- Alright, let’s get moving. Follow me as fast as you can. – Fenrraor told the agents while fitting a couple of daggers to his leather belt. Then, he turned to look at Oerik. - I hope all of you can keep my pace. We need to hurry: everyone in Vintiver is in danger. - then, he put the black neck gaiter he was wearing up to his nose, and he walked upstairs to the forest.
The dwarf seethed by the elf’s comment, and moved with the rest of the agents behind him. Introductions were already done, and the group was ready to leave. Although the elf had the same green-jaded eyes as his sister, Oerik thought they didn’t have any other resemblance. While Eshara’s hair was black as the deepest night, Fenrraor’s shined almost in the dark of the dungeon, as silver. While Eshara was sweet and kind, Fenrraor looked boor and straight. Also, the dwarf was uncomfortable by the fact of having a new group member even taller than Malan. He always thought that elfs weren’t as tall as humans, but those two were around 1’80. Oerik looked at Keaton and let out a long sigh.“As having a giant of almost 2 metres tall wasn’t enough”, he thought.
Once in the forest, Fenrraor moved through it as naturally as breathing. Staying close to him was difficult even for Keaton. A couple of times, the hunter looked back with bitter anger on his eyes. Of course he was worried about his sister, but he wasn’t likely to beat Mythallen on his own. Therefore, he had to accept that he had to slow his pace.
The hunter stroke out into the deep forest, leading the group off the main trails, as night began to fall. The deepening twilight lent a sense of menace to the looming trees and the trail was only barely visible from some ancient, cracked cobblestones hidden beneath the undergrowth and moss. Then, all of a sudden, Fenrraor stopped, making the agents almost fall into him.
- What’s wrong? – Oerik asked.
Fenrraor rose his hand. With a finger, he seemed to go through something. Then, the moonlight made it glow when a cloud passed by: a giant web stretched between the trees, nearly invisible in the dark. The hunter turned around and put a finger over his lips on a sign of silence.
They tried to go on without making any noise, while avoiding a web which seemed to have no end. The sky was cloudy, so from time to time they had to stop, as the moon hid its light and the web turned invisible. However, during one of those moments, Oerik stumbled over a root and almost felt to the ground. Almost, as he just got into the enormous trap. The dwarf tried to break free, but it was too sticky. He had to warn his comrades almost in a whisper.
- He-hey! I think I’m in troubles here…
When the group realised the dwarf was trapped, it was already too late. A hiss started to come from above, a noise that made the group set their weapons ready. Going down from the trees, a giant spider appeared in front of them. Its eyes glowed in bloody red, as the previous mutated creatures the agents had found inside the forest. Clearly, another magic infected beast. This one, eager to feast on its new prey. The agents were not going to let it have Oerik for dinner.
- Let me out of here!!!!!! – the dwarf shouted.
Swift as a shadow, Fenrraor was already on the spider’s back. He jumped on the creature and stabbed his daggers into its head. The beast made a horrible noise and moved furiously in order to get rid of the hunter. On the meantime, Malan helped the dwarf to get out of the web, while Keaton stayed between them an the spider with his shield up.
- C’mon! - the warrior hurried the mage up, as the hunter fell from the creature and rolled off the ground.
Keaton parried the spider’s attacks until the hunter could recover and the other agents got ready to fight. The beast was enraged, so melee hits where almost impossible. Malan threw some lightnings to the creature, but they only helped to make the spider more furious. Oerik was anxious, as he couldn’t do anything. He thought about throwing his axes, but if he missed, finding the axes back in the middle of that darkness would be nearly impossible. Then, an idea came to his mind. He searched inside his back and took a pot of black ink he used to write on his diary.
- Suck ink, you bastard! – he yelled, throwing the pot and targeting the creature’s eyes.
Oerik’s aim was amazing, even for the own dwarf. The flask shattered at the beast’s face, spilling the ink and leaving the creature blinded. Fenrraor then moved fast to the animal’s back legs and made two deep cuts on them. The spider rose its front legs, and Keaton saw the best spot to attack. He dropped mace and shield and replaced them for the bastard sword he had on his back. Letting out a battle cry, he ran upfront with rosen sword. The blade cut down the spider’s belly, spilling a greenish blood-like liquid upon the warrior. With a shriek, the beast collapsed. Fenrraor and Keaton looked to each other and nodded. They recognised on each other admirable combat skills.
- You need to admit it. If it wasn’t by my clever tactic, we would have been served as dinner tonight! - the dwarf stated.
