The Queen of Swords is the great warrior-queen. She is ready for battle, yet is combined with femininity and creative intelligence. An independent woman with her own ideals and values, she is sharp, quick witted and intensely perceptive. She usually outwits her opponents and believes knowledge is power. She knows how to cut through extraneous information to get to the heart of the matter, and can be outspoken and sharp-tongued. She can also be vindictive at times. She is secretive and can detect this in others, as she may have to defend her position and fight for what is hers.
Arcana: A strong-willed woman, or a widow or woman of sadness. One who has known great happiness and lost it, or who has sacrificed much to achieve her goals. This can be a card of great mourning.
Reversed: Narrow-mindedness, maliciousness, bigotry, deceit, vengeful, prudish. A treacherous ally. An ill-tempered person. A vengeful woman who plots but lacks the skill to bring about her devious plan. An enemy.
Tabris was not, as a rule, prone to foul moods, but her old friend irritation had come home to roost in her left temple, twisting and spinning the nerves there like the fraying thread upon which hangs the metaphorical sword.
It wasn't that she was jealous of Wolf - because she wasn't - or that she disliked her duties as Grey Warden - because she didn't. She had, in the oh-so-charming way that Oghren had once put it, busted her ass to get where she was, traipsing back and forth across all Ferelden seeking every ally that would flock to her banner, every soldier who would follow where she led. She had masterminded the scheme that saved her world and everything she knew that was in it, performed heroic acts (quite a lot of those) and lied and manipulated her foes (plenty of that as well) in between the occasional darkspawn slaying or rescue of kittens from the lofty boughs of trees. She had picked locks and pockets, stolen treasures and hearts and the election of a King, not once but twice, and could any other Warden in Thedas make such a claim? What Ferelden was owed itself to her, to the hand of Adia Tabris, who was born on a dirt floor in a Denerim alienage, breathing to life in the same blood-spattered spot that her mother had died.
And though Adaia's greatness had long ago been eclipsed, the daughter outpacing the mother in fame and skill, Tabris's Antivan lover was not the only one haunted by the shadows of the past.
It galled her. She hadn't chosen to have her arranged wedding crashed by a psychopathic rapist with an appetite for elves. She hadn't wanted to be abducted, to watch a friend die in front of her, to have to carry Shianni out of that human-stinking house with blood running down her cousin's legs and staining her dress. (She had, however, chosen to hack off and feed Vaughan his own testicles, watching him die choking and bleeding from the nethers with cold dark eyes and a stone heart. That ghost was one that could never touch her conscience; Tabris had a certain ruthless streak, and she believed wholly in letting the punishment fit the crime.) She hadn't tried to put the entire alienage in danger, hadn't meant to cause even indirectly the carnage that followed, the riots, the quarantine, any of it.
But when the winds of change blew and others were swept away, Tabris, her mother's daughter, calmly tacked in her sails and rode the hurricane.
Duncan had helped. It had wounded her heart to have to leave Shianni in such a state as she was, but the Grey Warden had lent aid when it was needed most, if only indirectly. Who knew it would lead to such other things, places Tabris had only dreamed of seeing? She had schooled Orzammar into order, scoured Redcliffe of demons and darkspawn, freed the Circle of the abominations that held them at bay, met the Dalish and cleansed them of their curse. She had traversed almost the entirety of the Bannorn - on foot! - until she knew the land better than the lords that owned it; she had communed with the ashes of that most sacred figure of the Chantry, Andraste herself, and been found worthy of the honor.
She'd travelled with Templar princes and qunari knowledge-seekers, drunken berserkers and crafty witches, Orlesian bards and healers with power beyond imagining, golems with the soul of women. And a dog, who loved Tabris unconditionally and with every fiber of his being.
And an assassin, an Antivan son of a prostitute, with a smile like a switchblade - quick and deceptive and pretty in a certain razor-sharp way, guaranteed to steal the breath from her lungs whenever he hit her with it.
(He'd reminded her of a different dashing rogue, once upon a time. Daveth's ghost was another who haunted her from the shadows, making her heart twist in her chest, wondering if she could have saved him, if there was something, anything she could have done - No, said Duncan's shade sometimes in her nightmares, clasping her on the shoulder with a hand made of bone; Daveth's test was his own. And though she knew that he was right, such thoughts did not bring her absolution.)
