Out of Sight, Out of Mind [Complete]

[21st Drakonis, 9.35; Orzammar - with  ]

"Grey Wardens come via the Deep."

Henri-Julien pinched the bridge of his nose, trying and failing to find some of that inner peace he had experienced during his vigil to become a Templar. Increasingly, it felt like that was the very last time he had known any type of inner peace. The whole world was irritating beyond belief.

"We were summoned to give information for the Shaperate." He repeated the words yet again despite their previous futility. "It was more straight-forward to arrive via Jader." He did not expand on the fact that Commander Berlra had developed a sudden and intense need to be temporarily rid of the two Grey Wardens who had been caught up in the altercation with the Templars. Henri-Julien could only imagine what private wars were being waged in Amaranthine over the combination of foiled lyrium smuggling, his addiction and enforced withdrawal, and the Commander's heavy-handed response to it all. The fact that Commander Berlra had actually suggested that they visit Orzammar, when usually he would have chewed his own tongue out for even saying the name of the dwarven city, was also very telling. Needless to say, Henri-Julien had incentive to ensure this particular mission was as routine as possible.

Something which was proving more and more difficult as time went on.

The dwarven guards at the large - and more pertinently, closed  - gates of Orzammar nestled deep in Gherlen's Pass shared a look. "It's true that we were told to expect Grey Wardens," one admitted in a slow drawl, giving a slight nod up and down. "But we assumed you would come by the Deep Roads." He sucked a breath through his teeth. "What about any identification?"

Unable to help himself, Henri-Julien spun away from the dwarven warrior, letting loose a strangled roar. All at once, he spun back around, marching up to the dwarf. "Do you want me to spill some blood so you can taste the taint?" he demanded. "We're Grey Wardens!"

A muffled snort greeted his outburst. The two dwarves exchanged another look before breaking out into loud guffaws, drawing the attention of the various merchants who were camped outside the gates. 

"We know." One heaved in a deep breath, wiping his eye. "All you Wardens are the same. Alright, long shanks, on you go. You as well, elf. King Bhelen extends a warm welcome to the Grey Wardens of Ferelden."

His fingers clenched into fists by his side as Henri-Julien fought his temper. No, he could not start a second diplomatic nightmare. At least not while the first one was still on-going. Afterwards, maybe. It was doubtful that Commander Berlra would give much care for how Orzammar regarded the Fereldan Grey Wardens. He would probably just dig out a new route into the Deep Roads which bypassed Orzammar entirely - personally.

Hefting his pack further up his shoulder, Henri-Julien spared a glance for Velanna. They had barely spoken with one another during their journey, first by ship from Amaranthine to Jader and then on foot from Jader up into Gherlen's Pass. Strangely, it had not felt uncomfortable. There had even been moments when, passing by some unusual plant or flower, Henri-Julien had been tempted to enquire about bringing back a sample for the rooftop garden. But he had stopped himself.

Partly, it was because he did not want to seem weak, seeming to require conversation where Velanna did not. But another part of him, unfamiliar and new, did not want to risk this fragile peaceable quiet between them. What if he spoke and they fought? The thought was not unbearable but neither was it welcoming. He found himself even mildly agitated by the thought, actually. Maybe it was because of the secret of the rooftop garden; if either of them sufficiently offended the other, it might mean exposing the one secret which they shared. So far, he did not think either of them were prepared to risk that.

With the large doors heaved open, the two Wardens passed through the outer caverns before reaching the Commons of Orzammar itself. No one paid them any heed, more accustomed to strangers during King Bhelen's reign, but it did not make the sheer wonder of the place any less awe-inspiring. Blinking, Henri-Julien stole a sharp breath in amazement, craning his head to try and glimpse the ceiling of the vast space. He could not. It did not change how his expression had smoothed into a wide-eyed fascination, accentuating his youth and vigour which often hid behind the stern arrogance instilled during his Templar training.

Remembering his present company, he abruptly tore his gaze away, hoping the relative gloom hid the warmth of his cheeks from view. "Commander Berlra was not especially clear in his instructions," he muttered, clearing his throat to try and regain his usual brusqueness. "Just that you and I should report about the broodmother lair and the flesh golem... thing." He still had no name for it which somehow made it worse. "Usually he ignores any communication from Orzammar." He grimaced despite himself, recalling the hasty departure by ship for the pair of them with barely an hour's notice to pack. "Needs must, I suppose."
"Do you want me to spill some blood so you can taste the taint?" The moment Henri-Julien’s patience went past threadbare came much later than Velanna had assumed. "We're Grey Wardens!"

Of course Commander Berlra, in his haste to get them out of the Keep and (hopefully) some place where they could do no more harm, had not the foresight to send them with letters of announcement. In a way it was perfect, ensuring it would take them longer to accomplish their task.

Velanna stared, unblinking as the Durgen’len had their laugh. She had never been to their city, and was not enjoying her first impression.

"We know." One knuckled tears out of his eyes. "All you Wardens are the same.” Her brow crooked almost of its own accord. She did, once again, not understand what was meant to be so funny. “Alright, long shanks, on you go. You as well, elf. King Bhelen extends a warm welcome to the Grey Wardens of Ferelden."

Their trip this far had been mostly quiet, but this time not quiet in a tense way that rubbed their tempers raw. She did not want to use the word “friendly” because that implied that she had anything in common with her companion, but it was a quiet that felt mutually appreciated, delicate though it may be. A couple of times she held her tongue simply to support it.

They walked through an outer hall marked with statues she could only guess were their paragons before being admitted into the city proper, something of a commons marketplace, like in any other city she’d had the displeasure of being confined to. Even as cavernous as Orzammar presented itself to be, she could not help the feeling of being closed in, the air stale and the sun notably absent despite it being plenty warm.

Henri-Julien, however, gaped, turning his face upward. Another time she might have aimed a barbed word at him, but there was a glimpse of wonderment upon his face that undid his usual stern visage. Velanna noted, and then quickly dashed away, how it shed years from him, revealing what might have been considered handsome features. Handsome to some, maybe. Certainly not herself.

She turned her eyes ahead as he remembered himself, feeling warmth in her cheeks she could only hope was caused by the literal rivers of magma.

"Commander Berlra was not especially clear in his instructions," Henry muttered, the smoothness of his face replaced with its usual pinched epression. "Just that you and I should report about the broodmother lair and the flesh golem... thing." They still did not know what it was they’d fought. Having a curious mind, Velanna intended to find out when they visited the Shaperate. Certainly a place as filled with knowledge as the children of the stone claimed it was would answer questions. "Usually he ignores any communication from Orzammar." His expression tightened. "Needs must, I suppose."

How curious.” With their dwindled numbers and limited remaining cities, Velanna did not understand what seemed to be a rivalry between the Dwarven towns. “I would not expect the Durgen’len to hold such malice toward one another.” Of course she knew that even the various Dalish clans did not always find favor with one another, even when approaching one another in times of need.

