On nights like this, Malan Aeducan longed for nothing more than the warmth of Orzammar.
She sat as close to the fire as she could, legs tucked beneath her as her hands sought to conjure some heat from her arms. The friction was not enough to melt the chill away, not that she expected any relief. Haven was a brutal kind of cold. She'd learned to ignore the endless stars and sky overhead, but how could she ignore the snow and the ice?
While Leliana suggested they find refuge in the village's Chantry, the dwarf firmly refused. She would not sleep under the roof of someone she'd killed, especially not when the holy man's blood still stained the floor. She did not regret her decision despite the cold. With the ashes of Andraste safely tucked away, they were set to returned to Redcliffe as soon as possible. Loitering around with ghosts would only keep them longer.
Malan's dark eyes lifted from the steady flames to see Wynne and Zevran sitting together on the other side in less-than-companionable silence. The two of them spoke often, but never for very long and the outcome was never helpful nor was it quiet. Still, they sat opposite her, clearly ignoring the existence of their fireside partner.
Zevran was sharpening one of his blades, honey-hued eyes narrowed as he focused on his work. She enjoyed his company much more than most despite his being an assassin. Or perhaps because of it. His flirtatious ways reminded her a little of Gorim, though there had been an underlying sincerity with her second. The elf enjoyed teasing her, as he did with many of their companions. He was a good fighter and he made her laugh - two things that she held higher than nobility or prowess with magic.
Wynne was busy herself with mending one of Alistair's shirts, a frequent task of hers since the man evidently didn't have the good sense to do it himself. She was a motherly woman, and while Malan frequently dusted off her attempts at guidance, she appreciated each softly spoken recommendation she was given by the mage.
Farther off, Morrigan stood by her own fire. How the witch could keep herself warm wearing so little clothing was beyond the logic of a dwarf. Even fully clothed from toe to neck, Malan was forced to reign in as much strength as possible to keep her teeth from chattering. She was a quiet one. Malan did not fully trust her, but she understood and respected the woman's solitary nature.
Near to the fire, but not seated almost directly upon it as the dwarf was, Alistair was occupied by the attention of Ault, the Mabari who'd nearly ran her over after leaving Ostagar. Between attempting to rub the beast between its ears and avoiding having a limb torn clean off, he laughed, ignoring the hound's loud protests completely.
And finally her eyes settled on Sten. He was standing off on his own, nowhere near either of the two fires that illuminated the campsite. He, too, was a solitary creature, even more so than the witch. That hadn't stopped her from trying - and failing, more often than not - to get some talk out of him. She asked him questions about the qunari, about his life as a soldier, of his opinion on this or that. More often than not, their conversations were short and punctuated by her leaving in a huff, annoyed at his stoicism. She was not used to people reacting in such a way to her.
While it was not in her nature to pull rank or call back to her heritage, she often found herself red faced trying to keep his words flowing. Alistair often intercepted her on the way back to her tent, tiny fists curled at her sides, and asked her why she even bothered. He was impossible. Accepting that would lessen the grief for everyone.
"Even the largest rocks wither over time," she told him once. She truly believed the sentiment behind her words. Her own determination was everlasting, despite her short fuse. Matched with her anger over her brother's betrayal and her exile, there was nothing keeping her emotions from bubbling over save for the thin veil of nobility that often flapped in the wind stirred up by the Blight and that damn qunari.
A few sleights of the hand and politics led her head-first into a battle she realized she had little chance of besting. Hearing her home on the witch Flemeth's mouth made her nauseated. The thought of returning to the depths of Orzammar to face her brother worsened the tight, invisible grip on her guts. Even now, so many miles away from any sign of life outside of wildlife and those gathered in the camp, Malan ground her teeth together. She didn't need this when she was already so cold.
She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she didn't watch the others pick themselves up and head into their tents. Zevran left first, sheathing his daggers and parting with a courtly bow to the elderly mage. Wynne did not look up from her work, but a small smile unfurled in the corner of her mouth once he'd left the fireside. When Ault found his way to Malan's tent, Alistair strayed near the fire for a while, lost in thoughts of his own, before standing and retiring. When she was finished stitching the Warden's shirt, Wynne stood from the toppled stump and disappeared. She'd seen not hair nor hide of Leliana all night.
Morrigan sat near her fire, the same weary expression on her face as she watched the flames. She was to keep watch. Malan often wondered how she could survive on such little sleep, sometimes aloud. To which Morrigan would pointedly reply that she had a better chance of living through the night awake than asleep with the assassin now nestled between everyone else.
Malan looked up from the ground before her knees at a rustle just in front of her. Sten was standing there, a shapeless furry thing in his arms. A blonde eyebrow lifted, the dwarf opened her mouth to ask him what he was doing, but she shut it when the thing was handed to her. Glancing from the qunari's face to the offering, she finally found her words. Standing, she gave the thing in his hands a look. "What is it?"
"A blanket," was Sten's simple reply, his voice gruff. There was a matter-of-factness to his words as if the woman was ridiculous for not knowing what it was.
Malan was not convinced. "Where did you get it?" she asked, finally taking the thing off his hands and looking at it closer. What sort of animal it was from, she had no idea. They did not get much wildlife besides nugs in Orzammar, and since she'd been topside, only wolves and bears had shown themselves. The fur was soft and warm in her hands. She supposed it could be bear, but it was much too small to be a mature one.
"Haven," he said, unmoving. "I searched the village while you were looking for the burnt woman." He watched as she looked at it. Why wasn't she putting it on? She'd been sitting so close to the fire for hours. If she was cold, why did she not seek warmth? "It was on a child's bed."
The dwarf ceased her inspections. A snarky reply nearly singed her lips before she was able to swallow it back. This was a gift. It was nice… in a way. His delivery could use some work, but no one had actually offered to help besides him. It was only a blanket, but often it was the thought that counted for more, right? She curled it around her form, and she felt some sort of warmth immediately. "Thank you," she murmured after a time. "It was very kind of you."
Sten did not reply. He merely nodded before turning, face stony, to head back to his station. He was to keep watch with Morrigan. Malan knew he enjoyed keeping watch. He felt it was some substitute for the honor that came with fighting beside her, since often he was kept back at the camp. Keep the Grey Warden alive, just as you would on the battlefield. She is a small thing. Something could easily come and snatch her up in the night.
On any other night, she would've spoken up in an attempt to capture his attention for longer. She enjoyed hearing his stories, no matter how brusque or short he got with her. But tonight, she turned away from the fire and headed into her tent. She didn't want a struggle. As she'd told Alistair, over time Sten's defenses would weaken. She would find some way in and he wouldn't be able to keep her away. Not for long. He was not unlike a leghold trap. Too much fidgeting while attempting to disarm it led to it snapping shut. A deft, precise hand was needed to goad it closed. This approach was unlike anything she'd attempted before, but it was necessary. She knew it was.
Ault was already asleep, shifting in a small way as she lay on her bedroll. The blanket kept her warmer than she'd been since stepping out of Orzammar. Fine tendrils of fur caressed her cheek, and she shifted to pull it up farther around her face, furrowing deep into it. The chill was all but gone by the time she drifted off to sleep.
And while she dreamt of the Blight, she was warm.