Author: Sushifer PM
Ferelden is at war on two fronts, and the man set to lead both sides is a bitter child of the Elvhenan, resenting his exile and all the trouble it has thrown him: not least an infuriating, captivating flat-eared assassin.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Romance - Mahariel - Chapters: 4 - Words: 14,624 - Reviews: 22 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 12 - Updated: 03-08-12 - Published: 01-08-12 - id: 7722435
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: So. Here I go. This is not only the first long-form piece of fanfiction I've ever published, but, well, the first story I've ever set out to write and revise and generally get up to a quality I'm happy to share with others. The first novel length story I've ever released to the public, as it were. I am terrified and excited but mostly just thrilled to be finally getting it out of my system after half a year of gestation.
It is going to be yet another Blight fic, but fingers crossed I'll be able to make it more interesting than just a straight up re-hashing. It won't be hugely AU, so I'm trying to tell a new story on the same framework, I suppose. There will be little use of in-game dialogue, and I'll only re-tell in-game scenes where I can add something significant to them, or where they're needed for the plot of this story.
Many many many thanks to Bitenomnom/ShiningMoon (depends on where you're asking for them) for reading, helping, and general moral support. I probably wouldn't have published so soon without you!
But enough from me! Read, and if you have a moment, let me know what you think. Reviews are lovely and always much appreciated.
Here is the child who was cradled in the forest.
The child who learnt to run barefoot through corridors of trunk and bracken. The child who grew beneath sky framed by fringing leaves, in cool air that tasted of moss and earth after the rains had moved on. The boy who pinned the squirrel to the branch and sang as he climbed to pull free both corpse and bolt. The young man who watched the stag and all his harem cross the ford in a moment of scattered water and dark plunging bodies, a stream across the stream, to leave the clearing whispering of their passage but soon quite still and empty again.
Sometimes through those years he would wake early and go out to stand alone, to see the first crust of frost on varnished wood and sail while beyond, in the bluish light, the shapes of halla stamped and shook heads cowled in smoke, to feel the first bite of an ache in his belly that would grow as the year chilled. Yet there was no sadness in that, as he knew as certain as he knew his own name that in time the year would turn again and hunger shrink as the world filled with bright new life.
His existence moved on in this looped rhythm for many long, long years.
He never thought he would be anywhere but the aravel-ringed clearings of the forest, so he never tried to strengthen a stock of memory, for why would he need to remember the shape of a life that had not changed all the years he had inhabited it? He could turn, and there were the halla and the aravel. He could look and see the trees and all the lesser plants that gathered their skirts to back against the trunks. He could slip past the campfire and find the deer or the squirrel. Memory was for things left behind. All he had ever known was in his reach.
So it was only later that he began to cherish what he could recall of that time, only later that he turned over those pieces of a childhood in the woods in his mind, as he sat by a fire in a clumsy camp filled with strangers. But for now, he is here, in the home of clan Sabrae.
Chapter One: The Forest Disturbed.
"Arahad, you are wriggling. Again."
"I said, you are wriggling. Again."
"What- I'm getting comfy-"
"My arm was going dead. I was simply moving to-"
"No, you weren't. You were wriggling and you kicked me. Again."
" Elgarn's hand, can't you two shut up?"Junar rolled to face the two young men lying whispering beside him in the tent. The canvas space still held trapped summer heat even as night sank, and smelt increasingly of sweat. He rubbed his eyes rather deliberately. "If I'm ever out with either of you again I will head straight back to camp as soon as evening turns. Creators forbid I have to listen to you two hissing at each other another night! And Arahad, stop wriggling, please."
"Aha! You see-"
"Yes, and you're no better, Tamlen. Kick him back, don't start blathering so you wake up everyone else!"
Tamlen grunted and promptly followed this advice. Arahad kicked back, hard, in return.
"Both of you! Please- please shut up and let me sleep!"
"Abelas, oh wise hahren," whispered Tamlen. "I meant to say-" and he lowered his voice to a breath "Ow."
Junar groaned and covered his head with his shirt blanket.
