Author: Supaslim PM
Derek Cousland had his life wrenched away from him in the course of a single night, replaced by suffering, guilt, and the bite of sharp steel. All that is left for him is to do penance as a Grey Warden, and find his forgiveness. angst, hurt/comfort, etcRated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Adventure - Cousland - Chapters: 14 - Words: 86,947 - Reviews: 20 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 04-17-11 - Published: 01-16-11 - id: 6660536
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The journey to Denerim was seven days on the West Road. They were joined on the third day by the dwarf Bodahn Feddic and his son Sandal, who came up behind them in their mule-drawn cart with great cheer.
"Ho there, friends!" Bodahn greeted them cordially, waving with one thick-fingered hand. All six of the Warden party hesitated and looked back (Morrigan had vanished some time earlier, though a familiar hawk soared above them), even Byron. Until then, they had been traveling in grave silence. With Alistair and Derek both constantly brooding, there could be no frivolity during their trip. Every time a conversation picked up, it would die awkwardly when an attempt was made to include either of the Wardens. Other times, Alistair would snappishly make a comment that turned the discussion sour. After that, it would be dropped. Even Morrigan knew that their travels would be far more miserable if they were all angry with each other.
Not that there was no animosity among them. Leliana and Morrigan openly disliked each other, and in all their conversations, put down the other's life choices. Jowan, who barely knew any of them and wanted nothing to do with the Blight, kept to himself, occasionally glancing up and finding Alistair coldly staring at him. Alistair also turned that glare on Derek, several times each hour. It was no mystery why he was upset with the tired young man. Derek, who had barely slept at all since his Joining, was too heedless to notice. As for Sten… He spoke to no one, and rarely did anyone try to speak to him. Only Derek seemed to trust him. He trusted him enough, in fact, to let him lead the party when he realized his mind kept drifting as he walked, and he was having trouble concentrating. Alistair had sneered, but nobody argued as the qunari took the lead and Derek slowly drifted to the rear, trudging heavily and stumbling over protruding roots and stones.
So when Bodahn appeared in the dreary afternoon chill of the third day, he found them to be a quiet, grim, and weary bunch. Byron, glad to finally see a smiling face, bounded alongside the cart, grinning and panting.
"It's good to see you again," Derek said blandly, eyes dull and rimmed with purple crescents.
"And you as well, ser," the dwarf replied, taking a closer look at Derek and his mismatched cluster of companions. They were all a bit worse for the wear, that was certain, but their leader was like a dead man walking. Still, it would be safer with them than traveling alone. "Do you mind if I travel with your lot for a ways?"
"Oh, please do," Leliana blurted quickly. Living in the chantry, she had grown to love the quiet, but this was a noisy silence, cluttered with stress and negative energy. She was sure having Bodahn Feddic and Sandal around could lighten the mood, if only slightly. She glanced hopefully back at Derek, who was blinking owlishly and rubbing his stubble. He looked a lot younger without his beard, Leliana mused. How old was he, anyhow?
"Yes, that would be fine," Derek allowed inattentively, still scratching at his cheek and chin.
"That's grand!" Bodahn declared, maintaining his buoyant personality in spite of the unsmiling faces staring at him. "And if you'd be so kind as to let me and my boy share a camp with you tonight, I'd be glad to offer you a special discount on my wares," he continued, a twinkle in his eye.
"Enchantment!" Sandal added cheerfully.
"Yes, of course."
Immediately, Leliana joined Byron alongside the mule cart.
"Are you from Orzammar, ser? Do you have any good stories?..."
Leliana managed to keep the conversation going until the road became familiar. They were nearing Lothering, and signs were beginning to appear that suggested something awful had been this way. The raised stone road was stained with dark blood, long dry but still pungent. Flies congregated around the smears, clouding the air. Derek grimaced, trying not to let the smell of blood get to him. The herbal scent of his kaddis had long since faded, and could no longer mask the reek that sent him into unpleasant flashbacks.
"The darkspawn have been through here," Alistair remarked when the first tangible evidence was discovered- a Hurlock mace, crude and bestial in design and marred with rust and more flaking blood. It had apparently been dropped at the roadside, lost as the dark army passed that way.
They were on guard as they continued, the Wardens and Warden-companions encircling the merchant cart. Their hands rested on their weapons, twitching at the slightest noise. It was too quiet; the birds did not sing, and there were more and more traces of darkspawn on the road: more weapons, discarded armor, and the occasional corpse of a bled-out Genlock or Hurlock.