All of them laughed. Although they’d been on a great danger, they took a few moments to relax. However, they all knew worst was still to come.
They reached Vintiver only to find chaos. Villagers ran through the streets trying to escape diving blood crows. Grey creatures like the ones that ambushed the agents in the forest stalked between burning houses, looking for prey. Many villagers had already fallen, but all was still not lost. They could see Tarl Dale, the Warden, defending himself with a knot of stout villagers at the market street. The inn was another centre of resistance. Gaia was there, fighting on her own.
- Your sister’s there, we must hurry! – Keaton had to shout Fenrraor over the battle uproar.
However, they could just watch Gaia from the distance. A group of the grey darkspawn had surrounded the agents.
- Then we’ll need to clear the way. – Fenrraor said while grabbing his daggers.
The fight was turning worse with every minute. The more darkspawn they killed, the more they came out of nowhere. Moreover, they could see Gaia getting tired. She was a fierce fighter, and a fearsome mage, but there was a limit for her magical energy. The agents were trying desperately to get rid of the surrounding enemies to reach her, but it was nearly impossible. With every step they did, two more creatures got in their way, and much more were approaching the inn.
The agents received several wounds and scratches. Fatigue was making them slow. Due to a darkspawn attack, Oerik fell to the ground. He was surrounded by three creatures. He could hear Keaton calling out for him, but he seemed to be too far away to save him. “So, this is the end of the story…”, he thought, as the darkspawn raised their claws. The dwarf closed his eyes tightly, ready to receive his final blow. “And there we go, the end of the valiant dwarf, about to be picked up by the horses of destiny… Wait… Horses?” . He suddenly opened his eyes again, to see a horse jumping over him and a golden figure beating down the creatures. Oerik sat down and counted more than a dozen of horses coming behind the first one, down from the main town road.
- Hey, you! Are you alright?
Oerik turned to see the golden knight giving him his hand. The dwarf took it and stood up.
- Are you one of the Inquisition agents? - he asked, like being in a hurry.
- Aye… who are…?
Before Oerik could finish his question, the knight put out his helmet to discover a man on his thirties, with short blonde hair and an authoritarian look on his brown eyes.
- Where’s Gaia?! - he abruptly asked, taking Oerik by the collar of his shirt.
“Why is this guy so familiar?”. The other knights passed by to smash more enemies. They were all wearing emblems on their shields. “Where did I see that symbol before?”. The rest of the agents came closer after defeating the enemies they were fighting against. Malan rudely asked the golden knight to let Oerik go. “Did he asked for Gaia?”. The knight released Oerik, and he started to argue with the elf. Then, the dwarf looked at the man with his eyes like saucers.
- Your… Your majesty!
Oerik knelt on a reverence. He had just recognised Alistair Theirin, king of Ferelden. Keaton, Malan and Fenrraor where looking the whole situation with either disbelieve or surprise.
- Save that for later, is she with you or not? - the king asked, and then they all heard a yell of pain coming from the inn.
It came from Gaia. She was surrounded by too many darkspawn, and one had just wounded her. Alistair cried out her name and ran to save her, with the agents following him. Gaia pushed back another enemy and turned to the voice that was calling for her. When she saw Alistair, a smile of relief appeared on her face, just to be replaced by a grimace as a creature from the back pierced her left shoulder with its claw.
- No! – Alistair yelled seconds before he smashed the creature’s head with his sword and turned to check on Gaia.
The agents and the rest of the king’s soldiers cleaned the area from enemies in a few minutes. Alistair was knelt down trying to stop Gaia’s bleeding.
- Wh-what are you… doing her-… - she had to stop as she started to cough.
- Shh, quiet now, you need to rest. – he told her while cleaning the blood from her lips with his thumb.
- I’m so… glad to see you… – she sweetly smiled, with her golden eyes filled with tears, just before passing out.
- Hey, hey, Gaia! Stay with me, Gaia! - he said, hitting softly her cheek.
- Your majesty, let Malan take a look. He can heal her. – Oerik approached the king with the elf.
While Malan was applying his magic on Gaia, they could all hear a terrible and angry scream. In the village square, they saw a figure that could only be Mythallen. What was once an elf had been twisted beyond recognition. The abomination was now a thing of corruption, its long claws already slicked with blood.
