Campaign of the Month: February 2009

Silent Winter

Pledge of Honor

In which Lothaire has a lot to say, and even smiles. Several times.

instigated by the_flax and posted by jillyfae

No one is quite sure what to do with themselves that evening, having escaped the unsettling mist only to find themselves camping with an entire, rather traumatized, dalish clan. Settling down slightly apart from the main dalish camp, everyone fails to pretend to be getting ready for the night in a perfectly normal fashion.

Aidan nervously jumps at the slightest noise, and keeps himself to the far side of camp, as distant from the dalish as possible. Gheris seems even more stiff than usual, and glares at all the humans so close to the elven clan, with an especially black glance periodically directed towards Casidhe. Casidhe ignores her, nursing a black eye and preferring to hunt down Segonal for a private discussion of some sort. Lothaire keeps a quiet eye on the generally nervous group, while Simon seems the only one able to avoid fretting about the strange situation.

Naessa spends her time with the dalish, making sure everyone really is healing properly now that they’re out of the mist, and hovering near Zholon’s tent. However, as there’s a chance he’s finally resting normally, no one has the nerve to wake him up and disturb him, and she finally gives up and heads off to rest, generally getting in Ferron and Geoffrey’s way as they attempt to set up a comfortable camp.

Naessa snatches Ferron’s pack, staggers over to the campfire to settle down with a melodramatic sigh, and starts digging shamelessly through all his belongings in search of tea. Ferron, recognizing Naessa’s typical reaction to over-using her magic, leaves her alone to grouch in private.

Lothaire, unencumbered by his bulky armor this once, appears beside her as if he had been waiting for this moment. He sits next to her and shifts nervously as he looks her over with a glance of appraisal. Naessa shoots him one quick glance, but shrugs and turns away, glaring down at the pack and kicking it away petulantly, having failed to find anything appealing.

“I was wondering… how are you holding up?” Lothaire finally breaks the silence in a somber tone.

“What?” Naessa stares at him in confusion for a moment, trying to figure out what Lothaire is getting at, and why he’s bothering her NOW. “I’m tired. And confused. And I can’t find the tea I wanted, and I can’t seem to figure out anything that’s going on. But, it doesn’t look like anyone else is going to die, and nothing exploded, and it’s not like I need the stupid tea, so I suppose things could be worse. How are you doing?” Suddenly realizing she was being especially abrupt, even for her, she attempts to temper her reaction. “Is Oriane all right?”

Lothaire answers with a simple slow nod, barely acknowledging her outburst. “We are fine, I suppose, considering our situation. What I asked is not without purpose though. The others, even those who care deeply about you,” he glances briefly at Ferron with meaning and continues after an equally brief pause, “cannot understand what you are going through.”

“What? And what do you think I’m going through, besides over-using my magic for no good reason, since they all just healed on their own once they got out of the mist? I’m not trying to be rude, not that I ever am, despite appearances to the contrary, but I have no idea what you’re trying to say.”

Lothaire gives her a calming smile and suddenly his features don’t seem so rough anymore. He weathers her energetic replies without flinching, and continues each time in even tones. “Perhaps I am wrong. I know very little about your people, but if I understand correctly, you have become their… Keeper, I believe is the term? As of today you are suddenly responsible for all of this clan, are you not?”

“Oh”, Naessa breathes out slowly, as she realizes there is a serious point to this conversation. “Not officially, until I can talk to Keeper Zholon tomorrow. He’s still resting. But, yes, I need to take care of them now.” She drops her head in her hands for a moment, before looking up at Lothaire worriedly. “Is it that obvious that I have no idea what I’m doing?”

“That is to be expected. I was raised to take charge of Tourrin; for nearly thirty years my father tried to teach me what it meant to lead our people. Even after all that time, when it was my turn to rule, I was scared and clueless.”

