'Twas ridiculous, truly. She had thought that he was a bumbling idiot, a fool, in fact, right from the start. How that had evolved into this was simply beyond any kind of reasoning. Maybe it was all drawn from some sort of cosmic balancing act as he was everything that she was not. Yet, through some cruel twist, perhaps it was a mercy even; he was not consumed by her as she was by him.
In those early days when they were all still struggling to find their bearings, uprooted from all that was familiar, she watched him from afar. He was a tool to be used, nothing more. She sniped at him relentlessly. His moral sweetness was hard to bear, such a contrast from Mother's cool and calculating demeanor. She held her tongue more than once for Elissa's sake alone.
Elissa… She was the other troubling factor in this complex equation. She could be as much of a syrupy do-gooder as Alistair, but she was no fool. Morrigan respected her strength. She had gleaned enough of what had happened to her family to know that those early days could not have been easy. Yet, she still managed to push forward, dragging Alistair along in his grief while burying her own. Morrigan thought she had concealed her own fears well during those initial forays deeper into the realms of men, but Elissa seemed to sense her unease. Her words of comfort were… unexpected. It was the first time that she had begun to suspect that she was in over her head. Life in the Wilds had not prepared her for any of this.
The templar was pleasant to look at, there was no denying it, and she was not ashamed of her thoughts in this regard. Looking back now, she couldn't pinpoint the exact moment when it had all slipped into madness. It was more like a series of small concessions, like throwing pebbles into a pool until there were no longer ripples, but waves.
She had watched the initial attraction between Alistair and Elissa with curiosity. They were driven by such a strange swirl of emotions and it was like nothing she had ever seen or experienced before. The awkward romance slowly unfolding into a deeper passion was so foreign and she could almost sense the primal physical need that sparked beneath the surface of it all. Morrigan studied them with her years of carefully trained and focused detachment. It was all just so, odd.
But then, she had the dream. Maybe there was a point when it had all turned on its head after all. It was their first night in Orzammar, and she was having trouble sleeping. She ached for the sky and the stars overhead, her soul despairing against the stone. She felt trapped and restless. She had tossed and turned for what seemed like hours before slipping unaware into the Fade.
The grass was cool and ticklish beneath her feet and a warm breeze caressed her skin. The trees were fully leafed, draped across the sky like a canopy. If she concentrated, she could hear the low hum of life within the great trunks, sluggish with sweet sap. She was walking now, slow and unhurried, but with purpose. Her feet carried her forward and she obeyed.
The scent on the breeze changed slightly – flowers, open sky, water. Morrigan found herself at the edge of a slow-moving river. An ancient tree, boughs bursting with lavender blossoms, dominated the bank. The sun was pleasant and warm, and the shade beneath the wizened trunk beckoned to her gently. How nice it would be to rest here awhile, she thought, and she sat down in the shady grass, leaning back against the rough bark and closing her eyes.
"I knew I would find you here," said a voice as languid as the river's current.
Morrigan opened her eyes and saw him approaching. He wore a simple shirt and trousers, no heavy plate weighing him down, as free here as she was. She felt no prickle of annoyance at his presence, only a sense of rightness that he was here at last.
"I've missed you," Alistair murmured. He sunk to his knees in front of her and took her hands, pulling her up tenderly so that she was kneeling as well.
"There is no need to miss me. I am always here," she said softly as she reached her arms up around his neck. Her fingers stroked the hair at the base of his neck as his arms slipped around her narrow waist.
"Oh, my love," he whispered as his lips closed over hers. The kiss was as long and as sweet as the summer afternoon, and Morrigan lost herself in it. She could feel the beating of both her heart and his racing through her veins.
The kiss deepened as their tongues danced together, desire pulsing brightly. Alistair's hands traced up her back, pulling her closer, and she could feel the scorch of his touch even through the thin fabric. She tilted her head back as his mouth moved down her throat. His hands were at her robe, pulling the fabric aside as he worshipped her flesh with his teeth and tongue. She moaned his name and he pulled away with a knowing smile. He caressed her cheek, fingers ghosting down her jaw, before tugging gently at her clothing and easing her body free. His eyes were the color of warm honey as he gazed upon her openly. He moved to his own clothing then, shedding it all like a skin, until he was naked and glorious before her. He was magnificent, a bright god of the woods.
