Campaign of the Month: February 2009

Silent Winter


Posted by Ellanutella

Author’s Note: She’s not as emo as she sounds at some points. I swear. And huzzah for posting the wrong thing late at night. That last one was the initial version. This is even longer. _

It was cold.

It was a stupid thing to think – that is why they were here, was it not? The wild weather, the storms in harvest, the bizarre magical creatures…

Yet it was all Gheris could think of as she lay awake in her tattered old bedroll. It was the one she had used ever since she came to her full height back home, when her clan moved their camp. It smelled of home, or perhaps of dirt and sweat, which reminded her of home…or of her dirty, not-so-fresh self. The others were as close to the fire as they could get without burning themselves, head or feet facing it. Body warmth, the heat of fire…

She was bringing it upon herself, she knew. It was childish of her. But the idea of people near her felt claustrophobic and frightened her, more so than the idea of freezing to death. Humans were no longer visions of demonic life-stealers and slavers; they were now something even more frightening – people just as varied as much as her own, perhaps even more so. Their level of skill was like her own, probably even better. Certainly, the man whose wife they found, Lothaire, fought with the strength of ten men. They were not tricksters bent on the destruction of her kind, slowly sowing their seed so as to outnumber the elves even more than they already were. In fact, they regarded the elves – especially her – as some kind of joke. Like they did not even care anymore. Their storyteller had never said anything like this. Had they been so far removed from outside life that they did not know the changes? Naessa seemed to think so. Or perhaps it was just her. It did not matter out here, in the end. She was alone with the humans and whatever preconceptions she had developed over time were no longer applicable.

But what did that mean for Gialinn?

Gheris pulled her hand from under her blanket and touched the snow. It should have melted given the heat she felt coursing through her veins. She did not have blood, she had molten lava; the dwarves could cut her open and smith their weapons and tools with her. It was so… difficult ...finding a way to articulate what she felt. There were not sufficient words, not in the common tongue and not in the language of her ancestors. Words were inadequate. It would be adequate if she could have just run her blade through the man’s neck while he was still a gryphon; Aidan, the bastard, had stopped the others before she could have her chance.

But no, that was unfair. The old ideas were no longer true; he was no mage, he did not magick her mother into leaving her clan, and nor was he a particularly charming or wily man to charm her into it – that much was infinitely clear.

Still, he made her angry, inexplicably so. And Geoffrey looked so much like him… How could she face him again? What was she supposed to feel? Relief? That was what she had expected. Geoffrey’s father was found, she could pass him on to his father, if he even wanted the boy and surely it would be a happy memory of Gialinn or whatever reason he chose; no guilt, no sadness, she could go home, be of use. Then why was she so angry?

It was not a new feeling, really. Ever since she had been old enough to understand how the others in her clan behaved and why, she had been angry. Sadness did not linger long, always quickly replaced with rage.

No one had told her. This was the worst part. Grandmother had kept silent – understandable, perhaps, given that it was Grandmother, a cryptic old bat, as Hesthe might say. But her mother had left her no messages, no indication, told no one in the clan to tell her why she had been left with a sporadic mother, an angry father, and then suddenly a baby brother. She had no concept of why Gialinn left and returned – her mind was a child’s, joyful at getting her mother back and sad when she left. She had no concept of the difference between human and elf; Geoffrey’s ears had been strange to her, but it did not say anything beyond that to her.

She remembered the strangeness of the mage apprentice quarters, where she and Geoffrey had been put after her father had disowned them. They had no place else to put them – the Dalish had no orphanage, no adoption. It was expected that the parents would care for their own, and if not, then their nearest relatives would care. But relative after relative had refused to take them in – a human and the spawn of a human-lover? Never!

It eventually came to her uncle Falaneth, one of Grandmother’s earlier children. He hadn’t been in the prime of his youth, but he was not old just yet. His wife had been barren before she died, and he had refused to bond with another. He took them in, taking over Geoffrey’s basic instruction on the Dalish ways and freeing Gheris to become a scout’s apprentice. It was her first true exposure to the hatred the others bore for her mother the whore for humans and for the little shem she’d brought back and dropped.

Indeed, Gialinn had stumbled back to the clan, bleeding and broken, passed on the child and his name and his father’s name and then dropped like the rotten leaves of a sick tree.

Gheris flinched. Her hand was getting sharp pains from the cold. She pulled her hand back under the covers and shivered at the cold by her stomach. It spread from the contact between her freezing hand and her skin to the inside. There was a pit in her stomach, sudden and dark. Her heart, once balanced precariously above, now fell through.

When she and Geoffrey grew older and he finally became a hunter apprentice, he came back crying almost every day. Angry, Gheris taught him to ignore them, and slowly they became separate from their peers. Rarely did they interact with others beyond what was absolutely necessary. Geoffrey was too young to remember the worst of it, but other children had occasionally thrown sticks and stones at them until they grew bored, and soon ignored the two in turn. Gheris was careful to keep Geoffrey from the others, lest they decided it was amusing to attack him. He probably resented her for it on some level, but she didn’t care. He was safe and alive and content, if not happy.

