Back to Feasting on Dreams: Contents
During the afternoon, I finally got my bath… or near enough. We took turns standing knee-deep in the cold water in our smallclothes, downstream from the camp, and sluicing anything that became available before we started to shiver too much. Wynne, Leliana, Morrigan and I went first, and when we headed back up to the camp we were still flushed with the chill of it, bright-eyed and breathless.
Leliana had spent part of the day in the halla pens with Hahren Elora and, evidently enraptured by the beasts, was explaining to us how they were so much a part of the life of the clan. Elora had told her how they pulled the aravels, but not because they were beasts of burden, like the horses, oxen, or mules used by humans, but because the halla themselves consented to assist. Of course, that had struck a chord with Leliana, and she appeared to be a breath away from penning some kind of song about the spiritual, enigmatic beauty of the creatures.
I wasn’t sure about that, but I did know that the smell of their manure was apparently pretty hard to scrub off.
In any case, I hadn’t seen much of them; just big, pale creatures that looked a bit like I imagined stags did and, being a child of the city, I’d never seen them outside of the occasional book, tapestry, or carcass hanging on a trader’s stall for feast days. I was wary of the halla, anyway, sacred part of Dalish culture or not. They looked large and muscular, with great twisting horns that could probably gore, and their round, lowing calls seemed to throb right through my head. I’d stayed well away.
Leliana enjoyed chattering about them, though, the same way she liked to talk about everything. Her way of reaching out, I supposed, as we ducked back to our tents to tidy ourselves up. She asked me if I wanted her to braid my hair, and looked a little disappointed when I politely declined. I sat on my pack and watched her busy fingers thread through her own red tresses, making twist after twist and tiny braid after braid, the thinning afternoon light catching dust in its glances as it touched her. She was humming. She was always humming, then, and she seemed oddly cheerful for someone caught so far out of where she should be… and oddly cheerful for someone about to head into the teeth of the forest.
I glanced over my shoulder, hearing Sten and Alistair returning from their own brief wash and brush-up. No Zevran, I noticed, although that wasn’t entirely surprising. I gave them a brief smile in greeting, anyway, and tried to pretend it wasn’t so easy to watch them… or, rather, to watch him. Either way, I couldn’t help wishing I’d been born just a little bit different.
For the evening, we had been given leave to join the clan at their great fire, and there was a slight sense of formality to it, as if the Dalish were both gathering to pay grudging respect to those who were willing to risk their lives for them, and to gawk at our idiocy. Zathrian wasn’t in evidence, though many of the clan were already sitting around the fire as dusk began to draw in, and while they set and kindled the flames, I got my first look at the man who was clearly the master of this particular ceremony.
Hahren Sarel was the clan’s keeper of stories. I thought I knew what that meant. I thought he’d be the same as our Valendrian, who had always spread wisdom, peace, and tolerance with his words, countering every story of Halamshiral—the tales we’d clamoured to hear as children—with a cautionary moral maxim, or an improving extract from the life of Andraste.
He’d kept us safe that way; moulded our minds when we were young with the subtle threads of belief that told us it was better, somehow, to submit and acquiesce. He’d made it seem like it was our culture that he was sharing, but it wasn’t. The stories Valendrian had told under the shade of vhenadahl were a pale reflection of elven tales, just as the tree—the great tree that I remembered reaching higher than the walls themselves—had been revealed as a stunted sapling from the first moment I laid eyes on the Brecilian Forest.
Sarel, too, was a vibrant figure, wild and striking. I couldn’t tell his age. He had enough wrinkles for a man in his middle fifties: old, by alienage standards, or at least old to be unbowed and as hale as he seemed. He was still broad and strong, and his hair hung loose and uncombed, a mane of dark coppery auburn salted with silver. His brows were thick and wiry, a little darker than the hair on his head, and they seemed perpetually knitted in an incipient scowl, as if nothing about the world was good enough for him. His whole face had an angular, tightly drawn look, set against heavy features, with wide, strong ears, and large, ice-blue eyes. His vallaslin comprised several intricate designs, all whorls and jagged, thick sweeps of earthy colour that served to make his pale stare seem all the brighter, as if he could read the thoughts on the inside of a person’s head.
He wore thick furs and greasy looking leathers, with a heavy grey cloak wrapped around his shoulders, and a large round pin securing it, the metal worked into a shape that looked like a vine leaf… and if his glare could have set fire to the air, we’d all have burned alive.
He pointed silently to one of a few heavy logs that had been dragged close to the fire. The several elves who were drawing near sat either on them, or in scrapes in the dry earth near the fire, or on small, three-legged stools—the kind of thing I supposed Athras made—that they seemed to bring from their own tents and landships. One log had been left empty for us, I saw; we were to be kept carefully contained, maybe even on show while we were allowed to view the gathering.
I nodded politely, and we made to take our seats. An air of quiet intensity hung over everything, and expectation painted the rows of faces I saw looking towards me. Maethor, who had been padding quietly behind me, settled himself near my feet, and I was glad of his presence. The hound’s muscular, broad back was something comforting to look down at when I felt unsure of the Dalish’s stares.
Children sat amongst them. Not many, but quite a few. They were watching us too; and they were proud, wild little beasts, almost all unafraid of the strangers in their midst. Looking at them gave me a brief pang of homesickness.
Nearby, a young elf with short-cropped blond hair, and the traces of puppy fat still rounding his face, kept casting hopelessly yearning looks in the direction of a pretty redheaded girl who sat the other side of the fire. She appeared either not to notice, or to be ignoring him.
Like before, Leliana sat on the ground, near Wynne. She had her legs folded neatly under her, and the red of her hair caught the reflection of the fire that some of the younger elves were already kindling. I hadn’t missed the echoes of Dalishness she so delicately presented—her bow, her braids, her quiet obeisance—and I suppose I resented a little the fact that she seemed to know what to do. They didn’t appear to dislike her for it, anyway, or to view her as a shem with pretensions to understanding them. She just… blended in, more or less, but for her unmistakeable human qualities. I noticed just how much then, and I envied Leliana that talent, almost as much as I envied Zev his effortless connection with the wild elves; a connection I guessed he was still busily deepening, because he wasn’t with the rest of us.
