sephirajo: (reaching)
[personal profile] sephirajo
So, I am back from the great Jocation. It was fun. I got to spend time with people and had less of an excuse to be a total recluse. I'm exhausted as all fuck now, but in other good news Raevn, my stepdaughter, will be spending the year with us, and hopefully more. Yay!

In things that I hate, I lost a tooth, one of the front ones, and got a replacement for it. It's really hard to explain how much it bothers me, like literally one of my worst fears. I guess that makes me kind of crazy for even bringing it up. :/ But I am now the Great Toothless Hag.

I've also started to get back in to fic writing. And writing in general. And gaming.

It's really hard to explain the complete kick-in-the-stomach reaction I've had to these things the last few years. It's like staring down Godzilla with a feather duster for a weapon. It doesn't always go well, but I am trying.

I've been working on a couple of dragon age fics, and mostly one with my Amell warden and Alistair and their relationship kind of falling apart. It's getting really long in the first chapter, so I'm kind of looking for good places to break it. I think I got to a good place, but I don't know?

Anyway, it's at the bottom here if anyone wants to read it. Feedback would mean a lot... and I even feel bad asking for that. :/ After all it's pretty long and stuff, and so far we have Alistair, Leliana, Zevran, Morrigan and Arl Eamon. Oh, and a streaking dwarf. And 8k + words. >__< I hope it's good.

* * *

“I trust the room is to your liking?” the sound of the Arl’s voice cut through her reading, causing her to almost drop the book she had borrowed from Wynne. Orla hadn’t paid any attention to the door opening because she had assumed it was Alistair. They were leaving in the morning, after all, having called the Landsmeet. So she was dumbfounded to see who it actually was. The only thought she could summon was it was a good thing she was dressed.

If you could call a muslin shift ‘dressed.’ Maker, the thing was practically see-through! She held the book to her chest and tried to see if anyone was behind him. As if reading her mind he said, “Alistair and Teagan are catching up. I thought I would take the moment to speak to the woman who saved my life and my family.”

“I’m,” shocked, “Honored that you would take the time to come and speak with me, my lord,” Orla started, carefully, “I’m just, well, not dressed to receive a visitor right now,” she said.

“Oh, of course,” The Arl said, and turned around, facing the door, but didn’t move to leave, “I’ll wait.”

Of course you would, Orla thought, stumbling out of bed and tripping on her way to the Orlesian dressing screen. She started putting on the pale yellow linen dress she had worn most of their journey. After all, when the country was out to get Grey Wardens you couldn’t wear the armor. It didn’t even occur to her that it was ratted and dirty and really not fitting to be worn in front of anyone. Not to mention that with the shift sticking out at odd ends it just looked ludicrous.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Arl Eamon said simply.

“I’m sorry, my lord?” Orla asked, fighting with the laces on the corset.

“Are you content with the room?” he asked kindly.

“Oh! Yes, it’s very,” roomy, “comfortable,” it was just missing who it needed for her to be able to sleep. Finally able to finish the last of the leather laces she stepped out from behind the screen with as much grace as she could manage. She dressed herself in mostly dim light and was sure Eamon wouldn’t notice how disheveled she was.

“You’ll have to forgive me, Arl, I wasn’t expecting you,” Orla said with a slight curtsy as he turned back around.

“That’s alright,” the Arl said, his smooth voice had a hint of amusement to it, “I was hoping to get a chance to speak to you about the Landsmeet before we left,” he motioned to the chair that stood alone in front of the desk. Orla sat down, trying to smooth out the skirts that a year on the run had destroyed.

“I couldn’t help but to notice your reaction at the suggestion we put Alistair forward for king,” Arl Eamon said, standing with his hands clasped behind his back.

“Alistair doesn’t want to be king,” Orla pointed out, aware that her tone was a lot harsher than she should have taken with someone of his station. She had to remind herself that she was a Warden now, and in theory that should put her on equal footing with the Arl.

In theory.

“Besides,” Orla added quickly, “He’s a Warden.” And he’s staying with me.

“He is a Warden,” the Arl agreed, with a nod, “But he’s also the only living child of Maric’s. You’re Ferelden and last I checked the Circle did have their mages study history. You should be aware of the importance of Calenhad’s bloodline.”

“Is it so important that you’d place proof that Maric betrayed the late Queen’s trust on the throne?” Orla returned.

“Yes,” he said simply. His answer surprised her, “Alistair isn’t to blame for his father’s mistakes-”

“Then he shouldn’t suffer for them!” Orla interjected, but the Arl silenced her with a glare and then continued.

“Sometimes we put aside our feelings and do what is best for Ferelden. The public support for Anora in the capital is simply to keep the peace while Loghain commits treason in her stead. Do you think she’ll retain her popular support once her father’s actions come fully to light?” the Arl’s voice cut like a knife.

“I… don’t know,” Orla admitted, “I wasn’t taught about how things work in Court,” she pointed out.

“Of course you weren’t. Mages are not allowed places in Court, after all. Tevinter proves why your kind can never be trusted with power,” he said with a tone so casual it stung, “The few letters I’ve already gotten back have shown that once everything comes to light Anora’s support will crumble. Not having a suitable replacement will sow chaos that could be easily avoided.”

