“Have either of you seen anything yet?” Simon asked. “It is getting late; the others may be back soon with the clan.”
“If we had, I am sure that one of us would say so,” Gheris snapped. “Being separated from the others is a bad idea anyway. We’re fractured as it is.”
The mage let out a small but audible sigh at the woman. Casidhe offered him an apologetic smile.
“What shemeans is ‘notyet,’” he corrected, his voice oddly pitched and quick.
“Don’t put words in my mouth.”
“Thendon’t -” He broke off, glancing at Simon. “Didn’tyoufixthatspell?”
Simon examined Casidhe, seemingly disturbed by the odd behavior of the spell. “It…appears I haven’t.” Gheris had a sudden and intense coughing fit.
“Great,” Casidhe would have drawled if his voice was slow enough.
Simon glanced back in the direction they came from, then again at Casidhe. “I think I will go back and work on it. This won’t do.”
“Then…can…you…dispellit…fornow?” he struggled.
Gheris cleared her throat, her face tight with the effort of restraining her amusement. “What if we get into danger? You might need the spell.”
She spread her hands, shrugging. “When a fool with a donkey’s ears removes his hat, I will laugh.”
Simon gestured as they spoke, muttered something inaudible, and Casidhe felt a sensation akin to that of having eaten too much, something he rarely had the chance to do, though much more unpleasant.
“There. How is that?”
“I…think it’s fine now, yes. Yes, it is, thank you,” he said with an appreciative smile and nod. “Can you find your way back?”
Gheris snorted. “His tracks are deep enough for a blind man to follow. I think he can.” Indeed, looking down, Casidhe and Gheris’s footprints were almost nonexistent, with the both of them fleet of foot and practiced in a light step.
The two men exchanged glances which the elf ignored. A few more parting words and warnings to be careful, and the mage raised his hand over his own head and muttered more words. He glanced down at himself, bemused, and turned around, following his own footsteps back, moving quicker than before. He muttered something under his breath, then replied to himself. They waited until he was no longer visible, swallowed by the shade of the distant trees, and set forth again.
They walked a while longer in silence, eyes peeled for a large enough space to – hopefully – hold the remains of a Dalish clan. The trees, however, always seemed too close to permit such large amounts of people. They never strayed too far from the mist, however, as if taking their eyes from it would cause it to leap on them and swallow them. That would be unfortunate.
“You seemed pretty sure that Segonal wasn’t a Grey Warden, last night,” Casidhe said suddenly, giving more voice to his thoughts than asking a question.
Gheris paused her movement for a brief second, shooting him a glare. “I prefer not to take everything a delusional stranger transformed back into a human from the form of a griffon says as truth.” Her jaw clenched.
“That’s understandable,” he granted with a nod, “But really, what do any of us know about him? Naessa seems sure that it’s him, at least.”
“I can tell you plenty, if you’d like!” Without pausing for him to at least humor her, she spoke. “He’s a lying bastard that doesn’t care enough to take care of his child! What does that say to you?”
“I was there when he sent your mother away, Gheris,” he said, sounding sympathetic. “He was frantic – it was killing him to do that.”
She halted entirely and whirled to face Casidhe. “Oh? Go on, go on,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “I want to hear what another human has to add to his defense. This should be interesting, keep going. What else do you remember?”
Unperturbed but also unsmiling, he answered, “Honestly? Very little. I’d never seen your mother before, and they didn’t have Geoffrey with them. For all I’d known, he was a damn bachelor.”
Gheris gestured broadly. “Ah! Your memory’s a bit faulty, is it? Well, let’s assume he was frantic, for the sake of the argument. Maybe it was his own soft ass he was looking after!”
“Maybe my faulty memory has more to do with a Templar torturing me to find out where my father went with your mother.” If Gheris had been listening closely enough, she might have noted the hint of bitterness in place of his usually placid and even pleasant voice. “And I remember him saying ‘Please, Brandeouf, they’re everything to me.’ That I’m sure of.”
She spit through grit teeth, “Horse. Shit. What can a human man see in an elven woman, a Dalish elf, and a…a mage to boot!? That makes no sense! And I really cannot imagine what would have happened to her wits to let him and her…” She waved her arms, recoiling at the image. ”...couple! Either he forced himself onto her, or all the magic drove her insane.” Her breathing came a little harder, her voice more choked. “She had a husband! She had a family! One damn human can’t have changed that! And then she went and got herself killed, got noticed by the damn Templars, I’d bet!” She shook her head – tossed, really. “Fool woman.”
Casidhe’s expression had barely changed, his body still relaxed, still the image of mildness. “You’ve got a lot to learn about humans. This human – ” He hooked his thumb towards his chest. ” – Spent his whole childhood wishing your mother was his.”
The elf threw her hands up in frustration. “She may as well have been, because she sure as the sky didn’t act like mine!” she roared.
He tilted his head a little, regarding her curiously. “You’ve been angry all your life, haven’t you?”
“What’s it to you, anyway!? Why are you even still here !” She waved her hand in the direction they had come. “You did as you promised, you helped us find Geoffrey’s father; you don’t need to be here anymore!”
Bemused, he answered leisurely and with a slow nod, “I don’t like being cold. I’d like to do something about that.”
Gheris sputtered, caught entirely off-guard by his at-ease manner. “Gods, you are impossible! How can anyone stand you!?”
