“Alright,” Meryell began as she leaned over the table in what accounted for a command tent in the Path of Flame camp, “you’ve all been here for months. I’ve read and gone over your reports with the Nightingale, so I know some serious shit has been going down.”
She looked around at the gathered staff of the camp, all sixteen of them. While the region of the Exalted Plains fell under the current command of Sergeant Beatrix Daye, Path of Flame was headed by an agent of Leliana’s. The man insisted on using only the name Shade and he lived up to it by having truly unassuming features that could blend into any crowd. He wore an amalgamation of worn leather and cloth with most of the pieces in faded grays and brown, all of them looking several years old. The only thing that was new looking was the small silver pin with the Inquisition’s eye he wore on the gray scarf around his neck.
The majority of the occupants of the camp were also a part of Leliana’s side of the Inquisition, who had no official name but Meryell had heard a few people call the spies and agents the Nightingale’s Ravens lately. It was not only apt but would also confuse someone into thinking they were talking about the birds.
“But I don’t want just reports,” she went on. “I want to hear what’s going on from you with all of the details you can spare.” Grinning at them, she added, “I want all of the things that couldn’t go in the reports too. Even the inane shift.”
“Even the piss schedule of the Orlesian camp?” asked one of the scouts from the back of the room.
Laughing, Meryell replied, “Fine, maybe not all of the inane. Just what applies to what we’ll be doing out here.” She then stopped, shook her head, and asked, “And why the fuck are you even taking note of that? No, better question, do you know why they even have a piss schedule?”
There was a chuckle from amongst the gathering and Shade, standing at the front of the group, uncrossed his arms enough to point a single finger towards one of the few scouts. The young man flushed brightly, from his ears to where his neck disappeared beneath his armor, and shuffled his feet. “I thought one of the officers was doing something suspicious so I watched for them leaving through a certain gate.”
“Then I came to switch watches with him a few days after,” piped up the slightly older woman next to him with a grin, “and realized what the Orlesians were about. As to why, Inquisitor, it’s apparently a rule in the Orlesian military.”
Blackwall snorted in amusement from behind her and Meryell barked a laugh before saying, “I’m going to have to ask my Captain if that’s true. Then have a good hard laugh at his fucking country for having a full-on constant piss schedule. Maker’s nuts, what a laugh.”
“Unfortunately that’s one of the few we’ve got,” commented Shade grimly. “The actual fighting’s been quiet since the Empress and the Duke called a truce before Halamshiral but that hasn’t kept everything all nice and pleasant.”
“Has there been interaction between them since the truce?” asked Cassandra.
The agent shook his head and replied, “Not since the undead.”
“Undead?” repeated Meryell with surprise, frowning. “We heard about desertion but not undead. Is this a recent development?”
Shade nodded before saying, “Last few weeks. We sent a report back to the Nightingale when we encountered them but that may have missed you.”
Meryell turned to look at Cassandra, arching an eyebrow at the idea. That she knew there had never been a raven lost in transit between any of their camps and to have it happen right around their time in Halamshiral was more than a little worrying. The stern look that the warrior returned, her eyes abruptly hard and flinty, said that she suspected something as well.
Looking back at Shade, she asked, “You sent it to Skyhold?”
“It should have arrived before you left but bad weather may have slowed the bird. We had a bitch of a storm right after she flew home.”
Glancing at Cassandra, Meryell arched a brow and the woman sighed. “Leliana left an agent of hers in charge when we left Skyhold. He has a name like a flower…”
“Lotus,” interjected Shade with a little bob of his head. “Mean old elf warrior who fought with Loghain back in the Rebellion as a Night Elf. Wouldn’t cross him if my life depended on it. He would have sent the missive on to whoever was stationed in Halamshiral if it arrived after you left Skyhold, Inquisitor.” The man’s expression then went dark as he growled, “If it never arrived…”
“A traitor?” asked the young scout, his face pale beneath his helmet.
