Shades of Grey and Black

Beautiful Roses + Recovered Amulets + Awkward Conversations + Cities in Peril = A Warden's Life

Ffion was sitting at the campfire for maybe a quarter-hour before Alistair came back. She looked up at him in surprise, thinking that he had already gone to bed. After all, he had just come off his watch and considering that it was probably after two in the morning, she just assumed he'd gone right to sleep. But she smiled at him anyway and cocked her head a little when he flushed a bright pink.

"Is there something wrong, Alistair?" She questioned and frowned when he turned a deeper red.

"No," He said quickly and then added, "I just... I wanted...Oh, Maker's breath! I wanted to give you something."

She smiled at him in confusion and then waved for him to sit beside her. Her grey eyes were amused, but in a gentle way, and she was so understanding that it made this so much worse. He had never done this sort of thing before, but Ffion deserved someone better than Zevran to tell her that she was something special in this hell they found themselves.

"Well, sit down, then and let's have it," She was teasing him and, for whatever reason, that made it more difficult.

"No, I don't need... It's nothing, just.... Well, this reminded me of you and... Here," He finished abruptly, holding out one hand, and extending his gift to her.

She blinked up at him, confusion deepening at his obvious embarrassment. Her grey eyes landed on his hand and she felt her lips part a little. Her own hand left Tilly's head and she accepted the beautiful crimson rose from the ex-Templar. It was only partially opened and the most intriguing color of red. The only roses she remembered seeing on their travels were in Lothering, but with how lively this one was that couldn't possibly be, and she held the blossom to her nose, inhaling the sweet perfume. She spun it between her fingers and looked up at Alistair again.

"This is for me?" She questioned slowly, feeling her own cheeks starting to color.

Alistair shrugged, looking even more bashful, though now there was something rather defiant in his expression as though they were arguing instead of discussing this.

"I just... You've been so great with all of this. I mean, here I am whining and complaining about everything and you have been doing so much for... for everyone. You had the chance to end things quickly with Conner's situation and instead you decided to get more help. You've been risking your life and you saved those innocent mages when you didn't have to. Ffion, you deserve some sort of recognition and when I saw that rose bush in Lothering, I couldn't help but take one of the blooms," Alistair's burning cheeks were returning to their proper color when it was clear that Ffion wasn't taking offense at his rather personal gift and he continued before he could lose heart, "I mean, with the Blight coming, that bush was going to be destroyed anyway and there these were, blooming in spite of... everything. Something about them reminded me of you."

Ffion was about as red as the rose now and she didn't look up at him as she asked,

"What do you mean?"

It was clear that she wasn't playing coy, she really didn't understand why Alistair would give her such a thing.

"I remember thinking: how could something so pretty and innocent survive this Blight, and then I thought of you. Your spirit is wonderful, Ffion, and you've proved yourself to be light and color in this growing darkness."

Alistair felt that he had been clumsy with that, but Ffion was beaming at him now, her face flushed to her hairline. She inhaled the scent of the rose again and then met his gaze.

"Thank you, Alistair," She murmured softly.

"So that was the right thought?"

She smiled again and, with the firelight flickering off her face and her eyes made soft by the happiness, she was just as, if not more, beautiful than Morrigan.

"Yes, that was the right one," She replied, "It's a lovely thought, Alistair. Thank you."

The ex-Templar took this as a true invitation to sit beside her, never mind her previous one, and he studied her a moment.

"I – I didn't mean to embarrass you, Ffion, or put you on the spot," He said slowly, still not sure how he became so bold as to give this girl a rose. She was his sister in the Wardens and he wondered why it was so much harder to see her in that light than the other women Wardens he had met. At first, he had thought it was merely the fact that they were the only two left in Ferelden, that they knew of, and now he wasn't sure, "It was just a thought. And I couldn't give it to you at any other time because... well, I just couldn't. You know with-"

"Everyone around?" She interrupted just as slowly, wondering when she'd turn her proper color again.

"Well, yeah," He sighed and rubbed his forehead, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers and trying to stifle a yawn, "Listen, Ffion, you don't have to keep it just to be nice. I can-"

"No!" She exclaimed quickly and involuntarily tightened her hand around the stem. Her blush felt permanent and her grey eyes met his and then flickered away, a sudden desire to change the subject taking over, "No, no need. Besides, I need to return the favor."

It was Alistair's turn to frown as Ffion hurried to her tent and came back with something clasped in one hand. He saw with a thrill of pleasure she had tucked the rose absentmindedly into the chocolate colored curls that, in spite of being bound with a leather strap, cascaded down her back. She perched next to him again and unwrapped the bundle.

"Teagan thought that this might mean more to you than him," She said distractedly as she fought one of the ties, "He found it in Eamon's desk while looking for... something, I don't remember. He wondered if you might know where it came from."

She succeeded in tugging the handkerchief loose and picked up a slender silverite chain. There was a Chantry amulet hanging from this and she extended it to him with a questioning expression. Alistair took it carefully in one hand and studied it closely. His own expression changed into one of complete awe as he ran his fingers gently over the hairline cracks in the silver medallion. The iconic symbol of Andraste's flame was scarred, but someone with the patience of the gods themselves had pieced this together again after it was shattered.

"Where... How did..." Alistair's voice trailed off and he tried again, "I don't understand."

Ffion frowned, her embarrassment taking a backseat to Alistair's speechless wonder.

"So it does mean something," She wasn't asking and she leaned her elbows on her knees and cupped her chin in one hand, looking at him intently, "What is it?"

"It – it was my mother's," The ex-Templar spoke softly, slowly, and he was afraid to let go of the amulet, worried that it might disappear if he did, "It was the only thing that I had of hers after her death. When I found out that I was being shipped to the Chantry because Isolde was afraid of the rumors that pegged me as Eamon's son, I threw this against the wall in my room. I was so angry with him for sending me off just like that and it was something I regretted forever. I never thought that he would – that I meant enough to him that he should..."

"Repair it?" Ffion offered and felt her heart soften even more towards him. It was... interesting, to say the least. Zevran made her feel like a woman, like she was... desired; while Alistair turned her back into Ffion Cousland, the Teyrn and Teyrna's stubborn, innocent daughter. He made her feel like she was with Gilmore again and that was the feeling she wanted to chase, "Maybe – maybe you meant more to him than you ever guessed, Alistair. It's clear he went to a lot of trouble to put that back together. I think he meant for you to have it again and I'm just glad that I could be the one to help."

"Never mind the circumstances?" He was only partially serious and his eyes were still on the medallion.

"Never mind the circumstances," She answered and smiled at him. He was telling her so much of his past; trusting her with so much and she was instantly guilty, "Alistair-"

He interrupted her by leaning forward and wrapping one arm around her shoulders in an affectionate, brotherly embrace. She was shocked by this and remained unmovable for a moment before patting his back fondly.