Even Morrigan had deigned to join us. She wrapped herself tightly in her robes and sat on the far end of the log, her staff clasped firmly in one hand, her whole body tucked and tensed in such a way as to suggest she was trying to let as little of herself as possible come into contact with the world. Once she’d taken her seat she barely moved, except for those yellow eyes, constantly appraising and surveying the gathered camp. Sten was equally terse and silent. He squatted beside the log, the way he usually hunkered down in front of his tent flap and, as ever, he reminded me of some kind of carved sentinel, with the firelight catching at his dark skin and haunting it with shadows, casting a faint orange glow across his pale braids… like he wasn’t real at all; a motionless statue, a mountain from which untold wrath could crack, and yet slumbered silently, just waiting.
Something sprung unbidden into my mind then: a dream, or an imagining, or some dark breath of foreboding. Dragon’s Peak as we’d seen it on the road from Denerim—a black shape against a dark grey sky, too far away to even look like a mountain at all, too far for its weight and breadth to seem like anything more than an illusion. Maybe it was waiting, too; waiting for the other dark shape that lived in my dreams and reared up out of the shadows, screaming with the fire and anger of ages.
Maybe there was a whole other world beneath our feet, and it would break free from the rocks and the earth, and scatter us all in fire. Maybe it was inevitable.
I blinked, pushing the thoughts away. They were nothing, I told myself; just worry, and tiredness, and this gnawing sense of being so far from safety. Maethor groaned softly and put his head on my boot, so I reached down to ruffle his ears.
As I glanced up at the others, I noticed Wynne watching me with what appeared to be mild concern. She raised her brows very slightly, and I shook my head, signalling that I was fine. Although she probably didn’t believe me, she didn’t press the issue… but I saw the look that then passed between her and Alistair. There was a world of communication that those two shared, and sometimes it made me very slightly irritable.
All around the clearing, younger elves busied themselves with the chores of the coming night. I recognised the routine, in some strange ways; their equivalents of sweeping out the floors, fixing the supper, battening the shutters and making sure the elders were comfortable and the children clean and behaving properly. It was a warped echo of things I was used to, and it made me want to look away.
That was when I noticed the way that Hahren Sarel was watching us. It was a half-frown; a stare of open hostility tempered only with the kind of curiosity found in someone who loves stories. He might have hated our presence there, I decided, but it was less Zathrian’s word stopping him from leaping up and cutting us open, than it was the desire to know our tales.
I wasn’t really expecting the hahren to speak to me. Perhaps he caught the way I was watching the women work, or perhaps he just wanted to pick a fight. Either way, every word that passed the man’s lips seemed like a challenge.
“So,” he said, his tone clipped and hard, “you are all Grey Wardens?”
That icy glare flickered over us, and Morrigan snorted loudly.
“A Grey Warden? I? Bite your tongue, storyteller!”
Her voice dripped with venom, but Sarel merely peered haughtily at her, as if she was just some inconsequential follower of ours. Despite the blossoming fire, I could have sworn the temperature of the clearing dropped a good few degrees.
I cleared my throat hurriedly. “Uh, Morrigan is a… er… a Wilder, elder. From the Korcari Wilds, to the south. Um. This is—”
“A Sten of the Beresaad,” Sten interjected, as the firelight danced across his face, the unbound fall of his braids shifting against his chest when he moved his head. “Not a Warden.”
“Neither am I,” Wynne added, leaning forward a little to smile graciously at the hahren, as if she hadn’t even noticed his hard demeanour. “My name is Wynne. I am of the Circle of Magi. It is a pleasure to meet you… I admit, I never thought I would ever set foot in a Dalish camp!”
Sarel’s expression remained unchanged, though I saw one thick brow rise very slightly. Wynne meant well, I knew, and her enthusiasm was as genuine as her desire to help both the surviving Dalish and their injured, but she had yet to see that—to these people, with their pride and their years of isolation—it seemed like the bookish curiosity of a scholar, and nothing more.
Leliana was no less awkward, for all her innate grace and charm. I bit the inside of my lip as she smiled winningly at the elf.
“I am Leliana, and I am no Grey Warden at all, but I am so honoured to be here; I’ve heard so much about your people.”
The great fire cracked and popped as one of the young women fed it another armful of dry twigs, and the smell of crisp bark and hot sap melded on the cool air with the dusty beginnings of the evening, and the mustiness of earth and bracken.
Sarel looked steadily at Leliana, his mouth a hard curve just shy of a sneer, and the flamelight stained the ground between them. She kept smiling beatifically, but it was a shell just as hard as his; glass and porcelain, like I’d so often thought of her, and I noticed how pale and bright her eyes seemed.
I blinked, aware of Alistair attempting his own clumsy introduction.
“I’m one, though. A Grey Warden, I mean. Um. Yes. Alistair. Pleased to meet you. Nice, uh… campfire you have there.”
He gestured hopelessly to the great fire, and I wanted to put my head in my hands. It was a strange thing, to feel so close to those people—the people I’d travelled with, fought with, risked my life for and been saved so often by—and yet to be so embarrassed by them. They truly were the closest thing I’d ever have to a family, I supposed… and that thought wasn’t precisely a comforting one.
Hahren Sarel’s nostrils flared slightly, and he gave Alistair a withering look all the more devastating for the fact it was accompanied only by cool silence.
Alistair coughed nervously. “Uh…. We were at Ostagar, Merien and me. Where the darkspawn first attacked. We— well, that is, Meri… um. We’re the only Wardens left,” he finished awkwardly, shooting me a worried glance. “As far as we know, anyway.”
“Hm.” Sarel eyed me suspiciously. “I have heard your tale. Your clansman, Daeon… he speaks well of you. Between that, and what we hear of your deeds to date, perhaps you will best the beasts that brought this curse upon us. Or perhaps you will die trying.” He shrugged, and tugged his cloak tighter around his shoulders, turning his face to the firelight as he did so, his profile a blade against the dull orange flare of the flames. “Either way, it makes little difference.”
I said nothing, because clearly nothing I could say—even pointing out that Daeon was no blood of mine, whatever he’d said to Zathrian in my defence—would have won me any sympathy from the storykeeper. His bitterness laced the air with the heaviness of thick perfume, and he scowled at the fire as if it held all the blame the world had spawned since Arlathan.
“Well… if we can help you,” Alistair said uncertainly, “I mean, that would—”
If I’d been sitting any closer, I’d have kicked him.
