The quiet scratch of a quill on paper greeted Vhera as she entered the library. Warm golden light from veilfire lanterns spilled out of alcoves brimming with tomes, reminiscent of her years in Kinloch Hold. She smiled, eyes softening as she trailed her fingers over the thick spines of leather and cloth on the nearest shelf. The Circles had so much potential with mages like Wynne and First Enchanter Irving. Hopefully the rebellion would improve the situation, even if they were re-formed.
Borrowed clothing hung loosely on her slender frame, as Alistair’s elven friend was taller and stockier than she was. Simple and warm, the well-made tunic and pants were actually a comfortable relief from the heavy, emblazoned armor that marked her as a Warden-Commander of Ferelden. The boots of her heavy armor seemed a poor choice at this early hour, so she had pulled on her thick woolen stockings while Alistair had cheerily gone in search of breakfast. It truly was not in her nature to sit idly, even in such a spectacular room as they had borrowed. The brief glimpses of Skyhold had been tantalizing, though being swept into her partner’s exuberant embrace had pushed most other thoughts from her mind.
Overlooking the murals, the balcony library encompassed the entire floor of this tower. It was small, but clearly well-loved. Those paintings below, though… if those she had found in her travels had been this complete she would have set up an entire expedition to study them. “Securing the region against darkspawn” was a solid rationale for anything.
As she circled, the sound of writing became more insistent. A tightly controlled aura brushed her senses, and she turned to see an elf with short black hair intently taking notes while scanning a thick tome. Her robes marked her as a high-ranking mage, their elaborate style revealing her Orlesian origins. There was something familiar about her face, though she was certain they had never met. Vhera breathed in sharply--she not only knew this woman’s face… she knew her story.
“You are the Lost Warden, Fiona?” Her tone landed somewhere between statement and question. She had spent hours writing notes on her copy of the Wardens’ reports of the bizarre circumstances surrounding this mage.
The writer glanced up at her with a start. “Lost Warden? That’s a new one.” Dark eyes quickly flickered over her, no doubt taking in the mismatch between her simple clothing and the iron-clad power of her aura. “I do not believe we’ve met, although I was certain I knew every person with magical talent in the keep.” She glanced down at her paper, then tucked the quill into a small pot of sand on the table.
“I know your story, though circumstances never brought us together until now.” Her own quick, clean words barely held any of her original Fereldan accent anymore, unlike the distinctly Orlesian twist of Fiona’s speech.
“Ah, another warden then.” Fiona shook her head, a sad, bitter smile twisting her lips. “Am I a traitor or a mission gone wrong?”
“Did we treat you that badly?” Vhera hesitated, then stepped forward and pulled out the chair across from Fiona. She was short enough that her feet didn’t touch the floor. “I always wondered why you left.” This ousted warden was the only known person to have been cured of the blight, and she was reportedly immune to its effect. She had effectively retained the greatest benefit of being a warden without any of the drawbacks.
“Why do you care? Most of my fellow wardens did not, condemning me for ‘cheating death’...” She sighed. “As if everything we had faced was not already worse than death.”
Vhera understood far better than Fiona knew. “Warden-Commander Fontaine was not exactly pleased with how I ‘cheated death’ either.” She shrugged one shoulder. “But Urthemiel is dead and Morrigan has not yet tried to destroy Thedas. I stand with everyone else in counting these past ten years as a triumph.”
Fiona’s eyes went wide, shocked recognition and sorrow flashing across her fine features. The older woman recovered quickly, reaching out to take one of Vhera’s calloused hands in both of hers. “Hero – Warden-Commander – I thought no one knew where you were! Why have you come to Skyhold?”
“Please just call me Vhera. I would rather limit the number of people that know I am here.”
“You never let anyone call you ‘Arlessa’ either.”
Alistair’s warm voice sounded from just behind her, and she flashed Fiona a mildly exasperated look as she turned toward him. She was glad the Tranquil was the only other person in the library.