Meryell raised a hand and hissed, “Don’t count your mabari before they’ve come off the bitch’s teat.” There were several low chuckles at the saying and she grinned at the collected group before she continued on. “We were just in the middle of the Game. It’s possible that the message was intercepted by an opposing agent in the Winter Palace. Which is fucking annoying but almost expected given that pit of snakes. No offense to any of you that actually are Orlesian.”
There was a bark of laughter from the back as a man with a thick Orlesian accent called out, “We all know the nobility are snakes, Inquisitor.”
“Bless the Maker for gifting common sense to someone in this country then,” she commented, which drew another laugh out of the crowd. Meryell then bared her teeth in what could barely be called a smile as she added, “We’ll set the Nightingale on figuring out where our missing report went. She’ll figure out what happened. Thankfully it would have been coded if you lot were sending it to her and I know how hard it is to crack codes.”
“What now then, Inquisitor?” asked Shade as he nodded his head in agreement.
Meryell tilted her head to the side before her smile turned honest.
“Now?” she replied. “Now we sit down and have us a chat. Let’s start with this piss schedule, I’m in need of a laugh.”
The scout blushed again, ducking his head, and several of his fellow clapped him on the back. Meryell just crooked a finger at him and said, “Come on now, I don’t bite.”
Blackwall snorted and she distinctly heard him mutter, “That’s not what those bites the Commander was trying to keep hidden when we left say.”
Ignoring the heat at the tips of her ears, she plucked at the scout’s sleeve and dragged him off into a corner to settle in for the first of what were probably many such conversations.
“Savhalla, hahren,” Meryell said as she inclined her head to the elf who was obviously the leader of the small clan of Dalish they’d found. Keeper Hawen if she recalled the words of the hunter Olafin they’d run across correctly.
The Keeper narrowed his eyes at her before speaking in Common that bore the same accent that tore at her earliest memories. Exactly the same as the voice that had taught her Elven in hushed tones like it was a secret, that had lulled her into sleep with old tales and songs, the voice she had last heard as a broken whisper calling her Pup while the knees of her threadbare trousers had soaked with his lifeblood.
It battered at her heart like a storm.
Suddenly she wanted Folke with her instead of off with the the other Fangs and Sergeant Olyver clearing the ramparts right outside Path of Flame.
“I did not expect one of the Suinasvenla to be with the Inquisition,” he commented mildly. “They typically do not tread alongside shemlen. You are quite far from home, asa’var’lin.”
Andraste’s flaming cunt, does he know where babae’s clan is?
Better yet, how did he know of the Suinasvenla?
She must have stood there just staring for a moment because suddenly Cassandra’s hand pressed firmly along her spine at the same time Solas hissed, “Syla, da’len. Breathe.”
Meryell inhaled sharply before she cracked a broken smile. She’d never wanted to be Dalish in her life but never knowing the clan also meant never knowing her other grandparents, who had been alive and hale when her father had been taken. Nor knowing his little sister, her aunt who would never have been aware that she had a niece. They were what little blood family she had left and despite the company being her family for a decade, she wished but once to speak to them.
If only to let them know their son had lived.
“Not sure how you knew but I’m afraid I’m just a shadow of the Suinasvenla, Keeper,” she said softly. “My babae was of them, taken by templars as a mage while still a boy then left to the alienage when he proved without magic. He taught me the tongue.”
The Keeper looked deeply surprised, both of his eyebrows rising high, then said, “You speak the tongue perfectly in tone but I can hear the shemlen tones in the Common.” He looked her up and down then before asking, “Your name, Inquisition.”
She spoke her Elven with the same cadence as babae had?
Meryell then stiffened before she forced herself to relax as the edge of Cassandra’s hand pressed into the leather of her armor reassuringly. “Meryell Verlen,” she replied and she saw pain in his eyes at the last name she bore, the one her father had chosen to bear. Then she went on, “Before he took the name, my babae was Terys Arauven.”
“Terys Arauven has been claimed dead for more than three decades, Inquisition,” the Keeper said darkly, something of a snarl beneath his words. “Nearly four. I recall the Arlathvhen after he disappeared. He was given up for dead. To claim to be his child is quite unbelievable.”