But of course, her uncle was getting old and Geoffrey was the fragile switch that made the clan aggressive and angry, so the only way to communicate with others without straining the old man or harming her brother was to send her. Gheris was not appreciated, but she was a full-blooded elf, even if half of it was shem-lover blood, and mostly Grandmother grew angry when her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren fought, so whispers and names followed her, but no violence was attempted.

It should have been a good thing, but she would have preferred to fight each and every one of them – she would either prove herself or she would die and her clan would no longer be burdened with the worry that someone, somewhere might choose to bond with her and they’d produce wild offspring that ran off and slept with humans.

And it was such a loss, the clan agreed. Gialinn had been the First Apprentice, and she had been brilliant. Her control, her power was unsurpassed. But naturally, naturally, we should have seen it coming, genius walks hand-in-hand with insanity. Or perhaps stupidity.

Gheris sat up, unable to sleep. The dog was snuffling around nearby, apparently still not tired from the day’s running about. She worried he might bring her a dead bird or perhaps a half-eaten hare this time, but he eventually moved away and back towards the others.

It occurred to her that she no longer had a purpose, not here, not back at the clan. Surely any one of the others could best her in battle, so she could not protect her clan and nor could she help the others, as her abysmal performance earlier that day showed. No one would bond with her, so she could not at least produce offspring to further their numbers. Her brother had found his father, a Grey Warden, if he was to be believed, and no thanks to her. Even if Seg…if he wouldn’t keep Geoffrey, he had found friends among the humans.

She was useless. There was no point to her existence. She could not even find Grandmother if Hesthe and Juillah were to disappear or die. She could not even find it in her to hate the humans in the group. They were not terrible; they had, in fact, shown incredible flexibility to work together, even with people that had once been or still were unsavory – mages, Orlesians, Dalish, and criminals, because that’s what Casidhe probably was. A charming criminal, but a criminal just the same. A thief? Perhaps. Or maybe a sell-sword. Not that her own reputation was sterling, but she had ensured that none of her targets ever knew it was she who had robbed them, save for the one fluke, no thanks to the flat-eared bastard…unless Finnian had been a busy little bird after she had left and had given away all her secrets and robberies.

Not relevant anymore, of course. She would not go back to Denerim. She was stuck here, with the humans, until they met with her grandmother, and it seemed likely that Gheris would inherit her mother’s duty to whatever the danger was. To what end? Gheris had no magic, her skills were limited to acrobatics and picking pockets. Her involvement to this point was accidental. Gheris was not one to resent the orders of Grandmother, but with her life on the line (and with her person being forced to sit in a tight wagon next to a human and his big, wet mutt that slobbered over everything!), she would have at least liked to know why she was being involved. And it was not as if she were being suddenly forced into it, she had been a part of it since she had been a child, when Geoffrey had come under her care. By leaving and dying, Gialinn had set up Gheris and Geoffrey to be spurned by the clan. Surely it was some overarching plot to eradicate the elves! Like in the tales, their empire was torn down, the people turned to slaves, and even the smallest bit of culture and self-respect frightened the humans.

Not so, apparently. Gheris was unimpressed with her own illogical standpoint.

Among them, her own discrimination was, in fact, the most serious. Even Naessa and Ferron were more open than she, and the girl was to lead a whole clan. Even in her time at Denerim, not all the humans were evil. Most just wanted to get by with their lives, same as her cousins of the city…same as the Dalish. She had been done more wrong by an elf from the alienage than a human. Humans were, perhaps, not as bad as she had envisioned. Her mother, it seemed, had not left at the behest of the humans…she had left at the behest of Grandmother.

Fear gripped her, and with it, more anger, and she lay back down, knees to her chest in a fetal position. What if her clan was right? What if she, like her mother before her, would abandon her duty to her family and go live with the humans. Maybe her blood was bad. She certainly did not find the humans threatening to the elven kind. The man whose name was too infuriating to even think had thought he was looking at Gialinn when he saw her. She did not remember much of her mother, but what if their similarities did not end at appearances?

She wanted to scream. She would not be like her mother. She would not abandon her clan, and she would not shirk her duty, not if it killed her. She would rise from the dead, if her help was found necessary. Even if she was given the most menial of tasks – tightening the wheels of the wagons, polishing unused weapons, whatever they might give her as insult – she would do it. She had to be of some value, somehow.

But Gialinn had not shirked her duty. She had done it, given her life for it. No one had said anything and she died as a shameful piece of Iar history. The storytellers would use it for generations to come to keep the children in line, but she had done what was required of her. But why a human? Why? Why leave it to the Dalish and not to its father? But then, Gialinn had given a child to the clan, a full, elven child who would, in better circumstances, probably have been a proper member. Such great magical talents surely should have been passed down to the daughter or would come up again farther down the line…though evidently it was now a false hope – Gheris had no magic and would probably bear no offspring.