“Vigil’s Keep needed a Warden-Commander, not an arlessa, and you know it.” Vhera’s soft smile belied her stern words.
Alistair smirked unrepentantly, shifting a large tray of food to rest against his hip. He sketched a polite bow toward Fiona. “Have we met? Warden Alistair at your service. Although, you probably knew that already.”
“Only in passing, Warden. I am Fiona, the leader of the Free Mages.”
“Keeper Hallenon speaks highly of you. I’m glad that we’ve finally met.”
“I am grateful that so many of you returned from the chaos at Adamant.” Fiona glanced between the two of them, looking oddly happy. “It is good that you have each other, even after everything that has happened. It does not always work out that way.”
“Mmm, there’s no one I’d rather have at my side.” Lines fanned out from his eyes as he smiled, resting his free hand on Vhera’s shoulder. “Am I joining you or are we leaving Fiona to her book? The kitchen staff were overjoyed to see the famous cheese lover again, so there is plenty to eat.”
The tray was indeed overflowing with food, nearly half of it various cheeses. A steaming bowl of hot corn cereal was slowly melting the edge of one chunk, and a loaf of dark brown bread was pressed against Alistair’s forearm. She glanced at Fiona.
“I would be honored,” Fiona said hesitantly, “but surely you have other plans for your morning.” Vhera was looking at her with a wry grin. Maker, she felt more prepared to deal with the horrific binding rituals she was researching than with the old memories talking with the two wardens was likely to bring up… especially these two particular wardens.
Alistair chuckled and set the food down on the table. “I’ll be right back. The cups and water are still in the room.”
“Do you like corn mash? Every steward I find supplies us with grains that the horses eat as readily as we do.” Vhera pulled out a black and white hilted dagger from a sheath on her belt and began slicing the melting cheese into the bowl.
Fiona tucked a strip of cloth into the book and slid it and her notes to the side. “I have always been more fond of oats with molasses, but everyone in Orlais has a sweet tooth.” She pulled out her own knife and made quick work of the slicing the bread. She was surprised by how comfortable Vhera seemed, and it set her at ease as well. The two of them spoke easily of trifles until Alistair returned.
“I remember Duncan mentioning you once,” Alistair said with a smile as they dug into the food with a hunger that Fiona remembered well. “He named one of his axes Fiona, and told me that you were one of the toughest elves he had ever met.”
She laughed softly, remembering the angry young thief she had first met. “He would say that. Duncan was quite young when I first met him, and his temper got the better of him on many occasions – as did mine.” Fiona had a piece of bread with a thick spread of tart chevre – ram’s milk cheese. Duncan had always been willing to try anything when it came to food. Like her, he had lived on the city streets, combing the garbage for any available scraps.
“He was fiercely dedicated to the Wardens when I met him,” Vhera said. “He went to great lengths to find new recruits before Ostagar.”
“The only time I saw him do something that wasn’t what he thought best was at that battle.” Alistair shook his head, stabbing a piece of bread with a bit more force than necessary. “Both Cailin and Loghain were wrong, and it nearly destroyed Ferelden.”
“It’s hard to challenge someone you wish was right.” Fiona’s smile was sad, remembering decades of arguing with powerful mages she respected. Their misplaced hope for a peaceful resolution had shackled her efforts to break the Circles free of the Chantry, as most people preferred to battle demons they already knew.
“Did you know King Cailin?” Alistair asked curiously. “I barely knew him, even though he was my brother”
“No, I never met him.” An old, familiar ache woke in her heart as Alistair spoke, his easy confidence and shadowed jaw reminding her so much of the King of Ferelden that she had known. “Most say he looked much like his father, as you do. Theirin blood has always been strong.” Alistair nodded thoughtfully as he cooled another bite of the excessively cheesy corn mash.
Vhera was eyeing her shrewdly as they ate, glancing between her and Alistair as if running calculations in her head. “There have always been odd rumors about your expedition into the old thaig in the Deep Roads, Fiona. Some say that your commander acquired unusual assistance from Denerim, but I have never seen any solid information in the reports.”
