nagia: (dao; sens; </3 sens disapproves -5)
YOUR CHILDREN DESERVE LEXCORP JETPACKS ([personal profile] nagia) wrote in [community profile] terzarima2010-12-28 11:24 pm

Dragon Age: Origins; Rated T; "Language Acquisition" [1/3]

Title: Language Acquisition
Fandom/Pairings: Dragon Age: Origins; semi-incestuous f!Surana/Jowan
Rating: ESRB Rating of T for Teen
Summary: Recipe for a stoic, ruthless elf mage with a strong sense of duty and a stronger penchant for turning into animals: take one sweet Dalish elf child, add her clan's suicidal last stand, and transport her to Denerim. Shake well. Garnish with a Tower she's never allowed out of.

Language Acquisition
one: hit the wall

Her first glimpse of stone walls comes at a distance. It's brief, because it's stolen. Her father and the falon'halla help some hunters hitch the empty trading aravel. Her mother gathers up her roots and herbs, woven into long strands and charms, and puts them in the painted basket.

Sens clambers into the aravel to sit beside her. Her mother gives her a startled look, but then smiles, and rests her hand on the top of Sens's head. They pass the ride in silence, while Sens strains every sense to figure out when they've left the wilderness and found the shemlen.

The smells change when they get close to 'la villa.' 'La villa' smells bad, like too many people and too much woodsmoke and a stink like when the falon'halla works halla hide, only worse, drifts over the whole place.

She pulls the curtain aside enough to see that 'la villa' has two parts. The first is a kind of fence made of gray stones piled on top of each other. The second is a bunch of large square... things made out of something white.

"Mamae, what are those white things?" Sens points at them, trying to divine their purpose.

"They're called houses," her mother says, absently. She's digging in her basket, re-arranging things, so that the most interesting strands are on top.

"What's a house?"

"It's a shemlen aravel, da'len."

"So they live in those? But they don't look like they can move like aravel! I don't see any halla! How do they go places?"

"Halam, Sens. No more questions."

And indeed, there's no more time for questions. Her mother hefts the basket and wraps herself in scarves, and then she's gone in a flurry of fabric. Sens watches her go, but doesn't try to follow. Her father doesn't want her talking to the shemlen, and her mother agrees, even though she comes from a shemlen city.

Sens wishes she knew what a city was, but this 'villa' is bad enough. She cannot imagine living in a building that doesn't follow the halla, cannot imagine spending her life fenced in by stones piled on top of stones.

The trading doesn't go well. She knows it doesn't go well because she can hear the voices rise. A man shouts, "Strega! És una strega!" and somebody else says, "Pór favór, Pádre Bienaventurado," and after that, there's so much shouting that Sens stops being able to understand any of them.

She hears the hiss and twang of a bowstring, hears it again and again, and then the hoofbeats of halla. Her mother climbs into the carriage, quickly, without her scarves and with her basket still full.

Before Sens can ask what's happening, her mother holds out a hand for quiet. She hears more hoofbeats, more shouting, and then the aravel begins to move again.

When they return to camp, her parents and the fallon'halla and the hunters all shut themselves away in the Keeper's aravel. Níma takes Sens into her aravel and gives her honeyed tea and a dinner that's almost as good as her mother's cooking.

Her parents arrive just as Níma is trying to put Sens to bed. Her mother has gone pale, and her father looks grim.

"Ma serannas," he says to Níma. "We'll take her back now."

Late that night, her parents argue for the first time Sens has heard since she was very small.

"Alim," her mother whispers, "Alim, there's nowhere to run. We'd never make it."

"I will not let you or Sens follow him into this madness," her father whispers back, sounding fierce. "They'll die! Any who follow him will die."

"Better to die than –"

But her father cuts her off, his voice soft but his words and his tone harsh: "There are other options, Revas. You could go home. We could follow you."

"I am home."

Sens turns over and tries not to listen. She falls asleep with the blankets pulled over her head.

