"I lied to you, you know? About why I left Orlais."
Another arrow missed its target and – after scraping the tree trunk it was supposed to hit – clattered to the ground harmlessly, leaving only a small, almost invisible notch at its side.
"Maker's breath!" Elissa Cousland – newest (and as it seemed one of Ferelden's last) Grey Warden, deadly with her daggers, but, as it turned out, completely helpless with a bow – hissed through clenched teeth as she reached behind her for another arrow.
Her eyes narrowed as they set on her target again and, taking a deep breath, she drew the bowstring back, taking her time to aim carefully...
"I didn't feel like talking about it then. What happened to me... maybe it will affect us, maybe not, but you should know."
The arrow whooshed through the air and shot past its intended target once more, instead vanishing in the thicket behind it. The sound of a disgruntled animal could be heard from within and the leaves of a nearby bush started trembling while it plodded into safety.
"Sorry," Elissa whispered to the still obscured animal, which seemed to answer with an annoyed grunt. She rolled her eyes. "Oh please, I bet it didn't even hit you..."
Another grunt could be heard and then the animal was gone and Elissa was once more standing alone in the silent clearing, the grip on her bow slightly tightening as she eyed the tree in front of her angrily. Except for the few notches, it was completely untouched, and even if that might have just been her imagination, the tree almost seemed to mock her with its unharmed bark, daring her to shoot yet another arrow at it...
The Warden angrily brushed a loose strand of hair out of her face. She would be damned if she'd leave this spot without managing to hit her target at least once... She'd already known her archery skills were almost non-existent, but that didn't mean she'd back out of a challenge. And right now, she could use the distraction...
She lowered her eyes to the bow still in her hand and a sigh escaped her. She wasn't even sure if she was holding it right... And there wasn't anyone she could ask for help right now... Zevran was (just like her) at a loss when it came to archery. The two rogues had once even held a small contest late at night in the camp, pledging that they wouldn't go to sleep before one of them hit the empty stew pot Oghren had placed on a tree stump at least once. Needless to say that the contest had ended several hours later when the liquor consumed beforehand (and during the contest – generously provided by Oghren who'd happily staggered back and forth between both participants, producing bottle after bottle from the personal stash in his tent) had taken its toll on the small group and a cold rush of water (generously provided by Morrigan) had woken the heap of limbs early the next morning – the pot still sitting on top of the stump, untouched, when Alistair grabbed it and set to work on his infamous lamb stew... again...
Her smile at the memory of that night was quickly replaced by a frown, however, at her next thought; the only one in her party actually capable of using a bow (with a grace unmatched by anyone Elissa had ever seen, at that) who could give her archery lessons was-
She sighed, shooting a quick, regretful glance over her shoulder. Said person was sitting in their camp, surely lost in thought right now after the past events in Denerim... But Leliana had asked for some time to herself and Elissa would respect her wish, she just couldn't sit by and watch the bard's expression get darker and darker by the minute...
So Elissa had grabbed one of their stash's bows and taken off into the woods. It was as good a time as any to try and work on her archery skills and – more importantly – work off some of her anger at the helplessness she momentarily felt. That didn't mean, however, the weapon of choice was making it easy for her...
She shot the bow in her hand an accusing glare. "Blasted bow! I should have taken the crossbow!" she muttered while she raised the bow once again, trying to ignore Leliana's voice in her head.
"The Orleasian guards. They captured me... did terrible things to make me confess and reveal my conspirators."
Her right hand let go of the bowstring and her hopeful eyes followed the arrow on its way until it-
"Andraste's great flaming arse!"
The bow clattered to the ground, followed by the quiver holding the remaining arrows. Elissa groaned as she ran her hand through her hair in frustration. This was pointless...
Someone clearing their throat behind her made her spin around immediately, one hand already reaching for the hidden dagger in her boot.
"Do not be alarmed. It is only I." Morrigan raised both hands to calm the other woman before she nodded towards the tree behind Elissa.
"It may not be my place to judge..." The witch shuddered visibly, grimacing at her next words. "Nor do I take pleasure indulging myself in matters of the heart," she added while she slowly approached the Warden, "But maybe you should stop pestering defenseless trees and return to camp."
Elissa crossed her arms in front of her chest and eyed the woman in front of her. "Your point?" She slightly leaned forward, a playful smile on her lips. "And since when do you care about 'defenseless trees'?"
The witch shrugged. "Oh, I don't," she announced matter-of-factly and, with a flick of her wrist, the tree behind Elissa went up in flames, making the Warden jump in surprise. "There. Now... Do I have your full attention now that you've lost your adversary?" Morrigan asked, an amused smile playing around her lips at the other's shocked expression.
