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Vigilance

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“Tell me: why did you come?” she said, as poised in front of the Eluvian as she had been the day we met in the Korcari Wilds.

“I came for answers.” There were no answers to the anguished questions in my heart, none she could give me. None I wanted to hear. But I was not there for me.

“Answers. We all want answers. We had a deal, I save your life and in return you leave me be. Why should I answer any of your questions now?” She owed me some explanations, but I knew better than to demand them in this way. We had a friendship, of sorts, and I had given mine freely. A life spared for the sake of it more than fulfilled any outstanding balance on her part. And yet…

“If you didn’t want to talk, you wouldn’t have stayed.”

She nodded slowly. “Always the clever one. It was your cleverness that saved Ferelden, after all.”

Not clever enough to keep Alistair by my side. Not clever enough to avoid the First Warden’s heartbreaking order: find Morrigan. Find the child. Bring them to Weisshaupt.

 

* * *

 

Three days in the hot, arid, and bleak landscape of the Anderfels made Lyna long for the bitter cold of Soldier’s Peak. The old Ferelden fortress felt as haunted by history and harsh winds, but there were trees, mountains, and respite to be had, at the very least. The Imperial Highway from Nevarra to Val Dorma had intrigued for a while with the mixture of foreign people on it, especially on the blasted stretch through the Silent Plains, but this distraction fell away as her caravan turned toward Weisshaupt. Few traveled that way, preferring to flock to Hossberg instead where the comforts, she heard, were on par with Val Royeaux.

This time, at least, she was better prepared for the sun’s glare with ointment and light coverings. Her first trip, newly minted as “the Hero of Ferelden,” had left her mildly dehydrated, her skin pink and peeling.

Then again, Lyna had also tried drinking her grief away. She later gained insight into Anderfels culture: its abstemiousness was not purely Andrastian, but also practical. Falke, the young Ander Grey Warden recruit sent to escort her, had revealed as much in his mostly laconic conversations with her as he’d nursed her mornings-after.

Mostly laconic. She snorted.

“Commander?” the man himself said. Pale blue-grey eyes examined Lyna from under raised straw yellow brows. A small set of scars adorned his cheeks – he had taken part in some Orth ceremony after his Joining. Not unlike her own people, she supposed.

“Mmm? Ah. Remembering my first trip,” Lyna said. “The first time you escorted me. I wasted no time tarnishing your hero-worship, did I not?”

The young man’s tanned face pinked, his scars showing more whitely. After they were introduced, Falke had first stammered, and then offered halting but effusive admiration for her deeds during the Blight. His flow of words trailed off as she shook her head and bluntly told him she’d only done what needed doing, no more. As a native of a land consistently under threat, he understood necessity. However, necessity in the Anderfels meant less heroics and more endurance. Heroics were confined to the past, to the Fourth Blight, for his people. Joining the Grey Wardens afforded him the chance for both, she learned much later. Falke had studied all he was permitted to learn about Garahel, the city elf who’d slain Andoral and lifted the siege at Hossberg.

And the Hero of Ferelden, a Dalish elf who had seen and touched the Urn of Sacred Ashes, which was one step removed from embracing Andraste Herself, had gotten drunk and sun-sick, puking and sobbing in a particularly maudlin fit, several days later.

“You did not,” Falke murmured. Waste time, or stain his ideals? She realized she’d worded her question poorly. But he had remained quietly attentive to her needs, only leaving her side to attend nightly Andrastian services or take care of his own personal matters while she was in states of undress. She knew she’d at least not offended his piety, though she always scrupulously avoided the subject of the Gauntlet’s tests to reach the Urn. She wasn’t sure how the poor man would react to learning she’d had to strip down as naked as the Creators made her to pass its final test.

“You are too kind to me, Falke.”

“Never, Commander.” Again, an ambiguous answer. Nathaniel would like him.

* * *

 

“I know it… might sound strange, considering we haven’t known each other for very long, but I’ve come to… care for you. A great deal.”

I watched Alistair’s eyes as he spoke. Normally they found mine with no effort as he told bad joke after bad joke. I had learned that he used jokes to hide his feelings, and his eyes always gave his real feelings away. Perhaps he finally realized this, because he was having difficulty looking at me now.

What was he trying to tell me?

“I think maybe it’s because we’ve gone through so much together, I don’t know. Or maybe I’m imagining it. Maybe I’m fooling myself,” he said, as he fidgeted with a loose thread on his sleeve. He was always needling Wynne about “grandmotherly” tasks like darning his socks, not knowing it was I who actually did them. I’d told myself that I didn’t want him distracted in battle, but the plain truth was I needed him for more than his ties to royalty, or being another Grey Warden. Perhaps I was only lonely without my clan, and now also without other Grey Wardens to replace them as my family.

I wish the silly man would get to the point.

“Am I? Fooling myself? Or do you think you might ever… feel the same way about me?” His eyes finally met mine, fully. The longing I saw in there plucked an answering note in my heart.

Ah. The point was achingly clear now.

“I think I already do.” I couldn’t keep that note from emerging from my throat.

“So I fooled you, did I? Good to know,” he teased. His voice had lowered, confidence returned full force as he stole a kiss and my breath.

Oh Alistair. You made such a fool of me.

 

 

“You there!”

An Orlesian voice was haranguing someone again. Some yellow-masked fop in a white ruff, traveling to visit a cousin in Hossberg, had a small army of elven and human servants to carry his baggage and tend his frequent needs. He had been traveling with the caravan since Nevarra. Lyna had immediately begun ignoring him as the caravan had passed through the edges of Hunter Fell, and took most of her meals with Falke and the caravan drivers.

Most of the caravan knew Lyna as a Grey Warden, if they knew her at all. It was tiring always being “the Hero of Ferelden,” and she preferred handling her own tasks. Such as the vigorous cleaning of her armor’s spaulders, since they were at least a day away from Weisshaupt. Remembering Alistair helped give some force to her scrubbing.

“You! You will pay attention when I call you, you filthy rat!” The sibilant voice sounded indignant, incensed, and right over her head as a pair of garish plum-colored suede boots appeared in her peripheral vision.

Lyna sighed. Mythal damn these entitled shems.

“Ser…” – what was his name? Blast it – “You have me confused…”

The spaulder was abruptly yanked from her hands. Shocked, she looked up. Behind the mask, the noble’s face was turning the color of his shoes. His eyes promised ruin.

“Confused? More like a thief! I have caught you! You whore. Which of the guards have you slept with to steal his armor, hey? Thought you might sneak away in the night?! I will have you flogged, you knife-eared bitch.” He yanked her up with his other hand and shook her, her linen tunic breezing around her underwraps. Lyna preferred arduous work like this at dusk, when the temperatures fell and Falke was off being pious. She could be completely alone with her thoughts and, she had thought, avoid contact with nobility as well.

Lyna had no more use for courts and nobility. Not after Alistair. Not after Amaranthine.

“Ser,” she said quietly. “I ask you to please remove your hand and return my armor.”

“How dare you…” he shook her again, and his voice grew thunderous.

“Now,” she said.

The sound of a sword being drawn forestalled any reply the nobleman might have made. Both of them turned to see Falke at sword’s length, its point a respectable distance from the nobleman’s eyes and above her head.

“I suggest, Lord Piers, you comply with the lady’s wishes before you are harmed,” Falke said, quite respectfully, as if the three of them had been having a pleasant conversation. Ah, yes. Lord Piers. Now she would have to remember his name.

“You accost me, when I have caught a thief, and now threaten me? You dare much. I will have you in chains before the…”

“No, ser, you dare much. You have accosted Warden-Commander Lyna Mahariel, Arlessa of Amaranthine, Redeemer of the Urn of Sacred Ashes, Champion of Redcliffe, and Hero of Ferelden. She brought down Loghain of Gwaren, raised up King Alistair, and slew several other dragons beside. Don’t be a fool,” said the young Ander Warden. Her dislike for all her weighty titles was now overshadowed by some relief that this time, perhaps, they might save her from killing some idiot noble. She didn’t know much of Orlesians, but she did know killing one of their useless nobility could spark trouble for the Grey Wardens, which the order did not need.

Still, the foppish lord hesitated. Was he secretly some chevalier? She hoped not. They were the worst, having some actual fighting ability to go with their puffery.

“Do you typically employ very many Dalish?” she hissed with impatience. “Look at the spaulder, ser.”

A single rampant griffon was stamped in Wade’s silverite armor. He had insisted that she have some pieces to match the silverite of the Vigil’s men, cleverly working it to fit with her leather. She mentally blessed the temperamental smith as Lord Piers, looking from the armor piece to her tattooed face, immediately released her arm. Falke sheathed his sword.

“I… I am at a loss…,” the Orlesian said. His face had paled as white as his ruff.

Lyna pointedly picked up the remainder of her armor and snatched the spaulder back out of the man’s hand.

“Yes, you are. Please leave. And be kinder to your servants, ser. They might save you one day,” she said, flicking a glance at Falke, who resolutely kept his eyes on Lord Piers and not herself. Poor man.

The nobleman hastily retreated, and Lyna sat back down to finish scrubbing her armor. There would be more politicking soon at Weisshaupt. Since the First Warden was the real power in the Anderfels, titles meant nothing to the bootlickers surrounding the leadership. It helped to visually cow them instead.

“Commander? Will you be needing me tonight? Should I get you some water?”

Surprised, she looked up again to see her escort looking directly at her. Still flushed with embarrassment, but resolute all the same. After all he’d said to Lord Piers, Lyna expected him to return to his sparse conversational style.

“Ahh, thank you, but no. Why do you ask?”

“Forgive me, Commander, but you were humming.” He hesitated, then whistled a bar of “I Am the One”… a tune Alistair had sung for her, once, as they camped in the Brecilian Forest. In a clumsy effort to try to demonstrate his knowledge of elves, he’d told her he’d heard it from an elven bard passing through Redcliffe on his way to Jader. The bard had claimed the song came from the time before the Exalted March of the Dales. She remembered singing it on her first drunken trip to the ancient Grey Warden stronghold.

“I see.” She sighed. “Your Commander is a fool, Falke, but not tonight. Go, get some rest.”

He nodded, and averted his eyes again as he walked back to their place in the caravan.

When a note of apology and several yards of ultramarine sea silk arrived the next day from Lord Piers, she gave both to Falke.

 

Chapter Text

 

The sky outside the window in the First Warden’s office glowed pink. It had been blazing full sun when I first entered the room many hours earlier. Across from me the First Warden and the Chamberlain of the Grey sat, the first intensely pensive and the other nodding over the sheaves of paper he had written on as I talked. A puff of the Chamberlain’s wispy grey hair bobbed with each sleeping breath. He should have been dismissed to his bed.

“How is it you are still alive? You should have died when you killed Urthemiel.” The First Warden stared at me. “All records we have show that the Warden who kills the Archdemon dies.”

At this point I know he is not really asking me, but thinking aloud. The point had already been touched upon as I gave them my report, the Chamberlain absently commenting on the strangeness as his quill scratched.

“You also have no records of the Urn of Sacred Ashes, and few records of Dalish Grey Wardens,” I offered from under hooded eyes. My chair had no back, but I had learned a trick long ago that allowed me to lean back a little in a resting pose. I was doing that now, bone-deep tired, arms crossed on my chest. I needed months of sleep, but would get none while this man continued to question me.

“Suggesting these facts had something to do with it? No,” he said, shaking his head slowly from side to side. “I am not as much the scholar as my predecessors, but I have studied what I can to learn their lessons. At best, what you say implies blood magic may help us. At worst, you suggest only the Maker can help us… if He wishes to, that is.”

Creators help me, I winced. He might have let that go, given what I related about the blood mage abominations at Kinloch Hold and Jowan’s bungling at Redcliffe – who would not be shaken and scarred? – but I had related it all matter-of-factly, almost numbed by the sheer accumulation of horror after horror. Dalish tattoos aren’t blood magic, but one might jump to that, only knowing that vallaslin meant “blood writing.” But he hit upon a sore point, and I hadn’t told him about Morrigan and her ritual.

I hadn’t even wanted to remember it myself, and yet I did. When I did not have nightmares about fighting the Archdemon, I dreamed of leading Alistair to her bed, hope flaring and dying within me over and over, heartsick to my marrow. Drinking helped blur the edges of these dreams so I might get some rest, but they never went away, and so I had one last bout on the road to Weisshaupt and quit.

The First Warden, damn his eyes, was ever watchful.

“Blood magic,” he said.

I closed my eyes and leaned forward instead, rubbing my tired face. So very tired.

“Tell me.” I could hear him straighten in his chair. A slight teacup rattle: I opened my eyes, resting my forearms on my thighs, and saw him raise the Chamberlain’s untouched teacup to drink. He briefly indicated the old man. “I can let him sleep for this, but neither of you will see your beds until you tell me.”

I did not look for sympathy from him, nor did I get it. He merely listened as I unburdened my heart, and his eyes resembled some fierce hunting bird’s as I gave him the little knowledge I had of Morrigan and Alistair’s child, and how its engendering saved my life. Not a word of it was written, as promised. And yet I could not help but feel that a great secret had just been unstoppered and vented upon the world.

“Gone, you say.” It was difficult to read his expression, but the tone of his voice was curiously flat. He didn’t quite believe her, but neither did he have much grounds on which to probe further.

This time Lyna was alone with the First Warden in his office. It looked much the same as it had two years before, with stacks of correspondence at a small writing desk, a few hunting trophies, a bookshelf, some chests, and the larger desk with several maps currently unfurled across it, the topmost being of the Free Marches.

“Yes. Morrigan went through the eluvian. I was too late to stop her,” Lyna lied. If she could have avoided telling him any of this, she would have: the First Warden’s mistaken belief she owed him full cooperation galled, but she needed to give him something. The mirrors, the lights of Arlathan… all things of her people, lost and now rediscovered, she would give to this man so she might keep Morrigan and Alistair’s child from his grasp. Morrigan’s gift to her, as well, more precious for what it might represent than anything else.

“And you say it was in the Dragon Bone Wastes? Curious it would be there, considering what you told me of your confrontation with the Architect and the Mother at Drake’s Fall,” he said. His eyes were fixed upon her as he reclined in his chair, one hand rubbing at his mouth and chin. His other hand rested upon his desk near the maps.

“Curious to find an elven artifact deep in the middle of Tevinter ruins? Only curious that she decided to set it there, as it hadn’t been there before. If it had, I’d have had to fight that varterral twice,” Lyna replied, folding her arms across her chest. Her voice was cool: Hahren Paivel made sure her clan knew of the elves’ time as slaves in the Tevinter Imperium. It was understood that many things had been stolen from them long before the Dales were.

Perhaps most shemlen didn’t know this, but she knew this one did. The First Warden’s family claimed to be Nevarran, out of Hasmal, but Lyna knew if you traced those family trees back far enough, they’re all Tevinter and perversely proud of it.

His fingers, one by one, drummed across the Vimmark Mountains.

Yes. Very curious.

“As you say. Still, it’s too strong a coincidence – there, where you had been once before, but she hadn’t. To your knowledge.”

“No. Nor have I noticed any pregnant spiders or bears in my journeys in the Arling, so obviously if Morrigan had been following me, she found an entirely different way to do so.” Her lip curled; it sounded like something Morrigan would have said. “And I don’t blame her. She has the most precious cargo in Ferelden to protect, and she and her mother rightfully earned their reputations as witches. She absolutely would not rely upon old habits to keep the child safe. She’s incredibly canny and resourceful. I’m not sure it’s to my credit, or to her sentiment, that I was able to get as close as I did.”

Mythal’enaste. Perhaps both.

The First Warden studied Lyna a moment longer, then blew out a breath and set his other hand on the maps as well. “Maker. I hope you’re right about her. There’s too much hanging upon this…” He waved a hand just south of the Waking Sea: West Hill, Highever, Soldier’s Peak, Drake’s Fall, Amaranthine, Denerim.

Lyna nodded. “So you did receive Avernus’s letter. I had him send it to you through Kirkwall because he felt it so urgent you know right away. Can you tell me…?” she said, and frowned as he waved away her question.

“None of our Wardens in Kirkwall have sent me such a letter.”

In Kirkwall? We have an outpost, then?

“So to speak. There are some there carrying out a mission for me. Loyal people.”

Loyal. To him, not to her, was the unspoken message she was hearing. A rebuke for the disappearance of Anders, though she’d shifted command of Vigil’s Keep to Nathaniel so she could handle the First Warden’s request.

“As you say,” Lyna replied. She was satisfied to see the man grimace. “Then I will find out what happened to it, and continue my research regarding the Architect.” She turned to go, then:

“The Arling is in good hands with Nathaniel. It belongs to him,” she said quietly.

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

“Ser.” She left his office, closing the door behind her. She needed the library, next. She would get no further with the First Warden today. Perhaps she would get further with Morrigan’s book.

Chapter Text

Lyna ,

                I have so little experience in friendship, and yet I feel quite certain that my share of this relationship has been insufficient. A life for a life is fair and equitable business if we examine the most pertinent and logical terms, but I am aware we have much more between us than business. I wish Alistair was not one of those things, necessary as he was.

                Through him, you have given me my greatest joy, to my unending surprise, but I realize too late what this has done to you. I would still urge you the same course of action, had we to do it again, and I suspect you would make the same decision again as well. I had often thought you too soft-hearted, insisting on helping every soul who asked regardless of whether they were worth your time or not. I was wrong. To admit such pains me, but there it is: your love for Alistair, though I believe it misplaced, is evidence of strength, not weakness.

                I was not prepared for you to agree to the ritual- I thought you might refuse, given all that we had experienced with blood magic bunglers. I was not prepared to see you look so nakedly hurt, betrayed, as you acquiesced. I know now what transpired between you and Alistair, all of it. I have said it before and I will repeat it often: he is an idiot. The smartest thing he ever did was love you, and make you love him in return. It let both of you live, and my Kieran will be schooled for a future that may save us all.

                I see only now through the lens of experience, and hope that in time Alistair may do something smart again for your sake. Until then, may my gift save the both of you, and the Wardens, once more. The book is Ancient Tevene, found in abandoned chambers under Drake’s Fall that must have housed your Architect. Broken pieces of laboratory equipment and scattered papers are all that are left. I am surprised still I found this volume at all.

I know only a few words in this book, and thanks must go to my mother’s grimoire for even that slim knowledge. I recognized the Litany of Adralla we used on Uldred as Tevene because of that witch. So, perhaps it would not surprise you that one of the words I know is “blood,” and another “magic.” There are also references to Grey Wardens. Take it to Avernus, I have no doubt he will unravel its full meaning.

Ever and always your friend,

Morrigan

 

The Grey Warden library was vast, and reminded Lyna of the one at Kinloch Hold - except this was bigger, and had tall windows like ones she had seen at the Chantry in Denerim, or even the Temple of Sacred Ashes. The books and scrolls were mixed in age, she could see, contemporary publications resting near correspondence from before the Rebel Queen’s rise to power in Ferelden. Hopefully she might find something to help her decipher Morrigan’s Tevene book, perhaps also gather more information on the Architect. She had at least one lead she could pursue with confidence: Utha. Surely a record of service would tell the silent dwarf’s tale.

Lyna walked among the stacks, her fingers trailing across worn leather spines. The wealth of knowledge each must possess was dizzying to her, still. Her clan hoarded any scrap of lore they could find that connected them to Arlathan, and yet all they possessed wouldn’t fill an aravel.

She paused, suddenly overcome with loneliness. To be among family, friends… lovers… in the wilderness, free so long as they stayed ahead of the Templars... No responsibility greater than what you owed to your clan, but you would give it anyway out of love for them all… Yes. Love. The reason she was here.

Lyna straightened, and looked about. There. She could see the Chamberlain shuffling some papers and two books, squinting at them and holding them up to the glass-stained light. Andraste’s fire wobbled across them. She turned and approached the older man.

“Chamberlain…”

“Ah yes, our own Lady Shayna. What may I do for you?” The name confused Lyna. Had he gone soft in the head? He didn’t seem to be fully present, rapt in examining his papers.

When Lyna’s hesitation became just a shade too long, the Chamberlain finally looked at her and coughed.

“Apologies, it is a rude joke. Lady Shayna was companion to the first Fereldan King, Calenhad Theirin. Theirs was a,” he paused, “remarkable relationship. We have at least several volumes on Calenhad and the Theirin line.”

She pursed her lips. “Of course. What I need is service records on a former Warden. Would they be here?”

“Should be, yes.” He waved to an alcove furthest from the windows. “Anyone’s in particular? Some we only have names recorded.”

“She was a dwarf. She may have been mute? Her name was Utha.” She frowned, trying to remember more details.

“Ah yes. With the Architect, as I recall in your report. She was a Silent Sister,” the Chamberlain said, and gestured at Lyna to follow him as he shuffled toward the alcove. He tucked his papers and books under his arm absently, the corner of one page creasing as he did so. They passed only one other Grey Warden, a young mage by the look of her. She was engrossed in a book titled TANGIBLE TACTICS, and the way her fingers twitched, Lyna guessed some of the tactics relied upon magic.

“Did you know her? Who are the Silent Sisters?”

“You spent some time in Orzammar, did you not learn of them…? I see not. Well, we have a little lore on them as well. They are an all-woman fighting order, dedicated to an unarmed fighting style. They cut out their own tongues in honor of the order’s founder.”

The Chamberlain approached one set of somewhat dusty stone shelves, and grunted as he pushed himself up on his toes to reach a very large volume covered in mottled bronto hide. He pulled and tugged it back until he could tip it off the shelf. For a moment, she thought it might fall and concuss the old man. She moved to assist and he waved her back, letting the book gently fall back into his hand. Now cradling the book, he unlatched it and let the leaves fall open.

Inside, Lyna saw numerous entries, some just a name and some spanning at least several pages, and all of them Wardens who had served since the founding of the order. The Chamberlain carefully turned its pages, walking the volume toward a nearby table as he did so. As soon as he found the page he was looking for, he set the book upon the table, gnarled fingers gently pressing upon the paper.

A sketch of a grim but pretty dwarven woman, her coppery hair in braids, dominated the page – Lyna remembered her as Blight-tainted, but could see it was still the same woman. Her service record only filled the page.

“I am sorry to say that I did not know her. I only knew of her through Duncan and Fiona,” the Chamberlain said, a finger skimming down approximately two-thirds of the page and stopping, tapping at it.

Duncan?  She looked sharply at the old man, who nodded and tapped again at the page.

“Oh yes, there’s quite a bit you still don’t know of him. His record and Fiona’s are also within.” He focused intently on her. “Be careful with this book, if you please. We have a copy, but it is incredibly time-consuming to make yet another copy to replace it.”

“I could not do otherwise. We Dalish understand the importance of preserving knowledge,” Lyna replied, locking her gaze with his. A heartbeat’s time passed, and then he nodded, stepping away from the table.

“That you do. Well then, I shall return to my work. Mahariel,” he said, and returned to his spot in the light of the stained glass windows, retrieving his papers and clucking to himself over the bent corner.

She looked down at the book, scanning the page to find the passage the Chamberlain had indicated.

“9:10, Dragon Age – Utha joined Orlesian Commander of the Grey Genevieve, the Avvar Warden Kell ap Morgan, his mabari Hafter, Wardens Julien and Nicholas, the elven mage Warden Fiona, and Genevieve’s new Warden recruit Duncan on their expedition to Denerim to ask King Maric Theirin of Ferelden for assistance in tracking the whereabouts of Genevieve’s brother, Bregan. Bregan was one of the few Wardens to know the locations of the sleeping Old Gods, those who would become Archdemons, and it was believed Bregan may have been captured in the Deep Roads as he attempted to go to his Calling. King Maric’s assistance was sought because of his travels through the Deep Roads to the Battle of Gwaren during the Ferelden Rebellion…”

Lyna fumbled for a chair, astonished, and continued to read.

Chapter Text

The candle in front of her was guttering badly, the smoke stinging her eyes. Lyna thought about replacing it, but she was nearly finished reading the last passage about King Maric Theirin in the book the Chamberlain had recommended. Once she was finished, she would stop for the night. She had yet to look for a book to help decode Morrigan’s gift, but things she had learned about Utha, the Architect, and Alistair’s father had kept her plenty engrossed thus far. It had also given her much to think on, all of it highly promising.

Lyna’s vision swam again. She vigorously rubbed her eyes. “…vanishing, presumed dead, on a voyage to Wycombe in 9:25 in an effort to unify the Marcher lords. Two years passed, with large expenditures throughout, as Loghain attempted to find Maric…”

She felt a twinge of regret for the waste of that proud man’s life. If only he had listened to reason at the Landsmeet… but no. Loghain had betrayed his old friend and his own country, forcing Maric’s own son to kill him and avenge his brother Cailan’s death. She could feel some sympathy for Anora as well, but her duplicity and ambition were not to be trusted. If it had been her decision, she would have kept Anora mewed in Fort Drakon’s deepest pits, at least long enough to understand how horribly she had misjudged her actions.

Instead, she had heard reports that Alistair had eventually freed Anora and given governance of Gwaren back to her. Fortunately Lord Eamon didn’t seem to trust her completely, either, because Anora never seemed to leave Denerim without some watchful eyes with her.

He sees Anora every day. I can’t manage to see him for more than a few days without some excuse for an official visit. “Warden business.”

She grimaced, snatched up the candle holder and flung it, liquid wax arcing behind it.

“Brava, my lady, though I am not certain you have hit your target,” a familiar masculine voice purred. Lyna whipped around to see Zevran emerge from the shadows of a bookcase, smiling and clapping. The Antivan assassin was more tanned than she remembered him, but his hair, his tattoos, and the lean, predatory grace with which he moved were the same as ever.

“Zevran!” Without thinking, she launched out of her chair and swept the elf up in a close hug. He smelled of Antivan leather, deathroot, sweet wine, and sweat. Caught momentarily off-guard, he had stiffened, and then returned her embrace warmly, but awkwardly. “I apologize, I hadn’t heard you come in.”

“If I had known I would get this reception, perhaps I should have been yet more quiet, no? But Lyna, anyone could see you were not paying attention, so wrapped up in your books. You are too trusting! What if I were a Crow, come to kidnap the Hero of Ferelden?” Zevran pulled away, setting his hands on his hips, and cocked his head with a teasing smile.

“You were a Crow, you tried to kill me, and you failed. And I’m in the heart of a Warden fortress. I couldn’t possibly be safer,” she teased back, mimicking his stance.

He clutched at his heart, wincing and staggering exaggeratedly. “Ouch, you wound me deeply!” His smile slipped slightly. “But do recall that treachery can come from those you trust, as I am most intimately familiar with.” She recalled his history with Rinna and Taliesin. She recalled her own history, the reason for flinging the remains of the candle to begin with. Yes, she knew treachery well.

Zevran stopped smiling. “Here, now, what is this? You look so sad, my friend. Those lovely blue eyes cannot fill with tears. I cannot resist a beautiful woman who is crying.”

“I missed you. And Leliana, Wynne, and the others,” she lied. Well, a partial lie. It had been a long time since she’d seen even Oghren. She’d grown fond of the dwarf’s disgusting, drunken leering. He had a good heart underneath it all. She wondered how his child was faring.

He narrowed his eyes. “Somehow I am not fully believing this. But come! We have much to catch up on, yes? Let us get some food and some wine. You do have wine? Please tell me it is not some deep mushroom swill.” He shuddered. His time in the Deep Roads had been deeply discomforting.

“We do, we do. It may surprise you. Help me put these books away first, please. My relationship with the Chamberlain is awkward at best, I’d rather not have him upset with me.” She began by shelving the volume she just finished, gesturing to the pile of books and the nearby shelves for the next one.

“We can’t have that. Who is this Chamberlain, anyway?”

***

It was late enough in the evening that the kitchens had the fires banked. The remains of a roast sat at a sideboard, along with several small loaves of bread and a cheese. Lyna carved off several hunks of the roast and put it in a napkin along with a wedge from the cheese, while Zevran plucked a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. At first she considered taking their picnic to the battlements, then discarded the idea as she did not want to be overheard. Some things just weren’t Warden business.

She led Zevran back to her room, setting the foodstuffs on her table. She was hunting for a goblet when she heard the wine cork pop, and turned to see Zevran shrug and drink directly from the bottle.

“It is certainly not deep mushroom,” was all he said, and he took another pull.

Lyna broke the bread into chunks for them to share, and produced a small knife for the cheese. She twirled the knife before sticking it in the waxy yellow wedge, grinning at Zevran momentarily. She couldn’t help showing off. The assassin was deadly quiet, his work with poisons was becoming legendary, and he was extremely dexterous with a blade, but he hadn’t quite been able to match her speed and skill with blades or locks.

The elf rolled his eyes at her and tore off a piece of meat, rolling a bit of bread around it, and began to eat. He recounted some of his travels, including the progress he had made in destroying House Arainai and his plans for the rest of the Crows. He was currently at Weisshaupt to lay low for a little while, having had to take extreme measures to put a Guildmaster in his pocket. He had heard about the destruction of Amaranthine and decided to find out for himself what had really happened.

Lyna told him of the Architect and Vigil’s Keep, Oghren, Anders, Justice, Sigrun, Velanna, and Nathaniel Howe. (“Truly? The Howe boy should probably not see his father’s torture dungeon, regardless of how his feelings have changed,” Zevran warned.) He approved of her decision to let Amaranthine fall – the place had been too plague-ridden and overrun, what more could she have done? Those who were able to flee had done so, and it was those people she needed to protect by returning to defend the Keep. He clucked his tongue when he heard of the conspiracy that had been hatched against her, and became fascinated with the idea of the ancient evil baroness in the Blackmarsh. (“A demon? How sad. Tell me of her curves before she became this… thing.”)

Soon, having picked through the pieces of roast, bread, and cheese, they were sharing the wine bottle as she continued talking, telling Zevran about the First Warden, Morrigan, and her child. The eluvians, the Lights of Arlathan, revisiting Cadash thaig, all of it. Soon the wine was gone, and she produced a bottle she kept hidden in her room for the really bad nights. She had no longer wanted to drink, but those nights she woke, soaked in sweat and on the verge of screaming her throat raw, she found having a swallow of wine helped calm her nerves.

After a while, Lyna ran out of words. She stared at the bottle in her hands, rolling it from side to side.

“And there is the sadness back again,” Zevran said softly, and pulled the bottle out of her hands. He finished the dregs of it and set the bottle down next to the other empty, then stood up, and gently tugged her up out of her chair. She stumbled into his arms as they wrapped around her and she began to cry, great ugly sobs she hadn’t expressed since the night of Morrigan’s ritual.

“Lyna, Lyna, Lyna,” he murmured like a chant in her ear, stroking her back as it shuddered with her sobbing. “Being a hero is worth nothing without your love by your side to enjoy it, I see.” He kissed her temple, then pulled away slightly to look at her face.

Her eyes felt swollen and puffy, and wisps of her dark hair had escaped her habitual tail to matt wetly against her forehead. Zevran produced a handkerchief to gently wipe her face.

“I feel I am a simple man, so I do not understand this silly Ferelden notion that you cannot still be with Alistair although you are not his queen. This thing with Morrigan I do not understand, either, but you are alive, and so is Alistair.”

He cupped her face and kissed the curving lines of Ghilan’nain’s halla horns tattooed on her forehead. “I once said I would let you be if that is what you wished. Despite what you may think of me, I respect your wishes. But circumstances change, as they must, so I will make my offer again and abide by your decision.”

“Zevran, I…,” Lyna stared at her friend. His arms still felt warm and welcoming, but she felt a shift she couldn’t immediately name.

“Hush, please, and just listen.” His thumb brushed at her cheek. “I am not asking for anything, but offering. I know you love him. I also know you are in a great deal of pain, and this is all I know that can ease it. No strings attached. I am still your friend, whether you say yes or no.”

The abyss of loneliness she had struggled to keep at bay for so long opened up and threatened to swallow her whole. Her throat knotted hard. Alistair, I love you. I will always love you. But I can’t live like this. It’s not fair.

She covered Zevran’s hand on her face and looked into his warm brown eyes. “Yes,” she said. Shy, but wanting. “Please, my friend. Stay with me tonight.” Aching terribly to be held, to be caressed and cared for again.

He tilted her face up, and touched his lips to hers gently, the lightest of pressure. His breath was warm on her face and her lips tingled. “Just stay?” he murmured, his eyes now hooded.

“Touch me,” she replied in a ragged whisper, and lunged for his mouth, hungry. The last of the wine was still sweet on his tongue and she suckled at it. His hands moved to travel the leather-wrapped curves of her body, from her shoulders to her waist. Suddenly she was wearing too much, her breathing felt constricted, she was trapped…

His hands closed over her wrists and pulled her hands away from where she’d begun frantically trying to remove her leather armor and the linens underneath.

“Slow down, hush, hush. Ah, it’s been so long, has it? You are so fierce.” Zevran held onto her wrists as he gently kissed her once more, drinking in Lyna’s quickened breaths. “Allow me,” he whispered into her ear and freed her hands, running his once more over her waist.

She nodded, knotting her hands at her sides. Zevran’s breath tickled in her ear and down her neck, his mouth following behind it. He had moved in close, and she could almost feel his steady heartbeat. His hands found the fasteners for her leather and undid them deliberately, pressing his body against her and tasting the skin of her neck.

She felt as if she’d never eaten, her senses overwhelmed as if drunk. She made a small noise low in her throat, pressing her body against his in return. He chuckled and spread his hands at her waist, running them up her back and under the now-loosened armor.

“You test my patience, I see. Trust in me, I desire to see you naked before me. But all in good time,” he purred, tugging the chest piece over her head and tossing it in the corner. The knot of her hair had also become knocked askew, and he took it down now, the raven feather strands spilling over his hands and onto her shoulders.

So beautiful, Alistair breathed as I pulled my hair free and straddled him. Lyna closed her eyes and turned her head. “Please… it hurts.”

Zevran growled. She opened her eyes to see him staring at her, his eyes dark and frustrated. “Lyna… I swear to you I will burn every memory you have of him tonight, if I must.”

“Take them, I’m begging you,” she replied, tears spilling as her hands, shaking, took hold of her linen undershirt and undid the ties. He leaned in again and kissed her tears away. He did not stop her hands this time. Instead she felt his hands at the fasteners for her leg armor, swiftly undoing the leather buckles and knots so it all fell away, crumpling at her feet.

When Zevran stepped away, she felt cold for a moment. Then she saw him watching her remove her linens as he undid his own armor, saw the way his eyes devoured her hungrily, and flushed. She stood before him in her smallclothes, watching him as well. His hands were slender and calloused, a few pink scars from blades and grenades showing in a sea of caramel skin. It was like that on the rest of his lean, muscular body, she could see. Several scars she recognized from battles they had fought together.

She stepped forward and touched one of those scars, a stab he’d taken from Taliesin just under his ribs. Zevran, in turn, raised a hand and traced the path of a longsword that had barely sliced her across her chest, but could have been fatal if she hadn’t moved back as quickly as she had. Lyna’s skin caught fire along that path again. Starved for touch, the lightest whisper of it became a feast.

“More,” she said quietly.

In answer, he growled once more and picked her up, tossing her onto her bed. He climbed in after and lowered his body onto hers, skin touching so much skin, his hands now sliding over and under her breastband. Her legs slid up against his, and those nerves too caught fire.

Lyna’s hands roamed over as much of Zevran’s body as she could reach, and caught his mouth with hers. The salt of her tears mixed with the wine, and she drank at them, drank at him. He found the knot for her breastband and tugged it free, her breasts falling heavily into his hands. Aching so long for touch, her nipples drew tight and hard under his thumbs as they swept along her curves. Lyna and Zevran both groaned, and he bent to take a nipple into his mouth, his tongue swirling around the little nub.

She threaded her fingers through his fine blond hair, arcing her body upward against his.

“More,” she whimpered, and his hands moved from her breasts, his fingertips trailing fire down her ribs to her hips. He sat back a little, pulling away, looking from her bared body to her face, as he slid his fingers just under the strap at her hips.

“You can still say ‘no,’” he said hoarsely, “though I would hate to leave like this. Say it, and I will go.”

Mythal’enaste. Ghilan’nain’enaste. Even the fucking Maker preserve her.“Yes, Zevran. By all the gods, please. Don’t go.”

He smiled wickedly, and his fingers hooked under the strap, drawing it down over the curves of her abdomen and hips. He leaned forward once more, his mouth following in the wake of his fingers as they slowly pulled the final barrier down. Lips and teeth and tongue made fiery whorls against the skin of her thighs, knees, and calves. She let out a moan, part pleasure and part anticipation, and writhed. She was hungry, so hungry for touch that each little thing Zevran did only made her need it more.

In the dim candlelight, she caught Zevran watching her move, smiling as he removed his last undergarment. He stayed like that for a moment longer as if he would burn the sight of her, naked, into his memory, then crouched, hands and mouth making a return journey back up her calves, knees, thighs…

Lyna sucked in a sharp gasp as one of his fingers swept lightly up the dewed folds of her sex. All her senses exploded at once. She clutched at the sheets and opened her thighs, and was rewarded with two fingers caressing her labia. Soon his thumb joined them, sweeping upward to find her clitoris and press on it.

“Lethallin,” she breathed, arching, feeling taut as a drawn bow, and reached down to grasp his hand. He paused, uncertain, until she began demonstrating how she wanted to be touched. More pressure. Circling. More, more. He chuckled and obliged, and she hummed her pleasure, her other hand running up her body to grasp a nipple and pinch it.

“Such a hungry thing you are,” Zevran murmured. He paused stroking her to finish his return journey back up the bed, stretching out beside her, and then resumed. His mouth claimed the nipple she was pinching, suckling hard on it, and she groaned his name.

“Tell me,” he whispered, and flicked his tongue. She writhed, and reached out to slide a hand up along his thighs.

“Mmm. I like that, but not yet. Not unless you want. Tell me what you want,” he said, releasing her nipple to nibble at her neck again.

In answer, she rolled onto her side and hooked a leg over his. “Keep your thumb there…,” she managed, shaking with need, “…and give me your fingers.” She reached over and pulled his face in for a kiss, biting his lip before darting her tongue into his mouth. She pressed her hips against his hand. “I want them inside me.”

Lyna felt her dear friend’s fingers gently part her labia, then slowly push inside. She dimly heard his groan of pleasure at finding her so very slick with want, the thunder of her desire pounding loud in her ears. She pushed her hips against his hand again, crying out against his mouth as she was filled. His fingers started a slow rhythm, pressing and flicking at her clitoris before sliding in her again. She could barely see, her whole world was on fire and she needed to feed it.

“More,” she gasped. “More. Give me more.”

She felt Zevran roll both of them over, his body now stretched full length on top of her. His hand continued to work, but she could feel his cock hard and swollen against her hip, and oh she desperately needed it. She ran her hands down his back, feeling the muscles ridged and trembling, and drew her nails along them.  She was gratified to hear him hiss, and he bucked.

“Demon,” he growled, his eyes glittering. She’d felt his erection jump and knew she needed to shatter his control. She raised her leg higher and twisted against his hand, once, twice. He suddenly withdrew his fingers, his hand trapping her leg against his waist. She cried out, bereft. Then she stared at him, wide-eyed, as he brought those fingers to his mouth, tasting her. She bit her lower lip as he closed his eyes momentarily, savoring. “Mmm.”

“Please, lethallin…” His back was now lightly dewed in sweat, his whole body hot to the touch.

“Just a moment,” he said, a teasing note in his otherwise strained voice. He suckled on his fingers and watched her face.

“Zevran…,” as she dragged her fingers along his spine.

“Yes?” he replied, and suddenly shifted to hike her other leg up against his waist as well. He lay fully between her legs, now, and oh Creators she felt him, swollen against her sopping cunt. He trapped her there, unmoving, and her world narrowed to that point. That one, hungry, needing point. She could count his thundering heartbeats, and several passed before she cried out.

“Fuck me. By all the gods, please, fuck me!”

“My pleasure.” Oh he looked so smug. It was maddening.

A little wriggling, and then he slid his cock inside her. A guttural groan, trailing off at the end like a wounded animal, escaped him. Lyna fed on that groan, fed on the friction and the fullness of him entering her, and twisted in his grasp, needing to be well and truly fucked. She moaned with need, and it was answered with an exquisite, but agonizing, measured thrusting. She growled now and lunged up, fastening her teeth against Zevran’s shoulder.

He sucked in a hissing breath and jerked, letting go of her legs to pin her hands down, keeping her from using her nails on him again. She wrapped her legs around him instead, undulating her hips against his the way she needed to, as if she would take everything that had ever been denied her.

“Lyna… scopami…,” Zevran groaned, his hands tightening around her wrists and his hair brushing gently against her face as he struggled to keep up with her urgent pace. He clenched his jaw and rumbled deep in his chest as she bucked against him, her head thrown back to utter quickening “ahs.”

That little twist… there… again, again, oh again…  Their thrusting touched off a nerve deep inside her, and it thrummed high and sweet and long, a plucked note that reverberated and built until she sang it out in Zevran’s ear. And like that, all his control was gone, slamming into her over and over until he abruptly stopped with a barked cry, almost a howl, holding himself very still as he shuddered and moaned a phrase she couldn’t make out.

After a long moment where they just breathed, Zevran let go of her wrists and slumped down on top of her.

“I will need to make some apologies,” he muttered. Then he rolled to the side, grasping her hips to move her with him, and smiled wanly at Lyna. “You make it difficult to last long, you know.”

A bittersweet pang. “Yes,” she said, her mouth crooked. “So I have been told.”

“Please, forgive me,” he said, and kissed her mouth. “I am trying to help you, and that is not helpful.” He brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. “I only meant to compliment you, and suggest something slower. But,” he shrugged, “I am here for you, not for me. If this is what you need, I will not deny it.” He grinned lasciviously.

She snorted, amused. “You may grow to regret that,” she replied, feeling emboldened.

He raised an eyebrow. “Was that a challenge I heard? I believe it was.”

“Mmm,” she hummed, dissembling and smirking. “But at the moment what I need is the washbasin.” She moved to untangle her legs from his.

“Oh no, you do not get to run from a challenge,” he said, running his hand over her hip and under her ass to grip her thigh.

“Zevran, I am not running, I simply wish to get clean,” she protested, and began pushing herself up.

Before she could react, Zevran flipped her onto her back. “No need to get out of bed for that,” he said, his tawny eyes alight with mischief. Both of his hands were on her thighs, now, and he lowered himself between them, kissing and licking her abdomen.

“Is that so,” Lyna murmured, fascinated. Her skin still tingled, and his breath across her stomach made gooseflesh. She shifted her hips, and he glanced up, mock aggrieved.

“Do you mind? You have issued a challenge, and I have chosen my weapon.” He slid his hands down her thighs, his thumbs coming to rest at their junction with her pelvis, distractingly close to her swollen lips. His mouth trailed along the cradle of her hips.

“Mmm. Your hands? They hold no cloth,” she said, feeling flush with a familiar heat once more.

“No, my dear.” His mouth reached the same juncture of pelvis and thigh as his thumbs had. His tongue began tracing lazy circles.

“You don’t mean…”

“I do.”

“Then you had best stop talking.”

“So bossy! I like it.”

Chapter Text

Denerim is burning, oh Mythal save them!

Terrified people are running past me, chased by slavering bands of darkspawn. On my right, Alistair is smiting one group of hurlocks, Duncan’s shield held high as a battering ram. Over my head, a piece of broken statue is hurtling as an improvised boulder to smash in the midst of another grouping, knocking flat an emissary about to cast. Shale charges in its wake and begins pummeling the ground to stun a clot of genlocks. To my left, Wynne is laying waste about her with spell and sword, the ancient memories of elven arcane warriors guiding her hands.

The darkened sky belches forth the Archdemon, which lands in their midst and screams its fury, crushing the roof of the Chantry.

That’s not what happened.

I leap forward with both blades, unleashing a blurred motion of death and destruction at its length. A blackened, blighted leg lashes out and hurtles me backward to smash into the side of a nearby building, expelling all my breath.

That’s NOT what happened.

“We don’t need you, we’ve got this. Stay down!” Wynne yells, her sword sweeping forward to lash a curl of magic at the Blight-twisted Old God.

“Wynne, no,” I try to say, but can only gasp for air. You don’t understand, it has to be a Warden…

“She’s right, we don’t need you,” Alistair says, and charges the roaring Archdemon with all he has.

“No, Alistair, no!” But no sound is coming from my mouth. I can’t speak. Why can’t I speak? He can’t die, I won’t let him die…

THAT IS NOT what happened.

Morrigan strides forward, heavily pregnant, and stares imperiously down at me. “We don’t need you. Ever.” She is summoning a ball of fire, and her yellow eyes flicker balefully in the light. Behind her, the Archdemon is rising up on its hind legs to crush them all, lightning flickering around its tattered head.

No, no, why are they doing this why can’t I move-

The Archdemon strikes.

That’s when I begin to scream.

Lyna woke, thrashing against a pair of arms locked around her, moaning and weeping raggedly.

“I can’t save them, I can’t save them…,” she cried, gasping, and stopped struggling as soon as she remembered: Zevran. It was his arms around her, and he had been trying to wake her from her nightmare. She collapsed entirely and simply keened quietly, curled up in agony.

“Lyna, stop, stop. You are safe. Shhhh,” Zevran soothed in her ear. He let go of her but curled up around her, spooning her, stroking her hair. “Che cosa? Your dreams must be terrifying.”

“Oh, Mythal save me, it was Denerim again,” she answered after a long while, shuddering and hitching her breath.  He continued stroking her hair, his fingers combing it away from her face.

“That was definitely fairly terrifying,” he admitted. “But it’s done. We won.” He nuzzled at her neck.

She lay there for a while, getting her breathing under control, her tears drying. “It doesn’t feel like it for me.” Lyna stared into the darkness of the room, pre-dawn light edging the windows. “I fight and I fight, Zevran. The Archdemon is dead, but the war is not over. Not while there are darkspawn. Not while Alista- not while I face the Calling. Not while there are still Old Gods hiding, more Blights to face. Not while I stand to lose everyone and everything I love.”

Zevran sighed heavily. “You don’t ask for much, do you? Just the whole world to mourn.”

“You don’t understand-“

“No, Lyna, I do not. I am no Warden, and we may both be thankful for that. I would be terrible. I shoulder no burdens I do not care for.” He nuzzled at her neck again. “You are alive. Start by simply enjoying that.”

She remained silent, and thought about Zevran’s beautiful, battle-scarred body spooning against hers, his lips at her nape. She remembered other mornings before that final battle, awakening to find she and Alistair had woven themselves together in her tent so tightly it was difficult for her to tell where they began and ended. She had sometimes thought their heartbeats were in constant conversation, united in their back-and-forth, point and counterpoint. She wondered if he awoke and thought the same, and missed it.

“Lyna?” Zevran ran his hand over her hip, caressing it.

“Mmm?”

“Every memory. Every fucking memory.” He bit her neck, and his hand moved between her legs. She gasped. Yes, being alive was definitely a good thing.

***

Zevran made good on his word, trying his absolute best to give Lyna memories to supplant those that caused her pain. It was hard to tell if he was entirely successful, because there would be no erasing Alistair, but she did admit she more than appreciated the trying. She was sore all over, and she liked it.

Lyna did some stretching exercises as she walked about her room, picking up discarded armor, straightening the remains of last night’s meal, and gave some consideration as to her priorities for the day. She still wanted some Tevene translations, and she wanted to spend some time in practice with longsword and daggers, and she really needed to organize her thoughts on what she’d learned in the library.

“My dear Warden, it is truly a pleasure to see you walking about in your skin, but it would be a greater pleasure if you would come back to bed,” Zevran called sleepily from her bed. The assassin took up most of it, his dusky limbs tangled in her sheets, and he peered at her through the veil of his sleep-mussed blonde hair.

She smiled fondly at him. “’Warden,’ is it? Well, it would be my pleasure to see that cute ass of yours get up. No more sleeping.”

Zevran pouted. “My ass is equally cute right here, and I was not intending on sleeping.”

“As tempting as that is, Zevran, there are things I need to do.”

He sighed. “Such as? What could possibly be more important than admiring this face nestled on your lovely bosom?”

“Coffee, for one. There are things I learned last night, reading all those dusty books, and I can’t organize my thoughts without a little help.”

“Are there no servants to bring us food? Really, what good is it to be a Warden-Commander and not have at least one servant to handle this for you?” He clucked his tongue disapprovingly, and shifted his position to lie on his side, cradling his head on his palm to better watch her stretching.

“There are,” she said reluctantly. She stopped her stretches, setting her hands on her hips. “I… would rather not have someone else in my room.” She hesitated. “I’m not sure how well I can trust everyone here.”

He raised an eyebrow and sat up. The sheet tumbled to his waist. “You are doing something. Something the other Wardens may not approve?”

“That’s the problem: they might. But it’s hard to say what the First Warden would do if he understood what I’m searching for. He’s been very cagey, and I’m fairly certain he’s keeping secrets from us all.” Like whatever has been distracting him about the Vimmarks. There was also what had happened between her, Alistair, and Morrigan as well, and while she preferred it remain a private affair, she had to admit the ritual had profound implications for her Order and the future of all Blights. It would be difficult to explain how this sort of magic worked, as she didn’t understand it herself, and she was reluctant to implicate herself any further in blood magic than she already was… to their collective knowledge, anyway.

It was difficult enough, seeing the looks Lyna got from other Wardens as she passed by, thinking she didn’t see them. It was common knowledge that she should have died. A Warden is supposed to die. The Blight was gone, Urthemiel wasn’t coming back, so how was she still here?

Fiona. The thought struck her, remembering what she had learned about Utha and Duncan and Maric in the Deep Roads with the Architect. Another secret kept: how was Fiona cured of the darkspawn taint? She was released from the Grey Wardens, the only person alive – an elven mage, at that! – who had ever been kicked out because she couldn’t be Joined again.

“Lyna?”

She realized Zevran had been speaking to her while she’d been woolgathering. No, not just that: he’d gotten out of bed and was standing in front of her, arms folded.

“You see? I need coffee,” she said, then eyed him. “Yes, that ass is definitely cute out of bed. I just might spank it.”

“My poor ass, why would you abuse it so?”

“Because I need it to put some pants on and fetch me some coffee. Be my servant. And do some flirting and find out some information for me,” Lyna said, walking around behind him to pinch his cheek.

Zevran yelped. “You could just ask, you know.”

“But it’s more fun this way. And if you do a particularly excellent job, your ass will be well rewarded.”

“The burden of being so handsome,” he complained, but there was no heat in it. “What do you need to know?”

“Where the First Warden might hide contraband, so we can steal it.”

Zevran’s eyes glittered.

Chapter Text

On Lyna’s return trip to the library, she passed isolated clusters of Wardens and servants talking and whispering. Most did not seem to see her, but the few who did would stop talking as she approached, only to resume their conversations as soon as she was but a few steps away. It was no use denying that they were talking about her, though in times past she could have easily dismissed the worry as simple paranoia.

She wasn’t sure what they were speaking of about her, this time, and frankly she didn’t care to know at the moment. Until it became a true matter of concern, she would continue on her mission. Zevran was doing what he did best, gathering information and scouting for her, and so she was using the time to resume her research.

First: see what else she could find on what happened to Fiona and Duncan after their battle with the Architect. Aside from knowing how Fiona was freed from the Joining, she was curious to know how Duncan had managed to escape from the accelerated Taint the others had suffered due to First Enchanter Remille’s brooches. Nothing in the record had suggested that, which in itself was suspicious. For that matter, no mention was made of the brooches being destroyed, only that the Wardens had attempted to do their own research. The second matter was more alarming than the first.

But second: something, anything, that might break the code of Morrigan’s book. Well, technically just translate for her, but it might as well be code for all she understood it. She needed a better understanding of what lay within before seeking outside help. She wasn’t ready yet to fully break the tradition of keeping Warden secrets, much less involve the Chantry through Brother Genitivi. Last resorts were last for good reason.

As Lyna approached familiar shelves, she passed the case that contained the artifacts from the Fourth Blight: Andoral’s horns. Tattered banners from Hossberg and the forces that Garahel commanded. Garahel’s weapons. She might once have stood and admired the tableau, in younger and more innocent days, but to her now it was disconcerting. It was a visible reminder of what should have been her fate, and she wondered if there were yet plans to make such a thing for her and Urthemiel as well. The Archdemon’s grisly remains had already been dispatched here, she knew, after the Orlesian Wardens showed up to help destroy the remaining wandering bands of darkspawn between Redcliffe and Denerim. Broken darkspawn weapons, bits of masonry Shale hurled, and other such trophies had also been collected. Where in the name of the Creators would they put such things?

She wondered what else might be found in such a disturbing repository.

Rounding a corner, Lyna spied a familiar towhead: Falke. He was studying a book filled with maps, from the looks of it, and scratching notes on a small sheaf of paper next to him. She saw his brows furrowed, lips moving silently as he parsed some phrases that seemed to puzzle him. As she approached, and he looked up, she could see the maps were actually battle plans. The one he was currently studying was… Vigil’s Keep.

“Commander,” he said, flushing and rising. Lyna coughed and indicated the air.

“It’s, ah, dry.”

“Yes. Some new arrivals will drink water more often,” Falke said, then fell silent, awkwardly shifting from foot to foot. He looked as if he’d been caught in a compromising position, which in an endearing and innocent way he had.

“Must remember to do that,” she said. She eyed the map, then marked a spot in the Keep’s courtyard with her forefinger. “This is where Varel died.”

Falke looked from her to the book and back again, uncomfortable but curious.

“I say without reservation that Varel was the finest human commander I have ever met,” she said quietly. “He was an exemplar, a reminder of what good our Order can do, what we can be, and he never took the Joining. He was one of ours, privy to just enough of our secrets to know the price we pay, and keep those secrets for us.”

She remembered Varel’s last moments against the massive armored Ogre, sent by the Mother’s twisted darkspawn forces. Stupidly brave, fighting to preserve the Keep and all it stood for there in Ferelden. Trying to take the blows that could have come for her or the others. She sighed at the memory.

“Don’t forget him, Falke. Men and women like Varel are the true heroes, and rarely receive the recognition they deserve. Their memories tend to get swallowed up in our shadows,” she said. She shook her head and began to turn away.

“Commander…,” he called after her.

She turned back, cocking her head.

“Thank you,” he said simply.

Lyna nodded and began to turn away again, then thought better of it. Might as well find out from someone she might be able to trust.

“If you don’t mind, I could use your help,” she said. She tried telling herself she did not see a worshipful light in his eyes as he smiled, attentive. It was a ridiculous ego trap, and she wasn’t taking advantage of him. He’d seen her drunk, for heaven’s sake. “Do you have the time to spare?”

“Of course, Commander.”

“Wonderful. Two things, then. I couldn’t help but notice a lot of… talk… happening around me. It’s a bit disturbing not to know what’s being said.”

Falke looked uncomfortable again. “There is a rumor you are in bed with the Crows. Some wonder if you are involving us with Antiva.”

Lyna laughed. “Is that all? No, Antiva will have nothing to do with it.”

“Ah.” The fact she all but admitted she was sleeping with Zevran apparently set Falke back on his heels a bit. He’d need time to reconcile these thoughts with his Andrastian upbringing, as well as her previous involvement with the new king of Ferelden. “Well, good. The First Warden left for Hossberg this morning, so it was thought…” He shrugged helplessly.

Word apparently spread fast, not just of Zevran’s appearance at Weisshaupt but his taking up her bed as well. Not that she cared, but the fact the others thought what she did somehow influenced the First Warden’s political maneuverings was not a comfortable thought. From what she had gathered, the First Warden and politics weren’t strangers to begin with, and more to benefit himself and less the Wardens. Not that he didn’t gather power for them at all, but rather she understood that the increase of Warden power was an increase of his own.

But with the Crows always looking for Zevran… if the First Warden truly knew about him and meant to tell someone, then she had but a few days, perhaps a week at best, to do what she needed to and get him out of here. Perhaps she could still make this work to her advantage.

Lyna shook her head. “Let me worry, Falke. The rest is simply talk.”

The Ander nodded. “You said two things?”

“Right. The second thing: how much do you know of the Tevinter language?”

A decent amount, as it turned out. He was far from fluent, and his knowledge a sketchy patchwork of modern and ancient Tevene because of the history of the Anderfels and its proximity to the crumbling Imperium, but he was able to give her a brief lesson, going so far as to write a few items of vocabulary. And while he’d never needed any translations, himself, he at least knew where she could find books to help her. It would cut down on the time she needed to spend researching here, at least. Especially now that her time was at a premium, although Falke couldn’t know that. The less he knew, the better off he would be.

“Weisshaupt was built by the Tevinter Imperium, did you know that?” Falke suddenly offered.

“No, I didn’t. I suppose it stands to reason – they helped found the Grey Wardens, didn’t they? I’m afraid I haven’t had much time to study our history,” she admitted.

“Yes! Along with dwarves and elves, before Holy Andraste’s time,” he said, his normal reticence to speak gone. “There aren’t many artifacts of that time left, so really you only get to see it in the architecture and the mausoleum. You can especially see the dwarven influence in the mausoleum.”

They had hit upon Falke’s true passion, she could see it in his eyes and mannerisms. She wasn’t sure if it was history in general or Grey Warden history specifically, but at this moment it didn’t matter. What did matter is that the young man had become even more important to her in that moment.

“Mausoleum?”

“It’s like the glass case,” he said, indicating the Fourth Blight’s memorial in the library, “but it’s a larger, open room underground, near the cellars. There are some remains from the other slain Old Gods, except for Dumat’s. I’m not sure why that one isn’t included. I think those remains used to be there a long time ago, but no one knows what happened, it’s been too long.”

He shrugged and continued.

“We also have the armor and weapons from Carinus, Corin, Neriah, Isseya, old bits of griffon battle harnesses, a piece of broken siege weaponry from the siege here during the Second Blight… mostly anything to do with those who have slain the Old Gods,” he finished, beaming.

His words dropped like rocks into her stomach. She felt slightly queasy. “Would I… is there…” How do you ask if this is where your final resting place will be?

Falke ducked his head, now reminded of whom he was speaking with.

“There is… something, Commander. Urthemiel’s remains, mostly.”

Lyna’s mouth went dry. “Show me. Please.”

“Certainly,” he said, surprised. With care, Falke placed a blank sheet of paper between the pages of the book he’d been studying to mark his spot and stoppered his ink well, then waved his hand forward.

“It’s this way, past the Chamberlain’s office,” he said, leading Lyna to a set of dark iron doors she hadn’t noticed behind a cluster of tall shelves. Once he opened the doors, she could indeed see a hallway beyond them, with the Chamberlain’s offices the first suite encountered. Beyond that was another set of dark iron doors, which opened onto a flight of steps leading underground. Most of the stonework she could see up to that point was rough but well-joined, what she’d become accustomed to seeing, and then it transitioned to something much smoother, reminding her of the better preserved ancient dwarven thaigs like Bownammar. A chill ghosted across her skin.

They descended into a much larger, open room than what she’d envisioned based on Falke’s description. She had half-expected something similar to the dwarven mausoleums she had encountered in the Deep Roads, but those had also involved heavy stone sarcophagi with intricate mechanisms to raise and lower the heavy stone lids on chains, and not these stone and glass constructions marching like columns down the length of the room.

Three of them were completely occupied, mostly dominated with a gigantic skull, or claws, or some other bones that remained of the Old God slain. The torches along the wall were necessarily somewhat sparse, given the room was not frequently visited and thus needed less upkeep, so it was somewhat difficult to tell which Old God and its slayer were entombed within apart from the very first, which was conspicuous in the absence of Archdemon remains though the case was no less occupied with artifacts. Dumat and the First Blight, then. Perhaps she might expect these were in chronological order, apart from the Fourth Blight memorial upstairs.

If so… She approached the last pedestal arrangement, obviously only partially filled. A bone-deep cold spread through her as she gazed upon the familiar, terrifying giant spines and horned skull of Urthemiel. Its empty eye sockets leered in the flickering torch light, reminding her of Denerim on fire and the stench of sulphur, corruption, and burning bodies.

She raised her hand, placing it on the glass, as if trying to reassure herself it was safely locked away. Above her fingertips, from this angle, she could barely see the fracture between Urthemiel’s horns; after what seemed like desperate hours of fighting the monstrosity, she had gambled on a distraction and gone sliding underneath the Old God, screaming out her rage as she used Duncan’s weapons to slice through its underbelly, then, dodging the wild flailing, scrambled up those spines to leap on its neck and plunge all her terror, pain, revenge, and loss into its skull. The Old God’s explosive death had sent her hurtling across Fort Drakon’s battlements, the shockwave stealing her breath and her vision and almost her consciousness.

Remembering it all now left her heart thumping heavily in her chest. Her gaze shifted down to the rest of the unfinished tableau, a clear section marking where she and her weapons – Duncan’s – might go when she was finally, properly dead.

“I don’t belong here,” she whispered, dropping her hand and backing away.

“Commander, I… I’m sorry,” Falke said, distraught.

“Don’t be,” she said, roughly. “No one belongs here. Yet here we are, because war is for horror and ‘heroes’ alike. Try not to be a hero, Falke. It’s a shit vocation.” The expression on the young man’s face was a perfect storm of confusion, hurt, and hero worship, and it was the last she couldn’t stand to see the most. She turned and left the mausoleum, retreating back into the light.

The library was quiet and still, the Tevinter vocabulary Falke had written still sitting where he’d left it on top of the maps of Vigil’s Keep. She folded the sheet and put it in her belt. All of a sudden she needed to hit things very, very hard.

With luck, she might get to hit them in the practice yard.

Chapter Text

One. Two. Heartbeat. Duck. One two one two one two twist right. Feint. Hard left. Evade, move to flank. Sweet spot in the kidney, shank it. Dance back, can’t track you properly. Hard kick, close in both daggers across the throat. Next target.

The sun in the practice yard was punishing, contributing to the sweat that rolled freely out of every pore. Lyna’s practice leathers were too hot and soaked in her sweat from the inside, starting to chafe. She was practicing alone, though she wished she had more than a target dummy for a sparring partner. The other Wardens present were either too inexperienced or seemed disinclined to take her on, though a few had decided to take a break from their own practice, taking shelter in the nearby shade to watch her unorthodox dueling. They lounged against the pillars and tables of the pavilion, swapping skins of water or wine, for the most part, though out of the corner of her eye she had also seen a coin purse change hands once.

The exercise let her think. Not the analysis of battle plans, this, or the endless permutations of diplomacy necessary to navigate and manipulate lords and ladies to get what she needed. This was the meditative calm that let her emotions wash through her, feel them without being blinded and overwhelmed. It was a familiar dance carried out with herself ever since Tamlen’s death, waking up to discover she too may die if she did not join this strange, dark-skinned shemlen Keeper Marethari told her would make her a Grey Warden and take her from everything she knew and loved.

She would still die, but not yet. Not yet. She could feel the corruption in her blood, could remember the preternatural tingle that was the first warning of darkspawn approaching before it turned into a full-on buzzing itch under her skin, could even remember the faintest whisper of music the first time she dreamed of Urthemiel, but it was still largely quiescent. She felt the Taint like a large predatory creature lurking in the shadows, hunting her but biding its time. In no hurry, yet, to devour its prey.

Maybe not ever. Mythal, June, Andruil’enaste. Fen’Harel enansal. She would use every bit of cunning to defeat the Calling, and become the rage and terror of the Deep Roads if she could not. She needed to sink her daggers into the heart of every squirming broodmother, snap the necks of every emissary, and explode through every ogre to reach the burning corruption at the center of the whole foul, teeming mass lying in wait under their feet.

Lyna, snarling, exploded up from a crouch to plunge both daggers deep into the dummy’s torso, the force of her attack snapping it half off its post, straw and rags and sawdust spilling in soft hisses to the packed earth.

The yard was quiet. She dragged in deep breaths, refocusing her attention, and yanked the daggers back out, sheathing them. She would need to spend time cleaning and resharpening them before sleep tonight.

Lyna heard conversation quietly resume as she cupped her hands into a nearby water barrel and sluiced water on her face and the back of her neck. Fenedhis, it hadn’t been this hard at Amaranthine. Time had given her title room to grow larger than her name, even among brothers and sisters. She cupped her hands in the barrel a few more times, drinking some and splashing the rest on her head and chest to cool off some more.

“Ahh, there you are,” she heard Zevran say. He was approaching from the other side of the yard with a slight swagger. She imagined him for a moment with that rolling gait on the docks of Antiva City, as he’d described it to her. The assassin took in the water dripping from her face and hair and fairly smirked.

“You’re wet.”

“So glad you noticed,” she said drily. Someone tried stifling a guffaw, badly, and began coughing.

“How could I not? Here you are, standing radiant in this ridiculously hot sun, chest heaving and glistening from such deadly and nimble exertions, it is no wonder so many sit in the shade. You shall make them faint, my dear Warden,” he said, flourishing a wave that took in several men and two women. The cougher, an older man standing next to a younger woman, shrugged at Lyna when she glanced his way. The young woman next to him scowled and punched his arm.

“Would you like to join me, then?” she replied, arching an eyebrow at Zevran and giving him a small smirk of her own. “The Grey Wardens could use a little toughening up.” She withdrew her daggers once more, twirling them in her hands for show.

“You wish to kill them? My beauty paired with yours will surely do that, Lyna. I cannot have that on my conscience,” Zevran said, clearly enjoying the public bantering. So, too, were those within earshot, she could see.

“The two of us together might make them resistant to more dangerous sights.”

“A cure or a kill, how exciting! Very well. But not today. You have clearly over-exerted yourself and will need time to recover, else I may too easily overpower you.” Wicked man. He’d said that very deliberately, dropping his voice slightly to suggest that it was not fighting skill he was talking about. Now the young woman in their audience, a petite blonde with a slightly broken button nose, flushed and pulled on her companion’s arm. The change in the rest of the Wardens was marked, as well – it was more relaxed. A reminder that Lyna was as flawed as they.

“I will let you think that, if you like. I always find a way to reverse the situation and come out on top,” she grinned, brazen, and sheathed her daggers once more. She folded her arms, cocked her head to the side, and sauntered up to him until she was but a step away.

“In that unlikely event, I shall enjoy the view.” Zevran’s tawny eyes were enjoying the view right at that moment.

She scoffed, playful. “Come with me. I have something to show you.” She crooked a finger and continued sauntering back into the ancient keep. It really was too hot, anymore, and she really did have things to discuss with him, but the temptation to continue the public flirtation had been too great to resist.

“I am eager with anticipation,” he murmured. The purr in his voice was almost too much.

The shadows of the keep’s interior were blessedly cool, now. They soothed at her still-overheated skin as Lyna led Zevran back to the library in silence. She knew he’d barely glanced at the ghastly trophies in the glass case, so seeing the mausoleum would be… different. She wasn’t sure what to expect from him, truthfully, but she needed to show him nevertheless. He had a part in it, as well.

“You are very quiet, Lyna. What waits for us in this darkness, mm?” He sounded on edge. His voice had a similar strained quality from when they’d been in the Deep Roads.

“The future,” she said, and tried taking his hand. Zevran shook his head, but continued to follow through the doors and down the steps. Even the presence of griffon carvings and tapestries couldn’t quite dispel the unique, alien and unnerving feeling of being underground.

Brasca,” he swore softly when she showed him the remains of Urthemiel in the incomplete case. “I had forgotten what a gigantic bastard the Archdemon was.”

“I keep trying to,” Lyna sighed. She stared at it again, willing herself to master the roiling in her stomach. “It’s the space next to it, here, that bothers me more now.”

“More than a little gruesome, I agree. But why show me this? I am uncertain what future this represents for me.”

“If you’re not careful, something of you might end up in there too.” She planted her feet and scowled. “I take risks in saving these people because I want to, because I need to. But I won’t be chained to it. I won’t have anyone else shackled to their history. No shemlen will have anything of us that we do not give freely, you understand me? Not the Crows, not the Wardens, nothing and no one.”

She paced, hands punctuating the air at the last sentence. Zevran listened, arms folded and nodding.

“Let them put Duncan’s weapons in there. Cailan’s armor, if Alistair hands it over. I don’t care. Don’t let them have me.”

The assassin was uncomfortable. “I will help, but… shouldn’t you be having this conversation with Alistair? He is most able to make sure of this, and will understand your wishes.”

“Will he?” she said sadly. She looked at the case again. “He loves the Wardens. If I hadn’t made him King, he would be with us now. That spot could be just for him, and he wouldn’t mind it. It was his world.”

“He would also complain about the cheeses and say other stupid things to make you laugh,” he muttered, and sighed. “Lyna, Alistair still loves you. Tell him your wishes, he will make sure of them.”

“He might go to his Calling before me,” she hissed. She dashed angry tears from her eyes. “I’m trying to stop it entirely, but there’s a more than good chance I won’t be able to find a cure. I need someone – my friend, Zevran, you – to help me in case I fail and he dies. Please. I’m begging you.”

He was quiet a long while, thoughtfully rubbing at his lower lip. “Well, as long as you are begging…”

“ZEVRAN.”

“Alright, I apologize! Lyna, my life is as unpredictable as yours. I, too, may die before you, in which case I want you to promise me to arrange for a grand orgy in Antiva City,” he said. “Or at least for a dozen of the most beautiful whores to cry over my casket, I am not picky.”

“Augh. Fine, stubborn man,” she said, flinging up her hands.

“Thank you. I feel much better. And I also promise to do what I can to make sure you are not… here.” Zevran shuddered. “Can we go now?”

“Yes.” She began walking back up the stairs when a hard smack landed on her ass. She yelped. “What-“

“I thought your ass needed rewarding, it did such excellent work in the practice yard.”

“Shut up. You’re drawing me a bath.”

“Am I? Again, so bossy. Shall I get us some wine, as well?”

“Yes. Get a servant to bring food before the bath. You’ll be too busy to answer a door.”

“Well well.”

Telling me your information.”

“That as well.”

Chapter Text

The trouble, as Zevran presented it while scrubbing her back, is that the First Warden didn’t have just one potential cache, but several. Those few who spent time around the man, when he was present at Weisshaupt, described an interesting array of possibilities: his own office (which Lyna had planned to check anyway), the Chamberlain’s office (to include the mausoleum beyond it, because of the planning for the Fifth Blight memorial), and the ancient griffon stables. (“What about the treasury?” “I was hoping the charming fellow might include that possibility as well, especially once I offered my massage services, but it never… came up.” “Poor you.”)

“Three locations, three chances to be caught,” Lyna sighed.

Zevran shrugged. “Really, I only see it as one – it is much easier to explain our presence at the mausoleum or the stables, no? But the First Warden’s office, ah, that gets tricky. And fun.”

“True, but the more we are seen together at strange times and places…”

“We are inventive and curious lovers, are we not?” he chuckled.

“Depraved might be a better word, if caught in the mausoleum, but certainly, we’ll go with inventive,” Lyna cracked drily.

“You have spent too much time with these Wardens, it has warped your thinking. The proximity of death is intoxicating to you,” Zevran offered.

“Now we’re speaking of you.”

“I can offer no rebuttal to that.”

“I need to be the one to check the First Warden’s office,” Lyna decided. “It would be easier to explain my presence there than yours.”

If we are to be caught, which I am not planning for.”

“Neither am I, but I would be a fool not to consider the possibility.” She chewed on her lower lip, thinking, and took a sip of watered wine. “You will still accompany me, but I would rather you scout and distract for me, in case of wandering servants and the like.”

“As you wish. Now, may we finish this discussion out of the bath? We are wrinkling, and I have a sudden desire to vigorously rub you dry.”

So it was that, later that night, the assassin was keeping a servant distracted while Lyna poked around the First Warden’s office.  From the sound of it, Zevran had encountered him earlier in the day and was continuing their conversation. A conversation full of shy stammers from the poor lad, certainly, which meant the Antivan elf had turned on the charm full force and begun suggesting filthy things to pass the time. How he managed the energy, she did not know.

Where in the Void did the First Warden keep that contraband? Even some correspondence, or a key, might work. She poked and searched, feeling more frustrated by the moment at finding nothing. All the letters in the writing desk were answers to invitations, or short outpost status updates.

Montsimmard – Good
Amaranthine – Building
Denerim - Restock?
Marches – Wycombe rocky, Ostwick supportive, Kirkwall Retreat

Then she remembered his maps of the Free Marches, how his fingers lingered near Kirkwall and the mountains nearby.  Falke had told her that Weisshaupt was built by the Tevinter Imperium – hadn’t Kirkwall been as well? A slave city? Would a Grey Warden outpost also be built on a Tevinter ruin?

Something to think of later. The thought did not help her with her current search.

She stared at the walls. There had to be something. A hidden catch? Surely not the bookshelf, it was too heavy and anything he’d want to hide would need to remain accessible. But the hunting trophies… one was a wyvern’s head, mounted on a plaque. It was quite the prize, certainly, but so were the other trophies. What caught her eye was how clean it appeared.

Lyna stepped closer to examine the wyvern head trophy. In recognition of the gratitude between de Montfort and Grey Warden. In peace, vigilance. An odd token of gratitude. She carefully ran her fingers over the trophy, hoping to find… yes. Its bejeweled eye clicked as she gently pressed it, and the wyvern’s jaw shifted open to reveal a key hidden under its “tongue.” She snatched the key and just as carefully closed the wyvern’s jaw. Where the key fit, she had no idea, but she was at least much closer than she had been to finding out where the Blighted brooches, and any other dangerous items, might be hidden.

With nothing else to discover, she listened carefully for movement and conversation outside of the First Warden’s office to judge where Zevran and the servant might be. Hearing absolutely nothing, she cautiously opened the door to be certain of no nearby lurkers, then quickly exited. She could still hear or see nothing of Zevran or the male servant, but was reluctant to search – if it was thought Zevran was stealing something, surely an alarm would have been raised by this point. If she went looking for him, she herself might raise suspicion.

Nothing to do for it but leave and hope the assassin found his own way out.

Lyna thought about heading to the Chamberlain’s offices, but the thought of being in the library yet again, even with its tall windows, was too confining. The griffon roosts, then.

She found her way out to Weisshaupt’s inner courtyard, then ascended the long stairs and winding pathways that would take her to the roosts.  True night had descended, along with the cooler air it brought, but the stone beneath her feet was still warm from the sun – it would be long hours before it fully cooled, by which time the sun would rise and warm it again. It made the hike fairly pleasant.

At least a few other Wardens thought so, as well. Lyna nodded to them as she passed, glad to see at least one of them greet her with a smile – she returned it, wishing them a pleasant evening. It was such a little thing, but it lifted her spirits. She’d spent too much time alone the past few months, if not longer.  These were her brothers and sisters, joined by purpose. She wanted also a bond of friendship, a similar camaraderie to what she’d had during the Blight, or Vigil’s Keep after. It seemed easier to develop relationships with a common and immediate threat to work against. Now…

Lyna crested the final few steps to the ancient griffin roosts. A high wall separated her from the wide, open bowl of ground where the griffons used to stalk and kill the food provided them, and these feeding grounds were the foundation of the staggered, empty perches cut into Broken Tooth. She closed her eyes a moment and imagined she could see them and smell them, fierce, musky birdlike creatures similar to the kestrels and hawks she’d seen sailing on the winds in the mountain passes that led to Orzammar. But all she truly smelled was damp stone, dead grass, and dry, rotten wood.

Hearing footfalls behind her, she thought for a moment Zevran had joined her. She was surprised to see Falke, instead.

“Commander, I, ah, hope I’m not intruding,” he said. The young man stood several feet away, hesitating to take the last few steps.

Fenedhis lasa. This was terrible timing, but neither did she want to push away someone she thought could be a friend. She shook her head.

“No, please,” Lyna said, beckoning him to take the last steps and join her.

“Thank you.” He walked up and stopped, wringing his hands a few times. His brows were drawn together in awkward contrition. “I saw you coming this way. I like coming here as well. Thought I might… come apologize. For earlier. I could have spared you…”

“No, Falke, you couldn’t have. I would have seen it eventually,” she said heavily. She turned to look out on the feeding grounds. There was wind, and the far-off chattering of some nocturnal insect, but all was otherwise quiet and still. “I would have gone to see for myself, or someone else might have shown me. It was an eventuality. Like death.” She snorted with dark humor. “My death, specifically.”

Falke was quiet for a while, also looking out on the feeding grounds.

“Commander, I-”

“Falke, call me Lyna. It’s just you and I, here.”

He dipped his head. “As you will. Lyna… I think I can understand.” He wrung his hands a few more times, wrestling with his thoughts, then set his hands on his hips. “None of us will ever know what it is to fight that thing. The Archdemon. We… dreamed of it. Many of us wanted to come. A few were too frightened, and they deserted. But we tried, asked to join the Orlesians. Kept hoping Loghain would lift the ban. But he never did, and then it was over.”

He shifted from foot to foot. She could see the memory disturbed him.

“I dreamed of the Archdemon and was absolutely terrified. I thought I’d understood my purpose with the Grey Wardens before, but here it was, certain death and destruction. None could possibly escape it.” He glanced over at her. “But miraculously, you did. Many are in awe, but more than anything else, Lyna, you gave us hope.”

Hearing that was bittersweet. She’d bought her life and Alistair’s at the price of blood magic and a broken heart. She was preparing to do more, to free herself and Alistair from the Calling, out of that same selfish need. She knew what it represented for other Wardens as well, but actually hearing it was something else entirely. But what would he say if he knew? What would they all think?

“To say I’m glad would be woefully inadequate,” she told him, “but I had to do many terrible things for it. To vanquish Urthemiel was no small thing by far, and I would do it again. But for us?”

Lyna looked into Falke’s earnest eyes, and hated the necessity for the raw honesty. “For Grey Wardens, it bought us nothing but time until we each face our Calling. That is the one thing we can never escape.” She might yet find them a miracle for that as well, but to offer it now would be cruel.

“True. I try not to think of it, because it may not come for me for decades yet.” His shoulders slumped and he gazed out into the chill night sky. “What you said earlier… try not to be a hero? It’s said Garahel said something similar, in the Fourth Blight. ‘Heroism is just another word for horror.’” He smiled, faintly. “You make me think of him, by the way.”

“An elf, uniter of nations? Perhaps, but I sincerely doubt it goes further than that. I can be quite persuasive, but my charm is not so legendary,” she said with a wry smile.

“But the miracles, most certainly,” Falke said. By the reverential note that crept into his voice, she knew he was thinking of the Urn of Sacred Ashes. Lyna couldn’t begin to address that. How could she? She’d had a personal experience with a shemlen legend she didn’t believe in. It would be like asking the Divine to restore the lost, ruined temples of her people. “Garahel and his sister Isseya saved the people of Cumberland and Kirkwall from the darkspawn hordes by moving them on improvised flying aravels, with Joined griffons, to the Retreat.”

Lyna looked up sharply. “The what?

“The Retreat?” Falke blinked, confused. His pale blue-grey eyes were a tarnished silver in the dark. “That’s the name given to Fortress la Haine. Well, Chateau Haine, now that it’s Duke Prosper de Montfort’s villa. We no longer needed it after the Blight, and the Joined griffons all died, so it was given back to the Montfort family.”

Her heart was suddenly thundering much too loud in her ears. Kirkwall Retreat. In gratitude.

“Oh Falke,” Lyna breathed, suddenly filled with a sense of terrible purpose. The young Ander Warden was regarding her with mild foreboding. She stared at him, and knew she had to tell him. She needed him, and she hated herself for it, hated the slow poison of hope she would be pouring in his ear.

“Our Order has harbored some very dark secrets, my friend, and it may be harboring more still,” she said, low, sad, intense. “Some secrets we may have even hidden from ourselves. Have hidden.” She approached him, setting her hands on his shoulders. Falke was transfixed, hands at his sides.

“I need your help uncovering the deepest of all: the Calling. I intend to end it.” She took a slow breath. “To begin with, I need to know where this key I took from the First Warden’s office fits.” She pulled it out and held it up in front of her. It was a simple, dark iron thing.

Falke, clearly terrified, raised a shaking hand to touch it. “Where… where did you find it?”

“In the mouth of a wyvern hunting trophy. A gift, possibly. The plaque said ‘In recognition of the gratitude between de Montfort and Grey Warden. In peace, vigilance.’”

“Garahel,” he whispered.

Chapter Text

Falke was an oddity among his people, less given to fighting and learning swordplay and more to studying anything he could get his hands on. He would not be able to earn the scars of maturity without proving himself, accomplishing some significant deed, through fighting. Although everything he learned deepened his devotion to Andraste, of which all who knew him approved, he still struggled with his family and his community to see the benefit in him joining the Chantry. Being a Chantry Brother was still vital, he argued. Brothers provided as much of a foundation for the Chantry to rest upon as its Sisters. Keeping history and studying it helped advise the Revered Mothers, Grand Clerics, even the Divine.

But studying to be a cleric did not defend against darkspawn in the Wandering Hills. So with some reluctance, Falke also picked up a longsword. He didn’t particularly want to be a Templar, but if he might convince his family he did, perhaps they would let him be. To his surprise he discovered he liked wielding a longsword, but he still didn’t quite take to it fully. It was a useful hobby, no more.

All of that changed when Falke was able to join a caravan of pilgrims to visit Our Lady of the Anderfels in the Merdaine. It was a small caravan to begin with, and no one had expected a nighttime raid of darkspawn in such large numbers. Several of his traveling companions had died at the ends of their savage, unholy weapons because there hadn’t been enough guards to defend them.

In desperation and despair, Falke had attacked a genlock and managed to bash its head in, taking its strange blade and then turning the weapon against the darkspawn’s companions. He was surrounded by five or six darkspawn, knowing he was going to die, calling for the Maker’s wrath to descend on them all as he tried his best to keep them from ravaging the rest of the caravan. It was a long, dark moment of doubt and pain.

And like a benediction from Andraste, he heard the curling of a horn that presaged the appearance of three Grey Wardens thundering in on horseback, who began cleaving through the knot of darkness with swords that appeared to him as if limned in light. It gave him hope, renewing his efforts at killing the filth threatening the faithful.

When it was over, the Grey Wardens came to see him standing over the dead darkspawn and his fallen comrades alike, wounded and staggering. Both impressed and seeing him infected with the darkspawn taint, the leader of the group, an Orth woman, convinced Falke to join the Grey Wardens. He managed to survive the journey to Weisshaupt and undertook the Joining there.

Being a Grey Warden let him be the scholar he always wanted to be,  and let his family be proud of him, at long last - let him fulfill his dreams. The secret of the Joining repulsed him, but one sometimes had to take unfortunate measures to do what needed to be done. And the glory! Nothing could possibly tarnish it. He saw it in the hangings, in the mausoleum, on the faces of his fellow Wardens who, thanks to Lyna, felt unfettered pride in their Order for the first time in a long while.

And yet… he had seen one unfortunate soul who went to her Calling during the Blight. A dwarven woman, already sickening, had kept herself cloistered for at least a week. When she emerged from her room, Falke could see her eyes bloodshot and laced with that strange, silvery taint like an ancient mirror. Black veins mottled her greyed skin, her dark hair falling out in patchy clumps. She hummed near constantly, a few men in earshot giving her strange, desperate looks, as she gathered provisions for her journey to the Deep Roads. She had gone about her tasks in such a mixture of regret, joy, and determination that it deeply disturbed Falke, who hadn’t found the words to articulate why it upset him.

Falke’s favorite subject of study, the Fourth Blight, also provided him with some misgivings. Learning about the griffons gave him a keen thrill, until he’d learned about the way they had been corrupted with a modified Joining that eventually led to their dying out. Such magnificent fabled creatures should have remained free, symbols of fierce purity and the Maker’s glory.

He believed deeply in the Wardens and their mission, and was prepared to sacrifice himself if ever called upon. He believed if Maferath had not betrayed Holy Andraste, then the Maker’s Bride would have next turned Her attention to cleansing the world of the Blight: the Wardens had a holy mission to do Her work, instead. But if something, anything, could be found to remove the corruption at the heart of the Joining, to somehow purify them again and make them holy weapons against the taint instead, Falke would gladly do everything in his power to help.

This is what Lyna has offered to him, and to have his dreams fulfilled yet again filled him with awe and terror alike. The Dalish hero may insist on her flawed nature, and find ways to disturb him without trying, but her deeds are stacked high against those flaws, and he greatly respects her and the friendship she has tried to cultivate. All these things Falke told her, to explain his disquiet and his behavior.

“Garahel,” he said, meaning the display of the elf’s armor and weapons along with Andoral’s remains – the pedestal dedicated to the Fourth Blight in the library. Below the panes of glass, the marble in the base included the Grey Warden motto. All the pedestals did. But the Fourth Blight’s pedestal included a panel he had mistakenly found one day while running his fingers over the words. It was a hairline fracture in the slab, and he had thought perhaps it was simply flawed marble. Then he remembered they were made by dwarves, who would have never allowed for such a flaw in their work.

That meant the fracture was actually something else, and overcome with curiosity, he visited night after night until he spied the Chamberlain at the memorial. He used a key very like the one Lyna found and opened a panel to remove a large box and a book.

“Under my nose the whole blessed time,” Lyna sighed, and then crushed Falke in a hug. “Ma serannas. I don’t know if I would have found it in time without you.” She let go of him and stepped back, regarding him seriously.

“Do we have any dwarf-made boxes? Something used, perhaps, to move small quantities of raw lyrium? It needs to be somewhat small, no bigger than a jewelry box,” she explained, sketching vague dimensions with her hands.

“I’m uncertain, Lyna,” he said, still fighting the urge to call her ‘Commander.’ She would always be so to him, she could tell. “You don’t need it for lyrium, I assume?”

“No, I’m not taking up lyrium-smuggling. I need the box for a piece of jewelry I know for certain is tainted, and I would have it not spread its evil while I transport it to someone I know can study it without interruption,” she said, shaking her head. She was uncertain if Avernus could adequately shield himself from its effects, but he had already lived disturbingly long as it was. He would find a way.

“And you’re certain this tainted jewelry is behind the pedestal’s panel?”

“As certain as I can be without proof, which is not reassuring, I know.” Her mouth thinned. “Call it an intuition based upon experience.” Howe’s estate. Bhelen Aeducan and the Royal Palace. The Circle Tower. The Temple of Sacred Ashes. Soldier’s Peak. Every estate and structure she had ever been to that housed people with things they wanted to keep hidden. She’d become adept at finding all things people wanted to hide and exposing them to light, and given all she has learned, she has come to see this talent as both a blessing and a curse. Hidden things, beginning with the broken, tainted eluvian she and Tamlen had discovered, only caused pain.

“I will help you,” Falke decided, after having considered her words for a moment. “What is this jewelry’s connection to the Calling?”

Lyna took a moment to look around them. The Wardens they had passed along the way to their vantage point were still out of earshot, but it never hurt to take extra precautions. She apologetically grasped Falke’s elbow and guided him to a section of the wall further away from the path, closer to one of the empty perches, and clambered up to take a seat upon it. After some momentary confusion on his part, she helped the Ander climb the wall and sit as well.

“Years before, in the time of King Maric, when Wardens hadn’t yet been fully welcomed back in Ferelden, Wardens from Orlais came to ask the King’s assistance to find one of the order in the Deep Roads,” she explained. She told Falke about Duncan, her mentor, and Warden-Commander Genevieve and her brother Bregan, Utha, the Architect, Fiona, and First Enchanter Remille. She explained about Remille’s brooches and how they were to accelerate the taint in the Wardens, to make them more susceptible to agreeing to the Architect’s mad proposal to spread the taint to make a horrifying “peace” and theoretically stop future Blights.

“The Architect and Utha disappeared at the end, and he obviously abandoned that line of experimentation to infect darkspawn with Warden blood, instead.” She scowled, remembering being penned in the Architect’s makeshift laboratory in the abandoned silverite mines in the Wending Wood. “It had also been he that woke Urthemiel between the failure at Kul-Baras and the creation of the Mother and the other awakened darkspawn.”

Falke listened in fascinated horror. He struggled, just as she did, with the idea that this awakened emissary had been seeking to stop Blights – something anyone should want, but at what price? Wardens could accept the price of the Joining, for it was their choice to make, but to force others into it or something like was a bridge too far. And in this particular case, attempting to stop a Blight had actually created one, instead.

“I tell you all this, Falke, so you understand completely what is at stake, and one thing more: while Duncan recovered, he was still Joined. Fiona, however, was freed. Our order tried to discover how this was accomplished, but found nothing.”

She smiled without humor. “They did not know someone I do, however, and he may be able to discover what they did not. But more seriously, I think the brooches remain a threat to the Grey Wardens. I cannot take all of them, however. I don’t know what may happen if it’s discovered they’re all gone. But if I take just one, it will at least diminish the potential for mischief and damage, or retaliation.” She hoped. They had had this long without strange incident that could be connected to the brooches.

“Is there no way to simply ask?” Falke said, eyebrows knitted from worry and upset.

“There may, but I have not discovered a way to do so without outright accusing anyone of betrayal, or seeking out things best left alone, or accidentally setting myself at cross-purposes with factions of Wardens that I may only be imagining.” Lyna frowned and kicked her feet against the wall.

“Believe me,” she said softly, “I want to believe that we are all of one mind, in agreement about what our order can and should do. But the more I learn, the more I move through your shemlen world, the more I understand that there are deadly undercurrents to everything, and they must be navigated carefully, and sometimes in secret.” She grimaced apologetically for the slur. It was not something she liked to apply too broadly, tempting as it sometimes was. She’d grown to like – and in one exceptional case, love – humans, on the whole, despite some of their more awful or disgusting tendencies.

She also thought Leliana might appreciate the delicacy with which Lyna was trying to approach this problem. The woman’s bard training would have been useful, here, and she would have much to discuss with Falke on the subject of the Maker. But her former companion had left for Orlais not long before Lyna had left for Amaranthine, and had been promptly swallowed up into Orlesian politics, no doubt. And parties with the shoes she adored. Lyna flexed her feet in her boots.

“I see,” Falke said, disappointed but resigned. “I have said I will help, and I will do so no matter what.”

Falke held up his hands, then gingerly grasped hers. “What work my hands and my thoughts can do, I put them in your hands. My heart has already been dedicated in service to the Maker, and I believe the Wardens do the Maker’s work. You may be doing the Maker’s work more than most, that I cannot say for certain, but I believe in it. I believe in them,” he said, releasing her hands and sweeping his own about them to encompass the feeding grounds, the Wardens, and Weisshaupt.

“We will save them from themselves. From ourselves.” Lyna smiled at Falke’s awkward wording, his attempt to make certain she understood what he meant, and he blushed, flustered. “We will save the Wardens.”

“Thank you, Falke.” She was genuinely touched at this rare display. She reached out and squeezed his arm. “Now, there’s something else I need you to know.”

“What would that be, Co- Lyna?”

“Zevran Arainai. We are old friends, he is – was – a Crow, and he is helping us. He was with me when I fought the Archdemon. Never lose sight of any of those things.” She was thinking of Zevran’s flirting with her other companions in the past, and the way in which her relationship with the elf had recently changed, and could see where the two men may come into conflict. She wasn’t planning on making too many concessions on her behavior with Zevran for Falke’s comfort, but she also felt he deserved a warning, of sorts. How did the saying go? Invest silver into one’s beliefs to prove their sincerity? Falke’s would certainly be tested. She would step between them if necessary, but hopefully being reminded of Zevran’s associates and his dedication to helping Lyna might be enough to keep any potential arguments from getting too heated.

“Ah,” the Ander said, and said nothing more. She wasn’t sure what he thought of her warning, but he didn’t seem distressed about it. They sat quietly on the wall for a while, listening to all the nocturnal noises of the butte and the fortress.

“Come,” Lyna said, after a moment of companiable silence, pushing herself off of the wall. She landed as lightly as her booted feet would allow, and held up her hand to Falke to assist him down. He shook his head and pushed as well, landing very heavily.

“Zevran should be back by now, and there is a book I would very much like for you to look at. Do me the favor of accompanying me to my quarters, please. I need to introduce you, and then we can begin working toward the next step.”

“What is the next step, if I may ask?” Falke said, his expression serious as he began walking with her back down the paths toward the fortress.

“Assuming I find what we need in the pedestal? Orlais. Fiona. I’m hoping to speak with her, convince her to come see my associate who will be studying the brooch.” Ghilan’nain help them in Orlais. Their experience with Lord Piers could be repeated often. She might as well travel in her ceremonial armor just to avoid the constant indignities.

She sighed. The Hero of Ferelden would need to pay a formal visit.

Chapter Text

“There you are, sweet Lyna. Did you- a guest? Shall I leave, or is he joining us?”

Lyna blushed, and did not look at Falke, who must be faring much, much worse. Zevran, nude, was standing profile to the door, applying a wet cloth to his leg bent on a chair. He lowered his leg and raised his eyebrow, a smile playing at the corner of his mouth. He did not make a move for his clothing, enjoying the stares at the tattoos that accentuated his musculature and other features.

She coughed and closed the door behind Falke, gently urging him to sit at a different chair.

“Stay. He will be joining us, but not in the way you are suggesting. For his sake, at least, put on some pants.” Lyna caught Zevran’s eye, hoping to convey silently a mixture of apology and promise.

“Tch. If I must,” Zevran said, and languidly reached for the leather pants he had discarded on her bed.

“Zevran, this is Falke. He has been assigned my escort here twice, and has become a friend, someone I feel we can trust.”

“Ah, I see. So you have made a friend as well, though mine is currently sleeping.” Zevran finished donning his pants and sketched a bow to Falke, who was beet red and staring at the elf’s feet. “Zevran Arainai. Professional assassin, unprofessional lover, and occasional companion of our lovely Hero of Ferelden.” He cocked his head. “If I might say, you have an interesting look. May I offer you some water?”

“Thank you,” Falke managed, his voice strangled. Lyna waved off Zevran and passed Falke the waterskin lying on her table. The Ander uncapped it and took several thirsty swallows. Her back turned to Falke, Lyna stared at Zevran and pressed her palms together in a prayerful gesture, mouthing Leliana.

Zevran shook his head, smiling regretfully. “Another one,” he muttered.

She cleared her throat. “So. To business.” She pulled out the iron key she found in the First Warden’s office and laid it on the table. “I have been successful in several ways, but there is at least one more thing I must do tonight.” She nodded toward the key. “That unlocks a cache behind a hidden panel in the library, according to Falke. I believe that is where I will find Remille’s brooches.”

“And other interesting things, I hope?”

Falke looked at Zevran then and narrowed his eyes, all traces of embarrassment gone. “Other things should be left alone.”

Zevran sighed. “It is but a thought. Travelling and killing are expensive hobbies, you know.”

