Back to Feasting on Dreams: Contents
After Sarel’s tale was done, the clan began to retire. Some of them hung back to speak with Zathrian, and he received them gracefully, though I couldn’t help noticing how much like a favour it seemed. The Dalish regarded their Keeper with far more mystical awe than we’d ever treated Valendrian, and I suppose I felt slightly guilty for that.
We began to head back to our tents, aware of the need for rest before we headed out in the morning. I saw Daeon watch me go from across the fire, and noticed the tension in his body as he waited for a moment with Zathrian.
Morrigan swept off ahead of the rest of us, with a snide mumble about ‘superstitious nonsense and pointless stories’, while Leliana had Wynne by the elbow and was cooing about how powerful the Dalish tales were.
“…and, you know, I once knew an elven woman in Orlais who sang the most beautiful songs. She was a servant of Lady Cecilie’s, but I believe her mother was Dalish. She often spoke of her heritage, but I don’t think she knew many stories like that. I suppose she wouldn’t have, would she? Anyway….”
Maethor, padding at my heel, licked his nose and yawned hugely. Sten was characteristically quiet, though I got the feeling he was thinking about Sarel’s tale, too. Elements of it had reminded me of the story he’d told us in the tavern at Redcliffe, about the ashkaari and the drought-struck village.
Nothing grew there except the bitter memory of gardens.
That was like the Dalish, I thought. For all their pride and their wildness, they were defined most of all by what they’d lost… what we’d all lost. And yet, in Sten’s story, the ashkaari had told the miserable villagers that, if the world changed to their disadvantage, they must change it back.
Change yourself. You make your own world.
I wondered at the truth of that, and at the sweet pull the words held for me, and I didn’t realise how furrow-faced I must have looked until Alistair drew level with me as we crossed the dark grass, clearing his throat to attract my attention.
“Oh, good. You are with us. I said, it was an interesting story, wasn’t it?”
I glanced apologetically at him. “Ah. Yes… yes, it was…. It was,” I finished lamely, lacking the words to express what I wanted.
He nodded slowly. The air was cold this far from the fire, and the trees creaked at the bounds of the camp.
“Hmm. You know, in the monastery, we were taught that the Maker created everything and placed us at the centre of it.” Alistair smiled ruefully. “Can’t imagine what old Brother Petripp would make of this. Doesn’t bear thinking about, to be honest.”
“No?” I arched a brow, and he shrugged.
“The Chantry tends to breed… set ideas. Brother Petripp was especially, um, wary of outside influences.”
He rubbed one palm across his knuckles as he spoke, fiddling a little with the worry token he wore. I caught sight of the echoes of a long-grown little boy in the movement, nervous of a master’s cane and longing for the comfort of someone to answer his questions… to tell him that his curiosity wasn’t worthless.
That was the child I imagined Alistair had been. That, and the kind of ill-behaved, attention-starved little horror some of his anecdotes described. I smiled, despite how caught I still was in the web of Sarel’s stories.
“It wasn’t much like what we heard in the alienage, either.”
His brow crinkled. “Really? I thought you’d have had, you know… elven stories.”
I shook my head emphatically. “No. Not like that. Not… well, not like that. I thought it was wonderful.”
He looked at me a little askance, and I realised how breathless I must have sounded. My enthusiasm embarrassed me, and I wanted to turn my head away, but I didn’t want him to think I was turning from him. Not again, no matter how hard it was to be near him, or how hard it was to see the regret in his eyes.
“Yes… you did, didn’t you?” Alistair smiled sadly, and something heavy and silent settled inside my chest. He straightened his shoulders and gestured towards the tents with the kind of crispness he got when we were on the road, and he was convinced about some shortcut or other that would end up leading us through four miles of cabbage fields. “Well, I guess we should get some sleep. It all starts tomorrow, right?”
I nodded. “Mm-hm. Well… g’night.”
“’Night,” he echoed, a gentle cusp of sadness in his voice.
