Serving Time (Closed)

[3rd - 17th Bloomingtide, 9.35 - inclusive; with  - after the events of this thread]

4th Bloomingtide

Considering the persistent rumours surrounding the proclivities of the second-to-last Arl of Amaranthine, it was some small relief to Henri-Julien that his imprisonment within the dungeon of Vigil's Keep amounted to nothing more than an extended spell in a dank cell. Of course, the real punishment did not lie in his unpleasant surroundings, but in the persistent swirling thoughts from which he had no means of distraction. 

Or, that was what he presumed should have been his punishment. Except Henri-Julien found that his being stripped of his seniority... did not really matter so much. Not anymore. Perhaps before his travels across Ferelden with Velanna, it would have hit much harder. A devastating blow, even. Yes, he could well imagine that: raging and railing into the gloom, mocked by the impotency of his words ringing against the iron bars of his cell. He cringed a little to even think of it.

But now? He had not sought out his Archdemon for nothing. Even though he had yet to find and slay it, he had journeyed far enough towards it to realise that all the value he had placed on his authority - as a Knight-Tracker, as a Senior Grey Warden - had been false. A means of seeking security against the troublesome thoughts which he now understood had always plagued him. Perhaps not loudly and perhaps not unwillingly. Yet how else to explain his absolute devotion to the Chantry? It was a means by which to avoid having to confront the difficult questions that he himself was at a loss to answer.

And if that were not reason enough: he was a former Templar who knowingly, willingly and repeatedly fraternised with a Danish apostate. If, even after literal decades of service to the Templar Order, he could fall so spectacularly from the Chantry's teachings (though not the Chant of Light - to that, he remained devoted), then it was probably for the best that after only a handful of years, he had taken from him the seniority which he should never have been granted.

What did agitate him was to wonder how Velanna had been punished. He had been apprehended as soon as he had returned to Vigil's Keep. It was only when he had been escorted into the dungeon that Commander Berlra had arrived to make his decree. Of Callum and Daniel, he had no idea. But it was Velanna that mattered to him. After all, while he did not wish ill on Callum, he had no personal reason to care about the fate of the other man. As for Daniel, the further he was from the man, the better. But Velanna had only been dragged into the whole mess because of Henri-Julien. She did not deserve punishment as he, Callum and Daniel did.

That was probably another factor in his newly discovered sense of inner peace. The young boy had been escorted safely to the Circle. For a Knight-Tracker, that was the most successful conclusion he could hope to achieve. If something untoward had happened, then Henri-Julien might have succumbed to endlessly wondering 'what if', but the fact of the matter was that he had done exactly as he had promised to do. The emotional fallout was never his burden to bear: that was reserved for Callum and his family. 

Not that Henri-Julien was immune from all emotions. The sting of Velanna's absence was something which no balm could soothe. He had grown accustomed to having her nearby, even when their interactions were hampered by the presence of others, and he sorely longed for even a glimpse of her. Once or twice, he had caught himself idly tracing the lines of her vallaslin in the dirt floor of the cell, the pattern as clearly imprinted on his mind as each verse of the Chant. 

Sighing, Henri-Julien pushed himself onto his feet to begin working through his forms, focusing on the fluidity of his movements. He had no weapon but that was not the point. It was important to keep the body moving just as it was important to engage the mind. He found his voice as his body loosened, his tenor filling the dungeon. His goal was to perform today's chosen Chant Verse flawlessly while maintaining the accuracy of his forms. He had already discovered that it was sufficiently challenging to tire him out. Then he would sleep and repeat the process again.
Velanna was very skilled in many areas of her life. She’d picked up her aptitude for magic very young and had been a flawless student. Having mastered her magic, she’d come upon gardening and otherwise fostering plants quite naturally. She’d taken to killing darkspawn like a duck took to water, and even enjoyed it more than she would let on. Her greatest talent, however, was holding grudges.

Daniel was little better than dead to her, and if she had the chance, she could erase that line between the two. The man was a danger to everyone around him, and she would not abide his presence willingly. She had no ill-regard for Callum that she could name openly. The man had reacted to an impossible situation with all the grace that could be expected of a shemlen man, which was to say he fumbled it but with good intentions. Never mind that good intentions paved the way to the Void. Still, it had been his little quest that had landed nearly all of them in hot water, and Velanna maintained it was his fault that she was missing Henri-Julien. Commander Berlra carried a good portion of her grudge as well, as her opinion was that the others had gotten off too light while Henri-Julien rotted in a cell, even if it had been barely a day.

Not that life in Vigil’s Keep afforded them much time together, but being denied her gardening companion, let alone her gardening companion had put her in a cross mood. That mood was giving her a wide berth of other Wardens, which she gladly accepted.

It had taken some doing, but she’d managed to convince both the remaining senior warden and Commander Berlra that she alone was best equipped to deliver Henri-Julien’s daily dose of lyrium. As a Dalish Keeper, she held no liking of the vile substance, and therefore could be trusted not to take it for her own purposes, and the tall blond shemlen was only too eager to hand the duty off to someone else. While it was not an ideal arrangement for anyone except the Commander and Al-whoever, a daily visit would go a long way to soothing her demeanor. Though, it was not enough that she thought Henri-Julien’s punishment was in any way just. But that was an argument she kept to herself, as arguing with the Durgen’len in charge would come to no good.

