CHAPTER FOUR - GLIMPSES OF THE PAST
CHAPTER FIVE - PLAYING GAMES
CHAPTER SIX - UNDERSTANDING
CHAPTER SEVEN - HEALING AND LOSS
CHAPTER EIGHT - MISSION'S END
CHAPER NINE - KINGS, DOGS AND DECISIONS
CHAPTER TEN - IN THE CHAPEL
CHAPTER ELEVEN - THE LAST OF THE WARDENS
CHAPTER TWELVE - A DOG, A WITCH AND A LACK OF WARDROBE
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - THE LAY SISTER
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - RESCUE AND CONDEMNATION
CHAPTER FIVE - PLAYING GAMES
CHAPTER SIX - UNDERSTANDING
CHAPTER SEVEN - HEALING AND LOSS
CHAPTER EIGHT - MISSION'S END
CHAPER NINE - KINGS, DOGS AND DECISIONS
CHAPTER TEN - IN THE CHAPEL
CHAPTER ELEVEN - THE LAST OF THE WARDENS
CHAPTER TWELVE - A DOG, A WITCH AND A LACK OF WARDROBE
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - THE LAY SISTER
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - RESCUE AND CONDEMNATION
Chapter Fifteen - The Limits of Power
“I always like mornings,” said Leliana. “It makes you feel like the whole day is before you, you know what I mean? Like anything could happen. You could eat the best meal of your life, you could learn a new song, you could…” – here she dropped her voice to a seductively loud whisper - “meet someone really special.”
“Today, the most special person we are likely to meet will be a bandit leader, and the best meal of the day will be this one,” replied Alistair.
They were in Farmer Merker’s kitchen. Leliana looked bathed and scrubbed, and was wearing a white shirt with a teasing neckline and black breeches. Sten, too, looked much better than he had the previous night, after a cold bath from the farmer’s well. Alistair was feeling under pressure to have a bath too, something he always rather hated to do.
The Farmer’s wife was at the other end of the large room, fishing in the stores for potatoes to make a stew.
“Umm, Leliana…?” Alistair whispered.
She cast an inquisitive look at him.
“Why is that woman cooking for us? After what happened last night, she should be poisoning our milk.”
It had certainly been quite the scene the previous evening when Farmer Merker had entered with Neria hanging on his arm, and commanded his wife to vacate the bedroom and send the children to the loft. She had called Neria all sorts of names and threatened to harm herself, to which Neria responded by casually casting a paralysis spell on her and saying that if the woman did not leave quietly, she would make it permanent. There was no such thing as a permanent paralysis spell that Alistair knew of, but of course, the Farmer’s wife did not know that.
After that, to have her fawning over them and making them breakfast was rather a surprising change.
“Oh that. I told her I managed to prevail on Neria to follow the Maker’s path and while she slept next to her husband, they did not actually engage in any…um, carnal activity. She’s feeling very grateful,” replied Leliana.
“She bought it?” asked Alistair, surprised. “Is she simple or something?”
“She bought it because it’s true,” came Neria’s voice. She had entered behind Alistair while he had been talking. She was positively glowing, exuding warmth. She again wore the scanty Chantry robe from the previous evening, which momentarily distracted Alistair. He closed his eyes and thought about peeling potatoes in the Redcliffe stables again and gathered his thoughts.
“I’m…surprised,” he said at last.
Neria shrugged her shapely, bare shoulders and sat down opposite Sten. The Qunari had not spoken a word since morning and did not speak any now, though she wished him a good morning.
“Don’t be. Let’s just say his sword remained in his own hands and leave it at that,” she held up her right hand and made a suggestive motion.
“And then he was begging Neria to let him go at it properly with him in the morning, which Neria refused – his wife heard that bit and now thinks her husband is a monster, yes, but Neria has a heart of gold after all,” smiled Leliana.
“Which is not entirely untrue,” said Neria. “I’m adorable. Now let’s settle on a plan to deal with those bandits. How many groups did you say there were?”
Leliana immediately grew business-like, pulling out some parchment from her pocket and spreading it out on the table.
“I have the Chantry reward letters here. They have the descriptions of the bandits and where they are usually to be found. There are also some feral Bears that we should probably deal with and a pack of wolves…”
“Do you think we can deal with all this on our own?” asked Alistair, as Farmer Merker, hair dishevelled, belly protruding entered, scratching his chest.