I smiled, rather uselessly, and pointed vaguely to the brook, indicating by some stupid combination of gesticulating and mumbling that I meant to wash up a bit before retiring. Alistair nodded awkwardly, and I stood there as I watched him go, trailing after the others like a despondent child.
I hated myself.
The water was cold and murky in the darkness, and my fingers trailed against something that felt like duckweed, though the camp’s torches didn’t really yield enough second-hand light for me to tell. Still, there was something pure about the brook’s cool, dark water, and as I splashed my face I could almost pretend that the confusion and frustration was washed from my eyes like grit.
The camp was a strange place to be that night, perhaps because I felt so caught between belonging and being a stranger; so wrapped up in everything I wanted to believe in, and yet aware of the forest hanging over us. Every breath seemed to come through a shroud of leaves and damp boughs.
All the same, I took a little peace from an old, old habit. I crouched down and washed my face and hands, like I used to do before I went to bed, back when we had water enough for cleaning, and I had chores to burden myself with, instead of a Blight. It was nice to feel tidy, even if it was only for a short while.
I rose, stood in the quiet and took one last, long look around the Dalish wagons, with their folded sails and great, swelling hulls. Halla calls drifted softly on the air, and the trees creaked and groaned with the breeze high in their branches. Somewhere, an owl hooted, and a fox yelped. The great fire had been swaddled for the night; a dimmer glow than the warm little beacon we had by our tents still. I should head up there, I told myself… away, back to the boundary of the camp, to the little scrap of belonging I knew was my own. Not elvhen—not even the elven girl I’d been, whose reputation Daeon had been happy to trust. Could anything be remade from something so badly broken?
I didn’t really want to think about it. I didn’t want to think about the memories of Denerim, and the smoky, burned houses I hadn’t seen but knew must be there, hiding behind the walls.
I’d hoped to see Daeon again before we left in the morning, but that didn’t look likely. I wondered if he was giving his remembrances to Taeodor tonight, or whether he’d taken Dalish religion now. What did they do for their dead? I should probably have asked, I realised, though I’d been too busy in the healer’s tent being shocked at the nature of the curse to question whether they burned the bodies.
Wiping my damp hands on my breeches, I started to move back towards the edge of camp, and the line of our tents. I passed a couple of the smaller aravels, all darkened and shut up for the night, and didn’t expect to see another soul.
Needless to say, I jumped like a startled rabbit at the sound of a voice emerging from the shadows.
“Ah, the ever-dutiful Warden,” Zevran said, in tones laced with the sultry smokiness of complete relaxation. “I trust you have had an enjoyable evening?”
I turned to the landship in whose lee I stood, and found him on its steps, the weak light of a small lantern that burned within the wagon gilding his face. His hair and shirt both had the kind of rumpled look that spoke of hurried dressing, but his face was a picture of smug, lazy comfort.
Warmth began to rush to my cheeks as a few connections dropped into place, but I was determined not to give him the satisfaction of believing he’d embarrassed me.
“P-Perhaps not as, uh, enjoyable as yours,” I said, and it would have sounded more acidly tart if I’d managed not to stumble on the words.
He just beamed, those hooded eyes glimmering like citrine in the dimness. A shape moved within the shadows at the aravel’s door, and a pale hand slipped out to grasp at Zevran’s shoulder, moving swiftly to the neck of his shirt. I heard a murmured protest, and looked away as he reached up to catch the questing fingers in his.
“What’s this? Ah… enough, you greedy creature. Basta! What did I say, hmm?”
He’d evidently wasted no time with the elf who’d caught his eye earlier. The boy emerged into the candle-tinted moonlight, still trying to pull Zevran back in with him, and despite my attempts at not looking, I could hardly miss how stunning he was. His skin seemed light against Zev’s, his vallaslin a poem of dark ink on a pale, unblemished page, and that thick fall of braids and embellished locks hung wildly about his shoulders.
