Monday, 24 July 2017

Chapter Four: Pride and Shame, A Dragon Age Fanfic



“Did you just say darkspawn blood?”

“Why yes, Ser Jory, I did say exactly that.”

“And did you just say we have to go into the Wilds to fetch it?”

“Correct, Daveth. That’s where the darkspawn are to be found, after all.”

“I suppose we have to kill them first?”

“Unless you can find a way for them to give you their blood as a sample voluntarily, yes, Neria, you will have to kill them first.”

The three recruits looked from Duncan to each other. The Commander had just informed them that the Joining Ritual required them to collect three vials of darkspawn blood – one for each recruit – and that it was their responsibility to get it by going scouting into the Wilds, where stray bands of the ‘spawn had been spotted.

“The Wilds are a dangerous place,” said Daveth. “There’s things there, things other than the darkspawn - witches and beasts…”

“You will have Alistair with you,” said Duncan calmly. “Rest assured, this is a part of the initiation for every new recruit. Alistair himself has undergone it not six months ago, and I did too, in my time, though we had to venture into the subterranean Deep Roads.”

“I expect we will return by afternoon tomorrow, then,” said Alistair. “Pack what you need…”

“Actually, there was one other thing,” Duncan’s measured voice interrupted them. Neria looked again towards him, tall and erect, white armour over dark skin, hands crossed over his chest. For a moment, she wondered what it took to be a commander of men, to have the power to order them to do what you want, and the responsibility to want what is best for them and whoever you are fighting for. Had he always had this dignified but powerful presence or had he grown into it?

But she would have time, and more, to ask these questions in the days to come, she thought, and so, for now, contented herself with listening to what he had to say.

“There was an old Warden base in the Wilds, back when the Imperium ruled over Ferelden and its boundaries stretched all the way to the frozen wastes beyond Korcari. We had stored certain ancient Treaties signed at the time over there, but the base fell with the withdrawal of the Tevinters and was never occupied again. If this is truly a Blight, we may find ourselves needing those Treaties, however, so I charge you four with retrieving them as well. Alistair, I shall give you the map that will take you there.”

“If the base fell so many years ago, how do we know that the Treaties are even there?” asked Daveth, ever doubting.

“They were protected by powerful spells, and even if they are not there, I would not want us to give up on them without trying,” replied Duncan. “This should take you another three days in the Wilds, I think, two if the darkspawn do not harry you too much. When you return, we shall complete your Joining and initiate you into the Warden corps.”

The tone was of dismissal and sent the three recruits scurrying to round up their possessions. Neria’s extensive wardrobe was lying in its small satchel with Wynne,and she went to collect it from there. It was as she did so that the kennel-master hailed her.

“Going into the Wilds, are ye?” he asked.

“So it seems,” she nodded.

“I was wondering if you could get me this flower – white, with a red centre – from there, should be growing near the marshes.”

“And why would I do that?”

“I have a sick dog on my hands,” the fellow said, indicating a poorly-looking mabari hound lounging in one of the kennels. “That flower, crushed and mixed in milk, is the only thing that seems to work to cure dogs with the Blight-fever.”

“I don’t really think we will…,” began Neria, but then the dog seemed to look right at her and give quite the piteous whine. “Fine, but don’t expect me to give him dog-treats afterwards.”

The kennel-master grinned as she walked away.

#

“You're not from Ferelden, are you?”

“That depends on whether Ferelden wants to claim ownership of its mages,” Neria replied guardedly.

“I see your point. Have a bit of rabbit.”

Neria scowled. She realised that the Templar-turned-Warden was trying to be friendly but she wasn't inclined to trust a Templar, even one who claimed he had never taken his vows.

It was their second day in the Korcari Wilds now. Alistair, Daveth, Sir Jory and she had been making their way through the swampy forest land in search of the Treaties.

“Are we getting anywhere near where we need to be?” asked Daveth, who was sharpening his dagger on a whetstone.

“I have a map, but it is an old one,” admitted Alistair.

In the Wilds, that had meant a lot of walking around in the wrong direction. The broad elevations were the same, but places where walls, statues and outposts were marked had long since fallen, either to the depredations of the Chasind or the ravages of time. Leaning towers, fallen heads and broken walls dotted the landscape, interspersing the mucky water, trees and corpses.

Yes, corpses.

Everywhere they went, the could see that the darkspawn had made their presence felt in the Wilds. Most of the dead were their own soldiers. Small bands of men sent out to scout the darkspawn positions who had encountered their counterparts from the horde and come off rather the worse for it. There were Chasind bodies too, and – rather poignantly – a father-and-son pair of missionaries, their bodies in two different places, who had come to bring the word of the Maker to the tribals and died at darkspawn hands instead.

