“Do you know where we are?” Rahlen asked, looking around at the village with a smile. Fenlin shrugged under the arm draped around her shoulders. Of course she did, she’d brought him here. It was called Dog’s Rest or something. There were humans, a few elves, a dwarf merchant, and a lot of dogs. But, Fen figured, that’s not what Rahlen was getting at. He was still leaning on her for support, but something had perked him up. Probably the smell of wet dog that filled the Village.
“We’re home!” Rahlen said.
Fenlin squinted up at him. What? He lived here? But he hadn’t smelled like wet dog at all. Still thick with bear instinct, Fen leaned in and sniffed at Rahlen’s shirt. No, he just smelled like sea and rain and now, sweat. And a little like bear.
Whoops, now Rahlen was looking at her funny. Pulling back, Fen wrinkled her nose, making a show of the fact that he smelled. They both did, actually, but she was used to it and she didn’t smell like man. Well, she did now that his arm had been rubbing against her shoulder as they walked into town.
“Did you just smell me? And come on, I don’t smell that-” he paused, sniffing at his shirt. “…point taken,” he said. “This is… Houndshome right? I think there’s a baths at the Inn.” He pointed to a two story building made of stone and wood, the tallest building in the village other than the chantry and that thing had a bell and a flag stuck on it.
Rahlen steered the sorry looking, (and smelling), pair towards the inn. The day’s light had turned golden as the sun sank towards the horizon, casting long shadows across the road that Fen and Rahlen were limping down. As they neared the village centre, Fenlin realised that the villagers they passed had started to stop and stare at them. She ducked her head, hoping they wouldn’t think she’d been the one to hurt Rahlen. For a time Elves had been looked on more fondly, but after the Magister fell and the elves had disappeared from alienages and cities around Thedas… Fenlin was wary, for good reason.
Last time she’d been here, the villagers had watched her like a hawk, and one drunken veteran of the Breach war had claimed she was stealing from the merchant she was trading with. He’d thrown his tankard at her. It’d been easy enough to dodge, but still. Fenlin didn’t like things being thrown at her.
“It’s okay,” Rahlen said, seemingly unbothered by all the stares. “Once we get to the Inn I’ll send word for my sister. She lives in Highever.”
Fenlin nodded absently. She was worried about that drunk showing up again. Dodging the man’s tankard would be harder while she was holding up Rahlen and after patching him up, Fen wasn’t about to drop him just to avoid a tin mug pitched at her head. Rahlen was talking about how the town was known for it’s dogs –big surprise– but the elf was more concerned about the way people just kept…staring.
“Hey, you okay?” Rahlen asked, nudging Fenlin in the side. She blinked, looking up at him then nodded. Pointedly, she looked around the street at the townspeople that were staring, then back up at him. She raised an eyebrow. What in the fade was going on?
“Oh,” he said, looking around then back to her. Then he smirked and the smirk turned into one of those smiles. “If you don’t know I’m not going to tell you. I want to see the look on your face when you find out.”
Fenlin frowned and planted her feet in the dirt road. They were almost to the Inn now, the small fenced yard just beyond arm’s reach. A few nugs rooted for bugs there, and an old mabari stood watch, his muzzle greyed and his waist thickened with age. Rahlen let go of her and stepped forward on his own. Stubborn, Fenlin bit back the initial urge to hurry forward with him to make sure he didn’t fall.
“You really don’t know, do you?” Rahlen asked, steading himself on the inn’s fence. Fenlin wasn’t able to read the look on his face as he turned, studying her. His brows were knit, but he wasn’t angry. Instead, the smile was still at the edge of his lips, even though he seemed to be as confused as she was.
With an annoyed huff, Fen took two steps forward (to match his one, damn tall human) and ducked under his arm again. With a jerk of her head, she indicated the Inn’s doorway. They’d better go inside where he could sit and she could figure out a way to barter for a room and food for him. Fen wasn’t sure when she’d decided she’d stay with him until his sister arrived, but leaving him on his own wasn’t- she just couldn’t. Not the way people were staring at him. Had his family killed someone? Was it because she was helping him? If it was because of her, she wasn’t going to leave him at the mercy of some angry old vets.