In the morning, her parents are tense. Her mother seems far angrier than her father does, which Sens supposes means her father won their argument. She knows better than to ask, though, simply drinks her honeyed tea and eats her breakfast.

Somebody knocks on the outside of the aravel.

"Enter," her father calls, and a hunter steps inside.

"We have decided to dedicate ourselves to our task," the hunter says. "Will you take the vallaslin, lethallin?"

Her parents look at each other. "I will," her mother says, at the same time her father says, "We will not."

They look at each other again. Her father looks away first, clenching his jaw. He has the same temper as everyone else in the clan, but he keeps his hidden underneath calm. Sens wants to be able to do that someday.

The hunter looks to Sens. Her face softens. "And you, lethallan? Will you take it, too?"

"But I'm not old enough," she says, half stalling for time to see what her parents say, half genuinely surprised.

The hunter's face softens even more. "For this, we are all old enough," she says, sadly.

Sens looks back to her parents. Her father's face has closed down, while her mother's is pale and drawn again. They're frightened, she realizes. It's the first time she's ever seen her father afraid.

"It is your choice, Sens," he tells her, and drinks his tea. The cup trembles when he sets it down.

"I'll take it, too, hahren," she tells the hunter.

The hunter closes her eyes and lets out a little breath. "Ma nuvenin, child."

Nearly everyone in the clan takes it. Even the adults who have already had it take it. The Keeper writes it in accents over what they already have, then carves it into their hands and wrists.

"Ma ar'lath," he murmurs to each of them as he finishes. "Ma ar'lath."

He writes in brown on her face, traces lines that she doesn't think mean anything at all, around her eyes and down her cheeks.

It hurts. It's like cutting herself, like that time she burned herself on a cookpot, and it's all in her face, and the ink burns, too. She wants to scream. She doesn't, though, she locks it in because she's afraid to open her mouth.

When he's done, he traces over the marks with something that smells like elfroot and something else, minty and green. He presses one finger to the tip of her nose, then knocks his forehead against hers. "Ma ar'lath. I love you. Do not be afraid."

She stands up, unsteady on her feet as a baby halla, and takes her mother's hand. She chances one last glance back at him before they leave for their aravel. The Keeper is already pouring more inks. His face looks sad.

"What does it say, Mamae?"

But her mother shakes her head and says nothing at all. It's her father who answers her, late that night: "It means our clan has decided to die, da'len."

Her mother wakes her in the middle of the night. She hands Sens a slice of bread, covered in honey and halla butter.

"Mamae? What's going on?"

Her mother shakes her head again. "No time for that. While the aravel is moving, pick out your warmest clothes, and anything you couldn't lose forever. Not much, though."

Sens nods her agreement, and then her mother turns and goes. She ducks through the curtain that gives their aravel privacy. Outside, halla pace and nicker like they're nervous.

She hears an aravel begin to move, and then theirs begins to move, as well. Sens finishes her bread, still trying to figure out what's going on. Is this about the argument her father won? Is this about going back to her mother's shemlen city?

The aravel soon stops. Her mother ducks back inside. She picks up Sens's selections, looks over them for a minute, and then dumps them into a sack. She picks up her bow, from when she was an apprentice hunter, and slings that and a quiver of arrows over her back.

"Move quick and quiet," her mother says, and Sens follows. They climb out of the aravel and pick through a field of grapes. Sens picks a few grapes as she goes, plopping them into her mouth, where they burst sweet and juicy. It makes the long walk worth it, being able to pick a grape here and there.

When they come to the end of the vines, Revas goes still. She turns and pulls something out of her boot. It's a knife, Sens sees. It glints blue-silver in the moonlight.

"Take this," her mother says. "Don't ever show it. Just use it, if you have to. You know where to cut?"

Sens nods and points to the places to stab: eye, throat, stomach.

"Good. Let's go, da'len."

After that, they take a road. It's not even overgrown. Grass and flowers bloom in the spaces between cobblestones, but she can see the cobblestones clearly. The hard stones feel strange under her feet through her boots. It's not at all like walking through the forest, or over the grass.