The Shaperate is said to be a trove of information.” Naturally, as First, the importance of being able to parler with those outside her clan was emphasized, though it was not a skill Velanna had spent much time honing. The idea of wasting time on niceties instead of cutting straight to the heart of an urgent matter was one that truly confused her. Despite this, what could only be called a thrill lit her eyes. “Perhaps there will be opportunity to look into the abominable horror we fought, and see if there is record of others like it.” She blinked it away, not wanting to reveal her interests which, surely, he’d find frivolous.
For her part, Velanna seemed unimpressed with their surroundings, barely giving any of it more than a cursory glance. Usually, Henri-Julien would make some curt comment, but on this occasion, he did not feel the same compulsion to snipe at her. Indeed, he even went so far as to wonder why she might feel that way, venturing a half-hazard guess that the nomadic life of the Dalish did not involve permanent abodes in caves, but knew better than to give voice to the half-formed thought. They were not friends who spoke freely with one another, after all.

Anyway, her attention was gripped instead by the behaviour of Warden-Commander Berlra. "How curious. I would not expect the Durgen’len to hold such malice toward one another."

Once again, Henri-Julien did not offer an answer. He had no explanation for the Commander's disdain of the Orzammar dwarves but it was something which the man held onto fiercely. Maybe it was akin to the antagonism which existed between Ferelden and Orlais.

"The Shaperate is said to be a trove of information," Velanna briskly moved the conversation on. Feeling somewhat obliged to give some indication he was listening, Henri-Julien gave a non-committal nod. He had heard similarly but could offer no further remark. Yet his attention was piqued by what he was almost certain was not simply the refraction from the lava flow in her eyes. Velanna was genuinely entranced at the thought of visiting the place - something which, awkwardly or otherwise, Henri-Julien shared. "Perhaps there will be opportunity to look into the abominable horror we fought, and see if there is record of others like it." Abruptly, the light dimmed, proving it was not only a reflection, and she reverted to her distanced demeanour.

"I hope so," was all Henri-Julien ventured, still conflicted by his innate rejection of everything she represented while also, reluctantly, unwillingly, finding he could relate to many of her outlooks. Not all by any stretch of the imagination, but more than he was comfortable admitting. He cleared his throat, realising a detail which might prove problematic. "I would be dependant on someone translating for me, though. I don't..." He could not quite bring himself to admit the failing as a personal one, so amended the phrasing, "... wasn't taught how to read runes."

"Grey Wardens!" A woman ran up to them, seemingly pleased to see them. Henri-Julien shot a questioning glance towards Velanna to check whether, in some unlikley scenario, the two were acquainted. It seemed not, however. "Word spreads fast through the Commons." She jerked her head towards one of a multitude of doors scattered about the area. "I thought you would want a proper meal. Tapster's is the best, I can assure you."

Normally, Henri-Julien might have argued, asserting that he did not require a tour guide. But maybe it was the sheer vastness of the place or the very real truth that he had never set foot in Orzammar which softened his hard-edged arrogance. Besides, who was going to find out? He doubted Velanna had much patience for Theirin and the Commander gave no worth to any opinion which came from Orzammar.

"Thank you." The words were not so unfamiliar to him as many, if not all, on the surface would claim. He just found very little occasion to speak them with the sincerity they demanded.

Evidently delighted by their acceptance, the woman hustled them across the Commons and into the tavern, which was, as expected, completely strange in all respects. Architecture was not Henri-Julien's interest but even he had to marvel at how the dwarves had cut and shaped the stone. He slid into a booth which was carved entirely from stone. The coolness was pleasant against the stuff warmth of the tavern air.

"No need to order!" the woman trilled. "We know how surfacers like to try everything. Just you sit there." She hustled off but evidently sent on of the serving girls straight over, who deposited overflowing tankards of ale.

Henri-Julien tentatively reached out for the handle of his tankard but his mouth puckered slightly to find it sticky to the touch. He detested having sticky hands. yet he understood the importance of not offending yet another faction in Ferelden. Pushing aside his distaste, he lifted the tankard to his lips and took a sip, unable to smother the cough which soon took over. "That's... strong," he wheezed. Still, it had the kind of appeal which invited repeated testings just to confirm just how badly it did taste.
If their constant sniping at one another had been untenable, this careful truce between them felt fragile. Velanna balanced on a razor’s edge between objecting to everything he said out of principle and finding that she didn’t always hate what she heard. For the first time in some time she found it worth her time to listen to what he was saying rather than listen for the opening to inject her own words. This conversation was no exception.

"I hope so," he answered. It surprised her, her brow lifting. She expected him to push back, to maybe insist that it was a waste of their time, now that the creature was finished. "I would be dependant on someone translating for me, though. I don't..." Something caught in the pause in his words, and she chose to allow him the room for his thoughts rather than snap at him to explain himself. "... wasn't taught how to read runes."

She was spared the temptation to offer her help by the arrival of a very enthusiastic dwarf. "Grey Wardens!" The woman ran up to them, overflowing with delight. Henri-Julien glanced at her, one she shot right back, just in case he had some unexpected connection to the effusive woman. "Word spreads fast through the Commons," she explained, though it did little to explain her. "I thought you would want a proper meal. Tapster's is the best, I can assure you."

Being ‘the best’ was just vague enough to give Velanna pause, a pause that could not be held because they were promptly whisked, more than escorted, after Henri-Julien accepted on their behalf with a rare if not unheard of "Thank you."

The inside was captured her attention, everything down to the smallest details seeming to be carved out of the single space. The tables, the bar counter, even the decorative carvings. Velanna hardly noticed when they were seated at stone benches that welcomed them with coolness after their long trip. From there, and drawing her immediate notice back, two large (and sticky) tankards were set before them. Velanna wanted few things in the world less than to not touch the tankards or the beverage within, but while she had no need of niceties, she understood they existed. She was not, as some might think, a feral beast. Besides, she could not be shown up by Henri-Julien who took a sip, immediately coughing.

"That's... strong," he rasped, the sound wet and crackling in his throat. It did not stop him from trying again, and Velanna followed suit, not spared the indignity of coughing and wheezing herself.

Indeed.” As much as she wished to make that her only experience with the beverage, her pride denied her the choice so long as Henri-Julien was drinking it. Besides, it wasn’t so terrible after the first half dozen tries. “And… earthy.”

From there the food piled high. Even Velanna couldn’t find it in her to complain. Wardens had to eat, and it was brought in quantities that would sate Warden appetites. Hunger beat out any wonder at what horrors of the Deep Roads might be trussed up before them and surrounded by various tubers. The food helped the drink go down despite her attempts to go slowly, using Henri-Julien’s pace to pace herself, and she quickly lost track of how many times they were ‘just topped off’.

It’s early yet,” she noted, or it was based on how long she thought they’d been in Orzammar and how light it had been outside. The buzz in her veins from the beer made her eyes float ever-so-slightly. She did her best to wipe her hands free of food and whatever adhesive element was simply coating the tankards. “Shall we get straight on to our task?

As if waiting to spoil her plans altogether, stone bowls of a confection were plunked down in front of them. “You’re in for a real treat!” Velanna, foolishly, assumed she meant the cake-like dish set before them. As soon as the woman spoke, a man stepped on to what looked like a small stage carved into the floor and wall. “A comedian from King Bhelen’s own performance troupe.”
It assuaged his pride somewhat that Velanna was similarly afflicted by the ale as he. "Indeed," she confirmed amidst her own coughing fit. "And… earthy." Henri-Julien did not want to dwell on how accurate that description might be.

