It’s been a long while since she gathered any types of books for schoolwork. The last time she’d been doing something like this she had been rifling through the scarce stores of books of The Gondola, searching for something that could help her in teaching Carmen how to read— and of course, pilfering anything helpful from the stores on the street, though most of the book shops were in the higher market district, where all the nobles skulked.
What she does for knowledge, she thinks, pushing the door open with her foot. She sticks her head in inquisitively (it’s your own room, she tells herself incredulously) and looks around, her brow furrowing when she doesn’t see him anywhere.
Lady moves inside and shuts the door behind her by kicking it with her heel. Damn Chantry pamphlets are /heavy/.
Now, where is the student-to-be?
The night he spent with Lady was relatively quiet save for that moment he discovered how to say hands in Ferelden. Qanik covers his face with his palm when he remembers how excited he got over the prospect of being able to explain to her that they were married. However, one couldn’t really explain such a thing with only one word. He remembered how he repeated “hands” to her and how shecwould just stare at him and say, “yes, hands.” It ended up with him sighing and Lady ushering him to sleep.
The next morning, Lady resumes teaching him words she could, but things she could point at soon ran out. Lady asks him to stay and so he does. And he spends the next few hours sitting or pacing inside her room. That is until there was a knock on the door which Qanik doesn’t hesitate to open.
He finds an elderly woman with pails of water near her feet.
“Someone asked me for warm water. Here it is.” Of course Qanik doesn’t understand any of this, so he just smiles in the kindest way he knows. And the lady takes this as a yes, so she shoos him from blocking the door. The next moment consisted of her empyting the buckets on the wooden tub in Lady’s room.
“Enjoy your bath.” Then she leaves Qanik all alone again. He is left staring at the door when she’s gone. Then he looks at the tub. He knew what it was. His tribe had a tub albeit it was built rather clumsily. People would take turns using it when the weather was too cold for a bath in the river. Qanik sniffs himself. A bath wasn’t such a bad idea now. So he strips.
She sighs when she gets no response and steps inside, cursing when the books in her arms slip around and the corner of one hits her in the crook of the elbow. The window’s open, she manages to observe before the books take her attention again. She hadn’t left it open. Had she?
“Oh, stuff it,” she snaps, and she’s too busy trying to realign the books so they don’t fall to take note of anything else until a small splash gets her attention.
Quite stupidly, she looks up and her eyes fall on the wooden tub she uses to bathe in the far corner of the room. It is occupied. Very, very occupied. She is suddenly aware of the scent of lavender and thyme soap— her favorite— and the small tendrils of steam crawling over the edge of the tub. A strangled sound of surprise escapes her as she turns on her heel so fast she nearly trips. She’s sure she is brick red from the base of her neck to the tip of her pointed ears.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t know—” she stutters, inching sideways to the bed to put the books there, her back still turned to him.
Lady gulps and claps her hands to her burning cheeks. /It’s nothing you haven’t seen before,/ a little voice in her mind sneers, but she ignores it.
How is it possible that she always finds herself in the most awkward situations?
Qanik uses the towels nearby to dry himself. As he does, he hears the door open. /Lady,/ Qanik thinks and hastens to fasten the towel around his hips. Well, Lady is allowed to /see/ him, but Qanik wasn’t quite ready to show everything to her. Maybe he shouldn’t have taken that bath. /But it would have been such a waste to let the water go cold./
She has her back turned when he faces her. Qanik crosses the distance between them.
“Lady,” he pauses to peer at her side, “hello.”
She tries to say something in return but all that comes out is a jumble of hardly coherent syllables. She fumbles for another moment before she manages to spit out a quick “hello” and then rubs the back of her neck nervously. This is torturous. He’s standing inches away and she can feel the heat of him at her back. /Maker,/ she thinks, /you have the cruelest sense of humor of any god I have ever known./
“I brought you books,” she says, but it sounds more like “Eybroughtyoobiks” in hindsight, because her accent is jumbling everything up and she can’t quite remember at the moment how Fereldan is supposed to be spoken. Instead she points at the small pile of reading material she has abandoned carelessly on the bed.
Lady marches over to the dresser— she had fetched a pair of clean clothes yesterday from the innkeeper, after the Chasind had fallen asleep— and pulls out the change of clothes, hoping that they’ll fit him. She all but shoves them in his face, still looking at the ground, the tips of her dark ears scarlet.
The clothes fit him well, but the trousers seem to have belonged to a man shorter than him. He shrugs it off as he pulls the shirt over his head. When he’s done dressing, he cocks his head to try to get a look at Lady who was staring at the ground.
“Lady?” He says, “Thank…you.” Then he smiles to her before he turns to the books on the bed. Qanik picks one up with his hand.
“Andraste,” he whispers as he stares at the cover.