"Thanks, Ffion," He said quietly, "You don't know how much this means to me."

"Brother and sister in the blood, right?" She answered, her tone light.

"Darkspawn taint," He corrected as he pulled back with that crooked grin, "And yes. Now, I need some sleep, so let's forget about the awkward conversations until morning."

She returned the grin and self-consciously touched the rose in her hair.

"Let's," She agreed, "Good night, Alistair."

"Good night, Ffion, and thank you again. You're a true friend."


"Wasn't it summer just down the hill?" Alistair questioned as they trekked the last steep incline.

"Summer? In the Frostback Mountains?" Ffion answered and swept a loose curl back, "A little farfetched, don't you think?"

The ex-Templar grinned at her, his eyes dancing. They had made as good time as they could to Orzammar, but everyone had seemed to forget the elevation of the Dwarven city. It had started snowing the second night they hiked into the foothills, the Frostbacks not caring that it was supposed to be summer; and Leliana and Morrigan had both started sneezing. The witch nearly lost her voice, much to Alistair's pleasure, while Leliana was annoyed that she couldn't sing the ballads she usually did at the evening campfire. Wynne was a miracle worker with her health potions and Zevran, once they let him near the food, proved a master at concocting a spiced wine that warmed them from the inside out. Ffion had had to scrounge into her pack, berating herself for not thinking through this part of their travels, before finding anything remotely warm. Here Sten ended up being her salvation. He had the forethought that she lacked and on the second morning dropped a very heavy fur-lined cloak around her shoulders. The weight of it had staggered her just as much as his act of kindness and she made a mental note to do something for the big Qunari the first chance she got.

So far, it hadn't happened and Sten resolutely brought up the rear of their party. He led the little donkey that Owen, in a gesture of grateful thanks for finding Valena, had given to Ffion. This was about the best thing anyone could have gifted. The sturdy little animal, Syd, was about three years old and very healthy. He accepted his fate without trouble and they had loaded him with the cooking gear, tents, extra weapons, and everything else they wouldn't immediately need. Syd had taken to Sten and, shocking everyone, the Qunari actually liked the donkey. He had taken the animal's lead in one huge hand as they left Redcliffe and Syd's big brown eyes fixed on the Qunari with absolute trust. Alistair was hard pressed to keep quiet about this one, but he did a good job. Ffion and Leliana had both been inclined to giggle every time they looked back and saw the pair, while Morrigan was faintly disgusted and the others accepted it without question; though Tilly seemed to think Syd was a new playmate and Ffion had to prevent the hound from chewing the donkey's tail to bits.

"'Twould be wise to hold a moment," Morrigan, her normally honey-like voice scratchy, was right behind Ffion.

The Warden glanced back at her only to see that the witch was nodding towards a group of a half dozen surrounding a small campfire. They were bundled in cloaks, and stooping closer to the warmth of the fire as they tried to escape the chilly wind and scattered snowflakes. Just beyond them was a beautiful stone bridge and beyond that were two stone pillars with Dwarvish runes etched into their surfaces. They had finally reached Orzammar, but the group around the fire was out of place. Two of them glanced back at Ffion's band and then bent forward again, clearly fumbling for something that was hidden by the other cloaked figures.

"That was subtle, yes?" Zevran commented and he pulled his blades from his back with only a whisper of metal on metal.

"Wait, Zev, you don't-"

"I told you that I am your man, dear one," He interrupted and motioned to the group with the point of one sword, "Those there are very poor assassins. Bounty hunters, if you want to be blunt and honest."

Ffion still hesitated, feeling her anger starting to take hold. They were within a few minute's walk after traveling for five and a half days, three and the half in snow and bitter winds, and she was irritated by this new hurdle.

"But how can you be sure?" Wynne asked, her blue eyes concerned with the fact that they might be killing innocents.

"I am not here because of my looks, my Wynne," Zevran replied, his smile feral, "I should think I would know another assassin when I see one. We can approach and let them attack first, if you wish."

Ffion gave a nod and they pressed on, only to discover that the Elf was right. The group attacked as Ffion's band crossed the bridge and Syd panicked. He darted over the bridge and disappeared around a bend while everyone was busy with the would-be assassins. They had two mages with them as well and the one turned out to be a blood mage. He had stepped back and tugged loose a dagger. Alistair saw this movement before anyone else and he put his Templar training to use. The blood mage proceeded with stabbing his hand, but the magic was successfully cut off from him.

Unfortunately it cut Morrigan and Wynne off too. Morrigan, in the midst of casting, was suddenly flailing but she thought quickly, ramming her staff into the face of the man that was coming for her and then knocking him into Sten's path. Wynne, standing back at a safe distance, let out a curse that was out of place for the normally motherly enchanter. But Ffion, Tilly, Zevran, and Sten were not about to let the other enemies break free from the melee attacks. They made quick work of the other bounty hunters and Leliana took out the last one that was aiming for Sten's exposed back.

Morrigan swung her staff to her back and whirled on Alistair. Her gold eyes were snapping and her distaste for the ex-Templar more obvious than ever.

"What were you thinking?" She demanded, her weak voice drifting in and out, but the anger as strong as ever.

"He was using blood magic," Alistair snapped, "Did you want me to let him?"

"Watch before you use that," The witch couldn't argue with that statement and neither could she let him win this one, "I thought you were a Warden, not a Templar."

"Enough," Ffion said firmly, noting that Zevran was watching this with amusement.

Leliana had gone after Syd, Wynne looked over the scattered bodies for any survivors, and Sten cleaned the blood from his blade. Alistair and Morrigan both ignored Ffion and the argument went on.

"So I guess next time you want me to just ignore a blood mage and let him take all of us out?" Alistair shot back.

The witch drew herself up and didn't shy away from the drawn sword in Alistair's hands. Whatever the ex-Templar had done to interrupt the spells was gone and the others could feel the magic surrounding Morrigan now.

"Next time, fool, 'twould be wise to remember that affects your own party as well as your enemies."

"I said enough," Ffion repeated more loudly when Alistair flushed with anger and was about to retaliate. She waited until she was sure the snide comments were over and then let her gaze sweep the bodies much as Wynne's had done, "Sten, would you help me here?"

The Qunari bent forward and simply heaved the body Ffion was motioning to up and over his shoulder. His violet eyes met hers as she blinked in surprise. She had meant for him to take the arms and leave the feet to her, but this worked too.

"Where do you want them?" He asked, faintly amused by her reaction.

"Um, well, over the hill, I guess," She answered.

Wynne made a protesting noise, her blue eyes locking on the young Warden.

