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The Griffon and the Raven, Chapter 3

Prompt: Strength


“So, where did you learn how to fight?”

Blackwall poked at the fire with a stick. “Why do you ask, milady?”

Ravena shrugged. “Idle curiosity. I assume that you learned with the Wardens.”

He shook his head. “No. I was a military man, once. Learned how to attack there. Before that, I learned how to defend myself by entering tourneys when I was younger.” He grinned, his teeth white in the semi-darkness. “But I learned how to fight as a boy. Had my share of taking punches until I grew too big for others to pick on.”

She curled her legs up to her chin and wrapped her arms around her knees. “You said you were military. Why did you leave?”

He stared at the flames for a while before answering. “The people I served under cared too much about themselves and too little for their men,” he said roughly. “To them I was just a tool that knew how to take orders well. Once I realized that, I found I didn’t like the lifestyle. Luckily I was recruited soon after.”

She took note of the terse way he had replied. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know it was a sore subject.”

“It’s a part of my past I don’t like to dwell upon.”

“Then I’ll try not to bring it up.”

“Thank you.” They were quiet for a while, the only noise coming from the fire crackling in front of them. At their back, there was a noise in one of the tents – Sera most likely. She had a habit of moving around in her sleep, her limbs all akimbo. Ravena had woken up many a night to the other woman’s foot in her back or hand in her face. If she knew Blackwall a little better and wasn’t afraid of coming off as too forward, she would have asked him if she could share his tent instead, if only to ensure getting a decent night’s rest. As it was, the idea of sleeping so close to him was enough to send a hot flush across her face.

She frowned. Maker’s mercy, she was too old to be flustered about things like that as if she were some innocent maiden.

“And since you asked,” Blackwall started, breaking the silence. “Where did you train? I didn’t think that the Chantry equipped their scholars with weapons other than pen and ink.”

She quietly laughed. “They don’t. Well, not normally. I tend to study artifacts in places most law-abiding citizens don’t know about. Between the ancient traps meant to deter thieves, the bandits that usually claimed such spaces for their hideouts and monsters that wanted to kill me, I needed to learn.”

“You have an unorthodox style.”

“I had unorthodox teachers. My cousin was the one to give me my first set of daggers. He taught me what he had learned over the years, which admittedly wasn’t much besides bare boned basics. Being the bookish sort, I took it upon myself to research as much information on different fighting techniques as I could when I got back to civilization between digs. I took several styles and blended them all into something that suited me. Some of the Templars caught me practicing and helped to iron out some issues I had.”

“Generous of them.”

“Well, I did just retrieve a manuscript that they had thought was long lost the week before. And I had almost gotten killed by some demons who thought it would be great fun to play ‘chase the researcher’ while doing it, so I guess they figured they owed me.”

He stirred at the fire again. “I’m surprised none of them talked you into fighting with a sword and shield.”

She shook her head. “One of the knights I came across on my travels in Nevarra tried to teach me, but I don’t have the upper body strength for that type of combat. I’m quick on my feet and daggers are easier to handle for me.”

“Whatever were you doing in Nevarra in the first place?”

“I received word that a noble wanted to look into this legend about a royal crown supposedly charmed to grant the wearer everlasting life. My fellow colleagues thought it was a heretical load of rubbish, but you know what they say about curiosity and cats.”

He grinned toothily. They hadn’t known the other long, but Blackwall had picked up on Ravena’s curious nature right away, especially when she made time to stop and inspect every ruined building they came across in their travels, muttering dates and theories under her breath and taking time in the evenings to write in a battered looking journal. “And was the crown charmed?”

“Yes and no. See, the crown itself was secured in a tomb dedicated to royalty. The tomb was a marvel to go through: it predated modern mortalitasi traditions and even looked slightly Avvaran in build. It was also armed to the teeth with hidden traps to deter thieves. I would have loved to study it further, but my employer was adamant that I retrieve the crown in a timely fashion. The knight I mentioned came with me as backup, not only to act as protection, but to make sure I did everything the noble was paying me for. If I remember correctly, Anya is distantly related to Cassandra in some fashion. Probably some cousin or another twice-removed: the Pentaghast’s family tree has as many or even more branches to it than my own line.” She unfolded her legs and stretched. “Long story short, I was grateful to have an extra sword around. The crown was indeed charmed: some necromancer ages ago decided that it would be great fun to use it to bring back the dead if the site was disturbed. As soon as I tried to remove the crown from the corpse’s head, the thing sprang up and tried to kill me. The crown also reanimated several of the other corpses interred in the room. My first guess would be that they had been originally killed as a ritual sacrifice to attend the royal body in the afterlife, especially since there were many artifacts correlating with…” She paused. “I’m sorry. I tend to ramble on about the academics on things like this. I’m probably boring you.”

Blackwall shook his head. “No, no. In fact, I’m finding it quite the opposite. You live an interesting life, Herald.”

“Ravena.”

“Pardon?”

“Please, call me by my given name. Hearing so many people calling me the Herald is hard enough to get used to. Having you…” she turned her face so she could hide the bothersome blush from him. “Having a teammate, call me that feels odd.”

With her head turned, she didn’t catch the slight smile he gave her, or the way his eyes softened with affection. “Very well. As I was saying, you’ve lived an interesting life for someone who started out copying texts in a Chantry library.”

She had to laugh. “I never copied texts. My handwriting was never consistently neat enough for the head archivist’s high standards. I spent much of my early years re-shelving and cataloguing. But you are right; I’ve lived a bigger life than I would have had I been a traditional noblewoman or if I had stayed within the Chantry’s walls.” She looked at her palm. It might no longer hurt, but it did throb with strange energy from time to time, especially when they were in places where the Veil was weak. Seeing as they were in the middle of trying to close multiple rifts in the Hinterlands, her Mark made for some sleepless nights. “You should get some sleep. There’s no sense in both of us staying watch, especially if we’re going to deal with those rogue templars tomorrow.”

He tried to hide a yawn behind his hand. “You should rest too. Never know if we’ll find more rifts along the way.” He reached out and tugged on her arm. “Come on; wake Sera to take the rest of the watch. You’ll get a tent to yourself for once.”

She smirked. “So you’ve noticed, then?”

“If you recall, I spent the night sharing a tent with her last. She slept as soundly as a baby, even though she wound up kicking me in the kidneys all through the night.”

“You have my sympathies.”

“And you have mine. It probably wouldn’t be so bad if her knees weren’t so damned bony.” His eyes sparkled with quiet mirth. “It’s past time to change watches anyway. Might as well get two or three hours’ worth of rest.” Standing, he offered his hand. She smiled up at him as she took it, letting him help her to her feet.

“Goodnight, Blackwall,” she said, stopping by her tent.

He held the flap of his open. It was empty: Solas had decided to sleep a little ways away from them all that night. “Goodnight, Ravena,” he replied before slipping inside.

Not even Sera’s cranky attitude at having a particularly nice dream interrupted could dislodge the warm feeling that had settled in Ravena’s chest at the sound of her name on Blackwall’s lips. She squashed the need to tell herself that grown women her age had no reason to feel butterflies flutter at the rumbling timbre of a man’s voice, choosing to enjoy the moment instead.

Still smiling, she settled onto her bedroll and drifted off to sleep.

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