Chapter 11: You Can't Go Home
She didn’t anticipate a parade by any means, but barely anyone lifted a glance as Reiss strolled back to her old guardhouse. The last time she left them, she assumed she’d been walking to her doom. Three days later and all she got were a few whispered, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were gone.” None were impressed that she’d been hired up at the palace either, though a few eyes wandered over her and she felt a “Why her?” trailing her movements.
After gathering her few possessions which only filled a quarter of the trunk the chamberlain gave her, Reiss trailed out of the guardhouse to try and find the one person who could be bothered to give a shit about her. She found Lunet where she expected, curled up at the exact corner of two main streets, with her chair turned precisely so she could keep a side eye on who was coming and going.
Despite the book jammed up to her face, at Reiss’ approach Lunet snickered, “Well, well, look at what the rat drug in.”
“News of my demise has been...” Reiss glanced back at the guardhouse a few blocks back, “generally responded to with a shrug.”
Closing her book, Lunet sat up and chuckled, “Did the pet rabbit expect anyone in Guardhouse number twelve to care?”
Reiss yanked back a chair across from her friend and sat down. Shrugging she prodded at the flimsy table, “It’d have been nice if there was at least one black band. A daisy. Something.”
“We got word a few hours after you left that you’d been tapped for the royal guards. Shiiit, the look on Fatain’s face alone,” Lunet laughed so hard she had to wipe a tear off her cheek. “Maker, that memory will keep me warm on patrols. You should have seen it, I swear his face was the exact same color, shape, and consistency of a moldy tomato. He trounces into the middle of the station, tries to lift that weak chest and grumbles out...” She dropped her voice as deep as possible, causing it to crack, “‘That damn elf’s working up at the palace. No, not that one, the other one.’ Course he points at me as if people can’t see I’m already sitting there angry beyond imagination that my best friend in the whole world couldn’t swing by to tell me the news.”
“I am sorry I missed it,” Reiss admitted. “Sounds like an image that should be captured in a painting.”
“One of those pastorals where there’s ferrets and shit crammed into it because it’s all symbolic,” Lunet laughed before taking a drink. While Reiss preferred anything dark and brown, Lunet consumed only beverages an unholy color concocted by mages. Most of their names were either sexual innuendos, so blatant as to not even be considered innuendos, or a mage term in the old Tevene tongue. Reiss called them sugar highs.
Noticing her friend inspecting the drink, Lunet pointed at it, “Do you want one?”
“Since I wish to sleep tonight, no. I’m content at the moment.” It felt as if a month had passed since she last saw her friend. Slowly, the ice armor Reiss built across herself to survive chipped away. She stretched her arms, feeling free.
“So...” Lunet swirled her grass green drink which had pink smoke drifting over the surface. “Royal guards? Is this part of some outreach program of theirs? Ah crap, there’s not talk of another riot in the alienage they’re trying to head off, is there?”
“No, not to my knowledge. I haven’t been in a few weeks, but it seemed fine.”
“As fine as Alienages get,” Lunet snickered.
Reiss scooted her chair closer to her friend which drew the woman’s attention. Placing down her drink she focused on her. “This isn’t just a royal guard position.”
“Oh?” Lunet’s well manicured eyebrow lifted in a perfect line, “Here I assumed your job was to stand outside the gate and look extra elfy.”
“Lune, I’m the King’s official bodyguard.”
Her friend slapped the table in shock, “You are shitting me, no, no, I know this one. This is when you have all of my friends leap out and tell me I’m dying of blight.”
“What? Why would I...?” Reiss began before Lunet talked over her.
“King? King King? Our King? The one on all the banners and shit scattered around Denerim? And your job is to protect him?!” Lunet squealed in joy before a cloud parted her brows. Slumping into her seat, she groaned, “So they think someone’s gonna try to kill him and need a knife-ear to throw onto the pyre first, eh?”
Reiss gritted her teeth. She’s been suspecting the reasoning as such for some time, but it made little sense. From the way everyone acted it seemed as if the King himself picked her out of a lineup and why would he actively choose someone to blame his own murder on? “I am uncertain,” she chose.
“Good to see all that finery hasn’t filled your head with air yet,” Lunet knocked a gentle fist against Reiss’ head. After taking another deep gulp of her sugar green drink, Lunet asked, “So, what’s he like?”
“Bloody, blighted, void demons. Who? Why that fat arse that runs the rug stitching shop down off the Drakon district, of course. Who do you think? The damn King. Our King. Maker’s sake, you talked to the King.”