She'd faced down the archdemon with no thought for her own safety, had danced the thin red line of tempting fate until the shoes tattered beneath her feet and the stone became the sky. Tabris had gambled, and she'd won, big time, big enough to redeem all the peoples of the lands who put their trust in her. She'd united an entire sodding country - no mean feat, given that Fereldans thought that warring with each other was the next best thing to warring with Orlais - and ensured at minimum a generation of peace, that children in Ferelden could grow up for once without the threat of war or an archdemon over their heads. Alistair was even going out of his way to see that elves were treated rather more equally than they had in the past, razing the squalid alienage in Denerim and replacing it with a much nicer neighborhood, courtesy of the Crown.
Why, then, did her mother's spectre haunt her still? What task did she have yet left unfinished, what work was still undone?
Could anything satisfy Adaia Tabris and lay her memory to rest?
She had the shrewd suspicion that the answer to that was no.
So there was the Wardens and Amaranthine, and Dog, and a hundred sleepless nights while she stared at the ceiling and wondered where she had gone so wrong, how she had done so badly in her life. There had been casualties, of course. All wars, no matter how petty, demanded their due in blood; was it her price, then, for winning the war, to tally the dead every night until the darkness took her? How many nights could she lay stiff and aching of a malady not of her flesh, watching those she had failed to save march before her eyes in an endless accusing procession, always, always beginning with that first kill, the woman whose life she had taken in beginning her own?
Tabris would have already gone mad, trapped by paperwork and politics by day and by memories and guilt at night, were it not for Zevran.
She never told him how she felt, the endless anguish that wracked her very soul whenever the sun slid below the horizon; she was not so foolish as to think that he did not guess. He was clever, in his way, and just as she had navigated the winding labyrinth surrounding his heart, he had cracked the masque that protected her own. He knew, somehow. And when she could not sleep (which was quite often, and grew more so around the times of the dark moon) and would not be comforted by delightful indulgences of carnality, he lay awake beside her, his heartbeat slow and steady beneath her cheek, and painted her stories with his rolling accent and creative mind. His voice in her ears, her eyes shut and a different world stretched out before her like a beckoning hand, the memories would subside just long enough to allow her peace, to let her breathing become a level rhythm and her mind become still as deep waters. She rarely heard the end of his wild tales - the one about his aunt and the pig and the priest, for one, had made her laugh before sleep beckoned, and though she had no idea how it truly ended, since the priest had wanted the pig for dinner, she was rather on the side of the pig. But she heard them, and he seemed anything but offended when she began to snore amidst his stories, so he kept telling them.
He'd told her about Wolf, one night.
The way he spoke of her, she was a goddess made flesh, the second coming of Andraste; Tabris had never seen Zevran speak of a woman, speak of anyone without so much as a speck of lust in his wiry, compact frame. Even Wynne had not been so immune to the Crow's roving eye, and for days it had nagged at Tabris like a thorn in her ribs, forgotten until she breathed too sharply or thought too quickly, and then she was brooding and upset all over again. She had, after staying up far too late one night nursing a cup of Golden Scythe Black, decided at last that this Wolf was somehow untouchable, a holy icon, powerful and perfect in his mind - the incorruptible mother-figure that Zevran had been deprived of, given that the woman who bore him had been anything but incorruptible. There was another like her that Zevran sometimes mentioned (Jackal? Coyote? The House of Crows was not known for its creative naming conventions, it seemed) an Orlesian cat burglar, from description, who had served a similar role as teacher. There was that same awe there, that subtle implication that Zevran, fearless, almost suicidal Zevran, would hesitate to raise his blade in anger, simply for the thrashing that he would receive for his insolence.
(And wasn't that the pot calling the kettle black, how they each disapproved of the other's willingness to throw their lives away?)
But here, all unexpected, was Wolf herself, sending black arrows in through windows and begging clandestine meetings amongst dark shadows, poised to swoop in and destroy everything Tabris had worked so hard to build, especially Zevran's fixation on a certain redheaded Warden.
Okay, maybe she'd been fibbing to herself when she'd thought that she wasn't jealous of Wolf. But like hell was Tabris going to meet her sudden archrival for Zevran's attention unprepared.
