The battlements of Vigil’s Keep are serene and silent even when activity bustles in the courtyard below. Only the occasional patrolling guard disturbs the peaceful setting, and none of them ever look directly at me. Their fear is foolish and unfounded, but it does not trouble me overmuch. I have come to understand that the corpse I inhabit is something that most mortals find disturbing, as dead things usually only move and speak when dark magic has been invoked.
Shortly after coming here, I attempted to explain to one of them that my circumstances are different. He agreed hastily, and yet he has avoided me ever since. I am at a loss to understand why.
But this does not matter. I stand and feel the night breeze, and listen to the song coming from the lyrium ring that Solona has given me. And I hope that perhaps I will not stand here alone for too long, because there is one other who finds these battlements a refuge.
The door behind me opens and familiar footsteps cross the hard stone. It’s a strange thing, that mortals can be distinguished by their gait. I would have thought they would all do something as basic as walking in the same way. But they do not: some shuffle slowly, some mince, some dash, and some—like Solona—stride. The variety is somehow a part of the strange beauty of this world.
“Good evening, Justice,” Solona says as she joins me. She leans against the crenelations and stares out over the courtyard, over the outermost walls, into the blue distance. The wind stirs her fiery hair, cut to a length just above her shoulders and interspersed with braids.
Kristoff’s memories do not tell me that she is beautiful. They say rather that she is plain, her nose too prominent and her chin too strong. But she is pleasing to me, perhaps because I do not see her body, but rather her kindness, her strength. Her sense of justice.
“Good evening, Solona,” I reply, because that is the way of mortals, to greet one another so. “Thank you again for the gift.” I have never received a gift before, so this is yet another of those odd, unexpected delights of the mortal world.
“I’m glad you like it,” she says with a smile. She is the only one who ever smiles at me, I realize. The only one who seeks out my company. Without her kindness, my transition to this world would have been far more difficult, my homesickness for the Fade far greater.
I remember something Sigrun said earlier. “I thought you were going to play cards tonight, with the others.”
I do not play cards. The drinking of alcohol is involved, and even though I have the memory of such from Kristoff, this body I inhabit has no life, cannot eat or drink. It feels…awkward, that is the word, to sit by like a statue while the living Grey Wardens indulge. I am coming to suspect that my presence causes them to feel awkward at such times as well.
“I left when Sigrun suggested strip diamondback,” Solona says ruefully. “No reason to torment myself, after all.”
“I do not understand.”
She laughs, then, but it is aimed at herself, not at me. “I got a letter from Alistair today,” she says nonsensically.
“The Grey Warden who was with you when you defeated the Blight?” Her lover, or so Oghren once said, trying to get me to react for reasons I cannot fathom.
I understand the word, of course. Kristoff was married, knew other women before Aura. Lover is warmth and pleasantness and closeness. I cannot comprehend why such things cause Oghren to leer so, or why mortals seem to spend so much time and energy seeking out such experiences. There are many other pleasant things in the world, after all.
Solona nods. “Yes. He was supposed to go to Highever, to make a memorial for Duncan—the old Warden Commander, who conscripted me—before joining me here. So today, I received a letter that reads: ‘Hello, my love, I hope things are going well. I seem to have gotten a little lost on the way, but fortunately these Antivans are very friendly!’”
She grimaces. “I don’t know how familiar you are with Thedas geography, but Antiva is in no way, shape, or form on the way to Highever. So here I sit, with Alistair hopelessly lost, wondering if he’ll even make it back to Ferelden before next year, let alone join me here. And in the meantime, Sigrun wants me to play strip diamondback with Nathaniel and Anders. There’s only so much frustration a woman can take in one night.”
“I do not understand,” I say again, feeling slow and stupid. “That is, I do not understand what Nathaniel or Anders have to do with anything.”
“Ah. Well, let me just say that they’re both very, very attractive, and that I’m absolute certain Anders would sleep with me in a heartbeat. And I’m not as sure as I’d like to be that Nathaniel wouldn’t.”
I try to make sense of this information. Nathaniel is a seeker of justice in his own way; he believed his father wrongly slain, and wished to avenge him. He has also suggested I find a willing host to possess, a notion which disturbs me in its unfamiliarity. Anders is a mage who wishes to avoid his obligations toward his fellows. Having achieved his own freedom, he cares nothing for their slavery.
None of those facts seem relevant, however. “You would…break your vows to your lover?” I ask, remembering Keenan’s wife, Nida. “That seems a great injustice.”
“No!” Solona shakes her head firmly. “I would never sleep around behind Alistair’s back. It’s just that…when I was in the Circle, sex was…well, it was partly a way to defy the Chantry, and partly a way to get rid of the tension of living day after day as a prisoner with no hope of reprieve. And partly a way to just get some pleasure out of life, when we had so few opportunities to do so. It was about everything but love.” She seems sad for a moment, then shakes her head and smiles. “One time, I caught Anders with Finn and Neria Surana…and, never mind, I probably shouldn’t tell that story to anyone who wasn’t personally involved. I guess I just mean that it feels odd to deny myself the company of two handsome men. I feel like I should be tempted…but talking to you now, I realize I’m not.”
Her words soothe me; I might not understand the finer details, but I grasp that she does not wish to commit this injustice. I should never have doubted her. “That is good, then.”
“Yes.” She turns to me, and I suddenly understand what mortals mean when they speak of a bright smile. I feel blinded, almost, at what I see in her.
I realize then that I recognize this warm feeling she evokes in me, because it echoes what I feel when I look at Aura. Do I love Solona? It seems much the same.
It is a pleasant, warm emotion. I understand why mortals seek it out. This Alistair is very fortunate indeed. When he finally makes his way to Vigil’s Keep, I will have to remember to congratulate him. That seems like something mortals would do with one another.
“Thank you, Justice,” she says. “I appreciate your patience in hearing me out. You’ve helped me a great deal.”
“Have I?” It pleases me to think so.
“Yes. You listen, and you don’t nag, or spout Chantry propaganda, or pretend to understand what it’s like to be a Grey Warden, even though you have no idea.”
“Kristoff was a Grey Warden. Am I not one also?”
“Of course.” She passes her hand across her eyes. “Sorry. Just thinking about Wynne—and how damned glad I am that you’re here, and she’s not.”
“This Wynne is a mage, yes? The one who accompanied you to stop the Blight?”
“That’s right.” A speculative look enters her eyes. “Actually, there is something you might find interesting about her. She was possessed—but not by a demon.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
She tells me, as we stand together on the battlements of the Vigil. And, true, what she speaks of is some weak spirit of Faith, nothing at all like myself…but it gives me unexpected hope. Perhaps Nathaniel is right, and I am not doomed to remain with Kristoff’s fading corpse after all.