Shades of Grey and Black

Royal Bastards and Rescuing Kittens From Trees Leads to Villagers in Need

Teagan was almost eager to get to the Chantry, something new for him. He had never been the religious type and it was odd to find himself nearly going to his knees in front of the table of candle offerings. Last night was the worst yet. The abominations were even fiercer than the past nights and he wasn't sure they would live to see another morning. He was driven to the altar by sheer desperation and he was happy that the revered mother left him alone. He was the one the townsfolk were looking to for direction now and he couldn't let them see how hopeless their cause might be.

Footsteps sounded behind him and he half turned to see Murdock striding in. The village mayor glowered more than usual, not that he blamed him, and his hazel eyes were dark with exhaustion. He dropped unceremoniously onto a pew and rubbed his face with one hand. His powerful shoulders sagged and his black hair was hanging lankly about his neck.

"Three nights," He said, his deep voice rasping, "How are we going to make it another?"

Teagan sighed, his blue eyes going up to the statue of Andraste.

"I don't know, Murdock," He answered softly and settled onto the pew next to the mayor, "Any reinforcements would come too late and we can't even guarantee that. The Darkspawn are the more pressing threat."

"So, you think this will be it."

Murdock was not asking and Teagan was grateful the mayor was one of those more practical men. He had fought the Orlesians in the past and would fight to the death now, but he wouldn't mislead anyone with talk of false hope.

"I am afraid it might," Teagan leaned against the pew and glanced around the Chantry.

The women and children had been kept here for the past nights during the attacks, those women that didn't feel they could fight, that is. Elderly folk were here as well, and the whole atmosphere was gloomy with an utterly hopeless feel. There were too many fathers, sons, husbands, brothers; wives, sisters, daughters and in some cases, mothers, that would not be returning home if and when this was resolved and he felt the weight of it even more profoundly than before.

"It's mid-morning already," He said unnecessarily, "We have to make some sort of attack plan."

"About that, ser," Murdock was hesitant for the first time since any of this started.

"Murdock, we've spent the last three nights fighting together," Teagan cut in with a faint smile, "My name is Teagan without the 'ser'."

"Right, thanks," The mayor sighed again, "Teagan, it's not good. Owen, the stupid bastard, has locked himself up in his smithy and refused to forge anymore weapons for the men."

Teagan frowned, sitting forward again and meeting Murdock's gaze.


"Like almost everyone else in village, he has someone trapped at the castle. His daughter, I think, and he won't take my word for it that it's a ridiculous thing to go and look for her," Murdock shook his head, "So his solution is to board himself up and drink himself to death."

Teagan got to his feet. He raked one hand through his hair and tried to get his thoughts into some sort of order.

"Have one of your men watch the roads and flag down any passersby, we need all the help we can get," He said, "I'll go and talk to Owen."

"Anything else, Teagan?" Murdock asked as the younger man started down the aisle to the door.

Teagan glanced over his shoulder at the mayor. He looked at the candle offerings and statue of Andraste, wishing he could have found the peace he was looking for. He waved one hand at it all and nodded his head.

"Yes. Pray."

"Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?" Alistair asked, his face anxious.

Ffion's brows went up in surprise. She glanced beyond him and motioned to the thatched roofs of Redcliffe that dotted the shore of the lake below them.

"Can it wait? I mean, we made good time to get here and-"

"That's what I need to talk about," He interrupted and glanced at the others with some trepidation.

She sighed and waved for the others to move on without them. Sten frowned and Morrigan opened her mouth to argue.

"Go on," Ffion ordered before either one of them could say anything. She wished, not for the first time, that they simply listened to her. They seemed to want her in charge anyway and so one would think they would follow her direction, "We'll be there in a minute."

Leliana pressed on without a word and the others had no choice but to follow. Ffion turned to Alistair and folded her arms across her chest. Being close to Lake Calenhad was a blessed relief from the dry heat of the road, and she had to admit that her mother had been right: Redcliffe was among the most beautiful little villages in Ferelden. The castle was framed against the bright blue of the lake that stretched for a few miles behind it and the cottages, inns, and other businesses nestled in front of both, secure in the knowledge that they were safe.

"I'm probably not going to like this, right?" Ffion was short with him. Her blunt, honest conversation had returned in the past few days and she knew it was thanks to Sten and Morrigan's continued campaign to have more influence over the group's agenda.

Alistair looked sheepish and Ffion got her answer in that. His honey colored eyes studied the castle and village for a moment before looking back at her.

"No, probably not, but you did say I could talk to you and I want to be fair, so if you could just hear me out," He took a deep breath and continued, "I told you that I was raised in Redcliffe castle before I was shipped to the Chantry, right? And Arl Eamon took me in without question because my parents were gone? Well, the truth is that while my mother was dead, my father was still alive."

Ffion's frown deepened and she shifted her weight.

"What do you mean?" She asked, "What does this have to do with coming to Redcliffe?"

"Eamon took me in because he felt... obligated. My father was his brother-in-law," Alistair looked at her like he was expecting her to put the rest of the information together.

