asked pulling away. “Do you think he acts like that with everyone?”

“Of course he does. He flirts with Alistair and Wynne for goodness sake!” I reminded him. “Haven’t you heard him asking about her bosom? He doesn’t even like me, I pissed him off so bad. He only acts that way around me because of you. The flirting is just to get a reaction from you . I’m sure of it. So if you’re worried about him, don’t be.”

“How about you?”

“How about me what?”

“When he flirts… does he get a, a reaction from you?” He asked shyly looking at me as if he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I waited a minute before I spoke, very uncharacteristic of me, I know. “I think he flirts like that to get a reaction from both of us.”

I rolled my eyes at him and started back toward the campfire. He pulled me back to him for a quick peck on the lips then let me go with a smile.

“Was that your way of apologizing?”
He nodded. “Forgive me?”

I sighed. “It’s a good thing you’re so cute…”

“Cute?! Men aren’t cute. I should be ruggedly handsome or distinguished or at the very least immensely attractive. Not cute.” He complained. “Not cute.”

“That crinkle in your brow when you frown or concentrate, it’s cute.” I smiled brushing over his forhead with the tip of my index finger. “The way you push your hair out of your eyes after it falls out of your helmet, that’s cute too.”

I swept a loose piece of blond hair behind his ear, “ When you smile at me with that cute almost lopsided smile it makes my stomach flutter.” His frown slowly faded and his mouth gaped at my admission as he blushed. “Do you still have a problem with cute?”

He shook his head then must have realized his mouth was hanging open and snapped it shut.

“Good.” I wrapped my fingers around his. “Let’s get back to camp before someone gets hysterical or something.”

 

“We should reach there by tomorrow night,” Levi told us. “Barring anything unforeseen happening, of course.”

“Of course. Thanks for jinxing us, Levi.” I snarked. Soldier’s Peak. I couldn’t believe it. We were finally going to be a Soldier’s Peak. It was mid-day and so far we had made it without stumbling across any darkspawn or bandits or towns. Which meant that we still didn’t find a place for Kiera and I to stay. Plus I still had to warn them about all the undead at the Peak and soften the blow about Sophia to Levi.

“You’re awfully quiet, Renata,” Levi said. “Is there something the matter?”

I shook my head hesitating. “Just thinking about the Peak. Wondering how much different it is from what I learned at home.”

“What have you heard?” He narrowed his eyes at me. “Something we should probably know?”

“Of course,” I laughed trying to play it off. “It’s full of skeletons and ghosts and all sort of fun thing. But what about you? From what I know, you were supposed to be having dreams about this place since you were a child. Or am I wrong on that?”

“You’re not too far off. Hmm.” He shrugged. “I guess you do know some things, even if they are a bit mixed up. I may have had a couple of dreams of this place as a child, yes, but they really just started in the last year or so. I’m not really sure why. Are you?”

Great! Was this the part where I was supposed to tell him about his grandmother, great grandmother or great, great something or another wasn’t the hero he thought?
I mean, I was wrong before. A lot. My basic information seemed to get me in more trouble than anything else.

Sighing I tried to be as vague as I could. “All I know is that you should find your answers here.”

“It would be advantageous to know of what lies ahead, would it not? Why would you not just tell us what you know without delay?” Morrigan asked falling in step next to us.
“Don’t you think it might have changed things?” I worried aloud. “Knowing things, I mean.”

“I cannot say for certain and neither can you.” She narrowed her eyes at me. “I do not think I could trust someone who was not so forthcoming with such valuable information.”
“I have to agree.” Sten’s voiced carried back to us from his lead position on the trail.

“Really? The two of you agree on that? It must be snowing in Hell.” I laughed. “Like the two of you have been so forthcoming about your plans?”

“Where is this Hell?” Morrigan asked.

“Let me ask you this, my sweet, innocent, ever informative Morrigan, if you knew that your mother was planning to send you with the Wardens, would you have done anything to stop it?”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“What I mean is, if you could have found a way to avoid leaving with them, an errand or something, would you have gone along with them? If Flemeth had asked, not instructed would you have left with them?”

She was silent for a while, marching quietly alongside me then abruptly stopped. I almost tripped into her and Argent did run into me causing me to bumped into Morrigan after all. “No.” She answered placing a hand on my shoulder to stop me from falling.

“And you are important to the success of this quest. The things you find and learn on this journey have implications for at least the next ten years. Do you know that now?” I grabbed her wrist and looked her directly in the eyes. “Without you, the Wardens may not all survive.”

She cocked her head to the side reminding of Argent. Oh how she would hate that comparison.

“I see.” She swallowed thickly, refusing to meet my eyes. She lowered her voice so that I had to strain to hear her. “That I am important to this quest is something of which I have become aware. But how is it that you, an outsider, have this knowledge? No one else knows of this yet.”

I nodded silently not quite sure what she was thinking.

“You and Alistair and Aedan are the ones who matter most. The others are important too. Leliana, Wynne, even… No never mind. Everyone here is important to Thedas and needs to survive for what comes next. The only one here that is not important is me.” I smiled trying in vain to catch her eyes before settling on letting her wrist go. “Remember that. You matter.”

 

Morrigan ignored me the rest of the day while Levi and I chatted of silly things. Where I used to think Leliana was going to be my BFF, now I felt that it might really be Levi. Not because we had so much in common. I mean how could we? But because of the sheer amount of nonsense we seemed to be able to talk about from sparring practice to grumbling about food to…boys?

I didn’t have a gaydar and never had been adept at knowing which guys might like me in return, fodder for a whole lot more embarrassing moments in my life, but the way his eyes followed Sten around didn’t make me think he feared the big guy. It was none of my business, I know, but I was a nosy person. I was definitely going to keep my eye on that situation.

Aedan interrupted our time by pulling me aside. “I think you may like the place we are going to camp for the evening.”

“Really? And what gives you that idea?” I smiled trying to coyly twist the ends of my dusty dirty smelly hair around my finger.

He grabbed my shoulders and spun me around pointing toward the trees. My eyes followed his fingers and I squealed at the sight.

A waterfall with a lake!

I didn’t care how cold it was, at least not right then I didn’t. I finally had chance to have a decent shower and swim. Oh, I was in heaven. I stood up on my tip toes and kissed him on the cheek before running off to tell Kiera.

I sat on edge of the lake staring at the waterfall. It was dark with only the torch I wedged in some rocks along the beach to light my surroundings. Kiera and Leliana and I had been there earlier to bathe and they had left already but I just needed a few moments to myself to relax and gather my thoughts. The sound of the water was working to sooth my nerves and calm my headache.

I still couldn’t believe how hard it was to take care of a child, it seemed as if we were always together or at least in my sights or somewhere that I could keep tabs on her. I rarely had two seconds to myself. Leliana kindly offered to escort her back to the camp and give me a few minutes alone.

I ran my fingers over the now healed but still sensitive skin on my arms. I was marked with a silvery network of scars. Not as bad as it could have been, I supposed. My first real scars. The one on my knee from falling on the playground in kindergarten was nothing, barely a mark compared to these. I gently ran my finger over the web of teeth and claw marks marveling at how well healed they were despite it having been only a few days. It was a miracle I survived, or rather it was magic.

I smiled. Magic. Who would have guessed that this would be my life? Not me, that’s for sure. Fighting darkspawn and rabid animals while training with a knife, how could this be real? How could this be my life?

I closed my eyes and tilted my head to stare up at the sky. Thank God I wasn’t sent ten years later, that would suck even more. I guess that was something to be thankful for after all.
I don’t know how long I stared at the water, probably not that long but I heard a sound behind me and turned.

“My apologies, Renata.” It was Aedan. “May I join you?”

I nodded and smiled at him as he took to the ground next to me. “I’m sorry if you were worried about me. I think I am ready to go back.”

“Can we wait just a little longer?” He asked tilting his head up to the sky. I nodded and leaned my head against his shoulder. “Were you praying?”

“We need it.” I nodded snuggling tighter into his arm.

“It can’t hurt.” He kissed the top of my head. “Is your God very different from ours?”

“No. As a matter of fact I believe your Maker and my God may very well be the same being.”

He chuckled. “Is that why our Maker left us? To make a better world somewhere else?”

“Aedan,” I chided curling my fingers around his hand. “Your Maker did not leave you.”

“How can you know that, Renata? Just look around. Look at all the horrible things going on right now! How can you believe he is still with us?”

“It’s called faith, Aedan.” I hummed trying to calm him. “Maybe you could give it a try. Either your way or my way, it all leads to the same place.”

I turned to look at him and run my fingers through his hair.

“I can’t believe you and Leliana aren’t closer than you are, two peas in a pod.” He chuckled, a slight frown forming at the corners. “Where is it leading you?”

I felt his hand lower to my waist and I held onto his hand tighter before smiling at him. “Hope.”

“Hope?” He repeated looking confused. “We are on the brink of civil war, during a blight! My family is dead! The wardens were slaughtered! And you find hope?”

“Aedan!” I rose up on my knees twisting fully to face him. “You survived Highever, the decimation of the wardens?. You and Alistair were there together and both lived. Not only that but you are still living today. You made friends and helped people everywhere you went. You are hope and you’re bringing it to everyone you meet. You are fighting the good fight. Not for glory or money but because it’s the right thing to do!”

He quieted and bowed his head speaking in a whisper. “How can you believe that?”

I grinned at him. “How can you not? I’ve been through some of this with you and I know it’s not easy. More than half the time I have no clue what you guys are talking about. It’s so different than I thought. You just have to have faith.”

He leaned his forehead against mine. I felt his ragged breathing slowly calm and he kissed my forehead. “That was a good speech.”

I nodded impressed at myself and he caught my lips with his own. They moved to my neck and worked their way up my ear before returning to my mouth. “I could kiss you all night.” He breathed.

I pulled away for air slowly coming back to my senses vaguely hearing Argent barking in the background. I too could definitely get lost in him, if I wasn’t careful.

But then Argent barked again, more feral than before followed by Drake and then the sound of metal hitting metal.

We both froze, my look of fear mirroring his look dread.

Shit.

“Aedan…” I started.

“I know. I hear it. Come with me.” He grabbed my hand and dragged me back to camp.

Chapter Text

This time it wasn't wolves or darkspawn but bandits. A lot of them. Holy crap! How did we miss all of them? How could they suddenly appear out of nowhere? Aedan, like the good soldier he was, had his sword with him, always prepared.

Crouching next to him and peering from behind a bush, I counted at least a dozen of them. I think. It was hard to tell the way everyone was jumping around trying to skewer each other. There were four surrounding Sten alone and everyone was in various stages of slashing and blocking. I scanned around camp in a panic searching for Sandal and Kiera who had climbed a tree away from the fighting and were watching with interest. They were safe for now.

Not too far away from them were Levi and Bodahn along with Argent fighting two extremely powerful and menacing looking men brandishing huge swords.

A short sword clattered to the dirt not far from where we were as one of the was bandits was slain and fell to the ground for the last time. Thankfully his face was turned away sparing me from the look in his dying eyes.

“Stay here.” Aedan ordered reaching for the sword and handing it to me before racing off into the fray. “Defend yourself if you have to.”

A small headache flared from behind my eyes. Great now I was expected to know how to use a sword too.

From where I was crouched I could see Alistair and Drake surrounded by three men. The air was filled with the smell of sweat and blood, it was horrible. The bandits were all grimacing and angry looking and seemed willing to do anything to cut everyone down. The screaming and grunting alone terrified me and that was just the sounds our side was making. Make no mistake, these were no mindless dark spawn or diseased animals running on instinct we were fighting against. These were actual people with the ability to think and reason and change tactics during an attack and they were exploiting any advantage they could find.

Morrigan finished off her attacker with a spectacular display of lightening, charring her opponent to a crisp. The stench of burning flesh filled the air as she raced over to back up Sten while Aedan was making his was toward Alistair who looked like he was beginning to feel overwhelmed. One of them must have got him in the arm because one of his pauldrons had been knocked off and his arm was bleeding.

The same look of fatigue was beginning to show on Bodahn’s face too, who seemed to be taking more of the brunt of the attack than Levi. Things didn’t look very good for them especially when Levi took a shield bash to the face and Bodahn got caught by an unexpected slash at the legs. I was torn between obeying Aedan and wanting to help. Stupidity won out and I did my best to charge over to help them but I nearly tripped under the weight of the sword.

How could someone carry these things? And this was just a short sword! I was so never going to be able to wield that thing. I practically had to drag it along the ground just to get closer to them.

Zevran and Leliana finished off their attackers making them look like human pin cushions and made their way over to help Sten who was now down to three bandits. With a little more luck we would beat them soon. Aedan had finally reached Alistair as he impaled a bandit through the chest. Blood splashed everywhere.

“Nice of you to join us.” I heard Alistair snipe at him through the commotion.

“Mind if I cut in?” Aedan glibly replied as he taunted an exceptionally large bandit covered in spikey armor away from Alistair.

“Not all. Go right ahead,” He joked back. “I thought you were so distracted that you were going to miss out on all the fun.”

With Aedan’s attention elsewhere and Levi’s bandit concentrating on fending off Argent, I was able to help Levi off the ground and put pressure on his bloody nose. “I can’t brede!” He shouted at me. “And my ears are ringing like chandree bells.”

My shirt was the only thing I could find to give him sop up the blood pouring from his face. I tried to rip at the hem but it was too thick for me to rip. I pulled it over my head and tried to pull off a sleeve only to give up. Everything was moving so fast I had no time to think about modesty or how cold I was going to be. I was either going to die during the fight now or embarrassment later and I had much more experience surviving embarrassment. Running around in my pants and a bra wouldn’t kill me right away.

“Try this,” I shoved my balled up shirt in his face barely noticing the goose bumps on my torso and attempted to pick up his shield by the straps. It was heavier than the sword. I could barely hold one let alone both of them.

With the seconds ticking by, I hardly had time to stand when Argent jumped on the back of the bandit that bashed Levi causing him to collapse back to the ground. Levi and I backed away and Argent closed her jaws around the back of his neck before jumping off of him. The bandit was dazed but still attempted to get to his feet. A metallic smell filled the air as blood began to stream from his wounds.

“The shield, Renata. Get ‘em while he’s down!” Bodahn yelled as he moved on his own opponent.

The bandit swayed a bit but made it to his knees placing one hand on the ground to steady himself.

“Now!” Shouted Levi. “Do id now!”

I was torn. I don’t know what they really expected. I couldn’t hold the sword and the shield, they were way too heavy. So I dropped the sword and held on tight to the straps of the shield as I rammed into him like a football player. I didn’t know what else to do, I definitely couldn’t do a real shield bash, I could barely hold onto it. It didn’t matter because thankfully he was stunned enough to fall to his knees and dropped his sword. I crossed in front of him to kick it away leaving myself open for him to grab my legs and pull me down. With a loud growl, Argent jumped him from behind again and the man struggled. He was weakening and getting tired and she was huge and angry. If I didn’t know better I ‘d thought he interrupted her dinner but she was probably just as tired of all this crap as the rest of us. He let me go and twisted trying to grab for her but she was more agile than him and she managed to bite his hand before moving away. He roared in pain. I got up and kicked him in the side and rushed at him with the shield again.