She checked on his sapling before she descended into the bowels of the Keep, cradling the lyrium kit to her chest as she did. She’d also procured a sandwich from the kitchens, something she was able to do without question, given the legendary appetites of Wardens, to which she was no stranger. At least she could bring him a decent meal and offer him updates on the tree’s well-being, which she hoped would bring him some measure of comfort. She tended it daily, without magic, as promised.

The cells were hardly private, but she found it to her liking that Henri-Julien had been placed far away from anyone else who might have been held. He’d been seized upon their return to Vigil’s Keep, and Velanna had only learned his fate through word of mouth, as Berlra roundly dismissed her. While she was not disappointed to not share in the punishments that had been handed out, she was baffled that she alone had been spared such a thing.

She heard the tenor of his voice long before she saw him, the sound pleasing her in an unexpected way and softening her sour expression ever-so-slightly. When she did come into view, she stopped to watch for a few moments, appreciating the movements of his fighting forms as he fluidly shifted from one to the other. Without his armor she was privy to the workings of muscle and tendon as he stretched and guided his limbs to his will. Perhaps she’d been deprived of gardening a little too long, after all.

Clearing her throat softly to announce her presence, she reassured they were alone before she approached the dim cage where he’d been tossed and forgotten. “Ma vhenan,” she murmured, hoping for his attention. Without preamble she held out both the lyrium and the cloth-wrapped sandwich within his reach. Nothing she could say or ask would provide any more comfort than the objects she carried, so she let them speak for themselves, and did not fill the silence with pointless questions like How do you fare? when it was quite obvious from the squalor of the cell how he was doing.
Absorbed in his movements, Henri-Julien startled to hear the soft clearing of a throat from beyond the bars of his cells. Dropping his pose, he whirled around, peering through the gloom to catch glimpse of who thought to gawk at his fall from grace. Instead, his eyes alighted upon the only person in the world whom he would tolerate to visit unannounced.

"Ma vhenan," she spoke her endearment, revealing that they were unobserved. At least for the moment. Pressing close to the bars, she thrust out both hands - one gripped his lyric kit while the other grasped a wrapped sandwich. Both were equally welcome.

Stepping close to the bars, Henri-Julien accepted both items, but did not pay either any heed just yet. "Only a demon would appear to me here." Leaning forward, he rested his temples against the cold unforgiving bars, seeking to brush even the lightest touch of his forehead against hers. "I did not think my will was so close to being broken." His mouth twitched into that slanted smile of his, a knowing glimmer in his eye. "How long were you watching?"

Whether she answered or not, Henri-Julien set down his lyric kit, carefully unwrapping the sandwich. "I did not think I would sell my soul for so small a price, and yet..." he raised his shoulders in a hapless shrug, unable to deny just how wonderful the scent of the sandwich was to him. Warden hunger only amplified such basic pleasures. 

Despite the gluttonous bite he took, Henri-Julien forced himself to chew slowly so that he might savour the flavour. It also meant that his stomach would not clamour for more beyond what was available. He doubted that Commander Berlra would order that he be starved, but a Warden's appetite knew only plenty or absence. There was nothing in-between.

"What happened after I was brought here?" he asked, swallowing his bite. "Have you already received a punishment? It is not fair that you shoulder any blame for this."
"Only a demon would appear to me here." That he was surprised to see her was clear, or perhaps he was surprised to see anyone. He took both his lyrium kit and the sandwich, but paused, pressing his brow to the bars. Velanna leaned forward and pressed hers as well, so that their foreheads might touch, however brief and slightly. "I did not think my will was so close to being broken." His generous mouth twitched, slanting into a smile that was rarely seen by anyone but her. "How long were you watching?"

Long enough to refresh my memory.” Her own lips twitched.

That seemed to satisfy him enough that he set his lyrium kit down and unwrapped the sandwich. "I did not think I would sell my soul for so small a price, and yet..." He shrugged his shoulders before taking a bite, letting Velanna know she’d judged well. While it was unlikely that the Commander would order him to starve, Warden hunger was a demanding companion. There was little to say while he enjoyed that first bite, chewing it slowly despite the size of it, clearly seeking to savor the experience. She almost wished she could have brought more, but a sandwich was all she could manage without raising too many questions about why she was concerned at all. It was not Velanna’s reputation to be needlessly altruistic.

"What happened after I was brought here?" he swallowed. "Have you already received a punishment? It is not fair that you shoulder any blame for this."

She frowned, a pang of guilt striking her as she watched him take utter joy in such a small comfort as a sandwich. “The redheaded one is being sent to Denerim,” she reported, then continued through gritted teeth. “The other one has been sent to the Deep Roads.” Where she hoped he was pulverized by an ogre, never to come near her or any other mage ever again. “I was,” she stood up a little straighter, ready to take in his anger at the injustice of it, “roundly dismissed. Deemed irrelevant.” Her breath huffed short and she crossed her arms. “Not that I am ungrateful, but it hardly seems fair.” Ah, yes, Velanna’s greatest-known trait, her commitment to fairness.