She stiffened at the words and drew herself up as tall as she could, stepping away from Cassandra towards him. Anger burned in her belly at the idea that she was some kind of fucking liar about who her father had been. She may have lied about a lot of things in her life but never about who her parents had been.
“I have a pouch he made when he was apprenticed to Issaron Mahariel,” she hissed. “It bears his mark and that of his old master. He kept that mark and placed it on every piece he made after.”
Something passed over the Keeper’s face at the mention of her father’s childhood teacher and he inclined his head slightly. “Perhaps you are his,” he murmured. “Though only the Suinasvenla could confirm such a thing.”
Meryell hated how her heart rose into her throat as she asked, “Do you know where they are, Keeper?”
Keeper Hawe looked at her for a long moment before he replied, “I know where the clan may be in a few months time. We arrange to cross paths with our cousins often given that we are the last to keep the tongue true. Yet, even if you are a shadow of the Suinasvenla, I cannot trust you so freely with that place.”
She wanted to snarl but didn’t. This was just another negotiation and bit of playing fucking nice. Just like Halamshiral.
Instead of snarling, Meryell bore down on her spitting anger and asked, “How can the Inquisition earn your trust, Keeper?”
“The Inquisition and yourself are two different things, da’len.”
“She is the Inquisitor,” intoned Cassandra suddenly, her voice like good steel. And Meryell adored the surprise on the Keeper’s face at that.
“One would not expect the shemlen to raise one of our own so high. Particularly not one carrying the blood of the People.”
Meryell heard Solas made a subtle snorting noise from behind her and reached an arm back to flick her fingers at him in the battle gesture for quiet. The mage stilled with a low chuckle and a murmured, “As you will, da’len.”
The Keeper frowned at them then said, “Very well. Earn the trust of my clan, Inquisition, and perhaps I may be inclined to share the meeting place with a long lost cousin.”
“Serannasan ma,” murmured Meryell as she inclined her head towards him.
“Do not thank me yet, Inquisitor,” replied the Keeper. “It is yet to be seen if you will impress my clan.”
She nodded slowly before saying, “I thank you for the opportunity to do so then, hahren.”
Hawen smiled at that and then gestured them forward into the camp. Meryell felt Cassandra’s hand grip her elbow as she started to take a step forward and turned to meet the warrior’s gaze. The older woman’s dark eyes bored into her, full of some sort of question, and she met that silent query with an arched brow.
Then Cassandra was moving forward with her, leaning in close to hiss, “Is this for you or the Inquisition?”
Blinking at her, Meryell replied, “Can’t it be both?”
That made some of the hard concern leave the other woman’s face, replaced with regret. “Forgive me, Inquisitor,” she said softly. “I should not doubt your intentions.”
Shaking her head, she switched their positions so she was now holding Cassandra’s elbow. “Never fear calling me on my shit, Cass,” she hissed. “I don’t want my friends following me blindly if they think I’m doing something stupid.”
“You may regret telling me that.”
Laughing, Meryell replied, “Never,” and then she turned away to look around the small encampment of the clan. Looking at what her life could have been if babae had never been taken.
Of course, that would have meant never learning to climb the rickety rafters and structures in the alienage. Never listening to mamae recite the Chant with all the bearing and seriousness of a noble. And babae perhaps never realizing how wrong some parts of the culture he’d been born into had been.
No, no, she might have a soft spot for the Dalish but they weren’t her people. And she wasn’t theirs.
“Don’t worry, Cassandra,” Meryell said softly, just enough that only the other woman could hear her. “This world of theirs still isn’t mine, just the same as it stopped being babae’s. No matter how much I may want to meet his clan just the once, that doesn’t change.”
“You are certain?” asked the older woman.
Smiling, Meryell looked at her and asked, “What do I need them for, Cass? I already have two clans and I damn sure don’t need a third. Besides, they’d probably tell me to curb my language and that shit isn’t happening.”
That made the warrior laugh and Cassandra clapped a hand on her shoulder while smiling down at her.
“I am not certain what it entails to the Dalish,” she said warmly, “but I am proud to be included as part of your clan.”
