Chapter 1: Prologue
Of Heroes and Champions
When the Warden-Commander of Ferelden hears the news of his death she is stunned silent for less than a minute before she starts to cry. Sitting at her desk with a handful of wardens scuttling around the complex outside her door, she doesn’t even bother hiding her anguished sobs; she buries her head in her arms instead.
Her right hand crumples the letter she’s received from Leliana she lets it fall to the floor. She pulls her arms in tighter and is frozen with her grief. One more compatriot fallen; one more friend committed to the hands of the Maker and gone from Thedas forever. She wishes she were home in Denerim; that she could crawl into bed with her husband and continue to cry out this loss.
But, she is alone. Elissa Theirin nee Cousland, Queen of Ferelden and Commander of the Grey, allows herself just moments that turn to longer minutes to grieve for Anders. It has been ten years since Anders received his transfer orders and was taken off to Weisshaupt. Ten years since she kissed his cheek and hugged him tight and told him to write as often as he could.
A whole decade of long and somewhat boring years spent between Amaranthine and Denerim without a sassy comment to lift her spirits after particularly bloody days. She thinks this is why it hurts so much. He never wrote before the incident with the cat and after, on the run, she never expected he would drop her a line to say hello.
And now he’s dead from causes yet unknown.
On the floor, the crumpled note rests and waits for her to finish it. She does, wiping the tears from her eyes and straightening out the paper. Her eyes widen at the description of the Chantry explosion and the subsequent fallout. She checks the date.
Just over a week ago Anders blew the Kirkwall Chantry sky high with the Grand Cleric inside. A cold steals over her at the description of the devastation and she wonders how she hasn’t heard of this before. She’s got tendrils in every major city on the continent and beyond these days. Alistair can’t know or he would have sent word. So how is it that Leliana knew and she did not? Who has informed Leliana? Surely the bard wasn’t present or she would have stopped Anders. This smacks of a cover-up and Elissa can’t even comprehend who would have the power to keep an incident like this from leaving Kirkwall and the Chantry itself.
She notes that the cause of Anders’ death is significantly absent. The bard does not share who killed him, only the eventual outcome. Kirkwall in flames and Anders dead on the steps of the city.
Elissa has heard of the troubles in Kirkwall; Alistair had come home with worrying stories. The cold and unforgiving Knight Commander he’d described had made her shudder and had almost reminded her of Loghain. No, not Loghain. She’d been reminded of Howe. Power-crazed and uncontrollable Howe who knew no end to his own depravity. Leliana makes a passing remark in the letter about the Knight Commander meeting an unfortunate end at the blade of the Champion of Kirkwall.
There will be very serious repercussions throughout Thedas. She has absolutely no uncertainties about this and this is disturbing to her. Alistair has been grumbling about the problems with Orlais for almost a year now and after that close call in Antiva . . . Elissa knows. She knows that this situation will bring war.
She is desperate to prevent this though. She has lost and fought and rebuilt from one war. The war to end all wars, so they’d all thought. She cannot even envisage, now after only a few summers of true peace in Ferelden, doing it all over again.
There’s a burning in her stomach. She can recognize this familiar twist of anxiety and she makes the choice. She needs to find out what happened to Anders and the Chantry and find out how she can fix this problem before it destroys everything.
She folds up Leliana’s note. It contains the names of key players in the incident. First Enchanter Orsino, driven mad with desperation. Knight Captain Cullen, holding his own men back from aiding his commanding officer. Knight Commander Meredith, slaughtered on the steps of the templar headquarters. And Marian Hawke, the Champion. She thinks back on the pleasant description Alistair had provided of the woman, Hawke; she plans.
It is a matter of moments before Elissa has collected a few necessary items. Not even bothering to pen a note to Alistair, to let him know she’s off on another adventure, she locks her office door behind her. She has some travel arrangements to make.
Chapter 2: Into Kirkwall
Chapter One: Into Kirkwall
Despite the fact that Marian Hawke had actively lobbied for the job of Kirkwall’s Viscount for years she had not anticipated that it would be such a taxing job. She saw only the chance to make Kirkwall a place where her family and friends could be safe. She should have known better, though. She’d spent seven years navigating the muddled world of the aristocracy. The fact that she’s so blown away by their idiocy is a sharp reminded that she never expected . . . this.
She nods mindlessly at the latest complaint the Magister is detailing and wishes she could tell him to go shove his concerns; they’re petty and irrelevant considering the larger issues. More importantly she is becoming bored. It must show on her face because the Magister speaks with more vehemence now, punctuating his argument with loud words and angry gestures. How can he possibly be so concerned with the state of his gardens in the wake of the mage revolt when there are starving masses just past the stairs of Hightown? With a wave of her hand she curtly tells the Magister that in order for these problems to be solved she needs time and patience. She reminds him that she’s only been Viscountess for a month and she is no magician.
The Magister is surely upset and she cares little. The man leaves her office in a huff while behind him Marian’s head hits the desk, hard, in exasperation. This day’s list of problems is mind-numbingly moronic. She hears the Magister’s frustrated yelling about her ineptitude as he quits the outer office and she can’t help but release the sigh of irritation that escapes.
She takes a deep breath and reminds herself that she wanted this job badly.
The door to her office is pulled shut and her head snaps up at the sound.
“Sounds like dissent in the ranks.”
There is a woman standing in her presence. A stranger, covered almost entirely with a cloak yet obviously dressed in armor. The hood is pulled up and hides most of the woman’s features but Marian can see the gold of her hair and can see the intensity of the blue eyes that watch her.
The two stare each other down for a moment before the woman laughs, ruefully, and steps farther into Marian’s office. There are blades at the stranger’s back, two of them. Marian is instantly on guard and her hand creeps to the single blade she keeps tied to her belt. This visitor has the clear look of an assassin about her and Marian is trying to think of who she’s made angry enough to try to kill her.
When she draws back the hood Marian is instantly struck by the scars on the woman’s face. They are faint and delicate, old yet still obvious wounds. There is a noble air about her though and Marian changes her original assumption. This woman is no assassin. She loosens her grip on her blade.
“You don’t look like my assistant. Mostly because you’re a woman. And not a dwarf.”
The woman laughs again, a low husky sound that sends shivers down Marian’s spine. How did she not notice the hint of darkness in the stranger’s voice? The woman moves to the chair opposite the desk and sinks gracefully into the cushion. Her body is relaxed and Marian feels no threat. Yet, something tells her that she would be given a run for her money should the two of them to cross blades.
“I sent word ahead that I would be arriving. I’m your delegate from Ferelden.”
Marian leans forward, elbows on the desk. She had, indeed, received a missive not a day before that the Ferelden Crown would be sending someone to discuss the incident with Anders and the Chantry. She’d cursed upon receiving it, hoping that Varric’s cunning plot to conceal the whole ordeal would have seen them through the end of next month. Next month, when the dwarf had insisted that the lies he’d been trying to construct about the explosion would have been convincing enough to reveal to the world.
She should have known that this whole fiasco couldn’t have been hidden. She examines the woman’s face, looking for any distinguishing features. The letter hadn’t mentioned who’d be coming. From this distance she can see that there are rings of red around the otherwise flawless blue irises of her guest’s eyes; the Taint. She inhales sharply. A Grey Warden then.
A blond, female Grey Warden with the air of nobility.
“You’re the bloody Queen!” Marian is panicked for a second. Should she bow? Get down on one knee? Curtsey. Maker she’s bad at that. She blinks away the worry on her face when she realizes that the Queen is smiling at her. Smiling! Then it hits her.
So far as Thedas is concerned she’s the bloody Queen of Kirkwall. For all intents and purposes. She’s amazed she hasn’t thought of this before. She takes a calming breath and smiles gracefully. She might be out of her element with all this decorum and stuff but she’s faced down everything from blood mages to the Arishok.
She can handle this.
“Sorry about that. I wasn’t expecting you, Highness.” She leans up and extends a hand. “Viscountess Marian Hawke. Call me Marian. What can I help you with?”
The Queen smiles and rises as well. Their hands meet and the shake is strong. “Queen Elissa Theirin. Call me Elissa.” She knows the general purpose of this visit. She’s got an exploded Chantry on her hands. Why shouldn’t other realms be concerned? There’s a good chance, given Elissa’s day job, that she might be here about her dead warden as well.
Elissa shifts and adjusts her chest plate. “As my letter indicated, I’m here to investigate but not entirely as royalty.” Marian narrows her eyes in confusion. “I’m here about my dead warden. I’m here to find out what happened to him so I can send word back to the Wardens. From what I understand Anders was a friend of yours and I’m hoping you can help me.”
There’s something about the way Elissa says my dead warden. It sounds a little sad but mostly angry. Angry at what? Marian doesn’t have a clue.
“I’m afraid I don’t have time to detail all the circumstances surrounding the death of Anders but I’ve got an official report you can read over if you’d like.” This seems like as good an offer as any.
The name still strikes pain in her chest when she hears it but the hurt isn’t as debilitating as it had been a month ago. She’d been an understandable mess and it’d taken more than one concerned friend dragging her up from despair to get out of her funk for a long time. She’s better, but not so much that she doesn’t feel like utter shit at the mention his name even now.
She tries not to think about her memories of him; her eyes squeezes shut, hoping to push the thoughts away. She can’t help it though. She can still feel his smile against her hair and his declarations of love before everything had gone sideways. Before the betrayal and the lying and the dying. Sometimes she can’t tell the difference between her memory of him whispering his concerns after they’d made love and the whispered conviction he’d pushed out before Marian had slid her dagger between his ribs.
“Are you alright?”
She opens her eyes and raises her gaze. There is confusion on the warden’s face. And there is concern as well. Marian nods. “Yes. It’s only been a month; things are still a little insane here.” She opens her top drawer and withdraws a familiar red scroll, her official report. “Here. If you have any questions after you read it I’ll be more than happy to answer them. I’ve arranged for lodgings here in the Keep for you. Roomy but probably not what you’re used to.”
She doesn’t mean for her tone to be dismissive but it is. She can taste the bitter sadness she’s gotten adept at ignoring over the past weeks building. The tears will come. She doesn’t want the damned Queen of Ferelden here when they do.
As if she knows what’s to come, the Queen stands. “I’ll speak with your Seneschal then. The grumpy red head outside, correct?”
Marian chuckles; the laugh is a little wet sounding. “Bran. His name is Bran. He’ll be able to get you and any staff you brought settled.”
“Just me, I’m afraid. I was in a bit of a rush to get here. I’ll leave you. Can we meet tomorrow, perhaps? To discuss everything?”
“Yes.” She nods absently, thinking about her busy schedule. “Bran will know when will be best.” She stands and gives a short bow which Elissa returns. They are both exemplary figures of a roguish sort and Marian thinks she could be easy friends with the Queen. As soon as she can keep her run away emotions in check, that is. “Good day, Elissa.”
When the Queen returns her sentiments and turns, Marian collapses back into her chair and covers her face with her hands. No amount of calm breathing can stem the flow of tears but they’re not angry tears anymore. Just sad. And tired.
I will imagine that you’ve discovered I’m out on the road again. Garevel means well but sometimes he tends to meddle. I am in Kirkwall, of all places. I received a note from our friend in the Chantry about the goings on in the Free Marches. After your visit to the city I asked her to keep me informed as well as you. I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing here. I need answers but they’re not going to be what I want to hear, I know. But, I need to know.
Anders is dead, my love. Killed after he’d blown the Chantry here to the Maker and beyond.
I met with the Champion of Kirkwall today. I remember how you complimented her after your meeting but I am less impressed. She seems to be over her head in running this city and emotionally unstable. Granted, the streets still burn and it is a mess here; I do not envy her the rebuilding. I’ve contemplated offering my services as someone who has rebuilt her fair share of cities however I do not know if that would help or hurt. I only know that this insurrection of mages will spread quickly across Thedas. So, I suppose my purpose here is two-fold. I had not intended this to become a diplomatic mission but the more I consider it the more I entertain the idea.
I shall start with the templars. The rebuilding of the Order here has yet to begin. The mages are no longer under their control yet the templars maintain their head quarters. I will pay a visit to this Gallows. From what I understand their new Knight Commander is an old friend to the both of us. Perhaps he can explain where Kirkwall had gone wrong with the mages in order to prevent the same from happening in Ferelden and perhaps the whole of Thedas.
I wish I would have had the thought to stop by Denerim and pick you up. It would have been nice to spend a few nights under the stars with you once more. It is imperative, however, that one of us remain in Ferelden for obvious reasons. I hope you will forgive me for leaving without telling you. I couldn’t take the chance that my disappearance from Vigil’s Keep would be noticed by the higher ups within the Wardens. It would look poorly in the Anderfels, and Orlais, if I am seen meddling here but I cannot help myself. You know I can never keep myself from a good mystery and I have the feeling that getting to the bottom of the death of Anders will be a good one to unravel. I’m sure you understand. I love you. I miss you. I will be home as soon as this is resolved.
All my love,
Chapter 3: Prologue
Chapter Two: Old Friends
The most striking thing Elissa notes about the Gallows are the statues. There are perhaps a half dozen facing the harbor she sails into. When she departs from her skip they stare down at her menacingly and she thinks that this is a terrible place to keep people. The Circle Tower seems almost beautiful in comparison to the cold and broken stone walls that form this fortress.
She has never been so thankful for her homeland. Steeling herself, she passes the statues and walks the steps up to the courtyard. There is more damage here and she sees that there were once more statues. Large piles of stone with body parts are dotting the courtyard; there’s a small group of men clearing away one of these piles. Their clothes are simple yet they work with determination. Most likely templars then. One is dressed in the armor of the Order and it is this one that she approaches.
The man turns his gaze to her from inside his helmet. “Can I help you, stranger?” He sounds weary.
“I’m looking for Knight-Commander Cullen. Where can I find him?” She keeps her tone friendly but insistent.
The guard looks her up and down. She’s glad she decided to avoid the pomp and circumstance of her commander’s armor. The guard nods to his right. “There’s a set of stairs leading into the Templar Quarters at the end of the courtyard. Up the stairs then the stairs to the left. His is the first office on the right.” The templar looks like he wants to say something more but he pauses. She waits for him to finish.
“If he’s with the First Enchanter I suggest you wait. They have a tendency to throw things.” The templar rolls his shoulder somewhat gingerly and Elissa has the distinct impression he learned this from firsthand experience. She thanks that man and follows his directions easily enough. She’s surprised that she doesn’t run into another templar. The fortress is largely unguarded and she wonders if that’s because of the fighting or it’s always been this poorly manned. No wonder they’d had such an uprising.
These thoughts are not charitable and she tries to remember that mages shouldn’t be kept as animals. She’s seen the horrors of that an oppressive circle can create. She wouldn’t wish the same on anyone, friend or foe.
Cullen’s door is open when she approaches and she can hear strained voices from inside. She remembers the guard’s warning and cautiously pokes her head around the doorframe. Cullen stands at the window behind his desk, looking out. He’s tense; she can actually see the harsh set of his shoulders through his heavy armor. Elissa surmises that it must be the woman that sits on the other side of the desk, talking and gesturing wildly with her hands.
“This is non-negotiable, Cullen. I need to give these kids a sense of order. They’re still waking up crying in the night. They’re terrified anytime they pass a templar and Maker save them if one of the templars actually speaks to them. They need to be somewhere they feel safe and this arrangement with the large sleeping quarters just isn’t cutting it.”
