Arrows in the Middle of the Night Are NOT Conducive to Healing Hangovers
Sten and Zevran were the only ones around when Leliana descended to the main room late the next morning. Wynne had left much earlier for a shopping-spree-sweep through the vendors for more supplies before they left and the Elf stood as Leliana approached the table. His amber eyes raked her as boldly as ever and his grin was particularly wicked as he gave her a little bow.
"Curious how this life suits you, lovely Leliana," He observed, glancing at Sten rather conspiratorially, "Do you not agree, my friend, that all our fairer companions grow more beautiful as each day passes?"
Sten didn't bother to reply. He got to his feet and ignored the Elf completely.
"If anything is decided, I will be close by," He said and left Tapsters without a farewell.
Zevran watched him go and then shrugged comically at Leliana.
"I am merely trying to help Morrigan in her... conquest," He explained and the grin grew.
Leliana shook her head, rolling her eyes.
"And I am sure she does not appreciate your efforts. He certainly doesn't seem to, no?" Her pale blue eyes went around the room, "Any sign of Ffion?"
"None, which is a good thing," Zevran's face was suddenly harder, though there was a pleased gleam in his eyes now, "Let our dove rest as long as she likes, yes? Now, I am going out to find some... interesting company. Care to join me?"
The Orlesian knew exactly what he was talking about and she truly doubted that was what he intended. He had lost quite a bit of interest in that sort of thing as he grew closer to Ffion, but she wasn't going to call him out on it, not now.
"No, thank you, but no," She answered firmly and could have sworn she saw a flicker of relief in the amber eyes.
"Ah well, one cannot win them all," He pulled off the disappointment flawlessly, "Farewell then, my dear, you will be missed."
She waited for him to leave the inn before going back up the steps and turning down the hall.
"Good morning, serah," A pleasant voice greeted, "I trust everythin' is okay?"
Leliana turned about. Nora was heading her way, a little pile of soft white robes draped over her arms. She smiled at the Orlesian, always taking the time to pause and chat.
"Perfect," Leliana answered and then glanced at Ffion's bedroom door, "Do you know if the Warden is up and about yet?"
"Yes she is," Nora's face altered a little and she looked almost amused as she added, "It seems you all are getting a late start, not that I'm complainin'. After what you all did, you can stay here as long as you please. I was just takin' one of these in to the Warden myself."
"I will do it, Nora," Leliana held out one hand, "I have some things to discuss with her anyway."
Nora shrugged her shoulders and handed over one of the robes.
"O'course," She replied, "Now I've got to get back to work. G'day, serah."
Leliana's past and those baser desires that came with it, ruled her for a moment, and she couldn't help but watch the Dwarven woman leave, admiring the graceful way she moved. She gave herself a mental shake and focused on the task at hand. She stepped to Ffion's door and rapped her knuckles against it. Ffion's voice was faint as it called an answer and Leliana understood why after she opened the door. She could smell the bath soap and though Tilly was lying in plain sight, Ffion was hidden behind the screen that concealed one corner.
"Thanks, Nora," The Warden's voice was quiet and very tired, "You can just drape it across the bed, I'll grab it."
"I would much rather stay and chat, if it is okay with you?" Leliana replied with a smile.
There was silence and then Ffion answered with more warmth in her voice this time.
"Sure," She spoke quietly still and it almost sounded like she was in pain, "Could I have the robe first, though?"
Leliana draped it over the top of the screen and turned to perch on the corner of the bed.
"I trust you slept well?"
The robe was tugged from the screen and there was a little rustling as Ffion wrapped it around herself. She took a minute to respond, as though she was thinking of the correct answer.
"Good enough," She said finally, "Are the others waiting for me?"
"No, no worries on that account," The Orlesian was chipper and she shifted her weight as she went on, "Zevran, Sten, and Wynne are scattered in different directions and there's no sign of Oghren, Alistair, or Morrigan."
Ffion came around the screen, cinching the tie of the robe around her slender waist. Her chocolate curls were loose about her shoulders, damp from the bath, and though her grey eyes were shadowed, they weren't nearly as dark as they had been. Her face was pale which wasn't surprising after the two weeks spent under the city and she gave the Orlesian a wan smile before gingerly sitting on the mattress.
"Good," She replied and then sprawled on her back with a sigh. Rubbing her face with one hand, she added, "Now do me a favor, Leliana, and stop shouting, please."
The Warden's pale face, careful movements, and soft voice suddenly made sense and Leliana smiled. She leaned back a little and touched Ffion's shoulder.
"Poor dear," She said, "Is it really so awful?"
