[Dragon Age] The Hanging Tree

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[Dragon Age] The Hanging Tree

Postautor: An-Nah » 05 kwie 2020, 12:34

O, w zasadzie tym się mogę podzielić :3

Fandom: Dragon Age
Status: zakończone
Ostrzeżenia: uprzedzenia rasowe/gatunkowe, przemoc, morderstwo, egzekucja, autorka za bardzo lubi elfy, tekst po angielsku.
Znajomość fandomu: spokojnie może się obejść bez, ale daje dodatkowe smaczki :3

Opis: Klan dalijskich elfów przybywa na nowe miejsce pobytu i próbuje handlować z lokalnymi ludźmi... niestety, plotki o kręcących się w okolicy elfich bandytach nie ułatwiają sprawy. Niedługo to ci bandyci poproszą o pomoc, a Elran, syn opiekunki klanu, będzie musiał podjąć niełatwą decyzję.

Ponieważ jeśli chodzi o angielski jestem zdana na samą siebie, słowiniki i Grammarly, każdą wskazówkę od ludzi z większym doświadczeniem przygarnę.
Tekst dostępny też na AO3 https://archiveofourown.org/works/23119285


THE HANGING TREE

As the clan came closer to the place they were going to use to camp, Elran saw the large, lonely tree on the crossing. He shivered, remembering the last time he was here. There were bodies hanged on the massive branches, probably some criminals, but he remembered hahren explaining younger children, that they can end up there if the humans decide it is time to kill some elves. This is the reason one always should remain cautious while dealing with shemlen, even, if one was from a clan that maintained some contact with several scholars and traders across the Marches.
A cruel lesson, Elran had thought then, but he himself learned it the harder way, almost loosing his sister in the process when one human noble decided a lone Dalish girl in the forest is a good object to hunt.
It was only an arrow then, in Lyennes back, but it was enough for Elran to run screaming, to kill the noble and her hunting party. Lyenne helped, with her magic, hurt, but not unable to call a sylvan, that tore the humans into pieces. Probably it was then, when the clan fully accepted Elran: a stray, son of a flat-ear, saving the Keeper's daughter.
Lyenne was First now, after Narin’s death. She was already twenty-four, and no longer a girl, who preferred spirits over people. She was smart and reasonable and mother was always taking her when they were going to talk to humans. Lyenne turned out to be a skilled diplomat. She was going to be a great Keeper one day.
Elran looked from the empty branches of the lone tree towards his sister. She was reading one of the books they managed to purchase in Markham. The seller was a mage on the run. They robbed the Circle’s library, as the rebellion started, but it was hard to run with so many books, so the mage sold them to elves for a price probably lower, than books were worth.
At least someone profited from the rebellion… but times were uncertain and even the mother started to consider undertaking some steps to secure the clan’s future. For now, they decided to avoid the cities where circles once stood. This certainly won’t make the clan entirely safe, because the chaos spread all over the south.
They were planning to stay south of Ansburg, in the forest by the Minanter River. This was one of the places commonly used by Dalish in the Marches., forest thick enough, to provide protection, nearby villages used enough to the elven presence to not to attack on sight, no matter, what hahren told the children.
And the branches of the large lone tree were empty now and soon the cold shadow od the forest covered the traveling clan, their hallas and harts, and the aravels.
The rest of the day was spent by setting a camp, and then, late in the night, Lyenne was sitting leaned against a tree, with a lantern hanging over her head, still reading.
***
The next day mother decided to go to the village, to trade. The village elder knew her from the previous stays, and the relationship was as friendly, as they could be between the Dalish and shemlen. Lyenne and Elran went with her – no one else, only the Keeper’s two children, trained to deal with humans.
Lyenne put her book into the sack. Elran smiled.
„This must be really fascinating,” he said. „Some new magic? History?”
„More history” Lyenne answered. „And a recent one. This is The Tale of The Champion. It is about events in Kirkwall. The author was there and was a friend with people who started it all… although I think he is not telling all the truth” she smiled „Wise of him. He wants to protect his friends after all.”
Elran nodded. What happened in Kirkwall a year earlier was already a subject to speculations. The one sure thing was, that a mage caused an explosion that destroyed the local Chantry and started the rebellion.
They decided to walk, the village was not far away. Again, they had to pass the crossroads and the large three with massive, twisted branches. Elran thought again about the last time, the corpses hanging here, people whose crimes he did not know. Their presence made the place look gloomy. Now the morning was warm and bright, as there were no horrible things in the world as if there was no rebellion and no unrest.
This was always an illusion. There was never a guarantee of safety, for anyone.
Some of the villagers started were already in the fields, working. They looked with suspicion at three elves going down the road. They must have looked unusual, women with staves and a man with a sword on his back, faces covered with tattoos, clothing different than the humans wore. Lyenne’s golden hair shaved on one side of her head, mother’s gray adorned with beads, feathers and pieces of polished wood. Metal elements in Elran’s armor.
At the entrance to the village, the statue of Andraste stood, decorated with flowers. Children were playing nearby – they stopped, noticing the Dalish. The younger hid behind the older ones – they already were taught, that elves should be avoided.
Elran knew it, Lyenne knew it, the Keeper knew it. That no one in the village started to scream that they need to get out – this was the sign the village was friendly.
The elder was sitting in front of her house. She was an older woman, with her face covered in wrinkles, silvery hair braided on top on her head. She smiled, as they approached.
„Deshanna. It had been a long time. We had seen you coming yesterday.”
Mother bowed.
„That’s why I’m here today, Vera.” she said. „We don’t want trouble.”
„You are never trouble, no matter, how the other sees it” the village elder said, throwing a glance at a large, dreary-looking man who had just gone out of her house. Elder’s son, Odric, Elran remembered. He was the kind of man that one should avoid, especially when one was an elf. Odric openly expressed displeasure by the fact, that his mother traded with the Dalish – but on the other hand, Elran noticed that the man was still wearing the belt he bought the last time. Speaking of hypocrisy...