"Ffion-"

"That's the most I can do for them, Wynne," She interrupted, understanding how the enchanter was feeling, "At least it's better than leaving them here for all to see. Besides, we couldn't have expected any better treatment from them if they had been successful."

Leliana returned with Syd and they cleared away the bodies, taking up anything that would serve them in their own travels, before heading on. They found themselves in an open canyon that was the only place amongst the sheer cliffs of the Frostbacks that the Dwarves had found to install their massive city gates. In the center of this sole, flat area was a stone stage of sorts and there was a handful of merchants' tents that flanked it. Only two of the merchants were actually Dwarves and as they approached the intimidating city gates, Sten stopped dead in his tracks. He stood in front of a weapon smithy's tent and studied the wares intently. The redheaded man overseeing the place finished up with his current customer and then turned to the Qunari with a ready smile.

"Greetings, ser, is there something in particular that you're looking for?" He questioned jovially and then floundered when Sten merely glared at him.

Ffion, hearing the merchant's voice, glanced over her shoulder and stopped, a frown creasing her face. Sten's violet eyes were blazing and he reached out with one hand to brush the hilt of a wicked looking broadsword.

"How does one like you come by a Karashok's blade?" He asked, animosity thick in his voice.

"I – It is a marvelous sword, isn't it?" The merchant was uncertain when confronted by Sten's fierce expression, "There was a merchant around Lake Calenhad that-"

The Qunari suddenly had the man by the front of his heavy woolen shirt, yanking him partially over the blade-covered table and knocking several of them to the frozen ground.

"Let us try this again," Sten ground out, holding the man captive in spite of his struggles, "Where did you get the Karashok's blade?"

The merchant was white, making his hair an even more vibrant color of red and his terrified eyes rolled around to lock on Ffion as the Warden hurried to interfere. His hands pulled futilely at Sten's grip and when he spoke, it was to Ffion.

"Please, serah," He gasped, "D – Don't let him kill me!"

The others were too shocked by Sten's sudden eruption to really be of help and so it was Ffion who reached out and put one hand on his arm.

"Sten, what's going on?" She asked, her frown deepening, "It's just a sword. If you want it-"

"That is not the point," He snapped, his voice turning into more of a growl.

The Warden floundered, looking at the others helplessly, not sure what to do about the pissed off Qunari. Her fingers bit into Sten's metal gauntlet and the cold of the air had transferred to the metal itself, making her fingertips tingle as they chilled, even through her leather gloves. She was at a loss and wondered how much easier it would be to just let Sten have his way with the merchant, and then Zevran came to her rescue.

"It is a question of honor," The Elf's accented voice was rich and smooth. He knew what he was talking about and pressed on when no one else interrupted him, "This has to do with your Beresaad, yes? And since your Karashok is not with his sword, that means he didn't make it. Good man, if you have any other Qunari blades, I would give them to this one. Unless of course, you wish to go about your life without arms?"

"All right, all right," The merchant looked rapidly from Zevran to Sten and he went still when the Qunari grasped him even more tightly, "It wasn't a merchant that I got these from; there was a scavenger. He claimed to be a survivor of Ostagar and was selling weapons to pay for a meal. He had a whole roll of these Qunari blades and on the road up here, I ran into a Dwarf that was making his way to Redcliffe... Dwyn was his name. He bought almost the whole set of blades and that was that. I don't know where these came from originally and that's the Maker's truth. Please, don't kill me."

Sten glared a moment longer and then abruptly released the merchant so that he fell across his table. The Qunari took up the sword that had caused the trouble and turned to fasten it to the packs on Syd's back. Once that was done, he took the donkey's lead in his hand again and started to the Orzammar gates, ignoring the others as they gaped at him.

Flustered and irritated, Ffion hurried to fall in beside him and stared up at him with hard grey eyes. She tossed her head to knock her hair out of the way and almost reached out to stop the Qunari, but then thought better of it.

"Are you going to tell me what the hell that was?" She finally demanded when he didn't say anything.

"No," Sten's deep voice was firm and still angry.

Ffion's anger bubbled but she kept it in check. Instead she tried an entirely different tactic and let out a sigh that sounded long-suffering even to her.

"Fine, then, when we get back to Redcliffe we'll look Dwyn up and see what happened to those other swords."

That was successful. Sten faltered in his step, his violet eyes going to her in stunned surprise. His lips parted briefly and then closed again and he frowned.

"Why?" He asked, "This has nothing to do with you."

"Sure it does," She answered promptly, "You pledged yourself to me, Sten. You told me that your blade is mine until I see fit to release you and that makes us comrades-in-arms. Besides, you can't avoid telling me what this is about after I help you get those swords back."

Zevran and Wynne laughed as Alistair grinned and Leliana giggled. Even Morrigan was amused and Sten was baffled even further by this young Warden he had fallen in with. He shook his head in wonder, but it was Zevran that spoke next.

"Sten, a lesson in life, my friend. Never underestimate a woman's curiousity. She will thwart you at every turn."

"It seems so," Sten answered softly and was once again rather impressed by Ffion.

They approached the gates, only to see that they were in for more trouble. Four guards were posted in front of the massive things and one of them stood forward, arguing with a group of five men. As they started up the steps and came close enough to see the crest on the men's armor, Alistair stiffened beside Ffion. She frowned up at him, pausing for a moment since the lead guard was too busy arguing to pay them much attention.

"Loghain's men," He muttered.

Ffion exhaled and studied the men more closely. Their leader was just about in a shouting match with the Dwarf and his face was tinted red with anger and the cold. The other men were well armed and restless; they would be eager for any excuse to fight. Sten, Zevran and Leliana all seemed to read Ffion's thoughts and hung back before the Warden could even suggest it.

"It'd probably be better if you guys just wait here and let Alistair and I talk with the guard," She said anyway, motioning to one side of the landing they stood on, "Just to... be on the safe side."

Not even Morrigan posed an argument and they settled themselves against the cold carved stone of the landing. Alistair and Ffion continued up the last two sets of steps and waited for the guard to acknowledge them.

"I've told you already, human, the city is shut down," The guard was saying, his voice sharper as he tried to keep himself under control, "The Darkspawn are something we deal with every day, so you can't expect us to jump to attention simply because your general has decided to panic. Besides, the council is in disarray and without the council, I can't admit you entry. So for the last time: stand down."

"Excellently put," Alistair complimented as the Dwarf turned to them.

The guard arched his brows, clearly not in the mood for humor of any kind. Ffion tried to smother her grin and gave the Dwarf a slight bow. She had the Dwarven treaty ready and extended this to him as she straightened.

"I have Warden business in the city," She announced and honestly wasn't even thinking about the men that were listening closely.

