The Ace of Swords represents a venture that doesn't appeal to the seeker very much in the beginning, but that turns out better than expected. A seed for an idea has been planted. This card can also represent a challenge or a hurdle meant to test you. Remember, in every challenge, there is an opportunity. You may begin to think and communicate differently. Take advantage of new ideas. You use all your willpower, courage and intellect to reach your goals. Cut through the illusion and get to the truth. You may make a decision that will substantially effect your life. There is a necessary change for the better.
Arcana: Great determination. Initiative. Fertility. Deep emotional feelings.
Reversed: Striking out at others without cause. Entanglements. Sterility. Violence. Indulging in excess. Bringing about one's own destruction. Debacle. Self-destructive. Embarrassment. Hindrance.
On the whole, Zevran decided, he was rather pleased with how things had turned out, in the end.
None of them had expected to survive the end of the war - least of all himself! - and so when the day came that they were cried far and wide as national heroes, their stories already being written into the patchwork tapestry that was Ferelden's history, none of them had quite known what to do. Some had given up perfectly good lives in order to follow Tabris on her insane quest to defeat the Blight (he would never let her forget that, that facing the archdemon had been, hands down, the most moronic thing she had ever done, because there was a line between bravery and stupidity, even if she had probably crossed it sometime back during the Joining) and some had had nowhere to go when, surprise of surprises, they were left standing at the end of the hellish siege. Morrigan had disappeared into the Wilds without so much as a goodbye; Oghren married Felsi in a right hurry and had himself enough children to found an entire caste on; Wynne had returned to the Circle, an official Warden Liaison by order of the King, and last Zevran heard she was shacking up with her silver fox Irving, and making the best of her last few years on Thedas. (And more power to her, Zevran thought rather pragmatically, because if the dowager mage must eventually die, let her die loved - and preferably in Irving's arms, in the most compromising position imaginable. Which would, actually, be in Greagoir's arms, or perhaps both of them at once, but the wild roamings of imagination could wait until later.)
Alistair was King, naturally. He hadn't really wanted the job, like he'd told Tabris over and over again until Zevran rolled his eyes and thought that the lord doth protest far too much, but he was having a merry go of it and doing pretty well, what, with the Bann there to help him if he dove into something that was well over his head. The Arl, wisely, had returned permanently to Redcliffe on Alistair's advice, and was now living out his retirement with a son to raise, twin daughters to spoil, and a pretty wife to keep him company on cold nights.
Not bad for the Theirin extended family, all around, though Anora was still pretty pissed at Tabris and Alistair about the whole 'I'm locking you in the tower until you rot or you stop being such a horrid bitch' bit, or so Zevran heard. Supposedly there had been an attempt to stage a coup, with the former queen using carrier pigeons to organize a resistance; Shale now spent her days gleefully squishing any bird that came within a league of Anora's tower, except for the gallows-ravens, who were smart enough to stay on the opposite end of the castle to begin with.
True to form and to his word, Sten returned to.... wherever the hell he had come from in the first place. Somewhere in the qunari lands. There remained an outstanding invitation to Tabris, from Sten and the Beresaad, to visit Seheron as an honored guest, should she ever find the courage and the time. (Courage the fool woman had in spades; it was time that was a more precious commodity, and sometimes she spoke wistfully of chartering a ship and just going without any warnings given or permissions asked, but there was always something else she was needed for, and such ambitions were repeatedly shelved.)
As for Leliana, she went back to Orlais, functioning sometimes as the Fereldan ambassador to the Empress, more often as a cutthroat spy; Zevran sometimes wondered why he and the bard had not gotten along better, before he remembered that Leliana had once been pointedly interested in the fairer gender, that is to say, in Tabris. And though he would not lie to himself, at first that particular chain of thought had been rather delightful to follow to its inevitable conclusion - after a while he decided that it was better off left in the realm of fantasy, because suddenly the idea of sharing his lover wasn't so appealing anymore. And in that vein, Leliana was better off in Orlais, as far away from Tabris as possible.
Tabris had gone to excessive lengths to teach him the difference between lust and affection, and the earring she wore in her left lobe was reminder enough of how complicated his damned feelings were without throwing a wanton Orlesian into the mix.
She still had the dog, though. She would not part with him for the world, and when the commander of the Wardens from Orlais had marched up to Tabris's office intending to chew her out, for allowing Dog to chase the latest gaggle of young recruits around Amaranthine until they collapsed, the mabari mastiff had been sitting on his lambswool bed next to Tabris's desk, tongue lolling in an entirely too innocent, I'm-such-a-cute-doggie way. Suddenly, the Orlesian Warden had not been able to quite remember his argument anymore, especially considering that the recruits in question had called Tabris knife-ears to her face, not realizing that the Hero of Ferelden was an elf. (That Zevran himself had been perched on her desk, idly cleaning his nails with the point of a dagger in case his intervention should be required, could not have helped matters much.)
