“Oh blessed Andraste,” I breathed a sigh of relief as the wooden barricade of our camp drew closer.

“Home sweet home eh?” Alistair clapped me on the shoulder as he drew up beside me.  “You know, you’d think one would get bored of sleeping on the cold ground, eating charred beef and getting too close and personal with near complete strangers, but it kind of grows on you after a while.”

I laughed as Alistair flashed me a grin before looking quickly away, blushing.  My eyes lingered on his strong profile before I turned to look behind me and saw Wynne and Zevran a few paces behind, the elven assassin smirking, and the mage wearing a look of long suffering patience.

“Come on you two!” I called and stopped to wait for them.  “I don’t know about any of you, but I wouldn’t mind sleeping until the Blight is over.”

It was almost midday and the four of us were returning to camp after our first semi-successful foray into the Brecilian forest and our meeting with the Dalish who dwelled within its leafy confines.  We had been away from the camp for the better part of a week, walking, talking, laughing and bickering the whole way.  And while no one would say it, I saw the lines of weariness in all our faces and knew that this would be a much welcome night of rest.

As we drew closer to the wooden palisades, Zevran lifted his slender nose and sniffed the wind.  “Mmmm, what is that heavenly aroma?”  It was true, something delicious was cooking within the camp, the smell making my mouth water.  Our step picked up after that, anxious and eager to get to the source of that smell.

Passing into the centre of the camp we made a beeline to the campfire from which that wondrous smell was emanating from, with the reminder of our companions gathered around it.  Leliana was ladling out what looked to be a thick stew into bowls and passing them around to everyone and was the first to notice our return, smiling broadly and waving us over.  Everyone turned to glance over their shoulder at us before turning back to their meal.  I couldn’t blame them.  We had been subsiding largely on dried meat and whatever fruits and nuts we could scavenge.  Wild game was becoming more and more scarce these days, but it seemed as if someone was able to catch something fresh, with enough meat on it to make a meal large enough to feed everyone.

“That smells delicious my dear,” Wynne complimented Leliana.  “What is it?”

“Morrigan was able to catch a few rabbits and was kind enough to give us some of her herbs,” Leliana replied sweetly as she passed a steaming bowl to Oghren on her left.

“Morrigan my dear,” purred Zevran as he sniffed appreciatively towards the pot.  “You are as talented as you are beautiful.”  Morrigan snorted in derision as she ate her stew quietly.

“How did it go with the elves?” Leliana asked as she dipped a ladle into the boiling pot and scooped the stew into more bowls.  “Will they honor the treaty?”

“Oh smashing!  All we need to do is track down and kill some sort of spirit wolf and they’ll be more than happy to help us,” Alistair drawled sarcastically as I gratefully accepted a bowl from Leliana.

Leliana’s eyes widened like the saucers we had back home.  “Really?” she breathed excitedly.  “What happened?”

Taking turns the four of us told the tale of tracking the elves and our meeting with their leader Zacknafaen and their tale of woe, of being stalked and attacked by werewolves most every night and of lycanthropy decimating their ranks of hunters.  Zacknafaen knew of the ancient Grey Warden treaties that his people had signed long ago, and while he wanted to help us he needed to look after his people first and so asked us to aid him in turn.  We were to find a white wolf in the heart of the Brecilian forest, a spirit wolf named Winterfang who was leading the werewolves and directing them on the attacks.  We needed the Dalish to fight with us in the Blight, so I agreed to help them in return for their aid.

After catching everyone up on what had transpired, we whiled away a few blissful hours laughing and joking amongst ourselves until the moon hung high in the sky.  But finally I acknowledged the passing of the night and called an end to our festivities.

“Alright everyone, time for us to turn in.  Alistair, Zevran, Wynne,” I addressed each companion in turn.  “You know a bit of the land already, so be ready to head out again at dawn and we’ll start tracking down this wolf.  The rest of you, business as usual.  Keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground.  Anything happens, send Kiché after us and he’ll find me.”  Kiché yipped in agreement and wagged his tale enthusiastically.  I looked around at my assembled companions and saw various degrees of acknowledgement.