“Then earn your coin honestly,” Falke growled.

“I do! Killing is honestly hard work. I see by your scars you know this. Surely you can appreciate a little reward.”

“Stealing from the Grey Wardens is not a reward.” Falke’s mouth had thinned dangerously.

“Alright, enough. Zevran, I’m sorry, but my goal is a brooch, nothing more. If there is something else in that cache we need to be concerned with, I will consider taking it as well.” Lyna shot Zevran a warning look. She’d rob some people blind without reservation, but the Wardens were another matter entirely. They had to be very careful, here.

“Fine.” Zevran held up his hand in surrender. “There are other rewards.” His stomach growled noisily. “Excuse me, now I need to reward my stomach. It’s been a long day.” He pulled up the chair he’d been using, seating himself at Lyna’s table to tuck into some cold roasted chicken she hadn’t noticed earlier. There was also some bread, fruit, and a soft white cheese that reminded her of her clan’s halla cheese. She idly wondered how they were faring, and considered tracking them down for a visit after she’d dealt with the brooches, Fiona, and Avernus.

“Are you hungry?” Lyna asked Falke, who shook his head. He seemed to have calmed down, mollified at her words.

“I ate earlier.” He did take another drink at the waterskin, then rose to set it back on the table. Zevran glanced up at him only briefly, concentrating on his food. “There is a book, you said?”

She nodded, and walked to where she’d stashed her pack under her bed, retrieving Morrigan’s gift from it. She removed Morrigan’s letter from where it was tucked into the book’s carefully wrapped exterior, stashing it back in her pack, and brought the cloth and leather bundle to the Ander Warden. Falke hesitated, looking from the bundle to her.

“Go on, it’s alright. But it’s very old. Ancient Tevene, I’m told,” Lyna said. She smiled at the dawning comprehension on Falke’s face. “Yes. That is why I asked you about vocabulary earlier.”

The young man’s fingers shook a little as he painstakingly unwrapped the book. The dark leather binding was dry and crumbling at the edges, but the pages, as old as she knew they must be, were only discolored from frequent handling, otherwise strangely preserved. Perhaps it was magic, she did not know.

“Blessings of the Maker,” Falke exclaimed softly, turning and examining the pages. “This is… I don’t know how to say it, my lady. Lyna. Ancient is correct. I don’t know how much I will be able to translate, I barely recognize it.”

“But you can, yes?”

“Only a very little, I warn you, and only with concentrated study. The books I recommended for translation in the library still will not be enough, but they do provide a good start,” he said, his eyes devouring the pages. Over his shoulder, she could see a few sketches in the margins. She wasn’t sure why, but they disturbed her. Apparently they disturbed him a little as well; he scowled and turned the sketched pages quickly.

“I’m afraid we don’t have long for a thorough study here,” she said. Two sets of eyes looked up at her. “Since the First Warden left for Hossberg this morning,” she indicated Falke with a thankful nod, “I do not want to take the chance of still being here, in case he decides he doesn’t like a former Crow having influence with one of his Wardens.”

Zevran said something colorful in Antivan, then: “Bah. This is not news to me, and I am not afraid of whomever might come after me. After Taliesin and others of my house, it will be much easier killing anyone else.”

“And if anyone were to get in their way?” she said pointedly. As she had done before.

“You would-? Never mind, I know better. Fine, you win again. When do we leave?”

“The day after tomorrow.”

“Commander, I can’t promise to make much progress in translating in so short a time,” Falke protested. He’d paled a little at mention of murderous Crows possibly descending, but was at least not protesting the idea of leaving at such short notice.

“I know, Falke, and I don’t expect you to decode the whole book. What I need from you is more of,” she waved her hands about, searching for the words, “an idea, a simple sketch, of its contents. I was told there were references to Grey Wardens in it, and I need to know what kind of references so I know best to whom I can go for more help.”

“I will have trouble giving you even that much, but I’ll see what I can do.” Falke closed the book and wrapped it up once more. He held it in a protective grasp, which reassured her. He would treat it well.

“Thank you, that’s all I can ask for. Prepare for Orlais, my friend. I have it on good authority that their Game is quite vicious. Bring as much coin or finery as you can pack. Our ability to impress may be our best weapons.” Now that she thought of it, they would likely need sturdy horses to carry the additional burden. She hadn’t needed to in the caravans, with the wagons and additional horses to distribute the cartage.

“I haven’t much experience in those things.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Zevran said, eyeing Falke. “You could be quite impressive with those manly scars and the stoic demeanor. Scowl every now and then, they will love you for it.”

“Please don’t tease Falke.”

“I am not teasing! A dangerous Grey Warden from the Anderfels, what could be more impressive?”

Falke, caught between blushing and glaring, walked to the door. “Good evening, Commander. Send me word tomorrow of when you intend to leave, and I will be packed and ready. I will work on translating until then.”

Lyna followed behind, seeing Falke out. “Of course. You have my full confidence. And… please guard this book. It means a very great deal to me. It was a gift from a close friend.” Sometimes unbearably close, but she couldn’t tell Falke that story. Not yet.

Falke bowed his head, then turned and walked back down the corridors, presumably to his own quarters. She closed the door.

“He blushes so sweetly, Lyna. Where did you find this dear innocent?”

“Oh, let him be. He’s devout. His people are more shy than Fereldans, but he’s a good man. He wanted to be a Chantry Brother before he became a Grey Warden.” She sat down at the table and plucked bits of the food to eat, licking her fingers.

“Truly? Such a waste.” Zevran sat back in his chair, eating and considering Lyna thoughtfully.

She paused in the middle of eating a slice of fruit. “What?”

“I am trying to think of what you would look like in a gown in an Orlesian court. Perhaps silks all in shades of gray, hugging your curves…”

“Not happening.”

“No? Not even for the thrill of a dark corner, where you might lift your skirt and be pleasured, with no one the wiser?”

It was something she had actually thought of, once, but not for an Orlesian court. “No,” she said flatly.

He missed the change in her tone. “The thought does not entice you? All these nobles who must be polite to you, and under your dress you are squirming-”

Lyna stood abruptly, picking up the library key. “I should get moving. It’s already very late and I’d like to avoid attention.”

Zevran closed his mouth and nodded, putting down his own piece of fruit. “Of course.”

Damn it.

She left her room and made her way quietly to the library. There were a few Wardens and servants wandering about the hallways, either unable or unwilling to sleep, or having assignations of their own. It was not easy to avoid them but she managed, imagining herself to be a ghost. Even with Zevran so newly back in her life, she still felt she was a ghost some of the time, and wondered if that would ever change.

Despite there being very little moonlight to see by, Lyna threaded her way past various obstacles, pushing all her senses out to find corners before she met them. The tension of such high concentration made her feel as if moonlight would tingle on her skin.

Soon, her footfalls completely hushed on the library’s thick rugs, she found and approached Garahel’s monument. Shadows from the windows and the doused chandeliers, and the leading of the monument’s glass panels, made strange stripes and crevasses across the Old God’s horns and the memento mori within. The tableau somehow lost some of its ominous air and made her feel sad, instead, as if something vital had been lost and leeched away.

Remembering what Falke told her, Lyna ran her hands over the marble in the base, searching first for the Warden’s oath carved there. “In death, sacrifice” – she moved around to the other sides, and found the word she needed.

There it was, that hairline around “vigilance.”

Lyna knelt down next to the memorial and gently pushed the panel, wondering if it would click or slide. It did neither, the silent catch releasing it to spring forward into her hands. She slowly extricated it, slowing her breath with steady inhales and exhales to maintain the utter quiet and steady her fingers so the marble would not scrape, and gingerly set the large, heavy piece of marble on the rug next to her knee. She pulled the iron key from where she had tucked it into her belt, and with her other hand probed the huge gap in the exposed marble for the keyhole. Finding it, she slid the key in, slowly turning it until she heard the click of tumblers. They caught on the key so she couldn’t extract it, and it made her nervous until a thought struck her.

She pulled on the key instead, and it acted as a drawer pull, a hidden compartment now sliding forward into her hands. Blessings of June, surely. She pulled it completely out, and bit herself hard on her lower lip.

Nestled within were two dark black filigreed brooches, as she suspected. But with them were other items as well: a book with the rampant griffon on its cover, a handful of crystals that reminded her of the ones she found at the towers of Drake’s Fall, a badly tarnished and dented Commander of the Grey badge, and a strange ebony blade that seemed to vibrate with some power. She picked up the blade to examine it and was puzzled when its vibration diminished slightly. She replaced it in the box and the subtle vibration resumed.

Lyna tugged a cloth out of a pouch and used it to pick up a brooch. She couldn’t feel anything strange emanating from it, but considering what she had read about what happened to Duncan, Maric, and the others, she wouldn’t feel anything immediately anyway. It would take time for the piece to corrupt her flesh. Still, she would get a box to put this in as soon as possible. Meanwhile, she put the wrapped brooch into her pouch and resolved to never let it anywhere near her bare skin, or keep it near her any longer than absolutely necessary.

Curious, she opened the book, or began to when she heard a shuffling scrape of footfalls. Most of the library floor was covered with rugs. Recalling the doors to the Chamberlain’s offices, and wondering if those offices were also linked to the old man’s quarters, she cursed herself for a fool and replaced the book in the compartment. Feeling compelled, she plucked the strange black dagger out and shoved it into her belt before replacing the compartment in its slot in the pedestal.

She could hear the footfalls coming closer and a little louder, one of the doors quietly squeaking open. Nervous of being caught, her heart thudded fast in her chest as she yet tried to replace everything as quietly as possible, grimacing as the reverse path of the iron key made the tumblers click again before coming free.

Flickering candlelight wobbled through the doorway, and now she could see the shadow of the Chamberlain walking slowly and cautiously in his pool of dim lighting. Working as quickly as she could, she hefted the heavy panel back up and aligned it with its bed, watching the Chamberlain’s careful shambling from the corner of her eye. She grimaced when it slid into place with a sibilant scrape and caught once more on its spring.

“Hello? Is someone there?” the Chamberlain’s voice called out, his head turning side to side as he searched the darkness.

Lyna remained crouched on the floor next to the memorial, willing her heart to slow its breakneck pace. She sidled into a deeper patch of darkness as soon as his head was turned.

“Hello?” He shuffled alarmingly in the direction of the memorial.

No, no. Falon’Din keep me hidden. Do not let him see me.

The old man raised the stubby candle in its holder, peering in Lyna’s general direction. She shrank down further and held her breath.

For one long, horrible moment, she thought she saw his gaze finally find her and stare. Then he looked away, peering intently in several other directions and muttering.

It was then, right at that moment, that she thought to ask herself how is it he is old and not gone to his Calling? Goosepimples startled up along her skin as she waited for the Chamberlain to resume his agonizingly slow journey through the library. Perhaps she had never been the only one to know about Avernus, and the old Warden mage had shared a secret or two regarding his extended life. She couldn’t imagine a scenario in which the Chamberlain had been recruited at middle age, after all. He was no mage. It made no sense.

Lyna waited as long as she could to be certain she could make the return trip to her room without encountering the old man, and felt as if she had nearly run the whole way back.

When she fairly exploded into her room, Zevran was half out of his chair with a dagger in his hand before he saw it was her.

“Lyna. What-“

She swiftly locked her door, and then closed the distance between them and kissed him hard. She began removing her clothing.

Zevran set his hands on her shoulders and pushed her away. “Brasca. What has gotten into you? I said something to upset you – no, I know I have, and I know it must have something to do with Alistair – and you are back, scared and ready to push me into bed. Were you caught? Were you found? No, I see not, or you would not be here-“

He was right, she was scared like she hadn’t been for a long time. She sat down heavily on the side of her bed and shook.

“Almost. I was almost caught.” Lyna pulled off her boots and kicked them across the floor.

“That is all? Almost?” His eyes were narrowed and his arms folded.

She unbuckled her belt with shaking hands and removed the pouch and the dagger, pulling her pack from under the bed once more. Both would have to stay there for now until she had the proper box.

Yes. Isn’t that enough?” She couldn’t explain the thought she had about the Chamberlain. Not right now, it wouldn’t make sense and it wouldn’t calm her jangling nerves.

“To make you so upset? No. But I see you do not want to tell me.” He walked over to her table and picked up a bottle of wine, poured some into a goblet, and brought it over. She drank several swallows and handed it back to him. He drank some as well, then set the goblet back on the table.

“So, tell me something else,” Zevran proposed, leaning against the table. He was still in the leather pants from earlier, she saw, and nothing else. Her eyes followed the lines of his tattoos across his chest and down where they disappeared into leather.

“I, ah.” She unbuckled her armor more successfully this time, shrugging off the panels. “I was not entirely opposed to your Orlesian fantasy.” Her cheeks burned, and she licked at her bitten lip. “I had simply wished it were at a different court.” There, it was out. She wished she hadn’t given the goblet back to him, now.

“Well, this is a new one. Competing with a memory that has not yet happened.”

“Then how is it competing?”

“I must find a way to make a reality better than your fantasy.” Zevran clucked his tongue. “Very well, I accept the challenge.”

“You’re mad.”

“That is not for me to say, but I must tell you, the thought is driving me crazy.”

She had to admit it did for her, as well. It’s what eventually brought them both gasping release later, Lyna bent over the table and clutching at the sides.

Still, disquieting thoughts chased her down into sleep afterward, Zevran curled up at her back.

Chapter Text

“I love you. More than I ever thought possible. But I have to face what this means. I can’t run away from it anymore.” My love, now my King, speaking to me of duty.

I thought I understood what duty meant. Duty impelled me to take sides in conflicts I would have avoided to secure promises of aid. Duty meant facing hordes of darkspawn because none else could. Duty meant being a Grey Warden not just to save my own life, but to protect my clan and people I have never met.

Duty meant weighing Alistair’s good qualities against Anora’s and knowing, even if Alistair did not, that he would be better for Ferelden. It meant helping him see that.

I did not know that duty would mean leaving me for a political marriage with a shemlen wife who would give him the children I could not.

Wynne must have known. Was it this she had tried to warn me of?

“You must be joking. Tell me you’re joking.” Please. Another terrible joke we can laugh about later in my tent, your fingers stroking my ears or poking my belly to make me giggle. It would be in incredibly poor taste, but better that than the icy tendrils choking the life from me. I can’t breathe, Alistair.

But unhappy as he is, he understands duty better than I. He always has. And he cannot do what he must if I am there to remind him of what he cannot have.

And I, I can’t live.

It was midday before Lyna rose from bed. She had awakened at least an hour prior, her dreams only upsetting and not a parade of horror – nothing to rouse Zevran, who slept sprawled with an arm and a leg draped over her and his head partially burrowed under the pillows.

She watched him sleeping. How she had let herself fall into bed with a friend, she could only attribute to having been alone too long. She wasn’t being fair to him, despite his declarations of friendship and apparent determination to “fix” her.

Zevran may fall in and out of bed with any number of people, but she knew all too well from his confessions that a fierce and loyal heart beat underneath the layers of flirtations and deflections. It would be too easy to muddle the waters of their friendship, if they hadn’t already.

But she couldn’t push him away just yet. She felt selfish, but with her dreams fresh in her mind, her insides still felt like shards of broken glass. If anyone might understand how she felt about Alistair, even years later, it would be Zevran.

A sharp rap at the door startled Lyna out of her reverie. She pulled the sheet from the bed and draped it about her like a robe. Zevran made a muffled, sleepy protest under the pillow.

“Commander?”

“One moment.” She tucked one side of the sheet across her body before answering the door.

“Apologies for disturbing you, ma’am.” A sturdy Orth woman with sun-streaked short reddish hair inclined her head and proffered a small metallic box. “Warden Falke asked that I deliver this and tell you he will be in the library, should you need him.”

Lyna took the box. “Thank you, Warden…?”

“Hannah, ma’am.”

She smiled and took a gamble. “Thank you for convincing Falke to Join, Hannah. He’s a good one.”

Hannah blinked in surprise. “How- yes, ma’am. He is.”

“I’ll be round to see him in a few hours.”

“I’ll let him know.” Hannah inclined her head again. “Commander.” She turned smartly, and Lyna shut the door behind her, turning the box over in her hands.

It appeared Falke could find something appropriate, if not dwarven-made, to carry the Blighted brooch in. It was metallic and had strange filigrees on its sides, and upon opening its catch she could see it was additionally lined in… something. She couldn’t tell what it was, but it caught the light in odd ways and shimmered like a slick of grease.

She carried the box to the bed and fetched the brooch from where she’d stashed it in her pack, depositing the tainted jewelry, cloth and all, inside. The box joined the dagger also pilfered last night, which did not seem to buzz or hum any longer.

The sheet began sliding off her shoulders.

“I am cold, Lyna. Come back.”

She hitched the sheet back up. “There’s packing and preparations to make.”

The sheet was yanked and she tumbled back with it. He snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her close. “It will still be there and I am cold. You took the sheet, evil woman,” he mumbled into her ear.

Alistair, she would have tickled to make him let go. They would have wrestled for the sheet and ended up a tangled and breathless mess and turned it into love-making.

But this was Zevran. So she let him hold her until she thought he’d fallen asleep again, then slid away, giving him the sheet.

***

The Chamberlain of the Grey found Lyna late that afternoon in the rookery.

She had visited the kitchens and asked for provisions to be packed up for them, visited the stables and spoke of hardy mounts to make a burdened trek from Weisshaupt to at least Perendale, and checked with the quartermaster about tents and other equipment. Zevran would be ensuring their stock of emergency healing supplies - kits with needle and thread, elfroot paste, bandages, potions - and no doubt replenishing his personal supplies of poisons. She had ample distillations of deathroot, herself.

She had had a brief word with Falke: they would leave the next morning. All he had to do was have his things and her book packed. “Inner courtyard, when the sun has just reached the horizon.”

Lyna had composed a short introduction to the Warden-Commander at Montsimmard, telling the outpost she was on her way for a visit and her plans to interview a Circle mage while there, and was consulting with the rookery’s master about which bird to select for her missive.

“Commander Mahariel. A word, if I may.”

Seeing the older man during the day made her reconsider what could have possibly frightened her about the Chamberlain. His hair made odd wispy puffs around the crown of his head, and he reminded her very acutely of the kind of Chantry Brother Falke aspired to be. But then she remembered that, even in the unusual circumstances most Wardens found themselves, the Chamberlain of the Grey was more unusual than most because of advanced age, and crossed her hands behind her back.

“Of course.” Lyna excused herself from the rookery’s master and led the Chamberlain several paces away.

“You are leaving for Orlais?”

“I am. I plan on personally interviewing Fiona regarding the Architect.”

“I see. I am uncertain what new information you may be able to glean, but I cannot fault you for thoroughness in your duties.” The Chamberlain’s mild brown eyes studied her face.

“Thank you. I hope never to disappoint,” she replied coolly.

“Mmm.” He rubbed at his chin, then waved her to a messenger’s table nearby. “You should have been told about this. It is your right to read.” From the folds of his robes, the Chamberlain produced a familiar book, the one she had seen in the library’s cache. In daylight, the rampant griffon on the cover gleamed weakly with old gilt half-worn. He placed it in front of Lyna and then stuck his hands inside his sleeves, crossing his arms in front of him.

She blinked at him uncertainly, clamping down on the alarm coursing through her body. Careful, careful.

“What is this?”

“A burden of command, one could say. Perilous history. Pertinent information?” He coughed suddenly into his fist, and continued. “A little of all three, for certain. It may... influence your decisions.”

“I leave in the morning.”

“I am aware,” he replied, mildly irritated. He leaned in. “Page through it as best you can. Then set it in my office with the key.”

Oh Mythal’s mercy-!  She clutched the book. “I- thank you. Ser.”

“On with you, Mahariel. You have much to do.”

At that moment, all she wanted to do was vomit. She nodded instead and tucked the book under her arm, and let the birds’ keeper select the best raven for sending her message to Montsimmard.

Chapter Text

“You are quiet, even for you, Lyna. Something weighs heavy on your mind.”

Lyna looked up from her dagger and whetstone to Zevran, who had just finished cleaning some kit of his own and packed it away. He didn’t have much else to pack and had taken a break to eat an apple. How such a thing came to be in the Anderfels, she didn’t know – perhaps his “friend” gave it to him.

She passed him a wan smile. “Yes. Sorry.”

 She had come back to her room to read the book the Chamberlain gave her, paging through it as fast as she could. Some of it she didn’t understand, written in code or some other language, but what she did catch threw her thoughts into disarray. And then there were the letters neatly tucked into the book, the one on top the missing letter from Avernus. Had the First Warden read it and dismissed it? Or had he not read it at all, intercepted perhaps by the Chamberlain? If he had intercepted it, why?

Questions piled on top of questions. Ancient reports of intelligent darkspawn, some of them captured, interrogated, even imprisoned somewhere. The implication the Grey Wardens had built a prison, somewhere in the Deep Roads or the Free Marches, or both – it was unclear to her, and not enough time to properly read it all. She could not even take the time to discuss it with the Chamberlain, whom she was still uncertain if she could trust despite this dizzying revelation.

It was all difficult to think through, much less share even if she were at liberty to do so. She also wasn’t sure where it fit in with her personal quest, if it did at all, but the information certainly pertained to the likes of the Architect and his Disciples. A recent report she’d received from Nathaniel, and passed on to the Chamberlain, said he and the Wardens at Vigil’s Keep were hunting down every rumor of Disciples that might have remained after the skirmishes between the darkspawn factions. Surely the Vigil’s people at least might benefit from this knowledge. Why keep it hidden?

Lyna had returned the book and the First Warden’s iron key to the Chamberlain’s offices, placing them wordlessly on the old man’s desk as he was writing what appeared to be requisitions for the fortress. He never looked up to acknowledge her, and she had left just as silently to return to her room to prepare her weapons, clothing, and armor for packing.

“Lyna,” Zevran’s voice prodded.

She set down both blade and whetstone and passed a hand over her eyes. “Yes. I’m here.”

“No, you are not. You are so deep inside your head you may as well be in Jader,” he said. “There is a knot between your eyes I have not seen since the Landsmeet. What is going on?”

She exhaled and shook her head. “It’s complicated. And I can’t say.” She picked up the blade and whetstone again, continuing to smooth out the nicks and burrs on the edges.

“Surely you can tell me something. You have never been so secretive before. Not with us.” Her companions, he meant. He, Leliana, Morrigan…

“Yes, well, I never had secrets that didn’t belong to me,” she muttered, swiping the blade across the stone.

“No? What about Wynne? You pried out her secret. And Leliana’s. And mine. You had no trouble asking and asking-,“ his voice grew sharper.

There are some things I can’t share,” she said, plunging her dagger into the table. Zevran was scowling and it made her angry. “I asked you questions because I wanted to know about you, because I cared. And I always – always – backed off if you asked me to. They were your secrets to keep, and you could have kept them until the day you died. I was trying to help.”

Lyna had risen out of her chair and was now standing in front of him, yelling. Zevran rose up as well and poked her in the shoulder, nearly yelling himself.

“What do you think I am trying to do? Brasca, Lyna, let someone in!”

A storm of thoughts assailed her. Zevran was not Alistair. She could not just kiss him, as part of her wanted to do. Neither could she cut him off – he was a dear friend, and she did know he really did just want to help. Telling him everything was out of the question, as well.

“I can’t.” She held up a hand defensively. “Not… right now.” Oh Ghilan’nain she was tired of this worry already, and she ached to be able to talk to Alistair at this moment.

“I have responsibilities to the Wardens that cannot be shared outside of the Order,” she explained. Zevran was guardedly listening, his hands on his hips, a faint scowl still lingering about his eyes. She sighed. “I need you to accept that. If it becomes something important to tell you, I promise to do so. Alright?”

“So. That is it. ‘Warden business.’” He did not seem to like it, but at least he was no longer prodding.

“Yes,” she said softly. “’Warden business.’ And I don’t like it any more than you do.” She yanked the dagger back out of the table. She’d ruined the work she’d done sharpening it. Best to not tackle it again until she was in a better state of mind. She sheathed the dagger and set it with her other weapons. At least her dragonbone sword would never need sharpening.

“It goes against Vir Adahlen,” Lyna continued, and reached for the braid on the side of Zevran’s head. He might have moved away, but she placed a hand on his chest. He stood still, now curious. “It knits the Dalish together so tightly because it teaches us that we are stronger together than separately. That which unravels us, keeps us separate from each other is harellan… not to be trusted.”

She dropped her hands. “I have bent so far and almost broken, and wavered more than I care to admit, but still tried as best I could to be straight and true. But not until now have I ever truly lost Vir Tanadhal, and I can’t even work out if it was worth it.” Her throat closed. Save everyone, lose her clan. Save herself, lose her way.

Zevran pulled her in by the shoulders for an embrace, the tears that had begun falling down her face now wetting his shirt instead. “Shh,” he soothed at her, stroking her hair. “Perdonami, Lyna. Perdonami. Forgive me.”

Lyna wrapped her arms around his waist and let her tears continue to fall. It felt like leeching the poison from a wound so it did not fester: she might have to hold secrets in, but not the pain and frustrations they caused. They still pressed in on her, but she could feel the burden of it lifting a little. Zevran may not be part of her clan, but she did think of him as one of the People, especially since his mother had been. She needed her people, and he was here.

After a while he dropped his arms, and Lyna pulled away with a faint smile. “I’ve marked your shirt.”

Zevran shrugged and dropped a wink. “I don’t need to wear a shirt to finish packing,” he said, loosening the ties and pulling it over his head. He dropped it on his chair. “There. Now you will be able to admire me better. I apologize if it distracts you from finishing yours.”

She laughed, and it felt good. “Thank you, Zevran. I might be able to manage.”

He pouted, and she laughed again.

Chapter Text

Pale light was bleeding into the sky when Lyna, packs slung over her shoulder and weapons wrapped up in a fisted bundle, pushed her way into a suspiciously busy courtyard. Zevran, trailing behind her, alternated between yawning and frowning. She knew his mood would improve after they had broken their fast, but as she was planning to do so while on the road, it was even odds whether he would remain quiet or grouse and complain.

Honestly, at the moment she wouldn’t blame him for opting for complaint. She was on the verge of that herself, because there wasn’t just Falke and four horses waiting patiently for her. No: it was him and a small herd, and four more Wardens strapping up packs and supplies. She recognized Hannah, Falke’s mentor, standing next to Falke and whispering earnestly at him. He looked upset and resigned at once, and his face fell even further when he heard Lyna approach.

“Commander, I-,” Both Hannah and Falke spoke. Falke stopped as soon as he heard Hannah’s voice, and his mentor, glancing at him, stopped when Lyna held up her weapons bundle.

“Hannah. Falke.” Behind her Zevran set his things down noisily. She winced, then fixed her gaze on the Orth woman. Hannah had scars on her forehead, and they deepened at Lyna’s attention. “I’d like to hear what’s going on, Hannah.”

“Requisitions,” the redhead said with a helpless shrug. “Orders came down for four of us to come with you to Perendale to pick up requisitions and take your horses back to Weisshaupt once new mounts were secured.”

Lyna glanced at the other three Wardens in the grouping. There was a younger human woman, blonde and petite, who she finally recognized from the practice yard the other day. She was furtively glancing at Zevran as she wrestled with a pack strap, making her horse fret. The older man with her, his light brown hair just starting to sprinkle with grey, had to have been the one who’d swallowed his laugh and ended up choking on it. The man even now looked as if he had a laugh tucked into the corner of his mouth. A third man with them Lyna didn’t recognize at all, but his dark hair and saturnine features struck her as Nevarran. He was fastening a mage’s staff, a strange twisted thing of yew and chunks of amethyst, to his horse.

“You specifically?”

“Not precisely,” Hannah said. “We volunteered.” Mildly sheepish.

She was irritated. Spies or convenient escort – there was a practical aspect to this she appreciated – it threw off her plan for a quiet morning ride and chatting with Falke about the book in the evening. It was an unwelcome intrusion.

However, she really did miss being able to make friends. Wardens were her people, and now she had the opportunity to treat them as such. Might as well put a good face on Hannah’s and the others’ sudden inclusion into her plans.

Lyna shook her head, smiling. “Can’t gainsay the Chamberlain, and it would be ridiculous to have you shadowing me the whole way, so perhaps you should introduce yourselves. You already know who I am,” she said.

She picked a horse from those remaining, a rangy-looking piebald with dense hindquarters, and began securing her gear. Zevran, she saw, had picked a chestnut horse with finer features. It was a beautiful animal that reminded her of halla when they weren’t exercised enough, full of nervous energy. He was going to have his hands full for a while.

“I always thought you’d be taller, Commander,” said the older man cheerily as he hefted a greatsword into its place on his horse. He had an Orlesian accent, but less nasal. It reminded Lyna more of Flemeth, strangely, if the witch had ever spent time in taverns or herding druffalo. “Call me Denis, please. Hannah just calls me ‘Up Front!’ when we’re hitting darkspawn and bandits.”

“I do not!”

“Sorry, ma’am, but you do,” the younger blonde woman giggled. She too had an Orlesian accent, and it lilted. She’d finished packing her own things and was now lifting supplies onto their pack horses.

“Then we should put you up front for a change, Alaine,” Hannah said as she too assisted with the remaining packs.

“Close quarters with a bow? That’s hardly appropriate,” Alaine protested, pausing to set her hands on her hips and frown worriedly.

“If I may,” Zevran interjected. He was standing next to the girl and smiling. He had found the breakfast rolls. “Although I believe she was joking, it can be done. A friend of mine was quite adept.” Alaine blushed.

“And you are?” The mage, quiet during his comrades’ exchange, spoke from the sidelines. There was a pile of breakfast rolls and a steaming carafe with cups spread on storage boxes nearby. His own packing finished, he had poured himself a cup of tea. His dark eyes were fixed on the assassin.

“Zevran Arainai. You may have heard of me?” He winked at Alaine and began eating his roll, strolling toward the mage. Lyna heard a guarded note slip into his usual playful preening. She kept working but listened intently, glancing at the others. Hannah and Denis seemed alerted as well, glancing at the men as they fastened waterskins to saddle horns and the like.

“I have.” The mage sipped his tea. “You keep interesting company, Commander.”

“Seems to be the case,” Lyna said. She walked over to the two men and poured her own cup of tea. The mage was definitely Nevarran, his syllables clipped but soft. “I’ve been honored with assassins and apostates alike.”

“I would not have called Morrigan an honor,” Zevran said, shaking his head. “Beautiful, yes. Deadly, assuredly. Like a lake of black lotus. But she had no appreciation for the finer points of friendship.” His arms folded across his chest, he took a bite from his roll and stared at the Nevarran, his head cocked to the side as he chewed.

“She was prickly and cagey and could often be as blunt as a spoon, and thus why I treasure her friendship. Her esteem is hard won.” Lyna drank her tea and regarded the Nevarran mage. “And yours, Warden…?”

“Scipio. My esteem is sensible,” he said, the corner of his mouth lifting in a smirk.

“You’re a dramatic prat, you mean,” Denis said, grabbing a roll. Apparently it was an old joke between them; Scipio chuckled into his tea.

“I happen to appreciate the finer points of conversation. As does our Falke.” Scipio gestured at the Ander with his teacup. Falke smiled faintly at the Nevarran and said nothing, continuing to go from horse to horse with final bits of supplies and checking to be sure each was secure.

“Let him be,” Hannah said sharply. “Finish up, we leave in ten minutes.”

Lyna looked at her, eyebrow raised.

“Apologies, Commander. Sun’s nearly at the horizon,” Hannah said. She had a rolled-up map in her hands. She unfurled it as she came around to where Lyna stood. It was thick paper and had seen moderate use, barely crackling as the Orth woman spread it out.

The two women spoke quietly to each other about the route they would take from Weisshaupt. They would bear almost due south with slight wavers for natural obstacles or hunting game. Then the group’s path would jog east slightly to skirt the southern ridges of the Hunterhorns, and course correct west to Perendale. The land would be somewhat rocky, but a few days after leaving Weisshaupt it would at least be less austere, more green. Hunting should prove better.

A loud, piercing whistle interrupted Lyna’s thoughts. She looked up to find the source; Alaine smiled apologetically and offered her a pot of ointment. She was currently rubbing some across her slightly broken nose.

“You’ll want some, Commander. The sun, she can be terrible.”

Lyna glanced at Falke, who was hooding his face against sun and wind. He would remember her own first battle against the sun.

“Thank you, Alaine.” She took the ointment and began liberally applying it, starting with her ears. “I know. You weren’t here the first time I came to Weisshaupt. I had onion skin for at least a week.”

“Oooh, how terrible! It itches like mad, so you want to scratch everywhere,” the petite Orlesian cooed in sympathy. The girl began wrapping her face as well, strands of blonde hair poking through.

“Agreed. It was agony.”

“Poor Lyna. A shame I could not have relieved your distress,” Zevran drawled. He was on his horse, already wrapped. The chestnut danced a little.

“A shame indeed,” Lyna replied quietly. Her distress had been more than itchy skin. Still was, though it was less raw, as if her heart had onion skin. She finished applying the ointment to her face and handed it back to Alaine, who tucked it into a pouch at her belt.

“Alright, let’s get moving. I’d like to get to Perendale as soon as possible,” she said, and pulled up her scarf to cover her nose and mouth.

“DENIS! Up front!” Hannah bellowed. “You’re taking point. Falke, you take rear guard.”

The Orlesian veteran grinned at Hannah and started leading the group toward the enormous front gate. “HAIL THE GATE!” he shouted through cupped hands, and it slowly swung open.

You know Andraste's old mabari. He don't show up in the Chant,” Denis began singing, as the seven of them, with four more horses laden with their supplies, ambled out of the gate. Lyna heard Alaine, in the rear with Falke, giggle. The morning sun, a bare sliver over the horizon, touched the edge of Hannah’s shield in front of her. With Zevran at her side and Scipio not far behind, it almost felt like old times.

***

“…and then she said, ‘But I thought you were the dog!’” Denis laughed uproariously, Zevran, Alaine, and Hannah joining in.

They had made camp that evening not far from a weak, scrubby brook, the terrain still mostly flat and sere with occasional small encroachments of rock or stubborn, sweet pokings of vandal aria to be seen. They sat at a fire built of one bundle of firewood they had brought from Weisshaupt, evening’s dinner come and gone. It was an uneventful first day, for which Lyna was glad.

It was odd, but good, to listen to them exchange stories at the fire. Scipio remained quiet for the most part, preferring his books, and Falke, after saying private prayers, was staring thoughtfully into the fire. She wondered if he was thinking of her book; obviously he’d be unable to study it in present company. She was content to resume the sharpening she’d had to set aside and not think of the book, or anything else, for a while.

“What about you, Commander?” Denis said, still chuckling. “You must have interesting stories to tell.”

“Mmm. Interesting, yes. Funny or pleasant, no. Although, sometimes Fen’falon, my mabari, loved to drop some questionable gifts into Morrigan’s pack. It was difficult to keep a straight face when she’d drop his latest offering at my feet. I think I nearly choked myself to death one night when she dropped a dead squirrel wrapped up in her underthings. Both had been chewed on a lot, and the squirrel had just begun to turn.” Lyna shook her head and snorted, eyeing her blade’s edge carefully as she continued scraping. “They are quite ruined. You will dispose of them and we shall never speak of this again.”

“I thought I had smelled something particularly foul!” Zevran laughed. “I had gotten used to your dog’s stench. He was a fantastic killer, but you really should have let Leliana bathe him.”

“Then Oghren would have felt lonely, being the only thing that smelled bad. I couldn’t do that to him.”

“True. He was a walking brewery.”

“What happened to your mabari? Where is he now?” Alaine asked.

Lyna sighed. “In Denerim, with… the King. The kennel masters are breeding him. Despite his habits, he was quite intelligent and they hope it will breed true.”

“And Leliana? Was she really a bard?” Alaine prompted. Her eyes were sparkling, her chin on her fist.

“Absolutely. She has a sweet voice and loves to share stories – as she might right now, were she here – and can strike fear into her enemies with her arrows,” she said, with a little nod at Alaine’s bow. It felt satisfying to make Leliana a hero instead. The Orlesian girl could have a countryman to look up to, aside from her own mentor Denis. He had recruited the young woman during an excursion through the Ylenn Basin – he’d begun a recruitment drive in his homeland of Arlesans and gone south from there. “She is also quite devoted to the Chantry and may still be trying to work on their behalf.”

“Was she with you at the Temple of Sacred Ashes?” This from Falke, who was now very alert.

“Yes. I felt her presence was appropriate.” Someone who better appreciated an Andrastian shrine than a Dalish elf, who had heard the stories in her travels but felt no connection to them. Someone who could make sure she never went astray. The rest was but riddles, something any clever child could solve.

“Please, what was it like?” It was Falke’s voice, but she could see the yearning from other faces. Zevran excused himself to get more wine. He had helped with traps, but had not felt up to the strangeness of the guardian and the rest of the temple. He had instead sat with Morrigan, Sten, and the others to come up with a plan to defeat the temple’s dragon. He later heard the story from Leliana, who had been so enraptured from the experience she would sometimes break into song at the memory.

“You should really ask Leliana, if you get the opportunity,” Lyna replied. “I don’t think I’m the right person to share the story.”

“Perhaps so, but you are here,” Scipio said. He was reclining on the ground, his index finger keeping his place in the book he had been reading up to then. Although he obviously wanted her to tell the story, something in his demeanor said he didn’t quite believe her. A test?

Lyna had absolutely no desire to prove herself to this man or anyone else. Enjoying camaraderie and trust, however…

“Hoo.” She blew out a breath and frowned. Where to start? “It is… not precisely a test of Chantry faith. It didn’t seem so to me. I would have failed, were it so.” She offered a wry smile and pointed at her vallaslin.

She frowned again, searching for the words.

“The guardian and spirits of the temple protected Andraste’s ashes and what remained of the faith they knew, but what they looked for was purity of purpose and resolve, not the ability to recite the Chant of Light. The testing was sometimes cruel. You must be willing to look at your past deeds with a clear eye and acknowledge your regrets.” Being confronted with a spirit that looked and sounded like Tamlen had been easier than killing the thing that had attacked the group’s campsite. It wrenched her heart to remember him pleading with her to end his life, his ghoulish features more resembling the shrieks than the sweet childhood friend he’d been. She’d plunged her sword into him herself, weeping later not because she’d killed him, but because she was relieved to finally know what happened to him, and that she’d set him free. When she joined the Grey Wardens, it had made her sad to have to leave him behind and never know his fate, even knowing there was nothing she could have done.

“You said it was not precisely a test of Chantry faith… just faith, then?” Scipio said.

“It was all I had,” Lyna said, softly. “Faith in myself and in my companions. I knew we could approach any situation together, united in our purpose to defeat the Blight, no matter the cost.” Vir Tanadhal. “Faith was the final test. A great wall of flame stood between us and the Urn. An altar nearby bore an inscription: ‘Cast off the trappings of worldly life and cloak yourself in the goodness of spirit. King and slave, lord and beggar, be born anew in the Maker’s sight.’” She still remembered the inscription because it had struck her just how blasphemous the Chantry would find it. An equalizer of people? The Dalish knew too well the Chantry’s dogma in that regard.

“What did you do?” Hannah asked, fascinated.

“She took off all her armor and clothing and walked naked through the flame,” Zevran supplied for her matter-of-factly, rejoining the group with his wine. Gasps went up.

“You’re making that up!” Denis accused, a shocked smile suggesting he did believe Zevran might have been pulling his leg.

Zevran shrugged. “I did not get to see her do this, I was only told later. I wish I had,” he said, waggling an eyebrow.

All other eyes looked to Lyna, who smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry. It’s true.”

“Maker forgive me, but you looked like a goddess and I never wanted you more badly than at that moment,” Alistair told me later in the privacy of his tent.

“Still no lightning, Alistair.” I brushed a bead of sweat away from his forehead.

“I know. I think that might be worse,” he said, and we resumed worshipping each other the rest of the night.

“Maker’s breath.” She wasn’t sure who said it, but she was certain they’d all meant it. Especially Falke, who seemed to be struggling.

“As I said, perhaps it’s better to ask Leliana about what happened,” Lyna said. She examined her blade – good enough. She sheathed it and packed away her tools. Across the campfire, Scipio placed a marker in his book and replaced the book in his pack. He regarded Lyna thoughtfully, then bid the group a quiet ‘good night’ and retired to his tent.

Falke, subdued, excused himself, and after a moment Hannah rose to find him. Denis and Alaine continued to talk and laugh by the fire, sometimes deliberately including Zevran in their conversation.

Lyna let the talking wash over her, drinking from her waterskin. The night was growing cooler, making the dusty land smell faintly of a musky, spicy resin she remembered the Sisters burned in the Amaranthine Chantry. She closed her eyes and breathed it in. Most of that Chantry had been more interested in reciting Andraste’s Chant than in helping the refugees outside the gate, but someone had cared enough to offer up discreet payment on their behalf. She’d held onto that thought when its incense enveloped her, looking for answers to a woman’s grief that had felt so like her own.

“Falling asleep, Lyna?” She heard Zevran’s voice as he sat down next to her.

She opened her eyes. “Not yet, but perhaps I should. We’ll have another early morning.”

“Then come back to my tent,” he whispered in her ear. She could smell the wine, something red and spicy, on his breath.

“What about the others?” she whispered, glancing across the campfire to Denis and Alaine. She couldn’t see Hannah or Falke, and she hoped they were alright.

“They will not see and I do not care if they do. Unless you wish for someone to join us, that is.”

“No, I do not.” She couldn’t even begin to place that thought. Zevran presented enough complication for her.

“Then come,” the assassin said, and took her hand. That piece of contact was all she needed. Lyna rose and followed Zevran back to his tent, and shoved him back onto his bedroll, riding away all thoughts of regret.

Chapter Text

Lyna awoke early, Zevran having largely kept her warm, to a mild chill nipping at her skin where bedding and limbs had not covered her. She remembered much colder mornings during the Blight, huddling under every blanket and cloak she had acquired so she could don enough warm clothing to leave the tent. Here, in the northern steppes that lay less than a week’s journey to Nevarra, her linen undertunic was sufficient if she didn’t mind the breeze. She disentangled herself from Zevran, put it on, gathered the rest of her things, and exited his tent.

Dawn was lightening the sky, and was slowly pulling away the shadows on the ground, giving Lyna enough light to navigate through the camp to deposit her clothes and go relieve herself. Some nocturnal insect still chirped, and the horses softly blew or nibbled at the fodder in their buckets. It was a remarkable, quiet morning.

She returned to the camp and stoked the banked fire, adding some dried fuel to help it flare up for more solid additions. She would start some tea after the fire caught, but first she needed her pants.

“I thought you might be cold,” a voice said quietly nearby.

Lyna spun, looking about to find Scipio emerging from his tent, slightly more dressed than she in his leggings and an unbuttoned robe about his shoulders. She still had her pants in hand.

“Sorry, just me,” he added with a little smirk. “Though not for long, so don’t let me stop you from covering your shame.”

“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” Lyna said, but resumed putting the pants on.

“I misspoke. They will want you to be ashamed, because it puts you under their power and you can be bullied into repenting your foolish ways.”

“If you’re attempting to snipe at me this early, Scipio, then be decent enough to let me have tea first,” she said, irritated. The fire was on its way, but hadn’t quite caught enough to set water to boil. She set it up anyway.

Scipio shook his head. “Not quite, Commander. A friendly warning, delivered with my unique flair for off-putting. The people here,” he said, indicating outside of the camp, “are quite serious regarding matters of modesty and fidelity. Particularly fidelity.”

“I’ll give it due consideration,” she said drily.

He was quiet for a while, fastening his shirt and his robe.

“Anderfels religious art is highly prized, did you know? How it ends up in Orlais I never investigated, but I have seen and admired it there. I used to discuss religious art with an Orth man of my acquaintance, speaking of his countrymen’s work and what else I have seen.” He ran his fingers through his hair, reminiscing, then strolled to the party’s supplies. Lyna folded her arms, listening.

“In fact, a well-placed friend once discreetly let me know of a singular sculpture – not from the Anderfels, but made in Orlais – that had caused an uproar in the Chantry. The subject was a nude Andraste, who evoked some rather uncomfortable feelings, shall we say. Curious, I asked to see it,” Scipio said, rummaging in packs for food. Lyna glanced at the water for tea. It was finally beginning to heat. She pulled out a mug and the pouch of tea leaves.

“The piece was so controversial that it had to be hidden, but the method for doing so made it worse. Magical,” he said. “You couldn’t see it… not properly. Instead, you had to touch it.” He smirked and shook his head. “I made the mistake of telling my Orth friend about it. His outrage completely eclipsed anything that had to have come from the Chantry. He threatened to cut off my hands and cut out my tongue.”

“Surely he-“

“Literally. I had to leave.”

She was shocked and angry. “I see your point and thank you for it,” she said, jaw clenched.

“I mean you no disrespect, Commander.”

“No, of course not.” Scipio was, as Denis put it yesterday, being a dramatic prat. She knew that. But she had always tried to respect others’ beliefs, no matter how ridiculous they sounded to her, and that philosophy had led her to Andraste’s ashes in the Urn. The thought of Falke’s people threatening her because she chose to sleep with Zevran galled her – the matter did not involve them.

She put tea leaves in her mug and stood by the fire, waiting for the water to boil.

“It’s much too early to be angry,” Zevran said softly in her ear. She hadn’t heard him come out of the tent or walk up behind her. She thought she might have been too rattled to notice, but she remembered he’d also surprised her in the Grey Warden library. Seemed more likely that, after stalking and avoiding the Crows the past few years, he’d become that good.

She grunted, not trusting herself to give voice to what bothered her. Peace. All she wanted was peace.

“Is that so? You are so eloquent, Lyna.” Zevran crouched next to her, warming his hands.

She shot him a glare.

“I see. Tea first, then.”

He rose after a while, rubbing his warmed hands on his chest, and procured a mug for himself. He indicated the pouch of leaves, and she portioned some out for him. Lyna could feel Scipio’s eyes on them, and felt the weight of judgment. It kept her anger simmering for most of the day.

***

“Hold… hold… blast, they’re running it too fast. Be ready,” Denis called from his vantage on the escarpment above Lyna. The Orlesian was watching Hannah and Falke use their horses to herd a wild ram toward the rest of the group. Lyna had pulled out her old hunting bow to aid Alaine and Scipio, Zevran on his horse to chase the ram down if they only managed to injure it.

It was their third day, and in some of the more habitable territory along the Anderfels border. The land was still scarred from numerous Blights over the centuries, but in this region it was slowly healing. Plant life was scattered, sources of water sparse, and animal life not much better. Few animals that could breed did. But they were going to need some food to supplement what they brought, or else run out too soon.

Additionally, Hannah had said they could take what was left of their kill to a settlement she knew of nearby. It was small, and the people in it tried domesticating these wild rams themselves, hoping to make a worthy herd animal breed over generations. They struggled almost as much as their people did further north. They would be as happy to get the food as they would be to receive a live animal.

“Hold… LOOSE!” Denis shouted.

Lyna had seen the beast, surprisingly swift for all its bulk, thundering ahead of the two Orth Wardens, who whistled and yelled to keep the animal moving. She had pulled her bow to a full draw, tracking the ram as she would the wolves that used to stalk her clan’s halla. The wolves were more intelligent, however; the august ram’s movements were predictable, from what she could tell.

She loosed, and too late she saw her shot went wide. Alaine’s sank into the ram’s hindquarters. Scipio cast something, but there was no elemental energy in it – perhaps he had cast something like Morrigan’s hexes? The ram was indeed slowing down. Perhaps they would be able to get another shot at it.

Zevran, on the other hand, saw this as his opportunity and urged his dancing chestnut to gallop after the wounded ram.  Although that had been the plan, she still swore as the assassin took off. It would make it more difficult for her to get a clear shot again.

She notched another arrow and drew, hearing Alaine do the same. Some energy flared up around Zevran as the elf pulled closer to their quarry; a barrier? Never mind-

Lyna loosed her arrow, pleased that this time her arrow struck the ram in its throat. Alaine released a moment after that, putting another arrow into its neck. That would make Zevran’s job easier. Its blood loss and impaired breathing would tire the animal out faster.

Waiting for the animal to slow did not seem to appeal to Zevran. He adjusted his seat as he pulled up alongside the ram, then launched himself out of the saddle onto the beast. He wrapped his arms around its neck, pulling and hauling on its head. She could see the two of them stagger. Afraid it would fall over and crush him, Lyna kicked her horse out after the ram.

It was too late, however. She saw a glint of metal, then it pitched forward violently, blood streaming over its hide. Zevran hurtled over its head, one of the ram’s horns scraping a line on his arm, and he fell in a twisted, ungainly heap several feet away.

She kicked her horse into a gallop to close the distance. The ram made anguished hooting cries as it lay dying, until one of Alaine’s arrows thunked into its head and silenced it. She passed its twitching corpse, pulling her piebald up sharply to dismount. Her horse backed away several steps but remained near, reins trailing on its neck. Zevran’s horse would need to be caught; it was still spooked, cantering away with its tail flagging.

Lyna took in the details of the scene and processed each thought quickly. Breathe. Like dagger practice. Hannah and Falke were pulling closer, and Hannah broke away to go after Zevran’s chestnut.

In front of her, Zevran lay sprawled awkwardly on his side, temporarily knocked out. In addition to the gash on his arm, he sustained some scraping from landing on the ground so hard, the wound on his leg a bloody rash. She carefully ran her hands over his body, checking for anything broken, and was relieved not to find anything evident. Surely that meant other injuries would be more easily treatable? She tried checking his hands, but the ram’s blood on them made investigating difficult.

“Commander… Commander, move aside, please. I can see to him,” Falke said, having pulled up to the scene.

“Damned idiot,” Lyna muttered at Zevran. She pulled out her kit, setting her bundle of elfroot paste, bandages, and potions next to Zevran’s body, then got up and fetched her waterskin from her nervous horse. She made soothing noises, stroking its neck.

When she returned to Falke, he already had his own waterskin out, dribbling precious liquid over Zevran’s hands and wounds.  Lyna crouched by Zevran’s head.

“Tell me what to do,” she said.

Falke glanced up at her, frowning. “I can’t tell what other wounds he may have. We will need to adjust him, have him lay flat.” Hoofbeats came to them, the rest of their group joining from the shadow of the ridge.

Lyna brushed hair from Zevran’s temple and stood back up, shading her eyes to see the other Wardens. She waved, beckoning them to hurry.

“Scipio!” she called. “Tell me you can heal.”

The mage frowned from atop his horse, looking down at Zevran. “I can, Commander, but not thoroughly. I need to know what injuries we are dealing with.”

“Getting to that part. Alaine, come help Falke move him.”

“Are you sure, Commander? Denis-“

“Please.”

“Yes ma’am,” the girl said, and dismounted. She made her way around to crouch opposite of Falke, uncertainly waiting for him to show her what to do.

“You see how he is twisted? We will need to gently untwist him and lay him flat. We start by rolling him so at least he is on his back,” Falke said, gesturing at Alaine to take one of Zevran’s shoulders and heave it toward her as he steadied and adjusted the other.

Alaine tugged at Zevran’s shoulder as bid, distractedly blowing the wisps of blonde hair that had escaped her loose braid out of her face. She struggled a bit, but they both got the elf rolled over. Further negotiation had him laid out. By this time, Denis was pulling up from one side and Hannah from the other.

“Now to see what else we must deal with…,” Falke said, waving Scipio over to join him.

Lyna pressed her lips together, and turned away to talk to the others.

“Hannah. The settlement you told me about, how far away is it?” she asked. The woman in question had pulled her hood down, running her hands through her red hair to air out the sweat on the back of her neck.

“About two hours. Not very far.” Hannah glanced over at Falke and Scipio working over Zevran. “If you want them to take your friend there, we’ll have to send Denis and Alaine as well.” She grimaced. “My countrymen generally don’t trust mages. Having more of us with Scipio makes these people, specifically, less agitated.”

“Leaving just the two of us to deal with the ram.” Lyna sighed. “Well, it’s nothing I haven’t done before, just with other kills. I hope you have, as well?”

“What, field dress a ram? Yes, with and without help.” Hannah shrugged. “It’s the Maker’s own trouble without help, so I think we’ll be fine.”

“Good. Tell Falke and Scipio, please.” Lyna left her and sought out Denis, who stood back with their animals, talking to Alaine. The blonde girl looked almost as worried as she felt. She saw Denis watch Alaine nibble on her lower lip as the girl watched Scipio murmur a spell over the gash on Zevran’s arm, and Denis looked away as soon as Alaine looked to him to say something.

“Denis, I need you to leave some poles, canvas, and ropes with me,” Lyna said. “Hannah and I are going to field dress the ram, I’m sending the rest of you with Zevran to a village nearby.”

 “Yes Commander,” he said. “Come, Alaine, you can help me.”

Alaine, who had let her attention wander back to Zevran, flushed. “Of course.” She laid a shy hand on Lyna’s shoulder. “I hope he will be alright.” She ducked her head and turned away, following Denis.

Lyna’s mouth twisted briefly, wry. Well, then. She walked back to Falke and Scipio, who were conferring with each other.

“Falke. Do you know the way to the settlement Hannah told me about?” She regarded the man in question, whose strawlike brows were knit in worry. He was applying a bandage to the still-raw gash on Zevran’s arm.

“No, Commander, but I have been told where it lies and should be able to find it.” He finished the job and secured the end, standing up. “I was hoping he might have awakened by now, but he hasn’t. That may mean he has some hidden injury I have no skill to detect. It could also be nothing, and he will awaken, fine, later on.”

Lyna stifled the urge to swear. “Will he be alright on a horse? I don’t want him draped like a sack of meal, if that’s the case.”

“I will make sure of it,” Scipio spoke up. “Set him on my horse, I’ll ride behind and keep him steady.” He smiled. “His horse is too temperamental to handle two riders, much less one. Especially after that stunt.”

“Damned Antivan,” she muttered. “Sorry, Falke.” Falke nodded solemnly.

It took some coordination getting Zevran mounted in the saddle in front of Scipio, but soon he was there, slumped against the horse’s neck with Scipio’s arms around him to keep him from falling. The rest of them were soon mounted up, Denis handling Zevran’s skittish chestnut on a lead behind him and the rest of the pack animals supervised by Alaine.

“Don’t fall, lethallin,” Lyna whispered at Zevran, smoothing his fair hair away from his face. His tattoos showed darker than normal on his skin. She avoided Scipio’s gaze and stepped away to address Falke.

“Be safe. Hannah and I will be along as soon as we can. Make sure the villagers know that we are bringing meat we are intending to share. If they can spare some shelter for Zevran, I would appreciate it, but we are otherwise setting up camp there. Understood?”

Falke nodded. “They may ask for concessions, or ask questions. What would you like me to tell them?”

“We’re just trying to pass through to Perendale and will move along as soon as he’s awakened and recovered enough. Anything we can spare, you can give them. Nothing more.”

“Understood. Maker’s blessings on you, Commander.” Falke lifted his hand in farewell and slowly led the group in a southwesterly direction.

Lyna watched them leave. Scipio looked back at her once, an unreadable expression on his saturnine face, then resumed paying attention to Zevran and his horse.

“Do you love him?” Hannah said from beside her.

Lyna shot her a surprised look. “What? Who?”

“Your man, there.” Hannah indicated Scipio’s retreating back.

“I hardly know him, I just met him a few days ago.”

“Not Scipio. Maker’s breath, woman, you know who I’m talking about,” Hannah set her hands on her hips, staring at Lyna frankly.

She thought about dissembling, but what was the use? There was nothing to deceive her with.

“No. Not in the way you think. My heart belongs to someone else.” Lyna stared back at Hannah. “But Zevran is still special to me. He’s… if my clan was here, I’d ask them to formally adopt him. We’ve done it before with city elves who decide they’ve had enough of those awful alienages, and do their best to learn our ways.” She folded her arms. “Beyond that, I can’t say. He’s been with me through the Blight and reminds me to live. That should be enough.”

“Aye. It sounds like trouble to me, but I’ve been with the Wardens long enough to know my people have very different beliefs from others, and just accept that.” The woman sighed. “Falke knows that others believe differently as well, but some of his beliefs are very deeply held, Commander. You’ve shaken his faith.”

“I’m sorry, Hannah. It’s not something I set out to do.” Lyna regarded the redhead curiously. “What particularly troubles him? Was it the tale of the Urn the other night?”

“Partly,” she said, glancing at the ram’s cooling corpse. The supplies they had requested for field dressing it lay nearby. “Come, let’s get started on this. Talk as we work. Let’s not give this bounty a chance to spoil.”

Lyna wrinkled her nose. The stench would be awful, she remembered, even being careful with innards. Seemed strangely appropriate to talk about the things that bothered them this way.

The trouble, as Hannah explained it, wrestling with the ram to get it properly propped up for gutting, lay in the fact of who Lyna was: what she represented to Thedas, and what she represented to Falke, versus the stark reality she presented to him on a daily basis.

“It would be like discovering Andraste farted and picked her teeth,” Hannah said. “Maker forgive me the blasphemy, but that’s His own truth. Falke’s faith has been based upon words and tales, the Chant itself, and here you are, doing and saying and breathing, and it’s like nothing he’s read.” She had a big knife out and began slitting the ram from its backside up to its bearded throat.

“But he knows this. Surely he knows this, I thought I’d made that clear the first day I met him.” She still remembered his face falling a little when she had asked him not to glorify her by telling him she’d only done what needed doing. Then there was the drunken caravan, throwing up, getting upset at him, Ghilan’nain’s sake, Zevran’s nudity in her room.

“Yes. He thought he’d made his peace with all that.” Clearly Hannah and Falke had had a lot to discuss while Lyna was in the tent with Zevran. “Thought he could manage a living icon still being, if you’ll pardon the expression, human.” The sturdy woman carefully sliced the ram’s skin away from where the deeper cuts would begin, Lyna mirroring her on the other side.

“Then you reminded him that you don’t even believe in the Maker – which, yes, bothers me, but nothing to fluster over, is it? – and you go and commit the ultimate act of faith, literally walking through fire. How does he reconcile his own faith against yours after that, hmm? Makes you question whether you really do believe or you’re just mouthing pretty words.” Hannah grimaced. “Not that I don’t question, too, but I wasn’t set on joining the Chantry. I’m good with knowing I’ll never know for certain and just do my best.”

Lyna remembered Falke’s awe when she told him what she meant to do about the Calling. She remembered how he handled her book with reverence. She would need to talk with Falke about all this, but there was no reasonable expectation of privacy while the other Wardens traveled with them. Still, she would need to do something.

The women continued working in silence for a while, efficiently disemboweling the creature and setting its carcass to drain of blood. It pooled and seeped into the ground around them.

“Do you love him, Hannah?”

“Aye, Commander.” Hannah wouldn’t look at her, trying to wipe some of the blood and gore from her arms while they waited. The late afternoon sun cast the scars on her forehead into sharp relief. “He won’t hear it from me. I know we’re not meant for each other.” She frowned. “What mission you’ve got in Orlais, you just keep him safe. That’s all I need.”

Lyna reached out and grasped the other woman’s hand. “I will do my best.”

***

The two women rode into the village hours later, the dressed meat bundled on a travois behind Lyna. The edge of the sky was orange and pink, shading to blue and darker blue overhead. Lyna could see the others had set up camp on the southern edge of the tiny settlement, some torches and their campfire already lit. It was a rather large campfire, in fact, and she could see silhouettes she didn’t recognize moving about it.

“Ho, the village,” called Hannah through cupped hands. The silhouettes stopped moving.

“Hannah! It’s her, and Warden-Commander Mahariel,” Lyna heard Falke’s voice call in answer. Several hoarse cheers went up and some people came out to meet the women. “Thank the Maker.”

Lyna dismounted and nodded greetings. Most stared at her, but two men nodded back and offered to help unhook the travois.

“Yes, thank you, your assistance is appreciated,” she murmured. Hannah waved to one of the women in the group, who returned Hannah’s wave but shyly followed behind the two men as they began dragging the travois to the campfire.

Lyna and Hannah lead their horses to tether with the others. Denis stepped in.

“Go eat. The elder would like to speak with you, Commander, and I know you’ll want to see your friend. I’ll see to your horses.”

Lyna thanked him, and requested particular care be given her horse given the extra work it had done. Hannah simply nodded and headed straight for the campfire, no doubt to rest and drink some water before she tackled any food. They had both worked hard, and it’s what she herself would be doing in any other circumstance.

Lyna edged around the campsite to find Falke. He stood with a grim, wind-scoured older man in a simple tunic and breeches.

“Good evening, Commander. The Maker has seen fit to let you come back to us,” Falke said with a faint smile. “This is Elder Gerhard. He has wanted to meet you. Elder, this is Warden Commander Lyna Mahariel, originally of the Sabrae Dalish, she who fought the Fifth Blight and defeated Urthemiel, and found the Urn of Sacred Ashes and used its power to restore Arl Eamon of Redcliffe to health after a magical malady.”

For moment she thought Falke would continue to talk about what she had done nearly four years ago, but apparently he had already prepared the ground. The Elder stepped forward and took her hand, bowing over it.

“The Maker’s blessings on you, Commander Mahariel. I have led this community for 20 years now, and while we remain small, we are yet strong,” the older man said with a proud tilt of his grizzled head.

“And to you as well, Elder Gerhard. I am pleased to meet you. I am also grateful that two of your men stepped forward to assist with the meat from today’s hunt. The day has become longer than I had anticipated,” Lyna replied.

“If it is who I think, they will have some of it prepared for cooking soon,” the elder said solemnly.

“Again, most grateful.” She turned to Falke. “Where is Zevran? Is he in a tent, or-“

“He has been brought into their Chantry,” Falke said, and gestured at a building that at first blush seemed like the other small clay-and-stone constructions. Then she saw its rough quarried stone quoins, and its peaked roof where the others were flat, and other such small details that said they were literally more devoted to the building of their Chantry than they were their own homes.

That small detail, that building’s foundation, brought home to Lyna Scipio’s warnings and Falke’s background leading to his troubled faith. These people might never harm her, but neither would she risk that in thoughtlessly insulting them.

Father, if Falon’Din has let your spirit see me, I wonder what you think of me in this shemlen world now.

“You honor us, Elder Gerhard,” she said carefully. “I am pleased you would keep my kinsman under close watch in the Maker’s light.”

“It is no less than what we owe you for your vigilance against the darkspawn, Grey Wardens. For the Chant of Light to spread, we must be freed from the threat they pose to all.”

Lyna bowed. “My life is so bound to free us all.” Which was true enough. She would leave the Chant to the believers. Her own faith or not, they were at least owed the freedom to spread their Chant.

“As is mine,” Falke added, his eyes shining. He turned to Gerhard. “Elder, would you please excuse us? I think the Commander would like to see her kinsman, and we have things to discuss.”

“Of course. Andraste guide you. We will eat well tonight and meet again in the morning.”

“Good evening, Elder,” Lyna said, and followed Falke as he led them away from the campfire and toward the village’s Chantry.

“We are meeting in the morning?” she asked Falke. He brought them to the corner of the Chantry building, where she could better see the workmanship on the stone blocks. She had come to appreciate dwarven craftsmanship, listening to Oghren explain differences in how stone was mined in Deep Roads excavations as they searched for Branka. There was a very rough but loving artistry in these simple blocks, something Oghren might have scoffed to see but understood nevertheless.

“Yes,” he said, shifting from foot to foot, eyebrows furrowed. “He needs us – you – to help adjudicate several matters that have arisen here. I’m given to understand that at least one of them is serious.”

Lyna passed a hand over her eyes. Someone once declared to her that Grey Wardens were apolitical. She had to stifle a laugh – she had been embroiled in nearly as much politics as she had been darkspawn blood since her life with the Grey Wardens began. The First Warden himself engaged in almost nothing but politics.

“I see,” she sighed. “Thank you for letting me know. Is there anything else I need to know?” She cocked her head and regarded the young Ander. He had bags under his eyes and his shoulders slumped. “How are you? We haven’t spoken privately in a while, and Hannah has let me know of your…concerns.”

Falke smiled wanly. “I appreciate your asking, Commander. You have larger concerns.”

“Falke, right now you are my concern. All of you are. You are a friend, and you are under my charge. I must be concerned for your well-being,” she said gently.

He nodded his head in acknowledgment. “Still, you are kind to ask.” He looked at the wall next to him, running his hand over its rough surface. “I have been conflicted, of course. Sleep has been difficult as I have wrestled with my thoughts. My beliefs.” His hand came to the corner blocks, and he smiled. “I think I have found my answers, however. We are all of us humble servants of the Maker, even holy Andraste. Our imperfect selves may together still create a perfectly passionate faith in His Will.”

“I’m not sure I understood that, but you have clearly given this a lot of thought. And study,” she said with a smile. “You seem to feeling better, at any rate.” She laid a hand on his arm and lowered her voice. “I may not share your beliefs, but I hope you know you can still talk with me about them. It is important to you and thus it is to me.”

“Thank you. And I am glad to see you understand how important this village’s faith is to them,” Falke said solemnly. “It is a very serious matter – it functions as a basis for their laws. Something to keep in mind for tomorrow morning.”

“I shall.” She bit her lip. “And thank you for…Zevran.” Now there was a delicate and fraught subject.

“Your ‘kinsman’ is a very flawed man whose association with you speaks to a better nature,” Falke said diplomatically, cracking the first wry smile she had ever seen on his face.

“That’s almost a ringing endorsement,” she chuckled. “Still… how is he? Has he awakened?” They walked to the doorway.

“Not yet. We have been able to better see to his wounds, and he has sustained a blow to his head. Scipio discovered it while keeping him on the horse, and has treated it as best he can. He says it had begun swelling, but it’s lessening with cold compresses. Given time to rest, he should awaken just fine.”

She exhaled. “My thanks.” She glanced at the doorway, her hand on the handle, and silently thanked all the gods, including their Maker.

“Well.” Falke coughed. “I imagine you would like to see him now. Scipio is still with him. Shall we send someone to bring you food later?”

“Please. As soon as something is ready, if you don’t mind. Camp food, fresh meat, I’ll take anything.” Her stomach gurgled loudly as she opened the door. She winced. Andraste farting, indeed.

“I’ll send Alaine in ten minutes,” Falke said with a gentle smile. “We’ll see you back at camp later.” He turned and made his way back to camp. Past his silhouette, Lyna thought she could see Hannah seated by the fire. The woman watched Falke’s approach wistfully for a moment, then schooled her features to accept a waterskin from her neighbor.

Lyna entered the Chantry’s cool, darkened interior.

They did not have candles, an imported expense she was sure they could scarcely bear, but they had instead some beautifully made simple fuel lamps. They stood on stone pillars along the Chantry walls, and several not on pillars were arrayed on the dais that housed a tall marble sculpture of Andraste, a wooden stand for the Chant of Light, and Zevran and Scipio. Zevran lay on a table on the right side of the dais, his head swaddled and his body draped in a rough blanket, and Scipio sat on a chair next to him with a bucket at his feet and a book in his hand.

“Scipio,” she said into the silence. The mage looked up from his book, then marked his page and closed it.

“Commander Mahariel.” He stood as she approached from between the scant lines of pews, and stepped to the other side of the chair so she could sit if she wished.

“How is he? Falke updated me and told me how you were treating him.”

“Better, I think.” He gestured toward the bucket. “I have kept a cold cloth on his head, replacing it every half hour. I’ll be doing that again in a little while.”

“Are you… how…”

“I infuse a moist cloth with a cold spell. Something very simple from some of the first exercises I was taught,” Scipio said. “Don’t worry, we’ll have nothing to incite accusations of ‘maleficar.’ I am a magic nursemaid.” He spoke with biting sarcasm, leavened as it was with a smile and directed at himself.

“You do it so well. You could quit the Wardens and devote yourself to a healer’s life in Nevarra,” Lyna replied with an answering smile.

“And miss darkspawn raids and fetching goods? Perish the thought.” He waved it away. “I couldn’t be a healer in Nevarra. Too boring. There hasn’t been any dragon hunting since Cassandra Pentaghast slayed the ones unleashed on the Divine in 9:22, so I would only be treating the illnesses of those who actually look forward to the care of the mortalitasi.”

“Mortalitasi?”

“I’d call them ‘death mages,’ but it makes them sound more romantic than they actually are. Believe me, apprenticing for whispery old men who are glorified crypt caretakers was enough for me. My parents, sad things, will never understand why I left. It’s not as prestigious to have a Grey Warden as it is to have a mortalitasi in the family, but they’re coping,” he said sourly. “But enough on that. How are you?”

“Me? Other than being tired and concerned about Zevran, I’m fine.”

Scipio’s dark eyes sharpened. “You can lie and persuade very well, Commander. I know you have had ample practice. But I know the smell of a lie. Even the smallest one is like rotted fruit. ‘Fine’ describes artistry and beauty. It does not describe well-being.”

She rubbed at her eyes. “Alright. I am tired, concerned about Zevran, and hungry. And wondering what your concern is.”

He made an impatient noise. “My concern is for someone I can tell is hurting very deeply.” He cut her off as she began to protest. “Those ridiculous old men did teach me something useful, and that was how to peel back the layers of what people present to you. These layers are as a barrier to passing peacefully through the Veil, so finding and exposing their truth will bring them peace.”

He sighed. “I must also apologize. You are… quiet… with him.” He indicated Zevran. “I am a light sleeper, so I am thankful for that. So when I hear you calling out in your sleep, suddenly I have many things to consider. Such as finally believing you really did slay Urthemiel.”

“Ah.” Lyna folded her arms. “So that has been your problem with me.”

“It’s now not something I am proud of, no, but please understand that I am – was – not alone in that belief. Given you are miraculously not dead, consider that some would see your claim as coming from an opportunist, looking for adoration or at least lifelong gratitude.”

“Clearly you have never had to suffer from what passes for ‘adoration,’” she muttered angrily. “I thought monuments erected in my honor were bad enough. I have debated with myself whether it would be better to have my actual visage on them, if only to quiet the doubters that yes a Dalish killed the Archdemon. But then I would lose the protection of privacy, wouldn’t I?”

Her mouth twisted bitterly. “Judgment everywhere I go. No matter what I do.” She looked Scipio directly in the eye, and while he winced, he did not look away.

“I am sorry, Commander. But this is part of the point I have been trying to make: I can see this is hurting you, and it’s only a piece of your troubles. Troubles linked to Urthemiel… and to something else. Or someone else.” He held up a hand. “No, I am not judging you, nor am I asking for elucidation. I am simply restating my question: how are you?”

Lyna regarded the Nevarran thoughtfully, her expression softening. “Tired is still appropriate. It’s all very wearing. I have sometimes crawled into a bottle, I’ll admit. But I don’t regret. I mourn, but I’m still fighting. I may end up in the Deep Roads like every Warden before me, but I have something to live for before I do.”

“Not Zevran, I take it.”

“No. Or rather, not precisely. He helps me live,” she said, lifting her chin.

Scipio raised his hand again. “Fair enough.” He grimaced apologetically. “I do not recommend ‘living’ here, and I say again I mean no disrespect.”

“I know,” Lyna sighed. She walked the few steps to where Zevran lay sleeping and sat in Scipio’s chair. The elf’s profile was spoiled a little with his head wrapped, but it was no less lush. Just now somewhat vulnerable, as well. “Even if he were well, I would refrain for his protection while we are here.”

“Again, I am sorry,” he said, awkwardly. “Here. I will show you how I have been dressing his head.”

Scipio gently unwrapped Zevran’s head, showing Lyna the small lump he told her had been larger earlier. He demonstrated how he chilled the moist cloths almost to freezing, applying a fresh one to the lump. He had just started directing Lyna in how to rewrap Zevran’s head when the Chantry door opened to admit Alaine. The slight Orlesian girl was trying to keep hold of a bowl and a wrapped bundle at the same time.

“Don’t dare drop it, Alaine. I may be tired but I can still scorch your toes,” the mage said, letting Lyna finish wrapping. He moved to assist the girl with what was obviously their food, shutting the door behind her.

“Pish,” she said, but handed the bowl to him. Lyna could now smell seared meat, and her mouth watered.

“Bless you, bless you, bring it here,” Lyna begged.

“Getting there! My lady. Sorry! I’ve eaten, but I suppose a long day has made me forget manners,” Alaine said, and brought the bundle to her.

“I’ll forgive you if you forgive me ignoring you now,” she said, unwrapping the bundle to find a portion of dried fruits, nuts, and hard cheese. She popped a few pieces into her mouth and beckoned Scipio over so they could each share from the other. Scipio himself was blissfully chewing on a piece of the meat.

“Certainly!” Alaine giggled at them. “It’s not pheasant or puddings, but it is good, yes?”

Lyna could only nod. The Orlesian lowered herself to the floor and hugged her knees, now thoughtful.

“I am sorry for what happened to Zevran. I feel I should have done better, so he would not have done what he did,” she said. She stole glances at the assassin’s resting form.

Lyna shook her head and took a while finishing her mouthful. “It’s not your fault. He took a risk. He has always taken risks. Normally they work better for him than this.”

“Oh?” Alaine said.

Lyna thought of the stories Zevran had told her. None of them were appropriate to share at this moment, given where they were, so she settled on telling Alaine the story of how they met. She started with the contract Arl Howe, with Loghain’s blessing, had put in with the Antivan Crows to kill her and Alistair. It was one of the few things Alistair had ever argued with her about, saving Zevran instead of killing him. At least later Alistair came to admit the Antivan was useful, but he never fully trusted him, either.

She did not tell Alaine that Zevran liked to embarrass Alistair with “advice,” as well, though Lyna had always pretended not to hear. Alistair, for all his inexperience, had never needed it.

She and Scipio continued eating, and she listened with only half an ear as the mage and the archer shared stories of how they met the other members of their current troupe. She was preoccupied with thoughts on Zevran, on Alistair, on their journey to Perendale and onward to Orlais, and most of all with how sleepy she was and whether it would be prudent to bring her bedroll into the Chantry. She could be forgiven because she was concerned, yes?

“Commander,” Scipio nudged Lyna. He looked as tired as she felt. “You should head back to camp and get some sleep.”

“You should get some rest as well,” she said stubbornly, not moving.

“I won’t be able to. You’re in my seat,” the mage said. “I’m also the only one who can supply the ice, or have you forgotten?”

“No, but you could close your eyes and rest between applications,” Lyna said, but got up and handed what remained of the food to Alaine. It wasn’t much.

“And I suppose you will be here to ensure I awaken often enough? When you can hardly keep your own eyes open?”

“Augh, both of you are so ridiculous,” Alaine said, rolling her eyes. She set the remains of the food back down. “I will stay with Scipio for a while and see that he naps. You can go get some sleep, Commander, and I can come wake you in a few hours to take over. No different than being on watch, hey?”

“You are right. Thank you. I will tell Falke,” Lyna said, grateful someone was thinking clearly right now.

“You are welcome!” she said brightly. It made Lyna wonder for the first time how the girl’s nose got broken. She was too sweet to have invited a punch to the face. She’s Orlesian, of course she was punched, she could almost hear Alistair say. He wouldn’t mean it, really, and make up some story about a nasty Orlesian man being mean to her. Possibly about cheese.

Lyna blinked, smiled, and left the Chantry. She really needed the sleep, she was becoming delirious.

Most of their visitors from the village had retreated back to their homes. Falke and Denis were still awake, talking with a hanger-on; it sounded like some strategies for hunting, or killing darkspawn. She couldn’t tell which. Hannah had fallen asleep next to the fire, her head pillowed on her arm.

“Alaine is staying at the Chantry with Scipio for a few hours so I can rest, and so the mage can rest between each change of Zevran’s bandages,” she told the two men without preamble. She bent and woke Hannah, motioning her toward her tent. The woman blinked at her sleepily, then gathered herself.

“You’ll need more rest than that, Commander. You have the meeting with the Elder in the morning,” Falke said, frowning. Hannah barely glanced at the group before stumbling off to her tent.

“I have managed before with little to no sleep. So long as I have a mug of tea or coffee, I’ll be adequate.” She waved off the concern. “Alaine is to come wake me in a few hours, and that’s that.”

The men looked at each other, then Denis pointed out where they’d set up Lyna’s tent. “Sleep well, Commander.”

“Good night,” she said, and found her way into her own tent. She opened up her bedroll, fetched a blanket, and lay down without removing her clothing. She’d barely covered herself in her blanket before she lost consciousness.

When Denis woke her later and told her that Zevran was awake, she found herself weeping in relief. She blamed it on her interrupted sleep and did not chastise him or Alaine for letting her sleep longer than they’d agreed. She simply wiped her face and left her tent.

When she entered the Chantry, Scipio was deeply asleep in his chair, his head thrown back and half-snoring. Alaine had curled into an awkward sleeping pose, half on the main floor and half on the dais, her arms her pillow.

Zevran was sitting up, gingerly feeling his head, blanket draped on his lap.

“Unless I miss my guess, this was not a party, so this is not my funeral. I am not dead.”

“No, you aren’t. You idiot.” She embraced him, mindful of the bandaged gash on his arm. He had enough scars.

Chapter Text

“But you could have died. What were you thinking?”

Zevran winces. I know my voice is a little louder, a little shriller, than it needs to be. Scipio told me he was a light sleeper, but given all the energy he had expended, he was right now having the deepest sleep of his life. Alaine too, doubtless. I’d lay money on it.

“Right now I am thinking my head hurts too much for this,” he sighs, and rubs at the bandages. “Can we skip to the part where you forgive me?”

I set my hands on my hips and just stare at him for a while, I’m frustrated. But I am more than glad to have him back, so I settle on a truce.

“In a manner of speaking, certainly we can. I promise we will revisit this subject later, however.”

His mouth falls into a knowing smile. That smile adds to my frustration, because all I want to do at this moment is kiss it. The curve of his lower lip has skated across my skin, and I’d like that to happen again. So instead I raise my hand to his face, cup his jaw, and run my thumb across that lip. He’s a little surprised at the gesture, but doesn’t pull away.

“Fair enough.” He gestures at the dais and the rest of the Chantry. “Where are we? I can see it is a Chantry and not in Antiva, sadly.”

“Still the Anderfels. A settlement two hours’ ride from your magnificently stupid but successful attempt at killing an august ram from horseback.” Some energy that had spurred me here is seeping away, leaving me tired once more. “It’s… not private at all. This-,“ I wave my other hand about, “might as well tell you all you need to know about these people. They’re true believers in Andraste and the Maker, at least as much as Falke is and possibly moreso.”

I lower my hand and step away. I don’t like this, but it’s necessary. I need him to know how serious this situation could be for the two of us.

“I see,” he says. “And this concerns you, yes? What they think of you?”

A bitter laugh escapes me before I can stop it. “I think you forget who you are speaking with.”

“Never,” he replies with a half-smile. “So, what then?”

“I worry what they would try to do to you,” I tell him. We both know we could kill a lot of people intent on hurting us, but for what? I am no besotted fool, and neither is he.

“That bad, mmm? Alright,” Zevran says, his smooth voice softer than usual. He grasps my hand and kisses the inside of my palm. It tingles. “I suspected as much. What I overheard of your conversation the other morning with him,” he nods toward the snoring mage, “did worry me a little.”

“When I stopped being angry, and when I saw this place, it worried me a lot.” I bite my lip. “I told the village elder you were my kin.”

Zevran’s eyebrows fly up. “Dalish? But-“

“Please. It’s all the protection I can offer. Lethallin,” I plead. I take his hand and return the kiss to his palm. “And you are, by your mother. Take your birthright. At least for a few days.”

“A few days,” he agrees. His eyes shine in the darkness, and, ready for real sleep, reclines once more. I’m not certain if my half-truth will keep him safe and away from trouble, because if he’s breathing he is attracting it. I can do no more than this.

***

Lyna was hot and had a headache. She regretted her decision to wear her silverite-enhanced Warden armor for meeting with Elder Gerhard: the sun was shooting bright rays that reflected on her armor into her eyes. This compounded insufficient and interrupted sleep, and she hadn’t yet broken her fast because Gerhard had invited her to eat with him after they’d seen to the matters affecting his people. Tea or coffee might chase away the pounding in her head, at the very least.

She rubbed at her temples and tried to refrain from scowling. She didn’t want to insult the Elder by seeming impatient or ungrateful. This was her own damned fault, and the whole thing put her in a foul mood.

The “meeting” wasn’t just with Elder Gerhard in the Chantry, but with most of the adults of the village as well, so Lyna had Hannah and Falke attend with her. With Zevran awakened and out of danger, he’d been banished back to their camp along with Scipio, the mage to check on him periodically but otherwise catch up on sleep. Denis and Alaine, last she saw them, were alternately seeing to camp needs and shooing away overly curious children.

First a middle-aged woman named Sister Holle gave a “curtailed” Chantry service: she sang some homily about Andraste and her flaming sword before launching into reciting verses from the Chant that dealt with the wars between the Neromenians and Inghirsh. Then she sang another song, this one about Maferath’s jealousy. Holle seemed prepared to recite more verses from the Chant for at least another hour, but instead stopped herself, wrapping up with the admonishment from the Maker to the seven Tevinter magisters who had assaulted the Golden City as He flung them, Blighted, back through the Veil.

Then Gerhard solemnly thanked all for attending, and brought out the village’s issues. Most seemed quite small to her, resource squabbles and asking for moral judgments on minor lapses she would never have given serious consideration to before. Keeping in mind her role as a kind of ambassador, however, she tried seeing their problems from their point of view. It was an austere life that depended so much on communal responsibility and sharing resources there was no way to overlook small problems without them eventually blooming into larger ones.

It was still incredibly tedious, however, and reminded her grimly of Amaranthine. At least these people did not whine or attempt to curry favor as those nobles had. Hannah and Falke seemed to find her judgments acceptable.

Blessed Mythal, her head hurt.

“We thank you, Warden-Commander Mahariel, for your patience and prudence. We ask your help with one final matter, an issue with two problems to solve,” Gerhard said, stroking his thin, sandy brown beard.

Lyna sat up a little straighter; this might be the “serious matter” Falke had warned her of last night.

Gerhard signaled toward the back of the assembly, and a small group of people, hands tied behind their backs, was prodded forward. Four of them were sunburnt with a medley of injuries poorly seen to. The fifth, a young man in his late teens with an unruly thatch of dark hair, was uninjured and more terrified than the others.

“The day before you arrived, Warden-Commander, these bandits attacked our people and attempted to steal from us,” Gerhard said, gesturing at the sunburned faces standing before them. The largest of the group, a big man with a thick neck and a thin fringe of hair on his head, stared at her frankly, taking her measure. The other three, a woman with blacksmith’s arms and close-shorn greying blonde hair, and two men who could have been twins, stood there with guilty expressions.

“The bandits might have run off with our livestock, but William subdued them.” Gerhard paused uncomfortably. “With magic.”

The young man with dark hair blanched and cringed. This was William? Why did these people look at William as if he’d stripped naked and- She caught Hannah’s eye, and the redhead nodded, reminding Lyna of their conversation yesterday regarding Scipio. These people didn’t generally trust mages, and now they had one in their midst.

Mythal, give me your wisdom, or I will be Elgar’nan burying the sun.

“Where are you from?” Lyna asked the bandits, her eyes narrowed. Bull-neck continued to stare at her, his posture challenging.

“Hammonds,” Blacksmith said, and slowly raised her head. “Place not much bigger’n this, week’s journey southerly.” Her jaw clenched. “Useta be there. Darkspawn overran it, had a nasty bugger of a spellcaster with’em.”

“No more, though,” Bull-neck said casually. He didn’t bother looking over at the woman, intent on intimidating Lyna. She found it irritating, and grunted dismissively at him.

“How many darkspawn? Did they follow you?” Lyna herself felt no prickling under her skin, but she’d been surprised before in Amaranthine. Never again would she take sensing the darkspawn for granted.

Blacksmith screwed up her face. “Twenty? Thirty? More’n enough to come on us, start killing everyone. Some did follow Sig an’ the rest of us. We managed to kill some as we ran. Thought we killed the last of’em three days ago, but can’t be sure.” She was mostly impassive as she related what happened to them, but Lyna could see the grief and terror lurking beneath.

Gerhard was pale. “Darkspawn in numbers. Andraste save us. Warden-Commander Mahariel, if they have followed these bandits...”

“They haven’t,” Lyna said.

“We would know,” Falke offered softly. Hannah nodded.

“We will be leaving tomorrow,” Lyna said. She held up a hand and forestalled Gerhard. “We will detour on our route and make sure of it. They will not come to your village.”

“Set them out as bait!” cried a villager. Some in the gathering nodded and murmured approval. “The darkspawn came for them, let them be taken!”

“No,” Lyna said.

“They would have killed us, taken our food!” “Kill them now!”

“I SAID ‘NO,’” Lyna roared. Creators, how her head hurt. Yelling made it worse, but these people… One look at Blacksmith and the twin men was enough for her. They trembled, trying not to show their terror. Even Bull-neck – Sig, she supposed – was a little rattled.

Gerhard urged quiet on the assembly, worry plain on his face. “Warden-Commander, please. You see the trouble we have before us. Surely it’s only prudent we protect ourselves.”

“Not by slaughtering them,” Lyna threw her hand toward the would-be bandits, “out of hand!”

She rose from her chair. Her height was never imposing, but she stood as tall as possible and stared down the whole assembly.

“Who will lift the sword, hmm? Which of you will come to strike them down?” She stalked back and forth, and pointed to a man who she thought had been the first to cry out. “Will it be you?” She moved to stand in front of a woman she’d seen earlier herding several children away from the Warden camp. “Or you?” They looked away.

“No. You will not. You are courageous people, you fight well. I know this.” She lifted her chin challengingly. “But you have never killed in cold blood. So instead, you will stake them out. As bait, you said. What then? When you have attracted the darkspawn? Perhaps you kill the darkspawn. Perhaps not. Perhaps instead they kill your bait, and then come for you.

Lyna paused and closed her eyes a moment. The memories of Bownammar were still terrible, the remembered smells of sulphur and hot iron and vile blighted organic stink enhancing the throbbing in her temples. The wet whip-snapping of tentacles, the groaning bulk waiting to devour, change, and spawn hordes. The grey filmed eyes rolling in madness and hunger. The sad whispering of Hespith, last of Branka’s household, well on her way to becoming one of them and bleakly, horribly aware of it.

She opened her eyes. “Darkspawn do not simply kill. They also take people. Women.” She pointed to each woman. They paled, or blinked, or looked away.

“They drag them down into the Deep Roads and corrupt them, turn them into Broodmothers. You do not want to know how, for it is unspeakable. I have seen what happens to them: the Paragon Branka had betrayed her entire household, giving even her closest female companion to the darkspawn so that they would take them, make them darkspawn like themselves. She used them as her bait so she could reach her own goal. She coveted the Anvil of the Void so she could make golems, and for what? To fight the very things she helped create.”

Lyna bit out her words in pure disgust. “Betrayal. Murder. Corruption and foulness as you have never seen. That is what you invite, and I will not have it.” She folded her arms.

“What of justice, then?” Elder Gerhard asked. Lyna’s words clearly troubled him, but the bandits had created chaos of their own that needed an answer.

Sig chose that moment to spit. “Ain’t none of you can touch me,” he sneered.

“And yet William managed, and you’re here with your hands tied,” Lyna observed drily. The mageling in question winced again and his shoulders slumped more, looking as if he were trying to disappear into himself.

“Not a fair fight, were it?”

“Between a thug and a young boy? No, it was not,” Lyna said coolly, her hands on her hips as she approached Sig. She could see the man’s heartbeat fluttering madly, his hands flexing behind his back. He was spoiling for a fight. Perhaps he knew the villagers would kill him, perhaps he hoped to kill someone and make his escape. He would get neither today.

“Miss… Warden-Commander, please,” said one of the twins by Blacksmith. “We don’t want nothing to do with Sig no more. It were his idea, and we was desperate for food,” he pleaded.

Lyna glanced at Blacksmith. The woman nodded. “Aye. Stood with Sig because we needed him ‘gainst the darkspawn. Couldn’t well leave, not knowin’ for sure it were safe.”

“Blighted nugshits,” Sig spat. “Kept you safe, din’t I? Come on, then! Swing a sword at me, I’ll push it through your livers.”

“Shut your mouth. Have some respect for where you are, if nothing else,” Lyna told him.

“I’ll not have some rabbit-“ Sig dropped to his knees, gasping for air. Lyna stood over him, her fist flexing and her blood roaring in her ears.

“I. Said. Shut. It.” She took a moment to calm her breathing. She was grimly pleased to note her headache had receded a little. She turned her attention back to Gerhard and the bandits, who had watched the scene with some trepidation.

“There will be justice,” Lyna said in a quieter tone. She addressed the twin men. “How well can you fight?”

“We do fine, Miss. Warden-Commander,” one said after the other nudged him. “Eigen and me’re scrappers. Better as a team than separate.”

Lyna nodded and turned to Blacksmith. “You, I can see for myself. You can hold a blade, have swung one plenty.”

“Aye. Shield, too,” the woman said, her questioning eyes searching Lyna’s face.

“Good.” She addressed Gerhard and the people gathered. “What they did was wrong, but it was done at the direction of another, in desperate circumstances. They will right the wrong and become your protectors, instead – against darkspawn, other bandits, wild creatures.”

“You propose to set them free and put weapons in their hands?” the village Elder asked, shocked.

“It is no different than what the Grey Wardens have done for centuries,” Lyna said with calm certainty. “We do not recruit heroes. We take people from all paths, some from the lowest of them all. Even so, we do not make heroes. We make men and women who see the dangers and fight to protect against them.”

“But they are not Grey Wardens! How do we know they will not turn on us? That man,” Gerhard said and gestured contemptuously at Sig, who had regained his breath, “would slit our throats in our sleep.”

Sig did not bother to deny the accusation, only glared at Lyna, his teeth bared and lip curled.

“’That man,’ I will deal with myself,” she said. She glanced over at Hannah and Falke. “If by chance I fell, then Hannah and the others will finish him.” She shrugged. “I doubt I will fall. I survived darkspawn emissaries, Broodmothers, demons, abominations, werewolves, and an Archdemon. One thug does not bother me,” she said, raising her voice a little for Sig’s sake. She generally disliked boasting, but she would do it if it sufficiently cowed him and threw him off-balance against her. He had a viciousness to him that needed blunting before she faced him.

“The others, however…,” Lyna said, looking at the remaining would-be bandits. “I feel certain they would not, if they knew they had a place here. A roof, some food, a day’s work. Am I wrong?” She directed the last to the woman with the thick arms. Blacksmith’s eyes swam with tears.

“No, my lady,” she choked out. “I have other skills as well-“

“Us, too,” the twins put in at once. Eager, relieved.

Gerhard still looked doubtful, as did members of the assembly. There were concerned and fearful faces. Lyna tried again, searching for the words that would reach them.

“Andraste did not only fight, yes? It is Her sword on the Templars’ shields? She is also known for grace, for beauty, and for mercy.” She let that word sink in for a moment, and continued. “When my people rebelled against their masters in Tevinter, they went to Her. Andraste and Her armies could have slain them: my people were barely armed, had only narrowly managed to defeat those sent to collect them or kill them. Making common cause could make things worse for Her. But She chose to embrace them, embrace Shartan, because of mercy. Because She knew that together, they were stronger.

She sighed. “If nothing else, consider this: setting them out as bait will only work as long as your trap has teeth. Give them the dignity to defend themselves, and I promise you they will defend you, as well. Your survival is their survival. I know how difficult that can be – let them prove their worth to you.”

Gerhard was quiet and thoughtful for a while, his sharp eyes measuring Blacksmith and the twins.

“Very well. They will stay here, in the Chantry, under supervision, until we feel they can be trusted,” he said, finally. “What are your names?”

“Margaret, Elder.”

“Eigen and Toren, Elder.”

“Be welcomed under Andraste’s mercy, Margaret, Eigen, and Toren. May Her light guide you and keep you true to the Maker’s will,” Gerhard said.

Lyna folded her arms and looked at Sig once more. He knew what was coming and stayed quiet.

“I’d offer you a last chance, Sig, but you and I know you will not take it. The only mercy is ending you quickly.”

“Fuck your mercy,” Sig snarled. He struggled as the men assigned to keep him restrained removed him from the Chantry at Lyna’s signal. There would be blood. Better it spill elsewhere.

“William,” Gerhard said, and the young man in question crumpled.

“Please, Elder, I’m sorry,” he begged.

“Hold a moment,” Lyna said. “There is nothing to apologize for, William. You saved lives and helped keep people here from starving.” The young man’s distress unnerved her.

“With magic!” he cried. The air around him grew warm.

“William, this is not a bad thing,” Lyna said. “Please, calm down.”

Elder Gerhard shook his head. “He has become a danger to us. He needs to be sent away for the good of us all.”

William paled. “I can’t go out there, oh Andraste have mercy, Maker hear me…” The young mage was babbling and backing away, the air now beginning to shimmer visibly around him.

Well, shit.

William suddenly collapsed to the floor, the shimmering dying away. Hannah stood by the young man’s unconscious body and sheathed her belt knife.

“Sorry. With no Templars around, pommel to the head is the only thing I know works other than killing him,” the redhead said. “I assumed killing him was not an option, Commander.”

Lyna exhaled, relieved. “Yes. Thank you, Hannah. You did well.” She turned to Gerhard.

“Can you please explain to me why William was so upset? He acted as if you were going to execute him.”

Gerhard’s harsh features tightened. “Warden Hannah correctly noticed we have no Templars here. Our community is not large enough for barracks or Circle Towers, and we must keep ourselves safe. We can’t risk most mages around us, we have no way to defend ourselves against magic.” His posture straightened and stiffened. “So we send them away. Unfortunately it must mean young ones as well. Most of the time we can wait for a Templar to come from Nessum or Caimen Brea to fetch them, but not if we feel the danger the mage poses is too great.”

Lyna felt as if she’d been the one punched in the gut. Being torn away from your home and your loved ones because of something you had no say in – she understood that. Just as much as she understood its necessity. Still, she empathized with William greatly, and sorrowed for him. And because he did pose a danger…

“I am so sorry. Elder Gerhard, I will take the boy. That is, we will take the boy. He will come with us to Perendale; surely the Circle there will take him. Warden Scipio can teach him how to control himself along the way.”

“Are we not checking on the darkspawn raiders first?” Falke spoke up, alarmed. “Can we keep him safe in such a situation?”

“We are, and we will try,” Lyna said, grimly. Either the boy would live and learn, as she did, or he would die and no longer be a threat to himself or anyone else. At least William had a better chance with them than he did alone on the steppes.

