The field medics took Calledan from Gabriel as soon as he'd crested the bluff; the boy had passed out, his limp little body as fragile as if he were just a bundle of dry kindling tied haphazardly together. Only then did Gabriel allow himself to indulge his own weariness, stumbling half blind to the tent the soldiers had erected for him. The image of the Magister smirking behind his barrier, a starving, beaten slave on the end of that cruel chain as if he were worth nothing, would not leave him. He knew nothing about Calledan in specific, but he did know that Calledan had once enjoyed freedom, that he'd run through Brecilian forest with his fellows, maybe learned to wield a bow and skin a rabbit and tend to an aravel. He deserved better. Mythal willing, they'd be able to offer him some kind of life at Skyhold.
He found Shandi past the door flap, lying on a pile of pillows. He noted her eyes first, shining in the lamp light. Though, some of that sheen came from drugs; freshly stewed elfroot made the interior humid . Only then did he realize that her arm was braced and wrapped in bandages, stretched out stiffly at her side. She wore only a light chemise, and he could see that the cotton dressing wrapped around her chest and opposite shoulder; how badly injured was she?
"Fenedhis, Shandi," he exclaimed, dropping to his knees. "You're hurt." Panic whirled through him, and in mere moments he'd already imagined the worst, Shandi getting some awful infection he couldn't treat, losing her fingers or full range of motion, something that would keep her from wielding her sword. And where would Shandi be without that? He had trouble imagining Shandi retiring with grace.
"Gabriel," she said. She hadn't snapped at him, but her voice held a power, a commanding edge, that made him freeze. "I'm all right. I promise. The rock wraith tried to take my arm off, but it's going to heal up fine. And don't you dare offer to use magic on me. You're about to fall on your face as it is."
To his extreme mortification he burst in to tears, weeping in to his hands. Shandi coaxed him in to joining her amidst all the pillows, where he curled up at her side like a beaten dog. Worse than that as was his wont when upset, sexual desire gripped him, winding around him as if he'd run afoul of a bramble patch. He balled up even tighter, hoping to hide it from Shandi. Surely she would be repulsed, or offended; she'd been badly hurt! How could he think of anything but the seriousness of such a situation, let alone...that.
"You're the only guy I know who could have a hard cock at a time like this," she said, and at first he felt as if his chest might cave in. A moment later, though, and he realized he'd heard nothing but gentle affection in her voice, a voice made low and silken by the painkillers she's surely been liberally plyed with.
"It...I...it just happens sometimes when I'm frightened or upset." He mumbled, embarrassed even if she hadn't yet shown signs of disgust. "I apologize, my lady. You are wounded. I should be thinking of that only."
She snorted. "You're not a merc so I'll let you in on a little secret: I've had sex covered in gore more times than I can count. When you win a good fight, damn....the rush! You want all good things, food, drink, fucking. I'm just mad I didn't strike the killing blow." She gave him a look, thoughtfulness bringing a slight downturn to her mouth. "I guess you did. It went down when you killed the Magister."
It was a singular experience to hear Shandi swear so openly in such a thick Orlesian accent, an experience Gabirel found himself cherishing.
"It...doesn't bother you? My...my arousal, I mean."
"No. Do you want to? Fuck?." She waved her hand, affecting an expansive arrogance as if she were a princess on an ornate litter that at any moment would be hosted aloft by a compliment of muscle bound men. "You'll have to do most of the work, you know."
"Will you allow it?" He wondered, since usually she was on him like a starving leopard on a lame ram. Not that he was complaining, mind, but he liked the thought of taking his time. He hadn't really explored her and her body to the degree he might have preferred, especially considering he had little experience in these matters. There was, after all, only one way to learn.
"Sure," she told him, curiosity making her tilt her head. In the low light, her horns glittered like a king's hoard, and her gaze held his. Despite her overall cheery agreement, he could sense a little trepidation; the sex they'd had up until this point...maybe she could dismiss it as mutual enjoyment only. Allowing him access to her in this manner, though...It was different, and by the little furrow to her brows and the slight tension in her shoulders, she knew it as well as he did.
Before he realized he'd chosen to act his hands were up under her shift and on her bare skin, skin that was smooth except for the raised scar puckered just under her left breast and down to the swell of her hip. He knew he was mistaken a moment later as he found several more scars; his hand traveled over the length of her body, marking out the healed over claw marks on her belly and the old axe blows that had left deep hack marks in her upper back, thankfully missing her spine. He'd seen them before of course, but never had he dared touch them on purpose. He was careful not to jostle her wounded arm, though she gasped and arched up in to his touch when he dared pinch her nipple between his fingertips. If it pained her, she didn't show it.
Under the elfroot and the lavender soap the healers had washed her off with he caught the scent of amber and honey, an olfactory caress only afforded him when he pressed his lips to the curve of her neck.
She would never cease to surprise him, velvet and steel.
