We were about four weeks into our three month journey to a coastal town by the name of Esra; a town which I had heard of before, but not often. A quaint little fishing village, it had been recently left without a leader and so, had fallen to the mercy of whatever came along. In this case, Dark Elves.
Scourge and I sat on a log, preparing supper for the evening, while he told me the story of how he and my grandmother met; one which I had never heard from her. “We had made the grave mistake, of not bringing some form of healer,” he told me, his red eyes lit up with mirth at recalling the ignorance of his; as he called it; ‘youth’, “the bard knew a little, but she was no use when it came to the big stuff. You need a cleric, or a paladin for that.” He shook his head a grim, but fond, smile on his face; “I ran afoul of a rather nasty troll, along with our traveling companion; a half Dark Elf named Rolland, whom I didn’t particularly care if we lost. The ranger and the bard somehow managed to bring us to a monastery; though I’m not sure how; and we were taken back to none other than the lovely Lia Galanodell herself. She wasn’t much older than you at the time, around two hundred, maybe a little older.
“Either way, she patched us up, made sure we were fit to leave, and then informed us that we were going to be taking her along. Didn’t want her work to be in vain I suppose. The rest is history of course. We became fast friends, and were nearly inseparable from there on out.” He stopped there, and without warning, stood and walked away from us into the trees. Eldwist and I looked at one another, both very confused, but shook it off as usual. By this time, we had grown used to Scourge’s sudden changes in mood and agenda.
We were not, however, expecting the little surprise he had in store upon his return. Nearly an hour had passed before Scourge reappeared at the tree line, and made his way back to us at a brisk walk. “Andraste,” he said, coming to a halt before me, “As you are aware, the rumors of your father’s ‘private army’ are something of interest throughout the lands. Especially to one such as myself. I am curious to see what Arcanus has taught you, and I have the perfect way for you to demonstrate.”
As he spoke, a group of men began to come through the trees. The leader; a blonde brute flanked by two identical cronies, both reminiscent of a troll; held up a hand to signify his men to stop, though he kept moving forward until he had reached a reasonable hearing distance. “Well, well, well,” he chuckled, mirthlessly; “what do we have hear? A little lost noble, perhaps? Why don’t you come with us, Sweetheart, and we’ll take you home.”
“Scourge,” Eldwist growled, “what did you do?” The lich said nothing, but moved behind the Bashti and laid a hand on his shoulder to hold him where he was.
“Well, Honey,” the blonde man spoke again, “what do you say?”
I sat straight in my seat, my eyes focused on his, and said in my most ‘noble’ voice; “Your services are not required here. Now, if you would excuse us, we are in the middle of a meal.” I turned from the men and faced the fire, turning the rabbit on its spit and hoping that they would simply leave. My hopes, however, were in vain, for they only moved closer to me. I could feel their body heat, the stench of sweat clung to my nose, and their heavy breath echoed in my ears, as the three gathered. I sensed movement of more men at the treeline, indicating that Scourge had found a small army of bandits. “You would be wise to back away.” I whispered, knowing they could hear, “I do not wish to cause you harm this evening.”
“Harm?” the man laughed, “Sweetheart, you don’t look like you could harm much of anything, and so long as your friend over there holds back the guard dog, I’m not too worried about my safety. Now,” his hand grasped my upper arm, “come along.”
A breath was necessary to calm myself, so as not to set him alight right then and there. Unfortunately the breath did nothing to take the shake out of my voice, “You will remove your hand, now, or you will die.” I said, eyes still trained on the fire.
“Ohho! A feisty little one.” I felt his breath on the back of my neck as he whispered in my ear “I like that.” I could no longer contain my anger, and whether it was directed at this man or Scourge, I never have decided. In that moment, however, it didn’t matter. In one swift movement I had broken free of his hold, and retrieved my staff from its place at my feet. One sharp blow to the base of his neck had him hitting the ground; nothing more now than a lump of flesh.
His two cronies turned to me, furey in their eyes, and made a move to flank me. Within the split second it took them to take half a step towards me a circle of fire had appeared. “Take one step,” I purred, “I dare you.” Unfortunately for the man on my right, he did. He began to charge, a cry of vengeance at his lips. It was lost, however, in a scream of pain as he was engulfed in a pillar of golden fire. I turned my gaze to the remaining man, an invitation to try his own hand, an invitation to die. He took it and began to circle me, searching for a weakness in my defence, an opening to attack, and I turned with him, waiting for him to strike first.
Finally, our little dance ended with him barreling forward and meeting the same fate as his doppelganger. A second pillar of golden fire erupted, and was extinguished with an agonized scream, and what was left behind was no more than a pile of ash. I opened the ring to the group of ten men, who had rushed forward when their leader had fallen, but had not reached us in time to be encircled in the flames, “Would anyone else like to test the abilities of Blueleaf House?!” A general murmur of “No” moved through the men, and the wall vanished.
