There and Back Again Ch. 073-074


He sighed. "She hates me, doesn't she?"

"I don't...think so. She thinks she does, perhaps, but she's more hurt, I suspect. And not ready to trust you, in case you hurt her again. And besides, if she hates you, at least she still cares. If she didn't give a crap about you, she wouldn't bother hating you. And I suspect that would be worse."

"I'm not convinced I'd prefer she hate me. Really."

I rolled my eyes. "What about writing her a letter? Don't tell her about Danielle, don't go into any details, just tell her that you'd like the chance to explain some things she wasn't aware of. Don't make excuses, though."

"Think she'll agree?"

"You won't know until you try."

"Hmm. I'll have to think about it."

"For what it's worth, good luck. What happened is not your fault. You deserve to be happy. I hope you two can make a go of it."

I left him sitting thoughtfully in the woods. Aedan raised his eyebrow when he saw me return alone; I just shook my head. Not my secret to tell. I had to admit, though, that a big part of me wanted to play matchmaker. I was sure Solona would understand, would eventually forgive Anders if she knew the truth, but it wasn't my place to get involved.

Instead, I went to Alistair, who was sitting near the fire chatting with Leli, crawled into his lap, and put my head on his shoulder. He leaned down and kissed my forehead, and I smiled.

The walking was easier once we didn't have to carry our packs; not for the first time, I was thankful for Bodahn. Sandal had given me a giggling hug, and Bodahn smiled when he saw Alistair and me walking together, holding hands. Solona was still avoiding Anders, but I saw signs of him taking my advice: he'd set up her tent, bring her food, and carry her bedroll for her. He didn't lurk, but kept her within line of sight at all times, and stood guard when she was washing or taking care of personal business. I just hope she finds it endearing, not creepy.

As we climbed the pass towards Orzammar it got colder, and I was grateful for the warmer cloaks and gloves Leli had bought in Redcliffe. No one was happy, though again Zevran seemed to suffer the most; the mages surprised me though - apparently Jowan knew a magical trick to stay warm, and promptly taught it to the others. The four of them walked through the cold in nothing but their robes - or in Morrigan's case, her usual barely-more-than-rags - completely unfazed.

Alistair had taken to teasing me, while we walked; he would start talking to me with a Starkhaven accent, 'accidentally' fondle my ass when I was walking ahead of him, and whisper innuendos in my ear when no one was looking. It was an enormous turn-on, and it was a good thing we were surrounded by others or we'd never have made it out of our tent, never-mind all the way to Orzammar. I was so hot and bothered, by the time we made camp each night, that I'd virtually drag Alistair into the tent by the ear to have my way with him after supper, before either of us had to go on watch - and sometimes after watch, too. I was embarrassed, but insatiable, and he didn't seem to be complaining any. It is his fault, anyway - he's the one teasing me!

I'd started sparring again after about a week on the road, cautiously at first with just Tomas, but then with Sten too. It was easier in some ways and harder in others to fight someone with a two-handed sword. I could get in hits easier, but I had to be very careful - if he ever hit me, in a real fight, I'd be down for the count, so I couldn't ever let my guard down. It was challenging and fun, and it seemed the giant enjoyed it too. When I challenged Aedan one night, and he tried to go easy on me, I actually scored a couple of hits before knocking him on his ass. Shocked, he gaped at me like a fish out of water, while I laughed and everyone cheered. He tried harder after that, but my improvement was clear. I wasn't as good as Aedan or Zev, but I wasn't a liability anymore.

The trip to Orzammar passed far too fast, and as much as I understood our hurry, I was disappointed. Despite the Blight, my ridiculous situation, and anticipating going into the Deep Roads, I was deliriously happy for the entire trip from Redcliffe to Orzammar, and I was sad those relatively carefree days were coming to a close.

The shanty town outside of Orzammar's enormous gates was a bit of a revelation. We fought off a small group of mercenaries - I vaguely remembered them as bounty hunters, from the game - and then entered a tightly packed, over-populated city. The dwellings were made from wood, stone, and whatever could be scavenged, including crates and broken wagons. There were narrow, twisting alleys between them, and we had to proceed carefully, single file. In the centre, as in game, there was a decent sized open square, where a beleaguered dwarf was telling an angry crowd that no one was to be let in to Orzammar. The mood of the crowd was ugly, and I worried for the dwarf's safety, until I saw him scurry back to the guard near the gates.