I glanced back to see Bodahn and Levi briefly bending over the body of Bodahn’s attacker, pulling a sword from his chest before hurrying over to help me. It gave the bandit the opening he needed and he was able to reach the sword I had kicked away. Now he was on his feet swearing. Blood was pouring from a cut on his forehead and he was brandishing a particularly nasty weapon.

He lunged at me but I managed to evade the full impact of the blow. I was winded though and couldn’t get my bearings. Bodahn and Levi were there before he got in another shot. I was still managing to hold onto the shield and braced myself for another attack when I heard a squelching sound then a hiss as the man dropped like a stone to the ground.

“Are you ok, Miss Renata?” Bodahn asked bending over with his hands on his knees as he caught his breath. I could only nod and point my finger at him, my eyes asking the same question. He nodded as well and when he was satisfied that I wasn’t hurt he ran over to Aedan and Alistair who were down to one man.

The whole attack took less the twenty minutes but twelve dead bodies littered our camp. There was so much carnage. I had to empty my stomach, barely making it to reach a respectable distance before doing it. Oh man, this was worse than when Zevran attacked us.

Well maybe not, but it was worse for me because I wasn’t hiding under a wagon this time. This time I participated. I helped Levi get comfortable and then ran over to care for Argent. I ran my hands over her body checking for injuries but all the blood on her belonged to someone else. Not a scratch on her.

My hero.

I cupped my hand and poured water from one of our scattered water skins into it so she could drink. I spilled more than I caught so she gave up and headed to direction of the lake to drink her fill.

To say that our camp was in disarray was an understatement. The cooking fire was knocked over and the flames stamped out, most of the tents were trampled and slashed into shreds and all of our belongings were scattered around the camp. I was sure it could have been worse but I didn’t even want to know how. That’s when Zevran so graciously reminded me that I wasn’t wearing a shirt and I was only in my sports bra. At least he was chivalrous enough to offer me his but with all the blood and gore covering it, I declined.

At least the important parts were covered!

I shook my head. “I just need to find my pack or a coat and I’ll be right as rain. How are you?”

“I am well. I am headed out to check the perimeter and see if there are any more surprises. If anyone asks I am heading east and will circle around the camp. Do not leave camp before I say everything is all clear.”

“Yes daddy.” I joked causing a smile to form on his lips.

“You called me daddy?” He grinned. “I did not realize you enjoyed roleplaying games.”

“You have no idea.” I laughed waggling my eyebrows at him knowing I was thinking of entirely different role playing game than he probably was. Our friendly flirting was interrupted when Kiera made it down from the tree and jumped in my arms. Argent having found renewed energy and her fill of water joined in by jumping on me too. I gave up and sank to the ground. No sense fighting this. My girls needed my attention and I needed hugs, whether they be in the form of grabby little toddler hands or a wet nose nuzzling my cheek.

S’all good.

After Sten and Aedan made sure the bodies were indeed dead, the rest of us checked them for equipment. Not one my finest moments.

Yes! I actually looted the bodies.

It felt wrong and disgusting. It was so gross having to search pockets and remove armor off dead men looking for anything remotely usable. It was definitely no game but was necessary. We found some money and a couple jewels but other than that we mostly took their arms and armor. Most of it was subpar but we could sell it for extra coin. Anything that looked personal, I left on the bodies.

“Are you alright?” Aedan asked me later after the camp was picked up and the bodies disposed of. Don’t ask me how either. All I know was that Sten and Morrigan had the bodies taken away from the camp and came back to say everything was taken care of. They were both covered in soot and stank like smoke and charred hamburger.

It gave me the shivers to think that twelve men were no longer breathing because they were stupid enough to attack a few strangers. Now there was nothing left of them to prove they existed. Twelve fathers or brothers or sons, What a waste.

“I’m alive.” I sighed. “You’re alive. We are all alive, so I guess that says something.” He took me by the hand and pulled me down on a crate that had been knocked off the wagon.

“Glad you were able to join in on the fun?” He winked trying to make light of the situation.

“Is that what you call it?” I made a face at him. “I can’t wait to show you my idea of fun. There is far less killing involved.”

He moved in to hug me when Alistair stomped over. He was clearly angry, his face flushed and his hands balled into fists. “This again! Didn’t you learn your lesson? You know what you have to do, so do it!”

“Are you okay?” I stood pointing to the sling hanging around his neck supporting his right arm.

“Do I look okay? “He yelled at me. “Maybe if you and your boyfriend were at camp with everyone else instead of canoodling on the shore this wouldn’t have happened?”

“Hey!” Aedan rose to stand beside me. “This isn’t her fault.”

“No it’s yours.” He bellowed pointing a finger into his chest.

Oh no.

“If you spent more time looking for a safe site to stay the night instead someplace romantic you wouldn’t have missed the signs indicating this area was already occupied.”

“What?” Aedan and I both exclaimed in unison.

“There was no one here when we got here!” I yelled back stepping into his personal space making him flush even more as his eyes darted down to my chest. “How was he supposed to know someone was here?”

“It’s what we do, Renata. It’s what we’ve been doing since Ostegar. We have been on the run so long its second nature to us or it should be. Not everyone has the luxury of being blissfully ignorant like you.”

“To think I used to like you.” I snorted. “What’s worse I briefly thought you might like me too. I even thought you and I might… Arghh! Never mind! Morrigan may have been right after all. You’re just a moron. You were only nice to me when you thought I was an idiot and needed someone to protect me. Now that you realize I may be able to take care of myself, it bothers you. You can’t be my hero and that’s what pisses you off.”

“Is this what you call taking care of yourself?” He sputtered, gesturing at my lack of clothing.

“Can you honestly look me in the eye and tell me that I didn’t do good out there tonight? Christ, Alistair! I fought in my underwear while you were all nice and protected in three feet of armor!”

“It’s hardly three feet.” He growled at me throwing his hands in the air. “I can’t talk to you like this. Go put some clothes on or something.”

“Why? Am I distracting you?” I stood straight, correcting my posture and pushing my chest out as far as I could. It worked, his eyes fell to my chest again causing his blush to return.

“That’s enough!” Wynne stormed over. “None of this is helping and all our tempers are short right now. Renata, go put on some clothes and boys stop this useless bickering.”

She grabbed me by the shoulder and nudged me toward the fire. “I think I saw your pack over there.”

Grumbling I found my way to the fire and searched for my pack. It was a bit dusty looking but still in one piece. I fumbled with the latch until it opened it and pulled out the first shirt I could find and threw it on. Much better except for the fact that I was so angry I was shaking and had trouble with the buttons.

“Here, Mama Ren.” Kiera stood in front of me even with my waist and realigned some of the buttons. “Let me help you, you missed a few. You will catch your death if you don’t bundle up.”

I couldn’t help it, she looked so stern and sounded so serious it made me laugh. “Yes Mama, Kiera.”

It was getting late but everyone was too worked up to sleep, except Kiera. She was swaying on her feet. So I had her help me rig one of the tents until it able to support itself with room enough for two to go inside and sleep. Sandal and Kiera crawled inside and fell asleep almost right away. Poor kids.

“They must have been so tired to fall asleep so fast.” Leliana smiled as she sat down on the ground beside me. I only nodded and pet Argent who was laying her head on my thigh and looking up at me adoringly.

Everyone else was keeping to themselves. Everyone that is except Alistair and Aedan who seemed to be having quite a heated conversation, a lot of head shaking and hand gesturing while they tried to argue without making a spectacle of themselves. They failed spectacularly.

“I wonder what they are fighting about.” She mused.

“No you don’t.” I shook my head at her. “You know perfectly well why they are fighting.”

“I do. As do you.” She nodded. “They fight about you quite a lot.”

“Wait. What? They fight about me a lot? I can understand now because, you know, Alistair got hurt and everything. But why would else would they fight about me?”

Leliana laughed a sweet tinkling little laugh and smiled at me. “And they say I’m the one who has my head in the clouds.” She snorted shaking her head at me.
“I’m sure you’ll hear all about it later. There is no way Aedan will be able to keep this from you now.”

I glanced over to where they were still fighting or so I thought. Now Alistair was pouting, his bottom lip sticking out while he looked at his feet. Aedan was pissed. I hadn’t seen his cheeks that red in a long time usually it was focused on me. That's Wynne joined them.

What the hell was going on?

“Leliana maybe you better just tell me what’s going on. It’s never fun being the last to know.”

She shook her head. “No. I do not believe it is my place to say.” She placed a hand on my arm and stood up. “But come find me if you need someone to talk to.”

Cryptic or what? I could feel the pain between my eyes increase. God, I needed some mint and a Tylenol and a soda wouldn’t hurt either. I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose between my fingers and rubbed. Now was not the time for a migraine.
Well actually it was never the time for a migraine but now was definitely not the time for a migraine.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and opened my eyes.

“Aedan.” I breathed flashing him my best smile and patting the ground next to me. “Have seat. I need a good snuggle.”

He ran a hand through his hair and crinkled his nose. "No.”

“Okay.” I smiled again ignoring the sick flutter starting in the pit of my stomach. “No snuggling then but have a seat at least.”
He held a gloved hand out to me waiting for me to take it. I didn’t. “That’s okay. I think I’m going to stay right here where it’s nice and comfy.”

“Renata,” He sighed keeping his hand extended. “Let us take a walk.”

“Ah, no. That’s okay.” I panicked and averted my eyes. This was definitely not going to be conversation I wanted to have. “Someone needs to stay here with Kiera.”

He scoffed. “I think she will be alright for five minutes.”

“Five minutes?” I stood up finally looking at him. “Is that all I’m worth?”

“No.” He swallowed reaching for my hand again but I stepped away.

I followed him to a less crowded section of the camp. Although no one was looking at us, I could sense everyone watching. They weren’t as subtle as they thought. I glared at Alistair through my lashes. His shoulders were slumped and he looked away when he realized I was glaring at him. At least he had the decency to look ashamed.

I bumped into Aedan when he stopped, my nose crashing into his back. He gently cradled my face in his hands and in a voice filled with concern asked, “Are you all right?”

“You tell me.” I whispered. “Am I all right?”

He dropped his hands from my face and sighed. “We need to talk.”

I took a deep breath. He promised me he wouldn’t do this. This was how the beginning of the last conversation I had with Brian went and we know how that turned out. “Okay,” I said as sweetly as possible and laced the fingers of my hand through his and cupped his jaw with the other. “What do you want to talk about?”

He looked startled for a minute before taking my hand off his cheek and clutching it in his hand.

“I’m sorry,” He whispered. “I didn’t want it to be like this. I thought I could do this but apparently I’m not supposed to be happy.” He sneered as he said it and my gut clenched. I knew what he was getting at but I played stupid, after all things haven’t always been what they seemed since I’ve been here.

 

“What do you mean?” I asked stepping closer to him but he caught on.
“I think you know what I’m getting at. Don’t make this harder than it is.” He croaked.

How did I get so close to him in such a short time? I mean it feels like I’ve known him for a while with all the junk we have all been through but still why was this hurting so much? I even started out just looking for a distraction from thinking about everything I lost. I knew there was a possibility it wouldn’t work out. So why did it feel like my heart was breaking? I couldn’t just let it go. Whatever we were becoming shouldn’t we give it more time to play out? Fight for it or something?

“What are you talking about, Aedan?” I could feel tears stinging at my eyes and I gripped his hands tighter. I didn’t want to let go.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have started this. It’s all my fault.” He pulled his hands from mine and stepped back.

Oh hell no! “Are you giving me the it’s not you it’s me speech? Because if you are you’ll have to do better than that.” I cried.

He shook his head and took another step back. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Did Alistair and Wynne put you up to this?” I insisted. “Because less than two hours ago we were happy.”

“No!” He snapped at me a little too loudly. “I realize that I need to concentrate on my job and that’s stopping the Blight. Nothing is more important than that. I can’t take any unecassary chances that my keep me from that.” I can’t be with you.”

“You can’t be with me or you can’t be with anyone?”

“Renata, it doesn’t have to be this way. We could still be friends.” He grabbed my hands holding them in his. “Please let this go. I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

It was like everyone's eyes were boring holes into my back. I felt everyone staring at me watching how I would react. I glanced around the camp and saw everyone try to look away. Two guys in less than six months. What the fuck kind loser was I?

“Well you did!” I shouted. “You said you wouldn't play games and now you just want to be friends! I hate you. I hate you!” I pulled away trying to get as far from him as possible. His face paled but he let me go.

“Renata! Stop come back to camp where it’s safe.” He called after me.

“You son of a bitch. Leave me the hell alone.” I headed back toward the lake to think and saw him start to follow me. “Don’t you dare follow me! I can take care of myself. Come here Argent!”

The lake was dark. This time there was no torchlight reflecting off the lake and it was just as gloomy as I felt. Argent bumped her head into my leg and whined.

“Sorry girl. I just need a minute. We can go back then.”

A few minutes later I heard a crunch of foot steps behind me and Argent growled. “I said could take care of myself.”

I whirled around to the direction of the footsteps. I couldn’t make it out clearly but by their shape it was no one from camp. I heard a low laugh. “Finally someone I could pick off.”

“Who are you?” I squeaked.

“You and your friends killed my friends and now I’m gonna return the favor. It’s not like your boyfriend cares about you anymore.”

A chill rose up my spine. “Were you watching us?”

He laughed again and took a step closer. I heard the sound of a sword being drawn from its sheathe. “There’s no one here to help you now. You don’t even have any weapons.”

That’s when Argent took off and flew at his face. She made snarled as she leapt at him and then a high pitched squeal as she landed on the ground at his feet with a thud.

“No!” I screamed as my head exploded in pain and my vision went black then red. “No!”

Chapter Text

Maker, sometimes I could be a right arse.   I don’t know why, I don’t mean to be.   Wynne has her theories but I’m not going to think about those right now.   Nope.  I don’t like to think about it and it always gets me into trouble anyway and I’m not looking for that.  Renata already hates me and I’m hanging by a thread with Aedan so, nope, nuh uh.  Not going to think about that. 

Yes, okay, in the beginning I had my suspicions about her.  She was way too incompetent and uncoordinated to be real and I know I’m not the only one who thought so but she seemed to win everyone else over with her awkward bumbling charms as I continued to fight it.  That one night though, I remember,  I never wished I spoke another language more than when I saw her flash that brilliant smile to the assassin as she delighted in the fact that they spoke the same language.  Antivan of all things!  I bet if I had been raised in the castle I would have been able to speak it too.  Thanks for that, Isolde.  I was even more envious when I heard Aedan and Leliana were able to speak with her too.

