Dragon Age: Black Circle

The Task

In Which Gheris Accepts a Challenge

posted by Ellanutella

Winter, 14:Dragon

The snow was starting to melt, turning into puddles and mush piled on the sides of the streets. Gheris slogged through mud and across slippery cobblestones from the far side of the city, back to the less-than-fortunate area between the markets and docks. With her hat on and head down, her ears were covered and large eyes mostly unseen, ensuring that no one commented on an elf so far from the Alienage.

For the last two weeks, she’d been going to a jeweler in the rich area of the city almost daily. He’d started to chase her out almost as soon as she stepped in, telling her he’d send a runner when her commission was good and ready. But she lingered long after, watching him work. Just in case.

Finnian’s betrayal had been good for something, perhaps. The stone she wasn’t able to sell had chipped recently and she realized under the brown exterior, a shimmering blue was visible inside. With Naessa and Ferron recently bonded, she needed to give them something, but had little of what they would need. So she had the jeweler split it into two and carve it into something beautiful. The tiny, shimmering blue-and-golden brown bow and arrow, each on a separate silver chain, were carefully placed in delicate satin cloth and then in small boxes.

They were burning holes in her belt pockets. She wanted to pull them out and admire them right there in the middle of the street. If they hadn’t been wedding gifts, she might have tried to rob Naessa and Ferron of them later. She’d toyed with sending them to the new Iar Keeper to get them enchanted, but thought it might be best if they did that themselves. Naessa would know best what they needed.

The jeweler had been reluctant at first, but Gheris had pulled every string Rickety could find her and he agreed. For a decent price, no less. She liked to think the jeweler had grown fond of her, in a way.

Gheris stomped the sludge and mud from her boots outside and entered the pawn shop.

“I’ve returned!” she called.

Peering down the aisles, she could see Rickety wasn’t in the back. She smelled tea and qaffa. She hurried up the stairs, shedding her cloak as she did, and pushed open the door.

“Rickety, I hav-“

Rickety looked up at her from his seat. The study was re-arranged to accommodate guests. Rickety had his customary mug of qaffa before him, and Segonal had a mug of her tea in his hands. She stopped short, staring.

A part of her wanted to turn around and run. Another wanted to lunge onto them both, to pull the blade hidden in her soaked boot just from the shocked instinct. But most of her stood thinking Geoffrey.

“Gheris,” Rickety said, face straight, “We were just discussing your brother.”

She stepped forward anxiously. Segonal set down his tea quickly, anticipating an attack.

“Is he…?” she trailed off, her heart in the back of her throat.

The Grey Warden’s shoulder relaxed and his hand gripped the mug again. “He’s fine.”

Gheris exhaled and tried not to lean against the door frame in relief.

Rickety’s eyes flicked between the two of them. He stood, larger than them both.

“I’ll go make more tea,” he said, excusing himself. Gheris stepped out of the way to let him pass. He closed the door behind him.

Segonal, now confident she wouldn’t attack, turned to face the small table again. He gestured for her to sit. She didn’t move.

“What did you tell him?” she asked quietly. There was more of a threat in her voice than she had thought to use.

His eyes peered out from under bushy, greying brows. “Only that you have a brother.”

“He’s not meant to know I’m Dalish.”

“I never said a word on the matter.” He sipped the tea and then nodded at her with his chin. “Though I’m not sure he needs telling. Your markings are starting to show.”

Gheris clapped a hand over her cheek.

“It’s barely visible, but it’ll darken back to normal in time. It happened to Geoffrey, as well. We had Fiona look them over – your armors were enchanted to hide them. He traded his armor for the armor of a Grey Warden. And I see you’re no longer wearing yours.”

It was as good as asking if she was ever going to go back to the clan. She has indeed traded her leathers for softer things. Quieter things. Her hand went from her cheek to push her hair back from her face. Slowly, she drifted over and sank into the seat Rickety had vacated.