The three young elves rose with the dawning light. Their simple shelter was dismantled in minutes, and the scar of last night's campfire hidden not long after, so the forest clearing by the stream looked, at a glance, almost as untouched as when they had first reached it.
Idle for a moment, Arahad held himself still and listened to the bird-chitter above him. Some miles back, beneath the same old racket, Ashalle would be just about to pound the first grain of the day.
"If we're to keep on the hunt another day-" said Junar.
"I see no reason not to, after we came so far," said Tamlen, already pulling off shirt and breeches as he crouched by the waterside.
"-Then someone should take those back to camp." He nudged the brace of pheasant lying beside the small package of rope-bound tent cloth.
"Of course," said Tamlen, between splashing his face with stream water. "I've no preference who goes. He glanced to Arahad, who shrugged.
"Neither have I, lethallin."
"I'll go then, if no one minds," said Junar, sighing with exaggerated irritation yet grinning all the while. "It'd be cruel to cut short your grand expedition. Though I can't understand why you both love to camp in the woods, when all you do out here is bicker!" He snorted as he slung the brace over his shoulder, moving to leave.
"Ah, da'len!" said Tamlen, throwing his arms wide and speaking a low, grand tone. "Can you not appreciate the adventure, the beauty of young men out in the mother wood, living off her bounty!"
"The spirit of hahren Paivel will live on, I see! And I'd appreciate it far more, I'm sure, if all the sweet sounds of the mother weren't masked by your squawking."
"Well. I just think it's nice to be free of all the hahren and their nagging for a time. To have space to move as I like."
"True, I suppose." Junar paused at the treeline, looking back to Arahad. "And I suppose you like it because he does, eh?"
"Oh-" Arahad blinked and tried very hard not to look to Tamlen. "No, I just think it's, uh, nice and peaceful, too."
"Oh? Well. Dareth shiral, brothers." They muttered farewells back and he slipped away into the trees.
"Huh! He gets full vallaslin first and all of sudden he's the elder and better who can speak as he likes," said Tamlen, now washing his legs. "Never mind that we've all worn 'em for years, now. You remember when he was just one of the nice little da'len? Before he got rude?"
"Oh, he's still alright," said Arahad, moving to Tamlen's side. "He's better than Merrill."
"Hah! The day we raise a da'len who's worse than Merrill is the day I turn flat-ear. And if he does come out with us again-"
"We'll bicker even more."
"Precisely." Tamlen gestured to the water. "Now, come on: you should clean up, while the water's here."
Arahad nodded and began to undress.
The young men washing in the stream were a caricature of opposites. True, both of them were all lean, sharp muscle with no real bulk or fat: if anything, they looked a little undernourished, with prominent ribs, spine and cheekbones. But the first was lank and narrow were the other was decidedly short and broader-shouldered; the first delicately pale with light hair cut close to the skull, where the other was tan brown and combed at dark hair that heaped about his face and hung halfway down his spine.
Tamlen shook out his clothes, standing on the bank so he loomed over the already shorter Arahad. "Ugh- It's always so unpleasant to have to put on old clothes when you're nice and fresh, eh, lethallin?" he said, sniffing his breeches.
"And that's why I brought your other shirt."
"You did? Ah, bless you!" Tamlen darted to the small pack.
Arahad shrugged. "I knew you'd been wearing that for a while, and in this heat we were bound to sweat our clothes stiff anyway, out on the hunt."
Tamlen chuckled. "You look after me better than I look after myself." New shirt pulled on, he ruffled Arahad's hair. "Come. I'll plait your hair again."
Half dressed, they sat in the first patch of golden sunlight to breach the tree cover, as Tamlen pulled Arahad's hair into a braid.
"I think Seriah's been making eyes at me," said Tamlen.
"Oh?" said Arahad, trying to sound interested.
"Well, I think.She's a nice girl, though, isn't she?"
"I suppose. You think you might, uh, pair with her?"
"How could I know that, so soon? It's still early. That's why I'm telling you. What do you think?"
"What do you think?"
"I wouldn't be asking you if I was happy with just what I thought!"
"Abelas. Truthfully- I don't know. If you like her- go after her."
