Some Even Make the Redemption of a Child and the Passing of a King Downright Fun
Teagan approached Morrigan rather warily. He wished he had Ffion or Alistair here to discuss this with, but was out of luck. And given the choice between Sten and Morrigan, the witch was the lesser of two evils. But only by a little. Morrigan leaned on the parapet, the soldiers giving her a wide berth as she gazed out at the calm lake. There were a few stars flickering in the growing dusk and as the Bann came level with her, he was struck again by the witch's beauty.
She glanced at him, her gold eyes flickering briefly with annoyance at this interruption, but she didn't deter him. Teagan placed his hands on the stone, looked out at the lake as well, and waited a moment before speaking.
"I just spoke with Jowan," He said and felt the rough stone cut into his fingers as he involuntarily gripped more tightly, "He's worried that this... demon that has control of Conner is gaining strength again. He warned me to be on the lookout for any of the undead. I don't know how much longer we can wait for them."
Morrigan studied the young man, wishing that Ffion was here as well. She was no good at these conversations and most definitely not the right person for this situation.
"And?" She questioned, her voice cool, "This is the reason Ffion left him here, yes? He is doing his job then. I do not see the problem."
Teagan blinked at her, not expecting the short, almost angry, response. His reflex action was to snap back, but that wouldn't do anyone any good. So he let out a breath and tried again, wondering how it was that this woman could so completely intimidate someone with just a glance.
"If things get any worse..." He had to steel himself for the next words, hating to make this decision, but having no choice, "Will you be ready for the ritual?"
The witch was quiet, seeing the Bann's dilemma and considering what that meant to her personally. She felt anger start to creep through her, anger at Ffion for leaving her in this position, but more angry with herself for actually sympathizing with these people. She straightened from leaning on the parapet and faced Teagan fully.
"Indeed I will," She answered, "But a word of caution, Bann. 'Twould be wise to wait one more day. I have a feeling our foolish little leader will arrive just in time."
She turned and disappeared back into the castle, leaving Teagan alone with his fears and doubts.
Ffion had finally had enough. She paused in their trek
down the dusty road and began pulling at the hair pins in agitation. The rest
of the group stopped when she did, but she waved them on.
"Just go ahead," She told them as her hair started to curl down her back and over her shoulders, "I'll catch up."
Tilly stayed by her side as Alistair trailed after the mages, chatting with Wynne as he did so. His honey eyes lingered appreciatively on Ffion's cloud of chocolate curls, but whatever the enchanter was saying seemed more intriguing.
"You have lovely hair," Leliana commented, pausing next to Tilly, "You should wear it loose more often."
Ffion snorted a little, grabbing her hair in both fists and twisting it up so she could bind it behind her head. She secured it with a leather band and then pushed the pins back through it to keep the strands from her eyes.
"If I was cursed with having this mess down all the time, I'd be hacking it off with one of my knives," Happy with her work and realizing how ungrateful that sounded, she gave the Orlesian a shamefaced smile, "But thanks, Leliana. Come on, let's catch up."
They went around the bend in the road where the mages had disappeared and ran into another snag. One of the packs in which the extra lyrium was being carried had busted a seam, sending bottles of the powerful powder scattering over the road. A few of them had popped open and two of the mages were trying to salvage what they could.
Ffion and Leliana stepped forward and stooped to pick up a few of the bottles when the cry came. Immediately everyone straightened and watched as a very frantic young woman came running up to them. Her peasant clothes were grubby and disheveled and her blonde hair wild about her face. She sought out Ffion and Alistair above all the others and stopped just short of grabbing Ffion by the arm.
"Please, you must help!" She exclaimed breathlessly, "Raiders! They attacked our caravan and I only just got away. Please, help!"
"Irving, catch up when you can," Ffion said and motioned for Alistair and Leliana, Tilly at her side, "We'll hold them off as long as we can."
"Maker bless you!" The woman said and turned back the way she came, "It's this way, please hurry!"
They followed her down the road, Wynne joining them with a determined expression. The rest of the woman's party was about a hundred yards further, hidden around a bend and a little ways off the main path. Smoke poured from an overturned carriage and a dead ox sprawled nearby. There were only three other people present and none of them looked like peasant travelers. A lean blond Elf stood at the forefront, two men on either side of him.
Ffion didn't need to hear Leliana's softly spoken trouble to tell that something wasn't right. The blonde woman was suddenly composed and she approached the Elf calmly, giving him a nod. The Elf returned this and raised one hand. Instantly eight archers sprang up, positioned on the small rise that formed a horseshoe around the burning cart. There was a tremendous crack of snapping timber and the tree that had been standing proud at one end of the horseshoe began to topple. With Ffion's band underneath it.
"Down!" She shouted and all of them dove out of the way.
Ffion rolled across the dirt and was on her heels, a knife taking down one of the archers as the Elf said harshly,
"The Grey Wardens die here!"
Leliana took out two more archers and, of course, the blonde woman turned out to be a mage. She flung her magic at them and Wynne's shield was the only thing that saved them. The Elf and his men threw themselves into the fray and the Elf was an experienced rogue. He faced off with Alistair as one man fell to Ffion's blades and the other met his match with Tilly. Leliana still focused on the archers and another swift toss of Ffion's knife saved Wynne from one of the fast flying arrows.
