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The Griffon and the Raven, Chapter 5

Prompt: Body

“And that was the last time I played Wicked Grace with that man.” Blackwall drank deeply from his glass and grinned as he finished his story. Over the weeks since she had recruited him, the two of them had found themselves getting together more often in the evenings for an hour or so. It had started as Ravena lingering beside the smithy and sharpening her blades or inspecting her armor for needed repairs. Blackwall had joined her and eventually their conversations while they worked turned into invitations for drinks at the tavern. Drinks quickly evolved into evening walks, at first where they walked with a respectful distance between them to now where Blackwall offered his arm in an almost courtly gesture and kept her tucked close to his side. Ravena appreciated it; spending time with Blackwall talking about everything except the Inquisition was a welcome distraction.

Tonight they were in the small cabin Ravena had claimed for her own: a platter of mostly picked over food and a nearly empty bottle of wine between them.

Ravena nodded, refilling both their cups. “I can imagine. Owing that many sovereigns to one person would make me reconsider a rematch.” She sipped from her own glass. “I’m horrible at Wicked Grace.”

“You’re too open an opponent,” Blackwall agreed. “You twitch the corner of your lip in this little half-smile when you have good cards and you do this subtle little frown when you have a bad hand.”

“I do…” She gaped at him before laughing. “All right, so I do tend to do that.” Secretly, she felt a little curl of pleasure at the fact that Blackwall had been staring at her mouth on the few occasions she and several other people had gotten together in Haven’s tavern to play a round of cards. The initial bolt of attraction she had felt for him upon their first meeting had only grown with time, and she was pleased that it seemed as if he returned her feelings.

“If I ever need the extra money, I’ll be certain to ask you for a game.”

She arched her eyebrow as she mock-glared at him over the rim of her glass. “Fine. And I’ll be sure to ask you for a game when I’m low on coin. I might be rubbish at Wicked Grace, but I can beat the pants off nearly everyone here at Diamondback.”

He grinned. “You said nearly everyone.”

“Well, Solas has the grace not to beat me too terribly and Varric gives me a run for my money most matches, but I can hold my own against anyone else.”

“And what, my lady, makes you so certain that you can take me?”

She swallowed her wine. There. He tended to pitch his voice lower than usual when he was in a flirtatious mood, and the low rumble was enough to make her shiver. “Believe me,” she replied, matching his tone. She watched as his eyes darkened, his gaze never leaving hers. “I can take everything you give me.”

His fingers tightened on his mug and Ravena held her breath, watching as he leaned forward. “Well,” he said, clearing his throat. “I guess it’s a good thing that I don’t have a deck of cards handy. It’s cold out there; I’d hate to lose my pants.”

“Such a shame,” she told him, not bothering to keep the disappointment out of her voice.

He reached for the gloves he had placed on the table at the start of the evening. “It’s getting late, I ought to be going.” Standing, he grunted and made a face, his hand going to the small of his back.

“Is everything all right?” she asked, genuinely concerned.

He waved her off. “It’s nothing, merely the weather and age playing hell on my body. Don’t ever grow old. It’s a trap.”

“It doesn’t look like nothing,” she said, standing up and going over to him. Without thinking, she put her hand on his back. “Tell me you’re wearing something studded underneath that,” she told him.

“Uh, no?” He grunted again when her fingers began to probe at the middle of his back.

“Blackwall, you have knots in your back the likes I have never seen before,” she declared. “No wonder you’re uncomfortable.”

“I haven’t had the opportunity to visit an Orlesian spa to get those worked out,” he sarcastically replied, rolling his shoulders when she hit a particularly bad spot.

She stopped prodding long enough to tap at her chin with a finger. “Well, it isn’t as glamorous, but I could help you out, if you’d like.” Moving over to the bed, she took several of the books and journals that had been sitting on the mattress off and placed them on a nearby table.

“I don’t want to put you out.”

“I wouldn’t offer if I didn’t truly want to help. Besides, I owe you for some of those knots. Remember the Storm Coast just a few days ago? The gigantic spiders?”

He made a face. “Ugh, don’t remind me. Those things are ugly as sin.”

“And they make the most Maker-awful shrieking noise when you stab them.” She did some digging in a small basket that was on the bedside table until she came across a vial of some sort of clear liquid. “Boots off, please. I’d rather not get the sheets dirty.”

“And just how far would milady like for me to disrobe?” he asked. Ravena had her back to him, but she could all but hear his cheeky smirk. Two muted thumps told her that he had at least taken off his footwear.