“Thank you, Warden-Commander. Lukas,” Gerhard said to a man nearby, “Please inform William’s mother. She will need someone to look after the children for a little while.” The man nodded and darted out of the Chantry.

“With your leave, Elder Gerhard, I would like to call an end to this meeting,” Lyna said, crooking her finger at the men standing guard with Margaret, Eigen, and Toren. They all came forward. She drew her belt knife and cut open their bonds, all three of them rubbing at their wrists.

The Elder inclined his head. “We have heard the most pressing matters.” He called for Sister Holle to lead them in a closing invocation, Hannah and Falke pulling William up from the floor to set him in their place on the pew. The mageling slumped over the pew’s arm as if he had a monstrous hangover instead of having been knocked on his ass.

Poor boy. This was going to be rough on him.

The three standing uncertainly near her, on the other hand, might be alright. It would take some time for the villagers to get over their mistrust, but Lyna felt absolutely certain the would-be bandits’ integration would be a good thing for them all in the long run.

Sig: no. Perhaps if he’d had a better temperament, some sense of rightness about him, she might have conscripted him to the Wardens instead. He did not lack for fighting spirit and had held up against darkspawn. But that alone never made a Warden, before or after the Joining.

She barely paid attention to the closing invocation, leaving the Chantry as soon as it was done to deal with Sig as quickly as possible. Although her headache had lessened, there were new concerns to deal with and her stomach was still empty.

When had she become someone who could consider killing a man so she could move forward with breakfast? Lyna shook her head: too many terrible decisions lay between the girl she had been and who she was now.

The air outside the Chantry was hot and arid, stealing the moisture from her mouth and skin. She made her way back to camp, loosening the buckles and ties for the silverite. Sig wasn’t worth staining this armor and it was too damned hot for it, anyway.

Both Zevran and Scipio were awake now, although resting under the shade of canvas awning rigged for that purpose.

“Commander. How was the meeting? I thought you might be breaking your fast,” Scipio called out to her.

“I wish I were, Scipio, but I have a man to kill first. A bandit,” she said, and unceremoniously began throwing the silverite into her tent. It was ridiculous how shameful she treated it, sometimes, and was glad Wade was not here to see it. He’d faint dead away. She was also glad anyone who might be tempted to steal her armor out here could be easily discovered. They would have to get over their fears of reprisal first, however, and not just from herself but their own Chantry.

The mage frowned.”I think I heard something of these bandits. The big one, yes?”

“Yes. Sig, they call him. Thick necked bully. Damned shame about it, because he took on and killed some darkspawn in a raid,” Lyna said. She grabbed a waterskin and took a long, thirsty drink from it.

Scipio stood up. “I will accompany you, then.”

“What for? I can handle him.”

“I have no doubts about that, Commander,” he said. He crooked a half smile. “No, my interest is in making sure there is nothing left to attract scavengers and more aggressive creatures when you’re done. This land is dangerous enough. Let us not make it worse for these people.”

“Good point.”

Zevran had not stirred during the exchange, merely watched and listened. She wondered what he was thinking about. Then he smiled, his eyes hooded.

“Be careful, my dear Warden. You have begun favoring your left side.”

“I’ll remember that, thank you.”

Scipio walked with Lyna back toward the Chantry to discover where Sig had been taken, then took a pathway out of the village to the west. Not far from the village, but far enough to discourage casual lookers and smaller eyes, stood Sig, Elder Gerhard, Sig’s guard, Hannah, Falke, and a few other men and women from the village to act as witnesses.

Scipio joined Hannah and Falke off to the side, nodding to them and folding his arms.

Lyna walked up to Sig and his guard. She glanced over at the Elder, who nodded. She turned back to the guard. “It’s time.”

The guard set his hand on Sig’s shoulder to push him down onto his knees.

Sig wrenched forward and slammed his forehead into Lyna’s face. She staggered back, her vision gone white with pain, feeling the blood run out of her nose and down her face.

“I said ‘fuck your mercy’ and I meant it, ya knife-eared bitch,” she heard Sig spit with a growl. She shook her head to clear her vision, drawing her daggers and deliberately biting her tongue to distract from the pain throbbing right in front of her eyes.

Even with his hands still tied behind his back, Sig was dangerous and intimidating. Hannah and Falke had taken up defensive postures around the Elder and the other villagers, Sig’s former guard backing away to join them. Scipio was also on the defensive, but his eyes were on Lyna, questioning.

She shook her head, waving him off, and focused upon Sig, whose hands were working furiously behind his back. She could see the blood dripping from his efforts to free himself. His ability to grapple would be hindered with the slick of his blood on his hands, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t eventually be able to do it. He wasn’t anywhere as large as an ogre, but neither would she give him the chance to prove himself their equal.

Lyna spat her blood in a fine spray at him. “Come at me, then, you great bronto-necked shem.” She bared her teeth in a bloody grin and shifted her stance.

As she hoped, Sig took that as an invitation to charge her. He barreled straight at her, his own teeth bared and scowling. He was mindful of her daggers, however, and tried to avoid them while still throwing his shoulders and hips at her as he closed.

This meant that she did not simply dance out of his way so he could keep running past, but rather sidestepped several times as he shifted his posture. She used the momentum to keep moving around to a blindspot, and shoved a dagger into his back.

Sig roared and twisted around, staggering, and Lyna yanked it out. She skipped back a few steps, flicking his blood from her dagger.

“Fuck your fair fight,” she taunted him. “This rabbit will carve you into Wintersend pudding.”

The bandit grunted, panting, then bellowed again as he flexed his arms, a mighty sustained straining until he tore his hands free from the rope. Both hands were raw and bleeding from the wrists to his knuckles.

“Not before I rip your ears off your head and shove them up your cunt,” he snarled. Although he bled freely from his dagger wound, it did not look as if it would stop him from charging her again.

Good.

“Try it, you son of a dog-humping maggot farmer,” she said, and spat more blood at him.

Sig came swinging for her, his hands alternately fisting or flexing to move for a grapple. She ducked under his punches and sidestepped his grasping hands, moving low to inflict deep, slicing wounds to his legs – not quite hamstringing him, but enough to slow him and make him more vulnerable. The blood loss would accumulate the longer they went, as well, but she didn’t intend for this to last very much longer.

Especially not since this bastard had taken an ordinary headache and made it a lot more personal.

The big bandit nearly did resemble an ogre now, the way he seemed almost mindless with rage. If he was a real one, she might be worried. But all he wanted to do now was crush her, and he was willing to abandon reason altogether to do so. He staggered around after Lyna, trying to track her movements and unable to keep up.

Each time he tried to turn and was too slow, she darted in for another slice, taunting him. She circled and circled him in a cage of her daggers and words, waiting for the right moment to finish.

Finally Lyna saw it. She kicked him below the belt and he stumbled to his knees, still trying to swing out an arm and grab her. Weakened, he was slow to try to get back up. She moved in fast, put a knee to his back, and drew both daggers across his throat.

Sig’s blood sprayed out in a wet gargle as he bellowed in surprise, the sound cutting off rapidly. His body fell over when she backed away, twitching and gurgling as the bandit died. She kicked at the corpse and spat a final time.

“Scipio, if you please.”

“Of course. Everyone back away,” the mage said, and, with the aid of his staff, summoned a small ball of bright white fire as Lyna and the others scrambled away. He launched it at Sig’s corpse and it burst into flame rapidly, a little pyre on the steppes with none to mourn his passing.

“Elder Gerhard, I apologize for my language. I was intentionally goading him. You and the rest of this village should be safe now,” Lyna said. Scipio pressed a cloth to her face; she shook her head and handed him one of her daggers to wipe, instead. The mage rolled his eyes but did as she asked. She sheathed the cleaned dagger and took the cloth to wipe the other as well. Sheathing bloody daggers made the whole thing a terrible mess to clean after.

“Yes, of course,” Gerhard murmured uncomfortably, eyeing Scipio. Although Gerhard seemed relieved that Sig was no longer an issue, the mage’s display of power made him wary. He licked his lips, then turned to the village witnesses and silently indicated they should return home.

“With your leave, I will need some time to clean up,” she continued, “before I can come break our fast together.” Scipio made a grumbling noise at her, still trying to tend to her face. “And be nursemaided for a moment as well, evidently.”

The Elder waved her off. “Please. We may talk later. Wardens Hannah and Falke are welcome to come. They can send food to your camp after.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Come, Nurse Scipio, you can fix my face properly now.”

“Sometimes, Commander, you’re almost funny.”

“A compliment! Whatever shall I do with it? I know, I’ll save it for a rainy day.”

But when they returned to camp, Scipio did seat her on a camp stool so he could look her over better. The blood had slowed to a trickle by that point. Lyna could feel the bone bruising around her nose and eyes, and it was a deep pulsing she couldn’t soothe away. She hoped Scipio could.

Denis and Alaine had just returned, each with a bucket of water and several filled waterskins slung around them. Denis whistled slowly at seeing Lyna’s face. Zevran, who appeared as if he’d been napping in his seat, looked up at the whistling sound and scowled when he saw Lyna.

“Who is the idiot now?” Zevran said.

“He headbutted me! Ow,” Lyna said as Scipio pressed gently around one of her eyes.

“And you were supposed to move. Did he come at you from the left? Were you completely blind?”

No, he was right in front of me and supposed to kneel like a good boy,” she muttered, scowling.

Scipio coughed. “Quiet, I’m trying to fix this mess.”

“Well… fix it!”

Denis laughed. “Both of you, lumps on the head. That’s the sweetest thing I ever heard.”

Lyna sighed as Scipio finally set a healing spell on her. She could feel the pain easing away along with some of the bruising. She knew she was in for compresses like Zevran’s, and wondered how the mage was ever going to keep up with them and take a fledgling mage under his wing at the same time.

Which reminded her that she needed to tell him about William. Preferably after he was done and they were all eating. One could regain a lot of perspective with a full belly.

“If one of you would please, for the love of all the gods, make me some damned coffee, I will clean your dishes for the remainder of this trip.”

Alaine nearly sloshed her bucket as she sprang into action. “Coming right up! Augh, I hate dishes.”

Chapter Text

“Are you trying to kill me? If so, this must be the slowest assassination. The least you could do, Commander, is have your Crow do it quickly,” Scipio said, throwing his hands up.

“There is no contract on you, but I shall bear that in mind,” Zevran piped up from his tent. He was retrieving fresh garments, preparing to go with Denis to the small stream where the Warden and Alaine had found water earlier.

Lyna rolled her eyes. “What would you have me do? Should William ride out into the steppes, terrified and alone, to be wyvern food? Succumb to fear and become an abomination? Even if William suddenly learned to control himself overnight, the villagers won’t trust him, now. They won’t wait for Templars to come take him.”

“We can’t provide the calming presence he needs while we look for darkspawn!”

“Not if you insist on fighting about this, we can’t.” She folded her arms. “Come up with a better plan and I will listen to it.”

“Tranquil?” Alaine offered.

“No,” Scipio sighed. “That requires the Templars.”

“Keep him knocked out?” Denis called out from somewhere within his tent.

“We don’t have the herbs, and we have enough head injuries,” the mage muttered, throwing Lyna a dark look.

Lyna shrugged. Hers still ached a little, and she was sure even with Scipio’s healing there would be some bruising, but she’d had to deal with it before. Wynne had just been much better at taking care of it.

“I could simply kill him for you,” Zevran said as he emerged from his tent. “But due to the potential danger to my life, I would not do it for less than three gold sovereigns.” He spoke mildly, but Lyna could see the twinkle in his eye. She suppressed a smile.

“Oh, for the love of- fine, fine. I will sit on the boy and hatch a proper mage.” The Nevarran groused, but Lyna could see it was from genuine concern.

“Thank you, Scipio.”

He waved it off, dark eyebrows pulled down in faint irritation. “I may have William making the compresses, so perhaps you’ll want to reconsider your thanks,” he said. “I will go see the poor child now, so there will be less theatrics as you described tomorrow.” He picked up his staff and walked into the village.

“Nurse Scipio,” chuckled Denis, then gestured at Zevran. “Stream is this way, a little south and east…”

“Coming, Warden Falke?” Zevran asked. “I promise not to look.”

Falke’s face reddened. “I- yes, I will be along soon.” He darted into his tent to gather his things as Denis and Zevran began walking, then sped to catch up as soon as he had what he needed.

When Falke and Hannah had returned with breakfast earlier, Hannah had informed Lyna that she’d overheard some whispers about Zevran. There were some men who were jealous of the shy giggling he’d elicited from the women who’d seen him, and they thought it might be a fine idea to ambush him. That Zevran was supposed to be Lyna’s kinsman did give them pause, but not much.

Since the Wardens were leaving tomorrow anyway, Lyna thought it better for all of them to never go alone anywhere such an ambush might happen, and the stream definitely qualified. Zevran wanted to bathe, therefore he got company… men only, to keep to their quaint notions of propriety, but Lyna knew Zevran was far from minding.

She turned her attention to the dishes and began scrubbing. She hoped Zevran was enjoying himself, because aside from effectively hiding from the Crows, she couldn’t see what other benefit he might gain from accompanying her on her quest.

“Commander?”

Lyna looked up, elbows deep in mucky water. Alaine perched nearby on a camp stool, her broken button nose scrunched in distaste at the dishes momentarily before falling back into a generally thoughtful, shy expression.

“Sorry. Lyna, you said? It’s- yes, one of those conversations,” the Orlesian girl said. Lyna’s policy was never to be called ‘Commander’ if someone wanted to discuss something of a personal nature. It was off-putting, and Duncan had said the same to her when she was just a Warden recruit.

“Listening,” she said, and continued scrubbing.

“Have you… have you ever…”

“Ever… what?” Licked a lamppost in winter? She snorted at the memory.

“What?” Alaine asked, confused. Lyna shook her head. “Erm, right. Have you ever… been in love?”

Lyna dropped the dish she’d had propped up in the pan, and the water sloshed. “Your Maker have mercy on me. What brought that on?”

Alaine blushed, fidgeting with the end of her braid. “I think I feel something for someone, and I don’t know how I’m feeling. Well, perhaps I do, but I don’t have any… experience.”

“And you think I do because…?”

“There is a song,” Alaine said, reluctantly.

Lyna raised her eyebrow. “A song. In Orlais?”

“Yes. It’s been- it was popular a few years ago. Not long after the Blight.” Alaine sighed, a little dreamily. “’The Rose of Ferelden.’ Because it’s about a Dalish elf hero and the King of Ferelden, and a gift that makes them fall in love.”

Lyna’s stomach dropped. Damn it, Leliana.

“Don’t trust bards, girl,” she said, and resumed scrubbing.

“Then, forget the song. Please… have you ever been in love?” Alaine’s voice held a plaintive note.

Still am. “Yes, I have.” She put the scrubbed dish in a basket for drying and picked up the next dirty dish.

“Can you tell me what it’s like?”

“Haven’t you got better things to do than needle the Commander ‘bout love?” Hannah asked Alaine grumpily. It was hard to tell if she interjected for the sake of her own wounded heart or Lyna’s.

“Not at present,” the blonde said, pert.

“I might set you to hunt us a brace of birds for our dinner,” Lyna said with a smile. “But I plan on washing myself after the men return, and it wouldn’t be fair to have you bathe and then go hunting.”

She shrugged, rolling her shoulders as she let herself think, really think, about Alistair.

“Honestly, I think it may be different for everyone. Love is hardly as simple and sweet as we hear in the songs,” she began. “It’s the feeling that two people create together. What you feel alone, yourself, is just a reflection of what could be, not what is.”

She pursed her lips.

“Have you ever made a Lover’s Knot?”

Alaine shook her head.

“When my people made one, it was created by both people who would wear it. Each would lay a strand and take turns winding the cord. So if the end knot was misshapen or loose, it was because of the imperfect efforts of both, not one of them alone,” Lyna said. “But so long as the knot holds, the imperfections don’t matter. The strength of the bond does.”

Alaine chewed on her lower lip. “I see, I think. But how does it feel?”

“To me?”

Alaine nodded.

Lyna closed her eyes, abandoning the dishes. Alistair teasing her mabari. Alistair wounded and whining as Wynne tended him. Alistair’s wide, wondering eyes as they moved through the Dalish encampment in the Brecilian Forest. Alistair grieving over Duncan, and his complicated feelings about Cailan at Ostagar. Alistair touching her for the first time. Alistair touching her for the last time.

“As if your heartbeat has found itself threaded and tied to another, and, no matter what happens, will never break free.”

She opened her eyes and glanced over at Alaine. “Well?”

The blonde shook her head and rubbed at her nose. “Perhaps you should hear the song sometime. It really does sound like you.”

Lyna sighed into the dishes.

“You’ve a head full of feathers, Alaine. Let her be and help me figure out how we’ll best accommodate an untrained mage,” Hannah said gruffly. She shot Lyna a sympathetic look over the Orlesian’s head.

Lyna, on the other hand, thought she might ambush Zevran herself when they were back on the road.

Chapter Text

Hammonds, as it turned out, was several days’ journey from the village on horseback at a leisurely pace. Margaret’s reckoning on distance was based on the time she and the others had spent running on foot, and Lyna marveled that the little group of would-be bandits had managed to survive what was now obviously a grueling pace. The scenery – rocks, sparse grasses, very little water – had not improved along the way. She could see why the people of the Anderfels were generally feared and admired. They were tough, resilient, and potentially fearsome warriors.

They were also very devout, a fact that would never have bothered her had it not complicated her trip to Orlais in myriad ways thus far. She couldn’t precisely pin that devotion on William’s nervousness and dismay at having to learn magic instead of avoid it, but everything he had been taught was something of a hindrance for Scipio to overcome. The Nevarran mage’s patience was being sorely tested with each lesson he tried with the mageling.

“Imagine a small flame… oh heavens, I said small-“

“Oh, I am sorry-“

“Just, pull it in, think smaller. Control it… no, sustain it, don’t let it go… augh.”

“I can’t, it’s not right to draw upon Andraste’s fire,” the young man complained, worried and pale on his horse.

“Whoever said Andraste-? Never mind. Cold, then,” Scipio said.

Lyna urged her horse forward and gave him one of the damp rags she kept ready for herself and Zevran.

“Thank you,” the mage said, and handed it to William riding alongside. “Concentrate upon this…”

She dropped back to her position alongside Zevran. “How does your head feel?”

“I am more hot than hurt,” he said sourly. He uncapped his waterskin and sipped, then squirted a little on the back of his neck. “If you are asking do I want the next cold rag, the answer is yes.”

“Of course,” she said. They rode in silence for a while, listening to Scipio trying to teach William.

“We’ll reach Hammonds soon.” Lyna squinted into the distance; it wasn’t visible yet, but given what she’d been told, they might soon. An hour or so. She felt restless and ill-at-ease. “We may be seeing darkspawn again.”

“Like old times,” Zevran said. He smirked and shook his head.

She looked over at him and smiled grimly. “Feeling nostalgic?”

“Not exactly. I do not miss these creatures. But I confess I did miss the traveling and killing,” he said thoughtfully. He glanced over at her. “I did miss you, my friend.”

“Was life back in Antiva not as exciting, then?” she teased.

“Oh, plenty exciting, especially when they realized I killed Taliesin and meant to remain free of the Crows. Let me assure you, there was excitement daily. Did someone poison my fish stew? Is this friend still a friend or a new contract on my life?” Zevran grinned. “It turns out it’s even more exciting to turn the tables.”

“So, this is a vacation for you?”

“In a manner of speaking,” he said. “A different excitement. And not what I expected.” Tawny eyes looked her over from under lowered lashes. “At all.”

She flushed. Now she was too warm. “Sorry to disappoint,” she said lightly.

“No no, not disappointed by far,” Zevran chuckled. “Although I do not relish the darkspawn, certainly. But that is the life of a Warden, no? Killing darkspawn?” He shook his head. “I pledged my life to your service, and you have never forced me to stay. I could not say the same about the Crows.”

“Meaning?”

“I told you I would storm the gates of the Black City at your side,” he said. “I wanted you to know for certain that it was not said in the heat of the moment.” Zevran winked, but she caught the serious tone of his voice, and it touched her.

“Lethallin, I-“ Her skin crawled suddenly, an all-too familiar itch. From the corner of her eye, she could see the others react as well.

“Darkspawn nearby.”

Zevran sat up straight, his face gone cold and watchful, one hand ready to pull out a sword. “How far?”

“Hard to say, but we keep moving toward the village,” she said. “Alive or not, I’m certain that’s where we’ll find them.” She urged her horse back up to Scipio, who had already alerted William. The boy’s eyes were wide with terror.

“Keep a barrier on him if he can’t do it himself yet,” Lyna said quietly. “I said we’d try to keep him safe, and I meant it.”

The mage nodded. “I think he’ll have less trouble learning that.” He reached out and patted William on the arm. “Don’t worry, I’m much better at barriers than anything else. You’ll be fine.”

Lyna rode up to Alaine and Hannah.  The Orlesian girl was a little further ahead, scouting intently, her bow kept to hand on a wrist sling that still allowed her careful use of her horse’s reins. Hannah, for her part, had shifted her shield from her back to her arm. It was she who spoke first.

“Not many darkspawn ahead, but yes, they’re most likely at the village,” Hannah said, the scars on her forehead tightening as she frowned.

“Anticipating my questions? Good,” Lyna smiled. She kept her own eyes on the horizon as well. “I’ve told Scipio to keep his focus on William’s protection.”

“The boy needs to learn to protect himself.”

“That’s not quite the issue, Hannah. He can protect himself, more likely, but until he knows what he’s doing, he’s more a danger than a help to himself and to us.” She grimaced. “Let’s hope we won’t need Scipio to let go the leash.”

Hannah grunted agreement. Very little conversation passed as the group slowly approached the village. Then they saw them: darkspawn corpses. There were two emaciated hurlocks slumped together at the shoulder, their heads cracked at the back like hardboiled eggs. Dried, black tainted blood trailed from the remains of their ears and down the sides of their withered and unnatural faces. Judging from other wounds Lyna could see, the cracked heads had been their deathblow.

Once more, Lyna regretted the necessary loss of Sig.

She could feel that these were not the only darkspawn, corpses or otherwise, but it was still difficult to pinpoint anything. Perhaps it only meant they were all dead or dying. But she’d thought that at Ostagar when she’d returned to protect the legacy of a dead king, and found the darkspawn had taken residence at the Tower of Ishal instead, spilling out of its hiding places like termites from a rotten log. Lyna had difficulty trusting her eyes or the fabled darkspawn sense, and so relied mostly on constant vigilance.

The other Wardens seemed to relax a little after they saw the corpses, but still remained alert, as they entered the village outskirts and began seeing more bodies, darkspawn and human alike. William whimpered at the sight, frightened and dismayed, even after Scipio warned him to silence.

It was difficult to look at, reminding Lyna too uncomfortably of Amaranthine. Her decision to let it burn had not been easy, despite how necessary she believed it, and so she had forced herself to ride through its charred and despoiled streets after she’d returned from Drake’s Fall. Tears had blurred her eyes, seeing the innocent lives destroyed, and she knew hateful, resenting eyes had watched her the whole time.

Penance, she’d thought. She’d even offered up silent prayer to Falon’Din. But part of her never forgave herself, and it was that inner condemnation that now rode her shoulder through Hammonds’ dirt-and-blood-packed byways.

Make this right again.

There was no way of knowing how close Margaret’s darkspawn horde estimate had been, but the village could not possibly have fought and killed them all without a few more survivors like her. Thus far Lyna had counted nearly twenty corpses, not counting the two they had encountered outside the perimeter. There was no sign of the emissary Sig had boasted killing, but given his group’s story, it could lie rotting in a trapped gully in a different direction. At least she hoped so.

This meant there were more, somewhere. Perhaps not in the village, but they couldn’t be too far away. Could they? Lyna meant to track them down, regardless.

The screech of scavenger birds reminded her of another necessary task.

“Round up the darkspawn corpses. We’re burning them,” she said. No further taint would spread if she could help it. It may be too late for that – she hoped no scavengers had tried to eat the bodies – but no sense in letting it get worse.

At least an hour later, with Alaine trying to comfort an overcome William, the group left the village, a thick black column of smoke rising from its center.

Chapter Text

Although the Wardens tracked the darkspawn for several days, they never found more than the intermittent corpse, as if some in the traveling mob of darkspawn had occasionally decided to turn on their fellows.

“This is too strange,” Lyna mused as she toed over the corpse of a badly mauled genlock. They had found it as they entered a particularly fissured and rocky stretch of land, the easternmost section of the Hunterhorn Mountains poking up over the southern horizon.

“Never seen anything like this, either.” Denis frowned, standing next to her and staring down at the body.  “Maker knows I’ve seen a few strange things myself.”

“What about the darkspawn you fought in the Arling?” Falke asked Lyna. “They were intelligent, I heard. Could they have done this?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “This does remind me somewhat of the Blackmarsh, but the darkspawn had used another Warden to lure us out and then quickly sprung their trap. If this was to be a trap, it should have closed already. I can’t fathom anything more sophisticated from them.” She tried not to consider the Architect. It might conceive something better than the fumblings of The First, but it was dead. She had killed it herself.

She looked over at the rest of their group. She could ask Scipio for his observations, but that would entail letting William become privy to Warden secrets – the mageling had begun trusting his mentor, and stuck to Scipio’s side like a burr. She also doubted Hannah or Alaine would have much else to share, and she already knew Zevran’s level of knowledge on the subject.

Something seemed to be spreading dead darkspawn like crumbs along a trail, and it unnerved her to have no idea what might be behind it. Neither could she accept that this mob of darkspawn had targeted one village and no other settlements that the Wardens might have seen along the way.

“I do not like this.  Can we not abandon the trail? Alert other Wardens and bring a larger and better equipped force out here?” Denis asked. “The trail seems cold, but I can’t deny this situation might become a larger problem than we can handle.”

“I couldn’t in good conscience let it be, Denis. I’m sorry. We are here, and if it is a dangerous situation, we potentially put innocents at risk if we leave now,” Lyna said. Too many times she had seen that very thing happen, or almost happen. Loghain quitting the field of battle at Ostagar, for one. She had seen enough lives lost or ruined for lack of resolve.

 Denis sighed. “As you wish, Commander.”

“If I may? We should make camp soon, but I’d like to personally request we put some distance between us and… this,” Falke said, his own boot gingerly nudging the genlock corpse. It didn’t give off much of a smell for them to avoid, but given the oddities of their situation, Lyna personally didn’t want to see it return from the dead, or worse.

“Agreed,” Denis said, then grinned. “I’d like some light left in the day to beat you in a hand of Wicked Grace, Commander.”

“Again? You won last game.”

“Yes, but you won three games prior! Let a man regain some pride.”

Falke shook his head and walked away to rejoin the others, leaving Lyna and Denis to negotiate the terms of engagement.

“Alright,” Lyna said. She folded her arms. “But you have to talk to Alaine.”

“But she’s already invited to the game,” Denis said, confused.

“About how you feel.”

The Orlesian took a step back and his eyebrows went up. “Maker’s breath, Commander, you say the craziest things sometimes. ‘Bring an untrained mage.’ ‘Let’s chase darkspawn into the darkest corners of Thedas.’ ‘Tell a woman at least ten years your junior you have inappropriate thoughts.’” He swiped a hand across his eyes. “Your stakes are too high. It’s just a game.”

“The cards are, Denis. People aren’t.” She sighed. “If you don’t want to tell her, I’ll call you an idiot and leave you be. Our lives are short enough, I’ll not waste mine.” She almost told him Alaine had come to her for advice. Alaine never mentioned his name, but Lyna knew it was about Denis. Lyna had not missed seeing the little looks and gestures from the girl when the man wasn’t looking… or even when he was, and he was oblivious to them.

Telling him would be betraying a confidence, except it seemed hardly secret. At least to her.

“I’ll be fine with that, I think,” Denis grumbled, still unnerved. “We’ll manage a game without you, Commander. Zevran will just have to distract someone else, for once.”

“He could do more than that,” she said lightly, raising an eyebrow and smiling as she walked away. “He’s completely free to do so.”

Denis’s frown deepened as Lyna’s smile spread. She knew he’d work it out. Eventually.

Several hours later as the sun was setting, they made camp  not far from an unnamed semi-verdant little stream that, according to Hannah’s maps, branched off from the Minanter River into this otherwise sere region. The fissures had graduated into rocky, steep hills that encircled them on mostly the western side, the stream trickling further into the hills as the land undulated in a small maze the further south and west one went. Sparse vegetation grew on the stream’s edges: grasses, mostly, with a few nettles and even a rare blood lotus poking up from the stream bed.

It would be nearly idyllic, under the circumstances, if it weren’t for the persistent unease the Wardens felt since Hammonds. They knew there were darkspawn somewhere, but no signs to be seen, nothing to indicate a Deep Roads entrance or some other unnatural rupture in the ground. It was like feeling an itch one was unable to reach to scratch.

“We should keep a watch at all times, now,” Hannah said. There were dark circles under her eyes; for the first time, it occurred to Lyna the Orth woman might not have been sleeping well. She hadn’t been, herself, her nightmares coming more frequently than before. Zevran tried comforting her, but it had become too much even for him and he took to sleeping in his own tent again, leaving her tent at night after she’d fall asleep.

She missed Alistair more keenly, now. He’d understand.

“Agreed,” she sighed heavily. “Falke!”

“Yes?” he called. He was currently finishing up cooking their dinner, a simple stew made from birds they’d killed and spiced wild grains they’d carried from Weisshaupt.

“We’re starting a watch. I’d like you to take the first shift with your dinner, please.”

“As you like, Commander.”

“I’ll take the next one,” she told Hannah. “I’d like you to take watch after me.”

“Certainly. Denis will be after me, and Alaine after him.”

Denis grunted. “That does it. If I win at Wicked Grace, Alaine, we’re swapping watch shifts.”

“And if you lose, what do we swap?” the blonde said over her shoulder as she curried her horse. From where she stood, Lyna could see the edge of a smile on Alaine’s face.

The question startled Denis. “I, ah, will think of something,” he muttered. He rubbed at his neck, a slow flush rising up into his greying brown hair, and turned to fetch the dishes for their dinner.

Idiot.

“No watch for myself, Commander?” Scipio said softly. He’d paused while demonstrating to William the fundamentals of creating a barrier.

“Normally I would put you on the night’s roster, but you’re a light sleeper anyway and you need your rest for his sake,” Lyna said, indicating William. “I’d rather you both at your best.” She looked pointedly at the young man, whose shameful expression shifted more to surprise. Perhaps if she said it enough, he might begin to believe being a mage wasn’t some divine punishment for imagined transgressions.

“I will keep Denis company on watch,” Zevran announced as he set down a bucket of water for washing dishes later.

“But I might be swapping shifts,” came the protest.

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Zevran grinned. “You may be swapping something, certainly.”

Alaine covered her mouth and snorted into her hand.

“Your man’s a wicked one,” Hannah said quietly to Lyna, smiling despite herself. “Maker knows I shouldn’t approve, but he’s good for morale.”

Lyna hummed in agreement, but said nothing more. Zevran was good for many things, and it looked as if he was now adding “matchmaker” to the list. It was likely incidental to the money he’d win, however. She couldn’t imagine Denis would do very well at cards if Zevran kept this up.

Soon all had their dinners in hand. Lyna took hers and ate, looking over the camp and thinking about Morrigan’s book – what had truly set her on this path in the first place. Before that gift received in the Dragonbone Wastes, she hadn’t really considered it might be possible to end the Calling. Her death in the Deep Roads had become an inevitability she’d sadly accepted: a debt that by then would be long overdue. But now with a glimmer of hope…

People weren’t supposed to know about the Calling, they only knew that Wardens would go to the Deep Roads sometimes at the end of their life. She wasn’t sure what sort of trouble she could face if it were discovered she’d told Zevran, but even given the assassin’s penchant for telling tales she doubted he would tell anyone else. Perhaps once Zevran could have sold her out, but not now.

Not with something like this, anyway.

Lyna gathered up the others’ dishes after she finished eating, and walked the patrol route to find Falke.

The Ander was taking a short break, sitting on a large rock to scan their surroundings. He had a small book and was doodling thumbnail sketches of things that caught his eye. The sun’s fading smudged them all into shadow, but he managed to capture both detail and shade in his quickly drawn designs. His empty dish sat on the gritty ground next to him.

“Falke,” Lyna said quietly as she approached, though he’d already begun turning around at the sound of her footfalls. Best not to startle someone as hyper-aware as he at this moment. She bent and retrieved his dish, taking a half-kneeling squat next to him.

“Commander. Thank you,” he said, nodding at the dish. “It’s a while before your watch, what may I do for you?”

“The book,” she said, studying Falke’s face. He smiled, then frowned, and shook his head.

“Obviously I haven’t always had opportunity to try to decipher it, at least not without having to answer awkward questions about it.” He sighed, still uncomfortable with his necessary deception. “But – I have done what I can with my limited time and resources. I don’t have much to tell you thus far, but perhaps you’ll find some value in my information, regardless.”

“Of course. I’m grateful.”

Falke’s smile was a firefly flicker. “That’s good to hear.” He cleared his throat and put a ribbon in his sketchbook as he closed its pages. “There are many locations mentioned in it. Not merely those belonging to the Tevinter Imperium, or what later became my homeland, or even that of ancient Orlais, but places scattered all around Thedas. Everywhere.”

“That’s puzzling. What are these locations, and why are they mentioned?”

“That’s more difficult to put into words, because the language used is old enough to have a few interpretations. One could say ‘Circles,’ but this was before the establishment of the Chantry – Circles didn’t exist then. Perhaps some colleges, loose affiliations of mages who answer to the Magisterium, but nothing formal.” He paused, then continued.

“’Towers’ is also not a precise enough nomenclature because sometimes the architecture dug down instead of building up. The wording used implied centers of learning, but it was active magical learning… I suppose experimentation?” The light in the sky continued to fade. Perhaps it was that, or the itch and creep of Lyna’s darkspawn sense, which made Falke’s revelation seem more sinister.

“Perhaps it was these places the Architect was using,” she mused. “Uncovered Tevinter laboratories otherwise lost to time?”

“It seems possible.”

The towers at Drake’s Fall had belonged to the Tevinter Imperium once. Suddenly it didn’t seem too implausible that a link other than the physical Deep Roads existed between them and the Architect’s hideout in the abandoned silverite mine. And if she accepted that, there could be other such places as well.

“When you can, please write a list of these places for me.” Even if they turned up nothing to help her against the Calling, it was information the Grey Wardens could use to root out intelligent darkspawn like the Architect, perhaps establishing barriers to keep out future incursions of darkspawn and create another line of defense in this seemingly unending war against the Blight.

“I shall, Commander. After we leave this area. I find myself too distracted and on edge.” He grimaced as he surveyed the landscape. “Where are they?”

“I wish I knew, Falke. Then we could kill them or prevent them from coming to the surface,” Lyna said. She knew how he felt.

Falke did not reply. He stood up from his seat on the rock and tucked his sketchbook away. She could now see the longsword belted at his hip, loosened in its scabbard.

“I’ll see you later, Commander,” he said, and resumed his patrol.

Lyna took Falke’s dish back to camp and washed up the remains of dinner. She could hear Zevran, Hannah, Alaine, and Denis playing Wicked Grace; there was some laughter, but she’d been around them long enough she could also hear lingering tension in some of the Wardens. Scipio was wrapping up a lesson with William. The mage would take up reading after, and the boy would say prayers to Andraste. All the camaraderie reminded her of the Blight.

She ducked into her tent, having briefly given thought to napping but instead opening her pack. She pulled out the wrapped dagger she’d taken from the hidden cache at Weisshaupt, not knowing what she expected to discover. It did feel a little warm, but it was hard to say if it was stored warmth from traveling or an inherent magical property manifesting. There was no humming or buzzing as it seemed to when she first picked it up, either.

She unwrapped the dagger, admiring the ebony blade and the detail of its hilt and pommel – it was beautifully crafted, perhaps from obsidian – and placed it on her belt. It was comforting, somehow. Might as well keep all available weapons to hand.

Her evening and her watch shift were quiet, however. Just the laughter and teasing from Alaine when Denis lost at Wicked Grace, the sound of night birds and insects, and the wind through the steep rocky hills. Even a brief interlude afterward with Zevran, straddling him with almost desperate fervor to quiet her unease, was silent as they poured all sound into each other’s mouths.

Zevran left Lyna’s tent as she curled up to go to sleep, and she reached out to clutch at the black dagger on her belt as a child would a doll before all consciousness fell away.

Chapter Text

“Commander!” “Lyna!”

Lyna awoke from troubled sleep to the voices of Zevran and Scipio calling for her outside her tent. It was no mystery as to why as soon as she gathered her senses: the darkspawn were nightmarishly close by. She could feel the disturbing pull and throbbing in her blood, tingling along her nerves with faint music. Perhaps it had been too long since the Blight, however, because something about it was different and she couldn’t pinpoint why.

Oh Creators. Fenedhis’lasa.

“Awake. Dressing.” She dragged on her clothing and leathers as quickly as she could, making sure her weapons were secured. Then she felt it: the ebony dagger was vibrating. Lyna stared at it dumbly for a moment before she recalled why she’d been roused in the first place.

Zevran entered her tent, breathing hard.

“You must hurry. Denis left his watch to find the darkspawn. He would not listen to me, said that he could hear them.”

Hear them?” She yanked at buckles and ties as fast as her fingers found them, staring at Zevran in alarm. “Can the others hear them? Has anyone else said as much?”

He shook his head. “I can’t tell. They haven’t said.”

“I’ll take that as good news. Get the others moving, get packs and food. We have to find Denis before the darkspawn do, if we can.” She snatched up her pack and threw it on her shoulder. There was no telling what might happen, and she wasn’t risking losing what little she had.

Zevran left her tent and yelled for the others to awaken, but judging from the sounds she could hear, most were already stirring.

“Commander – I know you feel it. Something is wrong with this. We have to take precautions,” Scipio said as soon as she emerged. Behind him Lyna could see William’s sleep-mussed dark hair, his eyes wide with fear.

“Get your pack, William. Grab a waterskin,” she told the young man, then addressed Scipio, moving fast toward their supply tent.

“What do you suggest?” she asked the mage as she snatched a bundle of dried meat and shoved it into her pack. The Nevarran quickly picked his own wrapped bundle of preserved food and put it into a bag at his waist.

“Unfortunately there’s not much I can tell you, except to be particularly wary. I’ll do what I can to protect us, but as you’ve made my focus of attention William…”

“I know. Keep protecting him as best you can, but if things go completely upside-down, he has to try it on his own with what you’ve taught him.” Lyna bit her lip, watching the other Wardens and Zevran finish their preparations. Although her blood was pumping, ready to do battle, she worried for them.

“Everyone, grab your pack and some food. I want to be prepared in case we can’t come back,” Lyna bellowed. She looked directly at Falke as he was grabbing his waterskin, hoping he understood she wanted him to bring Morrigan’s book. He only nodded and indicated his pack on his back.

“This way,” Zevran called as he began moving toward the maze of hills.

“Maker have mercy on Denis,” Lyna heard someone whisper as she jogged past to follow. She hoped whatever god was listening would take mercy on them all. The pull she was feeling did not bode well and stoked her fears about the Calling. Was this how it began? Would she end up like the ghouls and darkspawn, continually drawn to the depths of the earth to seek out all that was Blighted?

She did not want to die away from the sun’s light. As the others caught up, she drew even with Zevran and pelted with him through the increasingly shadowed labyrinth of rock, a prayer to Elgar’nan on her lips. The fading sunlight shone on the strands of Zevran’s blond hair streaming behind him in her peripheral vision – she would remember this.

Soon they came to a crevice in the walls of stone, barely wide enough for two people abreast. Chunks of rock, a few as big as boulders, littered the area in front of it in a wide arc, as if the wall had burst outward.

“I hate the Deep Roads,” Zevran said as they stopped. The ghost of a smile tugged on the corner of his lips. “I just wanted you to know that, Lyna. I may not have been clear about this in the past.”

“Between you and me, Zevran, so do I,” she said. A deep dread suffused her whole body even as she felt compelled to go in. Her blood sang to some deep drumbeat echoing below. Nevertheless she rooted herself to the spot to await the others just paces behind, even William managing only a step or two behind the rest though he breathed hard.

“Ah, Maker, I feel it,” Hannah muttered. Alaine only stared at the crevice, struck with grief. Scipio set a hand on her shoulder.

“Falke, up front with me,” Lyna ordered. “Scipio, you follow with William behind you. Zevran behind the boy, Hannah, Alaine. I can only hope we’ll be granted more room to move before we encounter Denis or the darkspawn.” She drew Vigilance and Starfang, the runes on the longswords casting a dim glow.

Falke drew his longsword, and the sounds of weapons unsheathing followed.

Lyna took a last look around the group gathered, then turned and walked into the darkness.

The passage was rough and raw, more a wound punched in the earth than the smoother tunnels formed over time she had seen in the past. It seemed somewhat perilous, as if the roof an ogre’s height above her would fall on her head any moment. She told herself she’d felt the same way the first time she’d gone to Orzammar and then further into the Deep Roads, but it wasn’t true. That had felt like being swallowed; this felt like an invasion.

“Andraste’s light guide us, do not let us lose ourselves to the dark,” Falke prayed from her right, their footsteps taking them in a winding path downward. His voice echoed slightly back up the passage behind them, ahead all seemed quiet.

But the walls… the walls felt as if they should be crawling with the dark splotches of organic matter she’d come to associate with darkspawn and the lost, overrun dwarven thaigs. The further they went, the closer the pulsing under her skin.

Lyna thought she heard a choked-off sob in the tunnel behind them. She imagined it was Alaine, and she pitied the girl.

“Ahead,” Scipio said suddenly to Lyna’s puzzlement until, within a few more steps, she heard it: shouts and the clashing of metal on metal and metal against stone somewhere up ahead of them. But darkspawn did not generally shout…

The darkness ahead opened wide, the roughness of the passage giving way to much larger tunnels that were at once more familiar and more alien. Ancient dwarven architecture was thickly enveloped in black spongy masses. Along the crumbling walls, however, were gigantic carvings of runes that stubbornly glowed through the filth, sometimes blue and sometimes red. Another time, Lyna might have stopped to gape in wonder and try to study it.

But a small clot of darkspawn emerged in front of her, a deep booming resounded in the caverns, and Scipio moaned as if in pain all at once.

“FOR THE WARDENS!” Lyna bellowed and rushed the nearest genlock, moving into a flurry of blows that momentarily took it by surprise. Its neighbors, however, growled and hissed and closed in with shields and their deceptively primitive curved swords. Two of them came at her and the remaining two targeted Falke. She heard their weapons crash together, and Scipio’s cry of rage just before she felt the sting of ice fly past her cheek at the creatures in front of her.

Boom.

She pivoted, sweeping her swords at their midsections. Her left went up at the last minute to parry a thrust, her right following after to deliver her own. The darkspawn hissed, weakened from her attack, and fell back. She stepped forward and kicked it, her low blow doubling it over and launching it back a few more steps. One of the other genlocks also staggered as an arrow punched through its throat.

The remaining darkspawn came at her, shield raised, and bashed her back. Lyna reeled, dizzied, and tried to move to flank it. She found herself knocking into a darkspawn focused upon Falke, and it trained its attention on her instead.

Another streak of ice whooshed past. She barely saw the darkspawn who’d shield bashed her frozen to the spot before she was forced to parry the strikes Falke’s darkspawn aimed at her.

Boom.

Several arrows sprouted in quick succession on the monster, and it gurgled and staggered. Lyna regained her composure sufficiently to thrust both weapons at its head, which severed it just enough so the genlock went down drowning in its own black blood. She moved forward and around to assist Falke with the other darkspawn on him, seeing from the corner of her eye Zevran dodging past the mages to attack the darkspawn still not quite dead from her initial onslaught.

More ice and arrows pelted the darkspawn along with whirling longswords and daggers, shattering one of them into frozen black lumps of corrupted flesh across the worn dwarven flagstones. Soon Lyna looked up to find the creatures were all dealt with, their group out of the passage’s bottleneck.

“…Wardens!” she heard dimly further up the tunnel, where sounds of battle continued.

“Denis!” cried Alaine, who broke off into a run.

Fenedhis. “Stay close!” Lyna warned the others, and took off after the archer, following the bounce of her blond braid in the dim light of the Deep Roads.

Boom. The walls shook.

Even without chasing Alaine, she would have felt herself drawn down these corridors. Her blood surged and rushed, dissonant music pulling at the back of her mind like a lingering memory. Despair dogged her steps, and so it was she only just drew abreast with Alaine as the Orlesian discovered the source of battle. The music of clashing weapons greeted them.

The sight, however, was astounding.

A vast area spread out in front of them. Lyna had glimpsed Orzammar’s Proving Grounds once, after Bhelen’s crowning – it reminded her somewhat of that, if it also included a village square or Chantry courtyard. There were no giant statues of Paragons, but strange spiky sculptures, risers of stairs or seating scattered around, and a central platform that a speaker, theatrical act, or memorial could be dramatically illuminated. It was all crumbled and ruined, some statues knocked over or shattered.

Swarming it all were similar clots of darkspawn Lyna and her people had run into along the way, clashing with smaller knots of what appeared to be dwarves in mostly unfamiliar armor. But the battles were even more chaotic than Lyna had come to expect from darkspawn – they seemed driven to throw themselves at the dwarves, at each other, or at the walls.

But then the “walls” moved, and Lyna saw a strange, large creature composed of rock and veins of energy – lyrium? – swing an arm to crush darkspawn and dwarves alike. It loosely resembled a golem, but lacked the solid, coherent structure of one like she’d seen with Shale or Caridin, or the remnants in Kal’Hirol. Several darkspawn were slaughtered in its wake, a dwarf pushed back violently to crash into another cluster behind him. Its arm continued in its trajectory to slam into the massively thick walls and supports nearby.

Boom.

A second later it pulsed with a malevolent, red energy that Lyna felt thrumming in her blood. A statue from somewhere high above she couldn’t see toppled down and smashed into one of the clusters of darkspawn and dwarves.

“Denis!” Alaine cried out once more, and Lyna finally saw the man. He was in an alcove opposite the hulking thing. His greatsword whirled in a wide arc, gutting several darkspawn menacing a downed dwarf. Without stopping, he leapt over them to pile through the knots of darkspawn between him and the massive rock creature. The dwarves fighting the same shouted as if in encouragement.

“STAY HERE,” Lyna shouted at the archer. “Kill as many as you can right where you are!”

The young woman was already steadily firing, concentrating her arrows on targets surrounding Denis.

The pounding of feet behind her told her that the others were catching up, and a low whistle and muttered “Brasca” confirmed that at least Zevran had joined her. She looked around briefly and saw Scipio.

“Stay by Alaine,” she said, and pointed toward the girl and then pointed toward Denis as he fought his way through darkspawn.

“Everyone else, with me! FOR THE WARDENS!”

Lyna threw herself into the battle, taking advantage of every weak spot and opportunity that opened up as she carved a bloody path toward Denis. On her periphery, she could see Hannah bashing away with sword and shield, Falke at her side cutting down those who would blindside her. Zevran was a deadly ghost, his daggers flashing as he sped from target to target. Together they helped turn the tide of battle for the dwarves, who fought on against the darkspawn, but it became clear that now the real threat was this enormous… thing.

It swept its boulder-like arm again and brought it up to pound the ground. Boom.

Denis, who finally reached the creature, hauled his greatsword around and smashed it against its side. Metal clanged against rock and bounced off, jarring the Warden, but still the creature howled an eerie, thrumming moan. Another red pulse of energy flared out. Denis cried out in pain.

A lance of ice shot through the thing’s midsection, which Lyna finally noticed had a strange skeletal structure to it, as if borrowed from something too small for its body. Red sparks crackled along the shaft, melting it, and the stone not-golem moaned again. It staggered back, a limb crashing into a support. Masonry and statues fell.

A wave of force pushed out in front of the Wardens, flattening nearby darkspawn and flinging some dwarven attackers backward. For a moment she thought it was the creature, demonstrating some new incredible power, but a terrified youthful shout proclaimed it to be William instead, his hands thrust in front of him.

“Dirthara-ma!” Lyna cursed. There was no time and no use in berating him; he wanted to help and was clearly capable, if not discerning. She thrust Starfang into a darkspawn corpse and pulled out one of her daggers, shoving it into the boy’s hands. “Do not lose this. And stay back.”

As the numbers of darkspawn dwindled, more of the battle’s focus shifted to the giant rock creature. A dwarf in an impressive, massive helm pointed his battleaxe at it and shouted, “Kalnath! Amgeforn na gangue isana!”

Boom. Boom.

Both of the creature’s limbs smashed into the ground, shaking several dwarves and Denis off their feet. Worrying cracking noises echoed around them. This thing had to go, fast, before it collapsed everything on top of them.

Another red pulse emanated from it, and this time Lyna felt it, too, like hot coals in her mind. She doubled over, grasping at Starfang, vaguely aware she’d howled in response.

Kill it. It was a seductive whisper along sandpaper nerves, and it had to be done. Half the people around her were still doubled-over, or struggling toward the creature. She tried to steady herself, and discovered the ebony dagger pulsing urgently under her hand. Instinctively she sheathed Starfang and withdrew the obsidian dagger.

Immediately Lyna felt steadier. She saw Zevran had retreated back slightly. He stood on a broken statue and had resorted to using a bow she’d given him, apparently unwilling to risk closing on the monstrosity. Falke had crumpled to his knees, and Hannah stubbornly dragged her feet closer and closer, her shield trailing behind her. An arrow whistled past from another direction – it was Alaine, who struggled with her bow while attemping to support Scipio as they slowly closed in.

Denis pulled himself to his feet. Two dwarves near him resumed attacking, blue sparks rising each time their blows landed. He hauled his greatsword up and swung it over his shoulder as if he meant to chop it down, a great rocky tree to be felled.

The stone creature raised its own arm, preparing to bring it down on the Warden and the dwarves.

“Denis, no!” Alaine cried, desperately trying to notch another arrow. Scipio staggered on his feet, forcing himself to lean on his staff while preparing to cast.

Lyna broke into a run, her heart plummeting.

 “Get out!” Denis shouted as his greatsword arced and hit.

The creature roared and its limb smashed down; a weak barrier that sprang up around Denis popped as the tremendous blow crunched and flung him almost to the base of Zevran’s perch.

Cries of despair echoed around Lyna. Another wave of force whooshed forward, almost knocking her off her feet as it charged at the creature and pushed it back. Nudged off-balance, it toppled, slamming into the ground with enough force it rumbled the ancient cavern.

She summoned a burst of speed and then leapt onto its prone form before it could get up. The ebony dagger vibrated intensely; she ran up the thing’s torso and slammed the dagger and Vigilance into the red web of energy holding the monstrosity’s ribcage.

The web sizzled and screamed at the impact, and the energy exploded, collapsing what held it into a pile of rock and sending her hurtling back to hit the floor.

“Commander!”

“Amgarrak!”

“Lyna!”

She lost consciousness to the sound of stone crashing down around her, and the wail of a breaking heart.

Chapter Text

“Mahariel…”

Merrill’s whisper brought me out of my nap by the halla pen. I was going to hunt with Fenarel later tonight – patrol the camp, really, but sometimes we could bring down some nocturnal animals flushed out of hiding by the beating wings of Andruil’s messengers. The halla were always calm and welcoming, and let me stroke them or stare into their big, liquid eyes as they softly whickered at me.

“Mahariel!” she whispered more urgently. I opened my eyes to see Merrill crouching beside me, biting her lip. Worry lines bunched the vallaslin on her forehead.

“Merrill? What’s the matter?” I sat up and she scrambled back a pace, nearly falling on her ass in her haste. Her hands flew up to her mouth.

“Oh my word, I did not think… is that really you?”

I frowned. “Of course. Why wouldn’t it be? Has something happened? Where’s the Keeper?”

“She’s… fine. She’s busy.” Merrill looked around her furtively, eyes wide. Something was different about her, secretive and more anxious than usual. She was always anxious. I know she never felt as if she fit in with our clan since hers had sent her to us as a child, no more mages in our clan other than Marethari. I was probably one of the few hunters who had befriended her. She was like the halla, to me, all big eyes and softness that could kill when roused. The other hunters were too impatient for her social nervousness.

“Then… what? Come on, Merrill, talk to me.” I extended a hand and smiled, hoping to coax her out of her skittishness.

She stared at my hand and then my face, stricken, then seized my hand in both of hers and held it to her face. “Oh Mahariel… I think I’ve done something terrible. I need your help.”

I chuckled. “Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad. I’m sure the Keeper will forgive you. Did you accidentally mix up her elfroot with her embrium? Take the wrong book? We’ll sort it out and tell her.”

I pulled my hand out of her grasp and patted her shoulder, levering myself off the ground. Merrill was always so nervous and careful that I don’t think she ever saw how proud of her Marethari was, like the girl was her own daughter and not just another of the clan’s da’len. Marethari might get upset at a mistake or misjudgment, but she never shouted, was never punitive – just directed you to the best course of redress and moved on. She had scores of patience where Master Ilen or Hahren Paivel might have become frustrated and irate.

I once asked Keeper Marethari about that, and she explained she saw no point in it – how could anyone learn from shouting? Anyone’s instinct would be to cover their ears. You can’t hear and you can’t listen if your ears are shut.

Merrill got to her feet. “If only! It would be so much easier to explain, and I wouldn’t be in this mess. But then I wouldn’t have found you, and- Oh Creators, why can I never stop talking?“

She cut off her own words, her hands flying to her mouth once more as if she could stuff them back in. Her green eyes glittered with unshed tears. She was truly upset. I’d hug her, but she was looking for assistance and not comfort.

“Be calm, lethallan. It’s alright, I’ll help you. What do you need?”

“I… I’ve been somewhere I know I shouldn’t. I think I’ve been followed.” She cast her eyes down, ashamed, her hands fidgeting.

I had tried before to bring her with me and other hunters, sometimes, to teach her a little of what we knew so she could defend herself, or find food, if she had to go exploring ruins or picking herbs by herself. She learned how to orient herself and navigate in the woods, especially at night when the stars were out and Andruil’s three trees could be seen. But learning how not to leave a trail always seemed to confound her. So focused on her thoughts or a task, her hands would touch everything, her lips moving as she thought aloud, not seeing where she placed her feet. ‘Hopeless,’ the others called her. I was tempted to agree, but Merrill was ever driven to learn and succeed. She just needed time.

But right now…

“You brought someone back to our camp? Merrill!” I am not as patient as Marethari. I checked my daggers were at my hips, then picked up my quiver and bow, slinging them onto my back. “Who do you think followed? Bandits? Templars? How many of them?”

“I don’t know! I’m sorry. That’s why I came to you. I knew you’d know what to do,” Merrill fretted. “Here I am, running about in Creators-knows-what, thinking to myself, ‘What would Mahariel do?’ and wishing you were here, and-“

“Never mind that, just tell me which direction you came in.” I eyed the halla pen. One or two had let me ride them before, but usually with Maren’s tacit permission. But Maren was nowhere to be seen, which I found odd. Maybe she was just talking with Marethari, or fetching water, and would be back soon.

“I don’t know, it’s easy to get turned around in the Fade!” Merrill snapped.

I whipped my head around.

In the Fade.

Of course.

“I shouldn’t have- “ she began, apologetically. Memories came rushing back at me – I was not with the clan Sabrae camp, I was in the Anderfels and had just killed some unnameable creature with Zevran and other Wardens and an Ander mageling. People may be dying.

Sweet little elvhen mage. You might hide from Hawke but you can’t hide from me,” a voice boomed from nearby. Definitely a demon. Why must it always be demons in the Fade?

“Falon’Din preserve us, Mahariel, we need to run!”

“No… we need to ride.” I vaulted the fence of the halla pen and gestured at Merrill to do the same. Assuming the halla were at least spirits of halla and not disguised demons, we could easily lose the demon’s trail. And then I could get some answers out of my wayward lethallan.

“Are you sure? They won’t bite us, will they? Our halla didn’t seem to care for me,” Merrill said doubtfully, even as she climbed the fence. “Or maybe they’re demon halla? Luring us into feelings of safety before they could – what even would demon halla do to hurt us, I wonder?”

“Merrill. If they were going to hurt you, they’d have done it already.” I didn’t mention the trickier demons I’d run into before who’d tried enslaving Wynne, Alistair, and Leliana. Those liked to beguile you for a while. But there was no time to explain the differences and I needed to get her moving if we were going to outwit a demon hunting for her.

Still, you don’t go running and jumping onto a halla like you do a horse. You ask permission. Normally that would take longer in the real world because halla don’t understand speech, necessarily, but intent and approach, tone of voice and body language. It’s more difficult to communicate that out there, but here in the Fade? Where you could feel emotions ripple from your actions, and demons were named for them? I gambled it would be much easier.

“If you would, please help us. Something terrible hunts my kin and we must get out of here with all possible speed,” I said, addressing the halla quite seriously. Most had backed away as soon as we entered the pen, but several stood looking at us almost curiously. Then one walked up to me and dipped its head. I lowered my own in response. It was not precisely an invitation, but I could feel a general willingness to help.

“Is that a yes? Oh my, how fascinating! I don’t suppose another of you wouldn’t mind? I’m a bit nervous and feeling silly, actually – I can’t believe I’m addressing halla – but I’d be terribly grateful,” Merrill said as she looked from me to the halla around us. They seemed to back away, heads shaking.

“Oh. That’s a shame. I suppose we’ll have to ride double then,” she said, turning to me with a disappointed expression.

The halla huffed but stood still as I pulled myself up onto its back, then I leaned over to help Merrill up as well. She settled behind me uncertainly. None of it felt real – the halla between my legs, my clan’s First at my back – now that I knew where I was. It was as if I’d walked about with spider webbing across my face and I’d just cleared it.

Merrill. You know you can’t fix it alone, and Hawke won’t want you around after your little betrayal,” the demon said, its unearthly voice echoing in the glade now. “You are powerful, but not powerful enough. You’ll need me.” The aravels that had crowded the peaceful place suddenly thinned into the shadowy wisps they were. The whole place hadn’t much substance anymore.

“No,” Merrill whispered behind me, shrinking as if to hide. “Please, let’s go. Now.”

“Alright.” I urged the halla to leap out of the pen and onto a trail I assumed might be for a forest. Despite all my times visiting the Fade, I wasn’t sure exactly what the rules were – it was different to me every time. But having a destination in mind did seem important. I’d have to think of where we could go and hide.

Trouble being: I don’t know of many places to hide that are also safe. I’ve only ever felt safe with certain people, not places. You can always leave a place behind. There hasn’t been a forest or plain our clan moved to that I didn’t love for its own sake, but it was always replaced by another.

But places to hide? You could hide yourself in the Deep Roads, or in the alleys of Denerim, but it didn’t mean they were safe. It just increased your chances your pursuers would run into someone meaner than they.

“Meaner” in the Fade was not an option I wanted to entertain.

I’d be happy to fight it – if I knew what I was dealing with. If I could get help.

“What, exactly, is pursuing you? And why is it?” I said, and leaned forward to ask the halla to run. I had no more done so than it gathered itself in a tremendous burst of speed, setting everything around us to blur. I could feel the demon’s maliciousness receding a little behind us.

“A demon of Pride, and… it’s complicated. I really thought I knew what I was doing. It told me what I wanted to hear, and I was foolish enough to believe it. I thought if I…,” I heard her choke, and she squeezed me tightly. “I’ve missed you so. I can’t say more, I’m too ashamed at what I’ve done.”

My heart sank. “I’ve missed you and the clan as well, Merrill, more than I can say. I’ve been doing all I can to protect you and Thedas from the Blight. But this talk of betrayal and shame – I don’t like it. Who or what is Hawke? Why is the Keeper busy?” Marethari couldn’t be too busy to help Merrill. If she was asleep like me, or could move about like Merrill or other mages in the Fade, we could find her.

“Hawke is really the only friend I have in Kirkwall,” I heard her say sadly. “She’s been there for me even if she doesn’t believe in what I’m trying to do. The Keeper-“

“Kirkwall? Creators, I’d heard the clan moved north, but Kirkwall? That place is dangerous, none of you should be there. You should tell Marethari to go elsewhere, maybe west to the Planascene or north to Antiva,” I said, remembering the Wardens’ writing in the book about darkspawn prisons.

“They don’t listen to me any longer,” she burst out. “I’ve been exiled from the clan.”

Exiled? What insanity is this?” The more Merrill talked, the more uneasy I felt. Was this really her, or some cleverer demon than others I’d encountered, hoping to possess me?

“I’m trying to help you, help our people! You don’t know-“

Ahhh, there you are, Merrill. Your thoughts give you away. Still thinking you have all the answers. I can still give them to you, but you must come HERE.” One of the largest demons I had ever seen shimmered into view right in our path. The halla reared up and Merrill slid right off, pulling me back with her. We fell and the halla bolted away, leaving us at the demon’s feet. It loomed and grinned widely, its many eyes leering down at us.

An extra prize! The Hero of Ferelden. Tell me, Hero, how does it feel to know your cure might be right under your nose? Your clan mate has been using a tool that should be as familiar to you as Alistair’s hands. Or should I say, Zevran’s? You have so many who wish to be in your bed and your life. What’s one more use of blood magic, hmm? Especially when so much has already been shed for you,” the thing cajoled.

Oh, this was a nasty one. I had an inkling what it was trying to imply about Merrill, but there was no way I was believing it. Demons liked to ensnare you with half-truths, twisting and manipulating them into unrecognizability. Merrill would never use blood magic. She might be tempted by it, but no more. Unlike me. I knew my wrongs, and while I might regret them, I wouldn’t undo them.

Repeating them remained to be seen.

I pushed myself up into a crouch on my feet next to Merrill, my head cocked to one side. Listening.

“How much do you trust me, Merrill?” I asked her. I set one hand on a dagger at my side.

She looked from the demon to me, pale and wide-eyed in shock. “I- I don’t know-“

Falon’Din, Ghilan’nain, guide me truly.

“Then it’s time you WAKE UP,” I screamed at her, yanking out my dagger and holding it high.

Merrill screamed in terror, raising her hands defensively, and as I hoped, she vanished.

The Pride demon roared in anger at being denied. It snapped out a gigantic whip of energy, crackling and snarling.

You owe me, Hero. I will have my due out of you,” it said, and lashed its whip at me. I neatly severed the tip as it sparked over my head, and launched myself backward out of range.

“I owe you nothing, demon, and that’s precisely what you will get.” With that, I made myself fall backward, a trick I learned when I knew I was dreaming and wanted to-

“Lyna, you must wake up!”

She opened her eyes, groaning. It was just as dark as she remembered, but several people, including Zevran, crouched at her side – that much she could tell from the sounds they made and the subtle changes in light around them. She was propped up against a wall, crumbled stone and masonry enclosing most of the area she could see around them.

“Thank the Maker,” she heard Hannah mutter. “I’ll go see to Alaine.” She got up and disappeared around a pile of rubble.

“What-“ she said, and groaned again as she tried sitting up properly. Everything hurt. She wondered  how badly hurt she’d been, since the rock creature’s death had smashed her into the floor, and how out of commission Scipio must be. “What’s wrong with Alaine?”

“She’s fine, physically,” Falke spoke up out of the darkness. He sounded tired and defeated.

“What do you mean? Does this mean she was hurt some other way?”

Zevran sighed. “Yes. But there is nothing we can do. It’s her heart, you see. Denis is dying. And he wanted to speak to you.”

Tears sprang to her eyes, and she covered her face. So that much had been true. Blood had been shed for her. It felt worse than Varel. At least he knew what he was dying for. Denis got caught up in something that should never have happened.

“Abelas. Ir abelas. I’ll be right there.” Moving felt like rocks bashing against her skin anew, but she couldn’t let Denis go alone. Not when it was her fault.

Chapter Text

The ruins of the dwarven cavern – a thaig, Lyna corrected herself, passing a few dead dwarven bodies – were even more quiet and still than Cadash, or Bownammar, with the battle over. The thaigs she remembered other than Orzammar were full of stone, dust, ghosts, spiders, darkspawn, deepstalkers… quiet like decay, the noise of burrowing creatures feeding and making homes in discarded vessels. Here, in this unnamed despoiled sanctuary, was the hush of mourning. The occasional cracking and shifting stone, the soft scrapes and murmurs of her people, and Alaine’s strained crying just emphasized it.

Lyna hobbled toward the weeping, and heard Denis’s labored breathing as she drew near. The pain of both sounds tore at her, reopening old griefs and stirring up new ones afresh.

This happened under her command. Bleakly she knew there was no good way to have avoided this – there was no knowing what might have happened if they hadn’t followed the darkspawn trail here. Could the stone creature have made it to the surface? What might it do then? But there was no use avoiding the truth under the justifications: it happened under her command.

The dim, cold light of the runes on her weapons wobbled with her steps, and slowly revealed Alaine sitting up against a fallen column, Denis’s dusty head and shoulders cradled on her lap.

It was difficult to see the rest of Denis’s body, the darkness of the cavern not quite enough to disguise the abnormal valleys of his armor. His chest rose and fell unevenly, his shallow breaths not enough to sustain him. He was unable to draw a full lung of breath, and yet he kept trying, his gaze fixed upon Alaine.

Lyna really did not want to intrude, but Denis had asked. Wincing, she lowered herself to sit by them.

“Denis.”

“Com-“

“No. Save your breath. Call me Lyna.”

Denis was silent a moment. His gaze remained on Alaine’s face – not merely because he wanted to, she sensed, but because of the effort involved to move. Alaine wiped at her tears with one hand, and stroked his hair with the other.

“Sorry. I ran.”

“Why did you?” Lyna asked.

“Calling. But not.” He wheezed and slowly sucked in breath, agitated. “Pulling. My head.” Another pause to gather breath. “Bad… singing. Hurt.” Tears sprang up and rolled out of the corners of his eyes. Alaine’s fingers traced behind them, her breath catching on a sob she stifled with pressed lips.

Bad singing? Calling? No way would he have known the difference without hearing the Calling. Why hadn’t she known this? It angered her information had been kept from her.

“Denis, when were you going to tell me?”

“Never. Just. Requisitions.” He brought his hand up to Alaine’s face, thumb brushing her cheek. “I’m… sorry.”

Lyna slapped the ground in frustration, tears of her own spilling out unbidden. His prodding to get help, the way he had refused to talk to Alaine after Lyna’s own nudging… if she’d known… So focused on the quest, on the next thing she needed to do, and she missed dealing with someone’s Calling happening right under her nose.

“You stubborn ass,” she raged, and choked as more tears welled. “I could have…”

His lips moved to speak, and then stopped. He shook his head instead. “Joining. Kills us.”

Lyna’s heart wrenched: Denis voiced the despair that shadowed her hope for a cure. The same man who led them in song and jokes on their journey, a smile as ever ready as his support.

“No. No more. I swear,” she vowed, her throat tight.

Alaine stole a look at Lyna’s face, and Lyna was undone. Seeing the hopeless pleading in Alaine’s eyes reddened from weeping for her lost love, knowing the sweetness Alaine would never have with Denis, broke her resolve. Lyna cried with them for the nights of laughter and song they had up to now and the ones that would never come, for what she’d had with Tamlen, Alistair, and those she lost along the way from death or necessity, and for all the Wardens she never met who had or will soon die alone in the dark.

Lyna rocked from the grief, keening, the pain a lance that speared through her heart to the pit of her stomach. Another friend she could not save.

Awkward hands squeezed her shoulders and Falke’s familiar voice cut reedily through the air as he began singing a hymn to the Maker. She could hear the others had joined him, boots scraping the floor as they stood or tried to sit nearby. The shared grief pierced her relentlessly, both a comfort and a sorrow that they all felt Denis’s incipient passing profoundly.

When the song ended, the Orlesian man struggled a few breaths. “Thank you.”

All Lyna wanted to do was run away and be alone with her grief for a while, but she would have too much time for that afterward. Never having known the parents who gave her life, death had never really touched her until Tamlen, and then it didn’t stop. It was hard to deal with and accept. But right now, Denis needed her. Needed the others. She owed it to him to stay for a while longer.

She wiped her face, her breath shuddering from the force of her sobbing, then reached out and squeezed his arm. “Your Maker give you peace. And if your god will not, perhaps one of mine will. Falon’Din will guide you through the Beyond if you but ask.”

“Andraste guide you, Denis,” Hannah said quietly.

“Andraste guide you,” echoed the others.

“Lyna.” Denis winced. “My sword. Family.”

She pointed at his greatsword, propped up nearby. “That?”

“Yes. Take.” He blinked away a tear that had fallen from Alaine’s face, chest struggling hard to draw in breath. “Brother. Arlesans.”

He wanted Lyna to take his sword to his family? She could do that after Perendale. “What’s his name?”

“Ste-fan.”

Oh Creators, he’s slipping away. Fresh tears joined the others on her wet face.

“Anything else?” Hannah asked. “We will take care of your wishes.”

“No.” A long pause. Alaine bent, unashamed, and kissed his forehead. “Wardens. My… things.”

“I will see it done,” Lyna promised.

Denis hitched a breath for a small, precious, relieved sigh. “Alaine.”

“Yes?” Alaine’s voice was roughened from shouting and crying, but it whispered sweet to the dying man in her lap all the same.

“Help.”

“I- I don’t underst-“

“Kiss…?” Denis’s eyes pleaded hopefully, his voice tired and thin.

“Oh Denis…,” Alaine wept, her hands cradling his face shaking. Her blonde braid was a ragged mess, haloing her pale and harrowed face. She gazed at Denis in a way Lyna knew well from experience: Alaine would remember Denis like this for a very long time.

Lyna could not bear to hear that mixture of love and despair any longer. Denis was choosing the manner of his passing, and she could not fault him for it: a kiss from the girl he cared for to send him to his Maker. Lyna had stayed long enough. This was now a private matter. Perhaps the others might also make a discreet exit after saying their goodbyes, but it was not for her to say.

“Andaran atishan, Denis,” Lyna murmured, and then she fled as quickly as her battered body would allow. There was nothing more she could do for either of them at this moment, but there were things she could do for the rest of them. Like getting them all out. Like looking for other survivors to find out just what in the name of the Void they had stumbled into.

Everything hurt. She should rest, but she couldn’t do it yet. Lyna wiped her face, pushing through the physical pain to survey the area as best she could, starting with the path back to the spot her people had claimed for the most makeshift of camps.

Lyna wished she had Oghren, or better yet Voldrik Glavonak from Vigil’s Keep. Either of them might have been able to assess this place for her. How stable was it? Could they shift any of this stone safely? She might make some careful guesses of her own by studying how it all lay against each other, but none of that would tell her about weaknesses in the stone, or how good its foundations were, or what it might affect further up in places she couldn’t see. She needed their stone sense.

Did any of the dwarves she saw survive…? She stopped to pick up a waterskin from their things, grimacing as she bent to retrieve it.

“Let me,” Zevran said, emerging from behind her. He stooped and picked it up easily; he appeared bruised and shaken, but otherwise unharmed as far as she could tell. His handsome face crinkled at her in a worried frown. “I thought you might come back to be alone for a while, but I see you have other plans. What are you doing?”

“What I can to get us out.” Lyna’s gut roiled, still raw from grief. She pressed her lips together. “I want to look for any surviving dwarves. I need answers. They might be able to help us.”

“If any do survive, what makes you think they will help?” Zevran held onto the waterskin, his other hand on his hip. “The dwarves in Orzammar did not leap to help us with the Blight until we fixed their problems first, even with the treaties you waved under their noses.”

Lyna sighed. “Look around, Zevran. I don’t think these dwarves are like those in Orzammar.”

She looked about for herself and saw one of the bodies partially trapped under a pile of masonry. The man – she assumed it was a man, she could not truly tell – was dressed in armor that bore some resemblance to what she’d seen from the durgen’len before, but the designs were different in ways she couldn’t describe. It was as if a little darkspawn cruelty had crept into its maker’s mind, making the usual solid dwarven pieces into something more of a carapace and less a suit.

She didn’t tell him she also sensed something about these dwarves. Something that reminded her of fellow Wardens, but significantly different. It was a faint feeling, but unmistakable. In fact, the more she considered it, the more she thought she could feel them out there, watching and waiting.

“With this collapse, some might be trapped along with us. It would be a mutual goal to leave, would it not?” she pointed out.

“If they do wish to leave, that is.”

“Then let’s ask,” Lyna snapped, losing patience with Zevran’s stubbornness. “We will not find out if I just lie down and wait for the rest of the world to fall down on me.”

“And you will not find out if you collapse in one of these accursed tunnels,” he snapped in return. “Why must you continue to push so hard? Why do you insist on taking on every problem that presents itself?”

Lyna opened her mouth to retort and Zevran cut her off.

“No. You talk to me of your Vir Adahlen, how you find strength with others, but you refuse to let someone else, for once, take care of a problem.” He gestured angrily; Lyna had never seen him get so worked up before. Even their argument before leaving Weisshaupt was nothing like this.

“You worry about breaking, and yet you make yourself carry unreasonable burdens. And now you can barely move without pain, and you want to make friends with the people who might have set that creature free?” Zevran huffed, frustrated. “You are maddening, Lyna Mahariel. The Blight made you believe you are indestructible, and no one has told you otherwise.”

Lyna laughed bitterly.

“Did you think the Calling some fantasy? You have just been witness to what it can do to Wardens. Oh yes: Denis let me know that’s what happened to him. He was hearing the Calling, and whatever that creature was, it affected him and how he heard it very badly.” Tears were leaking from her eyes again. She looked away from Zevran’s confusingly angry face.

“I don’t know how long I have. None of us do, until one day we start to hear it. I’ve told you this. I push so hard because I need to end it before it ends me. Before it ends Alistair.” She was on the verge of breaking down once more in sobbing – this was the pain she was running from. Her lower lip was quivering and she couldn’t stop it.

“And right now, I’m the one in charge. I’m responsible for their safety,” Lyna said, her hand tiredly waving at the packs that represented her little group of Wardens and strays. “They won’t be safe until we’re out of here.”

“Safety? Is that what you think? The boy did not come to be a Warden, certainly, but the others did. What is the Warden life but throwing yourselves at danger, hmm? And did you forget what I do? I do not look for safety in killing,” Zevran said emphatically, though his demeanor had softened.

“So I wonder: is it really them you protect? Or yourself?” Zevran stepped forward and cupped her face, bringing it up to look at him. “You think I forget your friend Tamlen? I saw what he became. And that boy in the Deep Roads, Ruck. They did not have the luck of being Wardens first, but if your Calling turns you into ghouls and darkspawn, I know the fate that awaits you.”

Zevran frowned, struggling, his eyes searching hers for answers. “I care for you, a great deal more than I meant to, and you make it impossible for me to understand why.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, lethallin.” Her heart was a confused mess. She still loved Alistair more than anything else in the world. Nothing had changed that, and she believed nothing ever would. But Zevran’s admission of feeling threw hers into chaos. How deep could a friendship go and still be called thus? She called him “blood kin” not simply because he was an elf with Dalish heritage, but because of a closeness she felt even outside of the bed but couldn’t define any other way.

Lyna looked at Zevran sadly, struggling as well. She should not have let things get this far, but it was too late for regret and she would not change what they had done, in any case.

“You are precious to me, Zevran Arainai. I care for you as well, but I can’t call it love, if that is what you are looking for. In truth I don’t know what to call it. I only know that I need you, and I would hate myself if it hurt you.”

He bit his lip and nodded, then drew Lyna closer to kiss her forehead.

“Then we will not call it anything. There is caring, and that is enough.” Zevran wrapped his arms around Lyna, stroking the back of her head. “So please, for the sake of that caring, take some rest. Throw yourself at danger when you are well. I will look for your survivors. I promise you, we will leave this terrible place. You will be able to keep looking for your cure.”

There was relief commingled with the sadness that would not leave her. Lyna let Zevran comfort her, and she laid down to rest where he bid her after exhorting him to retrieve Denis’s greatsword. It would have to do for now.

What had she done?

Chapter Text

The darkness of the collapsed thaig made it impossible for Lyna to judge the passing of time, and her  pain made for terrible sleep.  So it was that she did not know whether Zevran awakened her one hour or ten hours after he bade her rest: she did not feel particularly refreshed.

“My dear Warden,” Zevran said as Lyna rose on one elbow in response to his shaking. “Someone would like to meet you.” The corner of his mouth twisted in a vague smile.

Lyna slowly sat up and looked about. The others had returned to camp, including what could only be Denis’s body, draped in the Orlesian’s cloak, at least ten feet away. Alaine slept nearby, curled up and twitching fitfully. Lyna knew how badly the girl would be sleeping for a while, and hoped in time that might fade for the blond archer. William slept slumped near Scipio, who looked to be waking. Perhaps the one piece of good news, then: the mage felt good enough he was back to his light sleeping.

Falke slept as well, head pillowed on his arms. Hannah sat up near him, and as Lyna watched the redhead slowly turned her attention from Falke to Zevran and Lyna, her face only mildly curious. She imagined it was still shock and exhaustion that numbed them all.

“You found a survivor, then. Why didn’t you bring him here?” Lyna asked.

“He is not a trusting soul, and right now he is only interested in meeting you. It seems he has as many questions as you,” Zevran replied. He glanced past Lyna to Scipio and Hannah and shrugged at them apologetically.

“Good. I can work with that,” she said, feeling a glimmer of hope and some determination creep in. She undid the leather thong in her black hair and made a cursory attempt to straighten the bird’s nest it was turning into, pulling it back up into its customary pony’s tail. Lacking any other means to freshen up, she took Zevran’s proffered arm and pulled herself up, knocking as much dust from her leathers as possible.

“A survivor? What’s going on?” Scipio asked, carefully levering himself up and away from the wall.

“Lyna was hoping some of our dwarven warriors might not have perished,” Zevran began.

“I need to know what that thing was, why it affected us and drew us here, and how to get the fuck out,” Lyna finished bluntly. “If someone survived, they may be just as interested and motivated in leaving as we are.” She glanced at Zevran.  She did not add the assassin’s theory the dwarves might have been involved in the creature’s rampage to begin with, preferring to focus on the slim thread of hope.

Scipio stepped carefully toward Lyna.

“So, this survivor only wants to see the Warden-Commander? Did he say why?” The mage’s dark eyes held a mixture of concern and doubt.

“Not as such,” Zevran replied. He hesitated, frowning, and then continued. “These men are not like the dwarves of Orzammar. I do not think they have had much contact with the surface like their kin. That, at least, is the impression this one is giving me.”

“I had heard…,” Scipio said, thinking. “Could they be from Kal-Sharok?”

Zevran looked blankly at the mage. Lyna frowned. Where had she heard that name before?

“Kal-Sharok. A lost dwarven thaig that had been rediscovered appoximately 20 years ago? At least according to a source of mine. Surely you had heard something about this at Orzammar?” Scipio said, glancing between the two of them.

“Perhaps,” Lyna said slowly. There seemed to have been many such “lost thaigs” she’d personally visited, but none of them had been populated by living dwarves. Not by communities of them, at any rate.

“It was a kingdom unto itself, like Orzammar, and even traded with the Tevinter Imperium! Representatives came to the Grand Tourney at Cumberland just before the Blight!” Scipio said irritably. Clearly he expected them to know this, which in turn irritated Lyna. She had learned many things in the time she’d spent wandering Ferelden, things perhaps some might wish left forgotten, but…

Then Lyna remembered: Cadash thaig. The Lights of Arlathan. She had discovered, through reading various scattered notes she’d idly picked up along the way, it was Kal-Sharok that destroyed Cadash to prevent the Imperium from learning the dwarves had sheltered elves. She scowled.

“Never mind that now,” she told Scipio abruptly. “Do you have a potion? Something to take the edge off so I can meet this man without stooping in pain.”

“No, but you have me,” the mage said, holding his hands out toward her back and shoulders and waiting for permission to touch her.

Lyna nodded, and gripped Zevran’s arm for support as Scipio laid his hands on both her upper and lower back and brute channeled healing energy into her. It lacked his usual finesse; his staff normally helped him focus and refine his magic, but the staff apparently had been lost in the scramble for shelter. The healing hammered into sore flesh and she winced. But the magic did its job after a moment and the pain faded to a more manageable ache.

Carefully, Lyna flexed and twisted her back and lifted each knee. She decided  she could defend herself if attacked, but any fights would have to be resolved quickly, or risk reinjury. In addition, the exertion could bring back all that distracting pain.

“Thank you,” she said, relieved.

Scipio waved it off, but he smiled faintly. “I don’t have many of those left in me without adequate rest and such, so I hope your meeting bears fruit.”

“As do I, for all our sakes.” Lyna spared a look for Hannah. Wardens or not, she had promised the Orth woman she would keep Falke safe to the best of her ability. For her part, Hannah seemed too upset to offer more than a nod.

“Come, this way,” Zevran murmured, and led Lyna away from their little camp. The path was circuitous of necessity, skirting  piles of rubble taller than their heads in some areas and scrambling over smaller mounds of it when it couldn’t be avoided. To her dismay Lyna found a few chunks of the large runes she’d seen on the walls along the way. Most held remnants of the red or blue filling them – lined with lyrium, she was sure now, her fingers tingling as they passed over these shards – but others had lost their shine completely. She also had no time to study them.

Had the cavern not fallen in, Lyna suspected this trip would be much shorter and accomplished with a straightforward path.

Soon Zevran was pointing at an alcove created by a crumbled doorway at the end of a chain of doorways. In the niche was a dwarven man in dark armor, kneeling over the bodies of several other dwarven companions. A large helmet Lyna remembered seeing in the heat of battle lay not far behind him. Outside of the battle, now, she could see he and his companions were smaller than most dwarves she’d met. The man himself was pale; what wan light existed gave his pallor a grey cast, aided by his short black curling hair and beard. His face seemed thin, his nose a sharp beak jutting over a firm, proud mouth and chin. He was whispering over the bodies in an attitude of prayer.

Lyna knew the man had heard her and Zevran approach when she saw his posture stiffen, mouthing Atrast nal tunsha and twitching a cloak over the nearest body’s face.

Atrast vala. My apologies for interrupting you in your time of grief,” Lyna greeted him quietly.

Now closer to the dwarven man, she could sense that strange feeling of connection once more – that feeling of being in the presence of another Warden, but not quite. A strain of the Taint, she supposed. Briefly she wondered how much more terrifying the Legion of the Dead would be with such a Joining, and then remembered Sigrun. Lyna already knew. The dwarven woman became singularly focused upon darkspawn, making them a lightning rod for all the savagery she could unleash.

The man pushed himself up and faced the pair of elves. Though his overall demeanor was reserved, Lyna could see distrust warring with a more positive emotion on his face. She fought to keep herself in check and not invest too much hope into this small spark even as she was determined to fan its flame.

“You are the… Warden-Commander.” The man’s baritone voice rolled the clearly unfamiliar title in his mouth. He glanced from Lyna to Zevran. “It is strange to see surfacers here, and stranger still that one is a Grey Warden.”

“More than one. My people-,” Lyna began.

“I know. We were there together, were we not? I thought the destruction of the gan-,” he paused to correct himself, “the rock wraith had killed you all.” For a second, Lyna thought she saw the ghost of a smile on his face. It flickered so quickly she wondered if she had really seen it at all. “You are… hard to kill, it seems.”

She glanced meaningfully at Zevran, who raised an eyebrow at her and shook his head.

“You have no idea how true that has become,” Lyna said ruefully. “Lyna Mahariel, Warden-Commander of the Ferelden Grey Wardens. I killed Urthemiel.” She said it matter-of-factly, her intention to affirm her seeming indestructibility and not to boast, but the dwarf barked a laugh.

“You? A tiny rod of a surfacer I could snap like a stick of charcoal? Do you take me for a fool?” he said contemptuously, distrust now plain on his face. “Did Orzammar teach you rudeness along with a few fancy phrases?”

“No, they were too busy bickering over a line of succession to help me,” Lyna snapped. “I had to clean out a few abandoned thaigs, kill a broodmother, kill one Paragon and get a crown from another, and stick said crown on another Aeducan head before they would honor treaties to send troops. Oh yes, and get the life scared out of me seeing the Archdemon and its hordes in the caverns under Bownammar, the same hordes my friend and I here had to kill in the streets of Denerim later on.” She took a breath, realizing she was venting her spleen at the one person who might be able to help them. Well, too late now.

“You saw us in battle. You saw me in battle. And I have yet to learn your name,” Lyna ended, folding her arms.

“I can see why you may disbelieve my lovely companion here,” Zevran interjected, “but let me assure you she is packed full of surprises.”

Lyna refrained from groaning at the incredibly loaded assurance, and flicked a glance at the assassin instead. He shrugged, nonchalant. “Well, it’s true.”

“I don’t know what surfacer madness you two are afflicted with,” the dwarven man said, still distrustful but now mildly apologetic, “but clearly you believe what you say. You are also correct: I did witness your skill in combat. It is also true I have been rude.” He drew in a breath and straightened.

“I am Deimos Blackstone Kal-Sharok. Your friend – Zevran, was it? – surprised me as I was trying to find my…companions… to properly lay them to rest. I would have left already if it had not been for that. We take care of our own,” he said, his chin rising proudly.

“As do I,” Lyna spoke quickly. So Scipio was correct. Perhaps she might be able to ask Deimos later about Kal-Sharok. Cadash thaig as well, if she had the chance, but she had bigger matters to deal with.

“This is why I asked Zevran to seek you out. I need to take my people out of here, and I know your people have a…” She searched for the right words. “Connection? A sense? About your surroundings. The Stone, that is.”

Deimos’s eyebrows shot up. Some of the distrust melted from his face.

“That is not something I would have expected to hear. Yes, full of surprises you are. That answers one of my questions, then. I thought perhaps you might have been another ploy from Orzammar, some kind of surfacer invasion.” The dwarf stuck his thumbs in his belt, his posture relaxing. “Why are you here?”

“We followed the trail of a darkspawn horde that attacked a village,” Lyna replied, relieved. “We camped not far from what I know now, but didn’t then, was the source.” She sighed. “And then Denis, one of our Wardens, heard a… a Calling… and went temporarily mad and followed it in here to eliminate it. We followed him.”

“Calling. I see,” Deimos said, rubbing at his bearded chin. That piece of information did not seem to surprise him at all. “So the rock wraith’s infection was worse than I thought.” His mouth compressed in a grim line. “A good thing its threat is now eliminated, but this brings up additional problems for my people, and makes it all the more imperative I finish my task and return to them.”

It was Lyna’s turn to be surprised. “Infection? What problems?”

Deimos shook his head. “I am sorry, Warden-Commander, but this is not something for me to share with outsiders. We have had to deal with our own issues for a long time now without intervention, and I see no reason for that to change.”

“As you wish, but if this rock wraith was one of your problems, perhaps you might take some time to reconsider that stance,” Lyna pointed out delicately. A problem that might break free to spread its infection on the surface couldn’t remain solely Kal-Sharok’s issue. Especially if it was going to disproportionately affect Grey Wardens.

“Perhaps, but don’t count on it,” the man said firmly.

“I have a proposal,” Zevran said suddenly. Both Lyna and Deimos turned to look at the assassin, Lyna surprised once more.  Normally he was content to let her steer conversation in situations like this.

“You wish to leave quickly to return to your people, but you wish to find all your companions first, yes? We wish to leave as well, and there are many reasons for doing so as quickly as possible. We cannot do that without your help; we may be able to move stone to return to the surface, but we will not know the right passages, or the right stones to lift,” Zevran continued. Lyna nodded, as did Deimos, at the summation of their issues.

“So, it is clear and simple that we must help each other. No?” he finished.

Deimos shrugged. “So it would seem.” He regarded Lyna thoughtfully. “Does he speak your mind in this as well?”

“He does,” Lyna smiled. Zevran was well acquainted with her desire to help in all their time together, and this was truly an equitable arrangement, as she saw it. It would be sad work, looking for the dwarven dead, but she hoped it would be cathartic as well for their little group.

“I had hoped the Grey Wardens might be as honorable as I have read, but the passage of time can corrupt all,” Deimos said with a shake of his head. “Time can also create legends of the ordinary, as our faithless kin in Orzammar have done with these so-called ‘Paragons.’”

The dwarf offered a guarded smile of his own. “I am sorry for the manner of our meeting, but I am glad for it all the same. I accept your proposal. Let us both depart and return to our respective people with all haste.”

“Agreed. I am honored to make your acquaintance, Deimos. Some of my people need a little more rest, and our own recent loss has deeply affected us. I cannot vouch for all of them being able to help, but I can begin immediately. One of your number is trapped under stone near our camp,” Lyna said. “I can bring them here as soon as they are freed.”

“Thank you,” Deimos said, and bowed his dark head. When he looked up again, she could see his eyes were a dark-lined grey, stormy with suppressed grief. Well did she understand.

Lyna wondered what the others would think of this arrangement, and found she didn’t truly care. This was their only way out and they were taking it.

Still, she was troubled at the implications of the word “infection,” and what connection it had to Denis’s Calling. Worse, Deimos implied he knew about this problem with the rock wraith – what he could have done about it, she didn’t know, but she promised herself to ask the questions again, possibly in an unguarded moment. Their means of escape might hang upon Deimos’s good graces, so she’d have to ask carefully. So much for Grey Warden ‘honor.’

But Lyna was fighting darkspawn and the source of the Blight itself. Sometimes, ‘honor’ could go hang.

“A word for a moment, Lyna,” Zevran said quietly after they left, out of earshot of either Deimos or their people. He stopped her as they were preparing to climb over some debris. She looked at him quizzically, noting the tattoos on his face stood out more than usual in the wan, directionless light. Her fingers rose to trace them before she could stop herself; he brought his hand up and captured hers. He kissed the back of her fingers and let her hand go.

“Do you trust this Deimos?” he asked without preamble.

“No. But neither does he trust us. I think so long as our goals align – getting us out – we will have no issue.” She paused. “I think it’s possible you may have been right. Deimos and his people knew something about this rock wraith. This was no innocent encounter, no mere self-defence. I’d like to know what this was, but if we probe too far…”

“He will abandon us, yes.” Zevran smiled wryly. “I am glad you are thinking clearly about this.”

“I have to,” Lyna said in all seriousness. “You hate the Deep Roads.”

He chuckled. “I do. It is too dark, there is no decent wine, and it stinks of darkspawn. It is a terrible place for lovemaking.”

“Precisely why we are leaving.” It was for many more reasons than Zevran’s, he knew, but Lyna liked lifting his spirits (and hers) with the banter. Joking about it, after the tears and anguish earlier, made her feel better.

And if she could get Zevran alone in some sunlight, all the better.

Explaining the situation to the others after they returned to camp was easier than Lyna expected, though Scipio predictably advocated caution. Hannah clearly did not care what had been agreed to so long as it meant leaving. Falke was agreeable, but wished aloud he could return to study the ancient carvings and decimated architecture; Lyna could see Hannah concealing dismay at the very idea. William had been surprised to have been consulted at all, but felt it only right to help Deimos, regardless, and had to be talked out of saying Andrastian prayers over the dead. (“But no one said you may not do so privately,” Lyna told the teenaged mage gently.)

Alaine worried her most; the Orlesian girl could barely be roused from the stupor of grief. Eventually the archer sighed and lay on her side, staring at the profile of Denis’s covered body. “I don’t care. Just get him out of here,” she said listlessly, and closed her eyes to sleep some more.

Lyna was certain it would be almost impossible to get the man’s corpse out, and could not reply to the request. She had planned to make a cairn around him – there were more than a few rocks to make this possible – and now had to consider the possibility of Alaine reacting very badly to this, regardless of how it was broached.

She would have to deal with it when the time came, however, and no sooner.

It was after they had brought back the third body that Lyna decided to broach the first question foremost on her mind with Deimos.

“I can sense you,” she said. She’d thought about how to handle this: Deimos appreciated politeness and honesty in equal measure, she’d learned, but how much honesty before it veered into rudeness, she had no way of telling. “Wardens have an ability to sense darkspawn as well as each other, and you seem familiar. Like a Warden. How is that?”

“Ah,” the man said, frowning. “I wondered when you might ask.”

“So, you can sense us, as well.”

“In a manner of speaking.” Deimos busied himself with arranging the newest body alongside the others, almost reverently.

“How has this come to pass, may I ask?” Lyna stayed out of the dwarf’s way, lingering next to one of the crumbled doorways. Her palms still tingled from brushing against more crumbled runes, and she rubbed them absently against her leathers.

Deimos was quiet for a long time. “It’s not for me to say. That too is not a topic to discuss with outsiders.”

“I may not be a dwarf of Kal-Sharok, but clearly we share something in common, Deimos.”

“Ancient history,” he replied reluctantly.

“I beg pardon?”

“That is what we share, Warden-Commander. Ancient history.” The man laid a pale hand atop the covered body for a moment. “All I may say is this: we were there at the beginning of your order. We have been the foundation of it. And I suspect there are none living who truly understand what that means, not even among your people,” he said, and there Lyna suspected he was not referring to the Grey Wardens, but her people, the elven people.

Still, the Grey Wardens had a penchant for keeping many secrets. Perhaps what Deimos was referring to lay deep in some forgotten record. She could believe the Chamberlain of the Grey, or even the First Warden, might know where such a record lay whether or not they hid it in the first place.

“I see,” Lyna said. The suggestion of her people reminded her again of Cadash thaig. “My people…”

“Ancient history,” he repeated firmly.

She sighed. “I should tell you that my people, the Dalish, have been trying for centuries to rediscover their own. The Tevinter Imperium has cost us everything, so we work to regain even fragments of what we’ve lost. Imagine my surprise to discover that some of what we lost lay in a thaig.”

Lyna thought of pressing the point, then decided against it. If Deimos knew what had happened with Cadash thaig and Kal-Sharok’s role in its destruction, there was no reason to antagonize him over it. He had not been there, he had not been responsible. If he didn’t know, perhaps he’d ask. She could use that to build rapport and ask the other questions still burning in her mind.

“Ancient history ties you and I together in more ways than one, Deimos.” She hesitantly reached out and grasped the dwarf’s shoulder, and then walked back to camp to rest. She’d been pulling out bodies since the first meeting, with brief breaks for food or relieving herself or a nap. Even with assistance from the others  she was tired and Scipio complained she would undo all his work on her back.

No longer caring what anyone thought, Lyna moved her bedroll next to Zevran’s. She lay down and curled up around the already-sleeping assassin and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

The pattern was the same, every time: Lyna would try to talk to Deimos. Subjects ranged from food to darkspawn. Some pleasantries would be exchanged, some superficial information. Lyna would ask a careful, related question about Kal-Sharok, about himself or his companions, and in return she’d be rebuffed, questions unanswered. Since her advances had always been polite, Deimos’s responses had been as well.