Alistair was lucky with the Elf, succeeding in slashing his sword across his ribcage and then knocking him over the head. That foe disposed of, he charged at the mage and she was also gone. All that were left were the archers and Leliana had them whittled down to two by the time Irving and his mages caught up with them. Not that everyone got away completely unscathed. Alistair was bleeding from a deep gouge on his forearm that Wynne was quick to take care of; Tilly's limp was even more pronounced and an arrow had caught Leliana's cheek. Ffion was still as tired as ever and there was a sharp snap of pain in her side as a result of escaping from the falling tree. Wynne seemed the only one that was whole and she proved an excellent nurse.
"Ffion, this one is still alive," One of the mages called as they went about looting and setting aside the bodies, "What should we do with him?"
Ffion approached and saw that the blond Elf was still breathing, though the gash across his ribcage was a good one and his leather armor was soaked with blood. She crouched next to him and studied his face. He was handsome in a rather rough way. His lips were full and broad, his face clean shaven, like all male Elves. The faded green ink of his tattoo and the olive tone in his skin told her he spent a lot of time outdoors. There were lines about his eyes and mouth that seemed out of place for his young age and even unconscious, he had an expression that told her he had seen too much of the hard way of living. She didn't know him and felt a sudden softening of her resolve. It didn't matter that he had tried to kill her, that was nothing personal, and she wanted to know who it was that sent him.
"Give me some bandages," She finally answered and felt Wynne come close to her, "Wynne, is there anything you can do here?"
The enchanter knelt beside her and looked over the Elf's wound.
"The most I can do right now is stop the bleeding," She replied.
Ffion waved for her to do so as she unfastened the Elf's leather breastplate and moved it out of her way. As an afterthought, she also removed the remaining weapons in his belt and lifted up the cloth shirt so she could work on the gash. She took the clean bandages that the mage brought her and began binding the wound. Glancing up at Irving who had also come closer, she added,
"We'll burn the bodies. We don't have time to do much else. Unless you have another idea?"
The First Enchanter shook his head.
"I don't," He replied, "And that is the most we can do for these people. At least it is better than leaving them for the carrion."
Ffion sat back from her doctoring and eased to her heels. Tilly perched next to her and she examined the Mabari's paw to satisfy herself that there was nothing too serious the matter with her. As she did so, the Elf groaned, coming around much more quickly than she thought he would. She leaned forward again and met his startling amber eyes when they blinked open. He stared at her for a moment and then tipped his head back to look up at the cloudless sky.
"Well, this is most... unexpected," He muttered, his Antivan accent thick. One hand felt the bandages across his ribs and his eyes found hers again when his fingers missed the knife hilts in his belt, "I did not expect to wake at all. The tales of the Wardens do you no justice, though this act of mercy is contradictory, yes?"
"I like to surprise people," Ffion answered dryly, annoyed that her recent alterations to her hair were now proving pointless. She brushed it back with one hand and added, "Besides, what good are you to me dead?"
Alistair moved in behind her and stood with Leliana. Wynne hadn't moved from her spot next to Ffion and the other mages were still busy with the bodies. The Elf glanced at each of them and resigned himself to this inevitable fate.
"Certainly a good point," He answered and shifted gingerly so that he could sit up, "But allow me to save you valuable time. My name is Zevran Arainai, recently of the Antivan Crows. I was hired by a rather taciturn man in Denerim... Loghain, I think his name was... who was quite determined to see that all Grey Wardens were taken care of. Here I ran into a snag, obviously, and now we have a dilemma."
"I don't see one," Alistair commented and Ffion could feel the heat of his stare.
Zevran's eyes suddenly lit and he couldn't seem to help but tease the ex-Templar.
"Indeed?" He said, "I should think it quite clear."
"What sort of dilemma?" Ffion cut in before Alistair lost his temper.
The Elf's gaze was on her again and she felt an odd sort of flush sweep through her. Here was a man that enjoyed women and he didn't bother to hide his appreciation of her gender. His amber eyes danced and it was clear he recognized, and responded to, her muddled feelings.
"Well, my dear," He started and his amusement grew at Alistair's distaste for that endearment, "I have failed in my contract to kill you and am now at your mercy, yes? Since my life is forfeit at this moment anyway, I place myself completely at your disposal. Let me serve you instead. You will find that I am quite adept at rooting out fellow assassins; in a fair fight, I am hard to kill, while in an unfair one, impossible; I have a talent for poisons and traps... grenades, if that is your wish. As for other... interests: I have been told, I am an... enlightening companion."
"Oh," Wynne said in a huff, though her blue eyes were lively.
Ffion's face went red, but she didn't look away from the Elf and held up one hand to keep Alistair from commenting.
"You're selling out your Crows and your employer," She observed and was pleased that her voice was cool and all business, "How could you convince me that I won't receive that special brand of loyalty?"
"You are failing to see one all important fact, my Warden," He purred the words in a way that Ffion didn't think possible and she hated that he was charming her effortlessly into agreeing with him, "If I return to 'my Crows' I am a dead man anyway. They will kill me for failing. When no word reaches them, they will assume I died with the rest of these hired hands. Loghain would also kill me if I go back to him and, I must be honest, I enjoy living. I would very much like for it to continue and it's clear you are my only choice."