Cauthrien was known for overkill; it was a detriment sometimes, the aggressive shows of force that Loghain's former lieutenant favored, but there were times for Tabris's brand of subtlety and then there were times to make it clear that she was not a person to be sodded with. Midnight at the north gate was one of the latter. Wardens lined the torchlit ramparts and patrolled the courtyards, interspersed regularly with mageling volounteers from the budding corps of Circle adorees, and more regularly still with their Templar babysitters, who outnumbered their charges two to one. There were only a handful of mabari in Amaranthine - and a single bitch among them, whom Dog courted with an ardor that made even Cauthrien smile - but they were all present in the north, pacing back and forth along the walls, sniffing the gate's portcullis, exchanging whuffs and growls and whines in a canine network of information that would have put the most skilled spy to shame.
Tabris had made a promise the mabari pack, that the mastiff that spotted Wolf first would get an entire roast ox all to themselves. She was not above bribery where warranted.
Ten minutes to midnight, Zevran appeared from inside the keep. He didn't appear any different than usual - leathers oiled into supple whispers that flowed with his movements, blonde hair barely contained with thin braid that began at his temples and met in a snarl of mane at the back of his head, long daggers crossed at his back where Tabris wore her own at her hips - but there was a hitch in his gliding walk, a different glint in his dark eyes, a certain unease in his switchblade-smile. And he kept flexing his hands, as if he were twirling one of his knives or doing tricks with a coin, though neither of these things were actually present.
This was a first: Zevran Arainai was nervous. Even facing down Taliesen, he had been more calm and cool.
As Tabris folded her arms across her chest, standing alone some distance from the north gate proper as she waited for him to reach her, she thought he well had right to be nervous. Maker only knew what kind of mood Wolf would be in, or what mood she herself would be in, and personally, Tabris thought that she was the bigger danger to Zevran's personal health. Every moment that ticked closer to midnight, it appeared that the answer to the question would be pique.
He paused in his swaggering walk long enough to duck his head and graze the corner of her mouth in a touchnote of affection, too distracted by the upcoming meeting to extend it into something more, which suited Tabris's irritated mindset just fine, thank you very much. "Any sign of her?"
"Not yet." They turned together and strode for the gate, the patrolling guards speeding their pace somewhat, looking busy and attentive and every inch the Grey Wardens that Tabris expected them to be. Good. If Wolf slipped past the line and into Amaranthine, heads would roll, in the metaphorical sense, if not the real one. "We've still got a few minutes to go, though."
"She is here already, most likely," Zevran noted beneath his breath, "and has been since sunset."
"Is that her way?" said Tabris, sourly. "Excessive preparation? Hardly seems like anyone you'd learn from."
He did not grin, but he managed a smirk and looked something like his normal self, tilting his head a few degrees. "It is her way, after all, Tabris, not mine. Come. She is very likely outside the gate."
They walked. At her signal, the portcullis was lifted to the height of Tabris's hip - not very high at all, on an elf - and they slipped beneath the gate in tandem, the tips of Zevran's hair whisked through by the portcullis's sharp points as it was set back into position, practically on their heels. Effectively locked out of Amaranthine, they straightened, glanced one last time at each other, and approached the glorious darkness. It cloaked the keep like a mist, thick and impenetrable, the torches upon the ramparts only doing so much to dispel its mysteries, unaided by the fact that the snow had long since melted, to reveal a wet, decaying carpet of leaves that did not do quite so much to reflect the light. The air under the winter-naked trees was cold but not frozen, yet holding spring's fickle promise of a summer to come.
Zevran was a half-step behind her when she stopped an arm's length from the circle of light, too canny to venture too near to that darkness with eyes yet unused to shadows; it was not yet midnight, but she drew breath anyway to call forth Wolf, prepared words on her lips, when suddenly Zevran's mentor beat Tabris to the punch.
Wolf did not so much appear from the landscape as seem to meld from it, to be born from it, to step forward as an autonomous being and shake herself free of the night. Where she had been Tabris had taken for a strange twist in the trunk of a tree, not five steps from her position - if she had continued into the forests around Amaranthine, she would have walked straight past it without a second thought, seeking Wolf in the boughs or in the bushes or leaves, not in a place that Tabris should have spotted immediately, or that the rampart-guards should have seen. She was tall as any human male, pale with short black hair that obscured her ears, her face the sharp-featured androgyny that comes not of great beauty but of when all gender has been sandpaper-scraped from one's soul; she could have been fifteen or fifty, male or female, elf or human, and yet was nothing like any of them all at the same time. She wore a green-grey cloak that only reached her knees, with strategically tattered edges and holes, breaking up her silhouette - an old hunter's trick, but effective, especially in the night - and dark trousers and thick-soled boots, a bow at her back, a knife painted black strapped to her thigh, too long to be a dagger, too short for a sword.