However, the duty of a Dalish was not to produce a child and then go off to find love, if that’s what it was. If Grandmother had truly sent Gialinn to investigate and seek Warden help, she should not have been running around with the said Wardens, producing human children…

…Unless she had placed greater value in love than in the clan. The concept was foreign to Gheris. To be accepted by the clan was to love and be loved. No other love was necessary; no other love was enough. But perhaps her mother had not seen it that way; her abilities and position had let her get away with much, after all, and her time with the humans may have led her to forget what the Dalish stood for. In that case, why give the human child to the Dalish? It made no sense. Gheris would need to ask about this when she saw Grandmother. And keeping it? What was Grandmother up to?

And when had Geoffrey become an it?

And what if Gialinn had…wanted Geoffrey? And wanted to stay with the humans? Casidhe had said something about templars – she must have been noticed, fool woman, as a Dalish and a mage not of the Circle. She must not have had the option to remain.

Then had she not wanted Gheris? She had never left anything of her own specifically to Gheris, and had never written anything or given any indication what her purpose had been. Had Gheris even mattered to her? Had she ever mattered to anyone? The clan did not care for her and she was apparently not of enough import to be told of her mother’s exploits or her own purpose. If she could not fight well and could not reproduce and could not save anyone or do anything of use, would her menial tasks truly help the clan? She had spent nearly two years searching for her father’s brother, and come up with nothing. A few humans had come into the picture and suddenly Geoffrey was the son of a Grey Warden spy transformed into a gryphon. She had barely approached the thing. Her skills were laughable and her pride larger than her abilities warranted. The things necessary for her to live outweighed the things she would do to help. Her existence would take a toll on her clan, and it was already poor in all things.

The clan had never even needed her. She was protected by Grandmother, and she in turn protected Geoffrey, the link to the clan’s shame. She could not even charm a man long enough to give the clan a child and have been even minutely of use. All others her age had bonded and begun a family, or would soon enough.

Did humans have such concerns? Producing offspring and carrying on the line? Lothaire and Oriane were always together now, inseparable and forever in each other’s company. Their bond was not of children and family but of love. Not love of preserving their lines or of their duty, but of each other. It mystified Gheris. There was love in her clan, sure, but first and foremost was ensuring that they did not mix bloodlines too close. Bonds were chosen carefully, to those most skilled and most probable to produce strong offspring. Did living freely across the lands give humans the chance to choose for themselves as their hearts desired? Lothaire had become unrecognizable when they first found his wife, so different from the gruff, silent giant. Did all mobilize like so to protect all they loved? She did not remember her clan risking themselves to protect anyone. If an incurable sickness struck, the diseased left to keep it from spreading. Usually it was voluntary…sometimes, it was not. It was Grandmother’s whim, disputed to the day they left the clan, that kept Geoffrey alive.

The dog wandered back and padded over her body quietly, sniffing her hair. She wanted to reach out and push his nose away, but he was warm, and she felt very cold. She instead succumbed to weakness and reached out to his head and ears, feeling the slightly frosted fur, scratching his warm skin. All too soon, however, he wandered back and settled more permanently over his master’s feet.

If no one else could find value in her life, then she would have to find value in it for herself. Surely there was something to learn from these humans. They had learned much from each other and from others. If she could not find value, then she would give it some. She would make herself useful. Though she would never ask outright for help; admitting she was worthless even to herself, something she had known and tried to deny ever since Geoffrey began getting closer to outsiders and farther from her, had taken a toll on her pride. The condescending explanations and jokes the others would make about her would make her ego unfit to feed even an ant. She would watch, learn more. These humans had knowledge she did not. If she was to prove her worth to her clan, she had to obtain it. Even if it meant sacrificing her opinions. Simon, at least, might appreciate a bit more quiet.

Or perhaps she was better off on her own. Maybe she could obtain permission from Grandmother to leave the issue to those better suited to do the job and wander for a while. She had not seen what her mother saw in humans, but perhaps she had not been looking for those things. If she meant to be prove herself to be unlike her mother, she would have to understand what Gialinn thought, see what she had seen, be where she had been. And she could be alone – not a burden to anyone and would not have to worry about taking care of others or having to get along. She would speak for herself and only herself.

But most pressing to her mind was what her mother had been asked to seek. If such a thing had thrown them all into the mixing pot and shaped their lives even a little, surely it would do both it and them credit to discover what it was.

The cold was becoming too much. Claustrophobia or not, she wanted warmth. Rising, she picked up one end of her bedroll and dragged it closer to the others and the fire, squeezing in an empty space, feet in the direction of the flames and the fears and extremist thoughts she had so vividly felt in the cold melted a little.



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