?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Steady as We Go, chapter 5

Title: Steady as We Go, chapter 5
Rating: PG-13 for violence
Summary: The group heads into Lothering
Note: Chapters 4, 5, and 6 were supposed to be one chapter, but I broke them up into three for easier reading.


“And here we are,” Morrigan said, gesturing towards the bridge. “Glamorous Lothering, in all its glory.”

“There seems to be some sort of trouble up ahead,” Moira said, noticing the way that several men had gathered along the entrance to the bridge. She shaded her hands to ward off the late afternoon sunlight, noticing how the men had perked up at their approach. “They don’t look to be the welcoming committee either.”

“Greetings, travelers!” one of them said. He was slicker in appearance and voice than the others, so Moira instantly put him as their leader. “Welcome to Lothering, but first, we have to ask you to pay a toll.”

“A toll?” Moira asked, arching her eyebrow. “For what?”

“Ah, so it looks like the pretty one is your leader. My fair lady, the toll is for road repair.”

She snorted. “Then I guess you haven’t had much success with gathering money. The road up to here was poorly maintained indeed. This very bridge looks like it could crumble should we walk too loudly across it.”

“And that is why we need your generous contributions. Ten silvers each will be plenty.”

Moira’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “Thirty silvers total? What are you planning on doing, paving the streets with gold?”

“Actually, it’s more like forty silvers. We do have a pet tax in town, you know.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. "I don’t think so.”

“Come on, lady,” the leader’s companion said. His speech was deeper and a bit slower sounding than the leader’s, which made Moira figure that he got through life depending on brute strength instead of wit. “Don’t make us take it the hard way.”

“They’re nothing but common bandits,” Morrigan said, distaste coloring her words. “I say that we teach them a lesson they won’t soon forget.”

Moira caught sight of a body that was partially hidden behind a few crates. The sunlight shone off the corpse’s armor, identifying it as a Templar. “I think you’re right,” she agreed, cracking her knuckles. “You would dare to impede the process of the Grey Wardens?”

The thug’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “Grey Wardens? Them’s the ones that killed the king.”

“What did you say?” Alistair demanded, breaking the moody silence that he had been under for the better part of the day.

“And if we are? Would you risk tangling with us?” Moira asked, attempting to be intimidating. She knew that she was slight of build and not actually well practiced in the art of intimidation, so she quickly changed tactics and decided to persuade the bandits instead. She was good at that; she found that it was easy for her to sweet talk almost anyone into doing what she wished. While not as good as her mother had been – Eleanor Cousland had a way of asking people to do something that she knew they were adverse to doing in such a manner that not only did they do it, but they thought that it was their idea in the first place – Moira excelled in reading her mark’s body language and building her case from what she discerned. “We just might leave you alive if you decide to lift this little toll you’ve imposed.” Having Quinn growl menacingly at her side helped her case considerably.

The leader’s eyes widened. “Of…of course, my lady. Please, step on by with our blessing.”

“We could probably use a donation as well. I’d say that twenty silvers should suffice.”

Money jingled. “Wouldn’t you know it?” the leader asked, laughing. “Our last patron was overly generous. We happen to have exactly twenty silvers to spare.”

“Many thanks,” Moira told him, taking the money and stepping over the bridge’s stone threshold. She nodded to the rest of the bandits, who were looking at her with a mixture of fear and wariness, as if they didn’t believe their good fortune would last.

“You aren’t going to leave them here, are you?” Alistair asked, looking over his shoulder. “Did you not see the body of that Templar? They will kill others that decide not to pay their toll.”

Moira stopped and looked at him. “I know that,” she said. “I was just giving them a false sense of security.”

“So you mean to do something about them?”

“Of course.” Clearing her throat, she turned back to the bandits. “Gentlemen, there has been an awful mistake.”

The leader of the highwaymen tilted his head. “Mistake? What sort?”

“Well, I feel absolutely dreadful about taking your money. Here, please take it back.” She tossed the silver coins to the nearest bandit, who fumbled as he tried to catch them all. The coins that he had missed clattered to the ground and rolled about on the bridge’s stonework.

“Not to sound ungrateful, but what prompted this change of heart?”

Moira crossed her arms over her chest. “You see, I just didn’t feel right about taking your profits away without taking some of those ill gotten goods that you’ve accumulated as well. And I can’t just leave you here to continue business; the logical solution would be to cut you down and take whatever I pleased once you’re all dead.”

The goon standing beside the leader blinked. “Well, that makes sense…” His mind seemed to catch up with Moira’s words and he narrowed his eyes. “Wait, she said…”

“Yes, my friend. It seems as if she has a death wish.” The leader reached behind his back and brought out a dagger. “Attack!”

“Oh, I was waiting for this to happen!” Morrigan exclaimed excitedly, moving away from the main fighting range.

“Getting a little wordy, aren’t you?” Alistair asked, blocking an arrow with his shield.

“What can I say? I tend to babble when I get nervous.” Moira kicked up a big cloud of dirt to use as a weak screen before slipping into her stealth mode. She knew that her stealth skills were weak, all that she had really used them for was to sneak down the corridors of her own home without being detected by the guards, but she hoped that she would make herself a smaller target until she got rid of the two archers. The tactic seemed to work, because everyone’s attention was currently focused on Quinn and Alistair.