Giving him peace to eat his sandwich without resorting to inane chitchat, Velanna leaned against the bars, allowing herself to be as close as she was able while remaining on her side. Knowing there was little else she could offer, she tried to think of things that were less frivolous. “I’ve checked on your tree, and weeded the garden since you’ve been here.” Which was a very short amount of time, all told, but she couldn’t very well storm into the Commander’s office and tell him what she thought about Henri-Julien’s predicament. That energy had to be expended elsewhere.

She reached her hand between the bars, taking advantage of being alone for the moment to offer the slightest comfort she could. “What can I do to make this more tolerable?” she asked. Surely she could do better than a sandwich. “I will do whatever I can.” She smiled, lopsided, and added, "For what price would you barter your soul?"
In response to his question, Velanna puckered her forehead. Her gaze was trained on him as he ate his sandwich. "The redheaded one is being sent to Denerim."

So Callum was to be removed from the reach of his family. Henri-Julien wondered for how long; he knew by reputation that the Kennedy family were merchants of some renown, not that he himself had any reason to make use of their expertise. 
Surely their contacts extended even to Denim.

"
The other one has been sent to the Deep Roads." That was more fitting a punishment, especially for a Warden of such limited experience as Daniel. He would endure no shortages of horrors. Although Henri-Julien doubted that the mettle already forged in Daniel by the Templars could be recast into the service of the Grey Wardens - Daniel was more fanatic than Henri-Julien had ever been, even if no one else in Vigil's Keep realised it.

"
I was," Velanna suddenly straightened, bracing against what she had to say. Dread bubbled in the pit of Henri-Julien's stomach. She had not been shackled by some Chantry edict, had she? "Roundly dismissed. Deemed irrelevant." She expelled an irritable sigh, folding her arms in her ire. "Not that I am ungrateful, but it hardly seems fair."

"You wish to exchange places?" Henri-Julien enquired, deadpan. "By all means, speak with Commander Berlra. I will not argue against it." To his mind, that she was not punished was the fair outcome. She was Danish; this was a Chantry matter. All of them - Henri-Julien, Callum and Daniel - were bound by those laws, but not Velanna. Even as a Grey Warden, she had carried out the orders of a Senior Warden. Since those orders were not morally corrupt, how could she be punished?

Silence fell over them as Henri-Julien resumed eating his sandwich. It was gone all too soon but he was grateful for the kindness. Only when he turned to his lyrium kit did Velanna speak again.

"I’ve checked on your tree, and weeded the garden since you’ve been here."

"Thank you," he acknowledged. He had never explained why the little sapling was important to him, but Velanna had never required an explanation. She simply accepted the truth of it. "I am glad that I set aside my pride to ask your advice on its well-being."

Her hand snaked between the bars and Henri-Julien reached out, entwining their fingers briefly. "What can I do to make this more tolerable? I will do whatever I can." Her rare closed-lipped smile flashed across her face. "For what price would you barter your soul?"

"You insult me, demon." His eyes flashed with amusement. "Have you already forgotten the moment when I surrendered my soul to you?" By any measure, their precious shared time in that inn within Gwaren would have condemned him a hundred times over in the eyes of any Knight-Commander. That he had not yet repented - and nor would he - would have confirmed to any Revered Mother that he walked forever in darkness. "If I were to know you would visit, even a handful of times, that will suffice. I have been restricted in my surroundings before. At least this time I do not have the agony of severe burns." He paused, recalling his time in the isolated village in the Frostbacks. "Nor the experience of a Joining to endure shortly." A small mercy that he could not be Joined twice.

Briefly turning his back to Velanna, he took his lyrium dose with practised efficiency. That Templars were addicted to lyrium was not a secret throughout the Order. How else to explain the symptoms when they were denied their daily dose? But Henri-Julien had always considered the cost of addiction as a worthy price for what it enabled him to do in the Maker's name. He still valued his abilities, and if anything recent events had only underscored how such talents were necessary for the well-being of both mage and non-mage, but slivers of shame had begun to creep into his consciousness. Why should he be proud of ingesting so dangerous and unstable a substance? 

Renewed by the dose, he turned around and held out the kit to her. "I know you disapprove of lyrium," he remarked, surprising himself by mentioning it. "Do you disapprove of me because of my need for it?" He did not seek to antagonise. As with much of their conversations, Henri-Julien had merely spoken what was on his mind, frank and to the point. It was for Velanna to decide if she did or did not answer.
"You insult me, demon," Henri-Julien informed her with a hint of amusement in his clear blue eyes. "Have you already forgotten the moment when I surrendered my soul to you?"

Velanna’s cheeks pinked slightly at the memory. No, she shook her head, she’d very much not forgotten that night in Gwaren, or the night in the woods. Those were some of the most precious memories she had. Her crooked grin softened into a gentle smile that felt increasingly easy around him.

He answered her question with adequate seriousness then. "If I were to know you would visit, even a handful of times, that will suffice. I have been restricted in my surroundings before. At least this time I do not have the agony of severe burns." There was a pause, presumably as he recalled the memory of his brush with death. "Nor the experience of a Joining to endure shortly."

Then visit you I shall,” she promised as he turned his back to her to take his daily dosage. “I’ve managed to get assigned to bring you your lyrium.

