Digging For an Archdemon Part I [Complete]

"I hope so," he muttered, though as he brushed his fingers over a potted bush some of his tension eased. How fortunate that she’d become entangled with someone soothed by plants. "I am grateful that you refused to use your magic. If it is flourishing, then that will be of great comfort to me."

A crash of thought lit behind his eyes. "Your cocoa - in what form is it grown?"

She wasn’t sure, but the seed vendor heard them and apparently had the answer for them. It was a bean, plain and brown and not looking very impressive for what Velanna remembered of the drink. Of course, she knew better than to judge a plant by the seed.

After clarifying that the bean itself could be made into the drink Velanna had been craving, Henri-Julien asked after the price, which was considerable and then some. Henri-Julien gently drew her out of earshot of the vendor so that they might discuss the matter more privately. The seed vendor went about his business, paying them little mind as they did so.

"I am certain we might convince him to barter the seeds," he suggested in a low voice. "Some cocoa seeds, an oleander and..." He eyed the stall, assessing the wares and presumably totalling up what he wanted from it. "... a handful of the Arbor Blessing seeds." His clear blue eyes held hers, revealing a determination that she would be a fool to try and sway. "Perhaps he would welcome the benefit of your magic?"

A smirk lifted her lips, her amusement subtle but obvious for his eyes. “And this would serve man, you believe?” A strange barter, indeed, especially given that her magic was forbidden in their garden, but one she was happy to oblige him with. It was clear to her that he was making a gesture, trying to do a nice thing for them both, though she was able to see that her wants were put in a high position here. How many more seeds could he get if they left the cocoa beans to go?

As much as the cocoa was for her craving, it was something she wished to share with him, so even though she teased him, she took the suggestion seriously and approached the vendor. Unlike other vendors they’d encountered, her obviously Dalish features did not provoke any outward mistrust or hostility. She even smiled, crooked and prettily, though the latter could certainly not be helped. With a brief demonstration she made her offer: she could provoke a plant to produce half again as much of the seeds they wished to barter.

To her pleasure and surprise, the vendor agreed to a demonstration, which Velanna was happy to oblige him with. She started with the little bean, hovering her hand over it and coaxing a shoot from it, enough for the man to plant in a pot he had handy. Once he had, she brushed her fingers over the dirt, drawing the shoot up, spreading the leaves. She went slow so as not to strain the plant, carefully threading her magic into the roots to stay aware of their needs. She directed the man to water it as she drew it up further, and finally, watched the little bush develop pods, each one ripe with more of the beans.

Amazed, the man was more than happy to exchange their selections in exchange for such help with a couple of other more rare varieties. He was packaging it up when a hand came down on Velanna’s shoulder from the crowd.

“Apostate,” the templar said sharply.
How far Heneri-Julien had come to suggest that magic might be used as a form of bartering. Something which Velanna recognised, the curving pout of her lips revealing her amusement. "And this would serve man, you believe?"

"It would serve this man," Henri-Julien remarked drily. He had no other means to purchase the cocoa beans. But given that Velanna had trekked across the entirety of Ferelden for his benefit, it seemed a small concession to make for what was otherwise an inconsequential request. How could he, in good conscience, not suggest the use of magic as an exchange?

Fortunately, Velanna was of the same mind. While Henri-Julien remained a little distance away, she spoke with the merchant, discussing the possibility of what she could provide in exchange for their desired items. It was the most cordial interaction that Henri-Julien could recall witnessing from Velanna. Save when she spoke with him, obviously - though that was still only recently.

Intrigued, the man agreed to the suggestion of a demonstration, not willing to fully commit until he understood the precise rate of exchange. Henri-Julien sensed the tug through the Veil as Velanna called upon her mana, encouraging the growth of the cocoa bean into a mature plant. Slowly, with methodical care, Velanna helped the plant to flourish, little pods developing to replace the beans which they wished to purchase.

Enthralled, though by amazement rather than magic, the merchant agreed whole-heartedly to the proposed exchange if Velanna would assist the growth of a few other rare varieties. She did as requested while the man packaged up their little haul.

And that was when it all went wrong.

So invested in observing the growth of the plants, Henri-Julien had temporarily lost focus on his surroundings. So it was that the arrival of the Templar surprised him as much as Velanna. A heavy gauntlet fell upon her shoulder with a barked, "apostate."

