tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 073-074

There and Back Again Ch. 073-074

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter Seventy-Three: *Seven

After surviving the Joining, it took a half hour or so for the three mages to begin to stir. They rose slowly, headaches and the remains of their nightmares disorienting them. We all sat down together in the library and answered questions about the Grey Wardens and the Blight. Being able to give them fifty years instead of thirty seemed to make things much easier, as did the improved fertility; Tomas told them he was hopeful that Wardens in the future could make it work with families. Tomas finally, reluctantly, explained the ultimate sacrifice, and though they were all sad and thoughtful, no one freaked out.

Finally, we all headed out to the main hall for supper, meeting up with everyone else.

I approached Dariel, thinking to offer him the same hug in thanks that I had Anders, but when I saw his eyes get a bit big I had second thoughts; instead, I offered him my hand, thanked him, and then left him alone.

Sten approached me before I sat down, his face grim.

"Kadan."

"Hey, Sten."

He looked uncomfortable. "I believe that I owe you an apology. I...I should not have taunted you into fighting me. And I should have been there when you woke. The bard explained to me how that would be considered respectful."

I shook my head. "No, no. It wasn't your fault. It should have occurred to me that I can't pull that move on someone quite as tall as you. And there was no need for you to spend your time staring at me sleeping. I'm fine. If you'll allow it, once I'm permitted to start sparring, I would like to try again. I promise not to try that throw again. But it was very helpful, up until I got stupid."

He looked at me for a few moments before flashing me the briefest of smiles. "It would be my honour."

He nodded his head, I nodded mine, and he headed off to sit down at the table and eat. Joining him, we all sat down as platter after platter of food was brought out; someone must have told the kitchen that the number of very hungry Grey Wardens had increased. I filled my plate full, knowing I'd draw attention if I went back for seconds; as it was, I figured I'd have to send Alistair for another late-night raid in the kitchen so I could avoid starvation. It occurred to me that if I could take the formula for the Joining and somehow make it work on Earth, I'd be the richest coma patient in no time - I'd sell it as a weight-loss tool for people in their forties.

After supper, Tomas herded the entire group of us to the library for a 'planning' meeting. Teagan and Eamon even came, to my surprise. Once everyone had settled, Tomas began.

"The day after tomorrow, we leave for Orzammar at daybreak. Before we go, we need everyone to have all the supplies they need, and all their gear repaired or replaced. If you need something, come to me or Aedan and we will ensure you have the required funds.

"And I need all of you to think seriously about whether you will accompany us further. The Wardens and Sierra are with me, but the rest of you have the option to remain here while we head to Orzammar. It is deep underground, and likely to be dangerous given the current political situation. Those who come will be allowed to choose whether to go into the Deep Roads, though I will ask the women not to. Dariel, Sten, Shale, Zevran, and Gorim - we welcome you, but you will not be forced.

"Ambassadors from the Circle Tower are here already, and we expect the Elven Ambassadors any day. Those of you who remain can work with them, see if you can figure out a way for all of us to work together.

"You can let me know tomorrow. Other than that, I recommend you all get some rest."

Gorim stood. "I'm coming. To Orzammar, as well as the Deep Roads. It's why I'm here, after all." He excused himself and left.

Sten stood next. "I too shall accompany you. I will not stay out of harm's way when the Blight still grows." He left as well.

Shale declared that she would come, with no further explanation; I wasn't surprised - I'd told her about Caridin.

Everyone else exchanged glances and then, one by one, slipped out of the library without declaration. I wasn't worried; with five Wardens, plus me, Prince, Sten, Shale, and Gorim, we'd be better off than the game allowed, by far. I had to admit, it was nice being able to travel with the larger group, not being confined to four party members.

Once it was just me and the Wardens again, Solona turned to Tomas.

"So I am coming to Orzammar, but not into the Deep Roads?"

She almost looked offended. Personally, I'd have been relieved.

Tomas nodded. "That is correct. You will be the backup, in case our mission should end badly. You will be left with Riordan and whoever he manages to bring in to end the Blight. I would not put this on your shoulders if I had any other choice, but I will not willingly take a woman into the Deep Roads, and someone needs to be left to carry on against the Blight should the worst happen."

"You're taking Sierra into the Deep Roads."