"Maker's breath, Morrigan! The entire forest could go up in flames, our camp with it!"
The witch rolled her eyes and sighed. "Ah, you should not be so melodramatic, dear Warden," she stated while something white shot past Elissa and a thick layer of ice covered the burning tree behind her, steam immediately rising from it with a hissing sound.
Elissa's eyes shot back and forth between the now frozen tree and Morrigan before they finally settled on the witch and she gave a sigh. "Fine, I'll listen..." Her eyes narrowed. "Tree murderer..."
Morrigan's eyebrows rose. "'Twas not me who attacked it with arrows first." She waved her hand dismissively. "But let's not dwell on that... There are more pressing matters at the time." She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, the next words obviously not leaving her lips without great effort. "Your... bard... seems to be needing your... attention... company, whatever you prefer to call it."
An amused smile spread across Elissa's face as she watched Morrigan struggle for words. She challengingly crossed her arms in front of her chest once more as she stated, "She's not my bard, you know. And besides, she said she needed time alone..."
Morrigan groaned and threw her hands up. "Ugh, 'tis utterly absurd for us to have this conversation," she exclaimed, shaking her head in frustration. "You are a woman, are you not? Should you not be aware of these things? I would expect such obliviousness from Alistair, not you..."
"We just killed her former lover and mentor, Morrigan," Elissa answered in a soft voice.
The witch shrugged. "And you slaughtered my mother, yet I did not need time to mourn," she stated, unimpressed.
Elissa gave a short laugh and shook her head. "But we can't all be heartless monsters, now can we?" she challenged. "If she wants time to be alone, I'll leave her alone, simple as that."
Morrigan's eyes narrowed. She should have sent someone else to drag this stubborn woman back to camp... Taking a deep breath, she started another attempt. Maybe guilt would help...
"Ever since you left the camp, she's started to stare into the flames of our campfire with that... ridiculous expression on her face... 'Tis a bit irritating, to be honest, and I would prefer it if you could take care of that. Write her a poem maybe or... whatever it is you two do when you're alone and comforting one another..."
Elissa's amused smile turned into a grin. "Would you like me to tell you what exactly it is we do when we're alone?" she offered, satisfied when Morrigan vigorously shook her head.
"Certainly not! I have already moved my tent as far away from camp as possible and even there I am not spared having to listen to your nightly activities! 'Tis a bit sickening hearing you two, you know..."
That thought caused Elissa's grin to vanish as Leliana's hurt expression shot through her head once again. She leaned against a nearby tree with a heavy sigh, lowering her gaze as she muttered, "They hurt her in ways I can't even imagine and there's nothing I can do about it now." She gave a short, humorless laugh. "There's this anger in me, but I can't even tear their heads off or cut their throats anymore because they're most likely already gone or dead..."
Morrigan shrugged, crossing her arms in front of her chest as she leaned against a nearby tree. "Then would it not be wise to focus your anger on the enemies still within our reach? The ones we face each day?"
Kicking at the bow still lying at her feet, Elissa inhaled deeply before she continued as if she hadn't heard Morrigan's words – or just chosen to ignore them, "The only thing I was able to do was help killing Marjolaine, and it just doesn't feel like it was enough..."
"Well, you did manage to make quite an impressive display of violence on that poor woman's body..."
Elissa gave another short laugh, her eyes lighting up for a moment. "I suppose I did," she answered dreamily, remembering how long it had taken her to clean her blades afterwards...
"Well then..." Morrigan jolted Elissa out of her reverie by clapping her hands once. "We have discussed what needed to be discussed, can we go now?"
Elissa sighed and finally pushed herself off the tree, bending down to pick up the discarded bow and arrows. "You're right. Let's get back to camp before you get a rash from all this emotional talk."
"'Twould be preferable, yes."
Elissa gently patted the witch on the shoulder, smiling as the two left the clearing. "That was hard for you, wasn't it?"
Morrigan gave a heavy sigh, brushing a hand over her forehead. "Oh, believe me, it was. And don't expect me to rush to your side for aid every time you and that girl have an argument in the future..."
"Morrigan... you don't happen to know a thing or two about archery...?"
"I could show you how to let fire rain down on your enemies, feasting on their soft flesh..."
"I'll... get back to you on that..."
"You'll be worth a pretty sum. Once we've had our fun, of course."
The flames of the campfire danced in front of Leliana's eyes, illuminating her face while she watched it consume the gathered wood slowly. Her fingers brushed over a now almost invisible scar on the underside of her forearm absent-mindedly, one of many reminders of Marjolaine's betrayal, but thankfully (just like the rest of them) inconspicous enough to prevent questions about her past... A past she'd learned to come to terms with over the years, or at least as much as one could come to terms with something like that...
