Sten didn’t know when he began to think of her as such but now he could not think of her as anything else. The Qunari leader of the Beresaad believed that it might have started when she had found his precious Asala, his soul, the sword that was made for his hand and was the ultimate expression of his honor.
“You must be an Ashkarii to have found a single lost blade in a country at war.”
Sten’s violet eyes met the Warden’s amber ones , which sparkled with mischief.
“Why Sten, that sound suspiciously like a compliment.” Her voice was warm with her typical odd humor which Sten rarely understood but her smile was always infectious. The Warden was a saarebas, a mage in her language, and he should have been more leery of her but it had been difficult to shut out someone so open and sympathetic. He had been about to say something gruff, to shut her out of his mind, and his heart, when she handed him a bag of confections, sweet, crunchy cookies. Her eyes sparkled wickedly as she walked away leaving him with the tasty gift.
The Warden didn’t return to him until after dark, giving the Qunari sometime to reacquaint himself with his Asala. He’d seen her watching him from across the camp as he worked with the sword, reveling in the feeling that honor was once again his. When he decided he was willing to talk, he nodded to her and was perversely pleased that she, and only she, came quickly to his side. Her long dark hair was knotted at the back of her head but some strands had escaped and made her look like an untamed creature. Her elegance combined with the other worldliness always unnerved him; she was too many things wrapped up in one. The Sten was surprised at her reverence when he presented Asala to her. With his permission, she allowed her long fingers to travel the length of the blade. His eyes widened to see the weapon respond to her touch as glowing blue trails chased each other along the metal, pulsing in time with his heartbeat… or hers.
“Do you miss Seheron, Sten?” The question so innocently asked gave him pause.
“I no longer have to think about missing it. You gave it back to me. I know that I shall see it again, thanks to you.” She grinned at his rumbling voice and wondered, not for the first time what went on in her mind.
“Would you tell me about it? Please?” His first response was to deny her request or divert her with a wry observation about her curiosity, but he found himself wanting to tell her. Of all the people in camp, she would be the one to understand the fear of never going home. Slowly details of his home spilled from his lips, the way the air smelled of cinnamon and the sun was always warm on his skin. Sten felt his eyes close and as he described Seheron, he could see it as if he were standing in the midst of Par Vollen. He turned his eyes and saw the Warden watching his world pass her by and his hand clenched involuntarily, the need to protect her from Qunari curiosity overriding the sensation of being home. She gasped and the vision shattered. He looked down and saw his hand covering hers, pressing her fingers into the edge of Asala. Her blood trickled along the edge bright red with just a hint of black, of her taint, running along the edge.
“What did you do?” His voice was sharp as he jerked his hand from hers and tried to free her fingers from Asala’s bite.
“I… I’m sorry Sten. I just wanted to see your home. To see what makes you… you. I didn’t mean to intrude.” The tears pricking at her eyes and the contrite tone of her voice showed only shame in making him fearful, not in pain. That made him wince, she had done nothing but try and give him hope, and home. He grabbed her wrist before she could scoot from his side like a frightened rabbit.
“Thank you, for the gift, Kadan.” He turned her hand over to see the extent of the damage Asala had done, but she was already healing it.
“Kadan?” She didn’t look up at him and short of jerking her chin up; she wouldn’t make contact, still withdrawing from him.
“It is a name for a person one cares about. You are our leader, and I care for your well being.” She smiled slightly as she filed the word in her mind. Shyly she squeezed Sten’s hand and pulled away, turning to walk back across camp, back to Alistair. Sten’s eyes continued to follow her until Alistair pulled her into an embrace, grimacing at the light twist of pain in his heart. Instead of dwelling on the decidedly uncomfortable feeling, he closed his eyes and ran his hand along the length of Asala, the vivid image of Seheron, of home, engulfed him. A tear slipped from beneath his closed lids. The other definition, slipping unbidden from his lips was whispered into the night air. “Kadan, it means where my heart resides.”
The word was ripped from his lips even as he saw the flash of light from the top of Fort Drakon, the pulse of which throbbed against the land, shouting for all to hear that the archdemon was truly dead. Asala recognized that the Warden, his Kadan, was dead, flashing with the last spark of her magic as she left the world. She had gone to fight it with Alistair, Oghren, and Zevran at her side and even then they almost didn’t win. The Warden had made the sacrifice, the one that only a Warden could make, saving the others whether they wanted her to or no. From what he’d heard later, from Zevran, Alistair screamed for her almost as loudly as the archdemon in its death throes. Still, Sten could not find it in his heart to forgive Alistair for letting her die, for not taking that blow for himself. Alistair, like Sten, had walked around the castle grounds as preparations were made for her funeral and Alistair’s wedding. He’d called it off though, giving up the throne that the Warden had fought to win for him. Alistair was fading with grief, and Sten remembered that the Warden was his Kadan as well.