But it was her eyes that were the mirrors of her soul, grey and keen as steel, reflecting nothing but a vast perfect neutrality, something that Tabris had only ever seen in the eyes of real wolves, at least the ones unaffected by the insanity of the Blight. What that neutrality said was this: This meeting can go one of two ways, and I do not care which. There is the easy way, and that is very, very easy. Then, there is the hard way.
The hard way did not bear much thinking about, in Tabris's opinion. Perhaps Wolf had acquired her sobriquet a different way than she had originally thought.
Wolf stopped at the very edge of the light, head inclined respectfully. Tabris mirrored the gesture, as did Zevran, who made an effort now to still his anxious hands - and then Wolf ducked her shoulders and shed her bow, throwing it to the ground at Tabris's feet, something that made Tabris take a half-step back in reflex and puzzlement. The Crow was clearly not done, however, as she shucked her cloak next, revealing a slim torso and broad shoulders clad in black (perhaps she bound her breasts, for Tabris saw nothing at all to indicate her alleged gender) crisscrossed with leather straps that formed a wide X across Wolf's chest. These were shrugged out of and thrown on the pile, a harness to hold what appeared at first to be a pair of scroll-cases, but from a slight rattle were more likely quivers of arrows; then a triangular dagger from the small of her back, and the long knife from her thigh, straps and all. Her arms were bare to the shoulder and decorated only with a fine network of scars, especially on her strong, long-fingered hands, revealed when her gloves were stripped and dropped atop the collection of her personal effects. It was cool but she did not shiver, a living weapon, all lean muscle and grace, untroubled by her willing divestment of her obvious weaponry. (That she was still armed, somehow, Tabris did not doubt for a second. That Wolf felt that she did not need such trappings to defend herself, however - that suspicion was beginning to take hold, and fast. Tabris had not escaped the alienage and lived to save Ferelden by being overly trusting.)
"Came peacefully," Wolf noted with a slight tilt of her head, and her voice was as hard to read as her face, middle-toned and unaccented, somewhat rough as if from disuse, gender-neutral, near emotionless, notable only for her curious practice of using as few words as possible to convey her point. She flicked her eyes down, then up Tabris's own lithe frame, a swift and critical assessment that ended in a slight nod; she repeated the gesture for Zevran, punctuating the nod this time with a quiet, "Zev."
"Wolf." He bowed from the waist, his smile easy, deceptively so. Tabris found herself feeling a sudden spike of unreasonable hatred for the tall pale Crow before her, for the simple unasked use of Zevran's nickname that he apparently approved of, but he was not privy to her thoughts, and certainly not looking for it to flicker briefly through her dark eyes. "It has been a very long time. This is Tabris." A gesture in her direction, palm up and fingers spread, as if she were something to be displayed. Wolf nodded again in her direction. "To what do we owe this visit? Not business, I hope?" There was his smile again, charming as a snake-oil salesman, but there was also a noted lack of heat, and Tabris could almost hear the echo of the missing words that he would have spoken to any other woman: If you are here for pleasure, I am sure that we can accommodate your wishes.
Wolf was not blind; she saw Tabris's face, and Tabris saw that grey gaze pause briefly there as if in subtle signal that she had seen, but the Crow did not so much as bat an eyelash at Zevran's question. "Not pleasure, but not business." She paused, a moment too long allowing the silence to stretch out before she broke it again. "Things happening in Antiva City."
Well, that was informative. "Many things happen in Antiva City," Zevran said smoothly, blonde brows rising. "In fact, I would go so far as to say that things happen there every single day. Why should this day be any different?" Flippancy. It was unexpected, given the gravity of Zevran's respect for Wolf - Tabris glanced at the tanned elf, wondering what was going on in that painted head of his - and Wolf scoffed, a sharp exhalation of breath that left a puff of steam in the night air.