“And how will making Alistair king,” when he doesn’t want to be, “avoid that chaos. You’re the only one who knows who his father was,” she snapped then added, “Though I’m sure they’ll listen to you, it’s just… there’s no actual proof,” Orla said, hoping amending the statement would mean she didn’t offend him. And there wasn’t, as far as she was aware. Just the Arl, his brother and a money grubbing washing woman no one would listen to anyway.

“You never saw Maric. Alistair looks exactly like him,” Eamon stated. His tone made it clear this was not an argument he was going to have. It was clear what he meant: Alistair himself was the proof of his parentage. “The best solution is to put him forward for king. I think we can both agree that a united Ferelden stands a better chance against the Blight than a bunch of bickering Bannorns. In a perfect world, he would be free to make this choice. The world isn’t perfect though, which also brings us back to you,” Eamon said, leveling his gaze on her.

“What about me?” Orla asked, a knot forming in the pit of her stomach.

“While, on occasion, the crown has had a magical adviser having a mage so close to the Crown…” Eamon let the statement hang in the air. The meaning was clear.

“No,” Orla said, though it lacked conviction as her voice trembled.

“Do you honestly think what you have will last? That it outweighs the needs of the kingdom?” Eamon started, “Even if he stays a Warden, there isn’t a Divine Chantry in Thedas that would marry you.”

“That isn’t true,” Orla snapped, “Mages have been married.”

“On in a thousand, maybe. But it would have to be approved, and in this case it wouldn’t be,” Eamon said, the implied threat hanging in the air like a wisp that lead someone off to the end of their life. It hit just as hard.

“Then we won’t get married,” Orla said, desperation in her voice.

“And be like your late mother?” Eamon’s question left Orla agape, “I was given your file from the Circle,” Eamon explained, “And it’s another reason you couldn’t remain as you are. Not only a mage, but the daughter of a dock whore from Gwaren. If you think our enemies wouldn’t find some way to use that to their advantage you’re living in a fool’s dream I’m sorry to say.”

“Kirkwall,” Orla said, her nails digging into the expensive fabric on the chair, “Mother was from Kirkwall.” What few good memories she had of her mother were stories from a time she had never seen and that even her sister, Grace, had only partly remembered. Stories of parties and fancy dresses. Of abundant food and warm beds. She couldn’t argue the fact her mother was a whore. That was a painful truth.

“I would stay with telling people she’s from Gwaren. There have been enough foreign influences here to last us for quite some time,” Eamon said as he stood straight. Orla on the other hand felt like sinking into the floor. “We’ll be able to talk more on the road,” Eamon said softly, in stark contrast to how he had just been speaking. “You should get some sleep, Warden.”

Orla just sat there, staring down at her knees, her red hair covering her face. She felt like she had just been hit in the stomach. No, she decided a moment later, this feels much worse.

She almost didn’t notice when Alistair walked in the room. He walked in backwards, a bottle in one hand, “Was that Eamon?” he muttered to himself and then turned to her. She could see the grin on his face through the lines of red hair and tears, “Look what Teagan let me take. I brought a couple of glasses too, I thought we cou- Orla? What’s wrong?”

Orla pushed her hair out of her face, the red strands falling to either side of her face in a jumble, “If I say nothing,” she managed after a moment, “would you believe me?” I wouldn’t believe me, she thought. Not with the way her voice was hitching.

“I’m going to say no, no I wouldn’t,” Alistair returned, but despite the answer being playful his voice was not. He sat the glasses and the wine bottle down on the desk and knelt down in front of her. At first his expression was serious and then he managed to see how well she had dressed herself, “You know, you don’t have to be upset about not being able to dress yourself in the dark. Of course there I go, trying to lighten mood,” the way he dropped the pun was so obvious that Orla couldn’t help but to laugh shortly.

“That was terrible,” she laughed, wiping her eyes. I don’t want to give this up.

“Well I have it on good authority that I’m a very bad man. After all, here I am planning drinks and word games with a shockingly fiery mage,” it was obvious he was trying to cheer her up.

“Keep that up and I’ll light you on fire while shocking you,” Orla returned, smiling.

He rested his head on her knees, looking up at her with an impish grin, “Promise?”

“I suppose I can’t say no to you,” Orla said, mockingly rolling her eyes.

“Ah, my evil plan is already working!” Alistair cackled.

Orla inclined her head back towards the desk, “Teagan let you raid the wine cellar?”

“I know, I’m shocked too. Not literally of course,” he added quickly, “Not yet anyway. You should have seen Wynne down there. She looked like she had walked right to the Maker’s side. If the Maker were made of wine,” he stood up and walked back to the bottle, picking it up and taking a cork out of his pocket.

“Maybe he is. Maybe he sneezes wine,” Orla joked back.

“Then what would he vomit?” Alistair said after a moment of faked deep thought.

“Bread pudding?” Orla offered as the wine bottle made a loud pop when he removed the cork.

“Then I do hope I’m found worthy when I die, because who could say no to that?” Alistair chuckled, pouring the wine.

“No one who trusts that the maker is their bacon,” Orla said, taking the cup he offered.

