Chapter 6- OH Gods! Not Another One!
Miranda strode along the hard-packed road whistling a jaunty rendition of God rest ye merry gentlemen. Next to her Cassandra watched her with a bemused expression from atop of her massive bay charger.
Elariel rode just behind of a thick limbed grey pack horse and behind them rode Varric on a palomino pony. Solas had asked to stay in Haven, citing his need to study the Breach. They had left the mountain town five days ago after spending a week getting the Inquisition on its feet.
The work had piled up almost instantly and Miranda had volunteered to help manage the training of the archers and scouts as well as leading hunting parties out into the valley to search for herbs and game. “I still don’t know why you refuse to use a horse,” Cassandra informed her and Miranda laughed from where she walked.
“I think that I may find a ride on the way to the Hinterlands,” She told the Seeker with a grin. The dark-haired woman snorted and turned to look at the road. “It also helps that I can walk at the same pace as a horse.
Not to mention that we need to find better mounts for the Inquisition at Redcliffe.” Miranda added seemingly oblivious to her companions’ confusion. The group was silent for a while and they passed from the high passes that led to Haven in the warmer and sheltered valleys below.
The trees had changed from snow clad spruce and pine to deciduous trees clad in their fall garb. Aspens in gold and oaks red arched next to the road.
The air became slightly warmer, though still the cool crispness of late fall. Miranda plucked off her leather gloves and rolled up her cloak sticking both into her bag.
Under the heavy wool cloak, she was dressed in a mottled dark olive green knee length tunic with v neckline and a high collar. Long sleeves ran down to her hands and once again covered her palms.
Rich brown bracers made of boiled leather covered her forearms and matched the leather bodice that covered her torso and the leaf like leather pauldrons on her shoulders.
All three were embossed with twining nature motifs. Over this was a hooded, sleeveless vest that reached her shins made of spruce green linen and laced with dark brown laces from the waist to neck. Deep reddish brown leather leggings sheathed her legs and knee high dark leather boots protected her feet.
A grey green scarf was curled around her neck and the top portion of her collar rose above the folds. A battered leather belt encircled her waist holding her sword and bag of holding. Several large daggers sat on the belt as well and a pair of sheathes in her pauldrons hid the curved blades.
An embossed leather quiver full of grey fletched arrows was slung on her shoulder with a pair of long forward curving daggers attached on either side. A bow made of silver wood was slung over her shoulder enabling for a quick draw.
“What did you do with your staff out of curiosity,” Varric asked and Miranda laughed.
“I put it away for now. I Just don’t feel like using it at the moment. Besides it’s been a while since I’ve done some shooting, need to be sure I’m not out of practice,” She informed them. It was true, the last time she had seriously used her bow had been and the quarter cycle games.
An affair rather like the Olympics but for the members of the Bureau. She held the title of undefeated huntress fifteen times running and nine times champion of the archery agility course. She had a few other medals kicking around in various other sports like arboreal combat, dodge arrow and trick riding as well as the cross universe traverse but she wasn’t sure where they were.
They were nearing the camp their scouts had set up when the howl of wolves and the bellow of an angry Hart reach their ears. “I know that bugle,” Miranda remarked before she tore off in the direction of the sound. The others in the party looked at each other uncertainly before they galloped after her.
Miranda leapt through the trees with a grace and speed that would have left a Mirkwood elf jealous. She front flipped over a fallen tree and observed the situation mid flip. Seven large black wolves were harassing a massive antlered doe. She cocked her head and listened to the wolves, their eyes were glazed and their snarls tinged with madness.
She frowned at the sight and, still continuing her flip drew, knocked and loosed her first arrow. It struck true into the largest wolf’s eye and, as she landed, and sent a trio of arrows whistling towards their targets. They struck and she grabbed another arrow from its quiver. A wolf lunged and she stabbed it with the arrow in her hand before firing it at another.
Cassandra’s war horse burst into the clearing and reared, whinnying a challenge as it brought an iron shod hoof brutally down on the final wolf’s head. Miranda paused for a moment, bowing her head in sorrow for the loss of the hunters before turning to the hind. Cassandra looked towards Miranda and saw her cuddling with a massive hind the size of her war horse.
Its coat was the colour of moonlight and a pair of magnificent gleaming silver antlers adorned its head. The hooves were a deep rich gold and looked to be made out of metal. The hind was nuzzling Miranda with great deal of affection whilst Miranda ran her hands over the silver beast fur and murmured to it. The others rode into the clearing and Elariel gasped at the sight of the beast.
“Everyone I would like to introduce you to a very old friend of mine.” She stroked the hind’s forelock and it snorted pushing its head into her hands. “This is Aitheria, first daughter of the Ceryneian Hind. She was given to me as a gift by my sister and she has fought with me faithfully ever since.” She introduced them and Aitheria made a pleased rumbling sound as Miranda scratched the base of the doe’s antlers.
“But a doe doesn’t have antlers,” Elariel blurted as she observed the celestial coloured animal. “Unless they are Ceryneian. Of which I believe there to be six including beautiful Aitheria here.” Miranda informed them moving to Aitheria’s side. “May I old friend?” She asked. The doe cocked its head before nodding vigorously.
