Part Eighteen: Brecilian Forest II


 

After Orzimarr, Valorien leads his band back to the Dalish elves in the Brecilian forest, as he has more business with them.

 

Valorien lifted his hand, bringing Alistair, Wynne, and Tarroth to a halt. The hound raised his head, eager for his companion’s next instruction. The elf walked ahead of them a short distance. He did not draw his weapon.

Talsa!” (Halt!) An elven woman emerged from the trees, followed by a small band of hunters. Valorien awaited their approach. “I am Aenfala, hunter of the Shailleah clan.”

“I am Valorien; hunter of the Dalrasha clan and Grey Warden. These are my companions.”

“Are you not the ones who fought the werewolves who preyed upon my people?” At Valorien’s nod, she said, “I wish to know what happened to the werewolves.”

“Their curse has been lifted, by the grace of your Keeper. They are no more.”

“And of the shemlen they have become?” She and her hunters shifted in agitation.

Valorien remained still, his gaze steadily meeting hers. “They have gone.”

“You let them live?” Aenfala snapped angrily. “They murdered may of my people! They must be punished for their crimes.”

“It is cruel punishment that led them to harm you and your people. They have been released from it, and they have left your forest.”

“Then you are a traitor to our people.” She drew her bow.

“I will not fight you,” Valorien said, his voice hard. He held his hands low, palms up. “There has been elven blood shed enough!”

Alistair rushed forward. “Valorien!” The knight broadsided him as Aenfala loosed her arrow. Valorien was thrown to the ground, and the arrow pierced Alistair’s arm. He knelt over his fallen companion and ducked, covering the both of them with his shield. Three arrows thudded against it, and one clipped the top edge and bounced off Alistari’s helmet.

With a roar, Tarroth charged the elves. Wynne moved behind Alistair and swiftly drew a rune of protection around them. This did not stop another hail of arrows. “They’re going to kill us!” Alistair shouted.

Valorien rolled out of cover and came to a kneeling stance, bow drawn. He aimed directly over Alistair’s shoulder and loosed. The arrow took Aenfala just below the breastbone. Alistair lurched to his feet and drew his longsword. He ran to aid Tarroth.

In a few moments, the hunters lay dead. Alistair bent, panting to catch his breath, while Wynne set to healing his and Tarroth’s injuries. Valorien stood looking bleakly down at the bodies.

“I’m sorry,” Alistair told him. “But they attacked us.”

“I know.”

“And you were just going to stand there and let them kill you? What were you thinking!?”

“I have let my people down.”

“They’re not your people,” Alistair told him, making him look up finally.

“The Grey Wardens are my people, now?”

Alistair straightened, still breathing hard from the sudden battle. He nodded.

Valorien dropped his eyes. His shoulders slumped. Without another word, he went to each of the hunters and touched them once on the forehead, then drew their eyes closed. Alistair looked at Wynne; she watched the elf in concern. Finally, he stood and turned towards the elven encampment. “Let us go.” He headed down the path, his dog at his side.

“What are we going to tell them?” Alistair asked. “We don’t want to make them angry.”

“I will handle it, Alistair,” Valorien said firmly.

 

He led them through the Dalish encampment, then stopped by the fire. “Please enjoy the hospitality of the Clan while I speak with the Keeper,” he told his companions. He added something in elvish to the elves seated there. They nodded and made room for the humans and dog.

Valorien continued on to find Keeper Calenna and request a private audience in the aravel. Calenna sat on a cushion inside the low-ceilinged wagon. Instead of taking another cushion, to her surprise, Valorien knelt before her. “Keeper, I have slain elves of your Clan. I seek restitution.”

Her eyes widened as she rocked back in surprise. Part of her spirit coiled like a predatory beast, prepared to lash out against the slaying of her people. But she took a breath and marshalled her training. “How did this happen?” she asked levelly.

“We met a band of Hunters in the forest,” Valorien answered. “They sought vengeance upon the werewolves. When they learned I had not slain them, the Hunters attacked.”

“They attacked you?” the Keeper clarified.

“Yes, Keeper.”

“And were I to examine these bodies, would I not find more than elven arrow wounds upon them?” she pressed. “Perhaps a dog’s bite, a human’s sword…?”

Valorien hunched his shoulders, head down. “They are not to blame, for they defended themselves. I… It is I who failed in my duty to my people, to slay our enemies.”

Calenna looked down on him. “I cannot fault you for defending yourself against their attack.”

“I did not wish to kill them.” Valorien’s face crumpled in pain; his voice grew ragged. “They are our folk. We are so few already. In the coming battle, so many more will be lost.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “You are of our folk as well. And we cannot afford to lose you, Grey Warden.”

“My life is already forfeit to that cause,” he replied, not without some bitterness. “I beg you, Keeper; assuage this guilt I bear.”

Celanna took a deep breath, raising her eyes to the decorative ceiling of her aravel, and beyond, to the ancient elven gods. Slowly she exhaled, eyes closed. When she opened them again, the Keeper of the Shailleah Clan spoke. “How many were killed?”

“Seven.”