„We will be bringing herbs and works of our craftsmen, as promised,” mother said, seemingly disregarding Odric and his unfriendly glances. She had Elran to stand behind her and look serious, so that was, what Elran did, watching the people all the time.
No matter, how honest Vera was with them, the other people could try to search for trouble. This was how dealing with humans always look.
„Excellent. The market is in four days, I expect your people there, Deshanna. The security measures remain as usual.”
Mother nodded.
„I’m happy our agreement continues.”
„There is one more thing” the village elder added. „We all know, that the times are uncertain and that there might be some rebel mages hiding in the forest” she frowned, dispelased when she was speaking of the mages. Although she must have been aware, that the Keeper and her First are both mages, they still were better than the ones, who escaped the Circles. „If you meet them...”
„Those mages are as dangerous for us as they are for your people,” the Keeper said. „We will not support them.”
Elran noticed, that his sister winced at those words, but she said nothing, a diplomat to the core. Only after they left the village and were walking towards the forest again, she dared to speak.
„Are we really not going to support any mages, that could search for help?” she asked.
Mother was silent for a while.
„You know we have little choice, da’len, and you know that. We need to protect ourselves first, especially now.”
„This is not fair” Lyenne protested. „And some of them might be of our people!”
She meant both Dalish and city elves. Their mother was one of the few keepers, who really supported the unfortunate cousins of their kind. She once accepted an alone, sick elven woman on the run, despite the fact many of the clan believed it would be better to get rid of the flat-ear. Especially, that said flat-ear was pregnant, and she was silent about the father, which suggested the child might be human. And even when the woman gave birth to an elven boy, and even when the Keeper decided to adopt him...
„It is not” the Keeper agreed. „But those mages are mostly shemlen anyway, and they use dangerous magic. We all know this. I’m sorry, Lyenne, we cannot afford to help them. You know it.”
Lyenne nodded.
„I know,” she said, sadly.
„I’ll go to the forest tonight, mother” Elran offered. If really anyone was hiding in the woods, the sooner they would be found, the better.
„Alone?” the Keeper asked.
Elran nodded.
„I’m not as quiet as our other hunters, but yes, I will go.”
„Very well” the Keeper agreed. Then she looked at her daughter again. „I know, Lyenne, you want to go too, of course. But Elran is right: one person is harder to find. If the forest is safe, then you can go.”
Lyenne said nothing, but Elran knew, their mother was overprotective – again. Lyenne caused enough trouble when she was a child, always searching, always trying to make new discoveries, speaking to spirits in the forests, finding all the dangerous places. And she might have decided, that she would rather help the mages to escape – if there were any. The Keeper needed someone who wouldn’t hesitate to kill. Elran was a better choice.
***
Lyenne kept reading as they returned to the camp. She mentioned, that according to the author, The Champion of Kirkwall, a woman who seemed to draw all the troubles to herself, had an elven First expelled from her clan among her friends.
„It was clan Sabrae that was stranded on Sundermount for some ears...” Lyenne was thinking aloud, book in her hands. „Last time when we heard of them, it was like two years ago? As Marethari sent mother a letter?”
Elran could just nod.
What happened with the clan Sabrae was disturbing, including the lack of response from their First. Mother contacted Marethari as soon as she learned of the problems, offered help, as the two clans had friendly relations in the past. But Marethari was, as Deshanna Istimaethoriel Lavellan put it, a proud and stubborn woman. And possibly she had some things to do on the Sundermount as well.
„What happened there, I will leave unsaid” Lyenne read. „For it was a tragedy and it brought more sadness to our elven friend than it was deserved. And I believe, a tree was planted that day on the Soundermount, as elven custom demands. A tree dedicated to one proud woman…” Lyenne finished the passage with a curse, that was definitely not part of the text. „If what is suggested here is true...”
She stood up, looked at her brother.
„I need to discuss it with mother, you go for your reconnaissance. Good luck, lethallin.”
She left and Elran couldn’t disagree that it was the time for his patrol.
The forest was dark, but one of the moons was high today, full and bright, enough light for elven eyes. And although Elran was not taught how to move silently and use the shadows to hide, the night provided him enough cover to go undiscovered by potential humans.
But there were no humans in the forest this night, it was silent, safe only for night animals. Elran walked a long while, and long after midnight he left the forest, to see one of the lone farms situated in the region, people living there and their animals asleep.
From here, from the hill he stood on, Elran saw the crossroads with the lone tree, the fields, and the village as well.
***
No one was hiding in the forest, as other hunters found out. It was a good place to stay longer, with humans relatively friendly and the area untouched by turmoil. Preparations for the market took some time and on the scheduled day a group of elves, Elran and Lyenne among them, went to the market.
The stalls were placed on the square in the middle of the village. The elves were allowed to arrange their own on the outskirts, near the way out, as they were not a normal part of the event. It was better because it made them stay away from the crowd and the harts that were taken to carry the goods had more space to stay and grass to eat. A half-destroyed shack behind the stall provided some cover in case of the rain, but the day was going to be sunny, with only a few clouds floating across the sky.
Merchants from other villages and even some from Ansburg were setting their stalls in the main square. Some of them arrived on the previous day, some were coming early in the morning. All of them were surprised to see a group of elves participating in the market. It was very rare for the Dalish to trade with humans.
As the sun rose, the bells of the local Chantry sang, calling for morning prayers. As the people participating in the service left the chapel, the stalls were set up.
Elran was here along with two other hunters to provide security. He left his large sword hidden behind the stalls, both other hunters hid the weapon as well. They were not going to look dangerous – and it was the craftspeople who were most important here. As most of the Dalish did not sell their crafts, it was always a curiosity for humans when they were really able to buy something. It was usually small things: small leatherware, jewelry and figures of various animals and people of various races, all carved or halla horns or wood. Ironbark knives. Herbs, always most sought after, were promised to elder Vera. She was the first to come. Her son and one other man accompanied her, both carrying the sacks with the supply promised in exchange for herbs.