Elissa notes that the woman has a strong voice; authoritative. She has short dark hair and wears simple mage’s robes. She sits casually yet speaks with conviction. If this is the First Enchanter, new First Enchanter, she is a simple yet determined woman. Across the room Cullen’s hands fist at his sides before relaxing then clenching again. “I can’t just let twelve mages leave the Circle. I don’t care if they’re having nightmares. It would be logistically impossible! I’m having a hard enough time keeping a guard on you and your cousin in Hightown without the added manpower to watch a bunch of children around the-“
Cullen turns and sees her, immediately. His jaw drops in surprise and for a second he looks absolutely terrified. Just like he did the day she rescued him from Kinloch Hold. Many years and miles have passed between the two of them and he recovers quicker than she thought he would. “ . . . Warden Cousland.”
The mage also turns to follow Cullen’s stare so quickly that she practically jumps from her chair. For now, Elissa gives Cullen a smile. “Ser Cullen. It’s pleasant to see you again, and in such an elevated position. The years have clearly been kind.” It’s not the best thing to say considering the circumstances but she feels as though she can say this, in jest.
She notes his jaw clenching. “As they have also been for you, Highness.”
She is suddenly sure they are engaged in a two-faced dance with some strange steps and she thinks he’s disarmingly handsome when he’s attempting to look tough. She’s always had this strange thing for the templars.
“I was hoping to have a moment of your time. I’m not disturbing anything, am I?” She knows she is but she just doesn’t care. She looks to the First Enchanter, who has stood and is looking at her with caution. Something about the mage looks familiar; she has a very striking similarity in facial features with the Viscountess and Elissa is willing to bet the two are related somehow.
“Can we resume this later in the afternoon, First Enchanter Solona?” Cullen does not look pleased but asks for the mage’s pardon with the tilt of his head.
“Yeah, that’s okay. I’ve got loads of stuff to do, anyway.” Gone is the strong and determined voice Elissa had admired. In its place is a simpering tone that sounds almost grating. Elissa frowns. “Send along Lovell when you’re free Knight Commander.” The mage nods to both of them before walking out and across the hall. Elissa glances back and notes that the office across the hall must be the First Enchanter’s. The wood shuts crisply behind the other woman and Elissa’s eyes return to Cullen. He is still staring at the door across from his.
“You seem at ease with mages now, Ser Cullen. A vast improvement from when we met last, don’t you think?” She drops into the chair just vacated and kicks her feet up onto his desk. She remembers two Cullens, actually. The first was trapped behind that magical barrier and was nearly insane when she’d killed Uldred and freed him. That was eleven years ago when she’d first been to the Circle Tower. The second Cullen she’d met was just a year later after the final battle. His eyes had been battle hard and he’d growled at her when she’d greeted him. He seems to be much recovered though.
Cullen takes his seat but does not bother to push her feet off his desk. “Many things change given the chance. This is one that is for the better.” It’s clear from the way that he watches her that he is just dying to find out why in the Fade she’s here. “Have you been in the city long?”
Elissa shakes her head. “Hours at most. I went to see the Viscountess as soon as I could. She seems like an interesting woman. Have you dealt with her much?”
“Closely since she became a person of import in the city. She’s a good leader. Had to make some tough decisions. Hawke is the reason why the Rights of Annulment were never fully carried out.” He trails off as though he has more to say on the matter. She waits for him to continue but he does not. Rather, he changes the topic. “I imagine you’re here about Anders and his little spectacle.”
“Little doesn’t really seem to begin to cover it, does it? This is a critical moment, Cullen. We both know that. What I also need to know is how it happened. Really. I’ve heard about your former commanding officer going crazy. I need to know if it could happen elsewhere; if it could happen in Ferelden.”
He looks away at the mention of Ferelden. She sees that he is contemplating something. His lips purse and he taps a steady beat out with his left index finger on his desk. She sees the first Cullen she met in that look of thought. She has not thought about the events at Kinloch in a long time. She allows herself to remember the first time she met Cullen in his mystical prison. He had been so angry and frightened; she had been frightened by him. Room after room of abominations had not fazed her but the wide eyes of the young templar had planted a seed of worry inside her chest. Her survival, a fluke of luck and the dedication of her team, was not her doing. She was far too shaken with their encounter with Cullen to be more than a distraction for Uldred.
Broken. That is a good word to describe the first Cullen she’d left behind and there’d been many nights, before Alistair had given her that rose, she’d thought about the templar in the cell. About how she should have saved him from that place, so full of terrible memories. She could have called on the Right of Conscription. She could have taken him away.
The second Cullen had convinced her, irrevocably, that she should have. He’d growled and pushed away from her. They were practically strangers and yet his dismissal had seemed so harsh and distant. All she could think was that he maybe he had been destined to be a nice man. A good, honorable man.
The thought had even crossed her mind more than once that perhaps he was the one that Duncan should have brought from the Circle instead of that poor elven girl he’d found. Having survived the worst of a blood mage insurrection, Cullen would have probably survived the joining. Then there would have been three wardens instead of just the two.
She has never really understood her fascination with the man over the years but she’s kept tabs on him and she’s glad he’s survived yet another uprising. Not only survived but managed to keep his wits about him. She smiles softly at his profile and it seems to break whatever revelry he is caught in.
He looks back at her steadily and she puts the image of the frightened young templar out of her mind. When he speaks she feels the weight of his office behind his words. “The Viscountess’ office has released a report. I believe you’ll find your answers there.”
“I’ve glanced over it. It omits almost everything leading up to the event, focusing instead on the subsequent fallout and recovery. It doesn’t give me any answers about Anders. He is, initially, the reason I even came here.”
There is a change in the temperature of the room at the second mention of Anders. Cullen leans away from her and his once reminiscent expression turns cruel and hateful. “What would you possibly want to know about him other than what’s in the report? He blew up the bloody Chantry. What more is there?” It seems such a sudden turn about but really, she’s blindsided him, horribly.
“He was a warden. There is unfinished business with him that I need to see addressed. If the Wardens are somehow to blame for this mess than it is my responsibility to deal with it.” Cullen remains stony and she attempts to appeal to him as a human rather than a figurehead. “He wasn’t only my subordinate; he was my friend, Ser. And my friend would have never done this. I need to know how. I need to know why! He was never the type-“
Cullen explodes at her then. He rises so fast from the desk that it startles her and he pounds a fist on his desk. “Anders was exactly the type which is why it happened in the first place. You use these minor words: incident and mess and its shit, all right! What he did was an act of antagonism on a scale grander than you could ever comprehend. Hundreds lost their lives; the Grand Cleric among them. It was an act of war. So, excuse me if I disagree with your assessment of that mage’s character, please.”
He is shaking at the end of his diatribe. She watches him clench and unclench his jaw. Flushed cheeks and trembling lip. She isn’t sure if he wants to wring her neck or have a good cry. “Cullen,” she begins gently, “I’m sorry. Truly I am.” She is shocked by his outburst but she must not be swayed from her purpose. She makes her own impassioned plea now. “Please, help me understand. I can honestly say that when I last saw Anders he was not the sort of man to do something this horrible. How did this happen, Cullen? How?!”
He turns away from her and clasps his hands behind his back. “Hawke is the person you should ask about the time before. They were inseparable for many years. I do not know that you’ll have much success; she doesn’t let anyone say his name in her presence.” Elissa had managed to say his name at least once in her conversation with Marian earlier. She thinks about the way the Viscountess had almost shut down completely.
Despite the fact that she’s even more confused than when she’d entered the office, Elissa stands. She has truly angered Cullen and she needs to let him be. For now. “I will be back concerning the mages. Tomorrow, perhaps, maybe the day after. Again, I am truly sorry for everything you’ve been through. Please try to remember that I too have seen the things I love destroyed.” She does not expect a rebuttal from him and does not receive one as she leaves his office.
Chapter 4: Remember the Dead
Marian is sitting on her bed with her hands clutched in her lap. Her knuckles are white with the grip she holds on an amulet. It was her mother’s, and she had given it to Anders to protect him after he’d come to live with her. She’d had a hard time convincing Cullen to let her have it back before the templars had started burning the bodies of the mages littering the streets.
Cullen had acquiesced, after a very tear stained plea on her part, and she had thrown it in the bottom of her wardrobe so she wouldn’t ever see it. Why did the bloody Queen of Ferelden have to show up and throw her already discombobulated brain back into the grinder after she’d spent a month trying to claw her way out? Marian squeezes so hard she can feel the sharp metal of the settings start to cut through her skin.
She had almost left this house and moved into the Keep. Certainly it was expected of her now that she held the title of Viscount but this was the Amell family home. This was her heritage and however difficult it might be to sit here and think that she had spent long and naked hours with Anders on this very bed she would not give this home up. The nights had been so long. The ghost of his memory haunts her even as she sits here willing it away.
That first time had been short and desperate. She’d watched the blue of Justice burn in his eyes as he exploded inside her and the thrill of it all made her scream in ecstasy. As their nights started piling up they went slower, deeper. She learned to love the way she could always tell he was about to spend just by seeing his eyes brighten.
He had been embarrassed. Downright blushing when he’d apologized for the intrusion. Marian could only lay her head on his chest and explain that Justice was a part of him and she loved every piece of the puzzle that was Anders. Unexpectedly he had taken her again. She loved him for that too; their bond was so deeply physical that at times she failed to see the mental things going on.
She should have known that he was up to something terrible. She, of all people, should have seen it. If she had . . . then what? She believes with every ounce of her being that Anders would have ended up dead for his cause no matter what course she’d taken personally. She’s thought on this almost every night between his death and now. He was destined for this.
A knock on the door draws her from her revelry. She looks up to find Bethany standing at the threshold. She wears her mage robes and carries a letter. The younger sister takes a step into the room and holds out the missive. “This just came for you, sister. The courier didn’t say who it was from.”
Marian holds out her hand and Bethany gasps in horror before rushing to her sister’s side. Both take in the bloody fingers and the cuts from the amulet that has been held far too tightly. Bethany closes her eyes quickly and Marian can hear a soft chant coming from her sister’s lips. The wounds are gone in moments. The ones on her skin at any rate.
The amulet, still coated in her blood, is telling. Marian thinks that Bethany surely recognizes it and can tell she’s been thinking of Anders. This is the first time since she’s put herself back together that she’s really allowed any serious contemplation of her dead lover. Bethany knows this. The younger embraces the elder and Marian allows herself to cry, at least for a moment.
The letter, forgotten on the floor, is remembered hours later as Marian prepares for bed. Her foot sends the paper sliding across the polished wood floor boards towards the fireplace. It is a well thrown dagger that pins it and saves it from doom. Muttering about nicks in the flooring, again, Marian pulls out the knife and retrieves the letter. It bears the writing M. Hawke and a non-descript wax seal.
She is not surprised when she opens the letter and finds that the sender is Elissa. Marian’s eyes widen. Elissa requests an audience that evening. Marian is to light a candle in her window if she is amenable, otherwise Elissa will honor the appointment made for the morning. Marian considers both for a long while over a glass of wine. It’s been a long day and she knows any conversation with Elissa will turn to Anders. She doesn’t want to talk about Anders. Not at all.
But, things being what they are, the Queen of Ferelden requests an immediate audience. Who is the Viscountess of Kirkwall to refuse? She lights the candle and waits. Minutes later three sharp raps sound from the front door. Marian hears her new valet, a friend of Varric’s named Santo, open the door for her visitor. She’s at her bedroom door calling down the stairs for the guest to be admitted when Elissa appears in the entry way.
Marian notes that Elissa has changed out of her armor and into a set of comfortable clothing; yet she still carries her blades. She wonders if the Elissa is always armed as such and guesses that she is. It is a dangerous, saving the world from dark spawn, even when there are no Blights. Elissa smiles up at her before dismissing Santo with a nod. “Shall we talk up there or will you join me?”
Her footsteps seem heavier than normal as Marian makes her way downstairs. She can hear her sister in their mother’s old room moving around. The door cracks as she passes by and she pauses long enough to ensure her sister that everything is just fine. Bethany peers past her to their guest and gives her a questioning glance. Marian returns with one that will broker no debate.
“I wasn’t sure you were going to invite me in. I’ve been waiting since the letter was delivered.”
Maker, that’s right. She’d gotten so caught up thinking about Anders that she waited hours to read the letter. “It has been a taxing day. I did not read your letter until I was preparing for bed. I apologize for keeping you waiting.” Marian is the consummate diplomat. She offers Elissa a seat by the fire and a drink. The other woman accepts both gracefully while Marian turns to fetch refreshments. Santo is waiting for her just inside the entrance to the kitchen with two glasses of light wine. She feels relieved that he’s so effective and returns to her guest.
“I thank you for meeting with me, especially as such an uncommon time. I understand this is highly eccentric, considering our respective political positions, but I would like to make it clear that I come to you as an equal.”
Marian is surprised at herself when she raises an eyebrow. “Haven’t we always been equals? You the Queen and I the Viscountess?” Elissa seems to be condescending, even as she’s asking for an even footing.
“Ah, but I’m also a Warden.” Elissa’s tone seems light. But not completely friendly. Marian looks at her, shrewdly. Who is this woman to come here and wave titles in front of her? Elissa senses that Marian is becoming defensive and she raises her hand in supplication. “Please, do not misunderstand. I don’t normally have the occasion to converse with others like this. Other than my husband I am sure I never get a true answer out of anyone, only the answer that I want.”
That makes sense, at least. Marian relaxes her face. She’s quick to anger right now because of her thoughts over the last few hours but she should keep from taking it out on Elissa.
“I think, though, that you will be honest with me and I hope that we can be friends.” Elissa smiles so warmly as she wraps up her explanation that Marian is almost shamed of her strong words. She attempts a smile back and a quick subject change.
“I understand you went to see Cullen after you were in my office. Did you know him in Ferelden?”
“I did, indeed. I met him twice before he came to Kirkwall. I was hoping to discuss Anders with him but he told me ask you. So, I’ve come to ask.”
Marian laughs, coldly. She could be a bloody soothsayer. “It’s in the report, like I said.”
“I don’t believe your report. I know something is missing. I knew Anders, very well, and your report does nothing to explain the massive change that occurred in him. Sure, he was always very anti-Chantry but the man was noble. He almost gave his life defending the men and women at Vigil’s Keep before he disappeared. The Anders I knew would have never blown up a Chantry.”
“Anders spoke highly of his former commander but he’d never indicated that you were so close.”
“Who do you think inducted him into the Wardens?”
Marian’s eyes are shrewd as they watch Elissa. The woman seems genuine and bears no ill will towards the rogue mage. She is honestly distressed over this death yet Marian cannot bring herself to discuss her relationship with Anders.
Elissa senses her hesitation. “Both of us have been on grand adventures, haven’t we? Between the two of us I bet we could give good King Maric a run for his coin when it comes to life lived. We have lost many people. We have lost our homes. Pushed from the realm of the known to that of the unknowable. And we survived. We have thrived. Know that when I ask about Anders it is because I honestly need to know what happened to my friend.”
The tone of Elissa’s voice is reassuring yet bittersweet. She sounds pained and Marian wants, terribly, to help ease some of this discomfort. First, she has some questions of her own.
“You inducted Anders? What was he like?” She leans forward and watches the other woman closely. Anders had never really discussed this with her.
A reminiscent smile lit across the Warden’s face. “Funny. Very funny. He had an unflappable sense of humor that was present even as a group of templars held him at the point of their swords. When I found him he was in that very situation, still cracking jokes. I never regretted freeing and conscripting him. We never had a chance to really talk about how he came to be a warden, between death and the taint, but I think, in the end, he was pleased with the overall outcome. At least I hope he was.”
“But he left the wardens. He told me it was because they took away his cat.”
Elissa’s laughter fills the room again. “That they did. It was most disturbing, the removal of brave Ser-Pounce-A-Lot. That silly cat was good for him. I wish his new commander could have seen that, but alas it was not to be and it was beyond my scope of responsibility. I wonder, did he try to find himself a new kitten here? I could see him doing that.”
