Digging For an Archdemon Part I [Complete]

((OOC: 23 Drakonis, 35 Dragon; late afternoon; Gherlen’s Pass with ))

It loomed, far in the distance, but tall enough that it could be seen from the pass, if only the very tip. The Circle of Magi at Kinloch Hold, where the shemlen chantry sent their mages. Another mage might have averted their eyes, wishing to keep the ridiculously phallic tower out of sight and out of mind. Velanna, however, would not flinch in its presence. This was because, for some reason only the Creators knew, she trusted that her escort, as he referred to himself, was not taking her to it. It would be at their backs before long as their journey took them to the Imperial Highway.

The silence that remained a constant companion was far removed from the silence that had hung on delicate tenterhooks between them as they’d traveled to Orzammar. It held little resemblance to the seething silence that formed their earliest interactions. Velanna no longer felt tension in it, as if a single syllable could bring this fledgling alliance crashing down. She wouldn’t call it friendly—they were far from that—but something had definitely shifted, even if she was unable to put her finger on what it might be.

Her staff remained useful as she tested steps ahead before committing her weight to them. They picked along the mountain pass at a good clip, their destination never really officially named, but definitely ahead. If they lacked a purpose that tied them to Vigil’s Keep, then they were going to find it.

The sun had long-since passed its zenith, now at their backs and making long fingers of their shadows connected to their feet. They’d not discussed whether or not they would stop when they lost the light. With Velanna’s magic they wouldn’t need to, but she would not dare assume Henri-Julien would agree with this course, and even with magical light, there were dangers on an unfamiliar road.

Will it be hunting or fishing tonight?” she asked, breaking the silence for the first time in several hours. Gherlen’s Pass carried on something of a flirtation with two rivers that had become one, and she’d had her fill of fish, but she knew better than most not to complain when the Creators saw fit to ensure abundance. They’d never once gone to bed in their camp with empty stomachs, but she wouldn’t say no to hunting. Every Dalish worth their salt knew the basics.

Spying a notch in the pass that would provide partial shelter from elements, making it a good place to make their camp, Velanna paused in her steps, indicating with a nod of her chin her reasons. “We’ve not discussed our destination.” He’d mentioned Soldier’s Peak in their early discussions of this harebrained voyage of theirs, but never with any confirmation.
Occasionally, Henri-Julien had wondered if this was what complete physical and mental exhaustion felt like. How else to explain the complete disregard for his duty in favour an individual sense of purpose? Except, as he had falteringly explained to Velanna, his own realisation arriving with the words as he spoke them, he did not consider the business of Grey Wardens to be his duty. So where was the dereliction of duty? To his mind, there was none. A choice few others might argue but Henri-Julien had never held any of them in high regard. Besides, he had never felt stronger in body nor secure in mind as he had this last few days. At least not for a good few years.

So, with the sun at his back and the entirety of Ferelden ahead, Henri-Julien had kept a comfortable silence with Velanna, sometimes taking the lead and sometimes bringing up the rear. The initial heated antagonism between them had cooled into a guarded acceptance, and Henri-Julien did not feel the same pressing need to always assert his authority as Velanna's escort. It was a strangely welcome relief; a feeling which he steadfastly kept to himself.

With the sun dipping behind the Frostbacks, the sunlight now only illuminating the highest peak of Kinloch Hold - the persistent sight of which Henri-Julien had deliberately bitten his tongue over, despite the many fascinating details he knew about its architecture and history - it seemed an appropriate point to begin to consider making camp. Velanna, apparently, had the same idea. Something which was vaguely disconcerting but did not provoke the same intensity of revulsion that it once did.

"Will it be hunting or fishing tonight?" The resonance of her voice sounded strange after the harsh clatter of rocks which had been the only sound for so long.

Involuntarily, Henri-Julien felt the bile rise in his throat, a silent yet effective protest against the thought of more fish. Not again. Alas, he was not truly a hunter, having usually had provisions supplied and sufficient coin to secure more during his travels as a scout. It was only very rarely that he had resorted to hunting, with varying degrees of success.

"If you think we can succeed with hunting, let's do that." He spoke matter-of-fact, dispensing with the explanations which he usually used to obfuscate his ignorance on a matter.

Since that also meant setting up a camp, Velanna drew to a halt, indicating a sheltered spot with a jerk of her chin. Henri-Julien offered a nod to indicate his agreement over its suitability as a location. He was startled when Velanna spoke again.

"We’ve not discussed our destination."

Shrugging off his pack, Henri-Julien set to work constructing the camp, judging it a fair trade if Velanna was to take the lead with hunting. He did not answer immediately, allowing himself to mull over her remark more thoroughly before committing himself to an answer.

"It depends on how far we want to disregard what we owe to the Fereldan Grey Wardens." He pulled the ropes through the eyelets hammered into the large waxed tarpaulin which could be used as additional shelter from the weather. It would be colder to sleep without the protective walls of the tent, but it was more straight-forward than trying to find suitable points to pin the tent down on the hard rocky ground. "If we don't leave Ferelden, it limits what accusations can be thrown at us. But," he paused long enough to direct a questioning glance towards Velanna, "if that gives no real pause, we can go wherever we wish.

With the shelter secure, Henri-Julien began to collect what firewood lay nearby, though it was slim pickings. He would need to scour further afield for more once they had secured whatever creature would serve as their evening meal.

"I will go to Soldier's Peak eventually," he remarked, quiet but firm. "But not right now. It's too mixed up in the Grey Wardens. If I go there now, I'll only get caught up in exactly what I'm trying to free myself from. I need a clearer sense of myself before I go there." Almost instinctively, he looked towards the tip of Kinloch Hold, seeking in its spire a spiritual compass.

However, when divine guidance failed to bestow itself upon him, Henri-Julien blinked a few times while his mind tried to shake free from the fuzziness of possibility. "What are your suggestions?" He raised a brow, adding wryly, "since this journey will, of course, culminate in your voluntary arrival at a Circle of Magi." It would not, even if she had not been a Grey Warden, but there had to be some pretence to their journey, particularly if they did not wish to reveal their status as Grey Wardens. Something which raised a belated issue.

"It may be wise to change out of your Warden robes." He nodded towards the tell-tale colours before gesturing at his own leathers. "Many people would question the legitimacy of your being in Grey Warden colours, particularly when I'm not in similar. They may convince themselves you're an apostate hiding in plain sight. It would be easier for people to accept we are simply a Templar and mage; I can easily prove I'm a Templar but not that I'm also a Warden."
While Henri prepared to set up the camp, Velanna withdrew the materials needed for a snare from her pack. She was no shot with a bow, and could probably make use of a slingshot if a situation necessitated, but a snare would suffice.

As he started setting up their shelter, he responded. "It depends on how far we want to disregard what we owe to the Fereldan Grey Wardens." That, indeed, would be a factor. But it begged the question of what they did owe to the Wardens. At that moment, Velanna was not certain. Henri-Julien pulled the shelter ropes tight while he continued. "If we don't leave Ferelden, it limits what accusations can be thrown at us. But," his eyes questioned her, "if that gives no real pause, we can go wherever we wish."

I see no reason why it should give pause, so long as we stay in Ferelden.” She had no loyalties to the kingdom itself, but he was right: it would be more pragmatic to stay within its borders.

"I will go to Soldier's Peak eventually," he said, the conviction in his voice unmistakable. "But not right now. It's too mixed up in the Grey Wardens. If I go there now, I'll only get caught up in exactly what I'm trying to free myself from. I need a clearer sense of myself before I go there."