Lyenne greeted her.
„Our Keeper sends her greetings, elder.”
„She won’t be coming?” the elder looked surprised.
„No, elder, the Keeper has her duties to the clan.”
„I understand. Although I had a word for her.”
„You can give it to me then, elder” Lyenne bowed, perfectly polite. „As her First, i represent my mother here.”
„Of course. I wished to thank Deshanna and her hunters for searching the woods and sending the information. But I also wanted to warn her, that some people from Ansburg came, asking for the Dalish. It seems some elven bandits appeared.”
Elran noticed Odric wincing. For this man bringing the payment to the elves seemed to be too much.
„Then we will be warned, if some other of our kind appear” Lyenne answered, still smiling politely. A mask of a diplomat, unmoved and pleasant.
„Those are not only bandits. People from Ansburg are here, more armed men than usual. Look” the elder pointed out at one of the stalls. The merchant was selling clothes better than those, that the villagers could produce themselves, so many people gathered around him, talking and discussing the colors, patterns, and prices.
Two armed people, a man, and a woman, stood next to the stall, both as grim, as Odric usually was.
„There are two more, they are in the inn right now” the elder explained.
Lyenne nodded.
„Thank you for the warning, elder. We want no trouble, we will keep it calm.”
„So everyone hope” muttered Odric.
He left the sack he was carrying. In the opening, Elran saw mixed vegetables. This was a fine addition to the clan’s diet, provided the vegetables were not rotting: and then happened in the past, although not here.
Elran approached, opened the sack.
„What are you doing, rabbit?” Odric asked.
Elran ignored the slur.
„Checking,” he said calmly. „We are allowed to do it, am I mistaken?”
„He is.” Vera agreed. „Let him”
The vegetables were of lower quality, but this was acceptable. Elran smiled at his sister.
„Everything is in order.”
„Good. Let us show you what we have, elder, and honor the agreement.”
As they were finalizing the exchange, several people approached the Dalish stall. A girl of maybe five years looked at the elves wide-eyed. She reached out her hand when she saw a wooden halla figurine. Ahlin, the crafter, smiled at the child and at her parents, who looked uncertain if they should take their daughter, or allow her to watch the wares. Ahlin took the halla and showed, how the legs of the animals moved, how the gentle head could bow. The girl’s eyes were brighter and she started to drag her parent’s clothes, towards begging them to buy the toy. Ahlin smiled because after the villagers noticed their elder talking to the elves, they had gained courage. Soon the girl held the wooden halla and Ahlin put the first money to the box.
The parents with the kid were just the first customers. The others came: admiring the craft, wondering at how polite the elves were, leaving their money and taking the craft with them.
„Looks good for now” Lyenne noticed towards noon.
„If there are no rotten vegetables in the sacks, then yes, it is good” Elran agreed.
He leaned against the wall of the shack, watching the market.
As all gatherings, it was an opportunity to meet people from other villages, so there was music, a place to dance, stalls selling food and drinks. Young people were flirting and one could expect some children to be born nine months after – and some marriages to be arranged on Wintersend. One could also expect some fights later in the afternoon, but hopefully, until then the elves would be on their way to the encampment.
„I’ll get us something to drink” Elran offered.
In theory, they had full waterskins, but they weren’t forbidden from having ale or cider or wine in the village. Besides that, it was a good time to spend some of the money they earned. The clan always kept some human coins, just in case, but many of the wares offered in the market were far more valuable.
When he went towards the stall in front of the inn, some people stopped. They didn’t expect an elf to walk among them so freely.
A young woman at the innkeeper’s stall also looked at him for a long while, but judging from the reddish shade that appeared on her face it was rather because she thought of him as handsome. This had happened, sometimes, and Elran tried to avoid even flirting with human women. Just in case, no matter, how pretty they were and how much he enjoyed being polite and complimenting them. It caused him problems in the past, so he remained cautious. He just asked the girl for a jug of wine, paid her and went back.
Or at least tried.
Linayel, who came with them, Ahlin’s son, still a young man, almost a child, was apparently sent by his parent to the merchant from Ansburg.
They should remain more cautious after what the village elder said, Elran remembered. But the elder must have said something to the merchant, right?
They disregarded the threat, and now Elran saw one of the merchant’s guards standing above the young elf as if she wanted to make the boy run away.
Elran muttered the curse. The guard was a woman who could probably take a Qunari one on one and she had just grabbed the front of the boy’s clothing, pulling him toward her.
„What do you want, knife-ears?” she asked sharply. „Stealing, are we?”
„I wanted to ask the prices...” the boy managed to say, but the woman looked like she belonged to people who would not listen.
Elran put the jug on the table. In case of trouble, he would just grab Linayel and run. No fighting, unless absolutely necessary.
„I know your kind, scum” the woman spat. „Your people attacked us on the road. Came to finish what you couldn’t there?”
„That wasn’t us!” Linayel cried out.
„Bullshit!” the woman said, and just threw the boy on the ground.
The villagers and guests started to gather, forming a ring about them.
This was bad. Elran was not going to leave it this way.
He approached, slowly, making sure his hands remained visible.
„Peace, human,” he said to the guard, walking between and the boy. „Did the member of my clan offended you in any way?”
„He is a stealing rat.”
„Would that be true? The crafter from our clan sent him to check on the fabrics, but if he stole anything from you, what would that be?”
„You all are thieves. You attacked us on our way here.”
„I heard of the elven bandits you encountered,” Elran said. „The elder of the village warned us. We are here at her invitation and everything we want, is to trade, but if we disturb you too much, we will leave. Please” he looked at the merchant, who went from behind his stall, but remained silent by far. „let the boy leave, and we will leave too.”