Alistair had asked if he could join Sten for part of his journey back to Seheron, promising to leave ship in Antiva to make his way, eventually, to the Weishaupt fortress to make his report. Sten had not meant to say yes, but found himself on board a ship with both Alistair and Zevran, the three of them joined in grief.
On deck, in the dark of night, while Alistair and Zevran watched the shore give way to the sea, Sten pulled Asala into his lap. Cool sea wind brushed against his face and he could almost scent the Warden’s delicate smell. The Qunari looked down at the sword in his lap and saw starlight twinkling deep in the blade, bright blue glows pulsed deep within and he wondered if the Warden had left some of her magic behind. Closing his eyes, he started to think about Seheron. Almost immediately he could feel the hot sun warm his bones and smell cinnamon in the air. He looked around at the stalls of the market place and for a fleeting instant thought he saw her there. He waited, knowing that she was probably a figment of his memory, and eventually she came into view again. She smiled, bright and knowingly into his eyes and the tight pinch in his chest eased. Even as he relaxed, he could see that she was waiting for something… someone, but it wasn’t him.
“Kadan.” He whispered the word on the night air and it curled around him as the wind snapped in the sails. It was if she could hear him though, for the Warden smiled and her eyes sparkled with mischief, a look that Sten knew he would forever miss. The vision changed on him, and he was standing in the camp where they had spent most of their time together. Still she was there, waiting, patiently, just out of reach.
Sten opened his eyes just as Alistair walked back from the stern of the ship. The Qunari debated sharing the Warden’s gift with the man, but didn’t know if his own reluctance was due to jealousy toward Alistair’s close relationship with his Kadan or that Alistair had squandered his time with the Warden, whereas Sten could horde this piece of her forever. Finally, Sten relented, hoping that Alistair would finally be able to put her to rest. He pulled the man over and placed his hands on Asala, as the Warden once had, and then closed his hands over Alistair’s. Closing his eyes, he heard Alistair gasp, and in the moonlight vision, he watched as the two lovers embraced gently, their conversation low and as warm as a summer’s day. Eventually they had to part and Sten pulled Alistair back to the deck of the ship. Dazed at the strength of the vision, Alistair thanked the Qunari and disappeared below deck.
Days passed and Sten had not seen Alistair. According to Zevran, he looked less and less like himself, as if he had become hollowed out. Alistair had not come back to Sten seeking a second look into the sword, nor had Sten offered. Two days before they were to dock in Antiva, Alistair was nowhere to be found. He’ d left a long and involved note to Zevran along with one for his uncle and the soon to be Queen of Ferelden. The man had even left a note to Sten, but it was one that the Qunari could not bring himself to open without looking everywhere. He had an idea where to look though and pulled Asala from her scabbard. The weapon had a faint smear of blood marring its smooth clean shine, blood that had not been there the previous night.
Sten took the sword into his lap and let his focus drift. Again the warmth of Seheron seeped into his bones, faces both strange and familiar moved past him, but there was one face he searched for. Gently a hand covered his and then She was there filling up his vision, her amber eyes brighter than the sun. Faintly he could hear her voice tickling his ear and he knew that no matter how hard he tried, Sten wouldn’t see her again.
“Kadan,” she said. “It means where one’s heart resides.”
As he had promised, the Sten of the Beresaad walked into the ministry of Par Vollen, having been summoned by the Arishok to give a report. Sten inclined his head before the massive Qunari but his mind still drifted to those long ago questions that a slight woman with a power unheard of had asked.
"Do you miss Seheron?” “You gave it back to me, Kadan.”
“Did you meet anyone of worth on your travels?” The Arishok’s voice filled the room and Sten could not help but think of how the Warden would smile and roll her eyes at the huge man up on the dais. Sten pushed the thought away and met the Arishok’s eyes proudly.
“Yes,” he said, “but only one. The Warden. She was my Kadan.”
The Arishok considered his words carefully and a slight smile graced his lips.
“Tell me of her, of The Warden. Tell me of your Kadan.”
At his back, Asala glowed faintly and he could feel the warmth even in the cool audience chamber. You gave it back to me, he thought. Thank you, Kadan.