“However far milord wishes would be fine,” she replied, setting a candle close by for extra lighting. She didn’t know if it was the wine talking or just the fact that it was so easy to fall into flirtatious banter with him. Turning, she tapped on the buckle of his belt. “But I can work on the muscles in your back better if you strip to the waist.”

He arched his eyebrow and threw a leer her way. “Why does this sound like you just want to see me without my clothes?”

Rolling her eyes, she held out her hand for his gambeson and carefully draped it over the back of the chair he had vacated. “If that was the case, I would have gone with a much less complicated ruse, like saying take off your clothes; I have a dire need to see you naked. I’ve no skill in the art of seduction.”

Blackwall gave a husky laugh as he grabbed a fistful of the back of his shirt and pulled it over his head. “I think you sell yourself short, my lady.”

“And you flatter me.” Taking his shirt, she motioned to the bed. “Face down, if you will.” While he situated himself, she uncorked the vial and held it out. “This is a liniment Adan gave me for sore muscles. I don’t know what he put in it, but it works wonders.”

“Smells a bit like elfroot.”

She poured a bit into her palm. “More than likely the base. It might be cold at first.” Even with the warning, Blackwall tensed as she applied it to a spot underneath his right shoulder blade. He let out a quiet groan when her fingers found a knot that had troubled him for days.

“Where did you learn this?” he mumbled, the side of his face sinking into the pillows. He inhaled, breathing in a floral scent that he’d often caught faint whiffs of out in the field when he sat or stood close to Ravena. It made sense that the smell would be more concentrated here where she slept and it made him feel pleasantly lightheaded.

“Antiva,” she replied. “My cousin and I were working a dig that was more physically demanding than usual. Spending hours hunched over notes is something I’m used to, but spending hours hunched over notes, wriggling through half-collapsed chambers and helping haul out statues weighing several hundred pounds each took a toll on us both. The head foreman of the project suggested a place where he promised we’d get our money’s worth. He didn’t disappoint.”

Ravena continued to work at his shoulder, working the stiffness and pain out of places he hadn’t even been aware had been sore. She moved down his arm, making a quiet tisking noise at how badly his forearm was knotted. “I spent nearly a year at that site. It might have been hard work, but it was rewarding, both on an academic level and a personal one. And, most importantly, I spent most of my extra pay at the massage clinics. It was a relaxing experience, even when I wasn’t sore. After a while, I began to memorize their techniques.” She looped her foot around a low stool to drag it closer to the bed, sitting down so she’d be more comfortable as she worked on releasing tension in Blackwall’s hand. She gently placed his arm back on the bed and rounded the mattress, shaking her head in the process. “Maker’s breath, your shield arm is a mess.”

Blackwall hissed when she hit a spot that had been giving him hell for the longest time. His hiss turned into a loud groan that her pillows did little to muffle. “Too much pressure?” she asked, her hands stilling over his skin.

“No, just that I forgot how much that spot hurt until you made that spot stop hurting.” He turned his head so he could look at her. “I’m not made out of glass, do your worst.”

She rolled her eyes. “Good. You have a couple of tight spots here that can use some extra attention.” She took her cues from his body language, but began to use her elbow to break down a particularly large area of tension on his left side. They lapsed into silence as she worked, and eventually she was satisfied that Blackwall’s back and shoulders were as relaxed as she could make them in a single session.

“You are a miracle worker,” he slurred, humming in contentment as she kneaded at the back of his neck.

“Glad to be of service.” Ravena slid her fingers through his hair to work at his scalp. She had expected his hair to be coarse to the touch, but found it to be incredibly soft as it sifted through her fingers. “Consider this payback with interest at all the times you protect me when we’re out there.”

“If that’s the case, I’m going to have to throw myself between you and danger more often.” Ravena’s hands slid back down to the small of his back and then purposely moved upwards with some slight pressure, gently making his spine pop as things settled back to where they belonged.

“You don’t have to go to such extremes, Blackwall. When things begin to pain you, just let me know. I’d hate to have your back revert to how it was.” She moved back to his neck, her thumbs digging into the strong cords of muscle she found there. He didn’t reply, and after a while she checked on him to find that he had fallen asleep.

Ravena flexed her hands and looked down at him. She hadn’t allowed herself to admire his body while she worked to ease his pain, but she took the time now. Firelight showcased the strength in his outstretched arms and the breadth of his shoulders. His muscled back tapered down to a trim waist that Blackwall’s padded gambeson and bulky armor often hid. Her eyes traced the collection of scars she could see from her vantage point. Most of them were small in size and pale, but she had felt a larger, more raised section of skin running vertically along the front part of his shoulder. There was a pale white slash that started close to the small of his back that more than likely snaked around his hip, but she could only guess at the extent after it disappeared beneath the waistline of his trousers. As if on its own volition, her finger reached out and traced a long gash along his right bicep and she wondered just how he had gotten the mark.