The guard looked at her employer.
The merchant nodded.
„The elves had an agreement with the elder. Let them leave.”
Elran felt relief. He put the arm on Linayel’s shoulder and left the circle of villagers and guests.
Outside of it, the remaining elves waited.
„You did well,” Lyenne said, as Elran passed her.
She was going to attempt to negotiate, he knew. He indeed did well, although he was sure it was close. His sister was a better diplomat than him.
„Should we pack?” Ahlin asked.
Their son seemed disoriented and scared. He might have been not a child anymore, but still, being thrown around by a much larger human and surrounded by a crowd that might at one point decide to attack… every elf knew, what it meant to be alone among humans.
„Be prepared,” Elran said.
He was not going to leave Lyenne, not when some villagers might already start thinking of beating them up. Lyenne was by no means fragile, but if she was forced to defend herself… well, using magic might just add fuel to the fire, especially nowadays.
The crowd backed off, most of the people returning to what they were doing, but some were watching suspiciously two elves, who decided to return to the main square.
Fortunately, the elder was not hard to find.
Lyenne bowed.
„We are deeply sorry for the situation,” she said, despite it was clearly not their fault. But one had to make sacrifices if one didn’t want it to get worse.
„So am I” the elder answered. This made it a little better. Only a little, because she had instantly added: „It would be better if you left now.”
„We hoped to buy some things, but we will respect your wishes, elder.”
„Thank you, Lyenne. Tell your mother, then maybe, if you stay for a longer time, than maybe on another market day...”
„Of course elder. Thank you,” she said.
So it was over. They packed everything and rushed the harts on the way back.
„I feel powerless,” Lyenne said „I stood there and thought of the things I could offer her so we were allowed to stay, and I had nothing. I have enough of this. We humiliate ourselves because we believe that we could coexist… is it worth it? They had the upper hand. The elder might be friendly, but it’s being friendly on their terms. She would do nothing to protect us. And… Sometimes I wish we stopped this, stopped trying, stayed in the woods and just put arrows in every shemlen that approaches… And sometimes I wish I was someone. Someone really important. With power. So I could make offers and gain something in return, and not just telling how very sorry I am for something no one of us ever did.”
***
The strangers came two days later.
Four men and a woman, all of them elves. Three Dalish and two without valaslin on their faces – but while of those two was obviously an alienage elf used to hard work, the other had soft hands, a staff on his back and wore what was once a Circle robe, now damaged and cut in many places.
All of them looked, like they had a long road behind them, all of them carried weapons.
The hunter, that first scouted them, shoot an arrow to warn the strangers. One of the Dalish, the leader of the group stopped and called the archer, demanding to meet the Keeper.
„We didn’t expect to find you here” he explained later, as he and the others were brought to the encampment. „I’m Celyn.”
Elran and Lyenne watched them closely. Elran thought about the incident in the village, the mention of elven bandits, that gave that guard the pretext to attack. He was sure Lyenne was thinking about the situation as well.
It was not unusual for he elves who were forced to leave their clans – or who escaped any human settlement – to join mercenaries or bandits or to form bands on their own. Sometimes this was the only way to survive.
The Keeper narrowed her eyes. She was suspicious as well.
„What are you searching for?”
„A safe place to stay, we need nothing more, Keeper.”
„Why did you leave your clan?”
„Clans” the leader of the group corrected. „Ghilen will tell himself what happened, but Ineria and I are from clan Sabrae. Our Keeper is dead, our First...” He frowned, something unpleasant on his mind. „We had no Second, who could take over, we lost all of our hallas, and then the rebellion… the Sabrae Clan is no more.”
„So Maretheri is really dead.” the Keeper said.
„We had heard the rumors” Lyenne added. „How did it happen?”
„It was Merrill and her shemlen friend” Ineria snapped. „And we were not allowed to kill them!”
Elran and Lyenne exchanged looks. This put what Lyenne had read several days ago in a new light.
„We were cursed,” Celyn said, raising his hand to calm Ineria. „There is no other explanation. The mirror we found eight years ago, it must have been it. It took two of our hunters, Tamlen and Saliya...”
Elran felt a sudden sadness. Saliya Mahariel, the girl with freckled nose and hair like flames. He loved her once, when the clans crossed their paths, about ten years ago. He wanted to marry her, she was not interested. She was alive, he heard the rumors, but still, those were the rumors…
„...the Blight then” Celyn continued. „We barely escaped, but then our hallas died. Then some of us decided to leave for Ferelden, there was this rumor, that Saliya was alive and she did something important, and she granted our people lands there, but who would be foolish enough to believe a shemlen king? We got Dales once, and we lost it then. But some went. And then it turned out, that Merrill, the First, had this mirror with her...”
„What mirror?” Lyenne asked, her eyes shining. „You had an Eluvian?”
„Lyenne” mother interrupted her. „This is not of concern right now.”
„I don’t care, what is this cursed thing called” Celyn answered. „Merrill got obsessed and she started to talk to spirits… dangerous spirits. So our Keeper exiled her. She went with this shemlen, to the city, but then she returned and caused the demon, who was hiding in the mirror, possess the Keeper. The shemlen killed Marethari.”
Lyenne bit her lip, thinking. Elran didn’t like this. It was not that Lyenne had no sympathy for the clan affected so badly by the „curse”, but at the same time, she wanted the mirror.
For Elran, one First exiled and one Keeper killed because of this thing was enough.
Mother frowned.
„And then the clan fell apart. I see. It is a tragedy” she sighed. „And I offered Marethari help, but she rejected it. She was a prideful woman, and that ended badly, for her and for all of you.”
„Are you accusing our Keeper?” Ineria shouted. „It was Merrill and her shemlen friend! They should have died.”
„I’m not accusing. I just regret that we did not manage to help. It was a tragedy, for which not one person is responsible, was it a curse, or not. So I know your story. What about the others?”
