Chapter 3: Reiss
As an elbow came hurtling for her nose, Reiss found herself regretting two things. One, that she’d chucked her helmet with the nose guard aside and two, what she was about to do to her friend. Lashing a foot forward, Reiss knocked into Lunet’s thigh, throwing off her stance and sending her sparring partner scattering back out of the ring. Okay, ring was generous for the circle they drew in the mud behind their guardhouse. Some of the nicer sections of the city had real ropes and everything, but people working their beat near the tanning district made due. At least they had real swords. They said the fools stuck patrolling through the outskirts were armed with butterknives.
Lunet twisted around, her balance out of whack as her taped hands fell to the ground. Pausing, Reiss dropped her guard to try and offer aid, which was when Lunet struck. Barreling through, her narrow shoulder bit into Reiss’ open midsection, driving them both backwards towards the wall. Lunet released something of a chuckle roar, obviously meant to be serious at first, it broke down into a continuous spray of giggles as she flattened Reiss’ body to the ground.
“Okay, okay,” Reiss gasped, “I give.”
“Damn straight you do, Rabbit,” Lunet smiled, extending a hand to the only other female elf in the city guards. There was a single male one elsewhere who was deathly serious all the time and never spoke to his own kind.
“I got you last time, Rat,” Reiss said while trying to suck in a breath. A sound broke from the open windows of the guardhouse, and from the sides of her eyes she caught the shadow of heads bobbing on the opposite wall. “Don’t look now, but the shems are watching us again.”
“Course they are,” Lunet stretched her arms above her head elongating her already graceful body to its full elven stretch. She was what you had in mind when you thought of someone dark and mysterious; hooded cinnamon eyes framed by lashes thick enough to paint a masterpiece and hair blacker than the night. With an Orlesian name, Antivan coloring, and the most braying Ferelden accent one could find Lunet was a constant study in contradictions.
Batting at her bun, and extracting out the knitting needle she dislodged in the fight, Lunet began to wind it all back up while casting a look back at the humans watching them. Reiss was less than impressed with the constant attention, “What do they want?”
“I bet,” she finished wrapping up her hair and smoothed away the finer escapees, “they’re just waiting for me to throw you onto the ground, squat over your supple body and then...start sucking face.”
Reiss laughed at Lunet’s eyebrow waggle. “You sure you’re the only one who can do the body tossing?”
She parted her hands, “It comes with the territory. Have sex with a woman and suddenly you gain the power of ten ogres.”
“Hm,” Reiss scratched her chin, “I may have to try that after all. It’d make standing around in that armor all day more bearable.” Glancing back at where she tossed her regulation greaves that slipped off her hips, the chest plates that could rotate around her, and gauntlets in danger of slipping off if she swung her arm, Reiss sighed. Lunet’s hand landed upon her shoulder, drawing her attention. “One more go?”
“All right,” Reiss nodded, sliding into place. She kept her hands in a position unlike the rest of the city guards - most of whom couldn’t be bothered to spend their free time sparring. They were fortunate, humans almost always had an upper body strength advantage over elves, as well as height. Reiss lucked out in comparison to her fellow knife-ears and somehow came out at nearly average human size, but she wound up with the thin kind of body most would sweetly call reedy while swinging their voluptuous hips around. Even Lunet who was a good head a half below Reiss was blessed with better curvy bits, which she put to good use, of course.
“Okay,” Reiss dodged Lunet’s swing, taking both to her forearms. “Let’s hear about her.”
“Hear about who?” Lunet asked, her voice skipping around as she widened her stance.
“Your latest conquest, I know there’s got to be one. There’s always one when we haven’t seen each other in a fortnight.” Despite being in the same guardhouse, they tended to keep their only elves on separate rotations almost as if the humans feared one day they’d go mad with power and try to take over. Their only time together was on Lunet’s day off and the lag time as Reiss adjusted to night patrol. It wasn’t the worst fate, they had a lot more to talk about that way.
Lunet smiled smugly, swinging a knee toward’s Reiss’ stomach, but she was prepared this time. Sucking in her gut, she slapped a hand onto Lunet’s thigh, knocking the woman back. “Come now, how many beautiful elven woman do you think there are in Denerim for me to--”
“Take advantage of?”
“I was going to say romance, but...that taking advantage part is fun too.”
“Mothers lock up your daughters,” Reiss sighed.
Lunet laughed for a moment before shaking her head, “If you must know in your obstinately prying way, there is someone and she’s...different. Special.”
“Maker’s breath,” Reiss’ stance faded as she stood dumbstruck, “Do not tell me the lusty Lunet has gone and fallen in love.”
“Psh,” she tried to wave it away, but a cherry flush burst along her bronzed cheeks. Turning the tables back on Reiss, Lunet lashed a punch out and asked, “What about you? We never talk abut your love life.”
