Wednesday 6 September 2017

Chapter Sixteen: Pride and Shame, A Dragon Age Fanfic

Chapter Sixteen – Keeping the Faith

“Did you hear screaming? I thought I heard screaming.”

Alistair was on the last nightly watch, staring into the fire, when Leliana burst from her tent and accosted him. They had been on the road for five days since Lothering. A large band of darkspawn had attacked them as they were getting onto the Imperial Highway outside Lothering, but other than that they had not encountered the creatures. Bandits, yes – not a day had passed without a group of bandits trying to loot them, and ending up dead or injured for their trouble. Alistair suspected that at least some of the bandit groups were, in reality, assassins hired by Loghain or one of his cronies, but had no way of proving it.

The group was pushing in the general direction of Redcliffe, but Alistair had no idea whether that was actually their destination. Neria had been nervously restrained, talking little except to the dog. Morrigan only spoke in jibes, and Sten was as silently inscrutable as ever. That had left Alistair to mostly spend his time with Leliana.

The more he knew her, the more he liked her. She was charming and musical and for the most part, light-hearted – and an archer of fearsome ability. But when she felt no one was looking, he thought he saw her face settle into an expression of sorrow or regret, he could not tell which.

Right now the only expression on her face was of concern for Neria, though. Who had been screaming in her sleep.

“That would be our dear leader,” said Alistair. “She's dreaming.”

“She's screaming as if she saw the Archdemon!” said Leliana. Indeed, even Sten and Morrigan had emerged from their tents now. The Qunari's tend was to the right of Alistair's, while Leliana’s was on the opposite side of the campfire, but Morrigan had her own little camp, about forty yards away, with her own fire. If Morrigan had been woken up by the screaming, it was surely very loud. Mercifully the dog was away hunting. Alistair had a pretty good idea that if Biscuit thought his mistress was dying in her sleep, he would tear anyone within a hundred-yard radius to pieces.

“Technically, she just did,” said Alistair. “Anyway, it's Warden business. Let us alone for a bit, would you?”

The screaming had stopped, and Neria was emerging from her tent. She wore a flimsy white shift, but since it covered more than her fighting robe, it was a step towards modesty rather than away from it. Leliana stepped away, and Sten and Morrigan also returned to their tents as Alistair waved dismissively at them.

“Dreams, eh?” Alistair asked, trying to sound calm and steady.

“I saw…was that…,” her eyes were wide with horror.

“Big chap, rather like a overgrown lizard? Yes, that was the Archdemon. We all have the Darkspawn dreams, after the joining. They are worse during a Blight, for we can see the Archdemon as well. Some of the older wardens told me it is us, being able to, sort of, get into the Archdemon's mind.”

“So what I saw – the darkspawn assembling, that monstrous dragon - that was the horde preparing the leave the Deep Roads and march on Thedas?”

“Yes. On Ferelden first, of course, and the rest of Thedas later. That’s why this is a Blight, you know. In normal times, we see the ‘spawn, but that dragon – the Archdemon – well, it’s serious when it pops up.”


She sat down next to him. She had been sweating, which made the robe clung to her body rather fetchingly.

“Any other surprises I should know about?” she asked.

“A few. They aren't pleasant. Maybe we should let them be surprises?”

She narrowed her eyes at him.

“Right, um, well, yes, there's also the part about how most Wardens don't live to be very old. Thirty years after your joining, give or take five years, the dreams get worse and worse. Wardens then take off for the Deep Roads, a last suicide mission if you will, taking out as many of the 'spawn as they can before dying or becoming ghouls.”

“Nightmares, early death…wonderful. Any advantages as well, or is it all bad?”

“We can sense darkspawn. I suppose you had guessed that already though.”


“Your appetite. That will increase too. A lot.”

“For food?”

“For, ahem, everything, as far as I can tell.”

