Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Chapter Five: Pride and Shame, A Dragon Age Fanfic






Chapter Five – Playing games



Daveth climbed to his feet and returned to the tent in which Jory was lying. She saw Alistair pull an injury-healing kit from his pack. Something else fell out with it that he did not seem to notice, though she did. She strained her eyes to catch a glimpse of it but without much luck.

“So, Alistair,” said Neria, “what do you Templars do when you aren't hunting us down and swotting over the Chant of Light.”

“I actually wasn't very good at memorising the Chant,” confessed Alistair, ignoring the faintly mocking tone in her voice. “Got sent to the kitchens to scrub the dishes more times than anyone else in Chantry history for forgetting my lines.”

“Maybe you just had a poor memory?” she suggested.

“Oh I'm sure that was true too,” chuckled Alistair. “I never remembered which shoe to put on which foot either.”

He was reaching out to stoke the fire. In a moment, he would have seen the thing that he had dropped.  With a snap of her fingers she made the fire flare up just about enough to force Alistair to shut his eyes. A quick dart of her hand and she had the object in her hand. She opened her first to look at it just as Alistair opened his eyes. It was a bronze soldier – a replica of Cormac, one of Ferelden’s ancient heroes, if she recalled correctly.

“Hey! Give that back!” he protested.

“A little too old to play with dolls, I'd have thought, Alistair.”

“It's a figurine, not a doll,” he replied, colouring.

“So that's what Templars do in their spare time – play with dolls?”

He made a swipe for her hand to reclaim it, but the elf was too quick for him, rolling to her other side, out of his reach.

“Cormac was a real hero. He killed the evil witch Flemeth, who used to live out here in these very wilds,” said Alistair, making another unsuccessful swipe, “and you'd better return that if you don't want me to forget I'm not a Templar anymore.”

She tossed the figurine back at him.

“Oh yes, that's right, Alistair. Once a Templar always a Templar, isn't it? Fight the newly-harrowed mage over a doll. Make your Revered Mother very proud of you, I'm sure, when you take home my corpse and lie that I tried to possess your mind using Blood magic out here in the Wilds.”

“I have no intention of doing that, elf!” he replied, bristling with anger. “I just do not like having my things taken from me or made fun of.”

“That – figurine – means something to you, then?”

“I found it in the stables at Redcliffe when I was a child. Never knew who it belonged to, but it was the only toy I had after – well, it doesn’t matter. The Templars are not a bunch of bloodthirsty mage-killers as you seem to think. We – they - exist to protect the common people from the threat posed by Abominations and Maleficarum and to that end take our vows -”

“Don't tell me about your vows. I've known enough Templars only too willing to 'forget' their vows for a few minutes. In fact, apart from Cullen, I can't think of any of the other initiates who really took that vow of chastity seriously when it came to me.”

“Cullen? I know Cullen, actually. An exemplary Templar if there ever was one.”

“How do you know him?” Neria knit her brows. “I don't remember seeing you at the Tower.”
“Knight-Commander Gregoir visited the Redcliffe chantry a few times, he used to often bring along the Templar-initiates or of course, the full Templars. Cullen accompanied him quite often. I always found him a little…odd.”

“He's odd all right,” said Neria, allowing herself a laugh. “I do think he had a huge crush on me. He would try to flirt with me and then run away when I showed any signs of reciprocating.”

“So you're the one he was talking about!” Alistair said, chucking the now-empty bottle at the fire.

“Cullen spoke to you about me?” she asked, surprised.

“I had to take him to Owen the blacksmith in Redcliffe village once – something about a sword - and we ended up sitting there for quite a while as the drunken sod - ”

“Cullen is a drunken sod?” asked Neria, quite surprised. “It’s always the ones you least expect, isn’t it?”

“Not Cullen, I mean the blacksmith,” said Alistair, irritable. “He is a drunken sod.  Any way, Owen drank himself into a stupor. And once the old smith had passed out, Cullen and I got to talking while his daughter Valena served us tea and cakes…”

“I assume that you are speaking about the blacksmith again?”