“Pretty pointless to talk about nothing,” Reiss said, deflecting the punch slower than she should have. “Oh look, that nothing’s still sitting there doing nothing. Good for it.”
“You wander by the alienage every now and again,” Lunet pointed out. While she only dipped in when on business or necessary, Reiss preferred to spend her downtime amongst her own. There was a small two chairs/one table restaurant that served the most amazing dumplings in all of Ferelden, and best of all there were no shems to watch. “Tell me one of the strapping young men there caught your eye.”
Reiss growled, punching through the air as if it personally spat on her. Lunet dodged but barely, as Reiss felt thick air skimming above her knuckles. She liked Lunet because the woman could talk to fill every silence Reiss left wide open, happily tossing in bon mots or observations about life and every piece of shit that came with it. But when Lunet turned her fiery focus on Reiss she wanted to cower away and wave it off on someone else.
“What about the King?”
“The wha...?” Reiss’ need to disembowel the air vanished to shock, her fists hanging free as she stared at her friend.
Lunet lifted her shoulder in a shrug, “Did he catch your eye?”
“For the Maker’s sake! I was a bit busy what with the assassins and then, you know, his kids right there. I don’t know,” Reiss shouted, throwing her arms up in the air and obliterating her entire stance. “He’s fine for a shem, I guess.”
“Very well, I’ll stop picking. Doubtful you’ll be seeing him or anyone else royal ever again,” Lunet said, dropping her own hands.
Reiss snorted at that truth. She was only tossed up onto the stage beside him and the rest of his entourage because Davis fell ill, Matchkins got his damn head stuck in the floorboard again, and Oless refused to go anywhere near the King thinking she’d accidentally behead him or something. The elf wasn’t really trusted enough to be let near nobility, but everyone figured it’d be an easy job standing around in the hot sun watching nobles stuff themselves until their silks burst. Maker, if she hadn’t reacted without thinking who knows what would have happened.
A mewling drew her attention away from Lunet and as Reiss turned, she spotted a grey shadow moving through the shrubbery sprouting over the wall. Smiling, Reiss reached into her pocket to find something that remained from a dinner. Armed with a piece of cheese, she lifted up the branches to reveal a set of golden eyes glittering in anticipation of the promised vittles. Holding her hand flat, sharp teeth gently picked it free and a purring rumbled up from the cat’s gut. After giving her offering, Reiss was free to pet across the acres of grey fur.
“What are you doing with that mangy thing?” Lunet asked, leaning back.
“She’s not mangy,” Reiss spoke in her baby voice to the kitty. “She stops by every now and again, sometimes sits up on the overhang and watches me. I feed her, pet her, scratch her ears,” Reiss explained the basics of what one does with a cat.
“Is that hygienic?” Lunet asked, “You don’t know where its been.”
“It’s a cat, Lune. They tend to go wherever they want,” Reiss chuckled. As she extended her hand, the cat rose up, stretching her spine to guide the fingers to the best spot. Secretly, she called the cat Sylaise enjoying the idea of something so elven slipping in and out of the guardhouse unnoticed by the shems. She looked well cared for, but it was possible Sylaise was scamming others for food as was becoming for a cat.
Having finished with the elf, Sylaise stretched across the wall plopping her grey body right into a sunbeam as her tail twitched up and down to frame the stones. Reiss pulled her hand back and watched the kitty, “When I was working on the farm, there was this mouser cat that slept in the same barn as me. Every damn night that mean ol’ tom would wake me by scratching across my face so he could steal the warm spot where I was sleeping. I get it in my head to try and make a peace offering, so I’d keep a small piece of my meal in my pocket and give it to the tom.”
“Wherein he left you alone and you two became best friends,” Lunet interrupted.
Reiss turned around, an eyebrow raising as she eyed her up, “You’ve never had a cat, have you? No, all I did was teach the damn thing that it deserved to be pampered with a free meal and if he didn’t get it...whack, even more scratches across my face.”
Her fingers rubbed up and down Sylasie’s back, getting more purring for her effort, “Cats don’t deal, they take whatever they want without regard for the people around them.”
“A bit like shems then,” Lunet said aloud what Reiss often thought. Even still, she whipped her head around at her friend and narrowed her eyes. “What? We’re completely alone. If I can’t talk about how exhausting humans are with you, where can I?”
She understood the thought, but Reiss was trained to hold her tongue under any circumstances. Lunet grew up in an alienage, one north in Highever, and was surrounded at all times by elves. Whenever Reiss felt her tongue about to wag she’d remember her mother flicking her in the back of the ear and saying “Do not speak ill of them. Hurting one turns them all upon us.” Still, sometimes it was very tempting.
A loud noise rattled down the usually quiet streets of their district, causing Sylaise to shriek and leap back to her secret shrubbery. “What in the Maker...?” Lunet began when a carriage of all things rolled around the corner. Banners flapped off the ends each decorated with the seal of Ferelden. Reiss and Lunet exchanged a look as their guard captain leapt out of the house to try to stand at attention.
