Fine Feathered Parade [complete]

((OOC: 27 Harvestmere, 35 Dragon, with ))

“Your Grace,” Yelena called, her voice that musical tinkle that always sounded ethereal and far away. Far away was good, because Kahrin was (pointedly) ignoring her. “Your Grace,” she tried once more.

“Shoo,” Kahrin all but snarled as she flapped her hands, only to be met with the most shrill squawk this side of the Fade. She was sure of it. Or maybe the other, too. Perhaps peacocks didn’t only dwell here and in the Maker damned Void. She’d sure like to send this one to the Void. “You’re not going!”

Albert, perched in the driver’s seat of the cart bound for Western Hills, simply ruffled his feathers and plopped down upon the cushion as if he owned it. She could have sworn he nodded his stupid little tufted head at her in a mocking manner.

“He’s just begging me to climb up there and wring--”

“You will not be climbing anything, Your Grace,” Yelena rebuked her, some of the powdery softness dissolving from her voice. “That… creature,” she all but spat, in a way that Innes would never believe her capable, “is not worth the risks.” Her tone gentled and she rested a hand on Kahrin’s arm. “Just in case.”

Tucking her lips, Kahrin bit down to muffle the shriek of irritation she let. “I grew up on a goat farm, you know. I won’t be bested by--”

Yelena cut her off once more with a harsh whisper. “And, now you’re a teyrna who might be with child.”

Which would explain the flimsy grasp she had on her temper. Even though she had no way of knowing for sure, Kahrin let out a hard breath and conceded the fight. She stepped back from the cart, loaded up with supplies, including a thick rug and a fur blanket--nothing fancy and certainly nothing he could argue with her about as Satinalia would soon be upon them--to make sure Innes had all he needed until he retreated to the castle for the remainder of the winter. Including some jar of some preserves or another which her mother had made and labeled specifically for him.

But the cart was not going anywhere if no one could drive it, and Albert would certainly not be doing so. “Tu verras! Votre chance va manquer!” Her Orlesian was terrible, accented so harshly, but she could tell by the beady eyes that he knew her threat. She’d see how bold the bird was when she was heavy with child and begging Innes to let her put it on a banquet table. Except, she knew she’d never put her best friend in that position. But oh, boy, would she hint at it.

She spun about on the ball of her foot. “There’s an entire army in residence!” she shouted, “but no one brave enough to take on one single peacock?”
Esper hated cities. They were necessary, sure. As much as he’d like to, he couldn’t hide out in the forests of Ferelden alone for the remainder of his days. But Creators, he didn’t think he’d ever be comfortable around the hustle and bustle of busy human settlements. Revas wasn’t even around to calm his nerves with her incessant bids for attention, having been ordered to stay outside the city while Esper was resupplying. No point bringing unnecessary attention to himself, and a Falcon nesting in his scarf or screaming at him from the sky wasn’t really the best way to stay inconspicuous.

He was starting to sorely regret his decision, now. Even if he would garner more attention than he’d like, at least if Revas was around, maybe he wouldn’t be so undoubtedly lost. Esper cursed under his breath. Did these damnable Shemlen cities always have to be so convoluted? He’d been searching for the marketplace for far too long now, and Esper was pretty sure he’d end up lost in the labyrinth of streets if he didn't find a way out soon.

He glanced around, looking for any of the landmarks he'd passed on the way in. He found none, but did spy a notice board with a myriad of papers tacked to the wood. He wandered over, pursing his lips. He hadn't taken any work in a while, and while he was pretty self sufficient, it never hurt to have a little extra coin. He flicked through them and picked one out. A request to escort supplies to West Hill. Esper hummed, he hadn't been that far North in Ferelden, yet. The idea of seeing a little more of this country sparked his interest and he tugged the notice from the board, scanning it over for a meeting place and employer. 

Oh, the Teyrna of Gwaren. Not ideal, exactly. He wasn't too keen on getting involved with nobles, but the idea of exploring further North was too tempting to pass up. Esper nodded to himself, mind made up and found a guard to escort him to the castle, notice in hand. He was a little surprised at how easily the guards accepted his entrance to the castle, but Esper supposed living this far South, they must be used to wandering Elves or strange people passing through for work and trade. 