He pushed her chemise up, exposing her breasts and the soft pad of fat rounding out her muscular belly and thighs. She squirmed out of the garment the rest of the way, though they both had to work to get it over her shoulder and down her arm without causing undue pain. She was laughing at the awkwardness when it was finally off, her head thrown back, hair messy against the pillows, eyes closed. He thought that mirth looked especially fetching on her girlish mouth, a mouth he couldn't resist kissing. She held him to her and raked her nails up his back, drawing a helpless moan from him. If she only knew what pain could do to him...though now he felt a little more confident about telling her, someday.
Her name was on his lips, a soft, reverent whisper as if he were some Chantry idiot murmuring prayers to Andrastae. Perhaps if the Chantry hadn't twisted Her, made her bloodless and filed down her eyeteeth, he might have spent his coppers in the tithe bowl.
"You suck dick, don't you?" Shandi asked him, and though their eye contact had become intense, intimate, she didn't break it. His breath wound up tight in his throat, threatening to choke him, but he nodded. He'd been on his knees more often than not, truth be told. "How do you feel about eating pussy?" She added, when he answered in the affirmative.
"I...can't say I've ever had the opportunity, my lady, but if it's anything like what I've already done I'm hopeful I won't completely embarrass myself in the attempt."
She flashed a grin and chuckled. "I'll help you. How's that?"
"Anything you desire," he told her, and he found himself wanting to fulfill every last one of her wishes and needs, sexual and otherwise. "If you don't mind me going slowly." As much as he wanted to start in on the task she had named, he wanted still more of her. He worked his way down when she agreed, trying to find and tease all of her secret, tender spots. He found one on the sensitive skin stretched over her elegant, finely carved collarbone, another under the scar on her hip. She made little sounds of satisfaction whenever he found his mark, and the encouragement emboldened him enough that he felt comfortable appreciating the place between her legs. She drew her knees apart to let him in that much easier, and he found himself hungry for the task at hand. Her warmth, the musk of arousal, how wet she already was...despite having never done any of this before, he felt none of his usual nervousness. His anticipation was too all encompassing for that.
She gave her consent in a whimper of anticipation, her fingers tangling in his hair as he dared to use his mouth on her. She was so wet, and had so many hidden, soft places; he thought it entirely different from servicing a cock until he found her clit, hard and suckable just as he was used to. She cried out loud enough that he wondered in the back of his mind whether they could be heard out in the camp, though he cared not a whit. She murmured directions to him, and he knew he'd followed them properly when the muscles in her thighs were all clenched and tight and her juices were all over his face. A moment later and she nigh screamed through her first orgasm fit to wake the neighbors. The drugs had loosened her tongue, he thought, making her even less concerned about showing her appreciation than usual. He wasn't about to stop savoring this new delight-already he knew there must be a hundred ways to bring her pleasure in this way-but she dragged him up to eye level by his hair.
"Put your cock in me," she growled, reaching down to wrap her hand around the body part in question. It was then he realized he was rock hard, and he thrust involuntarily in to her grip. She guided him inside and he groaned as she let him go so he could bury himself in her those last couple of inches, her warm, willing body opening for him as readily as a river accepting moonlight. Mindful of her injured arm, he reached up to touch her horns. He asked without speaking, and she agreed the same way. He tightened his grip, using her horns to brace himself as he thrust in to her again and again. She moved with him, all those hard won muscles reminding him that she could break him in half if she so wished. Luckily she had much more pleasant things on her mind, and instead of using all that physical prowess to wield a weapon or grapple an enemy, she turned it to their mutual pleasure instead.
He found himself on the edge of orgasm all too soon thereby, and when she arched up to capture his mouth in a kiss it was too much to resist. The fact that she didn't shy away from tasting herself on his lips made him give in, hips twitching as he came, groaning in something akin to pain as he buried himself in her to the hilt.
He thought she might keep him there, locking him in place until he could manage another erection despite the agony he'd have to endure, but she took pity on him. He hated to pull out, but he did so if only because he couldn't manage the strength to stay in proper position. She was panting by the end, satisfied if her flushed cheeks and sweat sheened form were anything to go by.
"Feel better?" She asked, teasing him. He could accept teasing from her, since he knew it hid no icy malice the way it had when his brothers had started in on him.
"I feel I have missed out on many years of pleasure," he told her, flopping down beside her on the pillow pile. "I didn't know being with a woman could be so...so powerful. Though," he said, turning on his side to look at her, "the fact that it is you I am learning this with...that matters." He reached out to take her good hand, kissing her fingers.
"You're too kind, m'lord," she told him, her laugh weary but pleased. He got up to use the washbasin, then came back with some damp clothes to gently wash Shandi off with. "I could get used to this," she said, though he thought it was half a lie. She didn't enjoy being laid up like an invalid, not one bit, though he liked to think his care made it a little more bearable.
He brought her watered down wine and a couple of potions, fretting over whether she had everything she needed.
"Come and lie down, nurse Marlowe," she told him once she'd downed the medicines, affixing him with a sweet look. Satisfied that she had everything, he curled up against her once more. Soon enough, he dozed off. His dreams were blessedly mundane.