“At least he put his pants on,” Lunet observed, both of them with their chins upon the wall trying to peer out through the bushes to see whoever disembarked from the fancy wagon.
It wasn’t until the door flew open that they got a good look at the design painted on it and Reiss felt her heart drop to her stomach. A bright gold crown painted against a shield of red: it was a royal coach. Their guard captain reached out to pat the shoulders of a woman in fancy armor stepping out. Reiss couldn’t watch what happened next, she was shrinking back, her worst nightmares playing behind her eyes.
“Oh yes, do that weird cheek kiss thing you do to the woman who looks like she’ll hurtle you through the wall,” Lunet kept up her commentary to herself, “That’s a brilliant idea, Ser...” Her voice trailed off as she turned back to catch Reiss doing her damnedest to not hyperventilate on her feet.
“Rye,” she called out to her, “what’s wrong?”
“You don’t...do you think they’re here for me?” she gasped, struggling to yank her suddenly too tight tunic collar so she could breathe.
“They’re from the castle, why’d they be here for you?” Lunet asked, before gasping, “Oh shit, what did you do?”
“It wasn’t, I...” Reiss screwed up her eyes and thought back to the King leaving her in charge of his children. “I had to protect the princess and prince, you know.”
“Yeah, I saw the baby shit sloshing around in your helmet. Can they not afford nappies in the palace or something?”
Reiss shook off Lunet’s side jokes, her vision winnowing as she spat out her confession. “I was on high alert, you know. Trust no one and...Maker’s sake, how could I know who he was? I’d never met any of the nobility before and...” She sucked in a breath, her fingers grasping for something to hold.
Spinning away from the wall, Lunet snatched up her hand and almost guided her to a bench like an old woman. “Rye, by the void, what happened?”
“There was a knock on the door, a shadow and a voice called out. I didn’t know who it was and, fearing he came for the children, I...sort of, um,” Reiss twisted her fingers around, a nail thudding along each of her many calluses, “threatened the Arl of Redcliffe’s life.”
“Oooh shit,” Lunet gasped, her palms spread across her lips.
“And held a sword to his throat,” she folded in on herself. In the confusion, Reiss hoped that everyone forgot about all of that. Once the princess smiled and threw her arms around the woman with him, Reiss yanked her sword back and apologized profusely. But there it was, she - an elf - held her blade in a threatening position against the throat of one of the most powerful men in Ferelden. The bare facts caused her shoulders to shake as she crumpled to a ball.
“Rye, come on,” Lunet patted against her, “it’s not. I mean, what are the chances they can pick one of use knife ears out of a pack? We all look the same to ’em.”
That was true. She rose up, confidence shoring up her wobbly knees as she looked Lunet in the eye. Humans often had troubles telling elves apart. Maybe there was hope she could get away with her life at least.
“It’s okay. In fact, I bet they’re not even here for you. Probably gonna congratulate the Fatain on saving the king even though he was back here dousing his mustache in lard.”
“You...” Reiss patted her fingers, and gulped, “You’re sure?”
“Positive,” Lunet beamed, her smile widening as she ramped up that elegant beauty to eleven. It made no sense, but somehow that calmed Reiss’s jitters. She was right, it was not a problem. They’d speak with the captain and then move on back to the palace district where they belonged.
Reiss slipped an arm around her friend’s side to hug her when the ramshackle door to the training grounds burst open. Captain Fettan stood rod straight as he gazed over at the pair of them quickly sliding apart. Her boss’ grumble about those damn lady loving elves wasn’t what melted Reiss’ spine, but the calculating eyes of a woman easily twice the size of her sizing up the shrinking elf.
Nodding once, the woman boomed, “I am here for Ser Reiss.”
“Or maybe I’m wrong,” Lunet whispered under her breath.
“Which of you is...?” she asked, glancing from the dark haired beauty to the scrubbed plain blonde as if they were carbon copies of each other.
Reiss felt Lunet slide forward, as if she was about to throw herself on her own sword for a friend, but Reiss couldn’t let her. Grabbing onto Lunet’s arm, she yanked her back and announced without any wobble in her voice, “I am.”
“Good, your presence is required at the palace.”
“Oh, okay,” Reiss nodded, trying to not picture a giant pit opening up below her. “Uh, right now then?”
“Yes, unless you have some other requirement...?” the woman looked back at the captain who lifted his hands and shrugged.
“Right,” Reiss glanced over at Lunet and began to shuffle towards her doom. She felt like she should extend her hands to be manacled, but there wasn’t much point. She was already as good as dead. “I can go with you now.”
“Good,” the woman clapped her once on the shoulder before tugging her towards the door, through the house full of her fellow guards all gawping, and into the carriage to ride to her end. Before she was yanked away, Reiss shot a single look at Lunet and feared it’d be the last.