Alistair took her hands, pulling her against him once more, as he guided them down to the grass. The ground was shockingly cool next to the feverish warmth of their bodies. She kissed him deeply, enjoying the groan that escaped him. His aroused member slid along her thigh as they tangled themselves around each other. She explored his chest, feeling the lean muscle beneath, tracing downward to where his want for her was abundantly clear. She ran her fingers along his length until he stopped her hand, his breathing wild. His mouth was on hers again as he rolled on top of her, pushing her legs apart with his knee. He eased himself inside her and began to move, his thrusts in time with her racing heart. Her nails tore down his back, the rhythm relentless. She felt the pressure building inside her as she writhed beneath him, crooning his name like a chant. She climbed higher and higher until pleasure coursed through her like arcs of lightning. Alistair pushed himself into her again and again until he screamed her name with a hoarse cry and collapsed, spent on top of her.
After a moment, he shifted over, pulling her next to him. Her head was on his chest listening to his heart beat slowing as the tips of his fingers drifted lazily over her shoulders.
"I love you," he whispered into her hair.
"I love you too," she murmured, and she meant it.
She jerked awake with a start, shaking uncontrollably. Overcome with emotion, Morrigan clutched her knees to her chest, curling herself into a ball, as she struggled to regain control. She tried to force her mind to pull back from what she was feeling, detach from everything and analyze it from a distance just as Mother had taught her. But, she could not. She was filled with a longing that was indescribable and it was for him of all people. Her heart was still galloping wildly. She was not alarmed at her desire for his body, but these other feelings terrified her. What was happening to her?
Morrigan compelled her body to unclench itself. She needed to focus. Perhaps a bath would help… She stood up and pulled her robes around herself before calling a servant to fill the large tub in the corner of the room. She paced impatiently as she waited. Finally, the servant bowed herself out, and Morrigan removed her robes and sunk down gratefully into the steaming water. It was exquisitely hot, and she felt some of the tension ebb out of her shoulders. She sighed as she lapsed into thought again.
A memory ghosted to the surface… the mirror. How old had she been? Eight summers? Perhaps nine?
She wondered who these strange people were, passing through her forest. They rode horses, she noted with surprise, and they were noisy and careless as they crashed through the undergrowth. Mother would not like these people, she decided. She studied them intently as they went past her hiding place, her focus caught by the woman riding near the center of the group. She was wearing the finest clothes that Morrigan had ever seen and her blond hair was clean and shiny, unlike her own which was perpetually full of twigs and burrs. She trailed after them silently, unable to help herself. She knew she should turn back, Mother would be calling for her soon, but the temptation to get just a little bit closer was too great. She had to stifle a laugh when she saw them making camp for the night. They dared to spend the night here? Who were these people? The hours passed by quickly as she carefully observed them setting up tents, starting a fire, preparing food. They were talking happily amongst themselves, laughing and joking. She was puzzled by them and dangerously curious.
As the sky grew darker, they began to retire for the night leaving only two awake by the fire. Morrigan sighed when the pretty lady went inside her tent. Time to go home now, she thought wistfully. She knew she would never see them again… What if she were to take something small from their camp? There were so many interesting things, surely she could find something small that no one would notice. She considered the gear that lay heaped near one of the tents, but she wanted something special.
Suddenly, her eyes lit up with barely concealed delight! Mother had started teaching her the basics of shapeshifting this spring and she had been secretly practicing on her own. She was not very good at it yet, but if she could pull it off she might be able to find something really interesting… Morrigan backed away from the camp quietly, until she was far enough away that she couldn't hear their voices. No sense being careless in case the spell didn't work and she accidentally drew attention to herself. Drawing in a deep breath, she began to cast. She concentrated on the feel of the animal she wanted to become and focused on each area of her body, imagining it changing into the form she desired. She felt the shift as her power crackled through her and then slowly opened her eyes. It had worked! She looked down at her paws and then reached around to examine her fur and tail. Lifting her paws to her face, she felt her ears and nose. This was the first time she had attempted a raccoon. Those dexterous little paws were exactly what she was going to need. Perfect.
She crept stealthily back to the camp, the man scents overpoweringly strong to her newly attuned sense of smell. Morrigan kept to the shadows until she reached the lady's tent. With a glance at the two men sitting by the fire, she bided her time until it was safe to peak in through the flap. Her heightened vision allowed her to see clearly in the dim light and her tail quivered with excitement at her daring.
The lady was brushing out her hair, humming an unfamiliar song. Propped up in front of her was a mirror with a golden rim and handle. Morrigan's whiskers twitched at the sight of it. She wanted it. In the back of her mind, although she refused to even acknowledge the thought, she wanted something else as well. She wanted that beautiful lady to be brushing her hair, to be singing softly to her. She blinked fiercely, cross with herself. She took a breath and detached herself from what she was feeling, carefully building a mental wall around it and banishing it all deep within. She shook her head slightly. Better. The mirror would still be hers though. She just had to wait.