He elbowed his way through the little crowd. "Mage," he corrected sharply.

"She wears Dalish markings." The other Templar argued, eyeing Henri-Julien's leather with guarded suspicion. "Why would a Knight-Tracker escort a Circle Mage?"

Be docile, be docile, be docile. Henri-Julien chanted in his head, wishing that Velanna possessed some form of telepathy. This man was a mere rank-and-file Templar who was conducting a routine patrol of the marketplace. He likely could not believe his good fortune to stumble across an actual apostate. But Henri-Julien was hoping that was the exact reason that the man could be cowed into standing down. At least for long enough for them to sneak away.

"She wears Dalish markings," he retorted, relying on the casual prejudice which the Revered Mother had also so blatantly displayed. Any Dalish was dangerous, but one who possessed magic? As close as anyone could get to an abomination without actually becoming demonic, surely. "A Knight-Tracker is the minimum that she requires."

The Templar stood silent, considering. This matched his own understanding of the 'danger' of a Dalish. Yet he still could not reconcile the use of magic with a mage being escorted. "Why permit her to cast?"

Drawing himself up, Henri-Julien allowed his lip to curl into a sneer, eyeing the man with open contempt. "You seek to interrogate me?"

He had gauged it correctly: the Templar was not prepared to engage in an outright challenge. He gave a stiff salute before turning away, but not to resume his patrol. Henri-Julien noted the route which led straight back to the cathedral.

"We must go," he murmured to Velanna. "Now." Still, there was time enough to accept the bundle from the merchant, offered with a regretful smile and a softly spoken well-wishes. 

On swift feet, they departed from the marketplace and made for the city gates, seeking to leave the city far behind.
"Mage." Henri-Julien fell upon semantics as hard as the templar’s arm had fallen upon her shoulder. Velanna twisted out of reach, her eyes blazing with outrage at being touched without her express permission by any shemlen (save one), let alone a templar (save one).

"She wears Dalish markings." How very observant, she wanted to point out. "Why would a Knight-Tracker escort a Circle Mage?"

Velanna’s mouth pressed into a thin line, her breath coming audibly through her nose. She could almost hear Henri-Julien begging her to be docile. She nearly shattered her teeth, grinding them together hard enough to keep her tongue from running away with her.

"She wears Dalish markings," Henri-Julien echoed. Ah yes, because to this fool, any Dalish was dangerous, likely poised to snatch up their fat little shemlen babies and boil them for their dinner. Just as good as an abomination. "A Knight-Tracker is the minimum that she requires."

"Why permit her to cast?" the templar asked, not accepting defeat.

Why, indeed? Oh, not that she needed permission. Velanna was no Circle mage, cowed by shemlen laws. But it had been his idea to barter with her magic. Not that she was agitated by that in the least. It had worked in their favor until this overly ambitious cretin decided that he’d lucked upon an apostate. The stupid man was probably having the best day of his pathetic life. Still, it did beg why.

"You seek to interrogate me?" Yes, and it was her who needed to be docile. Velanna crossed her arms over her chest.

If his plan was to get the templar to stomp off and pout that he’d been so roundly dismissed, then it had been a rousing success. Only, the man did not return to his patrol, instead setting a path for the very chantry they’d just been inside. That… did not bode well.

"We must go," he told her under his breath. "Now."

The vendor, having watched the exchange, was quick to pack up their things for them, passing it off so they could get on their way. He wished them luck as they took off for the city gates on swift feet.

Velanna packed their parcel away as they walked, unwilling to cease their retreat long enough to do it. “It was a bold choice you made,” she noted with approval, not specifying which choice she meant. Both of them had impressed her to a point. She took a measure of pride that he trusted her so much to suggest she barter with magic.

The pace they set to leave the city did not leave much breath for talking, but neither of them minded the quiet. It would not be long before they had to give up the quiet they’d become accustomed to in their travels. It would not be long before they gave up much of what they’d come to take for granted in their travels.