Oghren was too busy drinking from his latest mead skin to do much more than grunt and refill his bowl, Leliana was her usual trusting self as she smiled and nodded, Morrigan was scowling with more ferocity than usual, Kiché was panting happily in the dirt at my feet, and I think Sten agreed with me but since his face showed little more emotion than Shale who was made out of rock and standing right next to him, it was rather hard to say.  Alistair had returned to his meal, trying to watch me from the corner of his eye without making it seem overly obvious, Zevran was busy sharpening one of his daggers, and Wynne had excused herself as soon as she heard we were leaving at first light, citing aging bones and a greater need for sleep than us ‘young ones’.

I nodded to each of them and turned towards the dim, welcoming confines of my own tent at the edge of the camp.  Kiché quickly rose to follow me in, but I turned him away.

“Not tonight boy,” I whispered as I took a moment to kneel and scratch him behind the ears.  “I can’t have you keeping me up all night as you chase rabbits in your sleep.”  Kiché whined but obligingly laid down just outside my tent as I entered it and collapsed into my bedroll, grateful that the day was finally over.

Or so I thought at least.  It wasn’t long before I heard soft footfalls approaching and stopping a few yards away.

“Lurianna?” I heard a voice call from beyond the fabric of my tent.  “I would like a word with you.”

I rolled over with a groan and rubbed at my tired eyes.  “Anytime Morrigan,” I drawled sarcastically.  “What’s on your mind?”

A pale, slim hand slid into my tent and pushed the covering aside revealing Morrigan’s pretty, angular face with short, black hair and full red lips.  Those lips were currently twisted into her usual scowl as she stepped inside and sat down next to me.

“Don’t patronize me,” she said crisply as I sat up and braced myself on my elbows.  “You know perfectly well why I’m here.”  Morrigan’s voice always amazed me.  For someone who had grown up in the wilds away from people and civilization, her words were surprisingly precise, making her sound more like a well bred noblewoman than an apostate mage.

Morrigan was the first companion I had gathered in my travels, if you didn’t count Alistair.  After the battle at Ostagar, she and her mother Flemeth rescued us from the battlefield that had slain so many of our friends and comrades.  At first, we were to go on our merry way once we had recovered enough after a few days of rest, but Flemeth surprised us all by sending Morrigan with us, a surprise that was not well received by either Morrigan or Alistair.

It took some convincing on my part, but Morrigan eventually came with us.  She was a well trained mage and I had yet to find another whose knowledge of herb lore surpassed her own.  She was the primary crafter of any potions our group needed, and more than once her health poultices had saved one or another of us from death.

The journey was not easy for not only did Morrigan and Alistair seemed to live to harass each other, but Morrigan herself was an extremely practical and often harsh person and did not often approve of the softer methods I took to get what I wanted or needed from people.  As a result she did not play well with me or the rest of my companions at first but somehow she and I came to an understanding, and even came to trust each other, enough so that she asked me to save her.

On our journeys, I had stumbled across a black grimoire that I had given to Morrigan to study, and it turned out that it belonged to Flemeth, albeit it was one of the fake ones that she had scattered across Thedas.  After some study it was discovered that Flemeth was old.  Very, very old.  She had developed a system with which to cheat death for eternity.  Find a young girl, raise her, and when Flemeth’s body grew too old and weak, she would take over the body of her ‘daughter’, and the cycle would start again.

Needless to say, that thought did not sit well with either Morrigan or myself, and at her request I went to deal with Flemeth and retrieve her true grimoire.  Flemeth also turned out to be a shape shifter and decided to fight me for her life and her grimoire in the form of a dragon.