“After watching that man pleasure himself twice,” muttered Neria, “I think bandits will be a welcome change.”
“What do you mean you decided to go on ahead and deal with the Bandits without me? Am I some invalid that I should be left behind? Why don’t you just send me back to my mother? Know this, though, if she sent me with you, she had her reasons to do so, and my mother is a very powerful witch!”
Neria listened patiently as Morrigan ranted. She had anticipated some such response from her when she had taken Leliana, Sten and Alistair and wiped out two bandit camps and a den of wolves.
“We asked the Healer if you could join us, she suggested another day’s rest would do you good.”
Morrigan uttered an expletive. Alistair wondered where she had picked it up, considering he had first heard it in Denerim.
“Anyway, I see you’re all fine now,” added Neria hastily. “Which is just in time for us to mount our assault on the largest and most dangerous group of bandits.”
Having mollified Morrigan, Neria turned her attention to Biscuit, who was pointedly ignoring her by looking intensely interested in a piece of lint on the floor.
“Morrigan needed company, you know, old boy,” she ventured.
“Did not,” snapped the Witch.
“Grumph,” said Biscuit.
“Ok ok, she did not, but we thought she did, and really, you wouldn’t have liked it much. These were very bony bandits. Third-rate. Cut-price more that cut-throat. Dead in their boots.”
Biscuit made a slightly less sullen growling noise.
In fact, it had actually been almost too easy so far. The bandits had been scattered, in groups of threes, completely unprepared for armed fighters and even less for a mage. They had followed a simple three-step battle plan – Neria would show herself and launch an arcane bolt at the most outlying bandit, Leliana would follow up with arrows as the bandits rushed in towards them and Sten and Alistair would finish the job of killing whatever managed to make it as far as their swords. The Wolves had been marginally tougher to deal with, but a combination of fire spells and arrows had mostly taken care of those as well.
“Now come on, we are going after their ringleader. The Numero Uno Bandito, as the Antivans would say it.”
She led Morrigan and the mabari to the outskirts of the Village. The others had made their temporary camp near Sten’s cage.
“By the way, Morrigan, we came across this Qunari, see…”
But Morrigan was seeing already. Her eyes were virtually popping out of her head. Sten was cutting an even more imposing figure in armour. Gleaming plate – he had polished it himself – and greaves on his fingers, a greatsword in his hand, he looked every inch a warrior.
“I am Morrigan,” she said, walking up to him with a confident stride. “I don’t know what they have told you about me, but I am not to be messed with. Do you understand?”
The Qunari looked amused but only replied with a nod.
“So I don’t care if they have told you I’m a slutty woman or if you think that because I dress like this and you are this big powerful warrior man I will just fall in your arms or expect you to sweep me off my feet.”
Neria was tittering already, while Leliana was showing obvious signs of struggle in keeping a straight face. Only Alistair seemed genuinely puzzled.
“But Morrigan, we all know that Neria is the slut of our group. I mean, no offense meant,” he added hastily, “But you know, I mean she’s slept with something like five men since I’ve known here and I haven’t know her that long…”
“Uh yes, we got the point,” Neria cut in. “Anyway, now that you know each other, I think we should get a game-plan in place. Leliana – how many of them are there?”
“At least six, according to reports. Their Chief is supposed to be a very large man who wields a great-sword. They also have more than one mabari hound at their disposal. We need to keep that in mind.”
Neria scratched her chin.
“Biscuit, I need you to disable as many human fighters as you can. Do not try to attack the dogs, do you understand?”
The dog had been circling Sten warily for a while. Sten in turn had not taken his eyes off Biscuit. But when directly addressed, he stopped mid-stride, yelped and continued. Neria took this for acquiescence.
“Does the Dog actually understand what we say?” whispered Leliana, under her breath, to Alistair.
“I honestly don’t know,” admitted Alistair. “He sure acts like he does, the mutt.”
“Morrigan, freezing spells on the dogs. They are unlikely to be as well trained as the ones we have in the King’s Army, so they will likely rush in a pack. If you can keep them frozen in place - Sten, you know what you need to do.”
The Qunari gave the barest flicker of an expression on his face that indicated he had heard her.
“Alistair, most of the fighters will come after you…”
“Yep, yep, I know, shield up, don’t take damage, don’t do anything reckless.”