And then, the trees vanished, and the road opened up into the vast clearing where the town of Lothering once stood. In its place was a razed expanse of rubble and ashy fields. Smoke still rose from the smoldering remains of the windmill. And amidst the destruction, there was movement.
"Stay here, Bodahn," Derek commanded, drawing his weapons and descending the steps that led off the road. His companions followed; he heard the song of steel vacating scabbards. The roaming darkspawn heard it, too- several ghoulish faces turned their way, acid yellow eyes bulging as they abandoned whatever they were doing to charge at the humans, qunari, and war hound.
They met the darkspawn head-on: Sten and Alistair led, their swords powerfully arcing in graceful diagonals to slay a pair of hurlocks with warhammers. Derek and Leliana sped past them while they freed their weapons to perform their deadly dance. The Orlesian was, at this point, infinitely more graceful in her comparatively well-rested state, but Derek was still effective. Together, they demolished a group of genlocks armed with mismatched melee weapons, hamstringing them and stabbing through their throats and armpits when they fell forward. One fell onto his own weapon, sparing them the effort. Through it all, Byron was leaping about, snapping at heels and throats with abandon, and Jowan was casting a plethora of spells using the staff he had "borrowed" from the dwarf's wares.
Out of nowhere, a massive spider lumbered onto the field, and began gnashing at the revolting foes with its fangs and pedipalps, its globular golden eyes shining coldly. So Morrigan had decided to make an appearance. As Derek watched, she crushed two darkspawn grunts with her weight alone, and caught another in her powerful fangs.
And then, Derek stumbled. It had been a long time coming, considering his fatigue and compromised vision, but it couldn't have happened at a worse time. Almost on top of him was an unusually brawny hurlock, clad in jagged plate armor and swinging the biggest mace the Warden had ever seen in his life. But before he could dodge or block, he was falling face-first into the ashes of what had previously been a field of barley, and the mace was coming down towards him at an alarming rate. He stared blankly as it neared, and then suddenly, it stopped in midair. Confused, Derek's eyes sluggishly traced the weapon to the arms holding it to find them encased in a sheet of ice. And then, arms were hooking under his, dragging him to his feet and hauling him away from a new group of approaching genlocks. Coming to his senses, Derek looked over to see Jowan dragging him along, panicked as he kept his eyes fixed on the opposition. As the Warden watched, his recruit let off another volley of lightning, which jumped hungrily from one armored genlock to another, immobilizing them all long enough for Alistair, Leliana, and Sten to take care of them.
Seeing that the situation there was handled, Jowan let go of Derek and turned to help Morrigan handle a knot of hurlocks nearby. The witch had changed her form from a spider to a bear, and was clawing viciously at the enemies with her huge claws. Derek watched numbly as the two mages obliterated the darkspawn without injury. He had fallen. He would have died, if Jowan hadn't frozen the Hurlock when he did. He was clumsy. Clumsy and weak and useless.
And a child-killer, that loathed voice in the pit of his skull reminded him quietly. First Oren, now Connor… You are failing in your quest, Warden. You will make no atonement for your sins by tripping like a fool in battle. You need to do better.
"I need to do better," Derek repeated hollowly as the last darkspawn fell and his companions approached, various expressions of confusion, concern, and irritation on their faces.
"I saw you fall," Leliana said when she was suitably close, wiping her twin daggers with a filthy cloth she kept tucked away in her armor. "Are you alright?"
"It won't happen again," Derek replied quietly, turning and wiping his blurred eye with the back of one hand in a way that blocked her view of his face, and vice versa. Unwilling to dwell on the subject, the Cousland instead called out to the blood mage that had saved his life.
"Jowan!" The mage had been avidly talking to (or, perhaps at) Morrigan. At the sound of his name, however, the apostate snapped to attention, looking instinctively guilty and a little afraid. "You make a good battle mage. You'll do well as a Warden." Jowan murmured a 'thanks' before turning quickly back to the witch, intent on interrogating her more about her shapeshifting, but she was already sidling away.
Then, Derek turned his tired eyes to Alistair and Sten. The qunari regarded him with an expression as enigmatic as ever, but he thought he detected a hint of disdain in that piercing crimson stare. Alistair only scowled, and pushed roughly past him. Connor's death had not been forgotten in the skirmish.
"Well," Derek started, looking at Sten and then glancing around at his scattering group, "we may as well camp here for the night." If Morrigan, Jowan, and Alistair heard him, they did not acknowledge him. He bit his lip, feeling very much alone. Sten, however, nodded, and went off to find the best place in the decimated village to pitch their tents and start a campfire.
