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Dragon Age: A literary epic

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It was the end of summer, where the hot muggy air left people sticky with sweat and swamp coolers were useless. The beaches were packed, both with travelers and the locals, and ice cream shops were doing their best. Claire didn't care about any of those things as she turned on the fan and hit the power button on her computer. She had just finished all three Dragon Age games in a single summer, including reading the books and comics. “Why don't you go out and play with your friends?” Her aunt Dotty had asked. Claire had merely glared at the woman, hoping she would get the hint and leave her alone. Just because Dotty was her caretaker since Claire's parents had been killed the year prior didn't mean Claire had to like her.

Friends. What a joke. Besides, she was going to be going off to her first year of high school in the following month, she would be able to start new. Uncle Henry never paid her much mind, said she was a big girl and could take care of herself, but Dotty was doting.

The whir of the fan as the computer booted up was a comforting sound to Claire and her fingers danced quickly across the keys as she typed in her password. Finishing Inquisition wasn't really as satisfying as she had hoped, so she was going to try playing it again, to try different angles. Maybe she would play as a Dalish elf and romance Solas next. She'd already been all over the forums online and knew all the spoilers, she just wanted to go through the special conversations with a Dalish character herself, for the full experience. Having the knowledge was one thing, getting attached to it was another.

A rumble of thunder made Claire jump in the seat, and she almost toppled over. It was a small office chair with a small wheel base, not the most sturdy of things, and it had almost tried to kill her on multiple occasions.

“Great, a storm.” Claire grumbled as she pushed her light blond hair back behind her ear. She went over to the window and pulled back the blinds to see dark clouds gathering above the city. A flash of lightning made her jump back. She'd have to turn the computer off before a power surge destroyed it. Sighing, she slowly walked back to the computer and started the shutdown process. Her aunt would be happy that at least something had gotten her off the computer. Claire rolled her eyes at the thought and hit the power button.



Were those sticks under her? Digging into her face? Why would there be sticks... Was there an explosion and the house was reduced to debris? She started panicking and leaped up, brushing herself off as she looked around. The forest she found herself in was green, with ferns and tall pines, with some patches of grass and pretty yellow flowers. There was no sign of her house. As she realized she was completely lost, she started to notice how cold it was, the kind of bitterness in the air that required staying inside next to the fire and not something one would want to wear jean shorts and a tank top in, especially without shoes.

Rubbing her arms to try to keep warm, she looked around some more, forcing herself to start walking. Surely there would be civilization somewhere, right? She would just have to find it and figure out how to get back home. Teeth chattering, she laughed at the thought. Home. The place where she had no friends and an aunt and uncle that didn't really care about her aside from the fact that she was related to them. Claire's mother and her aunt had never been very close, so it was either the system for Claire, or Dotty. She supposed she was lucky that Dotty had taken her in. She had seen what the system did for kids and she wanted no part in that. She was thirteen, no one would want someone just entering puberty...

She was going to die, alone and lost, and no one would ever know it. Her body would probably never be found, eaten by some desperate animal she'd never heard of. Speaking of animals, where were they all? She'd seen a couple birds, but the area seemed rather dead otherwise. Was she even on earth anymore, or what? In all those stories she'd read, the people transported to other worlds or times were at least put into areas full of people! Just her luck to be thrown into a bleak, miserable, lonely world. It was like being in her mind, just with more trees, and she started thinking that maybe she deserved it.

After what felt like an eternity for her, she found a stream and decided to follow it. Maybe if she'd been sent back in time, it would at least lead her to a small village or something. Ancient peoples always built near water, right? She licked her parched lips, wondering how she could be so thirsty in such a cold environment and stared at the water. How dangerous could it be? She tried to recall all those survival stories she'd read, but could only remember getting really sick from drinking from a mountain stream. Get sick, or die of dehydration, or at least, if the cold didn't get to her first. She shrugged and drank, biting back a curse from how cold the water was.

“If Dotty could only hear me now.” Claire laughed. Cussing was for grownups, Dotty had said, not for little girls. Yeah well I'm not a little girl anymore, I'm practically a woman! Claire thought. In some cultures, she'd have already been married off and would probably have had a kid already, but no, Dotty had to treat her like she was still five. She shivered and huddled close to the ground, wishing she was more of a woman and not some scrawny little waif with no body fat. Boobs? What were those?

