Collecting Crazies and More Darkspawn Blood
"There," Alistair said with some finality. He waved one hand, "Lothering: pretty as a painting."
Ffion looked out over the little village and arched her brows. 'Pretty as a painting' was being kind; although considering the fact that Lothering was being used as a refuge for those escaping the Darkspawn horde, she wasn't really sure if they could expect any better. They had crested the top of the hill and now started down towards the entrance of the village.
"Well, it appears he has not given up entirely," Morrigan said with her usual arrogance, "Have you finally decided that punishing yourself will not bring back the dead?"
Ffion and Tilly kept walking while Alistair paused to send the witch a poisoned glare. Ffion was tired of their arguments and petty little comments and had so much on her mind she wasn't going to trouble herself with another. The possibility that Fergus had escaped Ostagar as well and may be taking refuge with the rest of the country folk was heavy on her heart and she was eager to find out. Alistair's slightly raised voice called her attention though and she glanced over her shoulder at them in annoyance.
"Is it really so hard for you to understand that losing someone hurts normal, balanced human beings?"
"Balanced?" Morrigan repeated, seeming truly surprised he would use such a word, "Falling on your sword in grief instead of avenging your friend? 'Tis considered balanced?"
"If you're going to willfully misunderstand me, this conversation doesn't have to continue," Alistair snapped and started towards Ffion and Tilly.
"I am the one being misunderstood," Morrigan pressed, following, "If answering a simple question is too much for your overtaxed brain, simply admit it, yes?"
Alistair wheeled back to her as the witch's words had their desired effect. Ffion snorted, rolling her eyes and interrupted with ease, feeling like she was watching herself and Fergus at ages six and eleven.
"Are you two really going to go through that again? I thought last night was enough for all of us."
There was clearly no love lost between Alistair and Morrigan and they had given up even pretending to be civil long ago. Alistair annoyed Morrigan with the sheer fact that he was breathing and the witch's ice-queen and holier-than-thou airs rubbed Alistair completely the wrong way. Ffion was at first amused. Alistair was clever and for a while he had been able to peg Morrigan more often than she him. But soon he had dubbed her the 'bitch' because her words were just meant to hurt and had none of his playful provocation in them. At camp the previous night, they had had it out and Morrigan ended up separating from the camp altogether, situating herself a few yards away and building her own fire. Ffion, still somewhat pissed with Alistair's refusal to take his place as leader of this little band, appointed him the first watch and escaped into her own tent. Flemeth had given them both sturdy little sleeping tents that were pitched with ease and Alistair barely had time to wish her a glum 'good night' before she let the canvas fall, hiding her from view. Now, though, it was broad daylight and there was no convenient tent for her to retreat to.
"If she's still angry about last night, that's her problem," Alistair answered, not even gracing Morrigan with a glance, "She brought all of that on herself."
"Knock it off," Ffion demanded mildly, ignoring the ex-Templar's dark look just as she did Morrigan's triumphant one, "Morrigan does have a point though. You have been quiet, Alistair, is there anything I need to know about?"
They had stopped walking again and Alistair was looking down towards the village, seeming intrigued by the few guards patrolling right at the road. Letting out a sigh, he crossed his arms over his chest and refused to meet Ffion's direct gaze.
"It's just... It doesn't feel right, leaving like we did," He said finally, "I mean... I know Flemeth said it would have been suicide to go back to Ostagar but I... I wanted some form of closure and I don't see that happening now."
"Mother was right. Returning would have-"
"Morrigan, leave Alistair alone," Ffion said and pressed on down the road, feeling the heat of the witch's glare, "And Alistair, quit provoking her. If you two are going to act like spoiled kids, I'm going to treat you like kids."
Alistair couldn't help it. Glancing sidelong at Morrigan as they followed Ffion, he asked,
"Is it really that hard to get it? Let me put it this way, what would you find yourself doing if you lost your mother?"
Ffion's pained sigh was lost under Morrigan's answer,
"Would that be before or after I have stopped laughing?"
Alistair nodded his head as though in deep understanding. He was looking ahead of them now, watching what he had thought were soldiers straighten up and start paying closer attention to them.
"Oh, I get it now," He observed with biting sarcasm, "We're supposed to be shocked that you didn't have any friends growing up right? That's the reason you can't understand what's balanced and what isn't."
"I can be friendly if an occasion calls for it," She snapped back.
