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Who Will Live On

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Who Will Live On

***

“Shit. Piece of sack-splash arse-faced demon crap…” the Herald of Andraste paced the battlements, swearing not quite under her breath. Sera had told her it helped. It didn't. Profanity just put her feelings about that… that nug-headed boneskull of a man into more accurate words.

She turned and punched the crenellation in front of her as hard as she could, with a hard clank of metal when her gauntlets smashed into stone.

“Hit something. It helps.” Bull had advised.

“Ah! Ow! Andraste’s perky pink tits, that hurt!” she yelped, through gritted teeth.

Great, now on top of the vague feeling (instilled by her nanny as a child) that the Maker was scowling and shaking his head at her language, she also had a jammed finger.

She leaned her staff against the wall, mostly to avoid the temptation to start hurling fireballs out over the mountainside while screaming incoherently like a greater Terror demon.

Dorian would advise drinking, she guessed, as would Varric. Josephine and Liliana likely would tell her to plot complicated revenge on the man.

Josie’s vengeance most probably would involve crushing him socially, and Liliana might be more prone to just, well, crush him. Under a pile of rubble somewhere. As a result of an extremely accidental and superbly untraceable accident.

I don't want to feel better, or get over him, or take my mind off of what he did. I don't even want revenge. I just want Blackwall back here, at Skyhold, with me. Where we belong.

She leaned against the chilly stone and then slid down it to sit. “Evelyn, you're being an idiot.” she muttered. “He lied to you, led you to believe what you wanted to think, piled you knee deep in flattery... Probably the only true thing he ever said was that he wouldn't be good for you and this wouldn't end well.”

Evelyn curled into a ball, as much as the stiff leather of her light armor would allow, and put her forehead on her knees. Her eyes burned and stung with unshed tears, and her face felt hot. Something small and sharp poked her in the center of her sternum. Irritated, she yanked at the leather thong holding the small carved wooden gryphon-knight chesspiece that Blackwall no, Thom, had made for her.

Before her mind knew what her body intended to do, Evelyn watched as if from a distance as her hand yanked on the cord hard, breaking it, and pitched the chess knight out into the air over the bailey wall.

You're acting like a youngster who’s never had their heart broken before. She snapped at herself, a prickly adrenaline wave of shock at her own actions reverberating through her body.

A hard lump of sorrow knotted in her throat as she realised Actually, I never really have. Not by a lover. I’ve never even had a lover before. I guess I didn’t truly have one in Blackwall, or Thom, or whatever his name is.

From the beginning, since Haven, she'd expected that they’d all be leaving each other someday. With the chances they each took, the great risks dared nearly every day to win great prizes back from the hands of cataclysm and death, she went through every day with her shoulders tensed, ready to bear the next blow, the next recitation of the names of the latest dead. Dead by her orders, and in her name. Like stones laid on her heart.

There was no peace to be made with the idea, no terms, no surrender, no quarter. All she could do was square her shoulders, lift her chin, and bear it well. She was a Trevalyen. Unofficial family motto “one more stone.” She would always remember the first time she'd understood the origin of that saying. Eve found her mind wandering back to that day more often, of late.

Chapter Text

***

During the autumn horse fair near Highever, the destriers and plough beasts took turns pulling sledges loaded with building stones, to show their strength and heart. The sleds were already lined up along the arena, loaded with the average number of square building stones a heavy horse could easily pull, and then the owner asked for stones to be added or (rarely) removed.

Her first trip to the fair, in her memory, was always brought back to her by the scent of horse sweat and droppings, dust, roasted apples, hay. The heat of sunlight warmed her through her wool jacket, but in the shade, she felt the cool nip of early autumn. Everywhere around her, she heard the shouts of sellers touting the best points of their beasts, the nickering of stallions challenging each other across corral poles.

The family’s horsemaster had approved Griffon, Eve’s dapple gray, as old enough and strong enough to enter the pulling competition.

As the master backed Griff into the traces in front of the loaded sledge, the announcer for the event called out “Griffon Wing, four year old stallion, House Trevelyan. Not for sale. Standing at stud.”