He was lithe, feral, beautiful… and very naked.
The warmth that had flooded my cheeks crashed into a full and complex blush, and I took Andraste’s name in blasphemous vain under my breath, swiftly turning away to stare at the grass.
Soft laughter and the insistent warmth of kisses hung on the air, perfumed with hints of sweat and spice that were so suggestive I tried to stop breathing in altogether.
“Shh… I must have rest, da’assan. Would you work me until I cannot fight, and leave me to die pathetically among the trees?”
The elf muttered a Dalish imprecation, and then something else I didn’t hear. I was still staring implacably at the grass, watching the dark silver shape of a spider creeping along one small tussock, and fervently wishing I’d either not stopped in the first place, or had some way of excusing myself.
I cleared my throat, ready to mumble some tangled farewell, but I didn’t get a chance.
“I really don’t think—” Zevran began, but the boy wasn’t listening to him.
He leaned over the aravel’s rail, fixed on catching my attention in that very Dalish way: a hiss of breath, almost, pushed through his teeth. It was brisk and insolent, reminding me that I was not one of his kin, and had yet to earn their respect.
I raised my chin, already a little annoyed, even before the moonlight and the weak glow of candles picked out every bold and hard angle on the boy’s face. Just looking at him made me feel inferior.
“I want to come with you,” he said, his Common burred with the clipped lilt I’d heard in several of the elvhen. “Into the forest.”
Zevran winced. “That—”
The boy turned his head suddenly, braids scattering across his bare shoulders, and fixed Zevran with a look of imploring rawness.
“You said this woman leads you. She is the Grey Warden. If I want to offer her my bow—”
Despite the awkwardness of the meeting, that caught me by surprise. I shot Zev a questioning glance, and he had the grace to look embarrassed as he raised a hand to quiet his new friend.
“Yes, but…. Ah, brasca. Fair enough. Warden, this is Farriel. He is apprentice to the clan’s carpenter.”
“Athras,” Farriel supplemented, and I nodded.
“I met him.”
Zevran nodded tartly. “Well, everyone knows everyone. How charming. You will show some respect to the Warden,” he added, the words slipping low and seeming to strike Farriel like the slaps of a belt.
The boy’s shoulders stiffened, and he faced me with something very much like defiance, though it was mitigated with a terse kind of deference in the way he inclined his head.
“I mean it,” he said, with only the slight hint of a sulk as he raised his eyes to mine, the darkness making them look like huge, open pools. “I have won my vallaslin, Warden. I am no child. I wish to go with you, for the honour of my clan, and the aid of my people.”
I let a slow breath leak between my lips. It had been a long, strange few days, and now this beautiful young man wanted to die with us. Perhaps it was testament to how far all my long weeks on the road had driven me that, at that moment, he seemed to be an echo of Sarel’s tale. I looked at him—painted in moonlight, standing there as a silvered echo to Zevran’s tanned skin and golden hair—and he was the reflection of the sun, the glowing earth gathered by Mythal and placed in the sky. He was the point where glory and compassion met, and he didn’t seem real at all.
I shivered, reining my thoughts in and swallowing down the stories that were still running rampant in my mind. Alistair had probably been right to look so disappointed at the eagerness with which I opened myself to Dalish whispers.
“We, uh, we leave early,” I said, narrowing my eyes as I looked from Farriel to Zevran, and taking in the stiff, mask-like blankness the Antivan’s face had acquired. “I’ll speak with Zathrian before we go. If your Keeper wills it, and you can fight, I see no reason why not. But, for now, I think we all need rest. Zevran?”
I heard the coolness in his voice, no doubt signalling deep disapproval, but the boy looked proud enough to burst. Farriel inclined his head, his braids swinging forwards as he almost bowed to me.
A smile danced at the corner of his mouth as he looked to Zev, hand lighting briefly on his shoulder, and I knew it wasn’t for me, or the Grey Wardens—or maybe even his clan—that he wanted to fight with us. It was foolish, and sweet, and sad, and it made my chest tighten a tiny little bit.
