* * *
Pale, silent, stern, what could I say to that long-accrued retribution?
Could I wish humanity different?
Could I wish the people made of wood and stone?
Or that there be no justice in destiny or time?
* * *
Lyna had been dreaming about a halla—caught in brambles in some familiar place in the woods, brilliant red gashes dripping blood down its frost-white legs, and although she tried to calm it enough to cut it free, it kicked and thrashed, driving her back and forcing the thorns deeper into its flesh—when the knock at her door woke her. She took a moment to get her bearings. No light came in through the single small window set in stone, its deerskin covering pulled aside to let in the summer air. Vigil’s Keep was silent as the rest of its occupants slept undisturbed, and the hearth in her quarters was dead and dark. Alistair's arms were wrapped around her waist, his nose pressed between her shoulder blades as he breathed slowly in dreamless sleep.
A part of her wished that she'd imagined the knock. She very nearly closed her eyes again.
“Warden-Commander?” It was Seneschal Maverlies; her voice was tight with annoyance.
“What is it?” Lyna nudged Alistair's arm off of her. Although she hoped he would not wake, she felt him shift, heard him groan softly into her back.
“Very sorry to wake you, Commander,” Maverlies said, “but there's someone here for you. I've already made clear that you won’t see anyone at this hour, but she will not go. She says she must see you and no one else, and that it is a matter of life and death.”
Lyna wanted to roll back over and bury her face in the furs. She couldn’t have had more than a few hours’ sleep. “Why is it so urgent?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know. She’s refused to speak to any of us about it.”
“Of course.” All the same, Lyna slid out from under the warm blankets. “Did she give a name, at least?”
“Yes,” the seneschal replied, “she called herself Hawke.”
Alistair turned over and sat up at last. “Oh, Maker,” he said, rubbing his eyes.
Hawke. Once named the Champion of Kirkwall for dueling and thus defeating the leader of a Qunari invasion, now she barely held the title after the first mage rebellion forced her to flee the city. Rumors gave half a dozen reasons why—she was secretly a blood mage or an abomination, she was being hunted personally by servants of the Divine, she had made mortal enemies of the nearby cities—but with enough Grey Warden eyes keeping watch on Kirkwall, Lyna was better-informed than almost anyone else in Ferelden. She knew the company that Hawke kept, and she knew who was responsible for the destruction of Kirkwall’s Chantry well before the official reports reached Denerim.
That was not a mess in which she cared to involve the Grey Wardens any more than they already were. Even having saved the country from a Blight, their presence in Ferelden was recent, and their acceptance even more so. The Chantry was not as powerful here as in Orlais or the Anderfels, but it still held political influence and a great advantage of numbers; whatever Lyna’s feelings (or Arelan’s, or Alistair’s) about the Circle of Magi, she knew that the Wardens could not afford to take a side.
She began to change into a clean tunic and breeches, and then to don the under-layers of her armor. Hawke’s arrival was not unanticipated, but whatever the exact circumstances that brought her here, they were not going to go away quietly.
Moreover, one element of the situation was not as she’d anticipated. “You’re sure there is only one?”
“Quite sure, Commander.”
Lyna frowned to herself as she cinched her belt and buckled the straps of her pauldrons. “I will see her. Keep this quiet.”
“Understood.” Maverlies’s footsteps receded, and in the silence Lyna slid on her gauntlets and took up her sword and shield.
“Well, this is a fine turn, isn’t it.” Alistair nudged the blankets and furs partway off of himself, and watched Lyna with his brows arched in concern. “We’ll have templars and Seekers knocking on our front gates after her, and you know how well that usually goes.”
She met his eyes, her lips pressed thin. “We knew this could happen.”
“And prayed it wouldn’t,” he replied grimly. “Shall I come down with you?”
“No. I’ll send word if I need you.” She leaned across the bed and kissed him, touching his cheek carefully with one gauntleted hand. He smiled and traced his fingers over the curve of her scalp, velvety-rough with a few days’ worth of fine red hair—a pity she hadn’t shaved it the day before.
“Be safe, my dear.”
She eased the door open, careful not to let it creak. “I pray we’ll all be.”