When he’d finished his dose, he turned back to her, his face drawn in a pensive expression. "I know you disapprove of lyrium," he stated. "Do you disapprove of me because of my need for it?"

Velanna tilted her head owlishly, blinking at the sudden change in topic, even as he handed his kit back to her. There was no hint of malice in the question, no accusation. He did not ask to start a disagreement so far as she could tell. “I suppose that is a fair question, considering our early relationship.” Her early days back at the Vigil were met with his lyrium withdrawal, and it was hard to ignore the way it had taken a toll on him. “When you were in withdrawal, I questioned the wisdom of not freeing yourself from it,” she admitted. Her lips twitched. “I disapproved of you for many reasons that did not relate to lyrium.

Hugging the kit to her chest with one arm, she lightly grasped the bars with the other, looking up to meet his gaze. “Now? I understand why you do it, and I have seen the benefits.” She frowned slightly, feeling uncomfortable with where her next thoughts strayed, into a future that would be presumptuous to assume she was a part of, even if they had no intention of parting now. “But I wonder at what comes later.” Her frown pulled deeper. “Of the toll it will take on you.

Not that Wardens were without their own bleak futures. “I do wonder what it will do in conjunction with the taint. I worry that—” She stopped herself, that hesitancy to claim days she could not count stalling her. “I worry it will rob us further of our already limited time together. Should I be a part of that future,” she added hastily. Despite the oaths they’d sworn in the woods, naked and clinging to one another as pulses returned to stability, it was a selfish thing to voice, considering they made no promises of anything to do with the future. “Where would I be without my escort?
The abruptness of his question caught Velanna off-guard, prompting her to angle her head and regard him with a quizzical air. Wordlessly, she accepted his lyrium kit through the bars, holding it close against her chest as she always did.

"I suppose that is a fair question, considering our early relationship." He had forgotten that he had been forced into his withdrawal not long after Velanna had returned to Vigil's Keep. Strange how the memory of their acquaintance felt far longer than the reality. Particularly when even the briefest recollection of what he had endured during his withdrawal sent his heart racing and turned his skin clammy. "When you were in withdrawal, I questioned the wisdom of not freeing yourself from it," she revealed but a little pucker of her lips revealed she held back a small smile "I disapproved of you for many reasons that did not relate to lyrium."

"More evidence of your habitual error in judgement," he parried, though his own lips tugged at the corners. They had each found plenty of reason to revile the other.

With the lyrium kit still held against her chest, Velanna curved her other hand around the bars between them, raising her face to his. "Now? I understand why you do it, and I have seen the benefits." So close were they stood, the bars between them barely noticeable, that the draw of her brows drew Hneri-Julien's attention at once. "But I wonder at what comes later." Her vallaslin wrinkled fully across her forehead. "Of the toll it will take on you."

That was something which was rarely, if ever, discussed amongst Templars. Shamed, Henri-Julien glanced away, recalling the way the Templars in the Blackmarsh had responded to his obvious withdrawal... and the certain knowledge that he would have reacted in the exact same way. Was that a flaw in his character or in the doctrine of the Templars? Surely not every single Templar was innately condemnatory.

"I do wonder what it will do in conjunction with the taint. I worry that—" Her tongue faltered. Wondering if his dropping his gaze had been misinterpreted, Henri-Julien steeled himself to look up again, but he discovered that he was not the cause of her hesitancy. "I worry it will rob us further of our already limited time together. Should I be a part of that future," she blurted out. "Where would I be without my escort?"

"A danger to all who encounter you," Henri-Julien replied, the slight lift of his brow emphasising the wry humour.

Yet the teasing dissipated as he grazed the backs of his fingers against the soft fullness of her cheek. "I had not considered the impact of the taint," he admitted. Then again, it was only in recent weeks that he had questioned his lyrium at all. "I do not recall experiencing any change beyond what is expected within newly Joined Wardens. But that does not mean that there has been no change."

Exhaling softly, Henri-Julien considered this new revelation. "There is rumour of strange research conducted in Soldier's Peak. Perhaps this is something which they might consider as worth further investigation." But it was unlikely that Commander Berlra would agree to his visiting the remote stronghold. Not given how Henri-Julien had harangued for permission to conduct his own inspection of the accursed place.

He leaned forward, brushing his lips briefly against Velanna's through the bars. "Demons do not concern themselves with the future," he reminded her. "They live only in the present. Whatever may happen, it lies far beyond what either of us can perceive right now."
Henri-Julien lifted his brow, the humor obvious to her. "A danger to all who encounter you," he told her. Her lips twitched in acknowledgment, though they both knew that she was exactly that anyway.

The teasing was short-lived, however, as he addressed her concerns, however much she wished she’d not voiced such sentiments. She couldn’t pretend it wasn’t something she now thought about. "I had not considered the impact of the taint," he admitted. "I do not recall experiencing any change beyond what is expected within newly Joined Wardens. But that does not mean that there has been no change." No, and the likelihood that they would find out before the experience was upon them was slim.

Slim, but not nil. "There is rumour of strange research conducted in Soldier's Peak. Perhaps this is something which they might consider as worth further investigation." Velanna lifted her brows, the thought not having occurred to her. She knew enough of Soldier’s Peak to know what had happened and to put together pieces of what that could mean for them.