“You two,” I pointed to the closest of the group, “Take the body out of my camp. As for the rest of you;” my eyes scanned the terrified faces, “It would be in your best interests to not follow crazy old elves in the future. Now get out of my sight before I change my mind and save the local guards the trouble of killing you.” A scramble of men ensued, two grabbing the body of their fallen leader, and the rest sprinting straight for the trees. I now turned back to the litch, who was still holding an enraged looking Eldwist in his seat, “If you ever, do something like that again,” I hissed, “I do not care who you are to my family. I will end you.”
Scourge said nothing, but gave a bow and went to sit on the opposite side of the camp, while Eldwist came to my side, and without a word, took me into his arms in silent comfort.
Our journey continued with very little communication between myself and Scourge. It wasn’t until the last leg of our journey, about a week’s travel from Esra, that we had any sort of interaction aside from a barked warning on my part or an offhanded comment from Scourge which I would disregard.
It was a warm day in mid-summer. The grass still had the last traces of morning dew as we walked through a large expanse of meadow, and the smell of clean morning air filled us with vigor for the day. I was walking ahead of the others, attempting to keep my distance from the litch; as per usual; when I felt a hand on my shoulder. Looking up I met a pair of crimson eyes. Scourge had fallen into step with me, his face set in a grandfatherly fashion as he eyed me up and down. “What?” I said through clenched teeth. Though it had been two months, I was still furious with the litch. A minor drawback to a life as long as the elven races; months are days, days are moments, and grudges can last decades, if not centuries.
“Now, Andraste,” he crooned, as though speaking to a small child, “is that any way to speak to your elders?”
“You are no elder of mine Scourge. You are an abomination, and they only reason I don’t kill you is because I know the motive behind it.” I sighed, and allowed myself to glance up into the sunken face, “What do you want?”
“Merely to apologize, and offer a white flag of sorts.”
“A likely story.”
“No stories, this time.” he said, unusually calm. His normal smile of benevolence gone, and replaced with a look very reminiscent of my father; stern and commanding; “No tricks.”
“Alright,” I said, looking back ahead of me so as to avoid the stare, “I suppose I have no choice but to hear you out.” No doubt he could hear the skepticism in my tone, but he seemed to ignore it.
“My actions the last time we truly spoke were rash, and ill-calculated. I will not say unnecessary, but I did misjudge. The fact of the matter is, I like to know what I’ve got in my arsenal before going into battle, and what better way to test than a true battle. I should, however, have chosen a different method to administer my tests, and for that I apologize.”
I heaved a massive sigh and pinched the bridge of my nose, “I’m not going to forgive you that easily Scourge. What you made me do... It was unnecessary. Nobody needed to witness that kind of brutality outside of war.”
“Nobody?” Scourge said slowly, “Or just Eldwist?”
I felt the color spring to my face, the heat was so strong I wouldn’t have been surprised if my hair had burst into flame. “What is that supposed to mean?” I snapped without thinking. Instantly I regretted speaking so quickly. Scourge’s brows raised in a look that could be described as sadistic glee.
“I think you know exactly what I mean, My Lady. I may be absent minded, some may even go so far as to call me deranged or insane,” he smiled a knowing smile, “but I do watch. I listen, and observe from afar and up close. You care for the Bashti, though you refuse to admit it.” I opened my mouth to retort, but was cut off, “Don’t deny it, girl. I see the way you look at him. The way you smile when he isn’t looking. I hear the softness in your voice, and see the sparkle in your eyes when the two of you converse. You are deeply in love with the cleric. The son of a common tribesman, and a seemingly disgraced military captain. Your father would never approve, and so you deny it. Even to yourself.”
“You’re wrong.” I said quickly, “My relationship with Eldwist is strictly platonic. He merely lives with me to utilize otherwise vacant space, and keep me company while home.”
“Whatever you say, My Lady.” The knowing smile lingered for a moment before he turned and yelled back to Eldwist, who was quite far behind us now, “What on earth is taking you so long boy? I’m half your size and more than quadruple your age! Keep up!” once again, he turned jerkily and trotted off, leaving me to stand dumbfounded and waiting for the Bashti.
“Crazy, old, bag of bones.” Eldwist growled, he glared after the lich for a moment then turned to me. One look at my face and his brow raised in concern, “Are you alright?”
“What?” I said, still mildly confused, “Oh, yes. Yes, I’m fine. Shall we?” He stared at me, skeptically for a moment, then slowly nodded. We fell into step, as usual, and were soon immersed in conversation. Though my mind wandered behind a cheerful facade. Could the lich be right? Were the constant butterflies, and comfort the product of love, or, at the very least, attraction? Could I have truly fallen for this gruff, but gentle man? This wonderfully intriguing being who had wandered into my life half a year ago?
The longer I thought, the clearer it became; and so, by the time we had settled down that evening for supper and rest, I had realized the truth. Scourge was right, and I was going to have to admit. If not to anyone else, at least to myself.
I was in love. I was in love with a cleric. The son of a common tribesman, and a disgraced military captain. I was in love with Eldwist.