The call of constant Darkspawn troubles came and Andrea had to leave her two Rolands in Hunter's Fell, while she alone travelled to arling of Amaranthine, arling which was given to the Grey Wardens by the King himself. According to the reports, the Darkspawn didn't retreat to the Deep Roads as expected - but stayed on the surface and caused problems.
She chose her way to Amaranthine so she could visit her brother in Highever on the way to Vigil's Keep. She was supposed to meet with a guide to Amaranthine in Highever, too. Yet, she wasn't travelling for long and she already missed her two Rolands, her Rory and Roro.
Turning back, facing the plains of Bannorn, she let wind carry her voice singing lullaby. "Hush now, my baby, be still, love, don't cry..."
I've arrived to Highever and the first thing I've done after receiving a warm greeting from my brother and being introduced to my guide to Amaranthine was to start writing this letter.
The reconstruction here is continuing nicely, the family quarters are already finished, as well as most of the living quarters for personel. The castle looks almost as it used to look all this time ago, the pens full of barking, the courtyard filled with clashing of the swords and yelled orders... There are even voices of children already in the mix of sounds here.
Speaking of children - quite a few of the servants asked me about our little Roro, saying it would be nice to have more children here while looking pointedly towards Fergus. Roland, you know my brother and you have been here when one of the visiting noblewomen commented on his 'lack of a lady'. He's not ready for a new wife yet, the loss being still too raw. They mean well - but he will move on when he will be ready, not before, I'm sure of it.
Tomorrow I'm leaving for Vigil's Keep. My guide is a young knight from Denerim. Her name is Mhairi and she's one of the recruits of the Orlesian Wardens. She has yet to undertake her Joining - but so far, she's overjoyed by the prospect of being in the ranks of Grey Warden. We shall see.
I miss you. Both of you. I miss Roro's toothless grin and his laughter when I tickle him. I miss you in the mornings, when you would kiss me to wake up, I miss you during the days when you would caress my hand, hug me, wink at me, I miss you in the evenings, when you would kiss me good night and held me in your arms. It's so cold without you.
Sealing the letter, she went to find a courier. Hopefully, Roland will get her letter soon and will send her something to keep with her as a reminder. Two weeks, give or take, and she will have answer. Hopefully.
Sitting in the middle of burnt and broken furniture, Andrea broke the seal on the letter Alistair brought her. She was pleased to see her friend again and laugh with him over several shared jokes, as well as tease him about a certain young noblewoman (who decided that she was the best option for a future Queen, no matter how much the idea scared Alistair) - but reading the letter, bearing a familiar seal, took precedence.
every day without you stretched so long it seems almost endless. Not having you in my sight makes me agitated and although I know you are capable of defending yourself, I would give much to be able to be there to fight with you.
Here at Hunter's Fell everything continues on its own pace. I train the local militia (since no one wants to see anything like Redcliffe during the Blight again, do you remember those ill trained men?), so every man and woman willing is able to held the sword by its hilt and not the pointed end. And then - you remember the way some of our companions kept on bickering like a married couple after forty years of marriage? Well, that's how my father keeps on bickering with Liz, you know, our housekeeper. When I told them so, together with asking them when they got married that I missed it... heh, I haven't seen anyone blushing so furiously as they were then. Not even Alistair was able to get such an interesting shade of red. They even stopped talking to me for a day. Strike home, I call it.
Our son reminds me of a well-watered plant - growing up so quickly that I almost can't keep up with him. It makes me sad to see this only myself, only being able to write you about all of this. But we - meaning your faithful Roland duo - decided to send you something to remember us by. Enclosing it to the letter. Don't miss it!
Return to us soon, my love,
Looking into the envelope Andrea discovered a piece of parchment with prints of two palms - one of a man grown, one of a child. 'For the only woman who can keep us in line. R + R.' Smilling, she put the parchment aside, quickly writing a reply about the newest happenings in the arling of Amaranthine. Alistair will take care of the letter being delivered.
Just when she sealed the envelope, knock on her door sounded. Varel came with an important message. "Commander, we've got a problem."
Problem was not the best word to describe the situation. Problems were fitting much more better. And that was a problem. Andrea rubbed her temples, trying to supress incoming headache, while she listed them in her head and tried to find a solution.
Problem number one - all of Orlesian Wardens killed or taken by the Darkspawn.
Problem number two - conscript an apostate mage right under nose of a female templar, who kept on insisting that the said mage is a murderer. Done. Nothing really difficult, when you happen to be best friend with King, who's also present and who gives consent to the whole Right of Conscription thing. Done.
