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The Griffon and the Raven, Chapter 6

Prompt: Rain

Boots squelching in the mud, Ravena turned her lip up in disgust. “Have I mentioned how much I hate it here?” she asked, pushing wet hair out of her face.

“Once or twice,” Solas answered. “And for the record, I share your dislike of the place.”

“That makes three of us,” Varric said, examining his crossbow for signs of damage.

“Make that four.” Blackwall scanned the area ahead of them, frowning when he saw more reanimated corpses far off on the horizon. They hadn’t spotted them yet, and Blackwall was hoping that his group could avoid another fight. The Fallow Mire was living up to its name: nothing aside from a few weeds and the rare medicinal herb grew in the boggy ground. He could have sworn that they had spent most of the day traveling, but the sun refused to show its face. If anything, the sky had grown darker as the day progressed and Blackwall was dreading what sort of enemies might turn up once night arrived.

“I don’t know about anyone else, but I think that this is a good spot to camp,” Ravena decided. “Even if it isn’t, I don’t know how much further I can go on today. I’m spent.” She cradled her left hand against her chest. There was a rift somewhere close by, but in her current state, she didn’t know how much help she would be in fighting demons and the inevitable undead that would surely flock to them.


Blackwall dropped his pack. “Then it’s decided. We set up camp and get some rest.” Normally they would have retraced their steps and gone back to the last camp they had established to fetch recruits, but Solas had suggested sending up a magical flare instead of trudging back through the bog. It worked more efficiently and freed them up to begin clearing the area for the future campsite while they waited for extra forces to arrive.

“What I wouldn’t give for a decent fire right about now,” Blackwall commented, helping Ravena set up tent poles.

“I know what you mean. It would be nice to have something to warm ourselves by.” She wiggled her toes in her boots. “As well as something to dry out by. Remind me to have our quartermaster requisition extra socks to the troops who take this post.”

He stretched out the oiled canvas and secured knots until the tent was as rain-proof as the two of them could make it.

“No use starting a fire in this mess,” Varric said. “Until reinforcements arrive, who’s got first watch?” Watch rotations were quickly sorted out, with Solas volunteering to act as the first lookout. The mage was drier than the rest of them: apparently he had been casting a temporary barrier around himself most of the day.

“Sleep well,” Blackwall said, picking up his pack to head over to the tent Varric had set up. He paused when he felt Ravena’s hand on his arm. “My lady?”

She bit her lip and looked down. “I really don’t want to sleep by myself,” she confessed. Blackwall couldn’t quite tell in the gloom, but it looked as if a blush had seeped across her cheeks. “Between the corpses coming out of the bog, the rain, and…” she trailed off before taking a breath. “Would you mind sharing a tent?”

His eyebrows rose. “Not that I mind, but wouldn’t you rather share with Varric?”

She shrugged. “Varric is good at putting my mind at ease with distraction, and normally I wouldn’t mind hearing one of his stories.”

“I’m sensing a but coming along here.”

She looked him in the eye. “However,” she corrected, a faint smile forming on her lips. “I’m not in the mood for storytelling and if you can excuse me for being so bold, you make me feel safe out here.”

“I do?”

“You sound surprised.” She took in his widened eyes and unbelieving expression. “You look surprised.”

He regained his composure. “Forgive me, but I am.” His gaze fell to the ground. “I’ve been on my own for so long that I’ve nearly forgotten…” He took a breath and gave her a faint smile. “I’ve forgotten what it was like to have others to lean on.” Reaching out, he opened the flap of the tent and gestured for her to enter. It took little time for them both to unpack bedrolls and organize themselves.

Ravena had to smile at the way that Blackwall muttered under his breath about rust as he inspected his armor mostly by touch, the light from the lone torch Solas had set up inside his barrier not doing much to penetrate the tent’s layers of canvas and oilcloth. She was too busy unpinning her hair and running a comb through the snarled mass to notice when his quiet inventory of his items had died down to nothing.

“I never realized how long your hair was,” Blackwall murmured. He was man enough to admit that he had been staring at her silhouette for the past minute or two, transfixed by the way her hair had uncoiled from its bun and had fallen down her shoulders.

“I don’t usually keep it down,” she replied, wincing as her comb tore through a hidden tangle. “It’s inconvenient to have in my face and people usually try to make a grab for it in a fight if I have it in a braid. Practicality says I should cut it, I can’t bear the thought. A woman has to have at least one vain point, right?”

“Nothing wrong with a little bit of vanity,” he answered, unbuckling his sword and setting it beside him in case he needed to quickly grab it in the middle of the night. “Makes you human.” Settling down, he used his pack as a makeshift pillow. He didn’t trust himself not to stare, but he listened with closed eyes as Ravena quietly pinned her hair back up and situated herself for the night, the hiss of metal escaping leather sheathes telling him that she trusted the Mire just as much as he did. The shift of cloth and the faintest hint of something floral reminded Blackwall that their tent was incredibly narrow. Slight pressure as her back brushed against his arm confirmed it.

He suddenly wished that he had thought to take off his metal vambraces when he had removed his pauldrons before turning in, if only to better feel her. His mind went back to the last morning in Haven when he had woken up beside her, Ravena pliant in his arms and her breath warm against his bare skin. It was days ago, but he could still bring up the sense memory. Unfortunately, it was also something that would probably never happen again, much to his disappointment.

“And to think that I normally like the sound of rain,” Ravena said, breaking the silence. Her voice was already thick with sleep.

“Wouldn’t be so bad if you took the swamps, the leftover plague ruins, and the undead out of the equation.”

“Not to mention the Avvar who want to kill us.” She shifted onto her back. “I hope our people are all right.”

He turned his head to look at her in the dark. He couldn’t see much except the faintest outline of her profile. “We’ll get them back,” he promised.