Patiently, she slipped back around the tent and curled herself up, wrapping her tail around her. She listened to the sounds within and waited until she heard nothing but breathing, still and slow. Silently, she slipped inside the tent, creeping towards the lady's pack. She lifted the top open with her paws and peered inside. Morrigan couldn't believe her luck; the mirror was right on top. Her heart was beating furiously, her nerves on edge, and she didn't want to make a mistake now that she was so close. She pulled it out with both paws, using her mouth to keep it stable. There! It was awkward to carry, but she steadily dragged it out of the tent. Slowly, ever so slowly, she moved around behind the tent again and then further back into the thicker tree cover. Finally, far enough away, she released her shape and shimmered back to her true form. She had done it! The feeling of triumph almost made her laugh out loud.
She examined her prize with shaking fingers. Looking at it more closely, she could see that the gold on the rim, back, and handle was ornately carved with tiny animals, some with gemstone eyes. Morrigan had never seen anything so fancy, so wonderful, and so decadent. She traced her fingers over it reverently.
Now, to find a place to hide it so Mother would not know… She did not dare to hide it in their small cottage, and Mother knew the woods here better than she did. Perhaps in one of the Tevinter ruins… Yes, that would do for now. She started off for home, knowing Mother was going to be beyond furious at her for being gone so late, but she felt so light and exuberant at her success that she was not even dreading the inevitable beating. The mirror was hers!
She stopped at the first crumbled stone walls that she passed. Surely, there must be a good hiding place here. She trailed her fingers along the cool moss growing over the rocks, looking for a crevice that would be big enough. She found one without too much trouble but now, how to protect the mirror from being damaged? She could wrap it in her cloak, she mused, but then she would be in trouble for losing her cloak as well. Well, it could not be helped. She had come this far and was not about to give up now.
Morrigan could not help studying the mirror again before she wrapped it up. She gently touched each of the little gold animals on the back of the mirror before turning it over to study her own reflection. She had never seen herself so clearly before. Her hair was a deep black like the darkest night sky and her eyes a wolfish golden yellow. Her face was thin, maybe a bit too thin, she thought, and smudged with dirt. Her hair was full of leaves and twigs from her night time adventure so she propped the mirror up in front of her and ran her fingers through it. She thought of the pretty lady, brushing her hair before the same mirror, and she mimicked what she had seen. She hummed a song under her breath and imagined she was in a castle like in one of her books. She was a beautiful princess, loved by all, combing out her hair before bed. There was to be a dance the next day and all the fine gentlemen of the land would be in attendance…
"Well, well, well… So this is what you've been up to, daughter."
"Mother!" Morrigan was shocked out her daydream. She spun around, trying to hide the mirror. Please, let her somehow have not seen it! "I had not realized how late it had become. Perhaps 'twould be best if we started home immediately."
"Yes, perhaps," Mother's voice was cool as always but she had the faintest smile now. Morrigan felt her stomach drop. "But, I think that there is a lesson we need to learn first. Come here, child."
She hesitated slightly, and then stepped forward, exposing the mirror that still lay balanced against the rock.
"So, what have we here? This is the play thing that was worth so much trouble to you, hmmm? I do have to say that your raccoon far exceeded my expectations. Perhaps your finest work to date." Flemeth stepped around Morrigan who, from past experience, knew it was best to remain where she was, unmoving. Mother's wrath was coming. The only question was what form it would take.
Flemeth picked up the mirror and examined it nonchalantly. "So, what sort of life were you dreaming about just now? Let me guess – fancy dresses, lounging around in luxury, true love with a handsome prince? Ha!" Her laugh echoed through the ruin.
She suddenly grabbed Morrigan by the chin and forced her to look up into her face. "Listen carefully, girl," she hissed. "These things are not for you. They will make you weak. Do you want to be some pathetic tool, used by others, or do you want to shape and control your own destiny?" She held up the mirror. "Look at yourself. You are not some prissy noble-born blossom just waiting to be plucked and then crushed underfoot. You are mine and you will learn to be strong."
Flemeth lifted the mirror high and then crashed it down onto the stone, shattering it. The grass at her feet was littered with reflective shards although she still held the golden rim and handle. She tossed it to the ground as well and channeled a narrow blast of heat at it through her hands. The carved animals melted and ran like wax, until there was nothing left but tiny rivers of gold trickling through the grass.
Morrigan's lower lip trembled as she struggled to control herself. She was overwhelmed with rage, shame, and fear and, before she could rein it in, she was lashing out.
"'Twas mine!" she shouted hoarsely. Her voice in the oppressive stillness frightened her. Mother's gaze was dark and ominous. "I hate you," she said quietly.
