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Steady as We Go, chapter 6

Title: Steady as We Go, chapter 6
Rating: PG-13 for violence
Summary: Morrigan learns that Moira isn't the goody-two-shoes she orignally thought she was.
Note: Spot the two movie quotes!

“That didn’t get us anywhere,” Morrigan complained once they were out of the chapel and back onto the street. “All it did was give me a tremendous headache from all the incense they were using and wasted a good deal of our time.”

“It also proved that there are people that are willing to doubt Loghain. It might not be much, but it’s a crack in his defense that we can work on widening.” Moira looked to the bridge, where a little boy was standing and looking worried.

“Have you seen my mother?” he was asking anyone who happened to be close by. If anyone heard him, all they did was shake their heads or ignore him completely.

“What does your mother look like?” Moira asked, crouching down to his eye level.

The little boy gulped. “Mama said not to talk to strangers.”

There was something in the boy’s voice that reminded Moira sharply of her nephew. “My name is Moira Cousland and these are my friends. See? Now I’m not a stranger.”

“I…” He looked doubtful, but he finally gave in once Quinn came up next to them. “Is that your dog?” he asked, reaching out to pet Quinn’s muzzle.

“He is. I’d like to help you find your mother, if you would let me.”

He nodded. “Mama and I came here to find a place to hide from the monsters. There were mean men on the bridge. Mama told me to run as fast as I could into town and never look back. I didn’t look, but now I’ve lost her.” His eyes misted up with unshed tears and he tried his best to remain stoic.

“Do you remember what she was wearing?”

“She has on a brown and green dress and a gold necklace. Papa gave it to her for her name day.” His face fell. “Papa…”

Her heart went out to the little boy. It was apparent that his father was gone as well. “I’ll find her, I promise.”

“She has red hair, just like me.” He looked up at her. “You’re a nice lady. You remind me of my Mama.”

“Go into the Chantry. When I find her, I’ll tell her where to look for you.” She brushed her knees off and glanced backwards at Morrigan.

“Oh, don’t give me that look,” Morrigan said, contemplating the Chanter’s Board nearby. “We might as well spend some time doing more good by taking on these requests if you’re so set on saving every single abandoned waif we come across. We need the extra money.” Without preamble, she tore all the notices down and handed them to Alistair.

Moira hid a smile from the witch as they made their way down the lane. Quinn went off ahead of them and Moira quickly ran after him when she heard a woman scream.

“I’m so sorry!” she said, grabbing onto Quinn’s collar. “He usually knows better. Bad dog!”

The woman had her hands clasped at her chest and her eyes were wide. “I’m sorry; I’m just so jumpy these days.”

“I don’t blame you. I heard that a few people are going to be forming a party to head further north?”

“Yes. I’m planning on being there, but I wanted to secure a few things here in my home before we left.” The woman eyed their group. “Would any of you happen to know anything about making traps?”

“I have a little experience,” Alistair said. He didn’t step forward because it looked as if the woman was most intimidated by him due to his size and bulky armor. “How many did you need made?”

She bit her lip and counted out on her fingers. “Probably not more than four.”

“We actually have some materials for making spring traps,” Moira said, reaching into her pack. “We’re not going to be using them, so I’m glad to give them to you.”

“Oh, thank you! I would be grateful for anything that you can give.”

“I’m going to be here for a little while,” Alistair said, kneeling in the dirt so that he could work on his traps better. “Why don’t you leave me here and then come back once you’ve scouted the area?”

Moira didn’t like breaking up the group, but she agreed. It seemed as if they hadn’t gotten very far when they were stopped by an elderly woman who asked if they could help out by creating a few health poultices. “That damned merchant is selling them for an arm and a leg,” the woman spat, glaring up the road in the direction the merchant’s wagon was. “We have a few people that need them and we can’t afford any.”

Morrigan heaved a dramatic sigh. “We have extra elfroot,” she said grudgingly. She sat down on a crate and dug out her mortar and pestle.

“Thank you, Morrigan,” Moira said, walking back towards her after wandering the area for a bit.

“If I had any idea that I was going to be put into a group of do-gooders, I would have refused to come along.”

“Then I guess you don’t want these boots that I found.” She held up a pair of good leather boots that were far better than the ones that Morrigan had on.

“Where did you get those?”

Moira shrugged. “There was a chest behind the house next to the river. No one claimed it, so I took what was inside.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And it was just out in the open.”

“Well…” Moira gave a little shrug. “It was hidden pretty well, and I did have to pick the lock on it to get it to open.”

Morrigan handed Moira the finished poultices and took the boots. “I guess I pegged you wrong. You do have a little streak of bad in you.” She kicked off her boots and wiggled her feet into her new pair. “I like that.”

“What do you expect? I am a rogue, after all. Besides, I’ve never seen the world in black and white. There are all sorts of shades of grey to explore on any subject.”

Morrigan hopped off the crate she had been perched upon. “I think that the two of us might get along far better than I first thought. Knowing this about you makes dealing with all these distracting quests a little more bearable.”

“What did I miss?” Alistair asked, coming up to them.

“Nothing much,” Moira said. “You ready to take on these bandits?”

It turned out that there were a great number of bandits wandering the plains just north of the town. To make matters worse, those blighted bears that the Chanter’s Board had spoken of decided that they were going to pick that day to make their appearance known. It had taken all four of them to take down just one, but the second bear was a little bit weaker. Quinn had that one well under control, but Alistair and Moira still helped him out.

“That is…” Alistair said, watching as Morrigan stood between the two dead bears. They couldn’t see just what she was doing, but the air between her hands and the bodies shimmered much like the horizon would have done on a hot summer day. “Different.”

“You Templars recharge yourselves with lyrium potions; I recharge myself with energy from my foes. Do you have any complaints?”

“None,” Alistair said, walking a little ways ahead. “Death magic, I should have known.”