She sat there for a while, listening, trying to find any sign of civilization at all, but there was nothing but silence and the random birdsong. Groaning, she stood up and forced herself to keep going, knowing that if she stood still too long, she would certainly die, and she wasn't willing to do that just yet.

She stumbled on a rock and fell flat on her face in the dirt again, crying out from the pain in her foot. They'd been hurting from the cold, and from the sticks and rocks she'd been stepping on, but oh how painful it was to have kicked a rock. Her toes were scratched up and practically blue, and she didn't know if she could go on. It wasn't fair, it just wasn't fair that she should be sent to this miserable place to suffer alone before her untimely death. She wiped her eyes, feeling like her face was going to freeze if she let it get any more soaked, and tried to decide what to do. She could always try to build a fire, to keep warm and maybe signal someone, but how? When she learned from some of the boys at school who were in Boy Scouts, they'd had special tools for it. All she had were sticks and dirt and water. Angrily, she rubbed her hands together really fast and tried to warm her feet up that way. Oh the burning, the pain of the heat... Why couldn't anything be pleasant?

“Don't move.” Claire didn't have to be told twice and sat there, perfectly still, while alternating between joy at being found and extreme fear. The man's voice sounded threatening, after all, and there were worse things than death...

“Ok, not moving, got it.” She said, her teeth chattering. The man moved slowly and silently until he was in front of her, aiming his arrow at her heart. He had black hair done up in braids, black tattoos covering his dark face, and his eyes were piercing through her soul. His armor was patchwork leather and fur, and she really wished she had something like that to wear.

“What would a child be doing here?” He asked. “Especially in your underclothes?”

“I'm n-not a child!” Claire said, bristling. “I'm thirteen, I-I'm practically a woman.”

The man smirked, making Claire regret her words. “Oh, a woman, eh?” He undid the arrow and shouldered the bow before swiftly picking the surprised girl up as if she weighed nothing. “Then I suppose you would make the perfect wife for my son!” He laughed as Claire struggled.

“N-No, no no, I don't want to get married!” She panicked. “Especially to someone I've never m-met!”

“I suppose you think that marriage is all about love, do you?” He asked, walking away from the stream.

“I... would like to think so.” Claire said as she stopped resisting. She couldn't get free, he was far too strong. She should have been out working out rather than playing on the computer all summer...

“An idealist.” The man shook his head. “Where are you from, child?”

“What?” Claire blurted out. “An idealist? And w-what's wrong with that?” She couldn't stop shivering.

“Where are you from, or shall I just assume the gods sent you?”

She stared at him, horrified. “Gods? Noo, I'm from L-Long Beach, it's in California, and I have no idea where I am because it's summer there and it is obviously not summer here.”

“You're in the Wilds, and I would assume that is a very long ways from home for you.” His smile was gone and he was concentrating on the trail ahead.

“Wilds?” She asked. “Like, th-the Korcari Wilds? In Ferelden? Y-You're joking, right?”

“So you do know where you are.” He grunted and she wondered if she was going to be a problem for him, but was having a hard time caring. She didn't know much about the Chasind, but that was most likely what he was and she was going to have to deal with whatever happened.

“I've heard of the Wilds...” She said. “But y-yeah, this is so far from home, I have no idea how to get back. Or if it's even possible. How th-the hell did I get here and what's my aunt going to say when she finds I've d-disappeared and am being carried around the Wilds by a Chasind?” She clamped her mouth shut, realizing she was blathering again.

“I imagine that unless she's a powerful shaman herself, she would not be able to know where you went or who has you.” He said.

“I don't even know who has me.” Claire said. He looked sharply at her and smirked again.

“Oh, wanting introductions now?” He asked. “Chavdar, hunter for the barbarians of the Wilds, as you northerners like to call us.”

“My name is Claire Victoria.” She said. She was still shivering, shaking hard, and as scared as she was, figured he wasn't going to put her down so she snuggled up closer to him to try to keep warm, his armor's fur tickling her nose. “And I don't think I'd c-call you a barbarian. You haven't seen my people.” She laughed. He looked at her, surprised.

