-The Rose's Thorn-
Ch. 31: Blizzard
The snow never stopped falling in the mountains south of Redcliffe. It had been snowing for two weeks without a break. The group trudged drearily through deep drifts. The biting cold numbed their extremities. The howling wind swirled up some of the lighter flakes of fluff and threw it at them, stinging their eyes, faces, and any other part of their skin that was exposed. It was tolerable, barely, but Elissa kept a close eye on Wynne. The old mage seemed the most bothered by the freezing temperatures.
The drop in temperature in the last hour had seemed more than normal. The cold made even breathing uncomfortable, as the extreme chill would be inhaled and brought into the body, making it seem even colder. Wynne rubbed her hands together, a familiar ache in the tendons between her fingers. A blizzard was coming. They needed shelter, fast.
Alistair returned from scouting ahead. He panted with the effort of jogging through the white fluff to tell them all the great news. "We can make camp just ahead. There's a valley over the next ridge." Exhausted shouts of relief rewarded him for his news and the band of heroes found renewed vigor in their steps.
The valley consisted of a small clearing between two passes that had come together. The ground was frozen solid from the cold, but the mountain wall had kept most of the snow at bay. The group went about their separate chores to make the camp ready. Sten attempted to get a large fire started in the center of the camp. It likely would not last through the night with the coming weather, but for the moment, it would help keep everyone a bit warmer, and that was something to be grateful for.
Alistair tried to help Morrigan get the herbs ready for cooking. Morrigan, irritated by his presence, bluntly told him she could do it herself, and that he should find some other way to make himself useful- if that was even possible.
Leliana attempted to drive a stake into the frozen ground, but it proved beyond her capability, not that it would stop her from trying. Behind her, a familiar step approached. She knew those footfalls by the mere sound of them, but still had the grace to act surprised when Elissa knelt beside her. She held out a hand for the sledge and Leliana gave it to her. With one strong slam, the stake wedged down into the icy ground with just enough left sticking up to tie the edge of the canvas to.
Three more quick strikes and the support poles placed and Leliana's tent was ready to set up. She grabbed one end of the canvas while Elissa grabbed the opposite end and together they lay the thick material over the support poles, then tied it down to the stakes. When that was finished, Elissa stood straight.
"We should sleep together tonight," she said aloud. Loud enough for the others to hear.
Leliana felt herself flush with mild discomfort. Her face was a look of pure shock. Her eyes were wide, her mouth hung open slightly. She was dumbstruck. Had she heard correctly? Did Elissa really want to? Tonight? Her throat was dry and she tried to swallow. "Well,… I suppose I've been propositioned before, but never quite so…bluntly," she murmured without thinking.
Elissa regarded her with curiosity for a moment, then turned back to the others who had stopped mid-track in what they were doing. "For warmth," she finished.
Sten spoke. "She is correct. The heat from our bodies will keep us warmer than alone. Otherwise, we may all freeze,"
"Well," Alistair suggested, "I suppose four furs are better than two,"
Leliana coughed nervously. "That's a wonderful idea," she said, placing a hand on Elissa's shoulder as if to make subtle claim on her.
Altogether, three tents were put up. Alistair would share Sten. Morrigan and Wynne would share another. The final tent would be shared between Leliana and Elissa.
The night came on sooner than expected with the sky darkening early and the howling winds picking up speed and fury as the blizzard approached.
Safely tucked away in the tent they shared Elissa sat with a fur around her shoulders, huddling in on herself from the cold. She stared blatantly at Leliana. She just could not strike that image from her mind. She gazed thoughtfully at the woman who sat across from her. Time had not faded her attraction for this woman. Circumstance had brought them together. Was it fate?
Elissa was confused, torn. She liked Leliana, truly liked her as a friend. They spoke often, usually with Elissa listening as the bard wove grand tales of other places and times. Elissa enjoyed the stories, but perhaps it wasn't even about that, she wondered. Maybe she only used the stories as an excuse to spend time with her. It really wasn't hard to figure out why.
She couldn't deny her attraction to this woman. Still, she found herself unable to shake the images in her mind. The same woman, with a different look about her. She knew that Alistair had his reservations about her. When he had noticed that the two were growing closer, he had pulled Elissa aside and explained his thoughts on the possibility of her former life as a spy. He concluded that she could still very well be one, waiting for her moment to strike them down, or betray them to her master.
Leliana could feel the Warden's eyes upon her, boring into the back of her skull. Elissa didn't realize that she had been staring until Leliana spoke. She turned slightly to glance over a shoulder at the Warden. "What's on your mind?" she asked. When Elissa did not immediately answer, she clarified. "You've been staring at me for weeks now. Is something bothering you? Something you'd like to discuss?" She turned fully to face the Warden.
Elissa spoke slowly, recounting the images she had seen. "In the tower…I saw you, in the Fade…but your hair…"
This perked Leliana's interest though she tried not to show it outwardly.
