The cut had only started to heal and was itching mercilessly. An uneven wound was covered with a crimson dark crust of dried blood stretched through Tairinn's left hand from the base of the palm to the crook of her elbow in parallel to veins. It pulled at the skin with every movement and, Andraste's holy knickers, it was going to drive her crazy!
Tairinn huffed indignantly as she crossed a well lit hall of the estate, not really in the mood to watch her ancestors stare at her haughtily from the portraits. Great-grandma Tairinn, whom the woman had been named after, was smirking as usual, not by chance looking like a descendant of those stuck up Pentaghasts that had been playing with their dead in Nevarra for longer than Kingdom itself existed. Four times great-grandfather Liam's portrait was hanging slightly off again, a tiny little bit to the right. Father always said that he had just been trying to be closer to his wife, Oda's portrait, whom he loved dearly even after his death. Well, Tairinn thought with reluctant smile, whatever pleases the Father. Yeah, there'll be a lot of pleasing soon.
It seemed that the Maker, if he was free enough today to leave his pedestal and play with some stray mortal's life, decided that the usual charade wouldn’t be enough. Now she would also have to pretend that her hand was just fine in hopes that mother won’t see more than is safe for her. The woman could never react to the constant companions of the warrior - bruises and wounds - as calmly as father did. Maybe it was his military training speaking, maybe he just didn’t care as long as Tairinn stayed alive and in one piece, but mother... She had to remain in blissful ignorance for as long as it was possible.
Holding back from the urge to at least slightly rub the inflamed skin, the daughter of Stefan Bann Trevelyan pulled down the sleeve of the gray-blue camisole crumpled from a long lying in a saddlebag, hastily smoothed unevenly cut dark slightly wavy hair and set her shoulders straight before entering the dining room. She had missed them, truly, but there was no denying that of all times to come home, this was one of the worst.
"Ethan, dear! Oh, I’m so glad you managed to come home!" A fifty-something looking woman with a body made of sharp angles and straight lines raised her unusually pale face. Adriana Rhonne Alamilla smiled at her. Him. It was a warm expression of a loving mother, only... Tairinn couldn't let herself forget, this one wasn't for her. Had never been for her. “Three years, isn’t it? Thank the Maker, I’m so happy to see you!”
Tall and thin as a stick, she gracefully rose from her seat, but swayed suddenly after taking a few steps towards the doors, leaning on the high back of her husband's chair. Wearily shaking his head, a man whose shoulders could rival with some doorframes in width slipped out from his seat with surprising quickness for his size.
"Adrie, dear, we’re all very pleased to see him, but please don’t strain yourself too much. You know, it's dangerous for you to worry," he said, gently putting his arm around his wife’s waist. After all these years, in health and in illness he still adored her greatly, once again proving true the old Ostwick saying "Love of the Trevelyan is once and for all". Tairinn's lips curled downwards as she thought, I'm sorry, Mother, even in this I'm still no good.
The woman ignored his protests though, gracefully waving them off, and simply let him help her return to her place. Her voice was high and rang with a barely hidden amusement. “But, Stefan, tis is such a joyous moment! How come I cannot hug my dear boy?” She batted her lashes at the man playfully, making him laugh.
"I never said you cannot, love." He turned to Tairinn and beckoned her closer. "Don't stand in the door, son, come! We've been waiting."
Trying to stifle a heavy sigh, she threw a careful glance at her mother. Yes, it was true. With every visit she seemed to be thinner, paler, as if becoming more transparent, and now Tairinn could no longer attribute it to her own growth. Her mother's illness slowly but surely took its toll on her. Getting her act together, Tairinn smiled roughly and crossed the brightly-lit hall with a sweeping step, letting the heels of her boots sound like a booming rhythm along the carpeted floor. She dropped on one knee in front of mother's chair and gently, as if afraid to break her, embraced Lady Trevelyan, trying not to press Adriana too close to her own body.
Sixteen years ago she and her brothers had been alike as three peas in a pod and nobody had even tried to distinguish between Maxwell, Tairinn and Ethan. But now nature already took its course and on the way from Hercinia the woman had to stop at some cheap tavern to rebind her chest a little tighter and trim the hair that had been growing freely for over three years. Of course, it was a pity to get rid of the braid, which was quite convenient and didn’t need constant care, but there was too much in her appearance already to cause inappropriate suspicions. Given the fragile state of Adriana, Tairinn had to be especially careful.
“How are you feeling, Mother?” For a second, it seemed that her voice had trembled more than it was acceptable or safe. The lack of practice did show, eventually. Still, the woman, even if she had noticed the change in Tairinn’s voice, clearly wrote it off for her happiness of seeing family again. Adriana’s thin fingers traced the features of Tairinn's face, searching for new scars, but she immediately pulled away as gently as possible.