"You're bleeding," Leliana's voice started suddenly, making him jump. He had forgotten she was there, and had been spacing out where he stood, eyes unfocused. Gently, she took his left arm in her hands, examining a clean slash on the back of it, above his bracer. Now that she had pointed it out, the wound did hurt; he hadn't noticed it before because everything else ached, too. Pursing his lips, he gingerly tugged his arm free. "That needs to be cleaned and bandaged," Leliana objected, but he was already shaking his head and walking away.
"I can do it." And do it, he did, gritting his teeth as he poured water over the wound and wrapped it tightly under bandages one-handed. The others sitting at the fire did not offer to help, for which he was grateful. Now that he had fallen- shown irrefutable weakness- he didn't want to cement the idea by accepting aid, even if it would make the task easier. Only Byron objected to his masochism, whining as he sat next to Derek and nudged him with his massive head. After the bandage had been tied, he sighed, and wearily scratched the mabari's ears. It seemed like all eyes were on him; Sten was scrutinizing him coolly, Leliana watched him with pity, and Jowan kept glancing over as if wondering why the others were staring. Only Alistair would not stare, and the complete absence of his gaze made it obvious that he was actively ignoring the other Warden. In silence, they picked at the last of the venison that Sten still carried.
"I'll go do business with Bodahn Feddic, then," stated Derek when he had finished off the chunk of meat, uncomfortable. Nearby, the dwarf had his own fire set up, and he and Sandal were busily reorganizing the contents of their cart. Their mule was grazing in a patch of unscorched meadow a short distance away. The elder dwarf looked up from his goods when he saw Derek approaching.
"Ah! I was wondering when you would make your way over," he said with a friendly smile. "Is there anything I can interest you in? A staff for your young mage, perhaps? I have a good selection for you, and with that discount I mentioned earlier, you'll get them at a steal…"
The next half-hour or so was spent haggling. To Bodahn he sold quite a deal, including the handful of spare weapons his party had picked up along their journey, some salves and potions he doubted they would ever use, trap parts, and odds and ends that had found their way into their packs- an iron ring, a bundle of vellum, a tarnished silver bowl. With the gold from the sale, Derek purchased a decent staff and new set of robes for Jowan, and more bandages for his medical pouch.
"Fantastic doing business with you," Bodahn told him graciously as he finally took his leave, slightly richer and with hands full of mage gear. Quickly, he dumped them off on Jowan, who had left the fire and was now wandering towards a tent.
"Here," Derek muttered, forcing the robes and staff into the startled apostate's hands. "The robes will enhance your primal magic- or, that's what the dwarf told me. I can't tell," he admitted. "At the very least, you won't look like you don't belong outside of the Circle anymore."
"Er- thank you," Jowan stuttered. "I-"
"It's nothing," Derek cut him off, quickly turning away from the flustered mage, who gazed gratefully after the Warden.
The rest of the evening was spent sitting at the fire, for Derek, if only to stay warm. When he came near, Alistair abruptly excused himself, but the lay sister gave him a look that made him reconsider and sink disgruntled back into a crouch. Leliana then tried to lighten the mood with a story, but somehow the grisly tale of Lady Aveline did little to raise spirits. If nothing else, it brought Jowan traipsing back to listen. They weren't told stories in the tower, so much as force-fed anecdotes of what happened to mages that misbehaved.
Eventually, Sten left the fire, followed quickly by Alistair, who had been itching to put space between himself and Derek for some time. Jowan stayed a while longer, listening enraptured to Leliana's tales, while Derek himself just stared into the fire, now and then nodding off only to awaken with a start as he was immediately pelted with images of Oren and the Archdemon.
He awoke around midnight as Jowan was leaving to sleep, mumbling about the templar making him share a tent with him, to make sure he didn't try anything. Leliana was watching him sleep, solemn, her arms wrapped around her knees. He watched her back through bloodshot, bleary eyes, silently begging her not to say anything. She didn't, and he was grateful.
"I'll take first watch," she said at long last, as he was drifting off again, in spite of himself. "Sleep."
And he tried, he really did, but the next several hours were spent tossing and turning fruitlessly in his bedroll by the fire. Just as he would finally pass into the Fade, he would be bombarded by his dead nephew and his new companion Connor, or alternately, the fury of the Archdemon. And then, as if in self-defense against a foe it barely knew, his body would force itself awake with a jolt, covered in a cold sweat and shaking uncontrollably.