Reiss patted her fingers together trying to find a diplomatic way to gossip about her boss. It was one thing with the Captain, and generally all led by Lunet but this felt like a quagmire. “He’s...not what I anticipated.”
“What? Got two sex dungeons and a tower stuffed with porcelain dolls? Those things are creepy.”
“No,” Reiss groaned.
“You ain’t never had to fight one when it’s possessed by a demon. ’Come here, I want to play with you forever,’” Lunet’s voice ratcheted up high as she waved her frozen hands back and forth. “I smash every damn glass eyed face I see on principle alone now.”
“The King he, he asked me to call him by his name,” Reiss confessed.
“What in the world for?”
Reiss shrugged. It felt like a trap, she knew around others it still would be, but coming from him it seemed genuine. That was it, the man was genuine and the idea confused her the more she dwelled upon it. “I don’t know. I put a stop to it.”
“Yeah, no kidding, unless you want your ears turned into a coin purse.”
She knew he friend was kidding around but Reiss touched her earlobe. The fingers slid against the scab on her tips, the tissue enflamed as it healed.
Lunet finished off her green drink, which in the interim turned yellow, and asked, “How long are you working for this common King that likes elves to address him informally?”
“Doubtful it’ll last past a month or two,” Reiss admitted which got a scoff and nod from her friend. It was amazing if an elf had a job last a year. Security was for shems. “But,” Reiss scooted closer and dropped her voice to a whisper, “I’m getting paid twenty five Sovereigns...” she waited, watching Lunet’s unimpressed eyes before dropping, “a week.”
“Andraste’s hemorrhoids!” Lunet screeched, all but tumbling out of her chair. “That’s bloody a hundred a month? You could walk away from this with two hundred Sovereigns?!” Reiss could only nod her head, her teeth biting down on her tongue as she weighed the situation. “And all you’ve got to do is keep the King safe. Which, from what I’ve heard of him seems like it might be worth that much. Actually, shouldn’t you be off doing that now?”
“He’s with his family, dismissed me to gather my things and then I’m to return before nightfall. I doubt you’ll be seeing or hearing much from me,” Reiss said. She suspected aside from a few servants this would probably be her last conversation with an elf until this was over. The fact rattled her brain which was funny as she’d gone years in the service of nothing but humans.
“Ah, right,” Lunet reached into her doublet to lift a few envelopes from her hidden pocket. At least these weren’t jammed into her cleavage, which was where she tended to prefer to stash things away. “These are from your kin, came to the station when no one was around.” She tossed them over to Reiss who spotted the marks of Kirkwall and Jader respectively. “Feared someone in there thought they’d try and snatch one away to read.”
“They always assumed I was receiving illicit mail from across the sea,” Reiss repeated as if Lunet wasn’t well aware. While her friend didn’t receive much, Reiss’ weekly letters from her siblings kept the station chattering with gossip. It seemed surprising that not only would a knife-ear be literate but that they’d use those reading and writing skills. Someone floated a rumor that Reiss was composing dirty tales and was selling them to the gentry in Orlais to make coin on the side. As if she wouldn’t blush from her nose to the tips of her ears writing down a kiss, much less...
“There’s some money to be made in that, but you’ve got to get in good with a printing press,” Lunet said sagely before catching Reiss’ shocked eye. “What? I didn’t do it. I was with this gorgeous redhead who pretended she was damn near anything in thedas for years. Half of the men in Orlais kept her in jewelry in furs.”
“Men? But she was with you?”
Lunet shrugged, “We’re all players of the game on the great stage of life. More boring in bed than you’d expect too for all the fantasy playing.”
Shaking her head, Reiss spun around searching to see if the barkeep was going to give an elf the time of day. Lunet caught her and raised an eyebrow. “If I’m going to have to hear about your sex life, I need to be at least buzzed.”
“Afraid your cheeks’ll burst into flames?” Lunet laughed, banging her palm against the table. It drew the attention of a few humans shuffling down the street but she ignored it. Reiss trailed them a moment, marking their general appearance and height, before sighing at her friend. “Don’t worry your serious little head, I’ll be keeping it all to myself.”
“Maker’s breath,” Reiss reached over to run a hand against Lunet’s forehead getting a slow glare from those doe eyes. “Are you ill? I can’t feel a fever but...”