“I’m not surprised. The Wardens didn’t like the whole story, so they only recorded what they thought was… appropriate.” Orlesian mages, Teyrn Loghain, the King of Ferelden, the Legion of the Dead, half-darkspawn wardens – there was plenty of fodder for rumors. Fiona wondered if the Architect actually had caused the Fifth Blight or not.
Vhera chuckled, shaking her head. “Was King Maric actually involved? Several reports place him and Loghain in the Circle when the whole situation imploded, but they vary widely on why he was there.” The tunic she wore hung loosely on her slender forearms, sliding up to reveal scars crisscrossing lean lines of muscle. She was clearly a mage who had seen much of close combat.
“It would not do for me to contradict the word of Weisshaupt,” Fiona said sardonically, “but without Maric’s guidance we would have wandered for months, and died deep beneath the stone.”
“You knew Alistair’s father.” Vhera’s easy words were half question, half accusation.
Alistair froze, the blonde warrior awkwardly glancing between the two of them. Fiona didn’t respond immediately, suddenly caught in a vortex of memories she had mostly suppressed for thirty years.
“Ha ha, good one Fiona.” Alistair’s laugh broke into the silence. “The King of Ferelden in the Deep Roads. Even Cailin didn’t go that far.”
Maric had been the first noble to earn her trust, though she had not made it easy. So much time had passed, yet she could still feel the icy water against her back on the cavern floor. The warm embrace of a good man had been a light of hope amidst the darkness haunting her life. They had drawn on each other’s strength and stubbornness, facing darkspawn and traitors side by side.
“So, it is true…” Vhera searched her expression, interpreting the prolonged silence correctly. “It really was Maric Theirin that went with your expedition, but no one wants to admit it.” She shook her head in awe.
Fiona nodded. “He was nearly the same age you are, Alistair.” It was harder to push the memory of Maric away with his son sitting before her. He had grown into a strong, handsome man, although his lopsided grin was better suited to a boy of ten.
“Ohhoho, you have to tell us what he was like.” He continued grinning, taking a large bite out of a chunk of cheese.
She laughed without thinking, high and light. Alistair’s chagrin had so quickly turned to delight, and his eagerness lit up her heart in a way she has often wished for, but never known. Maker, why had she ever given him up? A thousand reasons, she knew, culminating in a life free of the burdens that would have plagued the bastard of a noble and an elf.
“Certainly you know more of him than I, having lived your life in the land freed by ‘Maric the Savior,’ yes?”
Alistair quickly swallowed another bite, shaking his head. “The people of Ferelden practically worship him, and Eamon barely spoke to me after I refused the throne. You actually knew him.”
“Only for a short while.” She glanced away from him, busying herself with breaking off a small piece of her bread.
“Pleeeeease?” He looked like a child pleading for a sweet, not the hardened veteran warden she had expected.
“Was he really an arrogant ass, and no one wants to admit it?” Vhera chimed in dryly.
They both scowled at her, their retorts spilling out simultaneously.
“Maric was a good man -”
“Of course not, why would you -”
Vhera raised an eyebrow and glanced between the two of them. “Then why was he in the Deep Roads instead of on the throne? Why did he hide you away like unwanted baggage?”
“He was in the Deep Roads because it was necessary, just as Ferelden needed him to be King.” Fiona took a steadying breath, startled by the intensity of her own response. “It was a reckless, desperate mission, and he stood with the Wardens against the darkest of enemies even though it was not his fight. Do not ever doubt that your father was a good man, Alistair.”
Two sets of warm brown eyes met hers, one surprised and the other still shrewdly considering.
“I… Thank you Fiona. It has been a long time since I doubted that, but it feels good to hear you say it. And you," the pointed, wide-eyed look he gave Vhera was amusing to watch, "shouldn’t say nasty things about the King who saved the whole country from destruction.”