"Ffion, you aren't really-"
The Warden held up her hand again, stopping Alistair's unbelieving words short. She arched her brows at Zevran, trying to prove, to herself mostly, that she wasn't impressed. But he made sense and she hoped it wasn't just the fact that this Elf could probably charm the Archdemon itself.
"You must think I'm a royal ignoramus," She told him, more curious than anything else about how he would worm his way out of this one, "To take an assassin's word without substantial proof."
Zevran didn't take note of Alistair's smug pleasure at his fellow Warden's words, Leliana's growing pity, Wynne's amusement, or the fact that the other mages had finished their work and now watched curiously. His amber eyes were on Ffion only and he switched tactics on her, easily picking up those subjects that would cause her painful embarrassment and, more importantly, those that were sure to charm. Because if Zevran Arainai was born with any natural talent, it was to read people more thoroughly than they could read themselves.
"I think you're royally hard to kill... And, it goes without saying, utterly gorgeous. I can think of hundreds of worse things than serving the whims of a beautiful and deadly woman."
Ffion's face flamed again and this time she was speechless. She recognized what Zevran was doing as clearly as everyone else and she couldn't bring herself to hate its effectiveness too much because... Well, it was flattering. Alistair snorted at this grasping at straws, Wynne grinned fully now, and Leliana was the one that spoke next.
"Is this so different from Jowan?" She observed. There was something about the assassin that drew her and she couldn't help but stick up for him, "He is trying to make this right, I say we let him."
"What?!" Alistair exclaimed, "So you want to take assassins with us now? What's next-"
"I agree with her," Ffion interrupted calmly, her cheeks still red but her voice found once more, "We've wasted enough time and Wardens don't turn away help when it's offered. Zevran, if I suspect even the slightest wavering in your vow, it's over."
"Agreed," He answered and accepted the small hand she offered to help him up, "From now on I am your man. I'll pick up my blades when you call and follow you until you see fit to release me. I swear it."
He polished off this eloquent little speech with a graceful bow and a feral smirk curled his full lips at Alistair's open disgust.
"This is all well and good," The ex-Templar commented, "But... Well, do you really think it's wise bringing an assassin along? One moment everyone's cooperating and feeling the love, and the next, you have a knife in your back."
At the word 'knife', Ffion turned to root through the pile of arms that the mages had set aside and her little knives were instantly nestled back in her belt. She also took up Zevran's weapons and turned to hand them back when the Elf chose that moment to answer Alistair.
"Feeling the love?" He repeated and his eyes roved boldly over Leliana and Ffion both before he added, "Yes, I see where that is desirable."
"Enough," She cut in, wondering how quickly this decision was going to come back and bite her in the ass. She gave the Elf his blades, "Here, we're making for the village of Redcliffe, which you probably knew already. Does that need more attention or will you be okay?"
Zevran slid the weapons away and then shrugged back into his breastplate without even a wince of pain. He fastened the buckles and shook his white-blond head.
"No need, my dear. Your lovely enchanter has worked her magic and I'm strong enough for anything."
"Right, then, let's get going."
Alistair's voice was brisk and he ushered Ffion ahead of him as he started down the road again. Irving and his mages had wisely separated themselves from the exchange and were waiting a few yards away, but Zevran's next words brought Ffion's band to a halt once more.
"Without proper introductions?" He quizzed, "So does this mean I get to call you whatever I please? How about Sunshine? No? Cheery, then. Ah, I have it! Chirpy!"
Ffion couldn't help but giggle at that one and immediately felt guilty when Alistair looked at her as though she had just told him his favorite dog died. She stopped walking and put one hand on the ex-Templar's arm to stop him as well.
"He's right, we need to be introduced," She said, "After all, he told us who he was."
Zevran smiled brightly at Alistair, clearly wanting to push his buttons even more, and entirely secure in Ffion's protection. He extended one hand and the ex-Templar reluctantly shook it.
"Alistair," He said shortly.
Leliana was next, followed by Wynne, who was still enjoying this whole fiasco too much. The Elf turned to Ffion and glanced between her and Tilly.
"And you, my dove?"
"Ffion and this is Tilly," She put one hand on the Mabari's head with a possessiveness that was quite obvious.
"A truly remarkable animal," He offered and allowed Tilly to lick his fingers. His eyes turned mischievous and he glanced around at each of them, "And fine names, all of yours. Though personally, I am quite attached to 'Chirpy', I think that might have to stick, yes?"
Alistair's fists clenched and he had to physically bite his tongue to keep from snapping back when he caught Ffion's warning glance. To his dismay, he found himself missing Morrigan and knew that this trip was now going to take four times as long as he originally thought. Maker, help me!
They arrived at Redcliffe early the next morning and not a
moment too soon. Jowan, worry deepened into substantial fear, had prepared
everything for his own ritual, just in case. Isolde was pale and determined to
see this through, but her face lit up with relief and joy when she saw the
mages that accompanied Ffion. Jowan was just as pleased and even Sten and
Morrigan seemed glad to see them. Though Sten merely gave a nod and Morrigan,
with a withering glare at Zevran's obvious attraction to her, wanted immediate
action with Conner. In spite of her irritation with Teagan and his insistence
in confiding in her, even she was able to see the subtle changes in Conner's
behavior and knew that the sooner they acted the better. Ffion listened to her
points patiently as she helped the mages empty their packs of lyrium and then
nodded her head. Her grey eyes sought out Irving's
hazel and she arched her brows.