It wasn’t so bad when it was just Wynne talking to her and teaching her our language but now it was different. 

 Most of the group thinks me a simple man and I am.  See dark spawn, kill dark spawn, live only for dark spawn and eating cheese but I have feelings too.  Even through the grime and muck of the dungeons I noticed she was special.  Maybe jumping in the lake that first night was just an excuse to be close to her or maybe I really did try to save her from drowning.  Even the stench of the filth emanating from her as she soaked in the lake did not take away from the fact that she was a beautiful disaster.  I tried to look away.

 I always tried to look away.   

I meant it when I tried to dissuade Aedan from getting closer to her.  No good could come of it.  We were tainted.  The possibility that we could infect someone was slim but it was there.  And as the only Fereldan Wardens left in, well… Fereldan , we needed to fully commit to ending the blight.  No distractions.  No relationships, especially ones that could hinder us from ending the blight.  There was no time for personal interactions.  Even if we beat the Arch Demon and that was a big if,  he had nothing to offer her anymore.  He no longer held a title.  We would always be vigilant, she would never be truly safe from harm if she stayed with him, even if the others wardens let them stay together.  She would forever be watching over her shoulder for dark spawn and he could never give her the family she deserved.   

But Aedan started ignoring my advice and they grew closer.    

I didn’t push it because let’s face it if someone were to ever look at me like she had been looking at him, I would probably be doing the same thing. 

But he broke it off.  What was he thinking?  I didn’t think he would even listen to me.  I can't believe he gave up so easily.  Maybe I should have waited to talk with him about it when I wasn’t so angry.  But I never thought he would listen.  No one ever listened to me before. 

When I grabbed his arm and told him to let her go I could tell it took all he had not to punch me.  She needed time alone and I could at least see that she got that.  The look he gave me was pure malice.  The only other time I saw that look, it was directed at Duncan after Elissa’s failed joining.  I thought he was going to kill Duncan then.  But this time I couldn’t comfort him, this time I was the source of his anger. 

And Renata was in shock.  Even from across the fire where Aedan was trying to speak to her privately, I could see first the confusion and then the hurt.  Her endearing little smile faltered before turning upside down.  Her eyes flickered around the camp, probably looking to see if anyone noticed their conversation.  I know, I’m a right arse.   

Everyone stopped talking as their voices got louder.  It was almost as if they were afraid to interrupt.  I almost thought he was going to give in and beg her to forgive him.  Then she yelled that she hated him and stormed off and all I could do was watch helplessly as my best friend’s heart shattered. 

Andraste’s flaming sword.  What did I do now?  

I wanted to wait a few minutes for Aedan to get himself together before I went over there to check on him.  Well actually I was afraid to go over there, afraid he might turn that berserker rage on me, and pummel me to death with the end of his giant sword.  

Zevran emerged from the darkness behind me and whispered in my ear.  “Come with me, Warden there is someone else out there somewhere and I need your help to flush him out.” 

“Yikes!”  I jumped as he placed a hand on my arm.  “You gotta stop sneaking up on people.  Well at least your friends, anyway.” 

“Shhh!  I do not want to make a big deal of this.  Let us go.  No one else need to know about this.”  He headed back into the darkness. 

“Wait are you serious?  Another one?”  I asked a little louder than I meant before whispering.  “Another what?”  

“Another bandit.”  He scoffed.  “Did Renata not tell you I went to check and see if there were others?” 

I glanced over at the fire and then at her tent.  Shit!!    Being ever perceptive, he followed my gaze around the camp.  “Where is she?” 

I shook my head and closed my eyes with a big sigh.  “She took a walk.  She’s a little upset and needed to clear her head.”  

“What?  How could you let her do that?” He exclaimed looking over to Aedan.  “How could he let her do that?” 

“You know what, it doesn’t matter.  We need to find her so let us go find her.  Aedan!”  I jogged over to him with Zev at my side.  I paused.  The look he gave me could have burned the bark off the trees but I ignored it. 

“What?”  He growled crossing his arms over his chest. 

Suddenly Drake jumped up from his position at the fire and bolted from the camp. 

A shrill high pitched squeal pierced the air followed by an anguished cry of no.  The screaming that followed cause goose bumps on my arms and neck.  Aedan’s gaze locked with mine as he mouthed Renata’s name. 

Everyone snapped to attention and Sten ran over to us his sword in hand. 

“Zev says there is one more out there skulking around and it looks like Renata may have found him.”  I said. 

Aedan’s face paled. “Leliana, Levi stay here and keep an eye on Kiera and the camp with Bodahn.  Come on lets go.”  

Another blood curdling scream was the only incentive we needed and we made a run for the lake.  Wynne lit the way with some kind of glowy lighty spell so we wouldn’t trip over each other and would be able to see what we were running head first into but nothing prepared us for what we saw. 

Drake was crouching next to the motionless form of Argent nuzzling and whimpering in her ear. 

But the sight that stopped us dead in our tracks was that of Renata sitting on the chest of the remaining bandit wrestling with a man twice her size.  Her movements were furious and savage striking blows to his face and neck.  With every punch she landed an angry sob was forced from her throat.  The ferocity of her attack made us freeze until Aedan finally snapped out of it.  I made no move forward afraid that any movement would distract her and be her undoing. 

“Bella, no!”  Zevran croaked from beside me.  Aedan took a tentative step forward but Sten gripped him on the shoulder effectively stopping his advance. 

“It is her time, Kadan.” 

Soon the man ceased his struggle and his arms fell limply to his side.  “Please,” he coughed.  A dark liquid spurting from his mouth at his plea. 

We watched in horror as she reached under her tunic and pulled out a dagger that had been strapped to her leg.  When did she get one of those?  I really needed to pay more attention to what’s going on in camp.  She raised her arm over her head and the sound that she made put goose bumps on my goose bumps as repeatedly stabbed at the lifeless man’s neck. 

“Maker.”  Wynne breathed as she cast another light spell.  Drake's whine, again, brought us of our stupor. 

“Wynne, see to Argent.”  I said gently nudging her toward the lifeless animal. 

“Renata.”  Aedan called taking a step toward her and lowering his sword.  She didn’t acknowledge him but continued her assault on the bandit.  Her ragged breathing was the only clue that she was tiring. 

“Renata!”  He called again more sharply. 

That got her attention and she froze resting her hands on the mutilated man’s chest.  She turned her head and looked up turning her gaze seemingly in our direction.  I couldn’t tell if she saw us or was still in a frenzy of blood lust.  She took at deep shakey breath and climbed off the body brandishing her dagger.  Aedan stumbled backward. 

“Renata, it’s me, Aedan.”  He implored.  She frowned and growled at him but didn’t take another step  .Her chest was heaving as she gulped deep breaths and her hands began to shake. 

The light began to fade and with Wynne seeing to the dogs, Morrigan cast the light spell.  “Be wary, look at her eyes.”  She warned.  “It is not us that she sees.” 

Morrigan’s light was different, brighter and with the extra illumination the depth of Renata’s fall was evident.  Her tangled and unbound hair fell in her face accentuating features contorted in rage and despair.  Her hands and arms were covered in blood and it dripped from her hair in her face.  She made no move to wipe it away and only stared in our direction every muscle of her body tense and on high alert.  Her unfocused eyes were swollen and rimmed with tears and indicated no recognition of us or her surroundings.  She was a sad and deadly vision. 

When the side if her mouth quirked up to lopsided grin, I knew. 

This was not Renata. 

“Abomination!”  I warned raising my sword sliding over to Aedan. 

“What? No!”  Aedan yelled placing his hand over mine. 

“Look at her Aedan.  I’m sorry.  This is not her.”  I shook my head. 

Aedan’s face fell as he looked from her to me and he removed his hand but lowered his sword.  “Renata.”  He begged inching a step forward.

It was minuscule but I saw it.  With all my void taken training as a Templar, I alone saw it, the sneer that flashed briefly over her features as she jerked forward.  I raised my sword but it was knocked out of my hand as Zevran placed himself between her and us. 

“You will not.”  He hissed before calling over his shoulder.  “Renata, lower the weapon.” 

She stumbled forward again and screamed, “This is your fault, Warden!”  She tossed the dagger between her hands and taunted us with a come at me gesture. 

“Renata.” Zevran barked before turning around to face her.  “You must stand down.  You are scaring us, Mi Carina.” 

Her eyes flickered to him and for an instant seemed to focus before she shook it off and glared at Aedan again dropping the dagger.  “You taught me to fight without a weapon or have you forgotten.” 

She surprised us by lunging forward but was magically rooted to the ground by Morrigan.  “I can not hold her long and keep the light.  Whatever you are going to do you must hurry.” 

Renata screamed in such frustration an actual blood vessel popped in her eye.  Maker she was scary.  She palmed her face and squeezed the bridge of her nose groaning in agony. 

“Renata.”  Aedan called again. She dropped her hand from her face and whipped her head at him and broke through the rooting spell.  Aedan was inches from her grasp when she collapsed to the ground in a heap.    All three of us dropped to the ground next to her as we heard a smug voice from behind us.  “She is fine for now, no thanks to the three of you.  I simply put her to sleep.”

Chapter Text

I woke up with a gasp.  What the fuck?  I could see my breath as I exhaled but couldn’t feel the cold or the air filling my lungs.  I rubbed my eyes with my hand to clear away the sleep that crusted my eyes closed and saw that I was lying on a thick bedroll covered to my waist in blankets.  It seemed like I was inside one of our tents but I didn’t think any of our tents survived the attack.  Weren't they destroyed in the attack?  I moved my hand from my eyes to clutch my head in my hands only to realize that my headache was gone.  Nothing at all.  I sat up.  Not even the normal hang over type headache I usually got after a migraine, the kind that feels like my brain is banging around in my head at the slightest movement.  The pain had been so awful, I thought my head was going to explode.  

There was no one in the tent with me and I couldn’t hear anyone moving outside so pulled back the blankets to get dressed only to find myself in my jeans and the embroidered tunic from Bodahn’s stores I had been eyeing.  It was too much money so I didn’t get it.  Did someone buy it for me?     

Was it Aedan?  Ass.  As if buying me something would make things better between us.  If he did buy it, I’m giving it back.  I don’t need anything of his.  

Where was Kiera?  I didn’t hear her giggles or childlike voice.  I’m surprised she's not snuggling next to me or sitting in the tent watching over me.  For someone so young she is quite nurturing and being with her makes me feel better.  It’s exhausting, mind you, as she is so young, but somehow I feel better around her.  

Why was it so quiet?  I poked my head outside the flap to find that we must have picked up and moved the camp while I was sleeping.  Instead of the clearing we seemed to have settled in a misty meadow of some sort.  At least I think it’s a meadow.  It’s indistinct like it’s not really there but it is there because I could see it.  But when I reached out to touch it seemed to dissolve until I pulled my hand back and it assembled itself again. 

Weird… 

It was quiet out here too, too quiet if you ask me.  Where was everyone?  I didn’t see anyone sitting around tending the fire.  Wait.  There wasn’t even a fire.  I turned around to look at my tent and it disappeared.  My tent was gone and there were no marks on the ground like it was never there at all.  

A green haze began to form at the edges of my never really existed camp.  Fingers of fog swirled nearby as if testing out the air looking for something.  What could fog be looking for? 

I stood there and only stared at it.  Why wasn’t I freaking out more?  

I turned around in a circle looking for someone or something that could give me a clue to what was going on when one of the fingers grazed my cheek then pulled back suddenly.  Could fog get scared? 

I did start to get uneasy when the fingers started to form a hand.  Not a solid hand but a steamy, foggy, cloudy kind of shape.  It wasn’t corporeal or even fully shaped but there was no mistaking it was a hand.  Then another hand formed and something vaguely resembling a body but it stopped at that, no legs or feet or head.  

I felt the arms embrace me and I wasn’t afraid.  A wave of calmness washed over me almost immediately and then it suddenly pulled back and hovered out of my reach.

 

What are you? 

 

It spoke which was confusing because if it didn’t have a head, it surely didn’t have a mouth so how was it talking?

 

What are you?  It asked me again. 

 

“I…  I’m Renata.”  I stuttered.

 

You are not the one.  It was reliable and steadfast.  Loyal,  like me.  What are you?  Who are you to inspire such spirit?

 

“I am not sure what you mean.  I’m a girl.  What are you?”  The fog flickered and backed further away.  “Wait don’t go!  Don’t go.  Where am I?”

 

You are here.  How curious that you do not know. 

 

It floated in front of me for a moment and then drifted toward two figures at the edge of the horizon.  I could hardly make them out.  But was one a… dog? 

Oh my God!  Argent!  

The memory of her lying on the ground at that monster’s feet flooded back to me causing me to feel faint.  Argent! 

She was… 

It was too horrible to consider.  My baby.  My best friend.  My family.  She was all of that to me and more.  She was my protector and my world and now she was… 

I grew shaky until I heard her bark.  A playful happy sound not at all like the sound she made when she was killed.   

I had to see her.  I had to see for myself.  So I sprinted as fast as I could only to find myself suddenly on my knees next to her, nose to nose.  She made another jubilant sound bringing tears to my eyes as she knocked me on my back.  I didn’t care.  I was happily hugging and kissing her as she stood on my chest licking at my tears.  

“Argent!”  I exclaimed breathlessly.  She got off my chest giving me a chance to sit up and dropped a ball in my lap.  “Where did you get a ball, sweetie?” 

“From me.”  I looked up into what I thought was the face of a man with bright smiling eyes but the edges were indistinct and at the same time more solid than the confusing misty hand.  “I always wanted to pet her for myself.  I thought her fur would be prickly because it’s so short but it is surprisingly soft.” 

He tossed the ball for her to fetch it, laughing as she ran through the mist after it.  He held out a calloused hand to help me up.  

“Who are you?”  I asked, hesitantly allowing him to pull me off the ground.  “Where are you from?  You sound French or something?”  

“Are you all right?”  He asked deflecting my question.  “You just went through a terrible ordeal.  Although you were not physically hurt, it will not feel that way when you wake.” 

“So I’m asleep?” I furrowed my brows looking around.  “Is this the fade?” 

“Not quite.”  He laughed again flashing a less than perfect but friendly smile at me.  Odd, because his form is so out of focus, it’s almost like I can feel it more than see it.  

“What kind of answer is that?  Where are we?”  I placed my hands on my hips demanding an answer.  

“Always needing an answer even when sometimes there is none.  Not everything has an explanation, sometimes things just are.”  He chided me. 

“Do I know you?”  I narrowed my eyes at him, hands still on my hips.  He seemed oddly familiar.    

He shook his head then shrugged.  “Conceivably.  You may call me Bogart if it makes you feel better.” 

“Bogart?”  Who the hell is Bogart?  And a French Bogart at that.  “What the hell is going on?” 