Problem number three - the Joining. She remembered hers clearly. Wanting to add more anticipation into the whole process now, she waited for the evening, letting only the main fire of the central chamber light the scene, placing the Joining Chalice, the same she used at Ostagar, on a small table next to the fireplace. Varel was also present, being keeper of many Grey Warden secrets. She entered the scene from shadow, slowly walking towards the table, reciting the words Duncan was saying. It reminded her of a time so long ago, so far away. "Do we have to drink the Darkspawn blood?" asked Anders. "As they did before me and as I did before you," she replied, her stomach suddenly clenched, thinking that if this is how Duncan felt before every Joining, then she has no idea how he endured it for so long. Lifting the Chalice, she gazed upon its carving. "This is the source of our power, and our victory. Varel," she turned her head towards her Seneschal, "would you, please, say the words which need to be spoken?" Nodding, Seneschal proceeded the words, adding even graver tone to already grave enough scene. "Since the first, these words have been spoken at the ceremony: Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant. Join us as we carry the duty that can not be forsworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten. And that one day we shall join you." "Step forward, Oghrenn." Joining begun and was succesful, until it was Mhairi's turn. It was as Daveth over and over again. Falling to her knees, Mhairi was dead before she hit the floor. "I'm sorry, Mhairi," said Andrea. 'Duncan, Duncan - how many times did you see something like this? And how comes it still haven't changen you to an emotionless bastard?'
Then came problem number four - the economic state of the arling. Or rather - its closeness to economical colaps. Which led to
problem number five. Keep's defenses. Most of the defensive walls was in alarming condition, as the dwarven stonemason said. Damn, did the previous arl, that bastard Rendon Howe, think nothing of the Keep, nor her inhabitants? To improve the condition of defenses were two things - money and quality stone, preferably granite. The Keep had almost nothing in her treasury, so the finances will have to be her own and where the heck should she find quality granite?
And last but not least, she was sure, problem number six. Some unknown prisoner, refusing to tell his name, got caught by the Orlesian Wardens - and it took four of them to capture him. 'Well, that man obviously knew what he was doing,' she mused, 'that would probably make him a good choice for recruit.' But right now was the problem six the least of her worries, so after "get him fed and I'll deal with him tomorrow" she went to sleep, slowly falling to the Fade, thinking "why can't anything ever be easy?"
"I'm sorry, Commander but - are you sure?"
'That's a question I ask myself as well,' thought Andrea. She just conscripted the prisoner, Nathaniel Howe and although part of her was slapping her forehead in disbelief, the other part was revelling in the shock it brought to both, Nathaniel and Varel.
"Absolutely not, hang me first!" Andrea let him to release some steam in shouting and then gave him a cold smile. "Do I look like I'm giving you a choice, Nathaniel Howe? Prepare the Joining, Varel," she turned to Seneschal. "We will continue in this a bit later."
"I don't understand," grumbled Nathaniel. "You really want to have a Grey Warden who wishes your death?"
Giving him another cold smile, she replied: "One of my best friends is actually an Antivan Crow, formerly hired to kill me. As you can see, he didn't succeed and we even became friends."
That made Nathaniel fell silent. When he lied on the ground before her, unconscious but alive after drinking the Darkspawn blood, she had only one thought.
'How the hell am I supposed to tell Roland and Fergus about this?'
It was already dark, when Roland finally got back to his room, letters from Andrea waiting for him on the desk. Grinning, he broke the seal on the first one.
My faithfull Roland duo,
thank you so much for your gift. I'm going to get it framed as soon as possible and hang it in my study. Let me tell you, if I already didn't love you, I would definitely fell in love with you now.
So, the palm print was a good idea. Good to know, he thought with a small smile. Then he reached for the second letter and after breaking the seal he felt his smile freeze.
I'm writing this lines in a hope you won't hate me when you finish reading this letter.
What by the Maker is this supposed to mean? Scowling, he continued reading.
You know that we, the Grey Wardens, do what we must, when the land is in Darkspawn danger, right? Well, I just invoked my Right of Conscription for the second time. On a prisoner, thief, who was caught sneaking around the Keep. It took four Grey Wardens to capture him, I was told. Quite impressive, yes? Then again, I don't think Orlesians sent us some of their elite members, but that doesn't matter now.
After I talked to him, I found out that the prisoner is skilled with bows and poisons, can pick locks and can be really stealthy when he needs to. That and the truth of his reasons for being in the Keep made me to conscript him. His original intent was to kill me but when he was finally inside the Keep, he decided to take rather some of family heirlooms. Yes, you probably can guess now who the prisoner was, since we both met him more than once, even if it was years ago. Nathaniel Howe.