As he gathered what wood he could find, Velanna reconsidered her snare, and instead fashioned a sling from the cording. Wood was scarce while rock was in good supply, and an adequate shot could bring down a bird or two. That would be enough for now.

He paused in his task, looking out in the distance where just the tip of the wretched tower rose into the visible horizon. He turned back to her. "What are your suggestions?" One brow lifted as he added, "Since this journey will, of course, culminate in your voluntary arrival at a Circle of Magi."

Another mage might have taken umbrage with such a joke. Velanna was not another mage, and while she would not voice such a thing, was finding this fledgling rapport between them agreeable. “At worst, it could end in you hung from a tree.” An equally poor taste bit of humor delivered with an equally wry tone. This divergence from their Warden duties had forged something that still felt delicate and not entirely recognizable.

Before she could give further thoughts, he brought up another matter. "It may be wise to change out of your Warden robes." He nodded to her uniform, leather and gambeson. "Many people would question the legitimacy of your being in Grey Warden colours, particularly when I'm not in similar.” She did not like to admit it, but he had a point. “They may convince themselves you're an apostate hiding in plain sight. It would be easier for people to accept we are simply a Templar and mage; I can easily prove I'm a Templar but not that I'm also a Warden."

When Velanna had traveled on her own it had been easier to pass to others. Being a Grey Warden kept her welcomed when the durgen’len crossed her path, as well as elf and shemlen alike above ground. She huffed her annoyance, but conceded. “I will not wear the trappings of your Circles.

It was simple enough to accommodate otherwise. Velanna took her pack around behind the shelter and out of sight where she retrieved and unrolled her green leather tunic.

I’ve not given much thought to where we should go,” she admitted as she slipped the familiar clothing on. It fit like a glove, seeing as she’d made it herself. “I agreed to help you seek your purpose; I would not deign to dictate where you might find that.” Perching on a rock she adjusted her leggings to her thighs, giving her toes a wiggle at the feeling of having them freed from her boots. “If Soldier’s Peak is detrimental to that process, then I am agreed we should avoid it for now.

The weight of her bear paw pauldrons was a welcomed thing upon her shoulders. Pleased to be in her own clothes again, she re-emerged from behind the shelter. “What about your dead Chantry woman? Did Aedan Cousland not find her remains? Would you find at least solace there?” When she was at a loss as to how to continue, Velanna turned inward to her connection to the Dalish gods. “I seek Mythal’s guidance. Perhaps you could do whatever is your equivalent.
Though she did not like what Henri-Julien had to say, Velanna nevertheless accepted the truth of it. Amidst some of her habitual heavy exhales. "I will not wear the trappings of your Circles."

Contrary to whatever belief she had concocted about him, Henri-Julien did not carry spare robes, be they intended for Chantry Sister or mage. Since she was of the same thought and had an immediate solution to the problem, he merely shrugged his agreement, not offering any further argument. Something which was remarkable in and of itself.

Snatching up her pack, Velanna retreated behind the shelter, making use of the privacy afforded by the spot. With a mind to show his own respect for her privacy, even if she might never glimpse him doing so, Henri-Julien deliberately turned his back and moved off a few steps, resuming his search for more pieces of wood, no matter how splintered.
 
"I’ve not given much thought to where we should go." Her voice rang out from behind the shelter. "I agreed to help you seek your purpose; I would not deign to dictate where you might find that." There was a pause as Velanna, presumably, devoted her attention to a particularly precarious aspect of her redressing. "If Soldier’s Peak is detrimental to that process, then I am agreed we should avoid it for now."

That was one less argument, at least. They were becoming quite adept at avoiding the easiest ways to a disagreement. Had Henri-Julien any faith that this mission to Orzammar was nothing more than a last ditch attempt to be rid of their problematic presence, he might have had to increase his begrudging respect of Commander Berlra. As it was, they deserved all the credit themselves.

Movement caught Henri-Julien's attention and he half-turned, eyeing Velanna as she stepped out into his line of sight, dressed in different clothes. Of course, a fact that he had overlooked in favour of his primary prejudice, was that she was Dalish. Now, she did not look an apostate pretending to be a Grey Warden, but very much a Dalish who did not pretend to be anything else at all. A detail which was promptly emphasised by her next question.

"What about your dead Chantry woman?" It was not the first time that Velanna had referred to Andraste in that way, but Henri-Julien could not do anything else but grimace. Maybe his concerns about her appearance as a Grey Warden had been ill-informed. Maybe this appearance would in fact cause further problems. "Did Aedan Cousland not find her remains? Would you find at least solace there? I seek Mythal’s guidance. Perhaps you could do whatever is your equivalent."

In the spirit of their tentative alliance, Henri-Julien forewent questioning whether she should change back into her Grey Warden apparel. They would deal with that if it should come to pass. Instead, he concentrated on the point she made, which was not entirely outrageous.

"Andraste," he stated. "If you want to refer to her, please use her name." He did not go so far as to insist on 'Our Lady Redeemer' or 'Bride of the Maker'; the Chant of Light would not illuminate Velanna's thoughts anytime soon. "But yes, the Hero of Ferelden did uncover the Urn of Sacred Ashes. The temple is accessed by the mountain village of Haven; it has become a well-known pilgrimage site."

Still working over the thoughts he suggestion had provoked in his head, Henri-Julien nodded towards the slingshot that she had fashioned. "Let's see what can be found."

He fell back into the same silence which had characterised much of their journey from the doors of Orzammar. Yet just because he was silent did not mean he was withdrawn; something he was finding a relief to not have to explain to Velanna in the same way he had to everyone else. Rather, he followed her lead without question, even managing to accurately anticipate what she required from him on one or two occasions.

"Let's head to Haven." He made the declaration as the meat from the two birds was cooking over the meagre flames of the fire. "It means going further south than the route to Sulcher's Pass, but the only reason for visiting the Pass would be enter into Orlais." He raised his eyes from the embers to study Velanna but he did not really see her. His focus was still on sifting through his thoughts. "There will be many people there though." The dip in his tone revealed what he thought of that.

Catching himself, Henri-Julien gave a rueful shake of his head, even huffing a slight bark of derisive laughter. "All hoping for an answer to their problems." This time, when he looked to her, he saw her properly. "Do you think my Andraste and your Mythal ever get weary of the constant noise from their followers? Each one thinking they're unique in what they're asking." He scoffed, stubbing the toe of his boot against one of the larger rocks, as though he could kick his irritation away just as easily.

"I took a vigil." He had not expected to reveal that but it was hardly a secret kept within the Templar Order. At least, not the idea of steadfast and intensive prayer; the detail of lyrium was more obscured. "It's necessary to even become a Templar. I shouldn't need to take some pilgrimage to find my answers. It should be here," he made to stab at his head but hesitated, thrown by the disconcerting confusion over where faith should reside. Head or heart? In a vague gesture, he tried to encompass both in an effort to deflect from his confusion. "In me," he finished, somewhat weakly. "If it's not, then surely it shows I'm broken in some way?" His bad temper threatening to spill over, he glowered at the embers, almost succeeding in stirring them up so heated was his gaze.
"Andraste," Henri-Julien corrected her. "If you want to refer to her, please use her name." Velanna nodded her concession; there was no need to antagonize him, not when they’d learned to avoid fighting by what she deemed hard work. "But yes, the Hero of Ferelden did uncover the Urn of Sacred Ashes. The temple is accessed by the mountain village of Haven; it has become a well-known pilgrimage site."

