Rahlen, annoyingly, had avoided Fenlin throughout a full day’s worth of training, two meals, and somehow Fenlin found herself being pushed back into her cell for the night without having had a chance to try to talk to him. Or gesture at, since her voice was still gone, taken by a spirit in exchange for enough knowledge to keep him alive.
But now he kept calling someone else over to interrupt Fen whenever there was a spare moment and now Fen huffed, sitting on her cot with a glare at the stone floor. What had happened? She didn’t understand. Compounding the problem was Athim acting like it was the funniest thing ever to pretend that they were together. Draping his arm around her and pulling her into his sweaty chest. He knew that the arena kiss… it had been to try to keep Polonius happy.
The night of the fight, that- that was more complicated. What else was she supposed to do? Athim had changed, but he was still the same person, she knew he didn’t take any of it seriously. He was just… so different from the boy she remembered.
Fenlin felt alone for the first time in a long time. Even on her own at the coast, she hadn’t felt alone the way she did now. Heat pricking her throat, Fenlin ran her fingers along the golden chain along her throat. Whether it was faith she had learned her place, or a reward for being a good little slave and earning money the night before, the heavier collar hadn’t made a return.
She waited, sitting stock still on her cot, until she could hear the snores of the other gladiators in the barracks. Silently, she slipped off her cot and crept to the iron bars of her cell to poke her head through and look along the hall. The guards at the end were playing cards, wicked grace maybe. As far as she could remember, they didn’t do rounds at night, but ensured that no slaves grew rowdy.
Fenlin pulled back, ears catching painfully on the iron bars. Laying on the straw mattress, she closed her eyes and pulled at the magic in the air, shifting her mass and body into that of a mouse.
Mouse-fenlin sniffed at the air, her white fur standing out against the rough sheets that she sat on. White and brown, the little mouse scampered down from the cot and peeked out between the now massive iron bars of the cell door.
The guards were drinking and staring at their hand of cards. One rubbed his chin. Ruffling her whiskers, Fen scampered out into the hall, hugging the wall as she looked for a very certain cell. One with a Prince in it. It sounded like some children’s story, a mouse looking for a Prince to try to save him.
Fen rustled her whiskers again, this time in annoyance at the thought. In a children’s story, there would be a happy ending. At best, this would end with Hanin and Rahlen’s freedom, and Fenlin might have a quick death. That was the best outcome. She tried not to think about the worst, even as a mouse. Finding the door, the mouse hopped inside and stopped, lifting up on her hind feet to peer around the cell.
There were two cots in this one, though one was empty and the other- mice couldn’t blush, but Fenlin would have if it had been possible. White hair and pointed ears where buried into Rahlen’s lap, and the prince’s head was tilted back with an expression of pleasure. The sounds Fenlin could hear with her large ears were lewd, the stifled groans were deafening, and she was stuck for a moment, unsure whether to run or to stay and try to wait until they were done.
After a few rapid mouse-heartbeats, Fenlin realised they weren’t about to be done anytime soon. She lowered onto all fours and fled the cell, heading back towards her own.
No wonder Rahlen had been avoiding her, he’d- with- of course he would. Hanin was more his class anyways. She was just a swamp witch who couldn’t talk, and even if she could, would just end up alienating anyone anyways. THe mouse hesitated at the cell door to her own cot, then continued on, scrabbling down the hall to the largest of the cells, where Athim was.
Wary, Fenlin looked around, reaching up on her hindquarters to see if her friend had any company. This was still the boy who’d blushed when she’d kissed his cheek, wasn’t it? Fenlin wasn’t sure anymore. The impulsive peck felt like it was a life time ago, two dumb kids sitting by a creek, and never spoken of again.
Wiggling her nose, Fenlin scampered up onto the cot where Athim lay, one arm draped over his eyes. He was, thankfully, alone. Shifting back to her natural form, Fenlin reached out and nudged him. Hey. Hey. Wake up.
He started, sitting up so quickly that he slammed his forehead into hers, and Fenlin clutched her face, sucking in a breath.
“F-fen?” he muttered, hissing between his teeth. He was holding his nose. “Whad are you doink here?”
She rubbed her forehead, then- she didn’t have a good reason. She just- she’d wanted to sort things out with Rahlen, although she wasn’t sure what she would have tried to do. He didn’t mind whatever, he was… busy. Instead of trying to communicate any of that, Fenlin shoved Athim’s chest.
You left. She tried to gesture, pointing at him, then flicking her hand as though throwing something to the side. You left. And he’d never written, never let her know if he was okay. She shoved his chest again, angrier this time. The water in her eyes only half due to the elf in front of her.
