This story features two of my Warden's Vigil characters, Leliana and Andy. They happened to be in the same place at the same time, so I wondered what they might think of one another. Rather than do a schizophrenic thread with myself, I wrote this little one-shot where they meet and exchange stories.
Andy has a lot on his mind. He's lived in the small bannorn of Edgewater all his life and this is his first trip to Denerim. He's faced bandits and assassins, seen death up close, and for the first time has taken a life with his own blade. He received an injury grave enough to require the services of a mage. He has felt the burn of whiskey and discovered what being drunk feels like. All of this would be a lot for any man to deal with, but for my young and thoughtful squire, it's a lot more than he is able to cope with at the moment, and so he needed someone to talk to. Fortunately for him, Leliana happened to be available.
Leliana has her own troubles, but I think she found talking with the young warrior comforting in a way. No burden is insignificant, not to the one carrying it. She felt she was able to help someone else for a while.
A Thoughtful Young Man
Andy found himself alone, finally. The Bann had left for an evening with the Teyrn and as they were in the Royal Palace, he had not been required to attend, either as escort or guard. Though used to the constant company of his fellow squire and the other knights during training, there had always been the odd idle hour at the keep in Edgewater, either time set aside for him to use the library or time he could do with as he wished. There had been precious little unscheduled time since their arrival in Denerim and Andy felt the need for it.
At first the silence of the suite weighed upon his shoulders and he wandered about restlessly, not tired enough to nap, but not energized enough to take exercise. His mind was too full of thought to properly attend a blade anyway. Much had happened over the past ten days, almost more than he could comfortably fit in his mind. Certainly more than he'd experienced in the previous nineteen years. Andy felt both young and old at the same time, and truth be told, a little lost.
He missed his family intensely, particularly his brother Pat. He could always talk to Pat and his older brother would always listen, usually quietly, knowing little response other than the soft nodding of his head was required. That was the way of the Banvard men, they were good listeners. Andy wanted to talk with Pat now and he wondered where exactly he would start. With the bandits on the road and the moment time had stood still as he watched a man's head fly from his shoulders and turn end over end through the air? Or perhaps the decisive execution of the remaining two bandits, or his unmanly reaction to his first real sight of blood.
The memory shifted Andy's gut slightly and he glanced up from the floor and around the room, his eyes eventually falling upon the desk. Perhaps he would try writing a letter to Pat. Taking a seat, he put his hands on the desk and studied them. If he concentrated he could still see the blood that had stained them ten days ago, five days ago, and even two days ago, the faint trace of it that had seeped through his gauntlets after he had thrust his dagger into the assassin. His stomach turned over again as he recognised another cause of his restlessness. He had killed a man.
Of all that had happened in the past ten days, the bandits, the assassination attempts, being healed by a mage – twice, getting drunk, all of it paled in comparison to the knowledge he had taken a life. He had acted without thought at the time, merely in response to a perceived threat and he knew even now that had he not killed that assassin, likely he or the Bann would have been one of the bodies carted from the alleyway later that evening. But these thoughts did not make it any easier and neither did the prayers he had whispered into his pillow that night.
Recognizing that he had started to brood, Andy pushed back from the desk and strode to the door of the suite. He would take a walk and clear his head. The Bann would not appreciate his mood or his quiet attitude. Andy was also aware that the dead assassin would probably be the first of many. As a knight he would likely have to kill again and so he needed to find a way to deal with it before he became overwhelmed.
Andy walked toward the library, thinking to lose himself in a book for a while, divert his thoughts. A door stood open a short distance away and he could hear music coming from the room, a harp. He did not recognise the tune, but it touched him in a way he couldn't describe. The melody struck him as both sad and wistful, but with an undercurrent of hope. He leaned back against the wall beside the open door and listened for a while. Though he needed to pass the open doorway in order to reach the library, he found himself reluctant to do so. The music was soothing in an odd way; it spoke to the confusion inside of him.
The music paused and a lilting voice carried softly through the doorway, the accent unfamiliar. "You do not have to listen from the hallway."
Andy looked up and down the hallway before standing as still as possible and holding his breath. He flushed, feeling as if he'd been caught spying on a private moment and he took a step sideways, meaning to head back to his room.
