He sat the tankard on the desk, fitting in neatly in the ring of erosion that came from years of spending long hours pouring over reports and missives. The light of the fire dimmed as the remaining logs crackled and hissed. Alistair sighed. How long had it been exactly? Twelve years? Thirteen? The flooded together in his mind, each day leading mindlessly into the next. He knew when he accepted to role of king that it would be hard, but he did not expect opposition from every corner. The constant dissonance from the lords plagued him everyday and every decision he made only served to anger them further.
Good. He thought smiling. They wanted a puppet, but he would not allow himself to be controlled. There had been a time in his life when he gladly played the follower, tried to please everyone and allowed himself to be tugged about on a string. It had been her who told him to stand up for himself, who made him realize that the world is full of people who would take advantage of his good nature.
Alistair took a heavy swig from the tankard, hoping the bitter ale would drown out the thoughts of her, the woman whose name he could not think without being plagued by melancholy. He refocused his attention to the papers in front of him. The disbanded forces of the Inquisition were vacating the country, now the Banns complained about the rise in bandits plaguing their farmers in the chaos. Another letter spoke of the need to seal the many caverns in on the Storm Coast, lest more darkspawn make their way to the surface. Alistair tossed aside several propositions from Teryns to wed their daughters to him. At the bottom of the pile was a small scroll, still bound and sealed. He frowned. He did not remember this when the servant dropped off his missives that morning.
Alistair shifted in his chair and looked about him, suddenly uneasy. The scroll was sealed in black wax. The seal bore the image of a raven. Impatiently, he opened the scroll. His eyes growing large as he read the words scrawled across the paper.
Those closest are against you. Beware. Do not know when they will strike. -L
Alistair stood and paced about the room. He read the words at least a dozen times before tossing the letter into the fire. He knew whom it was from. Leliana sent him warnings of spies and traitors in his midst many times while she was with the Inquisition. It seemed that even as Divine she still retained her wide range of contacts.
He paced as he tried to discern the cryptic note. What will they do to him? Surely they do not mean to depose him. Who would they crown in his stead? He groaned. Anora, of course. Despite the many pleas for her execution on grounds of her father’s betrayal, Alistair had merely exiled her to a comfortable life in the Free Marches. He regretted his good nature. He didn’t think she deserved death, but she refused to accept his claim to the throne, as did many others.
Alistair needed advice, needed to know what to plan. He thought to find Teagan when the words from the note echoed in his mind. Those closest. Closest. He raked his hands through his hair. He needed to address the traitors, root out those against him, but now he found himself questioning the loyalty of even his most trusted advisors.
A knock sounded at the door, it rapped quietly and was almost not heard. Alistair felt a chill travel through his body. With his hand on the hilt of his sword, he spoke.
“Enter.” He called to his late night visitor. Teagan stepped in and closed the door softly behind him. His eyes fell on Alistair’s hand that sat upon his sword. He swallowed visibly.
“Arl Teagan.” Alistair said flatly. “To what do I owe this midnight visit?”
Teagan’s eyes filled with sadness. “I suppose you have your suspicions then.”
Alistair gritted his teeth as his hands tightened around his sword. “I do now.” He muttered.
Teagan sighed and looked to the ground, pacing slightly as he did so.
“Tell me then,” Alistair continued. “How many soldiers do you have out there waiting to drag me off to Fort Drakon?”
“None.” Teagan said exasperated. “I came to warn you of the coup. I do not want to see you executed.”
“Then why plot against me?”
“The Arls are not happy with the choices you have made. And many still doubt your claim to the throne.”
“That much was made evident by the inquest to prove I was someone else’s bastard.” Alistair scoffed. “It failed, as I recall.”
“That didn’t stop them from doubting. And your ridiculous policies did not gain you friends.”
Anger flared up inside Alistair. “Ridiculous?” He laughed coldly. “Helping the elves out of that outrageous slum they are forced into? Giving mages safe harbor during a war? And don’t forget that new hospital I erected after the blight in Denerim. I’m sure the people of Ferelden hate all of these things.”
“You may have the favor of the people.” Teagan said. “But it is the nobles who you should appease. The nobles have the power of armies at their disposal, not the people. And they are still upset that you allowed the Inquisition to stay as long as it did.”
“I was supposed to kick out the only organization trying to save the world?” Alistair asked. “What exactly are you getting out of this, Teagan? You’re already have Rainesfere and Redcliffe. What else is Anora promising you?”
Teagan looked offended by the accusation. Good. Alistair thought.
“I am merely doing what is best for Ferelden.” He ground out between clenched teeth. Alistair smirked coldly.
“Like you were when you and Eamon put me on the throne in the first place?”
“Eamon and I thought…”
“You thought I would be a lackey for you to control.” Alistair finished for him. “ A biddable moron that you could sate with wine and whores. You thought that you could control Ferelden through me and when that didn’t happen, you seek to rectify your mistake.”
Teagan said nothing, but had the grace to appear remorseful. Alistair stepped toward the man dripping in ire. His knuckles turned white from the taut grip he held on his sword.
“I gave up everything for this. I gave up being a Grey Warden. I gave up friends. I gave up her. And now you want me gone.”
He turned away from the man, not wanting him to see the sadness that marred his features. Alistair shut his eyes tightly as unwanted memories flooded back to him.
“They will use you.” She said with tears in her eyes. He couldn’t recall her ever crying before. She was tough, his love. But it was him that finally broke her. “That’s what they do, that’s what they always do to people like us. We’re nothing but pawns to the nobles and they know it. And when they’re done with you, they will toss you aside.”
“But I can do this.” He told her. “I feel like I can do some good. I feel like I could be a good king.”
The regrets he pushed away over the years now clawed at him. He should have listened to her. Should have let Anora have Ferelden then and been done with it. He could have spent the last decade in the Grey Wardens and woke up next to Caro every morning. He could have spent his nights making love to her instead of fretting over budgets and land disputes.
He could have been a good king. Blast that. He was a good king, but now he was at a stalemate, a dead end. There was nothing more could do. Surprisingly, he was fine with that.
Alistair opened his eyes as a cool breeze hit him. The window behind his desk was open, he couldn’t recall opening it, but that didn’t seem to matter any longer. He stepped closer and surveyed the castle walls. No patrols were seen, many ledges for an easy climb down. He smiled to himself.
“Thanks for the warning, Teagan.” He said without turning. Then he was gone.
The man standing in her doorway leaned casually on the frame. Caro frowned. But continued scribbling the letter meant for the wardens in Orlais. They requested aid to continue to rebuild their fortresses and bolster their numbers, but Caro had precious little help to lend.
“Are you alright?” He asked jarring her from her thoughts. She set the quill down gently to avoid snapping it in her annoyance.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” She asked coolly folding her hands on the desk in front of her.
He sighed. “Well, while you were gone, one of the southern walls collapsed. There have been next to no recruits and the order itself seems to be crumbling into dust.” He smiled wanly. “Or there’s the obvious matter of the king’s execution and the crowning of Anora and the country being thrown in chaos.”
“Why would that affect me?” She asked, her face placid. He cocked an eyebrow but offered no answer. Caro sighed.
“I haven’t even been in the same room with the king in over a decade.” She said.
“So you don’t mourn his death?”
Caro groaned and ran her fingers through her hair, loosening it from its pins.
“Howe.” She muttered. “Don’t you have some new recruits to train?”
“I have one recruit.” Nathaniel said. “But it is in the middle of the night. She may be asleep.”
Caro glanced up and smiled sweetly. “I know, that was me trying to get you to go away.”
Nathaniel laughed quietly. “As you wish, Commander. You know where I am if you need me.” He said as he walked from her door and out of sight.
“Where you’re not wanted.” She muttered to herself.
“I heard that.” He called from the corridor.
Caro sighed when she was finally alone, resting her head on the desk. What she couldn’t let Nathaniel know what that Alistair was not dead. At least not if the missive she received was to be believed. Leliana never failed to keep Caro in the loop. She pulled the scrap of paper from her pocket and looked over it again.
Surprised by the lack of a public execution? Probably headed your way.
Leliana hadn’t signed the letter. She never did when she wrote to her. Caro knew who it was merely by the elongated scrawl. She tossed the letter on her desk and strolled to the window. In this tower she could just barely see the Waking Sea. Rolling waves reflected the full moon. If Alistair had survived Anora’s coup, Vigil’s Keep would be the first place the queen would look. It would also be Alistair’s only place of refuge.
Caro knew he would come. If she didn’t want an incident she should turn him away, but she couldn’t. Even if she were able to ignore the fact that Grey Wardens took in fugitives all the time, or the fact that she herself was pledged for execution before Duncan saved her. Even if she could ignore those facts, she could not ignore the feelings that still lay buried inside of her for that man.
She clenched her fists. Why couldn’t she hate him? It would be so much easier to hate him. The memory of him brought up pain. She tried to keep him far from her thoughts. When she worked, it was easy. Fighting darkspawn and venturing across Thedas provided a great distraction. But when she came home, it grew quiet. Memories that she tried to push away came back to her.
They stood alone in her room in Eamon’s estate. Caro braced herself for the blow, hoping it would be quick and she would be done with it.
“This raises some questions about us.” He said. “I need an heir. I don’t even know if one Grey Warden can have a child. Let alone two wardens. I don’t relish it but I have to think about what this means.”
“I thought you didn’t want to be king? Why did you agree with Eamon? Why not just let her have it?”
“I’m coming around to the idea. I think I can do some good. I just…have to stop this now before it’s too late. I can see it becoming impossible to tear myself away from you and…”
“Please.” She said, her voice cracking. “Please stop talking.”
Tears flowed unbidden from her eyes. She tried to stop them. She knew from her childhood that tears only led to beatings and to more pain. Why couldn’t he admit the truth? She was a dwarf. The king couldn’t fuck a dwarf. Imagine the scandal. He reached out and tried to take her face in his hand, tried to wipe away the tears. She turned away quickly, shrugging off his touch. She could see the hurt in his face and was glad for it.
A knock on the door jarred her from her thoughts she frowned at the intruder.
“Dammit, Howe.” She groaned. “I thought I told you…”
“A messenger from the queen is here. He wants an audience.”
The look on his face told her that it was as serious as it sounded.
“In the middle of the night?” She asked already knowing the answer.
“He says it’s urgent.”
Nathaniel’s sword hung at his waist. He never went far without it. His trust of people was lower than her own. One of her own daggers was still strapped to her back.
“How many?” She asked.
“An unarmed messenger and two guards. Although the scouts say that they saw them in the city with several more guards.”
Caro frowned. “Alright. Take me to him.”
Nathaniel led the way without speaking, Caro followed closely behind. Anora sending a messenger could only confirm Alistair’s survival. Why else would she bother contacting the wardens at all? If what Nathaniel said was true, there were more guards in the city, probably looking for Alistair.
A meager fire lighted the great hall. The messenger and two exhausted soldiers stood near speaking in hushed tones. Their whispers died out when she entered the room. The messenger stepped forward and bowed in a ridiculously overblown manner.
“Warden-Commander Brosca.” He said. “Thank you for taking the time to see me at such late notice. I pray that I did not interrupt your sleep?”
Caro pasted a fake smile on her face. “Of course not, ser.” She said in the polite manner she had picked up over the years. “What message does our queen send? Long may she live.”
He smiled at that. A greasy leer that made Caro’s stomach churn.
“Queen Anora sends her greetings,” he said. “And wishes to extend her good will to the wardens of Ferelden and hopes that the recent political upheaval may not sour the relationship between the wardens and the queen. She knows that in your youth you and the former king Alistair were very…close. Queen Anora hopes that personal attachments will not distract you from what is good for Ferelden.”
Caro’s eyebrows furrowed at his choice of words. For years she ignored her personal feelings in favor of what was “good” for Ferelden. She smiled quickly to mask these thoughts.
“You may tell our queen that the change in rule does not affect the wardens or their relationship with Fereleden. We will continue to do our duty and serve the people of Thedas.”
“That is most appreciated,” The messenger continued. “But the queen was hoping that you might grace her with your presence in Denerim to confer these sentiments.”
Caro cocked an eyebrow, not fully understanding what the man was asking her to do. Nathaniel scoffed beside her.
“Anora deposed the warden king who helped end the blight and now she wants you to go to Denerim and swear fealty to the queen.”
The messenger snarled his lip at Nathaniel but nodded. Anger rose up inside of Caro. Did Anora wish to rub her victory in her face? Or was she simply trying to root out Alistair’s location? Caro was grateful that she didn’t know where Alistair was. Caro suddenly grew tired of this meeting. She nodded to the man.
“This will not be a problem. I will go to Denerim as soon as I am able.”
The messenger gave his thanks and denied any offer of accommodations, stating that they had rooms in the Amaranthine. Caro bid them goodnight and quickly took off for her own room. She grew more tired by the second and longed for this day to be over.
She was alerted to the problem when she reached the door to her room. The door was closed. She didn’t remember closing the door. She listened for a moment, but heard nothing. She took her dagger from her sheath and placed her hand gently upon the door. When it opened she rushed in, hoping to ambush whomever were in her room.
An elven woman going through the rustling papers on her desk jumped. If she thought that she could outrun Caro she was very wrong. Caro rushed through the room and pounced on the woman. The elf’s head hit the floor with a thud as Caro’s dagger was poised against the tender flesh of her neck.
“Who are you?” Caro ground out between her teeth, pressing the dagger harder against the woman’s throat.
“Just a servant, mum.” She gasped out.
“Liar.” Caro spat. “I spent the first twenty years of my life in the streets of Orzammar. I know what a spy looks like. Now, tell me what you were looking for or I’ll cut your pretty little throat.”
The woman’s eyes grew wide as she realized that Caro spoke the truth. She swallowed.
“The queen wanted me to find out if you had the k…Alistair. She doesn’t know where he is. She suspects here.”
Caro pulled back and looked at the woman, trying to discern if what she said was the truth. The fear in the woman’s eyes told her all she needed to know. It was true then. Alistair was alive. Caro didn’t think that Leliana’s message would lie, but it had seemed too much to hope for.
“You can tell the queen that I haven’t seen that little shit in years.” Caro said leaning off the woman.
“Yes, ser. Thank you, ser.” The elven woman scrambled to her feet and ran out of Caro’s room. Caro sighed and leaned back on her heels. This day was definitely far too long.
Alistair hid in the brush outside of Vigil’s keep until nightfall. He arrived sometime after midday and found himself fortunate that no one noticed his arrival. But no one would notice another dirty vagabond roaming around Amaranthine. It took him longer than it should have to make his way here. The quickest route was the Pilgrim’s path, but Anora’s guards were patrolling that path. She knew he would come here.
It seemed ludicrous to go to the one place where his enemy knew he would go, but he had no choice. Alistair had no family, no friends that he could trust. The only person he could turn to was the woman whose heart he broke so many years ago. The Grey Wardens were his only refuge for survival. He hoped to ensconce himself in their ranks once again. He also could not temper the anxious excitement he felt at the thought of seeing Caro again. He knew he would invoke her ire; he deserved it, but the feelings he still carried for her resounded inside of him.
But he was getting ahead of himself, Caro was just as likely to throw him out or call Anora’s guards to finish him off.
As he travelled, he heard what people said about him, that he was dead. He supposed it was the safest path for Anora. If the nobles who were actually loyal to him protested her appointment, then who would be their alternative? Alistair managed to stay hidden by staying off the main roads. He found small taverns and inns where he picked up on gossip. He managed to snatch some ragged clothes off a clothesline. He had laughed then at the thought, the king of Ferelden stealing someone’s old clothes. But they had kept him hidden from anyone who sought him out. No one gave him a second glance. The long days of travel worn on him, his boots were muddy and his beard grew out. He kept his hood on at all times in case someone recognizes him for his amber hair.
The patrols of Vigil’s Keep were light. He wondered exactly how many Grey Wardens were there at the moment. The Orleasian Grey Wardens were a mess and no one knew much of what was happening at Weisshaupt, but for the last decade things had been quiet with the Ferelden Grey Wardens.
Dusk came, but still Alistair waited. He waited until the patrols dwindled to a mere soldier yawning and standing on the battlements and the moon was high in the night sky. He crept from the brush and circled the keep, not having a clue of where to start.
The tower caught his eye. Caro liked heights; she accredited it to always being underground. She soon grew to detest feeling as though she were in a cavern. He remembered the taking of Redcliffe castle so many years ago. After they fought off the undead and saved the Arl’s son, their small party spent a night’s rest in the castle. He searched for her that evening and found her on a high balcony. She craned her short body over the railing to look over the ledge, her golden hair spilled loosely from her shoulders and gleamed in the moonlight. She laughed excitedly at the prospect of being so elevated; it was as though she could touch the stars. That night she told him of the hard life she left behind in Orzammar. He felt like a fool for complaining about his own childhood, and his bastard heraldry. She had smiled then and took his hand.
“It doesn’t matter.” She said. “We’re both out of the dust now.”
Alistair had not known what that meant at the time, he had not been able to focus on more than her sapphire eyes and glowing smile. He muttered something foolish in reply and blushed. She laughed. Her laugh was glorious, like a balm to his wounded soul.
Alistair shook his head and forced his mind into the present. He was no longer a blushing naïve youth. He would try the tower, but how in blazes would he even get up there? He spied a nearby oak, that could get him into the keep, he could find his way up from there. He took hold of the low hanging branch and managed to pull himself up with a groan. Alistair surprised himself with how easily he managed to climb the tree; perhaps sparring with knights in the courtyard had not been such a waste of time, as Teagan often said. He peered through the window, the hall was dark, and the only light came from an open door at the end of the corridor.
The window opened easily enough and Alistair slipped inside. His heart beat wildly in his chest. It had been some time since he had done something so reckless and dangerous, he found he quite missed it. He padded quietly along the soft carpet and stuck to the shadows. He looked for a staircase to take him up through the keep. He found a few that took him up, but they led him to a dead end, an old room used for storage. He closed the door behind him and moved towards a window. He opened it slightly and peered out, the ground was now much farther below, but if he stuck to the railing and climbed the protruding stones of window arches, he could easily make it to the tower.
He painstakingly stepped out unto the railing, a fall now could be fatal and the entire point of coming here was to not die. A late autumn wind blasted against his body, chilling him. He carried on, stepping gingerly from windowsill to windowsill. He pulled himself up on any protruding stone and soon found himself at the tower balcony. He took a moment to breathe, to thank the maker for not having him fall to his death before creeping along to peer through the glass doors. The room was dark and he couldn’t make out much, the fire had dwindled to a few embers.
Alistair pressed his ear to the door and heard a sigh. It took him back for a moment, in his haste to find Caro he never stopped to consider that she might not sleep alone at night. A flood of jealousy that he knew he had no right to feel washed over him. He inhaled deeply before opening the balcony door.
Despite the dying fire, the room was surprisingly warm. The door closed behind him with a soft click. Alistair made his way around the large oak desk, covered in letters and missives and empty wine bottles. A lone figure lay in the bed, curled up under a pile of blankets. He stepped closer and saw her face. He almost stumbled. It had been over ten years since he saw her last as she marched from Denerim to Vigil’s keep without even a backwards glance. There was the face he forced himself to forget, the soft sighs while she slept that pushed from his mind, and the way her body curled in on itself for warmth.
Over the years, he forced himself to forget. It was too painful to remember how she used to curl around him as they slept. He would wrap his arms around her waist and pull her closer, she would sigh and twine her fingers through his hair before drifting off. She was beautiful still. Small lines tugged at her eyes and the brand upon her cheek was still prominent. Her golden hair still grew long and tangled. Alistair’s heart beat heavily in his chest.