The tang of ozone filled the air and a flash of light made one of the bandits scream. Morrigan laughed soon after and she pointed her staff at another target, lighting crackling around the tip. Moira lunged towards the archer closest to her before he could fire at Morrigan, quickly shoving her dagger deep into the unguarded area between the bandit’s arm and side. He went down with a pained moan and Moira finished him off with a slice of her sword.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t good enough in the stealth department to actually continue hiding while she fought, so her position was given away to the rest of their foes. She had to quickly jerk her sword out of the dead archer’s body and dodge to the right to avoid getting hit with the remaining archer’s arrows. There was a loud snarl and Quinn jumped onto the archer, his jaws clamping over the man’s throat.

“Hey ugly!” Alistair taunted, banging his sword against the side of his shield. “Yeah, you, the big stupid fellow!” Alistair visibly gulped as the large goon charged at him, and he wound up having to use his shield to deflect many of the bigger man’s attacks. He wasn’t fighting with any weapons besides his bare fists, but the impact of them against metal was enough to make Alistair’s arm ring with each blow. His boots skidded backwards until he braced his legs and began his own attack, using the shield as a weapon. He lashed out in a quick flurry of strikes, hitting the goon three times in the face with his shield. The first and second hit made the other man stumble backwards, but the third, which Alistair aimed square at the bandit’s chin, sent him reeling until he stumbled to the ground. Alistair had a brief moment of pity for the man as he lay there with his arms thrown up in defensive gesture, but then he caught sight of the body of the Templar laying there and steeled his resolve to bring his sword down. For such a big bully, Alistair thought, he certainly screamed like a little girl when he went down.

“Wait!” The leader cried, throwing his dagger to the ground. “We give up! Please, we surrender!”

Moira was breathing heavily, her sword dripping with blood. “I thought you’d see things my way.”

“Please! Don’t kill us! We’ll give you everything that you want!” The leader of the bandits pointed to the chest that was partially hidden by their makeshift roadblock. “There’s a hundred coins in that chest, take them all! It’s all we’ve collected, I swear!”

“And if I let you go?” Moira asked. “What will you do then?”

“We’d leave here and never come back! Just let us escape with our lives!”

“It would be most foolish of us to believe him,” Morrigan said, kneeling to rifle through the pockets of the dead bandits. “What’s to say that they won’t set up their little operation somewhere else?”

“I hate to say it, but I agree with her,” Alistair told her, glaring at the three other surviving bandits who glared right back.

“They’re both right,” Moira reasoned. “I can’t have the rest of you wandering around Ferelden unchecked. I will take you with us into Lothering. I’m certain that the authorities there can deal with you however they wish.”

“There aren’t any authorities,” the leader spat out. “They’ve all fled with the majority of the people.”

“Then I shall leave you to the mercy of the people that you’ve stolen from that happen to still be in town.”

The leader seemed to think back at all the people that he had swindled out of their hard earned money and blanched. Moira didn’t know what other sort of evil the group had done to those that had resisted, but it must have been severe, because the man’s eyes hardened. “I’m not going down without a fight!” he cried, pulling a second dagger out from behind the small of his back and lunging towards Moira. She had anticipated him doing something like that, so she was already moving, her sword coming down on his forearm, slicing through leather and bone. The leader shrieked and sank to his knees, holding onto the bloody stump of his arm. Moira used his position to quickly behead him. It all happened within a matter of seconds, but to her, time had seemed to stretch out and her movements seemed to go in slow motion, almost as if she were watching someone else do the deed. She turned around to see how the rest of her companions were faring and it seemed as if they had done the same. Smoke curled out from one bandit’s chest as he lay sprawled on his back, Alistair was wiping his blade on the clothes of another man, and Quinn stepped over the third, licking his chops and looking pleased with himself. Moira looked down at the ruin that they had just caused and her gorge rose, making her clench her jaw and quickly look away. She was no killer; she didn’t enjoy doing what she had just done, but they had left her with little choice. She stared down at the leader’s head, which had rolled about a foot away from his body. You’re getting too good at beheading folk, she thought, wiping blood off her chin with the back of her hand. Her legs were shaky as she stared into the dead man’s eyes. Why were they attacking the bridge in the first place? Did they have families that were dependent on the money that they brought, no matter how illegal the means were? Did this man have a wife or a child who would forever wait for him, wondering why he never came back home? What…

“Don’t think too hard on them,” Alistair said, putting his hand on her shoulder. “They were bandits and murderers; what they were doing was wrong and we put a stop to it before they could hurt other innocent people.”

“Was I that obvious?”

He gave her an odd, lopsided smile that looked vaguely sympathetic. “Only to those who go through the same thought process.”

She glanced down at the dead bodies again. “I don’ think that I’ll ever get used to this,” she confessed.

“Good. The moment you do is the moment that I start to worry about you.”

Moira knelt down beside the Templar. “This poor man probably never stood a chance against them.” Something glimmered at the corpse’s neck and Moira gently unclasped the necklace she found there. “Perhaps he was going to meet someone here. The least we could do is to ask if anyone knew him and give them this memento to remember him by.”

“What? You aren’t thinking of selling that?” Morrigan asked, looking over her shoulder. “It ought to fetch a pretty price in the market.”

Moira shook her head. “He died for money, Morrigan,” she said quietly. “I won’t have anything else of his be traded for coin either, no matter how much it might sell for.” She stood and went to the chest that the bandit leader had spoken of. It was full of coins, just as he had said, as well as several items that would be useful for making spring traps. Moira put the money into her belt pouch and the trap materials into her bag.

“Ah, Lothering. Pretty as a picture, isn’t it?” Alistair said as they reached the other side of the bridge.

“I was wondering when you were going to start with the inane sarcastic remarks,” Morrigan commented, inspecting her nails.

