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To Find Absolution

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“Your father… was a good man.” Morrigan’s voice drifted up from the courtyard below as Zaire Cadash passed nearby, hurrying back to her quarters after stabling her horse. The sun had dropped below the edges of the mountains, plunging the courtyards of Skyhold into a gloomy twilight.

She resisted the urge to slow her stride and kept moving, unsure if she could keep it together if she had to hear the reply. She swallowed, choking back the emotion that she felt sneaking in. I’m the Inquisitor. I can’t afford any more emotion after the last few days.

As if on cue, she passed a scout. “Inquisitor,” he said, nodding to her. She nodded back. No amount of time would make her feel comfortable with everyone noticing her everywhere she went. Back in the Carta, being noticed was a liability. She couldn’t afford to look weak, couldn’t afford to break down. Pulling herself up straighter, she reminded herself to focus, to show only strength where others could see her. Especially after her judgment of Thom Rainier the day previous, which she worried that some in Skyhold would have an issue with. Then again, if they didn’t like it, they could walk in her boots. Being Inquisitor was not an easy job.

She moved more into the shadows where people would be less likely to walk at this time of night. It was easier for her to see in the dark and sticking to the shadows offered her a small measure of privacy she wouldn’t otherwise have.

Morrigan hadn’t outright stated who Kieran’s father was, but Zaire heard enough to have worked it out. The awkward conversations with Morrigan and Alistair. Alistair’s comments about how they’d traveled with the Hero of Ferelden. Morrigan suddenly being willing to comment on Kieran’s parentage in passing.

He won’t get a chance to know his father. And that’s on me.

She still felt off her stride in the aftermath of Adamant and Blackwall’s subsequent departure and turbulent return. She had spent her entire day in constant meetings with her advisors, and she was honest enough with herself to-

“Still out and about trying to out walk your problems?” Dorian asked, sauntering out from a side passage. His dark blue robes swayed, silver trim catching bits of dying light.

“My legs are too short to out walk my problems.” She stared straight ahead, not slowing her stride. “That’s why I’ve been out riding a horse.”

“I too avoid overly walking when other options are available.” He matched his stride to hers. “I wouldn’t mind going out for a ride next time you need to get out. It’s a lonely life in the middle of nowhere.”

Zaire snorted, glancing over at him. “I’ll tell Cullen you’re lonely.”

“If you can find him not working or sulking, please do.” He winked. “Maybe I like your charming company.”

“Yes, I still have that bottle of wine in my quarters, if that’s your roundabout way of asking.” A smile formed on her lips despite her mood. It was why she had become so close to Dorian over the last number of months with the Inquisition; he was always there in his own strange way. He’d joke about the wine, but he’d spend more time listening to her than drinking. He always did.

“Excellent. It will go with the food I’ve asked to be delivered there so that you remember to eat.” He made a face and reached out to brush a bit of dirt off her coat. “Perhaps it would also go well with bathing.” He wrinkled his nose. “You smell like a stable.”

“I think that’s the least of my problems.” She cast her eyes up to the sky at the descending darkness as they walked into the main courtyard, frowning at the clouds that had blown in while she rode. As her eyes searched the clouded sky, a fat raindrop landed on her forehead. She wiped it away. “And rain. Of course.”

“Yes, well. It does happen in this dreary place. But if I am to walk slow so you can keep up with me, we’re certainly opening that bottle of wine when we get to your quarters.” He placed a hand on her shoulder as they walked. “If you stopped by the stable, does that mean that you’ve gotten around to-”

“No,” she said, perhaps a little too sharply. She winced. “Sorry. No. I didn’t. He wasn’t there.”

“Probably with Sera, then. I’m sure they’re off being thoroughly unsavory together.” He lifted his hand from her shoulder reached out to tug on her hood. “You may want to put this on.” He pulled his cloak closer around himself as the rain began in earnest. Thunder cracked in the distance.

She reached up and pulled her hood over her head to keep the worst of the rain off as the sky opened up and poured water onto them. “We’ll talk about it in my quarters.” She huddled in her wool cloak.

“Fair enough.” His gazed remained steady on her. “How were all of your meetings today?”

She sighed at the thought of another long day of meetings with her advisors, especially as the strain of losing Alistair hung over all of them. In particular, she felt concerned for Morrigan; she hid it well, but Zaire couldn’t deny that she was off. She’d wanted to ask how she was doing, given that Morrigan had known Alistair so long and there seemed to be more to the situation. With Alistair’s widow being the Hero of Ferelden, though, it hadn’t been a point she wanted to broach. “Fine. A lot to do. Always too much to do. Everyone was shaken up after Adamant, and then there was yesterday…” The judgment of Thom Rainier. The hardest trial for her so far, and something told her that even more difficult ones were to come.