Ffion slowed again, not liking the look of the 'soldiers' that lined up to meet them. There were six of them, all men, and they leered at Morrigan especially as they approached. The armor they wore wasn't a matching set like most militia men and the lot of them was grimy and unshaven.
"'Scuse us, sers," The apparent leader began, "But no one gets in without payin' a toll."
"Toll?" Ffion repeated, allowing Tilly to growl softly at them.
"They're obviously claiming to be highway patrolmen," Alistair explained with disgust, "Preying on the fearful because a bit of honest work is too much to ask."
Morrigan eyed the men with as much interest as she would a slug and she didn't bother with lowering her voice or mincing words as she added,
"Highway patrolmen? Thieves, 'tis more like. They are fools to stand in our way."
Ffion studied the men as well. It was clearly a ruse that they were posing and though her band was outnumbered, Morrigan's confidence was slightly encouraging. None of the thieves were mages and Ffion had yet to see what Morrigan could do.
"Sorry, gentlemen, I'm afraid I agree with my companions," She said genially, "I won't be paying a toll today."
"Can't say I'm pleased to 'ear that," The leader answered, "Come on, fellas; take the toll outta their 'ides."
In the blink of an eye, Morrigan's staff was in her hand and Alistair and Ffion felt that familiar surge of the atmosphere. A second later, the first four men were frozen where they stood and one of the remaining two had his helm knocked completely askew by Ffion's handy toss of her knife. The other was petrified and Ffion arched her brows at both of them, shrugging her shoulders.
"I didn't have to miss your friend and if you don't want to lose your other men to hypothermia, I'd surrender."
They glanced rapidly between the frozen men and Ffion's band before nodding. Morrigan released her spell only after Ffion's little wave and the men dropped to the ground, shivering almost uncontrollably.
"After what you tried to pull, don't think you can tell me what I can and cannot do," Ffion interrupted, her tone unforgiving, "If that wasn't enough of a punishment for you, Morrigan would be more than happy to expand on her talents."
Morrigan gave the man cowering at Ffion's feet a poisonously sweet smile and her strange gold eyes were gleaming with malice.
"N-n-no," He said and there was real terror in his eyes.
"I thought not. If you can, get up and run. Leave behind whatever you've taken from the people you've been terrorizing and get the hell out of here."
Getting to their feet, staggering into one another and thanking Ffion profusely for her mercy, the men took off, disappearing down the road. Morrigan watched them go with a sour expression.
"'Tis foolish to let them escape with their lives," She observed as Ffion began going through a box of what was clearly the men's belongings, "An example should have been made of them."
"If that had been a battle, Morrigan, I wouldn't have been much help," Ffion answered, not in the slightest bit stricken she was pocketing the money the men had stolen, "If you hadn't acted so quickly, that wouldn't have ended well."
Alistair looked her over with concern. She was not a complainer, nothing had been said of extensive pain and though her face was still pale and her eyes shadowed, he hadn't thought much of it because neither of them had any semblance of normalcy anymore. Now though, she did look incredibly tired and she winced when she straightened herself after retrieving her knife.
"What kind of mercy do you think they showed the others?" Morrigan wanted to know.
"It doesn't matter anymore," Alistair said, "Come on, let's go see what kind of news these people might have."
They entered the village where they were greeted with suspicious glances. All around the courtyards and close to the Chantry were tents with families and the elderly gathered about them. Without consulting the others, Ffion made for the Chantry. Outside, collected close to the steps, a group of people listened to a man that was gesticulating wildly. His voice rose and fell as he got worked up and Ffion had just skirted the crowds and put one foot on the bottom stair when the man singled them out.
"There!" He cried, pointing dramatically at Ffion and Alistair, "These two are tainted just like the beasts! Can't you see it in their faces? Can't you smell it clinging to them? No one is safe! There's no hope!"
"Stop it! You're frightening the children!" A woman exclaimed sounding more than a little frightened herself.
"Are you blind?!" He shouted and looked at the group in disbelief, "These two can't be allowed to live! We must destroy them!"
Ffion's eyes sparked and she shook her head as Morrigan's hand reached for her staff. The crowd showed no inclination of attacking them and two soldiers that were standing at the Chantry doors had stepped forward slightly so they could grab the man if he became violent. Alistair snorted and he spoke before Ffion could,
"Can you cluck like a chicken while you do that?"
Ffion was laughing before she could help it and so were the soldiers. A few in the crowd smiled faintly and the tension lessened some. Only the doomsayer was still outraged. He drew himself up, still a whole head and shoulders shorter than Alistair, and glared at the ex-Templar.
