A/N: This is the original and old version of my story, written from 2010-2017. I had the new, rewritten version of the chapter online here for a few month, but I have now decided to publish the rewrite of this story separately, after all. Hence I will revert all changes made to its original state, meaning as it were in 2010. If you are interested in reading my story, I can only highly recommend you to read the updated, rewritten version of OEaH instead of this one, either here on FFN or Ao3, for it is vastly improved in all regards. The original story is mainly just preserved here for reference and sentimentality value, tbh.
Home is behind
The world ahead
And there are many paths to tread
To the edge of night
Until the stars are all alight...
- Pippin; LotR, Return of the king
"Keeper, don't send me away, I beg you!"
"You know that it kills me to do this, da'len, but I don't have another choice. It would hurt me more to see you succumbing to the disease, to have you slowly dying without the chance to help you."
"No, I will rather die...than to leave! My clan is all I know! Please, don't do this!"
"Do what you must, Duncan."
"I hereby invoke the Right of Conscription."
"And I, as the Keeper of this clan, acknowledge this Right."
"Nooo! Ar din'him sa dorf'len! Ar din'isala ven shem'alas!"
Lenya stared into the crackling fire before her, observing how the flames were vigorously dancing within its red-yellow light. Shortly she had to suppress the urge to let herself fall into it, the sadness within too overwhelming.
Her head tilted up to the black, starlit sky, letting the blond strands of her hair fall over her back, where she still had both of her Dar'Misu daggers sheathed. She had stopped to count how often she had thought about to draw them and fight her way out of this camp, and back to her clan.
It was a futile thought in her desperation, she knew, one that would gain her nothing but maybe a fleeting moment of freedom. Her clan had already moved on to the north, to leave this lands behind, to find shelter from the Blight. Not to mention that within her raged a strange disease, which would ultimately lead to her own death. Even the magic of her Keeper couldn't fully save her, so the choices she had left were feeble.
"Abalas," Lenya quietly sighed under her breath and pulled her knees closer to her, embracing them. The surroundings of the camp were still, only the chirping of cascades and the faint 'uhuu' of an owl were audible. They were the sounds of the night that she was used to hearing, and normally loved while sleeping under the blanket of the sky. Tonight, however, they only added more to the sadness -and anger- she felt within.
Right of conscription? Since when does his pesky rules apply to our people?
Wasn't the Blight the problem of the shemlen? Why should she care at all?
Although the thought of jumping into the flames has been quite tempting only moments before to the young elf, she didn't want to die just yet. Death was normally something natural to her tribe. A given circle of nature they'd learned to live with, to respect. Nonetheless, she didn't want to die an unnatural death, due to her contact with a strange, tainted mirror in an old ruin.
If only I...we had never found this cave, none of this would have happened.
Feelings of remorse rolled over her like a tidal wave. Lenya had never been the most dutiful Dalish, often tested the patience of her clan with her shenanigans. But this one time she wished, really wished that she would have listened to Tamlen and would have gone back to the Keeper, instead straight to the cave.
Lenya's gaze wandered down to her knees as she wistfully twirled the thin, fine silver necklace between her fingers and eventually observed the oval-shaped silver amulet hanging from it. The white ornaments of a Halla were engraved in the ironbark, skilfully crafted with the old lore of her people. It was the amulet Tamlen had given to her, after she had undergone Vallaslin, the ritual of blood-writing which marked the end of childhood for her, only four moons ago.
Since that time she has a black-inked tribal tattoo on her forehead, intricate, fine lines whirling together, ending on the tip of her nose. This was what made and marked her as a Dalish for anyone to see. Proud and unyielding. Never submit.
Tamlen...the features of her face contorted to a mask of pain at the thought on him. Tears welled up within her eyes, blurring the sight of amulet before her. "How could you touch the mirror? Why did this all happened? Why?"
Duncan kneeled down beside Lenya, who hadn't noticed him until he raised his voice. "I'm sorry. As little as it means to you."
Lenya didn't turned around to the shemlen she come to loathe so quickly in the last hours. She completely ignored his presence and continued to stare into the fire before her.
"You know there was no other choice but to leave your friend behind, don't you? Otherwise you would be dead by now as well."