“Mother?” she lowered her voice some more to ease any suspicions, just in case.
“I am absolutely fine, my dear, don’t you worry! I spend so much time outside in the garden these days, reading, I barely see Stef.” Adriana smiled softly, throwing a quick glance at her husband. “Your little sister sends me fantastic scrolls every so often… Oh, how I wish she’d be with us now or you could come more often!”
Tairinn fought to keep a neutral expression. Yes, three years, apparently, were too long term, she really needed to visit home more than once every two-three years. Maybe she could pull some favors with the Captain, bargaining for another day or two on their way back to Wycome after the Conclave? Adriana, oblivious to her discomfort, went on, nearly shivering with joy in her soft armchair.
“And who should be more careful,” she nodded at Stefan bemusedly, “is your father. Absolutely restless these days! Forty nine and still… He’s been showing new tricks to Brendon last week and what do you think had happened?" Her hands went up to accent her displeasure and Tairinn barely contained a snort. "He pulled a muscle!”
“I’m fine, Adrie,” Stefan tried to appease her, but to no avail.
"No you don't!" She shook her head and sighed in surrender. "Did it stop him from continuing, do you think?”
Grinning, Tairinn watched her father squirm in his place. The moment their eyes met, he winked at her and reached out for a handshake. Stefan put both of his palms around her left in a traditional greeting and her eyes watered from the pain that shot up through her arm up to the elbow. She stifled a hiss and took her hand away swiftly. No matter how many years have passed since she left the Trevelyan estate, his grip was still firm and confident.
Tairinn knew she inherited her stubbornness from her father and, no matter how sick or tired he ever was, he’d never miss a training session because of something like pulled muscle. Him being him, “No way!” she laughed.
“Right you are,” Adriana shot her husband a disapproving glance. “So Maxwell had to see grandfather Daniel off all by himself. Totally unacceptable. You know how he is and we have a tradition to uphold!”
Tairinn saw that even now mother could barely contain an exasperated smile and her silver grey eyes were sparkling. Stefan, bless his easygoing nature, tried to look ashamed and just opened his mouth to say something when the doors flew open, banging loudly on the stone walls. All three Trevelyans immediately turned to the entrance, eyeing a newcomer.
“Hey, brother! Where you’ve been all this time, huh?” Tairinn smiled broadly when she heard her brother’s voice and stepped forward to meet him. Tall like their mother and broad-shouldered like father, Maxwell Edward Trevelyan was tan and freckle-faced, almost a mirror image of herself except for a neatly trimmed goatee and long wavy hair gathered in a careless bun at the back of his neck. He had the same honey colored eyes, high cheekbones and broad jaw, a thin pale scar crossed his right eyebrow, and, although all three twins had it too, the scar was by no means a genetic trait.
Tairinn immediately remembered how Ethan had fallen off the old apple tree in the garden when they were about seven years old. He had never been good at something that required even the most basic physical training, but did not intend to fall behind his brother and sister, so when they decided to build a tree house, despite the fear of heights, Ethy climbed with them. For that he paid no more than five minutes later, falling into the thorny rose bushes and earning a deep cut through an eyebrow.
Despite the pain and a huge amount of blood, her brother did not cry neither when they took him to Edna the housemaid, hiding from more strict servants and their parents in the dimly lit corridors of the estate, nor when she treated his wound with stinking and terribly stingy salve made of elfroot and crystal grace. Well, she and Max both found out how awful the salve was the hard way: just a few couple of hours later they stole a knife from the kitchens and, trying not to let no cry of pain out, cut each other’s brows. They didn’t want their brother to suffer alone and now Tairinn couldn’t even remember whose idea it’d been. The only thing that mattered was that everything Trevelyan twins did, they did together.
And now the owner of an exact copy of her scar looked at her with a joyful smile, opening his arms for a welcoming embrace. Shaking her head, Tairinn pushed the memories of her childhood back and grabbed her brother in a bear hug. “Glad you’re back, sis,” he whispered softly so their mother wouldn’t hear him from her place at the table. “Still a hopeless wanderer, aren’t ya?”
“You can’t even imagine how much I’ve missed you, Max!” she said in a hushed voice, squeezing her brother tightly, and added a little louder, “And they say men change after marriage, but you haven’t changed a bit! Where is Helga? Last time we met when, five years ago? More?”
“You wouldn’t believe this,” for a moment Max’s face turned into a in a dreary mask, but his eyes immediately gave him away, “she left me... for her mom...”
With a snort the woman slapped his shoulder and let him go finally, but not before she had a final word. “And I’ve always said it, you are unbearable!” Max tried to punch her bicep playfully in retaliation, but Tairinn hadn't spent most of her life training to let it slide. With a taunting whistle she dodged the mock attack and added a flick on the nose to her record.