“I’m here to help you.  I will always be here to help you just as I have always been.”  He says soothingly.   All of this is creepy or should feel creepy but I just don’t feel that way.  I feel calm and happy. 

“Can I stay here, Bogart?”  I ask suddenly feeling very lethargic so I sit down just as Argent bounds back and drops the ball in my lap.  She whined and sat down next to me so I scratched her behind the ears.  Bogart is right, she is so soft.  

 He nodded.  “For now, if you must, but you have a job to do.” 

I grunted in disbelief.  “Argent would miss me.” 

“It is coming.”  He announced.  

I looked up at him.  Is he floating?  “What is coming?” 

 

I am.

 

“You!”  I look up to see the cloudy hand thingy suddenly floating, hovering, wafting next to Argent.  “What are you doing here?”

 

I am curious.  You are not the one but, this one is reliable and steadfast.  Loyal, like me. 

 

“Do you mean Argent?”  I jumped up to my feet and turn to Bogart.  “Does it mean Argent?” 

He simply smiled.  “You have a choice to make.”

 

You are needed elsewhere but remain here.  To what end?  What is your purpose here?

 

“Why do I need a purpose?”  I gestured at Bogart.  “He just got finished telling me not everything has an explanation, sometimes things just are.” 

He smiled.  “You use my words against me.  Clever.”

 

You do not belong here.  You are needed elsewhere.  You must return.

 

I put a protective hand on Argent’s head.  “I’m not going anywhere without her.” 

“Interesting.”  Bogart smiled.  “You argue with it and expect it to listen.  You know the beast was mortally wounded.  She hangs on by a thread though she does not want to leave you either.” 

“All the more reason to stay.”  I practically shouted at the two of them.  I felt tears pricking at my eyes and my throat thickened. 

 

You have another purpose yet you remain here with this one?  Curious indeed.  Maybe you are like me as well. 

 

“Like you?”  I shouted again.  “How am I like you?  How are the three of us alike at all?”

 

Devoted, unwavering, steadfast and true.  Soul mates until the end.  You know each other’s needs, protect each other.  Loyal.  That is what we are.

 

“Wait.”  I gasp.  “Are you saying that you are the spirit of Loyalty?” 

“Again, I say you are clever.”  Bogart responded. 

 

You have a purpose but it is not here.  I am willing to help you with that purpose but Bogart is correct.  You are destined for other things. With us to help, you can achieve what you were meant to do but you have choice to make.

 

“A choice?”  I look at the three of them, Argent, Bogart and the wispy floating hand thing- Loyalty.  “You know why I’m here?  What my destiny is?  Tell me.   Tell me, what am I supposed to do?  Where am I supposed to go?”

 

Your destination was never in question, my dear.  It is your path that is unclear. 

 

An invisible hand ran its fingers across my forehead and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear.  Why could I feel that?

 

“What kind of answer is that?”  I beg.  “Tell me what I’m supposed to do.”

 

If you wish for our help now is the time to make the choice.  Do you accept what we have to offer and continue your journey or do you stay here where you do not belong?

 

Memories flash through my mind, fighting with Aedan and running away to the lake, the vision of a bandit impaling Argent with his sword.  Another image, this time, of Bogart fighting for his life against legion of non descript, never ending enemies.  

At least I think it’s Bogart, it feels like Bogart.  

Finally, an image of me in a rage killing a man for killing my dog.  Oh my God.  What have I done?

 

It is done.  There is no use sulking over your actions now.  You can only change what is to come until you can not.    What is your choice?

 

“I don’t understand!” I stomp my foot.  

“You may never understand but it does not mean you shouldn’t have faith.”  Bogart says gently.  Still it was like a slap in the face.  Were they saying I didn’t have faith?  Of course, I have faith. I always have faith.  Having faith doesn’t mean you can’t have questions, it only mean that sometimes… sometime there are no answers…  

There it was, another slap in the face.  I guess that was a figurative slap in the face, though.  I took a deep breath and still found it odd that I could see my breath but not feel it. 

I reached out to scratch Argent’s head and it looked like she smiled at me, like she knew. 

“Alright,”  I said standing tall facing Bogart and Loyalty.  “I made my choice.  I accept your help.” 

 

I woke up with a gasp.  I could see my breath as I exhaled and feel the air filling my lungs.  I rubbed my eyes with my hand to clear away the sleep that crusted my eyes closed and saw that I was lying on a thick bedroll covered to my chest in blankets.  What the fuck?  I moved my hand from my eyes to clutch my head in my hands.  My fucking head hurt!  The light was bothering my eyes and I noticed I was laying outside next to the wagon. 

I heard the murmur of voices nearby as Morrigan gasped.  “I don’t believe it.  How is it possible?  You saved the beast.” 

“It wasn’t me.”  I heard Wynne whisper in wonder.  

I sat up and looked over to the voices.  Everyone was huddled over the still form of my silver savior.  “Argent?”  I called. 

Everyone’s heads swiveled to look at me so fast I thought they would fall off.  Aedan jumped up and sprinted to me but I raised my hand to stop him.  “Stay away from me.”  I growled.  I was still mad at him and didn’t need any of his crap right now.  

Argent got up, shaky at first, as if getting used to her legs for a moment and then ran past Aedan to jump in my lap and slobber all over my cheek.  I kissed her head and nuzzled my nose in her ear.  “I couldn’t leave without you.  I’m glad you’re here.” 

Her stubby tail and hindquarters wiggled in delight as she danced around tangling herself in my bedroll. 

“Well what do we have here?”  Wynne asked sliding to the ground next to me with sly smile.  “Or should I say, who do we have here?” 

“Hello there, Faith.”  I smiled into her brilliant blue eyes.    “Meet Loyalty.”

Chapter Text

Clearing the keep took more than half the day. Bodahn and I along with Kiera and Sandal were explicitly told to wait out of sight about a mile away in case there was any trouble. They took extra precautions based on the little information I remembered from the expansion. I confirmed skeletons, demons and the fact that information on Sophia and the Grey Wardens could be found inside. That was all I really remembered about the Peak. That and the fact that I finally had storage space for things I wanted to keep and that Levi’s blacksmith brother was able to make an awesome weapon for me out of Clark Kent’s meteorite. I didn’t tell them that though, it was too weird.

To pass the time we decided to try and make a nice dinner for them that didn’t include dried salted rations. To do that we need to find fresh meat. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue. The place was crawling with nugs. Not my favorite thing to eat, mind you. They didn’t taste like chicken or anything but it was better than hard tack or jerky or whatever else we had in our stores that was supposed to pass for meat. My only problem was catching and cleaning them. I felt so guilty that Bodahn made me a deal. He would catch them and clean them if I would cook them. Great deal, I thought, until I remembered that everyone was always such a jerk to the cook and whined about the food.

Catching and cleaning or cooking?

Okay. Whatever. I’d still rather do the cooking. I sent Argent with Kiera to look for any edible plants in the immediate area as she seemed to know which ones probably wouldn’t kill us and which ones were best left alone. I wasn’t disappointed when she returned with a pile of late onions and a few carrots and berries. There was also some other kind of plant but it didn’t look familiar to me but Bodahn verified it as edible and we were all set.

As dusk started to fall we became nervous and by the time the food was finished cooking we were down right frantic. That’s when Argent started to growl at the trail to Soldier’s Peak and we saw Aedan coming around the bend with Leliana.
As much as I was still angry and hurt by Aedan at that moment, I felt a wave of relief seeing they were safe. We ran to greet them and Kiera jumped into Aedan’s arms wiggling with excitement . Leliana laughed as I gave her my biggest bear hug.

“I’m glad you guys are alright. Is everyone else okay?” I asked with my face buried in her neck.

“Very much. We have so much to speak with you about but let us continue this discussion at the keep. It is glorious and we can all sleep tonight indoors, no less!” She squealed.

I peeked a look at Aedan to see him looking intently at the ground shoving dirt around with his boot. “I’m glad you’re alright. “ I sighed.

His eyes flitted to mine for a moment and he flushed before inhaling deeply and looking at the wagon. “What do I smell?”
“Come on,” I giggled taking Leliana’s hand. “We made everyone dinner.”

 

“This has no flavor.” Morrigan grimmaced.

“At least it doesn’t taste bad then.” I replied lowering my head in defeat.

“This is under cooked.” Alistair whined poking at the meat.

“It’s called medium rare.” I answered with a sigh.

“What is this supposed to be?” Sten asked sniffing his share.

“All right, all right. I get it. It’s not very good but given what I had to work with I think I did pretty good. I mean, I’m no Iron Chef but it looks like all of you are eating it.”

“That’s because your assassin said he’s slit our throats if we did not.” Wynne replied easing her spoon in her bowl and letting the contents drop back in with a splat.

“He didn’t say we couldn’t complain, though.” Leliana chuckled. “So I guess we are good with that.”

My head snapped up from my plate to look at Wynne who tilted her head at Zevran. He smirked and shrugged when I looked over as he made a show of licking clean his fork.

I couldn’t tell if he was trying to be lewd or simply eating his meal but whatever, Zevran is Zevran so I smiled and nodded my thanks.

The keep wasn’t too bad, a little bit in disrepair but that’s was to be expected when nobody lived there for so long. Everyone was exhausted from their day of fighting and just wanted to get some rest so we unpacked our bedrolls and settled in for the night. I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait for daylight so that I could explore Soldier’s Peak. The hearth had been inspected and found to be sound so they barred the doors of the foyer for the night and lit a fire. Then everyone huddled together and relaxed on their blankets. They rehashed the highlights of their day for Bodahn and I. We learned that, unfortunately, even though Sophia did have noble reasons for rising up against her king that she did commit treason and in the eyes of the world would always be considered the villain. Poor Levi, all that hope that he could clear her name, dashed. The real surprise came when they confirmed the existence of the blood mage Avernus still living in the tower since Dryden took the keep in the Storm age.

“Why is he up there all by himself? Why didn’t he come down and join you guys?” I asked.

My question sparked a lot of comments. The best one coming from Leliana when she accused him of going against the word of the Maker.

“He must be lonely. Don’t you think? All that time up there alone. And it was a long time right?” I heard some murmuring while others nodded their head. “Someone should check on him. Take him some food, maybe.”

Aedan surprised me by answering me directly. “He’s been alone this long, one more day won’t hurt him. I’ll send someone in the morning.”

I was too tired and a bit creeped out that such an old man was still alive. I didn’t want to be the one to do it so I nodded and left it alone.

But sleep didn’t come for me. I guess I had too much on my mind. After Argent’s near loss I realized that there was no way I could keep travelling with the group even if I wanted to. Everything was dangerous and scary and now. I had a child to watch out for. I needed to think of someone other than myself. I needed to do what was best for Kiera even if I had hoped to somehow find a way to tag along with the group. It just wasn’t feasible. Still I attempted to sleep in spite of the thoughts running through my head. I twisted and turned. Kiera was sandwiched between Argent and I, but I couldn’t get comfortable. I was over heated from the fire and visions of French men and demons and dragons kept preventing me from getting any rest. As quietly as I could I got up to move farther from the hearth so that my restlessness would not bother Kiera. Argent’s ears pricked up at my movement and I paused but her eyes stayed closed so I moved a little farther away and sat on a crate near the door. I was drawing little designs in the dust when I heard a noise.

“Are you having a hard time sleeping too?” Levi asked emerging from a shadow causing me to jump.

“Oh, Levi, you startled me.” I whispered so I would wake anyone up. “I am. What’s keeping you up at this hour?”

“Sophia.” He stated hanging his head. “Did you know about her? Did you know what she did?”

I didn’t answer immediately. “I don’t know what you mean.” I lied unable to look him in the eye.

“You really need to be honest with us about what may be going on.” He chided.

“I didn’t want to upset you if it wasn’t what happened. If I had told you that the place was not only filled with skeletons and demons but that the wardens fucked up or that a demon was wearing your Nanna Sophia’s suit, what would you have done differently? I could have been wrong. Why put you through that disappointment if I don’t have to?”

“So you did know!” He hissed at me shaking his head. “I thought we were friends.”

“I thought so too.” I managed to choke as he moved back into the shadows. “Please don’t be angry at me.”

The last I heard from him was a grunt before he was completely hidden in the gloom.

It took everything I had not to cry at my growing frustration. It seemed I couldn’t do anything right. Nothing was working out and I probably just lost a friend. All I could do was wait and pray that he would either forgive me or get over it so I slipped back in my spot next to Kiera and fell into a fitful sleep filled with dark dreams.

I woke up to find Kiera crouching over me with a mug of something warm to drink and a smile. “Mornin’ Mama Ren. You slept really late. I thought you weren’t going to wake up.” My eyes flickered to the hearth where the fire had gone out. I ran my hand over the bedroll and found Kiera and Argent’s spot on the bedroll was empty and cold and I could see my breath. Everyone else looked as though they had been awake for hours.

How could everyone look so presentable in the morning while I felt like a complete schlep? I took the mug from Kiera and with my free hand I blew into it and sniffed my breath. Eww. Okay, so I wouldn’t get up close and personal with anyone until I brushed my teeth. “If the fire is out how is this so hot?” I asked stumbling to my feet and wiping the sleep from my eyes.

“Magic, my dear.” I heard Wynne call from behind me. I turned around taking a sip of the hot tasteless liquid and saw her picking through a crate. The magic drink had begun to work and I started to feel warmer.

What are you guys doing?” I blinked in surprise.

“Scavenging!” Kiera yelled with a laugh and skipped over to Wynne to start rummaging through a crate of her own. “Come help me.”

“Thanks,” I nodded at Wynne and raised my mug. “It’s helping already.” She merely smiled then returned her concentration on her crate. I grabbed my comb, my scrunchi, a clean pair of underwear and a cloth and headed over to Leliana to ask where I could clean up but I got waylaid by Levi. “Kiera, can you give me and Mama Rena a moment? I would like to speak with her about something.”

“Okey dokey,” She sang not even looking up from whatever fascinating things had caught her attention in the crate.

“I thought this could be a peace offering. You know for being such a nug head.” He smiled shyly offering me a stale biscuit and pointed to a corner of the room away from everyone else. “Come with me, please.” Hesitant as I was, I followed him across the room to another stack of crates and barrels and we both pulled one up to make a seat. I was glad he sought me out. I wanted to talk to him and clear things up after last night but all I could do was hope it didn’t take too long because I desperately wanted to complete my bathroom routine.

“Are you okay?” He asked as I practically danced around him. “You’re more restless than usual.”

I gave him a wry smile. “While I really want to have this conversation, Levi, right now I just can’t. I really need to … I mean I have too… Ah hell. Where’s the bathroom?”

His eyes widened. “The bathroom?”

“Yes, the bathroom. I need to. You know. I have to…. Ugh. I have to take a piss, Levi. I need to pee. Void. Empty my bladder. Urinate. Levi I have to go. Now!” I huffed placing my hand over my crotch.