“I only worry that we may encounter a band of ‘spawn too large for us to defeat,” said Sir Jory.

“That has not been a problem so far,” pointed out Alistair.

It was true. They had encountered darkspawn; stinking, hideous, mindless creatures, with their screams and grunts, rushing at them, swords and daggers swinging. But whether through good fortune or skill, their group had avoided serious injury, and even completed their first task towards the completion of their Joining – collecting darkspawn blood.

Now that it was done, though, Neria could understand that further encounters were best avoided. She herself had proven her worth in battle many times over, even to the doubting, heavyset knight from Redcliffe, who was still a little awkward around her. Alistair had tried to hint that she could wear her cloak over the wispy yellow robe that exposed nearly all of her back and so much leg, though doing a slightly better job of covering her torso and stomach, but as she used an Rock Armour spell to protect herself and claimed that a cloak would only cramp her movements, even he had stopped trying to tell her what to do.

In fact, the first wolf attack had been repelled almost single-handedly by Neria as she had unleashed a firestorm in the middle of the pack. Their encounter with darkspawn had been more of a challenge – nothing could have prepared her for the horror of facing down one of those creatures. But they died, just as surely as the wolves had, two slain by Daveth's arrows, two more chopped down by Alistair and Jory, while she bested the last, a tall hurlock who had been shooting fire arrows at them.

She decided she rather liked Daveth. He wasn't handsome exactly, but attractive in a rakish sort of way, and certainly as smooth a talker as she had ever encountered. He spoke a lot, too and was generally the life and soul of the party. Jory was more likely to whine between casting admiring looks at her. Alistair mostly just avoided looking anywhere but the road ahead.

They were sitting around a fire, the remains of the campsite where the misguided missionary Rigby had once made his camp. The darkspawn they encountered there had proven a particular challenge, but even they had fallen eventually, Alistair plunging his sword through the last of them. They had disposed of the darkspawn bodies by dragging them some way away having Neria freeze them over so that they did not begin to rot until after the Wardens had moved on in the morning.

“Pitch your tents, we shall continue tomorrow,” said Alistair, pushing a log onto the fire. Daveth and Ser Jory moved to pitch their tents. Neria, who was not carrying one, had been spending her nights in the tent of whoever was keeping the first night’s watch and then rolling out to the tent of whoever kept the second before taking the third watch herself. A fallen tree log half-hid their campsite from the south-east, while an old archway from the time of the Imperium gave some sort of cover towards the west. A hillock stood behind them, and all in all, it was deathly quiet.

“Do you think the darkspawn could attack us by night?” asked Neria.

“They can’t see any better than us, except for the Shrieks – that’s a third type of ‘spawn – and we haven’t encountered any of those yet. It’s unlikely they could sneak up on whoever is keeping watch. I’d be more worried about wolves.”

That, she could well believe. But in the silence engulfing them, broken only by the sound, now, of Ser Jory’s snoring and a tock-tock of a raven sitting on the fallen tree and pecking away at the bark she felt a strange sense of uncertainty, as though there was something, some presence beyond themselves that had not yet revealed itself.

“My mother was from Rivain,” she relented.

“What?”

“You asked whether I was from Ferelden,” she said. “I was in the Denerim slums when they took me to the Circle, but I was born and raised in Rivain until I was about eight.”

“Ah. I thought you were too dark-skinned for a Fereldan!” said Alistair triumphantly.

“So you're not only beautiful but exotic into the bargain?” broke in Daveth, walking towards them from his tent. “Perfect!”

She favoured him with a smile.

“Save the superlatives for later,” she said, “maybe when I give you the opportunity to better appreciate those exotic features?”

He gave her a lop-sided smile and held out a bottle of ale.

“Nicked this from the Quartermaster's special supply before we set out. Thought wecould all do with a swig.”

She thanked him and took a sip before passing it to Alistair.

“How's Jory?” she asked.

“I’m surprised the sound of his snoring hasn’t brought the horde down upon us. Man’s tired, I guess, but good otherwise.”

Neria was not very worried about Jory, if she had to be perfectly honest. The knight was sturdy as a horse and his injuries, such as he had suffered, were not serious. In any case, she didn't much like the man. It was not just the way he looked at her – that was fine, as far as she was concerned. It was the fact that he was patronising towards Daveth and herself, while regarding himself and Alistair as being of a superior class altogether. He was good enough with the two-handed broadsword in battle, perfectly capable of slaughtering the darkspawn, but seemed to have a rather obvious lack of faith in the necessity of their enterprise.

“I didn't mention it, seeing as he didn't remember me, but he's given me a pasting once,” grinned Alistair, handing the bottle back to Daveth.

“You don't say! How did that come about?” asked Daveth, helping himself to the ale.