Rahlen tried to let her go into the Inn first, but Fen just shook her head and turned sideways to help him through before her, holding the door open. Her shoulders were a little sore, and the slash down her side was starting to ache after helping him walk for so long. Once he sat and they got food (or he ate and she had some water) she’d deal with how to pay. In the meantime-
“Andraste be praised!”
The Inn’s interior was dark compared to the golden light of the sky, but Fenlin’s eyes adjusted quickly. A man was hurrying towards them, an knife in his hand. Stepping in front of Rahlen to shield him, Fenlin pulled her lips back to bear her teeth in a silent snarl, warning him that if he made any more theatening movements, it would be his blood on the floor, not Rahlen’s.
The man stopped, holding his hands out to either side, completely taken aback.
“The knife,” Rahlen said, clearing his throat. “I think,” he added. Fen, her eyes still fixed on the man in a death glare, nodded once.
“Ah, my apologies, your royal highness. I was just cutting some bread for the stew-”
Fen blinked. Wait-
“And I was so pleased to see you after reports your ship had gone down-” the Innkeeper continued.
what? High- WHAT. She turned her head slowly, looking up at Rahlen with wide eyes. Was this a joke? But Rahlen was still looking at the Innkeeper with a bashful smile and nodding as the man talked.
“Well it did go down, I’m afraid. But I’m alive thanks to this lady here,” he said, and Fen felt him pat her shoulder. This… this was a joke. Right? “But we’re rather in desperate need of some food, beds and a bath, if you’re willing to provide-” Rahlen continued.
“For a Cousland? Anything my dear boy,” the Innkeeper said, bowing deeply. Fen’s belly was sinking. This joke was going on far too long. “Your mother did right by all of us, do you need ravens as well? Your sister sits at Highever, I can send word at once, should you like.”
The Innkeeper was ushering them towards a table and Fen felt as though everything was very far away. The voices, the ground, the weight on her shoulders as Rahlen limped along next to her.
“I would greatly appreciate it, and I’ll make sure that you’re well compensated for all we use,” Rahlen said. He eased down into a chair, wincing as his leg bent. Fen helped him, though she felt as though her body was acting automatically, her mind too busy trying to sort out what was happening.
“Of course. I’ll bring you both out some bread and stew at once, and a parchment. And beer.” The man hurried off, leaving Fenlin just sort of lost, staring after him as he disappeared through a door to the kitchen.
“Hey,” A quiet voice and a gentle touch on her arm helped tug her back towards her body. Fenlin looked down at Rahlen, finally shorter than her now that he was seated. “You really didn’t know?”
Oh Mythal… she was- she’d kissed- and- the prince- the hero of Ferelden’s son.
Fenlin shook her head sharply. No, she had not known.
The smile on his face seemed to soften somehow, melting into his features in a way that turned her knees into putty, and she fell back into the chair next to him, sitting at the table.
“You’re a very strange woman, bear,” he said quietly. “But, thank you. For everything, you… aren’t going to leave are you? My sister will want to meet who saved my life.”
Fen stared at him, dazed. She nodded, then blinked and shook her head. Then, concerned that she’d been unclear, pointed at herself then him, then at the ground. She was staying until he was with his family again, no matter who his family was.
Rahlen smiled, and seemed about to say something more before the Innkeeper burst from the kitchen with a platter of what smelled to be venison stew and fresh bread. Fenlin’s mouth began to water immediately, and she swallowed hard. She was starving.
“Do you know how to write?” Rahlen asked as the Innkeeper set down a quill and stack of parchment for letters. It looked as though the sheets had been ripped from a book. Fenlin frowned slightly at Rahlen then nodded. Sliding over a page and the quill to her, he pulled a bowl of stew closer to him and picked up the spoon.