- Agents. - Alistair said on a grave tone while looking up to them, still with Gaia in his arms. - You have to end this. My soldiers will save as many villagers as they can. I’ve seen enough demons to recognise an abomination. That’s your main target: finish it, and the rest of the creatures may stop. I’m pretty sure that the demon is controlling them all.
- But… - Oerik tried to reply.
- I’ll take care of Gaia. Now, GO!
Alistair stood up carrying Gaia at his arms, and entered the inn while the agents headed the village square.
Before they could reach the abomination, the agents saw Coalan, the blacksmith, trying to fight the demon on his own, so the rest of the villagers could be saved by Tarl Dale’s and the king’s men. With a single deadly blow, Mythallen sent the blacksmith a few metres backwards with an ugly claw wound over his chest.
- Why don’t you try to pick on somebody your own size, you monster? - the dwarf shouted in order to call Mythallen’s attention.
Malan just shacked his head after hearing the dwarf’s words about size. Keaton was already with his shield and mace prepared, and Fenrraor had disappeared from scene, preparing his sneak attack.
The fight was terrible and dangerous. Although Fenrraor could stab his daggers on the creature’s back, Mythallen reacted with a fierce blow of its claws that wrecked the elf’s left arm, and knocked him down. Oerik tried to prevent Fenrraor of bleeding to death while Keaton and Malan faced the creature.
Minutes passed, and even with Oerik and Fenrraor again in the fray, it didn’t get any better. They all were tired and wounded, and Mythallen was still giving a hard fight. Lightning and blades, claws and fire, slow but steady, the agents managed to weaken the abomination. However, they were near exhaustion. When Keaton parried the creature’s last attack, it threw him off balance. Another hit was on its way, and the warrior had no way to avoid it this time. But, just before Mythallen’s claws could reach him, a shining blade stopped the blow. Alistair on his golden armour was now making the abomination have a hard time. Having the king on their side, the agents felt inspired and encouraged. With renewed vigour, and one more member, the tables turned on Mythallen. In the end, Alistair cut the demon in two with a swift movement of his sword.
As the abomination felt, a simultaneous cry of both pain and defeat seemed to go up from his darkspawn followers. As if following the sound of the terrible yell, ghostly, screaming shapes emerged from their mouths, swirling like glowing mist into the night’s air. The spirits gathered in a greenish cloud overhead, stirring like a gathering storm, and then the most powerful unholy light erupted from Mythallen, lancing skyward with an echoing cry. It scattered the other shapes with a thunderclap and then went out, leaving a sudden darkness and silence all across the grape arbour that had became a battlefield. Where the darkspawn once stood were now the elves of the Dalish clan; some dead or wounded, but others simply dazed, trying to make sense of their surroundings. In the dirt at Alistair feet lied, not the form of the rage abomination, but that of an elven hunter, dead of the same blow that slew Mythallen. The rage demon was gone, and the threat of the darkspawn with it.
With the abomination out of scene, the town filled with unnatural silence. A few moments before, the clamour of battle was thunderous. Now, there was only calm. Soldiers tried to help the unconscious Dalish and wounded villagers. The agents still stood before Harralan’s body, while catching their breath. Fenrraor was the first to come back to reality, turning to Malan.
- Where’s my sister? - he asked with urgency.
The mage looked to the inn, and before he could say a word, the hunter was already heading there. The agents followed him, while the king stayed to give orders to his soldiers.
When Fenrraor opened the inn’s door, a swift arrow grazed his ear and stuck into the wood. In front of him, a paled and sweaty elf was holding a bow with flickering hand. She couldn’t barely keep her feet on the ground, but a group of women and child were hiding behind her. When the Dalish saw Fenrraor, she dropped her weapon and ran to him.
- Eshara! - he said, hugging her tightly.
When the agents reached the inn, they found the siblings still holding each other. Oerik had to explain the villagers that they were no longer in danger, as the refugees were still trembling and wondering what was happening. Malan started to heal Keaton, who sat down with an exhausted looking. Fenrraor pulled his mask down to talk with Eshara.
- Are you aright? Tell me you’re not hurt. - he asked her with concern in Elven language, touching his sister’s face as seeing her for the first time in years.
- I’m ok, brother, but you look terrible. - she smiled at him with tear-bright eyes.
With both hands on her cheeks, he lovely kissed Eshara’s forehead and hugged her again.
- I thought I was about to lose you… - he whispered.
- Worry no more. I was sure I was going to see you again. - she said while hugging his brother and looking to Malan, who gave her a sweet smile.