We were interrupted, however. One of the younger elves—a girl probably my age, with a thick braid of dark blonde hair hanging down her back, and fresh vallaslin etched into her cheeks, the ink still a vibrant blue-black, and her skin still slightly scabby from it—brought around bowls of soup. I saw something of the kind of etiquette I was used to in the gesture: we were served first, because we were guests, and she made a point of not quite staring, peering up through her lashes as she pushed the carved wooden bowls into our hands. She had large, leaf-green eyes flecked with amber gold, and a wide, smooth forehead unmarked by the tattoos. A small wrinkle had lodged itself there; a kind of half-frown, like she wasn’t sure whether she liked serving us or not.
I thanked her, anyway, as we all did. The soup was rather watery, but it smelled good. There was wild garlic in there, and I could identify things that looked like potato, carrot, and maybe even meat floating in between the delicate fronds of whatever herb gave it that aromatic, spicy fragrance. My stomach growled, taking the wait while the hahren and the assembled elves were served as a challenge.
To my left, Morrigan sniffed her bowl suspiciously, though the Dalish appeared to ignore the insult. As we ate—supping, certainly in my case, quick and eager mouthfuls from the shallow, carved bone spoon—I watched the rhythms of the camp’s life unfold, and began to understand something of the customs their nights held.
They were like us or, rather, we were like them, I supposed, because they were closer to the ancients than my people were… and I was coming to the realisation that, for the Dalish, elven and elvhen were indeed two completely separate things. It’s hard to describe how that made me feel. At the time, I thought I was just chastened; a little crumpled and sore because part of me had really wanted to believe there was going to be some kind of homecoming for me among them. It wasn’t until later that I would understand how much that idea had meant to me… or how much I would have done in the name of acceptance.
In fact, it would take me a long while to realise how foolish I had been.
Still, they fascinated me. I saw familiarities in the little things—the way the Dalish sat, the groups in which they moved or spoke. The hahrens were the pillars of their community, their leaders and advisors, and they were just as stubborn and old-fashioned as city-bred elders, by the looks of things. Then there were the hunters. We didn’t see as many of them as I expected the clan comprised; most of those still in the camp were the younger men, and a couple of seasoned, grey-haired veterans, stern-faced and pitted with scars. Old or young, these were the men who had been left to guard the clan’s more vulnerable members—inasmuch as anyone could have called any Dalish defenceless—and there certainly seemed to be a degree of resentment bubbling over it. The Dalish being Dalish, of course, it was buttoned up and kept away from us outsiders: there was only an undercurrent of disquiet, hiding behind the words and the suspicious, tight-drawn faces.
They treated their women a little differently than I was used to; that much I did understand. As far as I could judge, they still cooked and cleaned and healed, but there was absolutely no taboo about women fighting or carrying arms.
I watched one young, blonde elf squatting near the fire, glaring thoughtfully at Alistair across the flames, with her mouth twisted into a small, hard curve of undisguised suspicion. She wore leathers like the other hunters’—like Mithra, though she looked a few years younger—and her hair was a wild mass of braids tied with feathers and beads, her face scored with a delicate, intricate pattern of vallaslin that seemed light as lace. Her pale blue eyes caught the firelight and flung it back, until they appeared to blaze with it, and she seemed to me the single proudest, most beautiful creature I’d ever seen.
I didn’t stare, though. It would no doubt have been just as rude among the Dalish as it would have been back home… and, besides, the way she watched Alistair made me uncomfortable. No matter how conflicted I was, I still felt bad about the way so many of the Dalish treated him. They looked at him like he was a shem—which of course he was—and it just riled up all the complexities and contradictions I’d been picking at since… well, how long had it been? I wasn’t even sure.
I sneaked a glance at him in the burnished orange of the firelight, and he looked flushed and on edge, his attention ostentatiously buried in his soup bowl. For some reason, I was reminded in sharp, sudden, vivid detail of the night after the battle at Redcliffe, when we were all so elated to be alive, and we got really rather drunk in that grubby little tavern. I remembered Sten being unusually loquacious, and the militiamen’s bawdy drinking songs… and Alistair and I stumbling down the cliffside to the chantry in the small hours of the morning, shushing each other and snorting with ill-suppressed giggles.
Maybe it had been then. Maybe before, maybe later. I couldn’t tell. I didn’t know… and it didn’t matter, amid all the violence and death and terror that was spilling over the world. All that mattered, I supposed, was what we had to do. I should be thinking of that—of the Blight, and the treaties—above my own wishes, my own desires, and any ill-advised entanglements that went along with them.
And yet, a little part of me still bristled like an angry cat when I watched that beautiful Dalish girl staring at him. I sat drinking my soup quietly, seething with bottled up envy and resentment and yearning… and I almost didn’t hear when Leliana started asking questions of the storyteller.
“So, is it true that the Dalish are the last guardians of Arlathan’s tales?” She leaned forwards eagerly, blue eyes wide, ready to be graced with the bounty of Sarel’s knowledge. “I spent many years in Orlais, and I often heard mention of the history and legends the elven people had collected. You must have such interesting stories about the Dales!”
I wasn’t sure whether she was genuinely intrigued, or trying to coax him into some kind of competition. Sarel looked at her with wary disdain, then shrugged.
“We guard our knowledge, yes, and we seek to understand and safeguard our history. From this comes many tales… but Arlathan?” He snorted, his lip curling into a bitter sneer. “Even those of us who keep the ancient lore have no record of what truly happened. What we do have are accounts of the days before the fall, and a fable of the whims of the gods.”
Well, that was like throwing a steak in front of a mabari. Leliana’s face lit up.
“Oh! Still, I am sure—”
“I thought ’twas the old Imperium that crushed the elven states,” Morrigan interjected darkly. “No god needs interfere where soldiers tread.”
The cooling air was full of glittering Dalish eyes, and anyone less bold than Morrigan would surely have quaked beneath their stares. She didn’t even seem to notice, and went on calmly with her soup.
“The human world changed,” Sarel said, his voice a taut edge between the fire and the shadows, carrying with it the cadence and strength of a storyteller. “Even as we slept. Gone were their clans and tribes, and up rose the empire of Tevinter. We do not know why they wanted to conquer Elvhenan but, when they breached the great city of Arlathan, they came with magic, demons, and even dragons at their behest.”
He’d told this story before, many times. I could see it in the way the firelight painted his face, and in the way the Dalish that were gathered around the flames settled into the rhythm of his words. Some closed their eyes, their meals done and their bowls cradled in their laps. Some nodded or murmured to their companions as they ate… and a few of the children sat with wide eyes and starry faces, their minds evidently full of glorious battles and fire-breathing beasts.