“Tu verras! Votre chance va manquer!”

Esper’s ears perked up, hearing an aggravated voice. His nerves spiked at the tone and he cautiously twisted his head to glance at the guard out of the corner of his eye (sword still sheathed, good sign) and then to the figures revealed in the yard as they rounded a corner. He spied a cart and a well dressed human woman with a scowl marring her face, gesturing angrily towards a… peacock. There was a peacock, in the cart. Sitting in the seat and looking quite proud of itself.

Nerves easing a bit at the sight, Esper with held a snort at the animal’s demeanor. He’d only come across a bird of that breed once before, travelling through Orlais, and it was just as stuffy and proud as this one seemed to be. But, they were beautiful creatures.

“There’s an entire army in residence! But no one brave enough to take on one single peacock?”

Esper paused again at the exasperated voice, tilting his head to the side and eyeing up the cart. Looked like it was loaded with supplies, general comforts, food, furs. This must be the Teyrna, then. And the supplies he was to escort. But no driver. Unless the irritable woman was going for a trip, but based on her lack of travelling attire, Esper doubted it. Then… what? The driver had been scared away by a colorful bird? Who was afraid of a peacock, of all things. There were much more fearful beasts out there. But, he supposed that was why the Teyrna had put up a notice in the first place. Perhaps everyone else she'd requested for this job had turned tail at fled at the sight of the colorful bird.

Curiosity piqued, Esper decided to show mercy to the Teyrna whose voice kept getting progressively louder. He glanced again to the guard at his side, silently requesting permission to approach and got a slight nod in return. Esper took a step towards the pair of women with a guard at his back and bowed deeply to the Teyrna. 

He raised from his bow, keeping his eyes downcast but gestured to the bird happily seated atop the cart. “I may not be a soldier, Your Ladyship." He said, succeeding well enough at keeping the humor from his voice. "But I can remove the peacock from the premises if you wish it. I imagine it would be rather difficult to transport live goods.”
Lost in her temper, Kahrin failed to notice the encroachment of guards, or the presence of a stranger until Pickle let a whuf from just behind Lady Yelena’s skirts. Kahrin’s eyes fell first upon the blue merle mabari, his blue eyes seeking direction from his mistress, then turned towards the guards nearby.

An elf, escorted by the gate guards, bowed deeply to her, a gesture she was unaccustomed to from the local Dalish. Of course, she had no reason to believe this man was Dalish, even when he spoke, his Common marked with a Northern accent. “I may not be a soldier, Your Ladyship. But I can remove the peacock from the premises if you wish it. I imagine it would be rather difficult to transport live goods.”

In that way she had of laughing at herself, Kahrin tipped her head back and looked up at the sky as she let a bark of it. “Oh, no. No, no, no.” She righted herself and spun about on the ball of her foot, jabbing a finger through the air in Albert’s direction. “He is not going anywhere!” She kicked the toe of her boot into the hard dirt in front of her. “That’s the point. So, get out of the cart. Sors d'ici!” Oh, that foul fowl reduced her to using that foul tongue. Albert didn't even so much as look at her, now, as if her demands were but the buzzing of annoying flies. “If I can’t go, you can’t go.” Never mind that even if she could, she would certainly not be traveling the length of Southern Ferelden riding bitch to a bird. Unless she decided she needed a pretty new hat. She could get into hats!

She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. If she was with child, being worked up like this wouldn’t do her any good. If she was simply cranky from poor sleep and insufferable birds, then no one else deserved her fit. It was only then she noticed the parchment in the elf’s hand. She dusted her hands over the front of her fitted trousers and looked up at the man, requesting an introduction with a lift of her tattooed brow.
Laughing. She’s… laughing.