"Wardens?" The lead man of Loghain's group repeated. He glared at her and Alistair both and then glanced quickly at the Dwarf, who was examining the treaty, "The Wardens were responsible for the king's death and General Loghain has issued all their lives forfeit. Are you simply going to let this stand? You can't stand there and do nothing while these murderers walk free!"

The guard handed the treaty over to Ffion again and waved for the Dwarves to open the gates. He seemed to be ignoring the man completely, but his words were biting as he answered.

"Orzammar has the firmest allies in the Wardens and I know that they will be more welcome in this troubling time than General Loghain's lackeys."

"But-" The man started and his face was beet red now.

"Go running back to the Bastard General," Alistair mocked, "You won't be meeting with the Dwarves today."

The man considered them for a moment longer and then glanced at the Dwarves who seemed more inclined to help the Wardens than jump in with them. He spat at Ffion and Alistair's feet and spun on his heel, muttering curses underneath his breath as he left the city gates with his men in tow. Ffion's band came up the steps and approached the Wardens and Zevran's amber eyes followed the men as they stormed across the open courtyard-like area and towards the road. There was a dangerously speculative gleam there that brightened when he noted the men were traveling by foot, but Ffion spoke with the Dwarf now and he turned his attention to her.

"Why have your people retreated like this?" She questioned as she tucked the treaty away again and pulled a fold of the heavy cloak closer to her neck, "Is it the Blight?"

"No, Warden," He said, his voice still gruff but he was much more polite to them than Loghain's men, "We deal with the Darkspawn nearly everyday and so you'll have to forgive our lack of concern. No, like you heard, our council has been dispersed. Most of the Deshyrs are too terrified and intimidated to show up and deal with this mess. I know news isn't traveling like it usually does so you probably haven't heard of the death of our King Endrin."

"King Endrin's dead?" Alistair repeated, disappointment and exasperation clear in his voice, "And with the council dispersed that means you don't have a replacement yet."

"Exactly," The guard answered, "Whatever help you're looking for here, Warden, I wish you luck with it. I'm not sure how you'll get by without a healthy dose of that... and prayer."

He waved them in and, though Ffion wasn't sure how the hell they were going to go on from here, she led the way. Really, she didn't have any choice. And then they stood in a massive hall that had been carved with all the skill that the Dwarves possessed and nothing seemed to matter anymore. All of them stood still for a moment and gazed around in wonder. Along the walls were massive statues of the Dwarven Paragons and between each were little spouts that dumped lava into pools at the Paragons' feet. Down the center of the hall were more examples of the craftsmanship and Ffion couldn't help but gape as they headed for the next set of doors. She had read about Orzammar of course, but saw now that none of the descriptions did justice to the beauty here.

The next set of massive doors was opened for them by yet another guard who clearly doubted that this rag-tag group was being led by two Wardens. This opened into the Orzammar Commons and there, just in front of an intricately constructed signpost, were two groups of Dwarves arguing fiercely. It was clear that Ffion's band was catching the last of this confrontation and even as the guards came running to interfere, one of the Dwarves pulled a broad-axe from his back and stood forward. He went practically toe-to-toe with another Dwarf who was shouting angrily,

"Bhelen is a murdering traitor who isn't fit to even look at his father's crown!"

The guards were just about to the two factions when the broad-axe went sailing through the air with that telltale whoosh and sent the Dwarf's head rolling towards the steps.

"You won't talk that way about your king!" The murdering Dwarf shouted this as though it was a battle cry.

The others went tense, reaching for their own weapons, but then the guards shoved and jostled their way amongst them all. One of them shouted as fiercely as the killer and his armor designated him as a more prominent figure.

"All right, clear out! All of you!" He commanded, "You there, get this body out of here and go back to your Deshyrs. I won't stand for diminishing the Ancestors by having this kind of fighting in front of surfacers."

The Dwarves cleared out quickly and the body was carried away by his fellows. The blood was mopped up by three Dwarven women who accepted the coins the guard captain dropped with an eagerness that was almost painful to see.

"Oh dear," Wynne murmured and that simple little statement summed up what they all felt.

Ffion squared her shoulders and approached the captain. She gave him a slight bow, drawing on all the training in etiquette her mother had forced on her.

"Atrast vala, ser," She said and straightened. She could feel Alistair's questioning gaze and Zevran's speculative one and ignored both as she continued, "I am Ffion of the Grey Wardens and this is Alistair, also of the Wardens. We spoke with the guard at the front gates about the treaty signed by your people promising aid should the Wardens require it."

"Well met, Warden," He replied, impressed by her formal greeting, "But there's not much that can be done here for you. I'm sure that Casla told you the state of our council and that... episode was just a taste of the unrest here."

"Perhaps, if you tell me the trouble, we can help?" She spoke slowly, not wanting to promise anything without seeing the whole picture, "The Wardens need their traditional Dwarven allies and if that means returning favors for favors, so be it."

"Are there no people left that can solve their own troubles?" Sten muttered angrily, loud enough to be heard by everyone.

The captain's gaze flickered to him and then went back to Ffion. He studied her a moment and then capitulated.

"I don't like the idea of involving surfacers with our issues, but maybe you can talk some sense into those Deshyrs," He seemed to be talking more to himself and then he added firmly, "Two weeks ago, the king's oldest son, Prince Trian, was killed during a Deep Roads expedition. The blame was laid at his brother, Prince Duran's feet and the prince was banished to the Deep Roads. There are those that believe Prince Bhelen was responsible and since King Endrin called on Lord Harrowmont instead of his own son while he was dying, there's a rumor circulating that even the king believed this. Harrowmont claims that the king left the ruling of Orzammar to him while the council looked for a better replacement than Bhelen and the prince is fighting that tooth and nail. The whole city has been fractured and as you saw, they have taken the fight out of Dust Town and into more public arenas. It's done nothing but make my job more difficult and if you really think you can help here, Warden, I won't stop you. In fact, I'll give you the names of Bhelen and Harrowmont's stewards and let you talk with them. Bhelen's is Vartag Gavorn and Harrowmont's is Dulin Forender. They'll both be in the Diamond Quarter," He glanced beyond her at the rest of the party and added helpfully, "And here in the Commons, there's an inn and tavern called Tapsters. You should be able to find beds and a stable pretty easily since trade with the outside has taken a hard hit."

She smiled faintly, hearing the dismissal in his voice without needing him to actually say the words. The Dwarf had indicated the left hand staircase and Ffion could see the Tapsters sign hanging above the door. She gave him another little bow.

"Thanks for your help, and wish us luck. Atrast nal tunsha," She said and waved for the others to follow her down the steps.