As he remembered he found himself moving closer to her. He stopped and forced himself to step back. She clouded his mind even now. He had to focus. He needed her help. He wanted to touch her, to hold her and with every inch that closed between them the need intensified.
“Caro.” He spoke softly and steeled himself for whatever was to come.
Her eyes shot open. She threw back the blankets and sat straight up in her bed. The strap of her thin gown fell off her shoulder. Caro reached under her pillow and extracted a dagger and held it in the air. She squinted her eyes, she couldn’t see him yet, but as her eyes adjusted she lowered her arm. She stared at him now, her eyes wide, her hair was mussed and tumbled loosely off her head. She dropped the dagger and slid off the opposite side of the bed, never taking her eyes off him.
“You shouldn’t have come here.” She said softly.
“I had no where else to go.”
“I know.” She hugged her arms around herself and broke contact with him. Alistair resisted the urge to pull her in his embrace, to take her mouth with his own.
“Anora knows you’re coming.” She said. Alistair nodded.
“You don’t seem surprised. You didn’t believe I was dead?”
She smiled sadly. “No. And Leliana sent me a message saying as much.”
Alistair smirked. “Me as well. I might be dead if she had not have warned me.”
Caro said nothing for a moment, and traced her fingers along the dagger in her hand. She inhaled and met his gaze.
“Why are you here, Alistair?”
“I need your help.” He said. “I know you must hate me, but I really see no alternative. If I’m going to survive, I’ll need to join the Grey Wardens again.”
She snickered. “You’re already a Grey Warden. The taint doesn’t go away.”
“You know what I mean.” He said quietly.
Caro nodded. “I know. I know someone in Orlais, you can join them and…”
“Orlais?” He said cutting her off. “Why not here? I don’t want to serve in Orlais I want to serve in Ferelden.” With you. He wanted to add.
Caro shook her head. “It’s not that easy. I…”
Her sentence was effectively cut off when her bedroom door burst open. A dark haired man in Grey Warden armor rushed in, sword in hand.
“Commander.” He shouted. “The guard saw someone crawling along the keep’s wall and…”
He paused when he saw Alistair. He pointed his drawn sword at him and stepped forward. Alistair quickly drew his own sword and stepped to meet him, ready to defend himself.
“Enough!” Caro shouted before they could get close to one another.
“Who is this, Caro?” The man asked. Alistair wanted to ask the same question. Caro obviously had no qualms about this man seeing her in a state of undress and he was informal enough to use her first name. Alistair narrowed his eyes.
“This is our former king, Nate.” She said quietly as she moved to close the open door. “Alistair, this is Senior-Warden Nathaniel Howe.”
Nathaniel’s eyes widened. He sheathed his sword and Alistair warily followed suit.
“Not dead then?” Nathaniel said quietly crossing his arms. He eyed Alistair with distrust.
“It would seem not.” He said. Alistair cocked an eyebrow. “Wait. Howe? As in…”
“Son of Arl Rendon Howe.” Caro finished leveling a steely gaze on Alistair.
“Really?” Alistair said in disbelief. “You let him in here? Even knowing what that man did? He tried to kill you. How can you trust him?”
“Stop.” Caro said harshly. “Nathaniel has been a warden for twelve years now. He is my friend and I trust him with my life.”
Nathaniel straightened at her words. Alistair scoffed. “With a friend like the Howes, who needs enemies?”
Caro stepped forward and narrowed her eyes. “You have no right.” She said pointing a finger at his chest. “You do not get to march in here after all these years and dictate who my friends are. You do not get to abandon me and show back up when it’s convenient and criticize my life!”
There it was. The anger he knew he deserved. He knew he should back down and take her scathing, but he never did know when to shut up.
“It’s hardly convenient, is it?” He said back. “I’ve been relieved of my duties as king, rather forcefully and there are many people who want me dead.”
“And yet here you are trying to make even more enemies.” Her voice rose that time. Alistair sighed. Caro turned her back to him and walked away. Alistair sighed and drug his hand across his forehead.
“Look, Caro. I’m sorry. It’s been a rough few days.” He turned to Nathaniel and bowed his head slightly, albeit sarcastically. “My apologies, Senior-Warden.”
Nathaniel smirked. Caro sighed as she raked her hands through her hair.
“Well,” Nathaniel said. “Why are you here? You do know that the queen has at least a dozen guards in Amaranthine waiting for you to return?”
“Well, I was hoping Caro could simply invoke the Right of Conscription. I would be a Grey Warden again and Anora wouldn’t be able to touch me.”
Caro paced about the room. “I told you, it’s not that easy.”
“Why not? Do wardens no longer have the right to recruit whomever they want?”
“Yes, but this is a sensitive time. People are still upset about what the Grey Wardens in Orlais did. There has been little news from Weisshaupt. And the First Warden was not too happy about the part we played in making you king during the blight.”
“That was my doing, not yours.” Alistair corrected her.
“Well, when you left, I took the brunt of the blame.”
Another regrettable action. He thought to himself.
“We do need more men.” Nathaniel said. “Having an experienced warden would be helpful.”
Cora glared at him.
“Anora’s already sent spies. She will eventually find out he’s here and it will cause an incident.”
“What can she do?” Alistair asked. “She can’t wage war on the Grey Wardens.”
Caro leveled her gaze on him. “Two words.” She said. “Sophia fucking Dryden.”
Alistair frowned. “That’s three and two of those are a name. And…Wait. You think she will banish you?”
“I don’t know!” Caro shouted as she threw her hands in the air. “The world is going to shit, Alistair. Or have you not noticed? Also, Fereldens think anyone who looks at them wrong is trying to enslave the whole damn country. For example: The Inquisition, which is disbanded. Partly due to your influence.”
“Hey!” Alistair said defensively. “I was under pressure from the nobles. There are still too many arls who were alive during the Orlesian occupation for them to trust any foreign power.”
“Commander.” Nathaniel said in his level voice, ceasing their quarreling. “I think if proposed properly you might actually be able to conscript him and have the queen’s approval.”
Caro and Alistair looked at him.
“If I remember properly,” Nathaniel continued. “The queen is not too fond of Orlais or Celene. She might prefer Alistair serve in Ferelden.”
“She prefers him dead.”
“He is dead.” Nathaniel said. “The only people who know differently are in this room. Convince her that he will have no problem staying dead.”
“To do that, you would have to speak to her.” Alistair said shaking his head.
“I already have to speak to her.” Caro muttered.
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“The queen sent a messenger and requested that the Grey Wardens pledge fealty to her.”
Alistair felt his pulse quicken. “You can’t possibly do that, She knows who you are. She could have you killed just to get to me.”
“I don’t have a choice.” Caro said, her eyes growing with realization. Alistair remembered that look. Her mind formulated a plan and nothing he said could deter her.
Caro rushed to the desk, brushing past Alistair as she did.
“Nate, Have the stable hand get my horse ready. If I hurry I can be on my way to Denerim by dawn. And be there by tomorrow.” She looked up at the men. “And keep him out of trouble while I’m gone.” She pointed to Alistair.
“What?” He said. “You can’t go to Denerim alone. I’m going with you.”
Caro looked at him and shook her head. “You know if you go, they will kill you on sight. I’m going. You’re staying in the keep and not leaving. And don’t talk to anyone except Nate.”
Nathaniel sighed. “Where should I put him?”
She thought for a moment while rustling through the papers on her desk.
“The southern barracks.” She said. “The wall collapsed, right? No one will be there.”
“Hey! I’m right here!” Alistair said. “Don’t I get a say in what happens to me?”
“Not if you want to live.” Caro said. She stepped closer and met his gaze. Her features softened as she spoke. “You wanted my help. I need you to trust me.”
“Now both of you go!” She said louder. “I need to get dressed.”
Nathaniel nodded at Alistair. “Come on. I’ll show you where you can stay. ”
Alistair followed Nathaniel, and only when they outside of her room and several steps down the hall did Alistair ask:
“Why are you taking such an interest in my fate?”
Nathaniel leveled his gaze on Alistair. He looked him over for a moment before speaking.
“It’s important to her.” He said simply. “And I owe her. She saved my life and gave me a second chance.”
Alistair nodded. The implications of the man’s words reached a part of him that he didn’t think possible. He wondered if she would give him another chance, or if he was even worthy of such a thing.
Caro placed her hands on her hips and stared up at the guard.
“What’s the problem?” She asked angrily. After two days of hard riding through wind and rain, she was hardly in the mood to deal with the green soldier blocking her path.
“City’s closed unless you have official business.”
She tilted her head, trying to control the urge to squash the boy’s head.
“I have official business.” She ground between her teeth. “I’m here to see the queen. She summoned me.”
“Do you have written documentation of this? Who are you?”
“Are you serious?” She shouted. “How many fucking dwarves are there in Grey Warden armor?”
The guard furrowed his eyebrow and opened his mouth to speak.
“Graham!” Another guard called running towards them. “It’s fine! Let her in!”
Graham shrugged his shoulders while the new guard motioned for the gate to rise.
“I apologize, my lady.” The guard gasped, out of breath as he bowed. “New recruits.”
Caro nodded but said nothing. She took the reins of her horse and walked into the city.
Caro hated Denerim. It smelled like shit and reminded her of Orzammar. The poor were all huddled into squalor while the nobles kept the loftiest parts of town and pretended everything was fine. It took almost an hour to make her way through the streets, the city was a crush and each guard eyed her suspiciously as she passed.
A group of soldiers pressed through the crowd towards her, led by a dark haired elven woman.
“My Lady.” She said when she reached Caro. “I have been sent to escort you to the palace.”
Caro nodded as she eyed the half dozen guards. “Do I need an armed escort?”
“They are here merely to ensure our safety. The streets have been quite hectic in the past few days.”
“You don’t say.” Caro muttered as she handed off her horse to one of the guards. She followed her guide through the streets and to the palace.
She walked through the gilded halls, eyeing the extravagant tapestries that depicted the heroic Kind Maric freeing Ferelden and restoring order. King Cailan fighting valiantly at Ostagar. Then there was nothing, a long space underscored by the herringbone pattern of the stones.
Caro remembered the last time she was in the palace. The archdemon was dead and she wanted nothing but to be far away from Denerim and it’s king. But she had been forced to attend many celebrations in her honor, all while he stood not far off being smothered by noblemen and women. She could feel his stare on the back of her head. At that point, the sadness had left her and anger filled her being. She preferred it that way. Leliana tried to calm her, distract her from her pain, but it was to no avail. She left Denerim the next morning.
She was led to a lavishly furnished drawing room. Plush settees sat about the fire, crimson drapes hung from the ceiling. She assumed that this was the doing of Anora. She doubted Alistair ever had the patience to decorate a room so extravagant. The servant bade her to sit and left with the promise of wine. Caro did not object, she threw herself on the nearest settee and closed her eyes.
Exhaustion tore at her mind. She rode hard to arrive as quickly as she did, but was still delayed by rain. She hoped that Alistair would be safe at Vigil’s Keep. She hoped he would remain hidden from view, and that he and Nathaniel wouldn’t fight.
“I still don’t understand why you feel the need to do this?” Velanna’s words as she left still echoed in her mind. It was at that moment that Caro regretted all the drunken confessions that she shared with the woman.
“You owe him nothing. Send him to Orlais and be done with it.”
“I…can’t.” Caro said hoarsely as she packed. Velanna sighed annoyed.
“You’re risking a lot for this human.” She said. “Would he do the same for you? From what you’ve told me, it sounds like he just threw you out.”
Caro paused for a moment. Not entirely sure how she should reply. Velanna was right, of course. Caro tossed her bag over her shoulder and walked past Velanna without a glance.
“Fuck.” Velanna said. “Caro, I…”
“Just keep them from killing each other.” Caro said tersely as she left.
She couldn’t admit it to Valenna. She could barely admit it to herself, but she still felt a slight affection for the man. Alistair was a different man now, just as she was a different woman, but she couldn’t separate this man from the boy she fell in love with so many years ago. She would do this for him, even if he no longer cared for her. Besides, Nathaniel was right; they could use an experienced warden.
The door opened, drawing her out of her thoughts. Caro stood, as was expected of one greeting their queen. Anora strode into the room as though she had every day for the past decade. Caro bowed.
“Your highness,” She said pleasantly. “Thank you for this invitation.”
Anora eyed her for a moment, not masking her suspicion before motioning for Caro to sit.
“Warden. Or I suppose it’s now Warden-Commander, isn’t it?” She cooed as she sunk gracefully into the chair opposite of Caro. “Fortune has definitely smiled upon you.”
“And you as well.” Caro smiled.
“The people of Ferelden longed for a leader. One who could provide for their best interests. I am the leader this country needs. Incidentally, I am sorry for the loss of Alistair. I know you and he were…close in your youth.”
Anora looked Caro up and down, as though disbelieving such a union. It was the same look Caro received all those years ago. She kept the smile plastered on her face, refusing to let it falter.
“Alistair and my relationship was nothing but professional throughout his reign. I had not even spoken to him in years.”
“Still,” Anora said as she smoothed out her elegant silk gown. “I can’t imagine it was easy for you, hearing of the lovers he took throughout the years.”
“I did not hear those rumors.” Caro spoke innocently, refusing to give Anora the reaction she desired. “Perhaps the Amaranthine gossips are not doing their duty properly.”
“He may have been discreet, but he was Maric’s son. Maric was a renowned skirt chaser. ”
“Like Cailan?” Caro chimed. “Or is there another reason you detest Empress Celene so much?”
Anora narrowed her eyes, her amiable disposition dropped in an instant.
“What do you know of that?” Anora asked, venom dripping from her words.
“I know enough.” Caro sighed. “Are we done kicking each other in the balls?”
Anora eyes remained fixated on Caro as she sank back into her chair.
“Alistair is not dead.” Anora said flatly. “But my agent tells me you know that much. I appreciate you letting her live.”
“But you also know where he is.” Anora stated. Caro nodded again.
“I don’t suppose you will turn him over to me.” Anora said quirking an eyebrow.
Caro smiled coldly. “On the contrary, I was planning on conscripting him.”
“You wouldn’t dare.” Anora hissed. “I won’t allow it.”
“You don’t have a choice.” Caro folded her arms. “Grey Wardens have that right.”
“And I have the right to banish you from my country. Lest you forget what happened to Sophia Dryden?”
Caro smiled. “The blight is still fresh on Ferelden’s mind. There is not a person who didn’t lose a parent, sibling, or child to the darkspawn. These people know who to accredit their survival to.”
Anora clenched her teeth, but Caro continued.
“And you have also just killed their king, a king who was quite popular with the common folk. We all know that the arls and banns have the power, but if you think that your city is in upheaval now, wait until you banish the Grey Wardens and watch your entire country rise against you.”
“You want him in your ranks? What is to stop him from usurping my throne again?”
“He will be a Grey Warden, he will have no right to any titles.”
“Did you forget that Alistair was a Grey Warden during the blight? It didn’t’ stop you from putting him on the throne then, even after you pledged your support to me.”
Caro straightened up. “I had nothing to do with that. Eamon proposed the idea, Alistair agreed. The landsmeet agreed. If anyone had listened to me, I would have backed you.”
Anora stared at Caro wordlessly. Caro regretted the emotion that came out while she spoke. She never wanted Alistair to be king; she knew what it meant for them the moment he agreed.
“What exactly do you want?” Anora asked quietly. Caro was quiet for a moment before she spoke.
“Let him join the Ferelden Grey Wardens.” She proposed. “He can remain dead to the world, as they already believe and he can serve Thedas by fighting darkspawn. You will have my personal assurance that he will never aspire to take your throne. He doesn’t seem as though he misses it too much anyway.”
“Not good enough.” Anora cut her hand through the air. “Your promises mean nothing to me.”
“Then what will appease you?”
Anora contemplated for a moment. Her fingers idly twisted through her gown.
“I want assurance from the highest in the order.” She smiled. “The First Warden. I want a written oath that if Alistair tries to disrupt my reign, he will be punished by the wardens.”
“What?” Caro couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s impossible. No one even really knows what is going on in Weisshaupt. And if it were so easy to contact the First Warden, I’m sure he doesn’t care.”
“I’m sure you will find a way. Those are my terms. Take them or hand Alistair over for execution.”
Caro gritted her teeth and glared at Anora. Perhaps it wasn’t quite so impossible. The wardens liked having a presence in every country, and perhaps the First Warden would take an interest in Alistair. After all, he was one of only two wardens that stopped the blight. It was a long shot, but it was her only chance to keep him alive.
“Very well, Your Highness.” Caro stood. “I accept your terms.”
The door to the small room flew open. Alistair awoke from his half sleeping haze to see Caro standing in the doorway. She smiled and his heart jumped.
“I may have a solution.” She said rambling in the room, her eyes rimmed black. Alistair straightened himself up in the broken chair that he occupied throughout the week while she was gone.
“Oh?” He questioned. “Does that mean I get to leave my prison?”
Caro rolled her eyes. “You spend twelve years as king and you think this is a prison? It’s a perfectly nice barrack that you have all to yourself. Would you rather I send for your plush pillows and velvet drapes?”
“I’ll survive without the drapes.” He replied. “As long as you tell that elven woman to quit glaring at me whenever she comes by.”
“It’s not you, she hates all humans.”
“Oh. Well,” He said sardonically. “As long as it’s nothing personal. But what was your news?” He asked standing. “What happened with Anora? I was almost certain she would have you killed.”
Caro laughed haughtily. “She wouldn’t dare. I would make nug meat of those children she calls guards.”
Alistair couldn’t stop himself from smiling. It was good to see that she still had all the bravado as she did years ago.
“The point is,” Caro began. “That she has agreed to let you join the Ferelden Grey Wardens.”
Alistair felt his eyes grow wide at that.
“Really? Just like that? There must be a catch.”
Caro chewed her bottom lip. “There is. She wants us to get a guarantee that you won’t try to take her throne again.”
“That’s not a problem.”
“From the First Warden.”
“Oh.” His heart sank. “You’re not serious?”
Caro sighed and explained the conversation that took place with Ferelden’s new queen.
“You are serious.” He replied breathlessly sinking back into the chair. “Maker’s breath, how will I ever accomplish that?”
“You?” Caro laughed. “I’m pretty sure that I’m the one going to Weisshaupt.”
His eyes shot up to meet her own. A light shone in her blue eyes.
“You’re going to Weisshaupt?” He asked dumbfounded. Caro nodded.
“Why?” He asked in earnest. “Why risk yourself for me?”
He trailed off; Caro shrugged off his concern.
“Alistair.” She said, his name on her lips sending chills throughout his body. “You gave the Grey Wardens this fortress, there might not even be Ferelden Grey Wardens if you had not. And we could always use another experienced warden. Having you around will boost morale. As long as you don’t crack any of your dumb jokes.”
Alistair smiled, but his heart sank. He foolishly hoped there was something more, that perhaps she still carried a faint affection as he did.
“So you may have to stay in this room a bit longer while I…”
“No.” He cut her off.
“You’re not going alone.”
“I never said I was going alone.”
“Well, you’re not leaving me here while you go off and decide my fate. I’m going.” He spoke in the commanding manner that he picked up over the years, in his experience it tended to work. Caro placed her hands on her wide hips and stared at him.
“Are you sure you can keep up, Your Royal Highness? We would be wandering around in mud, sleeping on the ground. Not a groom or footman in sight.”
Alistair laughed. “Just like the old days? I think I can manage that.”