“The veal holds no uncertainty for us,” he laughed.

“At least the veal and the forests aren’t burning,” she continued, different verse, but it worked!

“Of course not, we are the Champions of the Juice,” Alistair said, drinking from his glass.

“Juice? This is wine,” she teased, before taking a sip. She was used to wine being sour, all that she had in the Circle had been. And the last year had been more watered down ale than wine. This was sweet, though, with only the faintest taste of liquor left behind.

“Aww, you broke the game,” Alistair crooned, sitting on the bed. He motioned for her to join him, and she did, walking over with the glass and grabbing the bottle as well, “I guess we’ll have to talk now,” he said with a silly pout turning his lips.

Orla sat near the head of the bed, placing the bottle on the end table. Between her first few years in the hovel in Gwaren and then in the circle, a room like this was a luxury she couldn’t have dreamt up. And it was one of the smaller ones in the Arl’s estate.

“What about?” she asked, taking another sip of the wine as she moved in close to Alistair; his presence alone could make her forget everything outside the door.

This time, however, one of the problems sat next to her. One of the problems was her. No matter how much she wished it wasn’t so. Put aside your feelings and do what is best for Ferelden.

Orla entwined the fingers of her free hand with his, but stared ahead at the shadows flickering on the wall instead of at him. “What did Eamon want?” Alistair asked, his hand squeezing hers, “And you can’t say to thank you for saving his wife and son. He’s already done that. I was there,” he said with a nod.

“You were,” Orla agreed, playing with her wine glass with her free hand. She sighed and put her head on his shoulder, “He was just talking politics.”

“He was… what?” Alistair’s anger tightened his voice, “I’m not going to do it, and trying to get to you… No. I’m not going to, so don’t even think about it,” Alistair said firmly.

“What if… what if it’s the right thing to do? The only thing to do?” Orla returned, still staring at the wall. Alistair pulled away then, sliding off the bed and faced her. She still couldn’t look at him.

“How could you even think that?” Alistair snapped, “Look at me, Orla, please,” he pleaded, putting the wine down and cupping her face with his hands, “Why would you even believe it for a second?”

“Because of what you are,” Orla managed around the lump in her throat.

“I didn’t ask to be Maric’s bastard, you know,” Alistair said simply. With anyone else, Orla was sure it would’ve come off defensive. Here, in this moment, he sounded sad.

“I didn’t ask to be born a mage,” Orla returned. Born a mage to a whore, in a shack. With serious mien, Alistair took her wine glass from her and set it aside with his. In a single motion he pulled her up and into his arms, holding her small frame tightly against his.

“You’re the mage, the woman, I love,” Alistair said, his voice thick and his breath ruffling her hair, “And we’re not going to think about this. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen: we’re going to tell Eamon where he can shove politics. I’m going to stay a Warden and you and I will make it through the time we have together. I’m going to fall asleep by your side every night. I’ll snore in your ear while we sleep. And spend the rest of my life waking up to your red hair and the silly noise you make when you stretch. And we’ll be happy, Orla.”

“Happy fighting darkspawn?” she asked, burying her head in his chest.

“Happy fighting darkspawn,” Alistair said, kissing her hair.

“No one will marry us,” Orla pointed out. It had never meant much until it was a possibility. Now it seemed a tragic loss.

Alistair gently tilted her face up to his, “They don’t have to. As far as I care we already are,” he muttered before lowering his lips to hers. It became more desperate as it continued. Orla knew he was trying to reassure her without words. She tried to do the same, silently. Even as he lowered her to the feather mattress and they lost themselves in each other, she couldn’t help but to wonder. To doubt. Orla’s heart trembled even as Alistair tried to make it fly.

* * *

The next morning they were on the road. To avoid the horde with everyone in the train, many of whom couldn’t fight, they would be going around a long way and the trip would take them the better part of a month. Orla wasn’t looking forward to the next twenty days. Whatever speed they had gained from the horses the Arl had provided was lost due to the large number of his household on foot.

Not everyone was with them, though. Bann Teagan, the Arlessa and Connor were staying behind along with a handful of men to hold the castle. While grateful to be free of Isolde’s screeching and the obligation to watch Connor in recompense for her friend’s mistake, she did wish Teagan was with them. Even without last night’s events the Arl could be stoic and and cold in contrast to his brother Teagan who was a warm and friendly face.

With the weather hitting its winter stride, she was glad to be back in the Grey Warden robes. One of Eamon’s servants even carried the Gray Warden standard next to Redcliffe’s banner. The robes at least weren’t tattered and worn like the dress she had worn the past year. It fit, even the shoes. Especially the shoes, and she thanked the Maker for that.

During the first half of the day’s ride, Orla found herself staring at Alistair. They had barely slept last night, and though it had been the pleasant kind of wakefulness she was feeling it now. Her thoughts also kept wandering to what the Arl had said and her blue gaze moved to him as well.

“Come now, Orla,” Morrigan’s voice almost made her jump, “Surely Alistair is enough to keep you busy and you needn’t be visually disrobing the Arl as well.” Morrigan wasn’t on horseback and had simply fallen in step beside her. Despite Alistair’s bets with the Redcliffe foot soldiers the horses didn’t spook when the self-proclaimed witch came close. Instead they seemed to enjoy having her around.