They both laughed, stepping back from each other and at the same moment she felt something pulling at her sleeve. The fabric slid along the unhealed scar and her hand was pierced with a sharp stab of pain. Trying not to give out her discomfort by any movement, the woman turned to the only member of the family who could welcome her this way.
“Hi there, Bren! Oh,” she rubbed her eyes with a free hand to wipe the tears that gathered there and looked her younger brother over again, “you’ve grown quite a bit, young man!”
Laughing softly she put her arm around him, ruffling his hair with the other, then moved back, examining the changes in Brendon that happened during those three years that they had not seen each other. The boy, unlike the older children of Lord Trevelyan, took after the grandmother Sybill on their father's line: even now it was evident he wouldn’t grow up to be as tall as Maxwell or herself. But, on the other hand, the Maker did grant him with grace and complexion of a dancer, it was noticeable even in the way Bren moved. His body language was so soft, he seemed to flow from position to position, turning before Tairinn, letting her look him over. She could only hope that father wasn’t too zealous in teaching Brendon how to wield a two-handed sword, a family tradition that eventually led her to become who she was now. It was absolutely clear that with such body the boy’s future lies with bards, rouges or duelists, not warriors.
“Ow, stop it!” The boy blushed, seemingly embarrassed, and adjusted the unruly bangs that fell over his eyes. “I’ve just got a few inches taller and you haven’t seen Erin yet!”
“I’m late?” Tairinn eyed the brother sadly and shook her head. “Eh, it seemed I got everything planned out to the minute... The Captain even let me leave a couple of days earlier, so I could see the whole family before the Conclave. Was she sent to another Circle?”
“What are you talking about? Ethan, Circles, now? We, bless the Maker, are neither in Ferelden, nor in Orlais, but even here it’s too turbulent. Our Circle was disbanded peacefully we've been told, but still…” Bren's face clearly reflected all the worry he had for his sister. If grace and flexibility came to him naturally, there was a lot of work on facial expressions ahead.
“She stays here at least until the war is ended.” Stefan's tone did not leave room for discussion. Apparently, he believed that she as a Templar would ask for the sister to be returned back to the Circle as soon as possible. However, she didn't.
“You’re right.” But what she thought and didn't say was, I just hope the phylacteries were either lost or destroyed, or... I'll talk to uncle Fred, he should know.
Tairinn didn’t want to argue. She just hoped that some of Free Marches’ Circles won’t collapse completely, as this will undoubtedly make Chantry go wild. And to avoid this the negotiations should not only take place, but also be successful. It was two years ago when the Knight-Captain said that revolts had begun in the Circles of Orlais. The news from Ferelden’s Lake Calenhad were sparse but grim. Kirkwall? She didn’t want to think about that mess ever again.
The silence dragged on and Maxwell, being his cheerful self, clasped his sister’s shoulder and ushered her to the table, clearly deciding not to wait for Lady Trevelyan to begin worrying again. The servants started to bustle about preparing the dinner and Tairinn allowed herself to relax and drift off, surrounded by familiar sounds and voices of her home. She felt at ease here, happy to have a small moment of her childhood back even if it meant being another person in her Mother's eyes for the past sixteen years. For Ethan, for his dreams to come true she was ready to do anything, she was prepared to play his role.
The dinner was served surprisingly fast and Tairinn had already taken a sip of her favorite perry when a slender figure gracefully slipped through the small archway not far from the main entrance to the dining room. A young woman shot her with a bright exuberant smile, moving with a practiced ease. Erin.
Trevelyans have always had many children, but when twenty two years old Adriana gave birth to triplets, it was celebrated like there’s no tomorrow. Nearly all family members, close and distant alike arrived to the estate to congratulate still shocked parents and Lady Sybill Amanda Trevelyan, the Head of the House at that time. Maxwell, the oldest, was of course pronounced the heir to his father, Ethan was meant for the Chantry and Tairinn was promised to the heir of the noble family from Tantervale at nine years old. Children had been growing up healthy and strong and everything seemed fine until the Solace of 9:25 when it became evident that Adriana was once again pregnant.
Stefan, who by that time had already taken over the lordship from Lady Sybill, was so excited he immediately started house renovation to accommodate a new kid. Well, he was merely excited till the moment his wife gave birth to Brendon and Erin and after that? Once again in a single generation Trevelyans had twins and this event went down in the family history books along with the first and only time Stefan, calm and unshakable man who ruled the family business with a firm hand, fainted.
Brendon was free to choose his own future to some extent as there were much less obligations before the House and the Chantry looming over him. So at seven or maybe eight, Tairinn had a hard time remembering, the boy announced he wanted to become a warrior much like his father and her. But neither Ostwick’s regular army, nor Templar Order did not appeal to him: the stories about service in the Circle that Tairinn had been dutifully sending back home with Ethan's signature on letters did not seem to interest her younger brother. The boy wanted to become a Chevalier, go to Orlais, study at the Academy, do honorable things.
