I draw the arrow back against the bowstring, feeling the tension growing, the muscles working in my forearms. This is my favourite part - the half-second of heart-drumming anticipation as the bow strains taut and the tip of the arrow stares down its target.
When I release the string, it gives a flat note like a carelessly plucked lyre. The arrow arcs through the air and finds its mark, guided by faith as well as by skill.
I think that all archers are believers of some sort. We live for that moment of grace when the arrow finds its path home.
Zevran strolls down and manages to tug the arrow out of the wooden target without damaging it, which is good because we are quickly running out of ammunition. When I agreed to give him archery lessons, I wasn't expecting that he'd manage to break or lose more than half a quiver of arrows.
He's such a lazybones, too. When he loses one, he doesn't go looking for it. Instead he tries to get Kass' Mabari to do it, prodding the poor creature with his boot, and the smart doggie just wanders away and takes a nap.
"That was a most deadly shot," Zev says. "I enjoy watching a dangerous woman in motion."
He presents to the arrow to me with a courtly bow, flashing his most lethal smile. He's a terrible cad but it's all very charming, like the chevaliers of Orlais who adorn their lances with the cherished tokens of their beloved ladies, changing tokens and ladies every few weeks. When Zev feigns such gallantry, I find it hard not to giggle, even though I know that's a terribly silly reaction and only encourages him.
"Do you flatter everyone this way?"
He gives a deep-throated laugh, the kind one would expect to hear in a boudoir, not in the middle of a muddy forest path. "Only my favourite people. Or those I wish to lull into complacency."
"It's your turn. Maybe you could do less charming and more aiming?"
Zev positions an arrow in his Dalish longbow and prepares his shot. It's funny to watch him aim because he keeps squinting and then widening his eyes, re-adjusting the line of the arrow, planning everything down to the last detail. It would be better if he just trusted his instincts and let the arrow fly.
"I would feel much more motivated to hit the target if it was shaped like an improvident Antivan princeling," he mutters. "I don't suppose we can practice on any of those?"
"No, we cannot. Now hurry up and shoot already!"
The arrow zings through the air, its shaft quivering in the breeze. It hits the edge of the target and sticks there at a most improbable angle.
I clap my hands together. "Bravo!"
Zevran rakes a hand through his fine blond hair, pretending to be quite unfazed. "Sweet success. I knew it could not elude me forever."
I cross the uneven lawn to pick the arrow out of the target. "If you keep practicing, you will become a good archer, I think."
"I imagine you must have practiced quite a bit, Lelianna. You are much more than simply a 'good' archer. Wherever did you learn such a remarkable skill?"
I'm glad to have my back turned away from him. Since my sojourn in the Chantry, I've been finding it harder to control my face when I tell all the necessary lies. It's easy to fool someone as naive and open-hearted as Alistair or someone as unobservant and close-minded as Sten, but Zevran is a deceiver, one of my compatriots, and we always recognize our own kind. It will be easier to fool him if he can't see the fear dart behind my eyes as I go rummaging through my old box of tricks.
"Oh, where does anyone learn a skill? You pick it up here and there. When I travelled with my music, it was sometimes helpful to be able to hunt for my supper."
It's easy to pull the arrow from the target – it isn't lodged in the wood very deeply - but I pretend that it is hard work so that I don't have to look at him.
"I have paid professional visits to Orlais on several occasions," Zevran purrs. "While I encountered many lovely ladies, I met precious few with such...abilities."
His tone is still light-hearted, all innocence, but I know he is toying with me. Even when he is not killing, he has all the instincts of a predator.
"I suppose I must be a rare sort of woman then. Of course, very few of the women you encountered in Orlais had to sing for their supper as I did."
I am good at adopting a flippant way of speaking, half whimsy and half insouciance, so that no one can imagine me capable of scheming and watching, noting even the most trivial details and remembering them. Pulling the arrow free from its target, I start back across the grassy slope to the place where Zevran watches and waits.
The elf's dark eyes are upon me and they seem to be laughing, mocking me, as I offer him the arrow.
"And how, precisely, did you 'sing for your supper', Leliana? Were songs your only gift? Somehow I doubt that."
"Think whatever you wish. I don't have anything to prove to you."
He leans closer to me, so close that a strand of his long hair brushes against my cheek, so near that, for an instant, I wonder if he will kiss me.
His lips move at my ear. "I know what you are, Leliana. We are alike, you and I."
"And if so? What do you plan to do about that?"
I am prepared to negotiate with him - at least for the time being.
He chuckles, a low, mirthless sound, his breath tickling against my earlobe. His smile contorts the black tattoo that slices across his tanned cheek. "Plan? I plan nothing at all. Indeed, I am the very soul of discretion. "
I take a careful step backward, mindful of the wet grass under my feet. "I hope so."
"I just wanted you to know that I know." He bares his sharp white teeth in another wicked smile. "Merely a professional courtesy, as it were."
"I can do without such courtesy. I think this lesson is over now." I push past him, striding back towards camp, where the others have already doused the fire and begun to fold up their tents.
"As you will," Zevran says, his voice a dagger in my back. "I am simply glad that the arrow hit its mark."