“He tried, but there were none to be found in the city.” Marian’s getting misty-eyed, she realizes. She wipes her face dry with one hand while the other tightens around her wine glass. She had almost forgotten about his attempts at finding another pet. She remembers then that she had made light inquiries around town about illegally importing a nug for him from Ferelden before he . . . before . . .
A hand on her shoulder pulls her out of her misery and she looks up at Elissa with freshly dampened eyes. Marian’s voice is cracking when she whispers now to the other woman. “I never knew what love was before Anders came along.”
Outside her home in Kirkwall the moon grows heavy with age and sinks below the horizon. Marian Hawke dissolves into tears and explains how she came to know, and love, Anders.
“Exactly! It seemed as though she was ten feet tall and she had this sword that kind of glows. I swear, any other day and I would have run home with my tail between my legs but I’d come too far and I couldn’t let her hurt Bethany, ya know?”
“I know exactly what you mean.” In her seat Elissa’s gaze drifts away and Marian can tell she’s not thinking about the final confrontation at the Gallows, but something from her own past. Marian gives her a few moments to finish off her thoughts before wrapping up her own story.
“That worst part was the clean-up. We’re still finding bodies, even now, and it’s baffling. So many innocent citizens lost their lives but the thing is, the city should have been fine. The Annulment was never meant to impact anyone outside of the Gallows and yet so many lives were lost.” She feels something inside her harden. “Some deaths were warranted. Despite my love for Anders I couldn’t let him live, not after-“ She’d not glossed over that part of her retelling and she doesn’t care if the other woman thinks less of her for it. Marian might burn from the pain of that act every day but she does not, cannot, regret it.
“I once thought the same as you did. Duty first and all that. It took the clear and inescapable death of the man I love to convince me that sometimes duty must be damned.”
Elissa nods once and looks to the fire. “There’s a small problem with be a Warden during a Blight and it results in one’s death. I can’t tell you more but when the moment came to decide who’d be sacrificed, Alistair wouldn’t allow me and I couldn’t allow him. So, we found a solution. I’m sure that’ll come back to haunt us both, but hopefully after the problem with the mages and the Chantry is resolved.” She’s looking pointedly at Marian now; in her hands her fists are tight and her knuckles are colorless.
The problem with the mages. It sounds so innocuous when said like that, as though there’s been an outbreak of accidental magical incidents. Containable. Resolvable. It is anything but, to be sure. She’s spent a month rebuilding; a month of long days and sleepless nights trying to balance the Templar Order and the Circle. Both have their own ideas about what they should be doing and neither is willing to fully work with one another.
Marian knows about the past Cullen and Solona share. Some days she hears her cousin crying in her room and some days the mage comes back to the estate so angry poor Santos has to replace many scorched furnishings. They’ve reached a tenuous agreement though and Marian likes what they’ve done over the last few days. Security and comfort for the mages. Mandatory checks for blood magic markings for the templar’s sanity. It’s not perfect but it’s the best they can come up with.
The hardest parts have been the influx of apostates, catching wind that there’s a change coming from the City of Chains, and the fallout from the citizens. The people of Kirkwall want nothing to do with magic users. Not anymore. They clamor at her door daily lodging complaints about magic in the streets and squatters at every corner.
She thinks, again, that she is no magician and she’s only been at the job for a month. She needs time. Most days she thinks the people of this city won’t even give her that.
“I’m trying to keep the uprising contained. I honestly don’t know how you found out; so far as I know we’ve managed to keep all word from leaving the city except for a few very carefully worded missives and word of mouth to families with apostates. I’ve been working with Cullen and the new First Enchanter. She’s from Ferelden’s Circle; an illustrious career marked by only a few moments of weakness.”
That catches Elissa’s attention and the other woman leans forward in her chair. The wine glass in Elissa’s hand is almost empty and Marian reaches across to refill it for her. She fills her own glass as well. “Who is this First Enchanter? I was at the Circle Tower once; perhaps I know her.”
“Irving sent her over. Right after the Gallows I realized my sister would have no idea how to scrape together this mess into something resembling cohesion. I wrote the Circle Tower and a few weeks ago Solona showed up. It was tricky business, writing that letter. I didn’t want to give anything away but I needed the best I could find. I’ve been in communication with Solona for years now and I knew she’d be able to give Bethany the help needed.” Marian thinks back on the day Solona arrived in the city and chuckled softly. “She made a mess of it initially. She knew Cullen too, in Ferelden, and from what I gather they had some bad blood between the two of them.”
There’d been flames, that first day. And a massive mana wipe that had knocked the mages still alive onto their rears for the better part of the afternoon. Solona had gotten her revenge though. Marian is pretty sure Cullen has a scar on his shoulder.
“It got so bad that they had to replace the furniture around the Gallows every other day because of fiery outbursts and templar retribution. No one was seriously hurt but I finally had to sit the two of them down and tell them, in no uncertain terms, that they could deal with each other or find new cities to harass.” Marian takes a long sip of her wine, coughing at the sweetness when it hits the back of her throat. “They’ve been much better since.” She’s getting a little deep in her cups and she sets the glass down when she realizes that sounded much funnier than it probably was.
She doesn’t end her monologue though. “She is actually a relative of mine. Second or third cousin. We met up at Ostagar; she saved my live. We had no idea we were related. Not during our long trek back to Lothering to find my family. It wasn’t until I sent her a letter sealed with my ancestral Amell seal that she connected the dots and did a little research. She’s awfully good at that research stuff.”
Throughout her explanation Elissa’s eyes had grown progressively wider. Now, at the end, her jaw also hangs open and the sight is so humorous to Marian that she laughs. That this woman would find her story shocking is of great amusement, She of the Archdemon Slaying. When Elissa attempts to speak she has to try twice before actual words will come out. “Wait. You were at Ostagar? Very few soldiers made it out alive. How did you survive?”
“Barely!” Marian parts her robe and hikes up her undershirt until a very large scar up the side of her body is exposed. “Were it not for aforementioned cousin, still unknown as a relative, I would have bled to death on the battlefield. She managed to pull me out from under a hurlock towards the end and pulled me to safety. She’d suffered some strange injury that damaged her mana and she had to carry me more often than not until we finally reached Lothering. We parted ways there and I collected my family and fled. We barely made it through everything, but we did. For the most part.”
Elissa is still looking at her with wonder and Marian wonders where she’d been during that whole part of the battle at Ostagar. The Hero of Ferelden’s story is well known enough, she thinks, that the King and Queen were not on the main battle field but it never did explain how they’d escaped when so many others had not. The two fall into companionable silence until something else that Marian mentioned tugs at Elissa’s curiosity.
“So, the three of you. Running the city and dealing with the blowback. I have a . . . friend with the Chantry and she’s the one that told me about Anders. She mentioned that the Chantry is wiping its hand of Kirkwall for the time being. What exactly is going on?”
“Well, the Chantry wasn’t supposed to know about the explosion. I thought we’d kept that close to the chest, like I said. We’ve got services in the city and we’ve set up a make-shift chantry to deal with the sick and injured. We’ve got a handful of mages and a couple dozen templars left. We’re on the way to being autonomous, to be honest.” Marian wants this to be their end goal. She loves this city. She wants to see it flourish.
“You seem to have a good grasp of the situation here. I’m surprised and I applaud you. Ferelden was a mess after the Blight. I can understand a nation in ruin. I’d like to offer my services, in whatever capacity, to helping you get things back in order.”
Neither has to ask or explain why Elissa would have an interest in Kirkwall. “I welcome the assistance, if you can think of anything.”
The Warden ponders for a few moments. “In the morning, I think.” She raises her glass in salute before downing the remaining liquid. Marian follows suit. “It’s late and I’ve not had a good night’s sleep in over a week. Damned hard to get used to a ship.”
Standing, and stretching out her sore shoulders, Marian gives Elissa a warm smile. “You are more than welcome to spend the night if you’d like. I know the Keep is just around the corner but we’ve got plenty of spare beds and I would be honored if you’d join us. A house full of women is just what I need to terrify my manservant. He’s not seen the full insanity of the Hawke family yet.”
Elissa gives a low chuckle and nods her head. “It will be my pleasure, my new friend, to terrify your hired help.”
Chapter 5: Tracking Anders
Chapter Four: Tracking Anders
My Dearest and Most Darling Wife,
Just so you know I’ve had three letters arrive for you. Two from Orlais, smelling vaguely of disapproval, and one from Garavel in Amaranthine. He sent me along a note telling me that you’ve taken off somewhere (he was unspecific as to your destination but had a fairly good idea) and that he does not know when you’ll be back (could I please direct him in your absence).
I love you woman, but sometimes I don’t think I understand. But, as I can think back on at least forty-seven specific occasions in which you’ve rushed into trouble without consultation or consideration, I will strive to maintain my air of Kingly Fortitude. It has become impressive since you saw me last, my sweet. Zevran says I’ve developed a swagger.
If you’re reading this you must have people forwarding your letters and who would do that? Garavel says he doesn’t know where you are. Perhaps you’re off on an epic quest to find me that cheese I love so very much. I hope, for the sake of my sanity, that’s all you’re up to and not some unapproved diplomatic missions of ridiculousness. I remember what happened in Nevarra that one time, you know, and I’d rather not pay my weight in gold to keep our country from falling into war . . . again.
As the letters from Orlais arrived just today and I’ve had Garavel’s for at least a week now, I should inform you that your absence has been noted by someone. I’m not really sure who though; I’m still concerned about having terrible tickles brought down upon me for reading your messages without your express permission, you know.
I have received a short note from Weisshaupt however. It said simply, “We need resolution or we shall resolve this for you.” I can only imagine that this all has something to do with the other letter I’ve received just yesterday. First Enchanter Irving has sent word of a disturbance in Kirkwall. The Chantry exploded there and has thrown our Circle into utter chaos. Irving said that about three days ago the Templars lost control. They were sent across Lake Calenhad deprived of their armor and swords and told to find better jobs. There’s been no blood shed but any boat seen crossing the water is promptly sent back the way it came with terrible winds.
We’ve had no disturbances in Denerim, yet. If anything we’ve had peace here. Crime has declined sharply and I haven’t heard of one use of magic on the streets in a week. Zevran has been out among the people and it’s his distinct impression that the mages are leaving in droves. For where, I do not know. The alienage seems to be the one exception. I went and spoke to Elder Shianni to see how things were going. I could feel the magic pouring out of most households. Made my hair stand on end. She said things were quiet. And left it at that. They’re up to something but I don’t want to go accusing before I’ve got something solid. I sent over a coupl-
Oh, you wrote me a letter! I love it when you write-
I’ll have you know I have a head ache now. I should rewrite this blasted whole letter reminding you to keep your nose out of the matters of state. We agreed that I would handle those problems. Please be safe. Please. I’m sorry about your friend; I know you were fond of him. I hope you find the answers you’re looking for and please come home soon. Or, you know, write me twice a day so I know you’ve not been run through or something equally terrifying.
Your Loving and Most Devoted Husband,
The last figment of her dream fades slowly when Elissa moves in her borrowed bed. She holds on for as long as possible, grasping blindly at the feeling of Alistair’s arms around her. It has been more than two months since she’s seen his reassuring smile, still boyishly sincere despite the long path their lives have traveled and she misses him. Oh how she misses him.
With one last grin Alistair is gone from her mind and she huffs, throwing off the covers. She can hear the house around her, already awake. The feeling of magic thrums softly in the room but it does not put her on her guard as it has in the past. It is soft, and reassuring, and is making her hungry. She finally opens her eyes to the daylight and stretches. It’s good to be on solid ground once more.
She is pulling on her simple clothing, pants and shirt designed to be inconspicuous, when there is a knock at the door. “Yes?”
There is a shuffling of feet in the hallway before she gets a response. Almost tentative, a soft female voice answers. “Um, breakfast is almost ready Your Majesty.” Elissa grunts a response and pulls on her armor. She’s had it for years. It is lightweight and maneuverable; she’d purchased it in Orzammar before the city cut itself off from the outside world and it’s been close to a decade since she’s worn it. It slides back on her body like an old lover and she smiles as she finishes the buckles on her shoulder. She smiles softly and amends, or a current husband much missed by this wife.
Even her finger feels lonely without her wedding band. She would not risk losing it, however, and knows that her second will guard the jewelry with his life.
Her daggers are slipped into place and she pulls the sleeveless cloak over them. Ready for her second day in Kirkwall, Elissa steps into the hall.
“That . . . irrational . . . Templar.” A puff of flour explodes into the air and Marian cannot help but laugh out loud. A string of oaths follows in which her cousin (second or third she’s never quite sure) debases everything that’s ever been said about the Templars in a positive manner. Solona ends her rant with a rush of water from her fingertips as their breakfast explodes in her face. Marian is having a hard time remaining upright with the laughter running through her.
Solona continues, “If he thinks, for one minute, that I’m going to sit by and let him terrify small children one moment then strut around like a cock on parade he’s got another thing coming.” The wooden spoon she waves in her hand crackles with the threat of unused magic and it glows blue when she points it at Marian. “This is all your doing!”
“Me!?” She has the good decency to look appalled at the accusation despite the tears that stream down her cheeks at the mage’s outburst.
“Yes! You had to go and do that thing where you look so very serious and threatening and he just cows to your command. I remember. I know what you look like when you’re half-dead. Not pretty, that is, but does he? No! Man has no spine.” Solona is still breath hand when she lowers the spoon and turns back to the counter. It looks like a warzone, a once-potentially delicious wreck of a meal.
Marian would like to open her mouth and protest. Surely Cullen isn’t that frightened of her. They took down Meredith together, after all. He was there. He’s got a hell of a spine and she doesn’t think the Templar would ever be able to cow to anyone, let alone her. She can’t say a word though. The flour has found its way into her mouth and down into her lungs and between the coughing and the last of the laughter still working its way from her she is incapable of speech.
This is how Elissa finds them, moments after Solona has finally calmed down enough to deposit her spoon firmly on the counter. The Queen pauses in the doorway. Marian would love to greet her and explain the situation but she can feel her face burning red as she’s finally able to take great gasping breaths. “And I always thought Wardens were ridiculously messy. Good to know we’ve got competition, at the very least.”
“Oh!” The mage at the counter jumps in surprise and whirls. Her movement succeeds in sending more breakfast into the air. Marian waves her hand frantically in front of her face to avoid choking once more. With some quickly chanted words the air starts to clear on its own, the breeze pulling through the open window drags the debris out of the house. It’s still a mess in the kitchen and Elissa is smiling at the two of them. “Oh! Hello! We didn’t get a chance to be introduced yesterday. I’m Solona.” Her cousin extends a hand and Elissa looks at it dubiously; Solona’s fingers are coated in a paste of flour and water. When Solona realizes she’s filthy she blushes a deep shade of red.
Marian is so close to laughing herself silly again. First Enchanters aren’t supposed to get nervous in front of royalty, are they? The mage wipes her fingers frantically on her apron and extends her hand again.
“It’s nice to meet you, Solona. My name is Elissa.” The two grasp hands and Marian swears that for a second there’s sadness and an anger that flashes across Solona’s face. The expression is gone so quickly that she must have imagined it.
There’s a tense moment where no one speaks and the only sounds are drifting from other parts of the house. Marian thinks she hears Bethany in the library, whistling softly to herself. The last of their aborted breakfast, a ham she’d received as thanks for assisting a farmer with an issue not two days ago, tumbles off the counter. Three sets of eyes fly to the sound of the crash. The tense moment comes to an end when the three women dissolve into nervous yet relieved giggles.
The elf is unlike any man she’s met before. He is beautiful in the way that all elves are beautiful but his skin. Oh, his skin is laced with delicate silver lines tinged with blue. Elissa thinks it must be lyrium. It’s got that faint ring she’s recognized many times in the Deep Roads. The elf bows as well and introduces himself as Fenris.