They tabled the discussion until their respective tasks had been seen through and their dinner was roasting over the modest fire. Wood was a precious scarcity in this pass but Henri-Julien had gathered enough for what they needed. More remarkable was the way they fell into an easy rhythm with their work with a quiet that felt more and more comfortable. Velanna didn’t need to worry about someone filling up silence with needless blathering. They communicated needs without words, a rare thing, he even anticipating what she needed for cleaning the fowl she’d killed.

When the silence was finally broken, Velanna found no irritation over it. She would be loathe to admit it if asked, but she was almost fond of their routine. "Let's head to Haven," he finally decided while they watched the birds roast. "It means going further south than the route to Sulcher's Pass, but the only reason for visiting the Pass would be enter into Orlais." She saw his pale eyes glass over as he looked past her at whatever he watched with his mind. "There will be many people there though."

The face she made matched the tone of his voice over it, but she’d made the suggestion for his benefit and would not be backing down from it now so long as he was committed to the course.

A moment later he laughed, the sound lacking any humor beyond that cutting variety which he pointed at himself. "All hoping for an answer to their problems." When he looked up this time, she met his eyes with her own unflinching gaze. "Do you think my Andraste and your Mythal ever get weary of the constant noise from their followers? Each one thinking they're unique in what they're asking."

I do not.” She did not elaborate as he did not ask. It did not feel to need an explanation. Their respective deities were said to love their devotees. Velanna had only known love by Seranni, at least in any meaningful definition of the word. If the gods loved their people as they were said to, surely they tired less easily than a simple Keeper’s First chasing her wayward sister.

In the most guarded part of her heart, Velanna hoped she was right, for the sake of the two who sat in this camp in this place, longing for purpose.

"I took a vigil," he said, pulling her out of her own navel gazing. "It's necessary to even become a Templar. I shouldn't need to take some pilgrimage to find my answers. It should be here," he said, with a halting motion she wasn’t sure how to interpret. His head? His heart? His spirit? "In me," he clarified. "If it's not, then surely it shows I'm broken in some way?" His eyes seemed to light with the coals of their fire, his temper prickling.

Velanna made a soft snort, though not a derisive one. “People are not broken,” she declared. “Nor are they simple.” She wasn’t sure where that came from. Perhaps wishful thinking, because if Henri-Julien were broken because of his current crisis of purpose, then she must be as well. She could not accept that.

I think,” she started and stopped. What did she think? She contemplated the fire, the way it licked the wood, drawing energy from it only to expel it into the air in prancing sparks. “I think that if it were that easy to stay committed to something then it would not mean as much.” Her lips pursed until they were ducked out in thought. “We have, both of us, spent our entire lives focused on a role. Years of study. Years of discipline.” She put aside for the moment the differences in the forms and length of study. “That’s when it is easy to stay committed, I think.

Her eyes sought his, a feral desperation bubbling up and needing someone to understand. She thought, perhaps, that maybe Henri-Julien could come close. “A child often behaves as they are taught when the parent watches. That’s easy. When the parent is absent, and the child behaves, or stumbles and comes back to it, that’s when it matters.

She laughed, low and sad. “Or, at least I hope that is the case. If we are children of our deities, they must expect we will stumble, perhaps even hope for it. Am I a failure for falling from a path? Or does it mean more when I have to fight to find it again?

The snort she let this time was less soft, and the derision in it aimed squarely at herself. “I am the wrong person to ask,” she admitted. “For all my confident words, I’m not sure I believe that I am not also broken.
Whereas once Velanna might have attacked his reluctant admission of vulnerability with relish, now she responded with her own interpretation of the issue. "People are not broken," she retorted amidst a snort, a hint of genial irksomeness audible in the sound. "Nor are they simple."

Reluctantly, he agreed. People, on the whole, were very complicated - and needlessly so, in his opinion. They were often driven by a conflicting mass of emotion and desires, usually at detriment to their duties. Save for the likes of the Templars who had clear purpose in their life. It was something which he imagined the Grey Wardens experienced during a Blight. A pity that he did not serve during such a time - as he had already bemoaned.

"I think," Velanna began, and Henri-Julien readied himself for the tirade which would surely follow. Not so long ago, it would have incensed him. Yet he found more and more that if he truly listened to what she said, there were a great many things on which he would concede to at least some agreement.

But the anticipated torrent of words were apparently stemmed by a hastily built dam inside her head. Velanna fell silent, her gaze captivated by the fire instead. Finally, she continued, though the explanation was little more than a trickle. "I think that if it were that easy to stay committed to something then it would not mean as much." She pursed her lips. "We have, both of us, spent our entire lives focused on a role. Years of study. Years of discipline." That she did not make some snide comment about their differences in their studies was noted and appreciated by Henri-Julien, even if he would never acknowledge it aloud. "That’s when it is easy to stay committed, I think."

Had he not just considered as much barely moments ago? He did recognise that having purpose further encouraged purpose. The rigid structure of the Templar Order had ensured that his path was straight and narrow. Without that structure, he found himself wandering across an endless stretch of ground, uneven and overgrown with all the distractions it offered. He could not see the route he had taken let alone the route he should follow. But that was the point, wasn't it? He no longer followed the path set for him by others. He had to find his own - something which was proving to be exhausting and desperately lonely.

Abruptly, Velanna raised her gaze from the fire to his, intense even by her standards. "A child often behaves as they are taught when the parent watches. That’s easy. When the parent is absent, and the child behaves, or stumbles and comes back to it, that’s when it matters."

Could it be so simple? He did not welcome the thought that he was a mere child searching for guidance. He had hopes to be more than that.

Her own laugh rang out, as hollow as his had been. "Or, at least I hope that is the case. If we are children of our deities, they must expect we will stumble, perhaps even hope for it. Am I a failure for falling from a path? Or does it mean more when I have to fight to find it again?"

Or should they be judged for falling in the first place? It surely proved that their faith had not been sufficient to sustain them. Which deity would wish such fickle followers who required constant reassurance in order to perform the most basic forms of reverence? Henri-Julien would not value such followers... but he was no god.

Snorting again, full of jeering self-mockery, Velanna observed: "I am the wrong person to ask. For all my confident words, I’m not sure I believe that I am not also broken."

Rather than rush to reassure her otherwise, Henri-Julien kept his own counsel, carefully turning over and over the thoughts she had shared. Instead of the flames, he turned his head and looked beyond into the darkness of the mountain pass, made darker still by contrast to the brightness of the fire. The quality of his sight was affected by the light, unable to recognise anything beyond a vague silhouette, but he did not look to see. He looked to feel, to test himself against the unknown, to experience the sudden chill of agitation and fright when he could not assure himself that danger did not lurk just beyond his field of vision. 

"I have no answer." He tore his eyes away from the darkness, refocusing on the light. "For either of us." It was an acknowledgement, though not in so many words, that he could not offer reassurance but he would grant acceptance. Just as Velanna had to him. If they were broken, by whichever standard they individually measured such a thing, then they were broken. In time, that may change, but for now, it was their reality. 

Relaxing where he sat, leaning forward slightly with his arms resting against his knees, Henri-Julien took a deep breath, savouring the scent of the mountain air tinged with the smoke from the fire. "It has been a long time since I could discuss notions of faith with anyone." Glancing towards Velanna from beneath his brows, the shadows casting an eerie effect across his features, the ghost of a smile might have been mistaken for a snide smirk. Strange how Henri-Julien's preference for how it might be taken ad changed so considerably. "Much less a Dalish." He considered the matter, chewing idly on the side of his thumb nail.