At last they come to a standing stone. Her father waits there with a shemlen. He sees them and waves them forward.

"The shemlen will take us in his wagon," her father says. "We can make a port city within three days, and from there..."

"Yes," her mother says. "From there, I will make arrangements."

"Never thought I'd see Dalish wanting to book passage to a city," the shemlen says.

Her father's jaw clenches again, and Sens sees his hands clench into fists, but he says only, "We thank you for your generosity. Please lead the way."

On the way to the shemlen's wagon, her father takes the sacks from her mother's hands. He presses a kiss to the top of her head and she chuckles low in her throat.

"I love you too much, Revas," he murmurs. "Sa'vunin ar ma'lath."

Her mother takes her father's hands and says, "Not just one more day. Always."

He catches Sens's eye and winks. "It will be all right," her father says. "Don't be afraid."

But Sens isn't afraid and hasn't been yet. Her father is strong as any hunter, and her mother is clever enough to be Keeper to her own clan. What can there be to be afraid of?

She thinks, maybe, that her father just needed to say it aloud. Like a courage spell.

Her second glimpse of stone walls is of a gray smudge looming on the horizon. The walls form a dark blot against the early morning sky. Smoke curls dizzily above the smudge.

The sight makes her forget all about naming all the wildflowers that grow along the side of the road. She pulls her legs up from where she'd been dangling them over the side, half-stands and points at the walls, eyes widening.

"What's that? Is that it?"

The shemlen driver laughs. "Eight years old and you've never seen a city wall. Yes, that's the start of it."

"The start of it?"

"It's big," he says. "Those walls are just to keep invaders out. The city's inside them."

"How awful," she says. "I'm sad for the city."

He laughs again, and shakes his head. He mutters something about needing more coffee if he's going to talk to silly elf girls, but she can see the start of a smile through his beard.

An hour later, her father clambers out of the wagon and swings himself up onto the driver's bench. He takes her spot and settles her into his lap. The first time she really sees a city, she's settled against her father's chest.

Every now and then, she chances a glance away from all the shemlen and flat-ears. Her father has drawn his mouth into a tight line, like he's not impressed at all, but his eyes are wide, and sometimes he raises an eyebrow.

"What do you think, da'len?"

"It's not like home at all," she says. "Hardly any trees. How did Mamae live in a place like this?"

"I honestly don't know," her father replies, quietly. "Flat-ears are a strange folk."

"It must have been hard."

Her father looks down at her. He seems to look inside himself for a minute, and then he tells her, "I'm sure it was very hard. So hard we don't know the half of it. But it made her strong, don't you think?"

"Very strong," she says. "And clever."

He smiles at that. "Yes. And you and I are going to be just as strong and just as clever. We're Dalish, after all."

They board a ship, which Sens decides is like an aravel for the sea. The sea is so big she could watch it forever. It's not like the rivers she's seen the aravel cross. It never seems to end. Sometimes she watches the ocean and thinks that there's no shore at all. They've sailed away from home and now they'll just keep sailing on and on.

She and her mother help out in the galley, washing and carrying dishes for the cook. When they're not in the galley, her mother leans over the ship's railing and watches the ship cut through the waves.

"Ferelden," her mother says once, quietly.

"What's that?"

"It's a country," her mother says, and then laughs. "Countries are like clans so big that not everybody knows each other."

"And is it your country?"

"Ours," her mother says. "Yours and mine."

"It's on the other side of all this water? It's really there?"

"It's really there," her mother assures her. "You'll get to meet my mother."

The third time she ever sees stone walls is the day they arrive in Denerim. Her father has finally come out of their berth and stands with them on the deck to watch the arrival. It starts out as a speck of silver, but it gets bigger and bigger.

Finally it resolves itself into a shape. Sens sees huge gray walls, and docks, and lots of shemlen running around on them. She sees durgen'len, too, bustling around on stout little legs. And there are seagulls, of course.

