posted by Jennifer
“So what’re you having?” Casidhe asked the younger men seated around the table. Geoffrey shrugged.
“Gheris doesn’t usually let me drink,” he explained.
“No hard liquor for you, then,” Casidhe told him, waggling his finger mock-severely. Ferron chuckled, leaning back and propping his boots on an empty seat.
“No liquor for any of us, I think, if we’re going to be marching in the morning. Besides, who knows where this innkeeper gets his rotgut. Turpentine and furniture polish, most likely.”
“Hey, now,” Alveyin protested. “If you plan to be drinking in my tavern, you’d best not be insulting my wares.”
“Your wares are a touch sensitive?” Ferron asked. He sat up a bit and made a half-bow in the direction of the kegs and bottles. “My apologies to you, Ser Furniture Polish.” Aidan winced as Alveyin growled under his breath, but the tavern-keeper simply swotted Ferron across the back of the head.
“That’s enough out of you. I knew it was a mistake letting you barbarian Dalish through the door.”
“Barbarian!” Ferron cried in feigned outrage. Alveyin snorted loudly.
“Aye, barbarian, if you don’t know enough to be grateful for high-quality furniture polish!”
Casidhe and Ferron burst out laughing, leaving Geoffrey and Aidan to exchange nervous glances. “Oh, relax, you two, we were only teasing,” Ferron said, patting Aidan on the shoulder and making the young nobleman jump.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met elves like you,” Geoffrey said as a stein was placed before him. He tasted the beer hesitantly and coughed at the fizz and the strong flavor. Bubbles instantly went up his nose and he found himself sneezing repeatedly into Casidhe’s hastily proffered handkerchief, nearly knocking the stein over until Ferron moved it toward the center of the table.
“You’re supposed to drink it,” Casidhe said helpfully, swallowing about a third of his own beer in a single gulp.
“I know!” Geoffrey spluttered. “It’s just—“cough, cough—“it caught me by surprise, that’s all.”
“Oi, innkeep, you served us the assassin beer by mistake!” Ferron announced, waving at Alveyin, who had retreated behind the bar.
“Keep talking, boyo, and I really will assassinate you,” Alveyin said without looking up from his cleaning.
Aidan blanched. “He’s still joking, right?”
Ferron shook his head. “Of course he’s joking. Don’t believe everything you hear. You’re awfully nervous.”
“Well, it’s like Geoffrey said, you’re kind of odd for elves,” Aidan explained. “Most of the elves I’ve met were servants, and they didn’t seem too happy about it.” Alveyin snorted loudly.
“Well, from what I’ve heard, Orlesian humans aren’t any too pleasant to their servants, so what do you expect?” Ferron said.
“That’s what I said! Some day they’re going to murder us all in our beds! Um, no offense.” Ferron just laughed.
“Hah, that’s rich, I love it! But I think they’d still be just a tad outnumbered.”
“Just a tad,” Alveyin echoed. “Not to mention out-weaponed, out-skilled, and out-magicked.”
“The elven mages seem competent,” Aidan said weakly.
“How many elven mages do you know?” Ferron asked. “Naessa? She’s not bad, but I bet Simon could give her the worst of it, and there are still at least half a dozen human magi for every elf that makes it through training.”
“I’ll bet Grandmother makes up for it, though,” Geoffrey said. Ferron blinked.
“Here, now, don’t be giving our secrets away,” Ferron admonished.
“It’s not exactly a secret the way Hesthe and Juillah were talking,” Geoffrey insisted.
“Fair enough, fair enough.” Ferron waved his empty stein at the bar, signaling for a refill.
Alveyin drew another stein and slapped it down in front of the dark-haired elf. “The youngsters do have a point, though, o irrepressible one. If I hadn’t seen your ugly face, I would have sworn you were a dwarf from the way you act.”
“Hey, now, don’t be insulting the dwarves. They’re a very hospitable people.”
“That explains it,” Alveyin said. “You’ve been enjoying some dwarven hospitality, I take it?”
“Some,” Ferron admitted. “The Adra—that’s my clan—trade with Orzammar and we stayed there for quite a while during the war.”