“This going to be a problem with you?” Moira asked, keeping her sword out and her eyes trained on the farmland ahead of them. The first group of bandits had sprung a surprise attack from such a field and she was determined not to be caught off guard again.

“No, no. See? I’m being perfectly civil.”

They would have carried the conversation further, but Quinn growled and charged towards a gigantic spider.

“Spiders,” Moira groused, slashing through one of the oversized arachnid’s legs. “Why did it have to be spiders?” She let out a strained shriek from between clenched teeth as her sword pinned one to the dirt, its legs curling in onto itself and green ichor stained her blade.

“Their bite is poisonous,” Morrigan said, contemplating one that she had fried with lighting. “Perhaps we could extract a bit of venom for future use.”

“If you think you can get any out of each then be my guest.” Moira watched as Morrigan knelt and cut away at the flesh close behind the spider’s fangs. The witch wrinkled her nose at the smell, but managed to cut out a venom sac and capture its contents into three flasks, humming all the while.

“Cheerful person, isn’t she?” Alistair commented, yanking off a large wad of spider web from his chest. He dropped it to the ground, but it stuck to his hand, no matter how hard he shook his fingers. “Takes a lot of pleasure out of her work, she does.”

“And do you want to volunteer to be the next one to harvest toxin extracts when we come across any more spiders?” Moira knelt and poured a bit of a healing potion onto Quinn’s side where one of the spider legs had cut him. They continued their walk and Moira’s heart fell when she saw a body sprawled on the ground that wore a brown and green dress and had bright red hair peeking out from underneath a kerchief. She was about to approach the body when the howl of a wolf sent a chill up her spine. The single howl was soon echoed and what looked to be an entire pack of wolves came up over the rise.

“If the bandits hadn’t killed her, then these wolves surely would,” Alistair said, bashing a wolf with his shield while slashing at another with his sword.

Moira cried out when a wolf knocked her over, its teeth sinking into her shoulder deep enough that she was certain that she felt them scrape bone. She stabbed it in the eye with her dagger, but couldn’t pry its teeth from her shoulder easily. She screamed in pain when she finally freed herself, skin tearing and blood running freely down her arm. The injury made her right arm useless for the time being, so she shifted her main sword to her left, sending up a silent prayer of thanks to Highever’s captain for teaching her how to fight with both hands.

“This shall need stitches,” Morrigan said, examining the wound once the threat was cleared.

“I was afraid you were going to say that,” Moira replied, gritting her teeth and looking away as Morrigan began her work.

“And it is likely to scar, no matter how well it heals.”

“Scars don’t bother me much. I don’t think the Blight is going to wind up being a beauty contest, do you?” Even though she said it, she couldn’t help but feel sad that the injury was likely to be visible. Oh, be quiet, she chastised herself. So what if most of the dresses you once wore were off the shoulder? It isn’t as if you’re going to be wearing Ferelden’s latest fashions any time soon, now are you?

“Still, I’ll try to keep my stitches as straight as I can make them.” Moira had to admit that Morrigan knew what she was doing; besides an occasional pinprick and a faint tugging sensation, she hardly felt the needle go through her skin. “Thankfully it looks much worse than it actually was. Do you want this, or shall I throw it out?”

“What is it?”

“A tooth from the wolf. It looks as if it broke it when it bit you.”

Moira took the offered tooth and put it in her bag with her free hand. “I guess I should count myself lucky that it didn’t break into pieces in my shoulder. Then we’d have to dig around for the extra shards.”

“You should count yourself lucky that nothing vital was bitten. Just a few more inches and this nice big, blue artery would have been severed.” Morrigan applied gauze and stood. “There, that’s the best I can do with what we have on hand. Try not to use that arm much until the herbs have a chance to do their job.”

Moira thanked her and went to kneel by the body. She knew that they wouldn’t be able to transport it with them, but she remembered what the little boy had said about his mother’s necklace. She gently unclasped it and tucked the keepsake into her money belt, wondering just how she was going to break the news that his mother was dead and he was an orphan.

Alistair shouted a warning as they encountered the last group of bandits. Moira pressed herself against the dirt of a nearby hill to avoid the archer. Quinn was at her side, doing much the same. The air seemed to grow incredibly still and then crackle, a loud clap of thunder echoing in the distance.

“Stay where you’re at,” Morrigan cautioned the other three in her group. “At least for a little while longer.” On the opposite side of the hill, Moira and Alistair could hear several voices cry out in pain. “Ah, that worked perfectly,” Morrigan said, satisfaction tinting her voice.

“What was that?” Moira asked her, kneeling to loot gold out of the dead bandits’ pockets.

“That was a tempest spell. I haven’t had many opportunities to use it; I’m glad that it went just how I practiced. Just imagine a nasty lightning storm and you’ll understand just what it was meant to do. Awful thing to be caught in the middle of while wearing metal armor.”

“Moira, can you open this lock?” Alistair asked, kicking at a treasure chest near one of the dead bandits. “It won’t budge for me.”

Moira took out the pair of lock picking tools that she had taken from Daveth. They were rudimentary at best, but they would work in a pinch. She thought wistfully of her own set, back in Castle Cousland, of its intricate pins and skeleton keys that made it possible for her to open any door or lock. She’d have to try to build her current kit up one way or another to replace the one that she had lost. “There,” she said, prying the lock open. It was difficult using only one hand, but she had managed after a brief struggle.

“This is some nice armor,” Alistair said, shaking out a piece of splintmail. The red steel was a vast improvement from his current grey steel set and he quickly scrambled to change armor.

“And it fits you well,” Moira said, going behind him to hook up a few buckles that he wasn’t able to reach by himself. “We’re lucky that we won’t have to make any major adjustments.” She waited until he had fastened the boots that went along with the set before handing him the gauntlets nestled at the bottom of the chest.

“And here’s a serviceable sword,” Morrigan said, nudging the pommel with her toe to get it out of the dead man’s grip. “It seems as if we won’t have to waste our money on outfitting you after all.”