“Obviously – anyway after she had left us alone, I mentioned that she was a pretty lass, and he asked me if I loved her…”

“And did you?”

“Me? Oh no, of course not. I hardly knew Valena at all, or any other girls for that matter, so no, I was not going to fall in love with her or anything. Anyway, what I was trying to get to, is that Cullen then confessed his 'dirty secret', about his deep feelings of undying love for a dark-skinned, blonde elf mage on whose perfection he dwelled for nearly a half-hour. Something about how your every move was like a provocation sent by the Maker to test his faith and your every feature a creation of a desire demon to corrupt his mind. I never did understand how you could be both at the same time, but the poor fellow had managed to reconcile the two concepts in his mind somehow. It was pitiful after a while, really. Quite pitiful.”

A shadow passed over her face.

“I never realised that he had such strong feelings. I might have been…more careful in his presence at least. I mean I always noticed that he looked at me differently from the other Templars and mages but didn't think it was anything beyond a young man's lust until the last few days before my Harrowing when he seemed almost frightened about being present at it.”

“Ah. Well, you have to understand lust is a very powerful motif for a Chantry-bred man like Cullen who takes the self-flagellation bit of the Templar training very seriously. Maybe it wasn't more than that.”

“When I think about all the times I -” she stopped short.

“All the times you what?”

“Nothing, nothing really. I think I shall go get some sleep now. You can play with your dolls, I mean, figurines. Wake me up when you want me to take over the watch.”

#

As it turned out, she woke up on her own, the sound of the raven’s beak tapping on one of the spikes that held the tent down leading her to awaken. She came outside again to find Alistair had not moved from where she had left him, though a couple of hours, at least, must have passed.

“You can lie down now,” Neria offered. “I'll take watch.”

“If the lady's taking watch, I'm giving her company,” came Daveth’s voice, and she turned to see both Daveth and Ser Jory emerge from their tent.

“Not that I wouldn’t like it,” replied Neria smiling, “But I wonder how alert we'd be.”

“Oh I don't know about that,” he laughed. “I can think of a number of things we can do to – remain alert, as it were.”

Alistair groaned. Ser Jory advanced towards the fire and began to heat what was left of the rabbit-stew. Out of his armour, he still looked like a big man, with his shirt’s sleeves rather short at the wrists. Daveth looked rather small, though she could see he was lean and sinewy rather than just skinny, not unlike herself. It was Alistair who was the really well-muscled one, though, his frame compact but clearly chiselled by long hours in the training yards both as a Templar-initiate and in the Wardens.

Neria sat again, staring into the fire. On a venture she held out her hand and tried to command the flames, making them dance back and forth in tune with her wishes. She had heard of certain senior enchanters being able to imbue flames into a weapon for a short period of time. It was a spell she planned to learn soon after completing her Harrowing, and had in fact read how to do it, but not had the opportunity to practice it before now.

She turned to look for Alistair, to find he had wandered several yards away and was standing near the edge of the encampment, looking towards the stream of brackish water that passed behind another Tevinter-era archway. Rising, she went to him.

He was holding the figurine in his right hand, his left cupping it almost as if to protect it. For a moment she thought she saw the hint of a tear in his eye.

“Not that I want to interrupt your play-time with Cormac, but I wanted something,” she said, her voice cutting through the air.

“What is it now?” he asked.

“Give me your sword,” she said finally. “I want to try something.”

“Take it,” he said with a surprising vehemence bordering on anger, throwing the sword on the ground, “and go away.”

“Right, I'll just…” she picked up the longsword, struggling with its weight, “trying out a new spell – I'll just go now.”

When she came back to the fireplace she found Jory polishing his armour while Daveth had opened another bottle.

“Been paying a visit to our experienced hand? Not trying to curry favours with him are you?”

“Don't be silly. I don't think he's the type to let people curry favours with him anyway,” she said.

“Well, Jory's turning in shortly, but I'm here to give you company for a couple of hours, and then Ser Jory will take over from us until morning, at which point you may choose to join me in my tent.”