“What war?” Geoff asked, startled.
“THE war,” Casidhe told him, happy to get a word in edgewise. “You only ever hear people talk about the one, you know, the rebellion of the Feraldan loyalists against the Orlesian usurper? You remember?”
“No, I don’t remember, I was like, four years old,” Geoffrey complained. “And I grew up with the Iar, anyway, they never talked about it. I don’t think the Dalish were involved.”
“You Iar weren’t, but the Adra sure were,” Ferron said happily.
Casidhe nodded encouragingly. “I heard about the Night Elves,” he said.
“No, not them,” Ferron said, making a dismissive wave. “Most of them were city elves, believe it or not. I’ll bet our innkeeper here was one of them.”
“Aye,” Alveyin said.
“Goodness, how did you ever guess that?” Casidhe gasped, shocked.
“How many elves do you know who own their own tavern?” Alveyin said sharply. “Even if it is outside the gates. I could have stayed in Gwaren with the Commander, but I decided I wanted to travel a bit before I settled down, and my money was worth more out here than in the bigger cities. So I stuck.” He paused, then sighed and continued in a diffident, introspective tone, “Besides, my family died in Gwaren. I was never sure if it was the rebels or the Usurper’s men, but I wanted to be away from both of them. I did my share of the fighting. No one could say that I didn’t deserve to have my own life afterward.”
The four young men were respectfully silent for a few moments. “I’m sorry to hear that, friend,” Casidhe said after a moment. Alveyin shrugged.
“Everyone has their miseries in this world. I’m better off than most,” he said. “I haven’t had any real trouble since the war ended.”
“I can see that your bow and sword are pretty dusty,” Ferron said, pointing with his stein at the rack over the bar, almost hidden in the shadows cast by the lanterns. “There’s not enough beer in this thing, Al. Fix it for me, will you?”
“You’d better slow down or you won’t be fit for anything in the morning,” Casidhe cautioned. He smiled wryly. “Trust me, I know.”
Ferron grinned, his cheerfulness returning. “I’m ahead of you there: I can get Naessa to fix it.”
“And she doesn’t lecture you about it? Amazing.”
“Oh, she tries, but even with a hangover I can talk circles around her. You may have noticed she’s a bit, ah, impractical? No, what’s the word?”
“Unworldly?” Casidhe suggested.
“That’s the one. But, here, I’m doing all the talking. What about you fellows?”
“There’s nothing interesting about me,” Aidan muttered.
“Me, neither,” Geoffrey seconded.
“Just me and the swords, I’m afraid,” Casidhe thirded.
“Bah,” Ferron insisted, waving toward Geoffrey. “A human in a Dalish clan? That’s pretty interesting. Unprecedented, even.”
Geoffrey shrugged. “It might be interesting, but I didn’t have much to do with it. Grandmother said I could stay, so I stayed. My mother was her favorite daughter, I think. At least, that’s what Uncle said. He was always kind to me, even though most of the clan really didn’t approve.”
“But your grandmother wants to be rid of you, now?” Casidhe asked. “Why the change?”
“I think that was more Hesthe than anything,” Ferron said. “If you hadn’t noticed, he’s a bit of an ass.”
“Oh, I noticed, friend, I just didn’t want to offend anyone.”
“He’s Valwe, so he’s not my problem. Call him an ass all you like.”
“I thought all you Dalish stuck together?”
“That’s just advertising,” Ferron said. “Mostly, we bicker as much as anyone. More, even. The only difference I’ve ever seen is that our bickering usually doesn’t end in a stabbing.”
“Usually?” Aidan asked.
“They prefer bows,” Alveyin said. Ferron shook his head and laughed.
“Still, Geoff, why are you out here looking for your father? Unhappy at home?” Ferron asked.
“Um, well, no, not exactly. I mean, it was uncomfortable sometimes, but it wasn’t bad. It was Gheris’ idea, mostly, and Grandmother sort of approved. I think.” Geoffrey turned red and stared into his beer, which was only gradually sinking toward the bottom.