“Are you always this thrifty or were you planning on arguing if we had gone shopping for me?”

“A lady never tells.”

Alistair snorted, but he adjusted his pack and bent to pick up the sword. “Who said anything about you being a lady?” he muttered under his breath, which both Moira and Morrigan didn’t hear. He gave the new sword a few experimental slashes before deeming it satisfactory. “Oathkeeper,” he said out loud, reading the script engraved on the edge of the blade. “It isn’t all that heavy; if you want it, you can have it.”

Moira shook her head. “No, you should take it.”

“But it’s probably better than what you’re using.”

Moira put a protective hand on the hilt of her sword and shook her head. “No.” She gave him a softer look. “I mean, until I can get the hang of fighting with two full sized swords, I’m happy with what I have. This is a family heirloom, much like the shield I’m loaning you.”

Alistair seemed to understand what she was saying. “Maker, I’m a fool. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. You didn’t know.” Her eyes went hard and she stared off into the distance. “I won’t be satisfied until I kill Rendon Howe with this blade, so I need to stay with something familiar, at least for my main arm.” She looked at Alistair as if she were wondering when he would say something to try and talk her out of killing the man who had destroyed her entire family.

He put his hand on her uninjured shoulder instead. “And when the time comes, I’ll be there to help you.”

She nodded. “And I will be there for you when Loghain is brought to justice.”

They were walking back to the town when they spotted something they had missed on their way out before. A large cage was situated right on the town borders and someone was inside. As they neared, they saw that the person inside was massive – the crown of his head nearly reached the top of the cage, and he had his shoulders pulled in as if he had to scrunch them down in order to fit properly. The three of them didn’t say a word as they got closer, and Moira thought that the man there was dead, just by the way that he was leaning against the bars perfectly still.

She didn’t know what possessed her to get closer, her hands lightly touching the rusting metal, but she jerked back when the man spoke.

“Staring is impolite, though I expected no less from the likes of you.” He cracked his eyes open and glared defiantly at them. “I will not perform any tricks, nor will I do anything else for your amusement. Move along.” With that, the man closed his eyes again and resumed his still position.

“Looks to be the tall, silent type,” Alistair noted.

“That is a Qunari, one of the noblest races. To see one captured thusly is heartbreaking.” Morrigan turned to Moira. “I suggest that we release him.”

“Now that’s a change,” Alistair said, eyeing Morrigan suspiciously. “Who are you and what have you done with our apostate?”

“I would also suggest that Alistair take his place,” she continued dryly.

“Ah, now that’s more like it.”

Moira took a few steps back towards the cage. “Excuse me,” she said, addressing the Qunari.

“I said before, find your amusement elsewhere. If you wouldn’t mind, I would like to continue contemplating my death in peace.”

“Did the people of Lothering put you here for a reason?”

“No, I merely wish to be eaten alive by darkspawn because I am bored.” The Qunari opened his eyes again. “Why is it that you ask?”

“Because I think that it is awful to leave you here to such a fate when your talents could be used elsewhere.”

“What are you proposing?”

“My friends and I are fighting the darkspawn threat. We could use someone like you on our side.”

He looked at her speculatively. “You are Grey Wardens? I have heard that they take the task of protecting people from these foul beasts onto themselves.”

Moira nodded. “Alistair and I are. We’re the only two left in Ferelden, so you can see that we need as much help as we can get.”

“Why did they lock you in here anyway?” Alistair asked.

“I slaughtered a farmstead with my bare hands.” He didn’t seem to be repentant about his actions and the look in his eyes dared Alistair to form his own judgment.

“Well, I can see why they wouldn’t be too terribly thrilled to have you out and about on the loose.” He turned to Moira. “Even if he does agree to go with us, how are we going to get him out?”

Moira tugged at the lock on the cage, tilting it up towards the light so she could examine it. “I can’t pick this,” she sighed. “At least not with the tools I have at the moment. If I do try, I’m probably going to do more harm than good. We’re going to have to ask the Revered Mother to release him into our custody.” She craned her neck up so that she was able to look the prisoner in the eye. “If we release you, will you lend us your aid in fighting the Blight?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“Then we’ll be right back as soon as we pay the Revered Mother another visit.” Moira took off down the path leading back into town and ran a hand through her hair. She grimaced; the braid that she had attempted to wind around her head from either temple was ratty and disheveled. She was covered in dirt, spider webs and blood, most of which was her own. It was certainly not the look that she thought someone of such importance as the woman they were going to ask this favor from would expect. Well, it’s not like you’re going to have an opportunity to bathe with scented oils and put on a silk dress, she thought sarcastically. Mother always taught you that it was the person that dignity and presence radiated from, not what they were wearing. Work with what you have. At least her arm was better; whatever herbs that Morrigan put in her poultices were doing their job. She didn’t want to move it too much just yet, but at least the throbbing pain had dulled down to a dull burn.

“You’re back,” The Revered Mother said, standing up from her seat. “And looking somewhat worse for wear.”

“Forgive us,” Moira said, bowing her head. “We have been performing favors for the Chanter’s Board.”

The Revered Mother’s face softened. “Maker bless you. The people have been most anxious to have the other bandits that have been plaguing the farmlands and highways beyond taken care of. We owe you a great debt that can never be repaid.”

“Actually, we came back because we were requesting a boon,” Moira said, holding herself with as much poise as she possibly could. “There is a Qunari imprisoned on the outskirts of town whose release I would like to respectfully request.”

The Revered Mother shook her head. “The prisoner is there because he brutally butchered an entire farmstead.”

“I am aware of that, your Reverence. He told us so much himself.”

“Then you have spoken to him. Tell me, has he expressed any sort of remorse for his actions yet?”

“No, he has not.”

“And you wish to free him? Don’t you think that if has no remorse for doing what he did – and there were children among those dead, though I am sure that he neglected to tell you that – what would stop him from killing others as soon as he is free from where he is?”