Neria laughed as she sat down on the opposite side of the fire from him.

“Should I be surprised that you are even waiting for me to join you in your tent and not suggesting something more - open?” she grinned.

“On the contrary, my elfish friend, as soon as this great lout of a Knight leaves us alone, I assure you our clothes won’t stay on for very long.”

Jory snorted.

“Not that she’s wearing much to begin with, the little…” she could almost hear the implied whore before he switched to, “coquette.”

“What can I say, Ser Jory? I'd be glad to have your company inside the tent too, but as I'm on guard duty with Daveth, our options are limited,” she said.

He had no answer for that, and continued to fester in silence, though if looks could kill, both she and Daveth might have been in a spot of trouble. Neria turned to examine the sword carefully. It was a fairly generic longsword with few distinguishing marks, light enough to be wielded with one hand by a strong soldier so that a shield could be carried in the other.

“Oh I don't know. You'd be quite scrumptious under the open sky, I'm sure.” Daveth said as he un-stoppered the bottle, “Care to try some fine Nevarran wine?”

“I don't know…what's it like?”

“The wine or being taken under the open sky?”

“I haven't experienced either, but I was asking only about the wine. I'm not sure yet about letting you do anything to me, inside or outside of a tent,” Neria clarified. She placed a hand over the blade of Alistair’s sword, carefully repeating the spell she had learned and concentrating on the fire before her. Nothing happened.

Alistair had returned to them now, and was beginning to gather his things.

“The wine is beautiful. And who would you allow to – do things to you?” he offered the bottle to her.

She took an appraising sip and nodded.

“It IS good. We weren't allowed sprits in the Tower you know – whether from the Fade or in liquid form. Kester did sometimes smuggle in ale from The Spoiled Princess though. I never liked it much, but wine has a rather nice taste,” she said, thinking of the two bottles she had stashed among her own belongings.

“Well, the Quartermaster had kept it locked up for a reason – this stuff is worth a gold coin at least in the Denerim black market. And you didn't answer my second question.”

“Let me see,” said Neria. “Well…King Cailan.”

“What? You'd want to get it on with the King of Ferelden?” asked Daveth.

“Isn't he also the handsomest man in Ferelden,” she countered.

“Well, if you like your men fair, blonde and stuff I suppose he fits the bill. But back in Denerim, you should speak to the girls down at The Pearl and ask them if they'd rather have Daveth the cut-purse or - ”

Alistair's sword burst into a bright flame at that very moment, causing him to stop short and gape in shock. Neria leaped to her feet.

“I did it! THIS will do some serious damage to those darkspawn! I can do it to your daggers too, Daveth! Isn't magic fun?”

“Ah. Yes,” he replied guardedly.

“Now can the queen do that for Cailan? Can she?” her eyes twinkled.

“I'm pretty sure she can't, not being a mage,” he replied, laughing. “On the other hand why would you want to waste your talents on a King when I'm right here!”

“Doesn't every little girl dream being a Queen,” she smiled, twirling on her feet, as though pirouetting before an appreciative audience.

It was Alistair who responded with a short laugh.

“You're an elf,” he said. “At best you'd be his whore and even then I’d doubt that would go down well.”

The smile fled from her face to be replaced by a scowl.

“Yes, you're right. I forgot elves aren't good for anything else,” she said, picking up her staff and tossing Alistair's sword aside. The flames on it died down too.

“That's not what I meant, Neria,” Alistair said.

“I'd rather not talk about this further.”

“He’s right. They’d never let an elf…” began Jory.

 “Ser Jory, I think it would be best if you return to your tent now.”

Alistair shrugged and disappeared into his tent. Jory followed soon after.

#

“A small village – a tiny speck you won’t even see on a map. I’d say it was located about a day’s ride from the fortress. Left it as soon as I was able to outrun my father and didn’t stop until I’d made it to Denerim. Never looked behind me either.”

Daveth and she had been talking for what she estimated must have been the better part of an hour. He was an easy man to talk to, asking no questions she was not willing to answer, and witty without being offensive.