"Brother-in-law?" Ffion repeated, "But that would mean... Maric? You're Maric's son?"

Alistair winced, practically able to feel her sudden withdrawal from him. Well, what did you expect? A voice in his head asked. Has anyone ever treated you the same after they were told?

"Yes, and my mother was a serving girl that died giving birth to me," He answered and even he could hear how scripted this explanation was becoming, "Eamon has been more of a father to me than Maric ever was and Cailan wasn't ever too interested in a bastard brother."

Ffion was still trying to get her thoughts in order. Her shock was soon taken over by frustration and her arms folded tighter across her chest as she met his gaze severely.

"And you don't think that's something I would need to know?" She asked, her voice sharper.

"I'm telling you now."

"That's not what I meant, Alistair, and you know it. This goes beyond your jokes and could solve all our problems. Your claim to-"

"No," He interrupted and his voice was flat though his eyes were beginning to light with anger, "I've never wanted the throne, and it was made very clear while I was growing up that it wouldn't ever be mine."

"But, Alistair, Loghain won't be able-"

"No, Ffion," He was exasperated, "The only reason I told you was so you didn't find out from someone else in the village. I really don't want you to think that I'm doing this so I can be made king."

"So he is a royal bastard?" A cool voice commented, "That explains a great deal."

Alistair threw his hands up in disgust as Morrigan came into view, eyebrows arched and lips curled into a poisonous smile. Her gold eyes gleamed and she sent Alistair the usual withering glance.

"What is it, Morrigan?" Ffion questioned, sending the ex-Templar her own annoyed look.

"I believe we have waited long enough. And you will want to hear what the lookout man we found has to say. 'Tis most... enlightening," She added this last with another sidelong glance at Alistair.

"all right," Ffion sighed. She met Alistair's gaze again. His jaw was set and she knew he wouldn't be easily convinced that the best thing for everyone would be his acceptance of his birthright. She would have to be patient, not her strongest virtue, "Thanks for telling me, Alistair. You're right, it's better to hear this from you than from anyone else."

She didn't wait for his response. Instead she fell into step beside Morrigan, Tilly at their heels.

"A lookout?" She asked the witch, "Is there something the matter?"

"It seems so," Morrigan answered, "The man is terrified and Sten is not helpful while trying to extract information from him."

"Of course he wouldn't be," Ffion muttered, faintly amused by the fact that the witch seemed pleased by this, "He hasn't threatened any dismemberment, has he?"

"Not as yet."

They came around a bend in the road and caught up with the others. Sten was glowering at a young man with reddish-blond hair whose terrified expression wasn't easing any with Leliana's soothing words. His hazel eyes kept straying to the Qunari as though he expected to be devoured by him and Alistair and Ffion's appearance clearly relieved him.

"Are you here to help?" The man demanded, "Did word finally get out?"

Alistair and Ffion exchanged glances and Ffion looked at Morrigan with arched brows. The witch lifted her shoulders.

"'Tis all he would ask us," She said, "I do not know what he means."

"Then has no one heard?" The lookout's face was astonished.

Alistair frowned at him and took the initiative.

"What do you mean? Is there something wrong with the Arl's family?"

The young man threw up his arms and his face got even longer. He was exasperated and not bothering to hide it.

"They could be dead for all we know," He said sharply, "We can't get into the castle, and for the past three nights we have been attacked by... by monsters. They have wiped out most of the forces in Redcliffe and we don't know if we can make it another night. Bann Teagan has been trying to hold everyone together but-"

"Bann Teagan?" Alistair interrupted, "The Arl's brother is here?"

"Yes, ser, should I take you to him?"

"That would probably be for the best, thanks," Ffion answered.

The air in the village was gloomy and desperate. The men practicing in the courtyard had drawn exhausted expressions and when the lookout man led them into the Chantry, that pessimism seemed to deepen further. Here, the women and children were seeing to the elderly townsfolk. Their provisions were understandably meager and no one was too interested in eating at the moment. The progression of Ffion's little band was followed with curious gazes and the sounds of muffled sobs lessened as the newcomers came into view. Ffion ignored this, keeping her eyes ahead on the tall, well-built young man standing towards the front of the Chantry. He turned as they approached and looked over the band with interest before addressing the lookout.

"Tomas, right?" He asked in a cultured, pleasant voice.

"Yes, my lord," Tomas replied and gave a wave with one hand, "These people here wished to speak with the Arl and then asked to be brought to you."

"Thank you, Tomas; you may return to your post," The Bann's blue eyes went to their group and he smiled a little, "You desired to speak with Eamon? I'm sorry, but right now it's impossible."

Teagan's voice was still polite, but distant. He clearly didn't believe they needed to know anymore of the circumstances here and Alistair was quick to rectify this.

"You remember me, don't you, Teagan?" He asked and nothing in his tone revealed how upset he was about the Arl's illness, "The last time we saw each other, I was nine years old and covered in mud."

"Covered in mud?" Teagan repeated and then smiled genuinely, making the blue eyes crinkle at the corners and dropping years from his face, "Maker, I'm glad you're all right, Alistair. Loghain would have us believe that all the Grey Wardens died along with... with everyone else at Ostagar."