He couldn't see past the light of the fire, however, to notice Leliana watching him still, deep in the shadows where she kept her watch. She frowned, concerned, as he writhed and whimpered and repeatedly woke up after only scant minutes asleep. She watched as he tried to control his breathing, tried to forget his nightmares and find rest, but the cycle only repeated itself. When he did sleep, it was light, and he cried out often. There were words mixed in; names scattered throughout the unintelligible murmurs. She heard Connor's name, but more often, the name "Oren" came up. And always, always, he was apologizing. It made her feel physically ill. She didn't have the heart to wake him, though; even if it was filled with nightmares, he needed every second of sleep he could get.
More than once, between bouts of fitful sleep, he sat up in his bedroll, carefully watching a point off to his side as if he had seen something there. He rocked while he did this, hugging himself and slowly swaying forward and back as his wide eyes focused anxiously on that nothingness.
Towards the end of her watch, he seemed to give up trying to sleep, instead poking wearily at the fire and throwing more wood on it. He would sigh, and rub his eye, and look back over his shoulder at the offending spot off to the side, and then return to stirring the embers. Eventually, he rose, put on the few pieces of armor he had removed, and wandered away from the fire.
"Leliana," he called quietly, and she sidled over to join him, pretending she hadn't just been watching him. He started when she came silently and suddenly from the night, but instantly relaxed, breath leaving him with a rattle. "I'll take your watch. Go sleep."
"Are you… sure?" She asked hesitantly. She had known he was tired- it couldn't be more obvious- but she didn't realize how little sleep he was actually getting.
"Go sleep," Derek repeated more firmly. She gave him an indecipherable look, invisible in the dark, but did not move.
"I'm not tired. I'll keep watch with you." She didn't trust him to keep watch alone. Not having seen how he tossed and turned, and definitely not after his strange episodes of staring off at invisible intruders.
Derek furrowed his brow at her declaration, but decided not to argue it. He didn't quite trust himself, either.
Morning came what felt like eons later. After a few more hours at the post, Leliana had insisted they both retire, and she went to wake Alistair. He relieved them with a sleepy, grouchy Jowan at his side; he had woken the mage with a rough jab of his toe. The lay sister gladly took their tent, flopping down and falling asleep almost instantly. Derek found himself jealous, sitting exhausted but restless at their fire. He sat there long enough to see Sten take over for the templar and the mage, and long enough to see Morrigan, Leliana, and Byron wake up and stretch outside the tents. They all seemed energized, ready to go, but he felt utterly drained. He couldn't have had more than forty minutes of sleep that night, less than he had gotten the night before… And now, Oren wasn't just plaguing his dreams. Now and again, out of the corner of his eye, he would see a figure roughly the size and shape of a young boy, with dark intestines hanging from his gut. Each time, Derek would panic, and turn to look, but then Oren would vanish and leave his uncle too terrified to look away, lest he appear again.
He wondered if the others could see the ghost, too, or if it was only him. Oren only appeared when nobody else seemed to be paying attention, lurking off to his left, a grim reminder of what Derek had done… or had failed to do. Each time he appeared, he seemed to be a tiny bit closer, a tiny bit clearer… The Cousland soon discovered that time was still taking its toll on the boy; his flesh decayed and fell glistening from bone, his intestines shredded from dragging on the ground. His eyes were foggy, but ever fixed on Derek. He half expected the boy to come strangle him with his own entrails if he dared ignore him. He did not dare. The ghost frightened him.
They tore down camp at dawn. They were on the road again less than an hour later, Bodahn Feddic and Sandal still following the group in their cart. They didn't talk, but Leliana did sing along the way, gracing them with her pleasant voice. Morrigan scoffed when she finished once song only to begin another, and wandered off to travel on her own. Jowan looked longingly after her, as if he wished he could come with the beautiful witch, but a firm glare from a still cranky Alistair kept him in line.
Sometime around noon, Byron broke the monotony by grabbing Jowan's staff in his massive jaws and romping triumphantly with it. Clearly, he was fed up with the silence and gloom, too- he wanted to play. Yelping in dismay, the mage chased after the mabari, hands outstretched. Grinning, Byron circled back around the cart, and then pushed past his master, Jowan on his tail. Derek was surprised to note that the mage was actually smiling as he tried to retrieve the wooden stave.
"Come back here, you mutt! Give that back!" he laughed.