Like a storm, the next to come in was Alistair. He headed to Kesla Mullin, the inn’s matron. She indicated the king that Gaia was on the first floor, still being treated by the town’s doctor. Kesla was still talking when Alistair rushed upstairs. The agents, who also heard about their friend, followed him. The inn’s rooms where full of injured, and people coming and going to help them all. There was another room at the end of the main corridor, quite separated from the rest. Alistair was there, arguing with an aged woman.
- I have to see her! - he yelled.
- Please, sire, wait here until she’s stable. Her wound is pretty serious and we need all the space to work.
- What do you mean by pretty serious? Is she dying? Let me in, right now!
Keaton took Alistair by his shoulder, as the poor lady was about to be ran over by the king.
- We’re as worried as you about her, but bothering the doctor won’t make Gaia recover any faster. - he said.
The lady entered the room again and closed the door. Alistair turned around and gave a hard punch to the wall.
- If I’d just came sooner, none of this would have happened… - he complained with his head down.
- She’s strong. I’m sure she’ll make it through, you’ll see. Why don’t you take off your armour and get rid of all that blood? I bet she’ll be glad to see you when she wakes up, and with your current appearance you’ll only make her worry about you. C’mon, we’ll stay here until you come back. - Oerik said in his best mood, trying to convince none other than the king.
Alistair let out a long sigh and, after debating it hardly in his mind, he just nodded and went downstairs. The dwarf sat down on the floor with a defeated expression.
- Phew, I thought by a second he was about to smash my face in…
Keaton decided to go to the main room, storage his armour somewhere and help out the inn’s owners. There was a lot to do now the fight was over, and the three of them waiting for Gaia to wake up would be simply a waste of time. Malan agreed, and joined the healers on the first floor. Before leaving, however, they asked Oerik to tell them in case she recovered.
Minutes later, Oerik was almost asleep when he sensed a noise at his very side, and jumped. Then, he realised it was Alistar, who had just sat down with him in front of Gaia’s door. The king had the same tired semblance as the dwarf, and now he was wearing a simple white linen shirt, leather trousers and boots.
- I think we haven’t had time for this. Oerik, from Redcliff. It was a pleasure to fight at your side, your majesty. – the dwarf offered his hand, and the king shacked it with a smile.
- You fought bravely back there, Oerik. Call me Alistair. You’re, after all, his friend… - when he said the last words, he looked to Gaia’s door, slowly losing his smile.
He let out a long sigh, bent his knees and covered his eyes with his hands. Oerik knew that feeling. Although Alistair was the king, he was nothing but a man, and now that man was scared as hell by the idea of losing Gaia. She had to mean a lot to him, like Thiri meant to Oerik… but that wasn’t the best place to remember her. The dwarf shook his head, trying to focus on the present. He tapped friendly Alistair’s shoulder to confort him. It felt strange as he was, in the end, his king.
- If I hadn’t been such a stubborn idiot, she wouldn’t have been hurt like that. And now she’s there, after ten years, finally so close… and I’m not even sure I’ll be able to apologise for what I did.
Alistair’s words sounded deeply in the dwarf’s soul, who tried to hold back his memories and feelings. Oerik had very clear now what kind of relationship those two had. He had lost count of how many times he had had the same thoughts.
Neither of them made any further comments. They just waited there during minutes that seemed hours for that door to open. When it finally did, they could see the rising sun through the room’s window. The doctor came out with another young boy, both tired but smiling. Oerik and Alistair stood up, ready to hear the news.
- She hasn’t wake up yet, but she’s out of risk. Some days of rest and she’ll be able to travel again.
Oerik expressed his gratitude to the doctor before she and her apprentice left. Alistair was already sat down on a chair close to Gaia’s bed, holding her hand, maybe praying or giving thanks to Andraste. There were silent words on his eyes while looking at her. Oerik just smiled, and closed the door. It was time for everyone to have a more than deserved rest.
- You’re not going anywhere with that wound, Gaia!
- Who do you think you are now, Alistair? My dad?
- We-well I-I’m… I’m the king, and that’s an order! You’ll stay here and rest!
- And I’m Warden Commander of Ferelden, do you really want to start a fight about who has more power here? You’re still a Warden!
Malan and Oerik were about to enter Gaia’s room to see how she was doing, but yells were coming out of there. They looked each other, wondering if they should leave. However, in that moment Alistair opened the door and left in a fume.
- Alright, leave then! I’m not going to come for you if you bleed to death in the middle of nowhere!