“Ha, ha, ha, oh you’re so delightfully on point today, Madam Rattus,” she sighed while rolling her eyes before sliding back in her chair. A pair of fairly well-to-do ladies strolled by, parasols tipped over their shoulders in deference to the spring’s sun. Reiss caught the eye of one with a sneer across her face as she all but spat in the direction of them.
Over the din of Denerim, both elves could hear her, “They’ll let just about anyone wander the streets nowadays.” Her friend responded, no doubt in agreement, but kept it quieter. She seemed terrified that the two elven women sitting at the table were about to turn feral and disembowel her. Please, it wasn’t even First Day. One has to save their savage sacrifices for solstices otherwise what’s the point?
Lunet ignored them as she rotated her book around on the table. “I’ll have you know my little romance has been well stitched together,” she winked at that weird metaphor and Reiss scrunched up her face. That was code, but she had no idea what it meant. She expected Lunet to elaborate but for once her lips seemed to be sealed. “What about you?”
“Andraste’s flaming sword, we saw each other three days ago. You really think I’d fall madly in love in 72 hours?”
“Isn’t that how all the great stories go, girl meets boy, barely exchanges a word and they’re both struck in the heart by the Maker’s lovecurse.” A dangerous smile lifted up Lunet’s lips, “Ah, but you have access to an entire new level of potential conquests now. Such as...?”
“I have no interest in the King!” Reiss spat out quickly. She thought that would shut her friend up, and at first Lunet blinked in shock. Then that sly dragon look twisted her friend’s face.
“I wasn’t going to say anything about his Majesty, but now that you have...”
“Oh for the love of...” Reiss folded her face into her hands and wished she could tunnel down into the deeproads. “You did that on purpose.”
“On the contrary, I was going to mention a few of the elves that work in the wings of the palace. You went and introduced our great and glorious lord into this discussion.” Lunet situated herself in her chair, drawing her face closer to Reiss who refused to break from her fingers. “So...how do you find dear King Alistair?”
“As my boss,” Reiss interrupted, “and King, and human, and I am not going into this with you!”
Her friend steepled her fingers like a megalomaniac about to release a pack of poison spitting wyverns upon her enemies. Reiss steeled herself for the worst when Lunet cracked a laugh and slapped her in the arm, “I’m just tugging on your leg. For the Maker’s sake, he’s a blighted King.”
“Right,” Reiss smiled uncertainly, bobbing her head to try and follow along with her friend’s change in demeanor. “And word is he only has an interest in mages.”
“Yeah, I think I heard that before. No woodland fever for you to have to shut down at least,” the beautiful elf nodded sagely to the plain one. While there were always assholes in the world, Reiss managed to skip out on some of the terrible tales other elves would tell. Judging by Lunet’s piercing gaze at any shem, Reiss suspected she had her fair share of horror stories.
Smiling at her, Lunet leaned back in her chair, “And it ain’t like you’ve seen his shoulders or anything.”
“Um...” Reiss’ mouth answered before her brain ordered her to shut it.
Lunet slammed forward, “What um? Nugcakes, do not tell me--”
“So, what’s that book you were reading?” Reiss interrupted her. “Good? I’ve been trying to find one to recommend to my sister, we always try to read the same one at the same time to have something to share across the miles.” It took a moment, but slowly Lunet’s eyes shifted down to the book Reiss kept jabbing a finger at.
“Aye, it’s all right,” she scooted it over to Reiss to inspect. “It’s one o’ them romatical historicals. Set during one of the early Inquisitions because blighted everyone’s writing about the Inquisition now. I miss the old pirate serials.”
“What’s it about?” she’d only intended to distract Lunet, but her curiosity was caught. Those who served in the Inquisition often found themselves wondering about the ones of old and ran into a lot of chantry folk who didn’t want to speak of it.
“Well, see, it’s about this General of the Inquisition army. He’s the hero, and while he’s out hunting dangerous apostates...though I guess they weren’t called that then. Anyway, he meets a girl, falls for her and...”
“She’s an apostate.”
“Bingo,” Lunet thumbed her nose, leaving a grease print behind. “This is before he becomes a big General, told in flashback, so they meet up later to hunt demons together and rekindle that juicy romance. But there’s some enemy attack, girl sacrifices herself for boy. He’s heartbroken, blah blah blah, mercifully short funeral scene with no songs.”
“And the book ends?” Reiss asked flipping the cover over in her hands. The book felt thick enough to smash a few rats with.