Ffion's grey eyes cracked open and she dropped her hand from her face. She stared up at the Orlesian in disbelief and then decided against arguing. Her head hurt too much for that. She remembered now why she had told herself the past two times that she wouldn't ever get that drunk again, but... Well, she needed something.
"I had to sleep," She said simply and wondered how it was that her voice could sound so childish.
Tilly, trotting across the room to be with her lady, knocked into the pile of armor and arms that had been dropped to the floor and sent them sliding with a grating sound that made Ffion wince and gasp in pain.
Leliana got to her feet and seemed absentminded when she spoke.
"Sit tight, my dear, I will get you something that will get you on your feet again."
The Orlesian was gone in a flash and Ffion sighed, closing her eyes again, and raking one hand back through her hair. Even Tilly's breathing grated, but if she put her outside the door the Mabari would start barking and that would be like dropping a hammer in an empty marble hall... which happened to exist in Ffion's head. So instead the Warden lay quietly and tried to remember if she had done anything ridiculous the night before.
The last thing she really, truly remembered was thinking that she wanted to get drunk. Which she managed handily. What she couldn't recall was how she had gotten back to her room, into her bed, and even without her boots. She could dimly remember someone talking to her and helping, but there was no voice, no distinct voice, and Nora had remained mute about it, which was a blessing and a curse in one. She didn't want the others to know what had happened and she and the Dwarf had already discussed this. Nora would keep her mouth shut and so would Leliana, if Ffion had anything to say about it.
As though she had been summoned, the Orlesian was in the doorway again and she swung the door partially closed after she entered. There was a mug clasped in one hand and she settled on the mattress again, extending this to Ffion as the Warden sat up slowly.
"Here," Leliana said, "This will help with the headache and anything else that is ailing you. And it should act fairly quickly."
Ffion eyed it dubiously, but she was hurting and in the mindset to try anything that had even a remote chance of helping. She downed the contents of the mug and grimaced at the taste. The Orlesian watched her with pity and added,
"Sorry about the taste, dear, but sugar makes it completely useless. And we do not want that, no?"
"No," Ffion agreed and then lay back again, studying the ceiling and waiting for this magic brew to take charge.
"And did you manage to sleep?" Leliana's voice was quiet and she leaned on her elbow, studying the Warden's profile.
"Yeah, I did, but it wasn't like I had much choice in that matter," Ffion could feel the sharp pounding in her head starting to ease and she let out a relieved sigh. The room didn't seem too bright anymore and she could roll her eyes over to the Orlesian without that stab of pain, "That's quite the stuff. Where did you learn that recipe?"
Leliana gave a little shrug, her blue eyes rather shuttered.
"You forget that I am from Orlais," She answered, "My mother was a Ferelden native, but was quite devoted to Lady Cecile, and after the liberation of your homeland, my mother accompanied our lady back to Orlais. When Mother died, I was taken in by the lady and became her personal maid. When one is raised in the Orlesian courts, among the nobles, you learn a great deal of their secrets. And they can have numerous uses: blackmail, dissension, and those that are very practical. How are you feeling, love?"
Ffion's cheeks reddened at that, but she let it go. Leliana would forever be what she had always been.
"Better, much better," She cocked her head, not sitting up yet. Her brain told her it wasn't ready for that, so she took the opportunity to learn more about this deceptively naive companion of hers. There seemed to be so much more to Leliana than met the eye, "When we picked you up, you were a traveling bard that happened to be a Chantry sister... Which you still are, I guess. Once in the Chantry, always in the Chantry, right? You probably had a good thing going in Orlais, why didn't you stick around there and make something of it? It wasn't just the vision, was it?"
That last was just barely a question and Leliana allowed a smile, though her eyes were sad. Zevran and Morrigan were right: Ffion noticed more than anyone would give her credit for.