She doubted they’d be given leave to explore such a thing. It was unlikely they could avoid too many questions by requesting such a thing together. Velanna sighed, soft and yielding to the point.

Taking advantage of her proximity to the bars, Henri-Julien brushed a kiss to her lips, too brief and over too soon, but enough to reassure her. "Demons do not concern themselves with the future," he pointed out. "They live only in the present. Whatever may happen, it lies far beyond what either of us can perceive right now."

A smart and pragmatic observation,” she said with a twist of her lips. “You are not so simple a prey.” There was a hopeful lightness to her words, and she would put thoughts of the future as far away as she could, for now.

Reaching through the bars one last time, she squeezed his hand. “If you will indulge me in thinking of the near future, I will return to you tomorrow,” she promised in earnest. She lifted her chin and locked her eyes with his. “Any demon worth their salt does not abandon their prey so easily.

She took her leave, her heart strangely heavy as she returned to the stairs, leaving Henri-Julien behind her.

It was simply misery, having to wait the length of the day to visit again. If she was too eager, it would spur too many questions. She had to keep up appearances. Velanna weeded the garden that morning with a care that would have seemed foreign to most other people, and spent some time in the sun, writing in her journal. She was still in the process of documenting their recent travels, and had not even arrived at the point where she has recounting the disaster that was their trip to the Circle.

Waiting as long as she could bear, Velanna once again returned to the kitchens for another sandwich, the least she could do, and delved into the dungeons once again. Her heart squeezed to know he was alone all this time, and knew that even she herself would go a little stir-crazy under the solitude of confinement. When she arrived today, however, a guard had posted himself in the hallway, in plain view.

Velanna lifted her chin as if to emphasize her haughty demeanor, and held out the lyrium kit and sandwich. “It is time for your daily dose,” she said, and with her back to the guard, she let her face portray the ache she felt in her chest at seeing him still locked up. It was likely to be a long three weeks.
Once Velanna departed, Henri-Julien returned to his stretches. He could not find voice to sing though. Instead, he could only bring himself to intone the Chant, the sound seeping into the cold hard ground. The only spark of brightness in his thoughts lay in Velanna's promise that she would return the next day.

He hoped the time would pass quickly.

...

5th Bloomingtide

The Maker worked in mysterious ways. While Henri-Julien was left undisturbed for the duration of the long night, he was awoken by the heavy-tread of someone coming down the steep stone staircase just around dawn. Even without access to natural light, it had not been so long that Henri-Julien's internal timings had been disrupted. He would have woken anyway to perform his morning prayers.

Although well-practised in feigning disinterest, it did not change the fact that Henri-Julien was, indeed, a curious creature. He angled himself in his cell so that he could glimpse the newcomer: another Warden but not one whom he recognised. Given his time away from the Vigil, it was possible that this was a new recruit, but the particular trill of the taint at the base of his skull suggested that this stranger had been a Warden for at least as long as Henri-Julien himself. Pesumably someone whom Berlra judged would not be swayed by either appeals or admonishments from the prisoner.

Henri-Julien found his temper spark at the very suggestion that he would not endure his punishment with stoicism. That was the very core of his training as a Templar, and even if he had doubts about his place within the Chantry, there were some aspects of his training which had become too ingrained to be separated.

So irritated by the imagined insult against his character, Henri-Julien startled to hear the lighter steps of Velanna as she descended into the dungeon. The guard stared her down but it did not deter her. Instead, she lifted her chin against the judgemental stare, approaching Henri-Julien's cell without so much as a by-your-leave.

"It is time for your daily dose," she declared, holding out his lyrium kit and another sandwich. Yet with her face obscured by her position, Henri-Julien caught how her face crumpled at the strain of his imprisonment.

"I am to be dictated to by a Dalish?" he seethed, snatching the lyrium kit away from her. Yet even as his voice dripped disdain, his eyes held hers, offering an alternative to the comforting caress he wished that he could do. "It is a very particular punishment." His gaze darted towards the guard who watched them with a disinterested air. 

Still, that the guard did in fact watch them hampered any opportunity for meaningful communication. With the sandwich delivered and the lyrium dose administered, there was no further reason for Velanna to stay, and Henri-Julien watched forlornly as she departed with barely another word to him. He almost did not care that the guard might recognise his look as longing for a person as opposed to his freedom. Nevertheless, once Velanna had disappeared from sight, Henri-Julien retreated into the far corner of his cell, preferring utter solitude than even the dull stare of the guard.

...

12th Bloomingtide

The days passed far too slowly. He knew the date from asking Velanna each time she visited with his lyrium but it was becoming more wearying to hear the answer. Naturally, he knew that no more than a day had passed each time she visited; she would not permit him to go without his regular lyrium dose. And yet Henri-Julien still longed to discover that, at least once, more than a single day had passed. One! Two! Maker, even three! 

He had but five days to go. Fewer lay ahead than lay behind. Yet even that could not soothe him. It was akin to a battle: the first hours were fuelled by focus and pent-up energy; the last hours were possible only through muscle memory and desperation to survive. Of course, his situation was no life-or-death, but it felt that way - and somehow, that was worse.