“I was raised in the Arl of Redcliffe's castle. Lived in the stables for the most part. Jory was a knight-in-training when I cheeked him.”

“Probably a good thing he doesn't remember it then,” guffawed Daveth, “What did you do?”

“Oh, it might have involved a lizard in his breeches at some point of time,” he gave a boyish grin – the sort that always made Neria warm towards him, however involuntarily. “Duncan's mother was from Rivain too, you know,” Alistair went on. “How did you end up in Denerim?”

“From what my mother told me, it seems she and my father were farm labour on the Qunari tea plantations. In one of their wars with the Tevinters, our part of the territory fell into their hands and a Magister from the Imperium came and took it over and ran the place like – well, like a slave-plantation. He had my father put to death for something trivial and made my mother into his – plaything? Concubine? – at any rate, she and I moved into the house. When I was eight, my mother took whatever she could – some money she had saved and a little plate and fled to Ferelden. Tevinter Magisters are not known for their great delicacy and forbearance in dealing with elves, as you might be aware. In fact, they do not even wait until one of us has had her first blood if they find her otherwise – suitable.”

She stopped, looked coolly at their shocked faces, took the bottle of ale from a deep draught.

“Anyway, she found herself in Denerim eventually, stayed in the Alienage, and worked in Arl Urien's castle. Two years later, I set our neighbour’s house on fire by mistake and two days after that, the Templars came and took me away.”

“From what I know of Arl Urien’s son, perhaps it was just as well, his attitude towards elves is no different from that of your average Tevinter Magister,” muttered Daveth.

“Oh, I know. I always wondered if he’d want me when I was older. I meant to be a good mistress as long as he kept me in silks and fed me well.”

The looks that both men gave her made her smile wistfully. After Jowan, this was the first time she was talking about this to anyone.

“What makes a ten-year-old girl aspire to be nothing more than a rich man’s mistress?” asked Alistair softly.

“Having nothing else to aspire to,” she replied. “The alienage is a place with no hope, you know. It’s squalid and ugly and everyone around is wallowing in the same mire, drunk or thieving, mindless churls or vapid whores. It made animals of the best of my race, just living there. I don’t remember the plantation very well, but before the Magister came, it was a good place, a happy enough place, where the men and women worked side by side and sang and laughed after a hard day’s work. In the alienage, there was anger and jealousy and little else. I remember a red-head called Shianni and a pretty blonde named Kallian, who were different, stronger, somehow – they saw hope and strength, they saw the need to fight the squalor and the depression. I only wanted out. I suppose I did get that, in its way, and now here I am.”

Neria stared into the fire. As a mage, her strongest affinity was to the Primal school of magic, which was what had made all her teachers declare that she would be a formidable battle-mage someday. She could rain lightning and conjure up ice, twist and bend rock to her will, but it was fire in which she revelled most of all. It was as though she understood fire, as though she could feel it within her, glorious, fierce, all-consuming. Maybe fire understood her, too – the need to burn, the desire to be fed, not with kindling, as the fire needed, but by men and their desperate, sweaty, quivering bodies and warm seed, which quieted her fire only to have it burn again, seeking, consuming, engulfing them, much as the fire she could command in battle burned the darkspawn.

Cogren had burned. Ser Jory would burn soon. King Cailan – well that was too much to aspire to, perhaps. Who else, she wondered. How many?

“Do you blame the Templars for taking you away from your mother though?” Daveth asked again. Any doubt she might have had that the question was innocuous was dispelled by the fact that Daveth cast a pretty pointed glance at Alistair as he asked the question.

“Not those Templars in particular. They were only doing what the Chantry enjoins them to do, even if that means tearing children away from their families. I don't like Templars in general – not because of who they are, but because of what they've been trained to do.”

She had seen Alistair's eyes on her while she spoke. There had been an expression in them she hadn't recognised – not fear, exactly, nor apprehension either. But he had looked for something in her answer. What he had found she could not tell.

“Now that says precious little,” grinned Daveth, “But I'm guessing our Templar-turned-Grey Warden friend can go to sleep, safe in the knowledge he will wake up as a man and not something unnatural.”

“It's that or not going to sleep at all, hey?” said Alistair. “You should get some rest, Daveth. Wake up for the next watch, I’ll stay up for this one – if that’s fine with the lady.”

“Never been called a lady before,” muttered Neria. “Don’t care much for it either. Do what you like, Daveth. I’ll sleep when I’m ready to sleep – which isn’t just yet.”

#

[Anything you might recognise from playing Dragon Age: Origins is (c) BioWare. This work is not intended to earn any profit or make any money.]


2 comments:

  1. This is brilliant.

    Please post the next few chapters soon, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I did! DO click on 'Next Chapter'!

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