Lyna was beginning to lose her patience, and she thought perhaps the dwarf was as well. There did not seem to be many bodies left she could safely retrieve, either, and so she was running out of time to get answers. She couldn’t do it at her people’s expense, however. She wasn’t entirely sure the dwarf would completely abandon them after their deal, but since she had yet to find out much beyond his distaste for deep mushroom and a fondness for small quartz figurines, she couldn’t bet on it.

And then there was Denis. And Alaine. It had been a few days, and while there was yet to be a smell, the poor man’s body would start to turn if it hadn’t yet begun. He would need to be properly seen to.

“What I wouldn’t give for several bottles of Oghren’s favorite rotgut,” Lyna groused to Zevran as she and Hannah returned to camp from the latest excavation.

Zevran shuddered. “Please, do not remind me of it. The smell was foul.”

“The drink didn’t smell,” she protested. She’d had some one night at Oghren’s invitation, and though it was strong enough to make her swoon and the red-haired berserker laugh, it had no particular smell at all. Or perhaps it was simply strong enough to burn out all sense of smell.

“Not the drink, the dwarf. It did the most terrible things to his insides,” Zevran explained in aside to Hannah, who shook her head. The woman did drink at least once with them, but generally did not partake. She did not care for alcohol much, aside from cultural temperance.

“Why would you want such a thing, Commander?” the Orth woman asked, her face wrinkling in mild distaste. After grieving for a while for Denis, she had regained some of her equilibrium in the face of necessity and a reminder of her role as a Grey Warden.

“Honestly, so I might pass out and have no more nightmares while we are still here in the Deep Roads. But I would also like to toast Denis and say proper farewells over his cairn,” Lyna confessed. “He needs to be taken care of as much as Deimos’s friends, and Denis would have appreciated a drink and some songs, would he not?”

“He would,” Hannah slowly agreed, thinking. She looked sidelong at Lyna. “We have also promised to give his things to the Grey Wardens. We are his closest companions. He kept a flask of a drink from Orlais in his pack.”

“Apple brandy! I had nearly forgotten,” Lyna exclaimed. “He offered me a sip on our second night.”

She recalled she’d been moping by the fire after dinner, debating with herself whether she would let Scipio’s warnings about Anderfels attitudes toward sex stop her from sleeping with Zevran again or not. She had started coming to the grudging conclusion she should heed Scipio, resisting it resentfully. Denis saw her unhappy and didn’t ask why, just clapped her on the back and offered her a drink and a smile. The apple brandy had warmed her as much as the smile did.

“He was a good man,” Hannah said softly. “I could always rely on him. Maker knows he deserves a memorial service.”

“Agreed. I’ll ask Falke to come up with something.” Lyna bit her lip. “We’ll need to gather stones to make his cairn. Alaine…”

“I dislike causing her further pain, but it must be done,” Hannah said firmly. “She should remember being a Warden is hard. We do her no favors sheltering her.”

Zevran kept silent, but Lyna could see from his expression – and knew from experience – that he agreed with Hannah. Morrigan would have pointed it out sooner. Lyna reluctantly had to agree as well, though she wished it were not necessary. No one should have to face this sort of pain.

“As you say.” Lyna drew in a deep, cleansing breath, looking about the ruins as they approached their camp. Idly she wished she could have seen it in its heyday, restored, its fires lit and people carrying about their business. What would they have been doing? How were their little lives under this mountain of carefully carved stone? She didn’t think it precisely like Orzammar, with its rigid hierarchies, but she imagined workers returning to their homes from mining or smithing, lords and ladies exchanging quiet pleasantries, merchants flogging their wares, messengers scurrying between the powerful – all signs of vibrant life she’d seen in cities and villages alike. Life carrying on between great joys and sorrows alike. Moving on.

As would the Wardens.

Both Lyna and Hannah had been correct about Alaine. A quiet conversation with Falke to discuss a service for Denis – he obviously had mixed feelings about dusting off these parts of his Chantry Brother past in service to the Wardens – had gone unnoticed. Alaine had also not evidenced curiosity about the doings of the others in camp until they began moving Denis’s body toward the amassed pile of stone and broken rubble the Wardens had gathered.

Alaine, her blonde braid both frayed and matted, grabbed at each of them in desperation, her forlorn protests growing steadily in volume and frequency. Soon Alaine threw herself, wailing, at the cage of flesh Lyna and Hannah made around her with their linked arms, her grief pouring from her throat afresh. Falke, Scipio, and Zevran continued to pile stones around Denis’s body, William also trying to help but unable to keep from staring sadly at the grieving Orlesian in between the rocks he delivered.

After a while Alaine sank to her knees, sobbing. “Ah, Maker, why here? Why here? I can’t bear it…”

Lyna let go of Hannah and sank down with Alaine, her arms wrapping around her to comfort rather than protect.

“Because we are Grey Wardens, Alaine. Denis was a Warden. He would have gone to the Deep Roads soon, you know this,” she murmured in the archer’s ear. “We all come here in the end. We don’t come back.”

Lyna’s heart twinged as she said it – no matter the truth of the issue, they wouldn’t be here if Lyna wasn’t trying to thwart their alleged destiny. And it was a terrible irony.

She looked up at Falke and nodded for him to begin, Hannah solemnly joining the others to continue placing stones for Denis and his cairn.

“Oh Maker, hear my cry: guide me through the blackest nights…,” Falke chanted. As Lyna stroked Alaine’s hair and rocked her, she watched the Andrastian faithful move their lips along with him as they reverently built the memorial over Denis’s body, piece by piece.

When Falke paused and began a different verse, his face transfigured with faith and remembrance, Alaine pushed herself out of Lyna’s arms and stood, shakily, to join them.

“The Light shall lead her safely, through the paths of this world, and into the next...”

Lyna stood with them, remaining silent as she added her own stones. She had said her own prayers to her gods; this was their time.

When they finished, Alaine quietly setting down the last piece and bowing her head, Lyna began the Grey Warden oath. Falke, Hannah, Alaine, and Scipio joined in on the second line, their combined voices ringing in the darkness of the Deep Roads.

"Join us brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant. Join us as we carry out the duty that cannot be forsworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten. And that one day, we shall join you."

***

Daylight. We were in there for less than a week, by my guess, but the darkness has a way of invading you so that it feels as if you have always been there. Light was a wonder again, and we blinked at it as I led them back out of the Deep Roads.

If I am lucky, I will not see that darkness again for a long time. I fear that I will not be lucky. To lead all of my brothers and sisters out of darkness, I will need to tread its paths again and again. Marethari might say I walk the dinan’shiral. If so, I become like Falon’Din, a ghilana to lead the way… either back to light, or to death.

Zevran kissed my forehead when we emerged, his lips brushing against my vallaslin. The horns of Ghilan’nain. I thought of his foolish leap onto the august ram. I thought of when we first met. My lethallin, my own ghilan, could be trampled in my path.He will need a charm, a token, to ensure his safety.

I had wandered the tomblike passages after Denis’s memorial, after we sang songs, shared remembrances, and distributed his things amongst us. His badge and his blood pendant were now mine, though I would be returning the badge to Weisshaupt with a letter informing the Chamberlain of the Grey of Denis’s death and a report on what happened. I never wore my own pendant, but I would wear the Orlesian’s.

Denis’s cards were now Alaine’s – she wept again when she received them, regretting she had not changed watch shifts with him.

“You could not have known,” Scipio told her. “He still would have gone. He was Called, it was his fate.”

Fate is a strange thing for a former Nevarran death mage to embrace, but perhaps he felt more comfortable calling it ‘fate’ rather than remember all the mortalitasi taught him. Denis would have called him a dramatic prat again.

We all played Wicked Grace, then, sharing Denis’s apple brandy, even the young mage we took from his home. I hope his fate is a kinder one in Perendale’s Circle of Magi. I have seen the good and the bad from the mage circles.

But I had lain wakeful in the darkness after all had gone to sleep. There were still no answers. And so I had wandered, following the whispering in my skin until it led me to a dwarven body half-buried outside a partially blocked doorway that was flanked by ranks of dead runes stretching high to an unseen ceiling. The body belonged to a young man that bore a passing resemblance to Deimos, his features softer and his hair a shade lighter. He laid on his back, crushed, his blood pooled in his mouth.

I do not know how long I had stood there, staring and thinking. I only knew that if Deimos would not give me answers, perhaps his kin would. I had empty vials, meant for gathering darkspawn blood for a potential Warden’s Joining. I filled one then with this dwarf’s blood. I would take it to Avernus. Honor be hanged.

Then I had made my way into the temple. I knew it was a temple. It reminded me too much of Orzammar’s Shaperate, of the sanctified districts we filled with darkspawn blood in Bownammar, of all the ruins my clan laid down to sleep in when we found them, and even of the Andrastian Chantries and the Temple of Sacred Ashes.It was empty of the dwarven gods, if they had any beyond their Stone, but any place where divinity has been invited once leaves an indelible red stamp.

The ebony dagger had been warm against my side the whole time as I examined the dried, twisted bones littering the floor, the emptied lyrium fonts and lyrium wells, the ancient indecipherable runes that covered every inch of the walls except for where massive forces had chipped them away, and the long-mouldered texts that crumbled to powder at a touch. I lacked sufficient knowledge to understand all I saw, but my clearest impression, even now, was of faith turned into a cage.

I had left that place with no answers I could understand, but I had something nonetheless. I pulled out the body of Deimos’s kin and dragged him back to the dwarf’s camp. Deimos woke on my approach.

“We are done, you and I. Help me,” I said to him. What he saw in my face, I don’t know – perhaps he understood I had seen enough. His dark grey eyes betrayed nothing but acknowledgment. Quietly, he drew a map in the dusty floor and told me what I needed to know.

And now we drink in the sun like parched travelers at a stream, Zevran, William, my brothers and sisters and I. We will find our doubtless wrecked camp and starving horses. We will eat, sleep, repair, and move on. But right now, I am not moving on. I am embracing them all, some more awkwardly than others, and I am twining my fingers in Zevran’s hand. They are mine, and I am theirs, and in my heart they will stay.

Chapter Text

Zevran watched Lyna from his hiding spot. He had gone out to check the perimeter of their camp, although technically the Anderfels woman, Hannah, was the one on patrol. An extra measure of security, he said, and it was accepted without question. After what they had gone through in the Deep Roads recently, it was a smart precaution.

He would resume his own patrol soon, but for the time being he simply needed to be alone. He was deeply confused, and he couldn’t sort himself out knowing Lyna could see him. He wasn’t known for being so pensive – she would notice, she would ask questions. She had already been confused as to why he refused to sleep with her after their return to camp.

He was simply tired, Zevran told her, and they had much to do to set everything to rights again.

But his Warden had always been very sharp, very clever. Zevran knew it was a matter of time before Lyna figured out that something was wrong, if she had not already. One of her traits he had always admired was now working against him.

She sat next to the fire with Falke, talking quietly with the man as she carved on a rough disc of horn. If he concentrated on her lips, Zevran might read from them what she was discussing, but he could not concentrate. The fire’s light picked out her features for him, but her black hair drank the light in and let little back out. Shadows shifted on her face as she moved, pooling mostly around her eyes.

Deep indigo eyes that of late drank him in until he had to shut his own, afraid he might drown of his own choice.

Zevran once thought her spirit was like his own: uncomplicated, willing to seize what the moment presented, kill what got in her way, and laugh when she could. Lyna laughed a lot with Alistair. Her whole face would transform, even at the most ridiculous and stupid things the boy-king said. Hers was a fierce and bright spirit.

He could trace when that light began to dim. It started with Orzammar and ended with Alistair’s crowning. Part of the foundation on which Lyna had begun rebuilding her life had crumbled out from under her. 

But Lyna still had the Wardens, no? Loghain was dead and the Crows would not touch her. Zevran felt certain she would recover over time. A woman who would face an Archdemon and live surely needed no one. He even said as much privately to Alistair.

“Look after her for me, will you?” The new monarch looked haggard.

“As you wish, but she has no need of me. Your Wardens can rebuild and so will she.”

But the man insisted, perhaps to assuage his guilt over such a public dissolving of his relationship with Lyna. In Antiva, lifelong vendettas would have arisen over such humiliation. Lyna instead withdrew into herself, and threw herself at the Archdemon and her duties to the Grey Wardens. It was as if she channeled all her light, her dancing and artistry and laughter and love, into a single hot beam of killing ferocity aimed into the heart of the Blight.

Zevran told himself it was still there when it was over, when he left for Antiva, but the message he received a month ago, delivered by a discreet courier from Denerim, claimed otherwise.

She burned Amaranthine. Rumors say worse. Help me. – A

So he went to Weisshaupt. He did need to avoid the Crows for a while, after all. Zevran would look in on his friend, have a short respite, and send an equally discreet message back to Ferelden before he returned to Antiva.

What Zevran found at Weisshaupt was a woman struggling badly. Her enthusiastic greeting threw him off because for the briefest moment he had seen the woman he knew before the Landsmeet. Lyna could not be so far gone, surely. But watching her as he listened to her story afterward shook him. Alistair was not the one who needed help.

So he offered the only help he knew how to give. She was not entirely lost, but buried. He understood this in the way she responded to him, her breaths as they coupled like those of someone sucking in air after a long, deep dive under water. Everything about her transformed again. Banked coals blazed forth.

But only for so long, so Zevran stayed to remind her to breathe, to bring forth that light and heat again and again. His dearest friend needed to remember who she was. And it never occurred to him once to feel guilty about it until he realized, in the Deep Roads, that he was no longer doing this solely for her, or for a man who had abrogated the one promise he should have kept, but for himself.

He wanted Lyna, the Lyna that began smiling again, the Lyna who could leave him senseless after lovemaking, the woman who shared her thoughts, all for himself. This scared him. He did not know what to do.

A horse whickered. Zevran watched Lyna freeze in place, alert and still, her eyes scanning the darkness quickly like the other Dalish hunters and their majestic halla he’d met in the Brecilian Forest. Then Falke patted her on the arm and she relaxed by inches, ever vigilant.

Lyna said she needed him. He couldn’t leave her like Alistair did. Someone had to live up to his promises. At Perendale, he would send his message: Your halla will be safe. –Z

Tonight he would make sure she slept. But tomorrow? Tomorrow, he might drown.

Chapter Text

It might not have taken quite as much time to reach Perendale, after Lyna and her people found their campsite again, if they hadn’t had to avoid the damned mountain goats. Avoiding wyverns was actually easier, because despite discovering they were very territorial, the wyverns weren’t nearly as protective of a patch of ground as the goats.

On the bright side, all of them were given a chance to hone their skills with the bow. If a goat could be dropped before it charged them, they would spend less time getting sidetracked or defending their horses and supplies. Dead goats attracted the wyverns, however, if they weren’t properly incinerated.  William received a thorough education on this point when one very young and very aggressive wyvern pounced from out of nowhere onto the goat the young mage had only managed to cook.

Feeling it better to let the wyvern be distracted with its prize, Lyna ordered a retreat. Let someone else with more leisure time and supplies go wyvern-hunting, she didn’t need any useless trophies.

“As a Nevarran with a rich dragon-hunting heritage, I feel as if I should protest, Commander,” Scipio began once they were well out of range. He was offering a wry joke, Lyna knew, but she wasn’t having it.

“You could go back, if you like. There are enough rocks for another cairn.”

Scipio winced and returned his attention to William, whose young face was scowling through a sudden refresher on fire magic.

Lyna regretted biting Scipio that way, but they’d lost some supplies to weather and scavengers, so food was being rationed. They could make up the difference with goat meat, but they all looked too tough to make them worth the effort. Birds, rabbits, nugs and the like would have to make up the shortfall.

Also, the closer they drew to Perendale, the sooner Lyna knew they would all have to part. She wasn’t looking forward to that. The Wardens would spend several days in the small Nevarran city resting, resupplying, and filling the Chamberlain’s requisition orders. Lyna would spend that time gathering her own supplies and going over Morrigan’s book with Falke.

She would not be spending that time with Zevran, judging from the way he’d distanced himself from her. He claimed tiredness as the reason for putting her off the first night they returned to the surface, but he became downright evasive after that. It was confusing. Lyna knew he cared, but… he must be planning on leaving her. Perhaps she should let him go. Perhaps she could recoup her subsequent poor sleep in a proper bed in Perendale, no more hidden rocks digging into her back through her bedroll. Perhaps she could fortify that sleep with some wine before bed.

Perhaps she could finish carving her amulet before Zevran left her. It was simple enough, nowhere as fine as Master Ilen’s work or even that of his apprentices, but the design was pure Dalish and recognizable as such to any Dalish who might care to look. It felt important that he have it.

“Commander,” Alaine called. She was riding back toward Lyna from her scouting position up front, coming down from the slight rise of land.

“Perendale,” Alaine continued as soon as she drew near. “She lies perhaps two days ahead. The land is a gentle slope down from there,” she said, hooking a thumb back the way she came.

The Orlesian girl had become solemn from their ordeal. Although she talked often with Zevran, she did not laugh and only smiled politely at his stories. Alaine seemed to be recovering from Denis’s death, but she was still a far cry from the person who had started the trip.

“Good. Start looking for a good place to camp, something as far from these damned goats and wyverns as possible. We have plenty of time before sundown, so be as picky as you like.”

Alaine nodded. She drew her scarf down to drink at her waterskin, reapplied some ointment to her face, then pulled her scarf back up before turning her horse a little eastward and back on the path.

Although the terrain in this northern region of Nevarra was still quite rocky, there was no lingering taint from the Blight and thus more vegetation and more wildlife. They should be able to find water even this far out from Perendale. Some small game in wild onions would be their supper.

There was a time in Lyna’s life, when she was but a Dalish hunter, that this was standard fare. During the Blight, it’s what kept them all from starving when coin was scarce and there were many miles to go before reaching Denerim, or the outskirts of Orzammar in the Frostbacks. It was strange now to think of such a thing as scarcity.

She glanced at Zevran, who had given up all attempts at conversation with the others for the time being and guided his horse in silence. Perhaps she had gotten too soft and well-fed. Without a daily struggle for survival or some important goal to strive for, Lyna had become… lost. Well, she had a goal now and promises to keep. Best to maintain focus on those, and not dwell on their strange relationship. He told her he’d remain her friend, regardless, and she clung to that. Aside from Falke’s companionship, she might be alone for a very long time.

A Dalish alone in the world was a disheartening prospect. Lyna would have to do her best to make that time as short as possible.

***

First Enchanter Fiona,

Aneth’ara. I apologize, but I have been delayed on my journey by at least several days, if not a week. As one might expect, my group encountered darkspawn along our path. We were forced into a trip into the Deep Roads to eliminate the threat to the best of our ability.

While in the Deep Roads, our group lost one of our companions, Denis, to the Calling. It was his wish that I bring his weapon to his family in Arlesans, which will delay me at least an additional day, if not more.

Ir abelas, I do not wish to inconvenience you. I look forward to our interview. I believe we will have much to discuss.

Dareth shiral,

Warden-Commander Lyna Mahariel

 

Letters were written and her armor was ready for Perendale tomorrow. Lyna was nearly finished with Zevran’s amulet, at least as best she could given the tools available and the time constraint. She would give it to him tonight, before the assassin could slip away.

Lyna could see Zevran across the fire, where he was making a good show of laughing with Alaine and Scipio, but he was not entirely himself. There was a pensive air to him, as if he withdrew into himself between stories or while automatically throwing out suggestive lines. He was cutting ties. It pained her he was leaving, but she had no wish to force him to stay. She liked that he was free. He should always be free.

“My lady?” William tentatively sat next to her. The gangly young man had settled on addressing her thus, since “Warden Commander” was a mouthful and “Lyna” too personal, in his eyes. He reminded her somewhat of Falke in his diffidence. Perhaps most young men in the Anderfels were like this.

“What can I do for you, da’len?” She paused in scraping her lettering – she did not want to misjudge the force she applied and stab herself in the hand. Zevran would never let her forget it.

“You are taking me to the Circle of Magi in Perendale, I know. What can I expect?”

“You’d really have to ask Scipio that, he can tell you much better than I can.” Lyna shrugged. “He and I will escort you there, first thing. I have no doubt they will take you in and make sure you are properly taught. You will have a bed, food, and clothing. There will be Templars and a chapel within the Circle so you may hear the Chant regularly. You may have a good life.”

“You say ‘may’ as if I might not,” William said, frowning thoughtfully at the fire.

“It’s possible, yes. I am Dalish and not a mage – I have no experience with that life. But my friend Wynne did, and she had a good life in the Circle, by her account. I have met, and heard of, mages and apprentices who either also had a good life, or felt mistreated and lonely, some badly enough they took desperate measures to leave.” Anders and his multiple escape attempts, or Uldred’s lust for power, came immediately to mind.

“But I cannot leave the Circle of Magi, can I? I don’t wish to be an apostate, if the Circle does not accept me. I have done terrible things, perhaps I am a maleficar…”

“Oh William. Stop.” Lyna set the amulet and her carving tool down and grasped the young man’s hands. “I try not to disparage your beliefs, but here I think they are utterly wrong. You are not a bad person; you have not done bad things. You have used the gifts given you in service to your community and to the people who protect you.” She squeezed his hands and spoke to him softly, urgently.

“You have done marvelous things. Your Chantry would be foolish to upbraid you.”

“Thank you, my lady.” William blushed and dropped his eyes, unruly hair flopping forward as his head tilted. “I still worry. We don’t know much about the Circles – no one tells us.”

Of course. All his community’s mages either were taken away, never to be seen again, or they wandered out into the wilderness. The end result was the same either way.

“Then I make you this promise, hey? Look at me.”

William obediently but shyly lifted his eyes and met Lyna’s.

“Stay there as long as possible. They have much to teach you, much you can learn. Make a life there. But should there come a time that becomes unbearable, where you despair of life, send word to me. Write a letter to me and send it to Weisshaupt. I promise someone will come for you, and you will be made a Grey Warden.” She took a deep breath. “Do not make that decision lightly, William. I want you to remember Denis. Remember Alaine. Remember that this is a hard life, and we are forever committed to fighting darkspawn. Once you are recruited as a Warden, you cannot go back. You cannot change your mind.”

The young man’s eyes widened. “A Grey Warden? Surely I’m not-“

“-good enough? I see your potential, you do not. But that is also why you need time in the Circle. You are young yet. Experience life as best you can. Learn, grow into your power. Whether you stay a Circle mage or come be a Warden, you should take advantage of every opportunity for joy and for knowledge.” Lyna released William’s hands and smiled encouragingly.

“Thank you. Thank you for everything. I have a lot to think about. I pray the Maker keeps watch for us both, my lady.” The mage smiled in return, standing up.

“Thank you. You should get some sleep, mm? A big day tomorrow.”

“Aye. I will say my goodnights and turn in. A good evening to you,” Willam said, eyes shining as he turned away to go see Scipio.

“You as well.” She returned to her carving, finishing out the curves and channels of the final letter on the back. She worked patiently, carefully, blowing on it every so often to clear the debris.

It was quite dark when Lyna was completely finished with the horn pendant, both Alaine and Scipio having retired for the night. Hannah still sat by the fire, repairing a rip in a shirt, and Falke was nowhere to be seen – either he was on watch or he had gone to bed himself.

She glanced up at the stars to judge the time. Fen’Harel’s tail pointed northeasterly, so Falke would be in the middle of his watch.

Lyna strung the amulet on a leather thong, and stood up to look for Zevran.

“He’s not in camp, Lyna,” Hannah said, glancing up from her mending.

“Who?” Lyna said, surprised.

 “Zevran.”

“Why do you think…”

“Because I have eyes that see and ears that hear.” Hannah set the mending down on her lap. “I know what you told me about him. I also know what I see,” she said, nodding at Lyna’s pendant.

 “But that’s all I will say. You want to see Zevran, he may be sitting with Falke.”

“Thank you.” Lyna set out for the camp’s perimeter. She didn’t know what to make of Hannah’s words and what she was implying. All she needed was to see her beloved friend again and fix whatever rift had arisen.

Satina’s waning light and the stars above was just enough to let her find her way to the two men. She heard them before she saw them, both talking quietly. She smiled when she heard Falke chuckle; such a serious man should laugh now and again.

She cleared her throat and called ahead, “Ho there, it’s Lyna.”

“Commander? Is everything alright?” Falke called back in a worried voice.

“Everything is fine. I simply wished to speak with Zevran.”

“You wish to have me alone? Well, how can I refuse?” came the reply. It sounded a little awkward and forced to her ears, after so much time hearing such things come to him as natural as breathing. But still he came, only his unfamiliarity with the terrain betraying his quiet steps.

“And how may I serve, my dear Warden?” Zevran said, folding his arms and raising an eyebrow at her.

“Don’t.”

“Don’t… what? You will need to be more specific.” She could hear the distance he was putting between them. A lump rose in her throat.

“Don’t do this.”

“And what am I doing, hmm?” His voice sounded brittle, almost angry.

“You’re leaving. And you’re pushing me away.” Lyna sighed. She did not want to fight with him like this. “I don’t want to see you go. You are, and always have been, free to do as you like. But not like this.”

Zevran set his hands on his hips, a mixture of emotions battling for control of his face. He shook his head.

“So am I free or not free? What is it you want from me, Lyna?” He sounded exasperated. Looking for something.

“I want you to be safe. I want you to be happy.” She reached for his hand, and he pulled away with an indrawn breath.

“Please,” she pleaded, the lump rising higher. She reached for his hand again and caught it, quickly pressing her amulet into his hand before he could snatch it back.

“What… what is this?” Zevran said. Strained, guarded. She couldn’t see his eyes as well as she liked, but what she saw made her ache to hold him and chase away his ghosts.

“A token. Of me. If you must leave, I need you to have something that might protect you some day. Something that says you are part of my clan. My blood. Lethallin,” Lyna said. Her eyes prickled. “Be happy, with or without me.”

She knew his clever fingers could feel the carvings on both sides: the horns of Ghilan’nain on one side and her word for him, lethallin, on the other.

Zevran exhaled slowly, his fingers rubbing along the designs as he regarded her for a long moment. Whatever battle he had been fighting resolved itself. His posture lost its stiffness, his shoulders dropping, and he quietly put on the pendant.

Cuore mio. I’m not going anywhere.”

“I thought… when you didn’t…,” Lyna floundered, confused.

He moved forward, and his hands were in her hair, his mouth on hers, sweet and hungry all at once. Her breath escaped her, leaving her dizzy. She clutched at him.

Lethallin…

He broke off the kiss.

“Say it again.” His thumbs brushed along the edges of her ears, his forehead on hers. His voice was low.

Lyna drew in a breath, steadying herself, and pushed her own fingers through Zevran’s hair. She reached for everything she felt – her friendship, her care, her desire, and something else she could not name - and poured it in.

Lethallin.

Zevran’s breath caught, and he was kissing her once more. She missed this, she missed him. She pressed against him, her hands moving from his hair to his waist to hold him tight.

“Lyna,” he groaned, and his mouth moved to her neck, lips and teeth and tongue tracing their way up to nibble on her earlobe. He repeated her name, hot in her ear, his hands running down her back to her hips.

Lyna closed her eyes with a shiver and smiled. Her fears had melted away, replaced with gladness that her ghilan was back. She wanted no more barriers between them. Her fingers wriggled under his waistband.

Zevran pulled back, his tawny eyes alight with mischief.

“Here?”

Lyna nearly said yes, then remembered regretfully that Falke was nearby. But she didn’t want to wait much longer than she had to.

“Follow me,” she said, taking his hand and pulling him further away from the camp’s perimeter, just far enough away to be discreet but still close enough in case of trouble. There were no soft places in this land, nothing to truly hide them, but it didn’t matter to her.

As soon as Lyna found a clear spot, a few scrubby trees and rocks the only shield between the two of them and the rest of the camp, she began removing her clothing.

“Here.”

Zevran chuckled low, the sound of it a zing through her belly.

“It is perfect.” He pulled close again, his mouth on her neck once more, his hands now pushing up under her loosened shirt to undo her breastband.

“It’s good enough. I want to feel you, lethallin,” she said, her fingers curling into his waist. “I’ve missed you, and I want to see you.”

“As do I,” he said with a groan, and now it was he who could not move fast enough. She laughed and helped him out of his clothing first, boots and pants and shirt and smalls, her fingers running over his scars, the ridges of his muscles and bones, kissing everywhere her hands had been.

Lyna knelt before him and kissed his growing erection, happy to hear him sucking in a swift breath.

“Lyna, I-“

“Shh. I want to.” She took him in her hands, cupping him at first, all gentle touches and strokes. Then she leaned forward, circling her hand around his hardening cock, and drew him into her mouth.

The sound that came from him, somewhere between a whine and a growl, set her pulse racing and desire unspooling quickly within. She squeezed her thighs together and lapped at him with her tongue.

Zevran shuddered. “I will not last long if you insist on this,” he warned her, panting.

She gave him firm squeeze and reluctantly let him go. She wanted to hear that sound many times over, but she also wanted to feel his hands on her, moving inside and out. She wanted to hear him call out as he came inside her.

Zevran lifted her shirt off and she stood, removing her boots and socks while he tackled the ties for her pants, cursing as she moved. She laughed and took his face in her hands, kissing him.

“Patience, lethallin. I am here,” Lyna said, though if he tripped her right at that moment she would not protest. She wanted him badly, could feel her smalls damp between her legs.

“To hell with patience,” he said. He kissed her back, hungrily, then he knelt to remove her pants. Lyna shrugged out of her undone breastband, dropping it to the ground with the rest of their clothing.

Zevran curled his fingers under the waist of her pants, pulling them down as he slid his calloused hands along her hips and thighs.

“Hello, bella,” he said, and laid a soft kiss above the sensitive seam between her legs.

Lyna’s stomach flipped.

“You’re right, to hell with patience,” she said, grabbing his hand. She placed it on her smalls so that his thumb could feel the dampness collected there.

Zevran groaned something broken. He hastily shoved their clothing into a pile together with his free hand, then pulled her down to join him on it.

“Take them off,” he whispered in her ear, “or I will tear them off.” His fingers stroked her through the cloth, making her flush all over. The sudden warmth made the night’s breeze cool against her skin, nipples puckering into beads.

Lyna reached down between them, her fingers ghosting along the skin on the back of his hand, then moved past to grasp Zevran’s cock again. He was full and heavy in her hand.

“Oh you evil woman,” he gasped, trembling.

“You love it,” she whispered, thumbing his balls.

Cuore mio,” he said, and yanked at the band. It broke, and so did they. She guided him into her, pushing up to meet him, and they each shuddered and moaned at the long-awaited contact. He grabbed her wrists and put them above her head, hovering over her.

She wrapped her legs around him, willing him to stay over and over as they made love on the hard ground, her pendant swaying between them. When she came, the stars blazing in her eyes and clutching at Zevran’s slick back, she sang his name to the night sky. And when he came not long after, her name like a prayer on his lips, she cried.

Lyna understood. She finally understood. And all was right again.

Chapter Text

For a small Nevarran city stuck in the ass end of the Hunterhorn mountains, Perendale was ridiculously Orlesian. Nothing else could explain or excuse the statuary of lions everywhere Lyna turned. When she and her people drew nearer, there had been a procession of statuary on either side of the road. Lyna found it ostentatious but not worthy of note until after they had passed the even more ornate depiction of the Orlesian Lion Slaying the Dragon on Perendale’s gates. She began looking for the route to the Circle of Magi and discovered lions everywhere.

Lyna looked to Scipio and raised an eyebrow, sweeping her hand out to the city and coincidentally past yet another lion carving.

“Old allegiances die hard,” the Nevarran mage said with a nominally apologetic shrug. “They certainly wouldn’t be heaving up statues of dogs or yourself.”

“I hope not,” Lyna muttered. Another obelisk with her name on it and scripted praises for The Hero of Ferelden would be criminal when literally anything would be better. Even these rococo lions.

“…still, the art is rather passé,” the mage admitted with a grin at Lyna. “Come, I know the way to the Circle.”

“We will see you later at the tavern,” Falke promised with a reserved smile and a wave. Zevran blew a kiss. The Wardens regularly stayed at The Wyvern’s Perch when in Perendale, so Lyna had entrusted Falke with coin to secure rooms for her, himself, and Zevran while she and Scipio took William to Perendale’s Circle. While Hannah, Alaine, and Scipio would be under the same roof with them, they would be going their separate ways and would need separate rooms.

“Ahh, civilization. Proper food and baths await! Did I tell you, Falke, about a mission of mine that involved a bath?” Zevran grinned.

“Will this story be filthy?” Falke eyed the assassin dubiously.

“Yes and no. Or should I say yes and yes?” Zevran continued, taking delight in Falke’s reddening face as the group turned their horses up the first of the three main avenues fanning out from the gate.

Belatedly Lyna thought to tell William not to listen, but the young man had doubtlessly overheard worse, and after everything he had witnessed on his journey, one of Zevran’s stories could hardly be a sufficiently corrupting influence. Indeed, William didn’t seem to be listening at all, gawping at all he could see of Perendale.

“This way,” Scipio said, and led them up the central avenue from the gate. Although it meandered here and there, it led steadily upward through Perendale’s stone-and-plaster buildings toward a crumbled defensive wall skirting a Chantry and a keep in curiously mixed states of repair. One of the keep’s towers stood strong, and the other looked as if a giant had crashed a boulder through its crown. Stubborn-looking vines clung to the stones of the second tower.

Lyna could see two Templars posted outside the wall’s gate; considering the state of the wall, she wondered why they bothered. Then she looked more closely at the wall and noticed some similar siege tricks she remembered Voldrik and his brother had rigged up at Vigil’s Keep. Someone could still get in (or out), but not without risking death or alarming everyone else nearby.

“Business?” One of the Templars challenged them in a bored voice as they approached.

“The Circle of Magi,” Lyna spoke up, sitting up straight on her horse.

The challenger looked them over curiously. “Recruiting, Warden?”

“Not quite. I need to speak with either the First Enchanter or your Knight-Commander,” Lyna replied.

The Templar flicked a glance at William and Scipio. “First Enchanter Josephus should be meeting with the Senior Enchanters right now. You can see Knight-Commander Teomund at the Chantry, Warden.”

“Thank you.”  Lyna urged her horse through the portcullis, leading the way into the courtyard. It was a mixture of hard-packed clay and flagstone, with carefully-tended spots of greenery in front of both the Chantry and the main keep. Sandwiched between the two were smaller buildings, chief among them the stables.  A path connected the stables to the hitching posts in the courtyard, with a water trough and tall posts for torches nearby.

Lyna and Scipio dismounted, gesturing for William to do the same. The young mage fumbled his way off his horse, a mixture of intense curiosity, apprehension, and wonder on his face as he tried looking at everything. He reminded her of the first time she’d seen human settlements back in Ferelden as a child, nestled in Ashalle’s aravel as the clan approached the outskirts of Gwaren on their way eastward. The slate roofs, the high-walled keep in the distance, even hearing oh-so-faintly the slap of boats against Gwaren’s docks, were all wonders to be puzzled over as she fell asleep to Ashalle’s lullabies.

Not for the first time, Lyna wondered if that moment would have been different had her parents lived. Her father a Keeper killed by shemlens he had urged the Dalish to spend more time with – would he have drawn closer to Gwaren? Showed her more of the city? How would that have changed her life? Would she and Tamlen have never found that ruin? Would she have been swallowed up by the Blight instead of become an instrument of its destruction?

“Commander Mahariel?” Scipio politely coughed.

Lyna pulled herself out of her thoughts, looking up to see a stablehand and a Templar approaching. She finished tying her piebald to the hitching post.

“Just a little water and a rub-down, if you don’t mind,” she politely said to the stablehand as he tied William’s horse for him. “We won’t be staying for very long.”

“Wardens. To what do we owe this pleasure?” the Templar said as he approached. He was taller than Scipio with short-cropped sandy brown hair, brown eyes, and a lantern jaw. He also seemed to focus his attention mostly on the Nevarran mage.

Lyna smiled at the Templar. “I’m Warden-Commander Lyna Mahariel. This is Warden Scipio and our charge, William. We are here to see either First Enchanter Josephus or Knight-Commander Teomund.”

The Templar switched his focus to Lyna, a flicker of surprise and annoyance edging his demeanor.

“I see. I’m Knight-Captain Orris. The First Enchanter is-“

“Meeting with the Senior Enchanters right now. Thank you, Knight-Captain, we have been informed,” Lyna said gently, continuing to smile. “The Knight-Commander, if we may?”

“Of course. This way,” Orris replied. Lyna had seen how the man took in her ears, her tattoos, before noting the polished silverite Grey Warden griffons on her armor. She’d seen that look before in Kinloch Hold and Denerim. Most of the owners of that look were just as polite as this shem, but others took glee in hissing knife-ear to nearby friends, sneering condescension if they thought they could get away with it.

Lyna would be thoroughly pleased to kill this man with kindness for William’s sake, and rub her titles in his face for good measure if need be.

“Just let me know when you’d like me to jump in…?” Scipio whispered.

Lyna only inclined her head and brought a finger up to her lips, still smiling. They followed behind Knight-Captain Orris across the courtyard to the small set of stairs up to the Chantry’s thick arched doorway and through its iron-banded wooden door.

The interior of this Chantry held little difference to most others she had seen, so she didn’t spare much of a look as they followed Orris up the processional past the pews, passing Chantry Brothers and Sisters as they tended Andraste’s flames, resupplied candles, or performed other cleaning duties. William, however, immediately dropped to one knee before the statue of Andraste, obviously overwhelmed.

“William…,” Scipio said, surprised.

“Knight-Captain Orris, a moment please. Our charge would like a minute to pray,” Lyna called to the Templar’s back. The boy’s devotion was genuine, and she damn well wanted to be sure the Templar knew it. Orris would be responsible for William’s welfare.

The Templar halted in his tracks and looked back. “Can it not wait? Surely the Maker will understand a postponement.”

“Possibly, but this is William’s first time outside of his village. Surely you can understand how he might be overcome at a familiar and comforting sight?” Scipio interjected, offering his own smile.

“Very well,” Orris said with a sigh. Although the Knight-Captain folded his arms, he did not seem overly put-out, which was a good sign. Perhaps they had simply caught the man on a bad day.

A Chantry Sister took in the scene and knelt with William, offering her prayer out loud. “Andraste, grant us mercy,” she murmured, and patted the boy on the arm as she rose and resumed her duties. William rose immediately after the Sister’s invocation, echoing her words.

“Thank you for indulging me,” William offered shyly.

Orris’s mouth twitched. “You’re welcome. Now then, this way if you please.”

The Knight-Commander apparently had his office across the way from the Revered Mother’s office. The doors to both were open, a Brother in quiet conversation with a middle-aged woman in the familiar sunburst robes in one office, and the man who was clearly Knight-Commander Teomund seated at a desk poring over paperwork in the other.

“Teomund. Grey Wardens here to see you,” Orris said without preamble after a short rap on the man’s door.

“Be with you in a moment. Orris, see to the recruits.”

“Ser,” the Knight-Captain said, turning on his heel and leaving Lyna, Scipio, and William.

Knight-Commander Teomund reminded her of Greagoir, grizzled and no-nonsense without unnecessary cruelty. He wore a neat trimmed mustache and goatee, and he rubbed absently at the bridge of his nose as he glanced up from his reports.

“Wardens. Here to recruit, I assume. How long will you be here?”

“Apologies, Knight-Commander. That is not why I am here,” Lyna said. “I don’t plan on staying long, I have a trip to Montsimmard to plan.” She offered another of her polite smiles.

“What the Warden-Commander means is that we actually have someone for you,” Scipio spoke up, his hand on William’s shoulder.

“Scipio? Didn’t expect to see you again,” Teomund said, sitting back in his chair. “It’s been…”

“Ten years, I know. When did you transfer here?”

“Last year, after a disagreement with Anaxas,” the Knight-Commander said ruefully. Then he sat up and fixed Lyna with an intense look.

“Warden-Commander, you said?”

“Of the Ferelden Grey Wardens,” Lyna said with a nod of her head.

“Maker’s breath. You’re the Hero of Ferelden,” Teomund said, standing up to shake Lyna’s hand.

“What gave me away?” She smiled. She’d specifically polished up her armor for situations like this, but it obviously hadn’t worked on Orris. Orris likely believes I’m ten feet tall with lightning bolts shooting out of my eyes as well. Teomund has better things to do than listen to idle stories.

“To be honest, Greagoir in Ferelden. After what happened at Kinloch Hold, his report was circulated to other Knight-Commanders. He hadn’t believed you would actually win against Uldred, and thought you were at best buying time for survivors to escape.” Teomund shook his head. “This close to a Right of Annulment. I hope the mages there understood how much they owe you.”

Too terribly well. Anders had looked at her, both horrified and pathetically glad, after she’d told him what happened to Uldred. First Enchanter Irving made it a point to send her a letter once a year to express his gratitude and bring her up to speed on all the tower’s rebuilding efforts. Sadly, the stretches of the ancient Imperial Road that connected the Circle in Lake Calenhad to the rest of the countryside would not be part of those efforts. Physical rebuilding came easier than trust.

“Treaties or not, they came with the rest of the troops to Denerim when the darkspawn and the Archdemon attacked. They acquitted themselves heroically,” Lyna said. She glanced at William, who was shifting from foot to foot nervously.

“I bring you someone who has done so as well.” Lyna gently pulled the young mage forward. “This is William, from a village in the Anderfels. His talents just recently manifested when his village was attacked by bandits, and assisted me against darkspawn as we were bringing him to the Circle here.”

“Ahh, so this is why you are here. I didn’t think Grey Wardens were in the habit of involving themselves in Chantry business,” Teomund said, looking from Lyna to William.

“Not typically, but like many situations I have found myself in, Knight-Commander, William’s case was unusual. His village is very small, no Templars in residence. Like William, however, his people are all quite devout and committed to obeying Chantry law concerning mages. I think you see the issue?” she replied, patting Willam on the shoulder encouragingly.

“Please, Ser. The Wardens insist that my curse is a gift from the Maker. If that is so, then it is clear that my place is here, where I can learn to guard my soul from temptation and you can protect me from it,” William said, holding out his hands, his eyes shining.

Scipio smiled faintly. “I began some of his instruction as we traveled. At the Commander’s behest. He is… talented.”

“And uncertain in his control, but that is not uncommon from apprentice mages, I have heard,” Lyna added. “I felt it better that a fellow mage help William get himself under control and learn how to use his gifts, for his own protection and for others’.”

“Well,” Teomund said, his thin mouth curving into a half-smile, “I would have taken the boy regardless, but I am glad to hear he is recommended so highly. I’ll be sure to pass on your words to the First Enchanter.”

“Be sure to also pass on the boy’s affinity for force and for barriers, and not as much with elemental forces? Particularly with fire,” the Nevarran grinned, ruffling William’s already unruly dark curls. The young man in question winced and ducked.

Teomund waved it off. “The First Enchanter and Senior Enchanters will test him, I am sure they will discover that and more. Josephus is very thorough with his charges. My men have sometimes complained of long hours, watching, when they think I can’t hear. But… perhaps I will tell him, regardless. It will give the men one less chance to complain.”

“Excellent.” Lyna beamed. “Well, William, you now have a new home here in Perendale.”

To her surprise, William threw his arms around her and hugged her.

“My lady… thank you. Thank you so much. Andraste’s blessing on you,” the young man muttered into her shoulder.

Lyna awkwardly returned the hug, shooting a puzzled look at Scipio over William’s shoulder. The affectionate gesture was marred by a strange, protective warmth she felt for the lad, as well as relief that her duty was done. The young man hadn’t spent very much time around them, all told, but his presence had stirred up every protective instinct she had, and she wondered at it. With a pang, she gently patted the young mage on the back and separated herself.

“Thanks are not needed, but I appreciate it. Acquit yourself well and remember my promise, hmm?” Lyna said.

“I shall, my lady,” William vowed.

“If I might impose for a moment, Knight-Commander, I have a letter that I need to send to the Circle at Montsimmard.” Lyna hadn’t seen a rookery on their approach, but that meant nothing.

“The mages have a sending stone, I can authorize its use,” Teomund offered.

“I’m sorry, sending stone?”

“It would take too much to explain,” Scipio interjected. “Suffice to say they can contact the Montsimmard Circle, though it would take a not insignificant amount of lyrium and the other Circles may be able to hear echoes of your conversation.”

It was as if she stood in the middle of a Ferelden waterfall in early spring. They spoke of a stone, and yet it sounded so much like eluvians every hair stood up. She shivered.

“No, I… no. I greatly appreciate the gesture, but a bird will suffice,” Lyna said solemnly to Teomund.

“As you will. You will find what you seek in the second tower,” the Knight-Commander replied. He clasped his hand over his heart. “Safe journeys, Wardens.”

“My thanks.” They bid goodbye to William, and overheard Teomund speaking to the Revered Mother about William as they were leaving the Chantry.

“It’s strange to me why you’d not take the Knight-Commander up on his offer. You could have saved yourself some time with the sending stone,” Scipio said, his brows knit.

“It’s a private matter.”

“The risk for being overheard is minimal-“

“Not my only concern. As I said, it’s a private matter,” Lyna said firmly. She had no reason to believe anyone would be dogging her steps, but there was no sense in helping them do so if it were the case. There was also the matter that Fiona might prod on the reasons for the interview in the first place, and Lyna didn’t want to be evasive in front of non-Wardens, or Scipio. She wanted the elven mage’s trust.

And finally? The idea of a sending stone scared her. If it were anything like an eluvian, there was no telling if such a thing could be corrupted, as Tamlen’s mirror was. Morrigan might have had enough power to prevent hers from such a fate, but even so the idea of using it to step through to another world the way the witch did was frankly terrifying. Lyna was certain Morrigan, and Morrigan’s child, would be safe… but no such guarantees could be secured for others, as far as she knew.

A sending stone might be harmless, but that was not a chance Lyna was willing to take.

Scipio looked at her oddly. “Suit yourself, I suppose. Good to know I’m not the only one who can be dramatic.”

Lyna rolled her eyes and kept walking to the vine-choked tower. Faintly she could hear rough cawing from the crumbled roof.

“Or a nursemaid. William’s hug was touching,” Scipio grinned slyly. “Almost like a son to a mother.”

Well. That explained that feeling. A stone dropped in the pit of her stomach, but she forced a smile and poked the mage instead.

“Ass.”

“Language, mother!”

Venavis. Na emma fenedhis.”

“Not fair,” Scipio sighed. “The one language I don’t know.”

***

Perendale, for all its color and carvings, reminded Lyna of Denerim. The two-story buildings were laid out in something of a maze, the few straightforward paths leading out of the city, or to the Chantry, or funneled into the markets. The streets varied between wide ones used by carts and carriages and narrow, barely wide enough for two people to walk abreast. She thought it might be easy to get lost, and resolved to better orient herself later with a surreptitious visit to the rooftops.

At least the Wyvern’s Perch wasn’t far from one of the larger thoroughfares – it needed to be, since travelers like herself or the Wardens had or were in need of horses, and the horses were in need of exercise yards, and so forth. Lyna surrendered her horse and William’s to the stables’ care, Scipio letting the hands know they would be part of Hannah’s group eventually making the return trip to Weisshaupt.

Either Lyna would pick fresh mounts here, or find another stable. She wasn’t sure yet. What she needed to do right now was eat and bathe and rest. She turned to the blue-painted tavern, sparing a glance for the rough-carved sign with a blue-and-green wyvern sitting up on a rock like a begging mabari, and pushed her way inside the door.

The interior, by contrast, was drab. Limestone plaster whitewashed the walls, and various trophy heads and ancient or discarded weaponry adorned the walls. She presumed the heraldry on the shields were Nevarran or Orlesian, perhaps both. The bottom floor was stone, but above her head was wood, and so were the tables and bar. Either the wood had been imported or this place was very old, both of which told her the proprietor made good money, and seeing how well-kept the tavern was, he or she would continue to do so.

“Commander!” Falke called from a nearby trestle table, smiling and waving. Hannah and Alaine were seated with him, plates of food in front them mostly demolished. As it was only midday, there were few other patrons in the common room.

“Are you done with that?” Lyna pointed at the crusts and bits of vegetables left over as she sat down next to Falke.

“No, my apologies, but I’ve already told the serving woman we’ll need two more plates,” he said, and indicated a woman with curling dark brown hair. She leaned against the bar, blushing and nodding at something Zevran was telling her. He leaned in to whisper something in the serving woman’s ear and she colored deeper, glancing at the table the Wardens were seated at. The elf dropped some coins into her hand and she tucked them into her blouse.

“Well, that may be a while,” Lyna sighed, and eyed Alaine’s plate. The Orlesian picked up a crust and tossed it at her.

Ma serannas.” It was a thick and chewy rind of dark rye bread, slightly bitter in her mouth.

“No crust for me?” Scipio pouted. Hannah shook her head and handed the mage the entire plate of her meal’s remains.

“William has been brought into the Circle of Magi?” Hannah asked Lyna, who nodded.

“Yes. Had a moment where I thought I’d have issue with the Knight-Captain, but the Knight-Commander seems a good man and grateful we brought William to him. The boy will do well there, I think.”

“And if not, Mama Lyna will come charging in, I’m sure,” Scipio teased around a mouthful of food.

Lyna leveled a dark look.

“There are poisons that won’t kill you but make you wish you were dead, and go well with tea.”

Hannah raised an eyebrow. “Mama Lyna?”

“The boy hugged her as we were leaving. I thought the Commander was going to jump out of her skin,” the Nevarran grinned.

Alaine chuckled softly, the first time Lyna had heard the girl amused in a while. She supposed the teasing was worth it, but jabbed the Nevarran in his ribs again for good measure.

“Ow! You have a wicked thumb, Mama Lyna.” He twisted in his seat to avoid another jabbing, sniggering.

“Your food, messeres,” a large man in grease-spattered clothes and apron said, setting down two plates of stew and bread in front of Scipio and Lyna. He glanced at the two Wardens sourly and then retreated back to the kitchens.

“Well, I suppose the serving woman has taken a lunch break,” Falke observed with a shrug, carefully not looking at Lyna.

“She deserves to eat as well,” Lyna replied blandly, and tucked into her food. It was hearty and savory. She chewed on it slowly; if she ate too fast, it would lay heavy in her stomach and send to her sleep before she had a chance at a bath. And she dearly wanted a bath.

Scipio had no such compunction. Eschewing his normal careful eating habits, the Nevarran was nearly shoveling the food into his mouth. She hoped the mage enjoyed someone else cooking for a while before he and the other Wardens had to get back on their horses.

“Of course,” Falke said. He cleared his throat. “Have you thought how long we might stay here, Commander?”

“We’ll rest tonight. I’ll shop tomorrow and look into horses for us. Add in another day for-“

A heavy thump resounded overhead. Loud giggling followed, quickly hushed.

“-planning and discussing our trip. Say, three, four days?” Lyna finished.

“A solid plan,” Hannah observed dryly. She retrieved her plate from Scipio, who remained focused upon his own, and dumped what little was left on Alaine’s plate. The Orlesian didn’t seem inclined to continue eating, shaking her head at Hannah’s unspoken offer. Hannah slid her empty plate under the archer’s.

“We will be staying approximately the same amount of time. Let me know if you will need assistance, Commander,” the Orth woman said, rising from her chair. She glanced at Falke. “We will begin talking to the usual suppliers tomorrow. I suggest you consider hiring at least one pack animal, or consider joining a caravan when you approach the Imperial Highway. I overheard a conversation about bandits along the roads on the way to the tavern.”

“If there are bandits, why the extra pack animal?” Lyna asked. She sat back in her chair, continuing to take slow bites of food.

“Give them an easier target to steal and they will be less likely to request the contents of your packs,” Hannah replied, looking down on Lyna. “If they focus more upon it, you will have a better chance at killing them. Or getting away.”

Lyna regarded Hannah’s stony expression and tapped thoughtfully on the side of her plate with her spoon. “Killing them sounds better. I dislike those who think they can take what is mine.”

“They are a menace,” Hannah agreed, blinking. “I am tired. I think I will retire to my room for a while and enjoy the peace.”

Another, smaller thump resounded overhead.

“Such as it is.”

“I will join you,” Alaine said softly. “I feel I could sleep for days.”

“Sleep well,” Lyna replied. She remembered the woman sleeping a lot in the Deep Roads, and hoped she would not be reverting to that.

“You as well, Lyna,” the Orlesian replied with a kind smile, and rose from the table. The two women made their way up the stairs.

Falke picked at what was left of his food for a while, then shoved his plate aside. “I find I am not as hungry as I thought. I will, ah, retire as well. I have some reading to do.”

Lyna bid him farewell, continuing to eat. Scipio had slowed down, but she could see the tiredness she had been avoiding for herself creep up on the mage.

“You know you don’t have to stay,” Lyna told him.

“Perhaps I don’t, but I’d like to,” he replied, and clapped a hand on her shoulder.

“The food is good, but not that good.”

“It’s the company that makes it worthwhile,” he said, and looked at her with pity.

“You think? Food is food. And you can stop looking at me like that.”

Scipio sighed. “As you wish, then. I leave you to yours.” He rose and added his mostly emptied plate to the others.

“Should you need company later, I won’t be far,” he said, and retreated up the stairs himself.

Lyna stared at her plate and kept eating, ignoring all the noises overhead. She needed to rebuild her reserves, and if she had to eat her share and what remained of the others for the next few days, she would.

The cook reappeared from the kitchens to retrieve the empty plates and scowl again. The man’s expression softened a little when she slapped down a few extra coppers for his trouble. She wanted the Wardens to stay in his good graces, so she added a few more and thanked him for the food.

Still no sign of the serving woman. No bath, then. Just sleep. Lyna made her way up the stairs, belatedly realizing she had no idea which room was hers, and cursed herself for a fool for not asking Falke.

Fenedhis. It would be embarrassing, but perhaps if she called for him in the hallway…

Lyna reached the landing and started down the hallway.

The serving woman emerged from the door at the far end, disheveled and giggling. She spotted Lyna and blushed, tucking some curls behind her ear, and scurried past her down the stairs.

Lyna shook her head. “Falke,” she called.

After a minute, the door nearest the landing opened. Falke leaned out, blinking. “Yes, Commander?”

“Which is mine?” she asked tiredly.

Wordlessly, he pointed at the door at the far end.

“Thank you,” Lyna said, squaring her shoulders.  Falke’s door closed quietly. Dread Wolf take him, he’d put her and Zevran in the same room. Well, at least Zevran’s “guest” was gone now.

Lyna opened the door. The room wasn’t very large, but it somehow accommodated a large steaming tub as well as a bed with turned-down sheets. Smooth, unwrinkled sheets. She took several steps in, frowning.

“Tsk tsk tsk, you look tired, Lyna. I know what you need,” Zevran said behind her. She heard the door close.

“Do you now,” she said, deadpan.

“Of course, and the innkeeper’s wife agreed. She was very happy to help me with this tub and fill it with water. Did you know they have a most ingenious set of pulleys that will draw up whatever you like from the kitchens? Her husband was irritated to fill so many buckets of hot water, but I think he shall not remain so upset once she applies a suggestion or two I gave her in their bed tonight,” the assassin said as he entered her field of vision. He was a sweaty, clothed mess.

Lyna closed her eyes. Obviously, many things needed to be re-evaluated.

“You drew me a bath.”

“Yes, cuore mio. A bath. Come, let us not waste this,” he said. “Our last bath was quite enjoyable. This one, I believe, shall be even better.” She heard a piece of clothing hit the floor; she opened her eyes to see he had removed his shirt. Her pendant lay on glistening skin. Her tongue remembered salt.

She bent her head and concentrated on removing her armor.

“The others think you were tumbling a servant woman.”

“The thought had occurred to me, but I would dislike being thrown out of this fine establishment.” Zevran pulled off his boots and socks, wriggling his toes. “I… have also discovered such thoughts are not as exciting. Not unless they involve you.”

Lyna smiled and exhaled a soft chuckle. “Almost hard to believe, lethallin.” She tossed her spaulders and gloves onto the bed, the undone sleeves of her leather flapping with the movement.

“It is true. I think you have ruined me for other lovers,” he sighed. It was said dramatically, but she caught the undercurrent in his words: he really meant it. “So, there is no need for jealousy.”

“Jealous? I am not jealous.” She worked at the catches on her sides.     

“No? Then I imagined your frowning,” he said, closing the distance to assist her. His fingers were warm, brushing up against the cloth of her shirt underneath, as they worked to undo her armor.

“I was… surprised. I did not see what I expected.” Lyna grasped the leather cuirass and pulled it off, attached sleeves and all. After a few seconds hesitation, she let it fall to the floor. “I have no right to be jealous.”

There it was. Alistair may have ended their relationship, but there yet remained strained ties between them. Zevran claimed back at Weisshaupt that Alistair still loved her, but that was surely just an assumption. Zevran himself did not know much of love, thanks to the Crows. But he had learned how to be a friend during the Blight, and it was in the spirit of friendship he had offered sex at Weisshaupt. That their feelings had deepened to something else did not change that. Should not. But it had.

“Be that as it may,” Zevran acknowledged, pulling her linen shirt out from her pants and sliding his hands over her waist, “I confess I wanted to see if you would be.” He kissed the side of her neck and pulled the leather thong from her hair.

Her skin tingled with a little frisson. She pulled away, turning to sit on the bed. Zevran knelt to pull off her boots.

“You are terrible. Why would you do that, lethallin?”

“Because I cannot be alone in this madness.” He set her boots to one side, stripping off her socks to join them. His hands grasped her left foot and massaged it, deft thumbs sliding over the calloused sole. “Because sex has always meant nothing for me until our first night. It could not – such a thing leaves you vulnerable in my business.”

Zevran sighed and let go of her foot, rising up on his knees and sliding his hands up her legs to grasp her armored thighs.

“And yet, I could not help it. It means much now. I… needed to know what I mean to you.” He started undoing the armor, moving from buckle to buckle. “That name you call me. I did not understand it until last night.”

“There are layers of meanings to the language of Elvhenan,” Lyna said softly, watching the light from the window catch in his hair. She smoothed a strand of it behind his ear, and curled her fingers behind the delicate shell.

He caught her hand and kissed the inside of her wrist. “So I am beginning to understand. I am not used to such things, they have always been for bards or Guildmasters. You and I…” He shifted his grasp on her hand, turning it over to lie across her lap in the cradle of his hands, tanned skin against pale. “I needed to know if it was real.”

She slid forward, loosened armor rucking up uncomfortably, and lifted both hands to cup his face. She curled her fingers under his jaw and drew him forward to press her forehead against his.

“It is. Ma ghilan. Ma samahl inan. Fen’Harel enansal, emma lath.” Lyna laid a feather-light kiss on his lips. “Lethallin. Tel’abelas.

Zevran returned her kiss less gently and pulled at her leg armor. “You really must teach me what you said later. I find I am suddenly too aroused to care.”

Lyna chuckled. “There is the man I know. A bath awaits, yes?” She wriggled to help free the trapped armor.

“Mmm, yes.” He stood up, pushed her onto her back, and lifted her legs up to his chest. His mouth curved in a wicked smile, then he yanked the leather the rest of the way off. “I fear it might go cold, however.”

She lifted her arms, fanning her hair out on the bed, and arched her back. “Let it.”

Chapter Text

Lyna sat upon the roof of the Wyvern’s Perch, bare legs and feet dangling over the edge. The sun had dipped below the horizon, its fading rays keeping at bay a blanket of blue-wrapped stars. Perendale’s streets had grown quieter, most of its denizens gone or heading home, leaving those with lingering business. If any of them had looked up, they would see her curling her pagan toes occasionally against the warm plaster. She didn’t care. She had some brandy and the wind of dusk for company.

She pushed her tongue against her cheek, tasting the lingering sweetness of the brandy’s slow burn in her mouth, and inhaled the dusk wind. Somewhere down in Perendale’s streets, Zevran was conducting his own business. He would be coming back, her friend and lover, and they could pick up where they left off the afternoon’s intimacies.

Lyna might always have that with the assassin, she suspected. Whether their relationship would be a series of reprieves, like the eye of a storm, or something permanent, she did not know.

Not so with Alistair. Something had torn a hole in her when he left, and while it might heal, it would always ache for what was missing.

And it was disquieting. It felt wrong to still love Alistair the way she did, and yet be happy with Zevran. It was puzzling, a problem to be solved. She hoped it wasn’t a June’s knot, which as a thought exercise could never be solved.

After Zevran left, him smirking and tweaking her nipple before darting out of their room, Lyna had clothed herself and knocked quietly at Falke’s door. She had the Ander Warden come to the room she shared with Zevran and they talked of Morrigan’s book.

The book, too, was a cipher to be solved. Some was literally enciphered, though against who or what Falke had been unable to discover with his level of knowledge and the time spent. But what he did have was the author of the journal, for that is what the book was: a Tevinter mage named Cnaeus Tilani, who Falke generally gathered had left his family and the Imperium to join the efforts of the nascent Grey Wardens in researching and fighting the First Blight. Falke also had a list of the locations of Tevinter laboratories, or colleges, or towers, whatever they were truly called, that he had promised her before Denis’s fateful Calling.

Drake’s Fall, she knew, as well as the ruin under the silverite mine in the Wending Wood. The others were chilling in their implications.

Ostagar. The Aeonar, somewhere near Denerim – some mages at Kinloch Hold had whispered of it in the aftermath of Uldred’s defeat, worried Greagoir and his Templars would send them there for the smallest aberration since they were no longer under threat of Annulment. A fortress in Seheron. Kirkwall. Hasmal. Several places in Orlais and the Western Approach, such as Andoral’s Reach or the Nahashin Marshes. The Tellari Swamps. Estwatch. Diarsmuid. Those within the Imperium proper, however, were only vaguely referred to, possibly for the same reason as the book’s partial encipherment.

The list was terrifying for any number of reasons. A reminder of Tevinter’s ancient power? The scope of damage that could be done? How many places could she reach and explore? What secrets could they reveal? The potential threat several of them currently posed, such as the Aeonar, made her heart pound. Anything that threatened Denerim, and thus Alistair, was a high priority.

Given what she had learned about the Grey Warden prison near Kirkwall, and the supposed proximity of her own clan to the Free Marcher city, she would also need to investigate Kirkwall as soon as possible. With Hasmal relatively close as well, she would eventually be spending a lot of time in the Free Marches. She discussed this with Falke before he left to seek his dinner. He told her of a Grey Warden posting in Ansburg, suggesting they could possibly use it as their base.

Assuming, of course, their fellow Grey Wardens would accept a foreign and itinerate Warden-Commander and her disciple taking up residence without explanation, because she wasn’t planning on furnishing one. Not until she could be certain of what she was looking for, at least.

Lyna could well be spending what remained of the rest of her life traveling all of Thedas, looking for clues, and never finding what she sought. First Enchanter Fiona was her only hope of narrowing that search. As horrifying and distasteful were the Architect’s notes on his experiments, he did say that blood was always the key. And the one person she knew could tell her about blood was Avernus.

Perhaps it was time to admit that Lyna did not merely need for Fiona to meet Avernus, she needed the ancient Grey Warden mage to study the First Enchanter’s blood. She had no idea what Avernus would need to do so. That definitely veered fully into blood magic, ethical or not, and Lyna had no way of knowing how Fiona would react or if she would agree.

Admitting to herself the lengths she was willing to go to find a cure for the Calling was unsettling. She was certainly not going to share this with Falke and was even unsure about telling Zevran.

So, she shucked her pants, leaving only her thigh-length linen undershirt, opened a window, and escaped to the roof with Zevran’s brandy. Lyna’s rooftop brandy let her do the same as if scouting unfamiliar woods: climb a tree, get comfortable, and orient yourself. She let her thoughts about Zevran, about the Blight, wash through her as her eyes followed the thread of streets and alleys to map them in her mind. Perhaps if she had done this in Denerim before the city was attacked, it would have fared better.

She took another sip of brandy, feeling it wrap her in warmth and put distance between her and the thoughts that dogged her.

Somewhere below a door opened and shut and a voice like a cat’s tongue called.

“Lyna?”

Ah, Zevran was back.

“Out the window.” She wriggled her foot. She hadn’t gone far, just a scramble from window railing (almost a balcony) to overhang. She heard him approach the window.

“What are you doing up there?” A finger traced the sole of her foot; Zevran’s voice was amused and curious. Perhaps a bit worried as well?

“Enjoying the view. Drinking your brandy.” Lyna was still savoring the last sip, her tongue now feeling a little thicker in her mouth. She chuckled and twitched her foot. “Come join me.”

“Is this a Dalish thing, climbing?” Lyna barely heard Zevran pulling himself through the window before he was standing up on the railing, an eyebrow quirked up at her. He hauled himself up neatly the remaining distance onto the rooftop next to her, his familiar leather scuffing and creaking as he settled.

“Oh yes, right there with frolicking. I haven’t had a good frolick in months.” She smirked and handed him the bottle, watching the fading light paint his golden skin with a deeper glow. “Not a fairy ring of embrium to be found to dance in, sadly.”

“A shame. We should find one, I would pay to see that,” he said, tipping the bottle back. The tattoos on the side of his face moved with his mouth and jaw as he swallowed the alcohol.

“Is that so? And what would you pay, mmm?” Subtly the scents and noises of dusk were shifting to night, deepening the city’s hush. It was just the two of them.

“Mercenary!” He chuckled and set his free hand on her thigh, his thumb gracing her skin with small circles. “I am a poor man. Would you accept a kiss?”

“I could, were it the right one ma samahl inan.” Lyna shifted and draped her legs across Zevran’s lap.

“Then I should have to give you many to be sure to get it right,” he said, and lifted his hand from her lap to her jaw, drawing her forward for a kiss. It was soft, unhurried. His mouth tasted of the brandy, his breath warm on her face.

“A good start,” she said, breaking the kiss with a smile. “I will consider it, with regular payment.”

“It is fortunate you cannot bankrupt me, then,” Zevran laughed. He resumed stroking her leg. “I like the view up here, but I like it as well inside.” He slid his hand further up her leg, a gleam in his eyes.

“Soon. I want you to see this one,” she replied, gesturing to the city below and the encroaching night.

“Mm? I suppose it is nice, too,” he said.

“You’re not looking. Did you know you can see most of the city from here? Much harder to lose one’s way once you’ve seen how the streets and alleys are laid out.” She grinned.

“Ahh, my Warden, always thinking.” He shook his head, a little disappointed, but he looked all the same. Lyna saw him take it in, and his eyes narrowed, calculating. “I see what you mean. Places for ambush here, escape routes, where to chase, where to hide…”

“Yes, among many things. We are only here a few days. We will not know our way as well as the locals, but we can at least be less obvious that we are not from around here.” Did Zevran already find work while he was gone? She supposed it was possible, though with whom she had no idea – it certainly wouldn’t be with a Crow cell, and he wouldn’t check Chanter’s boards. The work she had picked up for them from Chantries helped keep them going during the Blight, but the errands rarely paid well. Mercenary companies, on the other hand…

“Of course. I should have thought of this before, but I have had maps and local knowledge, as you say, to assist me. I knew all the streets of Antiva City before I was an urchin of five.”

“I should have done it more often, but there were always many other things to think about. It’s common enough when my clan would move into new territories, so yes, I suppose climbing is a Dalish thing,” she said. “Trees were also good for ambushing nosy shems, or getting a better look at the stars.”

“The stars?” He was still examining Perendale’s streets, absently rubbing his thumb on her skin. Lyna reached over to run a finger along the point and edge of his ear, and then reclined with a sigh.

“Yes. They were essential for night hunting. We can judge the passage of time or orient ourselves.”  She recalled nights chasing wolves, Junar and Ineria often up in the trees with bows ready, Fenarel and Tenath running with her through the underbrush. “Hahren Paivel would sometimes tell the da’len stories using the stars.”

Zevran stopped rubbing her leg, turning to look at her face. “You miss your clan.”

“I do. Home has never been a place for me, it’s been people. My clan. The Grey Wardens. Alistair.” She bit her lip. The brandy perhaps made her too honest. But as long as she was being honest… “You.”

Several emotions – guilt, happiness, worry – chased themselves across his face; they didn’t used to. For a long time all he’d shown her was a teasing mask. It was only after she knew he began trusting her that he slowly lowered his guard, culminating in telling her the story about Rinnala and his suicidal bid for the contract on Lyna’s and Alistair’s lives. He didn’t favor anyone else, not even their other companions, with the same degree of trust.

“I… do not know what to say. I have never had the same thing.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Do not be.” He reclined with her. “I have it now.” He threaded his fingers through hers and used the brandy bottle to point at Andruil’s three trees above Fen’Harel’s tail. “Do you have a story for this one?”

Lyna scooted closer and laughed softly. “I do. I think you might like it.” She took the bottle from him and wet her lips with more brandy.

“In the days following Ghilan’nain’s ascension, Andruil treasured the halla given to her, and so she was wroth when she discovered that Fen’Harel, the Dread Wolf, had been hunting them without her permission…”

Chapter Text

“Absurd. Eight hundred for three mules and ropes? I am insulted.”

“Eight hundred for three All-Breds and clean tack! That is no insult, Messere Grey Warden.”

The stablemaster had left out Dalish in talking about the sturdy piebald breed, much as he left Lyna out of the haggling. The curl of his lip whenever he happened to glance her way could not be attributed to the ripe smell of stalls due soon for mucking, nor the other scents of the nearby crowded market: he was a regular fixture and should be inured.

Like several other merchants she wanted to deal with, the stablemaster inherited a dislike for the elvhen, city or Dalish. This is why Lyna brought Falke. Hannah and the others were busy with their own preparations, though the redhead had made some suggestions and taught her about current market value.

Lyna had not haggled much during the Blight, being little used to it (unless one counted wheedling honeycombs in exchange for favors with Master Ilen) and made terribly aware of the volatility that might follow if she bargained too well. More than a few hard stares had followed her on the road. Being able to count on a few merchants, such as the Drydens or Bodahn, meant she accepted their discounts with gratitude.

“The Grey Wardens would be quite grateful to pay you six hundred.”

Unusually, Falke had taken to Scipio’s quick tutelage on Nevarran haggling. The emphasis on the plural in his counteroffer was quite pronounced. Lyna tried not to gawp or grin at the Ander, maintaining an ignorant and bored demeanor while waiting for this part of their business to be concluded.

Truthfully, the price the stablemaster had quoted was on the high side of reasonable. Unfortunately, it would pinch the remaining budget for supplies and settling the bill at the Wyvern’s Perch, and leave next to nothing for further travels. Drawing her stipend would be difficult and all the rest of her coin was secreted at Soldier’s Peak. Lyna had instructed Falke to walk away if he couldn’t get the price down to 725, her upper limit. Below seven hundred was the most ideal, but she didn’t see that happening.

“You would beggar me at six hundred. I could not accept less than seven hundred eighty, my children are growing and hungry.”

“I might give you six hundred fifty if you include a mule,” Falke countered.

“For another animal? My friend, the mule should be at least another hundred. Seven hundred sixty, with the mule because I like your scars.”

Lyna looked over the adjacent market. It was on the opposite side of Perendale, and the stable was a competitor of sorts with the Perch’s stable. She really only came here because the selections near her tavern were temporarily depleted due to a caravan gathering to depart for Nevarra City tomorrow, but the Dalish All-Breds and the other mounts here were excellent quality.

There was a large stall across the way, tucked between a spice merchant and an oil merchant, that appeared to be a scriptorium. There were small piles of books and scrolls for sale, things perhaps Falke might find interesting, but it also sat a scribe who appeared to be writing things for various visiting patrons.

Curious, Lyna left the haggling and slowly approached the scriptorium stall. There was a stack of paper, a few inkwells, and several ink-stained pen nibs close to the scribe’s hand. The scribe himself, a large, clean-shaven man with neatly combed sandy hair and simple robe, was nodding and writing as another man (miner? farmhand?) stood in front of him and talked.

“…Ma has her days, and she asks where you are all the time. It gets harder to explain, Sylvie, because she gets so wound up about mages. I know you can’t visit, but if you could just write to her…”

So, a service to write for those who could not. Lyna stepped away discreetly and looked over the books and scrolls, glancing back at the scribe. With a better vantage point, she could also see a small basket of correspondence behind him – so it was a messenger service as well. She hadn’t quite known how such things were handled before among the shemlen, but it now made sense. Not everyone could write, nor did they have access to rookeries or sending stones. Birds could only carry relatively short messages, anyway.

“Help you find something?”

Lyna looked up to see another man only a little taller than her – short for a human – regarding her with a friendly and open expression. He too wore simple robes, with dark hair and coloring like Scipio’s but less sharp-featured.

“I am afraid not,” Lyna admitted. “I saw your stall from across the way,” she indicated back to the stable, where Falke was still talking, “and was curious. I hadn’t seen such a thing before.”

“Ahh. I like to think our primary business is in buying and selling books – we get histories as well as new publications – but truly, we’re supported by our messenger service,” the merchant said with a rueful smile. “Nicolas has a quick, neat hand. He can be with you soon, if you need a message sent.”

With her message to Fiona already on its way, and Hannah carrying her report back to the Chamberlain, she had nothing else to send. Unless…

Lyna thought of all the letters she’d wanted to send to Alistair, but never did. What could she say? Anything she wrote might be intercepted by functionaries or spies working for or against him since he became king of Ferelden. Vhenan, there is an empty space where you should be, and nothing I do fills it. She could not tell him of Zevran, nor of a different space in her breast the Antivan occupied. Neither could she tell him about what she hoped to do about the Calling, it risked exposing Grey Warden secrets.

Lyna then considered: could she tell Alistair about what she’d discovered about the Aeonar? Send warning? Except she didn’t know what to tell him, because all she had was this scant information and nothing to act upon. One did not tell a former Templar initiate, regardless of his feelings about the order, that the mage prison posed some inchoate threat. That was its nature and why Templars were there to begin with. It was best to come personally, armed with something more than I have a terrible feeling, and she did not know when she might return to Denerim.

She shook her head slowly.

“Apologies, messere, it seems I do not have need of such service. If it is not an imposition, I would be glad to peruse your histories. Perhaps I will find something I did not know I needed,” Lyna said.

“As you like, it is no imposition. Good day to you, Warden,” the merchant said with a shrug, and stepped away to retrieve another sheaf of paper for the scribe.

Most of the histories on display were regarding Perendale, Nevarra, and Orlais, however. There was lore about the silverite mines on this side of the Hunterhorn mountains, which piqued her interest slightly because they had been the primary sources of the Grey Wardens’ silverite since at least the Third Blight. That Blight had ravaged both Tevinter and Orlais and the lands in between, she read. But with the lore so focused upon the precious metal and less upon the topics she was truly interested in, she returned it to its stack. The scriptorium didn’t have anything she needed.

The spice merchant’s stall was pleasantly redolent, but the smells were still overpowering, so Lyna wandered to the oil merchant’s. She dealt mainly with cooking and fuel oils, but also had a smaller selection of speciality items for perfuming or the maintenance of crossbows or similar machinery. Lyna inquired discreetly about one particular type of oil that she sometimes used for her poisons, and after careful negotiation bought two small vials for twenty silver.

“What did you buy?” Falke asked, smiling as he approached.

“Never you mind. Trade secret. How did you fare in the negotiations?”

“Well, considering the additional cost of the mule and tack. Seven hundred for the lot. I think he’ll be happy to see our backs.”

“As I will be to see his, no doubt,” Lyna snorted. “Come, let’s see if we can finish our shopping. Do you think we might split the list, to save time? I’m certain you won’t need me to see the baker about the hard tack, but –“

“Message, Warden!” A child of indeterminate gender no more than ten had popped up right next to Lyna, and shoved a folded paper into her startled hand. Before she could ask who it was from, the child dashed away again, just as fast.

Was she asleep, wandering sa thener’aravas? This had happened before.

“What is it?” Falke said, curiously eyeing the paper. “Something from Alaine or the others?”

Lyna shook her head, a finger of cold running down her spine. No name or sigil was on the exterior. She opened the paper.

I have more interesting reading material for you.

Come to the warehouse beyond the hammer and anvil when the lion shadows grow long.

The tracing of cold became a sheeting slithering down her whole body. She swore under her breath. Ignacio. Crows. Here.

“Commander?” Falke’s concerned voice came at a remove.

“Trouble,” she said. Her hands itched to grip a weapon, but Warden or no, she couldn’t do so in the market without attracting the attention of the city’s guardsmen. One never knew if a guardsmen might share some of the local prejudice against her people. Instead Lyna gripped Falke’s arm and started walking them toward another merchant on their shopping list, speaking to him as quietly and quickly as possible.

“During the Blight I took on a little work from the Antivan Crows.” She shot Falke a silencing look at his shocked, indrawn breath. “Each target was carefully chosen to assist me and the Grey Wardens, these were not random innocents. One such target was actually a group of Arl Rendon Howe’s picked men, who were luring Wardens and Warden supporters to what they thought would be a rebellion. Howe’s men ambushed and killed them, instead.”

Maker.” Falke nearly bumped into a carter pulling hay to the stables. Lyna quickly yanked the Ander Warden toward her as they kept moving. They had an herbalist to visit.

“Yes. Zevran was one of the Crows’s best, and when he failed to kill me and Alistair, the Crows suddenly understood my true value to them. They approached me, not the other way around, and certainly not Alistair.”

“So, someone that’s crossed our path and lived, well, maybe they can help out. Make some coin. Everyone wins,” Ignacio said with an elegant shrug. Zevran called him a cautious little weasel, and Ignacio called Zevran a dead man. Alistair generally didn’t like the idea of killing for coin, and so I never told him that I knew Denerim’s Warden poster was a trap. Killing Howe’s thugs and taking their coin was reward enough for him. I had larger plans.

“And so…”

“And so it seems they want my help again. I thought we were done. But Zevran is still of great interest to the Crows since he gained his freedom, and I have to consider the possibility they want us both, for differing reasons.” Or the same reason, if they found out my part in killing Taliesin and consider me no longer politically necessary.

“Maker’s breath, Lyna. Why are we still going to the herbalist?” Falke’s brow was furrowed with an equal mixture of worry and disapproval.

“Because this cannot alter our plans. We still need supplies, yes? I will not scurry out of town at the first sign of trouble, and be ill-prepared on the road.” The herbalist might also have certain items to pair with the recently purchased oils, as well as other unpleasant surprises she could spring on disagreeable Antivans.

“Couldn’t you bring this to the city guard? Surely they would be interested in ridding themselves…”

No. The Crows may have friends, or paid friends, in the guard. The Blight taught me much of human power and corruption and politics, more than Anora and Loghain and Howe bargained for. If I talk to the guards, I could end up disappearing and you would never know what happened.”

Lyna glanced about. Although she’d kept her voice down, it wouldn’t do to be overheard. The city’s streets were more crowded near the markets, since trade and silverite were Perendale’s main economic forces.

“You mean to meet them, then. I don’t like it,” the Ander Warden said. His pale eyes reminded her of a cloudy day. This day was full sun and not long past noon, all shadows pooling around their feet.

“I’m not happy myself, Falke, but it is what it is. Either Zevran and I deal with this now, or it becomes a larger problem down the road,” she said. The herbalist’s shop was now a short distance away, a bottle and a spray of elfroot carved on the hanging sign.

"Whatsoever passes through the fire is not lost, but made eternal; as air can never be broken nor crushed, the tempered soul is everlasting," Falke quoted with a heavy sigh. It sounded to Lyna a commentary or prayer directed at her.

“Zevran would dispute you on that, but come. The herbalist first, then you see the baker. I will visit the butcher on my way back to Zevran. There is not much else left on the list that we could not get tomorrow.”

If she saw tomorrow, that is. Mythal’enaste, though perhaps she ought to find favor with Fen’Harel instead. As Falke selected potions, bandages, tea, and other necessities, Lyna looked through the herbalist’s recipes and her small stock of items not suitable for healthy digestion.

Lyna smiled to herself as she bought packets of carefully wrapped dried black lotus and rashvine. She thanked the proprietress, and bade Falke luck as she left the shop for her return trip to their tavern.

She duly visited the butcher along the way and put in an order for hard sausages and similarly cured, preserved meats that might travel well. If the Crows were tracking her movements, it no longer mattered to her. The problem would be resolved one way or another tonight.

Thus it was that Lyna was in a state of calm when she returned to the room she shared with Zevran and revealed the note to him.

Brasca. It makes no sense,” the assassin swore, scowling and pacing, his breath coming hard. “There is nothing here for Ignacio, trading or no. He should have stayed in Ferelden, or perhaps moved to Orlais. This Maker-forsaken place offers nothing but poisoning a jilted lover’s tea.”

“I know, lethallin. Perhaps it is a job elsewhere. Or perhaps it is not a contract but a trap for one of us. It was not lost on me how you spoke to Ignacio the first time we met him.” She pulled out the vials of oil and the packets of rashvine and black lotus and set them carefully upon their little table.

“Is that…”

“Yes.” Her smile was hard and feral.

“You mean to treat it as a trap either way,” he chuckled, relaxing. “Well then, now we may work, my deadly sex goddess.”

“You are too much, lethallin.

“I am only truthful,” he protested, pulling out his own supplies of flasks, concentration agents, and accelerants.

Lyna was about to contradict him. To me, you mean. But that was the only thing that mattered.

“Of course,” she said, and grazed a kiss on his temple as they began planning and preparing to meet the Crows.

***

At sunset, the blacksmith’s fires were out and the ashes growing cold. The smith and his apprentices had retired several hours ago, the former gone home to a full and noisy household, and the latter ending their day at a filthy inn with cheap ale and cheap entertainments. The rest of the neighborhood shops and crafters, including a tannery that made Zevran smile in nostalgia, were equally dark and silent.

Naturally, Lyna questioned the wisdom of a meeting in a warehouse where there should be no other noise or activity at this time of day. She questioned much of this, in fact. She would get answers.

Unobtrusively, she approached and slipped through the warehouse’s front entry.

There was no one posted in the vestibule. She grimaced; this was an incautious move for a cautious man. She proceeded through the vestibule into the warehouse proper.

Inside were four men arrayed in front of Lyna. Three of them loosely ringed the fourth. Behind and around them were a few scattered crates, some with lids pried open. Recently, as the fresh gouges testified. She sighed and returned her attention to the men.

One: a scruffy Nevarran in worn leather with a crossbow.  He held it down at his side.

Two: a clean-shaven Antivan in piecemeal leather armor also carrying a crossbow. He fidgeted.

Three: an olive-complexioned man with dark hair and light eyes with wrappings around the lower half of his face, a pair of very large daggers strapped to his back. He stood calmly, arms folded.

Four: not Ignacio. This man, an Antivan with coloring similar to Zevran’s, wore his hair in thick plaits like a qunari or a Carta dwarf. He too had a pair of daggers strapped to his back, and several smaller throwing daggers in strapping across his armored chest. He smiled lazily and opened his arms.

“Punctual! Good evening, Warden. How are you finding Perendale, mmm?” the leader said.

She narrowed her eyes. “Underwhelming. Who are you, and where is Ignacio?”

The leader shrugged, dropping his arms loosely at his sides. “Ignacio and Cesar are in some… trade disputes… somewhere in Cumberland, I believe. The market is quite lively, I understand. Assets and information can sometimes be misplaced. I am Emil. It is my happy task to gather such information and find these assets.”

Lyna studied Emil. She did not like him and his presumptuous manner, but his answers thus far were insufficient.

“Why have you sent for me, Emil? My work with Ignacio was a one-time deal. I am not a Crow.”

“True, you are not a Crow. But Ignacio failed to see your real value, maestra Mahariel.” He cocked his head to one side, considering Lyna. “There are some who wonder where Taliesin has disappeared to. But others think that someone with a long list of deaths at her hands is surely capable of handling such as he, especially with the help of someone who knew him well. Knew his weaknesses.”

She stared at Emil coldly, noting the tension in the other men from the corners of her eyes.

“I am capable of many things, Emil. Speak plainly.”

“As you wish,” he replied. He remained polite, but his voice took on an edge. “Where is Zevran? We know he has rejoined you.”

Her lip curled in distaste. “And what makes you think I would tell you anything about Zevran? You are as quick to shift loyalties as you are to die, you shems.

“It is a necessary survival trait. And if you think your pet assassin is loyal, you have much yet to learn,” Emil sighed. “Take her. Let’s test Zevran’s loyalty.”

A crash of glass resounded just prior to a cloud of gas erupting around the crossbowmen. Lyna laughed and drew Vigilance and Starfang.

Dirthar’athim, shemlen. Come for me, then.”

The crossbowmen, surprised, had quickly inhaled. They staggered, stunned. Emil had launched himself forward to get out of range of the gas attack, then rolled to the side to track the flask’s origin: Zevran up in the rafters, now readying a bow.

The third man, however, came straight for Lyna, aiming low. She pivoted to her left, deflecting what would have been a blow to her gut (oh how many times she had delivered those herself) and following it up with a pinpoint strike to the Crow’s shoulder. He sucked his teeth in pain, nearly dropping one of his daggers.

Lyna heard crossbows releasing. From the sound of it, at each other.

“No, you idiots, up!” Emil shouted, whipping a throwing dagger into the rafters. She hoped he managed to miss Zevran.

Lyna’s Crow took advantage of her brief distraction to attempt to cripple her in turn. She managed to turn it at the last second, but the strike still sliced across her arm. It left a tingling in its wake: the familiar sensation of deathroot.

She pulled back a little, as if stunned. The Crow stepped in to take advantage, but suddenly Lyna was not there, her blades now a flurry of movement on his flank. Dragonbone and star metal sliced easily through the Crow’s armor and strapping, leaving their own sticky, poisonous coating.

The Crow’s pale eyes widened and he whirled to face her. She launched a boot at his midsection and kicked him backward towards the slowly dissipating gas. Off balance he stumbled further back, bumping into one of the crossbowmen, who had a bolt sticking out of his arm. The crossbowman – the Nevarran – reflexively bashed the man with the butt of his weapon. The Crow fell over to the side, knocked out.

Lyna refocused her attention on Emil, who now had an arrow piercing his gut. He was cursing floridly in Antivan and attempting to whip his third dagger at Zevran.

She launched herself at Emil, twin blades sweeping his head clean off. It bounced and rolled, his blood spraying as his body dropped forward. A mist of it coated her, warm on her face and hands. She spat.

She heard a body drop somewhere to her left as well and whirled. Zevran had dropped from the rafters, tucking into a roll to cushion the fall. The crossbowmen, injured from each other and Zevran’s arrows, were shaking off the effects of the confusion grenade.

“Now,” she said quietly. Zevran came up out of the roll and hurled another flask. It shattered at their feet and released a cloud of chilled gas that solidified instantly into ice around them. They froze in mid-struggle, eyes wide with fear.

It was beautiful, if a bit macabre.

She and Zevran closed the distance together and finished the assassins off, weapons crunching through the alchemical frost. Lyna bent and slit the throat of the unconscious Crow, grimacing.

“Dung eaters.” She wiped her blades on the man’s shirt before sheathing them.

“Yes. This was very stupid,” Zevran said, disgusted. “These were cuchillos, but still should have known better.” He toed the corpse of the now-thawing Antivan crossbowman.

Cuchillos?” She walked back to Emil’s corpse and began digging through his pouches and pockets.

“’Knives’ – they are the lowest tier houses of the Crows, though some do not stay there. House Arainai briefly rose to Eighth Talon after Rinnala’s death, and I heard a long time ago we were First Talon, but the house is back to groveling for favors,” he said. Contempt and satisfaction suffused his voice as he searched through the crossbowman’s pockets.

Lyna stuffed coins and vials into her pockets – those would always be useful, particularly since she did not always have the time or resources to make her own poisons. Most other things on Emil’s person were cheap detritus. She might have been able to sell his jewelry, but that would lay a much more direct trail between the dead Crow and her. If anyone were looking for Emil, they could suspect but not know for certain if she was involved with his death. Selling his jewelry would confirm it.

She almost would have missed the packet of papers if she had not loosened Emil’s armor. The packet fell out when she rolled his body over.

“Hello, what is this?” Lyna murmured, raising an eyebrow. It was a slim, leather wrapped parcel of an odd size. Unwrapping the leather thong around it revealed papers folded within.

“Find something interesting, cuore mio?” She heard the jangling of coin as Zevran picked through more pockets.

“Perhaps…” She unfolded papers to read. A few had seals. Some were written in code, some were blank, some were short but vague statements or letters. “Messages, I think.”

“Messages?” Zevran sounded startled.

“Mmm-hmm.” She wandered over and handed him several to look at. She stopped looking at the rest for a moment to pull the scarf from the face of the dagger-wielding assassin, using the cloth to wipe the blood from her face and hands.

Brasca,” Zevran swore.

“What? This is a good thing. Valuable information.” She tossed the rag and resumed looking at the messages. The next one caught her eye: A stylized dog marked the exterior. Lyna opened it.

Your halla will be safe. –Z

She closed it again. The dog wasn’t just stylized, it was an A. She felt as if the earth opened up underneath her feet.

“I should never have trusted one of Nuncio’s men,” Zevran was saying, pale and staring at the de-scarfed man.  He looked up and saw the letter in her hands. “Lyna…”

She felt cold and queasy at the same time. “Finish up. You will explain this to me later.”

Zevran swallowed hard and clenched his jaw. “Of course.”

They continued stripping the bodies of coin and easily missed valuables. Lyna longed to set the place on fire, but it would mean leaving Perendale before she was ready.

I am only truthful.

I know you love him. I also know you are in a great deal of pain…

Alistair still loves you.

Let someone in!

What is it you want from me, Lyna?

I cannot be alone in this madness.

I am only truthful.

Zevran’s voice resounded in her memories, though it was silent beside her as they dragged the bodies to a far corner and blocked them from immediate view with some crates. Dumping the bodies elsewhere would not be possible – no convenient Chantry cistern, Lyna thought hysterically – and it would be better for the Crows to discover them, a clear message warning them off.

If only everything else in her mind could be so clear. Her emotions crashed around in her thoughts, making her blood pulse fast. She didn’t know what to do: cry? Scream? Hit something?

It was too much.

The part of her that took over after the Landsmeet, persuaded Alistair to sleep with Morrigan, and saw her through the worst of Denerim and Amaranthine kept her walking back toward the Wyvern’s Perch. It pushed her up the side of a building three streets away and over the rooftops, navigating to her room’s window so none in the common room or the hallways might see her (and Zevran) wounded and blood-spattered. It got her through the window and stripping off her armor.

It broke and faded when the armor hit the Crow’s poisoned wound on her arm. She sucked in a pained breath and everything swam back into solid, agonized color as Zevran stood in front of her to examine it.

“Deathroot.” Her gorge rose and she ran for the washing bucket and threw up.

Zevran crouched wordlessly next to her and set down a vial. Antitoxin. Another wave of nausea hit her and she threw up again, her breath hitching as her eyes burned. She spat away sickness.

“Open it.” She closed her eyes and fought for control of her stomach. With the rest of her in turmoil, it was incredibly difficult. Nothing felt right.

“Here,” he said quietly. The small glass container was pressing into her hand. She took it and drank, the liquid numbing its way down her throat. It would take a while to neutralize the poison in her system, but for the moment her throat was soothed and her stomach would soon follow.

Lyna pushed away from the bucket and leaned against the bed.

“Let me see to the wound, Lyna.”

“Which one?” Her eyes flew open and she stared hard at Zevran, who stood nearby, his armor partially undone. He winced.

“On your arm. Others are… up to you.”

Like their first night, she thought. She clamped down hard on the urge to laugh. If she started, she might never stop.

“Do it.”

Zevran pulled out an injury kit and a clean rag. He wet the rag from the pitcher of water at their table and brought rag and kit to sit beside her.

“This will-“

“Hurt? Of course. We’ve done this before. Do it.

A familiar mask of neutrality slipped over his features, and that too hurt. He carefully cleaned the wound, first with water and then with elfroot. His touch was all business. The pain made tears start up, but she held them in check.

He pulled out the needle and thread. “I can get the brandy.”

Would you accept a kiss?  “No.”

He blinked, drew in a breath, and then began the process of stitching the wound. The first stab of the needle piercing her skin broke the dam of tears.

Fenedhis lasa,” she hissed. She saw him pause. “Don’t you dare stop.”

“As you wish, my Warden.”

He continued carefully piercing her skin and drawing the thread, holding the rag over the newly-stitched sections to staunch the bleeding. Meanwhile, she cried and clenched her other fist until the pain subsided to a dim throbbing and a strange euphoria settled in.

When it was over and he knotted it and cut the thread, Lyna looked over at him, light-headed.

“Explain.”

“Alistair asked me to watch over you, after the coronation.” Zevran wiped his hands. His face was pale but calm. “I did not believe you needed watching, and left for Antiva, as you recall. I had business to settle with the Crows.”

“Which is not settled.”

“Which is not settled,” he agreed, his mouth twisting in a bitter scowl. “Then over a month ago, Alistair managed to send me a message. It told me what you did at Amaranthine. He asked me to help him.”

Lyna unclenched her fist; her nails had dug into her palm. She wiped her tears with the back of her hand.

“Alistair was worried,” she said bitterly. “He denied me in public and he was worried.”

“I have no answer to that.”

“No?” she rounded on Zevran. “You did at Weisshaupt.”

“Am I to apologize for who I am? You could have said no, Lyna,” he said, the mask slipping. Anger, fear, confusion…

Lyna looked away. “You lied to me.”

“What should I have done?” He was frustrated, and something in his reply begged. “Told you the man who abandoned you would like to know how you are, as if he had the right? Maker’s breath, how cruel do you think I am? Did you think I planned this?”

“So it is my fault for being lonely. Ma halani, Fen’Harel…,” she cursed and pushed away from the bed, away from Zevran.

“Lyna—“ He stood up and reached for her and she pulled away. “No, Lyna, but I will not be blamed, either. I expected to see a friend for a while and reassure the stupid man and go on my way. I did not expect you to need me, and I did not expect to love you!”

She froze. Zevran was staring with the most naked expression of anguish she had ever seen, mirroring so much of her pain it made her sway.

I needed to know if it was real.

It is.

Ma ghilan,” Lyna choked, her voice cracking. “Emma lath, I don’t know what to do.” Raw, bleeding, her heart torn and full and tangled.

“Neither do I, cuore mio.” He looked as lost as she felt. “I am- this is new for me. How does this work?”

“Normally?” She felt hysteria rising again, the urge to laugh and cry all at once. “It starts by telling someone you love them back, and then showing it every day.”

“And for us?”

