Feasting on Dreams, Volume Three: Chapter Four

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Zevran’s addition to the group hardly made for an easing in tensions. To begin with, there was something incredibly strange, unsettling, and frankly unpleasant about clearing and stripping the assassins’ camp with the assistance of their erstwhile leader.

We did not steal their boots. Well, not all of them. There was a certain degree of liberating when it came to coin, rations, and small, portable items that no one was using anymore, and which could be sold or bartered next time we needed food. I didn’t feel good about it, but the kind of life we were forced to live then did not always allow for the comforts of simple morals and neat choices. I watched Zevran’s face as we laid the bodies out in the shallow ditch at the side of the road, covered over with as much loose earth and brush as we could manage. It wasn’t a proper send-off, and it wasn’t much for anyone, but maybe it would be enough to keep scavengers away for a little while. He seemed emotionless, as cold as if he was doing nothing more than stacking kindling. As we lowered the body of the blonde mage into the makeshift grave—the gaping wound I’d left in her neck now dark and sticky, its fleshy edges blurred, blood smeared and dry on her pale skin—he brushed the hair back from her forehead. It was a very brief gesture, so brief I almost missed it, but there was a familiarity there. It appalled and terrified me… all the more when I glanced at his face, and found it completely, utterly impassive.

Eventually, it was done. We moved on, the majority of the day worn away, and the sky growing grey and dim. As we left the wooded, dappled path behind us, the cover thinning out and the dirt track curving back up the rise of another low hill, it began to drizzle. Wynne had taken care of the wound to my back—and had not let me go without a lecture on how lucky I’d been, and a steely-eyed glance at Zevran—but it was still sore and, coupled with the cheery prospect of more rain, it was tempting to suggest making camp early.

I left it a little while longer before raising the issue, though, aware that Alistair was still fidgety over the length of time we’d been away from Redcliffe. Earlier, he’d been quizzing Wynne over how long she thought Arl Eamon had, now the demon was no longer sustaining him. She’d been evasive, soothing… said that the Circle mages we’d left at the castle were some of the best healers she knew. It was obvious that was no answer at all.

So, we were slumping along in silence, yet again, all keenly aware of the strange, foreign presence at our centre. Zevran, of course, seemed totally unconcerned. When I sneaked a few glances at him, he actually appeared to be smiling. I couldn’t work him out… and I didn’t know where to start trying.

“So, elf,” Morrigan said, those slate-hard tones breaking through the quiet as she turned that sharp gaze on him. “What is to keep you from poisoning your targets, now that you have been allowed to accompany us, I wonder?”

It was, unsurprisingly, a more direct accusation that most of us would made… even if we were all thinking it. Zevran just smiled graciously, inclining his head to the witch. A thin mist of raindrops clung to his fair hair, moisture glistening on his skin.

“You, I imagine. You will be watching me ever so closely to make sure I attempt no such thing, yes?”

She snorted. “And why would I do that?”

A rabbit rocketed across the churned road ahead of us. Maethor was too damp and lazy to do anything more than tense briefly, then huff and shake himself, droplets of rainwater flying from his short, brindled coat.

Zevran gave a disappointed sigh. “No? Ah, pity. Here I was becoming rather fond of the idea of you watching me closely….”

“Huh.” Morrigan sniffed, her staff stabbing rhythmically at the ground, pocking the mud in stride after stride. “It would be a simple enough matter to poison the food in camp. Or cut our throats while we sleep.”

“Truly?” He smirked. “You seem rather charmed by the idea, I must say.”

I shot a glance at Alistair, who shrugged and gave me one of those don’t-say-I-didn’t-warn-you looks, which irritated me briefly. I wondered what he’d have done if I’d suggested he cut the assassin’s throat. Would he have done it? Or would he have faltered? Would I, for that matter?

Sten had been the only one not to voice an opinion on bringing Zevran with us. Of course, he didn’t have to; his silent disapproval radiated in a powerful aura.