"As soon as you're ready, enchanter," She told him.
He bowed a little and then motioned to the other mages. He glanced between the witch and Ffion and replied rather carefully,
"It will not take any time, but you have to decide who it is that will be entering the Fade, and it cannot be you. It has to be another mage. Choose wisely, Ffion, whoever enters the Fade will be tempted and that is not what we need. It is not what that child needs."
Ffion nodded and looked thoughtful. She glanced at Morrigan, trying to ignore Zevran's presence at her elbow, when Jowan cut in.
"Let me do it, please, Ffion. It... I – I need to do this. I told you I wanted to set everything right and here is my chance. Please?"
"What?" Teagan asked, sounding a lot like Alistair, "You are the one who-"
"It doesn't matter," Leliana was quick to come to Jowan's defense, "He wants to do this; it is a way to redeem himself."
Ffion studied the young mage. His expression was drawn, determined, and Isolde looked at him with a new-found respect. She wasn't sure she would be able to go against both of them.
"All right, Jowan," She said slowly, "But you do know what failure means for you?"
The mage glanced around the room and smiled gently at the Arlessa.
"I do," He answered firmly, "If I fail, you have to kill me, Ffion. That is the only alternative to demon possession, but I can't expect anything less... or more, for that matter."
"Are you sure this is wise, Ffion?" Irving questioned and for the first time since they met, his eyes shone with animosity, "You know of Jowan's history. You know how this came about."
Ffion still studied Jowan and she found herself agreeing with Leliana once more. The Orlesian made a fair point: Jowan had proved himself more trustworthy than anyone would believe and this seemed to be his final test.
"He's willing," She said shortly and waved one hand towards the mages' work, "Thank-you, Jowan. This is a good thing."
"Not to mention heroic," Leliana added, smiling at the mage.
Zevran, leaning one hip against the table where the lyrium was spread and nonchalantly running a whetstone along a blade that was already razor sharp, drawled lazily,
"Heroic? Lovely Leliana, I believe the word you are searching for is suicidal."
Leliana shook her head at him, not dignifying his comment with another word, and instead went to assist the mages. Ffion was distracted with her pack as she rooted out Tilly's food and was in the middle of looking for the Mabari's bowl when one dropped into her line of vision. She glanced up to meet Zevran's amber colored gaze and smiled a little at him.
"Thanks," She said and proceeded to feed her hound as Tilly's tail thumped the floor.
Zevran watched her curiously and wondered, not for the first time, why it was he was so enamored of her. Leliana was the more attractive one when comparing them side-by-side and now that he had met Morrigan he knew it was downright cruel to compare another woman to her. But Ffion... There was something so alluring about her fresh-faced, wide-eyed innocence. He had seen too many with this same gift become bitter and broken by life and he was surprised to find himself wanting to protect this woman. And just then, when she smiled as she thanked him, he saw one of the little puzzle pieces fall into place. Her grey eyes were just like Rinna's and he wondered if maybe this was fate's twisted sense of humor at work. Sense of humor or sense of justice? Here was his chance to at least attempt to make things right and he was trying to tread carefully. Subtlety was not his strong point though and he knew his baser instincts would be fighting him all the way, but he could try.
"Are you well, Ffion?" He questioned suddenly.
Ffion wasn't sure what was more surprising: the question or the use of her name. Since she had recruited the Elf, he had been her constant companion, next to Tilly, and in that time he had used her first name on maybe four occasions. It was always 'my dear,' 'my Warden,' or 'my dove' and almost always with the possessive. She found it flattering and more than a little shocking. Her parents were the only ones that had ever used any endearments and she wasn't sure how she felt about a relative stranger doing so.
"Well?" She repeated as she realized the silence was stretching for far too long, "I'm fine. Why? Am I turning blue or something?"
"Silly Warden," He replied and his hands stilled on the blade while his amber eyes met hers again, "Not blue, no, but you are quite pale."
She straightened, leaving her pack leaning against the table and watched as a sleeping Conner was carried in and placed on a couch near Irving and Jowan. Alistair was approaching them and she smiled at the ex-Templar.
"I'm just... tired, I guess," She commented, "But that's not important. I can catch up on my rest when I'm dead."
She said the words lightly, her focus on Alistair, so she missed Zevran's quick scrutinizing look and puzzled frown.
"Most unhealthy, my Warden," His light tone matched hers though he filed those words away, with good reason, "Attitudes like this belong to big, dumb strong types like our Chirpy, and they lead to awful break downs. Be on your guard, dear."
Alistair stood in front of Ffion while the Elf spoke and though his eyes flashed, he was getting much better at completely ignoring Zevran and his barbed tongue.
"They're ready, Ffion," He announced, "And Irving is waiting for your word before he starts. I think Jowan wants to talk with you, too."
