Title: The Finer Points of Dwarven Cuisine
Author: Jade Sabre
Notes: So, this is my belated entry for the Seven Deadly Sins of Morrigan over at tis_only_i. I have never actually played a dwarf, and all of my knowledge about them comes from the DA wiki; if you've ever contributed to an article there, you have my thanks.
Reviews would be lovely!
Disclaimer: Dragon Age still doesn't belong to me. Also, I've never actually played a dwarven Warden.
Alistair said it was because she hated fun, and Zevran suggested it was because she feared his seductive gaze; Leliana wondered if she was lonely, and Wynne muttered about apostates with no sense for decency; but the real reason Morrigan built her own campfire and rested far from the others was that she could not watch the Warden eat.
Morrigan had spent half her life in the wild. She had brought down many a hare with her own paws and swallowed as its intestines dangled in bloody drips from her teeth. She had learned not to transform immediately following a meal; she had learned that the human form lacks a stomach capable of digesting freshly dead meat and jaws strong enough to break bones. But for all her wild ways, what she learned most was an appreciation for her own form: her eyes were weak and her nose dull and her legs awkward and uncoordinated, yes, but her fingers were dexterous and well-suited for manipulating the finer things in life. She cared little for the rules of human society, but she loved delicacy, and delicate was one thing the Warden was not.
She tried, for the first few weeks, sitting with Alistair's penchant for talking with his mouth full on one side, a mabari on the other, and the Warden across from her, her mouth working furiously to tear apart stringy week-old stewmeat while her hands tore more strips to stuff into her mouth. Morrigan took small bites and chewed slowly while the slobbering and the smacking and the garbled words filled her ears until she thought to turn herself into a spider so that at least she wouldn't have to hear—but that was hardly an option with everyone sitting around her, and so finally she licked her fingers—silently, as opposed to the great satisfaction Alistair took in smacking—and waited for the Warden to pause between bites.
The opportunity came when she ran out of her strip of stewmeat and reached for another—"One would think," she said, "that you had never seen food before."
Brosca looked up, her pigtails swinging as she cocked her head, her mouth smeared with juice and her fingernails black with dirt, and she said, meat still in her cheek, "Not like this, I haven't."
The flatness of her accent, a peculiarity of her people, carried over to her tone. As with most things she said, it shut down any opportunity of furthering the conversation. Alistair cracked a joke—he always did—about darkspawn appetites, and Brosca tossed a bone at his head. Morrigan picked up her staff, and retreated to her tent.
From that night forward, she made her own campfire and cooked her own meals; regardless of how she acquired them, she was determined to consume them in a civilized fashion. Or, perhaps not civilized—if civilization had produced the likes of the Grey Wardens with whom she traveled, the less said about it the better—but at least in a manner that showed that she was not mastered by her meals. The animals whose forms she inhabited existed to serve their appetites; their daily activities centered around finding food, consuming it, hoarding it, and avoiding becoming food themselves. While she needed to eat just as much as they did, she also had the ability to exercise restraint, and self-control; the mere thought of missing a meal would not send her into a frenzy.
Brosca, on the other hand, refused to continue without food in her stomach. She made sure Bodahn's wagon was always laden with food, and she constantly sent Zevran and Dog into the woods to add to their supplies of meat. Wynne taught her how to cure it, and Morrigan would often find strips of jerky outside her tent, though the Warden never attempted to invite her to join the slop line around the communal fire. Morrigan appreciated her respect for her boundaries and reciprocated with the occasional hare. Granted, Brosca usually rewarded Dog for such catches, even though the mabari usually whined in confusion when she did, but Morrigan's sense of debts was satisfied.
Morrigan did not want to enter Orzammar. She had pleaded and cajoled—all in a haughtily scathing tone, of course—but in the end she had been shut underground with miles of stone above her head and only Alistair for normal-sized company. Brosca seemed as ill-at-ease as they, moving among the people of the Commons and the Diamond Quarter with stilted movements quite unlike her usual thief's grace. She hesitated when she should have walked proud, head held high; she lowered her gaze and practically groveled, until someone called her name.
She'd never seen the Warden's face light up the way it did when another red-haired dwarf appeared, standing before them with a smile on her face. "Rica!" the Warden said, uncertain but beaming. "There's meat on your cheeks!"
The other dwarf woman smiled, dimpling, her chin quivering. "Bear the prince a son, and anything's possible," she said. "Oh, sister. I've missed you so."
This seemed to break the ice; she and Brosca embraced (sisters, Morrigan thought, watching them chatter and smile; in her own mind, any meeting with another one of Flemeth's daughters would end in dueling and death), and suddenly amid laughter and familiar chatter they were heading to the Aeducan estate for dinner.
Honored guests, Rica called them, and Morrigan was forced into a chair with a plate piled high with the most unappetizing food she had ever seen. It was all muddy brown, and smelled of mushrooms and dirt and stone, and she could practically feel the rock settling in her stomach at the thought of eating it.
"Oh, Rica," Brosca said, a strange quavering note in her voice; Morrigan looked, and was surprised to see the Warden with tears in her eyes at the sight of this disgusting dinner.
Rica patted her stomach. "Have to keep the mother of the prince's child well-fed, so that the child feeds as well," she said. "And I think the same extends to the child's aunt. Enjoy, friends."