Zevran raised his hand, fingers lightly touching Farriel’s knuckles, and then moving to the line of his jaw.
“Sogni d’oro, caro,” he purred, and the look that passed between them made me blush afresh.
Farriel pressed in close, and he kissed Zev… well, in a way I certainly hadn’t ever kissed anybody, much less thought to be kissed. It was a fierce, hungry kind of passion, his hand rising to clasp the other elf’s jaw, as if lips alone couldn’t bring them close enough. His fingers moved sinuously over the tattoo that hugged Zevran’s cheekbone, tracing the lines; caressing them without even having to look at their shape.
I turned away again to studiously examine the grass, and decided that the two of them couldn’t have wasted a single moment since I’d left Zevran by the aravels that afternoon. Heat flamed in my cheeks and, yes, I suppose my city-bred morals were offended.
Outside the alienage, I know what people think. I knew it then, and it is not something that has changed with the years. To be seen as elven is to be fair game—to be a servant, or a whore, or a criminal, because such are our lots in life. Within the walls, plenty of people accept that for truth; sometimes not even knowing they’re doing it.
When I was a child, I grew used to the taunts of those who thought my father put on airs. Yes, he was strict, and yes, our end of the district was a great deal different to the tenement buildings where dice games and girls in shem dresses spilled out into the streets… but, outside the walls, no one ever made those distinctions. They saw the mud on me, perhaps, and never thought that it washed off.
It was a wonder to me that night that, somehow, Zevran seemed more of a gutter-rat than I could ever have been.
“Mmm. You should go inside,” he said as they finally parted, casting a soft smile the length of Farriel’s bare body, “before you get any colder, no?”
The boy grinned. “Mahvir,” he said, and the word was a whisper of promise.
He looked to me, and gave me a respectful nod as Zevran moved down the steps of the aravel, but I knew he wasn’t really seeing me.
He watched until Zev joined me, and we began to cross the darkened camp, and then he finally retreated into his wagon. I didn’t think Zevran had looked back even once.
I supposed it wasn’t my place to pass comment, but I couldn’t hold it in.
“What did you think you were doing? I— I mean,” I added hurriedly, aware even before the assassin’s eyebrows finished climbing skywards that I should probably rephrase that one, “was… that…really a good idea?”
He smirked pityingly at me and shook his head.
“Tch… if you have to ask, my dear, then you have never experienced the rewards. At least—”
“Never mind what I’ve experienced,” I said sharply, aware of the wicked grin spreading across his face. “I meant—”
“I know what you meant, o most virtuous one.”
The grin got even wider, and I was grateful for the darkness masking my blush, though I still wanted to kick him.
“He was simply curious. About my marks,” Zevran added, gesturing elegantly with two fingers at his cheek. “Yes? I saw no harm in indulging that curiosity a little.”
From where I was standing, it looked more like a lot of indulging, but I didn’t say so. Zevran smirked again, which I took to mean he thought I disapproved, and was enjoying the fun of tormenting me.
“He was a quick learner, mind you.”
“I don’t want to know,” I said hastily. “Aren’t the Dalish a bit… proper about that kind of thing?”
The warm beacon of our small fire was looming closer, the little forest of tents and ropes like an oasis of familiar things; canvas, and split wooden poles, and all the gear we’d carried since Redcliffe, which seemed so very, comfortingly, different to the ornate, alien wildness of Dalish ware. The grass, damp with late evening dew, crunched softly under my boots.
Zevran shrugged. “They are rather set in their ways regarding the courtships between men and women, I suppose. Proofs of worth must be made before a couple bonds, but there the intent is the bearing of children, yes? Besides, Farriel has been alone since his mother died—not long before the werebeasts attacked, he said—and, so, really, who needs to know, hmm?”