A head poked through the doorway and he gasped. He'd not even heard anyone move! Andy stood transfixed as he studied the woman that stepped from the room. She reminded him somewhat of Blythe, and not only because they shared red hair. The light in her eyes, the curiosity and humour, was the same. This was a woman though, of indeterminable age, but she had a mature air about her, she had seen things and traveled places, experience wrapped her like an invisible cloak. And she was beautiful. Andy dropped his eyes, aware he'd been staring, and mumbled an apology.
"My apologies for disturbing you, my lady." He took another step backwards and prepared to leave.
Leliana smiled as the young man dropped his gaze. She hadn't minded him staring, it happened a lot. She got the feeling he had seen more than her pretty face, however, and she'd taken the same opportunity to observe him. He was young; she could see that right away, not just from his youthful features, but from his eyes. But a shadow lurked in the depths of that intense blue gaze, one of recent design. She wondered about him, who he was and why he wandered the palace of an evening.
"You did not disturb me," she said to the retreating figure. "A minstrel likes to play for an audience."
He looked up, his eyes wide and his demeanor a little on the shy side. "You are a minstrel?" he said and Leliana smiled at his soft spoken manner.
"I am. Would you like me to play something for you?"
Leliana nearly giggled at his expression, he looked as if she'd offered him a gift, a precious gift. This boy, this young man, clearly had not met many minstrels. I do not think he is from Denerim. What was he doing in the palace? He had look of neither a thief nor an assassin. A little colour stained his cheeks and he glanced at the floor, chewing on his lower lip. It had the look of a long worn habit, much like her finger tangling. He was out of his element here, that much was obvious.
He glanced up and answered quietly, "What were you playing before?"
Leliana smiled gently and held out a hand. "Come, let me introduce myself and I will play it again for you. I am Leliana and I played an old folk song from Orlais. Did you like it?"
The young man took her hand and bowed over it slightly. "I am pleased to meet you, Leliana. I'm Andrew." He dropped her hand and a wistful smile spread across his face, transforming his features entirely, and though he still appeared shy, he became more animated as he spoke about the music. "And yes, I did like it, though it felt somewhat sad, wistful even. But I could hear hope too, I think. Are there words to the song?"
Leliana clapped her hands together in delight. He had heard so much and from only a short piece of the song! She beckoned him to follow and stepped back into the small sitting room. Picking up her harp she reclined in one of the chairs and indicated he should sit where ever he liked.
Andrew stalked into the room a touch nervously, glanced around and then chose the chair opposite her, not the one next to her. Leliana chuckled inwardly at his mannerisms and his choice. She guessed she was several years older than he was, but honestly, she didn't ever remember being this young.
"Do you like music, Andrew?"
"I do. May I ask you a question?"
She nodded encouragingly. "Of course."
"Your accent, are you from Orlais?"
"I am, though I have spent much time in Ferelden. And you? Is your home here in Denerim?"
The shadow entered his eyes and he shook his head softly. "No. We traveled here from the Bannorn of Edgewater, my lord and I. Ah, Edgewater is on the shore of Lake Calenhad, near the Circle Tower?"
His lord? He didn't look or act like a servant. Though he seemed a touch shy, she could see he carried himself like a warrior and someone had taken the time to educate him. A knight perhaps. Tilting her head, Leliana nodded slightly. "I have been to the Circle Tower. Is your lord the Bann of Edgewater?"
Andrew nodded. "Yes, Bann Malone Kincade. I am his squire, soon to be a knight." He looked proud and Leliana did not begrudge him this, she imagined he had probably trained nearly his whole life to achieve his goal. She had not met many knights this interested in music; they usually liked to talk about their weapons, their quests, their tournaments.
Pulling her harp into position she strummed a couple of notes and looked up to see him smiling. "I will play my song for you, and then, I will tell you a story about the Circle Tower if you like."
His brows rose and his eyes widened. "I would not take too much of your time…"
She waved her hand at him before resuming her strumming. "Nonsense, a minstrel lives to entertain, Andrew."
Andy was enraptured by Leliana. She was beautiful, yes, but it was her personality that caught him. He didn't think he'd ever met someone so exuberant and restful at the same time. Her presence both excited and acted like a balm.