Morrigan scowled. “It would seem an appropriate result of sparing your life.”

Zevran smiled genially at her. “Ah. Well, I am sorry to disappoint you. The next time I am spared, I will be sure to immediately turn upon my benefactors. Will that do?”

“Hmph.”

His smile widened out into a smug grin, and Morrigan stalked on, lengthening out her strides. If nothing else, I supposed having Zevran along might make for some interesting entertainment… yet I caught myself mentally siding with the witch.

~o~O~o~

Distrust aside, I had to admit that I found Zevran intriguing—although possibly not quite in the way he evidently thought he was.

The combination of tanned skin and rich blond hair was exotic to me, and the burrs and lilts of his accent were unlike anything I’d encountered before—especially next to all that well-groomed flamboyance—yet his overt, worldly sensuality unnerved me.

I’d thought I would find it comforting to see another elven face, but I got no such reassurance from him. He was more Antivan than elven to me; foreign in every way, and a complete, dangerous antithesis to everything I knew from home.

Back in the alienage, we did see elves who’d made a living for themselves in the grey areas that edged the law. Often, they were the hired thugs of mercenaries or bootleggers, bitter and angry types who lived for coin and its fleeting comfort. Sometimes, they’d mouth off, upset someone… there’d be trouble, as there so often was. A sister or a cousin would offer up safe haven in their house, and more often than not Valendrian would find himself pulled into the middle of a dispute between the guard and some two-bit smuggler or offshoot of a thieves’ guild, all looking for the escapee. There would usually be a fight, or some kind of scandalous ruckus, and it never ended well.

Zevran wasn’t like that. He was altogether something more sophisticated… and that worried me.

It worried Alistair, too. We’d barely made camp for the evening—an early rest, like I’d hoped, given the stresses and strains of the day—when he buttonholed me, urgent concern written all over his face.

“You don’t really trust him, do you? The elf?”

I blinked, a little annoyed at the fact part of me prickled at that phrase, but I just shrugged, not really wanting to discuss it.

Home for tonight was a scrubby patch of grass at the edge of a meadow which had been recently scythed down, leaving it bleak and stubbly. A few thin, reedy trees clung to the hedgerow that bounded the field’s northern side, and brambles wound through them, yielding a sparse crop of sour blackberries. Leliana’s fingers were already purpled with picking them, and she’d been chattering enthusiastically about the jams and cordials they used to make at the chantry, back in Lothering. Immediately, Zevran had produced a wedge of fine, mature cheese from his pack, wrapped in waxed paper, along with half a loaf of bread, a quarter of a pound of cured beef, and a skin of sweet wine.

After the amount of salt pork, salt cod and mostly-rabbit stew we’d been eating, nobody gave a damn whether it was poisoned or not.

Now, as he held court by the fire Sten was building, a large part of me wanted to ignore Alistair’s concerns and get back over there before the cheese was all gone. I shifted uncomfortably. We were meant to be gathering enough dry wood to last the evening, not gossiping. Still, if Alistair was going to undermine what little authority I had, I supposed I should be grateful he was doing it in relative privacy.

“You think we should have killed him?” I asked, lowering my voice.

We were close to the hedge, the row of tents between us and the rest of the group, in their dense little hearth of firelight and, yes, laughter. Zevran was an effortlessly charming companion, it appeared.

Alistair frowned, the dimming light hugging his face in blurry tones of bluish grey. The days were getting noticeably shorter now. Less daylight… less time. Somehow, I doubted any of this would be over before winter came.

“Well… that’s not quite what I meant,” he said, a tad reproachfully. “But, that so-called vow of his? I don’t know. What if he is just biding his time?”

I adjusted the bundle of firewood I had in my arms, the sharp ends of sticks poking into the bits of me not covered by my leathers. “Leliana seemed to think what he said about the Crows is true,” I said dubiously. “They’ll kill him for failing. So, if we’re the only thing standing between him and them, I’d say that’s a pretty good reason to stay loyal. For now.”