"No, it was not just my vision," She replied and settled more comfortably on the bed beside the Warden. Her small hand supported her head and her voice softened, easing into the 'story-telling mode,' as Alistair put it, "I spent some time in the courts and learned whatever anyone was willing to teach me, but I was restless. My mother had been content to stay in one place, she desired that security, but I always had more of my father in me. He had been a wandering bard and though my lady said the affair was quite passionate, there was no chance for Mother to convince my father to settle with her. And this wandering passed to me. I met Marjolaine when I was nineteen and she became my mentor of sorts," Leliana's eyes were lost to the past and even the little lift of her lips was sad as she went on, "Marjolaine was so... learned, experienced, and so very charming. She invited me to work for her as a bard, traveling from region to region in Orlais and gathering what I thought was simple, rather useless information. It was not long before we became lovers and she confided what her outfit was really doing. The politics in Orlais are just as confusing and dangerous as those in Antiva, but with one distinctive difference: the nobles are obsessed with espionage. And so it was quite simple for Marjolaine and her company to find work; lucrative work, and I was fascinated. I joined without question and played my part in this... game. At first it was simple, petty things, which were just part of my 'training,' I suppose. Planting evidence of affairs that didn't exist, ruining a noble's reputation so his rival could gain the upper hand. This was nothing like what came later. Later, it was all concerning affairs of the state: hurting other countries, building up Orlais as some pinnacle of human virtue..." Leliana broke off, her expression disgusted, but Ffion hardly realized, she was too wrapped up in the story, "And then came that night... My companions and I were to plant information in one of the nobles' homes that Marjolaine promised was merely embarrassing for him. She accompanied us and helped to distract the guards while I dropped the papers in the master bedroom. And this one time, of all the occasions that I had done this, I took a closer look. This evidence was not merely embarrassing, it was dangerous to Orlais, Marjolaine, and everything else I held dear. So I told her, thinking that she had been caught unawares as well. We agreed to steal the documents back and undo what had been done, and once more, she went along. I should have guessed something was off from the beginning, but I was so concerned for her, for us, that I leaped into this without a thought. We got into the estate so easily and there were no guards in sight as we sneaked to the bedroom. It was not until I had picked up the sealed documents that the alarm was called. Marjolaine ran out to draw some of the guards and my companions and I were left to take care of the rest. We fought our way out of the estate, a close call for all of us, and found Marjolaine hiding in an alley a few streets away. I was furious and terrified, thinking that we were finished. Those papers had the seal of the Orlesian military on them and I was sure what we had done was tantamount to treason, which was punishable by death. Marjolaine tried to sooth me, she approached as though to take me in her arms, and I saw the blade too late. She struck me in the stomach with a knife I had given her in our first year and left me to one of the guard captains. A guard captain who was another player of the 'game' and one of her many lovers. My companions and I were thrown in prison and I was branded as the traitor. While I was waiting for my executioner, someone else arrived, telling me that I was not the first to be betrayed by Marjolaine; that she looked for people like me. Those wanting to belong, to be loved, and part of something greater. My visitor smuggled me a rucksack containing a key, a knife, and poultices for my wound. I escaped the dungeons, finding one of my companions on the way and losing the other... Dear faithful Tug... And as we emerged from this hell, a lay sister greeted us, secreting us away in the safety of the Chantry. I found that my saviour was a revered mother Dorothea, who happened to be a victim of Marjolaine's as well. My lover had stolen papers from her that she needed for her ministry. In addition, Dorothea had felt somehow responsible for me and saw me as a means to right her past wrongs. So she told me where I could hope to find Marjolaine and prepared me for that meeting. Alas, when we clashed, she escaped. I managed to retrieve Dorothea's papers and we got revenge on that guard captain, but after seven years, I was finished with that life. I walked away from it all and went back to Dorothea and the Chantry. She initiated me and I then came to Ferelden and Lothering, where you and Alistair and Morrigan found me. So you are right, my dear, it was not only my vision. It was something that went so much deeper."
Ffion blinked up at her in shocked surprise. She had heard Leliana sing, of course, and she had listened with half an ear on a few occasions when the Orlesian got to chatting with Wynne or Alistair, but she had never heard anything like this. She felt like she had been with her in those streets and that estate, and the softness of Leliana's face and sweet note that her voice took on when she said Marjolaine's name told the Warden that she still felt deeply for her former lover.
"Much, much deeper," She finally managed, "A whole hell of a lot deeper than anything I'd expected. So you haven't seen Marjolaine since that night? She didn't try to hunt you down?"
"I am quite sure she had me followed, but there was not a threat. I became a lay sister and left everything else behind; what could I do to her?"
Ffion cocked her head, reading more into that than the Orlesian probably wanted.
"You don't miss that excitement at all?" She questioned, "If it were me I'd have a hard time finding something to fill my time."
Leliana shrugged again, her eyes unreadable but her smile still sad.
"I was betrayed by someone I loved, someone I thought loved me," She replied, "That was enough of a blow to my ego and desire for excitement. Though now, here with you and the others... This, I could get used to."
"I'm sorry, Leliana," Ffion said sheepishly, "I didn't mean to pry... Well, yeah, I did. What I didn't want to do was offend you; sorry."
Leliana chuckled, her face still pained but she was returning to her usual cheerful self. She reached out with her free hand and stroked the pile of chocolate curls that fanned around Ffion's head.
"Forgiven, of course. You had asked so sweetly at first that I could not refuse," She answered and smiled down at the Warden.
Ffion shifted uncomfortably and pulled loose. Her cheeks went red as she sat up and took for granted the fact that her head didn't immediately abuse her. She folded her fingers in her lap and met the Orlesian's eyes squarely.