Fortunately, he was saved from unwelcome ruminations by the arrival of their food. If it were possible for the stone table to groan, it surely would have under the weight of the numerous plates, each piled as high as gravity allowed. None of it was familiar but Henri-Julien felt his mouth watering with the concoction of smells, though likely also helped by his constant Warden hunger. Besides, the food obscured at least some of the taste of the drink, so both went down easier when taken together - and he could hardly allow himself to be shown up by Velanna who seemed to have no issue with taking her fill.

Finally though, even their Warden constitution were temporarily sated, and they sat back with the last dregs of their drinks.

"It’s early yet," Velanna remarked. Henri-Julien might have queried how she could be so confident when there was no natural light anywhere, but the slight buzz in his head was a constant, though not unpleasant, distraction and prevented him from articulating the thought. Taking a moment to try to clean her hands, she added, "Shall we get straight on to our task?"


Before he could answer, though he was having a hard time remembering exactly their task beyond visiting the Shaperate, one of the serving girls arrived with two bowls filled with some sweet dessert. "You’re in for a real treat!" The girl trilled. Behind her, a man leapt onto what Henri-Julien belatedly recognised as a stage. "A comedian from King Bhelen’s own performance troupe."

The groan which escaped from Henri-Julien's lips was not unlike the sound of man in the final throes of death. Luckily, the serving girl had already spun away, busy with patrons at another table.

The comedian launched straight into his routine which involved some reference to nugs. That was not problematic. What was more problematic was that the next joke was also about nugs... and the next... and the next... 

"We have to escape," Henri-Julien rasped. His desperate urgency somewhat out scaled the rather mundane situation but it was heartfelt. The thought of being trapped in this tavern for however long this might go on was intolerable. 

He glanced around the now-packed tavern. One advantage of his templar training was that he habitually identified possible escape routes that an apostate might take in any surrounding. Now, he applied that skill to his own escape, though it took him a little longer than usual with his slightly unfocused gaze. 

"This way," he declared in low tones, sliding out from the table. He staggered slightly as he found his feet but managed to keep his balance. Swaying slightly, he began shuffling towards the opposite side of the tavern from the stage, keeping to the darker parts of the room to try and evade attention.

A sudden and unexpected cheer went up. Startled, Henri-Julien glanced up only to see the comedian pointing directly at him. Numerous hands were already reaching for him, hauling him forward with surprising collective strength. He was literally shoved up onto the stage alongside the comedian who wasted no time in launching into a two-man routine. Except the 'second man' had no idea what was going on. That, apparently, was funnier. Completely at a loss, Henri-Julien peered out into the tavern, wondering if Velanna had stayed behind or abandoned him entirely. Given their strangely-balanced acquaintance, it could easily be one or the other.

"Tell me, Grey Warden," the comedian drolled, "what's the difference between a Grey Warden and the Legion of the Dead?" Henri-Julien had no response but given the loud guffaws of the audience, it didn't seem particularly necessary. He gave a slight hapless shrug, pinned by the gaze of the audience. He could feel his cheeks colouring and suddenly all that ale felt strangely heavy in the pit of his stomach. Regardless, the comedian carried on to the punch line, causing much hilarity in the audience.

Sensing his moment, Henri-Julien shuffled from the stage, making directly for the exit while the comedian moved onto another target. When he emerged outside, he was met with the unfamiliar sensation of warm air, doing nothing to help steady his spinning head. Puffing out his cheeks, he sank down onto the steps, head between his knees and completely ignorant of anything or one around him.
What in all of Creation was a comedian? Velanna didn’t know, and the man mounting the wedged platform at the front of the tavern did nothing to clarify it. She certainly knew what humor was, though she seemed to lack the propensity for it. She’d overheard Oghren call Anders a “mage comedian” and expound on how he thought they were all dead. She’d not given it any more thought, and had attributed it to their being, well, them.

The man on the stage began telling jokes about nugs, which hardly seemed appropriate for people trying to eat. Needless to say she found nothing funny about the situation at all, even with a belly full of ale that was quickly warming her blood.

"We have to escape," Henri-Julien said, catching her full attention now. That seemed the most prudent suggestion he’d made to her in the albeit brief time she did not spend bickering with him.

Velanna looked around the packed room. While in her clan she’d been the Keeper’s First, that status did not translate to the shemlen Chantry’s rules, and she’d spent enough time being called an apostate that she had developed a skill for finding ways out of situations like this one, where she was under imminent threat of containment.

"This way," Henri-Julien hissed at the same moment Velanna spied an opening through a darkened part of the tavern. With a curt nod she hurried in the direction they’d both found.

They had almost reached the door when the man on the stage drew the attention of the entire audience to her companion. Before anyone could stop it, hands from the crowd were assisting in getting Henri-Julien to the front of the room. As the comedian attempted to rope him into this apparent routine Velanna was faced with a critical decision: stay or go?

There was no way a reasonable person could know what was so funny about the difference between a Grey Warden and the Legion of the Dead. Sigrun was part of the Legion, and had never mentioned such a comparison, at least not in that sense.

Adding to that, it made little sense, the tightness in her chest as she watched with horror the way Henri-Julien froze on the stage, giving barely a shrug of the shoulders and perhaps looking a touch green. With everyone snickering and watching, he paled as though he were facing a hangman’s noose. Should she intervene? She wondered the usefulness of it, and made a decision, cursing herself to the Dread Wolf’s cause as she turned to backtrack toward the scene before her.

While everyone laughed, Henri-Julien saved her the need to act on her hasty decision. For the better, really, as she could not say what his reaction would be to anything close to being rescued by her in such a situation. He dashed from the stage, winding through the now distracted crowd, and she swiftly followed him through the door.

Expecting a rush of cool air when departing the crowded tavern, there was something disorienting about the blast of warm air that greeted them as they made their way outside. The lack of relief was far from just startling, but also did her no favors with the ale rolling around in her stomach. Henri-Julien seemed more affected, sinking to the ground and placing his head between his knees.

This would never do. “You will not thank me for letting you make a scene out here,” she urged as she wound her arms around one of his and insisted he stand at least enough to find their way to an alcove where he might sit somewhere other than on the ground. The suffocating air demanded she retrieve her water skin. She took a sip and splashed some on her face to cool off—though it did little good—before offering it to him to do the same.

While she’d never been drunk herself, she’d seen it plenty of times. Her own dizziness caught up with her, and she let herself plop down in a most undignified manner beside him. “I believe the Shaperate may need to wait. At least for now.” She fluttered her eyes, trying to settle the slight spinning in front of her. She let her eyes close just for a moment, she was almost sure of it, and let her head flop against his shoulder. “Our guide will be looking for us.
No sooner had Henri-Julien sank down than he felt the gentle if firm touch of another. "You will not thank me for letting you make a scene out here," Velanna insisted, but not in her usual brash way. In fact, it almost seemed... compassionate. Clearly the effects of the dwarven ale were more potent than even his current demeanour revealed. 

Surrendering to the persistent tug of her arms wrapped around his, Henri-Julien staggered up onto his feet, following her lead as Velanna searched for... whatever she was searching for. Eventually, she found somewhere which suited: an alcove cut into the rock but which at least provided somewhere to sit and a modicum of privacy that did not exist on the very steps of the tavern itself.