Around the central square were shops, mostly wooden tables with a merchant standing behind them, displaying a vast array of goods - silk and wool, carved wooden figurines, shoes...the only noticeable absences were quality weapons and armour, which made sense - they were made inside Orzammar, and couldn't get out, while the luxury goods that were normally imported into Orzammar couldn't get in.

Bodahn went to find a stall to set up his wares; he wouldn't be allowed in Orzammar, but having been travelling, he had more variety of goods than the other merchants, and I figured he'd be busy. We all collected our gear, and with a promise to come find him as soon as we were done in Orzammar, we left him.

There were multiple checkpoints, not just the one, before we could access the gates of Orzammar, with angry people and dwarves shouting at nearly every one of them, but with a few words from Tomas to the guards at each checkpoint, we were waved forward. The press of people left behind each time were furious, and we all started fingering our weapons as things felt more threatening.

Gorim, despite being helmeted, took the worst of the abuse; I supposed the other dwarves were just angry that one of their own was being allowed to the front of the line. I hoped no one had recognised him.

At the last checkpoint, we finally ran across a representative from Loghain. On his armour, he was wearing the sigil of the crown's personal guard - twin mabari rampant - and he appeared to recognise us, or at least, he recognised Tomas when his helmet came off. He'd been standing nearby, just watching the goings-on at the gate, but his eyes went wide when he saw Tomas. He whispered something furiously to a younger man standing beside him, who immediately ran off. I saw Tomas' shoulders stiffen as the man approached.

It wasn't Imrek, but apparently he was just as vapid, and just as arrogant.

"You!" he shouted, pointing at Tomas. "You're Duncan! You're the one who got King Cailan killed!"

Tomas - or, since the jig was clearly up, Duncan - sighed. The look on my face must have been tense; everyone around me put hands on sword hilts, while the mages gripped their staves. Duncan, though, looked unruffled, just slightly sad. He put his hand up, towards us, trying to keep everyone calm.

"I am Duncan, the Warden-Commander of Ferelden, but I did not kill King Cailan."

The man's face turned red, and his expression grew incredulous. "I was there! I saw the horde descend on the vanguard at Ostagar! And you put the King at the centre of it!"

"And your liege turned and left. Ostagar was a disaster, but there is plenty of blame to go around, don't you think? Now if you don't mind, I have business here. Please, step aside."

The man sputtered and tried to rant; we all ignored him. Aedan approached Duncan and spoke softly; I could only hear because I was directly behind them. "Are you sure we should let him walk away? He knows who you are. He'll report to Loghain."

Duncan sighed again. "And what would you have us do? Kill him in cold blood? We knew this charade wouldn't last forever. Let Loghain know I'm alive - perhaps it will give him pause in his civil war." He turned back to the guard. "Go tell your master that the Grey Wardens know what really happened at Ostagar. Or would you prefer to risk a demonstration of why the Wardens are respected as warriors across all of Thedas?"

Sten, Alistair, Zev, Aedan, Shale, Prince, and Gorim stepped up behind Duncan, with Leli, me, and the mages behind; it felt like something from an Avengers movie. Duncan crossed his arms, and the man gulped and stepped back.

"I will tell him."

With a dismissive nod, Duncan turned his back on him, and approached the seemingly amused dwarf standing nearby. He crossed his arms and bowed; the gesture was returned, respectfully, by the dwarf.

"I was sort of hoping you would manage that particular problem of mine in a more permanent fashion," he drawled wryly, and Duncan grinned. I had to struggle a bit to understand him; he tended to smash his words together and mumble a bit, and I wondered if that was a common accent among dwarves.

"Sorry about that, friend, but I thought bloodshed on your doorstep might be less than politic."

"Wouldn't be any different than what's happening behind the doors." He barked a laugh, and then stepped forward to grip Duncan's forearm. "S'good to see you, Duncan. Been a while."

"Barik," Duncan smiled. "It has been. These are my Wardens and associates - may we enter?"

"O'course, old friend. Just don't expect any help, inside. At the moment, Orzammar's a civilised-looking warzone."

"Is the compound still available?"

"Far's I know," Barik replied. "Go on in, all of you, before that idiot gathers his friends."

He opened what looked like a small sally-port beside the main gate, rather than the gate itself; single-file, we entered Orzammar. As the door closed, we heard a commotion; I'd have bet that Imrek had arrived and was making a fuss. I, for one, wasn't sad to miss that fight, though punching the messenger right in the nose did sound somewhat gratifying.

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