"Good," She answered and then glanced at the Elf, "And don't worry, Zevran. I'm sure you'll spot my break down before I will and take all the necessary precautions. So we'll both be on guard, yeah?"
Zevran swept her a bow, his manners always more flirtatious when Alistair was watching, and almost looked like he was going to kiss her hand.
"I will certainly be watching, my dove," He purred, "You can depend on Zevran."
Jowan was waiting to speak with her and his face was pale and drawn. His gaze was very worried and it kept flickering between Conner's peaceful face and the spot that Irving's mages had cleared for the ritual. He smiled a little at her, but it didn't reach his eyes.
"I know we don't have time, but..." He trailed off and was at a loss for words.
Ffion recognized the imploring way he searched her face and extended one hand to him, her smile gentle.
"No matter what happens, Jowan, you've proved yourself a hero," She shook his hand and her eyes turned a little mischievous, "Reluctant, maybe, but a hero all the same. You won't be forgotten. Oh! Which reminds me."
She let go of him and hurried back to her pack. This time, she found what she was looking for in no time and turned to the young mage, holding out the little gift and card. Solona had thrust both into her hands just before they left the Circle, telling her in an undertone that they were meant for Jowan, with her love.
"For me?" Jowan asked, accepting both and glancing quickly at the First Enchanter who was still busy with the last preparations, "But-"
"They're from Solona," She interrupted, "She wanted me to give them to you."
"Solona?" Jowan repeated and his eyes lit up, "You saw her? She's okay, then?"
"She's fine. We wouldn't have come out alive without her," Ffion answered and saw out of the corner of her eye that Irving was motioning to her, "Like I said, Jowan, you won't be forgotten. You've more than redeemed yourself, I think."
The young mage had opened the gift and an amulet that appeared handmade dropped into his palm. His lips parted for a moment as he studied this and then they curled up into a happy, reminiscent smile. Emotions played across his face, but he clutched the amulet in one hand and grasped Ffion's in the other.
"You've been a better friend then I deserve, Ffion, and I won't forget that you gave me this chance."
Irving approached then and, at Jowan's nod, she gave the okay.
The ritual had begun.
Ffion, not needed at the forefront anymore, dropped down to the floor beside Tilly and leaned against the wall. Alistair was talking with Wynne again, Leliana had pulled her bow loose and was oiling the supple, beautiful wood; Sten hulked by a window, looking out at the view, while Morrigan actively ignored Zevran's leering. Zevran who lounged, as always, close at hand.
The young Warden tipped her head against the wall behind her, looking briefly at Jowan's troubled face as he slept close by Conner. Her body ached with the exertions of the past couple of days and the snatches of sleep on the road back to Redcliffe had merely teased her. A semi-silence had fallen over the hall: Alistair and Wynne's voices were muted, Teagan and Isolde sat side-by-side, not speaking, and the mages murmured softly to one another as though they were all keeping vigil over a corpse; not a young boy and the tutor fighting to save him.
Ffion relaxed more completely and allowed her eyes to drift shut. Tilly rested her heavy head on her lady's thigh and even Zevran, who usually took whatever opportunity he had to talk to her, respected her privacy. Morrigan... not so much.
"Assassins and enchanters now, Ffion?" Her cold voice interrupted Ffion's partial slumber, "I am afraid Alistair was correct... for once. You have a predilection for collecting people... and not particularly desirable ones."
Zevran's smile was feral and it curled the tattoo at the corner of his eye as he answered before Ffion had the chance.
"Don't be hard on yourself, lovely," He purred, "You are more than desirable."
If Morrigan was able to kill with a look, the Elf would have dropped dead at that moment. And Ffion likely interrupted a much more substantial attempt when she suddenly remembered that she had something for the witch. She rifled through her pack for the third time and checked to make sure that the First Enchanter was still preoccupied. Irving wasn't paying them any mind; his attention focused on Jowan and Conner's faces, ready to step in the instant that something went wrong.
Ffion tugged Flemeth's spell book from her bag and waved Morrigan closer. The witch's gold eyes were curious as she crouched beside her and she cocked her head a little, meeting Ffion's gaze.
"What's undesirable about a healer and an assassin who charms like Sten intimidates?" The Warden quizzed and made Zevran chuckle. She extended the book to Morrigan, "I thought you might find this interesting... but if I were you, I wouldn't let Irving see it."
"Tsk, tsk, dove," Zevran chided, "Stealing does not become you."
Ffion's face reddened. She had been warring with herself ever since she took the tome. Her mother would have been horrified and it was astounding how guilty she felt about that. Grey eyes not leaving Morrigan, who looked at the book with something like awe, she tried to keep her tone light as she answered.
"It was stolen in the first place," Her voice instead sounded incredibly defensive and she winced before trying again, "Haven't you ever heard that two wrongs make a right?"
This time she was successful. Zevran's amber eyes lit with amusement at her teasing note, but Morrigan interrupted any further conversations. She had found the scrawled Flemeth and was running her slender fingers over it. Her gold eyes met Ffion's.
"Do you know what this is?" She asked in an undertone.
Ffion was surprised that the witch seemed to be as concerned by Irving's attention as she was and she glanced at the First Enchanter once more.