“I suppose… most people don’t even think Dalish are real. Shems will just think I’m twice the vagrant everyone else is.” She gave a one-shouldered shrug and glanced up at Segonal. “So Geoffrey…”

“Survived initiation,” Segonal nodded. “He is a full Grey Warden.” It was not said without some pride.

Gheris narrowed her eyes and leaned forward. “What do you mean, ‘survived’?”

Segonal raised a hand. “It’s… not something we can discuss outside the order, but suffice it to say that not everyone survives the initiation. He did.”

“You let him risk himself like that?” she demanded, her voice rising.

“I didn’t let him do a thing. It was his decision.” His voice was even and his eyes focused on her, reproachful. They were like Geoffrey’s, bright and full of dreams. The only difference was that they were grey instead of green. More softly, he added, “He is my son. It was not easy to see him endure the… trial.”

Gheris folded her arms and bit down on her tongue. It took her all her strength to hold back from snapping at the human. There was a brief knock on the door and Rickety came in, bearing a snack and fresh tea for them both. He raised his eyebrows at Segonal, who gave a tiny nod in return. The big man left the tea and treats and, with one last look at the elf, retreated back down the stairs, closing the door behind him.

“Is he happy?” Gheris asked hoarsely after a long moment, during which Segonal sipped his tea noisily to fill the silence.

“He seems to be. He’s one of the best archers I’ve ever seen. Good arm.” There was definite pride in his voice, though Geoffrey’s skill had nothing to do with Segonal. Humans never ceased to confuse Gheris. “But…” His mouth twisted into disapproval.

Gheris sat up.

“He’s an enthusiastic boy. He took a liking to the history of the Grey Wardens. A little too much.”

That sounded familiar. Geoff loved stories. “Explain.”

Segonal rubbed his face wearily. “We occasionally reclaim relics of the Wardens. Famous weapons or tools used during past Blights, anything that will help against darkspawn. The Orlesians were in possession of one such artifact. But they refused to give it to us. Geoffrey is certain he can persuade them otherwise.”

Gheris grimaced. “Elgar’nan. He’s half a boy and barely a Warden. What does he expect to convince them with?”

“It gets worse.” He shook his head. “It’s worn on the Empress’ person at all times.”

She rolled her eyes. “The question still stands – he has nothing with which to bargain with. Human monarchs do not often consort with non-elite anyway, yes?”

Grandmother had not often deigned to associate with most of the clan unless it was important, but in general, the Dalish were much more communal than humans could even dream of being. Human systems and leaderships were difficult to grasp. For instance, how did a monarch expect to know what the crops looked like for the season if she didn’t go down to look at them? With their nations so big, how did a king or an emperor expect to make sure everyone was on-task?

He quirked a brow at her. “Have you been learning about humans?”

She glared. “Yes. A little.” She stuck out her chin. “That’s not the point. Can’t you just command Geoffrey to go attend to Warden business and not waste his time?”

He pressed his lips together, hesitant. He wasn’t sure what he could and couldn’t trust her with.

She narrowed her eyes. “You need it? Whatever this Empress is carrying?”

He looked distinctly uncomfortable. He struck her as a man who was was used to being collected, if not in charge. The last few years had doubtless been very strange for him. He was not used to discomfort. “Not need, per se, but it would be of use against Blights. I was tasked with attempting to reclaim it, but it is not a priority.”

“What does it do?” she asked.

“We’re not sure how it works or what, exactly, it does. But it was presented to the Orlesians during the Third Blight. We speculate that it’s a defensive mechanism of some kind. Maybe it hides your presence from Darkspawn. It… also happens to be politically valuable to the Orlesians; the Imperium wants it, too. I’m not sure why. Grey Wardens are not often involved in politics outside of the Anderfels.”

She stared at him, frowning deeply, and finally shrugged. “I can get it.”

Segonal sighed, exasperated. “One does not simply steal from the Empress of Orlais!”

The elf’s chin jutted out again stubbornly. “I accept that challenge!”

