While fighting on their way to aid the elves in the Brecilian Forest, they get pretty beat up. This is a miscellanea post about what Valorien and Alistair do all night.
Valorien crouched in front of Alistair. “Here, look at me.” He passed his hand before Alistair’s eyes.
“I’m fine. I’m all patched up.”
“Really,” said Morrigan, “a blow to the head is the least likely to do him any noticeable damange.”
“Ha-ha,” growled Alistair.
“You have a concussion,” Valorien told him. “You cannot go to sleep tonight.”
“Well what am I supposed to do?”
“Stay awake,” the elf insisted. “I will stay up with you. Elves do not need nearly so much sleep as sh– humans.”
“Just don’t be bothering me,” Morrigan said over her shoulder. “I need a lot of sleep. Or I get cranky,” she warned.
A: “So what are we supposed to do for entertainment?”
V: “I guess we’ll just have to talk to each other.”
A: “We talked to each other already.”
V: “Yeah, I know where you’re from.”
A: “Hey, you want to see something really scary?”
(β: you get 100 Bloodsong Points if you recognize this quote.)
“I really do feel fine,” Alistair insisted.
“If you go to sleep, you may never wake up.”
Alistair sighed. “Well, what are we going to do?”
“Perhaps I can teach you to cook.”
“What? You can cook?” Alistair looked at him in disbelief.
“Of course. The Hunters are very self-sufficient.”
“No, wait…. All this time, you put up with my cooking and you never said you could cook!”
“You didn’t ask.”
Alistair stared at him, but Valorien was completely deadpan. “You put up with my cooking…. *just* so you could be obtuse and say that if the opportunity ever arose. Didn’t you?”
Valorien only looked at him.
“This is an elvish joke, right?”
“Right. Elves have to have some kind of sense of humor.”
“You find this funny?”
Alistair rolled his eyes heavenward. “I’m sure there’s someone, somewhere, who would appreciate the irony of us suffering through dozens of unpalatable meals, just so you could say ‘Yes, I can cook. But you never asked.'”
“Why didn’t you ask?”
“Because! Just it’s… cooking. It’s what servants do. And we have, you know….”
“Elven servants who cook,” Valorien supplied.
“And you’re not… them. You’re not like them. I mean, I wouldn’t presume…. It’d just be awkward.”
“So cooking is a demeaning task. That’s why you asked Morrigan to do it.”
“Uh, yes, well that was sort of a joke.”
Valorien stood up and strung his bow. “So you do not take pride in being able to survive on your own.”
“Well, you’ve tasted my cooking. It’s not exactly something to be proud of,” said Alistair. “What are you doing?”
“We will need rabbit for a stew. We can take Tarroth.” The elf signalled and the mabari came to him.
“Just as long as we don’t wake Morrigan up,” Alistair said, standing. “She’ll bitch at us all morning.”
“How will we know?”
“You don’t notice when sh– hang on… *That* was a joke? It was, wasn’t it?”
“I have been studying your technique,” Valorien admitted.
“You think I’m funny?”
The elf shrugged. “Amusing. Yes.”
“Oh, well, at least that’s a step above stupid.”
“I know you are not stupid, Alistair,” Valorien told him.
The two intrepid hunters trudged (quietly) back to camp and sat on a log by the banked fire. “Well,” said Alistair, “at least one of us managed to bag a rabbit.” He looked over his shoulder, where Tarroth was busy wolfing down his kill. “Too bad mabari aren’t exactly rabbit hounds.”
“Perhaps it was an ill-conceived idea,” Valorien admitted.
“Well, with your eye injury, and me not seeing so well in the dark….” Alistair shrugged.
“Now you can no longer say all my decisions are good ones.” Morosely he stared into the fire, poking the flames into life with a stick.
“It was hardly earth-shatteringly bad.” Alistair studied him a moment. “What’s bothering you?”
“Nothing. I was just remembering my hunting parnter. We lost him before I came to Ostagar.”
“I remember you mentioned something about that,” said Alistair. “But I was a bit busy wallowing in my own grief at the time. Do you want to talk about it?”
Valorien nodded slightly, but then said nothing. Alistair waited for him to marshal his thoughts. “My parents died when I was young. As is tradition with our people, I was raised as part of all the families of the Clan. Tamlen was of a similar age. We trained together, we became scouts and then hunters together.”
“You were like brothers, then?”
“Something like that, but… I do not know if there is a human word to describe it. We were kithren. We hunted together; our thoughts, our actions in synchronicity. It is as if we were one person. Two halves of a whole.”
“I think I understand,” said Alistair. “What happened to him?”