"Templars are not permitted crisis of faith." There was a drollness to his tone. Clearly, their current discussion proved how accurate that might be. "It's not true; within the monastery or in a Circle, it's just hidden by endless debate masquerading as some higher calling. But outside, in this," he gestured to the mountain pass by way of indicating the world at large, "people expect a recognisable role. It's very easy to play it. Rewarding, even." He frowned slightly, his thoughts deepening. "No one expects more of you when you do as they expect."
Silence enveloped their little campe once again as Henri-Julien turned inward with his thoughts. To follow his gaze into the darkness felt like a violation of his privacy, so she averted hers. She watched their meal roasting, tending to it to see if it was nearly ready, and finding it very close.

"I have no answer." His focus returned to the light, to the fire, where they both seemed to seek the answers they chased. "For either of us."

Perhaps little moments like this happened often enough that it should no longer startle her when his answers gave, however begrudging at times, acknowledgment that they might have something in common. Some sort of disappointment or another bruised her heart at his confession. He had no more answers than she did, and no more confidence that they were not broken. She’d be lying if she had to say aloud that she hadn’t hoped he’d have more wisdom than she offered. Such as it was.

"It has been a long time since I could discuss notions of faith with anyone." Her brows furrowed at the way the shadows played with his expression, requiring her to guess at his tone and meaning. "Much less a Dalish."

Was he taunting her? No, she decided. Where not so long ago they would have dragged one another over barbs to prove their own points, she did not think that was what he did now. Somewhere between the garden back in Amaranthine and the gates to Orzammar they’d stopped needing to do so. She could not claim to have had the same experience with the other shemlen she’d known, but their purpose had always been slanted at her conversion, their faith summed up in sanctimony. She did not get the feeling he intended as much now.

"Templars are not permitted crisis of faith." There was a truth to his words despite the wryness of his tone. He said as much. "It's not true; within the monastery or in a Circle, it's just hidden by endless debate masquerading as some higher calling. But outside, in this," he indicated the world around them, "people expect a recognisable role. It's very easy to play it. Rewarding, even." He frowned, the slight turn of his features sculpting his anguish in tandem with the shadows. Something squeezed in her chest to see it. "No one expects more of you when you do as they expect."

Startled by the unnamed feeling, she snapped her eyes away, turning her attention to their roasting meal. She took a quick drink from her waterskin to wet a suddenly dry mouth before lifting her weight to her feet and attending to the meat once more.

How fortunate for me that expectations of me have been low.” She matched his droll tone, fighting to show the flicker of it in her grim grin. She busied herself for several minutes, parceling out their dinner with care enough that they might not attract pests varying from vermin to other people.

Heaviness of spirit lowered her back to her seat, her attention turned to the bird on her plate. She picked it apart with her fingers, and while she did not feel much like eating now, her body demanded replenishment and she would have been foolish to deny it. Velanna had spent enough time as a fool already. She ate quietly, savoring the comfort of the absence of words more than the meat.

It’s been some time since anyone has listened to anything I say,” she finally admitted, as if it had been building up behind unspeaking lips but also like it had only been a few thoughtful moments since either of them had spoken. The halts and starts in their conversations seldom felt awkward anymore. “It’s been even longer since I have bothered to listen.” How trite, to claim faith in Creators, to honor their ways and the knowledge to which she’d first committed her life, and how wretched to do it such a dishonor by not following it. “You have offered me the opportunity to do both.” It helped that he did not speak without need or intent. “That is what I find in accompanying you.

She swallowed, feeling too exposed, and not because of the neckline of her robes. Standing, she began cleaning up her dinner, including finding a spot in the dirt where they might bury the remains of their food. “I am unsure if Dirthamen or Fen’harel guide me in this, but here I must be. I am to see you through this and help where I can.” She tamped the rocky soil back down over the bones, shaking her head, frustration now tingling her tongue. “I think I must need to sleep.
Her attention focused on the meat roasting on the fire, Velanna took a sip of water before rising up, moving to check on how their meal was cooking.

"How fortunate for me that expectations of me have been low." There was the same strained humour in her tone as he had in his. Fortunate, given that her grin did nothing to soften the self-inflicted sting of her words. Interesting that they both felt trapped by expectations, even though there was a stark difference to what was involved.

Only with a nod of the head did Henri-Julien acknowledge his portion of the meal which Velanna served him. Sitting opposite one another, though somehow still together, they ate in comfortable silence. Only the sounds of the night filled the space between them.

Finally, once they had finished eating, Velanna spoke once more. "It’s been some time since anyone has listened to anything I say," she remarked, the words almost a grenade of noise between them.

Startled but not offended, Henri-Julien wondered if she had been waiting to say something or had simply spoken as soon as the urge rose in her. It did not faze him that there had been an extended pause in their conversation. In fact, it was becoming one of their idiosyncrasies which felt most natural to him. Who needed to explain all of their thoughts at once? No one worth listening to.

"It’s been even longer since I have bothered to listen," she added, almost ruefully. "You have offered me the opportunity to do both. That is what I find in accompanying you."

He lifted a brow, surprised by the honesty. Once again, he did not speak, knowing it would only rile her as it would him, so he gave another nod in recognition of her words. 

Her throat working, Velanna busied herself with tidying the remains of the meal, adding his leftovers to her own as she buried them in the scant dirt of the pass. "I am unsure if Dirthamen or Fen’harel guide me in this, but here I must be. I am to see you through this and help where I can." Covering the freshly dug hole back over, she shook her head, looking much like one who was plagued by flying gnats. Given the coolness of the night air, Henri-Julien could only imagine they existed inside of head. "I think I must need to sleep."

"I'll stay up a little longer." He drew his arms a little tighter around his drawn-up legs. "Sleep well."

[***]

Over the course of the next three days, the pair of would-be renegade Grey Wardens travelled out of Gherlen's Pass and turned south on the Imperial Highway, following the sweeping curves of the banks of Lake Calenhad. Kinloch Hold lay behind them though, retreating further and further into a dark smudge on the horizon with each passing day.

Now on the Highway, they encountered other travellers, including merchants who were always willing to make some unexpected coin. It meant their meals were both pleasant and prepared with minimal hassle. Henri-Julien had even secured two additional vials of lyrium, granting him a few additional doses lest something go awry. It seemed prudent.

Yet for all the Imperial Highway granted ease of travel through the area, this was still the remotest part of the Bannorn, squeezed between the Frostbacks and Lake Calenhad. Many only travelled through this area to elsewhere; few ever regarded it as their intended destination. Add to that the proximity of Sulcher's Pass, a swifter but more dangerous route across the mountains, and there was much opportunity for a great many problematic encounters.

One half-step was all it took. In fact, it was mid-step, with his foot still making its way through the air, that Henri-Julien sensed the glyph. He almost lost his footing, the brief thought that if he abruptly changed direction, he could scout the very edges of his senses and so avoid whatever problem lay directly ahead. Glyphs did not appear naturally, so either it was sanctioned, which indicated Templars and the Chantry, or it was unsanctioned, which meant apostates. 

Alas, despite his faltering thoughts, his footfall landed securely. He could not deny knowledge of what lay ahead.

"Stop." He paused, searching for the inner calm which augmented his abilities. Then, with more care and precision than he could recall ever mustering before, Henri-Julien sent out a very specific wave of cleansing, targeting only the area in which he sensed the glyph. Yet he now realised the magic was decaying, either due to the time lapsed or lack of skill on part of the caster. He sincerely hoped it was the former.