Somehow, in the commotion, Alistair and Derek ended up walking side by side. It took a moment before they both realized it. Derek said nothing, only met Alistair's eyes with his own plaintive gaze. The bastard glowered, and sped up again, going to berate Jowan for getting too far ahead, though he was still behind Sten, who was stoically ignoring them all. Jowan had finally gotten his staff back, and was now patting Byron on the head. Both looked… happy. It would be a shame to ruin that. Derek sighed.
"Alistair, stop- just quit harassing Jowan, please?" It was the first time all day that Derek had voiced an order, and the senior Warden actually turned to face him.
"What's this? Are you done patting yourself on the back for your accomplishments at Redcliffe, now? Feel the need to start ordering people around again?" Leliana and Bodahn glanced anxiously at the pair, aware of the sizzling tension between them. Jowan wisely moved to the other side of the merchant's cart, putting it between him and the two swordsmen.
"Please, Alistair-" The frustration mounted quickly, and Derek rubbed his temples against the ache behind them.
"Well, asking nicely certainly won't make me want to obey you any more than before!" Alistair continued, voice rising to a shout. "Look at what a fine leader you've been! Dragging us to and fro, putting ourselves and others in needless danger, killing children-"
"Then you lead!" Derek snarled, violently opening his pack and tearing through it before coming up with the treaties. He threw them at Alistair's feet, shocking him. "You lead, if you think you can do better! Maker knows- oh, Maker knows I wanted nothing to do with the Grey Wardens when this all started and I want nothing to do with them now!" With that, the Warden threw his bedroll to the ground, kicking it open and then searching through his pack until he emerged triumphantly with a vial of brown liquid.
"I don't- What are you doing?" A stunned Alistair asked quietly, tearing his horrified gaze away from the bundle of scrolls at his boots.
"I'm sleeping" Derek hissed manically. "I'm laying here for however long it takes, and I'm sleeping. Damn it all, I'll brain myself with a rock if it means I can lose consciousness for more than five minutes. Why, did you have other plans for me, fearless leader?" Derek drew his sword and approached the templar, who began to draw his own in retaliation, but then Derek was holding out his own weapon, hilt first, to him. "Do you want to kill me? I won't struggle," he confided, proffering the sword more urgently. Disgusted, Alistair shoved him roughly away, and Derek fell backwards to the ground.
"You've gone mad," The templar muttered, eyes wide as he backed away from the Cousland. "Totally mad." This seemed to sober Derek instantly. He sat up, pulled in his legs, and with a shaking arm, dragged his sword closer to his body.
"I'm just tired," he whispered, eyes downcast and lingering on the Cousland sword. A few small scratches from its impact with the gravely road marred the plane of its broad side. He stroked the marks with two fingers, and rubbed his injured eye with the other hand. "I'm so tired." And Oren was there again, waiting for his opening. Slowly, Derek turned his head to look, and his nephew vanished. The other members of his party followed his line of sight, trying to see what he was looking at, but nothing was there.
All of a sudden, a bolt of white light shot into Derek. He jolted slightly, and then slumped. Alistair snapped his head towards the source; Jowan was cowering behind Bodahn's cart, staff in hand.
"I only knocked him unconscious, it's not blood magic!" He said hurriedly, seeing the rage on Alistair's face. "I thought- we thought," he amended, gesturing to Leliana, who was sternly watching the templar, "that he would be easier to handle this way." At Alistair's continued scowl, he added grumpily- "It's better than him braining himself with a rock, anyway."
"He's completely lost it!"
"He hasn't slept in days, Alistair," Leliana said coldly, "which you might have noticed if you weren't throwing this temper tantrum!"
"Blight nightmares…?" His own nightmares had been becoming more frequent, but they didn't keep him chronically awake.
"Regular nightmares," she corrected him. "About Connor, and somebody named Oren. He's already tormented by what he had to do at Redcliffe. Do you need to make it worse for him?"
"Oh," said Alistair simply, feeling horribly foolish and humiliated. That Derek might hate himself for what he had had to do… it hadn't occurred to him. Now that he thought about it, he only felt more like an arse. "Oh."
"Er," Bodahn interrupted, "seeing as you've all been so accommodating to me and my boy, here, you're welcome to stow the young ser away in my cart until he awakens."
"Thank you," Leliana said stiffly, still glowering at Alistair, who was now bending sheepishly down to pick up the treaties. "Sten, would you kindly…?" Together with the silent qunari, she hoisted their unconscious leader up and into the back of the cart, carefully positioning him so he wasn't on top of anything pointy or sharp. Then, she gathered up his belongings and placed them in the cart next to him.