He didn’t even look at the agents when he went downstairs. Gaia’s door was wide opened. She was standing in the room with a blue robe and wearing her hair down. The daylight made it shine with brown-reddish tones.
- Stupid kid… - she said, and sat down on her bed. Then, after a sigh, she looked at the agents and smile. - Seems you’re doing better than me after the battle.
- Well, we’re all worried about you, but looks like your lungs work perfectly. - Oerik joked.
- I’m sorry you had to hear all that…
- Yes, lovers arguments are not my favourite topic. - Malan replied with his more than usual roguish smile.
- For once you’re wrong, Malan. There’s nothing between us. Maybe in the past, but that was many years ago. Right now he just feels guilty about letting me travelling on my own after the Blight, but that was my decision and I’m grown up enough to take care of myself, don’t you think? - she smiled the elf back, talking on his same very tone.
- But you’re still wounded. Why would you be leaving now? - Oerik concernedly asked.
- Now the darkspawn threat is over, my research must go on. I’m working on something really important that can’t wait no longer. By the way, where’s Keaton? I was expecting to see him too before I take my leave.
- He’s helping at the blacksmith’s workshop. As Coalan was wounded, there’s not enough personnel to work on the pieces needed to repair the town’s buildings. He offered his help, and it seems he’s quite a skilled blacksmith. - Malan explained.
- And working without shirt is making the place quite a must-see show for the ladies. - Oerik added, and all three laughed.
- What about the Dalish? Did you manage to rescue them? - Gaia changed subject.
- Aye, they’re at the town’s entrance with their wagons, and those capable of it are lending a hand rebuilding damaged structures and hunting to feed everyone. - the dwarf told with a triumphant smile.
- I’m glad to hear that. So, Malan, have you already talked with Eshara? I’m sure she’ll be eager to thank you for what you did for her. - now was Gaia who roguishly smiled.
- We all helped, there’s no reason for thanking only me anything.
Oerik and Gaia were both looking at the elf and smiling to themselves. Malan could swear he even heard them laughing inside.
- Wh-what’s wrong?
- When you all left to the Brecilian Forest, she was all the time talking about how worried she was about you. Isn’t that suspicious enough? - Gaia said.
- And the way she looks at you, please. - the dwarf added.
Malan tried to reply, embarrassed and blushed. Oerik and Gaia burst of laughing, and then she talked.
- Before you leave to look for your secret admirer, can you both please do me a favour? I need my things, which must be somewhere storaged by the Mullins. If Alistair sees me with my travel bag… well, you’d already seen how he reacted. Could you please bring it to me?
- As long as you promise to say goodbye before leaving, I think we can do it. - Oerik said, winking at her.
- By Andraste, Malan, what are you doing?
Oerik talked on a whisper. They both were at the inn’s storehouse, and the elf was searching inside Gaia’s bag once they found it.
- Stop it, we must leave before any of the king’s men see us. - the dwarf insisted.
- Don’t you want to know why Gaia is having to leave so urgently? Something’s going on, I can feel it.
Suddenly, steps where heard at the upstairs floor. In silence, they fought for the bag, but Malan was not going to let it go so easily.
- Fine, have a look! But quickly! – Oerik said.
The dwarf crossed arms with an upset expression, but still looking sideways to what Malan was doing. However, the elf didn’t find anything interesting except by her research diary, and there wasn’t enough light there to read anything. He put everything inside the bag again and made Oerik a sign to leave. When they opened the door, though, Alistair was there, waiting for them.
- So, what do you have there? – he accusingly asked.
- Potatoes for the Mullin, they’re preparing a soup for dinner.
Malan replied so seriously and fast that the king almost believed it. Oerik was extremely surprised with the elf reaction: it seemed that Malan was more than used to lie too, which impressed the dwarf.
- Why don’t you let me see them? - Alistair said, holding out his hand.
- Why don’t you go back to your royal duties instead? I bet cooking is not one of them.
Oerik moved to the elf’s back for protection. He was feeling how progressively the king was getting annoyed. “Just be quiet, Oerik”, the dwarf thought.
- Don’t treat me like a fool, mage. That’s Gaia’s bag, isn’t it?
- And what if is it, are you going to confiscate it?
- I can command you to give it to me.
- Command me? Don’t make me laugh. – Malan got really close to Alistair’s face with a defiant look. - I’m an elf, and you’re not my king. Now, move away.