Elissa thinks that he’s just as dangerous as Zevran ever has been. The large sword strapped to his back makes her think that perhaps she might actually be able to dodge one of his attacks, though.
Marian cannot get away from her duties as Viscountess so she leaves Elissa with Aveline who in turns hands her off to Fenris. She doesn’t think she needs a guide but Fenris asks her to wait a moment and changes into street clothes. When the elf reappears, covered in a spiky armor that looks more intimidating than the Warden plate she’s got back home, Elissa is sort of glad he’ll be her guide today.
“Have you found Kirkwall to your liking, Highness?”
She’s asked him four times already to just call her Elissa and she doesn’t correct him a fifth. “From what I’ve seen. Sure. It’s big and intimidating but I like that in a city. Makes them easier to defend.”
Fenris raises one slim, dark eyebrow and gives a short laugh. “I may have to disagree with you on that, Highness.” He doesn’t extrapolate on his statement and Elissa doesn’t ask more. “Where can I show you first?”
She thinks and looks about. They’re in Hightown which she knows is the richest district. The day is warmer than she’s used to and she thinks they’re far too close to the sky up here. “Perhaps a market, if there is one. That’s usually a good place to find gossip.” She glances at her companion. She’s feeling the need for subterfuge and he’s not all that inconspicuous. “Will people even talk to me with you around?”
“I would think so.” He inclines his head slightly to her. “This city likes me well enough.” Again he offers no further explanation. She can’t stop drawing comparisons between Fenris and Zevran. She’d have had her ear talked off by now if her assassin had been at her side; she thinks that if he could get away with it Fenris wouldn’t use more than one word at a time.
“Well, let’s get started, then.”
They wander around the merchants in Hightown. Elissa keeps her ears open while she browses a few stands and she notices that the gentry don’t even give Fenris a second glance. He’s been here a while then, she supposes. The only way an elf with glowing tattoos doesn’t draw attention is if his presence is routine.
She hears nothing of import though and soon Fenris is leading her down the stairs into what he calls Lowtown. It’s dirtier here and reminds her of Denerim. Loud and exciting but still not terribly fruitful. The elf tells her about meeting Hawke, he never calls her Marian or Viscountess. Just Hawke helping him take down his former owner. She’s surprised to learn about his history and his story carries them through Lowtown and deeper into the city.
When they reach the bottom of the city he calls it Darktown and she’s assailed with a terrible odor. She covers her mouth with her scarf and Fenris chuckles at her softly. The people down here are filthy. They look desperately at her and Fenris; he tries to keep his distance. She can’t, though. When she presses coin into the desperate hand of an urchin she’s blown away when the child gives her a proper Fereldan thanks in a flawless accent.
“You, child. You are from Fereldan?”
The kid, she doesn’t even know if it’s a boy or a girl, goes to pull away but she holds tight to their wrist. “Yes, messere. I was born during the Blight. Me family’s been here ever since.” She releases her grip and the kid scampers away.
It’s then that she pauses and listens. The noise down here is quieter than in Lowtown and she can pick out the accent of her homeland everywhere around her. There’s a terrible dread that plants itself inside her stomach and she backs into Fenris. “Is everyone down here from Ferelden, Fenris?”
He steadies her from behind and allows her to regain her footing. “For the most part, Highness. Ferelden or apostate.” He sneers out the last word and Elissa feels even worse. Her people. She had never considered what would have happened to them as they fled the Blight; she’d only dealt with the ones that remained.
Her voice cracks. “Is there someone here that leads them?”
“Not any more, compliments of Hawke.” She gives him a curious look and he frowns so deeply that she’s struck by the utter broody-ness of the glare. “Ander was their leader. Until Hawke killed him.”
So the other shoe drops and Elissa has to put her hand out to keep from being bowled over. She catches a railing but still sways. It was Marian? Marian killed Anders? For the Chantry, or for something else? Oh, Maker. Her head spins and she tries to refocus on what’s going on around her. Fenris is still glaring at her and she swallows before asking, “What was he doing down here?”
Fenris releases her arm; when did he even grab on to her again? She’s steady on her feet when he steps up next her and points along a set of staircases. “He ran a free clinic and tried to help who he could.”
Of course he did, she thinks.
“Is the clinic that way? Is it still open?” Beside her Fenris is tensing. She wonders why. “Fenris?”
“Yes, the abomination’s clinic is that way.”
She looks at him sharply now. His anger goes beyond the dislike of mages she’s seen from him earlier in the day. “Abomination? That’s a little harsh, don’t you think? Considering he was born with the magic.”
When Fenris returns her look she has the feeling that she’s missed something very important and integral during her time in Kirkwall. “Fenris?” She’s pretty sure she’s missed a lot of very important things so far during her stay.
He refuses to answer. Instead he starts off towards the clinic and she really has no choice but to follow.
When he pushes open the door to the clinic she’s assaulted all over again by smells. These are more raw, bloodier, than her first whiff of Darktown. She holds the cloth tighter and looks around the dim interior. There look to be ten beds for both sides of the room and each bed is full. Some of the patients moan and cry softly. Others are still and those are the ones that concern her the most. She looks around for a caretaker, finding instead a small group of women who look just as ragged as the patients. They flit from bed to bed, giving water and dispensing small bits of healing potions.
There is one who looks so wildly different that Elissa is taken aback. A small woman, an elf by the look of her, is dressed in the garments of a Dalish First. The light green armor is tinged with blood as she presses hands to a bleeding wound on a man’s thigh. The man screams at the pressure and Elissa swears she hears a curse from the woman.
A soft blue light filters from the woman’s fingers. A healing spell. The light fades very quickly and the young elf looks exhausted. Next to Elissa, she hears Fenris give a growl and she turns to look at him.
To her complete and utter amazement he’s bloody glowing! She gasps and steps away. The spaces in his armor are lit with light and she squints at him. The light comes from every line that marks Fenris’s body and she gasps once more. What strange secrets Kirkwall has been hiding.
“Fenris! Stop your silliness! You’re frightening the patients.” The words are spoken in Dalish. Fenris glares behind her and Elissa can hear footsteps make their way to the two of them. The Dalish elf raises a hand and brings it towards Fenris’s arm.
The man recoils quickly but he stops the glowing. “Do not touch me, Blood Mage.” This is . . . unexpected. Even from the surly elf. Elissa looks over at the woman. Her arms are bandaged from wrist to elbow but she sees no scars in the open of blood magic use.
“I gave that up Fenris. I told you that. I’m trying to help here, now. Help the people like Anders did.” The woman sounds distraught; Fenris actually turns on his heels and stalks out of the room.
The woman bows her head and takes a deep breath. She’s muttering a few words under her breath, Dalish but incomprehensible. Finally she looks up and notices Elissa. “Oh! Hello!” She seems to brighten a bit and looks Elissa up and down. “You don’t seem to be injured. Can I help you with something?”
Elissa nods and glances around. The other helpers have returned to their duties and the clinic has quieted back to moans. “I’m here to ask about Anders. You knew him?”
The other woman is openly surprised. “Anders? Did you know him, too?”
“Yes. He was a friend when he lived in Ferelden.”
The woman is chuckling now and walks to the back of the room. Elissa follows as she opens a door and motions for Elissa to enter. It is a shabby living quarter. A low table sits closest to the door. The surface is covered with papers and the chair that sits at the table is pushed back. The only other furniture is a bed with threadbare sheets and a small, embroidered pillow. When she sees the pillow, with its delicate flower work, she knows this is where Anders lived.
She crosses the room and her fingers ghost over once familiar flowers and birds. It’s survived the last decade but it’s grimy and terribly frayed. She can feel the elven woman watching her and she glances over her shoulder.
“What is your name, First?”
The woman shakes her head, still smiling. “My name is Merrill and I’m not a First anymore; I just run this clinic now. Who are you?”
“My name is Elissa. I was Anders’ commander for a while in Ferelden. I wanted to find out what happened to him.” She thinks she should write all of this down on a card and hand it to people as soon as they ask her name. She’s said just the same thing a dozen times by now it feels. “Do you know Fenris as well?”
And now there’s pain again on Merrill’s face. “Oh yes. We were compatriots for many years with Hawke.” Again, just Hawke. Did no one call Marian by her first name? “He never really liked me though. I made a deal with a demon and he took exception.” When Elissa’s eyes widen at the words, Merrill places a hand on her arm. “But not anymore. I gave it up when I was told I’d never be able to heal another while using blood magic.”
That’s slightly comforting. Not a lot, ya know. But a little.
“Anders was a great man. He truly believed in the things he fought for. Even with his own demon he was always thinking of the best ways to help others, especially mages.”
“His own demon?”
There’s this strangely awkward moment while Merrill looks her up and down and then glances away. It seems to drag on and Elissa doesn’t understand. She thinks it has something to do with Fenris calling Anders an abomination. Did Anders make a deal with a demon to help save the mages? It seems like a backwards way to go about saving people but she can understand how he’d come to such a pass.
Lips set, Merrill looks ack. “He took the spirit of Justice into himself. They merged and became one. I think more often than not it was Justice that motivated his decisions. Especially in the last few years.”
The spirit of Justice. Justice. Another name from her past and one she’d not thought of in forever. Justice, in Anders. Merged? Could spirits merge like that? He’d taken the body of a dead man. She supposes that maybe he could have entered a living person. But why? “How? How is that even possible?”
Merrill shrugs one slender shoulder and the movement ripples through her body. “That I don’t know. He never said.” She sounds wistful when she says this and Elissa actually cocks her head at the elf. She’s sort of . . . scatterbrained. “Anders left quite a few manifestos. If you’re looking for answers, they’re probably there.” Merrill gestures to the table with the scattered papers.
The topic change is noted in Elissa’s mind but she goes with it for the sake of simplicity. She does vow to ask Marian about this later. Possibly tonight. “You won’t mind if I take them?” Merrill shakes her head and Elissa investigates. There’s a bulk of information here and she sorts. Some of the papers are dated, some are just ramblings. She finds a book on the floor that’s soft red and well used.
She remembers this book, she thinks. She’d given it to Anders after he’d complained that Velanna was the only mage being showered with gifts. She picks it up and brushes her hand over the gilt letters on the cover. She doesn’t recognize the script. Opening it reveals the pages are full of the same script as the cover. The only thing she can decipher are numbers. Dates.
This could be Anders’ journal. She tucks this one away at the back of her waistband. She should really ask Marian about this too. The rest of the papers are collected and these she holds under arm as she thanks Merrill and inquires if the mage would care to join her for dinner. She’d like to organize an evening with Hawke and her compatriots.
Merrill’s face drains of color and Elissa knows she’s said something wrong. “What is it? Is Fenris that distasteful?” She can understand not wanting to be around someone who hates her.
“Hawke, actually. She’s not seen me for weeks because of the blood magic from the final battle. I told her I’d only used it once or twice but she was so upset from Anders and Meredith that she said she never wanted to see me again.” Merrill looks away and Elissa sort of wants to hug her.
“I’m sorry for alarming you. It wasn’t my intention. I’d like to thank you for your time and your help.” She bows and yet Merrill still doesn’t look back at her. There’s nothing else for Elissa to do than to turn and head to the exit.
When she crosses over the threshold back into Darktown she finds Fenris leaning against the wall next to the door. “Finished?” His tone is still icy. He stares straight ahead but pushes away from his leaning post when she nods. “Let us return to the barracks, then. I’ve neglected my duties enough for one day.”
Chapter 6: Parry
Chapter Five: Parry
It’s much later, just past dusk. Elissa enjoys this Kirkwallian wine, very much so, she muses. It is sweet and yet tangy. It makes her throat burn a little on the way down but it’s delicate in a way the ales of Ferelden never are. She thinks she must be a little drunk the way she’s laughing with Marian and she is so glad she got to meet this woman. Hawke is sarcastic and open with her in a way few have been these last years. They share their stories of conquests while the hour grows late.
She meets Bethany, the younger Hawke. She is polite and knowledgeable. She stays for only a moment, begging sleep. Elissa watches her leave and notes the smile of affection on Marian’s face. She’s been told about the Blight and the losses the Hawke family has suffered over the years. Having lost her own parents, Elissa can understand. She thinks that Marian was able to build herself a new family though, much like Elissa did. Aveline and Fenris both seem devoted to the Champion.
Not minutes after Bethany departs upstairs, Solona appears. She looks like a wreck when she enters the doorway of the sitting room and when she sees Elissa is there her features become even stormier. Marian is on her feet and has her arms around the mage in moments. The cousins embrace tightly but between her hiccups and Marian’s cooing it is impossible to decipher what’s happened to cause this break down. Marian gives Elissa a knowing look, man trouble, and she can nod in understanding.
This is the ending to their night, she realizes, as Marian leads Solona up to her room and appears moments later to say good-night. The evening is young and she has no qualms about walking back to the Keep. She knows there are a few guards waiting outside, city or templar. She’ll be safe and Marian sees her to the door.
It’s a surprise to see Cullen standing in the courtyard outside the Hawke Estate. He’s pacing and muttering under his breath and when the door clicks shut behind Elissa he snaps his eyes to her. He also looks like shit. Whatever is between him and Solona it is trying on the both of them.
“Your Highness.” He faces her and bows shortly.
“Knight Commander.” She returns the bow.
“If you’re ready to return to your rooms I’m at your service, Highness.”
She can’t get past the clipped tones and nervous shuffle of his movements but she nods and allows him to lead the way back up to the Keep. The foyer leading to the gates of the Keep are shadowed as they pass and she thinks she sees movement behind a pillar.
She thinks Cullen must have seen it as well because he pauses and holds out an arm. “Hold.” He’s whispering. Her hands reach to her back and she grasps the handles of her blades. She can hear the whistle of an incoming arrow at the same moment Cullen shoves her to the side, whirls and brings up his shield. The arrow thunks into the metal and penetrates with enough force to bury itself several inches in the shield.
The arrow seemed to be some sort of signal and Elissa is aware of the bodies filling up the courtyard.
They drip from the shadows and walls, a dozen. Two dozen. At least thirty fighters surround her and Cullen and she effortlessly falls into a defensive stance. Cullen, at her back, raises his shield and gives a mighty roar.
The mob closes in.
Elissa keeps herself in shape with daily practice and constant excursions into the Deep Roads. She is better at this game now than she was when she killed the Arch Demon and she almost laughs at the ease with which she cuts through her first four kills. A blade catches her in the upper arm for her cockiness and she swears at her attacker as she drops her right blade reflexively.
She needs to back up, just a bit. She needs to see the layout of battle. The men in front of her follow. She can feel blood dripping from her wound but she can’t quite see the full extent of the damage. There’s nothing for it now, she thinks, and reaches into a back pocket for a smoke bomb.
She easily outflanks the five engaging her and with a flurry of well-trained moves cuts through them as well. She’s facing the bulk of the fighting now and she sees the Cullen is surrounded. Blades ring loudly against his armor; chest and back are both subject to a flurry of blows that bounce off. They cannot penetrate but he must feel like he’s being tumbled around in metal.
Elissa runs and jumps. For a split second she hovers in the air before her blade comes down into the back of an attacker’s neck. The man can’t even gurgle out a warning before she’s spun away and kicked another in the side of the head. That one dies with a calculated stab between the neck and shoulder. A hand grabs the back of her armor and tugs. She flies backwards and flips to regain her footing. The world spins.
Three blades come darting toward her; the first misses her midsection by inches. The second swipes uselessly at the air where her head was just a moment before. The last crashes to the ground at her feet as the man’s over headed swing misses her altogether. She kicks away the third sword, bringing her foot up again to jab out sharply with her shin. It cracks into the man’s face and send him sprawling. One of the other two takes another desperate swipe at her back and she feels the tip of the sword barely scrape across her armor. It does not penetrate.