The third Dalish, Ghilen, was exiled by his clan. He did not want to give details. There were scars across his face, deep gashes left by a bear and he suggested the incident he was involved in with his people was also the cause of them. That someone died. He felt betrayed by his clan and life hadn’t been kind for him afterward. He was angry and bitter – but so were Celyn and Ineria.
And so were the other two, whose stories were not hard to guess. Emon’ life in Strakhaven alienage was a chain of humiliation and violence until he got involved with the local gang, after which there were a slightly less humiliation and definitely more violence. Then he was forced to leave the city. Saven, the mage, was from Ostwick and his life was humiliation and violence as well, although he said the mages in Ostwick had it far better than those in Kirkwall. But Circle in Ostwick joined the rebellion too, and now Saven was on the run.
„So you met and decided to travel together.” the Keeper concluded.
„Yes.”
The Keeper nodded.
„I see. And what have you been doing since then?”
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. It was Lyenne who broke it.
„We had heard of a group of elven bandits on the road.”
The strangers looked at each other.
„We will not lie,” Celyn said. „Times are hard. We are desperate. Do you disapprove, that we live because we are taking from the shemlen?”
„Disapprove, maybe.” the Keeper said. „There are better ways, but you are right, the times are hard, you are desperate. I cannot condemn you. And I cannot refuse your help.”
It was because of them that we needed to leave the market, Elran thought. And then he corrected himself: No. It was because of the shemlen. And it was because of the shemlen that they started to attack merchants.
It still didn’t seem quite right, but there was a duty to one’s own kind. To a clan, that was on friendly terms with their and that got scattered due to horrible circumstances. To less fortunate kin, who lived among humans – even though so many Dalish scorned the city elves, but Elran was the son of a city elf.
„You can stay among us” the Keeper promised. „But you will be watched. And you are not allowed to leave the encampment as long, as we are here. After I decide that my clan leaves, you will decide if you want to part ways or if you want to try te become parts of the clan.”
„Not leaving the encampment?” Ghilen asked sharply. „This is restraining us!”
It was Ineria who stopped him, this time.
„The Keeper has her reasons. She needs to be cautious, for the safety of her clan… and for our safety as well. We accept the offer, right, Celyn?”
The leader of the group frowned, not exactly pleased, bud nodded.
„We agree,” he said. „This is for everyone’s safety.
***
„Is that a good idea?” Elran asked, as soon as the group left to set their own tents on the outskirts of the encampment.
„We have obligations” mother answered. „Celyn and Ineria are Sabrae. I was friends with Marethari. You were in love with the Mahariel girl.”
„They don’t hide they left because of the conflict with the rest of the remaining members of the clan,” Elran noted.
„And what would happen if mother and I were killed?” Lyenne asked. „If the circumstances were complicated if the clan had no Second, no one to lead them? I don’t like the situation. I don’t like the anger in them and the anger in the others, Emon and Ghilen particularly, but there is no reason to told them to leave.”
Elran nodded.
„The decision is yours, mother” he said to the Keeper.
„Elran” she answered him „We are concerned, Lyenne and I. And if anything happens, we will react. We will not put a blind eye to the fact they are bandits and that they were conflicted with their clans. Watch them. Say, if anything is wrong, or troubling, if they leave the camp if they seek for trouble with anyone.”
Elran agreed.
He knew, how strong was the urge to help their own. He knew that his mother felt responsible for what happened to the Sabrae clan, even if she knew it was not her responsibility. And he was curious, what Celyn and Ineria have to say about Saliya – even if he was over this love for a long time. But this time when two clans met and spent together three months was a good time. There were friendships and loves formed then and there were people among clan Lavellan who were friends with Celyn and Ineria and welcomed them as such.
This evening the guests gathered by the fire, the ex-Circle mage and the alienage elf a little lost, the three Dalish seemingly happy with being among their own people at last. The guests had wine, so there was a little more singing this evening, and the guests opened a little more.
Ghilen started to talk, telling the story of the conflict with his clan, a little different version of the story he told to the Keeper. There still was something off, he let something out – or was the Elran prejudiced?
„You are Elran” Ineria said, sitting next to him. „Keeper’s adopted son. You and our Saliya were a couple.”
„For a short time,” he said. „Yes. You know what happened to her?”
„Grey Warden took her, or so they say. Ever heard of the so-called „Hero of Ferelden”? That’s her. They said, she killed the Archdemon. Ashalle and some of the others went south to this land that was seemingly promised to her.”
„You don’t believe it?”
„That Saliya stopped the Blight? I believe it. But this land… shemlen give us things and then they take them from us. That’s how it always been. And they have no respect. Merrill’s friend...”
There was so much bitterness in Ineria’s voice.
„You said Marethari was possessed.” Elran reminded. „When someone is possessed, killing them is everything you can do.”
„Yet if the shemlen didn’t interfere, this might have not happened. She and Merrill share the blame. But Fenarel told us to let them leave, and most of the others agreed… what else could we do? We are exiles no” Ineria laughed „Like Merrill was, oh, irony. And the shemlen hate us and fear us. They have a reason, I think.”
There was something dark and unpleasant in her voice, along with the bitterness.
She looked at her cup.
„I think I had drunk too much. Listen, Elran, I think I will leave you now. I’m sorry.”
„It’s all right,” he answered.
Meanwhile, Ghilen ended his story and some people started to sing. Elran noticed also, that Linayel was talking to the alienage elf. Or rather, the alienage elf was talking and Linayel was listening and nodding.
This is nothing unusual, Elran thought. It is normal, it is even good, that he wants to listen to an elf who lived with humans. Learn from his experience.
Yet there was something that disturbed Elran.
When anger becomes too much anger? When there is the moment you should stop?
Elran had never experienced some effects of the prejudice humans had against the elves… yet he had heard his share and he suspected there was something dark and awful in his birth mother’s past. And he understood Lyenne’s frustration that day when they were forced to leave the market. No matter how many attempts they made to live with humans peacefully, it always was tempting to take a different stance. Because no matter what you do, shemlen either hated you or despised you or hurt some of your people. So why not become what they imagined you to be?