“We were exploring some ruins, ancient Tevinter, I think. There was an artifact there; it looked like a mirror. Tamlen approached it.” He swallowed. “He was mesmerized by it; he couldn’t stop…. He called for me to help him, but I was not near enough. He touched the mirror.” Valorien shook his head. “I don’t know what happened then. I blacked out. I came to, briefly. I remember seeing Duncan standing over me. But it was two days later before I truly awoke. Tamlen was gone…. I searched for him; we returned to the ruins. I showed Duncan the mirror, and we destroyed it. But there was no sign of Tamlen.” The elf’s voice took on an uncharacteristically ragged tone. “The Clan behaved as if he were already dead, but we found no sign of his body! And then Duncan took me away.” His bitterness towards the Warden was clear.
Alistair held his tongue on that point. “Do you think he survived?”
“I used to pray that he lived,” Valorien said quietly. “But after the things I’ve seen…. I cannot form the words. I am beginning to think… it would be better for me to pray that he is dead.” A tear slid silently down his cheek.
Self-consciously, Alistair looked down at his hands. He knew what the Taint could do to a person. Death truly would be more merciful.
“Alistair, will you promise me something?”
“What is it?”
“When we are travelling in the forests of the elven enclave, if we should somehow come across Tamlen… could you….” His throat closed, and he couldn’t form the words.
“You want me to kill him for you?” Alistair asked gently.
“No!” Valorien hissed in vehemence. He looked at Alistair and softened his voice. “No. I will do it. But I fear my love for Tamlen will make me unable to see if he is Tainted. Or worse, that my fear for him will make me unable to see if he is hale. I ask only that you help me know what is right.”
“I swear, on my honor, I will help you with this,” Alistair promised solemnly.
Tension drained visibly from the elf’s frame. “Thank you.”
The two sat a while and watched the fire burn low.
Alistair pointed. “See there? That’s the Great Serpent. And down over there, that’s the Mabari Warrior and his hounds.”
“That’s the Halla Rider.”
“How do you ride a halla? Those are deer, right?”
“Yes. In ancient times, there were larger halla, and elven warriors rode them into battle.”
Alistair snorted. “A deer? Into battle.”
“Okay, I just can’t picture a gentle, doe-eyed, leaf-nibbling creature like a deer riding into battle.”
“Horses are grazing animals.”
“Yeah, well they’re big. Like huge. And muscled.”
“Halla have antlers, which horses do not. And their hooves are very sharp.”
“Hmm, nope. Still can’t picture it.”
Valorien sighed. “And that, we call the River of Light. It’s how the departed souls of the dead travel to the next world.”
Alistair contemplated the stars a moment. Then he asked, “How many humans have you killed?”
The elf sat up and turned to look at him. “What kind of question is that?”
Alistair levered himself up onto his elbows, and then sat up. “Well, I was curious. Duncan said the elven hunters are… I don’t know, like guards? And humans are your enemies, right?”
Valorien looked away. “We do not keep count, like it is some kind of contest or game.”
“Well, you must have some idea. A few? Dozens? Scores?”
“A dozen or so.”
Alistair sat quietly, contemplating this.
“How many elves have you killed?” Valorien asked.
“Well…. none, really. I was still in training with the Templars; we only sparred. Then I joined the Grey Wardens and we fought a lot of darkspawn.” He thought back. “Since Ostagar…. there’s been undead… and bandits; those were mostly human, a couple dwarves, I think.” He plucked at the grass.
“Does it trouble you that I have killed your people?”
“I kind of thought it might….” Alistair chewed his lip thoughtfully. “But it’s not really different from anyone else. The bannorns sometimes clash. The Templars hunt down blood mages; they’re human. Or were.” He shrugged. “What bothers me….” He trailed off.
“Um… you know how you said you wouldn’t lie to me? Not even to spare my feelings?”
“Well, in that vein, I’ll just say it. It bothers me that you have this hatred towards humans.”
Valorien looked at his hands for several minutes. Then he stood. He moved a few paces away, his back to Alistair. He folded his arms, but said nothing.
“All that happened hundreds of years ago. Can’t you just let it go?”
“No. We cannot let it go. Every aspect of our life — our landlessness, our wandering — is a direct result of our former enslavement to humans. So many of our people know next to nothing about our heritage. Wherever we go, we are treated as inferior, slaves or servants.”
“Hey, my mother was a servant,” Alistair said defensively.
“Could she have been something else, if she wanted to?” Valorien shot back.
Alistair had no answer to that. After a moment he said, “But will killing all the humans make things better? Or defeating them and subjugating them like they did to the elves so long ago? What’s that supposed to solve?”
“No, you are correct.” The elf half turned towards him. “I do not wish to see the land destroyed by the Blight, nor your people slain. I have sworn to defend all peoples from the darkspawn. This I will do.”
“Whether you hate them or not.”