“What’s your name?” he asked. “I can’t keep calling you ‘bear’.”
Taking a spoonful of stew that was so thick and hot that Fen nearly groaned in happiness, she chewed on a sliver of meat and wrote down four letters.
Rahlen leaned over, close enough to feel the heat from his shoulder, Fenlin swallowed her mouthful and smiled up at him.
“You’re joking,” Rahlen said, rolling his eyes. “’Bear’? Ha-ha. What is it actually?” Grinning to herself, Fen crossed out the word and wrote her name under it. Fenlin. Then drew the outline of a wolf.
“Fenlin? Like a wolf?” Rahlen asked, looking at her suspiciously. Fen nodded, and scribbled a sentence underneath.
“’Wolf’s blood’,” Rahlen read. Then he smiled and shook his head. “No, I’m not joking,” he said. “Prince Rahlen Theirin, son of the Hero of Ferelden and supposedly Grand Enchanter of Ferelden, though the circle hasn’t opened yet.”
Fenlin scowled, and drew a circle on the parchment, then a line through it.
“Not like the old kind,” he said around a mouthful of stew. “A place to study, like a school. I could use teachers there, if your job of saving water logged princes ever dries up.” He paused then laughed at the accidental pun. “Sorry, but it would be good to learn other schools of magic and you, what you can do, I’ve only heard of two others being able to do that, both acquaintances of my parents.”
Fen bit her lip, then turned to her stew. She lifted another bit of potato and meat to her mouth, chewed thoughtfully, then finally wrote an answer. It wasn’t much of an answer, but it was the best she could do. ‘Maybe. Job not over yet.’
“Well,” Rahlen said. “When you’re done saving princes, consider it.” He paused, chewing a mouthful of stew thoughtfully. “Though lectures might be difficult if you have no voice…” he added.
Fenlin wrote another phrase on the paper and Rahlen snorted.
“Now you’ll have to burn that scrap, the poor Innkeep will be scandalised to know pretty elves have such crass thoughts.”
Fen turned red, and huddled deeper into her stew. Her mind was still racing. There was so much to sort out, Rahlen a prince. A prince mage who was supposed to start a school for mages and he’d offered a job but would they take elves? Would anyone listen to her? But it was an opportunity to teach other mages about the dangers that were hanging over all their heads, waiting on the misguided teachings of someone else.
Rahlen had taken the quill in the meantime, and was writing out a pair of letters. one short, one long. The sound of horses arriving outside the inn drew both of their attention, though, and Fenlin was gnawing on her crust of bread as the Inn’s door opened and Inquisition armored soldiers walked in. One dwarf, two humans and an elf looked around before walking over to the Inkeeper, speaking in hushed tones.
“Wonder what they’re about,” Rahlen said, leaning over to murmur into Fen’s ear. He leaned over and stole a bite of her bread. Her mouth opened in protest, but –as always– no sound came out. Rahlen just winked as he chewed. “Think you could help me to the baths?” He asked, his face almost innocent of suggestion. Almost.
Fen stuffed the last of the bread into her mouth so he couldn’t get it, and narrowed her eyes at him. But she nodded. He wouldn’t be able to get very far on his own yet, until he could see a proper healer.
Ignoring the Inquisition troops, she stood, helping Rahlen up and then waiting to find out which direction they were heading towards. Rahlen waived down one of the servers who managed to stammer out directions. Out the back door to the building behind, they’d find some fresh clothing for him, she added. Towels and all were inside.
Fen noticed that fresh clothing was only mentioned for Rahlen, but hers was smelly, not torn. She could wash it later, when Rahlen was settled in bed or while he was bathing. Surely he didn’t need help with that… but she remembered how his hands had felt on her face, the heat of his lips on her neck, and Fenlin let out a slow, even breath to try to refocus.
It would be worse, knowing he was a prince. Even if- even though he’d been nothing but kind, he was a prince. There wasn’t even a point to entertaining a thought about him beyond just an evening or two of enjoyment.