“Tell me about your people.” He said. “We still have a ways to go.”

She decided to go with something less culture shocking than the city dwellers. “Well, we live near the ocean, on the b-beach in huts made from old wood and grass, and it's warm there.”

“And how would you have gotten here?” He asked. “Some failed magical experiment?”

“I don't know...” She said. “I guess. We d-don't really have magic, though... Anyone thought to be magical gets shunned, forced to live elsewhere, if not outright killed.” He curled his lip in disgust and stayed silent, so Claire stopped talking and tried to focus on other things. She could smell smoke on the leather, mixed with body odor and fur, and some strange yet pleasant scents she thought could be herbs.

His voice broke through her thoughts and startled her. “We have magic here.” He said. “We do not shun it, we embrace it, and you will learn to as well.”

“Yessir.” She said. She didn't think she'd have a problem with magic, especially since she always played a mage in game anyway. Magic... she would actually get to see people use real magic, and she couldn't believe it. It hit her that she was actually in Thedas, that it was a real place, not just some video game for people to pretend with, that people like Alistair and Cailan were real, and that depending on what the date was, it was possible to even meet them. The date... she had no idea what year it was.

“Chavdar...” She said, feeling far too timid. “Um, what's the date?”

“9:20 Dragon, the sixteenth of Firstfall.” He said.

“Oh... I guess I d-don't know what m-month that is.” She said. “Would that be at the end of the year?”

“It is, being the eleventh month. We only have one more month in this year.” She fell back into her thoughts, thinking that she was around three years older than Alistair, probably a couple years younger than Anders... King Maric still had a little more than four years before his disappearance and Ferelden had only recently made peace with Orlais... So what was she doing there, and at that time period? She'd be old at twenty-three by the time the Blight would happen in less than ten years. What was she supposed to do with an entire decade to kill before all the excitement?

“There, my village.” Chavdar said, nodding towards the place he grew up. Claire looked over and saw many buildings on stilts, built around the trees and above the swamp. Little smoke wisps curled through the air and she could see children running around, playing. It was nothing like she'd seen before, something not covered in the game at all. In fact, there wasn't much known about the Chasind in general. She supposed she could spend a decade with them, figuring out their culture and perhaps even how to survive on her own.

Chavdar followed a path around the swamp and up to a walkway leading into the village. A few of the children stared as he walked by, but most were too busy playing to notice. The adults, on the other hand, were giving them strange looks.

“Chavdar, that doesn't look much like a deer!” A man called out, laughing.

The hunter smiled back. “I know, I am a horrible hunter! Go out for meat and find a girl. What will Maryska say?”

“We could always use an extra hand around my place.” The man replied. “If your woman won't take her, mine will.” Panic had seized Claire's heart as she realized they were talking about her as if she was property. Would she be a slave? Or would she be able to leave whenever she wanted? She was without a home and completely at their mercy, she was going to have to do as they wanted if she was to survive.

“Don't worry, I'm sure she'll be kept quite busy around the village.” Chavdar said, winking at Claire, whose mouth had gone dry. The wooden boards creaked under the hunter's feet as he walked towards his house (hut?), and it felt like it was signaling her doom. “Here, I'm going to put you down now. Can you walk?”

“I... think so.” Claire still couldn't feel anything but pain in her toes, but she was determined to try. He set her down gently and she managed to stay upright, though her feet felt like they were on fire, with needles jabbing them. Even her fingers, ears, and nose were numb, and she thought that it would be a miracle if she didn't get sick. Chavdar opened a door, then put a hand on her back, pushing her in. She stumbled and cried out, but kept going, telling herself she had to be strong.

“Get to the fire.” He said, pushing her again. Turning to another door, he called, “Maryska, I'm home and I brought you something.” There was a hint of humor in his tone and Claire frowned. Back home, if her dad had told her mom something like that, he had gotten her flowers or jewelry, not a strange lost girl. She settled down in front of the fire and bit her lip against the pain. The fire was too hot and it hurt her so much, but she knew she had to get warm. Looking at her purplish toes, she hoped they hadn't gotten frost bite.