Traveling until it was time to make camp, the pair went about their routine of setting up. When Velanna lit the fire to begin the evening meal, she took out the bundles of seeds, sorting through it until she found the beans, tucked into a small envelope. “Now I hope I did not oversell it,” she said with a frown, "knowing what it has cost us." She’d not even considered if Henri-Julien had an affinity for sweets. They’d certainly not had occasion to indulge in such things in their travels, though they’d not exactly sought them out until now. “I’m not certain how to make the drink out of it. Must we wait until we return to Vigil’s Keep?” It would defeat the purpose of trying to share it with him.
Not to be denied her hard-won prize, Velanna tucked away the bundle into her pack even as they walked, putting more and more distance between themselves and the intrusive Templar. "It was a bold choice you made," she observed, a thread of approval winding its way through her words.

Henri-Julien only snorted, shaking his head slightly. He had been foolish to suggest the bartering of her magic. Not that he held any concern over her self-control, but to advocate so bold an act in the midst of a busy marketplace? His better sense had been swayed by his desire to help Velanna obtain something she craved, especially after everything she had tolerated in his search for his archdemon. He was beginning to understand more fully why fraternisation was banned by the Templar Order.

The remainder of their daily travel was conducted in peaceable quiet. Only when Denerim lay far behind them and daylight was beginning to wane did they stop to camp. Completing their shared duties, the camp was soon established, allowing Velanna to turn her attention to her earlier purchases. Carefully, she set aside the seeds intended for their shared garden, retrieving the precious beans which had been packaged into a separate envelope. "Now I hope I did not oversell it," she remarked, frowning, "knowing what it has cost us." But there was a more immediate problem: "I’m not certain how to make the drink out of it. Must we wait until we return to Vigil’s Keep?"

A wry snatch of a chuckle sounded from Henri-Julien. But of course their gamble would not pay off quite so easily. He had not known of the drink before Velanna mentioned it, and now they had risked the wrath of the Chantry for an ingredient they had no understanding how to use.

"We are already committed," he declared. Whatever else it took, they would enjoy this drink before returning to Vigil's Keep. Even if in this exact moment, Henri-Julien thought it would be simpler to unravel his philosophical crisis than successfully turn these beans into something not only edible but also a treat. "May I see?" He held out his hand for the envelope, curious about the beans. They did not resemble anything he had seen before.

Yet there was a further surprise for them: within the envelope, a hastily scrawled recipe which the vendor had clearly included during their disagreement with the Templar. Proof that there were still kind people in the world. Something which Henri-Julien would not have been reminded if he had not initially supported Velanna's brazen use of magic. Funny how things became interwoven in the most unexpected of ways.

He peered at the sloping cursive. "It says that we need some milk, sugar and cinnamon if available." He ran his eye over the hastily detailed instructions. "None of this seems impossible," he let out a sharp exhale, "if we had access to certain things." Raising his head, he looked up and down the road they had so recently travelled. In the near distance was a small farmstead. "Perhaps they may have some supplies they would sell."

Bolstered by his focus, Henri-Julien did exactly as he had suggested. Fortunately, the little farm did have at least some of every ingredient, and were willing to trade for a few extra coin on top of what the ingredients were worth. Now armed with all they required, Henri-Julien sat beside Velanna next to their camp fire, awaiting her guidance based on the vendor's instructions.

"What do you wish me to do?"
"We are already committed," Henri-Julien declared. Velanna was glad to hear him say it, as she worried that if they waited until they returned to Vigil’s Keep, it would raise too many questions. "May I see?"

She handed the packet of beans over to him without question. Inside the envelope, the vendor had included a quickly scribbled recipe for how to turn the beans into the drink Velanna had craved. It did include a list of ingredients for crafting the drink. "It says that we need some milk, sugar and cinnamon if available." She didn’t point out that they had none of those things as he read over the recipe. "None of this seems impossible," he exhaled with a harsh burst, "if we had access to certain things." Not one to give up, he looked off to the horizon where a little farmstead lay. "Perhaps they may have some supplies they would sell."

As quick to put his idea into action as he was to think of it, Henri-Julien was off to the farmstead to inquire after the needed items. The coin they saved by using her magic as trade was shuffled about to pay the farmers, and he was back before long. With everything gathered, he asked, "What do you wish me to do?"

It was easy to smile at the way he was intent on seeing her want fulfilled. It stirred an odd warmth she was not used to inside her. He was good at that, it seemed, making her feel things she either never had or had not in some time.

