Wintersend: Once called "Urthalis" and dedicated to Urthemial, the Old God of beauty, this holiday has traditionally become a celebration of the Maker. It stands for the end of winter in many lands and often coincides with tourneys and contests that conjure the Proving Grounds in Minrathous (which always has its biggest contests on this day). In most southern lands, this holiday has become a day of gathering for trade, theater, and (in some areas) the arrangement of marriages.
They are fighting bandits when the thought occurs to him. As he throws his weight behind his shield, knocking the poor man into the waiting blades of Zevran, he half-turns to Leliana.
"Hey, what day is it today?" She alone has been keeping meticulous diaries, no doubt to turn their escapades into a ballad of the ages. She tilts her head slightly in thought, before a dawning realisation hits her.
"Oh! It's Winter's End!" She bursts into a brilliant smile, and Zevran chuckles as he dispatches the last of the miscreants with a flourish.
"Ah, a time for proving your worth and avoiding being assassinated at the theatre. Or is that just in Antiva?" Leliana smiles as she recalls past holidays in Orlais, and the lavish descriptions of the celebrations whet Alistair's desire to see the end of winter out in style.
"We should celebrate it.. all of us, together, I mean," he suggests, and the two rogues agree. Their leader, however, is unnaturally still at his words. He reaches out to touch her shoulder, but she moves away quickly, smiling that smile that never quite reaches her eyes as she gives Leliana free reign over the camp's evening activities. The bard squeals, before swooping upon Bodhain before he sets off for town.
Alistair stares at their leader for a moment, watching her face settle back into a frown as her hand touches the object that adorns a simple chain around her neck. A brief moment of understanding passes through him, and he resolves to follow up the idea later.
Leliana's idea is dueling, and they groan. Zevran suggests naked wrestling, and they laugh. Wynne puts forward a contest of wits, and Oghren belches. In the end, they turn to her, as they inevitably would, and after a pause she offered up the idea of songs around the fire - it is simple, but they pause for thought. Leliana claps her hands and immediately jumps up to grab her instruments, whilst even the most disagreeable member of the group, Morrigan, seems to be half-murmuring words to herself. Beside her, Alistair pulls at her hand, coaxing her away from the crowd for a moment.
"I know it must.. be difficult," he murmurs, pulling her into his arms. "I don't know what happened, but I know it must be something. The only time you go quiet is when people.. when idiots look at you differently because you're an elf." He pulls away for a second, cupping her chin and smiling softly. "More fool them, right?" She reaches up to touch his hand lightly, before pulling out the ring that hung around her neck.
"Nelaros," she says softly, looking up through thick lashes. "He was.. we were betrothed." His eyebrows rocket up, and she chuckles. "It is customary on Winter's End for marriage deals to be arranged. Such was mine, when I was younger. We are a dying race.. there is little thought to love, only what keeps us strong." She fingers the gold band, lost in the memories of what led her to the Wardens. "The day of the wedding, a human came - the son of the Arl of Denerim. He was not the best example of you humans," she whispered, bowing her head against his chest. "He took us.. the women.. took us to his estate.. I was too late.." Her shoulders shake as his arms curve around her, holding her as if the sheer force of his love would keep away the nightmarish memories.
Eventually she wipes her tears away, trying to smile. "I didn't know Nelaros at all before that day, but he died trying to free us all. I owe him for Shianni's life."
"He sounds like a man of honour."
"I keep the ring he was going to give to me.. just to remind me how far I've come, I suppose." He smiles - she has come such a long way from a life of subservience in the Alienage; now she commands the respect of everyone she meets, and the hearts of the travellers that surround her, his most definitely included. Cradling his fingers around hers, he lightly presses his lips against her forehead.
"It must be hard, though.."
"It just.. hurts. I can't help but think of Shianni.. what she must have.. well," she stops, closing her eyes. He tucks her head underneath his chin, holding her tightly, thinking hard.
"Do you know any songs?" he asks after a while. She pulls away, looking confused. He simply takes her hand and pulls her back to the camp, where Leliana is strumming a simple ballad. He sits on the log by the fire, pulling her onto his lap with a grin. Wynne smiles maternally at them, whilst Sten appears to visibly disapprove of the frivolity of the evening. The bard begins her lullaby, a simple tale of star crossed lovers, and the camp is united in a hushed moment. As Oghren surprises them with a drinking song and Zevran croons about the more lavish appetites of the Antivan legend Casadona, Alistair's hand entwines with his love's, and he squeezes her fingers gently, eliciting a smile from her.
"Morrigan! Would you tell us a tale of your mother?" asks the Warden, and the Chasind smiles a wicked smile.
"Why of course," and she tells them of the chases through the Wilds with the foolish Templars, as the bard accompanies the tale with a strummed beat. Alistair rolls his eyes at her pointed barbs towards his ex-brothers, but says nothing. She falls silent after a while, and all eyes turn to the Wardens. But before Alistair can stutter an excuse, she begins to sing an old hymn, half-heard from the Chanters in Denerim every Winter's End, and before long they are all singing with her, bar the mage from the Wilds and the Qu'nari. Even the dwarf mumbles along.
"Maker, find us glorious in your name, and keep our morning grace from toil; we drink and eat and cheer and dance, for tomorrow's dawn brings the birth of spring; so say goodnight to dark and dreary days, for Winter's End is upon us merry folk at last.."
The camp-dwellers spread and turn in for the night, and soon it is just her and him, seated by the embers of the fire and singing softly to the skies. At last, even their voices die out, and she is nearly asleep in his arms before he stirs, carrying her to her tent and dropping her gently before promising to return. He soon sweeps into the tent as she strips her armour, swallowing hard at the sight of her bare legs. She smiles wickedly, which dissolves at the sight of his gift to her - a pendant, simple in its design, with a single twist in the locket's clasp. He offers to place it around her neck, and she pulls off the chain she wears to put the ring of Nelaros beside the round locket, a gesture that touches the almost-Templar. He is gentle with the chain, but as soon as she turns to say thank you, he captures her lips with a deep kiss. Oh yes, a Winter's End to remember, he thinks as she sighs into the embrace.