“Are you sure it’s wise to take him?” Nathaniel asked eyeing Caro as though she was mad. “He can stay here and I’ll go with you.”
Caro shook her head. “I’ve tried to talk him out of it, but he insists.”
“He’s been locked in a royal palace for a dozen years. Can he even grip a sword?”
Nathaniel’s reasons for wanting to leave Alistair behind were vastly different than Caro’s. She didn’t doubt his experience. She could tell from looking at him that he kept his body battle ready over the years. No, her reason for wanting to leave Alistair at Vigil’s keep was for her own self-preservation. She didn’t want to be alone with him for weeks on end. She feared that her heart might plummet back, that the wall she built might crumble and she would be in love with him again. Listening to his easy jokes and calm demeanor did nothing to help.
Nathaniel sighed. “He better not get you killed. I’ve been told I have a problem with authority, I might not listen to your replacement.”
Caro laughed. “I’ll be fine”
“I’m going to die.” Caro groaned hours later as she gripped the railing of the ship. It rocked hard to port and she felt her stomach disappear from beneath her. Alistair grabbed her arm to steady her but she shook him off. The last thing she needed was for him touch her. It brought back too many memories. She glared up at him, but he did look good in that Grey Warden armor. The sun reflected in his ginger hair and reddened his cheeks. She opened her mouth to say something but felt the familiar wave of nausea hit her. She leaned over the rail of the ship and retched over the side.
Alistair crossed his arms and leaned on the rail beside her. “I never knew you got sea sick.” He said in a calm voice that somehow infuriated her.
“I’ve never been on a boat.” She groaned. Over the years, all of her Grey Warden business could easily be accomplished by land travel. There had never been a need to be on the sea, until now.
“This is your fault.” She moaned.
“My fault?” Alistair seemed offended. “I said we should go through Orlais.”
“That would have taken too long and…” She paused as ship lurched forward. “Orlais is recovering from civil war, Grey Warden uprising and the Inquisition. That’s not a safe place for us right now.”
Alistair sighed. Caro lurched over the edge, as she was sick again. Sailors stared and laughed. A seasick dwarf was apparently funny. Caro couldn’t remember the last time she felt this ill, the only thing comparable was her first day on the surface.
Duncan had drug the casteless thug out of Orzammar and out of the hands of certain death. The first glimpse of the sky sent her body reeling. Her head spun and nausea had swept over her body. After a few weeks though, the sky didn’t bother her. She was quite proud of how she conquered the elements of nature, at least until now.
“The sea. My enemy.” She muttered dramatically as she rested her chin on the rail.
“What?” Alistair asked as he rose out of a haze.
“Would it help if you went below deck?”
“No.” She groaned. It was worse down there, the constant rocking mixed with stale air, body odors and crying children. “How much longer do we have?”
“We set sail less than three hours ago.”
“I’m going to die.” She repeated.
“Maybe if you sat down you might feel better?”
Caro slumped on the deck and leaned against the bulwark. Alistair sat easily beside her. Caro pulled her knees up against her chest. The cry of seagulls echoed in her ear as the bright sun beat down on her cheeks.
“So what’s the plan? We sail to Cumberland then take the Imperial Highway.”
Caro nodded, not wanting to speak.
“What about slavers? That will have us in the Imperium, did you consider that?”
Caro’s head snapped up. “Yes. I thought of that.” She bit off. “But since we are not helpless and who the fuck would try to kidnap two heavily armed Grey Wardens?”
Alistair sighed heavily and stood as he muttered something under his breath. He blessedly left Caro alone then. She didn’t know how long he was gone, every minute felt like an eternity. The nausea never left and her head felt as though it were constantly spinning. She buried her face against her knees and hid, hoping that the sickness would subside but it didn’t.
She heard Alistair calling her name and when she looked up she was surprised to see the sky full of stars. Alistair’s face was marred with concern, he handed her a small piece of bread and a tankard of water.
“You need to eat something.” he commanded. Caro shook her head violently. Even the thought of something as simple as bread made her stomach churl.
“The water, then?” he asked, holding the mug closer to her face. Caro inhaled and took the tankard from him. The water felt cool and refreshing going down her throat. She tried a small piece of the bread at his insistence, but the next movement of the ship sent it coming back up her throat.
“Maker’s breath.” Alistair groaned as she retched over the side of the ship.
Alistair was in the ship’s hold, watching some of the sailors play Diamondback when he saw the shadows pass by the windows. He stood without a word and walked up the ship’s deck, there he saw them. The twins. The flanked the narrow channel that led to Kirkwall. Alistair had seen them many times on his journeys to the city, and every time they sent a chill down his spine. The sailors rushed about the decks, readying the ship for it’s first stop. Alistair went to find Caro; perhaps the momentary stop would give her the chance to feel better. He found her where she was the day before, huddled over by the ship’s railing.
He sighed. At this rate she would not make it to Cumberland. He descended back into the hold to find their packs. Once they were in hand he went to Caro. He stood beside her while he waited for the ship to dock; he doubted she even knew he stood there. It was strange seeing her like this: weak and frail. Her skin was pale and stretched, her eyes rimmed with black. What he was going to do would make their trip a bit longer, but might not kill her in the process.
Although she might kill him.
He gripped the bulwark as the ship lurched as it docked. Caro groaned and wrapped her hands around her head. Alistair took her arm and pulled her to her feet, it took her a moment to stand steadily.
“What are you doing?” She her voice quivered while she glared at him.
“We’re getting off here.” He said.
“This isn’t Cumberland.” She barked.
“You’re not going to make it to Cumberland.” He said authoritatively as he glared back at her. Caro backed off and allowed him to take her off the ship. Her legs wobbled a bit as when they reached the docks. He led her to the outer wall of the gallows and she leaned against it, regaining her footing.
“Kirkwall is dangerous for you.” She murmured.
“I know.” He said quietly as he watched the people of the docks. He had come to Kirkwall many times while he was king. He watched the city crumble from afar. It had been nearly five years since the Chantry explosion and the first sparks of the rebellion were lit. Alistair pulled his hood about his head. It would be too easy for someone to recognize him here. They couldn’t stay in Kirkwall long.
“We can take a road along the coast and walk to Cumberland.” Alistair said.
“It will take longer.” Caro said softly.
“Look at you.” Alistair turned to her. “You’re dehydrated. You haven’t eaten. And this is after two days. Imagine how you will be after two more days. You can’t sail. We walk.”
“What does it matter to you?” She huffed. His eyebrows furrowed.
“Because I can’t…”
Many phrases crossed his mind. All of the things that he longed to say but couldn’t. Because I can’t watch you suffer, Because I don’t want to see you in pain, Because I can’t have you die.
But “I need your help.” Was all that came out. Caro opened her mouth as though she were going to say something but shut it quickly and groaned as she doubled over.
“I still feel like I’m moving. Is that normal?”
“You there!” Someone shouted at them from a distance. Alistair looked up to see a guardsman walking towards him.
“What are you doing there?”
“She’s sick.” Alistair said, forcing his voice to sound more guttural.
“Well, why are Grey Wardens in Kirkwall?” The guard stopped a few meters before them. Caro glared at the man but said nothing, for which Alistair was grateful.
“Just passing through.” He said. “Heading to Nevarra.”
The guard eyed them. “The ships go to Cumberland.” He said. “Why get off here?”
“She’s a bit sick.” Alistair reiterated. “Nothing to be concerned about. We will be away from the city soon.”
“Sick with what?” The guard asked as he eyed Caro. They said nothing. “I heard about them wardens in Orlais. Going crazy and killing each other. Killing lots of people. Is that what’s wrong with her?”
He stepped forward and looked at Caro as though she had the blight. Alistair stepped between them.
“Leave us be.” He said softly. “We will be on our way soon and you shall never see us again.”
The guard glared at Alistair and shifted his weight. Alistair readied to reach for his sword; he was prepared for a fight. But a voice rang out among the docks.
“Guardsman!” A woman called. The guard jumped and turned quickly.
“Guard-Captain!” He said. “I was just…”
“The Viscount heard there were Grey Wardens in the city.” She said stepping forward. Her red hair bounced as she walked, her green eyes scrutinized Alistair and Caro.
“The Viscount wants to see you.” She spoke now to Alistair.
“Why?” He asked.
“I don’t know.” She remarked. “I don’t know why that man does half the things he does, but I have to answer to him, don’t I? Come along.”
It wasn’t a request so much as a command. If they didn’t want a issue with the entire city, he would have to follow her. He glanced to Caro and raised his eyebrow. She nodded and hobbled forward after him.
Alistair kept his head down as he walked through the city, warily watching for anyone who might recognize him. He tried to think of why the Viscount would want to see two random wardens. He wouldn’t, unless someone had told him who was coming. He felt briefly worried that Anora had sent word to the Free Marches and the Viscount would detain them. Alistair doubted that. He met the new Viscount a few times since his appointment. He didn’t seem like the type to play along with such a scheme.
They stopped at the massive steps that led up to the Viscount’s keep. The Guard-Captain stopped and motioned to Caro.
“What’s wrong with her? Can she make it up the stairs?”
Caro glared at the woman and spoke roughly. “I’m fine. And yes I can.”
The captain shrugged and led them up the steps. Alistair felt his heart beat faster in his chest. He kept his head down as he passed the lords and ladies of Kirkwall. He recognized many, but luckily none of them paid the slightest bit of attention to a couple of Grey Wardens. Alistair chanced a glance at Caro. It was obvious that she was still feeling the affects of sea travel, but she refused to let it slow her down.
The inside of the keep was a bustling hive of activity. A large gaggle of nobles gathered and fretted to the guards. Demanding to see the Viscount. They were each assured that they would be met with soon. They padded up the plush carpeted stairs that led to the Viscount’s office.
The captain opened the door and sauntered in the room with her arms crossed.
“Alright, Varric. Here they are. Now are you going to tell me what this is about?”
Varric jumped from his desk. “Shit, woman. Don’t you ever knock?”
The captain said nothing. Caro stepped forward.
“I would also like to know what this is about.” She said. “Or do you make it a habit of delaying anyone who comes to your docks?”
Varric stared at Caro. It was rare that Caro was able to meet anyone’s gaze without craning her neck, but with the Viscount it was easy. She glared at the other dwarf. Alistair did not doubt that it was intimidating, but Varric did not stand down.
He walked past the group and closed the large doors. The noises of the foyer died out as he did. He walked back to his desk as he spoke.
“I received a letter from an old friend that said two Grey Wardens would arrive in Kirkwall and that I should help them in any way I could. I had guards watch and then you showed up. So naturally, a mutual friend wants me to help you.”
“Who is this friend, Varric?” The captain asked.
“Now, Aveline, you know I couldn’t divulge such a secret. Do you think you could excuse us? I think you are making my guests uncomfortable.”
Aveline crossed her arms and glowered at the dwarf. She turned and left without another word, slamming the door behind her.
“Shit.” Varric said as he rubbed his brow. “Now Aveline is pissed at me. This day couldn’t get worse.”
“It’s about to if I don’t get answers.” Caro snapped. Varric glared.
“Listen, I’m trying to help you, as a favor, I might add. So why don’t you tell me why you’re here and what you want. That will make this short and sweet.”
“We’re just passing through.” Caro said. Varric eyed Alistair, but he couldn’t see much while he was hooded.
“What about your friend there?” He nodded to Alistair. “Does he talk?”
“I think he’s a friend.” Alistair whispered to Caro.
“What?” She hissed.
“He spoke of a letter. You know who sent it.”
Caro’s eyes widened as she realized. She bit her lip and turned back to Varric who waited patiently while they murmured to one another.
“Leliana told you we were coming?” She asked.
Varric raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. I figured you must be one of her people.”
“Not exactly.” Alistair said as he pulled the hood from his head. Varric’s eyes widened.
“Andraste’s flaming ass. King Alistair?” He gasped. “They said you were dead.”
“The king is dead.” Alistair assured him. “But warden Alistair is alive. And I plan to keep it that way.”
Varric nodded. “That’s good.” He said as he paced the room. “It’s a shame though. I liked working with you better than Anora. Shit.” He glanced at Caro. “And who are you?”
Caro glared at him. “Warden-Commander Caro Brosca.” She pronounced.
“Shit.” Varric muttered as he ran his hands through his head again. “And the fucking Hero of Ferelden? Dammit, Leliana.”
Varric sighed and raised his hands. “Well, you’re here. If Leliana had told me who was actually coming, I wouldn’t have had Aveline drag you through the city. But is there something I can do to help you with…whatever you’re doing. And no, don’t tell me what you’re doing. Something tells me that I don’t actually want to know.”
Caro smirked at that, and then met Alistair’s gaze. He shrugged.
“I don’t think we need any assistance. We need to get to Cumberland…” She began.
“You need a ship?” Varric asked.
“No!” Caro and Alistair both interjected. Varric’s eyebrow rose, but he nodded.
“A modest exit from the city would be nice.” Alistair said. “Something where hopefully no one will recognize me.”
“Well, it’s the least I can do. We should wait until dark.” He said. Alistair and Caro nodded.
Darkness surrounded them; the only sound was the deafening roar of waves crashing against the shore. Alistair shook the Viscount’s hand and thanked him for the escape from the city as well as the provisions he provided them.
“Don’t thank me. If I didn’t help you and Leliana found out, I’d be a dead man.”
Caro found it hard to trust the Viscount. He seemed too smooth. But she couldn’t complain, he had led them out of the keep through the undercity and through a cave to the shore. He pointed past Caro.
“Just follow the shore West.” He said. “You’ll hit Cumberland in about a week.”
Caro looked out over the shore. She turned back to thank the man, but he was already walking back into the cave. Alistair strode up to Caro and they walked along the shore in silence. She knew she should thank him for getting her off that boat. She shuddered at the memory of the misery she was in. While they were still in Kirkwall her appetite returned. Caro ate everything put in front of her. Alistair merely stared with an amused expression on his face.
“Feeling better?” He had asked, She didn’t answer. She tried her best to keep him at a distance. Alistair’s concerned looks, his gazes, his kind words and his strong hands as he steadied her when she was ill; it was all too much. It would be too easy to allow him back in her heart. For over ten years she dealt with the pain that he left inside of her. Caro tried to move on, tried to find someone else, but it was completely impossible to get this man out of her head. Instead, she hardened herself. That love was a weakness, it destroyed her once and she couldn’t allow that to happen again.
“Think we should make camp for the night?” Alistair asked. Caro thought for a moment.
“Let’s get a little bit further from the city.” She replied. “I don’t want any guards stumbling upon us and thinking we’re bandits.”
“Sounds good.” He said as he adjusted the pack on his back and picked up his pace.
The stench of salt water filled the air. It reminded Caro of her time on the boat. She shuddered.
“Cold?” Alistair surmised.
“No.” Caro said shortly. Alistair sighed and shrugged.
Within an hour they were both satisfied with how far they ventured from Kirkwall. They settled away from the shore, along the grass and set up their tents. Alistair built a fire and sat before it. Staring idly into the flames. Caro sat on the opposite side, not quite tired and hoping to enjoy the warmth of the blaze. Alistair stared at her for a moment, as though he had something to say, but he never spoke.
They stayed like that for days. They rarely spoke. Alistair tried several times to start a harmless conversation, but Caro shut him down each time. He eventually stopped trying to speak to her. She let Alistair walk ahead as she trailed several meters behind. In the evenings they made camp and ate before going to their separate tents. Caro began to feel guilty after a few nights of this. Alistair tried to be polite, tried to be kind, but she would have none of it. It started like that before. His kind words and silly but then led to her opening up a heart she didn’t know she had to him.
Caro lie awake in her tent one evening amazed how easily she could remember events so many years past.
She turned the rose over and looked at it wonderingly. This was her first time at seeing such a thing. She ran her fingers over the delicate petals, enjoying velvet feel against her skin. He mumbled something endearing and sweet before hastily leaving. Caro tried to push it out of her brain, tried to push him away. But it was impossible. He was too naïve to realize that she was afraid of being hurt, too kind to ever hurt her intentionally.
…Or so she thought. Caro groaned and turned over in her bedroll. She should have listened to her first instincts all those years ago. She should have shut him down then, she should have run. A life growing up on the streets of Orzammar taught her that emotions only get in your way. She remained level headed and brutal while in Orzammar. She knew exactly what she needed to do to survive and take care of her sister.
She quickly learned that on the surface, her cutthroat mentality was not needed. While many people wanted the last remaining Grey Wardens dead, more were grateful for their assistance. Her cold-hearted façade slowly slipped away and revealed a woman beneath that she didn’t know existed.
Caro knew that she no longer needed to live as though she were still a casteless thug on the streets, but she also knew that she could not leave her heart unguarded. Another heartbreak like the first might kill her.
The next morning Alistair was already seated by the fire when Caro joined him. He tossed her a bit of dried beef. She bit into it eagerly.
“Thanks.” She muttered. Alistair grunted a response but stared at her strangely. Caro gaped at her feet to avoid eye contact.
“Is this how it’s going to be the entire trip?” He blurted, Caro sensed that the question had been on his mind for quite some time.
“I don’t know what you mean.” She lied. Alistair’s eyebrows furrowed.
“Don’t give me that. You’ve barely spoken to me since we left Ferelden. We’ve been walking for days now and I don’t think you’ve said a complete sentence.”
“You’re ignoring me.”
There was a beat of silence.
“I am not.”
Alistair sighed. “Are you still so angry that we will have only silence until we reach the Anderfels?”
Caro shot him a look. “How conceited are you to think that after all these years I would still hold on to so much anger?”
Alistair narrowed his eyes. “If you’re not angry, then why won’t you speak to me?”
“I have nothing to say.” Caro muttered.
“That’s a first, then.”
Caro didn’t respond. Alistair continued.
“Are we not going to talk about it?”
“You know exactly what.”
She did. “We said everything that needed to be said on that day.”
“That was twelve years ago.” He watched her curiously. “What about now?”
“What about now? Nothing’s changed.”
She couldn’t argue with that point. Caro exhaled. “What exactly do you want to know, Alistair?”
He stared at her for a moment, as though considering whether or not to answer.
“After all these years and…everything that happened. What do you f…think of me? If you have no anger or hatred then is there only cold indifference?”
No, Caro thought. She had none of those things, though she wished she did. “I don’t hate you. I’m not angry. And if I were indifferent than why would I be in the middle of the damn Free Marches with you? We were friends once, I can’t just abandon you.”
Alistair frowned. “We were more than friends, Caro.”
“And you ended it.” She said as she leveled her gaze with his. Alistair frowned.
“You know why.”
“Yes.” She spat. “To unite a country. To follow Cailan’s footsteps and become a puppet for men with dark ambitions. How did that turn out, by the way?”
He eyed her through downcast brows. “I never thought you would be one to say ‘I told you so.’ That’s quite beneath you.”
“You wanted to talk about this.” She went on unable to stop herself now that she finally was able to voice her feelings. “Or do you merely want me to say what you want to hear? Do you want me to say that I cried myself to sleep every night, dreaming and hoping that you would grace me with your presence? Or that perhaps I dreamt that you might grant me with the title of ‘King’s Concubine’ and let me be your mistress?”
Alistair scoffed as he stood and paced. “As though you would agree to be anyone’s mistress.”
Caro laughed coldly. “I was so far gone back then, that I might have. But good King Alistair had to leave me behind to marry some noble twat’s daughter and father some perfectly legitimate children. You couldn’t have anyone know you were fucking some commoner dwarf.”
Alistair rounded on her and glared, his teeth clenched, his fists shaking.