“Y-you’re welcome,” she replies, caught off guard. She doesn’t even properly explain it, either. Great start to the beginning of her teaching career, she thinks. She sighs and steeples her fingers in an attempt to keep still. She watches him look over the book and then nods at his comment. She moves over, careful not to get too close (she’s still conscious of him, it’s terrible, like she has no skin and all her nerves are exposed to the air), and opens the book carefully.
“Yes, Andraste,” she says, and then points at the representation of the Hand of the Maker on the next page, bold in dark ink against the page of the book. “Maker.”
“Maker,” Qanik repeats after Lady. He repeats again until he gets to say it the best he can. And she moves on to other words when he nods at her. There are large pictures drawn on the material. Lady’s finger hovers over an illustration depicting Andraste and the Maker together. Qanik narrows his eyes. He was familiar with their god’s story. His sister was fond of stories, and he deemed it useful to know the foreigner’s god. His familiarity made learning the Fereldan tongue easier.
“Wife,” Lady tells him while tapping Andraste’s image.
“Wife,” Qanik mirrors Lady. This time, he gets it correctly on his first try. Then he turns his head to look at Lady who was standing a few steps from him. He bites his lip and then he steps closer to her. His gaze falls upon her. “Wife.”
He learns fast, she thinks, blinking in surprise. Getting the hang of the harsh Fereldan ‘r’s very quickly. Well, here’s one thing religious propaganda is good for. It’s so simple and manufactured that it’s magnificent for starter-level reading. She nods in approval when he gets the second word right, and then all thoughts screech to a halt when he starts addressing her.
She holds up her hands in a mock gesture of defeat. “Whoa, mate, getting ahead of yourself here,” she says, her mouth turning a bit downwards. “I’m no one’s wife.” The thought of getting married leaves a sour taste in her mouth. The last time she had been ready to commit like that she had been foolish, young, and far too head over heels to see what was really going on.
“Lady,” she says firmly, patting her chest.
“Yes.” Qanik narrows her eyes at her. He knows it would not be easy to explain to her his customs, but he had to try. He has to tell her what happened yesterday. Qanik takes a deep breath. “Hands.” He said slowly. “Wife.”
Lady blinked at him.
Yes. It definitely seems it won’t be that easy to explain… especially if you only had a few words under your arsenl. So Qanik decides to act it out. He paces in the room as he thinks on how to go about it. Then he starts acting out what happened starting from the point where the woman was beating him. Qanik knows he must look crazy, but it is the only way. So he rolls on the ground trying to reenact that moment. Then he stands up to take Lady’s place. He looks at Lady and pats his chest, “Lady.” Then he holds out his hand slowly. He waits a few seconds before he resumes playing his self. He heaves as he holds out his hand while laying on the ground.
There’s an awkward pause.
The lump in her throat seems to get bigger and bigger as she watches him take on the roles of what had happened two days past— at first she had thought to laugh and step back, but then she had started to recognize his actions. He is replaying the events of their first meeting. She furrows her brows in concentration, trying to understand and follow.
It is visible when the comprehension washes over her. The blood drains from her face as she takes a seat at the edge of the bed, pinching the bridge of her nose between two fingers. She doesn’t know how or why it’s happened, but apparently the Chasind believes them married. No wonder he wouldn’t go on his merry way. She resists the urge to pull fistfuls of her hair into her hands.
“Oh, Maker.” Her voice sounds like a croak even to her, raspy from shock.
She looks up at him, her hands gesturing to the distance between them. “But we can’t be— /married./ We don’t love each other. We don’t even know each other!”
/We don’t even speak the same language,/ the voice in her head supplies.
She knows she won’t be able to get more than a simple meaning across, so she settles for just shutting her eyes and trying to quell the thudding that has begun to appear between her temples.
She is visibly upset. And this makes Qanik uneasy. The look on Lady’s face makes him ponder about leaving. He would probably survive the streets better anyway. He knew more words now thanks to her. He feels his heart sink when she shuts her eyes. And this urge to take her in his arms rises from somewhere he did not know. He knows he should just leave to stop making things hard for her, but he walks to her instead. And he kneels in front of her.
His brows are furrowed in worry but he doesn’t know. His thoughts are only about trying to make her smile again, that same smile she gave him when she asked him to stay. He reaches out, hesitates, but moves forward to take her hand in his. Her small hands still fit perfectly in his.
“W-wife?” The words get caught in his mouth. “Qanik…” /is sorry./
He folds his other hand over hers.
She opens her eyes when she feels her hand being squeezed. Stop it, she tells herself. Stop being so affectionate and sincere. She looks at him, puzzled, as though he is a problem and she the scholar. If only it could be that easy. People are not read and told by glances. If that were so, the Chasind would have been miles away by now. He would have gazed into her and seen the wear and the damage and the darkness. She is not a guardian or a guide. This man is obviously honorable and earnest.
She hasn’t been either in years.