“‘For now’?” Alistair grimaced. “That’s… not exactly comforting.”

“No. I know.”

Neither was being told I was going to lose my mind to the siren call of the archdemon and die several miles underground, ripped apart by darkspawn, before I saw my fiftieth summer. But, I reasoned, as I let out a small, terse sigh, that wasn’t really Alistair’s fault… however much it still felt like it.

“I don’t think he’ll try anything,” I said carefully, glancing back towards the fire. “But, if he does… he’ll pay for it.”

“He almost killed you today.”

I blinked. Alistair’s voice held an odd, accusatory tone and, when I looked at him, he was frowning, all uncharacteristic solemnity and foreboding.

“If that blade had been an inch or two either way, or if you hadn’t—”

“But it wasn’t,” I said flatly, part taken aback by the strength of his concern, and part a little shaken by the realisation of just how many what ifs there had been on our journey so far.

Alistair gave a resigned nod and, stooping to snabble another bit of dryish wood from the brush, sighed. “All right. You… have a point, I guess. I still think he’s shifty, though.”

I tried not to smile, but lost the battle. “He is an assassin.”

“Ha… yes, thank you.” He dropped the short branch onto the pile I was carrying, and pulled a face. “Goes with the job, I suppose. Even so, he’s a bit… well, you know. Isn’t he?”

I raised an eyebrow. “A bit what?”

Alistair shrugged and waved a hand vaguely. “You know…. The hair. The clothes. The… the….”

He faltered into silence, and I nodded sagely.

“Ah.”

“Yes. Exactly.”

Another burst of laughter wafted over on the cooling air, and my stomach grumbled at the promise of food and relaxation. Still, this one was too good to pass up. I hefted the kindling in my arms, the smell of damp bark and earth heavy in my nostrils.

“So… jealous, then, are we?”

“What?” Alistair turned to me, eyes widened in alarm, and shook his head fervently. “No! No, I… well… maybe a little.”

I didn’t really mean to let myself snort with laughter. He looked slightly bruised, and shrugged tightly.

“Doesn’t stop my concerns from being relevant.” He cleared his throat. “So, er, you don’t think he’s…?”

“A bit much,” I agreed, still smiling in amusement.

Funny thing, I thought, the male ego. Delicate, and easily pricked. Alistair looked faintly relieved, and we shared a brief grin at Zevran’s expense, which went a long way to patching any sore points that lingered between us.

~o~O~o~

Despite everything that had happened that day—everything since Redcliffe, really—that evening was a pleasant change. We had a good fire, the rain had stopped, and Zevran’s luxurious provisions were a banquet by comparison to most meals we’d had.

He was insinuating himself nicely into the group, too; all that solicitous charm and flirtatious enquiry that greased the getting-to-know-you stuff along all the faster. Only Maethor remained fully reserved, lying by my feet and staring intently at the newcomer. He hadn’t growled, though, which I assumed was a good sign.

Over sharp berries, creamy, piquant cheese, and bread actually soft enough to chew, there was talk of the news Zevran had heard, and the rumours doing the rounds since Ostagar.

“Of course,” he said airily, fingers toying with the neck of the wine skin before he passed it on again, “I was contracted simply for a service. The… political ramifications were of limited concern. Ferelden is so much less—how would you say?—complex in that manner than Antiva. I can only tell you what I have heard.”

That was enough. Loghain had plenty of support in Denerim, apparently, and throughout the east, south-east, and parts of the north. The army was solidly behind him; obviously, to their eyes, he was the man who’d saved them from Cailan’s folly. They’d seen what had happened at Ostagar and—even if enough tales of bloodshed and carnage had yet to make it north of the Bannorn for people to believe the Blight was real—rumours were rife of darkspawn resurgence, and all-out war with the Wilders. I supposed that was reasonable. People saw enemies where they expected to see them and, with Chasind among the first to flee the oncoming horde, it would be with them that the tensions first erupted. They weren’t gentle people, either; I recalled what the elves I’d met in that damn village had said about Chasind sacking a farmhold.