“I am not ‘visually undressing’ the Arl,” Orla snapped. Normally barbs between her and Morrigan were those of two friends teasing each other. Today, Orla was having none of it.

“Then mayhap your overly intent staring was hoping he would burst into flames,” Morrigan said, “Though, dislike it as you may, he did have a point.”

“You were watching,” Orla sighed. It wasn’t a question. She knew Morrigan well enough by now. “A fly on the wall this time?” Orla said, “or a spider?”

“To be set upon by the castle staff? No. A bowl of water works just as well and I do not have to worry about some fool trying to swat me away,” Morrigan said sagely.

“I never could get the hang of scrying,” Orla mused.

“And yet you seem quite able to stare at objects overlong without blinking,” Morrigan joked, “So perhaps you chose to fail.”

“Perhaps I did,” Orla said, “After all, if you showed talent for it the Templars would make you spy on your fellows and if you didn’t… I knew a girl, she spent a couple nights with another mage. He had a thing for escaping and took off again. They brought her in and told her to see where he had gone. It would be quicker than using his phylactery, they said. She lied to them and sent them off in the other direction. About two weeks later they caught him anyway, but her they beat within an inch of her life. She was never quite the same afterward.”

“Well then, you were smarter than she for not letting on you had any such talent,” Morrigan said firmly.

“Or not taking up with anyone,” Orla added with a short laugh, “my first love will always be books.”

“Then the truth the Arl spoke should not bother you so,” Morrigan stated, “And ‘tis the truth. Finding it unpleasant doesn’t make it any less so.”

“Look, I know you don’t like him and me being with him makes you physically ill but he’s not going to be king,” Orla snapped.

“I may not like him, but you and I are friends,” Morrigan pointed out, “I dare say something close to sisters. And ‘tis true, I do think you have taken up with quite the idiot but a decently handsome one at least. However, if you honestly think these bickering lords will put aside their own interests without at least a figurehead in front of them, Orla, you are quite wrong. And ‘tis worse because you know you are wrong and just lying to yourself.”

“And what would you have me do, Morrigan?” Orla asked, exasperated.

“Break it off with the lumbering fool now. ‘Twill save you both pain in the long run. Though I do find watching his flailing amusing ‘tis not so with you,” Morrigan said the last quietly.

“Maybe the lords will support Anora. Maybe she’s free of all her father’s treason,” Orla said, holding tightly on the reigns of the horse.

“Maybe she is free of it, but have you ever known a man to let a woman stay in power that he could take?” Morrigan pointed out.

Orla didn’t say anything for a long moment and then answered flatly, “No.”

* * *

It had been years since Eamon had to take to the road. He had never been all that fond of traveling, if only because it had always been a necessity and not something they had desired to do. When the war was over he told himself he was going to stay settled, but life had ways of making sure you never got quite what you wanted.

Still, he sat on the horse with a practiced ease and ignored the first few snowflakes that hit his face. As Eamon rode next to Alistair he noticed the younger man wore an expression that was both angry and tired. He sighed to himself. These things were never easy, but they had to be done.

“Alistair,” Eamon said, hoping to coax him into speaking. The look he got back was one of burning anger. It reminded him of Maric when he was angry or upset about something, the resemblance took him aback.

“How could you,” Alistair growled, “She was crying when I got there.”

“Alistair, you are both adults. The truth is not a soft thing,” Eamon pointed out. Maker’s Breath, it wasn’t like he had gone there with the intent to make the mage girl cry. He hardly relished his duty in this case. Anora couldn’t stay on the throne, for more than one reason. And to place Alistair on the throne for him to have a mage for a mistress spelled disaster.

“Well you know, this ‘truth’ doesn’t matter because I’m not going to be King,” Alistair said, petulant, “So I don’t want to hear it. And Orla doesn’t want to hear it either.”

“It’s nice to know that you two have so steeled yourself against reality,” Eamon said acridly, “It won’t do either of you any favors come the Landsmeet.”

“Reality?” Alistair snapped, “I’m not the one out of touch with it here. I’m not a king, Eamon. I don’t want to be, not only would I not be any damn good at it I am not leaving her.”

Eamon sighed audibly, “You are your father’s son.”

“No, I’m not. He didn’t care what happened to me. And I don’t give a damn about the chair he sat on,” Alistair said. Eamon was left trying to decide how best to get the point across. In a perfect world this wouldn’t be necessary, but it would never be so. Though, even if it was, why a mage of all things?

“Trust me, you are very much your father’s son. Maric also had a habit of picking up strays,” which was a nice way to refer to the elves and serving girls that he was aware of. And he suspected there were more that he didn’t know of. It hadn’t been something Eamon had enjoyed watching his sister go through, but it got them on the throne.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Alistair replied, staring at Eamon with daggers for eyes.

This was not going to be easy for the boy to hear, but it had to be said. Even if he kept insisting he wouldn’t be king, this mage was beneath him and it was time someone told him so, “He was fond of those… beneath him. But even Maric would have stopped at a mage daughter of a dock who-”

Eamon didn’t get to finish his sentence as Alistair had already spurred his horse and rode ahead, kicking up dirt from the road. Flames, why do these children have to be so bloody difficult.

