It takes four days for Stroud and the Wardens to reach Ansburg. Four days, during which Bethany continues to die slowly. Luckily, she doesn't remember much about those days – she remembers crying, Stroud carrying her when she couldn't walk, one of the men muttering "are we sure she's worth it?" No, she wants to tell him. No, I'm not, please leave me to die.
Her voice doesn't work very well, though, and she can't plead with them. So she makes it to Ansburg, and undertakes the Joining.
Everyone is shocked when she survives. Including Bethany.
She confines herself to the Warden compound for several weeks – recovering, she tells herself, but in reality she's simply going through the motions. She survives slithering nightmares every night, wakes up in a cold sweat. She goes through the required daily exercise regimen, and tries to ignore the whispers that drift just outside of her awareness. She goes to the library and stares unseeing at the Warden histories and political treatises Stroud assigns to her after a conversation at dinner one night. “The Margrave wants to visit next week,” Stroud tells the collected Wardens, “we’ll have to pull out all the stops.”
“Who’s the Margrave?” Bethany asks, without thinking, and ends up with a dozen pairs of eyes trained on her in disbelief. “I’ve never been to Ansburg before,” she says defensively, when someone at the end of the table snickers.
"You need to know what's going on outside of Fereldan and Kirkwall," Stroud tells her, and suddenly she finds herself in possession of books about the Free Marches and Orlais and the Anderfels. I don't want to know anything about the political structure of the Anderfels, she thinks, shoving the books across the table and hiding her face in her hands.
… and suddenly, she’s a much younger girl, scared and petulant and crossing her arms while her father sits in a chair and tells her she’s going to have to start waking up early so they can go outside and practice her magic before anyone else is awake. “I don’t want to do magic!” she cries. “I want to be normal!”
Her father’s gaze doesn’t soften. “You’re not normal. I’m sorry, sweetheart, but you’ll never be normal again.”
“It’s not fair!”
“I know. But life is rarely fair.” At that, her father gets up and puts his arms around her shoulders. All these years later, she can remember the smell of his tunic, freshly washed, and the way he sighed when she pressed her face into his shoulder. Here, in the echoing Warden library, Bethany desperately wishes for her father to somehow appear in front of her, so she can feel his arms around her just one more time.
But, life isn’t fair. And she’s no longer a child. I'm a grown woman. A competent, intelligent woman who can take care of herself. Even if she is permanently tainted. She has to live with nightmares now. She has to kill darkspawn on a regular basis. And she has to know more about the world than just what was in the stories Varric made up to entertain them on quiet Sundays in Lowtown.
Once upon a time, she crawled out of her bed on a dark, chilly morning to stand outside and listen to her father lecture her about primal magic.
Today, she leaves the library and finds Stroud sitting in one of the common rooms. “Tell me,” she says, sitting down across from him, “why is the ruler of Ansburg called Margrave?”