“Fire,” Qanik says as he lights the leftover firewood. Lady’s room isn’t big enough for a huge fireplace, but this one would be enough.
“Pot,” he whispers as he places the pot above the brewing fire. He has been reciting words ever since the morning. All of it had been taught by Lady. Qanik remembers the night she spent patiently teaching him Fereldan. The words were easier to learn than he anticipated, but some of it sounded like he had something stuck on his mouth or on his teeth. He rubs his jaw as he remembers how much he repeated “beautiful.” His lips curve upward when the image of Lady’s twitching ears crossed his mind. He wasn’t really referring to her by his 6th try at the word, but the first time he properly said it, he did mean it.
And she just had to call him handsome. Qanik shrugs it off. His sister liked telling him such as well, but he never believed it. He sighs and rubs the growing stubble on his chin. Qanik reaches for a wooden spoon.
“Spoooon,” he recites while stirring the stew.
The scent of his cooking is beginning to rise. Soon it will be ready. As he waits, Qanik hopes Lady will like it. It is the only way he can thank her at that moment. Well, at least until he learns enough of their language to read her a certain letter she appears to need so badly. And he hopes… he hopes that the words he would read to her can help her, so that her efforts would not be in vain.
Her stomach reacts to the smell of food before she does. It’s growling as she pushes the door open with the help of her elbow. More books, she thinks— soon she will turn into a veritable library. And here she had thought leaving behind most of her belongings in Rivain would have encouraged her from gathering more. Once a packrat always a packrat, she supposes. Her eyes practically pop from her skull when she sees what’s going on.
“You’ve turned my room into a kitchen!”
She doesn’t sound disappointed, but merely surprised. Coming back to a Chasind wilder cooking over your fireplace is not a sight she has often seen. Her cloak is soon abandoned at the chair beside the bed and the books left on the bed itself save for one, which she carries over to him. It’s a collected anthology of Chasind tales, and she had gone through a pretty bit of trouble to get her hands on it. Stories like these are rarely documented, and even more rarely up for the taking. Her student, however, would have nothing but the best. If she was going to teach him Fereldan, she was going to teach him properly.
“Good evening,” she says, and then reaches back to loosen her hair tie. It’s been giving her a headache. “That smells lovely,” she murmurs as she shakes out her hair and gives a sigh of relief at the feeling of her scalp relaxing.
“Hello,” Qanik murmurs while he stirs the stew to completion. He doesn’t turn to look at her as she shuffles through the room. There’s a thud here and there, but he’s too focused at his cooking to see what she is doing. He takes the small wooden bowl he set near the fireplace and scoops Lady a serving. When he turns to face her, he feels his blood rush to his face and his breath stick in his throat.
“W-w-wife. Lady. Hello.” He doesn’t know it, but his mouth is agape. Lady with her hair loose seems to have this effect on him. He doesn’t even notice the book she’s clutching.
There’s a part of him that enjoys how her hair softly falls on her shoulders and how it curls here and there… /How it curls in the perfect places./ He clears his throat at the thought.
“Ugh. Qanik. C-cook. Food.” He tells her as he offers her the stew.
Her nose twitches at being called ‘wife’ but she lets it slide. That will be cleared up when his fluency takes a turn in the direction of full sentences. She chuckles a bit when he stutters, only because it’s rather endearing, and she takes the proffered bowl in exchange for the book she had gotten him. While he’s puzzling out the title she takes a tentative sip of the stew, and is very surprised to find that it tastes good. More than good.
“This is wonderful,” she says, nodding to her bowl, smiling to make sure he understands she’s having a positive reaction. “Thank you.” He’s full of surprises. First declaring some sort of apparent marriage, learning a good portion of Fereldan words overnight, putting them in use and now cooking her a meal. What else does he do? Sing? Stand on his head?
“You should have some too,” she reminds him, sitting cross-legged by the fire place and pulling her hair over one shoulder so it doesn’t end up bathing in her stew. “You haven’t eaten yet either.”
When Qanik is done scooping himself some stew, he sits beside Lady. The book is placed on the floor in front of him. He reaches out with one hand and flips the book open, singing something in Chasind while he inspects the page. He gasps when he sees the familiar illustration on the first page.
“Chasind story,” he whispers to Lady. He lifts his eyes to smile at her. He is not sure where she got this or how she got it, but she is /good./ Chasind tales were handed down verbally, and only a few were transcribed. “Thank you,” he tells her, knowing she must have exerted more than a lot of effort to find such a book.
Well. He can sing. She’ll have to ask him if he really can stand on his head, too.