“Oh, *that* fills me with confidence,” Alistair said drolly.
Valorien faced him. “I owe you an apology, Alistair,” he said. “I behaved badly at the camp at Ostagar.” He lowered his head and added quietly, “I was… angry.”
“Duncan tried to help you,” Alistair insisted. “Look, maybe he didn’t phrase it in just the right way, or ask in a polite and subtle manner. But he saved your life! Why can’t you see that?”
Valorien shifted uncomfortably. Clearly, he did not want to give an answer that, but Alistair certainly deserved one. “When I was hurt…. I was sickened by the Taint; I was weak, helpless.” He paced restlessly. “I was delerious with fever, but I remember awakening momentarily. I saw a human standing over me.” He stopped and looked out into the night. “I thought he was going to kill me.”
“Duncan…,” Alistair mused. The elf nodded once. “You weren’t angry,” said Alistair after a moment’s thought. “You were afraid.” He looked at Valorien, whose fists clenched hard. “Like a cat in the mabari kennels,” the human said half to himself as he stood.
“What does that mean?”
“It means I think I understand what you must have felt.”
“That does not excuse my behavior.”
“Maybe not,” said Alistair, “but I accept your apology.”
Three Mages and a Templar Walk Into a Bar…
“And then the third mage says, ‘We can’t; the knight is still young!'” Alistair started laughing, punctuated by an “ouch” as the motion hurt his head. Valorien just stared at him. “Get it? ‘The night is still young’? But it’s the knight? Night/knight, see? And th– oh never mind.” He rubbed his head a minute. “All right, so tell me an elven joke then.”
“We do not have jokes.”
“Oh come on. I *know* elves have a sense of humor. I’ve seen you laugh — admit it!”
Valorien quirked a brow, but didn’t deign to answer that challenge. “We have a sense of humor. But it is not something so simple as a short anecdote with a clever ending.”
“So what do your people find funny?”
“It is a situational thing. When something ironic happens to someone. But it is not something you can explain to someone else who does not know the circumstances.”
“Oh, it’s a ‘you had to be there’ thing.”
“Yes, I suppose. ‘Then a griffin rider came in with his mount’ doesn’t explain itself well.”
Alistair mulled that over. “Mm, yeah. Not much in the way of a punchline.” He poked idly at the fire. “Right, so that thing about not telling me you can cook — that was an elven joke, right?”
Valorien shook his head. “Honestly, I thought you were determined to be self-sufficient.”
“Heh. That *is* funny.” Alistair rubbed his face. “Or else I’m so tired I’m getting loopy.”
Alistair nodded. “It’s a little like being drunk… only not as fun.”
“I do not drink,” said Valorien.
“Sober in all ways!” Alistair laughed again. And winced again. “And damn, you don’t get tired and loopy, either.”
Valorien shook his head.
“You’re no fun.”
“So,” said Alistair, scraping around for some sort of conversational subject, “how many girlfriends have you had?”
“I do not have girlfriends,” the elf replied firmly.
Alistair’s brows went up. “Oh, um…” He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Maybe I should have asked how many lovers you’ve had.”
“I do not have any interest in that.”
“What…? You mean… you’re not attracted to anyone? At all?”
“No, Alistair.” Valorien looked at him directly. “I am asha-dene. I do not have any interest or desire for this… mating thing that everyone else is so obsessed with.”
His comrade stared at him for a full minute. “Is that something like the Chantry priests? When they’re ordained, they take a vow of chastity?”
“No, it is not like that. It is not a conscious choice.” Valorien rested his elbows on his thighs and looked to the edge of the clearing. “It just is.”
“Did something happen to you? I mean….” Alistair chewed his lip. “Can’t you be healed? Or, or cured of this ‘ashadeen’ thing?”
The elf sighed heavily. “It is not an affliction. It does not need to be cured.”
“You’re telling me,” the human insisted, “you don’t want to have sex — *at all*? But that isn’t normal. Even priests have — you know, urges.”
“Well, I do not,” Valorien said flatly. “Nor would I wish to.”
“But why not?”
“Honestly, it all seems rather vulgar.” He wrinkled his nose, shuddering slightly.
Alistair was taken aback. He frowned thoughtfully. “I suppose it can be,” he hazarded, remembering a few late night conversations in the barracks. “But sex is natural; it shouldn’t be vulgar.”
“Being asha-dene is natural as well,” the elf told him. “Though it is rare among the elves. And I suppose even more rare among shemlen. But it is not unheard of. In other species, it is more common.” He gestured with a flat hand. “For example, only the lead pair of a wolf pack mate and bear cubs. The rest do not.”
Alistair shook his head. “Got to feel sorry for them.”
“There is nothing to feel sorry for,” Valorien insisted. “They do not have this compulsive drive to mate, and thus, they do not miss it.”
