I sighed deeply. I was starting to get edgy. I really didn’t like being out in the open. I so wanted to get back on the road; but, the Halla seemed to have a mind of their own. I had to admit they were beautiful creatures. I had a funny feeling they were wicked fighters in their own right. Their beauty was deceptive. I was certain of this. Do they help defend the elves when the need arose or do the elves defend them?
I sort of understood their close relationship with the Halla. I myself had had one of the most beautiful and rare horses here in Ferelden. Oh yes, just one of the many ways my father had indulged me. Luna had been 17 hands tall and he had been trained as a war horse since he had been purchased through the black markets out of Nevarra, as a colt. He had been black as obsidian with a white circle on his forehead with his forelock covering the white circle if his mane flew forward, thus his name. He had been stunning and he had run with the wind, and had been as high spirited as his mistress. His eyes had always shined with intelligence and wisdom. Many a noble within Ferelden had coveted him. Besides Thor my prized Mabari, both had been my prized processions along with the daggers my father had made for me. Indeed the Couslands had been brought low; Howe had not been wrong on that score.
I had not been a normal daughter in silks and satin, velvet, and brocade, or ermine. Yes, I had those things and jewels aplenty. No I’d loved the smell of leather, oil, wood smoke, and shadows that the life of a rogue offered. I truly understood Zevran’s love of leather; which had made me laugh when he had told me that story. I could fully emphasize with him on the subject. Maybe this was just the mindset of a rogue.
I had no idea what had happened to Luna. His lose just another dagger in my heart and the thought of dark spawn getting to him to corrupt was very unsettling. Howe’s men had probably killed him for meat. The thought turned my stomach. I had no idea if the barns still stood at Highever; the Alienage, the castle had been a billowing cloud of smoke and it had been nearly impossible to see with Duncan dragging me away. The screams of the dying still tormented my mind until I had to finally block them out or go mad with the insanity of it all.
I finished honing my blades and put my whet stone back inside one of my many packs. A strange thought occurred to me. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to carry this much equipment. I was loaded down and what I was carrying now was nothing compared with what I had carried during our blight journey. Just one of my new found abilities as a Grey Warden. I was slowly regaining my stamina. Now if these blasted headaches would just go away and my right leg would heal I’m sure I’d be good as new. I glanced around and saw the Halla were now slowly heading toward the stream to drink. Excellent this is good I thought.
I suddenly realized that I was fairly thirsty myself. Ugh, jerky did make one thirsty with all of the salt to cure it. My skin for water also needed to be refilled and this was as good a time as any to fill it. I reached for another of my packs and pulled my water skin out. I really didn’t like drinking wine on a mission. Yes, water was a risk to drink, but if the water was good enough for the Halla then it was good enough for me. The stream we were beside was loaded with small boulders, rocks, and pebbles so the water was purified. I just hoped some other traveler hadn’t taken a leak in it recently! If they had, with luck that nefarious color hopefully had drifted downstream.
I got up and walked back down to the stream. I bent down and started to fill my skin. Watching in delight as the skin filled and bubbles tinkled to the surface of the cold crystal clear water.
Suddenly I felt a nudge to my arm and I instantly jerked up. One of the largest of the Halla was looking me directly in the eyes. Then I felt it. The sound in my mind and I nearly lost my balance since the notion of hearing him in my head startled me.
He blinked and nodded his head in greeting at me. Ok, what is the protocol for addressing a Halla? I had no idea. He was a massive creature and white as new fallen snow. He was as tall as I was. His eyes were deep velvet brown, nearly black, he was massive and covered in muscle yet elegant in his beauty and grace. He walked with sure footedness with his head held high on white hoofed feet with well muscled yet thin legs. The points of his antlers were many, they appeared gold in their color and they shimmered and a soft gold light shone from them. He had grace with a noticeable noble bearing. I suddenly realized he was the alpha or lead male of the Halla.
“Be not afraid my lady” he addressed me. I nodded gently with acquiesce. “You can speak to me with your mind.”
“Alright,” I replied with my mind.
“I wish to thank you my lady for saving me and speaking with my mate within the Dalish camp and saving my life.”
“You are most welcome,” was my reply.
He slightly bowed to me.
“What you did for my people who are my guardians and I theirs was not something those of us who live the nomadic life are accustomed too.”
“You saved us from the werewolves and the curse my tribe has suffered from for centuries and also from the demonic threat of dark spawn which has also plagued these lands for millennium. I’m most grateful for what you did. I am healed and my mate and I are now once again kindred spirits for she is the love of my life.”
I nodded back to him, that I understood him.
“I promise you we will see you safely on your journey and see you are returned to Denerim with all due haste.”
