Sleep didn't come to young Faenra easily. After being attacked by Werewolves and nearly becoming one, Faenra couldn't sleep in fear of reliving that moment in her dreams. She tried earlier, really she did, but it didn't work out. She wasn't the only one. As the girl looked about, she noted many other victims of the attack sitting wide awake. No one really said anything, and no one really offered any comfort to each other, preferring to sit alone. Faenra could understand that, more so now than ever. She had been a loner when she first was brought by Merrill to this clan, this werewolf attack didn't help her loner status. She gave brief nods to the other victims before turning her attention elsewhere. Now she sat up by the dying fire, staring at her sleeping mother.
In that moment, she looked small. Now Fae knew that her mother was always on the short side, even for an elf, but now she looked smaller. Almost frail as she curled into herself. There was no doubt that she was much thinner than before. Fae noticed how her armor didn't fit well and even her current clothes looked as if she was swimming in them, and she could see the bags under her eyes. Even in the dark, the firelight showed all this and more. Her mother was not the same elf that left her only a few months ago, she was different. She had a sharpness in her features. Even in her sleep she looked tense, it was almost like she was trying to hide, or biding her time in preparation for an attack, always tense and unable to just relax. It was so different than before.
Every small sound made her body twitch with anticipation, even the sounds that both elves were accustomed to from their life in the forest. Fae watched as her mother's arms drew closer to her body. Fae had been curled up in her mother's arms before she woke up. It was likely that her sleeping mother thought she was still there. Faenra had missed her mother and her warm embrace over the last few months, but she couldn't help but notice the differences between her mother before and her mother now.
Of course, the woman was still her mother. Fae couldn't deny that, nor did she wish to. She loved her mother, dearly, but she couldn't help but worry. She worried this Blight, yes she knew it was a Blight, was putting a strain on her. Fae had listened when her mother spoke to Lanaya, when they both thought she was asleep, about gathering an army to fight the Darkspawn. Runners would be sent to all the clans to organize it. From what Lanaya and her mother said, it would be the largest Dalish army since the days of the Exalted Marches. Not only that! There would be Dwarves, and Mages, and even Shemlen too! All of which would be lead by one Dalish elf, Aerinwyn Mahariel. Her mother.
It was strange for Fae to think of her mother as the leader of a great army, after all, the woman was only a hunter, and a junior hunter at that. Her mother once told her that some people were born great, some achieve greatness, and other have greatness thrust upon them. In moments like this, Faenra wondered if her mother had achieved greatness or if greatness had been thrust upon her? It's not like she wanted this, Fae knew that, she made a big scene about leaving the Clan in front of the Keeper when she thought Fae wasn't watching.
“What are you doing, munchkin?” Her mother's hoarse voice broke through the soft crackling of the dying fire. Fae hadn't even noticed her awaken.
“Can't sleep,” Fae mumbled, pulling her knees to her chest.
Her mother sat up slowly and ran her fingers through her hair. It was a similar shade to the flames before them and matched Faenra's own hair color. The sleeves on her shirt slid down to her shoulders, showing off muscular arms, but even the low light revealed how much mass had been lost in the past few months. Apparently gathering an army and killing Darkspawn didn't make it easy to have a steady meal, especially if there was only one true hunter in their ragtag band of misfits. Her Mother's words, not Faenra's.
Rising to her feet, Mahariel took a few steps to sit by her child. Each step was nearly silent, a sign of a skilled hunter, and something Faenra was quite used to. At least somethings always stayed the same.
“Bad dreams?” She asked, pulling Faenra into her side.
The girl happily leaned against her mother, enjoying the familiarity of it all. She did her best to ignore the ribs that protruded from her chest, or the feeling of her mother's prominent collarbone against her cheek. For a moment she just tried to forget everything bad that happened in the last few months and just imagine everything was normal again. That she was home, with her mother and father. Unfortunately that fantasy didn't last long.
“I keep seeing the attack…” Fae admitted quietly. Her voice was soft, but elf ears weren't just for show. Aerinwyn could hear everything that her little one said with ease. Those ears were what made her a great hunter. And they were useful when people were trying to talk shit behind her back.
“Do you know how Grey Wardens know a Blight is coming?” Aerineyn asked softly, her voice loud enough that the girl could hear, but soft enough that the others awake could not.
