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The Griffon and the Raven, Chapter 14

Prompt: child

If Varric really were to write Ravena’s biography, the days after Haven would all be a blur of plodding through snow during the day and shivering in the night. They had been relatively lucky: the path that Chancellor Roderick had led them on had been supplied by a few wagons that had been initially meant to cart older or sick pilgrims up to the Temple to pray. Now, they served as a way to transport the children and the injured. They’d gotten even luckier when they discovered the supply of blankets and dried provisions stored in each cart, which helped boost morale. Their surviving horses were being used to carry those who couldn’t fit into the carts but were well enough to ride, so Bull often took turns with several other men in pulling the carts through the thick drifts of snow.

Ravena had declined a ride in them, despite many protests from her advisors and flat-out orders from Blackwall that she get in, saying that the space she would have taken up was better used by someone far worse off than she. Despite her aching ribs, she walked on.

On the third day of their march, a woman that had been walking a few feet ahead of Ravena collapsed out of sheer exhaustion. Ravena knelt at her side and felt her weak pulse before looking up at the small girl frantically patting at her mother’s face to try to get her to wake.

“There’s room on the cart for the mother,” one of the Inquisition soldiers told her, two other men already placing the unconscious woman on board and pulling a blanket over her to keep her warm. “But the child…” He motioned to the cart where two other people were lying flat, their wounds making sitting impossible.

“It’s all right,” Ravena replied. “I have her.” She turned to the little girl, who couldn’t have been more than two or three years old. “Will you come with me?”

The girl stared up at her with wide eyes before nodding and taking Ravena’s offered hand. “My name’s Ravena,” she said, holding her hand securely as they traveled through an icy patch. “What’s yours?”

“Libby.” Libby craned her neck to try to look at the wagon. “Mama…”

“Your mother is very tired,” Ravena explained, unwinding her scarf from around her neck and wrapping the material around Libby’s head to cover her ears as the wind made snow whip around them. “She’s going to rest in the cart for a while, then she’ll be able to get out and walk with us once she feels better. I get lonely sometimes, so I’m very glad that I have you as a friend to keep me company.”

They continued to walk for at least another hour before Libby began to stumble. Without thinking, Ravena picked her up, gritting her teeth when her ribs protested. Libby clung to her like a limpet, her arms going around Ravena’s neck and her legs clamping about her hips. Ignoring the pain, Ravena wrapped her arms around the girl’s bottom to support her and plodded on.

Blackwall had been taking a turn pulling one of the wagons when he had lost sight of Ravena. Judging by the sun’s angle in the sky, he’d been helping to pull the cart with Krem for close to several hours before their group decided to stop for a break. He took advantage of their time off to search for Ravena, finally spotting her near one of the other carts sharing slivers of apple with a little girl perched on her lap who looked to be more dirt than child. The girl had trouble keeping her eyes open long enough to chew, making her look just as exhausted as Ravena.

“There you are,” Ravena said, holding out a hand. “Sweetheart, this is Blackwall. He’s one of my friends. Blackwall, this is my new friend.”

He took her hand and sat down next to her, noticing the way Ravena’s shoulders tiredly slumped. “Hello.”

The little girl blinked up at him owlishly before becoming shy and burying her face against Ravena’s shoulder. “She doesn’t talk much,” she explained. “Her name is Libby.”

His eyes widened. “Did you say Liddy?”

“No, Libby.” She looked up at him. “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I had a younger sister named Liddy,” he told her. “Lydia. She died when I was very young.”

“I’m sorry.” Ravena leaned against him. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a sibling.”

“I was angry for a long while. I was her big brother, I was supposed to look after her, protect her.” He stared out at the sea of white in front of them. “I thought that some flowers would cheer her up when she grew too ill to get out of bed. By the time I came back with a handful, she was gone.”

“You were a boy; there was nothing that you could have done to stop it.”

“I know that now, but try telling that to a lad who just lost his sister.” He looked at Libby, who had fallen asleep on Ravena’s shoulder. “Where are her parents?”

“Her mother is with the cart over there. I haven’ t had the heart to ask about her father.” Libby’s dress was stiff and stained a dark reddish-brown in places. Seeing as the child had no injuries of her own and her mother was unharmed, Ravena could only guess whose blood it was. “Here. Have you eaten yet?”

Blackwall shook his head and refused the offered pieces of apple. “Keep them for yourself, or for the little ’un. I’ll be fine. How are your ribs?”

She shrugged. “They’re there.”

“They still pain you.” It wasn’t a question.

She leaned against him, sighing contentedly when he wrapped an arm around her and drew her closer to his chest. “I’ll be fine,” she echoed. She closed her eyes and caught herself drifting off when people around them began to move.

“Looks like the break’s over,” Blackwall commented, standing up. He turned to help Ravena to her feet when he stopped. “What are you doing?”

“She’s done in,” she explained, pulling Libby from her lap and into her arms. She tried, but failed to hide the sudden gasp and pained expression the move made. “I can’t make her walk like this.”

“Give her here,” he said. “I’ll carry her. You look about ready to drop on your feet too.”

She handed Libby over, noticing how gently Blackwall held the sleeping child against his shoulder. Libby, unaware of the transfer, merely snuggled close to him. “It’s getting late. We should be stopping soon for the night, once scouts find a good enough place out of the wind.”

“That’s wonderful news. I’m sure there are plenty of people ready to stop for a proper rest.”

He glanced at her. “Including you?” He hefted Libby onto his left arm and held out his right, silently offering it to Ravena to lean against. “You’re pushing yourself too hard.”