Naessa’s answering laugh is weak. “I don’t know if that makes me feel better or not. I mean, I’m only nineteen. Keeper Darana was training me in my old clan, but I always thought Ninnion would be there, and she wasn’t likely to step down for at least a decade. I feel like this, I mean, my, clan deserves better than I’m able to provide for them.”

“Yes, you must feel it is a terrible burden. That is why I came to you. It seems to me you could use some help.”

“Really? What kind of help? I mean, thank you, but, a dalish clan isn’t likely to look fondly on a human knight, so I’m not sure what sort of help I could reasonably accept.”

“True enough, and in some ways, what I am about to propose might make things harder for you. Do not feel badly if you feel you must refuse, I will understand. Now, to be blunt, what I offer you is an oath of fealty.”

“What, to me? You? Why? Isn’t that a very, well, important sort of thing for a knight? Are you sure? I’m not sure I even know what that would mean. I don’t think we have the same sort of thing in the clans.”

“It is important, and that is why the offer is not made lightly. As to what it entails, well, there are many interpretations, but the essence of it would be that my wife and I would become your responsibility. In return, I would serve you until physically unable, shield you from harm, and advise you whenever you wished. It also means that until I die, I will be loyal to you, first and foremost, and I will follow you down any path you choose.”

Naessa stares at Lothaire in shock, first from the unexpected length of Lothaire’s speech, and then, as the words penetrate, at the meaning behind them. “Any path? You want to ally yourself that strongly with me? With the dalish? Why?”

“It is who I am. And as I said, you seem to be in need of the help. Quite frankly, who else would take me? Ferelden would have little use or interest in a Chevalier.”

“I’m… honored. I think you sell yourself short, but as it’s to my advantage, I won’t try too hard to convince you of that. I respect both you and your wife, and I would gladly accept your help, and give mine in return, for what it’s worth. It will likely be, well, awkward for all of us, a human knight in a dalish clan, but I’m sure we can figure it out. Thank you. And thank Oriane for me, as well. It will be good to have you both here.” She stops with the first smile she’s managed all evening. “Ferron will think I’ve gone crazy.”

“Then all that remains is to swear the oath.” Lothaire’s thoughtful tone betrayed little of the emotion Naessa had shown. “We will need witnesses.”

“Well, I’ll have to ask Scout-Captain Jatris to be one, as he will need to learn to work with you. I’ll be right back.” Standing up determinedly, she stalks towards the dalish side of the campground. “JATRIS!” Her shout causes the companions scattered around camp to turn and watch her walk over to the dalish. “Can I borrow you for a minute?” Most simply turn back to whatever they’re doing, but Aidan watches nervously as she hunts the Scout-Captain down and proceeds to have an intense, whispered conversation with him. Naessa looks alternately determined and embarrassed, while Jatris’ generally stoic expression changes quickly from shock, to anger, to a thoughtful acceptance.

Not sure if this is something he should be concerned about, Aidan looks over at Lothaire, waiting patiently by the fire with his arms crossed, just in time to see Oriane cross over to her husband and stand behind him. Lothaire glances over briefly, giving her the slightest of nods, and Aidan is surprised to catch what looks like a brief smile pass between them.

He is even more surprised to hear Naessa’s question as she returns to stand by the knight and his lady. “How many witnesses does our ritual need? Jatris has agreed to stand in for the Valwe, as he is, uncertain, of Zholon’s ability to do so any time in the near future.”

“Also having independent witnesses is always preferable.”

“Witnesses to what?” Aidan’s nerves force him to ask, only belatedly worrying about the consequences of being caught eavesdropping.

“Everything all right?” Casidhe asks without looking up.

Naessa looks around, apparently surprised that she’d captured everyone’s attention. Raising her voice to be sure to be heard, she answers. “Lothaire has kindly offered his assistance, and I have agreed to accept his oath of fealty. We would be honored if you would be witnesses, as it is largely thanks to all of you that we have gotten to this point.” She ruins her attempt at a serious impression with a nervous glare at Ferron, as if worried he’ll interrupt, but Ferron only nods back at her, as if promising he’ll yell at her in private later if necessary, rather than in front of the entire group.