Sarel took a breath, allowing the silence to settle into the cracks and pops of the fire. He was merely warming up, I realised: his answers to Leliana’s clumsy questions were a performance as much for his own people as for her. A snide, unkind smile danced at the edge of his mouth when he looked at her, the flames throwing dark rings beneath his eyes.
“Yes, the shemlen marched upon Arlathan, destroying homes and galleries and amphitheatres that had stood for innumerable ages. Our people were corralled as slaves, and worse was to come.” His smile split into a grimace, showing white teeth against the dimness. “Contact with the humans quickened our blood… stole our years. We lost our immortality.”
They dragged us down to the mud with them….
Ah, yes. A familiar cry from my childhood, that one. The things people would say after too many beers, and one of the ragged truths we’d so tightly clung to: that we were, somehow, intrinsically better than shems. We were lither, quicker, cleverer… and they were clumsy, slow and stupid, with their sweating and their shunting, and their dull souls. We had once been so much more, and through those cruel comparisons, we could blame every shortcoming of our lives on the things the humans had taken from us.
I concentrated on spooning up the last of my soup, until I’d practically gouged a hole through the bottom of the bowl.
“It is said,” Sarel went on, “that the elvhen called to their ancient gods, but there was no answer, for Fen’Harel—the Dread Wolf and Lord of Tricksters—had wrought a terrible treachery upon the world. He went to the ancient gods of good and evil, and proposed a truce. The gods of good would remove themselves to heaven, and the lords of evil would exile themselves to the abyss, and neither would ever again enter the other’s lands.”
A murmur went around the campfire. Stories were important for the Dalish, as I would learn. Tales and ancient things beat in their blood… and they needed to believe that as earnestly as, where I was from, we paved the slums with the belief that we had better standards than humans.
“But the Dread Wolf is a trickster,” Sarel said, his voice low and venomous, the fire beating against the lines of his vallaslin until they coiled like snakes on his face. “Fen’Harel feasts upon the trust of fools, and though they had trusted him, and treated him as a brother, he betrayed the Creators. By the time his falseness was laid bare, he had sealed both realms, and neither the gods nor the Forgotten Ones would ever pass into the mortal world again.”
There was more nodding of heads, more closed eyes. I could almost taste the belief in the air.
Morrigan scoffed. “’Tis no more than an excuse!” she said acidly. “And a weak one at that. This is the reason you give for the loss of your lands?”
A moment of silence followed, into which her words rang like dark bells. The fire cracked, and I was convinced the night was going to end with our bodies skinned and slung over the lowest boughs of the nearest tree.
Sarel eyed the witch steadily. “It is a fable, to be sure, but those elves who travel the Beyond claim that Fen’Harel still roams the world of dreams, keeping watch over the gods lest they escape from their prisons. I’m betting you are not unfamiliar with the strangenesses of this world, Lady. Would you say you can answer every mystery yourself?”
Morrigan glared at him, but the hahren simply smiled.
“Whatever the case, Arlathan had fallen to the very humans our people had once considered mere pests.” His gaze lingered a little on her, and that same small, hard smile touched his mouth as he turned his head away, casting a look across the gathered elves. “The world had turned anew, and we had to face it, with or without the Creators. That is how we came to join with the army of Andraste.”
The mere sniff of religion seemed enough to put Morrigan off. She grimaced, but she said nothing, and just tugged her cloak tighter around herself in a rustle of disdainful annoyance and raven feathers.
Leliana, on the other hand, looked almost fit to explode with glee. “Oh, yes! You know, I have read all of the Canticle of Shartan… everything about the elves’ part in Andraste’s Exalted March. It is such a wonderful story!”
I winced as I set my empty bowl down by my foot. Maethor stuck his nose in the bowl and busied himself cleaning out whatever scrapings I’d missed. I nudged him with my toe, but the sorrowful look he gave me meant I really didn’t have the heart to tell him to stop it. I didn’t have the heart to say anything about Exalted Marches, either… though I was all too well aware that the Chantry had not exactly been a friend of the Dales, and I doubted Hahren Sarel would share Leliana’s reverence for the Holy Prophet.
Certainly, he was giving her a dark look, his mouth drawn into a tight line, when Alistair cleared his throat uncomfortably.
“Er… ye-es, but I think that was probably, um….”
I looked along our ramshackle seating arrangements, and he caught my eye, mugging hopelessly as Leliana utterly failed to heed the warning.
“It was so noble,” she went on, apparently oblivious to Sarel’s dryly arched brow. “Such a powerful unity. I mean, we all have to face terrible threats together, don’t we? Just like the Blight.”
I wasn’t much of a one for praying, but I really hoped she wasn’t going to mention her vision.
Hahren Sarel sniffed eloquently. “It is the shemlen who name that woman prophet,” he said, his voice laden with steel. “We knew Andraste as a war leader: one who, like us, had been a slave and dreamed of liberation. Yes, we joined her rebellion. Those who had been trodden beneath the shemlen’s feet rose bravely with her, and became her vanguard. They were our heroes, and they died beside her, unmourned, in Tevinter bonfires.”
Leliana inclined her head, seeming to realise her mistake. “Oh… well, of course. I mean—”
“But we stayed with our so-called allies,” Sarel went on, raising his voice over the murmurs of the elves and the cracking of the fire, the anger glowing like embers in his eyes. “We stayed until the bitter end. And we had our reward. We had a land of our own—the Dales, in the south of what you call Orlais,” he added dismissively. “And we made the Long Walk to our new home, to Halamshiral, ‘the end of the journey’; our capital, our place beyond the reach of the humans. We came across deserts, across oceans… and we would crossed the Beyond itself for that place. It was to be somewhere we could once again forget the incessant passage of time; somewhere our people could begin the slow process of recovering the culture and traditions we had lost to slavery… but even then, it was not to last.”
That was the part of the story I knew best, the part that Valendrian had always emphasised the most: how elven pride and the refusal to tolerate human interference had resulted in the skirmishes that marked our doom. I bent my head and studied my hands, suddenly uncomfortable with some tone or sense in the hahren’s voice. Tension seemed to linger in the air around us.
The firelight played along the darkening ground, and the night seeped into the edges of everything. My knuckles looked clenched, like bare bones beneath the freckled skin, which had grown rough and loose, patched with wrinkles and the signs of wear. I’d never had a lady’s soft, delicate palms, but they’d not been washerwoman’s paws… and now they were becoming the hard, sword-callused hands that ought to have fitted a soldier, and I wasn’t that, either.