* * *

Alistair wanted to scream as he rode away from Eamon, but he wouldn’t give the Arl the pleasure. Once he got far enough ahead he looked around until he spotted Orla’s bright red hair. It was a few shades darker and longer than Leliana’s and made her easy to find. Taking a breath to try to let out some of the stress he guided his horse towards hers in an easy trot, putting a smile on his face.

A smile that melted into a scowl when he saw that Witch standing beside her, “Well look who slithered out from her rock!”

“Spent all morning thinking of that one, did you?” Morrigan returned. Much to Alistair’s chagrin she didn’t move from Orla’s side, keeping herself firmly between them both.

“Yes, I spent all day planning it just for you,” Alistair snapped, “So, now that that’s done you can go back sucking souls and souring milk.”

“Hm, no, I think I shall remain here and continue having a conversation I know you cannot follow. For it makes me giddy to see you reminded of your own stupidity,” Morrigan said brightly.

Alistair opened his mouth to snap back at the bitch when Orla spoke up, “Morrigan, given that the Arl’s soldiers seem to be simply a few knights mixed in with the townsfolk. Do you trust them to know the road ahead?”

“No, ‘tis obvious they’re scared of their own shadows,” Morrigan snorted.

“You’re right,” Orla said and Alistair started to protest but she continued, “I really don’t trust them to know the road ahead. I can’t fly in front of them and still have them listen to me, so could you scout ahead and then let me know?”

My love, the genius. Morrigan gave Orla a look, nodded once and sprung ahead, becoming a wolf mid-stride. It always creeped him out to see Morrigan do that. And yet, he realized, it never bothered him to see Orla do it. Maybe it was because Morrigan was more an animal who sometimes took human form. Orla, on the other hand, was a human who could fly away. She had certainly flown away with his heart long ago.

Alistair moved his horse closer to Orla’s and put his smile back on his face, “You’re brilliant, you know,” he said, his tone light.

Orla smiled back, though today it seemed sad. Damn you, Eamon, “Was that really the best line you could come up with?” she joked.

“Well, yes. I did spend my entire morning thinking of witty ways to insult Morrigan, you see, so I’m afraid that’s it,” he said with mock gravity.

“Ah, I see,” Orla nodded, “Though I would wish you two wouldn’t actively try to skewer each other right in front of me.”

“But off to the side is okay, right?” Alistair asked hopefully. Orla rolled her eyes and he chuckled, “Fine,” he said, faking annoyance, “but only because it’s you that asked.”

“Thank you, Alistair,” Orla said, her gaze becoming distant. Without thinking, he brought his horse as close to hers as he could without startling the two animals.

“Quick, is Eamon looking?” he asked.

Orla turned her head in that direction to check, “Yes…? Why-”

He cut her off with a kiss. It wasn’t an easy thing to keep going from horse to horse, so he had to break it off quicker than he liked, but the scent of her hair still lingered and left him grinning like a fool. “That’s why.”

Orla’s laughter brought him two things, a smile and a sense of peace. Alistair sat back and took her in: she was beautiful, of course, but also wonderfully smart, compassionate, strong with a quick tongue and a great sense of humor. He didn’t like seeing her upset, he never would and if he could help it, she never would be.

“You’re lucky you didn’t fall off your horse,” Orla noted, breaking him out of his train of thought.

“It wasn’t my best thought out plan,” Alistair agreed.

“You think your plans through?” she returned, laughing.

“You’ve caught me,” Alistair said brightly, “No planning here.”

“Obviously,” Orla said, laughing and then turned looked over at him, her eyes clear, “What were you talking to the Arl about?” she asked, her voice wavering a bit.

“Oh, the usual,” Alistair started, “How I’d be a terrible king, what an ass he’s being about it and how he had no right to upset you or call you things.”

“What kind of things?” Orla prompted.

Bad things,” Alistair said, trying to play on the melodrama to get the subject to drop.

“Ah,” she said, letting out a breath, “He’s not wrong; my mother was a whore,” Orla said simply, “In Gwaren. Of course, I last saw her when I was six.”

“I, uh… wow, okay. When all this is over, we should visit her,” he offered. Maybe they could help Orla’s mother in a way they hadn’t been able to get through to his ‘sister.’

“I would like to,” Orla started, “but she died a long time ago. I suppose losing all her children to The Circle was too much for her.”

All her children?” Alistair was shocked, but he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. Magic often ran in families no matter how much people tried to keep it buried.

“All four of us, well four that I know of. Maker, what if she had more?” Orla breathed the last, like the idea had never occurred to her before.

“You have siblings?” Orla rarely talked about her past and Alistair was eager to hear more.

“Yes. Two brothers and a sister. I only knew Grace and Brandon. Maker, I don’t remember the name of my oldest brother. I never knew him; he was taken away before I was born,” Orla said, “Only Grace talked about him, mother wouldn’t. Grace barely remembered anything either.”

“What was your mother like?” Alistair asked. He couldn’t help but to feel a bit jealous. He had been denied the chance to ever know his mother.