“I tell you ‘I love you, Zevran, and I love Alistair,’ and pray you do not run. And then I get very drunk.”

Zevran exhaled. “I said before I was going nowhere. This is still true.”

“Then get me the brandy. Finish taking off your armor. I plan on drinking and crying and falling asleep in your arms.”

The ghost of a smile touched his lips. “So be it. I am yours.”

Chapter Text

His Warden was twitching again. Her nightmares had plagued both of them throughout the night, intruding on Zevran’s sleep. He had discovered, however, that if he touched her or murmured in her ear, the twitching and shaking would subside and he could go back to sleep.

Morning light was encroaching through the window, however. He disliked most mornings, preferring the delicious languor of sleep. But nestled so close to Lyna, who was now muttering in her sleep, Zevran found he did not want to go back to sleep.

Zevran eased himself closer and wrapped his arm around her waist, careful not to jog her bandaged arm. He fitted himself against her back and nosed into her hair.

“Ssshh, all is well, cuore mio.” He swept his thumb across Lyna’s stomach in unhurried, repetitive strokes. He liked the skin there, a layer of softness over the lean, tightly packed muscles. She had little fat, his love, so he treasured what he found. “You are safe, Lyna.”

She convulsed a few more times, each slower than the last, until she sighed, her breathing deep and even once more. Zevran’s hips aligned with Lyna’s, her ass curved against his waking groin. His arms were full with her, the faintest lingering smells of black lotus and brandy layered over the natural musk of her skin.

It would take so little effort to softly coax her awake. He could graze his lips across the nape of her neck, slide his hand further up to caress the delicate underside of her breast, and he knew her eyes would gradually open as she arched, as if she were slowly falling into her skin from the Fade.

He might still, but there was a sweetness filling him to aching, an unimaginable pleasure he’d never felt before and wanted to savor. Zevran wanted to live in the bubble of this moment, listening to her breathe and watching the rise and fall of her olive-dusted pale shoulders, wisps of her hair curling like seafoam against the shell of her pointed ear.

His Warden had a strength of resolve and will he had admired for a long time, even when he disagreed with her decisions. Lyna had a way of seeing people for who they were and not who they pretended to be – he had seen that in the way she had collected him and the others that had made up their ragtag army during the Blight. Who else would let a murderer, an assassin, an acerbic apostate, and a drunk follow her about and trust them to fight at her side? Who else would see the king inside the boy who first stole and then broke her heart?

Who else would, when presented evidence of a betrayal of trust and a king’s unbroken devotion, have allowed Zevran to remain at her side and admit a love for him that defied reason? Lyna had still punished him – stitching the wound she’d gained on his behalf without benefit of something to dull the senses had been as much about hurting him as it was hurting herself, he was certain – but he had fully expected her to throw him out. Had been terrified, he had to uncomfortably admit, she was doing just that.

And so the word, which had been danced around and said in other languages, had come spilling from his lips. Zevran had never felt so vulnerable in his life. This was what the Crows had taught him to cover, to avoid, and now he understood why. If Lyna had decided to plunge her sword into his heart, he would have let her. And she saw this, those fathomless dark blue eyes swallowing his pain and enfolding it with her own. The walls she had begun to put between them came crashing down with a ma ghilan and it still left him stunned.

She loved him. Lyna loved him. Maker’s breath, to see the truth of it written on her face as plainly as her tattoos…

Zevran slowly pulled his arm away from Lyna’s waist. He carefully shifted his body up and away from her, trying not to disturb her as he sat up against the headboard to better see her sleeping face. Her right arm was shoved under her pillow, cradling her head, her body a neat comma under the sheet. Her bandaged arm was coiled close to her chest, her strong and slender hand loosely fisted under her stubborn chin.

The delicate whorls on Lyna’s chin matched the ones that began on the bridge of her nose and rose, spiraling, up and across her forehead to end above her temples. Zevran did not know if the Dalish used the same techniques as the artists in Antiva who had tattooed his face and body, but he had gathered theirs were a rite of passage, done without anything to numb the pain. His had hurt, albeit pleasantly after a while, even with such a thing.

Zevran glanced back at her stitched arm. There was a parallel here he could certainly appreciate.

Lyna had a scar on her forehead that almost cut into the tattoo. It was clean, shallow, the result of another narrow brush with death like the longsword scar across her chest. Like the profile of her nose or the angle of her jaw, it was sharp and unforgiving.

But thick, sooty lashes lay against the topmost curving of her high, nearly feral, cheekbones and her slightly parted lips were plush and bowed, softening her face. These graces could almost disappear when she was angry or fighting. Her scowls had made a few people cringe, as if suddenly reminded she was a creature of the wild and not the civilized Grey Warden they hoped her to be. Zevran loved those moments, this fierce and dangerous woman holding lives in the palm of her hand.

Like she held his heart, which thudded painfully in his chest.

Zevran reached over and smoothed the dark hair that often escaped around her temples from the tail she pulled it into. He’d seen it dry and breaking during their trials, and gently softened and waving from baths. It curled slightly against his fingers now, dragging on his own scars. He remembered his hands being full of her hair while kissing her, fisting his hands and gently pulling on it while making love under the stars outside Perendale.

The sounds she made, her voice in his ear…

Zevran slid back down and gathered her into his arms again, desire flooding his body. He pressed himself against the swell of her buttocks and began kissing the curve of her ear where it met the base of her jaw. Lyna slowly awakened after a while with the delicious arching he could elicit from her.

“Mmm… morning…”

“Yes, it is.” He splayed his hand across her stomach and grazed his teeth across the back of her neck.

She sleepily hummed and shivered. “You’re awake.”

“Yes, very much so.”

“I stink,” she protested, and Zevran could almost see her nose wrinkling.

“You smell divine,” he said, and breathed her in. He loved the smell of her, and it made him harder to think of how it pooled and concentrated between her legs. His hand strayed to the band of her smallclothes, his fingers slipping just under to caress the skin.

Lyna said nothing, but he saw her pulse quickening under the flushed skin of her neck. He nipped at it, his fingers sweeping lower.

“Oh,” she exhaled softly, and laid her hand on top of his.

For just a second he thought she meant to quell the motion, and then she was threading her fingers through his and pulling their hands further down under her smalls to the warm curls between her thighs. She pushed gently through them and his fingers followed in her wake, exploring and stroking together until she was shuddering and wet.

He dipped a finger into her slickness, gratified to hear her moan. It was music to his ears, and it swelled as he drew his finger up through the damp folds to find and press upon her bud.

Magnificent.

Lyna continued to touch herself while he did until he inserted a finger to the first knuckle, and then dragged it back up to flick against her swelling bud.  She shuddered violently and reached behind her to clutch at his hip.

“Ohh. Please, lethallin.

“Yes? Tell me, Lyna.” Zevran had an idea of what she wanted, but it delighted him to hear her say it out loud. He liked hearing the husk of her voice as much as he liked hearing her desires spelled out to be acted upon.

“I want you inside me. Please.” There was a hitch in her breath, her slim fingers slipping on his skin – he was perspiring from excitement, his throbbing cock trapped between them.

“Take off these smalls, then,” he replied, his fingers fluttering over her sensitive skin before withdrawing to her waist. The shivers that erupted and pebbled her flesh went straight to his groin. It was just one of many reasons he liked sleeping in the nude. Sex after waking, whenever that was, was his favorite surprise he never wanted to be unprepared for.

With a little shifting and adjusting her arms, Lyna managed to shimmy out of her smallclothes, kicking them out of the way. She twisted, now half on her back, to gaze frankly at him with heavy-lidded eyes. She reached for his cock, her fingers copying his fluttering on his balls before grasping him firmly in her hand. Her grip was just loose enough to skate on his skin.

“Mine.”

“Yours.” His leg gently nudged hers; she bent her knee as she raised it. The friction of her hand stroking him, her body a feast before him and her expression all but demanding he partake, was almost too much. Zevran covered her hand with his. He would be happy to continue this at some other time, but she had made a request he desperately wanted to fulfill.

“Turn over, cuore mio,” Zevran whispered.

Lyna smiled as she complied, pulling her hand away to replace it between her own legs. He resolved to watch her face next time; her changing expressions enchanted him.

Zevran pushed a little further down the bed, his hand trailing down her flank, across her buttock, and coming to rest between her legs. He held her cupped in his hand, the sweetest part of her quivering under his fingers, and it struck him in that moment how much she must trust him even after last night.

He would do right by her, whatever it took. He would strive to always give her what she needed.

When he got just the right angle and entered her, her soft cry of pleasure echoing in his ears, he thought his heart might explode before the rest of him did.

If Zevran Arainai belonged anywhere in the world, it was right here, making love to his beloved, doomed Warden until she shattered around him, calling his name.

“I love you, I love you…”

He might make his peace with mornings, if it meant he could have this over and over again.

Chapter Text

Lyna had indeed drunk quite a bit of brandy before passing out in Zevran’s arms. There was less crying involved than she’d thought, however – although the reality of her feelings stung like hell, she remembered trying to teach Zevran a few words of elvhen. But her pronounciation was slurring, and even she could hear it, and she absolutely would not have Zevran mangling what little she could teach him. She also remembered rinsing out the washing bucket, not wanting to leave a mess for the innkeeper’s wife to clean up after her.

What she could not quite remember is when she’d taken off her clothes and gotten into bed, nor when Zevran joined her. She should have awakened with her head a mess and her stomach upset, given times in the past when she’d overindulged just to be allowed some sleep, but Zevran’s touch this morning had left no room for the usual bleariness.

Making love, she discovered, did much to clear the fog. She rolled onto her back when they finished, smiling and bringing her breathing back under control.

“How is your arm?”

Lyna glanced over at Zevran, who remained on his side. He looked…happy. Yes, truly happy.

“It throbs and pulls a bit, but doesn’t pain me overly much,” she replied. After the morning’s exertions it throbbed a lot more than it had upon waking, but she had felt worse before.

“Good. But perhaps you should ask Scipio to heal it properly.”

Lyna hesitated. “Perhaps… but perhaps not.”

He frowned. “Why would you not? He is here and able.”

She studied Zevran’s face for a long moment, the tiny crow’s feet etching around his eyes, the graceful swoop of tattoos on the side of his face, his full and laughing mouth.

“I want it to scar. I want to look at something that will always be with me, and see you.”

“I will be with you. There is no need.”

“You can’t promise that, lethallin. What we do, who we are…” She was thinking of the Deep Roads in particular. If she should fail, she did not want to drag him down with her. Of that she was certain, even though the thought of being alone in that fetid darkness filled her with loneliness and despair.

He sighed and rolled away, sitting up on the other side of the bed. “Of course. Still, let the man look at it. You should not let your scar hinder your movements.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Lyna levered herself up and scooted over to him, wrapping her arms and legs around him. She kissed his shoulder.

“You are right. And you will help me.”

Zevran turned his head to look back at her. A strand of his hair fell across a gleaming eye.

“Is that so? And how will I be doing this?”

“Spar with me.”

“Mmm. You make it sound so sexy.” He grinned.

“If you like,” she said, feeling mischievous and bold. “Make me sweat.”

“Oh ho! That I can certainly promise.” He ran his hands along her legs.

“I will hold you to that.” She squeezed him, kissed his shoulder again, and detached herself to get out of bed. “We have much to do. I will tell Scipio at breakfast and have him look at my arm before we spar this afternoon. We have some shopping to finish – I would like to leave tomorrow.”

“I would prefer that we leave today, mostly because I am uncertain if any other Crows are here. Nuncio will be looking for his missing messenger eventually, but I do not know if anyone will be missing Emil.” Zevran was frowning thoughtfully and filling the small washing basin with the pitcher of water.  

“We aren’t ready to leave, but I understand. The sooner we leave, the better.” Lyna picked up a rag and handed it to him. She began her stretching exercises picking up her smalls, discarded armor pieces, and digging for something suitably clean to wear. “I should also clean this filth tonight. They should be reasonably dry by morning. I will ask the innkeeper’s wife to fill this tub for that purpose.”

“There are laundry services, Lyna,” Zevran said, amused.

“As much as I would like to support the Goldannas of Thedas, I will have to save my coin for Orlais.” Or just go about cloaked. Which was not a bad thought, actually. At the least she could use it to play up the Grey Warden mystique.

“Take the coin in Orlais,” he grinned. “I know Leliana taught you a little of that art.”

“You tempt me, ma samahl inan.  If they catch me, Grey Warden or no they might dock my ears.” Lyna remembered some of the horror stories she’d heard from the other clans at the last Arlathvhen… how many years ago? With a start, she realized it has been ten years, or nearly so. The clans would be preparing even now. Some clans had a very long trek ahead.

Could she… would she still be allowed to come? Would her people embrace her again?

She would find out, if she could.

“Lyna? Where did you go this time?” Zevran was still amused.

“I was thinking of my people. There’s a… gathering of the clans that happens every ten years. We’re due for another soon. We trade lore and stories, among many other things. I was wondering where it might be this time. Wondering if I might be welcome.”

Some Dalish were like Velanna, the woman she recruited for the Blight Thaw conflict between the Mother and the Architect – although the mage had embraced her as a sister, Velanna had been openly scornful of Lyna’s associations with humans. It was only the possibility of finding and redeeming her sister Seranni from the darkspawn that had enticed Velanna into the Grey Wardens, though she had softened her stance later on.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

“The great Hero of Ferelden?” He sauntered over and put his arms around her, clasping her to his chest. “How could they not welcome you?”

“My clan would, I think. Some others as well – Ralaferin, Lavellan have been more receptive to new ideas, I hear.” Lyna shook her head. “But I have spent a long time, now, around humans. I carry the darkspawn taint. Some other clans would see that as enough reason to deny me.” The thought pained her. “We are not typically a forgiving people, Zevran.”

He kissed her forehead. “I have seen otherwise, but you may be right. Come, do not worry about this now. If you become sad, then I shall have to seduce you until you smile again.”

“How terrible,” Lyna deadpanned. “Remind me to be sad tonight.”

“I am strangely looking forward to making you sad.”

***

It turned out there was not much to explain to Scipio, as Falke had confided in the mage about his worries for Lyna and her meeting with the Crows last night.

“No such worry for me, Falke? I am crushed,” Zevran teased the Ander Warden.

“Please,” Falke said with a pained expression. “Lyna could have been killed.”

“Clearly she has not,” Scipio said dismissively. “But obviously you could have been more careful, Commander. You have worried Falke into familiarity.”

“Commander! I am-“

Stop, all of you. You fuss and tease worse than a gaggle of chickens,” Lyna said. They sat in the tavern’s common area breaking their fast. She cupped a mug of coffee in one hand and rolled a hardboiled egg with the other.

“Do chickens really tease?” Zevran asked.

Lyna sighed. “You were brought up in a whorehouse, Zevran, so tell me: is there a dominant prostitute?”

Zevran shrugged. Falke looked as if he would rather be anywhere else. Scipio was covering his mouth, his eyes crinkled.

“Of course. Sometimes more than one, but as long as they do not directly compete…”

“And what happens when a new prostitute is introduced?”

“Chaos for a little while. They need time to learn, and the regulars want to see someone new, and the madrones are irritated easily, and… ahh. I see,” Zevran said. He glanced at Falke. “I have learned something about chickens.”

“And I have learned more than I wished about…,” Falke muttered, unable to even finish. He focused his attention on his tea and biscuits instead.

Scipio bowed his head for a moment, shoulders silently shaking. Lyna enjoyed the temporary silence by peeling the shell from her egg and eating.

“This is all very well and good, but I will not feel the same about eating chicken again.”

This was enough to send the Nevarran mage over the edge into loud, gusty guffaws of laughter, his hand now over his eyes. Lyna tittered, trying not to snort her egg, and even Falke, bless him, was smiling despite himself.

Zevran innocently spread butter on his biscuit and winked at Lyna. She wanted to kiss him but settled on flicking a piece of shell at him.

“When you are finished your breakfast, lethallin, I would like for you to see to our tents. Make sure they are in good repair and well-sealed and waxed, if you please,” she said to Zevran when she’d gotten herself under control again. She had already privately brought up the messages taken from Emil’s dead body; he would be looking them over to see if there was anything valuable to discover from them, most importantly the Crows’ efforts to find him. Useful tidbits of blackmail as well, if possible. But so far as concrete preparations for the next leg of their trip into Orlais, Lyna knew Zevran could take care of this one thing while she and Falke finished the shopping.

“I am at your service,” he answered, and focused upon eating for a while.

“We were talking about your arm, Commander,” prompted Falke, shooting a look at Scipio, who was slowly bringing himself back into order.

“Yes, well, I won’t be unwrapping it right here,” she said, indicating themselves, nearby patrons, and their food.

“I will look more closely at it in a moment. We can step into the stables or our room upstairs,” the mage said, breathing in more deeply.

“Stables, then. Falke and I can get on our way afterward.”

“So be it. What happened, then?”

Lyna summarized the events quickly, focusing upon the slash she took from Emil’s dagger-wielding compatriot.

“Poisoned with deathroot extract, for which I’ve taken an antitoxin. I had Zevran clean and stitch it last night,” she finished.

Scipio shook his head. “While I am glad to have not been disturbed, it is admittedly disconcerting how you can slip in and out of here without noise or attention.” He looked at her curiously. “You must have had something to take for the pain. I can’t imagine remaining so quiet otherwise.”

“Never you mind about my capacity for pain, Scipio,” she said firmly. “If you can, what I would like from you is simply some help with the natural healing process.”

“Well, something like this I could certainly take care of completely, you have it stitched and it isn’t threatening to fall apart-“

“I just need it to not hinder me. Let it scar.”

Falke looked at her oddly. “This was no great battle, why-”

“There is more than one reason for a scar, Falke.” Far be it from her to teach Falke about something that might be part of his culture, but her reasons were completely personal and nothing she planned on displaying, as the Orth people might. She was sure he’d understand eventually – it would be difficult to keep anything private from him as the three of them traveled to Arlesans – but she wasn’t explaining any of it now.

Scipio’s eyes flicked toward Zevran and then snapped back to her sharply.

“Are you certain?”

“Yes.” She sipped her coffee. She was reminded of their conversation in the Anderfels village Chantry as they watched over an unconscious Zevran.

“Certain about what?” Hannah sat down next to Lyna. She’d just come in from the front door, smelling faintly of horses.

“Our Commander had a bit of a tussle with some Crows last night and won, but not cleanly. She doesn’t want a complete healing, she wants a scar,” Scipio said, rolling his own hardboiled egg.

Hannah raised an eyebrow, glancing down at Lyna’s bandage. “Matching head lumps weren’t enough?”

Lyna blushed, quirking a half-smile. “Would it be for you?”

The redhead, caught off-guard, hesitated. Falke was beaming in dawning realization at Zevran, who couldn’t seem to settle between a smirk and an uncertain but genuine smile, and so the Ander Warden was oblivious to the rest of their conversation. “No, I suppose not.”

“Are we quite done with the questions, then? Because if any of you have more planned, I’m prepared to do without the help,” she said, setting her elbows on the table. Although the others meant well, the questioning faintly annoyed her. Her wound had been seen to, though it throbbed.

Zevran pocketed an egg and a biscuit and shoved the remainder of his plate to the middle of the table.

“Do it. Please,” he said quietly, his features schooled once more. He rose and left the table, walking out the front door.

An awkward silence dominated the table. Hannah plucked a hardboiled egg from the bowl and concentrated on cracking it. Falke, after a moment’s hesitation, plucked the sausage from Zevran’s abandoned plate and put it on his. He clearly had questions, but had retreated into politeness. Scipio grimaced and drank his tea.

Lyna occupied herself with her breakfast, certain Zevran was upset and not entirely certain why. She knew it bothered him a little she was insisting on this… memento. She had explained her reasons for it, however. She thought he understood, although of course neither of them wanted to think of the future where Lyna would most want the reminder of what that scar represented. Had she misjudged?

“Whenever you’re ready, Lyna,” the mage said after a while. He regarded her coolly, questions of his own hiding in the purse of his lips.

She nodded and drained her mug. “Now.” She rose from her seat and leaned down to Hannah’s ear.

I am telling Falke tonight,” Lyna whispered, “unless you tell me you have before I do.

Hannah’s face swiveled sharply toward her, her eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t.”

Lyna squeezed the woman’s shoulder and smirked.

“Think carefully. See you tonight.” She patted Hannah’s shoulder for good measure, ignoring the curious stares from Scipio and Falke as she opened the door and walked out.

Perhaps it was petty revenge for the lump remark. She hadn’t wanted to make it such a…thing. It did feel satisfying, however.

The day was promising to be hot and dusty outside, so Lyna was glad to have shelter for a short while under the eaves of the nearby stables. People passing on the street did so unhurried, unwilling to exert themselves more than necessary. Servants waved moistened fans for wealthy nobility.

At the far end of the stable eaves, Zevran was sitting on a bench inspecting the rough canvas of their tents. He glanced up as Lyna appeared in his peripheral vision. His face was still, but she felt certain she saw relief in his eyes when he glimpsed Scipio walking behind her. He nodded once and bent again to his task.

We will talk about this, ma ghilan, she silently promised him, and led Scipio and Falke to the tack room. The stablemaster, whistling quiet and tunelessly as he worked on repairing a lead, looked up at them curiously as the trio entered.

“Help you?”

“Apologies, just a moment for private conversation with my Wardens,” Lyna said. “I’d also like to ensure there will be space for the three mounts and pack mule we’ll be bringing back here later today.”

“Certainly,” he said, setting aside the piece of equipment. “Wardens.” He nodded to the three of them and left the tack room.

“If I’d asked this at the other stables, there’d be lurid rumors about Dalish Wardens flying before end of day,” Lyna said ruefully.

Falke sighed gustily. “I wish you wouldn’t say such things, Commander, but I fear you’re right.” He sat down at the stablemaster’s recently unoccupied chair.

“Well, unfortunately for you it’s a fact you will need to get used to, Falke. Your Commander is a fool, if you’ll recall.”

“A fool in love, unless I miss my guess,” Scipio said, eyeing her frankly. He gestured at her to unwrap the bandages.

“You needn’t make it sound so horrible,” she said as her fingers undid the cloth.

“Me? It was you protesting back at-“

Yes, I know. I already said I was a fool, no need to rub it in.”

Scipio coughed on whatever reply he’d been about to make and shook his head, motioning her to give him her arm. “I wonder at the change.”

“Some things have not,” she said, profferring her arm. The Nevarran put both hands, warm, on either side of the stitched cut.

“Not my concern,” he said, frowning in concentration as he examined last night’s work. “How much have you told him?”

“Enough,” she said. More than enough. Too much. Not all. “He was there with Denis, remember?”

“Hm,” the mage replied, then speared her with a dark eye. “So the Calling. And?”

“And?”

“He knows you won’t have children.” Her gut twisted to hear Scipio say it. Beyond him she could see Falke trying not to listen, but sympathetically hearing it nevertheless.

“That was made plain before.” She remembered Alistair saying it to her – privately, she’d thought, in camp, until she’d caught odd looks from Leliana and Zevran later, and then again after the Landsmeet in plain hearing of all as he told her he’d take a wife elsewhere. “I don’t believe the lack of children is a deterrent.”

“No, I wouldn’t have thought so,” the mage said as he finished looking her over. He held onto her arm. “And he may never mention it. I’ve known men like him. Was so myself.” His smile came out a grimace. “But he will think on it. Remember that.”

“As if I have not thought of it?” Lyna flared. She hadn’t truly thought of children or having a family of her own until the possibility had been taken away from her. It was still a strange thing to think of, her life being so wrapped up in other lives, other concerns. But helping Lanaya’s clan, seeing the children of Denerim’s alienage, she’d been seized with helpless awareness as mothers and fathers desperately shielded their young ones from the dangers threatening them. It was worse at Amaranthine when she met Nathaniel’s sister Delilah. A life she would never have because of an ancient mirror.

This,” she snarled as she indicated her wounded arm, “is the only future I am certain of having. So you will help me see something to love when I look at it, or by the gods of my father, mage, I will hunt down your mortalitasi brethren and find a way to make your corpse my own personal servant.”

“Get in line,” Scipio said tiredly. He tightened his grip on her arm. “I am here to help, Lyna, though it may not appear so. I don’t deal in conveniences; there are too many of those already, blinding people to realities they do not wish to see. I deal in truths. It’s cleansing, helps you move with clarity and purpose.”

“You would get along well with Morrigan,” Lyna muttered.

“Possibly. And since you speak of her with fondness, I would look forward to it, should it ever happen.” He shrugged, then adjusted his stance. “This may hurt a little, it’s somewhat more difficult to control my magic without a staff. Unfortunately for you I will not have one until tomorrow.”

Lyna nodded. It was all of a piece with what she expected and made herself experience.

She felt the inrush of energy as fire and lightning, surging along her nerves as she felt tissue being reconnected. It itched and burned, and for a moment she was light-headed. Her knees buckled, but she made herself stand, gritting her teeth and breathing hard. Then just as quickly the magic drained away, leaving her dizzy. Falke surged forward from his seat to support her as she swayed.

“That should be sufficient, I think,” Scipio murmured. “You should remove the stitching tonight, though it may feel rather unpleasant and should be cleaned after. Still, you will have the scarring you wished for.”

“Thank you.” Falke guided Lyna to the chair and she sat down. She moved her arm experimentally – there was a slight pulling sensation around the stitching, feeling the tenderness of healing flesh. It might begin itching tomorrow. Otherwise, there was no hindrance, no pain. Once the dizziness passed, she could get moving again.

“I think you owe the Commander an apology,” Falke said carefully to Scipio. There was no malice in his voice, just calm and polite expectation.

The mage raised an eyebrow. “I did as she asked. My only sin might lie in offering unasked-for advice. So pray tell me what it is you believe I must apologize for.”

Lyna looked from Falke to Scipio and back. This was new.

“Given what I just heard, your ‘Mama Lyna’ jibe the other day was cruel and unkind.”

Lyna gave Falke far too little credit, she realized. He had paid attention to much more than she thought. She wondered if that attention also applied to a certain other Warden. She hadn’t thought so, but now she wasn’t as sure.

Scipio blinked, started to speak, stopped, pondered for a moment, then began again.

“I had not intended to be cruel, but I see now that it was.” The mage turned to Lyna, contrite. “You do have my sincere apologies. Really, I hadn’t expected that interaction with William and I only meant to tease you. It was thoughtless of me.”

“Accepted.” She squinted up at Scipio. “Ass.”

“Really, Commander…” Falke threw up his hands.

“No, it’s fine Falke.” Scipio grinned. “I’m forgiven.”

Lyna grunted at the Nevarran but smiled. “Go help Alaine and Hannah. I’m sure there’s something they need you for.”

“As a matter of fact, I’m expected back at the Circle of Magi today. I will be sure to pass along your greetings.”

“Thank you.” Lyna rose. “Well, Falke, let’s finish our marketing. I’d like to test my healed arm against Zevran with a sparring session this afternoon.”

“So soon?” the Ander said, concerned.

“What better way to reassure my favorite assassin I’m still in fighting form?”

Falke remained silent as he led the way back out of the tack room.

“My goodness, Falke, your silence is telling,” she said archly, following close behind.

“I’ll see to our mounts,” he blushed, and joined the flow of traffic eastward.

Lyna chuckled. Zevran was right, the occasional tease was fun.

***

By the time Lyna had finished gathering supplies, she wished she had thought to ask Falke to bring her the mule he’d bought. Her burdens were bulky or unevenly distributed, though it was difficult to make adjustments without assistance. The day had also proved to be hotter than it initially promised, so she was sweaty and irritated as well. She managed and struggled with the sacks and ropes all the way back to the Wyvern’s Perch, resisting the urge to dump it all in the packed dirt on the edge of the street.

At the very least, until she saw Zevran waiting in the exercise yard. He’d stripped off his shirt and was leaning against the posts, soaking in the admiration from passers-by and a small gaggle of loiterers.

“Ahh, there you are, my sweet,” he drawled, straightening as she approached. “And struggling in this heat. Tsk.”

Lyna affixed him with a gimlet eye. “Enjoying yourself?”

“There are worse ways to pass the time,” he shrugged. He vaulted the fencing and pulled one of the bags off of her shoulder, throwing it over his own. Lyna dimly heard a wistful cooing as his admirers dispersed.

“And far better ways.”

“Certainly, I am about to engage in one of them.” Zevran moved ahead and opened the door; she walked through and thumped her way up the stairs to their room.

“I wish the Wardens had aravels,” she sighed, dumping the bags behind the door once they were inside.

“After seeing your fellow Wardens, I was under the impression they did not always travel,” Zevran said. “Else perhaps they might, if it were suggested.”

“True. Solitary recruiters do not often need quantities of supplies.” She pursed her lips. “And I would become a more attractive target should I somehow acquire one.” Only the clan’s crafters, like Master Ilen, made and repaired the aravels. As a hunter, it was her job to help provide and protect. She would not be able to make one, and neither would she ask one to be given her. The clans needed them more, and those who hated elves would turn their attentions to her.

But oh it would be much easier to travel, and comforting.

Zevran was quiet a moment, then: “Your arm. It is done?”

“Yes, lethallin.” She pushed up her sleeve. The stitching now felt a little uncomfortable after hauling supplies, the remaining wound sore but healing. It was shiny, pink, and weeping a little clear fluid along the edges.

He drew close to examine it, running his thumb along the edge. The gentle brush tingled on her skin.

“Good.” He dropped his hands and turned away to dig for their supply of elfroot paste.

“Zevran.”

“Yes?” He did not turn around.

Ma ghilan. This upsets you.” Lyna sat down on the edge of their bed.

“It is your scar. I do not see why you must hinder yourself so.”

She knit her brows. “It is not hindering, and that is not what is upsetting you.”

He turned around then, paste in hand, his expression guarded. “You cannot make yourself vulnerable, Lyna. Even the smallest hesitation will do this. You know this.” At least two of her healed scars were a testament to the truth of this, but…

“Our chances of encountering more darkspawn have grown slimmer since the thaw, and I should be fine even if we do,” she pushed, trying to look into his eyes as he began applying the paste. “I suggested we spar to make sure of this.”

Zevran’s furrowed brow was his only reply.

“What do you want me to say? Zevran, I need this. I have to know I have something of you to remember if I fail in finding a cure.” Lyna felt frustrated and helpless.

He finished applying the paste, wiping his finger and turning away. She snatched at his wrist to stop him and he froze.

“Please, ma ghilan. Talk to me.”

“Why must it be this?” Despite his best efforts, she could hear the hurt. “Did you want me to apologize? Remind me of my failures?”

Lyna’s heart sunk. “No. I- I did not think of it like that.” Not precisely, at least. Part of her had wanted this scar because she received it on Zevran’s behalf. She’d only thought of what that meant to her, and not what it might mean to him. She tried to find the words to explain.

“My future… you have seen my most likely future. Creators know I am fighting against this, and I will keep fighting with all that I have.” She stood up and walked around to stand in front of him. He tried to look away, but she put both hands up to his miserable face, cupping it.

“But I may not win. I will have to go into the Deep Roads, lethallin, and face the music. I will not drag you down with me. I will not have you see what becomes of me. But I would have your light in the darkness with me, and I cannot lose something that is already a part of me.”

“Ah, Lyna, it was I to make you sad, and not you to make me so,” he said with a weak and lopsided smile. He covered her hands with his own. “Cuore mio. This, right now, is what we have. Nothing else is promised.”

“I know.” She pulled him close and kissed him. “That is why I prepare now.”

Zevran kissed her back.

“Yes, my sweet, but all you do is prepare to die. I would very much like it if you would instead prepare to live.” He pulled her hands from his face and smiled a little more broadly. “Come. I promised I would make you sweat.”

It was Lyna’s turn to smile awkwardly. She wasn’t sure how to prepare to live with a future like hers, but she had named him her guide and so she would try to follow. Her scar and what it represented might still be upsetting, but at least she’d gotten him to talk about it. Perhaps he would come to accept it. Perhaps he might never need to.

“It’s already hot outside, so we will both be sweating with little effort. It would be better to make me sore.” She looked forward to it. In or out bed, the assassin kept her on her toes.

“So I shall.” He grinned and led the way back outside, Lyna picking up her practice daggers along the way.

“Zevran…”

“Yes Lyna?”

“Perhaps a shirt would be advisable. I’d rather not cut you by mistake.”

He took a position opposite her in the yard. “So the distraction is working already!” He chuckled and flourished his weapons.

She unbuckled her cuirass and shucked it off, dropping it at her feet. The heat trapped underneath could finally escape her linen undershirt and she grinned.

“Then I will do the same.”

“Ahh, the spice of sex and danger, there is nothing like it.” He began circling, stalking, watching to see what her opening move would be.

Lyna drew her daggers and began to do the same, watching his hands, his feet, his eyes. He was good at monitoring his body language in combat, one of the reasons he could be so stealthy, but she looked for tells regardless. Her own style of fighting, while it retained all she’d learned as a Dalish hunter, was primarily rooted in dueling and improved through an encounter with the Rivaini pirate Isabela – the woman had stressed to her it was not simply about speed and flexibility, but outwitting your opponent. Sizing them up, predicting their movements based on how they presented themselves to you, and not being there for the hit, or blocking them, or turning it to your advantage.

By this time, Lyna thought she knew Zevran pretty well. He’d taught her a little of his own skills, how to look for weaknesses and exploit them. They’d fought together many times, sometimes back to back. Surely she might be able to predict what he would do.

After many feints back and forth, testing and clashing, she was both delighted and dismayed to learn she could be wrong.

“So fast, my Warden, you blind yourself,” Zevran taunted from behind her.

She whirled and just barely parried a blow that could have landed between her shoulders, and flowed forward into a cut at his shoulder. He glided back and to the side, one blade up defensively and the other seeking for her midsection. She moved to block it and he suddenly moved the defensive blade up toward her throat. She fell away into a defensive crouch, blades up and circling once more, heart pounding.

Perhaps it was time to show him what she’d learned since Vigil’s Keep. She grinned and retreated toward the shadows of the nearby stables.

“If you wished privacy, Lyna, we might have remained in our room,” he called, amused, as he cautiously followed after her.

She willed herself to melt into the shadows. I am with my clan. We are hunting the wolves in the forest. We must be the stalkers, and they the prey. Every sense was alert, her breathing slowed and quiet, time stretching as she watched Zevran look for her in the darkness. There was a good chance he might still find her…

She would need to time it just right.

He continued edging forward. She could see every detail clearly: the pulse at his neck, his heated skin goosefleshing in the cooler darkness, the way he was controlling his quickened breath.

She flashed a dagger, deliberately catching the light, and flung it toward him. He dodged it, whirling.

Swiftly, silently, she flowed up behind him and caught him by the waist, her other dagger aimed at his chest. His daggers fell to the floor.

“I win, lethallin.

“You have caught me,” he purred. “Is this when you tie me up? Have your way with me?”

“Mmm. It is a tempting thought…” And oh Creators, such a thought. At her mercy, to touch and explore as she wished, hear him beg her for it. The heat suddenly invaded the shadows where they stood, now breathing hard.

He grasped her wrist suddenly and hauled it up, spinning in her grasp and pushing her up against a post. He nudged his leg between hers and pressed up close, his mouth warm at her ear.

“Is it as tempting as being ravished, here and now?”

Now she could think of nothing else. She wanted his sweat-slick skin beneath her hands, his hands at her hips, lifting her up, mouth at her neck…

“Yes,” she breathed. She looked up at him with heavy-lidded eyes, wondering if he really would. Trapped between hoping and fearing they’d be caught.

When Zevran’s leg nudged further up, his mouth descending on hers hungrily, she was absolutely certain he would. The mingled fear and excitement sent a spear of lightning into her stomach, galvanizing her legs to close around his thigh and her tongue to flick against his lips. It was sweet torture, thrilling her to her core.

A polite throat-clearing broke the spell, however. Zevran broke off and she straightened, flushing, sheathing the dagger she’d still been clutching.

In the threshold between the stables and the exercise yard stood Scipio, the harsh afternoon light glinting off the buckles on his Grey Warden robes.

“Normally I’d be of a mind to turn right around, but this is not camp, after all,” the mage said, a partially apologetic smirk on his saturnine face.

“You still could, or…,” Zevran glanced back at Lyna. She shook her head vehemently. “…not.”

“Flattered, but not my type,” the Nevarran chuckled. “I am sorry to interrupt, however, if that helps.”

“Only if it’s for good reason,” she grumbled, and went to retrieve her other dagger. Zevran bent to pick his up as well.

“It rather is,” Scipio continued, following Lyna as she left the stables to get her cuirass. “But I need you to promise not to be upset.”

“Whyever would I be upset?” she said dryly. She wondered if there would be enough time until dinner and tonight’s planning for the journey to Arlesans to finish what had been started in the stables with Zevran. He’d put several things in her mind she really wanted to try.

Scipio cleared his throat again, a little nervously this time. “I was at the Circle of Magi…”

“Yes, I remember you telling me you were going there today. And?” She eyed the cuirass and decided she wouldn’t put it back on, it was too hot. She slung it over her shoulder instead. Zevran stood waiting by a nearby fence post. His genial mask had slipped over his features, but his eyes were quite focused and warm .

“I was speaking with Knight-Commander Teomund after I’d concluded business. Catching up, as it were.” Scipio shifted his weight. “And he very kindly offered the use of the sending stone again.”

Lyna froze and stared at the mage. “You did not.”

“I did.”

Fenhedis lasa. Fen’Harel ma halam, vir banalhan’shiral…” she cursed, pushing the mage backward in her anger. He stumbled and raised protesting hands in alarm.

“Wait, please, wait. I spoke with First Enchanter Fiona!”

Lyna stopped, furious and glaring. She was vaguely aware that Zevran had moved to her side, hands back on his daggers.

“How dare you-“

“Commander! She has invited the Hero of Ferelden to come to Val Royeaux.” Scipio’s eyes were focused primarily on Lyna, occasionally flicking back to Zevran, clearly wishing he still had a staff to grasp.

That brought her up short and dashed some cold water on her anger.

What? Why?” Her only communication with the Orlesian mage had indicated that Lyna wanted to speak with Fiona solely in her capacity as a Grey Warden, interviewing her about the Architect.

Deciding Lyna was not going to murder him, Scipio drew in a shaky breath and stood up straight.

“I- I deeply apologize. I had only wished to help you. And despite my admitted misstep in disregarding your feelings on this matter, I am glad to have done it. The First Enchanter will be in Val Royeaux and not Montsimmard – you would have missed her. She, like many other luminaries and royalty, will be attending the inauguration of the new Divine.”

“New Divine?” Lyna looked to Zevran, thunderstruck. Luminaries? Royalty? Oh no.

“Divine Beatrix III, it is said, was infirm, but I did not know she had been so close to death,” the Antivan said, apparently just as puzzled.

“Her heart suddenly gave out. The Grand Clerics have only been cloistered recently,” Scipio continued. He offered a shaky smile. “Teomund tells me there was much shouting and controversy about the new Divine. Justinia V, he says. Always a good sign, hmm?”

“So Fiona thought to invite the Hero of Ferelden, a Dalish Grey Warden who has supported mages, to the inauguration of a new Divine. In Orlais.” Lyna shook her head. “I do not know if she is politically stupid or brilliant. Fiona has to know it would be a thumb in the Chantry’s eye.”

“She strikes me as astute and passionate,” the mage said. “She has outspoken beliefs about the mages’ role in the Chantry, I hear. A known Libertarian.” His dark eyes glittered.

Lyna waved his words aside. “Yes, I see where she would want me by her side and lend weight to her arguments, whatever they are. But… Val Royeaux. My own experiences aside, Grey Wardens aren’t supposed to take sides in politics.”

“Be certain your First Warden would go. I was told he is not shy of politics,” Zevran said.

She sighed. “True.” She passed a hand over her eyes. Politics. This time not just an Arling, or even Ferelden, but the Chantry itself. Falke, bless him, might be overjoyed. Lyna, however, was desperately wishing she had Leliana to turn to. She wondered where the bard was now. Mythal’enaste, was Alistair going to be there? Her stomach churned.

“The inauguration is approximately two weeks hence,” Scipio said solemnly. “If there is one thing that Nevarrans and Orlesians both love, it is parties and politics, so you will have at least a day before the actual ceremony. But I would not advise tarrying long on the road.”

“Or here,” Zevran added.

Of course. Crows on one hand, and Fiona and a new Divine on the other. She would not have very much time alone with Zevran, after all.

“We eat and we plan now, and we leave tonight,” she decided, her mouth set in a grim line. “All speed for Arlesans. I will not neglect Denis’s legacy to his family.”

Lyna stalked past the two men for the tavern. Val Royeaux. The Lion’s den. She dearly wished for a drink.

Chapter Text

“Nothing good can come of it,” Hannah said as she gave me the letter. “But you insist on forcing my hand, so I ask you: do not tell him. Give him this, instead. It is all I can do.”

It was a slim letter, on a small scrap of much-scraped parchment.It was so thin I could make out lettering with little effort.But I know the effort of writing at all, much less to someone you know is beyond your reach, so I will tuck it in with my own precious things.

“I do wish you would change your mind. Falke is a good man. We have little enough as it is.”

“That is why I will not taint our remaining years with my foolish pining. My place is at Weisshaupt. His is with the world he wishes to see,” the Orth woman said, head bowed. The torchlight flickered on the sun-lightened strands of her red hair, and for all my selfish wanting for a kindred soul, a friend who could share the joys of newly-awakened love, I did not relish the burden I had now placed on her. She was a solid and practical soul who should have been corralling children and livestock, being a leader amongst her people, not leading assaults into nests of darkspawn.

I sighed. “It will not always be thus. The world changes. We change. Will he have nothing to hope for?”

“He will have his books, his studies. For all his curiosities, he wishes for a quiet life. Let him have what peace he can find when he is done with wandering. I can’t give him that. I will be fighting until that is all I have left,” she said. Her eyes were black against the torch’s glare, her scars deepened.

And in that moment, I understood. She had committed herself wholly to the Wardens, to being the bulwark against the shifting tides of the Blight, and would not waver from that course even in the most private areas of her life. Hannah would be one of those who would join the Legion of the Dead when her Calling came, her head high and her heart on the edge of her blade. Only the Wardens and the Legion would remember her. The rest of the world would forget she ever lived.

Even were I to end the Calling, it would remain her fight until she could no longer lift a blade.

“As you say, my friend.” I laid my hand on her shoulder and squeezed.”When shall I give it to him, then?”

“Never, if I could be sure of it. So save it: for when you part company, for the end of his days, for when it might mean something other than pain. I must trust your judgment on the timing. But know if it causes him to abandon all else he loves, I will find you and kick your skinny ass.” Hannah’s mouth compressed into a grim line.

I thought of Alistair. “I have already done that to someone else. I will not do it again.”

The door to The Wyvern’s Perch opened and the others filed out, Alaine and Scipio helping to carry our supplies and prepare the horses. Hannah and I watched them go past us, Zevran dropping a wink with our bedrolls on his back.

“Would you take it amiss if I said that I don’t know if you’ve been doubly blessed or doubly cursed in love?” Hannah remarked when they were all safely out of earshot.

“No. Everything that has happened since I had to leave my clan has been that way.” Joys and sorrows mixed. I could wish for no Blight, or for Cailan to have not been defeated, but I might have never met Alistair or Zevran. My life with my clan might have remained relatively peaceful, given our place in the world, and might still have had its share of adventure and love, but not like this. I would not change it. I could only wish for it to be less hard.

“I do not envy you. Alaine does, but she still grieves. She’s young enough to find someone or something else to give her some perspective. Perhaps some time back at Weisshaupt, hmm? Although I think she also misses Orlais and might welcome a transfer to Montsimmard,” Hannah said, head cocked as she watched the archer.

“Let me know. I’ll write to Warden-Commander Fontaine.” Alaine deserved some place that would let her heal. Whether it was Weisshaupt or Montsimmard, I could trust Hannah’s judgment. Perhaps Orlais would be more peaceful and less prone to the regular terrors of the Anderfels.

“I wish you luck and safe travels, ma’am,” Hannah told me when all was done, Scipio and Alaine standing with her to make their goodbyes as well. “Don’t let that mage pull you in to her troubles. She’s quit the Grey Wardens. Let her stay quit.”

I smiled as I gripped her hand. “I’ll try to take your advice. I’m sure Fiona won’t appreciate that we aren’t quite done with her, however.”

“It’s just an interview. She couldn’t possibly take offense at that.”

“Hannah, I think she has. She invited me to Val Royeaux, after all.”

Alaine grimaced at that but said nothing. Scipio just chuckled.

“To share the misery, I’m sure,” the mage said. He offered his own hand. “Remember that you will be part of the Grand Game whether you like it or not. All you can do is minimize your impact.”

“This is your fault, you know.” I gripped his hand in farewell.

“If this meeting with Fiona is as important as I think it is, then I will be glad to accept the blame.” Scipio returned my squeeze, then bowed over my hand after he released it. “Safe journeys.”

Impulsively, I pulled Alaine into an embrace instead of a handshake. “Take good care of yourself.”

“And you as well, my lady,” she murmured. “Do not forget us.”

“Lyna, it is getting dark. We need to camp.”

She jerked awake on her saddle; she’d been nodding off. Although Lyna was the one setting the pace for Arlesans to ensure they made it to Val Royeaux in two weeks’ time, she envied the more unhurried pace Scipio and the others would have on their way back to Weisshaupt Fortress. She was pushing them through the green and rocky hills where Nevarra bordered northern Orlais, hoping to cut through the Fields of Ghislain on a direct route to Denis’s family.

It was theoretically possible to make better time on the Imperial highway through Churneau and Ghislain and Montfort, but it also increased their possible exposure to the nobility surely taking carriages and caravans to the capital. Lyna would rather gamble for a straighter path in a more comfortable environment.

Still: she was up at dawn every morning and slept restlessly at night when she did at all. Her worries about Val Royeaux kept her pacing when off her horse, and its swaying motions were lulling her to sleep when she was on it. Zevran knew why she was pushing them so hard, although today she’d caught him looking after her worriedly.

It was Zevran’s voice that had broken through her sleep fog. At first Lyna thought to argue with him – they were under the canopy of trees in a small forest tucked into the side of one of Nevarra’s hills, of course it would seem dark. Then she glanced up at the sky and saw the clear blue turned a much deeper hue.

“Ah. Shit,” Lyna said, rubbing at her eyes. She looked at Falke and Zevran; the Ander had dark circles under his eyes, and Zevran was nowhere as alert in the saddle as he otherwise would be. Camp wasn’t going to be good enough, she decided.

“It’s been three days. Let’s push ahead a little further. Isn’t there a village somewhere nearby?” she asked the Ander, who nodded.

“Ville Ardin is slightly off-course to our north, according to my map.”

“Then we go to Ville Ardin and get rooms at their inn,” she said with a tired smile. “A night’s rest with no one at watch. We’ll be all the fresher for the push through Ghislain.” The Fields were also relatively flat, from what little she could tell, which would let them ease off of watches and make better progress. Falke had been excited at the prospect of possibly coming across the site where the Fallen had died for King Tylus Van Markham and she had grudgingly allowed a little time for him to wander there, should they find it.

She, however, was both nervous and excited they might come across Clan Alerion, or one of the other Nevarran Dalish clans. Since traveling with Ariane to retrieve her clan’s book from Morrigan, she hadn’t seen other Dalish in a long while, notwithstanding her dream of Merrill. To see the topsails of aravels and hear the calling of the halla again would ease her heart greatly.

“The Duke of Ghislain has a mistress,” Zevran said suddenly, breaking her musing. “A beautiful Rivaini mage, so I hear.”

“And?”

“This is publicly known. The duke’s wife is her friend. The only people who have objected – and quite violently, Crows were hired – did so because she is a mage. Other nobles have formally acknowledged mistresses.” He paused. “What I do not understand is why Alistair did not do the same.”

At the sudden turn of intimate conversation, Falke, ears burning, rode a little further ahead.

“Ferelden is not Orlais.”

“And it is not Antiva, yes, I know. But do not tell me your Ferelden nobles do not have mistresses at all. Some families would have found themselves childless, if so.”

“They do not have elven mistresses.” Why was he suddenly pursuing this topic of conversation?

Zevran’s laugh was ugly. “My dear Lyna, they may not call them mistresses, but nobles like Vaughan certainly do consort with elves.”

“You did not just compare Alistair to Vaughan Kendells.” Lyna wished she’d killed the rapist instead of letting him rot in Rendon Howe’s dungeon, but it was the best she could do considering she needed the nobility’s support for the Landsmeet. Killing Vaughan meant the others wouldn’t have learned why the bastard was there in the first place, and turned the families against her.

“I am sorry, I did not mean to. What I meant to say is the other noble families are hypocrites who could have learned to accept your relationship with Alistair. He did not need to break things off with you.”

“But here we are, Zevran. It’s done. If Alistair, who is the last of the Theirins” – except for Morrigan’s Kieran – “is to provide an heir it has to be with someone who does not carry the taint like I do. And how would he do that, having a wife he’s supposed to care for and raise a child with, and still face me?” As much as Lyna would have wanted to stay with Alistair, how close to begging she’d come before she left for Vigil’s Keep, she did understand why he couldn’t let her. How difficult it would be for him.

Is it done? I don’t believe so. As for your other point, perhaps you might give him a lesson.”

“Why are we talking about this? Are you jealous?” she said, exasperated.

“No, cuore mio, quite the opposite. But you are tying yourself in knots over this thing that need not be so complicated,” he said softly. In the background Lyna could hear the early sounds of insects beginning their nightly chorus.

She was silent for a moment. It was Lyna who had held on after Alistair let her go, but it was Alistair who sent Zevran after her.

“Tell that to Alistair.” Too tired to wrestle with her confused heart, she kicked her horse ahead. Zevran, recognizing when she no longer wished to talk, let the matter drop for now.

It was full night by the time the three of them emerged from the small forest into a generous stretch of rolling meadows that contained Ville Ardin.

Although the road into the village was little better than a beaten-down cart path, it still boasted a few shemlen statues along the side. Lyna did not recognize any of them – no Andraste or Maferath or Hessarian, no Blight heroes – and thought perhaps they were local Nevarran worthies. The lamp posts scattered nearby forced the statues into high relief, their shadows flickering and broken with the shifting light. Perhaps it was their unfamiliarity that made them seem sinister and strange to her. Perhaps it was something in the way the artist had carved them, so realistic and yet with dead-eyed stares.

She shrugged them off. They would look better in the morning. An inn was ahead, its lights within blazing brightly against the gloom.

“Ho, travelers. State your business,” said a Nevarran-accented voice. A man, previously crouched by one of the statues, stood up with a raised crossbow. His clothing and leather armor were plain but in good repair. Given his proximity to the inn, Lyna guessed he was some kind of guard or night watchman and not a bandit.

“Grey Wardens, messere, just passing through. Looking for room at the inn tonight,” Falke spoke up.

The guard eyed all three suspiciously, his gaze lingering on Zevran. “You don’t seem like a Warden, elf.”

“I am not,” the assassin shrugged. “But our goals are the same. We are associates.”

The guard grunted, lowering his crossbow somewhat. “Heard the inn’s full. But check anyway, if you like.”

Lyna exchanged glances with Falke and Zevran. They might have to camp, after all. Perhaps doing so near the village would still be fine, with no need for posting watches.

“Thank you, messere,” Falke said. “If that is true, at least we might have a drink and a moment’s rest before we move on.”

“As you will, Warden.”

They left the man and closed the remaining distance to the inn, dismounting and securing their horses at the railing outside. A sleepy stableboy emerged, hay sticking through his hair and clothes, and took a few coppers to put an armload of feed in front of the horses and mule and fill the water trough before retreating to his former bunk.

“Go on inside,” Lyna told the two men. “I’ll finish taking care of the animals.”

“Any requests, Commander?”

“Tea. A crust of bread.” Anything heavier or alcoholic would have her nodding in the saddle again, if they had to move on. Tea, at least, might keep her awake long enough to find them a spot to rest.

“I will find some shelter if they are truly full,” Zevran promised. “A floor will be better than the ground, at least.”

“As you wish.” She was ready to take whatever shelter could be found, or another night of camping, as long as it was soon.

Nodding, Zevran followed Falke inside. Lyna took the time to care for the horses and mule, unstrapping their blankets to rub them down and help them cool off so they wouldn’t cramp and sicken. She wished she could fully remove their tack and packs, but if they had to keep moving, it would only add to their delay to have to strap them on again.

Satisfied she’d done what she could, she pushed through the door of the inn.

The interior seemed cozy enough, lit with a fireplace, candles, and some glass lanterns. It was also quite full, as the guardsman promised, and Lyna had to stop at the doorway and lower her hood to search for Falke and Zevran. Conversation stilled and quite a few heads turned to stare at her.

“Commander, over here,” called Falke’s voice. He stood up from his position in a corner away from the fireplace.

Conversation slowly resumed as she made her way toward her men. She heard a quietly hissed “Dalish” in the general murmur, which she pretended to ignore. It did not seem as if these people would welcome them – or at least her – after all.

Zevran and Falke occupied a small wooden table, drinks and hunks of bread and cheese already at hand. Falke was nursing his drink and picking at the cheese, while Zevran, smilingly unconcerned with the surreptitious glares of nearby patrons, lounged and ate freely. Lyna sat down with a sigh and addressed her tea.

“So. No room, then?”

“No, no room,” Zevran said cheerfully. He popped another piece of cheese in his mouth.

“We need to find other accommodations or set up camp,” Falke said, frowning at the assassin. “We can’t rest here long.”

“I am working on it,” Zevran replied. He lifted his mug and took a long drink from it, setting it down with a satisfied and loud “aahhh.”

Lyna raised her eyebrow but said nothing. If he had a plan…

“I do not see how,” Falke muttered. He sipped from his own mug, his eyes askance as they looked about the room. “And I do not like the look of the men near the door,” he added, his voice dropping so low Lyna nearly leaned forward to hear him better.

“I see them,” Zevran said, nearly as quietly. “As for how I am working… you will see. Have patience and trust me.”

“Do not take too long, lethallin,” she said, drinking her tea. She adjusted her chair slightly so the group in question would at least be in her peripheral vision.

The men – definitely all men – had the look about them of people who styled themselves “adventurers” but were little better than highwaymen. They were rough around the edges, with worn weaponry and battered armor. They were all dark-haired, in various hues and styles of scruffy and unshaven. The only reason Lyna could think of as to why the guardsman of the village had let them through was that he was outnumbered. Six against one would end very quickly, and very badly.

Lyna spied a sigil on the back of one battered shield. It was a warhammer on a jagged, divided field of green and red. It was much scraped, almost deliberately so.

“Do you see the shield?” she said, keeping her voice low.

“Yes. The Winters mercenary company. I heard they fell apart a few years ago when most of them and their leader were killed near Kirkwall. Ruthless. But they were clearly out of their element and should have stayed in Nevarra,” Zevran said in the same tone of voice. He smiled brightly across the room as he took another long drink.

Lyna exchanged a slightly worried look with Falke. Remnants of a mercenary band clearly back in their element was not a good thing, and she did not want to attract their attention. Some other time this would not give her cause for concern, but not when they were all near the end of their tethers.

Lyna ate some bread and tried to relax. All she could do was trust that whatever Zevran’s plan was, it would get them away from potential trouble and into some beds, or bedrolls under a roof. Let trouble, if it must, find them tomorrow.

“Will there be anything else for you, messeres?” A thin elven maid – no vallaslin, she must have been city-born – approached deferentially with eyes downcast. The glances she was sneaking Zevran, however, were anything but.

Zevran favored her with one of his lazy smiles.

“The food and drink were most excellent, thank you. But we are tired and disappointed to learn there is no room to stay the night here. A shame, for it presents such excellent opportunities,” he said. The suggestive purring at the end left no doubt in Lyna’s mind what sort of “opportunities” he was alluding to. “Perhaps you might have a recommendation where I might rest my head for the night?”

“Apologies, messere. I have but a small space here for myself,” the woman clearly was reluctant to share that information, “else I would offer you room. No one else here can or will. I am sorry.”

“Is there nothing, then? A barn, perhaps?” Zevran pushed. He gave her his now-empty mug, using the action to caress the maid’s hand.

The barmaid jerked back as if she’d been branded, clutching the mug to her chest.

“N-no barn.” She nervously bit her lip. “But-“

“Yes?” Zevran said. He smiled hopefully.

“The estate of Lord Desmarais, a few miles down the road, lies abandoned. It borders the forest; you would pass it from a distance on the road.” She offered the information conspiratorially.

“An abandoned estate? Will its lord not return to claim it?” Falke asked, concerned.

The elf maid startled, obviously remembering there were other people at the table.

“Oh, no! Lord Desmarais and his family have been dead for many years. No one will come for it. It is fallen into disrepair, but much of it stands and will surely shelter you for a night.”

“Dead?” Lyna spoke up. This was a dubious recommendation.

“Yes, m-my lady.” A shout for a drink came from a table near the door. “But I shouldn’t have said anything. Don’t go there, it’s cursed. Get on your horses and keep going, messeres,” the maid finished, flustered and upset as she ran to fulfill the mercenaries’ order.

“Either we find this dead lord’s estate, or we camp. I’ll note I don’t like either option right now, but I just want to rest so I recuse myself from the voting,” Lyna stated.

“An abandoned noble estate? With a roof, quite possibly luxurious beds? Why not. They are going unused, we might as well,” Zevran said. “None will care, apparently.”

“I am not comfortable with the idea,” Falke said reluctantly, “but I like those mercenaries even less. If we camp, we could be easily spotted and overpowered.”

Lyna glanced over the heads of the other inn patrons, who were doing their best to ignore the mercenaries, and unfortunately caught the eye of one of the rogues. She did not like the grin that spread across his face.

“Looks like we may not have much choice, then, because they’ve just become too friendly for my comfort. Settle the bill, I’ll get us ready to leave,” she said grimly. She finished her tea and put the remains of the bread and cheese into a belt satchel, intending to finish it when they found shelter.

“Falke does not need my help for the bill,” Zevran said as he followed her out the door. She tried shrugging off the chill that started down her back at the lewd kissing noises aimed at her back from one of the mercenaries, but she couldn’t. It left her shaking and angry.

“Shemlen bastards,” she muttered, readjusting blankets, straps, and packs. “Fen’Harel find them and tear out their throats.”

“Were the situation different, I am sure you and I could do the job just fine,” Zevran offered.

“I’d do it right now, let them choke on their own blood.”

“Sometimes, cuore mio, I forget how bloodthirsty you can be. You are an inspiration.”

“Do not mock me right now, Zevran.”

“Far from it! I hear the passion in your voice about this and it is thrilling.”

Focus, lethallin.

Zevran sighed. “Of course. Escape first, killing later.”

When Falke emerged in a little while, they had the horses and mule ready to go, Lyna and Zevran already mounted.

“Good, we need to leave as soon as possible,” Falke said as he pulled himself into his saddle. “I saw those men talking to the serving girl, and I am certain it wasn’t about food or lodging.”

Fenhedhis.To the estate, then, and quickly,” Lyna said, and wheeled her horse to the road. The others followed close behind.

The estate was just as the elven woman described it, less than ten minutes down the road. It was sprawling and vine-choked, the gates hanging open. Further in was a decrepit and dry fountain sitting in the middle of the wide path between the gate and the long twin-staired portico entrance. A slight mist was rising from the ground.

“Inviting.” Lyna grimaced and rode her horse through the gate. It rolled its eyes and shuddered as they walked through the mist.

“Normally I would suggest we look for the stables, but this time perhaps we simply take the animals inside,” Zevran said, looking around dubiously.

“If those men follow us, it will not be solely for petty thievery,” Falke said darkly. “And it will be too difficult to get the mule, much less the horses, up the stairs.”

Lyna rubbed at her forehead. It was beginning to ache.

“Then find a safe place to tie them up where they won’t be noticed. We’ll take all our packs inside. If I have to use the Warden treaties or the Right of Conscription for fucking horses later, I will. But right now, we’ll find a side entrance, hmm? And not argue standing in plain sight out front?”

“Of course, Commander. I’ll secure the horses once we get our things inside,” Falke said.

“Thank you.”

They veered their horses off the main pathway into the weedy lawn on their left. Where there were once well-kept shrubs and topiaries, there was now a rambling and profuse cluster of wild growth. Beyond it all she could see the edge of the forest the woman spoke of, and an assortment of strange, crumbled outbuildings and statuary. The mist rose thicker that way.

“Oh my,” Falke breathed, spying what lay ahead.

“Something the matter?” Lyna asked. Her skin felt clammy, and she blamed it on the mist.

“Yes. Or no – I had never thought to see something like this outside the Grand Necropolis,” the Ander replied. “I did not know Nevarran families had personal tombs at their estates.”

“Too bad Scipio is not here, I am sure he would love to tell us all about it,” Zevran said, his expression clearly doubtful the mage would have actually done such a thing.

“Well, this one clearly does. Or did.” They emerged from the choked side garden into a miniature necropolis: small tombs, statues, benches, a fountain, trees and more flanked the largest tomb in the center, a squareish building with a steeply pointed pyramidal roof. The lintel of its front entrance came up perhaps to Lyna’s knees: the entrance was sunk into the ground, with a set of stairs leading down to it. Empty sconces flanked it and the paths leading to it.

Lyna frowned. “This doesn’t feel right.” There was a strange sensation she couldn’t describe, something out of balance, like poking at a half-healed sore.

“There is a doorway back here,” Zevran called. He had maneuvered his horse closer to the main building, past the shrubbery that flanked a garden portico.

“Mythal’enaste.” She drew closer to the house herself and dismounted. “Is it locked?”

“No, but there seems to be furniture blocking the way. Give me a moment, I think I can see a window to get through and open it from the other side.” She heard glass breaking and hoped he would be careful.

“There are a lot of weeds back here,” Falke observed.

“If it’s been abandoned for a long time, certainly,” Lyna said. She glanced over at where the man stood and froze. “Falke, that’s felandaris. A lot of felandaris.”

“That is…?”

“We call it ‘demon weed.’ It’s rare, you can only find it where the Veil is thin.” It was also completely unnerving. Still a damned useful plant, however; she could take out her growing fears on it. Lyna crouched and wrapped one hand around the base of one of the smaller skeletal-looking growths, yanking it roots and all out of the ground. The larger ones would be too tough and thorny to handle without hacking them to pieces. Shaking off clods of dirt from her prize, she considered whether or not it would be worth the hacking.

“Strange you would want one,” the Ander said, his expression puzzled.

“Herbalists will pay for these, and I can make some very nasty surprises with it myself,” she explained. Perhaps she would cut some, after all…

“Here we are, I have the door opened. It is a mess in here, but I am certain we can be more comfortable in here than on the hard ground out there,” Zevran said, emerging from the doorway and beckoning.

“Thank the Maker,” Falke said, and began unstrapping packs and supplies to bring inside.

Lyna brought the weed to Zevran as he joined Falke in unpacking. “Look.”

Zevran raised an eyebrow. “Disturbing.”

“And worth good coin whether or not we put it to use.”

“True. Perhaps we can harvest more when we are finished, no?”

She smiled. “You are right, ma ghilan. First things first.”

The interior was even messier than Lyna had thought it would be. The fine plaster walls were cracked and sifted dust at the least touch. Some animals had ripped at the cushioning of the furniture that lay strewn about, some pieces broken. Anything that might have been valuable had been stripped away a long time ago, with perhaps a few broken gilt frames left from paintings already cut away. A wrought chandelier lay dusty where it had crashed into the tiled floor.

“Such a sad thing to see, an estate with all her finery gone,” Zevran sighed wistfully.

“Hopefully it’s in a better state elsewhere. How are the stairs?” she asked.

“They seem solid enough,” Falke mused, testing his weight on them, his hand upon the much-scratched railing. He rose a few more steps, then they creaked alarmingly with a slight splintering. “Perhaps not.”

“We stay down here, then.”

“There must be servant quarters…” Zevran’s voice faded as he headed down the hallway of one wing.

“I wouldn’t trust those to be in a fit state,” she muttered. A noble’s house would be beautiful and sturdy, but servants? Who could say what nobles would do to plaster and gild over any problems that arose where their servants needed to live?

“For our sake, I hope they are,” Falke said softly. “We could spread our bedrolls here, but…”

“I know. Beds.”

Zevran returned with a strange expression on his face. “The whole wing is dusty, but almost untouched. All doors were open except for one, and when I unlocked it, I could swear I heard something. The room I unlocked is marvelous, perhaps where a mistress was kept.”

“Well, I won’t be setting foot there,” she said firmly. “Servant quarters?”

“Again, fine. Dusty, but fine.”

“Good. Falke, you get your wish.”

The Ander smiled. “A little dust won’t bother me. I’ll take care of the animals.” He turned around and headed back outside to where they’d left the horses and mule.

Zevran shuddered. “I am not certain I will be able to sleep.”

“We must sleep, my love.” Lyna kissed his cheek, then lifted a pack.

“I know, but there is something not quite right here.” He retrieved a pack as well.

“I admit I do feel disturbed, especially seeing the felandaris and that… necropolis?... outside. But maybe it’s age, maybe it’s just the deaths of that noble family so long ago, hmm? Nothing that can hurt us,” she said as they walked down the corridor to the servant quarters.

“You may be right, cuore mio. And we can help each other get to sleep?” he grinned suggestively.

“I am ready to sleep now, but perhaps there is something I can do to help you,” Lyna said, hooking a finger into the waistband of his pants.

“Mmm, I like your thinking. Let us finish setting up, and you show me.”

***

Something awoke Lyna out of a dead sleep. She lay spooned up against Zevran’s back, on top of the bedrolls they’d spread across the ancient bed once they’d cleared enough dust. Falke was installed in the room next to theirs; they’d all finished a cold meal of bread and cheese before turning in, wondering if the mercenaries at the inn would come to find them or if the thugs had grown bored of the idea. Zevran set a trap at each main entrance, just in case.

Despite Zevran’s protestations, it hadn’t taken him long to fall asleep. Lyna, exhausted, had followed suit.

Why was she awake now? Gingerly she pulled away from the assassin and sat up, listening, in the darkness.

“Ye shouldna done that.” The voice was muffled, but she heard it clearly through the walls outside.

“Stuff it. Nobles…”  The second voice became fainter as it moved to a different area outside the estate.

Lyna scrambled out of bed and began yanking on clothing and armor. “Zevran,” she hissed. She daren’t poke him awake. Like her, he sometimes lashed out. “Zevran. Wake up.”

“Mmm…”

A partially wakened Zevran was safer. She poked him. “Wake up. The mercenaries.”

“Brasca.” His speech was fuzzy from sleep, but she was certain the string of words in Antivan that followed were uncomplimentary of rude mercenaries.

She gestured at him to hurry, yanking on her cuirass as best she could and fumbling for the buckles as she went to Falke’s room. Lyna laid a hand over the Ander’s mouth and shook him awake, gesturing at him to be quiet when his eyes flew open in alarm.

“The mercenaries are here,” she hissed at him, finishing up with the major fastenings. She immediately left so Falke could pull himself together, and went back to the room she shared with Zevran to retrieve her weapons. Zevran was fumbling at his own armor when she heard the distant rattling of one of the outside doors.

Lyna’s thoughts were a litany of curses as she helped Zevran.

“Sssssshhheeeee caaalllss…” The moan that echoed through the halls was unearthly. It reminded her of the ghostly elves in the ruined temple where the Brecilian werewolves had made their lair. Her hair stood on end.

The dead were not so dead after all.

“…s’at? You in there, pretty?” called a rough, laughing voice – one of the mercenaries, certainly – from the vicinity of the garden entrance. The door rattled again, more vigorously, and she could hear cursing.

“Wait for them,” Zevran said softly, smirking. “They will trip it soon enough.”

“Lyna!” Falke’s voice carried in a harsh whisper from next door.

She stalked into the hallway, hands on the hilts of her weapons. Falke came to his door, buckling his last buckles.

“They’re trying a trapped door,” she whispered. “Be ready.”

“That sound…”

Lyna nodded. “Something is awake. Be. Ready.”

“Andraste’s mercy on us all.”

There were crashing sounds against the door now. “Come on, you bitch, open-“ As it finally splintered open, light flashed down the hallway. Flames roared to life and consumed the air, robbing the intruder of his screams.

Five.

“I feel a little better about these odds,” Zevran grinned, darting down the corridor as the flames began to die down.

“By the Dread Wolf…,” Lyna cursed, and ran after him.

“Ah, this gets the blood pumping!” she heard him cry cheerfully, crossing blades with a survivor.

“Antivan son of a whore!” the Nevarran spat, some of his armor clearly singed.

“Do we know each other?” Zevran rebutted, ducking under a brutal swing to deliver twin strikes to the midsection. Blood spilled from the wounds as the attacker staggered back through the doorway into the garden necropolis.

Four.

“Guillame! Leave the tomb, we are-“ another voice shouted outside, a rising tide of demonic shrieking cutting it off abruptly.

Lyna barreled through the doorway in time to see an ash wraith, its form comprised of borrowed bones and torchlight ashes, consume a mercenary in a whirlwind of attack, its enemy’s blood drawing into and helping solidify its form.

Three.

“Maker,” she heard Falke say.

“Keep back from it,” Lyna shouted. They really needed a mage, but what they had were Lyna’s and Zevran’s grenades and their weapon enchantments. Andruil, let this be enough.

“Sssshhheee caaallllssss…” The moaning grew louder, as did other ghostly voices that arose.

“Antony, no, what are you doing? Stop!”

“They will never let us marry…”

“Don’t leave me, I can’t let you leave me!”

“Papa? Papa, where are you? It’s so dark, Papa…”

“I have a surprise, catch!” Zevran tossed what she recognized as a frost grenade at the ash wraith. It exploded and froze the creature momentarily, but she knew it wouldn’t last. Not when it could reform. It needed to be damaged enough to be discouraged away.

Lyna closed in with her longswords, launching a furious assault. Chips of frozen ash wraith ricocheted with every cut. She could almost hear the thing’s spectral shrieks within.

“Please, my lord, let me go home!”

“Guillaume, they have summoned demons! We must leave!” shouted another mercenary she couldn’t see. From the clash of weapons that followed, she could only assume Falke had closed with him. Certainly a safer target than the ash wraith Lyna was certain would break free at any moment.

The wind rose as the ghostly voices howled, the air flickering with sickly greenish light around the edges of her vision. Lyna kept up her attack though dread began to sink in. The Veil was thinning around them and she had no way to stop it.

The ice around the ash wraith shattered just as the remaining two mercenaries emerged from the central tomb, bags of stolen treasures on their backs. The wraith drew itself up high, wailing an angry cry – a sure sign it was about to return Lyna’s whirlwind assault or spit fire. It was not weakened enough.

“Zevran, another!” Lyna cried as she backpedaled away.

“A little busy,” came the tense reply. She risked a glance, and saw he was engaged with a large armored corpse, some unknown heraldry emblazoned on its chest and shield. It was pressing a powerful attack, its shield keeping Zevran back as he tried to find its weak spots.

Creators, help me now!

The ash wraith flowed along the ground as it followed Lyna across the flags; it was focused upon her. Desperately she pulled it toward Falke and his mercenary foe, joining their fight. If she could put the mercenary between them and the wraith, perhaps the wraith would fall upon the mercenary first, buying her and Falke some breathing space. She could lob her own grenade and go help Zevran.

“I leave you to the demons!” laughed one of the mercenaries running for the side gardens. Their steps came to an abrupt halt as the greenish mists solidified around their feet, swirling in the vague shape of a glyph. The air turned colder and another shriek pierced the air as a dark form smoked up from the tomb into their midst.

Lyna managed to kick the mercenary back into the ash wraith, which slammed him into the ground with a sickening crunch. In the breath between, she threw her grenade, encasing the wraith in ice once more. It felt like a futile gesture: the new demon that had emerged was an arcane horror, an era’harel judging from ancient vestments she had seen in battle before.

“Ir emah'la shal! Halam sahlin, bellanaris din’an heem!”  The elvhen resounded in the wavering light of the Veil, emanating from the outraged demon.

Lyna understood just enough of the ancient language to see it did not merely mean to kill the mercenaries that had desecrated its tomb (how did such a thing happen in a shemlen necropolis?), but all of them.

Nae, venavis lethallin! Vir atish’an uthenera!” she shouted desperately in reply.

Seth’lin, ar tu na’din!” A cage of light sprang up around Lyna, holding her fast in a crushing grip. Falke’s gasp told her he too was imprisoned. She watched helplessly as the horror turned its attention to Zevran, who although he’d begun winning his fight with the massive corpse was clearly flagging.

No, Mythal, please!

A wave of energy pulsed through the area, knocking over the arcane horror. It also battered and weakened Lyna’s cage, clashed against the frozen ash wraith, knocked down the armored corpse, and freed the mercenaries, who fell with a gasp to their knees.

“Foolish, greedy humans! Will you never learn?” An elven man in Keeper robes emerged from the darkness of the woods and raised his gnarled staff high. From it launched a barrage of streaks of light, seeking and hitting the staggered era’harel. Several Dalish hunters followed and took flanking positions around him, their arrows flying into the ash wraith.

Lyna struggled against her cage, stumbling when it popped. The ice encasing the wraith clattered away seconds later, and she frantically relaunched her attack on the creature. She could only hope with the armored corpse knocked down that Zevran would be able to finish it, and that the Keeper and his hunters would focus on the horror.

Falke prayed beside Lyna as his longsword joined the attack. His blows did little to hurt it, but the combined assault was wearing it down, as if whatever animating wind was leaking away.

The Keeper raised his staff again and another wave of energy pulsed out, knocking down all. Lyna fell back, just barely keeping from hitting her head, Falke whuffing as he hit the ground beside her.

This final blow dispersed the lingering demons, the ash wraith collapsing with a clatter of bones. The arcane horror raised its arms before it too collapsed into black smoke that seemed to retreat back into the ground.

“I think I need to rest,” groaned Zevran from where he lay, the vanquished corpse’s armor crashing loudly against the flagstones.

Several arrows thwipped into the prone mercenaries, pinning them to the spot.

“Stay where you are. I would have answers,” Lyna heard the Keeper say.

“Keeper! Andaran atish’an,” Lyna croaked.

“This is no peaceful place, da’len. Who are you, and what do you do here?”

Slowly Lyna sat up, releasing her weapons. The Keeper, now that she could see him clearly, was an older man, fine grey hair pulled back in intricate braids. The hunters were mixed in age and discernable gender, bows still trained on the prone.

“I am Lyna Mahariel Sabrae, Keeper. Warden-Commander of the Ferelden Grey Wardens. Warden Falke and my-“ Calling Zevran simply her lover would not carry sufficient weight. I will need to explain to him later. “-my bond-mate Zevran and I hoped to rest protected here. Ville Ardin’s inn was full and we suspected these mercenaries would come at us while we camped.”

“Mahariel. Your actions have rippled in the Beyond, da’len. Come here, let me see you.”

Lyna obeyed, pushing herself to her feet. The corners of her eyes prickled. My people, oh my beautiful people. She walked to the Keeper and stopped in front of him.

Ma serannas. It is good to see you all-“

“Sssshh.” The Keeper, whose eyes were such a pale blue they reminded her of the blue-shadowed snow in the Frostbacks, looked over Lyna intently.

“I see much of your father in you, lethallan. Too much, and yet not enough,” he finally sighed. “To kill an Archdemon requires a tenacity of spirit so few possess. And yet…”

“Please, Keeper. I have not seen our people in too long. I have so many questions. What is your name? Who is your clan? How did you come to be here?”

“We have been here a long time, and here we must stay for as long as we can. Amae lethalas. What awoke here should have remained asleep, but for your greedy shems.” The Keeper waved a hand. Several more arrows found their marks in the mercenaries, who ceased their struggles and swiftly died. She heard Falke gasp.

“The Nevarrans who lived here dug too deeply to make this,” the Keeper said, spreading his arm to encompass the necropolis. “They found an underground chamber dedicated to our people. It drove them mad. The husband killed his wife and children, then kidnapped some of our clan and did the same.”

That explained much. Her heart hurt for them. “Mythal’s mercy, I am so sorry. But-“

“I tell you this, Mahariel, because I want you to understand: I recognize a darkness in you, a path you must walk to protect others. Our clan is sworn to protect this place, which we call bel’arla’din.” His gaze turned sad. “So you cannot stay. I cannot welcome you, not as one of the People and not even as a Grey Warden.”

Lyna was stunned. “I’ve tried to do so much. Lanaya’s clan…”

“The shems won’t keep their promise to Keeper Lanaya,” one of the hunters, a dark-haired man with sharp green eyes, snapped. “After all the blood shed, Lanaya has told us they will not let her clan settle. Her halla are sick, and those of your clan are dead. You are cursed, Mahariel. Leave.”

Lyna recoiled, feeling as if she had been slapped. This is precisely what she had feared.

Tel’nuvenas!” The Keeper replied to the hunter, scowling. “You dishonor us.”

Ara seranna-ma, Keeper,” the hunter muttered. But he kept a steady gaze on Lyna. He did not look sorry at all.

“We will speak of this later.” The Keeper sighed. “I apologize, Mahariel. But for the safety of all, I must ask you and your vhenallin to leave. We will escort you to a place of safety where you may camp. That is all I can do.”

Lyna blinked back tears from the sorrow that threatened to overwhelm her.

“Thank you, Keeper. We will need time to gather our packs and animals, and we will be ready to go,” she said heavily.

“Of course. Let us know when you are ready,” he said gently. “Meanwhile, we will restore what these thieves have taken to keep the spirits calm.” He made another gesture, and two hunters peeled away to recover the mercenaries’ bulging sacks.

Lyna turned away, gut-shot and trying hard not to show it.

Cuore mio,” Zevran said softly as she approached.

“Not now.” Lyna walked past him and through the splintered and burned door of the estate, her back straight and head high. She would not let this clan see her tears.

It was only after the hunters escorted them and left, the Keeper’s word discharged, after they were in the privacy of an abandoned bear’s cave by a stream, that Lyna gave in to her misery and wept. Falke awkwardly embraced her and left to gather firewood.

Zevran gathered Lyna into his arms and murmured a stream of Antivan, stroking her hair. “Amore mio. They do not deserve you. Hush, now.” He rocked and hummed for a long time, Falke coming and going with firewood and water, until her tears trickled away and stopped.

Lyna sat up, pulling away a little, and took a shaky breath. “They will never accept me again. I have to get used to this.”

“Maybe so, and maybe not,” he said. “But what you do is more important than one clan, no? Or all the clans. It is for Thedas.” He kissed her brow.

“But the Dalish are who I am, Zevran. Why I do what I do. Without that…”

“You still have me. And you have the Wardens. And everyone who calls you ‘friend,’” Zevran said firmly. “They cannot take back their tattoos or their stories, either. These things are yours.”

Lyna was quiet for a while, digesting this. She wouldn’t seek out the Arlathvhen, even if she could discover where it was – she couldn’t have this heartbreak happen again. But she could still treasure what she could get.

“I am curious, if you would…” Zevran said, breaking her reverie. He smoothed a straggle of hair behind her ear.

“Mmm?”

“Is a ‘bond-mate’ what I think it is?”

Lyna flushed. “Yes. Sorry. I didn’t think ‘lover’ would be enough for the Keeper to take you seriously.”

“So you lied?” he asked, an incredulous grin spreading on his face. “You meet your people for the first time in a long while, and you lie.”

“Well, he called you and Falke ‘friend of the People,’ so he bought it!” she said defensively.

“So what would you have done if he had welcomed us, hmm? What do bond-mates do?”

“They get to share an aravel of their own, though since I’m sure they’d have had no room for us it wouldn’t have mattered.” She shrugged. “Some exchange tokens to signify the bond.”

“Is that so? I have my token. Where is yours?”

She shrugged again. “Don’t know. I might have thought of something.”

“You do have many trinkets, yes.” He chuckled. “Nothing I would give you, however.”

“You could have pretended.”

“True. But… wait here.” He got up and rummaged into his pack, then returned with something small and golden in his hand, held between two fingers.

“What is this?” Lyna looked from Zevran’s fingers to his face. It was an uncertain smirk.

“Your token, just in case. It is an earring.” He dangled it from his fingers; she could see where it would pierce the ear. “I acquired it on my very first job for the Crows. A Rivaini merchant prince, and he was wearing a single, jeweled earring when I killed him. In fact, that’s about all he was wearing. I thought it was beautiful and took it to mark the occasion. I’ve kept it since… and I’d like you to have it.”

“It is beautiful, but-“

“Just in case, mm? I do not want your people to catch you in a lie. And it is time I gave you a gift instead. You should have beautiful things, cuore mio.

“I- thank you, ma ghilan.” She offered a shy smile as she took it from his fingers. His eyes lit up. “You will need to pierce my ear.”

“I will get the needle and brandy.”

Falke returned with water later to find them giggling and singing a bawdy song, a golden, jeweled earring now dangling brazenly from her right ear.

Chapter Text

“No, frame your mouth like so.” Lyna put her hands on either side of Zevran’s mouth, her fingers pressing  upon his lips. “Now repeat it.”

Leth-ahl… this is quite sexy, you know. The lips, the tongue, the fingers…,” Zevran said, interrupting himself with a grin.

Lyna blushed, aware Falke was standing not five feet away and only partially preoccupied himself, although with Morrigan’s book and his breakfast. It wasn’t so much that she minded such a public affair with Zevran, it was simply that Falke was their only other companion and the Ander had little recourse for escape. He had been remarkably tolerant, even seemingly encouraging, of her growing relationship with the Antivan. Lyna did not like repaying his kindness with, well, rudeness.

Focus, please. I can’t teach you if you keep distracting me like this,” she said with a little smile.

Leth-ahl-lahn… lethallan… how is it that the names are different? Does not lethallin-“ Zevran tripped over the Dalish sounds, “share the same syllable as vallaslin?”

“That’s two different questions, ma ghilan. I can’t answer the first, though. The reason has been lost.” She moued sourly. “But the second – yes, it does. ‘Lin’ is ‘blood.’”

“That’s it,” Falke exclaimed. She thought perhaps he was upset, but as he turned toward her she realized he was actually excited. He walked over to her, book in hand, and showed it to her. Tucked between the spread leaves was a piece of paper with Falke’s handwritten notes; it was this he pointed at.

“Sections of this book seemed clearly enciphered, most of it in a way I don’t understand. This was in a simple cipher with letter substitutions, but the results were still puzzling to me,” Falke explained. “Until now.” He beamed and indicated she should read.

“’Vir dirtharlam, ghilanallin…’ oh my. It’s Dalish! Although if this was around the First Blight, my people didn’t have the Dales yet. So, Elvhen. ‘To seek the path of the ending, the blood-guides give all their power’ – but this word, here, also connotes ‘knowledge,’ so perhaps ‘experience’? ‘expertise’? – ‘into our effort. They have endured with us and share our purpose.’” Lyna looked up at Falke, the discovery bittersweet.

“At least half of this I’m not sure even I can translate, since so much of our language is lost, but just to have this much…” She traced her fingers over the page. “What happened here? It suggests elves were part of this… solution. Experiments. But willingly? I don’t understand. The Tevinter Empire…” She frowned. “And these ‘blood-guides’ referred to suggest blood mages.”

“This bothers me greatly as well, Commander. The Tevene I have translated suggest much the same, and some of the diagrams refer to where and how to draw upon blood to fuel certain magics,” the Ander replied unhappily. He placed a ribbon to mark his spot and closed the book.

“The only reason I continue in this is in hope for clues to reverse the process and seek purity. It does not seem right that Wardens must become what we fight. I accept the necessity for the greater purpose, but if we might find another way, rid ourselves of this taint, the Calling… I can think of no greater purpose for my remaining life’s work.” Falke did not often hold forth with his thoughts and beliefs. Lyna was honored he chose to share them now, touched by the quiet conviction. She thought she understood how Hannah found herself falling for her countryman.

“I honor your devotion, Falke. This is a disquieting path that will likely not grow any more tolerable.” Lyna grimaced. “I can only hope that Fiona can be persuaded to help us. I don’t think simply talking to her will be enough.”

Falke was shocked. “You’re not seriously suggesting we kidnap her.”

“What? Creators bless me, no. I certainly hope nothing so extreme might be needed. Surely she can be persuaded and reasoned with.” Nothing she had heard about Fiona thus far implied the mage wouldn’t listen to what Lyna had to say. But it was always possible she would refuse to hear her out, in which case Lyna had the brooch to help her make her argument. Seeing Avernus, however…

“If she cannot, let me handle the kidnapping. It would be a challenging change of pace from killing,” Zevran suggested. “I can make certain she does not come to harm.”

Falke’s brows drew down, his eyes darkening with the look he shot Zevran. “Pray that such a thing will never be ‘necessary.’ Harm or no, it’s wrong.”

“And yet here you are with tainted blood in your veins, Warden. ‘Wrong’ is relative to one’s agenda, no?” Zevran pointed out, setting his hands on his hips.

Falke stared at him a long moment before turning away, packing the book carefully. “Perhaps. But not always. Some things are just wrong, no matter what.”

“Like the Blight?” Zevran prodded.

Falke sighed, head bowed. “Like the Blight.”

“We will do what we must, but there is room to consider what is actually necessary versus what is expedient,” Lyna said gently. “Some lines may be skirted, but never crossed.” Thin reassurance, she knew, for Falke’s particular beliefs and where they may conflict with his convictions, but better than nothing.

“We will do nothing if we do not leave these plains today,” Zevran complained. “Several days in this flat flatness, does it not end?” He snatched up a piece of hard tack for his breakfast and chewed on it with distaste.

“It must, we are at least half a day’s ride from the leading edge of the forests north of Arlesans,” she said, sitting on a campstool nearby with the map unfurled. Her finger traced a path directly west. “And several days’ journey from either Ghislain or Montfort.”

Falke closed up his pack and brought his mug of tea to stand behind Lyna and review the map. “We should encounter a small road soon leading from Ghislain. Perhaps we can take that to Arlesans? It should speed up the journey a little.” He traced a gently curving line that did not appear on Lyna’s map.

“I suppose we could.” She considered the path Falke traced. It was possible they might only share the road with the usual assortment of merchants, farmers, or Orlesian military patrolling for bandits. “How do you know about this road?”

“It’s been referenced in a few sources I have read – it was barely a hunter’s track during the Third Blight when the darkspawn attacked Arlesans, but expanded with use immediately after, of course.” Falke sipped his tea.

“Well, should you happen to know anything else similarly useful, Falke, please do share. I’d rather not stumble about blindly,” Lyna said, rolling up the map and stowing it.

“You’ll have to let me know what might be useful to you, Commander, else I might chatter on all day,” the Ander replied with a rare smile.

“Look at you being cheeky!” She chuckled. “Alright. Just let me know if there’s anything to make this journey easier than I’ve made it thus far.”

“Join a caravan,” Falke and Zevran said in unison.

She huffed. “Aside from that.”

***

Half a day’s ride revealed a ribbon of packed dirt-and-fencepost that was the Ghislain road. The sparse trees on the Fields of Ghislain began dotting the landscape more liberally as they approached the road and started down it.

“A good sign,” Lyna smiled. “We may be drawing closer to Arlesans than I thought.” While she wasn’t especially excited to go to Val Royeaux, she was looking forward to discharging her sad duty to Denis and finally meeting Fiona.

“There still remains at least a full day’s journey there, even so,” Falke cautioned.

“True.” Lyna looked up and squinted. “Clouds on the horizon. We may get rain.”

“Let us wait a little longer before stopping to get the cloaks. It is much too warm,” Zevran  suggested.

“You just don’t want your hair mussed,” she teased.

“Not in this fashion, no.” He grinned.

“Fine, but let’s move a little faster and get a little more tree cover.”

The clouds moved in faster than the trees, however, and after an hour they were forced to stop in the dubious shelter of a young oak by the side of the road as a light mist fell.

“Warm and damp. I will not be comfortable until we are camped, now,” the Antivan complained from under his hood. Light tendrils of his hair stuck to the sides of his face and he pouted.

“It could be worse, you know.” She rolled her eyes as she urged her horse back onto the road.

“I know. Please do not say that. You invite trouble.”

“Is that thunder?” Falke said, head cocked to the side. A faint rumble rolled across the sky.

Zevran sighed. “It is. I feel worse already.”

The trees steadily grew closer together as they continued down the road, the sky darkening appreciably. The mist became a light rain that grew in intensity until they were cantering through a downpour, occasional flashes of lightning arcing across the sky.

Reluctantly Lyna looked for shelter as they rode. She could travel through the rain, but the way the water was sheeting down, it would be best to get to a camp and wait it out.

“So much for a good sign!” she shouted. “Look for somewhere we can stop.”

“There’s nowhere to stop in this mess,” Falke shouted back. “We may have to set up our own camp.”

“We’ll be too exposed!”

“No one else could be out in this!” Falke argued.

“Just a little further, then, and-“

A rumble and roar shook the air. Lyna pulled up, forcing her horse to stop.

“We should camp now, that thunder is getting worse,” Zevran scowled. Lyna was about to agree and dismount when she felt a tremor.

“What was that?” she said, alarmed.

“Not thunder,” Falke said grimly. He pointed through the thickened tree cover and the grey curtain of rain falling. Another roaring sound split the air, distinctly less like weather and something more animalistic.

 “I don’t like the sound of that,” she frowned.

“Neither do I,” Falke answered. Lightning flashed again. Through the trees she could just make out a terrifyingly large shape.

“Maker’s breath,” Zevran exclaimed. “Is that a-“

“Giant,” Lyna supplied. “And for some reason, it’s angry. Come, we need to get moving and get shelter later far from here.”

As they galloped down the road, however, they heard other sounds along with the giant’s roaring and stumbling: men fighting. She thought she heard other, frightened cries as they drew closer.

“Lead it from the carriages!” a man’s voice shouted above the others. “Protect the children!”

Lyna glanced at the others and drew Vigilance. “Someone needs help.” She undid the mule’s lead from her horse; she could only hope the animal stayed and they could retrieve it later.

“What are you doing?” Zevran asked incredulously. “We must go!”

“Stay with the mule if you like,” she said, and kicked her horse forward. “FOR THE WARDENS!”

Brasca,” she dimly heard Zevran swear as both he and Falke followed behind. The air was thick with rain, the green trees, and the giant’s bellowing as she thundered down the road and toward the fighting.

Soon they arrived on the scene, a small caravan strewn across the road like children’s toys. Two fine carriages were upright, a third lying on its side on the muddy ground. People were atop the conveyance and reaching inside to pull out the inhabitants. Carts were in disarray behind them, their drovers and shivering servants trying to take shelter wherever they could find it, and several men on horses milled about shouting conflicting orders.

A small grouping of mounted and armored soldiers in shining, elaborate armor surrounded the giant, which lashed out to sweep them aside. Several were able to move out of the way quickly, but one man was knocked out of his saddle to fly back over ten feet and crash into the ground.

Lyna threaded through the chaos and headed straight for the giant, ignoring the shouts of alarm in her path. Part of her marveled at her idiocy for trying to engage this creature one-handed. If her horse hadn’t been resisting her, she could use both.

An arrow shot from behind her at the giant’s knee. The thing  grunted in pain.

“Wardens!” Lyna cried out again. As she closed with the giant – Mythal it’s so tall! – she could see the soldiers surrounding it possessed very ornate silverite armor, their helms resembling masks. They fought very well, swords and shields rising and falling, lunging and slashing in coordinated movements. They were, however, having a difficult time penetrating the giant’s thick skin. Most blows that would shatter a man or cut him in two were only leaving shallow wounds and angering the creature.

She pushed her reluctant horse through a thinner section of men and aimed an experimental cut at its leg. She was gratified to see her dragonbone sword slice through the hide cleanly, runnels of blood now oozing from the cut. The giant bellowed and tried to swipe at the newcomer.

“Keep it distracted!” she shouted at a man nearby with a plumed helm as they both darted away from the menace of the giant’s hand. She pointed at an area a little further away from the carriages. “Get it over there, I can take it down!”

Without missing a beat, the man pulled his horse back in the direction Lyna indicated. “Chevaliers, with me! Dismount!”

“Bows, with the chevaliers!” Lyna barked, pulling her horse back slightly in the opposite direction. The giant was swinging about, aimlessly following whatever got under its nose now. She used its temporary distraction to dismount and draw Starfang as well.

One heartbeat later, arrows flew from behind and a wall of shields came up in front of the chevaliers as they harried the giant. Lyna grinned as it turned its attention to the mass of men. One chevalier in the middle, the man with the plumed helm, seemed to take particular enjoyment in taunting the creature, yelling and waving his sword in the calculated gaps they opened for slashing.

Lyna sped toward the giant from behind and slashed at the thick tendons of its heels, not stopping even as it howled and wobbled dangerously. She ran and directed another cut at the other heel, whirling away as soon as her swords bit. The giant tried turning to go after her but its step was weakened and the ground a slick muddy paste: she had not cut entirely through. She would need another pass at one of its feet, at least.

“Here, you brute!” shouted the middle chevalier, and he broke ranks long enough to whirl his blade and stab it into the thing’s toe. The giant leaned forward, following; the man rejoined the wall of shields and continued hurling mild insults to keep its attention.

Just the opening Lyna needed. She darted around the creature’s uncertain step and swung both swords into the weakened tendon. She heard it snap like a dry tree branch and immediately swiveled to run for the other, not caring if this second blow was as successful: it would fall, she was certain. Once down, it would be easier to kill, but it might still get back up and she hoped to prevent that.

Time seemed to slow around her: arrows whizzing by over her head, raindrops bouncing off her arcing swords, the jubilant cries of the massed fighters a shockwave presaging the surge of their shields toward the toppling giant. Lyna finished her spin to bite deep into the second tendon, the force of its snap as it severed the final push needed to send the monstrosity crashing down. The ground trembled with its thrashing, the air split between its roars of pain and the battle cries of the chevaliers as their swords sought for every weak point they could find.

Lyna retreated away from the flailing limbs, watching to see if it presented further threat. But when a chevalier hacked his way from its chest to sever a large vein at the giant’s throat, she knew it was done. She walked to the edge of the melee and knelt to wipe her blades against the wet grass, the rain carrying away most of the blood.

“That was invigorating. I have not fought a giant before, and if luck is with us, that will not happen again,” Zevran observed as he and Falke rejoined her.

“I hope both of you played nicely with the chevaliers,” Lyna said a crooked grin as she rose and sheathed her weapons.

“We took up position behind them with our bows. Don’t worry, Commander, I learned from the rock wraith to stay well back,” Falke replied dryly.

“And let me do the bulk of the work,” she teased.