“It’s just that you do it so well,” she winked. “Anyway, Leliana and I will provide covering fire for all of you.”
They were walking towards a knoll that Leliana had told them was known as “Galleon’s Hill”, after a rich farmer called Galleon who had been beaten to death by his mistress’ husband on it.
“Watch out for bears,” Leliana said, as Biscuit seemed to cock his ears. They slackened their pace, letting the dog take the lead. Leliana followed close behind, her ears almost visibly pricked like Biscuit’s.
Biscuit’s growling softened as he stopped. They were about thirty feet from a copse of trees.
“There’s probably something out there,” whispered Alistair.
“Brilliant observation, Ser Obvious,” said Morrigan.
“That’s me. Always to be counted upon for pointing out what you know, like you being a complete bitch.”
Neria shushed them impatiently.
“What’s it, boy?” she asked. Biscuit made a pointing gesture with this front paw. He had caught a scent, but they could not see anything beyond the thick foliage.
Alistair looked on, puzzled. He liked the mutt, or had grown to in the days they had been travelling together, and like any Fereldan, had a great respect for the fighting capabilities of mabari hounds, but he still found it difficult to believe that the dog actually understood what Neria said and responded to it. Neria herself seemed to implicitly believe it, though, and treated the hound as a fully-intelligent member of the team. Which was much more respectfully than Morrigan could be said to treat Alistair.
“Morrigan, you know what you have to do,” he heard Neria say softly. Alistair had no idea what she was referring to – a paralysis hex, perhaps? That was a spell – an interesting one, really – where a mage could direct a spell at an area on the ground, causing anyone who stepped in it to become instantly paralysed for nearly a minute (though death usually came quicker).
Instead, he flinched as Morrigan nodded and, with a hint of wispy magical light flowing about her left hand, shrank before his eyes into a black raven. He saw Leliana gasp, and even Sten’s eyes grew wide. Before their eyes, the bird flew off, flying over the trees and out of sight.
“I didn’t know she could do that,” said Leliana. “It’s…she is not a Circle Mage, is she?”
“No,” said Neria. “She is not. She’s Flemeth’s daughter.”
“THE Flemeth?” Leliana gulped.
“That’s what she said,” nodded Neria.
“No wonder she behaves like she does, then. I mean, if my mother was a scary witch…”
“So who IS your mother then, Leliana?” asked Neria. “Lady something or the other? Marquise? Duchess?”
Leliana’s face coloured nearly as red as her hair.
“That’s beside the point. Oh look, she’s back.”
Morrigan was indeed, flying back. Alistair winced as she swooped down, nearly clipping his head. Seconds before hitting the ground, the raven seemed to grow before his eyes into the glossy-haired witch.
She brushed the hair off her forehead nonchalantly, cast a glance at Sten, and then turned to Neria.
“Four black bears. One is quite the monster,” she said. There was a trace of tiredness in her voice. Whatever spell the transformation required, it had taken a lot of energy from Morrigan.
“Any chance of sneaking past?”
“You or I might,” Morrigan said. “Not these others in their clanking armour.”
Morrigan and Neria were certainly dressed in clothes that made very little sound as they moved. In a way, both their robes were barely-there. Alistair found himself comparing the two mages – one a Circle-trained product, the other schooled by an undoubtedly very powerful apostate.
Morrigan wore a wolf-leather skirt, a necklace with bear claws and a reddish-brown rag blouse across her breasts. The rag was held in place by what looked like spider webbing and raven-feathers, which meant that what was left of Morrigan’s modesty was at least kept intact as she moved. There was also a hood that she sometimes wore over her head that was of the same material as her blouse, but she wasn’t wearing it now. Her sandals were plain ebony, and in her hands she wore light gloves with the fingertips cut-off. Her staff was gnarled white-wood, probably cut from a spruce in the Korcari wilds. Morrigan’s magic, as he had noted before, was mostly from the school known as ‘entropy’, though he suspected she had not learned it in quite the conventional way. She was also good with a variety of other spells, but it was in paralysing, weakening, inducing dizziness in the enemy that she excelled. For the most part, Morrigan was at her best hanging behind a blade fighter such as himself, weakening his enemies until they could be dealt with.
