Ataash regarded the other woman from across the table. Regard was a polite way of putting it: she was staring. She knew she was staring and yet she couldn’t stop. Granted most of her life had been spent moving between different Vasoth and Tal-Vashoth mercenary groups, so her interactions with non-Qunari (bas, her parents had called them. Not out of rudeness-they just hadn’t known any other word) had been limited, but still, she had never met anyone like Sera in her life. It wasn’t that she was an elf, she’d met a handful before, but everything from the way she spoke to her quick and wicked smile made Ataash blush for reasons she knew but struggled to articulate.
“So,” said Sera, forcing Ataash to focus and shift her gaze away guiltily. Far from angry though Sera seemed delighted, that quick grin flashing across her face again. “You have a name right? One that’s not Herold-or Harold, hah-or glowy or all that. Easy to lose your names in shit like this, but you shouldn’t. Names make you real. Titles make you lose your breeches.”
The question startled Ataash, though there was no reason for it to. What Sera said was true, already she was Adaar sometimes, or My Lady Herald more often. It was unnerving to say the least. Nicknames she could deal with, she’d had plenty before, but this was different. These had weight behind them. An army behind that.
“Ash,” she said after a moment or two, blushing again at her slow response. “That is-well-most people here call me Ash-it’s easier than-it’s easier,” she stuttered out, cursing her halting speech. She felt huge and clumsy in the tavern full of humans and elves. Their table was at the back and she had to lean forward slightly so that her horns didn’t scrape the wall behind her. The chatter around her was indistinguishable, the bards song occasionally weaving in and out. She missed the forests and quiet places she’d always called home. Yet she’d sought the tavern out, sought Sera out, and had no intention on moving. Not unless she made such a fool of herself that she had to.
“Well that’s shite,” said Sera, like a challenge. Ataash blinked at her.
“I’m…sorry?” she didn’t know if she was asking for clarification or apologising. Maybe both.
“If Ash is you, great, but if it’s not-?” she blew a raspberry and put her thumb down. Ataash giggled despite herself and blushed all the harder for it. “People shouldn’t call you stuff that’s easier, they should call you stuff that’s you. If you’re Ash, then it’s all good innit? But if you don’t feel Ash then it’s shite, people should learn-call you what you like not what makes them sleep easy.”
Oh. It was strange to hear something so important in the middle of a tavern from a woman she’d met only a day before in a dark courtyard. It was true though. Ash was what she used around humans and often around elves, dwarves too if she counted Varric, though he was the only one she’d ever met. It had been the advice of one of her colleagues. Qunlat names didn’t get much work in the south, and besides, he’d added, they’d only butcher the pronunciations.
“Qunlat makes people nervous,” Ataash manages eventually, “I didn’t-I mean. They thought I was a criminal when Cassandra first met me and stuff. I didn’t want to make things worse.”
Sera nodded, before leaning forward with her elbows against the table and her chin resting on her hands.
“You don’t have to tell me, but I say fuck people. If you like your name it’s yours, and being weird is their problem.”
“Ataash,” she said almost before Sera had finished speaking, startling them both. “My name’s Ataash Hissera Adaar,” Glory Hope Weapon. It was a name that caused no end of gentle ribbing in the past, but it was hers. It was a gift from her parents, so fresh from Par Vollen that they barely understood what it was to have a name, but knew beyond all else that they loved their child. She could still remember the affection with which they’d said it. The way that they both insisted on calling her Ataash Hissera, never just one or the other. Her heart ached. If Sera found it strange, she didn’t say anything. Instead she repeated it
“Ataash Hissera Adaar,” her pronunciation clumsy before she adjusted the emphasis slightly. “Ataash Hissera Adaar, is that right-I want to say it properly.”
Her voice was so earnest, the Qunlat words no doubt strange on her tongue but there was a line of concentration between her eyebrows. As if this was important to her. As if she’d keep working at it all night if she had to. The ache in Ataash’s chest was replaced with something else, and she grinned so wide that her cheeks ached with it. “That’s perfect.”
A week or so later a Ferelden noble came to Haven. Ataash knew at once that she was the first Qunari he’d ever met, she could see it in the stiffness of his shoulders, the strain of his smile.
“My Lady Herald-“ he began, but before he could get any further Ataash held up her hand, surprising herself with her boldness but refusing to falter even a moment.
“Please,” she said, a smile in her voice, “call me Ataash.”