“Well, if I had weapons like yours...,” Zevran rolled his eyes.

“We should-“

Well done, well done I say!” a rich Orlesian baritone greeted them.

Lyna turned to see the chevalier with the plumed helm approaching. His armor and face guard were liberally splattered with mud and the giant’s blood. Another man approached behind him, tattooed, grim-faced and burly; she was startled to see he was a Chasind warrior. She tensed, wondering if she should draw her weapons, but he made no move to attack, folding his arms and staring her down impassively through the slowly slackening rain as the chevalier continued to speak.

“I did not know Grey Wardens fought anything but darkspawn, but I am grateful for the assistance,” he said, the tone of his voice clearly pleased. “Whom do I have the honor of thanking?”

“Warden-Commander Lyna Mahariel. This is Warden Falke and my companion, Zevran Arainai of Antiva,” she said with a very slight bow.  “Fortunately for Thedas darkspawn are not always about. In peace, vigilance. So we must make do with whatever crosses our paths, ser…?”

“Ahh, you are Ferelden! I might have guessed once you saw Cahir.” He removed his helm and tucked it under his arm. His fine features were softly lined – an older man allowed to age gracefully, his dark hair and forked beard lightened with grey and his deep-set pale blue eyes framed with liberal crow’s feet. His mouth gently curved in a small smile. “I am Duke Prosper de Montfort of Orlais, my lady. You are quite far from home.”

Fenedhis. So the Game begins. At least her first encounter was someone with a history connected to the Grey Wardens. Lyna was mindful of Scipio’s parting words as she lowered her hood.

“As a Grey Warden, Your Grace, all of Thedas is my home. Warden Falke himself is a student of the world. And Zevran is an adventurous soul, though he dearly missed Antiva fighting by my side during the Blight.” She gestured at Zevran and Falke in introduction, watching for the nobleman’s reaction as they, too lowered their hoods and bowed in greeting.

The Duke’s eyes widened in surprise, but he swiftly schooled his features into something simultaneously canny and pleasantly polite. Other chevaliers nearby, having claimed some scrap of cloth or other, more grisly trophy from the giant, took in their little grouping with raised eyebrows or whispering behind their hands before moving on with the task of securing the caravan once more.

“And what brings the Hero of the Fifth Blight to Orlais? Will you be claiming some past-due honors?” Prosper inquired with a tilt of his head. His words sounded friendly enough, but Lyna did not think any such ‘honors’ were in the offing and chose to sidestep the topic.

“My traveling companions and I are delivering the personal effects of a fallen comrade to his family in Arlesans, my lord. I also have business on behalf of the Wardens afterward in Val Royeaux. I do not anticipate staying for very long,” she replied.

“It is fortunate that your mission of mercy has brought you here, then. Allow me to offer you and your companions a respite from this terrible weather while we set ourselves to rights,” the Duke said with a genial smile, indicating a retinue even now erecting colorful tents and sheets of treated canvas for the benefit of the inhabitants of the carriages. One small grouping of nobility, judging from their sodden clothing and shaken demeanors, had been rescued from the toppled carriage. Soldiers not affiliated with the chevaliers and some servants were currently attempting to get the conveyance upright once more, cursing loudly and hauling on ropes and skittish horses.

“Most kind, my lord. We will retrieve our own animals – I was quite reckless in coming to your aid – and join you forthwith,” Lyna said with an apologetic grin. While this was true, she needed breathing space to keep from looking at the miserable labor currently underway and speak to Zevran and Falke about what to do next.

Had this been a merchant like Bodahn or a farming family, Lyna would have offered to assist with erecting shelter and soothing hurts. She wasn’t entirely sure of the protocol required in accepting invitations such as the Duke offered, and felt falling back on what she’d learned in her time as Arlessa would have to suffice. Seneschal Varel and Mistress Woolsey had done their best to impress upon her that while her ideas of directly aiding a noble’s servants were admirable, it was generally looked down upon and sometimes insulting to the servants themselves.

Shems were a bit strange in that regard, but it was their world Lyna moved in now, for good or ill.

“Of course! Upon your return I hope you will share with me how you acquired such marvelous weapons,” Duke Prosper said, eyes glinting as he turned toward the beginnings of his camp. “I expect your stories will be thrilling.” He managed a heel click in the mud as he pivoted and caught up with the Chasind at his back.

After the Orlesian noble was a safe distance away, Lyna strode off with Falke and Zevran. Their horses weren’t far away, but the mule was another matter.

“Will we be making camp here?” Falke asked uncertainly. While the rain had let up, it had become a steady light shower that might remain the rest of the day and into the evening.

“I don’t know, but I think we must plan to do so. I don’t want to give the Duke offense, and we weren’t quite prepared for this weather,” she replied, whistling loudly for her mount. It emerged from the trees and came walking over, skirting the giant. Lyna had been amused to discover how responsive to training their horses were. It’s likely the stablemaster in Perendale had known and figured it into their price.

“We should set our camp as soon as possible, but I think we may take advantage of the Duke’s hospitality first. His camp will be finished first, allowing us to find the right spot,” Zevran said, spotting and pointing out his horse and Falke’s in the distance. The Ander walked over to retrieve both.

“Agreed.”

Lyna glanced about, observing the Orlesians; the servants seemed equally split between elves and humans, but the elves either set themselves apart or were shunned by the humans. They were also mostly ignored until someone – a human servant, or a chevalier, or noble – wanted something, at which time the elf waited upon them quietly and with downcast eyes. It made Lyna very uncomfortable. It wasn’t that the elves in Ferelden had better lives, but here it was much more obvious what these city elves or the Dalish endured. Lyna’s own place in this society depended highly upon the source of her honors and nightmares alike.

“When we do set up, my love, I want both you and Falke to handle it. You shouldn’t be alone, and they will dislike a Dalish ordering a human to do all the work,” Lyna said to Zevran quietly. “I may or may not be able to join you, though perhaps if I beg off early...”

“And let them think less of the vaunted ‘Warden stamina’? No, cuore mio, let them fete you. Tell stories and be charming. I believe you will be a marvel and distraction for them, an exotic wonder like me,” Zevran grinned, folding his arms. “Swim the political waters. I will keep watch in the depths.”

He nodded surreptitiously to the servants.

“I would rather be picking mud and shit from my horse’s hooves,” she muttered, but smiled for the benefit of anyone watching. “So be it. We will be here one night, and then back on our way in the morning. It can be endured.”

“And rewarded. Shall we scandalize the whole camp?” Zevran stepped in and whispered in her ear as she saw Falke returning with the men’s horses. “I should like to hear you sing.”

Lyna flushed and raised an eyebrow. “I believe I heard a challenge.”

“It could be a promise.”

“Only if it is a duet,” she smirked, and led the way in looking for their mule.

It was a ridiculous thing to plan to shock the Duke’s camp when otherwise exercising caution and sense, but neither could Lyna be admonished for it without putting the complainer in an uncomfortable position. ‘Warden stamina’ – she chuckled. Falke would get an uncomfortable night, but she’d make it up to him in exchange for the greater discomfort she was looking forward to inflicting on the Orlesians. Perhaps she could leverage her fame so the Ander could have something nice in Val Royeaux.

By the time they located the mule and secured their animals near the Duke’s horses (Lyna noted all of them had been effectively corralled with military efficiency, sheltered as best as could be arranged in the current circumstances), a small tent city had been erected. Servants, some still wet themselves, were bustling to and fro to secure comforts for the Duke and his retinue. They encountered chevaliers and soldiers going about a myriad other tasks from gathering firewood to sitting under their own shelters, cleaning and sharpening weapons. Most of them didn’t give Lyna, Falke, or Zevran a second look, or at least pretended not to, but occasionally Lyna would meet a set of eyes looking at her with curiosity or suspicion before the owner realized she noticed and looked away.

“And here you are, the heroes of the hour,” Duke Prosper greeted jovially as they approached. He sat in a large, open pavilion of a tent among a grouping of people she assumed were family and other nobility traveling with him in the caravan. It was not a very large number – it rather reminded Lyna of the small court of nobles that would gather at Vigil’s Keep – and they all sat on comfortable-looking padded camp chairs and footstools on top of spread rugs and pelts, clustered loosely around a moderate flaming brazier. Cahir stood behind the Duke, and several chevaliers stood chatting in a small pocket on the fringe of the whole affair. All but Cahir wore full or half-masks, and she thought she could see more curious stares from behind the lacquered and bejeweled false faces.

“My lord,” Lyna greeted in return. Servants brought several folding camp stools clearly meant for her and her men. She nodded curtly at them – surely that much politeness toward servants was allowed? – and waited to take a seat. “I hope we find you and yours recovering well from the giant’s attack.”

“As well we may in these primitive circumstances. You are most kind to ask.” She could see a proud smile peeking from under the Duke’s half-mask and forked beard, and he gestured toward Zevran and the Wardens. “I was pleased to have the assistance of Grey Wardens. We are lucky in particular to have two Heroes of the Fifth Blight with us as well.”

At this cue, Lyna made a slight bow to the entourage.

“Warden-Commander Lyna Mahariel of Ferelden and Zevran Arainai of Antiva. We wish we might have had Warden Falke of the Anderfels with us, perhaps the Blight would have been made shorter,” she said, introducing herself and their group. She glanced at the men beside her, allowing herself to show her pride in them as they, too, made the same bows.

“Commander Mahariel is too generous,” Falke said with mild self-deprecation. “Although the Maker knows I do wish I had seen the Temple of Sacred Ashes.”

Murmurs and a thrilled coo rippled through the little crowd. Lyna read victory in the Duke’s smile.

“Please, sit. We have heard tales of your exploits, but that cannot compare to hearing of them firsthand.”

As Lyna and the men sat, an elven servant stepped forward and lowered a tray of drinks in front of them. The mugs were cool and smelled sweetly minty. She whispered nearly inaudible thanks as she took one.

“You will need to forgive me, my lord, I am no bard like our former companion Leliana. I fear I may bore you in the telling,” Lyna said mildly after an experimental sip of the drink. It was a refreshing tonic with a slight aftertaste of elfroot. “But Zevran has a colorful way of sharing our stories. Possibly you might persuade him.”

Lyna felt Zevran tense up beside her, although the assassin smiled charmingly. Maybe in this case he didn’t care to have the focus of their attention, but she intended for their audience to remember him favorably.

“I am greedy and forgiving, perchance I will hear from you both,” chuckled the Duke. “But tell me: one of your swords is dragonbone, is it not? It cut through the giant so well.”

“It is, my lord. The other is star metal.”

One of the chevaliers snorted. “Surely not.”

“I would let you examine my swords yourself, ser, but I would not give Lord Prosper offense at drawing weapons uninvited,” Lyna replied calmly. “Zevran was with me when we found the chunk of star metal and brought it to the Drydens, who now occupy Soldier’s Peak, for forging.”

“Indeed. It was a strange thing, as a farmer and his wife passing by that day also happened upon a foundling,” Zevran spoke up, shaking his head. “Such has been our luck.”

“This blacksmith who forged the star metal blade, did he also make the dragonbone sword?” a young man to Prosper’s left spoke up. Behind his half-mask were eyes like Prosper’s, and she could discern dark hair: Duke Prosper’s son?

“He did not, my lord,” Lyna gambled. She judged the lack of reaction to the honorific to mean she’d guessed correctly. “Another blacksmith of my acquaintance by the name of Wade – whom Zevran and I first met in Denerim, and made two lovely sets of drakescale armor for us – made it for me while I was at Vigil’s Keep. The Wardens and I had defeated a… dragon, of sorts… in the Blackmarsh.” She chuckled at the memory. “Wade is quite the artist. He was overjoyed to be able to work with the bone I brought back as a trophy, and claimed to me that ‘Vigilance’ was his best work.”

“A dragon of sorts?” Prosper said, an eyebrow raised. The chevaliers exchanged smirks.

“It was a dragon when it was alive, but I couldn’t say what animating spirit lay within it when we battled with its bones,” Lyna said, taking another sip of her tonic. “But the experience was electrifying.”

“I see,” said the young man. There was an edge of doubt in his voice. “I should like to see your sword, Commander.”

Lyna inclined her head. “Certainly.” She handed her drink to Zevran. He grinned at her as she rose and unsheathed Vigilance. There were a few nervous titters, and the chevaliers eyed her closely. Cahir scowled more deeply from behind Prosper. Once she shifted her grip on the weapon to cradle it, the young lord stepped forward and around the brazier to examine it.

“Cyril has taken an interest in hunting as well,” Prosper said, a note of pride evident in his voice. “My dragon and wyvern trophies adorn our estates, and so few others can claim such a prize.”

Masks and society demands kept their expressions hidden, but judging from a few guests whose postures became agitated, the Duke’s boasting literally did not sit well with them. Jealousy was certainly the biggest factor, although the woman sitting near Lord Cyril and Duke Prosper could only be a wife, or mother, and hence the boast was a never-ending source of worry for her.

“Perhaps this year’s wyvern hunt will yield a different victor?” The man who said it did not strike Lyna as the type to hunt, his build and demeanor suggesting someone more retiring, so she thought the question was perhaps offered as a comforting sop to someone else in the crowd.

“Yes, my lord father might consider inviting someone new to invigorate the hunt,” Lord Cyril de Montfort said, his voice sounding almost bored. But his eyes lit up as he ran a hand over Lyna’s sword, clearly feeling the enchantments woven into its making and admiring the fine craftsmanship. “Possibly the Warden-Commander? She can bring this fine weapon and enliven conversation.”

“Oh, to have a Grey Warden return to Chateau Haine would be marvelous, Prosper,” said the woman seated by the Duke. She laid a graceful, beringed hand on his forearm.

“So true! I shall consider it, Amelie, although I had thought to invite to invite the young woman from the Amell family – Dierdre Hawke, I believe. The exquisite ring I bought from her agent in the Tethras family came from her successful Deep Roads expedition, and I should like to hear more of it,” the Duke said. He patted the hand, which withdrew.

“The Amells have only recently dragged themselves out of that cesspit in Kirkwall, I hear, and surround themselves with slaves, smugglers, and apostates,” a chevalier sniffed dismissively. “Gamlen is still a disgrace who lives in a shack. Lord Aristide surely died of shame.”

Falke cleared his throat nervously before speaking. “Chateau Haine, your Grace? How is… have you been to the Retreat? How does it fare?”

Lord Cyril took one last coveting look at Vigilance, then politely but regretfully withdrew. Lyna resheathed the weapon and sat down.

“Warden Falke is keenly interested in all Grey Warden history, my lord,” Lyna offered. Wyvern hunts at Chateau Haine? That would better explain the First Warden’s trophy in his office. She took her drink back from Zevran, brushing her fingers against his. “With a particular fascination for the Fourth Blight.”

“It is not as it was in Lord Gaston’s time, but it was little better than caves even then, I am told,” Prosper said with an elegant shrug. “No doubt some creatures have moved into it and made use of it. But you are welcome to come and see for yourselves, if you like. We have had no use for it, and would be delighted to host Grey Wardens once more.”

“Most kind, your Grace,” Falke managed, suffused with excitement. “Perhaps after we-“

“We are committed for the near future, my lord, but we shall know our commitments better when our business in Val Royeaux is concluded,” Lyna interrupted. She was interested in seeing this Retreat, and hearing about a Deep Roads expedition in connection with Kirkwall was concerning, but this would have to wait until they were done with Fiona – and she couldn’t have Falke inadvertently telling the Duke and his court of any hint of their plans. “We would be pleased to communicate with you further on this matter at a later date.”

“The Retreat might welcome back another elf hero,” a woman in pale green slyly observed. She sat next to the slight man who earlier spoke of the wyvern hunt. The oblique reference to Garahel set several people to whispering behind their hands. From the edges of the crowd Lyna saw one elven servant shoot a look to another, which fortunately no one else noticed.

“There you are, Zevran, a sitting invitation,” Lyna grinned, turning to the assassin.

“I have yet to see the Free Marches, which is a shame since they are so close to my home,” Zevran drawled. “Perhaps I shall have a look to see what the fuss is about.”

The woman in green flushed while a few other women tittered.

“You are from Antiva? We have hosted Prince Claudio Valisti, who found my family’s estate in Markham welcoming and temperate,” she replied with a lift of her delicate chin.

Prince Claudio? I had not heard his father died. I should send my regards,” Zevran said carefully. There was a sudden tension in him Lyna wished she could ask about, and resolved to do so later. “Meanwhile, I am enjoying the excitement of traveling with the Warden again. Maybe we could visit Markham sometime for something more restful.”

“You will be in Val Royeaux? Elodie, you should introduce them to Chantal,” murmured the slight man.

“Oh! Of course, Marcellin. Chantal would be afire to paint you,” Lady Elodie gasped with a smug smile. “You must come see us when you arrive.”

“How fortunate you will be in Val Royeaux as well, Lady Elodie,” Lyna replied politely. Was she actually receiving invitations from nobility? It felt utterly bizarre, especially while being waited upon by other elves.

“We all shall be in Val Royeaux for the inauguration of the new Divine.” Duke Prosper’s eyes glittered. “Since you will not be in Val Royeaux for very long, Commander, then the Comte and Comtess de Travert cannot monopolize your time.”

“As enjoyable as it might be, you are sadly correct, my lord,” Lyna said. She had the sense that either she had been pulled out of – or perhaps into? – a trap. The twists and turns of the conversation, the hidden thrusts of a Game she only incompletely understood, made it difficult to tell which. A neutral stance was becoming a difficult position to maintain in this social whirlwind.

Lyna recalled the pinched face of Bann Esmerelle of Amaranthine. Trying to be a neutral party to placate the treacherous noble did nothing, so tied to Rendon Howe she and her conspirators had been. At least they had been dealt with, even those who’d fled to the Free Marches. Mistress Woolsey sent Lyna a letter over a year afterward, informing her that all of them had been found and dealt with – and earned Lyna no additional love from the Ferelden nobility, even those who’d hated the Bann.

So be it. Lyna would still try to keep the Wardens from becoming enmeshed in this den of laced vipers, but if forced into choosing alliances, she would protect herself and advance her causes. The rest would be the First Warden’s trouble to sort.

“Then we must hoard your time with us while we may!” the Duke declared. “You must make camp with us so we can thank you properly, and you can tell us more of your adventures.”

“We would be honored to do so, your Grace. I think Warden Falke would be pleased to hear more of Chateau Haine. I, for one, would be interested to learn how Cahir joined your household. It has been a while since I have spoken with someone from the Korcari Wilds.” Too bad Morrigan isn’t here to unnerve the bastard.

“Cahir does not speak much, I’m afraid, so you will find him poor company,” Prosper chuckled. “But I have heard the most fascinating rumor that you met the Witch of the Wilds. We could speak of her and dragons when you are finished setting your camp.”

“Must you talk of apostate mages, my lord husband? It seems so distasteful,” Lady Amelie said with a delicate shudder.

“As you like, my dear. There are more fascinating companions I would like to hear about directly from the Warden-Commander. Like the Qunari. Or the King of Ferelden, for example.” De Montfort sipped at his tonic with an expectant eye on Lyna.

“Sten was instrumental in bringing down the dragon at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. I would be happy to discuss this further upon our return,” Lyna said, standing up and placing her drink on the tray that suddenly appeared. Creators. I have to keep from talking about Alistair. This is dangerous territory. For her and for Ferelden.

“Now there was a battle!” Zevran agreed, he and Falke adding their cups to the tray. “Few other battles, with the exception of the Archdemon, have since inspired a need for a change of clothing.”

“A colorful way to describe it, indeed,” said the Duke with a dip of his head to Lyna. “We look forward to hearing more soon.”

“Your Grace,” Lyna nodded, and they exited the pavilion. She could feel at least a dozen eyes at her back. She was relieved to be able to help set up camp, after all. It would give her enough of a reprieve to handle these people anew.

“I apologize for interrupting you, Falke,” she said quietly to the Ander as they pulled out the bags with their tents and prepared to find a campsite. She waited until a nearby chevalier moved away to continue.

“I did not know they would inquire into our business, but I should have expected. I do not want the Orlesians to have any hint of the purpose of our trip. Should they discover the invite to Val Royeaux, they will inquire who extended the invitation. There is no innocent reason for us to meet with Fiona, in their eyes, and we can only tell them it is ‘Warden business’ for so long.”

“No doubt they will continue to ask in many different ways,” Zevran added. “If I did not know better, I would have said half of the Duke’s court was conspiring to pry into our business. It was no coincidence they dropped Claudio’s name into my lap like a trophy.” His brow was furrowed thoughtfully, his head swiveling to and fro as he observed the workings of the fringes of the Duke’s camp.

“I had not thought of that, Commander. No apology needed. I see I must be more circumspect,” he said, pointing to a potential campsite. It was a relatively flat and clear area, but it edged too closely to the soldiers for Lyna’s comfort. She shook her head.

“Talk of your passions with them,” she said, suddenly inspired. “History. Any history. Grey Wardens, Chantry, battles, whatever your heart desires. Talk about nothing else, so long as the topic does not stray into delicate areas. You will engross some and bore others, sad to say, but at least you will spend a pleasant enough evening.”

Falke gave a rare chuckle. “I am aware my interests are dry, Commander, be not bothered. I will be more than happy to indulge in them for our greater good.” His face resumed its normal serious mien. “I am more concerned for you. The King of Ferelden… Maker.”

“There is a sensitive topic, for certain. Prosper knows this. Discussing the Ferelden politicial situation with an Orlesian is fraught enough without all other factors that enter into it,” Lyna said grimly. She pointed to another potential campsite, much further away and nearly isolated. This time Zevran shook his head.

“Too far away, cuore mio. I will not be able to find excuse to overhear scandalous gossip. Among other things we must consider, no?” He winked. “We must be closer to the servants, or the merchants dogging their trail.”

“The merchants, then,” Lyna decided. “The servants may spy in turn for their masters.”

“Admit it, you miss Bodahn and Sandal,” Zevran teased, pointing out a spot that seemed best suited to what Lyna wanted, though it had a few rocks and tree roots that would be difficult to avoid.

She shrugged and quirked a half smile, hoisting her bag and striding out for their new campsite.

“It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, but they did grow on me. Particularly Sandal, whose talents are frankly frightening for such an innocent. I wonder where they went?” She would never forget finding Sandal in the middle of a room of dead darkspawn at Fort Drakon, their blood spattered on his face and clothes. She’d quickly and carefully wiped his face, alarmed that he might ingest the Taint, as the dwarven boy inquired enchantment? at her hopefully.

“With luck, somewhere warm where profits are good,” Zevran mused as they threaded past the small throng setting up their own encampments. There weren’t many merchants, but one had trunks of clothing and sumptuous fabrics.  She hoped they had something ready-made that could be bought for the inauguration. The armor she and Falke wore could suffice, but if the invitations extended thus far were genuine, they could not wear it for everything.  A dress would be out of the question for Lyna – there was far too much fussing for such a thing, she’d noticed – but a doublet over pants might do fine.

They worked in silence for a while as tents were unrolled and laid out, then Lyna brought their conversation back around to one of their sore points.

“I worry for you, ma ghilan. Who is this Claudio, anyway, that has you so concerned?”

Zevran sighed heavily. “Claudio – Prince Claudio, now that Padre Valisti has met the Maker – is Third Talon of the Crows. He and the Guildmaster of House Arainai were friendly before the latter’s death at my hands. He was also a business partner of a friend’s husband before said husband died an untimely death – also at my hands.”

“So someone with whom you are well acquainted,” she prodded. “I get the feeling there’s more to this story.” They began erecting the tents, being careful to ensure none of the rain got through the tent flaps.

“Nothing I can yet prove, amore.” He set his mouth in a grim line. “I must hope it is purely my reputation at work, else I am very disturbed as to why Claudio would be mentioned at all.”

“You don’t think it was some innocent name-dropping for the purposes of social-climbing?” Lady Elodie definitely struck Lyna as having no other motivations, although the one was enough in their current circumstances.

“No, I do not. You do not survive long as a Crow if you do not look in every shadow.” Lyna held stakes while Falke pounded them into the ground. With the light rain still falling, the mud made it difficult to secure their tents. Zevran scowled and shielded his eyes as he looked up at the trees surrounding them.

“There must be some way to secure a canvas over our heads to shield a fire,” he muttered.

“Never mind that, we may not need our own fire until morning if we are dining with Prosper,” Lyna said. “We have not spoken of the messages we intercepted in Perendale. What of those shadows?”

“Nothing of particular interest to us, although some messages have given me some ideas on what to do next to disturb and disrupt my former comrades.” He hesitated. “But I also have information on some… targets… that, if we chose to warn, could earn a few favors.”

Falke stopped his work, squinting at Zevran. “They should be warned, regardless of reward or favor.”

“This is why I hesitate to suggest these things,” Zevran moued. “Would you be so adamant to save a life if you knew that life was a smuggler or murderer?”

Falke grimaced as he resumed working, securing a top rope of his tent to a nearby tree. “Must you do this? I do not have to approve of someone’s life to think they must have at least a chance at redemption. By your reasoning, Lyna should have let you die.”

Zevran cocked his head, surprised. “You are right, and she would have done that several times over, starting with our initial meeting. I apologize, Brother Falke.”

The Ander snorted at the jibe, leveling the assassin an exasperated look as he went back to their animals to retrieve more of their things.

“I think he’s warmed up to you,” Lyna said with a grin. “For what it’s worth, I think he’s partially correct. Don’t expose yourself or us any more than you must, but it would be good to turn the tables for once and secure favors.”

“Very well,” Zevran replied. “We will begin with the dowager Marquise, Lady Mantillion. It seems she has been naughty with her husbands, and someone has decided to visit vengeance. If she is in Val Royeaux, we can arrange for such a warning.”

Heedless of anyone watching, Lyna leaned in and kissed him on the cheek before helping him secure their shared tent.

“Thank you, ma ghilan. Now if we can successfully keep conversation away from Alistair, I will count this evening ‘good enough.’”

“Since the Duke wishes to hear of our adventures, that will be difficult.” Zevran shook his head. “I will do what I can to help you, but I am not the Hero of Ferelden, who they are clearly more fixated upon. You have the titles and that puts you very much on their level, like it or not.”

“I swear Alistair made me an Arlessa in revenge for making him king, I don’t care if it was the First Warden’s idea or not,” she said, glum.

“Then turn the tables, as you said.” Falke was returning to the camp, and tossed a bedroll at Zevran as he came close enough. The assassin caught it and tossed it inside the tent, then set his hands on his hips.

“How so?”

Zevran grinned. “This is your chance to tweak their noses. Most people dream of being able to do so, have you not?”

Lyna smiled slowly in dawning realization. “You are right, of course. I am a charming Dalish she-wolf they can’t touch. It must drive them mad.”

“It most certainly does, did you see those chevaliers?” They began walking to their horses to help Falke unpack their things. “I am greatly looking forward to watching you hunt.”

Chapter Text

Like Ferelden, Orlais was nothing like Zevran’s home. The dampness of the air held nothing of the sea, the birds chirped and did not squawk, and the only fish he’d had was baked over a fire. Yet that evening as he sat with Lyna in Duke Prosper’s pavilion, listening to their conversation and observing the rest of the Duke’s entourage, he could almost taste the threat of murder in the air. It was a familiar and mostly welcome sensation since he wasn’t a target, despite the low-level resentments he could also feel around him.

Zevran grinned and stretched, luxuriating in it. Such a rare pleasure, and this was just a taste of what was to come in Val Royeaux. Even the vague threat of Claudio Valisti presented earlier only added to his anticipation.

The rain had finally stopped, and only the occasional sough of wind through the trees shook droplets of water onto the people as they talked, ate, or in the servants’ case ran errands, in the greater camp. As evening fell and more braziers were lit against the cooler air, Zevran made note of where the shadows grew deeper and those who occupied them most often. Most of these meetings likely involved political maneuvering, but different maneuverings of a physical nature were also taking place. He was unsurprised to see these odd secretive trysts, and even less surprised when one or two elven servants were involved. It was likely most of these meetings and relationships were common knowledge, even as the members of the court might pretend to themselves they were safely hidden, but all of it was valuable information to have in one’s pocket regardless.

To Zevran’s left, Warden Falke was speaking animatedly about some obscure points of history of the Blights with the Marquis Pellantaise of Ghislain. He wasn’t sure of the precise topic of conversation – as promised, the subject matter was quite dry and had quickly bored most seated near the Ander, including himself – but the marquis at least remained interested and would ask apparently pertinent questions from time to time.  The questions invigorated the Warden; he would be talking about this for a long time. Zevran could assure himself that Falke, at least, would be no trouble.

Lyna, to his right hand, was still conversationally treading a field full of traps. She was managing, deceptively lounging in her chair with her chin on her hand, but he could see the lines of tension in her body. Her neck and the small of her back would need especial attention in the massage he decided he would start with when they retired tonight.

“It is so strange that such a cult had flourished for so long,” Duke Prosper was saying. The Duke’s conversation with Lyna had wandered from point to point on their journeys during the Fifth Blight and finally arrived on Haven and the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Though Zevran was nowhere as devoted an Andrastian as others, the Disciples of Andraste at Haven had been unnerving in their wrongness.

“They had isolated themselves from the rest of the world, my lord, which is not difficult to do in the Frostback Mountains,” Lyna replied with a slight shake of her head. Firelight glinted on the earring Zevran had given her as it swayed with her movement. It looked good on her, and he was glad she had accepted it although he worried perhaps he should not have offered it.  Lyna meant a great deal to him. He would offer his life for hers many times over. But the timing, the implications of such a gift despite what he’d said…these were deep waters he wasn’t sure either of them was ready to tread.

“If the Avvar had been so inclined to stay in the Frostbacks, as Brother Genitivi said to me later, much of Ferelden history would be different,” Lyna continued with a smile.

“The Alamarri were responsible for much of the history of Thedas,” Prosper corrected, his answering smile polite, “but I take your meaning. So, these Disciples had worshipped a dragon? Such a peculiarly Tevinter thing to do. The knowledge you were killing their god must have lent the battle quite the picancy…”

“If you have fought a dragon before, Your Grace, then you know the fight alone is thrilling enough,” Zevran interjected. “Who knew they could move so fast? The four of us were constantly running into each other’s paths.” He had no doubt whatsoever the Duke had indeed fought as many dragons and wyverns as he boasted, but he had also heard of the large numbers of chevaliers the man had brought with him for that purpose. What Prosper did with 30, he and Lyna had done with Sten and Wynne.

If Lyna’s mistake about the Alamarri was a mark against her, Zevran was certain he’d just evened the score against Prosper. He accepted a glass of wine from the tray that appeared between him and Lyna, and raised it in salute to the Duke. Prosper inclined his head in return, although Zevran saw Cahir scowl more deeply at him. The rest of the nobility in earshot were either avidly watching for the sheer novelty, or had pretended not to listen to hide their disdain.

He had no illusions that these people would as soon run him down in their streets, if encountered alone, and it did not bother him in the least. It was the way of the world. He had a variety of skills these people needed and wanted and they did not like being reminded of it. His association with Lyna protected him from more than just the Crows.

“You mentioned earlier, Commander, that your Qunari companion also assisted with this dragon?” The Duke returned his attention to Lyna, who had also taken a glass of wine and sipped at it.

“Sten,” she replied shortly. Zevran had never understood the large Qunari man, but Sten and Lyna had managed to forge a mutual respect, if not friendship. The last time he’d seen Sten, the Qunari had been boarding a ship for Rivain, where he likely would have found a ship to take him to Seheron. There were no goodbyes between them, but Lyna had given Sten a small parcel of cookies. The Qunari had sighed, called her “kadan,” and turned around and boarded the ship without a second look. “He was a great warrior.”

“So I would expect, since ‘Sten’ is a leadership position in the Qunari military. I would be surprised if he has not risen in rank since then. The Qunari may insist one occupy a certain space in society, but I have seen those spaces change to fit the demands of the Qun.” The Duke evidently knew much more of the Qunari people than Lyna did. How, when, and why was something he could discover from the servants, once an opening presented itself.

“If so, I will be happy for him. He defended the gates of Denerim, as did Zevran. They deserve all honors due.” Lyna flicked a glance at him – he read worry in her eyes.

“Even if that honor puts your friend at the head of an invasion?” There was a sudden acidic edge to the Duke’s voice.

“Even so. I have heard you speak of dragons and wyverns with great respect, Your Grace, and yet you still face them in battle. I admire Sten, but I would still cut him down in the scenario you propose,” Lyna answered with quiet resolve.

“But this is all hypothetical, of course,” Zevran said, waving his hand dismissively. “Sten spoke of war with the Tevinter Imperium, and that is nowhere over with.” True or not, he wanted the air to lighten, give Lyna some room to change the subject. Then he could leave on a pretense to question servants not likely to tell their master of their conversation.

“Speaking of the Tevinter Imperium, my lord, have you heard of Drake’s Fall?” Lyna sat up with a peculiar smile. She apparently understood Zevran’s gambit.

“If you have not, Your Grace, you should let her tell you about it. I was not there myself, sadly, but I have heard many marvelous things.” He stood up. “Excuse me for a moment. The wine…” The wine did nothing to his head, and he felt no need to relieve himself, but he donned a pained expression.

As he hoped, judging by the indulgent smiles from the Duke and those around him, he was being dismissed as some Antivan who couldn’t hold his alcohol. Good.

Zevran wove carefully and exaggeratedly through the maze of chairs and pillows to the edges of the pavilion, trying to appear as if he were looking for a privy, then slipped into the larger maze of the campsite beyond. As soon as he was certain no one was looking at him, he ducked into one of the deeper shadows and waited for a servant to accost. He would find out what the Duke’s game was.

The barest scuffle of feet on grass was the only warning he had before he felt a knife pressed to his throat.

“This is not where I expected the great Zevran Arainai to show up,” said a familiar voice by his ear.

“Antoine,” Zevran acknowledged calmly. “Neither did I expect you. I see your lessons in disguise have served you well.” Now that he knew his fellow Crow was here, he thought he knew which human servant the man was portraying himself to be. Sadly, not one of Duke Prosper’s. “Will you be taking the bounty on my head?”

“I might, but not here. Your death would spoil my contract, and unlike you I remember to finish them,” Antoine said, keeping up the Orlesian accent he’d been affecting. He did not remove the knife at Zevran’s throat.

“Still desperately hoping to rise from the cuchillos, I see. Perhaps you should defect to a real House.”

Antoine chuckled throatily. “If you mean Arainai, you have all but extinguished it. Why should I join a dead House?”

“Because I plan to take over the Crows.”

“And how will you do that when you are dead?” The blade was cold, the edge sharp.

“I have been dead before, it is no great barrier.” Although he spoke metaphorically, referring to his disappearance during the Blight and being presumed dead along with Taliesin, he thought of the many times Lyna or Wynne had brought him back when he’d felt sure he’d died. Lyna’s amulet resting against his chest was a reassuring reminder.

“As cocky as ever, I see. I’ve always liked that about you.” He could feel Antoine’s breath hot upon his neck. They had passed the time pleasantly with each other a few times before, and he would have gladly done so again were it not for Lyna and their present situation.

“I am so glad. Care to remove your knife so we may talk properly?”

“Only because our time here is limited, Zevran,” the man said, and the knife disappeared. “Speak. I have work I must attend to, as do you I’m sure.”

“I have intercepted a valuable collection of messages from one of Nuncio’s men,” Zevran said, slowly turning to face the Antivan. Although Antoine was normally dark-haired, he had found a way to lighten it, and his features were plain enough the man could blend in almost anywhere, including a minor noble’s stable of servants. “I would be happy to give some or all of them to you in exchange for your information.”

Antoine grinned and shook his head ruefully.

“Nuncio is one who will not care when or where he will collect your bounty, and you’ve stolen from him? It is true, you do have a deathwish. I could help you against him, but only because I do not want him to be the one to collect.”

Zevran shrugged. “What can I say, an opportunity presented itself.” That Nuncio had been explicitly trying to find him, and his messenger boy Emil hadn’t simply been overreaching, was troubling news. Antoine was right. Nuncio would dog his steps for as long as it took, especially once he found out about Emil’s death. So long as Zevran could stay ahead of him, it would be a very long time indeed. “Do you know what he is planning?”

“He does not know where you are, so he has sent many of his men just to look for you. As for a plan, who knows? If his men are good enough,” Antoine eyed him dubiously, “they will save Nuncio the trouble and simply kill you on the spot.”

“And Nuncio gets to collect the reward.” Zevran clucked his tongue. “That hardly seems fair.”

“Another reason I would deny Nuncio.” Antoine glanced toward the Duke’s pavilion. “You are going to Val Royeaux, I heard. Some of Nuncio’s men are there.”

“Of course they are.” He restrained himself from sighing. Lyna would not like this particular complication. Zevran glanced toward the Duke’s pavilion as well: his Warden was now speaking with the Duke’s son, Cyril, while Prosper picked at a plate of sweetmeats and chatted with his wife. “I know you are not working for the Duke, but you must have heard something. Tell me: what do you know of Prosper and the Qun?”

“These messages had better be worth it,” the Crow muttered, then shrugged. “Not much. All I have heard are complaints about the Qunari and their Arishok stranded in Kirkwall. Chateau Haine is close enough that much of Kirkwall nobility is invited to the Duke’s events, and the nobility is uneasy with a small army outside their doors.”

“I would be uneasy as well,” Zevran grimaced. No wonder the Duke had nearly leapt on Lyna. Very likely the man knew as much as he did to educate himself as to how badly things could go. “Why are they in Kirkwall? Is it truly an invasion?”

“If it’s an invasion, it’s the slowest one I’ve heard of. They have been camped there for three years without a single act of aggression. No one knows why they are there – they could have been transported away at any time, with the nobles gladly paying for their passage away, but the Qunari are disinclined to leave.”

Zevran recalled Sten’s quiet refusals and general stubborn behavior. “That is a problem. Someone should talk to them.”

“Some say the Viscount has tried, with no success.” Antoine glanced again toward Prosper.

“What are you doing here, Antoine?” Zevran asked.

“Working on a contract, as I said.”

“Who is the target?” he persisted.

“No one you should be concerned with.”

Zevran lashed out, grabbing Antoine and putting him on the ground before the other man could move. He produced Antoine’s blade and set it at the man’s neck.

“I am tired of these games, and so long as you answer me you shall still be paid with the messages I promised. If you do not, I will kill you and hide your body under the Duke’s own bed.”

Antoine glared up at him. “It is a mere stupid chevalier. You care nothing for these Orlesians, what does it matter?”

“You think me stupid? I have seen how you watch the pavilion. It will happen there, yes?” Zevran pressed the blade only slightly more firmly, to emphasize his threat.

“I cannot talk if you cut my throat,” Antoine hissed, then continued when Zevran eased up. “If you must know, it’s not merely an assassination. The chevalier is to be profoundly embarrassed first.”

How?” If it was happening in the pavilion, it would affect Lyna. She would involve herself, try to stop it.

“A servant will spill on him. He is known to hate elves; he will lash out at the servant. Orlesians are assholes, but they look on such a public display of mistreatment as terribly impolite and worthy of embarrassment.” Antoine glared up at Zevran again. “Your Warden’s presence made this much easier. To have him berate this servant in front of the elven Hero of the Fifth Blight was an unlooked-for bonus. If she takes offense, she can ask for satisfaction, and he could die by her hand. If she is defeated or dies herself, he is embarrassed all the more and his death afterward obviously revenge from the elven people. My employer wins, no matter what.”

“I should kill you now,” Zevran swore. But killing Antoine would bring as much trouble as the Crow killing Zevran, he was right about that. He sheathed Antoine’s knife.

“But you will live, and you can pursue your contract – far from here.” He knocked the other man out and fumbled for his flask of brandy, intending to make him look like a drunken servant passed out.

A cry of upset went up.

You stupid knife-ear, how dare you?

 He got up and ran.

***

Speaking with Duke Prosper’s son Cyril made Lyna slightly more comfortable, though still being among nobility made her vaguely uneasy. She tried to appear at ease – she’d done this before so many times in Ferelden it started coming to her as second-nature in her tenure at Amaranthine, but it created odd knots of tension in her neck and back. Drinking had helped her actually relax back then, but here it was deeply inadvisable, she knew. She drank just enough to partake of the hospitality offered, but no more, knowing this, like many other social customs among these ridiculous highborn shems, could cut her both ways.

Lyna was still sipping on the one glass of wine, then, as Cyril asked her about Ferelden Grey Wardens and offered what he knew of Orlesian Wardens. She could feel her stomach rumbling, and a glance at Prosper eating from a plate of sweetmeats did not help. She knew if she asked, one of the elven servants might bring her something, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She wouldn’t have felt so badly about it in other circumstances, but here she felt the same air of quiet desperation that had settled on her shoulders when she entered the Alienage at Denerim.

It with a sense of relief, then, when she made eye contact with a dark-haired elven man carrying several bowls of some kind of soup or stew, and he immediately headed in her direction.

“I do wonder how differently Ferelden would have fared during the Blight if Clarel de Chansons had been Warden-Commander instead of Fontaine. She had argued so passionately with the Commander and the Empress to allow her and a unit of Wardens to go to Ferelden anyway in defiance of Loghain’s ban,” Cyril observed, his polite voice continuing to sound like one who was interminably bored. Lyna couldn’t tell if it was simply his manner of speech, since he was friendly enough, or if he really was as bored as he sounded.

“Loghain may have been a hero,” a chevalier sneered, someone she’d been told was a distaff relation to the Arlanges of Val Chevin, “but he was still a dog. Clarel should have been allowed to go and bring him to heel.”

“She listened to good sense, Simeon. What good to incite a war while there is a Blight? Perhaps if Loghain had the sense of Empress Celene, the Warden-Commander here,” said Lord Callier with a nod to Lyna, “would not have needed to depose him to stop their civil war.” Lord Callier had begun the evening sitting near the Marquis Pellantaise, but excused himself when Falke’s conversation turned too dry for his taste, sitting nearer to Lyna to listen to her and Zevran instead. For an Orlesian he seemed decent enough, though still too full on Orlesian superiority to be truly stomached.

“Faugh,” Ser Simeon scoffed. He settled back in his seat, however. She did not miss the glare the chevalier shot her way, and was glad she insisted they set their tents away from the soldiers and chevaliers.

Lord Cyril tilted his head to regard Lyna. “I had almost forgotten. The stories are so much about the Blight, yes? One almost forgets your civil war. But we do not forget the Hero of River Dane, and I am curious as to how he was defeated.”

The elven man bringing her food stumbled as he neared, his hands desperately juggling to keep hold of his charges. They escaped his grasp and spilled over Ser Simeon, the servant blurting out a cry of frustration and upset despite himself.

“Oh my lord, my deepest apologies, I…” the elf began, his voice low and deeply abashed.

“You stupid knife-ear, how dare you?” bellowed Simeon, bolting up out his chair, his silverite armor covered in broth and onions. His face was mottled red in rage, his hand raised. The servant cringed, gathering the emptied bowls.

“Ser Simeon,” Lyna said sharply. Her voice cut through the sudden stillness. Disapproving whispers rustled through the gathered throng. Whether they disapproved of Simeon or Lyna, she did not care. The condescension and the subservience she might have to tolerate, but outright abuse? No. Not for one moment, consequences be damned.

“So you defend your clumsy kin? Your stolen weapons and stories do not charm me,” Simeon spat, his attention now riveted on Lyna. Another servant helped the elf with the mess and quickly bundled him away from the angry chevalier.

“Simeon. You forget yourself,” Duke Prosper rebuked the man, his pale blue eyes focused upon the scene with distaste. “The Hero of Ferelden and her men are my guests.”

“You may honor Ferelden turnips and rabbits, my lord, but I should not let this dog lord stew kiss my boots,” the chevalier continued, now too far incensed to see his fellow nobles subtly distancing themselves.

Lyna flushed and clenched her hands. She’d heard these sorts of insults before, but the added disgust and hatred in Simeon’s voice cast her back to Vaughan Kendells, Arl Howe, Lord Piers, and every other shemlen fool who lifted their boots to kick at her kind.

Zevran appeared at the edge of the pavilion and quickly pushed his way to her side as Duke Prosper spoke again.

“That is quite enough,” Prosper snapped. “You insult me as well as my guest, and it would be my honor to ask the Warden-Commander if she would like satisfaction.”

Zevran grasped Lyna’s hand, whispering urgently in her ear. “He means a duel. It is a trap. Do not.”

Lyna yanked her hand out of Zevran’s, staring hard at Ser Simeon. Her fury was a cold fire simmering in her belly. If she squinted, Simeon could almost look like Loghain if he’d been born curly-haired, somewhat shorter, and softer-featured. Pampered. Fed a diet of his own superiority instead of fighting and killing men like Simeon before Lyna was born.

“Thank you, Your Grace, but you may have the pleasure of satisfaction. One duel with Loghain did not satisfy me, and neither would one duel with Ser Simeon. There is no satisfaction to be had for thousands of years of humiliation and pain. There is only certainty that it will eventually end.” Her eyes bored into Simeon’s, committing the man’s flat hazel gaze into her memory, then wrenched her gaze to rest on Duke Prosper and Lord Cyril. She gave them a stiff bow.

“Your hospitality has been most gracious, but I must leave it. We must depart at first light to discharge our duty at Arlesans, and I would ensure we are fully rested for the journey. The Grey Wardens continue to be grateful for your support, my lord.” From the corner of her eye Lyna saw Falke had risen from his seat, an impressive scowl on his face leveled at the chevalier. Zevran’s own face was a blank mask, his body tense from his protective position at her flank.

“We are disappointed, of course, but it was your duty that brought you to us. We cannot stand in its way when it does not suit us,” the Duke replied, rising from his own seat to return Lyna’s bow. “It would be my pleasure to deal with this cretin myself.” From the cold glint in his eyes, she knew he meant it. Were Lyna anyone else, she might have felt sorry for the chevalier. She only felt righteous vindication. Simeon was Prosper’s problem to handle, not hers.

“My lord.” Head high, she led Zevran and Falke out of Duke Prosper’s pavilion and toward their own camp.

“I would have liked to smash his face in,” Falke said softly when they were out of immediate earshot.

“As would I, but it was foolishness from beginning to end,” Lyan replied, terse as they walked. Damn them and their Game. She did not look at Zevran. She was grateful for his warning, but her rage needed a target and she didn’t want him caught in its blast.

“Not purely so,” the assassin said, his voice tight. “You and I must talk later, Lyna. I have a promise I must keep first.”

“Be safe.”

As they entered the camp, Zevran ducked into their tent, leaving several minutes later. Lyna occupied herself with building a fire, getting Falke’s assistance making a small pit and making a stacked pyramid of wet wood in it. Then, at the end of her patience, she carefully fished out a fire crystal and tossed it onto the wood, watching it smoke for a while before the wood caught ablaze. Falke took up a seat well back from it and cut off small chunks of hard sausage and cheese to eat for his supper.

Once more she had to deny what she wanted for the sake of Creators-damned politics. Dueling Simeon wouldn’t have satisfied, true, but it would have been something. Revenge, perhaps, albeit all too temporary. She trusted Zevran’s warning, but oh she chafed at it. To have been able to demonstrate exactly how she’d brought down Loghain – dishonorably, according to that ridiculous chevalier code, the way she’d stunned, blinded, evaded, and came at him from every weak spot possible – would have been an unimaginable triumph.

Lyna’s belly growled. Frustrated, she smacked her knee.

“You should eat, Commander,” Falke said, offering pieces of sausage.

She sighed. “I will soon enough. Right now, however…”

He set his things aside carefully, wiping his hands. “I am not Zevran, but I would be happy to spar with you, Lyna. I, too, am lacking things to hit.”

“It’s a shame we don’t have another giant,” she said with a tight but grateful smile, levering herself up from her stool and pulling out her practice daggers.

“I wouldn’t go so far as that, but an actual battle? Yes,” Falke said, pulling his longsword from his tent. They squared off in an adjacent space, and for a while the only sound was the ringing of their weapons, the grunts of their efforts, and their soft steps in the wet grass under the misty trees.

Zevran watched them for a while when he returned, then wordlessly joined the fray. Falke stepped back after a few minutes, face dripping with sweat, and retreated to his place by the fire to finish eating and care for his weapon.

By this time Lyna had entered the focused state she favored, her energies channeled to the thrusts and parries and sidesteps she preferred. She locked her eyes with Zevran’s as they continued to spar, pushing him to do the same. Step and counterstep, circling and testing, leaping and whirling and striking until she found herself having pushed him against a tree, their breaths ragged.

Wan moonlight peeped through the canopy to bathe Zevran’s perspiring face. His beautiful, beloved, dangerous face.

Lyna leaned in and kissed him deeply, the smell of him and the glade suffusing her senses. Lethallin.

It was Zevran who broke the kiss, softly retreating. “I am here, Lyna.” She wasn’t aware she’d said anything aloud until then.

Ma ghilan.” She sighed deeply and sheathed her weapons. “Tell me what happened while you were gone.”

Zevran bowed his head, his jaw clenched as he spoke. The Crows. Yet again. Used as a pawn. She took comfort in the fact she’d managed to make the Duke defend not just her honor, but that of elves as well.

“We have to kill Nuncio,” Lyna told him.

I have to kill Nuncio,” Zevran corrected. “And that cannot happen until he shows himself.”

“Meanwhile he causes trouble for you and for me.” I will kill them all, if I must.

“I will do what I can to prevent this,” he said. It frustrated him, she could see it in the way he held himself. No amount of sparring or sex would eliminate that. Only Nuncio’s death.

Ma nuvenin. Until then, we eat. We work.” She reached over and caught one of his braids, running her thumb along it and then behind his ear. “As before. This changes nothing.”

He looked at her, then, his eyes lingering on the earring. “Of course. We eat.” He flashed a grin. “And we sing.”

Returning to the fire, she heard strains of music floating over from the Duke’s tents.

“…and the Rose of Ferelden
knows a sorrow so deep
grows in brambles and glens
withers in grey stone keep
shivers cold in frosted mountain
leaves lonely in forest so green
cleaves ever and always to beloved lost king…”

“Damn Leliana.” Lyna took Zevran’s hand and pulled him into their tent. They would make their own music.

Chapter Text

Walls of stone and fog, twisting in seeming endless halls no matter the direction I looked. The dripping of water, a sound like breathing, and small and muffled choked-off sobs echoed in my ears, sourceless. Underneath it all, so faint I could swear it was imagined, a strain of music like wind through a chime, or hollowed reed. The notes were haunting, snagging at my mind – if I could but listen…

But all around I could see nothing but mirrors. Tamlen’s mirror, Morrigan’s mirror, mirrors like nothing I had seen before and yet held the same patient and infinite pull ran rank upon rank along the corridors. Broken or whole, shimmering or dark, here stood danger. I had to escape.

I walked. Sometimes I ran. Still the mirrors marched on, matching every step taken.

“Luck and destiny are often branches on the same tree…” Anora’s voice, and yet I never heard these words from her.

“I never wanted this, you know that…” Alistair’s fearful and angry remonstration after the Landsmeet that crowned him king and tore him from me.

“The Anvil will let us take back our glory!” Branka, feverish with lust for Caridin’s creation, pleading at me in the Deepest Roads under Bownammar. Another thing of danger from a lost empire. Another broken artifact of a time best forgotten.

“When last we met, I intended to explain myself. Fate, however, intervened…” The Architect. His cold, dispassionate whisper as he attempted to persuade me to join his cause sent shivers down my spine once more.

“What is one woman-child compared to your might? Strike me down if my terms offend…” The demon-etched voice of the long-dead Sophia Dryden stretched hungrily from the shadows of the old Ferelden Grey Warden keep.

“I offer a way out. A way out for all the Grey Wardens, that there need be no sacrifice…” Morrigan, on the eve of the march for Denerim. An evening I could not forget, the reason I still live. My hope, my shame, lived in all that came after.

The voices came from all corners and none. From the corners of my eyes I could see ripples and movement from the unbroken mirrors, dim shapes only barely perceived in their murky depths. Tamlen touched one and was tainted. Morrigan disappeared through another, harboring Alistair’s child – to what end she never answered, though her letter spoke of a future planned. A future I could not be certain of approving.

“I am not asking for anything, but offering. I know you love him…” Zevran. My heart twists.

“Either you’re with him or you’re with me…” Alistair’s voice again, saying things he has never said.

This is a dream. It must be a dream. I began racing down corridors again, turning left or turning right. The occasional shards littered my path, dappled in blood.

“Destiny I find to be incredibly boring. Legends, foretellings, bloodlines,all so tiresome and forgettable,” an unfamiliar voice resounded above all others. “But choices? Ahhh, now those are fascinating.” A man’s voice? It too seemed to have no source, but it certainly had opinions it was glad to share.

I was not interested in hearing it. Surely this maze had an end.

“Your choices, for example, have been most compelling. Self-righteously you condemned Sophia, destroyed Avernus’s potion, and yet you gladly took advantage of his research and the witch’s offer. Hypocrisy for your survival!” the voice chuckled.

Shadows and light congregated around the active mirrors. I thought I saw tree roots and falling water in one. No, I would not be pulled from this path by idle curiosity.

“You have yet more choices ahead. Most are rather typical and mundane, ugh, but a few hold so much promise. I would love to have a preview, Warden,” the man’s voice continued. Something was very wrong with its voice, but like the faint music I could not stand and listen to discover it.

If I was dreaming, I could still leave. I stopped and made myself fall backward. I tumbled to the floor, hitting my head. The voice roared with laughter.

“Oooh, that was a good one! You are much funnier than that boring oaf king of yours. Yes, you are dreaming, but I’d rather you not leave until you give me a choice, you see.”

“I make no bargains with demons.” My head did not hurt much, the pain receding quickly as I climbed back to my feet.

“I am a spirit, Warden. You have certainly bargained with spirits before. A spirit of Faith and a spirit of Justice, I believe. Even now their work is allowed to continue, while I am bereft.” The demon’s voice – no spirit sounded like this to my memory, but Desire and Sloth cajoled much the same way – was petulant.

Neither Wynne nor Justice ever stuck out an imagined lower lip at me. “Call yourself what you like. I call you delusional. And I will leave.” How, I did not know. Was I thrashing? Would Zevran wake me? Or would I continue to sleep, with none ever to discover how to wake me like Arl Eamon trapped by Desire?

“Yes, yes, just make a choice.” The voice was impatient.

“Out of curiosity only, demon, what choice?” Perhaps I could keep it distracted? Surely some option for leaving would present itself. Surely not the mirrors.Hopefully not the demon, either.

“You are going to be stubborn about this, aren’t you?” It was annoyed now. “Very well.”

Two active mirrors flared near me.

Through one wavered a blurred outline of… Alistair? The air knocked out of me became the wind that ruffled his hair. He looked leaner, sharper, as if the rounder cheeks of his youth were the rough edges and this his true form. I slowly gathered that he was at sea, unhappily staring over a ship’s railing at the passing of far shores. If this man stammered anymore, it was not from shyness.

The other mirror showed Zevran. He slept curled at my back – I was twitching, but not enough to rouse him. Perhaps he had gotten used to my nightmares.There were still many things we learned of each other that we hadn’t during the Blight, patches of misunderstandings or unexpected moments of ease. This was not a first bloom for either of us; perhaps we treasured more because of it.

“Choose,” the demon said, and a laughter like sobbing escaped me before I could stop it.

“You idiot. I cannot. I will not.”

“It’s a simple choice, isn’t it? Didn’t your king already make your choice for you? Who is the idiot if there is no choice to make?” the voice mocked me. Demon, spirit, abomination, I would strangle its neck like Yevena’s in Sloth’s lair.

“You are the idiot, because for all your posturing and copying, you will never understand. You will never be mortal.” I cocked my head. “This is why you focus so on choice, is it not? To understand? If so, begin your lesson with this: there is no simple choice, regardless of how it appears.”

“You wish to teach one who has seen a millennia of souls like yours? How droll. Why. Consequence. The weighing of options against morals, against goals, those are the sweetmeats. Choose.” It rasped at the end, hungry and dry as a desert wind.

I stared at them both in the mirrors. If these worked like Morrigan’s, I had but to step through. Would I join them? Reunited with Alistair. If he freed Anora, would he not then abdicate? Let her rule while we ran away, now freed from all but our Calling? To Zevran, would I simply awaken in his arms? Another morning like one of our last in Perendale, unhurried for an hour or two, but this time in the middle of an Orlesian camp with soldiers in shouting distance. The giggling and noise we made last night might have brought them running had we not been so blatant in our unashamed rutting. It was a side of me I had not known I possessed before.

I could not give the fruits of my own soul’s hungering to this filth. “No.” I wrenched away and ran once more.

Laughter followed me, mirrors pulsing in my wake. “The great hope of Thedas, refusing a simpler choice than which set of grasping fingers is given a crown. They can and will forget you. Your elf will bury you under one of those monuments you hate and make his Crows more feared than ever before. Your boy will succumb to his Calling and run away to Ortan Thaig, jumping into a chasm over which he was made, and Ferelden will sink into war.”

Still I ran, shards of light shattering at the edges of my vision. They fell in my heart, tearing. Demon it surely was, trying to force me into a choice that could never be made, for it heralded destroying some part of myself.

“You must choose. That is the deal, Warden, and I will tire of your amusements before a decade has passed,” it threatened.

Stuck in this place. Fen’Harel take it all. I stopped running amid the jumble of mirrors, my foot crunching on glass. I was not precisely breathless, but I was feeling sapped of strength. I might be stronger than Niall was – I had to be.

I lifted my foot. My jagged and dull reflection scowled at me.

“The Dread Wolf take your choice,” I snarled. I picked up the shard. There was but one avenue left.

I curled my hand into a fist. The glass edges bit deep into my flesh, a sickening searing flash of pain jolted into my belly like a darkspawn arrow.

Lyna awoke gasping, shock making her shake and tremble from remembered pain. The icy chill in her palm and along her arm surely meant her hand would be mutilated, drenched in blood, but she saw nothing.

She sat up, cradling her outraged hand to her chest, breath rattling thinly in her lungs.

Zevran reached for her sleepily. “Amor. Shhh. A dream.”

A dream, yes. She shivered violently, relief washing through her so fast she laughed and sobbed in its wake. She uncurled her hand – only impressions from her fingernails marked her skin.

“Lyna. Come back,” Zevran said, slightly more awake now. His hand reached for hers, and he kissed her palm. Her fingers twitched reflexively, still reconciling the memory of pain. His darkened eyes noted her tremors and questioned, but his mouth remained quiet and gentle in her grasp.

She reclaimed her hand, but rejoined Zevran in the bedroll, facing him, curling in under his chin. She tangled her legs through his, a comforting move once only sought with Alistair. His heart beat under her ear, his breath a steady sighing.

The echoes of stone and mirrors haunted her. “I will not choose,” Lyna whispered.

Zevran fisted his hands in her hair, kissed the top of her head, and did not reply.

***

Their leave-taking from Duke Prosper de Montfort’s camp in the morning was awkward, but as gracious as Lyna could manage.

“Will you not have a trophy, my lady Warden?” he asked. The giant lay still where it fell. She has left corpses before in their fields where they were killed, but they were darkspawn. Bandits. Bereskarn. Wolves. She could ignore this corpse in the aftermath of the battle, caught up in the opening moves of the Great Game, but in the dawn’s light it disturbed her.

“Thank you, Your Grace, but I must decline. With all I have currently, and what is yet to be done, memory will suffice.” Lyna indicated their full packs and their mule. Denis’s greatsword was strapped on top. “I am honored to have fought at your side.”

“The honor is mine, Commander.” The Duke’s armor and his half-mask was clean and brilliant. She hoped the servant who spent the time scrubbing it of muck and blood was now sleeping. She was certain others had gone to bed very late as well. Small gifts and tokens had appeared mysteriously in her camp that she had no choice but to take, unwilling to disappoint their givers by leaving them behind. She did not feel worthy of these treasured offerings, but others evidently did not feel the same.

“Maker smile on your journey, my lord. If I may, I would suggest leaving as soon as possible. Wolves and worse will come for their trophies, as well.” It cost her nothing to bid an Andrastian blessing on the nobleman, though the name felt strange in her mouth. More familiar was the warning. Even untainted wolves would bring trouble for them all with so large a source of meat to rend.

The Duke smiled indulgently. “I am prepared for wolves, and worse.”

“Then fare you well,” Lyna said, and bowed in her saddle. Behind her Falke and Zevran were waiting by the road, ready to leave for Arlesans, and she turned her horse to join them.

She, too, was prepared for wolves and worse. She still did not want to meet them.

***

Lyna was sure all the time spent in Ferelden, even in Amaranthine and Denerim, had not remotely prepared her for this. Given what little she had learned of Arlesans, she had expected something somewhat small, perhaps a village like Lothering. Approaching Arlesans thoroughly dispelled that notion.

The road she, Zevran, and Falke traveled on had not only slowly gathered the assortment of merchants, soldiers, and farmers she had expected, but the road itself had transformed. Not precisely the Imperial highway, with its massive blocks of carved stone, but certainly cobbles and lanterns that put Perendale’s grand entrance to shame.  Ornate statuary only appeared just outside the gates of the city itself, a pair of golden lions with the same elegant snarls Lyna knew (thanks to certain letters she had retained ownership of over many protests) signified the crest of House Valmont.

And the rest of the city…she was glad they had arrived at night. The sights and sounds even then amazed her, with the cobbled streets everywhere, the fine architecture on even the meanest of buildings that she could see by lantern light, the sound of water playing from a fountain somewhere, genteel laughter and a thread of music from a lyre… all else seemed rough and dirty by comparison. Living with this, she could see why the Orlesians sneered at the country that called her its hero. If Orlais’s smaller cities could command this, it staggered her imagination to consider what lay ahead at Val Royeaux: The White Spire. The Grand Cathedral. The Royal Palace. Ghilan’nain’enaste.

Lyna considered for a moment that perhaps they ought to spend more than a day at Arlesans, simply to prepare herself, but thought better of it. This was the first shock of ice water when swimming. It did not do to be timid, but to throw oneself into it.

She saw Falke gawping and laughed. “Your face looks how I feel,” she said to him.

“Stunning,” was all he said as they lead their mounts through the streets.

“I must admit this is quite lovely. Not as lovely as my Antiva City, but there is enough here I could almost feel at home,” Zevran said. He was not as affected as Lyna or Falke, but he wore a perpetual half-smile as he admired pieces of the Orlesian city they passed.

Then they passed the gates of Arlesans’s alienage, and the glittering façade crumbled. Straggles of elven laborers, backs bowed and bent, silently moved past a pair of bored and well-fed guards into rougher, less-clean streets with patchworks of crumbling plaster, worm-eaten wood, and bare grey stone walls. If it seemed cleaner than Denerim’s alienage, it was perhaps only the illusion provided by history and more resources.

Continuing past those gates down the streets of Arlesans to an inn, then, let her recall that much of this was only possible due to uncounted bodies offered in servitude. It vastly dimmed her enthusiasm for seeing the city in daylight. Appropriate to feel thus subdued when searching for Denis’s family, the de Bourrees, and not knowing what to expect other than the awkwardness of grief among strangers.

A challenge when they drew too near the Valmont estate cast a further pall. Comte Alphonse Valmont’s demise earlier that year demanded renewed vigilance. Someone found his children and set them free. Lyna would have welcomed Sten at the head of an invasion the moment she heard the tale. She tasted tainted bile on her tongue.

They finally took shelter at an inn with a swaggering chevalier on its sign, the innkeeper a hard-eyed man who looked first to Lyna’s vallaslin and then to her gryphons before granting them a room to share. Only through Falke’s gentle questioning did he also tell them where the de Bourree family might be found, a gruff, “Maker be with you,” as she left in the morning to seek them out.

A small estate on the other side of the city, just one step above farmers were the de Bourrees. A proud family who played the Game and fought hard to retain what they had in it. How they nearly lost it all, and only Denis choosing to join the Grey Wardens fixed a terrible mistake. All this explained to Lyna as she sat with Denis’s wrapped greatsword lying heavy in her lap in Melina de Bourree’s salon, her husband Stefan having exited the room in an unbearable storm of anger and grief.

“He loved his brother more than the world, but Denis could not stay. It would destroy them all,” Melina told her, the woman’s eyes looking out the great window to their orchards and fields. Great baskets were under the trees, men in aprons moved among them, shaking and pushing and climbing. Ripe fruit tumbled and rolled. “I fear this has done so already, only more slowly.” She lifted a small teacup to her lips so carefully.

“I am so sorry, my lady,” Lyna said, because there was nothing else. What she knew of this life Denis came from was alien to her, but grief and the poison of knowledge, that she understood. Denis made the best of a situation, he had offered jokes and music and raw tales – he laughed and stood up where she had seen others break.

“I can only be grateful that he was not alone,” Melina said.

Lyna thought of Alaine and a kiss in the darkness. “No, he was not.”

Lyna left the greatsword on a fleur-de-lys patterned settee to a grateful merci. Goodbye, Denis. An escape from the smothering gentility was a few strides away.

“Warden-Commander.” The pitch was slightly off, the throat raw, but the timbre was very like Denis. Lyna turned from the estate’s doorway to face his brother.

“My lord.”

“I am only barely a lord because of our father, and the Comte never let my father forget.” The acid edges of pain were working their way into his face. “Maker damn his soul.”

Lyna waited. She wondered if he meant the Comte murdered earlier this year. She wondered if that, too, didn’t play a part in this family’s pain.

“Forgive me. I’m sure you Wardens have no use for this,” Stefan continued, his hand gesturing in a useless circle. “But I hoped-“ Uncertain at first, and then earnest, he took several steps forward. “Did he love? Did someone-”

“Yes, my lord. Until his last breath,” she said gently. When Stefan covered his face with his hands and wept, she left the estate.

Lyna could not stay in the Orlesian city even to rest. If Arlesans was but a taste of Val Royeaux, it was beautiful and Blighted in its soul, and there was no easing into it. Best to drink the full cup.

I am coming. To whom or what she addressed that thought, she could not say.

Chapter Text

Not for the first time, Lyna marveled and worried at the crowding of the road to Val Royeaux. She thought she’d understood how the inauguration of a new Divine would draw people to the Orlesian capital, particularly when Scipio had told her that royalty and others would be attending. But to actually see the crowds of merchants and their carts, nobles and their carriages, freeholders and families, soldiers and hired mercenaries alike as guards, the poor afoot with their meager possessions on their backs, dizzied. If there had been more elven faces she could have pretended it was an Arlathvhen, but even that would have been swallowed up in this constant parade of flesh making the steady trek to Val Royeaux’s Sun Gate.

Even with the soldiers and guards in the caravans or pacing their charges, Lyna could see it was a thieves’ paradise. She eyed the children begging under the oaks that lined the road even a mile away from the massive gates, their sweet voices entreating petit alms, and could not pick the professionals from the truly destitute.

“Falke, I hope you have relocated your purse as I suggested,” Lyna said to the Ander as they rode slowly behind the carts of a leather merchant they met last night as they camped. The inns were full to bursting and there seemed no use in spending dwindling coin anyway.

“Yes, Commander,” Falke said stiffly. Although time spent at Weisshaupt, Hunter Fell, and other places brought him into contact with many people before, the sheer volume and variety of this stream of bodies unsettled him enough he fell back on his quieter habits. He sat very straight in his saddle, frowning, his attention fastened forward.

Lyna thought about telling him to relax a little, but truthfully she didn’t feel much like relaxing herself. Even all the time spent on the road thus far seemed to have melted away, anticipation making her feel as if she had only just begun the journey. This business of seeing a new Divine installed in the Orlesian Chantry meant nothing to her. First Enchanter Fiona and every possible insight the mage had as to how she escaped the Taint was everything.

To be cleansed as Fiona had been was the key to her freedom. A future. Her heart pounded fiercely in her chest with a sudden sharp ache, and her hands closed tightly on her reins for a moment. She looked over at Zevran, who hummed a song and nonchalantly sized up every passer-by, and her world steadied. Moment by moment, she reminded herself.

“Good, because this crowd is busy enough.  Once we squeeze through that gate,” Lyna indicated the enormous steel and gold Sun Gate, which though open was hemmed in with Templars and Orlesian military, “it’s going to get worse and any quick-fingered thief could take your purse and lose you easily.”

Zevran whistled to one of the children, a gamine-eyed brunette who ran up to his stirrup with her hands cupped. “Alms, monsieur?

“I have a token,” he said, producing a silver and dropping it into the scruffy girl’s hands. “Stolen from a bird.”

Merci for my supper, monsieur bird,” she replied, disappeared into the line of begging children.

Lyna raised an eyebrow at Zevran, who grinned. “We, or at least I, am less likely to be bothered now.”

“Hmph. For an hour, perhaps.”

Zevran chuckled. “If so, it will be enough time to find our footing.”

She thought that an optimistic estimation but kept her counsel. The gate, which was already large enough, kept looming larger as they approached. Several buildings loomed larger even, one of which was obviously the Imperial Palace sitting aloof from the city on its hill – she guessed the largest, the one that appeared like nothing else than a giant sword, to be the infamous White Spire. That meant the towers she could see, smaller than the White Spire but larger (from her perspective) than the Imperial Palace, must belong to the Grand Cathedral. Nothing she had yet experienced in Orlais or elsewhere compared to the grandeur these constructions exhibited, separately and collectively. Only Orzammar and the Deep Roads could match it for scale. Perhaps Elvhenan as well, had we not perished.

Soon the leather merchant was speaking with the contingent of guards, who inspected his goods and permits of sale. Two Templars, however, spied Lyna and approached.

“Grey Wardens? Your business in Val Royeaux?” the senior of the two said crisply, standing in front of their horses. He spared a glance for Zevran, but his attention was fixed on Lyna and Falke.

“Warden-Commander Lyna Mahariel of Ferelden, here to see First Enchanter Fiona of Montsimmard,” Lyna replied tersely. It was a standard enough question, she knew, but after having been on the road so long she didn’t care for inquiries into her business. All she wanted was to get through the gate, find an inn to stable the horses, and go find the mage.

“Length of-,” began the senior Templar, when the younger interrupted.

“Begging pardon, ser, but the First Enchanter is here. This is the Hero of Ferelden; she’s been expected.” The younger Templar turned back toward the gate and waved. Lyna shrugged at the senior Templar, who regarded her with suspicion.

“Shall I regale you with the sound of a dying Archdemon? No?” she said wryly. A Templar and a small elven woman with a tall staff emerged from between a cluster of people nearer the sally port and approached.

She’s so small. Lyna did not know why this surprised her. Logically this was First Enchanter Fiona, but given all Lyna had read, she had half expected…what? She’s like you, also exaggerated in tales. Remember that. The woman wore black robes trimmed in white and gold, her short dark hair smooth. None of it obscured her ears or light brown face in any way. She carried herself almost regally.

If this is her… She extended her senses, wondering if she would feel even the slightest itch of Taint as she did with Falke or other Wardens. She was met with nothing.

“You must be Warden-Commander Mahariel,” Fiona said, peering up at Lyna on her horse. Her voice was soft and slightly husked, every syllable perfectly Orlesian. “If you were hoping to sense something in me, Commander, I am glad to disappoint you.”

“First Enchanter. I am far from disappointed.” Lyna struggled not to exult and managed to keep herself to a smile.

The elven mage raised a fine eyebrow. “You would be the first, then.” She turned to the senior Templar who stopped Lyna. “She is my guest, and the guest of the Circle of Magi as well. Let her through, if you would.”

“Certainly,” the Templar said and addressed Lyna. “Your companions? Length of stay?”

“Zevran Arainai of Antiva, Warden Falke of the Anderfels, and as long as necessary,” Lyna replied sourly. “I understand your duties well, ser, but I have been on the road a long while and have no interest in Chantry antics whatsoever.”

The Templar gave her a sour look in return and made a note in his logs. “Proceed. Keep your weapons secured.” He waved their group through.

“My thanks,” she said, and gestured for Zevran and Falke to dismount.

“You surprise me, Commander,” said Fiona as Lyna dismounted. She continued as they began walking through the gate, responding to Lyna’s questioning glance. “Questing for the Urn of Sacred Ashes seems the actions of someone devout, and you are not, I take it.”

Zevran chuckled and she could see Falke wore a faint, rueful smile.

“Devout Andrastian? No, definitely not. And you are not the first to be surprised,” she nodded. Now that she and Fiona stood on equal ground, the mage was not as small as she initially seemed. Lyna only stood slightly taller; it was the mage’s slighter build that made her seem tiny. “The Temple of Sacred Ashes was interesting, from a historical perspective. But it was purely a mission of desperation and necessity, First Enchanter.”

“A mission that succeeded,” Fiona replied, pale green eyes measuring her intensely. Her Templar escort stayed between the First Enchanter and the thronging merchants and beggars that lined the wide Avenue of the Sun.

“Thank whomever you like for that. The ashes possessed the power promised. Maker-blessed or merely magic, who knows,” Lyna shrugged. “If you would like to discuss articles of Chantry faith, you’re better off speaking with Falke, here. He would have become a Chantry brother had he not been called to the Wardens.”

Fiona glanced at Falke, who gave the mage a tight, uncertain smile. “No, such was not my intent. My curiosity is satisfied. Given the ‘Chantry antics’ surrounding installing a new Divine, however, you may be called upon to recount your story many times.” She snorted and indicated the ribbons and garlands that bedecked the currently dimmed glowlamps along the way. “Not that your questioners will be particularly devout themselves. They will only want a thematically appropriate interesting story to entertain them.”

Lyna sighed. “So I have come to understand. Orlesians are not unique in that regard.”

“Such entertainment has given me food and drink and other pleasures besides in Antiva,” Zevran said. “Although they prefer to ask of dragons and werewolves and golems than darkspawn – not that I blame them. The darkspawn are much more tiresome.”

“You are also a veteran of the Blight?” Fiona asked, surprised.

“Of course he is. Zevran should be as well known as I am. How is it my companions receive so little credit?” The very idea of it irritated her. There was no way Lyna could have survived, much less succeeded, in rallying the Ferelden forces and bringing down the Archdemon without Zevran, Oghren, Sten, and the others.

“Fame is a tricky whore, Lyna, I am not bothered,” Zevran shrugged.

“If I am stuck with years of ridiculous questions, Zevran, so must you be,” she insisted.

“My apologies, I should have realized. We are none of us what we each expected, I suppose.” Fiona’s lips pursed when she glanced again at Zevran. She’d frowned as ‘whore’ tumbled from the assassin’s mouth. The mage did not seem to approve of him.

“Of course you could not possibly expect someone as handsome as I am, just as I could not expect to meet such a jewel of a mage,” Zevran said cheerfully. “But I would be happy to accept apologies over a drink?”

“I think not,” Fiona said icily. She quickened her pace, their steps leading them into a market square that put Denerim’s and Perendale’s to shame. The buildings housed their own shops, and colorful awnings abutted each other in every available space. Lyna saw spices, leather, furs, jewelry, foodstuffs, candles, and a dizzying array of many other goods besides.

“A shame. You have beautiful eyes, my dear, full of magic, and I was hoping to stare at them.”

“Your hopes will have to remain disappointed,” Fiona replied testily. “I do not drink, and I would prefer you keep your distance.” She put a hand on her escort’s arm, and the Templar stared at Zevran as they pushed through the market.

Zevran sighed wistfully. “Ahh, mages.”

“Please, ma ghilan. Enough.” Lyna shot him a look: do not alienate her. He frowned but nodded.

“As you wish. Is it always this crowded?” Zevran complained as he was jostled a third time.

“Almost, but many have come to see the new Divine and take advantage of the opportunities she affords,” Fiona said. Her features sharpened, determined. “We are all of us curious as to what sort of Divine she will be.”

“Some more than others, I take it.” Ahead, Lyna could see the street diverged into many, twisting labyrinthine throughout the sprawl of the city ahead. Now past the walls, she could better see the sword of the White Spire vying with the towers of the Grand Cathedral in the distance.

Fiona turned bright and narrowed eyes at Lyna. “Yes. Some more than others.”

“A controversial choice, I’ve been told,” she replied lightly. “A herald of change, perhaps.”

“I have my doubts.” Fiona returned her attention to the path ahead. Val Royeaux’s gaiety did not touch her. “The Sunburst Throne upholds the Chantry. Any change puts the Chantry in disarray.”

Lyna thought perhaps the mage would not be upset at such a change. Falke stayed quiet, but she knew he supported the Chantry in all things and did not share a desire for transformation. Lyna herself would not mind a slight shift in Chantry dogma, not least of which attitudes toward her people that had led to the Exalted March on the Dales, but the Chantry itself represented stability for many. Lyna supported that much, at least.

“I suppose we shall see,” she replied. “We can talk more on this subject later, if you like. For now I would just like to find room at an inn. Have you a recommendation?”

“Ah, of course. I did not make myself clear. You are a guest, Warden-Commander. You will not need a room at an inn. There are rooms awaiting you at the Grand Cathedral,” Fiona replied with a dip of her head. The slight curve of a smile on her face held a touch of mischief. “First Enchanter Irving agreed you must be treated as any visiting dignitary and sends his greetings.”

“You did tell him the Wardens are not political…” Lyna protested.

“The Arlessa of Amaranthine and the savior of Kinloch Hold does not warrant hospitality?” Fiona smiled and pushed through the last of the market throng on the outskirts of the square. The streets were only slightly less occupied, though Lyna noticed some people darted into dim, narrow alleys that were not as well cared-for as the buildings that proudly bordered the avenues.

“Technicalities,” she replied, frowning. She could see she was being used for Fiona’s purposes, but since Lyna needed Fiona for her own, she did not press the point. More games, she supposed, and clenched her jaw. This was no time for honest exchanges.

“Precisely. This is not so bad a thing, Commander. Orlais supports its Grey Wardens. You will find it more accommodating if you remind them of who you are.” Fiona indicated the many statues, most of them of Andraste, lions, Drakon, or other Orlesian heroes.

What I am, you mean. I see no statues of Shartan. I am obelisks and gryphons,” Lyna said curtly. “Like Garahel. Uncomfortably revered until we can be conveniently forgotten.”

Fiona stopped in her tracks and grasped Lyna’s arm. “That is more than many of our people ever receive, Commander.” She stared intently into Lyna’s eyes. “Use that. For us. Do not let them forget.” The mage ignored the impatient shifting of her Templar escort’s feet.

“The painter, Chantal.” Zevran said suddenly.

“What of them?” Lyna asked, glancing from the mage to her lover. He grinned.

“That is how you can make sure they do not forget,” he said. “Never mind Lady Elodie’s games. Find the painter and we will see how it goes, hmm?” Zevran smirked, already planning something she had no doubt. She’d have to discuss it with him, if nothing else than to ensure his plan didn’t fall apart as his plans were sometimes wont to do.

“Perhaps.” If Lyna was able to find Sten’s sword then she could probably find this Chantal, but there were more important things she wanted to focus on. She also worried about anything that might lead the Crows to Zevran.

Fiona regarded the pair as they talked, then indicated they should resume their journey. The Templar remained close to Fiona, but he more obviously took the lead toward the Grand Cathedral. “I am glad you are willing to listen and consider. We need more people like you,” she said.

Lyna could not argue that. She just hoped the mage would be willing to do the same.

Conversation fell away for a time, leaving Lyna to take a good look around at the city. Arlesans had certainly served as an introduction with its grand and richly decorated buildings, but even the smaller city’s opulence faded beside Val Royeaux’s. Grand arches, porticos, balconies, marble and gold railings, no detail was spared. Fountains sprayed delicate, rainbowed mists, some almost musical in their splashing.  A few noble estates they passed boasted glowlamps or charged warding runes inset their ornate gates. Music floated out of many windows, from the taverns she did not see to the glass expanses in the balconies above the streets.

A great many people, she noticed, also went about masked or painted as well. She remembered Lord Piers from the caravan to Weisshaupt, but hadn’t considered anyone but nobles wore the silly things.Those wearing the simplest clothing were just as likely to be bare-faced as they were to don a simple mask or wear paint on their faces in baffling colors or styles.  Lyna became acutely aware that she, Zevran, Falke, and Fiona were the oddities in this city for going about unmasked.

“Is this a common custom?” Lyna asked. “The masks, I mean.” She gestured at a couple chatting outside of a small pastry shop whose window showed tiny delicate cakes in the shapes of suns, shells, mushrooms, coins, or flowers. The man’s mask covered his face in a robin’s egg blue, tiny white pearls at the corners of the eyes and mouth. The woman’s half mask was yellow and green with sprays of feathers and quills sweeping behind her head.

“Yes it is. Not one I deal with all that often, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about it. You would have to speak to other mages more concerned with the Game than I am. The Empress’s Court Enchanter, for example,” Fiona said, her voice mildly contemptuous.

“Ah. I’m not likely to speak with any nobility, much less the Empress or her entourage, so thank you.”

“You underestimate your position here, Warden-Commander,” Fiona said quietly, looking at her sidelong. “I would have thought you would be used to speaking with nobility by now.”

“Not a position I looked for, and no matter how many times I deal with them, I have yet to grow accustomed,” Lyna said, shaking her head. She returned the mage’s look, curious. “And you? You once traveled with King Maric.”

Fiona started and looked away. “That was… a different time.”

“So was the Blight.” Three years gone, almost four. Sometimes the memories would assault her so it was fresh and new, other times it felt as if an entire life stood between her and the person she once was.

“He was certain it was coming,” said the elven mage. Her words were heavy and sad. “He wanted to stop it.”

“A shame neither he nor Cailan could or did.” She once thought her mourning for Cailan began and ended with finding his mutilated body in Ostagar. Since Alistair, however, what might have been sometimes featured in her dreams, and she wished Maric’s other son had lived.

Fiona looked at her oddly, then ducked her head. “Forgive me. Let us speak of this no more.”

Ma nuvenin.” Silence lapsed between them once more. There were so many things Lyna wanted to ask, but so much of it dealt with the Wardens there was little she could try to discuss out in public. Even her innocent questions seemed to loop back around to sensitive topics that were not safe to broach.

They would be able to sit and talk freely soon enough. Lyna would simply have to be patient.

Eventually they reached the walls that enclosed the enormous expanse of the Grand Cathedral. The Templars at the entrance, after a word with Fiona and her escort, let them through to the massive courtyard that awaited on the other side. Another pair of Templars, recruits from the look of them, took their horses after they each retrieved their packs. Other new arrivals in finery walked ahead of them.

“I have told them who you are. They will send the rest of your things to you. You will be able to come and go freely, as befits a guest,” Fiona explained. Lyna nodded absently, astounded at the sheer amount of space that lay between them and the Grand Cathedral itself. A central pillar, or tower, dominated the courtyard, the arms of the building embracing it.

“That is where the new Divine will most likely address the crowds come to see her,” Fiona continued, following Lyna’s gaze. “This courtyard will be completely packed the day after tomorrow, all eager to see Her Holiness.”

“That is when the inauguration is happening?”

“Yes. I have heard rumors of parties throughout the city tonight and tomorrow, to which the Grand Clerics will have been invited to in hopes of currying favor.” The First Enchanter snorted. “All ridiculous, if one cannot meet with the Divine herself.”

“She will be much too busy, surely.” Lyna followed the mage and the Templar past colonnades housing Andraste, Maferath, Hessarian, and Havard toward the main structure. From the corner of her eye she could see Falke looking about in awe and quiet ecstasy.

“Not so busy she will not meet with a select few, particularly someone who has revived the people’s faith,” Fiona declared. She directed a sharp eye at Lyna. “Be certain the Divine will want to see you.”

“And hear my entertaining tale.” She smiled humorlessly.

“Hopefully you will have more to offer than one tale, Commander.” They walked under the giant columns that supported the mezzanine, the cooler shade enveloping them.

“That would depend.” Lyna laid her hand on the woman’s arm. Fiona stopped and turned to her, head cocked consideringly. The main doorway, as large as any keep’s and much more ornate, awaited just ahead.

“On what?” Fiona leaned lightly upon her staff.

“On the incentive I am given.” Lyna looked steadily at the woman. Fiona was asking her to speak to the Divine about the mages, she knew. Once she might have considered doing it freely, but that time was long done.

“You have but to name it.” The mage’s cool green eyes flashed.

Ma halani dirtharan, lethallan. Tomorrow.”

Fiona raised an eyebrow, not understanding any word except the last, but nodded all the same. “Tomorrow, then.”

***

“I wish you would stay in, lethallin. We’ve only just arrived,” Lyna told Zevran as he rose from their bed.

Initially the Chantry Mother overseeing the installation of the Grand Cathedral’s guests wanted to put the Hero of Ferelden in one large suite, not realizing Lyna would have companions. When it was explained that she did and expected them to be housed, and her lover to be housed with her, the flustered Mother sent Sisters fluttering to secure the proper rooms. The Mother did not approve of Zevran sleeping in the same quarters, that was clear, but Lyna would not be budged.

Zevran had been endlessly amused and not improved the Mother’s mood with his suggestive banter. Falke’s stern admonishment and the arrival of their baggage did, however. When Lyna asked her if she would arrange for Falke to tour the Cathedral, she did so with a grudging smile and a hasty retreat.

Sheer perversity, and relief at having finally settled in, motivated Lyna to pull Zevran into their fresh bed to make love. He happily followed, declaring his love in Antivan in one breath and making delightfully filthy suggestions in another as they came together again and again, hungry for the freedom and privacy. They spent the next two hours that way, pausing to clean and rest and eat in between each delicious session, before talking about what they were doing in Val Royeaux.

Zevran had decided his best course of action would be to go out into the city itself, make what contacts he could, and see if he could not flush out any Crows in hiding.

“Ahh, cuore mio, I would gladly stay in other circumstances. I will still return later, so do not sound as if I am leaving forever, mmm?” He drew on his leather pants. “If Nuncio’s men are in Val Royeaux, neither you nor I will be safe, even in here.”

“With all those scary Templars about? Perhaps they will wet their pants and run.” She said it jokingly, a little smirk of her own pulling at the corner of her mouth, but part of her still hoped.

“Would that not be a satisfying sight?” Zevran laughed, then shook his head. “Despite what you saw in Perendale, the Crows are cunning. They would find a way to slip past the guards and then find us, if they knew we were here. And that, my dear, will not take very long to discover if they have not learned already.” He grimaced, donning a shirt.

“So, you find them first.”

“That is my hope.” He laced pants and shirt, his eyes lighting on the earring. He’d been glancing at it a lot. She didn’t know what to make of that, but he had not distanced himself like before, so Lyna thought perhaps he was getting himself used to seeing it. He was as affectionate and lewd as ever, though there seemed something different about him. Still, she had no intention of removing the earring. She couldn’t see it like she could the scar on her arm, but she could feel it gently swinging from her ear, and she loved it.

Lyna sighed and stood up, pushing her hands underneath Zevran’s shirt before he tucked it in. Her fingers traced the scars and muscles on his abdomen, the little divots of skin she loved to kiss.

“Then hunt well, lethallin, and come back to me safe.”

Zevran put his hands to either side of her face and kissed her deeply, resting his forehead on hers when he came up for air.

“I will come back as soon as possible,” he promised, and minutes later he was gone.

The same kind of restlessness that had seized Lyna at Perendale rose up once more. This time, however, she did not want to disturb Falke. She did not want to take what was left of Zevran’s brandy – she wanted all her faculties. If there were target dummies she could spar with, she would work out her thoughts and muscles there, but she did not feel comfortable asking the Templars if they had a salle she might practice in.

So: to the roof. Or in this case, the balconies and battlements of the Grand Cathedral, to walk and see the city at night from the vantage points she craved. Time alone to stretch her legs and consider the new perspectives that lay before her.

Lyna pulled on her own clothing, shaking out the residual dust from her travels. She could still smell the green of the oaks and the ashes of the campfire from the night before on them. Briefly she picked up the pillow she and Zevran had just shared and breathed deeply of the scent of his sun-warmed skin lingering in the softened muslin.

Then, ensuring her pack was secured and weapons safely hidden, she left their room and began walking.

The hallways outside their quarters were sparsely populated with the usual Chantry population – Sisters, Templars, initiates and recruits who filled in as servants – and at least one person she suspected was a fellow guest, a dark skinned and tattooed Rivaini woman bedecked in jewelry who nodded to her as if to an equal. Not knowing what else to do, Lyna nodded back and continued on her way, seeking out the stairs she was certain would take her up and out.

So much dedicated to this place. The effort, the money, was written in every stone, every sweep of decoration, every golden Andraste writhing in the frozen flames of a Tevinter pyre. The centuries of devotion and dogma left their mark across Thedas, for better or worse. This pile of stone and marble could have housed all the clans driven from the Dales, but never once would she wish them here. But if she could pull down these arches to feed and shelter them, she would.

For now, however, her allegiances demanded she find a way to speak to the new Divine and seek freedom for the Chantry’s other bastard sons and daughters, and by doing so hopefully discover the means by which she could free herself and the Wardens from the Void-damned Taint. It all made bile churn in her stomach.

Lyna walked faster, pushing up and up along the stairs and past the gilded sconces and glowlamps that lined the well’s walls, finally emerging at the top gasping like the drowning. She bent over a little and waited for the spots in front of her eyes to clear, then opened the door at the landing and walked out.

Dusk was turning to night, the sun disappearing in the west glinting its final rays on Val Royeaux’s many gilded surfaces. For a moment the city winked to the emerging stars above, as if the earth subsumed the sun and lit fires in every hearth to warm the encroaching darkness. Even without an unobstructed view of the city – she would have it once she found higher ground, some stretch of colonnade or a balcony on the darkened eastern walls – Lyna felt Val Royeaux stretch before her a sleepy, partly sated animal gnawing on the bones of the day’s hunt.

It would never be satisfied, she could tell. Always it would hunt for more until it turned on its own, frustrated it had overhunted and left nothing to abate its yawning.

Approaching footsteps caught her attention. “My lady, how may I serve?” asked a passing Chantry Mother. A Sister accompanied her with a pile of linens in her arms.

Lyna shook her head. “No need. I find myself in need of a walk. The night air agrees with me.”

“Then I bid you a good evening,” the Mother said, her headdress bobbing as she dropped her head in acknowledgment. The Sister echoed her, shifting her hold on the heavy stack of sheets. They continued along the path Lyna had just abandoned to take the stairwell down. Lyna followed the direction from whence they came, finding more stairs along the way. She continually rose up and eastward to the outer walls. A few people walked along them, patrols or perhaps people like her seeking a walk, but she was otherwise alone.

The walls of the Grand Cathedral were also quiet, in their own way. Strains of music she had heard during the day were muffled by the distance between the windows they escaped from and the high places she strode. The distance created a thick blanket of quiet to keep out the noise and clamor within her head.

Fiona. The mage’s request was understandable, and it was possible Lyna would actually be summoned before the Divine. Justinia, Scipio said her name was? If Lyna was being honest with herself, she would do exactly what Fiona was doing were their places switched. Perhaps this was also why the mage hadn’t flinched when Lyna asked for something in return. Had probably been expecting it.

Fiona might have cause to regret the promise later when Lyna told her what she needed. Still, without Fiona’s manipulations Lyna would even now be trying to work out how to ask for something this very Chantry railed against. She wondered if it would be prudent to send a letter to Avernus so he could prepare.

She breathed deeply of the air and smelled the tang of salt wafting in – just on the horizon she spied the docks of Val Royeaux at the lip of the Waking Sea, ships bobbing at anchor. Zevran must be feeling the pull of home even now, or perhaps appeased by a familiar smell. Could she find Antivan fish chowder for him? Would some tavern here know it? If he didn’t find some for himself, perhaps she could surprise him. His smiles eased her bleaker moments.

Lyna sighed. The lit tower of the White Spire gleamed with a fierce purity against the darkness. She could see how it would be a comfort – in some ways she thought the Grey Wardens could be the same, if they weren’t chained to the very darkness they tried to keep at bay. But having also seen the Templars’ fanatical devotion to a mangled dogma that sometimes came with it, perhaps it was a better thing the Wardens weren’t so pure. They understood the darkness to better stand against it. But somewhere across the Waking Sea, perhaps Avernus could find a better path for the Wardens to tread.

Ahh, her thoughts were still so tangled. She forced herself to look to Val Royeaux’s moonless streets, instead. Tracing their looping paths and byways could help, a giant June’s Knot to bring a stillness of mind when all else was chaos. Maybe somewhere in there she could find a way back to herself.

Or, at least, enjoy a moment’s peace before more blood and politics. She tilted her head, letting Zevran’s earring fall back against her head, and let the smells and the hush breathe through her.

Footsteps approached, likely a patrol. She would send it on its way.

“I’m fine, Templar. The night is quiet. Let me be, please,” Lyna said, not turning. It was rare she wanted to be alone, and even the slightest move felt like breaking into that bubble of calm.

The footsteps stumbled to a halt.

Maker’s breath. Lyna?

The bubble shattered and all air fled her lungs. She turned, pulled by the sound of a voice that still haunted her dreams.

Alistair. Mythal save me,” she gasped. There Alistair stood, so abashed and pale and present she took two steps forward, seized by the need to hold him, before she forced herself to stop.

“Here’s the thing: being near you makes me crazy, but I can’t imagine being without you. Not ever.” His eyes pleading, searching, the first night we made love.

“Are you saying I might hurt Alistair?” Talking to Wynne, later.

“Not intentionally, no,” she said. “But there is great potential for tragedy here, for one or both of you.”

“You’re the first woman I’ve ever spent the night with, and if I have my way, you’ll be the last.” Oh my love, I am so sorry.

“What… how… oh Maker, I thought I’d stop sounding like an idiot,” he mourned. The years away had made him sharper, more focused somehow, lines of worry on his forehead and hollows under his eyes joining the laugh lines around his mouth. But his voice – oh, never would that change.

“Never.” Ma vhenan. You were my idiot. Unbidden, tears welled and she blinked them away. “Your Majesty.” She curtsied.

“Please, no, not that. Not from you.” Alistair’s eyes were pained, mouth downcast. “What are you doing here?”

“Aside from taking a walk and feeling like I’m drowning?” she sighed. It was so easy to fall back into the ways they spoke to each other. “I’ve been invited. Apparently being the Hero of Ferelden still means something.”

“Drowning. Yes.” Alistair shuffled his feet and set his hands on his hips, looking away. He looked as gut-punched as the night the Warden Riordan told them what was needed to kill the Archdemon. He took a deep breath, mustering himself. “You were invited. To Val Royeaux. To see a new Divine on the Sunburst Throne. Whoever did it must be mad.”

“First Enchanter Fiona. And that’s what I said when I heard it.” Lyna smiled a little, despite herself. You still know me.

“And you didn’t just… decline? ‘No, sorry, I have rather a lot of darkspawn to kill, but thanks’?”

“I couldn’t.” Lyna bit her lip. Was this really the time? But when else would she get the opportunity to tell him? “I need her.”

“For what? Her knowledge of fine Orlesian cheeses?” His voice took on an edge. “If it’s a mage you needed, didn’t you have several at Vigil’s Keep? Wouldn’t Irving send you one?”

Mythal, is he angry? She pursed her lips and folded her arms.

“No, I didn’t need a mage. I needed her. Alistair, she used to be a Grey Warden.”

“Used to- Don’t be ridiculous. No one leaves the Wardens. Not even me, though Eamon pretends I can shut it all behind me and never hear the Calling,” Alistair said, frowning.

Her own anger flared. So Eamon could pretend Alistair wasn’t a Warden, but couldn’t do the same for her. She knew it had to have been him that whispered in his ear and convinced Alistair they could no longer be together.

Yes, used to be. Long ago she went on an expedition,” with your father, she almost said, “with fellow Wardens. They met and fought the Architect. Something happened that accelerated the Taint in them. When she returned to Weisshaupt and they removed the cause, the Taint was completely drawn out of her.”

His eyes widened with every word.

“I needed Fiona, Alistair. For her insights into the Architect, and for how I might stop the Calling.”

Maker’s breath. I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” He looked around for somewhere to sit, choosing to lean against a crenellation.

“I couldn’t believe it when I read it in the archives.”

“And you just drop this into my lap. ‘Oh hi, Alistair, good to see you, fell down any stairs lately?’” He passed a hand over his face.

“You asked.”

“My god, I’d forgotten how blunt you could be. You couldn’t just lie to me?”

Her heart squeezed in her chest. She’d chosen complete honesty when she begged him to sleep with Morrigan, too.

“I could never lie to you, Alistair,” she said softly.

He sighed deeply. “Sometimes I wish you would.”

Lyna flinched and took a step back at that. “I’m sorry.”

“Maker. No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.” He pushed away from the crenellation. “It’s just… hard. I thought I could somehow move past this. Find a wife, do what was expected of me.”  He turned to face the city below them. “And then something would happen, and all I could see was you.”

Her throat closed up.

“This time, quite literally.”

Vhenan. She ached to say it, wrap him up in it. “It’s been hard for me, too,” she managed, fighting to get the words out.

“I was afraid of that,” he said unhappily. “Amaranthine… why?”

It was Lyna’s turn to sigh as she closed the gap to stand next to Alistair. “I was too late. It was overrun. Even Constable Aidan agreed. With Vigil’s Keep also under attack, what else could I do but make sure none of the bastards escaped?”

All those people, Lyna…”

“I mourned every single one, or did you not bother to come see the memorial?” The anger and recrimination she’d leveled at herself boiled up, finding a space in her despair at being abandoned. “Many more were saved. The farms and fields and arling are still there, my lord.”

Now Alistair flinched. “I suppose I deserve that. I just- after Denerim, I never thought you’d give up. Be one of those Wardens that burned down villages. I thought maybe I had something to do with it.”

“So you sent Zevran. Creators, Alistair, why not just talk to me?”

“Because of this,” he said frustrated. “Because I can’t be king and be me every time we speak. I fall apart.”

“Alistair still loves you,” Zevran said as we stood in front of my memorial at Weisshaupt and I begged him not to let the Wardens lay me in there.

“So it’s true,” she said quietly. I wish you were here, lethallin.

“So what is true? That I’m still a mess when I see you?” Alistair shook his head. “I can’t help it. I thought I could.”

“Zevran told me as much. Swears it, though he’s not your biggest fan right now.” She hugged herself, not sure what to say.

“I didn’t ever think he was, but – what do you mean, ‘right now’?” Alistair turned to face her. His brow was furrowed and she lifted her arm to smooth it. He caught her hand and then dropped it as if burned.

“He’s here as well. He came to see me at Weisshaupt and has been traveling with me since.” Her pulse quickened. “He’s… helping me. With everything.”

“Helping you?” His eyes scanned her face, searching. It was almost like the way he used to look at her, as if he could see her and put her heart back together from the next encounter that shattered it. Then he saw the earring for the first time.“Did you- Maker. Did you sleep with him?”

“Yes.”

“I can’t believe you,” Alistair said and stepped back, as if she’d slapped him. “How could you?”

“How could I? How could I? He was there, vhenan, unlike you. You left me!” Tears began falling down her face. “What was I to do, pine for you until I died, while you took some shemlen wife and made a happy life without me? It’s not fair to expect that of me, Alistair, though Creators know I will never stop loving you.”

Alistair’s face fell, his hands clenching and unclenching. “Lyna. I-“

“I’ve done everything you ever asked of me, Alistair, and more. I fought for you every time someone expressed doubt about you, including yourself. I’m here in Val Royeaux, the last place I’d ever want to be, so maybe Fiona can tell me something that can cure the Calling. For you.” Once again her heart was breaking, the pieces scraping her throat raw.

“I didn’t ask for this!” he said, anguished, and took a step forward.

Neither did I. So don’t you dare question me about Zevran. Don’t you dare. I’ve done nothing but fight for you, Alistair, and it broke my heart that never once did you consider fighting for me,” she choked out furiously, her vision swimming, and fled from Alistair as fast as she could, the sound of him calling her name echoing across the battlements of the Grand Cathedral.

Lyna dashed the tears from her eyes as fast as they sprang up, wiping her face with one hand and navigating back down the stairs and passages to her room with the other. She tried avoiding the Templars and Sisters or anyone else on her way back, although she was certain word would spread like wildfire the next day that the King and the Hero of Ferelden had fought and shouted at each other like a pair of shrews.

The thought just made her tired. Come back to me soon, lethallin. She ached for nothing more than to be held, to have the storm of her emotions gentled until she could handle them without breaking apart.

She could drink from Zevran’s brandy until he got back, couldn’t she?

Wiping her face once more, Lyna found the door of her quarters. She gripped the handle and walked in.

“Bon nuit, ma petite. It is good to see you again, Lyna,” said the redhead sitting on her bed.

Lyna pushed the door closed behind her and slid to the floor.

Chapter Text

“Your timing is terrible, Leliana. In other circumstances I’d say I was glad to see you, too,” Lyna said with a short, bitter laugh, and covered her face to sigh into her hands. You and that damned song.

“I was not aware the current circumstances were so bad,” she heard Leliana frown, and uncovered her face to look at the bard. The former lay sister and her close companion was as pretty as ever, though her soft features had taken on a harder cast. “Although I do admit my confusion when I heard you were coming to Val Royeaux, I had hoped we might find joy in this. Am I wrong?”

“Not entirely.” Lyna sighed again and scrubbed away another stubborn tear. Her eyes were burning and her face must be red and raw by now. “I’ve missed you.”

“And I you, petite. But…?” Leliana delicately crossed her legs and folded her hands in her lap, raising an eyebrow. She was more composed than Lyna recalled. Although she’d always had impeccable poise and an unshakeable stillness within, the girl she knew had always been in motion with fluttering hands and dancing feet.

“I heard your song on the road,” she said flatly. Even now she could hear the aching refrain, its poignant beauty threatening to destroy her calm. She closed her eyes, tired and sad. “And I just saw him.”

“Oh Lyna,” Leliana said softly, the weight of understanding in her voice, and Lyna heard her get up from the bed and walk across the room. She settled down on the floor next to Lyna and pulled her into her arms, laying Lyna’s head on her shoulder. The smell of Andraste’s Grace enfolded her, its sweet notes entwined with leather, ink, and something musty. “I am so sorry. It is a terrible song. I don’t know why I shared that drivel.”

“It’s a truthful song,” Lyna said and broke down before she could get any more out. The comfort of the other woman’s arms was the very thing she needed, and wave after wave of sorrow crashed as she shook against Leliana’s shoulder. The bard’s hand stroked her hair, smoothing the strands on the side of her face behind her ear, humming as she did so.

“I should have anticipated this might happen,” Leliana said after a while, when Lyna had subsided into hiccupping sighs. “You are always drawn to each other, like metal after a lightning strike. What did you say to Alistair?”

“Truth. Things he did not like to hear,” Lyna said, and dragged herself up out of the circle of Leliana’s arms. She leaned against her friend’s shoulder and held her hand instead. “It all came out so fast. We were both in such shock, I think.” She recounted her conversation with Alistair, omitting Fiona’s condition and the Calling. It may be known the mage was kicked out of the Wardens, but never the precise reason why.

“Only those we are close to know best how to hurt us,” Leliana said, shaking her head. Lyna knew she was also thinking of Marjolaine’s cruelties. Lyna squeezed her hand. “But here – you and Zevran? This is a surprise.” She shifted, lifting Lyna’s chin so she could look at her, and cupped her hand under the assassin’s earring. “This says more to me than mere comfort, petite.

“A surprise for all of us.” Lyna bit her lip and lowered her eyes, then looked back up into Leliana’s sharp blue gaze. “I love him as well.”

“Oh my.” The bard’s eyes widened. “And he…?”

“Loves me too? Yes. I think he realized first,” she confessed. She’d had time to think about it, and though their relationship had progressed fast in their recent journeys, she could see where things might have been different had she not fallen in love with Alistair first during the Blight. This latest change felt more like a further development of their relationship and not completely new, something that could have happened but hadn’t been allowed to those years ago.

Lyna told Leliana how it began with Zevran at Weisshaupt, including the reason the assassin was there to begin with, and their trials on the road. She blushed when she told the bard about Perendale, and got up to fish out the message Zevran would have sent back to Alistair had they not intercepted Nuncio’s messenger.

“Sloppy work. I can do better than this,” Leliana said with a curl of her lip, handing the paper back to Lyna. “I have some agents who can be your couriers. I will arrange it later. Continue.”

Agents?” Lyna set her hands on her hips.

“Later,” Leliana replied firmly. She twirled her hand. “Continue, please.”

She affixed the bard with an incredulous eye but drew a deep breath and told her her reaction to the discovery of the message, how it felt to learn of Alistair’s involvement and what it meant for Zevran’s, and how the full truth of their feelings came out: Zevran’s for her, and hers for both men, and the assassin’s acceptance. The rest was the earring after Ville Ardin, Duke Prosper and the Crow outside of Arlesans, and Zevran’s occasional allusions to her relationship with Alistair.

During all this, she got up and retrieved the remainder of Zevran’s brandy, noting ruefully it was almost gone, and began sharing it with Leliana. The woman, after a moment’s hesitation, drank directly from the bottle like Lyna. They had had a few swallows each when Lyna finished, both of them now lounging on the bed.

“I must say you have a propensity for trouble of all sorts. Perhaps you are the lightning, and all is drawn to you helplessly,” Leliana observed sympathetically.

Lyna threw her hands up. “That does not help me in any way.”

“Ah petite, I am sorry. This is your nature, no? Without your draw, so much could have gone wrong and we would still be fighting a Blight.” She leaned forward and kissed Lyna’s cheek. “But I am glad you are who you are, and despite your pain I feel you are fortunate to know and be loved by these men.”

“After my little revelation to Alistair, I wouldn’t be certain of that anymore. And he doesn’t even know the full truth,” Lyna said. She tipped the brandy bottle back and took another swallow. “Doesn’t change my feelings, just so you’re aware.” Regretfully she eyed the bottle – a few swallows left, she should buy Zevran another – and stoppered it again. “But really, Leliana: no judgment on this?”

“I have many judgments, my dear, and many questions. Most of them about Zevran. But I have come to believe in one thing above all else: that love is the Maker’s greatest gift to us all. You helped me see this, so it is only right that I return the favor.” The bard set Zevran’s bottle on the floor and grasped Lyna’s hands again, strong but soft at the same time. “Alistair still cares, after all this time, whether it is advisable or not. You have told him that you do, as well. Zevran makes this complicated more than it already is, but the bottom line is that you have a chance to repair your relationship with Alistair, whether you end it as friends or find a way to make it work.”

“If you’re saying I must choose, then-“ Lyna began, shaking her head.

“No, petite, my preferences are not yours to base decisions upon, and I have come to see all sorts of relationships in my time at court,” Leliana said with a mischievous smile. “Zevran is right about the Duke de Ghislain and Madame de Fer, for one. But,” she added, “I know for a fact that one was hard fought by the rest of the nobility, and only Empress Celene’s countenance stopped the physical attacks. Ferelden would be an entirely different matter with its own complications, and only you and Alistair can say whether it would be worth them.”

“And there we come to the main issue,” Lyna said with a sour twist. “No need to remind you of what those complications are, I’m sure.” She hung her head. “He wants to be a good husband and father, and I want that for him, too. I just-“

“I know. But if he truly wishes to be with you, he will need to expand his understanding of how to be these things, and you cannot do that for him.” Leliana patted her hands. “He will need time, as I suspect you and Zevran will need as well.”

“Time isn’t what I have a lot of,” she muttered. Not unless I find a cure. “But if I must be patient, so be it. I have many things to occupy my time other than wittering on about my pitiful heart.”

“You are too harsh on yourself,” Leliana said. “Besides, it is good to hear you unburden yourself. You are my dearest friend, and you have done so much – and have much more to do – that you deserve some respite.” She heard a regretful note creep into the bard’s voice.

“This is where I feel compelled to ask again about these so-called agents you have, because I have yet to hear your story about what you’ve been doing since the Blight,” Lyna said, folding her arms.

“In due time,” Leliana said a little coolly. “I would rather wait for Zevran so I do not have to repeat myself. So… how is he, really, in bed?” She grinned and sat forward, eyes gleaming, so like the girl who once asked the same question of Alistair that Lyna couldn’t help grinning in response.

“He is not all brag, to begin with,” she said archly, and the pair giggled and smirked and sighed through every juicy detail Lyna shared for the next hour.

“You managed the soixante-neuf? I did not think it-“ Leliana had gasped, her cheeks rosy from enjoying her friend’s confidences, when the door abruptly opened and the subject of their discussion came in. She snapped her mouth closed and sat up straight.

Zevran, for his part, took in the closeness of the women and covered his surprise with a knowing grin.

“Leliana! My sweet Chantry mouse. Perhaps I should come back a little later, hmm? Or is there room for one more?”

Leliana flushed and glanced at Lyna, obviously recalling everything she’d told the bard. “Zevran. I am glad to see you, too.” She got up from the bed and pulled up a chair, instead. “You can have my place.”

“I could not possibly come between you, but if you insist…,” Zevran smirked and dropped his cloak by the door, plopping onto Leliana’s vacated seat on the bed.

“Honestly, Zevran,” Leliana rolled her eyes.

“Welcome back, lethallin.” Lyna took his hand. “I’ve told her everything. About us.”

“Everything, mmm? Even the silk-“ At Leliana’s blush, Zevran broke into delighted laughter. “So you did! Did she squirm as much as she is squirming now?” He drew Lyna’s hand up and kissed it fondly.

“You are an incorrigible tease, ma ghilan. Let it be. Believe me, if she were so inclined, Leliana would be one of the rare people I would let in,” she said with an apologetic look at the bard, who smiled back.

“And I would have let you know by now,” Leliana replied a little primly. “Besides, I do not think my delicate health could take the excitement.”

“Delicate health, she says!” Zevran chuckled. “Ah well, you cannot blame me for trying.” He toed off his boots and turned to lie back on the bed, resting his head on Lyna’s lap. Lyna dropped a kiss on his forehead and stroked his hair.

“You have your hands full, I see,” Leliana observed dryly at Lyna.

“Very full.”

Leliana giggled.

“Now now, if you must gossip in front of me I must insist on the details,” Zevran declared.

“Nothing you do not already know, lethallin.” Lyna’s indulgent smile faded. “So, Leliana, suppose now you let me know what you’ve been up to. You need us for something. Who are you working for?”

“You’ve grown sharper since last I saw you. This is good to know,” Leliana replied, her warmth replaced with a cool professionalism she hadn’t seen from the woman before.  “That makes it much easier to tell you everything.”

Zevran immediately sat up, eyes narrowed. “If you have gone to work for the Crows…”

“No, I haven’t. I am working for Divine Justinia. She has named me her Left Hand.” Leliana crossed her legs and folded her hands again, watching the elves closely.

“So that is why you suddenly have ‘agents’,” Lyna nodded. “But how do you know the Divine?”

“Come now, cuore mio, surely you have guessed,” Zevran said. He’d relaxed slightly, but kept a close eye on the redhead. “She is a bard with close ties to the Chantry. Think on it.”

“Ahh, of course. Marjolaine?”

“Marjolaine,” Leliana confirmed, and sighed. “I should have killed her when we had the chance in Denerim. It has proven difficult to root her out and eliminate her.”

“I’m missing something. If Marjolaine has led you to the Divine, why are you seeking her out still for revenge?” Lyna sat forward and rested her elbows on her knees.

“Because the documents Marjolaine stole years ago were entrusted to the Divine when she was Mother Dorothea. Marjolaine obtained them by taking advantage of her trust,” she replied carefully. “When I was captured, Dorothea – Justinia – helped me escape so we could clear both our names.”

“And now that she is Divine, Marjolaine is a bigger threat with all she knows,” Zevran filled in. Leliana nodded.

“I have been working on finding and subverting or destroying her own network of spies and bards since I returned to Orlais,” she continued, “first for myself and then for the Divine. You know Marjolaine cannot be found unless she wishes it, but in this case I think her pride has taken over her sense.”

“She’s here in Val Royeaux, you mean,” Lyna said. The familiar thrill of the scent of a hunt passed through her.

“Oh yes. I have learned she will be present at a party after the inauguration, held on the de Montfort estate here in the city. It promises to be a lavish affair with many major players of the Game in attendance. It is there I wish to strike,” Leliana said with a small, fierce smile.

“You don’t think Marjolaine will run when she sees us?” Lyna asked, frowning. A party in Val Royeaux was frankly terrifying, but Leliana had faced down worse for her. If this was what she needed…

“She seemed overconfident the last time we met her, Lyna. I do not think the years of evading Leliana will have made her less so,” Zevran chuckled darkly.

“You are partially correct. The excitement of this cat-and-mouse thrills her most of all, I know it,” the redhead said quietly. “The thought of standing in front of me, only to evade capture, will make her bold.”

“So you would like us at this party to help you. I’m terrible at the Game, Leliana, but I put myself and my better skills at hunting and killing at your feet,” Lyna said.

“You are not so terrible as you think. I heard what happened with Duke Prosper before you told me your side of the story,” Leliana grinned. “I will admit Zevran’s interference certainly helped, however.”

Lyna grimaced. “Refusing to be a pawn is not the same. I wish I had dueled the bastard, but it would have solved nothing for me or my people. Simeon is just one terrible bigot among many. I simply forced Prosper to deal with the problem people like him created, instead of letting him sit back and pretend outrage while I defend myself yet again.”

“This is what she is talking about, cuore mio, and what I have been telling you. We play their Game by violating the rules – they are bound to it, and we are not,” Zevran pointed out.  He stretched and yawned and removed his shirt to toss it on the other side of the bed.

“You also did well at the Landsmeet, and you have some experience among nobility since then,” Leliana said, uncrossing her legs. “These experiences have served you well, and some are intimidated by the power of the Grey Wardens. They will be fascinated with you, and you can use that to your advantage.”

“To our advantage,” Lyna corrected. Her stomach gurgled and she winced. “We are tired and I am hungry. I don’t mind if we continue to talk, Leliana, but I need food at the very least.”

“Of course, my dears, I should not have kept you so long from eating. One moment,” she replied, and rose from the chair and stepped outside the door.

“If you continue to talk for very much longer,” Zevran said turning to Lyna with a gleam in his eyes, “I will test her reticence to join us.” He cupped her jaw and placed a soft and promising kiss on her lips.

She chuckled and nipped his lower lip. “Thank you for the warning. I promise to make this as quick as possible.”

“Damn,” he sighed, and gave her another quick kiss before stretching out on the bed, propping himself up on one elbow to watch and listen.

Leliana returned and sat back down in the chair. “I have sent for some food and made sure you will be taken care of in the morning as well. There are many guests in residence, but I won’t have you overlooked because of it.”

Ma serannas. I’d enjoy a bath.” She remembered when that was sheer luxury, even before the Blight.

“Good! You should take two tomorrow, the second after you are finished speaking with the First Enchanter. I know a dressmaker who can work miracles, and I want you to meet with her.”

Lyna scowled in distaste. “Dresses and shoes?”

“Dresses and shoes,” Leliana said firmly, smiling. “But for you, and because the hour is so late in many ways, concessions can be made. You must be stunning for the party, petite. Some high boots, perhaps an equally high frock? Something daring and shocking, but still feminine.”

“And practical, if I am chasing Marjolaine across marble floors,” she said, crossing her arms.

“Let her work,” Zevran purred. “How daring, would you say?”

Leliana laughed. “There are limits, for the sake of taste and diplomacy, but they can be pushed quite far if done right.”

“I’m a Grey Warden.

“Oooh, of course! We must dress you in grey and black, to go with your hair.”

“Grey silk?” Zevran said hopefully.

“Silk spots terribly, but it is beautiful...,” Leliana said thoughtfully. She speared Zevran with a sharp look. “And you must be dressed as well. You have been in tatty rags for too long.”

“Oh no, a serious threat,” he deadpanned. “Don’t. Please.”

Lyna pinched the bridge of her nose. “I can’t believe you’re looking forward to this.”

“To someone putting their hands on my body and making me look more magnificent than usual? Si.” He preened.

“You are such a peacock.”

“You have only yourself to blame right now, Leliana,” Lyna pointed out. “Put him in black to match me.”

“Mysterious and handsome, a true power couple. You have good instincts,” Leliana said archly.

“I am going to die.”

Chapter Text

“Now this is what you should have had at Weisshaupt,” Zevran said as he lounged catlike on the bed in his bath towel and ate a pastry from the breakfast brought to them earlier. “Aside from waking so early, that is. I was certain the Orlesians preferred not to rise until later in the day.”

Lyna chuckled as she fastened the second of her leather greaves. “That may be so, lethallin, but this is the Chantry itself and my habits have never been Orlesian, some of our mornings to the contrary. You would spoil me,” she said.

“Only in the ways that matter, such as sleeping,” he said. He finished his pastry, licked his fingers, and stretched. “As much fun as it would be to tie you down, I am also certain it would not keep you from working. And I happen to enjoy watching some of your work.”

“But not all of it.” Lyna rose from her chair, armor creaking, and leaned over the bed to kiss the assassin. His mouth was sweet from the fruit and cream that made up half their breakfast.

“The paperwork is not sexy, no.” His tawny eyes gleamed. “I could be naughty and provide a distraction.”

“Now you are asking me to tie you down instead, and that may not be as exciting as you hope,” Lyna smirked. “I know you can undo any of my knots. I’d have to ask Falke to sit on you.”

“That could be promising, if he were a little less provincial,” Zevran sighed.  Lyna kissed his forehead.

“Poor you,” she smiled, and returned to donning her gear. The ebony dagger was secured on her belt, and after a moment’s consideration, she returned the brooch’s box to its hiding spot.

A knock sounded at the door.

“Speaking of, that will be him,” Lyna said. “If you’d be so kind…”

“Yes yes, let us not embarrass the man,” Zevran said with an irritated scowl as he rose and reached for his pants.

“One moment!” she called out, and continued. “I’m sorry, lethallin. But since you’ve people to meet also – do you not? – might as well. Else I’d be happy to watch you as you are.” Lyna grinned and picked up her gloves and cloak as the assassin grumbled in acknowledgment.

“If you wish another playmate, perhaps look outside the Chantry,” she teased, and opened the door. “I- oh.

Alistair stood at her door in splinted leather and a fur mantle, his face tense. Across the hall she could see several of his royal guard standing by.

“Good morning, Your Majesty,” Lyna said coolly and dipped her head, her stomach churning and her pulse thundering. “How may I serve?”

Alistair grimaced. “I’ll never get used to hearing that. I keep looking for someone else.” His voice was rough, as from too much time spent yelling. He cleared his throat and shifted his weight, setting his hands on his hips.

“I came to apologize for last night. I said some things I shouldn’t have, and clearly we have a lot of catching up to do, from what you’ve told me. About the Wardens,” he clarified quickly. He dropped his hands from his waist and folded his arms instead, a nervous habit she remembered. At least now he was looking at her, though a familiar longing peeked through the resolute and composed mien he was trying to maintain.

She recognized the answering pang in her chest, too.

Lyna took a deep breath and stepped into the hallway, pulling on her gloves. “We have much to discuss, my lord. Unfortunately this is not a convenient time to do so. I’m expecting-“

“I thought I heard a familiar voice. Ciao, Alistair.” Lyna glanced over at Zevran, still in pants and nothing else, lounging in the doorframe with his arms crossed. His neutral expression didn’t fool her, however. After Leliana left, she told him what happened with Alistair. He had muttered a stream of what she presumed were Antivan curses, jaw tightened and eyes flashing, and embraced her fiercely.

Alistair stiffened, his face clouding over, all nervousness gone. “Zevran. I didn’t expect you.”

“You send a message, here I am,” Zevran shrugged.

“This was not what I had in mind,” Alistair warned, unfolding his arms to clench his hands.

“Alright, stop,” Lyna snapped. “Warden Falke and I are about to go see First Enchanter Fiona at the White Spire, and I’d rather not keep her waiting. Alistair, you and I have Warden business to discuss some other time. If you want to discuss my relationship with Zevran, you can talk to him or talk to Leliana.” Down the hall, she saw Falke approaching with a Templar escort. She whipped her cloak open and settled it on her shoulders.

“I don’t think there’s anything to discuss about that,” Alistair said, the frost in his voice covering the anger she knew lurked underneath. She heaved a mental sigh. Maybe she just lost him for good, but she didn’t have the time or the energy to spend to find out at the moment.

“That’s your choice, but you two have one thing in common, and she’s got important things to do. As do you,” she said, eyes flicking sharply between Alistair and Zevran. “Don’t kill each other.”

Lyna snapped up her hood and strode off, angry at them and angry at herself. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

***

By the time Lyna and Falke reached the ivy-covered wrought iron gate of the White Spire, her temper had cooled. The journey through Val Royeaux itself was distracting, dodging buckets of slop from its high ornate windows, but she needed to gather her thoughts about the Architect and the questions she wanted to ask the mage. She asked Falke about his experience touring the Grand Cathedral.

As she thought, Falke was by turns impressed and awed at all he saw, and he thanked her for the opportunity.

“I’ve been told I might use their library while we’re here,” Falke finished, his face lit up and anticipatory.

“It has more than one book?” Lyna grinned as their escort opened the gate. Beyond it she saw Templars patrolling the compound and a set of massive doors that lead to a great hall in the main structure. Falke had told her this used to be the fortress for Emperor Drakon, and it seemed to look the part. No crumbling towers like Perendale or Kinloch.

“Of course it does! The hymns, the history, the – ah, you’re joking,” he said, realizing too late he’d taken her bait. He shot her a look equal parts fond and irked.

“Apologies, but I needed the laugh,” she said, following the Templar to the great hall. She ignored the curious glances around her and looked up at the massive tower, wondering how high they’d have to climb.

“That did seem a tense conversation you were having with the King of Ferelden,” the Ander said carefully. “I don’t suppose it had to do with the reason we’re here?”

“No,” she replied tersely. “But the reason we’re here is another reason I needed the laugh.” The giant doors heaved open and they walked through. The black and grey checkered marble floors amplified their footsteps to join the others roaming under the hall’s vast arches, colored light streaming down from the stained glass windows high above.

Another Templar approached with an air of authority, a man with shorn dark hair and a scar bisecting his left brow, and addressed their escort.

“Report, Findley?”

“First Enchanter Fiona’s visitors from the Grey Wardens. Warden-Commander Mahariel, Hero of Ferelden, and Warden Falke,” Findley said from under his helm.

Lyna lowered her hood. “We’ve been expected.”

The man raised an eyebrow as he looked Lyna over, but nodded. “Thank you, Findley. Tell Geraunt to be available to escort them back to the Grand Cathedral when they’re done.”

“Knight-Captain.” Dismissed, Findley proceeded out of the great hall and back outside.

“This way,” the Knight-Captain said, and led them up the winding stairs. In this at least the Spire was similar to Kinloch Hold, each landing leading out onto a floor with its own common area and closed doors. The main floor and the first few floors, she saw, were completely the Templars’. It was only when they reached the middle floors – at which point Lyna began seriously considering adding stair-climbing to her training exercises – that she saw mages.

“The First Enchanter has guest quarters further up,” the Knight-Captain said when Lyna hesitated on one of the mage floors. “Not much further.”

“If there had been this many floors at Kinloch Hold, I’m not sure I would have made it,” she said wryly as they mounted the next set of stairs.

The Knight-Captain glanced back. “How fortunate, then, for you.”

“Fortunate for the Circle and the remaining Templars as well,” she said coolly. She was not about to be chastised for a joke.

“The Right of Annulment would have rendered your aid moot,” he replied shortly.

“I’m fairly certain a Right of Annulment would not have been enough for Knight-Commander Greagoir against a tower full of nothing but powerful demons and abominations, once the remaining mages were given no other choice. Good thing I was able to prevent it from getting that far.”

“Yes, I’m sure the Templars at Greenfell are grateful,” the Templar replied tightly. Greenfell, she’d heard, housed Templars suffering from lyrium addiction or other mental or emotional instabilities: men the Order hadn’t abandoned quite yet because they might survive and become useful again.

“To be alive to suffer nightmares? To relive that horror?” She laid a hand on the Templar’s elbow and stared back into the scowl he turned on her. He knows someone, or knew someone, at Kinloch. He had to have. “If anyone knows about nightmares, Knight-Captain, it’s me. I think at least some of them are just as grateful to be alive as I am. And I joke because it’s better than weeping.”

He continued to stare back at her for a moment, his scowl easing but not disappearing. “I suppose it is.” He turned and continued leading them up the stairs, finally exiting onto a floor above the main mage quarters. This appeared slightly better appointed, but still somewhat spare compared to what she’d seen outside the Spire.

“Go through the left doorway of the commons, here, and follow the corridor where it ends. The First Enchanter’s room is on the left,” the Knight-Captain said, and left without another word.

“Is it always like that?” Falke asked her quietly as they followed the Templar’s directions.

“Sometimes.” She sighed. “Many people were affected not just by the Blight, but everything else. The Ferelden civil war, the undead at Redcliffe, Uldred’s uprising – it’s more difficult not to find someone who was hurt. Most seem happy to have survived and have the chance to rebuild. Others… well. I can only be responsible for so much.”

“For now, at least,” he observed as they drew near Fiona’s room.

Lyna’s smile was wan. “For now.” She rapped her knuckles on the wooden door.

First Enchanter Fiona opened the door after a moment, the polite inquiry on her face replaced with a small, welcoming smile.

“Ah, Warden-Commander Mahariel. And Warden Falke, is it? Please, come in.” Fiona stepped to one side, her black robes softly swishing. Her room was small but not cramped, comprised mostly of a bed, a writing desk, a small wardrobe and a vanity with laving basin, a table, and several chairs. Most pieces were bare of decoration, though they were clearly of a more delicate Orlesian make and not the heavier Ferelden style Lyna had grown accustomed to.

“Thank you, First Enchanter.” They entered the room and Lyna pulled out a chair. “If I may?”

“Please do.” Fiona pulled out her own chair and sat as the Wardens did. “I’m afraid currently I have nothing to offer, although soon I am expecting some tea. Would you like some as well?”

“Yes, and some water. I have an appointment later, but I warn you we’ll be talking for some time today, if you don’t mind. I have many questions, and I’m certain we won’t be able to cover them all in one sitting,” Lyna said. Next to her, Falke pulled sheaves of parchment and writing implements out of their cases and set them on the table.

Fiona took this in and nodded. “I see. I am not certain I could tell you anything you do not already know about the Architect, however. I recalled as much as I could in my reports.”

“And here is where things already become interesting, First Enchanter, because I have not seen any of these reports. The first I heard of your involvement with the Architect was the service record I found for Utha,” Lyna said. She sat forward and indicated to Falke he should write.

Fiona’s eyes widened. “That is disquieting news. Nothing else was in the records?”

“No. If there were, they’ve been hidden somewhere I haven’t been given access.” Nothing of this had shown up even in the ledger the Chamberlain had asked her to read, which in itself had been disquieting.

“But… why? I spent months and months looking for any sign of this emissary. He was clearly a threat to the Order and to Thedas,” Fiona said, frowning.

“There must have been something you wrote that was more of a threat to the Grey Wardens than the Architect,” Lyna said quietly, thinking.

“I cannot think of what that might be. But to purge the records of my work…”

“As the Order purged you, First Enchanter.” The idea that came to Lyna’s mind was terrible and hopeful in its implications. Could something in her reports have suggested how Fiona was freed from the Taint? Would the Wardens hide something so profound? She knew the First Warden had been willing to hide the reason she herself had lived after she killed the Archdemon, but now she was not entirely certain it was because of the stigma of blood magic.

Lyna glanced over at Falke, who looked worried. At some point she would have to tell him about Morrigan and her ritual, if nothing else than so he would understand the depths of the problem they might be facing with the Order itself.

“By that time, I was glad to leave,” Fiona declared proudly. She shifted her position in her chair. “All the looks and stares when I could not be Joined again – surely you of all people must understand how that feels. We have cheated death, Commander, and that makes them jealous.”

“Oh, my death is still assured, it has merely been delayed,” Lyna said grimly. “Perhaps I can delay it even further with your help.”

“So, you are not simply here to discuss the Architect,” the mage said with dawning understanding.

“No, but the Architect is where we will begin.” Lyna sat back in her chair. “First, tell me about you and Duncan meeting King Maric in Ferelden.”

***

As Lyna promised Fiona, her initial interview went on for several hours. There were several pauses for food or replacing a pen nib, and at least twice the conversation side-tracked into talking about the last days of her mentor, Duncan. Fiona appeared relieved that she and Alistair made sure there was a monument for him in Highever.

But as productive as the meeting was, Lyna did not feel remotely satisfied so far. Even Falke’s thick sheaf of notes to consult at a later date felt insufficient. All she could do was promise to return the day after tomorrow and resume the interview then.

Patience was going to be very difficult to come by. Her current stores were very low since yesterday and they were not improving. The stares as she and Falke walked back to the Grand Cathedral, curious, dismissive, or otherwise, began draining the remainder of it.

She still had that damnable appointment at Leliana’s dressmaker, and if she didn’t love her friend and trust her judgment so much, she would skip it. Her armor had always been good enough before. But it would make her happy, and Zevran was looking forward to it. She didn’t want to disappoint either.

But… She smiled grimly to herself. That didn’t mean she had to make it easy.

“Enjoy your time in the library, Falke,” Lyna said as she saw the Ander Warden to his room. “I’ll see you tomorrow before the Divine’s inauguration.”

Falke smiled. “Busy until then, I take it.”

“Unfortunately, yes. Leliana wants me to see a dressmaker of hers. Apparently Duke Prosper is hosting a party on his Val Royeaux estate tomorrow night that she needs me to attend with her, and I’m to dress as if I belong,” she said, her mouth twisting sourly to one side.

“Wear something other than your armor?” He raised a pale eyebrow, amused in his own quiet way.

“You too? Traitor,” she said. “I could make you come with Zevran and I.”

He shook his head and retreated into his room. “Ah, no, that’s quite alright. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Enjoy, Commander.” He closed the door.

Lyna huffed and wandered back to her room, humming absently. The sooner she could get this over with…

“Ah, there you are. Ready to go?” Zevran said as soon as Lyna walked in the room.

“Hello, Lyna, I am glad to see you again, Lyna, how are you doing?” she responded in a sing-song voice, irked. She removed the ebony dagger from her belt and put it in its hiding place with the boxed brooch, then poured herself some water from the pitcher left in their room.

“I am always glad to see you, my sweet, and right now I am looking forward to seeing you in a dress,” he said, unperturbed. Lyna noticed that in their absence, their bed had been made with fresh linens. There was no sign of a bath, however. She sighed, sipped the water, and then poured it back into the pitcher, carrying the pitcher to their laving bowl.

“Well, Leliana specified a second bath, which I do not see, so you will have to wait for me to at least sponge myself before we go.”

“Oh, yes, of course. She did say that, didn’t she?” Zevran was caught between the excitement of being spoiled and one of his favorite activities, watching her in the nude. He compromised by helping her out of her armor.

“Zevran.”

“Mmm?”

“I will tie you down.”

“I am looking forward to it, but now is not a good time.”

Sit.

“Oooh, she is bossy again. I have chills.”

Eventually, with much excited chatter on Zevran’s part, they left their room again and made their way to Leliana’s contact. Here Lyna had to depend on Zevran’s greater exposure to the rest of the city to direct them to the little shop, because enough twists and turns had happened along the way that she would have climbed a building to regain her sense of direction. She didn’t much care for the sour looks she thought she caught as it was, and was certain those looks would amplify tenfold had she shimmied up a glowlamp onto someone’s roof.

She had to admit, however, that the courtyard she found herself in was charming in its own way. The shop nestled at the end of it, trellises covered in honeysuckle vines framing its doorway, radiated warm light from its white curtained windows.

“Are you certain this is the place?” Lyna asked. Although the sign in front, Mme. Sophie, was just as Leliana described, it hardly seemed the place for a dressmaker.

“You doubt me?” Zevran clicked his tongue, giving her wounded eyes.

Lyna restrained herself from sighing and shook her head, kissing his cheek. “I’m merely apprehensive.”

“It will be fine,” he smiled. “Come.” He opened the door and stepped inside, drawing her along with him.

The interior was cozier than the exterior, the front room draped in yards of shimmering fabric. Two tight tufted settees anchored the sides of the room, with three modified armor stands displaying finished dresses. Although Lyna could see the dresses were beautifully made, the way they puffed and flounced filled her with dismay.

“One moment, my dears!” a soft voice trilled happily from a room further back. There was a great rustling of fabric and a heavy thump, after which a petite elven woman in a plain but pretty yellow dress emerged into the front room, her cheeks flushed.

“Oh my, and here you are, here you are!” she declared, rushing forward to take their hands and curtsy over them. “The Hero and the Crow!”

“You must be-“ Lyna said carefully. ‘Mistaken’ she was about to say, since she was concerned for Zevran, but the woman ploughed on.

“Madame Sophie, although shh, do not tell the nobility. No one sees Madame Sophie, they are only allowed to see me. The Nightingale is clever, no?” Sophie beamed, looking expectantly at Lyna and Zevran.

The Nightingale had to be Leliana. Lyna nodded.

“Oh yes, and she sings the most beautiful songs,” Zevran grinned. “Surely you do as well.”

“Alas no, I but listen to others sing as I dress their plumage,” the dressmaker said with a graceful wave at the dresses on display. “I am most honored to attend to yours.”

Lyna cleared her throat. “Really, I-“

“-am apprehensive. I know, my dove, Leliana has told me. And I have excellent hearing.” Sophie’s smile turned sharp and clever.

“And excellent taste, I should think,” Zevran said, staring at Sophie frankly.

“Come see for yourselves,” the woman said, directing her attention at Lyna. She beckoned with curled fingers to follow her.

Lyna glanced uncertainly at Zevran, who waved her impatiently on, almost propelling her forward as he followed her close behind.

In the very last room stood many bolts of fabric, many dresses and outfits in varied stages of completion in colors from dark to light, a standing mirror (which made Lyna nervous for a moment until she saw that it was relatively new), and a long table with needles, thread, scissors, and other implements Lyna couldn’t guess at.

Sophie gestured at her works in progress as they entered. Some still carried bits of frippery, but on the whole they had simpler lines Lyna admitted she liked.

“Well?” Sophie said gently, sidling up to Lyna.

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “I have never worn a dress. They have never been useful to me. I’m most comfortable with my armor on. Your work is lovely, Madame Sophie, please do not mistake me.”

Cuore mio. You are also comfortable in that linen with no pants,” Zevran said, voice soft with the memory of Perendale’s rooftop at night, coming to stand by Lyna’s side. He took her hand and threaded his fingers with hers.

“Only with you, lethallin,” she answered tenderly, and squeezed his hand.

“Ah, my dove, you will fill me with la douleur exquise,” the dressmaker sighed wistfully. She walked around to stand in front of Lyna, lifting a hand to support her chin pensively.

“But, I am beginning to see the possibilities. Leliana says you wish grey, for the Wardens. The Warden blue would call attention to your eyes, but for a player of the Game such as yourself, we wish them to look elsewhere, and so black to match your hair instead is a good choice,” Sophie continued, examining her closely with an odd mixture of professional detachment and admiration.

“I need simplicity. I need to be able to move, and not just to dance,” Lyna added, still worried. Could she do this?

“Then move for me. Dance for me,” Sophie said briskly. “Without the armor.”

A wave of terror seized her. “Help me?” Lyna said, turning to Zevran. Inexplicably she felt vulnerable, her eyes searching for his. He cupped her face in his hands.

“Always,” he said quietly, and began removing her armor.

Chapter Text

“The Margravine of Ansburg has agreed to loan us coin in exchange for goods we can send now and more favorable trade agreements later. We can use that coin while we’re here in Orlais to help resettle more Ferelden refugees,” Teagan said. The Bann lounged in a chair across from Alistair in front of a currently purely ornamental fireplace. The nights in Val Royeaux were too warm for Alistair’s comfort, and he frequently sweated in armor and clothing that usually kept him comfortable year-round in Denerim. Even the linen undertunic he was wearing felt too warm in this stuffy room, and adding a fire would have been unbearable.

Sadly Val Royeaux was quite pleasant otherwise, though of course he’d never admit it. As soon as he did he was sure one of those sneering Orlesians would rub it in his face. He hoped it wasn’t as comfortable for his people. His kingdom needed its people back to continue the drive to recover from the Blight.

“With luck, all the Fereldens here will be happy to go back home after three years of their noses being pushed in the mud,” Alistair said grimly. “Unlike our people in the Free Marches, who may as well set up their own territory.” He looked pointedly at Teagan. “That’s one area in which you’re not helping.”

“Since it’s my family connections that are indirectly helping us resettle our people, I’ll overlook that. Besides, wasn’t that the reason you made me your Ambassador, Your Majesty?” Teagan replied, fondness for his nephew overruling his mild irritation.

“Oh sure, throw my own words back at me.” It wouldn’t be the first time as Alistair fumbled his way through learning how to lead his country, but it was becoming less painful and more of a reminder to be careful of the decisions he made.

However had she- no. He was not going to think of Lyna.

“In that light, we should continue trying to make diplomatic connections here,” Teagan said, and pulled out a piece of very thick, creamy parchment from the stack of correspondence in his lap. “There’s an invitation to Duke Prosper de Montfort’s celebration tomorrow night, thanks to our Marcher lord friends. I will attend, of course, but I think it will help our case if you put in an appearance as well, Your Majesty.”

“I hate it when you sound like it’s reasonable to attend an Orlesian party,” he said. “Especially when I know you’re trying to shove unsuspecting women at me.” Alistair sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Even his head felt like it was sweating.

“Really, Alistair, they know quite well you’re the King of Ferelden. No shoving required.” The Bann of Rainesfere’s blue eyes affixed him with a knowing look. Some of those same women had been satisfied to flirt with a Ferelden Bann, once. Now these women scented blood like darkspawn, Alistair was certain, and often ‘accidentally’ introduced themselves to him.

Once this sort of attention would have completely turned his head, but enough time around Morrigan and Leliana – no, don’t think of her, don’t think of her – had helped him figure out what these introductions were very quickly. The wariness he’d developed often soured potential matrimonial connections Eamon and Teagan kept trying to cultivate even when Alistair could bring himself to give them an honest try.

Alistair could count those tries on one hand. One of those might have led somewhere if he’d been someone else – someone who hadn’t already given his heart away so foolishly and was now unwilling to simply settle.

You’re doing a really terrible job at not thinking, you know.

Yes, I know. Stop sounding like her.

“They don’t suspect I’m just a mabari in disguise, Teagan, it would be cruel.” He pulled a sympathetic face.

Teagan sighed and shook his head, setting the invitation aside. “I suppose you’re right, in a sense. Anora’s people would conduct a louder whisper campaign against us for courting the Orlesians. I do wish you’d had her confined to a Chantry instead, Your Majesty.”

“I often wish the same thing, uncle, but you know as well as I that Gwaren needed her. And if she’s to succeed me if I can’t provide an heir, then it’s best for the people to see that she has regained my trust even if she hasn’t. Ferelden can’t have another war, not now and not twenty years from now.” In this one thing Alistair felt completely certain. Sometimes he still felt Anora should have had the throne, not him, and although he generally disliked her, he still respected her ability to lead.

“We are agreed, at least, on the last point. Speaking of ‘last,’ we need to go over what’s expected of you at the Divine’s ceremony one last time.” Teagan gathered the stack of papers and sat up.

Alistair slid down a little in his chair. “Not this again,” he groaned. The religious pomp and ceremony reminded him too much of his Templar days, and the Chantry was only too happy to seize upon that to ask for various considerations. Especially the Grand Cleric who hadn’t wanted to let him go with Duncan to the Grey Wardens and now tried pinning him with steely Wynne-like glares to get what she wanted.

“Yes, this again, since you need a reminder of how you’re supposed to act as a guest of the Chantry,” Teagan said disapprovingly. He’d been more upset at hearing about Alistair’s loud arguing with Lyna than the fact that they’d met at all. “It was bound to happen, I’m sure, but the least you could have done was maintain decorum,” he’d snapped while Alistair brooded.

As if it were possible not to react when impossibly deep blue eyes reached into his heart so effortlessly again and wrenched it out of its sad cocoon just to watch it bleed.

“I’m not a child, Teagan, so unless she turns into a dragon right in front of me and whisks the Divine away to Antiva, I’ll be fine,” he said forcefully, scowling.

“You’re not fine right now, how will you-“ Teagan stopped at the rapping at the door, exchanging puzzled looks with Alistair.

Alistair sat up. While it could merely be someone ensuring the King of Ferelden’s needs were taken care of for the night, he was certain that had been accomplished over an hour ago. His royal guard knew he’d retired for the night and wouldn’t let someone attempt a visit at this hour unless it was very important.

“Yes? What is it?” Teagan called out.

The door opened and one of the posted guards stepped in partway, keeping the doorway blocked. “Leliana to see His Majesty, Bann Teagan.”

“Thank the Maker. Perhaps she can talk some sense into you,” he said to Alistair, then rose from his chair, beckoning at the guard. “Let her in.”

“Don’t count on it,” Alistair muttered, but found himself smiling. He’d seen Leliana around the Grand Cathedral now and again, but hadn’t been able to really talk to her. He was glad the bard had landed on her feet, and hoped she was happy. He stood up to greet her.

Bon nuit, Bann Teagan. It is so good to see you again!” Leliana said warmly upon entering, giving him her hand as she dropped a small curtsy. “And you as well, Your Majesty. I hope Orlais is treating you well.” She turned the same smile on Alistair, bowing lower.

“Yes, thank you,” Teagan said.

“Aside from it being Orlais, sure. I don’t think I could ever get used to the masks. Too creepy,” Alistair said. He shrugged at the Bann, who’d given him another disapproving look. It was late and Leliana was a friend and he was sticking by his opinion.

“That does take some getting used to, doesn’t it? But being an important visitor, yourself, you will not need to as long as you can remember the other players,” Leliana said cheerfully.

“Thank goodness for the Chantry. No masks, just regalia that shouts its importance at you no matter where you go,” Alistair said. No one could possibly mistake the tall headdresses, for one. The giant Sword of Mercy on Templar armor, for another. Many of both would be surrounding them tomorrow. The inauguration was going to be awe-inspiringly massive, he knew. So big, he hoped, he might be overlooked if he fidgeted, or his attention strayed. The Chantry loved long ceremony and now he was stuck enduring it.

“The most important to remember tomorrow, Alistair, is the Divine, but the Grand Clerics will also have something to say,” Teagan said. “They will certainly notice if your attention is elsewhere. Leliana, I hope you can impress upon His Majesty the importance of behaving appropriately in their sight.” He folded his arms.

“The Grand Clerics hold a lot of power, that is true, but I would not worry overmuch, Bann Teagan. King Alistair will be at his very best, I’m sure,” she replied, only a hint of a warning in her eyes as her voice expressed full confidence. “I am just as excited to see old friends, I hope you will forgive my enthusiasm.”

“Of course, my lady,” Teagan replied reluctantly. He unfolded his arms and scooped up the papers. “Since you did come to see Alistair, I will retire to my own room for the evening and let you reminisce. With your leave, Your Majesty.”

Alistair nodded. “Thank you, uncle. Sleep well.”

“Pleasant dreams! I promise not to stay overlong,” Leliana said. Teagan smiled tiredly and bid them good night, shutting the door behind him as he left.

“Thank you, Leliana. He’s worried I’ll somehow forget I’m King tomorrow and do something supremely stupid instead of mildly embarassing,” Alistair sighed and sat down, gesturing at Teagan’s now vacant seat. She pulled the chair closer and sat down, tucking her legs underneath her.

“I suppose he might be forgiven, since the reason for his worry blew in unexpectedly and ruffled previously calm waters,” Leliana said gently. “He has grown accustomed to the king you’ve become.”

Alistair grimaced. “I’d almost forgotten – Lyna did allude to speaking with you. Of course you know what happened.” He sat back and swiped at his face, feeling a tiredness that had nothing to do with the late hour. “Funny thing is we never used to fight. Not like this, anyhow,” he said softly.

“No, but you were quite passionate in other ways, so it is not too surprising, Alistair,” she said with a little smile, mischief pulling at one corner. She leaned forward and patted his knee sympathetically. “She’s not much changed, in that sense.”

He thumped the arm of his chair in frustration before he could stop himself.

“And neither have you, I see,” she added quietly. Leliana’s cornflower blue eyes studied him from under her fringe of red hair. “What did you expect from her?”

“I don’t know what I expected,” Alistair admitted, his thoughts and feelings smashing around in his head like a pack of startled nugs. “Perhaps I thought Vigil’s Keep and Amaranthine would be enough for her. She could have the Wardens, I’d be busy running the country, and that would be that.”

“But it’s not the same, Alistair. Hiding does not work,” Leliana chided him. “I don’t know what drew her away from Ferelden, but we both know she would have left eventually, anyway. She wanders like her people.”

“I know.” He remembered when they came across the Dalish clan in the Brecilian forest. Their feet were sore from a long day of walking and Lyna had stopped to stare hungrily at the aravels. He thought she wanted them to save their feet, but when she turned away from them toward what would become their own little campsite, she grasped his hand, her face set hard. Dimly he’d comprehended she’d made a choice, and his stomach had flipped, his heart thundering painfully.

The thought she might have regretted that choice tore at him.

“I just- I can’t- why did it have to be him?” Or anyone else, really, but Zevran, of all people Lyna could have chosen… Bile crept up the back of his throat.

“Oh Alistair, surely you don’t need me to tell you. You trusted him enough to look after her, did you not? Because of her trust in him?” Leliana’s face was all sympathy now, and it felt so much like pity he wanted to snarl. Alistair knew his anger must have shown because her expression shifted to mild exasperation.

“If you feel as if your trust has been betrayed, perhaps you do not know her heart as well as you thought. It is also a bit late to be the jealous lover, is it not?” She sighed and folded her hands in her lap. “But I did not come to lecture you and tell you things you already know. I came to be a friend to you both, and see you through a difficult time. Lyna wanted to come talk to you herself, but considering how volatile your conversations have been-“

“They wouldn’t be if she’d just-“ Alistair thumped the arm of his chair again, scowling.

This is what I’m talking about,” Leliana said, shaking her head. “If you are to remain friends, at least, you need the space for privacy, which you don’t have. Or rather, didn’t have.” She unclasped her hands and reached inside her tunic, withdrawing a slender wrapped bundle.

Some of Alistair’s frustration melted, replaced with curiosity. How had Leliana hidden that, anyway? “What’s this? Have you got some sort of magic broomcloset somewhere?”

She chuckled. “In a sense. These are letters. I suggested writing to you instead, and I have the resources for private couriers. Chantry seals and everything.” She undid the wrappings, revealing a small packet of folded parchment nestled within.

Alistair’s mouth went dry. They were just letters, and yet it was like having her standing there in the room with them.

“Couriers?” he croaked, and cleared his throat. “So it’s not just for now, but…”

“In the future, yes. No one would know you were exchanging letters with Lyna, although if you begin to get excited at correspondence with the Chantry I’m sure Arl Eamon might suspect something,” Leliana teased, turning the packet over and over in her fingers.

“Right. Got it. Chantry bad.” He abruptly remembered where he was. “I mean, Chantry good, but… oh never mind. You know what I mean.”

“I do,” she said softly and stood up. “I need to go, because I have my own preparations to make for tomorrow.” She leaned over and kissed his forehead. “Promise me you will read them all. She wrote three letters and told me you only had to read the first and second. She believes you will burn the third.”

Dread churned in his gut. “I can’t make that promise,” he said sadly. What Lyna might have written in her letters might be too much for him to handle, regardless of his responsibilities tomorrow.

“Then save it, or burn it after reading. One can’t be too careful, anyway,” Leliana said, melancholy slipping momentarily over her features. She turned, resolute and expectant, toward the door.

Alistair rose reluctantly, wishing she didn’t have to go. Despite the fraught topic of conversation, it had felt good to sit with an old friend. He held out his hand for Lyna’s letters, the dread mixing with anticipation and turning to mad drunken butterflies in his belly.

“Perhaps if we’d been more careful we wouldn’t have this mess, would we?” he said with a slight smile. “Alright. But I’m blaming you if I look terrible tomorrow.”

C'est bon. I can shoulder your blame. I’ll just tell Bann Teagan I threatened an Exalted March through your bedroom if you did not behave,” she said impishly, and Alistair shuddered. Nightmare material, indeed. She placed the letters in his hand then curtsied. “Good night, Alistair. Your Majesty.”

He clutched the packet tightly. “Good night, Leliana. Sleep well.” One of us should, at least.

After the door shut behind Leliana, Alistair placed Lyna’s letters by his chair and began pacing. He was thankful there wasn’t a fire in the fireplace or he would have been tempted to pitch them all in. He was sweating and nervous and upset, and he didn’t need to add another dose of regret to the mix. What he needed most was relief, some way out of the hurt and confusion.

Unbidden Alistair recalled Lyna’s face when he’d confessed the depths of his feelings for her. Spending the night had been one thing – the most amazing thing, fumbles and all – but he’d desperately needed her to know his feelings went far beyond that. Needed to know if hers did as well, and the possibility she didn’t care as much as he did had begun driving him insane. The calm in her eyes, the bloom of wonder in her smile, had given him much of the relief he’d sought before she’d said a word in reply.

“…Creators know I will never stop loving you.” How could her words be a balm and a stab to his heart at the same time?

He stopped pacing, staring at her letters, and made himself sit. If Lyna could find a way through the storm once, perhaps she could do it again. Maker, I’m scared.

Alistair slid his thumb under the wax seal, unfolded the papers, and began to read.

Alistair –

Many times I wished to write to you, but couldn’t, or didn’t. What do you do when you want to say everything on your mind, but can’t find the words to say them all? Especially if you thought someone else might read them? Neither of us are safe from spies, frankly, but I worry for you more. I will not be your Lady Shayna. You can assure Arl Eamon of that.

Certain things Eamon had said to Alistair suddenly made sense. He thought Alistair might repeat Calenhad’s history and throw the kingdom into chaos with a mistress. His jaw clenched and he continued.

But whatever we are to each other now, or might be in the future, I would hope that at the very least we can remain friends. It is how we began, Wardens or no, and how I hope we end, regardless of anything else. If we are to work together in the future, I hope we can be that much instead of two people who tolerate one another. It changes nothing for me if you cannot bring yourself that far. I will be sorry to lose your friendship, but I will respect your wishes and only contact you as needs must.

“Friends.” Maker.

This is why I’m writing you three letters: as a friend, as a fellow Warden, and as someone who loves you. I leave the decision of how you wish to respond in your hands, because I cannot continue making these decisions on my own. These choices are yours to make as well, as a friend, a Warden, and a king.

Please understand that accepting any of this means accepting what Zevran is to me.

Alistair stopped and sighed, swiping his face. She would make this difficult. A dull ache throbbed in his chest.

Regardless of your original intent in asking him to see me, he has been helping me through a great deal of darkness, giving me some hope for the future where I had none. For that alone, I hope you might spare some kindness for him: for my sake. He came as a friend for your sake, after all. It is no one’s fault what came after. I know you’re kicking yourself. Stop.

“You can’t tell me what to do,” he muttered. Perhaps he wouldn’t feel so tired now if he hadn’t gone to hit the pells in the Templar salle after this morning’s confrontation. The look on that elf’s face, and knowing he wouldn’t be so angry if he hadn’t sent that message.

We have all been friends before, and I would see that again, if you’ll allow it. Above all, I want to see you happy, whatever that means.

The last word was blurred from a drop of moisture and rewritten – a tearstain? The dull ache grew heavier.

I don’t know precisely how long I will be in Val Royeaux. I have much to talk about with Fiona, and I’m certain she must go back to Montsimmard at some point. Fiona believes the Divine will want to meet me, and I can’t say she’s wrong – obviously, I haven’t met the woman yet, but I would do the same were I in her Exalted shoes.

“Heh.”

Aside from that and a party I’m attending tomorrow night as a favor to Leliana, there’s nothing to keep me here. I’ll be traveling to Soldier’s Peak and Denerim sometime after, but more on that in my next letter. I mention all this in the hopes we might have a chance to talk before I go. Otherwise, I’ll look for your letter.

Ever your friend,

Lyna

Alistair sat back and stared at the letter for a long moment. If this one affected him, what were the other two going to do? And: friendship? Could he really do that? It felt like asking a lot, even as part of him cried out for it. Of the many things he missed – yes, by the Maker, you miss her, stop denying it – it was being able to look over at Lyna and share all the silly thoughts that popped into his head, or being able to comfort her whenever she grew sad.

He still felt terrible for having forgotten to warn her about the Warden nightmares, remembering how she had stumbled out of her tent, half-asleep and terrified the first time she had one. She’d sat down next to the fire and listened to him talk about them, absorbing his words, growing calmer. When he’d finished, she’d picked herself up and sat down next to him, leaning her head against his shoulder, and began picking out constellations and giving them their Dalish names while he supplied the names he’d been taught. Judex, Servani, Bellitanus, Fervenial, Equinor, Fenrir, Eluvia…

It had felt like the most comfortable and natural thing in the world to do, instinctively knowing she was trying to make sense of the world again and he was helping her do it.

This time, it was someone else helping her do that, not him, and he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel about that yet. Jealousy, as Lyna and Leliana rightfully pointed out, was not acceptable, no matter how much it burned like fire in his veins.

Alistair folded the first letter and set it aside, getting up from his chair to pour himself some water. He couldn’t get rip-roaring drunk, but he could at least keep his mouth from drying out. His mouth had been hanging open since their first reunion, and that didn’t look to change in the next two letters.

I’m a dog lord, alright, and he raised his glass before drinking half of it down.

“What do you have next for me, Lyna?” he said to himself, sitting back down with her letters.

Your Majesty –

I continue doing all I can to learn about the Architect and what his plans for Ferelden – for all of Thedas – were so we might find any remaining Disciples and eliminate them.  My own experiences led me to believe his creations were part of a larger plan, one I hope that has completely died without him to implement it.

However, what I have learned so far regarding the former Grey Warden Fiona does not fill me with confidence. I have much more to discuss about her experiences with the Architect, but she has told me it was gravely wounded once before, and even lost a hand. I saw no sign of either in my own meeting with the darkspawn emissary, and I fear for what this means. If he could regrow a hand, what else could he do? Seranni, the corrupted sister of the Dalish mage I conscripted for Vigil’s Keep, is still running loose somewhere out there. I don’t know the extent of her involvement in the Architect’s plans, nor what she could have learned from him. She remains a high priority in our hunt for darkspawn.

The Architect, through knowledge he gained long ago from another Grey Warden, knew where the Old Gods lie sleeping. I don’t find it inconceivable he might have shared the knowledge with Seranni – he very well may have shared it with Utha, who in turn could have shared it with who-knows-what. It was he who awoke Urthemiel and thereby started the Blight, and why it remains so important we not only ensure his death, but those of his followers as well. The possibility of another Blight, even ten or twenty years later, is too great a risk as I’m sure you’ll agree.

You need to know this to know how to protect Ferelden, Your Majesty. Just as importantly, you need to know this as a Warden, because I have reason to believe this information was deliberately kept secret. Fiona tells me she had written reports, both on what had happened to her and the other Wardens and on her activities afterward in attempting to find the Architect. I found none of her reports at Weisshaupt, and whether they were destroyed or hidden is unclear.

Coupled with Fiona’s survival, untainted and unable to be Joined again, it is imperative I learn all I can what happened at Kul-Baras. Morrigan found and gifted me a book she discovered in the creature’s lair while on her own mission – I spare you details of her, knowing your sensitivity to the subject, but can provide such later if you desire – that promises to provide ancient insights to the original Grey Warden Joining ritual.

When my time with Fiona is finished, I will be traveling to Soldier’s Peak to consult with Avernus. I will also be traveling to Denerim – Morrigan’s book points to the Aeonar as one of many former sites of Tevinter magical experiments, which were instrumental in formulating the Joining. It needs to be properly explored without the Chantry’s knowledge. These pieces of knowledge, coupled with Avernus’s, could lead to a cure for the Calling. I can’t be certain of it, of course, but any scrap of knowledge how to unravel it is worth the potential to free Your Majesty of the greatest threat of your rule – and, of course, save the Grey Wardens themselves.

In Peace, Vigilance,

Warden-Commander Lyna Mahariel

Alistair’s blood ran to ice. He dropped the letter in his lap, stunned. Of all the things he might have expected Lyna to write, this was not it. He remembered her telling him about First Enchanter Fiona and why she had come to Val Royeaux, but even that shock had been overshadowed by everything else they’d said to each other. And the details, the formality of her words… his head swam.  The ramifications of everything in this letter were enormous, if true.

Near-future Blights? Maker take him if that came to pass. Alistair hoped this was merely a valid worry and not an actual going concern.  Even so, he thought he might double-down on support for the new Wardens in his kingdom. Perhaps he could use the promise of a Warden stipend to lure more desperate Ferelden refugees back home? He’d need to discuss it with Teagan, and find a way to couch it so his uncle couldn’t guess why the redoubled concern.

This business with Weisshaupt being secretive, however, worried him on a deeper level. What in Andraste’s name was going on there? He knew there were certain secrets he hadn’t been told even after his Joining – why Wardens were necessary to kill the Archdemon being one of them – but he hadn’t suspected it might be worse than that. He’d been questioned about his role in killing the Archdemon and managed to deflect to Lyna, but the necessity of keeping his… involvement… with the swamp witch secret had bothered him a great deal. Now it might be just another secret kept in an already secretive order.

And the last thing, the Calling – what if he could be freed? What if all of them could be? What sort of future might arise from that? Could it help end the Blights? Or would it just strip the Wardens of the one tool they had to keep the Blights from destroying Thedas?

Alistair stood up, picked up the half-full glass of water, and finished it. He desperately wished he didn’t have to remain clear-headed tonight. Lyna’s letters were proving overwhelming. How in the Maker’s name was she managing to remain so calm about this? This was one letter he would definitely need to destroy. No one outside of the Grey Wardens should know about this, not unless any of it came to pass.

The thought struck him, then: Leliana hadn’t read any of these letters. She couldn’t have. He smiled wanly, reassured his friend remained trustworthy and loyal. But the last letter…

Alistair paced again. Lyna thought he might burn her last letter without reading. She knew the first two would be difficult enough for him. But Leliana thought he should read it, even not knowing what Lyna might say, and he trusted the bard’s instincts.

Can I really do this? I don’t know if I can do this. His doubts and fears echoed in his head. How wise was this? Wasn’t he encouraging something that should have stayed dead and buried?

Not so dead if you’re this worried. You can do it. And you will. For her. Give her that much at least.

Alistair stood still and set both his hands on the back of his chair, gripping it as he took a deep breath.  Chin up. He was the King of Ferelden and it was time to make a stand, one way or another.

He pulled Lyna’s letter about Warden business out and set it to the side as well. The remaining pages beckoned. Heart hammering wildly in his chest, he began to read.

Vhenan –

I feel your absence in much the way I imagine one misses an amputated limb.There’s a persistent ache every time I wake without the weight of your arm across me, every time I hear a Ferelden laugh and realize it’s not yours, every time I hear the wind sough in the trees and know you won’t be walking beside me.

Alistair’s throat closed. He knew that ache well, had managed to stuff it down for the good of his country, and told himself he could get past it. First love and infatuation, he’d heard. But none of it helped, not on the nights he had a hunger so wild he thought he’d tear himself apart to escape.

There’s an emptiness where you should be, and nothing fills it but you. Not drinking, not fighting darkspawn, not this endless quest, and not Zevran. I love him dearly, for he is my blood. He keeps me moving, keeps me fighting and loving. But he is not you. He can not, and will not, ever replace you. You could not be more different from each other than the night is from the day, and I live only half a life without one or the other.

Alistair buckled to the floor and crumpled the letter in his hand, shoulders shaking.

I can’t do this.

 

Chapter Text

PART ONE

Lethallin. We need to get up.”

“One more minute.” Zevran drew in the arm around her waist more tightly. His face was buried between her hair and their pillow.

“But-“

“Shhh.”

Lyna suppressed a sigh and lay there quietly. She’d been trying to get up for at least five minutes now and he’d resisted. There was only so much longer she could indulge him before they might be late – nevermind the theoretical apolitical stance of the Grey Wardens, she was still a representative – but she could for a little bit longer, she supposed. She laid her arm along his and caressed his hand.

“Did I do the right thing?”

“Mmm.”

“Writing?”

He kissed her shoulder. “You did not do wrong.”

“But you don’t agree.”

“I would have spoken face-to-face.” He squeezed her.

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“I have said so, have I not?”

“Not in so many words…”

Zevran pushed himself up and turned her face toward his. The early morning light was pale, washing out the gold of his hair and skin. Messy wisps trailed around his face and dangled in front of his warm eyes. How he managed a smile that was both impish and serious was a mystery to Lyna, but was nonetheless thoroughly and uniquely his.

Cuore mio, you have made yourself quite clear from the beginning. I am here, yes? But fine: no. Your feelings for Alistair do not bother me.” He leaned down to kiss her. “Different people, different loves.” His lips were warm and soft and teasing. “Different tastes…” He slid his hand from her chin down her neck and over her chest, cupping her breast and thumbing the nipple.

Lyna breathed him in with an answering kiss and smiled. “I’m sorry for that chowder.”

“Can you not see I am having a moment, here?” he said, mock-exasperated. He kissed her nose and sat up again. “The fish chowder was mediocre, but it was the thought that counts. Your dismay was endearing.”

“I had hoped to give you something you loved,” she said and sat up as well. After the visit with Madame Sophie, she pushed Zevran in the general direction of Val Royeaux’s docks and declared they would go find food. At least the tavern that served the bland chowder had much better Antivan brandy, costly as it was.

“You have,” Zevran said simply, then grinned and tweaked her nipple again.

“I thought you were having a moment.”

“I am! And a beautiful moment it is.”

She threw the pillow at him. “Get up.”

He batted it out of the way and dived for her lap.

They were going to be very late.

***

With part of Divine Justinia V’s investiture ceremony happening within the heart of the Grand Cathedral itself, most of the morning activity converged on its neighboring hallways and byways. Sisters and Brothers of the Chantry, lay and committed alike, shuttled messages and goods back and forth. Visiting Revered Mothers and Grand Clerics were closely attended and escorted, some still dictating letters or finishing a last crumb of breakfast or having their regalia adjusted a final time.

Some, however, were preparing for the remainder of the ceremony that was to take place outside for the people of Thedas (or as many as could flock to Val Royeaux and the Grand Cathedral’s courtyard). While the vast majority of the onlookers would be standing, pavilions were being prepared for nobility and honored guests on the arms of the mezzanine level. Carpets and rugs were tugged into place along the paths the Divine and her attendant Grand Clerics would take when they emerged to address the waiting crowds. Flagstones were swept scrupulously.

It was a beautiful sunlit day, all would remember, with only a few clouds in sight.

***

The clerics sang.

“Eyes sorrow-blinded, in darkness unbroken

There 'pon the mountain, a voice answered my call.

"Heart that is broken, beats still unceasing,

An ocean of sorrow does nobody drown.

You have forgotten, spear-maid of Alamarr.

Within My creation, none are alone."

 

Lo! My eyes open'd, shining before me

Greater than mountains, towering mighty,

Hand all outstretch'd, stars glist'ning as jewels

From rings 'pon His fingers and crown 'pon His brow.”

 

Arms uplifted, the Grand Clerics sang along as they walked before the woman once called Revered Mother Dorothea down the central aisle toward the high altar, which waited with but a few candles lit. As the procession approached, two large braziers flanking the altar, temporarily cold, were set ablaze once more to shine forth with light. The massive sculpture of Andraste towering above all, robed, crowned, and holding aloft her sunburst-hilted sword, glowed in the alleviated darkness.

“Sword-shattering fear filled me overflowing.

Grandeur of godhood no gaze should defile.

Trembling, I called out: "Forgive me, Most High,

I should sing Your Name to the heights of heaven,

But I know it not, and must be silent."

The Wellspring of All said, "None now remember.

Long have they turned to idols and tales

Away from My Light, in darkness unbroken

The last of My children, shrouded in night."

 

World fell away then, misty in mem'ry,

'Cross Veil and into the valley of dreams

A vision of all worlds, waking and slumb'ring,

Spirit and mortal to me appeared.

"Look to My work," said the Voice of Creation.

"See what My children in arrogance wrought."

 

Following behind the main procession trailed censers of sweet resin incense and the articles of the Divine’s vestments and symbols of holy office. The bearers added their voices to the music, their combined voices swelling and filling the sanctuary with the harmonies of the Chant of Light.

***

 

Slowly the courtyard of the Grand Cathedral filled, first with the most devout, who clustered hopefully about the central tower or areas near the sculptures of Hessarian or Maferath they believed would give them the best vantage points to witness the new Divine. Some seated themselves upon the ground, knowing they had some time for waiting ahead of them. Others wishing to prove their devotion remained standing, heads bowed in prayer or offering those pieces of the Chant of Light they could recite to passersby.

Some enterprising souls entered not long after with any portable refreshments they could offer for coin – twists of pastry or dippers of water – and took up posts in the open areas between, knowing they could become central areas of activity and movement until the height of the ceremony itself.

The rest of the crowd would gradually fill around them, every soul wondering in their own way what future they had come to see ushered forth.

***

"World-making Glory," I cried out in sorrow,

"How shall your children apology make?

We have forgotten, in ignorance stumbling,

Only a Light in this darken'd time breaks.

Call to Your children, teach us Your greatness.

What has been forgotten has not yet been lost."

 

Long was his silence, 'fore it was broken.

"For you, song-weaver, once more I will try.

To My children venture, carrying wisdom,

If they but listen, I shall return."

 

Teagan glanced over at Alistair, whose head was bowed. At first he thought it was in prayer, but he spied a piece of paper between his monarch’s fingers. The Bann frowned and nudged him surreptitiously with his foot.

Alistair tucked the paper into his sleeve, shooting Teagan a baffling wet-eyed glare, and bowed his head once more.

***

As they knelt waiting in the eastern wing of the transept, heads bowed in reverence, the Nevarran Seeker murmured to her complement.

“Your preparations are finished?”

“For the moment,” was the redhead’s quiet answer.  “Maker guide us both in the coming years.”

***

The courtyard crowds parted for the Templar-flanked contingent of mages from the White Spire, which made its clanking way to the stairs that led up to the mezzanine.

Fiona watched people flinch from either the coldly gleaming armored men or the steady “thunk” of staffs on the stone. It was difficult to be angry at them. They didn’t know better.

The Chantry did, however, and standing on this mezzanine was not about bestowing honors but keeping them from the crowds below, she was certain. The mages otherwise had no pavilions, cushions, or ease to take.

Perhaps the only time mages would be treated no differently than common folk.

***

As the Grand Clerics brought the Divine into the chancel for the non-public portion of the rites of investiture, the congregation rose from their pews and began filing out to join their brothers and sisters outside of the Grand Cathedral in the courtyard and mezzanine. In the corner of his eye, Alistair thought he saw Leliana with a dark-haired woman in Seeker armor move through the transept toward the chancel, as well.

He had no time to look more closely, however, as he and his entourage was escorted swiftly to their waiting pavilion. He blinked to let his eyes try to adjust in the change in light, the lingering burn of raw emotion not helping matters.

“Something to drink, Your Majesty?” said an attendant after he sat down.

“Thank you, but no,” Alistair said grimly. Chances were good it wasn’t wine or ale being offered, but why take the risk of upsetting Teagan again?

Then a sudden flare of light nearby became Lyna, sunlight reflecting on the silverite gryphon spaulders of her armor, with Zevran walking beside her in some fancy new gear he’d never seen before. Zevran leaned over and whispered something in her ear and she snorted, choking back laughter.

“On second thought, yes. I would like a drink.” I’ll be fine.

***

“Falke,” Lyna had said, somewhat bemused and exasperated, “why not?”

“I’ve no honors, titles… I’m just a Grey Warden, Commander, and I am content to be below. Where, I might add, I wouldn’t have been to begin with had you not asked me to help you,” the Ander had said, arms crossed but smiling.

“But the Divine…”

“Will remain as radiant no matter where I choose to stand,” Falke said, and had excused himself to join the crowd.

Lyna now looked around the assemblage outside, overwhelmed at the tide of humanity around her. Most of it was indeed in the courtyard below, but there were enough up in the spaces around her it made her anxious. She was unfortunately reminded of the darkspawn hordes in the Dead Trenches, though they looked nothing like each other. Having Falke nearby would have only added to her distress, sadly.

Heart pounding, she made herself look away from the crowds and focused on individuals around her. Her eyes darted back and forth, following people as they went from one pavilion to another. She happened to catch sight of Alistair’s pavilion. Alistair had just accepted a drink from a human attendant and took a deep pull from the cup, looking disappointed as he did so.

Lyna sighed and looked away, covering her eyes so she could get a visual reprieve, and felt Zevran take her hand.

“Easy now,” he murmured. “You can do this. This is nothing. Just stand here and look dangerously sexy.”

She grinned despite herself, lowering her hand and looking at him gratefully. “You outshine me in that regard.”

“I would if your armor did not outshine us both,” Zevran smirked.

Lyna threw her head back and laughed.

***

 

“Da? Who is that?” A small arm thrust itself out, finger pointed at the pavilions further down. Norel followed where his child pointed, trying to remain alert for when his mistress might need him. He was lucky his mistress had a soft heart, allowing him to bring his daughter so long as she remained unobtrusive and out of the way.

The little finger picked out two figures standing a little forward of the pavilions, and Norel was startled to see a blonde elven man with a sweep of tattoos across his cheek and a dark haired elven woman in Grey Warden armor. He wasn’t entirely sure, but he thought he saw tattoos across her face, as well. Light glared off her pieces of armor and what looked to be an earring.

A smile spread across his face and he hugged his little girl.

“That is the Hero of Ferelden, child. She’s the Grey Warden who saved us from the Blight.”

“Has she got dirt on her face? Her ma didn’t tell her to wash?”

Norel chuckled quietly. “No, darling. Those are tattoos, like your aunt Maryn.”

“Does she live in the Alienage with us? How come I haven’t seen her?”

“No, she doesn’t. She’s Dalish. She lives in the woods.”

“Can I be Dalish, Da?”

Norel turned sad. “No, you have to be born that way.” There was no use trying to explain to her that some tried running away to be with the Dalish, because most came back. The rest were never heard from again, and no one knew whether they died or cut off all ties.

“Can I be a Grey Warden, then?”

Norel looked from his daughter, who was transfixed, to the woman who stood tall and commanding among the shemlen.

“Yes. When you’re old enough,” he said softly, and hugged his little girl tight.

***

A great wash of sound welled up from the courtyard, a rustling and sighing that became cheers as a stately group of Grand Clerics emerged from the Grand Cathedral. A muted flare of trumpets resounded as the five women made their way to the central mezzanine railing that acted as a dais.

“It’s not right that Orsino is not here,” Fiona hissed to Grand Enchanter Briaus. “Surely Kirkwall could have spared him.” That city had its mages crushed under Knight-Commander Meredith Stannard’s thumb. Orsino had managed to smuggle out a few letters to her, and what he detailed was unjust. It was also another example of why mages needed independence from the Chantry. Briaus needed to see that and support her.

The older Ander mage, grey and white streaked hair carefully pulled back from his weathered face, regarded Fiona patiently.

“You will notice that Kirkwall’s Grand Cleric is not here, as well. She must deal with the Qun and its followers’ threat to her people. Starkhaven is also unstable after what happened to the Vael family, Fiona. Better they did not risk the journey,” Briaus said, and turned his attention to the Grand Cleric at the lead, who was raising her arms.

“Then the Divine must intercede,” Fiona said, frowning, as all began to sing.

“Shadows fall, and hope has fled

Steel your heart, the dawn will come

The night is long, and the path is dark

Look to the sky, for one day soon

The dawn will come…”

 

***

“Sister Nightingale! Sister Nightingale!” a young man in Chantry robes called urgently, running. Leliana was about to join the entourage behind Divine Justinia’s procession under the courtyard and up into the central tower.

“Go, I will rejoin you in a moment,” she said to the Divine’s Right Hand. The severe Nevarran woman glanced from the young runner to Leliana and nodded.

“Be quick, she may outpace us in her impatience,” the Seeker said dryly, then pivoted sharply on her heel and resumed her place in the train walking down the underground corridor.

“What is it?” Leliana asked, her voice crisp and sharp. The men and women she both inherited and cultivated as her agents responded better to a certain steeliness, she found, when time was of the essence.

“Marjolaine…,” her agent panted, flapping his robe to give himself some air, “has hired a Crow. L’Hirondelle. She’s coming to de Montfort’s tonight.” He bent over and braced his hands against his knees to draw in a deeper breath and then straightened, his face dewed with perspiration.

Leliana frowned. Marjolaine hiring a Crow was bad news, but the Swallow in particular would be dangerous. Though an assassin, the Swallow was better known – if you traveled the right circles – as a thief and murderer of reputations. It would not keep her from using her primary skills, however. Especially if she knew about Zevran’s presence.

“Get some more of our people into the sewers. Make sure L’Hirondelle will not have that as an escape route from the estate,” she said, and turned back toward the procession.

“What about Marjolaine?” the young man called after her.

“I have that covered,” Leliana said over her shoulder, and quickened her pace. One way or another, that threat would finally be neutralized.

***

 

Though Teagan worried for Alistair and the downturn of his mood, His Majesty was true to his word and behaved well during the ceremonies. He took heart when Alistair seemed to brighten during the hymn, raising his voice particularly on the chorus.

When the hymn ended and the Grand Cleric on the mezzanine began a sermon on Andraste on the pyre, Teagan said quietly, “I apologize for doubting you, Your Majesty.”

“Though the fire enveloped her like a shroud, and the heat from the blaze

Reached across the field, Andraste was silent and did not cry out…”

 

“Accepted,” Alistair nodded, listening to the Grand Cleric intone the Chant before continuing her sermon. “You will also apologize to her.”

 

“Beg pardon?” Teagan blinked.

“Apologize to Lyna,” he said, and Teagan heard steel under the cordial tone. “You and Eamon have misjudged her for too long.” He withdrew a piece of carefully folded paper and handed it to Teagan.

“What’s this?” he said, puzzled as he took it.

“I’m fixing a mistake,” Alistair said. “Read it.”

Alistair –

Many times I wished to write to you, but couldn’t, or didn’t. What do you do when you want to say everything on your mind, but can’t find the words to say them all? Especially if you thought someone else might read them? Neither of us are safe from spies, frankly, but I worry for you more. I will not be your Lady Shayna. You can assure Arl Eamon of that.

“Oh,” Teagan said sheepishly, and handed the paper back to Alistair, who tucked it away again.

“I’m not asking for anything else,” he continued, folding his arms. “I understand my duty. Just the apology.”

“Your Majesty,” Teagan acknowledged, feeling oddly proud of his nephew.

***

Lyna could appreciate the growing excitement the Grand Clerics were cultivating. She could see the performance for what it was and admitted it was a fine piece of work, even drawing her in on occasion. The hymn certainly stirred up plenty of feeling for her, and never once mentioned the Maker or Andraste.

But as the Grand Cleric’s story about Andraste on the pyre was coming to a close, Lyna heard mention of Havard and Andraste’s ashes and felt a prickle of dread. She knew where this story ended: she’d become a part of it. She glanced toward Alistair, absently wiping her hands on her leather tassets, and trained her attention on the central tower. Here she comes.

“His ears filled with the song of multitudes

Raised in chorus, and before his eyes the dark skies parted

And Andraste, dressed in cloth of starlight and armored

In moonlight, stood before him, and he was afraid.

 

The Lady knelt at his side, saying:

"Arise, Aegis of the Faith. You are not forgotten.

Neither man nor Maker shall forget your bravery

So long as I remember."

 

Divine Justinia appeared, then, rising from the tower, with two other Grand Clerics as attendants. They lifted up her headdress like a crown and set it on her head with reverence, singing the Chant, and then stepped away. The Chant died away with Andraste’s words, and Justinia stepped forward to begin her own, aided no doubt with the same amplification rune the Grand Clerics had been using.

“Speak only the Word, sing only the Chant, and one day the Maker will return His attention to His Creation. But we do not do this merely to catch the attention of a fickle god, as the Avvar do. We speak the Chant, we sing the Chant of Light for that is what it is: it is the dawn. The Chant is our hope and our succor. It is a comfort and a goad, it is our peace and our purpose,” Justinia said to the assembled crowds, her hands outstretched as if she could embrace the whole gathering.

Now Lyna understood the alleged controversy surrounding this Divine. Fickle god? Oh my, that must have ruffled many a feather. And yet at the same time as she heard this audacious rhetoric, she could hear the firm appeal to structure and holding onto other Chantry ideals lying underneath it.

Her eyes strayed to the cluster of mages across the courtyard from her, and knew Fiona must be there, feeling frustrated already. Justinia might be an impetus for change, but if so, it would be slow in coming, more apt to fuel rhetorical arguments than alter established dogma.

Still: hope was a good hook. Maybe the Divine could build on that.

***

PART TWO

The de Montfort estate in Val Royeaux was situated not far from the Royal Palace, nearing the outskirts and neighboring several other noble estates. It nestled in a plot of gently rolling land, the landscape a meticulous design of shade trees and flowering hedges with benches, bowers, and fountains. It was early evening, the tall lamps with their mage lights around the estate illuminating the street in front and the path through the grounds of the estate itself. Some guests had already arrived, a colorful and masked panoply moving with stately grace to greet each other and trade smiling barbs.

“Magnificent,” Zevran said as he emerged from their carriage. He waved off the elven footman and offered his hand to Lyna, who felt a little ridiculous having to manage a yard of fabric to step out of the conveyance and avoid tripping.

“Thank you, lethallin. I have to admit it is lovely, in its way,” Lyna said as she took in the Orlesian residence and its gardens, readjusting her dress.

“Please, let me,” the footman said, his expression pained, and gently batted Lyna’s hands aside. He withdrew a handkerchief and brush, and carefully fluffed and brushed the fabric, his hands moving expertly to repair the disarray.

“It is, yes? But I meant you, Lyna,” Zevran smiled. “Gentlemen, you have our thanks. You must also convey our gratitude to Madame Sophie for her miracles of tailoring. We are polished diamonds, thanks to you.” He kissed his hand to the driver and footman of the carriage, two more elves in Madame Sophie’s small army of assistants. Three others had visited Lyna and Zevran’s room after the ceremonies, bringing the finished outfits as well as hairdressing and makeup expertise, and proceeded to fuss over the pair after they’d bathed and eaten.

Zevran, Lyna thought, was understatedly resplendent in a close-fitting high-necked black-on-black brocade doublet, which was open at the throat down to mid-chest. It layered over a black silk shirt that lay open to his collarbone, the sleeves allowed to slightly billow so they flowed like water with his movements. The doublet and shirt lay over black hose and knee-high soft black boots, which set off his legs beautifully. He kept his normal hair style, but his hair was brushed to a high gleam, and the lightest powder applied to his skin made it shimmer.

“Yes, please thank Madame Sophie. Ma ghilan is at his most beautiful,” Lyna said, wonder filling her heart. She felt as if she hadn’t truly seen him before until this moment. Her stomach fluttered.

“It was our pleasure,” said the carriage driver. The footman nodded, and made a final adjustment to Lyna’s attire. “Show them who we are,” he whispered in her ear, then alighted on the carriage and whistled. Lyna and Zevran took several steps forward and the carriage pulled away.

Zevran graced Lyna with a now-familiar look, part leer and part love. “It will be difficult, now. I am torn with desire to show you to the world, and to pull you to one side for myself.” He drew close, his left hand surreptitiously finding one of the slits in her dress and brushing the skin of her leg above her thigh-high boots while his other hand lifted hers to kiss.

Lyna flushed. The two slits of the front of her dress were made to allow for freer movement, but she was also certain Sophie had pushed them as far as she dared to shock and scandalize.

The dress itself was a simple affair, made of a soft and lustrous grey cotton weave that draped well on her body but did not get in her way. The bodice and sleeves were formfitting, the neckline plunging low and rounded over her bosom. The rest of the dress fell from hip to ankle in what would have been an appropriately conservative fashion were it not for the front slits that opened and closed with her movements, exposing her booted legs.

Over this was layered a long and light black coat, tailored to fit to her bodice and allowed to flare with the dress at the hip. It had a high collar at the back, the front lapels disappearing into the low collared silverite gorget Lyna layered over both coat and dress, her hair brushed up and pinned into an artful tangle above the collar. She’d decided to wear her Warden’s Oath instead of Denis’s, and the chain showed in the window of cleavage between gorget and dress, the vial disappearing below the neckline and between her breasts. Her silverite gryphon spaulders cupped the coat’s slightly puffed shoulders, their wingtips vying for height with her collar. Her silverite-enforced leather tassets belted at her waist kept the coat and dress hugged to her hips and the apron of material between the dress slits from moving too far to one side or the other.

Compared to all Lyna had ever seen, it was a unique confection. She felt vulnerable in the dress, but reassured she could still fight and defend herself, and declare for all to see that she was still a Grey Warden.

And, apparently, maintain a very healthy interest from her lethallin.

“Go with the first for now, Leliana needs us,” Lyna murmured. Zevran’s fingers on her thigh were highly distracting, reminding her vividly of his Orlesian fantasy. The rest of the evening once Leliana no longer needed them might very well lead to the kind of trouble she looked forward to.

“And so I shall… for now,” he said with a gleam in his eyes, and led her to the gates of the de Montfort estate.

“And here are the heroes of the Fifth Blight!” Duke Prosper de Montfort greeted them in a very pleased voice after they had shown their invitations to the guards.

“It is good to see you again, Warden-Commander. And you as well, Messere Arainai. What a pleasure it is to reunite you with your dear Leliana. I have quite the collection of guests this evening!” The Duke wore a much more polished set of chevalier’s ornamental armor with his ducal regalia, the now-familiar mask upon his face. Through the eyeholes she could see his blue eyes crinkling at the corners.

Leliana herself stood slightly to one side in a modest dress of pinks and lavenders equally at home in the courts of Ferelden and Orlais, her smile sweet and demure.

“I think I may be forgiven for speaking for us all in saying that it is we who are honored,” Lyna said with a slight incline of her head. “Your estate is breathtaking.”

“You are too kind, I must give your regards to my wife. This is her preferred home, and so I entrust its beautification to her accordingly,” the Duke said, smiling.

“Lady Amelie has exquisite taste,” Leliana offered. “Could I persuade her to show off her work? I would adore seeing what she has done with the rest of the estate!”

Prosper chuckled. “No doubt you could, she is quite proud. You will find her near one of her favorite bowers, I am sure, talking about it with our other guests.”

“I look forward to seeing her again,” Lyna said.

“You must certainly go see her, there are other familiar faces who will be happy to see you again as well,” the Duke said enigmatically. “But ah! I see others have arrived. You must excuse me. Make yourselves welcome.” He moved past the trio to greet the new arrivals.

Zevran led Lyna, with Leliana following, to a nearby fountain. The steady spray of water muffled their conversation slightly.

“You look stunning, as I knew you would,” Leliana said, her face breaking into a genuine smile. She carefully kissed Lyna’s lightly rouged cheeks. “I see you have managed to retain your armor,” she teased.

“I consider it a necessity in this place,” Lyna said dryly. “I’m sure poison and words won’t be the only weapons here.”

“Your bosom alone may kill me,” Zevran remarked, grinning.

Lyna blushed and Leliana looked skyward for a moment. “I can see your focus may be difficult to retain,” the bard said, “so forgive me, but I must dampen your joy.”

Zevran raised an eyebrow, his grin fading. Lyna did not like the sound of this.

“I learned earlier today that Marjolaine has hired a Crow,” Leliana said. She smiled and sent a gentle wave to a passerby she recognized as she continued to speak. “I do not know for certain for what purpose, but with the services of L’Hirondelle, I can make a reasonable guess.”

The name meant nothing to Lyna, but Zevran seemed to recognize it instantly.

“The Swallow? She is more likely to steal a necklace and put another woman’s smalls in a man’s pockets than to kill, but do not underestimate her,” he said sternly, speaking low. “She loves the garotte and the stiletto. Anything to surprise her mark.”

Leliana nodded. “I believe Marjolaine may use the Swallow to pass many of her old secrets to one of Divine Justinia’s rivals, a Grand Cleric the Duke has invited to tonight’s soiree. This cleric cannot use them to become Divine herself, of course, but she could destroy confidence in Justinia and pull her strings to do as she bids nevertheless.”

“So we find them both and kill them. Threat neutralized,” Lyna said quietly. She looked about the estate – she didn’t see Marjolaine, but it was likely she simply hadn’t arrived yet.

“I wish it could be that simple, and it may well end so, but my first priority is the documents, the secrets she carries,” Leliana warned. “Marjolaine’s threat must end one way or another. Hopefully without leaving a mess for our host to clean up.” She wrinkled her nose.

Lyna shook her head. “We’ll do what we must, mess or no. The Duke won’t care so long as we don’t break anything. His wife will have servants take care of it.”

“It’s the rudeness of it, Lyna,” Leliana rebuked.

“Then we apologize after,” she said grimly. “I don’t care much about the Chantry and this Divine, but you do, and I won’t let Marjolaine haunt you anymore. Tonight, we play the Game for keeps.”

“So be it,” the bard said quietly. “I will go find Amelie. Her tour of the estate will allow me to scout ahead. You must go mingle, it will encourage Marjolaine to come out of hiding. Possibly L’Hirondelle as well, Zevran,” she warned. “But come: smiles! We must not let the other guests suspect anything, mm?” She quickly embraced them both, her own charming smile affixed to her face once more, and went to find the Duke’s wife.

“I will need to kill the Swallow,” Zevran said, trying to smile as Leliana suggested. “She has no alliance with Nuncio that I am aware of, but I know for certain she would take the bounty on my head without a second thought.”

“Do what you must,” Lyna nodded. “I will focus on the papers Leliana is concerned about. And with luck, we will get all three: spymaster, Crow, and documents.”

“Mm,” he grunted, “and without, we must be satisfied with two.”

Or one. She pulled them away from the fountain and began to mingle. The Hero of Ferelden was in Orlais. Time to find out what that meant.

***

It was when they finally moved to the interior of the estate that Lyna saw Alistair.

She and Zevran had taken their own tour of the estate, trying various doors and keeping hidden from passing servants. Although she meant the exercise to make a mental map of the place and help Leliana scout the territory, she couldn’t help drawing Zevran in for secret kisses and touches that left her yearning for the night to be done.  From the state he was in, she knew he felt the same.

“We have to return to the party, they’ll notice we’ve been gone,” she breathed heavily, pulling away from Zevran. She could hear the music from the ballroom now. The musicians had just begun setting up when Zevran pulled her away to explore the rooms in the eastern wing. They were in the last room they’d opened, a small study adjoining one of the guest rooms.

“Let them notice,” he said, eyes heavy lidded, but reluctantly let her go. He grinned suddenly and adjusted her coat collar around her neck. “But perhaps not that.”

“Is there- did you leave a mark?!”

“What can I say, I was carried away,” he shrugged, and ran for the door, laughing as she blushed and swore and chased after him. The absurdity of it made her laugh as well, especially when confronted with startled servants on their way back to the party.

They burst into the ballroom, slightly disheveled and still laughing, this time startling a few of the guests. One pulled out a fan with a snap, coolly eyeing the couple with a knowing look, and turned her back. “Elves,” she said dismissively, and gently waved her fan in front of her face.

“Snooty bitches,” Lyna said cheerfully, several sharp gasps rising up in response around her. She was certain they disapproved of her and discovered that she couldn’t give a damn. She wasn’t here to make friends, she was here to be a friend, and she didn’t need approval for that. Zevran was right. I’ll play this Game my way.

Zevran hustled her away from the group and tugged her out toward the dance floor. “If you continue to be this naughty, there may be punishments later on.”

She arched an eyebrow at him, a smirk pulling at a corner of her mouth. “Is that a challenge I heard? I think it was.”

“You will be the death of me, and I love you,” he grinned, and spun her out onto the floor.

For a moment she panicked – she’d never learned any Orlesian dancing, and barely picked up a few of the Ferelden dances at Amaranthine – but she gave herself over to his lead, mirroring his steps and laughing as they whirled.

When the music stopped, polite applause erupted and Lyna curtsied to the people nearby. Some spirit of mischief had seized her, and she felt incredibly alive.

“Thank you, thank you- oh!”

Lyna found herself face to face with Bann Teagan Guerrin and Alistair. The former wore a bemused expression, and Alistair…

“Your Majesty, forgive me,” Lyna said, curtsying even lower and bowing her head. For once she could not read the expression on Alistair’s face, but it sent a chill up her spine. “I had no idea you were here.”

“If we had known, we might have made our presence known much sooner,” she heard Zevran say. She looked over and saw him rising from his own bow, his head cocking to one side.

“There’s nothing to forgive,” Alistair said, “considering the circumstances.” He nodded abruptly at Zevran and regarded Lyna, looking her over. He seemed tense to her, but there was a kind of polite set to his face she’d never seen on him before. It was like a mask.

It had to be because of her letters. He’d read and chosen. But was he at least still her friend? Or were they now and always only monarch and Grey Warden? She clenched her hands at her sides, heart beginning to fall into her boots. Oh please, I couldn’t stand it. Let me stay your friend.