He shook his head rapidly. “I am not condoning this! Grey Wardens do what they must, but we do not tickle the belly of a dragon unbidden.”

“Isn’t tickling dragon-bellies what Grey Wardens are meant to do?” Gheris waved a dismissive hand. “I will do it. Just get my brother out of there and back on task.”

Segonal puffed his cheeks out. “I cannot stop you – but nor can I aid you. Are you certain?”

“Yes. Or else Geoffrey will either get his teeth knocked out or be forever petulant. He’s as stubborn as I am.”

Segonal gave her a look that said she was indeed more mule than elf.

She sneered at him. “I will do it. I have every confidence in my skills and you have my promise.” Gheris tipped her head and stared down her nose at him, frowning. “If you are meant to reclaim this necklace, what are you doing in Ferelden?”

“As I said – it is not a priority. I have other business here.”

“Business you can’t talk about.”

“No.”

Her eyes traveled to the door. “Is Rickety a Warden?”

Segonal blinked, then laughed. She glared at him. “Maker, no. Hardly.”

“But he knows you are.”

“Yes. Of course. He was… something of a friend while the Wardens were not welcome here.”

“Then you have known him a long time – where is he from? How did he get here?”

Segonal shook his head. “If he hasn’t spoken of it, then it is not my place to do so.”

She opened her mouth to argue, but then clamped it shut and nodded. Finally, she picked up her tea and pressed it to her mouth, but didn’t sip. “Did he know-” She broke off. “Never mind.” She stood. “I’ll call him back.”

Segonal raised his eyebrows. “He did not know your mother,” he said. She met his eyes. His drooped, seemed to sink a little, but he nodded to the seat again. She slid back into it.

She didn’t know what to ask. She didn’t know if she wanted to know. The dead were dead, after all.

“Gialinn kept out of most people’s way. She knew how to keep secrets.” He shook his head. “Most women do, but she was queen of secrets. And she got us snooping around for her, too.”

Gheris raised her eyebrows. “Snooping around for what?”

“Anything. Eventually it was whatever her lunatic mother had sent her here for, but until then, she was up to – I don’t even know.” He twisted the mug in his hands, eyes growing distant. The lines on his face grew more visible. He looked lost, caught between fondness of memory and age. “She had all sorts of magical experiments going. Needed ingredients, information. Figured out what words made us anxious and had us running wild goose chases in places she couldn’t go.”

“You… and Islene? And Brandeouf?”

He nodded.

She had a picture in her head now: her mother and Segonal, running around with two people who looked like an older Casidhe and a female Casidhe. The latter was a little jarring. “So she was manipulative.”

“Yes. And no.”

The elf gazed at him.

“I mean…” He sighed, a little flustered, reminding her a little of Geoffrey when his brain was rushing ahead of his mouth and confusing his words. “I knew what she was doing most of the time, but I did it anyway.”

She frowned. “You let yourself get manipulated?” She paused, thinking of all the stupid things she’d seen people do for love last summer. “Because you loved her?”

He nodded. “I did. I do. And Maker knows, that’s not an easy thing to do.” He laughed to himself. “Nothing was ever easy with her. You couldn’t even run your fingers through her hair without getting tangled.”

Gheris’ hand automatically went to her own wild hair and he nodded.

“That’s right. You’ve got her hair, and most of her face. Not her eyes, though. I imagine those are your father’s.”

Her jaw clenched. “My sire’s, yes.”

His brows furrowed. “I’m sorry. The one time she spoke of him, she made him sound a fool, but I had hoped perhaps…”

“That he’d be a good father and would raise a lovely daughter in Gialinn’s stead?” Gheris laughed bitterly. It made Segonal wince; it must’ve sounded like Gialinn. Lovely. More things in common with dear mother. “No. He didn’t even have the decency to die. He just didn’t want me.” She folded her arms. “It is not your fault, however, that my father was that way. What do humans call it – a man of many nothings…”

“Idiot,” Segonal supplied.

“Not quite, but it will do.”