Neria wore the Chantry robe still, the ‘Holy Sisters’ as she had taken to jokingly calling it, cut beyond recognition from the demure garment it had been. She had made some more alterations to it, and the strips that angled across her breasts now tied behind her back, instead of going down to her waist. The two knots – one behind her neck and the other behind her back – were actually firmer and held it in place better than the earlier cut, as Neria had pointed out to Leliana when they had stopped at mid-day for a bite. The skirt was still as it was, a bit lower at the waist now than before. Neria wore no gloves, and her footwear consisted of plain wooden sandals. She still had her standard Circle issue staff, some form of Elder wood, Alistair guessed. Compared to Morrigan, Neria seemed to have fewer spells up her sleeve. She had a very powerful arcane bolt, which was her default attack in a battle, but her recourse was always to a fireball. Mind you, it was a very powerful spell, Neria’s fireball – he had seen it burn darkspawn to a crisp if they were close to the point of impact, and she easily knocked out anyone standing within a five-foot radius, friend or foe, with it. She also had a dangerous flaming spell, a concentrated funnel of fire directed at a single opponent, which she seemed to have very precise control over. Apart from that, her cold and lightning spells were good too, but she used them sparingly. She was not much of a support fighter, was Neria, and seemed to have a limited range of spells, but in offense, she was very dangerous.
“Step back, then,” her voice cut in on his musing. “We will need to draw them out.”
“How do we mean to kill four big sodding bears?” asked Alistair.
“Leliana, you any good with traps?” Neria asked.
The Orlesian woman nodded, and under Neria’s direction, they set about laying a line of traps. Neria had them withdraw behind the line.
“The Bears will come charging at us from that direction,” she said. When they do, we do not react until they are past that line. Once they are, Leliana, I want you to aim for the eyes. Morrigan, freezing spells won’t do much damage to something the size of a bear, so I want you to concentrate on casting hastening spells on Alistair and Sten. Once they are in range, we will have maybe to a count of three to destroy them. Alistair, you stand at the left end, you will have one stab before the bear realises it is being attacked. Sten, you will be on the right, and the same applies for you.”
“And why won’t the bears realise they are being attacked?” asked Alistair.
“Oh, you’ll see.”
With that cryptic statement, Neria began to walk backwards. She led them twenty feet behind the line of traps. Biscuit remained at her heels. Alistair and Sten took their positions.
Neria raised her staff and pointed it at the brambles near the trees where the bears were supposed to be lying. Then with a sweep, she sent forth a tendril of flame. The dry leaves caught fire quickly. Within seconds, flames were dancing around the copse. Her eyes narrowed as she kept her mind focussed on the flames.
Seconds passed. Alistair’s grip on his sword hilt tensed. Then there was a shuffling sound, growing louder, louder, and the bears burst forth, tearing towards them at a great pace. They weren’t ordinary bears either, they were huge black brutes, with eyes dilated, racing, slavering at the mouth. Blighted, he realised. Blighted by contact with the darkspawn.
Alistair brought his shield up, his sword held just behind. Sten held his great-sword pointing ahead.
The first bear stepped into the traps, it howled as it bit into him, but dragged it along with its leg. The second one stepped on an exploding trap and was thrown off the line, the third and fourth were dragging too, slowed by the snapping of the traps. Leliana was firing quickly, the shafts seeming to flow almost in a continuous line from her bow. Alistair wondered why these battle moments always seemed to pass so slowly. Why he noticed these little details. Leliana murmuring words to herself before each arrow she fired. The narrowing of Sten’s eyes. Morrigan’s staff sending forth a bolt of energy at him. He felt the muscles in his body loosen and re-bind, the hastening spell giving him an ease of movement that would make his attacks faster by half.
Neria leaned down and whispered to Biscuit. The bears were ten feet away. Alistair smiled. This was it. The dog leaped ahead, madly, suicidally, into the bear’s path, barking wildly. It slowed the two in the middle. The bear on the left was within range now, its sharp odour filling his nostrils, its spit almost on his skin, when his sword plunged into its neck. The brute reared and tried to get at him, jaws snapping, but he bashed it with his shield and pulled out his sword, trailing blood along the blade.
The bear twitched as Leliana’s arrow entered its stomach, and in that moment Alistair plunged his sword into its neck again, killing it. He panted, as the blood gushed in a murky fountain onto his legs.
He could see Sten had hacked his bear to death, the head severed from its body.