Miranda grinned and leapt easily onto the massive creature’s back. “My adopted sister Artemis uses four of them to pull her chariot. Aitheria’s mother was one of the few that escaped the trap the hunters set to catch them.
As such she gained legendary status and Artemis’s personal protection.” She informed them. “Since Aitheria is only half Ceryneian she doesn’t have the typical golden antlers but she does have her mother’s bronze hooves.” She added and Aitheria pranced a little flashing her said hooves in the sun.
Miranda ran her hands down the doe’s powerful neck and grinned at her compatriots. “Looks like I have a ride,” She told them with a smile.
The others gaped a little longer before shaking their heads and turning their horses back to the main road.
Aitheria pranced elegantly over the forest floor, neatly avoiding the dead-fall and easily leading the way through the underbrush. Once back on the road Cassandra pushed her charger up beside the massive doe, eyeing the needle sharp fourteen point antlers that crowned the doe. “So how did she follow you if you’re from a different world?” She asked Miranda who looked up from where she had been stroking her mount.
“Hinds such as these are deeply steeped in magic. Add to that the fact that Aitheria is blessed by the moon and hunt she is a magical being herself.” Aitheria nodded her head vigorously at the statement. “She’s also far too sassy for her own good,” Miranda added mock glaring at the back of the hind’s head. Aitheria snorted and shook her head as if she were objecting to the statement.
Cassandra watched the exchange with a bemused half smile as Miranda carried on a half conversation with her mount.
“No I don’t have any pears on me.” She told the hind and Cassandra could have sworn the creature gave Miranda a dirty look. “Hey! To be fair I wasn’t in a place to get you any,” Miranda defended. Aitheria gave a vigorous shake nearly dislodging Miranda. “Oh come on I did not call you slow!” Miranda protested and Aitheria gave a high squeal. “It was one time! You pulled you back and I needed to get somewhere!” Aitheria snorted and Miranda cried out in indignation. “I am not fat!” She exclaimed looking offended.
The hind merely looked smug and Miranda glared at her. “I think horses are perfectly decent creatures,” She huffed and Aitheria made a low rumbling sound. “No, you know you’re the only hind for me. I would never leave you for a clumsy single hoofed critter. I’m a one Hind Woman,” She soothed running her hands down Aitheria’s neck gently.
“Blackjack wasn’t there with me for the hunt of the Spitter. Nor was Darkmoon the one who carried my wounded body to Pirate’s swoop. I wasn’t riding Mithronar to taunt Jadis during the winter or riding Whispwind into battle at Pelanor was I?” Miranda asked and Cassandra could almost see Aitheria relaxing as Miranda continued to stroke her neck.
The hind’s ears perked up and Miranda shook her head. “No I don’t have any molasses cookies on me but I do have some fruit. I promise to make you some cookies soon,” She promised and Aitheria made a pleased sound.
Miranda looked up to see her companions watching her with a gambit of expressions ranging from Varric’s amusement, through Elariel’s astonishment and Cassandra’s resignation. The Seeker shook her head and turned back to watch the road ahead of them. She had learned in the short while she had known Miranda that it was easier to simply take things in stride and not let minor details like the impossible put her off balance.
If Miranda happened to be friends with a hind who she appeared to be speaking to then Cassandra was going to accept it because the protest of something being impossible only made Miranda smile. Miranda seemed to enjoy turning understood conventions on their ear.
In fact the strange woman appeared to take a nearly unholy glee in it. Briefly Cassandra had a flash of Miranda fleeing the Chantry with her arms full of half burnt incense pursued by a hoard of angry Clerics. Miranda had taken shelter on the Chantry roof, stashing the bundles near the chimney. Privately Cassandra was glad the Jedi had removed the excess bundles as it was getting hard to breathe in the Chantry.
They reached the Forward camp by mid-afternoon. Scouts and soldiers in tan and teal accented armour moved about the tents with efficient purpose. The lookouts waved them in and the party dismounted.
The reins of the horses handed off to some waiting soldiers while Aitheria positioned herself next to Cassandra’s War horse crunching contentedly on an apple that Miranda had given her. A dwarf woman with shining ginger hair pulled up in a braided bun and bright green eyes greeted them.
“Herald of Andraste! I’ve heard the stories. Everyone has,” She remarked looking at Elariel. She bowed her head. “We know what you did at the Breach.” She gestured at the surrounding soldiers and scouts. “We may not know much about Dalish but you’ll get no back talk from us, that’s a promise.”
The others nodded and saluted in agreement. “Most of us were in the valley and especially at the Breach. So we know just how much we owe you our lives” she added.
Elariel smiled at the dwarf. “Then call me Elariel of Lavellan. I feel uncomfortable when people call me Herald,” She admitted.
The dwarf smiled at her in understanding. “I’m Inquisition Scout Lace Harding,” The Dwarf introduced herself with a grin before adding a little more seriously. “I… all of us here will do whatever we can to help,” She informed the party.
“Thank you, your help will be greatly appreciated,” Elariel thanked her as Varric gave a bark of laughter.
“Harding huh?” He grinned at her with a twinkle in his eyes. “Ever been to Kirkwall’s Hightown?” He asked and Harding gave him a confused look.