“Of course,” Hahren Sarel intoned, with a hard, unpleasant edge to his tone, “it did not last. Your Chantry, not content with letting us be, sent missionaries into the Dales. We threw them out. We wanted none of them. We just wanted what Andraste had promised us: our freedom. The freedom to return to the ways of Arlathan.”
I glanced up, hearing the disappointment crack in Leliana’s voice. The light seemed to fade in her face, and the flames of the great fire sent shadows skittering at the corners of her eyes and down her cheeks. They made her look older somehow, and tired… as if, in that moment, her belief faltered a little.
“But that wasn’t—”
“The templars came then,” he said, and I wondered if he was actually enjoying it. There seemed to be a dark kind of glee in the storyteller’s face, whipping beneath the lines of his vallaslin. “Soldiers of your Chantry’s whim, filled with hatred, and they scattered us just as the Tevinters did. Halamshiral burned, Andraste’s promises broken, and our people were left with nothing.”
I heard the soft clink of buckles as Alistair shifted uncomfortably, and I was grateful for the fact we hadn’t mentioned his association with the templars. Vows or not, it would have made things immeasurably worse.
Leliana looked wounded, as if the hahren’s distaste for the Chantry was a direct personal assault… which it was, for her, I supposed. Strange, because she knew all too well how the machinery of faith could turn against someone. Her time in Lothering—for all the secrets she still held from me then—had not been without argument. I wanted to say something then, to intervene somehow or set Sarel’s tormenting down a different track, but I didn’t get a chance… and it wasn’t my place anyway. I knew that when I saw the look he gave me, his mouth already wrapping around cruel words.
“We did as we always done. We endured. Some took refuge in the cities of the shemlen, living in squalor, tolerated only a little better than vermin—”
My spine stiffened slightly, but I said nothing. I had begun to see how different the Dalish thought themselves—how different they truly were—and it was useless to pretend they accorded my kind the respect I’d imagined they would. Maybe we deserved it. Maybe the shems were right, anyway. Maybe the Dalish were right, and we were weak. Maybe we were weak for submitting, and weak for all our subservience and careful quiet, and weak for not being more like them.
I lifted my chin a little, looking into the fire’s warmth and the glowing hearts of the logs that smouldered red at its base. I looked until the light reflected back so brightly into my eyes that it hurt, and I blinked, hoping to see Daeon’s face in the gathered elves beyond the flames.
He wasn’t vermin to them. He’d crossed the bridge, become one of the clan… he was earning their respect and their loyalty. Perhaps, I thought, I could do the same.
I blinked, my cheeks warmed by the fire, and looked away. Hahren Sarel was reciting a particularly florid description of the elvhen’s “self-imposed exile”, and the Dalish safe-guarding of the remnants of elven knowledge and culture.
Leliana still looked upset. She hugged her knees, and the firelight glimmered on her braided hair as she worked her lips over a protest.
“But…. Forgive me, but the historians all agree that the elves were not blameless. Chantry historians, perhaps, but… but you cannot deny there were tensions on both sides. The Chantry did not attempt to exterminate your people, nor attack them from spite!”
Wynne placed a hand on her shoulder, in some blend of comfort and restraint, but Leliana didn’t appear to notice it. I was fairly convinced this was going to blow up into a full-scale fight but, to my surprise, Sarel chuckled, and there was as much amiability in it as bitter mirth.
“My, my… such faith you have. Oh, I am certain we played a part in our own downfall. Such is usually the case.” He shrugged, and cast a guarded look around the fire. “Perhaps we believed the shemlen would not revoke their prophet’s gift so lightly. Of course, we were wrong. Yet, what did we do to anger them? One attack on a human village, and the Chantry army marched. They took our lands, forced us to abandon our gods and left us living as beggars in filthy shemlen cities.”
I bit the inside of my lip, my mind full of the memories of front steps cleaned to a shine, and Mother washing down our table until the wood was white with scrubbing. But, why would they understand?
“You should have fought,” Sten said.
I hadn’t expected him to speak, and I looked along the log in surprise. He had turned from gazing into the fire, and he was regarding Sarel with an impassive stare tinged, I thought, with just a little of that bored qunari disapproval—a kind of tedium for his kind, probably, because nothing ever seemed to match up to the way they ran life.
Hahren Sarel raised his eyebrows, evidently distracted from baiting Leliana even further. “Oh?”
Sten grunted. “You should have fought to the last of you. Better that than to submit.”
The storyteller’s face flexed into a mask of dark amusement, though I could see the firelight glimmer on cold fury in his eyes.
“Indeed? Is it not the qunari way to force others to submit? Surely fighting would not be your advice to my people, were they attacked by the mighty qunari.”
I cringed inwardly, seeing visions of body parts strewn across the camp, and the treaty we’d had such fond notions of seeing honoured hung on a nail next to the bushes the Dalish used for a privy.
Sten narrowed his eyes. “That would be different,” he said, with an element of consideration I had only heard from him infrequently before. His upper lip twitched lightly… possibly the nearest he ever got to a smile. “The qunari would improve your people, storyteller. The humans have improved upon nothing.”
A complicated silence fell, during which it seemed likely either laughter or war would break out. I held my breath, wishing I had something to say. Sarel was still watching Sten, with a kind of curiosity in his face that made me think the qunari would end up in a story of his own before long. It was Alistair who broke the silence, though, leaning forward and clearing his throat.
“Right. Well, we’ve… um… we’ve established that, I think. But the thing is, ser—elder,” he corrected, with a quick, sly glance at me, “we’re here for the Grey Wardens, and the Wardens aren’t just humans, or elves, or dwarves… we stand outside race, outside politics. We have to, because there’s one thing that threatens everyone, and that’s what we stand against.”
There was an echo of Duncan in his words but, from the look on his face, I thought Alistair probably felt he hadn’t done his mentor justice. All the same, I was proud of him… and a little shamed by him. I should have spoken up, put my voice to that unity of races, and yet I hadn’t even thought about it. I’d been so preoccupied with the Dalish, and my own nature—and my fantasies of a new Garahel marching under the banner of an elven army—that perhaps I’d even started to forget what had drawn us here.
The forest can do that to a person. You get so hedged in and choked with trees and vines, until their roots start to worm their way into your head, and every blurred path or dead end is another set of briars snatching you down inside it.
Sarel looked consideringly at him, and the tension around the fire seemed to deepen, taking on a new complexity as the gathered elves watched in silence. I wasn’t sure what they made of Alistair. Maybe they’d been expecting him to protest, to argue the rights of humans and the Chantry’s interpretation of history. Either way, the Dalish watched their storyteller and, when he spoke, his words were careful, clipped, and they hung over the fire like smoke.