“Yes. I had to hear Cullen rage about that all last night.” The mage rolled his eyes. “Not as badly as he did about the Samson situation, but enough.”

“Sorry you had to deal with it.” They reached the hall, where the day before she’d had to pass judgement on the man she loved. A judgement that was far kinder than what many people felt he’d deserved. A number of nobles were still finishing dinner at the table, and they fell hushed when she entered. Shivering, she flipped her soaking wet hood back then shook the water off of her hands.

“It’s not the first time nor the last time. The Inquisition is stressful on us all, and Cullen has handled far worse. And I’m more worried about what you’re dealing with than that I must endure.” He tucked a wet strand of hair back into place. “But I’m worried I’ll be plucking a gray hair at this rate.”

“Hang on a second.” She put a hand on his arm to stop him. They were near the fire, where Varric sat with a book half full of writing, a pen in his hand. He tapped his pen against his chin, and Zaire got the distinct impression he was already listening. “Varric. What do you think? Is the Inquisition giving Dorian gray hairs?”

Varric looked over at them, smiling, and set the pen down. “I can see a gray hair on Sparkler’s head all the way down here.”

Dorian made a wounded face. “He’s lying. Right? Tell me he’s lying.”

“I don’t know, I’m a little short to check.” Zaire grinned, clapping the other dwarf on his shoulder. “Thanks Varric.”

“Any time.”

“You’re both terrible people.” Dorian shook his head. “Terrible. Next time I’ll walk fast so you can’t keep up.”

Varric picked pack up his pen and gestured with it. “Never tell two experts at setting traps that. We have ways of making you slow down.”

Zaire laughed. “We definitely aren’t having this discussion again tonight.” She paused. Earlier that day, Hawke had said his goodbyes and stated his intention to leave that afternoon. He’d sent word ahead about what had happened to Alistair, a letter that she knew had not been easy to write. Hawke wouldn’t admit it, but she’d seen him in the days following Alistair’s decision to stay in the Fade so that they could survive, and he’d looked like he hadn’t slept. It’s best if he gets home. “Varric, did Hawke make it out of here in time to beat the storm?”

“Hawke, on time?” Varric snorted. “No. In fact, I’m joining him for a drink later. Something about needing to stay for another day. Says he’d like to get back to Blondie and Warden Amell, but has a couple of people he needs to speak to here first. ‘Deputy Warden business’, he calls it.”

“I may come join you for that drink later, then.” A cold ale to warm the heart, her mother would have said. “It’s been a long week.”

“Any time, Inquisitor.”

Zaire thought for a moment. “How far does Hawke have to travel to get home?”

“That is one question I don’t think even Leliana can answer.” He tapped his pen against his nose. “He’s been notoriously secret about where he’s been holing up. With good reason.”

“I don’t blame him.” If she’d been through half of what Hawke had been through, she wouldn’t have come this far, although she understood he’d gone with Alistair to ensure that they had someone to get back to the Ferelden Wardens, if needed. “I’m surprised no one has cornered him and tried to get it out of him.”

Dorian laughed. “Oh, they may try. But I’ll give Cullen this – for all that he’s still holding grudges about Kirkwall, he has some respect for Hawke. He’s… well.” Dorian ran his hands along his robes to straighten them after being out in the weather. “He’s aware of what Hawke did for Kirkwall, dreadful place as it seems to be. He wouldn’t stand for it.”

“Hey, that’s my home you’re talking about. Don’t think I won’t set traps.” He set down pen on the table next to the book and reached out to touch Zaire’s arm. “While you’re here, have you-”

Zaire put the hand with the mark over his, feeling his fingers through the leather of her glove. “No. Since you’re about to ask the same question that everyone is asking me. I’ll take care of it.” She squeezed his hand and became suddenly aware of the alien feel of the mark. Even when it didn’t glow, it was always there. “I appreciate the concern. I do. I just need to think.”

“Just don’t take too long for it.” He picked up the pen again. “Seen friends do that, and it just led to more heartbreak.”

She nodded as she stepped back. “I know. I do.”

Varric touched his pen to the paper to continue his writing, and Dorian and Zaire continued up towards her quarters. As they passed the throne, she looked away from it, momentarily uncomfortable with the responsibility that it represented. She rubbed at the marked hand with her other, the ever present reminder of the burdens she carried.