I flushed. "I'm a bit of a special case. Did Aedan tell you anything about me while you were out collecting Joining supplies?" She nodded, looking skeptical. "Right. So, I can work on convincing you later, but for now, it means I go where they go." I pointed at Aedan and Alistair. "Otherwise I could end up all alone, somewhere in the Deep Roads, with none of you even knowing I was there."

I shuddered; thinking about those horrible tunnels filled with darkspawn and giant spiders and broodmothers was...disconcerting, at best. Alistair wrapped his arm around my waist, and I snuggled a little closer to him.

Eyeing my expression, Solona asked, "Why no women in the Deep Roads?"

Tomas sighed. "When darkspawn catch men, they kill them. Sometimes eat them. Not pleasant, but at least you don't suffer for long. When they catch women...they don't kill them. They change them. Turn them into darkspawn breeders." He motioned to me. "You have a particularly poignant poem, to that effect, Sierra?"

I repeated Hespith's little tirade, and the new Wardens all looked ill. Tomas nodded. "That's why."

Anders coughed. "Fair enough, I'd say. I'll take death over that any day."

I turned to look around at the people sitting with me. "I need you to promise me something. All of you." When I had their attention, I continued. "When we are in the Deep Roads...if I am," I gulped, "taken, you must promise to kill me. Find me, and kill me. Don't let me turn into one of those monstrosities."

The pitying looks everyone gave me were galling, but it had to be said. I coerced a promise out of the five men, though Aedan and Alistair both choked up on their turns. On that sad note, Tomas closed the meeting and excused us to go rest.

Once back in my room, Alistair pulled me into his arms and held me for a while; I buried my face in his firm, muscled chest and enjoyed it. When he finally let go, he kissed me. It was a scorching hot, needy, demanding kiss, and it both surprised and aroused the hell out of me. I loved it when I could get my conscientious templar to lose self-control. Instead, though, he stepped back.

"Well, darling," he drawled, rolling his 'r' in a decidedly Scottish accent, "dae ye wish fer me tae go a hokin' fer summat tae eat, lass?"

I stared at him, open-mouthed. Not only because I had absolutely no idea what he was asking me, but also, "You do accents?"

He laughed. "Aye. Only a wee bit o' Starkhaven."

I stepped closer to him again. "What else can you say?"

His eyes flashed mischievously, and he started spouting out phrases in a perfect, though exaggerated, accent. Half of them I couldn't understand, but I got the picture when he called me a 'bonnie lass' and, when I looked confused about some of the other things he said, he called himself a 'numpty'. I stopped trying to understand what he was saying, and just listened to the sexy drawl pour out of his mouth.

I'd always liked accents - many linguists defined the 'accent' around where I grew up as actually the absence of an accent, in the English language, so anything different was awesome. Virtually any accent would catch my interest, but there were a few that just turned me to mush - Australian, for example, some British, and Scottish being probably the top three. Alistair's normal, enunciated British was sexy, but seeing that gorgeous man speaking in a thick Scottish brogue sent a bolt of lust straight to my core.

I realised he'd stopped talking and was looking at me with a smirk. I pressed up against his chest, reaching up to put my arms around his neck.

"Where'd you learn Scot-, uh, I mean, Starkhaven?"

Still with the accent, he launched into a story about another templar initiate at the monastery, a kid from Starkhaven, who was a bit of a bully; he didn't pick on Alistair, who was older, but Alistair used to shield some of the younger, more sensitive kids from his brutality. One of the best ways to redirect his behaviour was through embarrassing him about his accent - apparently, as the only one from Starkhaven, he was sensitive about it - nobles weren't supposed to speak with a thick brogue. So Alistair spent years perfecting the accent and using it to draw the ire of the bully. He didn't use any vernacular I wasn't familiar with during the explanation, fortunately, but his yes became aye, his no became nae, and he rolled every 'r' in an exaggerated fashion.

It was like he knew what he was doing to me. And maybe he did, because he didn't hesitate when I grabbed two handfuls of his hair and dragged his head down for a kiss. Desperate for the feel of his skin, I frantically worked at the buttons on his tunic, and groaning in frustration, finally just popped the last two buttons off as I bared his chest.

