Prologue: In the Heart of Ferelden
They were making love in the dark in their tent, trying to be absolutely quiet so as not to wake the others, when Zev stopped suddenly. “Shh, mi amor… I hear…”
It was hard to stay still when she was so close, her arms and legs wrapped around him, but she did her best, looking up at him in concern.
He nodded once. “I think we might be under attack.”
Her good mood left instantly; she was still aroused, but there was no way she would climax with news like that. “By whom? Shouldn’t Rain have said something by now?”
“She’ll hear them in a moment,” he said, rolling off her and grabbing his shirt. “It’s the Crows. They’ve found us.” He looked down to where he was still hard and sighed. “No time for this. Put something on and grab your sword.”
“I can’t believe you are still on,” Elizabeth rejoined, already mostly dressed. “Being under attack puts me immediately off the mood.”
“After defeating enemies, it’s a different story for you,” he teased, with a wink she could hardly see in the dark. “But I’m an assassin, my darling.”
“I know,” she said, rather tartly, hefting her shield and holding open the door of the tent just as their friend on watch, Rain Tabris, let out a startled shout. “Let’s go.”
“Way ahead of you,” Zevran said, disappearing into the darkness of the forest around their camp.
Elizabeth ran to Rain’s side, charging the man attacking her with a deafening warcry that probably left no doubt in anyone’s mind that Elizabeth Cousland was on the battlefield. The assassin facing the elf rogue faltered and then shrieked as Elizabeth’s sword hacked his arm off. Behind her, she could hear scuffling, and then a flash of light as Sarah Amell cast a glowing Glyph of Paralysis on the ground ahead of Rain. There was a more hoarse warcry, and the shorter figure of Hanna Brosca charged forward on Rain’s other side, towards the dark figures visible in the light of the glyph.
“Don’t let them hit you!” Elizabeth cried, smacking an attacker in the face with her shield. “Their weapons may be poisoned!” She heard a scream from the darkness ahead of her and hoped that it was Zevran’s victim who screamed and not Zevran. “Sarah, whenever you’re ready!”
“O-one minute,” Sarah called, but only a couple seconds later, the ground erupted under the Glyph of Paralysis as the mage cast its polar opposite, the Glyph of Repulsion, on the same spot.
In the confusion, Elizabeth looked around to try to make sure no assassins were sneaking up on them from another side. They were, shadows flickering between the trees. “Hanna!”
“With you, Boss!” the dwarf woman cried, and the two ran in the other direction to fight the men sneaking through the darkness on the other side of their camp.
It was a little bit nerve-wracking, fighting what she knew to be Crow assassins without her armour, but it was only added security and it wouldn’t actually help her fight better, only to feel better. More confusing was when a woman in heavy armour appeared out of the farther darkness of the forest, falling on her opponant and stabbing him in the back. Elizabeth, seeing no one else to face, stepped towards the new woman, throwing her shield towards her to drive her back, put her off-balance.
“Wait! Stop! Please!” cried the woman, throwing up her shield, which had the emblem of Denerim on it, Elizabeth finally saw. “I am not your enemy!”
“I apologize,” Elizabeth said hastily, although she didn’t go to help her up. This might be a more devious assassin. “Who are you?”
“My name is Mhairi, and I have come to bring you word of the Grey Wardens in Amaranthine.”
“How did you find us?” Zevran asked, appearing out of the forest behind her. “I think we are clear for Crows, Liz.”
“I-I overheard these assassins talking about you in an inn nearby, and followed them. I know it sounds suspicious, but…”
“Come here,” Elizabeth said. “Let me see you. Sarah, a light?” If she could just see Mhairi’s face while she talked, she would know whether to trust her or not. “What word do you bring, Mhairi?”
“The Grey Wardens of Orlais say they have made all ready for you to assume your position as their leader, the Commander of the Grey in Ferelden, and they ask that you return as soon as you may. I have been several weeks in searching for you…”
“I see,” Elizabeth said. Mhairi’s eyes held no guile that she could see, and her demeanour looked relaxed and trusting. “I will trust you.” She turned to Zevran. “I suppose it is time for me to return to civilization… What’s wrong?”
Zevran’s forehead was wrinkled in the way it did when he was worried but didn’t want to say anything. She crossed her arms. “Out with it.”
He tried to cover up with a smirk. “Right now? In front of everyone?”
She skewered him with an unimpressed look complete with raised eyebrow, and he chuckled softly before his face fell back into serious lines. “I think I must leave you soon.”
She had known it was coming sooner or later. She bowed her head. “It feels too soon.”
“It is too soon,” he said softly, his forehead wrinkling again. “We’ve only had a year to live for ourselves.”
But it had been a glorious year, free from the heaviest of responsibilities, driven only by her decisions, none of which would have a bearing on the rest of the world as far as she knew, a year to love and bicker and even fight and then make up again, a year to truly get to know each other in the deepest way they could. …Which Zevran would turn into an innuendo, so she said none of it aloud. Instead, she said: “What will you do?”
His forehead wrinkled again. She wished she could smooth it out, rub his ears, something. “I wonder how the Crows found us. It could be a problem.” He looked at her, golden eyes serious. “I think it is time for us to part ways. For both our safety.”
She nodded regretfully. “I understand. Where will you go?”
He began to smile. “I think I will go back to Antiva. I think they have forgotten why I was the most insufferable Crow in the country once. Time to clean up and remind them of that.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Good luck, then. Don’t get killed or I will be very upset.”
He chuckled. “You too, Liz darling. Although you will be surrounded by strong, knightly Wardens, so you will probably be fine. But if you do get hurt…” He shook a finger at her, and she put her hands on her hips with an arch look.
“Says the man proclaiming his intention to take on the world’s most feared assassins… single-handedly.”
“Are you sure we don’t have time to finish what we started?” He waggled his eyebrows and she made a strangled noise. Now was not the time for that! Even though she was tempted.
Hanna cleared her throat. “If you two are almost done flirting, we’d like to make an announcement too.”
Rain nodded her white head. “We’ve enjoyed traveling with you, Elizabeth, but we’d like to keep traveling.”
“Very well,” Elizabeth said. “I will go with Mhairi.”
“And I will go with you at least as far as Denerim,” Zevran said.
“You will take care of Sarah, yes?” Elizabeth put her hands on Sarah’s shoulders. “Remember what First Enchanter Irving said.”
“Yes, my lady!” Sarah said enthusiastically. “They’ll take care of me. I’ll be just fine!”
“She’ll be fine with me,” Rain said, putting an arm around Sarah’s shoulders. “Us. Don’t worry about us. We’ll write to you sometimes. You can write, can’t you, Sarah?”
“I can write,” Sarah said, giggling. “I’ll teach you to read and write, Rain!”
Hanna shook her head expressively.
“Take care, then,” Elizabeth said. “I think we should set off immediately.”
“Have a good time,” Hanna grunted, already heading back to the tent she shared with the other two women. Zevran and Elizabeth went back to their own, retrieving their armour and packing the tent, and then they followed Mhairi into the night.