Ragna missed the heat, the endless fires of the lava rivers, back in Dust Town. She missed the roaring laughter of Leske, as well as Rica’s warm words and even warmer hugs. Sometimes, she even missed the searing hot, mosswine-fueled rage of Kalah and the burning anger of the higher castes. They were part of home, after all.
The surface world was incomprehensibly large, cold and damp from the wind and the rain. Even the people seemed cold; detached and distant, quiet and closed.
There was some warmth to be found with the company Ragna kept. Especially in the evenings, when the companions gathered around the campfire. There was the kind warmth of nurture from Wynne, who taught Ragna how to read and write properly. There was the soothing warmth of Zevran, whose string of compliments trickeled into Ragna’s mind like oil onto a torch. There was the child-like warmth of Alistair, whose enthusiasm for everything was contagious as a wildfire and the warmth of Oghren’s liquor, when it ran down Ragna’s throat, like fire itself, contained in a bottle. But then there was Sten.
The Qunari was stern, stoic, immovable, unreadable, like a cold cliff against the raging sea. When he sat at the fire, the flames never caught his eyes. His thoughts were always somewhere else, somewhere far away, drifting into the stars like smoke. Talking to him was frustrating. It sometimes felt like talking to him through layers of distorting fog. Her words only brushed against his hard exterior, never reaching within, never touching his mind. Even when she tried to argue with him, he never seemed to have a reaction, apart from a blank stare, empty sarcasm and a cold smile. Like the stone of a furnace, still cool even though a fire had been burning against it for hours.
But when they sparred for the first time, everything changed. It was a pretend fight, though no stranger could be able to tell. The two opponents threw everything they had into this battle. Like heavy war dromods, they crashed into each other, the metal of Asala crushing against the steel of Ragna’s shield, again and again. Sten’s strikes were precise, skilled, but there was a force behind them he had never showed previously. By the fifth strike Ragna could barely hold her arm up anymore, from the power of his blows, and by the sixth she was too slow, and the flat end of Asala hit her square in the face. Cursing, she cast the shield away and gripped the hilt of her sword with both hands. The sweat was beading on her forehead and her shield-arm was sore and bruised, beneath the heavy plate of her armor. She could feel a metallic taste in her mouth and when she spat on the floor, it was blood that stained the ground. Despite all of this, she grinned. The fight elated her, made her feel alive, again. This was what she was made for. The two opponents started circling each other. Every step Sten made to the left, Ragna made to the right. She kept her gaze fixed on the violet eyes of the Qunari.
Suddenly, emitting a wild roar, she wrenched her sword into the air and plunged herself at the other warrior. For a moment Sten seemed surprised, from the intensity of her move and made a step back, then he caught himself, switched into a defensive stance, and prepared himself for her attack. Ragna didn’t waver, didn’t waste a thought on the potential danger of this reckless manuevre, as she dashed the final few steps in her opponent’s direction. Her blade would have pierced right through his shoulder, but in the last moment, Sten jumped to the side and parried with his own blade.
The swords hit each other at an awkward angle, producing a single spark from the friction of their strokes. Ragna was now just in front of Sten, craning her neck to meet his gaze. He was so close, she could smell him. He was also sweating from the fight, and despite trying to hide it, he was heaving just as much as she was. He was gritting his teeth and his mouth was formed into a stressed snarl. He was getting tired, as well. Good. She could tell that he was hoping to beat her with pure force, leaning into the blade, as it struck against Ragna’s longsword, locking the blades together from the force of the fighters. Just as she had thought.
Quickly, with the last strength she had in her, she ducked to the side and jumped out of reach, leaving the massive Qunari to stumble forward, in surprise. Before falling, he caught himself with his knee, but he had lost his balance, kneeling on one leg, and Asala was pointing down. Before Sten had the chance to change his stance, Ragna was above him, the tip of her sword resting at his neck.
“Yield.”, she said, in the same monotone, that he always used, cold indifference dripping a single word. This seemed to infuriate him. His eyebrows furrowed and he stared at her with a searing, furious rage, his lower lip quivering, as if about to spat out an insult. When he was on one knee, his eyes were at the same height as Ragna’s were, standing up. They were both panting heavily. He stirred beneath her, readying himself for… something. She couldn’t look without averting her gaze, and that would give him an opening to strike. How could she have a blade at this throat, and still not have the upper hand?
“Yield!”, she said again, this time it was a command. His snarl changed into an angry smile, and Sten had the audacity to chuckle at her words, then laugh openly. He was mocking her. “Is this all the Grey Warden has to offer?”, he laughed at her face, with a startling intensity. “Perhaps the Qun is not wrong, after all”. She pierced him. Carefully, just to draw blood, not hurt him, but it was enough. The Qunari’s laugh ceased just as quickly, as it had come, and with a startled gasp he threw himself away from her, clutching at his neck and then looking at his fingers to check for blood.
He parried her next blow, and the blow after that, as well. Ragna wanted to channel the force of her next strike to paralyze his hand for a moment, so that she could disarm him, but he saw through it, striking so hard with his greatsword, that he almost cleaved her from the bend of her neck downwards, had she not worn any armor.
He seemed surprised that his blow had struck, his face suddenly flushed with concern, for a faint moment, or was she imagining it? It didn’t matter, his hesitation had finally given her another opening, and she feigned another attack, then jumped over his low blade and landed with all of her weight on his chest, knocking both of them to the ground. She could feel the air leave his lungs under her weight and he wrung for air. With her left foot she finally kicked Asala out of his hand, then she constrained his torso beneath her legs, keeping him on his back, and pointed her blade straight at his chest. “One false move…”, she threatened, waiting for him to react.
And Sten laughed again. He laughed and laughed until it turned into a dry cough. “Ah, that was a fight!”, he said adoringly, panting, his eyes fixed on the sky above them. “Will you yield?”, Ragna asked, not loosening her grip. “Yes, Kadan. You win this time”. He took his gaze from the sky and found her brown eyes. He reached out and touched the bend of her neck. She wouldn’t have thought him capable of such tenderness. “Kadan”, he repeated the word, once more, his voice softer than Ragna had ever heard it.
“Kadan?”, she lifted an eyebrow. “What does that mean?”
For a moment his eyes seemed to widen and he coughed again, lowering his hand to his mouth. “Nothing”, he said, when he was done. “Get off me, Warden”.
“It didn’t sound like nothing”, Ragna said.
“It means I respect you, and I trust you. It means that I…” he froze, mid-sentence and thought, staring up at her. Then, he sighed, and said: “I can’t translate it. I’m sorry”.
“No worries, Sten”, Ragna answered, clamouring to her feet, and offering her arm to pull him up, as well. He gladly took it. His touch was hot against her hand and it made Ragna feel warm. He was no cold cliff, no wisp of fog. He was the fury of a fighter, the rage of battle, the burning in Ragna’s chest, when she caught his gaze. He was the sun.