Between him and Sten, were the bodies of the other two bears, eyes lifeless, their bodies seemingly unharmed other than the arrows sticking out of the flanks.
When he walked closer, he saw the charring between their front paws, where the flame seemed to have burned in a straight line from flesh to heart.
Neria might have only the one big trick up her sleeve with her fire spells, but she was very, very good at it.
Alistair suddenly found himself feeling rather sorry for the bandits they were expecting to fight soon.
“So you see, the Wagons will start rolling out tonight itself. I understand the Templars in Lothering are stretched, but the refugees have come to depend upon you, and if you show that your men are willing to accompany the wagons, the people will agree to go.”
Alistair had spent the better part of the previous night and this morning convincing the Chantry and the Templars to encourage the refugees to leave Lothering. With the elimination of the bandits, there was now no reason to stay back in the village, but it was a concept they seemed to have trouble grasping.
Neria was frustrated at the defeatism engulfing the village. It did not matter how earnestly she and Alistair and Leliana told them the roads were safe and they needed to get a move on, the refugees kept finding some reason to say they would go later.
“Why won’t they understand, there IS no later,” she had said to Leliana as they had dinner at Farmer Merker’s the previous evening.
“They have come to think their journey is over. That the Templars will look after them. That they won’t have to move again,” Leliana replied in her musical voice.
“More fools they,” said Morrigan dismissively.
“Faced with certain annihilation they delay and procrastinate. Truly a stupid people, your race,” Sten murmured.
Neria drummed her fingers on the table.
“We can’t stay here until they make up their minds,” she said at last. “We have work to do. Tomorrow we go to the Chantry and make a last-ditch plea to the Revered Mother and the Templars – Morrigan, you and Sten gather our things and meet us at the Windmill.”
“Suits me just fine,” said Morrigan, casting a look at Sten that could best be described as a cross between flirty and demanding.
At this point, Farmer Merker had returned from the fields and audibly caught his breath on seeing Neria.
She rose from the wooden bench and turned to face him. Behind her, she knew the Farmer’s wife had her eyes fixed on them.
“Gus, dearest!” she said, dropping her voice to the breathless whisper that set even Alistair’s pulse racing, despite him knowing perfectly well that it was an act. “I have been looking forward to seeing you SO much! All day today as I fought the bandits and wolves and bears all I could think about was you and how we hardly got to…you know…”
Farmer Gustaph Merker gave a smile that disappeared when his eyes fell on his wife’s face. Agnethe Merker was a plump woman about five years younger than her husband. She had borne a child fifteen years ago and seen him join the Bann’s levies and then go to Denerim to join the Bann’s household over there. A devout Andrastian, she shared her husband’s mistrust of Elves and magic. When her husband had brought home a spectacularly beautiful Elf girl home, she had been shocked and angry. When she realised the said Elf was a mage, she was distraught and it took all Leliana’s persuasion to keep her from poisoning herself. In the morning, when Neria and Leliana had convinced her that Neria had found a conscience and refrained from corrupting her husband by tempting him with her flesh, she had found her faith in the Maker restored.
But now the dark temptress was clearly at it again. Agnethe put her hands on her hip and glowered at her husband.
“Uh…I…,” Farmer Merker was fighting a battle again. A foot from him, Neria’s deep blue eyes were inviting, her lean, toned stomach and smooth bare shoulders even more so, creating a spike between his legs. Ten feet behind her, his wife’s increasingly swelling face was serving the exact opposite function.
Neria turned around, looked at the Farmer’s wife, and smiled.
“Agnethe,” she said, and before Gustaph’s widening eyes, strolled over to her and placed her hands around his wife’s neck. “I think your husband would really really like it if you could be in his bed tonight. I know I would. When did he last make love to you like you deserve?”
Alistair shook his head with a groan. Morrigan seemed amused, Leliana even more so.
“Come now. Alistair and I will clean up the kitchen. You, Agnethe, are going to enjoy your last night in Lothering with your husband. Tomorrow the both of you get on a caravan bound for Denerim. Gus, take her upstairs.”
It had been amusing, the look on his face, and if she had to be honest, Neria was rather pleased at how she had handled it. She had been quite ready to ‘handle it’, of course, but this way she could focus on working out the strategy for tomorrow.