She’s whirling her dagger in a wide arch behind her when another arrow penetrates the throng and lodges itself between her palm and the curl of the dagger in her fingers. She screams; its long and drawn out and so very full of anger. She can see the men she was about to kill smile and advance. She’s got no weapon and a lame hand.
Planting her feet, she backflips. The move is a combination of springing and striking out and she kicks one man in the face while pushing away from the mob. Another smoke bomb hides her retreat towards the stairs. She cannot see Cullen and the steps are clear of bodies. Where has he gone?
There are still men around. She can hear the fiends yelling obscenities to one another farther towards the Keep. She hears one distinctly call out not to hurt the Knight Commander. A voice answers something but it’s lost in the sound of a throat being slit. The first voice call for a retreat but this man is also silenced. Cullen must be carving through the bandits if the cries of death and pain are any indication.
Elissa can’t see anyone in her immediate vicinity but she does see one of her lost daggers. She swipes it up and then another attacker is on her. He bowls her over and she’s jarred as she lands; her head bounces off the stones and she sees flashes of light in her vision. The man ends up rolling over her hand, the one with the arrow in it, and she screams loudly as the wood is splintered within her flesh.
He’s got her throat in a choke hold and an arm above his head, poised to drive the knife he holds into her body. Her hand is on fire; she tries to draw a breath but can’t.
Elissa closes her eyes for just a moment and then she snaps them open; at the same time she brings her only dagger up and into the man’s side. He roars but doesn’t let go of her neck. She stabs him again. This time he leans back and tries to pull away from her assault. She swipes her blade across his throat and his blood arches over her body, coating her.
The man’s body is falling on her and then it’s suddenly flung away. Cullen stands in front of her, bathed in blood. The wet glint of his armor makes him a fearsome warrior in front of her. His eyes are wide with fury. She thinks that this is the second Cullen, the one from Denerim. Any moment now he’ll stab straight through her.
What happens, though, is he pulls her up and spews an angry litany of words in the process. He’s looking her over for injuries, she realizes, when he grabs at her arm and then her opposite wrist. His hand comes away red when he checks the back of her head and she hears a few more choice phrases before he cups her jaw and centers her gaze on his eyes. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
She must be in shock. She can only shake her head before he grabs her good upper arm and pulls her down the stairs, away from the Keep. She makes it three steps and then falls to her knees. She almost drags Cullen down with her but he doesn’t pause. He pulls her back to her feet and then swings her into his arms.
Every step he takes is jarring. Her hand is on fire and her vision is still spotty. She needs to stay awake; she forces her eyes to track the buildings around them. They pass the Hawke estate and turn inland. Elissa hasn’t been to this part of the city yet. Cullen brings them to a door lit by soft golden light and marked by a red rose in the middle of the frame. He kicks the door and it opens a moment later, letting a soft light bathe them both.
There are healers swarming around them when they enter the main room and she’s pulled away from him. Gentle hands get her to a cot along a wall. This must be the make shift infirmary and Chantry she’s been told about. The air here doesn’t have a dirty smell, not like the clinic in Darktown. It smells really nice here, like soft perfume and seductive women. Behind the hung sheeting that offers a modicum of privacy and the well-dressed aides that rush around to assist the injured she sees decadence on the walls.
She can’t be sure she is seeing what she is. Could this be a . . . brothel?
Elissa opens her mouth to start asking questions when Cullen reappears in front of her. “There was another attack in Lowtown tonight as well. The city guard was responding to that one when we were set upon. I need to find some of my men so we can route any remaining murderers.” He kneels and brings their faces level. He grabs her good hand; his armor is cold against her skin. She feels like she’s burning up. “If you need anything, ask one of the healers. I’ll have the Viscountess notified of your location on my way to the Gallows.”
She thinks she might imagine the squeeze he gives her hand but she doesn’t mistake the relieved smile on his face when he leaves. She holds the hand close to her chest and watches him go.
What in the Fade has just happened?
Behind her she hears Cullen’s clipped steps and she glances back at him. He’s more than ragged around the edges, the morning sun glints off the gold of his hair and the blood that’s still damp within the locks. He is exhausted. When he catches her looking at him her gives her a grim smile and walks to the line.
“Do you have names for any of the attackers?”
“How is the Queen?”
They speak at the same time and Marian wants to laugh at the absurdity but she can’t because she is also exhausted. Cullen had pounded on her door not an hour after she’d seen Elissa out. He’d been covered in blood, standing in the foyer, when she’d rushed down the stairs. She’d been in her night clothes. His face had told the story of a terrible battle and he’d filled her in. By the time she’d donned her armor and sent her sister and cousin back to bed it’d been almost a full hour. The fight had still been raging in Lowtown and she’d chased a group of men into Darktown and the sewer.
The sky had already been lightening by the time she’d made it back up to Hightown and the mess outside her front door. She hadn’t even had time to check on her family or the Queen. She’d just kept going. Like she always does, she pushed and her body sure is angry at her now for it. She rolls her head first to one side and then the other. Bones and tendons pop back into alignment and she rubs a dirty palm against the back of her neck. “Go ahead, Cullen.” She inclines her head and waits for him to repeat his earlier question.
“Names of the attackers?”
“None yet but I know a few by their faces. I’ve sent guards to Darktown and Lowtown to question any possible relatives.” He nods and looks down to the bodies, his gaze lingering on the templar. Marian doesn’t know her name but surely Cullen does. “How is the Queen? I haven’t even been able to see her.”
Cullen is still staring down at the woman templar. He brings up a hand and runs it through his short hair. “I don’t know for certain. She was alive when I left her. The bandits slashed open her upper arm and put an arrow through the opposite palm. They cracked her head pretty good and she was fairly disoriented when I left her. She should be okay, though. The healers seemed optimistic.”
A frown creases Marian’s brow as she considers the situation. She’s dealt with bandits and thieves and murderers her entire life in Kirkwall. She wishes this would be just like those other times. That she’d find a headquarters somewhere and be able to kill a leader and take back the city.
She’s pretty sure she’s become the bandit leader now; that her city is fighting against her rule.
Anders had once told her that his mother tongue had a word for a sudden and violent overthrow. He’d called it a putsch and she’d been chilled when he’d described the urgency necessary. It was what he’d said the mages had needed.
She’s got that same chill at her back right at this moment and she shivers. Next to her Cullen shifts. “I’m worried.”
When he looks back at her she can see the same concern on his face. “Yeah. Me too.”
The sun rises over Kirkwall fully and the two leaders just look down at the line of death at their feet.
On his desk is a half-finished letter to Ser Ruvena’s family, informing them of their loss. He thinks that it’s terrible that she survived a mage uprising and Meredith’s insanity only to die fighting bandits.
The world has never really made sense but the last few weeks have been especially nonsensical. He frowns all the time now.
Last night, when he’d dropped Solona off at home, he’d kissed her.
She had slapped him and then ran inside.
Cullen closes his eyes against the light slipping through his curtains and tries to relax. He breathes deeply through his nose. He remembers when he’d learned calming exercises in Denerim, after the Tower. After the final fight, the Fall of the Archdemon, he’d still been so lost and it’d taken months in solitude to calm the mess of his mind.
He pulls to mind that peace that he’d found; the lay sisters kept telling him to let go of his anger and to serve the Maker. At the time all he’d been able to think about was that it was the Maker who’d done this to him. It was the Maker who’d put mages in the world. It was the Maker who’d created such a creature as Solona Amell and it was the Maker who’d created Uldred and his army of blood mages.
He’d come to understand that it wasn’t the Maker’s fault. The Maker had given them all a choice. These were the choices that had doomed so many over the years.
At this moment, with his body still aching from the fight early in the morning and blood still drying on his skin, he tells himself that his choices have lead him here.
The choices that Solona Amell made have also brought her here.
There must be meaning in this.
As Cullen closes his eyes and tries to push away his conscious thoughts he thinks of Solona as she was so many years ago. It is her relieved smile, thanking him for keeping the worst of the templars at Kinloch Hold from harming her, that sees him off to sleep.
There is meaning in this as well.
Chapter 7: Uprising
Chapter Six: Uprising
“Where do we stand on capable guards, Aveline?”
Marian is back in her office. She is fully kitted out and still bears the traces of the day’s work on her skin. She is filthy but she’s out of the late afternoon sun. Aveline looks about as well as she feels and she thinks that this whole situation is nothing new.
She’s done this before. This insurrection and the fight to save the innocent. She can do this again. Kirkwall will be safe.
“I’ve got several dozen men on patrol around the clock. I’ve also been making inquiries with the Fereldans in Lowtown about the men we were able to identify. No one has claimed any knowledge of the uprising, which comes as no shock.”
Marian nods and paces. She’d left the bodies of the bandits on the flagstones of the Keep in the hopes that relatives would come forward to collect their kin. She’d even posted an official notice saying that anyone was free to retrieve a body without question but the last time she’d checked there were still sixty seven men and women lying in the sun.
If they don’t start disappearing by the time the sun goes down she’ll have the Andrastians still in the city come and bless them before committing them to the Fire.
She makes another circuit of her office while Aveline watches her progress. “Have you seen Bethany yet today?” Marian pauses long enough to shake her head and glance out the window.
“I told her to stay inside when I left this morning. I haven’t seen her which is probably for the best. Knowing her she’d been breaking down every door in Darktown, shoving guilt down the throats of every mother in this city.”
Aveline chuckles at this and it’s a welcome sound. Marian grins back at her friend; yes, friend. Reliable, never-changing, Aveline. “She’s your sister all the way, Hawke. I don’t know what’s kept you from doing that yourself.”
“Too much else to do. The mothers of Kirkwall can wait until tomorrow.”
Looking back out, over her cities, Marian thinks that the smoke coming off the foundries in Lowtown look too much like the day the Chantry exploded. Her whole city felt like a powder keg as she’d walked it since the early hours of this morning. She feels like she’s at a loss.
“Will there be open rebellion?”
She looks to the door, where Fenris stands. He is also filthy, his guard’s armor smeared with blood and dirt. She doesn’t believe she’ll ever get used to him in uniform. She nods her head and so does Aveline. “Most likely. Clearly I am not as successful a Viscountess as I had always hoped I’d be.”
“Then what do we do?”
Fenris has always been the one that’s gotten to the heart of matters first. Marian takes a moment to consider her options before addressing Aveline. “Double all guards for the night watch for the foreseeable future. Pull in any patrols outside of the city. I want this town locked down for now.” Aveline nods and turns to go but Marian catches her forearm. “I do not want to see the abuse of the citizens. At all. No oppressive behavior and for the sake of the Maker do not allow your guards to use force for any reason unless their lives are in danger.”
She motions Fenris farther into her office and bids him close the door. When he stands in front of her desk he is his usual stoic self. “I need you to go home and get some sleep. I want you to stand guard over the courtyard around my estate. I am not so worried about myself but I need to ensure Bethany and Solona are safe.”
“Of course. I am at your service, Hawke. You know that.”
“I do. And I hope you know that I don’t trust anyone else to do this for me.”
He gives her a rare smile. “I do know. Your trust is well placed and I will ensure you and your family are safe.”
She returns his smile and it stays on her face until she’s alone again, contemplating the uprising of Kirkwall, sans mages.
“Please try to relax, Highness.”
The voice is at her ear and Elissa cracks her eyes to find the new First Enchanter of Kirkwall leaning over her. The mage holds a cloth in her hand and when she wipes the damp fabric across her bow Elissa actually sighs. It feels heavenly. “How long have I been out? Is everyone okay?”
She may be fuzzy but she wants to check. She needs to be sure everything is fine here. Well, it’s clearly not fine but she needs-
“You’ve been asleep since shortly after you were brought in, according to the Matron. She looked after you until Bethany and I arrived. It been almost a day since the attach and yes, everyone is okay. For the most part.” Elissa notes that she’s addressed kindly and simply. She still hasn’t seen the determined and head-strong young woman from Cullen’s office since that first meeting.
It is a strange thing that a woman with power such as Solona would present herself as anything but extraordinary. The mage wipes at her forehead again and Elissa relaxes back into the bed. The room is full of movement but it doesn’t seem rushed.
It is soothing, in a way. She yawns.
Her hand clinches it and she brings it up for inspection. There’s an angry red mark on her palm and the back of her hand but the wound is healed. “Your handy work?”
Solona actually blushes and ducks her head. “No. I’ve never been great at healing spells. I let Bethany handle the hard stuff. I am quite proficient at rolling bandages and wiping brows though!” She giggles a little and Elissa chuckles a little too. The movement clenches her abdomen and she groans at the ache.
Her open wounds have been healed but apparently the bruising has lingered.
“Oh! Are you uncomfortable? Here, drink this.” Solona is shoving a vial at her mouth before Elissa can wave her off and she swallows the sickly sweet healing draught that’s seen her through many a battle.
The soft feeling of unconsciousness is immediate.
Maker, she needs to send a note to Alistair before he hears about these attacks from someone else and fears the worse. She doesn’t think the city of Kirkwall could withstand the invasion of the worried husband they’d find in the King of Ferelden.
The lights are low when her eyes crack. It must be late. She stares up at the ceiling for a moment before looking around the room.
There, sitting next to her bed, is Cullen. And he is asleep. She blinks. Still there. She blinks again and raises a hand to wipe at her eyes. He’s still there and she feels her jaw drop open as she stares. Her last memories of the fighting that put her in this bed are of him pulling her up and carrying her away.
A flutter in her chest blindsides her and she actually presses a hand to her breast. She feels . . . cared for. This feeling is dangerous and her frown cuts into her forehead.
Wrong. Absolutely. Wrong.
Longing. For Cullen? Maybe. Or perhaps she’s just incredibly relieved. And happy. And any number of other emotions that could possibly explain why she feels the way she does at the moment that don’t include possibly feeling the way she does right now for anyone other than her husband.
It would make no sense that she has . . . romantic feelings for Cullen. She’s always been fascinated by him, sure. But never has she ever thought that he could be in her life and Alistair could not. Never.
There’s something else here, she knows this in her heart. Something darker.
Cullen starts to stir and she panics. Elissa slams her eyes shut, schools her features into a relaxed position, and slips her hand back to her side. She listens carefully as Cullen adjusts his position and leans forward in his chair.
He’s muttering something under his breath and she can’t quite make it out. She almost jumps out of her skin when she feels careful fingers brush some hair from her forehead. His hand. She can’t stop the flinch but she murmurs something unintelligible and rolls her head away.
Armor creaks again and the hand is removed. Elissa is deathly still and frightfully nervous. It has been ages since she’s been this scared. This city seems to bring back a lot of her past. Far more than she’s comfortable with. At this moment she is suddenly so so homesick that she wants to cry. There’s just been too much here. Too much remembering and too many shocks and this damn city tried to kill her. She just wants to go home. Everything makes sense there. She can forget about Cullen and mages and Kirkwall and spend a week in bed with Alistair and this will all seem like some strange dream.
Her musing are interrupted by soft foot falls and the sound of a chair being set gently next to the bed. Next to Cullen’s. She hears him hush whoever has walked over.
“Don’t worry. The last potion I gave her should see her through to the morning. Which, you know, is fantastic. The longer she sleeps, the better.”
It is Solona Amell. And she sounds like that extraordinary woman Elissa had first seen in Cullen’s office.
“Why do you dislike her so much, First Enchanter?” Cullen’s speech is tight and very formal. Elissa isn’t sure she’s heard dislike in the mage’s voice. She thinks is sounds more like weariness.
Solona clears her throat very softly. “The longer she sleeps the better chance she has at a full recovery. I wouldn’t want to incur the wrath of any Warden, let alone the King of Ferelden. So, it is better she sleeps and gets healthy very quickly.”
