He’d always known what it was to travel, of course, all Dalish did, but with the creaking of aravels in the breeze, the scent of halla and the company of his clan brothers and sisters all around him, knowing that whatever happened, to any of them, he would still be a part of his family and clan. Not that he had ever expected anything to happen, especially not like this. And he still was a part of the clan, Arelan supposed—in his heart and theirs, he knew he always would be. But from what this Grey Warden, Duncan, had said, Arelan would never go back, and every step away from the Brecilian Forest seemed to be another mile between him and the life he’d always known. He would never see them again, any of them.
It was still hard for him to believe. He had never thought about it much, he supposed. He’d done his best to be a part of the clan, of course, to give back to them in all the ways he was meant to, though he was forever getting scolded for some reckless escapade he’d gotten up to, more often than not with Tamlen. He’d never thought what it would mean to be without them.
Creators, Tamlen, he still couldn’t believe he was gone—they’d been friends ever since childhood, when Arelan had outshot him in archery training and been a snotty little arse about it, and they’d proceeded to get into a fistfight. The memory scolding they’d gotten from the Keeper and Hahren Paivel after that made him grin wryly to himself—
Thinking about them, all of them, Tamlen too, just brought the truth back to him with ever more finality—he’d never see any of them again. Especially not Tamlen. The grief was a lurking blackness he refused to look at straight on. Arelan knew it was his duty to go and fight the Blight, he did, especially now, after what he’d done, if this was to save his life, then it would be, and that was that. And he didn’t want to seem childish, but he couldn’t help casting one more glance over his shoulder, back at the forest.
He could hardly smell the familiar scents of forest loam and green leaves any longer, only the dust of the road, the metal and oiled leather of his and Duncan’s armor. It was probably stupid to feel such a sense of loss over that. In fact, he was pretty certain it was. He touched the necklace he wore around his neck, the one Ashalle had said had belonged to his mother.
He was acting like a child, and he wasn’t a child, not any longer. He was going to be a Grey Warden. It was time to stop acting like one, not the reckless young hunter he had a reputation for being amongst the clan. They were counting on him to make them proud, to show these shemlen what being Dalish truly meant.
We are the Dalish: keepers of the lost lore, walkers of the lonely path. We are the last of the elvhen. Never again shall we submit.
Arelan had always taken the Oath of the Dales seriously, at least. However Paivel had scolded him for his antics the rest of the time, Arelan had always stilled and listened whenever he talked of the responsibilities a Dalish elf held to the rest of the clan. He’d never wanted to shame them—he’d always wanted to live up to what they expected of him. It was just … he’d never thought anything like this would happen. Life traveling with the Dalish was dangerous, of course, it wasn’t that—he supposed he’d just never really thought that something like this could happen, that his life could change so quickly, just like that, and he’d have to leave, never be able to go home again … . At least if he died, he’d expected to do it with his clan around him, so they could bury him and say the ancient words.
Mythal protect him, he missed them already.
He supposed it was his own fault, in a way. Getting sick with the Taint and having to join the Grey Wardens and all of it. He’d gone eagerly along with Tamlen’s plan to investigate the cave, after all. He hadn’t pulled him back from the mirror or even tried to dissuade him from investigating, not really. Hahren Paivel had always said that his and Tamlen’s escapades would get them in a hole too deep for them to dig themselves out of one day, and of course he’d been right. Ah, Tamlen, lethallin, I never meant for this to happen—I’m sorry, I should have stopped you, should have done something—
Arelan sighed and fixed his eyes on Duncan’s back. His head came up just about to the man’s shoulders—shemlen were always so big, and the Grey Warden wasn’t by any means an unimpressive example, either.
The Grey Warden’s voice surprised him into reaching reflexively for his bow when he spoke. “The Oath of the Dales?” he said.
Arelan swallowed his surprise. “Um,” he said intelligently.
“What you were murmuring to yourself just now?” Duncan said.
“Oh.” Arelan thought about that for a moment, then decided there was probably no harm in confirming it. Clearly Duncan already knew it, if he could recognize Arelan’s distracted mumbles, and the Keeper had trusted this man, shemlen or not, enough to take his advice, enough to send Arelan away with him. “Yes,” he said, and then felt as if that required a bit more explanation. “I was … reminding myself. Going into shemlen lands for the first time, and all that.”
“Yes,” Duncan agreed. “Though, just a suggestion, my friend. Calling humans shemlen at all times is probably not the best way to win their hearts.”
Arelan stared at him for a moment, before he realized that Duncan was smiling slightly behind his beard. Was he … teasing him? The realization surprised an answering smile out of him, however small and unwilling. “Human lands, then,” he said. “Or Ferelden, if you insist.”
“I know little enough of the Dalish and their ways,” Duncan said, “but I know that your clan will not forget you.”
Arelan swallowed quickly at that and looked away. “And I will not forget them,” he said, and repeated it to himself, again, a silent vow. “Nor what it is to be Dalish.”
“And we would not expect you to,” Duncan said after a moment of silence and their footsteps on the road had passed between them. “As long as you are willing to learn what it is to be a Grey Warden.”
And Arelan, to his own surprise, thought that he was. A Dalish Grey Warden. That would certainly be something for the humans to remember. Something to make his clan proud.