“What your’ looking for is the chamber pot.” I scrunched up my face at the mental image. “We don’t have one. We have been going outside. I’ll take you. It still may not be safe out there alone.”

Take me? Man I missed privacy and indoor plumbing. And did I say privacy? Nothing like doing your business outside behind someone’s back. There wasn’t even any bushes to hide behind.

I was the only one that seemed to have an issue with it and if Levi had any hang ups escorting me to do my business, he thankfully kept them to himself, aside from pointing out the Pixie Bane. Yeah, yeah. I’m never going to live that down and I ‘m sure the whole world has heard about it by now.

Basically Levi wanted to tell me his plans for the keep. He already sent pigeons to his brother, Mikheal and the rest of his family informing them of Soldier’s Peak. His plan was basically the same as the game; clean and repair the keep and settle there as merchants with the Wardens’ blessings. What I didn’t expect was for him to ask me to stay with him. I was at a loss for words it was such a surprise. ( I know , right. Me at a loss or words.) But it certainly would solve a lot of problems , one of them being Aedan. The second one being a safe place for Kiera and I to stay throughout the blight. It was a perfect solution. I just didn’t know if I was ready to leave my friends and don’t get me started on the fact that I hadn’t even met Oghren or Shale yet. I even thought that Morrigan and I were starting to develop some version of friendship. And Alistair? Alistair was still a twit but a cute twit and despite our issues I admit l still had a crush on him.

Be still my beating heart.

And what about Zevran?

At least Aedan and I wouldn’t have to deal with each other every day. It must be hard on him being in such close proximity to someone he dumped. That was sarcasm, in case you missed it.

I told Levi I needed to think on it when in reality the choice seemed clear. Traveling with the Wardens was not right for me, on so many levels. Now I just had to tell them.

Chapter Text

The sound of my bare feet splashing in a puddle as I ran through an alley in the middle of the night  brought me to my senses.   What the hell?  Where were my shoes?   Not just that,  I realized, where were my clothes?  I wrapped my arms around myself shivering as I noticed I was only wearing my underwear.  The good stuff mind you but it was still underwear.
 
I had this kind of dream before.  Well maybe not exactly this dream, but similar ones.  Let me tell you, I would much rather be in a room full of people in my underwear then running around downtown in boy shorts and a snap front push up  bra.  At least it was a pretty purple one. 
 
Surprise, surprise.  Something was definitely not right. 
 
An odd sound like a roar followed by hollering drew my attention to the end of the alley where strange shadows played against a red brick wall.  A very shiny blood red brick wall. 
 
My head began to feel woozy like I drank a little too much of that hard lemonade or iced tea and I couldn’t shake it off.  I didn’t remember the party but I had to be drunk because why else would I stupidly find myself wandering town in my underwear toward something so creepy?  Oh, the hangover was going to be a doozy for sure. 
 
I couldn’t stop myself as I slowly poked my head around the corner of the wall to see what was going on. 
 
Nothing.
 
Really?  Nothing.
 
I stepped away from the relative safety of the creepy dark alley into a …  courtyard.
 
A courtyard? 
 
Yeah,  a courtyard made of cobblestones in front of a giant bad ass looking castle with spikes covered in a shiny black substance that stuck to my hand when I touched them.  I tried to shake it off my hand.  Why would I touch one of the spikes? 
 
I spun around to look behind me and felt my feet stick to the ground.  The sticky black stuff was all over the street and now my feet were coated in it and I couldn’t keep my balance.  Stifling a retch I wondered, where were my shoes again?
 
A loud indistinct sound from above me caused me to look up.  An explosion on the roof of the castle followed by screams startled me  causing me to slip and I lost my balance landing on my ass.  I tried to get up but kept slipping on all the goop, clawing and scratching until finally I had to get on my hands and knees and braced myself in order to stand up again.  My hands felt a little sore and scratched up and when I looked at them closer the gore was no longer black but red.  A color so dark it had looked black and it was dripping down my hands.  Blood.
 
I almost slipped again it startled me so badly.  I took a closer look at the spikes and saw they weren’t spikes at all but bones.  Bones of all lengths and sizes.  They looked like arm bones or leg bones or…   queasiness overtook me and I retched. 
 
What was this place? 
 
A loud roar from overhead made me look up again and I saw a inky shadow flapping against the night sky.  What was up there and why did I find myself suddenly running up the castle steps through streams of endless blood trying to get to it?
 
When I entered the castle there were no bodies, only blood and occasional bones and lots and lots of ash. 
 
Were these the bodily remains of people?
 
I shivered again.  Where was I?  
 
A raging headache started behind my left eye and when I pressed my hand against it in hopes that it would lessen the pain I felt metal.  I reached up with both hands to feel what was on my head and saw gauntlets from a set like Alistair’s on my arms. 
 
Huh?
 
I looked down to see that my feet were no longer bare  and I was wearing heavy metal boots.  I wearing armor now?  I didn’t feel any different and I didn’t remember changing but I was covered from head to toe in a heavy Warden plate mail like Alistair’s.  This dream, man,  I had to have gotten high somehow.  There was no way I would be able to walk around in something like that.
 
A screech and another scream from above shook the entire castle.  Whatever it was had to be big.  I mean really, really big. 
 
I ran. 
 
Not away from the sound but toward it as fast as I could.  I couldn’t stop myself.  I felt as though I wasn’t in control of my body and was both watching and living everything I was doing.  I sped up a set of stairs at the end of what felt like a continuous hallway.  Another scream pierced the air as I shouldered my way through an immense wooden door. 
 
It was bright there.  No longer was the sky a dark void and  I was nearly blinded by the whiteness of it.  As my eyes adjusted, off in the horizon I could barely make out movement and ran to it with my sword drawn.  I almost chuckled to myself as I appreciated the sword’s craftsmanship until I laughed outright at how familiar it felt in my large callused manly looking hands.  This dream was getting weirder by the minute.  My hands were not that big and they definitely didn’t have callouses except for on my ring finger from where my pen and pencil rested from all my years of writing.  I certainly never used a sword before.  I felt like I was running forever but it took no time at all to reach the commotion.  Then I stopped short. 
 
Grey wardens, at least four, of them fighting the dragon from my dreams, three warriors and a mage. 
 
It turned its large scaly head in my direction only briefly and made a sound like a laugh until its attention was diverted from me as one of the wardens struck it in the shoulder with great sword. 
 
One them yelled in my direction as he fought to catch his breath.  “We thought you would never arrive.  Hurry we need your help.” 
 
I looked over my shoulder but didn’t see anyone.  “Who me?”  I asked.  Surely he meant someone else. 
 
Another warden glared at me through his helmet.  Well maybe he didn’t but it sure felt that way.  “The time for jokes is over. We need you.   You must strike now.   It’s weakened and cannot last much longer.  Our combined strength can overpower the demon and distract it while you take the final blow.”
 
Instinctively I joined formation with the warriors, my slashes and parries complementing theirs as if I had been training and fighting alongside them for years.  The mage seemed powerful and not only covered us with barriers but was able to place a few destructive shots of his own.  His magic was different though, more colorful.  An element of being in my dream maybe?  How did I not see how beautiful magic could be?  All his spells glowed with what looked like a white hot center and  radiated outward from a pale yellow gradually turning bright yellow then orange than scarlet red.  Amazing!     
 
I knew you would return.  A voice inside my heath hissed.   You were made for this.  I am the sole reason you exist and I waited for you.  You thought you could hide from me.  The dragon growled and laughed baring its sharp yellowed teeth at me as it did.  It’s tail flicked out to the side knocking down the mage so hard and fast he was unable to move out of the in time.  He stayed down and didn’t get back up.   Poor soul.
 
“Make your move!   Do it now!” Another one shouted.  “Now!”
 
The dragon hissed, steaming saliva spewing from its mouth and opening it so wide that I could see far down into its throat.  Not that I wanted a closer look but it looked like it was not empty.  It snapped up two of the wardens, rose on its hind legs and spread its wings.  With a belch it spat fire from its mouth and regurgitated their remains to the ground.   It winked in my direction and began flapping it large leathery wings. 
 
Like chicken.
 
Did that thing really just joke and wink at me? 
 
Now is not our time but it will come soon enough. 
 
I ran over to check the slimy blackened bodies to see if they were alive, praying they weren’t.  “ Take your shot.  Do it now before it’s out of range.”  An oddly familiar voice screamed at me.
 
“I can’t!”  I objected.  “It’s too far.” 
 
“You can do it.   You must!”  It urged.
 
I whipped off my helmet to get a clearer view before it flew away.  I saw a staff materialize out of thin air and grabbed it.  I automatically aimed at the wings of the dragon and ice discharged from the tip coating its tip and burning my hands.    I dropped it on the ground and it shattered into a million tiny useless shards. 
 
I felt a presence behind me glanced to see the Mage panting and trying to steadying himself at my side.  “If you can’t use a staff, then throw your sword.” 
 
“I can barely lift it.”  I complained as I attempted to raise it over my head using both arms.   They felt like lead.  Why couldn’t I raise the stupid sword anymore?
 
“You have the strength inside you.  Let me show you.”  He reached out and touched my shoulder and a sudden burst of pain wracked my brain momentarily blinding me and I fell to the ground.  It was nauseating, stabbing at my head like an ice pick piercing into my very brain.      
 
I groaned and tried to regain my footing, grasping at the sword, fighting with all my might to hurry before the dragon got far away. 
 
“Renata,”  He said as he removed his helmet revealing a deep gash on his skull and blood dripping down his face then seemed to flicker out of my sight.  “You can do this.   You must because I can do it no longer.” 
 
My vision started to clear when he flickered but the pain remained.  My migraine even seemed to invade my dreams now.  Was nowhere sacred? 
 
Ughh!
 
His large calloused hand reached out to pull me up and I found myself staring into the face of the man I met with Loyalty during my near death experience.   Bogart, was it?  But he was not the relaxed smiling man I encountered there.  Now he was dirty and haggard and dressed head to toe in well-worn Grey Warden armor.  This was the fallen mage.  There was no smile in his eyes this time, the only expression was a somber one laced with fatigue.  He flickered again, a wry smile lifting one side of his mouth, then disappeared completely.   
 
“What the…?”  I gasped. 
 
“Renata!” Another voice called.
 
“What’s with this f’ed up dream?”  I shouted..
 
“Renata!  Come on.”  I trembled or was I being shaken awake and pulled from my dream?  Please let someone be waking me up from this crazy ass dream, I thought.
 
“I’ll be here if you need me.”  I heard Bogart whisper on the air. 
 
I was jolted awake by Leliana who was kneeling over me, lines wrinkling her pretty little forehead and talking to me in an unfamiliar language.
 
Did I get a hit I the head causing me to unlearn how to speak their language?  Great!  That’s all I needed.
 
“Vous êtes bien ?”
 
I blinked and probably made a face.  “Huh?” 
 
“Vous êtes bien ?”  She repeated.
 
“What the heck are saying?  I can’t understand you.”
 
“Vous ne parlez pas...”  She sighed and changed languages.  “What do you mean you don’t understand…   You were speaking Orlesian in your sleep.  I thought…  It doesn’t matter what I thought.” 
 
“I don’t know Orlesian.”   I sputtered.  “And I only know a few swear words in French.”
 
Levi arrived with a water skin and handed it to me.  “She’s finally awake.  Good,  That’s good.  I’ll go tell the others that your done with your nap.”
 
“My nap?”  I didn’t remember laying down for a nap.”  I shook my head.  “How long was I out?”
 
“A couple hours.  After the fight you had with Zevran and Aedan, you said you had a headache and needed to lie down.”
 
“I don’t remember a fight.”  I squinted my eyes and looked to Leliana for conformation.
 
“Yes there was a fight.”  She nodded.  “  They were not very happy when you said you were staying  here with Levi.  Hence the fight.”
 
Oh, was the only way I could think to respond and I laid back down while Leliana pressed a cool cloth to my head.  “Where is Kiera?”  I asked closing my eyes and enjoyed the cooling sensation of the cloth on my forehead.
 
“She’s helping Wynne and Morrigan look for herbs.  She has a gift for finding the perfect herb for whatever potion they are trying to make.  Alistair is making stew.  And Aedan and Zevran are pouting like a couple of little boys.”  Leliana answered. 
 
I nodded again before slowly sitting up and cupping my head in my hands.  “Do you think I have  tumor, Leliana?”
 
“A tumor?  I don’t understand.”
 
“You know a tumor.  A growth in my brain that’s making me sick and causing me to see stuff that isn’t there and dream weird crap like the Arch Demon?”  I blurted to her.
 
“You’re dreaming of the Arch Demon?”  Alistair’s incredibly unwelcome voice gasped from behind Leliana. 
 
“I’m sorry.  I didn’t see him.”  She apologized.  I just shook my head and regretted it instantly as I felt my brain banging around inside my skull. 
 
Alistair dropped to his knees beside me and narrow his eyes.  “How long have you been dreaming of the Arch demon?” 
 
“What!  It’s not one of those dreams, Alistair.”  I stressed hoping he would get the point.  But he didn’t.
 
“How long?” He demanded. 
 
“Pretty much since I’ve been here.  But it’s not one of those Grey Warden dreams where I see the arch demon and all the darkspawn.  I mean, I do talk to it but… ”  I stopped.  Telling him I talked to it in my sleep wouldn’t make my case.   “It’s just a nightmare.  I’ve had them before.  I have a very vivid imagination.”
 
“Mama Ren!  Your awake.”  Kiera plopped down beside me.  “Do you feel better?  Will you and Argent play with me now?” 
“Definitely!”  I hopped up quickly to avoid Alistair. 
 
“I know what you’re thinking and I am not a warden.”  I hissed as I grabbed Kiera’s hand and pulled toward the door to play. 
 
“This isn’t over.”  He said shaking his head.  “Not remotely.” 
 
 
***
 
“But I’ve never done the joining!” I protested.  “Not in real life anyway.  It was just a game.”
 
I was growing tired of trying to convince them that my dreams were just nightmares and not the blight calling out to me.  Even though they both admitted that they didn’t feel the Warden Vibe around me, they agreed that I shouldn’t be having such detailed dreams about the Arch Demon.
 
“We’re in the middle of a blight.  I’m surprised that more people aren’t dreaming of it!”  I exclaimed later over dinner.  Now everyone was aware of my stupid dreams.  “Has it ever kissed you?  Has it ever winked at you and made an inappropriate joke?  I’m serious.  These are just weird but normal dreams!”
 
“Eeww!”  Kiera groaned.  “It kissed you?  That is disgusting.” 
 
I nodded in agreement remembering the slobbering leathery tongue licking my face.  In reality it had been Argent but I still got the chills thinking about it.  Gross!
 
“I have to admit it doesn’t sound like the dreams that I have been having.  How do you know you will be safe here?” Alistair asked.  “What do you think, Aedan?”
 