They looked each other for seconds that were like minutes to Oerik. He was praying for not having to witness a fight between those two. However, Alistair gave up, and moved to one side of the stairs so they could pass. No more words were said. They just headed to Gaia’s room as fast as they could.
The agents told Gaia what happened, and stayed at her room for a while answering some questions she had about what they found at Mythallen’s lair. The ruins, the dead Tevinterian, the mutated beasts. Gaia was taking notes about everything. When she finished, she closed her diary and kept it against her chest while standing up from the little desk she was writing at.
- Thanks for bringing my bag. I’ll get ready to leave now…
At the very moment the agents turned to leave, the door opened. There was Alistair again, who just passed by the agents side and took Gaia by her not injured arm.
- Can you please stop this nonsense of leaving while you’re still hurt? – he turned to talk to the agents with a sincerely concerned expression. – And can you please convince her to rest for a couple of days at least? Aren’t you her friends?
Neither Malan or Oerik could say anything. Of course they knew Gaia was hurt, but they were also aware that if she was willing to leave, she’d do it anyway.
- I have things to do, and there’s no time for rest. - Gaia answered, looking upset at Alistair.
- There’s nothing more important than your health. I can help you on whatever you’re working on, Gaia, and you know it. But try to recover first from that wound. - he said.
- I told you I’m alright! - Gaia tried to get free from Alistair’s grasp and, by doing so, her diary fell to the ground and opened just by the page she had marked with a dried rose.
They both looked at it for a second. The agents were suspecting that they should get out of the room, as the argue was getting serious. However, they didn’t dare to move a finger. Alistair took the diary from the floor and looked to the rose.
- Is it…? - he started to ask.
- Were you expecting me to just through it away? - she said, looking through the window, so the agents couldn’t tell what was wrong.
- If you can give us a moment. Please. - Alistair requested the agents.
Malan and Oerik nodded and left the room. Once at the corridor, they looked to each other, and no words were needed: they approached the closed door to hear what those two were talking about.
- Gaia… tell me what’s going on. - Alistair was talking softly and sweet to her, not as the moron he was acting like before.
- Do you honestly think I didn’t hear from you during all this time? You don’t have any heir, Alistair, and our time will come soon.
- Well, I still have twenty years for…
- What if it’s the Taint? I… I’ve heard stories, rumours, about being able to get rid of the Taint. That’s why I must leave now: to continue looking for a cure before it’s too late.
- So you’re going to put yourself in danger so I can have a baby?
- We already risked too much to keep Theirin’s blood at the Fereldan throne. I’m not going to allow your lineage to disappear just because you’re a Grey Warden… Even if I have to risk my own life to do so.
- Why? I don’t want you to do such a thing for me. Even if… Even if you manage to find a cure… - he took some seconds to go on. - I haven’t been with another woman during the last ten years. I mean, in purpose.
- But, why? I mean… with Morrigan…
- Do you really think I felt something for that witch? Please.
- Who’s talking about feelings? What I mean is that, in the end, it worked, so you should be able to… do it again.
- I don’t care if it works or not, Gaia. I haven’t married anyone so far because even after ten years I can’t stop thinking about you.
- But… - she let out a long sigh. - I thought you hated me because of what happened with Morrigan. I haven’t even been able to forgive myself for asking you such a thing. I… I should have dyed that day instead.
- You had the courage to do it, to be sure I would make it back from the battle at any cost. It took me some time, but I managed to understand the hard decision you had to make, how tough saying those words had to be. The one that couldn’t forgive himself was me, for letting you go after we bet the archdemon.
- So what now, Alistair? We can’t go back. We’re still doomed by the Taint, we still can’t have children together. You… You’re still the king.
- That was nothing else but an excuse I told you, an excuse for me to believe I was doing what I must as a king. But, since then, no one had been able to enter my life as you did. I would rather live the years I have left with the woman I love than trying to have a child I’m not even sure I could have with another person. I’m not letting you go again, Gaia. Not as long as you don’t tell me you don’t have feeling for me.
- You know I can’t say that.
Oerik was looking through the keyhole, and now he could see they were kissing. He dig in Malan’s ribs for the elf to stop listening. Trying not to make a noise, they both went downstairs. “I can make a fortune out of this if I write it”, the dwarf thought.
At the main room, they found Fenrraor carrying some nugs he had just hunted. He was talking with the inn’s master. Then, he put the dead animals on the counter for the man to get them to the kitchen. When the elf turned around to leave, he saw the agents.