The master of horse had looked at the weight Griff was to pull, and immediately told the assistants to add five stones. Then, he'd stepped back, rubbed his stubbly chin, turned to the crowd and made a show of shrugging at them.

“One more, you think?” he'd asked.

The gathered audience had replied with mixed shouts of “Aye!” , “Trevelyan!”, “One more!” and “Another stone!” their calls rising above the pavilions and corrals of the horse fair.

He made a dramatic production of signaling the assistant to add one more. Then he turned back to the gathered crowd and tilted his head in a theatric mime of inquiry. “One more?” He asked. Again the crowd cheered and called out for more weight.

Four more stones were added in the same way, and now the crowd was actually chanting the phrase “one more stone” over and over, like a passage from the Chant of Light.

Evelyn tried to show a calm face, but her hands twisted into the waistband of her riding skirt, wrinkling the fabric. She was sure Griffon could do it. Of course he could. It was just...rather a lot of weight.

There had been dissenting voices as well.
At eight extra stones, an older horse trainer from house Harrith raised her voice in a clear shout to inform them “It’s cruelty, this is. The poor brute will never do it.”

Among the commoners, some were derisive “That's no work beast, that's a pretty Lord’ s play toy.” one older man scoffed.

“All muscle, no heart!” yelled a woman wearing the traditional oxhide vest with the hair still on it, that signified druffalo drivers and wagon masters.

Horsemaster Perry turned to the crowd a final time after supervising the loading of the final stone. “You think he'll never do it, then?” he said, just loud enough to carry over the sound of the fair and the gathered people.

The nay-sayers were bold, laughing and booing. Even the loyal supporters of their house were silent and nervous.

Perry outwaited them until they had no more encouragement or scorn to shout. Then he turned back to the waiting horse and sledge.

“What d’ye think, Griff? Eh, Griffy? How ‘bout one more, boy?” he asked.

The dapple gray stud had nickered, pawed playfully at the air with a forehoof, and tossed his head up and down with a jingle of harness hardware, as if he were nodding.

Eve was aware she’d made Griffon a little spoiled by doting on him since she'd first used her new riding cloak to dry off the tiny wet newborn colt lying in the straw. Griff was greedy for attention. She knew full well he always acted like that when he heard his name, eager as a hound called to a hunt.

Dumb beast probably thought “Griff” was just the human word for “would you like a treat and a chin scratch?” Evelyn reflected.

But it made for great theater. “ Well? You heard the horse. He wants one more.” Perry said impatiently to the loaders. The men shook their heads and added the requested block to the load. Nervous laughter rippled through the stands.

The horsemaster turned to Evelyn where she stood beside the distance marker five horse lengths down the field, and nodded.

She’d swallowed, wet her lips, and called “Walk on, Griffy,” then whistled. His head came up, ears forward. She dipped her hand in her leather belt pouch and showed him a palmful of dried apple slices.

Her horse leaned his weight into the traces slowly, muscles springing into relief under the hide of his hindquarters. The trace chains snapped taut, vibrating.

Then he backed up two steps. The crowd groaned, hissed, booed at his seeming refusal of the load. Perry held up a hand, as if to say ‘wait’.

Griffon surged forward like a cavalry charge, the leather of the harness traces going tight with an audible crack, like a snapped drover’s whip. His rear hooves churned the dust of the field into a cloud around his hind legs as he dug in, throwing himself against the weight in short choppy steps. The first bloom of sweat darkened his coat along his neck and belly.He put his head down, muzzle almost touching the dirt, and took the first step forward. “Hah! Trevelyan’s done it again!” one onlooker cried “One more stone, Trevelyan!”

Evelyn shook her head as she remembered how she'd lost all her propriety as a young noblewoman, screaming and jumping up and down, shouting with laughter, while Griffon powered towards her as if the weight of the sledge was little more than an annoying inconvenience holding him back from honey-sweetened apples. Nobody had noticed her noise among the shouting and cheering from the stands, anyway.

When he'd reached the marker point, he'd briefly ignored the treat in her hand to butt his forehead against her chest, nearly knocking her down, before shoving his muzzle into her belt pouch to scoop all the treats into his mouth in one bite.