You left. I thought you were dead.
She tried to get the meaning across, but halfway through she just threw her arms around him and held on tight, like he might disappear. Again. Everyone left. Nils, Athim, Rasha. And now Fenlin had left her mother alone, unable to find out where her last child had ended up.
Athim, to his credit, seemed to get most of it before she dissolved into silent tears. Fenlin felt his arms curl around her and she weakly thumped her fist against his side. Survival had kept her going, then trying to sort out whatever was going on, but now, under the cover of darkness, she wasn’t able to shove away the feelings of betrayal any longer.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, rocking her slowly. Like she’d done to him once when he’d fallen from the tree, bruising his knee so badly he couldn’t walk right away. Soothing, gentle whispers and hugs.
But this wasn’t a bruise, this wasn’t fixable with cold water and the Keeper’s gentle touch. THis…. this… Fenlin wasn’t sure if this situation was even fixable.
“What happened to your voice?” he asked, stroking her hair. “You didn’t get hurt, you didn’t actually take an oath, did you?”
Fenlin shook her head, eyes wet against his shoulder. She pulled back, pointing down the hall, then to Athim’s thigh, where Rahlen’s scar now was. She mimed putting her hands over it to heal, then gestured what she hoped symbolized a trade, one hand pushing out, the other pulling towards her.
“You traded it,” he said quietly. Fenlin nodded. “To a spirit to heal the Ferelden’s leg.” Fenlin nodded again, this time more emphatically. She wiped at the tears on her cheeks with her palm, but she wasn’t done crying just yet.
“He doesn’ know,” Athim added. Fen nodded again.
“Is he- are you two- was he your first?” Athim asked gently. Almost as though he was asking who her first kiss was. Fenlin’s ears burned, and she looked away, shaking her head. It took more courage than she thought she had to look up at him, and touch the centre of his chest.
“Oh, shit, Fen, why didn’t-” he said. She shook her head. What other options were there? If she hadn’t gone along with it, there would have been Favus waiting, or worse. And, there were worse people to be with. At least she knew Athim.
“I didn’t know.”
Fenlin shrugged. Why would he? It wasn’t like she would have mentioned it even if she’d been able to talk. She sniffed, wiping her cheeks again. She made to stand, to leave, but Athim caught her and pulled her back into a hug.
“Don’t go just yet,” he said. “I know you’re not okay.”
Fen gave him a watery smile.
What gave him that idea?
“How’s your brother?” He asked.
Gone, another flick of her wrist.
A flick of the wrist.
“Your mamae?” Athim asked cautiously. Fen mimed a scowl and flexed before dissolving into silent tearful giggles.
“Same as ever then,” Athim said with a breathful of laughter. He reached up to wipe some of the tears from her cheek. “You grew up to look like her, you know. Just less scary.”
Fen bared her teeth in a mock growl.
“Oh, sorry,” Athim said, “Just as scary. Forgive me.” He leaned in, kissing the bruise developing on her forehead. Fenlin slipped her arms around him again, just- just needing physical contact that didn’t involve sparring or some sort of threat.
She didn’t know what she’d thought, going to try to talk to Rahlen. What had she thought would happen? That he’d be so grateful she’d saved his life that he’d… what? He’d kissed her while high on pain killing elfroot, and he’d been nice because she’d been helping him. Now, now she wasn’t as useful and there was a more important elf that was closer at hand.
Fenlin just wanted to chase away the feelings, all of them. Unfortunately, becoming Tranquil was permanent, and she wasn’t ready to commit to a life of numbness. But a night, a night she could do. Wanted it, desperately, actually. No more creeping dread of knowing she’d die in a land far from home. No sharp fear of being the reason a Prince died at the hands of a Magister. No grief at the thought of her mother being alone.
Fenlin kissed Athim. This time it was different than in the arena. Still needful, just… more questioning. Was this okay? Would he be okay if…? She pulled back, looking at him. Hugs and gentle rocking could only help so much.
“Are you sure?” he asked, tucking a stand of hair behind her ear. Fenlin nodded. When he kissed her back, he pulled her down onto the cot with him. At least she would be tired when she crawled back to her cot later.
The slam of shield on iron woke Fenlin up with a start. She was laying on her cot, the golden chain-turned collar was back on her throat, and when she sat up, Favus leered through the door of her cell. He blinked, staring at her as Fenlin ran her fingers through her short cropped hair.