"It was…" Elissa raised her eyes to look at Leliana, " ..red,"
Leliana nodded, no sense in denying the truth. "It was," she admitted, "for a time… but I've found that I prefer it dyed this color,"
Elissa reached out and caught some of the strands, allowing them to flow between her fingers. A look of remorse passed on her face. "I like the red," she whispered, "..so beautiful…like the setting sun,"
Elissa dropped her hand back down inside her fur and snuggled it closer around her body. Leliana broke the awkward silence that had followed the Warden's confession. "Maybe… one day… I can change it back," she offered.
Elissa offered a small smile in response. She scooted closer to Leliana and joined her under her fur. She draped the one she had been using over top of the other one. "We've a long road and an early start tomorrow." With that, the Warden stretched once and settled in next to Leliana.
Already the bard could feel the warmth emanating from the Warden's body, even without the removal of their clothing, it was far too cold for that. Leliana snuggled closer to the Warden under the furs, grateful for the company and the warmth.
Some time later, both women lay awake, restless, unable to sleep. Neither woman realized that other was still awake. Elissa lay on her back, gazing at the tent's ceiling, wondering to herself. Is she asleep? Would she mind if I put my arm around her? What if I accidentally wake her? What would she think? How would she feel about it?
She wanted desperately to hold the other woman, had not touched her since Leliana had pulled away from her weeks ago, begging her not to do or say such things to her. Her feelings for the woman had grown over the past few weeks, they had grown with the mystery of who she really was, what she had been to Elissa before her accident, why she was hiding, what she was hiding.
Elissa felt it wouldn't matter whatever the truth turned out to be. She would still love the woman no less for her past, any mistakes that may have been made. She only wished Leliana could see that she loved her that much.
Inches away, Leliana wrestled with her own thoughts. Oh, I bet she's so very warm… In fact, she could feel the warmth radiating from the Warden. Body heat. Suppose I snuggle closer…? No, surely that would wake her… then what would she think of me? Leliana fought the urge to snuggle closer to the Warden, but it was difficult. It was a battle she would eventually lose. In the end, she had to turn her whole body away from her.
Leliana shifted onto her side, and the furs went with her. Instinctively, Elissa snuggled closer to her, spooning her. She gently placed an arm over the bard's smaller body. Leliana's heart raced. With their bodies this close, she could feel Elissa's heart pounding furiously. She wasn't asleep.
Does she know that I am awake?
The bard recalled how very carefully the Warden had placed an arm around her. No, she must think I am asleep.
Leliana's heart pounded harder. She took Elissa's hand in her own and intertwined her fingers with the Warden's, caressing them ever so slightly. She settled deeper into the crook of Elissa's body and pulled the Warden's arm closer around her. Neither of them said a word. The two settled together into a peaceful sleep.
You are Nothing! Nothing without me! Now you will rot here, so you can learn where your loyalties should have lied! May the Maker have mercy on your soul…
That last was said with such mockery, such utter disdain in her tone, it stung Leliana physically, even here in the Fade. Her bitter tears struck the cold, damp stones where she lay.
How could you betray me like this? I love you!, she begged.
Rot, Leliana. Learn what disobedience earns you in the end. It is all you deserve for the amount of 'loyalty' you have shown me.
That was the last time she ever saw Marjolaine. Now the men came, as they would come every night. Her fear never abated, even though she knew what was coming. Sometimes she could fight them off. Other nights, she was not so lucky. This night, He came. The mean one, the brute. He was large, easily six foot tall, and strong. Leliana could not get away, no matter how she struggled. He lay over top of her, holding her down. All she could see was his evil smile. She screamed.
Leliana woke in tears from the stress of her nightmare. She glanced around and realized it was just a dream. She was in her tent, in the valley in the mountains to the north of Haven. Her Grey Warden lay soundly asleep, her eyelids fluttering like butterflies. She curled up next to her, facing her this time. A warm feeling crept over her. Watching Elissa sleep, Leliana thought she could not be more beautiful. In deep sleep her features were softer, her face kinder, sweeter. They did not carry the burden of turning back the Blight as they did in waking hours. Leliana carefully traced the line of freckles on her Warden's cheeks. She smiled at the thought. My Warden.
The mabari had been snoring at their feet and he now raised his head and gave a low whine. He padded over to Leliana and whined at her. "What is it, boy?" She knew to trust the war hound's instincts. He lay down with his head on the floor, looking at his master and whined. Leliana's heart sped up. "There's something wrong with Elissa?" she asked. The dog glanced at Leliana, then at the Grey Warden, back to Leliana and whined.
Elissa shifted under the furs and muttered something the bard could not make out.
The stench of smoke and copper hung heavy in the air…no, that wasn't right… not copper. It was …blood. Bodies lay slain in the streets. The body of a young boy lay twisted and prone and she felt a distinct sense of loss and the sudden urge to vomit.
People ran screaming everywhere. Rubble blocked their path. They had to go another way. Where is Father?
Father!, she shouted.
Howe's men found them. They fought valiantly and slew them all.
She stared down at the blood on her hands. She had never killed anyone before. Howe's soldier lay dead, his eyes staring blankly at the sky.