“You’d think so, but this is the third part where it turns out the girl was also involved with some long lost Duke out of the Free Marches back when it was under Imperium control. Anyway, turns out she’s only mostly dead and this Duke knows where they have to go to rescue her. He makes the General team up with him to find her. Some pirates, some swordplay, I’m at the part where they fistfight because they always have to fight.”
“How is it?” Reiss asked, passing the book back to her friend.
“It’s trash, but entertaining trash. By the same guy who did that Swords & Shields serial, though he toned down the really exotic metaphors. Which I miss, actually.”
Reiss shook her head slowly, “Sounds interesting in that mind numbing way, but Atisha’d never go for it. She’s of the opinion that unless it cleanses the mind or heals the soul it’s a waste of one’s Maker given time.”
“Sweet shitting Andraste, your sister sounds exhausting,” Lunet sighed. She slipped her trashy book into her bag and patted it closer to the chair.
“Tell me about it,” Reiss nodded. Over the years Atisha grew close to both Andraste and the chantry, and in a bid to be accepted she became the most holy of holies without anyone asking it of her. Still, she was her sister even if Reiss had to scrub any of her swearwords from her letters before sending them.
As Lunet swirled around her empty glass hoping to make more appear, Reiss jabbed a finger at her, “Why would you read a romance story with a man and a woman?”
“It ain’t like there a lot of other options out on the market. I make due by mentally turning General Grey into a leggy redhead with freckles splattered across her chest.”
Reiss laughed at her friend’s pragmatism. She was going to miss this. Being with Lunet or visiting the alienage was her only chance to decompress and take a proper elven breath. Most of her life she held it in for fear of angering a human. And now she’d be holding it while surrounded by the highest people in the land.
“Maker’s breath, two months or more until we can do this,” Reiss groaned.
“So, what’s two months? Don’t go acting like you’re gonna die or anything. Shit, if you don’t want it, I’ll take it. I could really use that 200 Sovereigns. Just got to find a blonde wig and I doubt that King will even notice...”
“Fine,” Reiss stuttered, holding her hand up to her friend, “you’re right. I shouldn’t complain.”
“Damn straight, suck it up, Rat. This ain’t no Orlesian spa day. We’re here to work!” For never serving in the Inquisition, Lunet did a spot on shout from the old sergeants that patrolled up and down the ranks. “Save the world, help old ladies out of trees, guide lost mabari across streets, and all that other stuff you soldiers get up to in retirement.”
“At least keep a single King from getting stuck in a tree,” Reiss sighed. She suspected she should return back soon. The King gave her the day, but it seemed unwise to risk overstaying her leave for a minute.
“Which with our illustrious King Alistair seems a possibility so...” Lunet reached over and patted Reiss on the hand, “good luck with that.”
“Thanks ever so much for your concern,” Reiss sighed. “I should probably be returning.”
“It’s a long walk to the palace district. Crossing over all that gold running the streets has to be hell on your knees,” Lunet exasperated. “Oh, and Maker’s sake, take your damn cat when you go. It’s been mewling and crying at all hours since you left.”
“Sylaise?” Reiss spun around to follow Lunet’s finger and sure enough there was the grey tabby marching towards them from across the road. Her stomach swung freely back and forth as she paid no heed to the others walking it. Reiss didn’t even have to reach down to pick up the animal as she hopped up onto her traveling trunk and sat down upon it. With her tail curling along the edge, Sylaise beamed those yellow eyes upon the two elves and dared either to order her off.
“Look at that, you’ve got a friend to go with you,” Lunet chuckled at the bold feline. “Should make the long days and nights fly by.” Staggering up to her feet, Reiss followed suit. Her friend held out her hand and clasped Reiss’ in a weird handshake. “Seriously, good luck up there. All us little people down here are counting on you to not fuck it up.”
And if she did, if she lost the King on her watch, what would it mean for all the elves in Denerim. In Ferelden? Perhaps thedas itself? The pressure of her people crushed down her shoulders in exchange for a few hundred Sovereigns. Maker’s breath, she was doomed.
“Thanks, Lune. Not like I wasn’t under enough stress already.”
“Happy to help,” she smiled wide and without saying another word, she pressed the first book of the series into Reiss’ hand. “Try to stay true to us up there, Rat.”
Running her fingers over the spine, Reiss slipped the book into her trunk, much to Sylaise’s consternation. Picking the trunk up, cat and all, she smiled at Lunet, “You know I will, Rabbit.”