Still, those were distant problems for Denerim, according to Zevran. The city was in uproar. I hugged my knees and watched him talk, pulse thudding as he painted pictures of outraged Fereldans taking to the streets, demanding to know what had happened to their beloved king.

“They seem to be torn,” he said consideringly. “Your King Cailan, he was popular. There is much grief… and a great deal of fear. He had no heir, I understand?”

I was preoccupied, thinking about what angry citizenry meant for the alienage—it was rarely good—but I still noticed the way Alistair stiffened, glancing warily at the Antivan. Zevran shrugged.

“I did hear someone say it was a divine punishment for the temerity of placing a commoner upon the throne. Ah… you people have charming beliefs.”

“Anora’s the daughter of a teyrn,” Alistair said sharply. “Even if the family isn’t noble. And she’s been a good queen.”

“Perhaps.” Zevran shrugged. “Still, she does not rule now. They say she was… overcome with grief at her husband’s demise, and no longer leaves the palace.”

The fire guttered, and Wynne fed another few small pieces of wood into the flames.

“Hm,” she said: a small but very eloquent opinion.

“Overcome by Loghain, more like,” Alistair muttered. “People are really accepting him as regent?”

Zevran’s lips thinned and he cocked his head to the side. “I couldn’t say. They seem to. This Loghain, he is a hero. A mark of stability in a dark and changing world. Many embrace him, although a few appear to find his success… convenient.”

I frowned. “But people believe what he’s saying about the Grey Wardens? That we betrayed the king?”

He gave me a long, contemplative look, the warmth of the firelight softening his face, and making the tattoo on his cheek seem to shimmer darkly, like some kind of living shadow.

“Perhaps,” he said, the word thickly burred, rolling from his mouth like a promise. “Naturally, they are eager to have somewhere for blame to fall. An order until recently banished from the country, its headquarters in a distant, martial land? Yes, this seems good enough.”

Alistair snorted bitterly. “Huh. Discrediting the Wardens is one thing. Having us killed is just… rude.”

“It does seem as if he wants to be extremely thorough,” Leliana said thoughtfully, gazing into the fire. “To want you… removed… so badly.”

It was an interesting choice of words. I thought she was being diplomatic.

Morrigan—for once gracing the rest of us with her presence for a full evening, instead of retreating to some far-flung corner—curled her lip. “Hm. I assumed he had simply met Alistair.”

Zevran chuckled throatily. Beside me, Wynne took a sip from the wine skin and passed it on. She nodded approvingly, confirming what I’d already noticed; she didn’t drink like an old woman.

I swigged, appreciating the fruity warmth and hints of honey, and a little reminded of the day I should have been married, when Father had poured coin into laying on enough booze to get the entire alienage legless. The day the streets should have been running with ale, not blood, I thought, surprised at my sudden mawkishness.

The assassin (or was he an ex-assassin now? I wasn’t sure. Zevran’s motivations, and any plans he had for the future, were mysterious unknowns.) eyed me pensively.

“Things are not always so simple,” he said, smiling amiably. “You, my dear, would be easy enough to bring into disrepute. An elven woman, new to the order, and given the circumstances of your conscription—”

“What?”

I almost choked on the wine, unaware that anyone would… but, of course, Loghain would know, wouldn’t he? He’d taken Denerim, and all the rumours, the run-offs, the anger would be there, plain to see. And Zevran knew about it all. Obviously. What kind of assassin would not have researched his marks?

I felt dizzy, as if my flesh wanted to crawl off my bones. He was still smiling at me, a gilded, tawny figure, ominous in the firelight. He knew what I’d done… what I was. I didn’t know why I hadn’t expected it, but I hated the power it gave him, and I hated the unflinching, unreadable gaze with which he fixed me.

Something dark and complex flickered between us in that moment, and then disappeared like a spark dying on a hearthrug. Zevran’s smile widened, and I breathed again, for a few precious seconds believing everything was all right… until I realised that, if he knew about me, then—

“But,” he went on, giving another small, feline shrug, “naturally, a potential heir to the throne… this is another story entirely.”