He watched as Neria processed the information. He had expected a much more vehement reaction, and somehow found himself feeling a little disappointed. She seemed to have read his thoughts though, for she responded,

“My appetite for sex has little space to increase anyway. As for a shortened life, an Elf in an alienage in Denerim is lucky to live to forty at best, Alistair. I daresay at the Circle I would have lived longer had I remained shut up in there with the rest of the scholars, but…if thirty years with the Wardens is what I have, I'll take it. Always assuming we aren't killed in our sleep by darkspawn or Loghain MacTir before that.”

“Speaking of which…,” Alistair started to his feet.

Even if she hadn't heard the sound of Biscuit barking frantically in the distance, the wheels of a caravan and the panicked cries, she would have known it was darkspawn. Somehow, she knew it; it was like a sharp prod in her temples, not painful, but insistent.

Biscuit emerged from the shadows, caught sight of Neria and Alistair, and stopped running and stood his ground, turning and barking some more. Morrigan and Leliana came running out in their nightclothes. Sten emerged moments later, wearing his armour.
The caravan rolled up first, and veered off the track, toppling over. Two dwarves leaped from it. Leliana's bow sang almost before Neria saw it – the first Genlock to emerge into the light of their fires fell to the ground clutching the arrow in its chest.
Morrigan had gathered her staff by now. She shot a hastening spell at Sten, who raced towards the Darkspawn, sword lifted. Alistair followed the Qunari, blade glowing red in the fire. Neria noted there were five darkspawn, a towering Hurlock leading them. She contemplated going for her staff but concluded she hadn't the luxury of time. At a snap of her fingers the blades of both Sten and Alistair lit up in flames.

Biscuit dashed off to the left and leaped onto a Genlock who was trying to nock an arrow to his bow, bringing him to the ground. Morrigan finished him off with an arcane bolt. A second Genlock's arrow hit Leliana on her unarmoured breast. Neria gasped and directed a healing spell at her, but she fell to ground, clutching the arrow in her hand. Alistair and Sten were surrounded, and fought with their back to each other. Biscuit evened the odds a little by tearing a large chunk out of the Hurlock's left calf. Alistair's sword plunged through its chest as it stumbled. Then Sten fell to the ground, a dagger plunged into his back. Morrigan's freezing spell prevented the Genlock who had wielded it from finishing the job. Biscuit mauled the Genlock archer who had injured Leliana, and Alistair decapitated it. Two Genlocks remained, one frozen solid. Neria focussed her energy through her hands at the one who was running towards her, ugly axe in his paw. She was feeling weak already, weak and overwhelmed. The dreams had been disturbing, but also draining in a way she had not realised until now.

The flames responded, as they always did, though. Beautiful, orange flames, burning in the 'spawn's face, making it scream. As it deserved. Just as it deserved.

Neria ran towards where Leliana was still moaning, the arrow sticking into the space below her left breast.

“Poisoned,” she gasped. “The arrow – poisoned.”

Alistair and Sten had finished off the last remaining darkspawn by then, but as Neria fell to her knees, that hardly seemed to matter. Leliana’s eyes had closed, and her breathing was already ragged.

Morrigan joined Neria, and together they dragged her to her tent.

“Is there anything you can do?” asked Neria.

“I’m no healer,” confessed Morrigan. “Mother could do save her, I’m sure, but…we’re at least eight days out from the Wilds, even assuming the way is clear of darkspawn.”

“The Tower,” said Neria. “We have to get her to the Circle Tower. Wynne can save her, Wynne is the finest Healer in Ferelden…”

Morrigan raised one eyebrow.

“If one leaves out your mother,” Neria added hastily.

“Did she make it back from Ostagar?” asked Alistair.

Neria’s heart stopped for a moment as she realised that this was a valid doubt – Wynne had been among the mages in the King’s army, and there was no way of knowing whether she had survived the slaughter in the valley. It was just that Neria had never even contemplated the possibility that the stern but kind old woman would not always be there, healing spells a-ready.

“I’m sure she did,” replied Neria. “Wynne is a tough old bird. Besides, there would be someone else. Anders, or Jeanne-Marie or someone. It’s our best bet. Let’s head there first…if nothing else, we have a treaty to enforce.”