"No, not all of us are dead," Ffion cut in quietly, and then wished she hadn't. Alistair was taking some of her responsibility from her shoulders and with her words; Teagan fixed his attention back to her. She knew that her father had been friends with the Arl and he had spoken quite highly of Teagan. The Bann kept looking at her as though he knew her and the last thing she wanted was for someone to recognize her as Bryce Cousland's little girl, "Please, ser, we must speak with the Arl. There's obviously no love lost between you and Loghain, and Alistair said that your brother's influence would be the only thing to sway the other nobles."

Teagan's face was grave and he clasped his hands behind his back, on the verge of pacing.

"Tomas must have told you that we haven't been able to get into the castle and he wouldn't have left out the attacks that we have been suffering. Three nights in a row, monsters, or rather... walking dead, I suppose you could say, have been flooding the village. The attacks last from dusk to dawn and when daylight comes, they retreat to the castle again," Teagan finally gave in and paced restlessly in front of them, "There are no soldiers patrolling the walls and no one has responded to my shouts. Our forces have been needed here and so we haven't dared venture within the castle for fear that all would truly be lost then. So we have been here, trying to hold them off and... praying."

"Not to mention sulking," Morrigan murmured.

Alistair glared while Ffion sent her an annoyed look. Sten gave a single nod and Leliana balked out-right.

"There's no need to be cruel," She admonished and smiled gently at Teagan, "You have been very brave, Bann. The Maker has not abandoned you."

"You have my thanks," He replied and then glanced at Alistair with desperation in his eyes, "But the Maker doesn't suddenly show up fully armed and ready for battle. Alistair, Eamon was like a father to you and you know how much Ferelden needs him now. Please, will you help?"

Alistair glanced at Ffion before he answered.

"It's not that simple, Teagan," He replied slowly, "It's not only up to me."

"But these people need us!" Leliana was close to outrage.

Ffion held up one hand and Sten's deep voice added his two bits,

"I agree with the Warden," He said, "This is not a simple choice."

"Perhaps not," Ffion commented thoughtfully.

Teagan looked at her hopefully and only Morrigan seemed to realize what the young woman was talking about. Her gold eyes widened and she glanced at Ffion in disbelief.

"We are not considering this, are we?" She questioned, "Is the Blight and the traitor Loghain not the more pressing threat?"

"Teagan's right," Alistair argued, "Without Arl Eamon, we don't stand a chance against either. Please, Ffion, we can't abandon them."

Teagan hadn't looked away from the chocolate haired girl who was standing forward, next to Alistair. The chestnut Mabari at her side seemed to be the only one at ease and was leaning against her lady calmly. The girl was weighing the consequences of both choices and it gave him a chance to study her. She was obviously the leader here: the others were looking to her as though she had all the answers, even the intimidating Qunari and Alistair, whom Teagan knew outranked them and with his royal blood could command anyone he chose. The young woman's grey eyes suddenly landed on his and he wondered why he thought he knew her or, at the very least, had seen her somewhere before. She was not as attractive as the other two women with her, but there was something alluring about her, and her rather haunted gaze drew him in and made him want to comfort her.

"Alistair's right," She said quietly and the effect this had on the ex-Templar and Leliana was the same. Both relaxed and Alistair smiled at her with pleasure, "We won't abandon you, Bann Teagan. To get any further in our stand against this Blight, we need the Arl's influence and weight behind us."

"Madness," Morrigan muttered under her breath, not bothering to hide it.

Again, the witch was ignored. Teagan smiled once more; the genuine grin and he clasped Alistair's hand.

"Thank-you, a million times over, I thank you," He said and then glanced back at Ffion, "I promise, if we live through this night, I will do all I can to help you against this Blight. It was Ffion, correct? Then I promise you, Ffion, if we live to see tomorrow, you will have whatever forces you need from Redcliffe."

Ffion merely nodded and it was Leliana that took the next step. Her pale blue eyes flickered around the Chantry, wanting to help the other sisters.

"Is there anything we can do to help you prepare?"

"You might be able to," Teagan was thoughtful, "Murdock, our town mayor, has been overseeing the men as they get ready for tonight. We have been suffering loses mainly because we haven't been brewing enough health poultices and other potions to assist us. You could go and speak to him about what we might need for tonight. Murdock's hard to miss: he's built like a bear with black hair and an abrasive nature. Don't let that fool you, however. He will be grateful for any help, I'm sure."

Murdock was grateful: after he got over the fact that there were actually women Wardens. He relayed to them the stubborn refusal of the blacksmith Owen and, though he was doubtful they would have success, he seemed genuinely pleased that Ffion agreed to talk to Owen. This didn't go over well with Sten or Morrigan, and as they left the mayor and crossed the courtyard to the smithy, the witch pressed her slender hands together and said with mock brightness,

"Lovely, are we to start rescuing kittens from trees now, too?"

Before Ffion could respond, Sten blinked in confusion, looking down at Morrigan as though seeing her for the first time.

