A/N: A few friends of mine (and yours truly) decided to swap characters around randomly amongst ourselves and write about the characters we received. By coincidence, the character I received (Riedia Mahariel), was the creation of the friend who received my character (Talysse Surana). Riedia belongs to HikoruAniki, who's just gotten into the Dragon Age fandom and writes some truly lovely bittersweet Mahariel shorts, and I highly recommend you stop by her profile. Also to read the character-swap story she wrote for me, haha!
The prompt for the entire ordeal: write about either a pre-Origins event in the Warden's life, or a random moment in the Blight quest.
The prompts for this story: Comparing Dalish tattoos to Zevran's tattoos, as well as Riedia accidentally calling Zevran by his "to my friends" nickname, and the implications of that.
Hope I didn't foul it up too poorly. Oh, and Dragon Age belongs to BioWare, not me, as usual. And this time, I really own nothing.
Riedia supposed Zevran had a nice body, though she wasn't really one to notice such things. Even if she was so ridiculously obsessed with giving every man she saw a once-over like some girls in her clan, she doubted she'd notice anyway, what with all the leather armor Zevran usually clad himself in. But with the man fresh from his river-bath and toweling off, she couldn't help but notice him—in a purely artistic and neutral way, of course, but it would be difficult to explain that to him, especially if he caught her looking.
She was trying to be subtle in her contemplation for that reason alone, only looking out of the corner of her eyes. While ordinarily a shirtless party member wouldn't be something of distraction, a shirtless Zevran meant tattoos. Lots and lots of tattoos.
Even the most mature members of her clan had never volunteered to ink such large and sweeping patterns into their skin. While Zevran's torso wasn't crammed with black designs and what tattoos there were seemed to be marked in very precise places, the overall intricacy and size of each design made Riedia's own vallaslin twinge uncomfortably.
For example, two parallel lines planted themselves on the indent of his left hip, wrapping around his back once in order to hug the top of his right ribs. Riedia couldn't imagine the pain that the elf must have gone through in order to endure all that ink being drilled over all those bones. And the marks didn't stop there. Some were similar to the aforementioned one or the mark on his face—"to accentuate its curves and musculature", she remembered now—and some were complex little designs with lots of tightly-curled patterns and vaguely symbolic shapes.
She was studying a particularly confusing mark that seemed to be moving with all its patterns-within-patterns when suddenly the man she was openly staring at snapped his head up with the slap of wet hair smacking against skin and grinned suggestively at her.
Riedia felt her cheeks get warm with embarrassment, and she wished she'd opted for a more complex set of vallaslin, one that would cover more of her cheeks and thus her irritatingly frequent blushes. She'd allowed the Keeper to tattoo the diamond-like theme of Ghilan'nain on her upper arms, but that was also sadly ineffectual in the ways of hiding blushes. Reminded of tattoos and being embarrassed—and angry at the fact that her distraction could be taken as a moment of trying to make an excuse for ogling—Riedia focused to the matter at hand and attempted to regain some of her icy cool.
"Your tattoos," she said, cutting off whatever flirtatious comment Zevran was about to make. "I've never seen anything like them before. They are different from our vallaslin, and I see no real pattern to their shapes. Are they simply for…physical appeal?" She inflected the last two words with unintentional doubt, considering one of Zevran's designs appeared to be a curl of spiked wire, etched into his skin to look like the ink barbs were uncomfortably digging into the flesh.
"Does my dear Grey Warden see them that way?" Zevran asked smoothly as he stalked closer with that almost annoying swagger of his. "If they please you, then certainly; that is exactly their purpose."
Riedia frowned at him. "I'm an intelligent being, Zevran," she said frostily, "and so it's extremely obvious to me that you're avoiding my question."
"Nothing gets past you, Riedia." Thoughts of another blond, paler elf with fewer tattoos than this one skimmed unbidden through her mind, before she hastily shook them away. This was not an appropriate conversation for such memories.
"Glad to see you've picked up on that. Are you going to answer?"
Zevran, to her surprise, did not close up and bat away the entire subject with an evasive, if entertaining, joke. Instead, he sat next to her on the log she was perched on and shrugged. "I thought you were listening to that conversation I had the pleasure of sharing with fair Leliana."
"It's hard to tell with you how much of what you say is just a cover-up for your true feelings."