It was not. The prickling of another glyph being cast alerted him to the presence of the caster. One whom was either so desperate or so foolish that they thought to attack outright a Templar. But, whereas Henri-Julien might have felt righteously justified to respond with full-force only a handful of weeks before, a sliver of sympathy tempered his reaction. Before the glyph could be (poorly) cast, he sent another very precise wave of cleansing magic, a little more than necessary just to prove his point, but not so much that it would inflict harm.

A yelp of fright announced his success. Scowling, Henri-Julien moved on swift steps, locating the source of the noise.

"Why," he began through gritted teeth, seizing the individual by the scruff of their neck and hauling them up onto their feet, "would you attack a Templar?"

The young elven man sagged helplessly in his grip, paralysed by both pain and fear far more effectively than his glyph would ever have achieved. Henri-Julien released his hold, disgust and anger merging together in the roughness of his movements. He felt just as trapped as the apostate. All of this introspection only to be hurdled right back into the the heart of his oath.

"You... weren't at Edgehall," the apostate finally gasped, still curled defensively on the ground. "They came to the Alienage. I ran. But you're not the ones hunting me! Let me go!"

Somewhat desperately, Henri-Julien looked to Velanna, wondering if she might, in any way, be able to find some way through this on his behalf. If not, they both knew what he would feel obliged to do: escort the man to the care of the Templars or kill him for resisting.
"Stop." Velanna had sensed the magic before Henri-Julien had warned her of it, but said warning confirmed where it was. Weak and decaying, there were only so many ways such a glyph could have made its way to this spot. Velanna did as he warned, staying out of his way and expecting to feel the icy disconnected feeling that would come with him cleansing the area. But his cleansing was focused, and she was spared the effects.

It was only the space of a single breath before the caster attempted to replace the glyph. Velanna felt a desperate yank on the Veil and only the weakest of attempts in casting the result. She stayed behind Henri-Julien, her eyes searching the terrain for the fool who would outright attack a templar. Certainly Velanna had done so in her time, but she had better than a tenuous hold on her powers. She’d won most of her bouts. The exception standing before her, though she would never admit to the singularity of it.

A second cleanse produced a frightened sound, and Henri-Julien stalked in, quick as a blink, and hauled a young elf up by the scruff of his neck. "Why," he pressed through his teeth, "would you attack a Templar?"

A very good question, one Velanna didn’t care for so much as she knew what finding an apostate in the middle of their travels was going to mean. She huffed with aggravation, and noticed the roughness of Henri-Julien’s release on the young man.

"You... weren't at Edgehall," the panted as he lay curled and pathetic on the ground. "They came to the Alienage. I ran. But you're not the ones hunting me! Let me go!"

In what might have been the most astonishing turn of events in their odd and tumultuous relationship, Henri-Julien turned to face her, a plea in his eyes barely detectable through what she read as a balance of outrage and grief. No matter how this was handled, it would deter them from their goal, and the distress that wrapped Henri-Julien might only tighten.

You foolish child,” Velanna scolded the elf. “You could have hidden quietly and allowed us to pass without drawing further attention.” Velanna crossed her arms over her chest. “Your fate is on your hands.

You… you would take his side? But…” The mage stuttered in disbelief.

But what? I’m a mage? Oh, I know, because I’m an elf!” Velanna threw her hands up. If only the young man had stayed hidden. “Should I ignore that you have almost no control over your powers, making you a danger to yourself and others, and beg my companion to let you go because of the points of my ears?” She touched her ear without thinking, her self-consciousness over how clownish they were acting without her thoughts.

Velanna stepped back, urging Henri-Julien with her, and cast a hex on the other mage before her next (irritated) breath.

The flat-ear whimpered once more. “What did you do to me?

Spinning a circle at her wrist she gestured for Henri-Julien. “He won’t fight you for now, and he’s too vulnerable to run.” She huffed, annoyed at the inconvenience of the elf mage, something in her stomach knotting. She kept that part to herself. She had no loyalty to this mage, despite his pleas for her alliance. Perhaps if he’d not felt so presumptuous he might not have incurred her anger. No, her conscience was clear on this. Had she been so poor a student Ilshae would have turned her out to be hunted as a danger to the clan.

What would you have us do?” she asked, low for only Henri-Julien’s ears. “I can bind him up and we can leave him for those who hunt him, or,” she sighed, surprised at herself, “we can take him with us until you can,” her hands waved about, “deposit him somewhere.” If he did not balk at escorting two mages at once. It would require some of that trust he’d vowed to withhold from her, but she hoped he could see how it demonstrated hers.
Whether she caught the sidelong glance or not, it became clear that Velanna held no sympathy for this young apostate. "You foolish child," she chastised the young man, though barely old enough to be called that. "You could have hidden quietly and allowed us to pass without drawing further attention." Crossing her arms over her chest, she dismissed his cause with a matter of fact remark: "Your fate is on your hands."

The eyes of the elven man boggled, his shock taming his fear temporarily. "You… you would take his side? But…"

"But what? I’m a mage? Oh, I know, because I’m an elf!" She cast her hands into the air, her tone almost venomous. "Should I ignore that you have almost no control over your powers, making you a danger to yourself and others, and beg my companion to let you go because of the points of my ears?" Her finger tips grazed against the tips of ears, drawing Henri-Julien's gaze to the delicate points framed against her golden hair. Starting a little guiltily as he realised he was staring, Henri-Julien refocused an even harder stare on the inconvenient truth sprawled in front of them, the intensity intended to make up for the momentary lapse.

Velanna, fortunately, did not seem to notice. Instead, she retreated a few steps with an indication that Henri-Julien should follow. Yet before the elven man could think to try and run (since he seemed the type not to think anything through), she saw fit to cast a hex over him, and Henri-Julien judged that a prudent example of magic being used for man, specifically this man who did not wish to have to physically smite a fleeing apostate over one more example of his poor decision making.

Naturally, the young man did not see it in the same way. "What did you do to me?" he sniffled, growing increasingly pathetic with each passing moment - and it had nothing to do with Velanna's spell.

Ignoring him, Velanna spoke to Henri-Julien in quiet tones. "He won’t fight you for now, and he’s too vulnerable to run." He gave a sharp nod in silent gratitude. Exhaling heavily, she pressed on. "What would you have us do? I can bind him up and we can leave him for those who hunt him, or," this time, her breath was a sigh, evidently wearied by the situation, "we can take him with us until you can," she gestured wildly, "deposit him somewhere."

Henri-Julien glanced back to the prostrate form of the apostate, still bleating and mewling about the hex. He supposed this was deserved: he had held no answers for Velanna during their discussions over the camp fire, and now he had no answer for himself when confronted with this conflict of duty. A weight settled over his shoulders, almost-but-not-quite buckling his otherwise unrivalled posture, and he felt a little of the hope which had rekindled at the doors of Orzammar begin to flicker out. Perhaps this was an answer in itself. He had been unable to turn away upon sensing the magic. Was that not sufficient answer to his current crisis of faith?

"Leaving him bound is no different to striking him dead where he lies." His features hardened as he looked away from Velanna, a little of his old hostility returning as he took up the mantle of the righteous Templar once more. "It may be difficult for you to believe but Templars are not ordered to kill all apostates on sight."