“I’ll ask if you want to join me,” Rahlen murmured in her ear as they stepped out onto the path towards the bathhouse. “But it’s an invitation not-” he paused. Fenlin snuck a glance up at him. “It’s an invitation,” he repeated, looking down at her. Fen was sure her heart was in her throat now. “Also… I might need help getting in and out of the tub.”
Fen let out a breath she hadn’t realised she was holding, bursting into silent laughter at the image of Rahlen trying to ease into a too-small tub with his bad leg.
“That’s not a question you’re supposed to laugh at,” Rahlen grumbled, almost sulking.
She lifted her hand, shaking it back and forth then rolling her finger in a barrel shape. ‘Maybe after’. Then she sniffed and wrinkled her nose to signify why.
“Alright alright,” Rahlen said. “I smell, I get it.” He pulled the door open, and Fen caught it, holding it to the side for him to limp through, and followed behind. The steam and scent of astringent herbs was welcome. There was elfroot, spindleweed and something else that Fenlin wasn’t able to identify right away. But it was pleasant smelling, and the large stone tub in the centre of the bathhouse was large for at least another dozen people in addition to both of them.
Walking over to the edge, Rahlen let go of fenlin and sat on a wood bench, immediately stripping off what was left of his shirt and pants. Before she had a chance to process what was happening, the prince was naked and reaching out to steady himself on her shoulder again.
Fen looked up at the cieling, feeling her ears burn. Mythal give her strength, all that she needed now was for someone to walk in and get the wrong idea…
The door to the bathhouse opened, and Fen clapped her hands to her face. She looked at who was at the door, hoping desperately it would be the Innkeeper. No luck. An inquisition soldier held the door open, and a white-haired elf walked in, already stripping off his shirt.
Oh gods. Fen debated shifting into a mouse and running away but Rahlen was still leaning on her and now was unabashedly watching the new arrival.
“Hello,” he said, seemingly unbothered by the fact his was naked. “Is this a friend of yours Fenlin?” the prince asked, looking down at her. Fen, hands still clapped to her face, shook her head vehemently. No. She didn’t know who this was. She’d never seen him before but his shirt was gone and now there was a stranger in here with the naked prince and she couldn’t just /leave Rahlen here with a stranger/.
“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” The other elf asked, waving to the Inquisition soldiers behind him. The dwarf nodded, and the human closed the door behind him, leaving the three alone.
Fen wondered if maybe the mouse had been too ambitious. She hadn’t shifted into a worm yet but there was a first time for everything.
“She’s shy,” Rahlen said, tilting his head toward Fenlin. “I’m Rahlen, and not interrupting anything other than a bath. Unless I’m mistaken…” He trailed off. Fen realised he was waiting for her to answer for him. She shook her head, then pointed at he bath, jabbing the air.
“Then you won’t mind if I join, hm?” the other elf said, winking at them and shedding his pants. He walked past them, and despite her best efforts to stare at the ceiling, Fenlin noticed that he was tall, and that his well muscled chest was exactly eyelevel.
“Hanin, by the way,” the other elf said, easing himself into the water with a soft sigh. “Hanin Lavellan.”
This time Fenlin’s head whipped to stare at the elf, her eyes wide.
“The Inquisitor’s son?” Rahlen asked, having heard of him just as Fenlin had. “What are you doing in Highever? I thought you stayed at Skyhold?” He started toward the tub, and Fenlin followed, helping him balance on the wooden steps up and then down into the stone tub.
Okay. Time to go.
“You aren’t staying?” Hanin asked with a grin. “You haven’t introduced yourself.”
Fenlin, redfaced, made a rude gesture and stamped down the steps to sit on the bench Rahlen’s clothes waited on. She crossed her arms, and stared at the ceiling.
“She’s shy,” Rahlen said.
Fen threw up another, ruder, gesture that set both men laughing.