While Henri-Julien slumped onto the carved bench, Velanna remained standing, searching for her water skin. He watched as she took a sip then splashed a little on her face. It took a few moments more before it filtered into his thoughts that he also possessed a water skin. But before he could act on that realisation, Velanna had already held out her water skin, inviting him to take a drink. Somewhat dazedly, he accepted the skin and took as long a drink as would be considered polite, before resting the still-open skin on his lap.

Unexpectedly, Velanna flopped down beside him on the narrow stone bench. Given the controlled clipped manner in which she normally behaved, to see her abandon that attitude so entirely prompted Henri-Julien to huff a soft snort of laughter. The sound surprised no one more than himself. What in the Maker's name had been in that ale?

"I believe the Shaperate may need to wait. At least for now." That seemed a fair observation. Yet before Henri-Julien could summon a response, he felt the strange weight of something against his shoulder. He made to turn his head only to feel the golden blonde hair of Velanna tickling his cheek, her head resting against him. "Our guide will be looking for us."

Never had Henri-Julien sobered faster. He had, on occasion, participated in socialising with other Templars, though he preferred to retain the superiority of knowing what had happened the night before the morning after. But not once had he experienced the almost miraculous dissipation of intoxication as he did in that moment. His entire posture stiffened, alarmed and appalled in equal measure. Fraternising with an apostate. Even the most inept Templar initiate could identify his current indiscretion! How had he allowed this to happen?

Yet something about the absolute trust which Velanna had placed in him in that moment, her shallow snatches of breath revealing she had, at least temporarily, dozed off, prevented him from wrenching away. He had become so accustomed to inciting fear and anger: be it a newly manifested child or an escaped apostate, neither saw his Maker-bound duty as that of protection or safety. The idea that anyone might view him as a guardian struck an unfamiliar, though not unwelcome, chord within him. 

Still noticeably awkward in his movements, Henri-Julien forced himself to lean back against the stone of the alcove, jerkily raising the waterskin up to his lips once more. He needed to formulate a plan before Velanna roused herself from her brief intoxicated sleep. It was true that the dwarven woman might be looking for them, but he doubted that she had been anything other than an opportunistic business woman. Moreover, no matter how he was in awe of the dwarven city, the closeness of the air was smothering. Would it really cause offence if they were to set up a camp beyond the outer most doors? At least for tonight. Tomorrow, they would know not to partake quite as eagerly in the ale as they had previously.

"Let's get some air," Henri-Julien spoke up, hoping that his voice would wake Velanna. "We can camp outside tonight."

He shoved her waterskin back into her hands before sliding up onto his feet. He took a half step, determined to pretend the last while had never happened, but his gaze fell upon the steps to the tavern and he recalled how Velanna had taken care of him. Swallowing his sigh, he turned and offered whatever assistance she might accept, careful not to meet her eye or raise her ire.

Finally, they emerged through the large doors onto the surface once more. There were different guards on duty this time but they did not seem surprised to see the two Grey Wardens re-emerge from the Deep. Indeed, one even provided concise directions to a nearby stream when asked, and suggested that there was suitable flat ground near to it for a tent. They were apparently not the first to struggle to adjust between surface and underground.

"If you sit, I'll see to the tent," he muttered, still unsure how to conduct himself. Swiftly, he busied himself setting up the tent and bed rolls, creating a perfect camp that any traveller would have envied. His close attention to detail was simply a means by which he put off having to make further conversation. However, no matter his fussiness, there was eventually nothing more to be done.

He sat down outside the tent and lifted his head to the night sky, glancing over the constellations. "We're fortunate that it wasn't raining. I'm not sure what would be worse: remaining in Orzammar or sleeping in a drenched tent." Maker, how inane... but also safe.
"Let's get some air." With the warm air giving no refreshment, and her vision spinning just a little bit off, Velanna meant to just rest her eyes enough to get her bearings once again. But Henri-Julien’s voice would give her no such thing. Though, as Velanna blinked her eyes open, she noted how momentarily comfortable she was, and then realized why, which set off what appeared to be a mutual discomfort. "We can camp outside tonight."

Sobering almost instantly, she cleared her throat as he stuffed her water skin back into her hands and stepped away from her, obviously as mortified as she at her actions. There was some amount of shame on her face, but with the ale and warm air she doubted it was discernible from the redness she already wore.

He looked ready to escape. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples to try and pull herself together in order to follow him. She would get lost in this blasted city with no sky to guide her. She’d not meant to fall asleep, let alone on his shoulder, like they were friends. Like they were people who shared space.

Whatever stopped him from leaving her there, she could not say, but he turned back and offered her an arm to help herself up. Even her brief lapse in consciousness made their unfamiliar surroundings more so, and she was grateful that he seemed to come to his senses enough to guide them through and outside. The cool, fresh air gave her the wake up she needed. The guards, obviously used to this sort of reaction, gave direction to a place that would be suitable for two Grey Wardens to make a camp for the night.

"If you sit, I'll see to the tent." His voice carried a note of something she couldn’t place, but assumed was anger. She was a mage, after all, possibly making her the most detestable thing he could think of. She remembered their mission to the deep roads to chase down the abomination they’d killed, and the words that had chilled her. I’ll never trust you, he’d spat in his rage. With her carelessness, she’d clearly undone whatever careful truce had been drawn between them in their little garden.

She sat, stiffly, as he put their campsite together. Every opportunity to keep his back to her he used, and he kept silent as he worked. She could think of no one who could find fault in the care of detail he’d taken in his task, leaving her little to do but watch. Awkward, not knowing what to do with herself, she kept her eyes on the stars as they blinked into visibility.

"We're fortunate that it wasn't raining.” His words caught her attention, slicing through the quiet. “I'm not sure what would be worse: remaining in Orzammar or sleeping in a drenched tent."

I’m used to the rain,” she reminded him. Likely he was too, given his itinerant lifestyle with the Templars. “Orzammar would be the worse choice.

Is this what she’d reduced them to? Talking about the weather? Oh, they were not the chatty type, either of them. Both appreciated quiet, but until tonight that quiet had not felt so stiff and unnatural for some time. While everything else seemed delicate, the quiet had remained easy with no one feeling the need to fill it.

No.” She said it with a shake of her head, dizzying though that was, and a cross of her arms. “We don’t talk about the weather.” They didn’t talk about anything, really. “We don’t make useless small talk to fill a quiet that does not need filled.” She huffed, remembering to keep her voice even and for only the pair of them. She was not angry. In fact, some might say she was embarrassed of her careless mistake. “I have never imbibed, and I should not have, knowing how you feel about me. I am... sorry.” She was nothing but an apostate to him, and it was unthinkable that she’d allowed herself to become inebriated when he was ready at any moment for her to explode into one of those things they’d hunted together.

Which told her something as her gaze fell onto the fire. Despite their many differences, and their mutual disdain of one another, on some level, Velanna trusted him. Given the past few years of her life, she didn’t really know what to do with that.
"I’m used to the rain," came the matter-of-fact response. Henri-Julien bit down on his sigh, wondering why he had even bothered to try and broach the awkwardness lying between them, as discomforting as navigating around a sleeping dragon. "Orzammar would be the worse choice." Well, yes, but neither of them appreciated when the one spoke for the other. It would hardly be a conversation if Henri-Julien answered his own question on her behalf.