Esper let out a subtle breath, muscles unclenching and posture loosening just a little. Laughing was a good sign. The pitch and her posture indicated she was still aggravated, but not at him. Just the bird, then. Hopefully. He raised his eyes from the ground and moved them to a point on her shoulder. He wasn’t quite comfortable enough to risk direct eye contact, but shoulders were a good first step. At least now he could read her expressions out of the corner of his eye.

“Oh, no. No, no, no. He is not going anywhere! That’s the point. So, get out of the cart. Sors d'ici! Not going- oh. So the bird… lived here. In the castle? Was she Orlesian? The Teyrna spoke the language but- no. Her accent was terrible and Esper doubted Ferelden’s would let an Orlesian woman run a Tyrnir. He didn’t know much about the Occupation, but the people here didn’t exactly hide their disdain for their neighbors.

When the Teyrna turned back to him and took a calming breath, Esper hunched over, just a little bit. Then immediately straightened his spine. He wasn’t in Tevinter, anymore. He didn’t need to hide himself. He’d come here for work, if he looked too weak, she’d assume he wasn’t up for the job. But too much confidence could get him in trouble. The people here didn’t advocate slavery, but they still held a strong belief that his kind were lesser. Breathe and bare it, Ess.

Then she raised her brow, and all the mental talking up was completely shattered. She was requesting an introduction. He’d forgotten to introduce himself. Creators, how stupid could he be? Waltzing into a Teyrna’s home with only a flimsy piece of paper to explain his presence. His eyes widened, flicking back to the ground as he quickly sketched another bow. “My deepest apologies, Your Ladyship.” He said quickly. “My name is Esper, of clan Ghilain. I’m here about your request for an escort to West Hill.”

Esper straightened back up and held out the parchment towards the Teyrna, deeply hoping he hadn’t just messed up his chance for work because of such a stupid oversight.
For just one span of breath, the elf in front of her hunched in on himself, like she might eat him. It was enough to calm her out of her temper. There was no reason to scare the man. He remembered himself, straightening his posture. Something about him did not add up. None of the Dalish in the area were so meek, and he looked terrified.

He seemed to consider his words for quite awhile, fingers crinkling the notice as he did so. His eyes darted around, from her to the guards, to Yelena, and back again. He bowed once more, quickly, before finally answering her. “My deepest apologies, Your Ladyship.” The words spilled out of him, each one racing to be finished first. “My name is Esper, of clan Ghilain. I’m here about your request for an escort to West Hill.”

So he was Dalish, but she’d not heard of clan Ghilain. Granted, clans moved in and out of the Brecilian all the time without notice, so that meant very little. Usually her scouts and guards were on top of their movements so she could keep an eye on the situation. Her relations to the Dalish, while sparse, were good at present; she intended to keep it that way. Her Chasind blood and enquiries on a Dalish horse aside.

“Teyrna Ainsley is fine,” she offered, more gently now. She offered her hand to shake. “Thank you for answering our posting.” She nodded that it was fine for the escort to return to the gateroom. Carbry was not far off, and Pickle was at her side; she was not in any danger. “The supplies are actually destined for Western Hills, not West Hill. I hope that doesn’t change your mind. The purse is generous, as is the additional you’ll receive if you bring back any deliveries from the recipient.”

Just in case anyone had forgotten he was there, Albert squawked behind her. Her lashes touched her cheeks and she took another deep breath. “Before you can leave, however, there is the matter of certain individuals,” she gestured to Albert, “who think they are to be your companion.”
He’d braced himself for some sort of reprimand. An insult hurled his way or a scathing remark about Dalish savagery, but none came. Just a soft voice, gentle and calm. “Teyrna Ainsley is fine,” She said, and Esper waited a moment more, absorbing the words and her careful tone. He managed not to flinch too noticeably when she reached her hand out. He stared at it for a second, not understanding what the Teyrna was doing, before realization cut through the haze of fear surrounding his brain. He grasped her hand in his own firm, but slightly clammy, grip.