Emon went this way, Elran believed. Ghilen too. What about the other three?
And it was Linayel who had been hurt that day in the village, attacked without reason and thrown around. And Elran remembered too well, how it was the first time he was attacked although he did nothing wrong. How much he wanted to hurt the humans then. How much he wanted to hurt them many, many times later – for the sake of others. How it was to see an arrow in Lyenne’s back when one noble chose her as his target practice.
How much anger is too much?
Elran stood up and he felt all the wine he drunk going to his feet. He was not used to it: or maybe the chaos of thoughts in his head made it too much. He decided that it was time to go to sleep.
On the way to his place in the aravel he noticed two people arguing between the trees.
It was Ghilen and Ineria. He couldn’t really hear, what they were talking about, but she shouted and then Ghilen stepped forwards and pushed her, violently.
Elran’s instincts activated. He just went there, stepping in between the two of them, arms spread wide, to stop them from fighting farther.
„What is going on?” he asked sharply.
„This is not your thing,” Ghilen answered.
„Maybe, but you attacked your companion. In our camp. It is my duty to stop such incidents. So what is going on?”
Maybe it was a bad idea to say it looking at Ghilen, while it was Ineria shouting before, but Elran saw her as a potential victim here – and he already noticed Ghilen is the one who has tendencies towards violence.
„It is not your thing, son of a flat-ear!” Ghilen snapped at him.
This, this was too much.
„You are here,” Elran said, his voice cold as ice „Because the Keeper allowed you. She can revoke her permission every time. And insulting the woman, who gave birth to me is not the best idea you ever had. Neither is attacking one of your own. Remember that. Now go.”
Ghilen cursed and left.
Elran looked at Ineria.
„Are you all right?” he asked.
She looked angry.
„Perfectly. I didn’t ask you to intervene.”
„I know. I did what was my duty. What was it about?”
She threw him a displeased glance.
„This is your thing.”
This was not the moment to pressure her, so Elran backed off.
„All right, Ineria” he said. „I apologize for asking then. Sleep well.”
***
Maybe it all would not happen if Elran wouldn’t go into the forest the next day. Armed for hunting, bow, arrows and a long knife, he left his sword at the camp. More people with the clan meant more food was needed, and since the clan decided to avoid trading with humans for a while, it meant relying more on what the forest could give. And Elran needed to clean his mind a little. Not that wine affected it – only the thoughts, but it was always thoughts that were the most dangerous.
He found trails of several animals and left traps in the places most likely to be visited by them. He followed a deer for a while but lost track of the animal. Then he went to the end of the forest, to the hill from which the village and the lone farm were visible.
The farm wasn’t there anymore.
Or, the building stood there, but the roof was burnt. It must have happened some time ago since there was no smoke anymore. Elran saw no people nearby: at this time someone should work in the garden or in the pen, where the animals were. But the pen was open and no livestock could be seen anywhere.
Elran cursed. Slowly, he slid down the hill towards the farm.
If any shemlen saw him right now, he could be accused: he knew that, but he needed to know what had happened.
The smell of blood and rotting meat was strong, as he approached. Not the first time he felt it in his life – not the last time also. The first body lied in a garden patch, already partially torn by animals. A crow was sitting on the dead human and it flew away, as Elran approached.
There could be wild dogs or larger scavengers around. In particularly bad cases, some demon could use the dead bodies. Elran took out the knife, just in case.
The body in the patch was a woman, judging from the clothes. No way to see how she died, the body was too damaged by animals, but her face was still intact and it ad expression of pain and fear.
„Creators, have mercy” Elran muttered to himself.
As he expected, this was not the only corpse he found. There was another, a man, lying at the threshold, a rake near his hand. Like the woman, he too was partially eaten. The other bodies Elran found in the house itself, not burnt even – the fire did not manage to take the entire house. One of the bodies in the house was a child – a boy about maybe ten-twelve years, the other an elderly woman. The fifth and sixth were next to the open animal pen.
He tried not to think of the people who visited the market. The family living on the farm must have been there, but who was it? The dead humans were unrecognizable anyway.
How much was too much?
Whoever did it – and Elran had all too painful suspicion who did – took valuables and apparently most of the food. The entire thing was sloppy and cruel. Elran didn’t suspect there was anything in the house, that would justify murdering six people. Probably nothing justified murdering six people.
Equally horrible was the thought, how would the villagers react. They already knew of the elven bandits, and they were going to ascribe the murder to them, as soon, as they realize what happened. And regardless if the group that asked Elran’s clan for help was responsible or not, Elran knew it was over. They needed to go – as soon as possible.
He walked around the house once more in the hope of finding something – any proof that it was not the guests who did it. He found – drag marks leading towards the hill slope. When he followed, it led them to a rocky scarp and a large stone, that looked like it was covering something.
Elran sighed. If any Dalish participated in this, they were careless. His people knew better, how to cover the tracks.
Not that any shemlen was going to listen to this reasoning.
Behind the rock, he saw a den filled with barrels and sacks. Food: fruits and vegetables, preserved meat. Some wine and ale.
He heard footsteps outside, up the hill. Silent ones – someone trained in moving silently through the forest, Dalish or skilled human scout. Elran backed away, knife in his hand.
Above he saw Celyn. He held a bow, arrow on the chord, but lowered it as he recognized Elran.
„You were not supposed to leave the camp,” Elran said.
Calm. Remain calm. This still can be a misunderstanding.
The other elf jumped down the scarp. He didn’t even look at the den.
„I hoped nobody will notice,” he said.
„And you were going to what? Take some of your spoils?”
Celyn didn’t even wince.
„This is a lot of supplies,” he said. „More than we would be able to take with us. You could use them.”