Dog, of course, needed no prompting, although Alistair looked as put-off as she felt and only put the tiniest bite in his mouth, chewing with great difficulty. Considering she'd seen the man happily ingest poisonous leaves without batting an eye, this boded poorly; the fact that Brosca and her sister were devouring the meal as if it might be their last (although Rica did attempt some show of manners, the gleam in her eyes betrayed her appetite) did nothing to settle her stomach. Morrigan sighed and picked up her knife, and cautiously speared the nearest meat-looking chunk.
"What…is this?" Alistair asked, trying to sound polite.
"Seared nug with mushroom sauce," Rica said, as if it were obvious.
"It's a traditional delicacy," Brosca chimed in; the women's voices were disturbingly similar, in inflection as well as pitch. The differences were subtle, and their accent made it all the more difficult to hear how Rica put the slightest tinge of…culture on her words, while Brosca kept to the clipped necessities that had kept her alive. "This is a feast for kings."
"How appropriate," Morrigan said dryly, and Alistair glared at her. She ignored him and steeled herself to put the meat-looking chunk (this was…nug? The creatures looked like pigs and rats, and anything that small could hardly make for a good meal) in her mouth.
"Coward," Alistair muttered, as Rica and Brosca chatted and he chewed on his dinner.
She glared at him and he ignored her, and she returned her gaze to her meal and took a bite—
and the world exploded in flavor.
She had dined in an arl's castle and feasted under a clear winter sky, and never had she tasted something so delectable. The subtle variances in seasoning flared in different parts of her mouth, now spicy now sweet, and the meat practically melted on her tongue, rich and fatty and perfectly cooked. She couldn't believe that plants that had never seen light or meat that had never breathed fresh air could be so…delicious, but as she took another bite, and another, she had to admit that she was enjoying the best meal she'd ever encountered.
"Morrigan," Brosca said, interrupting her from her thoughts and, more importantly, her enjoyment. She opened her eyes—when had they closed? But then sight was an unnecessary distraction from the symphony occurring in her mouth—and saw that the rest of the table was staring at her; she blinked, and realized that mushroom sauce was dribbling down her cheek and she'd abandoned her knife—spearing the meat took too much time—and that she was, quite simply put, a mess.
"Yes?" she said, with as much dignity as she could muster.
There was a queer sort of amusement around Brosca's eyes. "Do you…like it?"
Out of the corner of her eye she could see Alistair giving her a look, as if all of his wildest theories about her insanity had been confirmed; she met the Warden's gaze and said, "Yes."
Brosca shoved her plate across the table. "Then have mine."
Rica gasped; Morrigan looked at the plate, still piled high with steam curling above the meat and the sauce, and her mouth watered. "Go ahead," Brosca said. "There's more where that came from."
The air was tense, with Alistair's disgust and Brosca's strangely forceful generosity and Rica's surprise; only Dog seemed oblivious, content to continue wolfing down the food in front of him, and to her shame and delight, Morrigan decided to follow his example. "Thank you," she said, the words tasting strange on her tongue, and went back to eating. She shut out everything—Alistair, Dog, the sisters and their whispers, thoughts of the Grimoire or the miles and miles of stone above their heard—closed her eyes again, and savored every bite.
Later, as she prepared for bed (and there was a discomforting similarity between dwarven rooms and human ones: both involved stone walls, and both felt like cages), her stomach pressing uncomfortably against the waistline of her skirt, there was a knock on her door, and she looked up to see the Warden's sister watching her intently. "Yes?" she said, leaning against the bedpost, her arms crossed.
"You ate my sister's food," she said, as if this mattered.
"Yes," she said. "You provided a delicious meal. It was appreciated." She couldn't quite be grateful towards a stranger, but she attempted to go through the motions. The Warden's companions were starting to rub off on her. She blamed the stone, trapping her in this place.
Rica shook her head. "You ate my sister's food," she said. "I've never seen her—she was always better than I was, at scrounging, and begging, and stealing—my good looks only meant one thing in Dust Town, but my sister has talents."
"They serve her well," Morrigan said neutrally, thinking on what little she knew of Dust Town—the alienage of Orzammar, from the snatches of conversation she'd heard in the Commons—and suddenly, a great many things came into focus.
"She never shared," Rica said, crossing her arms and staring up at Morrigan until the witch began to have the uncomfortable sensation of being the shorter of the two. "She never shared, unless it was with family. Unless it was with me."
"If you are afraid that I have supplanted you in your sister's affections—" Morrigan was hardly aware of the words she was saying, stringing them together without any understanding of their meaning, her stomach rumbling in comprehension.
"No." Rica shook her head, and in that moment her voice was exactly like her sister's: flat and final. "No, never. But I wonder if you understand her gift, surfacer. I thought you ought to know."
Morrigan blinked. "I do not," she said. "There was a bounty of food, and she gave some to me." And clearly that wasn't all, but she resisted—the Warden already had a sister, and she did not need the Warden to care for her as she had so obviously cared for her weaker sibling. She needed no one's care.
Rica held her gaze a moment, and finally said, "Keep her safe, salroka."
"I intend to," Morrigan said, and Rica nodded, as if satisfied, and departed from the room.
Morrigan sat on the bed, the taste of nug-meat and mushrooms lingering in her mouth, her stomach full, her mind contemplating the warmth of gratitude she felt towards the dwarf woman who had offered her more, who had treated her not with battle but with sisterly kindness; the next moment, she curled into the bed and closed her eyes, and dreamed of the chase.