What? A Howe? How could she make him a Grey Warden? Crumpling the note into a small ball he threw it into nearest corner, raising from the chair to pace around the room. Damn. A Howe. And he wanted to kill her, for Maker's sake! Why did she do that?
Sighing, he went to find the letter and smooth it back, so he could read the rest. 'There better be an explanation, Andrea, or...'
Please, Roland, I know you are angry right now. Howe who wanted to kill me and I make him a Grey Warden? But then - you remember one of our closest friends, Zevran, don't you? He was about to kill me, too, and yet I showed him mercy, let him live and we even became friends.
When I've seen Nathaniel in the cell, seething with anger towards me, towards the Cousland who killed his father and destroyed his family, it was almost like looking into mirror. Roland, Nathaniel wasn't even in Ferelden when the attack at Cousland Castle occured, he was squirred away in Free Marches, and during the Blight he had no contact with his family. He wants to undo the damage the previous Arl did to the name of Howes, and since I need more Grey Wardens... Oghren is a great warrior, Anders is a good healer (as good as Wynne even!) - but you know how useless I or Oghren are when it comes to bows or crossbows. That was what we had Leliana or Zevran for. Now my archer is going to be Nathaniel.
You know I don't do things without reason. Please, believe that I know what I'm doing.
He sat heavily in the amrchair. Part of him wanted to hate her for making a Howe Grey Warden. But the other part remembered clearly hearing her say "Grey Wardens do what they must when they must. That's why we aren't Black or White Wardens. For us, everything is a shade of grey. That is what Duncan has told me and that is what I'm going to follow."
Shades of grey. Sometimes he didn't know how to deal with them.
Andrea cringed at the sound of male voice, interrupting her staring at the picture of palm prints on the wall which she was doing instead of reading through about fifty different papers. "Yes, Garavel? Is there anything I can help you with?" she asked. Garavel nodded. "There's a dwarven woman who..."
"Step aside, man. Commander and I know each other," said an impatient looking woman, pushing surprised Captain aside. Andrea felt her mouth agape. "Felsi? Is that you?"
"Yup, that's me. Where is he?" Felsi obviously didn't have any patience for anything, as she stepped close, looking very, very dangerous. Nodding to Captain, Andrea dismissed him. "Him? You mean Oghren, I suppose."
"You suppose right," nodded Felsi. "Where's that pile of nug droppings?" Before Andrea had any chance of answering, the doors to her study flew open, Oghren standing there. And it didn't go well after then, Felsi and Oghren arguing bitterly, right in front of the helpless Commander.
When Felsi left the Keep, two pairs of eyes followed her. "Aren't you going after her?" asked Andrea. Oghren just shook his head. "As I know her, the only thing I would get is a swift kick to the groin. It's better this way."
That night Andrea and Oghren got terribly drunk together, both of them thinking about their spouses and their children. When Anders and Nathaniel found them, Oghren was laying on the table, snoring, while Andrea sat next to him and looked around with strangely sober and alert eyes.
It has been several weeks since Rory wrote her for the last time.
After escaping the silverite mines in Wending Woods, Oghren and Anders decided it was time to voice their disapproval with Roland's lack of response to any of Andrea's letters. For Oghren it was quite easy, since he met Roland before and knew him well.
You sodding nug-humper,
what, by the tits of my Ancestors, are you thinking by not responding to Andrea's letters? I have quite clear image of what you probably would like to do to that Howe kid she recruited but let me set one thing straight.
When the lass invoked the Right of Conscription on Nathaniel, I thought she was crazy. But ever since that the boy showed his worth more times than I can think of. He makes a good Warden, let me tell ya. Just few days ago, when we got captured in silverite mines, we got separated fro her and put to sleep by Ancestors know what. When we woke up, she was missing and after a while, we fell - or rather were made to fall - asleep again. During our time out she was brought back. None of us had any equipment, just normal clothing and the lock on the door was unpickable. According to that manskirt wearing freak Anders she lost lots of blood and all of us were pretty surprised that she even woke up so soon. And not only that, she helped us to fight our way outta that blasted mines. We found several of the Orleasians, mostly dead but one was still dying, begging her to find his wedding ring and bringing it to his wife. And slap my ass and call me Sally - although we could see the weariness on her, she insisted on finding the ring and when we finally made it out, she collapsed and it was the Howe kid who carried her the whole way to Vigil, since I would probably end in dragging her across the ground and sparkle-fingers wouldn't be able to cast any spell.