"Trees?" He repeated and was quite serious, "There are not many here and why should we worry about kittens?"

Ffion couldn't help it and her laughter bubbled out of her at Sten's genuine confusion. Leliana giggled and Morrigan's utter disappointment showed when she met the Qunari's gaze. The witch was speechless and, instead of jumping at this opportunity, Alistair muttered to Tilly,

"You and I are the only sane ones."

Ffion stopped laughing abruptly though her eyes were still sparkling. She dropped one hand to the Mabari's head and arched her brows at Alistair.

"Don't contaminate my dog, please, Alistair," She told him, "She's spoiled enough as it is."

Alistair grinned as Tilly let out an affirmative woof. His honey colored eyes danced in a way they hadn't since Ostagar and his grin was the familiar, crooked one that made Ffion's stomach feel rather funny. She was Ffion Cousland suddenly, not Ffion the Grey Warden, and she wanted to chase this feeling. But, of course, Morrigan and Sten had other plans.

"I agree with the witch," Sten said, drawing the conversation back to a more serious strain, "If this man is too much of a coward to come out and fight, then he deserves to die."

Leliana's blue eyes were on the Qunari with absolute disbelief. Her cheeks tinted a little and made her freckles even more apparent.

"How can you be so cruel?" She asked, her accented voice sad, "Who are you to suggest that he hides because he is cowardly? What if there is something much more serious the matter with him?"

Violet eyes locked on blue and disdain radiated from Sten. He drew himself up even further and towered over the little Orlesian, who wasn't the least bit cowed.

"You are a woman, you cannot grasp this," He said with venom that could have rivaled Morrigan's.

"Compassion is much more difficult to grasp than cruelty," Leliana snapped back and her anger matched Sten's.

Ffion, worried that Sten's uncharacteristic display of restraint would give out at any moment, knocked on the smithy's door. The last thing she wanted was for Leliana to be on the receiving end of whatever the Qunari's fury had in store. Sten was just so big and though Leliana wasn't any taller than Ffion herself, her eyes flared with righteous anger and she wasn't about to back down from this argument. Ffion was successful, however, and Sten's attention was diverted when he heard her knuckles rap on the door.

There was a brief moment of silence and then a solid sounding thud from within the smithy. They could just barely make out the string of swearing and unsteady footsteps that approached the door.

"Andraste's bloody knickers, Murdock!" A slurred voice shouted through the rough wood of the door, "I haven' changed me mind an' I'm not gonna!"

Ffion glanced briefly at those gathered behind her, shrugged at Alistair, and then stepped a little closer to the door and lowered her voice. She tried to adopt her mother's silver tongue of persuasion and was pleased when her tone was soothing with just the barest hint of impatience.

"It's not Murdock, Owen," She replied, "I just wished to speak with you for a moment."

This time, the silence lasted longer and then there was another shuffling sound and an intake of breath.

"Who are yeh, then?"

"My name is Ffion. Please, ser, may I come in?" She softened her voice even more, "I don't like speaking through this door."

"Why should I? How'd I know yeh don' have Murdock with yeh? Or maybe yer gonna try and talk me into helpin'. There's no point innit anymore," Owen's words were a little clearer and sounded less slurred this time, but his paranoia was alive and well.

Ffion forced her impatience away and took another calming breath. Tilly whined beside her and she put one hand to the Mabari's head.

"You would have to open the door to make sure Murdock's not here," Her own voice was getting sharper and she really had to focus to prevent her tongue from getting away with her, "And I just want to talk. I heard about your daughter and I want to know if I can do anything to help her."

Owen was quiet again and Morrigan's snort of frustration clearly audible. Ffion ignored this and couldn't help but cross her fingers. There was the sudden harsh sound of the lock being pulled back and the door opened a sliver. Bloodshot grey eyes peered blearily out at them, taking in the whole group and then landing on Ffion. The big blond Owen gave her a single nod and opened the door even further. The smell of stale ale and beer wafted out and Alistair's nose scrunched. Before he could say anything smart, Owen's gruff voice interrupted,

"Come in," As everyone stepped forward, he added sharply, "No, jus' her."

"What?!" Alistair exclaimed.

"It's fine," Ffion replied and stepped into the smithy, Tilly right behind her, "I won't be long."

Owen shut the door again and the lock slid back into place. Alistair glanced at the others in alarm. Leliana was faintly amused, Sten unmovable as ever, and Morrigan couldn't have looked more disgusted.

"Absolute madness," The witch muttered and she had slipped her staff loose so that she could perch comfortably on one of the barrels outside the smithy, "Her goodwill and mercy will kill us all."

"It is a comfort to know that some still possess such traits," Leliana remarked and though she seemed to speak to herself, her words were obviously pointed at Sten.

Alistair ignored this and listened hard at the door. His honey colored eyes sought out the Qunari's and were worried as he announced,

"I might need your help in breaking down this door, Sten."

Morrigan chuckled softly. Her gold eyes gleamed as she glanced up from tightening one of the leather cords around her staff.

"He will not harm her, Alistair," She said coolly, "No doubt our brave, albeit foolish, leader will agree to whatever the dunce asks of her and she will hasten her way to an early grave to please him."