"Are you calling me a coward?"
"He's calling you an idiot," Ffion cut in and the amusement was gone. Her voice was now as soothing as Alistair's had been provoking, "Think about what you're saying, man, about what that might mean. Do you really think that rolling over and giving up is the right thing to do?"
"I won't listen to you," He said and clamped his hands childishly over his ears, "You belong with them; I won't listen!"
Turning about sharply, he ran across the open square of the village and disappeared amongst the few houses there. Ffion watched him go in surprise and wished that Gilmore was around to see this. Pain constricted her heart so fiercely, she felt short of breath and she shook her head again.
"Well, so much for that," She said and continued up the steps and into the Chantry.
The atmosphere in the building was even gloomier than that without and the hush that had fallen over those praying seemed to seep into every corner of the place.
"Are you looking for news here?" Alistair questioned in an undertone as Morrigan looked about with unveiled disgust.
"No, we'll go to the inn for that," Ffion was absentminded as her eyes roved the entry.
She finally spotted a captain who was addressing a few of his men and she approached him, waiting until he had dismissed his soldiers before speaking. Her noble upbringing was forefront in her mind, of course, and she was pleased to see that the captain dealt with the situation correctly. He bowed to her and was politely interested as he questioned,
"My lady, is there something I can help you with?"
"I wanted to talk to you about the highway patrolmen just outside the city," Ffion began, starting to unfasten the money pouch from her belt.
"Oh, Andraste's knickers!" The captain exclaimed, frustrated, "How many times are we going to have run those bastards off?"
The curse sounded too much like Fergus and Ffion tugged the pouch loose harshly, handing it over so she could distract herself from the second stab of pain.
"One less," She answered, "Here's what they had taken. Put it to good use to help these folks."
The captain hefted the money bag in his hand and looked at Ffion in surprised pleasure.
"You ran them off?" He clarified, "For good, you think?"
"I would say so, sir," A soldier commented, stepping forward. He dipped a bow to the group and added, "Cari told me the men were fleeing north and didn't seem at all likely to come back soon."
The captain was smiling in pure relief now and he handed the money bag over to the soldier who dipped another bow and left.
"You have my thanks, serah," He told her, "Those men have been giving us hell for the past three days. We would chase them off only to have them return further down the road. Is there any way I can convince you to accept a donation from the village for payment?"
Ffion immediately accepted. Money was already an issue in their little band and she worried they would run out long before they even came close to Redcliffe. They left the Chantry and headed across town for the inn. It was clear by the bustle at the place that no one was too terrified to go and have an ale or two. Voices ran over each other and they didn't even need to ask to find out the news. The Darkspawn horde was the main concern and everyone was announcing their worries and fears loud enough for anyone to hear. But it was soon obvious that no one seemed to be aware of what Denerim was planning. Morrigan and Ffion stood back a little with Tilly as Alistair moved about the men, gleaning what he could, and it was the witch who first spotted the two soldiers.
"Trouble," She murmured to Ffion.
The men were studying Alistair closely and one motioned to Ffion herself, leaning close to his companion to say something in his ear. Tilly went on the defensive, positioning herself between them and her lady as they approached. Sensing the same danger, Alistair was once more right beside her elbow.
"Well, well," One of the men said and his voice was cultured enough to tell them he was high-born and from Denerim, "Haven't we been asking for a man and woman of this exact description all morning? Either the townspeople here are stupider than we realized or this is our lucky day."
Ffion's brows arched and she tried her best to extinguish the little sparks of fear that went through her. If she wasn't up for dealing with a few poorly armed thieves then there wasn't any way she could make a clean break with two fully armed and well-rested soldiers. Behind her, she could feel Morrigan's distrust and Alistair's hand went casually to the hilt of one of the knives in his belt. Tilly hadn't stood down and Ffion made no move to restrain her.
"Is there a problem?" She asked, forcing her voice to indifferent politeness.
"You're from Ostagar. A Warden from Ostagar; both of you are," The man answered, "General Loghain has issued that Wardens are those responsible for the death of King Cailan and the bounty on your head is too good to pass up."
"Gentlemen, please," A new voice interrupted in a lilting, musical Orlesian accent, "Surely there is another way to settle this?"
They turned to see a Chantry sister approaching them. Her straight, copper colored hair swung just below her chin and she was barely as tall as Ffion. Her pale blue eyes were lively, but there was something hard and sad in them that said there was more to her than anyone would expect. Her pale, slightly freckled skin was tinted red with indignation and though her small fists were clenched, she made no move for the bow hanging at her back.