“Care to clarify that for the more inebriated members of this party?” Ferron said.
“Well, Gheris doesn’t really approve of me very much. It’s been hard on her since our mother died, I think. A lot of the clan think she might have inherited Gialinn’s wild streak, you know? That she might be a little too, um, keen on humans. So she can’t find a husband or anything like that. And she doesn’t, well, it’s not easy for her.”
“She doesn’t make it any easier,” Casidhe said.
“She’s tired of everyone looking down on her, so she kind of . . . hits first. A little. She doesn’t mean it, though. Not really.”
“How did your mother die?” Casidhe asked.
“I don’t know; I was just a baby. When she came back to the clan with me, she was badly hurt, and she died not too long after that. Grandmother was upset. Gialinn was a powerful mage. I think Grandmother had her in mind as a replacement.”
“Your mother was a mage? That would explain the Templars, anyway.”
“It’s strange that she’d be allowed to leave the clan, then,” Ferron said. “And that she’d take up with a human, of all things.”
“Well, Uncle said that Gialinn always had a mind of her own. He told me once that it may not have been all her own idea, though. I asked him what he meant, but he said he shouldn’t have even mentioned it, so I don’t know. I didn’t tell Gheris about it, she’d get upset.” He sighed. “Cas, do you remember anything else about my father? I still want to find him.”
Casidhe shook his head sadly. “I wish I did, but he was my father’s client, not mine. They were friendly, I remember that much, Brandeouf even called him by his given name, which was really unusual. Although, now that I think of it, I’m not sure Segonal even had a family name. Everyone just called him Segonal. He took me to a healer once when I was hurt and my father was away, though, so I know he’s a good man. If he’s still alive.”
All four men stared at their drinks. “All right, enough of that,” Ferron said at last. “New topic.”
“I’d like to hear more about Orzammar,” Geoffrey said. “I’ve never even seen a dwarf.”
“I have,” Aidan piped up.
“You have?” Geoff said, startled. “Where?”
“Here, actually. Just a few days ago. Her name’s Stennar, she found me when I was out lost in the storm and helped me get here.”
“Where’d she go?” Casidhe asked, baffled. “I haven’t heard about any dwarves here, and the news tends to get around fast. They sometimes visit to look at the fort,” he explained. “But they usually come in a big party and spread a bunch of money around.”
“She went through the gates, that’s all I know. They wouldn’t let me through. Said I was riff-raff,” Aidan complained.
“The guards here have no class at all,” Casidhe said.
“Orzammar!” Geoffrey insisted. “Why were you even there?”
Ferron grinned. “Now, that was a story. Keeper Darana had the entire clan ambushing groups of Orlesian chevaliers during the war. They hid all traces of the battle, but she was still afraid someone might find out, so we stayed with the dwarves for a while. They were cheering us on, from what I hear.”
“I never heard about that!” Alveyin protested. “I think you’re making it up!”
“No, it’s the plain truth!” Feron insisted. “Nobody ever found out; the Keeper hid the bodies too well. She said it would make them nervous, and it did. Dozens of chevaliers went into those mountains looking for rebels. NOTHING came back.” Ferron was abruptly interrupted by the sound of Aidan’s chair hitting the floor. It seemed the young nobleman had passed out. Casidhe jumped to his feet to check pulse and breathing, but Kentrell growled at him and he backed away quickly. Aidan sat up, blinking, and rubbed the back of his head.
“Are you all right? What happened?” Casidhe asked.
“No head for boozing, I see,” Ferron remarked.
Aidan shot him a horrified look. “I-I think I should go to bed,” he said quickly.
“We should all go to bed,” Casidhe said. “Come on, I’ll help you.” He glanced at Kentrell, then hoisted Aidan to his feet and hauled him toward the rooms.
“Was he joking about killing all those chevaliers?” Aidan whispered.
“Well, I don’t think he did it personally, but I doubt it,” Casidhe said.
“Oh, dear,” Aidan muttered. “It’s worse than I thought.” Casidhe gave the pale young man an odd look, but he didn’t say any more.