“We dream it,” The Warden told her before pressing her lips to the top of her baby's head and then turning her gaze to the flickering flames. “When anyone joins the Grey Wardens, we undergo a ritual that connects us to the Darkspawn. We can sense them, we are linked to them. Including the Archdemon, when it is awake.”
Faenra looked up at her mother with her eyebrows raised, not that the woman noticed it. Her eyes were looking directly at the fire.
“When I was hurt, part of the corruption from the Blight corrupted me. Part of being a Warden means you can't get corrupted. That's why I had to leave, so I wouldn't be corrupted. But, the reason we know Blights are happening is because we are linked to the Darkspawn, and we see it in our dreams.”
“You dream of the Blight?” Fae asked her.
“Oh yes,” Aerin whispered. Her voice sounded hollow to Fae, “almost every night I dream it. The Archdemon, the horde. They talk. And I swear, sometimes I know what that bloody beast says, but other times I'm lost. Maybe I'm just imagining things… My first dream with the Wardens was the Archdemon, actually.”
“Was it scary?” Fae asked, her voice shaking ever so slightly. She was trying to be brave, but it wasn't working very well.
“Big ol’ honking Dragon? Scary? Nah. Can't be much worse than Keeper Marethari when she's mad.” The woman told Faenra with a teasing grin. It was small, but Fae could make out the same lopsided smile that plagued her thoughts on bad days. Someone said that she had that same lopsided grin, where her left side was smiling more than her right side, but she didn't really like hearing that. The less she was reminded of her mother, the better.
The joke still made Faenra giggle. A mad keeper was not good, and Fae had seen her mother on the receiving end of that anger more than enough times in her life. She and her father had been troublemakers and they always seemed to get Merrill involved in their grand schemes. Fae remembered the Halla Story and how crazy their ideas got.
“I'll take the Archdemon over than any day,” her mother teased her, rubbing her back as she did so. “But I can definitely understand having bad dreams. It's okay.”
“Do they go away?”
“Well mine aren't gonna go away as easy because there is a Blight happenin’, but once it’s over, it will, give it time. Your dreams will fade too. Don't worry, munchkin.”
A moment of silence passed between them.
“Are you scared of the Archdemon?” Faenra asked her mother. After all, an Archdemon must be way scarier than werewolves. And maybe if her Mamae wasn't very scared to face an Archdemon, Fae could be a little less scared of werewolves. Maybe she could be brave like her Mamae.
“Nah, 's just another dragon but mixed with a Darkspawn. I've already killed a dragon, and I've killed lots of Darkspawn. I think I can handle it.” Her mother said with a smile. “Don’ worry your pretty little head. I'll stop this Blight before the Blight even know what hit it!” There was that gusto and bravado that Faenra was used to. Deep down under all this tough new exterior, her mother was there.
Faenra perked up, “you killed a Dragon!?”
“You better believe I did!” Her mother said in a hushed tone, her eyes glittering with excitement. “Dirty great dragon that lurked deep in the Kocari Wilds. Well, it was a very powerful witch that could turn into a dragon! And boy did she!”
“Was it big?”
“Bigger than the tallest tree in this 'ere forest!”
And that was how Aerinwyn Mahariel began her story of how she slayed a witch and a dragon by the fireside. Other elves that couldn't sleep wandered over to hear her tale as she reenacted the great battle. It honestly gave everyone a bit of a distraction, which was welcome. Mahariel's enthusiasm was contagious, and soon enough all the other elves were grinning and snickering at her antics. This silly, over enthusiastic storyteller, who had dumb jokes and hilarious asides, was who Mahariel was. Her troublemaking tendencies shone through as she told the epic, and slightly ridiculous tale, of how she slayed the Witch Dragon.
As her story came to a close, Faenra felt herself drifting off. Strong arms wrapped around her little frame and lifted her up. Instinctively, Fae wrapped her little arms and legs around whoever was holding her. Mamae, she realized as she inhaled the familiar scent. Her head rested against on her mother's shoulder, and she dozed off listening to the sound of her mother's breathing and her heartbeat. Fae know she wouldn't be here for long, so she would enjoy what time she had left with her.
“Good night, da'len,” Aerinwyn whispered, settling down on the ground, with Faenra's sleeping form curled against her. Soon enough both elves had fallen asleep, just as the dawn appeared on the horizon.