“Tell me: why did you come?” she said, as poised in front of the Eluvian as she had been the day we met in the Korcari Wilds.
“I came for answers.” There were no answers to the anguished questions in my heart, none she could give me. None I wanted to hear. But I was not there for me.
“Answers. We all want answers. We had a deal, I save your life and in return you leave me be. Why should I answer any of your questions now?” She owed me some explanations, but I knew better than to demand them in this way. We had a friendship, of sorts, and I had given mine freely. A life spared for the sake of it more than fulfilled any outstanding balance on her part. And yet…
“If you didn’t want to talk, you wouldn’t have stayed.”
She nodded slowly. “Always the clever one. It was your cleverness that saved Fereldan, after all.”
Not clever enough to keep Alistair by my side. Not clever enough to avoid the First Warden’s heartbreaking order: find Morrigan. Find the child. Bring them to Weisshaupt.
* * *
Three days in the hot, arid, and bleak landscape of the Anderfels made Lyna long for the bitter cold of Soldier’s Peak. The old Fereldan fortress felt as haunted by history and harsh winds, but there were trees, mountains, and respite to be had, at the very least. The Imperial Highway from Nevarra to Val Dorma had intrigued for a while with the mixture of foreign people on it, especially on the blasted stretch through the Silent Plains, but this distraction fell away as her caravan turned toward Weisshaupt. Few traveled that way, preferring to flock to Hossberg instead where the comforts, she heard, were on par with Val Royeaux.
This time, at least, she was better prepared for the sun’s glare with ointment and light coverings. Her first trip, newly minted as “the Hero of Fereldan,” had left her mildly dehydrated, her skin pink and peeling.
Then again, Lyna had also tried drinking her grief away. She later gained insight into Anderfels culture: its abstemiousness was not purely Andrastian, but also practical. Falke, the young Ander Grey Warden recruit sent to escort her, had revealed as much in his mostly laconic conversations with her as he’d nursed her mornings-after.
Mostly laconic. She snorted.
“Commander?” the man himself said. Pale blue-grey eyes examined Lyna from under raised straw yellow brows. A small set of scars adorned his cheeks – he had taken part in some Orth ceremony after his Joining. Not unlike her own people, she supposed.
“Mmm? Ah. Remembering my first trip,” Lyna said. “The first time you escorted me. I wasted no time tarnishing your hero-worship, did I not?”
The young man’s tanned face pinked, his scars showing more whitely. After they were introduced, Falke had first stammered, and then offered halting but effusive admiration for her deeds during the Blight. His flow of words trailed off as she shook her head and bluntly told him she’d only done what needed doing, no more. As a native of a land consistently under threat, he understood necessity. However, necessity in the Anderfels meant less heroics and more endurance. Heroics were confined to the past, to the Fourth Blight, for his people. Joining the Grey Wardens afforded him the chance for both, she learned much later. Falke had studied all he was permitted to learn about Garahel, the city elf who’d slain Andoral and lifted the siege at Hossberg.
And the Hero of Fereldan, a Dalish elf who had seen and touched the Urn of Sacred Ashes, which was one step removed from embracing Andraste Herself, had gotten drunk and sun-sick, puking and sobbing in a particularly maudlin fit, several days later.
“You did not,” Falke murmured. Waste time, or stain his ideals? She realized she’d worded her question poorly. But he had remained quietly attentive to her needs, only leaving her side to attend nightly Andrastian services or take care of his own personal matters while she was in states of undress. She knew she’d at least not offended his piety, though she always scrupulously avoided the subject of the Gauntlet’s tests to reach the Urn. She wasn’t sure how the poor man would react to learning she’d had to strip down as naked as the Creators made her to pass its final test.
“You are too kind to me, Falke.”
“Never, Commander.” Again, an ambiguous answer. Nathaniel would like him.
* * *
“I know it… might sound strange, considering we haven’t known each other for very long, but I’ve come to… care for you. A great deal.”
I watched Alistair’s eyes as he spoke. Normally they found mine with no effort as he told bad joke after bad joke. I had learned that he used jokes to hide his feelings, and his eyes always gave his real feelings away. Perhaps he finally realized this, because he was having difficulty looking at me now.
What was he trying to tell me?
“I think maybe it’s because we’ve gone through so much together, I don’t know. Or maybe I’m imagining it. Maybe I’m fooling myself,” he said, as he fidgeted with a loose thread on his sleeve. He was always needling Wynne about “grandmotherly” tasks like darning his socks, not knowing it was I who actually did them. I’d told myself that I didn’t want him distracted in battle, but the plain truth was I needed him for more than his ties to royalty, or being another Grey Warden. Perhaps I was only lonely without my clan, and now also without other Grey Wardens to replace them as my family.
I wish the silly man would get to the point.
“Am I? Fooling myself? Or do you think you might ever… feel the same way about me?” His eyes finally met mine, fully. The longing I saw in there plucked an answering note in my heart.
Ah. The point was achingly clear now.
“I think I already do.” I couldn’t keep that note from emerging from my throat.
“So I fooled you, did I? Good to know,” he teased. His voice had lowered, confidence returned full force as he stole a kiss and my breath.
Oh Alistair. You made such a fool of me.