They settled at Tapsters without issue, paying for only three rooms since prices were what they were. Syd was happily ensconced in the stable with a full trough and water bucket and Ffion and Alistair decided that the sooner they spoke with the stewards, the better. Leliana and Wynne were more curious about the shops in the Commons than the politics and Morrigan, still feeling poorly, had retreated upstairs to get proper rest. Zevran also disappeared after sampling one of the Dwarven ales, and Sten and Tilly trailed after the Wardens as they made their way to the Diamond Quarter.

Unfortunately, they didn't gain ground with either of the stewards. Ffion, since she remembered her father having nothing but good things to say about Harrowmont, went to him first. Only to discover that he was so paranoid about Bhelen's spies or assassins reaching him that he refused to see anyone: even Wardens. And when they tried Bhelen's steward, they found that news traveled more quickly in Orzammar than anyone would have thought. He was hostile and standoffish, not about to let them near his master simply because they had tried Harrowmont first. So they went back to Tapsters, tired and annoyed in Ffion's case, only to find that Zevran still hadn't returned.

Ffion felt little pin-pricks of unease... and jealousy, if she was being honest with herself, but shrugged off any serious implications and instead accepted the glass of deep red wine that Leliana pushed towards her. Zevran had sworn himself to her and so far had proven himself true. He was a man that fed his baser instincts whenever he got the chance and so, in spite of her initial response, she held to the belief that he wouldn't leave her for long. She also held herself to only two glasses of the red wine and could feel the alcohol swirling through her. Morrigan was still in the room that she would be sharing with Leliana; Wynne was lost in her own thoughts, stroking Tilly's ears; while Leliana and Alistair talked Chantry beliefs and practices with Sten looking on, faintly disgusted. Ffion wasn't really used to drinking and was horrified by what she might let slip if she had too much. And this rationing herself turned out to be a very good move.

Across the wide, long room was a dark haired Dwarf hunched over his mug as though seeking warmth. The barmaid had walked by him several times and suddenly stopped to speak with him. Their words were too soft-spoken and the tavern too loud to hear what was being said, but she gave the forlorn Dwarf a sympathetic smile and poured a half-mug for him, waving away his payment.

"Nora!" The innkeeper said, his voice fierce, "Just because some half-wit smiles at you doesn't mean you give him a drink on the house!"

"Give Ivo a break, Merkel," She shot back and sashayed over to another table where a group of what had to be regulars were sitting, "He's been through enough."

The innkeeper muttered darkly under his breath and, for some reason, Ffion felt compelled to get to her feet and approach Ivo. The Dwarf's black beard practically drooped into his mug and when she sat across from him, he barely glanced up.

"Ivo?" She asked, ignoring the alarmed look that Alistair threw her, "Frandlin Ivo? The one that was with Prince Duran?"

Her voice was quiet, mindful of the other customers, and Ivo responded to this.

"One an' the same," His own voice was slurred, but he kept it at an undertone. His brown eyes fixed on her and they cleared ever-so-slightly before he added, "You're the Warden, right? The one that's promised t' help?" He stopped again, waiting for her nod and then went on, "Well, lemme give you a hand. I shoulda done this two weeks ago and damned if I know why I didn'. Bhelen's a bastard. He paid that scout and me off both to say what he wanted t' hear and I've been a soddin' mess since then."

"What he wanted to hear?" Ffion repeated, her grey eyes quickening on his face. She'd had a bad feeling about Bhelen to begin with and she hadn't been sure how much was just her parents' old prejudice, "What do you mean?"

"He a'ways wanted King Endrin's throne and I shoulda seen he'd do anythin' t' get it," Ivo spoke more to himself now... or rather, his mug, "He offered me whatever I wanted if I supported him in this one thing. And so now, my sister isn't workin' Dust Town, my wife has everything she ever wanted, my kids can grow up without endin' up casteless. An' I couldn't feel more like a heartless, nug-humpin'... bastard. Prince Duran was a good man; a hundred times better than that..."

"Nug-humping bastard?" She asked and heard the amusement in her voice. She had no idea what a nug was but she liked the sound of it and wasn't above using it.

"'xactly," Ivo was leaning on his elbows, looking at her with appreciation, "Do me a favor, Warden, an' teach him a lesson in humility."

Ffion recognized the dismissal and got to her feet. She smiled at Ivo, at ease for the first time since they entered Orzammar, and stopped Nora as she walked by. Placing a few silvers on the girl's tray, she said jovially,

"Let this good Dwarf have whatever he wishes. On me."

She went back to her table with Ivo's thanks echoing in her ears. She saw that Leliana had had her goblet refilled and she didn't think twice about sitting down to it. Alistair's honey colored eyes were on her and she sent him a half-smile.

"And what was what?" He questioned, cocking his head.

"Just... gathering some information," She replied and then fell into her thoughts again.

She really didn't like Bhelen and because of the fact that Harrowmont had earned her father's respect, she wanted to talk to him. As Ffion Cousland, not Ffion the Warden. And if she wanted to keep her anonymity, she would have to tread carefully.

So, as soon as everyone had gone to bed for the night, still without any sign of Zevran, she eased from her mattress. Across the room, Wynne was sound asleep in her own bed and her breathing didn't change as Ffion got to her feet and slipped back into her worn leather boots. Tilly was on her heels when she opened the door and sneaked down the stairs, making her way through the quiet streets to the Diamond Quarter once more.

She reached the Harrowmont estate without trouble and though the guards were not pleased with this late intrusion, she was able to gain entrance and drew all her nobility to her as she demanded an audience with Forender. The steward was not happy to be interrupted either and he was frowning long before he even entered the foyer.

"Warden," He said sharply, "I hope you have a good reason to be here so late."

"A very good one," She replied, her voice as cool as his was angry, "I'm going to try one more time. Tell Lord Harrowmont that he will want to meet with me. I have some very interesting information considering one Frandlin Ivo and a certain payoff by Prince Bhelen. And if that isn't enough, let him know that Teyrn Bryce Cousland's daughter is eager to meet with King Endrin's most trusted adviser, and an old ally: Lord Pyral Harrowmont."

Forender looked at her a moment longer, like he was trying to find an argument around this, but he wasn't having any luck. With a sigh of frustration, he turned to go further into the mansion.

"Wait here, I'll see if Lord Harrowmont will agree."

He spoke grudgingly and Ffion let out her own, quieter, sigh and sat down on the little couch. She looked at a window showing a cascade of lava. Her hand went to Tilly's head and the words bubbled up before she could stay them.

"Gladly. Thanks for the change of heart; it's really not as bad as you think."