Alistair stood next to Moira and spoke up. “We are duty bound to fight this Blight, as you well know. Grey Wardens have traditionally taken whatever assistance that they could from wherever they could get it, even if it means conscripting criminals. The Qunari are a…” he searched for a word. “Hardy race,” he flinched at the only descriptive that his mind could come up with, “and well known for their strength. We have need of that strength if we are to protect the people of Ferelden.”

“I am not easy with putting such a criminal into your hands,” the Revered Mother said, looking as if she had already made up her mind to refuse them.

“This is pointless,” Morrigan said, rolling her eyes in disgust. “It is obvious that this woman will not listen to us; you should have threatened violence upon her if she did not bend to your will.”

What now, Moira, she wondered, looking at the Templars who had started to flank closer to the Revered Mother at Morrigan’s outburst. Alistair was already making quick apologies while glaring at Morrigan, who looked completely unconcerned that her actions might have lost them a powerful ally. “If you will not put him into Warden hands,” she said, stepping forward so that she put herself in front of her companions. “Will you put him into the hands of a Teyrna?”

“I might, but I see no Teyrna here.”

She stood up to her full height and gathered whatever class her mother had attempted to infuse into her over the years around her like a protective cloak. “My name is Moira Cousland. My father and mother were recently murdered and my older brother is missing in the Wilds. Even if our lands have been usurped by another, I am still legally recognized as Teyrna of Highever. If I swore to you that no one would come to harm while this Qunari is in my custody, would you release him?”

The Revered Mother regarded her and Moira felt almost as she had when Flemeth had stared at her, as if the woman was trying to discern her character by looking into her eyes and measuring to see if she was lacking in qualities. Moira met the Revered Mother’s gaze and refused to blink.

“And if he should lose control, what would you do then?”

“The Maker designates those that shall carry out His divine will,” Moira said, quoting scripture. “The guilty shall be punished by whatever means He deems necessary.”

“And you are putting yourself in the role of executioner if the situation calls on it?”

Moira nodded. “I would not ask others what I would not do myself.”

“And at the end of this, when you do not need his aid any longer, what will you do?”

“I would free him. The Chantry speaks of the Maker’s ability to pardon those that have earned His redemption, does it not? By helping us, the Qunari will be saving the lives of thousands.”

The Revered Mother pulled out a key from her robes. “I certainly hope that I have not doomed you,” she said warily, handing it to Moira. “Maker help you; I pray that I am wrong and this prisoner will be of some use to you.”

Moira bowed lower than she had done before, her shoulder aching as she genuflected. “You have my thanks, your Reverence,” she said. “We shall be on our way as soon as we gather some supplies. I hope that many here do the same before the horde approaches.”

“I have spoken to Ser Bryant. Many are already starting to leave, thanks to your influence. We shall gather the rest of the refugees and leave ourselves before the day is done.” She held out her hand to give them her blessing, Alistair and Moira both bowing their heads to receive it. “There is a merchant in the tavern that deals in goods at a much discounted rate than the cutthroat one close to the front gate. Speak my name and he shall give you whatever you require.”

“You are most kind, we thank you,” Alistair said.

“Now go, and may the Maker watch over you.”

“I still say we should have bullied the key out of her,” Morrigan grumbled low enough for Alistair not to hear once they were out of the Chantry. “We probably could have gotten it far faster that way.”

“Yes, we could have, but then we would have been out of safe places to hide in cities. I know that you don’t care for the Chantry, but do you really want to say no to a warm place to sleep and free food for an evening?”

“Well, when you put it that way, I guess not. I merely do not like the idea that they must press their religious beliefs onto unsuspecting passersby.”

“Not all Andrastians do such. Have I ever asked you to bow your head and say grace at a meal?”

“We haven’t eaten a meal together yet, but I do see where you’re coming from.” Morrigan looked at her. “I thank you for not foisting anything unwelcome onto me while we’re traveling together. I doubt I can say the same for our other companion.”

Moira shrugged. “I don’t know; he might think that you’re a lost cause already and not even bother.”

“I can only hope.”

They paid the Chanter standing by the board a visit, receiving gold coins for the services rendered. “The boy inside the Chantry, whose mother we went to look for,” Moira began, looking up at the Chanter. “Will he be all right, now that he’s an orphan?”

“The Maker embraces those that are adrift,” the Chanter said, his expression peaceful. “All lost lambs will be welcomed into His flock.”

Moira breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you. I don’t even know his name, but if you would, could you make sure that he receives this?” She held out the dead woman’s keepsake. “She died so that he could escape and live. He needs to know that she must have loved him very much in order to make such a sacrifice.”

“The strong shall protect the meek and champions shall rise up to protect them all.” The Chanter looked pointedly at Moira, who gave him a small bow and retreated back to the road where the other three in her group were waiting.

“Well, what do you want to do first? Gather our new companion or get some actual supplies?” Alistair asked. “I don’t know about you, but I could use something more substantial than a quarter wheel of cheese and some stale biscuits. At this point, the biscuits are so hard that they can be used as weapons if we’re in a pinch.”

“I agree,” Moira said. “The faster we get things and then get out of here, the faster we can head into Redcliffe.”

They entered the tavern – the battered, weather worn sign proclaimed it to be Dane’s Refuge – and Moira instantly felt as if they would have been safer wandering onto the Highway and trying their luck with what meager provisions they had.

“Loghain’s soldiers,” Alistair hissed, hatred making his eyes burn.

“I know. Try not to be too conspicuous, will you?” It was too late though; several of them saw them enter and Moira cursed colorfully under her breath as they approached her group.

“You there,” the dark haired soldier said, looking as if he were the cockier one out of his troop. “You two are Grey Wardens.”

“And how do you know that?” Alistair said defiantly.

“Because I remember your faces. You spoke with Teyrn Loghain before the battle at Ostagar.” The man sneered and spat at their feet. “You have some nerve, showing up here as you have after killing the King.”

