Saelyn found comfort in the stars, particularly the constellations. Keeper Istimaethoriel indulged her occasionally by telling her the elven names of the ones over the Free Marches, and she begged Hahren Valen to tell her stories about how the constellations came to be so often he wrote it down for her in a book. The stars here in the south of Ferelden were only slightly different from those she could see in the Free Marches. Most of them were familiar but they rose differently in the sky than further north. There were a handful on the western horizon that she didn’t recognize and she was grateful that one of the few books the clerks had rescued from Haven had been a book on maps of the sky. Sister Juliana had happily allowed her to borrow any book from the rescued pile she wanted, even suggesting a few titles. While Saelyn still hated being called Herald, it did have its advantages.
At night, after weary days of trudging through calf-deep snow and trying to keep Inquisition spirits up as they headed for some unknown abandoned stronghold, Saelyn always tried to find a private spot by a campfire to read where no one would disturb her. It didn’t always work, but tonight there didn’t appear to be any arguments she had to mediate or carts to inspect and she was going to take advantage of the quiet while she could. Book in her lap and with a beautifully clear sky above, Saelyn settled down on a makeshift bench by her cart to see if she could finally learn the name of the constellation that had just appeared in the west. She heard crunching snow behind her and crouched lower into her book, hoping whoever it was would get the hint and leave her in peace for a moment. “Saelyn?”
Blackwall. He would leave her in peace if she asked, but she hadn’t had a chance to speak with him all day. She flashed him a smile over her shoulder and cleared a space beside her on the bench, putting the book aside for now.
He sat and handed her a bowl of steaming stew. “Lady Josephine was worried you hadn't eaten,” he said by way of explanation.
“Ma ser- Thanks.” Saelyn took the bowl and eagerly dove in. She made a face as the stew was much too hot and quickly swallowed a burning mouthful, fanning her face and throat with her hands. It never did any good, but it made her feel better.
Blackwall chuckled. “Should I have warned you it was hot?”
“I wouldn't have listened,” she said, blowing on the next spoonful. She noticed his hands were empty now. “Did you eat already?”
“With the others. I figured I'd grab you a bowl before Sera ate it all.” He shook his head. “I don't know how she can eat so much. Or where she puts it.”
“She must have three stomachs. Like the druffalo.” Saelyn took another bite, this one much cooler. “Between her and Bull, we'll need to kill one of those if we don't reach the stronghold soon.”
“Don't worry. We'll be sure to give you Broody's hide when we kill her.”
Saelyn mock glared at him. Broody was one of her favorite druffalo. Her affection for the smelly creatures had baffled some of the others, but she liked druffalo. They reminded her of halla and home. And they didn't hum the Chant of Light whenever she passed them. “You do and I'll see to it you pull my wagon. Put those muscles to good use.”
Blackwall laughed, this one reaching his eyes. He didn't laugh often; there was a reason most people considered him the brooder of Saelyn’s group. When Saelyn learned that she could push away the aura of sadness that surrounded him, she joked as often as she could. It was worth it to see his eyes sparkle with something other than sadness for a time. That and occasionally when he looked at her, as he did now, there was a spark of something that warmed her heart, even if it made her even more self-conscious than being the Herald.
Before she could say anything more, he looked away, up at the sky. “The stars here are brighter than any I've ever seen,” he said, his hands gripping his knees.
“It must be the mountain air,” Saelyn replied. “I always studied the sky at night but I’ve never been able to see all the constellations like this before.”
“Constellations? Like those pictures in that strange globe we found in the Hinterlands?”
She looked at him in surprise. “You never learned how to look at pictures in the stars?”
He shrugged. “My parents were practical people. So was…” He stopped abruptly.
“No one.” His tone indicated that part of the conversation was over and Saelyn took a bite of stew to prevent another question. Another reference to the past he wouldn’t tell her about. She never pressed as it obviously pained him, but it left her insanely curious. “So, tell me about these pictures in the sky,” he said, probably hoping she would forget about his momentary lapse.
“See there?” she pointed off to the right. “That's Era'harel, though you humans call it Draconis because it looks like a dragon.”
Blackwall squinted. “How do you see that?”
“Look here,” Saelyn put her stew down and picked the book back up. She scooted closer to him, balancing the book between them and pointing at the stars. “See this? That's the tail. Look to the right up there- you'll see it.”
He looked, then chuckled. “Well I’ll be. I do see it.”
“See that cluster of stars, to the left? That's Aravel, but you call it Peraquialus which means ‘Voyager.’”
“And you learned all this from this book?” He leaned over to get a closer look at the book, his beard brushing her cheek. She was suddenly aware of just how close she was to him; her arm pressed against his with only the furs separating them. And very aware that not only did she not mind, she was a little disappointed the fur was separating them.
Hoping he wouldn't notice, she pointed out another constellation, this one almost a triangle shape. “That one there? That's Mi'durgen, the diamond.”
“It almost looks like the one on your chin.”
“My chin?” Saelyn turned her head to face him.
“Those.” He gently traced the trio of moles on her chin. Saelyn knew the warmth flooding her face wasn’t due to the fire and the touch of his skin on hers was soft. Their eyes met again and their noses almost touched. She had often wondered what it would be like to kiss him; she wondered whether she should try it now.
“Lady Herald? I- oh!”
Blackwall pulled back at the interruption, studying the fire with great interest and gripping his knees tightly again. Flooded with disappointment, Saelyn turned to whomever was interrupting her and snapped, “Yes?”
The poor man looked extremely uncomfortable as he shuffled his feet in the snow. “I’m sorry to interrupt but Lady Cassandra is looking for you. She says it’s important.”
“I'd better make sure Sera and Bull haven't eaten all our dinner,” Blackwall stood abruptly, not looking at her. “You might want to finish that,” he gestured at her barely touched stew. “I don't want to get in trouble for our Herald starving.”
Wincing inwardly at the sudden formality, Saelyn nodded. “Yes, sir,” she mock-saluted, a smile playing on her lips. He barely looked at her as he turned and headed away. The night suddenly seemed much cooler despite the roaring fire. Saelyn took a deep breath, then placed the book down on the bench. “Let’s go,” she said to the young man, grabbing her bowl of stew. When his back was turned, Saelyn touched the moles on her chin and smiled. “Mi'durgen,” she murmured fondly, then headed to see what Cassandra wanted.