“I…can’t say that I have,” She admitted. “Why?” She asked and Varric c
“You’d be Harding in High…” He caught sight of Cassandra’s glare and stopped clearing his throat. “Never mind,” He added hastily as Cassandra gave a disgusted groan.
Miranda rolled her eyes. “What’s the situation Scout Harding?” She asked and Harding directed her gaze to Miranda.
Her eyes widened momentarily at the sight of Miranda’s hair that was still half tied back. “It’s a mess down there,” She answered, recovering rapidly. “Mages and Templars all over the place. We came here to secure horses from Redcliffe’s old Horse master.” She paused and her voice turned nostalgic.
“I grew up here and everyone always said that Dennet’s herds were the strongest and fastest this side of the Frostbacks,” Harding sighed. “With the fighting we Haven’t been able to reach him. We don’t even know if he’s still alive.”
The party looked at each other with serious expressions. “And Mother Giselle?” Elariel asked and Harding rubbed her forehead.
“She’s holed up at the Crossroads with some refugees tending to the wounded. Reports from Corporal Vael down that way say that the war has reach them too. He and his men are holding out for long but with the fighting this bad they’re going to need help soon. I’ve sent word for reinforcements, but we are too few. If you can do anything to help then it would be greatly appreciated.” The scout sounded exhausted and Miranda noticed the dark circles that sat beneath her eyes.
“We will do what we can,” Cassandra promised. The quartet mounted up again and began to make their way cautiously down into the valley.
“What do you hear Miranda?” Elariel asked and Miranda cocked her head as she began sifting through the information from the surrounding area.
“Lots of violence,” She told them. “There is an Inquisition patrol down below fighting off Templars and Mages alike. Neither are responding to requests for peace,” She reported turning to look in the direction.
“We must hurry and help them then!” Casandra commanded them. She spurred her horse forward and Varric sighed. “I’m not built for riding,” He complained before he and Elariel nudged their mounts into a canter after Cassandra.
Miranda pulled out her bow and knocked an arrow. “Shall we show them how it’s done?” She asked Aitheria.
The hind snorted. “Hell yeah princess. Let’s give them a taste,” The doe replied.
Miranda scowled. “Call me princess again and I’m going to start looking up this universe’s equivalent of venison stew,” She informed her mount. Aitheria rolled her eyes and let loose a loud bugle before bolting forward.
Legend said that the Ceryneian Hind was faster than an arrow. From experience of riding the daughter of the legendary creature, Miranda could verify that statement as Aitheria was the speed of a thrown spear. Aitheria streaked forward with a stiff legged, bounding gate that was very different from the run of a horse.
She gripped tightly with her knees and leaned forward to lessen the drag. They caught up to and passed Casandra and the others in a flash, bounding over a low rock in a move that would have unseated the unwary or inexperienced.
Aitheria landed neatly without breaking stride and she straightened drawing back her arrow. They came onto the scene of five Inquisition soldiers in the middle of a free for all. Heavily armoured Templars slashed at them and Mages threw spells about indiscriminately.
She released with a yell, knocking another even as the arrow flew. Aitheria leapt to the left to dodge a blast of magic and danced around the field. Miranda’s first arrow struck a Templar in the chink where gorget had been knocked off. Her second third and fourth struck the unarmoured Mages, steel broad heads easily piercing robes and flesh.
Then the others were on the field. Varric and Elariel were forced to dismount and rain down death and destruction from above while Cassandra charged in. The massive and highly trained warhorse slammed into the fight and lashed out hooves flying and teeth crunching down on whatever limb he could reach.
“Hey those are my kills you stupid equine!” Aitheria cried in anger. Before Miranda could do little more than sheath her bow and draw her sword Aitheria waded into the fight as fell. Head down her antlers caught a mage in his back, gouging deep and leaving the sparkling antlers red. Aitheria reared and slashed at a Templar with her bronze hooves driving the armoured man back and into sword range for Cassandra.
Miranda slashed down at the foes around her ignoring the obscenities her mount was spewing with practiced ease. The two mounted warriors slashed at any they could reach while the held on for dear life as their mounts spun and leapt like whirlwinds.
The final, heavily armoured Templar fell from a hind leg kick from Cassandra’s horse and had his chest and armour caved from the force of Aitheria slamming both front hooves down on his prone form.
The Inquisition soldiers looked at them with relief and the man wearing the markings of a private saluted them.
“Thank you for the assist my ladies. We were unable to fight them all at the same time,” The heavy-set man admitted.
“We are happy to be able to help you,” Cassandra assured the patrol and they bowed their head in thanks.
“Mother Giselle is to the west of here. There are a few more groups of Templars between here and there,” Another scout reported as he walked forward. He had managed to salvage three of Miranda’s arrows and five of Varric’s. Miranda accepted her arrows from the nervous looking man.
“Thank you,” She said with a smile and the man stuttered a little. She smiled and slid her arrows back into her quiver and nudged Aitheria forward to follow Cassandra who set off at a brisk trot. Elariel and Varric caught up to them before they had gone far and Miranda smiled down at the elf. “So liking the adventuring?” She asked lightheartedly and Elariel shrugged.
“It’s alright but I don’t like the riding much. We usually walk everywhere,” The she elf told her squinting at her horse’s ears.