Lady gives a bashful shrug that says ‘you’re welcome’ while she supposedly busies herself with sipping more hot stew. It’s a more than appreciated gift to her starved stomach. Scaling walls, sneaking past guards and knocking out the ones you couldn’t sneak past were tiring work. Tiring but satisfying, she thinks as she watches the wonderment form in his expression. Definitely worth it. Not that anyone would ever know that little piece of select information.
“You have a good voice.” She hopes the sentence is simple enough to understand. “But you wouldn’t be much of a bard, I’m afraid. Too honest.” That last addition is for her own benefit.
An idea comes to her. She starts searching through her pouch.
Qanik traces the lines of words with his fingers. He can’t read it, of course. But Lady would be there to help him. He smiles at her as she tells him something. He catches words now and could understand what she said even if it takes a little longer for him to digest her words.
“Honest. Yes.” Qanik laughs. /Too honest for my own good./ He remembers his father’s anger. /Gentle and Honest Qanik./ Qanik looks down at his food as he tries to push the memories away. The thought latches onto his mind like it had claws, so he turns to singing a song his sister loved, hoping his mind would stray from the memories of his father’s disappointment.
As he sang, he hears Lady rummage through her pouch.
“Ah,” she says, plucking out the object she was looking for. “Found it.”
In the firelight it gleams a hazy purple— the clay the little instrument is forged out of was gathered and fired in Seheron, where the sands are strange colors, as strange as the inhabitants of the island. Leroux had given it to her the day the boy-noble had her lute destroyed, and had told her it would be the voice of music in her times of darkness. She has spent entire nights playing folksongs and lullabies to comfort herself through the long quiet of sleeplessness in her little cramped room in the attic of the cathouse, where no one could hear her and she was forgotten. Just as it suited her.
She scoots closer and catches the sad look on the wilder’s face. “Honest is good,” she says. “Me— not honest. I’ve forgotten how.” But she lifts the little rounded instrument from the leather thong it is strung on and dangles it, its lustered surface glinting. “Songs in the book,” she explains, and then flips to the page that had caught her eye in the first place.
It’s a children’s song, one that is far too grim to mean something only to children, and it talks about the Witch of the Wilds. A warning ditty. She knows so many it’s ridiculous. She puts the instrument to her lips and plays the tune evenly— it’s a bit of a sad melody, but with the rhythm of a child’s game. She can’t pronounce half the words of the original lyrics, so in some way she is glad to have the instrument sing for her.
Qanik raises his brows when the tune starts playing. He feels as if he is back at home. And he closes his eyes, thinks back to the last night his sister asked him to play a song. It wasn’t this song, but the tune was somehow alike. She would dance by the bonfire when he would play for her. And she was graceful and beautiful. Always. Later that night, he broke his flute. And the next day, his sister was gone. He found her on a pool of blood, a stranger looming over he form.
The Chasind hides his face in his hands as he feels tears threatening to fall. And he breathes to keep it away. Breathes and listens to the tune Lady plays so beautifully. The music rolls to that part where it tells the listener to be cautious of the Witch of the Wilds. And he sings as the tune plays, his voice tinged with sorrow.
And this is why she never tries to comfort anyone. They either end up crying more or mysteriously stop talking to her afterward. She lets the verse finish and then she drops the instrument in her pouch, trying to put the last ringing notes out of her mind. She can see the unshed tears shining in his eyes in the dim light, and it makes her heart give an odd tug. This feeling aches. She’s not had it in years. Complete empathy for a stranger. Perhaps the world hasn’t completely frozen over, and there is hope for her.
She moves closer and after a moment of deliberation, loops her arm through his, giving him a sort of half-embrace that he can easily shake off if he wants to. “I’m sorry,” she says in a low voice. “I didn’t mean to make you feel worse.” She probably reminded him of something. Or… or… she doesn’t even know what she’s scared of having done.
So she just settles for closing the book with the tip of her foot and sitting there in silence, listening to the fire crackle.
Qanik gasps softly at her touch. It takes him by surprise, yet he does not pull away from her. Her presence was comforting. Strangely too comforting for someone he has just met. Oddly, it reminded him more of home than the tune she played. So he lets her arm stay where it is, her hand softly near his wrist. He shakes his arm enough to shift his palm to face upward. Then he pulls Lady’s hand into his. He decides he likes how it felt when her hand was in his. He likes it. Very much.
Then he leans towards her to plant a kiss on her cheek. He doesn’t know why he did it, but it felt right. And even if it felt right, he thinks it was wrong. So he utters a “sorry” quickly when he could. He says it… even if he knew he did not really regret it.