Dog was now an established part of the training regimen, and his teeth were an amazing incentive for the lazy second sons of exasperated Fereldan fathers to straight up and fly right. It was getting to the point that some of the kids being sent now weren't there for Grey Warden training at all, and Dog was fast becoming a legend in his own right in the surrounding regions, beloved by children and feared by teenagers.
And life was pretty good. Adia Tabris - just Tabris, for those who knew her well knew she did not want to be saddled with her mother's name, did not want to be a tame replacement for the Adaia that Cyprion had lost - ran the Grey Wardens stationed at Amaranthine with a sexy smile that could melt the hardest heart, and an iron fist to smash whatever could not be coerced. The best part was that at night it was his bed she came to, his chest she rested her head on, his council she sought in important decisions.
(It will destroy you, Wolf occasionally still whispered from the back of his mind; Fox still sometimes offered his advice, in his candid and blunt way. Zevran ignored them. They had no place in Amaranthine, as much as he had no place in Antiva.)
But though the Grey Wardens flourished once again in Ferelden and all her enemies had been vanquished, Tabris was not happy.
She never said anything about it to him, of course. That was not her way - she was subtle and creeping, like spiders or poison, and ill prone to complaints, instead expressing her displeasure in ways that were not immediately obvious, which had made him an expert in figuring out what would make her the maddest. Her masque had been refined in their travels, now shifting effortlessly between ice-princess and swan-daughter and hell's-general, but so too had Zevran's ability to read her. They played Wicked Grace still, but the stakes were different from the old days - and half the time the games ended in a flurry of scattered cards and clothes anyway, which rather made the stakes pointless and her lieutenants blush charmingly, especially when they played in her office. (Cauthrien, become Tabris's second through some miracle of persuasion, learned very quickly to knock; the others she left to their own trials by fire, eventually delighting in their disturbed expressions should they forget to exercise caution when approaching Tabris's door.)
But sometimes he caught her curling the end of her long scarlet braid over and over around her fingers, staring blankly at a fixed point on the blotter; on the worst days, he saw something sad and restless in the depths of her eyes, which were a green so dark they were nearly black, and framed by a smattering of freckles that made her look very young indeed to be the savior of the world. (He knew those freckles spangled constellations across her shoulders too, and he loved leaving bite-marks on them, little reminders of him that twinged whenever she shrugged or lifted an arm, and occasionally sent her off daydreaming in the middle of a very important meeting.)
But Tabris's adventurous heart was dying by degrees, immured in a prison she helped build, and it pained Zevran more than he cared to admit to see her being slowly smothered by her duty to the Wardens and her kingdom.
"Put the papers away," he said that day as he leaned over her ironwood desk, having had enough, and she looked up at him and put her quill-pen down. One of the windows was open to let in a cool breeze, and he faintly heard the sound of practicing soldiers in the courtyard below, just loud enough to barely eclipse Dog's barking in the distance.
"Something wrong, Zev?" She only called him Zev in throes of climax, or when she was hiding something; her masque was otherwise perfect. He commended her on the evenness of her gaze, the level neutrality of her voice, which was on the deep side for a woman; he liked it best when she commanded him in that voice, but this time there would be no commanding on her end, and no compromises, either.
"You," and he splayed a palm across her chicken-scratch orders to lean in closer, the ink still wet, the wax seal yet warm and squishy beneath his thumb, "need a vacation."
"I can't possibly -!" she objected; he held up a finger, waggled it, then pressed it to her lips to silence her. "I know you, woman, better than you know yourself. You will run yourself into the ground, at the rate you are going, and don't think I don't see you look out your window and sigh oh so wistfully at the horizon. Now. Is there anything going on that that sourpuss Cauthrien cannot oversee for you?"
She batted at his wrist to remove his offending finger from her mouth, but she did not otherwise move away, and at his description of Cauthrien a weary smirk was skirting the outer corners of her generous mouth. "Ser Alain's troop is due to arrive any day now -"
"The guest barracks are ready for them, and we could, ah, break in the new bunks if you like. Something like four dozen of them, I hear," he smirked, which elicited the flickering grin he was hoping for. She schooled herself back to severity, however, spine straight as a board even as Zevran inched ever more forward and down.
"There's the matter of this latest class of recruits -"
"Hand them over to Dog, like you always do," he said with an eloquent shrug. "It is good to put the fear of the Maker and Tabris into their bones before they have the chance to become evil little bastards."
"And bitches," she corrected him; he grinned and echoed, "And bitches," putting both palms flat upon the desk as he leaned ever closer to his target, her lips.
"Favian and Jepheth have just broken ground on the new outbuildings," she pointed out, but her masque was slipping again, and Zevran knew that he had her backed into a corner - all he had to do was press the advantage.
