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Strange Neighbors

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 One thing Zanetta had learned from being a part of clan that moved from place to place was that you had to quickly learn how to maneuver around your new “neighbors”.  The approaches were different depending what the scouts would being back. If there was word that suspicion and hostility were in the air, then Keeper Deshanna would reconsider that piece of land as a home. If she decided that yes they would live there for the time being, she would go over what behaviors were self persevering and weren’t. Once it was noticed that others walked along a certain path at a certain hour, the clan was to choose a different path until later in the day to avoid detection.They were to whistle low then high if someone was coming towards the settlements. This would give the clan time to gather their things and leave. They were also to be careful about accidentally leaving items about their evacuated settlement as it would surely gain attention if someone stumbled upon it.  In the event that they ran into a non-hostile group, which were usually traders that didn’t care who their potential customers were as long as they had sovereigns, Deshanna advised the clan to relax themselves.

 It was a such nerve-wrecking yet easy thing to categorize what type of neighbor they got and how conduct themselves in response to the different types—until recently

 Running across him was a surprise.  The scouts had combed through the area multiple times to make sure it was clear, but after they set up their tents there was a large she—human man at a distance hefting what seemed like his entire life across his back and guiding a Halla by the reins.  At first, Zanetta thought he was a traveler making his way across the expanse however days passed and he still roamed around. She had half the nerve to tell him to go take a hike elsewhere but the man had done them no immediate wrong.  He kept his distance and they kept theirs for a time. Then one afternoon he came ambling towards them.

 

 “Am I correct in assuming you’re also a trading clan?” He asked.

 

 Tavarus, her brother, emerged with his mace slung over his shoulder from the edge of settlement where the clan hunters had gathered. “And just what gives you that impression?”

 

 The man slowly swept his gaze over the carved wooden figures, hand crafted jewelry and hunting traps laying on crates and trees stumps that were all set up in practice for the next traders market set to happen in the next village over.

 

 She felt herself mentally drop her head in the palm of her hands.

 

 Deshanna came in right on time as always. “That we are. What would you like traded?” She called out as she walked out of her tent.

 

 “The armor of some of your scouts are impeccable.” He said, eyeing the very armor he was speaking of.

 

 “I’m afraid we’re a tad low on the ore needed to craft armor. It’s why we don’t have any prepared to be on display.”

 

 “That’s fine. I have no need for new armor.”

 

 “Oh?”

 

 He moved hand about his chest in demonstration “The gleam. It’s nearly blinding. It’s a very nice polish job.”

 

 “I hope it is. We try to take pride in our appearance even in battle.”

 

 Deshanna beamed and Zanetta couldn’t blame her. It felt amazing to have anyone appreciate all your efforts. She wouldn’t have been surprised if it turned out the whole clan was smiling too.

 

 “Do you offer services for such things? I’m willing to pay a great deal of sovereigns for your best work if so.”

 

 “Not normally. As you can imagine it’s very difficult for us, “ Deshanna raised her brows, inviting him to read between the lines. “to trade services as oppose to the usual crafted goods.”

 

 “The ears and the markings don’t bother me any. A good polish is a good polish. I’ll pay double to put an ease on your nerves.”

 

 They learned that the man was named Barnaby and that he had plenty of armor to polish. Being the best of the best when it came to such a thing in the clan, her mother was put in charge of these pieces. Through a mixture of relation and process of elimination, Zanetta was put in charge of making the delivery to him. Deshanna had tried to insist that he could simply come back and pick it up but she supposed he saw that in spite of his compliments and reassurance he invoked wariness just by standing there. He gave a schedule of where he’d be throughout the day and that was that.

 

 “He can wield a sword and shield. Keep that in mind” Her brother said as he watched their mother load her down with the supplies like she was some pack mule.

 

 “How do you know that?”

 

 “When I walked up I saw the odd way he moved. He flexed like he was bracing to get into a defensive stance. He must’ve trained to constantly be prepared for battle, so must so that even in his downtime he’s ready to take whatever or whoever comes at him."

 

 “I was too busy waiting on Deshanna’s word to have seen that.”

 

 “Deshanna won’t always be near, so you mustn't do that. Be as willing to lead as you are to follow.”

 

 With the yet another bag strapped to her back, she managed this through a groan:“That’s not contradictory at all.”

 

 She could’ve fallen through the ground with how cumbersome everything was. Her mother saw this and stepped back to see how she could even the weight distribution. “What’s it matter anyway. My baby’s going so weighted down she’ll be dead if he does try to attack her.”

 

 “Eyeing my daggers are you?”

 

 “ You don’t have to be dead for me to take your daggers.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “I’m more partial to your brother’s mace. After all, It was mine to begin with it.” At the end of sly smile, she straighted. “Now, try to walk. I don’t want you breaking your back .”

 

 Stepping forward then back again made Zanetta’s body strain under the pressure of what she had been carrying. It was not ideal but all that mattered was that she was able to move.

 

 “You can carry it but just barely. You’ll have to take breaks.” Her mother noted.

 

 Their tent flaps opened and in came her father. He grimaced at the display.

 

 “The shem’s just got here and already he’s flinging orders at us like we’re common slaves.”