Aitheria made a high whistle and Miranda scowled at the doe’s head. “I can’t tell her that…There are sensitive ears around,” She protested. Aitheria snorted in disgust.
“Are you really talking to her?” Elariel asked and Miranda nodded with a long suffering expression.
“Yes… she has been my tutor in the arts of swearing violently and often. You’d think for the daughter of a sacred animal she would be less inclined to turn the air blue with her cuss words.” She replied sounding weary. Aitheria gave a snort and Miranda face palmed while Elariel giggled.
They reached the Crossroads a little later. The crowds of refugees and injured thickened as they approached the Chantry where the infirmary had been set up. Miranda ignored the stares and smiled encouragingly at Elariel.
“How do you handle the whispers and stares?” Elariel asked Miranda in a low voice. Miranda smiled a little and gave Elariel a sympathetic look.
“I pretend that they are looking over my shoulder and talking about my friend Miranda to be honest. She was good at attracting stares so I just pretend they aren’t looking at me.” She offered.
Elariel looked at her uncertainly. “Does it help?” She asked and Miranda sighed and shook her head, her hair rattling.
They dismounted and gave the reigns of their mounts to the pair of Inquisition scouts who stood nearby. Aitheria sniffed disdainfully at the pair and Miranda gave them an apologetic look before following her friends. Miranda stood by near Cassandra and Varric as Elariel spoke with Mother Giselle. They traded softly spoken words away from the wounded and the healers.
Miranda watched, casually leaning on a stone wall next to her companions making random sonar pings to build a mental map of the area, using the loud sounds of fighting to pick up sounds. Her attention was drawn when someone nearby cried out in pain.
She focused on the sound and traced it to nearby. The woman cried out again and she recognized it. She turned and moved rapidly through the houses, ignoring Cassandra’s cries behind her. She found the house and entered.
The house was a two room cottage, on the bed lay a heavily pregnant woman and three women who looked panicked. She strode forward pushing the obviously inexperienced women out of her way and kneeling next to the bed.
“What are you, stay away demon!” A young man near her stuttered. Miranda glared at him. “Is this your wife?” She demanded looking up at him with a firm expression.
The man trembled under her stare. “S…S… Sister,” He corrected and she nodded her expression softening.
“I am trained as a midwife. Let me help and I can greatly increase your sister’s survival and that of her child,” She informed the small group around the bed.
There was a moment of silence before the woman in the bed nodded. “Please” she begged. Miranda nodded and shucked off her sword weapons. She yanked off her bracers, rolled up her sleeves and set to work.
“Thank you for your help Mother Giselle,” Elariel said to the older woman, bowing her head in thanks.
The dark-skinned mother waved her away. “It is nothing,” She told the elf. “Merely what is needed,” She explained.
Elariel nodded and turned back to where she had left her companions. “It’s nearly nightfall, we should return to camp… What is going on?” She demanded. Cassandra was currently at the head of a small group and was staring down Miranda’s deer.
The doe in question was positioned in front of a door to a small hut. Elariel’s keen ears picked up the sound of voices and the sound of a woman crying out in pain. She recognized those sounds, someone was in labor.
“Miranda went inside and now there are screams,” Varric informed her lazily. “The people started to overreact and then this lovely lady decided to intervene,” He told her waving at the stoic Aitheria.
The doe snorted, a cloud of steam pouring from her nostrils in the cooling air. “That’s Nella’s house. She’s pregnant and the demon went in there!” An older man in the crowed cried shaking a walking stick at the door. Elariel looked around and saw Cassandra’s eyes narrow at the man.
“She is no demon!” The Seeker snarled at the man and Elariel nodded.
“Those things on her head say otherwise!” A middle age woman told them and Cassandra glared.
Before she could say anything, the door burst open and a young woman darted out and shoved a large bucket into the woman’s hands. “We need more water.” She commanded before darting back in and slamming the door.
Everyone stared at the woman holding the bucket who stared at the closed door with a dumbfounded expression. Mother Giselle glided forward and looked around her serenely. “Your companion is in there assisting with the birth?” She asked and Cassandra sighed. “It would seem so,” She told the mother.
Giselle turned her eyes to the woman holding the bucket. “I believe you have a task,” he remarked and the woman blushed before hurrying to the well.
The calm mother turned her gaze to the deer who stood proudly next to the door, large liquid brown eyes regarding the crowd with suspicion. “A curious beast,” Giselle remarked and held out her hand to the doe.
Aitheria snorted at the title before dipping her head and delicately sniffing the mothers offered hand before raising her head and staring imperiously.
“That’s Aitheria. Miranda called her an old friend,” Elariel answered and Aitheria nodded once before she cocked her head, nostrils flaring as she inhaled.
“Intelligent and beautiful. A truly remarkable creature,” Giselle remarked. The crowd began to speak louder, demanding Mother Giselle expel the demon. The Mother turned to look reproachfully at her flock.
“This demon, do you not know who she is?” She asked them and they shuffled before shaking their heads. “She is the one who aided the Herald of Andraste in her quest to reach the Breach.” She spoke softly but the crowd heard her clearly.
“It’s true. She and I fought side by side in the valley to reach the Breach. She is no demon. She is not from the fade. She is a peacekeeper who was sent by the Maker to aid us in our darkest hour. She is a warrior of great skill and is dedicated to ending this war.” Cassandra told the assembled people her eyes blazing.