Her parents pick up their bags. Her mother pulls some of the warm clothing out of one and bundles Sens up in it. She feels so thoroughly wrapped that she wonders how she's ever supposed to keep up with them in all these people, but her father grips her hand tight and doesn't let go. Sens lets him drag her along and doesn't complain, even when her arm begins to hurt.

They walk through the stone streets, past stone walls, and finally come to a gate. They pass under it, and pass through a wooden gate, and Sens catches sight of the first tree she's seen since they left the forest.

"The vhenadahl," her mother tells her.

After that, her mother goes quiet and knocks on the door of a house. A man who looks a little older than her father opens the door and asks something in a sharp, flat tone. Her mother replies, but all Sens catches is the name "Assan Elvoreth."

The man turns happier at that, and looks between her parents, and then catches sight of her. He gestures her close, bends to press his fingertips to her nose. He says something, slowly, but she shakes her head.

He looks to her mother, bemused, and asks another question.

Her mother shakes her head, and her father begins to chuckle.

"Father, what's going on?"

He rests his hand on the top of her head. "I don't know, either, da'len. I speak as much of it as you do."

But soon her mother leads them through the tiny streets and into a tiny house. She knocks on the door of a different house. This time, a woman with white hair and the beginnings of lines around her eyes opens the door.

Sens sees the resemblance right away. This woman has the same cheekbones as Revas, has the same shaped eyes, has skin just a shade or so darker.

This is her mother's mother. Her grandmother. So strange to think she has one.

Her grandmother gives a cry, and pulls her mother into an embrace. She kisses each of her mother's cheeks, and her forehead, and turns and pulls her father into a hug, as well. Her father allows it, and even puts an arm around her.

"And this must be the child," her grandmother says. She motions for Sens to come forward.

Sens steps forward, suddenly shy. She looks up and up and up at this tall, lean woman. She doesn't look soft like Níma, her mother's aunt, or even like the Keeper's quick, clever wife.

"I'm Sens," she says.

"And I'm Assan, your grandmother. It's nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you, too."

"Come in, come in," Assan says, "and tell me why my light-footed daughter has come back to the Denerim Alienage."

Sens never gets to hear that conversation. Instead, she's given a meal and then sent off to sleep. When she wakes, her parents have gathered with her grandmother in a room. It has a table and chairs, and they are drinking tea and discussing what to do next in every language they have in common. Every now and then, Sens hears the word "Alienage" again, and sometimes "Chantry."

At last, her father stands and crosses to the window. "Nonsense," he says. "You're both speaking nonsense. How will they know?"

"If she was being petitioned as First," Assan says, setting her teacup down firmly, even though her hands tremble, "it won't stay hidden."

Sens feels her breath catch in her throat. They're talking about her.

"So what can we do? What happens if they find out?"

"They take her," her mother says, quietly. "The Chantry's soldiers, the Templars, will take her away."

"Revas, you told me nothing of this."

"I told you I had reasons for not wanting to return."

"You didn't tell me this!"

Her mother sets her own teacup down. It makes no sound against the wood table. "Would it have changed your mind?"

Her father opens his mouth, but then closes it and bows his head. "No. No, it wouldn't have."

"So what shall you do?"

"The only thing we can do: leave Denerim and hope for the best," her mother says. "Perhaps a clan in Ferelden will take us in. Someone should tell our clan's story at the next Arlathvhen."

"It's decided, then." Her father looks up then. "We leave in seven days."

Three days later, Sens accompanies her mother to the marketplace outside the Alienage. Her mother loads a basket with supplies: cheeses, dried fruits, jerky. Sens doesn't understand much of what her mother says to the people she buys from – some shemlen, some flat-ears – but she understands enough to know that her mother trades coins, and three of her many scarves, and even charms carved of halla horn.

"Always barter, if you can," her mother says, as they leave the market. She stops in the street for just a moment, tilts her head so the dark hair falls away from her ears, and then turns around.

They hurry through the crowded streets. People push and shove each other, and sometimes shout, but nobody really seems to be paying anybody else any kind of attention.

"Perhaps we should seek the Maker's blessing as well as the Creators'," her mother murmurs.

