Crossings of the waking sea had become a chore instead of an adventure, Rahlen thought. After the first few crossings, the excitement was replaced with boredom. The fall weather had been crisp but calm as the ship sailed round the Frostbacks towards Ferelden.
Towards home. Maybe for good this time, and Rahlen wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Ferelden was his home, but so was Orlais and the Circle there. The court. The Game. He loved his family, but he barely knew his brother and sister any more. They were grown, married, starting families of their own. At least Duncan was. Rahlen just felt… torn.
Standing at the ship’s forecastle, Rahlen watched the angry clouds roil on the horizon. They were nearing the storm Cost. With it would come cold, driving, rain and treacherous rocks. The first time he’d crossed the storm coast, Rahlen had been sure he was going to die. He’d held on for dear life to his Mother as the ship had pitched and been tossed around like it was a toy.
His mother. She was so proud of him, starting a Circle in Denerim. Well a Circled in name, it would be more university than the nightmare at Kinloch that he’d read about. It was exciting, and right but a small part of him was terrified. Not that he’d admit it out loud, of course. What if no one came? What if- no. Thoughts like that wouldn’t get him anywhere. Besides, he already had students and instructors set to begin in a few weeks.
Rahlen let out a slow breath. Denerim had court too. It had mabari and festivals and food. Not tasty food or the exquisite courtiers of val Royaux but it was fun in it’s own way. He just needed to keep remembering that.
The wind had cooled, turning wet and sharp. Overhead a bird wheeled, cawing. Weird, he thought. Seabirds didn’t usually caw-
The lookout shouted a single word, and the air might well have turned to ice.
“Two points on the starboard bow, steaming fast.”
Rahlen pushed himself off the railing, scrambling to the cabin where his staff was lashed to the a trunk of his belongings. The hull of the ship groaned under his feet, the deck tilting as the Captain swung the passenger ship around. The small frigate would never be able to outgun a dreadnought. Their only change would be to outrun her.
Staggering along the deck, Rahlen grimaced at the sight of the Dreadnought running intercept. There was no way they’d make it out of range before the Qun’s gaatlock guns-
The sky flashed and heartbeats after the air cracked apart. For a moment Rahlen wondered if it was a clap of thunder. It was when the ship’s starboard prow exploded into shards of wood and fire that he realised it had been the dreadnought’s guns.
Pain flared in his upper thigh, knocking the leg out from under him. Rahlen shouted in pain, and the world rocked under him until his scream was flooded with sharp, briny water.
Water filled with things that would smell the hot blood that was pouring out of his leg. Floundering, Rahlen managed to reach the surface to choke down a gasp before a wave swamped him, carrying him away from the ship. Every time he tried to kick towards the surface, pain clouded his vision with starbursts of green and white.
Water pushed at his nostrils, his lips, and forced its way in past, shoving out the air he’d had left in a final shout for help. Or was it an apology? Mother, I’m so sorry- I couldn’t–
Strong teeth grabbed onto his arm, but the pain was dull compared to the fire in his lungs. A shark? Something worse? They could at least let him die before they tore him apart… but his head broke the surface and Rahlen coughed violently, hacking up the horrible salt that coated his chest and throat. He could feel the beast pulling him, it’s massive body shaggy and it’s fur thick enough to grab a handful of. Rahlen did so with his free hand, the other arm still firmly within the animal’s jaws.
He thought at first it might be a massive mabari, he’d heard about the Frostback breed. Large enough to fight bears, they said. Swimmers, loyal to a fault. But as he blinked water and salt from his eyes, he saw that it was no dog that held him by the arm, but an actual bear, it’s fur pale gold in the dark seawater.
Well, not a shark, but was a bear any better ? One so hungry to swim up to a ship and grab a man overboard? But it was pulling him towards the shore. If he managed to get his feet under him he could scare it off with a spell. Maybe. A glance back towards the ship told him that he was on his own. The small wooden post-ship had never stood a chance against the dreadnought. The small ship was listing badly, what was left of it, anyways, Half of the starboard side was gone, torn into splinters.
The Dreadnought was still firing, it’s masters not content until they’d torn the post-ship into flotsam.
A wave carried the Rahlen and the bear up onto a pile of rocks. The dull fire of Rahlen’s leg burst into life as it hit unyielding stone. Any hope he’d had of scaring the bear off drowned in starbursts of pain that threatened to send him unconscious.
Rahlen Theirin, son of the Hero of Ferelden, eaten by a bear. No, he couldn’t do that, not to his mother. He had to find a way to survive this. He’d be scarred, maybe lame for the rest of his life, but he WOULD survive this. His arm felt heavy as he let go of the bear’s fur and pulled magic to his will. It took more effort than usual, but the spectral blade appeared in his hand, cutting through fur and ursine flesh.
The beast let go of Rahlen’s arm, and the fall onto hard stone did what the crash into the shore had failed to do only moments ago. Stars crowded out what was left of Rahlen’s vision, and he slipped from consciousness. The very last thing he felt was the faint pressure of jaws on his shoulder.
art by Picchar
Rahlen didn’t expect to wake up.
When he did, he was surprised. When he realised he was on a bed of soft mosses and under a tarpaulin, Rahlen reconsidered the facts. He must be dead. Everything was soft and it was raining and there was a blur to the edges of the world. Twisting, Rahlen looked down to see he’d had a number of blankets drawn over him, and most of his wet clothing taken off.
Thank the Maker, someone had killed the bear, they’d saved him. When he got back to Denerim, he’d be sure to reward whoever had killed that damn bear with… lots of stuff. Cheese maybe. Who didn’t like cheese?
He drifted, somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. When he opened his eyes again, it was night, a small fire crackling to his right with a pot sitting on it that smelled like nug stew. Looking around, the edges of the world were a little less blurry, and Rahlen realised one of his saviours was sitting across the fire from him. Her skin was far darker than her hair, though in the fire’s light her braids might as well have been stark white. It was hard to tell. Her ears were long and slender, a few rings and cuffs decorating them. And over the freckles on her cheeks were traced branching tattoos.
Rahlen remembered the stories of his mother befriending the elves of the Brescillian forest. Was this one of them?
“Hey…” he croaked, throat raw. He smiled his best roguish smile, the one that had charmed Orlesian court. “Thanks for saving me.”
Startled, the elf looked over at him, eyes glowing in the dim light. Then, relaxing slightly, she nodded and stared back at the fire.
“I’m Rahlen,” he said, after a while. The pot on the fire was steaming now, and smelling better than ever.
The elf glanced at him, then at his leg. Her brows knit.
“How bad is-” he asked, starting to lift the blankets that had been draped onto him. The elf reached a hand over and gently pressed the blankets back to his chest with a small shake of her head.
“That bad?” He asked. She winced, and nodded. “Ah.”
with a stick, she pulled the pot from the fire, spooning some of the stew into a bowl. Shifting on her heels, the elf knelt next to him, and helped Rahlen up onto his elbows, holding the bowl of soup to his lips. Blowing the steam from the soup, Rahlen took a tentative sip. It was no Orlesian cuisine, sure, but it was warm and seasoned. Better already than that one breakfast his father had tried to cook them that one time.
Rahlen finished most of the bowl before needing to lie back down, the cot starting to pitch and roll like the… like the ship… had.
“Did you find any other-” he started to ask, but the elf pressed a finger to her lips, then returned to the pot, serving a second bowl for herself.
“You don’t talk much, do you?” Rahlen asked, blinking sleepily. He wasn’t sure if the elf smiled, or it was part of the dream he slipped into, where sharp white canines bit at his arm and leg.