Mother Giselle nodded sagely. “A warrior of the Maker sent to aid us and you respond by calling her demon?” She murmured, her eyes holding a reproachful light. “I thought better of you Jared then to leap to such conclusions,” She told the man who had been the most vocal.
The woman with the bucket returned, her arms straining under the weight. “Give it here child I shall deliver it,” Giselle instructed.
Elariel looked up at Aitheria. “Please let us pass,” She pleaded and the deer considered her for a moment before nodding. Elariel opened the door and Mother Giselle entered now carrying the bucket.
Casandra took a peek inside and shook her head, turning to stand resolutely on the other side of the door from Aitheria. Elariel entered and closed the door, observing the scene before her. The fire was going, a large pot filled with hot water boiling rags sitting over the flames. Miranda and three women bustled around the bed that held the pregnant woman.
A man sat in a corner his face pale and worried. Miranda had shucked her pauldrons, bracers and outer tunic and her sleeves were rolled passed her elbows. Her hair stalks were bound on a low ponytail at the base of her neck and she gave orders with a calm professionalism that was not unlike a general commanding her troops.
In the firelight, she seemed to glow with a silver light as she rearranged the young woman on the bed. Mother Giselle had settled herself next to the young man and was murmuring quietly to him.
“Ah good we could use an extra pair of hands,” Miranda greeted her and waved her closer. “Ditch the staff and armour. This looks like it’s going to be a quick one,” She informed Elariel.
Elariel was no stranger to aiding in a birth. As her clan’s first, she had been on hand for the delivery of several of her clan. Without hesitation, she doffed her gear and stepped up to help.
The sun had set and the air was chilly when the shrill cries of an infant broke the air. Elariel and the other women sagged back as Miranda cut the umbilical cord and neatly cleaned the babe, wrapping it in a knitted blanket, faded from many washes and a little ragged with love. “Congratulations, it’s a girl,” She informed the exhausted young mother.
The woman whom Elariel had learned was named Nella held out her arms for the bundle. Miranda gently placed the child in her mother’s arms and her crying quieted a little. “Thank you,” Nella mumbled, her face tired.
“If you will allow me, may I give the child a blessing?” Miranda asked and Nella looked up at her in confusion.
“A blessing?” She croaked and Miranda nodded. The child quieted down and began to look around the room with the muddy grey eyes of an infant.
“In my home, a blessing from a strong person with some connection to the child can bring good fortune or good health. May I?” She asked. Nella looked down at her daughter and bit her lip before nodding.
Miranda took a step to the bed and touched her index finger to the child’s forehead. She murmured something quietly to herself before a soft silver light emanated from her and poured over the child and sank into her skin.
The others in the room watched in amazement while Miranda took a step back and bowed her head to the pair in the bed. A warm wind rustled through the hut it smelled of many conflicting scents. Pine and flowers, sand and snow, rivers and sunlight before vanishing with the glow.
“Blessings of the force and Mothers be upon you and your child Nella,” She intoned before she smiled at the occupants of the room and exited the hut, closing the door softly behind her. Nella stared down at the little girl in her arms with wonder before looking up at Elariel.
“She did something,” She noted pressing her lips to her daughter’s head.
“She feels very healthy,” Elariel added as she scanned the child with her magic. The little girl now shone softly with a faint light in her mage sight.
Nella nodded and looked up at her audience before making a decision. “What was her name?” She asked uncertainly.
“Miranda Starsinger,” Elariel answered her still watching.
“Miranda,” The young woman mused looking down at her daughter before pressing another kiss to the babe’s forehead. “It’s a beautiful name” She mumbled before smiling and cuddling her yawning child. “My little Miranda,” She whispered.
Cassandra stared and the door opened revealing a rather worn looking Miranda carrying her weapons, outer tunic and part of her armour. The Zerg woman looked at Cassandra with a weary expression. “It’s a girl, a nice healthy one with magnificent lungs if my stalks are any judge,” She told the Seeker. Cassandra stared at her for a moment then smiled.
“You nearly caused a diplomatic incident when you went in there,” She remarked and Miranda sighed.
“Sorry ’bout that. It was a knee jerk reaction. I’ve helped with a lot of deliveries. Good thing I did too. There isn’t a midwife for five kilometres around.
Sure they have healers but the midwife was killed in a raid.” Miranda slumped a little and began to right her appearance, rolling down her sleeves and pulling on her tunic and armour.
Swinging her weapons and armour back to their previous positions. “Sorry for the delay though. You guys could have gone without me.” She told Cassandra but the Seeker shook her head.
“It was too late to do anything else. We would have just headed back to camp,” She informed the Zerg. Miranda gave a smile that was barely illuminated by the torches and starlight.
The door opened and Elariel stepped out once more clad in her armour and carrying her staff. “Congratulations Miranda, you now have a child named after you,” Elariel informed the Zerg with a smile. Cassandra and Aitheria gave Identical snorts of amusement while Miranda’s head fell into her hands.
“Oh Gods please not another one.” She begged and her companions laughed and have a huff in Aitheria’s case. She looked up at them and gave a mock glare.
“Let’s just get back to camp,” She told them.