The previously steaming plate with stew was standing on the ground next to her, untouched. That was, until she heard the soft padding of paws next to her. She didn't even turn her head when she heard the Warden's mabari bury his head in the stew, noisily gulping it down when no one stopped him.
A deep breath let her chest rise before she returned to her unmoving state, the occasional blinking of her eyes being the only indication that she was still awake.
"If I were you, I would believe nothing she says. Not a one. She will use you. You look at her and you see a simple girl – a friend, trusting and warm... It is an act."
Marjolaine's betrayal all those years ago had been hard enough, but her former mentor's words had sent another sharp sting of pain through her chest when the other Orlesian had adressed Elissa standing next to her, trying to manipulate her the way she had manipulated Leliana before. The Warden had stood by her, but ever since Marjolaine had said those words, Elissa had felt distant. As soon as they had been back in camp, she had taken off into the woods without a word. Maybe Marjolaine's words had still managed to get through to her... And she couldn't even blame her if they had...
"Do you know why you were a master manipulator, Leliana? It is because you enjoyed the game; you reveled in the power it gave you. You cannot change or deny this."
It was true, she'd enjoyed the game Marjolaine had taught her. And most of all, she'd enjoyed the satisfaction killing had brought her. She still did, as she had realized once she had been standing over Marjolaine's corpse, the all too familiar tingling in her stomach at a finished kill... This was a side of her she had tried to leave behind, a side she had denied for so long. But it was a desire that obviously still burned as powerful as ever inside of her. She couldn't blame Elissa for turning away from her after seeing it. She'd met her as another woman, an innocent Chantry girl, a facade...
She didn't hear the soft footsteps approach her until someone sat down next to her, shooing the mabari away. The warhound growled disapprovingly but finally plodded away from the now almost empty plate.
"I couldn't help but notice your expression, my dear woman. Is there anything I could do to ease the pain you're obviously in right now?"
Leliana finally raised her head and forced a weak smile. "I am still not going to bed you, Zevran."
The assassin placed a hand to his chest, giving a mocking sigh. "You wound me yet again, my dear. But I am not willing to give up just yet, the offer still stands... for another time, of course..." He winked at her. "But since I am not the reason for your brooding mood, may I ask what caused these disfiguring wrinkles on your forehead?"
Leliana's eyes trailed off again and she softly spoke, "I am not sure you would understand..."
Zevran gave a short laugh next to her. "You do know how to wound a man's pride, I give you that. Come now, surely it would be better to share your burden with someone before these furrows get even deeper... Sulkiness doesn't become you." He gently nudged her with his elbow before continuing, "Does this have anything to do with the Orlesian woman in Denerim I heard about?"
Leliana turned her head back to him in surprise and the assassin nodded, satisfied. "Word travels fast, my dear, you should know that. Alistair can't keep anything to himself..."
The bard bit her lower lip before she admitted, "When we killed her, I enjoyed it... Seeing her dead gave me satisfaction."
Zevran's eyebrow rose. "And why shouldn't it? From what I hear, she deserved nothing less... This should not make you feel guilty."
Leliana shook her head. "It doesn't, that's the problem. Part of me loves the things we do... the killing..."
"Ah, it is a powerful feeling, is it not?" Zevran sighed in contentment. "We all have our specialities, we should not feel guilty about liking to do what we're good at."
She sighed. "I thought I found some peace living in the Chantry. I thought I could leave that part behind, but I couldn't..."
"And maybe that is the way it should be, no?" Zevran mused, smiling at her encouragingly. "Maybe the Chantry life wasn't for you... You do enjoy it, don't you? The hunt, I mean..."
Leliana slowly nodded.
Seeing her worried expression, Zevran went on, "Well, then I say you should allow yourself to enjoy it. As long as you don't decide to kill baby orphans on an uneventful day, I wouldn't worry about it too much..." He tapped his chin with his index finger, feigning to be deep in thought before he added, "Unless the price is right, of course..."
Despite herself, Leliana couldn't stop the chuckle that left her lips as she shook her head. "You're awful!"
"But charming," the assassin offered as he placed an arm around the other's shoulders, giving a mocking sigh when Leliana swatted his wandering hand away. He gently squeezed Leliana's shoulder and nodded over his shoulder. "Look around you. I think you fit in just fine into our little group of maniacs..."
Leliana bit her lip, her brows back into their furrowed state."What if I've lost her?"