The door opened again, startling Alistair. He jumped back and Ffion frowned at him before glancing at Leliana. Behind her, the gleam of a new fire lit up some of the dim smithy and they could make out Owen's shape slumped in a chair.

"Leliana, I need a cup of strong tea, coffee would be even better. I'm sure the Chantry has some available," Ffion's voice was sharp and she was once more in charge of the situation, "Alistair and Sten, let Murdock know that Owen will forge those new weapons for tonight's fight. Give us about another hour and a half or so, though; he needs to sober up a little first. See if Murdock or the other soldiers could use your help with the training. That would be especially good for you, Sten. And, Morrigan," Her gaze was harder now and she glanced at where the witch was quite placidly perched, "Go and see if you can find any kittens to rescue."

The door closed again and Ffion missed the genuine smirk that crossed Morrigan's sharp features. Foolish, 'tis true. The witch thought as she settled in a little more comfortably and began pulling herbs from her pack. But no one can accuse her of stupidity.

"Here," Morrigan's soft voice startled Ffion and the young Warden glanced up to see the witch extending a basket to her, "Put these to use."

Ffion accepted the basket, weighing it in her hands. She had settled before a fire that had been lit in the Chantry's courtyard. Dusk was creeping in and the desperation of the village had deepened nearly to a breaking point. Alistair and Sten were still helping the mayor's men and Leliana was lending her aid to those within the Chantry. Ffion had stayed with Owen long enough to sober him up and get the smithy's fires lit once more before withdrawing into herself and ignoring the rest of the bustle around her. This was the first she had seen Morrigan since she told her off earlier, and she couldn't help but poke at the witch.

"You found kittens?" She asked while Morrigan crouched beside the fire.

Black eyebrows arched rather delicately over gold eyes and Ffion almost thought she saw a flicker of amusement in them. The firelight was glowing off Morrigan's features and Ffion felt an unfamiliar twinge of jealousy. The witch had a beauty that made every other girl take an instant hit to her self-esteem and Ffion was no exception. In spite of Morrigan's unappealing traits, she was gorgeous and it was no wonder that she drew the attention of every man they came across. The only other girl that ever succeeded in making Ffion feel this jealous and self-conscious was Oriana, and that was more because Fergus had been so infatuated with the Antivan woman. That familiar hot pain stabbed through her heart at thoughts of her family and she was thankful when Morrigan answered her,

"Your Bann said they needed poultices, yes? There they are."

Ffion rifled through the contents of the basket and she glanced back up at the witch. She had now settled cross-legged and was staring into the flames as though enraptured.

"That's... very decent of you, Morrigan," Ffion told her quietly, "Thanks; Teagan will be grateful."

"You gave the others tasks; 'twas the least I could do," Morrigan replied and still didn't look at her, "As I told Alistair: I can be friendly when the occasion calls for it."

Ffion pushed Tilly from her legs and stood, looping the basket over her arm. Her grey eyes studied Morrigan again and she asked tentatively,

"Would you like to take this to Teagan yourself, or should I?"

Morrigan's gaze met hers and the superior airs returned. She shrugged her shoulders and was nonchalant.

"'Tis of no concern to me," She answered, "I have done my part and you are actively doing yours. Do not let me stop you."

The Warden sighed and turned to go. She was struck by a sudden realization and she looked back over her shoulder at Morrigan. Night was coming and she couldn't hesitate for too long, but this was something that had been needling her.

"Morrigan, is there something I did that upset you?" She asked, and then added when the witch frowned, "I'm not trying to sound like Alistair or anything, but something is going to have to give here and I'd rather have it out now then let it build."

The witch was impressed and she didn't bother to hide it. Her gold eyes gleamed and they flickered for a moment before she gave a little nod.

"You have not been honest with us," Morrigan replied easily, stating it as though this was a known fact, "You are not simply a Grey Warden and 'tis quite obvious you have grown up with privileges and amongst nobility. That Bann seems to know you, yes? And yet we are the ones left in the dark. I do not like that, Ffion; even Alistair told his sordid tale."

Ffion's grey eyes flashed and she set her jaw, tightening her hold on the basket. She felt the sting of the words in wounds still raw and her back stiffened.

"Alistair told me about his birthright," She snapped, "And if I remember correctly, you intruded on that private conversation. Besides, we haven't demanded to know every aspect of your life, what does it matter-"

"And we have not demanded anything of you," Morrigan's voice was maddeningly patient; "There is no need to become hostile. I have no intention of saying a word. You asked and that is my answer. I do not like the double standard."

It was Ffion's turn to be impressed. She blinked at the witch, feeling her anger start to lessen. There was no way she could argue with that and she wasn't sure she even wanted to try. Morrigan was being honest with her and she respected this more than anything else.

"You're right, Morrigan," She said softly and then shook her head, "But I can't, there's too much... I just can't. Not now."

The strange gold eyes met hers and the witch studied her for a moment, her expression unreadable.