Frustration prompted him to shake his head. It was a slight movement, intended only for himself, but it was clearly visible given how Velanna immediately reacted.

"No." She also shook her head and Henri-Julien presumed it was a parody of his movement. Except she swiftly added the fold of her arms over her chest, signalling her genuine displeasure. "We don’t talk about the weather." Well, she could think of something to say, then! "We don’t make useless small talk to fill a quiet that does not need filled."

Oh. That was a pertinent point, no matter how it pained Henri-Julien to admit. Though less than it once had, he found.

Exhaling her irritation in a rush of air, Velanna hurried on, filling that same quiet she had just chastised him for breaking. "I have never imbibed, and I should not have, knowing how you feel about me. I am... sorry."

Were he not already sitting, Henri-Julien thought that he would have fallen over. Fortunate that her gaze had dropped to the convenient distraction of the small fire so that she could not glimpse his utter bewilderment. He did not pretend that he did not know to what she referred. Neither of them had been prepared for the very strange circumstance of falling asleep on the other. In fact, prior to this evening, he would have attested before the Divine herself that they each would prefer their heads to smash against a hard rock wall than ever rest against the other. All of which raised the question: was this apology heart-felt or ale-orientated?

He found he did not have an answer for that. Coughing through his excruciating discomfort, Henri-Julien found something infinitely interesting to study on the ground next to his leather boots, though if he were asked to describe it he would struggle. "It was strong ale," he muttered, echoing his initial response to the drink. He dug the heel of his boot into the ground, feeling the grind of the stones buried in the rocky earth. "You saw how I was also affected outside the tavern."

Henri-Julien blew out his cheeks, still refusing to even glance in her direction. "You didn't do anything wrong," he rushed out, close to sounding like a snap from the clipped gruffness of his voice. "Don't apologise." Which was sure to improve her temper in no way what-so-ever, he inwardly rebuked himself. Would he appreciate someone disregarding his hard-won apology so readily? Absolutely not.

"You're an apostate," he added in a poorly phrased rationale for why an apology was unnecessary. "It's my responsibility to oversee your welfare." For a Templar, at least. But the events of the last few weeks had revealed just to what extent Henri-Julien was considered that by anyone else save himself. Yet retreating into that excuse afforded some defence from the awkwardness engulfing the pair of them right now. "Until," he could not help the wry snort, "you arrive at a Circle of Magi." Even Henri-Julien did not delude himself that Velanna would ever submit to the safety of a Circle, irrespective of her being a Grey Warden. 

Something niggled enough that Henri-Julien could not ignore it. Abruptly, he twisted at the waist, facing her for the first time. "What do you know of how I feel about you?" There was no hidden meaning beneath his words. He was genuinely perplexed at the idea that an apostate - a Dalish apostate, for that matter - could perceive in any meaningful way how a Templar regarded them. Apostates were hardly known to be anything other than self-absorbed. How else to explain why they did not give themselves over to the care of the Maker by virtue of the Circles and Chantry?
"It was strong ale," came Henri-Julien’s reply. As if that was any sort of excuse for poor behavior, especially for someone unaccustomed to its effects. "You saw how I was also affected outside the tavern."

Well, that did not absolve her, instead succeeding in indicting him for the same. That had not been her intent or her point. She studied her cuticles and answered with a nearly imperceptible nod.

"You didn't do anything wrong," he all but snapped. "Don't apologise." That resulted in Velanna flicking her eyes right to him, her frown deepening. She was trying to make things right. Surely he knew how hard those words came to her lips!

"You're an apostate," he added, which did nothing to lessen the blow of his dismissal of her apology. Never mind that as a Dalish elf she could not be an apostate of a religion which had never been hers. "It's my responsibility to oversee your welfare." Thankfully he was not looking at her as he spoke, for the anger fled as quickly as it had flared, her brows lifting high. "Until," he snorted, though Velanna saw nothing funny about what he’d said, "you arrive at a Circle of Magi."

She snorted a soft laugh in response, the idea of her ever submitting to a Shemlen institution absurd. Had she a flair for the dramatic, she might have voiced that she would die first. The prickling of his earlier words seemed far away now, something else settling in her ribs. She’d never considered that him responsible for her. She’d never considered anyone but Ilshae responsible for her well-being. How that turned out was emblematic of how it went to entrust her welfare to the hands of others. Though, she was no longer sure if Ilshae had indeed failed her, or if she’d failed him.

Saving her from following that dark train of thought, Henri-Julien turned at the torso and faced her for possibly the first time since they’d sat at a table across from one another at the beginning of this bizarre night. "What do you know of how I feel about you?"

Her eyelids fluttered in puzzlement. “It came from your own mouth.” She studied his face, looking for any sign that he was having her on. She’d never forgotten the vitriol that accompanied those words he’d said while in the Deep. “You will never trust me.” She delivered it flat, none of the anger or bewilderment she’d flicked through over the course of this conversation dominating her words. She’d accepted him at his words, some part of her watching her back for him to follow through on it. It would have been easy enough for him to act on it. They’d had their share of battles apart from their own bickering, and she assumed there would be little question if one of his blades slipped between her ribs. It would have been a simple thing for him to claim an accident, and she doubted Berlra would have spared the men to retrieve her corpse.

When, she wondered, had she stopped looking over her shoulder? At the very least, it had happened tonight when she’d let herself slip into some sort of familiarity. That he could just as easily have ended her in her sleep seemed far from her mind at the time.

It might have been mistaken for sadness, the purse of her crooked lips and the way her eyes dropped to the dirt between her boots. It was not. Introspection had never been her strength. Velanna existed by relying on herself. All the training she was meant to use to protect her clan turned inward. She was a Keeper of one.

You might imagine that Dalish children are not told stories that paint templars in a positive image.” There was no way or need to soften that. “That they might have a mage’s safety in mind is not part of that. In fact we move our mages around that we might not draw their attention.” She looked up now, her eyes meeting his pale ones. “But it would seem at some point I’ve set aside those teachings.” She looked away. “It appears that, at least in some part, I trust you.
Confusion reigned on her face. "It came from your own mouth," she said as simply as though he had asked her name. Her gaze flitted over his face, trying and failing to find some ulterior motive to his question. All Henri-Julien felt was his own bafflement, and it likely showed in the slight pinch of his brows. "You will never trust me."

And? He could not understand the relevance of that remark to this situation. However, having learned something of how they best communicate - at least if he did not wish to start yet another argument between them - Henri-Julien did not immediately insist upon asserting his thoughts. 

Shrinking a little under the burden of conversation, Velanna pursed her lips, dropping her eyes to the ground. "You might imagine that Dalish children are not told stories that paint templars in a positive image." The reverse was also true. "That they might have a mage’s safety in mind is not part of that. In fact we move our mages around that we might not draw their attention." A detail which was known and intensely problematic for the Templars.

With an abrupt lift of her chin, she met and held his gaze, adding to the discomfort which he tried not to squirm under. "But it would seem at some point I’ve set aside those teachings." Her own discomfort made itself known and she broke their shared gaze. "It appears that, at least in some part, I trust you."

Silence stretched between them so completely that - the Maker as his witness - Henri-Julien heard crickets. "Well, yes," he finally managed. He was not so stupid as to understand the enormity of what Velanna had shared but he was also struggling to react in any other way than underwhelmed. "You should."