“We saved the whole country too, but you still grew up without a family.”
Vhera’s words twisted in her heart, harsh and true. Duncan’s letters updating her on Alistair had been a balm, even when they held painful news. Neither of them wanted a templar’s life for him. But to have no one who cared? No family save the reluctant hand of a distant relative? Memories of her own brutal, lonely childhood flashed through her mind. She had never wanted that for him.
“I never… Maric would not have wanted that for you, Alistair.” Fiona had torn her bread into a few dozen tiny pieces, but she hadn’t noticed.
He waved one hand dismissively. “Vhera is exaggerating.” He glanced sideways at his partner. “Mostly. Arl Eamon was a good guardian, and he told me the truth about my parents once I was old enough to understand. Cailin was older than me by nearly a decade, and heir to the throne. Ferelden needed her King and his son.” Alistair let out a self-deprecating chuckle. “No one needed a royal bastard. Even my mother’s family didn’t want me, when we found them in Denerim. My sister practically chased me out of her house after she found out I was just a poor warden.”
“Your… you knew your mother?” That did not match what Duncan had told her.
“No, no she died when I was very young.” He tugged at a chain around his neck, pulling a fractured grey amulet from beneath his tunic. “Eamon gave me a pendant that was my mother’s, when I was a boy. I found out who she must have been on my own, after I was older.”
Not possible. Her world narrowed, voices blurring into the background, more shocked than when the Inquisitor had disappeared at Redcliffe. She could barely discern the outline of a flame on the amulet resting against Alistair’s grey tunic. It was not a common design, unlike the Chantry’s sunburst, yet it was unmistakably familiar despite the lines crisscrossing the image.
“...Why is it broken?” Fiona murmured, interrupting something about being sent to the Chantry.
“The amulet?” Alistair said, voice rising in surprise. “Because I was young and stupid, but Arl Eamon knew I’d regret it.” He chuckled. “Until Duncan recruited me, he was the only person that felt even a bit like family.”
“May I see it?” She reached out tentatively. In her mind it was clasped in Maric’s hand, resignation in his weary eyes as she closed his fingers over the silver flame. She and Duncan left the throne room in the dark of night, Alistair cradled in Maric’s arms.
“Alright, I suppose so.” He hesitated, coiling the chain into his hand. Fiona met his eyes, willing the tears back. Thirty years. “I’ve never tried to have someone fix it for a reason. Too much of the image shattered, and I don’t remember exactly how it looked.”
Fiona nodded, and Alistair placed the amulet in her palm. He watched her curiously as she smoothed her fingers over the broken, tarnished surface. The bottom edge of the amulet was composed of crystalline fragments and clear glue, solid but unrecognizable. She had never been able to determine what material it was, but it had always felt like a blended mosaic of metal and stone. The polished sheen it had once held was lost, save on the upper edge that rested against Alistair’s chest.
“Maric would be proud of you. He wanted you to be happy, not shackled to the throne.” Fiona barely realized that she was speaking, still staring at her amulet. “We knew that Ferelden would not be kind to a royal bastard. You didn’t need to bear the the burden of being the child of…” Shaking her head slowly, she continued. “Free to choose who you wanted to be, as we never could.”
Clasping the amulet between her hands, she drew in her mana and focused on a memory. “Yet you followed us still,” she murmured as a white glow wreathed her hands. It was a simple, quick spell if you knew the unbroken object.
“I told you not to–” Alistair began angrily, but Vhera’s small hand on his arm halted his words. She was staring intently at Fiona.
“Did you say ‘we’?”
A fine dust trickled through Fiona’s fingers, dried glue that was no longer needed. The amulet in her hands shone silver, a dancing flame rising from an open hand. Andraste’s Flame… Fire of the Magi… the symbol’s name didn’t matter to her anymore. Alistair did.
“Fiona?” He looked uncertain as she passed him the amulet.
“I… truly thought this conversation would never happen.” She thought the time for this moment had passed long ago.
