The Names We're Given
Chapter 12: In Uthenera
by Dreamer In Silico
She awoke to the gentle creak of wood and an awareness of motion.
Warm sunlight and a fragrant breeze streamed in through an open window, and for a moment she simply reveled in the gentle simplicity of its touch. Then the breeze lulled, and she caught a whiff of something else – someone else – a mixture of spilled ink and chamomile and peppermint that she would know anywhere. Mei smiled and propped herself up on an elbow.
The sight of Giselle in the chair nearby sent a strange, wrenching shock through her core that she could not place – they were together, and the human woman was smiling, so all must be well… though she could not recall how she had come here. They were in an aravel, she was sure of it, but before the Dalish had not allowed them to do more than camp on the outskirts of the temporary village…
"Giselle?" she asked softly.
Eyes the red-brown color of tea turned to her and crinkled gently at the corners. "Oh good, you're awake. You slept such a long time after the healers were finished with you, I'd started to worry, but they said just to let you rest. How do you feel?" Giselle reached over with ink-stained fingers (had she been writing? There weren't any books in sight…) to stroke her cheek. Mei leaned into the touch with a sigh.
"Tired… so tired. But… good. It's… good – " (unbelievable) "– to have you here with me," she murmured. "How did I get here? What of…" What had she been doing? It hadn't been pleasant; she was certain. Darkspawn. "… the Blight?"
"It's over, love," Giselle said soothingly. "You were injured in the last battle – took a nasty blow to the head – and Marethari heard and sent hunters to fetch you."
"But… I thought…" Mei blinked, confused. There was something she could not quite remember, something about the Blight. Surely it was important? What if she had forgotten to do something?
"You're a hero, and the Archdemon is gone. They didn't need you anymore, so they released you in gratitude for your service. And now… you're home." An escaped coppery curl tickled against Mei's cheek as Giselle leaned over and kissed her, ever so gently. Mei leaned up, pressing into the kiss, suddenly desperate. She had thought she would never – but why? Giselle was right here. They were alright.
They were alright.
When the kiss broke, she caught her lover's cheek and whispered against her lips, "I missed you so much. Don't ever leave me again…" But didn't I leave her? She said… Mei brushed the thought away. It didn't matter.
"Never, my darling," Giselle reassured her. "I'm here. You're safe, and you're with me, and you never have to leave."
Good. That was good. She didn't want to leave.
"Go back to sleep… I'll stay with you."
That sounded wonderful. She was still very tired, and felt a faint ache behind her eyes that must be the remnants of the injury Giselle had spoken of. "Alright…" Mei agreed. "I love you."
That brilliant smile again… she'd never get enough. "Et je t'aime."
The softly-spoken phrase in Orlesian reminded her of something, and she fought to stay awake enough to put it to words. "Oh, I meant to tell you… found someone from Orlais who could help us with the pronunciation. She's a bard and I think you'd like her…"
"Go to sleep, love," came the gentle admonition.
"Her name is…." But Mei couldn't remember just then, and sleep sounded like such a good idea.
When she woke again, it was the deep sort of purple twilight only to be found in Brecilian summers, and the aravel had stopped. The scent of woodsmoke through the still-open window told her that the evening fires had been lit, and dinner was likely soon to follow. Giselle was not in evidence, but there was a soft buckskin tunic with leggings laid out on the chair she had been sitting in earlier, and Mei dressed hurriedly, trying not to wonder at the number of fresh scars on her body as she did so. Thinking about where they had come from made the dull pulse of the lingering headache stronger, and it couldn't be that important, anyway. Giselle had said she'd been injured; well and so. At least she was in one piece.
Climbing unsteadily down the ladder from the aravel felt like surfacing from a deep pool – suddenly there was not only the light and scent of fire, but the sound of lyrically-accented Dalish voices preparing for the evening, the rustle of leaves in the warm evening wind, and the soft, half-mournful notes of someone's pipe. She had not been aware of any of these things while within the aravel – surely the bustle had been there, but the aravel had seemed a world unto itself when she had first awoken – and she was glad for the signs of life.
The tallest of the figures swept away from the others and resolved into the familiar form of Giselle, who smiled and took Mei's hand as she reached the ground. "Good timing; the hunters just finished dressing the day's catch. Are you hungry?"
"Yes," Mei said automatically. She certainly should be, anyway, having slept for so long. When she stopped to think about it, she wasn't really…
"Come, then." Giselle tugged her toward the flickering lights. "There will be venison, soon."