"This does not concern you, sister," One of the soldiers said gruffly and they were fixed on the others again, "Stand aside if you don't wish to be hurt."
"We're not going anywhere with you," Alistair replied and was clearly not in the mood for any games, "And if it's a fight you want, then you'll get it."
"Brilliant," The man answered.
In the blink of an eye, all weapons were drawn and Morrigan and Ffion were brought up short just as quickly. The Orlesian woman was even faster than Tilly and she had one of the soldiers on his knees with a wicked looking dagger to his throat. The Mabari had obviously helped with this as she was firmly locked on the man's ankle. Alistair, meanwhile, succeeded in knocking the other's blade from his hand and backing him into the wall. Grimly amused, Ffion couldn't help but let out a sigh of relief that she wasn't going to have to fight and ignored the way the inn had fallen silent. She stepped towards the man the Orlesian held hostage and spoke quietly,
"I don't have to do this, but I want a message taken to the Coward General Loghain. The Wardens are not dead and we know what he has done," She leaned closer, trying to ignore the pain, and lowered her voice even more, "And if you come back for us, trust me, my mercy will be long gone and you won't walk away."
The man took her words to heart, his green eyes widening. He had clearly been looking for easy targets and he wasn't prepared for this. Ffion stepped back and nodded to the Orlesian before waving one hand at Alistair. When the man before her tried to move, Tilly clamped tighter with a growl and he froze again, his eyes on Ffion. She arched her brows.
"Remember your promise," She murmured dangerously, "Tilly."
The Mabari let go and was beside her lady. Without a word, faces burning with shame, the men scurried out the door, leaving the weapons where they had fallen.
"At least it did not come to any deaths," The Orlesian sighed with contentment.
Ffion turned to face her and smiled slightly. She wouldn't have minded the deaths so much; she just wasn't up for the fight, not yet anyway.
"Thanks," She said and realized that conversation had resumed again, this time with more gusto. Apparently the soldiers were not worthy of sympathies here, "That could have been quite ugly without your help."
"It is true then? You are Wardens? Oh, where are my manners? I am Leliana, Chantry sister here in Lothering, although soon enough I suppose I will be nothing but a wandering bard, with the Darkspawn approaching," Leliana spoke rapidly, bounding from one subject to the next and she seemed oblivious to the fact that she had lost Ffion, Alistair was gaping at her, and Morrigan seemed to want nothing more than to cast a spell to make her disappear entirely, "I am sorry, interrupting you again. You said you were Wardens, did you not?"
Ffion glanced quickly at the other two before venturing an answer. She wasn't sure she'd even be able to get that done, considering Leliana's quirk of answering questions herself.
"We are," She said quietly, "But I don't think that's the best thing to spread right now. As soon as we gather some supplies, we will be gone. I don't want any trouble."
"You won't get any from Thom," Leliana replied promptly, "He has no love for the Denerim soldiers and those two were depleting his stores. If you have time to wait for another twenty minutes, I will have my things together."
Ffion frowned and exchanged glances with Morrigan. Alistair, who still hadn't taken his eyes off of Leliana, was the one to speak next.
"Y- your things?" He repeated, blinking in surprise, "What do you mean?"
"My pack," She said and was so sure of herself, they didn't know what to say to her, "I will be going with you, of course. Everything is just across at the Chantry; it won't take more than twenty minutes, I promise."
Morrigan snorted and Ffion put one hand on Alistair's arm to prevent him from saying anything.
"I'm sorry, sister, I can't have you along," She cut in gently; "There's no need for you to endanger your life by taking up with Wardens."
Pale blue eyes widened and the look on Leliana's face was somewhere between outrage and disbelief.
"Why, because Wardens are enemies of the state?" She demanded, "That has not stopped me, obviously. Besides, I am meant to go with you. The Maker wants me to."
This time, Morrigan laughed outright and Alistair was close to following. Ffion studied Leliana closely, wondering if she had missed something earlier; maybe the sister wasn't all there. But, no, Leliana looked at her with defiant blue eyes, clearly waiting for the ridicule to begin.
"The Maker wants you to come along with us?" Ffion repeated as neutrally as she could.
The Orlesian's confidence was suddenly shaken and she shrugged her shoulders almost helplessly.