“I appreciate your assistance.”
He bowed to me again.
“I could not within my heart allow such cruelty to continue for neither the Humans nor the Dalish themselves. What Zathrian did was wrong. Yet, I understood why he did it. Yet so much time had passed and it was not right when his own people were also suffering from the curse that he created – as a protector of these lands it was my responsibility to end it. I’m a noble and also a Grey Warden, this is my duty. Yet I must admit it was also necessary to end the blight. I did need the Dalish as bowmen for my army, and I also assure you that I would have done this even without the blight being a factor.”
“Yes my lady, I sense this in you, you have a strong sense of right and wrong. Yet you don’t hesitate to get your hands dirty when you must. Even with the tragedy to your own life you are stronger for it. As we all are when confronted with hardship and are pitted between life and death.”
Suddenly he changes the subject.
“I see our Keeper has given you a special ring to wear?”
I looked down at the ring on my finger. “Yes she did and I’m unsure why she did so.”
He looked up at me again eye to eye.
“You carry a unique bloodline my lady and one that is most precious to our own people. Our ancestors and keepers will help keep you safe, as long as you wear the ring.”
“How can this be? I’m just a human – a shem to you and your people.”
“You don’t know do you, neither you nor the king?”
I felt a slight shiver race up my spine.
“Know what,” I whispered. Fear clinched my heart.
“You carry an ancient eleven bloodline within your womb my lady.”
I blinked with shock. I’m sure anyone could have knocked me over with a feather.
“That is not possible I whispered.”
He nodded his noble head.
“It is my lady.”
I shook my head no.
“Yes, my lady, it is true, you carry the blood of elves and dragons within your womb.”
I felt like I would faint.
I shook my head no once more.
“The king’s true mother was of a noble eleven bloodline my lady. We Dalish have watched over the son of King Maric since his birth.”
“No, I said. Alistair’s mother was a serving wench from Redcliffe.”
“No my lady she was not.”
“Her name was Fiona and she is one of the true heirs of Arlathan. She was also a Grey Warden who traveled with King Maric and she is the reason that King Maric allowed the Grey Wardens back into Ferelden. She is also a powerful mage and she still lives. She is also no longer a Grey Warden and soon she will take on a different role.”
Lovely I thought another warden who had the ability to just up and leave the order. Some I guess were just luckier than others.
A memory flooded my mind from reading Duncan’s journal that I had found at the Denerim compound. I had only skimmed its pages; yet, I remembered the name written in the journal. I never told Alistair that I had found it, because I knew he would want the journal for himself and I really wanted to read it to give me some idea on how to be a Warden Commander. I was hoping Duncan’s journal would give me some clues on how to accomplish the task before me in six months time.
“How did you watch over Alistair?”
“One of our firsts shape shifted into the form of a cat and stayed with him when he was brought to Redcliffe. We also guarded over him at the Chantry when he was sent away to the monastery.”
Another memory of a conversation with Alistair zinged through my mind from one night at camp when Alistair and I had got to talking about Thor and his pet cat at Redcliffe. Knowing what I did now about shape shifting from Morrigan. I knew it was possible what the Halla told me as true. It also just occurred to me that the Halla might also be shape shifter mages – some special kind. I as unsure if asking would be the right protocol. I did need the Halla and help of the Dalish at this time once again.
Shape shifting according to Morrigan was older magic than the chantry was even aware of, and practiced before the time of the chantry. Unease creep up my spine once more; I’d also inadvertently learned of even older magic to my chagrin of the Dark Ritual. I also heard Urthermiel chuckle in my mind. “So you are close by.”
“Indeed, I will see you on this fool’s errand.”
“Cute,” I replied.
I heard a rustle and saw Zevran coming closer and a look of concern on his face. I nodded to him to stand fast. He planted his feet and crossed his arms and never took his eyes from my face. I had no idea if he could hear the Halla also or not.
“No my lady, he cannot hear me unless I wish him too.”
Oh, this raised so many questions. Is this the reason that Alistair didn’t wish to marry me because he knew he had eleven bloods in him. Oh maker! The kingdom would be in an uproar if this ever got out and Alistair’s life will be in critical danger once more. A strong shudder racked my body. As far as I knew the Couslands had no eleven bloods in our heritage. I just had confirmed what I had read in Duncan’s journal. No, I thought. No, this can’t possibly be true.
“Do not fear my lady, we will also watch over him and many firsts who went with Lanaya to Denerim are already ensconced within Denerim to watch over him. They are mice, cats, and birds. We also will help keep him safe the same as we will do for you since you carry his children who are of the line of Theirin.”