“What are you saying?” Alistair’s nervous chuckle was back. “You were talking about my father… who is ‘we’?”
She glanced from Alistair to Vhera. In the borrowed clothing the elven warden looked very young, but the weight of understanding was in her gaze.
“You and Maric were very close, yes?” Vhera’s words were gentle, and it was obvious she had guessed the truth somehow. How would Alistair react? His own partner was an elven mage as well, and the ease and love that he showed toward her spoke volumes.
Fiona smiled softly, watching Alistair smoothing his fingers unconsciously over the repaired amulet. “Is your mother’s amulet as you remembered?”
Glancing down uncertainly, his gaze flickered between Fiona and the amulet. “I thought I had always imagined the hand, since I’ve never seen another one like it. How could you have known? Did you know my mother? That would be too weird.”
“Really?” Fiona’s eyebrows rose, and she relaxed a fraction. “Why would that be so strange?”
“Because, well, I didn’t know! Duncan never mentioned knowing my mother, and that’s when you would have met Maric.” She nodded in confirmation, and his voice rose as he continued. “Why wouldn’t he have said, in all the years I knew him? He knew my father was the King, and Duncan was more of a father to me than Arl Eamon ever was. He wouldn’t have kept something like that from me without a damn good reason.”
She flinched at the pain evident in his words. He needed the truth, or this was going to get out of hand quickly. “You are quite right – he did have a very good reason. Your mother gave that amulet to Maric thirty years ago on the same night that she brought him you.” She took a deep breath, and the first tear trickled down her cheek. “Duncan was her closest friend, and would check in on you for her. She has read those letters a thousand times, terrified and overjoyed for you, but she never saw her amulet again. Not until today.”
Alistair threw up his hands, the movement sharp and frustrated. “That doesn’t make any– I’ve been sitting right here for the last–” His eyes went wide as he looked at Fiona. Really looked at her, and realized that she was sitting there crying. He had made the leader of the Free Mages cry. Why is she crying?
“You?!” His eyes went wide. “You’re my mother? How could you be my mother, you’re an–” Vhera laughed softly, and his gaze snapped to her. “Ohh… right,” he continued more quietly. “Half-elven children look human.”
“Sadly, I knew you would have a better life as a human than as the child of an elf.” Fiona looked melancholy, delighted, and drained, all rolled into one – but he was still in shock. How? Not only was his mother alive, but he had been fed a lie about who she had been.
“I’m part elf?” Alistair muttered, hands going to his ears as if they would suddenly grow now that his heritage had been dramatically revealed. “And Orlesian? And Duncan knew? And you’re alive!?” He felt like someone had told him mabari could talk. It was complete nonsense, perfectly sensible, and staring him in the face – so it had to be true.
“Why did you not tell him after the Blight ended?” Vhera asked. He took comfort in her confidence, and from her calm, steady hand running back and forth across his shoulders. This was why she had ended up in charge during the Blight as well. She simply walked on despite the burdens piled onto her petite shoulders.
Fiona – his mother – smiled at him through her tears. “You didn’t need me, and you were a warden. The Maker has a strange sense of humour, for you to willingly take on not one, but nearly every single responsibility that we tried to free you from. More than just Ferelden would have fallen if you had failed to kill the Archdemon… yet the strength of Calenhad and the taint of the Darkspawn both course through your veins.” She looked to Vhera then, wiping her cheeks. “And you my dear… to hear that he stood with someone so like myself, despite the odds stacked against every elf and mage in Thedas… It was astounding.”
“But you’re… you’re you!” Alistair exclaimed. “A mage, a leader, a rebel! Why didn’t you come find me anyway?” He had spent so much of his childhood wondering what his mother and father were like, even thinking he was only a servant’s bastard.
Fiona laughed, wiping away more tears. “Seeing the two of you now makes me wish that I had!”
“Did you avoid us because of your history with the Wardens?” Vhera asked, a touch of sadness in her voice.