If at all possible, their journey was even more awkward without Derek walking moodily along behind them. Leliana was furious with Alistair for being so childish, and he was too humiliated to socialize with any of them- he even left Jowan alone.
They only spoke again several hours later, when an elf in tattered clothes ran up to them. Overturned carts were visible further down the road, but anything else was hidden behind a steep hill. Something was off, and it was obvious to everyone. Bodahn Feddic and his cart fell back, and Leliana took her bow from her back.
"Oh, thank the Maker!" she exclaimed, deciding Alistair looked like the leader and falling to his feet, grabbing his boots and looking up at him teary-eyed. "We need help! They attacked the wagon; please help us!"
He stared at her, flabbergasted, but suddenly a huge eagle plummeted from the sky and landed on her, tearing at her face and neck with its talons and hooked beak. A moment later, Morrigan stood in its place, slashing open the elf's throat with a wickedly curved knife.
"'Tis an ambush," She explained simply, seeing the horror on both the templar's and the lay sister's faces. "Enemies lie in wait ahead. I would recommend waking the other Warden. There are six of them at the very least."
"We can manage six," Alistair protested guiltily, not looking forward to speaking with Derek. Leliana scoffed.
"It is that kind of arrogance that will get us all killed!" She then spun on one heel and went back to shake Derek roughly awake. He blinked owlishly, and then clambered away from her, startled by her close proximity. Then he recognized her, realized that she wasn't Oriana. Glancing around, he noticed that Oren was nowhere in sight. And he felt… he felt rested. He had had nightmares, yes, but he hadn't woken up. But when, exactly, had he fallen asleep?
"Quickly," the redhead was telling him. "There are enemies ahead- soldiers, or bounty hunters. We need you."
"Yes, very well," he acquiesced, "But you will explain to me why I was asleep in the back of a mule cart after we're done." Still a little wobbly from just waking, he carefully rose from the back of the cart, checking that his weapons were there before he drew them. His hands weren't shaking. He actually felt good.
Alistair said nothing as Derek joined the rest, furiously rubbing at his left eye again. It just didn't seem to get better, that blurriness.
"Let's meet them, then," he said to his group, and led the way towards the carts. He kept a sharp eye out as they slowly approached. "A trap, there," he said quietly, nodding his head towards a claw trap barely concealed in the grass. "And another behind it." The second was a tripwire rigged to explosives hidden in some shrubs. "These are no ordinary soldiers."
His suspicions were confirmed when they finally entered the clearing, and there was a sudden shout and the groan of shifting timber. Derek looked up to see a huge log falling towards him, and leapt forward, tumbling clear of the impact. A glance around showed that his companions had also made it through unscathed. The tree, however, blocked their retreat. This had been thoroughly planned.
Looking quickly forward again, he saw a golden-haired elven man step forward, his fair face tattooed on one side and a pair of exotic twin daggers in his hands. He smirked cruelly as he motioned at the traveling party. At his signal, several more warriors appeared from hiding places in wagons, behind rocks, and under bushes.
"The Wardens die here!"
And then, all hell broke loose. The elf's fighters dashed forward, met by the Wardens. Only one was quick to fall; one of Leliana's arrows was sticking haphazardly from her throat. She gurgled and fell. The others were not so easy to dispose of, however. They had clearly been well trained. They moved with more grace than Derek had ever been able to manage, easily dodging and reposting with vigor. Alistair suffered a gash under his jaw, a little too close to his throat for comfort. Suddenly much more serious about his opponent, he lashed out unexpectedly with his kite shield rather than his blade, snapping the elf's thin neck like a twig.
Sten was positively tearing through the elves. They were only half his height, and perhaps a third his weight. With his plate armor and superior strength, they were no match for him. At some point, he slung Asala over his shoulder and began lunging at them with his bare hands. The additional agility the weaponless attack offered him let him catch two assailants, slamming their heads together and killing them both.
At the rear, Leliana, Jowan, and Morrigan were busy picking off a row of archers and mages situated opportunely on the ridge above them. It was no wonder this particular valley had been chosen; the favor was with the ambushers. However, they had not counted on there being quite so many companions with the two Wardens, let alone ranged fighters. Between the three of them, they made short work of the foes.
The going was not so easy for Derek. Byron, at the start f the skirmish, had lunged forward and seized the leader by his leg, but the elf only growled right back and slashed at the mabari's flank with his dagger. Byron had yelped, but held on, earning another stab to his shoulder. Then, the dog had released, whimpering and falling back. Enraged, Derek had charged forward.