“You have been very quiet, Alistair,” Moira said, shooting a warning glance at Morrigan that the witch chose to ignore.

“He’s more than likely been inspecting his navel.”

“As I said, you have been quiet. Is everything all right?”

He nodded. “Actually, I have been thinking.”

“Small wonder you haven’t said much; I warrant it took all your concentration to think and walk upright at the same time.”

“Morrigan…”

Morrigan actually listened to Moira for once, putting her hands up in an ‘okay, okay’ gesture.

Alistair glared. “Does it really shock you that I might be upset that my all friends and companions, not to mention my mentor, have just recently died?” he asked. He wasn’t quite yelling, but his voice was thick with emotion. “What would you do if you had heard that your mother had been killed?”

“What? Before or after I stopped laughing?”

His temper died down a little and he curled his lip at her. “Right. I keep on forgetting that you’re incapable of feeling the same things that normal, sane people feel."

Great, a former Templar and an apostate mage at the other’s throats for the duration of the journey. I do not need this. “We don’t have time to start petty quarrels; we have an army to build, remember?” Alistair looked contrite, but Morrigan just went back to inspecting her nails, making a small sound when she realized that she had cracked one with that last fireball she had lobbed at the bandits. “Now, what have you been thinking about?”

“I was wondering which way we should go first. Have you read the treaties?”

“No, I haven’t had a chance to. Have you?”

“I have. There are three scrolls there that bind the dwarves of Orzammar, the Dalish elves, and the mages of the Circle Tower to lend their aid when the Grey Wardens call for it during a Blight. This is definitely a Blight, so we’re within our rights to call upon them, but we’re at a sort of crossroads. Where do we go first?”

“I don’t know.” Moira went down the steps and snatched up a nearby stick. Crouching down, she drew a rough map of Ferelden in the dirt. “We are somewhere around here,” she said, putting an X to mark their location. “The dwarves are here, the Circle is here, and as for the Dalish elves, they could be anywhere.” She knew from Brother Aldous’ teachings that the Dalish elves wandered wooded areas, so their best bet of encountering at least one of their groups would be to head into the Brecilian forest to the northeast.

“And Arl Eamon’s home is here,” Alistair said, taking the stick from Moira and marking Redcliffe on their makeshift map. “As I said before, he is a good man and will lend us his aid. If it were up to me, I would go to him first.”

“And what of you, Morrigan?” Moira asked, looking behind her shoulder. Morrigan jerked her hand back quickly and looked away. It took a second to understand what had just happened, but Moira saw that Quinn had gone beside Morrigan and was snuffling at her boots and hands, which he often did whenever he met someone new. Obviously he hadn’t seen her as a threat, because he was still standing next to her. In fact, he was actually leaning against the mage’s legs, his head tilted upward to invite her to pet him. Morrigan must have been about to do just that when Moira had addressed her. “What do you think?” she wondered, deciding to ignore what she just saw, seeing that Morrigan was clearly embarrassed by the visible crack in her façade of indifferent disdain.

“Stupid dog,” she muttered, stepping aside and brushing off a speck of dirt from the feathers at her shoulder. Clearing her throat, she looked down at the map that they had drawn. “What of this Teyrn Loghain? Where would he be?”

“More than likely Denerim,” Alistair said, marking that on their map as well.

“Then if it were up to me, I would storm the city and take care of my main threat, leaving me to obtain this army at my leisure without having to worry about someone constantly at my back.” She punctuated her statement with the tiniest flare of fire pinpointed at Denerim that scorched the mark Alistair had made in the ground.

“Absolutely, because Loghain would never see that coming. I mean, he’s only Ferelden’s greatest general; he just earned that title without any sort of tactical knowledge or anything.”

“Alistair…”

“She asked for my opinion and I gave it,” Morrigan told him tersely, crossing her arms. “If you would like to list the reasons why things could not be done, we’re likely to still be standing here just in time to welcome the darkspawn horde.”

“What do you think we should do?” Alistair asked Moira again, standing up.

Moira stood as well. “Why do I get the feeling that you’re looking to me for leadership?” she asked warily.

“Yes, tell us. Aren’t you supposed to be the senior Warden? Doesn’t that technically make you the Commander now? Why defer to someone less experienced than you?”

Alistair’s brow furrowed. “I don’t want a leadership role, is that so difficult to understand?” He turned his head and addressed Moira. “Besides, you’re a noblewoman; you know the rules and regulations. I’m not naïve – I know that we’re going to have a bigger fight on our hands besides just the darkspawn. Loghain is beloved by most of the people in Ferelden. His daughter is Queen. Those bandits said that we were the ones to kill Cailan. We’ve only been gone for a few days; what other lies has he already spread about us? I spent most of my life away from politics, but you’ve been around them since you were born. It’s only natural that you take the lead.”

“Perhaps he’s not so dumb after all,” Morrigan mused loud enough for them both to hear. “It would be a refreshing change from what I’ve witnessed so far.”

“I’m going out on a limb and regarding that as a compliment,” Alistair grumbled, turning his back to Morrigan. “So, what do you say? Be our fearless leader?”

Moira took a breath. “I don’t know about fearless, but I’ll do my best, if that’s what you really want.” She regarded the map. “I agree with you. Eamon would be our best bet to approach first. On a political standpoint, besides Loghain and my father, he has the most political influence amongst the nobles in the Landsmeet. If we have him on our side, then we stand a better chance at dispelling all the lies that Loghain is bound to have spun against us. What I would like to do is look for my brother while we are still south, but I know that the Wilds are expansive and…” she looked away. “And there is a chance that he is not alive. Without knowing his fate, I am officially Teyrna of Highever, and I can put whatever pull that title still gives me towards our cause.”