I can’t say why that surprised me. Perhaps it wasn’t what he said as how he said it, so perfumed with insouciance and genuine unconcern. He walked beside me as if he was tripping on air, his gait loose and easy, his smile faint but wolfish… and yes, maybe I was a little jealous.
“So, you just…?”
I didn’t know what I wanted to accuse him of. Toying with Farriel, perhaps, or some kind of moral laxness, or maybe just having so much more freedom than I’d ever dreamed of. Either way, I didn’t know what to do with the frustration bubbling up between my words. I couldn’t even finish a sentence.
“I mean,” I tried again, “you just…. Do you even…? Do you care for him at all?”
Zev looked sharply at me then. We were nearing the stand of our tents, the others already safely ensconced in their respective bedrolls, with the exception of Morrigan, who I could see silhouetted against the fire, crouching there like some kind of sentinel outlined in flame.
I knew I’d overstepped a mark between us, but I didn’t understand why his eyes suddenly seemed so cold.
“Ah,” he said, his voice oddly devoid of expression, “what it is for love to be beautiful, and life simple. Such are the wonders of youth.”
I frowned. I didn’t like being made fun of, but Zevran didn’t give me the opportunity to complain.
“Of course,” he said quickly, looking away from me, across to the tree line, and whatever lurked within it, “you will not allow him to come with us tomorrow.”
“No.” He glanced back at me, a slight look of worry flickering over his eyes. “He is a woodsmith, not a hunter. Farriel is quick, agile… fast to learn, yes. But he is not skilled enough to fight by my side, or yours.”
I snorted, unbidden memories of our first meeting washing through my mind, and how I’d ended up sitting on the ground with a dead would-be assassin draped over me, and my boot stuck in the jaws of a claw trap.
“To be fair, I’ve been on something of a steep slope of learning these past few months.”
Zevran smiled darkly. “Perhaps. But the things you have seen, things you have done… they have given you great strength. Even greater, I think, than the formidable qualities you already possessed. Farriel does not have this,” he added, ignoring my half-ready attempt to disagree about my ‘formidable’ anything. “He has bravery, yes, but it is not the same. If he follows us, he will die stupidly and—though it is extremely possible that we all will, following this insane mission of yours—I would rather not be responsible for that particular death.”
He had his tongue firmly wedged in his cheek with that little speech, but the sarcasm overlaid an honesty I had not expected. He was watching me very carefully, his gaze knife-sharp behind the suave insolence of his expression.
“All right,” I said. “I’ll do my best to put him off.”
Zevran treated me to a shallow, simple, and yet very elegant bow that—in anyone else, at any other time—I would taken for mockery. His eyes never left my face; just two chips of amber, hard and glittering.
We said goodnight, and went to our separate tents. I nodded to Morrigan, though she barely seemed to see me. She was staring into the fire, her lips moving gently but soundlessly, as if she was counting under her breath. It gave me the shivers, though I doubted it was anything dreadful. For a start, I wasn’t as suspicious of her as Alistair was and, secondly, Wynne would surely have known if she was using blood magic. I had no doubt of that, because I trusted the older mage’s integrity completely… and because, even after the Circle Tower, my actual understanding of magic, and the power of maleficarum, was limited. I’d never seen true blood magic in action, subtly bending the minds of those it touched. I had no notion of how the seed of a thought could be planted, and a person’s will warped until they believed they were acting of their own volition, and not that the of the creature controlling them.
At that point, I even still believed that every choice I’d made in the Dalish camp had been my own.
I ducked into my tent, half of me full up with trepidation for the morning, and the other half still lingering somewhere between Sarel’s stories and the cold, muddy reality that was so damnably full of awkwardness.
I make-believed to myself that I hadn’t glanced towards Alistair’s tent on the way, and make-believed that I wasn’t thinking of him. I didn’t believe my own lies, of course. I missed him—inasmuch as I’d had him in the first place—and I was afraid that I’d pulled so far away from him in the past two days that the damage couldn’t be repaired. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it so, much less understood why I felt lingering threads of irritation towards him. Everything just seemed so bloody complicated.