Two waning half-moons watched over the eastern wall of the keep, bright silver in a sky thick with stars. The air was warm and still and it rang with sound—the keening of crickets, the prowling of nocturnal animals through the nearby woods, the shifting of the dry grasses. Ahead of her, the main gate was lit with golden torchlight, and where two usually kept watch at this hour, four Wardens plus Seneschal Maverlies now barred the entrance, and human voices mingled with the crackling of flames.
“You don’t understand—this can’t wait any longer,” insisted the figure beyond the portcullis. “Lives hang in the balance! If you don’t—”
“Warden-Commander,” Maverlies barked. Instantly, she and the Wardens stepped back and parted, clearing the way to the gate.
The woman on the other side broke off mid-sentence, for a moment staring in surprise or disbelief. She was tall for a human female, with short black hair glossy in the firelight. Her skin was light in color, weathered and pocked, with an old scar across the bridge of her nose. She wore leathers and light clothing for traveling, well-made but now in poor repair, and had a plain staff slung over one shoulder. Her body was muscular in a lean fashion; she seemed exhausted from travel, but her head and shoulders did not sag.
“Commander Lyna,” she said, grabbing the iron bars between them. “My name is—”
“Hawke. I know. Seneschal, open the gate.”
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.” Hawke ducked beneath the bars as they rose, careful to make sure her staff did not catch on them. “They say you’re well-connected. But if you know me, then you must know why I’m here.”
Lyna turned quickly back to the keep, gesturing tersely that Hawke walk with her. Maverlies and two of the guards followed a short distance behind. “Where is Anders?” she asked.
“They’ve taken him.” Hawke passed her by a yard or two, paused, then resumed her pace nervously as Lyna reached her. “You know Isabela—she brought us to Ferelden, said we might ask you for refuge, but as soon as we arrived, there were templars waiting for us. I managed to take a few of them down when they attacked us, but by the time I got free… Commander, you know what they’re going to do to him.”
She knew. They wouldn’t kill him; to do so was to create a martyr for the mages’ cause. Instead, they would turn him into a symbol of their power, an embodiment of their control. It made her sick to think about—but what could they do? The Chantry would not release him if she asked, that was certain.
“Commander,” Hawke repeated. They had reached the doors to the entrance hall, which Lyna pulled open. “I can’t do this alone. I don’t have anyone else to turn to. Please.”
“Do you understand what you ask of me?” Lyna turned to Hawke, meeting her eyes with a small frown. She froze, brows furrowing in sudden uncertainty. “The Chantry has no love for me or for my order. If I help you, it could mean a war.”
Hawke followed her across the hall and up one of the side staircases. Lyna’d had the old paintings that lined the hall removed years ago and returned to Nathaniel Howe’s surviving family. Alistair sometimes complained that the bare walls were impersonal, but even ten years after the Mother’s siege, much of the Grey Wardens’ income went towards repairing the walls and better equipping the keep to house its new occupants, with little left over to put towards décor. Recently she had had several of the old guest quarters converted into war rooms, and she led Hawke to the largest of these, shutting the door firmly behind them.
“In case you haven’t noticed,” Hawke said dryly, “it’s already war. Ferelden’s own Circle has rebelled. So have countless others, even Val Royeaux. The templars are fighting for control wherever they think they can take it. If they suspect you’re harboring apostates, and technically you are, it’s only a matter of time.”
The room contained an oblong table and several wooden chairs, but neither of them sat. Hawke faced Lyna, arms crossed; Lyna paced the length of the room deliberately. Each wall bore several maps: many of Ferelden, one each of Orlais and Nevarra, others of Rivain and Antiva, the Anderfels, the Free Marches. She paused in front of one showing northeast Ferelden—Denerim, Amaranthine, and the treacherous coast between them.
“I can’t take a political stance.” Lyna clasped her hands behind her back, staring hard at the map. “The Wardens cannot openly oppose the Chantry. If I did, I’d be putting my entire order at risk for retribution. I am sorry.”
Hawke looked… surprised, Lyna thought, turning just enough to watch her. She supposed Hawke had been certain she would want to help a comrade, a friend. Well, she was right; just thinking about what the templars would do, or what they might already have done, made her gut feel hollow with rage—and the more she thought, the more it made her field of vision sharpen, made her want to find the people who held Anders and tear them apart with her own hands—
In the corner of her vision, Hawke sank into a chair, staring at her. “You really won’t help me?”