"I don't mean to offend you, Leliana, but please, I'm not-"
"Comfortable, I know," The Orlesian interrupted her in a sigh and perched beside her, "This time I must apologize. I am sorry, Ffion, I don't mean for it to be that way. I suppose you could blame this on the fact that Zevran and I are cut from the same cloth."
Like she had thought, that distracted Ffion and the Warden cocked her head, frowning a little.
"Cut from the same cloth?" She repeated, "What do you mean? What does that have to do with... with me?"
The Orlesian lifted her shoulders and brushed her copper hair from her eyes, which went back to Ffion's grey.
"You have no idea why we are so enamored of you?" She countered, but didn't give Ffion a chance to reply, "Why we feel the need to protect and shelter you as much as possible?"
Ffion snorted and then winced. Okay, so her head wasn't completely one hundred percent yet. She sat straight and opened her mouth to respond, but something made her pause. Glancing at Leliana with an almost apologetic smile, she instead said softly,
"I thought at first it was because no one thought I could do any of this, but now I'm not so sure. You all obviously care for me, and even when I get annoyed and snap at you, that doesn't change," She frowned pensively, running one hand through the unruly curls and tossing them over her shoulders, "It's not that now, is it? Like your story, there's something deeper there, and the only thing I can come up with is my inexperience."
The Orlesian smiled in delight, almost as if she was a tutor and Ffion a pet pupil.
"Much closer than I thought you'd get," She replied and grinned when she was rewarded with the Warden's chuckle at that parroting of her words, "It is actually even simpler than that. You, my dear, are a very innocent young woman, in about every way one can be. That is not to suggest that you are incapable of accomplishing this task, which is obviously not the case. What I mean is that innocence is such a rare thing, such a precious thing in this world of ours, and we are determined to see it lasts."
"Zevran told me the same thing... kind of," Ffion's cheeks colored again, "But he wasn't nearly as nice as you're being. And I still don't understand. Why's it so important to you?"
"Zevran is a tease," Leliana said simply, "And it is important because we have grown up without it. Innocence in any subject cannot last long when one is surrounded by bored nobles and gossiping ladies. And as far as Marjolaine... Well, I have never been a true child, I guess one could say. And as for Zevran; the son of an Elven woman whose lover deserted her when he learned of the child, a mother who died giving birth to him, leaving him in the care of Antivan whores in an Antivan whorehouse... There was no chance at all for him. And then we find you; this young woman who has had everything she wanted and remained untouched by the evils that we have known. This has become the banner for us and we are united on at least this one front."
Ffion rolled her eyes, figuring that it would be better to feign indifference with this and pretend that touching thought was rather ridiculous to her. She rubbed Tilly's ears as the Mabari pressed close.
"And so protecting Ferelden from the Blight and gathering all the allies we can, knocking the Coward General off his pedestal, and destroying the bastard H... None of this amounted to a banner to unite under?"
Leliana gave her a quick look at that abrupt finish, but it went ignored.
"You and Alistair have united under that banner, and since we are behind you, it evens out in the end," She answered plainly and then changed the subject, "By the way, how did you get up here last night? You are still looking haggard, so that must be quite the hangover. Which means you probably do not remember much after you started drinking, no?"
"You're good," Ffion stood, pushing Tilly gently away and going to her pile of clothes and armor, "And I honestly don't remember. I think I had some help, but I'm not sure. Nothing... happened, I can tell you that," She sent the Orlesian a partly abashed, partly firm look as she headed for the screen again, "And I would appreciate it if this doesn't get out to the rest of them."
Leliana inclined her head, not able to hide the smile that curved her mouth.
"Of course, but, my dear Ffion, please don't get into that habit," She was quite maternal suddenly and Ffion's heart twisted at that genuine concern; she missed her mother, "Oghren is quite enough for us, no?"
"Right," Ffion smiled in return and ducked out of sight, "No worries, Leliana, I'll ask Wynne if she has anything that'll help. Unless you have more tricks up your sleeve?"
"More than you will ever know, dear."
Alistair had just picked up the sausage to take a bite
when a hand gave his shoulder a pat and Ffion's voice greeted him pleasantly as
she slid into the bench next to him. The sausage promptly slipped from his
fingers, bounced off his knee, leaving a smear of grease, and landed on the
floor where Tilly snapped it up before anyone else could even blink.
"Oops, sorry, Alistair," Ffion said apologetically and extended her own plate, "You want one of mine?"
Alistair studied her intently for a moment before answering, looking for any sign of recognition to what had happened last night. There was nothing in her clear grey eyes except a sudden uncertainty. She faltered for a moment, frowning at him, and then parted her lips to go on. He spoke first, summoning a cheerful smile in spite of that sharp disappointment that went through him.