Zevran laughed once at that. "Are we having a discussion like that? I could just as easily find things about you that are false." Before Riedia had the time to feel properly offended at this, he shifted in his seat and continued. "What was it you asked, again? What my tattoos mean?" He slid closer, close enough for Riedia to feel uncomfortable, but she soon realized it was only to point out various designs.
"The ones that are simpler and curvaceous are, as I mentioned, to draw attention to and accentuate the natural lines and shapes of the body." He leered at her, adding, "Obviously, they have achieved their purpose, considering we are having this discussion."
Riedia glared at him, though his unbraided hair was falling front of his eyes enough that she doubted the assassin could appreciate the full force of the look. "I'm not interested in that type of thing," she informed him, pointing vaguely to his torso. "I'm more interested in the other markings."
Zevran sighed and began fixing his hair, as if he'd remembered it was obstructing his view from any nasty expressions Riedia might be forming. "Forgive me; I had forgotten how terribly squeamish you Dalish are about such topics. Or perhaps it is a Fereldan thing. Either way, it is a tragedy."
Riedia raised an eyebrow at him and crossed her arms. "You're not going to tell me, are you?"
"Mm…that depends," Zevran sighed. "Would you be so kind as to explain to me what your beautiful tattoos mean? Perhaps then, enlightened by a tale of beauty, I might feel like sharing."
Riedia let out an ungentlemanly snort. "It's hardly a tale of beauty, Zev," she corrected him. "And they are my vallaslin; no mere tattoos."
"Ah, Zev now, is it? So when I compliment you, we are good friends, yes?"
Riedia blinked. "I thought we are friends."
Zevran raised his arms in mock triumph. "Hurrah! We have cracked the Ice Queen's armor! It will not be long before she finally succumbs to our unparalleled skills of seduction!"
Riedia turned away to hide her blush. Damn thing. It made her wish she really were made of ice. "Those were a lot of big words for a foreigner," she said sarcastically. "Perhaps I should just not share with you my story. After all, there will be a great deal of complicated phrases that might be too much for you."
"Ah, such insults are better used on Alistair, my dear. And cease that enigmatic behavior—we would not wish to be acting like myself, would we?" She turned to roll her eyes at him, and he seized the opportunity to feign agonizing sorrow, pressing his hands to his heart and squeezing his eyes shut. "And you could not be so cruel as to deny a poor orphan boy a rare story about his dead mother's heritage? How cruel you are to the young and innocent!"
"I never liked children much," Riedia said, grinning before she could stop herself. "But for the guilty adults, I might be willing to speak."
"Ah, so it's a naughty tale, then?" Riedia moved to hit him, though of course he deflected the blow.
"No! Now either listen or just tell me about your sodding tattoos!" When Zevran gestured for her to speak, she sighed and launched in.
"My vallaslin honor the goddess Ghilan'nain, who used to be a beautiful woman who adored the goddess Andruil. One day, she discovered a hunter who had killed an animal beloved by Andruil. Furious, she begged Andruil to curse the hunter, so that he could never again kill another creature, and Andruil did as she was asked."
"All over the poor man just wanting a bite to eat?"
Riedia, irritated at the interruption, answered impatiently, "Of course! One does not do something so foolish as to kill a sacred creature!"
"Weren't you asking me the other day if I would teach you how to be an assassin?"
The storyteller thought it best to ignore this and continue, so she did. "The hunter became a disgrace, mocked by all his clan, for he was seen as useless; what good is a hunter if he cannot hunt? So he found Ghilan'nain and manipulated her into coming with him alone. He struck out at her, blinding her and tying her up like so much fresh game, but because he was unable to kill anything due to his curse, he left her to die."
"Sounds like she deserved it," Zevran remarked. Riedia turned on him with a furious glare.
"Must you continue to interrupt? I don't stop you when you're telling a story!"
"Of course you do," Zevran argued, though with a smirk. He pitched his voice high and developed an exaggerated Fereldan accent as he imitated Riedia. "'Zevran, how was the mage meddling in politics?' 'I never knew the Crows were so prevalent in Antivan government.' 'Zevran, what do you think of my hair?'"
