Miriam glanced up from the pages of her own handwriting to catch sight of her other Grey Warden companion. It was hard to think of him as such, thinking that out of everyone here in this camp, right here right now... he was the one she'd known the longest. That was only a couple weeks at best.
The light from the fire cast deep shadows on his face, emphasizing how melancholy he appeared to be. Though she hadn't known him for long, one could tell it was a rather foreign face to be worn, for him. His wry sense of humour about practically everything was refreshing – when she'd left Kinloch Hold to be a Warden, she'd been expecting the world to be so much stiffer, much more formal or just... strange. Hearing him remark on how the Blight brought people together had immediately brought a moment's relief from those worries.
But seeing him now... he must be thinking of Duncan again. Could she blame him? The man that he claimed had 'rescued' him from the Chantry, the man that had given him new purpose, was gone. If that happened to him and Miriam herself was alone... Maker's Breath. She didn't want to think of that.
The thought of losing him left her with a dull ache in her chest.
She watched him for a moment longer, before trying to go back to her book, not wanting to pester him out of his thoughts. Her own thoughts promptly halted her progress though.
'He's just as alone as you are, in a way.'
She peered up at him again, remaining silent as she tossed the thought around in her head.
'You're a Warden now, you can't go back to the Tower and go back to your old life. And he can't go back to his either. He doesn't sound like he has anyone else.'
Miriam caught herself fidgeting with her hands, but her gaze became downcast.
'I should talk to him... but I don't want to bring up Duncan again. Not after what happened last time. He doesn't need the reminder of the failure that was Ostagar.'
After glaring at the ground for what felt like an hour, she finally huffed at her own comments. Looking back over to him, she only hesitated a moment before calling him over. When he looked her way, eyes lighting up and snapping from the stupour they were in, she patted the bark of the log she'd been sitting on, gesturing for him to come sit with her.
He didn't hesitate to join her. When he stalled in front of her, she spoke, “See anything of interest in the fire tonight?”
“I-what? Oh, no, no not really.”
He sounded distracted, there was no wry joke this time. She smiled timidly, “I read a story once where a man went blind from staring into the flames for too long. I wouldn't want anything-” She caught herself, “ That , to happen to the only other Warden here.” She tried to make a joke out of it, “I don't know what I'd do with myself.”
He cracked a smile as he sat down next to her at last, “Is this your way of saying you care about me? You ? That's awfully forward of you. You should do that more.”
“Do what more?”
“Be... forward, I guess.”
She scoffed, “What, like how I was with your Uncle? I made a fool of myself.”
“Wait, you did what with my Uncle?”
Oh. She hadn't told him about that. Whoops .
“All I wanted to do was ask if he had any family – out of curiosity! I wasn't expecting him to take it the way he did ... He assumed I was asking if he was married -”
His expression was completely aghast, “You were flirting with my Uncle ?”
“No! I mean, not really . I didn't know what else to say, alright? I just assumed that's how I was supposed to respond.”
His horror was well-played, aside from the wide grin he had, “I can't believe what I'm hearing, right now.”
She struggled to explain herself, “It's... I... I'm not interested in him like that anyway!” She sighed, “He asked if I was married. Imagine me trying to explain that , as a Mage.”
“What, Mages can't be married?”
She frowned at him, “I thought you were going to be a Templar? Surely they told you about that?”
“They only touched upon the easy stuff. You know... no Mage/Demon relationships, no caboodling with Templars...”
“... caboodling ?”
He feigned surprise, “Did I say caboodle? Because I wanted to say caboodle.” She shook her head at him, but he wasn't finished, “You're telling me Mages never did that?”
“ Caboodle ? I can't say I ever heard of it happening, no.”
His smile became sly, “No? No... quick caboodles in the library when the Templars weren't looking?”
“What is it with you and caboodling ?” She laughed, “Are you trying to tell me something?”
“My dear lady, what could you possibly be referring to? Having no knowledge of the term, yourself?”
“From the way you say it, it certainly sounds... suspicious . That's reason enough to inquire about it, I would think.”
“Hmmm, I don't think I should spoil it for you then.”
She crossed her arms, “You mention it a dozen times, and now you're going to leave me hanging? I'm shocked.”
He glanced at her with a subtle tilt of his head, a glint in his eye, “Remind me later, and maybe I'll give you a hint. Or two, if you're lucky. Depends on how generous I'm feeling.”
She laughed again, and simply shook her head, returning her gaze to the ground near her feet. The entire context of the conversation had been forgotten – she silently thanked the Maker for that – and a rather comfortable silence lingered between the two Wardens. She heard him shift somewhat in his spot, armour clanking much louder than he probably would've liked.
After another moment passed, she heard him sigh, “It's crazy, how you're the only person I knew before all... this ... happened.”
“Besides Morrigan?” She couldn't help but point out the obvious.
He sneered, “Yes, besides the Witch .” He shook his head and recollected himself, turning his gaze to her as he spoke, “I... I didn't really know a lot of the people at Ostagar. I mean... there was Duncan-” He almost choked up at the name, before continuing, “And a couple others, at best . But you're the only one I have left, from all that.”
Maybe it was just his choice of words, but that dull ache came back again.
“I mean, we'd only just met then, and I-uh... I just...” He turned himself more towards her on the log they sat upon, facing her more completely, “I haven't really thought about how this must be for you .”
“...for me ?” She blinked at him, not fully catching his meaning.
“I just... I don't know much about you, b ut you never got to see any of the good parts of being a Warden. You were just... sort of pulled from your old life, and thrown into a Blight. There's more to being a Warden than just that, there's uh- there's more joviality amongst them. Us . I just... wonder how that makes you feel.”
