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All Roads Lead to Home

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i.

It took weeks.

Part of him had debated simply going himself to fetch what he wanted, but he wasn’t sure he could have come up with a plausible enough excuse to be gone for several weeks. And he certainly couldn’t tell her where he was going–she’d surely want to come with. Maretus, wanting to visit the town he grew up in? He was certain she’d want to be there with him.

To be fair, if he ever did truly go back for any reason, he’d want her to be there as well. Luckily, however, this particular task did not require his presence. Just his instructions.

There were usually a few days a week where Vanora attended things that he was not required for–indeed, some meetings it would have been poor form for him, in his capacity as her Guard Captain, to be present. So, he took one of those days as an opportunity to tend to his own business.

It was an idea that had sparked earlier, not long after they first arrived at her household, and he’d sat on it awhile, deliberating if it was a worthwhile effort. Finally, he called for a runner to set things in motion.

Though he had few fond memories of his native city of Marothius, he could clearly recall many of the blooming plants there, and how he’d never seen their like since in any other part of Thedas. Since they’d been back, Vanora had finally been able to show him the library she described to him what seemed like so long ago, and he did not fail to notice the entire section she had simply on botany. All he had to do was put the two together. Maretus didn’t think she ever had occasion to go to western Tevinter in her travels, and so he hired a courier to travel there for one particular plant he remembered.

Three and a half months after he sent them, the courier returned and nearly ruined the surprise.

He and Vanora were taking their lunch on the veranda overlooking a wading pool when one of the servants came to them, bowing low.

“Deepest apologies for interrupting, but there is a courier here with–”

Maretus stood suddenly, the skid of his chair cutting off the servant and garnering a questioning look from Vanora.

“I’ll go,” he said without hurry. “You rarely get to enjoy a meal without interruption.”

Vanora rolled her eyes at him. “This is still an interruption.”

“Still, I’ll handle it this time.” Without giving her any more opportunity to argue, he motioned for the servant to lead the way back to the main receiving atrium of the estate.

“Did the courier mention this delivery was to be discreet?” Maretus asked quietly as soon as they entered the hall away from the veranda.

The young man visibly swallowed, unsure how Maretus’s ire would manifest to discipline him. “Y-yes, but the lady was alone, save for you–”

Again Maretus stopped him, shaking his head. “It is a surprise for her,” he explained. “I should have told the courier to ask directly for me.” With a glance to the nervous servant, Maretus’s eyebrows lifted. “You’re not in trouble, Verus, you can stop looking at me like I’m going to flog you.” 

He looked down the hall they stopped in, toward the atrium. “This is a delivery for me, for a few supplies that I ordered and have been expecting. Understood?”

Verus nodded, still looking nervous despite Maretus’s reassurance.

“Good. Go back to your duties.”

The young servant hurried off at this dismissal, and Maretus watched him go for a moment before continuing on his way. Perhaps if he came up with some exceptionally mundane thing these ‘supplies’ were for, Vanora wouldn’t be interested enough to question his eagerness to go in her stead. It would be a short charade, luckily–ever since the ordeal with Septimus, Maretus did not relish the idea of keeping secrets from her. Even if they were surprises meant to please her.

The atrium was an open area with the solid walls of the estate giving way to latticework that let the sunlight in, and each of the columns had flowering ivies twining up around them. They filled the pale, open room with a gentle and sweet fragrance as well as bright accents of color. The courier he had hired months ago stood near the front of the room, close to the door, holding a pale woven box.

Instantly his head quickened a little. It was a small thing to get excited over, he knew, but he had so little of his past it felt like some precious thing he was going to share with her, not just a simple flower.

“You truly found it?” he asked, walking up to the courier.

“The ignasis flower,” she replied, reaching to the front of the box and unlatching it to reveal its contents.

It was as lovely as he remembered it, with long petals the colors of a living flame in bright contrast to the shadowed interior of the box. The bloom itself sat upon a pedestal with a small clasp to hold it upright in presentation, and for all intents and purposes looked like a small, soft plume of fire. Vanora had once enabled him to hold a flame in his hands, and this was the closet he would get to giving one to her.