To this day I’m not sure exactly how we survived that battle, but we did and I retrieved the spell book and handed it over to Morrigan, who then asked for peace and quiet in which to study it.

That was almost two months ago, and judging by the look on Morrigan’s face, that time was fast coming to a close.

“You announced that you will be leaving in the morning,” Morrigan interrupted my train of thought, “With Alistair, Zevran and Wynne on yet another excursion after bandits, brigands and what not, all towards ending the Blight, and once again I am being left behind.”  Morrigan’s dark eyes snapped fire at me.

“Why did I join with you and the dim witted Alistair if not to aid you in your battle?” she demanded.  “Why am I here at all?  To stand around and look pretty?  If the looks you have been giving Alistair are any indication your inclinations do not lean towards the fairer sex.  Am I a curiosity then?  An apostate mage, malificar, rumored daughter of the infamous Flemeth?  Please, pray tell me my friend, what purpose exactly do I serve sitting here at camp?”

I remained silent in the face of her onslaught, having learned long ago it was not a wise idea to interrupt Morrigan when she was in a fury, else risk her pushing someone to blows.  Morrigan sat before me, her slightly flaring nostrils the only indication of her agitation.  The skirt of her robes that left little to the imagination flared on the ground around her, and I noticed her fingers picking ever so gently at the pleats.  This must have been bothering her more than I thought, Morrigan was not often one to show weakness of any form.

“May I remind you Morrigan, that your esteemed mother forced you upon us, and neither you nor Alistair were exactly happy about it,” I pointed out.  “I was the one who…encouraged Alistair to accept you on our quest, and accepted Flemeth’s offer of your aid.” Morrigan opened her mouth to reply but I held up my hand to forestall her.

“And while I do not want you to leave,” I continued hastily, “you are also under no obligation to stay.  I would not ask or demand that of any of you.  Your aid has proven invaluable to us, your spells and herb lore both, and despite rumors to the contrary, I do consider you a friend.  But I admit have been leaving you behind for a purpose.”

That got her attention and seemed to mollify her somewhat.  I saw some of the tension leave her shoulders as she sat up a little bit straighter and nodded for me to continue.

“You asked me, as a friend, to fetch Flemeth’s grimoire for you, and I did.  You asked for time to read it, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.  I haven’t brought you along on anything because you asked for that time, and I want you to have as much as you need.” I shrugged my shoulders at her.  “I always assumed that you would approach me when you were done and ready to join us again.”

I held out my hand to her and gently rested my fingertips on her leather clad knee.  Morrigan eyed me warily as I continued.  “I need you strong Morrigan.  We’re going up against an Archdemon and his hellish minions, not a few of which have the capability of tossing a few spells around themselves.  I want you to read that book from cover to cover and back again.  I want you to be able to toss those spells in your sleep with no more effort than it takes you to breathe.”

“I want you to study, I want you to learn, and then I want you to fight.” I shook my head and drew back my hand.  “I’m sorry if I offended you with this, but I also assumed you would prefer your studies to ‘saving every kitten caught up a tree’,” I said, parroting her own words from so long ago back at her.  Morrigan looked thoughtful for a moment before she nodded.

“Very well then, I understand your reasoning,” Morrigan inclined her head to me.  “And I will abide by it until such a time as I am ready to join you once more.  But I don’t think it would be a very good idea if I could cast spells in my sleep,” Morrigan smirked at me, the closest she would ever really come to a smile.

“Hmm.  You’re right.  I like my men…you know, men,” I chuckled.

“So you and Alistair then?  Really?” Morrigan asked incredulously.

“Yes, I think so.  Things certainly seem to be moving in that direction,” I eyed Morrigan with a grin.  “Zevran’s still available if you’re interested.”

“I’d rather gouge out my eyes,” Morrigan snorted.

“That might be a turn on for him,” I mused.  Morrigan shook her head at me and without another word or a backwards glance left the tent, and me to my slumber.

Advertisements