More stone walls! Sens makes a face at them, but follows her mother through the gap. They pass by two men in heavy armor. She looks at them, curious, but they stare straight ahead as if they don't see her.

Her mother lights a candle and bows before a statue. She mumbles words in this stupid language people speak in Ferelden. Sens stands beside her, not bothering to kneel or even bow her head.

The Maker is a shemlen god. She's not a shemlen. Why should this Maker care about her, if he even exists and isn't just another shemlen lie?

They've just barely left the Chantry walls behind when someone bumps into her mother. He doesn't even look back or apologize, just keeps on moving, and suddenly her mother cries out in that language again.

The first words Sens ever learns of the common tongue are "Stop" and "thief."

The next words, she doesn't learn until after she's reached out, thinking of how hard it is to move during the winter. She's only seen snow once, but it made her stop in her tracks, and the man who stole from her mother stops moving, too.

He's covered in ice, frozen solid to the ground.

The shemlen around them back away.

A whisper ripples through the crowd: "mage."

The two Chantry soldiers come sprinting out of the gates. They both have their shields out, slung over their arms, and each has a hand on his sword.

The Chantry soldier asks her mother a question. She says something, steps in front of Sens, but a shemlen points at her and says something else. She only catches the word "mage."

Her mother's grip on her hand tightens. "Please," her mother says. Everything else gets lost to the common tongue. "Dalish," her mother says.

The Templar shakes his head.

"Please," her mother says again, and adds something else.

But the Templar shakes his head again and puts his hand on Sens's shoulder.

Sens shrugs away, clinging to her mother.

The Templar frowns and begins to tug on her. His grip hurts, the metal of his gloves digging into her skin, and she cries out. "L-let me go!"

The two Templars exchange startled looks. One asks the other a question, but the other shrugs and pulls her away from her mother.

She resists, trying to dig in her heels, thinks of cold winters and snow again. If she has to, she'll freeze herself to this spot.

But the Templar cuffs her. It's a gentle strike to the shoulder, but something feels numb after, and she can't think at all, and the cold she was building vanishes.

"Mamae," she says, "Mamae, don't let them, please don't let them!"

But the other Templar grabs her mother's shoulder and pulls her away. Sens tries to tighten her grip on her mother's hand, but soon their fingers slip apart.

When the Templar has pulled her away, back to the Chantry and out of sight of her mother, Sens begins to cry.

She won't cry again for fifteen years.

She and the Templars walk out of the city, Denerim, the very next morning. She is no longer crying. Now, she is angry.

She wants to escape. But every time she tries to bring back the cold so she can flee, one of the Templars cuffs her, and her hands go numb and the cold vanishes.

They walk for three days. In that time, Sens remembers how her father buries his temper under calm, and tries to do the same. But she doesn't fool the Templars; they tie a rope to her ankle each night, and stake the rope deep in the ground. She can't pull the stake out, but she tries for hours, ignoring the fire, ignoring the stars, just trying to untie the rope or dig up the stake.

She doesn't accept that there is no escape until the third morning. She finally succeeds in calling on the cold before either can react, and she freezes the larger one. She runs, then, but the shorter Templar catches her, and cuffs her again, and then carries her slung over his shoulder for the rest of the day.

For the first time in her life, she hates.

Two days later, they arrive at the shore of a lake. One of the Templars cuffs her, then slings her over his shoulder again. They board a rickety boat.

She hates enough that she knows what she would do, if she could. She'd jump over the side of the boat and swim for the bottom, and hopefully they couldn't pull her up in time. But she can't hide it from the Templars, and they hold her by the shoulders and won't let her move.

That's when she sees stone walls for the fourth time. Once they get her across the lake, she begins to kick and fight. If they get her in that awful building, she doesn't know how she'll leave. And if she gets out of the building, how will she cross the lake?

But someone just slings her over his shoulders again. She lifts her head enough to see the blue-green lake, and the green grass, vanish when a huge door closes.

After that, all she ever sees is gray stone walls.