“Shut up.” He said in a voice that Caro almost heeded. But she never did know when to close her mouth.
She stood and drew herself up to her full height, which was still no comparison to Alistair.
“That never happened though, did it?” She prodded. “You said you needed an heir, but no heirs were produced. Unless I didn’t hear about them, but you are your father’s son, so that wouldn’t be too surprising.”
That was his breaking point. Alistair grabbed her shoulders roughly and shook her once. Caro, in her shock, did not fight back. She merely stood with her mouth agape.
“Do you know why I never married?” He spoke through clenched teeth. “Do you know why there are no heirs, bastard or otherwise? It was because every time someone proposed a match, every time some bann brought his dainty young daughter before me, all I could think about was you. I couldn’t see past the fact that those women were not you. They didn’t have your smile, your laugh, or your bright eyes. They couldn’t outdrink any soldiers; they couldn’t take down an ogre. And no I didn’t father any bastards because I couldn’t bear the thought of touching any woman who was not you.”
They stood there in silence for a moment, the roar of her blood pulsing through Caro’s ears. Alistair’s face softened immediately into horror. He let her go quickly and turned away from her.
“Maker. I’m sorry. I…We should get a move on.”
“Yeah. Ok.” Caro said as she began to pack up the camp.
They walked in awkward silence now. Alistair knew he had only himself to blame. Why did he feel the need to push her? He wanted to know if she still felt anything for him but instead found himself blurting out secrets long hidden. He glanced in her direction as they walked, but every time she averted her head.
The dry coastlines of the Free Marches now gave way to the lush greenery of the Nevarran countryside. Olive trees dotted the landscape and large ruins stood in the distance. Alistair failed to notice when it happened, but they were now walking on the cobblestone path that led into Cumberland. He watched his feet shuffle against the stones when he heard Caro’s sharp gasp. She stopped and looked ahead of them, her eyes wide. Alistair smiled. One’s first view of Cumberland was always memorable, he remembered distinctly not being able to close his mouth when he first approached it years ago.
They were still a ways off yet, but the sprawl could be seen from miles. Towering buildings rose with massive spires above the city, high statues that memorialize heroes long gone watched it’s inhabitants, and the Sun Dome reflecting the sunlight and winking at travellers in the distance. It was in Cumberland that they would find the Imperial Highway and follow it through Tevinter to Vol Dorma.
Caro walked faster, leaving Alistair behind in her excitement. He couldn’t resist the smile that tugged at his lips as he followed her. Within a few hours they were in the thick of the city. Caro looked wide-eyed about her at everything. The streets were narrow; venders set up their stalls along the sidewalks and proclaimed their wares to all who passed by:
“Dust from the Urn of Sacred Ashes! Known to cure any ailment!”
“Hair from the skull of Caspar Pentaghast. Said to bring luck to any!”
“Dried flowers to leave at the tomb of your ancestors!”
Caro looked back frequently to make sure Alistair still followed. He supposed he should be grateful that in her excitement she forgot about their rough morning, but he was far too nervous about losing her in the crush of people. She stopped in the street.
“What is that?” She asked Alistair of the magnificent gold-topped dome that rose above the buildings. It was even more stunning when viewed up close. Massive buttresses dotted the side and led to the smaller vaults, supporting its massive weight.
“It’s the Sun Dome.” He said. “It’s where the First Enchanters of Thedas meet.”
“Tits of my ancestors.” She muttered as she continued to take in the scenery about her. Tall buildings flanked the streets; their facades were ornamented with archways that housed statues of Nevarra’s heroes. Most sculptures were of the Pentaghasts, each depicted wearing scaled armor, or with the decapitated head of a dragon at their feet. Caro wandered aimlessly through a colonnaded that led to a quiet courtyard. The scent of jasmine wafted through the air. The courtyard was quiet, housing only a fountain at its center. The fountain sculptures depicted the Emperor Drakon skewering darkspawn, an ode to the First Blight and the Battle of Cumberland. Caro looked with wide eyes, Alistair mused that the Emperor was probably not as muscular as his sculpture depicted. He also doubted that the man would go into battle with armor that failed to cover his torso.
Caro wandered to a door at the edge of the garden. She grazed her fingers lightly over the carvings cast in bronze.
“This might be someone’s house.” Alistair said.
“I’m just looking.” She muttered as her fingers trailed over the etched pictures. “Is this a story?”
Alistair stepped closer and looked over her shoulder at the door. It was divided into eight separate panels, each panel depicting a scene. He furrowed his brows as he tried to decipher the scene.
“I think it’s the life of Andraste.” He said. “Here at the top-” he stretched his hand towards the panel. “She’s singing and looking to the sky, there she is leading the Maker’s armies against the Imperium and here-,” he pointed to the bottom two panels. “Here she is at the stake, and then at the Maker’s side.”
Caro squat low to stare at the bottom panel, Andraste’s head was illuminated by a golden halo, the only bit of color on the entire door.
“I’ve never seen anything like this.” She muttered as she pressed her hand against Andraste’s face. The door lurched forward with a loud creak. Caro jumped back in her shock.
The door remained cracked, but nothing happened. Caro snuck a peek through the small opening.
“Hello?” She called. There was no answer.
“Caro, we should go.” Alistair pressed.
“Just a glance.” She said pushing the door open further; only the inky blackness greeted them.
“Hello?” She called again. Alistair cursed under his breath as she stepped inside. Reluctantly, he followed. Caro stepped tentatively into the darkness, blinking as she adjusted to the light. Alistair followed closely and watched as she tried to look about her, he was merely focused on not loosing sight of her.
The light from outside only illuminated so much and reflected off the ornate golden frames of massive portraits that hung in the corridor. The path turned sharply and was now lit by small sconces scattered along the wall. The air was stale and cold. Caro coughed lightly. Beneath the sconces lay long wooden coffers, each uniquely adorned.
Caro stopped and peered into one, standing on her toes and leaning over the opening before gasping and jumping backwards. Her back hit the coffer on the opposite wall and she jumped again.
“What is it?” Alistair asked, noting her wide-eyed expression.
“I…its…” she stuttered looking at the rows and rows of lavishly decorated boxes. “There’s a body in there.” She said, her voice shaking.
Alistair took a glance. Caro was correct. These were caskets that lined the passageway.
“It’s a tomb.” He said. She cocked an eyebrow.
“Nevarrans embalm their dead.” He explained. He heard of the practice, but had never chanced to see an actual tomb. It was strange; the body was wrapped in muslin strips and covered in oil that made it shimmer in the candlelight.
“Have you never heard of this?”
Caro shook her head as she looked in at the corpse again.
“I’m not a fan of corpses.” She said. “And in my experience, if you leave corpses laying about, they usually become possessed. ”
“I think they have special mages that watch over the tombs.”
“Mages become possessed!” She announced as though Alistair didn’t know. “This city is a demon army waiting to happen!”
A shuffling down the hall alerted them. A feeble voice called out in a heavy accent.
“Who is there?” It called. A shadowy figure in a long robe came into view.
“You are disrupting the tomb of the Van Markham clan!” The old man stepped closer and held out his hands and they erupted with light.
Caro stood stunned. Alistair took her hand and pulled her back towards the entrance. They ran, but the mage’s magic sizzled and cracked on the floor after them. Caro ran faster until they reached the sunlight. She slammed the heavy bronze door closed and kept running.
Alistair thought the danger was passed, the old man would surely not follow them into the street, but Caro grabbed his hand and pulled him through the throngs of people in the streets. People jumped out of their way and cursed. Caro only stopped when they reached the massive aqueduct that led across the River Cumber. The crowd was thinner and she slowed, panting and out of breath.
“Are you alright?” Alistair asked. Caro smiled.
“I hate magic.” She laughed breathlessly. “And dead bodies.”
Alistair laughed. “For someone who hates magic, you’ve aligned yourself with quite a few mages over the years.”
“I’m fine as long as it’s not…coming at my face.”
Alistair laughed as he pointed across the river. “There.” He said. “That’s the Imperial Highway. It will take us where we need to go.”
Caro straightened and looked to where he pointed. “Let’s go then.” She said smiling.
Alistair couldn’t help but smile back. Her lit up face only made him regret his actions that morning even more. She frowned and looked at her feet.
“Listen.” She said avoiding his gaze. “I’m sorry…I just…”
Caro shook her head. “Never mind.” She conceded as she held out her hand to him. “Shall we simply call a truce and try not to antagonize each other?”
Alistair smiled and felt his heart beat faster as he took her hand. She gave it a firm shake before releasing it.
“Very well.” He said gladly. “A truce.”
The Nevarran countryside was lush and green. On the Imperial Road they traveled through the country with relative ease. Inns were placed liberally along and they passed no end of travellers with interesting stories, such as the fellow sitting with them now as they stopped for a short midday meal. They broke into their dried meat and bread while a young man told them of his time with the Inquisition.
“I was just a soldier.” He said as he idly rubbed his boot in the dirt. “They had me stationed in the Western Approach. Not a whole lot of action there. Just angry varghasts in our water. Those beasts spit at you something fierce if you get too close to ‘em.”
They heard similar tales as they made their way through Nevarra. Alistair was grateful for the occasional companion. It relieved him and Caro the need to make awkward conversation. Her company had been amicable enough since Cumberland, but their relationship was still very sensitive, both worried that a particular conversation might bring up the previous animosity.
Though now, they travelled alone. The cobblestones of the highway returned to dirt tracks as they travelled through a particularly pastoral region. Alistair could see nothing but farmlands about him. Caro walked ahead of him now, something he found that he still rather enjoyed. It gave him a chance to simply gaze at her uninterrupted. Her golden hair had fallen loose from her coiffure and cascaded down her back. It amazed him how long she managed to keep it, even after all these years.
Alistair recalled their first night together all those years ago. He bumbled about with his inexperience, she sweetly directed him when he faltered. But in the hazy afterglow, when their sweaty panting bodies clung to one another, her hair draped over his chest. Caro slept quietly while Alistair threaded his fingers through her locks, reveling in the feel of silky tresses against his skin.
The memory caused a pain in his chest, as well as tightness in his trousers. Caro seemed so indifferent to him, though she claimed she was not. Alistair wondered if she felt anything for him after all these years. The more time he spent around her, the harder it became for him to ignore the feelings that he hid for so long. He convinced himself that being king was something that was good for him, for the country.
But deep down Alistair had still harbored resentment for his upbringing, and for the father that ignored his existence. In his youth, he thought becoming king might prove to everyone, even himself, that Maric was wrong in abandoning him. Many kings claimed their bastards, why was this not something Maric could have done?
Alistair sighed. It was foolish; trying to become king to prove that one belonged. He longed for acceptance and never found it, even as the ruler of a country.
The past twelve years were a haze in his mind; he walked through them as though he were asleep. Now the days, months, and years all blurred together in a nonsensical memory that seemed like a dream. He felt as though he had been here, with her, all this time. He knew now that this was where he should have been. He never should have given into Eamon’s desires. He should have shunned the man who tossed him away once he became and inconvenience. He should have stayed with Caro. He should have held onto the only thing that ever had meaning to him.
He wanted her, still. Alistair had to admit that much to himself. But he didn’t just want her body, he wanted her heart. But the chances of her forgiving him after what he did were slim. He didn’t deserve her forgiveness or her heart.
There was also the matter of the Howe at Vigil’s Keep. Jealousy hit him whenever the man crossed his mind. He knew she didn’t owe him fidelity, but a primitive part of Alistair still saw her as his. Caro said nothing about this man in any context not regarding the Grey Wardens, but Alistair was put off by the man’s familiarity with her. Had the Howe been warming Caro’s bed? Listening to her soft moans as she found her pleasure? Had she scored his back? Did he kiss the mole on her thigh? Alistair grew into a fury simply thinking about it. He shook his head and forced himself to think other thoughts.
Caro stopped and stared at the sky, grey clouds formed above their heads.
“We should probably go ahead and make camp.” She said. Alistair nodded.
They found a small grove of trees a ways off the main road, they could easily make camp and avoid being seen from the travelers on the road.
Dusk had settled by the time the storm finally set in. Alistair lay on his bedroll and listened to the rain pound on the side of his tent. Lightning illuminated the night sky as the thunder shook the ground. Caro retired to her tent long before the sun set and Alistair had spent the evening alone. He sighed and tried to settle in for sleep; He tried to clear Caro from his mind.
The crack of lightning jolted him out of his half sleeping state. The shattering sound of a branch falling from a tree echoed. Alistair braced himself as it crashed on the ground, sighing with relief that his tent was not under the collapse. He heard Caro cry out and his blood went cold.
Without thinking, Alistair rushed out into the rainy night. Icy cold droplets stung his skin as he struggled to see where he was going. Movement a few meters ahead of him caught his attention. Caro, underneath a large branch and the remains of her tent, was struggling to extricate herself from the wreckage. Alistair rushed and pulled her out from the brush, she cursed as the sharp branches dug in her skin.
Despite her protests, Alistair took her to his own tent. He pushed her inside unceremoniously before jumping in himself. His body shook from the cold, they were completely soaked. Caro only wore a thin chemise, now plastered to her body from the rain. Alistair fought to look away. The sight of her lush curves beneath the thin, wet fabric distracted him. He also noticed a nasty gash on her shoulder that seemed long ago healed. How long had she had that?
Caro ran her hands up and down her bare arms as her teeth chattered.
“Are you alright?” Alistair asked. Looking at his hands to avoid seeing her perfect breasts pressed against her chemise. Through the corner of his eye, he could see her shaking; a strangled noise escaped her throat. His head shot up quickly to see Caro, her chest heaving. She bit her lip. She was trying not to laugh.
“You find this funny, do you?” He asked unable to resist the smile that tugged at his own lips. Then she erupted. Her laughter filled his tent and warmed his soul. It had been so long since he heard her laugh. He couldn’t help but to chuckle alongside her.
“This trip is a disaster!” She said laughing. “Seasickness, captured by the Kirkwall guard, corpses, mages and now my tent has been flattened. This is ridiculous.”
A sympathetic smile tugged at his lips. Now he understood. This was the laughter that held tears at bay; it was the laughter of desperation. He heard it many times from her all those years ago, but took him woefully too long to understand what it truly was.
He pushed past Zevran, trying to see if she was injured. Caro wrapped a strip of gauze around the cut on her palm.
“Are you hurt?” Alistair asked as he took her face in his hands. She laughed.
“Of course.” She said as though she did not have to kill her childhood friend only an hour before. Alistair’s eyebrows knit together.
“Are you certain?” He asked again. “What about…?”
Caro laughed, only now he could hear her pain. “Leske was always a follower. He was lucky that Jarvia took him in. He wouldn’t have lasted on his own.”
She started to turn, to walk away from him, but Alistair took her shoulders and pulled her to him. He pressed Caro against his chest and held her tightly against him. She did not move away or try to fight his embrace; instead she wrapped her arms around him and held him close as they sat in the silence.
Alistair leaned over and dug through his pack for dry clothes.
“Here.” He said as he tossed her a large tunic shirt. “Change into that so you don’t get sick on top of everything else.”
She smiled sadly. Alistair pulled dry clothes out for himself and turned his back to her. They changed in silence; he could hear the wet fabric as she tugged it from her body.
“I hope my armor isn’t too damaged.” She muttered.
“It’s in the tent so it should stay dry.” He replied as he tugged a dry shirt over his head. “Are you dressed?”
“Yeah.” She said. Alistair turned, but lost his breath at the sight of her in his shirt. It was so heartbreakingly familiar and reminded him of days long passed. Caro piled her wet hair loosely on top of her head.
“Thank you.” She muttered. Alistair gave her a half smile.
“Not a problem.” He answered. “You can have the bedroll. I can sleep on the ground.”
He began to move slightly to give her room.
“There’s no need for that.” She said. “We’ll sleep opposite.”
She settled down by his feet and stretched her legs towards him. She lay down upon the pallet, as did Alistair.
Caro yawned. “I couldn’t sleep before, but now I’m exhausted.”
Alistair smirked. “This has been an exciting night.”
Thunder cracked again outside the tent.
“Why couldn’t you sleep?” He asked softly. Caro sighed.
“I don’t know.” She said. “I think being like this reminds me of before, when we were travelling Ferelden trying to make people stop fighting each other and fight the damn blight.”
Alistair chuckled. “Yes. It’s much quieter now, though.”
“I know.” He could hear the smile in her voice. “I miss everyone.”
“I heard Oghren was a Grey Warden now.”
“He still is!” She laughed. “He usually hangs out in the hall drinking. I told him you were in the keep and he merely muttered something about a ‘pike twirler’ and passed out.”
Alistair groaned. “And Leliana is Divine now. That’s actually a bit terrifying.”
“Shhh.” Caro whispered. “She can probably hear you. What about Zevran?”
“He sent me a few letters. Usually offering to…help me with certain problems. I never took him up on that, perhaps I should have.”
Caro laughed softly. “I heard Morrigan was working with the Inquisition too.”
“Mmm.” Was the only reply Alistair could muster. He heard that as well, that the strange witch from Orlais was with the Inquisition and she brought with her a small boy. Alistair didn’t want to think about Morrigan and her son, nor did he want to think about the last time he saw her and the horrid night he was forced to spend with her.
“I…I know you didn’t want to spend the night with her.” She said as though she could read his thoughts. Alistair didn’t trust his voice so he did not speak.
“I suppose I was a bit of a coward. I didn’t really want to die, so when I saw a way out of it…”
“What makes you think you would have died?”
“You were king. Why would you sacrifice yourself?” Caro scoffed.
“Isn’t that what kings do?” He asked as he stared up in the darkness. “But it really doesn’t matter. I could lie and say that I would have done it for Ferelden, but really it would have been for you.”
“What?” She balked. “You ended it. I didn’t mean anything to you.”
“Just because I broke things off through some misguided attempt at duty doesn’t change the way that I felt about you. If it came down to it, I couldn’t have watched you die. I would have sacrificed myself for you then.”
There was silence and the words slipped from his lips before he could stop them. “I still would.”
Caro said nothing for a moment. Her body slightly stirred against him. He wished he could see her face. The only sound was the rain that continued to patter.
“Good night, Alistair.” She whispered as she turned her body away from him.
“Good night, Caro.” He replied.
Caro heard the sound of rushing water long before she saw it. The river was colossal and tore through the countryside like a raw wound on skin. The sun beat her skin. The further North they traveled the warmer it became. Although the sun was setting the heat did not cease.
During her early life in Orzammar Caro had known nothing but heat, but after so many years in the bitter cold of Ferelden she became accustomed to the chill. Now the heat scalded her skin and slowed her pace. Even Alistair seemed affected by it, though he said nothing.
Caro wiped the sweat from her brow and tried to pull tighter the tie that kept her hair up. Alistair eyed her strangely, as he had for days now. She forced herself to look away and not dwell on it. Thinking about him just addled her mind.
The Imperial Highway, that had became a dirt trail through the country, now ebbed into cobblestones and led to the massive aqueduct that traversed the river. Other travelers and merchants occupied the bridge. Alistair and Caro stuck to themselves, avoiding anyone they passed. The further North they journeyed the more conspicuous they appeared. The aqueduct was substantial and beautiful. Until Nevarra, Caro had never seen a structure quite like it. The bridge seemed otherworldly as it stood alone in the soft landscape.
They walked along the edge of the bridge; Caro peered over the edge at the water far down below. The river flowed quickly, only slowed by huge boulders jutting from the water. A fall from this bridge would mean death. She could only imagine how many travelers had met such a horrible fate.