I can understand that you are not overly fond of that Howe boy. But you should sodding care about the woman who writes you several times per week, is mother of our child and heir and is willing to drunk herself senseless with me to forget about the pain the silence brings.
Think of it, otherwise I swear by the Ancestors, when I come to kick your sorry ass, you'll find yourself in next age.
For Anders, it was much more difficult because he didn't know Roland personally, just from what Andrea or Oghren told him. But he saw Andrea working into late hours, so she would fall asleep as soon as she hit the pillow, making her not to think about anything, he saw Andrea's eyes red from unseen crying. Dipping the tip of quill into ink he started to write.
we haven't met yet, so let me introduce myself first. My name is Anders, formerly mage of the Circle and then a wanted apostate, currently being a Grey Warden. Your wife saved me back after reclaiming the Vigil's Keep, so I feel obligated to voice my disagreement with the way you respond (or, in this case 'do not' respond) to her letters.
Ser, be so kind and write her at least that you don't like her recruiting Nathaniel. He's rather taciturn fellow with no sense of humor or taste for fun but saving our butts several times now definitely counts for something in my opinion.
P.S. After talking with Oghren we decided that should you ever tell Commander about our letters, we will deny writing anything like that. So do not even try it, yes?
Both men sealed the letters, sighing contentedly. Ser Roland Gilmore won't know what hit him when he opens them.
He couldn't believe to things he was reading. 'You'll find yourself in next age'? 'I feel obligated to voice my disagreement'? But a part of him was ashamed by himself. He was bitter over her decision to conscript Nathaniel Howe and didn't really think about her.
He still didn't like the idea of a Howe being close to Andrea, when he was so far away - but that mage, Anders, was right. Saving her really did count for something. Just why it had to be him? He should be there, protecting his wife. Only... what should he write to her?
Going to the bedside table he picked one one of the flacons made out of cut glass, smelling the scent of one of her favorite perfumes. Lillac. His heart tightened in his chest.
'My love... I just miss you so much.'
To all of her brothers' and sister surprise, few weeks later Andrea was dancing throught the corridors of Vigil and singing Bei mir bist du schein, an old song from Maker knows where.
"Care to enlighten us what caused such a change in the mood, Commander?" asked Anders politely. She threw him a large grin. "Letter! Or better, letter from my husband!" She laughed happily and run to her study, Oghren and Anders exchanging a triumphant smile behind her back, leaving somehow confused Sigrun and Nathaniel behind them, when they went to drink some ale in celebration of success of their plan.
She knew she read the letter at lest four times - but after not seeing the familiar script for several weeks, she just couldn't get enough of seeing it again. And again.
My dearest Andrea,
I'm sorry for not writing you for so long. But truth to be said, I wasn't sure about how to respond to your letter, concerning your latest (at least at that time) addition into the numbers of Fereldan Grey Wardens. I have to confess that I was furious at first - and that was reason of the lack of proper response so far. A Howe appearing our of nowhere and becoming a Grey Warden? You've gotten to be kidding me, right? Zevran tried to kill you, right, and you let him live. Right, I get it. But you didn't make him a Grey Warden, if I remember correctly. So why this Howe fellow?
I still don't like it, Andrea. But I trust you. He better not try anything, otherwise I swear by the Maker himself that if tries anything, he will be praying for death from my hand.
Be safe, my love,
Roland (together with the other half of R + R duo)
She stopped grinning like an idiot and looked towards the slowly opening door. "Commander? You got a short time?"
"Of course, Oghren," she said comfortingly, since Oghren really looked like he needed some liquid courage to come to her - but didn't drink even a drop of any alcoholic beverage. "Please, sit down."
He sat in the armchair as if he sat on a hedgehog, jumping at the sounds the burning wood made. "I was thinking about Felsi."
"And what did you come to?" asked Andrea, honestly wondering about the way Oghren thought. Thinking about Branka made him a drunkard before the Blight came, the sneers of others mixed with alcohol making him loose the rest of his self-respect, the right to wear weapons in Orzammar forfeit for him. He was silent for a moment, turning his head to gaze into the dancing flames.
"I don't know what to do, Andrea," he confessed quietly. Andrea nodded. Just the fact that he called her by name and not Commander or Warden as he used to showed the seriousness of the whole situation. "You are unsure, if you are worthy of being a parent, of being a husband, aren't you?" she asked, waiting only for Oghren's hesitatnt nod. "I worry about that, too," she continued. "What kind of mother leaves her child and takes a merry ride to Maker knows where, with Maker knows who and returns to Maker knows when? And," she quietened her voice, "what kind of wife leaves her husband behind like that, Oghren. In truth," she laughed hollowly, "I'm almost as bad as Branka. At least I'm not feeding to the Darkspawn."