While Aidan has trouble deciding how to react to this disturbing news, Gheris’ suspicious rejoinder is almost immediate. “Is this some kind of joke?”

Casidhe rolls his eyes in the background, his mutter of “Prophet’s tears, does that woman ever stop?”, directed mainly at himself.

Simon ignores Gheris completely, his attention only for Lothaire. His quizzical expression asks as clearly as any words for an explanation.

Addressing his friend quietly, Lothaire simply states, “I believe it is for the best.”

“I must say, I have to ask what you’re receiving in return, Lothaire.”

“That is my business alone, Simon, but I thank you for your concern.”

Nodding seriously, recognizing the mild rebuke, Simon glances at Oriane to confirm her lack of distress, then settles back to watch and witness, as requested, only to realize Gheris and Naessa have quickly devolved into a full-blown argument.

“Naessa, are you seriously accepting this? A human’s oath? When you have a whole clan plus at least one other behind you?” Her angry gesture encompasses the camp behind them, and Ferron quietly watching them both.

“And that entire clan, including one of the oldest, wiliest Keepers in our history, got taken out by a MIST. It would be foolish to refuse help freely given, especially from one whose honor I respect.”

Her frown deepening to a glower, Gheris continues hotly, “And what proof do you have that he won’t turn around and stab you in the back? He’s a human, Naessa, honorable or not. When push comes to shove, humans will side with humans and elves with elves!”

“And elves are perfectly capable of raping and killing their own as well! It’s not just humans who are violent!” Naessa shouts back.

“Then is there any need to bring an outsider in to add more problems!?”

“Have you watched how a single human we’ve been fighting with has behaved all this time? They could have killed you in the snow when they found you, or simply ignored you. They could have run away from danger multiple times, and haven’t. They have done nothing to earn your distrust! Humans, as a whole, can be dangerous, but how can you blindly apply that to the individual people you’ve seen behave differently?”

Gheris waves her hands dismissively, giving up on Naessa ever finding sense. “Do what you like. For your benefit, I’ll stand witness. You can be so airheaded that I’m not sure you’d notice if he swung his sword at your neck.” She gestures warningly at Lothaire. “If you betray her…”

Lothaire, realizing how quickly they are approaching actual violence, moves between them, his gaze settling heavily on Gheris. “If you have reason to believe my oath to be false, then by all means, speak. If you feel it necessary to insult the very essence of who I am, then go on.”

Nervously stepping into the sudden and uncomfortable silence, Aidan attempts to return the situation to normal. “Gheris, telling them that this is not a good idea probably won’t help.” He stutters briefly, but continues nonetheless. “I’ll stand in as a witness. I don’t see how this could possibly end well, but it’s your choice, Lothaire, not mine.”

Naessa takes a deep breath, and attempts to return to her normal speaking voice. “I am sorry, Gheris, but no matter how much you distrust someone, they can still surprise you with treachery. Why provoke those who you have no cause to mistrust, into not trusting you in turn?”

Gheris snorts her disagreement. “It is better to be wary than to trust everyone who comes your way.” She folds her arms defensively, and then shakes her head at Lothaire. “Actions bring words to their knees. Do what you like. If this goes wrong, I hope that I am there to wave this oath in your faces. When this goes wrong. But go on, I’ll stand witness.”

Jatris stiffly interrupts the uneasy truce, hoping to finally finish what he joined the crazy adventurers to do. “Our Keeper has long been unconventional, and has even made… arrangements… with humans before.” He nods briefly towards Simon. “Valwe stands behind our future-Keeper, and any assistance freely offered.” His second nod, towards Lothaire, is a touch more hesitant, but he is still obviously determined to continue, despite his discomfort.

