Shades of Grey and Black

Dwarven Assemblies and Drunken Kisses... Ah, It's Great Being a Warden!

"Why the delaying tactics, old man?" Bhelen demanded, spreading his arms and allowing the torchlight to gleam off of his red steel armor, "My father has one child left to assume the throne. No one in their right mind could deny him this."

Harrowmont clenched his jaw, trying to calm himself, and coldly eyed the arrogant prince standing opposite of him in the Assembly chamber. The vote was moments away and he was desperate to delay them for as long as he could, praying for the success of the Wardens.

"On his deathbed, your father made me swear that you would not succeed him," He replied and his voice echoed around the cavernous room. The eyes of the Assembly were on him and he knew that it if the vote was taken now, there was no way he would win. Bhelen had blackmailed and threatened enough of the Deshyrs and their families that his victory was sealed, "I mean to keep that promise."

"Look around you," The prince's hand waved dismissively, "Your heroes aren't returning. I call for the-"

The door suddenly slammed open and a new voice was added to the mix.

"With all due respect, Prince, I would hold my tongue if I were you," Ffion strode down the steps, into the middle of the Assembly with her hound beside her, while her companions crowded on the second landing. Her grey eyes studied the crowd coldly and she gave the impression of being higher than all of them, never mind the fact that the room was shaped after an arena and the nobles were all sitting above her. She looked back at the Assembly steward as he came to the end of the landing where he had been stationed between Harrowmont and Bhelen, "The heroes arrive in the knick of time, as usual. Perhaps this will sway the Assembly one way or the other without the blackmail performed by some of the more... morally questionable among us."

She held up the Caridin forged crown and let her eyes flicker over the prince, noting how he swelled with indignation. The steward was coming down the steps towards her as Bhelen spoke.

"Where does a cloudhead like you get the gall to-"

"Save the arguments for later, Highness," The steward interrupted without a thought given to the impropriety of it, and Ffion couldn't help but send the prince a cheeky smile. He took the crown from the Warden and examined it closely before letting out a shocked exhalation. His gaze met hers in disbelief and he continued in a quiet voice, "This is the seal of Caridin."

"Yes, it sure is," Ffion was downright chipper and only those gathered impatiently behind her knew the truth. She wasn't cheerful; she was on the brink of collapse. They had hardly stopped in their trek back to Orzammar and Ffion herself had taken on several of the watches when she did allow a few hours' rest. She and Wynne had almost had several serious blow-outs, Zevran and Alistair were annoying the hell out of her with their combined fussing, and Leliana's gentle concern was grating. But they had made it and that was all that mattered to her. And as soon as this was over, she was probably going to get good and drunk, for the third time in her life... So long as the now pissed off prince didn't throw a wrench in those plans, that is, "He crafted it for the king of his choosing," She paused again, partly for the effect, partly because that little white lie surprised even herself, "And that is the Lord Pyral Harrowmont. You all wanted a Paragon's word, you've received it."

"And I have the evidence in my hands," The steward's voice was stronger now and he held up the finely crafted crown, "Lord Harrowmont, step forward."

Harrowmont, blinking in shock at such an unexpected, but welcome, turn of events came down the steps. He stopped in the center of the room with Ffion, her hound, and the steward.

"Kneel, my lord," The steward nestled the crown onto Harrowmont's grey and white hair and added solemnly, "My lords and ladies of the Assembly, I give you Orzammar's new king!"

Bhelen's face was bright red with rage and his gloved hands curled into tight fists. His fury was hardly contained as he interrupted the beginning smattering of applause.

"No, I won't let you take what belongs to me!" He shouted amongst scattered gasps from the nobles gathered.

Before anyone could sound the warning, one of the 'nobles' behind Bhelen threw his cloak back, bringing his arm up in that same instant. He wore one of the same weapons Leliana wore on her gauntlet, and aiming at Ffion. Zevran was faster. One of his knives left his hand and sank home in the Dwarf's chest, slicing through the leather armor easily. With a yell of anger, Bhelen leaped forward, making for Harrowmont while another of the nobles revealed himself to be working with the prince as well. Ffion yanked Harrowmont out of the way and Leliana took out the other guard.