Maretus produced payment from one of his pockets, and added in a bit extra for good measure. The woven box exchanged hands, finally in his possession. Now the only question was how to present it to her.

He could simply go back to their lunch and give it to her, but something about doing it that way fell flat to him. It was a special gift for him to give, and so he wished to present it in a manner befitting.

Thoughtfully, he drummed fingers along the side of the box, weighing options. Perhaps the library, or the gardens. Or–ah, yes. He knew precisely where it should go.

Smile spreading across his face at the idea, he quickly made his way through the halls until he reached another open room, this one full of potted plants and a trellis for a roof that was thick with various vines and greenery. A few chaise lounges and chairs were placed in it, along with a table off to one side, stacked with a few books and a pile of unopened letters. These were personal letters and Vanora took time every day to open a few of them and read them through. Sometimes he would help her–many were social invitations, truth be told–and sometimes he sat nearby on a chaise and read, simply keeping her company.

In the center of the table Maretus gently set the woven box down on top of the letters so that she could not miss it even if she tried. Satisfied at that, he made his way back to the veranda to rejoin Vanora and their lunch.

“What was it?” she asked him as he returned.

“Supplies I’ve been expecting,” he replied smoothly. “I started running low on dubbin for my jerkin and boots, so I sent a courier to bring me some more.”

Curious, Vanora sent him a look. “You could have just picked it up when we were at the market,” she said.

“Well…” he began, schooling his face and voice carefully. “I used to use a particular one from Ferelden, that I had in Skyhold, and grew quite fond of it. So I must admit to a bit of indulgence in sending for more of it.” He gave her a sheepish look to hopefully sell his story. It wasn’t truly even a lie–he did have a favored Ferelden dubbin he found while at Skyhold, but he’d brought enough with him to last a year or two, anticipating being half a world away form its source.

“Ah,” Vanora said, nodding. “Far be it for me to get between a man and his leather treatment.” She smiled at him.

Thank goodness for his prudent and thorough proclivities, that she so readily accepted his answer. Their conversation after that drifted to other matters–a small social gathering upcoming in two weeks, her steady progression in reestablishing herself, his ideas for additions to the guard training routines. Eventually, they finished their lunch and parted for a short while, each off to finish up separate duties for the day.

In the room he’d taken over to be his work study, Maretus settled down with the household reports left to him by the guards. He didn’t have anything to do with household accounts or supplies, but it was a large estate and held many fine and expensive things that needed protecting–not to mention protecting the inhabitants. So once he’d been put in charge, he tightened up the requirements for each guard who was reporting directly to him and established better protocols and a hierarchy very reminiscent of the Legion. He found it to be the most efficient–and the most familiar to him–and it seemed to be improving the work ethic of the guards on top of it all.

But, after reading the same page of the household report three times without remembering what it said, Maretus conceded he was distracted.

Fortunately, though he took his position of Guard Captain of the Tiberius Estate seriously, it wasn’t anywhere near the most strenuous of positions. Estate guard management was even less daily responsibility than training Inquisition soldiers. Without feeling much guilt at all, he set his reports aside and stretched, leaning back in his chair. He’d managed to pass enough time that he expected Vanora to also be near to done with her business, and soon they would convene in the trellised solar to open and read letters–and, Maretus thought with a smile, for her to find his gift.

He took his time in getting back to the solar, forcing himself to meander the halls a bit, pretending to be interested in the hangings and decorations on the walls. Nervous anticipation hummed along his veins as he neared. Would she like the gift? Would she find it too mundane or trivial? It was no extravagant piece of jewelry, no finely made cloth from which she could have an exquisite dress made, but the simple bloom represented a part of him that he’d never shared with anyone, and he found himself a little surprised at just how desperately he wanted her to like it.