"That I can respect," She finally said, "And I will hold my tongue, Ffion, I promise. You do not want... certain people to know, obviously, and so I will refrain. No need to fret."

It was on the tip of Ffion's tongue to tell her that they had a great deal to worry about, but she didn't. Instead, she gave a nod and headed for the Chantry's doors. She pushed the pain that the conversation stirred up to the back of her mind and determinedly ignored the little voice that admonished her. You're merely prolonging the breakdown and making it ten times worse. It said, sounding more like her mother's voice than her own. I don't care! She argued viciously. I plan on being dead before it hits me full force anyway. And I'm taking the bastard Howe with me!

"We'll give you the signal when to light the oil," Ser Perth, the knight that had been posted at the crossroad leading to the castle, told a bored looking Morrigan, "I don't know why we didn't think of this before. It's great that your man found those barrels."

"He is not mine," The witch muttered under her breath and cast Alistair a poisonous glance.

Ser Perth was at a loss and he looked between them, not sure what to say.

"Never mind her," Alistair said cheerfully, "She's pissed because she had to help others today instead of boiling little children and hunting for toadstools."

The knight's expression was flabbergasted now and he looked as though he wished he was anywhere but there, his eyes darting about for an escape or distraction. Sten was stoically sharpening the broadsword that Murdock had given him and ignoring this exchange. Leliana and Ffion hadn't yet arrived and the other soldiers had wisely avoided getting involved.

"And his excuse, other than stupidity, 'tis his fear of witch-thieves," Morrigan snapped back.

The ex-Templar drew himself up as Ser Perth disappeared and Ffion was suddenly there, her grey eyes lit with excitement and her cheeks slightly flushed. Her presence diverted their argument and she glanced between them.

"Is everything ready?" She questioned, "Morrigan, did Ser Perth-"

"He did," The witch interrupted smoothly and glided away.

She moved apart from them and situated herself where her magic would do the least damage to the other fighters. Ffion frowned after her and then glanced at Alistair, who shrugged.

"Don't ask me," He said innocently and couldn't help but start as a horn sounded below them. The soldiers jumped to attention and his honey colored eyes were lit much like Ffion's, "Besides, it doesn't matter now."

Ffion was hardly listening. Her eyes were on Leliana as she ordered,

"Back with Morrigan. Sten and Alistair, with Ser Perth and his knights."

They immediately did as she said. Leliana pulled the longbow from her back and positioned herself beside the witch. Ffion had left the archery to the Orlesian after seeing some of the impossible targets she was able to hit. Alistair and Sten fell into line with the soldiers and Ffion hurried to bring up part of their rear guard. Tilly was beside her and they all watched in wonder as a pale green smoke rolled along the road leading to the castle. There were calls and shouts from the village below them as the smoke came closer and the soldiers steeled themselves, readying their weapons. Ser Perth's hand came up and Morrigan's staff was clasped tightly in both fists.

Down the hill in front of them the smoke crept and vague figures were visible. When they finally came into view, Ffion took an involuntary step back, not expecting what she saw. Even with Teagan's repeated comments on 'walking dead,' and the stories she overheard from the men and women, none of it had prepared her for the animated skeletons that came shuffling down the road. Some wore tattered clothing and all of them carried weapons, weapons that clearly had been well loved and cared for. This was enough proof that these skeletons had been living, breathing individuals and Ffion felt a twinge of something close to regret that they had to further vandalize the dead. But then Ser Perth's hand fell and Morrigan made the air around them stiflingly hot. A shaft of fire hurled by them and ignited the oil Alistair had found and put to good use. The inferno that followed annihilated the first wave of undead, but those that came after were unfazed.

The soldiers were ready for them, however, and the fight that ensued was just as intense as Morrigan's fire. Sten and Alistair moved among the men with ease and fought together as though they had been doing so for years. Ffion and Tilly held back, protecting Leliana and Morrigan from any enemies that came too close. Luckily for them, the undead weren't altogether difficult to cut down, they just didn't stop coming. Which made the desperation the village and its defenders felt all the more understandable. For the better part of a few hours, the waves of undead kept pressing in. There would be short lulls that were just enough for them to catch their breath and then the fighting would continue, sapping at the reserves of their strength.

Ffion wove in and out of the undeads' flailing limbs and weapons, her short swords gleaming in the dying embers of Morrigan's fire, which gave her an idea. She easily lopped off the head of a skeleton making for Leliana, who was absorbed in firing at the enemies attacking the men, and then glanced at the witch.

"We need a storm, Morrigan!" She hollered, ducking underneath the mace that was swung at her.

Morrigan gave a nod and took a stance, raising both hands into the air, her staff held firmly in one. She closed her eyes and slowly began waving both arms in small circles. The air surged with electricity and clouds rolled in around them from nowhere. Morrigan waited until the last moment and then shoved her staff into the air and let loose the lightening storm she had conjured. Bright blue and pale purple exploded all around them, leaping from one skeleton to the next and on up the hill, shattering the enemies as though they were kindling.