"Nobody hurts my mabari," he snarled as he locked blades with the elf, who was surprisingly strong and easily held him off. He grinned, and sidestepped, causing Derek to fall forward-
DO NOT FALL, the inner voice snarled, and he caught his balance, then spun, his daggers slashing towards the elf's calves. His assailant, however, was fleet-footed, and the blades only sliced through his fine leather boots.
"Agh!" The elf cried out, as if it had been his flesh that had been marred. "These are my favorite boots!" With the same indignation Derek had shown over Byron, he bared his teeth and went on the offense, stabbing and slashing with incredible speed. In a matter of seconds, he had sliced open Derek's skin in more than one place, drawing blood and crippling muscle.
Mabaris, however, do not give up. Considering his foreign accent, Derek wasn't sure if his foe had encountered enough members of the Ferelden breed to understand this. If not, it was made painfully clear when Byron returned, and lunged powerfully onto the elf's back, forcing him down onto the ground. Still, he wriggled, cursing in his native tongue and buffeting Byron's teeth away from his neck.
"Byron, no," Derek commanded, before crouching down by the elf and bashing him on the head with the pommel of his sword. He went immediately limp. Byron looked at Derek, confused. "Stay there. He might be faking it."
There were only two elves left, both looking increasingly alarmed. They had drawn blood from some of the Warden party, but none were seriously injured. With all of them focusing on just the two, it was a matter of seconds before they were overpowered, and the fight was over.
"I'm going to go disarm the traps," Derek said, shifting back into his leadership as if the last few days had never happened. "Jowan, would you watch the elf and let me know when he wakes up? Everybody else, loot what you want before we fetch the dwarves.
"Loot? Isn't that… immoral?" Jowan asked, standing over the elf and looking very confused as Alistair and Sten began to search the pockets of the dead and evaluate weapons.
"This coming from the blood mage," the templar said under his breath. Jowan got no further response.
Several minutes later, and all the traps had been disarmed and dismantled, and Derek had retrieved Bodahn Feddic. The dwarf had looked very worried, and relieved at the sight of them all. It wasn't so much that he was concerned for them, Derek suspected, that he was afraid that the assailants would turn on him when they were finished with the Wardens.
He had just finished leading Bodahn and Sandal in their cart around the obstruction the ambushers had put in place when Jowan was crying out for him.
"He's awake, ser!"
"Excuse me," Derek muttered to Bodahn, before descending the steep slope of the ridge and joining the rest of his group. Indeed, the elf was stirring. Byron was no longer sitting on him, however; in his absence, somebody had taken it upon him- or herself to disarm the unconscious elf and bind his arms behind him. He strained at them for a moment as he came to, but quickly relaxed when he realized what was going on.
"Mmm… what? I… oh," he groaned. "I rather thought I would wake up dead. Or not wake up at all, as the case may be. But I see you haven't killed me yet."
"That could be easily rectified." Derek did not like the elf. Perhaps it was just bias, however- being nearly killed and having your dog stabbed at did that to a person.
"Of that I have no doubt. You are most skilled. If you haven't killed me, however, you must have kept me alive for some purpose, yes?"
"You seem awfully glib for a prisoner." He didn't like it one bit. He wanted the elf to be afraid for his life, not facetious and forward.
"Haha, it is my way, or so I am told. Let's see, then. I assume you kept me alive to ask me some questions, yes? If so, let me save you some time and get right to the point. My name is Zevran. Zev to my friends. I am a member of the Antivan Crows, brought here for the sole purpose of slaying any surviving Grey Wardens. Which I have failed at, sadly." Derek's eye twitched at the last word. This Zevran had nerve. Disgruntled, the Cousland raised his dagger and rested the point against the assassin's throat.
"Who hired you to kill us?" With the news that he was an Antivan Crow, it could only be a few people. That particular order of assassins was good, very good, but equally expensive. The only ones with a vendetta against the Wardens who could possibly afford it were Rendon Howe, and…
"A rather taciturn fellow in the capital. Loghain, I think his name was? Yes, that's it." As suspected.
"Does that mean you're loyal to Loghain?"
"I have no idea what his issues are with you. The usual, I imagine. You threaten his power, yes? Beyond that, no, I'm not loyal to him. I was contracted to perform a service."
"When were you supposed to see him next?"