Something snapped in Lenya as she turned around with a growl. She faced the elder man, her eyes blazing with anger. "So what? I didn't ask you to help me! I didn't ask you to rip me away from my life, from my people!" she screamed, hate clear in her green eyes. "If you and your stupid Grey Wardens hadn't brought those creatures to our lands, none of it would have happened!"
And Tamlen would be still alive...
After a moment of glaring at him, she huffed and added spitefully, "I hate you." With her breath still ragged, she turned around to start a staring contest with the flames once more.
"I didn't bring the darkspawn there. The Blight has come, and we are just the one who are fighting them," he explained calmly, well knowing that she tried to project the responsibility for her fate on him. "Normally the darkspawn remain hidden under the surface, but in times of the Blight, they leave the soil and swarm the land. That is why they appeared in the woods and those old ruins."
Lenya rolled her eyes. "And this should interest me because…?"
"Because you will be a Grey Warden soon..." He sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose. "Look, you have quite the temper, my lady. If you use half of the energy of screaming and biting for fighting darkspawn instead, you are good to go."
"Biting?" she asked innocently, one of her eyebrows curving upwards. When he turned away, Lenya threw a stolen glance over to Duncan, seeing dark-red teeth marks engraved in the flesh of his both arms. Obviously she had tried everything to stay with her clan, while Duncan did everything to pull her away. Unfortunately the tall, strong and stupid shemlen has won because there she sat, in his camp. Somewhere out in the middle of nowhere.
Yet those tiny marks of teeth visible on his arms lightened her mood up for a moment, making her even smile for a blink of an eye. At least she had tried, she had fought and this was still visible now, even after all those hours.
i"Yes, biting. In fairness, you have a natural talent as a Rogue, and you wield your daggers skilfully. With a little more training you should be able to wield swords the same way. Though I think when fighting Darkspawn, you should omit the biting part. They don't taste good, I have been told."
"Shemlen's tasting awful as well."
Duncan laughed. "Good, then we agree on letting the biting out in the future."
Lenya threw him a glare. " I haven't agreed on anything, human."
The Grey warden leader held her gaze and became serious, the tone in his voice authoritative. "You don't have to. You don't even have to like me. I don't demand that from you. But what I demand is that you listen on what I have to say. Even if you didn't want it, I saved your life, and becoming a Grey Warden is your only chance at living that you have. You are already tainted, and if you don't undergo the Joining ritual, you will change into something more horrible than you can ever imagine. Don't forget that."
The elf let a displeased growl out but didn't say anything in return. As much she hated to admit, that Grey Warden was right; without joining and becoming a Grey Warden herself, she would die. Or even worse. She sighed in resignation.
"Alright, I…understand," Lenya said meekly, while she kept her fists pressed together in frustration.
Duncan smiled, pleased. For hours he tried to talk some sense into that stubborn head of hers but had no such luck, so he was glad that he had finally reached her. Or so it seemed. "Good. Now have a little rest; it has been a long day, and tomorrow there will be another. We are going straight to Ostagar, to join the King there for the battle."
Duncan stood up and retreated to his tent, and as his gaze fell to the bite marks on his arms, he shook his head incredulously. Rarely did he see such a sturdy, proud and perturbing person as the elf. Then again, he hadn't got many recruits from the Dalish tribe so far. He just hoped that it was a good idea to take her with him at all.
When Duncan was finally gone, Lenya decided to go on with her sulking. Somewhere deep inside she began to understand that even if unwanted, tomorrow, when the sun would rise, a whole new world and life would be waiting for her. She had no idea where Ostagar was, nor what it meant to be a Grey Warden and a huge part of her didn't want to know and didn't care.
After several moments of blankly staring into the flames, she felt her eyelids grow heavier due the comfortable warmness of the fire radiating to her body, lulling her slowly into sleep. It had been a long day and although the young elf wished for the night to never end, she couldn't help but to lie herself down on the grass. Before sleep took Lenya away to the Fade, one positive thought about the traveling to Ostagar crossed her mind;
At least the battle there would mean killing a lot of Darkspawn, and Lenya had a lot to payback to those pesky creatures, after all.
