The Archdemon had been slain, the fifth Blight was over, Alistair had been crowned king, and somewhere out in wild Thedas was Morrigan and his child. It was high time for a break, from all the fighting and wicked things and morally ambiguous sex-magic rituals. But Lyna Mahariel's Dalish blood was restless - for her there would be no cooling her heels in the high court, or living a life of luxury and title. She wanted to wander a little, while she still had the chance.
They worked it out like this: Alistair had given the Grey Wardens the arling of Amaranthine, to which Mahariel would have to report at some point in time. But there was no reason that point in time had to be right away. Sten wanted to get back to Seheron, where the familiar aromas of tea and incense and the sea would once again fill his lungs. And Zevran needed to get back to Antiva, where the unmistakable odours of fish chowder and fresh blood and reliable tanneries would once again fill his lungs. So the three of them would travel to Antiva City together. Mahariel would then turn back and make her way to Amaranthine and the adventures that awaited her there, Sten would carry on north, and Zevran would settle whatever mysterious affairs he wanted to settle in the city of his birth.
"This is going to be fun, eh, my friend?" Zevran said cheerfully, as he and Sten walked through the crowded, labyrinthine streets of the Lower Docks. The sun shone above them, catching the gold in the elf's hair and making him look like an idol of summer. All around them, people were shouting and hoisting crates and shoving past. The scent of salt and dead kelp lingered in the air, and seagulls shrieked and swarmed the skies.
Sten replied with a sidelong look, and a glance at the sails of the ship that anticipated them on the horizon.
"You never speak to me," Zevran shook his head with a soft but playful frown, "If you are not careful, I shall begin to take it personally."
"That is incorrect." Sten announced, pushing past an absent minded merchant who was counting a pouch full of gold as he walked.
Zevran looked over his shoulder at the merchant, and wondered how long he would last before he was knocked over and robbed. A man counting his gold in a public street! He would never truly understand the mindset of the average Fereldan. They would not see such displays in Antiva, that was for certain.
"Ah, well. I suppose it was rather sensitive of me. You are a quiet fellow, after all, and I should not force so much conversation upon you. But - to be reasonable - I am a very talkative fellow, and you should try harder to accommodate me in turn, no?"
Sten considered the compromise.
"That is unfair, but not unexpected." Zevran chuckled.
The ship was called the Maid of Ghislain, and would take them straight to Antiva with a few stops on the islands of the coast. She was tall and wealthy, belonging to a merchant who supplied fabric and leathers to the most sophisticated tailors in Denerim. They didn't usually take passengers, but the royal house was an important customer to them, and so they made an exception.
Standing on the deck of the ship, talking with the captain, were Mahariel and King Alistair. Royal guards lined the docks, wearing their identical helmets and holding their menacing lances. They all looked far from amused.
"How thoughtlessly naive! What is Alistair doing here?" Zevran's jaw dropped at the sight, "He's making quite the target of himself, standing up there with his full entourage of guards. And now everyone will know which ship carries the Warden Commander of Fereldan! He must want us to be killed."
"Vashedan," Sten growled low in his throat, "He will be a terrible king."
"True. But he is also an improvement on what they had before," Zevran watched as Alistair told an awkward joke to the captain, "Or so we can hope."
The guards gave them uneasy glances as they made their way to the deck. The assassin and the Qunari scout who were allowed to walk right up to the new king, mere days after his official coronation. Less than a month since the country had been freed from political turmoil. And they would sail, unaccompanied, with the symbol of true Fereldan spirit. All alone. On the sea. Where they could kill her.
"Oh, thank the Creators! Here they are!" Mahariel smiled brightly as her friends came aboard, "Sten. Zevran. This is Captain Javert, who is being kind enough to let us sail with him. And Alistair came say goodbye to us!"
"Really? All three of us?" Zevran smirked at Alistair, who cleared his throat and looked at the deck.
"Goodbye." Sten said dryly.
"Er…" The king smiled his newly perfected fake-royal-smile, "Have an excellent voyage. All three of you. Feel free to write and tell me about your adventures."
"Only if you swear that you'll write back." Zevran replied, curving an eyebrow at him suggestively.
"Yes. Well. Safe passage." Alistair nodded stiffly, his plastic smile still plastered on.
"Thank you for coming, Alistair. I know how busy you are these days." Mahariel said, as the captain bowed his farewell.
"Of course. It's no trouble to see off friends." A sudden sadness filled the king's eyes, and he went ashore.