“I won’t be setting foot inside the place,” said Morrigan. “But it does seem a practical course of action.”

“We will move with first light,” said Neria, as they stepped out of the tent. “Alistair, you and Biscuit head out a little and scout for any straggler darkspawn. Morrigan and I will remain here. How is Sten?”

“I am able to walk and fight,” came the Qunari’s disinterested voice.

“Good,” said Morrigan. “I hope you can do other things too.”

Neria sighed.

“Morrigan,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s not how you say it.”


“It’s all in the cadence of the voice. Pause after ‘do’ and say ‘other’ as if you got just a little breathless thinking about it.”

“I don’t need lessons on how to…” began Morrigan, but found herself at rather a loss for words as to explain what exactly it was she had been trying to do.

Neria chuckled a little in her mind. Seduction was all very fine, but brazenness was still something she was better at than anyone else, and she was proud of that.


“So who did you say you are?”

“Bodahn Feddic at your service, ma'am,” the older dwarf bowed low. “And this is my boy, Sandal. Say hello to the nice elf, Sandal. She saved our lives.”

“Hello,” the boy said vacantly.

Neria winced. The cut she had received was a glancing one, and while she had lost some blood, she was otherwise unharmed. It still smarted though, despite – or maybe because of - the ointment that Morrigan had applied. She would have applied a bandage to it, but there were matters that were even more urgent.

“And why did you lead the darkspawn to us?” she tried to sound stern, though the dwarf looked absolutely ridiculous in his grovelling.

“We swear by the ancestors we did no such thing!” said Bodahn, alarmed. “We were trying to get to Redcliffe when we saw the darkspawn gang running towards us. We tried to speed up, to get away with our caravan, but they were catching up. Finally, we…we saw the lights of your camp and headed for it, we thought, hoped, that there would be fighters here who could fight the creatures.”

Sandal winked at her and slobbered from the right side of his mouth.

“So effectively, you DID lead the horde to us!” said Morrigan testily, looking up. She had been tending Sten's wound. It was not as bad as it had looked initially, thanks to the fact that the Qunari had been wearing his armour.

“Not the horde, oh no, madam, oh no!” protested Bodahn. “Just a small band, and we were only escaping from them, my boy and me…”

Sandal now slobbered from the left side of his mouth and grinned.

“Her blood's on your head, then,” said Alistair gloomily.

It did not look good for Leliana, it was true. The arrow was lodged between her ribs and the blood loss had been considerable. She was still alive, but only just, as far as Neria could reckon.

“I don't think the Feddic's were deliberately trying to get us killed,” she said, sighing. She wanted someone to blame for what had happened, she really did. But she knew it was futile to find villains in the merchant and his clearly mentally deficient son. After all, if she had been Bodahn's position, making for the closest visible campfire would have been what she would have done too.

“There may be more of them out there,” said Morrigan. “Darkspawn. Now that this fool of a dwarf has made us into a beacon for passing Genlocks and Hurlocks….”

“Alistair and Biscuit are out there looking for exactly that,” pointed out Neria.

“Listen, I'm sorry,” the dwarf was saying, ignoring this little exchange between the two mages. “My boy, Sandal, he's a genius with enchantment, he can weave magic into your weapons and armour, he can. I can have him do it for you, no charge, none at all, is the least I owe you…”

“You mean like the Tranquil…?” Neria asked. The science of enchanting was rare in human society. Only mages who had been made Tranquil – had their connection to the fade and magic completely cut off – could actually work runes into weapons, armour and robes in such a way that the effect become permanent. She had heard that Dwarves, who naturally lacked a connection to the fade, also had the ability, but had never met a dwarf enchanter before. The Tranquil enchanters in the Tower were…creepy, as all Tranquil were, but also clearly possessed of extreme intelligence. That Sandal, who clearly had the brain of a four-year old child, could carry out enchantments was difficult to digest.