Mother shook her forcefully.
Elissa, snap out of it! We must hurry!
Father was there.
He was wounded. She looked down in horror at the blood seeping through his fingers from the wound in his gut. There was no time. No time to get a healer. No time to staunch the blood and suture him. Howe's men were at the door.
The look in Mother's eyes.
Duncan dragging her away screaming…NO!
"Mother! Father!" Elissa jerked upright, tears trailing down her face, her arm outstretched reaching for the ghost image of her parents. Sabre, her faithful mabari, came to her side and lay his large head in her lap. She hugged him fiercely and cried. Leliana put a hand on her shoulder, "I'm here for you,".
The Warden looked up, as if only now realizing she was not alone. She could see the tear trails on Leliana's face. Her eyelids were puffy, her eyes bloodshot. She had been crying, but why? Leliana saw the raw pain in the Warden's eyes melt to gentle concern. Elissa reached a hand out to brush a strand of hair out of Leliana's face. She held the bard's face in her hand, wiping the tears from her cheek with her thumb. "You've been crying," she sounded so genuinely concerned.
"I had a nightmare," she confessed, "It is over now. I am fine." She took Elissa's hand and kissed her palm. "Thank you for caring, my friend,"
There was something reminiscent in that small touch, the flurry of electrical energy that passed from one to the other at the touch of bare skin. Something akin to the ghost of a dim memory prodded from some place deep in Elissa's mind. Where the bard's lips touched her skin, Elissa felt a jolt of static. She wanted desperately to… but no, now was not the time for such things. Still, Elissa could not help but wonder how those soft lips would feel against her own at that moment.
The Warden suppressed her feelings, though it was difficult. Leliana had expressed her desire not to further their relationship anytime soon. Perhaps with all the stress of the situation, she felt it would be too much to handle, especially with Elissa's memory out of commission for the time being. Elissa put a hand on Leliana's shoulder, curious and concerned to know what could have the woman in tears.
"What did you dream?" she asked.
"I…" Leliana faltered.
The howling wind picked up outside. Small drafts seeped through tiny places where the canvas violently flapped. Leliana shivered. She sneezed.
Elissa scooted closer to the Chantry sister and wrapped her arms around her. She held the smaller woman to her front. Slowly, Leliana's shivers subsided some, and given more time, they stopped altogether. "You're catching cold," Elissa murmured into the dark hair beside her lips. She recalled seeing the thick layer of flakes that had settled atop her head that morning. She cursed herself silently for not insisting the sister wear some kind of cap over her head like everyone else had done.
Leliana leaned back into Elissa's arms, settled and warm now. Her dream seemed as though it were a thousand miles away. She knew Marjolaine at least had to be, and even if she wasn't, she felt safe in the Warden's arms. Nothing could hurt her here. No one could touch her.
"I dreamt… of a time long ago. When I was in prison in Orlais. The person who betrayed me came back one last time to torment me."
Elissa hugged her tighter.
"I…was made to suffer a traitor's sentence. Torture…and…other methods were used to make me confess, even though I was not guilty."
"Shhh," Elissa hushed. She quietly stroked the sister's hair and hugged her as tight as she could. She said the things that would comfort Leliana, that Leliana wanted to hear from her, but would not ask for. "You're safe now. I won't ever let anyone hurt you."
They remained silent for a long time. Leliana grasped the Warden's hand through one of her own and wrapped it around her waist. She gave it a small squeeze.
"What did you dream?" Leliana asked, recalling the words the Warden had shouted upon waking so violently. Whatever she had dreamed, it couldn't be good.
Lost in her own thoughts, Elissa returned slowly to the question at hand. Her dream?
"I…dreamt," Elissa tried to remember the blurry images that made little sense to her now that she was no longer in the Fade. "..of my mother…and my father,"
Leliana turned to glance back over her shoulder at the Warden, a curious brow arched over her eye. "Oh?" she questioned. Perhaps some of the Warden's memories were returning. Perhaps it was a good sign.
"There…was a battle… fire everywhere. There was a boy…I think…he was…"
Leliana braced herself for the pain she sensed would be coming from the Warden. She turned in Elissa's arms to face her. This part of the story she already knew.
"…my nephew…" came the choked whisper.
Leliana wrapped her arms as tight as they would go around the Warden and let the woman cry on her shoulder. She knew Elissa was crying partly for the loss and partly because she could not remember it and knew she should. She placed a gentle kiss on a wet, salty cheek.
"Shh. You're safe now. I won't ever let anything hurt you,"
Elissa's tears abated at the sound of her own words recanted back to her. A slight smile pursed her lips. "I love you," she whispered.
Leliana returned the small affection with a kiss. "I love you," she replied.
Elissa pursued an attempt to further the moment, deepen the kiss, and when it became too much to bear, Leliana stopped her. "But, we still mustn't…" she warned.
Elissa sighed, resigned to her relegated chastity for the foreseeable future. Instead, she lay back down in to the furs and pulled Leliana close. Despite the extreme cold, moments later, both were fast asleep.