Either my sharp, desperate glare came too late to stop him, or he’d decided that it was too much fun not to proceed. Alistair’s shoulders slumped, at almost exactly the same moment Leliana sat bolt upright, and Morrigan’s face lit up with cruel interest.

“Heir to the—?” Leliana began, eyes bright, her bardic senses clearly quivering.

I shot Alistair an enquiring glance. He looked miserably at me, shrugged, and glared at Zevran, who affected the kind of apology usually seen on cats whose whiskers are still dripping with cream.

“Oh… have I perhaps said something amiss? Dear me. How terribly… unfortunate. My apologies.”

The edge of that full-lipped mouth curled in self-satisfied amusement, and I suspected he’d enjoy settling back and watching the fallout from that little bombshell.

“Yes, all right,” Alistair said wearily. “My mother was a serving girl at Redcliffe Castle. My father… was King Maric. I’m his bastard. Not the heir to the— I’m not the heir to anything, all right? I just…. It really isn’t important.”

He stared morosely into the fire, jaw clenched, and winced when the inevitable torrent of surprise and chatter flooded around him. Most of it was Leliana.

“How thrilling! And there I was thinking it was Arl Eamon! That’s what the arlessa thinks, after all. There’s quite a lot of gossip, but none about a secret prince…. Alistair, it’s really too bad of you not to have said anything. If I’d known—”

“Er, yes.” He gave her a pained look. “That’s, um, sort of the—”

“—I would have—”

“—thing. People don’t know. And I, um, I rather like that,” he added wretchedly.

Leliana gave him a look of total incomprehension, and he sighed.

“You knew, did you not?” Morrigan said, glancing at me. “You are unsurprised.”

“Well, yes,” I admitted, because I couldn’t lie with that hard, gold gaze latched onto me. “But—”

“And you did not think this could be turned to your advantage?”

“Hey….” Alistair began, but shut up when she shot him a viper-sharp glare.

“If his blood lends him a claim to the throne,” Morrigan went on, one pale hand extended into the dark air, “it also lends you grounds to depose this Loghain. Challenge him. Force him to unite behind you, or face a civil war.”

“Now, hang on. No one’s deposing anyone,” Alistair protested. “It’s really not— I’m not….”

“Alistair is a Grey Warden,” I said firmly. “And Maric never formally recognised him. It’s hardly a strong enough position to challenge a man who’s already in control of the capital, the army, and half the country… and whose daughter is already on the throne.”

“Thank you! You see?” Alistair sat back, looking faintly relieved. “I said that. Didn’t I say that?”

Morrigan sighed tersely and shook her head, succinctly expressing the opinion that we were all idiots, without even having to bother to say it. Leliana was still gazing at Alistair, a peculiar look on her face, as if she was already writing his ballad in her head.

“You know,” she said, leaning forwards and widening those big, blue eyes. “There are many great tales of lost kings who return to their lands to reign in glory, and—”

“I am not lost,” Alistair said firmly. “Nor, for that matter, a king. And there is nothing glorious about me.”

Morrigan smirked. “That, you continue to prove most admirably.”

He glared at the witch; Leliana ignored her.

“You are Maric’s son,” she protested, voice ringing with the confidence of a woman who truly believed in the power of stories. “You are the rightful king of Ferelden!”

Alistair squirmed, and a pang of sympathy tugged at me. Whatever kindness Eamon might have shown him once, he didn’t know whether to believe he was a lovechild or the result of a rape. I felt I ought to step in and say something, but I didn’t know what.

Around us, the night was drawing in, deep and cool. Something that might well have been a bat flew overhead, and the scent of damp earth hung strongly over this convivial little pool of light.

“Look….” Alistair shook his head incredulously. “I haven’t got any funny-shaped birthmarks, or a magic sword, or… any idea what I’m doing, half the time. I’m the— the unwanted by-blow of an indiscreet man who just happened to be king. I’m not meant to rule anything. Some days I have trouble figuring out which boot goes on which foot!”