Spinning away from her, Henri-Julien sent another wave of cleansing magic, ridding the effects of the hex as well as extinguishing any connection to the Fade within the young man. Wrapping a vice-like grip around his upper arm, Henri-Julien all but dragged him up onto his feet, half-supporting and half-propelling as he set off in direction of Edgehall. If the young man had been fleeing from Templars there, they would surely still be in the surrounding area. 

His mood, capricious at best, worsened as the day went on. No sooner had the young man regained his wits than he started... talking. Complaining, pleading, berating, arguing - every single type of verbal communication he could muster. Nothing dissuaded him. No scathing look, sneering reply or stiff shake. Finally, when Henri-Julien was certain that his ears would literally bleed from the incessant onslaught of noise, he shoved the young elven man down onto the soft bank of a stream and shoved a handful of elfroot in his mouth.

Blissful quiet fell. Only the gentle rush of the stream and whistle of the wind filled the space. Well, that and the persistent muffled moaning of the apostate, but it was a sufficient victory for the moment.

"You have the singular pleasure of being the most annoying apostate I have ever escorted," Henri-Julien snarled, before turning his back on him and erasing his existence from his awareness. His eyes fell on the second most annoying apostate he had had ever escorted. "What?" The word was snapped, reminiscent of their early exchanges, and although he gave no outward sign, he felt a pang of regret. After everything, all their progress was to be dashed away, courtesy of one inept apostate. Or at least what that one inept apostate aggravated within Henri-Julien.

Snatching his water skin, he moved to the stream, crouching beside it. "We will need to agree what you will do," he declared, none of the consideration he had shown over the past days in his demeanour. "I cannot guarantee that the Templars will not try to apprehend you. I was able to convince the other Templars because of our location in the Deep Roads, but out here, it will only seem like you have bewitched me in some way."
"Leaving him bound is no different to striking him dead where he lies," Henri-Julien snapped. Velanna almost looked about for the lever that shifted his temper so fast. "It may be difficult for you to believe but Templars are not ordered to kill all apostates on sight."

She blinked as he turned about on a heel, cleansing her hex away. He wrenched the mage to his feet and all but shoved him ahead of them. Velanna swallowed, trying to summon anything to say. She’d not so much as implied that he would kill anyone, but she wasn’t about to argue that now. Had she not come to know better than that? Had she not said, no not just said, demonstrated that she trusted him better than that?

Her mood quickly soured as they traveled, the sun in the sky rising with her temper. The young mage was not one to hold his silence, filling the air with endless blather. If he’d started pathetic, he quickly devolved into irritating. He whimpered, whined, pleaded with both of them though Velanna kept her distance. She had nothing to say to the would-be mage, and was too startled by the turnabout in Henri-Julien to try speak to him. The silence was no longer the companionable one that they’d worked so hard to hold between them. A sucking feeling pulled inside Velanna’s chest.

Along the river Henri-Julien finally lost whatever calm he was holding onto, which was very little. He shoved the man to sitting and stuffed elfroot into his mouth to silence him. The mage gagged, then slumped with the same defeated expression he wore since his initial discovery.

"You have the singular pleasure of being the most annoying apostate I have ever escorted," Henri-Julien growled at the young man, such as he was. He turned his back on the man and his eyes—as well as his temper—fell upon Velanna. "What?"

I said nothing.” Wasted words. Why was she defending herself? She’d not done anything remotely objectionable. She’d accompanied him like they’d agreed, changed into plain clothes as he’d instructed, and tried to help him in this predicament. For what? To incur his ire anyhow? She put her hands up on either side of her head indicating her surrender to this conversation and walked away, putting needed space between them. Foolish she’d been to think that whatever they had grown since that garden would sustain.

Henri-Julien took his waterskin to the river, filling it as he spoke at her. Not to or with. They were not companions on a quest, but once again templar and mage, complete with the assumption that she defer to him. "We will need to agree what you will do," he stated. "I cannot guarantee that the Templars will not try to apprehend you. I was able to convince the other Templars because of our location in the Deep Roads, but out here, it will only seem like you have bewitched me in some way."

And what a wonderful job it would seem I am doing. I would surely use my magic to be treated like this while traveling to visit your Andraste.” She shook her head and turned her back to him, concealing something deeper than the anger she felt. Some kind of betrayal. Foolish, she was, to think she could ever make a friend, let alone one of the likes of him.

She waited until she could trust her voice not to crack over the surprising lump in her throat, then turned around. “It would be easier to prove we are Wardens merely exercising our Right of Conscription were you to wear the proper attire. Why must it be on me?” she demanded. “It would not even be a lie.” She gestured toward the mage. “We’d be crazy to conscript this child, but that does not mean no one traveling this path would be worth notice. We give him back to those who seek him and be on our way.” She yanked her pack open, her Warden’s robes on top.

The mage muttered something unintelligible through his mouthful, stopping when Velanna turned her glare on him. “Do shut up.” The sniveling man had robbed her of something, as she looked back at Henri-Julien, bent over the stream. Even with the stern cut of his expression the sun caught on his skin, his armor, the slight ruffle of his hair and Velanna felt loss. Which was ridiculous. What could she hope to have found in a shemlen man that she now was missing?

I think you overcomplicate it.” She unfurled her robes and prepared to change. “There are any number of reasons two Grey Wardens could be out this far. We have nothing to hide. Can you think of no way to vouch for my innocence as I could yours? Not even as my supposed protector?
Were it not so destructive to the fledging... friendship? no, surely not... they had fostered between themselves, Henri-Julien might have laughed at the sheer predictability of Velanna's tone. She snapped, much like he had done, but added her own very particular scathing mockery.

"And what a wonderful job it would seem I am doing," she retorted, seizing on the detail that she might have bewitched him. "I would surely use my magic to be treated like this while traveling to visit your Andraste."

Lucky for Henri-Julien that Velanna spun away from him at that exact moment, too angry to even bear looking at him. That she had used the correct name, as opposed to 'his dead Chantry woman', affected him in a way he could never have anticipated. His throat clenched and his grip tightened on his water skin, the only outward sign that he was wrestling with some strange grief. So strange that Henri-Julien himself could not make sense of it, save knowing that it hurt in a way healing magic could not soothe.

But Velanna was not finished. She whirled around again, ready to let fly a second time. He hardened his expression and focused with unnatural intentness on his waterskin, only now noticing that his grip had tightened so much that it had prevented the flask from filling.

"It would be easier to prove we are Wardens merely exercising our Right of Conscription were you to wear the proper attire. Why must it be on me?" Her whole expression was pinched, so riled was she. "It would not even be a lie." She waved a hand towards the apostate, who, by virtue of being in earshot, looked apprehensive by this argument. "We’d be crazy to conscript this child, but that does not mean no one traveling this path would be worth notice. We give him back to those who seek him and be on our way." Ripping open her pack, Velanna revealed the Warden robes folded neatly on top.

Be it the mention of Conscription or Templars, the apostate took up his incessant talking again, though still muffled by the elfroot. Unsurprisingly, he silenced once more when Velanna redirected her blazing fury upon him, all manner of threat in the single look. "Do shut up," she verbalised the point.

His waterskin was now bulging, filled to its very brim, yet Henri-Julien made no movement to stand, remaining precisely where he knelt by the stream. Focusing on this menial task meant not having to incite further heated argument. Where was the part of him who had gladly sparred viciously with Velanna? Yet even as he questioned it, Henri-Julien did not find himself missing that part of him, only wishing to use it as a shield against his current distress.