“I guess,” Alistair conceded. “I just have a hard time imagining what that must be like.”
“Believe me, I also have difficulty understanding these ‘normal’ people. I find their behaviors and motivations quite unfathomable at times.”
“You do? Like what?”
Valorien spread his hands. “Like, for example… what is this ‘love at first sight’? How can someone fall in love with a complete stranger at an instant? They do not even know anything about each other; what is it based on?”
“Uh… I don’t know. A pretty face?” Alistair shrugged.
“And what about the numerous tales of two people who despise each other, but then suddenly have intercourse and are in love?”
The human scratched his head. These things made sense, in a sort of love-lorn way, but how to explain them? “Well…, they say there is a very fine line between love and hate.”
Valorien nodded, but seemed unconvinced. “I have heard that said. But it makes no sense whatsoever. If I hated someone, there is no way I would let them near me, or even trust them to touch me at all.”
“A lot of times, people who are attracted to each other don’t exactly show it by — say — hugging and kissing. They just snipe at each other instead.”
“That makes no sense, either.”
Alistair shrugged again. “I’ll grant you, love is crazy. But I wouldn’t want to live without it.”
“I did not say I was incapable of love,” Valorien said. “Only that I do not associated it with sex.”
“So you’ve been in love?” Alistair asked him. The elf’s eyes shadowed as he lowered his head. He didn’t seem to have a reply. “I’m sorry,” Alistair stammered. “I didn’t mean to pry.”
“It is all right,” Valorien replied quietly. “My love was chaste and thus not recognized as anything other than friendship.”
Valorien shrugged. “I am happy for her, that she found love, and someone to give her companionship and children. Things I could never give her,” he added softly.
Alistair frowned hard in thought. “Are you really happy for her? Not… angry that she’s with someone else? Or jealous?”
“What kind of love is that, that turns to something dark and ugly when the one you love is happy?” He looked up, his eyes unguarded.
Alistair just stared, mouth slightly agape. “Seriously? You’re really glad she has all that, and it’s not with you?” He shook his head slowly. “You are made of stronger stuff than I.”
Valorien sighed and lowered his head again. “I will admit… it is very lonely, sometimes.”
“It must be really hard,” Alistair said thoughtfully. “Not wanting to physically bond with someone, when everyone else in the world would give almost anything to do just that.”
“Yes. That is exactly how it feels,” the elf said, tension draining from his voice. “But I feel more sorry for the one who wishes to bond, but never finds a mate to reciprocate it.”
Alistair nodded. “Yeah. That would really suck.”
“Did you have many girlfriends?” the elf asked tentatively.
“Well,” the templar waxed, smiling slightly, “there was this one girl when I was younger….”
Valorien interrupted him. “Alistair, don’t take this the wrong way, but… I really would rather not hear about it.”
“Oh.” The human shut his mouth, and looked down at his thumbs. Twiddled them a moment. “All right, then. So… um, do you like to play cards?”
Valorien Teaches Alistair to Play Alteil
“Oh Great Maker,” Alistair moaned. “My head hurts, and you want me to think on top of it!?”
“We can stop if it pains you,” Valorien told him.
“Well there’s nothing else to do. But these… these… rules are insane! Why are they so complicated?”
“It isn’t that difficult once you get the hang of it.”
Alistair sighed. “Which takes how many years, now?”
“You need to learn to deploy your cards. Set up your heavy fighters in the front, then the supporting units protected behind them.”
“But if they’re not supported, they get killed almost right away.”
“If you put out the support cards with nothing for them to support, and nothing to shield them from attack, they will be killed even more easily.” Valorien looked to see if he was paying attention. Alistair sat in an put-upon attitude like a bored schoolboy, but his eyes were focussed on the game. “There are two rules I use for strategy. The first is to attack your enemy where he is strongest.”
“Sounds like a plan for failure. You can’t send your army against your enemies strongest fortifications and expect them to break through.”
“That is correct. But if you are beset by three genlocks and a troll, you should concentrate on neutralizing the troll. That is the strongest enemy. You can survive the attacks of the genlocks longer than you can against the troll.”
“And attack the mages — the support troops. Because they can do the most damage to you.”
“Yes. That is attacking the enemy where he is strongest. The other strategy is to attack the enemy where he is weakest. If you see an opening and can dispatch an enemy quickly, it is best to do so. That will reduce the number against you.”
“At least this isn’t chess. I really suck at chess,” Alistair said.
“Let us start again. This time, you tell me what you think is your best move, and I will advise you.”
“All right, but the strategy I *really* want to know is: how do I beat you?”
“That will take time,” Valorien advised him.
“I swear, the next merchant I see, I’m going to buy a proper deck of cards and teach you poker!”