Naessa found Oriane sitting by herself near the campfire, aimlessly stirring her spoon in her bowl of stew. “Don’t care for it?” Naessa asked. “I can try to find something else for you.”
Oriane glanced up with a sad smile and offered the bowl to Naessa. “No, thank you. It’s fine. I’m just not hungry.”
Naessa took the bowl and started to eat without hesitation. It wasn’t what she was hungry for, but she was hungry, and no Dalish could ever let food go to waste. “Really? This is the first time I can remember seeing you eat.”
“Oh, I’ve tried. I just can’t seem to keep anything down. Mornings are the worst.”
Naessa nodded. The time had come to talk about this. “And are you feeling fatigued?”
Oriane nodded, and her answers to the rest of Naessa’s questions only seemed to confirm the Keeper’s suspicions. “I think I know what’s wrong with you. I can examine you, if you want.” When Oriane looked away, Naessa added, “Magically.”
“We should, um, have some privacy, though.”
“Very well. But let’s do it now. If you don’t mind. I’d love to get this taken care of.”
Naessa looked down at her bowl and drank down the contents in one gulp. Seeing Oriane’s surprise, she said, “Well, the Valwe need to get used to their new Keeper. Zholon wasn’t exactly well-mannered, either.”
Oriane smiled again and followed Naessa to the Keeper’s aravel.
- – - – -
“I meant to talk to you about it back at the Banncreag,” Naessa said as she gathered materials for her ritual. “About your symptoms, I mean. I’m sorry it took me so long.”
“It’s all right,” Oriane said, drinking deeply of the tea they shared. “It wasn’t as bad back then. And you’ve had your own problems.”
“That’s true enough.”
“At least you’ll have Lothaire to help you now, When he gets back. I never got to thank you – to properly thank you for what you did for him.”
“Oh.” Naessa felt color rising in her cheeks. “I was afraid you might be jealous. Like I was taking him away from you or something.”
“No. Nothing like that. He asked me before he asked you.” Oriane winked, an oddly casual gesture from someone with such a refined demeanor. “But a chevalier needs to serve somebody. I’m grateful that Lothaire’s found someone to serve… grateful that it’s you.”
“Thanks. Or, you’re welcome? I’m not sure which applies. Both, I guess.”
Oriane smiled. “I am also at your service, Keeper Naessa. I know a thing or two about running a household… I’m sure I can find a way to help you.”
The humans were better about calling her “Keeper” than the Dalish were… “I appreciate it.” Naessa turned to face Oriane. “I’m ready when you are.”
“Good. Let’s get this over with.”
- – - – -
“How can I be pregnant? Lothaire and I have been trying to have a baby for seven years…”
“And then you spent a year apart,” Naessa said, struggling to look Oriane in the eye. “And this hasn’t happened in the brief time you’ve been back together.”
Realization spread over Oriane’s face like a sickness. “Gervais.” She hissed something in Orlesian that could only have been a swear – and a filthy one by the sound of it. “I always thought I was the barren one,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. She went to sit in a nearby chair, but missed and ended up on the floor in tears. “I thought it was me. And I’ve hated myself for it! I even asked him… begged him to annul our marriage and find a wife who could give him an heir. And now… now I’m having his baby! That man who forced himself on me…! Maker’s blood, how can this be?”
Just stay calm, Naessa told herself. You’re Keeper now. You’ll be dealing with this sort of thing all the time. To her surprise, she was calm. Maybe that was because she already knew what to do. “You know, we have magic to make these things go away.”
Oriane sniffed loudly and gratefully took a handkerchief from Naessa, blowing into it in a most unladylike manner. “Make it go away? You mean get rid of the baby?”
“That’s right. The Dalish can be… careless when it comes to coupling.” The magic was most often used to get rid of’ pregnancies sired by the shemlen, but there was no need to bring that up. She also chose not to mention how unpopular a human baby would be in a Dalish camp… “We try to teach them to be more careful, but not everyone listens. Fortunately, Dalish magic applies to situations that Circle magic does not… Anyhow, what we do for them, I could do for you. It’d be safe. Painless.”