It was an impassioned outburst, panic stalking beneath the words, but it didn’t stop Leliana’s starry-eyed onslaught.

“So?” She shrugged. “Complete fools are made leaders of kingdoms all the time, and you are not a complete fool, Alistair.”

“Definitely debateable,” Morrigan muttered.

“I’m not? Oh. What an utter relief,” he said flatly.

“Anyway, you shouldn’t worry about the boots. Kings don’t need to dress themselves. You can have people for that,” Leliana added airily.

Alistair grimaced. “Wonderful.”

I glanced at Zevran, and hoped he was happy with the after-dinner entertainment he’d wrought for himself. He seemed to be. He caught my eye, and grinned knowingly; that smile like a white blade in the dimness.

Wynne cleared her throat. “Well, it is getting late. I, for one, intend to make the most of this welcome rest. We still have a long way to go, I believe.”

There was a general murmur of assent, and before long we all started to slope off to our respective beds. Morrigan made some dark comment about hoping everybody lived to see morning, and Zevran simply smiled.

Just beyond the circle of firelight, where the shadows tugged at the warmth of acceptance and wine-fuzzed comfort, there was a sliver of quiet. As the others went to their separate tasks, shaking out blankets and unfastening bedrolls, making for the inadequate privacy of their respective tents, I found myself passing close to Zevran, with his dangerous smile and his scent of leather and rosewater.

“That was cruel,” I said quietly.

He had his back to me, but he turned, one golden eyebrow curved mischievously. “Oh?”

I didn’t bother to expand upon it. He knew what I meant… and I thought I had the measure of him.

“Then I shall consider myself warned,” he said gracefully, inclining his head.

I bit the inside of my cheek, weighing reason against impulse, and was unable to fully separate the two. The question I’d wanted to ask but not dared—the only thing I’d really wanted to know, ever since this whole bloody business began—came blurting out, though I knew I should have held it back.

“What’s happening in the alienage?”

Zevran had the nerve to shrug slightly, as if he didn’t understand what I meant.

“Don’t,” I snapped, for that moment seeing only the points on his ears, and none of the foreignness that so lividly marked him. “You were in Denerim. You know what I— why I want to know.”

Those lucent, amber eyes narrowed a little, and I realised how deeply I would come to treasure the memory of kicking this man in the balls while he lay in the mud. The corner of Zevran’s mouth quirked.

“You know, the Crows bought me on the slave market when I was a child. Before that, I lived in a whorehouse. I have made it a point never to set foot inside alienages… and why should I? I am so rarely called there on business.”

Once the layers of difference were scraped away—the looks, the accent, the clothes, the crimes—I realised who Zevran reminded me of. My cousin Andar, who’d pushed me over the time I chipped my front tooth, then went screaming to Father when I punched him. And it had been me who got punished, as I recalled.

My fingers itched with an old, familiar impulse.

“Please?”

The word ground itself out between gritted teeth, reluctantly. He smiled, as if he’d just scored a point. I supposed he had, though I didn’t like admitting it.

“Urien did not return from Ostagar. There is a new arl of Denerim… a man called Howe.”

I took a short, deep breath. The name was familiar… the one who’d paid for the spy at Redcliffe, wasn’t he? I nodded, and supposed at least it meant there would be less familial vengeance. Probably.

“What…?”

“I don’t know much,” Zevran said quietly, the pretences seeming to drop from his voice. “But there was a great deal of anger. There has been violence. Riots… a few murders. Parts of the district were shut off when I was there, maybe two weeks ago? My… source… reliably informed me that your actions had brought more excitement to the city than they’d seen since King Meghren was deposed. There are plenty of people who would like to see your head on a pike, too. But… you know this, yes?”

He tilted his head, looking at me curiously. My throat felt heavy, like I’d swallowed some indigestible, cold weight, rooting me to the spot. I folded my arms across my chest, jaw tight, and nodded sullenly.