Nothing about the recipe was impossible. They were first to toast the beans, which seemed to be the most complicated step. Easy enough with a campfire. Grinding, boiling, stirring, all things that were simple enough with the implements they carried. Each step brought another rush of that warm feeling, pleasant despite the summer weather.

When it was simmering over the fire, she got their cups out. The stars had peeked from behind the clouds, turning the sky into a shimmering backdrop to the moment. She portioned out some of the cocoa for each of them, inhaling the delicious steam that let her know they’d gotten it right.

It is not exactly as I remember it looking, but it smells right.” Of course it had been years since she’d had the treat. “My memory could be faulty. There is only one way to know for sure.” Only taste would tell. She lifted her cup so they could clink them together in that funny way people did when gathered together in taverns. As if this was their own private tavern, under the stars.

She let the steam fill her nose, lingering over the fragrance. “My nostalgia begins and ends here,” she explained. “From this moment forward, the memory is all ours.” She took her first sip, letting it roll over her tongue and bring a genuine smile to her face.
Armed with the necessary ingredients, there was nothing to prevent concocting the unusual beverage. They made full use of their combined herbal skills to ensure that the beans were suitably prepared. All the other ingredients were duly added until a dark brown substance simmered gently over the camp fire.

Velanna saw to dispensing some into each of their cups, the sweet aroma drifting on the night breeze.

"It is not exactly as I remember it looking, but it smells right." She examined the contents of her cup. "My memory could be faulty. There is only one way to know for sure." She leaned forward with her cup, looking at Henri-Julien expectantly. It took him half a moment to realise that she intended to toast their experiment. Obligingly, he raised his cup and gently tapped it against hers.

Yet while Velanna was clearly enamoured by the brew, Henri-Julien had more reservations. She savoured the scent carried on the curling steam from her cup. "My nostalgia begins and ends here," she remarked. "From this moment forward, the memory is all ours." Then she took a careful sip which brought an immediate dazzling smile to her face.

He peered into the thick mixture. The scent was pleasant enough although it was swiftly growing cloying. Hesitantly, he raised the rim of his cup to his lips, lifting his wrist to allow the smallest sliver of the hot chocolate to coat his lips. Lowering his cup, he ran the tip of his tongue over the smudge left by his tentative sip, already on his way to believing that the excess sweetness was not for him.

Except the genuine happiness across Velanna's expression stayed any outright dismissal of the drink. "It is quite..." He searched for an adequate description which was not a lie. "Unique." Such sweet-tasting food was unusual among the diet of a Templar.

He took another sip but the sensation was odd, seemingly to coat his tongue rather than slide down his throat. "Very unusual," he reiterated. Still, even if Henri-Julien was not convinced by this rare treat, he found that he did not mind his personal disappointment given how delighted Velanna appeared to be. "Does it satisfy your craving?"

Settling more comfortably where he sat, his cup oh-so-casually 'forgotten' by his side, Henri-Julien leaned back until his whole vision was filled by the night sky. A half-smile touched his lips: to be out beneath the stars and in company he enjoyed was a rare luxury indeed. "I will miss this," he admitted. Turning his head just enough so that Velanna entered into the periphery of his vision, he added, "even though we did not fully understand one another until after Crestwood, I enjoyed the simple pleasure of travelling with you." Only now would he - or, more accurately, could he - admit as much. "I owe a great deal to our enforced time together." The 'enforced' part was delivered with a gentle lift of his brow, acknowledging that had the Warden-Commander not ordered their excursion to Orzammar (which, technically, they had failed since they had not passed on the information about the Harvester) then none of what they now shared might have happened.
That Henri-Julien was not as enamored with the hot chocolate as she was quickly apparent, but he chose not to detract from her moment of triumph. "It is quite..." He chose his words carefully. "Unique."

She smiled behind her cup, grasping it with both hands.

His hesitancy did not detract from her own enjoyment, not even when he tried it once more with no more apparent pleasure than before. "Very unusual," he echoed. "Does it satisfy your craving?"

It does,” she assured him, for it was the truth. It held the warmth and the sweetness she remembered, and while it was not something she would welcome all the time, for nothing could replace a simple cup of tea, it was the sort of treat she’d longed for.