“Thank you for answering our posting.” He nodded absently in answer, releasing her grip and returning his hands to clasp at his front, fingers running over the Ironwood ring on his right hand. Again, Esper was taken aback by the softness of her voice, purposefully crafted to ease his, likely very visible, fear. She was… kind. He hadn’t met many nobles who were kind. Or just many kind people in generally, really. The Teyrna reminded him a bit of the younger human woman he worked with in Tevinter, Livia. The comparison calmed him somewhat, thoughts of his old friend easing his fear just enough for him to stand a little straighter and move his eyes back up to the Teyrna’s shoulder.

“Of course, Your- Ah. Teyrna Ainsley.” His internal reprimand for the fumble was less harsh, this time. His eyes glanced to the guard moving away from them, returning the way they came. The hound was still there, and Esper guessed more guards weren’t far off, but it was a vote of confidence to send one off. However small.

“The supplies are actually destined for Western Hills, not West Hill. I hope that doesn’t change your mind.The purse is generous, as is the additional you’ll receive if you bring back any deliveries from the recipient.” He’d read the parchment wrong. Western Hills, not West Hill. Another mess up, and another blow to his confidence. But that wasn’t so bad, she didn’t sound put out and he’d demonstrated the ability to read, however basic. Most of his kind were completely illiterate, so at least this wasn’t a complete embarrassment.

He wasn’t too sure exactly where Western Hills was, though. It was possible it was near Redcliffe, or in the Hinterlands. He vaguely recalled skirting around a settlement in that area when he initially came to Ferelden. Perhaps he should get a map, just in case. He couldn’t rely on Revas all the time to stop him getting hopelessly lost.

He shook his head, red hair tumbling around his face. He pushed the unruly hair back, slipping a leather cord from his gloved wrist and tying it out of his face while he responded. “It’s not a problem, Teyrna Ainsley. I’m happy to-”

The peacock’s squawking cut him off and he winced as the cord caught in his hair, tugging painfully. He quickly tied the rest of his hair back, flicking his eyes to the sound. He’d forgotten about the bird. “Before you can leave, however, there is the matter of certain individuals,” the Teyrna said, voice sounding strained. “Who think they are to be your companion.”

Esper huffed out a chuckle at the bird’s interruption, feeling grateful for the small reprieve from the conversation. He could take care of the bird with little difficulty, but he doubted the Teyrna would be pleased to watch him grasp its legs and hang the foul upside down while he removed it from the cart. So, manhandling was off the table. He hummed contemplatively before unwrapping his scarf from around his neck, unfolding and smoothing it out. He felt a little.. vulnerable, without the scarf on. His scars were now on full display thanks to the lack of a sleeve on his left arm. The burns itched a little as cold air rushed over them, but he stubbornly ignored the feeling and approached the peacock, scarf in hand.

“Give me a moment, please.”

His steps were light and slow as he walked to the drivers seat of the cart, eyeing up it’s occupant. It seemed used to people, not particularly skittish, but Esper didn’t want to risk getting clawed at. When he was close enough, he grasped each side of his scarf and threw it over the foul’s back and head with practiced hands, pinning it’s wings and effectively blinding it. He lifted the bird as it struggled, letting out an indignant squawk as Esper reached a hand around it to grasp at it’s flailing legs, keeping it’s claws from getting caught in the fabric. He mumbled soothing words to it in Elvhen, waiting until it had calmed enough to turn back to the Teyrna, a triumphant, if slightly shy, smile on his face.

“Is uh… Is there a holding pen that you’d like it taken to, Teyrna Ainsley?” His voice was soft, eyes back to their place on her shoulder. The bird strained a little in his arms, and he ran a soothing hand over it’s neck underneath the scarf while he awaited direction.
The mix-up over geography aside, Esper seemed a little more at ease now. Amusingly it seemed that it was Albert’s interference which was easing things. He removed his scarf, smoothing it out and preparing to use it as a net, as far as she could tell. “Give me a moment, please.”

Albert tilted his head in suspicion as the man approached him. Could peacocks narrow their eyes? It was difficult to say, but the wretched creature was definitely sizing up the situation. It wasn’t until Esper stepped past her that she noticed the scarring on his skin. Burns. Some that looked like they’d been cuts which healed and were opened again. With a fist of terror in her stomach, her first thought was blood mage. Reason took over before she could panic, and she realised there was a more likely explanation.

Unfortunately, her tutors never covered the etiquette on how to ask someone if they had the ill-fortune to have been a slave, so she decided not to comment upon it. She didn’t need to know for the job, and she could not imagine it was anything but rude to ask.

Besides, he was handling her peacock problem, which stood to become a best friend problem if that damned bird got himself hurt or killed. Or a lady in waiting problem if it started after Yelena again. As a bonus, he didn’t seem afraid of or trepidatious around the bird. Kahrin wondered if Innes would get mad if Yelena murdered his peacock. She couldn’t imagine him getting mad at her for anything.

Esper stepped up, his steps light and sure, and before Albert could twig to what was happening, Esper caught him in the scarf, swooping him over and binding him inside it. Albert let a horrifying screech, squirming and thrashing in his best Kahrin being hefted off by Innes impression.

Kahrin took the entire thing in with wide eyes, not bothering to conceal how impressive she found it.

He tried soothing the peacock, speaking to him in what she had to guess was Elven. “Try Orlesian,” Kahrin suggested quietly. “For some reason he responds well to it.” Disgusting language for a decidedly evil animal. Kahrin made a face, her tongue poking out in revulsion.

When he faced her again, his face glowed with abashedness, though there was a distinctive pride in his almost too large eyes. “Is uh… Is there a holding pen that you’d like it taken to, Teyrna Ainsley?”

What? She blinked, blinked again, and realised what she was being asked. She gestured towards a garden out past the potting shed and indicated he should follow her to it. “My Da and my best friend built one shortly after First Day last year. It’s right--” Albert let a screech like a fork across a dinner plate and her eyes lidded and rolled at the same time, her teeth grinding until she had to repeat over and over to herself that Innes had entrusted Albert to her care. “It’s right over there.”

She could have sent the guards to show him, but moving felt much better than not moving, so Kahrin took up the lead herself. Well, Pickle took up the lead, trotting along with the stub of his tail wiggling back and forth as he did so, and she followed to the humble little enclosure and roost which was out of the way, though sadly not out of earshot. Lady Yelena subtly touched her arm to remind her to stay back out of the way, not at all above reminding Kahrin just how vile she thought the peacock was. “Do you have much experience with peafowl, Mister Ghilain? You act with the surety of a man who is confident the creature will not seek retribution.”
The look on the Teyrna’s face had the tips of Esper’s ears heating up. Her wide eyed gaze and honest amazement at what he thought such a simple act as wrangling an avian made his chest ache. It had been so long since someone looked at him without disdain.

His question seemed to catch her off guard and she fumbled a little, catching herself quickly and gesturing off to the side. “My Da and my best friend built one shortly after First Day last year. It’s right--” Esper felt the bird in his arms struggle again before letting out another piercing screech. He flinched and his ears pressed back, twitching to try and get the ringing out. The Teyrna did not look too happy at the noise and Esper wondered why she kept the bird around if it served only to grate on her nerves. He ran a hand down it’s neck again, trying to quiet it. “It’s right over there.” 

The hound bounded out in front of them, intent on leading the way. Esper wasn’t going to complain about an escort, Creator’s knew his sense of direction in human settlements was abysmal and getting lost between here and the pen wouldn’t be unexpected. He was a little surprised when the Teyrna and her maid stepped up to accompany him, though. He followed quietly, bird tucked securely under his arm as they made their way past the shed.

“Do you have much experience with peafowl, Mister Ghilain?” Esper’s eyes flicked up from their place on the ground to stare at the back of the Teyrna’s head in surprise. "You act with the surety of a man who is confident the creature will not seek retribution.”

Mister Ghilain. Creators, he was glad she was walking in front of him. Embarrassment at the title made his ears heat all over again and he was certain he could feel the flush spreading to his cheeks. “Please just- Uh. Just Esper is fine, Teyrna Ainsley.” It was better than Knife Ear, at any rate and the title made him a little uncomfortable. He was unaccustomed to people using his name, let alone putting a ‘Mister’ before it.