"Oh, I know that sounds insane, but it is the truth," She said adamantly, "I saw a... vision or rather... it was a dream. I can't explain it without sounding crazy, all I can tell you is that I was meant to help fight against this Blight and here is my chance. You need help, no? And in all honesty, can you afford to turn away a willing hand?"
Ffion was silent for so long that Morrigan became suspicious.
"You are not actually considering this, are you?" She questioned, "'Tis madness. It-"
"We can spare twenty minutes, no more," Ffion interrupted, "She's right, we need the help and she can fight."
"You must have hit your head much harder than Mother thought," Morrigan muttered as Leliana gushed her thanks and disappeared out the door.
"Are we a collection agency for the crazies?" Alistair asked as Ffion made her way to Thom, the proprietor that Leliana had pointed out.
Ffion was nonplussed and instead murmured a statement that brought all opposition to a screeching halt where Alistair and Morrigan were concerned.
"If you two aren't careful you'll end up agreeing with each other on everything and then where would we be?"
Thom was more than happy to supply them, and at half price for getting rid of the soldiers, but he had no news of any Ostagar survivors. No one seemed to, and as they were continuing on to Redcliffe, they discovered that Alistair wasn't completely off base and in all likelihood, Morrigan wasn't either. No more than twenty minutes later, the group was leaving Lothering behind with a bubbly and talkative Leliana in tow when they passed by a sturdy, barred and locked cage. Inside was a towering figure with snow-white hair braided tightly in rows down his head and secured with a leather band. His creamy brown skin was roughened by exposure to the weather and deep lines of stress and worry creased his cheeks and brow. Ffion, her curiousity getting the better of her, moved closer to the cage and then couldn't help but stare. The huge, broad-shouldered Qunari was praying in his own tongue, eyes shut against the sun and meandering townsfolk. There were others that slowed as they passed, but none stopped as Ffion did. As though sensing he was no longer alone, the Qunari's violet eyes came open and he glared at her.
"Why are you staring?" He demanded in a gruff, low pitched voice.
"You're a Qunari," She said pointedly, as though he wasn't aware of it.
"And you are a simple minded woman," His hard gaze traveled over her companions with about as much interest as he would have shown a flea.
Ffion wasn't rebuffed by his rudeness. She had never seen a Qunari in the flesh before. All of the books she had read reiterated the point that they were a brutal, savage people and she was fascinated.
"Is there a reason you have been caged?" She asked, pleased that her voice was all polite interest.
He wasn't impressed and neither was Morrigan. The witch made a protesting noise in the back of her throat, which Ffion ignored, and the Qunari returned his glare to her.
"You are also impertinent."
"I believe the revered mother had him caged for some sort of crime," Leliana's lilting voice explained, "I never heard what happened."
"This is a proud, noble creature left as bait for the Darkspawn," Morrigan's voice was even colder than usual and it was clear this kind of punishment didn't suit her, "If ever there was a time for your mercy, Warden, 'tis now."
"Mercy?" Alistair repeated, "From you?"
"Perhaps we can exchange Alistair," The witch added, her gold eyes amused.
The ex-Templar nodded in understanding. Leliana's wide-eyed surprise at the venomous conversation went ignored as he replied,
"See, that was more what I was expecting."
Ffion, more than used to their barbed comments, still eyed the Qunari speculatively. He was impressive and certainly intimidating. His violet eyes were wise and haunted and she knew that while Leliana might serve as an excellent rogue, the Qunari would hold his own as a warrior. And she wanted him to come along.
"Leliana, you said that the revered mother had him caged?" She asked and then continued after the Orlesian answered in affirmation, "Ser, if I have you released, would you be willing to pledge yourself to me? I am a Grey Warden, as well as Alistair here, and we are in need of aid against the Blight. Whatever you have done, I don't care, and the Maker will deal with you how he sees fit."
The strange eyes were on hers and the Qunari was rethinking his first impression of her, she was sure. He looked confused for a moment and then smoothed his face into an expressionless mask.
"And if I don't wish to serve whatever purpose you have for me?" He questioned.
Ffion shrugged, feigning indifference and trying to hide the fact that his talk of desertion actually stung a little.
"We'll kill you," She answered simply and could have sworn she earned a quirk of the lips, "You clearly do not mind the thought of death. Whether you die in my presence or you are left for the Darkspawn... At the moment it's up to you."
"And the revered mother," He added.
"Leave her to us," Leliana said firmly, grabbing Ffion's hand and tugging her back into town, towards the Chantry.