The clansmen turned as the women approached the fires, smiling in greeting – even those who had treated them with suspicion before were grinning along with the others and clapping her on the shoulder like an old friend. Cynically, Mei suspected that this welcome had everything to do with her newfound status as a war hero, but the aloofness with which the Dalish had treated them before had been unpleasant; she'd take their kindness in whatever context it was offered.
"Mei!" The light voice chirped from just behind them, and she turned to find the Keeper's First running toward her. Mei grinned.
"Merrill! It's good to see you," she exclaimed as the slight woman caught her in an embrace. Marethari's reservations aside, Merrill had welcomed Mei and Giselle from the start, and was one of the few out of the clan Mei had considered a true friend even before all this hero business.
"I'm so happy you're finally awake! I wanted to try to wake you when they first brought you back, but the Keeper didn't think that was a very good idea. I suppose she was right. But I did miss you, and you weren't that badly hurt, so – " Laughing, Mei leaned in to kiss Merrill's cheek, which brought a pause to the willowy mage's rambling. "Oh. Forgive me, I'm chattering again, aren't I?
"It's alright. I'm just glad to be here."
She was, wasn't she? It was a bit of a shame that she'd never gotten to say goodbye to some of her companions… Leliana and Alistair might be easy enough to find again if she ever wanted to, but what of Morrigan? Had she said anything about what she would do after the Blight?
Mei frowned to herself. Morrigan had had some sort of task beyond merely defeating the Blight; she remembered being certain of it. But had she ever found out –
"Here, love, have some supper. You must be famished." Giselle was offering her a bowl of venison and stewed vegetables, and it smelled wonderful.
"That was… really fast," Mei mumbled through her first bite of the food.
Giselle smiled gently and shook her head, pulling her to some mats by the fires. "You were quiet for a long time; you looked like you were woolgathering, so I let you be until the venison was done."
Mei allowed herself to be led, concentrating on dinner. She had been very hungry, and the meat was perfect. It had been far too long since she'd had what she considered to be real food; they'd seldom had time to hunt on the road. Even if the darkspawn had not been such a constant threat, they had always been wary of running into Loghain's soldiers, as well, because…
"Giselle, what happened with the Regent, and the throne? Loghain wanted Alistair and me dead, and I can't imagine he'd change his mind so quickly because he knew we'd expose him for a regicide. Did I miss everything?" She was starting to get annoyed at the gap in her memory, despite knowing she probably shouldn't be. This was perfect, better than perfect – and here she was worrying about the crusty old regent.
"The Queen pardoned the Grey Wardens for their valor," the other woman replied. "That is all I heard, but you needn't worry – you're safe from Teyrn Loghain."
"…Right…" Mei shook her head, frowning fiercely. "But what about Alistair? He's King Maric's bastard; surely he'd be a threat to even Anora's rule."
"I don't know, Mei. Honestly, you're worrying too much about things that don't matter anymore. You're here, with me." A faint edge had entered Giselle's voice, and Mei was immediately contrite. If Giselle was showing irritation at all, it meant she was very annoyed, and Mei had only just gotten her back.
(Gotten her back? )
"You're finished with dinner? Come and dance with me!" The smile was back in her eyes, and Mei rose quickly, glad to feel the tension retreating.
Much of the clan was already moving, by that point, weaving their complicated patters, with partners or alone, and of those not dancing, more than half were adding to the music on pipe and harp. Mei had a brief moment of terror when she realized she didn't know the steps – if there were steps to know – but then Giselle was whirling her around and it didn't seem to matter. Sometimes there were brief partner switches in a pattern that Mei couldn't quite pick up on, but she ended up dancing opposite Merrill at one point, and a few of the hunters that she knew and some that she didn't. Always, she would end up with Giselle again, who would greet her with a luminous smile that made her feel like she was coming home.
They'd been dancing for what felt like hours (even if it couldn't have been by the sheer fact that Mei could still move her legs), and everything was starting to blend together. Mei thought she'd almost gotten the hang of the pattern, finally, so it wasn't a surprise when Giselle moved away to be replaced by a nearby reveler once more. He smiled a greeting and met her eyes, and she caught her breath with a start, for his were a familiar and very particular shade of amber.
It was a wonder he could hear her over the music, as she'd barely whispered, but he answered, his Antivan accent amply confirming his identity. "Welcome home, my Grey Warden."
Mei's feet kept moving, but she didn't feel like she was quite controlling them anymore. He doesn't belong here. What in the name of the Black Divine is going on?