"I think you overcomplicate it." Since he had not replied to her earlier remark, Velanna forged on, clearly seeking a reaction. She snatched her robes from her pack and seemed to be readying to change once more. "There are any number of reasons two Grey Wardens could be out this far. We have nothing to hide. Can you think of no way to vouch for my innocence as I could yours? Not even as my supposed protector?"

"It's not about you!" The words were roared, amplified by resentment at what this apostate had cost him. He rose to his feet in a single fluid movement, cheeks flushed and eyes flashing. "You are nothing but one among thousands! It doesn't matter what you say, do or think!" Yet for all his vitriol, there was a shift in his demeanour, a deeper frustration which underpinned his fury. "You have magic. For all your cleverness, why don't you understand what that actually means?" He rounded on the apostate, snarling his question. "Why don't either of you understand what it means?"

The apostate - the male one - mumbled something, eyes wide with fear. It was not the first time that Henri-Julien had witnessed paralysing dread etched upon the face of an apostate, but it was the first time in a long while that it had affected him. Snatching one of his daggers from its sheath, he crossed over to the apostate on loping strides, the sunlight glinting against the blade as he slashed through the bindings, freeing the young man.

"If you are still within my sight in three heartbeats, I will kill you, apostate." His words were low and laced with very real threat.

Credit to the young man, he did not hesitate. Scrambling to his feet, he fled away from the pair. Henri-Julien stared down at the flattened patch of grass, counting the three heartbeats. When he raised his head, the apostate had disappeared beyond the sloping curve of the hill across which they had just travelled. Inhaling deeply, he turned and retrieved his pack, hefting it over his shoulder. Deliberately, he turned his back on the direction which the apostate had gone, splashing across the stream and clambering up the far bank. 

As for Velanna, he made no acknowledgement towards her at all.
"It's not about you!" Henri-Julien roared. It echoed around them and startled Velanna even more than that time in the Deep Roads where he’d yelled at her in such a way. Oh, they bickered and even picked at one another, but there was something terrifying in how his face went red and his eyes flashed and Velanna took an involuntary step backward. "You are nothing but one among thousands! It doesn't matter what you say, do or think!" As angry as his words and actions displayed, there was something else Velanna couldn’t quite identify under it all, not as shaken as she was. "You have magic. For all your cleverness, why don't you understand what that actually means?" He turned his fury then on the other mage, sparing Velanna having to be seen as shocked as she felt. "Why don't either of you understand what it means?"

Velanna understood what it meant to her, but this went far deeper than the sacred and hallowed responsibilities of being Keeper’s First. He might not think she paid attention when he spoke, but she did. She’d hung on many of his words and what they’d made her feel, things she’d not confessed out of pride of being seen as unflappable. She was not to be trusted, under any circumstances because of that magic. It seemed that she, and the pitiful man who’d had the bad fortune to stumble into their lives this day, were emblematic of the very problem that Henri-Julien sought to solve.

The other mage, once again failing to read the circumstances before acting, tried to speak through the mouthful of elfroot that gagged him. Incensed further, Henri-Julien drew a dagger and stalked toward the mage. It would not have surprised Velanna in the least if he’d soiled himself, certain he was about to die.

But Henri-Julien merely cut him free of the bonds that held him, then lowered his words, heavy with rage. "If you are still within my sight in three heartbeats, I will kill you, apostate."

Velanna blinked. Oh, she’d not expected he’d actually kill the man there on the spot, but she also did not expect him to set the mage free, either. To his credit, the mage did not hesitate to take the opportunity, and was gone as quick as he could be while Henri-Julien lowered his head and likely counted the said number of beats.

It was that moment that Velanna wondered if she should run as well. Her hands shook and she clutched the uniform still in her fingers to try to hide it. She stayed that way as Henri-Julien grabbed his pack and turned away from her without word. He stepped into the stream, the splashing of the water stunning in the sudden silence after his outburst. He neither looked at nor spoke to her, only walked to the other side and climbed the bank.

Not knowing what to do next, Velanna stood frozen in place. Everything had crumbled beneath their fragile relationship so suddenly that she found herself speechless and incapable of knowing what to do next.

She’d spent her share of time alone, and even enjoyed solitude at times, but his absence following so swift a departure left something hollow in her chest that she couldn’t recover. It choked her, her tongue feeling thick and throat small. Too scared to follow, and too… what? It wasn’t anger that urged her to chase after him, and it certainly wasn’t pity. She crouched and stuffed the uniform back into her pack and slung it over her shoulders once more. Perhaps she was too scared to not follow, as well.

She stopped thinking, dashing down into the stream and following where his boots left impressions in the mud on the other side. Quick steps up the other side and she caught the slightest glint of his armor in the distance. Enough to keep a trail, and give herself time to figure out what she was doing.

If I follow, will you kill me as well?” Ridiculous. She’d not allow it, at least without a fight. The lump in her throat softened so she could call up ahead more certainly. “If it’s not about me, then help me understand. I made a promise to you and I intend to keep it.” She stopped, planting her feet. “But I will not chase you to do it. Please, Henri-Julien.
Aside from the very deliberate decision to walk in the opposite direction of the recently freed young apostate, Henri-Julien made no other conscious choice as he forged ahead, instinctively settling into the steady-paced lope common to most Templar trackers. That the ground beneath his feet was wild and untamed only served to further distance him from his own mind, having to devote most of his attention to where he stepped.

"If I follow, will you kill me as well?"

The question tore through his distraction, shredding it beyond use. He halted but only turned enough so that his voice would carry over his shoulder. "My threat to him was because he did not have the protection of the Grey Wardens. You, however, do." His voice was dull but resolute. "I also gave you my word I would not harm you without due cause." Causes which had been explicitly stated: only if should attack him or endanger others. Neither of which were relevant to their current circumstance.

Whether she believed him or not, she was nevertheless sufficiently emboldened to add something further. "If it’s not about me, then help me understand. I made a promise to you and I intend to keep it." Surprise prompted him to round fully, catching sight as Velanna took up an immoveable position. "But I will not chase you to do it. Please, Henri-Julien."

A part of him resisted the plea, seeking refuge in the familiar disdain with which he responded to the world. What care did he have that a Dalish apostate should so directly appeal to him? It was none of her concern what complex thoughts swirled in his head! As if she could even begin to comprehend the impossibly vast philosophies with which a Templar wrestled, each creating their own interwoven tapestry of faith and duty in their minds. Indeed, it was almost offensive that she should even make so ludicrous an offer, entirely ignorant of her limitations to help him.

Except very little of that rang true anymore. Maybe, if any other Dalish, and in particular one of their apostates, had made the offer, Henri-Julien would have ridiculed them without a second thought. He had no new reason to trust the Dalish, after all. Just as he had no new reason to trust apostates, either. But he did trust this Dalish and, by extension, apostate. Or, at least, he trusted her more than he trusted a great many other people, and that had to count for something. Who else was by his side right now?

He lifted a hand, beckoning her to join him. "I don't want to risk seeing..." Trailing off, he turned his face away as he struggled to harness the internal conflict over his decision. "Please, come here. I'll wait."

Once they were abreast of one another, Henri-Julien turned and continued on his way, altering his pace to match Velanna. "We need to keep moving," he offered in hesitant explanation. "Templar patrols are single-minded in their pursuit of an escaped apostate." He did not wish to have to lie to his former brethren about what had happened at the stream.

A quiet fell between them while Henri-Julien searched for the words to explain something which he innately knew. Although, he supposed, he had not known it before his time in the monastery, so presumably it had been taught to him in some way. He could not recall ever having the knowledge explicitly outlined, but perhaps that was the more insidious nature of developing faith. Less questioning, more feeling.