The witch dropped her arms, leaning on her staff as exhaustion flickered over her face. The wave of undead had eased once more thanks to her work and she seemed to know this. She nodded her head at Ffion, but fate wouldn't allow them to rest just yet. Even as the others turned to look at Morrigan in speechless amazement, a man came running up the hillside from the village. He was red-faced underneath his helm and his eyes bugged with fear.

"Help! Someone, help!" He shouted as he approached, "They're attacking the village! We need help!!"

"Ser Perth, you and the men hold your post here!" Ffion called, "We need to keep this foothold, don't let them gain it! Alistair, Sten, stay-"

"My place is with you," The Qunari interrupted in a tone that didn't brook any arguments.

Ffion only spared enough time to send him an annoyed look that transferred to Alistair the moment he stepped beside her. The rest of the group followed and though her annoyance deepened, she was touched they weren't willing to leave her. Motioning to all of them, she followed the soldier back down the hillside and over the bridge that spanned the mill's thundering falls. They started down the second incline just above the Chantry and Ffion stopped.

Murdock and his men were fighting fiercely... and losing. Leliana took the initiative. She stepped down the hill further, strung an arrow, and fired. The skeleton beating the mayor back took the arrow to the neck. The force of the shot shattered it and caused those fighting to gape at the little Orlesian who merely dimpled at them and strung another arrow. Morrigan followed suit and soon her familiar blasts of fire and ice were surrounding them. Sten and Alistair charged down the hill and Ffion followed, Tilly barking ferociously as two of the skeletons came up to clash with her lady.

The men below were gaining a second wind with this unexpected help and Murdock rushed to Ffion's aid as Tilly was knocked from her lady's side. The young Warden was surrounded by four of the skeletons and though her blades were flashing more rapidly than ever, she was losing. One of the undead swung his mace and she didn't duck quickly enough; the weapon struck her helm, staggering her into another of the monsters. Murdock charged, lowering his shoulder, and colliding with two of them. They crashed into Ffion and the one she was struggling with, and all of them collapsed into a heap of bones and weapons on the packed dirt of the courtyard. They wrestled a moment, but the impact had been too much for the skeletons and they shattered easily. Murdock hauled Ffion to her feet and clapped her on the shoulder before turning back to the battle. The Warden felt the sharp protest in her ribs again and shoved it away, following the mayor.

This fight was even more intense, the waves had more undead than the others, and the men were already exhausted by the several hours of battling. But Sten was tireless and Alistair, as usual, more chipper than anyone had the right to be; Morrigan's spells made the air around them surge and electrify, and Leliana was a wonder with her bow; all of which kept them going. Ffion and Tilly bounced between each group and soon the number of attackers lessened before becoming ones and twos. At this change, Ffion called to Alistair and headed for the docks on the other side of the village. Sten and Tilly bolted after them while Leliana and Morrigan stayed behind to help Murdock with the stragglers.

The four of them cut down the last undead that were lurking about in the dark alleys and ran into the troop of men that were guarding the docks under Teagan's leadership.

"Alistair, Ffion?" The Bann questioned, his brows furrowing over his tired blue eyes, "Is something wrong?"

"Nothing," Alistair answered, "We just left Murdock at the Chantry. The fight was dropping off there and we wanted to catch any that were left behind."

Teagan nodded as he sank his sword tip into the dirt and leaned on the hilt. He motioned behind him to the hulking shadow of the castle.

"It's been the same here," He said, "I don't want to jinx this, but I think we've won tonight, thanks to you."

Ffion gasped and spun around quickly, looking back towards the town and hillside.

"Maker's balls," She muttered sharply and took off, running back the way they had come.

"Ffion?!" Alistair shouted and then cursed underneath his breath. He chased after Sten, who hadn't hesitated for a moment and was on Ffion's heels, "What is it?!"

Her voice floated back to them as she charged past Murdock's men and leaped up the trail to the road again,

"Ser Perth!"

The green smoke was thicker at the top of the hill and the men followed in Ffion's wake, throwing themselves without hesitation into the fray Ser Perth's soldiers were battling. This was, by far, the easiest fight that was won and Ffion and Alistair both swung for the last skeleton. Alistair's long blade destroyed the monster and he put his arms out without thinking as Ffion stumbled into him. He steadied her as best he could, taking a few steps back as she collided with his chest.

"Ouch!" She exclaimed as her cheek smacked into the splint mail of his breastplate and she felt his boot across her toes.

He got his balance soon and she felt like she was gripping a wall when he did. They looked at each other in surprise and then weakly started laughing as their exhaustion made them see the humor in the situation. The smoke was disappearing, wafting back to the castle, and the soldiers began cheering.

"We've won!" Teagan's voice exalted and he clapped Alistair on the shoulder as the ex-Templar let go of Ffion, "We've done it!"

"At least for now," Murdock's grim, deep voice was the voice of reason, "Who's to say this isn't an honest break?"

"I believe it will be," Sten replied as his violet eyes watched the retreat of the smoke, "There isn't anyone to say that fog is just resting."