“So what did you do in Denerim?”

“Why, I was a cut-purse. The very best. Never got caught, for years together. I had the fastest fingers in the city, I dare venture.”

“And yet you did not make enough to settle down with a nice fortune?”

“It’s not as lucrative as you might think, and a man has expenses too.”

“The girls at the Pearl?” she asked, laughing.

“Among other things,” he chuckled. “It’s an expensive establishment, what can I say!”

“And you are a man with expensive tastes?”

His face turned a little less jocular at that.

“There are other establishments where a village boy who filches pockets for a living could have gone, I guess. But they were more…sordid, somehow. The girls never seemed to feel safe there, there was a touch of sadness, even fear…no, I preferred the Pearl because you could see they took care of their whores. The worst you got there was a girl who was bored.”

Neria shrugged and continued to look at the fire.

“There was an alienage girl who worked there. No one liked her much, said she put on airs. But the ones who worked at the other places were always drunk, so…”

“Ah yes, drunk elven women…much like you at this moment, perhaps?”

She had to guffaw at that.

“What do you think will happen after we find these Treaties?” he asked, as the fire began to burn low.

“We return to Ostagar and officially join the Grey Wardens, I guess,” she replied. “They will put us in the middle of the King’s forces to face the horde as and when it attacks.”

“Do you think there’s any additional tests? Will we all make it to the Wardens or do some of us get to go home?”

“Do you have a home to go to?”

“I didn’t tell you how Duncan found me, did I? I finally got caught, you know. Cut his purse and ran – and he, old bugger that he is, caught me. Would you believe that?”

“If you’re telling me it happened, I suppose it did,” she said.

“The Sergeant was about ready to dance with joy and have me hanged right there in the Marketplace. Would have too, if not for Duncan. He’s a good sort in his way, I guess. Saved my life, but that means I’ve got nothing to go back to either.”

“Well, it isn’t like I could either,” admitted Neria. “But that is a long story to tell…”

“And our watch is about to end. I’ll go wake up that lout in a bit,” said Daveth, groaning as he moved to get up.

“No, I’ll do it,” said Neria, jumping to her feet before he was even to his knees. “He and I have some unfinished business.”

#

She could move very silently when she wished, and Jory remained asleep as she slipped into the tent. He was not snoring since he had eaten, though his breathing was heavy. Her eyes could see nearly as well in the dark as in the light, and she crawled her way over to his side. Heavyset, thick-lipped and balding, Ser Jory’s huge arms lay by his side, and one leg was half-bent. She rested on her side, left elbow to the ground, head perched on her hand. Then she reached out with her right hand and placed it on his breeches, delicate fingers on his thick thighs. He stirred a little, but did not wake. Her fingers pulled at the knot and loosened the garment, allowing the hand to slip inside and caress the shaft. She closed her eyes and savoured the feeling for a few moments, then raised herself up a little, bending her head towards it, even as her left hand pulled his breeches down.

“Who is…you!”

Maybe it was the cold air on his thighs or her warmth next to him, or simply his body’s response, but Ser Jory was awake. Wide awake, in fact.

“Hush,” whispered Neria. “You don’t want to wake up Alistair, do you? What would he think?”

“Get away from me, you…you…this is utterly...unspeakable…”

But her hand was stroking, and his cock was speaking, loud, clear and hard. Neria grinned, baring her teeth.

“Leave right now, elf. You misunderstand the kind of man I am!”

“Oh but I know exactly the kind of man you are, Ser Jory. The kind who has wanted to have me since the moment he set eyes upon me.”

“I have a wife in Highever waiting for me to return after the Blight, elf. She…she…”

“Is someone you have not even thought about until just now, have you?”

“She is with child, elf, she awaits my return, as a celebrated hero and a decorated Grey Warden…”

She shrugged, and closed her mouth around his shaft, moaning a little as it hardened further, pressing against her tongue.

“I do not…desire you, whore!” he said, but the voice was weak, reluctant.

She raised her head.