"You have magic." He repeated his earlier remark. It summed up everything for him, even if it was not clear to Velanna. "No one wishes to have magic in this world." Save for the Imperium, but as a good Andrastian soldier, it was probably very clear what Henri-Julien thought of the Imperium. Anyway, it was besides the point. They did not live in the Imperium. "It's a curse.

He shot a sidelong look towards her. "Whether you agree or not," and he did not need clarification as to which she chose, "this world does not welcome magic. Yet so many of you - apostates, mages, whatever term you wish to use - rail against this." He shook his head against any protest she might have. "I don't want to debate the morality of it. Not right now. The point is that our entire world is structured around suppressing magic." He let out a humourless hollow laugh. "Yet you - those with magic, I mean - seem to think it's straight-forward to counteract that. You - I do mean you, now - said that I should be able to vouch for your innocence. Why would my word stand against everything, everything, that myself, the other Templars, every single person who attends the Chant are told?"

Drawing to a halt, he turned to face her fully. "I am your Templar escort and I will protect you as best I am able. But I can't change what another Templar will see: that you are cursed and to be treated with suspicion. I can only mitigate their reaction, and only if you conform to what they expect a docile mage to be."

Sighing, Henri-Julien shook his head. He swung his pack around and rifled through until his fingers hit against the hard edge of a small rectangular wooden box. Withdrawing it, he held it out for Velanna to take. "Here." It was filled with his lyrium paraphernalia as well as the additional vials of lyrium he had purchased throughout the duration of the travels. "I know I frightened you." He spoke softly, in no way trying to embarrass her. He had not failed to notice how she had shrunk away, even slightly, at his outburst. "I probably will again. This is..." He exhaled, hard. "Difficult. But I don't have anything else which might reassure you that I will not harm you unnecessarily." He lifted his eyes to hers, holding her gaze for a long moment. "A symbol of my trust in you."
What, in the name of the Dread Wolf, was she doing?

Velanna stood, half soaked, the other half of her shaken, pleading with a shemlen man who had the ability to render her powerless and end her life. In theory. But she’d promised, and she trusted Henri-Julien beyond any logical reason for her to do so, and Velanna hated, more than anything, being wrong. So she stood her ground, ready for his further reply.

It was true she had the protection of the Grey Wardens, but they both knew, if they were honest, that meant little with no one to see their choices. This trek across Ferelden was proof enough of what their being Grey Wardens meant. Shoulders back and chin up, Velanna clung to the imperious nature she was inclined to in order to hide how her heart thrummed with warning.

"I don't want to risk seeing..." His words trailed off, and instead he motioned for her to move closer. "Please, come here. I'll wait."

She’d come this far, had she not? Velanna did not hurry, determined to keep her composure and hoping to avoid any further argument. Once she gained his side he turned and they continued on, almost as if that wretched young mage had never crossed their path.

"We need to keep moving," he said. "Templar patrols are single-minded in their pursuit of an escaped apostate."

Aware that templars could be singularly focused when chasing what they deemed apostates, Velanna had no qualms continuing moving. The more distance between them and that whole situation that was thrust upon them, the better. As quiet became their companion once more, she did not disrupt the taut peace as he wandered into his thoughts as well as he did the ground beneath them.

"You have magic." He’d said as much earlier, though without any of the evenness he used now. "No one wishes to have magic in this world." Knowing it was a generalization, if a ridiculous one, she did not counter his words, but allowed him to go on. "It's a curse."

Correctly predicting her feelings, he slid his eyes sideways to her, clear and blue and focused. The heat of before was replaced with something else. "Whether you agree or not, this world does not welcome magic. Yet so many of you - apostates, mages, whatever term you wish to use - rail against this." And why shouldn’t they? The best day of Velanna’s entire life had been the day she drew fire to her hand. It was a proud moment when she’d gone to her Keeper and told him she was his new First. "I don't want to debate the morality of it. Not right now. The point is that our entire world is structured around suppressing magic." His hollow laugh reflected her own feelings on that fact, even if it were for different reasons. "Yet you - those with magic, I mean - seem to think it's straight-forward to counteract that. You - I do mean you, now - said that I should be able to vouch for your innocence. Why would my word stand against everything, everything, that myself, the other Templars, every single person who attends the Chant are told?"

He stopped, sudden, and it was all she could do not the flinch as he faced her. While she was sure his temper had cooled, the sick loss she felt earlier still hollowed her belly. "I am your Templar escort and I will protect you as best I am able. But I can't change what another Templar will see: that you are cursed and to be treated with suspicion. I can only mitigate their reaction, and only if you conform to what they expect a docile mage to be."

Something shifted in her. His words should have angered her. She wasn’t a meek child to be scolded. Instead she met his gaze, steady, that loss feeling less raw. She swallowed. She was, as he’d noted, clever. Smart even. She understood his words, even if she did not agree with the dogma behind them. It was less about what he could do and more about a part she had to play. If or when that situation arose, she would have to be as he described, whether she agreed with it or not.

He swung his pack around enough to begin digging inside it until he produced a small wooden box that she recognized well enough. It contained the implements for ingesting his daily dosage of lyrium. "Here." He held it out to her. "I know I frightened you." His words dipped soft and low, as if she were an animal not to be startled. "I probably will again. This is..." He puffed out a hard breath. "Difficult. But I don't have anything else which might reassure you that I will not harm you unnecessarily." His eyes met her own, no less wide for what she realized he was doing. "A symbol of my trust in you."

He wasn’t serious. Velanna searched his eyes, right down to the lines and flecks that made up the pale irises. There was nothing there that belied his words. Instead, she found an earnestness that underscored them. He held out the wooden box, and instead of arguing or questioning him, she simply took it. She held it to her chest like it was a precious thing, though she was unaware she treated it so, tucked into her crooked arm. Velanna had precious few belongings, only keeping that which meant something to her, even if no one else understood why. Her fingers caressed the grain as they did the leather of her journal.

Thank you,” she said, a low murmur that could have been drowned out by insects buzzing nearby. She hoped not. While she was never one to hold her tongue, she also did not use words needlessly, and neither did he. Something existed in the moment that felt as though it might snap if she spoke too loud.

That odd feeling of loss vanished. What she’d mourned just minutes ago seemed restored. No, not restored, but strengthened. He trusted her, something he vowed he would never do, and something hardly anyone ever had. “I,” she started and stopped. She knew no gesture that felt appropriate. She knew very well what it meant for him to place this in her hands. It was no small thing to trust someone with one’s life. At least not to her.

I shall endeavor to be worthy of it,” she promised. Her muscles twitched and prompted her to step forward though she caught herself and replanted her feet. “Should we encounter others, I will follow your lead.

Pulling her own pack around she tucked the box safely between the folds of her uniform to keep it from being jostled about. When her pack was shouldered once more, she looked up at him with her wide eyes. For all that his words could be cruel, he had never lied to her. “Your honesty is worth more than any niceties, even if I do not always understand it.” Which was the only way she could think, without putting too fine a point on it, to explain that he was forgiven his outburst.

We should keep moving,” she said, though she’d not taken her eyes off of his. “Docile has never been a strength of mine.” A little twitch danced in the duck-lipped corner of her mouth before she tore her gaze from him, feeling a bit of heat in her cheeks. She attributed it to the gesture he’d offered, for anything else would be absurd. She set off, continuing in the direction they’d been walking moments ago.