“Look.” Alistair spoke quietly behind her. “A small town. I bet there’s an inn. It would be nice to not sleep on the ground.”
Caro smiled to herself. “It would be nice to have something to eat that you didn’t’ burn.”
Alistair scoffed behind her. “I’m a great cook.”
Dusk covered the land by the time they finally reached the village, and to their relief, the inn had plenty of room.
The hall of the inn was packed. Alistair and Caro sat on a bench along the wall, quietly drinking their ale as they watched those around them. Gamblers played unending games of diamondback while constantly watching their opponents. The drunks argued and fought, occasionally throwing a punch that would miss the intended target. Blood and vomit stained the floor. The air smelled of beer and the venison stew that was served for supper. Caro glanced at Alistair and smiled.
“Bet you never thought you would be in a place like this again?” She asked.
His eyes were set hard before him; he only sent her a quick glance.
“I can’t say that I did.” He muttered. Caro looked over the crowd to see what Alistair stared so furiously at, but noticed nothing strange, at least for a tavern.
“What?” She asked. “What are you staring at?”
“Nothing.” He said. “I just feel as though someone is watching us.”
Caro glanced around, suddenly paranoid, but could see nothing.
“Is that a new skill?” She asked sipping the ale. Alistair snickered.
“I suppose it is.” He said. “At court, everyone watches you without really looking at you.”
Caro sighed and stared back over the crowded inn. She could feel her eyelids becoming heavier. The heat exhausted her far more than usual. She stood.
“I think I might just go to bed.” She said as she turned, but was knocked heavily from behind, causing her to lose her breath for a moment. Caro stumbled Alistair jumped to his feet. She turned to see a lecherous drunk looming behind her.
The man reeked of rum, and looked as though he hadn’t bathed in months. His eyes were glazed over and refused to focus on any one thing. Caro wrinkled her nose as she stepped back.
“Ey!” The man slurred. “Watch where yer goin’!”
Caro narrowed her eyes. “You ran into me, old man!”
Alistair muttered something behind her, probably telling her to stop talking.
“Right.” The drunk glared at her. “I don’ have time to be botherin’ with a rock-brain. I got a game o’ wicked grace to win.”
“What did you call me?” Her voice dripped with venom.
“Caro.” Alistair drew warningly behind her. But the drunk quickly shoved her; Caro’s back hitting Alistair in the chest. Instinctively, her hand went for her dagger, but before it was pulled from the sheath. Alistair wrapped his arms around her. The sensation made her gasp, and for a moment she almost lost sight of what she was doing. Alistair’s grip was tight; she forgot how strong this man was.
Caro’s breath came out in short pants and she didn’t know if it was from anger or excitement.
“Just ignore him.” Alistair whispered above her head. “We don’t want to attract the wrong sort of attention.”
He was right. Of course he was right. She took deep breaths and tried to reclaim her emotions. At the same time, she didn’t want Alistair to let her go. She bit her lip hard. She needed to get out of here so that she could sort through these strange sensations on her own. After a moment her breathing returned to a steady pace, Alistair loosened the grip on her slightly.
Caro began to walk away when Alistair’s body jerked about her and he shouted.
“Son of a…”
She turned quickly to see him cradling his head; a bearded man behind him held a chair leg and laughed triumphantly. A shout erupted around them. The entire tavern seemed to explode in a massive brawl. Every man and woman attacked each other, with no indication as to why they did so.
Caro sprang herself at the man who clubbed Alistair. She jumped from the floor to the bench and launched herself onto his back. Her arms wrapped around his neck and he screamed while trying to throw her off. His body bucked and writhed, but still she clung to him while laughing. Alistair moved to aid her, when he was punched in his cheek. He moved quickly and twisted the arm of the offender, who yelped in pain.
Caro lost sight of Alistair then, as she was flung to the floor. Her breath was knocked out of her as she hit the planks. And her arms and legs were constantly stepped on by brawling patrons. At one point a couple of wrestling men fell on her, and she kicked violently until they moved.
Caro saw a break, and moved to get to her feet. But she was halted by the bearded man. He stepped on her wrist and put his weight on her. Caro screamed in pain while looking for Alistair, who was nowhere in sight. She reached with her left hand for her dagger, but before she could draw it the weight was lifted from her wrist. A small, lithe body tackled the man before her, and they fell to the floor.
Caro jumped up and turned quickly, the fight pumping energy through her body. Caro gasped as a hand rested on her shoulder, she turned only to see Alistair smiling like an idiot with a blackened eye.
“I think I’ve had enough excitement for one evening.” He shouted above the noise. Caro laughed. They located their packs through the crowd and headed through out the door. The noise from the tavern filtered out onto the street, but the few people who milled about seemed unaffected by it.
“This must happen often.” Caro said as she fitted her bags.
Alistair laughed. “I think I might actually be happier sleeping on the ground if it’s away from this village.”
“That is a most wise decision.” A heavily accented voice said from behind. They turned, hands on their blades. Caro’s eyes struggled to adjust in the darkness, but she managed to make out a small elven shape.
“Zevran?” Caro called. The man winked.
“The very same.”
She laughed. She recognized him now as the man who tackled the brute in the tavern. Seeing him now after so many years apart brought an rumble of excitement into her chest. She looked him up and down. He looked as though he had not aged. Though now he wore a dark cloak around his head, Caro assumed he was still on the run from the Crows.
Caro stepped forward to greet him, but Alistair stopped her.
“Why are you here?” He asked, his hand still upon his blade.
Zevran casually stepped towards them. “You have grown a bit paranoid in your days as a calloused ruler, no? You have no trust for an old friend?”
“You tried to kill us before.” Alistair said. “I’m sure your…line of work hasn’t changed.”
“It has not. But no one has contracted me to kill you. And if they tried, I would probably refuse. Unless, of course, the prize was very handsome.”
Alistair grunted, but relaxed a bit. Caro edged around him.
“What are you doing here?” She asked Zevran.
“I find myself having a bit of work in Qarinus. I am traveling from Val Royoux”
“Have you been following us?” Alistair asked curtly.
“I only noticed you in the tavern.” Zevran turned to Caro. “You, my dear Warden, are still as hot-tempered as ever.”
She smiled. “Will you stay the night with us?”
Alistair bristled. Zevran smiled fondly.
“It would be nice to have the company of others for a change.”
Alistair stared into the fire while he listened to Caro and Zevran talk excitedly about their years apart. Alistair kept quiet. He found it hard to trust the assassin years ago, and it seemed even harder to do so now. He couldn’t dismiss the possibility that Anora would simply want him dead. But Caro trusted him then, and it worked out. Alistair tried to trust in her judgment.
Caro spoke of the time that she spent with the wardens when she was with Zevran. She had not opened up that easily to him. Jealousy hit Alistair hard, as did the feeling that he deserved this. He deserved to be excluded from her life.
“What about you, Alistair?” The elf asked, waking him from his daydream. “I heard a rumor that you were dead.”
Alistair scoffed. “I’m not dead yet.” He said. Zevran nodded.
“Good on you.” He said.
Caro yawned. Her eyes only half open. “I’m exhausted.” She muttered. “I’m going to sleep. For certain this time.”
She stood but stopped when she saw Alistair’s face. She circled the fire and took his head in her hands, drawing a gasp from him.
“Your eye!” She exclaimed as she ran her thumb over the delicate skin. He tried to repress the shiver that snaked through his body. How could her hands still be so soft when his own were covered in callouses? He prayed that she couldn’t hear his heart beating erratically in his chest. “I completely forgot to look at it.” She muttered. “Does it feel numb? Can you see out of it?”
“I’ll be fine.” He sputtered out, his words barely a whisper. His eyes wandered to her soft blue eyes, her plump lips. She was so close to him now, only a few inches away. It would be so easy to close that distance, to feel her lips on his once again, to have the sensation that he missed so dearly.
“I…Uh…” She stuttered, as though she could hear his thoughts. She broke away from him quickly and muttered a goodnight to the men. They bade her goodnight and she disappeared into her tent.
Alistair sighed as he lowered his chin to his chest. The crackling fire was the only noise that permeated the silence.
“So,” Zevran began, ignoring the Alistair’s state of melancholy. “You are done being king and have joined your warden love on adventures once again?”
Alistair glared at the elf. “No.” He barked. “I mean…She’s helping me.”
“It’s a long story.” Alistair’s shoulders slumped as he looked away. He didn’t have the patience to explain everything to Zevran. The day’s events left his mind in a muddle. Caro certainly didn’t help matters. One moment she was friendly and the next she became cold and distant. The feel of her touch still burned against his skin. Having her so close was quickly becoming a torment as his feelings bubbled to the surface.
“At least you have each other.” Zevran chirped. “Now that you are together again you…”
“We’re not together.” Alistair cut him off shortly.
“Could have fooled me.” Zevran said as he stretched his arms and began unlacing his bracers. “During the Blight, it seemed as though you really cared about her.”
“I did.” Alistair said. I still do.
“Who would have thought that such love would have faded away over a few years.”
“Twelve years.” Alistair corrected. “And are you always so dramatic?”
“Yes.” Zevran smiled as he unlaced his boots.
“Besides,” Alistair grumbled. “It’s not as though she would even want me back after…everything.”
Zevran paused and stared at Alistair with a mischievous glint in his eyes. Alistair groaned inwardly.
“Is that what you think?” The Antivan asked casually. “I didn’t get that vibe at all.”
“Oh?” Alistair’s voice sounded more hopeful than he would have liked. He tramped down his eagerness. He cleared his throat before speaking again.
“What makes you say that?”
Zevran smiled, looking strangely like a cat. “Poor Alistair! Do you mean to tell me that after so many years you still do not understand the workings of a woman’s mind?”
“You’re evading the question.”
“I am.” Zevran spoke proudly. “But the evidence is in her face. The way she looks at you. She still feels something for you. Whatever it may be though, I do not know.”
Alistair frowned and stared into the fire. “You’re wrong. She avoids me. For the longest time she barely spoke to me.”
“If you were burned by standing too close to a fire, you would avoid the fire, no?”
“So I am a fire?”
“Yes.” Zevran said frankly. “And she was wounded. Scars fade, but never disappear.”
All Zevran was doing was confirming what Alsitair already knew: He hurt her then and she eluded him now. It was what he deserved. He knew that, but still it hurt to hear it spoken out loud. Ignoring Alistair was Caro’s self-preservation. If she did still have feelings for him she must protect her own heart. He couldn’t blame her for how she felt. A dull pain constricted his chest.
“That does not mean that things are hopeless for you, though.” Zevran continued. “You could win her heart again.”
“I don’t think I’m as confident as you that I can.” Alistair muttered, his head hanging low.
“And why not? You were quite successful as a blushing virgin who bumbled about the entire process. Now you are a mature, assured man who needs no ones approval. You were a king. Surely, it can be accomplished.”
Alistair grunted in reply. Zevran made it sound so easy, as though winning Caro’s heart and trust was something that could be done by simply being assertive. He was not the man he was all those years ago. He wanted to make people happy, but he also wanted to be ignored. Alistair wanted to fade into obscurity and have no one remember that he was the king’s bastard son. He never got what he wanted, not until she came along.
Caro was the first person that looked past who he was, who saw him as a individual. He never knew what it was like to be loved by someone until her. Unconditionally and endlessly it seemed. For the thousandth time he chastised himself on his choice. Why had he been so foolish? So brash?
But what Zevran said gave him hope. If she did still have some feeling left for him, then perhaps he could convince her to trust him and to love him again. She was guarding herself. If Alistair did this he would have to be slow and patient. But some part of him knew that he could do this.
Alistair stood up quickly. “Goodnight Zevran.” He spoke, suddenly feeling lighter. “You have given me much to think about.”
Sorry that it has been so long. Got a new job and other weird crap happening. But thanks for awesome comments and checking out my story!
GUESS WHO'S BACK BITCHES.
Yes. I have an update. I'm very sorry for leaving an unfinished work. It tears me up inside and I plan on fixing that. What happened was that a year ago I birthed a baby. And the months leading up to that were horrible. LIke seriously I have no idea how people do that more than once. Maybe I'm just a giant crybaby though. IDK.
BUT I've been working on some updates for this and I plan on finishing it. Thanks for coming back and putting up with my slow updates. yall pretty rad.
The next morning they woke at dawn and said their goodbyes to each other as they each went their own way. Caro would turn her back occasionally to check on Zevran’s progress. When he was completely out of sight, she lowered her head and marched quietly beside Alistair.
The landscape surrounding them slowly changed. The grass grew more and more sparse until it was simply small patches scattered through the fine dust. The land was flat and there was nothing to be seen for miles except endless sand dunes.
“Should we have followed the river?” Caro pondered.
“The Imperial Highway is quicker. Also there are a lot of towns along the river. More people, more of a chance that we may get recognized.”
“I think we’re far enough away from Ferelden that people are going to stop caring. We’re almost to Tevinter.”
“I think we might be in Tevinter.” Alistair muttered.
“How do you know?”
“I don’t. But I know that the border isn’t as defined out here. We won’t know until we hit a village.”
Caro muttered an agreement. “At least we have plenty of water.”
Alistair smiled. “At least.”
They walked in silence for a long time. Caro found herself wishing that he would talk. She already missed Zevran, his easy manner and conversation filled the long hours and broke the tension. She stretched her arm. The armor was hot and her body was still bruised from the tavern brawl the previous evening. The entire ordeal was a haze in her mind. She remembered being enveloped in Alistair’s strong arms and what it did to her body in those few short moments.
She didn’t know that those feelings still lay within her. Passion and desire. It had been so long since such things had stirred in her. She might have been up all night unable to sleep from the sensation, if not for taking a few punches. Yes, there was definitely nothing like getting trampled on a bar room floor to relieve oneself of amorous feelings towards one’s traveling companion.
“Why are you smiling?” Alistair’s voice drew her out of her reverie.
“I was just remembering you getting hit on the back of the head with a stool.”
Alistair winced. “Yes. I suppose that is amusing. Almost as much as you having the wind knocked out of you when those two men fell on you.”
Caro remembered the feeling of her breath leaving her body. The heavy crush of giant men on her. “I thought I broke a rib.” She laughed. “They were so heavy. Humans are heavy, especially when they’re on top of you.”
She heard Alistair snort and her face flushed when she realized what she said. She opened her mouth to clarify, but thought it best just to stay quiet. Maybe he would forget. They continued in silence for a time before Alistair spoke.
“So,” He drawled. “Tell me about Howe’s son.”
“Nathaniel?” She chirped. “What do you want to know about him?”
“I was mostly interested in how the son of the man who tried to kill us became a Grey Warden.”
“Ah.” Caro smiled. “He broke into Vigil’s Keep and tried to kill me, so I conscripted him.”
Alistair laughed loudly. “Of course you did. You never were a cautious one.”
Caro frowned. She couldn’t tell if he was being genuine or sardonic. “Well, I was right. Wasn’t I? Over a decade later and he’s still with the wardens. Nate’s one of the best archers I’ve ever seen.”
She glanced at Alistair from beneath her lashes. His eyebrows knit together as he scowled. He exhaled and the expression was gone. Caro wondered what he was thinking.
“Are you two close?” He asked with an icy voice. Caro’s brow shot up.
“Close?” She mimicked confused by the question. “I suppose. We’ve both been there since the beginning. He’s the one that usually comes with me whenever I need to leave the keep.”
“I see.” Alistair’s words were ground out slowly. “So the two of you…?”
Caro’s mind snapped as she realized what Alistair was hinting at. A flash of anger rushed through her. He was asking if she had been intimate with Nathaniel? How was this any of his business? What right did he have to pry into her life and judge her choices? She turned to Alistair, intent on giving him a verbal thrashing but stopped when she saw his face. Her anger disappeared. He looked upset by the question and her possible answer. Caro smiled wickedly.
“My dear Alistair, are you jealous?”
He stopped and turned to her. Caro planted her hands on her hips and stared defiantly up at him.
“What a ridiculous question.” He asked, keeping his face devoid of emotion.
“Yours was the more ridiculous question. Prying into my personal life.” She clicked her tongue. “So ungentlemanly. What if I said ‘yes’?” Caro cocked her head to the side. “What if I told you that Nathaniel and I spent an untold number of nights together? We made sweet love beneath the stars on those long journeys. It is rather cold at Vigil’s Keep. My room has a terrible draft in the winter. I might need a strong man to keep me warm.”
Alistair rolled his eyes and walked away from her. “Alright. Forget I said anything.”
Caro, against better judgment, continued to speak as she trailed behind him. “He is rather handsome in a broody, dark sort of way. I always sort of found myself attracted to men like that. You were the exception. Well, now you’re broody, but before…” She paused as a distant memory flashed before her. She always loved how easily Alistair laughed. How, despite all the misfortune that had befallen him, he managed to stay a jovial man. She envied that he had not succumbed to bitterness as she had, but just being around him made her feel a little lighter each day.
Caro forcefully shook her head to force it back into the present. She glanced at Alistair’s back. Tall and strong like she remembered. Were his shoulders broader? She couldn’t tell. Caro refocused on her goading of Alistair.
“And Nate’s hands. Don’t get me started on those.” She said not too quietly. “You would assume that an archer would have calloused hands, but not him. So soft. And his fingers…”
“Alright!” Alistair shouted as he rounded on her. “I know you’re lying so you can stop now.”
Caro gave a short laugh as she tried to mask her surprise. Anger flashed in his brown eyes, something she couldn’t recall having seen that often.
“What?” She said too defensively. “You asked a very personal question. What right do you have to ask about who I fuck?”
He blanched at her words and had the grace to look guilty for a moment. “I wasn’t trying to…I only wanted…” He ran his hands through his hair before throwing them to his sides. “Nevermind.” Alistair said as he turned away from her and continued on the path. Caro followed him intent on having the last word. A small voice inside her head said that she should really shut up, should really not say another word. She never listened to that voice.
“What about you?” She asked practically running to keep up with his long strides. “How many women have you bedded? How many innocent serving girls? Maybe an elf? You had a dwarf, maybe you got Dalish Fever as well?”
“I told you. None.” He ground out through his teeth without stopping. Caro flushed red when she remembered their conversation a few weeks back. But still that did not stop her.
“You expect me to believe that?” She laughed. “The King of Ferelden going to bed alone for twelve years? Or is it eleven? No one has that much power without using it.”
Alistair stopped and turned to her. “Is that what this is about?”
“What?” Caro asked genuinely confused.
“Your sister.” Alistair said flatly. Caro was silent but felt her unease growing. Alistair continued to speak.
“You assume that anyone with a modicum of power over people is going to use it to control them. That’s what happened to your sister, isn’t it? Bought and used like an investment with the hope that she might carry some noble’s child. That’s what happened to you.”
“I wasn’t a concubine.” Caro said uneasily, not sure of where Alistair was heading. “Not pretty enough.”
Alistair smirked. “You were an investment. They threw you rusty swords and told you who to go after and you did. But you were the investment that didn’t pay off so they tried to rid themselves of you.”
Caro’s brow furrowed. “How do you even…”
“Remember?” He finished for her. “I remember everything you told me because I’ve had twelve years to lie alone in bed and reminisce over every conversation we ever had.” He paused for a beat. “Or was it eleven?”
Caro said nothing. Her mind reeled. A strange sensation stirred in the pit of her stomach and she felt sick.
Alistair continued his rant. His every word was a dagger. “The point is, my dear, that you think every person with power will use it to control people. That every noble, every king and queen is using any ounce of influence they have to make everyone lower succumb to their selfish will.”