Lothaire returns the nod in appreciation, then turns to face Naessa. “Shall we proceed?”

“Certainly. Only, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do?”

Lothaire smiles. “Oaths are of a very personal nature, just follow my lead and say whatever feels right to you.”

Ferron moves up to stand behind his cousin as she settles herself nervously, keeping a close watch on Lothaire. Casidhe leans forward for a better look, steepling his fingers, as Simon doffs his hat and Aidan bows his head. Gheris leans back, glaring silently, but refraining from any more comments. Geoffrey looks nervously at his sister, and edges slightly closer to Casidhe to watch the proceedings.

Once everyone has stopped shifting around, Lothaire unsheathes his blade. Falling to one knee, he plunges the tip of the sword into the ground and bows slightly. “I, Lothaire Séverin Valère, hereby swear an oath of fealty to Naessa Arielle. Henceforth her battles shall be my battles, her joys will be my joys and her sorrows will be my sorrows. By the Maker, I pledge service to this elf until death takes me or she releases me from my oath.” His serious voice flows sonorously over the assembled witnesses.

Naessa’s response starts out much quieter, but grows as she continues. “I, Naessa Arielle, accept the oath of Lothaire Séverin Valère, promising to return his honorable service with my own, to reward his protection and guidance with the same, to the best of my ability. I swear thus, by the unforgotten Gods, until death takes one of us, or he needs to be relieved from his oath.” Fumbling only slightly with her Mage Staff, she pushes it slightly into the ground next to Lothaire’s sword, and bows her head in return.

Neither notices Casidhe’s quiet “sorry mine wasn’t more like that,” directed towards a startled Geoffrey, who insists in a shushing sort of whisper that it was just fine. Gheris, however, shoots a glare at Casidhe and yanks Geoffrey by the arm closer to where she’s standing before turning her eyes back to Naessa and Lothaire.

Lothaire rises with a nod of reassurance to Naessa, indicating that she did fine, and says with a grave finality. “It is done.”

“As Scout-Captain of the Valwe Clan, I witness this oath, and thank Naessa Arielle and Lothaire Séverin Valère for their assistance to our people.” Jatris glances worriedly back at his people’s camp. “And I should probably start telling everyone what happened, before the rumors go wild. If you’ll excuse me.” And with a final brisk nod, Jatris practically scurries out of sight, as if relieved to be returning to people who make sense.

Aidan picks his head up, looking very troubled and pale. “Alright, are we done here?”

Gheris sniffs briefly. “Gods help us, I hope so.”

Naessa smiles brilliantly in relief. “Thank you Lothaire. And you, Oriane.” She turns around slowly, including everyone. “I think we’re done. Thank you all.”

Ferron watches with concern as Aidan hurries away, noticing his pale skin and nervous demeanor. The expected suspicious glare from Gheris, followed by a sarcastic “I hope you know what you’re doing” aimed over her shoulder as she trudges back to her bedroll are almost a relief in comparison.

“Geoffrey, has Gheris ever been happy? About anything?” Casidhe’s unexpected question causes Naessa to squash a highly inappropriate snicker as she collapses down by the fire again.

Geoffrey awkwardly pats Naessa on the shoulder before looking at Casidhe. “Uh… There were a few times back in Denerim when she came home in the mornings… smiling, I guess. I think that’s what her smile looked like. And before that, sometimes a scouting mission would go well.” He shrugs, as if not completely sure whether that was what Casidhe was asking or not.

Cas is unable to hide his surprised “oh”, while Naessa looks suddenly guilty at the response. “Really? Her whole life she’s been that angry? That sounds so sad. And exhausting. Maybe I should try and stop yelling at her so much.” Shaking her head as she settles the kettle in the coals, she looks at the group still standing around. “Anyone want some tea?”