Later, her mother had listened, smiling indulgently, to her story. “There was never any doubt, of course.” she'd said when Evelyn had finished. “We are Trevalyen. We always find the strength to carry one more stone, and one more. This is how one builds castle keeps, roadways, pasture walls - even empires, in the end.”

The only horse in Skyhold’s stables that reminded her of Griffon, in spirit and personality was Drakebite, a gray Antivan Courser. Drake was built for endurance trail riding, with bursts of sprinting, not hauling or carrying. But he had the same eager attitude and the same cocky way of seeming very pleased with himself.

I wonder if I could get my family to help me find one of Griffon’s foals. Eve thought, and then realized how unlikely it was. House Trevelyan had donated every beast they could spare to chevaliers and knights fighting the darkspawn during the fifth Blight.

Some hardy animals, like Mabari, druffalo, and the Dalish harts, could develop a partial immunity to the taint of darkspawn blood. Horses simply didn't fare well. Never mind the effects of scratches and bites from the enemy; even grazing where the earth was once tainted with their spilled blood could cause deadly colic and foundering.

I don't even know what happened to him, now that I think about it. How could I lose track of my own horse? I rode him to the conclave, and then…? Were the Temple's stables destroyed in the explosion from the Breach? She wondered. The loss felt like one more stone weight on her shoulders, the last one that she just couldn't carry.

The tears burst through her fragile hold on them as she thought of Griffon buried under rubble, eaten by darkspawn, or lost and adopted by some farmer who would use him to plough and haul until he wore out.

She bit the side of her hand to muffle her raw sobs. Look at the noble Herald, crying like a youngling over a stubborn, grumpy, spoiled old warhorse. Oh yes, this is definitely the leader Andraste herself was waiting for, Eve scolded herself bitterly. There's countless dead in your cause, time itself is broken, someone is trying to assassinate the Empress, your lover lied about his identity and then abandoned you...

Which actually is practically a good month's
work compared to last month when demons were literally falling out of the sky onto all our heads all over the country, and one of the first darkspawn arose from the dead to destroy the world, and you almost died in an avalanche you caused. On purpose. Because of the dragon.

You know, the same dragon that we're hoping isn't an archdemon because we have almost no Grey Wardens left to kill it. Actually we have one less Warden than we thought we did, thanks to BlackThom RainierWall lying about who he was.

But by all means, stupid girl, cry yourself sick over a missing horse.

Usually anger and sarcasm helped Evelyn calm down, in a way. Anger gave her a target, and the energy to attack it. Sarcastic jokes helped her use humor to render her enemies less fearsome in her eyes

But this type of bitter rage was new to her. There were targets aplenty for it, but all of them except one were out of her reach, at least for now. The only place to turn her anger was on herself, on her foolishness and gullibility and weakness.

She thudded her head against the cool stone, clenched her eyes shut, smacked her fists over and over on the paving of the walkway, hoping for the pain to focus her.

“Stop crying. Stupid. Weak. Not helping anything.” she choked through gritted teeth, behind waves of wrenching sobs.

Chapter Text

“Oh dear.” a cultured tenor broke through to her. “I must have misread the schedule. Beg pardon. I was sure I'd signed up for the afternoon fit of self-loathing at the official Brooding Crenellation.”

Eve felt her face darken to crimson as she scrambled to her feet. “Oh, I wasn't… I mean… I didn't…”

Dorian gave her privacy as she mopped at her face with already soaked shirt cuffs. He drew his journal from the breast of his leather jacket. He took a letter from between the pages, all graceful calligraphy and formal seals, and pretended to stare at it instead of her.

“Yes, you see, it's right here. Three in the afternoon, Dorian, self mockery about becoming a traitor to his country and a perverted embarrassment, the utter destruction of his family. Tortured anguish over allowing myself to become trapped into such a situation if schedule allows.” He folded the message back into itself and tucked it inside the front cover of the book.

“If there was some time left over, I had planned to mock and lambast myself regarding my shameful and ironic physical attraction to a Qunari mercenary. But that might take a while.”