“Beg pardon? I think the only person who can’t stand me is you.” He paused, pretending to give the statement some thought. “But then, who can you stand?”
“I can stand people that speak sense, like Naessa and Ferron and Hesthe and Juillah.” She clenched her fists, frustrated.
The human gave her a knowing look. “I can speak sense; I just prefer not to. And I’m not done with Segonal; his mind’s a mess. I want to do something about that, too.”
”I don’t see what you can do about his mind. You have no magic, doesn’t seem like you’ve had much medical experience…” She feigned surprise. “Well I’ll be! You don’t need to be here! You’re dead weight !” She spread her hands. “Is there a particular reason why you’d risk your life for something like this? Surely you can move elsewhere and the bad weather wouldn’t bother you one whit. Do you have a death wish ? Because all we ever do is throw our lives around like they have no meaning and run around in the cold.”
Casidhe sighed, still not anywhere near her level of apoplexy. “All right, fine.” She squinted at him, suspicious at his acquiescence. “I left Denerim because I found out I was working for smugglers and pirates. I left Lothering because the woman I thought I…I loved had sold me out to them.” He seemed surprised to say it. “And I left the Banncreag because I don’t. Like. Inbolc.” His brow furrowed and he looked down, distant. He seemed to choke on his words. The easy-going façade had vanished without a trace, and he didn’t seem to notice…or care. “And the simple fact is, I have nowhere else to go.” He looked back up, meeting her eyes steadily. “I’ll find a way to make myself useful if I have to, but I find it more useful to surround myself with dangerous people who think I’m their friend.” He stepped forward, seeming to loom over her. “And you’re not going to hurt my feelings by being ugly to me, and you’re not going to get rid of me. If it makes you feel better, fine. But on your best day, you’ll never come up with anything more awful than the things my father said in his sleep.”
He took a deep breath and seemed to have inhaled some of his jovial demeanor back. Gheris blinked and glanced around a little, still unsure where his smile had gone off to.
“Huh. I’ve never said all that to anybody, ” he admitted, a little sheepish. “Why I should tell you, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I have more in common with you than any of these other people. But it’s all true, every word.”
Gheris folded her arms across her chest and shifted her weight to her left leg. She arched a brow, peering at him, seeming unimpressed. “So the first person you’d tell that to is me…because you think you have something in…common with me?” She prodded him in the chest. “Don’t compare yourself to me. Elves and humans are nothing alike, and you’ve got terrible judgment if you thought I’d care. So you fell in with some bad people – we’ve all done worse! And if your father was so terrible, you’re lucky to have a whole bunch of other humans out there – go find them!”
Casidhe’s smile was weary, as if he had expected such a response. “I did leave to find new humans, and I like these just fine. The elves, too.” Gheris sneered in response. He examined her briefly. “So what are you doing here, exactly? Just how are you contributing, exactly?” His more mischievous smile crept back onto his face. “Beyond keeping up our spirits with your sunny disposition, I mean.”
Gheris took a small step back, her entire body stiffening. Without warning, her fist swung at him from the left, hitting his eye directly. She’d punched him, no small feat for a scrawny elf a good foot shorter than him. Surely he’d hit a nerve, then! He half-chortled, half-cried out in surprise and stumbled back.
“Shut up! Don’t you dare mock me, you lecherous, drunken little shit!” she exploded. “That’s irrelevant! Don’t question what I do or don’t do! I do what I can, carry my weight, fight when need be, and I protect my brother – ” She took a step back, then another, inhaling sharply. “Protected. Protected my brother. Now he doesn’t need me anymore. So I do what I can.” Her voice tightened. “No one asks for my help! If they need it, they should say so! I don’t owe anyone anything!”
“I see,” he mumbled, blinking his eye. “So my usefulness is relevant, even though I’ve had to invent it, same as you.” He raised his eyebrow at her, the corner of his mouth curling upwards knowingly. “And you are good in a fight, I’ve seen that.” He grimaced then, trying to sense how much damage had been done to his eye with his hand. “I’m not used to fighting giant wolves and griffons, though, I’ll tell you that for nothing,” he added absently.
Gheris bared her teeth, growling. “Don’t waste your breath on compliments. I’m not some fragile maiden to be consoled with nonsense.” She inhaled, exhaled slowly, and forcibly unclenched her fists. “Let us be honest, between a large man on a horse, a boy with a dog, and a bunch of mages, you and I are just there to look nice.”
He shrugged, a pert grin on his face. “We do look nice, though.”
Gheris glared at him warily as they slowly began walking again. Before she could respond, however, she turned to look into the mist suddenly. “Hold,” she ordered, holding up a signal unnecessarily but instinctively. Her eyes searched for something in the impenetrable fog; she was otherwise entirely still, one hand up, the other hovering near her weapons. “Do you hear that?” she asked. “Fighting. Weapons. In the mist.”
“I hear,” he agreed.
She slowly turned to look at Casidhe, dropping her other hand near her second dagger. “It could be a trick, or…”
Neither of them continued the thought. They spun and charged back, following Simon’s deep imprints in the nearly muddy soil. Casidhe glanced at her as they ran.
“You know,” he said thoughtfully, “now I know why I wanted to tell you what I told you.” She opened her mouth to remind him that this was really not the time, but he ignored her attempt to interrupt. “Because I knew it’d make you angry – and you’re so cute when you’re angry.”
He winked and sped past her.