Please forgive any mistakes; I don't have a beta for this
Sunshine of Life
It was a day of lessons, and Ashara and Merrill sat before the Keeper, their eyes round as Marethari recited the history of the Creators. It was important for both girls to remember every event or detail of the ancient elves that was known to the Dalish. When they became Keepers of their own Clan, they would be responsible for holding all of the ancient knowledge in their minds, so that the Elvhenan never forgot who they once were.
"Fen'Harel sealed both the Creators and the Forgotten Ones away, so that they should never escape their prisons. His task complete, he hugged himself with glee at his own cunning. It is why our Creators were not able to aid us, when we were slaves to the Tevinter Imperium."
Ashara tried to pay special attention to everything that the Keeper said. In three years, when she had her fifteenth summer and became an adult, the Keeper would decide, between Ashara and Merrill, who would be made First. It felt like a lifetime away, but she was determined to prove herself.
She raised her hand, and the Keeper nodded to her. "But why...?"
"Speak in the ancient tongue, da'len," Marethari interrupted. She looked from one girl to the other. "One day, each of you shall be First to a Clan, and it will be your responsibility to know as much of our language as possible." She touched the pouch she wore around her neck, the pouch filled with objects that she never showed to anyone. "When we perform the rituals of Festival Days, or speak to the Creators, we always do so in the ancient tongue. I want to see how much you are learning."
Ashara nodded, and thought for a moment before speaking. "La'mira Fen'Harel nuvenin amanah ma'en?" She hesitated as she tried to remember the words. "Las...sumana sha'isala ira?"
The Keeper nodded her approval. "Very good." She lifted her eyes to the sky as she contemplated Ashara's questions. "To be honest, we know not why Fen'Harel wished to seal away both the Creators and the Forgotten Ones." She spread her hands. "Perhaps it is because Fen'Harel is simply chaos. Does chaos need a reason for what it does?"
Merrill nervously brushed her short black hair behind her ear. "Isa Shalasa'en shiralen?" Unlike Ashara, Merrill had an easy time remembering all of the ancient words.
The Keeper shrugged. "Who can say? The Creators are strong, perhaps They shall one day free Themselves from Their prison. We must be patient, however, for They do not measure days as we do. They are immortal. What is a single day to One who lives forever?" She could see Ashara frowning in thought, and smiled. "You may speak freely now."
Ashara was relieved. She loved learning the ancient tongue, but it was a difficult language to form into sentences. "But, why would Fen'Harel trap both the Creators and the Forgotten Ones? If he just trapped the Creators, wouldn't that cause even more chaos?"
The Keeper sighed. "If there is a reason to his thoughts, we have not yet found it."
"So, the Creators can't hear us anymore?" Merrill asked fearfully. Ashara had to admit that it was a scary thought, to know that the Creators, the ones responsible for making everything in existence, weren't able to watch over Their own people.
"They are still in the Beyond, da'len," Marethari replied. "They are able to hear us, but They are powerless to act." She looked at the two girls, and smiled gently at their worried expressions. "Now, we have been studying for hours; you are free for the afternoon. Tomorrow we will spend the day practicing your magic."
The two girls hopped up, and Marethari glanced at Ashara. "Oh, and Ashara?" The girl turned. "I do not wish to hear of you setting Chaya's weaving on fire again. It is not a wise use of your magic, even if you are defending a friend." Ashara struggled to show a repentant face, but she looked at her feet to hide her narrowed eyes. Marethari noticed the look, and her lips twitched. "Try to show a little more restraint next time."
She waved Ashara off, and the girl caught up with Merrill, who looked at her nervously. "What did the Keeper say to you?"
Ashara scowled. "Chaya went running to her after I burned her weaving."
Merrill glanced hesitantly back at the Keeper. "Is she mad at you?"
Ashara smiled, and waved a hand dismissively at Merrill. "Stop worrying, she's not mad. All she said was that it was wrong. But that's what Chaya gets for making fun of you."
Merrill glanced at the group of weavers, Chaya among them, who sat gossiping and laughing by one of the fires. Her voice lowered. "I told you it was okay; you didn't have to do that."
Ashara tossed her black hair impatiently. "It is not! You're a daughter of the Dalish like the rest of us, and deserve the same treatment."
Merrill's face relaxed a little, and she managed a small smile. "I don't mind it, though."
Ashara remained firm, with all the authority of a twelve year old girl. "Well, you should. The others need to learn to respect you. One day you and I will be Firsts; if the Clan doesn't respect you now, they never will." Even though Ashara was determined to be the First of their Clan, if Merrill wasn't chosen she would still be made First of another Clan.
Ashara shaded her eyes, and glanced up towards the sun. They had a few hours until sundown, which meant that Tamlen and Fenarel should be done with their training soon. She turned to Merrill. "Do you want to come to my aravel? Tianna will probably join us there; we're going to have a snack before evening meal."
Merrill lowered her head, and her voice grew quiet. "Yes, I...I'd like to come with you."
Ashara smiled, glad that Merrill agreed to join her. Usually, Merrill sat by herself near her mother's aravel with one of the Keeper's books open in her lap, trying to avoid everyone else around her. The Keeper had requested that Ashara try to do what she could to bring Merrill out of her shell, but she was finding it difficult. Merrill didn't join in with the rest of the children while they played hide and find, or pulled jokes on one another. She didn't laugh easily, or even smile much. But she was a sweet girl, even if the rest of the Clan didn't see it.
A few minutes later, Ashara and Merrill were sitting outside of Ashalle's aravel, happily munching on some fresh strawberries. It was the month of Sunsend, when the sun beat down strongly from the sky, and the forest sang with life. Chief Tasar and his hunters had discovered a large field of strawberry patches while out hunting, and the Clan had been enjoying them ever since. Strawberries were some of Ashara's favorite fruits.
"I hope you're going to share some of those with me!" Ashara looked up to see Tamlen's younger sister, Tianna, staring down at them with her hands on her hips.
Ashara grinned, and held out the small basket of strawberries to the young girl. Tianna grabbed a handful, sat down, and plopped one of them into her mouth. "I'm so glad Chief Tasar found these!" Strawberries were a rare delicacy among the Dalish; since they didn't stay in one place for long, they weren't able to grow any fruits or vegetables of their own. "And he gave you the best ones."
She passed Ashara a sly look, but Ashara just stared at her. "What are you talking about?"
Merrill giggled. "You didn't notice that Chief Tasar delivered this basket of strawberries personally? Everyone else just grabbed their own share."
Ashara frowned, not following. "I don't get it." But it must be something simple if even Merrill noticed.
Tianna rolled her eyes. "He's sweet on Ashalle! How could you not notice that? He brought you the best of the strawberries because he wants Ashalle to notice how nice he is to you."
Ashara gaped at her. "He is?" She glanced at the central fire, where Ashalle sat with her circle of fellow weavers, laughing and gossiping together as they did most days. "Is he...trying to woo her?" She couldn't imagine Chief Tasar, who was so stern and quiet, always sitting by his personal fire, more comfortable with his weapons than the rest of the Clan, developing a crush on Ashalle.
Merrill continued to giggle at the face Ashara made. "I don't know if he's trying to woo her yet, but just think about it! If they mated, he would be your adopted father!"
Ashara frowned. "My father was the Keeper of the Clan. Even if Ashalle mated with Chief Tasar, he would not be my father."
Merrill stopped laughing, and an awkward silence settled over the three of them. Tianna cleared her throat. "Well, we still have some time before Tamlen and Fenarel are finished with their training; why don't we study some more of those herbs the Keeper found?"
Ashara nodded, still perturbed. Merrill couldn't know how her words were upsetting, but they still bothered her. Father had died before Ashara could even know his face; she imagined him as strong and kind, a fearless and wise leader of the Clan. She dreamed that he watched her from the Beyond, and tried to picture him nodding with approval every time she learned something new. She liked to think that he looked on her with pride.
Even if Ashalle did mate with someone, he would never take the place of the Father Ashara dreamed about.
As always, the Keeper was pleased to see them studying the herbs that they would one day use to heal the Clan, and allowed them to look at her basket, as long as they sat near her aravel. She didn't want them accidentally losing anything. Occasionally she would toss in her own comment or remark, but mostly she left the girls to their own; though Ashara knew that Marethari didn't need to watch them to know what they were saying and doing.
Ashara spread the various stems out in front of her, and sorted them into different groups. She was determined to learn all of the herbs that the Brecilian Forest had to offer, whether helpful or poisonous. She always considered it something of a miracle, when she mixed two different plants together and came up with something completely new. It was like alchemy!
Merrill tried to learn them too, because it was essential to their training, but she had a difficult time matching the names to the different plants. Tianna, on the other hand, had a natural ease with them. She might only be ten years old, but she was almost as gifted with them as Ashara was. The girls liked to spend some of their afternoons reciting the names and uses of the different plants, to etch them into their memories.
Ashara looked at the herbs laid out in front of her, and picked up a long stemmed plant with a dusting of light pink flowers on it. "What's this?"
Merrill nibbled on the nail of her thumb, and frowned. Tianna looked almost ready to burst with excitement, and so Ashara looked at her. "Okay Tianna, do you know what it is?"
Ashara nodded. "That's right!" She looked at Merrill, who was visibly disappointed. "Do you remember what it does?"
Merrill thought for a moment. "You can boil it to make a type of soap, and I think you can eat the flowers. Is that right?"
"Yep!" Ashara pointed to the very bottom of the roots. "The Keeper also said that you can use this part to help new mothers, if their milk isn't flowing right."
Merrill shook her head. "How do you remember all of this?"
Ashara shrugged, and lowered her eyes to hide the leap of pride in them. "I don't know; I just like learning them."
The three girls inspected some of the new herbs the Keeper had found, including silverweed, primrose, and some strong smelling pleurisy root. After a while, when the sun began to set and everyone started preparing for the evening meal, Ashara sat back on her heels. "I think that's enough for one day, don't you?" She grinned at her two friends. "I should put these back before it gets too dark to see."
Merrill stood up and floated over to her aravel, probably to try and see if she could read some more before the sun completely set, while Ashara climbed into the Keeper's aravel to put the herbs back, and Tianna waited outside. When Ashara was finished, Tianna laced her hands together behind her back, a sweet smile on her face. "Can you come to my aravel? I want to show you something."
Ashara nodded, and followed the girl to one of the two aravels she shared with Tamlen and their adoptive family. Sad as it was, an unnatural death was not uncommon among the Dalish; while most of the Elvhenan usually died from old age, a number of them were set upon by shemlen. It was what had happened to Ashara's father, and Tianna and Tamlen's parents.
When a child lost their parents, it was up to the rest of the Clan to raise them. Ashara had been adopted by Ashalle as a baby, who had been a close friend of her parents. But Tamlen and Tianna had been adopted by Fenarel's parents, and the five of them lived together in two aravels.
Tianna disappeared inside her home, and soon came out clutching something in her small fists. When she opened her hand, Ashara saw that she was holding a little bag.
"What is that?"
Tianna looked somewhat nervous, as she handed the little bag to Ashara. Ashara turned the bag over in her hand, and out fell a little wooden charm in the shape of a bow. She inspected the bow carefully; it was extremely well made, and absolutely beautiful.
"Tianna! This is so pretty! Where did you get it?"
Tianna flushed a bright red, and played with her brown hair. "Master Ilen made it for me."
Ashara felt the smooth wood. "Is this oak?"
The little girl nodded. "I'm going to give it to Tamlen during Tu'morassan; do you think he'll like it?"
Ashara beamed at her. "I'm sure he'll love it!" Tu'morassan was the festival day to June, God of the Craft. It was a day to honor the Clan's craftsman, and the hunters who used his crafts, to show how respected they were for all that they did for the Clan. It was also a tradition to give gifts to both groups.
Tianna hopped from one foot to the other eagerly. "Master Ilen said that it'll bring him good luck when he hunts; I want to make it into a necklace for him to wear."
Ashara smiled. "I can help you with that. Ashalle would know how to make it into a beautiful necklace."
Tianna's adorable little face practically lit up. "Really? Thank you!"
That night, after the evening meal was finished, Ashara sat alone by her aravel. Everyone else was gathered around the fire, listening to hahren Paivel tell stories of the ancient elves, but for once she didn't really feel like joining them.
She couldn't stop thinking about the little charm Tianna had gotten for Tamlen. She wanted to get him something too, but had no idea what to get, or even if it was a good idea. Gifts were generally something given between family members, or two elves who were sweet on each other. Tamlen was practically her best friend, but that was it. They were friends. If she gave him a gift, even for Tu'morassan, would he think it was weird?
She frowned, glaring at the ground in front of her. She heard Chief Tasar comment to the Keeper that Tamlen was swiftly becoming one of his most promising students. Everyone in the Clan marveled at his skill with the bow, and how quickly he caught on to the various weapons Tasar trained them in.
But Ashara found Tamlen...confusing. Lately, whenever she was around him she got nervous. She always felt like an idiot when she talked to him, yet she found herself trying to get him to look at her. But at the same time, she went out of her way to avoid him.
She saw the other girls of the Clan; they floated around easily with grace, whereas Ashara always felt like she was tripping over everything. And she was too skinny; some of the other girls had already developed slight curves, and though even Ashara had started wearing a breast band, she felt like she had nothing to cover. There wasn't really anything there. Ashalle told her that all girls felt like that as they grew up, but Ashara dismissed her words. Of course she would say that.
Ashara let out a heavy sigh and pulled her legs up, laying her face against her knees dramatically. Life really was very unfair.
She was so lost in her own dark thoughts that she didn't hear Tamlen approach, until he was standing right beside her. "Ashara, what are you doing over here by yourself?"
She lifted her head and frowned. "I don't feel like listening to Paivel tell stories, that's all."
Tamlen smiled, almost as if he didn't believe her. "Oh, okay then. Do you mind if I sit with you?"
