He had been pacing through the room. /And she hasn’t even noticed./ Qanik pauses to stare at her as she taps her fingers against the table. He cannot see her face, but in the short span of time he has spent with her, he knows what it means when her shoulders are angled that way. He could sense the tension on her muscles. Briefly, she relaxes but only to sigh.
/Tap, tap, tap./
And her hands curl into a ball.
He had never been one to pry into other people’s business just like how his father taught him. (One of the /few/ things his father liked about him.) But Lady isn’t just anyone. So he decides to go to her. He hovers around her, still unsure about how to ask her. He doesn’t know how long he’s been standing there, but he knows it has been long.
And she still hasn’t noticed.
Hesitantly, he puts his hand atop her shoulders. “Wife?” His voice is low, cautious.
She startles at the warmth settling on her shoulders, but then she realizes it’s only him and she relaxes, letting out the breath she had been holding. The headache she has has disoriented her quite a bit— it’s from concentrating too much, staring at the letters, questioning herself, wondering whether she would make it in time— would Carmen be safe? If she wasn’t… the thought of one more failure makes Lady want to curl up and forget anything beyond the door of her bedroom exists.
But the script in the letters is blurring from her intense focus, and she turns away from her desk, feeling some joints pop back into place after staying still so long. She’s gotten used to being addressed as ‘wife.’ Nothing she does changes it. She supposes she’ll just have to deal with it.
“I’m sorry, I… I’m thinking too hard,” she says quietly, pinching the bridge of her nose between two fingers. “Do you need something?”
“No,” he tells her, “I am just worried. That is all.”
Qanik squats towards the ground to get a better look of her face. She looks drained of color, and that concerns him so he holds her hand to squeeze it. There’s tiredness in her eyes that he has never seen before. He furrows his brow, the ‘v’ on his forehead appearing once again. He opens his mouth to say something, but nothing comes out.
He’s not used to this. Often, he was the one who was being comforted by his sister. She was always the happy one. But her life was not devoid of moments like this, so he thinks back to those days or nights. He remembers she would ask him to play his flute when she was sad, but that flute was gone. He huffs lightly while he massages her palms.
The next time he opens his mouth, he sings to her. It is a lullabye passed down from mother to mother, the same one his mother sang to him when he was but a small, small child. He is sure she won’t understand, but he hopes it would have the same effect to her.
When the notes end, he smiles to her, embarassed and nervous. “I’m sorry. I just do not know what to do. You have this… troubled look on your face. And it… bothers me.”
That was lovely,” she says, squeezing his hands back. “Thank you.”
She used to sing to Carmen— make silly verses when her little sister couldn’t sleep or was too busy focusing on the dark things in the world; she remembers a song about a crooked man living in a crooked house, and it brings a quirk of a smile to her face. If she is not careful, she will never see Carmen again. The thought of Carmen being gone, here one moment and nothing but stardust the next, it makes the heart in her chest twist and turn.
“I… you need not do anything.” Her mouth feels dry. Truly, there is nothing more she can do than wait, herself. “I am just… concerned. About some things— why I came to Ferelden.” She throws a sidelong glance at the letters on the desk as though they are snakes rather than pieces of paper, and the sight of them makes sickness swell in her throat.
“Not very cheery today, am I?” she says, and gives a weak laugh.
“We all have days like that,” he smiles to her while he reaches out to stroke her cheeks. He stands up when he feels the blood lacking in his legs. He shifts his attention towards the letters she had been intently staring at. He is not so skilled with reading their letters yet, but he could catch a word here and there. Something about boats and a shipment. He knew little of this so he just scratches his head and leans his hips against the table.
There is silence between them. Sad, unlike the night they spent smiling at each other after that kiss.
“I grew up… keeping to myself, but I… really care for you, so…” he pauses, his heart twisting, “if you want to talk about it, I am here.”
Because he knows how it feels to keep something bottled up inside you.
He barely knows her, and still he treats her like they have been friends all their lives. She watches him, attentive and observant— it’s a habit, after years of thieving and being on the job. The slightest change in a man’s expression and being able to notice it is often the difference between life and death for her. Times have changed, however, and this is not a mark. Qanik is only… what is he to her, exactly? Even she does not know.
Lady sighs and tugs at the end of her ponytail where it has caught against her elbow. Long hair. Carmen had always begged her to grow it out.
“Talking about it is usually what happens before people run screaming in the other direction,” she says, smiling halfheartedly. “I— I care for you, too. It’s why I’m not sure if I should… say anything.”