“And yet, Grey Warden, you offer to enter the forest and seek the heart of Witherfang. This task our Keeper would give you… this is not your sole purpose, your ‘one thing you stand against’.”
Alistair looked momentarily discomfited. He glanced sidelong at me—whether for reassurance or answers, I didn’t know—and the firelight ruddied his skin, catching the gold in his hair and turning it red. I thought of Cailan then, with the dying sun flaming on his gilt armour, and I wondered if any of us were truly determined by our blood, human or elven… Dalish or flat-ear.
“Well, no,” Alistair said, turning to meet Hahren Sarel’s gaze. “But some things are just right, aren’t they? Your people need help. Anyway, Merien’s decision is good enough for me. She leads us,” he added, and I felt a shiver go around the fire.
I was grateful he didn’t look at me then. Many of the assembled Dalish did, and I suddenly felt very small and very awkward. It was a very public affirmation of faith… and maybe more than faith… and though it swelled me up with pride, it also scared me.
Sarel was watching me—so many people were watching me—and the firelight seemed to splinter around my feet. The weight of their gazes hung on me, full of expectation and quiet opinion. I didn’t know what they thought. I didn’t want to know, maybe.
Instead, I leaned in, my shoulders square, and kept my voice as clear as I could as I met the storyteller’s eye.
“We mean to do the best we can, elder. But perhaps… perhaps you know better than most what lies within the forest? We are not so hide-bound we wouldn’t humbly accept your advice.”
It was a little formal, a little awkward—a clumpy kind of way of asking for anything—but it made the boundaries clear. I’d tried to, anyway, and I couldn’t do more than that. It was what I’d done since the beginning: put myself in between things, and try to hold the calm together.
Hahren Sarel regarded me coolly for a few moments, his eyes guarded and the flamelight shading along the planes of his cheeks. Then he scoffed, somewhere between a dry chuckle and a snort of derision, and the pale blade of a smile split his face.
“I know a few stories, you may be sure,” he said, with quietly burnished pride. “Our legends say that the Brecilian Forest was a place of our ancestors that predated even Arlathan. It was the shemlen who gave the place its name.”
I frowned. “There were elves here? Settled?”
“Who knows?” Sarel shrugged and, leaning his head to the side, cast a look around his audience. The brief moment of silence was a punctuation to the story that, in his hands, became a masterful piece of emphasis, a stroke of meanings unsaid and tales that were yet to be told.
“If there were,” he went on, edging forwards a little, as if he was imparting something secret to us, “those elves were either slain or enslaved. We know only that a great many battles were fought here; these trees grew upon the graves of those who fell—shemlen and elvhen both.”
He raised up one hand, fingers spread against the silhouettes of the trees. Nightbirds called in the far branches, and the darkness seemed to slink around us, as if the shadows had life and form. I suppressed the urge to shiver, glad of my cloak when I suddenly felt so cold.
Wynne nodded thoughtfully. “Battles that… tore the Veil?”
The young women tidying up, busying themselves collecting up the bowls and the detritus from the finished meal, and feeding more kindling to the fire, stirring up sparks and the whispers of ashes. Some of the Dalish had begun to drift away from this central place in the camp, back to their own aravels. Mothers were taking the smallest children to bed, and it heartened me to see a few of the older ones pleading in earnest murmurs to be allowed to stay up; obviously, we weren’t the sort of thing that happened often in camp, and sitting up to stare at us was a far more inviting prospect than going to bed.
“Very wise of you, I’m sure,” Sarel said, shooting the mage a look of mild annoyance. “Death has a way of ripping up all that is real. Such are the legends that speak of Witherfang. An ancient spirit, passing freely into this world, seizing the form of a wolf… and passing on its curse of rage.”
“A rage demon,” Alistair muttered. “Great. Well, at least we’ve dealt with those before.”
The hahren’s brow crinkled, but he hid his surprise well, and I didn’t give him the opportunity to delve into any questions. The Dalish had their own ways where magic and superstition were concerned. That much was clear to me and, while they didn’t spit and cross their fingers at the mention of demons, like the old men in the alienage, I doubted that going into any great detail over the Circle Tower would help us.
“Witherfang is old, then?” I asked, trying hard not to think of Sophia Dryden’s withered corpse, held together mostly by the armour she’d died in, and corrupted by the demon that had taken her. “I mean, if the legends go back so far….”
Sarel nodded. “Yes. Zathrian insists the wolf still lives. He says Witherfang does not age as the werewolves do. The creature spread its curse to the shemlen, and thus it has come to us, but Witherfang endures. It is as much spirit as beast… immortal, perhaps. Perhaps it cannot even be slain. At the very least, it is old and powerful, much as Zathrian himself.”
Something about the way he said those words reminded me of Athras, and I was curious as to how deep Zathrian’s bond with his clan truly ran. In the short time we’d been in the camp, I’d seen the terrible loyalty his people had to him, but it was tainted with a kind of awe… as if they really believed he was more than them somehow. It was a very different kind of respect and, just as I’d said to Alistair, he was a very different kind of hahren. I told myself it was because of the magic. Keepers had secrets to hold and dark things to watch against. Their role was far more mystical than the tussling with city guards and bureaucrats that Valendrian had occupied himself with… and yet I found myself thinking of our hahren more than ever. There was a warmth in his guidance—even when we were children, strapped across the backs of our knees for disobedience, or cuffed alongside the head for misbehaviour—that I missed, and that I wasn’t sure I could see in the Dalish way of being.
Were they really so very different?
To my left, Alistair let out a small sigh of frustration and ran a hand over his hair, frowning as he seemed to chew over logistics.
“All right. So… this thing has been out there for Maker only knows how long. And it’s never spread the curse to your people before?”
Sarel glanced across the fire. The clan kept late evenings, apparently, though I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were clinging to the flames, keeping some kind of quiet vigil against the dark, while their sick lay dying… waiting to be taken either by the curse, or the healer’s silent blade.
“No,” he said softly. “Only the shemlen. When they lived here, the curse would spread anew to a few of them with each passing year. They would run off into the forest, howling with anger and shame. Eventually, they abandoned their villages. The forest consumed the empty places, as it does. We thought we would be safe… from them, and from the curse. But we were wrong.”
