title: "Silence, Water, Struggle, Hope"
warnings: violence against women.
exegesis: Warden Kallian Tabris is on the road from the Circle Tower to Denerim, passing through Highever lands. Lissa Cousland survived the destruction of Castle Highever and has been leading a minor guerrilla struggle in the hills around Highever ever since.
By the hour after daybreak, the rain has finally stopped.
Leliana tunes her battered lyre in the sun's blessed warmth, a tedious business of replacing damp gut strings with dry and fiddling with wooden pegs. She hasn't played since the rain started and she has a feeling they all need a cheerful tune.
Their bedrolls are draped over a broken wall to air, and the grass is covered with armour-padding spread out to dry in the gleaming morning sun. Wynne, bleary-eyed with lack of sleep, is doing something with a container of ointment in the long shadow of the barn, while Alistair darns his socks and pretends he's not watching over the old mage with worry. Sten is polishing his massive breastplate - and how the qunari can bear to march under that weight day after day, Leliana will never know - and Reaver is flopped on his belly, watching their bound prisoner with mabari-brown eyes and the hint of teeth. Morrigan disappeared off into the woods at dawn, black sarcasm and dripping scorn and Someone must hunt for dinner, for 'twill hardly hunt itself.
She hums under her breath, and tunes, and considers their prisoner. A dark-haired man in his thirties, grubby from too long on the road. Hard, calloused, the kind of man who's been a soldier from the moment he could lift a sword. He will not answer questions easily, if at all. But she does not think Kallian is likely to accept no for an answer.
There's two ways this falls out, the elf Warden said at sunrise, soft as a prayer, as she squatted beside the man and knotted her hand in his hair, twisting his head up to meet her mask-calm gaze. You answer my questions, and I'll make sure you die clean. You refuse, and I'll break your legs and leave you for the wolves. It doesn't make that much difference to me.
I'll let you think about that for a while.
There was something in her eyes that makes Leliana believe it is not a lie.
Neither Wynne nor Alistair were within earshot, then. Not mere chance, no. The glance the Warden cast Leliana on her way inside the barn, tight-lipped and pale of face, a glance that begged for - Understanding, she thinks, and forgiveness, though the weight of Kallian Tabris's gaze was more complicated than either - that, too, was no mere chance.
Now fabric rustles behind her, and the prisoner's expression hardens. "Kallian," Leliana says, and leans into the hand that falls on her shoulder, the warm line of the elf's body pressed up against her back. "The girl is well?"
"Better than I expected." The Warden's sigh stirs her hair. Leliana tilts her head up, meets dark weary eyes. "She's got a noble's pride, though, and it's been fair dented. You'd know better than me how well she's like to do, I think." Kallian's fingers tighten, but her expression and voice stay mild. "Back home, I never had the idea that I was... untouchable. If I wanted to survive, it had to be just one more damn thing that was going to happen, like rain and hunger." Her smile flashes, wry. "An elf doesn't learn to fight without paying for it in every possible way. Even - especially - the times when you can't afford to fight."
Just one more damn thing. Leliana will have bruises on her shoulder from Kallian's grip, but the Warden's tone has not once deviated from a conversational lightness. She remembers a dungeon, men violent and brutal in torchlight darkness, the humiliation of helplessness - the strange gentleness in the Warden's eyes, that night on the shores of Lake Calenhad, when she said I lied to you, you know. About why I left Orlais - and thinks that perhaps yes, the Warden is not entirely likely to be the best judge of a noble girl's prospects of recovery from beating and rape. She tilts her head. "Do you want me to go to her?"
"If you would. I don't want to leave her alone too long." Kallian unclenches her grip, shakes out her fingers with a rueful sideways look. "Sorry. I didn't realise..."
"You didn't hurt me." Not quite the truth, but the pain is trivial. Leliana sets her lyre aside, stands. "What are you going to do with our friend over here?"
Kallian flicks a glance towards the prisoner. "Has he said anything yet?"
"Nothing worth listening to."
"Shit." Her eyes are hard, voice quiet. She shifts her swordbelt - slung across her shoulder - a notch higher. "I guess there's no help for it, then. Tell Sten and Alistair to come over here on your way inside, would you? If he's not going to talk on his own, we're going to have to bully him into it."
Leliana frowns. Not that she disagrees with the sentiment, but... "Alistair?" The other Warden is still in many ways an innocent.
Kallian's smile is fleeting. "He'll keep me honest. Torture's a crude tool. Next to useless for good information - but I know myself too well. I don't hold back when I'm angry. Alistair won't let me go too far. Or even very far at all. And objectively, even a fucking rapist deserves a clean death."
"Good luck," Leliana says softly, and cups the nape of Kallian's neck - a brief, affectionate caress - before she walks away.
A/N: Life continues crazy. Expect very very very very infrequent updates.