Then heavy armor creaks again. When Cullen speaks now he also sounds weary. “I don’t buy that for a minute Solona-“
“First Enchanter Amell, plea-“
The mage cuts the templar’s frustrated cry short with a severe hush. “I gave her a sleeping potion, not a ‘mimic the dead’ potion. Keep your voice down.”
Cullen grumbles and this time Elissa does hear it. You started it.
Like a child. Elissa is glad the pair can’t see her face because she can’t keep the smile off of it.
“I know you, Solona. You like everyone unless they give you a reason to dislike them. You’ve been distant with the Queen ever since she arrived. What’s going on?” Yes, Elissa thinks. That is odd of the mage. What is going on?
It takes Solona a long time to answer and when she does her voice is flat. “Do you remember Neria? She would have had her Harrowing shortly after I was sent to Ostagar.”
Ostagar. That’s right. Marian had mentioned that her cousin had saved her during the battle.
“Yes. She was friends with you and Jowan, right?”
“She was. She was my best friend.”
“Wait. Wasn’t she recruited-“
“By the Wardens. Yes. The Wardens came after I’d already left and took her from the Tower. And then they put her through some sort of test and it killed her. It killed her, Cullen. I was there that night. I saw-“
Another pause. Elissa’s brow is furrowed again listening to the tale.
“I saw the future King of Ferelden carrying her body away. And it made no sense but I saw that someone had survived this trial. A woman. This woman. The future Queen of Ferelden was alive but she was just some woman. Some blond woman who had lived while my friend, my closest friend, had died.”
And now Elissa is especially confused, trying to remember her Joining. There had been an elven mage there. The one that she’d so recently wished had been Cullen. Elissa did not remember a name though, only that the elf had not survived. Only Elissa had.
She couldn’t remember much after. Duncan had sent her to bed and she’d been so exhausted by the ordeal that she’d slept for close to twelve hours. She remembered almost nothing between waking up on the ground and then waking up in her own tent.
Except . . .
There’d been tears and yelling when the three wardens had walked back to their camp. The templars had appeared out of nowhere and restrained a mage who was screaming and pulling at Alistair. Elissa had been walking with Duncan and he’d held her back, bade her not to investigate. Told her to go to bed. She could sort of still remember the sobs and the dispels the templars had flooded the courtyard with.
She hadn’t even asked anyone the next morning about the incident. It had been time for the great battle.
The pair next to her bed has still been talking and she refocuses in time to hear Cullen apologize for . . . kissing the mage.
Solona’s voice sounds watery when she responds, “I shouldn’t have hit you. I’m sorry too.” A chuckle from Cullen; Solona sniffs. “I was just surprised, is all. We’ve never really had that talk about what’s happened, to the both of us, since the last time we saw each other. And, to be fair, you were interrogating me. Not the most pleasant of memories.”
More rustling, moving from one chair to the other. Elissa hears Solona clear her throat again and when Cullen speaks he’s much closer to the mage. “Once all of this is over I will explain if you’ll let me. You should know. No, you need to know. What happened while you were gone was-.”
His voice is so tender it brings to memory Alistair and his silly rose.
“Me too. I promise, Cullen. I’ll tell you everything. As soon as this is all over and by all I mean this new revolt and the instability of the city and the possible mage revolution. We’ve got too much other stuff here to worry about than mending burnt bridges between the two of us. Does that sound al-“
All of Solona’s protests are stifled under what sounds like a fairly gentle kiss that lasts only a moment.
“Don’t. Please, Cullen. I told you-“
“I know what you said and I know why. You’re right. Before you walked into my office at the Gallows, demanding to know what the in the Fade I was thinking, we hadn’t seen each other since I interrogated you at Kinloch. We’ve got more than a few issues between us but we’re getting better, aren’t we?”
This Cullen. This is a third Cullen that Elissa has never met before. This one has a heart and a purpose and both of them belong to Solona Amell. Elissa can see that now and it brings a blush to her cheeks, thinking about that sort of devotion.
“If we wait until the world is all better we’ll never talk. How about in a few weeks, once we quell the insurrection?”
Elissa doesn’t hear a response. She can imagine the soft sounds of fabric moving are Solona giving her consent to the arrangement because she hears another soft kiss and then the sound of two bodies standing. Two sets of feet carry the both of them out of the room; the mage and the templar.
If she wasn’t who she was this would seem a lot more awkward and unbelievable. As it is, she can’t wait to write Alistair. Not only to let him know she’s alive but also to fill him in on a couple of Fereldan natives running the city of Kirkwall.
Chapter 8: Chapter Seven
Chapter Seven: Complications
It has been days since I last wrote and I’m sorry for the silence. Things here have been insane on a Blight-level of crazy. There is a group of people in this city that have risen against the leadership and wish to overthrow the government.
I was attacked in the streets not three days ago. Don’t worry. I was not injured.
I still have so many questions about Anders and what happened at the Chantry but I don’t think I’ll ever get to the bottom of all this. Not at this time. I almost think it’d be a better idea to just come home. I could let Kirkwall figure out Kirkwall.
It seems strange. I feel like I want to run away. But really I just want to be back with you. I miss you so much. I’m not ready to deal with another war without you by my side. Not again.
I don’t know what I’m going to do yet but I’ll keep you informed. I want to stay here for a few more days to see if everything plays out on its own. I love you.
I will be home soon either way.
Bethany and her cousin stand at the edge of the stairs leading up to the Keep. They’re arm-in-arm, which happens regularly these days. While Marian and Solona share many similar features, there’s a distinct resemblance between the mages that could never possibly be overlooked. They share the same thick, dark hair and the same vibrant green eyes. Today they even share outfits; they’ve spent the better part of the day at the Gallows, seeing to the new Apprentice Quarters and they are grimy with dirt and shade dust.
They’re not even wearing robes, rather simple shifts tied at the waist and loose pants. They’ve nicked the clothes from the wash room and they could be anyone’s, really.
They pause here at the steps and watch the guards change their shift. It’s been almost a week since the night time attack on Lowtown and the Queen. And Cullen. One cousin’s stomach drops at the thought of Cullen being hurt; the other prays to the Maker nightly to keep her sister and this city safe.
The city seems safe now. Really, it does. Marian turned up a den of detractors in the sewers under Darktown and had hauled off thirty men and women for questioning.
From what Bethany has heard from Aveline, they’ve let over half go with a stern warning.
“Why don’t we just go to the estate for lunch?” Solona glances at her cousin, clearly uncomfortable with being here. She even looks back at the entrance to the Amell house. It’s quiet there and she knows she won’t run into the Queen. Or Cullen. She’s avoided both since the night Cullen kissed her in the Pearl.
Bethany reaches down and gives her hand a squeeze. “Marian wants to treat us and you know how much I love harassing Bran.” She gives Solona a winning smile. “Come on. Everything will be okay, Lona.”
They climb the stairs and clear the door; Bethany holds tight to Solona the whole time. Inside they’re greeted by everyone around them. Guards and nobles, commoners and politicians. They all smile at the pair and nods to them, calling them by name. Solona watches suspiciously at the people who address her.
The both of them are well known but they don’t usually draw this much attention. Come to think of it, Solona recognizes a great number of denizens milling about in the entry hall. So many stand about that they are having a tough time navigating the stone floors to the stairs. The crowd hinders their every step.
“Something is wrong Beth.”
Sharing a look, the two push their way up the stairs and head to Marian’s office, only to find it standing empty. Bran’s office is also empty and Bethany’s hand tightens around Solona’s. That’s when they hear the yelling in the throne room.
The place is a madhouse when they arrive. A ring of guards tries to push their way through the main doors but they’re being held back by a sea of arms from the inside. Solona reacts instinctively. Her rune hits the floor at the feet of the crowd and the guards. Everyone in the door freezes and the cousins struggle through the now paralyzed throng to enter the room.
Shouting and gesturing, the upper echelon of Kirkwall surges around the throne screaming for the heads of templar and mage alike. They carry no weapons but their voices rise in dissent; they cry for blood. The elder Hawke looks patient, sitting in her seat and trying to talk down the room with all the grace of her position. Solona and Bethany are unable to hear exactly what she says over the rumble of the crowd but it is clearly ineffective against their pleas.
The bright red of Aveline’s hair and the glowing blue of Fenris’s tattoos appear to be absent from this mess and Solona knows that this is all wrong. This is a recipe for disaster. Behind her then men and women the two of them had frozen are slowly coming out of the spell.
Not good at all.
“The mage! Get her!”
Oh Maker, preserve us.
A hundred pairs of eyes turn to the entrance and to the two mages. It’s as though the tide is shifting; the press of bodies grows. Solona and Bethany are literally swallowed up by the crowd and Solona tries to fight to free her cousin. It takes a long, torturous moment to realize that all of the hands and pulling and grabbing are for her, not for Bethany.
“Lona! LONA!” Bethany’s voice raises over the screaming that threatens to consume her senses and Solona wails back. She is panicked. She allows her skin to grow hot and wills fire to her fingertips. She aims for scalding and she hits her mark when a dozen pair of angry fingers releases her.
She has a moment of freedom as she teeters to right herself before more hands, more sharp fingernails and biting grips, pull her back again. Once more she calls forth her fire. At the edge of the crowd she thinks she can see Bethany and bursts of ice but she’s pulled down, off her feet, and dragged by her upper arms. Those hateful hands are out of reach of her fiery palms but she can’t do any more without truly hurting someone.
Solona can still hear her cousin, both her cousins actually, yelling her name. The mob around her shouts about keeping everyone back. They will kill her. They will drag her body through this city. Solona gets kicked once, twice. Her ribs are howling in pain at her now and another kick follows the first two. Her cries are cut short by coughing. The mob drags her into the entrance hall and she can’t see anything except feet and flowing skirts all around her.
She waits for them to pull her out the front doors and down the stairs of the keep but instead she’s thumped down a short flight of stairs. The Guards’ Quarters? What in the Fade are they doing in here?
Aveline will stop them.
Somewhere over the frustrated yelling of her captors she can hear pounding and shouting on the first door they pull her past. The distinct Fereldan yells of the Guard Captain; barred in her own office? It sounds like it. She’s pulling her head up, trying to glimpse the rooms around her, looking for help, when she is gagged and a rough sack is shoved over her head. Her vision goes dark.
Official review can only mean an official inspection. He shudders at the thought of another Knight Commander in Kirkwall, looking at things. Poking around. Noticing he’s completely in love with the freshly appointed First Enchanter.
Completely, totally, and hopelessly in love.
He’s man enough to admit it. He’s also smart enough to accept that he never really stopped loving Solona Amell. He spent years retraining, first in Denerim, then on a string of assignments until he’d landed in Kirkwall. In those early days he’d easily buried that emotion under the idea that something so wrong could only be hate, disguised. He’d tortured the poor woman with words and anger because he’d been stupid enough to believe Greagoir when the man had said she would never really love him. Because she was an abomination against the Maker.
Somewhere in the Anderfels he’d given up on the hate and just settled for apathy. Keep her away from him and he was fine. Kirkwall had been easier. There’d been too much to do in those early days following the Blight. But after the Blight he’d started dreaming about her again, wishing she’d just show up.
And then she did.
She just walked right back into his life without a warning and suddenly he’s seventeen all over again, hoping to catch a whiff of her perfume outside the Apprentice Dorms.
He’s been doomed from the start.
He thinks about her the same way he thinks about the sun. When it’s gone, when she’s gone, he is cold. He is alone and the world is dim. When she returns, when the sun rises again, he is full of warmth and life and the world is brilliant.
Right now, in this sweaty office with this irritating note he feels put out. He needs a burst of that radiance. He leaves his office in a rush, not even bothering with a sword, and treks over to the Apprentice quarters. He’d been informed of Solona and Bethany Hawke’s arrival to clean hours ago and it has to be time for lunch. He’ll invite her down to the food vendor by the Gallow docks.
The old man that cooks doesn’t look terribly reputable but Cullen has yet to eat a bad meal at the stall.
He is all smiles when he pushes open the door to the sleeping quarters but it turns quickly into an irritated little frown when he realizes that there’s no one in the room. He checks around bunk beds, freshly righted and scrubbed clean of the shade dust that’s clung to everything in this complex for weeks. The room smells fresh but is free of Amells.
The closest guard he finds shrugs when he asks after the mages and he growls. Shouldn’t his men be on the lookout? Sure, there’s less than a dozen mages to keep track of but- Maker take them all. He stomps off towards the docks and immediately notes that the Viscount’s barge the two always bring over is gone.
They must have gone back to Kirkwall.
He spends a total of five seconds contemplating turning around and going back to his office before he orders his own barge to be manned and he’s off across the bay.
The breeze off the water feels heavenly under the heat of the midday sun. He turns his face skyward and smiles. He thinks back to that quiet conversation in the Rose. How Solona’s cheeks had burned when he’d quieted her with a kiss. They hadn’t really spoken since then; he has the feeling she’s avoiding him out of embarrassment. She used to do that too, when they were younger-
“Knight Captain! Look!”
Cullen’s eyes snap open and immediately find the man who’s almost shouted at him in amazement. The man points and Cullen follows the gesture to find a most strange and shocking site. His jaw hangs open, in fact, when he processes the dozen or so ships in the Kirkwall Bay, flying the colors of the Imperium.
Half the ships have docked and streams of robe clad mages are running up the steps into the city. There are few spells; there seem to be no Kirkwallians in the area except for an unlucky few who meet a swift end. He watches a dock worker leave a warehouse only to explode in a fiery mess against the wall.
His skiff is halfway across the water and he orders his men to turn it east, towards the far side of the Kirkwall docks and away from the ships. There are none docking here and he hopes the sunlight reflecting off the water will keep this hidden until they make land. Thinking as though, he and his men all crouch and try to move as little as possible.
Cullen is sweating again now, despite the cool breeze, and it has nothing to do with the daylight.
“Get me in close so I can get to the Keep then go back for the men. Leave a handful behind for the mages; see them safely underground to the dungeons and have them lock themselves in. Tell Knight Captain Agatha to bring the knights to this side of the docks.”
He pauses. Sweat is dripping freely into his eyes now. He wipes his face with his neck scarf and looks back over the bay. They’re close to the docks now, only thirty feet to go. “Tell her to meet me up at the back entrance to the Keep.”
Cullen stands and prepares to jump. Behind him his oarsman hisses his name. He turns in time to catch the two-handed sword flying at him. Oh, yeah. He’d left the Gallows without a weapon. He nods his thanks and braces his right foot on the edge of the boat. As soon as the dock is close enough he pushes off and sails through the air. He lands with a thump and rolls to soften the blow. Behind him the skiff is already turning, heading back across the water.
He is alone on the dock as he watches his men navigate the very far side of the bay and make it to the Gallows. There are still no boats close to his position and he doesn’t see any making a move towards the far side. He sends up a prayer to the Maker to keep the Imperium out of his territory before turning and dashing up the steep steps to the back of the Keep.
The smell is real however as are the sounds of fighting just outside of her window. She feels a swell of magic and a blast of fire is released on the street. This is far too familiar to the night she lost her family.
She wastes no more time dissecting her surroundings and throws off the thin sheet covering her body. The window in her room is high and she drags a chair over so she can peek down at the street.
Three mages wearing Imperium robes attack a group of unarmed young men, hurling fireballs and blasts of ice from their staffs. The men are still burning; still frozen solid in some places, as the mages turn the corner and disappear from her sight.
The city is under attack.
She will not panic. She will not. She needs- she needs to find Marian.
But, first, she needs to put on some pants if she’s going to fight evil.
Elissa is dressed and armed in moments. Her gear has been patched but it’s not the best job ever. Her right elbow cop is out of sorts and she unbuckles it all together, leaving her still healing right forearm exposed. Nothing to be done for it, though. She is already opening the door before she thinks about grabbing her Warden Signet ring. This may be the sort of time to use her status if necessary.
