Iain MacKinnon was captured by Howe during the fall of Highever. After six months torture, he escaped and stowed away to sea. This is the story of Iain's return to Ferelden. Rated M for mature themes.
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As always, thank you to Bioware for letting me play in their sandbox.
The bannorn, 2 Firstfall, 31 Dragon
Through Adversity, Strength
Iain stood on the deck of La Stella Cadente and watched the coastline of Ferelden draw nearer. A curious feeling gripped him as he gazed upon a shore he had not seen in just over eighteen months – a combination of homesickness and anxiety. It felt odd to be homesick at the end of his journey, but there it was, a great surge of wistful longing. And there, across the water, lay his home.
As the ship rounded the headland, familiar landmarks caught his eye. Among them, a tree that clung stubbornly to a promontory of rock forming the western lip of the large, natural harbor. It remained steadfastly in place, its bare branches mirroring the roots wrapped about and through fissures in the cliff. Iain had climbed out along the trunk, on a dare, at the age of ten, and had never forgotten the sensation of hanging out over the ocean, the cliff behind him, open sky before him, air all around him, wind plucking at his shirt and hair. He'd looked down and marveled at the sea below, the same wind barely ripping the surface so that the water appeared smooth and deceptively calm. Beneath the dark grey blue water dangerous currents pulled back and forth about the rocks. If he dropped from the tree, and survived the fall, he'd likely find himself tugged beneath the surface by invisible fingers and dashed on the rocks piled at the bottom of the cliff.
The first time he climbed the rigging aboard La Stella Cadente he'd remembered the tree. The same wind pulled at his shirt and hair and he'd experienced the same almost vertigo looking at the calm ocean spread around the ship. The difference had been that no land lay behind him, no rocks beneath him. The deep, blue water had stretched to every horizon, making him feel very, very small.
Shading his eyes, Iain peered up the main mast of the ship, at the crow's nest perched at the top. He wondered if he'd be able to see his home from up there, if he'd see Stormgard. The village of his birth lay about half a day's walk south and west of West Hill, an hour or so south of the cliff with the tree. He didn't climb the rigging though, instead he made his way below to check his pack, find his cat, and begin the task of saying goodbye to another home.
About an hour later, the helmsman, Inigo, gave the signal to drop anchor and the familiar sounds of the docks drifted up from below; ropes hitting the sides of the ship, the shouts of the dock workers, seagulls wheeling over head, a bell ringing somewhere in the distance, the voices of the crew as they prepared for shore. Iain gazed out over West Hill, a town he'd visited a few times as a child. It looked like many towns he'd seen during his travels, the buildings angling away from the docks, the castle on the hill behind, and there, in the distance, the ruined fort. It also looked different, somehow, in a way that he could not define. It just looked... Fereldan.
A soft voice sounded at his side. "Are you ready, Iain?"
Iain glanced over and down to the slight figure of the ship's healer, Shy'danu.
"No," he answered quietly. He knew she'd understand his answer and his trepidation. He had many friends aboard, and he talked to them all, about various things. Only with Shy, however, did he speak of his time in Howe's dungeons. Only the small elven woman beside him knew the full horror of what he had endured. She had treated his injuries and she listened to his story.
Now, she pressed a small cloth bag into his hand. "For the dreams," she said. Shy never called the nightmares.
Nodding soberly, Iain slipped the pouch into his pocket. "Thank you, Shy, for... everything." He wrapped his arms about her shoulders and pulled her into a close embrace and she hugged him fondly in return.
As they parted, she touched her fingers to the scar upon his face. "Dareth shiral." Safe journey.
Then it was time to leave. He took a last, lingering look across the deck, taking in the details he wanted to remember. He had his sketches, he had many of the ship and her crew, but he still wanted to look at it all, one last time. He made his toward the gangplank and the crew saluted him or reached for his hand. His friends and the officers had gathered together in a tight cluster and looking at them brought a lump to his throat. These men and women had become his family.