“We would never have harmed Cailan!” Alistair shouted, his voice loud in the room as everyone suddenly grew silent to watch the tableau unfold. Even the bards upstairs in the loft area were quiet, the lute that one of the men was strumming twanging as he stopped playing mid-chord.

“We don’t want any trouble,” the man at one of the bars said, looking more to Loghain’s men than Moira.

“We don’t either,” she assured him.

The guard’s sneer deepened. “Well, it’s too bad that you’re not going to get what you want.”

“Gentlemen,” a soft voice said to Moira’s left. She might not know much of the language, but she could clearly make out that the owner was Orlesian. “Can we not settle this dispute peacefully?” Moira saw that the owner of the voice was a woman dressed in Chantry robes.

“Please, don’t involve yourself in this,” Moira said, trying to keep the collateral damage as little as possible. “This is between these men and us.”

“Lying, murdering pig scum,” one of the soldiers sneered.

Morrigan bristled, the feathers at her shoulder flaring out again. The observation made Moira absently wonder if the arm ornament was enchanted to react to the wearer’s emotions or if it was actually alive. Then she wondered if it wasn’t part of Morrigan herself, but she quickly steered her thoughts back to the matter at hand before she got too distracted. “Now, is that any way to talk to a lady?” she asked, easing into a stance that would allow her to quickly attack. Patrons around them were already seeing the inevitable conclusion to their stare-down and were getting up and heading over to the far side of the tavern, many climbing the stairs and jostling for a better position to see the upcoming fight. The man behind the bar bearing bottles of brandy and other spirits had already ducked down behind his protective wooden barrier. “I would turn away now, Sister,” Moira cautioned, watching as several of the men drew their swords. She glanced towards Alistair, who looked fit to be tied and shook her head. We will not be the ones to strike first, she thought, hoping that he would get what she was thinking without her having to say it out loud. If they did draw first blood, then it would only further cement themselves as the ones that had done wrong in Ostagar instead of the other way around. Let them come to us.

They didn’t have to wait long. The dark haired soldier gave a mighty cry and lunged at Moira, a move that she was able to easily duck. All of them looked to have warrior training, which was good for Moira. She was able to anticipate their moves much better and her agility made it easy for her to duck and weave her way around them in order to place her own attacks. She tried to blank her mind at the idea that these were actual people that she was striking down by imagining them as practice dummies lined up in her father’s barracks. Her shoulder protested as she stabbed at one soldier with her dagger, sharp pain radiating from the bite marks there almost making her drop her dagger at the first clash with blade and armor. Make your strikes count, Cousland, she said, gritting her teeth as she worked to see an opening in the man’s armor that she could take advantage of. Alistair fought next to her, his shield helping her out when her arm weakened to the point of her not being able to fend off attacks from the right as well as she would have if she’d been at full strength.

Moira dodged another sword that seemed to come from behind her on her left. She pivoted and blocked another attack, her eyes locking onto the Chantry Sister who had tried to intervene. “I am trying to help you,” the woman said. “Look to your right!” Moira spun around again to face the soldiers, moving out of the way of a blade that would have surely done some damage to her had she not heeded the Sister’s warning. The Sister was no slouch either; she cried out and sank her short sword into the gap between the soldier’s helmet and breastplate, twisting her arm until her blade and a small fountain of blood came out of the soldier’s neck.

The stench of burnt hair and ozone filled the air and Morrigan lifted her staff, the tip glowing ominously. Dead bodies partially rose up off the sawdust scattered floor, the same heat shimmer passing through them and going towards Morrigan, fueling her magic. Moira was almost positive that the witch was making a bigger production than what was necessary in order to intimidate their foes, and it was working. The dark haired guard dropped his sword at Moira’s feet. “I surrender!” he yelled, dropping to his knees.

“Kill him,” Morrigan urged, lightning still crackling around her hands. Her eyes looked to be alight with her magic, making her pale yellow irises look even eerier.

“I agree,” Alistair growled, standing so close to Moira that their shoulders touched.

“No, we need him alive.” Moira sheathed her weapons and tugged the man to his feet. “We need him to take a message to Loghain and Howe for us.” It might not be obvious, but she had her suspicions that the two were working together, especially now that she thought about the way that Loghain hadn’t reacted to her family’s fate the way that a man who presumably held honor and justice in such high regard should have.

“What would that message be?” the soldier asked, eyes darting over Moira’s face, panic written clearly in his eyes as if he was afraid that she would change her mind at the last minute and kill him after all.

“Tell Loghain that if he wants to get rid of us, he’s going to have to try a lot harder than this. We know what he did and we will not rest until he is brought to justice. And tell Howe that his days are numbered. House Cousland shall see him dead for what he has done.” She let him go, shoving him backwards. The soldier stumbled, but scrambled to gather his remaining two companions and escape out the open door. “Sorry for the mess,” Moira mumbled, pulling out a sovereign from her money pouch and sliding it over the bar. She wiped at her cheek with the back of her hand, wrinkling her nose when her skin came back streaked with blood.

“I am glad that you decided to be merciful,” the Chantry Sister said, coming over to her side.

“Thank you for your assistance,” Moira told her, her eyes scanning the crowd to see if anyone else wanted to start up another fight. So far, the patrons who were there were only talking amongst themselves, seemingly disinterested in the aftermath now that people lay dead on the floor and the victors had been chosen. “We really must be going.”

“I know. I wish to join you.”

Moira tilted her head. “Didn’t you just see what happened?” she asked. “We’re Grey Wardens; Teyrn Loghain has unfairly labeled us traitors to the Crown and we’re more than likely to meet up with more fights just like this in between battling darkspawn. Why would you ever want to align yourself with that?”

The Sister smiled, her face utterly peaceful. “Because the Maker told me to.”

“Riiight,” Alistair drawled. “If you happened to notice the floating dead bodies and cackling witch in the background, you’d see that we were full up on crazy.”