“Well think about it, when was the last time anyone came here? Ages ago, right? I don’t think it could be much safer than that.”  I glanced over at Aedan who hadn’t said a word the entire time.  He was just looking at me with jaws clenched and his arms crossed.  If I didn’t know better I would have thought he looked sad but he remained quiet. 
 
“Well I don’t agree.  I don’t think it’s safe here with skeletons and ghosts and a crazy blood mage that’s hundreds of years old.  Not to mention the demons.  No!  I definitely don’t think it’s safe.”  He whirled around to where Aedan was slouching.  “You can’t tell me that you of all people are okay with this?  What do think?”
 
Startled, Aedan straightened and coughed into his hand.  “I don’t see how we have any say in this decision.”  He said quietly looking away. 
 
“No, you don’t.”  I whispered.  Aedan’s ears turned bright red.  “Why is it okay for Levi to stay and not me?”  I asked Alistair. 
 
Alistair got quiet and looked over to Aedan and shook his head.  “I’m not getting into that.  But I’m pretty sure there is someone else that won’t be very happy with your decision either .”
 
“It’s still my decision.”  I shrugged. 
 
“Bella,” The accented voice of Zevran whispered in my ear from behind.  “I can convince you that I am worth keeping around.  Why do you refuse to allow me to stay with you?”  He pressed himself against me and brushed the hair off my neck, his warm breath giving me goose bumps.  I sighed and felt myself start to melt.  “Maybe I can finally get you to let loose and enjoy yourself.”
 
I turned to face him and he stepped even closer placing one hand on my upper arm and another cupping my jaw. 
 
Damn.  I couldn’t breathe the heat was radiating off him in waves and smothering me.  I placed my hands on his chest touching him with only my fingertips to put some space between us and I felt myself flush.  His chest felt quite muscular.
 
Arghh!!
 
Yes, I definitely needed some space between us so I pushed back slightly lowering my hands a bit skirting his abdomen before I realized where they were going and quickly pulled them away.  He made a sound that sounded like a purr and smirked at me. 
 
Damn hands.  I glared at them.  They apparently had a mind of their own. 
 
I glanced around to see Aedan turning ten shades of red before he stormed off.  I should have felt bad but immaturity won out and I didn’t.  Serves him right.  I took a very large and obvious step back almost tripping over a nonexistent rock.  Zevran was definitely putting it all out there.  I felt like a magnet being pulled to one of the poles.  Shake it off, Renata.  Shake it off. 
 
“What are you thinking?”  He murmured slowly, suggestively coming toward me.  Oh the images that ran through my mind with that question…  they were scandalous. 
 
“You know you have to stay with them.  They’ll need your help ahead.  What I want doesn’t really matter.”  I looked at him sadly.  “Plus you don’t want to be the rebound guy, anyway.”
 
“Rebound guy?”  He cocked his head and a silvery gold strand of hair came loose from his braid and fell in his face.  It was all I could do to keep from touching it and moving it from his face. 
 
“Nothing.”  I shook my head.  “Nothing at all.”
 
“If that is what you wish, I am compelled to do so but only because I have sworn myself to you.”  Then he smiled.  “I have some ideas how we could spend the next few hours.  And if I do say so myself they are far more enjoyable than scavenging through crates.  So much so that you may change your mind and decide you cannot let me leave, no?”
 
“Wow!”  I smiled in spite of myself.  “Tempting though that maybe,  I’m afraid I’ll have to pass.  Kiera wants to show me all the herbs that she found this afternoon when she went out with Morrigan and Wynne.”
 
“You wound me, Bella.”  He crossed his hands over his heart dramatically backing away.  “That you would rather spend time with a bunch of weeds says much.  Another time, perhaps.”
 
“Wait!”  I barked and he stopped dead in his tracks arching an eyebrow at me in question.  “I’m flattered, you know.  But as much as I may want to entertain the idea and believe me I do,  it’s not a good idea.  Too many chances to mess it up or get hurt.”
 
“Even when you mess it up, it’s enjoyable.”  He smiled.  “And pain doesn’t have to be bad.”
 
“That’s, that’s not what I mean.”  I stuttered.  Whew!  He was way out of my league.  “We’re too different.  I don’t know how else to explain it.”
 
“Ah,”  He sighed and frowned.  “I see now.  The ears.  You are one of those people that think that our two races shouldn’t mingle.  I was only suggesting a recreational activity not a meaningful long lasting bond.”
 
I felt as if he slapped me in the face.  Was he suggesting that I was a racist?  A bit of indignation flared up in me.  Of all the…
 
“For your information,”  I began.  “The fact that you aren’t interested in something meaningful is the main reason I can’t be with you.  What your suggesting would mean something to me.  I may think or fantasize about you but I would never do it just for  that reason or I would never enjoy it.  It has nothing to do with your stupid ear fetish.  I already told you that you were the first elf I have ever seen.  Maybe it was stupid wanting to touch them but forgive my curiosity.  And another thing  I don’t think anyone has been nicer to you than me but you’ve shown me time and again through your words and actions that you’re not interested in me but only what I can do for you.  Well I’ve had it.  Consider your pledge fulfilled and do whatever you want.  I’m done with this game.  I am just… done!”
 
I stomped off.  I was so angry at him I could almost feel my blood boiling.  I knew I would miss everyone when they left but right now I couldn’t wait for them to leave, especially him.  I just really needed some time to think without all the high school drama.  Who’s mad at who?  Who’s sleeping with who?  Who’s talking about who behind their back?   Just good bye and good riddance.

Chapter Text

The next day Kiera and I were kept so busy searching through as many of the rooms of the keep as we could that the day flew by. Anything that could be salvaged, repurposed, traded or sold, such as weapons, armor, trinkets and baubles were taken to Bodahn for inspection He was going to continue to travel with them to Orzammar, their next destination, and he had final say on any extras that were going in his cart. No one argued with him. I suppose they were just grateful not to have to carry everything. I purposely used the day’s tasks as an excuse to stay away from both Aedan and Zevran. I was still so angry about how they both treated me but I knew that I would get over it. I always did.

These people I traveled with, my friends as they had quickly become to me, were leaving and I might never see them again or worse yet, if I was wrong about anything, which seemed to happen quite often, they could die. And I didn’t want to leave anyone with any bad feelings or misunderstandings that we might regret later.

Time was growing short and everyone had their responsibilities to get ready for the trip to Orzammar. Zevran and Leliana had gone hunting for wild game while Morrigan taught Wynne some obscure smoking spell so they could preserve the meat longer. I’m not completely sure but I believe that they were starting to bond a bit. Wynne had no qualms about learning a useful spell from Morrigan and even though she didn’t show it, I could tell Morrigan was impressed that she did it without balking at the idea of using Chasind magic.

Alistair and Aedan were in the tower visiting with Avernus and probably milking him for every last bit of information on the wardens that they could and Sten and Levi were helping me. When the end of the day finally came we were so tired and dusty and covered in cobwebs, we could barely move. But knowing that I wouldn’t be making the long trek to Orzammar, I offered to take care of the cooking, cleaning and any other mindless tasks for the evening so they could rest and relax.

It was the least I could do. They were off to save the world, after all.

It was late before I finished everything, in spite of Kiera and Levi pitching in to help out. And it was probably close to midnight before Kiera fell asleep with her head laying against Argent’s chest. I watched her sleep wishing I could curl up with them but I had a few more things I needed, no wanted to take care of first. I ran a comb through my hair and tied it back into a bun with one of my scrunchies and washed my face with a rag. I dreaded doing it but I couldn’t put it off any longer so I went to see Aedan.

I found him talking to Sten. I knew he wouldn’t be asleep. I came up beside him and once again noticed how pale he was and that bags were beginning to form under his eyes. He didn’t notice me at first until Sten rose to offer me his seat. The big guy didn’t even say a word, just got up silently and moved to another area of the room.

“Renata?” Aedan whispered in a hushed tone trying not to wake anyone that was lucky enough to have fallen asleep. “Is everything okay?”

He looked so exhausted and so pale that his skin was starting to look blotchy. He nervously fidgeted with his fingers, only glancing at me long enough to ask his question then stare back at his hands. Poor guy. Was I too hard on him? I couldn’t even begin to understand what he really must be going through but his behavior toward me was still kind of fresh and it still hurt. Being dumped by two guys in such a short time made me feel a bit self-conscious and my confidence was at an all-time low but I couldn’t bear the thought that things were just going to end like this. They might never return to Soldier’s Peak. It was a bit out of the way and not necessary to stop the blight, so I swallowed my own discomfort and pride. I placed my hands over his attempting to quiet them. He looked up at me in surprise and pulled them away.

“I don’t wasn’t us to part on bad terms.” I grabbed at his restless fingers and gently pet the back of his hands with my thumb. “But I’m staying right here. Everyone knows it’s for the best and I’ll still be your friend when this is over. I’ll still be here if you need me. Just be safe and come back okay? Or if you never come back just keep in touch. I just don’t want you to worry about me on top of everything else that’s going on. You don’t need that or deserve it. I’ll get over everything. I will. I promise.”

Aedan’s hands stilled under mine and he shuddered daring to peek at me through his thick lashes. “You want to be friends after everything that happened?”

I nodded. “Well just look around. In this room is pretty much the extent of everyone I know. Not that I’m desperate or anything but I’ll take any friend I can get. Okay, maybe I ‘m a little desperate.”

I made sure to look into his eyes so he would know I meant every word, plus after tonight I would probably never get a chance again to stare into his big blue eyes or hold his hands. “We both didn’t handle ourselves very well. We both wanted a normal life but it’s not going to happen. So let’s make the best of it, okay? What do you say? Can we still be friends?”

I literally saw his tension level drop with his shoulders. While his hands didn’t stop shaking completely it lessened and he let out a breath I don’t think either of us knew he was holding. He frowned at first and I almost panicked, then there was the barest hint of a smile when he whispered. “I wanted to be more than friends.”

“I know.” I smiled back. “I know.”

Aedan and I spent a little more time together trying to clear the air before saying goodnight. I returned the control rod to him, just in case I told him. He took it back but was unhappy about it. We both got a little emotional but it was the first step in dealing with our failed attempt at romance. We may never be more than friends, but at least we knew that there would always be someone we could count on. As Alistair said, the blight had a way of bringing people together.

 

Then it was time for the confusing part. I took a deep breath and headed off to look for Zevran who seemed to be pouting off in one of the far corners of the courtyard. It took a good half hour until I found him and I realized he had fallen asleep. He was laying on his back using an old pelt as a makeshift bedroll with his hands laced together on his chest. He looked so relaxed and peaceful with his eyes closed that I debated on bothering him at all. It was really getting late and I was tired but I wanted to talk to him without everyone else around so I sat down next to him and waited for him to stir. I was seated and comfortable for all of five minutes when he spoke.

“I am not sleeping. Is there something I can do for you?” He slowly opened his eyes revealing those damn sexy orbs of his and smirked.

“You can be an ass, you know.” I sighed.

“But I am such a pretty one.” He sat up leaning back on his arms, feet sticking straight ahead.

I shook my head and sighed again. “Okay, I’ll give you that.” I smiled back at him hesitantly, checking out his smooth bronze skin and silvery golden hair. He really was pretty.

“You must forgive me, Renata. Not only am I an ass, I’m a horse’s ass. I believe it comes from my Antivan ancestry. Antivan’s have always been known for their fire and passion and when I find myself unable to share my passions, the fire is freed and usually burns someone.”

“How long were you practicing that excuse?” I giggled and he shook his head.

“Here I was being honest, speaking from the heart and to hear you say such a thing about me, I am truly wounded.” He smiled faking a shot to the heart causing me to titter like a school girl. “I believe this is what is called a broken heart.”

“Oh, Zev.” I groaned and smacked him on the arm. “You should try being serious for once. You might just be surprised.”

“I’ve always been serious with you.” He breathed, his voice suddenly becoming husky. “I admit, you are not the type of woman I am used to. But there is something about you that draws me and I am not sure what it is.”

“Maybe you enjoy the constant arguing?” I joked and looked away. He was getting a little too serious for me. I shouldn’t have asked for him to be serious; I probably couldn’t handle it.

“It’s not the arguing.” He reached up and swept some of my bangs from my eyes, reminding me I need to trim them some time soon. I don’t know how he did it, but somehow he ended up so close that we were sharing the same breath. I found myself inhaling at his exhale and my belly fluttered. He leaned closer to me, his nose just a breath away from touching mine and smiled again “Maybe what you need is time to get used to being with someone like me. Maybe after we return from Orzammar we could see what happens?”

His hand swiped over the top of my head pulling something from my hair. “But first you would need to take a bath… and be rid of these cobwebs.”

I squealed jumping up from the ground. I was well and truly mortified… again. “Did you just pull spider webs from my hair?” I shuddered as I felt what seemed like a million spiders crawling all over my head and neck. I danced around wiping at my arms and shoulders and l took the scrunchie out of my hair shaking it loose. “Did you get them all? Get them off me! Get them off me!”

“Shh! Bella.” He chuckled carding his fingers through my hair. “You are spider free. There was only the one.”

I closed my eyes enjoying the feeling of his hands in my hair for a minute and I think I must have moaned. It felt soooo relaxing. “I would do this gladly, anytime, if you would just ask.” He told me as I moaned again..

My eyes popped open as I realized just what I may have sounded like. But I didn’t move, I was frozen in place and too relaxed. I felt my eyes droop. “I really should be getting back to Kiera.”

“Just a few more minutes and then you can go.” He said gently. “I promise I will not try anything, unless you wish it. I just want you to think of me while I am away. Just think if a simple touch can give you so much pleasure what else could I be capable of?”

 

I woke with a start. I was slightly disoriented and it was still dark but someone was moving around. I sat up turning to check on Kiera and saw her and Argent nestled on one side of me and Zevran sleeping on the other. Oh yeah, that. I insisted on going back to be with Kiera and he came along. He pulled out another bedroll and laid down next to me. Not touching me, though, he promised to be a gentleman. I requested that he keep at least a foot away from me and he obliged with a smirk.

“Afraid I won’t keep my hands to myself?” He whispered in my ear.

“No,” I answered. “Afraid that I won’t.” There was a pause before he chuckled, “Now you are trying to make sure I think about you while we are gone. That’s my girl.”

That’s when I wished him a goodnight and immediately fell to sleep.

It was Sandal that was up and around so early. He seemed to be restless but didn’t startle when I approached him. “Enchantment!” He said in greeting. I laughed and bowed my head to him, singing his greeting in response.

“I don’t know how much you understand about what I ‘m saying but everything will be okay for you and your dad.” He cocked his head at me like a puppy. His pale expressionless eyes seemed to stare right through me. “When I played this game you survived and you and Bodahn made it to Kirkwall. So I know everything will be fine for you. If I don’t see you again, I just wanted you to know that.”