“Sad,” Orla said, “With hair too gray for her age. She only really smiled when talking about her past. But those stories might as well have been fairy tales.”

“What kind of fairy tales?” Alistair asked, encouraging her to continue.

“The kind with fancy dresses, dancing, fine food and wine and nobles all too ready to forget about you if you had the wrong type of child. She missed it and talked about it all the time,” Orla said.

“Well, we can do that. Except for the nobles part. How would Oghren put it? ‘Sod ‘em’?” Alistair attempted to mimic the dwarf’s accent on the last two words. “We’ll have earned the party, I think.”

As if summoned, the dwarf ran by. He was quickly followed by two of the Arl’s soldiers. And Oghren was distinctly without pants. “THE SODDING DOGS TOOK THEM!” Oghren shouted, the words slurring. Orla and Alistair looked at each other for a moment, agape and then burst out laughing.

“This is why we brought the dwarf, right?” Alistair said, laughing so hard he could barely breathe, “Because what is a blight without a pantsless dwarf?”

“A lot nicer to look at,” Orla said, almost bent over in her saddle from laughing, “Oghren’s behind was high on the list of ‘things I never wanted to see.’”

“Yes, we didn’t really need the answers to any of the age old questions about dwarves,” Alistair snickered.

A guard trotted up next to their horses then, “Excuse me, Warden, the Guard want to speak to you about our defenses for camp tonight.” Alistair was so upset at the interruption that he nearly told the guard where he could shove it.

“Of course,” Orla answered first. With a blue-eyed look at Alistair she rode off. What would it be like to have her ride off and never come back?

No, it was too painful to think about. Alistair felt like they were trapped in a current, being taken in different directions.

* * *

After spending a day in the saddle Orla’s rear end felt like it was on fire, though she had mastered hiding signs of pain long ago. She kept her face stoic as she directed the horse to follow the guard through the camp to the main tent.

When they arrived, she slid off her horse thankful for the relief. Dear Maker, I could use a hot bath. Though she wasn’t as good of a healer as Wynne, Orla could at least take care of the bruises on her backside. She quietly channeled the spell while walking towards the tent being set up. The relief was instant, but her expression didn’t change. She was going to be dealing with the Arl, after all. With a deep breath she pushed aside the heavy canvas flap.

“You asked for me?” Orla asked, keeping her voice neutral as she stepped inside. Standing around the table were the Arl, his guard Captain, one of the knights whose name she could not recall and Zevran. Their faces flickered in the dancing candlelight as she came to the table.

“Ah, Warden,” Arl Eamon’s voice was distant as he kept his gaze down on the maps of the local roads, “We were just discussing our defense for the evening.”

“And the possibility of a murder of crows,” Zevran said, taking way too much glee in either the possibility or in the pun. It did explain why an elf was at the table, for while Orla had every faith in Zevran and what he could accomplish the Arl wasn’t so liberal. In fact, both the Guard Captain and the Knight seemed rather disturbed. That could have been because Zevran was rather open about being an assassin and the Arl had just recovered from an attempt on his life. However, Orla doubted the fact that Zevran was an elf helped matters any.

“We decimated the cell you came with,” Orla pointed out, “Would they have been able to hire more?”

“That sums up what we were discussing,” Arl Eamon said, his hands on the table.

Oh this is going to be fun, Orla put her hands on the table. Let’s get this over with, the next two hours were spent discussing everything from Crows to bandits to darkspawn and back again.

It annoyed her how the three human men at the table always seemed to wait for her input on something rather than taking Zevran’s. Even when it was obvious the elf would know more about it. It was also obvious the Knight and the Guard Captain weren’t quite sure she knew much about defending a camp, at least they were always second guessing here. It became apparent quickly that the reasons why they were questioning her were that she was a woman and a mage. Orla almost threw her hands up and walked out right then, after all her last year had been spent planning defenses and fights!

When it was over, Orla left the tent ready to strangle everyone in there except Zevran. The Antivan Elf fell in step behind her, “Well, that was bracing, was it not, Bella?

“That’s one way to put it,” Orla sighed, running a hand through her hair. “Do you know where Leliana is? I have something I want you two to do.”

“Ah, clandestine work! How exciting!” Zevran had an unholy bounce in his step, “I shall find Leliana and we must meet somewhere dark and shadowy to make it all official, yes?”

“As long as what I need done is finished, I don’t care how official we make this,” Orla snapped and then paused, “I’m sorry, Zevran,” she sighed, “I didn’t mean…”

“It is okay, Bella. I will get our Orlesian friend and we will talk,” Zevran said simply. “It should not take too long to find her. We only have to follow the music.”

“Just no more Dalish songs, I hope,” Orla muttered, “Her voice is amazing but that was kind of awkward.”

Zevran chuckled, “If you asked I’m sure she’d restrain herself to really tragic Orlesian ballads. The gory ones.”

“At least those I can understand,” Orla said as they walked. There was indeed music in the distance, a lute and some singing carried on the cold night wind, “And there she is. I’ll meet you over by the trees. All dark and shadowy, to make it official,” Orla said, managing a small smile.