Precious moments are further spent scratching out an explanation and a possible farewell to her husband on a piece of half used parchment. It almost breaks her heart to sign her name to the bottom but she does it anyway. Her lips close the seal with a kiss and she closes her eyes a moment to pray to the Maker. The noise on the street is getting louder and there are pounding feet at the stairs.
Her daggers are drawn when Santo pulls the door open. A sigh of relief escapes her lips but he looks so frightened she doesn’t relax. She decides she should probably pack for a journey, just in case. “There are Magisters on the street. Is Kirkwall being invaded?”
The dwarf nods. “Yes, messere. But, it’s worse than that. The city folk have kidnapped Solona.”
That brings Elissa up short. Her expression is queer as she regards Santo as though daring him to call his bluff. When he doesn’t she packs even faster. “Where are the Hawkes?”
“The Keep, I think. They just sent a messenger over to wake you and tell you to meet them there, if you are able.”
Elissa nods and straightens, the pack slinging naturally over her back. “Thank you for telling me.” In her hand she holds out her letter. “If I don’t make it back please be sure to send this along to Alistair.”
“Yes, messere. Be safe, messere.”
She doesn’t answer and the front door clicks behind her with finality.
Chapter 9: Chapter Eight
Chapter Eight: Rescue
He’s halfway up the stairs when he hears a commotion from above him. There’s a large group of people coming down the stairs. His balance is disturbed when he misses the next step and he stumbles into the hard stone wall. Cullen rests there just a moment, listening.
He hears no armor, not likely to be guards then. The voices sound angry, but victorious and they’re murmuring about mages; one of them says ‘Hawke’ and then ‘Amell’. Cullen’s blood runs cold. He has no idea who these people are, in this secret part of the Keep but the idea of strangers grumbling about Solona and her cousins infuriates him. He pushes himself back upright and continues his trek, faster this time.
The way the outside staircase of the Keep is designed creates long curves in the ever upward bound staircase. It follows the outside of the building and for every strange tower room built it offers another blind stop in the path.
He uses this to his advantage and the group ahead of him doesn’t realize he’s there until his sword is pushed into the throat of the first man leading. Scratch that, first woman. Her eyes go wide and he stares her down. This sword is sharp and he’s careful not to break the skin.
The woman cries out and the mob stops behind her while Cullen looks over the rabble. The people in front of him are dirty and angry and thoroughly Kirkwallian. They’re from Lowtown, the most of them. He’s pretty sure the man that sold him the necklace he doesn’t have the guts to give to Solona is in the middle of the group. Voices start to rise again.
“Knight Commander. Please move out of our way.” This must be the man in charge. Is he the butcher? Or perhaps the owner of the Hanged Man. Cullen gives him a steady look and lowers his sword.
“The city is under attack. The Tevinter Imperium landed not twenty minutes ago and is slaughtering anyone they find on the streets.” A pause, for effect. He leans in. “What are you doing out here?”
At this twenty voices swell in confusion, panic, fear. The leader of the pack is trying to quiet them but it does little good. From what Cullen can hear these people had no idea about the Imperium. There’s a slight scuffle in the middle of the group. The pack tightens. “We should get to our families then, serrah.” The leader motions everyone forward and they give Cullen a wide berth as they edge around him.
The staircase is wide enough for ten men. There’s plenty of space for the people to pass him in only a moment. The center of the group stays thick with bodies though and he’s about to dismiss the randomness of this entire encounter when he catches a flash of templar blue undershirt somewhere in that group as it thins out for just a moment.
The color is distinctive. Only people allowed into the Gallows would have a shirt of that color. Only his templars. Or possibly a mage.
“Halt!” His sword is raised again. The group pauses and shift, more murmurs. He’s surrounded and he’s not stupid enough to think he could take all of these people but he’ll be damned to the Fade if he wouldn’t try. The leader pushes back to him.
“Yes Knight Commander?” There’s a barely controlled note of pure panic in the man’s tone.
Cullen doesn’t answer. He advances on the middle of the group, searching again for the so familiar blue. Four or five don’t want to move though; they block his view, even as he raises the sword to throat level once more.
“Move aside, citizens.”
The brave few shake their heads and behind him, the leader grabs for his upper arm. It’s not a strong grip and it’s not threatening but it’s restrictive. “Knight Commander-”
Cullen keeps his eyes firmly planted on the men still keeping him from seeing what he knows is there: one of his own men. “I’m going to give you three options. One, you move or two, I make you move.”
A young man, strappy and looking defiant, raises his chin. “What’s our third option, Knight Commander?” His question is snarled and challenging.
It’s a small thing, really. The way Cullen lowers his own chin and smiles. It is a gruesome smile and holds no warmth. A tiny lifting of the corner of his lips and the effect is immediate. The four men in front of him back up and clearly there’s a body behind them, the way they form an uneasy half circle. His words, when he finally speaks, are sharp as the blade he carries in his hand. “Your third option is the surrender of your lives. I will tear the lot of you apart. Now move.”
He lets the words hang in the air for only a second before he advances again.
“Oh, let him have her. We need to get out of here!” The leader again, calling his men off. It’s almost a stampede then as the entire group rushes down the stairs and Cullen is a little surprised at their haste.
He reminds himself that he’s just delivered the terrible news that the city is being invaded. They probably wish to get home to their families. He watches the last of them disappear around a curve before looking at their, what? Captive? Surely as the body is bound by the hands and blinded with a sack. The mob had said to let him have her. A woman, then.
When his hands reach for the woman’s upper arms, pulling her into a standing position, he hears her whimper and a terrifying thought crosses his mind. That sounded like-
He rips the sack off her head and is met with the wide and terrified eyes of Solona, tear tracks collecting dust on her cheeks and her mouth gagged with a rough strip of cloth. “Oh Maker! I had no idea they had you.” His fingers shake when he reaches back and unties the gag.
Her mouth free, Solona sobs softly. He’s unsure of what to do. When he loosens the bindings around her hands she leans into his, soaking up his presence. Her fingers curl into the edge of his breastplate by his neck. She’s attempting to hold back the crying that is wracking her whole body when he asks quietly, “Lona?”
Her name breaks something inside of her and instead of answering his soft quarry, she picks her face up and buries it in the exposed skin at his neck. Her soft breaths are burning as they cross his fevered skin. He is finally spurred into motion as dampness drips down his throat from her tears. He wraps her up tight in his arms.
He feels like he did the day the Chantry exploded. Everything has fallen to insanity. Magisters and kidnappings and Solona Amell crying in, he hopes, relief. “Lona? What happened?”
Her soft dark hair brushes his chin when she shakes her head, not ready to talk yet so Cullen settles for making small circles on her back with his gauntlet. It can’t be particularly comfortable but it’s the best he’s got. It seems to calm her some and her crying eventually peters out to quiet sniffles.
“The people are uprising.” Her words are soft, spoken against his neck. He shivers at the contact of the skin of her lips on his neck. Her statement is punctuated with a light kiss and he shivers all the harder, almost shaking now. “They were in the throne room and they took me. I didn’t know what they wanted but as they were dragging me away they said something about holding me ransom. It was clear from their words they thought I was Bethany though. They said something about the sister coming for me.”
She finally lifts her head and looks up at him. He’s struck by the intensity of her gaze, those soft gray eyes wide and rimmed in red. She looks strained but relieved. “What in the name of the Maker is going on, Cullen?”
He looks up and down the stairs, thinking hard for a moment. The safest place for Solona would be the Gallows. He needs to get her out of Kirkwall and to a secure location. He dips his back and swings her up in to his arms. She gives a squeak of surprise but is soon wrapping her arms fully around his neck, balancing herself, as he starts back down the stairs as fast as he can.
“THE IMPERIUM IS ATTACKING!”
She is so very close to slicing open the neck of the mage who has a booth in Hightown when these words bring her to a standstill. They bring everyone to a standstill and all turn and look at the door. Varric is out of breath and seems to be roughed up badly. He holds his side and from her vantage point, Marian can see blood dripping between his fingers.
The people do not stop her as she moves to her friend. He smiles at the sight of her but it is more of a grimace than a greeting. Behind him, Merrill hovers with Fenris glowing at her back. Marian mulls. For just a moment. To collect her thoughts. “How bad is it Varric?”
He shrugs. “A dozen ships, a couple hundred mages. I think I saw some slaves fighting as well.” Fenris bristles at that, his skin glowing even brighter.
She turns on her heel and addresses the people of Kirkwall. Bodies are everywhere. She is covered in their blood and surely she’s shared quite a bit with those still standing.
“I care not for your quarrels with me. I never have and I regret every death in this room. I fight and bleed for Kirkwall and if Kirkwall does not want me anymore than I will leave. However, right now-.” She takes a deep breath and notes that many of the citizens are shifting uncomfortably back and forth.
“Right now this is still my home and there appears to be an army that wishes to challenge us. Right now the Imperium is burning our city and killing our friends, our families.” The crowd is still shifting, but agitated now. They mumble and grumble and their voices are rising.
“Right now, a group of foolish mages with no respect for the honorable people of this city has ignored the warnings we’ve sent out for so many years. We have defeated the Qunari. We have taken the city back from corrupt leaders and I say it’s time to give the Imperium a proper Kirkwall greeting.”
The room erupts in cheers and shouting. Weapons are waved. The people of Kirkwall that so recently wanted to kill her and her family assemble. Beside her she hears Varric chuckle and say, “You always were good with words.”
She gives him a cheeky grin. She must keep her head up and on straight. “Let’s go stop an invasion. Again.”
She is flanked by Varric and her sister, the two elves trailing behind them and then the mob following. They leave the Keep and shout cries of rage when they begin to sweep through the streets of Kirkwall.
Elissa pulls her dagger free as more bodies push past her. She hears the screams of children on the far side of the courtyard. A small group of workers from the Blooming Rose is trying to herd crying and panicking kids towards the remnants of the Chantry but they’re being picked off, one at a time, by a pair of laughing male mages.
She can feel her blood begin to boil as a young girl with long blond hair is attacked by a swarm of magical insects that tear at her skin. Her roar of rage is lost among the crying and the mages are unaware of her at their backs until she’s removed the head of the first and is emptying the other’s stomach onto the street.
The group she’s just rescued scatters at her attack, headed farther into Hightown and away from the Keep. “Wait, come back!” If she can get them to the Keep, with the Hawkes, she should be able to find a safe spot for them. The workers ignore her pleas; they try to gather the children again and keep herding them towards the burnt remains of the Chantry.
She hears another mage beginning a spell but she is too late to yell out a warning to the completely unorganized group. She watches, horrified, as their small bodies are pulled first towards a tight group and then lifted high into the air.
The bodies come down with a sickening crunch. Small limbs lie twisted and broken. She has to look away for a moment; the sound and the sight echo in her head and her heart. She mustn’t cry. She has to-
Her hesitation costs her. The mage has heard her yells and sends a blast of icy magic straight towards her chest. She dodges the worst of it but takes a shard across her still healing upper arms. She cries out in pain even as she rolls away from more danger. She comes up running, changing the course of her path sharply to avoid more incoming attacks. There’s a set of boxes up ahead and she dives straight over them, colliding hard against the wall behind them. But she is in full cover and she breathes deep to calm her racing heart.
“Leave her! The mob moves toward Lowtown!” Another voice, much further away, calls out to the mage still sending blasts of ice her way. The square goes silent except for three sets of running feet. She waits a long thirty count before peeking over her cover. The area is empty of living souls except for her. Elissa stands and picks her way over to the group of children and chantry workers. There are no survivors and she is chilled as surveys the twisted bodies in front of her.
It looks far too similar to Darkspawn attacks early in the Blight when she and Alistair had been too late to save a village. She tightens the grip on her daggers. When she turns and heads back towards the Keep, her face is steely and her hardened silhouette is framed by the husk of the Chantry.
The blood splatters on her armor are drying when she pushes open the large doors at the top of the stairs of the Keep. The doors creak as she pushes her weight against them just wide enough to slip through the gap.
The majority of the city guard appears to be lying dead on the floor. There are bodies of citizens mixed in with the guards and she can tell not all of them were killed by magic. Her eyes follow the trail of the dead across the entry way and up the stairs to settle on a mage, standing at the railing. His face, deformed with the power he wields, stretches into a wide grimace when he spies her and she sighs. Her grip tightens on her daggers and she steadies her breathing, ready for the moment when she’ll strike.
The mage is faster than she expects and he’s summoned six shades on all her corners as she takes her first few steps forward. No time for sneaking around in the shadows now. Pushing off hard with her left foot she springs forward. Her first unlucky victim, the closest shade, receives both of her blades straight up its front. She wounds, rather than kills, and keeps moving. Fire balls are striking the ground at her feet. She spins and jumps to the stairs. One more jump sends her careening over the last railing and into the mage.
The end is bloody for him and excruciatingly painful for her. His hand presses to her chest and releases a ball of something as she brings her blades down into his shoulders. Elissa flies backwards and the mage crumples.
She can’t breathe.
The something inside her is tightening itself around her heart and it beats out that unforgettable rhythm of panic . . . death panic . . . death . . . panic panic. Her vision narrows on the shades closing in on her and this is it. Her fingers find the smoke bomb at the small of her back and she uses every last ounce on her strength to get away from her attackers. The door to the guard room gives way under her kick and she locks it behind her.
She can no longer stand. Her body resists the commands she gives for movement and slides to the floor. As the adrenaline of her initial push drains from her body she feels every cut and burn on her body from the mage and something warm is dripping out from beneath her armor. Her eyes follow the story of her life as it slowly drains out of her and pools underneath one hand. This is it.
Elissa can no longer keep her eyes open. Reality blinks away from her as she whispers the only thing that she can think of anymore.
Chapter 10: Chapter Nine
Chapter Nine: Repel
The mages flee back to the docks and Marian pushes the people of Kirkwall faster. Her cries for blood and vengeance fill the air when they clear the last of the Imperial Magisters to boats hastily retreating back across the bay. She has her friends at her side when she jumps on a free boat and assembles a crew. The mob follows her lead and she has a ramshackle armada following the withdrawing boats. She thinks that they’ll head out to sea and that they can call this invasion a wash but instead they turn to the west, to the Gallows. Beside her she hears Varric curse under his breath.
“Those damn fools are going to take the Gallows. If they get in there’s no way Cullen and his men can hold them. They’ll be nice and fortified in there, Hawke.”
She’s had the same thought. “I know, Varric. We need to make sure they don’t get the chance. Archers!” She raises her voice so the boats closest to her can hear her. “Fire on the enemy as soon as we’re in range! Do not let them take the Gallows!” The message gets passed on to the rest of the boats and there is a hail of arrows when they close the distance. There aren’t enough Magisters still on boats to cause massive damage but the archers take out a dozen easily.
As the boat docks Marian sends a prayer to the Maker to give her strength and charges for the front doors.
Solona is safe.
His guards form into their lines and break off accordingly. There are worst places to make a last stand, Cullen knows, and so long as his troops can keep the enemy from infiltrating the interior, they might just make it. There is an eerie moment of while the enemy approaches and the men wait patiently for their chance to create a kill pocket. It is in that moment a strong burst of elemental magic burst forth from the railings to either side of him. His men panic momentarily, wheeling and looking for the enemy behind them.
There is only the familiar blue shirt of the templars worn by the fierce-faced First Enchanter of Kirkwall. Solona raises her arms again, summoning a might fire storm. The mage to her right casts an oil slick right before she casts and the first wave of Magisters hit the ground. The fire storm sets the entire group ablaze and there is a moment of pause as the screams of the dying fill the air.