After leaving Athim the night before, Fenlin had snuck into the barrack’s kitchen. There she’d taken shears to her hair, snipping off the braids before trimming the white hairs down to nearly her scalp. When she was done, she burnt the evidence with a small spell, leaving the kitchen thick with the stench of burnt hair.
Everyone but her had their hair cut when they arrived. Everyone but her had the same treatment by the ‘master’ and Fen’s stomach couldn’t take it any more. Her hair tickled her palms as she ran them over her head, well aware that she looked far more like her mother now than she had at any other point in her life. That was also on purpose. Right now, Fenlin had to think like her mother, like her sister.
Being soft, long hair and all that meant, just opened her up to a gentleness that would get her and the others killed.
“Kaffas,” Favus swore loudly. “When did you do that?” He asked then squinted at her, searching the room. “What did you do that with?”
Fenlin tucked her hands into her lap, staring back at the large Templar. She couldn’t answer even if she wanted to. Mute. Reaching for his keys, Favus unlocked the door to her cell and yanked it open.
“Get out here,” he snapped. “Polonius is going to shit himself when he sees what you’ve done.” Fenlin stood, walking calmly out of the cell, hand brushing over the ring of keys that still hung in the lock. She’d seen her reflection in a pot scoured brilliant. long slender ears swept back and out from her head. Her skin was darker now from long days spent in the tevinter sun, which had bleached her hair until it was pure white.
“Come on then,” Favus snarled, grabbing onto her bicep and hauling her off, keys forgotten, one of which was no longer hanging from the ring left in the door. Fenlin let Favus pull her down the corridor, past the other cells of Gladiators. As she passed Hanin and Rahlen’s cell she kept her eyes forward, and flicked her wrist to the side. A key landed on the nearer cot, wrapped in a small bit of cotton to muffle any sound.
“Fen?” Rahlen’s voice, but she didn’t look back at him. Favus was dragging her away, and she had more things to do before she was pulled before Polonius. She’d been busy while others slept, gnawing a hole in a cask of spirits that stood in the hall, nearly all the way through. Fenlin made sure to bump it off the table as Favus dragged her past, watching it burst as weakened wood gave way upon contact with the ground.
“Fuck, just- Someone come clean this up,” Favus shouted, yanking Fenlin’s arm hard and shoving her in front of him. The hall was smelling like- it was kossith liquor, nothing else was ever brewed that strong.
Nothing else would be that flammable. Thank Mythal for small mercies.
Rahlen looked at Hanin, then quickly snatched up the key and slid it into the lock of their door. It didn’t fit. Swearing, he pulled it free and stepped back, tucking it into his palm as other guards hurried down the hall to take over Favus’s duties of freeing the slaves and herding them into the yard.
“Kaffas! The idiot left the keys in the door,” one of them said. The woman that Rahlen remembered from his first day at Polonius’s compound. Stepping next to Hanin, the Prince ran his fingers over the key, feeling the odd engravings on the key’s teeth. It was smaller than the cell door keys, he noticed as the guards unlocked their door, and motioned them to exit. As though it was made for something smaller.
Something made of a similar metal with engravings on it… he realised, following Hanin out to the mess. Something like an engraved collar that only a few of the gladiators wore. The others wore flat iron, or those like Athim and Fenlin seemed to wear a golden chain instead.
As they passed the kitchens, Rahlen’s nose wrinkled at the acrid smell of burning hair. He tried to peer in to see what was going on, but a barked order from a guard made it clear that spying would be more problem than it was worth.
“Hey, Ferelden, Inquisition,” Athim called out as the gladiators emptied into the mess area. Rahlen considered walking on for a moment, then shrugged the idea away. Maybe the other dalish elf had an idea what was going on.
“Why’d they take her?” Rahlen asked. “Do you know?”
“Her hair was really short,” Hanin said from next to Rahlen. “Do you think they’re pissed because someone cut it?”
“Short?” Athim said, blinking. He looked from Rahlen to Hanin, the frown just getting deeper. “She had long hair last night. When we were kids, her sister cut off her braid once and Fen cried for a whole day.”
Now Rahlen frowned, unwanted images springing to mind of the Champion’s fingers curled into white strands of hair. He shoved them aside, telling himself he didn’t care, he was just curious how those hands would feel in his hair.
“I just don’t understand why she would cut her own hair,” Athim was saying. “Unless… shit.” He rubbed his hand over his mouth, looking around. “Shit. Fen. Shit.” He looked back at Rahlen and Hanin. “Her mom has short hair.”
Rahlen blinked then looked at Hanin for an explanation. Was that meaningful in elven culture? But Hanin seemed to be as confused as Rahlen felt.