A sigh pushed between his lips, surprising even Henri-Julien for how weary it sounded. He realised with a jolt how accurate that was: he did feel wearied. Exhausted, even. Life had been so much easier when he was surrounded by those who thought as he did. But living amongst the Grey Wardens... that just never happened.

"I am what stands between yo--" No, that was the quickest way into a very explosive argument. "A Templar," he corrected, "is what stands between magic and the Fade." He lifted his shoulders in a hapless shrug, unable to simplify what he viewed as the most basic understanding of his role. "I am the last defence, both for and from the caster."

Shuffling around, he adjusted his position until he knelt in front of Velanna, reaching for some of the stones scattered across the bare ground. He lay them in a line between himself and his companion. "The Veil," he explained, before setting a single rock on her side. "A mage." He settled his weight back on his heels, adding numerous large rocks on his side. "Demons." Glancing up, he wondered if he still had her attention, but he was committed now. He reached for his refilled water skin and tilted it just enough so that a few drops of water sprinkled over the arrangement, wetting the surfaces of the rocks but causing no further impact. "When casting is disciplined and understood." Without warning, he upturned the water skin entirely, allowing the water to gush out in a torrent, scattering the smaller rocks of the 'Veil' whilst the 'demons' crowded against the once straight line and the 'apostate' skittered across the ground towards Velanna. "When something goes wrong."

Now here was his point. Catching sight of a palm-sized boulder, Henri-Julien stretched over to grasp it, the sturdy weight satisfying in his hand. He held it up for Velanna's visual inspection before setting it down in front of the 'torn Veil', blocking the 'route' between the demons and the caster. "A Templar," he stated, perhaps unnecessarily but it rounded out his explanation. He stared down at the perhaps inadequate demonstration, wondering how else to condense an entire lifetime of study and learning into one very strained exchange. "I can never trust anyone with magic in case," he lifted the water skin up from his lap to emphasise the thought, "something goes wrong. I need to be ready. But," he raised his head to regard her straight-on, "you can always trust that I will stand against whatever goes wrong, from either side of the Veil."

But maybe he was going about this the wrong way. Jaw tightening a little, he swept away the collection of rocks with the back of his hand, the soft clack as they hit against one another sounding clearly through the still night air. "What exactly are Dalish children taught of Templars?" It had not occurred to him before now to try and understand the animosity between them from the opposite perspective. A distant part of him wondered why he suddenly thought to do so now, but there was enough occupying his attention that he could dismiss the stray thought for the moment.
The type of silence that fell between them was not the almost easy one that did while they’d traveled. Just when Velanna thought that Henri-Julien might not have heard her—though he was looking right at her— he spoke.

"Well, yes." As if she’d just confessed after all these weeks of missions together the obvious fact that she was a mage. "You should."

Her brow pinched, drawing a severe line through her vallaslin. Did he not hear what she’d just said?

He let a weary sigh, as if he’d been explaining this to a da’len and not a grown woman for years and not moments. "I am what stands between yo--" Her brows leapt upward. He started again. "A Templar is what stands between magic and the Fade." He shrugged, her point completely dismissed. "I am the last defence, both for and from the caster." When did this become about magic? The only reason she tolerated the mistake was the knowledge that he saw her as a mage and nothing more. She could not be angry about that fact, as it was a fact and not an insult. Also, her confession of moments ago rang hollow if she did not give him the benefit of the doubt.

So, she grit her teeth as he knelt down in front of her, doing her best not to flinch as he drew nearer and gathered up a handful of rocks. He placed the rocks in a neat line between them. "The Veil," he said, then placed a rock on her side. "A mage." Sitting on his heels he placed several rocks on his side. "Demons." At least he wasn’t dumbing it down for her. She breathed deeply, but gave him her full attention. Next, the tipped his waterskin just enough to splash a few drops over his model. "When casting is disciplined and understood." It was all she could do not to roll her eyes as he continued. Then, he dumped his waterskin over, the force of the water scattering the stones around. "When something goes wrong."

Well that is overly simplistic.” She crossed her arms, but did not interrupt further as he went on. She could have guessed where he was going with his point as he reached for a larger rock, about the size of his hand.

"A Templar." Obviously. "I can never trust anyone with magic in case," he held his waterskin out to emphasize his little lesson, "something goes wrong. I need to be ready. But," he raised his eyes to hers, looking at her more directly than probably he ever had before, "you can always trust that I will stand against whatever goes wrong, from either side of the Veil."

Perhaps her irritation did not dissipate, but the careful verge it balanced upon grew enough to allow it not to tip immediately over into anger. Something squeezed in her belly, Velanna certain it was the outrage she’d now swallowed down. It was absolutely not the earnestness with which he explained his point. Even were she to ridicule the elementary and flawed explanation, and she would not, it did show that at least in part, her trust was not entirely misplaced.

She saw the tightening of his jaw, her temper clearly bleeding over into his. She braced herself for another fight, an outburst for an outburst. Especially when the arrangement of rocks, such as it was, was dashed away by his own hand. Instead, he managed to ask, "What exactly are Dalish children taught of Templars?"

Velanna huffed, then narrowed her gaze at him. She’d not expected him to even care what the perspective was like from the other side. She’d not expected the invitation to use her knowledge the way she had been meant to. She stood, shifting her weight enough to collect some of his rocks again. Satisfied she had the number of them she’d need, she took his same position across from him.

Keeper.” She set the rock between them, then picked up a few of the smaller stones. “All the Dalish knowledge that remains. Our history, our language, our ways.” These she packed in tightly around the the first rock. She placed a few behind the Keeper rock. “The Clan.” Then she drew two lines in the mud in front of the Keeper, one straight and one wavy. Pointing at each in turn. “Threats, from this side of the Veil and the Beyond.” She tilted her head a tick to explain the term. “The Fade.

Resting her forearms on her thighs, she met his eyes again, not seeing any of the spite or hatred she was familiar with from him. “A Keeper protects and guides the Clan. Decides where to go. Keeps knowledge and pieces together what was lost.” With both hands she scooped up the Keeper and knowledge stones. “When a Templar takes that from us, they take all we’ve recovered. What precious little we have is lost. Our entire way of life, destroyed.” Of course she did not expect a shemlen to give a care for the Dalish way of life. It was too savage and anathema to their religion.

Velanna let her knees drop to the ground and sat on her heels. “You say you protect from both sides of the Veil, but have you been to the Beyond? I have. I’ve been taught to resist the malevolent spirits since the first flicker of fire in my palm. I am also prepared for what happens if I fail. Your mages experience it once with no prior experience, their death the cost of failure.

But that was not my point.” She looked down in the dirt and, much the same as he had, scattered the whole of the model away with her hands, perhaps with a little more ire than the innocent rocks deserved. She stared at the place where they were for a time, then turned her gaze up to the stars in the clear sky, needing to say something she did not want to say. “I’m no longer a Keeper.” She looked up at him, a look of earnestness in her large green eyes. “And you are no longer a Templar.” She did not believe he would thank her for it, but it was time someone said it aloud. "I've not had the luxury to trust in the way you describe in a long time, if I ever did." Her temper had always been a detriment. "I suppose I could say that I do have that now. Someone to trust to only kill me if the need is there." She uncurled and then re-fisted her hand, resisting a casual touch that seemed obviously unwelcome. "But I'm no da'len. No child."
Clearly, his attempt to explain the extremely complicated details of the Fade had gone over Velanna's head. Why else would she huff and puff and glower at him? She did not have the benefit of his extensive education, after all.