"And what about you, eh? You never mention girls since Thayana. Going to spend all your days alone in that nice new aravel, are you?"
Arahad was very glad his back was to Tamlen. "It's not so long-"
"That's long enough."
"To start looking again."
Arahad wished Tamlen would stop absently rubbing the locks of hair he had paused in plaiting between his fingers, so that his knuckles kept catching on the beads of Arahad's spine.
"I've not-" said Arahad, sitting forward an inch, "there's no-one, really, who would, when, when I have this- when I am-"
"Thayana didn't care about that." The sharpness of the remark silenced them both for a time.
Presently, Tamlen tied off the plait and when he spoke, his voice was softer. "All done. Come. I- it's only that you've been getting quieter and quieter, lately. I feel- I feel you're keeping me out."
Arahad had no reply.
They had been out a few hours, and had picked up nothing but old trails when ahead, Tamlen suddenly tensed, then slid into the cover of a clump of vast ferns.
"Shemlen," he mouthed.
Arahad heard them soon enough. Creators, but they were so loud! They crashed through the world as if quite unaware anything but they existed within it.
"If they keep on in that direction, they'll hit camp," Arahad whispered, joining Tamlen.
"Then, lethallin, I think we'd better scare them off before they can get there."
"What say you, lethallin? Do we kill them?"
Tamlen's face was hard-frozen and Arahad could not tell if those words were show, or if he really, truly, meant to do it. Tamlen loved shem-scaring as he loved most pranks. But then, he never had to feign much to put venom in his voice when faced with a quickling.
"Isn't it more- do we believe them?" said Arahad.
Tamlen nudged the tablet piece one of the three shem had thrown to their feet. He sniffed, and looked up. How strange, thought Arahad, to see lanky Tamlen craning back to meet an eye. They were such ungainly creatures! It made him glad he had all the forest, away from the open places where humans stumbled and loomed.
"Do we believe them?" said Tamlen. "It's Elvish, but I bet it could have come from some pilfered hoard: I bet they buy and sell plenty of our ancestor's working's out there-" he drew back his bowstring and raised it to angle the nocked arrow at the leader's eye's. It was now much too tight for such a shot: but that hardly mattered when it made the most menacing creak.
"I believe them, Tamlen." He wanted Tamlen to meet his gaze.
"We believe them- so do we let them go?" The leader shem opened his mouth and stepped forward; to be driven back by an advancing Tamlen. "You move again and I shoot!"Creators, thought Arahad, but he really means to do it. There was a bright brittleness in his friend's grimace. Something was tipping in him, something was tipping over-
"Tamlen. I believe them."
"Please, ser, sers," the leader was bobbing his head like a bird, surrendered hands flapping. "Sers, we'll leave and not return, we do so, ah, apologise for this trespass, we didn't know, y'see-"
"Tamlen. If we kill them, others will come."
"Hah, yes, like flies to the bodies-"
"And they'll have a reason to hunt us."
"We've a reason to kill them!"
"And if enough shem come, we won't be able to hold out against them, Tamlen-"
"They know we're here, now. They go, they'll bring others, to drive us out-"
"And so we should do everything we can to give them no reasons to be angry. To keep them away. Tamlen."
Tamlen met his eyes.
He looked back to the three shem.
"Run," he said.
They were searching for the cave. Except, thought Arahad, it was now a matter of tracking. Even if the humans had not been truthful about this ancient elvish ruin, they had been truthful about the way they had come. The trampled trail they had left through the trees was broad and clear. The two hunters scarcely had to pause in their step to search it out.
"That makes it nineteen," said Arahad.
"Nineteen shemlen I've seen."
Arahad elbowed him. "No, ever, of course!"
"Psh- too many!"
"Disregarding when I went to the village with you and Fenaral and hahren Ilen. There were too many there to bother counting."
"Much too many. The important thing is: did any of those you did count see you?"
"No more than half of 'em."
"You know it was right to let them go."
Tamlen sighed. "Yes. It was."
"The Keeper wouldn't have liked it. At all."
"And that's a good reason to not do something, is it?"
