W/N - I fell off of the reading and writing bandwagon due to work, but I had a few plot bunnies bouncing around. I recently finished DA:O and wanted to do a few pieces about parts that stuck out for me. I want to take a look at Qunari culture and I drew a bit from the Ottomans and from samurai culture. I didn't really like Sten my first playthrough, but he grew on me. I think I'll do one on the Warden/Arl Howe and Warden/Loghain duels. I'd like to put some of my swordfighting experience on paper and see how that works.

This piece picks up at sunrise after the undead attack Redcliffe Village and the Warden has returned Sten's missing sword.

Happy Holidays.

Tea, Incense and the Sea

The sun rises over a village that has been under siege while pillars of dark smoke stand like specters, judging the living and dead alike. Rays of sunlight strike my eyes and I raise a hand to shield them. The village square is choked with the bodies of risen corpses and a few of the militiamen. I can still feel the gore drying on my hands and face. The taste of blood still lingers on my tongue like victory.

Though I have trained for many years with armor and blade, my body is exhausted from the night's battle to defend this spot of dirt the humans call Redcliffe. The urge to sit and remove some of this heavy armor takes hold, but such a display would show weakness in front of the bas…the humans. I had always been comfortably smug in the superiority of Qunari prowess until last night. Stifling a yawn, I sought refuge in the words of the Qun as to why my beliefs were being challenged.

Loud words from across the town square catch my attention. It is she, the Warden, still bellowing orders and still as fresh as the day is long. Tired men jump at her commands to bolster the defenses and to clear the bodies for disposal. I look more closely at the ragged militia, who, by all accounts, should have been slaughtered last night. They stand and wear their armor with a certain…pride, something I have not often seen in human forces. When the Warden passes, there is a fire in their eyes that symbolizes their victory…our victory.

The Warden makes the rounds through the ranks and inspects the defenses – stakes properly placed and pits properly dug. Human children scurry about, bringing more arrows and boiling oil. The young boy, Bevin, whom we brought back to the Chantry yesterday, leads the other children in resupplying the troops. The Warden returns the boy's family sword that was borrowed for the battle and I realize that the boy will become a warrior one day. Was I incorrect in my earlier disapproval to save him? The last two months have been confusing.

The Warden approaches me and puts her hands on her hips, the metal edges in her gauntlets scraping against the armored faulds surrounding her body. There has been something different about her since we returned from the frozen graveyard at Ostagar. Tilting her head upward, she looks me right in the eye and nods. "Sten." Her face is without expression, without the compassion that she just showed to the boy and the militia. I am not offended. If anything, I am pleased.

"What is your wish, Kadan?" The words just came from me naturally, like they are meant to come from my lips, but I know in my heart that they are strange. Such a word should never be used to address one of the bas, a foreigner – it borders on blasphemy against the Qun.

She looks at me strangely now, a more familiar half-smile on her lips. Despite her much smaller stature, she stands confidently before me, her gray eyes lit with a fire I have only seen a few times in my life. A month ago, she had all of the inner strength of a lost kitten, but something has changed. "Kadan, what does that mean?"

I often have to remind myself that these Fereldens have little experience with outsiders, especially one of the Qun. Still, the Warden's curiosity of other cultures impresses me. "Literally, it is the place in the chest where the heart lies, but it means something of value…a…leader." I say this with stoic matter-of-factness, but there is a crack in my voice. It cannot be explained.

She looks away for a moment and then brushes her black hair from her face. Compared to the Qunari, she is very pale, almost unhealthy in appearance. She blinks and then bites her lower lip. "I know very little of your people and culture, Sten, but I will take it as a sign of respect."

I hope that this will not become another one of the Warden's talking sessions as the Qun teaches that economy of words makes for an enlightened life, but I find myself drawn to speaking with her. As chaotic and confusing as human culture is, her dedication to duty and honor intrigues me. "You were true to your word. The Asala is once again mine." It is still amazing how she found one sword within all of Ferelden, while a Blight devoured the land, and returned it to me. How the Asala was lost is a shame that I will endure for the rest of my existence.

"It was my job to help you."

Doubt runs across my face. "I thought your job was to defeat the Darkspawn."

"Helping you allows me to do that."