Alistair and Morrigan's gazes were as wide as Ffion's, but Tilly was the only one that reacted. She didn't attack the Orlesian like Ffion was afraid she would, instead she merely trotted after them like it was an everyday occurrence for her lady to be pulled away from her. Leliana didn't let go of Ffion's hand until they reached the Chantry's courtyard and then she did so abruptly. Ffion staggered, putting one hand out to steady herself against Tilly's body. She glanced up at Leliana but the Orlesian was already pulling the Chantry doors open. Frustrated and a little amused for the first time in days, she followed after her as Leliana marched into the revered mother's office. The elderly woman was surprised and pleased to see the Orlesian and she smiled, her kind brown eyes crinkling at the corners.
"Sister Leliana," She greeted, "I thought you had departed some time ago."
"That was my plan, reverence, but I could not leave without giving some of the poor folk aid."
The revered mother smiled fully and she inclined her head. She replaced her quill in the pot of ink and picked up the letter she was writing, waving it back and forth to let it dry.
"I am not surprised to hear that," She replied and her brown eyes went to Ffion who had remained behind with Tilly, "I'm sorry, child, is there something you need of me?"
Ffion flushed and stepped forward, clasping her hands in front of her and wondering how they were going to pull this one off. She glanced sidelong at Leliana and then took the leap.
"I was wondering if you could tell me more about the Qunari imprisoned just outside of town." Ffion began abruptly.
To her surprise, the revered mother's gentle eyes snapped with fire. She got to her feet and started pacing restlessly. Her expression was distraught and she was obviously warring with herself.
"Perhaps it would have been kinder to execute him and just finish this," She spoke quietly and it seemed as though she had forgotten she had guests. Her hands twisted and she glanced at the small idol of Andraste on her desk. Shoulders straightening, she was the revered mother again and she met Ffion's gaze defiantly, "But I have to stand by my decision. What he did... No, this is for the best."
Ffion was burning with curiousity at what the Qunari's sin could possibly be and it was on the tip of her tongue to ask when Leliana cut in.
"Maybe it is not our place to judge, reverence," She offered quietly, "Maybe the Maker would like to deal out justice himself; who are we to interfere?"
"And then we will be responsible for the deaths of his next victims. Can you live with that consequence, Leliana?" The revered mother answered and her voice was severe.
Ffion could see the effects of these words in Leliana's face. The Orlesian looked stricken and her gaze flickered with guilt. Ffion was annoyed; she hated those games and she stepped forward, her old habits ruling and her tongue getting the better of her.
"Stop," She said sternly, "I am a Grey Warden and I wish to recruit the Qunari to our ranks. He will be under my custody and if he doesn't take to it, I will kill him. Either way, judgement is dealt and you need not trouble yourself with unnecessary guilt."
The revered mother waffled for a moment and then realized that Ffion was not going to roll over and play her game. The young woman was clearly far too used to getting her own way and her grey eyes were challenging.
"Leliana, do you hold this same belief?" The revered mother questioned, still studying Ffion as though she knew she'd seen her somewhere before, "You know your friend better than I."
"I do, your reverence. The Maker will judge us all and that includes the Qunari."
"Very well," The older woman said briskly. She crossed the room and pulled a heavy key ring from one of her cupboards, "The Qunari is yours, Warden. Maker bless you for your mercy, I don't know who else will."
Ffion felt a prick of unease. Her mother would not have approved of her actions at all and the thought tore at her. Eleanor was the most religious of the family and the fact that her daughter had treated a revered mother with such abruptness would have shocked her. Pain she knew she'd never be free of radiated through her heart, and she was happy when Leliana turned to her with a beaming smile and handed over the large iron key. Tilly sensed all was not right and she whined softly, shoving her head under Ffion's other hand.
"Thank you, reverence," She murmured quietly. Here, Marmie, something for you to be proud of, "Maker guide and bless you," Pray for me.
They left the Chantry and returned to find Morrigan almost chatty with the Qunari while Alistair watched with a glum look. He lit up when he saw Ffion though and his astonishment matched the Qunari's as she presented the key.
"You... you kept your word," The Qunari said in amazement, his violet eyes shocked, "I wasn't sure you really would do such a thing."
"It comes from being impertinent and simple minded," Ffion answered, keeping her voice neutral as Alistair chuckled, "I don't make promises lightly... Er, I never caught your name?"
The Qunari was impassable once more though he was growing more impressed by the moment. He sized up the little woman before him and then gave a slow nod as though resigning himself to this fate.