He leaned against the wall next to her and asked “So, care to enlighten me as to why your distraught sobbing appointment has run overtime into my wailing and teeth-gnashing hour? I did sign up for the Crenellation of Moping last week. My name was first on the list, you know. I shall complain to the head of the Inquisition if this keeps up.”

Evelyn coughed out a hoarse, quavering sound, half laughter, half weeping. She took a moment to get some semblance of calm before she turned to him, muscles of her stomach shaking in tiny hitches with the effort to control her breath. “It's just silliness, really, I'm fine. Just, I've been so upset that I haven't really been able to eat or sleep well this past week. I’m a bit tired, I suppose.”

She rubbed her eyes where a headache was starting to creep inwards from her temples. Changing the subject, she asked “Is that a letter from Tevinter? Old schoolmate from your Circle? Long lost lover trying to find you?”

“May the light forbid it!” Dorian scoffed “No, merely my terrible family reaching out their talons across continents to snatch me back home. They have the Archon on their side, can you credit it?”

Eve felt a fierce scowl wrinkle her face. “Well, they can't have you. You're my, oh, archivist, librarian, and advisor on blood magery, necromancer things, and general Tevinter-y matters.”

The brooding look in the mage’s expression lifted “Do tell me we can make that my official title. Assuming we can fit the whole thing on some sort of badge of office. Perhaps in very small letters.”

Eve pursed her lips, fidgeted with the uneven bronto leather wrapping of her staff hilt. “I'll ask Dagna.”

"So, what brings on this scene straight from an Orlesian romantic comedy? " he asked.

“I was just thinking how frustrated I am with myself that I'm supposed to be a canny leader but I let myself be foolish enough to be tricked by Black...whoever-he-is.”

Dorian nodded and started to reply, but Evelyn couldn't seem to make herself quit talking.

“A-and that got me thinking about how I never found my horse again after the Conclave, which reminded me that I have no idea what happened to any of my poor Griffon’s b-babies…” she buried her hands in her face as the sting of tears welled up and spilled over.

Dorian made a tsk tsk sound, set his journal down in a notch between two stones, and wrapped his arms around her. “You'll have to explain that bizarre yet fascinating series of thoughts when you're feeling better.” he murmured.

She buried her face in the shoulder of his jacket, breathed in the citrus, clove, and smoked leather scent of her friend. “I just feel so stupid!” she growled, words muffled by the way her face was pressed against his chest.

“Shh. There, now. As far as I can tell, love is stupid. Utter idiocy, all of it.” He stroked her hair, smoothed down the strands escaping her braid. “Look at me, darling. I love my country, even though it doesn't love me back. A sensible man would run as far away as possible to avoid being brainwashed by blood magic or killed as a traitor and heritage. But no, I'm entertaining mad plans to go back, and let them bully me into some form of reconciliation with my family. It's all part of my vast and subtle plan to attempt reform from within, you see.”

He laughed, although she felt him shudder at the thought of his family, and hugged her tighter.

“And don't you dare tell anyone, but there are certain friends here in the Inquisition I have come to… feel a degree of affection towards. So although an intelligent man would be heading to the opposite side of the continent, away from the insane darkspawn elder god, here I am, for as long as I can be.”

Evelyn locked her arms around her friend and hugged back, hard, before stepping back to look up at him. “Yes. You’re right. Here you are. Thanks for that. So what if one person leaves me. He's just one person, right? Everyone else, everybody important, is still here.”

Dorian tucked one last loose strand of hair behind her ear. “My thoughts exactly. If you have your outcast deviant Tevinter blood mage, who else do you really need?” he arched one brow in a sardonic smile.

“Anyhow, though it pains me to admit it, our terse and duplicitous friend with the extremely muscular… everything… did possess a certain hirsute charm. I can’t blame you for being a bit, well, distracted by his loss, shall we say.”

He shrugged, and shook his head. “But, my dear, there are so many more deserving specimens at Skyhold. You needn’t limit yourself to brutish barbarians who bash things with large axes and sleep in actual stables. Have you considered, with your coloring and build, you'd cut a much more dashing figure with a tall blonde on your arm?”

