Posted by Relimited
It was the nicest camp they had in days. Really, it was. It was a wonder how much camp improved with the wagons and supplies (as well as skill) of the Dalish elves.
But the elves, they where everywhere! He could keep an eye on Gheris and Naessa, sure, and things got harder when Ferron on those two circle mage elves entered the picture, but he could generally keep a nice avenue of retreat open if they decided to snuff out his life’s candle, but all these elves! And all warriors too. He couldn’t keep track of them all, and the kept on sneaking up on him. Offering thanks for his plan, thanks for his dog, and always staring at him, watching him.
Quite frankly, he wished he never saved them. Wished he never thought of that stupid plan to use Kent’s nose to save the Dalish. After all, what kind of person saves the people that would come to eventually kill him? Would it happen tonight? Could one of those “thank yous” be a drop of poison in his food, or a quiet dagger through his back?
It had happened during that bizarre oath-taking between Naessa and Lothaire. When reality had seemed to just drop away, to never return and the world was spinning. All he could see was a web of lies and traps, spun all about them, bringing them closer and closer to their deaths. He left as fast as he could, walking to the edge of camp, trying to control his trembling hands.
He was on edge of the ring of light cast by the fire, his shadow stretched out into the blackness of the forest. He slumped, breathing hard, staring at the trees and blackness of the forest beyond. Out here, away from the chatter of the group and at least somewhat away from all those elves, he could think. However, even at the edge of camp he couldn’t shake the feeling that they were still there, watching him. Waiting for a moment of weakness, waiting for him to let his guard down.
What had he been thinking? That these elves were just great people, all happy and willing to frolic and dance and bake cookies for him? He at least knew why he saved the gryphon: He wanted it. And yes, he had to hide his disappointment when it turned out to be an enchanted man. Yes it was terrible and base of him, but it made sense!
Did they really exorcize the threat here? Was Gervais really gone? So many questions, so few answers. Story of his life, really. And yet, he only really wanted the answer to one question right now: why?
It was so simple, really. Make the air elemental rattle and weaken us, then play on the fact that we couldn’t leave, and invoke pity to make us want to go on. Lead sheep to slaughter. Rinse and repeat.
But, it didn’t work out that way,so Naessa got desperate. Refused to leave herself. Then, either carry on or break the group. And of course she had the trump the entire time- we needed to stop the snow. And this was our only real lead.
OK, that was the set up, where was the hammer to smash them against the anvil they had been so carefully tied down on? Gervais! The elves could have been working with Gervais the whole time! He gasped at the thought.
He almost spun around to call Lothaire and tell him. They needed to get Casidhe and get out of here, now. What about Geoffery? He grimaced as he thought about leaving the kid to elves. He kinda liked Geoff; he never really had friends at home. However, this was life or death- and as much as he liked the kid, he wasn’t about to die for him. But, Casidhe had sworn a vow to him. And Gheris’ wouldn’t let Geoff out of her sight. And Naessa, Naessa, she manipulated Lothaire into that oath. No way would he abandon his new found charge, even if it was false. He was a man of honor, and his honor would kill him.
Then it was only him. He could leave now, follow the trail of the sleigh back to the Fort, pawn off his bow for a mount maybe. And go where? Home? Maker perish the vague idea.
There were traitors here at every turn. People masquerading as things they were not. If he wasn’t so worried about his mother, the safety, even if it was boring, of the castle walls appealed to him. There, things made sense. There were elves, but there was safety. But, of course, SHE was there. And his father would still be furious for losing his precious heir.
Damned if he stayed, damned if he left. It was driving him insane, he was frustrated. His nerves were shot, he was tired of looking over his shoulder all the time, tired of being on guard for so long, tired of straining to keep himself tense and ready, like a bit of string you pulled between your fingers.
He growled. It wasn’t fair that the first time he finally managed to leave his stupid hometown, Frimere, that he got caught up in some crazy Dalish problem, with a bunch of people that, humans and elves, by the Maker, somehow where all related. Growling again, he whipped his sword out of its sheath.
The moonlight glinted off the steel as he spun the blade about it little circles, watching how it reflected the light. The sword in hand did nothing to calm him, and soon his mind turned back to all the elves. He hadn’t slept well in days. His nights were plagued with nightmares of the Dalish slaying him in his sleep. He was tired of traveling with elves, tired of all this bizarre nonsense, tired of his terrible luck. It just wasn’t FAIR.