 

 “And this is why you aren’t the one making the delivery.” Her mother chided.

 

 “And me? I can easily lift that load.’’

 

 Zanetta sprang in. “I’m not sure Ser what gives you that impression.”

 

 “I was trying to scare him.”

 

  “And I’m sure you did an excellent job.” A familiar voice said. It was both a blessing and curse that everyone in the clan could waltz in and out of each other’s tents whenever they fancied.

 

  “Coming to send me off, Keeper?”

 

  “That and to impart some additional advice. Though it has been determined that you’re best suited for this job you are not without faults that could comprimise it.”

 

  Taravus snickered and she suddenly wished he was closer so she could kick him.

 

 “Though we’re unsure of the reason behind this man’s lifestyle. it’s not the appropriate time to start digging just yet.”

 

 Zanetta bristled under Deshanna’s well-knowing gaze.

 

 So what if she had a little trouble getting people to talk? Was it really something to bring up whenever she set out to go on a diplomatic task? The thing was that she could get people talking. It was just that one way or another she would push too hard, and the person would become aware of her games then grow cold or wary, or even try lodge a knife into her eye.

 

 “Right, right. I’ll try to keep any conversation we have light.”

 

 “That would be appreciated. I would also appreciate if you kept your brother’s observations close to mind.”

 

 Zanetta did her best to avoid Tavarus’ smug grin.

 

 “I though this was a diplomacy run.” She said.

 

 “I value common sense and heedful behavior as much as much I value diplomacy.”

 

 "So go easy on the talk and stay on my toes. Any other pointers?”

 

 Deshanna shook her head.

 

 “Dareth shiral, Dalen.”
***
  Barnaby was where he’d said he be at the time--on a small grassy hill. He was already awake and stirring something in a huge pot which was over a low fire. His halla was free and sniffing and then chomping on every single patch of thick grass he came across. She half-expected him to have him tied to a tree.

 

 “Up early?” She asked.

 

 “Up all night.” The horseness in his tone and the drag in his speech wasn’t surprsing but she recoiled.

 

 He watched his furry companion attentively. Even with tenderness in his eyes, the dark, droopy rings around them were apparent. What had kept him up all night? It wasn’’t like he had many outside influences that could stir him. Perhaps he was lonely but that still made little sense because unlike most he could slip back into any town in Thedas with ease if he ever tired of his current endeavour. It was a shame many of her questions would never be answered if she were to consider Deshanna’s advice.

 

 “I have your things.”

 

 He gathered an eyeful of all the weight she was carrying.

 

 “You and the lad back at your settlement have a proclivity for stating the obvious.”

 

 As he lifted the load from her shoulders, she gave his camp a once over. Bags upon bags of grain were piled into a corner. He must brought them well before his journey and being that she saw just grain and no spices or meats he more than likely intended to stick to porrige or it’s equally bland cousin, gruel. Hopefully, he would venture forth for some seasong at a market or forage about for some honey combs or something to add flavor.

 

 “Have you eaten?” He asked.

 

 “Yes,” She said a little too quickly. Scrambling to save herself, she blithered out. “I’ve eaten a very big meal before setting out for you. Also, I packed my own snacks.”

 

 He stared.

 

 “I’d feel awful if I ate any of your food.”

 

 At least that bit hadn’t been a lie.

 

 She tried to busy herself by observing more. Her focous fell on a ball of yarn with the loose end spun around a needle.

 

 It was his turn to be flustered.

 

 “I thought it would brighten my sour mood. I can’t knit to save my life though.”

 

 “Then why do it?”

 

 “It’s something new.”

 

 She smiled. “You could’ve taken a risk and asked for knitting lessons from of us.”

 

 “I realize I’m better off sticking to old reliable. I always feel better after my armor is taken care of.”

 

 “So? Do you feel any better now?”

 

 “It brings me joy to see such a sight again.” He said slowly.

 

 “I think it should bring you more than a simple joy.”

 

 After a certain idea struck her, Zanetta told him to pick his favorite armor set out of all the polished pieces and to don it. Hesitance pulling at his every step, he chose a simple yet majestic steel set with the pauldons shaped into dragon heads.
For the second time that day she carried his heavy things, this time his plain wares and knick-knacks, to help him implement her suggestion of moving his little settlement closest to a river.

 

 “Look at you all fit for duty.” She said when they finally got there.

 

 Barnaby peered at his reflection in the water. Her mother’s work really brought out the shine. His mouth dropped open and he fell to his knees. With every second of silence that passed she became more and more concerned. Was his reaction good one?

 

 His eyes wandered over her reflection before he said, “May Sylise keep your hearth ever burning.”His pronunciation was ridiculous It sounded like he said Sigh-lease. The effort, however, was adorable.

 

 “Thank you. Andraste watch over you.” She didn’t know if he was Andrastian but she figured it would complete the exchange.

 

 

 Barnaby became a clan somewhat of a secret. No one would interact with him unless he had another task that he would pay for but if they ran into him while hunting, on a misson or at a market, they wouldn’t tense. Instead, they would nod or smile; He was treated like an outsider yet was at the same time given the greeting of an insider.

 

 He was the strangest neighbor they ever had.