She suddenly wondered exactly how his back would feel under her hands, his muscles bunching and moving, skin sweat-slicked in the heat of passion. Her imagination was so vivid that she had to bite her lip to smother a moan. She had half a mind to wake Blackwall, but the look on his face when she went to shake his shoulder made her change her mind. He looked peaceful, lying there with his head turned to the side and hair spread against her pillow. The serious expression that was almost always on his face was gone, or at least smoothed over in sleep. She had the strangest desire to kiss his brow.

“Too much to drink,” she muttered, moving away from the bed to stopper the wine bottle and tidy up. She shook out his tunic and folded it properly, taking time to bring it to her nose to smell. His shirt smelled of the smithy: like wood smoke and metal all rolled up into one manly package. “Definitely too much to drink,” she told herself, eyeing the half-full cup still on the table. She hid a yawn behind her hand. She, Solas, Varric and Blackwall were scheduled to head back out to the Fallow Mire in the morning to deal with the report of lost troops. She knew that she had to be well rested if they were to be successful in getting their men back.

She glanced at the bed. Blackwall took up much of the small mattress, leaving her only a sliver if she slept on her side. A sliver isn’t so bad, she thought. Remember that one time you and two other researchers slept in that half-sunken ship you were investigating? You had less room than that and you did just fine. Then again, her fellow researchers had been tall and reed thin. Fine, so this is like the time you had to take shelter in that small outcropping that barely counted as a cave during a rainstorm. You remember the Coastlands, right? Ravena quietly groaned and put a hand to her cheek. Of course she remembered the Coastlands. She had been traveling in Ferelden with a mercenary who had agreed to come with her as protection. Over the course of her trip, the two of them had become friends and…

“Oh, grow up,” she hissed, toeing her shoes off. She and Marcus had amicably parted ways several months after that, but she still thought of him and the memory of that night and the many other nights that followed fondly. Taking the pins out of her bun with more force than necessary, she quickly braided her hair and blew out the candles. The cabin was still dimly lit by the low fire in the hearth, and she silently climbed into bed beside Blackwall, stretching out on her side and pulling one of the spare pillows away from him. All Blackwall did was murmur in his sleep, which made her breathe a sigh of relief. Blackwall wasn’t the soundest of sleepers while they were out on the road, but it seemed that he had slipped into a deeper slumber now that he was better relaxed. She briefly thought about how she was going to use her feet to pull the blanket at the foot of the bed to cover her, but then she realized that Blackwall’s body radiated so much heat that the coverlet wouldn’t be necessary. Settling down, she stared at the back of his head until her eyelids drooped and she fell asleep.

***

Waking up in a strange bed with a woman in his arms was something Blackwall hadn’t experienced in quite some time. It took him a little while to focus; going by the weak light from the dying torches lit outside Ravena’s window trying to peek through her closed shutters, he estimated that it was an hour or so before daybreak. Glancing down, he saw that Ravena had curled up close to him sometime during the night. Blackwall was caught between being embarrassed that he had fallen asleep on her in the first place and incredibly pleased at the way her right leg was wrapped around his and how her arm was draped across his middle, her hand splayed against his back.

He chose to be pleased. He felt good, in fact, he felt better than he had in a very long while, thanks to Ravena’s care. Now that his eyes were adjusted to the gloom, he saw that Ravena had taken her hair out of her usual bun and had braided it into a thick plait that coiled around her shoulder. He couldn’t see too many details in the low light, but he caught the way the thick fringe of eyelashes had fanned out over her cheeks. For the longest time he merely lay there, enjoying the quiet and marveling at how well the palm of his hand fit against the feminine curve of her hip. It was truly difficult to rouse himself out of her bed, especially when Ravena made a quiet protest when he finally did roll away from her. It took a little bit of fumbling around in the dark, but he managed to dress himself.

Blackwall was in the process of sneaking out of her cabin when he turned to give her one last look. Ravena had moved, rolling into the place he had just vacated. Even from the door he could see how she had loosely curled herself into a ball, her arms around the pillow he had been using. He set his gloves back down on the scarred table and crouched by the hearth, stirring up embers until he had created a fire large enough to heat the immediate area. He then went over to the foot of the bed and unfolded the blanket he had found, gently pulling it up over her shoulders. He was beyond surprised that all she did was sigh in her sleep and snuggle deeper against the pillows; Ravena was normally a much lighter sleeper on the road.