She played the tune again only this time, she sang. Leliana held his gaze as she sang and Andy felt both entranced and shy at the same time, he wanted to look away but he couldn't. Soon the music crept inside him and he felt himself relaxing as emotions were touched off, one by one. The sadness, the hope, the longing and finally something he'd not heard before, an undercurrent, something he didn't have a word for. Something like… strength? He did not understand the words; he guessed she sang in Orlesian. Perhaps she would translate the song for him and he might understand that last feeling.
Andy hadn't had the opportunity to listen to much music, he realised. Not lately, anyway. His family enjoyed it and would play together of an evening, his sisters singing, Pat on a fine pipe he'd whittled himself, his mother on an old harp and his father tapping the table top like a drum. Andy sometimes sang with his sisters, sometimes danced with his sisters and sometimes accompanied his father in percussion. He had no talent for the pipe or the harp himself, or he assumed he didn't, he'd never tried.
As the last notes died away, Andy let the silence stretch for a moment in appreciation of the melody before asking his question. "What is the song about?"
Leliana grinned and nodded encouragingly before answering. "It is about a young soldier who goes away to war and leaves his love and his family behind. When he returns, he is a changed man and he has to learn who he is again, as does his family."
Andy blinked at her and fell back against his chair. "Wow, really?"
Leliana chuckled at him. "Yes!"
Andy could not get over how closely the song paralleled his situation - perhaps that was why the music had spoken to him so strongly. Except for the love part, he didn't have a love, he had a… 'special lass'. He chewed lightly on his lip as he thought about Blythe. So much had happened in the past few days he'd barely spared her a thought, but now, when confronted with a woman that reminded him somewhat of her, a song that made him think of her, she filled his mind.
He would be a changed man when he returned. She would have changed too, he realised. A lot could happen in a month. And of course, what they had done would change things between them. Glancing up he noticed the minstrel studying him and he tried not to blush beneath her scrutiny.
She tilted her head slightly. "You are a very thoughtful young man."
He felt the colour rising in his cheeks despite his best efforts. "Unfortunately, yes. It is not a trait my lord appreciates, I think."
"A little thought is never a bad thing, so long as you don't stop to contemplate the colour choice of your opponent's armour in the middle of a battle."
Andy blinked at her a moment, and then he caught the mischievous twinkle in her eye and he laughed. Her musical laughter joined his and he enjoyed the sound as much as he had the song. With the laughter, some of his melancholy ebbed away and he felt himself relax further into the chair. Suddenly he was glad he had met this minstrel. Perhaps listening to her songs and stories would be enough to distract him from this thoughts for a while, he already felt better.
"Thank you for the song," he said politely and she smiled.
"It was my pleasure, Andrew." She cocked her head slightly and continued, "I promised you a story too, but perhaps you'd like to share one first?"
The young man's eyes widened and he stammered, "Um, I read a book about an Antivan Crow before I came away, I could tell you about that?"
Leliana laughed delightedly, "The Tales of Dorjan Rapp is still making the rounds I see."
Andrew gaped at her. "You know it?"
"Oh, yes, that book is older than I am. Older than your Bann too, I would guess."
That lower lip of his got sucked in again as his brows dipped in thought and Leliana chuckled to herself. She found him so endearing. It was refreshing to be in the company of such an uncomplicated person, though she sensed he didn't think his own life less than complex at the moment - but they would get to that.
His next suggestion made her giggle. "Well the only other stories I can remember off hand are about politics and history," he made a dismissive gesture, "From my lessons."
She was actually quite touched that he had responded to her request, she guessed he'd not had anyone to talk to in a while and she was happy to fill that role, listen if he wanted to ramble on about nothing even. She could see he missed his home and perhaps his family, his companions. He is lonely. This she understood.
Putting her harp aside, Leliana leaned forward, putting her elbows on her thighs, cupping her chin with her hands. "Why don't you tell me about your journey to Denerim? Did anything exciting happen?"
His reaction was immediate and Leliana instantly sat back, concern creasing her brow as she watched him close down completely, the shadow darken his eyes, his shoulders draw together and his lighthearted manner evaporate.