“And to answer your question, no. I have little experience with peafowl specifically, but they are not so different from the avians I’ve trained in the past.”
He glances down to the bird in his arms, noting it was still struggling in his hold, and tsked. “Perhaps a little more unruly, and far larger. But that just means it needs more discipline, especially living in a Teyrna’s home as it does.”

He slowed a little as they approached the small enclosure, glancing around at the peacocks living space. It could do with more room, he thought. From what Esper knew they didn’t cope so well in little environments, especially given this one’s large plumage. It explained why it seemed so intent on getting out, though. But he wasn’t about to speak any of that aloud. He was here for a job, not to give the Teyrna of Gwaren tips on housing her peacock.

He stood by the gate to the enclosure, hands full of fussy bird and waited patiently for the maid to open it for him. “I can’t say I’ve seen many peafowl in Ferelden so far, Teyrna Ainsley. Forgive me for prying, but I admit I’m a little curious as to how you came across him?”
The man was jumpy, even with the confident way he took Albert into his care and carried him across the grounds to the small enclosure. “Please just- Uh. Just Esper is fine, Teyrna Ainsley.”

“As you wish, Esper,” she assured him. She paused outside of Albert’s pen and gestured to the gate where Albert’s three fancy, silky chickens strutted around.

Albert screeched and wiggled around, still refusing to recognise that his escape was impossible. “And to answer your question, no. I have little experience with peafowl specifically, but they are not so different from the avians I’ve trained in the past.” He was well educated, evident in the articulate way he spoke, and accented Common she couldn’t quite identify. Not that she was an expert. After all, it was possible his education exceeded her own, considering how fast hers had been. “Perhaps a little more unruly, and far larger. But that just means it needs more discipline, especially living in a Teyrna’s home as it does.”

Ha! Discipline! Kahrin could have barked out a laugh but she caught herself, not wanting the man to think she was laughing at him. “He’s not really allowed inside.” Not that Albert was particularly concerned where he was and was not allowed to go, as evidenced by his attempt to stowaway to Western Hills. If she couldn’t go to see Innes, he certainly could not.

Yelena, glaring at Albert, her eyes narrowed to slits in a way Kahrin seldom saw her, opened the small gate to the enclosure so Esper could release Albert, returning him to his adoring entourage. The chickens immediately surrounded him each vying for his attention as he trotted about, shaking out his anger.

“I can’t say I’ve seen many peafowl in Ferelden so far, Teyrna Ainsley,” Esper noted. Neither had she, until the night the bird tried to kill her, pulling her down from the trellis at Arl Eideard’s estate. “Forgive me for prying, but I admit I’m a little curious as to how you came across him?”

She blinked, needing a moment to process his question. “How I… Oh!” She laughed, warm and rich and shook her head. “It’s not prying at all. He’s not actually mine. There was a mixup, I believe, at a banquet for the Arl of Denerim. This… bird was left behind, and my friend, in the Arl’s service at the time, adopted him.” She considered this a moment before amending her words. “Actually, I think the bird adopted him. Or he was the only person Albert obeyed?” She waved her hands, dismissing the irrelevant information. “He’s building a schoolhouse in Western Hills,” she explained, the pride in Innes’ aspirations unmistakable in her smile. And why shouldn’t she be proud of what he was doing, knowing how much it meant to him? “Albert will reside here until proper arrangements can be made for his care.” It sounded so simple like that, and not at all like there was a great deal of work ahead of Innes.

Kahrin gestured back to the cart near the stables once more. “These supplies are for my friend, Mister Cameron, mostly. Some are meant for trade with a merchant in the arling.” A flimsy excuse for sending a cartload of supplies, sure. As if Innes wouldn’t see through it right away.