The Warden turned about again at Tilly's ferocious bark, and she grabbed for her swords as Bhelen dove at her. She was just in time to parry his blow and land one of her own, that red steel blade seeming to hone in on the prince's neck of its own accord. She pushed him away and his body fell heavily to the stone floor, blood pouring from the fatal wound. Letting out a sigh and feeling her shoulders slump, she cast about for something to clean her blade with and was surprised when Harrowmont himself offered her a handkerchief.

"Warden Ffion, you have done more for Orzammar than anyone had the right to ask," He said and gave her a bow as she arched her brows at him, her hands stilling on the razor sharp blade, "You will have the Wardens' traditional Dwarven allies in your war against the Blight. You have only to send us the word and we shall see that you have all the warriors and any other aid the city can afford to give."

It was on the tip of her tongue to give him a smart-ass reply, but that wouldn't be fitting for a Warden and the nobles were all watching with a solemnity that killed her notion. She slid the blade home and tossed the bloody handkerchief onto Bhelen's body.

"Thank-you, Highness," She replied and inclined her head, "Now, if there is nothing else you need of us, we would dearly like long, very hot baths and about a month's worth of rest."

"And you shall have it," Harrowmont grinned, apprehensive of this new power he had, but able to see the humor in Ffion's blunt honesty, "At no cost to you or your companions. The Stone guide you in your continued quest."

Ffion gave him the formal Warden bow and sent a last look around the Assembly before returning to the others. Without another word, everyone turned and left the Assembly chamber, going straight to Tapsters. Syd went wild with joy at the sight of Sten and Tilly was almost as happy to see the little donkey. The innkeeper informed them that while baths were indeed available to all of them, the room division was altered. Sten, Alistair, Zevran, and Oghren, who revealed that he didn't technically have a home, would share double rooms; and Leliana and Wynne would share another. The party allowed Ffion to have one single room and Morrigan was quick to claim the other.

The Warden finally consented to relaxing and she told them that they would leave the next day... or possibly the day after. There was really no rush anymore, and she dallied for as long as she could in the steaming water brought up by Nora. She came quite close to falling sound asleep in the tub, but each time she started dozing she saw the Broodmother, heard its groans and screeches, and replayed the Dwarf's chant over and over in her head. The Broodmother's face would start out as the Dwarf captain's, morph into Branka's, Oriana's, her mother's... and then her own, screeching inhumanly and waving the chubby, childlike arms... And that was when she would start awake, fumbling for the blades that were no longer hanging on her bare back.

Tilly whined, pushing her chestnut head under her lady's hand and then licking her fingers. Ffion stroked her ears absentmindedly and almost cried as she realized that, while the others were probably sleeping soundly, she could honestly say that her next dreamless sleep might possibly come just before she was doomed to the Deep Roads. Her grey eyes searched the sparse little room and heard the voices from the bar travel up to her. She recalled that taste of the smooth red wine and the ale that Zevran allowed her to sip the night before they left for the Roads, and her mind was made up. She'd sleep later.

It was Alistair who found her, much later, in the tavern with a mug of ale in one hand and a broad, silly smile on her face. Tilly was curled at her feet and her stub tail wagged at the sight of the ex-Templar. He had been unable to sleep, thinking of the argument that was still hanging between them. He knew that she had, in part, let it go, but not discussing it was grating on him and he had to rehash it. To tell her that, if anyone had the right to break down so completely, to go off in anger at him, it would be hers... completely. He had heard that women Wardens truly bore the brunt of this life. By all accounts, their odds of surviving the Joining were slimmest, they had severe nightmares, and of course, at the end of everything, they had only a worse hell to look forward to. Unless someone had pity and love enough to dispose of them before that fate... And this was something that Ffion needed to know. If it was going to be up to him at all, she wasn't going to face that.

And here she was, drunk, grinning at him like a fool, and lifting her tankard as a though giving a toast.

"'llo, Alistair," She greeted in a drawl, blinking rather owlishly at him as he sat across from her, "Come for a pint, or th' conversation? Can see why Oghren likes this stuff. Can't feel a thing."

"Uh-huh," Alistair stopped himself short of rubbing his forehead, knowing she would pick up and probably go off on it, "And that's what you're doing down here instead of getting some well-deserved and much needed sleep?"