Oh, what to do, what to do. She gulps at the sudden dryness that has appeared in her mouth. She stares at him incredulously, feeling like the bottom has dropped out of her stomach. Does nothing deter this man? She’s a foreigner. She’s an elf. She’s armed to the teeth. It’s rather obvious that she’s not good at adhering to laws. What must she do to make him see that she’s not— she’s not… good enough? It would all be well and fine if she was the one left with the attachment. She’s used to dealing with problems. She had never thought about what might happen if he formed an attachment to her instead.
People don’t do that with her. And so it is not a factor worth considering, ever. Until, apparently, now.
Against her better judgment, against everything inside her that screams this is a horrible, horrible idea, she sits up (because even on the floor, height makes a difference, blast it) and presses her lips to his cheek as well. She pulls away with red flaring in her cheeks and her ears pressed back in embarrassment.
“There,” she declares. “We are even.”
Well, this shocked him more than his own actions. He blinks at Lady. Her cheeks appear darker now that they are flushed. He finds the look on her face adorable, and it’s at that moment that he knows that he likes her more than he admits. (Maybe more than he should since they barely knew each other. And he questions if it is possible to like someone that much that early. Yet he doesn’t care.) He likes her. And the feeling sits comfortably in his chest.
He reaches out to pass his fingers through her hair. His fingers casually slide along her cheeks. And he wonders if she’d kiss him back if he kissed her on the lips. /To make it even./ The thought makes him chuckle. He is not sure if Lady saw him that way, and he certainly did not want to destroy what they currently have. So he buries it in the depths of his mind shortly after.
“Even,” he echoes, his eyes locking with hers.
She swallows with an audible gulp. Things aren’t going to continue being even if this goes on any longer. She is suddenly very aware of the length of her hair.
The ends at the back are long enough to gently touch the floor, and the curls around her ears have gotten wilder over the years. When was the last time she and Carmen had time to tend to each other’s hair and spend the evening giggling over girlish, simple things? But it’s not Carmen’s hand that is resting at her neck. This is different. It is angles and swordsmanship and years of training. The firelight highlights the tendons in his arm as surely as painter at an easel, working the light into an image full of dark and shadows.
Lady does not want to move. This is not wise, and it’s foolhardy, and she’s not being led by her head. But it is also nice. Nicer than anything she’s had in the last months. She’s not willing to jeopardize it. She sits there quietly, hoping in some secreted corner of her mind that her hair is not too rough to the touch.
“You are too good,” she says with a bit of a laugh.
/And it will be spoiled if you grow close to me./
He’s getting used to not understanding words now. But he knows how to understand tones. The notes in her voice confuses him more than the words he cannot fully understand. He looks away, shame gripping his heart. Maybe he made her uncomfortable? Maybe she doesn’t like him? /Maybe that./ Maybe she’s just being kind to him. Who is he to demand her affection anyway. He’s just a lost Chasind Warrior far from home. (He stops for a moment, questioning the title, wondering if he is even fit to be called a warrior.)
He loses the feeling of familiarity and the imagery of house built on stilts and tents laid about grass in that moment. Qanik feels tiredness in his bones and he sighs. He slips his hand from Lady’s grip and grips the amulet hidden beneath his shirt. There’s a feeling of disconnect when his skin feels the cotton instead of the coldness of the stone and metal. The disconnect turns to disappointment. And he hears his father shouting in the distance.
/Not good enough./
Always not good enough.
He turns from Lady and stands to walk away from her. And he makes his way to the nightstand. He presses his fingers against the sheet of paper laid atop it. And he decides that he would leave her to her peace once he’s learned enough of her tongue to help her with it. He glances at Lady, a sad smile painting his lips. This Chasind Warrior is probably not good enough for such a woman. He needed to find his sister’s killer anyway. This is merely a detour.
And he walks back to where she laid the book on the ground. He takes a seat, his fingers tracing the outlines of the book.
“Learn. Yes?” His voice cracks and there’s heaviness in his heart. But he knows he must go on.
A drumming starts in her head when he gets to his feet to take a turn about the room, reaching again for that amulet that’s now hidden by the shirt she gave him. She watches him with all the wariness of cornered prey, feeling as though she has wounded him somehow. The sadness in his voice makes her throat close. She /did/ hurt him. She does not know how, but it is done and the proof is there. Lady crosses her legs again and nods wordlessly, pushing the stubborn curls hanging over her eyes out of the way.
“Yes, you’ll learn,” she says, and her voice sounds like a hair-thin thread of sound even to her. She hasn’t felt this small and ashamed in a while. This man is kind, that much is clear. And she has gone and done something to make him feel out of place.
She tries to smile and motions to the book. “Well. Let’s get started.”
Lady can only hope this won’t be /too/ awkward.