They had succeeded to some extent, getting the Merker couple onto a wagon with most of their tenants. But the rest of it had not been easy. Merchants were asking exorbitant fees to ferry refugees in their wagons. Finally, Sten and Leliana had taken on the task of intimidating and cajoling them into doing it for as small a fee as possible. The second caravan after Merker’s was to leave on the morrow, with three more to go during the day.
The Chantry was their final stop. The Templars were a decent lot, their Captain, Ser Bryant a serious man in his thirties who clearly had a lot of respect for the Grey Wardens and even allowed them to look through the Chantry stores for excess supplies.
She was looking over some old storybooks to see if there was any useful information on the darkspawn when she heard Alistair say a rather surprised Halloo. She walked over to where he was, and saw him talking to a Knight with red hair. Not a Templar though.
“Neria, this is Ser Donell, from Redcliffe,” Alistair introduced him. “As I said, Ser Donell, I am a member of the Grey Wardens now, and Neria is my…commanding officer.”
It struck Neria that his calling her the commanding officer when they were the last remaining Wardens in all of Ferelden was something of a hollow compliment.
Ser Donell cast an approving look over Neria.
“I wish Ser Perth, my commanding officer was nearly as…er…attractive,” he said.
“I remember Ser Perth. Didn’t he thrash me once for putting mud in his small clothes?” said Alistair.
“That was me, actually” said Ser Donell.
Neria sized up the Knight. He was about forty, very fit and not bad looking at all. Suddenly it struck Neria that she was deeply, ravenously in need of a man. That for all the distaste she had shown for Gustaph Merker, she would gladly have taken him at that moment had he been there. That she had gone without a man for longer than she ever had since she had turned fifteen.
Alistair and the Knight were discussing Redcliffe, where the Knight was talking of Arl Eamon having fallen sick and the Arlessa sending Knights out on some wild-goose chase for Andraste’s Ashes, which legends said could cure any ailment. Ser Donell himself had been reading up a lot about all kinds of legends related to Andraste, but had found nothing useful about the location of Andraste’s Ashes thus far. She heard little of it, and walked a few steps behind as the Knight and Alistair walked out of the Chantry. They met Biscuit just outside, and Morrigan, Leliana and Sten near the Tavern. Ser Donell spoke about how he was planning to leave Denerim as well, but was waiting for another Knight, Ser Henrick, a Templar who was to have met him in Lothering.
“Ser Henrick?” asked Neria, now dreaming of having two men to break her sexual fast with.
“He was to have arrived in Lothering two days ago,” said Ser Donell. “But I have heard nothing of him. It is not like him to be late.”
“This remind you of him?” Morrigan was holding up the locket she had taken off the body when they had finished with the highwaymen outside Lothering.
“That…that’s Henrick’s locket,” the Knight took it from her.
“Found it on a dead body on the Highway outside Lothering,” said Morrigan. “Killed by highwaymen. We took care of them.”
“This…this is terrible. Poor Henrick. Those Highwaymen have much to answer for!”
“They died painfully,” Neria assured him.
“I suppose I have no reason to tarry in Lothering then,” sighed Ser Donell. “I will make for Denerim. Go with one of the caravans you mentioned, most probably tomorrow. Will you be with us?”
“We can’t wait for the caravans,” said Alistair. “And we probably won’t be heading for Denerim either.”
“That’s too bad, then,” Ser Donell said courteously. “Perhaps for the better as far as I am concerned. You Wardens are going to be hunted now that Loghain has a bounty out on you.”
“He does?” Alistair sounded surprised.
“Probably the first thing he did,” said Neria. “A large one?”
“Rather large. Treason, you know. He accuses the Wardens of killing the King.”
“Yes, we heard something of that,” Alistair said grimly.
“I have a room at the Tavern,” said Ser Donell. “You would perhaps join me for a mug of ale together before you depart. I have some money and armour I was to have given to Ser Hendrick. I suppose he has no use for it now. Perhaps you can make better use.”
“I don’t think we have the time for that,” said Alistair. “But I’ll come and take the armour. We can always use some.”
“I’ll go,” said Neria hastily. “I’ll catch up with you at the Windmill. I wanted to get some treats for Biscuit at the Tavern anyway.”
She was reasonably sure that Alistair, at least, had a pretty good idea that it was just an excuse, but she consciously did not look behind as she followed Ser Donell the short distance to the Tavern.