"Sleep?" She repeated and then giggled, taking another sip, and then resting her chin her palm with the air that her head was getting too heavy, "Tha's funny. Sleeping wi' that... Broodmother screeching in m'head... Maker's balls, I'm sounding like Oghren."

Alistair was well aware that it would be useless to apologize; she'd never remember it, and he got to his feet. He reached out to take her elbow as she drained the last of the ale. Nora waved as a way of telling him nothing was owed for the drinks, and he couldn't resist the tug towards mischief.

"You know, I bet I could get you to tell me anything I wanted to know about you," He said as he pulled her gently to her feet.

Ffion allowed it, rocking into him as though they were sailors in a rough sea. Neither one of them was wearing their armor and he couldn't help but notice how soft and warm her small body was. She seemed to fit against his side when he drew her to him to help her keep her balance, and he would have been lying if he said didn't enjoy that thought.

"Nope," She replied and her grin was the slow warm one that made his stomach feel funny and his face get hot, "No way. Ffion Co... Ffion the Warden's a vault. There isn't nothing... Nothing?... That I'll release."

Alistair chuckled, a nice sound that rumbled through his chest, and Ffion liked that she could feel that vibration.

"'Isn't nothing?' That's good, I like it," He said and started towards the stairs with Tilly in tow. He ignored the more suggestive leers that were sent their way and clasped her tightly as they tried the steps, "I don't think you'll remember this in the morning, but... I'm sorry, Ffion, about what I said. You're not playing the martyr; you're being a hero and I had no right to say what I did."

Ffion was stumbling with each step, holding tightly to him and giggling again as the stairs tried to come up to meet her. She risked looking up at him and then wished she hadn't as she tripped and grabbed at his shirt.

"Well, I – whoa, those stairs aren't stayin' where they should," She commented and then laughed, "Damn it all, if I won't b'hurting tomorrow. You were very naughty, Alistair, and you're right, but I forgive yeh. If only because you look fairly adorable apologizin'."

Alistair's cheeks went bright red and they stayed silent as they mastered the last few steps. Not without mishap, but the ex-Templar was enjoying Ffion's self-induced helplessness, probably a little too much, and he didn't wish for it to end so soon. Nevertheless, he managed to get her to her room and inside to the bed, where she collapsed onto her back, giggling again as she looked up at the ceiling.

"Yeh know, this is the firs' time I've had a boy in m'room since Rick..." She observed, allowing her voice to trail off with a note of sorrow.

Alistair, busy with removing her boots, couldn't let that one go.

"Rick?" He repeated, "Who's Rick?"

The Warden realized quite suddenly what she was saying, despite the alcohol coursing through her system, and she propped herself on her elbows, looking down at him. She waited for the honey colored eyes to meet hers before twisting her fingers over her full mouth as though locking her lips.

"All you need t'know is he was a friend," She answered, "An' just a friend; don't worry yourself."

"As though I could help it," He replied as her leather boots dropped to the floor. He wondered how much he meant that. It was said mostly to make her smile that smile again, and of course, it worked. She giggled while he tucked her feet up on the bed, pulling the cover loose to drape it over her, "And now, you should sleep while you can, my poor little drunk. You'll be feeling that ale in the morning."

"When did yeh turn into Zevran?" She questioned and then grinned as the ex-Templar bent over her, stroking her hair with a tenderness that was more than just the brotherly affection he had shown her of late.

"Well, I have been spending too much time with the Elf," He answered easily and wondered if the reason he was so forward was because he knew she probably wouldn't remember any of this. He started to continue, but froze when Ffion's hand reached towards him.

She stroked his cheek with that same tenderness and then her fingers traveled to the back of his head. Pulling his face to hers as she lifted her chin, she planted a kiss square on his lips. Her full mouth was soft and inviting, and Alistair couldn't help the gasp that escaped him when she pulled back. His honey colored eyes were lost in her grey as she patted his cheek fondly and then nestled her head on her curled arm.

"G'night, my friend, an' may both our dreams b'pure of screeching monsters."

Her words suggested that she hardly knew what she had done, and she didn't realize that the ex-Templar lingered long after she had fallen asleep, watching her in speechless, adoring wonder.

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