When he woke, Calledan knew immediately he wasn't in Magister Regulus' caravan. Though he had at times woken up in the tent of a favored underling (often, his body had been offered up as a reward for those who pleased the master), this felt different. Things smelled wrong; he couldn't detect the spiced wine Regulus preferred, the wine he'd been made to pour for Regulus' allies, nude and in chains. Gone was the creak of canvas and the sound of horse's hooves struggling through the sand. He lay on a plush bed, a feeling unfamiliar after years spent sleeping on the floor with little more than a single threadbare blanket. The voices nearby were unfamiliar and spoke Common, not Tevene. Even so he was too cagey to feel relief, despite realizing his master's hold had been broken. Whoever had taken him could have motivations as depraved. Assuming this wasn't some cruel dream.
Seeing Aled's face a moment later didn't settle the dream or reality debate. How many times had he fantasized about this very thing? Aeron and Aled finally coming for him? And then he and Aeron would become bondmates as the Clan had always thought they would. They would one day guide the Clan as Keeper and lead hunter, and whatever strange curse had fallen on Aeron would be cured and no longer would she want to die. He imagined taking the blade from her, cajoling her out of her miserable posture as she clutched at the dagger as if it had the power to cut away her torment. He'd found her like that several times, angry, red furrows marring her skin; once he had only barely talked her out of cutting her own throat. Now, he would tell her how important she was, how beautiful, how the clan needed her, and she would be free, as if he had the power to break whatever foul magic had taken her with the power of his love. It was a good fantasy, warm and full in a way nothing else in his existence was.
"Cal?" Aled peered at him, worry making his features look drawn, even more sharp than they usually were.
"Go away," he managed, coughing. He couldn't remember the last time he'd spoken of his own accord. If this were a stupid delusion about being rescued, there was no point indulging in it. Fantasizing was one thing. An outright hallucination was just cruel.
"Cal, this is real. I promise you."
Aeron came up beside Aled, her pale fists scrunched tight in her skirts. That made him struggle to sit up, and he reached for her hands. He worried that at his touch she would disappear, but no. He felt her cool skin on his, like the pages of a much loved book. Appropriate, as he could remember her poring over such precious knowledge as First. Kaffas, how long had it been since he'd even let himself think about home?
"Aeron? Aeron, you came for me?"
"Cal...yes, we've rescued you. Your master and all of his lackeys are dead on the ground outside."
He hugged her so tight he heard the breath leave her lungs in one heavy pulse, but he couldn't let go, wouldn't ever let go.
Aled gently pried him free after a long moment, then sat on the side of the bed. He was a vision, wearing shem clothes that had to have come at a price that could have bought and sold the Magister Regulus' entire caravan. He knew then that Aled wasn't lying about being the Inquisitor; the Anchor's magic felt like a fourth person in their little space, pushing its way in between them as they looked at each other, really looked at each other, for the first time in years. It made hot pins and needles dig in to Cal's hands and feet, and he wondered at the thing's power even when it wasn't actively being used. Magister Regulus had spoken of it, of course, but being right next to it was a different thing from hearing.
"Cal, I'm going to try to keep this simple for right now because you're in shock. Aled and I...we switched bodies."
A laugh clawed free of his throat, an ugly thing like a hyena chewing through carrion.
"I knew it. This can't be real."
"It is," Aeron told him. Or was she Aled? Or...?
"We found a great power," Aled? told him. "That power allowed us to take the other's form. You...you remember the way things were for us."
He did. How could he forget? Aeron had been the most obvious in her misery, but Aled had suffered no less, though private, nervous Aled would never let Cal see the extent of his pain.
"And now? Who are you now?" His head spun, and it wasn't all from the shock.
"I was once Aeron," the person wearing Aled's face told him, "and now I am Amjad. The Inquisitor, by some cruel twist of fate."
"And I was once Aled," the person wearing Aeron's face added, "now I am Aislinn. And I am free. I have the right body. I needn't obsess over ancient rituals and forgotten magics to change us anymore; we found what we needed."
"Then...what will happen to me?" Would this new person, this Amjad, care for him? Would he have Aeron's qualities and personality, even wearing Aled's skin?
"Oh Cal, we will take you back to our stronghold and care for you, of course," Aislinn told him. He studied every inch of her, those long slender fingers, her lambent amethyst eyes with the gold flecks that would always pick out a child of Riona. Now that he had found himself in friendly hands, memories of the clan bubbled up inside him whether he wanted them or not. Riona, with her thick, black hair, her clever hands, her musical voice that could effortlessly tell even the most obscure of their clan stories. Riona, a werewolf, dead on the ground filled with arrows. He with the other children hiding under the aravel, Aeron with her little herb knife out ready to defend them, even though she had been only eight winters old then.
"I'm so sorry we didn't come for you sooner, ma vhenan," Amjad told him, and he felt Amjad's soothing hand on his forehead. "But we never forgot you. I promise you that."
The sobs came then, even uglier than his laugh. Amjad and Aislinn crawled in to the bed with him, pressing their bodies against his, wrapping their arms around him, and he wept until he had nothing left. Sleep took him then, Aislinn's lullaby soft in his ear.