Her expression takes an apologetic turn. “I’m sorry,” she says as if he would understand. “It’s a bit much to take in all at once.”
Lady tugs at his hands and makes him take a seat next to her. “I’ve told you not to kneel to me, haven’t I?”
Qanik smiles when she opens her eyes. He still smiles when he reads a tinge of sorrow there. Lady starts saying things he doesn’t understand, and he wonders if it meant that she has accepted what happened. When she tugs his hand, he moves to sit beside her.
Silence falls the moment he sits, yet he doesn’t let go of her hand. He could feel where her skin hardened and where blades must have cut her. Qanik wonders what she must have gone through, and he feels this surge of protectiveness swell in his chest. He squeezes her hand one more time before reaching out for the chantry pamphlet behind them.
“Ugh…” he pauses, flips to where they left off. “Andraste. Maker… wife… yes?”
She nods, pointing at the bolded word “BRIDE” in proud, swirling letters. “Bride. Wife,” she says slowly, hoping that he’ll catch that the words mean just about the same thing.
Same meaning, different words. Fereldan has a lot of that. Synonyms. Though it is not nearly as bad as Rivaini, where one word can have twelve variants and forms, the meaning and existence of the noun changing with the slightest tweak of the suffixes. She supposes she won’t be teaching Rivaini any time soon.
Lady then turns the page over, and as a second thought, yanks her boots off and draws her feet up to sit cross-legged. Ah. Much more comfortable. She unclips her cloak and lays it beside her. No sense in sitting here fully garbed. It was warm in the room anyway. She pulls up a sleeve as she points to a new image, one showing Andraste wielding a flaming blade. Rather convenient for the Chantry to explain her as just a rather blessed warrior.
She never really was much of an Andrastian anyway.
“Mage,” she says, tracing the outline of the unnatural fire lacing Andraste’s blade.
It makes him glad that Lady did not throw him out of the room the moment he declared she is his wife. As he flips from page to page, she would teach him words and wait patiently until he gets it right. Casually, he places a hand on the area of the bed behind her. His wide shoulders were getting in the way of seeing the pages properly so he inches closer to her.
“Beautiful,” he hears her say as she points to a large illustration of Andraste’s portrait.
“B-b-” Qanik clenches his teeth. That must be the hardest word so far.”Beautiful,” he manages to say albeit clumsily. He raises his eyes from the page and looks at Lady’s eyes. “Beautiful.”
All the blood that has ever run through her veins feels like it rushes to her head in a hot wave that makes her blink and take in a sharp breath of surprise. She looks at him in shock, not noticing that her mouth has dropped open with disbelief. Compliments. Lady had forgotten they existed. She tries to think back to the last time someone praised her appearance, not her skill with a blade or her swiftness.
(“You’re a pretty one, aren’t you?”)
No. Not exactly the memory she had been seeking.
She swallows—gulps, more like it— and says in a whisper of amazement, “Thank you.” She coughs, scratching at her neck, and then gestures to him. “And you are handsome.” She makes a mock balancing gesture with her hands. “Beautiful,” she says for herself, and “handsome” for him. Male and female.
And there it goes again. She feels her cheeks go warm once more.
“Hand-some,” saying it makes Qanik laugh. “Qanik? Handsome? No.” He tells Lady and just smiles at her. He had always been the odd one out in his tribe. No one really liked him save for his sister… and his mother when she was still alive. He was Qanik, the warrior with a gentle heart. No one would want to hunt with Qanik, the warrior who always got lost. No one favored Qanik, the warrior his father didn’t want. His expressions shifts into a somber one at the thought. He tries to shake it off but the feeling stays there. Yet when he shifts his gaze upon Lady, the sadness goes away in an instant and his lips curve into a warm smile.
“Wife - ugh… Lady,” he stops her hand from flipping to another page, “thank you.”
“Yes,” she says, poking his arm playfully, though the action takes more courage than she would like to admit. “You. Handsome. Have you ever looked into a mirror?” Her grin smooths when she sees a look better suited for her come over his face.
She smiles a bit when he thanks her and a shock of red colors her cheeks at his gentle expression. She ducks him under the chin so he can look at her directly, and she is surprised by the scratch of stubble there. The thought that scruff suits him is a bit of a shock, but she takes it better this time. Like she had said before, it’s not convoluted alchemy. She can admire, can’t she? (But that precedes attachment, the little voice reminds her, niggling.)
“You’re welcome,” she says. “Thank you. You’re welcome.” Answer and reply. Though newly-married, she supposes, this is the most comfortable she’s felt around a person in decades. Perhaps it’s the obligatory use of the fewest words possible that ensure honesty. She puts a hand on her collarbone to indicate herself.
And before she can quite overthink it, she lets herself lean against him. It’s tiring to spend the entire lesson avoiding him anyway. Right? Right.