“Oh yes you do, Ser Jory. You who have looked at my legs and imagined them spread for you, my breasts and wanted to press them until I screamed with pain and begged you to stop, at my arse and wanted to fuck that too, whether I would or not…you wanted to take me brutally and mindlessly.”

“Yes,” he said, his nostrils flaring, “yes, yes, you bitch, yes!”

“You are going to be taken by me, Ser Jory, and you will know yourself to be an adulterer and a base wretch, a man who saw me in battle, who saw me respected by your betters and still held me to be no more than a whore. You are pathetic, Ser Jory. Pathetic, because you hate me, you deem me unworthy of you, and yet your body – your…pecker here can’t stop raging, twitching, agonising, eager to yield to me.”

She bared her teeth once more, knowing he could see them by the fitful light of the fire coming in through the tent-flaps, and lowered her head to work again. Before long, he was holding the back of her head and trying to pull her off, but she would not, and as he whimpered, his seed spilled into her mouth and out of her lips onto himself.

She spat out the rest.

“Get out now and take watch,” she said. “Tomorrow morning, if I feel so inclined, you will get another taste of Neria Surana.”

He staggered to his feet, struggling with his breeches, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

Neria followed him out and walked over to the edge of the encampment to wash herself in the stream.  She smiled to herself as she rinsed out her mouth. It was hardly the best taste in the world, but she had grown to like it over time – somehow she did not like Ser Jory’s.  A glint in the water made her pause and walk a few steps into the chilly water, and reaching for it, only to find it was the little Cormac figurine. It seemed as though Alistair had dropped it into the water – or thrown it there.

Strange, she thought. He'd seemed to like it so much.

She wandered back to the tent, to find Daveth lying down on one side of it already.

“I don’t suppose I get the same treatment he did?” he asked, as she lay down at the spot where she had taken Jory.

“Oh no, Daveth,” she replied. “You see – I rather like you!”

#

[Anything you might recognise from playing Dragon Age: Origins is (c) BioWare. This work is not intended to earn any profit or make any money.]


Monday, 24 July 2017

Chapter Four: Pride and Shame, A Dragon Age Fanfic



“Did you just say darkspawn blood?”

“Why yes, Ser Jory, I did say exactly that.”

“And did you just say we have to go into the Wilds to fetch it?”

“Correct, Daveth. That’s where the darkspawn are to be found, after all.”

“I suppose we have to kill them first?”

“Unless you can find a way for them to give you their blood as a sample voluntarily, yes, Neria, you will have to kill them first.”

The three recruits looked from Duncan to each other. The Commander had just informed them that the Joining Ritual required them to collect three vials of darkspawn blood – one for each recruit – and that it was their responsibility to get it by going scouting into the Wilds, where stray bands of the ‘spawn had been spotted.

“The Wilds are a dangerous place,” said Daveth. “There’s things there, things other than the darkspawn - witches and beasts…”

“You will have Alistair with you,” said Duncan calmly. “Rest assured, this is a part of the initiation for every new recruit. Alistair himself has undergone it not six months ago, and I did too, in my time, though we had to venture into the subterranean Deep Roads.”

“I expect we will return by afternoon tomorrow, then,” said Alistair. “Pack what you need…”

“Actually, there was one other thing,” Duncan’s measured voice interrupted them. Neria looked again towards him, tall and erect, white armour over dark skin, hands crossed over his chest. For a moment, she wondered what it took to be a commander of men, to have the power to order them to do what you want, and the responsibility to want what is best for them and whoever you are fighting for. Had he always had this dignified but powerful presence or had he grown into it?

But she would have time, and more, to ask these questions in the days to come, she thought, and so, for now, contented herself with listening to what he had to say.

“There was an old Warden base in the Wilds, back when the Imperium ruled over Ferelden and its boundaries stretched all the way to the frozen wastes beyond Korcari. We had stored certain ancient Treaties signed at the time over there, but the base fell with the withdrawal of the Tevinters and was never occupied again. If this is truly a Blight, we may find ourselves needing those Treaties, however, so I charge you four with retrieving them as well. Alistair, I shall give you the map that will take you there.”

