“I don’t trust you.”
The woman sitting across the fire from him inclined her head, as if he had merely commented on the weather. She then flicked her eyes up at him, bright blue staring at him behind stray locks of red hair, and replied, “And so you should not.”
Scowling at the affirmation, Bernard cut his eyes towards the young man sleeping to his right, her left. “And what of him?” he asked. “Do you want him to trust you?” He left the rest of the words he wanted to say unspoken, not wanting to speak of betrayal so soon after the one that had already been done.
She pursed her lips and he watched her, wondering what was going through her head. Was she perhaps debating telling him the truth, the reason for why the Dalish hunters had caught her stalking them? Or was she going to lie, a skill he was sure she was adept at?
“I was sent to watch.”
“And?” he pressed, knowing that wasn’t the whole of the story. When Leliana looked curiously at him, Bernard scoffed. “I know a half-truth when I hear it, lass.”
For some reason that made her smile and she bowed her head, shaking it before she spoke. “Ah. I forgot for a moment who I was speaking to. It was surprising, you know, to look into your background and discover your past offenses. One would not think that the King of Ferelden would allow a pirate and admitted thief into the Royal Guard.”
Shrugging offhandedly, Bernard said, “What can I say, I live to impress.”
“And lie,” noted Leliana with a sly smile.
“Now that’s the mabari talking about kaddis.” When she looked confused, he chuckled and explained, “I believe you Orlesians have a phrase about throwing stones at glass heads?”
Bernard leaned forward then so he could rest his elbows on his knees and said seriously, “The hard fact of the matter is, lass, that I was tasked by my Queen to guard Alistair’s life. As far as I’m concerned at the moment, you’re a threat to that no matter how much of a help you might have been with the Dalish.”
Leliana blinked and started to open her mouth then closed it as he held up a warding hand.
“I do thank you for your help. After getting wounded, I wasn’t in any state to help Alistair and as able as the lad is, I don’t think he would have gotten through that as well alone.” Wounded was a simple way to describe the infection that had burned through him, that had turned his vision red, and had him thinking of cool forest underfoot and the hot rush of blood across his tongue. He hadn’t fully turned, he could recall that much, but it had been a close thing.
“He’s lost much,” she said quietly and Bernard nodded slowly. Leliana then sighed, closing her eyes, as she asked, “What if I spoke the truth?”
“I make no guarantees, lass. I’m willing to listen, however.”
She flinched just the slightest bit, enough that he noticed, and then nodded her head. And then the stories began to spill from her lips. He learned of her teacher, Marjolaine, and the incredibly complicated relationship they had. Learned of the elaborate plan that had been formed and given to the master bard, to either bring King Cailan to heel at the foot of the Empire or to destroy him if he didn’t prove pliable. Of the carefully constructed lies that had been fed to TeyrnLoghain to make him doubt the actions of his son-in-law.
By the time she was done, Bernard was clenching his hands into fists to keep them from shaking or throwing something in a rage. Rising to his feet, he cursed aloud and kicked at the log he’d been sitting on. It shifted just enough to make noise and Alistair shifted on his bedroll but, blessedly, didn’t wake. Forcing himself to calm down and take a deep breath, he turned to look down at the young woman.
Leliana was looking at him like a lost child, seeking an answer and perhaps a way out. He wasn’t certain he could give her either but…he could promise usefulness. And his sworn oath that he would defend her own small part in the plot if she indeed wanted to shift sides.
“Here is the question,” he finally said. “What do you want, lass?”
Silence answered him for a moment then she whispered, “Freedom.”
He nodded at the answer then very gently said, “You can stay. For now.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Don’t thank me yet, lass,” he added sternly as he retook his seat and stared into the fire. “I reserve the right to change my mind.”
Leliana smiled and quietly intoned, “Then I will do my best to be useful.”