“What does that mean?” the Inquisition elf asked. “Who is her mom anyways?”
Athim rubbed his jaw, then stepped in closer, looking at Hanin.
“She worked for yours, back before the chantry neutered the organization.” Rahlen felt Hanin bristle next to him, and he put a hand on the man’s shoulder. A silent ‘suggestion’ to let Athim finish.
“I’ve never met Fenlin before,” Hanin said. “Mother had never spoken about her.”
“No, you wouldn’t have, Fen’s mom didn’t agree with joining the Chantry, she didn’t agree with a lot of decisions your mother made. After the whole tribunal, she left the Inquisition.”
“And this is important to Fenlin cutting her hair, why?” Rahlen asked coldly.
“Because her Mother was the Inquisition’s assassin,” Athim said. “If you ever met Auntie Milliara, you’d understand. Fen cut her hair because she’s going to try to be like her mother.“
“Great! I heard about her, Mother was pissed when Leliana said she’d left. That’s her mother?” Hanin said quietly, nudging Rahlen. “That explains the key right?”
“No,” Athim said quietly. “Not great, because her mother used to take suicide missions. You ever watch a five-foot elf stare down a Great Bear? I have. Fenlin taking after her mother would normally be an exciting and confusing event for everyone, but right now-”
Rahlen swallowed. Hard.
“She cut her hair because it would get them angry,” the prince said, his chest balling up into a knot of anxiety. “She was the only one left with long hair and Polonius is-”
“Weird about her,” Athim said with a nod. He looked over his shoulder at the other Gladiators who had started to eat the morning’s meal.
“Look, we can’t do anything about this right now,” Hanin pointed out. “We need to wait until there’s more time, more room to figure out what the hell is going on.”
Athim seemed surprised. He looked at Hanin for a long moment, then up at Rahlen.
“You two aren’t going to leave without her?” He asked, lifting an eyebrow.
“Of course not,” Rahlen said sharply. “She saved my life. I’m not going to just abandon her to…” he gestured towards the barracks and the villa beyond. Leaving her behind wasn’t even an option worth considering.
“We’re just Dalish elves,” Athim said, prodding further. “Anyone else here would abandon either of us in a hearbeat. The only people that know she saved your life are the four of us, two would be dead before long.”
“I’m not like that,” Rahlen said. “We aren’t like that. We’re not leaving anyone behind. Not Fenlin, not Hanin,” he paused, “Not even you.”
“We’re not making good time,” the fire-haired elf said, bursting into the cabin where Eleanor was sharpening her knife. Her cousin, wayward and too insistent on helping to leave behind, sat up in his hammock so quickly that El was sure he was going to flip over.
“We haven’t met,” Oran said with a smile.
“Good,” Rasha said, ignoring the poor man. “Tell your sailors to put in anchor at Wycome Port. This is taking too long.”
“Good? Lady you wound me,” Oran said, placing a hand over his chest.
El frowned, ignoring him as well.
“We’ve been facing headwinds since we set sail, how is going to port supposed to help us?” the Teyrna asked. “Traveling overland will take twice as long.”
Rasha closed the door to the cabin behind her, and leaned against the door to keep it from swinging in and interrupting them. Cool eyes flicked from El to her cousin then back.
“We’re not going overland. We’re taking a short cut. Put the ship in at Wycome. You and your cousin can join me, or let me off and continue on.”
“I’ll go with you,” offered Oran. El rolled her eyes, the poor man was smitten already, and the elf would eat him alive if she chose to. No matter their differences, Rasha had yet to steer El wrong.
“Tell me the shortcut, and I’ll give the order to put in at Wycome,” Eleanor said. “But I’m not going to risk losing my brother to a wild nug chase.”
She watched Rasha’s jaw clench then noticed the slight stoop of her shoulders as the elf gave in.
“There’s mirrors, called eluvians,” Rasha said. “Your mother’s friend Lady Morrigan knows about them. There’s one in Wycome that can take us to Tevinter. Instead of getting their next week, we’d arrive the next moment.”
Eleanor felt her mouth open, and she closed it immediately. She stood, setting aside the knife.
“How do you know about these? You know how to use them?” the Tyrna asked. “How?!”
“There’s a lot that elves know that we didn’t feel like sharing. I told you how we’d get there, I never promised to tell you how I knew about how we’d get there.” Rasha stepped away from the door and yanked it open.
“Put in at Wycome,” she said again.
“Wait!” Oran was saying, jumping out of the Hammock. “What’s your na-”
Rasha slammed the door behind her.