Zevran chuckled, “We will be there, Bella.”

Orla walked the brisk distance to the tree line on her own, looking up at the stars that peeked through the clouds, the sounds of camp drifting over. With all the sounds of life and with all the glimpses of a sky, she could almost forget that a blight was going on.

“So,” Leliana’s voice broke through the silence, “Zevran seems to be under the impression that we will be killing someone.”

“While there is more than one person here I would gladly stick a knife in, my dear Leliana, I didn’t say we were killing someone. Only that there was the possibility of murder,” Zevran said, cheerful.

Only you would be giddy at the possibility of murder, Zevran, Orla thought. Still, if it wasn’t completely wrong to do so there were a few people she wouldn’t mind seeing a puddle of their own blood. Such musings were unbecoming, however. And a mage always needed to be in control.

“No, no murder tonight. I’m sorry Zevran,” Orla said, patting the elf on the shoulder as he mock pouted.

He perked up almost instantly though, “Perhaps when we break our fast then!”

“What did you need to ask, Orla?” Leliana said, her musical voice and the accent making the words dance.

“I need you two to… steal something for me,” Orla said. There was no going back now. Her anxiety must have been written on her face, because Leliana placed a comforting hand on her and kept it there.

“And this is nothing you can ask for?” Leliana asked.

“Where’s the fun in that? Stealing is much more enjoyable!” Zevran quipped.

Orla shook her head, in reply to both of them. “I… no, it’s not something I could ask for. The Arl has something I want to see, it can be put back afterward but I have to see it.”

“What is it?” Leliana asked, gently.

“My file from The Circle,” Orla said simply.

A moment of silence followed as Bard and Assassin exchanged a glance, “Are you sure this is something you need?” Leliana asked.

“Please. I have to know,” Orla said, her voice catching.

“What do you have to know, Bella?” Zevran asked, his tone more subdued than Orla had heard it previously.

“What happened to my family, to my brothers… my sister. My mother… I just…” Orla trailed off, looking up at the sky again. She needed to know.

“We understand, Orla,” Leliana said as Zevran nodded, “This will take a bit of planning though, so it will not be tonight.”

“I’ve waited this long,” Orla said, “I can wait a day or so more.”

“Oh yes,” Zevran said, “I’m sure there’s plenty more to keep us occupied. Like more meetings!”

“Ugh,” Orla spat.

“That bad?” Leliana asked.

“It is best to leave it at that,” Zevran said, his normal cheerfulness missing. It wasn’t often that happened, and yet it was nice to know he agreed with her about the ‘defense’ meeting in the tent.

“I should go,” find Alistair, “flying for a bit. Tell the others I’ll be back shortly?” Orla asked but she didn’t wait for an answer. It was with a deep breath she started to shift. The act itself was freeing, and they had seen her do it before so she had no fear of them seeing it now.

First, her eyes changed, the vision becoming so much sharper even in the dark. Next, her skin started spouting red and brown feathers as arms gave way to wings. When Morrigan had first demonstrated this, Orla was convinced that it would be painful, but there was no pain involved. As she shrank to a hawk’s size, her Warden issued robes fell abandoned to the ground around her. She would have smiled if she had lips, but instead took flight, the rest of her clothing falling to the ground.

The wind ruffled Orla’s feathers as she flew towards the stars. There’s nothing in the world like flying. Nothing.

* * *

Despite Eamon trying to set them up in separate tents, Alistair had put his foot down and the canvas tent he shared with Orla was set up. It wasn’t fancy like the Arl’s tent, but it had been home for the last year or so when they hadn’t had the money for inns or taverns. In fact, the more they traveled the harder it was to find one.

Getting a room for three people and a dog was easy enough. However, five humans, a dog, an elf, three dwarves (one of whom only said ‘Enchantment!’), a Qunari and a giant rock monster was another thing altogether. So the more they traveled, the more they relied on the tents. Wynne, Orla, Leliana and surprisingly enough Zevran were all very good at keeping the canvas in repair.

This is more like home than the room the Arl gave us, Alistair thought as he started to take off his armor. All the more proof that he was a traveler and a warrior, not a Prince. Of course it was missing the person that made it home. It was nearly impossible to get the plate off on his own and he was almost sorry he had turned down Eamon’s offer of a servant to help, but he managed to get it started. Even if his fingers weren’t as deft as Orla’s.

When the flap for the tent was pulled up he brightened, only to have it be Leliana, carrying Orla’s robes. That made him raise his eyebrow.

Leliana apparently picked up on what he was thinking, “No, Alistair, she isn’t running around naked. The meeting apparently did not go all that well, she went flying. She’ll be back soon,” the bard promised, smiling.

“Oh, uh, yes,” and now he couldn’t help but to picture Orla running around the forest in the nude like some forest spirit. He was sure he was blushing. “Thank you. For bringing her clothes back,” Alistair said quickly, taking the blue and silver robes.

“It was nothing,” Leliana said and then looked him over, “Are you sure you don’t need some help with that?” she asked.

“What?” Alistair said, and then realized he was still half in his armor with some of the pieces hanging loose, “Oh this? No, I’ve got it totally under control. Nothing to see here!”