The admission leaves her lightheaded.
“I am not one who easily screams and runs in the other direction,” he grins at her, hoping he could make her smile… even if it is only a little one. “I don’t even know if I scream. Oh. I did. Once. I think. When I was… small.” He motions with his hand the height of a five-year old child. “It was…. the time I dis-covered that I get lost easily. And I ran into this… baedd gwyllt… a boar. It… was big. And angry.”
“Are you going to tell me a story about a giant baedd gwyllt?” He raises a brow and pouts.
“Wife can trust Qanik not to leave her. You did ask me to stay, right?”
The thought of a smaller, stubbier Qanik running in one direction with a very frazzled boar making its way after him releases a giggle she didn’t know she was keeping in.
She covers her smile with a hand, feeling like a fool. “Boars can be very intimidating. It’s not shameful to run from them.” Her expression softens when she looks at him. “I did ask you to stay, but I wouldn’t … I wouldn’t want to make choices for you.” She stretches, because her limbs are stiff from sitting at the desk for too long, and then she moves herself to the edge of the bed— the chair is wooden and horribly made, and her back is hurting from staying still for ane extended period of time.
“It’s not a story about an animal,” she says, though Carmen and boars have a lot in common when both are angry enough. “It’s about a little girl.”
When he hears her say those words, his mind flashes the image of his sister. Qanik looks away, the ghost of his sibling haunting him. She is but a memory now. Her voice is slowly fading away. And he could only remember her face vaguely. It hadn’t even been a month.
“Eira,” his sisters name escapes his lips in a whisper. He presses his fingers against his lips. He hopes Lady did not hear it.
“Hm?” she says, crossing her legs. Her ears had picked up on the word. Spoken with reverence. “Eira.” She speaks it quietly, the syllables rolling in her mouth. Her voice is still soft when she asks her question. “What… what does it mean?”
Qanik looks up, startled. His mouth hangs open. Suddenly it’s harder to think and speak. He can’t even think in his own tongue. “Eira,” the name tumbles out heavily, “Eira is my little sister. My chwaer fach.”
And then it hits him that he had never talked about what happened to her after she died. When they burned her in the pyre, there were only tears and silent vows of revenge.
“She was born during winter like I was. A little thing. When I saw her for the first time, I did not even know what she was. But when she smiled with her little lips, I vowed I’d protect her with my life. Just like what older brothers do. But,” his lips curl into a sad smile, “we grew up with her protecting me. I was never up to par in my father’s eyes. Everyone else’s… in fact. But she loved me anyway. And she told me I was the best brother in the world.”
“But how can I be the best brother when I could not even save her from being raped and slain by a foreigner?”
He feels his tears well in his eyes. But he blinks them away and looks down on the floor. He had said more than he planned to. But then, with Lady, he feels like he could tell her these things.
When his voice trails away into silence and the space between them is filled with nothing more than the quiet sound of the fire nestled in the hearth, she gets to her feet and walks to him.
She brushes the suspicions of tears from his eyes with the backs of her fingers, her breath catching in her throat as she thinks about sisters and failures and the wordless burden of crushing guilt. She lets her hand settle against the curve of his cheek, and makes herself look into his eyes. He is hurting. It is unnoticeable and small, but it is there and that is all that matters.
“I am sorry.” The apology is for everyone. For Carmen, who was taken and taken quickly, for quick is usually how curses come and set themselves upon people; for this girl named Eira whom she does not know but who lives through Qanik’s words; for herself, too late and too clumsy, and for him, who has been found and is here but is still lost. She leans up and kisses the corner of his mouth, something that’s not quite there but is still a comfort. It is gentle and undemanding.
“That’s why you were in Lothering, isn’t it?” she asks, though the question does not need an answer.
She falls into quiet, her own story forgotten. Words don’t seem enough now. So she just holds his hand and hopes to ease this terrible sadness, somehow. Even for just a little while.
It’s fascinating how the sadness fades away with the sound of her voice, the look in her eyes and the feeling of her hands against his. And he thanks the spirits because all this time he thought that the sun has set. /It always rises,/ he thinks as he squeezes Lady’s hand. He finds it in himself to smile warmly, “Yes. I got lost. Fell into the river. Then when I woke up near here. And you know what happened next.”