The sun wasn't even up when they continued their walk from the previous night.
The weak light of the approaching dawn barely illuminated the path enough to see anything but rough contours. Not that Lenya cared for the scenery around her; she was too busy keeping up with the fast pace of the shem Warden. As a rogue, she was used to fast and fluently movements. She had trained that, since she had been a small child. Yet after an arduous night she found herself more stumbling than walking.
"Stupid long legs," Lenya muttered frustrated to herself, as she fell for the umpteenth time, so that Duncan had to stop. The Grey Warden leader turned around, giving the Dalish elf some time to catch up with him.
"I know that your night was rather unpleasant, but we have to keep moving to reach Ostagar before nightfall. The King and the other Grey Wardens there are waiting for my...our return."
Lenya was finally standing before him and blinked, bewildered by his words. How does he know that I had nightmares? Ugh,...was he watching me in my sleep?
Duncan sensed her discomfort and let out a short bark of laughter. "Don't give me that look, young lady. After I took a short rest, I held vigil for the rest of the night. These are dangerous times and although I'm able to sense Darkspawn, I don't want them to surprise us in our sleep. However, it wasn't hard to overlook how you tossed and turned all night by the fire. You even spoke in your sleep. Tamlen was the name of your friend, I suppose?"
Oh. So that's how he was able to know.
Hearing the name of her childhood friend, the expression on Lenya's face immediately shifted from confusion to a frown. "I...I rather not want to talk about it…" Fewest with you, she added in mind.
Tamlen...Lenya's chest seemed to tighten painfully at the mere thought of him. She knew why she dreamed about him. She had abandoned him and left him behind to save herself. Had been forced to do so. She glared at the shemlen's back. He had been the one who made her stop searching for him, although even her own clan told her the search was futile. How could they do such a thing? Why didn't they searched more? Why did they forsake him so easily?
Lenya knew that she should have tried harder to find him, instead she gave up and ran away to save her own life now. She felt selfish for not wanting to die, whereas Tamlen had not been so lucky.
"Coward! You're damn coward!" she murmured at herself, gritting her teeth together.
She had to bite down the tears that urged to come up, but the bitter taste of guilt lingered in her mouth, no matter how hard she tried to swallow it or push it aside. He was haunting her dreams and she deserved it after all. Being so wrapped up in her heavy thoughts, She hasn't even noticed that Duncan has moved on.
"I see. "Duncan said, putting her out of her thoughts. "The sooner you leave your old life behind, the better it will be for you. The Grey Wardens should be all that counts for you now." Not pausing to see her reaction to his words, he sped up his steps again, leaving Lenya no choice but to hurry as well.
The rest of the march to Ostagar was over rocky, unstable ground and through the deep, foul-smelling swamps of the Korcari Wilds. Lenya and Duncan spent the whole of the walk in an awkward silence. He had at least one likable trait, she noticed. He didn't talk much or inquired her to talk about her feelings, when all what she wanted was to forget. What had happened to Tamlen. That she had been ripped away from all that she had ever known, thrown out in a world that was nothing more than foreign and cold to her.
It made it easier to focus on the walking, easier to bear what would come. At least for the moment.
As the sun stood high up in the sky and burned down on them, Lenya lost track of how long they'd been marching. She didn't know how much farther they had to go or where they even were.
Everything around them looked exactly the same; a puddle full of stinky water, a tree, then another puddle full of stinky water, another tree, then a - Ugh. Walking across those lands was a complete dull task. Lenya missed the beauty of her woods. How the fresh air whirled the leafs up and caressed her hair when she run with the wind, hunting for her clan.
This here was nature as well, but it was different, so cold and void of any life. Lenya couldn't help but to exclaim in joy when she saw how one single frog hopped across her path. Afterward she felt stupid for it, but at least it was another occupation than to glare hatefully at the back of that Warden's shiny armour, wishing he would instantly drop dead from her stare.
It hasn't worked anyway until now, and slowly she gave up hope that it would ever do.
Ar din'him sa dorf'len! Ar din'isala ven shem'alas! - I don't want to become a Grey Warden. I don't want to go with this filthy human.