“If the base fell so many years ago, how do we know that the Treaties are even there?” asked Daveth, ever doubting.

“They were protected by powerful spells, and even if they are not there, I would not want us to give up on them without trying,” replied Duncan. “This should take you another three days in the Wilds, I think, two if the darkspawn do not harry you too much. When you return, we shall complete your Joining and initiate you into the Warden corps.”

The tone was of dismissal and sent the three recruits scurrying to round up their possessions. Neria’s extensive wardrobe was lying in its small satchel with Wynne,and she went to collect it from there. It was as she did so that the kennel-master hailed her.

“Going into the Wilds, are ye?” he asked.

“So it seems,” she nodded.

“I was wondering if you could get me this flower – white, with a red centre – from there, should be growing near the marshes.”

“And why would I do that?”

“I have a sick dog on my hands,” the fellow said, indicating a poorly-looking mabari hound lounging in one of the kennels. “That flower, crushed and mixed in milk, is the only thing that seems to work to cure dogs with the Blight-fever.”

“I don’t really think we will…,” began Neria, but then the dog seemed to look right at her and give quite the piteous whine. “Fine, but don’t expect me to give him dog-treats afterwards.”

The kennel-master grinned as she walked away.

#

“You're not from Ferelden, are you?”

“That depends on whether Ferelden wants to claim ownership of its mages,” Neria replied guardedly.

“I see your point. Have a bit of rabbit.”

Neria scowled. She realised that the Templar-turned-Warden was trying to be friendly but she wasn't inclined to trust a Templar, even one who claimed he had never taken his vows.

It was their second day in the Korcari Wilds now. Alistair, Daveth, Sir Jory and she had been making their way through the swampy forest land in search of the Treaties.

“Are we getting anywhere near where we need to be?” asked Daveth, who was sharpening his dagger on a whetstone.

“I have a map, but it is an old one,” admitted Alistair.

In the Wilds, that had meant a lot of walking around in the wrong direction. The broad elevations were the same, but places where walls, statues and outposts were marked had long since fallen, either to the depredations of the Chasind or the ravages of time. Leaning towers, fallen heads and broken walls dotted the landscape, interspersing the mucky water, trees and corpses.

Yes, corpses.

Everywhere they went, the could see that the darkspawn had made their presence felt in the Wilds. Most of the dead were their own soldiers. Small bands of men sent out to scout the darkspawn positions who had encountered their counterparts from the horde and come off rather the worse for it. There were Chasind bodies too, and – rather poignantly – a father-and-son pair of missionaries, their bodies in two different places, who had come to bring the word of the Maker to the tribals and died at darkspawn hands instead.

“I only worry that we may encounter a band of ‘spawn too large for us to defeat,” said Sir Jory.

“That has not been a problem so far,” pointed out Alistair.

It was true. They had encountered darkspawn; stinking, hideous, mindless creatures, with their screams and grunts, rushing at them, swords and daggers swinging. But whether through good fortune or skill, their group had avoided serious injury, and even completed their first task towards the completion of their Joining – collecting darkspawn blood.

Now that it was done, though, Neria could understand that further encounters were best avoided. She herself had proven her worth in battle many times over, even to the doubting, heavyset knight from Redcliffe, who was still a little awkward around her. Alistair had tried to hint that she could wear her cloak over the wispy yellow robe that exposed nearly all of her back and so much leg, though doing a slightly better job of covering her torso and stomach, but as she used an Rock Armour spell to protect herself and claimed that a cloak would only cramp her movements, even he had stopped trying to tell her what to do.

In fact, the first wolf attack had been repelled almost single-handedly by Neria as she had unleashed a firestorm in the middle of the pack. Their encounter with darkspawn had been more of a challenge – nothing could have prepared her for the horror of facing down one of those creatures. But they died, just as surely as the wolves had, two slain by Daveth's arrows, two more chopped down by Alistair and Jory, while she bested the last, a tall hurlock who had been shooting fire arrows at them.