She wrapped her arm around his, grateful for the support. “We need to find this place Solas mentioned, and soon. We’re losing people every day.” Each night, she’d taken to helping the healers comfort the injured. Vivienne had taken charge of any mage who knew how to cast restorative spells, directing them like a general on the battlefield. Even Dorian, who professed to know very little healing magic, was helping the best he could. Ravena knew some first aid that went beyond the basics; she had spent much of the first few day helping with triage: setting bones and sewing sutures alongside frightened young Chantry initiates and seasoned sisters alike. After her range of skills had been exhausted, Ravena spent her nights quietly reciting the Chant and holding hands, offering comfort wherever she could. Those were the worst nights, and Ravena often found herself stumbling back to her part of the makeshift camp for an hour or two of sleep, collapsing wherever there was an open space available. It never failed that she’d wake up later on with Blackwall’s arms around her, warding off the majority of the cold.

“And I still say that you’re pushing yourself too hard. I’ll not argue with you over this, Ravena, but I want my opinion known.”

She sighed and ran her hand through her wind-tangled hair to push it out of her face. “Thank you for your concern, I appreciate it. I’ll try to pace myself, but I can’t promise anything.”

He held her closer. “I know. It’s good enough that you’ll try.”

It was several more hours before Cullen called everyone to a halt for the night. Ravena and Blackwall took Libby, who had woken up and finally trusted them enough to start talking in little yes and no sentences, to the cart where he mother had been resting.

“Maker’s blessings on you, my lady,” the woman said, clutching her child to her and pressing kisses against Libby’s cheek. “When I woke and she wasn’t with me, I feared the worst. She’s all I have left of my Ben.”

Ravena’s shoulders sagged when she heard a soldier report to Blackwall that the two wounded men sharing the cart had perished as the sun went down, their bodies left behind by necessity’s sake. Blackwall grimly nodded and began to help the men load other passengers while Ravena distracted Libby and her mother. “She was a big help along the way today,” she said instead, tucking a threadbare blanket around the two of them. “I should be thanking you instead, for letting her keep me company.”

She secured the scarf around Libby’s ears, knowing that the girl needed it more than she would. She was about to say goodbye when Libby spoke first. “She gets lonely,” she said, her eyes staring straight at Blackwall. “Stay with her, please.”

“Of course.” Blackwall stared at Ravena as he answered. “For as long as she’ll have me.”

The two of them walked away and towards the area where Dorian was cursing in fluent Tevene at a damp piece of wood that smoked instead of lit, flame dancing from his hands. She looked around, knowing that there were a million things that she could do to help, but also knowing that she simply lacked the energy to be of any use for any of them. Wearily lowering herself to a spot someone had already cleared off, she held a hand up as an invitation for Blackwall to join her.

“So,” she started, barely covering her yawn with the back of her hand. “As long as I’ll have you?”

He looked at her, staring past the grime and the bruises and the flecks of blood that still stained her skin. “Yes, my lady,” he answered. He couldn’t help the contented sigh when she curled up close to him, her head on his chest.

“That’s a very long time,” she said sleepily. The last thing she felt before sleep took her was Blackwall’s lips against her forehead.

“And still not long enough,” he murmured. He grunted when he felt someone roll up against his back.

“Aren’t we all lovey-dovey,” Sera cooed, burrowing her face between his shoulder blades.

“You have damned bony knees,” Blackwall complained, carefully rolling to his back and offering his unoccupied arm to Sera.

“Yeah, well you’ve got a…” she yawned. “A butt. But you’re warm, and you’re a friend, so I won’t complain.” Stretching her arm across Blackwall’s chest, Sera gently brushed hair out of Ravena’s face. “She’s a candle all worn down to the nub, that one is. Heh. Nub.”

“Crude,” Dorian whispered, settling down on Ravena’s unoccupied side. “But an apt description. Hopefully we’ll reach this place Solas knows about before she wears herself out completely.” His brow furrowed in concentration as he held his hands over Ravena’s ribs, a weak glow of healing magic emanating from his fingertips.

“Hey, why didn’tcha just do that to begin with?” Sera asked.

Dorian rolled his eyes. “Because I’m a necromancer, not a healer. It takes an incredible amount of focus for me to do this, whereas summoning up spirits is a snap.”

“Pfft. Magic is magic.”

“That’s like me asking you to pick up a sword and poke someone’s eye out at a hundred paces. Arrows and blades have sharp edges, my dear, but they work in completely different ways.”

“And I still say pfft.”

Blackwall shook his head. “You’re both going to wake her,” he admonished. “And thank you. No matter how much or how little, every bit of healing helps.”

Dorian preened. “Well, I happen to like her a lot. I just wish I could do more to help.” He laid his palm over Ravena’s eyes. “She wakes at the smallest noise; a little sleep spell should do her good.” Without telling the others, he expanded the spell to include Blackwall and Sera.

“Someone needs to look out for you,” he muttered, settling down beside Ravena so that their backs were touching. “Else I’ll be stuck here in this Maker-forsaken south with no one but the dwarf for decent company.”

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
reconnoiterer
Jul. 28th, 2015 05:01 am (UTC)
I really, really like the cuddle-pile at the end of this one. There always seems to be a lot of tents at the main camps but... c'mon, who is hauling tents all the way into the middle of the Hissing Wastes or whatever. And Blackwall and Iron Bull would make such prime pillows!
iceprincessd
Jul. 28th, 2015 04:52 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty much betting that Bull and his Chargers were one gigantic puppy pile at one time or another.

Reading back, there's a common theme of people falling asleep everywhere in this story. Maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me to sleep more?
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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