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If the Warden is Dalish...
When the children of our people came of age, they earn the privilege of wearing the vallaslin, the blood writing. It sets us apart from the shemlen, and from the elves who have thrown their lot in with them. It reminds us that we will never again surrender our traditions and beliefs.
The ritual deserves great reverence. The one who is to gain the vallaslin must prepare by meditating on the gods and the ways of our people, and by purifying the body and the skin. When the time comes, the keeper of the clan applies the blood writing. This is done in complete silence. Cries of pain are signs of weakness. If one cannot tolerate the pain of the blood writing, they are not ready to undertake the responsibilities of an adult. The keeper may stop the ritual if they decide that the one gaining the vallaslin is not ready. There is no shame in this, for all children are different, and our ancestors once took centuries to come of age.
--As told by Gisharel, keeper of the Ralaferin clan of the Dalish elves.
If the Warden is not Dalish or in Dragon Age II...
After my encounter with the Dalish elves on the road to Nevarra, I studied every book on the elves I could find. I sought out legends and myths and history and tried to make sense of it all. But there is only so much one can learn from books. I knew that in order to truly understand the Dalish, I would have to seek them out--a dreadful idea, in hindsight. In my defense, I was young--and also inebriated when the idea popped into my head. Unfortunately, even after I had regained some measure of sobriety, the idea still held appeal. It proved remarkably resistant to my attempts to ignore it.
I gave in after months of that nagging thought at the back of my head and set out to learn about the Dalish first-hand. I tramped through the forests bordering Orlais for weeks before I finally found--or was found by--a Dalish hunter. I stumbled into one of his traps and suddenly was hanging from a tree with a rope about my ankles.
So there I was, defenseless, upside down with my robe over my head, my underclothes on display. Descriptions of my predicament might elicit laughter these days, but trust me when I say it was a situation I would not wish on anyone. Thankfully, my ridiculous appearance may have caused my captor to stay his hand--what threat is a silly human with his pants showing?
And so he sat, made a small fire, and began to skin the deer he had caught. I soon mustered the courage to speak. I tried to assure him that I was not there to harm him--but he laughed at this and replied that if I were there to harm him, I had failed terribly. Eventually we got to talking, and when I say talking, I mean that I asked him questions, and occasionally he would deign to answer.
He told me that while some Dalish actively seek out human travelers to rob or frighten, most of his people would rather be left alone. He seemed to believe that punishing the humans for past actions only led to more violence. I asked him about the intricate tattoos on his face; he told me they were called vallaslin--"blood writing." His were symbols of Andruil the Huntress, one of the most highly revered elven goddesses. He said the Dalish mark themselves to stand out from humans and from those of their kin who have chosen to live under human rule. He said the vallaslin remind his people that they must never again surrender their beliefs.
When he finished skinning the deer, he cut me down. By the time I had righted myself and conquered the dizziness of all the blood rushing out of my head, he was gone.
I do not recommend that my readers seek out the Dalish for themselves. I was very lucky to have met the man that I did, and to have walked away from our meeting unscathed. Perhaps the Maker watches over those who seek knowledge with an open heart; I certainly would like to think so.
--From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of A Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi