Part One: Encampment of the Dalish Elves

Valorien is a Hunter with the Dalish Talrasha Clan. He and his partner Tamlen encountered some humans trespassing in their lands. After dispatching the interlopers, the Hunters went to investigate some underground ruins the humans had told them about. Within was a Tainted mirror. Drawn towards the magical device, Tamlen was unable to stop himself from touching it. There was an explosion of light, and then darkness.

Valorien was found unconscious in the forest by a wandering Grey Warden named Duncan. After two days of fever, Valorien has recovered enough to awaken, though he still remains Tainted. Tamlen is nowhere to be found.

The Grey Warden insisted on seeing the mirror, and Valorien took him to it. Duncan recognized the Taint, the same Taint that created Darkspawn, and insisted on destroying it.

 

Valorien approached the Keeper’s aravel, his mind heavy with thought. The Clan all behaved as if Tamlen were dead already, but he felt in his heart it could not be true. Guilt weighed onerously upon him. Tamlen could be lost, wandering, delusional with fever even as he had been. Worse, if he had somehow passed through the magical mirror… Valorien had allowed the outsider to destroy it. On the word of a shemlen! He did not trust this man who appeared at this time of misfortune, like a bad omen. And he did not like the idea of being weak and helpless, at the mercy of this outsider.

The heat of anger flared within his belly, then died away as the fever washed over him, leaving him feeling drained. He paused a moment to collect himself before stepping forward.

Marethari was an aged woman with silver hair. Lines of concern for her charges underlaid the delicate lines of her tattoo. With her was the human Grey Warden, his face dark with hair that the shemlen often wore. His expression was guarded, though his eyes watched Valorien with predatory attention.

Marethari asked, “How are you feeling, Valorien?”

“I am fine, Keeper.” He bowed respectfully to her. The shem, he ignored.

“You are not fine, but I see you are hale enough to travel,” she said. “Duncan has told me that the harbinger of this Taint has been destroyed with your help. But no sign of Your Bond Brother has been found.”

“Tamlen yet lives,” the Hunter insisted. He knew it as surely has he himself still lived.

The human stirred and said quietly, “I am afraid that is most unlikely.”

“If I have survived, it is possible he has, as well.”

“You have barely survived,” Duncan argued. “And then only because I found you and brought you here to be tended by the healing magics of your Keeper.”

Valorien straightened slightly, as if preparing for an onslaught. His voice remained firm and level. “If he were dead, we should have easily found his body.”

“I know this is difficult for you to accept, but Tamlen is gone.”

Valorien’s steel blue eyes narrowed. Before the conflict could go any further, Marethari interrupted them. “Peace. Tamlen is lost to us, but there is a cure for you. Duncan knows a way to save you.”

The human looked at him steadily. “I can cure you of the taint, Valorien. If, in return, you agree to join the Grey Wardens.”

Before he could speak, Valorien had to make a conscious effort to unclench his teeth. “You offer me my life, only so that you may take it, in service to you?”

The Keeper said, “I have agreed to release you from your duties to the Clan that you may go.”

Valorien turned to her, his anger seething closer to the surface. “Then you have both bargained for my life without me,” he said coldly. Marethari looked away.

Duncan said, “The Darkspawn are arising in the south; they threaten all the peoples of this land. The Wardens are dangerously few; we need more like you, strong against the Taint.”

“I would see you live, lethallin,” Marethari said softly, pleading with her sad and wise eyes. She touched him lightly on the arm. “I ask you pledge yourself in service to the Wardens, for our sakes, and your own. But the choice is yours. Duncan has not invoked the right of conscription.”

“Apparently, he does not need to.” The Hunter moved back slightly, removing himself from the Keeper’s touch. “But very well. I pledge, upon my honor, to serve the Grey Wardens.”

Again Marethari had to drop her gaze, this time in sadness, for she could not save her clansman from this fate. Into the silence, Duncan spoke. “We are honored to have you, Valorien. We must leave for Ostagar as soon as possible.”

“May I at least say goodbye to my people?”

“Of course.”

Duncan watched the young elven Hunter go. “I am sorry it had to be this way.”

“He will serve you well, Duncan, no matter his personal feelings.”

“It is not his honor I worry about, but can he ever forgive me?”

 

 

They left, the Grey Warden and his charge, in silence. Elves are masters of silence, but Duncan could not help but feel accusation in it. At nightfall they made a simple camp. Finally, Duncan had to breach the wordlessness.

“Valorien… I know you may not believe this now, but I am truly sorry about what happened to you and your friend.”

The elf only stared at him with his steel blue eyes. Duncan looked away first. “It isn’t required that you like me,” he said. “I know what I did –what I said– seemed harsh, but I will not make apologies for it. I did what I had to do. Our need is dire, as you will see at Ostagar.” He looked up to meet that same unmitigated gaze. He had been telling himself these things on the road. They hadn’t made him feel any better, and neither had telling the elf. He would just have to live with the harsh truth that was his reality.

“How is it you are to be addressed?” the elf asked.

“I suppose it’s too much to ask to be simply called ‘Duncan,'” he replied with wry twist of his mouth.

“I presume the Grey Wardens have a hierarchy. Do you not have a title?”

“I am the Chief Grey Warden, but my only title is ‘Warden.’ ‘Chief Warden,’ I suppose, if there is any ambiguity. We don’t stand a lot on ceremony.” Duncan shrugged. “Is there anything you prefer to be called?”

“No.”

“Right.” Duncan decided pussyfooting around wasn’t going to get him anywhere. “When you’re done, clean up and settle in. I’ll take first watch.”

“As you wish.”

The Warden got up to stretch his legs and take in a little clear night air.

“Tell me about this cure you have promised me,” Valorien said at his back.

“The cure is in Ostagar. I cannot tell you more than that, now.” He turned back. “You’ll just have to trust me.”

Valorien said nothing to this, but went about tending his gear.

The elf did not break his maddening silence, except in the deep of the night, when his fever overcame him. Some Tainted dream took him, and he cried out in elvish. Duncan managed to get some of the Keeper’s medicine into him, and he finally quieted.

In the morning, Valorien had no memory of the fever dreams.