Giselle had taken hold of her hands again, but she could scarcely feel it. Why was she so confused? The memory of what had shaken her was slipping away so quickly, but it was important, very important…
"What… what is an Antivan doing here?" Giselle squeezed her fingers comfortingly, and Mei wondered why she had asked such a question. It almost felt like…
"What are you talking about, love? Are you feeling alright?" The brown eyes were full of concern.
…Like a dream.
"I'm… not sure," Mei answered, half-breathless. "Could we step out for a bit and get some water?"
In short order they had found a perch on a low-slung bench, and Mei stared down into her water glass, unsure how to express what she needed to ask, but determined to do it nonetheless. "I… Giselle, I can't remember anything about the battle where I was hurt, or what happened to my allies…"
"You know how head injuries can be. Yours was bad. Your memory may come back in time, or it may not, but it's alright now, I promise," her lover assured her.
Mei squeezed her eyes shut, feeling the words starting to slip away from her, losing their meanings even though the shape remained. It would be so easy to heed Giselle and just set it aside, to be happy… But this, this feeling would drag at her. Giselle should know more details than she was sharing, and there was something Mei had to say – something dangerous, something she feared the implications of.
Before she could lose her will to threaten her own happiness, she blurted, "It feels important. I know I was hurt, but please, I need to know. What, exactly, happened?"
Giselle took up her hands, and there was a slight pressure and a sense of warmth – Mei wasn't so numb anymore, and it was a relief – Giselle was just thinking of how to explain…
"It's not important… You're worrying me. Please don't tax yourself like this anymore – "
Whatever else she said, Mei didn't hear it. Her chest felt as if it had turned to lead. Frozen lead.
Giselle never brushed her worries aside, no matter how odd they might be, when Mei communicated that it mattered to her. Never.
"This isn't real," she whispered. She could not access the memories, still, but it felt like they were just beyond her reach. The crushing pain that came with the realization, though, that was familiar… far too familiar.
Out of nowhere, the realization: This was her looming fear of the Fade, manifest in all its terrible glory. She had let Morrigan save the arl's son rather than go in herself, because with a demon involved, she had known this was what she would have to confront… and it had found her, somehow, after all.
"Of course it's real! You just haven't recovered fully yet – Marethari said – "
"You're not Giselle."
Leaves bobbing gently in the morning breeze. The pregnant silence prepared to birth horror. The smell of blood, the taste of bile and mounting dread, and then the staring, empty eye sockets…
You're dead, my love.
"How can you say that?" The look of shocked hurt in Giselle's – the demon's – face hit Mei like a physical blow, but it also brought nausea and anger, to know that something else was using her likeness like a puppet. "I'm here, I'm right here! You know me!"
This breath felt like nothing, like the twilight between waking and the Fade. "I do know what you are, but you're not Giselle, and you profane my memories of her by stealing her face, demon."
The creature with the soft hair and heartbreakingly familiar eyes hissed, and it had that faint, deep echo that removed any shred of doubt. "You cannot leave this place."
But Mei was stranger to neither demons nor nightmares, and now that her fear had come to greet her, she felt an odd calm fall like a blanket over the renewed pain of loss. She had been offered her fondest wish, and it was still not enough to hold her in its thrall.
No matter that some tiny, traitorous part of her still wanted it to.
She closed her eyes against the demon's glare, ignored its angry words. She had to silence that last shred of desire to stay in the dream, or she would remain tethered here despite her knowledge. Taking a deep breath, she at last allowed herself to picture Giselle's pyre, a memory she had previously fled every time it tried to surface.
The flames crackle angrily, as if they protest their task, to consume this woman far too soon, and the wind scatters sparks like malevolent stars against the night. The wind smells of burnt hair and, obscenely, cooking meat. It will be months before she will even consider eating animal flesh again.
There are words; she knows there are words one says here, but they freeze inside her throat. She can't say them, because if she says them, this will be real.
It can't be real.
Please don't let it be real.
There is a fresh shower of cinders as the pyre logs begin to collapse upon themselves, and one lands against her cheek, the sharp pain a strangely welcome counterpoint to the agony she can't express.
Please don't let it be real.
The words are there, waiting, but she won't say them.
Please don't let it be real. I can't say goodbye, not now.
'Emma lath, na melana sahlin.
Emma ir abelas
Souver'inan isala hamin
Vhenan him dor'felas –
In uthenera na revas.
Vir samahl la numin,
Vir lath sa'vunin.
In uthenera na revas.'
"…In uthenera, na revas."
A/N: What? Were you expecting Weisshaupt?