“He's better than any Tranquil enchanter, ma'am. His work is as good as any in Orzammar. Part of the reason me'n'him had to leave for the surface. The established merchants didn't much like that an upstart like me with a simple boy was producing such good work.”

“We have some runes,” said Neria excitedly. “Do you think you could…?”

“Of course, c'mere, Sandal.”

“Enchantment!” the boy exclaimed happily.

Neria dived inside her tent and came back holding the miniscule pieces of cloth that constituted the Holy Sisters. Sandal took it without a remark and disappeared towards the wagon. Morrigan, seeming rather disappointed that Neria had not burned both dwarfs alive, headed off towards her own tent.

She sank down onto the grass when they were out of eyeshot. Sten appeared to be sleeping peacefully, while Leliana's breathing was uneven. She had a fever. Neria did not need to place a hand on her forehead to know that. In a few hours, the wound would fester and in a day or two the infection would spread to her heart or liver and kill her.

Leliana, who had joined them because the Maker told her to. Who was so happy and fun, whose voice was like a nightingale’s, whose stories made eating even dinners cooked by Alistair tolerable. Was she going to be another casualty of the Warden's Quest, just like Daveth and Jory, and Cailan and Duncan and Maker-knew-how-many-others? Her head sank into her knees, and she sobbed.

“You should kill her and move on.”

Neria had not realised she had fallen asleep. It was dawn, and Sten's towering frame cast a shadow on her face. She raised her face to look into the Qunari's beady eyes.


“She is going to die anyway. Carrying her with us will only slow us down. Knife her. Or I will.”

“Do not – don't be ridiculous,” said Neria, angrily getting to her feet. “What if it was you who was badly injured?”

“Then I would be very disappointed if you did not leave me behind,” Sten said, face expressionless. “The injured have no place in the Beresaad, or on a scouting mission. Or whatever this is.”

“That might be how the Qunari go about their lives, but not the Grey Wardens!” said Neria angrily.

Sten shrugged and walked away. Neria continued to stare angrily at his back, for all the good that did her. The Qunari had proved a tough nut to crack, as stoic and unfathomable as ever. Neria was unsure how to feel about him. That he was an asset in battle was indisputable. But she never knew what he was thinking, and that disturbed her. He was, after all, a male, and she expected to have been able to figure him out by now. At the very least, he should have tried to get her in his bed. She had a serious doubt whether it would be physically possible for her to actually have intercourse with Sten, given that Qunari were supposed to be as proportionately well-endowed in their loins as elsewhere, though. Morrigan, on the other hand, had been literally throwing herself at Sten and yet he seemed unmoved. They were probably well-suited for each other anyway. Both seemed pretty heartless.

That was not something you could say about Leliana, though. Neria had seen little of the world, but she knew that overt piety was not always the same as being truly good. Leliana was ‘good’. She never passed a refugee wagon without sharing some meat or singing a song for the children. She never passed an animal in the woods without stopping to see if it would let her play with it. Oddly enough, the animals almost always allowed Leliana to come close to them, even the wilder creatures and especially the birds.

She returned to the tent where Leliana lay, shivering in her sleep. A pretty face, surely. Morrigan had more classical features probably, and Neria had no false modesty when it came to her own attractions, but Leliana – Leliana was pretty. She had lips ready to smile, bright eyes and a button-like nose that twitched when she was excited. So yes, Neria realised she liked Leliana, liked her a lot and wanted her to live so they could be friends, and braid each other's hair and talk about cats and learn how to sing and all those other things that she had never known because she did not have a female friend. All she had had growing up was Jowan, and in Leliana she had seen a glimpse of what a sister must be like. But Leliana needed magical healing, and fast…


“You need to dress the wound if you're going to keep her alive.”