“What have you brought – Oh, Chavdar...” The woman groaned and Claire looked back to see the woman shaking her head as if her husband was a young boy who had brought home a frog. She halfway expected Chavdar to ask her if he could keep Claire... The woman herself was a plump, stern looking lady with her black hair tied up on her head in a crown of braids, and Claire wasn't sure she wanted to deal with being yelled at by her.

“She was freezing in the forest, wearing just that, and crying.” Chavdar said quietly. “I couldn't just leave her. She doesn't know how to get home, and I've never heard of her homeland before, some place next to the ocean where it's hot, not cold.”

“Fine, I will see what she can do.” Maryska said. “But first, we need to get her warmed up.” Claire stared into the fire, wondering what they were going to do when a heavy fur was dropped around her shoulders and a cup of warm liquid shoved into her hand.

“Drink this, it'll warm you up on the inside.” Maryska said. “Do you have a name?”

“I'm Claire.” She said. Maryska made disparaging noises as she looked at the girl's feet.

“You'll need to see Ilina.” She grumbled. “Ridiculous, bringing you here and expecting me to take care of you, as if I don't have better things to do.” Claire stared at the ground, feeling the despair that she'd found after her parents died creeping back into her. Her aunt hadn't wanted her either, though she never would have said it to Claire. Claire had heard Dotty and Henry arguing, “They expect me to take care of the girl, like some tossed away dishrag. Better here than foster care, I suppose, but so help me God, I may just strangle the brat.” Doting Dotty tried to show she cared, but Claire knew the truth, and now she was passed on to someone else who felt the same, only wasn't so worried about hiding it.

“I'm sorry.” Claire said quietly, her voice flat and exhausted. “I'll work hard, I don't eat much, you won't notice I'm here, and I'll leave as soon as I'm able.” Claire didn't see the flash of concern on Maryska's face, or the look she shared with her husband. Maryska excused herself and dragged Chavdar to the side, out of ear shot.

“We need to get Ilina.” She said. “More than that, perhaps I shouldn't have said what I did, but it seems to me it's not the first time she's heard it. Did you hear her?”

“You're used to speaking your mind.” Chavdar said, trying to soothe his wife. “How were you to know she's emotionally damaged?” He frowned and looked at the girl, contemplating. “She told me that anyone with magical talent is shunned and cast out of her village. We need to get Ilina to test her.”

“Don't you think she would have told us if she had the talent?” Maryska absentmindedly started rubbing Chavdar's back as she stared at Claire.

“She knows nothing about us, why would she?” Chavdar said. “What if we were to turn on her as well, leave her to die in the Wilds?”

Maryska sighed. “May the gods save us, why would they send us this child? I do not need this added burden right now.” She rubbed her swollen belly, feeling her baby kick against her ribs. “Maybe Fedir will be able to help with her. He should be back soon, right?”

Chavdar laughed. “In a few weeks. He's fifteen, would he thank us for saddling him with her? Let us speak with Ilina first.”



A gentle voice woke Claire up out of a nightmare and it took a moment for her to get her bearings as she blinked at the strange face staring at her. The cup off to the side, the heavy fur on her, and the fire... She remembered, she was with the Chasind.

“How are you feeling?” There was an older woman, maybe in her fifties, crouched down in front of Claire, her bone necklace clacking against a necklace made of teeth. The woman's dark brown hair was lined with grey and tied back in a bun, decorated with feathers and beads.

“Confused.” Claire said. She started to wake up more and sat upright, realizing her feet didn't hurt anymore. “I'm not cold.” She said, smiling shyly.

“If you had been out there much longer, you would have lost your feet.” The woman said. “I am Ilina, a shaman here, and it was I who healed you.”

“Thank you so much.” Claire said, bowing her head. “I greatly appreciate it. Oh, my name is Claire, if they hadn't told you. Claire Victoria.” She figured it was better to overdo the politeness than to forget it, and she truly was thankful that she was no longer in pain.

“I have brought over some clothes that might fit you, as well.” Ilina said, gesturing towards a pile of neatly folded cloth and leather. “It is not something that you're used to, so I will help you dress. Come on, stand up.” Feeling a bit self conscious, Claire stood up and looked around to see if there were any other people around.