"I am Sten of the Beresaad and I swear loyalty to you and your order. Call when you need me and I will be there. Perhaps, through you, I can find my atonement."
Ffion frowned as she stepped forward and inserted the key into the heavy padlock. She looked up at Sten and was once more impressed by his size and severe expressions.
"And if I don't lead you to atonement?" She asked, "I mean, I will certainly do my best but... a lot of pressure, don't you think?"
Sten's face darkened and whatever previous softening he felt towards her disappeared as quickly as it sprang up.
"Then I will find my own, woman," He replied, his voice sharp and more than a little poisonous, "Do not for a moment believe I need you to accomplish my tasks in Ferelden."
Alistair was impressed with Ffion's impassive look. He would be terrified to face down the Qunari if he looked at him with such black hatred. Instead, the young woman merely shrugged her shoulders and unlocked the barred cage. She stepped back and swung the door open.
"So long as we're both clear on that subject," She muttered and made Leliana giggle, "My name is Ffion, if you care. This is Alistair, Morrigan, and Leliana," Tilly let out a protesting whine, "And Tilly, of course."
The Qunari nodded, his face expressionless. He rolled his shoulders and tipped his head from side to side and relief flickered across the creamy brown features. Ffion studied him rather frankly and her grey eyes landed on his violet.
"We are headed for the village of Redcliffe," She told him, "Do you need-"
"Then let us move on," His deep voice interrupted, "I am eager to leave this place."
Ffion looked at him a moment longer, clearly they were going to have to make the leadership role between them very prominent. She nodded her head and turned to lead the way out of town. A motley group perhaps, but this predilection for 'collecting crazies' would work in the end, she was sure.
"Here," Alistair's voice broke through Ffion's
thoughts and he stepped over her legs to sit on the log she leaned against,
"I should have given this to you while we were at Ostagar, but... Well,
everything went to hell."
He handed her a small pendant that was strung on a slender chain. The pendant was brushed glass and held a thick, dark liquid. She frowned as she took it in one hand. The other was stroking Tilly's ears and she looked up at him with a sardonic smile, as though expecting him to tell her this was one of his jokes.
"Darkspawn blood? Yep," His voice was downright chipper and he poked at the fire with a branch that had been lying nearby, "The Grey Wardens sure know how to give gifts, don't they? It's actually meant to be a reminder of those that didn't make it and it's really the only tangible thing that we have that reminds us we're Wardens. Well, that and the nightmares."
"Are those going to get better or will they get worse?" She questioned, not sure she could stand them getting any more painful and horrifying then they were now. Reliving the chaos at Highever with her family blaming her instead of urging her to save herself was about the worse punishment life could throw at her and she sure as hell didn't want to find out how it could be made more awful.
"From what I've been told, the nightmares are worse when there's a Blight coming," The ex-Templar gave a shrug, "Not getting a good rest makes everything even worse so... I guess my answer is, yes, they'll get better, but only if we live through this and stop the Archdemon. No sweat, right?"
She gave an absent smile at that, resigning herself to her fate. Her eyes went back down to the pendant as she shook it back and forth, watching the blood creep up and down the glass.
"It's quite the distinction though, isn't it?" She said slowly, thinking of 'those that didn't make it...', "I mean, drinking poison and living?"
He chuckled and pushed hard enough at one of the burning logs that it collapsed into the embers, sending sparks shooting up into the sky. Across the fire, Sten stared at the flames and didn't even blink at Alistair's actions. Leliana was seated not far from Ffion. She had been listening with half an ear to their conversation, but now she pulled a small harp from her pack and started tuning it. She was humming quietly and the sound was soothing. Morrigan had once more separated herself from them and though her fire still burned, she had disappeared into her tent.
"Yeah, about that," Alistair began and his voice had dropped, becoming sheepish, "Well, you're right, we drink poison, and it should kill us right away. The fact that it doesn't is amazing in itself, but..."
Ffion's grey eyes fixed on him and he refused to look at her. She frowned again.
"But?" She pressed, "But what?"
"It's a death sentence either way," He answered and his honey colored eyes went to hers quickly, gauging her reaction, "The taint gives us the ability to fight the Darkspawn more efficiently than other warriors, but we don't have the luxury of growing old. The norm is thirty years."