"Sure, thanks," He lifted one of the sausage links from her plate and went back to his breakfast.
Ffion turned to her own and was unaware of Alistair's continued scrutiny. She was downright chipper this morning and had none of the telltale signs of what should have been one hell of a hangover. And as Leliana settled across from the Wardens, greeting Wynne and Morrigan pleasantly, he had the suspicion that the Orlesian was the one to thank for that. So here, Ffion was able to get the sleep she needed, avoid the hangover, and suspend him in this awful middle ground. He remembered clearly the feel of her lips, the silkiness of her curls, and how she had kissed him without a moment of hesitation... All of which had come from the ale and none of which she remembered. And if he was being honest with himself, he had never expected her to. That little kiss was something that was now meant only for him and he tucked the moment away, filing it in his head to dwell on later, and huddle around the warmth that emanated from it. But 'filing away' was impossible as Ffion turned to him with that slow, warm grin and teased,
"Enjoying that more than Tilly?"
"What? Oh," He was startled out of his thoughts; cursing mentally as his cheeks went hot, and then grabbed the sausage she had given him to take a few rapid bites, "It's got to be a tie."
Ffion's smile went from that same uncertainty to amusement and she chuckled. Wynne looked at Alistair knowingly, while Leliana grinned and Morrigan arched her brows, her gold eyes almost pained. The ex-Templar was thinking that he'd never again sit and eat breakfast with four women when one of them had given him a drunken kiss just the night before. A little voice in his head demanded to know what circumstances would bring that about again when Zevran suddenly materialized and he was happy to see the Elf for the first time... ever.
"Well, my little dove," Zevran's voice was a purr as he seated himself on Ffion's other side and lifted one of the slices of toast from her plate, "You are looking better this morning. What wonders a good night's rest can do, yes?"
Ffion and Leliana exchanged a quick look and Ffion smiled at the Elf. She knew that she was looking better and she felt a million times better than she did when she first opened her eyes, but there was still that clinging knowledge of what her fate would be, and she knew that there were going to be more sleepless nights than even she expected. But Zevran was pleased with her appearance now and even Morrigan could almost pass for happy, so she would go along with it.
"Right," She agreed and couldn't help but grin as Oghren came into view, blinking in the strong light, and looking like he needed a double dose of Leliana's special concoction, "Well, Oghren, was it enough of a party for you?"
"Yeh think that's somethin'?" The Dwarf plunked down onto the bench across from them, next to Leliana, and he managed a smile, "Tha's nothin'. I could drink every one o'those nug-humpers un'er the table."
"And it looks like more than a couple of them tried," Alistair cut in dryly.
Oghren's shoulders lifted a little, but his eyes hadn't left Ffion.
"I got somethin' to ask yeh, Warden," He said and was more hesitant then they had ever seen him, "I wanna go along with yeh when yeh leave. There's nothin' here fer me, not anymore."
Ffion nodded and knocked the loose curl back from her eyes.
"I thought you'd ask," She replied, "And of course, welcome aboard."
Oghren had decided that even if she had said 'no,' he'd tag along, had built himself up for it, and he couldn't help but be surprised and a little disappointed at how easy it had been. He relaxed, his green eyes pleased, and then pulled a plate to him as Nora set it on the table.
"Thanks," He said gruffly to Ffion, "So, boss, wha's the plan?"
"We'll head out today," The Warden answered absentmindedly. She was pushing her eggs around the plate and watching a group of Dwarves that were huddled in one corner of the room. Two of them kept casting dark looks at her party and she wondered how much trouble they would pose later.
"Head out where, precisely?" Morrigan's voice was cool, its command as apparent as ever.
"South, back towards Redcliffe. Teagan may have some news for us."
"And then?" Wynne leaned forward, studying the Wardens as they exchanged glances, "Mages and Dwarves; our next allies are the Elves, and that means the Brecilian Forest. There have always been clans in the Forest and that would be your best bet."
Alistair nodded at the enchanter and tried to ignore the way Zevran lounged next to Ffion with the air that that was where he belonged.
"Thanks, Wynne, we're decided then."
Sten was prepping Syd already and so when they finally gathered everything together, settling with the innkeeper who told them that Harrowmont had covered their bill, the little donkey was ready and willing to go. They left Orzammar without trouble, amidst thanks and blessings from the Dwarves that were going about their day, and they only came to a stop outside the main doors when Oghren refused to take another step. His green eyes were fixed on the clear blue sky and he was oblivious to the other companions as they bundled themselves against the biting cold with heavy cloaks and scarves. Ffion headed down the steps and her shoulder accidentally bumped the Dwarf's which made him jump, startled. She frowned at him, following his gaze upwards and scanning the sky for whatever threat he saw.