"You're much more better than that," Oghren interrupted the tray of her thoughts, "because even if you leave them behind, you still think about them and even an drunken idiot like me can see how much you care. Look at me," he said, pointing at himself. "Just a sodding drunken idiot who firstly makes a child and then abandons both her and her mother. And he isn't even going to do anything about it because he knows nothing about parenting."
"You could always at least keep in touch with them," offered Andrea, feeling a little unsure. "You know, the way I do keep in touch with Roland - the letters," she explained. "That way your child would know you, feel your presence in her life."
In the end, they worked it through. Oghren will write the letters adressed to the child and Andrea will proof-read them before sending them to Felsi. She just hoped that Oghren won't use 'sod', 'nughumper' or 'bloody' too much. Or any of his colourful metaphors. 'Donning the velvet hat' was quite enough for her to blush furiously.
He couldn't believe his ears. Darkspawn marching at Amaranthine and Vigil's Keep? That... that just wouldn't be possible, right?
But it was true and he felt his heart skip a beat just when he thought about her. What if... what if Andrea get hurt? What if... what if she get killed? He didn't even want to really think about it.
Roro started crying, summoning him to his side. "Shh... little one... Mommy will be okay," he comforted his crying son. Bann Gilmore came into the room. "What happened, Roland?"
"It's Andrea - the Darkspawn attacked both Vigil an Amaranthine. I have to go there at once!" he added urgently, surprised when his father resolutely shook his head. "And risk little Roland loosing both parents when it comes to the worst? No way am I going to let you leave."
It was just so damn frustrating. They even had a yelling match which led to compromise. When they know the area is secured, Roland and little Roro will come for their wife and mother to Amaranthine.
He just prayed to the Maker that the time came soon.
The newest reports, forwarded to him by Alistair - who was worried for his friend and Chancellor - talked about asault. The city itself was saved by Commander with her companions, together with the rest of city guard, while the Keep was able to hold long enough for Commander not only defeat the Darkspawn by Amaranthine, but also killing of The Mother - Broodmother, who hasn't heard the call of the archdemon anymore. Falling to his knees he thanked the Maker for keeping protecting hand over his beloved Andrea.
Quikly, he wrote a short letter, informing Andrea that soon after receiving this letter she should expect him and Roro at Vigil's Keep, because there's nothing what could stop them. And when he says nothing, he really means nothing. Period.
"Oghren!" called Andrea, waving a letter around excitedly. "Hm, lass? what can old Oghren do for ya?" answered Oghren with a wink. She just rolled her eyes. "They are coming to Vigil, Roland and Roro. Just imagine!"
The rest of Grey Wardens, Nathaniel, Anders and Sigrun just exchanged looks and rolled their eyes all at once. If Commander would be only a bit more overjoyed, she would probably be flying with all that excitement.
"Where can they be?" wondered Andrea worriedly, smoothing the skirt of her dress. It was at least the twentieth time she asked that today and they all had been unable to get her from catwalks, where she spent most of her free time by gazing into distance, trying to see a glimpse of familiar hair.
"No idea," shrugged Sigrun. "But I'm sure they are completely okay," she hurried to add, not wanting to hear another tirade about "what if something happened to them?"
By some unknown power she was not up the catwalks when a caravan appear on horizon. When she finally got back, she noticed a horse rider with hair of flame-like colour. Her heart started beating madly. Before anyone could stop her, she was leaning from the battlement so much that Oghren paled, pulled her back and mumbling something what sounded suspiciously like "sodding woman, wanna to fall down or what?"
Andrea didn't notice anything, her eyes focused on the figure of a horse rider who waved his hand in return and set spurs to the horse. All what run through her head was Roland is here. Roland. Is. Here. Her next steps lead her down the stairs. By some miracle she managed to get down without breaking anything and although she had to get rid of her shoes - which was quite a manoeuvre, no one would have said it was so hard to unlace your shoe while skipping on your leg with skirts haphazardly hooked up your forearms - she still managed to run out the keep and meet the rider, who dismounted the horse and run towards here.
Falling into each other's arms they stood quietly, holding each other tight. It took them some time to realize that the whole personnel of the Vigil's Keep is staring at them, and that Oghren making bets with starry-eyed Anders about how long they won't notice their surroundings.