“Do you have fighting experience?” she enquired, gesturing towards the castle to indicate he should follow her. “I won’t send you on such a trip defenseless and alone. If not, we can arrange for a guard or a fellow mercenary.”
Esper with held an amused smile at the look on the maids face. Obviously the woman made no secret of her distaste of the peacock and he could only imagine what had transpired to make the woman eye it with such vehemence. But his curiosity stopped short of reaching his tongue, instead he offered the woman an appreciative nod of his head and a soft “Thank you, Miss.”

With the bird begrudgingly tucked back in its pen, Esper turned back to the Teyrna. She seemed a little confused by his question, but it cleared quickly, replaced by a sweet laugh. Esper’s ears flicked at the sound, a little pleased that he’d made her smile with his curiosity.

“It’s not prying at all. He’s not actually mine. There was a mixup, I believe, at a banquet for the Arl of Denerim. This… bird was left behind, and my friend, in the Arl’s service at the time, adopted him.” She seemed to consider her words a moment before speaking again. “Actually, I think the bird adopted him. Or he was the only person Albert obeyed?”

Esper smiled and let out a light chuckle. He couldn’t imagine how someone had messed up in such a grand scale as to deliver a peacock to a Ferelden Arl’s estate. If he’d done such a thing, his Mast- Nope. He shoved that thought aside as quickly as it came and focused back on the Teyrna.

“He’s building a schoolhouse in Western Hills,” She continued. The pride colouring her voice was unmistakable, as was the smile curving her lips. They were close, then, and she approved of the building of a schoolhouse. A Teyrna that cared for the education of the masses. This was good. “Albert will reside here until proper arrangements can be made for his care.”

Esper’s eyes followed her as she gestured back towards the cart. “These supplies are for my friend, Mister Cameron, mostly. Some are meant for trade with a merchant in the arling.” She motioned for him to follow her and he moved to walk just slightly behind her. “Do you have fighting experience?” She asked, “I won’t send you on such a trip defenseless and alone. If not, we can arrange for a guard or a fellow mercenary.”

Esper mulled the question over while he shook out his scarf and twisted it back around his neck. The sliding of fabric over his scars was irritating, but he felt more comfortable with them covered than not. “I appreciate the thought, Teyrna Ainsley.” He said sincerely, “I have fighting experience, yes. I’m competent with a bow and have lived on my own for about a year now.” He hummed, and then amended his words, “Well, perhaps not alone. I have a companion. She’s waiting for me, just outside of the city. We’re capable enough to transport the supplies on our own, but if you feel it necessary to add additional guard, then I won’t argue.”
Kahrin wasn’t certain she’d ever exercised so much care and control in conversation in her time as a noblewoman. She paid heed to the volume and tone of her voice. The scars the elf wore were not easily worn. She moved in a very measured manner, minding every lift of her hand and cant of her head. The last thing she wanted was to spook him, or give him more reason to mistrust her. Funny, that for all her tutors and lessons in carriage and etiquette, it was this man before her, apprehensive and almost timid who provoked that grace she’d once envied in the now deceased former queen. Something cruel had been inflicted upon this man, and she would not give him cause for fear.

He considered her offer quietly, rearranging his scarf and returning it to its place around his neck, concealing the scars once more. “I appreciate the thought, Teyrna Ainsley.” She smiled as he seemed more at ease now. “I have fighting experience, yes. I’m competent with a bow and have lived on my own for about a year now.” A pause as he considered his words. Oh, he was no liar. She couldn’t be certain, sure, but she could sense no deceit. “Well, perhaps not alone. I have a companion. She’s waiting for me, just outside of the city. We’re capable enough to transport the supplies on our own, but if you feel it necessary to add additional guard, then I won’t argue.”

“I wouldn’t insult you, or your companion, in such a way, Esper.” She pulled her cloak around her against the chill of the air and walked for the castle entrance without a word, trusting the others to follow. Lady Yelena, with her pale hair and eyes, her movements almost otherworldly, gestured that they should hurry. Kahrin strode inside, not pausing in her pace and simply expecting the doors to open as she did so. It had taken time, but she’d learned to embrace her role, to carry herself in a way that was befitting of her station. No more was she a Teyrn’s widow, commonborn and untested. Teyrna in her own right, capable if imperfect and willing to own her mistakes. And, Maker willing, the heir to Gwaren in her belly.