Neria nodded stupidly. They had been going for a while, with Leliana lying on a litter in the back of the Feddic’s wagon. Morrigan had cleaned the wound and applied a bandage to it, but the blood was soaking through again. Neria had managed to determine the poison used to infect Leliana and soaked a poultice in what she hoped would be the correct antidote before applying it to the wound. It had eased the shivering and seemed to have regularised her breathing somewhat too, but the fever was still there and the wound would bleed through every so often. They had stopped to allow a train of refugee wagons to pass, and Neria and Morrigan had clambered onto the wagon to take a look at their comrade.

“It's a good thing Alistair is not here,” Neria muttered to herself as she unfastened Leliana’s robes. “He'd have cried to see the wound across such perfection.”

Leliana's breasts were, certainly, well-deserving of the compliment. Neria subdued the pang of jealousy that had begun to take shape in her mind and concentrated on the healing spell to stem further bleeding.

“I did wonder if they were real,” said Morrigan, sounded as disinterested as if he had been discussing a horse's teeth or a cat's fur.

“Well they are real, and they are spectacular,” said Neria, “And let us hope they will consider to bring the world…uhh…joy.”

“You, dwarf! You have clean sheets?” called out Morrigan.

“Yes, yes, Miss. At once, Bodahn Feddic at your service.”

The dwarf went over his fallen wagon and came back a while later with the sheets. Neria used one to cover Leliana and then wrapped the rest around her to keep her warm.

“Just so you know, dwarf?” said Morrigan, stepping down from the wagon. “I still think we should be skinning you alive first and then roasting you over a fire!”

“Your mother seems to have inculcated some delightful culinary habits in you, Morrigan,” said Alistair pleasantly, drawing near them. “But personally I find roast dwarf to be rather grisly for my taste.”

The Woods Witch continued to glower at the Dwarf, but added nothing,

“No sign of the Darkspawn. I can only guess they were following the merchant's caravan for a while, breaking away from the main horde. Hopefully we will have an uninterrupted ride the rest of the way to Lake Calenhad. How are our ailing?”

“Sten and I are fine,” said Neria. “Leliana is in bad shape though, worse than I can heal. I've bought her a few days, my spell should hold the wound from festering.”

A worried expression crossed Alistair's face. He got up and went over to look towards where the injured redhead lay. Neria looked hard at him. She had seen Alistair's gaze linger on Leliana more than once since they had started traveling together. She had a sense that it should not bother her, but perhaps it did. Just a little. Not much.

“Is there no other way but going to the Tower itself?” asked Alistair.

Neria felt the other two had their eyes on her. Even the dwarf merchant was looking at her funny.

“I thought we agreed on this.”

“Didn't the Templars declare you apostate?” pointed out Alistair.

“We have a treaty, don't we? The Grey Warden treaty?” Neria sighed, taking a sip of the ale Bodahn had poured out. “If it's the only way to save Leliana, I'll risk being declared apostate. We are only going for healing, not to demand their allegiance. At least, not yet.”

Biscuit barked approval.

“I suppose we don’t have a lot of choices anyway,” said Morrigan. “And until we find another archer we do need the pious little hypocrite.”

“Wynne is our best chance at saving Leliana. Or Anders,” said Neria, not reacting to Morrigan. That was the best way to deal with her, anyway. “And neither of them will care if I'm apostate or not. And much as Gregoir dislikes me, First Enchanter Irving won't let him clap me into prison.”

“So we persist in this folly, then?” said Sten, looming over them.

“Yes, we persist in our attempts to save a woman whose arrows have saved all our lives more than once, Sten,” said Neria, bristling.

“All right, calm down,” said Alistair. “What about the dwarves?”

“Oh, we're coming with you. Can't think of a safer place to be than around you chaps,” Bodahn showed his teeth in what he probably thought was in ingratiating smile. “And my boy still has to finish work on your robes.”

“Great. More dead weight!” muttered Morrigan.

“Not those robes, Miss. They’re lighter than a feather,” said Bodahn.

“I didn’t mean robes, you dim-witted block of wood,” growled Morrigan.

The last refugee caravan had passed them. With a deep sigh, Neria scampered to the front of the wagon. She had had quite enough of Morrigan for the present.

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