Cassandra gave a dark form slumped on a barrel a kick and Varric jerk awake. “Whu?” He grumbled Miranda sighed.
“Come on Varric,” She ordered him and he grumbled as he stood. They walked over to the horses and, after tightening the cinches, climbed back into the saddle. Miranda was still on the ground and appeared to be begging Aitheria to stoop a little.
The deer gave her a scornful look and refused. Miranda heaved herself up tiredly before looking at her friends with a raised brow. “What?” She demanded and the group shook their heads as they urged their mounts back to where their camp waited.
When they reached camp Miranda stopped Elariel from entering her tent. “Hold up I have to renew your quarantine” she informed the elf. Elariel blinked but followed Miranda obediently to the fire where she sat down on one of the logs.
Miranda crouched down in front to Elariel and took her marked hand.
The green light that bisected her palm sparked and fizzled angrily, as if knowing what Miranda was doing. Varric and Cassandra drew closer to watch.
Miranda closed her eyes and bowed her head. Silver ropes of light danced around her before they swirled down to focus on Elariel weaving themselves around her wrist, running down to her fingers and encircling the mark.
Elariel felt a pain she hadn’t even known she had been ignoring fade and left her hand feeling blissfully cool rather than the edge of uncomfortably hot. Miranda rocked back of her heels and sighed, letting go of Elariel’s hand. “There we go, safe for another two days” she informed the Elariel.
The young elf looked down at her hand and then up at the tired looking Miranda and said quietly “thank you.”
Miranda smiled at her “no problem Riel” she told the she elf and stood, stumbling into the tent she was to share with Cassandra and fell into her bed roll, barely mustering the energy to scrape off her armour and wrapping her self in blankets. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
They set out for Dennet’s at first light, armed and armoured for heavy fighting. They slogged through tides of Templars and Mages battering them aside as economically as they could, trying to conserve energy.
When they reached the Farmstead of Horsemaster Dennet, they were exhausted and it was midafternoon. Aitheria’s antlers were stained crimson and her silver fur was speckled with red.
While Elariel and Cassandra spoke with the Horsemaster, Miranda begged a brush from a stable lad and set to work cleaning the blood and dust from the vain doe’s coat.
“I mean they didn’t even have the decency to bleed elsewhere!” The doe complained and Miranda made an agreeing sound as she brushed. “Don’t just agree with me I know you’re not listening to me!” Aitheria whistled in indignation.
“Sorry ‘theria just a little tired,” Miranda told her as she dragged the brush through the ruff that sat on the deer’s neck.
Aitheria snorted and reached her head around to nuzzle Miranda’s shoulder. “What are you thinking?” She asked, her voice much softer.
Miranda shrugged. “Thinking of the lives torn apart here,” She admitted and Aitheria huffed, blowing a few loose tendrils away from Miranda’s face as the doe nuzzled her cheek.
“You always were too emotional for your own good. We are fighting to end this. And we will end this. You didn’t tear open the sky and you didn’t unleash the demons. That blame does not rest on your shoulders. We have this discussion every time and you know I’m right. So stop acting like a silly little fawn and get the patch on my shoulders before you go out and kick some serious ass.” Miranda smiled at the deer’s prodding and obliged her age old friend.
“Excuse me … miss?” A young woman’s voice broke through her reverie and she turned, brush still in hand. “If you don’t mind my asking… is that a halla?” A girl of around fourteen with short brown hair and dark brown eyes was standing behind her and staring at Aitheria in awe.
Aitheria, vain hind that she was had struck a dramatic pose before the young girl’s awe struck eyes.
“What did she call me?” Aitheria asked in confusion even as she tilted her head so her antlers sparkled in the sun.
Miranda smiled at the young girl. “No Aitheria is not a Halla. She’s a Ceryneian Hind, and a close friend,” She explained and the girl continued to gape. “May I pet her?” She asked timidly and Miranda grinned.
Aitheria saw the look and her eyes grew wide. “Don’t you dare Starsinger.” She threatened and Miranda nodded at the young girl. The girl stepped forward and reached up to touch Aitheria’s chin. “No, no, no, no, no! Oh that feels good…” Aitheria protested before her eyes drooped and her head lowered to give the girl better access.
The girl giggled as Aitheria made deep purring noises and her hind leg twitched as the girl scratched the base of her antlers. “She’s beautiful… and a little silly,” The girl giggled.
Aitheria tried to move but she was almost paralyzed. “As long as she keeps scratching there I don’t care if she calls me a horse.” Aitheria moaned as her knees gave way and she curled up on the ground, enjoying the scratching far too much.
Miranda swallowed a chuckle. “Yes… Yes, she is,” She agreed with the girl, listening to Aitheria’s delighted moans of appreciation with a spreading grin. “In fact she can be almost horse like at times,” She needled her face going red as she tried to hold in her laugh.
After all it wasn’t every way one saw a deer the size of a warhorse on its back wriggling like a puppy as a small fourteen-year-old gave her a belly rub. “Just keep petting her,” Miranda choked out before fleeing towards the house.
As she ran she heard a faint. “Screw you princess,” From her incapacitated mount.
She reached the main house and collapsed against the outside wall, her hands attempting to stifle her roars of laughter with little success. Cassandra stalked out of the house with a scowl on her face and stood over the twitching form of Miranda.