Morrigan huffed and leaned against her staff. “And if you noticed the hulking lummox clanking around in armor, you’d see that we were full up on idiotic naïveté.”

“You’re very kind to offer your help, but wouldn’t you best serve the Maker’s wishes here where people need you?”

The Sister frowned. “And going with you to aid you on your quest will not save people as well?”

Moira crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to refuse.” She already had two people fighting with her besides her dog and another waiting to join them; expanding their group would more than likely only bring undue attention towards themselves. She gave the Sister a brief bow to show her thanks and then turned her back on her, focusing her attention at the man behind the bar.

“You’re good with a blade,” he mentioned, watching as a few of his staff began to drag out bodies. “The name’s Barlin. I was wondering if you were good with anything else.”

Maker, if that was a proposition, I’m going to scream, Moira thought, leaning against the wood. Her arm hurt and she was tired from the day’s events. All she really wanted was to gather some supplies and head out to Redcliffe. Hopefully it would only be a scant few days’ worth of walking to get there and then once they arrived that Eamon would grant them an audience. And a bath. With soap. Oh, how she missed soap. “What did you have in mind?” she asked warily.

“Well, you see, I have these traps that I’m setting out for the darkspawn. I won’t be here, but I’ll be damned if I don’t catch at least one and give them some sort of trouble. The claw traps I have are good for catching bears and the like, but I would like something that packed a bigger punch, so to speak.” The man leaned towards her and spoke in a low tone. “You wouldn’t happen to know anyone who made poisons, would you?”

Moira visibly relaxed. Being asked to mix a poison was something that she could do. “I have some knowledge of poisons,” she answered. “What were you thinking of?”

“I need three vials of venom,” he said. “I don’t know how to make it myself, or else I wouldn’t be in this predicament, but I do know how to put them on traps once I have what I need.”

“Only three vials?” she asked, already rummaging in her pack. Just as she thought, she had three empty flasks that she knew would work for what she was planning. You only need a small amount of toxin extract for this, sister, Oriana had taught her. It’s quite potent on its own and be very careful not to get it on your hands. Trust me; it takes forever to wash off and stings like fire if you happen to rub your eyes or nose afterwards. “I will need some room to work, but I can make some for you right now.”

“Oh, bless you! Please, use the room to the side right there.” He gestured towards a room where servants were busily packing up items into sacks and stacking them by the door.

“Why don’t you keep watch?” Moira suggested, addressing Alistair. “I don’t want to be surprised if those soldiers come back with any friends.”

“Smart idea. Be careful yourself; we don’t know who’s in that room.”

Moira entered the room and began to set up what she needed at an empty counter. Her hands fumbled at the bag and she was surprised when Morrigan took the straps from her shaking fingers.

“You’ve more than likely broken open several of those stitches,” she said crossly. “If you continue thusly, I’m going to have to work harder to patch you up than I’d like. Tell me what needs to be done and I shall mix this for you.”

Moira looked at her oddly for a moment, thinking that behind her prickly words, Morrigan actually sounded a bit concerned. Alistair has her all wrong, she thought, looking away before the witch had a chance to catch onto her inner musings. “Take out three flasks and the toxin extract that you gathered from the spiders. All we need to do is pour the small vials into the larger containers.”

Morrigan frowned. “Is that it? Surely there must be more to poison making than this.”

“Toxin extract is naturally kept in small sacs inside an animal, is it not? It is fine when contained in a small vial like the ones that you collected it in, but reacts with the air around it if placed in anything larger. You’ll see what I mean.” Moira was glad that Morrigan had offered to help; she wasn’t sure if her hands were steady enough to do the job of pouring at all. “After you finish pouring it in, quickly stopper the flask.”

“Hm. ‘Tis most peculiar,” Morrigan commented, watching as the extract sat at the bottom of the vial. Slowly, the air caught in the flask began to mix with the extract, causing green fumes to circle around the glass. The toxin bubbled and liquefied, expanding until it filled the flask about halfway. “And this is ready for use as soon as it is mixed?”

“It is, though it gains some potency if left alone for a few moments. You must be careful though; leave it in the flask for too long and it starts to degrade, especially when exposed to direct sunlight. The longest I’ve left a crafted poison bottled was a month and at the end, it was almost harmless.”

“Most interesting. And you know other recipes as well?”

“A few. I’d be happy to teach you what I know if you’d like.”

Morrigan raised an eyebrow. “You lie, steal, kill and poison. I’m starting to wonder if your sweet temperament is nothing but a façade for something darker.”

Moira hefted her bag back onto her shoulder and took two of the flasks. “I’m starting to wonder that as well.” She thought that she knew herself; several weeks ago, she would have never dreamt of doing the things that she was doing. She might have spent half her life learning how to use a sword and six years absorbing knowledge of poisons, but she had never thought that she’d actually be called to use the knowledge that she had gained. She had learned how to pick locks from the stable hands out of sheer boredom and she had continued to do so because it had amused her to be able to sneak around her own home without being detected.

It wasn’t as if she liked doing the things that she had done, but when being faced with a person running at her with sword drawn, she had no other choice but to defend herself. And it wasn’t as if she were setting herself loose on a bloody rampage or anything similarly mindless. She wasn’t killing innocent people just for the fun of it. This is survival, she told herself, walking towards Barlin.

“Now that’s what I was talking about!” he exclaimed. “Here, take a bit of silver for your trouble.”

She slid the money back towards him and shook her head. “Thank you, but if it is all the same, do you happen to have any food that we could barter for instead?”

He nodded. “Yes. We’ve got a large stock of dried goods available. Help yourself; it’s more than likely going to waste if we can’t take everything with us.” He jerked his thumb towards the dry goods stocked in the same room they had been in. Morrigan didn’t seem to need any other invitation; she took her bag and began choosing things after carefully considering her options, her nails tapping on a jar of some sort of fruit preserves. Moira thanked Barlin and joined Morrigan in the pantry, taking out dried meat and loaves of bread. She glanced at Alistair, who was watching the area intently with Quinn standing beside him. After scanning the shelves, she plucked three large wheels of cheese: one wrapped in paper, another that looked to be some sort of cheddar, and a third that had a hard red wax coating along the rind and stuffed them into her bag.

