“That’s…a nice crossbow you have there”
“Aaaah isn’t she? Bianca and I have been through a lot together”
Something glinted behind the elven girl’s eyes, and her lips parted before she hastily snaps it shut again, opting for a dry “You named your crossbow Bianca?” instead of whatever wild speculation ran rampant on her mind just now.
Varric knew this because he caught that glint – the quick flit of a thousand whys and hows and imagined worlds. Another thing he definitely knew was that he has met a fellow storyteller.
* * * * * * * * * * *
They didn’t get the chance to talk, to really talk, until Haven.
Waving away offers of dubiously paired bunk beds and spare tavern rooms, he had instead claimed the small area right in front of Haven’s main staircase – The walls behind it high enough to keep off the biting wind, and the spot central enough that everyone coming in and out of the fledgling Inquisition’s makeshift headquarters would invariably pass through his line of sight.
But it was not just that. The excuse of a tavern Leliana had set up on one of the empty houses did not even have a proper fireplace - Ancestors, it barely had enough space for tables, let alone the increasingly cranky Templars Curly brought with him. So Varric had decided to just make his own makeshift hearth right there and right then – the small bonfire dug and edged with stones just the way his Daisy had taught him, so long ago on the caves of the Wounded Coast.
The thing with a hearth is that people get instinctually drawn to it. Something about the crackling, open flames is like an invitation to sit down. Hearths promised companionship, an excuse to just be somewhere. But above all, a hearth promised stories, and there is nothing Varric likes more than a place where stories are the main currency.
It was probably poetic, in a way, that the first one who was drawn to his newly dug out hearth was no other than the Herald herself – Shoulders low and wisps of hair flying around her face, tells that he had associated with close encounters with their illustrious Seeker. But as always, her eyes were bright and full of questions, and they trained themselves on the fire beside him, green orbs immediately softening with something he could not quite place. He smiled, and patted the all too vacant space beside him.
“So, now that Cassandra is out of earshot, are you holding up all right?”
* * * * * * * * * * *
Keeper. That’s what he calls her. Not Herald, not prisoner, and strangely so, never her name. But she supposes he does that with everyone. Even Cassandra’s ‘Seeker’ had a playful tone edged around it, as if he was implying that it was not her title alone he refers to.
The child of the stone is a strange one, but she found that his little campfire had become a fixture in her routine. She had taken to plopping herself down beside the dwarf when Solas was too engrossed in his papers, or when everything else became simply too much – too alien, too human. And she knew that the latter has to stop – that this is her lot now and she has to embrace it. Fly straight and do not waver. But the unease blocks her speech and bows her head, shuffles her steps into familiar patterns every time she enters the walls of Haven.
But Keeper, he calls her. And a flush of shame and pride blossoms at the unintended reminder. Keeper Deshanna would not have been this weak, would have found a way to belong – even without the strange mark pulsing, pulsing on her palm.
“You know I’m just a First” She had said one day, idling around the crackle of his fire “Seems inappropriate to call me Keeper, of all things”
“I did tell you about Daisy, didn’t I?“ She nods, remembering Varric’s tales of the First of the Sabrae clan – or used to be the First. She looked up to see that Varric’s expression had taken a somber tone to match where her mind is going with the story
”I was there when her Keeper took that demon inside her. Didn’t even flinch, even had a smile for her and everything” He sighed “Daisy told me that it’s a Keeper’s job to remember things, even dangerous ones”
“But the Keeper also remembers to protect, especially from the dangerous things. They remember so they can make the dangerous decisions” His eyes softens as a stout hand gently settles on her shoulder “And hey, it seems you’re the one making all the dangerous protecting and decisioning around here. I’d say you’re a Keeper already”
She was silent for a long time, the edges of her eyes prickling with warmth that echoed the one blossoming in her chest. “That is very kind, Varric ”, she whispered at last.
“Aaaand you know, Daisy also told me that Keepers tells the best stories. I bet you tell the best stories”.
“Dalish stories” She scrunched up her nose, then. His grin too wide, too warm for her not to play along. “I’m not sure that’s something everyone would be interested in equal measures”
“You’d be surprised. Come on, tell me one. A fun one!”
And she was surprised. She was surprised at how much she missed telling stories. With everyone else in her inner circle she had opted to listen, because before she was a Herald she was a First, and a First helps her clan, even if it was by something as simple as listening to them. As with Cassandra she could be a reminder of her faith, and with Solas she was content to let him impart his much treasured knowledges, but she missed this – Missed the words and inflections, the pauses she would make and the rapt faces as her eyes glides around the fire.
And those faces surprised her. As her story progressed, she noticed that a number of other people had settled around their little hearth. Her voice falters for a moment before something else blooms inside her – Memories of countless other hearths, countless other nights where her clan surrounds her, the stories blanketing them together until sometimes she did not know where her voice ends and theirs began. And this, she realized, these people, are her clan now.
And she is their Keeper.
When she was done, she looked around to recognize various people she saw everyday – Cassandra, Blackwall, Master Harrit, the Chantry sisters in front of Threnn’s spot. Leliana with a rare smile on her lips, Enchanter Minaeve, a quiet wistfulness in place of the cool professionalism usually radiating from her very being, and then Solas - face as inscrutable as ever yet eyes gentler than she had ever seen them.
Afterwards, Scout Harding broke out her lute, and their little campfire tale transformed smoothly into a little celebration that she bemusedly but happily let herself get wrangled into. She finally ducked away from the circle of people, breathless and laughing, just in time before a slightly tipsy Dorian tried to pass the lute to her.
Only to find Varric standing outside that circle, lounging against the stone wall behind them. And as he had done so countless time before, he pats the wall beside him with a smile.
And he is a strange one, this child of the stone – but he understands. And he was the first to listen to her stories in this strange, strange place. So she settles herself next to him and smiles back.