"I wasn't. If I had succeeded, I would have returned home and the Crows would have informed your Loghain of the results… if he didn't already know. If I had failed, I would be dead. Or I should be, at least as far as the Crows are concerned. No need to see Loghain then." Derek had a sudden realization. Not a drop of the elf's blood had been spilt, but here he was, drowning them in information.
"Why are you telling me all of this?" Zevran laughed.
"Why not? I wasn't paid for silence. Not that I offered it for sale, precisely."
"Were you paid to talk my ear off, then?" The asked then, rhetorically. The Crow seemed to grate on him the same way Alistair annoyed Morrigan.
"Consider it something I'm throwing in for free. As it is, if you're done with the interrogation, I've a proposal for you. If you're of a mind."
"Make it quick."
"Well, here's the thing. I failed to kill you, so my life is forfeit. That's how it works. If you don't kill me, the Crows will. Thing is, I like living. And you obviously are the sort to give the Crows pause. So, let me serve you, instead."
"Can I expect the same amount of loyalty from you?" asked Derek with a humorless laugh. He didn't trust the elf as far as Jowan could throw him.
"I happen to be a very loyal person. Up until the point where someone expects me to die for failing. That's not a fault, really, is it? I mean, unless you're the sort who would do the same thing In which case I… don't come very well recommended, I suppose."
"And what's to stop you from finishing the job later?"
"To be completely honest, I was never given much of a choice regarding joining the Crows. They bought me on the slave market when I was a child. I think I've paid my worth back to them, plus tenfold. The only way out, however, is to sign up with someone they can't touch. Even if I did kill you now, they might kill me just on principle for failing the first time. Honestly, I'd rather take my chances with you." Suddenly, their dynamic changed as Derek came to understand the elf. The change in the air was tangible. He thought he heard Alistair groan.
"Won't they come after you?"
"Possibly. I happen to know their wily ways, however. I can protect myself, as well as you. Not that you seem to need much help. And if not… well, it's not as if I had many alternatives to start with, is it?"
"What do you want in return?"
"Well, let's see." Zevran smiled widely as he pressed his feet together in front of him, sole to sole with knees splayed. "Being allowed to live would be nice, and would make me marginally more useful to you. And somewhere down the line if you should decide that you no longer have need of me, then I go on my way. Until then, I am yours. Is that fair?" Derek considered for a moment, and then sheathed his dagger.
"Very well. I accept your offer."
"What? You're taking the assassin with us now?" asked Alistair, outraged.
"It's not in his best interest to betray us. He could prove useful."
"Fine... Still, if there was a sign we were desperate, I think it just knocked on the door and said hello."
"This is a fine plan," said Morrigan with a derisive scowl. "But I would examine your food and drink far more closely from now on, were I you."
"That's excellent advice for anyone," Zevran retorted brightly, bouncing to his feet hands-free to have his bonds loosened by the lay sister.
"Welcome, Zevran," Leliana said cordially. "Having an Antivan Crow join us sounds like a fine plan."
"Oh?" he purred, leaning back into her, and gazing seductively up at her. "You are another companion-to-be, then? I wasn't aware such loveliness existed amongst adventurers, surely."
"Or maybe not," she added darkly, pushing him away from her. Suddenly solemn, the freed elf turned to Derek, and dropped to one knee.
"I hereby pledge my oath of loyalty to you, until such a time as you choose to release me from it. I am your man, without reservation… this I swear."
a/n: Yeah, yeah, Alistair's kind of an assholish bully this chapter. But can you blame him? The closest thing he has to a father is dying because of a mage that his fellow Warden (who had just killed the son of his father figure) decided could be useful, and so let live. He's upset with them, and for good reason. I always kind of thought that the game sort of smoothed things over with Alistair way too soon- he may be a really nice guy, but he is WAY too quick to forgive in-game, imo. But he doesn't want to believe he's being an ass, so of course he rationalizes it. "Oh, he's a blood mage and should be carefully monitored" and "He's a cruddy leader, getting us all in danger" and whatnot. I hope you agree.
Morrigan, by the way, is absent because I really think that is how it would be if she were forced to travel with that group. She would quickly become fed up with Leliana's Maker-worship, and Alistair's disdain, and Jowan's intrigue- not to mention the dwarves. I can't see her enjoying Bodahn Feddic's company.
I am also aware that this whole chapter is kind of awkward. But, it was getting rather long, and I though that Zevran's oath would be a perfect place to cut it off.
I'm hoping to get DA2 soon… But I may have to wait until July *cries* I just don't have the money.