She decided she rather liked Daveth. He wasn't handsome exactly, but attractive in a rakish sort of way, and certainly as smooth a talker as she had ever encountered. He spoke a lot, too and was generally the life and soul of the party. Jory was more likely to whine between casting admiring looks at her. Alistair mostly just avoided looking anywhere but the road ahead.

They were sitting around a fire, the remains of the campsite where the misguided missionary Rigby had once made his camp. The darkspawn they encountered there had proven a particular challenge, but even they had fallen eventually, Alistair plunging his sword through the last of them. They had disposed of the darkspawn bodies by dragging them some way away having Neria freeze them over so that they did not begin to rot until after the Wardens had moved on in the morning.

“Pitch your tents, we shall continue tomorrow,” said Alistair, pushing a log onto the fire. Daveth and Ser Jory moved to pitch their tents. Neria, who was not carrying one, had been spending her nights in the tent of whoever was keeping the first night’s watch and then rolling out to the tent of whoever kept the second before taking the third watch herself. A fallen tree log half-hid their campsite from the south-east, while an old archway from the time of the Imperium gave some sort of cover towards the west. A hillock stood behind them, and all in all, it was deathly quiet.

“Do you think the darkspawn could attack us by night?” asked Neria.

“They can’t see any better than us, except for the Shrieks – that’s a third type of ‘spawn – and we haven’t encountered any of those yet. It’s unlikely they could sneak up on whoever is keeping watch. I’d be more worried about wolves.”

That, she could well believe. But in the silence engulfing them, broken only by the sound, now, of Ser Jory’s snoring and a tock-tock of a raven sitting on the fallen tree and pecking away at the bark she felt a strange sense of uncertainty, as though there was something, some presence beyond themselves that had not yet revealed itself.

“My mother was from Rivain,” she relented.

“What?”

“You asked whether I was from Ferelden,” she said. “I was in the Denerim slums when they took me to the Circle, but I was born and raised in Rivain until I was about eight.”

“Ah. I thought you were too dark-skinned for a Fereldan!” said Alistair triumphantly.

“So you're not only beautiful but exotic into the bargain?” broke in Daveth, walking towards them from his tent. “Perfect!”

She favoured him with a smile.

“Save the superlatives for later,” she said, “maybe when I give you the opportunity to better appreciate those exotic features?”

He gave her a lop-sided smile and held out a bottle of ale.

“Nicked this from the Quartermaster's special supply before we set out. Thought wecould all do with a swig.”

She thanked him and took a sip before passing it to Alistair.

“How's Jory?” she asked.

“I’m surprised the sound of his snoring hasn’t brought the horde down upon us. Man’s tired, I guess, but good otherwise.”

Neria was not very worried about Jory, if she had to be perfectly honest. The knight was sturdy as a horse and his injuries, such as he had suffered, were not serious. In any case, she didn't much like the man. It was not just the way he looked at her – that was fine, as far as she was concerned. It was the fact that he was patronising towards Daveth and herself, while regarding himself and Alistair as being of a superior class altogether. He was good enough with the two-handed broadsword in battle, perfectly capable of slaughtering the darkspawn, but seemed to have a rather obvious lack of faith in the necessity of their enterprise.

“I didn't mention it, seeing as he didn't remember me, but he's given me a pasting once,” grinned Alistair, handing the bottle back to Daveth.

“You don't say! How did that come about?” asked Daveth, helping himself to the ale.

“I was raised in the Arl of Redcliffe's castle. Lived in the stables for the most part. Jory was a knight-in-training when I cheeked him.”

“Probably a good thing he doesn't remember it then,” guffawed Daveth, “What did you do?”

“Oh, it might have involved a lizard in his breeches at some point of time,” he gave a boyish grin – the sort that always made Neria warm towards him, however involuntarily. “Duncan's mother was from Rivain too, you know,” Alistair went on. “How did you end up in Denerim?”