“I know we will.” She sighed. “I just hope that we’ll get them back alive.”

He reached out, his hand blindly searching for hers. Once he found her fingers, he squeezed them reassuringly. “We will. Come on, get some rest. You’ll need all your strength in the morning.”

Ravena yawned. “You’re right. Goodnight, Blackwall.”

“Goodnight.”

***

It was still raining when Blackwall woke up, but the downpour had slowed to a soft patter of raindrops against the tent. He tensed when he heard movement outside, but quickly relaxed when he realized that fellow Inquisition forces had found them and were quietly milling about camp. It was still as dark as it had been, but the addition of extra men had chased away the feeling of isolation.

He didn’t need light to know that Ravena was still sleeping. Sometime during the night, one or both of them must have shifted closer for warmth. Blackwall found himself on his side; Ravena’s back firmly nestled against his chest. He had stretched out his left arm, which she was currently using as a pillow, and his right arm held her snugly to him. He had a moment of shame when he realized that his palm was cupped intimately around her breast, but it was slightly diminished by the fact that her own fingers were twined with his in keeping his hand where it was. He tried to move out of her grasp and roll a respectable distance away without waking her, but it seemed as if the heavy slumber that she had been under in Haven was an anomaly. As it was, Blackwall had only a few seconds to slide his hand from her chest to the relatively safer territory of her hip before she was fully awake.

“Blackwall?” she murmured, voice still groggy with sleep.

“I’m here.” He had expected an awkward awakening, with her moving quickly away from him, but he got something different. She covered her yawn with the back of her hand before slowly stretching, her body brushing electrically against his.

“We’re still in the swamp, aren’t we?” she asked, rolling over onto her back and flinging an arm over her eyes. “It wasn’t just some horrid nightmare, was it?”

“Afraid not, my lady.” He took the opportunity to sit up and begin buckling on the armor he had taken off the night before.

Ravena groaned and did the same. The Mark on her hand flared to life, casting an eerie green glow about the tent. “That rift must be closer than I thought,” she said, sheathing her daggers.

“Does it pain you?”

She flexed her fingers. “Not so much as it originally did. This feels more like someone’s knocking impatiently on the other side of a door. It’s distracting, but bearable.” Since they had been traveling with gear meant to establish camping sites, they left most of the items where they were and only took the essentials with them in their now lighter packs. Solas and Varric greeted them as they exited their tent, both of her companions looking better rested.

“You ready to get out of here?” Varric asked, shouldering Bianca.

“Truer words have never been spoken,” Ravena replied. She lagged behind the others and placed a hand on Blackwall’s arm. “I should apologize,” she murmured, her eyes downcast.

He tilted his head. “For?”

“I may have, ah, taken advantage of you last night. And perhaps that last evening in Haven.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and quirked his eyebrow. “A serious accusation.” He leaned in. “And an unfortunate one, seeing as I was asleep and unable to enjoy both occasions.”

It might be dark, but he was still able to catch the flush that rose to her face in the sputtering torchlight. “I’m trying to be serious,” she said, letting out a very Cassandra-like huff as they walked. “I’m not a person usually prone to…snuggling. If I were, Varric would tease me about trying to get close to his chest hair every time we shared a tent. This morning…”

“Was a pleasant way to wake up,” Blackwall finished. “Did I make you uncomfortable?”

She made sure to catch his eye. “No.”

“Then let me assure you that you didn’t make me feel uncomfortable either. In fact, I’m flattered, especially since you claim not to be a cuddler.”

She rolled her eyes at his teasing tone. “Can we keep that little fact between us? Maker only knows what Varric will write about when he gets around to doing my biography.”

“Oh? Are you looking to be another bestseller, like The Tale of the Champion?”

“Even if I weren’t, he’s dead set on publishing something. I figured I’d cut him off at the pass and be as accommodating as possible just to throw his thought process off.” She glanced sideways at him. “So we’re good? No lingering awkwardness?”

“There wasn’t any there to begin with.” He stopped her by putting a hand on her shoulder. “We’re good, Ravena.”

“I’m glad. I didn’t want there to be any.” She paused, as if trying to organize her thoughts. “Would you mind if we continued sharing tents? No offence to Solas, but it’s eerie when he slips off to dream in the Fade.”

“So he does that whole thing where it looks like he isn’t breathing with you, too? He’s so still, it looks like he’s dead.”

She nodded. “Which is probably a great benefit that draws as little attention to himself when he’s alone, but it makes for an unsettling sleeping partner.”

“Agreed. And what of Varric?” He stepped over a fallen log and held out his hand to help Ravena do the same.

“I love the man dearly, but he talks in his sleep.” She leaned in closer and lowered her voice. “Unless Bianca is also a woman that no one knows about, he has a rather explicit and complicated relationship with his crossbow.”

He gave an amused snort. “Well, rest assured that I have no romantic inclinations towards my weapons and unless you have any objections to the occasional snore, you are welcome to join me in my tent at any time.”

Ravena moved even closer to him. “I’ll be certain to take you up on your offer, Ser,” she murmured. Blackwall would have replied, but he found that his heart had flown up into his throat and his tongue seemed glued to the roof of his mouth.

Fortunately, or perhaps, unfortunately, Varric answered for him. “If the two of you are finished canoodling,” he said, cupping his hands over his mouth to be better heard over the thunder. “There’s a rift that needs closing.”

Ravena rolled her eyes. “We’d better get going,” she said, moving away and picking up her pace. She whacked Varric on the shoulder as she passed him; Blackwall grinning when he heard her there was no canoodling going on.

Then she turned and smiled at him. The look in her eyes was enough to make the swamp, the reanimated corpses, and the rain seem like a stroll in a park.

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