“What in the Maker’s name is wrong with you?” She demanded her face stern. Miranda was unable to speak so she merely pointed to were Aitheria continued to wriggle on her back. The warrior let loose a choking sound which swiftly became a chuckle that morphed into a guffaw before she too was laughing heartily, though not rolling on the ground like Miranda.
It had taken nearly twenty minutes, during which Elariel had come out and dissolved into a fit of giggles that had her clutching the wall for support. When the show was finished Aitheria had picked herself up with the dignity of a queen and shot the three howling women a look that translated into: “Tell anyone of this and I’ll gut you like a fish,” Miranda had translated it through her cackles and it had taken another five minutes for them to calm down.
They were once again traipsing through the country side, this time with Elariel and Varric on better horses as they searched for locations to set up watch towers. They came across a pair of fade rifts that lead to a large scare for the quartet.
Elariel stood a good way away from the rift next to Varric. Her staff twirled about her in elegant patterns that conjured her spells. The steady clack, thunk of Varric’s crossbow was a comforting sound as were his catcalls to the warriors battling beneath the emerald light. Miranda was using her sword and a long forward curving dagger, dancing and flipping about the fight like a dragonfly.
Cassandra on the other hand was like a battering ram. Her shield would shove a demon away and her sword would deal with it. From this far away, Elariel could see the two women gaining a rhythm. A kick from Miranda would propel a shade into blade reach for Cassandra. The Seeker would duck as Miranda leapt over her head to land a slice on a wraith. She had been so preoccupied with watching her friends fight that she hadn’t noticed the shade till it was on top of her. “Riel!” Miranda shouted as she sprinted towards the elf.
Elariel turned just in time to dodge a swipe from the beast and batted it away clumsily with her staff attempting to gain room for her to swing a spell. The demon collapsed from a thrown dagger to the back of the head and Miranda gave her a stern look as she departed back to the rift.
After it was closed Miranda had simply looked at her. “I’ll be making you a better staff. And I’ll teach you how to use it,” She informed the young elf. Elariel didn’t dare complain as they continued through the fall clad countryside.
Miranda and Aitheria lead them as Miranda tracked the wolves while the others followed behind her. They crossed the river and Miranda held up her hand to stop them. “I think we should dismount. Something tells me that we will be in terrain not suitable for mounts,” She told them sliding off of Aitheria’s back. The others agreed and dismounted, tying their horses’ reins to a nearby fallen tree.
Aitheria positioned herself nearby her head high and alert as she scanned for threats. Elariel took the lead as they walked along a narrow path that lead deeper into the rocks. Miranda’s bow was drawn and Varric had a bolt in his crossbow waiting. The fight against the wolves was a short but bloody affair.
The narrow walls of the canyon the wolves had made their den, hampered the staff movements of Elariel and the broad strokes favored by Cassandra.
Miranda had dug her fingers into the small cracks in the wall and hauled herself up high.
After wrapping her legs around a protrusion, she began to snipe the wolves as she could, using her superior advantage to pick off the larger beasts before they could flank her companions. The dark furred wolves howled and slavered as they lunged forward. Their eyes glowing green with madness and possession that drove them to fight against odds they could not win.
Miranda felt sadness for the noble creatures reduced to such a state even as she mowed them down. They advanced into the den cautiously fending off the beasts until they turned a corner and saw the spindly limbed figure of Fear demon.
Miranda swore and leaped down from her perch on the wall, sheathing her bow and arming herself with her elven sword and long dagger. “Cassandra tag team him!” She bellowed as she pelted forward to join the warrior. The Seeker nodded and the dashed forward next to each other. Elariel and Varric scrambled for higher ground as the pair reached the demon.
It screeched a challenged that set Miranda’s head ringing but she didn’t falter. They split at the creature, diverting its attention to either side, each darting in to swipe at it as it turned its attention from one to the other. Miranda slashed with her sword and sliced open its leg.
The demon rounded on her, its tail and claws lashing out at her and she rolled away from the blow. Behind the demon, Cassandra lunged forward, her blade scoring a line along its tail, severing the sharp point from the limb.
It roared in pain and rounded on the Warrior. Miranda leaped at its turned back and scored a furrow down its back with her dagger.
A bolt from Varric struck its shoulder and it reared back clawing at the shaft. A flash of light struck it in the leg and ice crawled up the limb. Cassandra bashed her shield forward and shattered the frozen flesh, downing the demon. It scrabbled on the ground but too late as Cassandra and Miranda’s blade stabbed forward, one entering its throat and the other its heart.
It dissolved in a plume of green smoke leaving a spattering of oily black ichor and a thick slimy green residue. Varric and Cassandra began to sift through the remnants in the den while Miranda and Elariel skinned the heavily furred wolves, rolling the thick pelts into a bundle to take back to the refugees for warmth.
They made their camp next to a lake high in the hills that evening. The nearby lake was a blessing as they were covered in blood, mud and other disgusting things from their day of heavy fighting. They sat round the fire in clean, if damp clothes and worked to repair or clean their gear whilst a pot filled with the beginnings of a stew sat over the fire.