Bodahn called out his name and his head tilted to the other side as he continued to look at me. I almost thought I could see his ear twitch at his name , his eyes never left mine though and seemed to lock onto mine for an eternity. It was almost like I was entranced. Then he scrambled around in the crate next to us and pulled out a stick, at least I thought it was a stick. But not just any old stick. It was beautiful. It looked like it as made with a deep red mother of pearl and smooth like the golem control rod. Even in the darkness its iridescence reflected the light from the waning fire across the room.

“It’s beautiful, Sandal. What is it?”

“Enchantment!” He laughed as he placed it my hands and ran back to Bodahn repeating his words. “Enchantment, enchantment!”

 

Not too much longer after my encounter with Sandal everyone was ready to leave. Kiera and I went around to everyone and said our goodbyes and wished everyone luck. Not everyone was so receptive to it though. I had to pull Kiera away from Sten who was stone faced and quoting part of what was probably the Qun. He reminded us how he was a warrior and it was his purpose to fight and that if he died in battle he served the Qun with honor. I almost couldn’t tell if he was trying to convince me or himself. Leliana and Kiera and I cried in a group hug as she whispered in my ear asking if I could share anymore secrets. I had to laugh and shook my head.

Alistair believe it or not gave me a bear hug. I may or may not have lingered just a bit too long in his embrace because he turned red and stammered as he pulled away apologizing the whole time.

“Believe me,” I said. “Hugs are always accepted. I much prefer this to being yelled at by you.” His arms were solid and felt so nice around my shoulders… I felt my face start to turn pink. Oh no, down girl.

He only turned redder and backed away faster.

My goodbye with Aedan was not as awkward as I thought it was going to be. Our little talk last night must have helped ease the awkwardness. I still gave him a hug which surprised him but he accepted it. “Stay out of trouble,” he warned me. “I don’t want to worry about you more than I have too.”

I nodded getting a little choked up and reached to hug him again as he pulled away. “Not a lot of trouble to get into with just the three of us,” I gestured to Levi and Kiera. “Oh wait, and Avernus. But you know me, I’m sure if there’s trouble here, I’ll find it.”

He hugged me back again and whispered in my ear. “Just stay away from that crazy old man. Levi is already decided it’s his responsibility to look after him. He feels guilty and all for what Sophia put him though. So no need to go up there.” I scrunched up my face. “I mean it. Promise me that you will stay away from that mage in his tower with his sick experiments.”

“Uh huh,” I nodded smiling through a few tears. “I could definitely use a lot less crazy in my life. So no worries.”

Next I made Morrigan uncomfortable by attempting to give her a hug but she wouldn’t have it. “Well wishes are enough. I need not the embrace of another in a vain attempt to provide me with luck. I am a skilled mage and if that isn’t enough, I do not deserve to continue.” So I backed away hands in the air and wished her luck.

“Watch out for the child.” She advised me. “I believe she has a few tricks up her sleeve. You must watch her closely lest she get into trouble.” I looked at her and then to Kiera who just shrugged and ran over to see Zevran.

I placed my hands on my hips. “Anything less cryptic than that to say or is that your way of saying you will miss her?” She stared me down not changing her expression and then walked away without another word.

After a quick goodbye and thanks to Wynne, I hurried off to see Zevran. Everyone else had already slowly started walking alongside the wagon and we knew I didn’t have long.

Zevran was waiting for me and holding Kiera’s hand. “Make sure you take good care of Mama Ren, little one.” He told her at which she nodded and darted in for another hug.

“Aren’t I supposed to be the one taking care of her?” I arched my eyebrow at him.

He chuckled,” I think we both know who is better equipped to handle themselves out here, don’t you agree?”

“I sighed, “Maybe.”

“Bella, You will be fine. I was just teasing.” He pulled me to his chest and snaked an arm around my waist. He leaned in so close I could feel that darn dagger hidden in his pants again and it was all I could do to keep myself from peeking at the area in question . “I want you to think of me while I am gone. I will be thinking of you.”

His breath was ragged as he nuzzled the side of my face with his nose slowly making his way to my mouth. His other hand reached up to trace along my jaw. I closed my eyes and held my breath. Oh my God. Zevran was going to kiss me. He was really going to kiss me. I kept my eyes closed in anticipation, waiting for his lips to touch mine.

But they didn’t.

He chuckled and breathed into my ear before gently pushing me away. “Is it working? Are you thinking of me already?”

My eyes flew open in frustration as a mild chill filled the space where his body blocked me from the early morning air. Zevran was watching with and evil smirk on his face. I growled at him in disappointment. “You might not like what I am thinking about you right now.”

“You are wrong. I do know what you are thinking, Bella.” He said as he backed away from me to follow the others.

“Really, you think so?” I challenged. “Why do you say that?”

He nodded but kept backing away as his grin grew wider. “Because that,” He glanced down at his pants. “was not my dagger.”

Chapter Text

I started to lose track of how much time passed as I kept busy with Levi and Kiera cleaning up our little castle.  And wow, it really was a castle!  Whoever would have thought that I would ever be in an honest to goodness castle? 

 

Not me, that’s for sure. 

 

Well, it wasn’t the Disney castle or anything that grand.  It didn’t have a moat or impenetrable stone walls surrounding it but it could definitely support and protect a little community or at least a base of Grey Wardens.   Our walls were the impossibly high mountain cliffs surrounding us and one of the main ways in or out was through a large well-hidden tunnel system that could probably comfortably fit a city bus.  That meant as long as they didn’t miss it, the caravan Levi’s family would be travelling with shouldn’t have any problems fitting through them.  

 

I found myself glad for the distraction all the preparation provided me.  I had less time to think about how much I missed everyone and thank goodness for that.  I was becoming a bit emotional at times.  I was really beginning to miss them more than I thought I would.  Not just Aedan or Zevran but all of them.  A few times Levi came upon me a bit misty eyes and commiserated with me as well.  He was just as sensitive as me; it was like two peas in a pod.  I swear Kiera was the most sensible of all of us sometimes. 

 

I had no idea how many days passed before we received our first messenger bird.  But one day as Kiera was pointing out some incoming storm clouds on the horizon she also noticed the familiar flapping wings of one of Levi’s pigeons.  All three of us were giddy with excitement.  Its arrival not only broke up our day but gave us something totally different to focus on other cleaning out the million dark, dank rooms in Soldier’s Peak.  We actually had mail!!!

 

The pigeon found us with no problem and fluttered up to Levi landing on a ledge next to him.  Carefully he removed the message from the bird all the while petting it and talking in calm tones.  Levi’s smiling face pinched in confusion as he read the brief message and shook his head.  “I don’t understand.” 

 

“What’s the matter Unca Levi?  What’s the matter?”  Kiera hopped around his legs trying to reach for the bird.  “Who’s it from?  Who’s it from?”

 

“It’s from Uncle Aedan, little one.”  He answered patting her head.  “I just don’t understand the message.  Maybe it’s in code?”   He held it out for me to take and looked at me expectantly.  “Maybe you will know what it means.”

 

“Provided I can read it.”  I joked grabbing the tiny message scrawled on the scrap of paper.  I squinted my eyes.  “Or can even see it.  How do you guys write on anything this small?” 

 

It rolled back up as he handed it to me and I blinked at the writing on the tiny piece of paper focusing on the words.  It took me a minute to run the translation in my head since reading and writing hadn’t been as easy for me to pick up as speaking.  Once I figured out what it said, I all but peed in my pants I couldn’t stop laughing.  It simply read,

 

Found Shale. Pigeons not safe.  Sending Flock Home.   

 

 

“A real live stone man?”  Kiera asked again as we ate our dinner in great hall.  Between the excitement of getting a message and the dark clouds that had rolled in shortly after the pigeon, we decided to quit working for the day. 

 

“Technically, a stone woman but I doubt they know that yet.”  I smiled at her leaning back against the wall as I slid to the floor.  We still hadn’t found a table Levi liked for our little dining room so we had been eating all our meals on the floor in front of the fire place. Not entirely comfortable but at least we weren’t eating on the ground outside and it kept the dampness of the impending rain from giving us a chill. 

 

“How do you know it’s female?”  Levi challenged.  I just waved him off giving him an ‘Oh, please’ look and went back to eating my porridge. 

 

The porridge was easy to make but horribly bland and I was so sick of it!  I couldn’t take it anymore.  Levi had started making faces and Kiera, well she was just grateful to have something to eat.   I decided the next day I would take Argent with me if it wasn’t raining and go hunting. 

 

The things I do when I’m hungry. 

 

We cleaned up after ourselves and settled in for the night assuring our bedrolls were in a dry place where no rain would leak down on us.  Kiera and Argent cuddled close to me, nervous about the impending rain as I watched Levi set out his bedroll from the other side of the fire. 

 

“Levi,” I called gesturing at the spaces on the other side of Kiera and Argent.  “Why don’t you come over here?  The more the merrier.”

 

He looked at me a little sheepishly and shook his head.  “Come on, now.  We’re all one big happy family plus I think it’s starting to rain and I don’t like thunder.  I need a big strong man to protect me”    He huffed, saying something I couldn’t make out under his breath but eventually moved closer.  He settled on the other side of the dog but made a face as started to intently lick herself.  How embarrassing.  “I promise I don’t bite but I can’t guarantee that she won’t.”

 

As if on cue she let out a menacing growl and looked at Levi with her big wet tongue lolling from her mouth in a smile.   I laughed and gave her a bear hug.  She was teasing him.  Since Loyalty merged with Argent, she seemed to understand us more and it only improved her already perfect personality. 

 

Rolling his eyes, Levi settled back against his makeshift pillow and laid down.  “You two are so funny.” He grumbled and I swear Argent snickered.

 

The four of us laid there quietly for a while listening to the sound of drizzling rain echoing through the chamber.  “Mama Ren?”   Kiera whispered loudly like most little kids tend to do.   “Can you sing me a song?  Please?”

 

I sighed.  She had been trying to teach me some of the local songs.  But arghhh were they boring!  “Sweetie, how many times can you stand to hear me butcher the same song?”

 

“So sing one of yours,” Levi smiled propping himself up and turning on his side to face us. 

 

“You wouldn’t understand it,” I whined, secretly liking that suggestion.    

 

“I don’t care!”  She pouted and Levi shrugged his shoulders, “Me either.”

 

“I’ll sing one if you sing one.”  I offered.  “Both of you.” 

 

“Okay.”  Kiera agreed getting up to move next to Levi.

 

“You could have stayed next to me,” I laughed.”

 

“Okay,” Levi agreed.  “But you first.”

 

I sighed again.  “Alright just give me a moment to think of one.”  I ran through my phone’s play list in my head and realized I was having trouble remembering a lot of the words.  When was the last time I saw the thing anyway?  Or any of my things?  I realized I hadn’t seen it for a while and made a mental note to look for it in the morning.  I know it didn’t work but it was still mine and I didn’t want to lose it.  I had been trying not to dwell on the fact that my belongings didn’t work in this world and had been avoiding them but I really missed my music. 

 

A remarkably loud clap of thunder made us all jump and cuddle closer together and I started to hum like I did when I was nervous. 

 

“Sing that.”  Kiera demanded. 

 

I looked at her confused.  “Sing what?”

 

“That song you were just humming.”  Levi said.  “It sounds cheery.” 

 

I thought about it for a minute and smiled.  “Perfect.  I couldn’t have picked a better song.  Thank goodness for the rain.”

 

“What’s good about the rain?”  Levi grumbled.

 

“Wow.  Who peed in your Cheerios?”  I laughed.

 

He wrapped himself tighter in his blanket and made a face at me.  “What?”

 

“You know what, never mind.  We can have the ‘what good is rain conversation another day when you’re not so grumpy.  I have the perfect song.  I hope you like it.”  I closed my eyes hoping to remember all the words before I decided it didn’t matter.  They never heard the song before so they would never know if I screwed it up so I just opened my mouth and sang Tomorrow from Annie.  I started out mostly quiet and slow until I remembered the words but as I finished up, I grew a little bolder and possibly louder until the last note.  I held it longer than I normally would enjoying the sound of it echoing of the stone walls

 

A loud groan from one of the heavy wooden doors to the second floor startled me as it began to open.  I jumped up in front of Kiera with Argent popping up next to me.  Levi just huffed and shook his head. 

 

“You’re not supposed to come down here.”  He warned stepping in front of us.

 

When the door fully opened, a shapeless figure stood in the doorway obscured by the dark.

 

“I heard singing.”  A low gravelly voice said. 

 

“Go back to your tower.”  Levi waved at the figure.  “I’ll see you in the morning when I bring you breakfast.”

 

“I haven’t heard singing in ages.”  The voice said wistfully.

 

Was that Avernus?  His was voice sounded so old and sad.  How lonely he must have been sequestering himself away in the tower all these years.    Such a poor old man.  He was the last of his friends and comrades.  What he must have been going through all that time alone made my gut clenched. 

 

A whisper of a headache started between my eyes and I ignored it.  I was going to bed soon anyway.    

 

“To the tower, Avernus.”  Levi gritted his teeth.  “We had a deal.” 

 

“Levi!  Don’t be so rude.”  I chastised.  “He’s not a prisoner for God’s sake.  If he wants to move around, let him.” 

 

“No.”  Avernus said firmly as he backed into the doorway pulling it shut.  “He is correct.”

 

“Who was that?”  Kiera asked tugging on my shirt.  “Was that a ghost?”

 

“No dear.”  I patted her hand and led her back to her bedroll.  “Let’s get you back in bed.”

 

“But who was that?”  She begged.

 

“Avernus, I think.” And Levi nodded.  “This is his castle that we are staying in.”

 

“He should have taken better care of his home.”  She told us causing me to chuckle as I tucked her in.  “He is kind of spooky.  Is he nice?”

 

I shrugged.  Levi settled down next to her and tucked her blanket around her shoulders.  “You just stay away from him.  Do you hear me?  The both of you.  I mean it.”

 

We appeased him with a nod of our heads then all settled down to sleep.  Our impromptu concert was interrupted and thoughts of singing were replaced with questions about Avernus, the mysterious ancient man in the mage tower.  I couldn’t remember much about him from the game but as I drifted to sleep, I decided that I would learn.

 

He couldn’t be all bad, He seemed to like my singing after all.   

 

At the end of the next day, all the messenger pigeons Levi had sent with the Wardens had returned.  Instead of being sad that we now had no way to contact them aside from blindly sending a message to Orzammar  and hoping it would reach them, we chose to enjoy the fact that every single bird that returned was bearing a message. Everyone got a message or two or three, even Argent.  Levi had sent more than enough pigeons with them.  Avernus, even had one which Levi promptly took to his tower.  Kiera got one from Sten of all people who teased her about buying cookies from traveling merchant.  Who would have thought Sten could have a way with kids? 

 

Not me. 