"Are you okay, Oghren?" She asked slowly when she didn't see anything.
"Fine, jus' fine," His voice was quiet and less gruff than usual, "I jus' wanna make sure I'm not gonna take a step an' tumble up there."
Ffion's lips curled up in a delighted smile and Leliana couldn't suppress a giggle. Here was the normally fearless Oghren, the Dwarf who could take on two Ogres at once, single-handedly, and come out without a scratch, terrified of tripping up into the sky.
"If your people did not bury themselves under this mountain, you wouldn't have to worry about such a ridiculous thing," Sten was anything but sympathetic as he brushed by them both and led Syd down the steps and across the courtyard.
Ffion gave Oghren a rather comical shrug and followed after the Qunari. Zevran paused beside the Dwarf as the others trailed Ffion. He gave Oghren's shoulder a hearty slap, making the Dwarf jump again, and said cheerfully,
"Come, my smelly Dwarf, and trust the fact that we will not allow you to tumble into the sky."
They made better time hiking down the summit than they had hiking up and were able to put several miles between them and Orzammar before it was too dark to travel. The sunlight had slowly gained more warmth as they descended and if Ffion hadn't experienced the Deep Roads, seen the Broodmother and what ravages the lure of the Anvil caused, learned that she had that life to look forward to, she would have enjoyed the weather as much as Tilly. The Mabari was ecstatic to be in the fresh air again. She would bound away ahead of the party and then come tearing back to do laps around everyone. Leliana had slipped Ffion another dose of whatever it was she concocted towards midday and, if not for the memory of it, Ffion would have forgotten all about getting blind drunk the night before.
As usual, the Warden took the second watch at camp and so changed her mind about asking Wynne for something to help her sleep. Her night would be fractured as it was and at least this time, when Morrigan's cool voice called her name, she didn't recall screaming in her sleep, never mind the same nightmares as before.
She grabbed her gauntlets and boots and flipped the cover of her tent back to let Tilly out. Morrigan arched her brows at the sight of her bare feet, but let it go.
"All is quiet," The witch said, watching as Ffion flung the heavy cloak around her shoulders and skipped to the little fire so she could pull her boots on in the warmth, "And I am going to bed."
"Thanks, Morrigan, good night," Ffion put her gauntlets on the log beside her and leaned forward to toast her fingers in the heat of the fire.
Morrigan gave her a nod and disappeared into her tent as the Warden settled for her watch. She pulled at her leather breastplate to rest it more comfortably, and then sighed as Tilly pressed against her leg. Uncomfortable though it had been at first, she had grown accustomed to sleeping in most of her armor and now it had become second nature. Her eyes fixed on the flames as she listened to the sounds in the little copse of woods that framed one side of their camp. There was the occasional hoot of an owl and the scratchings of those little nocturnal animals the owls sought. The sparse trees rustled in the wind, but their campsite was protected from that bitter foe. There were scattered patches of snow and she could dimly make these out in the firelight; and Morrigan had enough time to fall sound asleep when Tilly lifted her head, ears perked forward at a sound that was out of place.
Ffion straightened, cocking her head a little, and letting her hand go to one of her knives. She held her breath as she listened and could hear the soft rustling that was much bigger than a mouse or shrew. The taint was easy within her, so it wasn't Darkspawn and when the noises grew louder, she crouched, rolling away from the fire, and easing into the darkness to investigate. She wasn't ready to call the warning yet, thinking that this was probably just a goat or bobcat that was on the prowl, and so she moved forward quietly with Tilly beside her. The Warden came to the bend in the track they had been traveling that day and stood still, letting her eyes adjust. The moon was waxing, a little over half full, and its bright beams made the snow patches glitter and the trees where the sounds echoed look like dark sentinels, standing guard on the opposite side of the path. She remained in a fighter's stance for what felt like an eternity, her hands still itching for her blades; straining to hear what was coming.
Suddenly, Tilly gave a soft grunt of welcome and a hand went over Ffion's mouth. The Warden stiffened, trying to wrench herself free, when a familiar voice came in her ear.
"Easy, dove," Zevran whispered cautiously, "We have visitors I think."
He eased his hold and they both dropped to a crouch. She felt him lean closer and they put their heads together.
"It's not the Darkspawn," She offered in a voice below a whisper, "I know that much."
"No," The Elf shook his head, "I think perhaps they are friends of Bhelen, but I do not think they will attack."
"Why not? They have every reason to," Ffion would have welcomed the fight. Thoughts of the Darkspawn: the Broodmother in particular, merely frustrated her and this would be an excellent outlet for that.