If she'd been sitting closer to him she might have reached out, but that would be awkward from across the small space that lay between them, instead she glanced down at her hands and gave him a minute to collect himself, wondering if he would leave or talk. She hoped he'd talk, she could see he needed to talk. Softly, gently, she said, "Every journey changes us, Andrew. You do not have to go to war to obtain a different world view; sometimes you can just cross the street."
Andrew nodded and he blew out a breath, went to chew on his lip and changed his mind, opening his mouth to speak instead. "My family will want to hear all about my journey to the big city. I have two sisters," he glanced up with a soft smile, "they need to know everything."
Leliana met his smile and waited for him to continue.
"But I don't think I can tell them about the bandits and how I let Bann Malone get wounded, or…" he paused and paled, "how I vomited at the sight of all the blood and the dead bandits. The head spinning away and not being able to burn the bodies, send them to the Maker's side. Pat would understand, he's a good listener, our Pat, that's my brother. It's not a very exciting story, Leliana. I suppose it's all rather pitiful, in retrospect."
He caught her eye, his face a mask of complete seriousness. "For nineteen years I did nothing but study and train and read stories about bandits and blood and assassins, and ten days later I have seen nearly all of it firsthand. I'm pretty sure I prefer reading about it all at this point."
Nineteen! He is so young. What could she say to make him feel better?
Andrew continued and Leliana listened. "I killed a man two days ago," he nearly whispered, "and I nearly got killed. I might have died."
Ah, he had faced his own mortality for the first time, and he had taken a life. For both events to happen in such quick succession was unfortunate, the timing more suited to war than a simple journey to the city. Leliana's heart went out to Andrew; she now understood why he looked so lost. And of course, as an introspective young man, events like these would affect him more deeply.
He stood up suddenly, his manner embarrassed. "I, ah, I think I should go. Um, I'm sorry I didn't tell you a story."
He was upset and about to flee and Leliana felt the weight of guilt fall upon her. She should have told him a story first, she had misjudged the shadow in his eyes, had taken him to be an ingénue in the city for the first time rather than someone who might be questioning the path his life had taken.
Standing up, Leliana crossed the distance between them and caught his arm as he prepared to round the couch and make for the door. She dropped her hand immediately, not wanting to overstep, but her action had been enough to halt his progress.
"Do not go. You did tell me a story and it was one you needed to tell. Let me tell you about the first time I killed a man," she offered. The young man gaped at her and looked frightened. Here we go again. When had she lost her tact? "Thedas is not a peaceful place, Andrew. Even a minstrel can be caught up by a war, sometimes not of her own choosing."
Leliana told him a completely fictitious tale, based in part on her first assassination, based in part on a skirmish she had fought in, the story sprinkled with enough truth to make it real. The important part was the emotions she felt and she described them completely and in great detail. The trepidation she'd felt upon taking another life, the horror of the blood on her hands, the way she had washed and washed and washed, and how the stain had seemed to creep into her pores, the fine lines of her skin and had only faded with time. She told him how she had lost her dinner afterwards and had not been able to eat for two days until her captain, my mentor, had threatened her with bodily harm if she did not pull herself together.
When she finished, she saw he was gazing at his hands and she knew he saw the blood still.
"Will you sit back down?"
Andy looked from his hands to the minstrel's face and he nodded, dropping onto the couch beside him rather than stepping back to the chair he'd recently vacated. Leliana sat on the couch too, a short distance away and he watched her settle herself.
Her story had been amazing. The way she captured the emotion of the moment had echoed his thoughts almost exactly. Her words had not been comforting, not in the slightest, in fact her story had been horrific. But the fact that she had a similar experience to share seemed to somehow lighten his burden. He found his lower lip with his teeth and he studied her a moment. He'd read enough stories to know that minstrels in Orlais were often bards and he wondered if that was what she was. But, being the polite young man that he was, he didn't ask.
Instead he asked, "Do you think it's like that for everyone?" What he meant was, am I different, wrong, weak?
Leliana nodded immediately, no hesitation. "Of course it is, Andrew. I imagine there are very few men or women who would not be affected by such a thing. Perhaps not to the same degree, but you and I, we are more thoughtful, are we not? And so we need to dwell upon these things a little longer, sort them into the proper place."