"Och, ya wee harpy!" he cried, reaching down to pick me up; I wrapped my legs around his waist and recaptured his lips as my hands explored the smooth expanse of skin on his shoulders. His hands cupped my rear, his impressive upper body strength easily holding me aloft. He stumbled back, his calves hitting the bed, before falling back onto the bed with me on top of him. I was quick to take advantage, my nimble fingers touching and teasing down the flat plane of his stomach before working at the laces of his trousers.

I wanted to taste him, so the moment I had his laces undone and smalls shoved out of the way, I did. He hissed as I devoured him, clearly trying not to, but unable to avoid a slight hip thrust that pressed him further into my mouth. There wasn't going to be any teasing this time; I wanted him to come undone, and I wasn't going to stop until he had. Lips, teeth, tongue, and questing fingers soon had him crying out my name, and I noted with satisfaction that he'd entirely lost the Starkhaven accent.

I curled up next to him as he recovered, and he grinned when he'd caught his breath. He slid off the bed, pushing his trousers down and stepping out of them, then grabbing my legs and pulling me to the edge of the bed. He lifted my dress, knelt, put my legs over his shoulders, and returned the favour. Once I'd come on his tongue, he allowed me to strip out of my dress and made me peak again with him sheathed inside me, filling me.

Part way through the night I had my first darkspawn nightmare in a few nights; he held me, kissed away my tears, and then made love to me again. It was the perfect distraction.

In the morning, he gave me back the rose pendant he'd bought for me in Denerim. I was only too glad to have that little delicate piece of silver back, tucked underneath my clothes beside Leliana's amulet. I kissed him passionately, and he dragged me back into the bed for an enjoyable few minutes before letting me go to redress and straighten my hair for the second time.

The day was spent getting supplies. I 'borrowed' another set of spare armour from Redcliffe's armoury, just in case the group ever split up, and then spent much of the rest of the time shopping for spices, dried vegetables, porridge, cheese, jerky, and some sort of hard, dried, heavy, bread-like substance they called a biscuit - you dipped it in soup. Alistair bought some extra canvas for tents for the new Grey Wardens, though since he and I would be sharing our enchanted tent again, we already had a bit extra; he also bought bedrolls, extra blankets, and packs. Aedan and Zev ran a crash course on extended camping for Solona and Jowan, who had apparently been useless on their mission; Anders had some skill, but Aedan was determined each of us would be self-sufficient.

I wandered into the kitchen to chat with the cook, and with her permission and help, spent some time trying to learn how to make crackers. I was sick of dry bread and the nasty biscuit, and figured crackers would travel well but also taste better. I managed to make a few passable batches, though the cook grumbled at how much salt they used. Table salt was so easy to come by, on Earth, that it never occurred to me that it would be expensive or difficult to find.

We all met in the library to distribute and pack gear in the afternoon. With all the food, the tents, the bedrolls, plus our clothes and gear, everyone had full packs, but given the expected three weeks of walking to get to Orzammar, we knew that wouldn't last. I was relieved to see Anders seemed able to keep up with everything; I'd worried his malnourished, weakened state would be a problem. Though it occurred to me that maybe he was just running on rejuvenation spells. I resolved to ask Wynne later.

Jowan was a bit irritatingly anxious about everything, but Solona managed him remarkably well. It was clear they'd been friends for a long time, and she was used to him being fussy. I wondered how he'd manage in the Deep Roads without her. Anders just sighed every time she was kind to Jowan, and it became quite comical. She'd speak, Anders would sigh, she'd roll her eyes, Jowan would clear his throat nervously, and then it would all start again. I met Aedan's eyes and had to look away before we both burst out laughing.

Once our shares of the group's gear was distributed, Alistair and I took off to shower together. We didn't have sex, but just played and splashed and laughed, freezing ourselves under the water and huddling together to warm back up. It was nice to know we could be naked together without it being so serious. Not that I had a problem with the sex, of course, but just plain fun was all too rare, and I cherished it.

Supper was awkward, again, with Isolde glaring, Eamon ignoring, and everyone else trying not to laugh at my irritation. After, I hugged Teagan, who I refrained from teasing about Kaitlyn, and Theron, who then wandered over to have an awkward, if endearing conversation with Alistair. I turned to Blake.