Ashara didn't know what to say, so she settled for shrugging as if she didn't care one way or the other. Tamlen chuckled and sat down next to her; she could smell the heat from the sun still on his hair. They sat in silence for a time, but she quickly grew frustrated and nervous, and cast around for a topic. "Did you know; I've decided which vallaslin I'm going to get when I become an adult."
Tamlen raised his eyebrows. "Which one are you going to get?"
She grinned. "I'm getting the design to Sylaise. I asked the Keeper what she thought, and she said it was a good idea."
"I thought most Keepers got the design to Mythal?"
"Yes, but I've been very fond of Sylaise for years now." She looked at the fires, where everyone was laughing over some story Paivel was telling. "She's the one who taught us about herbs, and the Keeper says I have a gift with them."
"I'm getting the vallaslin to Andruil."
He said it as if it should be a surprise, but Ashara giggled. "Well of course; you're a hunter." Most of the hunters chose Andruil as their patron Goddess, but some decided to choose June.
Tamlen shifted nervously. "Did you know that Chief Tasar asked if I would help him during Tu'morassan?"
Ashara looked at him curiously. "Isn't that a good thing?" Only the best hunters participated during the festival; this meant that Tasar wanted to honor Tamlen's skill.
Tamlen wouldn't look at her. "Well, yes, because it means he trusts me. Its just...what if we don't find the right kind of ironbark?"
"I don't think you have to worry about that." Ashara smiled at him. "Tasar knows where the best quality is; that's why we camp here during this month."
The festival to June, which occurred at the end of Sunsend, was celebrated by sending the best hunters into the woods, to find and bring back only the purest of ironbark. It had to be unblemished, with no holes or spots made by bugs, and when they brought it back Master Ilen would stand before the Clan and craft what was called the First Arrow. It was held for almost an entire year, until Ashadahlen, the festival of the Forest Women, when the Chief Hunter would use that arrow to shoot a promising buck. If the arrow hit, it was a sign of good luck.
Tamlen smiled down at her; she tried not to look at his blue eyes. "I'm sure you're right. You know more about these festivals than I do." It was the Keeper's job to speak to the Creators during these festivals, to remind Them that the Elvhenan had not forgotten Them.
"Well, until the Keeper decides who will be her First, we don't really participate much."
Tamlen tilted his head. "Are you worried that the Keeper won't choose you?"
Ashara squirmed, and wouldn't look at him. "I...hope she will, but I don't know."
"She will; you're a much better mage than Merrill is." Tamlen smiled at her, and Ashara was sure she felt her heart turn over.
Fen'Harel - The Dread Wolf; also known as The Trickster
da'len - child/children
La'mira Fen'Harel nuvenin amanah ma'en? - Why would Fen'Harel want to trap Them?
Las sumana sha'isala ira? - What did he gain from that?
Isa Shalasa'en shiralen? - Will the Creators ever return?
Sunsend - 7th month of the year; equal to Solace
Tu'morassan - literally: Making of Arrows; Festival day to June, God of the Crafts, who taught the elves how to make weapons from the trees
hahren - elder; used as a sign of respect
vallaslin - blood writing; the tattoos the Dalish get when they become adults, to honor the Creators and tell the world that they are Dalish; each design represents a different Creator
Andruil - Goddess of the Hunt
Sylaise - the Hearthkeeper; Goddess who gave the elves fire, and taught them to sing and dance, and how to use the herbs of the forest
Ashadahlen - literally: Forest Women; festival held in honor of Andruil, Sylaise, and Ghilan'nain
I know I haven't updated this in quite a while, but I haven't abandoned it. I just hit a writer's block with the stories of the Dalish, which is why we jumped from Ashara being eight, to being twelve. In all honesty, most of the events that shaped her into who she is, happened once she started getting older. The part about her feeling nervous with her body is straight out of my own life, when I felt gangly and awkward. My aunt tried to tell me that it was normal, but of course I didn't believe it XD I think it happens to most adolescents growing up.
Also, I had someone make a comment about Merrill, though I think it might have been on my other story, telling me that Merrill wasn't born in the Sabrae Clan. I figured I'd clear that up here. I'm well aware that in DA, Merrill was adopted into the Sabrae Clan (the Clan your Dalish Warden comes from) b/c they didn't have a mage of their own, but that wouldn't work with Ashara being there. They'd have no reason to bring in another mage when they already had Ashara, but for plot reasons, Merrill still becomes First after Ashara leaves. The only way for that to happen, while still having Ashara know Merrill well, was to have her be born in the same Clan :D
Thanks to everyone who reviewed, requested alerts, or are just reading. It means a lot, and I'm sorry to keep you guys waiting for so long. ~Seika