With the fire in the hearth providing extra light, Blackwall stared down at her as she slept. She was lovely; unable to help himself, he reached out and traced the edge of her cheek with the backs of his fingers, thinking back to one of those princesses in a book he had read as a young boy. Before he could think better of it, he bent and briefly touched his lips to hers. It was wrong and he knew it. Even so, he took that moment and hoarded it away, knowing that he’d take it out and treasure it for many a cold and lonely night to come.

***

Ravena woke to the sound of pounding on her door. Bolting upright, she looked around, slightly disoriented for a second. “Blackwall?” One glance to the chairs they had sat at the night before saw that his boots and coat were missing. She was partly disappointed that he had left and partly surprised that she hadn’t woken as he moved about. Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she slipped out of bed and padded barefoot to the door.

“Rise and shine, Herald,” Varric said, his voice overly cheerful.

She rubbed at her eyes. “What time is it?” she asked, letting him in. The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon, the sky painted a lovely mix of roses and purples.

“Too damn early, if you ask me. I was having such a nice dream when Seeker woke me up.” He held out a still-steaming mug. “Don’t ask what’s in it, just trust me.”

She took a cautious sip and sighed gratefully. “Varric, you wonderful, beautiful man. Just how did you get your hands on Nevarran coffee beans?” There was something sweet in the background and he had watered the usually strong beverage down with cream for her, but it still tasted like she remembered it.

“One, I have my ways of pulling strings. Two, I’m impressed you’re familiar with the drink. I usually have it strong and black; puts hair on your chest.”

She laughed. “Ah, so that’s the key to your luxurious mane of chest hair. Don’t worry; I’ll keep your secret safe.” She took her coffee with her as she began pulling her gear out of the storage chest close to the bed. “Though just between you and me, the hair thing is a lie. I drank pots of the stuff while writing up thesis papers and never saw a difference.”

“Maybe I’m just lucky that way.” He sat at her table and whistled through his teeth. “Well, this explains where Hero went the other night. He stood me up for a game of cards.”

“What are you…” she turned just in time to see Varric wave a pair of gloves at her. “Oh.”

“Yeah, oh. So just when were you going to fill me in on the blossoming relationship you and the bearded Warden have?”

She rolled her eyes. “There is no blossoming going on. We spent the evening talking and he must have left those behind.”

“Must have been some evening. That explains why I saw him tiptoeing out your cabin at such a Maker-forsaken hour this morning. I wouldn’t have known this little tidbit of information, had I not also been up so early.” His smirk deepened. “I think I have title ideas for my new book. How does Conscripted by Desire sound to you?”

“Varric…”

“No? The Warden’s Marcher? Nah, that sounds too dull, never would get past my editors. Ah, I know it!” He snapped his fingers. “The Griffon and the Raven! See what I did there with a play on your name?”

“Maker give me strength. I swear if even a paragraph of this harebrained scheme gets written, I’m leaving you to the mercy of Cassandra from now until the end of time.”

“Not even one page of steamy bits? I’d even let you read it for approval before I send it off.”

“Not a word written. Especially the steamy bits.”

“You know, you’re just as bad as Hawke was, hampering my creative voice. I’ll have you know, the Rogue and the Reformed Rake was one of my finer non-serial novels. This one could be an even bigger hit than that one.”

Stick to Hard in Hightown. Now out, I have to change if we’re going to get on the road on schedule.”

He chortled. “Judging by the looks someone’s been giving you lately, I can guess what else is har-”

Drawing herself up to her full height and using every spare ounce of noble authority she possessed, she pointed to the door. “Out.”

“Everyone’s a critic!” Varric laughed as he closed the door to her cabin, shaking his head at the muffled I love you, too that she shouted at him. Well, this was definitely an interesting twist in the story. He wondered if anyone else knew. Well, anyone else besides Nightingale. Varric swore that woman knew everything about everyone just by looking at them.

He made his way towards the main gate where Solas and Blackwall were already waiting.

“You look…chipper this morning, Hero,” Varric drawled, sidling up to Blackwall.

“It’s amazing what a good night’s rest will do for a person,” he replied, sorting through the backpacks of supplies they were going to be taking, making sure that everything was in its place.

“Oh, I’ll bet.” He shrugged at Blackwall’s quizzical look. “You didn’t have Cassandra poking you awake with her boot.”

“No, that I didn’t.” Blackwall’s gaze seemed to turn inwards and a small smile quirked the side of his mouth.

“Speaking of sleep, here comes Her Worshipful Sleepyhead herself.”

“Sorry I kept everyone,” Ravena said, coming up to them while still trying to put pins in her hair. “I must have overslept.”