She was silent for a long moment, thinking and rethinking over his words in her head before starting slowly, “Sometimes I wish I could go back. To my old life. The Circle Tower was my home... but I know that's foolish. Becoming a Grey Warden was probably the best thing to happen to me.”
He was watching her intently, his eyes intense and... almost concerned , “Do you really think that?”
She countered the question with another question, “Do you ?”
He frowned, “You already know the answer to that-”
“Then you shouldn't doubt the answer I'm giving you .” She didn't mean for it to come out so curt, but she struggled enough with doubting herself as it was. She didn't need Alistair doing the same.
It was Alistair's time to look away, “I-That's not my intention. I promise. I'm just... worried.” He turned his gaze back to her, “Becoming a Warden isn't easy. It's... so hard on you.”
She set her sights on the fire some distance ahead of them, unintentionally mimicking Alistair's brooding stare she'd distracted him from earlier, “I never figured it would be easy. The books all say the Grey Wardens are made up of the best warriors across Thedas. There had to be a reason for that.” She gave him a bittersweet smile – meant to be comforting, but twisted with her train of thought, “I just wasn't expecting to go through with that myself. And make it here.”
“I'm glad you did.”
Her heart fluttered in a peculiar way at the comment, but she forced herself to relax, “I am too. I'm glad I can finally do some good.” She shook her head, “Much as I loved the Tower, I always felt... trapped. I felt like we were all trapped. Only a handful of Mages get to leave. And they always come back. But now that I'm out here, even despite the circumstances of it all... I don't know why they ever did.”
“...maybe it's because they think of it as home, too?” He shrugged, “I don't know, I never got to go into a Circle Tower – is the drapery nice? Do they give you comfortable chairs to sit on?” He paused before raising a brow, “Do they make sure you get enough exercise? Because you know, it is important-”
She waved her hand, “There's enough stairs in that blasted Tower to suffice. Don't worry.” She leaned back on her hands gazing up at the night sky, “There's not much drapery... there's not many windows in the tower – not large ones, anyway. Besides in the Harr-” She stopped herself, but recalled that he was an ex-Templar, “...the Harrowing Chamber.”
“Oh, good . They let you look out the window before you take your big test. That's exciting.”
She knew he was trying to lighten the mood, but thinking back on it made her awfully melancholy, “You would think in a room like that, they wouldn't have windows. Seems like a dangerous oversight.” After a moment she glanced at him, and tried to move on with the subject, “The chairs were... well... chairs . They never had cushions though-”
“No cushions on the chairs? That's just wrong .”
She smirked, “What's wrong was the fact that every library had its own step ladders or stools, besides the Apprentice's library.” She smiled at the memory she was reliving, “I had Enchanter Ancell scold me on one occasion for climbing on a bookshelf to reach a book I needed. I tried to explain to him that it was one I was told I needed, but he didn't seem to care.”
He watched her smile as she spoke – an expression he didn't see often on her, much to his apparent dismay. She coaxed her on with a question, “Did you ever get that book you needed?”
“Yes. I had to ask a Templar to get it for me, since Ancell was watching the Apprentices like a Hawk at the time. I don't think I heard the end of it from my peers for a whole month afterwards.”
“What, did they make fun of you?”
She raised a brow at him in response, “A lot of the Apprentices I was... associated with, weren't very fond of Templars. So... seeing me walk up to one – a new one, at the time – to ask him to get a book for me was rather... humbling. You don't see Mages ask Templars for much of anything. We usually just avoid getting in the way of each other.”
Alistair huffed, “That sounds about right, yes. Templars are such stingy fellows, aren't they? All serious and... not fun.”
Miriam's expression grew deadly serious, “I've heard they're far worse elsewhere in Thedas. The others just can't see that – all they see are Templars – the banes to our existence.”
“...the others being your fellow Apprentices, I'm gathering.”
“Not just them, no – fully inducted Mages and Enchanters, as well. It was something I never understood... something that always sort of kept me isolated from my own friends. I could never agree with that, though I suppose I should be thankful our Tower was primarily Aequitarian.”
“It's... Circle politics. I only overheard bits and pieces about it. It's something only Mages can join. Who passed the Harrowing, I mean. Sort of boring, really.”
“Sounds like it.” Before she could say anything in response, he spoke first, “So you disagreed with your fellow Mages then?”
“On discussions of Templars and their necessity, yes. I don't have much opinion on the Chantry.”
“That's rather dangerous of you to admit.”
“It's not that I don't like the Chantry or anything... I just... don't really have an opinion on it.”
“But you do have opinions on Templars.”
“I do.” She twisted her lips into a smile, “Even if I weren't a Mage, I'd have one now . About a certain ex-Templar I happen to know.”
Her distraction worked, “Oh? Care to gossip about this probably strong and definitely handsome ex-Templar you know about?”
With a snort of a laugh, she indulged him, “I met him after I left the Tower-”
“ Mhmmmmm .” He had his chin resting on his hand, brows raised high on his head.
She almost couldn't hold herself together, “And he... made some good points on how people are brought together by misfortune-”
“ Go on .”
She looked him right in the eyes and she cocked her head away from him, “And he said he'd wear a pretty dress and dance for me... oh, I don't recall what dance, though. Wish I did .”
He beamed, “I'm... fairly certain that ex-Templar said maybe he'd put on that pretty dress and dance the Remigold for you. Maybe .”
“Oh, you knew it was the Remigold? You two are more alike than I thought!”
They shared a laugh with each other. She hadn't... really felt this way before. Like she could talk to him about anything. In the Tower, she knew half of what she'd like to have said would've been met with some opposition from the likes of Jowan and the other Apprentices. She'd spent most of her life with them... but here was this man before her, whom she'd only known for not even a fraction of that time, and she felt like she got along with him better , almost.
Maybe 'better', is an unfair word to use.