Ser Donell’s room was a small and neat one. He had been telling her some story about Alistair as a child, falling into the Lake, and when they got there, he fished out a bag of coins from his trunk as well as some gleaming Templar armour folded in parts. She took the plates and the coins and laid them on the floor. Then she placed her staff in the corner and closed the door.
“My Lady?” the Knight looked at her, realisation slowly dawning on his face.
“Get out of that armour,” she said, her breathless whisper this time not an act.
He reached for her, and she let him hold her and kiss her, and fondle her behind. The cold steel of his armour made her body tingle. She pulled the rivets, and he helped her, and then she was looking at his shirt, and then that was gone too, and his muscled body was before her, and she kissed his chest, his stomach, she made him whimper as she kissed his neck and put her hand down his breeches. It was stiff and hard in her hand, even harder in her mouth as she went to work on it as she knew only she could. He was beautiful and long, and she was enjoying herself as she allowed him to fill her mouth, taking it so far in she could feel his eyes pop with wonder and pleasure. Then she opened her eyes and took it out and got back on her feet. He was fumbling with the knot behind her neck, she pushed down her skirt. He kissed her again, the strips of cloth came undone, and fondled her small but so perfectly-cupped breast and gently pushed her onto the bed.
She came almost within seconds of his entering her, an orgasm made of urgency as much as desire, and then once again minutes later, this time more satisfying, allowing herself to feel the pleasure fully. Then she opened her eyes and looked into his and maybe it was her eyes that sent him over the edge as he pulled out and came on her stomach. She let her head fall back and held his arm as she felt a final wave of pleasure hit her, and he leaned in again and kissed her.
“Now I really hope we meet again,” she said, finally getting off the cot, wiping the sweat from her brow. It was ironic. She never really felt too cold in the winters, but this exertion brought sweat to her body, making it shine and glisten. She fastened the knots again, covering her breasts and then wore the skirt.
“Thank you, my lady,” Ser Donell gasped, struggling to rise.
“Thank YOU,” she replied.
“I…you should wipe,” he said, pointing to her stomach, “I should…here, use the cloth…”
“I’m fine,” she laughed, picking up the money and the plate with one hand and taking the staff in the other. “A man’s seed, I’m always proud to show off.”
And then he grabbed her again and the armour clattered to the floor and the bed creaked so much that the barkeep downstairs, who had not seen Neria enter, sent a boy up to check whether the Knight was suffering a fit.
She skipped along with fields closest to the village towards the Windmill. The money hung on a belt at her waist and she had packed the armour into a sack that she carried over her shoulder. It was not until she had actually reached the foot of the hill on top of which the Windmill was constructed that she suspected anything was wrong. But there was no sign of any of her companions. She looked around, took her staff into her right hand and dropped the sack with the armour and walked slowly around the hill.
She was near the north end when she heard the voices.
“Please, be reasonable! You know me! I am Sister Leliana.”
“Yes we know you, Sister, and we know that you march with these Wardens now,” she heard a man’s voice.
“The bounty on their heads would feed our families for a year,” she heard another.
Neria began to run towards the voices.
“If you don’t walk away, Sister, you die with them.”
“Get out of the way, Leliana. Sten, Morrigan, you too. There is no need for you to die for me,” Alistair, heroic as always.
“Sten of the Beresaad does not step away when the mob tries to kill his comrades,” she heard the Qunari’s voice, deep and measured as always.
“I’m in this as much as you are, Alistair. I’m not going back to Mother leaving you to die.”
Neria saw them now. Thirty or forty villagers, armed with rakes, shovels and pitchforks. They stood in a bunch, facing the four companions.
“I stand with the Wardens, Alistair. If the Maker wills that our mission ends here, then I will gladly die here at your side,” said Leliana firmly.
Alistair drew his sword.
Leliana nocked an arrow to her bow.
“You won’t reconsider?” she said. “Many of you will die.”
“It’s the Elf Whore!” someone had spotted her.
Alistair had, until that moment, entertained thoughts of injuring one or two and making a run for it. Now he was rather more inclined to cut off a few heads first.
“Yes, it’s me.”
There was a coldness in her voice he had only heard once or twice before. It had scared him then. It chilled him to the bone now.
“Step back, Alistair, Leli, Sten…you too, Morrigan. Biscuit, to me.”