Lothaire declines politely, intending to retire with Oriane for the night, although he remains close to Naessa. Naessa smiles back up at them both, then turns to count out a bundle of tea leaves from Ferron’s rescued pack. As Lothaire turns away, Casidhe catches his eye. “Lothaire? Could I trouble you a moment?” Lothaire approaches Casidhe with a nod, and the two take a few steps away from the group, their conversation continuing quietly in the background.

Geoffrey ignores the tea Naessa is preparing, responding instead to her previous statement. “Uh, Naessa, um, she’s not angry. Just defensive. And you shouldn’t need to worry. We’ll be out of your hair soon. You’re Keeper, and we’re from a different clan. You shouldn’t worry about us.”

“But I like worrying about you. I think. That’s odd, isn’t it? I just, hate seeing anyone at such, loose ends, I guess? And really, I think it would do us all better if we worried more about everyone, not just the people in our immediate families and clans.” Naessa blushes a bit, feeling like she’d said too much. “But, I don’t know how we’d do that anyways, so never mind.”

Geoffrey isn’t quite sure how to respond, and laughs nervously. “Maybe you’re meant to be a Keeper, worrying and taking care of people.” A suddenly anxious look around is followed with a quiet whisper. “Just don’t go insane. Gra…Grandmother is pretty crazy.”

Naessa laughs loudly and slaps Geoffrey in a friendly fashion. “You are the only person I’ve ever heard had the nerve to say that out loud.”

Geoffrey looks at Ferron and Naessa in surprise, jerking forward as if his own words shocked him. “Please don’t tell anyone I said that!”

Naessa’s laugh fades. “Don’t worry, I won’t repeat it. Or, if I do, since I tend to say things I shouldn’t, I’ll be sure to keep you out of it. And I’ll try not to go crazy. I’m sure no one ever means to, though… “

Ferron chuckles. “Don’t worry, I won’t let you be as loony as Grandmother. Ninnion would never forgive me if I didn’t keep his sister in line.”

Geoffrey smiles in relief at both of them. “It’s good to know that we…” He blinks as he corrects himself. “ …that the clan has good…neighbors? Neighbors.”

Naessa grins back at Geoffrey. “I am in a remarkably good mood now, so much so that having Grandmother for a neighbor is not nearly as terrifying as I suspect it should be.”

Ferron snorts quietly. “I’ll be terrified for both of us then.”

“You’re even worse at sensible terror than I am, so don’t even try to pretend otherwise.” She smiles affectionately up at her cousin.

Geoffrey nods and rubs his arm awkwardly, looking between Ferron and Naessa. He bites his lip, then bursts out suddenly, “Do either of you, um, know much about mother – uh, my mother – or… Segonal? I just…He…” Geoffrey gestures weakly as he stumbles over his words. “He’s a little…scary.”

Ferron shakes his headly apologetically at Geoffrey. “Sorry, but no. I think I saw Casidhe speaking with Segonal earlier, however. You could ask him. He seems to want to help you two out.”

Geoffrey nods, and smiles wanly. “She doesn’t like him very much, but I could try. Thank you, though. I’ll, uh, get out of your hair now.”

Naessa reaches out to touch Geoffrey’s arm as he stands up. “It’s all right Geoffrey. I know even less than Ferron, as I hadn’t noticed Segonal was talking with Cas. He seems to be who he says he is, however, and I doubt he wants to scare you. Maybe Ferron or Casidhe could go with you to talk with him?” Realizing with a sudden glance at Ferron that she’d volunteered him without asking, she continued, “or I could, too, but I’m likely say something silly.”

“No, no!” Geoffrey seems vaguely horrified at the mental image of trying to talk to his supposed father with a line of people in tow. “That’s okay. I’ll…do it on my own, I guess. That’s what I’m supposed to do, right?” He swallows, then nods firmly. “Right.”

“Good luck then”, quietly, from Naessa.

“You too!”

“I’m sure I’ll need it. Good night, Geoffrey.”

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