“Most of them do.” Caro muttered.
“But not me. And if you think that I would do something like that then you don’t know who I am. Maybe you never did. But I know you. And I know that you taunt and goad me because I hurt you and you’re angry with me. Now you want to hurt me like I hurt you and I deserve it.”
Alistair took a step closer. His tone softened. “I’ve told you that I’m sorry, that I regret what happened. I would take it back if I could. I’d take back all the years that I spent away from you. I can’t though. I’d say I would make it up to you if I thought it was possible.”
Caro closed her eyes. The obvious pain that Alistair held onto pierced her heart and she felt something in her finally break. The pieces shattered on the ground and she knew that he didn’t deserve the hurt that she held onto. Alistair didn’t deserve the bitterness and anger that she threw at him. He had not relented. From the moment he arrived at Vigil’s Keep he tried to apologize, to treat her kindly and every time she lashed out at him.
She lied to herself for twelve years. Caro told herself everyday that he had wanted this and was happier without her. It was easier to be angry than to be hurt. Anger was easier to hold onto. She laughed bitterly at herself and opened her eyes. She took in his appearance, from his reddish hair to his bemused expression to his strong firm hands resting on the hilt of his sword.
Caro inhaled deeply. “I never thought you were selfish.” She said, her words barely a whisper. “I am. I was angry with you for doing the right thing. You sacrificed what you wanted to try and make things better for Ferelden. And you did. You really did until they kicked you out.” Caro paused and wrapped her arms around her waist. She kept her face down. She couldn’t meet his gaze. “I couldn’t have done that. I’m too greedy. I was angry that you didn’t make the decision I would have because you’re a better person than me. Don’t regret that.”
Alistair said nothing, but Caro couldn’t muster the strength to look up at him. Her eyes burned and she closed them tight. She heard him shuffle his feet slightly and felt his hand beneath her chin. He raised her face to look at him. Caro finally opened her eyes. Her breath hitched when their eyes met. It was him. It was truly him, the Alistair that she knew all those years ago. The king had faded from him and now the man before her had the face of the boy who had loved her once. Concern marred his features as he drug his thumb over her cheek. The sensation sent shocks through her body, awakening any untouched corner of her.
“You’re crying.” He murmured.
“Really?” She whispered. She hadn’t even noticed. When was the last time she cried? Alistair wiped away a tear from her other cheek and Caro laughed feebly. He kept his thumb there, idly tracing the tattoo that marred her face since childhood. Caro felt her body inching closer to his of its own volition. His lazy touches lulled her into a dreamlike state. She could swear that he was getting closer. Alistair’s hot breath warmed her cheeks. She felt her eyes flutter closed.
Alistair heard it before she did and his body stiffened. Caro opened her eyes and then she heard it as well. The thundering sound of horses rang in the distance. They separated quickly and looked over the horizon. A cloud of dust enveloped around the riders. There was nowhere for them to hide. Endless sand dunes surrounded them. They couldn’t outrun horses.
Caro squinted her eyes as she looked into the distance.
“They’re armed.” She said.
“Quite well, too.” Alistair agreed. “They wear the Tevinter crest.”
“They don’t look like soldiers.”
“They’re not soldiers.” He said grimly.
“Would slavers try to capture two Grey Wardens?” Caro quipped. Alistair rested his hand on the hilt of his sword. “They can try.”
The men on horses surrounded them. Alistair counted five. Five armed men on horses. He narrowed his eyes as they stilled and the dust settled around the hooves. Alistair eyed each one, wondering which was the leader. The shortest man dismounted from his horse first, the others followed suit. Alistair didn’t take his eyes from him. Caro stood beside him, her stance seemed casual, but he knew she was ready to charge at any moment.
“What do we have here, boys?” The short man sneered. “I didn’t think we would find anything in the Plains. We usually have do go to Nevarra.”
“But that armor.” Another man muttered. The short man shook his head.
“Armor comes off. Men can be broken. I can think of a few magisters who could use a hulking bodyguard.” He glanced at Caro and sneered. “And I know a man who has a few…odd proclivities.”
Alistair’s blood boiled but he smirked. “But you don’t have Dwarven slaves. Don’t want to offend the people responsible for your leaders’ lyrium.”
The man frowned. “Well, Well. You’re not as dumb as you look.”
Alistair snorted. “Is this really what you want to happen? To have your last few words be some pitiful insult?”
“Don’t like having your intelligence affronted, boy?”
“My intelligence has been questioned by people far more terrifying than you.” Alistair sighed. “If you really want to die today than we can certainly accommodate you.”
The man laughed loudly. “You and a dwarf against me and my boys? You’re a little outnumbered.”
Caro snorted beside him. Alistair smiled. “It hasn’t stopped us before.”
The men drew their weapons and slowly started to close in on them. Caro drew her daggers.
“Alistair.” She whispered. “Do you remember the Balista?”
He felt his eyes grow wide. “It’s been a really long time.” He muttered back. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” She said. “The big one, directly behind you. On three.”
“One.” Caro muttered as Alistair kneeled. Still without taking his eyes off his enemy. The man seemed confused.
“Two.” They took a step as Alistair interlocked his fingers; Caro deftly set a foot on them without any weight behind it.
“THREE!” Her full weight on his hands, Alistair raised himself quickly, Caro along with him, and hurled her towards the man behind him. The large lumbering creature looked terrified as Caro flew through the air with her daggers unsheathed. The image made Alistair want to laugh but he had to turn and draw his sword against the men coming at him. Three men faced him, they shouted and came at him together.
Alistair ducked and easily kicked the man on his right to the ground. It would give him a moment to focus on the other two. He heard the gurgled scream as Caro’s blade sliced through the neck of the man she landed on. He fell to the ground as another came at her. The man on his left had his guard down as he watched his comrade fall. Alistair swung his sword and sliced him through the middle. Blood sputtered from his lips as he crumpled to the ground.
These men were not trained soldiers. He thought grimly. They were no better than bandits and fools to think they could come up against two trained Grey Wardens.
Alistair focused his attention on the leader of the band, the only man left in his way. He could hear the scuffling of Caro and the other man behind him. He put it out of his mind. If he thought of her now, he may lose his own and die. He aimed for the man’s head, but the blow was parried. He tried for a jab, but the man jumped back. Alistair scowled. The leader was significantly better than the men he employed. But Alistair assumed that with this line of work, there was always a need for fresh blood.
They exchanged blows; their steel rang out against the silence of the desert. The Tevinter stumbled and Alistair knew he had him. His guard faltered for only a moment while he tried to regain his feet. Alistair did not hesitate to run him through. The man’s eyes widened in shock before fading. Alistair breathed a sigh of relief as he turned to look for Caro. She stood over the bodies of two dead men and watched him; her daggers dripped blood onto the sand, her face red from exertion.
Alistair worked to catch his breath. “You alright?” He asked between breaths. Caro nodded with an odd expression on her face. She walked over to where he stood and surveyed the bodies on the ground. “Guess we should see if they have anything good on them.”
Alistair laughed breathlessly as he turned away from her. Some things never changed. He only wanted away from the bodies, and instead turned his attention to the horses that the men rode. They were pitiful things, probably past their primes and far to skinny. He silently debated whether or not they should take two of them. It could make their journey easier or make them much more liable to stand out. He turned to Caro to ask her opinion, but what he saw drained the color from his face.
She kneeled above one of the slaver, reading a note found in his pocket. She was completely unaware of the Tevinter slaver standing behind her, he limped but managed to have his sword raised and soon it would descend upon her. Alistair shouted her name and lunged. Shit. He thought. How could I have forgotten the man I knocked down? How could I have not been aware?
He thought of all the years he trained with the Templars, the Grey Wardens, and the castle soldiers. How could he have made such a critical error? Caro was quick, she drew her dagger and turned, but it would have been too late. The blade would have drove into her neck had Alistair not tumbled on top of her.
Alistair heard the chink as his armor broke. He felt the burn as the blade went into his skin. Deeper it sunk into his waist. The world began to fade; blackness marred the edges of his vision. He heard Caro’s shout as her dagger went into the man’s neck, a muffled cry and then there was only darkness.
Caro pulled her blade from the slaver’s throat. Alistair lay limp on the ground. He wasn’t moving. Her throat went dry.
“Fuck! You idiot! Why did you do that?” She pulled him away from the dead bodies and tried to flip him over to see the wound. “Ugh. Come on, you lummox.”
Shit. It was bad. It was really bad. Blood seeped through his armor and onto the sand. The side of the man’s blade had dug into Alistair’s waist. Caro took a breath and tried to remain calm. She searched for their packs, hoping to find plenty of bandages. Dammit. Why did he have to do that?
She found the pack, and luckily had enough linen to wrap it around him. She looked at Alistair. She really needed to move him; they needed to get away from here before more people showed up. She eyed the horses of the dead Tevinter men. She hated horses, but she couldn’t have Alistair die on her. Not here. Caro would have to get his armor off of him to dress the wound properly, but for now she would simply have to wrap it until she could find a safe place for them.
Caro wrapped the linen around Alistair’s waist as tight as she could. It seemed to slow the bleeding a bit. He didn’t move much while she did. His skin was white and cold. Now she only had the small task of getting him on one of those horses. She inhaled before standing over him. She took his face in her hands and shook him. Nothing. She slapped him hard across the cheek and shouted his name.
He murmured something and her heart skipped. She shook him again.
“Hey! You giant idiot!” She yelled slowly. “I need you to stand up. You have to get on that horse so we can get out of here. You’re too heavy for me to pick up so I need you to get up.”
His eyes opened and he seemed to see her, but not understand who she was. He tried to stir. Caro stood back and helped pull him to his feet.
“Yes. Yes. That’s good, love. Come on.” When she got him on his feet he leaned heavily on her. The breath went out of her lungs at his weight.
“Fucking humans are so heavy.” She ground out as she tried to direct his feet on the right path. They reached one of the horses. She peered up at his face. His eyes were open but he didn’t seem to know where he was.
“Alistair.” She exhaled. “Do you think you can get on that horse?”
His hand went to his side. “I don’t think I can.” He whispered. His eyes were glazed and far away.
“Please, love. Please, you have to try.”
Alistair leaned on her shoulder as his foot landed in the stirrup. He took the reigns in his hands and pulled himself over with a pained shout. But he was there. He was on the horse. He didn’t seem steady though. He looked as though any moment he may pass out again. Caro held up her hands.
“Just stay there. I’ll get our stuff and I’ll come up.” She ran to grab their packs as well as some of the dead slavers’ saddlebags. She tied them together and threw them over the horse before climbing up herself in a very undignified fashion.
“I hate horses.” She snarled as she finally as she sat up in the saddle in front of Alistair. The timing was serendipitous as he slumped over on her shoulder as soon as she was up. She pulled his arms around her waist to try and keep him from falling off as they rode.
Caro’s feet couldn’t reach the stirrups but the horse was responsive and recognized the kick of her heels and took off. Caro’s eyes grazed the landscape. Where would they go? She assumed that they were in Tevinter. Alistair was too weak to help her fight anyone else off, so she had to stay away from towns. They had to get out of the plains. Caro surmised that their best chance would be west, back to the river. They could hopefully find a small grove on its shores. It couldn’t be too far from where they were now. But Alistair didn’t have much time. She felt his short shallow breaths on her neck and urged the horse into a gallop.
She rode hard and fast. Her heart beat heavily and her mind raced with every outcome. Alistair could not die. Not now. She blinked the tears away from her eyes. She felt broken. Something formed on the horizon. It was a dark line against the sand. As she got closer, the grass came back in short patches, the thin and yellow against the sand with spots of green. The she could see it, the trees against the sky. The landscape gave way meadows and were now dotted across the land. At first, they were twisted and dry, but soon they began to race past more floras. She could hear the river in the distance and sighed with relief. Surely they would find somewhere along the river to camp, somewhere safe for Alistair to heal.
She slowed the horse as they neared the river. Dusk settled over the land bathing everything in a pale blue light. She found a small grove not too far from the river, there were no signs of settlements or towns. This would be the spot. It would have to be. She clamored down from the saddle and Alistair fell after her. Caro grunted as he landed on top of her. She pulled him away from the horse. His face winced in pain but he did not wake. His skin was pale and covered in a fine sheen of cold sweat. Caro pulled their things off the horse and shooed it towards the river. It could find its way home and she didn’t need anyone to be led there by its tracks.
Caro leaned down towards Alistair. She removed the linen, now soaked in blood and tossed it aside. Now she began the work of removing his armor. She undid the belt that held his tasset. She removed the gauntlets and vambraces and finally his breastplate. Now he only had the mail that he wore beneath. She loosened the ties and pulled it over his head. The entire process was exhausting. The man was a lumbering hulk that didn’t help one bit. Now he was finally in his shirtsleeves and leather breeches. Blood seeped through the thin cloth and spread throughout his shirt. Caro lifted his shirt and felt her breathing hitch at the sight of the wound. It was bad. The fact that he still lived was nothing short of a miracle.
Caro shut her eyes and inhaled. She could do this. She had bandaged plenty of wounds before. She opened her eyes and set herself to the task. She searched through their own packs for everything she needed and then looked through the bags of the men they killed. She found more bandages and a flask. She opened it up and sniffed. Caro coughed. Tevinter whiskey smelled horrible, but she took a swig to settle her nerves.
She got water from the nearby river and cleaned the wound, Alistair flinched and groaned but he did not wake. Caro took another swig of whiskey and started to stitch the wound. She was grateful that Alistair was unconscious. This would have been much worse otherwise. For me. Caro reminded herself. Alistair had a high tolerance for pain and would grit his teeth and bared it.
Once she had the wound stitched she laved it in a poultice that Valenna made for her. Finally she used the remaining clean linen to wrap around his chest. She lifted him up to push the bandage under him. She willed her mind not to think about how strong and hard his chest felt beneath her arms. Was he this muscular before? The man had obviously not taken any time off during his years as king.
Caro shook her head. Keep him alive. Then you can ogle him.
“There.” She whispered as she sat back on her haunches. The wound was stitched. The bandage was tight. There was very little blood coming through. With luck, he might make it through the night.
Caro stood with her hands on her hips as she surveyed her accomplishments. She gathered wood, built a fire, put up the tent, hauled Alistair’s giant ass in the tent. She filled their canteens with clean water from the river. The sky was black; the new moon had not yet shown its light. Caro was exhausted. She lugged herself into the tent to check on Alistair. Some of his color had returned, but he was too warm. She lifted his head and poured water down his throat. He coughed sputtered but she did not relent.
“You’re not dying of a fever.” She muttered. “Not after I drug your ass halfway across Tevinter. So drink the fucking water.”
Caro sighed once she was satisfied that enough had gone down his throat. She needed sleep. But she needed to keep watch. A few hours of sleep, she could get by on that. It’s not as though they would be going anywhere the next day.
Caro shrugged off her armor and laid her bedroll on the other side of the tent. It was better to share a tent with him while he recovered, easier to keep watch over him. She pulled the blanket over her body and listened to the night noises: The rustling of trees, the river flowing, Alistair’s soft breath, and the cracking of the fire outside. Her body wanted sleep, but her mind would not quiet. She feared to close her eyes and wake to find him slipped away.
Caro forced her mind elsewhere. She remembered the lonely nights at Vigil’s Keep when all she wanted was this. For all those long years she missed the cold nights sleeping on the ground with Alistair’s sleeping body lying next to hers. She remembered how he tossed and muttered in his sleep. How he would wake up and pull her to him, placing half-sleeping kisses on her face.
Caro exhaled and turned her back to him. She forced her eyes closed and tried to think of something else. But she had opened a door and soon other memories came rushing out.
She wandered away from camp. Sometimes she felt completely overwhelmed by everything she was supposed to accomplish. Gather an army and kill monsters bent on destroying the world. Just a few months before her only goal in life was to have a meal at least once a day. That life seemed so long ago, so far away. Soon she would have to return to Orzammar and see the place that rejected her.
She heard footsteps beside her. She turned quickly, ready to fight, only to see him. He grinned.
“I’m sorry. Did I startle you?”
Caro smiled. “A little.”
It was hard for her to get used to him. He was always so kind and genuine. There was no ulterior motive, no hidden agenda with Alistair. He was unlike any man she had ever known. But she was raised on the bottom rung of Dwarven society. She was dust. She was nothing. Caro sat on a tree stump and Alistair crouched beside her as he surveyed the meadows below the hill on which they camped.
“Do you think you’ll miss it?” He asked. “All the fighting and darkspawn killing, sleeping on the ground, trudging through the mud?”
“Sure.” She laughed as she turned to him. It was odd to see him face to face when he usually towered over her. “I’ll long for these nights when I’m sleeping in a soft warm bed.”
Alistair gave a short laugh. His voice sounded nervous. “I suppose what I’m trying to…Maker. I’m bad at this.”
Caro laughed. “Bad at what?”
He didn’t reply, at least not with words. His answer was to press his lips firmly against her own. Caro’s eyes widened. When was the last time she had been kissed? Had she ever been kissed? Quick trysts in Dust Town rarely consisted of romance. Caro closed her eyes and willed away the unpleasant memories of her previous life. She wanted to enjoy this, enjoy him. His kiss was firm, but soft. He coaxed her mouth open with his lips and delved inside. Alistair hinted at being inexperienced, but this he had definitely done before. His hand slipped to her waist and pulled her closer. She twined her fingers in his hair.
Alistair stirred and Caro sat up quickly and turned back to him. He merely muttered something about Redcliffe and settled back to sleep. Caro sighed. She hated getting lost in memories. For the past twelve years she tortured herself with these memories. She tried to let them go, tried to move on but was never able to. She glanced at Alistair’s sleeping form. It seemed he wasn’t able to either. She groaned and gave up sleeping as she went outside to keep watch.
It was their third day camping and Alistair had yet to rouse. Every day Caro cleaned his wound and dressed it again. Every day she tried to force water down his throat. She made a broth from the bones and meat of a rabbit she killed and poured that down his throat as well. Every night she kept watch as she waited for more Tevinters, bandits, or Anora’s assassins. She paced about the camp considering every possible thing that could go wrong.
Alistair dying was at the top of this list. His fever raged on and Caro did everything she could to keep it at bay. She laid cool wet cloths over his forehead to cool him. Caro spoke to him, she knew he could not hear her but the words set her own mind at ease. It gave her something to think about other than his possible demise. She spoke of everything that occurred since they parted. She told him of Nathaniel, Anders, and Velanna; Of broodmothers in the Deep Roads. She told him every stupid pointless thing she had learned over the course of twelve years.
On the third evening, his fever broke. Caro felt such a weight lifted from her shoulders that she thought she might cry. The wound looked better everyday. She hoped it wouldn’t be too long till he was awake and they could leave. Every day that someone didn’t stumble on their camp was a blessing and she didn’t know how much more luck she had left.
Caro left the tent and went to sit by the fire to keep watch.
In his dream he saw the vultures circle overhead, he felt the fire singe his skin. It scalded and seared but he did not burn up. His throat was cracked and he ached for water, but still the fire raged about him. He heard a voice, soft and cool; it cut through the haze and washed over him like a balm. Scenes from the past played for him like a theatre that he was forced to endure.
He saw himself as a young boy. Left in a place that was unfamiliar, alone and forgotten. He saw himself as a young man, initiated in the Wardens and feeling like he belonged somewhere for once in his life. It was taken away so quickly. Soon they were all dead and it was only him and a woman he only just met. He was glad that she was alive. He was glad not to be alone again, but she was wary and hostile towards him. Who is this woman? He had wondered. She expected every good gesture to have a price, a catch. She looked at him as though he weren’t real. Was he real? Sometimes he didn’t know. He didn’t feel real right now as he drifted through the haze.