“Then what are we waiting for? Let us head to this Eamon as quickly as possible and then be on our way to the next group.” Morrigan walked off towards the camp, ignoring her other companions. Quinn looked behind his shoulder at Moira before bounding off after the witch.

“Looks like your dog decided on a new mistress,” Alistair observed.

“No, he just really likes her. That tells me that no matter how horrid her manners are or how much she insults you that she’s a good person deep down.”

“Yeah, deep, deep down, I bet. You know, underneath all those layers of Mean, Sarcastic Witch that she’s got built up. I’m sure she’s just a real sweetheart once we get to know her.”

She looked at him as they began to walk towards the front gates. “I know that you don’t like having her here with us, but we do need her help. Why else would Flemeth ask us to take her with us if she wasn’t going to be of some great use to us later on?”

“I don’t know. Maybe her mother just wanted her out of her hair.”

Moira sighed. “All I’m asking is that you two don’t kill the other before we can take on the archdemon. You chose me as leader, and as such I will not tolerate two of my most important party members constantly being at the other’s throat.”

“You really think I’m an important member, or are you just saying that because it’s just the four of us?”

“Of course you are. You are my Warden Brother, are you not?” She sobered. “Alistair, I don’t know anything about being a Warden except for the very brief things I was taught as a child, and even then, those were more fairy story type legends than actual truths. You’ve been one longer than I have; I’m going to be looking to you for guidance. And I don’t know about you, but while I have some knowledge of poisons, I have zero knowledge of healing herbs. Morrigan seems to know a lot about the subject, so unless you’re willing to sit and have me stitch you up every time that you get a scratch, perhaps we should play nice with our healer.”

“You’re right,” he sighed. “I can’t give you my word, but I’ll try to be civil.”

“And that’s all I can ask of you. Thank you.” They made their way into the city, and both of them couldn’t help but notice the fear that was thick in the air. Quinn had seemed to abandon Morrigan in favor of ducking behind Moira’s legs, a distressed whine coming from his throat. Morrigan was standing ahead on the dirt road, contemplating the scene in front of her.

“Shall we see if they come to blows?” she asked, gesturing with her chin towards the merchants standing beside a wagon and an elderly woman wearing Chantry robes. “If they do, my money is on the merchants.”

Moira stepped forward. “Excuse me,” she said, bringing both parties’ attention onto her.

“Oh, thank the Maker that someone is here,” the Chantry Sister said. “These people are robbing the refugees leaving the city blind.”

“We’re trying to make a living,” the merchant said defensively. “Can’t you see that?”

“Yet you got most of those goods here in the city and you’re selling them at inflated prices. These refugees are also trying to make a living and you’re robbing them of money that they’ll need further on down the road.”

“It isn’t like I’m holding them at swordpoint and demanding that they buy things.”

“Please! Fifty silvers for a single poultice?”

Moira cleared her throat. “It does seem as if you’re selling things to give yourself an incredible profit,” she reasoned.

One of the merchants gave her a slow looking over, starting from her face and working down towards her boots and up again. The leer that he had plastered on his face did nothing to persuade her to side with him. “You’re a pretty one,” he said. “I’ve got a few shiny baubles that you might like, for a discounted price, if you know what I mean.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “How many other women have you offered that discount to, I wonder.” Looking at the other two merchants with him, she straightened her spine and used her best persuasive voice. “I understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, but would it hurt your business if you offered your wares to these people at a reduced price for the time being? You have already gained such a large profit already; surely lowering your fees will not dip into your coffers any.”

“Well…”

Moira clasped her hands behind her back and leaned forward. Her armor prevented the merchant from looking down her clothes, but the stance was similar. She was hoping that even though she was bloodstained and armed that she would look innocent and non-threatening enough to convince him. “Think of all the good business you would get from doing so. Word of mouth would spread throughout the town and you’ll have more customers than you can possibly deal with.” She shuffled a little closer to him, almost as if what she was going to say was for his ears alone. “I’m not saying to drop your prices so low that you’ll lose all the profits that you’ve gained, but at least lower the inflated prices to a point where they’re tolerable.” She looked at the merchant from underneath her lashes. At this close range, he could see down her armor, so she took the opportunity to take a deep breath to enhance the view.

“When you put it that way, how can I say no?” He tore his eyes away from Moira’s chest and looked at the Chantry Sister. “Very well, we’ll lower the prices.”

“Maker thank you,” she said, bowing low at the waist.

“Don’t thank the Maker,” the merchant said, leering at Moira again. “Thank her.”

“Shall we begin solving everyone’s problems that we come across?” Morrigan asked once they were back on their way.

Moira could tell that the other woman didn’t approve of the distraction, but she shrugged. “You never know what you might get out of it,” she said as they came up towards the Chantry. “The next time we help someone, they might have a tidy reward to give as well as their thanks.”

“Speaking of rewards,” Alistair said, looking at the board that was posted right next to the Chantry wall. “It seems as if there are a few requests up here.”

“What is it?” Moira asked.

“This is a Chanter’s Board. Surely Highever has one of these?”