“Where's everyone else?” She asked.

“They are working.” Ilina said, holding up some of the fabric. “These are enchanted to help keep the cold out. I suspect you have no problem with that?”
Claire shook her head. “The less cold I have to deal with, the better.” She said. Ilina instructed her to strip and Claire felt like a ghost with her pale skin next to the shaman's dark complexion as the woman helped her dress.

“You have no meat on your bones, girl.” Ilina said. “No muscle, either. Don't worry, you'll get your womanly shape soon enough. Chavdar said you're thirteen, yes? You must help out here, you do realize that Maryska is pregnant? It has been a rough pregnancy and she is nearing her time and cannot deal with you causing her problems.”

The weight in Claire's stomach grew as she nodded. “Of course, I would hate to be a burden, and am willing to work as hard as I can to avoid that.” That was another thing Dotty couldn't argue about; Claire did her fair share of the housework, even during the school year. Claire refused to be a leech, and besides, she figured she needed to get used to working so she could get a job and move out at the earliest opportunity. Now though, she wasn't sure what she could do other than work as hard as possible, to make it worth their while.

Once Claire was dressed, including boots, Ilina looked her over and nodded. “Very good, it all fits fine. First things, I need your help in my house. After that, we can get you some food. Work first, food second.” Claire nodded. She wasn't very hungry anyway, the depression was settling in her stomach just fine and there was no room for food. She followed the shaman out of Chavdar's place, surprised to see it was morning, and to a small building nestled in the branches of a tree, overlooking the village. There were a few other such buildings and Claire wondered if there were more shamans or if someone else lived there.

Inside, it looked like a mess. Herbs were drying, hanging from the ceiling in what looked like a disorganized manner, bowls of strange looking liquids were strewn about, and there was a pile of bones in one corner. Ilina went rummaging through some bottles before picking out a few and an empty flask.

“You must learn how to make an elfroot potion first.” Ilina said. “These are very necessary with Maryska's pregnancy and you will need to keep them on hand at all times. I will teach you to know when to administer them.” Claire nodded, surprised. Was Ilina going to train her to be a healer then?

“Yes ma'am.” Claire said. Ilina proceeded to explain each process and Claire watched carefully, hoping she wouldn't get anything wrong.



“Does she have any magical talent?” Chavdar asked Ilina after the girl had fallen asleep.

“She does.” Ilina said. “But it has not shown itself yet. I can feel it bubbling just under the surface, desperate to come out, and it feels strange, and strong.”

“Will you be able to help her then?” He asked.

“The others will help, and I will keep an eye on her.” Ilina said. “I will not coddle the girl, and she knows it. She is a hard worker with very little confidence, far too hard on herself. She messed up a potion today and thought I was going to punish her for it. It will take time, but she will learn that we are not like her previous tribe. We do not abuse our people.”

“I can't imagine sending my son off to die in some strange land just for possessing magical talent.” Chavdar said. “And they call us barbarians.”



Claire had been with the Chasind for maybe three weeks and she was starting to get into the routine of their daily life. She spent a lot of time with the shamans, running errands, mixing potions, and learning everything she could about being a healer. Maryska was struggling with her pregnancy and when Claire wasn't with the shamans, she was with her, giving her medicines and trying to ease her discomfort. Claire had been struggling with her depression, trying to stay distracted by her duties, but Maryska kept lashing out at her, taking her frustrations out on the girl. One day Maryska yelled for some pain killers and Claire went as fast as she could to make it.

“I brought you the potion, Maryska.” Claire said, hurrying to the woman's side. Maryska was groaning in pain, writhing on the bed.

“Urgh, can you be any slower?” Maryska said. “I cannot believe I was saddled with someone like you and not someone more competent!”

Claire bit her lip, fighting the tears. “I'm sorry, I went as fast as I could!”

“Obviously not fast enough.” Maryska cried out in pain again before she downed the potion and threw the empty vial at Claire. It missed her and smashed against the wall, showering broken glass everywhere. Claire grabbed the broom and started sweeping it up.