The unpleasant, chest clutching feeling came back. Elran hoped, really hoped… but what was a chance for another band in the area, unnoticed by now?
„Really, Celyn?”
Celyn shrugged.
„I could lie.”
„I saw the farm. I saw the dead bodies. Tell me anything that explains that.”
„Look, this was not a plan. Ghilen and Ineria went to steal some food, but were noticed...”
„Then they should run.”
„Probably. Ghilen decided otherwise. Emon joined, and I couldn’t leave Ineria. Saven cast some fire spell, the roof started burning… this had got out of control.”
He spoke so calmly about the situation. As if there weren’t six dead bodies lying there, left for scavengers to feed. Six dead bodies, that were going to be discovered sooner or later.
„And you didn’t tell us.”
„And what would you do?”
„Maybe I would not put my own people in danger like this. The villagers know already about elven bandits. Who do you think they are going to look for when they discover what you had done?” Elran shook his head. „Celyn, I really hoped it was not you.”
„So what are you going to do now?” Celyn asked. There was something sharp in his voice.
„We are going to return to the camp. The Keeper must learn about this.”
„So she gives us to the shemlen?” Celyn snorted.
„Celyn… don’t...”
But Celyn already had a knife in his hand. Elran backed off, fingers on the hilt of his own weapon.
„You don’t want to do this,” he said.
„My life, Ineria’s and Ghilen’s” he said. He did not mention Saven or Emon. „Or the life of the son of a flat-ear whore? The choice is obvious.”
Elran clenched his teeth. How much anger was too much?
He was going to try to reason with Celyn as long, as it was possible. This was what his mother taught him.
„We were friends with your clan.”
„My clan doesn’t exist anymore. And I’m not risking losing the people I am with now.”
He attacked.
He was rained in close combat using daggers, so he was quick, intending to hit and jump away.
Elran grabbed his arm with one hand and used the other to push the knife in between panels of enforced leather.
Celyn gasped. Elran felt blood on his hand, where he held the knife pressed int other elf's stomach. He also felt a jab in his arm - Celyn used his dagger to attack, but his fingers relaxed quickly as did the entire body.
He fell on the ground and Elran released his knife.
„Sweet Mythal, forgive me,” Elran said. „Ir abelas. Falon’Din enasal enaste.”
There was blood on his hands and on his arm. There were tiny speckles of blood on his face. Elran dragged Celyn’s body to the bushes, then washed in a stream.
He felt pain. It shouldn’t happen. He killed one of his own people, someone, who he promised to help.
When the previous day he had doubts, he still had hope. And now he felt like he participated in something horrible.
He was not responsible for the human family’s death. But he participated in what happened next.
***
Elran found his mother in the camp, studying one of the books Lyenne bought in Markham. She rose her head and notice her son, who was far too calm as he entered the tent.
„We need to move,” he said.
The Keeper rose and approached him. She noticed the wound on his arm and speckles of blood on his clothes.
„Shemlen?” she asked.
„Our own. Celyn is dead. I killed him.”
„What happened?” she asked.
Elran told her everything he found and the Keeper listened to him.
„We cannot leave it like this.” he finished.
She closed her eyes, shook her head slowly.
„We cannot” she agreed. „Oh, Creators, this is not a decision one can make without pain. I hope we are going to be forgiven…”
Elran inhaled slowly.
„We need to kill them” he guessed.
Not that he did not expect this outcome. Not that it wasn’t what he feared from the very beginning.
The Keeper nodded.
„I will listen to them, but I don’t expect we learn something that will save them. They murdered the entire family, endangering us, and they didn’t inform us. Come, son.
She put her arm on Elran’s shoulder, a reassuring gesture, however, Elran was aware, that it was hard for her too.
She must have felt some guilt over clan Sabrae’s fate, even if she was not the one to blame and she did everything she could.
A hunter, who was sitting outside and working on her arrows, noticed how serious the Keeper’s face was. She stood up instantly.
„I need you to gather everyone,” the Keeper said. „Make sure our guests came too. Except for Celyn, you are not going to find him.”
The hunter nodded and run to inform the rest of the clan.
They waited.
Lyenne came as soon as it was possible.
„What is happening?” she asked.
„We are going to have blood on our hands, lethallan.” mother answered.
Elran just shook his head.
Soon everyone was gathered. Elran noticed, that Ineria was looking around – she was looking for her friend for sure, but he wasn’t coming.
„I see everyone is here” the Keeper spoke. „The news I have for you are bad. We need to move from here as soon as possible.”
Elran noticed surprise at some faces: but what interested him more were the expressions of their guests. Ineria was started to look around more, uncertain, how she should understand Celyn’s absence and Keeper’s words that everyone is gathered. Emon looked scared. Ghilen was looking at the hunters nearby, while Saven moved his lips as if he was saying a prayer.
Creators forgive us, Elran thought.
He felt his mother’s hand on his shoulder.
„My son, tell them what have you found.”
Elran closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath.
„I saw a shemlen farm robbed, roof burned, six people killed – among them a woman untrained in combat, a child and an old woman. It happened a night before and the villagers haven’t found the corpses yet. But it is possible someone is discovering them as we speak. And we all know, the shemlen will come for us. They heard of the elven bandits. They will ascribe guilt to us.”
the members of the clan looked at one another. The guests stood in between them, nervous snd stiff, except for Ghilen, who already had his hand near the hilt of his knife.
The same gesture, that cost Celyn his life.
„Where is Celyn?” Ineria asked.
Elran looked her straight into the eyes.
„He is dead.”
The woman shivered, with stress, with anger, with guilt?
„What happened?” she demanded.
„He left the encampment against the deal you had with the Keeper. He went to the den where you hid the spoils. When he found me there, he attacked me.”
„Murderer!” Ineria shouted.
Elran stood there unmoved.
„What this makes you then?” he asked.