Today, however, there was something for which to thank the Maker. The steady rotation of the three different Wardens who stood guard had become irregular. Whether it was poor oversight from either Berlra or Theirin - though, in an instance of graciousness which was beoming less rare the further Henri-Julien travelled in his search for his Archdemon, he understood that as the only remaining Senior Warden, Theirin would have better things to do than ensure the constant surveillance of a compliant prisoner - the fact remained that there were periods of complete solitude. It was in these moments that Henri-Julien most hoped that Velanna would visit. Sometimes, she had; others she had not. 
There were days that passed quickly, where Velanna found herself bringing Henri-Julien his lyrium dose before she even realized time had passed, and then there were days like today that seemed to drag on. She could have hung Theirin from a tree for all the little tasks he suddenly needed done, but in the end she decided it was not his fault, and she certainly had been available to complete his errands in his stead.

Arriving with another sandwich and Henri-Julien’s lyrium kit, Velanna descended to the dungeons once more, the day further gone than she liked for her visits. The guard would expect her to hurry due to the hour, and she would have to cut her time short. However, when she arrived, it was to find the dungeon empty, save Henri-Julien himself.

Even with no guard present to see them, Velanna’s smile stayed small, shy even. She carefully approached the bars as if the guard was hidden and meant to catch them out, but once she reached them, her resolve broke. She wound her arms through, holding out the kit and sandwich, but also leaning close enough for physical contact through the iron works.

It was little moments like these that made the passage of time tolerable, and she was glad that no one arrived to rush her on her way.

***

17 Bloomingtide

Of all the days for Theirin to find himself too busy for a simple errand into town, it had to be the day of Henri-Julien’s release. Naturally she could not protest being sent to the City, even were she willing to argue with the Senior Warden over it, so she rushed to complete the task, only at the last minute thinking that perhaps a small token might be appropriate.

The messages, which surely could have been delivered by any messenger, were deposited promptly into the hands of the intended recipients, though it went over Velanna’s head that said recipient was the Bann herself. Velanna did not care for shemlen politics, so she barely noticed the woman at all, despite what she was sure was a very polite greeting.

If it had been she who’d spent three weeks in confinement, what would she want? Velanna thought back to her time in the Deep Roads, alone and in need of simple things like sunshine and a good bath. It was the latter that piqued her interest, and so she decided to stop at an apothecary before she departed the City. Hopefully he was a person who would appreciate something more than a bucket of tepid water to wash himself after his imprisonment.

It was not her way to linger in shemlen shops, especially not for things related to herbs or plants, but the idea would not leave her be. She purchased some scented salts as well as a cake of a complementary soap, and hurried to return before the day had succeeded in getting away from her.

Of course, she could not think of a reason that she would be present for his release. It was hardly a public event, one that would draw a crowd of well-wishers, even were it for someone more affable to their fellow Wardens. Nor could she go to his room and have a bath drawn for him upon his return. No, she would have to wait until they could steal a moment alone, and hope that she’d not been foolish in her choice of release-day gift.

On her way to the garden, Theirin summoned her once more. This time he was simply too busy to oversee the release of a compliant prisoner, and directed Velanna to accompany the guard to do so, releasing Henri-Julien’s personal effects to her for returning.

She side-eyed her fellow Warden as they walked, recognizing him as one of the guards who had been on duty during her visits. A thread of paranoia slipped through her belly, wondering if this guard suspected anything more than duty on her part. He did not look at her, and said nothing as they approached the dungeon, but that meant little. Velanna was well-versed in reserving her thoughts for herself only.

Arriving at the dungeon, she did her best to maintain a visage of indifference. Perhaps a keen onlooker could have noticed the very slight curve to the pursing of her lips that hinted at how pleased she was to have Henri-Julien’s release. It took a great deal of effort not to immediately wrap her arms around him as soon as the door was opened. Instead, she held out his weapons and lyrium kit and simply said, “Warden Theirin sends his regards.
The date of his release, so carefully measured out by the rise andf all of the sun each day, had finally arrived. Yet no one arrived to release him. Dawn passed into morning passed into midday. Was it possible that Theirin possessed a streak of malice that Henri-Julien was not aware? He had been a model prisoner, save for the snatches of company in Velanna's brief visits, but surely that did not justify an extended term of imprisonment. He doubted anyone had even noticed; neither he or Velanna courted the attention of others, so why would they pay any heed now?

But with no means of reeving answers, Henri-Julien was left to go over and over the same doubts, pushing his Templar-trained fortitude and patience to the very brink. It was only when he heard the sqeual of the hinges on the puter door that he sprang up, pressing against the bars in his eagerness to be freed. But that eagerness threatened to sour when he realised that it was the usual guard accompanied by Velanna. What did this mean...

Fortunately, he was not left to wonder too long. The Warden strode to the door, unlocking it without preamble. The gate swung open and Henri-Julien fought against the urge to practically skip from the cell. Instead, he approached Velanna, who, instead of just his lyrium kit, held the small number of belongings that he had handed over prior to being imprisoned. She held the armful out to him. "Warden Theirin sends his regards."

He toyed with voicing the waspish response which did spring to his lips. But what prupose would it serve? It was hardly as though he was disappointed that Theirin had not visited in person. He much preferred who had been sent in the man's place. And now he was actually freed from the cell... well, his previous irritations and agitations had evaporated.