"Her?" Zevran's brows furrowed for a second before his face lit up. "You mean our great leader?" He gave a short laugh. "Let me assure you, my dear woman, from what I've learned during our travels, there is almost nothing that could drive our great Warden away, the enjoyment of killing at the very least." He shook his head, still smiling. "Have you ever watched her dismembering darkspawn? I have to admit, for someone as used to killing as I am, her expression even manages to send a cold chill down my spine sometimes..."
"But she met me as a Chantry sister back in Denerim..."
Zevran gave a short laugh. "Well, I talked to Alistair about that meeting once and according to him, she wasn't ogling you because of the imprint on your robe, my dear..."
Leliana's eyebrow rose and her head turned to Zevran, curiosity starting to gleam in her eyes. "She wasn't... was she ogling me?"
The assassin simply shrugged, smiling mischievously.
Leliana's eyebrow rose, but she couldn't hide her smile when she answered, "She has a very sensitive side as well, you know. She just doesn't let it show very often..."
Zevran chuckled lightly. "If there is a soft side to her, I have yet to see it..."
"Soft side... hehe..." came a booming voice from behind them, making Zevran's head whip around.
"Oghren, put your tongue back into your mouth before I find a better use for it..."
"What?" The dwarf's eyes widened in shock as he jumped a few feet back from the two figures sitting by the fire. "Keep your panties on, you perverted elf!"
Zevran gave another mocking sigh as he turned back to Leliana while Oghren hastily crawled back into the safety of his tent – and liquor stash. "And that is my second rebuff this evening... It seems I have lost some of my charme... Maybe it is time to try Sten next..."
Leliana chuckled next to him and the assassin's face lit up, pleased with his accomplishment.
"Do not worry, my dear woman. I am sure things will clear themselves soon enough," he assured her, patting her thigh lightly...
He sighed and removed his hand, nodding in defeat.
The sound of cracking twigs made them both turn their heads towards the dark trees surrounding their camp and Leliana's smile widened when she noticed the two approaching figures.
"I found her in the woods, trying to improve her poor archery skills," Morrigan announced loudly, pulling a slightly embarassed Warden with her. "And while 'twas rather amusing to watch for a while, I felt the need to interfere before she seriously injured herself. We wouldn't want all our fates to depend on Alistair, now would we?"
"Hey! I have royal blood, you know. I'd make a great leader... someday..."
"Certainly. I watched you search for the lake nearby for almost two hours last night. The lake that, as I may add, is only a few feet away in that direction..." Morrigan pointed at a small path leading away from camp and Alistair's brows furrowed.
"I thought I didn't remember those trees- Wait! You... you watched me?"
Morrigan clicked her tongue in disapproval. "Do not fool yourself into thinking I saw anything that might have piqued my interest during your nightly bath, Alistair... Although I was tempted to turn into a bear just to hear that manly squeak of yours once again..."
"Heh, you could join me during my nightly baths any time... and trust me, there will be no squeaking... unless it's coming from you when my beard tickles you in all the right places, hehe..."
"Ugh, keep your thoughts to yourself, dwarf. No one wants to hear them."
Oblivious to their bickering companions, Elissa freed herself from the small group and sat down next to Leliana who was once again sitting alone by the fire while Zevran approached the tall qunari standing nearby with light, soundless footsteps and a devilish grin on his face.
Elissa turned to Leliana as soon as she'd sat down, a concerned expression in her eyes. "Would you like to be alone?" she asked softly.
Leliana shook her head once and linked arms with her, leaning against the other woman and resting her head on Elissa's shoulder while keeping her eyes on the fire in front of them.
They sat there in silence for a while, the fire in front of them illuminating the content smile on both their faces.
There would be time to talk later...
The peaceful moment was soon enough disturbed by a loud cry and they both turned around, raising an eyebrow at the scenery taking place before them...
Zevran was being chased by an enraged Sten, yelling, "It was a compliment, my friend. A compliment! You offered to show Morrigan, so why not me?"
Sten's mouth opened for an answer but closed again when the qunari tripped over Oghren and fell to the ground, cursing loudly. The dwarf hurriedly struggled back to his feet and ran off, zigzagging to evade the fireballs an angry Morrigan shot at him – and judging by the smell of burned hair, she'd managed to hit him more than once already...
Both Warden and bard slowly turned back to the fire, Elissa clearing her throat nervously before shooting the woman beside her an apologetic smile.
Leliana returned the smile which only widened when a sudden thought made her eyes light up and she leaned closer. "So... I heard you're looking for archery lessons..."
A/N: I'm thinking about adding another chapter, that's why I'll leave this story on "in-progress" but I guess that depends on how many new ideas I'll have in the future... we'll see... Anyway, hope you liked it :)