“Stupid clumsy girl.” Maryska groaned. “Why did Chavdar have to find you and bring you here? I wish he'd never done something so stupid!” Claire stared at the broken glass in her hand, her tears washing away the dirt.

“I'll leave then.” She said. Maryska grunted in reply and Claire hurried away. She couldn't help but wonder if it would be better if she should just seek her death. No one really wanted her, she was just a burden, a slow and stupid burden. She hurried outside and up the path to find Ilina. She couldn't just leave Maryska alone, after all.

“Ilina?” Claire called.

“Is something the matter?” Ilina asked.

“I don't know, Maryska seems to be in more pain than usual and isn't herself.” Claire said. “She needs help I can't give her.”

Ilina sighed. “Very well. Be off with you then, I'll take over from here.” The shaman pushed past Claire, hurrying down the path. Claire shut the door, then slipped quietly past the buildings and into the forest, hoping no one had seen her. A fine mist of snow was coming down, mingling with the tears on her cheeks, and she thought it was incredibly fitting for her mood. How she had dreamed of what going to Thedas would be like, how magical and wonderful it would be to meet her favorite characters... and here she was, playing nursemaid to a woman who hated her, far away from any other form of civilization, miles from places like Lothering or Redcliffe, places she knew. Even being a mage in the Circle might have been preferable, for at least she knew what would be expected of her.

Claire stopped when she was a good distance away and broke down sobbing. All the pent up anger and frustration came pouring out and all she could think was how much she didn't want to live anymore. What reason did she have? Maryska didn't want her, she was just a burden to the woman and was constantly reminded of it. Ilina barely put up with her, she could tell. The shaman would probably be much happier without Claire getting under her feet. Chavdar was rarely around, and when he was, he didn't really say much, and all the stares she got from the other Chasind... She didn't belong, with her pale skin, light blond hair and blue eyes, and weird ways. Their customs weren't too hard to get used to, but it was still so different from how she was used to things.

Not to mention the nightmares. It felt like every night, the nightmares got worse and she wasn't even getting any rest anymore, as if there were demons clawing at her very soul, seeking a path to the mortal realm. When she had mentioned them to Ilina, the shaman had shrugged her off, saying that everyone has nightmares and they should be dealt with privately. But Claire wasn't sure she could handle it anymore. Everything was just piling up, weighing her down, and she needed to escape.

“You know you're going to attract wolves with all that howling you're doing.” A strong, young, male voice cut through her thoughts and she felt bitterness towards the person.

“Good, let them come.” She said. “Maybe they can finish what should have been done weeks ago.”

“If you seek death, I can deliver that now.” The man said. She looked up at him, her eyes puffy and red. He looked like a younger version of Chavdar, though he had his mother's eyes and smile, and she realized he must be Fedir. How fitting then, that he would be willing to do what his father would not.

“Please...” She said. “I can't take it anymore...” He raised an eyebrow and pulled out a hunting knife. She closed her eyes and raised her chin, uncertain of where he would strike her, and prayed it would be quick.

“You do not wish to see your death?” He asked. Startled, she opened her eyes.

“My eyes are open now.” She said, hands at her side. He carefully put the knife up to her neck, staring into her eyes and she refused to flinch. It would all be over soon and she would finally be at peace. She could see concern in his eyes, though his hand never wavered, and she wondered if he was going to do it, or was just testing her.

“You're serious.” He said, sounding like he couldn't believe it. “You would so willingly go to your death at the hand of a stranger?”

“I was going to do it myself, and I will if you don't.” She said, her bottom lip trembling.

He lowered the knife and sheathed it. “Will you do me a favor before you do?” She looked at him skeptically.

“That depends on what it is.” She said.

“Just answer a few questions, that's all.” He said. She nodded, so he continued. “I arrived late last night and my father informed me of your situation. He said he found you in the Wilds, freezing to death, wearing nothing but undergarments. He took you in, warmed you up, and you've been clothed and fed, and even given a job helping Shaman Ilina care for my mother. He said that you've been a great help to everyone. My question is, why would you feel like you've nothing to live for, when you have people who care about you? People who need you?”