"I never asked you what you thought of my hair," Riedia hissed. Of all the things to get upset about, this seemed to be the least, but still…
"Ah, look through your memories more carefully, Riedia. I think you shall distinctly recall such a time when this occurred…perhaps about three days ago?"
It took Riedia a few moments, but when she remembered, she nearly slapped her palm against her forehead in agitation. "We'd just been fighting darkspawn, and I asked you if I still had any intestines caught in my hair!"
"Ah, same thing," Zevran waved his hand dismissively. "You craved my opinion of your looks. Do not be ashamed, Warden; I am used to being treated as such. But go on, about this vengeful elvish goddess of yours," he added before she could argue.
It took her a calming breath or three to get going again, but she managed to continue calmly enough. "Ghilan'nain prayed to the gods, and Andruil took pity on her. She sent many hares to chew through the woman's bonds, but wounded and blinded, Ghilan'nain was hardly improved. So Andruil turned her into a white deer, the first halla, and sent her home to her sisters, who hunted down the man who tortured Ghilan'nain and brought him to justice. And ever since then, the halla have always helped the Dalish people, for they listen to the voice of Ghilan'nain," she finished.
Zevran sat in silence for a moment, before shrugging and commenting, "I do not understand why it is you worship this woman so, but then again, I have never been one for religious tales."
Riedia sighed and had to smile at how little effect the story—one she'd loved even as a child—had no effect on this complete flat-ear. "I respect your opinion, Zev. But as for my own, well, it brought me into adulthood," she gestured to the vallaslin, "and that's what this mark on my head symbolizes."
"For such a simple description, it took a bloody amount of preaching to get there."
The apparent preacher shrugged. "I like lore. I find it interesting." She took a closer, pointed look at some of unidentifiable designs swirled into Zevran's skin. "With that said, it's your turn. You promised."
Zevran flashed his canines. "I did no such thing. I said I might explain."
Riedia glared. "Don't you think you have a large enough amount of secrets to your name already?"
"A man can never have too many." Seeing Riedia's annoyed look, he held his palms face-up in an apology. "The tattoos you are pestering me about, however, are sacred to the Crows. I…may not tell you of their meanings. Explaining that they are Crow propaganda, to put it lightly, is the best I shall be able to do."
"What do you mean?" the even more curious elf inquired. "You are unable due to magic, or simply an oath?"
"I cannot say." Riedia realized with irritation that this could be taken several different ways: that he wouldn't tell her; couldn't tell her either physically or magically; or that he didn't actually know. How frustrating.
"You're a terribly unfair person," she informed him, as if he didn't know already. "And now that we're no longer speaking of tattoos, put on your shirt, Zev. I think Alistair's seen enough of you as his Chantry-raised mind can handle." And while it was certainly awkward to be in such close proximity to shirtless Zevran—a man that she didn't even know that well—it seemed that Alistair, from far away, seemed to be feeling even more awkward. He kept on stealing glances at the two elves, each time his expression more appalled. Whether it was the fact that Riedia was keeping company with a shirtless assassin or simply because Zevran was showing so much skin in this less-than-tropical weather, Riedia didn't know (or care to know).
"Zev for the third time," the elf grinned as he pulled on his under-armor. "Soon I shall be irresistible to you, despite your indifferent mask, Riedia," he announced as his grin grew wider.
"Alistair would be easier to break," Riedia informed him coolly, despite the heat slowly pooling in her cheeks (damn it, for the umpteenth time!). "Go ask him instead, because the Creators know no one else in this camp will."
Zevran barked a laugh at that. "What a cruel temptress you are, woman! Though I may have to try my hand at flustering our templar, as you suggested. I will bet you ten silvers I can have him fleeing my company in ten seconds, and that is with my shirt on."
"No deal. I believe you."
Zevran departed, though to where Riedia wasn't entirely sure; she stayed on the log they had shared.
Each left the other's company feeling slightly frustrated that nothing more than a new nickname seemed to have been gleaned from the conversation. And while such a thing as a friendly moniker can, in hindsight, be the one thing that kick-started a lasting and meaningful relationship of any sort, it's impossible to predict these things in the moment. The hour simply fades into the many that make up a life, and neither party seems to have changed overmuch from the encounter.
Though, Riedia did catch herself a few days later inspecting the vallaslin near her shoulders, wondering if they accentuated any nice parts of her arms, or if she was just being silly.