“From what my mother told me, it seems she and my father were farm labour on the Qunari tea plantations. In one of their wars with the Tevinters, our part of the territory fell into their hands and a Magister from the Imperium came and took it over and ran the place like – well, like a slave-plantation. He had my father put to death for something trivial and made my mother into his – plaything? Concubine? – at any rate, she and I moved into the house. When I was eight, my mother took whatever she could – some money she had saved and a little plate and fled to Ferelden. Tevinter Magisters are not known for their great delicacy and forbearance in dealing with elves, as you might be aware. In fact, they do not even wait until one of us has had her first blood if they find her otherwise – suitable.”

She stopped, looked coolly at their shocked faces, took the bottle of ale from a deep draught.

“Anyway, she found herself in Denerim eventually, stayed in the Alienage, and worked in Arl Urien's castle. Two years later, I set our neighbour’s house on fire by mistake and two days after that, the Templars came and took me away.”

“From what I know of Arl Urien’s son, perhaps it was just as well, his attitude towards elves is no different from that of your average Tevinter Magister,” muttered Daveth.

“Oh, I know. I always wondered if he’d want me when I was older. I meant to be a good mistress as long as he kept me in silks and fed me well.”

The looks that both men gave her made her smile wistfully. After Jowan, this was the first time she was talking about this to anyone.

“What makes a ten-year-old girl aspire to be nothing more than a rich man’s mistress?” asked Alistair softly.

“Having nothing else to aspire to,” she replied. “The alienage is a place with no hope, you know. It’s squalid and ugly and everyone around is wallowing in the same mire, drunk or thieving, mindless churls or vapid whores. It made animals of the best of my race, just living there. I don’t remember the plantation very well, but before the Magister came, it was a good place, a happy enough place, where the men and women worked side by side and sang and laughed after a hard day’s work. In the alienage, there was anger and jealousy and little else. I remember a red-head called Shianni and a pretty blonde named Kallian, who were different, stronger, somehow – they saw hope and strength, they saw the need to fight the squalor and the depression. I only wanted out. I suppose I did get that, in its way, and now here I am.”

Neria stared into the fire. As a mage, her strongest affinity was to the Primal school of magic, which was what had made all her teachers declare that she would be a formidable battle-mage someday. She could rain lightning and conjure up ice, twist and bend rock to her will, but it was fire in which she revelled most of all. It was as though she understood fire, as though she could feel it within her, glorious, fierce, all-consuming. Maybe fire understood her, too – the need to burn, the desire to be fed, not with kindling, as the fire needed, but by men and their desperate, sweaty, quivering bodies and warm seed, which quieted her fire only to have it burn again, seeking, consuming, engulfing them, much as the fire she could command in battle burned the darkspawn.

Cogren had burned. Ser Jory would burn soon. King Cailan – well that was too much to aspire to, perhaps. Who else, she wondered. How many?

“Do you blame the Templars for taking you away from your mother though?” Daveth asked again. Any doubt she might have had that the question was innocuous was dispelled by the fact that Daveth cast a pretty pointed glance at Alistair as he asked the question.

“Not those Templars in particular. They were only doing what the Chantry enjoins them to do, even if that means tearing children away from their families. I don't like Templars in general – not because of who they are, but because of what they've been trained to do.”

She had seen Alistair's eyes on her while she spoke. There had been an expression in them she hadn't recognised – not fear, exactly, nor apprehension either. But he had looked for something in her answer. What he had found she could not tell.

“Now that says precious little,” grinned Daveth, “But I'm guessing our Templar-turned-Grey Warden friend can go to sleep, safe in the knowledge he will wake up as a man and not something unnatural.”

“It's that or not going to sleep at all, hey?” said Alistair. “You should get some rest, Daveth. Wake up for the next watch, I’ll stay up for this one – if that’s fine with the lady.”

“Never been called a lady before,” muttered Neria. “Don’t care much for it either. Do what you like, Daveth. I’ll sleep when I’m ready to sleep – which isn’t just yet.”

#

[Anything you might recognise from playing Dragon Age: Origins is (c) BioWare. This work is not intended to earn any profit or make any money.]