She wasn’t sure that she could make it up the steep path, up the great hill to the great gates of Orzammar. The lead balloon that had been sitting in Dagna’s stomach sunk quietly to her feet, hanging there around her ankles like two great shackles.
In both hands, she held the strange wooden crate. Within, pillows of velvet and silk cradled the ancient sword that she had intended on returning to the dwarves. While on the journey from Antiva City to Ferelden, she was able to speak to a few scholars who aided her in dating the sword. It did, indeed, date from before the birth of Andraste. Countless fingers had held the weapon, and perhaps it had been used in battle, as indicated by the nicks and notches upon the blade itself. But that blade still held a knife’s edge – gloriously sharp, capable of cutting the silk cloth that kept away most of the dust and all of the sunlight.
Zevran had filled silences with jokes and stories when Dagna needed them the most. But, in the same token, he had a keen instinct that Dagna saw nothing less as an inborn talent – the ability to read her emotions, and the knowledge of when to let her talk, or to remain silent and let her steep in decades of memory.
Now, he spoke. Now, he placed a hand on her shoulder. “I think the past is waiting for you,” he said softly.
The past. It was an odd thing to say from a man that could be poetic and crude in one breath. Dagna raised her head and stared at the winding path before her, at the tufts of snow that clung to patches of bright green grass and the branches of great white pine trees.
It was then that she saw her parents standing next to one of those trees. They were there, standing as if in her memories, as if they were alive again, each clad in a suit of armor made with their own hands. They didn’t frown. They didn’t judge her. They just smiled.
“Don’t be scared, little one,” said her father in the deep voice she remembered, in that voice that she still held dear. “We’re here for you. All of us are.”
“We will stay with you,” her mother said.
“’We’?” Dagna asked softly. She wondered if Zevran would think that she was talking to herself. She wondered if she, at last, had exchanged fear for the comforts of memory that could be touched and seen. “Who?”
Then, from the snow itself, from air filled with the promise of spring and the chill of a winter at its end, she heard thousands of voices rise up in a cheer, and then, all at once, she saw them. Not just her parents, but thousands – dwarves standing all together, dwarves in old and new armor and clothing, some wielding forgotten weapons, some with swords and some with devices long lost in the Deep Roads.
A man clad in a smith’s apron, yet appearing as if he had stepped out of one of Dagna’s childhood history books, stepped forward. His bearded face beamed brightly. “I greet you, Dagna,” he said. “I am Caridin. On behalf of the smiths, old and young, and the Paragons, we welcome you and Yusaris back to Orzammar.”
“Paragon Caridin.” Dagna’s voice shook as her eyes moved from his face to those of the people around him – the other Paragons, the other smiths, her parents – she recognized their faces from drawings on stone and on parchment. The lost members of the fallen House Branka. Cardash. They held hammers and with them, they saluted her. “I don’t know what to say. I…” Her voice faltered.
“Say nothing, my love.” A familiar voice touched Dagna’s ears. “Know that we honor you for all that you have done. Know that we are with you.”
“Sigrun.” Tears filled Dagna’s eyes as she turned, looking at the ghostly form of her beloved – no, not just Sigrun, but the countless Legion of the Dead soldiers that stood at her back. The fear melted away from her even as the snow melted around Dagna’s own worn boots.
“Come. Let’s go to the gates together. One last journey.” Sigrun moved to Dagna’s side, still smiling softly as her own ghostly gaze looked where Dagna looked, over the faces of the men and women that had served with her.
“One last journey.” Now, the tears spilled over and onto Dagna’s cheeks.
Then, there was a new voice – a human voice, a woman’s voice, that shouted a command that broke through the frosty day: “GREY WARDENS! AT ATTENTION!”
In the same manner that the countless dwarves appeared from the Stone itself, now an army of many races combined suddenly appeared – all in their bright blue uniforms with the austere grey armor emblazoned with a rampant gryphon. At their head stood the shimmering forms of King Alistair and the Warden-Commander herself.
“PRESENT ARMS!” The Warden-Commander shouted.
All at once, all of them – all of the ghosts of Wardens Dagna had known and those that she had not, saluted her, along with the legendary Heroine of Ferelden.
A chuckle rose up from next to Dagna, and she almost jumped. She had forgotten that Zevran was there. “Ah, my love,” he murmured, his voice breaking. “You never fail to make a dramatic entrance at precisely the right time.”
“Officers.” A grin at the corners of her mouth threatened to break the Warden’s stony expression. “Let us accompany Dagna to the gates. Your Majesty, will you come with us?”
“Are you kidding me?” There was serenity and joviality in King Alistair’s voice as he looked down at Dagna. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
Dagna recognized some of the men and women that joined her – she knew Velanna from drawings, and Nathaniel Howe’s beaked nose and long raven hair from his sister’s descriptions and letters. The ghostly form of Oghren winked at her as he fell in behind her, moving in step as Dagna walked.
Then, from behind Dagna, the Warden-Commander’s voice said sharply, “You too, Anders. You were one of my officers before you buggered off.”
From the ghostly ranks of the Wardens, Anders stepped forward. Dagna had to study the shimmering face for a moment to even recognize him – she knew the sad brown eyes, the prominent nose, and the head of thick blond hair. He had already been taken by his transformation by the time the two met. Now, standing there in his uniform, his staff in his hand, he looked regal, almost handsome. He looked peaceful, watching as Irving silently joined him, as did Karl.
Dagna smiled at Anders, tears still flowing, blurring her vision as she resumed walking. The hill no longer seemed so steep. The journey no longer seemed so long or so tiring.
Then, even as she reached the great set of stairs that stood solid in the ancient stone, paving the way into the great mountain, she saw a figure in a Tevinter Army uniform give her a snapping salute. Lucius. Lucius stood next to his beloved wife, both of them looking young and filled with life even in death. Lucius stepped forward toward her, looking down at her with that look that she missed so much – so kindly and fatherly.
“Whenever you connect the past and the future,” he told her, “whenever you remind us of the strength of those that have come before, we will be with you. We are never gone.”
She nodded her head silently. She knew that she could say nothing, for if she attempted to open her lips, sobs of joy would spill out.
Instead, Dagna ascended the steps, moving past the many vendors that stood at the gates, uncertain if they could see this great army of memory at her back. She didn’t care. She had but one goal in mind, and that was to restore a legend to a place where it would never go forgotten, where it would never rust, where the memories of countless Shapers could instantly summon up its legacy.
And then, there she was, at the gates of the city that she had once called home. She had left those gates with only her dreams and her pack. Now, she carried a legend in her arms, and walked with legends at her back. She looked the guards directly in the eyes – without fear of rejection and without the burden of the past.
“I am Dagna of the Tevinter Imperium,” she told them. “I have a present for King Bhelen. It’s a piece of our history.”