He grasped the boatswain's hand and Lyndon offered him a firm shake before releasing his grip and cuffing him gently about the ear. "Be good, lad." Iain smiled and nodded. He shook hands with his friend, Harry, who gave him a cheeky, leering sort of wink, and moved on to Graciela and Inigo. They both gave him a hug and passed him on to the captain's son, Elias.
It was hard to say goodbye to the younger man. No one would ever replace his twin, the other half of him, but Elias had become as a brother and he would miss him. Reaching into his pocket, Iain pulled out a small, cloth wrapped bundle and handed it to his friend. Elias took it, a questioning look on his face, and pulled away the folds of material to reveal a compass. Iain had thought the instrument elegant in its simplicity and he felt Elias would appreciate the attention to function over form. Swirling designs and gold inlay would not help it find north, but the heavy, crystal face would resist scratching and not mist in bad weather. It was a practical piece. The young man blinked at the gift, then looked up, his face happy and sad at the same time. "Thank you," he whispered.
"You will write to me from the other side of the world, I hope," Iain replied.
Elias would need more than this simple compass, and he had others, to achieve his dream, but Iain had no doubt the young man would get there one day.
Angus, the first mate, growled, as was his manner, chewed something, leaned over the railing to spit, and then hooked his arm about Iain's shoulders. "Ah, Iain, there's hard times ahead for ya, lad." He pulled the tall young man against his side in a gruff sort of embrace. "I'll be thinking of ya, be sure you do the same, eh?" A hand came up to slap Iain across the chest, vaguely where his heart was. "Keep us here and never forget your mistress." The old sailor cast his eyes out over the railing, towards their 'mistress', the sea.
"Be well, ser," Iain said in reply.
Growling again, Angus patted his chest and let him go. "Off with ya, all this standin' around makes me antsy."
Iain smiled and turned his head slightly, pretending not to notice the shine in the older man's eyes. For all his rough manner, Angus had the biggest heart of anyone he knew.
Socks leaned against his legs and Iain bent to pick the cat up and sling it over his shoulder. His feline companion lay limp, front paws dangling over his shoulder blade, chin resting lightly between, rear paws and tail draped down the front of his shirt.
Captain Felix Idowu shook his head at the cat, smiled at Iain and gestured for the young man to precede him down the gangplank. When they reached the dock, the captain stuck out his hand. Iain shook it firmly and swallowed over the lump in his throat, which seemed to have grown in the last two minutes.
"Captain," he started and Idowu raised his hand. Iain fell silent.
"Iain, I want to thank you for your service aboard La Stella Cadente." The captain held out a small pouch and, when Iain hesitated, he thrust it further forward. Iain took it and tried not to gasp at the weight. He'd never held so much coin in all his life.
"Captain," he tried again, and again, Idowu raised his hand.
"If you do not find what you are looking for, know that you always have a place with us. Always. You were not born to the sea, son, but she loves you, and you are a part of our family now."
Iain looked at the man he reckoned had saved his life and found he couldn't speak. He pressed his lips together and blinked away the tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. Feeling one roll down his cheek, he lifted his shoulder, wiping his face against his shirt briefly. The captain did not seem to find fault with the display of emotion, instead he tilted his head and smiled. Iain would never have figured Felix Idowu for the hugging type, but the man surprised him yet again by pulling him into a fond embrace. Then the Rivani grasped his cheeks, kissed him on the forehead and offered his final blessing. "Live well."
"And you," Iain managed, softly.
The captain patted Socks on the back. "And look after my cat."
Iain smiled and let the next tear roll down his cheek unhindered. "I will," he replied. "Captain..." he paused, almost expecting the man to interrupt him again. When he didn't, Iain continued. "Thank you," he said simply. Words could never express the gratitude he held towards this man, but they were all he had to give.
Idowu placed his hand over his broad chest, his fingers tapping about where he had three words tattooed across his skin. The captain's motto, his mantra, the ideal he imparted to his crew and his family.
Per ardua vis. Though adversity, strength.