He saw her again. He knew her. He loved her. Her name was Caro. He thought the name odd when she first told him. He assumed it was a Dwarven name. He didn’t know it was short for a longer name. What was it? Why couldn’t he remember it? He remembered everything about her.
He saw himself in Denerim as king. He lied in bed and stare at his canopy while listening to the sounds of the city through his open window. He tortured himself with memories. Some days almost slipped by without a giving a thought to her, but he could never make it through the night without remembering something about her.
He dreamt of Orzammar and when they travelled there during the blight. Caro didn’t want to return. He didn’t think it could be that bad, but he was wrong. How could they treat their lowest as they did? How did Caro survive that life? He wasn’t sure he would have been able to. The dwarves saw the brand on her face-the one they gave her- and spat at her. He had never felt angry on anyone’s behalf before. He never wanted to leave a place so quickly. He suddenly understood why she didn’t trust kindness, why she looked for the strings behind every act.
Her sister didn’t call her Caro. She called her by her full name. What was it? Why couldn’t he remember it? Caro hated it. She said it was ‘too fine for a Duster’. Fancy, she called it. He thought it was beautiful like her. She blushed when he told her so.
In his dream he realized that flames had subsided. His skin felt cool and relieved. The haze cleared a bit. He felt lighter. He heard her voice again. It went on and on, though he couldn’t understand the words. It was comforting to hear. It was something he longed for so many years. He felt lighter as the haze cleared away. There was darkness around him. He could hear the rushing of a river, the crackling of a fire. His mind bubbled to the surface and he was almost there.
Alistair rasped as he jolted awake. His eyes searched through the darkness for any sign of where he was. His eyes adjusted to the soft orange glow that bathed the tent. He calmed and tried to slow his breathing. He searched through the haze of his mind as he tried to remember what happened. He remembered Caro in the plains, her eyes downcast as she chewed on her bottom lip. It was a bad habit and he wanted to kiss her. He was going to kiss her, to feel her lips against his again and sooth the ache in his heart. What had stopped him? The memory hit him heavily. Horses. Slavers. Swords. Blood on the sand. Caro.
He tried to sit up; he needed to find her. He needed to see her and make sure she was alright. His body was stiff and a sharp pain shot through him when he tried to move. Alistair winced in pain and looked down at his body. His chest was bare, save for the bandage wrapped tightly across his waist. He wore only his linen trousers; at least he had a little dignity.
Sweat beaded on his brow as he tried to move. He groaned with every effort as pain wracked his body. He managed to get to the edge of the tent and lifted the flap. Alistair sighed with relief when he saw Caro. She sat at the edge of the fire, her knees pulled up to her chin. Her eyes were shut and her head tilted slightly forward. Alistair smiled as he managed to stand. He gripped his wounded side and stumbled towards the fire.
Caro awoke with a jolt as he sat heavily beside her. Her black-rimmed sapphire eyes grew wide as she noticed him.
“Alistair.” She said breathlessly. She placed her palm on his forehead. “You should be resting. Your fever’s only just gone down.”
He smiled feebly. “How long was I out?”
His brows shot up. “Four days?” He was in shock as he looked at the camp. “Where are we? How did you get me here?”
“Somewhere on the river.” She yawned. “We rode here on one of the slavers’ horses. I sent it off.”
Alistair frowned and nodded. It didn’t really explain much but Caro looked exhausted. “Have you slept at all?” He asked.
“Just a little at a time.” She replied. “I didn’t want anyone sneaking up on us while you recovered.”
He sighed as he thought of everything she must have done the last few days to keep him alive. “I suppose I owe you my life yet again.”
She gave him a weak smile. “I think we’re even. If you hadn’t been so stupid and brave then I would be dead instead of you being almost dead.”
“Yes, well...” He smiled while shifting his legs “I’d do it again so do try to have a care.”
She gave a weak laugh. “You should get some rest.”
“I think you need it more.” Alistair said frowning. Caro scoffed.
“If someone attacks us, how are you going to fend them off like that?”
“That’s easy. I’ll just yell for you.” He gave her a lopsided smile and Caro laughed.
“The sooner you recover, the sooner we can leave. You need rest to recover.”
“I feel like at the moment, I need food more.”
Caro’s eyes widened. She jumped up. “Oh, Of course.” She reached for a small bowl near the fire.
“Here.” She said handing it to him. “It’s a bit of rabbit that I found today.”
She handed him the bowl and a cask of water. Alistair ate eagerly.
“Still a terrible hunter?” He asked between bites.
“In my defense, there are not a lot of wild animals in Orzammar.”
“What have you done without my superior skills all these years?”
“I’ve barely survived.” She said sardonically. Alistair grinned as he drank the water. It soothed his dry cracked throat.
They sat in a comfortable silence for some time. Caro stared into the fire.
“When I lived in Orzammar, I lived in filth and had a horrible life like every other casteless. But the dwarves make the surface seem like an uninhabitable wasteland. Coming up here never seemed like an option. Once I got used to the open air and not feeling like I was going to constantly throw up every time I looked up-It wasn’t that bad. People don’t really care where you were born. If you’re willing to work hard you can have a good life.
“When I was a child, my mother told me that my father ran off and left us. When she was especially drunk one evening she told me that when I was born he tried to get her to leave with him, to take my sister and me to the surface. He thought we could have a good life. She refused. She put it as “his foolish dream of a better life.”
Caro was silent for a moment. Alistair sat quietly beside her. She never spoke to him of her father. He simply assumed that she didn’t know who he was.
“For the longest time I didn’t know which of them I hated more.” She muttered. “Maybe my mother. I can’t believe she stayed there when she had a way out. If I had children I would give everything for them to have a better life than I had. But then again…” She sighed. “If you’re told you’re nothing for long enough, you eventually start to believe it.”
“You don’t believe that, do you?” Alistair asked softly. She looked up at him as though she forgot he was there. Caro shrugged.
“I don’t know. I lived in Orzammar longer than I’ve been on the surface. It’s hard to unlearn everything. Was it hard to be king after being a bastard your entire life?”
Alistair scoffed. “I never stopped being a bastard for many of the nobles. They didn’t let me forget that I was Maric’s by blow unless they wanted something from me.”
“They sound like a lovely bunch. I’m amazed you managed to get anything done at all with them in the way.”
“I can be quite charming when I put my mind to it. ” He grinned. Caro smiled slightly.
“I know.” She said. Their gazes locked for a silent moment. Her eyes were soft and sad. He remembered the look from all those years ago. Even in his bumbling youth he knew what that look meant. It was something that he shared with her: loneliness. He opened his mouth to speak but Caro abruptly turned away and spoke tersely.
“You should get some rest. We need to leave as soon as you’re able.”
Alistair stretched his shoulder beneath his armor. Caro eyed him suspiciously.
“Are you sure you’re up to this?” She asked as she packed up what was left of the camp. “You still can’t move very fast.”
“I’m fine.” Alistair groaned, tired of her protests. “Going slow is better than not going at all, right?”
He flashed her a quick grin that did nothing to east Caro’s doubts. She sighed and threw her bag over her shoulder and they set off into the early dawn light. Their progress was slow, Alistair’s wound made it difficult for him to walk very quickly or for long periods of time. Occasionally he would clutch his side and grimace, but insisted to Caro that he was fine.
Most of the time Caro was too tired to argue with him. She eyed him as they walked together in silence. He always had a boyish look about him, especially when he smiled. But he also had a smoldering man that lingered beneath the surface. She remembered him as bashful, but adoring and earnest. But one of the evenings they sat by the fire as he recovered, he gave her a look that held something she had never seen in him before: lust. There was unbridled passion in his dark eyes. It bespoke of a man who took what he wanted. It was only a moment. A moment of lost control before his veneer was replaced.
Caro didn’t comment on it. She tried not to speak too much. She tended to prattle on when she was tired and revealed things that were better kept hidden.
A tendril of yellow hair escaped her coiffure. She moved to tuck it behind her ear and stumbled. Alistair was at her side within a moment.
“Are you alright?” He asked. It seemed strange, she only tripped and she didn’t even fall. A small laugh escaped her throat.
“I’m fine. You’re the one limping through Tevinter.”
Alistair smirked. “Well, you haven’t slept much in the last week so forgive me for thinking you fell asleep on your feet.”
“Look at us.” She laughed. “Two perfect examples of the Grey Warden stamina.”
Alistair laughed with her and they continued walking. It was silent before he spoke again.
“You know I once had a woman proposition me with a line like that.”
Caro’s mouth opened in shock. “Really? Surely she was a bit more eloquent.”
Alistair grinned and shook his head. “Some bann’s wife. I think he put her up to it. Probably trying to entrap me in a scandal. She said, ‘I hear the Grey Warden stamina is legendary. I would love to see it.’”
Caro snorted. “What happened when you turned her down? Because I’m sure you have more dignity than to give into a line like that.”
“I’m glad you have such faith in me.” He said. “It took everything I had not to laugh in her face. She wasn’t as polite after I refused. I believe the words ‘illegitimate swine’ were in her reply.”
Caro laughed but she felt sad for him. Since the blight he had lived a life surrounded by people who hated and resented him. She had the Grey Wardens and her friends. She glanced at him again. He stood tall beside her and surveyed their path as they continued.
“What?” He asked when he noticed her eyeing him. “What’s that look for?”
“You never complain.” She said without hesitation. “Life throws its shit at you and you never complain, you just go with it and do what you have to do. You’re never bitter. I’m a bit jealous.”
“Trust me, my dear. I do complain. Just quietly to myself.”
Caro smiled. “I was just thinking that you’re admirable.”
She felt Alistair bristle beside her but he said nothing. Caro regretted speaking. She always talked too much when she was tired. She talked too much all the time. They continued to walk in silence for a long time.
The landscape didn’t change much. They kept the river to their right and stayed off the main roads. They stopped occasionally to give Alistair a break. Every time they stopped, Caro felt as though she may fall asleep. She needed to keep moving. Alistair eyed her warily.
The sky shifted to a bright orange just before dusk. Alistair suggested that they should make camp for the evening. Caro agreed heartily. The night air was cool and the sky was clear so Caro decided to forgo the tents and lay her bedroll before the fire that Alistair built. They sat together and broke out a bit of the food that they had left.
“Hopefully, I can do some hunting tomorrow evening.” Alistair muttered as he took a bite.
Caro yawned. “Do you remember how to hunt, Your Grace?”
Alistair rolled his eyes. “I can’t be worse than you.”
Caro gave a feeble laugh as she rubbed her face.
“You should sleep.” Alistair said as he judged the dark circles beneath her eyes. Caro shook her head.
“I’ll keep watch. You rest. You’re still very weak.”
“No.” He said firmly. Caro cocked an eyebrow. “You were asleep on your feet today. You need to sleep. Stop being stubborn.”
“But what if…”
“I’ll watch for a bit. And it’s not as though we’re heavy sleepers.”
Caro shook her head. “I don’t think…”
“Stop arguing. I’m not relenting on this.”
Caro cocked her head. “Are you using your ‘King’ voice on me?”
Alistair grinned. “I am. Is it working?”
“Yes.” She laughed. “Maybe it’s because I’m so tired. Or maybe ‘King Alistair’ seems too hard to resist.”
Her face blushed. “I’m talking too much again. But you win.”
Caro took off her armor till she was simply in her tunic and trousers. She then unceremoniously collapsed on her bedroll and was soon asleep.
Alistair exhaled as he stared into the fire. Caro’s soft slow breathing meant that she had finally fallen asleep. Her slumbering body wasn’t far from him. She slept near the fire, near him. He could easily reach out and touch her hair, but he didn’t want to disturb her. But he did relish the opportunity to stare at her uninterrupted.
Her face had changed from what it was when they first met. They were barely adults then, little more than children. Her face was fresh and white from having never seen the sun. It had browned some, but her hair was still a brilliant golden. It now hung loose and tangled as she slept. Her lips were plump and pink. He found himself staring at them whenever he could. He wanted to kiss her, to show her how much he still loved her.
Still? Had he ever stopped? Over the long years he sometimes wondered if he would love the woman that Caro had become or if he would only love the woman that she was during the blight. People change. He had changed. He wondered if she realized how she had changed. Caro had never admitted that she could be wrong. Admitting fault was a weakness, and from a young age she learned never to admit to having a weakness. Weakness can be exploited. But now she opened herself up to him in a way she never had before. Years ago, her pride would never allow her to lose an argument, but now she took the time to see the other side. She surprised Alistair. She had grown. He supposed he had as well, but how wasn’t as obvious to him.
Caro was still the same in many ways. She was stubborn, she tried to pick fights. She still had a fierce sense of right and wrong. She would give up everything for her friends. She risked much by undertaking this journey for him, and she saved his life on top of that. He owed her so much. And he loved her again.
It wasn’t a shocking realization as it had been the previous time. He didn’t really know what love was in his youth.
The thought hit him hard in the stomach and made him ache. He merely sat with the assassin, listening to his tales of adventures in strange places that Alistair never dreamt of when he saw her across the camp. Her eyes were bright and blue as she laughed. Caro and Leliana laughed together at something Oghren said. She doubled over and held her sides.
She was beautiful. She was special. She looked at him as though she knew him. She never looked at him as though he were less than anything. She never saw the bastard, the Templar or even the Grey Warden. She saw Alistair, the man.
Their eyes met and Alistair felt his cheeks warm over. Her own face reddened and the realization hit Alistair that he made her feel exactly the same as she made him. How could that be? She was so worldly and beautiful, while he was naïve and inexperienced. How could he possibly make her blush? Their companions cut glances between the two of them. There had already been speculation and gossip amongst them. No doubt they wondered where the two of them escaped to when they snuck away for a quick kiss. He wanted to kiss her now. He wanted to kiss her forever. He never wanted to be apart from her. Was this love? He didn’t know. He only knew that being near her addled his senses. A base primal instinct in him wanted to take control when he was near her. He wanted to gather her in his arms and take her somewhere to be alone with him forever.
What would she say if he told her this? If he told her the thoughts he had of her late in the night? Would she be frightened? Would she laugh in his face?
A breaking branch and a scurrying of tiny feet broke him from his reverie. He sighed as he leaned his head back, staring at the night sky. His mind was a muddle. He wanted her to know how he felt, but how would she respond? He remembered when he first uttered the words to her, it was buried in a joke. He was terrified of her rejection and he hid the words in jest. She found them though, and admitted feeling the same for him.
He no longer feared her lingering anger at his leaving her. She seemed to understand why he did it. While he knew he made the right decision, he could not separate himself from the regret that he felt all these years, that he felt still. He wished the world were different. He wished that Ferelden could accept someone who wasn’t human but they were held back in many ways. The rumors alone of his and Caro’s prior relationship riled some of the nobles against him from the beginning.
He reached a hand out and ran his fingers softly through her long hair. She stirred only a moment, but he withdrew anyway. The simple touch sent chills through his body, he longed for her. He desired her still. Would he be able to tell her? Would he be able to make love to her again? He longed to run his hands down her smooth skin, to touch her, to make her quiver for him. He wanted to hear her soft sighs and see her skin blush. He wanted to taste her and never forget.
Ok. I'm back again. This chapter is a bit longer than the others, but I realized that my slow burn was turning into a really big effing slow burn. So I was determined to change that in this chapter. So here's a little less slow and a little more burn, but not that much.
The further into Tevinter they traveled, the more diverse the land was. High and rocky mountains framed the horizon. Rivers cut through the land and the grass was lush and green. They had no more trouble from slavers and most of the farmers whose land they passed through were friendly. A small city loomed in the distance. Homes became clearer as they neared, the town began to bustle. There were no city gates although it was a sizable town. Caro eyed the ancient buildings that were unlike anything she had ever seen. Beautiful tile mosaics decorated the outside of public baths. There were beautiful, delicate stained glass windows as well as many small dragon statues worked into the frieze.
Caro and Alistair eyed the monuments to the old gods that still stood.
“Have you ever been to Tevinter?” She asked Alistair as they walked down the clay streets. He shook his head.
“Never had a need to go personally. Though I did have ambassadors relay me stories of the place.”
Caro noticed that there were more dwarves in Tevinter than she had ever seen in any surface city. Many of the people who passed her were her own height. They nodded in her direction if she made eye contact. She shook her head in disbelief. That would have never happened in Orzammar. She would have been lucky if they saw her brand and didn’t spit below the surface.
“I’ve heard there’s an entire culture of dwarven houses in Tevinter.” She told Alistair. “The largest population in any country.”
“Feel at home?” He asked.
“It is nice to not be surrounded by freakishly tall humans.”
Alistair laughed. “This city isn’t as big as some of the others. I think it’s mainly a trading hub. It’s also the last town we will have a chance to stock up in. A lot of nothing between here and Weisshaupt.”
Caro nodded. She knew this but had been avoiding thinking about it. There was a lot of uncertainty on the remainder of their journey. They still had to travel through the Anderfels, full of zealots and sandstorms, and make it to the First Warden-If he was still alive that is. There was no news out of Weisshaupt and no one knew exactly what was happening there.
“We should get a room here.” Alistair said pulling Caro from her dark thoughts and plunging her into completely different dark thoughts. His face reddened. “I mean…we should stay in a inn tonight, since it will just be red dirt from here on out. I didn’t mean…”
Caro laughed. “I knew what you meant. But you’re cute when you blush.”
Alistair looked down and gave her an endearing smile. Her heart beat faster and Caro forced herself to look away. During the last few days of their journey he smiled at her more, walked closer to her. Or was it her imagination? She hoped not. She tried for so long to forget how much she still wanted him, but now she had given up. She knew that she was opening herself up to another potential heartbreak, but it was too hard to fight. It was too hard to separate what her desire from what her heart needed. They were one in the same.
But did he feel the same as her? Was he about to kiss her in the plain those few weeks ago? Or was she simply seeing things that were not there because she wished them to be? She wasn’t sure. She doubted herself when it came to him. Caro doubted that Alistair was interested in her twelve years ago. She simply could not understand what he saw in her. Even her own kind saw her as nothing. Why would a handsome human choose her when they could have a human woman? Or an elf?
Caro shook the thoughts from her head. She was simply tired was all. That was why these ridiculous thoughts were swimming around in her head. Dusk was settling in and the streets bustled with people going home from the market. She pointed out a large inn on the corner. Alistair nodded.
“Just try not to get into any fights this time.” He laughed while flashing a grin at her. Caro cringed at the memory but laughed with him.
The innkeeper was a haggard looking elven woman who gave them odd glances.
“Only one room left. ” She spat out. Caro and Alistair exchanged glances and shrugged.
“That’s fine.” Caro said as she threw coins on the counter. The innkeeper snatched them up.
“Sheets are clean.” She pocketed the coins. “You want a bath too? Two coppers.”
Caro tossed her the money. “There’s four. Make sure the water is hot and fresh.”
The innkeeper smirked and raised her eyebrows. “Of course, M’lady dwarf.” She muttered under her breath as she directed a young servant to show them to the room.
“Oh good.” Caro muttered as she turned away. “I get fidgety when I don’t get insulted at least once a day.”
Alistair groaned. “No fights.” He reminded her.
“Don’t worry.” She laughed, “I’m not going to attack the ancient innkeeper.”