"Important things," the tall pale assassin insisted, calmly shifting her weight to center over the opposite leg, hands loose at her sides. Her patience must have been monumental in scope; no wonder she had been able to put up with a younger, even more uncouth version of Zevran. "Fighting between cells. Salvail, Honoria, Culainn, Nasha, all dead." She tilted her head, and both of the women watched Zevran's face as the names were listed, though none but Salvail meant anything at all to Tabris, and even that had only been a mention in passing, an overheard conversation between the former Crow and Wynne. Zevran himself was very careful to school his features to blankness, listening raptly with deadened eyes to what seemed a speech of epic proportions from taciturn Wolf. "Taliesen also - but you knew that. House's divided, polarized. Many cells bereft. No clear leader. No heavy favorite to win."
"Let me guess," said Zevran, tones calculating, as if he had long ago predicted this scenario and it had only now come to pass. "Hassaran made a move to corner the House, and Miach stubbornly refused to die, so now the Crows are deadlocked in their own little civil war?"
Wolf inclined her head, silent confirmation. "And what does that have to do with us, precisely?" blurted Tabris, before she could contain the words; both Crows glanced at her as if she had suggested they both go parade naked through the high court at Denerim, which was to say, Wolf seemed merely puzzled, while Zevran blinked and appeared as if he had been rudely awakened from a dream. "I mean, it sucks that the Crows are self-destructing and everything," Tabris continued, unable to stop herself beneath their combined confusion, "but Zevran's been out of Antiva and the Crows for a long damn time, and in any case he's sworn to my service. It's not exactly his concern anymore, what happens in Antiva."
Zevran blinked, hard and slow, and Tabris thought that he was forcibly reminding himself of all that had occurred, of how important it was not to backslide into blindly obeying the training of a lifetime. Assassins were like mages, in a certain way; obedience was ground into their very bones, as soon as they were old enough to understand the concept. "She's right," he said to Wolf, after a span of heartbeats. "You have always been a neutral party, Wolf - you and Fox both." (Fox! That was the name. Of course she would remember it as soon as it was spoken.) "But after so long away, so am I. I am practically an apostate myself, after what I did to Taliesen!" He laughed it, with the unique and unfeeling humour of an assassin, trained for death and little else. "What would you have me do, then? Show up and wag my finger in their faces, ask them to play nice? Or kill one of them for you? Has Miach finally gone too far in her boasting for you to be able to stand her, Wolf?" His voice was light but his words were cutting, sharp as his smile; if they found purchase in Wolf's soul, she did not show it. Instead she stared at both Zevran and Tabris in turn, silent, endless moments in which vast wheels turned behind that grey gaze, thoughts lightning-quick, emotions flickering like ghosts across the silver expanse of her irises. She was considering something, something of great import, and behind them at the gate Tabris heard a mabari hound baying warning at long last as there was an impression of movement from their visitor -
But the blow did not come; Wolf moved, and she knelt in the dead leaves, hands open with the sides of her palms pressed together, as if her hands were fused together from pinky to wrist. Tabris knew the gesture - it was older than Antiva, older perhaps than the desert that city straddled, a sign that a supplicant held no aggression and was unarmed. She should have bowed her head to complete it, but she didn't, her face tilted upwards to watch them, silver eyes harder than diamonds, her shoulders trembling slight with fury or grief or pride, or perhaps all three, held in abeyance by an act of what was surely an adamant will.
There was something deep and terrible roiling beneath the serenity of Wolf's surface, something she struggled to keep in check, and it didn't take long for Zevran and Tabris to hear what it was.
"Hassaran's stealing children. Especially Crow children. All anyone ever finds of them are bodies. Fox was captured searching for where they're kept," said Wolf, growling the clipped words, as the wind began to howl and keen across the towers of Amaranthine, twining with the bellow of the mabari. "Come to you because if Fox's gone, can't trust anyone else. Not in Antiva. You were my best student. Nobody else has ever left the Crows and lived." She hesitated again, dropped her head to hide her face as the tremor in her shoulders strengthened - then she spat it out in a harsh, tormented whisper, as if it were a poison and she had to purge herself of it before it destroyed her.
"Hassaran.... he took my son. Beg of you, Zev. Help me. Please."
Tabris felt a chill that had nothing to do with the weather, and when she looked to Zevran, she saw him blanched white as a ghost, hands clenched so tight that dribbles of scarlet leaked across his knuckles from where his nails dug into his own palms.