Grinning at her, Meryell replied, “Fuck what it means to the Dalish. All it really means to me is what we already do: watching each other’s backs.”
“And I will continue to do so, my friend.”
“So will I, Cass. So will I.”
Babae scooped her up as she burst out the door of their home and she giggled brightly as he spun her around in the air before lowering her down to settle in the crook of his arm. His lips pressed against her cheek before he asked, “And what mischief have you been up to today, sweetling? Not causing trouble for your mamae, are you?”
“Din, babae,” she replied, kicking her feet idly against his belly. “I learned my numbers! Up to ten!”
“Your numbers! In Common and Elven?” When she just smiled, he laughed and said, “Well then, recite them for me. I want to hear what you’ve learned.”
She nodded sharply and scrunched up her nose as she carefully recited, “One. Sa. Two. Ta. Three. Tan. Four. Ny. Five. Va. Six. No. Seven. Noa. Eight. Han. Nine. Uan. Ten. Asan!”
“On, on! You are the smartest little girl in all of Thedas!”
Babae smiled brightly at her and asked, “Would I lie to you, ara dharlin?”
And with that she was on her knees, older by several years, with Babae’s body splayed out on the ground before her with blood pooling beneath him. Yet she was also her current age, staring in horror down at her younger self as she shook and screamed, “You lied, you lied, you lied! Hamelan! HAMELAN!”
Meryell spun to flee from the sight and found herself face-to-face abruptly with the dragon from Haven and she screamed as its massive maw lunged at her.
She jerked upright with a gasp, flailing out of her bedroll and blanket in a blind attempt to get away from the beast. Her hand automatically found one of her daggers, one of the small hand-length flat hilted ones that she tucked into sheaths along her shins and forearms, as she bolted out of the tangle. One foot nearly twisted as it got caught in the blanket but she stumbled, freeing herself, before crashing through the door flap of the tent.
Meryell came to a stop in a fighting stance, blade at the ready and her mouth set into a snarl. The fever bright rush that came with a battle thrummed through her with both familiarity and a foreign feeling that she couldn’t quite decipher. Her eyes darted around, seeking out the dragon from her dreams, but there was only the low crackle of the camp fire.
It isn’t here.
Half of her mind insisted – knew for certain – but the rest was still in the fight or flight mode that made her muscles tight.
She abruptly registered a noise and movement nearby, turning on it with a snarl. Dark hair, broad shoulders, and a large beard registered but the facial features didn’t in her still frayed mind. Meryell did the logical thing after that in her mind: lack of recognition meant stranger and stranger while she felt in danger meant do not hesitate, go on the attack.
Her first lunge missed just barely and was accompanied by a gruff sounding oath that she couldn’t make out. As she bared her teeth and tried again, Elven expletives spilling from her lips, a large and calloused hand closed around her wrist. The fingers dug into her nerves and she hissed as the man shook her weapon out of her hand.
Didn’t matter. She didn’t need a weapon.
Her other hand flashed up at his face, aiming for his nose, but he seemed to have been expecting the dirty move. As he caught her other wrist, the man spun her around and used her now crossed arms to help pin her back against his chest. Meryell snarled and kicked out with her heels, knowing she hit at least one of his knees when he cursed.
Then beard hairs tickled her ear as Blackwall growled in a pained tone, “Come back down, lass. There’s no one here that’s going to harm you.”
Meryell stiffened against him and reality abruptly – and harshly – registered itself.
They were camped in an old ruin, not too far from where Chuckles’ friend was in trouble. He’d wanted to go ahead there but she’d managed to talk him out if going in the dark like a fucking fool and getting them all killed. So they’d made camp and someone kept an eye out for the approach of the rest of their group that was coming to join them for the task. They’d all fallen asleep with the plan being to rise early to go assess the situation and deal with it.
And then she recalled the nightmare.
A violent shudder ran through her whole body and Meryell couldn’t stop the broken sob that came from her. The high was leaving her now, the fear of the dragon at Haven forgotten. In its wake, it left only the years old agony and pain.
“Maker’s cock,” she heard Blackwall hiss. One of his arms was around her waist then, lifting her up off her feet. That was all she registered until her feet touched the ground again as he carefully laid her down on what felt like a blanket. She blinked open her eyes to see him bent over the fire as he urged it back up from coals, cursing at it under his breath.
Then he was crouching in front of her and she realized he was only in his shirtsleeves, which was new. Typically he was always in his padded gambeson up until camp broke down for bed. His expression was oddly…fond…as he reached down to brush her hair back from her face with a gentle touch. Thankfully he didn’t brush it behind her ears since she was certain he didn’t know her aversion to touch.
“You’re alright, lass,” he murmured, his voice low and soothing. Like he was trying to calm a spooked hound or horse. “Nothing here but us.”
Meryell licked her lips briefly before breathing, “M’sorry.”
Blackwall chuckled dryly at that and then eased himself down onto the ground next to her. He rested a hand on her shoulder, a simple, easy gesture of I am here as he said, “Not the first time a lady’s come after me with a knife. Don’t worry your head about it.”
She wondered what stories were behind that comment but didn’t care enough to ask. Not when she could still see the echo of babae’s face in her mind, even though it was already fading. Honestly she wasn’t even sure if she was recalling him correctly.
His voice, though. His voice she knew.
And hearing it twice in one day in two different echoes was almost too much.
Meryell curled her body up tighter on the blanket and abruptly reached out to grab the material of Blackwall’s pants for something, anything, to hold on to. His hand squeezed her shoulder in return, a silent acknowledgement of his presence.
Fucking bless him for not asking what was wrong. He simply sat there in silence with her, only the crackle of the fire breaking the quiet. It was pleasant and familiar to simply have someone accept that she would talk if she wanted to. To simply be there as a reminder that she was safe and nothing more.
And when she was finally able to shake the memories as well as the taut stiffness from her limbs, Blackwall gave her a simple smile accompanied by a hand up from the ground.
“Thank you,” she said warmly as they stood there for a moment after.
He merely nodded and replied in a low voice, “I’ll be here if you need someone again.”
That made Meryell pause and she looked at him again, suddenly seeing his tired eyes. She’d thought it was his watch and that was why he was awake. Now she suspected he’d been up from nightmares himself.
Frowning, she commented idly, “Well…it’d be a fucking shame to waste the fire.” And she saw him grin behind his beard.
“Damn fine shame,” he agreed.
Picking up the blanket, she shook the grass out of it before wrapping it around her shoulders. Blackwall had already settled back down on the ground and as she dropped back down next to him, he held out a well-worn flask he’d pulled from somewhere.
Chuckling, Meryell took the offered flask and tipped it back, tasting shitty whiskey immediately. She started coughing as soon as it was down her throat, shoving the flask back at him as he laughed. “That’s fucking terrible,” she managed to choke out. “What by the Maker’s knotted prick is that?”
“Orlesian whiskey,” he replied with a laugh as he took a swig. She just stared at him in disgust before shaking her head.
“Ugh. Really? Orlesians make shit whiskey.”
“Acquired taste,” Blackwall commented wryly. Meryell turned to glare at him at that and scowled. Then she held out a hand and he chuckled before giving her back the flask. “I thought it was shit.”
Snorting, she replied, “It is shit but I don’t turn down free alcohol.”
The man barked out a laugh at that, shaking his head before he commented, “You are something else, lass. Something else indeed.”
“Thanks?” Meryell said, posing it as more a question than a comment.
“It’s a good thing,” Blackwall assured. He took the flask back a moment later, taking a long pull from it before he spoke again. “It’s a refreshing thing to watch someone be unabashedly themselves. You make excuses to no one for who you are, not even the Commander.”
That was a lie because she did sometimes at her lowest but Cullen never accepted her words as they were.
The man next to her stared into the fire as he went on, “You’re unapologetically you.” His voice was melancholy, almost jealous, and Meryell realized again that she knew so little about the Warden at her side. They’d shared fires and food and drinks in the tavern over ridiculous stories but…little else. She knew he had secrets, shit he kept close to his breast and didn’t tell a soul. Who didn’t have secrets in the Inquisition though?
Blackwall lapsed into silence after that and Meryell just sat next to him for a long moment before she leaned over to nudge him with her blanket covered shoulder. When he turned to look at her, offering the flask again, she shook her head.
“Do you think you can’t do the same?” she asked softly. When he immediately looked away, she knew the answer was no.
What was he hiding?
No, better yet, what parts of who he was weren’t real?
“I’ve done a lot of things I’ve regretted, lass,” the warrior rumbled under his breath after a moment. His gaze was haunted as he focused it back on the fire. “Things that you don’t just come back from.”
“So have I,” Meryell noted. “So have Cullen and Cass and Leliana. I’m betting you could talk to any member of the Inquisition and they’d tell you a similar fucking story.”
Blackwall’s face was oddly ashen behind his beard now as he breathed, “Not like this.”
Frowning, she leaned into him briefly and sternly said, “Blackwall, look at me. Look at me.” He hesitated for a moment then slowly turned to look down at her.
Meryell had never noticed before that his eyes were gray like Folke’s. If one had to compare the two, however, then her baba”s eyes were the gray of heavy Ferelden fogs – the sort that clung thickly to the ground and concealed everything. Blackwall’s on the other hand, were the gray of the Storm Coast’s sea and as equally wind-tossed and turbulent.
“Whatever it is in your past that you’re ashamed of,” she began a moment later, “I don’t give two rotten shits about it. I’ve done things in my life that would have my neck in a fucking noose if I didn’t have the company to back me up. You think I haven’t heard stories of heinous deeds? You think that everyone in the Fangs is a damned saint?”
“We’re not,” Meryell plowed on. “Furthest from it.”
Shaking her head, she interrupted him with, “Whatever it fucking is, Blackwall. What matters to me is what you do now, not some shit that happened in your past. The only thing you’ve got to do with that shit is own it.”
If anything his face went even more ashen before he said, “You don’t even know what it was.”
“I don’t look at people for what they did,” Meryell snapped a little more harshly than she meant to. “If I did, I wouldn’t be able to love my father as much as I do. Or Cullen, for that matter. If they regret it and want to be better, that’s enough for me.” She then looked sternly at him and added, “I will have your back in this, same as I have it on the field when you’ve got mine.”
Blackwall blinked several times then looked away from her, turning his gaze back towards the fire. She watched him swallow thickly before he softly said, “I don’t deserve it.”
“Not about fucking deserving it, asshole,” she grumbled. “Sometimes folks just want to give shit.”
He laughed at that – the sound half choked in his throat – then murmured, “You really are something else.”
Meryell shrugged nudged him with her shoulder again as she commented, “I think I’m exactly what I fucking need to be. Now share some more of that shit you’ve got, I need a drink.”
This time an honest laugh came from the man and he handed over the flask with a strained smile. As she tipped it back to drink, Blackwall said quietly, “If…if it comes to me owning it, you’ll know. Out of anyone, I’ll tell you, lass.”
She just smiled at him and nodded as the whiskey burned down her throat before passing the flask back to him. He took it in silence and finished off the last, tucking it away somewhere underneath his shirt. Then his elbow knocked into hers and he laughed before asking, “Commander won’t get jealous if he hears about this?”
“He knows where my heart belongs,” Meryell replied before leaning up against him. “Unless you aren’t comfortable. I tuck up close with half the menfolk in the Fangs, not to mention Dorian and Varric when we all get toasty.”
“Just making sure I keep my head when we get back to Skyhold.”
“Anyone that says shit happened’ll answer to my fucking knives. Like I said, I’ve got your back.”
Blackwall smiled at that and nodded, murmuring, “And I yours, lass,” before they lapsed into silence. No more words were needed to be spoken, however.
They knew where the other stood when it mattered and that was enough.
savhalla – saluations, hello
asa’var’lin – cousin
syla – breathe
serannasan ma – I thank you
hamelan – liar
Elven numbers are all taken from Project Elvhen.