“Proper maps will be provided for you,” she informed Esper upon entering her study, walking straight to the small desk and removing a slip of parchment. “In addition to your promised sum, there are funds provided for your travels, and anything you need will be arranged inside that amount.” She spun on the ball of her foot to face him as she slid the signet from her finger. “Anything not used for your supplies and travel is yours to keep.”

A few drips of wax provided enough for her to press her seal beside her signature. “Please accept our hospitality until everything is prepared.” She gestured to one of the maids. “Malia will help with whatever you require.”
“I wouldn’t insult you, or your companion, in such a way, Esper.” Her voice was soft and sweet, easily listening for Esper’s ears.

The Teyrna’s demeanor was far more soothing than anything he’d encountered in a long time. The tone of her voice, her movements. All seemed light and easy, calming Esper’s frazzled nerves from spending the better part of the day inside human walls. But thinking back on their initial introduction, he suspected her soothing demeanor was put on for his sake. He knew he still came off as timid and afraid. He knew it, and it frustrated him to no end that he couldn’t simply shake off his fears, nor the memories that founded them. But, he supposed, if the Teyrna could bring herself to walk and speak with grace, then Esper could at least act like he wasn’t nearly so terrified of every shadow.

He breathed deep, rolling his shoulders back and followed after the Teyrna inside the walls of her home. His eyes strayed from her back, taking in the stonework around him with wide eyes. The buildings in Ferelden were so very different from what he’d seen in Tevinter. Less sharp, clean stone and brick and far less ornamented, but Esper found he liked the lack of gilding. The buildings here seemed more practical, cozy, almost.

“Proper maps will be provided for you,” The Teyrna spoke from ahead of him and he almost tripped over his own feet turning back to her. His mind was torn away from the differences in architecture to focus back on his temporary employer. She glided into what looked like a study, Esper hanging back near the door, and fiddled with a piece of parchment of the desk.

“In addition to your promised sum, there are funds provided for your travels, and anything you need will be arranged inside that amount.” Esper blinked, startled. Well, that was generous. He was generally used to being given the coin and kicked out the door, with little thought to travel costs. “Anything not used for your supplies and travel is yours to keep.” She added, spinning around to face him and pulling a ring from her finger.

Esper’s mouth opened to demure, to say that wasn’t necessary, she’d already been kind enough, but she spoke again before he could get a word out. “Please accept our hospitality until everything is prepared. Malia will help with whatever you require.”

Esper’s mouth gaped a little, eyes flicking back to the maid he hadn’t noticed enter behind him. Stunned silence met their ears as his mind caught up. She was paying for travel. Any coin left he could keep. Hospitality until everything is prepared. He went through a mental recollection of the past few seconds and still couldn’t quite wrap his head around all she was offering. This was… too much. Far more than he had been expecting, and not even in the realm of what he had imagined would be offered him.

He wanted to decline the offer of hospitality. He so desperately wanted to decline. If only because of his fear that what she offered was too good to be true and it must, it must, come with some sort of ‘but’. Something he must give in return. But the longer the silenced stretched, the more his fear ebbed. She simply stood there, calm and serene, with no signs of any request for more from him.

Steeling himself, he flicked his eyes up to meet hers for the first time since their acquaintance. He offered her a hesitant yet grateful smile before his eyes flicked away again as he bowed deeply.

“I- Thank you, Teyrna Ainsley.” Not enough. A simple ‘thank you’ wasn’t nearly enough to convey his gratitude. "You are far too generous and uhm… kind. You are very kind.” He stumbled through his words, feeling his ears heating up in embarrassment, but it was important to him to make her understand just how much he appreciated her actions. He was tempted to kneel, to thank her the only way he knew how. By offering complete submission. But that was something he wouldn’t be doing again. Not ever. “Ma serannas. Nuvas ema ir’enastela.” Still not right. Not words she would understand. But they would do.

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