"You be good while I'm gone, okay?"

He sniffed and nodded. "How long will you be gone?"

"I don't know, Blake. At least a couple of months. More, probably; it'll be six weeks just getting there and back, never mind however long it takes us actually in Orzammar."

"I wish you could stay."

"I know. But hey, you'll be alright with Theron. He'll protect you. And if the Arlessa gives you any trouble, you just run straight to Theron. Okay?"

He rubbed irritably at his eyes, and I drew him into a protective hug. He wrapped his skinny arms around my waist and buried his face. I caught Theron's eye and gave him a look, before pointedly glancing at Blake; he nodded, and I knew he got the message to take care of the sweet child while I was gone.

We all went to bed early, knowing we needed the rest before our long journey. Alistair and I made love, and then spent half the night talking and kissing, despite our early wake-up call. The morning came too soon, and I glared balefully at the weak morning light coming through the window before crawling reluctantly out of bed.

There were fourteen of us when we left, including a golem and a mabari. Dariel chose to stay behind, hoping to meet with the Dalish Ambassadors and gain acceptance with them. Wynne also chose to stay, to help see to Connor's education, and work with the Circle Mages to develop group fighting tactics. I had spoken with her about seeing if they could find ways to extend their range with spells that could help bring down the Archdemon - particularly anything with ice, or paralysis - something to foul its wings.

As usual, Morrigan flew overhead to scout. I carried my own packs - they were heavy, but I was stronger since becoming a Warden - so that Alistair, Aedan, Sten, and Shale could help the three new Grey Wardens, as well as Morrigan, carry their gear. None of the mages were used to carrying heavy packs, and I felt slightly less bad about myself when I had to slow down to accommodate their pace. Months of walking and sparring had forged me into someone far more capable than the scared, useless little girl I'd been when I arrived. I smiled, took Alistair's hand, and headed off down the road.

The trip to Orzammar was really quite uneventful. No bandits wanted to cross the path of fourteen well-armed travellers, so they left us alone. We did run across a few groups of darkspawn, but the largest group was maybe twenty, and between seven Grey Wardens, four mages, and two of us able to disable Emissaries, none of them posed a serious threat. I even got to fight a couple of times, openly walking past darkspawn who ignored me entirely, only to stab my daggers into their flanks or reach around to cut their throats.

Sometimes, in the evenings, Alistair would pull out his roll of parchment and some pencils; he'd never let me see until whatever he drew was finished, but each drawing was almost a masterpiece. And I managed to convince him to draw things other than me, at least sometimes.

I gathered elfroot, trying to be surreptitious, while we walked, and joined Morrigan to use her mortar and pestle to make little healing potions for myself.

Leliana often walked with me, peppering me with questions about Earth and its customs. There were a lot more diverse cultures on Earth than were known on Thedas; not for the first time, I wondered what was past the limits of the maps of Thedas I'd seen. Was it a planet, round like Earth? Or some sort of magical land that was flat? No one knew, it seemed.

After much discussion about diversity, Leliana narrowed in to asking questions about my culture, about how I'd grown up. We talked about women's rights, work, military, art, music...she found it fascinating. And the fact that there were no 'nobility', only rich and poor, and that with luck and skill (or lack thereof) someone's fortunes could change dramatically definitely interested her. Aedan was impressed with the absence of arranged marriages, since as a noble, before the Blight, he'd have been expected to marry and provide heirs; the whole group was dumbstruck by the fact that power passed to those elected to hold it, not passed through blood lines. Who someone's father was didn't define who they could be. Though said father's money could help, of course, if someone wanted to go to school or into a business that took money to start...

We had a whole morning's worth of conversations about weddings and betrothals. Leliana thought the whole 'white gown signifying purity' thing was hilarious, and everyone was surprised by the concept of wedding rings. In Ferelden, couples exchanged gifts, but the idea of marking someone as being taken, with identifiable jewelry, was new to them. It made sense, though - within the nobility, everyone would know who was unmarried, and the common people wouldn't have the means to either buy jewelry, or move much beyond the borders of where they were born, so likely knew who in their town was still single.

One night, when I was on watch, Solona came stumbling out of her tent, retching; knowing the likely cause, and having been through the same thing, I sat with her while she trembled.

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