Tairinn had that gut feeling that Bren would make a good bard: he’d always had a talent for singing, could play lute quite passable thanks to Maxwell's lessons and with proper training could learn other, more clandestine aspects of this art. But she wasn’t going to give him this idea because real bards chose their own ways, that she had a chance to witness with her own eyes.
Erin was entirely different. Polite and carefree, a girl with a face of an angel and her mother’s grey eyes, she was a child Adriana always dreamt about. She had a keen interest in the Game, dancing and proper looks, spent most of her days with mother and never ever touched a weapon of any kind sharper than a silver knife with her hands. At least until her magic manifested when she barely turned eight.
It must have been a family thing as all Trevelyan children tried to climb something really tall and dangerous at some point in their lives. One winter morning the younger twins slipped away from Edna's almost all-seeing eye and somehow got onto the sloping roof of the house through an attic window. Ice that had already covered the scarlet tiles was too thin and Brandon slipped down, unsuccessfully trying to grab onto the ledge, when something weightless and unfamiliar grabbed him firmly and pushed back into the open window.
It was Maxwell who noticed strange sounds from his hiding place in the winter garden where he was secretly meeting with his future wife, Helga. Later in a letter to Tairinn he wrote that he’d been waiting for something like that to happen for a long time already, memories of his own childhood risky mishaps still too fresh. Well, they both knew, usually it was much more dangerous for mother’s health than their own.
A little less than twenty minutes later he, Helga, Brendon and completely shaken Erin were sitting in the office of Lord Trevelyan, watching him write three letters that were to be sent by the crows to different parts of Free Marches. Two were meant for Ethan and Tairinn, informing them of their sister’s condition and resurfacing of a gift, the third ended up in the Circle of Ostwick. Erin had been studying there for eight years till the very beginning of 9:41 when the Grand-Enchantress pronounced the Circle disbanded. Thankfully for Trevelyans, their youngest daughter managed to leave peacefully, protected by Stefan’s brother Knight-Captain Frederic, and now she was staying in the safety of the estate until the end of the war.
“You were right, Bren!” Tairinn smirked, leaving her chair to meet the young mage. “Sister, is that really you?” They haven’t seen each other for so long, Tairinn still expected to see a little girl in a frilly dress to run to her with a toothy grin. Instead, she was momentarily blinded by the whirlwind of a long curly hair and brightly colored robe decorated with an intricate embroidery. Erin smelled like crystal grace, sage and magic, but Tairinn didn’t care. She loved her sister and that was the only thing that mattered.
“If you guys didn’t tell me in advance that Ethy is in Markham, I’d never believe that’s really you!” the girl whispered excitedly. “You two are so alike!”
“And what about Max?” The Templar laughed devilishly, hugging her sister once again.
“Well...” Erin looked her over, evaluating, and spoke in a full voice. “You’d look great with longer hair. The beard though...” She threw a glance at Maxwell and giggled, “that’s disgusting!”
“Oh, thank you, dear sister!” The man sing-songed indignantly. “My family loves me...”
"Don’t you worry, darling," Adriana watched her children bicker with a smile, "A beard is a sign of maturity, it's very noble, just look at your father." Stefan immediately squared his shoulders, winking at Max, and calmly continued to disassemble his food with a knife. Neither his children nor wife decided not to inform him that a thin twig of parsley was comfortably sitting in his truly magnificent graying mustache.
Sighing happily Tairinn relaxed in her chair once again, slowly drinking her perry from a curvy glass. She was home, not for long, but even these rare moments filled her with joy and gave her power to move forward, overcome the pain and exhaustion from long and truly tiring training sessions. Her face darkened, but only for a second. She’d meet with her team the day after tomorrow and now Tairinn could forget about the war raging in the south, she could just stay with her family. Maybe a letter to Ethan was in order too.
As if reading her mind, bar the fact that according to the mother it was Tairinn living in Markham Chantry, Adriana clapped her hands twice and exclaimed happily:
“My darlings, why don’t we have some tea in the drawing room? Maybe we could write a letter to our Tairinn. Oh, how I wish she was with us too now…”
“That would be great, my love.” Stefan nodded, his strong hands ready to hold his wife's weight. "Let me help you." They smiled at each other like there was no one else in the room, two people that had met by chance in Antiva City and fell so hard for each other, they never parted again.
Tairinn watched them wistfully, knowing that her chances to ever have something like this are slim to none. “That we should do, Mother,” she agreed quietly and moved to leave the room. She had appearances to uphold.
“It's time for us to tell my little sister the latest news!” Maxwell wiggled his eyebrows at Tairinn, while Stefan gently helped his wife to get up from the table. Tairinn grazed him with a threatening gaze and, letting Erin hang on to her healthy arm, opened the heavy doors.