"And will it not be for the best if the leader of the Wardens is not here for the endless nights of sawing and hammering? After all, we have our own hammering to do, and my feelings are wounded when Warden business drags you from our bed at midnight. Pah!" He smacked the desk with one open palm to underline his point, looked exaggeratedly disgusted, which made her smile. "I seem to recall a time when you told the entire night watch of the guard at Redcliffe that unless the archdemon itself was knocking on the gates and asking to come in for tea and crumpets, that we were not to be disturbed."
"That's different," said Tabris, her lovely grin refusing to fade, and she tilted her head just so, to make her lovely red hair fall into her dark eyes and give him the best angle of approach for if and when he finally decided to kiss her. "We could have died the next morning." And I wasn't going to die a virgin, was the unspoken addendum to that statement, but she did not need to say it. He knew anyway.
"And another Blight could start tomorrow morning," he pointed out quietly, from the vantage point of being mere inches away from her face, from her enticing lips. "That does not mean you cannot live today. Let Cauthrien have the trouble for a time. Let me take you away from all this, Tabris...."
He lifted a hand from the desk to tilt her chin slightly upwards with gentle fingertips, and as their lips brushed ever so delicately he knew he had her cold, he just had to convince her to say Yes, and for Zevran Arainai there were many different ways in which to coax this beautiful woman to say yes -
- and then there was a soft, edgeless sound like the sharp flapping of wings, and an arrow appeared on the desk, stuck at an angle and quivering in the blotter, lodged between the middle and ring fingers of Zevran's left hand.
They moved in tandem, like lovers do when they have danced not only between the sheets but on the battlefield as well; Tabris twisted like a snake backwards out of her chair and Zevran vaulted the desk, both of them somersaulting into low crouches and putting their backs to the wall, protected by the bulk of the ironwood and the angle it had on the window. They had discussed long ago how to arrange her office that it was the most defensible in case someone took exception to the Grey Wardens, and those talks came into fruition now, two sets of daggers glittering in their hands and waiting for the next salvo of arrows to arrive. Long experience had taught them both to never go unarmed, even in the heart of friendly territory. (Zevran had a special writ that gave him, a known assassin, dispensation to bear arms in the presence of the king. Seeing as it was signed by Alistair himself, nobody had much right to complain.)
Slowly, with Fox and Wolf berating him every step of the way, Zevran belly-crawled to the steel-shuttered windows and reached up with a dagger to lever the open one shut.
No further missiles pelted the windows; the faint sounds through the metal did not indicate any sort of dismay in the yard that might give evidence of attack. The door was shut and locked - Zevran had made certain of that - and there were no convenient trees nearby in which an assassin might hide, no rooftops upon which one might perch without being seen by the rounds of patrols. It all seemed a bit of a mystery, at least until he turned around to examine the arrow still caught in Tabris's blotter.
She had stood up and was bent over it, clever enough not to touch it; her weapons were still in hand, however, and she twirled them nervously, her blood up and not in the fun way. "What the hell was that?"
He paced to stand beside her, plucked the arrow fearlessly from the desk. It was a barbed hunting-arrow painted completely black, the head slender and pointed and meant to cause more damage coming out than going in; two of the feathers on the fletching were the blue-black of a raven, and the third was white, barred with rust - a barn owl. Very distinctive. Recognition flowed like icewater through his veins. "Thought, memory and wisdom," he growled, narrowing his eyes; examination of the head proved its bindings could be undone with clever fingers, and that the tip of the arrow was hollowed out just enough for a slip of rolled paper.
"Zevran?" Tabris was asking, watching from his shoulder as he shook the message from the arrow. "What is it?"
The writing on the paper was tiny, angular and cramped, and it did not help that the material itself was nearly transparent in its thinness; still, he knew the lettering, the style, the curt, sharp words that he could practically hear spoken as if the author stood before him. North gate, midnight. Need to talk.
Below the K was etched a tiny crescent moon, the circle of ink less than half the size of his pinkie-nail, and for a moment all at once the past came rushing back, when he was a gangling lad in the shadow of a she-beast fit to make the leader of the Crows modulate his tone in respect. He blinked it away, but her voice remained, deep and neutral, all tone and emotion and even gender scoured from it by the harshness of the desert.
It will destroy you.
"It's Wolf," said Zevran, glancing to Tabris. "My old mentor."
"Wolf? As in from the Crows? In sodding Antiva? What the hell is she doing in Ferelden?" There was a beat as her brain worked lightning-fast, taking in his expression and stance, and she squared her shoulder and frowned hawkishly at him, as if she were ready to take him down then and there. "Wait, forget that. You aren't seriously thinking of meeting her, are you?"