Setting his cup aside, Henri-Julien leaned back until he was stretched out beneath the stars, his gaze turned upward, his handsome profile at rest. "I will miss this," he said. He turned his head just enough to see her. "Even though we did not fully understand one another until after Crestwood, I enjoyed the simple pleasure of travelling with you." The sentiment was far sweeter to her than any cup of cocoa drink, and it softened her face to hear. "I owe a great deal to our enforced time together."

She snorted softly. Truly, had it started out as enforced? It felt so long ago that they resented one another’s presence. When they’d first begun the trip to Orzammar, there were few people she would have welcomed less. That they never accomplished their mission in Orzammar went unspoken between them, and it was likely something they would need to account for later.

Velanna scooted so she was close to his side, folding her legs under her. She sipped her drink, taking in both the decadence of the cocoa drink and the indulgence that was his kind words. Both allowed a sheen of warmth to crawl across her face.

As do I,” she agreed. She reached behind her head and let her hair down, the tension of the updo releasing and soothing her further. “I remain grateful for our adventure. Even before Crestwood, there was pleasure to be found in our joint solitude.” She shifted in the quiet, but not uncomfortably, and enjoyed her drink for a few moments before continuing. “Few understand me as you seem to,” she admitted. “Even before,” her face warmed further and she pushed on, “before the things we explored together, there was ease to be found in your company. I will miss it.

She frowned into the cup, knowing what they were giving up by returning to Vigil’s Keep, and knowing that they had no choice but to. His lyrium dependency and her status as a mage would cause both of them hardship without the cover of being Grey Wardens. The difference was that now she knew that she could find a niche of her own. “It is good to know I return to a place I can call home, even if it is only one person who makes it feel so.” And then, “I owe a great deal to you, as well, for helping me find that.” Returning to the Dalish was not and never would be a sustainable choice for her. Her hand wound with his. “I would always wonder if leaving was the right choice had you not given me the gift of time with other Dalish.” Other Dalish, not her people as she might have once said.

She finished her drink and set aside the cup so she might join him, stretched out and looking up to the stars. It did not need to be said that this quiet intimacy, lying side by side, entangled either in limb or finger, was something she would miss dearly. She dipped her nose to the join of his neck and shoulder, briefly inhaling the scent of him, before she turned her eyes starward once more.
Drawing nearer to him, Velanna continued to enjoy the hard-won hot chocolate, savouring the slow measured sips.

"As do I," she confirmed, acknowledging the debt they both owed to their strange circumstances. With a practised movement, she let loose the bindings of her hair, allowing the entirety of it to cascade over her shoulders in a golden shower. "I remain grateful for our adventure. Even before Crestwood, there was pleasure to be found in our joint solitude." She adjusted her position, falling quiet while she continued to enjoy her drink. "Few understand me as you seem to," she revealed. "Even before," the colour in her cheeks had little to do with the fire, and Henri-Julien felt a reciprocal warmth rise in his, "before the things we explored together, there was ease to be found in your company. I will miss it."

Her brows pulled together while she contemplated the bottom of her cup. "It is good to know I return to a place I can call home, even if it is only one person who makes it feel so." But that was not the most surprising thing she had to share. "I owe a great deal to you, as well, for helping me find that." She reached for his hand, threading her fingers through his. "I would always wonder if leaving was the right choice had you not given me the gift of time with other Dalish."

With one last swallow, Velanna emptied her cup, discarding it to one side so that she could lie beside him. Henri-Julien opened one arm to welcome her against his body, offering warmth as much as receiving it. Nestled against him, she briefly pressed her face against the curve of his shoulder, before settling so that she, too, could gaze up at the stars.

Henri-Julien had not known so contented a bliss as this. His faith provided a solace and comfort, of course, but it could not offer the same immediacy. A stray thouhgt passed through his head that perhaps indicated a failure on his part. Did he only practice his faith with his head and not his heart? Perhaps it was too simplistic a comparison, yet it held some merit. One which he would consider another time. Right now, he simply enjoyed a peace in mind and body which he had not experienced in a very long time.

Cucooned together, mostly hidden from the road, they fell asleep and did not wake until dawn. Then, in a silence that was heavy yet companionable, they tidied away their camp and set off once more for Vigil's Keep. They would arrive by early evening, both changed in ways neither could have known.