The Keeper drew her dal-sharok. “Give me your left arm.” Valorien drew off his glove and bracer and surrendered his arm to her. She gripped his wrist firmly and drew the blade in a long stroke over his flesh. A muscle in his jaw twitched, but he remained silent and still, even as she cut him again, seven times in all, and he bled freely. However, the pain was clear in his eyes.

When she was finished, she bound up his arm. She said nothing more to him about the incident; she knew he understood. They stood and exited the aravel. Calenna sent some of the other Hunters to retrieve those slain and prepare them for the death ceremony. Valorien also requested an assemblage of the Clan, for he had something important to tell the people.

He then rejoined his companions at the fire. Alistair glanced at his bandaged arm. “What happened to you?”

“Nothing,” Valorien replied flatly. The knight just stared at him, and kept staring. “Nothing that you need to concern yourself with,” the elf clarified. Then Alistair looked away. Perhaps it was not something to be spoken of in front of the elves, but he was damned sure going to corner Valorien about it later.

 

The Hunters were laid to rest, a small seedling tree marking each site. There was a small grove of saplings developing, a testament to the hardships the Shailleah clan had suffered of late. The Hunters were honored for their service to the clan, but the greatest mourning was for the fact they lost their lives attacking one of their own out of an unslakeable thirst for vengeance. Afterwards, the elves had a somber evening meal. Passage was granted for the rest of the Grey Wardens’ companions, and as darkness fell over the forest, Valorien addressed the clan.

“We have discovered something about the Darkspawn,” he began without preamble. “We have discovered how the horde perpetuates itself. The Darkspawn are all male. In order to breed, they take women from the surface races, and the dwarves.” A quiet ripple passed through the elves, looks of disgust passed from one to another. Valorien’s voice faltered slightly. “I… cannot describe to you…. These women are not just violated. They are transformed into monsters. And from them spring the Darkspawn multitude, fully formed.” He took a breath, and gazed levelly over the crowd. “If we are to destroy the horde, they must not be allowed to take any more women.”

Calenna said, “Many of our Hunters and warriors are women. We cannot send them away from this battle.”

“We cannot deny those who would fight,” Valorien affirmed. “But those who fall in battle must be willing to die, rather than be taken. To this end, I ask the Clan to prepare deathroot.”

Calenna nodded. “It shall be done,” she said heavily.

“There is another way,” Valorien said. “In the dwarven kingdom of Orzammar, they have a magical anvil. Upon this anvil, people may give their lives and have their essense transferred into that of a golem.” He turned and motioned to Shale. “This is Shale, one such golem; a stone golem. I have also spent a short time as a golem, within the Fade. I can try to describe what it is like.” He thought back. “There is a great strength, and solidity. There is great weight, and it is difficult to move quietly,” he confessed. “The golems are immune to the Taint, and –unless destroyed– immortal. They are also sexless, and cannot be used to perpetuate the Darkspawn.” Valorien took another breath. “For those who fear the Taint but wish to fight, this may be an option. Please, if you have any questions on this, come speak to me and Shale.”

 

 

Epilogue:

———————————————

 

The companions hiked out of the Brecillian Forest, back to the main road. Alistair caught up with Valorien and Tarroth.

“Are you going to tell me what that’s about, then?” he asked, nodding at the bandages under Valorien’s bracer.

“No.”

Doggedly, the human continued. “Well, now I’m asking you directly.”

“And I am telling you directly: I do not wish to speak of it.”

“Fine.” Alistair heaved a sigh. Taciturn elves. “Then I’ll just say what I think. They had no right to go and punish you fo–”

“Alistair!” Valorian said sharply. In a hard voice brooking no argument, he added, “We are not speaking of this.”

The human knight grumbled and moved away, but Valorien called after him. “There is something I do need to ask of you.”

“Yes?”

“I wish you to know, I do not ask this for myself,” the elf told him. “But though there are only two of us, I ask that you grant me the title of Chief Grey Warden.”

Alistair blinked and gnawed the corner of his lip a moment. “All right. But why?”

“If I am to negotiate this new treaty with Harrowmont, I will need the authority to make it binding,” Valorien explained.

“One forbidding him to make golem control rods?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t see any reason why you can’t be the Chief Grey Warden, then. Maker knows I don’t want to be.”

“Thank you, Alistair,” said Valorien. “I will not use this authority against you.”

“Well, darn,” the human replied. “You mean you won’t order me around and tell me what to do? I was so hoping.”

Patiently, Valorien explained again. “We are equal partners in this venture.”

“Right,” Alistair agreed. “So, where are we going next?”

“We should affirm this treaty with Harrowmont. On the way, I wish to revisit Honnleath.”

“What? There’s a dragon there.”

The elf nodded. “That is why we must return. I have been thinking about that dragon. She could make a powerful ally.”

Alistair laughed. “You’re joking, right?”

“I have a plan,” Valorien insisted. Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks. “Alistair?” The human went on a few paces more, then turned around. The elf wrinkled his forehead. “Did you just trick me into telling you what we should do?”

Alistair put on a shocked blank face. “Me? No! I wouldn’t even have enough brains to come up with such a cunning and skillful plan!”

Valorien only stared at him, hard. Alistair smiled, turned on his heel, and continued down the path, whistling a jaunty tune.

 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s