“We have to end the curse.”
“I am not arguing against such,” she said quietly in response to Alistair’s hotly spoken words. Glancing behind them to where the captain moved more slowly, favoring his wounded side where one of the werewolves had bitten him the day before, Leliana continued, “But it still stands that we should go ahead ourselves and leave him here to rest.”
Alistair scowled before growling, “I’m not leaving him.”
Sighing in frustration, she snapped, “And would you rather have him possibly killed by the elves? I’m sure the leader of those hunters would take great pleasure in putting down a human threat to his clan.”
“We can’t just leave him out here!”
“The captain is an able man,” she said, attempting to go for logic against his passion. It seemed to be the wrong tactic, however, as instantly Alistair was eyeing her with a serious frown. That was one thing that she had learned since being thrown together with the pair she had been tasked to follow – all of the information Marjolaine had gathered about the younger son of MaricTheirin was vastly wrong. On first glance he had seemed to be the overly naive young man that she’d once described him as but that image had been quickly banished.
He was rather quick witted and obviously well taught given what little she’d learned of his grasp of history, politics, and strategy. She’d already known he’d had good teachers from the information they’d gathered but Marjolaine had immediately assumed he had learned nothing from them as he had done little. Alistair also knew very well how to use the sword that was his weapon of choice as well as the buckler he’d picked up in the forest and how to do so in a cohesive group. A skill that he had picked up during his years in Highever she assumed.
That he had also showed a remarkable knowledge for Orlais as well as guessing that she was a bard was what had cemented her realization that her mentor had been a fool. She wasn’t sure where Marjolaine had gotten her information on him but whoever had gifted it had obviously never had more than one conversation with the young man.
“And how,” began Alistair, bringing her back to the present, “do you know anything about the captain?”
Smiling, Leliana answered sweetly, “I have my ways.” He arched an eyebrow at her then scowled as she spoke again. “I know that he was one of your brother’s most trusted men and has been for many years since he arrived in Denerim. I also know that he has a very checkered past.”
Alistair snorted at that. “He’s from Alamar. Almost everyone who lives there has a checkered past thanks to the raiders at Brandel’s Reach.” He then looked back over his shoulder at the man and added quietly, “To be honest, I’m more afraid of what might happen if we leave him alone than what I know probably will if we take him back to the camp.”
“It’s at least a full day’s trip to get to the camp and back and probably more to convince the Keeper to come here. Judging by what that forest spirit said, we’re probably going to have to lie through our teeth to do that. In that time, something we missed here in the ruins could attack him or he could possibly succumb to his wounds or he could actually turn before we get this mess fixed.” He flung up his hands in exasperation as he finished before tacking on, “And those are just the immediate things I could think of happening!”
Leliana pursed her lips as she rolled all of those possibilities through her head then said, “Bringing him with us will only make the journey longer with his injury. Or longer still if he turns on us along the way.” She could tell she was getting somewhere but he still wasn’t wanting to relent. Tilting her head, she asked, “Why don’t you want to leave him?”
Alistair jerked as if she’d struck him and turned his face away, though she could see that his jaw was clenched tight by the muscles of his neck visible above his gorget. Silence answered her for a long moment then he finally turned back and his eyes were full of fury…yet none of it was aimed at her. Every inch of it was aimed at himself.
“I left my brother to die at Ostagar. I left my best friend alone to deal with politics and his wounded brother who’s as much family to me as he is. I left the woman who’s pretty much the only mother I’ve ever known on her knees in a stable, praying for the first time since before I was born. And I left my sister alone in Denerim to suffer through her grief which she can’t show or seem weak to the enemies on her doorstep. So tell me, Leliana, why I don’t want to leave behind the one person I’ve got left as I seem to be making a pretty good habit of leaving people behind!”
He was breathing hard by the time he was done and Leliana came to a halt, reaching out as she did so to stop him as well. Alistair just stood there looking ahead of them for a moment, obviously trying to get a hold of his emotions again, and then closed his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he apologized quietly. “You didn’t deserve that.”
“I asked you.”
“Which doesn’t excuse me losing my temper.”
Leliana just nodded and left it there, choosing instead to turn their attention back to the matter that had started the argument. Turning to look at the slowly approaching Bernard, she asked, “Why don’t we ask the captain what he wants to do?” Alistair immediately flushed as he realized they’d been talking about the man without asking his opinion on the matter and walked away from her. She stayed where she was standing, merely watching him stop and speak softly to the older man because she was only an interloper here.
Watching them gave her the answer before Alistair had even turned back, as Bernard was too far gone in agony to keep his voice down when he spoke, asking them to leave him and tie him up if they could. Was it her imagination or was there more of a growl to the man’s voice now? Or perhaps it was merely the pain making it so and not the curse burning in his veins.
Shaking her head, Leliana called out, “There was that room near the beginning of the ruins that still had a door. I believe I can find a way for us to secure it to keep both you inside and anything else out.” The captain merely nodded wearily in response and Alistair clapped the man gently on one shoulder before he moved to walk beside her again.
After a moment he murmured, “Thank you.”
Smiling, she said, “You have a very strange method of dealing with someone who was hunting you.”
Alistair shrugged. “You already said that you weren’t intending to harm either of us, which means that you definitely aren’t employed by someone that wants me dead.”
“At least not immediately.”
“Point. Hmm, maybe I should rethink that thanks…” He flashed a grin at her while he mocked tapping his chin thoughtfully before adding, “Anyway, my point is, you didn’t have to help us. If you’d wanted to, once you got your weapons back and we were out of sight of the camp, you could have just taken off but you didn’t. That counts for something.”
He was correct in that assessment but she merely smiled and said, “If I am a bard, it is my task to keep an eye on you, yes? Why would I have disappeared once you knew I was there?”
Alistair just cocked his head to the side and replied, “Throw us off. Knowing he’s under watching eyes will keep a man more off balance, especially if there’s a possible threat on his head. Plus you could slip away a lot more easily if you needed to send a message to whoever employed you.”
Leliana pursed her lips at his assessment. “You’ve thought about this.”
He frowned and slowly nodded before saying, “Of course I’ve thought about it. Assuming you are a bard, which I’m pretty sure you are, it’s the sort of thing I should be assuming about you. Especially given the current political situation and the possibilities of who could be employing you.”
“But you think I’m at least somewhat trustworthy.”
“Like I said, you could have disappeared and you didn’t.”
Suddenly she could see a little bit of how he’d been described as naive. Honestly, Alistair was lucky that it was her that had come after him and not Marjolaine. Her mentor would certainly have used his trust against him. She, however, was not going to not only because most information she’d been given about him had been wrong but because of the feeling she’d had since leaving Denerim.
The feeling which told her she tread on a knife-edge and Marjolaine grasped the hilt, ready to turn the blade either direction.
Shaking herself, Leliana said quickly, “Now that we have a plan for the captain, let us discuss how we shall convince the Keeper to travel back with us.”
Alistair nodded solemnly and as they fell into conversation, she realized that over the past few days she’d failed in one of the main lessons she’d learned during her early days. She had begun to care about the fates of those she stalked and did not want to see them torn asunder by whatever plans her mentor had.
It made her a terrible bard but perhaps, just perhaps, it made her a better person.