“Mm. But there’s been no purge? No—?”

Zevran scoffed lightly. “My opinion? I do not think Loghain considers the alienage important enough to burn. But… Howe? I don’t know. Truth be told, like I said, I did not concern myself with these things. My job was merely to find you, and your handsome friend, and… well, you know.”

He flashed one of those pearly smiles, as if a dagger in the back was a minor indiscretion to be forgiven between friends, and that appeared to be all there was to it. I frowned, my head full of fire and stones hurled in anger, and blood on cobbled streets. I didn’t know whether to be pleased there’d been no official reaction, or terrified for what might have happened. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know how mean and vindictive my people could be.

I blinked, and hauled my gaze out of the dirt, surprised to find an artless, almost sympathetic look on Zevran’s face.

“As far as I’m concerned,” he said, a trifle flippantly, “you did them all a favour… though you could have been a little less dramatic, no? They say there was a river of blood running through the arl’s palace. That… well, frankly, that’s hardly subtle.”

I stared, dimly aware that he was making a joke of it. A joke of that day, when I had watched a girl I’d known since childhood die in her friend’s arms, simply for saying the wrong thing to a guard… when the same men had cut Nelaros down, and mocked him when they did it. The day I had stood there, in Vaughan’s chamber, human blood on my wedding dress, and watched three men raping my cousin, and laughing at her screams.

I sought something cold and cutting to say, some weapon with which to strike back at Zevran, but there was only one thought in my head: the memory of the moment Vaughan lay before me, bloody and still half-unbreeched, the scratches Shianni had made on his face and neck bleeding and smeared. Hadn’t been such an arrogant bastard then, had he? Green eyes darting for escape; a cornered rat babbling and begging for his life. The borrowed sword in my hand—a finer weapon than any I’d ever seen before or since—sang to me, calling out to cut that evil sod from ear to ear. I could have made it quick, couldn’t I? Swift, brutal justice. But I hadn’t. Pommel to the face, blood that gushed so warmly…. I’d wanted his balls. Wanted to let him die an incomplete man, crying and retching in agony, but time and a lack of experience had been against me, and I’d settled for twisting the blade in his gut, driving it deep home and watching the life ebb out of his eyes as he whimpered his last. I’d milked every ounce of pain out of it I could, and I’d made him see me do it.

I carried that with me still. I carry it today. It was murder, and it was wrong.

I suspect Zevran saw something of the story in my face. His expression shifted, a twinge of recognition or acknowledgement seeming to light his eyes. I thought he knew, anyway. Knew not just what I’d done, but the pleasure I’d taken in it.

Mortified, exposed… afraid, perhaps, I mumbled a goodnight and removed myself as fast as I could, wanting the seclusion of my tent and the forgiveness of shadows.

In the dark, I lay there with the blanket bunched up around me, listening to the sounds of the camp beyond the flimsy canvas walls. I wasn’t sure which was worse; thinking my family must have been dead, or knowing that they might still be alive, but that, if they were, they would be suffering for everything I’d done. And they would… I had no doubt of that. Suspicions all confirmed, fears all justified.

One thing was certain. I couldn’t just walk into Denerim… could I? And yet, I knew now that I had to. All the business of elusive scholars and mythical relics aside, I needed to see what was happening in the city, and get word to Father… if I could.

And, however unpalatable the thought, I had to tell Alistair the truth. I’d known I would, known I should have done it already…. Stupid of me to have put it off, I supposed, though I knew why I had. My ‘handsome friend’, as Zevran put it, was unlikely to look at me the same way afterwards… and that mattered to me, more than I could ever have imagined it would.

I frowned up at the roof of my tent—staring at the baggy bit of unevenly sewn seam that, before long, was likely to start leaking—and considered that fact. Eventually, a small, terse breath puffed between my lips.

“Bugger,” I mouthed into the darkness.

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Volume 3: Chapter Five
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