"They are watching us, for now," The Elf's amber eyes studied the vast darkness; "They are seeing what our habits are so that the attack will be easier."
Ffion felt a little tremor of unease at that. Her eyes followed his and she wondered how many of them were out there. She stroked the knife hilt with her fingertips as she considered what this would mean.
"So, what are our options?" She asked, already partially knowing the answer.
The Elf gripped her elbow and steered her back to the camp and warmth of the fire. He could feel the little shivers that trembled through her and he hated the thought of her getting sick now when they needed her healthy.
"For now?" He answered and that wasn't really a question, "We will sit by the fire and drink."
They were talking a little louder now and Ffion fed off the Elf's confidence in their safety. She looked sidelong at him, talking before she thought about it... As usual.
"No," She said sharply and then lowered her voice, "No, nothing for me, thanks. I'm not quite ready for it again."
Zevran led her to the log she had recently vacated and pushed her onto it. There were two flasks already sitting next to the supper dishes that needed washing and he arched his brows at her, his amber eyes gleaming with amusement.
"Again?" He repeated, "My dear one, that is a precursor to a confession."
Ffion's cheeks colored and she mentally berated herself for the slip. She watched as the Elf grabbed one of the flasks and settled on the ground at her feet, the log being too short to sit them both comfortably. He pulled the stopper loose and took a swig before looking up at her expectantly.
"There's nothing to confess," She said, wishing that she wouldn't blush so easily.
"Lying becomes you about as well as stealing," He scoffed and extended the flask, "You like the wine and you hardly ever turn down a drink. What has changed is the fact that you have seen the Broodmother, yes? That would make anyone drink."
"It's more than that," She replied, ignoring the flask. She studied her fingers for a moment and then went on carefully, "You were there, Zev, you saw that... that thing. That's my future, if I survive everything else, and that whole damn mess has given me such nightmares that... I had to sleep that night and that was the path I chose."
Zevran shifted on the ground, settling closer, and propping one elbow on her knee to scrutinize her a little better. His amber eyes flickered with concern and then he said with a smile,
"And what magic was wrought to avoid a hangover? If you drank that much, there would be some lingering aspects, yes?"
She allowed a smile, welcoming the warmth that his body gave. Her fingers stroked Tilly's ear as she answered easily,
"Leliana happened to be in the right place at the right time and she has tricks up her sleeve that would best even you, I think."
"I doubt that," The Elf replied, but his eyes were dancing, "She is quite something, our little bard, yes? Anyway, back to that night. How did you avoid any of us seeing or hearing about this?"
Ffion shrugged her shoulders. Her grey eyes studied the fire and she almost reached for that drink now.
"Nora was a willing participant and Leliana was sworn to secrecy," The Warden frowned and glanced at Zevran rather sheepishly, "The only thing I haven't been able to figure out is how I managed to get upstairs. I remember going up and I think someone was with me, but I can only recall snippets. It wasn't Nora or Leliana and I don't..." She trailed off suddenly, drawing herself up and meeting his gaze, "It wasn't you, was it?"
Zevran grinned, the firelight glinting off his straight teeth. He turned to look at her fully and enjoyed the way her cheeks went even redder.
"My dear sweet innocent," He purred, still leaning on her knee, and clasping the flask in one hand, "If I had been with you while you were in such a state, I would not have left you to face the night alone."
Ffion's face went crimson to the roots of her chocolate hair. She reached out and took the flask from him, sipping at it herself, hoping to make him laugh and drop this matter completely. The Elf did chuckle, accepting the flask again and not dropping his smouldering eyes from her.
"But this you know already, yes?" He added quietly.
"That's enough of that," Ffion replied and tipped away a little, letting the cold air cool her cheeks, "Alistair is right: given the choice between you and Oghren, the Dwarf's the lesser of the two evils, and that's including his drinking. Though, add Alistair to the mix and he's the one I would trust to help me. At least he wouldn't take advantage of the situation."
"My dove, you wound me," Zevran said with mock hurt, putting his free hand over his heart in a tragic gesture. His eyes were still dancing, but he was clearly thinking on what she said, "Well, maybe that's it then, yes? I knew there had to be a reason for him to look at you so and now we know."
Ffion frowned at him, forgetting her embarrassment and leaning forward again.
"What do you mean, Zev?" She quizzed, "Who are you talking about?"
The Elf didn't have a chance to answer. Tilly growled furiously and Zevran vaulted from the ground, tackling Ffion as arrows rained down around them. The Mabari stood at attention, not about to back down from this threat; never mind that there wasn't anything tangible to attack. Her lady was stunned for a moment and then pushed at Zevran so she could get a breath.