Miranda sat next to Cassandra stitching up a rend in her tunic’s sleeve where a wolf had managed in a lucky bite. Her right arm was slathered in a disinfectant paste that acted as a numbing agent and a wrap of bandages covered her forearm. Cassandra had her sword across her knees and was running a whetstone down its edges in smooth, well-practiced stokes. Elariel was carefully running her fingers over her staff, checking for cracks or chips in the wooden handle.
Varric was lovingly running a cloth over Bianca, cleaning away the dirt and blood that had accumulated from their activities. The scene had a weary but satisfied atmosphere. The small sounds giving a measure of peace that soothed Miranda’s frazzled nerves after the onslaught of sound she had suffered through the day.
Here high above the valley that during the day had been filled with fighting was a more peaceful aura brought on by night which allowed for the combatants to retreat and lick their wounds. The only indicator of the bloody battle that raged everyday was the scent and a smudge of smoke obscuring a part of the night sky.
“Hey Ice got any good stories?” Varric asked into the soft silence. Miranda looked up from her sewing and cocked her head. “I have a few, why? Want to hear them?” She asked with a smile.
Varric nodded while Elariel and Cassandra looked interested. “Well I guess I could give you one,” She murmured cocking her head to the side as she thought. The others leaned in a little closer as Miranda carefully tied off her stitches before setting her tunic aside and pulling out a bundle from her bag.
She unrolled it to reveal two feet of wide soft knitting that was clearly a scarf. This one was not the lilac she had been knitting in the war room. This one was a collection of soft greens that twined around each other through the knit.
She settled herself and began to knit her face a mask of concentration. “Hmmmm, shall I tell you about the time I took to piracy?” She asked with a small smile on her face. Everyone stared at her in astonishment and her smile grew.
“Wait you were a pirate?” Cassandra asked and Miranda nodded.
“I’ve been a lot of things over the years. I was the Captain of the Gale racer, a ship that could outrun even the acknowledged fastest of the day. Jack never forgave me when I outran the Black Pearl. He claimed that I had cheated but damn was the victory rum worth it.” She grinned at her audience and winked. “From Jack’s private stash too. He nearly cried when I took four bottles.”
Varric grinned. “Oh I’ve got to hear this one.” He told her and Miranda smirked. “Very well then, I shall tell you the tale of Miranda Starsinger, the Queen of the Caribbean.” She said the title with a self-satisfied air and the others looked at her in anticipation. “It started as most good pirate stories do, with a port town and far too much alcohol,” She began leaning forward with a grin.
“I had just landed and was immediately embroiled in a drinking contest,” She paused and gave a rueful grin. “Let’s just say Tortuga is not the place one goes for a quiet vacation. Any way I found myself in the middle of a bar fight, barely three tankards of rum in. There I was, laying into the men around me with nothing but a broom when I belted a particularly disgusting pig over their head. He fell to the floor and bashed his brains in on a table leg,” She told them excitedly. “I found out later that he was the captain of a rather run down ship. So I took the ship, hired a new crew and took the Gale racer out on the next tide,” Her smiled turned feral.
“We caught a few Spanish gold ships right on the off, but instead of broadsiding them like any normal pirate would. We followed them till it was night. Then we swept up long side and snuck abroad to silence everyone on watch before they could raise the alarm. Then we took the ship, stripping it for parts and gold, leaving it little more than a floating skeleton. We fixed up the Gale and took to the sea properly,” Her eyes were filled with pride as she thought back.
“I gained a reputation even more fearsome than the Pearl did, especially after Jack Sparrow, its former captain joined up. We were an unstoppable team. He was insane and usually came up with profitable ventures whilst I made them work.” She leaned back her eyes becoming dreamy. “I can still remember the day I took the pride of the British navy. It was called the Dauntless and three times the size of the Gale racer,” Her grin turned predatory.
She told her story animatedly. Her voice full of enthusiasm and sometimes dropping her knitting to gesture and add to the effect of her story. Varric was leaning forward, his eyes bright and Elariel’s eyes were wide with amazement. Cassandra had a small smile lurking around her mouth.
“And there captain Norrington stood in nothing but his wig,” Miranda chuckled and the others began to laugh. “He vowed revenge on me and my crew, I simply patted him on the cheek and wished him luck. Then I turned and winked at the little girl who was on-board and told her, ‘Some say the pirate life is glamorous… and you know what? It’s actually just fun.’ Before I jumped back to my ship, cut loose and left the ship humiliated. Actually, that young girl joined up with me ten years after. Turns out she was the governor’s daughter,” She finished and began to laugh in earnest.
“Ha! That’s brilliant,” Varric laughed shaking his head. “I can’t believe you did that!” Cassandra admonished her as she struggled to look disapproving.
“Is any of that true?” Elariel asked giggling.
Miranda put a hand to her chest in mock affront. “You don’t believe me? Why my dear Elariel, I’m hurt,” She cried dramatically and the she elf scoffed before throwing a pebble at Miranda. The tiny rock stuck Miranda in the chest and she clutched the impact as if it were the wound from an arrow.
“OH I’m hit! Death comes to me, farewell cruel world!” She collapsed limply to the ground. The others laughed at her antics and she pulled herself upright with a grin, bowing as if she were the lead role in a Shakespeare play.
Their peals of laughter echoed up towards the stars like the smoke from their fire.
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