Her eyes focused on Amaranthine, marked on the map by a roughly-drawn shield, quarterly divided, emblazoned with a bear facing dexter. “No,” she sighed. “I cannot.”
There was an unsteady silence for several seconds, filled only by the faint murmur of Hawke’s breathing. Lyna felt her watching, but did not look—not until the woman shot to her feet and rounded the table to where Lyna stood. “You know,” she snapped, “I’ve had a lot of trouble understanding how you Grey Wardens work. Everyone seems to believe you’re noble and self-sacrificing, which is funny because the few Wardens I’ve actually met have been perfectly happy to sacrifice others to protect themselves and their dirty little secrets.” Her voice progressively rose, and she stopped well within arm’s reach of Lyna, hands clenched at her sides. “And here you are—do you even care that one of your own men is facing a fate worse than death? For a group that doesn’t involve itself in politics, you do an awful lot of them, do you know that?”
Lyna faced her and planted her feet, feeling a flash of indignation and rage. “You know nothing of me,” she said through tight lips, “or of my order. Every one of us has made great sacrifices in the name of a far greater good. You are not meant to understand how.”
“Let me understand one thing, at least.” Hawke gave no ground, but her voice cracked when she spoke. “Tell me how in the Void letting him be made Tranquil serves the greater good.”
That, Lyna thought, was one of too many things she could not explain to Hawke fully. Although the Grey Wardens fell outside of the Chantry’s control, they still needed its cooperation. They needed lyrium for their mages and rituals; they needed assurance that no templars would pursue Grey Warden mages. They needed freedom from the Chantry’s scrutiny, lest its agents discover why the order kept its secrets so close. For the Grey Wardens to take a side was to risk all of this, and surely, this was more important than one life, no matter whose it was.
Somewhat bitterly, she mused that Hawke was right—it was all politics. She detested that.
“The Grey Wardens must survive,” she said at last. “The templars match our strength ten to one at least, and in this matter, they will permit no dissent. If I oppose them, I risk the entire order—in Ferelden, in Orlais, even in the Anderfels.”
Hawke’s lips formed a tight, jagged line. “And without the Wardens, we’d have no chance against another Blight. But how long until they decide to take that risk?” She narrowed her eyes. “What happens when the templars decide they’re tired of letting you recruit mages? What happens when they find out you use blood magic?”
Lyna’s eyes narrowed in return. “They won’t.”
“Do you really think you can hide that from them forever?”
“Why not? Will you walk into Denerim and tell them?”
“Well, I suppose that would be stupid.” For just a moment, Hawke’s lips curved into a smirk, but her levity was short-lived. “Commander, you can’t avoid this forever. If you don’t act, you’re only prolonging the inevitable. You should strike now when you can, please—”
“I am sorry, Hawke. I cannot do this.”
A silent moment passed, in which Hawke’s mouth opened and closed once.
“I can’t imagine why I thought you would.” Her voice was quiet again, but anger still burned in it. Lyna could hear it quake even as the woman slid back into her chair. “He hated the Wardens, you know, but he said you were his friend, at least in the beginning. He said you even killed a templar to save him.”
She had, all those years ago, in the first month or two that they had known each other—a templar who had tried to take Anders back after his Joining. It had taken months to smooth over her relationship with Knight-Commander Greagoir, but hadn’t it been worth it, to ensure that those under her command were safe?
What good were her politics if they left her unable to give that assurance?
“Why did Isabela send you to me?” she asked on impulse.
Hawke raised an eyebrow. “She said… you’d be sympathetic. That Madam Sanga at the Pearl had apostates sent to you if they were willing.”
“Is she somewhere safe?”
“Safer than you or I,” Hawke shrugged. “Probably still at sea—I asked her to take the rest of our friends and lay low.”
The Dread Wolf take them all, Lyna thought. “Wait here.”
“Why?” Frowning suspiciously, Hawke leaned forward as if to stand again. “Where are you—?”
“Wait here.” Lyna left the room, shutting the door firmly behind her.