She absentmindedly stroked Tilly's ears, wondering how she was going to go on from here if Harrowmont agreed to meet her. The Mabari had happily pillowed her head on her lady's knees and her brown eyes were closed as she enjoyed the attention. It was taking Forender longer than Ffion had believed it would and she propped one elbow next to Tilly's nose and nestled her chin into her palm. She hated being put in this position, especially considering the fact that she had a bed waiting for her. A real bed! Her mind exalted. And yet, here she was, meeting with a Dwarf lord in the middle of the night, and wondering how she could convince him that he should support her and Alistair in this war against the growing Blight. If she hadn't done it so many times already, she'd be tempted to pinch herself to see if this was some sort of cruel, extended dream that the Maker forced on her for her indifference to him.

"I had heard that the Couslands were dead and buried some weeks ago," A new voice startled her out of her thoughts.

The Warden slowly stood, letting her deliberate movements calm Tilly. She was looking at an older Dwarf this time, his face lined and worried. His once dark hair had started turning silver, along with the beard that was bound tightly in four braids. The grey-blue eyes were hard on her, but Lord Harrowmont was here and, at the moment, that was all that mattered.

"If you're worried about the rot," She spread her hands to let him look at her and added, "It's coming. Mine's a slow one."

She instantly regretted that statement, but the ingrained Cousland honesty and straight-forwardness seemed to convince Harrowmont. His mouth tipped in a small smile and he stepped forward, waving Forender away.

"You look like him, you know," He said, studying her so closely she felt self-conscious, "Your father had the same honest, direct eyes. He was a good man, Warden, and will be missed."

Ffion felt that tightening of her heart and she gave the Dwarf a nod, lowering her gaze briefly to her hands. She didn't want to get into that now, already knowing how good a man her father really had been. Remembering her manners, and the reason she had imposed in the first place, she stepped forward, extending one hand.

"Yes, he was; thank you, my lord," She replied and then shook hands with him, "My name is Ffion and thanks for agreeing to meet me."

Harrowmont nodded and waved her forward to sit again. He himself remained standing, a clear indication and reminder as to who the master of this house was.

"Well, I'm not sure what good meeting with you will do," He began bluntly, "I can't give you the support of the Dwarven people when they don't even know who their leader is."

Ffion inclined her head, not about to argue that point. Her fingers had gone back to Tilly's ears and when she spoke, it was to press very carefully around the more sensitive subjects.

"I know that you are a very noble people. You don't like to involve... outsiders with your problems," She paused for a moment and then added, "And even though Wardens are to remain a neutral party in anything political, I'm going to make an exception. I came here tonight to try one more time to convince you to trust me. My father never liked Bhelen, didn't really like Trian either, but he always spoke highly of the king, you, and Duran. King Endrin is dead, I understand that Duran is gone, and so that leaves you. Out of respect for my father's allegiance with you, Lord Harrowmont, will you accept my offer to help you here?"

Harrowmont looked at her for a very long moment, his grey-blue eyes unreadable. Ffion bit her tongue to keep from adding anything more and waited, rather impatiently, for his response.

"Such diplomacy must have come from your mother," He finally said quietly, "From past experiences with Bryce Cousland, he would either hold his own at the tavern or roll up his sleeves and help with the grunt work. That's what made him a good friend and ally. But this... I like this too. A favor for a favor, and your addition of your father's allegiance... Yes, that must be your mother talking. Agreed, if you help me beat back Bhelen and his supporters, I'll do whatever I can for you and the Order."

Ffion was too tired to even appreciate the compliment he had paid her. She stood again and gave him a little bow as she sighed.

"That was... much easier than I thought," She commented, "Thank you, ser."

"You must understand why I've done it this way though?" It was just barely a question and Harrowmont was suddenly eager to make sure she didn't think less of him, "With everything in disarray and not knowing who was truly loyal and who was playing the politics game... I didn't have any other choice."

"Of course," Her tone was more impertinent than she wanted and she tried again, "I get it, my lord. These are uncertain times and we should have expected this. It was just... frustrating. Oh, and I have favor to ask. I'm traveling anonymously for my own reasons; not even my companions know that I'm a Cousland. Please, my lord, don't say anything about my family. I'm a Warden now and... that's that."

"I'll send a man to Tapsters in the morning with a message for the Wardens," He answered, frowning briefly but respecting this request, "All that needs to be said is that I have changed my mind and wish to meet with the Dwarves' closest allies."

Ffion felt relief sweep through her and allowed exhaustion to chase its heels. In this, at least, she had managed to get her way.

"And that more than settles the issue," She replied and one hand found Tilly's head again, "Thank you, Lord Harrowmont."

The Dwarf studied her again as they walked to the door. His grey-blue eyes were concerned and he said softly when her hand reached for the door handle,

"Try to get some sleep, Warden, you look like death."

And because she was exhausted; because this meeting dredged up that anger, grief, and bitterness, making her feel irreverent, she heard herself say bitingly,

"Fitting, don't you think? For a Cousland?"

She slipped out the door and headed back to the inn without waiting for an answer. There were a few Dwarves still out and about, but they ignored Ffion with the same concentration that she ignored them. Indeed, she was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she hardly realized someone was climbing the steps of Tapsters beside her. That is, until he spoke.

"Such a late night, my dear," The honey-like voice was unmistakable, but it still made Ffion jump, knocking into Tilly as Zevran continued, "Who was the lucky fellow?"

Her face flamed at that suggestion and then her anger flared up. Zevran was grinning at her in sheer pleasure, amused by her embarrassment, and not the least bit concerned with the uncertainty his absence had caused. Her grey eyes locked on his amber as she drew herself up.

"I might ask you the same thing," She shot back, irritation spiking sharply as the Elf's grin grew wider, "Where did you go?"

"Crow business, dove, nothing about which you need to fret yourself."

Ffion leveled her gaze at him, crossing her arms over her chest, clearly unconvinced.

"You're not a Crow anymore," She pointed out bluntly.

"A fact I have not forgotten," His voice was blithe, the tone as carefree as ever, "If that title troubles you so much, we will call it assassin's business, yes? Either way, Loghain's men are no longer a threat. You can rest easy."

Ffion blinked at him, successfully shocked. She loosened her arms and eased her weight onto her other foot.

"Loghain's men? You mean you... you were tailing them all this time?"

His smile was the rather feral one, the flickering light glinting off his straight teeth and white-blond hair.

"As I have told you, pet, twice now, yes? I am your man and contrary to what Chirpy and the lovely Morrigan tell you, my loyalties lie with you."

They entered the foyer, Zevran trailing after her and taking her light cloak from her shoulders on his own. She couldn't decide whether this was because he wanted to be in her good graces again or he saw it as a way to touch her, but she allowed it anyway.

"That doesn't mean it wasn't a stupid thing to do," Ffion continued with her arguments, in spite of trusting to that affirmation of his oath.

