Summary: Anders' relationship to language is about as complicated as his relationship to everything else. Dedicated to zeitheist, who gave me the initial idea and encouraged the thinky thoughts.
Anders' earliest memories are of mountains cupping the sky like fingers, and a cold so keen it makes his mouth water. A waved goodbye in a little town that's half in one country and half in another. Carts, rumbling along a track, his mother's lap and the trees shading from green to brown as they come to a strange land where the people don't speak but bark like dogs. Their words are small and new, and pass by too quickly to copy. It doesn't matter, though, because he can talk with his family about these dog people. It's the best thing in the world: a secret that only they can share.
Back then, secrets were fun. That's how young he was.
He doesn't remember why they left, only that they did, and that whatever his father had hoped he would find in Ferelden wasn't there. Within a few weeks, he's back to being angry and they're marooned, lapped all round by this world that none of them really understand. Anders (only he isn't really Anders, not back then) watches his parents fight with the abandon that their foreigness provides, and struggles to remember how they behaved when the world could understand them.
By then, their son has a secret of his own, and this one isn't half as fun.
He's Anders before he really knows what the word means. There's other things to focus on, anyway. It's the small discomforts that are felt the most, somehow: being the oldest child in a class, the back of his neck prickling with hot shame as he stands head-and-shoulders taller than the other pupils learning the first elements of spellcraft, is a feeling Anders will relive for a long while.
Never mind that he doesn't know the right words for cup and book and table, or if he does, he can barely make himself understood. Never mind that he still forgets himself and asks for things with the wrong words, and they laugh at him. Never mind that he's so focused on getting the language right that he wakes up one day and realises that he can't remember what his parents looked like. He thinks, hard, panicking a little bit, but all that comes with father is tall, angry (and that could be any one of the templars that can't pronounce his name) and mother is just a feeling, warmth and a hand tangled in soft blonde hair. It takes him half a day to realise that he thought those things in the wrong tongue.
One more name that he doesn't know the meaning of makes very little difference in the face of all that. He can be Anders while he's trying to work out what 'mage' means, and work from there.
It's the dead of winter on the Wounded Coast. Hawke shivers inside his ratty furs, and Aveline's armour is like ice to the touch. Anders himself doesn't feel the cold as he used to. Maybe it's just the magic inside him, or maybe it's Justice. It's not worth thinking about, anyway- a distraction shrugged off with the weather.
They come on the raiders hiding in the old Tal-vashoth caves, out where the smugglers make their home. Hawke's following a lead from a woman who knows a man who knows a man who's seen blood out on the rocks- the usual, if it can ever be called that. They meet the standard amount of resistance. It's over in about ten minutes. Aveline flicks the blood from her sword with a practised motion, and Hawke straightens from his stance, twirls the staff in his hand (a touch of unconscious theatricality), and moves with an eager look to the crates stacked in the corner.
It's then that they see him, crouched in the shadows thrown by the crates and chained to the wall.
Seeing them, he yelps a few disjointed words and scrabbles backwards as far as the wall will allow.
Hawke frowns before a spark of recognition sets in.
"Hey, calm down." he drops his staff and kneels. "My name is Hawke."
The man shivers, coughs some more strange sounds and hides his face.
"Anders!" Hawke calls over the other mage, his eyes still on the prisoner. "One of yours, I think."
Anders looks at the man- chained and dirty, eyes wide and white like a frightened animal- and he's struck dumb. The man rattles off a sentence. One word in ten is familiar, just about, but all Anders can say in return is sorry.
"I'm not Ferelden." Anders explains again, on another jaunt behind the Warden-Commander. "Not originally."
"You look the same as the rest of them." Justice points out. "You're not an elf, or a dwarf."
"I know." It's the fourth or fifth time they've had this conversation, and it's beginning to lose its novelty. Nathaniel is smirking, Anders is sure of it, that beak of a nose wrinkling just so. "I'm prettier than a dwarf, for a start."
"And this is another kind of difference from being a mage."
"Yes. Nobody locks you up in a tower for being from the Anderfels." Anders pauses. "Unless this has all been a huge misunderstanding, in which case I feel extremely embarrassed."
Justice frowns, too-tight flesh straining under the helmet, and falls silent. Anders sighs. How do you explain language to a spirit who had, until lately, communicated with emotion and impulse?
"It doesn't matter, anyway." the mage lashes out with his staff at a clump of grass, just for the diversion. "I grew up Ferelden, or as Ferelden as you can be inside the Circle."
"So why is your name still Anders?" asks Justice, who is, after all, all that his name implies and will be for ever more. Anders shrugs, the movement burying anything more profound he might have said.
"It's in all my underwear."
The night after the Wounded Coast Anders dreams of cold so pure it makes his mouth water, and mountains that cup the sky like fingers. Vengeance stirs inside him in confusion- this is new, this dream, and it makes the Fade foreign and unfamiliar. It's not much freedom, but Anders had always been good at finding little bits of escape.