“I don’t know. We had our own chapel; we rarely went down to the Chantry in town for services except on holidays.” Her mind went towards Highever’s Chantry. She could clearly smell the strong scent of beeswax candles burning and the heady incense that Mother Mallol had often waved in the air at various parts of the service. The winter service was Moira’s personal favorite; the entire building would be decked out with evergreens and berries, the scent of pine boughs mingling with the candles. When they were younger, Fergus would often fidget at Moira’s side, tired of sitting still for so long even if he was three years older than she. Services at the Chantry were the only times that it seemed as if Moira had sat completely still; she had been an active child just like her brother, but she had been so enchanted with the way that the choir had sung songs and the reverent way that her mother and father would recite prayers alongside the Revered Mother that it had felt wrong to misbehave in such a sacred place. “I never paid attention to anything outside.”

“These boards are places where the people living in the town can post up requests for others to fill. Sometimes they can be as mundane as ‘I need someone to weed my garden’ or ‘There will be a reward for helping harvest grain this season’ to something bigger, such as solving a riddle as to who keeps on stealing the bakery’s freshly made bread every morning or more importantly, someone requesting help getting rid of bandits along a bridge.”

She eyed him. “So you’re saying that there might be a bigger reward for what we just did?”

“Perhaps. Sometimes it’s best to ask inside the Chantry. Since we’re going in there anyway, I don’t see how it would hurt.”

“You do realize that we’re persona non grata here, especially with the way that Loghain is spreading rumors about us, right?”

“Which is why we need to go to the Revered Mother first. If we explain to her what is going on, then she can give us asylum.” Alistair scratched at his chin. “Those bandits said that the leaders had already fled the city. Who else besides the Bann, Arl, or Teyrn holds the most power in a city?”

Moira seemed to understand what he was saying. “The Chantry. No one wants to displease them, for it could be seen as displeasing the Maker Himself. They do have a big influence in the city’s dealings.” She could recall her father having several meetings with Highever’s Revered Mother each year, often taking the time to visit her in the Chantry instead of requesting her presence in the castle. Bryce had a good relationship with the church, which meant that the church had a good relationship with him in turn. If he did send down an edict that was a little difficult to take in, like the time that he had been forced to raise taxes to cover the charge of bringing in grain from the Bannorn when Highever had a poor season, the Chantry took his side and reasoned more with the people to the point where any sort of discourse that might have struck up otherwise was quickly soothed.

“Exactly. And now that we’re on the Naughty Warden List, we want as many powerful people on our side as we can possibly get.”

She gave him a sidelong glance. “Are you certain that you don’t want to be leader? You’re proving to be pretty good with decision makings.”

He threw his hands up in front of him. “Oh no, you go right ahead. I’m more than happy being the lowly lackey, ready to do your bidding.”

“Perhaps not lackey. How does second in command sound?”

He stood up straighter. “That sounds agreeable to me. Mind you, I might have made one good suggestion, but I’m more than likely going to make a hundred bad ones to counter it.”

Moira frowned, wondering why he was badmouthing himself as a way to cover his cleverness. She knew that they didn’t have any time to go into it right now, but she put it in the back of her head to address it if the trend continued. Her father had taught her how to run a teyrnir, and one of the first things that he had taught her and her brother was how to recognize useful people around them. Alistair was beginning to look incredibly useful, but not if he continued to hide the other talents he had besides being good on the battlefield away from her. Walking ahead, she almost ran into another refugee.

“Maker, make him stop,” the man complained, holding one hand over his ear.

“What’s going on?” Moira asked, standing on tiptoe to look around the growing crowd of people.

“One of those blasted Chasind folk are out there screaming their head off. It’s enough to drive one mad, I say.”

“Don’t look at me, I’ve been perfectly silent,” Morrigan said, leaning against the wall. “Let me guess, you’re going to try to play nice with everyone, aren’t you?”

“If it lets us go into the Chantry without getting a headache in the process, then yes.” She wove her way through the crowd until she was in the center of the circle. A man dressed in tattered armor stood there, screaming.

“There is no escape! They will kill us all in our beds!”

“You there,” Moira said, trying to project her voice over the man’s panicked rambling. “What seems to be the problem?”

“The problem?” The man yelled, walking up to her. Moira winced. I would hope that he has another level for his voice besides Loud and Obnoxious, but I guess not, she winced again, trying not to shake her head to ward off the ringing in her ears. “The problem is that the darkspawn are coming and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves!”

“Surely you don’t believe that. We can fight back.”

“No, there is no fighting! There is no hope! We are doomed!”

“Okay, I’ve had about all I can take of being reasonable.” Reaching out, Moira grabbed the man’s cuirass and hauled him down a few inches until he was eye level with her. She was not a short person by any means, but the man towered over her otherwise. “Listen to me,” she hissed, pointing with her free hand at the people gathered around them. “These people are afraid and worried just as you are. What help are you offering by screaming at the top of your lungs like a crazed person?” She looked at the children who were clinging onto their parent’s legs. “You say that there is no hope, but you are wrong.”

“Are you calling me crazy?”

Trust him to latch onto the one thing I said that was pointless. “If you continue to act this way, then yes. Only cowards decide to spread fear instead of doing whatever they can to help calm the situation.” She let go of the man’s armor and shoved him away from her. “What are you, a coward or a rational person? The choice isn’t mine to make; you must make it yourself.”

He blinked and looked at her. “I…I have shamed myself.” He didn’t say anything else, but he did shove his way through the crowd to disappear into the masses.

“I thought he would never leave,” a Templar said. “We were about to have to use force.”

“Do you really mean what you said?” another man asked, addressing Moira. “Is there hope?”

She nodded. “There is hope as long as there is life left in us, is there not? Is anyone making you stay here to wait out the darkspawn?”

He squared his shoulders. “No, there isn’t.”

“Then why haven’t more of you left and headed north? Surely there are more people in the cities north of here; if we all band together, we can create militias that can defend the others.” Moira turned around and addressed the people. “Think of your wives, of your children. Do you want to keep them here where they shall surely be slaughtered just as that man said they would or would you rather give them a chance to survive elsewhere? Your leaders have already left; pull up stakes and follow them.”

“We can fight!” someone said from the crowd.

“I have family in Denerim, surely the city can take more of us in,” someone else cried.

“Thank you, stranger,” the Templar told her. “We’ve been trying our best to aid those that have fled here, but everyone has been frozen in fear, unable to know what to do next. Hearing a fellow refugee say what we’ve been trying to tell them seems to have started to work.”

“Is it true that their leaders have fled?”

“Abandoned, more like. They ran off to Denerim at the first sight of darkspawn in the south, long before the big battle that we could hear all the way from here began. Where do you hail from?”

“We were closer to that battle. It didn’t go well, and I would suggest getting everyone out of the town before the horde makes its way here.”

He nodded. “I shall tell Ser Bryant directly. He has taken control of the town in the other’s absence and he will listen to this news.”

“We might want to talk to this Ser Bryant ourselves,” Alistair said. “If he’s in charge, he’d be the best person besides the Revered Mother to go to.”

“You’re right.” She pulled out the dead Templar’s necklace from her pocket. “Before you go, do you recognize this at all?”

The Templar shook his head. “No, does it belong to someone here?”

“Apparently not. We found it on the body of another Templar at the main bridge.”

The Templar’s expression turned weary. “Those damned bandits have escalated to killing innocent people! Something must be done about them!”

“Something has been done. They shouldn’t bother anyone any longer.”

“What, did you and your companions deal with them?”

“They’re dead, if that’s what you mean by dealing with them.”

The Templar bowed to them. “Andraste rain blessings upon you. Those people were a scourge to the refugees attempting to enter the town. Scum like that shall not be missed.” He opened the main door to the Chantry and gestured for them to enter. “Ser Bryant will definitely hear any case that you have to present to him in reward for this news.”

“I don’t like this,” Morrigan said, looking shiftily at the Templars who were inside the chapel. Her hands clenched at her sides and she flinched when Quinn stood by her and gave her a whimpering noise meant to soothe her nerves.

“I know, but it’s the only way that we’re going to get out of here alive. Besides, if we have the Chantry dispel these lies, the refugees fleeing will spread that news. Alistair was right; the church has more power than a Teyrn and is easier believed than one, even if that Teyrn is one of Ferelden’s great heroes.” The scent of incense was strong, but instead of being used in a ceremony, it was being used to mask the odor of many unwashed bodies in a single place. Moira watched as the Templar from outside went towards another, who she assumed was Ser Bryant. She was about to go towards him, but Alistair put a hand on her arm.

“Ser Donall?” he asked, stepping to the side where a lone knight was standing next to a niche that held prayer candles.

The man turned and squinted, as if he were trying to place where he had seen Alistair before. “Alistair? Is that you? Maker, I haven’t seen you in years!” He reached out and grabbed onto Alistair’s offered hand, his own hand clasping Alistair’s forearm. “When I heard what had happened in Ostagar, I feared the worst for you.”

“How did you know that I was there?”

Ser Donall let go of his hand. “Arl Eamon informed us of your whereabouts. He keeps tabs on you, you know.”

Alistair frowned. “I don’t know why he bothers,” he said shortly, crossing his arms over his armored chest. “Why are you here this far south if you weren’t sent to Ostagar?”

“You haven’t heard? The Arl is deathly ill and we have been sent out all over Ferelden in order to find clues to help him regain his health.”

Alistair’s previously stony expression dropped instantly. “He is ill? What happened?”

Donall shrugged. “No one knows. All we know is that he had been poisoned by a mage that the Arlessa took in off the road. That mage is currently in Redcliffe’s dungeons and he refuses to say anything as to what might reverse the process. The Arl is not responding to any sort of medical treatment and his condition worsens every day that we are gone.”

“What can be done for him?”

“The Arlessa has sent us out to find the Urn of Sacred Ashes. One pinch of them is reputed to cure any ill.” He looked away towards the prayer candles. “I was here awaiting news from a Templar who said that he had some information for me that might prove useful.”

Moira pulled out the necklace again. “Do you recognize this?”

“Yes, I do! This belongs to the man that I was waiting for, did…” His shoulders slumped in disappointment. “If you have this, then that means he is dead. Damn it all, but it seems as if this quest that I’ve been sent on is nothing but a fool’s errand.”

“It must be,” Morrigan piped up. “The ashes of Andraste are nothing but a myth. If there really was a spot where this mystical relic lay, surely you would think that someone would have found it by now.”

Donall looked at her. “Sometimes things of this nature must be believed in order for them to be revealed to us. Andraste’s ashes only appear to those who are noble in heart, it is told, and can only be used for good.”

“Curing the Arl is a worthy cause,” Moira agreed. “We are headed towards Redcliffe ourselves. Once we get there, we shall see what we can do to help heal the Arl.”

“You are too kind,” Donall said. “Redcliffe needs more people like yourself.”

“Is the army still there, or have they all gone off searching for the Ashes?” Alistair asked.

“No, only the Arl’s personal knights have left the city. We have left the rest of the army there to defend it against the darkspawn that will surely arrive sooner or later.”

“That was a wise decision.”

“Yes, it was. Bann Teagan has taken over the arling while his brother is ill. He is a good man, and a strong leader.”