“Why is the line of Theirin so important?”
“They carry the strong blood of dragons within their veins my lady and they are precious to Asha’bellanar.”
Flemeth of course, I thought, once again the powerful witch, dragon, whatever she was had also once again withheld valuable information. I guess I wasn’t on a need to know basis. My mind was reeling.
“Yes, my lady, this is the reason of Morrigan and Alistair. I know of the hurt of your heart my lady and we are all truly sorry for its cause; but, it must be and I hope one day you will forgive Morrigan. It was her duty, which I’m sure you can understand.”
“No, I don’t want to understand it. She took that which was most precious away from me.” I replied with anger. Alistair was the most precious thing of all to me or was I corrected myself.
“She also gave you life in return for your sacrifice. She did not need to offer this too you; yet, she did because you are her only friend that she has ever had in a very, very, long time.”
“What other friend did she have?”
“That is something for the Dalish to know.” His eyes twinkled. Like he was implying I was smart enough to figure this out.
“How do you know these things?”
I looked deeply into the Halla’s eyes which were the eyes of an old soul and all knowing. I couldn’t deny this.
“I know, because of magic older than time my lady.”
“Magic, of course, it always comes down to magic doesn’t it?”
“Not always my lady.”
“My fellows are well rested now and ready to begin our journey again.”
“Do you wish us to leave now?”
“Yes, if it pleases you and your herd also.”
“Indeed my lady, we are well rested and restored. Pulling aravels is hard work but one we enjoy and glad of heart to do.”
“Why do you do this for the Dalish?” I felt embolden to ask.
“They are the keepers of the old knowledge, our knowledge and magic of a time long gone and with luck perhaps will come again.”
“You’re not going to tell me anymore are you?”
“I heard him chuckle in my mind, no my lady this is enough for now. Just read your mentor’s journal at your leisure and I’m sure many things will be revealed.”
“Does the King know of his heritage?”
“If he didn’t before I’m sure his mentor Duncan or Morrigan herself filled him in on his role for the future and why he must guard his life from that which is most evil.”
“What do you mean?”
“That is not your concern at this time, when it becomes necessary for you to know then you will.”
Just as cryptic as Flemeth I thought.
“Come my lady, let us try to make the outskirts of Lothering my eventide.”
“As you say, was my reply.”
I stood by the stream looking out over the splendid beauty of nature and was shocked into speechlessness. I had no idea what to feel, what to think. I could hear the jingle and jangle of the harnesses as the Halla were once more hitched to the aravels to carry us steps closer to Gwaren.
I heard Zevran finally step to my side once the magnificent Halla had finally stepped away.
“You had quite the conversation with the Halla didn’t you?”
I turned and looked up into Zevran’s eyes.
“You should have warned me they could communicate in my own language.”
“Where is the fun in that?”
“Oh!” I replied in exasperation, hitting him on the shoulder.
“Your really are an incorrigible sneak.”
“Tis true, I am.” Zevran’s eyes twinkled.
“Care to share what he spoke of to you.”
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I turned and watched as the remaining Halla’s were brought to bear and harnessed.
“Perhaps I have seen a ghost” was my cryptic reply.
“Ah so you don’t wish to share, truly, you wound me.”
“Maybe later Zev, if that is alright with you, because I need to mull this over in my mind. I really don’t know what to think and once again I’ll have to seek answers to more questions.”
“Well you have only to ask if you need my help.”
“I’d turn to no other than you for it.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Come” he said, “let us be off.”
I recapped my water skin and followed Zevran back to our aravel where the Keeper was waiting. I gathered my remaining packs from nearby and walked back to the aravel.
“Leliana is already inside.”
“Thank you, Lanaya.”
Zevran and I climbed the small steps and entered the aravel to begin the next leg of our journey as Lanaya closed the door. Her eyes twinkled as she did so; she knew what the Halla had told me.
I sat down on my bunk and Leliana was already inside hers. Eager to be off, she had thrown open the small window and was enjoying the fresh air wafting through.
Zevran was already settling down on the floor and stretching out.
“I think both of you need to get some sleep since you didn’t get any last night.”
Leliana and Zevran looked at each other.
“I know both of you stayed awake, last night.”
“I need both of you fresh and ready to go once we get close to Gwaren, you won’t be any good to me tried and worn out.”
Leliana yawned. “I could use a nap.”
“I too spoke Zev.”
“Good, I’ve papers and more journals for the Wardens to keep me occupied.”
I pulled out a manual from my pack and settled in to read and work on the memorization of our code that I needed to learn.
All of us felt the jolt and just like that we were once again on our way. This time however we were moving from the ground.