The servant, a young girl, showed them into the room and ducked off muttering something. They stepped into the small room. The fire roared in the hearth, the air smelled of lavender and the sheets on the bed did look clean. Caro frowned. There was only one bed, and it was quite narrow. Alistair and she exchanged glances.
“It’s mine.” She said quickly.
“No.” He replied.
“I haven’t slept in days.”
“I was gravely wounded. I could have died.”
“I stayed awake all those days making sure you didn’t die.”
Alistair crossed his arms. He opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by a curt knock on the door. Two servants came in the room carrying a small hip bath. The water steamed from the brim and sloshed as they set it down before rushing out of the room. Excitement bubbled inside of her.
“Out of all of the great things the surface has to offer, baths are probably the best.”
“They don’t bathe in Orzammar?”
“Not the casteless. It’s hard enough to find water to drink, we couldn’t waste it on cleaning ourselves.”
Alistair gave her a slight smile. “I’ll leave you to it, then.” He said as he walked to the door. “I’ll be in the tavern.”
He left, but Caro waited a moment anyway to make sure that he is completely gone before she disrobed. She gingerly stepped into the small copper tub and let the heat soothe her aching muscles. She knelt down in the water and felt all of the stress of her trip melt away into the steamy scented water.
Alistair found a quiet corner. The inn’s tavern was far less raucous than the previous inn. Most of the patrons sat quietly as they drank their ale, some sat together talking quietly. No one seemed to notice him in the corner, which was just as well. He didn’t really want to be noticed.
He took a swig from the tankard that the barkeep had placed in front of him. It tasted sweet, much better than anything he expected to find in the middle of nowhere. It helped take his mind off the rest of their journey. They were going to the Anderfels, it was a land known to be harsh and dangerous. There had also been no news from Weisshaupt in months. That was another worry that he didn’t really want to think about right now.
He tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling. He eyes idly glanced over planks of wood as his mind wandered. He tried not to think of Caro, of what she was doing right now. Alistair didn’t want to think about how not far from him she was taking a bath. He didn’t want his mind to conjure up the image of her naked in the copper hip bath as she washed the dirt from her body. Nor did he want to think of how smooth her pale skin would shine when wet.
Alistair took another drink of the sweet ale and wished it were bitter. Visions of her from years ago flashed in his mind and he frowned. He had trouble conjuring up the finer details of her body. It had been far too long.
He saw her from the corner of his eye. She searched for him in the tavern, when their eyes met Alistair's breath hitched. Her long golden hair hung loose down her back; her skin flushed from her bath. She wore only a linen shirt and trousers. He had almost forgot what she looked like without her armor. He felt his control slipping away before he reigned it back in. He wanted to gather her up and take her. He wanted to feel her body again.
Her words shook him out of his haze. “Your turn.” She smiled. Alistair nodded but found he couldn’t say much as he left her in the tavern.
Caro felt better. It was good to be rid of all the dirt, even if just for an evening. She knew that the next day it would be worse. She sighed and signaled for the bar wench to bring her a drink and then sat quietly eyeing the other patrons of the tavern.
It wasn’t terribly crowded. There were a few men playing a game of cards, women sitting on their laps. A few worn-down looking dwarves sat huddled together speaking softly. She tried to think of the last time she visited a tavern before this journey.
She remembered a visit she paid to the Orlesian wardens, long before they went insane. Nathaniel, Velanna and her traveled together on that trip. The blight was over, but there were rumors of mage and Templar troubles coming from the Free Marches. It was strange how that seemed like a simpler time. The world wasn’t ending at the time and she and her wardens drank heartily in a pub in Jadar. The locals made their little clever quips about the party and they pretended not to hear, but it didn’t stop them from enjoying themselves on sweet Orlesian wine.
“Why are you smiling?” Alistair’s voice pulled her from her reverie. She hadn’t even realized he returned. He settled in beside her and claimed his mug again. Caro tried to compose herself.
“I was just remembering a time when all I had to worry about was rebuilding the Ferelden wardens and killing leftover darkspawn. You know, before the world went to shit again like it always does.”
Alistair smirked. “It does make a habit of it. I’d have thought you would have been used to it, being from Orzammar. They fight an endless war that few outside the wardens even know about.”
Caro frowned. “Yes, well, they don’t let casteless have arms so before I came to the surface, I had never even seen a darkspawn. Dwarves are on the brink of extinction and they still uphold traditions that only hurt them.”
Alistair must have sensed the change in her mood, he said nothing more. They sat in amicable silence watching the patrons around them and drinking.
“But you never told me why you were smiling.”
Caro smirked. “Seven years ago I was with a few of my junior wardens in Orlais. Nathaniel and Velanna. Some drunk marquis mistook Velanna for a servant. The situation went rapidly downhill from there and Nate had to bodily remove her while I paid the barkeep for his broken table.”
Alistair gave a short laugh. “And the marquis?”
“I’m sure the burns healed.” Caro said. Alistair laughed. Caro smiled. The easy camaraderie they shared made her remember the times they had together. It was so easy to love him. She took a swig of her ale and looked away from him. When Alistair stared at her that way she felt strange, light and fluttery. It had been years since she felt like that.
A laugh broke across the room. A light elven woman leaned far over as she served one of the patrons, giving him a good view down her low cut dress. There were several women, human and elf, who were of the same profession. They stood in the corner and eyed the male patrons. They cut glances towards Alistair, but Caro assumed that she kept them away. She snorted.
“I’ve never seen any dwarf prostitutes except at The Pearl.”
“And what were you doing at The Pearl?” Alistair teased.
“I wanted a drink while avoiding the righteous upstanding folk of Denirim.”
Alistair didn’t respond. Caro was grateful. She didn’t really want to have to admit that she passed through Denirim a few years back but didn’t want word of her visit to reach him. She was still too angry, too hurt.
“I heard that in Kirkwall there’s a brothel that has a dwarven man who is supposed to be quite acrobatic. I hear he charges a fortune.” Alistair said quietly.
Caro narrowed her eyes. “Who told you this?”
Alistair shrugged. “Just a rumor I heard when I was visiting the city years ago. I overheard my men talking about it.”
“Do you often eavesdrop on soldiers?” She gave him a half smile.
“Often? No. Just occasionally.” He smiled back. She felt her heart beat rapidly. Was it the drink? It must have been the drink that caused her to be so light headed and for her words to be so bold.
“Trying to find out where the best brothels were?” She whispered as she leaned in far too close to him. His teeth flashed and he bent his head towards hers.
“Now, my dear.” His voice was like velvet against her skin. His hot breath brushed against her ear. “You know I’ve only ever had eyes for you.”
Caro’s head began to spin from the sensations. It must have been the drink. His words crashed through her body and left it in upheaval. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat as she felt the familiar sensation once again. He woke up her body as though it were only taking a nap and not dead for over a decade.
Maybe it was the sickly sweet ale that addled her mind, maybe it was how close Alistair was to her, and how his words and heat affected her body. Whatever the cause of it was-she felt brave. Brave enough to ask Alistair something she was always curious about but too much of a coward to bring up to him. But now she felt confident. She met his gaze and tried to ignore the fact that his face was so close to her own.
“Did it never bother you…that I’m a dwarf?”
Alistair blinked as his head jerked back slightly. His eyebrows knit together in confusion.
“I’m not sure how to answer that question.” He said softly. Caro bit her lip. But said nothing
“I think it’s fairly obvious that it didn’t…doesn’t.” Alistair continued. “Why should it?”
Caro sighed. “I don’t know. It was just always something I thought about. After I left Orzammar, whenever I would meet anyone of a different race, the first comment they would make was always about me being a dwarf. It was either how they had never seen a dwarf or didn’t expect to meet a dwarf.” Caro turned away from Alistair. “It was like…my individuality ended at me being a dwarf. Most of them didn’t even bother to use my name; they just called me ‘dwarf’. You were the first person who didn’t look at me like I was…” She struggled to form her words into thoughts, “…out of place.”
There was silence between them for a moment. Caro risked a glance up towards Alistair. His brows were still furrowed, his lips pursed.
“What is it?” Caro asked. “I’m sorry. It must be the ale. I’m not making any sense am I?”
Alistair shook his head briefly. “It’s not that.” He said. “I’m just trying to think of a response. I’m trying to remember when we first met. I remember you walked unsteady at first, you always checked behind yourself constantly.” His voice lowered. “I remember thinking that you had the most brilliant blue eyes. I knew you were a dwarf, but that’s never all you were. I knew from the moment I met you that you were…special.”
Caro was silent for a moment. Her cheeks heated. She didn’t know what to say, no one had ever said such things to her, not even him. Alistair sighed.
“I’m sorry. So many years giving diplomatic speeches and I’m no more articulate than I was as a young man.”
Caro smiled. “Actually you are.” She said. “I’m a bit stunned in fact.”
Alistair gave a short laugh. Caro was suddenly aware of her surroundings. The noises of the tavern all flooded back to her at once. Exhaustion hit her.
“I need to get some rest.” She said standing. She turned and began to leave but glanced back at Alistair before taking a step. “Thanks for the drink.”
Alistair smiled and watched her leave. She stepped gingerly through the tavern and past the other patrons as she did so. Her body was lithe and they barely noticed she passed. He sighed. He loved her. And he was a fool for not telling her so. She was gone from his sight and suddenly he realized that he didn’t want to be alone. He didn’t want to be apart from her. Alistair stood to follow her, pushing past drunks and tavern wenches.
When he opened the door to their room, a chill hit him. Embers were all that remained of the fire. Pale moonlight streamed through the window and he could see Caro’s outline as she sat on the edge of the bed staring through the glass panes. She looked up slowly as he closed the door. Her shirt was loose and draping off her shoulder, giving him a glimpse of her creamy skin. Their eyes meet and her face reddens. Alistair feels his heat up as well.
Doubt begins to creep into his mind. What am I doing here? He wonders. When did he move closer to her? He could easily touch her. His hands fisted at his sides.
“Do you want me to leave?” His voice cracks as he asks the question. Caro shakes her head once.
“Don’t go.” Caro’s voice is barely above a whisper. Alistair’s heart pounded, his breath grew heavier. He moved forward, his knee hit the edge of the bed and he stopped. He reached to her and cupped her cheek. Her skin was warm as she leaned into his touch, her eyes drifting closed. His thumb traced her bottom lip, Caro’s mouth opened slightly.
Alistair leaned in closer; he tried to memorize everything about this moment, about her. His other hand found her shoulder. He reveled in the feel of her bare skin beneath his hands for the first time in many years. The haste of his youth was gone. Now he wanted this moment to last forever. His heart felt as though it might burst through his chest.
As he brushed his lips against hers, Caro sighed and leaned into him. Alistair smiled. He feels light. Excitement bubbled in his chest and he felt that he might float away. Caro’s mouth was everything he remembered: plump, soft and eager.
He broke the kiss for a moment and their eyes met. Alistair gave a small breathless laugh as he touched his forehead to hers. Her brilliant blue eyes sparkled in the dim light. Alistair wants to tell her that he loves her, he wants to whisper it over and over to her in the dark, but he doesn’t.
Caro’s lips found his this time. Her kiss was more sensual, more demanding. Their mouths opened and he delved into her mouth, exploring her as though it were something new to him. Alistair groaned and pulled her closer to him. Caro pulled him down to the bed with her without breaking their kiss. Caro fists her hands in his hair. The feel of her mouth on his, her curves in his hands, excited him. Alistair grew hard.
Caro’s body shook in his arms. Alistair reluctantly broke the kiss and pulled away from her. Tears streamed down her cheeks, her eyes shimmered with uncertainty.
“What’s wrong?” Alistair asked, cursing himself for losing control.
“I’m terrified.” She whispered. “I can’t stop it. I can’t stop how I feel for you and it scares me. What if…”
Caro didn’t finish her sentence; Alistair pulled her hard against his chest and held her there. Several moments ebbed by in the dark while they sat in silence.
“I’m frightened too.” He finally murmured in the darkness. Caro closed her eyes tight and pulled him close.
Dwarves did not dream.
She could not dream and often times Caro was glad for it. The darkspawn taint had changed her, and when the archdemon spoke out to its minions she could hear it’s voice while she slept. But only during the blight. Now that the archdemon was dead, her sleep was quiet.
Dwarves did not dream but in the haze between slumber and conscious, Caro’s mind often drifted to the thoughts that she pushed away during the day. It skipped and wandered.
She was born into violence. Her birth was an affront to the stone, the ancestors. She was days old when they branded her. Though she could not remember, she witnessed the ritual enough in her life to know that it was painful. Had her mother been upset? Had she cried? Old Tilga who lived not far from them wept when they branded her daughter. Caro didn’t know if it was from the pain of her child or that she had hoped the child would have been a boy and rose to the smith caste with his whoring father.
Caro watched but couldn’t imagine her own mother weeping and moaning. She thought to ask Rica, but feared that her sister would confirm these thoughts. It was better to simply assume one’s mother did not care for them than to actually have confirmation of that fact. Rica protected Caro from the violence as long as she could, but there grew a time when Beraht showed an interest in the girl. Caro was in her fourteenth year when she heard Rica and their mother arguing late one night.
“She can bring us more money as a concubine than a thug.” Her mother slurred. “Look how much Beraht is paying you to get prettied up and open your legs for some nobles”
“No.” Rica said firmly. “ I won’t allow it. It took me days to talk him out of it. I’ve finally convinced him that she’s got a better face for shaking down dusters than being a noble hunter.”
“Psh.” Her mother “They don’t care if she’s pretty. They only care about what’s between her legs.”
“No.” Rica repeated in a voice that allowed no argument.
The archdemon was dead. Things were supposed to be calm. Could nothing ever go right? She was told this was the Thaw. The darkspawn would retreat. She was also never told that darkspawn could talk. The amount of Grey Warden secrets that were still kept from Caro was infuriating.
She stepped into the prisons to see the man who tried to kill her. The man who sat safely in a cage while everyone outside died. His face was covered in dirt, his eyes dark rimmed and full of anger. She hadn’t opened her mouth and he already hated her. They scoffed when she said she wanted to recruit him. What’s to stop him from trying to kill her again? Nothing. A small voice in the back of her head even wanted him to. It was obvious that her life would be nothing but violence. Having her throat slit in her sleep or her wine poisoned seemed like a great way out.
But Nathaniel didn’t try to kill her again. Instead he stayed. Nathaniel, Oghren, Velanna, Sigrun. Without them those first years would have been torture, she would have never survived without her friends.
But there was always violence. Always death.
It would never end.
Caro finally drifted into sleep.
Caro awoke to find herself in the warm arms of another. Her mind was hazy from the ale the evening before. Her memories already faded. Then she remembered. She remembered his warm lips on her own, his hand that fisted in her hair, and his arms that pulled her closer.
Caro’s eyes shot open. They lay facing each other cramped together on the small bed. Did they have sex? For a moment Caro couldn’t recall and was going to be quite upset with herself if she couldn’t remember. But her body didn’t feel any different, and their clothes were still on. They must have simply passed out between long kisses.
Alistair’s eyes were heavy lidded but they popped open when he met her gaze. Several emotions crossed over his face as he stared at her. Uncertainty lingered in his brown eyes.
“Good morning” his husky voice cracked as he gave her a half smile. Caro released a breath she didn’t realize she was holding.
“Hi.” She said shakily.
“My head hurts.” Alistair groaned.
Caro gave a short laugh. “Well, you had a few pints.”
He winced at the memory. “That I did.”
His arms were still wrapped around her, holding her close. Alistair made no effort to pull away.
“Listen, I, uh…” Alistair’s voice faded. Caro felt her heart beat faster. She braced herself for the worst.
“I didn’t…come on too strong, did I? Memory’s a little fuzzy.”
Caro smiled. “Not at all”
Alistair’s shoulders relaxed and he pulled her towards him. His eyes went dark and he pressed his lips to hers. Caro closed her eyes and fisted her hand in his shirt. His kiss was hot and demanding. She gasped for breath when he finally pulled away.
“I don’t really know where to go from here.” He said searching her eyes.
“Me neither.” She admitted. “Let’s start with the obvious: getting to Weisshaupt before Anora kills you.”
Alistair chuckled. “You’ve always been the practical one.”
After eating breakfast in the tavern and gathering supplies at the market they were soon on the road to the Anderfels. The city soon faded away to small villages and farms. The locals tried to hide the fact that they were staring at the two.
“Must be wardens.” One would say.
“Who else would be going to the land the Maker abandoned?” The other would reply.
After some time even the farms were gone. They walked in silence for what seemed like hours. The levity of their task had set upon them as the green Tevinter plains dissolved into large swaths of flat yellow grasslands. When they were traveling though the lush Free Marches and populated Tevinter it was easy to forget that they were going to a place that few dared travel to.
The morning sun was still on their back when Caro broke the silence. “Have you heard any of what is happening in Weisshaupt?”
Alistair frowned. “You would know more about that than I.”
“I thought maybe your spies or ambassadors might keep you informed on it. Don’t your types watch other countries?”
“King types.” She smiled. “If I were a king, I’d have my eyes everywhere.”
“I did.” Alistair smirked. “But I was more concerned about Orlais and the Inquisition. The Anderfels is…quiet. From what I hear most of the population lives in the capitol. It’s on a river and probably the only hospitable place in the entire country as far as the landscape goes. They also have a very strict chantry.”
There was silence between them. Caro could feel that their unspoken thoughts were linked. Anxiety of what lay ahead sunk into her. She inhaled deeply to calm her nerves.
They kept their pace until midday when they stopped briefly for a lunch. Caro had hoped to find a spot in the shade of a tree, but there was none. The dirt beneath their feet was now red and hard. Any greenery that they might see was gone as well, only dead shrubs crawling out of the earth remained.
The afternoon sun beat down on their faces. Caro looked down to shield her eyes. Large craggy mountains and plateaus began to form in the distant horizon, though the sun set before they could get too close.
They set camp for the evening and Caro found herself feeling uneasy without knowing the reason why. Alistair built a fire; now that the sun had set an unnatural chill filled the air. Caro realized her unease came from the utter silence of the landscape around them.
They sat in silence and stared at the flames. Alistair bristled and looked over his shoulder.
“Something feels off.” He muttered. Caro nodded.
“I don’t like it here. What do you say we go back to Anora and lie?”
Alistair gave her a half smile. “We’re close now. And I’ve always been curious about Weishauppt.”
Something behind her caught his eye and his expression turned severe. Caro turned quickly to see the glow of a large fire in the distance.
Though it was so far that she could not see the flames, she did not doubt it’s magnitude.
“A bonfire?” She whispered. Alistair jumped up and doused their own fire with sand.
“I’d rather not have guests.”
Caro nodded as a sudden chill overtook her. She moved opposite the dead fire as Alistair stomped out the remaining embers. He settled beside her and they watched the flame in the distance as shadows danced over it. There was silence between them but she could feel his unease from the stiffness of his back.
An ghostly howl rang out. It was distant and pained. It cried out and went silent again for a moment only to resume.
Caro felt Alistair’s arm around her as he pulled her closer to his side. She had not realized that she had been shaking. She almost laughed at the thought of it.
She could not remember the last time she felt a fear this strong. When had she trembled from fear? The earliest memory she could conjure up was when she faced the darkspawn at Ostagar. Her entire life spent underground and not once had she faced one of those unnatural creatures.
As a hardened commander she thought fear was behind her. She thought she had seen everything. She realized now that she was wrong.
The screams finally died out. The unnatural silence of the plains resumed. Alistair and Caro sat quietly in the dark leaning against each other. Caro didn’t think that she could possibly fall asleep, but the hard day of walking eventually caught up with her and she drifted off.