Moira couldn’t help the blush that rose to her cheeks. She remembered a time when she had been a teenager that she had harbored a secret crush on the older Bann. As it was, she was certain that he wouldn’t even remember her when they did meet again; he rarely had any reason to stop and talk to her the few times that he had been in Highever when she had been a girl and Moira hadn’t seen him in person in years. “I’ve heard word that he is,” she said, turning back towards the Templar who was standing next to Ser Bryant. Both of them were looking at them, which Moira noticed made Morrigan tense even further. “As soon as our business is completed here, we shall be off to Redcliffe. I hope that we can offer some sort of help.”

Ser Donall bowed. “Thank you, my lady.” He looked her straight in the eye and said, “I don’t believe a single word that was said of the Wardens. There’s no way that they would have left our king to die out there. The Teyrn was not one to usually spread rumors, which makes me feel like he’s desperate for allies these days.”

“Thank you. It helps to know that at least some people are on our side.”

“You have more people than just me in your corner. Once the Arl is well, he will lend you as much aid as Redcliffe is capable of giving. He and Bann Teagan don’t believe the lies that have spread about you either.”

She looked at him curiously. “What lies?”

He gave her a sympathetic look. “Arl Howe has been spreading the rumor that your father sold valuable secrets to the Orlesians. He’s been labeling him and the rest of your family traitors, saying that had he not stopped them when he had, then Ferelden would have been vulnerable to attack from foreigners.”

Moira drew in a sharp breath. “My father was no traitor,” she seethed, her hands clenched into fists and her voice low. “If anyone is, it is Howe. I swear, I’m going to cut that man’s lying tongue out of his head myself.”

“You have allies, my lady,” he repeated. “Teyrn Cousland was a good and decent man. There are many who do not believe anything that bastard says, especially the people of Highever. Many people have fled their homes in fear that they shall end up like the people of Amaranthine.”

Moira wanted to ask what was going on in Amaranthine, but she decided against it. If anything, she would learn about whatever evil Rendon had turned onto his very own people later when they reached Redcliffe. She gave a low bow to show Ser Donall how grateful she was for his information before walking towards Ser Bryant.

“I’ve heard word that you four are responsible for ridding us of our bandit threat,” he said, looking at them dubiously. His eyes stayed longest on Morrigan, who was standing up as straight as she could with her shoulders thrown back, her own pale eyes boring into his as if daring him to look away first. From the corner of Moira’s eye, it almost seemed as if the feathers adorning Morrigan’s left shoulder flared and ruffled out on their own accord.

“That would be correct,” she said, moving a little to the right to break the staring contest between apostate and Templar. “They attacked us at the bridge and we had no other option but to fight them. I apologize for leaving such a mess at the gates of your town.”

He gave her an odd look. “We’ve been trying to rid ourselves of them for days. They were getting so bad that I feared we would have to use force to get rid of them once and for all. You’ve done us all a great favor; thank you.” He tilted his head. “And I hear that you’ve also convinced many of our refugees to move further north. It is certainly not safe here and I fear that should we stay any longer than we already have then we shall have a massacre on our hands whenever those…creatures come across the town.”

“We haven’t seen any sign of darkspawn yet,” Alistair said from Moira’s left, “but that doesn’t mean that they won’t hit this town. Everything north of Ostagar is fair game to them.”

“Then we shall double our efforts of evacuating the city. Truthfully, there aren’t that many people left. Many have fled north to Denerim and into the Bannorn. Only those too afraid to move onward or those too stubborn to budge remain.” He pulled out a pouch that jingled with the sound of coins. “I know that this is not much, but it is the amount posted for helping with the bandits.”

“Thank you.” Moira put the money inside her own belt pouch. “I was wondering if you could give us just a little more assistance.” Bryant looked to be a good man and Moira recognized that while the Revered Mother was more than likely the main power here in Lothering, Ser Bryant was the one that people looked towards for leadership. It would be good to have him on their side.

“Anything.”

“I suppose that you have heard rumors flying around about the Grey Wardens,” she began. She couldn’t help but notice that Alistair tensed ever so slightly beside her, almost as if he feared an attack. Quinn panted happily next to Moira’s feet, but he seemed to sense his discomfort because he stood up from where he had been sitting and butted his head against Alistair’s left hand.

“I have. And I wish to tell you that I personally believe that those rumors are false. You are Wardens, are you not?” He pitched the last bit as low as he could. “There are many still here that do not share my beliefs. Lay low, but know that the Revered Mother shares my opinion. Go to her and she will say more about the subject. I can’t openly aid you, but take this.”

“What does it go to?” Moira asked, closing her fingers over the brass key that Bryant put into her palm.

“It goes to the closet to the far right of the altar. There’s a surplus of weapons and armor that we’re going to be forced to leave behind in favor of carrying out food for everyone. It would serve you better than it would just by staying where it currently is.”

Moira thanked him again before the four of them headed towards the Revered Mother’s office. “I know why you are here, travelers,” the woman said, sitting in a chair at the end of the room.

“Your Reverence,” Moira said, dipping into the lowest curtsey that she was capable of as a show of respect. While she wasn’t incredibly devout – what she had been doing for the past two weeks was anything but following scripture to the letter, especially the whole do not kill portion – she was highly aware that Bryant had said they already had the Chantry’s support. She wasn’t about to do anything to change that.

“Rise, my child.” The Revered Mother stood herself and went towards them. “You seek our aid, do you not?”

“We do.”