"Anytime, people!!" She shouted and the Elf rolled clear so that they could get their bearings.
The others came pouring from their tents, including Oghren; and Sten, Alistair, and Leliana were prepared for the fight. Instantly, they dropped to the ground as the arrows intensified and it was Alistair who solved that problem.
"The fire!" He shouted, "Morrigan, douse the fire!"
The witch didn't hesitate. Her staff erupted with power and the fire was drowned in a sudden, mini flash flood. The arrows ceased, but the summit was so quiet that they could hear the curses of the Dwarves across the track, hidden in those trees that Ffion and Zevran had studied. Ffion let out a breath, blinking in the dark and waiting for her eyes to adjust. She heard Zevran shift next to her and a moment later his voice was right in her ear.
"We cannot stay like this all night."
She shook her head.
"No, but now what?"
There was a hoarse grunt not far off from them and they froze, but it was Sten that was making his way towards them. He dropped the dead Dwarf that had been creeping in and his deep voice was directed at Ffion.
"They are starting to converge, Ffion," He whispered and they could just barely make out his profile as he studied the track, "My vision is not what it once was, but I can see enough to tell that they are moving this way."
Tilly's growl confirmed this and Ffion nodded.
"Fabulous," She muttered, "Is it just a small group or do you think all of them are headed in?"
"I believe it is all," The Qunari's voice was quieter; "They have to know that we are nine strong and they will not take any chances."
Zevran had slipped away while they talked and now he returned with the others in tow. He shifted around and they could hear the soft clinks of the hardware on his belt while he dug for something useful.
"Magic is worthless against the Dwarves, yes?" He whispered, "But my tricks should work. Sten, tell me when you can see them reaching the bottleneck there from the path."
The Elf moved some distance away, getting his bearings, and knowing exactly how far he was from the bottleneck himself.
"And the rest of us will get ready to attack," Alistair picked up on what the Elf was thinking and he loosed his blade, his eyes adjusted enough to be able to see the Qunari's hulking shape.
Sten watched the path and his own hands tightened around that massive sword. Morrigan and Wynne were in position a couple of paces behind Ffion, Tilly, and Oghren, and Leliana moved to stand on the opposite side of Alistair. The Qunari held up one hand and then dropped it, his deep voice raising in a shout,
Zevran tossed one of his little 'tricks' and the explosion rocked even their party as it took out half the Dwarves making for the camp. Morrigan and Wynne had the same idea and they both started fires at the bottleneck so the others could see what they were doing as they surged forward. Tilly and Ffion were joined by Zevran as they weaved their way through the Dwarves and began to hack away from behind. Alistair, Sten, and Oghren drew the heavy fire and Leliana's bow didn't miss. The troop of Dwarves had originally been about twenty strong and Ffion's party worked so well together that the ten who survived Zevran's blast had little chance to gain the upper hand. Sten took out the last one and they retreated to their camp to go over the damage. They half expected another onslaught of arrows, but nothing else came and Wynne was able to see to the few wounds they had acquired. Tilly, Alistair, Wynne, and Leliana were unscathed; Morrigan had taken an arrow to her shoulder and Sten was bleeding from an axe wound to the thigh. Oghren somehow managed to smash his nose; a knife had gone through Zevran's hand, and Ffion's back was aching from the Elf's tackle.
"Well, so much for my prediction, yes?" Zevran observed with a grin at Ffion as Wynne saw to the knife wound.
"Yeah, well, at least there's no uncertainty about it now," She answered, "I hated to think of them just watching us."
"What's this?" Alistair was perched beside Wynne, frowning at his fellow Warden and trying to ignore the fact that all he could think about was how soft her lips had been, "What are you two talking about?"
Ffion told them all about hearing the sounds and deciding that it would be useless to try and track them down in the dark. Zevran only interrupted her once or twice and when they finished, Morrigan leveled her eyes on them.
"And what was the reasoning behind not informing us?"
"Wha's the use?" Oghren yawned as he stretched to his feet and headed for his tent, "Tha' Qunari o' ours proved his worth and we don' have anythin' else to worry 'bout. G'night, wake me when there's a serious threat."
The others were following suit and Alistair glanced at Ffion as he stood.
"You want me to take over now?" He asked, "I don't mind if you want to go to bed."
Ffion shook her head and her eyes seemed to be drawn to Zevran. The Elf grinned at her and he winked rather jauntily before ducking out of view into his tent. She frowned and then realized that Alistair was still looking at her expectantly.
"No, thanks, Alistair, but I'll be fine," She answered, "I'll wake you in a bit."
The ex-Templar wished her a 'good night' and then left her to sit and wonder at the meaning of Zevran's words.