She frowned, confused. “No one cares about me, and I mess things up far more than I help. I'm a burden, like I was back at my own home. What would make you think people care?” She had started crying again. “I don't belong here, I don't belong anywhere, and your village would be better off without me! Your mother said so, she confirms my feelings daily!” Fedir stared at her in shock, unable to believe his mother would say anything like that. He hadn't been away so long that she would have changed so drastically, had he?

“Come back with me, we'll clear this thing up.” He said, grabbing her arm and lifting her up.

“Do I have a choice?” She asked, sounding like a sullen child.

“No.” He said, reminded of not that long ago when his own father reprimanded him over something. He kept a tight grip on her arm as they went back to his house, determined to not let her get a chance to end herself before he had a chance to sort everything out. When they got inside, his father was there, looking grim, his eyes red from crying.

“Without you, Maryska would have died.” Chavdar said, staring at Claire. Fedir gave her an 'I told you so' look, but she was too confused.

“But how?” She asked. “I didn't do anything.”

“You gave her a potion, then ran and got Ilina, worried that Maryska wasn't herself.” Chavdar said. “If you had ignored the signs...” He closed his mouth, looking like he was going to cry again.

“Is mother all right?” Fedir asked.

“Ilina has her stable. We almost lost the baby, but Ilina was able to get to him in time as well.” Claire stared at the floor, with so many confused feelings rushing through her head. She wasn't sure if it meant she needed to stay alive or not, but she was glad to hear she had done something right for once. She was suddenly grasped into a bear hug, making it difficult to breathe.

“I owe you the lives of my wife and my unborn child.” Chavdar said.

“Father...” Fedir put a hand on his father's arm and the man loosened his grip on Claire, stepping back to look at her.

“What's wrong?” He said, realizing Claire's eyes were just as red as his. He looked to his son. “What happened?”

“Mother apparently said something... I don't know what, but it made Claire...” Fedir glanced between Claire and his father. “She begged me to end her life, and she was serious. I put my knife to her neck and she was ready to accept her death.”

Chavdar got down to her level and looked her in the eyes. “Why?” He asked, desperation in his voice. “Do you think it wouldn't hurt us to lose you? If we didn't care for you, I would have left you out there to die. After everything we've done for you, and you would think us so shallow to not care about you?”

She looked at him with despair in her eyes. “I've never been anything but a burden, even from the moment I got here, that's what I was told. It didn't seem any different from where I'm from... they didn't want me there either. As long as I kept my mouth shut and did my work, I wasn't harassed, or insulted... at least Maryska has the decency to tell me to my face, unlike my aunt who would go behind my back to pick me apart.”

“You told Ilina that Maryska wasn't herself.” Chavdar said. “What did she say to you?” Claire bit her lip and looked down, but he lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him. “Tell me what she said.”

“She... she told me I was slow and incompetent.” Claire said. “She threw the empty potion at me, but it hit the wall and so she called me clumsy. While I cleaned it up, she yelled that she wished you had never brought me here, that it was incredibly stupid of you...” Claire started crying again as Fedir shared a look with his father.

“What was wrong with mother?” Fedir asked.

“Ilina didn't say, nor did I ask...” Chavdar said. “But Claire, you said yourself that she was acting strangely. Why would you take her words to heart?”

“It wasn't her words I thought strange.” Claire said, wiping her eyes. “It's not the first time she's said such things... It was the amount of pain she was in, the way she was writhing on the bed. I knew something was wrong and that I couldn't do anything. She wanted Ilina anyway... Ilina told me to go away... so I did.”

“We're not like your old tribe.” Chavdar growled. “We don't coddle people here, we don't show affection as I'm guessing your people did, but that doesn't mean we don't care about you. No matter what she said today, Maryska does care about you, as does Ilina, and the sooner you realize that, the better off you'll be.” Claire felt so confused, having this man yell at her as if he was incredibly angry with her, while saying they cared about her... It just felt so backwards to her and she just wanted to be left alone.

“I... I'm sorry.” She said. “I'm not used to... any of this. I'll try harder...”

“I'm not really sure you understand.” Fedir chuckled. “But we'll work on it, yes?”

Frowning, she nodded. “Yeah...”