He took her arm and turned her to look down into the main courtyard, where Cullen and his recruits were drilling in melee combat against the Iron Bull and the veterans of the Chargers. “For example, there are available barbarians who simply wear an inexcusable bear fur, rather than being apparently made entirely out of bear fur.”

He made a sweeping gesture at the training melee in the courtyard below. “Take your pick, my lady. I have dibs on the axe wielding oxman giant, of course. But have you noticed that among it’s charms, Skyhold offers a better class of barbarian; the type who bashes things with large swords. I have one in mind for you. This one sleeps in a lovely hovel-like shack, which contains not only an actual bed, but also is home to absolutely no Dracolisk droppings or horseflies.

Eve was startled into laughing. It was still shaky, but felt much more like an actual laugh at least,

Dorian shot her a sidelong glance under his brow and went on “I'm just speculating here, but with that lovely chestnut hair of yours, and such pale skin, we could put you in sapphire blue and the Commander in crimson, and you would make a handsome pair at the Empress’s ball. How does that image strike you?”

As Dorian rambled, Eve had been feeling a cool prickle creeping slowly across her face and collarbones as she broke out in a light sweat. The lump that had lurked in her stomach all morning felt like it was writhing around.

Oh no. No no no I'm not doing this again she thought, but by that time her mouth was already flooded with saliva and a taste like licking a sword blade.

In answer to Dorian’s last question, the Herald of Andraste, Chosen of the Maker, leader of the Inquisition, leaned over the battlements and lost what little lunch she’d managed to force down earlier. The contents of her stomach landed with an impressive splatter, mostly on the dirt of the training yard near the wall.

Her accident might have gone unnoticed, except that some of it landed on Jimm, the messenger assigned to the Comander, where he stood waiting beside a short evergreen tree near the base of the wall in case Cullen had an errand for him.

“Oh dear Maker, why?” Jimm let out a startled yell of anguish.

The melee crashed to a halt in a clash of armor and dropped weapons, and the muted thump of several people falling down, as half of the combatants turned to look for the source of the outcry while the veteran fighters continued fighting

The scrubby tree nearest Jimm began to rustle, branches waving. Then the tree seemed to start cackling, a raucous, contagious laugh.
Two limbs spread apart and disgorged Sera, wearing dull green, her face painted in brown splotches and stripes.

“Aww, no fair pranking me by pranking my victim first!” the elf hollered up to them. “But good one, though. Dedication, with the upchucking. I only had yellow paint.’’ She waved a lidded metal paint container by way of demonstration.

Jimm paused in scraping... things ...out of his hair with the edge of his messenger’s document case, to look straight up at Dorian and Eve’s silhouettes peering over the wall between crenellations. “My lady Herald?” he said, his voice sharp with shock and confusion.

The next wave of nausea hit Eve and she had just time to groan “Oh, no” before another splash of her stomach contents landed on the unlucky messenger.

Dorian, she vaguely noticed, had the presence of mind to calmly hold back the stray strands of hair from her face with one hand, a pale blue corona of healing energy rippling around his fingers, while conjuring a handful of ice crystals with the other hand. He pressed them to the back of her neck. It felt unreasonably good, considering that she was in the middle of throwing up like a sick warhound.

Between dry heaves, she thought surreally Oh, he can think fast enough to cast two different spells at the same time on a moment’s notice, but he couldn’t move me over two feet so I wouldn’t vomit on Jimm. Again.

He patted her shoulder when the spasms of heaving passed, rubbed a couple ice chips on her lips. She took them from his palm like a horse lipping a carrot slice from a stablehand, and she didn’t even care at the moment that it was the absolute opposite of ladylike.

“Commander, we’re confiscating your shack of an office in the name of the Inquisition.” Dorian called down to the stunned cluster of soldiers, and dragged Eve away, one arm around her waist and the other hand holding her upper arm to steady her.

***

I've been having to write this on Android phone & tablet, so autocorrect and I have been engaged in daily screaming arguments about punctuation and word choice. Autocorrect is a heathen who doesn't believe in Andraste. Duck you, autocorrect.