"I just assumed that it was a spell book," She replied when it was clear they were still the least of Irving's worries, "I can't read the language it's in, but the drawings in the margins kind of supported that idea."'
"'Tis so," Morrigan studied her rather intently and then she tipped one corner of her mouth up in what was almost a friendly smile, "I wish to start reading this immediately. Thank you, Ffion. I will not pass up the opportunity to learn more than Flemeth ever wished me to."
The witch hefted the book and went to her own pack, leaving Zevran and Ffion to stare after her in surprise. Zevran glanced at the Warden and his brows inched up.
"That was unexpected, yes?" He questioned.
Ffion shook her head a little and swept a loose curl behind her ear.
"Very," She looked up at him, her desire to tease stronger than ever, "Breathe it in, Zevran. Chances are you'll never hear another Morrigan thank you."
"Ffion?" Irving's voice was urgent, "Come quickly."
Ffion pushed Tilly from her lap and was at once at the First Enchanter's elbow. Alistair was next to her and they both looked down at Jowan's face as Conner started coming around. The young mage was pale, his eyelids flickering as though he was having a nightmare. His lips parted and, as Conner opened his eyes, Jowan gasped. It startled him awake and he blinked up at Ffion and Alistair before his eyes met the First Enchanter's.
"M-Mother?" Conner stuttered, shrinking away from the mages that surrounded him.
No evidence of the demon possession remained and Conner was an innocent boy again. He was terrified of those around him and his lost expression overwhelmed his mother. She ran to him, her arms open.
"Conner!" She exclaimed brokenly, "Oh, my boy! My dear boy..."
It was unclear who was holding on more tightly and Isolde buried her face in Conner's hair. She didn't care that she was sobbing in front of everyone and no one dared think less of her simply because she showed the emotions that most of them were feeling. Irving slid an arm around Jowan's shoulders and helped him to sit up, previous animosity gone.
"You have done well, my boy," He said, his ancient voice sounding tired, "You resisted the temptation and reunited a mother and son."
Teagan, face drawn, stepped closer. Ffion's companions had also crowded around and he found himself the center of attention as he added his own two bits.
"I am grateful to you, Jowan," The Bann said slowly, clearly not liking the position he found himself in, "You proved that you sincerely wanted to fix this, but that doesn't negate what's been done to my brother."
Jowan was sitting up on his own and he blanched. His already pale face was white now and his hazel eyes flickered before he steeled himself once more. Straightening his shoulders and meeting Teagan's gaze, he inclined his head.
"I know, my lord," He spoke softly but firmly, "After what I've done, I don't deserve mercy, I know that. But it sets my heart at ease, knowing that I was able to help Conner and the Arlessa. Whatever happens to me... It's in the Maker's hands."
Isolde looked at Jowan, torn between gratefulness and the anger that had gripped her so fiercely every time she talked about the mage. One hand stroked Conner's hair and she frowned rather pensively, glancing at her brother-in-law.
"Teagan..." She said hesitantly, "Maybe we should... rethink this. I know that what happened to Eamon can't be forgotten, but he did help us. Conner is back and... I don't think we should ignore this."
The Bann was in complete agreement with her on this and he nodded once before looking at Ffion. Her gaze was on Isolde and Conner, pleased with their success, and he felt that inkling of recognition again. He just couldn't figure out where he had seen her before.
"What do you say, Ffion?"
The Warden glanced up at him in surprise, her eyebrows arched. Grey eyes met blue and she shrugged.
"Why is this my decision?" She replied, "It is your brother that was poisoned, Teagan, and I don't have any say in that matter."
"You left Jowan in charge here; the two of you made the decision to go to the Circle and ask the mages for assistance," Teagan's voice had taken on an edge of impatience, "So far, Ffion, you have been our salvation. Why shouldn't you make this decision?"
"You are basing a man's fate on past luck?" Sten's deep voice was incredulous.
Zevran gave a snort of laughter and he looked at Ffion.
"My dear, they don't want their winning streak broken," He commented and the amusement in his voice didn't quite cover the irritation he felt over this.
Teagan set his jaw stubbornly, looking much younger as he did so. His blue eyes flickered between them all and he didn't bother to hide his frustration.
"Well, why should you be surprised by that?" He demanded, "Ffion and Alistair have saved the village and protected everyone. There's nothing wrong with wanting them to keep on the path."
Ffion wasn't impressed. Her grey eyes flashed to Alistair and she knew the ex-Templar would be more inclined to go along with Teagan than any of the others. Indeed, he looked at her now with such a beseeching expression in his honey colored eyes that she felt guilty before words were even spoken. She heaved a sigh, resigning herself.
"If there ever happens to be a next time, Teagan, a little forewarning, please," She commented and then added, "And I still hold to the belief that this is a decision for the Arl and Arlessa."
"That doesn't do us any good though, Ffion," Alistair cut in, determined to divert any talk of drastic measures before it could begin, "Considering Eamon's condition."
"Which was Jowan's fault to begin with," The Bann was just as annoyed as any of them and Jowan's wince went ignored as the argument continued.
"And so the talking in circles commences," Zevran said quietly.