Oriane’s hands went down to her stomach, and she sighed. “I don’t know…”
“If Lothaire is the reason you haven’t been able to conceive, we have magic and medicine for that, too. You don’t have to hang on to this baby just because you’re afraid you won’t have another.”
“Naessa, I – “
“And you shouldn’t have it just to give your husband an heir, because it won’t be.”
“Is it a boy? Could you tell?”
“No, it’s too soon. But does it matter, really? Every time you look at it, you’ll be reminded of Gervais.”
“I know that!” It came out harshly, and Oriane made a vague gesture of apology, muttering an Orlesian swear. “I just… I’m just not sure that I can kill it. You dance around that with your words, but that’s what we’re really talking about, isn’t it? Killing it?”
“Yes.” Again, this was not a problem to the Dalish, but Naessa had spent enough time around humans to tolerate their… eccentricities. “Anyway, you’ve got options, is what I’m trying to say. If you don’t want to talk to Lothaire about it, I won’t make you. If you do, that’s fine too. And if you need me to leave you alone to think about it, that’s, uh, understandable.” The words sounded terrible to Naessa, but at least Oriane understood their meaning.
The Orlesian wiped tears away with the back of one hand. “One thing that’s come of all this… Lothaire’s love has always been a quiet thing. If you didn’t know what to look for, you might not have ever known it was there. There were times when I couldn’t be sure he loved me at all.”
“Things are different now?”
“Yes. The other night, when my husband swore himself to you… I overheard the duelist asking him if he loved me. Lothaire said ‘Very much so, yes.’ I’ve never heard him say it so plainly, or with such passion… not even to me.”
Naessa wondered what interest Casidhe had in that relationship, but only for a moment. “You almost lost each other,” she said. “Maybe he doesn’t want to waste any more time leaving things unsaid.”
Oriane’s face was red with weeping, but her smile was still pretty. “Ma serannas, Naessa.”
Oriane’s accent was dreadful, but the effort made Naessa smile, too. “You’re welcome. I’m really sorry… um, sorry this happened to you.”
“At least I know, now.” Oriane allowed Naessa to help her back to her feet. “If you don’t mind,” Oriane said, “I need a minute to… collect myself.”
“Sure. Right. Take all the time you need..” She wanted to give Oriane a reassuring hug, but this was not the time, so she made her farewells and left Oriane in the aravel.
- – - – -
Naessa spent most of the day meeting with this or that Dalish, hammering out compromises and brokering agreements. The work was important, but endless, and a little repetitive… and even boring, on occasion. This would be easier if I had Lothaire’s counsel, she thought more than once. And her thoughts kept straying back to Oriane, but she didn’t see the Orlesian lady all day, and was never free to look for her.
The one part of the day Naessa genuinely enjoyed was telling an old story to the assembled children of both tribes. The Valwe had never heard it before, and the Iar seemed delighted to hear it again. Naessa wondered when the Adra would arrive for the Gather…
But she had another reason for telling the story, for woven into the fabric of the words was a spell for sensing magical aptitude. Naessa would have to begin the search for an apprentice soon – a First, to succeed her as Keeper some day. None of the assembled da’len seemed promising… but she had time enough to keep looking for someone more suitable.
After failing to find Oriane in the afternoon, Naessa took lunch in Zholon’s aravel – her aravel, now – reading over the documents and papers that the Valwe had prepared for her, in the event that Zholon didn’t survive to pass the knowledge on himself.
Now this is boring, she thought. The lore was interesting, if dryly written, but what was happening at the Banncreag? How she wished she could have gone with the others… In the end, curiosity got the better of her, and she lost herself in lore until someone began to knock on the door. Too heavy-handed to be Oriane, she thought as she went to open it, finding Syndelir on the other side, daylight beginning to abandon the horizon behind him.
“Andaran atish’an, Keeper,” he said. “Grandmother needs you.”