“Uh…huh,” Leliana said, “Because I can get one of the servants for you, if you like.”

“Nope!” Alistair said hurriedly, “Completely fine here, no help needed. Thanks for bringing her clothes by; you can be on your way now!”

He could have sworn Leliana was chuckling when she left. What kind of Prince can’t even take off his own armor? Alistair thought bitterly, looking down at the robes in his hands. Orla…

He was still working on it, but down to the last of it when a hawk came barreling in through the tent flap, landing in the corner. It only stayed a hawk for a moment before it started to shift and change. The red haired woman who seemed to burst forth from the bird was laughing. Though it wasn’t obvious first as feathers fell or vanished from her skin, Orla was also completely naked.

Alistair couldn’t make himself look away, even if he wanted to. When she looked over at him with her bright blue eyes, the outside world melted away and there was only her.

“I, uh, your robes,” he said, fumbling and holding them out. Not that he wanted her to get dressed, no! But it would stop that from being the first thing she asked! After all, after holding them out he put them aside. And sat on them, clearing his throat, “I’m holding them hostage, however. If you want them back, you’ll have to go through me.”

Orla chuckled and started walking forward, “Trouble with your armor, my prince?” she asked, the nickname was older than Eamon’s bid to put him on the throne so it didn’t bother him. Much.

“Oh? This, well, I’m not a very good prince, I’m afraid. Can’t even take off my own armor,” Alistair explained, sheepishly rubbing the back of head.

Orla stopped and then laughed, “Alistair, there isn’t a prince in the whole of creation that takes off his own armor.”

“There’s not?” Alistair asked, baffled. That didn’t make sense, it seemed to be the princely thing to be able to handle it on your own.

“No,” Orla said, shaking her head as she closed the last distance between them, her hands working on the clasps that were still not undone, “They have servants to do it for them, silly.”

“Really?” he asked. It was hard to think straight with her so close, the scent of the open air on her.

“Really,” Orla said, the last pieces coming off, leaving the heavy clothes that were worn beneath, “There we go,” she said, leaning in close. Alistair wrapped his arms around her, a gloved hand running through her hair.

“I think I’m a bit overdressed,” he managed, tilting her face upwards so he could kiss her, only to find her kissing him.

“Shall I help you out with that, my Prince?” Orla breathed, the air bouncing off his lips nearly drove him to madness.

Maker yes,” he growled, “Need naked now.”

“As you wish,” Orla returned. No, no he wasn’t going to let this be taken away from them. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right that it had to happen to them. When her hands touched bare flesh, Alistair lost all reason. Together, they tumbled to the bedroll, and the world was perfect.

* * *

The candle in the tent had burned low, though light from the campfires outside still flickered in. Orla laid across Alistair’s chest, the blanket of the bedroll barely covering them.

“I think the entire camp must’ve heard us,” Orla laughed between breaths.

“Let them listen,” Alistair returned, his warm hand running through her hair. “In fact, I hope certain people heard everything.

“Someone’s vindictive,” Orla said, trying not to chuckle as Dane walked in through the flap and decided to lay over their feet, “And I think we’re done for the night. Unless you’re okay with the dog watching us.”

“That would be… creepy,” Alistair said after a moment. “You can’t tell him to wait outside or something?”

“We need some sleep or I’ll be falling off my horse tomorrow,” Orla said, snuggling closer to Alistair. He was warm and being here was almost better than flying. It was a tie between the two, this was a different kind of freedom.

“That would be bad,” Alistair agreed, the hand on her hair now on her back, leaving a trail of fire. And here she thought she was the mage. “No falling off your horse. That’s a princely command,” he joked.

“As you wish,” Orla chuckled. A moment of happiness wasn’t too much to ask for and she didn’t feel bad for taking it when she could get it.

“So…” Alistair started, “You know how you got me to talk all about my past, I admit I’ve been wondering a bit more about yours.”

“Why?” Orla asked. It was true that the question didn’t come out of the blue, but she still felt compelled to ask. Then the idea hit her, “Are you looking for ammunition?” she asked, shifting so she sat straddled on top of him.

“Well, I’m just saying it’d be nice to have some barbs to throw back at Eamon,” Alistair said, putting his hands on her hips. “You know, it just occurred to me that if it weren’t for the Wardens we would have met at the tower.”

Even though she knew he hadn’t meant it to sting, when he said that all she could think of was Cullen trapped in that prison and the anguished declaration they had gotten from him. Orla looked away, her hair covering her face, “It’s better this way, trust me.”

“Oh… oh!” Alistair started, “I’m… damn, I’m stupid. Okay, forget I started that line of conversation. I never said anything,” he stated, a hand moving up to brush the hair away from her face. Orla almost wished he hadn’t, as she felt tears there. What she was crying for, she wasn’t quite sure. Cullen, the tower, things that never were or never could be, maybe some other combination of all of it.

In a smooth motion, Alistair pulled her back down and held her close, his lips kissing her hair, “New plan,” he said, “No questions tonight. Kisses and sleep tonight. Being mushy in front of Eamon tomorrow. Good plan?” he asked, his voice raw.

Orla could only nod.

“Good plan,” he said.


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Sephira jo

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