I still remember the time Leliana had started teaching me about the ways of the bard. I knew how to sing already, of course. My upbringing in Highever had seen to that. Although he'd allowed me to study history, martial arts, and whatever else took my fancy, my father had been quite insistent that that would be as well as the skills that befit a young lady of noble birth.
I'd been quite proud of singing voice, and figured that I wouldn't have a whole lot to learn. Leliana had broken me of that misapprehension very quickly. The first thing that she'd told me was that it wasn't how good your voice was but what you did with it that mattered.
The power of a song was not in the notes, nor even in the words, but in the emotions. In combat, nobody would care about the purity of my high D, or the clarity of my enunciation. That was the first lesson that she had taught me.
Only by manipulating emotions could a bard hope to have any influence on the battlefield. She'd taught me powerful hymns of steadfast courage that would inspire our allies to feats of great valour; she'd taught me vicious dirges to demoralise our enemies.
The ways of the Orlesian bard were more, much more, than just musical aptitude. It was also a state of mind. This too, she shared with me.
We did not take pleasure in death or destruction. I don't think that I ever could have done, even if I'd tried. What we did do was find joy in the grace and artistry of song or movement, and pleasure in simple tasks performed well.
It was a fine distinction but an important one. I was always aware that there was a line that I could never cross. If I started to thrill at the prospect of taking a life then it was only a matter of time before I turned into a monster.
At the same time, it was hard to deny that battle was exciting, and Leliana taught me that it was wrong to even try to deny it. To influence the emotions of others, she had explained, I first had to be at peace with my own emotions. Only by accepting that I took pleasure from fighting could I reach my potential.
At first, we'd started simply. I'd take the arts that she'd taught me and apply them on the battlefield, but with little awareness of what was going on outside my immediate bubble. We often found that we'd be singing different songs as we fought, too caught up in the din of combat to do anything else. The cacophony would have horrified my music tutors, but it worked.
As I grew more experienced and we both grew more accustomed to each other, we started to embellish. We'd harmonise around each other, adding depth and accents to our song. Sometimes, we did this for practical reasons. Having two disparate threads of song suddenly join together in union was emotionally powerful. More often than not, though, we'd do it for sheer joy.
The next step in my education was to learn to integrate my singing with my combat. I developed my fighting style, flashing my daggers in time with my own music, turning the fight into something that almost resembled a dance.
Once I was dancing, Leliana taught me how to combine my dance with hers. We would be able to swap opponents mid fight, forcing our enemies to shift their balance to deal with the new angle of threat, and often giving us a decisive advantage. With practice and familiarity we could all but read each other's minds.
Looking back on it now, what happened next seems almost inevitable and not at all surprising. At the time, though, it caught me totally unaware. Our lives had become intertwined and somehow, somewhere, we fell in love.
We'd been training together in camp and had just decided to pack it in for the night, when she lent over and kissed me on the lips. I hadn't been expecting it but instantly I knew that it was right. I knew I wanted to kiss her back, and I knew that I loved her.
She told me later, much later, that she was getting tired of waiting for me to notice what was obvious to her and that was why she took the lead. I'm so glad that she did. During my upbringing, I'd never been exposed to the idea of two women loving each other the way I love Leliana. I don't think I'd ever have thought of it if I'd been left to my own devices, and then I'd have lost out on so much.
So much time has passed since then, and so much has changed. In a way, though, things have stayed the same.
We wander the countryside, going from town to town and tavern to tavern, singing for our supper, and picking up a few coins here and there when we can. Some day, we both know that the darkspawn blood within me will stir and call me back to the Grey Wardens. That day has not yet arrived, though, and for now we are happy to fade into the background. Letting us do so was King Alistair's penultimate gift to us. His last gift had been sacrificing himself against the archdemon so the two of us could live on, together.
We take pleasure where we can find it. In our song and dance, in good food and good people, but most of all in each other. Every morning, I wake up to the touch of her soft skin, the sound of her breathing, and the scent of her sweat and perfume. Every morning, I start the day knowing that everything I've been through has been worthwhile.
And now, I must go, for a crowd are waiting to hear us sing. I'll go down the stairs and my love and I will sing our epic ballad of the brave Grey Warden, the beautiful woman she loved, and the noble king who sacrificed himself for them. And we will take joy in the singing, and joy in the knowing that nobody even suspects that we're singing about ourselves.