"What further restrictions are upon me?"

None, save what privileges had been removed with the stripping of his title. That was hardly any real loss.

"Then I intend to travel into the Wending Woods and return to the Vigil tomorrow." He spoke as though he was informing the guard, but the details were for Velanna.

A short time later, with a pack filled with more supplies than were required for just one night (though he did intend to return the next day; he just also planned to enjoy eating more than basic provisions), Henri-Julien was walking along one of the more remote trails which ran parallel to the Pilgrim's Path. There was a small waterfall which fed a deep pool not far from here. The opportunity to be outside in the woods had won over the temptation for a warm bath. Either way, he intended to clean the grime of the prison from him, then cook a large hot meal. 

Whether deliberate or otherwise, Henri-Julien had coused himself fully and scrubbed his skin clean by the time he sensed the presence of another nearby. With his hair still damp around his collar - his leather armour set to one side so he stood in only his linen trousers and shirt - he craned his head to try and catch a glimpse of who he hoped it would be.

"You interpreted my coded message then?" he asked of the whispering trees, his gaze still having not found the particular figure he sought.
With no further restrictions upon him, Henri-Julien announced he would be spending the night in the Wending Wood. It was spoken to the guard, but being more than capable of understanding subtleties when she wished to, she was able to discern that he was inviting her to join him. Velanna pretended that she did not care what his plans were, and when he departed from the prison, so did she. Word had it he left not long after.

Despite the invitation, it seemed reasonable to give him some time to tend to his own needs before she would join him. She quietly packed herself a bag, and when it seemed no one but the gate guard was watching, she slipped from the Keep grounds and set upon the trail to the wood.

It took little time to find him. The trail ran parallel to the Pilgrim’s Path, and Velanna knew these woods as well as anyone could claim to. What she couldn’t narrow down with logic, she could by following the signs of a cooking fire, and after very little trial, she found him. He was bathed and freshly dressed in linen, and she paused a moment to take in the sight of him, and not at all to make sure he had, indeed, invited her.

"You interpreted my coded message then?" he said to her.

It was a difficult code to decipher, but I managed,” she replied with a crooked twist to her lips.

With no bars between them, she saw no reason not to go to him. No one was around to see, and, well, she’d missed him. She slid her arms around his chest and leaned her head against his shoulder, welcoming the warmth of him.

There was little need for words. Neither of them were the sort to fill silence needlessly, and Velanna simply stood against him for as long as he would allow. She inhaled his clean scent as if they’d been parted by miles for months and not merely some bars for a handful of weeks.

I misjudged what you would wish to do upon being freed,” she admitted, drawing back long enough to rest her hands upon his chest but not separate from him entirely. Choosing a pool over a drawn bath was not a very shemlen choice, in her mind, but it was a very Henri-Julien thing to do. Given that his confinement had enclosed him, and his preference for being out in the open, she felt a little foolish at having guessed incorrectly, and her cheeks flushed from it. “I missed you,” she admitted, only adding to her blushing.
"It was a difficult code to decipher, but I managed." Despite the wryness of the words, Henri-Julien detected the humour which underpinned them. Moreover, the sound of Velanna's voice allowed him to pick her out from beneath the shifting shadows beneath the trees, and he caught sight of the close-lipped smile which was unique to her.

No sooner had Henri-Julien glimpsed her than Velanna approached him outright. Folding herself against his body, she rested her head upon his shoulder, her embrace certain and sure. His own arms wrapped around her, mirroring the desire for closeness which she had initiated. It was not something which Henri-Julien believed he would ever have welcomed, but a great many misconceptions in his beliefs had been revealed in recent months. Why not one more?

They remained entwined for a good while. Finally, Velanna drew back, though her palsm rested lightly against his chest.

"I misjudged what you would wish to do upon being freed," she revealed. Yet another indication of how they were both changing. He would never have believed that Velanna would admit an error in judgement before their journey across Ferelden.

"I did not know what I wished until I spoke to the guard." He did not want her to believe she had been overly mistaken in whatever she had supposed. "But it is the shifting whims of mortals which draws your curiosity, is it not, demon?

Nevertheless, her cheeks coloured with a pretty blush. "I missed you."

"And I, you." His own cheeks flushed from the revealtion. Speaking his feelings freely was not something to which Henri-Julien was accustomed. At least not any feelings which did not deride or mock the failings of another.

With a slight toss of his head, Henri-Julien cleared his throat and turned to the small camp he had set up. "Let's eat, and then we can wander freely through the woods." He was eager to move, wishing to banish any memory of confinement from his body.

Between their combined supplies, they created a fine and filling meal, cooked on the small camp fire. The camp was swiftly tidied away - Henri-Julien wanted the freedom to roam, rather than be obliged to return to the same place - and they set out along the path. It soon fractured into different trails, some more travelled than others. Henri-Julien deliberately chose the least disturbed route so as to ensure they did not encounter any other person.

"I do not recall tracking any apostate this deep in the woods," he spoke. "Any who fled this way kept close to the Pilgrim's Path. Perhaps the Collective should consider establishing a haven here." He glanced towards Velanna. "This was once your home. What might you wish to show me?"
Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised her to hear Henri-Julien return her affection, but it still did. It was getting easier to say, but it was still startling to hear in return, even with the healthy flush of his cheeks that told her it was similar for him.