 

None of the messages said anything important, I guess in case they were intercepted, mostly that they were safe and would be laying low for a while.  Whether that was code for them being in Orzammar, I wasn’t sure, but I couldn’t stop myself from missing them even more after that.

 

 

Finally after what I thought had to be weeks, we had cleaned the entire first floor of the keep and made it livable.   We even managed a make shift privy as Levi called it.  While it didn’t afford a lot of privacy, I didn’t have to leave the building in the middle of the night if I had the urge.  The only gross thing was emptying the pots.  Yuck!  When are they going to invest plumbing?

 

Then more birds started to arrive.  Lots of them.  Apparently Levi had been corresponding with his family the entire time we had been at the keep and they were excited to join us.  He had this glint in his eyes when he talked of turning Soldier’s Peak into a small trading outpost for refugees as well as a safe rest stop.  It was contagious.  So instead of continuing to clean the main keep, we started on the many small out buildings.   They were mostly filled with junk that we burned but we found a few interesting things.  Levi took them so he could show them to Avernus.  He thought maybe they might be of historical value or something.   

 

Speaking of Avernus…  I had to admit that I was getting pretty curious about him.  All Levi would tell me was that he was old and that they mostly talked about his grandmother.  I was itching to meet him but kept my promise to Aedan and stayed away.  Levi just called him creepy anyway and who needs more creepy in their life?

 

A couple days later when Levi’s family arrived he was like a different person, more confident and sure of himself.  His parents didn’t make the trip but his brother and a few cousins did as well as a few other people they had come across on the way.  Levi was so choked up that people finally had arrived at the keep he almost couldn’t contain his joy.  He grabbed a handkerchief and my hand and pulled me to meet his family and greet everyone else.  All in all, twenty people arrived that day; twenty hungry, tired and dusty people. 

 

Looks like we had some work to do. 

Chapter Text

“Oh my God!” I exclaimed pushing Levi out of sight against one of the stone walls surrounding what would eventually be the smithy. “Is that who I think it is? What the hell is she doing here?”
“What?” Levi asked pushing me off him and following my gaze. “Who?”

I was rooted to the spot staring at the two women that had just came up the path out of the tunnels. I had seen about half a dozen other women filing past us following what Levi had said were their husbands or betrothed, but the last two surprised me. They were obviously not part of the caravan or at least didn’t start with them. The caravan must have picked them up on the way here as they passed through Redcliff. The smaller thin one was unfortunately of forgettable appearance and I never would have recognized her had it not been for the one she was traveling with. That one was trying hard to look like she mattered, smoothing out her dress and untying her cap snapping directions at the other. I recognized them both as soon as she removed her hat from her head to shake off the dust from the road.

“That’s Lucy!” I pointed to her from behind the wall.

“Lucy?” He repeated cocking his head at me.

“Yes, Mistress Lucy. You know from Redcliff? Lost Kiera? Blamed it on that elf with her? Why are they even together? Why aren’t they at Redcliff?” I never in a million years would have expected to see either of them again, let alone here.

“Who cares? You can worry about that later. Let’s go meet the rest of my family. I haven’t seen them in far too long.” He grabbed my arm pulling me behind him. “I can’t wait for you to meet my brother.”

Levi’s family was great as far as families went but all this commotion hit a sore spot with me as I thought about the chances of seeing my own again. Kiera came up behind me and grabbed my skirt hiding shyly behind it from the boisterous group of travelers. They were so friendly and very very happy to have arrived. The three of us showed a couple of his cousins where their stuff could be unloaded and where their temporary quarters were so they could settle in and relax before they began the hard work of moving in.

Although Levi and I had very solid ideas of where we wanted everyone to stay, we certainly didn’t want to force anyone into a space they didn’t want. Our only limitation was they could not stay in the main keep. We had not finished going through all the rooms and wanted everyone as far away from Avernus as possible. We weren’t sure how they would take the news that he was a mage but at least for now two things were certain. Everyone was able to sleep out of the weather and their belongings were safe.

“Did you come across any bandits?” Levi questioned his brother as we led him back to the smithy.

“Of course, we did, brother. Are ye daft? We are in the middle of a blight and everyone is trying to take advantage of everyone else.”

“But you know your brother, Mikhael.” One of his cousins interjected. Was it Tom or Tim or Jim? Whatever. I’d learn who was who soon enough. “He never made a weapon he couldn’t use. He was our very own protector the entire trip. Picked up the nearest weapon and kept us safe. Especially when our escorts took off with half of our bank.”

“What?” I gasped. “Your own bodyguards robbed you? That’s horrible.” Looking at him, I had no doubt that he could keep them safe. He was a big beefy man, one arm larger than the other probably because he swung a hammer for a living. I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side.

“Nah! That’s okay.” He waved off my concern as Levi just rolled his eyes. “They wasn’t much to begin with. Just a few scraggly farm hands trying to make some coin.”

“Well they won’t try that again. Your brother gave them what they deserved.” Another cousin added.

“Did you kill them?” Kiera popped up from behind my back and drew in a breath. Oh my! I begged silently. Please don’t tell her you killed them. Please don’t tell her you killed them.

“What? No. Of course, I didn’t. I just beat ‘em up a bit and took back the money. They weren’t really bad, just dumb. It only cost us half a day.”

“We rescued them two womenfolk just a day and a half out of Redcliff.” He pointed at Mistress Lucy and the elf whose name I didn’t know and she caught my eye. “Being accosted by bandits, they were. Did you know that it had been plagued with undead? They were lucky we came through. A lot of people needed some pretty basic things only we could provide. Made some good coin while we were there.”

“You didn’t take advantage of them, did you?” Levi asked placing his hands on his hips?

“Of course not! What must ye think of me, brother?” Mikhael bristled and the two cousins took a step back. “I told ya they were necessities. It was cost or nothing. Our profit came from the Arl and the Chantry. They seemed to have more than enough to cover what we gave away.”

I placed a hand on Mikhael’s hard muscular arm and smiled, for the briefest moment appreciating its definition. “That was very generous of all of you. I’m sure they were very grateful.”

“Some more than others.” One of the cousins joked as he smiled and hooked his fingers in his waistband pretending to pull up his pants. He wiggled his eyebrows. “If ya know what I mean.”

Eww! TMI.

“Jim!” Roared Mikhael rounding on his cousin. His face turned red and a vein bulged out from his temple. “You do not talk that way in front of a lady!”

I dropped his arm and we all took a step back. He was kinda scary. Yep. I definitely didn’t want to get on his bad side.

 

It took a few hours for everyone to feel settled enough to break for a meal. The caravan had brought plenty of food with them in their stores, not just meats or their version of hard tack but flour and spices and other things I didn’t recognize. While they were unloading what was needed for the evening I made it a point to avoid Mistress Lucy. Levi stayed with his family so it was just Kiera and I and we had decided to make a big pot of stew knowing how tired everyone probably was from all the traveling.

“Evening milady.” Mistress Lucy tentatively approached averting her eyes and speaking through gritted teeth. “I am pleased to see you and the child are well. I did not realize that this was your home. With your permission, we will stay the night and then be on our way.”

“We?” I asked. Was she pissed at me? She looked like she was pissed at me and just barely holding her tongue.

“Me an’ the elf.” She gestured the gangly girl looking at the ground a few steps behind her.

“I didn’t think you two were friends. What are you guys doing out here?” I asked taking the wood Kiera collected and adding it to the fire.

“We are not. We are travelling together out of necessity. Nothing more.” She hissed.

Okay.

“I’ll be your friend.” Kiera offered shuffling over to the terrified looking girl and smiling. “What’s your name?”

The girl looked uncertain how to respond and started to shake.

“What’s the matter girl? Something eat your tongue? Speak up when someone asks you a question.” She looked about ready to cuff the girl on the ear but looked at me and stopped. She probably remembered I didn’t appreciate how she treated her last time.

“Mythandral.” The girl breathed clasping her hands together and wringing them so tightly I thought her fingers would twist off.

“Mama Ren, can I take her with me to find some more fire wood?” Mythandral flinched and but kept staring at the ground.

“That is not such a good idea miss. She lost your child the last time they were together.” Mythandral glanced up and looked to Mistress Lucy and me and her face turned red but she didn’t say a word only rocked back and forth on her heels.

“I don’t see the problem. Argent can go with them and Kiera knows where she should and shouldn’t go. If Mythandral wants to, it’s okay with me.” Upon hearing her name Argent got up and walked over to the girls and sniffed at Mythandral’s hand before looking at me. Lucy’s face was pinched and but she didn’t say a word and Mythandral just looked scared.

“It’s okay,” Kiera told Mythandral and held out her hand to take. “You want to see the Embrium? It’s starting to bloom. Weird, isn’t it, that’s it’s all the way up here in the cold but it is.”
She held other hand for a little while longer as we watched to see what Mythandral would do then dropped it. “Ok if you decide you want to come I’ll be right over there.”
Kiera slowly trudged off to get some more fire wood looking back one before giving up. “Don’t you want to go?” I asked.
“Mistress Lucy says it’s not such a good idea.”
“Ah poo on Mistress Lucy. She’s not your boss, is she? She can’t tell you what to do.” I snorted before quickly whirling around to face Mistress Lucy suddenly unsure of their relationship. “Wait, does she work for you? Is she your slave?”
“What? I beg your pardon! No, she is not my slave! Of all of the …” Mistress Lucy grumbled. “She can do what she wants, means nothing to me. We worked together for the Arlessa and now we do not.”

I paused for a moment, “Worked?”

“We were hired to take care of Connor. What did you think would happen when they took him away to the Circle?” She spat with a sneer. “There is not much work for a nurse out there, especially when your charge turns out to be a mage. The Arlessa would hardly give me a reference after that.”

“Wait are you saying that she blames you for Connor being a mage?” I asked shocked. That woman never failed to surprise me with her lack of responsibility.

“No. She blames me for not being discreet enough to find a competent mage to instruct her son in the magical arts.”

“That’s hardly fair.” I scoffed changing the subject. “Where are the two of you headed, then?”

“We did not have much of a plan other than tagging along with the caravan. We had hoped to find work here, but now…”

“Wait, had you been planning on staying here all along?”

“Please, milady. We have nowhere else to go?” Mythandral pleaded eliciting another sneer from Mistress Lucy.

“Where were you planning on going in the morning?” I looked back at her. “Did you even have a place in mind?”

“We will be fine.” She declared stubbornly straitening her back.

“The hell you say!” What an idiot, I thought to myself. “You can’t go out there all by yourself. There are bandits and dark spawn and wolves and God knows what else. You’ll never survive!”

“We must. We will. We have nowhere else to go.” She admitted quietly averting her eyes again.

“Why can’t you stay here?” I offered hoping not to regret it.

“Here?” They echoed in unison.

“Do you think me so terrible that I would push you out of the keep? This is not mine. I am a guest as well. Levi wanted this to be a refuge for those in need and as far as I can tell…”
“I am not needy.” Mistress Lucy snapped at me. Mrs. Olsen, I thought. She reminded me of Mrs. Olsen from Little house on the Prairie reruns.

“Really?” I cocked my head skeptically. “Because you seem like you need a place to stay. Anyone can stay, Mistress Lucy. You don’t have to be my friend or even like me but I’m not going to send away someone in need. I wasn’t brought up that way. But if you stay everyone will be treated equally. There will be no prejudice or intolerance here. We will all work together to get this place in shape and everyone will be treated as equals.?”

“Equals?” Mythandral asked eyes open wide with shock.

“Equals. “I confirmed. “This is a warden base after all. There will be elves and dwarves and mages…”

“Mages!” Mistress Lucy squawked.

“Yes, mages. You are more than welcome to stay but this place will be a haven for all that need it, for as long as they need it.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself.” Levi agreed coming up behind me followed by Mikhael and placing an arm around my shoulder. “You are welcome to stay but so is everyone else as long as we work together. Can you do that Mistress Lucy?”

She stared at us for a moment before taking a deep breath. “I shall try.” She said flashing a weak smile at Mikhael.

“Aye, milady that is all we ask for.” Mikhael smiled back at her and winking. “Working together is not always easy but it is better. You will see. I will show you.”

Levi and I looked at each other not quite believing what we just saw. Mikhael and Mistress Lucy? I shrugged at him. It was none of my business but it seems the saying is true. There is someone for everyone.

Chapter Text

Not too long ago while Kiera and I were exploring one of the hillsides surrounding the Peak, we had found a quiet little ledge above the keep. It had a fantastic view of what I called, the valley and I asked her to keep it a secret so I could have a special place to think away from the craziness of Levi’s very energetic family. It would be a secret place only her and I would know about

From there I could see the layout of Soldier’s Peak consisting of the main keep and all the surrounding outer buildings, including my room and Avernus’ tower. I could even see Kiera and Mythandral digging in the dirt with Argent’s assistance trying to plant their herb garden. It made me giggle to watch the girls try to fill in her extra holes only to have them dug somewhere else. I think she was having fun with them.

My secret ledge was not too high to be a danger but it was out of the way just enough that I could hide if I needed to and today I needed to escape. Nothing had happened to set me off, it was just one of those days that when I didn’t have much to do so my mind wandered. It’s just never a good thing when my mind wanders, especially when I’m in a mood or feeling homesick or lonely. It followed a senseless path of what ifs and should haves.

What if I hadn’t run away when Brian dumped me but stayed and fought for him. What if Argent was on a leash and hadn’t chased after that rabbit? What if I had died in the ambush? I should have never been travelling with them in the first place. What if I had gone to Kirkwall with Cullen or stayed in Denerim? I could have worked for Slim. What if? What if? What if? See, a senseless path of what ifs and should haves.

I had no idea how long I was up here in my new secret spot with my knees pulled up to my chest sulking. But I knew Levi would get concerned soon and start looking for me. I needed to get up soon and check in with him.

As if on cue he miraculously appeared settling on the grass next to me. “You look preoccupied. What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing much,” I grunted into my knees without looking at him.

“Well I don’t believe that for a second,” He scoffed. “Something’s chased you up here.”

“Hey! How did you know where I was?” I asked bewildered. “This spot is supposed to be secret?”

“Some secret.” He chuckled. “It’s one of the best vantage points of the valley and on the list to be equipped as a defensive position. Didn’t you get my note? Plus, you stick out like a sore thumb.”

“Kiera told you, didn’t she?” I mused.
He nodded his head. “Kiera told me. But I digress, what’s the matter?”

“It’s really pretty up here, don’t you think?” I murmured ignoring his question and changing the subject. “Now that I think about it, it reminds me of a story from home about a place in the mountains hidden away from almost everyone. It’s not quite the same, though. This place isn’t really paradise. But it could be, it feels familiar.”

“Familiar? How?” He asked pulling a blade of grass from the ground and twirling it in his fingers.

I shrugged, “I don’t know. It’s probably just my overactive imagination.”

He sat with me in silence for a few minutes before speaking