An Orlesian voice was haranguing someone again. Some yellow-masked fop in a white ruff, traveling to visit a cousin in Hossberg, had a small army of elven and human servants to carry his baggage and tend his frequent needs. He had been traveling with the caravan since Nevarra. Lyna had immediately begun ignoring him as the caravan had passed through the edges of Hunter Fell, and took most of her meals with Falke and the caravan drivers.
Most of the caravan knew Lyna as a Grey Warden, if they knew her at all. It was tiring always being “the Hero of Fereldan,” and she preferred handling her own tasks. Such as the vigorous cleaning of her armor’s spaulders, since they were at least a day away from Weisshaupt. Remembering Alistair helped give some force to her scrubbing.
“You! You will pay attention when I call you, you filthy rat!” The sibilant voice sounded indignant, incensed, and right over her head as a pair of garish plum-colored suede boots appeared in her peripheral vision.
Lyna sighed. Mythal damn these entitled shems.
“Ser…” – what was his name? Blast it – “You have me confused…”
The spaulder was abruptly yanked from her hands. Shocked, she looked up. Behind the mask, the noble’s face was turning the color of his shoes. His eyes promised ruin.
“Confused? More like a thief! I have caught you! You whore. Which of the guards have you slept with to steal his armor, hey? Thought you might sneak away in the night?! I will have you flogged, you knife-eared bitch.” He yanked her up with his other hand and shook her, her linen tunic breezing around her underwraps. Lyna preferred arduous work like this at dusk, when the temperatures fell and Falke was off being pious. She could be completely alone with her thoughts and, she had thought, avoid contact with nobility as well.
Lyna had no more use for courts and nobility. Not after Alistair. Not after Amaranthine.
“Ser,” she said quietly. “I ask you to please remove your hand and return my armor.”
“How dare you…” he shook her again, and his voice grew thunderous.
“Now,” she said.
The sound of a sword being drawn forestalled any reply the nobleman might have made. Both of them turned to see Falke at sword’s length, its point a respectable distance from the nobleman’s eyes and above her head.
“I suggest, Lord Piers, you comply with the lady’s wishes before you are harmed,” Falke said, quite respectfully, as if the three of them had been having a pleasant conversation. Ah, yes. Lord Piers. Now she would have to remember his name.
“You accost me, when I have caught a thief, and now threaten me? You dare much. I will have you in chains before the…”
“No, ser, you dare much. You have accosted Warden-Commander Lyna Mahariel, Arlessa of Amaranthine, Redeemer of the Urn of Sacred Ashes, Champion of Redcliffe, and Hero of Fereldan. She brought down Loghain of Gwaren, raised up King Alistair, and slew several other dragons beside. Don’t be a fool,” said the young Ander Warden. Her dislike for all her weighty titles was now overshadowed by some relief that this time, perhaps, they might save her from killing some idiot noble. She didn’t know much of Orlesians, but she did know killing one of their useless nobility could spark trouble for the Grey Wardens, which the order did not need.
Still, the mincer hesitated. Was he secretly some chevalier? She hoped not. They were the worst, having some actual fighting ability to go with their puffery.
“Do you typically employ very many Dalish?” she hissed with impatience. “Look at the spaulder, ser.”
A single rampant griffon was stamped in Wade’s silverite armor. He had insisted that she have some pieces to match the silverite of the Vigil’s men, cleverly working it to fit with her leather. She mentally blessed the temperamental smith as Lord Piers, looking from the armor piece to her tattooed face, immediately released her arm. Falke sheathed his sword.
“I… I am at a loss…,” the Orlesian said. His face had paled as white as his ruff.
Lyna pointedly picked up the remainder of her armor and snatched the spaulder back out of the man’s hand.
“Yes, you are. Please leave. And be kinder to your servants, ser. They might save you one day,” she said, flicking a glance at Falke, who resolutely kept his eyes on Lord Piers and not herself. Poor man.
The nobleman hastily retreated, and Lyna sat back down to finish scrubbing her armor. There would be more politicking soon at Weisshaupt. Since the First Warden was the real power in the Anderfels, titles meant nothing to the bootlickers surrounding the leadership. It helped to visually cow them instead.
“Commander? Will you be needing me tonight? Should I get you some water?”
Surprised, she looked up again to see her escort looking directly at her. Still flushed with embarrassment, but resolute all the same. After all he’d said to Lord Piers, Lyna expected him to return to his sparse conversational style.
“Ahh, thank you, but no. Why do you ask?”
“Forgive me, Commander, but you were humming.” He hesitated, then whistled a bar of “I Am the One”… a tune Alistair had sung for her, once, as they camped in the Brecilian Forest. In a clumsy effort to try to demonstrate his knowledge of elves, he’d told her he’d heard it from an elven bard passing through Redcliffe on his way to Jader. The bard had claimed the song came from the time before the Exalted March of the Dales. She remembered singing it on her first drunken trip to the ancient Grey Warden stronghold.
“I see.” She sighed. “Your Commander is a fool, Falke, but not tonight. Go, get some rest.”
He nodded, and averted his eyes again as he walked back to their place in the caravan.
When a note of apology and several yards of ultramarine sea silk arrived the next day from Lord Piers, she gave both to Falke.