For the time being, his thoughtfulness, his habit of dwelling for too long within his own mind, did not seem such a fault. Not if it meant he could be as wise as this woman appeared to be, one day.
"Tell me how you might have died," she said.
Andy touched his forehead, the invisible scar. "An assassin pushed me into a wall." When he met Leliana's eyes, he suddenly felt like chuckling and a smile tugged at his lips. "That sounds kind of stupid, doesn't it?"
The corners of her mouth quirked upwards and he saw that teasing spark in her eyes as she replied, "Walls can be… hard."
He grinned and nodded, his smile fading a little as he elaborated. "He cracked my skull and I dropped like a stone, I don't remember a lot until the mage healed me." He remembered the healing though, the touch of invisible fingers inside his head, the sensation of bone knitting together. He also remembered how his lord had taken yet another wound while in his company and his shoulders drooped. "And Bann Malone was wounded again. I do not think…" Sighing, Andy dropped his head into his hands and rubbed at his forehead. "I do not think I will make a very good knight."
He felt the bottom drop out of his stomach as the admission passed his lips and it was as if he'd become un-tethered. On and off throughout the past ten days he had entertained doubts about his future, but this was the first time he'd voiced it. Fear curled inside him as he contemplated a life other that what he'd trained for.
"Do you want to be a knight?"
"Yes, no, I don't know." He glanced up at her and noticed her face held a proper interest. "You're very easy to talk to, Leliana. Thank you for listening to me."
A genuine and wide smile lit her features. "The Maker says we should share our burdens."
Andy considered this. "I always figured that meant a physical load, but I think your way makes sense too."
Leliana nodded, her smile more subdued, but no less radiant. "If you chose not to be a knight, what else would you do?"
The way she phrased herself, as if it would be his choice, reminded him of the conversation he'd had with Bann Malone along the road. His lord had sat him down and asked him to make this very choice. He'd seen it as a chance then, a reprieve; he'd not really seen it as a choice. Now Andy realised that the choice was indeed his. The world yawned wide open before him and he stared at it a moment, overwhelmed by the possibilities. And the first one, the obvious choice, the thing that he had trained so hard for, the position he really wanted, swept up before his mind's eye: himself as a knight, proudly displaying the colours of his Bannorn, serving his lord and the people of Edgewater. It wasn't that he'd never dreamed of anything else, Andy had pondered what it might be like to sail across the wide open sea, or to scale a castle wall with a dagger clenched between his teeth. He'd even dreamed of what it might be like to be a king or a hero, a dragon slayer or even a templar from the Tower.
But before this trip he'd always been certain of his future and he'd always looked forward to it. Being a knight, to his mind, was a noble calling, a proud position. Knights were the bravest sort of soldier. He would be sent on quests that might take him across the ocean or up a castle wall, he may even see a dragon one day, he could do all of it and still be what he wanted to be.
Andy realised he'd become lost in his thoughts, that he'd cast himself adrift from Thedas and he returned with an almost audible snap. Leliana still sat across the couch from him and her face bore a mask of infinite patience. He caught her eyes and he saw that she did like to dwell in her thoughts too; she hadn't said it only to make him feel comfortable.
"I want to be a knight." He looked at his hands and thought perhaps the stain had started to fade. "It's what I've always wanted to be."
A slender hand reached across and caught his fingers. She held his hand neither loosely or tightly, just comfortably and she smiled at him, a warm and sunny smile.
"You will be a wonderful knight, Andrew."
Leliana watched from the doorway as the young man returned to his room. She had told him to visit her again, whenever he liked and she had the feeling he would, and this made her happy. It felt good to have had a positive impact on someone, to have helped them sort through their troubles and to soothe a lost soul. In a way, he had performed the same service for her, though he would never know it.
Her troubles encompassed something of such a vast scale, few would understand. But she didn't feel the need to share them. Instead it had been restful to step outside of herself for a while and simply be a minstrel, a friend, a listening ear.
Though he didn't realise it, Andrew had given her a gift as well, his own story. She would have a face to picture now when she sang that song, the quiet and gentle face of a thoughtful young knight from Edgewater.