Not unusually, Vanora wasn’t there when he arrived. She must have gotten wrapped up in her work. He smiled at that familiar thought and sat on a chaise that had quickly become his usual one. The book he’d been reading still lay on the end of it, so he picked it up and paged through slowly to find where he’d left off. A stack of similar books sat on the floor, ones he hadn’t gotten to yet but intended to work his way through.

Again, he didn’t get too far in reading before he found himself distracted, impatient for her to arrive. Finally, she breezed in through the door, leaves from the trellis vines fluttering in her swift wake.

“I lost track of time,” she said, though it wasn’t any kind of apology, nor did he expect one. He understood better than anyone getting deep into work and forgetting all else until it was done and one could resurface again.

He kept his eyes on the book, as if deeply involved in it, though he was very aware of her and could see her moving about in his periphery. When she stopped moving, standing before the table, it took all his willpower not to immediately look up from the book and ruin the surprise. 

“What’s this?”

She turned to face him, the box in her hands, to eye him skeptically. “Maretus, do you know anything about this?”

“Looks like a woven box to me,” he said, silently willing her to just open it.

Vanora sent him a withering look, but then her curiosity took over and she set it back down again, carefully, before one finger deftly flicked open the lock. Maretus lifted his eyes from the book to watch her more clearly, his attention directly on her face to see her reaction. The lid made no noise as it opened, and her eyes widened and he felt his heart leap into his throat–but then her brows drew together as she peered inside for several heavy beats of his heart.

Just as he was about to open his mouth and tell her to pick the damn thing up and look at it, she abruptly turned and left the room. Book falling nearly into his lap, Maretus could only stare at the doorway she vanished into. She… didn’t like it? A wretched twisting tied his stomach into several knots and all he could do was stare. He didn’t understand. How could she had just left like that? Even if she didn’t think it was the most prudent of gifts, it wasn’t like it looked awful or smelled foul.

Light footsteps he recognized heralded her return, and he quickly lifted the book again as if nothing had happened, though his shoulders felt heavier now than they had in a long while. Perhaps he had misjudged after all.

She swept back into the room in a swirl of iridescent skirts, small book in hand. Maretus lifted his gaze again to covertly watch her delicately reach into the woven box and draw out the ignasis bloom with her free hand, turning it over to get a better look at it, while deftly paging through the book to compare it to the contents on its pages. Maretus could have laughed out loud–she was trying to identify it!

After several unsuccessful moments passed, Vanora spun to face him, one dark eyebrow raised and a question forming on her lips. A grin spread across his face, unbidden, and she snapped her mouth shut and looked at him accusingly.

“Maretus, what do you know about this?” she asked him again, and he couldn’t contain a soft laugh from escaping him.

He set the book down on the chaise and stood, walking over to join her, smile still on his face. Instead of answering, he peered over her shoulder at the book she held.

Field Guide to Flora of the Regions of Thedas?” he read. “Does it cover western Tevinter in that book?”

“Maretus,” she started.

“Does it?”

She sighed. “Yes, of course, but I don’t see what that has to do with–oh.” Vanora stopped, looked at the flower in her hand, its fiery petals almost glowing in the light, then up at him. “Do you know where this came from?”

“Marothius,” he replied. “I spent part of my childhood there, before the Legion took me. It had quite a few types of flowers there that I’ve never seen anywhere else.”

Her eyes widened, and she slowly lowered her gaze back to the flower, looking as if she were suddenly lost in thought.

“It’s called the ignasis bloom, if that helps in your search,” he said teasingly.

“It’s like a little flame,” she said distantly.

“I know.” His voice was soft, endearing.

His voice seemed to bring her back from her reverie, and she turned to him fully, setting the book in her hand down on the table. “Maretus,” she said softly, his name a quiet breath that slipped past her lips.

Before he could respond in any way, she reached up with her now-free hand and touched his cheek, and he felt his heart thud in his chest, all words he might have said now fled. Vanora smiled and leaned in, drawing his face down with her hand so she could kiss his cheek.

“Thank you,” she murmured against his skin, her breath warm and smelling of the ginger tea she’d had with lunch. “I love it.”