“Perhaps you will forgive me then, Your Majesty. Zevran, is it? Allow me a dance with the Warden-Commander,” Teagan said warmly, turning from Alistair to Zevran and Lyna. “It’s good to see you both in good health once more.”

“Bann Teagan, I am pleasantly surprised to see you here. I will be glad to dance with you, but I must warn you I know nothing of these dances and am only following where I am led,” Lyna said, swallowing and forcing an answering smile.

“She follows just as well as she leads,” Zevran said, grinning.

“He means you’re in trouble now,” Lyna joked. “Any moment there will be darkspawn or werewolves and you’ll be the only one left alive.”

Teagan chuckled, shaking his head and holding out his hand. “I suppose that can’t be too terrible, since you’re here and dancing now.”

“Wait until she steps on your foot,” Alistair said dryly. He made a shooing motion with his fingers. “Don’t mind me. Zevran and I need to discuss who’s wearing the dresses better.”

Lyna curtsied and took the Bann’s hand as the music started once more. Faintly she heard Zevran say, “If you must know, I think it’s that Templar in the far corner…”

Teagan was not quite as smooth a dancer as Zevran, but he had patience and evidently a lot of practice. He helped her cover her missteps and kept them to less noticeable regions of the floor whenever possible.

“It truly is good to see you once more,” he said as their steps repeated, making it easier for her to pay attention to his words and his face. “I had hoped to speak with you before you left Orlais, but hadn’t imagined it would be here.”

“Then you haven’t seen Leliana yet. She’s the reason I’m here, although I have made the Duke’s acquaintance before,” she replied, curious as to why Teagan wanted to talk.

“Really? No, I shouldn’t be surprised – you constantly manage more than I expect, and it’s time I apologize for my low expectations,” Teagan said, and led her in a gentle twirl to the stately tune.

“It’s alright, you couldn’t have known,” Lyna said, bewildered.

“Forgive me, I should be clearer. Alistair has made me aware that I have misjudged you, and done so for several years now.” He caught her and dipped her, and helped her up into the next step, which she almost missed in shock.

“I-I’m sorry?”

Teagan was rueful. “Alistair showed me part of a letter you wrote. I know you and he were close, once. You helped put him where he is now, for the good of Ferelden. I should have realized you would continue to behave that way, and I am sorry for doubting you.”

A wave of confusion rolled over Lyna: she didn’t know how to feel. She was grateful beyond measure for Teagan’s apology, even as she was reminded of the reason distance was put between her and Alistair to begin with. A distance that might have widened irreparably. And yet: Alistair showed him my letter. Oh Creators, did he just fight for me? Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes, blurring her vision slightly. She grasped Teagan’s hand a little more tightly.

“I don’t know what to say, Bann Teagan. I am overwhelmed.” She kept a tight rein on her voice, managing to keep it steady as she continued following his lead on the ballroom floor. All the people in the room were a colorful blur around the edges.

Teagan shook his head very slightly. “No need to say anything, but I hope you will accept my apology nonetheless.” He glided them to a stop at the end of the dance and bowed.

She curtsied, her legs now feeling a little shaky. “I- yes. I will forgive you more if you would please find me a drink.”

The Bann smiled. “Of course.” He led her back to where Alistair and Zevran waited.

“I don’t see any limping,” Alistair said, “so you must have taken mercy on him.” He shook his head. “You’re going soft.”

“I could barely keep up,” Teagan said gallantly, waving over an elven servant with a tray of drinks. He picked up one of the drinks and offered it to Lyna. She took it without question and quickly drank a little. It was mildly alcoholic and it fizzled and tingled going down, leaving a faint aftertaste of ginger and berries.

“Hmm, I don’t know. I saw that dip. Are you certain? She could have placed a poison dart into your sleeve and you would not know until the poison began taking effect,” Zevran said thoughtfully.

“That is more her style, isn’t it?” Alistair replied. Lyna nearly choked on her drink and coughed.

“Oh stop, you two,” Leliana said, taking a drink for herself as she pushed through the crowd. She greeted Bann Teagan warmly, dropping a curtsy. “Your Majesty, you’re being terrible.”

“Hey now, what about Zevran?”

“He’s always terrible.” She raised her glass to Zevran. “And we love him for it.”

“Speak for yourself,” Alistair said while Zevran shrugged unrepentantly.

Lyna’s head swam. It was hard to keep up. What in Mythal’s name was going on with Alistair? She was suspicious of the seeming thaw in his attitude, but couldn’t figure out if he was managing to put on a good show or some other change had happened. Too many ups and downs here. She took another careful drink from her glass.

“Oh, Warden-Commander! Oh, I am so glad to see you here!” A familiar voice approached: Lyna turned to see Lady Elodie and another woman following closely behind her. “The Duke told me you had come to this little soiree and I could not believe my luck.”

Lyna was grateful for the distraction and found her voice. “Lady Elodie, I see you have arrived in good health and good spirits.” She stepped back a little and turned back toward her friends. “Your Majesty, Bann Teagan, may I introduce to you Lady Elodie, the Comtess de Travert?”

Lady Elodie, this time wearing periwinkle blue and wearing a domino mask trimmed in something glittering, dipped gracefully. “King Alistair Theirin, I have heard so much about you. And Bann Teagan Guerrin! I have not seen you since the hunt in Markham last year. If I may, I would like to introduce Chantal. She is a painter of immense Maker-given talent.”

The woman behind Lady Elodie, tall and human with pale blonde hair twisted up into a bun that held her plainer but matching mask in place, bowed at the waist. She had a generously rounded figure underneath her high-buttoned blue doublet and trousers, her fingers long and slender. Lyna caught Zevran looking at the painter and she smiled.

“Your Majesty,” Chantal said.

“Comtess,” Alistair acknowledged the noblewoman with a dip of his head and considered Chantal. “A painter, hmm?”

“I have seen Chantal’s work, Your Majesty. Her landscapes are remarkable, but her portraits are truly gifted,” Teagan said. Chantal smiled and Lady Elodie beamed as if the compliment had been for her.

“That is why I had to come see you,” Lady Elodie said, returning her attention to Lyna. “Chantal has seen you dance and would love to paint you.”

Lyna winced. “My dancing was terrible, surely you don’t want to paint me doing more of it,” she said to the artist.

“The steps do not matter,” the woman said. Behind the mask Lyna saw her eyes were brown, and they examined her thoroughly. “It is the movement and the emotion I wish to capture.”

“Then you should paint her dancing with the King,” said another familiar voice. It was silky and smug. Lyna’s attention whipped to the source before she could stop herself, and from the corner of her eye she saw Leliana stiffen.

It was Marjolaine, who followed Duke Prosper as he approached the group with a triumphant smile on his face.

“What luck to have you all together!” he crowed. “Four heroes of the Fifth Blight, together again. We are truly blessed to have you here in support of the new Divine, long may she sit the Sunburst Throne.”

“A true social triumph, Prosper. Everyone will talk of this event for years to come,” Lady Elodie chimed in.

You have no idea, Lady Elodie. “Lady Marjolaine. How curious to find you here,” Lyna said, thrusting her glass at Teagan. He took it, slightly bemused.

“Marjolaine is an old friend since before she was so tragically widowed,” Prosper said, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “But I see you are already acquainted!”

“We crossed paths in Ferelden,” Leliana said, stepping in coolly. Lyna shot Alistair a sharp warning look as soon as attention shifted to the redhaired bard. He raised a questioning eyebrow and she subtly shook her head. “It was I who introduced them.”

“We have missed you,” Zevran said, nonchalant.

“Of course you have, and I you!” Marjolaine cooed. “I enjoyed my time in Ferelden. It does my heart good to be reminded of it. Prosper, you must tell the musicians to play ‘The Rose of Ferelden’ for her Hero and her King. It would be so charming, no?”

“What, you mean dance?” Alistair said, startled. He hadn’t heard Marjolaine the first time she spoke.

“Oh, Your Majesty, if you would,” Lady Elodie said breathlessly, Chantal nodding beside her.

Lyna tried to keep cool, but her blood thundered in her veins. Somehow Marjolaine had known about her and Alistair. She was even throwing Leliana’s song in their faces. What was she playing at?

“Why not?” said Prosper. “I am glad to make my Ferelden guests feel at home. We would be pleased to see you and the Warden-Commander dancing, Your Majesty.”

“You can manage a Ferelden dance,” Teagan teased his nephew, unaware that anything was amiss.

“Ye-es,” Alistair said, looking from his uncle to Lyna. She nodded imperceptibly. She could alert him to Leliana’s plan to take down Marjolaine, at least. Now if only her heart would stop galloping in her chest, she might not expire on the ballroom floor and ruin the whole thing.

“It is a marvelous idea, Alistair,” Zevran said. “Just like old times, no? Go, dance. Leliana and I will hold down the fort.”

Alistair looked at Zevran for a long moment, eyes narrowed. Her lethallin stood there with his hands on his hips and a wide smile on his face.

“If you are feeling tired, I have some of those herbs…,” Zevran suggested, and Alistair’s eyes flew wide open.

“No, no, I’m fine, it’s just been a while since I’ve danced,” Alistair said quickly. He glanced at Teagan. “I’m blaming you for that, by the way.” He stepped forward and held out his gloved hand to Lyna.

“Excellent!” said Prosper. “I will go tell the musicians.” He pivoted and headed for the opposite corner of the room.

Lyna met Alistair’s eyes carefully and took his hand. The glove was fine-grained leather and soft. “Your Majesty. I will do my best not to shame you with my dancing.”

“Not possible,” he replied quietly, and led her out to the dance floor.

“These gatherings are marvelous for reuniting old friends,” Lyna heard Marjolaine say to Leliana and Zevran, smiling. “And making new ones. I would like to introduce you, if I may…”

Trapped. Dancing with Alistair while her friends faced their enemy, and she couldn’t help them. Being so near him again, touching and not, made her nerves jangle and her stomach flutter – evidently she couldn’t help herself, either.

The floor was mostly clear and the room had quieted when they reached the center. Lyna looked up at Alistair, trying to keep down the fear. He was copper and gold under the lights of the chandeliers, large and solid. He’d been her comfort and her tether during the Blight, and now she didn’t know what he was, other than her king. Don’t look in his eyes. Think of Marjolaine. Remember why you’re here.

She settled her eyes on his chest and studied the rampant mabari crest on the buttons of his doublet, dropping into a deep curtsy before the music began to play.

“The Remigold, then?” Alistair asked, his voice low as he took her waist. Even through her coat it was as if she could feel him, unwanted memory filling in the gaps.

“As you like. I will follow your lead,” she replied softly, and then the haunting strains of Leliana’s song began to play. He stepped out to the left, pulling, and she followed.

There was no awkwardness to his steps, and it scared her how easily they moved together once more. Back and forth, swaying and turning, there was no step he took that she didn’t instinctively know.

He cleared his throat after a moment. “About Marjolaine…”

“Yes. Right. This was the favor Leliana asked of Zevran and I. She knew Marjolaine would be here,” Lyna said, nervous, daring a glimpse at Alistair’s face. He was studying hers, his eyebrows knit. Her pulse speeded up and she looked away again. “She’s a threat to the new Divine. We’re to end it.”

“Hard to do that with dancing, isn’t it?” She couldn’t tell if he was serious or joking.

“It is, but Leliana and Zevran have her for now.” Lyna sighed and continued. Best that he know this, as well. “I worry for Zevran. Marjolaine has hired a Crow to help her do her mischief, and he has a bounty on his head.”

His hands tightened on her. “So she’s manipulated this dance to distract you.” His voice was harsh.

“I- yes. I think so.” And it’s working, Mythal damn me.

He spun her out and pulled her back, and without meaning to she saw his face again. His expression had lost some of its guard, and she read anger and sadness in it.

“I’m sorry, Lyna. It shouldn’t have happened this way,” he said, his eyes softening as he realized she was now looking. “We could have done this without Marjolaine.” He pulled her in closer, enough to feel the warmth radiating through his clothes.

“Could we?” she dared. She made herself keep staring in Alistair’s eyes, afraid of what she might find but needing to know.

“Teagan did apologize, didn’t he?” Alistair asked. He frowned.

“He did. Thank you.” She still didn’t know what it meant, and was terrified of reading something in it that wasn’t there. Was the concern in his eyes that of a king? A friend? Or more? She had to stop this, it wasn’t the time to think of who they were to each other. This was why she’d entrusted her thoughts to the letters.

But what if this was all the time they would get?

I’m sorry.

“I… don’t want to turn him into a liar.” The music would end soon. She had to get it out now, while she was standing in front of him, while he could see for himself what she meant. “I need to apologize as well.”

“Whatever for?” Alistair said, puzzled. She longed to kiss the knot between his brows.

“You made me a promise that I made you break. I shouldn’t have let Morrigan be the last woman you slept with, and I am so deeply sorry, vhenan,” she said, and ran her thumb across his hand.

His face clouded over and he closed his eyes, dropping her hand and stepping away as the music stopped. She drew a shaky breath and stepped away as well, plastering a smile on her face in response to the smattering of polite applause from the crowd.

“Ah, your dance with the king was just as I hoped,” Lady Elodie said on Lyna’s return. She was fiercely exultant. “Such emotion, such grace.”

Chantal ignored her patron and laid a hand on Lyna’s arm. “I would be honored if you would come to my studio and let me sketch you, at least.” The artist glanced over at Alistair, who’d found a drink and was draining the glass. “If the King of Ferelden accompanied you, so much the better. But I know not to press my luck. I am at the Rue d’Orange; just ask, they know me.”

“I’ll consider it,” Lyna told the painter. Worryingly, she didn’t see Zevran, Leliana, or Marjolaine, and she searched the faces of the guests, masked and unmasked, to see if she could catch a glimpse of them.

“Bann Teagan, did you see where Zevran or Leliana went?” she asked. The Bann had just flagged down another servant with refreshments, this time hors d’oeuvres, and he paused placing a few in Alistair’s hands in place of the drink.

“No, apologies, although that woman – Lady Marjolaine, you said? – suggested a stroll in the gardens. Perhaps you might try there,” he said, frowning.

“Thank you,” Lyna breathed. “Excuse me.” She bolted, striding as fast as she dared for the door that led to the hallways and eventually back outside. She had no idea what Marjolaine’s Crow looked like, only that she was a woman who liked an ambush, and the gardens were a perfect place to do so.

“Did you see their faces? Now there’s a story…” she heard a guest titter.

“You don’t know? Oh, it is delicious,” was the sly response, with answering chuckles as she sped past.

Lyna didn’t know how much she’d needed some air until she escaped outside, now running past startled guests and servants. The Orlesian night air, though balmy, was fresher and colder than the heady warmth of the ballroom and it cleansed her lungs as she plunged into the green pathways of the estate.

Ghilan’nain if you can hear me, let me find Zevran.

She cursed the labyrinthine nature of the gardens, weaving between the shrubs and follies where she could. The shade trees, though beautiful, weren’t climbable and she didn’t have time to stop to remove her boots. It left her wandering the green like a damned shem, praying the next turn would bring her to her lethallin.

Then she thought she heard voices and ran toward them.

“…no one will believe you,” she heard Leliana say coldly. “Keep your mouth shut and we will not tell the Empress you were complicit in treason.”

Lyna burst through a break in the hedge to see Leliana staring down a sullen Grand Cleric, the woman’s hands folded together in a posture of piety.

“I have her. Go, Zevran is chasing Marjolaine,” the bard snapped after glancing at Lyna.

Her heart leaped into her throat, and she turned and ran immediately. No, no no no. Her lover was a stellar assassin; she had faith in his skill, but to face someone like Marjolaine alone and with another assassin waiting to strike…

A high whistle pierced the night and Lyna thought she heard throaty laughter. She ran past a fountain splashing water from the vases of diaphanously draped elven men and women and through hedges choked in honeysuckle, and finally heard the scuffling of feet on the garden path. She darted to her left and rounded the corner to see Zevran keeping a woman swathed in black, wielding twin stilettos, at bay with the daggers he’d tucked into his boots.

Zevran whirled to one side, taking a stance she’d seen him use against two opponents at once instead of one. He risked a glance to see who had arrived, and before Lyna could react the woman – who must be the Swallow – rushed at him with a stiletto outstretched.

“No!” Lyna shouted, reaching for her own daggers inside her boots.

Zevran darted to one side but the Swallow caught his arm, and they struggled, weaponry flashing almost too fast for Lyna to see clearly. Lyna could barely tell them apart, Zevran’s hair and different build helping her track of what was happening.

Lyna ran forward, daggers out, but the Swallow whirled, putting Zevran between them. Lyna darted the other way and they whirled again, Zevran grimacing. Neither were trained to be sustained fighters, but whoever buckled first would be dead.

Andruil guide my hand. Lyna crouched, watching them carefully, and prayed for an opening to strike… then whipped her wrist and flung her dagger. It buried itself in the Swallow’s leg and she stumbled.

It was just enough. Zevran seized the advantage, wrenched the assassin around, and cut her throat. He let her body fall, the stilettos in her hands clattering to the ground, panting.

She could have wept from relief. “That was much too close, ma ghilan.

“I know,” he said, scowling. He bent and wiped his blade on the Swallow’s clothing, then retrieved and wiped Lyna’s dagger as well. “Marjolaine has escaped.”

Fenedhis. I was afraid this might happen,” she said with a sigh, sheathing her other dagger back in her boot, and crouched to search the body. “Does she…?”

“…have Leliana’s papers? Let us hope. Marjolaine was not forthcoming about their whereabouts.” Zevran shook his head. “She truly wished to toy with Leliana. This was almost a farce. A deadly farce.”

“And she is free once more to taunt Leliana.” She sighed again, not looking forward to breaking the news to her friend. If she was lucky – ah. Tucked inside the assassin’s wrappings was a slim leather bundle. “Hopefully this,” Lyna said, withdrawing the bundle, “will blunt the sting.”

“Agreed,” he said. He took the papers from her and helped her back up.

“I thought I might lose you,” she said as she led Zevran back to where she left Leliana.

“It will take much more than that to lose me,” he said. He wore the same smile she remembered from earlier this morning, which now felt like days ago. His hair was less mussed but did show signs of a struggle. She could feel several wisps trailing down the back of her neck from her own hair, though it had otherwise held heroically.

“I would become a mess,” she admitted.

Zevran stopped her and drew her close to kiss her forehead. “No. Do not do that. You have too much life, Lyna. Do not waste yours on me.”

“I meant it, ma ghilan. Half a life, only,” she said, and reached up to cup his face. He covered her hand with his.

“It is better than nothing, no?” he asked. “Come. Leliana awaits, and there is Alistair and a fine party inside.”

Ma nuvenin,” Lyna replied, somewhat reluctantly.

But when they went back inside, Alistair was gone.

***

PART THREE

Lyna decided that she’d had enough – enough upset, enough failure, enough politics, enough. What she did not have enough of, however, was drinks. And dancing. But mostly drinks.

After handing the Swallow’s leather bundle to Leliana and discovering that only part of the hoped-for documents were there, Lyna felt as if she’d failed her friend. She and Zevran had kept them from falling into another blackmailer’s hands, true, and Zevran was still alive, but Marjolaine remained a threat. The woman had evaded the traps Leliana had laid with her agents: none of them had seen her, much less been able to capture her.

“And I walked – no, danced – right into Marjolaine’s trap. Ir him da’len.” She laughed bitterly and took another drink, frowning as the glass was removed from her hand. “And for what? For what.”

“Perhaps we should take some air.”

“I had that, thank you.” She breathed in and out. “Air.” She swayed and clutched Leliana’s shoulder. “You should drink with me.”

“Not this time, we should get you home.”

Lyna laughed. “I have no home, you know that? The Blight took that from me.” Zevran took her by the elbow. “But I got you! Dance with me, lethallin.” She took several steps, staggering, and stumbled with another laugh.

Zevran chuckled. “It would not be fair to you, my love. We will dance when you are more sober.”

“Mmm, you are too good to me. I don’t deserve you.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” he grinned. “I would say you deserve far more.”

“Pfffbbbbbbttt. I got statues and songs and ‘my Lady’ and other Banalhan fenedhis, all I want’s you. And… you know,” she said conspiratorially, stopping to put an arm around one of the elven servants. The girl blushed, her eyes popping out of her head.

“I think everyone knows at this point,” Leliana said dryly.

“Noooo, don’t say that. Shhhhh,” she lamented as Zevran gently pried her from the terrified servant and pushed her to the front door. “Teagan won’t like me anymore.”

“I don’t think Teagan can-“ Zevran stopped after a look from Leliana.

“What?” She stopped in the doorway and moved out of it reluctantly at a gentle prod. “What?”

“Nothing, dear, nothing. We have a carriage for you.”

“Is it Sophie? Ohh, tell Sophie thank you, please. I hate dresses but I like this dress. It’s got armor.”

“Yes, it does,” muttered Zevran, carefully maneuvering one of Lyna’s spaulders away from his face.

“Can she take us to a tavern? We’ll have more drinks!” Lyna sashayed to the carriage with a wobble in her step. Drinking felt good. Drinking would make her numb.

“No, I’m afraid not. The driver and footman need to go home to their families,” Leliana said, taking her other arm to steady her.

“Oh! Of course! Ir abelas, lethallin. Not you lethallin Zevran, but them lethallin. Well maybe you too.” Lyna sighed as she climbed in the door of the carriage and sat down. A part of her knew she was acting very disgracefully. The rest of her didn’t care. She’d had enough.

“You’ll want to give her the elfroot now so she’ll be sober enough for bed,” she heard Leliana say to Zevran quietly. “The day has been long enough, she’ll be tired.”

Zevran said something she couldn’t hear.

“I did not need to know that.” Leliana sighed. “Just help her sleep.”

No, I can’t sleep. I’ll have the dreams again. But she was tired, and sad, and didn’t want to be tired and sad anymore. Or at the very least, not tonight. The emptiness pulled at her keenly, and Zevran wouldn’t be able to help.

“Thank you,” Zevran said to Leliana. “We will speak again soon.” He pulled himself into the carriage and it swayed.

“Do we have any brandy?” she begged him as the carriage pulled away from the Ducal estate back to the Grand Cathedral. “Something. I don’t want the dreams. Please.”

“No, Lyna, there is no brandy here,” he said quietly. “We will go back to our room and rest.”

“I can’t. I can’t rest, I’ll sleep and I’ll dream. Please. If you have something… make me forget…” she said, her stomach queasy as the carriage lurched.

The glowlamps from the Orlesian streets outlined his face in the darkness, and it was sad. He took her hand.

“I cannot do that,” he said. “All I can do is take your pain.”

“Please, lethallin. Anything.” Her face was wet and her eyes stung.

“Drink this, then,” he said, resigned. He uncorked a vial and handed it to her.  She took it from him thirstily. It’s elfroot, you know that. –So what.

The minty medicinal herb slid down her throat, thick and familiar. Elfroot had healed many a hurt before, why not this one.

Her stomach calmed and she could feel some of the intoxication floating away. She wished she could float away.

I’m so tired. She pulled closer to Zevran, rested her head on his shoulder, and closed her eyes. “Ir abelas. Bellanaris abelas.”

***

“Lyna, we are here.”

She opened her eyes, swimming uneasily back to consciousness and an ache in her heart. “Oh. Zevran. I- I fell asleep.”

“You did.” He brushed a wisp of hair away from her forehead and kissed it. “Not for very long, I am afraid. You need more sleep.”

She sat up in the carriage and looked outside its windows. The courtyard of the Grand Cathedral was empty again, only moonlight filling its spaces. The very stillness felt like it would engulf her. She was still a little inebriated, but nowhere enough to blunt the edges. She suspected it wouldn’t be long before she was completely sober, especially once she had some water and more rest.

She burst into tears. “I can’t, ma ghilan. Not again.”

Zevran gathered her into his arms and held her. “Sshhhh, cuore mio. Please. Shhh.” He smoothed her hair repeatedly. “Don’t cry. You break my heart.”

The waver in his voice sent a fresh spear of pain through her. “No, abelas, abelas,” she cried. “Please forgive me. I don’t know what to do.”

Zevran held her for a long moment, his thumbs wiping at her tears. “Whatever is to be done, it can’t be here. Come, the carriage needs to go,” he said gently. He pulled away from her to open the carriage door, slowly and heavily emerging.

Lyna sat up, a familiar blanket of sadness surrounding her. She recognized now that while Zevran could lift it and help her forget it was there sometimes, it would always come back… because she missed him. She needed him. Alistair. And he could never be there.

Zevran held out his hand to help her out of the carriage and she took it, shaking and brushing away at her own tears.

“There we are. Let’s go. A bed awaits,” he said in the hush. He wrapped one arm around her as she stepped into his embrace, using the other to close the carriage door and wave to the driver.

He pulled her toward the waiting Cathedral, their steps slow, and she heard the carriage drive away behind her.

“I’m cold,” she said quietly.

“I know.”

Despair swallowed her.

The walk back toward their rooms seemed long. Lyna didn’t pay attention. Soon they would go to bed, she’d fall asleep, and the dream Morrigan in the candlelight, eyes gleaming, beckoning Alistair would begin again and why not? Why not. It was no less than she deserved. She still lived, and she should be dead.

Zevran ushered her along the corridors, cursing almost soundlessly. Moments later he brought them to a stop in front of a doorway. Blearily she recognized the insignia of the guards posted beside it: a pair of rampant mabari.

“What…” she croaked.

“We need to see the king,” Zevran said to the guard. His voice was determined, almost angry she thought.

“King Alistair has retired. The hour is late, ser, come back tomorrow,” the guard said.

“It is urgent and it cannot wait. We must speak with him,” Zevran insisted.

“Ser-“

“Now,” he raised his voice. “If he is asleep, which I doubt, wake him. We are old friends, and he is needed.”

“Zevran…”

“I must insist-“

“ALISTAIR!” Zevran shouted. The guards, previously only blocking the door, drew their weapons and stood defensively.

“Zevran, please,” Lyna said, confused.

“No,” he said fiercely, planting his feet. “ALISTAIR!”

“Move along,” one of the guards warned.

“Stop,” she said, pulling at Zevran’s sleeve.

“ALISTAIR!”

The door opened abruptly. “What in the Maker’s name is going on here?” Alistair, barefoot in a plain linen shirt and breeches, filled the door frame and looked over the shoulders of his guards.

Zevran addressed him directly over the guards’ shoulders. “We need to speak with you. Now.”

“Oh for- really? Right now?” Alistair said, exasperated.

Lyna covered her eyes with a shaking hand. Shame crept through the despair.

Yes right now, you think I would be here if it were not important?” Zevran snapped. He turned and grabbed Lyna, drawing her toward him.

There was a long silence. “Stand down.”

“Your Majesty, are you certain?”

“Yes. Let them through.” Alistair’s voice was quietly resigned but firm.

“Sire.” Iron and steel clanked, weapons sheathed. Lyna dropped her hand away from her face, confused, ashamed, and lost.

“Come,” Zevran whispered gently in her ear and ushered her past the guards and Alistair into Alistair’s rooms. The door closed behind them. He steered her to one of the two chairs by a cold fireplace and indicated she should sit. She sat down slowly and folded her hands in her lap.

“Suppose now you tell me just what’s going on?” Alistair said sharply. He came to stand near the other chair and addressed Zevran, hands on his hips.

“You once asked me for your help, and now I am asking for yours,” Zevran said, his voice angry and desperate.

“You have a strange way of asking,” Alistair said darkly.

“You think I am joking? This is funny?” Zevran stepped toward him, hands clenched.

“Zevran, please…”

“No, cuore mio. No more retreating,” Zevran told her. “You bastard, look at her.”

“Stop, lethallin, I’m begging you,” Lyna pleaded. She couldn’t bear to look at Alistair, but Zevran stood nearly in his face and it hurt to see them like that. She held out her hands.

Zevran whirled away from Alistair and walked over to crouch in front of her, taking her hands. “I cannot do that, Lyna. Seeing you like this is more than I can stand.” Some of the despair she felt was echoed in his eyes, and to see the pain she’d caused him set her shaking.

“You love her,” she heard Alistair say, realization flooding the statement.

“As she loves you,” Zevran said, kissing her forehead and releasing her hands as he stood up once more. “Did you know she has nightmares?”

“All Wardens have nightmares,” Alistair said heavily. He set his hand on the back of the other chair.

“Not like this. Not all are darkspawn and Archdemons – I have learned those, oh yes,” Zevran snorted, shaking his head. “The most terrible are the ones where she says your name in her sleep and wakes up screaming.” His voice was weighted and soft with memory.

Lyna bowed her head and closed her eyes. Oh Creators, what are you doing? She felt as if she were being laid bare and helpless to stop it.

“I cannot stop them, although I have tried. Drinking cannot stop them, although she tried that again tonight.” Zevran opened her hands and put another vial of elfroot in them. “So I turn to you.”

“What,” Alistair said thickly, and cleared his throat. “What do you want me to do?”

“Whatever you must,” Zevran said, determined. “Talk, scream, fight, fuck, I do not care. But you will do something to fix this. Swear to me.”

“I don’t know if I can. Fix this, that is.” Alistair said. His voice was heavy with doubt.

“If you love her, you will try. Swear it.

Another long moment of silence followed.

“I swear,” he said softly.

Zevran exhaled. “Good.” Lyna felt his hand upon her hair again. His fingers traced the edge of her ear, then moved to cup the earring.  She opened her eyes and looked up at him. The love that shone forth from his face staggered her. “I will see you later.”

“Promise?” She pushed the question through the knot in her throat.

“Always,” Zevran said, then turned away and left. The door closed quietly behind him.

Alistair exhaled and walked to another part of the room. She heard him pour something into a cup, then he walked back to sit down in the chair opposite her and hand her the cup.

“It’s water,” he said. His face was careworn.

Lyna took the cup with a trembling hand and drank. She clutched the vial of elfroot in her other hand.

“Drinking?” he said.

Lyna swallowed the tepid water with difficulty and nodded, deeply ashamed.

“Maker,” he swore. “You said so in your letter, but I didn’t think…” He wiped his face and rested his hand back on the arm of the chair.

“You… read it?”

“I tried. Couldn’t finish. Not at first, at least.” He sighed and chuckled bitterly. “Felt like being ripped to pieces. Another infamous Lyna hit-and-run.”

“That is my style, isn’t it?” she lashed out, and then regretted it. “Fenedhis. I’m sorry.” She made herself take another sip of water.

“You do it even when you apologize,” he said, shaking his head. “Over and over. Is this what it takes to make you stop?”

She recalled Zevran’s words. “No, cuore mio. No more retreating.”

“I don’t know. This is a first,” Lyna said. Even now she felt like running. She shouldn’t be here. She should finish sobering up and leave. She opened the vial of elfroot and drank it.

“You were right, you know,” Alistair said abruptly. “About Eamon and Teagan.”

She stood up, biting her lip. “Oh Mythal, I should…” She set the cup down and pivoted for the door.

“Oh no you don’t,” he said, launching out of his chair, catching her and gripping her arms. “I promised and I meant it.”

“But Teagan-“ she said, panicked.

Hang Teagan, this is you we’re talking about.” Alistair shook her. She turned her head. “Maker damn you, look at me.”

Her heart beat so wild she thought it would burst up through her throat. She forced herself to obey, noting his furrowed brow, the unyielding set of his mouth, and a well of hunger in his eyes. Her legs suddenly felt weak.

“Not a moment goes by now without me kicking myself for letting you go,” he said, every syllable hard. “I’m not doing it again. You want me to fight? Then stand with me. Stay.” His hands squeezed her arms. “Stop running,” he said softly.

All Lyna could see was Alistair’s face, every beloved line and hollow, the pulse beating fast at his temple and throat.

“Tell me you love me,” she whispered, trembling, dreading.

“More than anything,” and his lips crashed against hers, warm and hard and wanting. She broke open and his tongue swept in, fiercely asking, and Lyna answered with her own. All was heat and wetness and breath and nothing, nothing else mattered.

“I love you,” he gasped, his large calloused hands cupping her face, fingers pushing through her hair as he dived in with his mouth again, tasting and exploring with a sweetness and ferocity that made her knees buckle. She clutched at his shoulders, dizzy from a desire long unfulfilled now flooding through her without end.

Alistair caught her and crushed her against him. He was burning even through the layers of her clothing. She thought she would catch fire from him and send all of Sophie’s work to ash. Lyna caught his lower lip and suckled, pressing urgently against him, yearning to feel his skin and willing burn everything for a taste.

He moved his hands to her hips and yanked them against his, hard and demanding. The heat that flared up in her belly turned everything molten. “Alistair…” she husked.

“Oh Maker, I love you,” he groaned, and he was pushing her until her back met the stone wall. His mouth descended on hers again, still hungry. His hands tore at the buckle of her tassets, and the sound of them hitting the floor reverberated. As if it were a signal she began fumbling at the rest of her armor, unwilling to stop touching him but needing the barriers gone even more.

His hands moved to her gorget as one spaulder fell, the other piece following as the skin of her neck and chest tasted unfettered air again. She gasped against his mouth.

Alistair freed her mouth and pulled her away from the wall a little, hands now at her shoulders to peel off her coat. When the sleeves dropped into her hands she tugged, struggling to help. Momentarily her arms were bound, unable to pull free.

He moved back in as Lyna was writhing and laid deliberate, hot kisses against the base of her neck where it met the shoulder, bending nearly double to do so. Her blood surged and her breath quickened.

“Help me,” she said hoarsely.

Alistair ignored her request, trailing kisses further down across her collarbone down to her chest, his lips dragging across her skin and his breath fanning the heat now radiating throughout her flesh. He set his hands back on her hips, hot through the soft cotton cloth of her dress, and his fingers kneaded at her muscles. There was a promise she felt in each movement that sent her soaring.

“Alistair, please,” Lyna said, and kept pulling at the coat desperately.

He went down on one knee in front of her, his hands sliding down her flanks to her thighs. He dragged the slits of the dress open to expose her legs, the friction of the soft fabric now a sensual tickle. Her skin prickled with gooseflesh and he shuddered.

“You have no idea,” he croaked, leaning in to press his mouth against the exposed skin of her left thigh. His hand covered the other, his thumb sweeping against the hot and trembling flesh. The twin sensations shot straight up her spine and she thought she would expire from the liquid hunger that surged in her belly. A small moan escaped her mouth.

Alistair looked up at her face. His eyes were blown wide open, his whole expression suffused with wonder.

“Maker, how could I forget this?” His hands closed around her thighs and squeezed, leaning forward to rest his forehead on her belly and inhale deeply, deliberately. She was suddenly aware of how incredibly slick she was, every squeeze of his hands pulling at more delicate skin.

Lyna tried again, wanting him to continue but needing more, so much more. Take off this damn coat oh Mythal help me. “I need you,” she managed through her panting.

He groaned and lurched forward, roused, to yank the rest of the coat free from her arms. She immediately placed her hands on either side of his face, lifting it back up to look at her.

“I love you.” Her hands shook.

“So help me, I love you too,” he replied, need furrowing his brow, and he rose up from his knee. Her hands fell away from his face to touch him, running her hands down his clothed chest to grasp the fabric and pull it up. He took the cloth from her and finished the job, removing the linen shirt and dropping it to the floor. She placed her hands back on him, caressing the skin and scars she once knew almost as well as her own, and first kissed and then licked at his sweat-dewed muscles.

Alistair’s hands went into her hair again and gently tugged it out of its pinned tangle, the strands falling through his fingers to rest on her shoulders. The movement tickled, and for once this echo of a memory did not hurt. Instead there was joy and heat and I love you.

Enough.

Lyna stepped away and took hold of the dress at the waist, pulling it up over her head. The time it took for the seemingly unending fabric to pull away was maddening until she felt it sliding without her, Alistair’s hands helping to peel it free. It left her in breastband, smalls, boots and Oath, until she felt his rough hands cover her ribcage and spring the band free, where it fell to the ground to join everything else.

An animal sound erupted from his throat and he picked her up, wrapping his hands underneath her thighs to lift her up and enfold her legs around him. Lyna felt him tremble and he buried his face in her shoulder, turning and staggering the long steps to his bed.

“Vhenan, ma vhenan, ar lath bellanaris,” she whispered, and gasped as she found herself falling backward. She felt the give of goosedown under her back and he couldn’t tug the boots from her legs fast enough. He climbed up on the bed, bending his head to seize a nipple in his mouth and she moaned, wrapping her bared legs around him again to enfold him to her. His skin on her skin stoked the flames already consuming her and she couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe.

It was Alistair, solid and hungering Alistair, between her legs and suckling her breasts and the emptiness slowly began filling with light.

Lyna ran her hands down Alistair’s slick back, dragging her fingers, and pressed her legs together to writhe underneath him. His cock was full and straining against his breeches, grazing against her damp smalls, and she bucked against it.

He clutched her, spasming, releasing her breast to groan loudly. “Ah, Maker, Lyna…”

She whined, straining toward him, his groan telling her everything she wanted to hear. Her hands reached for his breeches; he lifted up on one arm, his other hand undoing the laces as she tugged urgently. He pushed away and stood up so the breeches fell away and he was naked before her, shaking.

My beautiful man.

Lyna sat up to remove her smallclothes, kicking them off her legs.

“I will never forget you again,” Alistair choked, climbing back onto the bed to lie between her legs, chest to chest and skin to skin. His mouth claimed hers, sweet and hungry, and his face was wet.

She wrapped her arms around him and lifted her knees so he lay fully between her legs. His hand came up between them, fingers probing, and found her wet and throbbing, waiting.

Lyna gasped sharply – oh yes – as he stroked at her clit, first gently then insistently, sliding his fingers against her wetness and making her see stars. She thought she might come apart at his touch alone, but she needed more, she needed him.

“Alistair – vhenan –,“ she called out, writhing and pushing against him, and then suddenly there he was, his cock at her vulva and pressing in, full and present and wanting everything she had to give.

He cried out as he thrust inside her, his hand still at her clit, his breath coming fevered and fast. The initial friction sent her reeling, clutching at him wildly, and she wanted time to slow and stop to keep hold of this miracle and let it build. Too much time had passed between them, however, and the rush of it catching up rolled over them both to throw them together again and again and again, thrusting and touching and heaving home, home, until she crested the wave and shattered around him, crying.

“Ah, Maker, Lyna,” Alistair wept after her, wracked with shuddering and filling her, filling the emptiness, and all was light once more.

Chapter Text

I don’t know how long we lay there after, weeping and laughing, unable to stop touching. Time had ceased to have meaning for me, only this much slower series of caresses like balm covering a wound. Desire was still an unmistakable presence, but ignored in favor of the wonder of rediscovery. My hand brushed through Alistair’s hair, curling my fingers through the peak of his hairline, and I smiled at the small change he’d wrought there. He ran his thumb over my lower lip, then over the vallaslin on my chin, grinning lopsidedly. I moved my hand to touch his lips as well, my fingers tracing a path under his stubbled chin and over his throat to his collarbone, the tips skating over the hollows. He bent and kissed my temple, his hand having come to rest on my chest over my heart, and yawned.

Unwanted, awareness of time came back along with my exhaustion. I remembered the demands of the world outside this moment and withdrew my hand.

“I should go.” It was the last thing I wanted to do, but in one ill-advised moment I had managed to jeopardize Alistair and throw a lie into the promise I’d made him and Teagan.

“Nope.” He rolled completely over onto his side, wrapping his arms and legs around me. “Not happening.”

“I’m tired, Alistair. Don’t make me fight you on this.” I was effectively pinned in that thick embrace; I would have to struggle to get out, and physical exhaustion and my own reluctance would make it so much harder.

“Then don’t,” he said firmly.”I know what you’re thinking – don’t think I’m not thinking it, too. But the world isn’t going to end if I do what I want, for once.” He nosed at my ear and neck, his fingers gripping my arms sweeping a rhythmic caress. “You want this, too. I know you do.”

My throat was tight again. “Of course I do. But I can’t sleep-“

“You can, Lyna.”

“My nightmares-“

“I’m here.” Sleepily he pointed beyond me to the window. “Look. There’s Equinor.”

“Ghilan’nain.”

“And Fenrir.”

“Fen’Harel.”

“Fervenial…”

“Vir Tanadahl…”

Sometime after, the stars winked out.

Light was creeping in the window when Lyna jerked awake with a sharp gasp, sucking in a lungful of air, and her pulse hammered a terrified beat. There was a heavy weight on her, pressing her down, and tattered shreds of dark dreams still clung to her.

“S’okay, ‘Na. Back t’ sleep.” Alistair’s voice rumbled, thick and burry from sleep, in her ear. She realized the weight was him, half of him lying face down across her body, when he rolled back onto his side. He possessively pulled her with him so she lay on her side as well, facing him, tucked up against his chest. Her head was under his chin, his hand against her back. “Gotcha.”

“Sorry…” She snaked an arm around him, feeling his heartbeat, and told hers to slow down and listen. The languor of sleep began stealing over her again as she steadied. Safe.

He hummed and stroked her back. “Sleep.” Gentled, she succumbed.

***

The next time Lyna awoke, it was more slowly. She was still curled up against Alistair’s right side, but this time he was sprawled on his back and his chest was her pillow. His right arm behind her head draped along her back, his hand curled into a loose fist against the small of her back. Her right leg was draped over his, and her right arm encircled his ribs, her hand nearly at his armpit. His left arm was shoved under his pillow, from what she could tell. His head was turned away from her, so she couldn’t see his face very well, but his mouth was hanging open.

-Is he drooling?
-I should go.
-I can tickle him.
-What if Teagan…?
-This moment is mine. No one can take this from me.

Experimentally she shifted her leg a little lower. His arm twitched against her back, but no other response seemed forthcoming.

Lyna bit her lip, then carefully moved her right hand to wiggle her fingers into Alistair’s armpit.

“…spider!” he gasped, bolting out of sleep and scrabbling up, dumping Lyna’s head onto the bed. She giggled.

“Oh, Maker’s breath, it’s you,” Alistair said with a sigh of relief, turning toward her giggling. He rubbed his eyes. “That was evil, Lyna. What did you do that for?”

“I wanted to see your face. And see if you were drooling.” She extended a finger to his right side and wiggled.

“Hey!” He twisted from her finger. “Not fair using wiggly fingers at me in the morning.” He raised his left hand to his face experimentally. “Damn,” he muttered, and wiped at the corner of his mouth.

Lyna giggled again and he groaned. “Drooling is bad.”

“Drooling is adorable.”

Alistair sighed. “Better be. You’re pretty well stuck with it now.”

Lyna sat up. “Meaning?”

He looked sideways at her, then raised his eyebrow and grinned. “Let’s see, naked and in my bed? Yep, you’re getting drooled on.” He twisted toward her, pouncing. She found herself flat on her back, pinned.

“Oh dear,” she said, faux-concerned, trying and failing to keep herself from grinning back.

“Nope, no use in wiggling away now,” he admonished. He straddled her, hovering. “It’s slobber time.” He bent his head and kissed her, teasing her mouth open to flirt his tongue against hers.

Lyna responded in kind, drawing his tongue in deeper. This is what she’d missed most, this sweet humor as he would show her all the ways he loved her. It felt like being offered gold to repair all that was broken.

There was a soft knocking at the door. “Your Majesty?”

Alistair sat up, scowling. He pointed a finger at her. “Don’t move.”

“Alistair-“

“Not one bit. I’m giving you an order.”

She sighed but nodded.

“Good.” He pushed himself up and off of her, walked to where his breeches had been discarded last night and picked them up, drawing them on. “I’m not above embarrassing both of us, just so you know.”

“Pretty sure I did that already,” she muttered, but he shook his head and quickly drew the laces.

“Not even close,” he said, then pointed again, raising an eyebrow.

Fine.” She shooed him toward the door, waving her fingers. His smile was grim as he pivoted in his bare feet and addressed the door out of her line of sight.

“What is it? I’m indisposed.”

“Bann Teagan, Sire.”

Lyna bit her lip. Shit. She knew this was coming.

Alistair mumbled something and sighed. “Indisposed, I said. Tell Teagan I trust him with the refugee situation and I’ll try breakfast in a little while. No visitors unless I send for them.”

“Your Majesty,” she heard the guard acknowledge, and a second later Alistair returned.

“Now then, where was I? Oh yes, drooling,” he said, then stopped to stare at Lyna lying in his bed. “You’re here. You’re really here.”

“Yes, vhenan, though I should not be,” she said quietly. He quickly closed the distance and sat on the bed, taking her hand.

“I don’t care. You made me a promise and I stupidly broke it because I was too scared at getting things wrong that I forgot to do what was right. ‘No matter what,’ you said,” the old heartbreak threaded with determination in his voice and the knot between his eyebrows.

Lyna lifted her other hand to his face, palm to his cheek and thumb smoothing the knot. “This is still true, Alistair. I have tied myself to you, no matter what.”

He sighed. “And judging from last night, I dragged you through…,” he trailed off, unable to find the words to finish.

“My choice, vhenan.” She sat up and took his head between both hands, putting her forehead to his. “I could no more stop loving you than the sun cease to rise, but I could have tried. I chose not to. I just didn’t understand what the pain would do.”

Alistair winced, distressed, and pulled her into his embrace. “That’s stopping. Right now.”

She wrapped her arms around him. “How? Our situation has not changed, emma lath. You must still marry and provide an heir.” She sighed heavily into his shoulder. “I cannot do either, and no one has been wrong about that.”

Lyna heard him swallow. “I’ll do what I have to, Lyna, but I’m not letting you go. I’ll find something, some way…” Lethallin, you may be right. It was the only way that she saw forward, so she offered it.

“Zevran believes I could be your mistress,” she said. He tensed.

Maker. It’s – you deserve better. How - ,” Alistair swore and sputtered. She pulled away and he pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes screwed closed. He slumped.

“If you truly mean me to stand by you, Alistair – and I would – you must think this through,” Lyna said softly.

She was afraid to ask Alistair to agree. She’d taken a decision from him once, a decision she’d make for him again had she the chance, and she’d done it not just for the good of Ferelden but for him. As King he had a better chance of being his own man, and fix things as he wished when he could. That did not necessarily mean fix them, if he truly believed they could not be. Especially with Zevran to consider, because she would not give him up. Not even if Alistair asked. Anything else in her power, she would give him. But she would not take a decision from him again.

While an elf was not allowed to marry a king, while the Taint would not let her bear him children, they could not be married. She could not be acknowledged his Queen and frankly she didn’t want to be – she was sworn to the Wardens and was unsuited for running a country. Protecting it, however, was another matter. She was free to do so as Alistair’s mistress, and, as Zevran correctly pointed out, could be grudgingly accepted as such in time – whatever time remained to them.

I shall also not become her if you let me go, vhenan. I will not let my pain risk all of Ferelden for you. No matter what. Lyna reached out and ran her fingers through Alistair’s hair. No more repeating history, she vowed.

“You play dirty,” Alistair complained.

Lyna withdrew her hand.

“Wait, no, I didn’t mean stop!” He sighed and withdrew his hand from his face. It was still downcast but had eased. “As always, I have a hard time thinking straight around you. All I know for certain right now is making you stay.” He lifted his head to look at her, worried.

She offered him her own lopsided smile. “Nothing has to be decided today, my lord.”

“No, but it must be soon,” he said, then shook his head ruefully. “’Your Majesty’ and ‘my lord’ still makes me feel funny, especially from you. But if it makes you sit there and do what I tell you…” He grinned suddenly.

She laughed. “I placed all decisions in your hands, my lord.” She picked up one of them and brushed her lips across his knuckles.

“You did, didn’t you?” he said, startled. He cocked his head to the side, considering, and took his hand back to cup her chin. “You wrote that, and I… You chose your words rather carefully. All of them.”

“I did.”

Alistair took in a deep breath. “So you really do love him, too.” He looked at her strangely, more emotions crossing over his face than she could track.

“I do.” Lyna held his gaze and her breath.

“I don’t understand it, Lyna.” Confusion, jealousy, anger… but yes, the desire to know. The ability to listen. That, at least, was there.

“I don’t understand it myself, Alistair. I simply feel it.” Carefully she moved closer and placed his hand upon her heart. “I call you vhenan – you are my heart.” Several beats passed. “I call him lethallin – he’s like clan. Like blood.” She spread her hand on top of his and smiled wanly. “No one can be asked if they prefer their heart to their blood when both are needed.”

“You play really dirty,” he said darkly, staring at her chest.

Oh. Right. Still naked.

Lyna grinned. “Ma vhenan, you should know this by now.” She brought his hand up to her lips and kissed it again. “Consider this, then: Zevran knows everything about us. He accepted it some time ago. You heard from his own mouth how he feels, and he brought me here. To you.”

Alistair nodded slowly, not having had time to come to terms with that. Even she, knowing Zevran, hadn’t suspected how much he loved her until that moment.

She took a deep breath and plunged forward. “If you do marry another, and keep me at your side, I know you will at least be kind to her. She will need to know of us. You might grow to love her – no, please listen,” she said, as he opened his mouth to protest.

“Whether or not you would marry another, or fall in love with her, is not the issue Alistair.” Lyna laid his hand on the side of her face. “It is how you would feel. She and I would not be the same. You would not love us the same.”

He sighed, his brows knitting in a welter of consternation. “No. I couldn’t. I’d have to choose.”

“Would you? We don’t know that. Not until it happens. Regardless, it would be your choice, and I would have to accept or not. As she would have to accept or not.”

“You’re asking a lot,” Alistair said, and raised his eyes to hers. He was torn, but still listening. Good enough.

“We may not have a lot of time, vhenan, but we still have it. We also have our own responsibilities,” she said softly. “For now, all I ask is kindness. As I said before.” She watched him think for a moment, then his eyes lit upon her legs.

“Fuck,” he said, his face grim. “Well. He did put that option on the table, he can’t be mad about it.”

Alistair turned and got up on the bed, stalking toward her face on hands and knees. “I’m not done drooling. You’re in trouble now.”

Lyna’s heart lept up. She squealed when he tickled her in revenge and turned breathless when his fingers tickled her thighs soon after. Later, she could write to Fiona and arrange to continue the interview. Later, she could ask Zevran to come and bring her clothing. Later, she could talk to Leliana to see what else could be done for her friend. Later, Alistair might have decisions for her. Now, she had what she wanted most and she would take all the hope and joy she could wrest.

Chapter Text

“You can’t stop running for one day, can you?” Alistair said. He was pacing the floor while Lyna sat cross-legged on his bed. She liked watching him move and even better liked feeling him move, but the day was half gone with barely a tray of half-eaten breakfast to show they’d done anything else. In any other time she would be happy to hide from the rest of the world for a whole day, perhaps more, but with decisions still hanging and responsibilities to be met, it was her unhappy duty to remind him there was a world outside still to be dealt with.

“You’re the one pacing, Alistair, and I’m not running,” Lyna said patiently, trying not to sigh. “We have work to do. You can’t keep Bann Teagan out of here indefinitely and I need clothing, at the very least.” A bath, as well, though she did like the smell of him on her skin. Zevran might not mind it, but others certainly would.

Alistair came to a stop reluctantly. “What’s wrong with what you wore last night?”

“During daylight hours, when others saw me wearing that dress at Duke Prosper’s?” Now she did sigh. “Unless you feel like making your decision now and very public, those who pay attention will note me leaving your rooms in it. It will be obvious I spent the night. Talk will begin immediately, if it didn’t last night with Zevran’s shouting.”

People passing judgment on her would be unpleasant, but nothing new. But the damage it might do to him…

“Andraste’s ass,” Alistair said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I should have thought of that. Soldiers love to gossip.”

“And we’ve been far from quiet,” she pointed out with a crooked smile. In hindsight she was surprised his guards hadn’t charged in when her armor dropped to the floor. Perhaps strange sounds were something they’d gotten used to? That thought didn’t make her feel comfortable. Even if Alistair had the same sort of screaming nightmares she did, his guards should have checked on him. Unless they knew exactly who I was, and…

“I’ll post the gossipers to the Korcari Wilds,” he glowered.

She cracked a smile. See? This is why I love you. “Half your army would end up with Chasind wives in the swamps.”

He muttered another curse.

“Let Zevran bring me clothing, Alistair. Let someone bring water for washing. I can stay a while longer, vhenan, but I must at least write some letters.” Perhaps she’d ask Falke to interview Fiona a bit for her? He could at least get all the details Fiona might be able to remember from her missing reports, and Lyna could review his work later and have more questions for the First Enchanter. She should also send a letter to the Drydens at Soldier’s Peak and let them know to expect her within a few weeks.

“Work? You want to work right now?” Alistair asked, incredulous. “We- you-“

She threw her hands up and scowled. “No, I don’t want to work.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Remember I love you and bruise easily.”

“Then you should be purple right now, vhenan. Stop distracting me.” The smile that split her face was spoiling the admonishment. He still loves me.

“You started it with that…” He ducked the pillow she threw at him.

Venavis, Alistair. We can find time for us, but it must be managed, like it or not. It will also reassure Teagan,” Lyna said.

He picked up the pillow and tossed it back on the bed, his mouth downturned. “Is it so wrong to want to keep you for myself? I don’t know if I’m ready to see Zevran again.”

Ah. “I’d scandalize poor Falke. His blushes put yours to shame.” Lyna held out her arms, and Alistair sat to embrace her. He sighed deeply; she could almost feel his upset through the slide of muscles under his skin. “I trust no one else in my room, and Leliana is doubtless busy.” She kissed his shoulder.

“So… not so much wrong, as it is unrealistic,” he said, melancholy tinging the words he spoke past her ear. He tilted and rested his forehead on her shoulder.

Ir abelas,” she acknowledged, and pulled away just enough to put a hand on either side of his head, fingers in his hair. “Alistair… I want to tell you something, and it is not meant to cause you pain.”

“But it may anyway, right?” She heard a bitter accusation behind the words. “That is more her style, isn’t it?” How we wound each other, over and over.

Lyna did not answer, quiet for a moment, and continued.

“This, what we have right now, I would have fallen on my knees and thanked your Maker to have at any moment in the last three years. I may still end up confessing to the Divine my gratitude,” she said, drawing his face up to look at her. “Someone once reminded me that I am alive and should start enjoying it. I am trying to, the best I know how.”

Guilt suffused his face. “Maker. Lyna, I’m sorry, I-“

“Stop,” she said softly, and kissed him briefly, gently. “I want you to help me enjoy this, here, now, with all its discomforts and awkwardness and difficulty. I want a future other than the Deep Roads, and a good memory if I still can’t avoid them.”

This time it was Alistair with his hands in her hair. “Leliana as much told me you’d changed. I don’t recall you being this bad at trying to cheer me up.” He pressed his forehead against hers, closed his eyes and inhaled. “Alright. Baths. Clothing. Maker-be-damned work and Zevran and Teagan and whoever else you want to invite. Because I’ve missed you and you’re right. As always, to my chagrin.”

“I am not always right.”

“Says who? I’ll punch him in his fat mouth.”

Lyna laughed.

“That’s more like it.” Alistair smiled ruefully. “The things I wouldn’t do for that laugh.”

“Tell me.”

“Damn. Bluff called again.”

***

Over half an hour later, Zevran arrived while Lyna was bathing. She would have been bathing with Alistair, but the tub was barely large enough to accommodate him. Not that he hadn’t tried anyway, pulling her in with a surprised shriek after he’d asked her to scrub his back, but he surrendered the tub to her quickly when she pointed out Zevran could walk in while she and Alistair were distracted.

She chuckled to herself at his blush.

“I can hear you, you know,” Alistair called through the curtain that separated the bathtub from the rest of the suite.

“Can you really? I’m not being loud.”

“Well, it’s more like an echo, but ye-es…”

She grinned, knowing he couldn’t see her face, and experimentally let out a soft ahhh.

“Oh no. No, no, don’t do that.” His voice was strained.

“Mmmm.” She lifted her leg out of the water, really just to scrub it, but knowing he’d only hear the rippling of the water.

“Andraste’s mercy…”

“Ahhh…” She lifted the other leg and did the same.

“’Na, it’s the Grand Cathedral.”

She broke out in giggles at the same time as she heard a knock at the door. Alistair was cursing profusely.

“Where is that Void-damned robe…”  She heard a sheet being pulled off the bed, and a moment later the door opened.

“Good afternoon, Your Majesty. Did you sleep well? You seem-“ she heard Zevran say. She put both legs back in the water and sat up to scrub her arms, smiling to herself.

Fine. I’m fine,” Alistair said.

“Really? You are a bit flushed, are you feverish?” Zevran said, and the door closed. “Perhaps it is that sheet you have so tightly wrapped, this is a warmer climate than you are used to.” Lyna knew that smug sound. She giggled again as Alistair made a squeaking noise.

“There you are, Lyna! Are you hiding? This man is not well, you must have a look.”

Alistair groaned. “No, please, don’t. Maker’s mercy, Lyna, just finish the bath.”

“I’ll be out as soon as possible,” she called out. She really was nearly done, and the bath was now tepid and cloudy anyway. Clean clothes and those she loved on the other side of the curtain awaited along with responsibility, and she felt as if she could face them all.

Zevran laughed. “Oh, if you could but see his face…”

“Any moment, I’m going to wake up, I swear I am.”

“Be kind to Alistair, lethallin, I’ve already tortured him enough,” she admitted, sluicing herself one last time, and rose from the bath.

“Evil woman.”

“Do you need assistance?”

“She doesn’t need help!” Lyna couldn’t tell if Alistair meant Zevran helping her out of the bath, or Zevran helping her make him uncomfortable, and decided it didn’t matter. They were really the same thing to Alistair. She stepped out of the bath and wrapped the sheet meant for drying around her body.

“Thank you, but I have matters well in hand.”

“So it would seem! And your clothing?”

Lyna peeked through the curtain. Alistair sat on the bed, pillow in his lap and his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. He was flushed almost as badly as the first time she’d broached the topic of sex with him. Zevran stood between her and the bed, glancing from Alistair to the curtain, grinning from ear to ear.

“Hand them to me, please. Let him regain his composure,” she said gently, poking her head and arm through the curtain. “Talk to him about something else? Marjolaine, perhaps? Kal-Sharok?” She beckoned.

Zevran turned to face her and his grin softened. “Of course.” He picked up the large wrapped bundle at his feet in one hand and walked over to grasp her fingers with the other. “Did you sleep well?”

“When I did sleep, yes,” she said, looking from him to Alistair, who looked up at her at the question. He was still blushing, but now less from embarrassment and more from the memory, judging by the smile creeping up the corners of his mouth. His awkwardness wasn’t because of her, but because of this strange new territory he found himself in.

“Thank you,” Lyna said to him. “Thank you,” she repeated more softly to them both, and took her clothes from Zevran as he kissed her hand.

Cuore mio,” he said quietly, then let go to sit next to Alistair on the bed. Alistair raised an eyebrow at him and scooted away a little.

Lyna smiled wistfully and retreated back behind the curtain with her clean clothes.

“So, now that I’m feeling like an ass for having forgotten to ask,” Alistair ventured, as she unwrapped the sheet and began drying herself properly. “What have you been dreaming about that… well…”

“Makes her scream?” Zevran supplied. “I can but guess, although she has not told me.”

Alistair grunted. “Yes. Well.” The silence stretched.

A pit opened up in Lyna’s stomach and her hands shook. No more running. That’s stopping. Right now.

She sat down on a stool and opened the bundle Zevran brought with trembling fingers. She craved a drink badly.

“Morrigan. The eve of the battle of Denerim.” “I have a plan, you see. A way out. The loop in your hole,” she said. Her intention all along, and the friendship between us a bittersweet poison flower gone to dark fruit.

Someone was getting up. “Sit down,” said Zevran.

“Don’t,” warned Alistair, low and angry.

“You wish her naked in front of us both? Be my guest,” Zevran said in a nonchalant tone Lyna recognized. That tone belied anything else he actually meant.

“I could throw you out right now,” and that was not a tone she recognized from Alistair. Not the Alistair she’d known, but a new Alistair.

“Please stop,” she said, her heart heavy. “I’ll be done soon, and we can both leave if you want.” She pulled out her underthings from the top of the pile. They smelled faintly of vandal aria and campfires.

“Lyna, no,” Alistair’s voice immediately shifted. “I’m…” A heavy weight settled again on the bed. “I’m sorry.”

“So am I. Bellanaris abelas.” Throat knotted, she pulled on her underthings, leather pants, and linen undertunic quickly. Her hair hung wet and dripping down her neck and shoulders, and socks and the rest of her leather armor were still in the bundle. She pushed back the curtain.

Zevran and Alistair both sat on the bed, Zevran’s hand on clasped on Alistair’s wrist as if holding him down. The sheet and pillow had been discarded, and Alistair wore the same linen shirt and breeches he’d worn last night. She didn’t think he’d noticed either. They both looked at her, two pairs of eyes with warmth and stability and sorrow.

She exhaled unsteadily. “I want a drink.”

“No,” they both said immediately, and there was a moment of surprise between them. Zevran let go and Alistair stood up.

“Now I am a complete ass. Maker, Lyna…”

Fenedhis lasa. Enough, vhenan, or we will never stop saying it,” she said, and tossed the remainder of the bundle onto the bed, walking past them to the refilled pitcher of water and pouring a glass. “I would do it again, and that is what terrifies me most.”

“I do not understand.” Zevran.

She took the glass of water back toward the bed. She pulled the stool away from the bathtub and sat it down in front of Alistair, still standing and looking lost, and Zevran, sitting and staring at her very quiet and still. She sat down on the stool and took a drink of the water. You are cursed, Mahariel.

“Because there is nothing I will not do to keep you safe.” She took another drink. “Either of you.”

The room was quiet for a while.

“You’re… a little scary when you say that,” Alistair said, caught between a desperate joke and truth.

“Yes,” replied Zevran. “And it is marvelous.”

“And now you’re creepy.” Alistair blew out a long breath. “Not scary enough, though. That would be the day we ran into that broodmother in the Deep Roads. Remember that? I think I had a wee, then.”

Zevran coughed a quick laugh. “So I was not the only one. Good to know.”

Lyna smiled wanly. “Idiots. I love you.”

“I worry about you. You have really questionable taste.”

Zevran scoffed. “You may be ridiculous, but I am not.”

“Are so.”

Ridiculously handsome, perhaps.”

Lyna let them bicker for a little longer. It was not fighting, not really, and it would either run out of steam or become something else. She finished drinking her water, then left the stool to sit at Alistair’s temporary desk where she’d written her notes to Falke and Zevran earlier.

“More work?” Alistair said.

“Yes,” she said. She opened the ink well again, picking up the quill where she’d left it.

“Warden business?” Zevran asked cautiously. He’d been burned by this before.

“Yes,” she said, dipping the quill, “but you need to know if you’re going with me.”

“Where?”

Brother Genitivi, she wrote carefully. “To the mage prison. Aeonar.”

“Are you crazy?” Alistair asked incredulously. “The only ones who know where that’s at are the prisoners and their guards!”

“No, vhenan. Others in the Chantry must know. And it did not always belong to the Chantry. It once belonged to Tevinter, before Andraste’s time. Someone has records, more than what I have, which means it can be found,” she replied. I write asking for your expertise… “So I am trying every option I know.”

“Why? To what end?”

“Because a book Morrigan found points to Tevinter mage laboratories – connected to each other, I think – as where the first Grey Wardens were looking for a way to stop the Blight, and first created the Joining,” she said. Calm purpose kept her writing carefully so she did not blot her letter in ink. “What can be made can be unmade, and I will discover how.”

“You’re completely serious,” Alistair breathed, now standing at her elbow and watching her write.

“There are no other such places to see first?” Zevran said.

“We could. But we’ve been to Ostagar and found nothing. I’ve been to Drake’s Fall. There are places in the Frostbacks, the Free Marches, Nevarra, Tevinter itself…” Lyna paused writing to shake her head. “They have connections to the Deep Roads. I know Aeonar is somewhere near Denerim.” She looked up at Alistair, who was horrified.

“Anything, vhenan, to keep you safe.”

“Not just me! What about Ferelden?!”

“Of course. You are inseperable, now, Your Majesty.”

Zevran chuckled, a dark sound. “You should marry this one, Alistair. She will crush your enemies for you.”

Alistair muttered something that sounded suspiciously like working on it, but she didn’t press. It would happen or not, after decisions were made. If you could find the Temple of Sacred Ashes, I am confident you can find this, she wrote.

“You would do so with me, I hope,” Lyna said distractedly. “Also, I need Leliana.”

“I am yours. Why Leliana?” said the assassin.

“Because she is the Chantry now,” Lyna said, “and she has answers, too.”

“The guards told me she was meeting with Teagan, earlier,” Alistair said, his voice odd. Lyna glanced up again. He was looking between Lyna and Zevran, his hand clutched on the back of her chair. This was the new Alistair, the one she was still getting to know. And he was thinking.

“My blood and my heart, Alistair.” Her voice was soft.

“I know.”

She went back to writing.

Chapter Text

“Thank you for the information on Duke Prosper and his new interest in the Qun,” Leliana was saying as she crossed her legs and leaned against the arm of the settee she was gracefully seated upon. “While the Divine was aware of the situation in Kirkwall, there are many…complications that we were not. I will gladly look into this.”

“It was my pleasure, as always,” Zevran said. “It is good to have friends in the right places, no?” He meant both of them – Leliana and her association with Divine Justinia, and himself with Lyna – but still he glanced over at Lyna engaged in a discussion with Bann Teagan and Alistair. King Alistair, he’d been sharply reminded of two days ago as the man stood staring down at him with a cold authority Zevran had felt from him for the first time. Zevran had nearly let go of Alistair’s wrist, which he’d grasped to keep him from wrenching open the bath curtain after Lyna’s revelation, but an intuition kept his grip firm.

“Better than good,” Leliana replied, her smile and her head tilting just so. The bard’s precise mannerisms never failed to intrigue him, and it was the idea of Leliana’s loss of control that had occasionally sparked his interest. The woman’s polite and gentle dissuasion in the past and the present, and his far greater interest in others (Lyna, it has always been Lyna), ensured he would only offer his usual flatteries and flirtations and nothing more. There was nothing to be gained and much to be lost otherwise.

“Has she received Lady Elodie’s invitation yet?” the bard continued, picking up a cup of tea and sipping.

“This morning,” he replied, a little surprised despite himself. Zevran knew better, knew his friend now had an enviable network of connections, but like the new Alistair he was still trying to figure out, sometimes the difference between the quick, singing girl from Lothering and this shrewd woman was a little jarring. Since the confrontation with Marjolaine, it was becoming easier to reconcile the two pictures.

“Has she replied?”

“Not yet,” he said, raising an eyebrow. Leliana would not bring this up without reason.

“You must go,” she said. Not ‘Lyna must go,’ but him. And yet the invitation – a salon at Chantal’s studio at the Rue d’Orange – had been addressed to Lyna. He kept his eyebrow raised and tilted his own head. The bard was playing games, or even the Grand Game for all he knew, in making him ask. So he did, curious to see where this would lead.

“And why is that? Is there something more exciting, dear Leliana, than a day full of sketching Lyna?” The lushly figured painter had been quite taken with the evening’s spectacle of Lyna and Alistair at the Duke’s estate. After Alistair left and Lyna disappeared into drinking, Chantal had pressed against him and whispered in his ear. “I know you watch me. Bring her for sketching, then you and I…” She’d disengaged, eyes hooded, and walked away.

To say he was not interested would have been a lie, but he’d had much more important things to do. Lyna was falling apart before his eyes and he needed to get her out of there before someone struck while she was vulnerable. As it was, her begging in the carriage on the way back to the Grand Cathedral had brought back the ghost of Rinna. A painter’s desires were nothing in the face of his love’s self-destructive despair.

He glanced at Lyna again. The change wrought from her night with Alistair gave him hope. He’d never believed himself a jealous man, not truly, but he’d also never considered he might be grateful that his lover found some measure of healing with another. What their future held was uncertain, he understood, but at least it was better than before.

“I took the liberty of investigating the Comte and Comtesse de Travert and Chantal after what you told me – the mention of Claudio Valisti,” Leliana clarified. “I do not have much in such short time, but it is known for certain there is a strong connection between them. It is believed they help pass information to him. Chantal has perfect recall, which is why many of her paintings are so extraordinary.”

The bard studied him. “I believe if you are to survive against your former brethren, you should cultivate this contact and see if you cannot sway Prince Valisti to your cause.”

“So, I should persuade Lyna to go for my sake.” He shook his head. “No. I will go if she wishes to go, but for no other reason.”

Leliana smiled, a sudden and tender thing. “So you do love her. She has changed you. You would not have hesitated when we first met.”

“Do you stare at everyone like that?” The Dalish Grey Warden folded her arms, her dark blue gaze sharp. I did not miss the other Warden watching her, frowning. He was an attractive man but also a fool, completely unaware of his own feelings. He always found some excuse to be near her. I did not know if she had noticed yet. If I were lucky, perhaps she never would.

Lyna had caught me admiring the lean stretch of her body as she helped pitch tents and set up the campfire. I remembered her leap and tumble from under the deadfall tree trap, the duck and sway as she disarmed other traps only to then parry a sword thrust, and the smooth transitions from one attack to another the day I sprang my ambush. She was a wild thing, like a wolf or a spear of lightning. My plan could have been better, but I’d believed it sound enough to bring us face to face and perhaps end my misery.

I found it strange and exciting that my wish was not to be fulfilled in the way I’d hoped. The Maker, it seemed, had quite a sense of humor.

“Not everyone. But a beautiful woman like yourself? Why not? I am sure you draw many stares, from men and even other women.” With her dark hair pulled away from her face, it was easy to see the tattoos that adorned her features. They were much more intricate than mine, and fascinating. I wondered what her hair would look like, the darkness free and spilling across my pillow. Would she let me find out? “Does this bother you?”

She blinked, confused and wary. “Not really, no.”

I could see for myself she was not offended, but… she glanced at the other Warden. Alistair did not trust me, but neither did I expect him to. Their argument after the ambush had been amusing but enlightening: the smart one trusted me and the idiot did not. She thought I might be useful – and I could be, most certainly. But that was not what I could see in the set of her face and the stance of her body. She had wanted something else of me, and I would find out what it was.

Some determined spark flickered in her expression as Alistair gave her a weak smile. Perhaps they might argue again later over something unimportant, but she had won this argument and he wished to retain her good opinion. And she knew it. She must know – his feelings were obvious. Did she return his regard? Why else does she put up with this large-footed drooling puppy?

Let it be ever known that Zevran Arainai is aware when he is not wanted.

“But you would prefer I desisted, perhaps? It would be difficult, traveling as we do in close proximity, but I am nothing if not a gentleman.” I found myself wishing she would say ‘no.’ Surely she had some unfulfilled desires. It would be interesting to find out what they were. Even someone so openly passionate about her goals had some hidden reserve to set free. Perhaps something only another elf could do.

“Yes, I’d prefer you stopped,” she said quietly, her eyes pinning me in place as she studied me for a long moment. “You don’t need to sell yourself to me, Zevran Arainai. I will be your friend. You will be safe, I swear it.”

The thought that she understood the way of the world no less than I, and yet sought to protect me, was as surprising to me as my disappointment.

“Your wish is my command. My eyes shall remain fastened elsewhere, I assure you.” And I did my best, truly, but we all knew I was not wrong about close proximity. So I stared at Alistair instead. I could hear them every night after their first one, and it was frustrating to know this woman was capable of so much more. I became her friend, yes, perhaps her dearest one, but if I could not know peace, neither would he.

Zevran’s mouth curled into a half-smile. “I do love her, yes, but I have always been a friend first and I will gladly always be hers. If I am a changed man, it is the friendship that has changed me.”

“I think it is more than that, Zevran, but so be it,” Leliana said, then leaned forward. “I am certain Chantal would give you a sketch of Lyna if she thought she could get something in return. It would make for a nice keepsake, would it not? Something to remember her by when you are old?”

He thought of Lyna’s new scar with an ache. He was uncertain he would live to be old if she did not. But she could. She might. The desires of a painter were nothing compared to that.

“We will see.” But he already knew he would ask, and he was almost certain what Lyna would say. By the satisfied look on Leliana’s face, she knew as well.

“See what?” Zevran looked over to see Alistair, Teagan, and Lyna looking over at him and Leliana, their discussion now over. Alistair, who was seated closer, had been the one who asked.

“Zevran was telling me Lyna had received an invitation to Lady Elodie’s salon and I asked if they were going,” Leliana said brightly.

“The salon with the painter Chantal?” Teagan asked, surprised.

“You know of it?” Leliana said, tilting her head. Something told Zevran she had known what Teagan would say.

“His Majesty,” Teagan said, “has also been invited. It would be a good opportunity to have the royal portrait done.”

“I haven’t said ‘yes,’” Alistair groused. Zevran knew he was disgruntled at having to keep his excitement that Lyna had been invited as well at bay. He’d hidden that excitement well enough from Teagan, at least, but he’d spent over a year staring at that face and knew better.

“You should go,” Lyna said. “If a portrait must be done, why not in a way that creates the alliances you need for the refugees?” She glanced at Teagan. “I, on the other hand, will politely decline. I have other matters that need attending to.”

Teagan may also have missed Alistair’s crestfallen expression, too surprised that Lyna would back him, but Zevran did not.

“If I may, cuore mio,” he ventured, now not certain if he was asking purely for himself, “I would ask you to reconsider. Remember what Fiona said the day we arrived. Chantal is interested in your portrait as well, is she not?”

“She did say, although I thought perhaps it was more Lady Elodie’s idea than her own,” Lyna said with the hint of a disbelieving smirk. “The honor of having the Hero of Ferelden’s portrait or some such scandalous nonsense.”

“Would either be so terrible?” He teased, ignoring the others. He could tell her about the connection with Valisti later, privately. It felt important he asked now. “I thought I might also request a sketch for myself.” It was ridiculous how vulnerable saying that made him feel. He could describe half a dozen sex acts from memory and not feel a tenth embarrassed as he did now.

“That would be a sweet memento, Zevran!” Leliana exclaimed, as if she had not suggested that to him minutes before. Lyna raised her eyebrow at the bard, but addressed Zevran with gentle curiosity.

“This is something you want?” Some undercurrent of her voice difficult to name – longing? Wistfulness? Hope? – pulled at him. He has only ever truly asked her for one thing: his life. Other things had been suggestions, or demands, extremes that could be dismissed if she chose. To ask for something for himself now is to suddenly imbue it with meaning, and he realized he does mean it.

Even if he never lived but one heartbeat past Lyna, he could make sure he did it seeing her face.

He smiled. “Yes.”

“Then… I will go,” she said, her eyes troubled but decisive. She was pushing aside her discomfort for him. His heart gave a painful thud.

“How wonderful,” Leliana said, beaming, and addressed Teagan. “This could be a little celebration, perhaps, for your efforts for the refugees so far? If His Majesty will say yes. Your new guardsman will not be prepared for such a soiree yet, of course. I am pleased that I have found someone you will be able to bring home immediately, however.”

“Not so immediately, considering there is yet the audience with the Divine the day after and preparations to make for the journey home, but I take your meaning,” the Bann said thoughtfully. He turned to Alistair. “Well? What say you?”

“Another Orlesian party? Oh, hurrah,” the king said, sounding less than enthused. He looked from Lyna to Zevran. “But as long as you’re there, I suppose it might be tolerable. Bring on the stinky cheese.”

“I doubt Lady Elodie will be the type to have stinky cheeses,” Zevran said. “The little cakes, however…”

“Well that’s disappointing.” Alistair looked to Lyna. “You’ll save me from terrible food, right?”

“I can’t save you from your own bad decisions, my lord,” she answered with a small smile. “But I will try.”

“Great,” Alistair said, then huffed at Zevran. “You can have the cakes. I already know you’re no help.”

“On the contrary, I am wondrous help.” He grinned. “You can ask me anytime.”

“That reminds me,” Lyna broke in, eyes narrowed, “I will need your help shining my armor. Leliana tells me the Divine will see me after Alistair.”

Zevran shrugged. “As you wish. Consider it done.”

“Thank you for your assistance, Warden-Commander,” Bann Teagan said, rising from his seat. “I’m uncertain how many of our people will voluntarily join the Wardens, but having an idea of your order’s needs in Ferelden will be helpful in persuading Fereldens to return home, at least. The promise of something to return to has always been the greater barrier.”

Lyna grinned. “You thank me for my ulterior motives, Bann Teagan? The Wardens will be pleased. Mistress Woolsey especially. She rubs coppers together to make silver.”

Teagan snorted. “Don’t push it, gratitude can only go so far.” He cracked a smile. “But for the time being, we are grateful.”

“As are we,” Lyna answered.

“Do not forget you have some other Warden business to discuss with His Majesty later, Lyna,” Zevran said, examining his nails.

“Oh, well in that case, Alistair, I will respond to the salon invitation for you and we will meet again in the morning,” Teagan said, surprised. “I will request your supper be something large enough for two Warden appetites.”

“Thank you, uncle, I feel my stomach growling already,” Alistair replied. It was late afternoon and Zevran was certain he hadn’t eaten since a likely large lunch. Unseen by Teagan, Lyna was shooting Zevran a look part confused and part grateful.

“A good evening to you, Bann Teagan,” she said as Teagan left.

“My business is done, so I will go seek my supper as well,” Leliana said as she rose from the settee.

“A moment before you go,” Lyna interjected, rising as well. “I was hoping to make an important request. I need your help finding something…”

“Of course.” The women moved toward the vestibule; Zevran was certain Lyna would present her case for the location of the Aeonar.

“Warden business, hmm?” Alistair said quietly.

Zevran turned. Alistair was chewing on his lip, eyes narrowed.

Zevran shrugged. “Do you not? Well then, I am sure you will find other things to fill the time.”

“What’s your game?”

“My game?”

“Oh come on, you really expect me to believe you’re doing this from the goodness of your heart?” Alistair said, leaning forward and staring at him in disbelief.

Zevran stared back, unfurling a slow leer. “No. I do this for her. And for the look on your face afterward.”

Alistair blinked, a flush rising from his collar.

“Yes, something like that one, but much more satisfied.” Zevran laughed as the flush grew deeper. “A good evening to you, Alistair.” He rose from his chair, interrupted Lyna and Leliana long enough to deliver a lingering kiss to his Warden, and left. He would find his supper, pester Falke, and consider his best approach to the problem of Chantal and Prince Valisti.

Chapter Text

“A moment before you go. I was hoping to make an important request. I need your help finding something…” While I knew I could possibly find Leliana some other time to talk to her about the Aeonar, the more time she had to consider the issue and potentially aid me, the better.

“Of course.” She looked at me curiously but said nothing as I followed her toward the door; she could go as quickly as she liked. And just might after my request.

“I need the mage prison. The Aeonar,” I said, folding my arms and planting my feet. She’d been with me at Kinloch Hold, had heard the nervous whispering of the surviving mages and mutinous rumblings from certain Templars. Like me she’d believed the mages should have been defended and had been outraged that imprisonment was even being considered. I still believed that. But…

Leliana’s soft gaze widened in surprise for a moment, then sharpened. “You’re serious. What is this about, petite?”

“Do you know where it is?”

“No.” Something about the way that word came from the depths of her hood, like an untuned lute string, made me step in a little closer.

“But you can find out.” The air between us thickened. “You’ve been looking.”

Leliana was too good to give in to any nervous fretting like biting her lip or looking away, but her reactions were still off. Wrong notes. And most likely, so were mine to her.

“The Divine needs me to go where she cannot,” was all she said, focused intently on me. I nodded.

“I need the Aeonar for a Grey Warden matter. I need…” I could give her a partial truth, at least. “How strong is it?”

“Strong?” Tension quivered between us. No, she did not like this question. As I thought.

“From within.” The tension didn’t completely leave, but it lightened considerably. No, I wouldn’t be storming its gates. Not exactly.

“I… do not know.” She let curiosity overcome her, relaxing her stance to set a hand on her hip. “Why?”

“I need to be certain that what is within can remain there.” And that was true. If it did have a connection to the Deep Roads, I needed to be sure it was blocked, locked away…or could be. But not until I could see what else was down there, if anything. I could offer up the excuse of the Deep Roads, but that would only lead to telling her how I knew, and trust had nothing to do with the secrets I had to keep – something I thought she might understand, should the truth ever come to light.

No, I had to give her something else. Someone else.

“The prison has managed so far, Lyna.” Disapproval thickly laced her words.

“I know. But if Uldred had ever survived…” I sighed and shook my head. “I don’t like it, but some mages have proven to be too dangerous.”

Leliana raised an eyebrow at that. “Avernus?”

“No.”

Zevran came up from behind us, looking extremely pleased with himself. He graced my lips with a light, sweet kiss for a long time that left me quavering a little, then murmured a goodbye to Leliana as he continued out the door.

Feeling a bit warm, I glanced at Alistair. He’d been blushing, judging by the still-red edges of his ears. Zevran must have said something to him. Now he was a confusing bundle of emotions I couldn’t untangle from his expressions alone. Seeing me looking at him, however, his face clarified into a half-smile. He picked up a document Teagan had left for him and busied himself reading.

I turned my attention back to Leliana, who was keeping a little smirk at bay.

“Should I say ‘congratulations’?”

“I’d rather you said nothing and let me keep my dignity,” I said, bemused. I rubbed behind my ear, Zevran’s earring swinging against my neck. “As for your earlier question, Avernus is fine, he’s been keeping his promise. The Drydens are still skittish around him in general, but the blacksmith checks on him for me. He’s not afraid.”

“I see. Then another Warden, someone I have not met,” she said, now curious.

I nodded. “I suspect you will have heard of him, however. Anders. He was a frequent escapee from Kinloch Hold until I conscripted him at Vigil’s Keep. He helped me put down the darkspawn invasion. I thought he’d be happy with the Wardens until my Warden-Constable informed me he’d left us and killed a group of Wardens and Templars on the road toward Highever.”

I’d received a little more information than that. Rolan, a former Templar and one of Nathaniel’s recruits, had been among what little was left of the torn and burned dead. Other Templars who’d shown up at the Keep later to demand justice for the murder of their fellows implied that Rolan had been keeping contact with them. It wasn’t a stretch for me to figure out that Rolan must have betrayed Anders somehow, but the carnage didn’t square with what I knew of the irreverent mage. Something dire had to have happened.

I didn’t begrudge him his freedom, and for his sake I hoped wherever he was, he would be happy until his Calling.

But no one left the Wardens. Not unless you were Fiona or Alistair.

“You feel he is enough of a threat to warrant Aeonar?” she asked with a frown.

“What would you do for someone who had turned on his fellows? The report I read… the massacre was terrible. Like the Circle of Magi.” I shook my head. “I need to find out what happened to him, and regardless of what I find, he must face justice. And for that, I need to be sure he’s in a prison that can hold him. I need to see the prison myself to be assured.”

“You think he may be a blood mage now,” Leliana stated.

“I think it may be possible.”

“If that is so, there will be Templars already looking for him. Should I-“

“He is my responsibility. I should be the one to capture him.” I’m sorry, Anders. It’s all I can do for you. They would be after you, anyway.

“Of course.” She hesitated. “You know I cannot promise anything, and if I ask, others will want to know why.”

“I know. You can tell them what I told you. You can also tell them I only speak for the Ferelden Grey Wardens,” I said, looking her directly in the eye. Whoever Leliana would have to consult about the prison would be keenly interested in the power foothold this could represent. It was in actuality the tiniest finger that could be withdrawn at any time, but it was likely the best opportunity they had with my ancient, secretive and extralegal order.

Shiny, tempting bait for the slavering shemlen beast.

Leliana smiled. I’m not sure I would ever understand her completely, but I am certain over time she has come to understand me best.

“I will see what I can do.” Her smirk returned. “You should perhaps see what you may do for him, now.” She lifted her chin toward where I knew Alistair sat. Of course she knew what Zevran intended.

Given what Leliana knew of all of us, it would never do to become her enemy.

I tried to be nonchalant. “I have some ideas.”

She laughed. “I expected no less, ma petite chasseresse.”

 

“I tried as best I could, Lyna, but there are gaps in the information the First Enchanter gave me,” Falke said, frowning.

Lyna and Falke sat in his room, breaking their fast as she had him show her all he’d written. There were the notes he took while both of them had been talking with Fiona, as well as what he wrote the day she sent him on his own. Falke had organized it as best he could chronologically so they could both assess the progress and settle on the line of questioning they’d take in today’s interview.

She agreed; there were definitely a few holes. Likely it was due to not having gotten to whatever had transpired in those gaps, yet. One of those holes spanned months – there was no doubt some mission related to the Architect that Fiona hadn’t been able to tell either of them in the hours they’d been spending with the First Enchanter.

“I’ll ask,” Lyna said with a dismissive wave. She pointed her half-eaten roll at one document in the spread before them. “This bit, however… I’m concerned how they ‘lost’ Warden Nicholas. It’s a small gap in her narrative, to be sure, but it’s glaring.”

“Fiona implied that the Warden had died, although it’s also possible he’d wandered from the grouping if the corruption in his body had spread enough,” Falke said thoughtfully. She knew he was thinking of Denis; the thought had occurred to her as well.

“Possible, yes, but given everything else we’ve read, he had been infected as much as the Avvar Warden and Utha, so less than Commander Genevieve. Although given how driven that woman was to find her brother, she might have been able to resist the Calling better.” Lyna worried at her bottom lip, then took another bite of her roll.

Falke mulled that over. “The First Enchanter also implied Nicholas had been… involved… with Julien.” Lyna found it endearing the Ander found a way to be delicate about extramarital pairings with less fluster. “Grief could have driven him toward either outcome.”

Lyna chewed and swallowed. “Granted. I think I will ask for clarification and see how large this gap really is before pursuing the others.”

Falke wrote a note on a previously blank sheet, then looked up at Lyna. His eyebrows were drawn together, like toppled haystacks.

“Speaking of corruption… I worry about that brooch. That box is shielded, as you asked, but would that be enough?”

“Given what we know, I believe so.” Lyna cocked her head. “I feel fine. Well, as fine as one can be, but…” She waved her hand helplessly. “Are you feeling something?”

“No, but I thought I would ask.” Falke found a wall to stare at. “You’d tell me if you were, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course I would.” She quirked a grin. “I’d even let you inspect me.”

He colored. “I, er, think not.” He glanced at Lyna, his blush deepening. “No offense, Commander, I-“

“None taken. Besides, someone would beat me senseless if I actually offered.” Lyna grinned.

“I didn’t think Zevran would- no, he wouldn’t do that, would he?” Falke blinked at her.

“No, he wouldn’t. He’d stand behind you and direct your attention,” she said with a sigh. “Never mind. I shouldn’t tease you like this, you’ve been very kind and patient. Thank you.”

“It’s no trouble. I feel I should be thanking you instead,” he said, scratching another note on the parchment. “It’s a shame we couldn’t tell the others. We could use a mage reading this book, for example.”

“We will eventually.”

“Sooner than later, I hope. I’m near my limit on that, honestly. My knowledge is too scant, and what I do know…” He shook his head. “It either doesn’t make sense to me, or sounds horrible in every way.”

“Well.” Lyna stared down at the last bite of her roll. “After we’re done in Val Royeux, we’re going to Ferelden.”

Falke wiped the end of his quill before setting it down. “Vigil’s Keep?” he said hopefully.

“I should stop there, but I’ll send a message.” She looked off to the side. “We’re going to Soldier’s Peak.”

He straightened, paling, and capped the inkwell carefully. “Your associate.”

“Yes.”

“Avernus.” They let him read that?

“Yes.” Her breakfast sat heavy in her stomach.

He didn’t respond for a long time. She pulled her attention away from the walls; he was staring down at all the papers in front of him.

“I should have known. It only makes sense it would be Avernus,” he said grimly. “Vile as he is, that he should have turned from the Maker so and…” Falke drew in a deep, pained breath. “Have a chance at redemption, using what he knows.”

“I’m sorry, Falke,” she said. And she meant it. She had an inkling of what it meant to have such a crisis of faith, and his had been pushed and tested in a myriad ways. “He did terrible things, but he did them for the Wardens, and I’ve made certain he’s kept to his word to work ethically. And he’s very old. He’s held on several more years, but I don’t know how much time he truly has left.”

“It’s him you want Fiona to see,” he stated.

She nodded.

“She must be told,” he said firmly. He looked up from the papers. “She needs to know everything. I need to know everything. I won’t have her walking into a situation she doesn’t fully understand.”

“I don’t know everything Avernus will need to do-“ she began.

“But you have some idea, better even than I, and she has to know. I can’t countenance this otherwise,” Falke said. He jabbed at the table, fierce and sad. “And if Zevran does take her against her will, I am leaving.”

Lyna had had no intentions of allowing a kidnapping, but telling the First Enchanter what she wanted when they weren’t finished gleaning information could make things very difficult. Falke had stood by her faithfully up to now – she could not abandon him and she wanted his good opinion. Mythal grant the elven mage would remain helpful.

Ma nuvenin. Full disclosure. I will tell her today after we are finished discussing this gap.”

“I would really prefer you tell her first, Commander.”

Lyna shook her head. “On this issue I cannot budge, I’m sorry. What we are doing about the Calling is our own affair, but the Architect… I can’t risk she will decide we don’t warrant cooperation anymore.” Although if Lyna had to, she could tell Fiona there would not be a mention of the mages with the Divine. She wouldn’t see Justinia for two more days, after all. It was terribly manipulative, though not as bad as throwing Anders in the Chantry’s path to get what she wanted. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. “We might be able to fill in the other gaps ourselves, somehow, but what happened to Nicholas we cannot discover any other way.”

“You think she couldn’t be persuaded to do the right thing?” He was disappointed in her. “That she would withhold information that could help?”

“Yes. Because while she may be a good person, Falke, it does not mean she will give us anything we request, just for the asking. She’s no longer a Grey Warden – she has no personal stake in seeing the rest of us cured as she is.” It was a mercenary outlook, Lyna knew, but if there was something she shared with the First Enchanter, it was the knowledge that nothing was given to you for free. Not when you were an elf. So whyever should they give when others wouldn’t?

“You have no faith in her, then.”

Lyna was uncomfortable with this. Faith? She had none, at least the sort Falke was looking for. What she’d depended on during the Blight had scattered afterward and left her alone. Hope itself was in short supply, although it had been growing. And there were very few people she could trust, and Falke was one of them. She’d not been demonstrating that trust very well, she realized.

“No, I don’t.” She sighed. “But I have faith in you. I’ll let you direct the bulk of the questions this time. If she balks, I hope you can persuade her out of it.”

Falke nodded, troubled but largely mollified, absently running his fingers through the pale yellow hair on the back of his head. “I hope so as well. And I’m hoping it won’t be necessary.”

“After telling her I need a former blood mage sworn to the Wardens to examine her and her blood? Possibly experiment with that blood? I hope it won’t be necessary, either, but that kind of revelation would make anyone wary of cooperation.” She herself had destroyed Avernus’s potion, too repulsed at what had transpired to create it to consider thoughts of preservation or use. And Morrigan’s ritual hadn’t happened without significant reservation on Lyna’s part, and yet she was too grief-stricken and terrified that any of the Wardens, particularly Alistair, could die with the destruction of the Archdemon to actually refuse.

She eyed the remains of her roll, then decided to finish it regardless. She wasn’t particularly hungry any longer, but today was likely to be a long one if Fiona agreed and told her everything.

If not… well. She could ask Falke to show her the Grand Cathedral’s library. She would have plenty of time and space to stew.

“I know,” he said, now melancholy. “The good we can do, however…”

“Hold on to that, Falke. Keep faith for me.” And if he can hold on to that even after telling him what Morrigan and I did, then he’s a better man than perhaps even Hannah suspects. If Lyna broke Falke’s heart when she told him of the ritual, she swore that’s when she’d give Falke Hannah’s letter. Let them revile her for ruthlessness, for putting Falke’s life into chaos and making Hannah clean up the mess, so long as it let them be happy in the end.

***
This time Lyna and Falke were able to settle in quickly with Fiona, tea at the ready.

“You’ve been kept quite busy here in Val Royeaux,” the mage observed, blowing on her tea. “I hope this means you’ve been summoned before the Divine, Commander.”

“That would have been preferable to some things that have demanded my attention, but no. Not yet. I am due to face Her Perfection,” Lyna grimaced, “after she speaks with the King of Ferelden, the day after tomorrow.”

“After King Alistair,” she repeated. She hesitated. “You traveled together. How does he feel about mages?”

Fiona must not have heard the stories about Lyna and Alistair as lovers, not merely traveling companions, or the mage was politely avoiding them.

“We are in agreement,” Lyna said. She ran a finger around the lip of her cup. “That surprised me at first, considering his Templar background and what we saw at the Circle tower…”

“He was with you at Kinloch Hold?” Fiona said, alarmed.

Lyna shrugged. “I would have thought you’d known, considering I am a guest because of what we did.” She sat up straighter and sipped carefully from the still-hot cup. “This, by the way, is why I find myself continually upset my companions are rarely mentioned,” she said, reminding Fiona of their first conversation into the Orlesian city. “His skills, as well as Wynne’s and Leliana’s, were just as important to our success as mine.”

She snorted. “Even if I did have to rescue all of us from the Fade.”

Fiona’s teacup wobbled. “Come again?”

Lyna shot Falke an apologetic glance for distracting the First Enchanter with a story, but for the moment the Ander Warden didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t fidget, simply folded his arms and sat back to listen.

“If I seem dismissive now, First Enchanter, it’s only because so much has happened since. Time gives us distance, as I’m sure you’re well aware,” she said with a faint smile. She let it fall away. “Uldred’s summonings had attracted a Sloth demon that trapped us in its corner of the Fade. It tried seducing me with a poorly constructed dream of Duncan and the Grey Wardens at Weisshaupt, making it relatively easy for me to break free to find the others.”

Lyna sighed. “It did much better with Alistair’s and the others’ dreams than mine. My own restlessness and discontent helped me undermine their happiness. Or complacency.” Alistair had seemed so happy to finally have a home among people he thought loved him, she’d felt terrible trying to wake him until he finally saw the demons. She imagined the cruel sense of loss fueled his fighting afterward.

“That is… remarkable,” Fiona said, shaken. “It is rare to hear of anyone other than mages interacting with the Fade. Yet you survived.” She hastily sipped her tea, troubled. “This is what mages must do for their Harrowing.”

Lyna compressed her mouth into a thin line. “I understand testing and being afraid of abominations, having faced such creatures, but that is barbaric.”

“Such is the way it has been for a very long time,” Fiona said quietly, upset. “You see now why I ask about His Majesty, I hope.”

“I’d imagine his conversation with the Divine will be much different than what she