“Wife,” He squeezes her hand one more time before he brings it to his lips to kiss her knuckles, “Thank you.” He chuckles lightly, wondering if his destiny is always to be comforted by the women in his life. When he was young, it was his mother. When she died, it was his sister. And now, it is Lady when she was supposed to be the one that had to be comforted.
“So,” he cocks his head curiously, “that little girl?”
“Well, that explains your being sopping wet,” she says, smiling a bit. Red suffuses her cheeks at the affection he shows. He does it with such ease and with no shame. As though it is the most natural thing, as natural as breathing; as natural as the slow beating of her heart. Frightening but freeing.
She takes his hand between hers and holds it tight. Thinking about Carmen creates the sensation that she is being swallowed up by the floor in her shame.
“The little girl had a sister,” she murmurs, casting her eyes to the ground. “They were very different. The little girl was everything her sister was not— kind, generous, fair, just, honest… Her sister brought misfortune and danger, but she always did her best to watch over the little girl.” Tears cloud her eyes. Suddenly the floor is only a blur of brown. She can no longer discern the separate planks of wood. “But her best was not enough.”
Lady inhales sharply, feeling too heavy and cumbersome for her own skin. “She was taken from right under my nose. I might as well have watched. She was brought here, to Ferelden. That’s why… I came here.”
Qanik was still learning her words, but he could understand enough. He takes her in his arms, understanding the pain in her heart. He lets her emotions wash over her, silence settling upon them. There are days when one just needs to cry, and Qanik thinks it is one of those days for Lady. So he stands there, his arms around her smaller form.
He bows to press his cheeks against hers, feels the warmth of her tears running against his skin. And he tightens his embrace.
In a way they were the same. Older siblings with lost little sisters, taken when they could have protected them. Yet her little sister’s story was not done yet. Unlike his. And he vows he’ll help her get her back.
“What’s her name?” he asks her, his voice gentle, caring.
She sniffs through her tears and wipes away the last of them, burying her face in his shoulder. She hadn’t known how much she wanted support until it was offered to her. This is so odd. She bites her lip to keep back a small sob, and only her shoulders shake. No sound. That’s good. She hates the sound of crying.
“Carmen,” she whispers. “My mother named her that for the color of her hair. It’s like the poppies in the springtime.” She sniffs again and sighs. “I’m sorry for crying all over you. Your shirt is wet now. And so are you.” Through watery vision she wipes away the tear tracks she has left on his skin. When that is done she resigns herself to absentmindedly tracing imaginary patterns of the tattoos on his arms, trying to find a way to fill the silence left by her heavy words.
“It’s okay,” he laughs lightheartedly, “It’s okay, Lady.” He lets her fingers trace things she can only see on his shirt. Qanik reaches out to wipe away the tears on her cheeks before he cups her head in his palms. Somehow, he feels honored that she has bared her thoughts to him, something that he’s been trying to decipher ever since the day he saw how she stares at those letters. With a gentle push, he lifts her gaze to him.
“We will get her back. I will help you.” /Help you accomplish something that I failed in./
“Carmen will be all right. You will see her again. Alive.”
She clasps her hands over his and smiles. It’s weak and small but it is there, and it is genuine. “When you say it like that, I… I believe I will.” She laughs a bit. “You’ve only been here for such a short time and I can’t go back to imagining what it would be like without you.” Lady shakes her head, in disbelief of herself. “Listen to me. I suppose it comes from being alone for so long.”
“Qanik is not going anywhere. I’ll probably just go around in circles if I leave this room anyway.” He grins at her, his thumbs brushing her cheeks. “I have good faith we will get her back.” And he prays to every god to give her a fate unlike Eira’s.
Her admission brings warmth to his cheeks, and he smiles — grins — in a silly way. But it slowly falls away at the realization that he cares for her more than he cared for anyone. He feels his breath leave his lungs slowly. And everything, everything is in slow motion as well. Even how she would blink at him in /that/ way that makes his heart skip a beat.
The Chasind Warrior finds enough courage to close the gap between them. He plants a kiss on her lips, softly.
“I am not going anywhere.”
He still talks in third person. It makes her want to giggle. She never really giggled, not even as a young girl; now she acts like a lovedrunk youngling. A first for everything, she supposes. She exhales slowly after he kisses her, feeling a familiar haze settle over her, and she looks up slowly, fearing what looking at him might bring. He makes it hard to stare him in the eye.
“You certainly know your way around a lady’s heart,” she says quietly, bumping her nose against his. “Inherent charm of yours.”