Leliana, knowing Ffion would do whatever she could to secure that Jowan's fate was left to the Arl, was able to find the humor in that comment and she giggled. Even Morrigan seemed rather amused and while Wynne sent them an annoyed look, Ffion merely smiled in a distracted sort of way. Her eyes landed on Sten's and the Qunari lifted his powerful shoulders.
"The Elf has a point," He agreed, "And this does that Arl no favors. The man's sickness is such that it would be kindest to execute him. I don't see a return from this otherwise."
Isolde inhaled sharply and Conner let out a little moan of fear. The Arlessa's face was white and her hands tightened on her son. Horrified eyes locked on the Qunari and she spoke fiercely,
"No, you won't touch him. Eamon will get well. The Urn of Sacred Ashes is being sought out and-"
"Lady Isolde," Wynne's voice was gentle as she cut in, "Your son has been through enough. Perhaps it would be best to put him to bed and then we can discuss this freely."
Isolde looked down at Conner as though surprised to discover he was still there and then, with an expression of keen protectiveness, she bent and kissed the top of his head. Her voice softened as she murmured to her boy and together, they got to their feet. They disappeared and the others, out of respect for the fact that it was her husband they were discussing, waited to continue until she came back. And Irving helped with the distraction.
"Ffion, our work here is done," He told her, "We must return to the Circle and oversee the restoration there, but when you require aid you need merely to say the word. I will be leaving Gaile here to watch over the boy and the Arlessa has already agreed to send him to us when this Blight is settled."
"And that's more than we could ever ask for," She replied, "Thank you, First Enchanter, saving Conner is... It will mean everything if we can get the Arl back."
Irving smiled gently at her and reached to grasp one of her hands in his. His hazel eyes were affectionate and kind as they looked her over and he gave her a bow. He spoke again and this time, the words were for her ears only,
"Keep listening to your heart, my dear, there is a light there that will shine in the darkest places in this world."
Ffion only had time to give him a nod and then Isolde returned and Irving approached her. The mages departed and Gaile, the Elven woman who agreed to be left behind, went up to keep watch over her charge.
"The Urn of Sacred Ashes, huh?" Ffion muttered as she leaned against the table the mages had used.
Morrigan was next to her and she sent the Warden a half annoyed, half amused look.
"'Tis a madness to which I am sure you will agree."
"Predictability always leaves you prepared, Morrigan," Ffion answered, letting the insult roll off her, "That's not a bad thing, is it?"
"It is not madness," Isolde cut in, her anger rushing back at Morrigan's flippant tone, "There is a scholar, a Brother Genitivi, who has made it his life's work to find the Urn. I have been funding his research and I know that he was making great strides. He is based out of Denerim. If you were to seek him out, he would do what he could to help you. He owes me that much."
Ffion and Alistair exchanged dismayed looks and Morrigan let out a derisive snort. Sten had resumed his vigil at the window, though now he turned and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Denerim?" He repeated, "Walking straight into the viper's nest? That is madness."
"He's right, lady," Alistair said slowly, "I want to help Eamon any way I can, but Loghain is actively trying to kill us and it'd be insane to go to Denerim now. Especially without allies."
Zevran grinned broadly at this and he gave the ex-Templar a slight bow, acknowledging his role in the 'active killing' part. His amber eyes danced, but he agreed with Sten.
"Not to mention the fact that it would take over two weeks, at least, to get there," He added, "And I am not enamored of the idea to return just yet."
Teagan looked thoughtful. He ran one hand through his short brown beard and his blue eyes met Alistair's.
"With Conner back to... well, normal, I guess, the village should be safe from that threat," He stated, "And that frees up some of the guards. I can send a few of my most trusted men and you can rest easy that they will return with whatever information you need. You need my brother in this fight against Loghain, and as farfetched as this idea of the Sacred Ashes is, it's our only option."
"But the Blight has to be our priority," Sten was not asking, he merely stated a fact that no one could argue with, "The treaties need to be fulfilled."
"And so our focus stays the same," Leliana cut in, "We can approach the Dwarves next. That keeps us in relatively the same area, no? And then word from you, Bann, can reach us with a little more ease."
Ffion liked this. She relaxed against the table, no longer at the forefront and let everyone else make the decisions. At least, she liked it until all eyes turned to her with that questioning gleam she was beginning to hate.
"And our dove is put upon once more."
Zevran's voice was right in her ear and she jumped. The damn Elf moved more quietly than Leliana! Her grey eyes found Teagan.
"Send your men, Teagan," She said, "Leliana's right: we'll head to Orzammar."
Lord Pyral Harrowmont hastened after the king's second in
command. He had been summoned in the middle of the night and, with a sinking
feeling in the pit of his stomach, he knew that this wasn't good.
King Endrin Aeducan had been ailing at an alarming rate ever since the death of his eldest son and subsequent banishment of the second. The details surrounding the death of Trian Aeducan were murky at best, but Harrowmont's suspicions were that the king's youngest boy, Bhelen, was behind everything. It was a little too convenient that Bhelen had known something was wrong the instant the expedition into the Deep Roads began, and the trouble only grew when he led his father and the other soldiers directly to his older brothers.