He didn’t dwell in it long. He tossed his head, sweeping hair from his brow. He turned to the campfire he’d set up, indicating the meal he was in the process of preparing. "Let's eat, and then we can wander freely through the woods."

That sounded wonderful to her. They managed a veritable feast between their combined supplies, something both satisfying and filling for Warden bellies. They tidied up the camp with all the efficiency they’d learned on the road, and were free to wander the woods. Henri-Julien chose trails that had been traveled less that others, some barely discernible as trails at all except to the most seasoned of travelers.

He paused in their travels. "I do not recall tracking any apostate this deep in the woods," he said. "Any who fled this way kept close to the Pilgrim's Path. Perhaps the Collective should consider establishing a haven here." He granted her a glance as she considered this, and she wondered how tolerated such an organization would be by the Dalish who called this area their home. "This was once your home. What might you wish to show me?"

It took Velanna almost no time at all to decide, only long enough to wonder if they would be alone when they got there.

Come,” she said as she led him off the path, such as it was, and deeper into the woods. The forest became dense around them, even as the ground sloped upward. The trees darkened out a good deal of the remaining sunlight, which suited Velanna fine as they crested a cliff that overlooked a small waterfall.

The drop wasn’t terribly far, enough to be easily jumpable into the stream below without risk of breaking a neck. “I was never invited to play with the other da’len in the camp,” she explained, “but Seranni and I would come here from time to time to swim.” She smiled at the way the mist rose from the spill, diffusing the light of the setting sun. “My childhood was not conventional by even Dalish standards,” she told him, “though I still managed to find moments of which I am still fond.” Her smile turned slightly sad as she thought of her sister, lost to the darkspawn and a long time dead now. “She was my only friend.

She snapped her head back and forth to shake it off. “We did not come here to mourn,” she said. “My sister is gone and sylvans tend to roam these woods.” She looked up to him. “I do not know if I wish to see the Collective set up here, but there is surely space that would be safe for them to do so not far from this fall.
Only after he spoke did Henri-Julien recall that the time which Velanna had spent with her clan here had been anything but harmonious. Yet she did not snap at him. Instead, her answer came as swiftly as if it had already been at the forefront of her mind.

"Come." The word was an affectionate invitation rather than the haughty command it might have been just a few months ago. Henri-Julien followed without remark, a serenity falling over him as they pushed further into the woods.

He breathed in the air, heavy with the richness of damp earth. Little sunlight penetrated the thick canopy of leaves above them, providing a haven for vegetation which existed in perpetual dimness. It soothed his soul.

After a while, the ground gained an upward angle, leading to a small cliff over which a waterfall tumbled into a frothy pool some way below. The agitated water then flowed onward, calming into the purposeful flow of a mid-sized stream. His breath caught, at once feeling at home here. 

"I was never invited to play with the other da’len in the camp," Velanna spoke into the comfortable silence between them. "But Seranni and I would come here from time to time to swim." Either the warmth of the memory or the beauty of the spot brought a smile to her lips. Maybe both. "My childhood was not conventional by even Dalish standards," she admitted, "though I still managed to find moments of which I am still fond." Her smile faultered, a sadness dulling some of the brightness. "She was my only friend."

Shyly, he reached for her hand, his fingers briefly threading between hers. He was still learning how to communicate by touch as much as be civil word. Both were proving somewhat of a challenge.

With a shake of her head, Velanna banished the thoughts. "We did not come here to mourn," she brushed aside her momentary digression. "My sister is gone and sylvans tend to roam these woods." Her face turned up to his. "I do not know if I wish to see the Collective set up here, but there is surely space that would be safe for them to do so not far from this fall."

Henri-Julien blinked. He had not expected his remark to be taken so seriously. It had been intended as more of an off-the-cuff comment rather than an earnest suggestion. "I am not certain that the Collective would not suspect some underhand meaning to my suggesting it," he pointed out, not without a soft snort. "I don't think I am quite far enough along in my journey to actively assist the undermining of Chantry law."

Although it was a somewhat moot point given his current circumstances. He coughed, suddenly feeling the awkward weight of his arms and so crossing them over his chest to be rid of the sensation. "Aside from my very specific undermining of it," he risked a meaningful glance towards her, "demon."

His gaze shifted back to the glistening droplets of water hanging in the air just over the lip of the waterfall. "I also had a sister," he revealed. "My mother left with her to return to Orlais when I was six." He shrugged, having long discarded any feeling over his lost familial relationships. His family had not been a happy one, after all. "I also had three brothers. One of whom may very well still be in the Templar Order. I have no idea what became of the other two."

Yet the mention of sylvans had sparked a different memory for Henri-Julien. "Do you recall our battling that sylvan in the Brecilian?" A foolish question given that the encouter had almost cost them their lives, courtesy of Emyr and his absurb meddling. "We fought side-by-side, forging our distinct skills together." Not that they had much choice but the fact remained that they had succeeded. "If we are to be... more often together," although given their shared desire to keep their relationship as private as possible, "might it be worth learning more of how our respective talents might be wielded as one?"