“Perhaps. That wound is old and bitter, and I had other battles to fight.” One side of Fiona’s mouth turned up in a chagrined smile. “I admit my feelings about your place with the Wardens were nearly as mixed as when you were taken by the Chantry to become a templar, Alistair. Neither would have been my first choice for you.”
His shoulders slumped at the harsh words. Fiona’s disapproval gave him a sick, awkward feeling. It must have shown on his face, because she reached out to him.
“Please Alistair, do not think that I am upset.” Fiona covered his hand, the one still holding the amulet she had repaired. Her amulet. “Not only do I have no right, but I am proud of you. My son is fighting corruption and battling for the freedom of mages, elves, dwarves, humans – for everyone.” She paused, and tears shone in her eyes again. “Maric would have stood with us, have no doubt.”
“I don’t know what to say… Thank you.” He ran his fingers through his hair, overwhelmed with emotion. He had given up on this part of his life long ago, but suddenly it was here, raw and thorny, a thicket of wild roses in his heart. “I’m glad you don’t hate me for being a Warden. That would be a bit much to bear right now.”
“Alistair?” Vhera asked gently, and he realized he was repeatedly clenching his jaw.
“I just – I need some air.” He stood abruptly, accidentally knocking Vhera’s knife to the floor. Two steps from the table he spun and turned around, heading out toward the balcony instead of the stairs.
The huge, ornate balcony overlooking the main hall was still blessedly empty at this early hour, divan and piled books evidence of Madame Vivienne’s usual chilling presence. He opened the doors and paced to the railing, swift strides carrying him into the cool morning air. Below him, Skyhold was stirring, guards at the main gate rotating their watch.
Metal on metal was a sound that always drew his ear, but it was only the amulet’s chain against the dagger sheath strapped to his thigh. He stared at the silver flame cradled in his open palm and chuckled. It had always looked more like a mage’s symbol than Andraste’s Flame, and his mother was a mage. Damn. He blew out a long breath. Not even just an ordinary mage, but the Grand Enchanter leading the whole bloody rebellion.
His mother was the Lost Warden who had battled the Architect, alongside Duncan and his royal father, no less. The fact that she was an elf paled in comparison to what she had accomplished, and everything that she still fought for. It still made him smile though, warming his cozy, romantic, Fereldan heart as he took another deep breath. His father had cared about her – about them. That much was clear in his mind, though he didn’t know why. So many outside the Wardens – and some within the Order as well – still looked askance at his relationship with Vhera, but his parents and Duncan would have all supported them wholeheartedly. That meant a lot him.
“You never have liked surprises.”
He started, turning to see Vhera standing in the windowed opening. “You shouldn’t be allowed to walk around in those socks, my dear. They let you sneak up on people.” Smiling wryly, he held out a welcoming arm and pulled her close as she wrapped her arms around his waist in a hug.
“Are you okay?” She slipped her small hand into his after a long moment, scooping up Fiona’s amulet and inspecting the swirling handful of silver flame.
“Yeeeeeesss,” he responded, with a hint of his normal playfulness.
“I knew you would be.” She planted a quick kiss on his jaw. “Fiona seems like a good woman. She is also nearly as overwhelmed as you are. Neither of you ever expected to meet each other.”
Light steps sounded on the stairs behind them. “Odd where fate takes us, isn’t it?” His mother hesitated as she approached, stopping just outside the balcony.
“Fate’s a friend that leads you into an ambush, then bakes you cookies.” Alistair grinned ruefully at Fiona, one arm still around Vhera as she clasped the amulet around his neck. He stretched out his free arm toward Fiona, beckoning her forward. “I’ll take the good with the bad.”
He pulled her into a hug once she stepped close enough, prompting a startled laugh. The long-suffering look Vhera gave Fiona was so familiar that he heard her words in his head: “Typical Alistair – it grows on you, trust me.” What she actually said was far different, and it stole his breath.
“Welcome to the family, Lost Warden.”