Leliana spoke up then, for the first time since Sarel’s acid denunciation of the Chantry. She was still sitting by Wynne’s feet, her arms hooked around her knees, and the firelight made her eyes look like turquoise glass bathed in gold.
“Was it long ago that the humans left? If it has been many years, perhaps there are few of the werebeasts left.”
He gave her the kind of look an impatient father gives a child that is full of foolish questions, but I could see the pain that sluiced behind his eyes.
“There were enough to nearly destroy us all. Enough to kill us… to kill my wife,” Sarel snapped, turning his face to the darkened tree line, as if he could lose the words there. “And my son.”
Awkward solemnity hung in the air. Expressions of condolence seemed empty, especially when they would only break against the wall of his bitterness. Leliana tried anyway, and there was true empathy in her voice… which probably just served to make the storyteller angrier.
“Oh, I am so sorry. I—”
“One assumes,” Sarel said sharply, cutting her off with a dark look, “that the creatures survive by passing their curse to their offspring. They have had no new blood… until now, that is.” He snorted derisively as he glanced towards the distant shape of the hospital tent. “Zathrian maintains none of the hunters have turned. I doubt that. Since the attack, I have seen one or two making for the forest’s heart, already more beast than elf. The rest of the sick will follow; either die or turn. It calls them: the curse, and the wildwood. It is the savage nature of the beast and, make no mistake, the forest is as a thing alive.”
He was staring at the fire again, as the flames broke higher, rising on the dark red embers and the sap-strong flush of fresh wood. The night air had grown cold, and where some of the clan had returned to their wagons, others had come to join the circle. A sense of expectation seemed to settle over them, and I watched Hahren Sarel’s hard, sharp profile carve a line through the shadows, his eyes hooded as he watched the leaping, dancing sparks.
“It changes as it wills,” he said, as if rolling the words of a long-cherished story around his mouth. “Paths close behind you, and new ones open up. Oh, yes… the forest lives. And, were I you, Warden, I would endeavour not to make an enemy of it.”
He glanced at me then, and the mix of hostility, pain, and anger in his face frightened me, and yet filled me with sorrow. I knew loss, and I knew violence, but I’d suffered neither the way Sarel had. At that moment, the world seemed to hold nothing but new ways of inflicting horror on a person, and I wished we’d never tried to enter the forest, much less agreed to a plan that appeared more hopeless by the hour.
But I couldn’t admit to that, even if I’d wanted to. No matter how hopeless the plan, I was the one leading the charge. That still seemed crazy to me and yet, for the first time, it felt real, and right… like something I could do, not because I’d simply found myself thrown into the waves of a tempest, but because I had accepted the storm, whether it was my destiny to float or drown.
“Thank you, elder,” I said, inclining my head politely. “That seems like very good advice.”
He snorted. “Aye. And much good may it do you.”
Movement stirred at the edge of the gathering, and I looked over to see Zathrian emerging from the direction of his aravel and drawing near the fire, his robes bundled up around him and his face tired and drawn. A couple of the young women bustled about him, and a space was made for the Keeper to sit close to the flames.
Zathrian settled himself, holding out his palms for warmth. He nodded at us politely, and I heard Hahren Sarel’s soft exhalation of breath.
The Keeper’s arrival at the fire marked a change in the evening. The strained atmosphere seemed to crack, tension leaking from the air, and it was as if the elves still gathered around us seemed comforted by Zathrian’s presence. It was a ritual, of a kind, I supposed. He would come and join with his people, like a king holding court, and it soothed them.
There were traditions, too. This, we discovered, was the time for stories… stories, and skins of elvhen mead, which was decanted into small wooden cups and passed around with great reverence. The first went to Zathrian, and then Lanaya, and the hahrens. Then, the veteran hunters, the elders and the craftsmen, and then the apprentices and the clansmen and, finally, with words of thanks from Zathrian for the help we had pledged the clan, we were offered cups of the clear liquor too. It smelled faintly of honey, and tasted like fire and turpentine. I gathered from the looks on some of the Elvhen’s faces that the honour we were being accorded was not universally approved of, but their Keeper had spoken, and we all managed not to splutter or cough our way through the quiet, ceremonious sipping… although I did think, at one point, I might choke. Sten seemed to actually like the stuff; I heard his quiet grunt of approval as he drank it down.
The moon had risen, though it was hard to see it behind the trees. Ragged shades of cloud painted the sky, black on dark, like shadows swimming between the points of the stars.
Sarel was to tell a story. Zathrian requested it, and the hahren responded graciously. It was, I realised, another ritual; another way of reaffirming the bonds of clan and blood that the Dalish so depended upon.
I did not, however, expect the way that it moved me.
“Aye, I shall tell a tale,” Sarel said, raising his voice so it carried to the edge of the circle. “Listen, and I shall tell the greatest tale of all!”
It was a call that demanded an answer, it seemed, for a soft susurration ran through the gathered Dalish, and Sarel nodded approvingly. He placed his hands on his thighs, elbows out like an old man beginning a lecture, and leaned forward, until the firelight’s reflection gleamed on his face. He was different then to the way he’d been when he was talking with us. This was a story that performed: a tale that lived and breathed through him as he gave it shape. I had never been so close to a piece of elven history before, but I touched the face of it in Sarel’s story.
“As it was told by Gisharel, Keeper of Clan Ralaferin, blood of my blood and my birth, I tell it to you. This is the tale of Elgar’nan and the Sun; the tale of Mythal’s Touch; the tale of all that was and came to be… and of the light that comes where darkness falls.”
As if on cue, the fire leapt up, and sparks spiralled in the dark air. I glanced up, and saw Daeon and some of the other boys from earlier, sitting on the far side of the circle near where Lanaya was perched on a small stool, dwarfed by her voluminous robes.
“Long ago, when time itself was young, the only things in existence were the sun and the land.” Sarel raised his clenched fist, showing the sun, and held the other flat, fingertips to elbow a line before him that marked the land. The movements were slow, deliberate… a pantomime he’d played a hundred times before, I imagined, and yet every eye there was fixed upon him. “The sun grew curious about the land. Day by day, he bowed his head closer to her body—” His hands moved, fist uniting with fingertips and then both palms pressing together, before splaying out in a slow, almost hypnotic gesture. “—and Elgar’nan was born in the place where they touched.”
A small, collective sigh left some of the gathered elves, and it pooled in the silence Sarel left, painting pictures with the gaps between his words.