“I cannot openly give much, but I have sent word amongst the refugees that have already gone ahead. You shall be offered a safe refuge within any Chantry in Ferelden. People are loath to believe the Hero of River Dane capable of quitting the field to allow his king and fellow countrymen to die, and it is easy to place the Grey Wardens in the role of scapegoat. There are not many left in Ferelden now, are there?”

“We are the only two who remain, Your Reverence,” Alistair answered.

“Then it shall be hard on you to fight against your detractors. I have done all that I can on my end, the rest is up to you.”

“We thank you for everything,” Moira said, bowing again.

“I wish you all luck on your journey. May the Maker and Andraste herself protect you.”

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
ironicdiscordia
Nov. 26th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
. . . Y'know, I've played through Origins 3 times now and still hadn't figured out how to get the key to that cabinet. XP At any rate, enjoyable chapter. I especially like your characterization of Morrigan and her interaction with Quinn.

Also, nitpicking. ^_^; "The good standing beside the leader blinked." Probably ought to be goon. "The least we could do is to ask in anyone knew" should be 'if anyone.' " . . . and both of them couldn’t help but noticed the fear that was thick in the air." Ought to be notice, not noticed.
bossy_muses
Nov. 26th, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC)
Fixed! Thanks! :D

Yeah, I finally realized that was how you get the cabinet key after this past playthough. Before I was all "Arrrgh! My rogue's lockpicking skills aren't good enough! There's probably something good in there that I'm missing!" (and funny, but I always play my Wardens, no matter what their origin, as a rogue. I've yet to play a mage all the way through and I leave the warrior tanks to Alistair, Sten, Dog and Oghren.)
ironicdiscordia
Nov. 26th, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
My first play through was a mage. I liked the dynamic between her and Alistair, although I realized after finishing that I'd made a lot of choices solely to manipulate the outcome of things rather than staying true to the character in my head. So, I'll probably replay at some point just because it bugs me. XD My 2nd character was a Dalish rogue, and my 3rd was a Cousland warrior. (Because I got all the way to Orzammar with my Dwarf noble warrior and got bored with her.)

Given how many warriors the game throws at you, it does seem a little silly to play one, and the class is honestly a bit dull. :(
annikainen
Nov. 28th, 2010 01:13 pm (UTC)
Wheee! It seems almost dumb to keep telling you how wonderfully you write, but no matter - you do. The interaction between the characters is wonderfully alive. And I especially enjoy how you write Morrigan. <3

May I nitpick "a little" too? (oh my, that got WAY longer than I expected, don't kill me!)

1. There were a few occasions where you slipped calling the chantry 'church'. Chantry is also the name of the institution as well as the building, there is no such thing as church in Ferelden. You're probably aware of this, but it's an easy slip of mind to make. :) It's at least there where Moira's thinking about how Bryce used to deal with the church/chantry in Highever, and then a couple of paragraphs later.

2. This is a more general issue and I can't remember if there was any of it in this chapter, but. I don't know if it's something you're going to fix later when editing, but there's a lot of wrong use of past perfect tense in your dialogue, I've been paying attention to it ever since somewhere around Someone like you, but never got round to mentioning it - I wasn't sure if it was because of your writing habits or something else! But.

It looks like that often you sort of have changed indirect narrative into dialogue, and that's where it happens. Like you probably know very well, past perfect has two uses (and a lot of time you use it right as well!). I'll quote from the previous chapter:

While she hadn’t had many dealings with the man after the two of them had grown past childhood, he had been a kind person.

When you're using a narrative that's completely in the past tense, then marking past incidents goes in past perfect. Like you've done here. Has to be in past tense, because the time is gone and Cailan is dead. But now, heads up! If you decided to turn this sentence into a bit of dialogue, you'll have to rethink the tense, because dialogue always happens in the present tense. You know this, but sometimes, every now and then, the past perfect seems to confuse you. Now, how should this go as a bit of dialogue?

"I didn't have many dealings with the man after the two of us grew past childhood, but I know he was a good man", Moira said. (took the liberty of changing it a bit but I guess you get the gist)

Now, what's the difference between past tense and past perfect when the main tense is present instead of past? It's this:

"He was a good man". = He was a good man until something happened to him, in this case, death.
(present perfect: "He has been a good man." = he's recently done something commendable)

"He had been a good man." = It's a bit confusing, if you think of it in terms of dialogue. You'd expect some sort of indirect narration with past perfect, but then when it's not there, it just seems plain strange. Like, if she'd say, "If only his wife had been kinder to him, he would've been a good man", it would be completely alright, but that's again a case of indirect narrative due to the 'if only' in the beginning.

Do you understand what I'm talking about? :D I know it's a bit rich of me to lecture about the tenses of a language that isn't my first, but there you are... :D

Anyway, whenever I come across one of those places, it immediately makes me think you've first written the sentence out of dialogue, then rethought it and turned the sentence into dialogue but forgotten to change the tense.

This is really splitting hairs now! But your writing is otherwise so completely professional and wonderful that it'd be awesome if a recurring slip like this could be fixed. *huggles*

iceprincessd
Nov. 28th, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC)
Ack, I hadn't even noticed the Chantry-church thing. Thanks for pointing that out!

Yep, you got me. I'm horrible at grammar and I knew that something looked off in the dialogue, but I didn't know what it was. :) I'll be fixing that in the edits for sure.

Thanks! *hugs*
annikainen
Nov. 29th, 2010 07:00 am (UTC)
You are NOT horrible at grammar. That's the only thing that ever stuck out. :) And it's an easy enough slip to make anyway. :) But now you know. ;)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

October 2015
S M T W T F S
    123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Paulina Bozek