He stood and waved one last time, his guards gathered around him like the bars of a cage. Mahariel couldn't help but feel a pang of sympathy for the man, but remembered that it was the path he had chosen for himself. He had become king to ensure the death of Loghain, and he would pay for that choice with the very things he had loved the most about life. The journey, the battles, and being a Grey Warden.
She waved back, with a melancholy smile of her own.
"He was a fool to come," Zevran sighed, leaning against a mast, "But he is always a fool for you."
"Be quiet, Zevran."
The seas were smooth and the voyage speedy. It seemed that almost no time had passed since that day on the docks of Denerim and when the Maid of Ghislain at last sailed into the emerald waters of the Rialto Bay. The shipyards of Antiva City were full of vessels; some with sails that towered over their own with dramatic heraldry upon them, some only small fishing boats, bringing in their catches for the day. Music seemed to come from nowhere, a sad drifting song on a lyre and a soft voice full of tears. Chantry bells rang out from somewhere deep among the spires and domed roofs of the city. The sky was full of life.
Zevran took a deep breath, and his eyes glittered with nostalgia as he looked upon his home. He was satisfied that all of the buildings seemed to be where he had left them.
"It is wonderful to return," He sighed, "The first time I took leave of this city, I was very much pleased to shake its dirt from my boots. I thought that I would never want to go back, as long as I lived and there were other places to see. Why would I? To live always with the uncomfortable threat of running into all of the people who disliked me? To walk past all of the places that have been taken over by bad memories and tales I will never tell? And yet, Antiva is my woman. She is a siren, a cheater and a whore - but I will never let her go."
Sten did not seem to care.
"And you, my stoic friend?" Zevran turned to face him, "Do you feel closer to Seheron now that we are here?"
"Do not ask such pointless questions. We are closer to Seheron."
"I hope that it will not damage our camaraderie too greatly if I tell you that I am growing slightly tired of you, Sten. You are no fun."
"You have damaged nothing by saying this," The qunari grumbled, "I do not wish to be found… fun. And I tire of you often."
"Then you would be a hypocrite for holding it against me! I am pleased enough with that."
Mahariel came topside just in time to see Sten walking down towards the docks.
"I guess we're going ashore?" She asked, flashing Zevran a bemused grin.
"Why do you look at me with such suspicion?" He asked, "You wound me, my dear Warden."
The two of them caught up with their companion, and walked with him into the bustling streets of the city.
They worked it out like this: Sten was going to leave the next morning, since he was very much inclined to get home as quickly as possible. Mahariel was going to leave in three days time, since she had obligations to meet and couldn't really put them off. So they only had one day that would be all three of them together. They took rooms in an inn that Zevran recommended, which turned out to be surprisingly quaint, and did some sight-seeing. Or the closest thing that can be done to sight-seeing with a qunari in tow.
A lavish dinner was arranged, unlike anything Mahariel had ever seen. The restaurant was a quiet place on the second floor of a building that curved around the corner of a block of shops and small apartments. Rather than the high-backed wooden chairs of Fereldan, the seats around the low tables were soft, square cushions. Candles hung from the ceiling in porcelain holders that had been carved to look like skulls and painted with bright flowers.
The food came in several courses, each a small selection of delicacies prompting Sten to continually enquire when the actual meal would begin. A very sweet wine was served in small glasses with golden stems, and they held no more than a few sips each. When a new course was begun, the glasses were refilled. The food was of all kinds. Some spicy, some sweet, some salty. Mahariel's favourite was a kind of potato that had been cut into slices and fried until the outside was crisp and the inside was as soft as a cloud. Sten seemed only to enjoy the strong coffee that was served for dessert.
"So, my friends. Where to now?" Zevran asked, basking in the soft lighting and pleased to be dining in his city with his companions.
"The inn. To sleep." Sten answered.
"It is getting late, isn't it? But it's been a wonderful day…" Mahariel sighed.
"No, no, no. In Antiva we do not sleep until we see the light of dawn! We must do at least one more interesting thing! Come, you cannot be so tired that you would refuse the most exciting offerings of my beautiful city!"
"I must travel in the morning." Sten reminded him.
"That is true. Perhaps we should not see a play or an opera then…" Zevran put a finger to his lips and tapped them as he considered the possibilities, "I know! The Night Market! Of course, it is such a perfect idea for the both of you, I am suddenly ashamed that I did not think of it before."
"Well, it is our last night," Mahariel sighed and turned to Sten, "How about it? We may never see each other again. It could be fun to go shopping for paintings one last time."
"Very well, Kadan. We shall visit this… Night Market."