"Well! It just made me angry. It just makes me angry. I just- I just despise them!"
"So do I!"
Tamlen sighed again, but this time he was smiling. "Ah, lethallin," he put an arm over Arahad's shoulders and bent to touch his head to his companion's. "Lethallin, I'm sorry. I know. You're right as ever, eh?"
"Hardly sounds like a compliment."
Tamlen's arm drew back so he could plant a fist on each hip. "Well, it was! I'm- I'm affronted! I'd much prefer to be right on my own- than have to rely on you to keep me right-"
Arahad sadly shook his head, not entirely managing to hold back a smirk.
Tamlen rolled his eyes. "I'm glad I had you there. I'm glad I have you here. There. Is that enough of a compliment?" Arahad rolled his eyes in return and stretched to rest an arm back on Tamlen's shoulders. "Truthfully- what'd happen if I didn't have you, lethallin?"
"What'd happen to me, though? My hair'd be a mess!"
"Oh, that's all I am to you? I see- I'm just your- your- your hair-neatening-man!" He gave Arahad a push, and a minor tussle ensued. When Arahad had Tamlen pinned to a tree, they settled and continued walking.
Tamlen prodded him again. "Just. Don't shut me out."
The cave was real, and it was full of monsters. And at the end of it was a mirror. No-there he stopped. What he remembered just as well was how they had stood on the slope with their feet pointing to the vine-clotted gullet of the cave. He could still see how Tamlen bit his lip and rubbed both thumbs along the carved grooves of the tablet he clutched.
"Tamlen, you shouldn't-"
"Go in? Why not? We found it. If we bring the others, we'll probably never get to see what's inside."
"Don't start on her!"
"I don't like the look of it- not at all-"
"Exactly! Exciting! Oh, come on! Please. Won't you come?"
They had scurried through dark tunnels made damp and dripping by decay and moss and the sagging earth above. Things had come screaming at them from every dark corner: the fat, clicking spiders in their webs and the creatures that went on two legs but looked like nothing living should ever look, and last the largest bear he had ever seen; except it's flesh had been grey and hairless and ruptured with spikes. Never had he been somewhere so full of foul things intent on killing him.
And yet the tall, dull mirror at the head of the steps was what most made his throat clench and his belly chill.
Tamlen was reaching for it.
"Tamlen, you shouldn't-"
When he awoke and realised he was in the keeper's medicine tent, when he realised Tamlen was not there with him- he was unconcerned.
Why would he be? He remembered being uneasy and then horribly frightened, but he could not remember what it had felt like to be frightened. It was a closed memory with no bearing on him now: like a bad dream, he quite was certain. And when the keeper spoke of his two days unconscious, he had been worried, but more because he was aware he would have made everyone else worried, and he hated that. When she told him a human had found him by the mirror, and carried him back, he assumed she referred to only him because he was the only one there before her.
Then he began to feel queasy, so she broke off to let him rest, saying she would finish speaking with him when he felt more level.
After he had sat in the tent for a time, he got up to go to the Ariah-family aravel, to find Tamlen. And then he saw Mother Ariah bent over her own lap with a daughter on each side. He could hear the noise she made from twenty paces away. This was the women who had slapped the thighs and arms of any child, not just her own, who dared give her cheek or disobey her.
He went back to the keeper.
So when she said "And, Tamlen remains missing" - it was dulled and inch, the thump as a sinking realisation hit the bottom, but still, it hit, and all he could think of was the mirror and the cave mouth and Tamlen before them both.
Aravel – Dalish caravan.
Elgarn - colloquial abbreviation of Elgar'nan.
Dareth shiral - literally, safe journey. A farewell.
Vallaslin - lit. blood writing. Dalish facial tattoos symbolising their wearer's coming of age.
Da'len - lit. little child. Specifically one yet to earn vallaslin. Also used as a term of endearment.
Abelas - lit. sorrow. Used as an apology.
Shemlen - lit. quick children. Term for humans.
Lethallin - term of endearment, similar to clansman or cousin.
Thanks to xseikax and Suilven for suggesting I add this section. Hopefully it'll be handy!