“Do not trouble yourself,” Solas reassured her. “We only arrived a few moments ago.”

She nodded. “Well, now that everyone’s here, shall we get started? The sooner we can conclude business in the Mire, the faster we can head back into the Hinterlands and talk Dennett into giving the Inquisition horses.”

“I’m with you on that, Dusty. All this walking nonsense is for the birds.”

“And here I thought you traipsed all over Kirkwall with Hawke.” She gave him a look. “Dusty? That’s the best nickname you could come up with?”

He held out his hands. “Hey, I’m a city dwarf. Hawke was decent enough to take me out only when she felt I was going to start growing roots from staying at the Hanged Man too long. And secondly, I thought with all of your tomb raiding, old artifact searching…” he made a face. “Okay, so it’s a work in progress. Give a storyteller a break.”

“Be grateful you’re one of my favorite people. Just don’t settle on anything too generic for me.”

Varric rolled his eyes. “Andraste’s ass, it’s like talking with Aveline all over again.” Still shaking his head, he followed Solas out the gate, ears pricking when he happened to overhear Ravena and Blackwall’s quiet conversation.

“How are you feeling?” she asked.

“As I said last night, you’re a miracle worker.”

“I’m glad. There’s usually some soreness the next day, especially in areas that held a lot of tension. I wanted to make sure it didn’t interfere with any fighting we might have to do.”

“You’ve no need to worry on that end.” There was a pause. “I do want to apologize though.”

“Oh, for sneaking out this morning without waking me? I ought to blame you for my hair looking a mess since I didn’t have time to properly fix it as I rushed out the door.”

“Blame me if you’d like, my lady, but I can find no fault in your hair. You’re as lovely as ever.”

“And you are as charming as ever.” Her tone was definitely in the flirtatious territory. “By the way, I think that these belong to you.”

“Ah, I was wondering where I had misplaced those. Thank you.”

“You should be thanking Varric. He discovered them when he woke me this morning. Just a warning: he may try to tease you about it, if he hasn’t already.”

“What of you? Have you been the victim of his jokes?” Varric gulped. It was unnerving just how quickly that man could go from light flirting banter to steely, protective warrior in a single sentence.

“But of course. Then again, I forgave him since he did come bearing coffee. Just for reference, I’ll forgive pretty much anything if you give me a decent cup of the stuff.”

“I’ll have to keep that in mind.”

Varric quickened his pace and got out of earshot once he realized that the two of them weren’t going to be giving him any more juicy tidbits of conversation. He thought back to his book idea. Well, it was more of a brainstorm session than an actual idea. He hadn’t really had much time to work on his Hightown novels, and frankly, he was going through a bit of a block when it came to them. Varric figured that if he started something else instead, it might be enough to get the creative juices flowing again.

“Just swap out the names and a few physical features…” he mused, stroking his chin. Perhaps making the lead a world-weary soldier instead of a Warden would be enough. And Ravena’s rogue skills were commonplace and wouldn’t necessarily bring attention to her. He’d already used a redhead as a heroine in a recent novel, but perhaps if he lightened her hair color to brown and gave her blue eyes...

As they walked, a vague outline began to form in his head. Then as the hours progressed, dialogue suddenly started springing up from nowhere. Out of habit, he grabbed his notebook and pencil out of an interior coat pocket and started scribbling madly, shorthand quickly filling up pages.

“That had better not be for what I think it is,” Ravena warned, appearing at his shoulder out of nowhere once they had stopped for a break.

He jumped, looking up from his work. “Why Herald, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said innocently. “I happen to be in the middle of drafting a business proposal between myself and a former associate.” It wasn’t quite a lie: that last mile had him realizing that he’d more than likely need Isabela’s help if he really wanted to do the more physical scenes justice. Aside from intentionally writing bad erotica like Swords and Shields – a serial he had absolutely no plan of actually finishing, seeing that the whole thing had been done on a dare Hawke had challenged him to when the both of them hadn’t been exactly sober – he was rubbish at the romance genre.

“I’m serious,” Ravena said, arching her eyebrow. “I won’t rescue you the next time Cassandra starts to fight with you.”

“And here you see me quaking in my boots,” he deadpanned, looking over his notes. Yes, this was definitely going to get written and Rivaini was definitely going to co-author. Work would be slow going, seeing that Isabela had taken again to the seafaring life, but the wait would be worth it. If Varric played his cards right, and he usually always did, even if Ravena did follow through with her threat it wouldn’t be of much consequence.

No, he was determined to write this one so well that if the Seeker ever got wind of the tale, she would be practically begging him to finish.

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