An ice storm descends then, cast by the Imperium, that kills the fire and the Magisters start to advance again. Solona seems to have been expecting this, though, and shoots up a wall of fire right to the outside of range of the ice storm. Cullen watches, in amazement, as another oil slick, from a completely different mage, catches the second wave of Magisters.
The Circle has taken out at least twenty Magisters; the templars watch, in amazement, as the Imperium turns tail and starts to run. Cheers erupt on both sides of him as the inhabitants watch the invasion force flee. As the last head disappears down the stairs he hears a mighty cry farther away and a blast of magic shoots three Magisters back up to the courtyard.
His forces silence themselves and brace for another attack.
Instead, the people of Kirkwall are marched up the stairs with a defiant-looking Hawke leading the charge. She is a fierce sight to behold; covered in blood and dirt she looks much the same as when they first exchanged words out on Sundermount. He feels a smile stretch across his face. Kirkwall has risen up to defend themselves.
“What a surprise to see you, Viscountess. Lovely day for a walk, isn’t it?” She grins back at his cheekiness and beside him he can hear Solona laugh too. The joke feels strange coming from his mouth, but it breaks the tension still humming through his men and women.
“Well, you know. The bay is beautiful this time of year.” The dwarf and Bethany flank the Champion and they exchange smiles. Upon seeing her cousin, safe and sound up on the railings of the Gallows, Bethany lets out a happy shout and runs to her. The two embrace tightly and Cullen thinks that this day hasn’t been so bad, after all.
His elation is short lived, however, as the townsfolk filtering into the square form a circle around the Champion, surrounding her and closing in. They are crying for blood and Cullen watches in amazement as the dwarf is thrown free. “Hold her tight, men! We’ll clear this city of all its foes today!”
That’s not quite justifiable, she thinks. She’s saved this city countless times. She’s the damned Viscount for Maker’s sake. She is their HERO. Sure, they were pretty irate with her earlier but there is time for talk, now. She’ll go willingly.
They seem to think otherwise and she feels hands everywhere, tearing at her armor. One pulls her belt free and she cries out as her supplies drop to the ground at her feet and are trampled. The crowd, she believes, has no intention of letting her go anyway except to the Maker.
She has to get out of here. NOW.
She can’t move though. There’s too many. She’s trapped. Trapped. Her eyes rise to the upper stairs, where her sister has run to. She looks for Bethany, pleads with her mentally. Come on sister. Help me.
The hands go still. Absolutely motionless. There! At the edge of the crowd! Bethany’s glyph of paralysis has given her the opportunity. She wastes no time and slips back, back down towards the docks and the rest of the city and escape. She hears her sister cry out behind her and Hawke pauses one last time to look back. The templars, what few remain, are moving the people away from her and the mages, only a handful now as well, rush forward to help with crowd control.
Marian raises her hands, catching Bethany’s eyes. I’m sorry; I have to go.
She has to get out.
She turns and flees.
The boat ride is quick and silent. She watches a Tevinter ship still burning in the harbor from an unknown explosion. The docks are quiet as she runs and she keeps going. Up and up endless steps back to her estate. She needs to leave this city as quickly as possible but she needs to go home first. There are a few things that she cannot leave behind, no matter what.
Hightown looms in front of her and she doesn’t slow as she takes these damned stairs as quickly as possible. She’s through her front door in seconds. Santo waits for her, in the living room, wearing the face of misery she’s not seen on a dwarf in a long time. His expression stops her cold and she remembers.
How could she have ever forgotten?
She’d sent a message to the estate for the Queen to meet them at the Keep. But Elissa had never shown. The Queen will no longer be safe here, for sure. “Where did she go!?” She’s harsher on Santo than she has a right to be but she’s in a hurry dammit.
“Looking for you m’Lady. Some time ago. She went to the Keep, from what I saw, as you bade her. She said . . . if she doesn’t come back . . . King Alistair.” She sees the letter clasped in his hands now and understands. Elissa is fully prepared, then, for what awaits her.
Marian grabs what she can manage to fit in her bag from her room and is back out on the streets. She can hear the crowd, apparently free from the templars and the mages, coming up from Lowtown. She’s running out of time.
The Keep is not so far from her house that she ever regretted the morning walk to work but now, with hundreds of people who want to kill her at her heels, she curses every step. It is abandoned. The stairs are still littered with the dead; most are the bodies of Magisters she had left in her wake earlier and a faint beat of hope flutters her heart. Elissa, hopefully, has made it safely inside.
The door is already open when she approaches, wide enough for her to slip through without touching the wood. She can hear the shades as soon as she steps into the darkness of the main room. They haven’t noticed her yet, so she hopes, and she searches each out.
Six are clustered around the door to the guard’s quarters, clawing at the door as though they were dogs whining after a hidden vermin. Someone is back there. Alive, or dead, she doesn’t want to think about that. She finds the last of her fire flasks at the small of her back and approaches the shades silently.
One flask will not kill all of them. Two flasks could take out half. Three shades against one of her . . . her odds could be worse. At least they’re not scary big statues comes to life. Rationally she admits that facing those creatures down again would be much worse.
The group gives off an inhumane screech when the first flask explodes and she can indeed hear the death wail of a few she the second flask follows. She’s gotten lucky. Four small piles of dust are left on the floor as the remaining two shades turn to face her. They seem . . . displeased.
This is what she’s good at and she smiles with all of the confidence of the Champion.
She’s ready for their charge, throwing up a puff of smoke and flanking around to their back sides. Her blades strike out simultaneously on her first target. It’s been weakened already and seemingly evaporates in front of her.
The other, her last enemy, also looks weakened and very very angry. It catches her with an arm before she can dodge it but she comes right back at it, swiping furiously. It knocks her back. She resets her position and jumps high. Again, both blades strike out and find their intended target. She is left alone and breathing heavy but not still.
She pushes to the door and tries to open it. It’s locked. Of course it’s locked. Marian drops to a knee and pulls out her pick set. She makes quick work of the door and pushes at it again. It budges but only an inch or two. Something is blocking it from the other side. She shoves harder and the resistance falls away. She can hear the sound of a body tumbling down the small set of stairs that leads into the room.
Maker’s breath. It’s Elissa.
Marian has to fight to keep her balance with all the blood on the floor, Elissa’s blood. At the foot of the stairs she turns over the warden gently. She checks for a pulse. And lets out a huge sigh of relief when she finds it; faint but its presence gives her hope. The armor Elissa wears is in shreds and her complexion is wan with the blood loss.
She needs a healer.
There’s a crash from Aveline’s office and it startles Marian so badly she falls back. Noise is good. She hurries to the door but her hand hesitates on the knob. Or maybe it’s not. Noise could be more enemies, maleficars lying in wait or perhaps another scary Qunari that wants to take her head off. She pulls a blade to be sure and pushes into the room.
She sees nothing initially. The room is dark except for the faint light filtering in through the windows. It is also destroyed. Wood splinters and books litter the floor. In the shadows, behind the remains of Aveline’s desk, Marian sees movement and steps farther into the room.
The movement happens to be Merrill, dirty and bloody and looking for all the world as though she’s been through the war. Perhaps she has. Marian wishes she could feel the warmth of a friendship when she realizes it’s the young mage but she doesn’t. The two have grown distant since the death of Anders. But, it’s Merrill and Merrill has learned how to heal, at least a little.
She takes a step forward. “Come quickly. I need your help.”
“Oh, really?” Arms raise and cross in front of the elf’s chest. There’s an air of petulance about her and Marian can feel her temper shortening. “And why would I do that?”
Marian regrets the space that’s grown between them. She regrets the hurt that the elf has been through and the part that Marian herself has played in it. But she has no time for this shit. She takes another step forward and grabs Merrill’s arm. The elf knows that she won’t hurt her, seriously, but she still gives into the intimidation.
When Merrill flinches outwardly Marian flinches inwardly. She hates to have to do this but she must. “I’m sorry. For everything, truly I am. And if I had the time I’d explain all of the ways that I’ve let you down and I’ve never been there for you but Merrill, I need your help now and then I need to go.”
She pulls the elf to the doorway and shoves the door the rest of the way open. Elissa still lies at the foot of the step, slowly dying if she’s not already dead. At the sight of the warden Merrill gasps and falls forward, onto the woman. “What happened to her?”
“There were shades, out in the entry way, when I came through. She must have been hurt. Made it back here, where she’s been dying for who knows how long. Merrill, I need you to heal her. I have to get the two of us out of the city before we’re killed.”
The elf is quiet for a moment before she reaches into the pouch at her side and pulls out a familiar blue vial. Merrill drains the lyrium potion and moves her hands to Elissa’s chest. Healing, of the magical variety, has always fascinated and distracted Marian. The pure blue glow and the utter calm washing over her pulls her back to a place which takes away all panic. Even though she’s on a deadline now and she has to go go GO she relaxes inside her armor as Merrill works on Elissa.
A moment passes, then more, and even longer until the elf leans back, her energy drained. Elissa does not awaken. When Merrill speaks her voice is thread. “She was hit with a spiritual drain as well as a swarm. The cuts on her body are healed. I’ve dragged the last of the residual damage from her. There is no guarantee that she’ll ever wake though.”
This is not the best of news but it is enough. Marian can’t hear the mob but it’s only a matter of time before they find her here. There are not enough places to hide in this town. She hopes that the house doesn’t get burned down.
Merrill starts asking questions when she hauls Elissa up over one shoulder. The other woman is heavy and Marian staggers. “What’s happening Hawke? Why are you leaving? I don’t understand!”
She can escape down the back exit. It empties towards the docks at a guard station but on the outskirts of the town. They keep a few horses stabled there. Marian can get the two of them out of the city and over Sundermount within the next few hours, if she hurries.
Merrill is still talking and Marian wants to hug her; thank her for this act of kindness that she doesn’t deserve. But the words stick in her throat. There is so much that stands between her and the many that helped her become the Champion of Kirkwall. She supposes that she’ll no longer be the Champion and all she will be now is herself, once more.
“Merrill. I am sorry. I- I was never the friend to you that you deserved and I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you that before now. Before I have to go. I probably won’t be back. And I need you to do me a favor.” The elf’s line of questioning ceases at this and she becomes quieter than Marian is used to seeing her. “Tell the others, if they’re still alive, that I’ll miss them and that I appreciate all of their help. That I value their friendship, even yours.”
Merrill stops her as she reaches the stairs leading down into the Keep’s storage. “Where will you go? Back to Ferelden?” The elf stares pointedly at the woman. Marian is surprised that Merrill would recognize Elissa. “She’s got her Grey Warden signet ring on. Only a few of those in the world; only one of them worn by a woman.”
She laughs, relieved and glad that she’s been so blessed with friends. Even when she doesn’t deserve them. “I don’t know where we’ll end up but it will be far away, I’m sure. Take care of yourself Merrill.” She’s gone before she can hear Merrill’s soft response.
Chapter 11: Chapter Ten
Chapter Ten: Shadows
The templars are able to keep back the townsfolk long enough for Hawke’s skiff to cross the waters of the bay safely. He can see just a glimpse of her dark head disappearing up into the Docks and Lowtown before the citizens of Kirkwall, those that still wish to fight, get past his men and women.
He doesn’t want to hurt anyone else. He tells his people to let them go because honestly, if they kill the citizens there will be nothing left here. Nothing at all. Bethany, held farther back by Solona, cries out in rage at his words but he gives her a sharp stare. “Calm down. Your sister is good at what she does. She’ll be fine. We, however, need to attend to our own.” He turns and looks back to the water. The citizens are still loading into boats.
“Who knows what’ll happen when they don’t find Hawke. They might come back for another round with us.” He calls his higher-ups to him and starts handing out instructions.
Clear the courtyard of the dead.
Transfer all the wounded to the Recruit Quarter of the barracks.
Assign shifts for sleeping, starting as soon as possible.
Find out if there’s anything to eat. His stomach growls at the thought because really, he’d been on his way to eat hours ago when the attack first occurred.
The cousin mages quiet and he can hear them retreat to start healing the wounded.
Cullen gives a mighty sigh and rakes a filthy hand over his face.
News comes much late in the day. The sun is setting when the messenger arrives at his office door. Cullen pushes aside his accounting of the day’s events and gives the dwarf his full attention. The dwarf introduces himself as Santo, the Hawke manservant.
“Ser, Viscount Hawke is gone. She stopped at the house on her way and packed a bag. She headed to the keep afterwards, following the Queen’s footsteps, but I don’t know where she went from there. She may still be in the city or she may have fled. I do not know.” The dwarf stands with his hands clasped behind her back.
Cullen has forgotten about the Warden in all of this, but it’s reassuring that she’ll have Hawke with her at the very least. He does not wish to start a war with Ferelden over a missing Queen and he’s sure to have many questions to answer. But not yet. Santo’s explanation is startling to him. “You’re very forthcoming with information. No loyalty to your employer’s secrets?”
The dwarf smiles and rocks back on his heels. “The Viscountess left instructions that should this situation ever arise I was to find you or the First Enchanter and explain what’s happened.”
“I see.” Cullen holds his head in one hand, thinking. This is an absolute mess that Hawke has left in her wake. The city is burning. The people are calling for blood: he’s happy none of it has been directed back towards the Gallows, yet. Worst of all the confusion left by the Tevinter invasion calls for swift action and investigation. But he has no men to spare. The knights are still cleaning the blood off the flagstones in the courtyard.
He hasn’t heard from the city guard yet and hasn’t even attempted to send a dispatch to Hightown to see how things fared in that quarter. There is still too much unrest, too many people carrying swords, ready to attack. At least he thinks so. Cullen feels helpless.
“Was there anything else?”
The dwarf straightens at his question. “The Amell estate has been looted. I’ve brought what I could save of Miss Bethany and Miss Solona’s personal belongings but it’s not much.” Cullen notices the bags waiting in the hall. They are small and Cullen worries about the two women. He’ll have to tell them both what’s happened to Hawke. “I have a letter, Ser.”
Santo reaches into his vest pocket and withdraws a creased envelope. He hands it to Cullen, wordlessly. The handwriting is elegant and addresses the letter to King Alistair of Ferelden. It must be from the Warden then. Santo dismisses himself and Cullen falls into thought again.
This is how Solona finds him. He has no idea how much time has passed between the dwarf’s disappearance and the soft knock on his door. When he glances up at the sound she is leaning in the door and smiling back. It’s soft and worried but somehow reassures him. She has cleaned herself up since the battle and the only reminder is the darkening bruise where she had been bleeding earlier.
“Knight-Commander Cullen. It appears we’ve made it through yet another war.”
Cullen is startled, yet again, at the change in her tone. She does not sound like the nervous and indecisive youth that left for Ostagar and came back a shell-shocked veteran. Even as she’d recovered over the years she’d kept that hint of worried confusion in her words. This is all gone now, replaced with an even-paced acceptance.
“It appears that we have First Enchanter Solona.” She laughs at this and enters his office fully. She flops into a chair and leans back.
“So. What are we going to do now?”
He looks down at letter in his hands. He hopes that it will direct the husband towards the wife’s eventual location. He hopes that this invasion was a one-time thing and that he won’t be left dealing with the possible take-over of the Free Marches. He hopes that he can put this Circle back into some semblance of order, with the Chantry present or not. He no longer cares what the Clerics have to say, having been left to deal with this mess on his own.
Solona shifts and he glances up at her. Hope. She’s hope, sitting right there. Cullen wonders when, not if, they’ll be able to move past everything they’ve been through and just be. The thought makes him smile.
“Rebuild.” He stands and walks around his desk. Kneeling in front of the mage he takes her hand. Her palm is warm; he winds his fingers between her own and he grins now. “One moment at a time.”
He can almost imagine the spark of happiness that jumps from skin to skin. The irresistible smile that she returns is unforgettable.
Come home safe, my love.