"The men were still angry and they were more concerned with their own comfort than keeping a watch," The Elf replied, shrugging nonchalantly as he draped her cloak over his arm and they headed for the stairs to the second floor, "And now it is your turn, yes? Just what were you doing, dove?"

Ffion flipped one hand at him and adopted his 'never-you-mind' airs. They had paused at the base of the steps and she set about deflecting as best she could, not wanting to go into detail now.

"Making sure Harrowmont grants us an audience tomorrow," She met his gaze and couldn't help adding, "By pure methods, Zev, so no need for you to worry."

His amber eyes sparked and he had to jump at that opportunity.

"Pet, if I thought you were capable of anything but pure methods, I would have seduced you that first afternoon. But innocence is a rare and charming gift and I want yours. And this is accomplished slowly and carefully, yes?"

The words were purred, caressing Ffion's ears in the way they were meant to, and her face flushed bright red to the roots of her dark hair. Her grey eyes brightened as well, but wouldn't meet his and he smiled a little, this time more gently. He was telling the truth about her innocence. It was wonderfully rare: finding a girl that was so easily embarrassed and flustered with just words, and he reminded himself for the hundredth time to be careful. He did want her that was no lie either, and was surprised to find himself waiting for her to be the one to offer. If he could help it, he wasn't going to take advantage of this girl who found herself in an impossible situation and needed his assistance, not another distraction. And there is Chirpy... That little voice in his head had been suppressed and gagged for so long, it shocked him to hear it again, and then Ffion interrupted.

"I – I know I'm not meant to take that seriously, Zevran; that you're teasing me," She began quietly, her face still burning, "But I... I'm not good at these conversations."

He cocked his head at her. Maybe he wasn't giving her enough credit. She certainly wasn't dumb and he wondered if her embarrassment really had that simple a reason.

"Do I make you uncomfortable, dove? You do not wish me to tease you so?" He asked, still purring, still charming, but it was not as thick as it had been.

She frowned rather pensively, reaching up to twist a curl of hair about her finger. It was an absentminded, reflexive move and he loved it.

"It's unexpected and... flattering, which is the idea," She still spoke quietly and this time it seemed to be more to herself than him, "I'm just not sure what you want, other than to tease."

"I just told you, my dear. That was not a complete fabrication."

Her face flushed again and she dropped her hand. Letting out a sigh, she gave a little shrug and decided to land on the less painfully embarrassing subject.

"And the talking in circles commences," She muttered.

It was said with the same long-suffering and inflection that he had used several days ago and he couldn't help but chuckle.

"Very well, I will change the subject," He replied, eyes still dancing, "I am all curiousity as to how you accomplished the impossible. Only another noble could have reached the skittish Lord Harrowmont, and I see you have put yours to good use, yes?"

Ffion had started up the steps before him, but at his words she froze. One of her hands gripped the railing so hard her knuckles were white and she only partially turned to look back at him.

"What makes you think-"

"Tsk, tsk, Ffion," As usual her full name stopped her short and Zevran had her pegged with a particularly pointed stare, "I am no fool and you must know how I have been watching you. It is quite clear that you are no street urchin and you have had more formal education than practical experiences. Everything about you cries 'nobility', pet. Fighting for your life is a new challenge for you; your armor and weapons were made for you by a skilled master. Even the way you wear your lovely hair is a give-away."

The Warden had turned to face him. Standing on the first step brought her eye level with him and she knew that her face was an open book. Zevran leaned forward in a confiding sort of way, placing one hand on the railing so his fingers brushed hers. Her grey eyes were wide and alarmed and she started hesitantly,

"Zev, please-"

"Don't fret, I haven't said a word," His gaze was still fixed on her, "But I am correct, yes?"

She was torn, wanting to get away and knowing it wasn't going to happen. The alarm in her eyes had been replaced with a deep sadness that he didn't like. She shifted her weight back, feeling Tilly's warmth against her leg.

"It's – I can't... It's not that simple, Zevran," She replied, "But the short answer is: yes, I am nobility. And now isn't the time or the place for this... I can't, not now."

The Elf stared at her a moment longer and then gave a nod, easing back as well.

"Fair enough, dove, I will not push," He said and stepped beside her. One hand went to the small of her back, steering her up the steps with him, "Another time then. And do not think you will escape so easily when it comes."


True to his word, Harrowmont's man showed up as they were eating breakfast. Alistair was discussing, or rather arguing, with Sten as to what their next step should be and he was the most surprised to see this. His honey colored eyes lit with relief as he leaned over, close to Ffion, and read the message over her shoulder.

"Then we're in," He commented and it was practically a crow of triumph.

"Maybe," Ffion answered, folding the note in half and nodding to the messenger, "We'll be there shortly."

Wynne looked at her with a rather pensive frown. Pushing her plate away, the enchanter propped her elbows on the table and lowered her voice to a murmur.

"You think this might be a trap, Ffion? Surely these Dwarves wouldn't go that far."

"Oh, I know Harrowmont can be trusted," The Warden was flippant, reaching for her coffee mug and ignoring that speculative look Morrigan sent at Zevran's amusement, "It's Bhelen I worry about. He won't take us supporting his enemy lightly, I'm sure."

Sten snorted, pushing his own plate away and getting to his feet.

"I don't see the point in choosing either one," He commented, "Since they aren't strong enough to take up the mantle on their own. Assigning others to do their dirty work makes one wonder how badly they want this."

Ffion stood as well, reaching up to twist her hair into a thick coil. She secured it and then tucked loose strands behind her ears. She tossed a sausage to Tilly and shrugged her shoulders at Sten.

"Harrowmont is just supposed to hold the throne until someone suitable is found. That's the rumor, anyway," She added that last carefully, knowing she sounded far too sure of herself, "If he appoints Bhelen after we leave, so be it. It won't be our problem. All I need is a leader that can fulfill this treaty and give the Wardens what it promised."

They weren't given a chance to argue with her. Ffion went out the door and led the way to the Diamond Quarter and Harrowmont's estate. There were groups of suspicious looking Dwarves that watched them go with dark glares, but between the patrolling city guards and Sten's malignant scowl, there were no issues.

Forender was their only obstacle... again. He watched Ffion's band enter the estate and arched his brows at the sight of not just two Wardens, but a group of seven. He was reluctant to let them all see Harrowmont and Ffion responded by telling him that it was either everyone or no one. She was on the verge of walking out the door again when the Dwarf caved and saw everyone to Harrowmont's office.

Harrowmont was just as surprised as his steward. His brows went up and he watched them troop in. Forender announced them grudgingly and departed, closing the door behind him. Ffion stood forward and bowed, her eyes carefully guarded as the Dwarf lord spoke.

"I thought it was just two Wardens," He wasn't asking and he accepted Ffion's introduction of herself and Alistair without even a hint that he knew her already, "Or was the count mistaken at Ostagar?"

"Wardens collect friends when and where they need them," She replied, "Alistair says we have become a collection agency, but... apostates, Qunari, Chantry sisters, enchanters and assassins? What does it matter so long as they help you here and now?"

Harrowmont took no offense. She wasn't aiming her poison at him; it was more self-loathing than anything else. His shoulders lifted and he waved for them to come in further.

"I don't mean to sound ungrateful," He said and paced around to stand behind his desk. His face darkened as he looked over some of the reports that had been turned in to him and then he met Ffion's gaze once more, "Indeed, you have my thanks and support for seeing the truth in this unfortunate mess."

"We're here to help, ser," Leliana put in quietly.

Ffion inclined her head and stepped forward, Tilly beside her and Alistair at her other elbow.

"She's right," She spoke briskly, wanting to get this over with and move on, "And first things first: what has to be done to get you installed here, my lord?"

Harrowmont had picked up a report and was reading it with some concentration before setting it down again and clasping his hands behind his back.

"Have you heard much of our troubles with the Carta?" He asked slowly.

Zevran, Leliana, and Wynne all answered an affirmative.

"The Carta seems to be everywhere," Zevran said, "Though I suppose like the Darkspawn, your dealings are more second nature, yes?"

Harrowmont acknowledged this and then glanced down at the desk again. This seemed to steel his resolve and his eyes were harder than before as he added.

"Usually that would be the case, but lately... Like most everyone else, the Carta has taken the chance with our unrest and become more prolific than ever. They circulate fear and trouble more readily than the Darkspawn ever could and have become a real problem. Something has to be done."

"And you want the Wardens to sweep to the rescue. That's it, right?" Alistair's voice was dry, the sarcasm thick.

Harrowmont at least had the where-with-all to appear shamefaced as he looked at them directly. His grey-blue eyes were rather defiant, but the underlying plea softened this.

"I know that it's not fair to put this on you, but we need help. I am not about to ask you to take on the Carta alone, I wouldn't dream of it. Just, find out what you can about their base and leader, Jarvia. My men are suspect of course, and the city-guards have done their best to remain neutral in this mess. It's commendable, but frustrating."

Ffion had to physically bite her tongue to keep from snapping at the Dwarf lord. She pushed one hand down onto Tilly's head and couldn't help but glance sidelong at Alistair, hoping that he would take over again here. Instead, it was Zevran that saved her and the Wardens were left scrambling for the proper response. It wasn't the best impression that they could have made, but at least the Elf was proving his usefulness for the umpteenth time.

"Very good," He drawled and stood so close to his Warden that their shoulders were brushing, "That is very clever, yes? You accomplish killing two birds with one stone. Our dove will agree and not only do your people become safe, but you are made to look like a hero because you instigated this. Very clever indeed."

Harrowmont was still glancing between Ffion and Alistair, ignoring the Elf.

"Then that's a yes?" He tried to clarify.

Ffion's jaw clenched, her fingers tightening briefly on Tilly's fur before letting the Mabari free. She met Harrowmont's forward gaze and nodded.

"That's a yes," She agreed and shrugged off Morrigan's sigh and Sten's muttering in his foreign tongue.

Harrowmont's relief was palpable. He allowed a small smile and they could see some of the tension leave his shoulders.

"Thank you, Warden," He said, "And like I said, find out what you can and then let us know. The best place to start would be Dust Town. The Carta is rampant there."

They left the estate and Ffion heaved a sigh, pressing her fingers to the space between her brows, wishing that she wasn't so tired. Wishing that she hadn't had to give up precious hours of sleep to help, and she used the word loosely, this Dwarf lord that was desperate to keep up his own appearance; wishing that she hadn't majorly stuck her foot in her own mouth with agreeing to help the said Dwarf.

"Ffion," Alistair's voice was tender, worried, and that made it worse, "We-"

"No," She interrupted briskly, dropping her hand and giving herself a shake, "No, I'm fine. Let's head out."

"All of us?" Morrigan's voice was toneless other than the faux surprise, "You believe this wise?"

The young Warden glanced around at her party and then arched her brows at the witch. Morrigan's gold eyes were as unreadable as her tone, but Ffion swore she saw a flicker of Alistair's concern there.

"You don't like that idea?" She asked, "Any particular reason why?"

"Traipsing through Dust Town, asking about a criminal cartel that runs Orzammar?" Morrigan's concern was gone, if it had ever been there, "What could possibly go wrong?"

Alistair's eyes flashed with annoyance. This was the last thing Ffion needed. The old girl was exhausted, practically dead on her feet, and the deep shadows under her eyes were not encouraging. He opened his mouth to snap back but, as usual, Zevran was faster.

"You both make fair points, my lovelies," He purred, "If we stick together, we have sheer intimidation by numbers. And apart we each have our special... contribution is the word, yes? So our only decision is: which to choose?"

"Contribution?" Wynne repeated and then smiled, "Yes, that's good. I like that."

"She's probably right, Ffion," Alistair said slowly, hating to admit it, "It would be better if it's just a few of us asking questions."

Ffion was quiet for a moment, thinking that over before conceding the point.

"All right," She replied, "Alistair and I will traipse through Dust Town and let you guys know if we find anything."

"So we are to go from seven down to-"

"You can't have it both ways, Morrigan," Ffion's voice was sharp as she interrupted the witch, "Besides this is a Warden agreement best fulfilled by Wardens. We'll meet you at Tapsters as soon as we find anything."

The Warden turned on her heel and left the Diamond Quarter; Tilly on her heels and Alistair falling loyally in beside her. Morrigan watched them go with a speculative gleam in her gold eyes.

"Folly," She said bitingly, "Ridiculous-"

"She had another very fair point, lovely," Zevran's voice was cold in spite of the endearment, "We cannot expect to have everything go our way."

Leliana and Wynne agreed, but Sten's violet eyes were just as hard as Morrigan's.

"I agree with the witch," He said, resolute as ever, "It is utter folly."

"Of course you agree," Leliana was having none of it and her blue eyes snapped to Zevran's amber, "I do not like this. She is too innocent for this kind of work and I'm worried."

As usual, there was a gleam in the Orlesian's gaze that said she did more than just worry about Ffion. This little snippet of their group relationships fascinated Zevran since he knew that Ffion would never respond to it, but now was not the time or place.

"I do not like it either," He admitted and his eyes were uncharacteristically serious.

"'Tis not as if she is alone," Morrigan's tone was still cool and there was no chance she'd ever confess to worrying herself over Ffion's fate.

"Indeed, she will be more protected than even she knows," With those parting words, Zevran melted away.


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