He forgot sometimes that she knew him as well as he knew her. "She did ask ever so nicely, Tabris."
"Zevran, she could've killed you with that shot! Or me! This isn't like Taliesen, you can't just charge up and announce yourself and cross your damned fingers in hope for the best!" Aah, but she was beautiful when she was angry! Colour rose into her cheeks like the first blossoms of spring, and the line of her shoulders tensed like a bowstring needing to be plucked. But he could scarcely afford to get caught up in her loveliness, at least not until the matter of Wolf was settled - and with a sigh, he touched her cheek with the hand that had contacted the letter she was writing, smearing ink across her freckles with his thumb.
"If Wolf wanted me dead," he assured her, "that arrow would have gone though my eye, not the blotter. There is no such thing as a warning shot in the Crows."
"She could've missed," Tabris mumbled, somewhat petulant, and he saw the real reason that she was upset, glimmering in the shadows of her broken masque; she had been willing to be snatched away from all her troubles, even if only for a little while, and the moment she had given in, some stranger had shattered their intimacy with undesired complications. He discarded the arrow-pieces on the desk, bent his head to graze the corner of her mouth with his own - they were nearly of a height, he and Tabris, though she tended to wear thick soles on her boots to make up the difference. She tangled her fingers in his shirt when he pulled slightly back, and turned her shoulders into his, not wanting him to go. The Warden craved touch almost as much as he did.
"You remember Leliana with her bow, yes? This woman makes Leliana look like a clumsy child. Wolf does not miss, unless it is on purpose. No, there is something else going on here, I think." But then he grinned and set hands on the desk behind her, one to either side of her hips, and nipped at the triangular nick in her right ear, whispering, "But forget about Wolf. We will both deal with her, with a full complement of Wardens if you like, and I will deal with Ser Sourpuss, and in the morning we will leave on our vacation and see all of Thedas before the Wardens grind you into dust with their endless duties. Do we have a deal?"
"Hmm," she half-smiled, legging up slightly to perch on the edge of her desk, her shin brushing the outside of his thigh, "I think I need to be convinced."
"That can be arranged," he grinned, and promptly ducked his head to nibble at the long white muscles of her slender neck, smelling of lilac soap and oh so delicious -
Tok tok tok. "Commander Tabris! Your, um, your door's locked!"
"Always with the sodding timing...." Tabris, her hands wound in Zevran's blonde hair, made a noise of utter frustration in her throat, which reverberated through Zevran's teeth. "Fennec, Maker damn you, go away."
"You... you don't want your mail?" The unseen boy sounded as if his heart had been wounded to the quick, and Zevran muffled first a laugh into Tabris's shoulder, then a yelp as she dug her heel into the back of his knee, which forced his balance forward, his weight onto his supporting arm, and his hips into close contact with hers. He in turn made her gasp and shudder with a long-fingered hand skating up under the hem of her shirt, along her ribs - which, in hindsight, was likely the reason why she nudged the inkpot off the desk with her knee. It fell with a crash and shattered against the flagstones, sending glass and ink everywhere in a horrible mess that, in that moment, neither Zevran nor Tabris could have possibly cared less about.
"C-commander Tabris, what was that noise?"
"Shove the mail under the door, Fennec! I'm rather busy right now -" managed Tabris as Zevran's palm found the mound of her breast, and his teeth tugged urgently at her earlobe, one set of her nails digging into the back of his neck, opposite hand seeking the wiry tattooed shoulder underneath his own shirt. Patience was never a virtue in Tabris's office.
"But, um, there's a package from Miss Wynne -"
They both paused rather reluctantly in their frenetic attempts to bypass each other's clothes, panting somewhat, listening very carefully, because packages from Wynne were few and far between, and generally meant only one thing.
"It's, um, labeled brownies?" Fennec sounded very nervous. "Ser Cauthrien told me to tell you that, um, unless you come out here and get them she's, um, giving them to the recruits."
Cauthrien knew exactly how to twist the knife, didn't she? "It would be a shame to let those brownies go to waste," murmured Zevran, and from Tabris's huffing sigh, she was inclined to agree. He let her up, reluctantly - but not before she could seize him by the hair and drag him under for a kiss that should have left scorchmarks on her ironwood desk - and she bent to put her chair to rights before trotting to the door, flicking open locks with the practiced ease of one who has been doing precisely that from both sides of the locked doors her entire life. She kept her office door closed for a moment, however, looking at him wearily, as if she felt the weight of years that had not even come to pass yet.
"Oh, sod it all. Go talk with Cauthrien, Zevran, get it out of the way before I change my mind. And detail a troop or two for tonight. I have to rewrite those damned orders now.... I'll save you some brownies."
"Promise?" He grinned and tweaked her rear, which earned him a playful swat and a smirk.
"No. Hurry back."
"Oh, I will."