I had expected more interrogation when the group made camp that night, but that was not quite how it happened at first. The lovely Orlesian was the only one that actually introduced herself to me, but though I was very interested in how she had come to be in a party of Fereldan Grey Wardens and how she knew so much about the Crows, she was not very forthcoming with the details. Leliana did, however, do me the courtesy of giving me everyone's names and a bit of their stories, though I thought I might miss calling Alistair "that thick-necked human."
He seemed to tolerate my presence only because Lurai had made the decision. Even though I stood almost directly across the fire from him, he insistently stared into the embers and off into the sky rather than look in my direction. Perhaps he was her lover and felt threatened? I couldn't say, but getting the cold shoulder from an uptight templar was hardly the worst thing I had ever endured.
Still, it got uncomfortable after a while, so I paid a visit to what I assumed would be the least judgmental member of the party: the hound. He wasn't much like the dogs I was familiar with in Antiva, and I found myself telling him so just so that I would have someone to talk to.
"Now, what did they say your name was again? Something Elvish, I think…"
"Fen'Harel," said a voice behind me and I turned to see that Lurai had appeared out of nowhere and was watching me with her arms crossed over her chest.
"It seems I underestimated you again," I said with a smile. "I did not realize how stealthy the Dalish are."
"As I said, I'm a hunter," Lurai informed me, but my compliment to her people seemed to have relaxed her stance a little. "We have to be a part of the forest. It's our job to guard our clansmen. We're the first line of defense against marauding shemlen and flat-ears."
I had heard those terms before, but no one had ever really taken the time to explain. "Might I ask exactly what those things are?"
Something hardened in those lovely blue eyes of hers as she answered, "Shemlen are humans, and flat-ears are the elves that have cast aside what it means to be elvhen and turned their backs on the People to live under the shemlen's boots."
Ah, so that was what I was to her? Less than an elf? Ouch. At least shemlen did mean the same thing as the shem slur that city elves used for humans, so that made it a little easier to remember. Judging by the way she said it, it was a little surprising she was in the company of so many humans, but I decided it was probably best not to comment.
"The People being the Dalish, I assume?" I clarified.
Lurai nodded. "We are the keepers of the lost lore. The walkers of the lonely path."
There was a note of sorrow in that last line that struck me as a little more personal than she was letting on. Cautiously, I asked, "So why is it that I see only one of you here in this little camp?"
The way she clenched her fists made it very clear that I probably shouldn't have asked that question, but much to my surprise, she didn't snap at me. "Believe me, I would gladly have moved on with my clan and forgotten the Blight. But it took one of my clansmen and tainted me. The only cure for that sickness was to become a Grey Warden. My keeper insisted she would not have me die for the clan as well. We do not refuse to go when our keeper sends."
"Even if it's into exile," I observed quietly, a little surprised by the empathy in my own voice.
Lurai caught it, however, and she raised one eyebrow at me. "Feeling exiled yourself, are you?"
"From the Crows?" I asked innocently, laughing at the idea. "Oh, I suspect there will be blood enough on your journey to make me feel at home."
"The only question is whose," she agreed, and I clicked my tongue at her expression.
"Now, now. Not that I don't appreciate how your lips look when they're pouting, but if you keep frowning like that, you're going to mark up your pretty face."
Unfortunately, that just seemed to make her frown deepen. "Actually, the Dalish quite value the marks on our faces."
I couldn't help it; that caught me so off guard it made me genuinely laugh. "And you joke! Aren't you just full of surprises!"
The tiniest of smiles broke through her serious expression, and I wondered what I could do to make that happen more often. "I'm out of practice," she said simply, and it took me a second to realize she was answering my words and not reading my mind.
"You could always practice on me," I offered with a wink. I expected another threat in response, but again she surprised me by instead giving me a look that was equal parts sad and wistful.
"I truly hope you keep your word, Zevran. Now that I've spoken to you, I would hate to have to cut you down."
I smiled. "And yet you would, if the situation arose. You are a strong woman; I admire that. But back to the marks on your face… they have special meaning to the Dalish, yes? And to you?"
Lurai's hand reached up toward the blue, lace-like pattern over her right eye, but then she seemed to catch herself and shook her head. "Vallaslin are not decorations to be spoken of lightly to outsiders. They merely mark us as different to flat-ears, but profess our dedication and beliefs to our clansmen. I do not share pieces of my soul so lightly."
"Should I go first, then?" I offered, only half joking. "I am somewhat of an open book, for the most part."
"Perhaps another time. Sleep well, Zevran. And do not force my hand."
I probably should have been more concerned about the threats I kept getting, but somehow I found it hard to focus as I watched her walk to her tent. Such a shame that a vixen with a body like that insisted on sleeping alone.