But that was not about to stop her, apparently. Rather, Velanna opted to recreate his crude diorama. striving to illustrate her own point. Henri-Julien snorted beneath his breath, but did not hinder her efforts. If she wished to try and convey the overly simplistic way in which the Dalish surely taught their apostates, it would not be his ignorance which was so spectacularly revealed. 

"Keeper." One large stone was set between them, swiftly followed by a circle of smaller stones packed tightly around the larger stone. "All the Dalish knowledge that remains. Our history, our language, our ways." A few more stones were scattered behind the 'Keeper'. "The Clan." But this was where Velanna deviated from his example: two lines drawn in the mud in front of the Keeper. The first was a straight line: "Threats, from this side of the Veil," while the second was a wavy line: "and the Beyond." She must have caught the slight shake of his head because she amended the explanation to, "The Fade."

She lowered her arms so they were resting loosely atop her thighs, raising her head to address him. Henri-Julien met her gaze with a questioning look, his curiosity ensnared despite himself. "A Keeper protects and guides the Clan. Decides where to go. Keeps knowledge and pieces together what was lost." She leant forward and brought her hands together, lifting the Keeper and the Dalish knowledge clear from the ground. "When a Templar takes that from us, they take all we’ve recovered. What precious little we have is lost. Our entire way of life, destroyed."

A frown puckered his forehead, his mind racing to draw connections with his own experiences. The Chantry was not so fragile as to be threatened by the abrupt ripping away of either a single Grand Cleric. The Divine herself, maybe. Yet her loss, while devastating, would still be managed through the combined knowledge and experience of all Grand Clerics. Similarly, the death of the Knight-Vigilant would be managed by the Knights-Divine. In short, he could not comprehend any circumstance which would snatch away the entirety of knowledge and learning in one single act. No wonder the Dalish existed on a knife-edge of extinction; perhaps further proof that they should embrace the Chant of Light... but he sensed this was not the moment to preach conversion.

Kneeling in front of him, Velanna shifted her focus to their personal experiences. "You say you protect from both sides of the Veil, but have you been to the Beyond?" Henri-Julien recoiled, the very idea repugnant. In dreams, of course! Not that he remembered the dreams. But to have ever been bodily in the Fade? No! Was she so completely unaware of what had happened the first-and-last-time mortals had entered the Fade? "I have. I’ve been taught to resist the malevolent spirits since the first flicker of fire in my palm." How could that be possible? Exposure to the Fade required years upon years of-- "I am also prepared for what happens if I fail. Your mages experience it once with no prior experience, their death the cost of failure."

His head was spinning in a way he could not recall since his very first year of initiate  training. So much to consider which was contrary to everything he knew and believed. How was he to make sense of this?

Velanna did not allow him time to dwell further. "But that was not my point." Lowering her gaze to the rocks, she shoved the arrangement to the side, discarding the lesson. Instead, she turned her attention to the night sky stretched over their heads, twinkles of stars illuminating her expression. She was silent for so long that Henri-Julien thought she had finished with her conversation, but that was not the case.

"I’m no longer a Keeper." Her eyes shifted to his, capturing him with the raw honesty within them. "And you are no longer a Templar." He flinched against the bruising blow of her words, too stunned to even articulate a protest. "I've not had the luxury to trust in the way you describe in a long time, if I ever did. I suppose I could say that I do have that now. Someone to trust to only kill me if the need is there." Her fingers spread outwards before folding back in against her palm. "But I'm no da'len. No child."

Still too wounded from her oh-so-casual dismissal of the very core of his being, Henri-Julien stood up, moving to the opposite side of the small camp. His chest too tight, he struggled to draw breath, but he did not feel the familiar lick of flames of his temper. Instead, a gnawing ache chilled his innards, the absence of righteous fury paralysing.

He folded his arms across his chest, leaning against the tumbling rocks which eventually rose into the sheer cliff face surrounding the surface doors of Orzammar. Half-turning, he abruptly rushed out, "why does it matter that you're not a child?" He had, amazingly, noted as much. "All Circle mages entrust Templars to keep watch over them, no matter how old or experienced." Actually, on second thought, with his head beginning to pulse, Henri-Julien waved away what response Velanna might have offered. "No, don't answer. I'm," he blew out his cheeks, jaw tightening momentarily, "not going to understand, at least not tonight."

"I think," he muttered at last, not looking at Velanna but not outright rejecting her, "neither of us understand one another fully." Between any other pair, it might have been an admission of failure, an inability to accurately convey their meaning, but that was not how Henri-Julien intended it. Rather, it was a humble and honest appraisal of their association - and one he would not have brought himself to make before all of this.

"Anyway," he added, gruffly, "you're wrong." He hacked the heel of his boot against the ground, digging a small and entirely unnecessary gouge. "Between my Joining and coming to Vigil's Keep, I was as much a Templar as I had ever been." He stared moodily at the ground. "I can't unlearn all those years of training. And I don't want to." Sensing that he was probably drawing her ire, Henri-Julien reverted to going on the defensive. "Do you really want to forget all you learned from your Keeper?" He gestured in some vague direction that wasn't here. "There must be a Dalish clan somewhere missing a Keeper. I know there are apostates and abominations and..." He trailed off, remembering his own lesson. "Those who are frightened and need guidance."

Gritting his teeth, he finished, almost akin to confession. "I loathe being a Grey Warden and all the lack of purpose it entails. It was a fitting punishment."
That Velanna struck a nerve was evident in the way that Henri-Julien had flinched at her words. This was reinforced when he stood at the end of her lesson and moved across the camp. She thought, perhaps, that he was going to call an end to the conversation then and there. Instead, he leaned against the rocks, posture closed.

Then, all at once: "Why does it matter that you're not a child? All Circle mages entrust Templars to keep watch over them, no matter how old or experienced." Before she could come up with a response, he waved it away. "No, don't answer. I'm," he puffed his cheeks, the tendons in his face tightening, "not going to understand, at least not tonight."

That surprised her, almost as much as discovering that her own temper was not already at a boil. Instead of feeling dismissed and shut down, it seemed more like she was being given time to mull over what they both had said.

Silence stretched on, but it felt less tense than before. "I think," he muttered, his stance not facing her, nor was his back to her, "neither of us understand one another fully."

I believe you are right.” At least about this.

Her thought came too soon. "Anyway," he huffed, "you're wrong." His heel bounced upon the hardened ground, creating a gouge. Her back teeth set together hard, but she held her tongue. She was finding that easier to do the longer they were acquainted. "Between my Joining and coming to Vigil's Keep, I was as much a Templar as I had ever been." His eyes found the ground, and Velanna could see familiar resentment in his expression. It was a pretty lie, but one he clearly needed to hold on to. "I can't unlearn all those years of training. And I don't want to." There was a pause. "Do you really want to forget all you learned from your Keeper?" He gestured vaguely to somewhere other than where they stood. "There must be a Dalish clan somewhere missing a Keeper. I know there are apostates and abominations and..." His thought trailed off, and he seemed to start over. "Those who are frightened and need guidance."