“This should be enough to keep us until we reach Redcliffe,” she said, not wanting to take more than necessary. She knew that they weren’t the only people needing food, especially when she caught sight of a maid looking at them and silently measuring just how much food they were taking. Moira felt guilty, especially when she saw the little boy clinging to the maid’s skirts.

“Why are you taking that out?” Morrigan asked, watching as Moira took out an extra loaf of bread and a small bag of potatoes. “We could use those.”

“As I said, we have more than enough to hold us until we can find somewhere else to buy things from.” She gave the little boy a small smile, which he shyly returned before ducking behind his mother’s skirts again. Still favoring her hurt arm, she made her way out of the pantry area and back with Alistair.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he started, looking back at a man sitting in the corner. “But this fellow said that he needed our help. He’s with the Blackstone Irregulars. He told me that there’s chapters of them all over Ferelden and that they have different tasks set up that need completed. I took the liberty of accepting one.”

“We haven’t the time for this,” Moira quietly said.

“I know, but they are recruiting people to fight to defend villages against the Blight. I thought…” He looked at her, then down at the ground. “I thought that it would be a good idea to have more people on our side.”

“No, it is a good idea. I’m sorry; I get grouchy when I’m tired. What do we need to do to help them out?”

“There’s a man here in Lothering that needs to receive his notice to join their ranks. They said that he’s in the Chantry. It isn’t far from here; I can run down there and be back before you know it.”

Moira frowned. Breaking up the group wasn’t the wisest of plans, but it would be the fastest option. “All right, but take Quinn with you. I don’t want any of us wandering out alone.” She whistled for her dog, who looked at her for further instructions. “Guard,” she ordered, pointing at Alistair. Quinn barked twice and padded towards Alistair, who reached down to scratch at his ear.

“I guess it’s just you and me, Boy,” he said. “Come on; let’s see how fast we can make it back.”

“Do you really think that this is wise?” Morrigan asked, crossing her arms.

“No, but it can’t hurt our reputation any to be seen as people wanting to help others.” Moira told her, taking a seat with her back to a wall. True to his word, Alistair and Quinn were back within moments and they were on their way.

“Do you really want to do this?” Alistair asked, looking at the cage.

“I promised him that I would gain his freedom,” Moira replied, taking the key out of her pouch.

“I see that you have returned,” the Qunari said, addressing them.

“We have. Do we still have your word that you will help us?”

“You do.”

Moira stepped forward and unlocked the cage. Swinging the metal door open, she stood aside as the Qunari turned his large body sideways so that he could get out properly. “Welcome. My name is Moira, and these are my companions,” she gestured towards each. “Quinn, Alistair, and Morrigan.”

“I am known as Sten.”

“Oh, good. I’m glad that he told us his name,” Alistair muttered, his hand still hovering over the hilt of his sword. “I was afraid that I was going to have to call him Hey You or Please Don’t Eat Me for the duration of our time together.”

“Where are we heading? The Blight awaits us.”

“Yes, you’re right. As you can see, we’re only a few people. We’re going to need many more if we want to attack the horde head on, so we’re going to Redcliffe first to attempt to get the aid of the Arl there. After that, we’re going to venture out to other parts of Ferelden and seek aid from others.”

Sten looked at her dubiously. It was obvious that he wasn’t quite certain that he had wisely put his life in the hands of someone such as she, but then again, she did happen to get a little wordy whenever she was nervous. She’d never been in a leadership position where she hadn’t known the people she was leading before; her father might have put her in charge of the teyrnir while he and Fergus were gone, but she had known the people that were to be under her care her entire life. She felt comfortable around them. Here, she was at a complete loss. “And why can we not simply go after the archdemon ourselves instead of wasting time gathering an army?”

Moira shrugged. “We could, but I would rather not become a smear on the ground attempting such a feat with so few people. If we take it on now, we would be utterly defeated within moments.” She looked up at him. “Every chess board needs pawns in order to protect their most important pieces, do they not?” She disliked the comparison, but it seemed to ring true for Sten.

“Then let us be to Redcliffe as fast as we are able.”

“Wait! Wait for me!”

Alistair groaned. “Oh no, not again.”

The Chantry Sister caught up with them, her cheeks pink from running uphill. “Please, let me come with you, I beg you! I can be of great service to you, I know I can!”

Morrigan sneered. “Yes, because we simply must have sermons on the Maker and being good and whatever sort of other ‘you must not do’ things every single night. How else do you think that you can help us, I wonder.”

The Sister looked at her crossly. “As you could see, I am good with a blade. I am even better with a bow. I wasn’t always a Lay Sister. Let me use the talents I had picked up before seeking safety in the Chantry to your advantage.”

Moira looked at Alistair, who looked back at her. “I don’t know,” Alistair said. “We might need her. I mean, Morrigan has the sparky shock bit covered for long distance attacks, but we could have use for an archer.”

“Weren’t you the one who practically said that she was an archdemon short of a Blight back in the tavern?”

He shrugged. “Well, yes, but she’s more of the ‘oooh, look at the pretty colors’ variety than the ‘I am Princess Stabbity Stab Kill Kill’ type.” He glanced at Quinn, who was already snuffling at the Sister’s hands in approval. “See? Quinn even likes her. Then again, she could be hiding bacon in her sleeves and he’s just trying to get at it, but I think we can safely say that she’s harmless to us.”

Moira bit at her bottom lip. “Well…I guess if she proves to be more of a hindrance than a help that we could always leave her in the Chantry at Redcliffe.”

“And that’s why I picked you as leader,” Alistair said, smiling. “You’re already proving to make good, solid choices.”