Maethor had huddled himself up in my bedroll, and obviously rooted through my pack in search of anything edible or worth chewing. There were odds and ends of such possessions as I still had scattered all around him: a tin mug, the brown dress I clung to like a relic, a few spare bandages, and an extremely grubby sock, partially chewed. I was too tired to be annoyed. He cocked an ear and whined softly, rolling over to show me the thinly furred expanse of belly, those great big paws flopping like rags from his thick, muscular legs.
“Horror,” I chided, and poked the hound in the stomach. “Go on. Move over.”
He gave a creaky little canine groan, deep in his chest, and wagged his stubby tail, but lolled over onto his side and allowed me to pull the blankets out from under him.
I didn’t mind his warmth that night… or the smell of dog.
The morning came bright and clear, and cold as knives.
I was awake to see it; I’d slept only a little, and that the kind of thin sleep that a body takes just to keep itself going. Maethor had vacated my bedroll and, when I straightened myself up and slipped out of my tent, I found him sprawled out in front the dying fire, washing his underparts with a series of unpleasant snuffling, slurping noises.
Everything was, apart from that, very quiet. Sten was already up, busy packing his gear—the bare minimum we might need, for there wasn’t likely to be room to set a proper camp in the forest, much less the opportunity. He glanced up and nodded to me, which I thought a gesture of surprising respect. If I hadn’t known better, after our previous run-in with the terrors of the Brecilian Forest, I’d have thought the qunari was afraid.
The others rose in their turns. Alistair looked like he’d been awake half the night too, and Wynne was almost ashen-lipped, she looked so pale and grim.
“Where’s Morrigan?” Leliana asked, as she looped the strap of a bag full of healing supplies across her body.
There were bandages and splints and all manner of things in there; goods she’d assembled with some kind of optimistic sense that, if any of us were bitten, there might be use in treating it.
Nearby, a raven croaked coarsely and, in a rattle of tree branches and wings, her question seemed answered.
“Oh,” Leliana mouthed, hooking her quiver over her shoulder.
As a group, we ostentatiously avoided looking to the tree line until, a moment or so later, Morrigan reappeared, still adjusting her robes.
“I saw nothing,” she announced. “There are tracks all over the forest, but the beasts move as swiftly and silently as the blasted elves. They may leave traces of their presence, but they cover their tracks. All I can say is that the storyteller was not entirely wrong: the forest is like a live thing, and it protects its secrets. I could see nothing of deep wildwood. Nothing at all.”
Her gaze swept across us, hard and cold, and lingered on me like she blamed me for the entire endeavour. Alistair sighed wearily.
“Great. Demon trees and camouflaged werewolves. Throw in some possessed squirrels, it’d make my day complete.”
Zevran finished scuffing earth over the extinguished fire, and shouldered his pack. “I would not joke about it. They could probably give you a very nasty bite. Not as bad as a werewolf, perhaps, but you take my point.”
Alistair wrinkled his nose. “You know, when you say it like that, it… well, it really doesn’t help at all.”
I shook my head, quietly pleased that they could at least manage a degree of banter. “All right. Let’s get moving. Looks like Zathrian’s waiting for us.”
I nodded towards the centre of the camp, where a small crowd had already begun to gather. I noticed the keeper, standing beside his aravel, with several hunters around him… and one or two familiar faces.
It didn’t take long to assemble our gear, and the goods that Master Varathorn had spared for us. Zevran was proudly sporting his half-Dalish leathers, every inch the fierce adventurer, and Sten looked like a veritable war machine, hung about with packs and supplies, and two axes strapped to his back, in case we needed to carve a path through the forest. From what I’d gathered, it was not the Dalish way to do harm to the living wood, but they seemed practical about the necessities of removing the obstacles… enough to gift us with extra blades and rope for the job, anyway. Leliana had her hair slicked back, her freshly polished leathers glimmering dully, while Morrigan slunk behind her, skin pale as snow in a shroud of feathers and rags.