Then, there it was, the flicker of the anger she knew well in him. His teeth gritted and he forced the words from between his teeth. "I loathe being a Grey Warden and all the lack of purpose it entails. It was a fitting punishment."

Velanna’s head lifted in surprise, her eyes wide before she could think to hide her surprise. “A punishment?” Of course Velanna saw it differently. It was a chance for her to have purpose again, but she did not want to risk a row just now. While the balance of the armistice between them felt less delicate, it could easily be strained again.

She crossed her arms, tucking her hands under opposite arms against the slight mountain chill. Sadness clutched her in its grasp, straining her face even as she tried to hide it. “I can’t go back; I was exiled.” Never again would she be trusted with any clan’s safety. All that she learned remained with her now, and she had no one to pass it to. That was why she kept the journal that Aedan had given her, likely as an afterthought, something which never crossed his arrogant mind again. It gave her a place to put that knowledge, to record what she knew. To write her stories with the Grey Wardens, that perhaps someone, someday, might find them worthy to pass on to Dalish children.

A pattern seemed to be forming with their interactions: one offered something, and the other returned with something of their own. It had worked in the little garden they guarded together, and it seemed to work, to a point, with their respective lessons, even if neither was in a place to accept or understand what the other said. It was no less than she expected from a shemlen man, but the anger was not beneath it when she thought of it.

She heaved a breath as if about to make a grand confession. “I demanded Aedan Cousland let me join the Wardens because I thought it would help me find my sister.” She shrugged, as if Seranni hadn’t broken her heart so completely by choosing to become what she had been in the end. Little more than a ghoul, but thankfully not a shriek. “As you said when we… met,” which was quite a way to put it, “I am sworn to the Order now.” No matter what any Grey Warden was before, they were no longer. It was nonsense, as evidenced by Velanna’s leaving after the battle for Vigil’s Keep.

Remembering her time with Aedan, and the templars they’d encountered on Anders’ behalf along the way, she felt a question form in her mind. It was not in her to be nosy by nature, but Henri-Julien rarely said things he did not intend to go unheard. “I’ve not known many templars, but of the ones I’ve met you are the one most true to the cause you espouse.” Creators’ sakes, she’d not met many people so fervent in their beliefs. Justice, who was a spirit and could only be expected to behave one way. Anders, who was insufferable and enjoyed the sound of his own voice. He was an endless and irritating fount of Andrastian theology. “What caused you to receive,” now she gestured around vaguely, “this as a punishment?” There was a bite in her words, not aimed at him, but at whatever inane reason they could have for it. She waved a hand as if flicking whatever offense it was away. “It’s a waste to rid one’s cause of someone so devoted and practical.
"A punishment?" Her expression softened with surprise, eyes rounding. In that brief moment, she held none of the haughty disdain which so often harshened her demeanour, revealing a beauty which Henri-Julien in no way at all in any sense appreciated. So much so, he averted his eyes from the truly heinous view, refusing to glance back until he was certain his senses would not betraying him once more. Besides, why was she surprised in the first place? Surely Velanna must share his sentiment, being cut off from her clan by her Joining.

Yet by the manner in which Velanna folded in on herself, just slightly, and her expression tightened, just slightly, it became apparent that there was more to why she was part of the Grey Wardens than she had revealed. Unsurprising, given their drawn out suspicion of one another.

"I can’t go back; I was exiled." Yes, well, if Henri-Julien had the choice, he likely would exile her, too. Except... He let out a rush of air, irritated that he could no longer truthfully attest to his whole-hearted loathing of her. So maybe not exile. Still, some part of him, the curious embers of intelligence which had survived the dousing of Chantry rhetoric, whispered that he, a human, could not truly understand the magnitude of exile for a Dalish elf. The concept, of course, but not the lived experience. Had Velanna herself not just demonstrated the close link between Keeper and the clan? To be ejected from it and forbidden to return... it was not just a severing of home, but a severing of all things: culture, history, and more. Humans could not claim to experience that, unless they somehow found themselves in Par Vollen. 

Lost to her own thoughts, Velanna did not seem to even register that Henri-Julien had offered no comment on her remark. Instead, she indicated her own frustrations by letting loose a large sigh, explaining: "I demanded Aedan Cousland let me join the Wardens because I thought it would help me find my sister." A swift lift and drop of her shoulder punctuated the revelation. "As you said when we… met," an interesting way of describing that particular exchange, "I am sworn to the Order now."

Henri-Julien greeted that observation with a grunt, chafing against the implications. True, most other organisations acknowledged the oath of the Joining above their own, and he knew from his history why that was the case, but it still rankled that no-one genuinely sought to challenge the assertion. Particularly in the absence of a Blight. After all, it was hardly as though the Fifth Blight had been defeated through careful tactical planning ahead of time.

"I’ve not known many templars," Velanna turned the conversation back towards him again, "but of the ones I’ve met you are the one most true to the cause you espouse." That was a remark which teetered between compliment and insult. Should Henri-Julien really congratulate himself that he was the most fervent example of his Order that an apostate Dalish elf had ever encountered? Somewhat laconically, he raised a brow to invite utterance of the surely world-shattering conclusion to this particular observation.

"What caused you to receive," she gestured to their surroundings, "this as a punishment?" There was almost a hint of disapproval at the idea, though not, crucially, at him. "It’s a waste to rid one’s cause of someone so devoted and practical."

"It depends for which cause it was done." Agitated and unable to remain still, Henri-Julien snatched up one of the small rocks used in their explanations, squeezing his fingers tight until the sharp edges bit into his palm while he moved restlessly around the camp. "Back in the rooftop garden," he began abruptly, "you asked why I was here. I said you wouldn't like the answer." He tightened his grip a fraction more. "It's the same answer to this question: I was Joined by an Orlesian Warden apostate. They hoped I would die." A humourless smile contorted his lips, anticipating the obvious protest anyone might make. "That is not my bias; they said those exact words.

He shrugged, releasing his grip and allowing the rock to clatter to the ground. "I can't begrudge them for it." And, in that regard, Henri-Julien did not resent why the Orlesian Grey Warden had performed the Joining. He only objected to the unintended consequence that he had, inconveniently, survived. "Our paths only crossed because I had been severely injured by an escaped Fereldan apostate. It was obvious I could not have come to such harm any other way, particularly given the remoteness of the area."

A thought struck him and he snorted, wry amusement lightening his tone briefly. "I didn't encounter a darkspawn until a few months after my Joining. That was how determined they were that I should die: not even permitted to waste time by hunting my own darkspawn." Not that he would have done, even if he had been physically capable of doing so.

Waving away the remark with a flick of his wrist, Henri-Julien refocused on the dark silhouettes of their surroundings, distorted by the gloom. "So, to answer your statement, I imagine that particular Warden regards my loss to the cause of the Templars to be a boon, not a waste. And I," he inhaled deeply but received no sense of soothing calm on the long exhale out, "exist in this insufferable state of inaction, neither required to uphold my Templars oaths nor my Warden ones."

He rubbed at his temples, adding, with an air of exasperated flippancy, "it's enough to make you want to go digging for an Archdemon yourself.