“Neria, you can’t – your fireballs can’t handle this many men,” protested Alistair. He did not think they had any chance really. Morrigan and Leliana were most effective from a distance. Large numbers would surround and kill them before they could do much damage. He, Sten and Biscuit would take out a number of them, no doubt. Their training, weapons and armour would tell, but ultimately the numbers would be too much.
“Alistair, I said step back. Behind me.”
It was a command. They all followed it.
“You want to kill or capture Alistair and me?” she asked.
One of the peasants spoke.
“You’re Wardens and there’s a bounty on yer head. You lot are traitors to the crown and killers of the King.”
“We killed the bandits hemming you inside the city. We arranged for caravans to get you to safety. We gave healing potions to your hospital. Damn it, we even intimidated half the merchants in the village into keeping their prices low so that you would not suffer. And you want to kill us?”
“This one talks too much. Let’s stuff our cocks in her mouth when this is done. Kill the rest. Come on boys, time to get us that bounty!”
Alistair watched as they rushed at her, all thirty-seven of them, makeshift weapons raised. He expected her to duck, to command Biscuit to attack, the make a run for it. Fireballs would take out maybe five or six of the attackers before she was swamped. The numbers just did not add up, the five of them – and the dog – were no match for nearly forty peasants, however lightly armoured they might be.
The distance between her and the men on the attack was hardly five feet now and she had not budged. What was wrong with her?
And then he saw it, a shift in the air itself, a red cloud above them, blocking the sun, darkness at noon, and streaks, no, streams of fire raining down, the smell of burned flesh, men screaming as a wind rolled under the cloud, a little tornado in the fields, a tornado of fire, an Inferno.
The first of the attackers, the one who had spoken, stopped within a foot of Neria, his shovel raised in his hand, and turned around. Every one who had stood with him was dying or dead, screaming in agonies that only the burning of the flesh can engender.
“You did that,” said Neria calmly. “Their deaths are on your head. Their painful, tortured deaths.”
He blubbered; he fell to his knees, dropping the shovel.
“We all – we all planned it, it was, it was ALL our decision,” he sobbed.
“But you’re the one who’s going to live with it.”
The inferno had died down. Alistair flinched as he heard the groans and saw the twitching bodies on the charred grass.
Neria turned and walked calmly towards them. Biscuit, at her heels, was quiet.
“Will I regret this, Alistair?” she asked softly.
They began to walk. They could make out the steps to the Imperial Highway in the distance.
“There was no other way, Neria.”
“I know. I’ll try to remember that.”
She walked slowly now. Sten with his long legs was several feet ahead. Leliana was subdued, but kept her distance as well, humming a sad song under her breath. Morrigan was trying to keep up with Sten.
He stopped. She had fallen behind. Biscuit walked on, past him towards Leliana.
“I fucked Ser Donell.”
“I know,” he replied.
“I think I used him. I regret that. He is a family man, isn’t he?”
“He has a wife in Redcliffe. Two daughters, a little younger than you.”
“I…how bad am I?”
Alistair sighed. When he was in his full plate armour, she looked like a child next to him. He put a hand on her shoulder. She rested her cheek on his breastplate and cried. He patted the back of her head.
“You have more power than anyone else in Thedas, Neria,” he said. “Magical, yes, and sexual too. The Circle has taught you to control your magical power well. What you unleashed here, it was frightening, yes, but…I know battle, Neria. Without that spell, we would have died in these fields. And we Wardens do what we need to in order to stop the Blight, and if we are the last Wardens in Ferelden, then our survival is more important than anything else in the world right now.
“As for Ser Donell, while I am sure he wanted it as much as you did - when you want a man, there is no power in the Maker’s world that will deny you. That is the power you should use carefully. If your desires get in the way of our duty as Wardens it is that which you will need to curb.”
She nodded, and stepped back, tear stains running down her cheeks, smudging the dust on them.
“You will tell me if I am doing wrong, if I am going too far, won’t you, Alistair?” she said.
“I will, Neria,” he said, and leaned in and kissed her on the forehead.
She smiled, an innocent smile, a smile that spoke of trust and friendship, and for a moment Alistair thought he could learn to love her. Then his eye fell on her stomach, where an unmistakable stain that was not of tears, of something much more carnal, that she had shamelessly not wiped, was still visible and he knew that there could never be love between them.
“Come,” he said, shaking his head. “We need to catch up.”