Flemeth struck her across the face so hard that it nearly knocked her over. "Feel free to hate me all you like, you still belong to me." Morrigan didn't move and stared at her defiantly, seething inside. "Foolish girl, I am going home. We will discuss the rest of your punishment tomorrow," she said ominously. She transformed into a large grey wolf and loped off into the trees, leaving her alone.
Morrigan stood, unable to move, for what felt like an eternity. Her face was stinging from the blow and her eyes felt hot and dry. She had wanted that mirror like nothing else in her entire life. Why did Mother have to be so cruel? Was there really that much harm in her keeping it? She sunk to her knees, looking at the multitude of stars reflected in the chunks of mirror that lay strewn out before her. 'Twas mine, she thought again indignantly.
She screamed and raged then, shocking herself with the power of her anger, before promptly bursting into tears for the first time in her life. She cried until she felt numb, her small shoulders shaking.
Snuffling, she rubbed at her eyes furiously. Mother wanted her to be strong. Fine then, she would be strong. Some day, she would even be stronger than Mother and then she would use her, a tool to fuel her own power. She smiled then before wending her way home.
The water in the tub was cool now, so she dried herself off and redressed. Finally, she came to a decision. This dream meant nothing. She did not desire that stupid templar like she had coveted the mirror. She did not want him in any way. She did not feel anything for him. He was an idiot and she could walk away from all of them right now if she didn't need them for what was to come. Perhaps today, she would talk to Elissa about Mother. Her revenge was coming and it would be so sweet. She grinned.
She opened her door quickly, sure she would find Elissa already in the common room. She collided with someone in the hallway.
"You careless buffoon! Watch where you are – oh!" Her eyes widened in surprise as she realized it was Alistair. The way she had felt in the dream came back in a rush that almost made her knees buckle. She was trapped in his eyes and felt herself flush. She was humiliated by her body's betrayal.
"Oh, hello, Morrigan. You look happy this morning. Found someone new to terrorize or is it just going to be me again?" He smiled down at her rakishly and she felt her heart stutter in her chest. His hair was damp, he had clearly just bathed as well, and he was dressed in a simple shirt and trousers, not unlike what he had been wearing in her dream. She stared at him, her mind blank.
"What? No scathing retort? I'm hurt." He was looking at her oddly.
"I, I have no time for your foolishness," she managed to fumble out.
He shrugged. "Suit yourself," he replied, moving past her towards the stairs.
When he was out of sight, Morrigan leaned back against the wall and drew in a shaky breath. This must never happen again. Ever. She would not be weak. These emotions would not control her. She would shape her own destiny.
She marched determinedly down to the common room. Of their group, only Alistair and Elissa were there. They sat at a table in the back corner, huddled together. She was laughing, and his arm was draped around her shoulders. He leaned in to whisper something in her ear. Morrigan stood frozen, watching them. She was a little girl, watching a beautiful lady brushing her hair before a golden mirror. He looked up and saw her then, but she turned and fled.
Back in her room, she threw herself down on the bed, trying to force herself to quit feeling and just go back to thinking already. Jealousy was seething through her, rippling through her limbs, making her heart clench tightly in her chest. Fine, she wanted him, she grudgingly admitted to herself. She wanted what he and Elissa had. Was this love? She did not think so, but with no experience at all to draw upon, she was floundering in the darkness. Perhaps she had not learned Mother's lesson as well as she had thought. She was the fool here, she thought bitterly.
She moped in her room most of morning, waging an internal battle that she had no hope of winning. She had to face him some time and close contact was unavoidable unless she chose to leave now. But no, there was too much at stake here to just go. If she couldn't stop what she was feeling, she reasoned, then she must direct all of her efforts into hiding it. A knock on her door brought her out of her brooding thoughts.
She opened the door to see Elissa. She breathed a silent sigh of relief that it wasn't him.
"Hi Morrigan, can I come in?"
"Of course," she replied. "What do you require?"
"I was hoping you would join us this afternoon. This issue with the succession is going to be a real problem so we need to decide which candidate we're supporting and quickly. Until Orzammar has a king, they will do nothing to honor our treaties. I would appreciate your insight." She was always so polite, even to her. Morrigan genuinely did like her, despite it all, which made everything else just that little bit worse.
"I would be happy to accompany you. Let me fetch my staff."
"Oh!" she said, before Morrigan turned away. "I nearly forgot. I found this at a stall here and it reminded me of the story you told me back in Lothering. I thought you might like it." Elissa pulled her pack from her shoulders and rummaged through it.
It was all she could do but laugh when Elissa handed her a golden rimmed mirror, nearly identical to that one so many years ago. Clearly the Maker, if He even existed, had an ironic sense of humor.
Author's Note: All your reviews and kind words are so greatly appreciated. The second half of this story is already written and I'm editing it now so it should be up in the next few days. Thanks for reading!