“The sun and the land both loved Elgar’nan greatly. As a gift to him, the land brought forth the birds and beasts of sky and forest, and all manner of wonderful green things. And yes, Elgar’nan did love his mother’s gifts. He praised them highly and walked amongst them often.” Sarel’s hands, spread wide again to encompass all of creation, came slowly to rest upon his knees as he leaned forwards, allowing the firelight to catch at his vallaslin, making the shadows beneath his eyes dance in jagged tears. “But the sun, looking down upon the fruitful land, grew jealous. He could not abide the sight of Elgar’nan’s joy in the works of the land and, out of spite, he shone his face full upon all the creatures she had created, and burned them all to ashes. The land cracked and split from bitterness and pain, and cried salt tears for the loss of all she had wrought. The pool of those tears became the ocean, and the cracks in her body the first rivers and streams.”
I could have sworn I heard water rushing beneath the sound of his voice. The sun’s heat burned in the fire, in the light that splintered over the toes of my boots, and a soft shiver rose on the back of my neck.
“Elgar’nan was furious at what his father had done, and he vowed vengeance. He lifted himself into the sky and wrestled the sun, determined to defeat him.” Sarel’s lean hands moved in swift, sharp swoops, describing the fierceness of the battle as his voice grew hard and low. “They fought for an eternity, but eventually the sun grew weak, while Elgar’nan’s rage was unabated. His anger knew no bound nor end and, finally, Elgar’nan threw the sun down from the sky and buried him in the deepest abyss, the darkest place created by the land’s sorrow.”
The back of the storyteller’s fingers struck his other palm, then his hands drew together, locked in one still, clenched ball. The night seemed to grow darker, shadows pulling in around the fire and the still, wide-eyed faces of the Dalish.
Sarel was silent for a moment. I almost thought the story ended there, but the way his gaze roved steadily over his audience told me otherwise, beyond the fact that I knew the sun still rose. The sun had to rise in the Dalish’s stories, because the forest can’t grow without light.
“But,” Sarel said softly, that one word drifting into the fire’s smoke like a moth, and seeming to echo my very thoughts, “with the sun gone, the world was covered in shadow. All was darkness and cold, and all that was left in the sky were the reminders of Elgar’nan’s battle with his father: drops of the sun’s lifeblood, which twinkled and shimmered in the darkness.”
He sat back, letting the weight of the words wash over us. I hadn’t realised I was holding my breath. It was beautiful, in a terrible, fearsome sort of way, and I couldn’t stop myself from glancing up at the darkened sky, searching out the pinpricks of stars between the trees.
Mother had never told me stories like this. To her, the stars had all had names, or been part of tales of their own—the captured princess, the wily trickster, or the faithful lovers—and this new image was stark and unsettling… and wholly absorbing. It was something wild, primal, and above all elven. Our gods. Our world. Our land, and our stars.
The night was cold, the dry burn of elven mead still ached in the back of my throat, and yet none of it mattered. I was caught completely.
“So… that is how it was,” Sarel said contemplatively, shaking his head as he surveyed us, his manner now more that of a weary grandfather than some wild sage. He paused, fingers smoothing the knee of his breeches, and the silence pressed in, broken only by the crackle of the fire.
A small child sitting near the front, not far from where Maethor lay, looked as if she was about to burst in anticipation.
“Elgar’nan had defeated his father, the sun,” Sarel mused. He looked down at where the children sat. “All was covered in darkness. He was pleased with himself—and had not his victory been mighty?”
A ripple went through the elves; agreement, and the knowing of the story, right down, bone-deep. He nodded, apparently satisfied with the response.
“Aye. Thus, Elgar’nan sought to console his mother by replacing all that the sun had destroyed. But the earth knew that this could not be. Without the sun, nothing could grow. She whispered to Elgar’nan this truth, and pleaded with him to release his father, but Elgar’nan’s pride was great. His vengeance was terrible, and he refused.”
Sarel left another pause in the tale, allowing the fire and the silence to shape his telling. I was leaning forward, my elbows propped on my knees, almost oblivious to everything but his words. I was vaguely aware of the others—of Morrigan’s quiet disdain, Leliana’s intent and possibly at least partially professional interest, and the discomfort that seemed to emanate from Alistair—and yet I was thinking of nothing apart from how the story ended.
Hahren Sarel tilted his head to the side, letting the reflections of the flamelight skitter on his hair and ears, his vallaslin like dark fingermarks across his skin. Shadows danced in the heavy folds of his cloak and, when he spoke, it was slow and considering… as if the rest of the tale had yet to be written.
“It was at this moment,” he said, letting each word drop slowly into place, “that the Great Mother, Mythal, the Protector, came into being. She walked out of the sea of the earth’s tears and onto the land, and she placed her hand on Elgar’nan’s brow.”
He held up his right hand, the fingers lightly curved, and a shiver ran down my back.
“At her touch, he grew calm… and he knew that his anger had led him astray.” Sarel slowly lowered his hand, and another soft sigh left the gathered elves. He folded his palms together, and the fire’s light flicked shadows into the grooves of his fingers, making them a complexly entwined knot. “So humbled, Elgar’nan went to the place where the sun was buried and he spoke to his father. No one knows what was said, or what the words were that raised the sun, but Elgar’nan did agree to release him, on condition that he promised to be gentle, and to return to the earth each night. The sun, filled with remorse at what he had done, agreed.”
His hands spread wide again, free and light as birds, and my mind was full of the glorious blaze of a triumphant dawn that he conjured there, bathed in the fire’s brightness. The smell of wood sap and smoke and earth seemed to fade, and instead I breathed in crisp, clean air fragrant with dew.
“And so it was that the sun came to rise again in the sky, and shone his golden light upon the earth.” Sarel let his hands rest upon his knees, and leaned back a little, watching the sea of quiet, intent faces. “Elgar’nan and Mythal, with the help of the earth and the sun, brought back to life all the wondrous things that the sun had destroyed, and they grew and thrived. And,” he added, scooping one hand slowly through the air and curling into a soft, protective fist, “that night, when the sun had gone to sleep, Mythal gathered the glowing earth around his bed, and formed it into a sphere to be placed in the sky, a pale reflection of his true glory.”
I looked up then. I couldn’t help it; the storyteller might as well have had my head on a string.
“This we know,” Sarel said, and the words carried the tone of a prayer, “by our lore and our telling, and by the land beneath our feet, and the sun and the moon above us.”
As if by magic, the clouds that raced darkly across the sky sped on, and the sallow, pitted face of the moon peered at me from between the trees’ spiked silhouettes.
I caught my breath, but I couldn’t look away.