„Those were shemlen and they attacked us!” Ghilen said. He had his hand on the knife already and there already were clan’s hunters moving to encircle the four strangers. At the same time, hahren started to gather younger children to take them away.
„Maybe if you told us” the Keeper said in a cold voice „You would make your situation better. But you hid from us what you did. You hid from us something, that can endanger us. You killed shemlen, yes, but now shemlen can kill your people because of that. And even though it were shemlen, they did nothing to you, some of them weren’t even a threat.”
„So what are you going to do?” Ghilen asked. „Murder us all? What that would make you?”
„What makes you allowed to endanger us? Our children? Are we going to let you go, so you killed more shemlen who did nothing, but tried to defend themselves – and their families? To put in danger more of your people? Killing you is a horrible thing, but what else can we do.”
„Traitors!” Ineria exclaimed.
Ghilen took out his knife. Saven was rose his hands, prepared to cast – as an answer Lyenne and clan’s Second grabbed their staves.
„Restrain them.” the Keeper ordered, and the hunters obeyed. She approached and Elran followed her.
She approached Ghilen.
„I know you were exiled,” she said. „I know you are not telling us everything. If what Celyn told Elran before he died, you were the one who started the killing on the far. I see you have too much anger in you, too much violence. I see no reason I should let you go.”
„Fen’Harel ma halam” Ghilen spat.
„You chose your fate.” the Keeper said. „Ir abelas.”
She moved away, leaving the rest to her son.
She knows what she is doing, Elran thought. Better than the blood fell on as little hands as possible.
I don’t want to do it, but it is necessary.
He looked Ghilen in the eyes, as he pushed the knife into his body.
The same thing again: blood on his fingers. Ghilen’s eyes full of hatred, as his life slowly left him.
„Maker, protect me, Maker, protect me.” Saven started to pray.
But it was not his turn now. It was Ineria.
„Just let your flat ear do it” she said. „Let’s get over it. I would tell you, if Ghilen wouldn’t stop me, but now it’s too late. Celyn is dead. If you let me go, I will hunt you and your clan.”
The Keeper nodded.
„It is your choice”.
It is her choice, Elran thought. I would not do it, if I could. But I need to protect my people, my clan, my family.
She said nothing more and she died silently, and Elran felt, like something inside him had gotten more empty.
The Keeper looked at the last two elves. The mage had his eyes closed, his lips moved, as he prayed to the shemlen god and his prophet.
He was hurt before, Elran thought. If the rumors what happened in the Circles were true.
„You two” mother said. The mage opened his eyes, looked at her, scared. „You were hurt by humans more, than those three who are dead. I know how alienages look like. I heard, what was happening in the Circles. I did what was necessary, but I give you a choice – other than this”
She pointed her head to the corpses on the ground and Elran sighed with relief. No more killing.
„What choice is that?” Emon asked.
„You may stay with us. It might be hard, regarding we had just killed your companions” the Keeper said. „But if you choose it, we will accept you as if you were our people. You might not be Dalish, but you are from elvhen blood. I once took in a woman born in alienage – and when she died treated her child as my own. My clan can see you as kin. What is your choice?”
„If we go,” Emon asked. „Would you send hour hunters after us?”
„This is what you think we do.” the Keeper said, shaking her head. „No. Not my clan.”
„Then I will take the risk. You would never accept me, not after this. Saven?” he looked at the mage, but the mage just shook his head.
„I… I’ll risk staying here. It is worse outside.”
For him it was, Elran thought.
The Dalish were able to give a little safety to their mages. Some clans got rid of excessive talented children – some traded them. But clan Lavellan was large enough to accept one more mage among their ranks.
„They will see you as a murderer” Emon warned his companion.
„This is better than templars. As you were better. I’ll stay, Keeper, if you allow me.”
She nodded.
„You may stay then. And you” she pointed at Emon. „Take your things and go. May we never see you again.”
Emon threw a glance at the corpses and to his remaining companion and went, followed by two hunters assigned to guard him.
„Lyenne” the Keeper said to her daughter. „Could you take care of our guest.
Lyenne nodded.
„Of course.”
She approached the mage, smiled, although he was not in a place where even the most friendly smile would help him. Yet Elran knew Saven was in good hands. Lyenne, with her empathy and diplomatic skills, was the perfect person to calm the mage down and convince him he did well.
But there was one more reason mother sent Lyenne away.
In the middle of the encampment only Elran and three other hunters remained: and the corpses. The Keeper inhaled deeply.
„We have one more thing to do,” she said. „And it is not a light task I am to ask you to perform. It is not a decision that is easy to make. It is not something we should be doing. But the people of the village must know, what happened. They must know they are safe now and they must know we made it possible.”
„We are not going to tell them...” one of the hunters started.
Elran shook his head.
„Now. We need to show them corpses,” he said. Was it what his mother was thinking of or just his own horrible idea? It hurt even thinking about this. „Leave them in a place the shemlen will see and recognize. The tree. The tree is the right choice.”
It was not a right choice, but was there a really right choice in this situation? Elran doubted it.
***
It was one of the views Elran was to remember for the rest of his life. Those were not anonymous people. They had names and faces and he and his clan promised them protection: and then killed them personally. And then came up with the idea of leaving the corpses on the large tree. A sign for the villagers. Cruelty against his own kind.
Their death was quick – he was telling himself. Their death was necessary.
They were Dalish though and they deserved a proper burial and vallasdahlen planted on their graves. Humans will possibly leave the corpses hanging or, at best, will burn them.
What he could give to Celyn, Ghilen, and Ineria was a prayer.
What he could leave for the humans was a paper left with the corpses, pinned with am ironbark knife: „There are things we will not allow”.
How much anger is too much? How much killing is too much?
Nine lives wasted. Three elves killed and left on a tree. A forest and a village Elran hoped never to visit anymore.
No Savior Vivre guidances explained how you should behave when you are kind of stuck with an evil alien leader whom you tried to assassinate

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