"Thirty years?" Ffion echoed, blinking in surprise. Leliana was strumming the harp and singing softly in Orlesian. Her voice was beautiful and haunting, fitting this conversation perfectly, "And that's the norm? So some live longer and-"
"And some less," Alistair's voice was apologetic and he looked at her worriedly, "I'm sorry, Ffion. This is a conversation Duncan should have had with you, but like I said, everything went to hell."
She nodded, looking back down at the flames. Her hand was still stroking Tilly's ears and the pendant was clasped loosely in the other. Thirty years?! Her head repeated. It kept scrolling through her thoughts and then she had to wonder why this felt so oppressive. For the past few weeks she had had no plans beyond getting revenge on the bastard Howe and, in all honesty, she wasn't even sure she wanted to live beyond that. What was there to live for? Her family was gone, her home was most likely burned to the ground, the gardens salted so nothing would grow again; a Blight had begun and she was now sitting around a fire with three strangers who were all looking to her for their next move. Looking to her as though she had all the answers. She glanced at Morrigan's tent, half tempted to go and ask the witch for some advice on what to do because, as long as she was being honest with herself, this new bitterness gave her more in common with Morrigan than any of the others.
"Ffion? Are you okay?"
Alistair looked at her with such concern that she felt herself soften. He was more than a little uncomfortable and she knew he hated being placed in this position.
"I'm fine," She answered, realizing with a jolt that Sten was staring at her as well. He already thought her weak, she wasn't going to give him more ammunition on that front, "It's just a little... shocking, that's all."
"You're telling me," He replied and was once more happy-go-lucky Alistair. Pushing at the logs again, he glanced briefly at Leliana who had continued to sing, "I didn't talk to Duncan for about a week after he told me, I was so furious."
Ffion noted how his features tightened and he looked eternally sad. Softening even more, she slipped the pendant over her head and straightened up against the log.
"Do you want to talk about him?" She asked softly. Sure, Ffion, take on another's burdens. That little voice in her head admonished. So you want to break even sooner? What about your troubles?
Sten's voice interrupted before Alistair could reply.
"I am going to bed," He said, "Are we keeping a watch tonight?"
Ffion glanced at him, feeling her heart twist at the pain on Alistair's face. The Qunari was standing, his usually impassive expression firmly in place.
"Yes, Alistair is first tonight and I follow him," She answered, "I'll wake you when you're needed."
He nodded and retreated to the extra tent she had given him. Leliana paused in her singing, watching Sten leave. Her pale blue eyes went to Ffion.
"Do you need me?" She asked, "You look exhausted."
Ffion smiled a little. She felt exhausted. The incessant pounding in her head was gone, thanks to Morrigan, but her ribs were on fire and her shoulders were aching. What she needed was comfort and rest, but she was a far cry from it. Alistair's comments on the nightmares meant that wasn't happening anytime soon and she had to deal with the problems at hand.
"Thanks, Leliana, but we'll sort out something more permanent after we leave Redcliffe," She said finally.
The Orlesian nodded reluctantly, gathering her things as she yawned.
"Well, if you change your mind, let me know."
She disappeared into her tent and left the two Wardens alone. Alistair knew she had done it for him and wished he could thank the annoying, but very kind, Chantry sister. His honey colored eyes went to Ffion's grey and he lifted his shoulders self-consciously.
"You don't have to do that," He said, continuing their conversation.
She mimicked his shrug, smiling down at Tilly as the Mabari put her head in her lap. Her fingers traced their way up the dog's blunt nose and Tilly's eyes closed, her stub tail wagging.
"I know," She replied, "But I guess I just want you to know that you can always talk to me. I understood that Duncan was your mentor and I have lost enough to know what you're going through."
Alistair slipped down, sitting on the grass beside her, and stretching his long legs towards the fire. He leaned back against the log and tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.
"I can believe that," He studied the flames and added slowly, "I already told you that it didn't feel right not going back and I understand what Flemeth meant, but... I - I just hated leaving without... I don't know..."
"Being sure?" She asked, looking sidelong at him.
"Yeah, I guess. I mean that puts it better than I know how. Being a Warden, we can't usually afford to hold funerals, but I want to do something for him," Alistair was speaking to his hands now, "He came from Highever, as far as I know. At the end of all of this, if there's an end, I'd like to do something for him. Maybe hold a service or... I don't know, just something."
Ffion had to tell herself to unclench her hands as she replied,
"I think he'd like that. Maybe I could go with you. Duncan was there for me when I needed him and I like that idea."
Alistair smiled at her then and even though she was still cracking into little pieces, it felt wonderful to help him start healing.