Ffion sighed, feeling the familiar ache in her arms. She hadn't fought like this since Ostagar and before that, it had been a duel with Gilmore that had left her black and blue for a week. Those were usually after some sort of bet and she was almost always on the receiving end of a terrible defeat. But that last one... It took her a moment to come back to reality and when she did, her voice was anything but steady.

"Rest?" She repeated, "Oh, can we? I feel like I've been wrestling with a bear."

"Murdock counts," Alistair said cheerfully and sent the grim mayor a cheeky grin.

Surprisingly, the man took no offense. Instead he was smiling in some embarrassment at Ffion and he nodded an affirmative.

"He's right," He said, "I'm sorry about that-"

"Don't apologize," Ffion interrupted, holding up one hand, "We were fighting for the same reasons and I can't hold that against you. You saved my life."

Teagan watched the retreat of the undead speculatively and then glanced at Ffion and Alistair.

"You have more than held up your end of our bargain," He told them, "Go down to the Chantry and get some rest; we'll take care of everything else here."

Ffion hesitated, her grey eyes following the trail of smoke that was steadily disappearing. There were still a few hours before dawn and she could understand Murdock's reluctance to head away from the posts just in case there was another onslaught. The Bann could read her expression easily and stepped forward, putting one hand to her shoulder and pushing her back towards the Chantry.

"Go, Ffion," He implored, still wondering why he felt that he knew this girl; now more than ever, "If we need help, I promise, we'll come and get you."

She nodded, letting her exhaustion win over, and led the way back to the courtyard. They entered the Chantry amidst whispers of thanks from those villagers that weren't sleeping fitfully and were approached by a few of the lay sisters and the revered mother.

"Is the fight over then?" The revered mother, Hannah, asked, "What news?"

"The fighting is done for tonight," Ffion answered softly, looking around for a place where she could settle all of them, "The Bann and the others are keeping watch for a little while yet and whatever comes next will be discussed in the morning."

"Please, Warden," Hannah offered, gesturing with one hand, "This way."

They followed the women to the back of the Chantry and through a set of doors, into a long hallway. Hannah skipped down a few doors and then opened one on a room with two tubs of steaming water. She glanced back at Alistair and Sten.

"I took the liberty of preparing these rooms for you," She said, still in an undertone, "You should find everything you need and when you are finished with the baths, that door will lead you to a room where you can find beds and blankets. Let one of the sisters know if you lack anything."

Sten didn't say a word, leaving Alistair to stammer out a grateful thanks. They left the men and continued down to another, more spacious room on the opposite end of the hall. Here were three tubs, each separated by screens, draped with towels and robes.

"Oh, reverence, this is wonderful," Leliana sighed as she trailed her slender fingers through the hot water in one of the tubs.

Even Morrigan's features softened a little and Ffion was the one left thanking Hannah and the sisters.

"If you need assistance, the sisters are more than-"

"No," Ffion interrupted quickly and then flushed at the looks she received, "Thank you, but no. We can manage. You've done quite enough for us."

Morrigan smirked while Leliana was faintly baffled. Hannah didn't take any offense and simply nodded, backing out of the room with the sisters. Ffion didn't look at either one of the other women, instead heading for the far tub and ducking behind the screen with Tilly.

"Your modesty," Morrigan observed lazily, "'Tis almost... indecent. Do you not agree, Leliana?"

Ffion felt her face flush a deeper red as she pulled the fasteners loose on her leather breastplate. She tugged it off and set it against the screen before continuing with the rest of the armor. She opened her mouth to snap at the witch and then started when the Orlesian's voice sounded, much closer than she expected.

"Don't antagonize her, Morrigan," She defended and Ffion didn't like the amusement in her tone, "I like her modesty. It is very refreshing and... cute."

The leather gauntlets slipped from Ffion's fingers and banged against the screen, making it rock. Leliana giggled and Ffion's only saving grace was that neither woman could see how brilliantly her face was lit. The Orlesian had always made her rather uncomfortable, and was all too eager to touch or pet her, like she was some sort of living doll. She wasn't a fool and she could clearly see that Leliana admired her; she just wasn't sure why. And she sure as hell didn't want to find out firsthand.

"This has gone on long enough," She said sharply as she successfully stripped down and stepped into the bath, "How about we just get cleaned up and get some rest, yeah?"

"Are you quite sure you do not need a helping hand?" Morrigan's voice was lilting, mimicking the Orlesian's, and the mockery was anything but pleasant. She was aiming to embarrass Ffion and doing a fine job, knowing exactly which buttons to press and amusing Leliana as she did so, "Surely Alistair would-"

"You wouldn't prefer Sten?" Leliana interrupted and successfully silenced the witch.

Ffion would have thanked her, but she wasn't willing to draw any more attention to herself. She eased back in the tub, amused by Morrigan's silence, and let her hand dance across Tilly's head.

"Indeed I would," The witch's soft answer made Ffion's cheeks burn again. These conversations made her feel uncomfortable and she knew that's why these two were doing it, "Is there a possibility he thinks of me now, while he is bathing? I certainly-"

Ffion didn't hear the rest of that comment. She took a deep breath and dunked herself completely; positive she would never turn back to her proper color if she didn't escape somehow.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.