Our time in The Brecilian Forest had had this strange side effect of separating us from the rest of the world; sheltered under the imposing canopy, removed from the impending threats, distanced from other people, and fighting trees, werewolves, and every other thing the forest housed had left us disjointed. A few weeks trekking through that unforgiving forest, discovering the source of the curse and its repercussions, had left us reeling in the aftermath. The first sight of the bright red sails of the Dalish's landships were a welcome sight and the first sense of relief we had felt since we had last seen them.
Since the incident in the cave, I had steeled myself a bit in regards to my emotions, especially those toward Alistair. I had allowed my feelings to become a distraction, and that was something none of us could afford. A mage with a lack of focus was not a companion anyone would wish for; my magic would be stunted and ineffectual, my aim would be off, and I could inflict harm to anyone nearby, even if unintentionally. I could be dangerous all the same, or more so. I had to do my best to reclaim some modicum of my level-headedness if not for anything but the safety of my friends.
It had been difficult to distance myself from Alistair, but our circumstances were such that we had to stay together as a group at almost all times, which left little time for private side conversations. It was only when we were spread out as we made our way carefully through the forest that we sometimes paired off, but even then, I would stay near either Morrigan or Leliana while Alistair and Keiko led and Sten took up the rear.
At times I had heard Alistair talking to Keiko and Keiko barking a response. The mabari were an extremely smart breed, and made for wonderful companions in part because of their understanding. They were also intuitive, resourceful, and lethal. So when I would hear the two of them having a sort of conversation, I had to swallow back the emotions that would inevitably surface at such a show of affection. It was clear they liked one another, and such devotion from a mabari was a testament to a person's character. Keiko liked everyone in our party, which only led me to believe further in each of them. I had known on some level that I could trust them, and if Keiko did too, then they must be worthy, but he had taken a special liking to Alistair.
One night as we all huddled together around a small fire we had built in the alcove of the remains of a structure, Keiko had stood guard for a short while. Occasionally, he would make a round to make sure we were all well, then return to his post, alert and ready. I didn't sleep while he was on duty, but I soon discovered none of us had. It was not that we didn't trust that he would alert us to trouble, or protect us if necessary, but there was something about keeping him company that we all silently agreed to. When he would make a round, he would sort of nudge each of us, and we would all smile in return and give him a pat or an encouraging word. At one point, Alistair finally agreed to keep him company and the two of them bounded off into the darkness.
I felt my heart constrict in that moment. I watched Keiko walk proudly beside Alistair, whose chainmail glistened in the light of the fire, with one hand sitting casually on the hilt of his sword, the other patting Keiko as they discussed their strategy.
"There is no need to fight so hard against it." Leliana whispered. Her insinuation was coupled with a slight of her head in Alistair's direction.
"There is every reason." I countered, barely keeping the edge of my emotions from my voice. I could feel them bubbling to the surface, along with the hundreds of thoughts I had had since that episode in the cave. There were too many unknowns, and we were surrounded by danger and death at every turn. It was unlikely either of us would survive until the end, whatever that actually meant.
I swallowed hard and pushed all those emotions and thoughts down. This was neither the time nor place, if such could even exist. We were duty bound, and every thing else was a foolish notion, a daydream. It didn't seem a bad idea to have something to hope for, but the threat of loss was too great, and the subsequent pain might be too much to bear, depending on how long things carried on before they came to an abrupt halt.
Morrigan interjected. "When at war, certain...relationships occur, for the sole purpose of their necessity to maintain a sense of stability in a violent world. Perhaps you could look at Alistair in that regard. You need not look beyond the need for comfort, although I would recommend someone, well, less him." There was the faintest hint of amusement teasing her lips.
We were all taken aback when Sten joined in, "He would most likely take instructions well", to which we all laughed. Our giggles prompted even the gruff Qunari to break a smile, or what could be considered a smile, as none of us had ever seen one on him before.
To Be Continued in Redcliffe...