“I have my doubts as to that,” she told him. Turning towards the Sister, who was kneeling down and hugging Quinn – Quinn was eating the attention up too; his eyes closed in bliss and his tail wagging madly – she cleared her throat. “We have decided to let you come along, but,” she held up a hand as the woman stood and pressed her hands to her chest, her eyes bright with thanks. “Should we decide that you are a liability, we reserve the right to let you stay in Redcliffe.”

“Oh, thank you! I will be of great help to you, I just know it!” Introductions were quickly made and the Chantry Sister revealed that her name was Leliana. They were in the middle of walking towards the path leading out of Lothering when they heard someone cry for help.

“Well, here’s your chance to be useful!” Morrigan cheerfully said, summoning a ball of fire in her hand. She lobbed it at the nearest darkspawn before moving onto another.

Moira spared a moment of consideration for Sten, who was unarmed and without any sort of armor on whatsoever. She realized that she didn’t have to be worried; he had grabbed onto one of the darkspawn’s arms and broken it, catching the creature’s weapon as if fell out of its grasp. While the dagger looked like a toothpick in comparison, it still got the job done.

“Emissary!” Leliana yelled, dodging in between blows in order to land a quick attack of her own.

“Blood mage!” Alistair yelled back, energy gathering around him in white waves. Moira hadn’t ever seen anything like it, but she was too caught up with her own foe that she couldn’t pay any more attention to anyone else. Something bright flashed in the corner of her eye and she heard Alistair yell out and a woman scream at nearly the same time; turning with the darkspawn – it was bigger than the rest and much tougher, so she was calling it an Alpha hurlock in her head – she caught sight of Alistair easing down from whatever attack he had just sent the blood mage’s way, his palm stretched out in front of him. She ducked the Alpha’s sword and parried with three blows of her own, each causing more damage than the first. Using both of her weapons at the same time, she slashed, feeling flesh give under her blades until the Alpha fell to the ground and moved no more.

“Is everyone all right?” Moira asked, panting as she put her weapons away. “Is anyone hurt?”

“Hurt, as in me,” Alistair wheezed, grabbing onto his chest. Blood seeped from underneath his mail and he had more blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. His left leg gave out on him and he knelt on the stone. “Pain, as in ow.”

“Very clever,” Morrigan noted, pulling out several potion flasks and handing them to Moira, who helped Alistair tilt his head backwards so he could swallow. “A weakness hex to soften his defense and then some sort of blood magic to bring old hurts to the surface. I would have never thought of such a combination.”

“Don’t get any ideas,” Alistair said, color gradually returning to his face. He swallowed the second potion and weakly wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I’ll just have to smite you, which in all honesty, won’t be such a hardship for me.”

“Children, behave.” Moira’s heart was still thumping against her ribcage and she quietly took stock of her own injuries. Thankfully, she had managed to stay relatively uninjured: the only thing that she knew was that whatever stitches Morrigan had put in her shoulder were all open; the wound was burning again almost as fiercely as it had been when she had first received it. Her eyes flicked over to Sten and Quinn, both of which appeared to be unharmed, then over at Leliana. The woman was kneeling beside the body of the blood mage, her lips moving as she recited a prayer. Moira’s eyes softened and she thought that she would have to do some consoling, seeing that this was probably the first time that the Lay Sister had seen a dead body up close, but then Leliana reached into the dead woman’s robes and pulled out her money bag. She shook it to see if it contained anything before continuing her search of the body to find something useful. This ought to be interesting, Moira thought, drinking a potion of her own to help soothe her arm.

“Thank ye for arrivin’ as soon as ye did,” a dwarf said, approaching them. “We could have taken on a few of them, but not the whole lot together as they were.”

“You’re quite welcome.”

“My name’s Bodahn Feddic, and this is my son, Sandal. Say hello to the nice lady, boy.”

His son smiled at her. “Hello.”

Moira nodded. “How do you do?”

“Say, you all look like dangerous folk; my son and I might be traveling in the same direction as you.”

Moira shrugged. “Where we’re going is pretty complicated.”

Bodahn laughed. “When isn’t it? Aw, never mind; we wouldn’t want to cramp your style anyhow.” He flagged his son over. “Come on, lad. We have a lot of things that we need to pick up before we can get going. Tell the nice lady goodbye now.”

Sandal gave Moira the same soft smile from before. “Goodbye.”

“What strange people,” Alistair muttered, standing up and gingerly holding onto his side. Moira let out a breath; at least he was standing, which was a good start. She eyed a crate that didn’t look as if it belonged to Bodahn and his son. Sidling on over, she toed open the lid and peeked inside. There’s not much in here save for this little statuette, she said to herself, pocketing the item. It might not be much, but she wondered if it would go for a reasonable price in the market. She glanced at the road ahead of them.

“It’s now or never,” Alistair said, coming up beside her. “Are you ready?”

She stood up straighter. “Yes, I am. We’ve stayed here too long, let’s get to the Arl’s home.”


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 26th, 2010 07:31 pm (UTC)
Yay Star Wars and Indiana Jones quotes! :D Can't wait for the next chapter.

And now, for minor corrections. "He face fell." Should be his, not he. " . . . the lute that one of them men was strumming twanging as he stopped playing mid-chord." 'The men' rather than 'them men,' unless you're specifically trying to be colloquial. "Then she wondered it wasn’t part of Morrigan herself" should be 'if it.' And lastly "so we was calling it an Alpha hurlock in her head" should be 'so she.'
Nov. 26th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks and fixed!
Nov. 28th, 2010 10:46 am (UTC)
Ok I've read this particular chapter twice and only found one quote lol Where's the other one? :P

Can't wait for more chapters!
Nov. 28th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
Indiana Jones: "Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?" (just change snakes to spiders)

Star Wars: "Sorry about the mess."

I have about two and a half chapters done and waiting to be looked over for typos, but then after that I'm going to have to start writing again.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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