- “On dhea”, friends. I was about to search for you.
- Good day to you too, Fenrraor. What do you need from us? - Malan asked while shacking hands with him.
- Our clan’s Keeper wants to talk to you. Can you please tell Keaton and visit our camp as soon as possible? Eshara wanted to hunt on her own and I’m worried about her. I think she could use some more rest, but she insisted.
- Not like I would like to confront any woman today… - Oerik said, and laughed with Malan. Fenrraor just shrugged his shoulders and said farewell before leaving the inn.
- Please, come in.
Keeper Orellis welcomed the agents into his tent, and motioned with his hand for them to sit around a wooden round table.
- I would like to express my gratitude for everything you did for our clan yesterday. You did not only free us from Mythallen’s lair, but you also rescued Eshara from a certain death. My people is in debt with the three of you. Hence, I would like you to have this.
The Keeper brought something out from his pocket and put it on the table. There were three necklaces made with black string. They had the same wooden pendant, with something wrote in Elven language on it.
- Keeper, I appreciate the gesture, but I think wearing a “vhenallin” token without being Dalish… - said Malan with concern but politely.
- We don’t mind where’re you from, or if you’re dwarf, Elvhen or human. - he looked to each of them while saying it. - You’re “vhenallin” for us. You’re “friends of the People”.
The agents took the necklaces and put them on. Oerik had a big smile on his face, full of proud, while Keaton seemed to not fully understand the meaning of what he was wearing. Malan kept the token on his hand at first, and made a bow of courtesy. Then, he placed his necklace over his head.
While Oerik and Keaton were already heading back to the town, the Keeper called back Malan, just before he left the tent.
- I don’t know how the wounded are doing at the town, but, if you have some time to spare, would you be so kind to help us out here?
- Why? Don’t you have enough healers? - Malan asked, worried about the clan conditions.
- -Well, we do have people with medicine knowledge, but… you know there’s only two members of a Dalish clan that are allowed to practice magic. I’m too old to use my healing magic often, and my apprentice… she died during the fray. Mythallen transformed her into one of those creatures, and when the course disappeared, I could only save her body. I know it’s a lot to ask after all you’d already done for us, but I don’t want to ask the town for more resources.
Malan looked to Orellis with a straight face. After a life of being considered almost a monster by every Dalish he crossed by, now he was respected by a whole clan. He was now an adopted member of the Dalish, a vhenallin. And he was asked for help again. He couldn’t just trust those people, but somehow, deep inside his soul, he felt he had a moral obligation with them.
- I’ll be pleased to help, Keeper.
Two days passed, and step by step Vintiver was recovering from the abomination’s damage. Keaton kept helping at the blacksmith’s and chasing away young ladies that just tried to get some words out of him. Oerik stayed at the inn, giving a hand to the Mullin sharing all the supplies they could gather. His commercial knowledge helped to get the most out of every piece of wool or food they received. Malan expended most of the day at the Dalish camp, healing wounded hunters and warriors. However, he didn’t share many words with the elves. He was just doing his job, and every night he went back to the town, avoiding all dinner invitations he was offered to attend to.
Although he sometimes felt Eshara was looking at him from the distance, she never got to talk with him. During the third day after the attacks, however, she approached the elf. He was siting under a tree, close enough to the camp to hear if someone called out for him, but far enough to be unseen by the Dalish. She talked in Elven language, and was holding something at her back, hiding it.
- G-good evening, friend…
Malan closed the book and stared at her. He just waited for her to go on, clearly upset by the interruption of his reading.
- I… I was just wondering if… if you would like to come hunting with me to… to get something for dinner…
She was tense, and couldn’t hold Malan’s look. The more she got embarrassed, the more Malan suspected about her. He finally stood up.
- I’m no hunter. Why should I go with you?
- W-well I thought that you maybe for some reason you possibly wanted to…
- What do you have on your back?- Malan got closer to Eshara, looking down to her so seriously she turned a bit scared. He was way taller than her.
The hunter took two steps back, but Malan insisted on staying at less than a hand’s span from her face.
- Pl-please, stop!
She handed out almost with a reverence a grey wooden bow. She was holding it with both hands, offering it to Malan.
- I… I thought you may like having an ironbark bow, b-because they say mages can use them like…
Malan didn’t say a thing. He was looking at her with a straight face, which made Eshara babble even more. He had been expecting her to have a weapon hidden to attack him, as he imagined any Dalish there would do in any moment. But that didn’t happen. He’d been in the camp for three days and all he got was admiration gazes and gratitude words. In that moment, he realised he’d been acting like an idiot. He took the bow and examined it in front of the speechless hunter.