This Warden, she would do well learning the Qun. Her mind is ordered and precise, her strategy methodical and thorough. Perhaps, one day, it may be so. "And true to my word, I will help you stop the Blight."

She narrows her eyes as if weighing my words. "You fought well last night, Sten. Tell me of the Asala." She says this as a command, not a request.

My initial inclination is to refuse. We are not a people who engage in idle chatter or useless gossip, something that I've observed consumes human populations. However, I sense that the Warden's curiosity is not frivolous. "The blade was taken from one of our invasions of the Tevinter Imperium and then reforged for my hand alone. For my people, it is our tools and our role that defines us. For me, it is the Asala." From that moment, something beyond my understanding compelled me. I gestured for the Warden to sit on a rock besides me and I knelt down. She sat, removing her gauntlets as I slung the scabbard of the Asala from my back and lay it on my knee. As the Arishok had taught me, I grasped the handle with my right hand and slowly drew the weapon out, careful not to let the cutting edges drag along the inside of the scabbard. For the Qunari, there is function in form. When the tip of the massive sword had cleared the mouth of the scabbard, I handed the wooden sheath to the Warden and then examined the blue steel of the blade.

I began to recognize the pattern in the metal that was created from the folding of the steel in the forging – it looked like the ripples of water on the sea during a windy day. The surface of the steel was misty too, like the spray of whitecaps near the beach. Lastly, the cutting edge itself needed to be inspected. Though nicked and scratched from dozens of battles, the steel still looks like a field of stars at night watching over waves, crashing at sea. It is satisfactory. I hold out the handle to the Warden and nod. Her eyes open wide, but she takes the grip of leather, bound with wire.

I caught her observing the precision in which the weapon is handled and she tries to emulate it now…a little clumsy, like a child, but at least she is trying. In Seheron, she would not even have the opportunity to handle such a blade. A woman's role was to handle other matters. It was all preordained by the Qun. But here, in Ferelden, a land of chaos, anything is possible. With a practiced grasp, the Warden closes one eye and looks down the blade while holding the naked steel in a cloth covered hand – she knows enough not to touch the metal with bare skin. I nod my approval.

As she hands the weapon back to me, I look on the blade longingly, seeing the oceans surrounding Seheron in the misty steel. Perhaps the Warden sees something in my expression.

"Do you miss home?" she asks plainly.

The question evokes a universe of memories. I suddenly imagine myself overlooking a cliff at a brilliant red sunset, waves crashing down upon the rocks below. A fine mist of seawater coats my face and the taste of salt is on my lips. My nostrils flare at the wafting scent of Sandalwood…or is it Patchouli? It is the familiar, comforting aroma of meditation incense that focuses the mind. I turn away from the roar of the sea to face the hallway to the meditation chambers where oil lamps disperse the fragrance into the air as sheets of white linen billow like sails along the halls. This was my last night in Seheron before I was to depart for Ferelden. The waking dream is vivid as I walk down the hall, the sound of snapping linens in the breeze sharp in my ears. Entering a chamber, I sit cross-legged and deeply inhale the vapors that are thick in the room. It has the calming effect that is needed at the time.

From across the chamber, she glides in, her feet lightly brushing the wooden floor. Her skin is bronze, except for red tattoos around her eyes and her gray-colored horns. White linen flows around her body, driven by the ocean breeze. Without a word, she sits in front of me and places a tray between us. She opens the lid of a jade green pot that is full of boiling water and then fills a cheesecloth bag with dried leaves the color of blood. She dips the bag into the water and a crisp, vibrant aroma seeps into the air, intermingling with the musky scent of incense.

I listen to the sound of tea being poured into two cups and she hands me one. I take it in my left palm, letting the heat flow into my skin. In the Qun, we believe that the points in the body all share a connectedness and the heat spreads up my arm to my chest. With the cup just under my nose, my nostrils flare to breathe in the spicy scent of the red tea. My eyes go to her's and she cocks her head, giving me a half smile that borders on heresy. The rest of the memory is for me and for me alone.

A long exhale escapes my mouth and my eyes focus back on the Warden sitting beside me. She has that same mysterious smile. Pursing my lips, I nod. "I miss the smells of Seheron, tea, incense and the sea."