They had found Duran crouching beside Trian with a scout, the Dwarf nobleman Frandlin Ivo, and Duran's second, all of whom had accompanied the prince. Trian and his men were dead, killed by Dwarves, considering the wounds, and Bhelen was very eager to point out that Duran and his men were the first upon the scene. The scout and Ivo both confessed to watching Duran and Trian argue and then start fighting, and it was Duran and Gorim's word against the evidence spread before the king.
Endrin, as much as it pained him, couldn't see any other way this could have happened, and so had his son arrested. Gorim was banished to the surface world while Duran was given some semblance of honor and allowed to fight to the death in the Deep Roads. The young Dwarf had accepted this bravely, never once faltering in his proclamations of innocence. He was seen off by Harrowmont himself and he went with the knowledge that one of his father's most trusted men believed him.
Not that it did Duran any good. Harrowmont knew that Bhelen was devious, ruthless, and jealous enough to strike down anyone that stood between him and his father's throne, but Endrin was proud. And no matter how much he favoured his middle son, he wasn't about to go back on his word. Especially not when most of the city seemed to believe Bhelen's story. A clever ruse, no doubt, considering how popular Duran had been in Orzammar.
But Duran had inherited his father's stiff-neck, which was one of many traits that would have made him a venerable power-house; and he would accept an invitation to return to his family and palace only if Bhelen agreed to confess everything. And Endrin couldn't give him that. Bhelen would never admit fault, of course, and with Ivo and the scout's testimony, Duran's fate was sealed.
And now the king was dying.
"Is the Prince Bhelen with him?" Harrowmont asked as he was led towards the king's chambers.
"No, my lord," Danso answered. He had been with Endrin for the past thirty years and Bhelen had been his least favorite of his master's sons, so the animosity in his voice was unsurprising, "His majesty has barred the prince from his room and instead requested you. He places trust in your discretion and loyalty, Lord Harrowmont, and only wanted you to be present."
Danso opened the door to Endrin's chambers and stood back. Harrowmont started forward and then hesitated. He suddenly felt every one of his fifty-six years and he glanced at the king's man rather imploringly.
"I am not ready for this, Danso," He said heavily, "But if the worst should happen, you have a place in my household. We need men like you."
Danso bowed, murmuring his thanks, and Harrowmont went to Endrin's bedside. He couldn't help but be shocked by the change in his old friend and king. In the past week since all of this had happened, Endrin had become an old man. Endrin, who had always been lively and spry; always ready for any challenge, real or imagined; who had been able to keep up with the soldiers on any expedition, night and day. And here he was, about to give up the life he had loved so much and return to the Stone.
The physician on the other side of the bed was closing his case of potions and pills and he met Harrowmont's gaze over the slumbering king. This was the same family physician that had nursed the queen in her final days and he himself was looking his age.
"There is nothing more to be done, my lord," He said quietly, "The king has just lost his will to live and without that..."
Endrin's eyes blinked open and he looked around briefly before speaking.
"Leave us," Despite his appearance, the king's voice was strong and his brilliant bluish-white eyes were alert, "I need to speak with Lord Harrowmont alone."
The physician bowed and left without a word. Harrowmont sank onto the low chair beside the bed and gave Endrin a small smile. The king steeled himself for this conversation and, as usual, he got right to the point.
"I need you to promise me something, Pyral," He said softly, reaching with one hand and grasping Harrowmont's with a brotherly affection, "Please, this one last thing."
Harrowmont, hating these conversations, proved his eternal optimism. He forced his voice to lightness as he answered,
"What are you talking about, highness? You will be up and ordering everyone about in no time."
Endrin snorted and then closed his eyes briefly.
"Thanks, my old friend, but you and I both know that's bullshit," He replied and was once more the King of Orzammar, "I need this, Pyral."
"Than I'm your man, Endrin, you know that," Harrowmont was all seriousness now and his face just as grave as Endrin's, "Whatever you need, just ask."
"Don't let Bhelen take over here," It clearly pained Endrin to say this, but he continued because it needed to be said, "I was a damn fool for sending Duran to the Deep Roads, but what's done is done and now we need to prevent Bhelen from ruling Orzammar. It would be a disaster, Pyral, and instead I want you to watch over the city."
Harrowmont was speechless. He sat back in the chair, gaping at Endrin. When he had said 'anything', he wasn't expecting that and he felt himself shrink inwardly at such a burden. His grey-blue eyes were wide and he shook his head a little.
"Don't argue with me, Pyral," The king interrupted, "I don't mean forever, I know you'd hate me if I suggested that. I just mean for now. At least until you and the others find someone that won't drive Orzammar into the ground. Please, Pyral, I know you're to be trusted."
"You always did ask the impossible, Endrin," Harrowmont muttered, which was as good as agreeing.
The king smiled, knowing victory when he saw and heard it. His eyes drifted shut and he let out a sigh that was relief itself.
"And you would have joined me in gaining it," He said and his voice grew softer. He shifted and winced. If this was the end, it was much easier than he thought, "That's why it has to be you. Will you promise?"
"You know I will," Harrowmont clasped his friend's hand for the last time and squeezed briefly, "Rest in peace, Endrin, you've missed your queen for far too long."
Endrin sighed again and had to agree with Harrowmont. His queen, his wife, his Sereda, had been waiting for him and that was about to end. He drifted off, knowing that, in Harrowmont's capable hands, Orzammar was safe and secure.