- You’ll need to teach me how to use it. Did you craft it yourself?
Eshara blinked twice, trying to regain her composure. Then she nodded and smiled widely, her green-jaded eyes glowing with enthusiasm. Malan just became aware of the beautiful smile she had.
That night, he didn’t return to the inn.
The following morning, the agents began to get ready to depart back to Haven. The Dalish offered them to travel together until Lothering. Travelling in company was always better, so the agents agreed.
Preparations where done, but Oerik couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to Gaia. Between the king’s soldiers there was a crescent general unrest. For three days, king Alistair had been locked-up in a room with the order of not being disturbed. The dwarf knew for sure in which room he was, so he went upstairs and knocked the door.
- I’m still not the king again!
- Erhm… this is Oerik. We’re about to return to Haven, and I was wondering if I could see Gaia.
Alistair opened the door. He was just wearing his trousers, so Oerik was both uncomfortable and somehow guilty for seeing his king like that. The dwarf focused on looking for Gaia inside the room. He found her siting down on a chair near the window. She was braiding her hair with her delicate fingers while staring at the horizon. She was radiant.
- Please, Oerik, come in.
- I’ll go get something for lunch. - Alistair said.
- Your majesty, I wanted to give you this. – he handed over a letter to the king. – Leliana wanted us to deliver it to you in case we found any suspicious magical activity. - before Alistair turned around, the dwarf added. - And, by the way, your men are worried about you. You should at least tell them you’re alright. - Oerik talked sincerely, which made the king smile before leaving. - Well… I’m glad you’re almost recovered.
- I don’t know how to thank you and the others for everything you did. - Gaia reached out her hands to get Oerik’s between them in a sign of friendship.
- For you, whatever is needed, milady. It was a pleasure to fight at your side.
- Now you can tell your fancy story with a wealth of detail, can’t you?
Oerik lowered his head, ashamed because she remembered the lie he told her when the agents found her in the forest. Softly, Gaia took Oerik’s chin to make him look at her.
- Remember, you’re the hero of Redcliff, who fought side by side with the Heroine of Ferelden and king Alistair…
- But I’m no hero at all, milady. - he said, sadness tainted his voice.
- Haven’t you saved Eshara’s clan and the entire village, even when it wasn’t your mission? Look at you, Oerik. You didn’t even flinch before an abomination. You risked your own life in order to save other’s. Now you’re their hero, and you should be proud about it.
Then, she hugged the dwarf, who plunged his head into Gaia’s read hair.
- Until we meet again, my dear friend.
- Say what again? – Oerik asked.
After a couple of days, the agents where about to continue their way to Haven. Therefore, they were saying farewell to the Dalish, when Malan announced something either Keaton nor Oerik expected.
- I’m staying with the clan. I’ve already talked with Keeper Orellis, and I’ll be his new apprentice. I feel I can make a difference here.
- Why don’t you all of you come with us to Haven? There’s plenty of space for everyone until the Breach is sealed. - Keaton suggested.
- We can’t help the Inquisition with our current numbers, and many of our warriors are still in need of rest. We’re not going to be a burden to anyone who’s trying to save the world. - the Keeper stepped forward to talk.
- I understand, but… are you sure this is what you want, Malan? - the dwarf said.
- Yes, it is. Besides… - the elf looked at Eshara. - There’s something I can’t just left behind.
- You better take care of my sister.
Suddenly, Fenrraor joined the agents and pet one of the horses. Everyone was staring at the hunter, waiting for an explanation.
- I’m leaving with the agents. I own them not only my life, but my sister’s and all the clan’s. I hope you can accept it, Keeper.
- There’s nothing I can say to stop you, Fenrraor. I always knew your honour would take you far. Go, and pay your debt. Make your clan proud.
The hunter made a reverence before the Keeper, and then turned to Malan. The mage could clearly understand him just by the look on his eyes.
- Ar dirtha’var’en. - Malan said him.
None of the present understood what he meant about that, except for Fenrraor, who firmly struck the mage hand. He knew the city elf would give his life if necessary to protect both the clan and his sister. That was the promise he made to the hunter.
After saying goodbye, the agents mounted and rode to Haven. They’d lost a member of the group, but they’d also gained a valuable partner.