And then the string snapped.
He turned to the nearest tree, whipping his sword down hard, leaving a sizeable cut in the wood. He paused, breathing deeply. He still didn’t feel any better, so he cut again. And again. And again.
The fury of his strikes increased with each new laceration to the wood. He started yelling, punctuating his cuts, “WHY… DID I… DO… THAT?... WHAT… WAS I… THINKING?... WHY… DOESN’T… ANYTHING… MAKE… SENSE?” He drove his blade deep into the tree, then collapsed, exhausted on a nearby boulder.
His anger spent, he sat, staring numbly at the sword imbedded surprisingly deeply into the tree trunk. He was so worn that he didn’t even jump when a familiar nose brushed against his leg. Kent looked up at him with his big puppy-dog eyes, his head cocked to the side. Aidan watched as confusion slowed and stopped the once furiously wagging tail.
He took a deep breath and decided to try and rethink things now that he felt calmer. Why had he saved the elves? Had some of traveling companion’s trust of the elves somehow brushed off on him when he left with Kent to save them? He didn’t do it out of pity; he didn’t do it out of some sort of caring about what Naessa wanted…
No. That wasn’t right. He, at that moment, cared. As much as he hated to admit it, Naessa seemed nice. Friendly. Her herbs had treated the hangover, which had hurt so bad he decided to risk poisoning to treat it. She fixed up his wounds with her spells. She was really good at seeming like someone who would help, no matter what the cost or who needed helping. And combing that with someone who sometimes seemed to be as clueless and as lost as he was…
Was she? Was the air elemental accident actually an accident? Was that even possible?
No. No way. But the idea refused to go away.
Ok, fine. The air elemental was an actual accident, as unlikely and improbable as that might seem. Did that change things? Well, yes it did. It meant that Naessa wasn’t as skilled with magic as he thought and…
His mind wandered to the condition of the elves at the camp. They couldn’t fake the fact that they were starving and how light they were when he helped them into the wagon, how some of the children were as helpless as new born babes, unable to even raise their arms to try to clutch at him when he picked them up and helped them into the landship.
He could have killed them all right there. But he didn’t. Because, because, well no human would just walk up and slaughter innocent people unable to defend themselves. That was just horrible.
Could the elves feel the same way?
He had been wrong. They weren’t the master assassins and ambushers he had made them out to be. The elves were… people, just with pointy ears. Was that right?
Suddenly, he remembered an old lecture his father gave him. He had broken something valuable of his mother’s, some pot or vase, and his father had called him into his private room. He had broken the pot because he was reckless, because he was never thinking about the future, or what his actions might do. He never had a plan. A good ruler wasn’t someone who jus acted on impulse or whim, but had a plan and kept his head in a crisis.
Although he hated to give his father credit for anything, he needed a plan now.
After a bit of thought, he decided that the elves wouldn’t act alone. Those clan ties seemed to be immensely strong; Gheris was willing to give up her brother for them, after all. So, they either all were going to kill him, or none of them where.
If they weren’t then, well, then that made things easy. He could stop staring intently at shadows all the time. If they were, what could he do about that, aside from keep his guard up?
Allies. He could maybe get some people to warn him before the elves struck. Geoffrey might know beforehand, Lothaire now had an interesting in on elven affairs, and if Naessa was really all she appeared to be, well then she didn’t want him dead either.
The conversation form the camp died down, as people went to sleep. He looked up at the stars, remembering an old, clearly fantastic bard’s tale that sailors could find their way by them. As if some tiny pin-pricks of light could guide someone, not to mention the whole idea of the land being water was ridiculous. But then, what part of this adventure made sense? Maybe the stars could guide him, like those sailors on their, what was the word, ships, to safety.
Maybe… And if stars could guide someone, well that made as much sense as… what did Naessa say? “And even if you mistrust them, they can still get you, so why bother with it in the first place”—he thought that was it. Could Naessa actually mean that? Or, he was getting tricked at every turn, and had seen the web spun around him far too late to get out now. Was Naessa a friend or a manipulator? He’d have to find out, somehow.
Kent then wandered up, and he scratched the war dog right behind the dog’s good ear. Kent barked happly. He had a plan, and a feeling he couldn’t quite place, but it was one he hadn’t had in days. Security.