Saoirse was her given name, but Sten never spoke it. He had said "Mahariel" only once, apparently deciding, she thought, that the elven way of names was distasteful to his tongue. Now that she understood, however, Mahariel knew he'd favored "Warden" because it was a comfort to him; the name he assigned was her role, given with all respect, as Sten was both name and role for him.
When "Kadan" replaced "Warden," the change was permanent, and Mahariel happily gave up all hope of hearing her given name on his lips, even as they boarded a ship bound for Par Vollen, and most especially when Sten finally told her what her new name meant.
And now, she called him "Kadan" as they continued on the road to deliver Sten's report to the Salasari—a triumvirate, as Mahariel understood it: the Qunari government, not unlike the Keeper, Craftsman, and Hahren, in a clan. What she had trouble grasping was the idea that they held so much power over others. Even the Keeper could not make a decision if the clan was against it. She learned more each day about the country through which she moved, about its inhabitants.
Tonight, they shared a small room at a roadside inn, rather cleaner than anything she had seen in Ferelden. There was a low cot, a table, and a single mat, now unrolled in the center of the room where Sten was seated, cross-legged—though it did little to make him seem smaller. If anything, as he carefully put a brush to the parchment on the table settled over his lap, he looked even larger, looming over the undersized furniture. Mahariel watched, stretched out along the cot, head pillowed on her arms; she had not asked what he wrote. If it became relevant, he would speak. For now, she was content.
Each stroke of the brush was delicate—calculated and beautiful as the patterns Sten danced with his blade. Yet, it was… different. The raw energy, the force focused behind each controlled swing of Asaala was missing here; in each curve and stroke of the brush was gentleness, a peace that few would associate with the warrior.
It was dear to her heart.
She recognized not a single character as Sten's brush glided along with barely a whisper, and, perhaps, the letters were more beautiful for it, each twining one into another, a gentle hand and glistening ink, on and on like the waves and the mountain peaks—
Had she been in a less stable position, Mahariel would have tumbled to the ground without even a moment to steady herself.
As it was, she had half a mind to consider rolling off the cot anyway.
She met his eyes, amethyst even in the low candlelight. "S—Sten?"
His brow raised hardly a fraction. "I have told you much of my people, yet I know little of yours. Of your… names. Your roles." He returned his attention to the parchment, to the brush held so gracefully between calloused fingers.
"Oh." Mahariel tried to re-settle herself, but the position was no longer comfortable. She sat up and rested her back against the wall. "I enjoy learning the ways of the Qun."
Sten did not glance up, keeping the steady, smooth rhythm of his brush to finish out the line. "But it is… unbalanced. The Qun is the true way, but to ignore the workings of the world is to deny the existence of the body while focusing only on the soul."
A smile crept along Mahariel's lips. Here, Sten was… whole. Here, among the bright mornings, the towering forms of his people, the salt-breeze laced with herbs and tea and loamy soil, writing and hearing in his own language, Asaala at his side even while he rested, within reach—here, he was at peace.
And Sten wished this peace for her.
Mahariel fixed him in a gentle gaze, but he would not look up, even when she caught the barest hint of a curve at the corner of his lips. She hummed. "Well, Kadan, you've shared a great deal of your language with me." His hand never wavered, and if he appreciated the sentiment, he was quite adept at hiding it—save for the barest crinkle at the corner of his eyes. Mahariel readily let herself feel a bit proud of that. "Our second name is given to us at birth, much like humans, I understand—'Mahariel' was given to me by my parents. Our given name is chosen when we reach adulthood, a decision reached between the individual and the clan's Keeper. It's also when we are given the Vallaslin." Unconsciously, she traced the familiar whorls that covered her chin with the mark of Elgar'nan.
"Yes." She hesitated a moment, until Sten lifted his brush from the page. She stopped tangling her fingers in the loose fabric of the simple, linen trousers and continued, "Mine are for our god of Vengeance, protector of the world's gifts, and father of the stars. We call him Elgar'nan—he is the son of the sky and the earth." Mahariel bent her head down to study the light blankets that covered the cot, soft and sparsely embroidered, unlike the itchy wool (smelling all too often of wet dog) in Ferelden.
Her head snapped up to see Sten studying her carefully, brush poised mid-air. He did not resume until she spoke again. "Kadan." His eyes flicked briefly to her, in question, as he wrote. "We have words for those dear to us as well."
Mahariel slowly unfolded her legs and climbed down from the cot, stretching her legs first, silently, and perched on the floor.
"Lethallin—is to call you my family, to say you are as dear as my clansmen."
She crept a little closer, bare feet gliding across the worn floor, feeling each grain of wood smooth beneath her soles.
"Ma vhenan is to say that you are my heart."
Sten's hand was steady as Mahariel slipped one or two steps forward again. She got the distinct impression he was pretending not to see her.
"Vhenan'ara is to say you are my heart's desire."
She was crouched beside him now, close enough to hear each whisper as the brush glided across the page, close enough to smell the sun-warm of his skin, the faintest traces of the tea they had taken for supper, the cool breath of steel, even while his armor was placed neatly away for the evening.
"And ma sa'lath is to say you are my one love."
Mahariel extended her hand to gently brush his cheek, but before she could replace it in her lap, Sten put his brush aside, and leaned into her palm. He nuzzled it lightly, a whisper on her skin: "Ma sa'lath, Kadan."