She hadn’t looked entirely well since Soldier’s Peak, I thought, but it was easy enough to ascribe it to the task we were tackling, and the privations of the road. Besides, had I fully recovered from the demons we’d faced there?
Alistair and Wynne joined us as we moved towards the keeper’s aravel, and I didn’t miss the mage’s fleeting look of concern. I could only guess what they’d been talking about… or how much more than me they both guessed of what we’d find within the forest. Even Maethor seemed subdued as he padded at my side, his ears cocked as the crowd of elves turned to greet us.
Much of the camp was gathered to see us off. I saw Athras at the back of the group, and Lanaya at Zathrian’s shoulder, looking pale and worried. Mithra and her two compatriots were among them, as was Daeon, though I didn’t spot Zevran’s friendly apprentice. The elves were waiting patiently for us, however. Seemingly, we were to be accorded a farewell of respect and gratitude… and I took that to mean that they didn’t expect us back.
“Warden.” Zathrian addressed me, inclining his head slightly, one hand wrapped around his staff and the other clasping the folds of his heavy cloak closed.
Alistair was right beside me, yet he didn’t seem to bristle at being so ostentatiously ignored. He just stood there, square-shouldered and keen-eyed, watching the gathered Dalish with poorly disguised trepidation.
“Keeper,” I returned, bowing shallowly.
“We thank you for your efforts.” Zathrian’s voice was just loud enough to carry around the centre of the camp, gifting us with his benediction. It smacked of ceremony… or perhaps eulogy. “Creators guide you on your path and, with their blessing, may you succeed where those before you fell.”
A murmur went through the elves, and I tried not to look at their faces. One woman had her child with her: one of the skinny, wild little ones who’d been so interested in our arrival. He stared at us the same way he’d stared before, a look of challenge and curiosity, but no trace of fear. His mother’s hand lay on his shoulder, her knuckles pale as she gripped the patterned cloth of his tunic.
I knew I ought to say something, but I wasn’t sure what. I had no heroic promises of victory and—just to the right of my eye line, a squat shape against the trees—I was very aware of the healer’s tent, full of the sick and dying. I took a deep breath.
“If Witherfang can be found, we’ll find him. If the curse can be lifted, we will see it done.”
I sounded surprisingly confident. Maybe, somewhere inside, I really believed it… and why not? We had already done remarkable things and—though I tried not to let myself dwell on the fact that, every day, the odds on victory lengthened even further—we were a formidable, and exceptionally lucky, band. My silver dreams of Garahel and an elven army had grown a little tarnished in the daylight, what with the very real prospect of werebeasts and demon trees ahead of us, but I kept my head up, and I met the keeper’s gaze steadily as he surveyed us.
“Serannas. I pray that your determination finds you favour with the gods.” Zathrian leaned his staff towards the group of young men to his right, gesturing them to step forward. “You also have… volunteers.”
There was an echo of disdain in the word, and I soon saw why. The little group of hunters who stood ready to join us comprised Revasir and Aegan, the two men whom we’d first encountered with Mithra, together with two red-headed elves I didn’t know, and Daeon, trussed up in tooled leather and bristled with a quiver full of arrows.
“We’re coming with you,” he said, stepping out of the crowd and glaring at me like it wasn’t an offer of help at all, but some kind of challenge.
Perhaps it was. Perhaps, I supposed, it was more than the clan could stomach to have outsiders try to mend their troubles… and more than Daeon could stand to let me take any of the credit.
I saw how brave he was being, though, and I guessed how hard he’d had to fight Zathrian for this. Had it been him who instigated it, or had the others weighed in too? I had no idea, but the atmosphere in the camp was tight as a nobleman’s purse.
I swallowed thickly, casting around for something gracious to say. “Uh… well, if you’re sure. Thank you.”
There had probably been more rousing rallying cries in the history of those marching to war.