“I suppose that’s why your uncle raised you.”

“Does Geoffrey talk about him, then?”

“Often and with great affection.”

She nodded, once. “Good.” She twisted the ring around her finger and peered at him from under her brows. “Did she mention me? Ever?”

“Not until it had been a few months. As I said – she kept many things to herself. Except insults. She was very good at those. She could do them in Orlesian and Nevarran, too. Islene taught her.” He seemed to smile at the memory.

Gheris scoffed disparagingly, shaking her head. “Was there anything good about her, or did you just enjoy getting insulted and led about like a sheep?” she demanded, her voice rising again.

“I wasn’t a willing fool without good reason,” he snapped back.

Gheris brayed at him like a sheep. “Baaaaah! Baaaah!”

“She had her moments!” he barked over her animal noises. “They seemed to come out more often the longer she stayed here.”

“Right. Love is the solution to everything, I’ve heard,” she said coarsely. She stood again, hand still twisting the ring.

She had half a mind to throw it out the window or into the fire. Instead, she took a breath and thought about some things she’d write down. She wanted to know more and couldn’t afford to get distracted with insults and complaints.

“Well?” she demanded after a moment. “What was it that you liked about her?”

He inhaled, refocusing himself. “Smartest woman I’ve ever met. She loved having power over something, but it was more than that. She enjoyed the learning more than the results.”

Gheris pressed her lips together. “She was manipulative, abandoned her children, and rude, but she loved learning, so that makes it alright?”

Segonal shook his head and sighed, closing his eyes. “No. But the learning made her… gentle. It made her care.” He struggled for a moment trying to locate the words. “It revealed a piece of her that she closed away out of fear.”

“Fear of what?”

“You’ve the same fear, I think.” He opened his eyes and gave her a shrewd look. “The thought of being used against your own people. She loved her clan, but she did not find them dear.”

Gheris’ eyes shifted away.

“I gather your people are not easy to care for.”

“I see she was spectacular at keeping them a secret.”

“Do not judge her harshly, Gheris. When one is free for a while, he starts to wonder why he ever chose his prior captivity.”

The elf squeezed her eyes closed and sat back down. “I can understand that.”

He nodded. “That was Gialinn. The more she understood, the more she knew – she learned to care. Like knowing about more things made her understand why it was important to love them.”

“Is that why she didn’t stay with me?” Gheris asked after a moment.

Segonal shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“Children – they aren’t people. Not really. They take a long time to become something.” She remembered Geoffrey stumbling around, imitating everyone and everything, but never coming up with a thing himself. She’d thought it was human stupidity at the time, but maybe it was true for all children. “Maybe she couldn’t love me because I wasn’t something yet.”

“Gheris.” He reached over to pat her hand. It was an awkward gesture and she pulled her hand away after the second pat. “She did love you. You have to understand – no matter how much like her you are, you’re still both very different. You’re very – vocal.”

The corners of her mouth twisted bitterly up.

“She had a healthy coating of frost on top of her thorns. It takes a while to melt that away, a while to cut the thorns, to get a good look at the flower.”

“That’s almost poetic,” she said, but her voice faltered and it wasn’t as sharp as she anticipated.

“Being a parent is never clear. The world is very large and full of many dangers. I think she wanted to find them all and keep them away from you.”

And then she became one, Gheris thought. But that was unkind. Probably. She’d come back to her people in the very end. She was silent for a long time and decided she would sort this out later, on her own. She didn’t like the pressure of someone else waiting on her feelings. She had work to get to. The necklace wouldn’t steal itself.

She stood and awkwardly held out her hand the way she’d seen some humans do it. Segonal raised an eyebrow, but stood and grasped it.

“I will leave for Orlais soon,” she said brusquely. “Where should I send notice once the task is complete?”

“Rickety will know where to find me,” he said, with some relief that this wasn’t going to get any more sentimental.

She released his hand after a brief trade of grips and slipped out of the room, her tea mostly untouched.

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